His heart was in his throat, likely in the sound of his voice if tone might somehow translate through a technology that had never been designed for communications. An inventive breakthrough it already was, surely, that the nanoparticulates of a meager tracking device had interacted with the vibranium of the bionic arm in the way that allowed them a form of contact at the start of the year. Her location this time right beside him, and nonetheless—with that thing feeding from her neurochemicals—again they might as well have been on two separate planets. Two different dimensions. His grip on her left hand faltering from its clench. Damnit, Misty, he murmured under his breath for the dozenth time. She'd been right. Seeing the organism sucking quite literally at her joy-- He could've gone a few more lifetimes without it. "I don't know who's there.." He adjusted the receiver on the earpiece, clearing his throat though he leaned closer to the bed—as if she might hear him, nanoparticles or not, her or her host. "Or if this might even work... But, damnit, Misty..."
It came out of nowhere it felt. His voice. Small and far away but still strangely clear enough to be heard over the sounds of the city whose paved sidewalks she’d halted on. Blinking, her eyes looked up at the cloudless sky. " .. Bruce? " In one world she smirked. In the other her lips were as still as the rest of her.
In some tragic way, with his eyes focused only upon her face—compartmentalization applied to his vision and obscuring the more grotesque portions of the facts—she almost looked... Peaceful. Wasn't that what he'd said the month prior? At the top of a flight of stairs that perhaps no longer existed; his plain description for how she looked when she slept. If Misty Knight could ever look peaceful. It almost made him smile, the recollection appearing in his own mind in the instant after her transmission came through, the relief scattering his thoughts in a sudden wave of multiple directions. "Misty? Misty-- You can hear me?"
Suddenly there was music. A beat she recognized from an adolescence she’d nearly forgotten. Back when the idea of protecting and serving her community somehow was still nothing more than a seed. She was walking again, turning a corner and as if doing so traveling uptown in the blink of an eye to her old neighborhood. The street in front of her childhood home transformed into a block party with a turn out of attendees that spanned as far as she could see. A couple of laughing kids raced past her and an elderly woman with a sweet smile and a large sun hat sitting on a front porch waved in her direction. And she waved back. With her bionic hand. It wasn’t covered. She didn’t have to hide here and she knew it. "Mmhm."
There was no music in the cave. In the cave, there was silence, a very distinct timbre of silence that seemed, figuratively, to echo upon itself—a layered, multidimensional emphasis on nothing. An emphatic absence. For a moment the thought crossed his mind, why anyone with their deck of options laid face-up across the table would choose this world over the one they could personally conjure. Reminded him of a story he'd once plucked from his host's mind—some script about lucid dreams that'd been stolen by Christopher Nolan and turned into a multi-million-dollar blockbuster... "Misty, you have to--" Come back. The end of his sentence was lodged in his throat. On pause, like his proverbial heart, incapable of succinct expression. "What is it like there? You know it's not--" Real. Whatever that was, these days. In these times. This dimension. "What is it like there?"
Suddenly someone took her hand and spun her around and just like that she was dancing with her eyes closed. The beat vibrated deeper in her bones that way. The warmth from the overhead sun seemed to shine brighter behind shut lids. The scent of world famous barbecue done up right there in the streets by masters who would never get the deserved credit smelled all the sweeter. There was a lightness to her steps and when she lifted her arms above her head she felt free of the weight of paranoia. Of the extra persona to consider. “..Hmm? Here..” In this world she grinned and swayed her hips. “ It’s.. it’s… it’s warm. Where are you? Come dance with me. ”
There was no dancing in the cave. Neither presently nor ever before. In the cave, the temperature was constantly moderated for a balance of its internal ecosystem—an equilibrium of a static, agelessly perfected protection, regardless of season or weather. And for the most part, it smelled like the timeless stone that wrapped around it. Comforting, if only for its familiarity; or when occasionally he'd be distracted by a whiff of some lingering presence she'd left behind on her last visit. Half-imagined, likely. Even in the presumably 'real' world, a startling amount of experience was partially imagined—a mind forever at work filling in its own blanks. "I'm... Here." At the moment, it was all he could say, his eyes monitoring the hue of her skin for any sign of immediate danger. "You can stay for awhile longer if you'd like." In the initial fuss of finding her seemingly unconscious in the hallway and getting her back to some semblance of safety, his mind racing for alternatives to the risks of physically prying the plant off her, the last thing he may have foreseen was that he'd be encouraging her to remain wherever she was—with whatever state of bliss she'd discovered from deep within her mind's eye. A glance now cast behind him toward his lab, rummaging through a list of its equipment, on his own search for something—anything—that he might use to more properly monitor her physical well-being.
His words bothered her in a way she couldn’t articulate even after she opened her eyes. The faces of the crowd seeming to fade in and out if she stared at them long enough. Like a glitch, previously undetected and her easy smile dampened, her body no longer swaying though the music continued to play. Stepping aside to view a dance off between the unlikely contenders of a young boy and a man who seemed to be in his late seventies. The results pure and comical but she was slightly less immersed than she had been. Her eyes now searched for him through bodies and tops of heads, turning in a small semi circle unknowingly. “ I don’t understand…”
Unwilling to leave the bedside, Bruce nonetheless inched his hand away, heel already turned for his brisk steps towards the lab. There had to be some form of electrocardiogram or electroencephalogram apparatus lying around somewhere that didn't require dismantling the equipment used for his ongoing scans of gamma activity in his own physiology. For how long exactly was he intending to let her stay as she was? "You're-- You're elsewhere, Misty. Can you recall how you got there?"
Someone bumped into her shoulder in passing from one direction moving too quickly for her to find the source of the mumbled apology. The rough jostling causing her to drop something she didn’t even realize she was holding. As his comments echoed in her ears she bent down to inspect the object soon to be identified as a gun — her gun. Picking it up she put it back in its standard issued holster under her no longer bare arms. Her attire having changed as well as her surroundings. No longer a carefree gathering but a dark office that much like the music before she recognized from a long time ago. " I don’t remember. I was just ... it changes. "
The reverie he'd witnessed his own host experiencing just days before was similar in that respect, a bizarrely compiled chimera of wishful ideals and subconscious yearnings, a strangely spun catalog of moments without any linear cohesion though more distinctly vivid than mere memories. Pleasant, for what it was worth—for dangerous daydreams that spoke perhaps a little too clearly of the grave limitations of reality. Bruce refused to even entertain the vain thought of what his own perfect world may have looked like, rummaging through his stores of heaped odds and ends in his lab—a hoarder's leftover junk from past adventure to past adventure. "Where are you now?"
She ran her human fingers over the surface of the cheap desk where she stood. Where she lay however in reality similar digits twitched. The scene morphed again. Brightened by a harsh unflattering light, desk swapped for a small table and when she looked up it was at a handcuffed disheveled man sitting and smirking. Without checking she knew the two way mirror was at her right. The door directly behind her. An interrogation room. His lips were moving as he hurled insults. The sound overlapping the words of the scientist. It grated her nerves. " Shut up. I can’t hear him ..shut up. Bruce? I can’t hear you. "
One thing he could hand to the world he was presently in, in it he heard her perfectly. His fingers half-tangled in the wires of a string of electrodes when he paused, his head glancing back towards the main chamber she laid in, as though he'd heard something else. A sigh, or a mum-lipped murmur—something that the scientist knew couldn't have been transmitted through his earpiece. "I hear you just fine.. I'm still here. You're with... Someone?"
She turned her back on the subject though it didn’t help with the clarity of the voices that still tangled and overlapped with one another. It didn’t help when the door burst open and former colleagues came through with wide congratulating grins and distracting applause. Distractingly a hand almost went to her ear to shield herself from the chaos as her shoulder was patted for a job well done. A job she didn’t remember doing. " Yeah... yeah.." Speaking somehow only to him. " The whole damn 29th precinct. Baby, where are you again? "
More practical to shuttle her into the lab than to bring the necessary equipment out to her, but in the brief intervals between each of her transmissions a folding utility cart was quickly being piled onto. There were no someones in the cave, apart from them and Gammon, the latter already preparing the interfaces on the hideout's computer systems that'd link to the makeshift ECG and EEG machines—not a word exchanged between the scientist and his A.I. apprentice; not instructions, nor thanks, nor congratulations. The support quite entirely mechanical. "I'm--" Here, he nearly repeated in the same tone of an unexpected calm, still defiant against common reason. What sort of madman encouraged another to dream, while a life-draining plant sucked from them? The medical doctor in him was abhorred. The philosopher, though, argued with a predominant persistence, despite its own struggle with reevaluating notions of choice. Regardless of however well-meaning, the problem with judicially administrated decisions was that it tended to negate individual choice in the matter; and after a moment's frowned pause, he cleared his throat, having arrived at the decision that the decision wasn't his to make. "I'm not where you are... Surprising, really." Not the time for jokes, but he couldn't help the smile. "I'm where you could be, though."
Not where she was. Where she could be. No one else seemed to hear the exchange and that felt.. strange. The tiny surrounding imperfections continued to be bothersome. Though before she had a chance to inspect closer, things changed again. She was getting used to the jolt. The new settings no longer jarring though less easily adapted to as in previous turns. “ Aren’t you supposed to find me? ” She was on an empty beach now walking barefoot towards a small but pretty house placed curiously close to the shoreline. Smirking she quickened her pace.
"Haven't I already?" Again, he smiled in spite of himself and the underlying tensions that seeped back into notice as soon as he was in the cave's main chamber again, her motionless form on the pathetic single bed across the room a sickening image of a medical bay. An underground medical bay... A world at war, all of the time. Heaven, unfortunately, not a place in the cave. At least not currently.
“ This doesn’t count. If I can’t see you it doesn’t count. ” She almost laughed even if the faster she moved the further the house felt. It wasn’t until she broke out into a full blown sprint that she was able to catch up to it. Opening a literal white picket fence to get to three porch steps and through the already open front door. “ What are you waiting for, doc? ” Her tone teased verging on sing song, finding herself moving from room to room like a stupid little kid rather than the hardened chair brooding badass that she was. “ Get your ass here already. I wanna fuck. ”
He couldn't hear the pace of her breaths change with her sprint, nor any panted irregularity after, even if there'd been any in her world to notice. But the shift in her tone was as always crystal clear. A chuckle escaping him, at which he shook his head, his hands at work going through the motions of quite a disparate nature—plugging wires into sockets while avoiding contact with the faintly throbbing organism affixed to her chest that, with its vine-like tendrils embedded at her neck, forced the electrode pads to be attached only to her temples and the underside of her human wrist. Her pulse soon flickering onto a monitor behind him, seen through his contacts and almost, almost, chuckled at again. He knew that particular rhythm of a reading. Matched the ones that lit up on the screen via the electrodes at her temples. "I can see that, yes.. That was the plan, wasn't it?" Satisfied with her physiological safety—relative, of course—Bruce sat back down at the bed's side, briefly running through the math again. He'd been trapped in his host's reverie for an approximate five hours with no other lasting side-effects other than some joked sexual frustration; the last they'd spoken was less than two and a half hours ago... The coast seemed fairly clear. "For you. I'm still waiting for you."
This wasn’t their house. A part of her knew that even with the tell tale signs that screamed of the contrary lay scattered around like bread crumbs for her to find. Not their house but a nice one. One she could have fallen in love with. The air smelled of the sea and something sweet baking but instead of stepping into the kitchen she was climbing a staircase to the second floor. " Mmhm. " Each step felt draining and by the time she reached the top her eyes could barely stay open. " I’m coming .. I just need a minute. I just need to rest. Just a minute.. wait for me." There was a bed at the end of the hallway but she couldn’t make it. Choosing instead to lay on the floor for a nap. The wood paneling surprisingly comfortable against her spine. Sleeping now in both strange worlds.
A few hours could've passed in the dream world—each individual with their own ticking pace of what Bruce colloquially referred to as 'mind time,' those blinks in which he frequently drifted off into in his awoken hours—but for the fellow waiting, and perhaps rather contrary to the embedded impatient concept of waiting, her given timeframe of 'just a minute' wasn't too far off from his counted nanoseconds. He could've held his breath for it. Initially, he almost did. After he'd spoken a quiet "I'll be here" that he couldn't be sure she'd heard; while her silent end of the transmission began stirring an anxiety through his thoughts—all the ways his calculations may have erred, what sleep within sleep might physiologically signify, or what a dream within a dream would look like... In his own mind's time, a few hours could've passed in synchrony with her taken nap before he noticed his hand grasping a little too firmly to hers, skewing the readings from her wrist's attached electrode minutely, though still nothing to cause any alarm. Still unwilling to interfere, yet his grip only tightened. He always had trouble waking her. "Misty..? You've been gone awhile..."
When she opened her eyes she was still stuck in the dream. No longer on the floor but in a bed she couldn’t remember making it to. Not that she could remember a lot. Not daylight turning into night as noted by the open bedroom window. Saved from being engulfed by darkness by an array of tea lights placed on surrounding bits of complementary pieces of furniture. Her head turned to observe the empty but ruffled sheets beside her, extending a hand to place over the space in search of lingering warmth. " Have I? " Her brows knitted and thunder sounded as a breeze swept through the room causing the flames to flicker making her pull the covers up higher over her bare shoulders. She wasn’t wearing any clothes underneath. " Did I miss you? "
The fleeting flush of uneasiness over his thoughts lingered in residual hints over his nerves, though relieved all over again in an expressed sigh when her artificially reconstructed voice sounded in his ear. Contrarily, perhaps, to the way his grip on her hand firmed twofold. So firm that his knuckles paled and his wrist shook. Why the image occurred to him—falling down a flight of stairs—he couldn't identify, but it occurred to him, causing his spine to stiffen before gradually leaning back, arm extended. He shook his head. "No.. No, you haven't. I can't say that I was there-- Where are you now? Were there dreams?"
Part of her wanted to close her eyes again. To continue to let her guard down by ignoring the parts that didn’t connect — to ignore the curiosity that was in her nature. The doors weren’t locked. The windows wide open and she had been laying there for hours it felt without an ounce of fear. She could keep it up. All she had to do was close her eyes again...but dreams. Were there dreams he said. Misty sat up slowly, feeling an extra weight attached to her chest that she hadn’t expected that required her palms brace themselves against the bed on either side of her. Nearly gasping as the sheets fell revealing a roundness of a pregnant bare belly as her pulse in the cave picked up pace. Thunder sounded again — louder this time, closer. " This... it isn’t real.. is it, doc? "
He heard the operating system behind him beep an ancillary alert before he felt her fingers clasp to his hand in an involuntary spasm, his focus directed more immediately to the latter incident—then the head-up display of his contact lenses where the rhythmic pattern of her heartbeat quickened on its chart. Still little cause for any panic. At least, not his; not in a world where danger crept like shadows in every unlit corner, where civilians strolled as boldly or blindly as heroes—or the hero-adjacent—into the path of one threat or another, where a fucking alien parasite had been clamped onto the chest of a loved one for nearing three hours while a medical professional argued with his philosophies on an individual's free will and what reality even was without the autonomy to choose for one's self what was better. If she wanted to stay within a landscape threatened only by the nurtured, long-accepted belief that shit happens, who was he to reel her back from it? To promise that she could have it too, whatever she dreamed, and have it with him? There, in a cave that could spit out makeshift ECG machines but didn't even house a window or a record player or a bed for two. There was, however, space. The cave held a lot of space. There was room for dancing, room for the strewn sleeping bags that had already become the mused-aloud beginnings of pillow forts— The barbecue, they'd have to do outside— The beach— Well, weren't their new digs close to the coast? There was room in the real for things to surpass one's sole memories and imaginations; that had to be a good enough reason. Why she needed to stay. In this place where shit happened but not always. Bruce heard his voice cracking over the words that his calculations had previously concluded he wouldn't say. "It's not.. It isn't real. Neither is where I am without you."
Bits and pieces of her true morning started to come back to her. The strange but universal and distinct smell of school as she walked the girl to her classroom door, observing the bright colors and circular arrangement of tiny desks as opposed to rows. The echoed promise to pick her up as soon as the bell rang in the afternoon. The detour back to their real home to look for —— lightening struck causing a flash of distracting brightness as the sky roared and the sound of rain beat against the roof. It wasn’t real. It was already starting to fade but she reached for her stomach anyway. The pads of her fingers almost immediately met with an internal movement. A false nudge — once, twice and a stupid sense of protectiveness washed over her. " This isn’t real. This isn’t real. This isn’t .. real. " The words repeated, mumbled as the scene around her tore apart, morphing into a nightmare. The weight of her moving stomach turning into a sharp pain that had her gritting her teeth. " Not .. real. " Misty continued even when the tea lights blew out by the force of the wind that pummeled through the open window. Even when she felt the blood she couldn’t see start to collect between her legs. " Not fucking ... real. " Again and again until her lips in the cave started to echo the same sentiment and her eyes opened abruptly.
Again, his heart felt lodged like a knot of tension in his throat, his breath halted like a fastened seatbelt across his chest—tightening as though everything was shrinking around him except the focal point of his vision. Like peering through a telescope, or a microscope, or a pinhole camera. If his host had experienced a similar nightmare of being torn from the safety of his illusions, what Bruce had seen of it was just another glimpse of his own monster—and he was long past being terrified of that. No longer was it some hidden mass of hulk growing like a tumor, a silent secret raging for a voice in his veins. In fact, what that mass of monster served to obscure was likely worse. But Bruce wouldn't know it, no; each time he came to the realization, he only buried it deeper. As far as the scientist knew, he faced his monster daily. The one on Misty's chest shrieking some inaudibly pitched noise as it began shriveling its tendrils from her neck back into itself—that was nothing. Nothing more than a scientific curiosity that Gammon recorded for later when the recorded spikes in Bruce's own physiological readings would be ignored. Discarded. He didn't need to know what his pulse looked like as his heart broke in tandem with his drowning sigh of relief. His hand—both hands—affixed around hers now, his torso leaned forward; the Black Mercy, so revoltingly named, beginning to crawl like a singed slug from her torso off the bed.
It felt like she was always waking up to some nightmare or another. Be it from that annoyingly predictable slumber — three week pauses in-between consciousness or the result of what happened on occasion at night when two different women sharing the same body and mind were at rest. Blended memories making for a chaotic head space and dark fantastical settings that would later require more than a few cups of coffee to recover from. And then there were the ones that she still couldn’t shake off that were entirely of her own making. The ones that smelled like burnt flesh and caused an artificial limb to feel the pain of detachment even when she was wide awake and whole. Without looking she knew the hands her own were sandwiched between were his and she was grateful for the firmness. That it would mask the way they might otherwise tremble. Her muttering had come to a slow halt as her eyes fixed on the cave walls — still a bit distrusting of her senses and the reality she found herself in even if it felt more like home than any of the others had. Her chin pointed upwards, afraid to succumb to the impulse to jump up because she didn’t want to see. She wasn’t sure which visual might be worse — which might stick with her like those nightmares that stayed forever. A vile plant life slinking away or blood stained sheets and when her lips started to move again moisture from the corner of her blinking eyes started to fall. " Is it over? Is it done? "