"If you could all take your seats, we'll get started."
Up in the helicarrier, far above the ocean with a view of Manhattan being reconstructed off in the distance, the small group of people known as the Avengers were gathered into a small conference room. Director Nick Fury was standing at the head of the table, his eye watching as each of the team members approached the surface.
As Director Fury began to punch a few codes onto the screen built into the surface of the table, the group began to seat themselves. Thor, the God of Thunder, took the seat directly to Fury's left. Next to him sat Dr. Bruce Banner, drawing his reading glasses from a pocket inside his jacket. To Banner's left was Tony Stark, leaning back in his chair with an air of abandon that clearly meant he didn't want to be here. Next to him sat Clint Barton, who was probably about as enthused as Stark, but his role as an agent kept such emotions from his face. To his left was Natasha Romanoff, who even sitting in a semi-relaxed position still looked poised to kill. And finally, next to her, was Captain Steve Rogers, looking every bit the attentive soldier that he was. It had only been maybe two months since the incident with Loki, and while they were starting to work more as a team than a group of six individuals, there was still some tension between them.
Once they were all seated, the director of SHIELD activated each of the screens in front of the people present, and launched into the details for their next mission.
Agent Romanoff was the first to notice something was off. Her focus on Fury was broken a few minutes later when she heard the man two seats over draw a tense breath. Her eyes immediately darted over to Dr. Banner as adrenaline pumped through her body. His name was on her lips, but she remained silent. Her superiors had talked to her about this; she needed to learn to trust Bruce and not be so paranoid about having another incident with his raging other half. Still…even as she observed him, she couldn't help but wonder.
He looked distracted. His big brown eyes were still trained on Fury, but whether or not he actually saw the man was questionable. She noticed a slight quiver run through his hands before he folded them upon the table. Aside from these minute details and that he had sat up a little straighter, he looked to be in control of himself.
When nothing further happened, Natasha slowly returned her eyes to Fury. Even as she caught on to what he was saying, she continued to cast wary glances over at the doctor.
Bruce only had the chance to draw a startled breath in before the darkness clouded his vision. It was a peculiar feeling that overcame him, and before he could even comprehend what had happened, it engulfed him completely.
A light snickering sound seemed to echo from the depths of nothingness.
He stiffened, and only then realized he had control over himself again. He blinked rapidly to clear the darkness from his vision, but it was in vain. He glanced around hesitantly and grew only more confused when he looked down and saw his slacks and shoes in perfect clarity. The environment he was standing in was completely black, but he appeared to be perfectly lit.
His reflections were put on hold when a presence made itself known somewhere around him. Brown eyes darted around to find the unknown person, but failed utterly. He could feel his heart pounding in his chest and he drew a few deep breaths to calm himself, lest he make this unusual and potentially bad situation worse.
'Yes, do calm yourself,' came a voice from the gloom. A feeling of dread quickly came over Bruce when he recognized the voice. 'I have no interest in having a conversation with the mindless beast.'
"Show yourself," Bruce said in an even voice, eyes still on the move. "What is it you want, Loki?"
"A chat with you, of course."
Bruce whirled around to find the Norse God of Mischief himself standing in the darkness. Loki was dressed as he had been during his stay on board the helicarrier and was standing surprisingly at ease. His eyes were sharply trained on the doctor in an expression that did not bode well.
As Loki took a step forward, Bruce withdrew a pace back. "Why?" he asked carefully. He had to keep his head, but he was becoming increasingly frightened. There was no sign of any of the other Avengers that he had been surrounded by moments ago. He was on his own in an unknown place against Thor's brother, one who didn't want the other guy this time.
The grin that appeared on the demigod's face sent a chill through Bruce. "I wish to understand the sort of companionship my dear brother seeks amongst you mortals. I have had the opportunity to speak with the rest of your comrades at differing times," he explained as he strode forward. "And while I did not truly speak with the beast, I have shared more words with it than with you, the creature pretending to be a man."
He suddenly stopped, leaving only a few feet between them. "You seem far more interesting to talk to than your comrades, Doctor Banner," he explained with a strange quirk of his head and a small smile that spoke nothing but malice, "especially if your comrades will not interrupt—"
The next words sent a wave of terror over him.
"—nor your beast."
A shriek ripped from his throat as he felt like he was torn in two. The rage that always lingered beneath his consciousness, the green haze that could threaten to appear at a moment's notice, were suddenly gone. When he became aware of his surroundings again, he realized he had collapsed to the phantom ground, feeling weak and shaky, but even more than that, completely hollow.
Bruce drew a few shuddering gasps of air, trying desperately to get an understanding of the situation, but it was all for naught. Even through the haze of horror, when he distantly heard Loki speak, he could hear the sinister smirk in his words.
"Now, for that chat..."
Had she not been keeping her eye on him, Natasha wouldn't have noticed that his irises had suddenly brightened from their normal brown to the brilliant green that was a clear indicator of what was to come. She was halfway into a standing position when he let out a yelp and curled into himself in pain.
The rest of the table, who had been absorbed in the information on the new mission from Fury, jumped at the sudden noise. All eyes shot to Banner, who was clawing desperately at the table and trying to regain control over himself.
Thor caught the shaking man before he could fall from his chair to the floor. "Doctor Bruce Banner—?"
The noise that escaped from Banner's mouth sounded like he was choking on his words. He managed to draw a quaking breath in. "C…C-Ca…" he gasped through the agony before his throat closed off again around a snarl of pain.
"Bruce, buddy," came Tony's voice, "I know it's a stupid mission and all, but this is a little bit of an overreaction, don't you think? I mean—"
The shuddering man's bright green eyes shot to Fury, who was observing the entire situation with a hard expression. "CAGE!" Bruce roared as a particularly fierce bolt of torture shot through the muscles in his back.
Leave it to Nick Fury to understand the single word command of a man mid-transformation. His eye shot to Thor. "Get him up to his cell in the holding deck now," he commanded with the kind of brisk efficiency that left no room for argument.
No argument came from the God of Thunder. He quickly lifted the quaking man, whose skin was rapidly turning green, into his arms and rushed from the room, pausing only to kick the doors off its hinges. He disappeared around the doorway, and all that was left in their wake was the sound of his thundering footsteps and Banner's increasingly animalistic snarls of feral agony.
As Fury whipped out his cellphone to begin making the orders for the Hulk's cage to be prepared, the rest of the team glanced anxiously at each other.
A few minutes passed. Above Fury's voice giving commands, the sounds of the Hulk's increasingly enraged roars shook the air. They grew more distant, but were ever present as agents sprinted past the broken door, armed and ready for anything.
"What set him off?" Clint asked quietly during a lull in the rage monster's guttural yells of fury.
Natasha's eyes lingered on the busted doorframe. "He seemed distracted during the meeting," she disclosed softly.
When she returned her eyes to her teammates, she found Tony Stark giving her a suspicious look. Before she could say anything, he crossed his arms over his chest. "So what happened to that whole 'learn to look at Dr. Banner as a team member instead of a monster' thing SHIELD has ordered you to do?" he asked in his rapid-fire way of speaking.
She decided not to ask how he knew what her orders were as a particularly loud roar seemed to shake the helicarrier itself. She gave Tony an icy look. "At least I am justified this time."
"Justified, my ass," Tony muttered as he turned to leave.
"Where are you going?" Steve asked, finally coming out of his silence.
"To calm him down," Tony replied without pausing.
What did make him pause in his departure was Fury's voice directed at him. "He will calm down on his own accord, Stark," Fury said as he withdrew his cellphone from his ear. His eye was locked fiercely on Tony. "He's in the holding cell right now, and he's not coming out until he's himself again. I've made sure that the tank won't be released when he hits the glass, so he'll still be there once we're finished. Now sit down; we have a meeting to conclude."
Tony wasn't the kind of guy to easily take orders. Before he was able to shoot off a snarky remark, Thor reappeared in the doorway looking a little worse for wear.
"The Green One is filled with such rage," he explained as he stepped into the room. He began straightening his attire, but he seemed far from focused. "I have not seen him act so violently before."
Tony turned and looked back at Director Fury. "Right, which is why I should go down there and calm him down. The meeting can wait—"
"He's not going anywhere, Stark," Fury interrupted him. "We'll let him smash around in the holding tank until he calms down. Now sit down."
Before the list of insults could snake past his lips, Tony felt a hand fall upon his shoulder. He turned to see Thor looking down at him. "The Green One is blinded with rage at present, Metal Man. Let the storm pass."
The God of Thunder moved past him to return to his seat. Tony made a face and reluctantly followed. As he took his seat, he noticed Banner's reading glasses on the floor next to the empty chair. He bent over and plucked them from the ground, carefully folding them before putting them down on the table where Bruce's folded hands should have been.
I do not own any of the characters present. They belong to Marvel. This was written purely for fun.
The demigod's footsteps seemed to echo off of imaginary walls and sent a dull ache into his brain each time the heel of his boot hit the phantom ground. Loki's feet came into view and steadily kept moving as he passed by the man lying on the ground. "So tell me," Loki began in a pleasant tone.
Bruce lifted a shaky arm and pushed himself into a seated position. He raised his other hand to his head, through his greying hair, and scrunched his eyes tightly shut. "What did you do to me?" he asked in a low semi-hoarse voice.
He heard Loki pause in his movements and the rustle of his overcoat, signifying that he turned and was probably staring at him. In the moment of quiet, Bruce could easily picture a smirk spreading on the demigod's face. He opened his eyes, but didn't turn to look at the figure standing on the edge of his vision.
"How many people have you killed?"
Bruce's eyes immediately shot to the demigod. Loki smiled and stared down at him with unfriendly eyes. "What?" he breathed.
"How many people have lost their lives at your hands, Doctor Banner?" Loki asked again as he watched the man rise unsteadily onto his feet. "Surely you know."
The doctor's heart continued to pound in his chest, but his breathing was slowly returning to normal. Bruce tore his eyes away from the God of Mischief and glanced down toward where his right hand had nervously gone to his left elbow. "I…I-I don't know," he answered truthfully. "The memories from the other guy are always hazy…just flashes, or sounds…"
Bruce nearly jumped out of his skin when the sound of rapid gunfire erupted through the air, accompanied with visions of flames and what looked to be the spinning barrel of some military-grade weapon appearing from the nothingness. Above the explosions of gunfire came a furious roar, the same kind that would howl in his head on a particularly bad day. His hands shot upward toward his chest in a defensive motion, but he remained glued to the spot, watching in horror as the memory faded just as suddenly as it had appeared.
As he continued to stare into the returned darkness, Loki looked completely unfazed as he turned to glance at the doctor. He smirked at the sight of the shaken man.
The silence was positively deafening in the wake of the memory. It was shattered when Loki drew a long breath in through his nose. "Well," he said primly, "would you not say that someone died at your hands during that incident?"
It took a moment for his words to sink in, but when they did, Bruce's widened eyes fell upon the demigod. "Where are we?" he asked in a voice just above a whisper, low and terrified.
Loki smiled at him, a full toothy grin, as he clasped his arms behind his back. "Come, come, Doctor Banner. It is said that you are a brilliant beast." His eyes darkened. "You know where we are," he said with careful articulation.
Bruce most certainly knew where he was. He didn't want to believe it, but he knew what he saw. He spent so much time up here that there was no question about it. What frightened him was the fact that the God of Mischief was here with him.
He was trapped in his mind with a demigod.
It was all but impossible to pay attention to Fury. Even knowing that the Hulk was contained and wouldn't be causing any damage to the helicarrier, his tumultuous roars still rang through the air. Despite having fought alongside the rage monster for the past couple of months, each of the team members tensed slightly at each of the furious yells. They had never heard him sound this angry before.
Fury had to raise his voice to capture the small group's attention after a particularly furious roar. Tony lounged back in his chair carelessly, attempting to keep the smirk that threatened to appear off his face. He had stopped listening to the mission details a long time ago and was now simply staring straight at Director Fury, trying not to look too smug when the one-eyed man would let out a small exasperated puff of air after a loud roar would shake the room from their focus on the mission.
Tony outright grinned when Fury's radio crackled to life. "Sir, we've got a problem," came the voice of a very worried agent.
When Fury glared over at Stark, Tony glanced away and did nothing to hide the smirk on his face. The director snatched the radio off of his belt. "He can't get out of that cell, agent," Fury growled into the transmitter.
"He's bre—" Another roar sounded, both over the radio and through the helicarrier, only the roar over the radio was accompanied with the sound of cracking glass. "He's going to break the glass at this rate, sir!" the agent called over the clamor. "The glass is already starting to crack!"
Fury clenched his jaw for a moment before his eye shot to Stark in what could only be described as a death glare.
Tony matched his glare with an expression of self-satisfaction, a grin plastered to his face. He cocked an eyebrow as if in challenge.
The two remained in a heated staring contest for a moment longer before Fury suddenly lifted himself from his chair. "We'll finish this later," he practically spat to the group at large before he began to speak with his agents again.
Tony let out a whoop and arose from his seat, turning swiftly on his heel and moving toward the door.
"Where are you going now?" Steve called after Tony.
Stark didn't even break his stride. "To go calm him down," he replied. He grinned over his shoulder. "He likes me best, remember?"
"He likes Iron Man best, remember?" Steve shot back as he began to follow him.
"So I'll go slip into something a little more comfortable," Tony answered as he turned fully around to shoot Steve a suggestive grin and a roguish wink.
Tony let out a sharp laugh at Steve's disgusted expression and continued to make his way to where his suit was, leaving the super soldier in his wake. As much as he would have loved to stay around and toy with the Cap's outdated thoughts of society and culture, he had a job to do. He quickened his pace as another roar shook the air.
Loki smirked when he noticed the tremor running through the doctor's hands and the increasing rise and fall of his chest. "Have you figured it out?" he asked innocently.
Bruce's eyes shot back to the demigod. "Where is he?" he inquired. He directly approached Loki, looking half mad with panic. "Where is the Hulk?"
"Ah, you really are brilliant!" Loki exclaimed with a laugh. "Most would be only worried for themselves—"
"Where is he?" Bruce yelled, his hands flying to grab at the demigod's lapels.
Loki glared down into the doctor's enraged brown eyes for the briefest of seconds before his hand lashed out and landed against the man's chest.
Bruce immediately flew back from the force of the blow, feeling like had just been kicked in the chest. He landed hard against the floor of darkness with a grunt of pain. His hands shot to where Loki's hand had collided with his chest as he tried to catch his breath.
"You had best keep your hands to yourself, beast," came Loki's voice in a vicious snarl.
Once he could manage, Bruce propped himself up onto an elbow. He cringed and looked to the demigod, who was still glaring down wrathfully at him. "Where is the Hulk?" he asked again between breaths.
As he slowly lifted himself back onto his feet, a hand still pressed to his chest, Loki drew a calming breath and allowed himself to relax. He smirked at the doctor. "Persistent, I will give you that. Again, you already have your answer."
He almost let out a bark of laughter when he saw the man pale slightly, looking horrified. "Ooh," he sighed in faux-sympathy, "are you soon to have even more blood on your hands?"
"Did they get me to the holding cell before I transformed?" Bruce asked frantically.
Even before Loki could speak, visions of a conference appeared from the gloom. Loki actually let out a laugh this time. "It would seem I chose a perfect moment to cast this spell! That floating fortress could really stand another rampage from the beast."
Bruce stared at the memory for a moment longer, his panicked eyes darting from one face to the next, before he willed himself to clear his mind. The image slowly vanished back into the darkness. He had to keep his head completely cleared to keep Loki from viewing any more of his memories.
He focused on something he did not have a memory of. Brown eyes flew to the demigod. "Did I transform there?" he asked.
Loki turned to the doctor as a giddy grin appeared on his face, one that sent a wave of nausea through Bruce's body. "This team of yours…surely they do not fear the mindless beast."
Before he could even stop himself from thinking, visions of Natasha, pinned under debris from the explosion on the helicarrier two months ago, terrified and trapped, appeared from the darkness. With a sound that was part aggravation and part dismay, Bruce slammed his eyes shut and his hands shot to the sides of his head. He tried desperately to clear his mind.
An "hmm" sounded from the demigod after a moment of silence. "She certainly seemed frightened." Bruce's eyes opened and darted to Loki, who was watching him with an expression of amusement. The demigod smirked. "Will her life, too, end at your hands?"
The sound of rocket thrusters was the only warning for several agents to jump aside and press themselves to the wall as Iron Man shot by. Tony Stark rocketed through the halls of the helicarrier, speedily making his way toward where the Hulk was currently caged and raging to escape. An order from Fury over the communication system in his suit had told him to get to the holding cell as fast as possible. He had grinned.
"Hot stuff, coming through," his semi-robotic voice sounded to any agents who were a little slower on jumping out of the way to avoid a full-on collision with the flying metal suit.
As Tony got closer to his destination, he started to hear the agents' calls over the furious roars of the Hulk. He pulled up outside the door and hovered for a single moment before cutting off his thrusters. He landed with a metallic thud and waved aside the anxious agents standing next to the closed doorway. "Alright, I'm here," he said into his comm.
"You better not have scorched the place, Stark," Fury's irritated voice crackled in his ear.
Tony grinned as he opened up the door. "You told me to get here yesterday. I haven't quite gotten the hang of time travel yet, but when I do, I'll be sure to let you…" he trailed off and paused in the doorway.
The room was a cacophony of noise. Over the thunderous bellows of the rage monster and the clangs of his fists hitting metal and glass, SHIELD agents were calling to one another and shouting into their radios. They stood scattered around the area, hands on their guns and their fearful eyes locked on the circular cage in the center of the room. The cage itself had certainly seen better days; the Hulk's rampage had managed to leave a good portion of the windows covered in cracks.
When the Hulk noticed the man in the iron suit standing in the doorway, he let out another guttural roar. Several of the agents whirled around to look at Iron Man, suddenly ignoring the massive green man as he continued his attempts to free himself from his cage.
It was enough to snap Tony from his daze. He stepped fully into the room. "Alright, guys, scram," he said with his casual ease over the noise, though his eyes remained on the green man within the holding cell. "I got this."
The agents didn't move.
Tony sighed and allowed his shoulders to slump, which surely made the robotic suit look dejected to the agents. "Fury," he said into his communicator, "call your men down. Get them out of here."
"They are not—"
"Protip, Director," Tony interrupted, "men with guns make the big guy anxious and very, very angry. He's not going to calm down with a bunch of your shouting agents standing around, threatening to open fire on him. Now get them out of here."
The line was silent for a lingering moment. Tony turned to look at the agents as Fury's voice came over the communicator. "Return to your duties," the director ordered. The agents looked deeply confused, but knew better than to argue logic with the man in charge. They instead turned and cast glances at the iron-clad man standing amongst them, as if questioning his sanity. Tony grinned behind his mask as he gestured to the open door with a sweeping arm.
Once the agents began to file out of the room, Tony returned his attention to the glass. "JARVIS, find the weakest points in the windows," he murmured as the screen before his eyes quickly lit up. Grids and schematics quickly formed, zooming in and highlighting the cracks that had the highest probability to break with a few more well-placed punches.
He approached the cage, moving away from the cracks with the greatest threat of rupture. "It's okay, Big Guy, they're leaving," he called over the sound of massive green fists hitting one of the metal walls.
The Hulk paused for a moment to turn his bright green eyes on the iron-clad man standing just beyond the barrier. An earth-shattering roar erupted from his mouth as he launched himself at the glass.
Tony resisted the urge to take a step back from the window. Thor had been right; the Hulk was completely blinded by his rage at the moment. Over the course of the past two months, the Hulk had begun to recognize most of the other members of the Avengers, or at least knew who not to smash. He had even grown to like some of the other members, if it could be believed. In those instances, however, Bruce had willingly transformed into the enormous green being now locked up and completely mad with fury. This transformation had come out of nowhere. He saw nothing of Dr. Banner in the Hulk right now; there was not any recognition of any kind.
Getting the big guy to calm down would be harder than he had thought. Then again, he always loved a good challenge.
So he stood his ground, simply watching as the massive green being fought tooth and nail against the glass to tear him apart. He tried not to be too hurt by that.
"You don't like these guys, huh?" he shouted to be heard over the rampage. He turned and looked at the SHIELD agents, who were filing out slowly and casting wary glances at the Hulk. Tony made a shoo-ing motion with his hands. "Off with you!" he called almost pleasantly, "and be a dear and pull the door closed behind you." He returned his focus to the Hulk. "I don't like them much either."
The giant green man inside the cage withdrew from the glass in front of Tony, his arms hanging heavily by his sides, and his bright green eyes turned to glare at the agents still in the room. A violent roar sent the rest of the uniformed men quickly out of the room and the door closed with a little more force than necessary. The room was suddenly filled with only the sound of the Hulk's heavy breathing.
Tony grinned behind his mask and clapped his metal hands together. "Alone at last," he said, sounding pleased.
The Hulk let out a vicious snarl and began to stalk around the cell, looking for a way to escape, no doubt.
"I'm sorry, Big Guy," Tony began carefully. The Hulk paused in his pacing and glared over at him. "I can't let you out." When an aggravated growl escaped from the green being, Tony put his hands up helplessly. "Sorry, Big Green; orders from above."
The Hulk gave him an expression of mild skepticism.
Tony almost laughed aloud. Now this was more like the guy he'd been working alongside for the past few months. The Hulk recognized him, which meant the rage was ebbing. "I know, I know; I'm not much for following orders, but these come from way up high. Gotta be good for now."
The Hulk let out an irritated snort and continued to storm around the cell.
Tony watched him for a lingering moment, paying very little attention to the measures JARVIS continued to make on the cracks in the glass. He listened to the big guy's thunderous footsteps and his heavy breathing, almost amazed at how quiet it had become once the agents had left.
His mind went back to the meeting, to when Bruce had suddenly curled in on himself to fight the impending transformation. Before he was even aware that he was speaking, a question popped out of his mouth. "Do you know what pissed Bruce off, Big Guy?"
The sound of Tony's voice made the Hulk pause in his movements again. He merely glanced over at the iron-clad man and let out a huff of air.
Tony felt his shoulders slump. Well, he could always ask Bruce when he was himself again. He watched as the Hulk began to pace again—
A sharp growl escaped from the caged being and a grimace of pain crossed his face as he brought a hand up to the side of his head. His hand remained there for a moment longer before he let it fall to his side. He gave Tony a look of frustration before he started to stalk about the cell again.
Tony stared at the big guy carefully, puzzled at what he just witnessed. He wasn't sure what to make of it, to be honest.
He shook his head and allowed the faceplate of his helmet to lift. The Hulk's eyes darted over to him at the sudden movement, but he kept silent. Tony leaned back against the railing behind him. The big guy seemed fairly calm, if a little anxious, at the moment, but at least he had stopped roaring and attempting to break free from the holding tank. Tony just needed to keep him calm, and they'd have Bruce back in no time.
It was only a matter of time.
Bruce remained where he stood, silently trying to keep his mind cleared. He tried not to think about how the God of Mischief was slowly circling him, studying him with bemused eyes. The doctor kept his own eyes cast downward, resolved not to meet the demigod's gaze. He hated being studied like this; he hated feeling like a specimen under a microscope, being picked apart by the eyes of anyone who looked at him and knew the other guy lingered just beneath the surface.
That wasn't exactly the case at the moment, though. The Hulk was off in reality, somewhere on the helicarrier, no doubt tearing it and anyone he came across to shreds. He had seen the damage the Hulk had done to the—
With a quick exhale, Bruce closed his eyes and cleared his mind, willing away the images of the damage the helicarrier had sustained thanks to the other guy.
"Do you really not know how many people you have slaughtered since your accident?" Loki asked, suddenly breaking the silence.
"One is one too many—" Bruce's eyes shot opened and darted to the demigod, who had stopped his movements. It was all but impossible to stop himself from thinking about that fateful day in the lab that had changed his life forever. Thankfully, the images did not materialize from the gloom. "How do you know about that?" he asked quietly.
A feeling of dread slowly washed over him. He let out a breath in a long exhale and reached up to pinch the bridge of his nose. "Barton…" he groaned.
"Oh, the many things he was willing to tell me once he knew peace," Loki disclosed wistfully. "Your petty organization should really take a care in who they allow access to certain information."
Bruce cursed in his head and fought the urge to start pacing. This was bad. This was really bad. While there had been a lull in the lab one day, very shortly after the invasion, Tony Stark had shown him the information SHIELD had gathered on him. Bruce didn't have the heart to read it, and told Tony as much; he knew there would be information of the accident and any incident with the other guy carefully documented by General Ross in his attempts to track down the beast for capture. No…no, he hadn't wanted to read any of it.
But that didn't mean the rest of the team, nay, maybe even the rest of SHIELD, knew every bit of information in his file. Barton must have read his file before he had been compromised by Loki, just days before the invasion.
And Loki now knew everything in that file.
Bruce breathed a curse.
Loki's eyes had never left the man during his musings. A grin appeared on his face when he heard the doctor breathe a word under his breath. He didn't catch the word, but he caught the dismay and dread in the man's voice. He hadn't expected the beast to latch on to what was going on so quickly, but this would only make their time together all the more enjoyable. The doctor would struggle to keep his thoughts cleared.
It was just a barrier Loki would need to breach, and he was very much looking forward to it. It would not be difficult in the slightest, given how agitated he was at present.
"So, the accident…" Loki began pleasantly. Bruce glanced warily over at him. "…did you ever find out what you did wrong?"
He outright grinned at the expression of defeat his words painted on the doctor's face. This would truly be a most pleasurable experience.
It had been a little over an hour since Tony had first stepped into the room and the agents had been dismissed. Once the big guy had stopped beating the glass for an extended amount of time, Tony found a chair and dragged it over to the window, away from the largest of the cracks in the glass. He had removed his helmet and just started talking, about anything and nothing, to keep the silence at bay. The Hulk was still pacing around, but every now and then he would cast a glance over and grunt whenever Tony would pose a question, rhetorical or otherwise.
He would also draw a sharp breath and a look of pain would cross his face at random intervals. Tony would pause in his narrative to watch the Hulk carefully whenever this happened. These events would last for only a few seconds before the big guy would growl quietly and return to his pacing with new fervor.
After maybe the seventh time this happened, Tony had made a call over the communication line.
At the sound of an opening door a few minutes later, Tony glanced over his shoulder toward the entryway to the room. The Hulk looked over as well and a low snarl escaped from his massive green body.
"Take it easy, Green Bean," Tony said easily as he hoisted himself up to his feet, "it's just Steve. You know Steve," he explained patiently with a casual grin.
The Hulk just let out a snort and continued to glare at the super soldier standing in the doorway.
"You called?" Steve asked cautiously from the doorway, glancing at the giant green man in the holding tank. He did not fully enter the room.
"Indeed I did, only fifteen minutes ago," Tony replied as he stepped toward the captain. He glanced over his shoulder at the Hulk. "I'll be right back, Big Guy. Don't go anywhere."
The remark was answered with a roar as they stepped out into the hall.
"I don't think you should be teasing him, Stark," Steve said warningly.
"Oh psh," Tony scoffed with a grin. He stuck his head back into the room. "Hulk, babe, you know I love ya', right?"
Steve tensed when another roar sounded.
"And you love me, right?"
This roar sounded remarkably good-natured.
As Captain Rogers glanced at the doorway in startled confusion, Tony laughed and pulled the door shut. He turned to Steve and his face immediately went neutral. "Ours is a beautiful romance, Steve, the very finest." He paused to glance away as he brought a hand up to stroke his chin in mock-contemplation. "How ever shall I break the news to Pepper?"
"Did you really call me up here to listen to you flirt with the Hulk?" Steve asked as he rubbed his temple.
"Now there is a sentence I never thought I'd hear," Tony replied with a smirk.
Steve looked the man in the iron suit dead in the eye. "Did you call me for a reason, Stark?"
Tony immediately grew serious. "Yes. Something's wrong."
Steve waited for an explanation. When none was forthcoming, he quirked an eyebrow. "Something's…wrong?" he repeated. "Care to elaborate?"
"Yes," Tony replied as he glanced toward the door. "He has been fairly calm for the better part of an hour, but no sign of Bruce."
"That was not calm, Tony," Steve said flatly with a helpless gesture toward the closed door.
"Before you came in," Stark pressed impatiently. "It's gotten to the point where he's bored, Steve. He's just pacing around the cell. He should have changed back by now."
Steve studied the dark-haired man before him for a lingering moment, allowing his words to tumble around in his head. The roars had indeed died down a while ago, save for when anyone other than Tony was with him. "Why do you suppose he hasn't?" he asked.
Tony shrugged his mechanical arms. "Your guess is as good as mine, Cap."
The super soldier remained quiet for a moment, simply thinking as his eyes moved back to the threshold. "Anything else I should know?" he asked when Tony started to reach for the doorknob.
Tony paused with his hand on the knob to the door. His brow furrowed in thought. "Yes," he said after a moment. His eyes met with Steve's. "I think he has a headache."
Steve watched the iron-clad man return to the room, not knowing at all what to do with that last tidbit of information given to him.
I do not own any of the characters present. They belong to Marvel. This was written purely for fun. Also, there are several references to the 2008 film "The Incredible Hulk" in here.
(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)
"Look, I'm just reporting what I know," Tony sighed into the communicator in his Iron Man helmet. He was slowly pacing in front of the holding cell, unconsciously aware that his movements matched the Hulk's. His faceplate was lifted and he glanced from time to time at the massive green man inside the glass and metal cage. "He looks like he has a headache."
"And what do you expect me to do with that information?" Nick Fury asked on the other end of the communicator. "I'm not going to walk into that cell with a bottle of Aspirin and a glass of water, expecting him to take his proper dosage."
"Don't be absurd, Director," Tony scoffed. "The Hulk would never take anything from you. He's angry, not stupid."
He grinned when the Hulk snorted in agreement.
"Anyway…" Steve's voice piped into their conversation before it could escalate. "He's not even that angry right now, Director Fury," he explained carefully. "I think Tony is right; something's wrong. He should have turned back into Dr. Banner by now."
Tony smirked; he could hardly believe that he had the self-righteous super soldier on his side against the man in charge. "And I think that headache has something to do with it," he reiterated. "I don't know what to do about it either; I just think it's odd."
"And how are we to know the Hulk doesn't always have a headache?" Fury questioned. "He's too busy destroying things to really reflect on some mild ache in his head—"
"This isn't just 'some mild ache,' Fury," Tony shot back. His eyes fell upon the Hulk, who had paused again with a grunt of pain. The enormous green man let out a snarl and punched the metal wall in frustration before he started pacing once more. "It's something more…I just don't know what."
"Well, until you find out what," Fury began, "just keep him calm. He has to turn back into Banner sometime or another. Keep your eye on him, if it'll make you feel better." With that, the director ended his transmission.
The line was silent for a long moment. Right when Tony was about to cut communication, he heard Steve speak up again. "Natasha, you there?"
"Of course," came the cool answer from the Black Widow.
Tony let out a snort of a laugh. "She's always there, Cap. Always lingering in the corners like the spider she is—"
"Natasha," Steve interrupted quickly, "you mentioned earlier that Dr. Banner had seemed distracted during the meeting. What else did you notice?"
Another hiss of pain sounded from the cage. The metal-clad man turned and looked at the Hulk, his brow furrowing. These…whatever was going on seemed to be increasing in frequency. He didn't know what it meant, but he had a bad feeling about it. "Go on, Natasha. We know you were watching him."
If she had been in the room with him, he knew he would have received a death glare. He heard the assassin draw a breath of air in before she spoke. "I didn't actually start watching him until he kind of gasped. His eyes had this distant look in them, like he wasn't focused on anything, and he trembled for a couple of seconds. A few minutes later, he started to transform."
"Hmm…" Steve hummed on his end of the line, musing over the agent's narrative. "Tony, you were with Dr. Banner before the meeting. Anything seem off?"
"Nope," Tony answered, his eyes still locked on the green man within the cage. "He wasn't any different than normal." He paused for a moment before thinking aloud. "So whatever happened, if anything really did happen, occurred during the meeting. Natasha, can you get a copy of the security feed from the conference room? Maybe the cameras caught something."
"On it. I'll have Clint and Thor look at it with me. Care to join us, Cap?" Natasha asked.
There was a throaty sound of agreement. "Right, I'll be there soon. Tony, I guess you should just stay with the Hulk," Steve said, sounding resigned. "If we find something, we'll let you know. For now, I guess just keep him calm. Hopefully he'll change back soon."
"I'm not holding my breath, Cap," Tony muttered after the line went dead.
Bruce could feel the clenched fists at his sides trembling, but it was not from rage. He swallowed the lump in his throat and he stared down at the darkened ground with despondent eyes. Self-loathing and inadequacy battled within him for purchase. He kept his gaze lowered as he saw the latest memory fade into the gloom from the corner of his eye.
"So not only did you bring this monster upon yourself by your own hand," Loki began, his voice carrying through the darkness to engulf the physicist, "but you cannot even get rid of it?"
Inadequacy quickly won the fight within him. His eyes remained on the floor as his arms slowly came upward to wrap around himself nervously. "There's only so much I can do with second-hand equipment while on the run from the army," he whispered in his own lackluster defense.
A huff of air that was probably a patronizing laugh sounded from Loki. "You have all of this power, and yet you wish to rid yourself of it?"
"It's power I cannot control," the scientist replied. "I don't enjoy hurting people like you do, Loki."
"A part of you must enjoy hurting people," the demigod insisted. "Why else would the creature wish so fervently to harm? There must be some underlying desire in you that wants to hurt others."
Bruce curled into himself slightly, shaking his head and closing his eyes. "Y-You're wrong," he breathed in a tight voice. "I want to help people. I've been doing good in the world. I—"
"Do you honestly believe you can atone for all of the harm you have done, all of the pain you have caused?" Loki inquired in mild disbelief, sounding almost disgusted. "You are a deluded creature, but even you cannot believe that a few acts of kindness will wash away the sins of your past…wash away what you truly are."
The barbed words cut deep into the doctor's psyche. 'I can try,' was the answer on his tongue, but he couldn't bring himself to say it aloud. He wanted to believe, he wanted so hard to believe that what he did now could at least start to chisel away all of the wrongs he had done in the past. No matter what he did, though, he would always have to live with what he and the other guy had done to the world. How many things he had destroyed…how many people he had hurt and killed… He felt himself curl more tightly into himself and a tremble coursed through him.
"You're a monster," Bruce murmured quietly.
The soft accusation was answered by a bitter snort of a laugh. "We have that in common, at least," was the quiet response, sounding more like it was meant to remain unspoken.
It hadn't been just what Loki said, but the tone of self-loathing and hatred that made Bruce turn and look at him. He felt his brow furrow, and for the life of him, he did not know why he suddenly felt sorry for his torturer.
That was until he remembered something.
A memory from his first stay aboard the helicarrier materialized from the gloom. He found himself staring at Thor as the words echoed into being:
On the edge of his vision, he saw Loki turn sharply away from the image as it disappeared. Bruce glanced over at the demigod, simply watching him and keeping silent.
The silence lingered for a bit longer before Loki turned and shot Bruce a look that made the physicist flinch. The demigod smirked, but his smile held nothing but hostility. "It would seem that my dear brother has been telling tales of me," he spat venomously.
"That's really all he said," Bruce said softly without looking away. He hesitated before continuing. "…you're not really an Asgardian, are you?"
The smirk turned downright malicious. "I am a king," he said in a low, vicious voice.
"Not of Asgard," Bruce replied almost easily, but very quietly. He knew he would regret making the demigod angry, but he pressed on. "Do we really have that in common? Are we both really beasts pretending otherwise?"
He let out a yelp when a fist came out of nowhere, striking him in the side of the head. His shoulders were the first thing to hit the ground, the back of his head following soon after as it struck the phantom floor with a sharp crack. He remained where he was once he skidded to a stop, wondering vaguely if he now had a concussion. He opened his eyes and blinked cautiously. There was nothing to check to see if his vision was doubled with, so with a soft groan, he rolled over onto his side. His eyes fell upon a blurred pair of Lokis standing aside.
"I don't pretend," came a sharply articulated voice from somewhere behind him.
Bruce twitched minutely and watched the double of the demigod flicker before the illusion vanished. He blinked slowly and drew a breath. "And yet you use illusions?"
The silence that followed the short reply was brief and frightening. Footsteps suddenly sounded as the demigod stormed up to the man lying prone on the ground. The doctor drew a startled and shuddering breath in as rough hands grabbed the front of his jacket. His vision continued to swim while he was twisted and suddenly face-to-face with Loki. He tried to focus on what he could only assume were the snarling features of the demigod.
"You delude yourself into believing you are a man," Loki said in a low whisper, staring down into the scientist's bleary eyes. "This…illusion, this façade that you call 'Doctor Bruce Banner' is nothing more than that: an illusion. You are nothing more than the shell for that green monster that lurks in a body that you call your own."
While the demigod continued to rant, a very dull feeling began to refill some of that emptiness that burrowed deep into the doctor's core. He didn't recognize the sensation for a long moment; when it finally hit him, he carefully schooled his features and did his damnedest to regulate everything he could within his control. He hoped against hope that this wasn't a trick by the God of Mischief, but as he continued to stare up at the demigod, he knew Loki was too agitated to be doing anything like this to him now.
"Therein lies the stark difference between us, beast," Loki finally spat as he threw the scientist back down to the ground.
Bruce's mind rapidly played out a plan, his brain finally moving past the fear and panic to work with the fullest capacities he was accustomed to. If he failed, he would still be stuck in this situation, with possibly a really angry demigod. Should he succeed, however…
As soon as Loki had begun to manipulate him, Bruce had surrendered the control over his emotions he always strived to keep. Memories he kept buried deep for no one else to see were suddenly thrown out into the open. It was almost sensory overload, trying to deal with these things that he only truly reflected on in his darkest moments. He had lost control when he became emotionally involved.
It seemed to also be true for Loki.
Bruce really didn't want to do this, but he needed to know what was happening in reality. He needed Loki to lose his hold over his mind. If even for a second, he needed to see. Maybe he could get help. He couldn't fight this alone; he had been dealing with this alone for so long, and he had lost that fight the day he decided to pull that trigger. He couldn't…he just couldn't face this much of his past alone…not again.
He needed help. If possibly reaching out to reality meant sacrificing himself here, then so be it.
Drawing a fortifying breath, Bruce slowly rolled over to where he could look up at the demigod. Their eyes met, and Bruce held the icy glare. "You're right," the doctor began quietly. "I am the shell to a monster. But you…" His eyes darkened. "Your shell? I don't know what you hide behind it, but you, Loki, brother of Thor, are a monster."
Bruce lifted himself to his feet and held his ground, staring straight at the increasingly infuriated demigod. Even as he spoke, he could feel that anger, the feeling he had been trying desperately to cure since his accident, returning. It wasn't complete, and despite how much he normally hated it, it was familiar and he gladly welcomed it.
He tried to keep his face neutral and his voice calm. "I hide something I can't control inside of me, something that does nothing, knows nothing, but destruction. But I am not like that," he said heatedly, his hand coming to his chest for emphasis. "I know what he can do; I live with the consequences of his actions. But you," he pointed at the demigod while he took a defiant step forward, "you willingly do what you do. You enjoy the pain you cause others."
The presence of the Hulk increased again. There would be no way he could transform, but it could be enough to… He hated that he knew just how to hurt this obviously hurting being before him, but he needed to make sure the people he worked alongside, the people the other guy fought beside, his teammates, his friends, were safe from the furious wrath of his other half that Loki had unleashed.
A horrible guilt gnawed at him as he willingly recalled the rest of that memory from his interaction with the God of Thunder aboard the helicarrier. "Your brother…" he trailed off quietly as the image of the Asgardian materialized from the darkness.
Despite how bitter Loki was and despite how hostile he seemed toward his brother, the doctor knew he obviously still had some sort of tenderness he kept hidden from the seeing world. Why else would the demigod allow himself to loosen his control over his victim? No matter how much he tried to distance himself from his adoptive family, Bruce could tell there was a sore spot there, one that the demigod could not hide behind his acts of violence.
It almost sickened him that he was exploiting it.
As his own voice began sarcastically announcing that the demigod really grows on a person, Bruce hung his head. He didn't want to see the look on Loki's face. As he knew the vision shifted to Thor, speaking in defense of his misguided brother, he took a small step back.
It pained him when he felt his connection with his other half unexpectedly return. He drew a small breath and closed his eyes, swallowing the feelings of guilt as he concentrated on calling upon the Hulk.
Tony had thought Fury had only been joking when he had made the offer to Loki about having a magazine to keep himself occupied while he was being held in the cage before the invasion. It was with great surprise that he actually found a small bin of magazines hidden in the room. He had rummaged through it and pulled out a few of the more promising looking scientific ones. With a few in hand, he returned to his seat in front of the holding tank, where within the Hulk was pacing around the small space at a slow speed.
Clint, Natasha, Thor, and Steve had found nothing on the security feed, but something still nagged at Tony. His teammates were also starting to catch onto the weird vibes from this situation, even if they had reached a dead end in figuring out what was going on. Tony resolved to sit with the big guy until they had Bruce back. It had been nearly three hours since the transformation, and for almost two of those hours, the big guy had been relatively calm. Bruce should have come back by now. Tony didn't understand why he hadn't, and no matter how many times his teammates tried to reassure him that Bruce would transform back to himself soon, Tony couldn't share their optimism. Something was wrong, and it irritated him to know that he couldn't find the answer without Bruce.
So instead, the iron-clad man continued to keep his very one-sided conversation with the enormous green man within the cage going, which mostly consisted of him making comments on the articles he was browsing through.
Tony flipped the page and glanced at the title. "Hey," he called. When the Hulk glanced over at him, Tony turned the magazine around to show him. "Just found an article on quantum mechanics and quantum decoherence. D'you think Bruce would be interested in it?"
The Hulk thought for a moment before he nodded. As Tony marked the page, he continued to pace.
Tony began to skim the article. A grin appeared on his face when he realized the Hulk would be right. "Good call, Big Guy. He'll have a field day with this." He looked up.
His brow furrowed slightly when he saw the Hulk standing completely still, turned at just an angle to where Tony couldn't see his eyes. "Big Guy?" he asked.
Tony pushed aside the magazines and immediately rose to his feet. "Come again?" he questioned as he moved toward the glass, his eyes trained on the massive green man inside.
The Hulk turned and looked straight at Tony. Tony's eyes widened when he saw a mixture of brown intermingled with the brilliant green irises. "Puny god," he rumbled again as he came forward and knelt down to be eye-level with the iron-clad man beyond the glass.
"Puny god?" Tony echoed, his eyes never straying from the strange display of the caged being's eyes. "What puny god?"
A flash of pain crossed the Hulk's face. He let out a sharp snarl and gripped his head, but when his eyes returned to Tony, he found more brown than green in the man's irises. A very vague look of panic appeared on the Hulk's face, which was an expression Tony had never seen before from the big guy.
Tony found himself unable to look away. If he didn't know any better, he could have sworn… His eyes narrowed slightly and he unconsciously tilted his head slightly. "…Bruce?" he breathed.
"Hulk smash puny god before," the green man continued hurriedly, sounding like he was having terrible difficulty with speech. He pressed a massive index finger against the glass, pointing at Tony. "Holes in metal man's ground. Puny god. Puny god."
"Puny god…" Tony repeated quietly. His eyes widened in realization. "Puny god! You smashed him during the invasion!"
The caged being nodded, looking relieved that he was understood.
"What about the puny god, Bruce?" Tony pressed urgently. He unconsciously put his gauntlet over where the giant green finger was placed against the glass. "What about him?"
"Banner—" Another flash of pain crossed his face and he grimaced, his brown and green eyes slamming shut. "Puny god—" His massive hands shot to the sides of his head and he let out a roar. When his eyes opened again, they were blazing green and filled with endless rage.
The Hulk threw a giant green fist at the glass where Tony's hand still rested. A shockwave shot up Tony's arm and he retracted the limb with a hiss of pain. As he began to shake his arm to will away the jarred sensation, the Hulk began rampaging around the cell again. The air was suddenly thick with the sounds of enraged roars, the thunk-ing of knuckles colliding with the walls of his cage, and cracking as the glass walls began to give way to his furious might.
"Hey, hey, hey!" Tony tried to yell over the noise. He lifted an arm and smashed his metal hand against the glass, creating a sound that stood out above the clamor. "Calm down!"
The Hulk slammed his fist against the glass and took a few deep, heavy breaths. He leaned forward and rested his forearm against the glass, his eyes shut tight and his teeth clenched.
At the sound of metallic footsteps approaching, green eyes snapped open and he let out a sharp biting snarl at the iron-clad man.
"That's it," Tony said, undeterred by the Hulk's aggression. "Deep breaths. That's it."
Tony came to a stop in front of the massive green man. He could still see the rage in his eyes, but it was now intermingled with what looked to be frustration and something else he couldn't hope to identify.
After a few moments of listening to the Hulk's steadying breathing, Tony was going to break the silence, but the Hulk beat him to it. "Can't help," he rumbled. His eyes slipped shut and he shook his head. "Banner…" His mouth drew back in a grimace and he growled low in his throat. "Can't help."
As the Hulk cringed again and lifted his free hand to the side of his head, Tony spoke. "Where's Banner, Big Guy?"
The Hulk opened his eyes and pressed his index finger to the side of his head.
Tony drew a cautious breath before pressing forward. He had a horrible feeling about the answer to his next question, but he vocalized it regardless; he needed to know. "And the puny god?"
The frustration in the brilliant green eyes tripled as the Hulk jabbed his finger against his temple a few times.
A wave of dread quickly overwhelmed Tony's body. He felt his eyes widen and his jaw go slack. He had no way, no idea, how to explain it, but he was assured beyond the shadow of a doubt that what the Hulk had informed him of was true. Somehow or another, the demigod they had fought two months ago had gotten inside Bruce's head. Suddenly the transformation during the conference made sense. That must have been when Loki had infiltrated Bruce's mind. The scientist's constant and vigilant control was snapped, resulting in the Hulk. He didn't want to begin speculating why the big guy was so aggressive or why he would cringe from time to time or why he was pacing around anxiously, but he could imagine reasons for the behaviors.
He suddenly wanted to punch something.
Tony shook himself from his musings and stared up at the Hulk. "No…no, Big Guy, you've helped. You've helped plenty," he said almost distractedly. He laid his hand upon the glass again. "Now it's our turn; let us—the rest of the team—help him. Help you."
As the Hulk eyed the metal hand against the window, Tony's mind continued to race. He didn't know for certain what he could do, given where Loki was currently imprisoned. A soft smile spread across his face when a green hand pressed against the glass where his hand was currently resting. He might not be able to stop Loki himself, but he knew a god who could.
The doctor drew a shuddering breath as his eyes snapped open. He flinched when his eyes immediately met with a pair of furious greens, not half a foot from his. He realized the demigod had one hand wrapped around the back of his neck in a bruising grip while the other was somewhere above his field of vision. He very clearly felt a thumb pressed harshly against his forehead, between his eyes. He had no idea how long he had been standing there or how long it had taken Loki to break him from his trance, but he knew it was long enough to concern the demigod.
"What did you do?" Loki demanded in a vicious snarl.
Bruce hadn't the slightest idea. He had a very clouded memory, but he didn't know if it was real or just the desperate imaginings of a desperate man. He shook his head and tried to back away, groping for something to say.
Loki's fingernails dug into the back of his neck and his other hand gripped violently at his greying hair, immediately halting any backward movement from the scientist in his grasp. If it was at all possible, the demigod looked even angrier now. "You contacted the monster." There was no inflection of inquiry in his voice.
Both of their eyes shot to the side when a very murky image began to appear. Through the haze, they found the Hulk looking at his reflection in a pane of glass. The fog was terrible and all noises were muffled beyond recognition.
When the clouded vision shifted, Bruce felt his panic begin to drain from his body. The Hulk was in the holding cell aboard the helicarrier; they had managed to get him there before the transformation was complete.
The image continued to turn before it came to a rest upon a blurred Iron Man. He could almost make out Tony's face, realizing belatedly that the suit's helmet was nowhere in sight. Tony was staring up at the Hulk, given the angle of the vision. The angle shifted as his other half apparently came forward and knelt down.
Bruce drew a hissing breath in as Loki's grip tightened around his neck and hair. The two saw Tony's mouth move, but the words were lost in the fog.
"Have you any idea what the monster said?" Loki demanded without tearing his eyes away from the clouded memory.
Bruce didn't reply; he was just as absorbed in the vision as the demigod.
There was a brief darkness, but when the image returned, the sight of Tony was a little clearer. They still did not have audio, but whatever conversation the iron-clad man and the green goliath were having had sparked a look of recognition and urgency in Tony's eyes.
"What did you tell him?" the demigod implored again.
"I don't know," Bruce answered in a voice just above a whisper.
The memory suddenly clouded and darkness swallowed the image, leaving the scientist and the demigod in silence. Loki immediately threw the doctor away from him. Bruce stumbled a few paces back, but managed to keep his footing. The two stared at each other, one with eyes that could kill and the other filled with mild fright.
That mild fright turned into full-blown fear when the demigod smiled. A slender hand arose to casually brush through Loki's hair as he took a step back. "It would seem I have underestimated you, Doctor Banner," the God of Mischief said at length. "This obviously calls for a much stronger spell."
Bruce felt his brow furrow and his eyes narrow minutely. "Why didn't you use a stronger spell in the first place?" he asked in spite of himself as he watched the demigod turn his body just slightly.
"I am privy to my secrets, beast," Loki replied with ease and mild distraction. He splayed his hands away from his body. The black environment around them suddenly flashed a bright shade of green. "The same, unfortunately, cannot be said for you."
As the green began to fade into black, Bruce felt that hollowness from before overwhelm him. In the blink of an eye, all of his energy felt like it was sapped from his body. He felt his legs buckle and he collapsed to his knees. It was like he had just returned to this body after a particularly rough Hulk rampage; he wanted nothing more than the gentle embrace of unconsciousness to take him to oblivion. He fought the pull of slumber and looked up at Loki.
The God of Mischief stared down at him, looking vaguely amused. He clasped his hands behind his back and began to stroll around the man on his knees in a wide circle. "And to think up until now I was being kind to you," he disclosed with a sigh, sounding pseudo-hurt.
'That was kindness?' Bruce thought to himself, sounding panicked even in his mind. He resolved to keep his mouth shut and his head cleared. His eyes stared straight into the darkness as Loki disappeared beyond his peripheral vision and moved somewhere behind him.
A shiver ran up his spine when he heard the demigod chuckle to himself. "How is Betty Ross these days?"
As a tremor shook through Bruce's body, the darkness exploded into hundreds of sounds and images of her face, some radiant with smiles and others flushed with fear. Bruce's eyes darted from one face to the next, his heart feeling like it was about to break. He found the last memory he had before his accident; Betty looking on in caution as the piece of machinery drifted into his field of vision. He found the memory of visiting her in the hospital after the incident, after the Hulk—after he hurt her. He found the memory of their reunion on the bridge on that rainy night a few years ago, her eyes locked on him in joyous disbelief. The hazy memory of her staring up at him in the empty field on that campus, fires burning in the background. The clouded memory of her guiding him by his giant green hand back into a cave. The murky memory of her staring out of that destroyed helicopter in Harlem.
The clear memory of her staring up at him, right before he could snap the Abomination's neck, looking up at him in shock and despair.
Bruce let out a noise that was a borderline sob as his eyes slipped tightly shut. He bowed his head, hardly feeling the trembling over his feelings of heartache.
A hum of interest sounded from somewhere to his left. Bruce drew what was meant to be a fortifying breath before he glanced over at the demigod. He found Loki studying the memory of his beloved Betty, unconscious in the hospital bed and heavily bandaged. As a lump of sorrow lodged itself in his throat, the rest of the images and sounds vanished until just the image of the hospital room and the beeping of the heart monitor was left to fill the gloom. The beeping echoed through the darkness, reaching into every crevice in his head until he could focus on only the terrible memory of the aftermath of his first transformation. Betty…his Betty…his fault…all his fault…
Bruce hung his head again and allowed his eyes to close once more. Even with his eyes closed, he could still see her battered face perfectly in his mind, just like he always could. A familiar tightness made itself known in his chest, a horrible combination of heartbreak and guilt that traveled through him until it enveloped him completely. The beeping of the heart monitor continued. Loki was silent, and the beeping never stopped.
So, I was aiming to get this story all caught up with my FF.net copy. I'm hoping to have the next chapter ready sometime over the weekend. Thanks for reading!
I do not own any of the characters present. They belong to Marvel. This was written purely for fun. Also, there are several references to the 2011 film "Thor" and the 2008 film "The Incredible Hulk" in here.
"Loki's magic is powerful, but even he cannot reach across realms to cast spells," Thor said, his eyes still glued on the iPad. "You must be mistaken, Metal Man."
The Avengers had gathered outside of the room holding the Hulk not long after Tony had calmed the big guy down again. Tony, still mildly shocked by the revelation both the Hulk and Bruce himself had informed him of, had ordered them to come down to the containment cell and to bring an iPad with access to the security feed. As soon as the big guy had started talking in the playback, the small group had collectively held their breath and just watched. When Tony paused the feed, he looked directly at each of them in turn while he told them that Loki had somehow taken control of Bruce's mind.
"He only knows two gods," Tony pressed, glancing up at the demigod. "One: you're clearly not 'puny,' and two: you're also clearly not doing this to Bruce, which leaves only Loki as the culprit." At Thor's silence and unbelieving look, Tony sighed. "Look, can you at least check? This is Bruce who is at stake here. If Loki's not behind whatever is going on, we'll have one less suspect. I'd go myself, but considering how well my suit did in space last time…" Another breath escaped from him. "Please, can you just look?"
Thor remained silent for a moment before he tightened his hold on his hammer. "Very well," he said in a resigned sigh. "It is impossible for my brother to perform magic from the prison he is presently in, but this…" His eyes returned to the image on the screen. "…this speaks of dark magic, and does not bode well." He looked down at the man in the iron suit. "I will return soon."
"Thanks buddy," Tony said, clapping him on the shoulder.
The team watched as the God of Thunder left them, heading toward the deck. Once the demigod was out of earshot, Clint let out a string of curses and started pacing. Natasha watched him, a small spark of sadness appearing in her eyes, and she placed her hand on his shoulder to get him to stand still. Tony peeked back into the room to check on the Hulk, who was had his hands on the sides of his head and was growling.
Steve finally lowered the iPad and looked at his teammates. "Tony, are you absolutely sure it's Loki doing this? Thor said he—"
"I don't care what Thor said," the iron-clad man interrupted as his eyes shot to the captain. "That was Bruce I talked to in there, and he said it was the puny god. And the Hulk knows that they're both in his head."
"But how could he reach across space?" Steve insisted. He looked confused by the concept, but even he knew that it was a considerable distance from here to wherever it was Thor and Loki hailed from. "Is he really that powerful?"
"Yes," Clint replied readily, giving the soldier a heated stare. "And maybe the rest of Asgard will start to realize that and properly lock him up, preferably in a prison that actually performs its functions competently."
"He's certainly taken a liking to Dr. Banner," Steve mused. "First the invasion, and now this? Why?"
"The Hulk," Natasha answered. "He was hell-bent on having the Hulk take us down last time. Maybe he wants the same thing now."
"Then why wouldn't he take over the Hulk's mind?" Clint asked. "Why take over Bruce's?"
"I bet he still thinks the big guy is mindless," Tony muttered angrily. "If he took over Bruce, locked him away in his own head, then the Hulk would have free reign over wherever he was." A sinking feeling overtook him and he looked up, realization dawning. "…and with the Hulk out destroying everything in reality, he could destroy Bruce from within."
The silence that followed was nearly deafening; the only things that kept it from being completely noiseless were the engines and the growling coming from the next room. Each of the team members remained quiet for a long time, lost in their own racing thoughts.
Clint broke the hush with a breathed curse. "Loki isn't just going to throw his hands up and surrender when Thor comes investigating," he grumbled as he started pacing again. He came to a stop in front of the open doorway and gazed into the room where the Hulk was currently caged.
Tony looked away from the archer and to the other two team members. "He's right; Loki isn't just going to roll over. I'm going to keep the big guy calm, but…just be ready. After my conversation with Bruce, the Hulk came back roaring. I'm guessing that Loki found out that Bruce had somehow made contact with us and punished him for it, given how violent the big guy became after that. I'll try to keep him calm, but just be ready for anything—"
"I'm not going to sit around and wait," Clint growled suddenly, turning enraged eyes on the engineer. He drew an irritated breath and ran a hand over his face in frustration. "I'm going to get a room set up for Bruce in medical. There's a machine up there that they used on me last time to see if there were still traces of Loki in my head; I'll get that ready. Keep me posted; I'll come back down if I'm needed." Before anyone had a chance to comment on his decision, the archer turned on the heel of his boot and stormed off.
Steve slowly looked over at Natasha, who was staring after her partner with a knowing look in her eyes. "I guess that leaves us to explain what's going on to Fury and the rest of SHIELD," he said, not sounding particularly up to the task. Once the assassin gave a single nod, the super soldier turned to the man in the iron suit. "Keep us updated. If he looks like he's going to break out, we'll come straight back." He placed a hand briefly on Tony's shoulder. "Good luck."
Tony watched as the last two of his comrades walked off, leaving him alone in the hallway. He drew a breath and returned to the room.
The giant green man within the holding tank glanced over toward the entrance of the room when Tony pulled the door shut behind him. Tony tried to put on a casual grin, but he couldn't quite pull the expression off. He approached the cage and laid a hand against the glass. "We have Thor returning home to confront the puny god, Big Green. It should be over soon." Seriousness crept onto his face and into his voice. "But you're going to have to do me a favor, Big Guy. You have to stay as calm as you can. Can you do that for me?"
The Hulk's eyes narrowed on the iron-clad man as if to ask 'why?'
"Well, I'm sure you don't want to smash anyone right now, am I right?" Tony asked.
"Hulk want to smash puny god," the giant green man rumbled in response, sounding like there was nothing else he would rather be doing at the moment.
A small smirk appeared on the engineer's face. "Don't we all? Thing is, Big Green, he's not here. I'm sure you don't want to smash anyone on the helicarrier, is what I was getting at. Now, and I hate to tell you this, I think things are gonna get a little worse before the puny god leaves you and Bruce alone, and I'm not so sure how well this cell will hold against another round with your rage. If you stay calm, we'll be able to help you and Bruce faster. Can you do that for me? Can you try to keep calm?"
The green goliath continued to stare at the man beyond the glass, but he finally let out a subdued exhale. "Hulk try."
Tony smiled and patted the glass. "I'll be with you the whole time," he said as the Hulk began pacing restlessly again.
Thousands of sounds crashed against his ears, warring for acknowledgement in his head. Even with his eyes slammed shut, he could still see the flashing colors of light from the memories that were flying around him, illuminating the darkened atmosphere with their ambient light through his eyelids.
Bruce was vaguely aware that Loki was commenting on everything he was seeing, but the cascade of noises assaulting him left the demigod's voice lost in the clamor. His head was pounding aggressively as his mind rapidly tried to match the sounds with the images that corresponded to each memory. The result was flashes of each memory in his mind's eye before it would quickly shift to the next sound his mind could accurately identify. Flashes of his mother lying in a pool of blood, her eyes staring unseeingly up at him as his father screamed at him for not protecting her. A whisper of his name conjured the image of Betty. A harsh yell of 'monster' brought memories of General Ross, inside the hospital room after that initial incident with the other guy as he stood over the hospital bed, staring down at the unconscious Betty. Gunfire. Roars. Army vehicles. Fires. Destruction. Screams. Death.
All his fault.
This needed to stop. Trembling hands clutched at the sides of his head, his shaky fingers running through his greying locks. He couldn't do this. It was too much, too much for his already unstable mind to handle. He felt his body curling further into himself, as if making himself smaller in this hostile environment would have less of an effect on him.
Who was he fooling?
A wavering breath in, a shaky exhale out. Breathe; just breathe. Focus on breathing; ignore everything else—
Muffled screams instantly conjured a hazy vision of scientists, staring up at him with terror written clear as day across their features. Betty's wide, horrified eyes on him. Green hands and sparks flying as he destroyed the laboratory machinery that had somehow malfunctioned. Shattering glass. Blood on her face. Her eyes closed, as if in death.
His stomach instantly roiled and he cringed deeper into the pathetic ball he was curled into. His throat was too tight to swallow the lump that seemed to have lodged itself there and breathing was becoming increasingly difficult. How was he to focus on breathing when each next inhale seemed forced and actually painful to take? He couldn't do this.
There was only one other time he had ever felt this wound up, only one other time he had found himself at the end of his rope.
Suddenly, there was silence. Bruce kept his eyes shut as nothing but the sound of his own strained and shaky breathing filled the abrupt hush. Even Loki had fallen silent.
The bone-chilling metallic click of a pistol's hammer being cocked into place echoed through the air.
Bruce's eyes flew open and in a spasm of movement, he found himself staring at the crystal-clear memory of the night sky, somewhere deep in the woods. Away from people. Away from noise. Away from life itself. Stars shone brightly in the bits of sky he could see through the canopy of trees above him, twinkling carelessly for the entire world to see. There was a crackle, and the memory shifted to where he could see the dying embers of what remained of a small campfire glowing red.
In the red lighting lay the pistol in his hand, fully cocked and ready to use.
A frightening calm engulfed Bruce, just as it had on that night as he laid under the stars with the gun in his hand. The doctor turned his focus away from the memory and he looked slowly over at the demigod. Loki was watching the scene play out with rapt attention. This was not in his file, Bruce mused to himself. No one had known he had done this until his confession in the heat of the moment on the helicarrier two months ago.
His eyes slipped shut. He didn't need to watch; this memory was unwavering, something he'd remember for the rest of his days. He could still feel the weight of the weapon in his hands, the pressure of the trigger against his fingertip, the overwhelming sense of tranquility, the only tranquil moment he had known in years.
The taste of cold metal in his mouth.
He didn't flinch when a single shot exploded through the air. The lighting against his eyelids went black as the memory suddenly ended. He heard the demigod draw a surprised breath, which caught the physicist slightly off-guard; he would have found that fascinating if he had the capability to care at that point, but he was far too focused on the other half of that memory, on what followed the darkness.
The soreness of his body, the brightness of sunlight against his naked form lying prone in the wilderness, the day greeting him with warm tendrils of light as if he had woken up solely to see the sun, the dawn of a new day.
The taste of gunpowder in his mouth.
The feeling of the other guy lurking in the back of his mind, the rage, the green haze, all still there.
The realization that no matter what he did, he would never escape from him, not with a cure, not in death. Nothing. There was nothing he could do.
The sobs that had shaken him to his core at that realization, his cries of despair contrasting starkly against the gentle sounds of nature of a morning in the forest.
A sound of movement brought him back to the present and he slowly opened his eyes to stare lethargically at the phantom ground. He could see Loki in his peripheral vision, but he didn't look up.
"You attempted to end your life," the demigod said quietly into the darkness.
"Yes," Bruce replied in a tight voice without lifting his eyes. A bitter laugh escaped from him. "And I couldn't even do that right."
Loki chuckled softly to himself and began to approach the man crouched on the floor. "You are too stubborn to die," he mused.
Bruce turned his head just slightly to look at the demigod from the corner of his eye. "No, the other guy is too stubborn to die."
"And where, do you suppose, does the mindless creature get it from?" Loki questioned with a smirk. "Why else would you contact the monster?"
Before the physicist could remark that they were backtracking, something clicked in his head. He turned a little to look more directly at the demigod, who was still approaching him, with slightly narrowed eyes. "Is that what all of this is?" he asked. "Are you planning to kill me?"
The smirk on the demigod's face became a wicked grin. "Originally, I had planned to leave you in a permanently comatose state, to get you out of the way for my vengeance. However—" He paused in his movements to stare down at the doctor, his eyes taking a dark turn. "—because you have contacted the rest of your team, death seems like the only logical option."
Bruce returned the demigod's stare for a long moment. "I really doubt your logic," he said at last. "If you kill me here, would that kill the other guy too?"
"Will that really matter," Loki asked, his grin widening, "in the grand scheme of things? One of two things shall happen. One: I kill you here, and the monster dies in reality, or two: I kill you here, and set the monster free in reality. I, personally, am fine with either outcome."
The apathy on the doctor's face began to crack. There was no telling what the Hulk was capable of as a single-minded being, but Bruce was certain beyond the shadow of a doubt that the Hulk would take down the helicarrier and claim hundreds of lives before the army and SHIELD could even make him break a sweat.
"…then what's keeping you?" the physicist asked quietly. "You could have killed me this entire time. You have your magic; what's keeping you?"
A laugh escaped from the demigod and he gave the doctor a belittling eye. "You mortals seem to think magic is limitless. No, magic has gotten me this far. All that is left is a more…hands-on approach to killing you."
A sense of foreboding overcame Bruce and he tensed. "Meaning?" he risked asking.
He let out a sharp yell when a kick landed against his shoulder, sending him sprawling against the floor several feet away from the demigod. Pain shot through his arm and he drew a hissing breath in, his free hand darting to the throbbing shoulder. He looked up at demigod in time to see a frightening smirk twist his lips.
"Meaning, beast, that I get to physically beat you until your mind can no longer stand the torment," Loki replied in, Bruce shuddered to hear, a gleeful voice.
Tony was doing his absolute best to keep the Hulk as calm as possible, but the longer the Asgardian was gone, the more he began to worry. Not for Thor, however; for Bruce. Loki surely wasn't going to relinquish his hold on his lab partner's mind without a fight. What that meant for the Hulk, he was anticipating, was one hell of a headache.
And if the brief bouts of violence from the Hulk in the past few hours meant that Loki had done something particularly bad to Bruce, he could only imagine what the big guy would do when Loki felt his spell was being threatened.
At present, the green being within the glass cage was pacing again, but he seemed much more antsy. His green eyes would dart to Tony at random intervals, as if to just make sure he was still there, but his eyes overall remained ever on the move. The only sounds to be heard above the constant hum of the helicarrier was that of his thundering footsteps and his heavy breathing, every now and then punctuated by a growl of pain.
The snarls of pain also seemed to be happening much more frequently than before, but the Hulk had been valiant in his attempts to keep himself from rampaging around the cage. If the big guy's behavior had any correlation to whatever was happening with Bruce, then whatever was happening in the Hulk's head was not good. It didn't take a genius like Tony to see that.
Another sharp snarl snapped the iron-clad man from his musings. "You're alright, Big Green," Tony said coolly, drawing the Hulk's focus away from something he couldn't smash. "You're doing great. Just keep it cool."
A low growl escaped from the giant green man as the Hulk gave Tony a helplessly antagonized look and started to move restlessly about the cell again.
Tony's eyes followed the big guy in his movements for a moment before he too started to pace. Mr. God of Thunder needed to hurry up, before things got worse. Word had spread after Steve and Natasha had told Fury what they thought was going on, and if SHIELD had been uneasy before, the tension on the helicarrier now was so thick it was smothering. Having Bruce transform unexpectedly was one thing; to have him also possibly under Loki's control was something else, but to have the goddamned Hulk under Loki's control was completely different. As soon as the agents had heard the name of the demigod, memories from before the invasion had instantly come flooding back and tensions rose. What they didn't seem to understand, as Steve and Natasha had tried to explain, was that it wasn't the green goliath that Thor's deranged brother was after, but Bruce himself. That didn't seem to register to any of the SHIELD agents.
Nevertheless, Steve was able to talk the agents down before they did something drastic that really would have set the Hulk off. So long as the big guy stayed calm and didn't escape from his cage, hell wouldn't break loose on the helicarrier.
Tony found himself looking back at the big guy again when another abrupt hiss of pain sounded over their footsteps. Thor needed to hurry up before something really bad happened.
Heimdall was waiting when Thor landed on the rainbow bridge connecting Asgard to Midgard, having finally been recently reconstructed. "You are welcomed, my prince," Heimdall's strong voice sounded. He did not sound the least bit surprised by the crown prince's return, but then again, his constant vigilance over the bridge between the two realms had probably left him with a fairly good idea as to why Thor had returned.
Thor would have stayed to chat with the sentry, but he had a mission to complete. "Good Heimdall, I must ask a favor of you," he began as he stepped toward the sentry. "Please watch over Midgard for the appearance of one Doctor Bruce Banner. He is currently lost to his rage and in the form of what the Midgardians call 'The Hulk.' Please, keep watch for Doctor Banner."
"Of course, my prince," Heimdall replied with a courteous nod of his head.
Thor returned the gesture and was off, heading straight toward where the prisons were. He was deeply concerned for the doctor, but he did not truly believe his brother was the one responsible. The prisons in Asgard blocked magic, and while Loki had always been a most powerful magician, even his powers could not break through the barriers. The Metal Man must have been mistaken in his concern for their friend.
Loki paused in his barrage of attacks and came to a standstill, his eyes lifting slightly. Bruce remained where he was lying on the ground, his own orbs lifting to the demigod as he attempted to catch his breath. His eyes fell upon the small daggar in the demigod's hand, noticing the crimson on the blade.
A grin appeared on Loki's face before he glanced back down at the doctor. "It would appear that my dear brother has arrived in Asgard. That gives you two very big problems, beast."
"Just two?" the physicist managed to whisper between strangled breaths. He could feel blood trickling down his face from the slice across his cheekbone.
"Oh yes," Loki replied with an overdramatic nod and a widening grin. "You see, this spell I have placed on you is most painful to remove by force, and no one uses brute force quite like my dear brother."
"And the other?" Bruce asked in spite of himself.
Loki's smirk filled with malice. "I do not plan to leave here without a fight. This will be most agonizing for you, Doctor Banner."
Bruce's eyes slipped shut again. "…what makes you think Thor went back to Asgard to break the spell?" he asked quietly.
"My brother is a self-righteous Asgardian, beast," Loki said in distaste. "Why would he squander the opportunity to rescue one of his own teammates?" The soft chuckle that snaked past his lips sent a shiver down the doctor's spine. "That is, he can try."
"Tony, what's wrong?" Steve's voice suddenly sounded as soon as Tony had his helmet reattached to the rest of his suit. "What's happening?"
"Thor needs to move his Asgardian ass, em>that's what's wrong," the iron-clad man growled into the radio, focusing on the schematics JARVIS was drawing up on the newest cracks in the glass.
Things were getting worse. The first roar had shaken the helicarrier into a foreboding silence. Tony had managed to get the Hulk to calm down enough before his giant green fists started flying. The big guy was trying, trying so hard to stay as calm as an enormous green rage monster could, but calm was really more of a Bruce quality; the Hulk didn't do calm very well.
The second time had resulted in a solid punch against (thankfully) the metal interspersed through the glass, which left a sizeable dent. As soon as he had calmed down enough to be conscious of his actions again, the big guy looked vaguely surprised and pretty pissed off when he found the new dent in the wall. He had let out an infuriated snarl and started pacing around his cage again, his hands on the sides of his head and growls becoming nearly constant.
It was on the third roar, with a well-placed blow against the glass, that Tony had decided to don his helmet to have JARVIS keep damage control.
It was getting harder and harder to keep the big guy calm. The three roars had taken place in the span maybe twenty minutes, but the last two had occurred within seven minutes of each other. Things were getting worse, and Tony could only do so much to keep the big guy from completely freaking out.
As JARVIS continued to zoom in on the newest fractures to the glass, Tony's eyes returned to the Hulk. Even the big guy looked a little unsettled by how hard it was becoming to control himself.
"The cell is still holding," Tony reported to Steve, glancing at the highlight cracks displayed on the screens before his eyes, "but I'm not sure for how much longer. Things are getting worse. He's trying to keep a hold on himself, but it's getting harder."
"Do you need us down there?" Steve asked, sounding both distressed and reluctant. Tony instantly understood the captain's plight. He wanted to be down there just in case things went south, but to have the team assemble would only show the rest of SHIELD that the situation was not under control and play further into their fears.
"No," the engineer replied. "No, we're okay for now. No need to get everyone else all worked up. We're okay. I'll let you know if you need to come down."
"I will," Tony reiterated with force. "If things start to get out of hand, you'll be the first to know—"
He paused abruptly when another roar shook the room. Tony shot to the cage. "Hulk, buddy, you're okay!" he yelled. He kept his eyes locked on the brilliant green irises that shot to his, even if they were hidden behind his faceplate. "You're okay! Deep breaths!"
"Tony?" Steve's voice crackled in his ear, sounding almost frantic with concern.
Tony didn't reply, didn't look away from the big guy until he was certain that the Hulk wasn't going to smash his giant fists against the walls of the cell again. He let out the breath he didn't realize he was holding when a distempered snarl escaped from the big guy.
"We're okay," Tony finally answered the super soldier. "Things are gonna get loud, but until things start to get dangerous, we're okay."
A nearly silent curse escaped from him after he ended the call from the captain. The demigod needed to hurry.
"Just a little further, my prince," the Gatekeeper said as he led Thor and a few of the other guards down into the lower levels of the prison.
Thor kept his silence and his eyes straight ahead. They walked past a number of occupied cells, but anyone not of Asgard would not have been able to tell. The archway to each of these occupied prisons had a magical barrier that only allowed for a very narrow glimpse into the actual prison. Thor knew that beyond the barrier was the cold dead world the inmates were sentenced to, and he had no desire to see that world which his brother had been sent to.
Once they reached their destination, Thor's eyes fell upon the form of his brother. Unlike all the other prisons, Loki was pacing the area immediately before the barrier that cut him off from Asgard. "Brother," Thor breathed.
Loki paused in his movements the moment his green eyes locked on the Thor. There was a dark glint in his eye and a cold smile on his lips as he crossed his arms over his chest.
Thor approached the barrier cautiously, taking in his brother's appearance. He did not look any worse for wear, save for the shadows in his eyes. He felt horribly that he had been unable to come and visit his brother properly, and that the reason for his being here now was for such ill purposes. There had been many things to be done in Midgard that, aside from bringing Loki back here to face Asgardian justice, Thor hadn't had a chance since then to properly return for an extended period.
Before Thor could say anything, Loki's smile twisted into a toothy grin. "What brings you here?" he asked. "Has Midgard lost its charm?"
"I wish I were here under better circumstances, brother," Thor replied. "You are looking well…"
Loki gave the blond man a patronizing smile. "And what circumstances would those be?"
"Are they treating you fairly?" Thor questioned, his eyes still roving over the body on the other side of the magical barrier.
"What difference would that make to you?" Loki snapped.
Their eyes met, one pair hurt and the other quietly seething. "It makes a world of difference to me, brother," Thor answered with heartfelt honesty.
An embittered laugh escaped from the God of Mischief. "Oh, I'm sure of it," Loki replied sarcastically. "It was you who imprisoned me, was it not?"
Thor subtly stood a little straighter, his defenses suddenly up. "Had you not committed the crimes you did in Midgard, brother, you would not be imprisoned. Asgardian justice saw it fit for you to remain here for the time being," he said, gesturing around the room. "Why did you even commit your crimes, brother? You are better than that."
Loki grinned. "Do you believe I could have done better? Was I aiming too low?"
"What I mean, brother, is that there is good in you," Thor responded.
The prisoner uncrossed his arms and studied his fingernails for a moment, a bored look on his face. "I see," he said in an uncaring tone. "What were these circumstances you spoke of earlier?"
Thor stared at his brother and swallowed his irritation for the moment. "You have not been performing magic while imprisoned, have you?" he asked.
Loki's eyes returned to Thor's and he gave him a hard look. "How could I?" he replied coolly. He gestured toward the barrier that separated the two brothers. "I cannot do anything with this in place."
The God of Thunder glanced back at the Gatekeeper and the guards, who had been standing back to allow the brothers their reunion. "Does he speak true?"
"What, do you not believe me?" Loki asked with a chuckle. "Ah, the trust we once shared…"
"He speaks true, my prince," the Gatekeeper answered.
Thor returned his eyes to the being on the other side of the barrier. "We could rebuild that trust again, brother," he said, "but this darkness within you keeps our efforts at bay. Please, brother, find the good within you again."
Bruce's battered form hit the ground of the phantom floor again, eliciting a yelp of pain. His hand shot to his upper arm, where one of Loki's blades had sliced deep through fabric and flesh. His eyes went to Loki, who had come to a pause.
A laugh escaped from the demigod and he grinned. "He is truly pitiful," Loki mused aloud. "He continues to believe these delusions that I can be changed for good." He glanced down at the doctor. "It is a shame that he has to see me like that, imprisoned by his own hand."
"You must be so proud," Bruce said quietly as he returned to his knees. He felt a small flicker of the green haze in the back of his mind, but it was quickly stifled as Loki regained his hold on his emotions.
"My brother wishes so hard to find good in me," Loki said, sounding thoroughly amused at the notion.
"Because he cares deeply for you, Loki," the doctor replied. His eyes lifted to the demigod standing not three feet away, whose eyes were lifted as if he was concentrating on the outside world. "Why can't you see that?"
"Oh, I see it," the demigod muttered, his eyes flicking down to the physicist momentarily before lifting again. "It is a hopeless sentiment from a disgustingly sentimental being."
Bruce stared up at the God of Mischief. "Do you really believe that? Thor still believes there is good in you. He wants nothing more than for you to see that."
"I see it," Loki repeated fiercely, glaring down at the doctor.
The physicist felt his brow furrow slightly in frustrated confusion. "Do you enjoy hurting him like this?" he asked before he could catch himself. "You are part of his family!"
"You mean my adoptive family?" Loki shot back.
"Regardless of whether you were adopted into it or not, you have family!" Bruce pressed heatedly. "Do you honestly think you need to have a biological connection with them to feel their love, to feel like you can be part of what they have been offering you since the very beginning? You've been accepted; isn't that enough? They put your past behind them. They love you, regardless of what you have done. You are part of that family."
A silence filled the dark environment for a long moment before the demigod let out a sickening noise of false delight. "How cute," he said, sounding positively revolted. "You truly think your team has accepted you, the monster?" A laugh escaped from him. "How sweet. The beast believes he has a family. Tell me, what is my brother to you? An uncle?" he asked, now sounding truly amused.
Bruce felt himself smile as he locked eyes with the demigod. "A brother," he replied honestly.
As he watched fury quickly overwhelm the demigod's features, the doctor felt a surge of energy return to him as Loki's hold over his mind wavered. Bruce's eyes widened slightly when Loki began to turn his rage on him, lunging forward to attack. Half aware of what he was doing, the physicist felt his right arm shoot forward to take hold of the demigod's elbow, his thumb pressing fiercely into the joint. Moving swiftly with the surprised demigod's momentum, Bruce shot to his feet, turning his body with Loki's to effectively throw him to the ground where he had been crouched only a second ago in a move he had learned years ago from an Aikido master in Rio de Janeiro.
Loki hit the ground with a startled grunt of pain as Bruce took a few very rapid paces backward, his wide eyes trained downward on the demigod. A mild flash of green that lit up the darkness made the doctor look up for a moment.
"Loki, brother," Thor implored again, watching the dark haired prisoner pace slowly back and forth in his cell. "Why must you reject your own brother like this? Do you know how painful it is to see you like this?" The God of Thunder felt himself deflate minutely when his brother only offered a toothy grin. "Loki, please—"
Thor came to an immediate stop when Loki gasped in pain. "Brother—?" he called, reaching out helplessly toward the barrier—
Loki flickered, fading in and out of focus. His suddenly slightly transparent hand went to his translucent chest, a look of deep surprise on his face. "Odin's beard," the illusion swore softly, "how could the beast have hurt me?"
The Asgardian stared at the illusion of his brother for a long moment, shock, dismay, and disappointment warring for purchase inside. These prisons were meant to block magic, and yet Loki had been able to create an illusion of himself. A quick scan of the rest of the cell showed no sign of the real visage of his brother.
As the illusion of his brother glanced back at him with an expression that he realized he had been caught, Thor found his hand closing around Mjölnir and his free hand clenching into a fist. The Metal Man had been right. Loki's magic really was that powerful. "What have you done to Doctor Banner, Loki?" he growled through clenched teeth.
When the illusion disappeared, Thor's enraged eyes shot to the guards. "Open this prison, Gatekeeper," he commanded fiercely.
The Gatekeeper, still looking shocked that their prisoner was able to perform magic, quickly complied. "He is still somewhere within the prison, my prince," he said. "He cannot have passed through the barrier."
"Very well," Thor said as he stepped into the prison, his hammer at the ready. "Close the barrier. I shall be back shortly. I must deal with my brother alone."
"Yes, my prince," the Gatekeeper replied as he did as was commanded.
The second Bruce's eyes left Loki, he felt a massive blow strike between his shoulder blades, sending him through the illusion of God of Mischief on the ground to fall against the hard phantom floor. The doctor flipped himself over onto his back, staring up at demigod glaring down murderously at him. He was about to stand back up, but that brief burst of energy disappeared as what felt like an icy hand ripped away whatever energy the doctor had left in his battered and wearied form. Bruce cringed, his eyes shutting briefly, but the feeling didn't disappear. When his exhausted brown eyes opened again, he found several furious green eyes glaring at him, more appearing as each illusion came into being.
"I will make you regret the day you came into existence, you damned monster," one of the Loki's snarled in a low vicious voice.
Before he could do anything more than draw a breath, a terrible pain exploded through his body. A shriek ripped from his throat. He was hardly aware that his body was contorting and writhing in agony; he was hardly aware that he was screaming. There was only pain, the worst pain he had ever felt in his life, worse than the Hulk erupting from his unwilling body on the very worst of days. Agonizing pain, reaching deep into him to fill his senses with nothing but fierce pain. He was dying. There was no way his body could handle this much torture— Another violent howl tore through his throat as the pain worsened. He couldn't do this. Loki was going to kill him. He couldn't do this. He couldn't fight this. There was no way. He couldn't do this.
The air in the room was suddenly laden with terrible guttural roars of unadulterated rage and the pounding of fists hitting any surface within the suddenly rampaging Hulk's reach. Tony could hear the pain he was in beneath the anger in each bellow, and it tore him up that he couldn't do anything to help. He felt his own anger boiling within him at the demigod responsible for putting his friend through this sort of torture. The anger turned into rage when he tried to imagine what Bruce was going through.
The screens inside his helmet were going crazy with grids and schematics, working fervently in an attempt to keep up with the Hulk's fury. "Sir," JARVIS's voice sounded in his ear, "that crack to your left currently has the greatest threat of rupture."
"On it," Tony murmured to himself as he immediately shot away from the largest crack in the glass. He beat his fist against the glass to capture the furious green man's attention. "C'mon, Big Green!" he shouted, not even sure if the Hulk could comprehend his words in the frenzied state he was in.
As the Hulk lunged at the glass where Iron Man stood, Tony's eyes quickly scanned the charts JARVIS had put on the screen. "JARVIS, open the Avengers communication line," he said.
"Well, I think it's safe to say Loki's behind this," was the first thing out of Clint's mouth once the line was opened.
"Thor will take care of Loki," came Steve in his Captain America voice, sounding every bit of the soldier he was. "Tony, how are the walls looking?"
"Not too good," Tony had to shout into the radio to be heard over the enraged roars from the Hulk. He jumped to a different portion of the cage, ensuring the big guy was following him away from the giant crack in the glass he had just made. "It'll hold if Thor is quick."
"We're coming down," Steve declared. "Just in case," he added when Tony started to protest. "We'll be nearby. I'm going to call an evac for the surrounding area—"
"That's not your call, Cap."
Tony froze at the sound of Nick Fury's voice suddenly interceding into the private line, but he quickly recovered. "Fury, I think some of your agents still have nightmares about the last time they encountered the Hulk on this ship," he said quickly into the communicator. "I'm sure they don't wanna run into him again."
The line was silent for a long moment. It wasn't so much the bluntness from Fury's response, but the combination of steel determination and quiet resignation in the man's voice.
Tony found his voice first. "Fury, don't you dare—"
"I won't have him wrecking this helicarrier again," Fury said. He wasn't going to be swayed.
"He's not going to!" Tony protested hastily, almost desperately. "He's not gonna get out of this cage! I'll make sure he won't! Don't you dare drop this cell. Don't you dare."
As Tony quickly diverted the Hulk's attention to a different portion of the cell, a part with more metal than glass, the line was dead quiet.
"The second he breaks that glass, I'm launching that cell," Fury conceded in a pinched voice, as if he was making this choice against his better judgment. "Is that understood, Avengers?"
Very reluctantly, one-by-one Steve, Natasha, and Clint affirmed the decision.
"Stark?" Fury asked over the line.
Tony was silent for another long moment, his eyes locked on the giant alter-ego of his friend howling with rage and torment.
Drawing a fortifying breath, he kept the argument from his tongue and allowed his metal hands to close into fists. "Understood," he finally replied unwillingly.
As soon as the line went dead, Tony's eyes hardened behind his faceplate. "JARVIS, ready to work overtime?"
"Always, sir," the AI replied as the screen lit up with new purpose.
With the barrier closed behind him, Thor stepped into the vast prison. His blue eyes quickly scanned his surroundings for any sign of his brother. The Asgardian prison was something like exile to a barren world made of rock and dirt. The prisoners were meant to have nothing but silence, loneliness, and nothingness as friends for however long their sentence lasted. The sky was a collection of smoke and dust, a dull greyish blue that dampened all spirits and sucked the mirth out of any proper Asgardian.
"LOKI!" he bellowed into the air, his powerful voice echoing through the environment.
"I was wondering when you would pay me a visit, brother," came a vicious response.
Thor turned swiftly toward the source of the reply, raising his hammer. He found Loki seated rigidly upon the ground nearby a small tower of boulders. Slender hands, which were resting palm-up on his knees, were clouded in an ominous green mist. As his green eyes rose to meet Thor's, his expression holding nothing but hostility, the cloud surrounding his hands pulsed. "What brings you to my humble abode—?"
"What have you done?" Thor asked aggressively, directly approaching his brother. "What are you doing to Doctor Banner?"
A sick grin appeared on Loki's face. "At present, I am torturing him most fiercely," he replied without a single hint of remorse. As an expression of alarm appeared on the blond Asgardian's face, Loki continued to stare up at him. "Why is it that your first visit to me must be about business?"
"Release your hold over him, brother," Thor ordered, "or so help me, I will do it myself."
"Oh, please do," Loki goaded with a widening grin. His eyes traveled downward to his hands. The mist brightened as his fingers went rigid, turning almost white before it settled back into a lighter green than before. "I'm sure the beast could do with your brute force right about now."
Thor felt his anger beginning to overwhelm him. "Loki, end this madness," he growled as he started to raise his hammer.
Loki was on his feet like lightning, a deathly serious look on his face and poised to attack. The green clouds surrounding his hands transferred to his left while his right came forward, ready to strike. "End this spell, and you shall end the life of the beast," he disclosed in a low, haunting voice as he turned his body to where his left hand was placed furthest away from the man with the hammer. "I am not at all certain that you could live with that, but could the rest of your team? The guilt would sit forever on your shoulders, Odinson. Could you live with yourself, knowing that the beast's death came at your hands?"
A long, tense moment passed between the estranged brothers before Thor reluctantly began to lower his hammer back to his side. "Loki," he beseeched, "do not do this. This is magic of the darkest kind that you meddle with; end this now before it consumes you, before you are lost in this shade that has tampered with your reason. Please, brother, I implore you. Let Doctor Banner go. End this now."
Loki's eyes narrowed. "Has the monster made a mess of things in Midgard? Is that what has brought you here? You could care less if I give myself up to this darkness that beckons me; all of this is for the mindless creature, to save your feeble mortals from his wrath."
"You are wrong, brother," Thor was quick to reply, sounding deeply hurt. "I was the first to protect your name when suspicions arose. I did not believe you could be so cruel; I still do not wish to believe it. You are my brother, Loki," he said, gesturing helplessly at the familiar figure before him that he could hardly recognize anymore, "and nothing will ever change that. I came here to prove your innocence to the Metal Man, to show him that someone else has placed this odious spell over Doctor Banner. I did not come here expecting to find you doing the very thing which you were accused of."
His hand fell forlornly to his side and he took a small, staggering step back. "I still believe that you are capable of good, brother. Prove there is still good within you: let Doctor Banner go."
Loki stared at the flaxen haired Asgardian, his stance having relaxed a little as Thor had spoken. The cloud surrounding his left hand had deepened into a more natural green hue and was no longer pulsing. From the expression on his face, he looked like he wanted to believe every word from Thor.
The vulnerability slowly melted away and was replaced with a look of hard bitterness. "How can you possibly still think there is good in me? Open your eyes, Thor." His brow furrowed over his troubled eyes and he slowly shook his head. "You are just as deluded as the mortals you associate with. What will it take for you to realize that you and I are not alike? You are blinded by your emotions! See what is right in front of you! I am about to kill one of your teammates, and you still cannot seem to fathom that there is not a single ray of good in the gloom that is my soul! See what the rest of the world sees! Recognize what is right in front of you!"
When Bruce finally began to regain his senses, he found himself curled into a trembling ball. He drew what felt like his first breath in days, gasping desperately and trying frantically to regulate his rapid breathing. He was lying on his side, he realized belatedly, as he opened his eyes and took in the blurred image of Loki, standing sideways on his plane of vision. He slammed his eyes shut again as a series of tremors shot through his horribly aching body.
"He did come to rescue you…" Loki's quiet voice slowly registered in the doctor's sluggish brain. "He still thinks there is good in me…"
Bruce couldn't think of a reply. Just making sense of the demigod's words was exhausting enough. His eyes slowly fluttered open again and he gazed at the God of Mischief.
Loki was turned away from the shaking man, though his back was not turned completely. His gaze was fixed on something in the distance, probably something in reality.
Bruce stared at him for a moment longer before he began to carefully uncurl himself. His entire body screamed in protest and he let out a small gasp of pain, but the demigod didn't seem to notice. He had no idea where he was getting the energy from, but he somehow managed to get himself onto his hands and knees. Beads of sweat glistened his forehead and his body continued to quake, but despite everything, he did not collapse.
And Loki didn't notice.
Slowly, the cogs in his head began moving. It seemed like Loki could only focus on one of the two planes, reality or this murky place, at one time. He must have been having a conversation with Thor in Asgard at the moment, since he wasn't torturing or watching the doctor now.
Bruce painstakingly lifted his head, his neck protesting against the effort, to look more properly at the demigod. Sure enough, Loki hadn't noticed he had moved.
He had no idea what he was doing. Working out that bit was exhausting. He wanted nothing more than to lose consciousness. A voice in the back of his head was even wishing for death. Another tremor ran through him at that thought as his mind returned to his suicide attempt.
Quickly closing his eyes, he forced his mind away from that train of thought. He couldn't handle watching that memory again—
The doctor's brow furrowed slightly. The atmosphere hadn't exploded with the sounds from his memories of the gun in his hand, the bullet on the ground… He carefully looked back up at Loki. He must have been really distracted with Thor, if he hadn't detected that his spell was no longer working properly.
His mind came to a quick stop and a chill ran through him. What if Loki was fighting Thor right now? What if he was making his comrade, his friend, hurt? He couldn't stand the thought of it. Anger bubbled into being within him, giving him the energy to rise shakily and unsteadily onto his feet.
It was the worry that propelled him forward. What if the rest of the team were out there too, fighting Loki? What if they were dying? His chest filled with a new ache that had nothing to do with Loki's magic. He had to help them, he declared to himself.
Loki drew a startled breath when he felt a body collapse into him. Quaking hands grabbed hold of the lapels of his overcoat in an iron grip. Green eyes darted to the side to meet with brown ones, looking exhausted beyond measure and feverish with pain. The doctor didn't look like he was all there.
"Don't hurt him," Bruce managed to say as his legs gave out.
Loki was too surprised to see the doctor actually able to move to do anything more than stare. When Bruce fell back to the ground, he dragged the demigod down with him.
As the two hit the floor, a bright green light exploded through the room. Loki let out a sharp yelp of pain, but quickly regained control of himself as he turned to glare at the shaking man beside him. "The spell has been broken," the demigod said; his voice sounded like it was coming from the end of a very long tunnel. He knew his words hadn't been heard, however. He felt a grin tug at his lips and laughter bubbled up his throat.
The man's screams were like music to his ears.
As soon as a distracted look crossed Loki's face and he paused mid-sentence, Thor threw his hand at his brother. Mjölnir flew forward and crashed into Loki's chest, sending him through the boulders behind him.
As rock and dust began raining from the sky, Thor sprinted along the cloud toward where Loki was going to land upon impact. Thor raced forward, calling his hammer back to him as he ran. Before he saw his brother, he heard him. Despair mixed into his anger as a heaviness made itself known in the pit of his stomach; Loki sounded mad as he giggled to himself amongst the wreckage.
With brisk efficiency, Thor created a gust to clear the cloud of dust obscuring his deluded brother. He found Loki still in the crater, laughing to himself as if he alone understood the punch line to some sick cosmic joke. The sight nauseated the Asgardian prince.
Thor clambered up the debris and pulled Loki out of the rubble forcefully. Loki, hanging loosely from Thor's grip, grinned at him for a long moment before he continued to giggle. "The spell has been broken. Congratulations," he managed to say.
"And what of Doctor Banner?" Thor asked. When an answer did not seem forthcoming from the laughing prisoner, Thor let out a growl of aggravation. He started to drag his brother from the rocks and stormed toward the barrier back to Asgard.
Loki managed to regain some control over himself and he looked over his shoulder up at Thor. He made absolutely no effort to remove himself from the blond man's grasp or to put up a fight. "The chances of the beast being alive are most slim," he disclosed remorselessly. "He was in poor health before you broke the spell; his mind cannot have survived the trauma you have caused. He is stubborn, but mortal, and all mortals have their limits." He paused to let out a low chuckle, his face splitting into a grin again. "Tell me, brother, do you still think there is good in me? Can you open your eyes now and tell me what you see?"
Thor slammed the God of Mischief to the ground just outside the barrier. He placed Mjölnir on Loki's chest and knelt down next to him. "My eyes are open," he began softly. "I see that you are lost and alone, brother, that you are being swallowed by these ill feelings. Now see what is before you, brother. See that it is you who is blinded by your hatred and rage. See that your brother will not give up on you, no matter how foul the deeds you perform."
As he rose to his feet to turn to the barrier, a sigh escaped from Thor. "Know that I am sorry, brother, that I cannot stay with you right now, though my heart aches to," he said quietly. "I do not want to leave your side, but I must attend to my brethren in Midgard, to the victim of your hatred." He paused to turn his eyes down on his brother, filled with a strange combination of sorrow, disappointment, fear, and anger. "You had best wish that you did not kill Doctor Banner, Loki. You are my brother, but if he is dead, you will know my wrath."
Agonizing pain exploded against his senses, battering his already aching and weakened body. Bolts of fiery torture pulsed through his veins into every crevice of his being. What felt like claws made of shattered glass tore at him beneath his skin, trying to break free. Every sensation he had felt since his abrupt abduction came thundering back and hit him like a tidal wave. Every blow he had endured from the demigod suddenly crashed against him, feeling tenfold worse this time than the first. Every memory came back in startling clarity, which in turn triggered every emotion that had been elicited by said memory. Everything came rushing back over him, throwing itself atop the excruciating agony that had him screaming and writhing and arching against the floor.
He had no idea how much longer he could last, how much more of this he could stand. Not that he was really thinking about it—his mind was far too focused on all of the sensory input rushing through synapses. He couldn't focus on anything, except 'I can't do this.'
Even with his eyes slammed tightly shut, he knew the darkness was rushing over him, finally pulling him toward oblivion.
And yet, over the cacophony of sounds that mercilessly assaulted his ears, a distant roaring began to be heard. Even as the pull of whatever was calling him wrapped itself around him, the roars grew louder and louder.
As the darkness finally overwhelmed him, the last thing he heard was a particularly aggressive roar echo into the ether.
I do not own any of the characters present. They belong to Marvel. This was written purely for fun. Also, there are several references to the 2011 film "Thor" and the 2008 film "The Incredible Hulk" in here.
WARNING: Possible triggers for blood. You have been warned.
(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)
Tony knew that Steve was saying something to him over the communication line, but even with the speaker in his ear, he couldn’t hear a single word over the powerful guttural uproar coming from within the rapidly fragmenting glass cage. The engineer ordered JARVIS to close the communication line; he needed to concentrate on the situation at hand.
He had thought the Big Guy had been rampaging before, but that was nothing compared to the frenzy now. The screens before his eyes were constantly changing with each furious blow the Hulk landed against the walls of his cage. The metal panels were buckling and the glass windows were nearly completely covered with cracks.
JARVIS was struggling to keep up with the exponentially growing amount of damage, only speaking up to inform Tony of the cracks with the greatest possibility for rupture. Tony had taken to the air and was zooming around the cell, banging on the metal to capture the Hulk’s attention away from the worst of the cracks. The green giant was no longer reacting to his shouts, but the sound of metal clashing against metal seemed to cut through the blind rage enough to turn his fury elsewhere.
With another earth-shattering roar, the Hulk slammed his fist against the wall of his cage again in his mindless rampage. Cracks splintered across the glass; the screen in front of Tony’s eyes rapidly lit up and started charting probabilities of how much more force would be needed to break through.
Tony hardly noticed.
The locks that suspended the cage above the chasm opened, sending a deep metallic sound through the air that shook Tony to his core. Before he even asked, JARVIS opened the communication line to Director Fury. “The glass isn’t broken!” Tony yelled into his transmitter.
“Yet,” was Fury’s response.
The iron-clad man was about to launch into a full-fledged argument, but the sensors on the screen in front of his eyes started flashing bright red in warning.
“Sir,” JARVIS’s voice interrupted, sounding as urgent as an artificial intelligence could.
Tony’s eyes shot back to the roaring giant inside the cage and felt his blood run cold. “Hulk, no!” he screamed, but his voice was lost in the clamor as a gigantic green fist flew at the largest of the cracks in the glass, the one that had no chance of surviving another blow from the rampant goliath. “No!”
Heimdall stood at the edge of the Bifrost, eyes trained on Midgard. He didn’t so much as flinch when Thor suddenly landed next to him, Mjölnir in hand. “My prince,” the sentry greeted him solemnly.
"Heimdall,” Thor began hastily, moving rapidly forward to sentry’s side, “do you see him?” His blue eyes were cast downward toward the other realms below, as if he could truly find what he wished to see in the vast expanse beneath them.
The sentry did not lift his eyes. “I see the being of rage, ‘The Hulk,’ as you say the Midgardians like to call him,” he explained. He could feel the Asgardian prince tense next to him before he drew a breath and went on. “But I am beginning to sense another presence beneath the rage. It is faint, but it is present.”
“That must be Doctor Banner,” Thor murmured to himself, sounding relieved. The relief was short-lived, however, when he turned to look at the being next to him. “How faint is this presence?”
“It is like a small flame in the wintry gusts of Jotunheim,” Heimdall explained gravely, not once turning his gaze away from Midgard. “It is there, trying to stay alight in an overwhelming battle against forces greater than it.”
Thor was silent for a moment, slowly allowing his eyes to fall to the abyss below them. His grip on Mjölnir tightened unconsciously and he took deep breaths in through his nose, simply thinking. “And will this flame continue to burn, Good Heimdall?” he asked at last, his voice tense and dark.
Heimdall blinked and slowly turned to the Asgardian prince. “I know not, my prince.”
Tony was still in mid-air, watching in a panic as the Hulk’s massive fist sped toward the enormous crack that stood no chance against the punch. His wide eyes were locked on the Big Guy’s back. He was powerless to stop the blow; there was absolutely nothing he could do to stop this in time.
The blow never came.
His roar was cut short, as if it had been strangled to a stop. The fist hit the glass, but the strength behind the punch had vanished. His gigantic knuckles slid across the glass, which mercifully did not shatter. Unsteady legs began to back his massive green body away from the wall of the cage, stumbling a little, but he remained upright. The green goliath was breathing heavily, but aside from the rapid lifts and falls of his shoulders, he was remarkably still. With each deep inhale, his massive shoulders seemed to slump a little more.
Tony stared at the suddenly docile giant inside the cage. The unforeseen hush caught him completely off-guard and left him uneasy. “Hulk?” he called cautiously, still at the ready for anything.
At the sound of his voice, the massive green man turned just enough to look at him. He looked positively weary, and even as he was staring, the green in his irises was rapidly fading into a familiar brown hue. As his body began to contort and shrink back down, the Hulk gave Tony a look of deep concern and worry.
“Quiet…” the shrinking giant slurred softly between breaths, a shaking hand traveling to his head. Confusion and weariness mixed into his troubled expression. “…Banner…”
Before Tony even turned to rush to the control panel to open the cage, the still-transforming man’s legs gave out beneath him and he crumbled to the ground. Tony opened the communication line for a second. “Guys, Bruce is back. Hulk said his head was quiet before he de-Hulked,” he said to the rest of the team and quickly closed the line as he flew to the panel, landing rather gracelessly in his haste. “Hang on, man; I’m coming.”
As he was punching in the codes, his eyes shot to the cell. Bruce was lying on his side, curled slightly with his back to the iron-clad man. The doctor was just a little larger than Bruce’s actual form and still faintly green-tinted, but what caught Tony’s attention first was just how motionless he was. The normal post-transformation shakes were nowhere to be seen.
A chilling thought entered the engineer’s head. “JARVIS, find Bruce’s vitals,” he ordered swiftly as his fingers continued to fly across the keyboard on the panel.
As soon as he was refocused on the man lying limp within the cell, a window popped up on the screen before his face. “Sir…” JARVIS sounded gravely concerned.
The bright zero lingered in his periphery as he stared in panic at Bruce. No heartbeat detected. No… No, no, no, this couldn’t happen—
The small window with Bruce’s heartbeat unexpectedly went haywire, going from zero and speeding up frantically until it was nearly at one hundred seventy beats per minute, all in the span of two or three seconds. Horrible tremors suddenly shot through the doctor’s body, making him involuntarily curl into tight ball before his limbs stretched back out, leaving him arching and contorting against the floor, crying out in agony. Flashes of green appeared across his skin, tinting gently tanned skin a light jade hue, before fading again.
As quickly as the tremors began, they disappeared. The man collapsed back to the floor, panting and shivering, but his heart was beating. His eyes were scrunched tightly closed and there was a look of pure torture on his face, highlighted by beads of sweat upon his brow. A single tremor coursed through him, which made him tighten until he was lying on his side again, curled and shaking and miraculously alive.
Tony rapidly finished punching in the codes and ran to the door as it slowly slid open. He let the visor on his helmet lift, telling JARVIS to alert him to any drastic changes in his friend’s heartbeat. “Bruce?” he called as he rushed to the prone and shaking form of his half-naked friend and dropped to his knees.
The sound of metal hitting the floor of the cell sent a particularly harsh twitch through the scientist’s body and his eyes flew open, irises immediately flaring completely green. Bruce’s eyes shot up to Tony, looking completely panic-stricken and mad with terror.
Tony knew in a heartbeat that if he ever saw Loki again, he would be merciless for what he did to this brilliant man. Just looking down into the depths of the doctor’s blown pupils, dilated with anxiety and intense fear, the engineer knew that Bruce was mentally still wherever the demigod had held him captive for the past several hours, doing lord knows what. To see his friend, the strongest person he knew (and he knew a super-soldier and a demigod) like this, beaten and frightened and broken, made his blood boil.
He swallowed his overwhelming desires for vengeance and focused on the present. He didn’t move, opting instead to stare straight back into the bright green eyes of his terrified friend. “It’s just me, Bruce,” he said gently, “just Tony.” He waited for recognition, speech, anything other than the panic. “You’re back. You’re safe. He’s gone.”
They remained frozen for a lingering moment before the green began to fade slowly to brown again. Bruce blinked rapidly and tried desperately to catch his breath, which were still coming in short gasping inhales. His quaking hands began to claw frantically at the floor of the cell, as if trying to regain a physical hold on reality.
When his eyes, now brown with green ribbons still lingering in his irises, finally landed on Tony, they darted from feature to feature on the billionaire’s face, just to make sure he was indeed seeing what his eyes perceived. Between his rapid breaths, he managed to croak out a raspy “…T…T-Ton…”
That was all the iron clad man needed. As Bruce’s eyes slipped tightly shut and he curled his aching body just slightly, Tony laid a gentle hand on the man’s bare and twitching shoulder. “It’s okay. He’s gone. You’re safe.” He slipped a metal hand into the hand Bruce was using to claw at the floor of the containment cell. “It’s alright, buddy,” he said soothingly as the shivering man’s hand tightened around his in a grip he felt even through the armor. “He’s gone.”
Tony glanced over his shoulder at the small black bubble on the ceiling beyond the cage. “Can we get a medical team down here?!” he yelled to whoever was watching the feed to the security camera. He felt Bruce wince at his sharp call for assistance and returned his focus to the doctor. “Everything’s gonna be fine, Bruce.”
His eyes lifted abruptly and he looked over his other shoulder when the sound of an opening door came through the air. He nearly did a double take when he saw it was Natasha quickly entering the open cell, a shock blanket tucked under her arm.
As she stepped toward the pair, shaking out the blanket as she walked, Bruce’s eyes opened again. She came to a stand-still when she saw the green mixed into his brown irises. A moment of silence passed between the trio before Natasha carefully held up the blanket. “I just want to help,” she said cautiously, her voice low and calm.
Tony’s eyes moved between the other two, for once keeping quiet.
She moved very slowly forward, so as not to startle the shivering man on the ground. “I just want to help,” she said again quietly as she knelt down.
Bruce’s eyes slipped shut with a grimace as another bout of shaking overtook him. She took the opportunity to begin wrapping the blanket around his bare form. She paused only once to lift Tony’s hand from his shoulder to cover him and then placed the metal gauntlet back to where it was.
When he was properly covered, Natasha looked at Tony. “Medical isn’t coming down,” she said in a low voice. When he looked like he wanted to demand why, she shushed him and eyed Bruce. “We don’t know if Loki’s still in there. They will look at him once he’s calm—”
“What, do they want to wait until he’s passed out? You can’t be much calmer than unconscious,” Tony shot back quietly. Natasha gave him a long-suffering look and he sighed. “Fine. I’ll set up something to see if he’s still in there, but I’m still taking him up to medical.”
The engineer carefully knelt lower to the trembling man. “I’m going to move you now, okay man?” he asked in the gentlest voice the assassin had ever heard come from the billionaire. He patted Bruce’s shoulder when the scientist’s body curled tighter and he started shaking his head, his eyes scrunching more tightly shut. “We need to get you cleared for medical to take a look at you, buddy. They won’t do anything to you; we won’t let them.” His eyes met Natasha’s in a fierce gaze.
Bruce continued to shake his head as his shivering intensified. He drew a sharp breath. “…don’…” he mumbled feverishly.
“Keep that blanket over him, Natasha,” Tony said to the assassin, ignoring the physicist as he gathered him into his arms and stood. Bruce struggled weakly in Tony’s grasp, but quickly exhausted himself. “Don’… Don’t tou…” he kept murmuring. His head rolled loosely on his shoulders before his temple came to a rest against the iron chest plate.
“It’s okay, Bruce,” Natasha said soothingly, drawing a mildly startled look from Tony. She moved to cover part of his shoulder as Bruce murmured “Don’t touch m…”
She immediately withdrew her hand when a sharp intake of air sounded from Bruce. A gash ripped open right where her hand had been reaching for and started oozing blood.
Bruce’s eyes fluttered open for a brief moment. “Don’t touch…my blood,” he breathed fleetingly. “Don’…don’t touch…the blood.” He looked like he wanted to shake his head again, but it seemed beyond his capabilities. Another cut ripped open across his cheekbone; this time a soft gasp of pain escaped from the doctor.
Tony only tightened his hold on his friend. “Bruce, as much as you would like to pass out, don’t,” he said with a harshness that was born from concern and worry. “Don’t close your eyes, you hear me?”
The man in his arms mumbled something into Tony’s chest plate and his eyes opened for a moment before slipping shut again.
“Alright, here we go—”
Tony paused mid-sentence when the sound of locking bolts floated through the air. He and Natasha instantly turned to the entrance to the cell to find it closed. Next to him, he felt the assassin go rigid. Bruce must have sensed the sudden heaviness in the air, for his eyelids fluttered weakly open to stare blearily at nothing, his irises still more green than brown.
The engineer stared at the locked door for a moment longer before rage began to boil through him. His visor flipped back into place, making the eyes glow intensely white as if in rage. “Fury,” he snarled into his communicator, the name coming out sinister with the slight robotic sound to it. “Fury, open this door now.”
“We don’t know if Loki is still in there, Stark,” Fury’s voice came over the line.
Another bout of tremors shook through the man in his arms. “He needs medical attention!” Tony protested heatedly after Bruce let out a small whimper of pain.
Natasha warily eyed the shaking man’s fists, which were slowly tinting green again.
“I know he needs medical attention, Stark,” Fury replied, sounding very much professional, but with an underlying layer of concern in his voice, “but I have the safety of the entirety of the crew to consider—”
“The Hulk said his head was quiet, Director,” Natasha said into her communicator, finally glancing away from Bruce when the tremors passed. Her eyes went to the security camera beyond the glass.
“And you trust the Hulk’s word, Agent Romanoff?” Fury shot back.
“Fury, I swear,” Tony seethed, “if you do not open this door, I will make a new door.” Plates lifted on the shoulders of his suit to reveal a line of rockets and other pieces of weaponry, all trained on one of the largest cracks in the glass. “Take your pick.”
“You break through that glass, the cell will drop,” Fury replied. “I won’t have the lives of this crew put at risk. He is not leaving that cell until he’s safe to.”
A quick silence passed over the communication line before the iron-clad man let out a mirthless snort of a laugh. “Safe,” he repeated, loathing dripping from the word. “Meaning until we know Loki’s not playing puppeteer, or until the rage monster goes to sleep?” Before a response could be made, Tony bowed his head to look at the nearly unconscious man in his arms. “Hulk, you’re not coming back out for now, right?”
When there was no response from the man in his arms, Tony lightly jostled him. “Bruce,” he said forcefully, just for the sake of keeping the man awake.
Bruce’s eyes slowly fluttered half-open, green nearly drowning out the browns in his irises. He didn’t respond, nor did he look like he had even heard Tony’s question.
His irises went completely green a second before his eyes shut again with a small painful sound. Another portion of the shock blanket began to stain crimson with toxic blood, spreading far too quickly to be just a light cut.
Natasha saw this and immediately glanced up to Iron Man’s face plate. Even though she could see no emotion in the white glowing eye slots, she knew he was looking at her, to her. He had no idea what to do. Tony Stark was many things, but one thing he was not was a medic.
The assassin quickly looked to the security camera beyond the glass as she touched the tiny radio in her ear. “Fury, will you unlock the door to let people in?” she asked briskly.
“If anyone suicidal enough wants to be let in, they can be my guest; just so long as he doesn’t leave that cage,” Director Fury replied shortly before he ended his end of the transmission.
Ignoring Stark’s growl from within his suit, Natasha quickly opened the lines to Barton and Rogers. “Clint, is there any way you can bring that machine down to the Hulk’s cell?”
“There’s no way this piece of machinery is getting through the door, let alone down the levels to get to your location,” the archer answered.
Natasha breathed a quiet curse in Russian, trying to think. The quiet gasp of pain from Banner certainly didn’t help, not with the thought of toxic and very, very deadly blood getting all over Tony’s suit. Not that she would ever mention it aloud to Tony that she was concerned…
Iron Man tightened his grip on the trembling and bleeding man in his arms when the physicist submitted to another bout of shaking. “I can find a way to make the brain scanner portable. Right now, though, we need to get Bruce stabilized.”
“Medical won’t take him?” Steve’s voice came through, sounding righteously and very royally enraged.
Tony turned to shoot a glare at the security camera. “There’s that, and then there’s someone who won’t even let him leave this damned cell without that brain scan.” The director may have ended his end of the conversation, but that didn’t mean he was probably not listening and watching. He really wanted to flip the camera the bird, but he was a little preoccupied, what with holding his bleeding and shaking friend.
Barton and Rogers both cursed simultaneously.
“Are you both in the medical wing?” Natasha asked.
“Yeah,” Clint responded, still sounding pissed off.
“How bad is he? What does he need?” Steve questioned.
Natasha’s eyes darted to the crimson life oozing out of the cut across the shaking doctor’s cheekbone. “First and foremost, latex gloves. He’s bleeding, and we can’t risk—”
“Wait, what did the Hulk cut himself on?” Steve asked, sounding confused. “The glass didn’t break, did it?”
“No,” Tony replied, pausing momentarily to glance at Bruce as this bout of tremors subsided, leaving the bleeding man trembling and breathing heavily. He carefully knelt down and laid the physicist upon the ground, gazing down at himself to find blood running down the front of his suit. “It must be something Loki did to Bruce himself. Now, like Natasha said, latex gloves. Bruce will be positively devastated if we were to accidentally kill ourselves through gamma poisoning. Bring a field medical kit; he’s gonna need stitches,” he said as he carefully pulled some of the blanket away to look at the open wounds, watching as JARVIS displayed information on the screen in front of his eyes. “His heartbeat is erratic, and he’s going a little green during his post-transformation shakes, so be careful sewing him up. He’s probably dehydrated, so an IV would be good. Pain killers, too.”
There was a pause on the line before the captain spoke again. “We’re on our way.”
Natasha let out a long, slow breath and glanced down at Tony, who was watching Bruce intently. “You’d better get going, Stark. The sooner that machine is made portable, the better it will be for Dr. Banner—”
She paused when Bruce let out a sharp yelp and his mouth pulled back into a grimace. A quavering hand shot to his right shoulder as his skin ripped apart into another long, deep gash. Blood seeped between his fingers, gushing out of his body at an alarming rate.
A shouted curse erupted from Tony and he grabbed a handful of the blanket as the doctor rolled onto his side with an agonized sound, something between a growl and a whimper. Tony forcefully pried Banner’s hand away from the wide laceration and pressed the fabric against the wound. Bruce let out another snarl of pain and his skin pulsed green as his bloody hand clamped over the iron gauntlet applying tremendous pressure to the slash. His other hand clawed helplessly at the floor.
The iron-clad man cursed through clenched teeth. “That bastard must have nicked a goddamn vein.” He turned sharply to Natasha, who was watching everything but couldn’t do anything without exposing herself to gamma irradiated blood. “Have you or Clint dealt with wounds like this in the field?” he demanded.
The assassin continued to stare at the growing pool of carmine gore. “Keep pressure on the wound,” she answered slowly, unable to look away. “Clint and I will take care of it. Just…just keep applying pressure.”
She heard Tony breathe another profanity. “He hit the basilic vein,” he told her, no doubt repeating whatever JARVIS was displaying on the screens within his helmet. He sounded like he wanted to say more, but put whatever his thoughts were on hold when Bruce went into another spasm of tensing muscles and quivering limbs. Tony’s free hand tentatively came to rest on his friend’s shuddering shoulder so he could continue to keep the pressure on the wound and ride out the shakes. “Bruce, buddy, stay with me,” he said urgently, watching more and more green coloring splash across his skin. “You’re gonna be fine, just stay with me.”
Bruce couldn’t respond. His eyes, which were no doubt completely green by this point, were tightly shut and showed no sign of opening any time soon. His teeth were clenched and his lips were pulled back in a grimace of agony, and when he was able to breathe, the inhales came in shakily and a little desperately.
The sound of the cell door sliding open made Natasha and Tony turned abruptly. As the door slid open to about half-way, Clint and Steve came dashing into the room, their boots pounding against the metal floor of the room. The captain’s eyes widened at the scene before them for the briefest of seconds, but he didn’t pause.
As soon as the two of them sprinted over the threshold to the cage, Barton looked pointedly at the man in the iron suit. “Go,” he said tensely. He tossed a pair of medical gloves at Natasha, having already donned some of his own, and instantaneously took over.
Tony didn’t need to be told twice and backed off immediately. The two agents and the soldier would be able to help Bruce more than he could. They were accustomed to dealing with these sorts of wounds; Tony very rarely saw medical issues this intense. Looking at them all for a moment, he knew he was leaving his friend in capable hands.
He fired up his thrusters and zipped out of the cage. The cell slid shut as he rocketed out of the holding area and into the halls, vaguely hoping the blood on his suit wasn’t leaving a trail of radioactive gore in his wake. As he flew, he had JARVIS pull up the schematics of the brain scanner, already working on a way to make the machine portable enough to carry to the holding deck. He didn’t know how much time they had, and he really did have faith in the three Avengers tending to their fallen comrade, but he didn’t know the full extent of the damage. The sooner that brain scan was complete, the sooner they would be able to get him up to medical and into more capable hands.
Zipping through the halls of the helicarrier this time around, he was extra careful. He flew up toward the ceiling so the risk of running into any passing agent was nearly eliminated. Sharp calls and warnings were still yelled out whenever the sensors on his suit lit up with information that someone was just ahead. Bruce would never live with himself if he knew that his blood was the cause of death of some agent who happened to get in the way of Iron Man’s frantic flight up to the medical wing, and Tony couldn’t live with the thought of being the cause of his friend’s guilt.
He reached the room in record speed, quickly cutting off his thrusters which left him stumbling at a run toward the closed door. He threw opened the barrier and his eyes immediately went to the massive piece of machinery. JARVIS rapidly dissected the scanner and pulled each component apart for the engineer to look at.
Chestnut eyes danced across the schematics, his brain going into overdrive with the surplus of information and haunted by the image of Bruce lying bleeding on the cold metal floor of his battered cage. He spoke at a rapid mumble, shooting out instructions for JARVIS to remove certain pieces of the machine and refit others into certain ports until they had a model with an 87% chance of functionality.
It would have to do.
Tony rushed over to the nearby sink and ran water over the metal gauntlets on his hands, washing away the radioactive blood. He’d have to do a thorough decontamination later, but he had more pressing matters at hand.
He immediately got to work.
With a streak of lightning and a crash of thunder, Thor landed on one of the jet runways aboard the helicarrier. The agents in the vicinity let out sharp yelps of surprise as the force of his landing shook the flying fortress, but the God of Thunder did not spare a thought for the startled Midgardians.
His grip tightening on Mjölnir, Thor took off at a sprint toward a doorway that led to the interior of the helicarrier. He sprinted along, dodging any stray agent that came across his path, toward the medical bay.
As soon as he had finished explaining the situation on Midgard to the Allfather, the reason for his most unexpected homecoming, he had returned to Heimdall and was immediately shot toward Midgard. Loki would be held until his return with information on the latest victim of his brother’s malice. Upon his return to Asgard, Loki would face justice.
Thor pushed aside the heaviness in his heart and raced on.
The God of Thunder sprinted past closed doors along a long corridor, racing as fast as he could manage. He noted the light spilling into the hallway from an opened door. He peeked in as he passed by and quickly skidded to a stop before backpedaling to the opened doorway. “Metal Man!”
Iron Man looked up from his work and over his metallic shoulder at Thor for the briefest of moments before he got back to work. “What happened with Loki?” he asked point-blank, skipping past all of the biting sarcasm and quick wit.
Even if Heimdall had not informed him of the happenings aboard the helicarrier, by Tony’s tone alone, Thor knew that matters were most grave. “Your suspicions were indeed true,” the God of Thunder admitted as he stepped into the room. “I am not well versed in the ways of magic; I know not how my brother managed to cast this spell from within his prison cell. He is in holding at present and shall not be conjuring anything more for a very long time.” He paused to let his blue eyes rove over whatever Tony was working on. “How fairs Doctor Banner?” he asked, a small sliver of nerves sneaking into his voice.
Tony’s meticulous movements halted for the briefest of moments. With the sound of shifting gears, the helmet swiveled to where the glowing white eyes of the robotic faceplate met Thor’s.
The Asgardian prince heard the quick inhale through the speakers on the suit, as if Tony was about to speak, but words never came. The suited man went rigid for a lingering moment before a metallic curse filtered through the air.
Thor felt his brow furrow. “Metal Man?” he inquired hesitantly.
The icon-clad man finally turned and fully faced the God of Thunder. Thor’s eyes widened at the sight of drying blood upon the front of the red and gold suit and his fingers tightened on Mjölnir.
“That was Cap. Thor,” Tony began quickly, “you need to run up to the medical wing and grab a portable ventilator machine and take it to the Hulk’s cell.” At the Asgardian’s blank and helpless stare, Tony let out an exasperated noise. “Okay, run up to the medical wing, ask one of the medics for a portable ventilator machine, and take it to—”
The engineer broke off abruptly, no doubt interrupted by news from their comrades via the communication link again. There was a moment of silence, and then Tony let out a forced laugh, sounding both frustrated and immensely relieved. “Fury, you are starting to redeem yourself, you glorious bastard, you.” He returned his attention to Thor. “New plan: get down to the Hulk’s cell. The others are down there with Bruce right now. He can’t be removed from that room until we run a brain scan, which I’m working on. Shouldn’t be more than another seven minutes. Fury is sending down someone with the ventilator and medics are on standby. I really doubt he can transform right now, but it would put the rest of SHIELD more at ease with you down there. Stand guard, help however you can. I’ll be down there soon.”
Without another word, he returned to the machinery he was working on with new fervor.
Thor took off out of the room and sprinted in the direction of the holding deck. Agents darted out of the way at the sound of his thundering footfalls, making room for the Asgardian to shoot by. He was met with no resistance and made it to the doorway leading to the cell.
There was no sign of the healers that Tony had mentioned Fury would be sending down, but the God of Thunder did not doubt he would go back on his word in this matter. They would come.
Thor stepped into the room and immediately felt a wave of horror sweep over him. He forced himself forward and into the cell that opened at his approach toward where the archer, the assassin, and the soldier were huddled over the doctor’s near-lifeless form near the entrance to the cell. He spared the small pool of blood in the center of the cage one single glance before he focused on his teammates. “How might I be of assistance?” he asked as the cage door locked again.
Steve glanced over his shoulder at the God of Thunder before he nodded toward the small pile of medical supplied against one of the windows. One of his hands was pressed firmly against a nearly blood-soaked blanket at the physicist’s shoulder while the other held up a bag of fluids connected to an IV in Bruce’s arm. “Put on some gloves, first,” he said hastily. He looked to the two agents. “What can he—?”
“Thor, take over for Cap,” Clint said without taking his eyes away from the cut he was stitching up.
The Asgardian quickly pulled on the strange rubber gloves as he was told and knelt down next to the super soldier. He listened intently to the instructions given to him, determined not to fail: keep pressure on the wound, keep the bag elevated, and help keep the gravely injured man still during any random bouts of twitching or shaking.
Thor hardly paid any attention to what the others were doing. His eyes remained on his fallen comrade’s face. The man seemed to be drifting back and forth between consciousness and unconsciousness, but the obvious pain he was in remained constant. The Asgardian was not well-versed in the ways of the type of magic Loki had taken a certain fondness to, so he was not at all sure what exactly had happened. He knew just from the briefest of looks at the victim that the spell had been of the darkest sort, given the aftereffects the magic had even after it had been broken. Loki had said he had been torturing the doctor during the confrontation; he must have known that this would have been the end result of his spell.
As a tremor shot through Bruce, Thor and Steve managed to keep him still enough for Natasha and Clint to keep stitching up open wounds. Splashes of green appeared across the doctor’s grimacing face and elsewhere across exposed flesh. The demigod’s eyes were not drawn to the unnatural coloring, however, but to the positioning of the man’s eyebrows, so obviously a signifier of intense pain. A terrible guilt gnawed at the Asgardian, a heaviness that weighed down his already heavy heart.
His reluctance to believe Tony’s accusation against his brother, his misguided belief that Loki would never dabble with such dark magic, could very well cost this man his life. His disappointment in his brother was painful. Watching Doctor Banner fighting to live, struggling to breathe, was excruciating.
But to see just how low his brother had fallen, just how bleak he had become, was simply unbearable. His original sentencing after the Chitauri attack had done nothing to bring back his reason; Loki was further gone than he had ever seen him, than he could have ever imagined possible. And the worst part: how his brother seemed to welcome this darkness. How he did not hesitate to torture a single man with such brutal means. How he had laughed…
Thor was brought out of his darkening thoughts by the sound of thrusters, swiftly followed by the sound of hurried metallic footsteps entering the cage. He looked away from the physicist’s face and over his shoulder to where Iron Man was, just inside the doors sliding shut once more.
Tony’s faceplate flipped up as he immediately went to his knees by Thor. There was a look of fierce determination in the billionaire’s eyes, but there was an underlying frenzied fear that Thor was able to recognize. It was a look of desperation.
The God of Thunder watched distractedly as Tony began attaching electrodes to Bruce’s forehead and paid very little heed to the science-speak spewing from the man’s mouth. The portable machine he had brought with him slowly began to light up to a slightly lighter black screen. Tony explained that the machine was scanning brain waves and energy levels, and theoretically, if there was any foreign presence inside those waves, the machine would pick it up.
Steve, Natasha, and Clint continued their work, but their eyes continuously darted up to the screen, waiting for the reading to come through. They all seemed to be holding their breath jointly, all anxious for the results.
Finally, a single line faded into existence toward the bottom of the screen, wavering into tiny peaks and valleys along the black background.
Before they could breathe a collective sigh of relief, Thor felt a twitch beneath the hand pressing the blanket against a grievous wound. Almost instantly, the reprieve transformed into trepid caution and confusion. They all stared at the screen, trying to make sense of what they were now seeing.
“That…that cannot be possible,” Thor heard himself say, unable to take his eyes away from the confounding display. “The spell was broken. He has been restrained; he cannot possibly still be performing magic.” He could feel the hard tension exuding from the two agents and the wariness rolling off of the super soldier in waves.
A quick look over at Tony told him that the man’s mind was going even further into overdrive, seeking possible explanations. His eyes were narrowed in concentration, darting from the display to their fallen comrade’s face, and then back again.
It was the very subtle rise of his eyebrows that alerted the demigod to the engineer’s conclusion. “No, you’re right,” Tony breathed. His eyes focused harshly on the screen, so hard that it was surprising that the display did not break.
A grin, appearing almost manic in nature, suddenly broke across Tony’s face. “This is right. This makes sense.”
“Are you sure—?” Steve began hesitantly, slowly looking from the graph to Tony, who was opening the communication line.
“Fury, he’s Loki-free. Open the door,” Tony said into the transmitter as soon as the connection was complete.
An almost muted pain was the first sensation to come back to him. How long had he been out? The pain he had been in when he blacked out was nearly gone; he couldn’t wrap his sluggish mind around why.
A muffled voice drifted across his consciousness. The words were far too quiet to be understood and the speaker’s voice was too obscured for recognition. He just knew it was there—
A different noise reached him. It was so short he almost missed the staccato blip before it vanished. He knew it wasn’t a voice; it sounded familiar, like he had—
There! What was that…? And why did it keep happening? He almost wished his head was working properly so he could think, but he wasn’t sure if he really wanted that ability back just yet. He couldn’t remember why that was, but it was lingering just beyond his grasp, and something told him not to reach for it. Gut instinct, he supposed, or maybe it was the Other Guy.
Another blip, almost a beep.
Where was the Other Guy? He felt like his alter ego was missing, or had been missing for some time now. He had no idea why, but it distressed him terribly.
The beeping suddenly became more frequent, beeping in time with each throb of his head. He could feel his heart beginning to pound in his chest and immediately drew a few deep, albeit painful, breaths; calming exercises seemed like second nature to him now. Had to get his heart rate down—
Why was that thing still beeping? And why did it match his increasing heart rate—
Dawning terror enveloped him as the realization hit him.
A hospital room. White sterilized light shining down on medical equipment. The hospital bed. Her battered body, her broken frame.
Her emotionless face.
The heart monitor.
Oh god, no, not this!
Bruce’s eyes snapped open, immediately blazing green, with a panicked and choked shriek. The beeping of a heart monitor was going haywire; just below the frantic beeping were the startled voices of people nearby. His blown pupils darted around, trying to take everything in in his panic, but all he could see was Betty, lying on that hospital bed, practically dead to the world.
The two very different inputs to his senses was a jarring experience. The sound of the memory was altered; there weren’t people talking in that memory, nor was the heart monitor beeping this fast, reaching dangerously high levels—
He could feel that presence in the back of his mind beginning to surge forward and a green haze distorted his vision. His panic only increased at that and he slammed his eyes shut, clenching his fists—
There was something attached to his finger, clipped onto the digit and— Oh god, he was attached to the heart monitor. Not a moment later, he became aware of an ache in his arm and realized an IV was attached to one of his veins. A tidal wave of terror flooded through him. He had finally been caught. The military was going to experiment on him. He couldn’t feel the straps across his body yet, but he knew they were coming.
He had to escape.
Bruce’s eyes shot open again and he actually tried to see what was going on, where he was, but his bleary eyes refused to focus. He could still feel the Hulk in his head, ready to jump out. He ignored his body’s screams of protest as he started to push himself upright, ready to run. He felt a pull of wires against both his arm and his head, and the voices raised in volume, sounding worried, followed swiftly by footsteps. Someone touched him and he reflexively began to thrash with as much strength he could muster in his painfully heavy limbs. The voices were starting to break through the pounding in his head and against his ears, assaulting him until something finally broke through the fog.
It was like someone threw a switch, and Bruce instantly went still. Suddenly, Tony Stark was there, staring into his eyes and telling him to focus on him and him alone. Bruce belatedly felt hands on either of his shoulders, both holding him in place and tethering him down to reality, and keeping him from rising off the bed. He noted what felt like a mass of gauze near the engineer’s left hand was on right shoulder, but didn’t have time or the energy to ponder about it. He stared at Tony for what felt like decades, focusing on nothing more than the engineer’s soft chestnut eyes and the calming placations coming out of his mouth, and even then he could only concentrate on the tone of his voice, not the words. He was afraid to look away, terrified that if he did, this would turn out to be just another memory and he’d still be trapped in his mind with L—
The heart monitor, still beeping frantically, picked up pace again as he began to tremble.
“Hey.” Tony’s sharp voice easily cut through the physicist’s panic. “Focus on me, Bruce. You’re safe. Whatever he did to you, it’s over. He’s gone. You’re with friends, buddy. You’re safe.”
They remained like that for a moment longer, Tony’s hands still pressing against his shoulders and Bruce still trembling like a leaf, air coming in in shallow breaths. Finally, the engineer saw the beginnings of brown reappearing in the physicist’s irises. “That’s it. Calm down.” He kept up his mantra of soothing placations as the bed-ridden man’s heart rate slowly, painstakingly slowly, began to decrease in speed. The green that had appeared in light patches across his skin faded.
Bruce’s eyes slipped shut and he collapsed back against the bed, grimacing as pain shot through his body at the sudden, albeit soft, collision. His chest continued to lift and fall at a rapid pace and his body still quivered, but he was calming down at least. The Other Guy lingered just beneath the surface, ready for anything and everything. The physicist was surprised his alter ego didn’t just come bursting forth, but had instead opted to simply observe. He wondered why…
He really didn’t really want to dwell on it right now. There were other more pressing things to take in right now and dear lord, why was that thing still beeping?
The physicist forced his eyes open just to escape from seeing Betty’s face again. He stared blearily up at the ceiling for a lingering moment before he heard a clinking metal sound above the beeping. His eyes met with Agent Barton, who was attaching an IV bag carefully onto a nearby pole.
Clint must have read his mind and turned the bag just so to allow Bruce to read the label across the front of the bag. “Just some pain-killers and fluids to keep you hydrated, Doc,” the archer explained quietly.
Bruce couldn’t think of a reply. A low rumble in his head enticed him to allow his mostly-green eyes to roam around wherever he was. He was in a room of sorts and surrounded by nearly all of the Avengers. Clint finished reattaching the bag to the pole (he realized belatedly the archer must have removed it to keep the IV in his arm from ripping out) and took a step back. Behind him was Natasha, staring at him with an unreadable look on her face. It made him anxious, so he continued to look around. Further down was Steve, standing against the wall and casting a worried gaze at him. The moment their eyes locked, the captain offered a small, reassuring smile. The doctor’s eyes found Tony again, and only then, did he feel the presence at the front of his mind begin to back down.
As his eyes turned to the heart monitor nearby, he heard Tony speak. “Alright, I think it’s safe to say that that energy level is the Big Guy.” He was obviously talking to the others, but Bruce returned his gaze to the engineer to give him a lethargically confused glance.
“We had to run some tests to make sure your mind was your own,” Tony disclosed, his eyes flicking between Bruce and something above his head. “Just a few brain scans, buddy,” he hastened to explain when he received a half-panicked look. “SHIELD ran the same one on Barton after…well, y’know.” Tony’s eyes shifted momentarily to the archer before he looked back at Bruce. “We had to run the same test on you to see if it was just you up there. And well…we got an interesting result.”
Interesting was never a good word to hear Tony use to describe the results of anything. Bruce gave the engineer a wary look before he tried to glance at what he presumed to be a screen on the wall behind him, feeling something tug against his head just slightly. He realized belatedly that there were a series of electrodes placed across his forehead.
Clint stepped forward again and pulled the screen away from the wall. There was a blocky-plastic arm attached to the back of the screen that allowed it to move. The archer pivoted the display around to where both Bruce and Tony could see it, without straining the former.
Bruce forced his eyes to focus on the screen, not entirely sure what he was looking at. The display consisted of a black background and two glowing colored lines, nearly overlapping each other. He watched the two lines move around each other, doing their own bizarre sort of dance, and tried to make sense of the graph in his bleary state.
A shift of the green haze in his head made one of the lines dip just slightly, and suddenly the screen made complete sense. He was unable to tear his slightly widened eyes away from the screen, even if the lines were getting fuzzier as the exhaustion began to pull at him.
“So that is the Hulk causing that second line?” Steve asked. He must have seen a change in the bed-ridden man’s face when the understanding dawned across his features.
“That’s what I’ve been saying,” Tony replied airily.
Bruce slowly looked away from the screen and sluggishly gazed at the heart monitor. His heartbeat had slowed back down to a moderate tempo, but each beep from the machine made him just barely flinch. His eyes slipped shut and he sank back into the bed, finally taking stock of just how exhausted he was and how battered he felt. As much as he would have liked to give in to the tug of unconsciousness, he had questions he wanted answered.
His eyelids fluttered back open. When he found that his throat felt tight and dry, he involuntarily coughed to clear it. Pain shot through his body, making his hands clench into fists and his eyes shut again. He didn’t bother opening his eyes when he tried to speak once more.
“Did I hurt anyone?” His hoarse voice came out just barely above a whisper. The Other Guy must have been really vocal for however long he was out, judging by the roughness of his voice.
There was a soft snort to his right, which must have come from Tony. “That would be your first concern,” the engineer mused aloud. “Aside from you, no one is hurt.”
Bruce forced his eyes open and looked at Tony, trying with very little success to bring the man into focus. “Thor?” he rasped painfully.
When Tony glanced away, the physicist followed the man’s gaze to Steve. The super soldier offered a shrug, but looked a little ill at ease. “We haven’t seen him since he left for Asgard again,” he answered, “but we’re expecting him back at any moment.” He held his hands up a little helplessly at the doctor’s anxious expression. “He’s fine, though. He came back right after L—” He paused again, trying to catch himself from saying the offending demigod’s name, lest he should trigger some sort of episode or something. He cleared his throat awkwardly and went on. “We had a messenger who told us what was going on.”
The captain’s reassuring words fell flat upon the bed-ridden physicist. “How long…?”
“You’ve been out for almost four days, Big Guy,” Tony answered the unfinished question. “The Asgardian mailman paid us a visit a day ago. Thor should be back within the next few hours or so. Something about the Asgardian justice system and magic…”
Bruce tried not to think about what the Asgardian standard of justice was and how it would apply to Loki. Thor had told them that he had been imprisoned and that his magic could not be used from within his cell. Either Loki had broken free, or whatever methods they had of tampering with demigod’s abilities had been ineffective. Details hadn’t been provided about the incarceration of his brother, but from the tone of Thor’s voice, the sentence wasn’t a pleasant one.
And what would they do to him now, since he couldn’t be held behind bars? The physicist couldn’t properly conjure a scenario, what with the use of magic involved and his already exhausted state of mind.
A vague sense of nausea made itself known inside Bruce at the thought that he was semi-responsible for whatever new fate awaited Thor’s brother. Again, he couldn’t fully piece together why he felt this way, but he hardly had the energy to think upon it.
He felt the presence in his head give a rumble, sounding vaguely curious and protective. The physicist fought against the pull of slumber and shifted his eyes to the reading of his brain waves. He watched the two lines for a long moment, how they were nearly overlapping, and heard the Other Guy heave a long, exhausted-sounding sigh in his mind. He realized the Hulk was just as tired as he was, and wasn’t that something? The fact that the Hulk was even present on the readout of his brain activity should have been disconcerting, for this was the first time he had ever seen his brutish alter-ego appear on any sort of brain scan, but he couldn’t find it in himself to feel worried. The big guy was just as exhausted as he was, but he hadn’t gone back into his slumber as he normally did during bouts of downtime.
As he finally gave into the allure of sleep, his thoughts muddled by the fate of Loki and the constant and protective presence of the Hulk, he tried in vain to focus on the soft sounds coming from his alter-ego in his head and not on the light chatter from his teammates and the beeping of the heart monitor. Despite his best efforts, however, his last conscious feeling before he slipped under was that of terrible guilt. The Hulk could protect him from physical harm, but there was nothing that could save him from his memories, his past, and the amount of pain it caused him. Those wounds were still fresh, and he could do nothing but submit to the images so recently brought back into the light in startling clarity. He almost wished he could fight his exhaustion and stay awake, just to keep those thoughts at bay and distract himself, but that battle was lost.
The sounds of his comrades voices faded and he slipped back into oblivion to the clamor of his memories, the constant beeping of the heart monitor at the front with the image of the hospital room from his past at the forefront of the barrage of heart-wrenching images.
I am a terrible person for taking so long to get this updated. I have plenty of excuses, ranging from depression to being insanely busy with school and work over the summer. I will spare you the details. Thank you for your patience and for sticking with this story and I. I'm thinking one more chapter; school starts in two days. I'm not sure when the next update will be, but hopefully it won't be in two months. We'll see.
Thanks for reading, and feedback is always welcome!