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Nature, Science, and Cell

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Betty just couldn’t go back to her life at Culver. Part of that was due to her government funding disappearing, literally overnight, and her tenure review being not just halted but outright canceled. Whereas the first time Bruce - the Hulk - had come knocking she’d been shielded by government top-secrecy and the clout of a high up military man with dirt on anybody who was anybody, she now felt the pain at the other end of that association. Part of it was the knowledge of just how far the less scrupulous side of science would go to pin bad deeds on good people. The General - her father, though she was loath to admit that connection even in the silence of her own mind - had made sure the first things anybody found when they searched the internet for Dr. Elizabeth Ross was story after story of the lab accident that had so thoroughly fractured Bruce.

Academia was out. The government would feel like selling herself back to her - to Bruce’s torturers. On one too many glasses of wine - because Bruce wasn’t there to give her that scrunchy, worried look, and Leonard had moved out a few weeks after she got back from the disaster zone in New York - she sent her CV to a slew of industry research positions. She could feel the baleful glare of her PhD adviser through the veil of death itself - the old ass had kicked it shortly after Betty’s defense - but she hit ‘accept’ on every application submission with an almost spiteful glee.

Weeks later she got a request to interview, and months later she moved across country and started at Advanced Idea Mechanics.

Killian was batshit crazy and a bit of a misogynist (though unlike some, he hid it well), but he was also a great scientist. It made her angry some days that he was so good - that such a brilliant mind was left with such an objectionable troll of a human. She didn’t have to do much with him directly, though, and her work team was a surprising pleasure. Maya Hansen in particular was a bright spot. In 2010 Betty left AIM, amazingly enough on good terms. An old friend from grad school recruited Betty to her company, and had her set up a lab screening transformative mutagens which the company developed.

Helen - her grad school friend - did work with donor non-specific tissue printing within her own group in Seoul. It was a brilliant mix of materials and chemical engineering, and practical knowledge of stem cell biology.

“Right now, if I got stabbed in the liver, and I knew ahead of time and had a culture room full of my own specific stem cells, I could program one of my robots to reconstruct the damaged portion of my specific liver,” Helen told Betty over coffee.

“That doesn’t sound very marketable,” Betty replied.

Helen shrugged in agreement. “Which is why I’m working with Kwon’s team to develop a universal donor broth - stem cells which can adapt to host genetic information as they are incorporated into native tissue. I can’t build a new gall bladder from scratch, but I could patch one up.”

“Wouldn’t that put a patient in danger of rapidly growing tumors?”

“Yes - if the donor cells miscopied a growth factor or promoter, or propagated a diseased cell, yes. Which is why the synthetic biology isn’t trivial.”

“More than that is why the synthetic biology isn’t trivial,” Betty said on a laugh.

“Yes, well. Keep in mind this would not be treatment for every paper cut. The person receiving this would likely already be in a life threatening situation.”

“What’s a few tumors amongst the mortally wounded?”

Helen smiled. “Exactly.”
--
At some point - probably the point on most people’s timelines labeled ‘holy shit aliens raining down from the skies of New York wtf wtf,’ - the West Coast didn’t feel far enough away from her old life.

There had been a letter with her necklace - the one they had traded during their cross-country flight into danger which Bruce had somehow gotten back and mailed to her in Santa Cruz. It had said a lot of things, but the parts that had stuck with her was this: I’m a monster. I always have been but now it’s undeniable. I can’t hide the ugly truth. Don’t wait for me. You’ve always been my guiding star. You’ll always be in my heart but you can’t be in this mess I call my life.

It was post-marked from Canada, and when she called through to the little outpost of mail collection, the mail person couldn’t remember if anybody looking like Bruce had been through recently.

She did as he asked.
--
She started learning Korean, and eventually transferred to a lab in the ‘home office’ of their company, and put the Pacific Ocean, in addition to the Great Plains and the Rockies, between her and her problems. She kept her head down and watched with rapt horror as the Stark empire was destroyed and reborn under the boot of Killian and an AIM gone truly mad. The news had the same feel of the time after Bruce and Harlem and the Abomination, only this time it was rich people and RPGs instead of out-of-control juggernauts.

Helen’s company was contacted while the cleanup was still in progress, by Pepper Potts, and offered one of the Forbes 500 for Helen’s own personal guinea pig.

“If I come out of this a coward you know who to blame,” Stark had told Helen. Helen asked Betty to explain that one to her.

“You know, like the Wizard of Oz. The cowardly lion was looking for a heart.”

Post-surgery, when it was clear that if Stark died it was going to be at Potts’ hand, not because of the surgery, they celebrated in lab with a bottle of Japanese Scotch whiskey and beers kept chilled in the cold room. Helen wouldn’t get intoxicated in front of her team but she politely shared a Sapporo with Betty. “You know Stark mentioned he might hire up some more super-people for trials,” Helen said. “It seems like meta-humans are here to stay.”

Betty made a ‘hmm’ sound. Helen was one of the few people who knew about her and Bruce - the whole story.

“I don’t guess Bruce would need that sort of thing, though.”

“The Hulk? No. Bruce?” Betty shrugged. “I don’t know. I’m not sure I wanted to know. It would have meant hurting Bruce just because we were curious.”

“I don’t think he would have said ‘no’.” Helen hadn’t known Bruce, but she was right.

“Yes. And we all saw what happened when Bruce doesn’t say ‘no’.”
--
A week later the white board in the conference room had “Vote for your Favorite Avenger” written on it. Lab members could choose from Iron Man, Captain America, Sir Lightning/Thor?, Bow and Arrow Guy, The Lady, and HULK!!!! Stark, having recently made certain researchers’ funding dreams come true, was a clear winner, though Sir Lightning’s voters were committed and had decorated their votes with cartoon characters declaiming the glory of his pecs and hair.

One of the technicians had made up magnets with photos of each member of the research teams for use in work assignments. Shin-hye could be put under freezer maintenance, for example, and everyone would know to go to her if the -80 freezers went out. The magnets had been co-opted for the purpose of Avenger-voting, thereby simultaneously eliminating the possibility of voter fraud and any sort of anonymity. Jang-mi handed Betty her magnet and gestured towards the white board.

“The Lady,” hissed Jang-mi to Betty.

Betty looked long and hard at the options, glanced at Helen, and was the first and only vote for the Hulk. Helen nodded in approval.
--
Natasha Romanov - the Lady - was the first person who needed to take advantage of Helen’s technology as a result of superheroing. She dropped in via Quinjet with her partner in the cockpit, and an irate Maria Hill as escort. Hill pushed the gurney bearing Romanov herself, and her partner (who, based on the quiver still strapped to his back was Mr. Bow and Arrow) skipped in as soon as the aircraft was secured.

“Damn it, Romanov, if you check out I am gonna reach right in there and pull you the hell back, do you hear me?” Hill demanded.

Helen and Betty were both surprised to hear a faint, “Yes ma’am,” from Romanov.

“Get her in the scanner. Any metal or internal devices?” Helen asked, brisk and businesslike. She and Hill talked medical history in preparation for reconstruction of the considerable damage to her lower abdomen and pelvis.

Her partner shifted from foot to foot. He had a good deal of blood on him, some of it tacky and some of it blackened into the fine hairs on his arms. He had a dazed look she remembered from Bruce when he came back from an episode - like he couldn’t even figure out what to be traumatized about.

Betty had gotten the ‘ink’ for the bioprinter - a mixture of unimprinted stem cells, growth factors, and a proprietary terrigen booster that would intake the host genetic material to create tissue indistinguishable from the original - into the warmer, and really had nothing more she could do for Romanov.

Mr. Bow and Arrow’s eyes were glassy and the lines on his face appeared deeper due to the mixture of grit and sweat which collected there.

“Is this gonna work?” he asked Betty. He had a Midwestern accent that she found surprisingly endearing.

“I don’t know,” she admitted honestly. “It worked on Tony Stark.”

“Which is why we’re even here.”

“That was his heart and chest wall - obviously more immediately fatal, but ultimately the tissue types are simpler; the heart is just meat. That was more controlled - we had more time for preparation.”

He deflated and the glassiness escalated to barely restrained tears. Betty reached out, slow and calm, and he didn’t flinch. She ran her hand up and down his exposed shoulder, and he almost leaned into her touch. “We’ve made some advances, though. The Cradle isn’t ready yet, but the printers are about twice the speed, and the broth is...” Betty trailed off. He didn’t want technical specs which he probably wouldn’t understand anyway. “Helen and her team will do their best.”

He looked up at her. “That’s Dr. Cho? Helen?” Betty nodded.

“How about you get a shower? Nobody ever leaves this place so there’s all the facilities.” She guided him out of the surgical intake.

“Who are you?” he asked when they had almost reached the showers.

“Elizabeth Ross.” He looked sharply at her, but didn’t comment.

“I’m Clint,” he said instead.

Betty nodded. “I’ll get you some scrubs.”
--
Helen wasn’t the sort to be overt about her overtures of friendship, but that seemed to be precisely the sort of courting which Romanov preferred. With the amount of time Helen spent checking on Romanov’s progress, by the third day they were fast friends. Romanov shared her stash of covert superhero beefcake shots. She and another scientist who worked with Thor had apparently started quite the underground photography ring, and between them they had a panoply of shots of all the Avengers save the Hulk. Helen’s phone background became a back shot of Thor in low-slung jeans that showed the crack of his finely formed ass.

Betty was surprised to see shots of Bruce amongst the trove - usually with Stark. He looked older and worn, with more salt in his salt and pepper hair than she remembered.

“He’s doing good,” Romanov said, apropos of nothing.

“Stark?” she asked.

“Banner.”

“Oh.” Betty was quiet. “Do you know him well?”

“Yeah. He scared the hell out of me in India and almost killed me over the Atlantic. Quite a guy.”

“That doesn’t seem like ‘well’.”

Romanov shrugged and shifted position. “Yeah, well, in my line of work the guy who can try to kill you and remain on speaking terms is a friend.” Romanov glanced at Clint, silent and watchful in the corner of her recovery room.

Betty wanted to ask so many things, but she also just... didn’t want to know.

She found Helen, and they stayed out until it was light singing karaoke in a private room, sharing bottles of beer, and gnawing on chicken feet.
--
A month later Helen performed her first public organ reconstruction, and two months after that she was on the covers of Science, Popular Mechanics, Popular Science, and Time. It couldn’t last.
--
That week that Ultron happened -- the week the world stopped, pivoted ninety degrees, and was never the same again for the second or fifth or twentieth time in the last few years -- something had itched under Betty’s skin to get out of the city. Helen got called to New York -- and who but Stark could call the leader of an entire research division like they were his personal physician -- and Betty left. She ended up at one of the bathhouses in the country that had barrels of kimchi fermenting in the basement, a constant cast of elderly inhabitants, and a single phone line.

Four days of hot spring baths and country food, and Betty felt pretty okay with the world. Then her cell rang. One of the downsides of South Korea, in Betty’s opinion, was the omnipresent cell network.

“Doctor Ross?” a Korean woman was on the other end of the call, but she spoke in English.

“Speaking.”

“Are you alright?”

“Yes, why- what’s happening?”

“There’s been an incident at headquarters. We’re doing a headcount to determine if anyone is still missing.”

“Is Doctor Cho okay?”

The phone was silent.

“Is she dead?” Betty asked, more quietly.

“I’m afraid I can’t discuss that over the phone.”

Betty felt the phone shake against her cheek. Her hands had gone cold. “Thank you. I’ll be in shortly.”

“The labs are closed until—”
--
The first time Helen woke up, Natasha Romanov was there at her bedside. “Hey,” Natasha said.

Helen managed a sigh that conveyed an inquiry.

“It’s a good thing you got yourself into the cradle after Ultron booked it. Sorry I couldn’t help with that.”

Helen gave Natasha a weak smile. “You were busy.”

Natasha shrugged. “Your guys said the last of the vibranium got used up patching up your middle. Congrats: you’ve officially got the most expensive spleen on record.”

“My team?” Helen asked.

“Seven dead,” Natasha replied without preamble. “One in a coma from head trauma. Three with serious but non-life threatening injuries. I’ll get you names if you want.”

Helen nodded. Her thoughts were still a spiky jumble, and it didn’t feel like drugs so much as- “What did Ultron do to me?”

“Mind control.”

“Is that why you’re here?” Helen asked.

“I’m here because you were here waiting for me once when I woke up. But yeah: Barton said maybe I should be here as someone who’s dealt with... this sort of thing before.”

Helen knew she was having emotions, but they all felt very far away. “It was so beautiful.” Natasha nodded. “I made something terrible, but it was so beautiful.”

“You made something powerful; not necessarily something terrible.”

“Did you destroy it? Is it gone?”

“Him,” Natasha said. She shook her head. “We didn’t destroy him, but only because we didn’t need to.”

“Ultron?”

“Someone new. I don’t understand most of it - I’ll get Banner to—” Natasha stopped as though burned. “-someone to explain when you’re a little healthier, okay?”

Helen nodded again.
--
The next time Helen woke, Jang-mi was there with details and reports and names. Jang-mi knew her boss well enough to not fear Helen breaking at news which would have crushed others. The drugs were also probably helping with the emotional fallout. Betty appeared not long after and the grief and shock that had been beyond Helen’s reach broke through the thin protective barrier of opiates.
--
When Betty got in Helen was long out of the Cradle. Only two of Helen’s team were present, their faces blank with grief and exhaustion. Betty checked with each of them before going to Helen’s side.

“Didn’t think I would be the one in the bed,” Helen said with a weak smile. They had her on the good drugs.

Betty kissed the other woman’s forehead and sat beside her. “I’m glad you’re here.”

Jang-mi’s tear-tracked face had been enough to tell Betty that the rest of the team was absent due to the very mortal consequences of working with super-people. “How many?” Helen asked, referring to the consequences beyond their cloistered lab.

Betty shook her head. “I don’t know.”

“He promised that if I helped they would be safe.”

Betty pursed her lips. In her experience, one of the scariest things about megalomaniacs was that they believed their own bullshit.
--
Helen liked Bruce Banner, for all that she kind of hated him as well. He was humble and calm and so very smart, and he treated her like a colleague and not a lackey. For as much as she was aware that he housed something terrifying and dangerous, his gently deprecating manner and wry humor put her in a calm state of mind.

He looked like hell, but Helen supposed, she probably did as well. “You look like you should be in a bed alongside me,” she said.

He startled and favored her with a tiny smirk. “Your lab manager let me in.”

Helen remained silent in her observation of Bruce. He coughed and looked uncomfortable; shifted in his chair and looked down.

“Tony and, uh— well, he’s calling himself ‘Vision’ — found my plane and brought me back after everything settled down.”

“How did you end up in a plane?” Helen often found herself focused on the peripheral details when her mind was jumbled up like it was right then, from drugs and stress and grief.

Bruce made a face that was a grimace masked as a deprecating smirk. “The Other Guy has this habit of running off from anything he can’t smash.”

“Just the Other Guy?” Helen asked, being sure to enunciate so Bruce got her full meaning.

Bruce winced, like she’d kicked him in the gut, and she didn’t feel particularly guilty. She knew that he knew that she was familiar with Betty, if not that they were friends. In all of their associations she had carefully skirted that topic, and he’d seemed relieved to be let off the hook. At that moment, though, Helen ached in her middle and her heart, and for all that the man opposite her had probably saved the world a few times in the last few days, he had also hurt one of her friends and never made amends for that hurt.

“I don’t— That’s not what I came here about.”

“Natasha said something about Ultron’s body getting activated.”

Bruce actually blushed at Natasha’s name. Helen narrowed her eyes at Bruce, and he blushed more. So that’s how it was.

“I, uh. Yes, Vision.” Helen waited while he stumbled through an explanation of what had happened to her creation. “He ended up being the key to eradicating Ultron.”

“Why do you keep calling it ‘he’? Why does an android have a gender?”

“The way he was created...” Bruce snorted a humorless laugh. “He’s basically you and JARVIS’ child, but for Vision to come to be, JARVIS was repurposed as his AI and personality matrix, essentially absorbing him into the new Vision personality. I guess I’m not quite used to thinking of Vision as a separate entity, and JARVIS was always a ‘he’.”

“Aah.”

“He would like to meet you.”

“I think I would like to meet him as well,” Helen said. She pressed lightly into her side where her vibranium-infused flesh still felt wrong, but no longer ached fiercely. “He sounds like an interesting creation.”
--
Since Betty had moved to the home office outside of Seoul, in addition to her research duties, she had taken on responsibility as ‘English proofer’ for those labs which still submitted to academic journals. It wasn’t that the native Korean speaker’s English wasn’t grammatically perfect, but rather that there was often a certain style lacking in their prose which made it obvious they were non-native authors. Being familiar herself with the idiosyncratic, borderline racist tendencies of paper review methods, Betty was more than happy to do what she could to help the chances of her colleagues to get their papers accepted.

It had only been two days since the hair-raising call that brought Betty back to the lab, but she recognized her own need to feel useful. She took a turn sitting with Helen while inserting her edits into a few papers that had piled up in her inbox before her holiday and the attacks. Whenever she got to a point in need of explanation she’d ask Helen who appreciated the distraction. Helen had already tried to get up and leave once, only to be held down by her lab manager. Apparently she wasn’t qualified for hospital escapes like her usual superhero patients.

A knock on the door brought both their heads up. “Yes?” Helen asked, loud enough to be heard by the knocker. The door opened, and a man stepped in - rather tall, and mostly fuschia.

“May I come in?” he asked. He moved hesitantly, and his body language was surprisingly submissive for his striking appearance.

“Please do.” Helen gestured at the unoccupied guest chair.

“Do you want me to stay?” Betty asked in an undertone. Helen gave her the slightest of an affirmative nod and Betty settled in more firmly to her own chair.

“I am called Vision,” he said by way of introduction. “Doctor Banner said you might be expecting me?”

“Yes,” Helen agreed.

Vision folded himself into the chair. His knees stuck up, and his cape -- he had an actual cape -- was squashed and tugged at an odd angle by the motion. He clasped his hands between his spread knees. “I must thank you.”

“For what?”

“You are a large part of how I came to be. Though the circumstances of my physical creation were no doubt traumatic for you, I cannot help my gratitude that I was created.”

“In that, I suppose, we agree. They told me you did great things in defense of humanity; quite impressive for a newborn.” Vision ducked his head but looked pleased at her praise. Helen remained silent and let him work through the emotion. He was silent for long enough that Helen reached out, palm up. Vision furrowed his brow at her and placed his fingertips in her palm. She ran her thumb over his nail beds and traced the crease in his knuckles.

“Through the JARVIS personality I have many years of recorded experience with Mr. Stark. I wished to gain similar insight from my other creator.”

“People always are amazed by how perfect a baby’s hands and feet are,” Helen said. Vision frowned down at where she was exploring his palm with a mixture of confusion and pleasure.

“I am no baby,” Vision said.

“But you are a newborn,” Helen replied with a mischievous smile. Vision nodded once. “Do you mean that JARVIS is gone?” she asked after a long pause.

“Regrettably,” Vision confirmed.

“Another casualty of Ultron.”

“A casualty of my birth,” he corrected.

“Do you feel guilt for that?” Betty asked, speaking up for the first time.

“I am merely stating a fact,” Vision replied, but some subtlety of the intonation implied defensiveness.

“A fact you are guilty about?” Helen pressed.

Vision glanced down and pinched his fingers together in a gesture that was painfully human. “I have dedicated considerable thought to that question since my inception,” he replied.

Betty met his eyes when he looked up and smiled gently. “Sometimes it’s hard to see where the anger and the guilt are separate, and who they’re really directed at.”

“Indeed,” Vision agreed, his voice subdued.

They were all quiet for a long moment. Vision glanced around the room, his gaze making it clear he cataloged every detail, but settled in to observe Helen. “Are you just going to watch me?” Helen asked.

“Does my presence distress you?” he asked, and made as though to stand.

“No, no.” Helen waved her hand to indicate he remain seated. “I was merely curious what form your observation would take.”

“Aah. I was given to understand that you were seriously injured by Ultron. I had hoped to aid in your recovery, if that is amenable to you. I require neither sleep nor rest, and would appreciate the chance to become acquainted.”

“You want to be my nursemaid?” Helen asked, surprised but with a hint of amusement.

“If you are amenable,” Vision repeated.

“I had been told I would be discharged by this evening,” Helen said. Vision nodded.
--
Helen was accustomed to having eyes on her - being a senior researcher meant she had her fair share of admirers and opponents, both keen to observe her. She was not accustomed to the inhuman stamina of Vision’s particular gaze. “Are you just going to observe?” Helen asked.

“My experience indicates that a person’s true mettle is often revealed under duress.”

Helen gave him a gentle smile. “I’m hardly under duress.” Indeed, he had insisted she travel in a wheelchair and had helped her in every conceivable manner to rest comfortably in her own home.

“On the contrary,” Vision replied, though he did not continue as to how Helen was under such obvious stress. As the silence stretched between them, though, her feelings unspooled and she realized duress was precisely what she was under. The world had recently been imperiled due to her actions, a good deal of her friends and colleagues were injured or dead, her company was in shambles due to the aforementioned world imperiling and absent friends, and her spleen was now partially constructed from the most valuable metal on earth.

She nodded at Vision, and he returned the gesture.
--
Helen woke crying, curled around a pillow. Vision was there, seated at her bedside with a concerned expression. The incongruity of an android showing concern startled her into a laugh. His expression of concern only deepened. “Are you in distress?” he asked.

“No more than is due.” She pulled a handful of tissues from the box by her bed and blew her nose loudly. “Perhaps some tea is in order.”

“Of course.” He stood immediately and went to her kitchen to fix fresh tea. Teaching him the ritual of hot water and leaves had occupied their first evening together, and Helen had stayed up far beyond what she had intended due to the caffeine.

He drank tea with her, because the physiology she had created while under the influence of the mad machine and the Mind Stone was sophisticated enough to process food and water like a human. Her eyes settled on the stone which rested in the center of Vision’s forehead as though drawn to the spot. “You said you are the product of Tony and I, but I don’t think that’s precisely so.”

“Oh?”

Hearing such human expressions come out of Vision amused her to no end, and she suspected he had begun affecting human behavior in part to please her. “I think your third mother is whoever created the Mind Stone.” Vision’s hand raised up to touch the stone like someone who had been informed they had a smear of dirt on their forehead.

“I had not considered that,” Vision admitted.

“Tell me this: can you do the things the Sceptre did?”

“The Sceptre was but a housing for the Mind Stone, designed to harness its power by the Frost Giants, if Thor is to be believed on this topic. I sense a great potential within myself -- a great power -- but it does not... feel... the same as the energy of the Sceptre.” He looked at Helen and seemed to see deep within her. “I cannot control minds as it did, if that is what you fear. I can make none my slaves, and if I could, I would not do so. Choice is an essential element in the beauty of humanity: this was something Ultron lacked the ability to see.”

Helen nodded.
--
“I see no reason to take my own conveyance, when I can alter my density so as to cause you no inconvenience while providing safety should your recent injury cause you unexpected instability.”

“You sounded very much like JARVIS right there,” Helen told Vision while she strapped her helmet on. Vision pursed his lips. “I know you’re used to riding along with Tony but it is time for you to travel by yourself. It will keep you from hovering-” literally, Helen thought, “-so near to me.”

Though Helen had not been in pain for several days, she still moved gingerly with the shadowed remembrance of the searing, tearing pain through her middle. She nodded toward her normal road bike, while she took the beach cruiser that Stark had sent her, largely for its nearly incorruptible balance. Vision frowned once again, but took the handlebars of the road bike in his grasp and wheeled behind her like a reluctant sheepdog.

They got to street level and Helen wheeled her bike into the narrow road which bordered her apartment before swinging her leg over and settling astride the seat. She winced reflexively, but no pain came. She smiled back at Vision, kicked off, and began a slow rhythm of pedaling. She glanced in the rear-view mirror on her right handlebar and grinned at Vision’s somewhat ungainly launch. He quickly recovered, she guessed by using his density manipulation if the somewhat incongruent rate of rotation of the bike wheels was any indication.

“Are you cheating?” she called over her shoulder.

“It depends upon how one defines cheating,” Vision replied with a snippy twist she recalled from JARVIS.

They rode in silence, the familiar roll of the streets giving way to the manicured park that buffered the river from the Seobu Expressway. The sound of vehicles was imperfectly buffered by the earth berm of the park, but even so, the sounds seemed to fall away as the thump of her heartbeat and the pumping of her legs quieted her thoughts.

She checked every so often to be certain she had not lost Vision, as silly as that concern was. Whenever she checked on him she was reminded of how they drew stares from passing pedestrians and children playing with their caretakers. His cape flowed behind him like a particularly garish wedding train, and his skin nearly glowed with color in the afternoon sun. For the first time since their meeting he didn’t look pensive, or thoughtful, or concerned, or any of a thousand other ways that can be used to describe not living in the moment. He looked happy, like someone who had never been happy before and had just discovered it, and he was beautiful. If this was the child she had brought into the world, and he kept on as he was, she could be nothing but proud of him. She pressed her fingers into the place in her stomach where vibranium and flesh laced together in her and meant they were made of the same stuff.

“Are you in pain?” Vision asked, once more concerned.

“Not at all. I’m simply enjoying being alive.”
--

 

coda

“Hey Bruce.”

“Betty.” His voice was strangled with surprise and guilt.

“Long time no see.”

“Yeah. Uh-” he glanced down, “have you been keeping track of me?”

“Not really,” Betty replied, hard in her honestly.

“Oh. Right.” Bruce looked away, hunched his shoulders a bit.

“It’s hard not to hear things second hand, though, what with patching up your team members more than occasionally.”

Bruce looked even more guilty.

“You could have said ‘hello’,” she said, her voice gentled.

Bruce nodded. “I know. I- I know. I should have.”

“How ‘bout you give that a go now, then?”

“Hi Betty.”

“Hey Bruce.”