David studied the graphs and charts with a growing sense of excitement. The military was actually onto something. He needed more information than the little convention display could give him, however.
"May I help you with anything, sir?"
"Well, yes actually." He looked the young lady over cautiously. She looked intelligent, pleasant, and bored. He decided to take a chance.
"I am a scientist myself, a doctor primarily, but I have been researching Gamma radiation for many years. This research would seem to indicate that your people have found a way to not only safely irradiate a living creature for a short period of time without causing cellular mutation, but also to undo the effects of long term radiation exposure."
"The test results are only preliminary, of course, but we seem to be on the right track. We have had some problems in regulating the levels of ...."
General Ross watched his daughter's conversation from the catwalk above the auditorium with pursed lips. He did not like Betty hanging around the pencil pushers on base and the civilian geeks were even worse. He growled under his breath. When her mother died, he had vowed to her spirit that he would be sure that his little girl would grow up and find a husband worthy of the fine old name of Ross.
Betty saw her dad up above the convention floor and turned her post over to her assistant. She made her way to his side and saluted smartly. He returned the salute and relaxed marginally.
"Is everything going well? Was that civilian causing problems?"
"No, Dad. He is a scientist doing research on Gamma Radiation. He had some insights that may aid with our research."
"Ah, and who does he work for?"
"A private foundation, I didn't get the name."
"Did you get his name?"
"Bannon, David Bannon."
"Is he coming back tomorrow?"
"Yes, why the interest?" Betty looked at her father suspiciously.
"He might be someone we need to recruit."
"I don't think he was the military type."
"And you're certain he wasn't a spy?"
"Absolutely certain, Ross. We've been looking for Dr. Banner for a long time. We want this man in the fold, where we can keep an eye on him and use his knowledge for the benefit of the American people. We'll take care of the recruitment. Just make sure no one else gets to him first."
David made his way cautiously toward the military display. The same young woman greeted him with a charming smile and a folder with some of the more in depth information on her research. He was so deep into the statistics that he entirely forgot the stranger that had been following him all morning.
Ross watched the scientist curiously. He wondered what his superiors knew about the man. He did not like the idea of having him in his unit so close to Betty. Maybe he would decline whatever offer Ops made him. Then he would disappear from her life like all the other would-be-Romeos. He smiled and nodded briefly to the covert specialist shadowing the man who called himself 'Bannon'.
The specialist followed Banner as he left the booth. The mark was definitely on to him though it was unlikely that he knew the extent of their surveillance or their knowledge. He pushed the signal button in his jacket pocket. Banner made a sudden turn into a narrow aisle between nuclear energy displays. Cursing silently, he followed in time to see Banner duck under a row of bleachers. He broke into a jog, his soft-soled shoes nearly silent on the auditorium floor. Banner slipped through a doorway that led into a dressing room.
The specialist grinned; his prey was trapped. The rear exit from the dressing room was locked. He moved in and gave a hand signal that brought two other members of his team from the crowd. They entered after Banner taking care to appear as non-threatening as possible.
"Dr. David Banner, please do not be afraid. We were asked to detain you so that someone could speak to you. We mean you no harm."
"What do you want? Who are you?" David felt himself tensing, felt the familiar tingling of heat rising in his face. He forced himself to relax, if The Other came, it would be disastrous. He was so close to the information he needed for a cure.
A new voice answered his question from the direction of the doorway that had been locked. "We want your help, Doctor David Bruce Banner."
David started to speak, to deny his identity, but the newcomer raised a hand to still him. "Let me explain, David. "May I call you David?"
He nodded mutely.
"Great! You see Dr. Banner, I know a great deal about you."
David paled. "What do you know?"
"We know about your experiments with Gamma radiation, about the accident in your laboratory that killed your wife. We even know that your experiments involved recreating the events leading to episodes of super-human strength in times of stress."
"What we don't know is why you ran away instead of staying and clearing your name. You must know, the arson investigators found that the explosion was caused by faulty wiring in your electrical bolt generator. The manufacturer of the device paid quite a nice settlement to your in-laws, by the way."
David felt as if the floor had crumbled beneath him. He could not speak. The Hulk, as Jack McGhee had labeled his alter ego, had not killed her; he had not killed her. If he had been alone he would have sunk to his knees and wept. The fact that they apparently did not know about the Hulk, seemed inconsequential beside the revelation.
"But we are not here to question your motives, Doctor. What we want is for you to come work for us. We are willing to pay you quite well. You could continue your own research in your spare time if you wish and have all our technology, and our technology is the best, at your disposal. We want you to work with Dr. Ross and iron out the problems in our own Gamma research."
"Think about it, Dr. Banner, no more running, no more hiding, unlimited access to research funds and equipment. It's an offer too good to refuse."
"And what if I do refuse? Will I disappear somewhere? I don't imagine you'll let me walk away after telling me all this."
"Oh, we'd let you walk away, but not without supervision. You wouldn't see us, but we would always see you. You are a brilliant man and a valuable asset; we cannot allow you to become a liability. There are a lot of less than scrupulous characters out there in this day and age that would love to get their hands on a man of your ability."
"I don't really have a choice then, do I."
"There are always choices, Dr Banner. Sometimes, though, there is only one choice you can live with."
Two days later, David found himself showing his card to the MP at the military base. In less than an hour he was ensconced in his own small house filling out mountains of paperwork. He tried to ignore the knot of fear and doubt in his stomach. This was his chance to learn what he needed to destroy the monster inside him once and for all. Still, he could not seem to shake the feeling that he should run right now, as far and as fast as he could to escape not only the military but his own personal demon as well.
David pulled back from the binoculars and rubbed his eyes before looking again. There was definitely something out there moving into the blast test zone. It looked like a vehicle, a jeep, the light flashed off the windshield. He grabbed his phone and tried to reach the base, but there was nothing but static on the line. The radiation buildup had begun; the observation bunker was entirely cut off until the machine fired.
He cursed and fumbled at the complex latching mechanisms on the door. They did not budge. He felt frustration and anger building, then the too familiar rush of warmth. He let go of the door and staggered back. His heart thundered like a drum in his ears, a high keening song rose above it matching the rhythm of his body's molecular flow. He heard the ripping of muscle and the cracking as his bones began to thicken and elongate, then his mind was ripped away and only the primal core that was the Hulk remained.
David came around slowly feeling the disorientation that always accompanied his changes. He tried to sit up only to feel two hands push him back.
"Not so fast, Dude. You took most of that blast straight on, or the Green Guy did."
"The Green Guy?" David fervently offered a silent prayer that the man had not seen him change.
"Yeah, you were all green and huge, you pulled me out of the jeep and turned it over just before the ground exploded. The blast hit you and you just kind of shook it off and carried me here."
"Yeah, one of the caves up in the arroyo. You carried me here, then just sort of lay down and went to sleep, then you changed back to normal. How did you do that?"
"You don't want to know, Mr..."
"No mister, Mister, just Rick. Rick Jones. My sister works at the diner just off the base, I took a shortcut across base because I was late meeting her. She had some kind of job for me. She is going to kill me."
David tuned out the young man's chatter and sat up, squinting against the sun slanting in the cave entrance. He tried to piece together the bits of memory from before he changed. There had been a test of the new laser-targeting device. It was supposed to remote detonate special land mines. He had been watching the test alone from a shielded bunker. He had seen something, someone entering the test zone. From there, it was all blank.
He looked at the man he had apparently rescued. Rick was young, but not as young as he had at first thought, early thirties maybe. He had long, red hair, brown eyes, and a quick grin. He was dressed in typical fashion for the area, jeans, t-shirt, vest and a cowboy hat. He had an open, honest face.
That face was looking at him expectantly now. David realized that he must have asked a question. "I'm sorry, what was that?"
"Are you from the base, Dude?"
"Do you have a name?"
He started to fish for a pseudonym out of habit, then realized he did not need to anymore. "David Banner."
"You okay, David? You still look kind of dazed. Why don't we get you some clothes and I'll buy you a cup of coffee, it's the least I can do when you saved my hide."
"You saw that thing, you should get away from me now! I could hurt you."
To his surprise, Rick laughed. "That "thing" risked his life to save mine then carried me like a baby here. It didn't look dangerous to me. My sister's way more dangerous. Besides, you can't go back to the base looking like this, unless of course, they know about this."
David realized that his clothes were shredded, nothing but rags left of the pants, no shirt, no shoes. He cursed softly.
"It's okay, I've got some sweats in my jeep. If they aren't blown to bits. It's right over that dune. I haven't seen any army men come out yet. Then we can hoof it out to my shack over the ridge there. Unless the boys in green will be swarming over the place in a few."
"They wouldn't register the foreign object in the zone yet, the radiation from the detonator will hide the results for at least an hour."
"Good deal, let's boogie."
David shook his head and followed Rick down the side of the bluff. He wished fervently that he could be as sure of the Hulk's nature as the redhead seemed to be.
David sipped his coffee gratefully and listened to Rick's continuous light banter. The young man was strangely comforting. It was almost as if seeing a green monster turn into a man and nearly being blown apart was nothing out of the ordinary. He radiated energy and charm. He had not asked one of the questions that must have entered his mind about the Hulk and the transformation he had witnessed. For that, David was deeply grateful. He would have to come up with an excuse for his absence from the base. They would have discovered him missing by now.
"I need to get back to the base."
Rick nodded. "I'll give you a ride back on my bike."
"That's alright, you should get back to your sister now."
"The local Indians around here say that if a man saves your life, you're bound to take care of him in return. I'll give you a lift in, then we'll get together for dinner at the diner and you can tell me what to tell the soldier boys if they come around asking questions."
David ran his hands through his hair. He would have to come up with something to explain the overturned jeep and his absence from the bunker. He wondered how badly the bunker was damaged. He sighed.
A comforting hand dropped onto his shoulder. "It'll be okay, Doc. I know I don't look like much, but I won't say anything to anybody about what happened. I'll be there anytime you need me, for anything."
David looked at the young man. He really meant every word he said. It was written in every line of his face. He wanted to be harsh, to send the kid away before he did hurt him, but he heard himself agree. He stood and followed Rick to his motorcycle. He felt strangely disconnected, as if he were dreaming. He settled onto the bike behind the redhead. He was very aware of the heat radiating from the other man's body. They were at the base far too soon and not nearly soon enough.
David looked at his reflection in the mirror and wondered why he was even doing this. He knew full well that he should cut and run before someone else found out what he was, before the Hulk could hurt anyone, before he could hurt Rick.
Thinking about the young man made his stomach flutter. He felt nauseous. He knew, he had seen the creature. He had offered friendship, help, shelter. David could almost see his warm brown eyes, a clear reddish brown color, intelligent eyes, compassionate eyes that sparkled with humor.
David shook his head and wondered why the man, had made such an impression on him. Maybe it was the total, unconditional acceptance he had offered. When was the last time anyone had given him that? One other had treated him that way and she had ended up dead because of him. Even if the creature did not kill her directly, his obsession with his work had led her to her death. It was still his fault.
When he arrived at the diner, Rick was leaning across a booth talking animatedly to a dark haired girl. She turned and smiled as he approached. He could extrapolate from the smile alone that she had to be Rick's sister. The laughing brown eyes confirmed his assessment even before Rick introduced her as Rita.
He found himself shoved into a booth between Rick, and one of his sister's girlfriends facing her and her boyfriend across the table. The group was boisterous and outgoing chatting and laughing about their friends and activities.
He was just beginning to feel like the chaperone at a high school dance when Rick smiled over at him and squeezed his hand under the table. Suddenly the room was just way too hot. He squeezed back and held onto Rick's hand like a lifeline until the disorientation passed. By the time he could breath again, Rick was arguing stridently with his sister about missing the interview. He did not seem at all inclined to let go of David's hand and David did not pull away.
The other young people decided to head out to the movies after they ate. Rick leaned in closer to him after they left and asked if he had decided what he wanted to tell anyone that asked.
David cleared his throat nervously. "The MP's have decided that based on the damage to the bunker, there must have been something stored inside that was inadvertently detonated by the device we were testing. Fortunately, I saw an abandoned jeep out on the test site and left the bunker to check it out. I told them that I realized I couldn't get back to the bunker before the test began so I took shelter up in the arroyo. I tried to make it back to the base but took a wrong turn and ended up out at the road. You were coming to pick up your jeep and gave me a ride back. I told them I wasn't sure what your jeep was doing out there in the first place, but I would ask."
"Oh, that's easy. The jeep started acting up and I tried to cut across the desert hoping to reach the diner before it died, but I didn't make it. I left it and walked back to the house to get the Ducati and my toolbox and met up with you on the way back. I dropped you off and went after the Jeep only to find it was twisted metal. I'll send a tow truck after it tonight and call the insurance company. I'm pretty sure getting blown up by the army while trespassing on a firing range isn't covered."
David laughed. "No, I would guess not."
He looked up at the clock above the counter. "I had better get back, I'm not regular military but they still don't like me off base after curfew."
"Okay, I'll see you tomorrow, David. Sleep tight."
"Tomorrow?" David asked, but Rick was already leaving the register at the counter tucking his wallet back into his jeans and heading out the door. David looked after the young man with a bemused expression before walking up to the counter himself.
The diner owner was Rick's uncle, Rio. He slapped David on the shoulder like a long lost friend and asked if he needed anything else.
"No thanks, everything was great. How much do I owe you?"
"Nothin' Red picked up the tab. Kid thinks a lot of you, looks like. Why dontcha stop back in tomorrow night. Red's band plays live Saturdays, they start around seven." The older man winked at David.
"I'll try to do that." He was not sure what the wink was and chose to ignore it.
Back on base and settled in his own bed, David tried to read but found his mind wandering back to the events of the day. He finally gave up and let himself sleep. For the first time in years, his dreams were not of raging beasts or leaping flames, but of gentle eyes and warm hands.
David did find himself back at the diner the next night and every Saturday night after that. As it turned out, Rick played guitar and sang for his band, and he was not bad. The group played a mixture of jazzy rock and blues. Rick smiled and waved when he saw David sitting at a small table. At the first break he appeared at David's elbow and dropped into chair beside him.
He was full of questions about what David thought about the band, how it had gone back on base, what kind of music and movies David liked. He found out quickly that he did not really have to answer all of Rick's questions. The boy would just careen on to another topic if David hesitated in the least. He actually found himself regretting the end of the break. Before he left, Rick made him promise to stay for the whole show. David laughed and agreed. Their lives fell into a strange sort of pattern from that moment on.
David immersed himself in research, deepened his friendship with Betsy, and even managed to gain the trust of her father. When the Hulk appeared in times of danger, Rick would be there when he came around with a change of clothes, a report on what the creature had done, and an alibi for David. The military, especially General Ross, devised plan after plan to capture or kill the strange creature that appeared out of nowhere and disappeared as quickly, but no one associated the creature with David. He eventually told Betsy and she joined him in the pursuit of a cure. Most evenings found David at the diner. Rick's sister and uncle treated him like family. Their friends did not seem to care about the fact that David was nearly twice their age.
He felt comfortable, welcome. He felt like he had finally come home. He still had the burden of his terrible secret, he still dealt with the fear that the other would come and harm those close to him; but he was no longer alone, no longer on the run. He was as content as he could be while the Hulk still lived.
David clapped loudly as Rick's band finished "Open Arms" and moved into their final number. He glanced up at the clock over the counter. They would be done in fifteen or twenty minutes. He was just turning back to the stage when he caught a glimpse of a familiar looking figure near the door. He moved a little to get a better view and caught his breath. It was Jack McGhee, the reporter that had tracked him across the country for years.
Jack looked tired and careworn. He was missing his ever-present clipboard and his camera. He spoke to the waitress and sat down at a table. David scanned the diner looking for a way to slip out without the reporter seeing him. He jumped when someone caught his elbow.
It was Rio. "That guy is a reporter, he said he'd received information that you were here on the base. He's asking if we know ya, if ya ever come in here. If you don't wanna talk to him, we'll send him packing."
David was tempted to take him up on the offer, but if he was going to truly stop running, he had to face up to his past. The Hulk had been kept out of the papers by the military, so he knew Jack could not have heard anything about him. He must have found out that he was alive, from some military records or something, and tracked him here.
David took a deep breath and shook his head. "I'll talk to him."
"You need anything, give me a wave or a nod and I'll be right there. I used to be a heavyweight titleholder and I still got the moves."
David thanked him and walked slowly toward the table. "Mr. McGhee?"
Jack started and looked up at him. They had seen each other many times over the past years but not like this. There were no bandages to hide David's face, no friend to send Jack off on the wrong trail, no pseudonyms to hide his identity.
"You? You're David Banner?"
"Yes, I owe you an apology for not being honest with you in the past. I had my reasons for hiding my identity."
"You know where the Hulk is don't you? Are you hiding him or is he after you?"
"Are you still wasting your life looking for a green monster, Jack? Did the paper send you here to try and get me to say I've seen this figment of your imagination?"
"The paper gave me an 'early retirement.' Jack's voice was bitter.
"Oh, I'm sorry about that, Mr. McGhee." David was silent for a moment. "Was it because of your obsession with the creature?"
"Partly, you can call me Jack, by the way. We're not exactly strangers are we?"
"No, I guess not...Jack."
"I've wished a thousand times that I hadn't volunteered to go interview you that night, that I never saw the creature. I swear I saw it, I have seen it dozens of times. I know you saw it too; you had to have seen it. You are always popping up wherever it is."
David sighed. Jack looked like Hell and sounded so defeated. He really was a good reporter and he had sacrificed everything to chase down a story that no one believed, no one except for the few people who had the misfortune of seeing the Hulk up close and personal. He felt guilty, even though Jack had been his tormentor, his nemesis, for so many years.
"Tell me something Jack," David leaned forward earnestly, "has this thing ever hurt you?"
"No, it actually saved my life more than once, but people have a right to know it's out there."
"And what if they did believe you, what would they do?"
Jack looked thoughtful, "Hunt it down, capture it, I guess. Put it in a cage, study it."
"They would hunt it down and kill it, Jack. And they wouldn't care who got in the way. Is that what you want?"
Jack did not answer.
"If there is some animal out there that has not been previously identified, a creature that saved your life, by your own admission, why would you want to destroy it."
"Why are you protecting it? What is the connection between you and it?"
"Why are you obsessed with it? Is it worth throwing you whole life away for."
"I've already done that, why should I stop now? How can I stop now?"
"Jack..." David did not know what to say. He laid a hand on Jack's wrist.
He remembered talking to him once before like this, the time he had shared a plane ride with Jack. He had wrapped his face in bandages then, pretended he was burn patient. The plane had crashed. Jack's leg was broken and he had amnesia and there were no other survivors. To make matters worse, they had been trapped between the arms of a rapidly moving wildfire. He had carried Jack out on a travois. They had talked about Jack since he did not remember anything about himself. They had been close then, drawn together by fear and danger. David could remember holding Jack when they had to stop and rest, soothing him through the fevers that came and went.
He wanted to help Jack, not the broken bitter man before him now, but the man he had dragged across miles of wilderness, the man who would never give up on the truth, never let go of his conviction.
David did not notice Rick standing by the counter watching them. He did not see him slip away into the kitchen or the tears on his face as he went.
Jack shrugged off the comforting hand and surged to his feet. "I just wanted to be sure you really were the same Banner from the lab. Now I know you're the same person I've seen wherever the Hulk has been. I'm betting that wherever you are, it'll show up again. See you later."
David watched Jack walk away. He was dismayed. He had destroyed another life without meaning to, and the worst thing was that Jack was right about the Hulk, right about him. He was the deceiver, Jack was an honest man, broken because of him, because of the raging beast inside of him.
A hand on his shoulder shook him from his reverie. It was Rick's sister asking what had upset Rick.
"Rick? I don't know. Where is he?"
Her uncle spoke up. "He hightailed it out the back on foot. He's probably headed up over the mesa. He used to go there when he was a kid to hide out. I guess I ought to go check on him."
"I'll go." David volunteered, "I need the fresh air anyway." He made his way out the back door very aware of both their gazes fixed on his back.
David was winded by the time he reached the flat shelf just below the rim of the mesa. He almost missed the small path leading back through the scrub brush and around the side of the steep grade. He followed it on a hunch.
Just around the side was a small outcropping of rocks. Rick was there, sitting on a fallen boulder with his knees tucked up under his chin. His hair was loose, tumbling down over his face. He looked even younger like that.
"Rick?" When he did not move, David walked over and sat down beside him, looking out into the night. The view was incredible. "What's wrong, Rick."
"Nothing." The answer was muffled.
David turned a little to face his companion and pushed Rick's long hair back from his face. He did not look up. "I have never seen you unhappy at all, it would take a heck of lot more than "nothing" to make you come hide up here. I'm your friend Rick. I've trusted you with my life, with my secret. You know that you can trust me."
Rick did look up then, his eyes were red and dry like he had been crying. "I...I do trust you David. Really, there isn't anything really wrong with me. I just got depressed there for a minute. I didn't want to bother you when you were talking to your friend."
"My friend?" David was puzzled. "Oh! You mean Jack McGhee. He isn't exactly what I'd call a friend." Suddenly weary of keeping secrets he told Rick the story of how he became the creature, his experiments, the death of his wife, the years of running and hiding with Jack always one step behind him, his "recruitment, and his guilt over Jack's ultimate ruin."
When he finished he looked at Rick. The boy was staring at him, his bottomless eyes awash with compassion and sympathy. It was more than he could stand up under. He looked up to the stars glowing in the velvet darkness of the night sky as the tears he had never let himslef cry were wiped away by the cool desert wind. Warm arms wrapped around him, holding him tightly. That sat like that together under the stars until the rapidly cooling wind made both of them shiver.
Rick stood pulling david up with him. "C'mon, I'll get us coffee and maybe a jelly doughnut."
"I came up here to see what upset you and ended up unloading my past on you. I'm sorry Rick."
"Don't ever be sorry, David." Rick caught David's eyes and held them with the intensity of his gaze. He was uncharacteristically serious. "I want you to share your past with me, I want you to share everything with me." He turned then and headed back down the trail leaving David staring after him in confusion.
David stared at Rick's retreating back for a moment. He knew that there had been more to that statement than there appeared. Something had changed in that moment, something important. He shivered again and caught up to Rick, realizing as he did that he still did not know what had been bothering his friend. He started to say something, to ask Rick what the moment had meant, what had hurt him, something; but before he could, the back door had opened and they were both being ushered into the light and warmth of the kitchen.
"...The Hulk...The Hulk...The Hulk..."
The mechanical voice of the computer still echoed through David's mind. He had found the cure at last, with Betty's help, he had been free of the beast inside him, but then everything had gone terribly wrong. An alien substence had entered Earth's biosphere destroying everything it touched. He and the military had worked feverishly to find a solution. The computer had found one at last and David had wept bitterly for there was only one choice, his peace or the lives of every living thing on Earth including the people he had come to love. He had irradiated himself, he had brought the Hulk back.
It had worked, the strange slime-like organism had retreated dying from the hulk, until there was nothing left of it but steaming piles of liquid that swiftly evaporated. David had awakened in a cave, the same cave he had carried Rick to so long ago. As before, he was not alone. Rick held him. Warm hands stroked his bare back, his head rested in his friend's lap. Not for the first time it ocurred to him that the creature must trust Rick as well, to not only change in front of him, but to let him hold him. He had meant to ask Rick how the Hulk acted toward him, but he never had and Rick had never volunteered the information.
He felt a wave of regret and loss, he had planned on meeting Rick tonight, on telling him...telling him what? He had not planned that far ahead, now it did not matter. Everything had changed. He felt tears threaten again, but did not let them fall. He had made the only decision that he could make, there was sense regretting it. If the cure could be found once, it could be found again. He could not use the same process again, he would not survive it a second time, but there had to be another way. 'Nothing has changed, I'm just back to square one.'
He had not meant to speak aloud. He opened his eyes and saw Rick's face above him. He had been crying. Absently, David reached up and brushed the tears away. "I'm sorry."
"Sorry? For what? You saved the whole world again, the only one you hurt was you, man."
Rick stroked David's hair gently. David closed his eyes under the caress and rested his cheek against the soft denim. He let go of the grief and let his mind just drift. From time to time, he had been able to touch on the memories of his other life that way. Usually he shuddered away from them, this time he deliberately tried to catch them. He was about to give up when it came with a strength and intensity he had never felt before.
...Danger...Anger...Fear...not for himself, for what had he to fear, but for another, for the one who touched him like a friend, the one who soothed the anger, His Rick...Protect...Guard...Help... David had never felt the creature so clearly. Its emotions were powerful and somehow innocent, pure passion undiluted, not tainted by selfishness or reason. They were centered on Rick. The Hulk trusted him, cared about him, loved him...there was no mistaking the emotion once David admitted it and he realized that the emotion was not the creature's alone. He loved Rick, needed him. The creature would never hurt him or allow him to be hurt. He was sure of that. He groaned.
"David? What's wrong?"
'I've fallen in love with you is what's wrong.' Instead of saying what he thought, he looked up at Rick. The brown eyes were worried. "I will be fine, Rick. Just help me back to the base."
"The base is totally trashed."
"No, the army men, they dropped bombs on that stuff trying to stop it, blasted the base big time. Betsy and the General are staying in a hotel in town. They sent most of the others off in helicopters."
"I'll take you to my place. You look sick, man. Other than having to bring the big guy back, are you okay. If it's radiation sickness or something you need a doctor."
"I'm fine, Rick. The...the other keeps the radiation from poisoning me. I just need rest."
"C'mon then, Doc. My bikes down the path a little ways."
Rick managed to get them to his own house and settled David into his own bed. David tried to protest, but Rick ignored him and stripped off the remnants of his clothing. David did his best to ignore the intimacy of his actions, but it was hard with the silky hair brushing his skin.
"I have to get out of here."
Rick looked up at him seriously. "You thinking about running again, David."
"I...I don't know. I just...don't know what I'm thinking...what I'm feeling..."
Rick sat on the edge of the bed with a sigh and faced David. "You've told me about the big guy, about what happened, but you've never talked to me about your feelings. You still don't trust me."
"That's not it." He paused and blurted out the question he had not dared ask before. "Rick, when the Hulk comes, how does he act toward you? Does he ever frighten you?"
Rick hesitated before answering. "He has never frightened me. He protects me and trusts me. It's weird talking about him to you, like you were two different people...He is kind of like an overgrown kid, he can't stand to see someone hurt or in danger. He has helped a lot of people, and he's never hurt anyone who didn't deserve it, even by accident. He calms down right away when he sees me, unless he thinks I'm in danger. He usually picks me up and carries me someplace quiet where he feels safe. He moves in these huge jumps most of the time. Did you know that?"
Davis shook his head mutely.
"He likes to snuggle up against me as he starts to change. I think it reassures him to know I'm there. He relaxes and his face starts to change pretty quick. He usually keeps his eyes open at first. He has green eyes, really pretty eyes, not like you'd expect...dark green with darker circles around them and lighter green specks in them. They start to darken then turn into your brown eyes. The eyes turn first then the bones and muscles change, you can hear them. That part's pretty freaky until you get used to it. The green skin tone fades out slowly and the eyes close. You usually sleep fifteen minutes to a half hour then wake up."
"I protect him too. I make sure he runs before the police or anybody sees him. I make sure he stays away from things that might hurt him, like fire and stuff, because he doesn't seem to realize he can get hurt."
"He's my friend too, David. I care about him and I care about you." Without any warning, Rick leaned down and kissed David firmly on the mouth.
David froze for a moment. "What...Rick...I..."
"I love you, Doc. I always have. I know you don't feel the same, but that doesn't change anything. I shouldn't even say this, but I'm tired." He looked away staring off into space.
David reached out to lay a hand on Rick's shoulder. "I love you too, Rick."
The look Rick gave him at that moment was like the sun rising after a hurricane, it took his breath away. Then Rick leaned in for a real kiss and David forgot how to breath. He had no idea what the future would hold for them now, but David was certain that whatever happened, wherever fate would take him, he was no longer alone.