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Coursing Through My Veins

Chapter Text

Enemy

Familiar friend

My beginning and my end

Knowing truth

Whispering lies

And it hurts again...

Fight Inside - Red

-o-

-Part 1-

Chapter 1: It was Always Warm

It was always warm in her dream.

She could feel his breath upon the back of her neck and his strong, firm hand holding her in place against him.

"Mine..."

That is all that he would ever say, a deep growl of a word that sent shivers up along her spine. His hand would tighten around her hip as he brushed up against her, his arousal always clear.

"Mine..."

She would say nothing to this. She would only have a breathless anticipation of what was to come. He was big, both in body and spirit, and filled with raw emotion that always set her off. Her own primal urges emerging from depths of her mind in response to him was always surprising, though why she could not say.

She was cursed with her own demon. One that would rise up at the slightest hint of anger or irritation. Her demon responded to him, urging him on, crooning to him in an almost animalistic language that he seemed to understand. He could sense her excitement, her anticipation, and he loved it.

He was used to fear from others as she was. They both understood the demons within them and to embrace that part of themselves, at least with one another, was an outlet that they both craved for. Within each other, they could give into what the primal part of themselves craved for...

"MINE!"

It was at this moment that she would feel his growl grow into a roar against her back, the large muscles of his torso vibrating. He would slam up against her, his hardness urgent and insistent. She would feel a purr emerge from her throat, her heart beating hard against her chest as she willingly gave into the primal urge of this unique mating dance...

-o-

Anamaria gasped as the chirping tone of her disposable phone broke through the remnants of her dream, shattering whatever images that had played through her mind. She took in a shuddering breath, feeling the heat that coursed through her veins slowly receding to the constant dull ache that remained at the base of her neck. She allowed a few minutes for the heat to fade away, allowed her heart to calm in its fast beat.

She couldn't get excited, she couldn't allow herself to feel such a thing. It was getting harder to fight the emotions her dreams brought out in her now. That part of her was craving for something, something she could not allow herself to give into. Ever since that ill-fated trip to Germany...

She pushed those thoughts away, waiting for the moment her body regained its normal temperature and pulse. Once her heart finally began to beat at a steady count of sixty-two per minute, she sat up in her bed and reached over to grab the phone from the night stand.

Ana, meet me at the café down the street. ~Mama

She stared at the text for a few minutes, wondering why her mother had not simply stopped by their apartment. She must have made a few discoveries from her contact last night. Sighing heavily, she tossed the phone back on to the night stand and got up to make her way to the bathroom that was next to her bedroom. Once inside, she glanced at herself in the mirror that spanned the width of the wall to her left, catching her reflection as she went to turn on the shower.

Her normally tan skin seemed slightly pale this morning and the bags under her brown eyes were an indication to a poor night's sleep. Her curly, copper brown hair had undone itself from the braid she done the night before and now looked like a bird's nest. All in all, a typical morning look for her these days.

What made her heart nearly stop was the sight of the prominent red veins on the sides of her neck. They were slowly receding but it was sign of how close she had been to losing control in her sleep. She could not even fathom what might have happened if...

She closed her eyes against her own reflection and stripped herself bare, feeling ill at ease in her own skin. She could not think of it. She had to meet her mother at the café and decide what new course of action was to be taken place now that she had been seen. Her mother had spent all night with a trusted confidant of theirs in perhaps finding a way to keep them under the radar of the people who had seen her in Germany. She couldn't risk to be seen again...

-o-

"You have had those dreams again, haven't you?" The woman who asked the question bore a thick French accent about her words, the question itself sounding more exotic to the ears of those who were not used to it.

"Hello to you too, Mama..." said Anamaria as she leaned down to kiss the older woman against her cheek.

She took a seat down across from her mother, folding her hands down upon her lap as she glanced around the small café they were sitting in. It was a quaint little place in Midtown Manhattan, not too far from the newly renovated Stark Tower. It was a place where one could pull up a wooden chair or plop down on a plush couch and enjoy a fine cup of coffee or tea. In this particular case, Anamaria found her mother had been enjoying a cup of chamomile tea before her presence had interrupted.

At the age of forty-eight, Sidonie Brandt was still a handsome woman who could turn a few male heads. Her raven black hair, with a few strands of silver striking through, fell in a long silky sheet down around her pale, heart-shaped face and toward the middle of her back. Her pale blue eyes, rimmed with long dark lashes, were a stunning feature that helped to enhance the clear feline grace of her lithe body. How ever it had happened that this woman had become the mother figure in Anamaria's life was something she could not even begin to fathom. Indeed, if one were to look at them they would not have seen any sort of familial relationship in their looks but it was there in the way they interacted.

"Ana," said Sido, switching flawlessly into her native French as her pale blue gaze focused on Anamaria's brown ones. "I see a hint of redness about your neck... These dreams have been getting worse."

"It's nothing Mama," she said dismissively in her own unique accent of French, her Hispanic heritage shining through her words, as she waved her hand to emphasize the point. "Nothing has changed. I haven't had an incident in over two years before what happened in Germany."

Sido took a sip of her tea before placing the cup down carefully upon the table. She took in a breath and let it out in a soft huff. "It was my fault I suppose. If I had not been there at that function perhaps you would not have been mixed up with those... people."

Anamaria could feel the anger rising at this and swallowed a few times to calm her rising heart beat. "Mama, do not blame yourself. That... that creature would have harmed you and those people. It was a blessed thing that I was there to help you all."

"But at what cost Ana?" Sido studied her daughter, noting the prominent red veins of her neck peeking out from underneath the loose copper brown hair. "You are constantly on edge now. You can barely sleep much less control yourself. Those people had seen you for what you are! It is only a matter of time before they begin to search for you and then the L.I.F.E Foundation will not be far behind."

"I have better control now Mama, you know that. I had not killed a single innocent during that fight in Stuttgart. The only one who had been harmed had been that inhuman creature who meant you harm. Perhaps those people who had taken me might have been hurt but... I remember very little after the change..." Anamaria sat back against her chair, looking slightly at a loss. She couldn't remember much but there had been his scent that lingered on the plane. He had been there, that feral male that called to the most primal part of her. The only thing she clearly remembered was her demon meeting him for the first time. Oh the sweet tension...

She couldn't remember what had happened between them though. The next thing she could recall was waking up in a heavily forested area somewhere... However, the flashes could not be forgotten. She had seen him fall, disappearing into the clouds from that floating hell... Her mate...

"It does not matter at this point," said Sido, reverting back to English as she sighed heavily, pulling some bills from her purse and placing it on the table. "We have to keep moving as we have before. We have not survived this long to fail. I have found a place where we can hide for a time. It will be risky but Yann has says that this man is trustworthy."

Anamaria gave a nod in agreement as she rose up from the table with her mother. There was much to plan and much more to think of. Who knew where this path would take them now? She was afraid. Her mother was afraid. They both could admit that. It was only a matter of time before they were discovered again.

Lost in her own thoughts, Anamaria followed her mother outside the café and listened as her mother mumbled in French to herself about what they could and could not leave back in their apartment. She smiled at her mother fondly, glad that she had been blessed with at least one person in her life that had cared for her well being. She stepped out to the curb to hail a cab, raising a hand as well as showing a peak of an abdomen that was all soft curves and caramel flesh from under the hem of a short white sleeveless blouse.

A yellow cab screeched to a halt in front of them, amidst the honking protests of passing cabs and other cars. She held the door open for her mother to enter the cab, watching as the older woman was staring up at the sky with slight disbelief. After a moment, Sido rushed forward and pushed her daughter out of the way. "Ana, move!" She cried out in pain a split second later, a bright blue piercing shaft of light connecting with her back.

The smell of burned cotton and flesh reached Anamaria's nose as she reached out to catch her mother, trying to keep her from colliding with the pavement. Her mother was a skinny woman and her weight did not register with Anamaria as she helped her to lay down to the ground. There was so much blood...

A haze of heat flooded her senses and she could feel the prominent point of that heat at the base of her neck flaring up at the sight of her injured mother. "Mama!"

"Ana, you must keep control. Do not let my injury set you off. Please, mon ange!"

"They hurt you Mama... They have hurt you"

It was too late.

She could feel the burning as it slowly coursed through her veins with each passing heartbeat. Her anger had risen beyond her control, as it had that night in Stuttgart. However, her mother had merely been threatened then. Now...

"My Ana, please," said Sido, grimacing under the pain of her wound. "If you must lose yourself... Please, do not harm any innocents. Just protect them."

Protect them...

She glanced up and around, catching the sights of inhuman creatures scaling their way down the surrounding buildings, firing their guns which emitted the same blue laser that had harmed her mother. A few more were flying about in hover vehicles, firing at anything and everything that moved. There were even enormous monstrous creatures, flying their way down and slamming into the sides of the tall buildings. They all seemed to be emerging from a portal that had opened up in the sky right above Stark Tower.

The more innocent lives that were taken by these creatures... The worse it would become. These creatures all bore them same intent...

With a scream of agonizing pain, her heart pounding too fast to count, the red veins showing prominently against her caramel skin and flowing down to the very tips of her fingers and toes, Anamaria gave into the demon within her and exploded.

With a sickening, painful crunch that touched every muscle, sinew, tendon and bone in her body, Anamaria began to change. She became leaner and taller, her muscles were all sinewy grace as the red veins remained prominent with every passing moment. Her eyes, once brown, now bore a startling glow to them and her irises could no longer be seen beneath this glow. The red patch of skin, that was a constant feature at the base of her neck, was now glowing a fearsome red as Anamaria's scream turned into a frightful sound.

Her scream had become inhuman, a sound of pure pain, terror and absolute anger. It was a tortured sound that was amplified as she clenched her red veined fists and let go of her pent-up energy. It took only a moment but one after another of the creatures that had made their way down the buildings and on to the street surrounding her within a 20 foot radius began to spontaneously combust into flames.

Their screams of torment were music to her ears as she glanced around her, watching as they ran and fell in their haste to put out the flames. She glanced up at the buildings ahead of her, seeing them as they climbed, flew and simply emerged down from the portal above the Stark Tower.

Protect the innocent... Protect them.

Mother was absolute. She would listen to Mother. She had to protect...

With a growl that rose from the depths of her torso, she stumbled a few feet away from her mother's trembling form. She rubbed her feet against the pavement, her low heeled shoes melting away at the point of heat that emerged from the red veined skin. When she could feel the pavement beneath her flesh, she rubbed her feet once more against the rough surface before the point of contact exploded with a ball of flames, propelling her up into the air and straight into the oncoming path of an alien hover vehicle...

Chapter Text

What I fear

What I try

The words I say and what I hide

All the pain I want it to end

But I want it again...

Fight Inside- Red

-o-

Chapter 2: It was too Crowded

Stuttgart, Baden-Württemberg, Germany

Two weeks prior...

It was too crowded in here.

All of these people, the social élite of the scientific field, were gathered in the main hall of the museum. The star speaker of the evening was Dr. Heinrich Schafer, whose leading research into the physics and biochemistry of iridium, cast him under the spotlight at this moment in time.

Sidonie Brandt was an invited guest of the doctor's. She was dressed in a black evening, strapless gown that fell long about her ankles. A simple translucent, black scarf was wrapped about her shoulders to cover the pale, lily white flesh. She had unofficially aided in the doctor's research with her experience as a geneticist. She had come out of respect for her friend and colleague. She would not have been seen in such a social gathering otherwise. At least not with her daughter.

Anamaria Brandt stood close to her mother, looking ill at ease in the formal evening gown she had had to don for the occasion. It was a simple dress, dark maroon in color, with thin straps for support. The thin silk-like material did little to hide the full figure that she possessed. She was a short woman but where her height lacked her curved figure made up for in spades. Thanks to her Hispanic heritage, her body was what one would call voluptuous as opposed to her mother, who bore a more lithe body frame.

Her copper brown hair had been left loose to fall in slight curls about her neck, but not for any choice in style. It was a necessity. She was scanning the crowd in an almost agitated way, her survival instincts kicking in. There was something in the air that was setting her off, some tension that was plucking at her very nerves. Every once in a while, her hair fell away to show the faint red lines of curving veins that seemed to pulse back and forth along with her heartbeat. The veins grew from a point at the base of her neck, a faint red area that, at the moment, resembled a sun burn.

Sido noticed this and reached out to brush her fingers down along Ana's bare arm. "Ana, are you all right?"

Anamaria glanced at her mother, studied her pale, heart-shaped face for a moment, before she shook her head. "Non," she said, "There is something wrong but... I don't know what. Something is here that means to harm."

"Where?" Sido knew better than to disregard her daughter's unease. It was because of her heightened awareness of threats that they had survived this long.

There was a moment's pause as Ana scanned the crowd, watching those who milled about the large statue of a two-headed bull, looking as if nothing was amiss. They were listening to Dr. Schafer's lecture and did not seem as agitated. They did not sense the danger. She let out a huff in breath and looked at her mother. "Everywhere. This power it- it's not anything of this world," she trailed off at this, the spot at the base of her flaring slightly. The demon within recognized the threat. She had met something like this before though no memory came forth.

"Go outside Ana. Take a breath of fresh air and see if you cannot find a sign of what is making you feel uneasy." Sido rubbed her daughter's arm in a comforting gesture but her own instincts were flaring up. After nearly thirteen years of being on the run, having the daughter that she had, it was not surprising that she would develop a heightened sense of danger of her own.

Sido watched as her daughter left her side at once, gliding her way through the crowd with practiced ease and murmuring a few words in German by way of apology if she had managed to bump into someone. It was generally a male, dressed in a black suit or tux, stepping deliberately in Anamaria's path in hoping in gaining her attention. She merely responded with an apology and brushed passed them without a second glance. There were some single gentlemen in that hall that had been left disappointed...

Sido could only laugh softly at the men's failed attempts at getting her daughter's attention. None of these men even came up to the standards of what Ana would have found as adequate. The demon in her ruled her primal instincts, which in turn dictated her behavior toward the opposite sex. That primal part of her would not find any of these men to be worthy of her time. They were too weak. Her primary concern was that of the survival of her pack, which consisted that of herself and Sido. Ana could not afford to fall into some age-old need for mating, at lease not with these men. She needed someone as strong, if not stronger, than herself. One who could prove themselves to be her equal and her protector. All in all, she craved for what any woman looked for in a man.

For Ana, it was a much more difficult and more primal need.

A few moments had passed since Ana had disappeared through the front doors of the museum. Sido began to move toward the doors, a subconscious call in her mind that urged her to follow her daughter. It seemed to become a more prominent feature within the last few years. Sido had no special powers of her own. She was no enhanced individual or human that had been in an accident to give her special abilities. She had simply cared for the life of another and ran away with that life to protect as her own. Since then, a strong connection had blossomed between them as a familial link, binding them close and protecting them in their need for survival. The demon within Ana recognized Sido as Mother, the leader of the Pack, one to protect at all costs as the giver of her life.

It was this connection that saved Sido from being trampled by the mob that ran for escape five minutes later.

A man had appeared, a strange dark-haired man who had gracefully descended the steps behind the podium that Dr. Schafer had given his talk from. He was a lithe man- all tall, dark and handsome of face- that had knocked out the security guard with a blow to the head with his cane. He then rushed to the doctor, grabbing him by the back of his neck and forcing the middle-aged man toward the statue of the two-headed bull in the middle of the hall.

The crowd had gasped and screamed as the stranger flipped the doctor with one hand on to the flat back of the statue, demonstrating a strength beyond that of any man in the room. He held Dr. Schafer down with one arm, transferring his cane to the hand of that arm, as he reached into his coat and pulled out a contraption of some kind. With one shake of his hand, the contraption split apart into three separate modules, the main module glowing in the center with an eerie blue light.

There was a slight pause in which the man stared down at the doctor and the doctor up at him, disbelief evident upon his face. The dark-haired man simply smiled as the main module of the contraption revealed a series of blades that began to spin. Without a moment's hesitation, the dark-haired man thrust the contraption into the eye socket of the doctor. The sound of flesh grinding beneath metal blades, of terrified screams of pain, were drowned out by the screams of the crowd as they all began to run away in fear.

Sido was one of the first out of the door, thanking her lucky stars that Anamaria had sensed this inhuman creature beforehand. She had been helpless to save her friend, it was a situation no mere human would have hoped to win against. Her daughter may have a chance...

Once outside the building, the crowd began to gather in the courtyard across the street. There were some who had enough sense to run for their lives, but the majority of them lingered with their fellows. Their thoughts were simply a herd mind now: Safety in numbers. So many were staying in the courtyard, perhaps it was safer?

Sido knew better than this. She remained along the edges of the crowd, not because of any misguided notion of safety in numbers. As far as she could see, they were a herd of sheep waiting for the slaughter. No, she waited for her daughter. She knew Anamaria was around.

Waiting... Watching...

It didn't take long for the dark-haired man to emerge from the doors of the museum. He walked casually and with a golden glow about his form, his clothing changed. He was dressed in what appeared to be ancient, dark armor. A long dark green cape framed his lithe form. However, the crowning affect of his appearance was a golden helmet that bore long, curving, golden horns. He looked like a gilded devil.

He walked his casual walk, the sounds of a siren from the local police force was silenced as a single patrol car was stopped in its tracks by a beam of light from the man's glowing blue scepter. He continued in his strut across the street to the courtyard park across. With a cry, the crowd began to run in one direction, only for the man to appear in front of them.

"Kneel before me," was all he said.

They tried to run into a different direction but the man appeared before them once again. No one heeded his words, they simply wandered about aimlessly, looking for a way out. The man had had enough and slammed the butt of his scepter to the ground, the surrounding images of himself keeping the crowd where they were. The glowing blue ball of light at the tip of the scepters were menacing and it fed upon the fear of the crowd.

" I said... KNEEL!"

The startled crowd, unable to think for themselves of what to do and in fear of their lives, slowly began to kneel before the dark-haired man in the golden helmet.

He allowed a pleased smile to touch his pale features. "Is this not simpler?" he asked in English, walking forward through the crowd while his mirages stood vigil over them. "Is this not your natural state? It's the unspoken truth of humanity, that you crave subjugation! The bright lure of freedom diminishes your life's joy in a mad scramble for power. For identity. You were made to be ruled. In the end... you will always kneel."

At that moment, an elderly native of the city of Stuttgart rose to his feet, after saying a prayer to God above for strength. He stared at the gilded devil and frowned, his weathered features showing all kinds of disapproval. "Not to men like you," he said, his English heavily accented with his native tongue.

The dark-haired man simply smiled as he lowered his scepter and shook his head. "There are no men like me."

"There are always men like you," said the old man in reply.

The dark-haired smiled in a condescending manner as he nodded toward the elder. "Look to your elder people." He held out his scepter as the blue ball of light began to glow more fiercely. "Let him be an example..."

"Non," said Sido, rushing forward to divert the man's attention from the elder. "Do not harm him. Not if you wish to it to be your last mistake." She did not know why she had rushed forward to the man's aid. Perhaps it was the maternal instincts within her that craved to protect any innocent life, no matter the age. Perhaps it was because of the urgent call that pulled at her, that connection between herself and that of Anamaria. Her daughter was near and cried out for the man's life...

The dark-haired man looked at the woman who had come forth, an easy smile sliding across his pale face. "Is that so madam?" He pointed his scepter toward her, the blue light threatening. "And do you mean to stop me yourself?"

Sido stood straight and tall as she wrapped her scarf about her pale shoulders. "Moi? I am but a mere woman... Non, it is not me you need to fear at this moment. If you continue your foolish escapade, it is your own stupid decision."

The man began to laugh as he started to walk toward Sido, his menacing gaze staring straight through her. "How do you suppose my rightful ascension as the ruler of this world means to be a- how did you say- 'stupid decision?'" He had copied her French accent flawlessly but the sneer on his lips did not add any charm to the words.

"I could not answer that for you," said Sido as she edged herself away from the man, sensing the rise in anger and the particular power of heat that could only belong to her daughter.

"Then perhaps you should not speak if you do not wish to be made an example of," said the man as he raised his scepter toward Sido.

It was the mere movement of threatening the woman that had caused a sudden explosion in front of the gilded man. He was thrown backward toward the crowd, who had scrambled away in their haste to avoid being hit by the demon. He shook his head in surprise, the ball of flames not the reaction he had expected.

He glanced up from his bowed place on the ground, his hands and knees feeling the brunt heat that had assailed him. He was a god but he could still feel pain should the assault be strong enough.

The sight that greeted him was not something he had been expecting either. He was thinking that one of the others would come, either the Soldier or the Metal Man. This one was not one of theirs.

It was a female, that much he could discern. She was a dark-haired creature that resembled a human and yet appeared to be too tall and too sinewy in its form to be called one. She stood well over six feet tall and her long limbs, that were not covered by the dark maroon dress that graced her lean torso, showed many prominent red veins. Her eyes were a glowing yellow that revealed no pupils or irises, they were blank orbs that revealed only a mad rage. She stared straight at the gilded man in the golden devil helmet and let loose a fierce growl that vibrated from the very center of her torso.

Sido began to laugh a little as she glanced at the demon that was her daughter. The heat that emanated from her tall and sinewy form was enough to bring a sweat to those around her. "I told you it would be a stupid decision. Of course, when does a man listen to a woman?"

The question was not answered as the creature began growl even worse, the gilded devil now rising from his prostrate form to stand on his two feet. "What is this? A dull creature?" He laughed in a spiteful manner as he held tightly to his scepter. "This is the savior you fall upon? Some mutated woman?"

"I suggest not to get her madder than she already is," said Sido, a fond smile playing upon her lips.

"And is that some form of threat?" asked the man, a condescending smile touching his. "If it is meant to make me frightened madam, I suggest a better tactic."

He held his scepter tightly as the creature clenched her red veined fists. A moment of tension passed before the man cried out, "Enough of this! Stand aside you stupid, feeble, female!"

That was the spark.

That was all it took.

Her scream of rage bellowed out, bringing many of the crowd to their knees in fright as she suddenly charged forward in an explosion of fire that emanated from her feet. The man was caught by surprise at how quickly she moved. That surprise was his mistake because she had reached him in a mere second and slammed her fists against his chest, the contact igniting another explosion of fire that he could feel through the layers of his armor.

He was thrown back through the crowd- who had now began to realize that running for their lives would be their safest bet- and was slammed against the low wall of a nearby fountain. The creature had come after him and had pounced upon him to lay a heavy fisted punch against his mouth. He took the first blow, having been caught of guard, before he blocked her second punch with his palm.

He squeezed down upon her hand, in an effort to break the appendage but was surprised that the seemingly fragile bones did not even creak beneath his grip. Thinking quickly, he reached out to pick her up and threw her across the now empty courtyard.

She tumbled only once before she flipped over to land upon her graceful bare feet. She studied the man before she let loose a roar that, despite its female origins, sent a shiver up the man's spine. Her roar had subsided to a hideous scream that emerged from her throat as she charged forward, an explosion of fire constantly emerging from her feet to give her the boost of speed she needed.

The man kept check of these moves as he moved his scepter to his left hand, noting the clear fire based moves that she possessed. He could sense there was something alien about this creature. Not of the woman herself but of the power that emanated from her. He didn't hesitate in his thoughts and was ready for her the moment she charged at him. They were both thrown back across the courtyard and he managed to grab hold the creature's slender neck with his right hand.

"You will kneel before me, you witch of a beast, in one way or another."

He supposed that they may have been the wrong words to say the moment he was able to to reflect on the fight later on. The hand that held her neck began to burn in a way he had never felt before. Her own hands, the long red-veined graceful fingers, had gripped his wrist and her growl had become deeper. With a sickening series of pops, the red veins in her fingers began to pulsate, stretching the very flesh, muscles, tendons and bones as they began to grow longer. They continued to grow, the fingers curving and becoming harder, sharper, until all that remained were long red claws that had began to cut into his flesh. Her growl became a banshee like scream as her claws ripped through his flesh, cutting down to the apparent god-like bone. The burning that emerged from the wounds was severe and his flesh flared up as if it caught an infection.

He cried out in surprise and threw her away from him, her claws ripping away the flesh along with her. She was thrown back and rolled away a good distance from him in the courtyard. A safe distance. He cradled his hand as he stumbled back in shock. How had a mere creature harmed him? How had it been possible?

His thoughts were violently cut short as a blast of energy caught him straight in the middle of his chest, catching him off guard. He was thrown back and slammed against the several steps of the courtyard that led to the street. This was not the burning heat of the explosive projectiles of the creature. This was man-made. It didn't hurt any less but it didn't bear the terrible heat that that's creature's attacks inflicted. He could deal with this kind of onslaught.

He took in a deep breath only to hold it in shock as he heard a voice emerge from some electronic speaker or device. "Make a move, reindeer games."

He glanced to see the Metal Man in front of him, his metal suit armed with a barrage of weaponry, all aimed at him. Of course they would come, that had been the plan. However, the fight with that- that female thing- had been unexpected. His getting wounded by such a creature had been even more unexpected...

He held up his hands as his golden helmet, armor and cape all faded away until he was in nothing but the evening suit from before. His eyes glanced from the Metal Man to the Soldier, who had landed down beside his comrade.

"Good move," said the Metal Man, his weaponry folding back into the various hiding places of his suit.

The dark haired man said nothing. He glanced from the two of them to the female thing that was still growling and snarling several feet away. Apparently, she saw these men as a non threat since she did not attack them.

"Mr. Stark," said the Soldier as he glanced at the dark haired man before looking back at the creature, whose eyes were solely on the god.

"Captain," said the Metal Man in reply, his gaze focused on the man before them and yet, his scanners were focused on the female creature behind them. Was she human? An enhanced? Whatever she was, she had made their job a hell of a lot easier tonight.

The Soldier turned toward the creature and held out his shield slightly while showing his free hand in a gesture of peace. "Ma'am, thank you for your help." He took in a breath, this terribly tall, lean woman with the red-veined, caramel skin reminding him of a rabid creature just waiting to attack. "Can you understand me?"

The creature turned her glowing eyes toward the Soldier before looking at the Metal Man. She studied them as her tense form began to calm and relax. She let loose the softest of breaths and to the men's amazement, she began to shrink in size. The prominent red veins of her skin began to recede and she became shorter in stature. Her lean form began to fill out as it got shorter until all that could be seen was a petite, full-figured woman in a tattered maroon evening gown with loose copper brown hair and red shot, brown eyes.

She stared at the Soldier for a moment before she took a step forward and only to nearly collapse. He quickly moved toward her and caught her. She stared up at the Soldier, whispered something in French, before unconsciousness took her.

The Soldier stared down at the woman in his arms before he glanced back at the man she had fought before they had decided to interfere. The dark haired man was staring with pure hatred at the woman as he nursed his wounded right hand. The edges of his wounds were flaming as if they bore an infection. What had this woman done? What was she?

"Mr. Stark, any clue as to who this woman is?" The unasked question actually being what was she.

"I have no idea," said the Metal Man, the tone in his voice apparent confusion.

Chapter Text

And it finds me

The fight inside is coursing through my veins

And it's raging

The fight inside is breaking me again...

Fight Inside – Red

-o-

Chapter 3: She Looked So Normal

She looked so normal sleeping there in one of the seats of the jet.

When Black Widow aka Agent Romanoff had the jet hovering in the air above that courtyard, she could not believe that the female creature that had fought with Loki was actually a human woman.

The woman had held her own against the god of mischief, moving so quickly about the courtyard that the agent could not get a good target. The Captain had hesitated from joining in the fray at the order of Nick Fury. Apparently, this creature was not something that SHIELD had seen before and they had everything on file in pertaining to potential threats to national security.

This creature was not in their files.

Fury had ordered the agents to stand down, wanting to see exactly what this creature was and what she was capable of. The fight had been spectacular. She had an affinity for combustive, explosive attacks, even using explosions to gain a boost in speed or height since it did not seem to harm her. It had only been at the moment when she had been caught about the neck by Loki, and looked to be defeated, that Fury finally gave the order to intervene. He had seen enough. It was time to keep to the plan. This creature, whoever and whatever she was, had done a well enough job at keeping the Asgardian busy.

Captain America had left the jet the moment it had been able to hover low enough without being detected by the god or the creature. It was as he had left the jet, ready for battle, when the female creature had pulled off one last trick. Her hands had begun to mutate and grow, looking like red claws. She had ripped into the skin of the hand that held her neck with little trouble. She had managed to wound the god in a way that had caught even him by surprise.

Apparently, there was more to her than one could initially see.

Loki had cast her away from his person, cradling his wounded right hand, only for the Iron Man to emerge from the skies to blast the Asgardian into submission. The PA system of the jet had been overridden at this time and the sound of AC/DC's Shoot to Thrill had played out into the night.

Loki had surrendered, his wounded right hand evidence to the unmistakable harm that the female creature had caused to him. It had been when the Captain had thanked the creature for her assistance, and asked if she understood him, that the creature became a woman.

She seemed to relax at the sight of Captain America and reverted to her apparent human form. She had taken a step forward, only to fall in a faint. The Captain had caught her, being the chivalrous man that he was, and had no idea what to do with her. He had hoped that Tony Stark would have found some answers, since he was a man of the times, (so to speak) and had access to such information from his suit. The Iron Man could find nothing on the female before them.

It had only been on the order from Fury to take the woman with them that settled the apparent confusion. They were to take her back to the Helicarrier. She was to be closely watched in the case that she awoke. Judging from the fight alone with Loki, she was a creature who was ruled by a feral nature. If anything were to set her off in an unpleasant manner, say bringing her to anger or irritation, if she were to feel threatened, then the creature might emerge again.

She sounded like a familiar case the Agents knew well enough. The constant threat of that creature was enough to set mostly everyone on edge. The Helicarrier even had a specially made prison for it, just in case things became less than peaceful. This woman might find herself within that prison instead of its intended.

Thankfully, she did not awake.

Not with Loki being so close.

Not even when another Asgardian had attacked the jet and stolen their prisoner from them.

She remained peacefully unaware of all that went on around her.

It was only when Captain America had been equipping a parachute onto his person and was making his way to the rear of the jet to disembark, that she began to stir. Captain America paused in surprise as the woman let out a low purr, the sound so out of place from a human throat. Her brown eyes were open and unfocused, but they seemed to follow the Soldier as he made his way past her. He glanced at her, noting the red veins of her neck pulsing, ebbing and flowing with every beat of her heart. She did not transform into the creature, she simply smiled at him in a way that was too intimate to be normal.

What had he done to elicit such a response from her?

She didn't say anything, she simply closed her eyes and fell back to sleep.

The Soldier let out a breath in relief. The last thing he wanted to do was to make her angry, for whatever reason, just before he left the jet.

-o-

"Dr. Banner, I need you to take a look at these files. Study them carefully and come back to me with a plausible answer as to what we're dealing with."

Dr. Bruce Banner was sitting in the extensive laboratory that belonged to the floating SHIELD base known as the Helicarrier. He had been working on improving the instruments that helped to track the gamma radiation signals of the Tessaract when Nick Fury had strolled in.

Fury was a middle aged African American man that was keen to wearing all his clothing in black, as what seemed to be expected of his position. His head was clean shaven, save for a goatee about his mouth, and he wore a single black eye patch on his left eye. He was a person that no one could or would want to come across, not with the access of information he had as the head of SHIELD. Despite this head position, there were times when even he could not find out everything.

Dr. Banner glanced up at the man as Fury placed a touch screen device down on the table before him.

"And, what is it exactly that I'll be looking at?" Dr. Banner asked, reaching out to take the device and setting it on the computer panel to load the data onto the main display in front of him. Bruce Banner was a man of quiet intelligence and even a shy demeanor. He looked to be in his late thirties with wavy dark brown hair and soft brown eyes. If one were not familiar with his past, one would not have even thought he was capable of harnessing such a destructive force known as the Hulk within his very genes.

"Just study the footage. I need to know if this is an alien, an enhanced individual or... someone like yourself." He turned away from Dr. Banner and started to walk way. "I'll keep digging around. A creature like this couldn't possibly have gone under the radar without bringing some attention to itself." He didn't wait to hear a response from Dr. Banner. He simply left the lab and made his way back to the bridge of the ship.

Dr. Banner stared at the door Fury had gone through before pulling his glasses from his face and pinching the bridge of his nose in exasperation. He took in a breath to calm himself before reaching out to the hologram keyboard in front of him to access the files Fury had left for him.

It was a recording of a battle that had happened a few hours before in Stuttgart. Dr. Banner watched from the beginning as Loki, the Asgardian they had been after for the Tesseract, was claiming his dominance over a group of frightened people in a courtyard. It was the moment that the cameras of the jet Agent Romanoff had been flying picked up the form of an unfamiliar creature.

Dr. Banner watched in fascination as a woman, who had stood beyond the edge of the crowd, began to emit a pulsing red glow. The cameras of the jet recorded in several distinct signatures and infrared was the one of them. Where the regular cameras could not pick up the woman at the edge of the crowd, the infrared film had caught a pulsing heat emanating from the base of her neck. It had been the moment that Loki had threatened another woman, who had risen to the defense of an elderly gentleman that Loki had originally been threatening, that the woman had changed.

She had grown taller and leaner in her stature. No one in the crowd had noticed the change since they had been so focused on Loki. Not even the Black Widow and Captain America had noticed the creature on the edge of the camera, so focused were they upon the interaction between Loki and the other woman who had come to the old man's aid. She had changed in her form, red veins prominent against her skin and growing toward the very end of her appendages. She continued to grow taller and lither until she had suddenly twitched in agitation and a combustive ball of flame had thrown the Asgardian back.

The fight that commenced was unlike anything Dr. Banner had seen before. This female creature, who apparently bore the combustive powers of explosive flames, was holding her own against a being that no mere human had ever experienced fighting before. The tall, sinewy form that growled, snarled and roared her defiance pricked a part of his conscience that he had tried to keep in check for over a year.

The Other Guy had become interested.

The female had fought until Loki had apparently taken her within his grasp by her neck.

The Other Guy did not like that and Dr. Banner could feel a tremble of rage tightening itself in coils in the pit of his stomach. He took in a few breaths to calm himself. This was a recording but still... The Other Guy hadn't reacted this way toward another since... Well since then.

Even with Fury's voice speaking over the recorded sound of the film, Dr. Banner's eyes could not move away from the female that made one last defiant stance against Loki. The red veins of her hands had begun to pulse and, with a strange evidence as to how far her abilities could go, her fingers had elongated into fierce red claws. She had cut into the flesh of the hand that had held her and the Other Guy was quick to show his pleasure, a pleased feeling warming the very insides of the good doctor. This female could hold her own.

It was the moment that Loki had thrown her away from himself that the anger again began to rise. The Other Guy did not like the female to be handled in such a way... No, he didn't like it at all...

Dr. Banner had to pause the video, his heart rate had been growing steadily since he started watching the film and his control was beginning to slip. How in the world could watching the video of some mutated woman begin to set him off so quickly?

It took a moment for him to regain his control before he began to play the video file again. It was at this point that the fight was intervened by the Captain and Iron Man. It was only in their presence that the tall, sinewy, feral female began to calm and revert back to the human woman she had been before.

She was a short woman, though full figured, and with her back to the camera of the jet, he could not see her face. Still, she looked so normal now, so unassuming. She had taken a step toward Agent Steve Rogers before falling in a faint, the Captain reaching out to catch her before she had fallen to the ground.

Captain America had asked Iron Man if he knew who the woman was.

Tony Stark had no answer to give.

It was at this point the footage had stopped and the file ended with a close up shot of the female creature. It was the only good frontal shot Black Widow's jet had taken of the female. In her angered state, she was very tall in comparison to any average female of the human race, with dark hair and glowing yellow orbs for eyes. The snarl on her lips was frozen in this picture, the red veins that were prominent along her body seemed to come to a thickening point at about the base of her neck.

Was she an enhanced? Was she a human who had been unfortunate enough to be blasted by some radiation to create the creature he saw now? He had no idea. He had never seen such a thing in all of his research in gamma radiation. He wouldn't know until he saw the woman for himself and could run some tests. It was almost a scary thought. The fact that perhaps he was not the only one afflicted with a destructive demon within... Perhaps this woman was like him. It was a comforting thought. Too comforting for him.

Despite the confusion this woman had brought for the members of SHIELD, one thing was clear. She had caught the Other Guy's attention. He had- no, he needed- to know what had become of her. It was clear that SHIELD must have taken her custody. Such a power she possessed was something they would not let go unchecked. After all, they had been tailing him all this time, despite his hopes of remaining under the radar. Fury would not allow her to run free now that he knew of her existence.

The only question was would she be brought here to the Helicarrier? Oh goodness, he hoped so. He had to meet her, whoever she was. The very thought seemed to bring an unusual feeling within him. Perhaps it was because he, and the Other Guy, were finally in sync with their thoughts. They were both in agreement that they had to meet this woman, no matter what.

For Dr. Banner, it was for the potential of finding another like himself. For the Other Guy... Well... he just wanted to meet the fiery, female. She looked like she would be a lot of fun...

Chapter Text

It's still the same

Pursuing pain

Isn't worth the light I've gained

We both know

How this will end

But I do it again...

Fight Inside – Red

-o-

Chapter 4: The Lights were Blinding

The lights were blinding the moment she had opened her eyes, her consciousness slowly emerging from the darkness that had claimed her. She quickly shut her eyes against the stabbing pain through her head that followed. Ugh, that was not a good idea...

She could feel that she was in a rather firm bed with itchy sheets that pricked at her exposed skin in an annoying manner. The fabric of the clothing she wore was not the smooth finish of the imitation silk of her evening gown but the stiff feel of starched cotton, it felt like standard issued scrubs. Someone had changed her clothing.

A slight groan escaped her lips as she tried to remember what had happened. She could remember stepping outside of the museum, taking the time to scout the immediate area while trying to calm her frayed nerves. It had only been a moment. She had only been gone for a moment before all hell had broken loose. The screams, the pushing crowd, and finally the source of the unease that had set in since the beginning. The creature that had set her demon on edge.

She couldn't remember much after he had threatened her mother. It was only a red haze that she could recall, her anger having risen beyond the point of her control...

What had happened after?

For that matter, where was she? Was her mother safe?

Oh god, she hoped her mother was safe...

"Good. You're awake."

She jumped in surprise at the sound of the voice, her muscles screaming in protest at the sudden movement and her cry of pain breaking the silence that followed. She was stiff. The joints of her fingers ached. She only felt this bad after an episode if she had almost fully changed. Had the fight against that dark haired man been that bad that the demon had found it necessary to mutate her body further?

Her question was unfortunately answered as another pain erupted from her stiff muscles in protest to further movements.

"Do you speak English?" The voice from before asked, a male's voice from the sound of it. "Can you understand me?"

Anamaria opened her eyes for a second time, this time the fluorescent lighting from above not blinding her. She had been under lights like these before. She glanced around the room, finding it to be a sterile environment. All white walls, white floors, white lights... Oh yes, she had been in a room like this before. She didn't like it. It reminded her too much of that other place. It reminded her of those other people who had tested and prodded and probed and provoked.

Except, there was a difference.

She was not restrained to the bed and she was not blinded. It was this distinct difference alone that kept the demon in check. If it had been the other place, she would have been tied down tightly with a mask to cover her gaze to keep her from lashing out to potential targets. She was quite prone to causing spontaneous combustion within a living human that had plucked her nerves the wrong way. Apparently, whoever these people were did not know that.

Her brown eyes finally fell upon the only other person in the room: A tall, bald black man with a dark goatee, dressed in black clothes, with a black eye patch over his left eye. He was watching her with his single dark eye, his features stern and unreadable. He stood at opposite end of this sterile room, close to the door, with his right hand close to the gun at his side. She glanced at the gun, knowing that it would do little to stop the demon if she were provoked. However, the demon remained at peace.

She apparently found this man nonthreatening, for some odd reason. Ana would not go against what her instinct deemed as safe enough. She took the freedom that she was given to slowly move into a sitting position, wincing slightly at the protesting pain of her muscles. A pulse of warm heat emerged from the base of her neck in response, a soothing relief tinged with a regretful emotion. The demon had given an apology.

The healing warmth spread throughout the rest of her body and she let out a sigh in relief. She glanced at the man but did not respond to his question. Apparently, her face had given away what her words did not confirm. He continued to speak in English to her.

"My name is Nick Fury. I am the head of the Strategic Homeland Intervention, Enforcement, and Logistics Division." He could see the confusion on her face at the long title and he allowed a faint smirk to touch his lips. "We're also known as SHIELD."

The confusion cleared away from Ana's face, the neutral expression that touched her features was a clear sign that she understood the words Nick Fury spoke. She also knew what SHIELD was. They were the bane of the existence of that other place. She had escaped from one prison only to be thrust into another.

Of course, it was only a matter of time before a large international agency such as SHIELD would catch wind of her. To be honest, she had been surprised they had not caught wind of her before now. She had been on the run for the past thirteen years. Throughout those thirteen years, she had lost control for a total of seven times, which included this recent event. Before this change, each event in which she had actually lost control of her anger, she had killed many innocent lives.

Being able to cause spontaneous combustion within a human body at the mere thought was not something she was keen to admit to.

"I can see that you know who we are. The question I would like answered is: Who are you?"

Ana stared at the man, her brown eyes were blank. No emotion touched her face. However, within her chest, her heart was beginning to pound.

Oh please... Please do not lose control.

She did not want to take another life if there was no justification for it. Thankfully, her demon did not respond. Her demon simply remained as tranquil as the flame of a single candle. It brought light and slight warmth but no direct threat could be attained from it. Not unless there was a fuel source to ignite it. Thankfully, there was none at this time.

Anamaria remained silent and watchful. She did not respond to Fury's questions as to who she was, where she had come from and how her condition had first been brought about. She remained silent. She had learned a long time ago that silence was her only weapon against such people as this. They wanted answers. She would not give them the satisfaction.

Her only concern was that of her mother's safety. Until she was able to find a way out of this place, wherever this place was, she would not respond in any way. Not if she wished to avoid taking more lives...

-o-

The interview was being broadcasted toward another area of the ship, the bridge to be exact. Several other "remarkable people" (as Fury had so eloquently described in regards to this team once) were sitting about a large conference table that was a shade of gun metal gray. They were watching monitors that had been built into the surface of the table, the footage of the interview being heard and seen loud and clear. These prominent figures were: Agent Natasha Romanoff, the Black Widow. An attractive woman with short, vibrant red hair, a creamy complexion, and a skin tight black outfit that left little to the imagination. Agent Steve Rogers, Captain America- the ideal American golden boy. He had classic handsome features, dirty blond hair that was cut in a clean classic way and bore a deep loyalty to the government agency he worked for. Thor, the fabled Norse god of thunder. He was actually an Asgardian who came to Earth to retrieve his lost, adopted brother to bring back for Asgardian justice. He was tall, strong, and fair-haired and bore a golden tongue that seemed more at place within a Shakespearean play.

The last, but certainly not the least, was Dr. Bruce Banner. He was a man who needed no introduction, not when the entire SHIELD staff of the Helicarrier feared the beast within him. Not when they had made a special prison just for him... Just in case.

At this moment in time, the prison was being used to hold Loki in check. They had decided to not place the woman there, not after the fight where she had proved to have protected the people against Loki. They didn't know her or what she was truly capable of. They were giving her the benefit of the doubt, at least if it meant to keep that mutated part of her from emerging.

Despite the many questions that Fury asked of her, she did not respond to anything. She simply stared at the man with a blank look upon her face. The group about the table watched the encounter with some interest but none were as interested as Dr. Banner. He had been hoping she would respond to Fury, just to get a good idea of who the woman was beneath the feral creature he had seen. She kept her indifferent, silent air about her until Fury finally gave up and left the room.

The monitors blinked off and the group stared at one another.

"She's cautious," said Agent Romanoff, the slight frown on her face showing her confusion. "She won't be telling us anything anytime soon."

"How do we even know she speaks English?" asked the Captain, his eyes focusing on his colleague before reaching out to point a gloved finger to the monitor. "Before she blacked out, I remember she had spoken in French. She had asked if her mother was all right." He glanced at the others as he sat back in his chair. "She didn't battle Loki until he had threatened a particular woman in the crowd. Perhaps that woman was her mother. If we can find her mother, bring her here to a safe place perhaps that might help to gain her trust."

"Well, you seem proficient in the language Steve," said Romanoff, a slight smile playing on her lips. "Why don't you go talk to her? You were the one to catch her after all."

"She can understand the English language just fine," said Fury, walking into the bridge and stopping just short of the table. He glanced at all of the people assembled. "She knows who we are and she will refuse to talk until something can convince her otherwise." His single eye settled on Captain America, reaching around to fold his hands behind his back. "You do make a valid point Captain Rogers. If we find that woman who had stood up to Loki before the fight started and bring her here, that may just open communication up a bit."

"Do you know where the mother could be?" asked Thor, his interest in this woman was minimal at best. The only thing that was cause for concern was the fact that she had been capable of physically harming his brother. That kind of damage could prove a real threat to his realm.

"We'll search the guest list for that function. That woman's name would be listed somewhere along with her daughter's." Fury let loose a sigh before he glanced at Dr. Banner. "In the meantime, Dr. Banner I would like you to resume interrogations with the woman."

A slight jolt of surprise and elation was Dr. Banner's only reaction, his soft brown gaze traveling about the room in an uncomfortable fashion before they settled on Fury. "Me? Why me?" He pulled off his glasses and began to toy with them in a nervous habit. "It probably wouldn't be the best of ideas considering-"

"You won't be alone," said Fury, the tone of his voice unmistakable. Dr. Banner was, and always would be, on constant watch. There were precautions that had been made; so far the good doctor had been keeping himself in check. If he could be this calm then there shouldn't be a concern for him to meet the strange woman. "I'm asking you because you are the only one aboard this ship who would have a chance at breaking through to this woman."

The words left unspoken were there for those who understood. This was an unknown creature who had been provoked to attack. The video file had been proof enough that this was a woman who could cause unspeakable damage if aggravated enough to spark her change. A situation that Dr. Banner could understand all too well...

Dr. Banner slipped his glasses back on and folded his arms across his chest, his shirt stretching taunt against his shoulders. "All right, but I won't be held responsible if anything were to set her off."

Fury smiled at this, finding the words that the doctor spoke to be a little on the ironic side. "No worries doctor. Just be sure to be on your best behavior. You do that and things will be just fine."

-o-

She wasn't sure how much time had passed since the man named Nick Fury had left the room. She had been left free to her own devices, something that in the past would not have been the smartest of moves. However, she was trying her best to not take advantage of that. She didn't want to be a mindless beast of rage. Thankfully, the demon within her had been surprisingly quiet despite her current predicament. It was this calm that assured her that she had nothing to truly fear.

Some moments after Fury had left, Ana had gotten up from the bed to stretch her stiff and aching body. The room was a fair size so she could walk about to get the feeling back in her limbs. The red veins were pulsing against the sides of her neck but they were relaxed and faint against her caramel skin. This was her normal state, her restful state.

She scanned the room and noted the camera that had been hidden in a tight corner, obscured by all of the white. It was only a tiny prick hole of a camera but it was there. There was probably an audio feed somewhere as well. They were watching her and, if she had her guess, very closely. Were they hoping she would change? Well, that would not happen anytime soon. Not with the way her demon was pulsing with pleasant feelings of warmth every now and again.

It was a strange thing. She had never felt that part of herself feel so... at ease. At least not without the presence of her mother.

More time had passed, exactly how much she could not say. She had found herself back on the bed by this time. She was lying on her back across the width of the bed, her bare feet propped up against the wall and her head hanging over the edge. Her copper brown hair had fallen down to the white floor and she had begun to count the crevices of the panels in the ceiling.

Just at that moment the door to her room had slid open, the sound of footsteps alerting her to another visitor. The moment the door slid closed behind the visitor, and she was sure there was no one else with them; she glanced up to see who was here this time. Her brown eyes caught sight of a man with wavy brown hair, soft brown eyes and a kind smile on his face. A pair of gold-rimmed glasses sat on the bridge of his nose. He wore a simple shirt that was a deep purple in color, it conformed to the shape of his broad shoulders and chest rather nicely. A pair of dark brown slacks adorned his legs, these too conforming to the shape of his body in such a nice way.

"Er- Hi there," said the man, his kind smile twitching just a little in nervousness. "I hope I'm not bothering you..." He was shifting a bit, his nervousness making him slightly agitated.

Ana turned over from her position and rested on her belly. She stared at the man, a peculiar feeling now growing within her. The demon within her began to emit several pulses of pleasant heat, an incessant pulsing that thrummed from the very base of her neck to spread out toward the rest of her. There was something in the air, a stronger scent. It was something she had come across recently though that had been a faint echo of what she sensed now. It was emanating from this apparently quiet, unassuming man.

The demon liked it.

This was what had kept her so at ease. She could feel that he had been near.

Her other self was entranced by this man.

-o-

Dr. Banner could only stare at the woman, the silence she had given in response to his greeting not surprising. If she had actually returned his greeting, he would have been shocked. "I'm Dr. Bruce Banner," said the doctor, unsure of how to break the silence that stretched between them. He was never good with interacting with others. Why Fury would assume he would manage to get through to this woman didn't make sense. However, he had been hoping for this moment since he had seen that video. Now, here she was before him in all of her normality.

She had sat up from her restful position on the bed, her legs tucked up underneath her. She was quite a pretty woman in her normal form, something that the video had not been able to show. Even in person, and dressed in those sterile white scrubs, her figure was as full as the camera had shown it to be. Her brown eyes were focused intently upon him and Dr. Banner felt as if she were looking straight through him.

He slipped his hands into the pocket of his slacks, another nervous habit of his, as he studied her in turn. It was at that moment that he could see the red veins pulsing at the sides of her neck, matching in time with her heartbeat.

There it was. The physical sign of her inhumanity. The one pluck that caught the attention of the Other Guy and a feeling of triumph emerged from the depths of his psyche.

The fiery, female was here. At least, she was here buried deep within the woman.

Dr. Banner tried to ignore the Other Guy and focused on the brown eyes of the woman.

It was this that had caused him to relax. It was also the sight of those red veins, and the memory of the feral creature this woman was capable of becoming, that caused him to see her in a different light. She was like him. That was why he was here now. He had wanted to meet another like him.

"I hope you don't mind that I'm here," he said, moving a few steps closer into the room. Her sudden tension brought him to a stop but he did not back away. Instead, he sat down on the cold, white floor and glanced around. "This room is too white," he said as looked up at the fluorescent lighting and squinted up at them. "The lighting doesn't help..."

A soft huff a breath caught his ear and he glanced at the woman to find her full lips twitching softly. She was trying not to laugh. That was a good sign. He relaxed a little more and allowed his smile to show.

Another few moments of silence had passed but this time it was a comfortable silence. They were getting a feel for one another, trying to see past what was before them. Both were trying to ignore the sudden urges their other selves were throwing at them, a primal urge that was beginning to make the tension rise in the air...

When the tension had come near its breaking point, the woman let out a soft sigh as a shiver went through her body. The red veins in her neck pulsed with her rising heartbeat. She looked at Dr. Banner and licked her full lips, a motion that caught his attention like nothing else had before.

"My name... is Anamaria," she said, her English bearing a slight accent that sounded to be a mix of French and something else. "It is nice to meet you, Dr. Bruce Banner." She glanced up at the lights before a soft smile appeared and she leaned forward, looking as if she were to divulge some secret. "These lights are blinding. You are right. It makes the room too white."

Dr. Banner stared at Anamaria before his smile gave way to a soft chuckle...

Chapter Text

 And it finds me

The war within me pulls me under

And without you

The fight inside is breaking me again...

Fight Inside- Red

-o-

Chapter 5: Why Are You Here

"Why are you here, Dr. Banner?"

Dr. Bruce Banner could only fidget with his glasses as he stared at her, having not moved from his position from the floor. The sound of Anamaria's accented voice brought a sense of something he never dared allowed himself to feel. Not since Betty...

Attraction.

It had been prodding at him since he had seen the red veins pulsing on the sides of her neck. The Other Guy wanted to get closer to her. He had seen that the red veins had become more prominent the closer he had moved to her before sitting down on the floor earlier, as if she had been anticipating his closeness. There was something hovering in the air between them, a hungry aching need that pulsed and throbbed with tension.

He could admit it to himself: He was physically attracted to her. She was a short woman, looking to be no more than a few inches over the five foot range, but the heaving bosom beneath the thin material of the white top of the scrubs she wore showed that she was all voluptuous curves. It must have been cold in the room, (he would have to assume so or to think otherwise would have begun to drive him beyond his current control) since her breasts were taunt. Two peak points were evident to how thin her clothing must have been.

He averted his gaze, trying not to focus on her breasts and stared at the prick hole of a camera in the corner of the room. "I- I wanted to," he cleared his throat, trying to loosen it from the sudden tightness that gripped it. "I wanted to meet you."

Anamaria seemed surprised by this but he had caught her attention further, her deep brown eyes focusing on him intently. "Moi?" she asked, inadvertently switching to her French before she caught herself. "Why would you want to meet me?" She tilted her head slightly, her copper brown curls falling about her shoulders and hiding the red veins from view.

A prod from the Other Guy caught his attention and he looked up, seeing that her hair had fallen about her neck to hide her distinguishing feature. The Other Guy did not like that. He wanted to see her, the fiery female that had snarled and fought and defied...

He ignored the Other Guy as best as he could but it was becoming harder to with each passing moment. The tension in the air was thick; even he could see that Anamaria was having a hard time of reining in her other self. The red veins were now growing down past her neck, past the limit of her thick copper brown curls, and appearing on her collar bones. The sight of the red veins appearing once again seemed to calm the Other Guy and a contented feeling filled Dr. Banner.

Was the fiery, female aware of that part of him?

He closed his eyes and took in a deep breath, afraid of the attraction showing in a much more physical part of him. He slipped his glasses back on and paused, looking thoughtful. "I wanted to meet you because of who you are..." With a cautious move, he pulled out a small hand held, touch screen device from his pocket. He touched one key upon the screen and the screen blinked to life. He held it out, the video file from the fight in Stuttgart playing.

The sound of roars, snarls and growls emitted from the small speakers. Ana stared as if transfixed to the small screen, seeing her other self fighting Loki. When the file ended with the still shot of her demon, looking as evil as any nightmare from hell, she closed her eyes against the sight and shook her head. "Shut it off... S'il vous plaît... Turn it off!" She thrust her hands into her hair, the red veins now growing from her shoulders down to her upper arms. "I am not a devil! I am not evil!"

Dr. Banner instantly knew he had done the wrong thing by showing her that footage of her other self. He quickly got up from his spot on the floor and moved to sit next to her on the bed, despite the heat that was starting to roll off of her in waves. "You're right Anamaria, you're not evil." Carefully, with surprising gentleness that caught even himself off guard, he reached out to pull her hands from her hair. He pulled her hands down and held the both of them in one larger hand while he held the device out to her. The video of her other self fighting Loki had begun to replay.

He glanced at it and then at her. "This is not evil Ana," he said, "You had the power to protect those people from someone with a greater strength who wished to harm them. You chose to protect them and you did. That is not evil." He shook the device in hand, his gentle brown eyes growing suddenly fierce. "That is good."

A soft laugh escaped her as she shook her head. "Non, that is but one event. The other times... The demon had no interest in protecting others aside from herself and Mama. The others were threats..." She took in a deep breath, her brown eyes shining with unshed tears as she glanced up at him. "Is that why you are here? To find out about the demon that took so many innocent lives?"

Dr. Banner didn't respond. He simply focused his attention on the hand held device, his broad thumb moving expertly across the screen. It took a moment but another file was pulled up and a sudden, deeper roar emitted from the small speakers...

-o-

Anamaria was staring at the small screen Dr. Bruce Banner held. The small device was showing another video. This time it was of a huge, strong, green humanoid creature that was smashing its way through army tanks despite being shot at from various guns. It roared as it grabbed one tank and lifted it from the ground with apparent ease. It was huge, muscular and filled with a masculine energy that caught the demon's full attention.

There he was! What she had been sensing all this time. The physical part of him that was raw and strong. The heat from the base of her neck began to pulse at an incessant beat of pleasurable warmth. The very fact that this strong creature in the video was sitting here on her bed and holding her hands in his larger one in comfort...

The demon within her was crooning to her to be released. She had to meet him.

Oh!

He was such a specimen of pure, feral masculine strength...

She took in a shuddering breath, trying to ignore the pulsing heat of her other self as she looked at Dr. Banner, her brown eyes slightly wide with awe. "That is... you?"

Dr. Banner swallowed and glanced away from her, looking slightly ashamed and very nervous. "That is not me. He's something else. Everyone else here calls him the Hulk." He stared down at the screen and frowned, his soft brown eyes growing slightly disgusted. "I call him the Other Guy..."

"He is the other you," said Ana, her grip tightening upon his hand. "He is the feral part of you that everyone fears and does not wish to understand."

Dr. Banner glanced at her, surprise evident on his face at her choice of words. "I don't want to think of him as being me. That," he said as he moved the device, shaking it once more in his hand to emphasize his point, "is not me."

"Oui," said Ana as she reached out and touched the screen, finding the back button to the previous file. Her demon self emerged on screen, all red veined, yellow eyes and snarling. "Just like that is not me."

Silence fell between them, heavy with sudden understanding and the pulsing need their other selves were constantly throwing in their way. The air was heavy with a primal, sexual tension and a very human want of wishing to understand.

"Dr. Banner," said Ana, moving away from him and rising to her feet to keep a good distance between them. Her demon cried out in protest at the distance, a sharp pain erupting from at the base of her neck. She winced but ignored the protest. "Why are you here?"

Dr. Banner was silent a moment, staring at the picture of Ana's other self before he reached out to touch the screen. The file of his own demon played out before him and he watched it, a deep frown upon his face. He finally shut off the device and let it rest on the bed. He pulled off his glasses, fondled them for a thoughtful moment, before he stared up at her, his soft brown eyes filled with an aching loneliness and need.

"I needed to see that I wasn't alone," he said, glancing back down at his glasses as he began to fiddle with them between his large fingers. "I needed to know that I wasn't the only one who held a monster within and still wished to do good."

Those simple words plucked something within Ana, the sudden need to comfort him overwhelming her. This wasn't her demon urging her. This was her own very human emotion shining forth. She took in a deep breath and let loose a soft sigh. She walked closer to him and sat back down on the bed beside him. Her chest heaved with a fighting need to keep the tears down as she took his glasses from his nervous hands. She opened them as he looked at her in surprise and carefully slipped them back onto his face.

"There is nothing to fear except the powers you give to your own demons," she said, a soft encouraging smile playing upon her lips. "That is what my Mama always told me." She reached out to take his larger hands in her own smaller ones. "There is good in you from what I can see. The mere fact that you comforted a stranger when she craved and needed to hear it... That is a good thing, Dr. Banner."

He swallowed, his Adam's apple bobbing as he stared at her as if he never had seen anything like her before. The tension had been rising once again the moment she had drawn closer to him. The physical contact from their mere hands alone starting something that neither felt in control of...

"Dr. Banner," said a gruff voice, speaking through the speakers of a PA system that was not visible, though it surrounded them. It broke the emotional and sexual tension between them, shattering it like fragile pieces of china. They both jumped apart from one another, forgetting that in that moment that they were being watched.

"You're needed on the bridge Dr. Banner," said the gruff voice once again, sounding more like the man named Fury now that Ana was listening. The voice did not speak again and silence fell, this time as uncomfortable as the first.

"I... have to go," said Dr. Banner, though his tone was hesitant. The Other Guy was protesting. He didn't want to leave his fiery, female. Not when she was so close.

"I understand," said Ana, trying to ignore the sharp pains her demon was giving in terrible, protesting waves down throughout her spine. "You work for an agency that feels they own you." She kept her face as blank as possible as Dr. Banner got up from the bed and walked toward the opposite side of the room where the door lay. It slid open but he did not leave right away.

He glanced back at her and studied her more closely. "I'll be back."

Ana smiled in response but said nothing. She simply stood there and watched him as he left the room. The door slid closed and locked behind him and she was once again left alone. She let loose the breath she had been holding and her smile fell away.

What had that been just now?

She turned away from the door and moved back to sit upon her bed. She gently set herself down but not before her hand brushed a piece of metal and glass. She glanced down and found the hand held device that Dr. Banner had brought in with him. Surprised that he had left it, she reached out to touch the screen.

It powered right on and the first file it had pulled up was the video of the large, green, masculine feral self of Dr. Banner. The one he called the Other Guy.

Her demon began to relax at the sight of the large male that had caught her attention. The pains of protest becoming warming pulses of pleasure as Ana watched the Other Guy rip and tear through another tank, his deep roar touching that primal part of her in a way she had never known.

Mine.

That was all her demon would allow to come forth in her mind as she watched the video over and over.

Mine...

Chapter Text

And it's raging

The fight inside is hurting me again

And without you

The fight inside is breaking me again...

Fight Inside – Red

-o-

Chapter 6: His Body was Protesting

His body was protesting with every step he took away from Anamaria's room.

He could feel it.

With every step, a muscle would twitch. Above his eye. In his jaw. In his forearm. In his back. Even the pinky finger in his right hand twitched.

It was only one twitch in those various places but he could feel it and it was not a good sign. The Other Guy did not want to leave her.

Agent Romanoff had been waiting for him outside in the corridor to escort him back to the bridge. He didn't say anything to the agent and neither she to him. Dr. Banner was a man of few words unless he found them absolutely necessary. In the case of Anamaria, there were words that he had to say to defend her from becoming another pet project of some government agency.

"Good work, Dr. Banner," said Fury upon his arrival, a pleased smile playing on his face. "You got more out of her in 25 minutes then I did in an hour."

Dr. Banner pulled off his glasses as he moved to a stop behind one of the leather seats that surrounded the table. The others were still sitting at their places around the table, watching him while Romanoff went to resume her own seat.

He looked at the others before his soft brown eyes landed on Fury, his large fingers fiddling with his glasses in their normal, nervous habit. "She only told me her first name," he said, looking at the monitor in the table in front of him, which showed a live feed of Ana resting upon her bed, playing with something in her hands. He felt his heart drop as he noticed the small device that he had brought with him to visit her. He had forgotten it there.

"She also told you she has changed before and has done more harm than good," said Fury, his single dark eye glancing down at the monitor in front of himself. "We're going to have to keep her on lock down while we focus on Loki. After all of this is blown over, we can find out more about her."

"You can't keep her locked up," said Dr. Banner, a light frown twitching on his face. "That's going to set her off even worse if you cage her up like some animal."

"And what should we do? Leave her to run around the ship and hope she doesn't erupt into some monster to blow everything up?" asked Romanoff, her eyes studying the woman in the screen, who was peacefully laying upon the bed, playing with the small device in her hands. "It's safer if we just place her in a fire proof chamber and deal with her once everything is settled down."

"She is calm and rational right now," said Dr. Banner in her defense, his own calm beginning to wane slightly. "She defended those people from Loki for Christ's sake. She didn't attack any of them. She didn't even attack Captain America and she had every opportunity to."

"You're right Dr. Banner," said Steve Rogers, studying the monitor in front of himself before he glanced up at the doctor. "We shouldn't treat her any differently just because of who and what she is. She defended those citizens and didn't harm any of us. She hasn't shown any hostility toward us since she had awoken. I say we should trust her."

"I second that," said Thor, looking around to the others before looking down once again at the monitor of his own. "She has proven herself to be a true warrior. Should we not judge her on her current actions and not of our fear of her abilities? She may be of some help."

All eyes turned back to Agent Romanoff, who glanced around at the men and let out sigh. "Yes, you're right" she said, her eyes focusing on the doctor with an apologetic look. "We can't be discriminatory."

Fury had been watching all of this with an amused smirk on his lips, his single dark eye focused on Dr. Banner's interesting reaction to his words. He reached out to cut off the feed from Anamaria's room and the monitors shut off with a blink. "Well, then. That settles it. We'll have her join the rest of us." He looked up at Dr. Banner and his smirk grew slightly. "Dr. Banner, I expect you to keep a full eye on her."

Once again placed on the spot, Dr. Banner felt a mixed reaction of shock and pleasure at the words. "Why-"

"You seem to have an even better understanding of her than I had originally thought," said Fury in reply. "And you two seemed to hit it off quite well. At this point, we need her and yourself to be as calm as possible. I trust your judgment Dr. Banner. At this stage in the game, we have bigger things to focus on." He pointed a finger to a brown haired woman, dressed in standard issue SHIELD attire for a high ranking agent. She had been standing off to one side of the table, a monitor displayed in front of her, while she had watched the group talking over the subject of the new woman.

"Agent Hill, would you open the feed to Loki's cell? We have another interrogation to complete," said Fury, walking around the table to exit the bridge. He paused slightly and glanced back Agent Hill, whose fingers had been moving over the necessary key strokes and files to connect the live feed to the cell that had originally been built for something else. "Also, would you kindly find more appropriate attire for our guest and bring her to the bridge? I'd like her to see this." Fury didn't wait for a response from Agent Hill as he left the bridge down the adjacent corridor that led to the main part of the Helicarrier.

Agent Hill frowned at her boss' back before sighing and finishing with the monitor. She moved away from it and nodded to the group before she followed her boss' steps down the corridor.

-o-

Ana had stopped watching the file of the Other Guy some time ago and she had set the device down on her chest. She had just begun to fall asleep when the door to her room unlocked and slid open. She opened her eyes and glanced at the doorway at the far end of the sterile, white room.

A different person had decided to pay her a visit.

It was a beautiful, tall woman with a stern frown on her face. Her brown hair was brushed back into a librarian's bun at the back of her head, her bangs falling just shy of her dark brows. An ear piece was in her right ear and she was wearing what appeared to be a standard issued jumpsuit for SHIELD. It was navy blue, with some black patches to accent certain areas, with a black belt about her hips and a gun attached to it. The emblem of SHIELD was stitched onto the upper arms of her suit. It was of straight lines and angles within a circle that formed what looked like an eagle. She held in her hands folded clothing that looked to be a similar navy blue jumpsuit with a pair of similar black boots resting a top them.

Her own black boots were thudding against the white floor as she walked in and stopped in the middle of the room. She was watching Ana with guarded gray eyes before she held out the folded clothing to her. "Hello Ms. Anamaria. My name is Agent Hill. I'm here to escort you to the bridge. If you could to change into these, we'll be on our way."

Ana sat up slowly, studying the other woman carefully. She could sense Agent Hill's fear but she was well trained. The woman didn't even twitch as she waited for Ana to get up to take the clothing from her hands. A test perhaps?

Even with this stranger in the room with her, Ana's other self didn't become distrustful. In fact, a certain excitement from the demon had emerged from within and Ana was careful as she got up from the bed. If this meant that she was getting out of her prison that meant she could see the handsome Dr. Banner again. While she had been watching the video of the Other Guy, she had found other files about the doctor. Concerning his past, his accident that caused his feral side to emerge, his battle in the streets of Harlem against a true monster, and his recent self-isolation to Calcutta. He had been working as a medical doctor for the poor there, putting in many hours of work devoted to the health and wellbeing of his patients. He was an exceptional man and to think that he possessed such a feral strength...

Her demon was emitting pleasant pulses of warmth and impatience at the very thought. Her other self was craving to be close to the doctor, if it only meant to be close to his feral self. Her demon seemed to be calm in his presence. That was a good thing.

"Am I being taken to be questioned?" asked Ana as she walked closer to Agent Hill and reached out to take the clothes. The woman had stiffened slightly the moment Ana's warm fingers had brushed against her own paler ones but relaxed when Ana simply took the clothes and boots. She moved to set them on the bed before she unceremoniously pulled off her scrub top and threw it onto the pillow of the bed, her copper brown curls being pulled to the right side of her neck.

She was bare breasted and didn't seem at all ashamed of it as she pulled off the scrub bottoms, revealing the black thong she had been wearing the night before. She also displayed a full view of the burning red mark with the pulsing red veins on the back of her neck. She folded bottoms neatly as she turned around to look at Agent Hill, who had been openly staring at the red veins on Ana's neck with curiosity, only to blush at the sudden view of naked breasts. She quickly turned around to give Ana some privacy.

"Um, no ma'am," said Agent Hill, an embarrassed tone coloring her voice. "Fury had asked for your presence with the others. I'm only here to escort you."

"Oh, well that's different," said Ana in reply, knowing full well that the other woman had been staring at her neck. A full view of breasts was a good spur of the moment diversion. She pulled at the navy blue clothing and was relieved to see it was a two piece outfit instead of one-piece jumpsuit. She pulled on the pants, surprised at how comfortably the material stretched and supported her thighs and butt. She liked it. It was impossible to find a pair of pants that fit just right.

She slipped on the sleeveless gray undershirt, tucked the hem in, before she slipped on the navy blue long sleeved top that had a single zipper for closure. The top did not fit well enough, the zipper refused to budge over the hump of her breasts, no matter how much she pulled. The result was her breasts being lifted and pushed together, displaying an ample amount of cleavage against the gray undershirt. She sighed and turned around to look at Agent Hill. "Is there a bigger shirt I could borrow? The zipper to this one seems to not want to go any further."

Agent Hill, sensing it was all right to turn around, glanced at Ana and stared at the cleavage on display before she cleared her throat and looked at the shorter woman. "I'm sure I can find something later. Right now that will have to do; we need to get to the bridge."

Ana stared at Agent Hill before she shook her head lightly and turned around to finish dressing, donning a pair of black socks before slipping the boots on. She pulled out her curls, making sure they covered her neck, and felt she was ready. She had grabbed the small device from the bed and, seeing she bore no pockets in the pants, slipped it down her undershirt where it stayed firmly tucked between her breasts. She would give it to Dr. Banner later.

She turned to look at Agent Hill and gave a nod. "D'accord, Agent Hill. I am ready."

Agent Hill took a glance over the shorter woman and wondered if she should get her a bigger shirt... Sighing in resignation at little time there was, she beckoned to Ana to follow and turned around to lead the way out of the room.

-o-

Dr. Banner was standing behind one of the leather chairs at the table, his arms folded tight against his broad chest. He was watching the now quiet monitor, staring at his own reflection as he thought back to the conversation he had had with Anamaria.

There was nothing to fear except the power he gave his own demon...

That was the problem. He didn't give the Other Guy any power. That part of him was nothing but power. He was just... a vessel.

"Bonté divine! This place is like a city! You would think they had never seen women walking down a corridor before."

The unmistakable voice with the slight accent that spoke from the corridor caught his attention and he turned around to catch sight of Agent Hill walking onto the bridge. Behind her, a differently dressed Anamaria followed, wearing a suit that left little - very little - to the imagination. Dr. Banner's eyes were instantly drawn to the sight of ample cleavage, the sudden spike of lust that hit him catching him off guard. It hadn't been from him alone.

Agent Hill was looking slightly embarrassed as she headed straight toward Dr. Banner and stopped a few feet shy of him. "Dr. Banner, here is Ms. Anamaria." She glanced back the shorter woman, who stopped beside her, and she gave Ana a nod. "Ma'am, here is the doctor. He will be your guide from now on so please stay with him unless directed otherwise." Her gray eyes slid down to the ill-fitting navy blue shirt before looking at Ana again. "And again, I apologize for the shirt. As soon as this meeting is over I'll find a better suited one for you."

Ana's brown eyes had caught Banner's and he had to have been seeing things. The red veins visible through the loose curls of hair around her neck had deepened in color, pulsing with her quickening heartbeat. Had that been lust he had seen in her eyes? It had faded so quickly, he couldn't say for sure. However, he could sense that the attraction from before seemed to have reignited in that moment.

"Merci, Agent Hill," said Ana as she turned to the taller woman and smiled. Agent Hill nodded and turned around to head back to her station.

Ana turned her full attention back to Dr. Banner, her smile growing as she folded her arms beneath her breasts. "We meet again Dr. Banner," she said, "I had thought I would see you again but not so soon."

Banner cleared his throat as he struggled to retain eye contact with her. "I... um... I-I put in a good word for you," was all he said as he kept his arms folded, his heart beginning to rise in its beat.

"Ah, well thank you for getting me out of my prison," she said, her smile not fading as the red veins pulsed a little quicker. "Oh, by the way, you had forgotten something in your haste to leave." She reached down into her shirt, much to the shock of the doctor, and pulled out the small, device from between her breasts. She held it out for him to take. "Thank you for letting me borrow it. It kept me entertained."

A flush touched Dr. Banner's cheeks as he stared at the device, his mind whirling as to where it had just been, before he slowly reached out his right hand to take it. His fingers brushed against hers, the lust spiking once more, before he took the device. It was still so warm...

He quickly slipped it back into his pocket before he cleared his throat and looked at the others, who had been watching their interaction with slightly amused expressions on their faces. "Ah, everyone th-this is Anamaria... uh," he paused and glanced at her, realizing that he couldn't make a proper introduction since she had not told him her last name.

"Brandt," she supplied without hesitation, her eyes focused entirely on his as the red veins continued to ebb and flow along the sides of her neck. There it was. The lust was definitely there in her eyes. He swallowed the lump that had suddenly formed in his throat.

Ana glanced at the others around the table, noting each figure. She was introduced to the quiet redhead, Natasha Romanoff and the tall god-like man who called himself Thor. Her interest was caught when Steve Rogers introduced himself, who was one seat down from Dr. Banner. She had a bright smile on her face as she moved around to reach out a hand to shake his. "Oui, Capitaine, it is a pleasure! My Mama is such a fan of yours."

Steve returned her smile as he took her hand in his and gave it a firm shake. "The pleasure is mine ma'am." His eyes flashed over to Dr. Banner, noting the way the other man's gaze was focused solely on their joined hands and the slight frown on his face. Steve quickly released Ana's hand as he sat back in his chair. "Your mother has heard of me?" he asked, taking that opening in hoping to get more info that may be of help. It worked.

"Oui," said Ana, moving back around Dr. Banner to stand on his right side, it was a comfortable distance but close enough to put them both at ease. They both seemed to physically relax at once. Neither noticed. "She is a geneticist. She was interested in the Super Soldier Serum used on you and had read many theories on it."

That caught the doctor's attention and he glanced at Ana, his interest peaked as a piece of the puzzle had suddenly made itself known. "Your mother's a geneticist?"

"Everyone, the interrogation is about to begin," called out Agent Hill, effectively cutting off the conversation.

All eyes turned to their respective screens in the table's surface before them, the sight of Loki in a circular glass cell appearing. Silence fell throughout the bridge.

"It's an impressive cage," said Loki from within the glass cell as he held out his hands to indicate his surroundings. He took a few steps back, a smirk playing on his lips. "Not built, I think, for me."

"Built for something a lot stronger than you," said Fury in reply. He was off the view of the camera, which was focused solely on the cell's inmate, but his voice came through clear on the audio.

"Oh, I've heard," said Loki, his smile turning to one of amusement as he turned to look at where the camera was mounted. He started to walk toward the camera, staring straight into it, looking as if were staring straight at the unseen person watching. "A mindless beast... Makes play he's still a man."

Agent Romanoff slowly looked up from the monitor and glanced at Dr. Banner, who glanced at her with a frown on his face. He didn't say anything to her but he could see the look in her eyes, the pity. He focused his attention back to the monitor, his calm waning slightly the more he listened to this man.

A warm hand had brushed against sleeve of his upper arm, the sudden heat that emitted from it sending soothing warmth up and down his spine. He immediately felt his calm again. He glanced back to find Ana looking up at him. She gave a nod before she removed her hand and returned her gaze to the screen. Dr. Banner felt the sudden loss.

"How desperate are you?" asked Loki. "You call on such lost creatures to defend you."

"How desperate am I?" replied Fury in turn, his voice growing cold. "You threaten my world with war. You steal a force you can't hope to control. You talk about peace and you kill cause it's fun." Fury had appeared within the view of the camera then, having walked up to the glass wall of the cell. At that moment in time, he truly looked like his namesake. "You have made me very desperate. You might not be glad that you did."

"Ooo,"said Loki, the look in his pale face one of mock fear before he leaned closer toward Fury, his smile was one of slight madness. "It burns you to have come so close. To have the Tesseract, to have power..." He began to step away from the wall, his smile growing fond. "Unlimited power. And for what?" His smile fell away before it became a sneer. "A warm light for all mankind to share?" He glanced at the camera, stared at it, before he looked back at Fury. "And then to be reminded what real power is."

A slight smirk appeared on the corner of Fury's goateed mouth before he stepped away from the cell and out of the view of the camera. "Yeah? Well let me know if 'real power' wants a magazine or something..."

Chapter Text

The secret side of me

I never let you see

I keep it caged, but I can't control it, so stay away from me

The beast is ugly, I feel the rage, and I just can't hold it...

Monster - Skillet

-o-

Chapter 7: He Really Grows On You

"He really grows on you, doesn't he?" asked Banner, a tense smile playing on his face. He was trying to make light of the situation but goodness knows he was never a comedian. No one responded to his comment but a gentle brush of warmth against the back of his shirt caught him off guard and he glanced down to find Ana smiling up at him in an encouraging way. The warmth that touched his heart then had nothing to do with the warmth of her hand on his back. His lips twitched hesitantly into a smile before he turned his attention to the others.

Captain Rogers let out a sigh as he stared at the surface of the table where the screen had flickered off. "Loki is gonna drag this out..." He glanced up at the god of thunder, who was pacing on the other side of the table in a restless manner with a worried look on his face. "So Thor... What's his play?"

Thor paused in his movements and he glanced at the others, his eyes taking in the sight of them before he heaved a sigh. "He has an army called the Chitauri. They're not of Asgard nor of any world known." He paused slightly as a sudden growl erupted from one in the group.

All eyes turned to Anamaria, the peak of prominent red veins showing against her skin, a flash of yellow catching in her eyes. She immediately caught herself the moment Dr. Banner had placed a comforting hand against her own back, his broad fingers bracing against the small of it. She glanced at the others and an embarrassed look touched her features. "I'm sorry... It was that name."

"What name?" asked Rogers, his blue eyes glancing from Thor to Ana. "The Chitauri?"

The snarl that erupted from her lips was a given. Dr. Banner knew that was not a normal response. It seemed ingrained into her other self, the very name brought a very negative emotion forward.

"Lady, you know of these creatures?" asked Thor, his eyes focusing on Ana with sudden interest.

"No," said Ana, her frown growing as she tried to think, tried to find why that name made her very insides boil. Nothing came to mind. "I have never heard of them before now but..." she trailed off, looking suddenly lost and confused. Dr. Banner kept a comforting hand on the small of her back and did not remove it. She seemed to draw a much needed sense of calm from his touch.

Thor looked slightly disappointed at not finding the answer he was looking for but continued on. "Be that as it may. With this... army," he caught himself, his eyes focused on Ana as he began to pace, "he means to lead them against your people. They will win him the Earth. In return, I suspect, for the Tesseract."

"Unlimited energy," said Ana in a soft voice, her brown eyes growing dazed. "That is all they crave. To reproduce and grow... They are like a hive of insects. All one mind. They need unlimited energy to ensure their survival. They will destroy all other life in their path to find it. They have already destroyed a fair number. They were sealed away once before. If Loki finds a way to bring them to Earth..."

The words hung like a cloud of despair from Ana's lips, her voice husky with emotion as the red veins began to ebb and flow at her quickened heartbeat. She closed her eyes as she shook her head, her copper brown curls falling forward to hide her face from view. "They will need to be stopped if you wish Earth to remain in one piece." She hung her head, looking as if she were trying to find something. The red veins had grown to the front of her neck and were pulsing at an incessant beat, demanding and harsh. "I don't even know... how I know..." She reached up to pinch the bridge of her nose, her body twitching.

"Er," said Rogers, trying to move the conversation away from the topic that was a clear trigger for Anamaria's other self to be set off. "They're an army... from outer space..." He glanced up at Dr. Banner before giving a pointed look to Ana.

Dr. Banner took the point, the hand on the small of her back rubbing soothing circles in an attempt to keep her calm. "So, he's building another portal?" It seemed to work better than he thought. She was leaning slightly into his touch and a soft sigh of relief had slipped past her lips. He tried to ignore the warmth he was feeling from the simple contact. He tried to ignore the thought that a touch from him could even be soothing to someone else. "That's what he needs Erik Selvig for."

"Selvig?" Thor's gaze was drawn to Banner, his attention fully caught from the strangeness that was Anamaria Brandt.

"He's an astrophysicist," said Banner in reply, his broad fingers still moving in their soothing gesture against Ana's back. Neither of them realized how intimate their position looked.

Thor frowned lightly as he stared at Dr. Banner. "He is a friend," he said, a simple enough statement that revealed how close he was to the man.

Romanoff glanced up at Thor, catching the emotion in his eyes and understanding. "Loki has him under some kind of spell. Along with one of our own..." she trailed off, glancing away from the others and looking upset, her folded arms moving slightly, looking as if she wanted to wrap them around herself. In that moment in time, the Black Widow looked almost vulnerable.

Captain Rogers shook his head as he settled back against his chair. "I wonder why Loki let us take him? He's not leading an army from here."

"I don't think we should be focusing on Loki," said Dr. Banner, his hand falling away from Ana's back, not noticing the disappointed look on her face though she had remained calm. He pulled off his glasses as he began to pace, his fingers fiddling with them. It seemed to be his trademark thinking position. "That guy's brains is a bag full of cats. You can smell crazy on him."

"Have care how you speak," said Thor, taking a step forward as he glared at Dr. Banner. "Loki is beyond reason but he is of Asgard." He took in a breath, glancing around at the others. “And he is my brother..."

"He killed eighty people in two days..." said Romanoff in a bland tone, looking over at Thor, the look on her face daring Thor to find a response to that.

Thor's glare was quick to fade away and an uncomfortable look settled across his fair features. "He's adopted," he said, his tone ending in more of a question than a statement, as if asking if that was enough of a defense. It was explanation enough for Loki's madness in comparison to Thor's sane, caring manner toward humans.

"I think it's about the mechanics," said Banner, bringing the conversation back to the point at hand. His soft brown eyes studying the others with a questioning gaze. "The iridium. What do they need the iridium for?"

"For stability," said Anamaria in answer, her voice an unexpected addition to the conversation at hand. All eyes turned to her but her focus was on Dr. Banner. Her brown eyes were always on Dr. Banner. "My mother had worked with Dr. Schafer on various projects in the past," she said by way of explanation, she started to feel the blush rise into her cheeks at the doctor's focused stare. "Iridium was his field of study. If there is one thing you can depend on that can withstand high amounts of temperature and pressure without losing its strength or at risk of being damaged, that metal would be the key." She swallowed the sudden lump that had formed in her throat. The look on her face was telling. She had had personal experience with such experiments. "From the sounds of it, if you want to operate a device that is meant to open a portal between here and another realm, you would need something to help keep the energy source as stable as possible. Iridium would do just the trick."

The silence that followed was interrupted by a very confident male voice talking to a male agent of SHIELD, who was escorting the gentleman to the bridge. "I'm just saying: Take a weekend. I'll fly you out to Portland..." He leaned toward the agent and mumbled something else, who merely allowed a hint of smile to show as he nodded before he left the cocky man. The man himself to join the rest of the group.

"By the way, an excellent observation, miss. Couldn't have explained it better in such Laymen's terms myself," said the man, both complimenting and belittling if that were possible. The funny thing was he appeared to have meant it as a genuine compliment. He was none other than the infamous Tony Stark aka Iron Man. He was tall, dark and handsome with a bit of silver at the temples of his swept back dark hair. His dark goatee added to his angular features and the confident air about him made others aware that he knew exactly who he was and he was quite proud of it.

He started to walk around the large table, his hands in the pockets of his dark gray slacks. "What the lady is trying to explain is that the portal won't collapse in on itself like it did at SHIELD." He walked past Thor by this time and slowed down slightly as he reached out to pat the god on a muscled bicep. "No hard feelings Point Break, you got a mean swing." He then continued walking on, ignoring the incredulous look on Thor's face. He walked toward the command post and stopped in front of it, gazing about the bridge. "It also means that the portal can open as wide and stay open as long as Loki wants."

He paused slightly and raised his hand a little, the look on his face one of mocking authority. "Er- Raise the mizzen mast! Ship the topsails..."

The staff of the bridge turned around to look at Stark, the faces of the various men and women taking on looks of incredulity, amusement and just plain blank.

"That man is playing Gallaga," said Stark, pointing out in a mockery of dramatic shock to a man sitting on the far end of the bridge, who was hunched over his monitor and looking hard at work. The man jumped slightly and glanced over his shoulder. Stark's arm fell as he concentrated on the monitors of the command post in front of him. "Thought we wouldn't notice... but we did..." He frowned as he held his left hand to his left eye and focused on the monitors before he turned to Agent Hill. "How does Fury even see these?"

Agent Hill was standing at her station, her arms folded across her chest as she stared Stark with a slight frown on her face. "He turns."

"Sounds exhausting..."

Stark turned around, playing with the various monitors as he walked about the command post, his hand moving quickly about the screens as he studied them with apparent interest. "The rest of the raw materials Agent Barton can get his hands on pretty easily. Only major component he still needs is a power source of high energy density." His hand passed quickly over a monitor, a slight of hand that no one noticed. He turned the group then and snapped his fingers before clapping his hands together. "Something to... kick start the cube."

Agent Hill watched Stark, her gray eyes studying the philanthropist with slight doubt. "When did you become an expert in Thermonuclear Astrophysics?"

"Last night," said Stark, slipping his hands back in the pockets of his slacks. He looked serious despite the slight frown on Hill's face.

A mocking look of shock appeared as he leaned slightly forward. "The packet? Selvig's notes..." His words brought forth no signs of recognition. "The extraction theory papers?" Again, no recognition. He pulled his hands out of his pockets and threw them up as if in disbelief. "Am I the only one who did the reading?"

Captain Rogers decided it was best to just keep to the topic on hand. He didn't like this Tony Stark very much. He seemed enjoy making a joke out of all of this. "Does Loki need any particular power source?"

Dr. Banner had begun to pace again while he had listened to Stark explain about the need for iridium, his pacing reduced to just a few feet on either side of Anamaria. He didn't seem aware that he didn't stray too far from her. His movements seemed to be a subconscious act, setting a protective perimeter about Ana's personal space, who was standing there looking completely at ease. She wasn't aware of what the doctor was doing either; her eyes were focused on the others as she listened. Within the both of them, their other selves were very much aware of how close the other was and both were radiating contentment.

"He'd have to heat the cube to a hundred and twenty million Kelvin just to break through the Coulomb barrier," said Banner, his pacing never pausing as he glanced at Stark, who was studying at how close the doctor was to the woman he knew had been the creature who fought Loki in Germany. Stark didn't need much effort to keep the interest from showing in his face. His poker face was well practiced.

"Unless, Selvig has figured out how to stabilize the Quantum Tunneling Effect," said Stark in response.

Banner paused in his pacing, stopping directly in front of Ana, as he fiddled with his glasses with one hand while propping an elbow against a folded arm. "Well, if he can do that then he could achieve Heavy Ion Fusion with any reactor on the planet."

Stark looked genuinely impressed as he walked around the large table and gestured toward the doctor, glancing around to look at the others. "Finally, someone who speaks English." He turned around, continuing to Dr. Banner as he held a hand out to shake in greeting.

"Is that what just happened?" asked Captain Rogers, a look of slight confusion on his handsome face. Apparently, he wasn't the only one who had a hard time of understanding what they were speaking of. He had glanced around and caught the sight of Anamaria, standing comfortably close to Dr. Banner, but looking as confused as what the Captain felt. Apparently, she knew enough about iridium but not anything of Thermonuclear Astrophysics.

Dr. Banner reached out to take Stark's hand and gave it a firm shake only to continue to shake it as the playboy's hazel eyes focused on the doctor's brown ones in an intense gaze. "It's good to meet you Dr. Banner." His hand was finally released as Stark continued on. "Your work on Anti-Electron Collisions is unparalleled." He paused a bit before he went on, not looking the least bit ashamed. "And I'm a huge fan of the way you lose control and turn into an enormous, green rage monster."

Dr. Banner's face took on an uncomfortable expression as he glanced at the others, licking his lips as he tried to find words to respond to that. Nothing came to mind but a very awkward "Thanks..."

Stark didn't realize how uncomfortable he had made the doctor or didn't seem to particularly care. Ana had and she did not like it. The moment Stark's attention focused on her, he had a ready smile on his face and reached out to shake her hand as well. "You must be Mrs. Rage Monster. Not too familiar with your work but from your one demonstration I'm impressed."

Anamaria took his hand in turn and gave it a firm shake, the red veins becoming more prominent against the caramel skin of her neck. She gave a very feral smile that did not reach her eyes. "And you must be a dick. It's a pleasure I'm sure."

Stark didn't laugh but the amusement could clearly be seen in his hazel eyes as they shook hands. He had to admit, he walked into that one.

"Don't worry. I'll grow on you," said Stark in reply as he released her hand and glanced at Dr. Banner, noting how the quiet man had taken to standing slightly behind Ana, his arms folded across his chest while his gaze remained on Stark.

Hm. Interesting...

"Oh yes, like a case of Black Mold," said Ana in reply, her body subconsciously leaning toward the taller frame of Dr. Banner.

This time Stark did laugh and he smiled at Dr. Banner as he pointed at her, "OK, I like her."

Chapter Text

I feel it deep within

Just beneath the skin

I hate what I've become

The nightmare's just begun

I must confess that I feel like a monster...

Monster – Skillet

-o-

Chapter 8: One Had to Admit There Was Chemistry

One had to admit there was chemistry there between the two of them.

One had to be blind not to see it.

Apparently, these two were kind of blind.

It was radiating off of them like their own personal aura. Whatever they felt as their quiet, unassuming selves was magnified by the raging monsters within them. They didn't seem aware that they gravitated toward one another. When one moved, the other followed. When the one showed tension, the other was right there to calm. It was like a subconscious understanding between them that their human conscious wasn't aware of.

And this was within the first couple of hours of their initial meeting.

Fury had noticed it the moment he had watched on the live feed when Banner had entered Anamaria's room. The instant connection, the understanding they both craved. They were each other’s needed calm. It was what Fury was hoping to see when he had assigned Dr. Banner to watch over her. If this strange woman was able to keep Banner calm, and likewise he for her, then she was a much needed god send.

He still could not locate anything on the woman, despite now knowing her full name, having video footage of her and her raging counterpart, and information on her mother being a geneticist. There was no record of an Anamaria Brandt located in any countries' records that she could have possibly originated from. Be it the USA, France and every Spanish speaking country on the globe. Either she was very well hidden or she was Persona non grata for every major first world and third world country there was. Either was plausible. He would need more time.

Thankfully, Ana seemed quite content within remaining in SHIELD headquarters. As long as Dr. Banner was close by anyway. Fury knew he had told Banner that he would be staying until the Tesseract was be located but this was an unknown situation. If his staying meant that all the rest of them would be safe from both of their raging sides, then so be it...

The moment he walked onto the bridge and found the group of would be Avengers gathered around the table, even he had to admit he felt a certain satisfaction. Especially when he saw Dr. Banner standing particularly close to Ana as she literally called Tony Stark a dick while being introduced. All right, even Fury had to admit that was funny...

"Dr. Banner is only here to track the Cube," said Fury as he stopped besides the railing that wrapped around the command post. His single eye was on Stark as his hands gripped the metal bar. "I was hoping you might join him."

"As long as Mrs. Rage Monster doesn't mind me being so close to Dr. Banner, I don't see how it could be a problem," said Stark in reply, a smirk appearing on his lips as he watched Ana. He was trying to goad her.

The slight twitch from Ana's form, and the sudden darkening of the red veins in her neck that was visible through her hair, brought an automatic response from the doctor: A large hand placed on the small of her back. She immediately began to relax from the touch but she still looked as if she wanted to rip Stark a new one.

Fury was very pleased with the sight of it. If they were acting this way so soon after meeting one another then he hoped it would stay that way. It would save a hell of a mess of trouble later on...

"I'd start with that stick of Loki's," said the Captain, his gaze traveling between that of Ana and he doctor before he looked at the others. "It may be magical but it works an awful lot like a Hydra weapon."

Fury frowned lightly as he glanced at Rogers. "I don't know about that but it is powered by the Cube and I'd like to know how Loki had used it to turn two of the sharpest minds I know into his personal flying monkeys..."

"Monkeys?" Thor turned toward Fury, confusion touching his fair features. "I do not understan-"

"I do!" cried Captain Rogers, jumping in immediately as he pointed a finger toward the god. "I understood that reference..." That statement was followed by varied responses of amusement and sympathy. Well, you couldn't blame the guy for wanting to find some connection to the world he had known.

Stark simply rolled his eyes heavenward and turned to Dr. Banner. "Shall we play, doctor?"

Dr. Banner simply huffed a laugh as he held out his hand. "This way sir," he said in response before his soft brown eyes automatically landed on the woman that pulled on the primal part of him. "Ana, will you join us?"

Her brown eyes sought his and her response was a bright smile that revealed a part of herself that no one, apart from her mother, had ever seen. That smile brought a completely different light to her features. She looked like the promise of the woman she had the potential to be: At ease and happy.

Dr. Banner had to lie if he said he had not been affected by that smile.

"Bien sûr, je viens avec vous," said Ana, her French automatically coming out in her apparent excitement of staying with the doctor before she caught herself and a blush touched her cheeks. "I mean... If it is all right with you. I was told to stay with you until directed otherwise."

Dr. Banner had to laugh at that and held out his hand further as he waited for Ana to pass by him. She walked by the doctor and she gazed at him with a smile, her brown eyes revealing the lust that had been there from before. Dr. Banner had to swallow the tightness in his throat before he went to follow after Ana and Stark, his heart beating a steady rhythm, hard and earnest against his chest.

The Other Guy was poking at his conscious then, making himself known, prodding in an urgent way for Banner to keep as close to their women as possible. There was no mistaking how the Other Guy felt.

Anamaria was all Dr. Banner's for the taking.

However, the fiery one within her was his...

-o-

In an extensive laboratory aboard the SHIELD Helicarrier, Dr. Banner was back at his station, this time scanning the scepter that belonged to Loki, the wand of the device he had scanning the energy emitting from the ball of light at the tip of the scepter. The look on his face was one of concentration, his glasses resting firmly on the bridge of his nose. He frowned at the results on the screen in front of him, a slight twitch on the corners of his mouth revealing his tension.

"These gamma readings are definitely consistent with the gamma readings of Selvig's report on the Tesseract but," he heaved a sigh as he sent the device aside and reached out to touch various keys on the screen, "it's going to take weeks to process..."

On the other side of the lab, Stark was at his own station, his fingers dancing across the screen of his own monitor in an expert way. "If we bypass their mainframe in a direct route to the home requester, we can clock this at around 600 teraflops." He turned his fingers on a dial on the touch screen; applying everything he had just been saying into action. He wasn't a genius for nothing.

"Heh, all I packed was a toothbrush," said Banner, a smile touching his features. He looked very tired all of a sudden. He continued to work on the monitor before him, adjusting the readings and trying to match what was recorded on Selvig's notes. However, his brown eyes had wandered to the quiet woman who sat away from the two of them, her eyes focused on a screen of her own.

Anamaria was sitting at her own station but she was not doing any kind of work that pertained to their search of the Tesseract. She was looking at very old files of an experiment gone wrong. They were of Dr. Banner's initial involvement with trying to replicate the Super Soldier experiment that created Captain America. She was slouching in her stool, her dark brows knitted together, as she read on what had happened and what had gone wrong.

Stark had noticed Banner's gaze landing on the woman and the look in his soft brown eyes was that of longing. The playboy was surprised that Ana was keeping her distance from the doctor. On the bridge, it was clear as day that she was quite protective of him. Perhaps it was because of the many people who had been in the room. Well, in any case, it was obvious that Dr. Banner was quite fond of the mysterious raging woman who was, by definition of SHIELD, Hulk's female counter part. Seriously, they already had started gathering data on the woman.

The little chip he had put in place to hack into SHIELD's computer files was an ingenious one. Well, since he made it himself, of course it was ingenious. But that was beside the point; the main thought was that one of the first files it had hacked into was the most recent one. It was under a simple French word: Enflammé.

Whoever made the file either had no originality or was bored out of their minds.

They had called the raging female monster that caused combustive explosions Enflammé.

Perhaps it was because of Ana's tendency to revert to the French language that inspired this particular name but honestly. The English translation would mean burning, passionate... Fiery...

Well, they got the burning, fiery part right.

Stark wondered how well in check her monster was compared to that of Banner's...

Naturally, as a woman, she should be prone to more excessive emotional outbursts. Especially during a particular time of the month. She would be a funner choice to provoke. Still, he rather liked his body as it was. He didn't want to fall under being burned in any way. Pepper sure wouldn't like it...

"You know, you should come by Stark Tower some time," said Tony to the doctor after a moment's pause as he left his station and started to walk toward Banner's station. "Top ten floors all R&D. You'd love it. It's like Candyland." He walked by Ana's station on the way and paused, picking up a metal instrument that was lying on her table; it looked quite pointy and sharp. An electric hum could be heard if one listened closely.

"Thanks," said Banner, his broad fingers moving effortlessly over the touch screen of his monitor. He had pulled his gaze, rather reluctantly, from Ana's slouched form and tried to project the image of nonchalance. He didn't realize that Stark was quite aware of how he felt toward the woman. "But the last time I was in New York I kind of... broke... Harlem." He looked embarrassed and resigned about that part of history. He wasn't proud of what he- the Other Guy- had done. However, he did stop the Abomination... and Betty had been saved...

"Well," said Stark, pacing about in front of Ana's station, who didn't notice the man as she focused on reading the reports of one Betty Ross. "I promise a stress free environment..." he trailed off, stopping behind Ana and looking over her shoulder.

After a moment's reading, he leaned in close to Ana and whispered, "Jealous of the ex-girlfriend?"

Ana jumped in fright and whirled around to snarl at Stark, her red veins prominent and the flash of yellow in her eyes quite impressive. "Tu m'emmerdes!" said Ana, her voice coming out as a harsh growl as she bared her teeth at him. "Back off before I make you! Have you no decency for personal space?" She took in a breath as she tried to calm herself but was having a hard time. Stark was looking absolutely gleeful.

It was a fact.

She had been caught. She was jealous.

"Oh come now," said Stark, playing with the metal prong between his hands. "We're all friends here. So what if you have a thing for the doctor? If I was a woman, I wouldn't blame you." He leaned in close, the look in his face suggestive. "I mean... you've seen the videos. That guy is huge. You can't help but wonder..."

"Merde!" she cursed, pushing the monitor away from her and turning about in her stool as she glared at Stark. "Do want to make me angry? I assure you, you're on the right path if that is your wish!"

Stark took a step back, his hands rising in surrender, though the smile on his face did not fade. He was enjoying this. "I'm just pointing out a glaring fact Ms. Brandt." He pointed the metal prong to the screen, where the file of the Hulk was now on full display. "You are learning all you can about him. But, what does he, or any of us, know about you?"

Silence fell.

Dr. Banner had been watching this interaction with tense eagerness and interest. A part of him had hated that Stark was intentionally goading Ana on but another part had been eager to see her reaction. He had not been disappointed. He had seen a hint of the fiery one within her, the flash of yellow in her eyes a definite warning. The Other Guy had been pleased to see a hint of her buried underneath that quiet woman.

It had been the moment Stark had pointed out what she had been studying, and how it was not fair that they knew next to nothing about her, that got him to stop and think. Stark was right. Banner knew nothing about this woman. The sudden realization had quickly put a damper on the attraction that had been humming beneath the surface of his calm facade.

Ana had been glaring at Stark the entire time before her brown eyes turned to Banner and noticed the cool distance that now touched his soft brown gaze. Her demon did not like that look. She wanted to see the lust in his eyes, the feral attraction that had been humming between the two of them since they had met. She nearly growled her words as she focused her attention on Stark. "You mean you have not found the files yet?"

Stark frowned lightly, a look of confusion touching his features. "You mean what SHIELD had made so far? There's nothing there that we don't already know."

Ana scoffed and shook her head, rolling her eyes as she turned toward the monitor and started to type at the keyboard. "No Metal Man, not those files. I suppose SHIELD has not found them either." Her look became thoughtful as she typed away at the keys, the screen revealing a website that was selling scented candles and oils. The website was called Renewal.

Ana clicked on the register info for new members only and began to type a series of difficult passages into each line that asked for a name, address, age, sex, etc. of the person wishing to join. Under each line, Ana entered a particular quote or lyric or poem. She did this for five times, each time entering in completely new member info with these various wordings before the website blinked and a new screen loaded. The sudden whine that touched speakers of Ana's computer indicated that something had overridden the tracking programs of SHIELD and was now blocking all access to the computer that Anamaria was currently using.

On the screen was one phrase that struck as odd with Tony Stark:

Project B.I.R.T.H

"Welcome back Anamaria," a cool female voice said through the speakers of the monitor. "Your mother has been worried about you. Why have you not logged on sooner?"

A slight smile touched Ana's face, there was relief evident there. Apparently she had been deeply worried about her mother, who also had access to this strange website. Dr. Banner had gotten up from his station and walked over to Ana's, his curiosity getting the better of him.

Ana leaned forward toward where the tiny microphone in the monitor was located. "Hello Jenn, please send a message to Mama, let her know I am safe. There is a person here that is like me." She glanced at Banner before her eyes settled on Stark. There was slight hesitation before she sighed and continued on. "And there is another... They are called Dr. Bruce Banner and Tony Stark. Please load the files of the LIFE Foundation for me. I trust them with this information."

There was a moment's silence before the cool voice spoke. "Affirmative. We have secured all channels to this computer. It is up to you to be sure that no one else sees these files aside from those two you have named as trusted confidantes."

Ana voiced her approval before she slid her hand over the touch screen monitor and slid out an array of files under her touch. She got up from the stool and turned to the two gentlemen. "I am trusting you two and you two alone with these files. Please," she looked at Stark and her brown eyes grew desperate, "do not try and copy them or hack into them. It will set off a security breach in SHIELD's system."

Dr. Banner's interest was now caught fully, and as was Stark's. Both men leaned toward the monitor, the display in front of them showing a logo for a company called simply LIFE Foundation.

Chapter Text

It's breaking me...

It's breaking me...

I'm falling apart...

I'm falling apart...

Fight Inside - Red

-o-

Chapter 9: She Felt Cold Inside

She felt cold inside as she watched Dr. Banner and Stark staring at the monitor as the file on display for the LIFE Foundation was loaded. She wondered what they were going to think of her after they saw her early life... They would probably think she was the monster she truly was.

She wrapped her arms around herself as she turned away from the two men and went to take a seat at Banner's station. The scepter was glowing at its tip, looking eerie and menacing. She did not like the thing. It set her demon on edge. She subtly moved the stool as far as possible from the thing and focused her attention back on the two men.

She had a good view of the touch monitor from her place, the sight of Dr. Banner leaning over the desk touching a part of her heart that sent such warmth throughout her. It was Stark who touched the first file. It loaded and it was a picture of an old newspaper clipping about a meteorite crashing into the wild hills outside of a small Spanish hamlet. Nothing out of the ordinary. Falling stars happened all the time.

The next file happened a week after the newspaper the clipping. The sound of screaming and wailing cries created a backdrop to the scene they would witness. A male voice spoke in a rushed Spanish of the Catalan dialect as the camera spanned the scene of destruction. It looked to be old news footage from the late eighties.

The camera had landed back in the reporter with thick, bushy dark hair that matched his mustache. He walked along a small dirt road of an equally small village in Spain. All around him, several small buildings that made up the village had been burnt to the ground and were nothing more than smoldering ash. In the distance, the surviving villagers could be seen huddled in their village square; in the middle of the square were the burnt remains of human bodies. The people who had survived numbered in a total of twelve people, ranging from middle aged to very young children. The women and children were wailing and crying.

The man continued to speak in a rushed voice as he walked around the square, the camera following him shakily. He pointed out to the various buildings that still stood but bore horrible scorch marks. He paused when he noticed a young girl, looking to be no more than six years of age, huddled against the wall of one of the buildings. She looked as if she were hiding.

Her copper brown hair ended just past her ears and her soot stained face bore several clear tracks from where her tears had fallen. She wore a tattered dress on her skinny frame and looked as if it had been a bright yellow once. Now, the scorch marks and burnt holes were a testament that she was a surviving child. She looked so distraught and so anguished. The camera had focused on the child, noting that her lips were moving but no words could be heard.

There was something achingly familiar about that child.

The thought barely registered with Dr. Banner before the video continued on, the reporter rushing over to the child. He looked as if he was excited to have found the child; the surviving villagers of the burnt village had not noticed her hiding. He looked as if he were hoping for some reward. In his haste, the camera hung back, the cameraman shouting out to the reporter, something that sounded like a warning. The cameraman had felt something was wrong... A whispered word of prayer could be heard from the cameraman.

The reporter did not listen and he called out to the child, rushing to her apparent aid. The child jumped in pure fright and let out a harsh cry. The sight of red veins appeared to flow along every visible surface of skin and her eyes turned to a burning yellow glow. The snarl emerged from her lips and before the reporter could even stop he suddenly erupted into flames.

His cries of pain and terror could be heard as he stumbled away from the girl, the sight of the flames burning at a high rate as it consumed him a terrible one. It was over in less than a few moments and the reporter's body fell to the ground, nothing more than a husk of blackened flesh. The cameraman was now crying out his prayers, turning and running back to the village square, his camera showing the surviving villagers glancing his way and their own terror filling their faces.

The next moment the cameraman cried out in pure agony, the sudden sound of rushing flames roaring against the microphone that was built in. The camera fell to the ground and it continued to record, the sight of the child rushing past, her banshee-like screams filling the air. The camera remained where it was as the villagers cried out in pure terror, scattering as quickly as they could, running with cries of "Bruja!"

The recording then became distorted, the sounded of popping metal and plastic an indication that the camera had now caught on fire. The file stopped.

The next file was of a similar incident in another nearby hamlet, though of lesser casualties.

The next sets of files were of reports from an apparent scientist who worked for the group known as LIFE Foundation. They had located the child and, after many losses on their side, had managed to subdue her and bring her in for testing. It was a good thing the child lived in such an out of the way place. No one knew who had caused the fires that destroyed those two villages.

The next files were of the same: Reports, pictures, video footage of the child growing over the years. The pictures and videos were always of her raged form. The scientists of LIFE Foundation believed that the child was playing host to an alien entity. They were hoping to find ways of either extracting it from her or perhaps finding a way of cloning it. If they could, they would find the building blocks to starting the super soldiers that was their employer's long time goal.

The next reports were of keeping the creature within the girl confined. She was restrained to a metal gurney at all times with her eyes and ears completely covered to avoid her detecting any of the staff members that worked around her. She was fed intravenously and wore a catheter and an adult diaper to handle her body's wastes. The picture they showed next was of the deathly pale girl in such a state. She looked like a body.

Dr. Banner could feel the disgust rising in him and the ache in his heart as he recognized the pale thing to be Ana.

Stark did not look any better.

The next few files were of their experiments with her. They did all they could to provoke the monster within her. She was kept in a fireproof chamber that could withstand all of the combustive attacks she threw at the walls. They would shock her, freeze her, shoot at her, they did all they could to provoke her. Her body would heal itself after each "experiment" only for it to start again.

It was becoming too much for the two men to watch and listen to.

It was finally at the last file. This was of a letter, dated thirteen years ago, left by one of the newly hired geneticists named Sidonie Dupont. It was something that brought a much needed sense of relief to the doctor.

Project B.I.R.T.H is a failure.

I found your test subject as well as records of all of the experiments.

You are all bastards for treating a human being this way.

Did you think it would remain hidden?

The others may not wish to question authority but I am not afraid.

By the time you read this, I will be long gone.

All records on this project have been wiped clean from the mainframe.

Search all you want but you will not find us.

S.D.

That was the last of the files.

There was nothing but silence as the files blinked away and the cool female voice from before spoke through. "That is all of the files Anamaria. Were there any others you wished to access?"

Ana's voice was thick with emotion as she cleared her throat. "N-no Jenn, thank you that would be all."

"Your mother has sent a message and asks that you call her as soon as possible. Did you wish me to locate a secure line for you?"

Ana could feel their eyes on her but she did not look at either man, she kept her gaze on the screen. "I will do so later. Please tell Mama I am well and safe."

"Affirmative. I will be releasing this computer from secure hold. All data will be wiped clean from the last hour. Be safe Anamaria." The cool voice was cut off abruptly.

The monitor winked once and fell silent before rebooting itself. On display was the last file that had been accessed: That of Hulk.

She felt cold inside.

She turned her brown eyes to Stark and then to Dr. Banner before heaving a sigh. "My name was Anamaria Rovira. I was born on February first of 1984 in a small hamlet called Berót in the country of Spain." She closed her eyes as she felt the chill begin to sink into her bones, the red veins were not as prominent this time around. They were barely red swirling lines against her skin. "When I was six years old, a star had fallen to the hills beyond my home. I was just a young child, I didn't know any better." Her sigh was heavy. "The local children wanted to see the falling star. My older brother was one of them. He had to watch me and he did not like it." She allowed a smile to touch her lips at the memory but it quickly faded. "My mother was working out in the fields that day. My father was working on his fifth bottle of rum." Her brown eyes focused on the picture of the Hulk, the snarling sight of Dr. Banner's feral side did not bring comfort this time around.

"He took me with him to the hills and we searched for the falling star. We had found it in a small thicket of woods where it had made a clearing. My brother was excited and had talked in a rush about bringing a piece of the star back to our mother." She hugged herself tightly as the memory of that day played forth. "He wanted to go closer and told me to stay and wait. I was scared. There were so many stories of evil creatures that lived in the woods. I followed after him." A colorless laugh escaped her as she raised her eyes to the ceiling above. "It was no star down there. My brother had run away, screaming about a she-devil, and left me alone. He left me..."

The hitch in her voice was unmistakable but she continued on. "It was a creature, something that vaguely looked like a woman. I remembered it- she- had been bleeding. She was dying. I couldn't understand the words she spoke but she reached out to me and took me by the back of the neck." She swallowed and felt the chill begin to circulate about her hands and feet. She shivered. "All I remember is burning heat and anger..."

She took in a breath and wished that she could feel warm again. "I don't remember how I got home or what had happened to the creature. My brother had yelled at me about not staying where I was told. My father had been roused from his drunken stupor and then began to yell at the both of us. He was always a violent man. To my mother, to my brother but never to me. That was the first day he had raised a fist to me in anger. It... triggered something." She shivered again, this time the cold was becoming unbearable. She wished the demon in her would course through her veins if only to warm her. "The next thing I know... I'm hiding by one of the old barns, watching the village burn... I knew I had killed my family, killed my neighbors and destroyed my home. I could feel the demon burning in me. She was protective but so angry... I had killed them. I was a monster..."

She didn't say more after this. She simply closed her eyes and swallowed the tightness in her throat. The silence stretched on but no one said a word.

For the first time, Tony Stark had no snarky come back to anything she had said. After all they had seen, read and witnessed what this woman had gone through; cracking a joke at this time wouldn't be smart.

Dr. Banner was always a quiet man but he was also one of quiet action. He had moved away from the computer and walked toward where Ana sat. He reached out to her and pulled her into a tight, warm embrace. It was one of understanding and empathy and comfort. Yes, he may not have grown up with the Other Guy but he understood how she felt.

For the first time, their other selves remained quiet. No hint of lust, no prodding of primal need. They were simply contented with being close to one another again.

Chapter Text

Head down

As I watch my feet take turns hitting the ground

Eyes shut, I find myself in love racing the Earth

And I'm soaked in your love

And love was right in my path, in my grasp

And me and you belong...

Smash into You – Beyonce

-o-

Chapter 10: You Must Be a Hit at Barbeques

"So," Stark's voice was the one to break the melancholy silence. Dr. Banner looked over at the philanthropist and Ana's own gaze followed suit, though she was comfortably nestled against his chest. It was strange how well they looked together. Stark cleared this throat and decided to plunge forward, damning the reaction he might receive. "You must be a hit at barbeques."

Silence.

Pure and utter silence.

Dr. Banner's face had taken a on a dark look, not appreciating the joke that Stark had decided to give.

Suddenly, there was laughter.

It wasn't a soft chuckle or a simple giggle. It was a full blown belly laugh.

Dr. Banner glanced down at the woman in his arms and felt his heart lift at the sight of the bright smile that danced across her features. She was laughing her ass off. She looked as if she couldn't breathe for a moment but the tense silence that had been there a moment before was now completely gone.

For one of many times in his life, Stark was glad for his terrible timing with his snarky comments.

"You, Mr. Stark, are an asshole," said Ana, after she finally caught her breath, but she didn't look mad. She looked so relieved.

It took a moment for her to regain her composure but she finally pulled away from Dr. Banner, though reluctantly. She smiled up at him and reached out to brush the brown hair that fell across the left side of his brow. Her fingers combed his hair back into place. He would have to lie if he said he didn't enjoy that simple touch.

"And you Dr. Banner... Thank you for the comfort." Her hand fell away and her brown gaze studied the two men before her. "I am relieved that you don't fear me."

Stark scoffed at this comment and moved away from the station. "So, you have an alien imbedded in your body that mutates you if triggered the wrong way." He shrugged as he walked toward Banner's station, his hazel eyes studying the two of them. "He has a raging green monster imbedded into his very DNA because of an accident that mutates his body if triggered the wrong way." He had to pause, allowing the brief moment irony at those words to hit him. They really did have a lot in common. "I've got a cluster of shrapnel trying every second to crawl its way into my heart." He tapped on the faint glowing orb of light imbedded in his chest. "This stops it. This little circle of light is... a part of me." He paused in front of the station as he pointed the metal prong toward Dr. Banner. "Just like the Hulk is a part of him." He allowed a smile to touch his goateed face. "Just as that thing," he pointed to the red veins visible through the skin of Ana's neck, "is a part of you. It's... a terrible privilege but we're all human."

"It's not... imbedded in me," said Ana, watching Stark as he glanced at her. "It is not a parasite. That physical part isn't aware of things. It's like an organ. Like my heart, my lungs, my kidneys... It's a necessary part of my body." She paused at this and frowned. "It's an alien part, as you would say, but it is only a part. One of many that makes the whole, if that makes any sense." She looked at Dr. Banner before she reached up to rub the back of her neck, something she had never done before. It burned red under her touch. "That creature had given me a part of herself. I've thought of it over and over again these many years. She was passing something onto me. Be it her anger, her rage, her hatred, the very essence that gave her power. She had passed it onto me. I felt as if she had wanted someone to remember her. Remember an important part of her." She took a moment to allow the warmth from her neck to comfort her and sighed. "Something had happened to that creature. Something had caused her to crash to that part of Earth, something that had killed her in the end...

"That army," said Dr. Banner, putting the few clues together as his soft brown eyes lightened with understanding. "The very name of that army set you on edge. Is it possible that the alien that..." he paused, looking for an appropriate word and was relieved to have found it, "that merged with you was trying to warn you? Warn us?" He looked at Stark, hoping for support of his theory.

Stark made a gesture with his head, not quite a nod but along the lines of agreement. "It's possible..."

Ana looked dumbfounded, as if she had never thought of such a thing before. She clenched her jaw and stared off into the distance, her mind working through all of the recent events, the sudden emotions and changes. She took in a breath and looked at Dr. Banner with something akin to love. "You are incredible. Mama would have never thought... I wouldn't have..." She pushed away from the stool and got up, a renewed energy about her.

Dr. Banner moved around his station, reluctant to let her stray too far. He stopped the moment she turned around to face him, the look in her brown eyes was one of hope. "I have to call Mama, let her know what I've learned. If I allow you access to all of the files pertaining to myself, my physical self. Would it help? That army that Loki is commanding, there is something about them that sets my... monster on edge." She had never intentionally tried to voice it aloud before, voicing that part of herself as a monster. Her mother never wanted to hear her say it after the first time.

"It would be a start," said Stark, eager to look at any reports that was about the alien thing that was part of Ana. "It might be of help to learn what we are up against."

"Oui," said Ana, nodding her agreement. "I would not access Jenn from here again; she might set off SHIELD's programming a second time around. Do you have personal device on you? Like a smart phone or a tablet?"

Stark pulled out his own personal smart phone, the one JARVIS had constant access to. Ana's face brightened at the sight of it. "Molt bo," she said, reverting to her Catalan tongue from childhood. Apparently, watching those videos had triggered her early childhood Spanish. "That will work perfectly!"

She moved around to grab the phone from Stark and dialed a number. She placed the phone to her ear, waited a moment as she listened to a recording, and then hung up.

"Who is this Jenn?" asked Stark, a part of him curious. He wanted to know what he would be dealing with on his personal machine after all.

Ana didn't even hesitate. "She is my aunt," she said, her fingers moving deftly over the touch screen. "She is Mama's younger sister, who is currently a quadriplegic." Her fingers continued to move across the screen, not noticing the paleness that had gripped Stark. "She is active in her brain but her body does not respond in any way. She is connected to a mainframe computer that my Mama had spent many years and much money developing. My Tante Jenn has unlimited access to the internet since it has been developed and she knows how to bypass any government system and secure a connection, such as SHIELD's." Her smile was one of pride. "She doesn't have much to do with her time since she lies in a bed all day. She is very smart."

"Why does she seem so cold?" asked Dr. Banner, remembering the cool female voice.

"It was because you two were here. She didn't want you to think she was a real person." She continued to play with the phone before a beep sounded from the machine and her smile relaxed. "There. She transferred the files of all of my physical tests." She handed to phone to Stark and her smile disappeared. "Do not transfer these files outside of your own personal computer. I understand you have a personal assistant by the name Pepper Potts and an assistant computer system by the name of JARVIS, who deal with your personal files?" She didn't wait for a reaction from Stark to verify this info. "JARVIS has all of these files on hand and he understands that if SHIELD, or any other entity outside of the personal access of Tony Stark, attempts to access them will result in the complete deletion of these files from his system. I am trusting you with these Mr. Stark." She pointed to the phone, her brown eyes pleading. "Do not misuse this trust."

"I won't," said Stark, the promise in his voice assuring Ana in her trust in the man. He could be serious when he wanted to be.

"Good, I am glad." She took in breath and looked at the doctor. "If you'll excuse me, I am tired. It's been a long night." She turned on heel and made her way to leave the lab.

Dr. Banner could only nod his agreement, though he did not want to see Ana go. There was so much he wanted to ask of her. So much he wanted to get to know.

"Ana," Stark called out to her, turning around to watch her go. "You didn't answer my question."

Ana paused in her steps and turned around to look at Stark. "Your question?" she asked, her face filled with slight confusion.

Stark nodded as he pointed the metal prong her way. "Are you good at barbeques? Because I was planning this company picnic and your talents would be much appreciated."

The laughter that followed brought a much needed smile to Dr. Banner's face. He loved to hear her laugh. It was such an infectious sound.

"Yes, Mr. Stark," said Ana, not missing the look of surprise on the playboy's face from her answer. "I do have some control. My Mama has taken advantage of my abilities one too many times. If you truly would like me to demonstrate, I would happy to oblige."

Stark allowed a sharp laugh of amusement to escape him as he nodded. "I'll take you up on that offer once this is all over."

Ana smiled and glanced at Dr. Banner once more before she turned and left the lab.

-o-

The moment Anamaria left the lab, Tony Stark turned to Dr. Bruce Banner and a large smile touched his face, that smile reminding the doctor of a shark.

"So," he said, walking toward the doctor's station. "She's quite something."

Dr. Banner didn't respond as he walked back behind his monitor and pulled up the gamma ray files from before. He wasn't going to respond to Stark's prodding. He had seen the way he goaded Ana and he was not going to fall for it.

"Did you see those breasts on her?" asked Stark, slipping his phone into his pocket before fiddling with the metal prong between his fingers. "You could motorboat those all day..."

There it was. A twitch in the doctor's jaw, a hesitation in his hand as he moved it across the touch screen. The doctor wasn't completely immune. He was attracted to the woman and apparently a jealous sort, judging by the sudden frown.

Stark knew better than to press his luck on this subject and decided to go with something safer. He didn't really want the green guy to go all out at this time. He walked around the doctor as the metal prong danced around his fingers. "I still think you'd like it at Stark Tower. You really should come by. It's a very relaxed atmosphere. No tension, no surprises..." He reached out and prodded the prong against Banner's side. The sound of electricity emerged as it connected.

"Ow!" Dr. Banner jumped and turned to around to look at Stark, disbelief warring with amusement as he tried but failed to keep the smile from his face. Stark focused on Banner's eyes, looking for a hint of something aggressive.

Nothing.

Figures.

The man gets protective over a woman but prod him with a mini cow prod and he doesn't even blink...

It was a good thing that Stark didn't continue goading him about the woman.

Lord knows how he would have reacted then...

Chapter Text

I wanna run...

Run...

Smash into you...

Smash into You – Beyonce

-o-

Chapter 11: Couldn't sleep

She couldn't sleep for obvious reasons.

After leaving the lab, she had stopped a passing man in gray army fatigues and asked for directions to the bridge.

The man made no effort in keeping his eyes away from her cleavage as he stuttered through some vague directions. She muttered an annoyed thanks and went on her way, trying not to show her disgust on her face. It was one thing to have Dr. Banner staring at her breasts, she wanted him to.

Any other male just rubbed her the wrong way.

She had found the bridge quickly enough and Agent Hill was there at her station with Fury at the command post. She had flashed a quick smile to the director before focusing on Hill, asking where her prison was so she could get some sleep.

Agent Hill had blanched slightly, cast a glance at Fury, before she cleared her throat and said that Ana was not spending her time in a prison cell. She then excused herself and showed Ana to a completely different part of the ship, one that was specially made to house their guests while they searched for the Tesseract. She was a late addition apparently.

Agent Hill led her to the very last door on the left and slid a card through the slot. It slid open and revealed itself to be the same size room as the one she had been in before. The only differences were the walls and floors were done in various shades of gray and there was actual furniture in room as opposed to just a simple bed. There was a desk and chair, a nightstand with a simple, modern designed lamp in one corner, a dresser and an actual closet. These were all in various shades of gray as well. Off to one side was a gray door that led to small bathroom. Well, better than all white...

"I've taken the liberty of stocking your dresser and closet with clothing that should fit," Hill had said, an embarrassed look on her face. "And I apologize for the ill-fitting one."

Ana had smiled and said it was quite all right. The agent had done her favor in all honesty. She wouldn't have known for sure if the doctor had been attracted to her as she was to him. Having that much cleavage on display had brought a welcome sign. Oh yes, he had been...

Hill had said nothing in response to her thanks. She simply handed the card to Ana and gave a nod before taking her leave. Once the door slid behind her, Ana had taken that moment to fully relax, pulling off the tight navy blue shirt and letting out a much relieved sigh before she walked over to throw herself on the bed.

She had lain there for hours. How had she known? There was a digital clock on the nightstand blinking away the minutes. She listened to the sounds off in the distance. The sounds of hundreds of footsteps above and below. Of the blades to the Helicarrier making sharp slices through the air surrounding them... She counted the sound of the blades, hoping it would put her to sleep.

No such luck.

A loud thump from next door sounded a couple of hours later, like something heavy had fallen to the floor of the that room. After that there was silence.

Finally, just as the sun was apparently rising to bring the new day – she honestly had no idea, there were no windows but the clock was saying six in the morning- she got up from her bed and decided to go for a walk. She knew why she couldn't sleep.

It was a strange place with stranger people and this place felt too sterile for her tastes. She needed to be close to a window at least, somewhere she could see the outside. She had been underground for too long in her early life. She didn't need gray walls at this time.

She left her room, padding along barefoot, and made her way back up the corridor. She thought she had seen an observation deck not too far from here when Agent Hill had led her. She continued padding along in the corridors, not paying any mind to the SHIELD employees that were just starting their shifts for the day. She was searching for the deck; following some pull that she hoped was leading her to some source of natural light.

She had just turned a corner when she slammed into someone who was walking in the opposite direction. Warm hands reached out to keep her from falling back. The sudden pulse of warmth that emitted from her neck in response to the touch meant it could only be one person. She glanced up to find Dr. Banner's soft brown eyes watching her, the surprise at finding her there quite evident on his face. "Ana."

The racing of her pulse at the sound of her name from his lips was a welcome feeling. The giddiness that he had not released her but continued to stare down at her bringing a smile to her face. His eyes snapped down to her lips before he raised them back up to look at her.

"Dr. Banner," said Ana, the pleased feeling of seeing him quite evident in her voice. "I'm sorry, I was in a hurry."

His broad thumbs rubbed against the bare skin of her arms, sending a pleasant shiver up and down along her spine. He hesitated a moment before he finally released her and thrust a hand into his brown hair. "At this time in the morning? Where are you off to?" He paused and a slight blush touched his cheeks. "I'm sorry, that's none of my business."

"It's all right," she said, the smile becoming a little brighter. She was beginning to like his bashful side of him. "I was looking for the observation deck. The room I'm in has no windows and I don't do well in looking at nothing but walls. Sleep doesn't come easy enough as it is. What about you? Are you just leaving the lab?"

Dr. Banner gave nod as his hand fell away from his hair; the awkwardness was coming back slightly. He wasn't looking her in the eye. She noticed he tended do that with a lot of people when he was feeling uncomfortable. "I don't sleep well either... I thought a good shower was in order though. Sitting at a desk for hours without showering makes you aware of how dirty you are."

Her laugh brought his smile out and he looked at her again. It seemed he enjoyed her smile. She made a note of that. She would have to smile a lot around him, not that it was hard. The demon in her was pulsing with pleasant warmth and contentment at being close to him again. Not that she blamed her feral side. "When you are done getting clean, were you heading back to the lab?"

He frowned lightly at the thought and gently shook his head. "I was thinking of searching for the cafeteria in this floating hell. A cup of coffee would do me some good. Then back to the lab..."

"Would you mind if I joined you?"

A moment of silence.

The sudden flush that touched his cheeks and the bobbing of his Adam's apple were slight clues as to where his mind had automatically gone. His soft brown gaze flicking down her breasts and looking back up just as quickly verified where his thoughts had gone. "Uh..."

Oh... OH! If only, doctor, if only...

She suppressed the pleasant shiver that was threatening to break through, the pulse from her demon urging her. Do it... Do it! He craves for you; can't you see it in his eyes? His feral one hungers for you... All you have to do is follow him back to his room...

Her throat had tightened considerably at the thought, the sudden lust that had gripped her taking her by complete surprise. She had never felt such an urgent need before... Then again, she had never come across a male who had caught the attention of that part of her before.

"I-I mean... for coffee," she stammered, trying to make her voice sound as steady as possible. "When you're done with your shower, we can grab some coffee and head to the observation deck. You look as if you could use a break."

"O-Oh,"said Dr. Banner, the flush in his cheeks growing deeper. She thought it was a trick with her eyes but when she had blinked and focused on his features it was still there. Embarrassment. Disappointment. "That sounds good. I won't be too long."

"I'll wait outside in the hall for you," said Ana, the smile coming back to her face. If anything this entire situation was funny. They were acting as if they were young teenagers discovering their sexuality for the first time. Actually... That was a good analogy.

Ana continued to smile as she watched Banner walk past her and made his way to the corridor that their rooms were located. He had turned around to glance at her and watched her as he continued on. She smiled at him and raised a hand, wiggling her fingers in goodbye.

Banner smiled in response, his eyes crinkling at the corners as he walked on, not watching where he was going.

Ana's smile nearly faded as two female agents appeared around the corner in deep discussion with one another, carrying several cases of what appeared to be weaponry. They were walking toward the doctor, who had not noticed them. "Um, Dr. Banner look ou-"

There was a loud, resounding crash.

Dr. Banner had walked right into one of the women, colliding with their several cases and everything spilling to the floor, including the doctor and the agent. The woman let out a shocked gasp as she fell on her backside. "Hey! Watch where you-" The words died right in her throat as she saw who she had crashed into and the fear was quite clear in her eyes. "D-Dr. Banner! I-I'm so sorry! I didn't see you!" She hastily moved away from the doctor, ignoring his apologies and grabbing the cases, not wanting his help. "I'm sorry, I'm sorry. Please don't get-" Her words died right in her throat and she quickly took the cases, got to her feet and ran off without another word. Her co-worker smiled nervously at the doctor before she too ran off without a backwards glance.

The dead look on Dr. Banner's face was telling enough. He stared after where the agents had disappeared around the bend of the corridor and swallowed the tightness in his throat. He was still on his knees from where he had been attempting to help the woman, the dead look in that soft brown gaze pulling at the heart strings of Ana.

She quickly moved up the corridor to him and reached out to wrap an arm around his broad shoulders. "Come on doctor, get up..."

He didn't say anything as he allowed himself to be brought to his feet. He felt a warm arm wrap around his waist and a firm hug was received on his end before he was led back to the corridor that housed their rooms.

-o-

He hated it here.

Everyone knew who he was. What he was.

Nearly everyone walked on eggshells around him, afraid to even say the wrong thing to him. Even Fury and Steve Rogers bore that hesitance in their words, in the way they held themselves around him.

The only one who didn't was Tony Stark. He treated the doctor like any other Joe. He wasn't afraid of setting him off the wrong way. His very demeanor was meant to annoy people. He seemed to get a kick out of trying to get a rise out of Banner. The doctor just found him amusing.

The other one was now helping him into his room and helping him to sit down on his bed. He felt a small, warm hand brush the hair from his brow and back into place. He had no idea why she even tried, it never stayed in place.

She didn't say anything to him.

She allowed him his needed silence and sat down beside him on the bed. She took his hand in hers, intertwined their fingers and rested her head against his shoulder. Comfort. That was all it was. Comfort, empathy and much needed understanding.

A few minutes had passed while they sat there in silence before Ana gave his hand a squeeze. "Go take a long warm shower. I'll be here. When you're ready, we'll go get some coffee."

Warmth. He was starting to like that about her. The warmth she showed toward him. In her tone, in her gestures, in her very skin...

Subtly, without meaning to, he turned his head and brushed his cheek against her hair, feeling the soft curls. Warmth churned in the very pit of his lower abdomen and something else took its place. He gently released her hand and got up from the bed. He smiled at her in thanks before he went to dresser to grab one of several white towels that were neatly folded in the top drawer. He grabbed clean underwear, a worn pair of beige slacks and a brown shirt.

Despite the comment of only packing a toothbrush, he had hindsight to know that his stay was going to be much longer than a day. He was prone to wearing his clothes days at time in Calcutta. He would simply wash them in the local community laundry mat like the rest of the residents and wear the local garb until his clothes were clean. Worn but clean.

He turned around, about to tell Ana that she didn't have to wait, but she was laying on his bed and curled up with his pillow. She looked about ready to go to sleep but she had glanced at him and smiled. "Go on, I'll take a nap while you're in there. Take a long a shower..."

He chuckled a bit and disappeared into the bathroom. It was a tiny bathroom with a shower stall in one corner, a toilet next to it and a tiny sink with a tinier mirror. He set his clothes on the toilet seat and stripped. He didn't have ripped abs or a pure muscular physique, like Thor or Captain America. He was more subtle. A firm stomach, broad shoulders, a spray of dark hair against his chest. He was attractive but in a quiet way. The fact that Ana always looked at him in that hungry way, as if he were the only man on Earth, set off something in him.

He turned on the water in the shower, turned it as warm as he could tolerate before he stepped in and grabbed the military issued soap. He started lathering his chest, his thoughts going a mile a minute at those women's reaction to him, Ana's immediate comfort afterward.

His thoughts circled around and around her until other, less honorable thoughts took their place. Memories of her heaving breasts, the lust shining in her brown eyes. Eyes filled with promises of pleasure and satisfaction.

Desire took him, something he had never allowed himself to feel. Something he could never feel, not with triggering that other part of him...

But, he craved. Oh, how he craved.

He reached with one hand and gave one stroke.

Heaving breasts, full lips, and the sound of breathless gasps. Begging for more...

Two strokes, three...

His other hand braced against the metal wall of the shower, dropping the soap in the process, while trying to keep his breathing even though his imagination was running with him.

Four, five...

Faster...

He imagined her voice, whimpering to him, craving him, urging him on...

With a grunt, his body twitched as his back arched, his daydream of her taking on a life of its own.

Six, seven, eight...

Yes... just a little more...

His heart retained a steady rhythm, something it never had done before.

He thought of her breasts bouncing, her breathing heavy, her own back arching as she fell apart in his arms...

Another grunt, another groan and he was gone, desire and relief flooding his senses...

He took in few deep breaths, shocked at what he had just done. It had never happened like that before... There was always a risk.

This time... nothing happened.

He continued to stand under the spray of the shower, which had long since gone cold, before he finished cleaning himself off and shut of the water. He climbed out and dried himself, the sudden relaxed manner about him catching him off guard. It was as if the Other Guy had fallen asleep... He couldn't even sense a twitch in any of his muscles.

He got dressed and opened the bathroom door. Of course, finding the reason behind the warmth and the calm.

Ana was asleep on his bed, curled up into his pillow and her mouth slightly hung open. The sound of heavy breathing escaped her mouth. Warmth, calm and ever present lust.

At the sight of her on his bed, his body awoke, the slight twitch in his right arm and another above his eye a sign. The Other Guy was craving the real thing. She was right there for the taking...

He buried those thoughts right away. Thinking of her in such a way was different from actually trying to pursue her. He didn't know her...

Guilt prodded him then, the fact that he had done what he done. Right, when she was here in his room... No, she deserved better than that. Besides, now wasn't the time to think of anything like that... Be it lust or otherwise. He had a job to do and once it was done, he was gone. Back to Calcutta and back to where it was safe.

Still, why did bother him to think of leaving her?

A nudge from his other conscious and a deep feeling of possessiveness.

Mine...

That was the only thought that reached him. He wished things were so simple...

Sighing, he threw the towel into a metal bin for dirty clothes and walked over to the bed. He reached and gently tapped Ana on her shoulder. She jumped in fright, her eyes wide and her red veins darkening with her quickening pulse, before her eyes found him and she immediately relaxed.

"Sorry," he said, "I thought you wanted to get coffee."

"Oh, yes," said Ana and she yawned and stretched. "I didn't think I'd fall asleep so deeply." She arched her back and satisfying cracks could be heard. The sight of her arched back and her chest straining against the snug gray shirt brought a sudden rush of desire.

Mine...

He ignored the thought as best as he could.

She dropped her arms and smiled up at him. "Are you ready?"

"Mm," was all he said as he nodded quickly and turned around to head to the door. He waited for her but didn't want to risk looking at her. Not with the way he was feeling...

"Good."

Ana got up from the bed and followed after him, her bare feet slapping against the floor. He looked down at her feet and then at her. "Why are you barefoot?

She stopped beside him and smiled, a teasing glint in her eye. "Well, I usually sleep nude but I don't think they'd appreciate that here. Barefoot is better than all clothing. Maybe that's why I couldn't sleep. Too many clothes on."

He swallowed the lump that had formed in his throat and just nodded in that nervous way of his. He ignored the lust that was prodding at him from the Other Guy.

Chapter Text

I'm in this fight and I'm swinging

And my arms are getting tired

I'm trying to beat this emptiness

But I'm running out of time

I'm sinking in the sand and I can barely stand

I'm lost in this dream

I need you to hold me...

Scared of Lonely – Beyoncé

-o-

Chapter 12: They Had Gotten Their Coffee

They had gotten their coffee, a luke warm spill from the cafeteria, and made their way to the observation deck that Ana had been searching for. It was nothing fancy, just a large pane of glass that spanned the length of one corridor. There were a few binoculars on stands every few feet and no chairs. Well, it was a government vessel not a five-star cruise.

They went to stand at the railing that prevented people from touching the glass and stared at the rolling gray and white clouds that passed below them, a beautiful imitation of the sea. Ana immediately felt better at seeing the sun and the smile on her face was one of relief. Now, this was better.

Dr. Banner had relaxed significantly from their walk to and from the cafeteria, perhaps because Ana didn't feel the need to talk. She would make a comment here or there about the SHIELD staff walking by or a question as to what they could be hiding behind this or that door. She didn't bombard him with questions of himself. She gave him space but in a comfortable way. He really liked that.

He was beginning to find he really liked a lot about her.

"Ana, can I ask you a personal question?" Dr. Banner looked at her as they both leaned on the railing, their cardboard cups grasped in their hands.

"Well, that one wasn't personal, but you can on the next one," she said, her smile turning teasing as she cast her brown eyes his way.

He chuckled as he shifted his feet, the little steps bringing him closer to her without him realizing it. Ana's own body responded by sliding a little closer along the rail. To a passerby, they looked like a couple lost in a world of their own. It was funny how neither were quite aware of how their bodies craved to be close whenever they were around each other.

"The woman you call your mother," he started cautiously, his soft brown gaze moving quickly down to his coffee. "She saved you from that place. She's been watching over you all this time. Have you ever... hurt her?"

Ana's eyes took on a distant look as she turned her gaze out toward the window. "Her name is Sidonie Brandt nee Dupont. She is an angel. I don't know why she saved me. She has these maternal instincts that tend to override her common sense." The smile appeared again. Dr. Banner loved that smile. It was gone a moment later. "It happened only once. I was fifteen the moment she took me from that place and brought me to the surface. I thought she was like the others and my demon lashed out in protection." She glanced at Banner and tilted her head. "You remember the video? When Loki had my demon-" she paused and shook her head, correcting herself, "-me... by the neck?"

Dr. Banner nodded, remembering that moment in time when Ana had caught the Other Guy's full attention. "Your hands had changed."

"Oui," said Ana in agreement. "They changed. What you saw there was a hint of what my body could change into." She looked up at him and then away, a look of guilt touching her features. "I had changed completely and lashed out at her. She was a spry woman and managed to avoid my attempts at attacking her, but she didn't avoid all of them. She kept assuring me it was OK, I was safe. No one would hurt me again. Even when one of my stabbing claws had found their mark in her shoulder she kept assuring me I was safe." She gripped the cup and shook her head. "I could have killed her, but I didn't. I could have made her explode in flame, but I think my demon knew she truly meant no harm. Her words had reached that human part of me. She wasn't afraid of me, she wanted only to protect me... Like a mother would their own child... Ever since then, she has been Mama." She smiled and threw her head back, trying to shake the dark feelings that touched her. "Thank goodness she had enough foresight to see that coming. She had brought a group of people along for the rescue, people she trusted and who owed her a life debt. The moment I had relaxed, they came in to get us and, well, the rest is history."

Dr. Banner was thoughtful moment as he took a sip of his coffee and then cleared his throat. "How is it that your mother had managed to keep you and herself out of SHIELD's radar? If you've changed before then they should have seen you."

"Mama is a very smart woman and it helps when you're an heiress with much time on your hands. My aunt Jenn had survived a car crash when they were younger, one that killed both of their parents. Unfortunately, she could not move her body anymore. The most she could do was move her eyes and blink. That is what started my mother on the path to becoming a geneticist. She wanted to find a cure for her sister's condition. She had no luck over the years. The best she could do was have a machine built for my aunt, one that could voice her thoughts so at least Mama could hear her again. Mama's added more to that system as the technology advances. My aunt is smart, if not smarter, than Mama. She is an excellent hacker. She can bypass any security system, secure any connection, and remove any evidence of my existence without being detected. That is how we survived despite my... incidents. We're on the run but we still live. We're happy."

She glanced at Dr. Banner and her thoughtful look searched his face. "If you'd like, I can have her do the same for you. Once this is all over, you can truly disappear without worry of anyone finding you. Without any files on you or any way of tracking you, you can finally be free."

He liked the thought of that. To finally be free? He couldn't escape the Other Guy but at least he didn't have to worry about anyone else coming after him. The smile on his face was the first bright one she had seen since she met him. It was one of hope. "Could she do that?"

"Oui," she said with a smile, the warmth in her heart wrapping itself tightly around in a sweet bubble that made her chest feel full. "Give her time but she would be able to. It'll have to start slow, with little pieces here there. I'm sure there's much on you which means much would have to be erased." She tapped her finger against the cup. "I suppose the best way to start is to distort the trace on you. You can be spotted from anywhere with any GPS satellite, but Jenn could plant something for now while she worked on removing you from any active computer system of interested parties looking to find you. It's easier with me since she's been erasing my existence from day one. But I'm sure she can... I'll have to call her and Mama. I wonder if Mr. Stark would let me use his phone, I didn't know why I didn't ask him before-"

Her rambling stopped the moment broad fingers had tucked a copper brown curl behind her ear. She looked up at Banner to find his soft brown gaze studying her intently. "You would do that for me?"

"O-of course," she said, caught off guard by the intimate look in his eyes. "You're a kindred spirit. We both are in the same boat at this time. If I can offer you a life line, why shouldn't I?"

There it was. A hint of green in his brown eyes quickly followed by desire. He had leaned in closer, his fingers trailing tantalizingly again her jaw line. He suddenly stopped and closed his eyes, taking in a much-needed breath to calm himself. He swallowed tightly and pulled his hand away.

Disappointment filled her. The Other Guy had been there for just a split second. Her demon released a slight sting in the back of her neck. Frustration...

"I think," he began as he took a step away from her, "I think Tony's still in the lab. Let's... Let's head there. I'm sure he'll let you use his phone."

"Ah, sure," said Ana, looking slightly frustrated but she said nothing else.

They left the observation deck and headed back to the lab, both looking particularly disappointed.

-o-

Stark was more than happy to oblige Ana in the use of his phone.

Apparently, he had looked over Ana's files during his breaks from locating the Tesseract and found her physical anatomy interesting. He asked if he could gain access to the rest of the files on her they hadn't seen. She gave a tentative maybe.

While Ana had left the lab for privacy to contact Jenn, Stark had turned to Dr. Banner and gave him an appraising look. "Well, you look frustrated..."

Dr. Banner, who had went back to his station to resume his work, paused and looked at Stark. "What do you mean?" he asked as he turned back to his screen, trying not look as obvious as he felt.

Stark walked over to his station and hopped up onto the desk. "I know that look. You want her. Or... does the Other Guy want her?"

Silence greeted this but surprisingly Banner answered. "It's... a bit of both."

"Ah," said Stark, nodding in understanding as he grabbed the metal prong from before and played with it between his fingers. "So... Go get her."

Banner paused and swallowed, the topic at hand making him uncomfortable. "It's not that simple."

"Lust never is but that doesn't stop every sexually driven person from pursuing their desires."

"I just met her yesterday," he said in response, his eyes glancing at Stark as a frown touched his features. "It's not... right. Not with all this going on."

"Ah hah!" Stark pointed the prong at Banner's face as a triumphant smile appeared. "So, there's more than lust involved. You like her." He paused as he poked the prong into his own hand, jumping slightly at the sharp electric sting he received. That thing did hurt. He shook his hand out. "Not that I blame you. She's what most men would call a 'brickhouse.'"

"A what?" Banner paused in what he was doing and focused his attention on the playboy.

"A brickhouse. You know, all breasts, all ass, small waist? She's short but her body seems want to make up for it." Stark's laughter at the frown on Banner's face was enough to ease it a little. "I'm just saying, you two have one thing in common with your raging monsters. If you like her, then get to know her. We're going to be here a while. Loki is in no position to do anything. I don't think Barton and Selvig could build the machine for the portal in a day, not without getting all the parts they need. We should have a few weeks at most. That will give us time to locate the Tesseract and give you time to get to know Ms. Brandt, be it in the biblical sense or not."

"I've got work to do..." was all Banner said in response, ignoring the chuckle Stark gave in reply as the other man hopped off the desk and went to his own station.

Still, it wasn't a bad idea.

Why shouldn't he get to know Ana? It's not like the Other Guy acted up around her in any way outside of lust. The act in the shower this morning was proof enough. She had a good effect on him.

His look was thoughtful as he typed away at the keys, occasionally glancing up to look out the glass windows to the corridor outside. Ana was pacing back and forth in front of the lab, she seemed to not want to stray too far. He liked that. Being able to see her kept the Other Guy at ease.

She was talking in a hurried manner, her hand occasionally gesturing about. At one time she paused, blushed then tucked her head down as she as she nodded while voicing the movement to the other party on the phone. It was at this point that she stopped in her pacing and looked straight at him and he could see the words form on her full lips as she spoke to the phone. You didn't have to be an expert at reading lips to see those words form. It struck him deeply and it brought the desire again.

I care for him...

His hands twitched and he closed his eyes to take in a calming breath.

"Bruce you ok?" Stark asked, his hazel eyes showed no worry, just curiosity. He glanced at Banner then out the window to see Ana, who had resumed pacing out in the corridor. "Ah." He gave a nod and turned his attention back to the screen in front of him. "Go get her. It'll do you two a world of good. You could cut the sexual tension with a knife... That's all I'm saying."

Banner didn't respond to that.

Chapter Text

There was a boy

A very strange, enchanted boy

They say he wandered very far, very far

Over land and sea

A little shy and sad of eye

But very wise, was he...

Nature Boy– Eden Ahbez

-o-

Chapter 13: She Was Pacing

She was pacing back and forth along the corridor as she dialed the secure number to reach Jenn. The line rang once before her aunt's computerized voice greeted her. Ana allowed the relief to flow through as she greeted her aunt in French and asked to be connected to her mother. Jenn gave her the affirmative, advised her to be safe, and that she loved her. Ana smiled and voiced her own love in return.

The line clicked and rang again.

It picked up on the second ring and Sido's voice was one of relief at hearing her daughter's voice.

"Oh, thank heavens," said Sido in French, her voice sounded husky with emotion. "I'm so glad to hear from you. You have no idea how worried I was."

"I'm sorry Mama, I got sidetracked," said Ana in return, her French bringing much needed comfort to her nerves. "I'm safe here." She paused briefly as she glanced up the corridor, looking for any signs of understanding from the staff that walked by her. They looked at her curiously but no one revealed they understood her words. She was safe.

"Being under the thumb of SHIELD is not what I would call safe," said Sido. "Why have you not tried to escape?"

Ana began pacing again. "I... I feel safe here. Like when I'm with you. There are some good people here. They don't care about my other self..."

A moment of silence and then understanding emerged from the French accented voice on the other line. "Ah, Dr. Bruce Banner. Of course... If there was anyone who she would grow attached to, it would be someone who was like you."

She paused and turned away from the sight of the passersby, not realizing she could be seen from windows of the lab. She felt the blush in her cheeks as she ducked her head down and nodded. "Yes. She is... calm with him. I've never felt anything like this before."

"Oh dear," said her mother as the understanding in her voice shown through. "You've been feeling a need, correct? An urgency from your other self?" When Ana didn't respond, Sido tried a different approach. "When you are far from him, do you feel anxious? Worried?"

"Y-yes."

"She's claiming him," said her mother, the tone in her voice one of resignation. "If not him, then his other self. Goodness, I didn't see this coming..."

"Mama, what are you talking about?"

"Ana, if you feel safe there, then stay there with Dr. Banner as long as you can. I am fine. I'm with your aunt." She didn't answer her daughter's question. "This Tony Stark you told Jenn was trustworthy, he's asked for all of the files on you?"

"Yes, but Mama, what do you mean she is claiming him?"

Silence and then, "Your other self had found the one she sees as a mate. I'm sure if you've been feeling these emotions it could only mean he must be feeling something in return. Otherwise, you wouldn't find any reason to stay." She sighed heavily. "Just stay close to him. If she trusts him with your safety then I will as well. I need to hear it from you though... Do you care for him?"

Ana glanced in the window and found Dr. Banner behind his station. He was looking straight at her though, the look in his soft brown eyes curious. She heaved a sigh and the sound in her voice told her mother all she needed. "I care for him..."

"Then that's all that matters. If you're staying there then you are going to be mixed up in whatever he is in with SHIELD. Get to know him. Jenn has been gathering intel on what SHIELD has been gathering these people for. With two geniuses on the path of locating that magic cube, they'll need all the time they can get. We'll help them in tracking the thing and we'll also help in throwing out some false leads for the team that inhuman bastard from Stuttgart has working for him. Whatever materials they're searching for, we'll be sure to delay them as long as we can from obtaining them."

"Mama, you two have to be careful, as well as the others. Don't get caught."

"We'll be fine my angel," said Sido, the smile could be heard in her voice. "This isn't our first run. Just do your part in keeping Dr. Banner and yourself calm. Why they thought keeping you two in that floating hell was a good idea..." She sighed heavily. Ana smiled at her choice of words. They were the very same ones Dr. Banner had said that morning. "I won't lie to you. I'm worried. If you two were to change... The damage of either of you alone would be immense. But together? Forget it, that thing would crash in a heartbeat and risk all of those lives on board."

"He calms me," said Ana. "Whenever I feel the anger, he's there. One touch from him and I relax."

"That's a blessed thing. But be careful. There may be a situation in which you both may not be able to calm each other."

"Right... Mama, thank you. I love you."

"I love you too my angel. I'll speak with Mr. Stark later about those files he wants. He may be a good ally in the long run."

"Of course. Bye Mama."

-o-

She ended the call and stared thoughtfully at the phone before she turned and walked back into the lab. Once inside, she handed the phone back to Stark. "Thank you, Mr. Stark. My Mama says she will call you later about those files. They're also going to help you in your search for the cube. She says you two will need all the help you can get."

Stark smiled as he took the phone from her and slipped it in his pocket. "Really? Great. Oh, and call me Tony, I think we're past all that Mister/Miss crap."

"All right... Tony. I suppose since you have been calling Ana anyway I can oblige," she said to Stark but her attention was on the doctor.

He turned to face back to his screen as he watched Ana move toward Dr. Banner's station. He had to suppress a smile as she hopped onto the desk as close as she could without disturbing him. Banner glanced at her and smiled in that way that meant he liked that she was close.

Oh, those two had it bad...

No one else said a word as the two men worked. Ana sat quietly as she watched Banner, occasionally asking a question as she pointed out to a particular reading on the screen. For the first time, Dr. Banner was relaxed as he worked. He answered her questions with patience and understanding, knowing that she was not familiar with anything pertaining to what he was working with. Sometimes, she would lean over to get a better look at the screen, her hand close to the keyboard.

It wasn't accident when his hand would brush over hers as he reached out to point something out...

-o-

Without realizing, Bruce Banner had taken Tony Stark's advice.

He had gotten to know Anamaria Brandt over the week that followed.

Every morning, they would join each other for breakfast at the cafeteria and then for a cup of coffee on the observation deck. They would share lunch with Stark in the lab before going off to have dinner. They would speak about their pasts, their experiences with their other selves, the guilt they carried for taking lives...

He spoke about his life before the experiment that turned him into the Hulk. He was born on December 18th, 1969 to an alcoholic father, atomic physicist Dr. Brian Banner, and to a loving mother, Rebecca. His childhood was less than ideal with his father's mood swings but his mother loved him and he loved her in return.

It seemed they shared the same beginnings with alcoholic and abusive fathers and loving mothers. Whereas Banner's father had succeeded in killing his mother in one of his rages, - who did so while protecting her son – Ana's father succeeded in getting himself, her family and her entire village killed.

Despite these rough upbringings, Banner was exceptionally intelligent for a child his age and grew up to earn his way into Harvard. That was where he met Betty Ross. They had begun dating throughout his college career. He became a leader in gamma radiation research and had even worked with Erik Selvig for brief time. His life had been a good one. He had a great career, a beautiful woman who loved him and his future was bright.

That changed sometime in 2006. It was when Betty's father, a general named Thaddeus Ross, who enlisted the help of Banner in a military research group to apparently make soldiers more resistant to radiation. It was a ploy. The experiment was an attempt to recreate the affects that created Captain America. Obviously, it didn't end well... Needless to say, he lost everything that day.

Ana didn't have much else to share that he didn't already see in her files. Her childhood before that incident that changed her life was brief. She was only six when it happened. There were mostly bad memories of her father but her real mother and brother had been bright spots. Short lived but bright.

When discussion of their pasts finally waned they moved onto more recent events.

He spoke regarding his travels in attempting to find a cure, the fight in Harlem with that true monster, his low point in life...

She spoke of her mother Sido, her aunt, their own private organization that did all they could to protect them all from being found. She spoke of the events that triggered her changes throughout her own travels. Unlike Banner, there was no hint of a cure for her condition. It was an alien part that had merged permanently with her. It had grown with her, merged so fully with her body, that even an attempt at trying to remove the particular alien brain stem would result only in her death. It had been tried in the past by those at the LIFE Foundation with messy results for those making the attempt.

At this point, trying to control it was the only way. It meant that she had a chance at living peacefully without hurting anyone. It was something Banner had just begun to realize himself and hoped to achieve.

Ana was not a genius like her mother and aunt, but she was still smart. She had only to be explained of something once, shown how it worked, and she would get it right away.

It was this ability that helped Dr. Banner through that week.

He enjoyed explaining how something worked, showing her on the screen what it looked like and seeing the bright spark of understanding in her brown eyes as she nodded. She enjoyed learning new things.

He was getting to know her. He was caring more and more about her...

-o-

It had happened exactly one week from when they had met.

He was on his way back from the lab, after working with Stark in narrowing down their search for the cube. Ana had left the lab earlier after being summoned by Fury in another failed attempt at getting info from her. SHIELD had not detected the breach in their system from her aunt. Apparently, Jenn was better than what Ana had said in avoiding detection over the span of a week. He hoped she was all right...

He was looking to get some sleep before getting back to work. Since he had not seen Ana, he was hoping she might float by in the morning for their usual cup of coffee... Instead, he had found her pacing back and forth in front of his bedroom door, the look on her face was tense.

"Ana?"

She paused in her pacing and the relief on her face at the sight of him brought rush of warmth and worry.

"Bruce, thank goodness," she said, rushing to him and taking him by the hands. "I need to talk to you."

Worry turned to anxiety as he studied her face. She looked paler than usual. He didn't like it...

"All right, come on. We'll talk in my room." He kept a firm hold on her hand as he led her to his bedroom and slid his card through the slot. The door slid open and he pulled her in, glancing back to make sure no one saw them. Once the door slid behind them, he locked it and slipped the card key in his pocket. He turned to her and frowned lightly, pulling off his glasses to get a better look at her. "What's wrong?"

"I spoke with Fury today and... well he thinks I'm a threat."

The look on Banner's face darkened considerably. "You're no more of a threat than I am. It's been a week and neither of us have reacted in anyway."

"Not in that way," she said, waving her hand in an dismissive gesture. "He means because he cannot find anything on me. He has no idea who I am, where I'm from, who I work for. I show up out of nowhere, at a convenient time and place, fight Loki and warm my way into being trusted. He keeps asking all these questions: What am I here for? Why am I here?" She started pacing again, her worry becoming clear. "I keep telling him I'm only there because he wants me to be. I'm a threat because of what I am but that is all. Of course, he doesn't believe me-"

She was stopped from pacing any further the moment he stepped into her path and braced her shoulders in his hands. "Relax. You have nothing to worry about. Stark and I know all there is to know, and you trust us, right?" Her immediate nod brought a smile to his face. "The others trust you: Black Widow, Thor, and Captain America. You've done nothing to warrant their worry. Fury is a spy, gathering info is what he does." He rubbed her arms then before bringing her into a tight embrace. "He's really not threatened by you, at least not by this you." The giggle he got in response was what he was looking for. "He's just frustrated because he doesn't know everything about you. That goes against his very nature. He wants to know everything about everything."

Her laugh was an even better response and he pulled away to smile at down at her. "Don't worry. You've survived this long without being found. Trust your mother and your aunt to watch over you. Trust us to look out for you here."

"I trust you," she said, her brown eyes staring up into his. Silence fell between them. It was comfortable but tense silence that brimmed with the sexual tension that they were finally aware of after spending every waking moment together.

She pulled fully away from him and reached out to take the glasses from his hand. She turned away from him and walked toward the nightstand, placing the glasses carefully on the surface. Her chest heaved with a much-needed sigh...

"Ana?"

"You feel it, don't you?" She turned face him, her brown eyes large with emotion, a blush painted on her caramel cheeks. "It's always there between us." She walked toward him and stopped a few feet shy. "Am I alone in what I feel?"

Banner swallowed hard, took a moment compose himself, and slowly shook his head. "No... You aren't alone."

She took a step closer and reached out to him, hesitantly at first, looking for any sign of protest from him. When she saw none, she brushed her warm fingers against his cheek. He leaned into her touch, his hand reaching up to hold hers in place.

"I don't want to lose control... I'm afraid to."

"I am too... But, we keep each other calm. That's something, isn't it?"

He moved in closer and brushed his lips carefully across hers. They were as soft as he imagined...

She responded immediately, her lips parting as her arms reached out to wrap around his neck. His own arms snaked around her waist and brought her closer, his tongue quickly finding its way around hers as their kiss deepened.

Her heart beat in a steady rhythm against his own despite the urgency in their kiss. He turned her around, his large hand reaching down to grasp her firmly by the ass. He groaned into the kiss, his hardening arousal making itself very clear. One errant thought went through his mind at that moment: She really was all breasts and ass...

His steady heartbeat began to rise at that moment and he hesitated, breaking away from the kiss with a soft gasp. "I... can't. Not here... I might-"

Her response was a soft purr from her throat, a sound that vibrated from her very torso and against his chest. A sound so inhuman but just what he needed to hear. It was a soothing sound and one that relaxed his heartbeat in an unexpected way. "Keep your eyes on me Bruce. Don't focus on your heart... Just focus on me."

He did so, watching as she stepped away from him and pulled off the snug, black t-shirt she had been wearing that day. She threw it to one side, her breasts concealed by a gray sports bra, before she removed that as well and threw it aside to join with the shirt. She stood bare breasted before him and moved closer to him. She took his hands and placed them carefully upon her breasts, her eyes still focused on his. "Keep your eyes on me but feel them..."

He did. His large hands began to massage them, his broad fingers moving slowly at first. He kept his eyes on her and began to feel more confident. He tweaked a nipple, kneaded her left breast before he finally broke eye contact to swoop down and take one by the mouth. His lips wrapped around the taunt tan pebble, his tongue began to swirl around it. Her soft gasp of surprise, followed by a lustful moan, hit him straight to his groin. Despite that, his heart remained calm.

He focused his attention on her other breast, feeling her small, warm hands reaching out to untuck his shirt with a sharp pull. Her nimble fingers then began working on the buttons of his shirt, slowly and carefully. Each of her movements were meant to be calming and soothing, it worked. His heart didn't race, it beat a steady rhythm and his arousal grew even more.

She finally unbuttoned his shirt and pulled it apart, her hands running over his broad chest, curling around his chest hair. He pulled away from her reluctantly and tried to pull out of his shirt in a quick manner, his hands were shaking. She reached out to him and stopped him. "Vas-y lentement, Bruce... Take it slowly. There is no rush."

He took in a breath, relaxing his body as best as he could despite the arousal that was coursing through him. He had been dreaming of this all week. Dreaming of her, thinking of her, finding his self-satisfaction with every mad thought and desire for her and never once losing control. He wanted this to happen so badly and he didn't want to mess it up. He listened to her and took it slowly, gently removing his shirt and throwing it over to land on the floor beside hers.

Bien," she said, reaching out to take him in her arms as he moved to her, wrapping his arms around her and taking her lips in another kiss. Her warm fingers buried themselves in his wavy brown hair as his chest pressed against hers, the feel of their calm heartbeats a soothing one. He had moved her toward the bed, his hands guiding her hips as they took one careful step after another. His hands finally moved to the button of her pants and undid them, carefully.

The moment they loosened, his broad fingers snaked their way around the waistband, inching them down and away from her curved waist. "Hold onto me," he said in a grumble as he moved her arms around his neck. He wrapped a firm arm around her waist and lifted her up, his free hand pulling the pants down and away from her hips. She kicked them off and he was free to feel the soft skin of her hips. Her skin was so warm...

He set her back down and worked on the button of his own slacks, his hardened arousal brushing against her thigh. His hands had begun to tremble again.

"Let me," she said softly and gently brushed his hands aside as she leaned up to kiss him. "Relax mon ami, just focus on my eyes."

So, he did.

The trembling subsided as she undid his slacks and gently pushed them down from his hips. He kept his eyes on hers as he helped her to pull off his slacks and kicked them away, that one movement impatient.

She kissed him again and he returned the kiss, the last bit of clothing between them slowly and carefully finding their way to the floor as well. Now skin to skin, he guided her to the bed, his large hands grasping her firmly by the ass while his hardness sought out the warmth between her legs. He was careful as he laid her down, throbbing and aching with need. His hands remained steady as he moved between her legs.

So close, so close...

That was the mantra that went through his head, his steady heartbeat just starting to rise. He quickly focused on Ana's brown eyes and felt himself relax. It was then that a thought, an annoying and unwelcome thought, made its way into his head. He licked his lips as desperation touched his soft brown eyes. "I- I don't... How can we..."

Damn it! How could he not have thought about protecting himself and her? He was too good for that, he couldn't... Damn!

"Look at me Bruce," said Ana, seeing the rise in desperation and anger. He wanted this so badly, but he wouldn't do so without ensuring they were both safe from causing an unwanted event. His brown eyes focused on her own and she allowed a soft smile on her lips. "Being what I am and what I can do, my emotions play a big part. Especially during my cycle. I take a shot every three months to keep my hormones in control. The benefit of that also helps in times like this. Mama had insisted on it after she experienced for the first time just how easily I could be triggered when I got my period. "

Understanding touched his features and then blessed relief. "Oh, thank god," was all he said in response before he stole a kiss and his hands moved under her hips, lifting her up higher. She could feel his heartbeat rising and she broke away from the kiss, only for him to move to her neck and suck on the skin there. The red veins darkened in response, a burst of pleasure emerging from the base of her neck. She stifled the gasp from the pleasure, not expecting such a sensitive response and not expecting the sudden wetness that began to flow from the apex of her legs.

"Slowly mon ami, take it slow."

He paused, realizing what he was doing, and slowly moved away from her neck, glancing down to see the red veins in beneath her skin pulsing with her rising heartbeat. He had to keep her calm as well. If he got too excited then she would too...

He focused on her eyes again before pressed a gentle kiss to her brow. "Sorry."

"No harm done," she said, letting out a relieved breath. She glanced up at him and smiled. "You're doing very well."

He returned her smile and he reached slowly to brush a broad finger against her wet slit. The flash of green in his eyes came and went as desire quickly overcame him. "You're so wet..." He slipped a finger inside of her, feeling the tight, slick warmth, and his arousal throbbed almost painfully in response. "God, you're so tight..." he said in a hiss of breath but his gaze remained on hers.

She didn't make a sound at the feel of his broad finger within her nor when his thumb began to move against the nub of her clit. Her eyes revealed it though and he continued to move his fingers in an expert manner, loving the gentle gasp he finally got in response was his thumb brushed against her in just the right way. He was so painfully hard but he loved the look on her face at that moment.

"Pas plus, Bruce," she said, her breathless voice retaining a steady tone despite the pleasure her body was experiencing. "No more. Please..."

"Now," he whispered as he leaned down to kiss her, his hand moving from her wet slit. He moved closer to her, adjusting his hips while her legs slid willingly apart in response. He held himself with one hand and kept his eyes on hers as rubbed the tip against her wetness. Her hips lifted a little more in response and the sudden movement guided his tip right inside of her.

They both hissed in pleasure and relief from the intimate contact.

He took in a deep breath, she was tighter than he thought. So warm...

"Slowly Bruce," she said.

And he took it slow, inching himself deeper into her as he kept his eyes on hers. As long as he kept his eyes on hers their heartbeats stayed calm. He continued on that first slow thrust until he was fully within her, the warm walls around him tightened once as she let out a pleasured sigh at the feel of him fully within her.

He swallowed the tightness in his throat as his body began to tremble, but he remained calm until the trembling subsided. He swallowed again and slowly withdrew. A choked noise escaped from him at the rush of pleasure from the feel of her tight, wet warmth.

Oh god, she feels so good, was the thought that emerged then. He slowly thrust back in and this time a groan escaped him, the pleasure too much for him to contain. He kept his gaze on hers as he began a slow rhythm of thrusting in and out of her, enjoying the feel of her around him, loving the sight of pleasure in her own brown eyes.

Her full lips had parted as a breathy moan of pleasure escaped her, the sound hitting him straight to groin. He thrust in hard in response, slamming up against her and watching as her breasts bounced from the sudden movement. She gasped from the movement and he stopped right away, his brown eyes growing wide. Fear sliced through him. Had he gone too far? She had said to take it slowly.

"Ana? A-are you hurt? I'm sorry I didn't-"

"Do it again," was her only response as she wrapped her legs to keep him from moving away. "Do it again. That felt so good."

He studied her for a moment, watching her pulse against her neck retain a steady beat and the red veins were faint and relaxed. Relief flowed through him before desire took over again and he thrust into her, sharp and deep like before.

"Oh yes, just like that," she said, her hands reaching out to pull him down against her. He could no longer see her eyes but he focused his gaze on her neck, keeping count of her pulse as well as his own as he thrust in again. She bounced, her pulse quickened and then relaxed.

He continued in those sharp, deep thrusts and a knot of pleasure was beginning to build in his lower abdomen. Her nails gently raked against his back as he held onto her hips, her soft voice whispering encouragement and satisfaction.

Yes, he thought. Yes! You feel so good. God, I needed this. I needed you so badly. Cum for me sweetheart, please. Cum for me. The knot continued to tighten in his lower abdomen and the pleasure was beginning to build. He held it off as long as he could, each thrust in and out of her bringing him closer. Cum for me...

He thrust into her deeper than before, his thought emerging from his lips without him realizing before it was too late. "Cum... for me. I... need you..."

Those were the words that set her off and the sharp cry that escaped her lips was one of shock and pure elation. Her walls fluttered around his hardness, drawing him in deeper before they suddenly tightened to the point that he could not pull away, the sudden gush of wetness followed by the most pleasurable warmth he had ever experienced set him to follow right after her.

He groaned out his release as the tightened knot in his lower abdomen exploded from the tension, his heartbeat now beginning to climb as the euphoric feeling of his climax twanged the very ends of his nerves with pleasure. His heartbeat had just reached that breaking point but by then it was too late. He was already falling back down to earth and his body was relaxing from the afterglow.

He collapsed on top of her, feeling her rising heartbeat now settling down with his own.

He couldn't believe that it actually happened.

He'd made love to her and he didn't lose control of himself. Ana had kept him calm throughout the whole thing and it had worked. He moved himself carefully out and off of her and settled himself at her side. She looked up at him and the smile that touched her face was one of triumph. "See? We keep each other calm..."

His response was a tired and pleased smile as he reached out to her and pulled her against his chest. He brushed the copper brown hair away from her sweaty forehead and planted a firm kiss upon her brow. She simply yawned and curled up against him, her ear pressed against his broad chest to listen to his heart. He kept an arm wrapped around her as he tiredly played with a curl with his other hand.

Relief, calm and peace...

He hadn't felt this in a long time. The sound of her breathing becoming deep and even told him she hadn't either. She had fallen right to sleep. He smiled at that as his arm tightened around her and he brought her closer, pressing another kiss against her temple before he closed his eyes and finally drifted off into peaceful sleep himself.

 

Chapter Text

When my days look low

Pull me in close and don't let me go

Make love to me

So that when the world's at war,

Our love will heal us...

One plus One – Beyoncé

-o-

Chapter 14: To Sleep So Deeply

To sleep so deeply and completely was something Dr. Bruce Banner hadn't experienced in such a long time.

Waking up to the feel of a warm body entangled with his own, the feeling of warm breasts pressing up against his chest, and the utter satisfaction of the events from last night was something else entirely. It was hard not to see why Dr. Banner had awoken with a smile on his face. For the first time in a long time, he felt almost normal.

He glanced down at the beautiful woman that was lying on his chest and tried not to laugh at the sight of her. Her head was tucked into the crook of his neck, her copper brown curls a tangled mess about her face. Her mouth was open and a soft snore could be heard. She was so deep asleep she hadn't moved away from him during the night. She had stayed tangled around him, moving only when he moved so that her body adjusted itself to the contour of him, her head remaining where it was. It was so terribly sweet and endearing. Even in her sleep, she brought him warmth and comfort.

A fondness touched his heart at the sight of her and he reached out to brush the mess of curls from her face. She stirred lightly but did not wake, instead she wrapped an arm around his waist and tightened her hold, a low purr could be heard vibrating from her throat. The red veins in her neck, once relaxed, had darkened and her pulse quickened.

"Mine..." she grumbled, her voice a husky growl that was nothing like the soft tones she usually spoke to him.

Desire.

That was his first reaction.

Possessiveness was the next, an acute awareness that the woman in his arms had just claimed him for her own. Her other self was making her subconscious thought known. He was hers now. He knew these feelings were not only his own. The Other Guy had responded to the soft purr, the husky growl... He had liked it a lot. The urgent feeling of his welled up in his chest. He was hers. The two sides of her had claimed him.

The two sides of him were more than happy to accept that claim.

He had lain there for several minutes, unwilling to move and face reality. The beeping of his digital wrist watch notifying him of the hour, which was ten. He sighed heavily and gently reached out to awaken Ana, shaking her gently and pressing kisses against her cheek.

"Ugh, non, I need more sleep... So warm and comfortable..."

Oh, she could say that again...

"Ana," he said, really not wanting to move now that her thigh had brushed against him. He hardened in response. Oh god, he was in trouble. "Ana, come on. I'm late getting to the lab."

A grumble was her response before she moved her head and sat up, brushing her hair from her eyes. "Are you getting paid to look for that cube?"

A brief moment of silence followed and one in which a dumbfounded Banner said, "Uh... No."

"Then, there's no need to think you're late. You need to rest so rest." She promptly fell back against him and snuggled deeper into him.

He swallowed.

He was dangerously close to falling for this woman. "Ana..."

"D'accord! I'm awake." She sat up in the bed and turned around to frown at him, her brown eyes showing her displeasure. "Happy?"

His member gave a painful throb in response at the sight of her flushed cheeks and bare breasts. The green flash in his brown eyes were a hint to the lust and desire that touched him. "Not quite..." he said, his voice a low grumble.

Ana saw the flash in his eyes and her gaze traveled to the sight of his hardness. She swallowed back the tightness in her throat, knowing that his other self was affecting him in a minute way. She took in a breath and leaned down to press a kiss against his cheek. "Not here, mon ami. If we give in to our other selves here, we may truly lose control... Once we leave this place and, we are both safe from others, then we can give in all we want."

At her words, he quickly sobered, the lust giving way to reason. Oh god, what had gotten over him? Of course, the Other Guy...

He didn't get a chance to apologize before her small warm hand had wrapped around his hardness and gave it a firm stroke. "It does not mean we cannot take it slowly and carefully though..."

His responding groan was answer enough...

-o-

Tony Stark was sitting behind his station, his fingers moving over the screen in front of him. He had been alone for most of the morning. He would occasionally glance up at the station Banner would sit at this time and wondered off hand if the doctor wasn't feeling well. It was already well after eleven in the morning. He was usually at this station before Stark came in and that was by eight or nine...

Speaking of the devil, the door slid open at that moment and Banner walked in, his movements rushed and nervous. The door slid closed behind and he called a greeting out to Stark as he moved to his station and reached out to his screen, pulling up the files he had been working on the night before.

Silence fell as Banner's fingers moved about in a rush manner, he looked distracted but not in a bad way. He had a slight smile on his face and a satisfied and far off look in his brown eyes, as if he were remembering something especially good...

Oh my god...

Stark had to keep the smug smile off of his face as he turned back to his screen. "So," he began, "You're later than usual this morning."

Banner paused in his movements and glanced at Stark, having been pulled from his reverie. "Uh... What?"

So eloquently put by the great Dr. Bruce Banner.

"You're late. You feeling ok? You're looking a bit red under the collar there." Stark looked at his colleague, enjoying the sudden look of embarrassment that now touched Banner's features. He was looking a little flushed.

"Um... Y-yeah," he said in response, nodding too quickly to emphasize his point, before turning back to his monitor. He swallowed in that nervous way of his. "I just overslept. Had to rush."

"Overslept, huh?" Stark glanced at the doctor, studying his face before he looked back at his screen. His eyebrows had risen slightly and a hint of the smug smile could be seen now. "Well, I suppose a bit of a lie in did you some good." He tapped away at the keyboard as he lowered his head, squinting at the screen to make it look he was reading something. "Did Ana sleep well?"

"Heh, she didn't want to wake u-" The comment was suddenly cut off with an audible clack of teeth snapping closed. Apparently, he didn't mean for that to get out.

Bingo.

Stark turned to look at his friend. He really did like the guy and considered him, truly, a friend. Banner was one of the few honest people he had ever met in his life. That was rare in the world Stark grew up in. And as any true friend, a good ragging on was called for in a situation like this.

"Ah, she didn't?" The smile on his face was telling. He'd caught him. He got up from his stool and walked over to Banner's station, trying not to laugh at Banner's attempts at looking busy. He leaned on Banner's desk and propped his chin up on his hand, staring at him with keen interest. "Now, how exactly do you know that?"

"Uh..."

"Tony, stop being a dick," an accented voice spoke from the doorway.

They glanced over to find said woman making her way into the lab with two cups of coffee in hand. She was wearing snug black fitness pants and a matching black tee. Her boots thudded against the floor with each step she took as she made her way to Banner's station. The smile that automatically touched Banner's face was one of relief and pleasure.

"Bruce and I had mind blowing sex last night and this morning. We needed to sleep." Ana set the coffee down on the desk within reach of Banner. "Here, mon ami, une tasse de café." She leaned up to press a firm kiss against his mouth, much to Stark's amusement and Banner's obvious embarrassment and pleasure. He didn't get the chance to return the kiss before she pulled away, turning to frown at Stark. "There. Now you don't have to beat around the bush. You know."

The disappointment could be seen on Banner's face before it turned into a slight frown. He didn't say anything. No, he didn't say anything, but she was close beside him. His large hand had reached out grab her possessively and firmly by the backside. He gave it a squeeze, pulling her even closer to him. She wasn't going to stray far. Not since last night and this morning. It was as if she had opened up a set of flood gates. Knowing that he could have her without fear... Just thinking about it set off a part of the personality he tried so hard to keep in check. The Other Guy was making his thoughts very clear at this moment.

Mine...

Her response was a breathless gasp and the red veins in her neck darkening against her skin.

Oh yes, she had felt it. Ana's other self responded quite beautifully and had shown the Other Guy exactly what he needed to see.

He was going to claim her and soon. She was going to be willing and ready.

"Whoa," said Stark, his hazel eyes dancing with amusement as he pushed off the desk and backed away from the two of them. "I thought the sexual tension would be a lot less than this."

"Oh no, I think it's been made much worse," said Ana in a breathless way as she turned in his grasp and reached out to brush the hair from his eyes. "Bruce, focus on me." The moment his brown eyes focused on hers, the grasp on her ass lessened as he began to relax considerably. He swallowed and blinked, looking as if he were coming back to himself. He looked at where his hand was and a deep flush filled his cheeks.

He immediately released her and tried to move way. "Ana, I-I'm sorry, I don't know-"

"Sh, mon ami, don't apologize." She reached out to him and pulled him close. "Slowly, remember? We spoke about this. Slowly and carefully. Once all of this is over. We'll be free soon and then... Then."

A flash of green appeared in his soft brown gaze, an impatient look that was filled with hunger. The Other Guy did not want to wait to claim what was his. He wanted his fiery one now. He had allowed their calm lovemaking, as Bruce and Ana wanted.

Now, he wanted her his way.

"All right then, glad I could help you two," said Stark, making his way back to his station with a chuckle. "Just do me a favor and don't do anything near my stuff." He gestured to his immediate area before pointing to everything else. "All of that is free," he pointed back to his station. "Just stay away from here."

"Asshole," Ana muttered in annoyance and affection toward Stark before she turned to Banner and took his hand up to her lips to kiss his fingers. "Bruce, get to work. I'll grab us some brunch."

His smile was one of warmth and fondness as she released his hand and went to walk away. "Tony, anything you would like for brunch?"

"Grab whatever Ana, you know I don't care. It's all government issued shit anyway."

Her responding laughter brought a smile to Stark's face. The moment she disappeared and the door closed behind her, Stark turned to Banner and his smile turned into a knowing smirk. "So, you followed my advice. Good for you. Feel better?"

The frown on Banner's face was answer enough.

Yes and no...

Stark just chuckled.

Chapter Text

We've been dreaming

But who can deny

It's the best way of living

Between the truth and the lies

See who I am

Break through the surface...

See Who I am – Within Temptation

-o-

Chapter 15: It Seemed a Breaking Point

It seemed a breaking point had been reached.

Over the three days that had passed since Bruce and Ana had gotten together, something had changed. Both within them and around them.

The staff members of SHIELD seemed to finally become aware of how close Dr. Banner and Anamaria Brandt had become over the course of a week. They were being watched closely now. Every moment there was an agent making rounds to stop by the lab to see how the tracking of the Tesseract was going. It was mostly Agent Hill or the male agent that Stark was familiar with, Phil Coulson. Sometimes it would be one of the others, like Rogers or Romanoff. Other times, it was some nameless man or woman that they would never see again except in passing.

Ana didn't like the constant stream of followers. Neither, it seemed, did Bruce. There was only one person, aside from Rogers and Romanoff, that Ana really liked to have around and it was Agent Coulson. He was always reluctant to bother Bruce and her. Instead, he would stick around Tony, allowing some semblance of privacy for the budding relationship between the apparent new couple. It seemed he really did not want to interfere with what could be the key for the doctor to remain calm and the Hulk at peace. And it seemed he also understood that if anyone needed some happiness, it was Dr. Bruce Banner.

He didn't know much about Ana outside of the fact that she could also change into a raging monster that was almost as bad as Bruce. That didn't mean he didn't like the person he was finally meeting. He didn't try to pry any info from her that she wasn't willing to give, which was more than she could say about the other agents that were sticking their noses in unwanted places.

She always had a welcome smile for Agent Coulson when he stopped by.

Aside from that, Ana had not had a moment alone with Bruce. It was beginning to wear down on her.

Either there was always someone there in the lab to keep up appearances of getting updated results of the tracking the cube or someone was following them around the base as they went about their routine of having their meals together. They could not even retire for the night without some agent loitering in the corridor and watching them, in an unassuming way. They all made the pretense of being busy with one thing or another but Ana knew it was all bullshit. She couldn't even step outside her door in the middle of the night without coming across some agent walking past, eying her with careful study.

She hadn't had a moment alone with Bruce in three days and her demon was causing sharp stinging pains throughout her body every moment she was not near him. The tension and stress were getting so bad that the red veins were now a prominent feature on the front of her neck and her arms.

She had been calling Bruce mon ami for some time. For that was what he was, her friend. He was a friend that was quickly becoming something more. The term didn't feel right anymore now that she was not around him as she had been all the previous week. He had so quickly become mon amant.

My lover...

-o-

Ana sighed heavily as she left the bridge, her shoulders slumping heavily as she rubbed her aching arms. The red veins were pulsing so badly that she had to revert to wearing long sleeved shirts just to keep the people around her from freaking out at the sight of it. Every now and again a twang of stinging pain would emerge from the base of her neck, the stress was setting her on edge.

She had just left another meeting in which Nick Fury had tried, and failed, to find out who she truly was. He had even gone so far as to take a DNA sample in hopes of finding something. Ana didn't protest. She knew he wouldn't find anything unless she wanted it to be found. She was right. There was no hit on the recognition program that SHIELD possessed, which bore an expansive array of information on nearly every registered citizen on the planet.

Ana simply said, "Why do you not go with my word and trust me. Have I done anything so far to prove otherwise?"

Fury had not been amused and sent her off with warning that they would be meeting again.

Ana was not happy with the thought but if it meant staying close with Bruce, she would swim through a lake of fire itself if it meant a chance of remaining close to him. She needed him. He kept her calm. He made her happy. Like her mother, her demon wanted to protect him and keep him safe but in a different sense...

Mine, the thought had emerged from the depths of her subconscious. My mate... Need... Crave... Must stay...

She paused in front of an empty corridor as the thoughts faded away. It was happening a lot more now. Her other self was would be triggered more easily if set off the wrong way. She was afraid of this. SHIELD was inadvertently making her more on edge by trying to watch Bruce and her in the case they did show signs of... well, being on edge.

If they had just left them alone, things would have been much easier. Much calmer...

The sudden feel of a hand grabbing her by the wrist made her jump in fright. She was pulled into the empty corridor and was about to lash out when the pulse of pleasure that emerged from the base of her neck calmed her right off. There was one, and only one, who her demon would respond to in such a way.

Bruce had pulled her close against him and embraced her tightly, one hand burying itself in her hair and the other gripping her tightly by the waist. He had buried his face into her neck and took in a breath, the sigh that emerged one of passionate relief. He stayed there for a moment, feeling her pulse, before he pulled away and took her firmly by the hand.

"Bruce?"

He didn't say anything. He simply stared into her eyes with such an intensity that took her breath away. He finally turned and walked down the empty corridor, pulling her firmly behind him as he looked about in that nervous way of his. His grip on her hand had gotten tighter as he led her down a series of corridors and stairwells, his path leading them down into the bowels of the Helicarrier. Each time there was a hint of someone coming by, he would quickly pull her into a different direction and continued on in their descent.

Ana didn't protest.

She was just glad to finally be near him, just the two of them. Her other self was in full agreement.

It continued in this way for some time, the place was ridiculously huge, before he finally stopped in front of a large door that looked to lead to one of the cargo bays. He pressed on one button on the key pad, a single clear electronic beep that Ana recognized as a calling. One she often used in the past when there was place she needed to escape from if it was riddled with security. As it had then, the keypad was overridden and the door opened.

Aunt Jenn...

She didn't think much on how it was that Aunt Jenn was helping Bruce in finding a place where they could be alone. He had pulled her inside and the door slid closed behind them, locking them in and keeping everything else out. It beeped once before short circuiting. No one was going into that particular cargo area anytime soon.

He pulled her down several aisles of stacked cargo, ignoring the stairwells that led to the higher levels. He pulled her toward a corner of the bay that was hidden by a single row of cargo, heavy metal walls and piping. It was here that Bruce pulled her roughly around him and thrust her back against a metal crate.

She gasped at the feel of the metal corner stabbing painfully into the flesh of her back and a growl emerged from her, the veins in her arms suddenly pulsing. She didn't like that.

The smirk on Bruce's face was different from anything she had ever seen before. It wasn't until he had stepped under the light of the single fluorescent lamp in their corner that she saw it. There was a hint of green about his eyes and a tint of it in his flesh.

He had studied her for just a single moment before he rushed forward and slammed against her, his hardened member making itself known against her thigh. He reached out, pulling her roughly by her hair, and captured her lips in a bruising kiss that nearly made her toes curl. His hips rammed up against her in an urgent need, a soft sound escaping from his torso. It was a growl...

She broke the kiss and tried to look at him but he had grabbed her by the hair again and pulled, hard.

A snarl automatically erupted in response. She wasn't quite the submissive type.

A satisfied look appeared in his green tinted eyes as he saw that the veins pulsing against her neck were beginning to rise against her jawline. "That's right baby girl, get angry." His voice was a husky growl as he leaned down to kiss her neck before nipping it none too gently.

The growl he got in response seemed to excite him. He ripped the button to her pants in his haste to get them off of her. His fingers dug into the skin of her hips as he pulled her pants and underwear down in one sharp movement, not caring if he left a bruise. He stepped away only a moment to pull them down to her feet before he had rushed forward, not giving her time to react accept to give another growl of anger that seemed to set him off.

He pulled on her left leg, pulling it out of the leg of her pants, boot and all, and lifted high as his other hand ripped apart the button and zipper to his own slacks. He didn't even bother to hide his desire. The moment his hardness was free, he angled himself just right and thrust up into her with a grunt of satisfaction, one hand holding her beneath the left knee and the other grasping her hip. He had pounded her into the edge of the crate, causing her to reach out and hold onto it for support. The sharp gasp of surprise she gave off, followed by the deep growl in annoyance and pleasure, was something he had been longing to hear.

"Yes," he said, a pleasured groan mixing with the word as he withdrew and slammed roughly into her. "Mine... My fiery one." He pulled out slowly, only to thrust up once again, slamming against her before he started grinding his hips into her.

Ana's growls were constant now but they were mixed with pleasure and longing. Her other self was showing slightly in response to Bruce's dominant display, the slight yellow glow was in her eyes and the feel of heat emanating from her body were definite signs.

"They can't keep you from me," he said, his words mixed with groans of pleasure. "You're mine. Always." He was thrusting in and out of her at a faster pace and Ana was a mix of snarling fury and aching pleasure as a knot in the pit of her lower belly started to pulse and grow.

"That's right sweetheart, show me." He thrust up deeply and held it there for a moment before he started grinding his hips once again, nearly moaning with satisfaction as Ana started crooning with delight, her walls tightening around his hardness. "Show me how much you need me." He withdrew and thrusted up into her so hard that the metal crate had bent inward beneath her body.

She was beginning to grow more leaner and taller in her frame, the red veins pulsing beneath her skin as they grew down to the ends of her fingers and started to appear beneath the hem of her shirt and grew down toward her legs. Her fingers had curled into the metal crate, the sound of metal bending and creaking under her touch, her growls now turning into moans of pleasure.

Bruce was starting to show signs of change, his body frame was getting larger and the dark blue shirt he wore was tightening around his shoulders and biceps, a few rips and tears forming. It wasn't the only thing growing larger.

Ana let out a harsh moan of pleasure as the hardened length of him began to thicken and grow with each thrust into her. Oh god, he felt even better than she remembered...

At the sound of her moan, Bruce slammed into her, wanting to hear the sound again. He wasn't disappointed, at the sound of her moan, and the metal crate groaning from the sudden force, he thrust even deeper into her.

"You're mine," Bruce groaned as he continued thrusting, the hint of green in his eyes growing more prominent as he stared into the glowing, yellow orbs of Ana's. "Say it."

She simply moaned in response. That wasn't what he wanted to hear. He thrust into her again and her cry of pleasure nearly undid him but he held steady.

"Tell me Ana, tell... me... you're... mine!"

He punctuated each word with a powerful thrust into her and her glowing, yellow orbs were cut off as she closed her eyes and reached out to him. She grasped him by the shoulders, her fingers digging painfully into his skin, as she leaned back against the bent crate and spread herself as wide as she could go so he could reach that right spot, her tight wetness fluttering around him. The tense knot in the pit of her lower belly was so close to releasing. He pulled out, angling himself in just the right way, before he thrust in and hit the spot that was craving for release.

"Oh god, yes... Yes! I'm yours-!" Her words were cut off as her climax hit her with such a force that it ripped a scream from her throat.

It was answered by a deeper growl of satisfaction and relief as Bruce thrust sharply into her one last time, his hand releasing her hip and reaching out to grasp the crate, his fingers digging into the metal and bending it out of shape even more as he held himself firmly within her, his throbbing release pulsing against her tightened walls.

The metal crate finally gave in and collapsed, taking the couple down with them, the contents spilling out in an array of various shades of gun metal black. Ammunition it seemed.

Neither noticed or cared.

There was nothing but panting breaths for the next several minutes before they both began to feel calm relief. They slowly reverted back to their quiet selves, their raging monsters now satisfied at being together again.

A moment of silence passed before Bruce carefully lifted himself of her, his familiar soft brown gaze studying her with regret in his eyes. "Ana, I-"

"If you say you're sorry Bruce, I am going to beat you with this crate," said Ana, looking very relaxed and very happy. Bruce had to smile at that and held his tongue.

"We needed this. We need each other. Our other selves crave each other. We can't stay away like this again." She reached out to him and pulled him down so that his head was resting within the crook of her neck. She let out a relieved sigh. "This was just a taste of what could happen if we don't stay close... If it happens again, who knows how bad the damage could be."

Bruce said nothing in response, he simply tightened his hold on her and sighed heavily.

He needed her.

She needed him.

They had reached a breaking point and it had been made clear.

They would just have to try their very best to remain as close as possible if only to remain calm.

Chapter Text

I'm lost in you

Everywhere I run

Everywhere I turn

I'm finding something new...

Lost – Red

-o-

Chapter 16: After Finding Another Way

After finding another way out of the cargo bay, Ana had an enjoyable romp through the corridors of the Helicarrier with Bruce. They were both trying to hold onto their waistbands of their tattered pants while trying to avoid being seen by any of the many staff members of SHIELD.

Thankfully, there weren't many around, which was strange. The place was usually crawling with them.

Ana wasn't going to complain, it made their journey easier. By the time they made it to their rooms, Bruce had pressed a firm kiss against her lips. "I'll meet you here."

"Mm," was all she said in response before she turned and ran off to her room to change into a pair of pants that had the button and zipper intact. She combed her fingers into her hair and then pulled it up into a loose bun. Feeling so much more relaxed than she had in the last three days, she left the room just in time to see Bruce coming out of his from across the way.

Their eyes met, a moment of silence passed, before they both smiled and laughed. They were both feeling especially good and they met each other in the middle of the corridor, their hands automatically reaching out to intertwine. They made their way back to the familiar corridor of the lab, the one place in this floating hell that they called their own.

Tony Stark was behind his station, staring at some graphs of the most recent readings that had recently been done on Loki's scepter. At the sound of the door sliding open, he glanced over to find the couple walking in hand in hand and looking much more relaxed.

"So, it worked," said Tony, the smile on his face could best be described as shit eating. "Good!" He pulled his phone from his pocket and went to dial a number, not noticing the flustered look on Bruce's face.

Bruce looked at Ana and gave a nervous smile. He pulled her further into the lab, not looking at her as the one question he hoped she wouldn't ask emerged from her lips.

"What worked?"

"Hello my darling Jenn, the plan was a success," said Stark, holding up the phone as he continued to work on the graphs on his screen.

"Are they relaxed now?" came a cool, female voice from the speaker of the phone. Ana stopped in surprise, recognizing her aunt's distinct computerized voice. She let go of Bruce's hand and gestured for him to move on. He hesitated a moment but went to his station.

"Oh yes," said Tony, looking over to Ana before his usual smirk played on his lips. "Mrs. Rage Monster's red veins are now reduced and faint. The Big Guy has no hint of green around the gills."

"Good," said Jenn, a hint of humor could be heard through the coolness. "By the way Mr. Stark, the enhancements I had made on your decryption program should cut the waiting time down. You should expect some results soon."

"Jenn, where have you been all my life?" said Tony, his hazel eyes dancing with amusement.

"Hiding Mr. Stark," said Jenn in reply. "I have to go. I still have some work to do on those files you requested. Ana?"

"Yes Tante Jenn?" Ana asked, feeling confused as to how Tony had managed to worm his way into her aunt's good graces. Wait, this was Tony. He had managed to work his way into her own good graces. The bastard was too charming for his own good.

"Don't let this happen again," said Jenn, her cool voice now bearing a hint of displeasure. "And that goes for you as well Dr. Banner. You two are unique with the powers you possess. You are calm with one another. Do not deny your other selves because of whatever fear of public displays you may have. Stay close."

Ana did not reply to this but her aunt did not need to know that she understood. The line was disconnected with a simple click and beep.

Bruce was sporting an impressive blush by this time and he swallowed, his Adam's apple bobbing. The fact that he had just been told off by a woman he had never met in his life, and yet she still managed to make him feel like he was five, wasn't something he had come across before. "She's... nice," he said, trying to break the silence.

"She's fantastic. I'm thinking about making her an offer to work for me," said Tony, slipping his phone in his pocket. He looked at Ana and smiled. "You weren't kidding when you said your aunt was an excellent hacker. Can you believe she found a way to enhance my decryption program? I'll have access to all of SHIELD's files in a matter of hours at this rate."

Ana didn't reply. She stared at Tony before glancing at Bruce, the slight frown on her face was telling. "Bruce... What did they do?"

"Uh..."

Wonderful response by the good doctor.

"Your aunt had hacked into the autopilot system of one of the jets in one of the hanger bays." said Tony in response as he resumed his work. "She then crashed the jet into the wall of the hanger and caused a huge fire. It kept most of the staff busy while Bruce went to grab you."

"Attends," said Ana, holding up a hand to get Tony's attention. "Jenn would never do something so reckless..." She trailed off at the cocky smile on Tony's face. "It was your idea? Comment? How did you talk her into something so stupid?"

"What can I say? She likes me," said Tony, his smile only growing as he turned back to his monitor. "I have that effect on women."

There was shocked silence as Ana stared at Tony, a brief moment in which she realized that Tony was truly a good friend to Bruce and, in some odd way, to herself. If he had not managed to convince her aunt to cause that distraction, Bruce wouldn't have had the chance to come to her...

Her laughter filled the silence of the lab as she dropped her face in her hands and shook her head. "Ah, mon dieu! Tony, you are such an asshole!"

"That's beside the point," said Tony as he left his station and took Ana by the arm. He walked her over to Banner's station, the doctor had since resumed working on his own graphs now that he was relaxed. Tony gently pushed her toward the doctor, who reached out to steady her, his arm automatically wrapping around her waist and holding her close. He glanced at Tony, a confused look in his eyes.

"What matters at the moment is keeping your two raging monsters as calm as possible." He looked between the couple as he reached out to grab that stupid metal prong he loved so much from Banner's table. He played it between his fingers, his smile disappearing. "What's happened these last three days would have set off the both of you in a heartbeat. You," he pointed the prong at Ana, "have done something no other woman in the world could have done. You've helped unleashed that side of him that he had locked away for quite a while. Now that he's had a taste of it, that's it. There's no going back. You have to keep him calm." He looked at Bruce and pointed the prong at him. "And you, don't worry about what everyone else thinks. They don't matter. If you want to grab her ass then grab it. If you want to fuck her brains out as much as possible, then do it. What matters is keeping the both of you as satisfied as possible to keep your other selves calm." He fiddled with the prong as he sighed heavily. "Now, any questions?"

"Oui," said Ana as she turned slightly in Bruce's firm embrace around her. Though he was blushing deeply from Tony's speech, he hadn't released his hold around her. "Do you have to be such a blunt asshole?"

Tony smiled and reached out to poke her with the prong, the electric sting making her jump and a snarl emerged before she could stop it. "Why, yes I do. Any other questions? No? Good, I have a few of my own."

He had walked around Ana this time and reached out to poke Bruce with the prong, making him jump with a grunt of pain. He frowned as he turned to look at his friend. "I'm going to rip that thing out of your hand if you don't quit it."

"Nothing?" Tony had focused on Bruce's eyes and a look of relief appeared as he took a step back. "Good, you've got a lid on it." He looked at the couple with interest as he stepped away but not before another voice had joined in.

"Hey! Are you nuts?" Steve Rogers had walked in, dressed in his suit of star spangled honor as the Captain America. His mask was down though, revealing his classically handsome face. His blue eyes focused on Tony as he stopped by Bruce's station.

"Jury's out," said Tony in response before he focused his attention again on Bruce and Ana. "Now, back to my questions. Before you two met each other, what was your secret? Mellow jazz, bongo drums, huge bag of weed?"

"Is everything a joke to you?" asked Rogers as he took a step closer to the desk.

Tony focused his attention on the Captain and pointed the prong his way. "Funny things are."

Rogers frowned in response. "Threatening the safety of everyone on board this ship isn't funny." His frowned lessened a bit as he looked at Bruce and Ana. "No offense."

"None taken," said Ana with a smile before it faded. "Jerk," she muttered as she shifted a bit in Bruce's grip. He reluctantly released her so he could get back to work but his foot had reached out, hooking around her calf to keep her from moving away further. She smiled at Bruce and leaned against his shoulder to watch him.

"It's all right," said Bruce, looking at Ana pointedly before focusing back on his screen. "I wouldn't have come aboard if I couldn't handle pointy things."

When Roger's eyes settled on Ana, she simply smiled in an innocent way but said nothing.

"You're tiptoeing Big Man," said Tony as he walked away, turning slightly to point the prod at Bruce. "You need to strut like you do around Ana."

"Ah," said Ana, the interest catching in her brown eyes as she looked at Bruce, her smile teasing. "Is that what you did earlier?"

Bruce didn't say anything as the blush in his cheeks deepened, he kept on typing on his keyboard. Still, if one looked close enough, there was a hint of smug satisfaction in the smile that graced his lips.

"And you need to focus on the problems Mr. Stark," said Rogers, not noticing the interaction between the two. He frowned as he watched Tony walk over to drop the prong on his desk and grab something from his bag, a shiny aluminum package that he then proceeded to rip open.

"You think I'm not?" said Tony as he walked back to Bruce's station. He reached into the package and pulled out a few blueberries. "Why did Fury call us in? Why now? Why not before?" He threw the blueberries into his mouth and continued talking while chewing, despite his teeth and tongue now taking on a violet hue. "What isn't he telling us?" He dug in the package again as he swallowed. "I can't do the equation unless I have all of the variables."

Roger's frown had deepened as he stared at Tony, his blue eyes revealing his doubt. "You think Fury is hiding something?"

"He's a spy," said Tony as he walked behind Bruce's station to stand next to Ana, who was leaning comfortably close against Bruce as she watched him work. The good doctor looked quite content to have her there as his fingers danced across his keyboard. It was then that the Captain noticed the very intimate and comfortable air about the couple. They were radiating extreme calm, pleasure and contentment. It wasn't something he expected to see when he came down here.

"Captain," said Tony, catching the soldier's attention from the couple. "He's a spy. He's the spy. His secrets have secrets." He then glanced at his friend, trying not to laugh at the sight of Bruce's foot rubbing against Ana's calf. She remained leaning close beside him, a small hand rubbing soothing circles against his back. The look in her eyes was of hooded pleasure. Those two were so cute it was sickening. "It's been bugging him too, hasn't it?"

Bruce's foot had stopped moving against Ana's calf as he looked at Tony, not expecting to be dragged into the conversation. "Uh..." was his response as he glanced at Ana then at Rogers, "I-I just wanna finish my work here and-"

"Doctor," said Rogers, having caught the hesitation in Bruce's words and mannerisms.

Bruce looked at the Captain before he glanced at Tony and then at Ana, sighing heavily. She simply continued to rub his back in soothing circles, her warm body giving him much needed support. He looked away from her as he pulled his glasses from his face and folded them, his large fingers fiddling with them as they often did when he was thinking. "'A warm light for all mankind to share.' Loki's jab about the cube."

"I heard it," said Rogers, still not understanding where the doctor was coming from.

Bruce took in a breath as he looked at his friend and pointed his glasses at him. "Well, I think that was meant for you," he said, his soft brown eyes focusing on the relaxed look on Tony's face.

Tony simply held out the bag for Bruce to take some blueberries, which he did. He then held it to Ana, who smiled in response as her brown eyes danced with pleasure. "Merci," she said.

"Even if Barton didn't tell Loki about the tower, it was still all over the news," said Bruce, popping a couple of blueberries into his mouth.

Roger's confusion was evident on his face. "The Stark Tower? That big, ugly..." he trailed off, catching he slight frown on Tony's face at his choice of words. He continued on. "...building in New York?"

"It's powered by an arc reactor, a self-sustaining energy source," he looked at Tony as he ate the last of his blueberries. "That means it will run itself for... what, a year?" he asked Tony as he started to unbutton the cuffs of his sleeves and pulled them up against his forearms. The sudden heated look in Ana's eyes was not hard to miss nor was the darkening of the red veins in her neck. Apparently, she liked the sight of Bruce undressing in any way or form. Or she simply was just remembering their most recent get together.

"It's just a prototype," said Stark by way of explanation, as if the simple fact that it will only run for a year was a disappointment. He looked at Rogers and shrugged. "I'm kinda the only name in clean energy right now is what he's getting at."

"So, why didn't SHIELD bring him in on the Tesseract project? What are they doing in the energy business anyway?" Bruce glanced at everyone in the room as he turned away from the computer and set his glasses on the desk. He was hesitating, Ana could sense it. She took the initiative and reached out to grab his wrist and wrapped his arm around her. Bruce didn't put up any protest as his arm tightened around her and he began to relax a little more. He looked at her and smiled.

"I should probably look into that once my decryption program finishes breaking into all of SHIELD's files," said Tony, pulling his phone out as he touched the screen, watching the progress his program was making. He smiled as he walked around the desk toward Rogers, pocketing his phone as he looked at Ana. "Where is your aunt located anyway? I would really like to thank her in person."

Ana laughed and shook her head but she said nothing in response, knowing that Rogers was listening in quite keenly.

"I'm sorry," said the Captain, the disbelief clear on his face. "Did you say-"

"Jarvis has been running it since I hit the bridge," said Tony, cutting the Captain off, focusing his hazel eyes on the soldier. The smile gone from his face. "In a few hours, I'll know every dirty little secret SHIELD has ever tried to hide." A moment passed before he held out the silver bag in his hand toward Rogers, the smile back on his goateed lips. "Blueberry?"

The Captain didn't take the offer. He simply stared at the philanthropist in mild in disgust. "Yet, you're confused why they didn't want you around..."

Tony simply rolled his eyes as he turned away from Rogers and walked back to Bruce's desk. "An intelligence organization that fears intelligence?" He turned back to Rogers and shook his head. "Historically, not awesome."

"I think Loki is trying to wind us up," said Rogers, the frown on his face deepening as he took a step toward Tony. " This is a man who means to start a war and if you don't stay focused he will succeed." He paused in front of Tony and, at that moment in time, looked every bit as the Captain he truly was. "We have our orders. We should follow them."

Tony didn't look impressed. "Following is not really my style..."

"And you're all about style, aren't you?"

Tony looked as if he was trying not to laugh as he pointed the bag toward Rogers. "Of the people in this room, which one is a: Wearing a spangly outfit. And b: Not of use."

"Steve," Bruce called to the Captain, his soft brown gaze focused on the other man. Rogers focused his blue gaze on the doctor, surprised to find the man still had his arm wrapped comfortably around the form of Ana, who was watching the Soldier with slight worry in her eyes. Even she knew something was quite wrong with the story SHIELD had given them.

"Tell me none of this smells fishy to you?" Bruce continued, his arm tightening around the woman by his side, his protectiveness clear. He felt something wasn't quite right about what was going on with SHIELD's motives. He didn't like the fact that they had been dragged into the middle of it all with no prior knowledge.

The doubt could be seen in Rogers eyes and a muscle ticked in his jaw as he looked away. "Just find the cube," was all he said before he turned and left the lab.

Chapter Text

Matchsticks and poison,

That's what I add to the fire

Time Bomb– Pink

-o-

Chapter 17: The Anger Began

The anger began in a way no one expected.

How in the hell in a period of twelve hours had everything gone to hell, Ana had no clue.

All she knew was that there was a group of people arguing amongst themselves within the space of the lab and none of them looked keen to shut the hell up.

It started the moment Nick Fury had entered the lab after finally detecting the Tony's decryption program. It had taken him ten days but he finally caught it after the very last files had been accessed. He still hadn't found any sign of Jenn having hacked into their system. Some intelligence agency...

-o-

"What are you doing Mr. Stark?" Fury asked the moment he walked through the door, his black trench coat flowing behind him like some imitation cape.

Tony was sitting on Bruce’s desk, skimming through the last of the files he hacked into and he glanced at the director of SHIELD. "Uh... Kinda been wondering the same thing about you."

Bruce was standing behind Tony with his hands clasped over one another, his glasses in one of them. He had been watching the monitor over Tony's shoulder throughout the whole thing, surprised that there had been so much that SHIELD had been hiding. Ana was sitting on his stool beside him, her boot hooked around the back of his leg while her hand massaged his lower back, trying to ease the tension there.

The moment Jenn had made some adjustments to the model Tony and Bruce had been creating to locate the cube, it seemed that was all it took before it was actively scanning for the Tesseract. Again, Tony voiced his approval of Jenn's skills and now really wanted to hire her on full time. Ana had simply laughed.

She had been enjoying the time she had been spending with them, watching them as they worked. She didn't have anything to add to their work, but she had worked with her aunt with the enhancements to their model. While she did that, she had listened in on the conversation between them regarding Bruce's other self and Tony's advice to just let go and embrace that side of him. Ana had the feeling he was saying it to her as well. They both had to embrace that part of themselves. So far, Bruce and Ana were making good steps to figuring out how. At least with each other around.

Tony was a good sounding board.

It had been a great night and then it went downhill. There was nothing to be smiling about with Fury standing there and glaring at them all. Fury focused his glare at Tony, the one dark eye looking menacing. "You're supposed to be locating the Tesseract."

"We are," said Banner as he reached out to point to the monitor at a station across the way. "The model's locked and we're sweeping for the signature now. When we get a hit, we'll have the location within half a mile."

"And you'll get your cube back. No muss, no fuss," said Tony, staring at the touch screen monitor in front of him. "What is Phase 2?"

At that moment, Steve Rogers had walked into the lab and slammed a particularly large barreled gun on the desk of Tony's station. "Phase 2 is SHIELD uses the cube to make weapons." He glanced at Tony, the frown still evident on his face. "Sorry, computer was moving a little slow for me." He turned his blue gaze to Fury then and pointed at the gun. "I found this in a crushed metal crate in one of the cargo bays. Seems I wasn't the only one trying to see what was going on here."

Ana bit down hard on her lip, a choking sound emerging from her throat, as she glanced at Bruce and he at her. A deep blush was on his face, but he was trying his best not to laugh with her despite the seriousness of the situation. Of all the crates in that cargo bay...

Tony had heard the noise and glanced behind him to look at the couple. He saw the deep blushes on their faces and it didn't take long to put two and two together. He didn't laugh but the shit eating grin was on his face again. None of the other men had noticed the looks of amusement on the three friends' faces.

"Rogers, we gathered everything related to the Tesseract. This does not mean that we-"

Tony caught that, his smile fading, and clicked on a file before swiveling the monitor around. "I'm sorry Nick. What were you lying?" On the screen was an animated diagram of a missile head powered by the cube. It looked nuclear in nature.

"I was wrong director," said Rogers, the look on his face that of deep disappointment at the sight of the plans. "The world hasn't changed a bit." It was then that Agent Romanoff and Thor had entered the lab, both looking particularly harried about something.

Bruce had been listening intently as soon as he caught sight of the plans for the missile head. His tension was beginning to rise despite the comforting gesture of Ana's hand rubbing his lower back. He caught sight of Romanoff and his brown eyes flashed dangerously. "You knew about this?"

Romanoff didn't answer the question; her gaze was cool and calculated as she glanced at Bruce. "You wanna think about removing yourself from this environment, doctor?"

Bruce moved away from Ana's touch as he walked around the desk. The blue glowing orb of Loki's scepter catching Ana's eye as Bruce stopped directly in front of it. She started feeling ill at ease the moment Bruce's cold, humorless laugh erupted from his mouth. "I was in Kolkata. I was pretty well removed."

How could she not have realized this before? Was it because there were more people in the room?

Romanoff seemed to have the same idea that Ana was just beginning to register because she turned to face him, the look on her face was neutral but the slight fear could be seen in her eyes. "Loki is manipulating you."

"And you've been doing what exactly?" Bruce asked in turn, his form becoming more tense by the moment.

"You didn't come because I bat my eyelashes at you," said Romanoff, her hand hovering close to her weapon at her side.

"And I'm not leaving because suddenly you get a little twitchy," he said, moving over to the monitor and swiveling it around to face the group, pointing his glasses at the image of the missile head. "I'd like to know why SHIELD is using the Tesseract to build weapons of mass destruction."

"Because of him," said Fury, pointing a hand toward the tall and so far quiet form of Thor.

The god looked faintly surprised as he glanced at Fury and pointed to himself, as if trying to understand. "Me?"

Fury turned around to look at Thor before he focused his gaze on the group. "Last year, Earth had a visitor from another planet that had a grudge match that leveled a small town. We learned that not only are we not alone but we are hopelessly- hilariously- outgunned."

"My people want nothing but peace with your planet," said Thor, shocked that anyone would think otherwise of himself or any Asgardian.

Fury turned back to Thor, his single dark eye blazing. "But you're not the only people out there, are you? And you're not the only threat." He turned his attention back to the others. "Our world is filling up with people who can't be matched. They can't be controlled-"

"And that is what drives you crazy, is it not?" said Ana, having heard enough bullshit spout from Fury. She had had to deal with his constant questioning, his frustration with not getting the answers he sought from her. He couldn't control her like he could his agents. Unlike Bruce, whose past was well known, she was an unknown variable. She got up from the stool and walked around the desk to stand beside Bruce, a brief flash of yellow could be seen in her eyes. "You come across something you don't know anything about and immediately perceive it as a threat. Unless, of course, you have a use for it."

Fury turned his gaze on her and frowned deeply. "Don't get me started on you." He pointed at her, the movement almost threatening. "You show up here, a complete unknown, a threat to this entire ship-"

"I didn't show up here, you kidnapped me," snapped Ana, the red veins of her neck were pulsing at a quickened rate. "I was only protecting my mother and those people from that bastard. You took me without my consent and started asking questions that were none of your business to ask in the first place!"

"You are a threat to national security. We can't find anything about you in any records on any database on the planet." He took a step toward Ana, not noticing the frown on Bruce's face. "The only thing we know for sure is that you are not fully human." He caught the look of slight surprise in her eyes and a smirk touched his lips. "Oh, that DNA sample you gave was very telling. Your genetic code has some human DNA but it's merged with something else entirely. Exactly what, we don't know. There is no record of anything like you. Those red veins in your neck tell a story. That creature you mutate into tells a hell of a lot more. Tell me, are your people after the cube as well? Is that why you fought with Loki?"

Bruce's firm hand had gripped hers and it was the only thing that kept her from physically attacking the director. Her tone had taken on a husky growl and the red veins in her neck were slowly growing down toward her chest. She sounded nothing like the Ana that Bruce and Tony had come to know. This one was cold and cruel. An echo of who she had been in the past.

"You know nothing of me. That is what gets you most. You know nothing. You have no power over me unless I allow it. Your pathetic attempts to rile me up with these false accusations will win you nothing." Ana laughed, the sound as cold as Bruce's had been. "You do so well with knowledge and power, Mr. Fury. With all of the information at your hands, how did you not see the Tesseract for what it truly was? Surely, you must have realized it was a beacon to every power hungry being out there in the universe to come find you."

Thor, who had been watching Ana closely at the mention of her otherworldly nature, nearly blanched at those words. She had mentioned such a thing before on the very first day she had arrived here, when she spoke of the Chitauri and their craving for limitless power to survive. She spoke of the cube just now in a way that no human from Earth could understand. What realm could she be from? He had never seen anything like her to his knowledge. Then again, she said she had no prior knowledge of how she knew these things either.

Even now, he could see the confusion on her face after she had finished speaking, looking as if she had no idea what it was she had just said. Still, no matter her strangeness, he had to agree with the words of this apparently fellow otherworldly being. "The Red Lady is right," he said, seeing the others now focusing their attention to him. He looked at all of them before his gaze settled on Fury. "Your work with the Tesseract is what drew Loki to it and his allies. It's a signal to all the realms that Earth is ready for a higher form of war."

"A higher form?" asked Rogers, the confusion and anger at those words quite clear.

"You forced our hand," said Fury, turning to look at Thor. "We had to come up with some-"

"Nuclear deterrent," interrupted Tony, walking around to get a better vantage point of everyone in the room. "That calms everything right down."

"Excuse me," said Fury, turning his single gaze to Tony. "Mr. Stark, need I remind you how you made your fortune?"

From there, the disagreements began and then they began to escalate. Ana twitched, her sense of being threatened escalating with each passing moment. She stepped closer to Bruce, her hold tightening on his hand as she glanced back at the scepter, the glowing blue orb looked brighter.

"You speak of control yet you cause chaos," Thor's booming voice cutting through the noise.

"That's his MO isn't it?" said Bruce, his grip on Ana's hand tightening as he felt her tension rise. The Other Guy wasn't liking it. "I mean... What are we? A team?" He shook his head quickly as he pulled Ana closer beside him, looking as if he were trying to shield her from everyone else in the room. "No, no, no, no... We're a chemical mixture that causes chaos... We're a time bomb."

Fury had, by this time, finally noticed how close Ana and Bruce were and how tense they were both looking at the moment. For the first time, he felt a sliver of fear in him at the thought of these two being so tense in such a close quarter. "You two need to step away from each other. Now."

"Oh c'mon," said Tony, reaching out to slap a hand on Roger's shoulder. He knew from experience that those two were perfectly fine as long as they were close with one another. "Why shouldn't they let off a little steam?"

Rogers frowned at Tony and roughly pushed the hand off of his shoulder. "You know damn well why. Back off!"

This, again, prompted another argument. This time between the Iron Man and Captain America. Loki's scepter was glowing brightly by this time.

"Yeah," said Bruce as he looked down at Ana, the only person in the room he felt bore a true understanding with him. "This is a team..."

Ana smirked at this but said nothing in reply, she simply intertwined their fingers so their clasped hands were more secure. He squeezed it tightly when Fury's voice cut in, grating on both of their nerves. "Agent Romanoff, would you please escort Dr. Banner and Ms. Brandt to their-"

"Where?" cut in Banner as he gestured out to the corridor, moving slightly in front of Ana. "To our rooms or my cell? Because you rented that space out already."

Fury turned to face Bruce, holding out his hands in a calming gesture. "The cell was just-"

"In case you needed to kill me but you can't," said Bruce, his form now twitching despite Ana's reassuring squeeze from their joined hands. "I know. I tried!"

"Bruce," said Ana, reaching out her free hand to rub it up and down against his arm. He relaxed slightly beneath her touch. "You don't have to tell them. It's not their place to know..."

"Ana, it's fine." Bruce was so glad that, despite the complete shit this journey had been so far, two bright spots had emerged from it all. "They need to know." He glanced down at her and kept the firm grip on her hand before he turned his gaze back to the others. "I got low. I didn't see an end. So... I put a bullet in my mouth and the Other Guy spit it out." He swallowed, the tightness growing in his throat at the memory of it bringing emotions he longed to forget. The helplessness, the torment...

"So, I moved on. I focused on helping other people. I was good." His frown returned as he looked at Fury and Agent Romanoff. "Until you dragged me back into this freak show and put everyone here at risk." He focused his brown gaze on Romanoff then. "You wanna know my secret Agent Romanoff? You wanna know how I stay calm?"

"Mind blowing sex," Tony's nonchalant voice cut in at that moment, sounding as if he were stating an obvious fact. The silence that fell was thick enough to hear a mouse fart. All eyes turned to him and he looked at everyone in mock surprise. "What? You have Ms. Brandt to thank for keeping Dr. Banner so mellow with all that's been going on. Before they met, who knew how either of them kept calm." He shrugged. "I've asked but they still haven't told me. I'm thinking it's a huge bag of weed for sure..."

Romanoff was sporting a faint blush as she looked at the couple, her gaze was that of one seeing something for the first time and it was right under their nose. Now that she thought back on it, it did make a lot of sense. "You mean... You two-"

At that moment the computer that had been running the scan for the Tesseract let loose a loud chirping beep that saved the couple from having to respond to such a thing. Both were thinking of killing Tony after all of this was finished.

"Sorry kids, that's classified," said Bruce as he walked toward the computer to see where the cube was, pulling Ana close behind him. He wasn't going to let her go at this point. Things were just too tense right now.

The computer continued to beep as he moved behind the monitor to look at the results. Ana stayed closed beside him, frowning lightly when Agent Romanoff had followed behind them to see for herself. The redhead's gaze had met Ana's and she gave, for the first time since they had met, a reassuring and understanding smile.

Ana was protective.

Natasha Romanoff knew all too well how Ana felt now that she understood and saw how they were with each other.

Bruce had pulled off his glasses then as he saw the results of the cube's location. "Oh my god..." Bruce looked up at the others, about to open his mouth to call on them. The cube had been found.

It was in Midtown Manhattan in New York City. Right where the Stark Tower was located.

However, nothing could be said or heard because a sudden explosion had erupted from the vents in the metal floor beneath them just then. It threw everyone aside from the force and, unfortunately, tossed Bruce, Ana and Romanoff out through the glass window behind them to the lower level, a hail of glass and broken pipes falling down after them.

Chapter Text

It's not a science now

It's just a way it goes

I feel it banging

Got me by vibrating

You got me and I'm falling

So don't let me go

No one can save me

No drug can fix me

It hit me now

I feel like I'm going to explode

Explode – Cover Drive

-o-

Chapter 18: The Anger Was Burning

The anger was burning through him and the pain from the fall had jarred his very bones.

His heart was beating much too fast. He struggled to open his eyes, the ringing in his ears from the explosion blocking out all other sound. The one thought that struck him was like a broken record, repeating itself over and over, as he searched the immediate area around him.

Is Ana all right?

He had lost his hold on her after they had been blown through the window. He didn't want to lose hold of her. She had been his one balm throughout this entire ordeal. He needed her near. He could feel the anger was already beyond his control. If she was close, perhaps he might not lose himself completely...

His thought was caught off as he found her lying several feet from him, close to that of Agent Romanoff. While the agent had her left ankle simply caught under a large metal pipe from the falling debris, one had stabbed Ana right through her left shoulder. She was bleeding heavily and she wasn't moving. Ice cold fear stabbed through the very heart of him.

No... No, no, no... Not again. Not her.

"A... na?" he said in effort, the pain ripping through his body at that point was a telltale sign. He tried to fight it off. If he could hear her voice, know she was all right... He had just found her, he couldn't lose her now. He tried again, his voice much stronger. "Ana!"

There was no response from her.

His heart gave a painful thump as the fear turned to heart wrenching pain and then the anger began to rise at an alarming rate. The Other Guy was emerging.

Mine, came the thought from the depths of his mind. A thought filled with anger and vengeance. Mine... My fiery one... Hurt... Failed...

The thought was cut off as a voice he really didn't want to hear at the moment spoke into her headset.

"We're OK," said Romanoff as she replied to whatever voice had spoken to her just then. She took in a heavy breath as she looked at Bruce and her face paled at the sight of his body arching and shaking in pain. "We're OK, right?"

The doctor didn't respond to her. He didn't want to hear from her, he wanted to hear Ana. He needed to hear her.

"Doctor?" Romanoff tried to remove her ankle from under the metal pipe but had no luck. She looked back at Bruce and tried again. "Bruce?"

He didn't answer her. He was focused on Ana's still form, his body arching painfully as a green tint began to show itself around the base of his neck.

"You gotta fight it," she said, slamming her gloved fist against the metal grill beneath her to get his attention. "This is just what Loki wants." She could finally see that Bruce's gaze was focused on one particular point and she looked behind her, finally catching sight of Ana, who was lying terribly still at her feet. The fear struck her as she understood the sudden anger Bruce was going through. The sight of the metal pipe that had stabbed Ana, the sight of the heavy flowing blood... It didn't look good.

Still, Romanoff could see the gentle rise and fall of Ana's chest and the red veins were pulsing all over every visible surface of her body. They were concentrating on that point in her shoulder. A faint red glow could be seen from where the wound was. That had to mean something. She wasn't fully human. Perhaps she could heal herself?

"Bruce, Ana is going to be OK. Look at her. She's breathing. She's alive. She'll be all right and you'll be fine. Listen to me-"

"Are you hurt?" A voice called from somewhere beyond their position and Romanoff cursed as she looked up to see a couple of mechanics that worked in the area making their way toward them. She waved at them frantically to get the hell out. After they caught sight of the arching back and painful groans of Dr. Bruce Banner, they didn't need telling twice and ran off the way they had come.

Romanoff focused her attention back on the doctor. "We're going to be OK, all right? I swear on my life that I will get you both out of this. You and Ana will walk away and never-"

"Your life?!" Bruce screamed at her as he finally turned his attention to her. His face was contorted in pain and tinted in patches of deep green. He was tired of hearing her. He didn't want her voice, he wanted Ana's.

Mine!

He let out a breath in pain as his body gave a painful twist, spittle flying from his mouth as he tried, and failed, to contain the change. He threw himself upright as the pain tore through his upper back. His fingers curled as a grunt emerged from him, his breathing much too fast and heavy. The green patches were spreading throughout every visible surface of skin. His body began to fill out, thickening with corded muscle as his shirt began to tear from the sudden mass. It was too late...

-o-

The anger was burning her, the heat that pulsed from the base of her neck was not one of pleasure but one of extreme pain.

No, no... Don't fully change. Not here.

She couldn't control herself once the demon had fully unleashed. She tried to move but cried out, a sharp twisting pain making itself known in her left shoulder. She opened her eyes and found herself lying flat on her back, staring at the upper level that she had just fallen from. There were still a few flames dancing about from the explosion that had rocked through their sector.

She groaned as she looked at her shoulder and felt nauseous at the sight of a piece of metal pipe protruding from it. The blood was flowing freely but already she could see the red veins growing around the intruding object. Every few moments, a painful twinge was felt and the pipe would slowly be pushed out. She was healing already but it would not stop the change. Her heart was pounding much too fast and the anger was beyond any calming effects.

Where's Bruce?

The thought emerged from the depths of her mind, realizing that she was not holding onto him anymore. They must have let go from the fall. No, no, no... She needed him close. She wouldn't change if he was close. She looked around and her brown gaze caught sight of Agent Romanoff a couple of feet from her, her left ankle caught under a heavy pipe. The moment Romanoff's eyes met with Ana's, the relief could plainly be seen.

She was pale as she focused her attention on Ana but the hope could be seen in those green orbs. "Oh thank god, you're awake. Ana, I know you're hurt but you have to talk to Bruce. Let him know you're all right. He's losing it."

Ana looked to where Romanoff indicated and found the arching, grunting form of Bruce starting through his change. The Other Guy was making an appearance. Ana knew there was no way of stopping the change now that it had gone this far. At the sight of him, her demon had let loose a painful twinge at the base of her neck and she winced. It was too late. Her demon had caught sight of her mate and she was not going to lose him.

The sound of scurrying could be heard, followed by a thump, and the painful growls that belonged to Bruce sounded further away. He had moved himself away in a last-ditch effort to keep from harming Romanoff, falling off the metal landing to the cement floor below.

A pained gasp escaped her lips as her back arched, the red veins now pulsating beneath her skin and flowing at a quickened rate. She cried out in pain as the red veins finally reached the very ends of her fingers and toes, the sickening sound of popping bones and stretching muscle adding to the chaos. Her fingers were already growing longer, the skin hardening as the flesh took on a red hue. It was too late. The full change was happening. Oh god, she hoped she wouldn't kill anyone...

Please, don't kill anyone...

"Bruce?" The breathless voice of Romanoff caught her attention and Ana looked at the agent before she followed Romanoff's gaze to that of Bruce. He was looking at the agent, his green eyes showing one last vestige of the good doctor before it completely faded and a roar emerged from his large torso. His back broadened, muscles bulged, and bones cracked. His shirt was torn to pieces, as were the loafers he favored to wear and the bottom of his pant legs. He stumbled to his bare feet and slammed against a large water heater, bending it in.

The Other Guy had finally emerged.

Thinking quickly, Ana reached out a clawed hand to the heavy pipe that trapped the agent. She lifted it, her red veined arm growing longer and leaner with each painful moment. Romanoff looked back at her and the slight fear could be seen in her eyes. Ana's brown eyes were nothing more than glowing, yellow orbs.

"Run," said Ana, throwing the pipe aside before she stumbled to her feet. "Get out of here before he sees you and before I fully-" Her breath caught in her throat as another series of sickening pops emerged from her back. She had grown taller and much lither.

"I can't leave you here-"

"He won't hurt me," said Ana, trying desperately to hold onto the last of her sanity. "But he will hurt you. I'll try to keep him down here... I can't promise anything once I've changed."

The deep roar that vibrated against the walls that surrounded them was incentive enough. Ana quickly hauled Romanoff to her feet and pushed her away. "Get out!"

She turned away from the agent, not looking back to see if the other woman had heeded her warning and jumped down to the cement floor. She winced at the feel of the metal pipe still stuck in her left shoulder but twitched once at the sight of the large, hulking, green frame ahead of her.

With one last prayer to the heavens above, she finally let go and unleashed a hellish, banshee-like scream. The pulsing veins continued shape and change her body, making it taller and lither with every sickening pop and crunch that emanated. Her own clothes didn't tear but telltale signs of burns began to appear, each spot revealing a glowing red, pulsing vein beneath her skin. Her boots tore at the seams as her feet began to grow, the heels of them arching so that she stood on the balls of her feet, her toes becoming more claw-like as the skin there darkened to a red tone to about her ankles. The veins pulsed with each passing moment as she twitched and arched her back, the pronounced canines of her teeth revealing as she snarled.

With one final painful pop from her back, she straightened to her full height of seven feet. Where the mutated creature from before had looked remotely human, this time around the only hint she bore of being human were her facial features. Her clawed hands and feet were darkened with red tones, looking as if she had dipped them in blood. Every visible part of her limbs were pulsating with red veins and they all led to a focused point of a glowing, red patch that burned at the base of her neck.

The Hulk had turned at the sound of her scream and, at the sight of her, recognition shown on his face. He turned around and took a few steps toward her, each step shaking the ground beneath them. Though she was tall, he was still much taller. A deep rumble could be heard in his torso as he stopped before her and reached out a large green hand to touch her face. She purred in response but winced when his hand had nudged the pipe in her shoulder.

The Hulk frowned at that, not liking the sound of pain that had stopped the purring he loved so much. He looked to where his hand had touched the pipe and the growl emerged at the sight of it. Without warning, he took it in hand and ripped it out of her before tossing the offending object aside. She snarled in pain, the eruption of blood a terrible sight but it quickly stopped, the red veins growing over the wound and the skin healing over.

After a moment, her relief could be seen and the purring began anew as she reached out a hand to his face. She gently ran a claw against his cheek, not breaking the green skin, before she leaned up to bump her forehead against his chin. Her purring had deepened.

A chuckle could be heard in the mix of the deep rumbles of pleasure he gave and one word came through, one word that said everything in that deep, monstrous voice of his. "Mine..."

She continued to purr and rubbed her forehead against his chin and along his jawline, pressing her chest against his. He enjoyed the feel of her and reached out a large hand to grasp her lean hip, drawing her forcefully against him. "Mine..."

She didn't speak. She simply crooned to him, her husky voice showing her pleasure at finally, finally, meeting her mate...

The sound of tripping steps on a metal grill cut through the peaceful moment and the Hulk's deep growl emerged from him as he looked over his fiery one's shoulder. There, across the way, was Agent Romanoff.

-o-

Natasha Romanoff had not heeded Ana's warning and had watched in utter disgust and fascination at the sight of Ana changing into a creature that was even more mutated than it had been before. The scream that emerged from her was loud, painful and terrifying. Once her change was complete, the two raging beasts met one another for the first time. The surprise for the agent was that instead of anger, they had acted like their quiet counterparts, completely enthralled with one another. It was as if they instinctively knew who they were and the affection that had been there before was present between them now.

Ana had not been lying.

The Hulk would not hurt her. He was caring in his touch, if a little rough, but Romanoff could see it on his face. This one was special to him. The sight of them being so affectionate with one another gave her hope that Ana, the creature that was Ana, would keep him occupied. If she could do that, then perhaps they would both calm down enough to revert to their human selves...

At the sight of the Hulk grabbing the creature that was Ana by the hip and bringing her closer, his clear word of "Mine" was incentive enough for Natasha to get the hell out of there before saw something she really didn't want to see. She turned away from them and made her way to the metal stairwell that led to the higher level of the ship. She tried to be careful on her way but her bruised ankle had been hurt much more than she realized.

She winced at the feel of the ankle the moment she stepped on it and fell slightly when it didn't support her weight. The stumble had caused a sound that she really didn't want to hear, a deep growl of anger. Looking over her shoulder, she saw the Hulk thrusting the red female behind him in a protective move as his growl grew deeper the moment their eyes met.

Oh shit, was Natasha's last thought before she heard the deep roar and the thundering footsteps of the Hulk coming after her.

 

Chapter Text

Anger

In my body

In my veins

Shooting through my blood with terrible pain

I feel a need to destroy

To tear apart

I want to hurt you

But I don't know how

The body shakes

The muscles tense

If you know what's good for you

Then you'll leave now...

Anger - Assemblage 23

-o-

Chapter 19: Running for Your Life

Running for your life was nothing new.

Being chased by a much larger green being that wished to pummel the shit out of you was an entirely different scenario in running for said life.

Even with a bum ankle, Natasha Romanoff was quick on her feet. She skipped up the metal steps and leapt toward the higher railing just as the Hulk had smashed a giant green fist in an attempt to get her, completely obliterating the stairwell in the process.

She flipped herself over the railing and onto the landing, catching sight of the Hulk taking a few steps back, following her with his rage filled, green gaze. She didn't wait to see what he would do. She quickly moved away from the railing and slid over a large, gray pipe behind her toward another grilled platform. She landed on all fours, the shuddering of the metal grill catching the Hulk's attention. He moved quickly in an attempt to grab her but all he grabbed was the grill as she leapt once again out of his grasp.

A roar of frustration filled the area as the Hulk threw the grill toward the retreating frame of Natasha, who barely missed being hit. She slid down through an opening in the platform to the cement floor below and crawled under a large pipe, escaping for the moment.

The roars continued behind her as she wound her way over, under and between various sizes of pipes, trying to lose the Hulk. When the sound had faded, she slowed down to a limping walk as she drew her gun. She swallowed, her panting breath sounding a little too loud for her ears as she looked behind and all around her. She didn't just have the Hulk to worry about. That creature, Ana's other self, was running around loose as well. Who knew what damage she could do if she caught sight of Natasha...

She continued on her way, looking around every corner as she slowly moved. A thumping footstep, followed by a shadow passing, made her breath catch in her throat. She moved away, her gun aimed and ready, though she knew it would do little against the monster. She turned around and walked toward a more open area that looked promising in an exit...

Her heart leapt into her throat as the Hulk emerged from the shadows before her, roaring in his rage. Acting quickly, she took aim and fired at one of the pipes above the Hulk. A hiss of high pressured steam emerged and struck the Hulk right in his face. He howled in pain as the steam blinded him, standing to his full height in surprise and headbutting the pipe, causing more steam to flow out. His roar was deafening.

Natasha didn't hesitate and was about to turn to make a run for it when something extremely hot wrapped around her waist and lifted her from the ground with ease. Her scream of surprise was not heard over the roars of the Hulk. She glanced behind her and caught sight of the raging face of the female demon. Oh god, she was in trouble...

The demon didn't look at her as she suddenly took off running toward a brightly lit platform that led down a corridor of glass walls, carrying the agent with little effort at her side. The sound of thundering footsteps behind them, and the angered roars of the Hulk, made the demon run even faster, her clawed feet digging into the metal grilled platform beneath her to gain momentum with her long limbs.

Is she... helping me? Natasha thought only for the thought to be replaced with one of panic as a sudden explosion erupted from the demon's feet, an expanding pocket of flame that thrust the both of them at an alarming pace ahead of the Hulk. The sound of destruction behind them, followed by the roars of frustration, was a clear indication that the demon was much quicker on her feet than her mate.

With that burst of speed, they emerged into a larger room and Natasha found herself thrown unceremoniously to the cement floor. She winced at the pain and glanced up just in time to see the demon turning on her clawed feet to face her charging mate, her red clawed hands bared as she snarled in defiance, her glowing yellow eyes filled with anger. The demon was defending her against the Hulk... but she thought...

The Hulk had emerged from the destroyed corridor at that moment, the sparks flying from smashed electrical work as he suddenly stopped in front of the demon. He flexed his muscles and let loose a terrifying roar, an impressive display that should have made any female submissive. Except that the demon roared her own defiance and bared her red claws against her mate, the pulsing red veins now glowing with suppressed heat. She snarled at him and stood protectively in front of Natasha.

The Hulk's growl could be heard as his green gaze glanced between that of the redhead and of the female he cared for. He rumbled deep in his torso as he tried to take a step around the demon toward the agent, only for the creature to step in his path to snap and snarl, taking a swipe at him. He stopped in his steps as he dodged the swipe and the frustration could clearly be seen on his face.

A moment passed before the Hulk finally relented and took a step back. He looked like a child that had just been told he couldn't have a particular toy. The female had relaxed though, apparently pleased with the action he had taken, and started to purr to him as she lowered her claws. The sound immediately caught his attention and he responded in kind, completely ignoring the agent as he took a step toward his female. Apparently, he loved the sound of her purring.

Natasha was still stunned that the demon had come to her defense and was moving away from them in the hopes that they would continue to ignore her. The Hulk was reaching out a large green hand and gently running his fingers down the dark curls of his female's hair when suddenly she was gone. A blur of something had come out of nowhere and took the demon with it.

They had crashed through the wall across from Natasha, a wall that separated one of the hangers from the cargo area they had been running through. The Hulk was staring at the space in front of him in surprise before his deep growl emerged as the anger began to rise. He looked at the hole in the wall and heard his female roaring her displeasure in the space beyond. He roared in response and ran toward the sound, his large frame making an even bigger hole.

Natasha let out a breath as she stared at the large hole and thanked her lucky stars she had survived...

-o-

Thor was thinking he had made a mistake the moment he had come to Natasha's rescue.

He had only seen two large creatures squaring off against each other and Natasha on the floor behind the female, looking hurt. He hadn't thought of the consequences as he rushed to her aid and tackled the female demon, taking her with him as they crashed through the nearby metal wall and into the hanger beyond.

He rolled across the cement floor, hearing the thumping form of the female demon rolling with him. He came to a stop and tossed his golden hair from his eyes as he slowly got up, looking up just in time to see the female monster snarling at him as she quickly got to her feet. Her glowing yellow eyes were a telltale sign of the anger pulsing within her as she flexed her clawed hands and let loose a terrifying roar, her displeasure clear. The answering roar of the green hulking male from beyond the destroyed wall was even more terrifying.

The mechanics and engineers that had been working on the jets housed in this bay stumbled back in surprise at the sight of the creature. Her roar had petrified them to the spot and the answering roar of the Hulk made the fear very real and they ran for their lives. The entire situation was brought to a catastrophe as the female roared again at the god of thunder, the sudden explosion of a nearby jet setting off the fire extinguishing system in the hanger. A hail of water fell from the pipes above and drenched them within moments, the water hissing off in steam the moment it touched the female's red veined skin.

Now Thor knew exactly what this creature was, her true form revealing characteristics not seen for many a generation. Or at least the part of her that was not human. The race had been thought to be extinct, a casualty of a strange war fought countless centuries before. They were the descendants of a single Olympian, a close ally of the Asgardians, who had been cast aside by her very own people when the power she held over others' madness, rage, and fury proved too much. She had disappeared into an unknown realm of an unknown race of feral people and it wasn't until much later that her descendants had proved to inherit her ability of provoking rage along with the abilities of their respective realm. Rage and fury so easily brought forth combined with an affinity to control the very destructive, explosive power of fire was the result of this union from ages past. They're unique talent of merging themselves together to form a more powerful entity was a calling that had brought about their end from some unknown enemy who sought their power. They had simply disappeared from the face of the other realms only to be remembered in old stories. Thor had grown up listening to them.

They had been known as Lyttans, descendants of the Olympian Lytta, the goddess of mad rage and frenzy to those who remembered the Greek gods on Earth. They were peaceful until provoked. They had been thought to have been lost.

Apparently, one had survived long enough to make it to Earth and merge with a human. No wonder Ana knew of the Tesseract, it had been ingrained in that alien part of her to remember. How she knew of the Chitauri might answer how the raging race of feral people had disappeared. How in all of Valhalla had this happened?

"Peace now Lyttan," said Thor, raising his hands in a show of calm as he stared into the raging yellow orbs. "I meant you no harm."

The name sparked something in the female: Recognition. Thor thought there might be a chance of settling this peacefully. At least until the Hulk had come crashing through the wall and reached the female, pulling her behind him in a protective gesture as he roared at the god.

Oh, for the love of Midgard, Thor thought as he caught the very familiar sight of the two raging monsters drawing close to one another. They're mated. Of all the people in all the realms of the universe, what were the chances of two beings such as this meeting in this lifetime?

Now he knew he had made a mistake in tackling the female. Her male was much larger than her. He was looking her over, checking her for damage, before he turned his raging green gaze toward the god of thunder. Thor had lain a hand on his female and he was looking quite keen in making him pay for doing such a thing.

The Hulk took a few lumbering steps toward Thor as he roared in his anger, clenching his large fists as he circled the god. Thor cast a glance toward the female, hoping that she might stop him, but the demon was watching with a feral smile on her lips. Apparently, she really wanted her mate to throttle this Asgardian. Well, no support there.

The Hulk threw a heavy punch at the god, who dodged it with ease. The green monster then swung around, throwing back the punch, only for Thor to dodge it again and throw a punch of his own, which landed and tossed the Hulk back a step. He was thrown from the punch, caught by surprise that such a little male could have such strength in him. He swung another heavy fist around, only for Thor to dodge it again. His rage was building as he roared his displeasure only to find that his female had jumped into the fray, not pleased at seeing her mate getting hurt.

Thor was caught off guard as he dodged the female's red claws and caught her other clawed hand by the wrist, preventing those dangerous claws from touching his skin. He had seen what they had done to his brother's hand, it had taken five days to heal. Much too long for a simple flesh wound for an Asgardian. He held off the female, surprised by her strength despite her lithe, long limbs and focused on the yellow orbs. "We are not your enemy, Lyttan. Remember who you are. Remember your true enemy! The Chitauri!"

He could see the that he had sparked something in her as recognition flickered across her face. Unfortunately, that was when the Hulk had landed a heavy fist against Thor's face, the force of it throwing the Asgardian back through pile of plastic and metal crates. He rolled to a stop to the next part of the hanger and slowly got up to his knees. Something warm was flowing from his nose and he reached up to rub it away in surprise. He pulled his fingers away, the sight of his own blood pricking a part of him as the Hulk's roar echoed through the hanger.

He smirked as he held out his hand, calling his hammer, Mjolnir, to him. It took moment, but a distinct humming sound could be heard as it drew closer. He waited, calling his hammer with a force that pulled from the very heart of him. He could hear distinct heavy footsteps drawing closer followed by a higher pitched roar...

Just as the hammer crashed its way through heavy crates and into his hand, a tall form had emerged in the midst of wrecked crates and around the nearby parked jet, rushing too quickly for him to see. The moment the tall, lithe form had turned its back to him in a manner that meant defense, too late he realized he had made another mistake. He had swung his hammer in hopes of catching the Hulk. Instead, the female had arrived and it had connected with her back, sending her flying forward in a howl of pain just in time for the Hulk to turn the corner of the jet and catch her.

They were both thrown back by the force and into the jet. The frame bent under the Hulk's large green form and the limp form of the female in his arms was a telling sight. He struggled to remove himself from the jet's bent tail end, his green eyes focused on his female as he gently ran a large finger along her jaw line. Her glowing yellow orbs were unfocused as a soft cry of pain escaped her lips.

Rage built up as the Hulk set his female gently down upon the floor, cradling her head in such a tender way. Once she was safe on the ground, he turned his attention to Thor and his growl of rage was heard. His muscles tensed as he took the wing of the jet in his large green hands and tore it off. Without hesitation, he aimed and threw the broken wing straight at the Asgardian...

 

Chapter Text

Today I heard my favorite song on the radio

I closed my eyes and saw our first 'hello'

And then I saw the time we fell in love

In each other’s arms

I open up my eyes and you were gone

Suddenly, I realized how I love you so

And how I can't survive without your love

Don't Say Goodbye – Juris

-o-

Chapter 20: Dodging Was a Way

Dodging was a way of surviving life's constant attempts at throwing shit at you.

In this case, Thor had taken it in a literal sense and had dodged the oncoming projectile that the Hulk had made of a broken jet wing. It sailed over him, barely skimming his chest, before it took out the top of a nearby jeep and lodged into the wall behind it. No, dodging was a very good way of surviving. Not that the god blamed the large green male. If someone had hurt his Jane in such a way, he would have reacted in exactly the same way. Thor had the guilt of feeling like the bad guy in this particular case. He had not meant to harm the Red Lady, as he had come to know the creature who was Ana.

No.

In fact, he now considered her an ally simply because she was the apparently last descendant of an Olympian who the Asgardians had considered a very powerful ally once upon a time. She was the very last physical proof that the stories had been true. The fact that he might have seriously harmed her was not something that settled well with him. Still, he would not simply roll over and have himself pummeled just because of guilt. He was a warrior and would continue to be if it meant keeping the Hulk from destroying this floating ship.

Thor cocked his arm back and threw his hammer as a way of distraction. He knew the Hulk would have no way of picking up this weapon and it would give him an advantage. What he didn't count on was the Hulk dodging the hammer and roaring in his anger. He had thundered his way toward the god and reached out to throw a heavy punch, which Thor evaded with ease. He called his hammer back to him as he continued to dodge and block the powerful punches that the Hulk threw his way.

Thor noticed that the Hulk was keeping him away from his female, fighting him back from where she rested on the floor as she arched her back as if in pain. The red veins beneath her caramel skin was pulsing with glowing heat and her red clawed hands and feet were flexing as her long limbs stretched and snapped. She was healing. Thank Valhalla for that. Thor wouldn't live with himself if he had seriously harmed the Red Lady. It still didn't keep her mate from trying to avenge her.

Thor continued to dodge and evade the punches, throwing enough back in self-defense, before his hammer had come back to him. It flew into his hand and he dodged another punch the Hulk threw before he leapt onto the green being's back and wrapped his arms around the creature's neck. One hand held tightly onto the hammer while the other held a strong grip on the handle. Thanks to the magical properties of the hammer, the Hulk could not easily remove the god's hands from his chosen weapon.

The Hulk let out a roar in frustration as he tried to get the Asgardian off his back. He finally took a huge leap up toward the ceiling and broke through to the level above, slamming the god against the heavy beams, solid metal and concrete of the first level before slamming him against the beams and heavy piping of the level above it.

They fell down to the floor of the second level, a hail of steam, broken glass and metal falling around them. The god of thunder was feeling something he normally did not feel. Tired...

The Hulk was a creature of rage and fury, much like his female, and the fact that the one thing that made him calm had been harmed fed that fury. He would not rest until the little male that dared to harm his mate was feeling the same, if not more, pain that she had in that brief moment in time. It was made obvious the moment Thor caught his breath and the Hulk had taken him in a strong grip by his shoulder, a growl of anger clearly heard...

-o-

The moment her broken spine had snapped back into place, the feeling of healing heat resumed in her limbs. She let out a croon in relief before her acute hearing had picked up the silence around her. No... There was not supposed to be silence. Her mate... Where was her mate?

She focused her hearing and heard thumping from the floor above, followed by bellows of rage. Her mate... The relief flowed through her as she got unsteadily to her feet. He was all right; his roaring rage was a balm for her nerves. As long as he was all right, she had every reason to keep from unleashing hell. She had finally found him after so long, she didn't want to lose him now.

She heard the thumping from above her and she looked up toward the ceiling, catching sight of a large hole that only her mate's hulking frame could have made. A pulsing warmth of pleasure emerged from her heart and a soft thought, followed by a longing feeling, emerged from the depths of her mind.

Bruce...

Love filled her heart at the simple thought her human self had managed to break through. Her mate. His name was Bruce... Now she remembered. Her human, Ana, longed for the human part of her mate. She vaguely remembered having watched the humans on Earth long enough to know when they had fallen in lust and in love. Her human had fallen deeply in love with the human part of her mate. She could not have hoped for better. It was a clear sign that they belonged to one another. She only hoped that the human part of her mate felt the same.

She recalled a moment in time when she had searched so long in that darkness to find the one soul in which she could merge with successfully. She couldn't remember why she had to, but she knew had to in order to survive. The fact that she had found her mate here of all places. It was clear that was why she survived as she had. Her mate was up there, and the love of her human was there within him. She had to protect him. There was no other reason for surviving at this moment. There was Mother and Aunt. Now there was Mate...

Her pack.

Her family.

She had found her reason for surviving. Her pack was almost complete. She would not lose her mate now...

With that thought in mind, she ran a few steps on her clawed feet, her long limbs giving her more than enough leverage to leap up through the hole above. She emerged just in time to see her mate fling the Asgardian against a wall, the who had called her by the long-forgotten name for her people. He had said he meant her no harm. She knew this one was a true Asgardian, unlike the one he called brother, and he was a man of his word. At least that was what she faintly recalled. The Asgardians had been an ally to her people long ago. If she remembered correctly... He seemed to remember her people, where she could not even remember herself. She needed this otherworldly being to remain intact. If only to help her remember.

She watched as her mate had slung aside a metal counter in his rage as he tried to get to the Asgardian. She cried out to him, her piercing high-pitched roars stopping him in his tracks. He turned toward her and the rage that had filled his face melted away at the sight of her. She quickly got to her feet and placed herself between him and the Asgardian. She crooned to him in a pleading tone and reached out a red claw to gently, very gently, run it along his jawline. She then started to purr and moved to bump her head up against his chin only for her purring to grow deeper.

Her mate...

Bruce...

Strong arms had wrapped around her lithe waist and she was pulled against his massive form as his rumbles of pleasure emerged. He rubbed his chin over her dark curls and he tightened his hold on her as a few words escaped his lips, words that filled the human part of her with longing and love.

"Mine... My... A... na..."

Her heart was filled such warmth as she nuzzled the crook of his neck and pressed her chest against his. Love. This had to be love... Be it her mate or her love. No matter which side of her claimed dominance, the two sides of her craved for all of him. The two sides of this male that held her fully...

There was blessed silence and peace...

Only for it to be broken by a hail of bullets that came from outside. They broke through the glass window and bounced off the Hulk's broad form. He lifted his head, a look of confusion touching him. The bullets were nothing more than a hindrance, a simple tickle off his green hide. He knew that it was something that meant harm though, just from memories of similar bullets assailing him from the past. He quickly pulled his female closer against him in protection against the hail as he looked over his shoulder. A jet was floating outside the windows in a hollow part of the Helicarrier, raining down a series of bullets by way of distraction.

He turned around, thrusting his mate behind him, not noticing that the smaller male he had been attempting to pummel had run behind them to dodge the hail of gunfire. The Hulk held up a large hand as he held his mate back behind him, a roar of anger escaping him as focused on the jet. He measured the distance between the edge of the window to the jet that continued to fire. Without warning, he ran toward the ledge of the window and leapt, not hearing the screams of protest from his mate as she took a few shots from the hail of bullets. She wasn't protesting being at shot, she was screaming to her mate to not jump from the ship. Of course, when do males listen to their females...

He had sailed across the expanse of air and landed right on the nose of the jet. He slammed a fist into the nose of the jet and climbed across the glass dome, the squeal of flesh against glass cringing to the ears of any who heard it. He slid across the dome only to grab onto the metal behind it and proceeded to rip into the metal structure, pulling out vital parts.

As the jet lowered in the air, and then began to descend at an alarming rate, the female demon... Ana... let out a horrifying scream of fright that tore into the heart of Thor, who was nearby. She was on the very edge of the window, her red claws grasping the ledge as she watched the smoking jet descend down into the clouds in a hail of smoke.

Her mate continued to rip apart the machine, reaching out to grab the pilot who had tried to eject. He threw the pilot out into the air, a pointless gesture since the parachute had engaged. The jet continued its horrifying descent in smoke and fire before an explosion rocked the air. The distant roar of her mate could be heard and then...

Nothing.

There was nothing.

She searched frantically through the clouds below, searching in a failed attempt to catch sight of her mate. No, no, no...

Bruce...

Her heart thumped against her chest as anguish began to tighten around it in her chest. Her mate... her love... No, no, no... She had finally found him. He was supposed to be safe... She was supposed to keep him safe!

Her scream of rage filled the room as her red claws began to glow and the ledge began to melt beneath her touch.

Thor knew that all hell had been unleashed the moment the Hulk had disappeared from sight. There was no way of calming this female now. The red veins in her skin were glowing with burning heat and her rage could be felt from where he was crouched. He swallowed the moment those yellow orbs had turned his way and her screeching, banshee-like cries did little to ease the fear that touched him. This was a creature who could kill him.

Her yellow orbs hesitated at the sight of him but completely bypassed him as her rage filled within her. There was only one she could truly blame for the all of this...

That Frost Giant masquerading as an Asgardian... This was his fault... If there was anyone she could unleash hell upon, it would be him.

She growled his name, hatred and fury etched into every part of her. "Lo... ki..."

Thor heard this, and panic set it as he swallowed the tightness in his throat.

Oh brother, what have you done...

Chapter Text

I will drown you in your legacy

I'll be the torch to burn it all

Right down into the ground...

Vengeance – Trivium

-o-

Chapter 21: There Was No Stopping

There was no stopping her the moment she turned away from the window.

The demon ran off like a bat out of hell as she smashed her way through the door to the research lab they were in. She left a gaping hole, the edges burning red hot as drops of melted, glowing metal fell to the floor to harden. The sound of screeching metal could be heard down the corridor, followed by a series of screams of fright.

Thor, who had been dumbfounded by all that he had witnessed, quickly picked up his hammer from the floor and raced after the Red Lady. He had to stop her before she killed his brother. It wasn't hard to follow her, she left a trail of claw marks in the walls where her claws had melted through. Her clawed feet had also melted through the metal floor, leaving an easy trail to follow. Along the way, Thor could see various staff members of SHIELD were standing in shock at the sight of the creature that had passed them and left them unharmed. Many of them had not been aware of the just how terrible a beast Ana carried within her. The fact that she did not kill them meant she still had some semblance of her human morality.

That thought was quickly cut off when he passed the charred corpse of one of Loki's men in the next corridor. It was still smoking, and the scream of torture was frozen on the blackened face. Thor felt sick to his stomach...

He could hear her furious banshee-like cries and roars of rage further ahead of him with every running step he took. She was fast, so it came as a surprise that when he rounded the corner of the corridor that led to where his brother's cell was located, he slammed right into her tall, lithe form. He had received a loud growl in response and she turned around to swipe at him with those deadly claws. He dodged it just in time and held out his hammer in defense, her claws sparking off the metal harmlessly.

She growled again but did not attack him once she saw his face. She turned away from him and ran down the hall to the open doorway of the room where the cell was. He followed after her, being careful to keep his distance, just as they ran through the doorway. The door to Loki's cell was sliding open just as Loki himself was making a move to walk out.

"No!" Thor cried out as he ran past the Red Lady, who had screeched in protest and reached out to grab him. Thor swung his hammer back, knocking her deadly claws aside with a jarring that she must have felt in her bones. He did not stop as he took a running leap to charge at his brother, only for him to go right through the Loki's form, the image wavering before completely fading. Thor crashed down to the floor of the cell and he got to his feet just in time to see the cell door close and lock behind him.

"Will you ever not fall for that trick?" The god of thunder rushed to the glass wall of the cell, finding his brother outside by the panel that controlled the cell from dropping. Thor slammed his hammer against the glass in an attempt to smash through but all it had done was create a spider web crack and shook the cell before dropping slightly, metal hooks that kept the cell secure unhooking a tad.

Loki walked casually toward the panel, a cold smile playing on his pale face. "The humans believe we are immortal. Shall we put that to the test?"

Thor felt the panic rise in him and he glanced at the Red Lady, who was still standing in the doorway. She had not moved into the room, she was standing there flexing her claws while her glowing eyes searched the room, completely ignoring Loki. Why was she not stopping him? She was all ablaze a moment before. Now would be a good time for her to step in and do something. However, she didn't. She was simply standing there, looking as if she were waiting for something.

"Step away please," a polite voice had asked from the other side of the room and all eyes turned to find Agent Coulson standing there, dressed impeccably in his dark gray suit and holding a particularly large gun. It was distraction enough and the demon's glowing eyes had finally focused on something, her growing now clear.

Agent Coulson was talking to the Loki by the control panel, explaining about the gun and its unknown use. He did not notice the real Loki that had appeared behind him with the scepter in hand. The sharp tip of scepter had found its way through the upper chest of Phil Coulson. Thor cried out in protest as he slammed his fist against the glass, helpless to do anything. Anger welling in him that Red Lady had not stopped his brother when she had the chance. The demon herself had roared her hatred, the red veins in her skin glowing with such burning heat that it burned more holes into her tattered clothing.

The explosion of flame that erupted from Loki was unexpected as was his harsh cry of pain. The kind of being that he truly was did not abide well with extreme heat and the flash flame had actually done some damage before it faded from his form. He was not one to easily catch flame like a human, but it was enough. He stumbled away from the collapsed form of the agent, who was staring at the demon in surprise, his labored breaths coming in gurgles as blood trickled from his mouth.

For a moment, Loki's true form could be seen, bluish-gray skin that looked shriveled from the attack and blood red eyes that were filled with hate as he caught sight of the female creature. Recognition flickered across his face as his features restored to their Asgardian state, his blue eyes were filling with hate. "You! You stupid female! I thought you had gone the way of that mindless beast!" He stumbled against the control panel as he looked at it and then his brother. He turned his gaze to the female, who had roared at the mention of her missing mate.

"You like to play the hero then?" asked Loki as he started to laugh. "Well then, here is your opportunity. See if you can save my dear brother." And with that, he punched his fist into the button that released the hatch below the glass cell. With deafening sounds of grinding metal, the hooks released, and the cell had plummeted through the long hatchway and out into the open sky.

-o-

She hesitated for but a moment, a glare of pure hatred aimed at the frost giant that had caused so much trouble and took so many lives, before she ran and dove down the hatch after the cell. She would survive this, she had to. She needed to avenge her mate and this Asgardian would help her to do it. It was their fault for allowing such a mad being to go so far. He had found the dark void of the Chitauri, the one place that her people risked their lives to send those mindless, destructive things- and themselves- to in order to protect the other realms. Had their sacrifice been for nothing? She couldn't remember how her people had done it. She had been born in that dark place, she knew that as much. Survival was nigh impossible. That dark place sucked life out of everything... Now, it would all be for naught if the frost giant opened a portal to that cold hell.

The fact that her mate might be gone now because of this frost giant's misguided attempts at self-glorification stabbed her with pain that she had never felt before.

She quickly blocked the anguish that was constantly piercing her and focused on getting to the falling cell. She could see that the Asgardian was having trouble finding his footing and could not smash his way out. That hammer was a powerful thing, he shouldn't have such trouble. Then again, this had been meant for her mate...

Anguish...

Pain...

Bruce...

The wind was roaring around her ears as she kicked her feet once and a burst of flames erupted, helping to propel her faster toward the flipping, plummeting glass cell. Thanks her lithe, tall form, she bore little wind resistance and had reached out just in time to catch her claws into one of the metal sides of the cell. She was flipped over and over with the cell as the sight of the rising coastline began to draw nearer at a faster pace. She took in breath and released all the energy she had within to focus in her claws. The red veins in her arms burned with the heat, her claws melting away the metal as she carved and melted and tore out a large gaping hole.

The shoreline was coming much faster now, and she caught the wide eyed blue gaze of the god as he stared at her in shock before quickly taking action and swinging his hammer once. He tore through the opening and out into freedom, throwing her off by accident in the process. The cell had flipped around and caught her right on the edge. It sent her careening too far from the Asgardian to catch, she could hear his voice crying out to her in the rushing wind. She was plummeting off toward inland now instead of the water.

This was a familiar feel. Her first descent toward Earth all those years ago. She couldn't remember much but she remembered that day when a little human girl had stumbled across her and had become her savior. She closed her eyes and curled herself into a protective ball, as she had that very day when traveling through that wild portal that led from the dark void to Earth. The red veins in her skin burned brightly before her entire body erupted flame, burning at a high rate. The faster she fell, the hotter she burned until she was nothing but a ball of flame... A shooting star...

With a terrible impact, the ball of flames burned its way along the ground, through the trees and greenery of the forest she had landed in. The balled form crashed along the ground for several hundred feet before coming to a stop, crashing against the trunk of a tree and knocking it over. The flames died out and the balled form unfurled itself in the small crater it had formed. As it did, the demon began to shrink in size, filling out in shape, the red veins receding to the base of the naked woman's neck. She did not awake. She slept there well into night, left undisturbed by the local wildlife.

It wasn't until a tall, broad shouldered man came crashing through the darkness, his large frame brushing aside the local shrubs, that she began to stir. He had a large flashlight in one hand and a blanket in the other and when he found her, a sigh of relief escaped him. The man tucked the flashlight under an arm and was gentle as he wrapped the woman up in the blanket and lifted her from the ground...

Ana opened her eyes and looked up at the familiar man. It was Yannick, her mother’s bodyguard and most trusted confidante. He had been there with Sido since the very beginning. Seeing him here meant Ana was safe…

Tears welled in those brown eyes of hers and her throat grew tight with emotion. "Yann... He's gone," she said, her voice hoarse. Then she cried...

The man named Yannick looked down at the woman in his arms and he sighed heavily as he walked back the way he had come. "I know little one," said Yann. "I know... Your aunt had shown us everything. Go back to sleep. Your Mama is waiting for you. We're just glad your safe."

Ana had cried herself to sleep.

That night was the first she dreamed of her mate...

Chapter Text

Now that we know just who we are

Now that we've finally come this far

I'm ready for one more battle scar

Cause this is still worth fighting for...

Still Worth Fighting For – My Darkest Days

-o-

Chapter 22: Was It Worth It

Was it worth it facing that inhuman being alone?

He had hoped so.

The moment Agent Phil Coulson had shot Loki with the prototype gun, bore witness to the satisfying sight of the god being thrown through a wall, and found out that the gun bore the same explosive effects as Cin's attacks. He felt it had been worth it. He knew he didn't kill Loki but the fact that the god didn't come back to finish him off meant he had at least done his part. Ah well, at least he got to see one hero do something worthwhile. He smiled as he thought of Ana's other self and what she had done just a few moments before. She had jumped down after Thor without thought. She had tried to save him... He wondered if she did. He hoped so. He hoped she survived. Even in her enraged state, she had tried her best to do the right thing.

Coulson was glad he taken the time to change the codename on the files SHIELD had of her. That French name didn't suit her, Agent Hill really needed to have a better imagination. Now Cin was a hero name for her, simple and to the point. She was raging demon who could cause some very powerful flame attacks. Incinerating her foes, her devil like appearance... Yes, Cin was a very good solid name to instill fear in enemies, much like her counterpart, the Hulk. There was nothing like facing a demonic creature that made you think twice about your relationship with whatever higher power you believed in.

He took in a shuddering breath. The sharp pain that followed, and the feeling that his left lung was not getting enough air, was an indication. Blood was filling in his left lung. He would asphyxiate in a matter of minutes if he didn't get help. This far down from the bridge, when everyone had been evacuated from the lower levels, he wouldn't be seeing another day.

He hoped that he would survive long enough for someone to find him, so he could tell them to tell his boss to keep fighting. To keep believing in the Avengers. It was his dream to see those heroes together. To see his idol, Captain America, leading a team of super heroes to fight against this alien threat. Maybe his death would be the push they needed. It would be worth it if it meant finally bringing that team together...

He was feeling so tired now...

"Agent Coulson?" A soft voice had called out to him and the thumping of footsteps against the metal grill beneath him caught his attention. He looked up to see a young Asian woman, no more than in her early twenties, rushing toward him. She was dressed in the uniform of a SHIELD staff member that worked as a mechanic. A feeling of dread filled him as he looked at the young woman rushing to his side.

"You shouldn't... be here," he said, wincing at the pain in his left lung.

"I know, but I have orders," said the woman as she reached into a pouch at her side. She paused, looking as if she was listening to something, before she nodded and pulled out a pocket knife.

"Orders?" Coulson coughed, a trickle of blood escaping. "From... Fury?"

"Stop talking," said the woman as she reached out and ripped his suit jacket open before ripping his shirt apart. She reached into her pouch and pulled out a ball point pen she carried with her. She cut off the tip of the pen and pulled out the ink cartridge. She cut off the other end, making a hollow tube. She took in a breath and pulled aside Coulson's suit jacket and pulled apart his shirt, her dark eyes looking into his. "This is going to hurt."

Without warning, she pushed the blade of the knife in between his ribs and into his left lung, puncturing it. He inhaled sharply only to groan out in pain when something blunt was inserted into the wound. He could feel it in his lung and he glanced down at the woman's bloody hands, finding the pen tube was inserted into his lung. At once he could feel the pressure reducing as the blood was drained out.

"This will help prolong but only for a while. The higher ups have been notified of you being down for the count so medical assistance should arrive soon," said the woman as she wiped her bloody hands on her jump suit and reached into her pouch again. She pulled out a black plastic container and opened it, revealing a syringe. It was filled with some unknown red liquid that bore a hint of some glow. She stared at it with longing before she pulled off the safety cap and took Coulson's left wrist.

"What... are you doing?"

The woman looked at him and the frown that had been on her face softened a bit. "This was supposed to be my dose for today," she said. "There's only so much that modern medicine can do for us. When you're dying, you look for anything to help save your life. This is my hope, but you need it more than I do at the moment. You made a very good friend Agent Coulson." She then inserted the syringe into a vein in his wrist and pushed the plunger in. At once a burning filled his veins and he winced at the feel of it. "Don't worry, the burning fades," she said, catching the wince he had given.

"What did you... do? Who are you working for?"

The woman didn't speak until she pulled out the syringe and replaced the cap. She took in a breath and offered a kind smile. "I hope I helped saved your life. I want to live mine as long and full as I can, but my illness will take more a lot than one dose. You, on other hand, have a flesh wound that should hopefully be easier to heal. As for who I work for, they're a private organization whose job is maintain the anonymity and safety of one person. The one who just jumped down that hatch I believe." She paused at this and regret touched her features. "I don't even know if she could survive a fall from that height. I didn't expect to actually be of use when I signed up for this... " She placed the empty syringe back in the container and then in her pouch before she placed a hand to her ear. "Jenn, it's done." She paused as she listened and then smiled. "I'd appreciate that. Thank you. Where should I go from here?" Another pause and then a light frown. Silence as she listened to the other voice before she gave a nod. "Yes, I understand. They should be coming soon. I'll make my way out. Yann will be there, right?" She listened once more before relief shown. "Yes, of course I'll help him. You know you don't have to ask... Understood. See you soon." She dropped her hand and looked at Coulson. "It seems I'm out of job here at SHIELD."

"But... Who are you?" he asked, already feeling the burning fade as whatever that liquid was coursed through his veins. He was already feeling more alert.

The woman smiled as she got to her feet. "Well, by the time SHIELD pulls up employee files, I'm sure I'll no longer be there. I didn't think searching for a cure would cost me my job but... It'll be worth it to live." She looked back the way she had come and then back to Coulson. "I suppose it doesn't matter now. My name's Cameron Nguyen. As far as SHIELD is concerned, you've never saw or heard of me. Just keep doing what you do best Agent Coulson. You made a friend in the daughter of someone who looks out for her own. You should thank your lucky stars. Hang in there, the medical team should be here soon."

She turned on her feet and ran off in a different direction, not heeding Coulson's calls to her. He sat there, now alone and much more confused than he ever had been in his life. That woman was working for someone whose daughter he had made friends with...

Understanding touched him, his breath coming a little easier now. Of course, the one person SHIELD could never find anything on. Ana. Her mother was an unknown geneticist, someone they could not identify despite the video footage of the fight at Stuttgart and obtaining the list of guests at that function.

Goodness, these were people who meant business if SHIELD could not even locate them. The fact that one of SHIELD's employees worked for them, that was a serious breach. Still, the woman had said she was dying of some illness... She had given him what she needed to save her own life. That meant more to Coulson than anything else. He was rather glad now that he had tried to maintain a good friendship with Ana. Whatever organization was protecting her might just have saved his life.

Was it worth it? Yes. If only to know for sure that at least it was possible for a team to work together despite their differences. This unknown organization that helped to protect Ana risked a lot for one life, just based on what he had seen Ms. Nguyen do just now for him, a complete stranger. If they could work together, why couldn't the Avengers? What did this team lack?

For the first time in his life, disappointment and anger began to well within him. They didn't have a mutual cause to fight for. They didn't have common ground. If an enraged demon such as Cin could dive into open air in an attempt to save another person's life, at risk of her own, then why couldn't this team of Avengers? She could have died...

That's when the idea struck him. Her apparent death, her sacrifice would be a strong key. Even if she did survive, they had no way of knowing. There was no way of tracking her, she didn't exist in any records they could find. But the team had gotten to know her. For a moment in time she had been real to the people here on this ship. Especially toward Dr. Banner and Mr. Stark. They had been closer to her than anyone. That would be something...

His idea took hold and he continued thinking, making himself believe in the death of Ana, if only to get the emotion right. His being "fatally" wounded, and her apparent death were incentive enough.

As the sound of running footsteps reached him, he caught sight of Nick Fury leading the fray toward him. Yes, it was worth it.

There would just be a lot of lying involved for his part, but it would be worth it just to see this team pull together like it should have from the beginning...

-o-

He awoke to pain and the feel of cool air blowing around his privates.

He could feel several pieces of broken concrete digging into his back. His head was pounding, and he felt as if someone had run him over several times with an eighteen-wheeler. He groaned as he sat up, hearing a stranger's voice from somewhere above him.

"You fell from the sky."

He opened his eyes, the stabbing light of day hurting his retinas. He glanced over shoulder and caught sight of an old security guard standing on top of the pile of rubble Bruce was laying in. He groaned again and rubbed his eyes before he took in a breath and looked at the old man. "Did I hurt anybody?"

The old security guard gestured to the pile of rubble and looked around at the empty warehouse that he had landed in. "There's nobody around here to get hurt," he said, pausing a moment before a smile appeared. "You did scare the hell out of some pigeons though."

"Lucky," said Bruce as he turned way, rubbing his aching head. What the hell happened? His heart gave a sudden jolt as he looked around him once more, not finding a particular person with him. Of course, she wouldn't be with him... But the Other Guy had really liked her. He wouldn't have left her intentionally, would he? He hoped she was all right...

"Or just good aim," said the old man. "You were awake when you fell."

He looked back at the old security guard and swallowed. "You saw?"

"The whole thing," the old man replied and pointed up to the hole in the ceiling of the warehouse before gesturing down to where Bruce lay. "Right through the ceiling. Big and green and... buck ass nude." The old security guard then leaned down to pick up a pile of clothes at his feet.

Bruce tried to force down the panic that was rising. "Was I alone?" he asked. "Did you see anyone else fall?"

The old man studied Bruce as a slight frown touched his weathered features. "No. If they did, they must've fallen somewhere else. I hope they weren't as big as you." He threw the clothes down to Bruce. "Here. I didn't think those'd fit you till you shrunk down to a regular size fella'."

Bruce took the dark pants with the belt still in the loops, they looked like a spare to the old man's uniform. He pulled them on with mumbled thanks, his mind going a mile a minute as he tried to think back on what had happened. He had no memory of anything and the Other Guy was much too quiet.

"Are you an alien?" The old man asked, watching Bruce as he got dressed.

Bruce stood up to pull on the pants, looking at the security guard in confusion. "What?"

"Y'know, from outer space? An alien," said the old man, gesturing to the sky above.

"Uh... no," said Bruce as he buttoned up the pants and tightened and secured the belt.

"Well then son," said the old man, looking solemn. "You've got a condition."

Bruce paused as he went to grab the spare gray shirt of the security uniform and looked at the old man with slight shock, having no words to say. Yeah, he had a condition all right. He pulled on the shirt as he looked up at the hole in the ceiling and then around him. He didn't see any signs of anything worthwhile. He didn't realize what he was looking for until he had walked down the pile of rubble. He saw a blackened mark on one of the bricks in the pile, a slight burnt area that would have normally gone unnoticed by anyone.

He was looking for Ana. He was looking for signs of her, or at least her other self. Oh god, he hoped she was safe and all right. He knew the Other Guy wouldn't harm her, but he remembered the explosion before the change. The memory of that pipe that had pierced her left shoulder, the lack of movement...

Pain filled him at the thought and he immediately chased it off. No. She was fine. She was safe. She had to be if the Other Guy had left her there on the Helicarrier. A muscle ticked in his jaw as he felt the tightness in his chest at the thought of being so far from her. He had to go back. Tony would have kept an eye on her. If there was anyone Ana would stick with, it would be Tony.

"So," the old man called to him, moving slowly down from the pile of rubble. "Which one is it?"

Bruce looked at the security guard, pulled from his troubled thoughts, as he buttoned his shirt and took a step around to face him. "Sorry?"

The old man walked toward him before stopping, moving his hands in an expressive gesture. "Are you a big guy that gets all little? Or a little guy that sometimes, ah... blows up large?"

Bruce stared at the old man for a moment before he shook his head, "You know," he said as he shrugged. "I'm not even sure."

The old security guard studied Bruce thoughtfully for a moment before he tilted his head. "You got somewhere to go?"

Bruce stared off into the distance as he thought. Did he have somewhere to go? Yes. Yes, he did. The one place wherever she was. Nothing had ever felt like home until he had met her. He had a good idea of where he could find her. Or at least a place to start. "Stark Tower... I..." He paused, trying to find the words. He had to get to Ana, but it wasn't a guarantee that she would even be with Tony. If the ship had been attacked, she could be anywhere. "No..." He paused again, his hunch telling him he had to head to New York City. Stark Tower was there and Tony was surely to be found. Even if she wasn't there, Tony could contact Jenn. She would know for sure where his woman was.

His woman.

Feelings of possession, desire and an urgency had tightened in his chest and it was now that he could feel the Other Guy finally stirring in his subconscious. Mine... My... fiery... A... na... Find... Need...

A warmth pulsed in his heart of hearts as the Other Guy made his thought known. Love. The Other Guy loved Ana. Both sides of her. She was theirs just as they were hers, Ana and her fiery side. She was good for them. He wanted her back. Bruce knew that if this warmth he felt from the Other Guy was love, it wasn't rocket science to know his own feelings were being echoed and amplified.

"Yes," said Bruce after a moment, a look of conviction appearing.

The old man laughed a bit and gestured for Bruce to follow as he walked off toward an exit. "I'd expect some confusion of the mind since your body's kind of... all over the place." He led Bruce toward the parking lot outside, the good doctor following at his side. "But, it has to be one or the other."

"I know where I can do the most good but it's where I can do the most harm," Bruce said, as he tucked his shirt into his pants. His thoughts were focusing on the memories of Ana and how calm she had always made him, even during those tense situations. If Ana was there with Tony, it would make things much easier. However, if he were to go to New York, there was the threat of the Chitauri with the portal being at Stark Tower. If she wasn't there, who knew what the Other Guy would do to that city this time.

The old man laughed and shrugged. "Well, that's no different from anybody else."

They walked out of the warehouse and the security guard led him to an old motorcycle that was parked behind an older pickup truck. "Here, take this and get to where you need to go."

Bruce paused as the old man dug in his pockets and handed him a set of old keys. The good doctor took the keys and stared at them before he looked at the old man. "Thanks... For everything."

"Son," said the old man, a light smile appearing on his thin lips. "I know a man in love when I see one. Even someone with your condition needs all the good things in life you can get." He paused a bit and frowned lightly. "Now, I know something bad must've gone down with how you were but if your... uh... significant other needs you. You better get to them."

Bruce laughed at the hesitant tones the old man gave, knowing in this day and age the open sexuality might be a bit uncomfortable for a man of his generation. He climbed on the bike and inserted the keys in the ignition. "Her name's Ana." He took in a breath, saying her name aloud making her so much more real.

The old security guard laughed bit, realizing how hesitant he was being as his smile grew. "Lovely name..." He paused and his smile faded a bit. "Get to her son. You need her and I hope she needs you too."

Bruce nodded as he started motorcycle and tried his best to calm his nerves. He wasn't sure how far from New York he was, but he would ride straight on through. He had to. He not only had Ana but his friend, Tony. Those two had made him feel more normal than he ever had in a long time. Almost as if he had a family... They needed his help. If being a part of the Avengers meant being with them, then he would do it.

It was worth it.

She was worth it

Chapter Text

They say there's no place to go, my love

And this adrenaline

Oh

Burns like a fire you know

The same on earth that you roam

It's about survival

You'll never take us...

Boom Zombies Communications 101 – Victim Effect

-o-

Chapter 23: The Pain That Struck

The pain that struck his heart was different from anything he had felt in the past.

Later that evening, after everything had settled down from the battles earlier, Tony Stark stood on the edge of the metal grilled platform that overlooked the hatch where the glass cell was once kept. He stood with his hands behind his back, his Black Sabbath t-shirt bearing a faint glow in the middle of his chest from the reactor. It was a part of him. It helped keep those minute pieces of shrapnel from reaching his heart.

Yet it didn't stop the emotional pain.

The meeting that Fury just had with them regarding his reasons for starting the Avengers Initiative was little consolation. Agent Phil Coulson was in a coma from his fight with Loki. One that he had no hope of him ever waking from, based on what the medical team had told them. He had been whisked away from the Helicarrier to another SHIELD base that still had full power, one that was land locked, in order for him to get the full life support that he needed. He couldn't even breathe on his own.

The words that were his last, according to Fury, was that Ana was gone. Her other self had fought with Loki and lost. It still did not stop her from trying to save Thor, who Loki had tricked into being locked in the glass cell. It was between revenge and sacrifice. Ana's other self had chosen sacrifice. No one knew if she had succeeded in saving Thor from the cell or if she had survived the fall. SHIELD agents had found the shattered remains of the glass cell on that shoreline, but thankfully that was all.

Tony hoped and prayed that Thor had managed to catch her.

It was enough that Phil was bordering on life and death, risking his life for an idea he believed in so firmly. To have the thought that Ana may not have lived... She had done something that had made Phil smile when he thought of her before he fell into unconsciousness. He had told Fury that if a raging monster could risk everything in the belief of saving another life, why couldn't the Avengers? There was hope. They just needed something to bring together. Maybe...

Tony swallowed back the tightness in his throat. No, Ana had to be alive. If she was anything like her boyfriend, she was durable. She had to be. He had looked through his phone, reading and searching through every file he had of her. But there was nothing. No record of her having survived such a fall before. Oh, she could survive gunshots, freezing temperatures, explosions... But none of the experiments from the LIFE Foundation included dropping her from a height of thirty thousand feet.

"Damn it," he cursed, clenching the phone in his fist as he slammed his other fist against the railing that surrounded the hatchway. "She's gotta be OK..."

Bruce...

Oh god, Bruce would break if he found out. That woman had, single handedly in the span of nearly two weeks, brought that man happiness that he hadn't felt in a long time. She had made him feel normal. Tony had seen it that morning when Bruce had come into the lab late. He had been radiating it. Ana was the reason he kept calm now. When they were together, they were so content that the risk of the other selves emerging was slim. Unless they were both provoked, as they had been from that explosion.

Bruce was gonna kill him for not keeping an eye on her. Yes, Tony had been busy with restoring the function of the that propeller and nearly getting mangled in the process, so he couldn't have been in two places at once. That didn't stop the guilt. Tony saw Bruce as one of his closest friends now, one of the few important people in his life next to Pepper and Rhodey. And Ana... She was an unexpected addition. She'd grown from some unknown entity to becoming the little sister he got to pick on whenever he needed a smile. He had failed as a friend to both Bruce and Ana. He was supposed to watch out for them. If she was really dead...

He looked at his phone then, wondering why he hadn't thought of it before, then dialed the secure phone number that reached Jenn. It rang a few times before the line was answered and the cool female voice was a relief to his ear.

"Mr. Stark," greeted Jenn, her computerized voice bearing a hint of worry. "I thought you would call sooner."

"Tell me she's all right," said Tony, getting straight to the point.

Silence was the response and then a reluctant. "She's alive, Mr. Stark. Not all right."

Relief, blessed and needed, coursed through him before the second part of Jenn's statement registered. “What do you mean?"

"She is broken Mr. Stark," said Jenn, a hint of sadness could be heard. "She thinks Dr. Banner is dead. There is no way her mother and I can verify if he survived. The area he landed in had some abandoned warehouses. The most technology they have there are regular phone lines and standard above ground electrical workings. There was nothing for me to hack into. The GPS satellites did find one of the warehouses with a huge hole in the roof but no sign of Banner."

"This is the Hulk we're talking about," said Tony, a smile touching his goateed lips. "He can survive a fall like that. Knowing Banner, he'll be making his way to the closest place he knows..." Tony trailed off then as realization touched him. Of course, why hadn't he thought of it before? That was why Bruce was going on about Loki's jab and it might be what had picked up on the scanners before the explosion. Loki was going for show and there was no better way to say fuck you to your enemy then to set your weapons right on their home turf.

"Mr. Stark?"

"Jenn, I'm giving you permission to access Jarvis. Do all you can to help him to keep Selvig from accessing that arc reactor at the tower. I don’t want to risk shutting down the reactor just yet so see if you can find some way. Loki's planning on opening that portal there." He turned around and he made his way to the corridor, his mind going a mile a minute. "Is there any way you can get Ana there? We'll need her help." He paused in mid step and turned slightly, the look on his face was one of sincere care. "Do what you can to get her there. Banner is gonna be on his way, I'm sure of it. He's going to want to see her first and foremost after all that's gone down."

"Mr. Stark, I hadn't seen any sign of-"

"Jenn, trust me. Just get Ana there, Banner will show." He continued walking down the hall, feeling much more in control with every step he took. "I'll get the team together. It'll take a few days for us to regroup but we'll be ready."

"Very well Mr. Stark," said Jenn, a hint of amusement could be heard. "Is there anything else I can do for you?"

"Yes actually," said Tony as he turned the corner to the next corridor that lead to the armory where his suit was kept. "I'd like to formally offer you a position with Stark Industries. Our Research and Development team could really use your talents."

Soft laughter could be heard, the first that Jenn had ever given since they had started talking. "Does it come with paid time off?"

"And health benefits, 401k plans, everything you need."

"I'll think about it. Talk to you later Mr. Stark," said Jenn before the line was disconnected.

Tony smirked as he slipped his phone back in his pocket and ran off to get his suit back in working order. He had a team to get together.

-o-

It had taken nearly three days, but the team was finally ready, though by that time the device for the Tesseract was now operational. Even with Jarvis and Jenn working behind the scenes doing all they could to slow down Selvig (aside from simply shutting down the reactor, which Tony hadn't want to do unless as a drastic measure) the cube was an unlimited energy source that simply needed a kick start from the arc reactor. It took one connection and that was it. The device was ready.

Tony, now Iron Man, was on his way, and though Jenn had finally shut down the reactor at his order, the device was self-sustaining. One brief confrontation with Selvig and the device powered on. All hell had broken loose.

The Avengers team was fighting off alien hordes while trying to save and protect innocents caught in the middle. Iron Man was feeling slightly worried as he flew about Midtown, helping where he could. Where was Bruce? He should be here by now...

He managed to dodge the oncoming laser beams of one of the Chitauri that had been following him on its hover vehicle. He fired back, burning a hole right through its skull. It was a grotesque thing, a cross between reptilian ape and cyborg. It's violet blood, followed by the spark of electrical workings in its skull, gave proof to that theory. It crashed down to the street below.

Iron man had followed its descent while flying a little lower to avoid an oncoming alien when right below him, an eruption took place. In a twenty-foot radius, many of the Chitauri were spontaneously combusting. The sound of a banshee-like scream reached his auditory sensors and a smile appeared on his lips. Right in the center of this burning mass of writhing alien bodies was a sight for sore eyes. She hadn't completely changed but she was getting there. With an explosion that erupted from her feet, Cin was propelled into the air and onto the path of a hover vehicle.

The alien driving it didn't stand a chance.

With an eruption of balled flames, it was nothing more burning pair of legs and electrical workings. Just as the hover craft began to descend, Cin moved onto the next vehicle that had been firing at her. With a sickening visual of pulsating red veins, she thrust her fingers into the face of the alien, only for red claws to emerge from the other side. Her glowing yellow orbs were filled with a mad rage as she leapt from the vehicle and landed on the side of a building. She dug her claws into the brick and finally completed her full change. She was tall, lithe, every visible inch of her torso and limbs covered with burning red veins, and ready to battle. With a roar, she jumped from one building to another, attacking a Chitauri with clawed hands and feet that ripped and tore. With a screech, she released her explosive powers on those she couldn't reach, which now extended to twice the size of the original attack.

She was taking more of them out by the moment and Iron Man couldn't have been happier.

"Mr. Stark, do you copy?" A cool female voice spoke in his ear.

"Gotcha Jenn, I found Cin. Gotta say, love the new name for her."

Jenn laughed at that. "Thank Agent Coulson. But never mind that, would you grab Sido? She's been hurt. She's on the sidewalk where Ana left her after the change. She's done her part now I need my sister safe."

"Don't worry, I got her."

Iron Man swung around back the way he had come, his scanners running along the sidewalk below him before they focused on the tall, dark haired French woman. He flew down and landed right in front her, being careful as he picked her up from the ground. "Mrs. Brandt, a pleasure to finally meet you. I have to say, you raised one hell of a daughter."

"Mr. Stark," said Sido, her French accent adding a lovely tone to her words. She laughed, wrapping her arms around his metal neck. "The pleasure's mine and thank you. I am proud of my angel. Now, could you get me out of here? I don't want to be a distraction for you all."

He took off into the air, holding Ana's mother carefully as he took her to the rendezvous point Jenn had notified him of. Sido's body guard, a man named Yann, would be there to take her.

"By the way, has Dr. Banner shown?" she asked, looking at Iron Man with slight worry in her pale blue eyes.

"Not yet, but he'll be here."

Sido sighed heavily. "I hope so. She misses him terribly Mr. Stark. I don't think she can last another day..."

-o-

It had taken nearly three days before Bruce had finally reached New York City. It was complete and utter chaos that greeted him as he made his way toward Midtown. Everyone was trying to escape the onslaught of the alien army that was now making their way down from the portal above Stark Tower. He'd come too late but better than never.

He kept on riding through, avoiding the smashed vehicles, the screaming people, the chaos, until he reached the on ramp for one of the freeways. He had seen a flash of red, white and blue fighting there and a woman with vibrant red hair shooting at the aliens around them. The moment he rode the motorcycle toward the group ahead of him, his eyes automatically scanned them, looking for a particular head of copper brown curls. There was nothing.

He swallowed as he tried to keep the tension down. He slowed down the bike, catching the attention of Captain America, who had been speaking to Black Widow, Hawkeye and Thor. All eyes turned to him as he got off the bike and set it against a car that had been turned over. Walking slowly toward them, he looked around and threw his hands out, "Well, this all seems... horrible."

"I've seen worse," said Natasha as she studied Bruce with a wary eye. One would have thought it had been because of their last encounter. Too bad that wasn't the reason.

"Sorry," said Bruce, a tinge of regret visible on his features.

"No, we could use... a little worse," she said, thinking back on her encounter with the Hulk and wondering what he'd do now that...

"Stark, we got him," said Captain America, touching a gloved hand to his helmet.

Bruce didn't pay Rogers any mind, he could see the hesitance in Natasha's eyes. Something was wrong, something they didn't want to tell him. She was the last one he remembered that had been with Ana before his change. He swallowed and took in a breath. "Where's Ana?"

Dead silence was what greeted him and the panic had risen a notch. He noticed the group looking at one another in uneasiness, looking as if he had asked the one question they had hoped he wouldn't. Natasha took in a breath and looked at Thor. He wasn't the only one Ana's other self had saved that day. Natasha knew that if Cin had not interfered with the Hulk's rage, she could have been seriously hurt or worse. "Bruce... Ana's..."

"I'm sorry my friend," said Thor, interrupting Natasha, regret was etched on every feature of his face. "Loki had escaped and tricked me. I was locked in that glass prison and released into the air. Your mate had been there to get me out. We were falling at such a fast speed..." He swallowed, hesitant, but continued on. "She was thrown from the prison when I made my escape. I was not quick enough to catch her. I am... truly sorry. I owe her a debt I wish that I could repay..."

He was numb at first, nothing but cold numbness touching his heart as he stared at Thor. He took in a breath and then two as disbelief replaced the numbness. "No," he said, shaking his head as he took a step back and tried to smile, looking as if he hoped it was all a bad joke. "No, no, no... She's gotta be here." There was no other place she could be. She couldn't be...

That was when the pain struck his heart and he clenched his fists tightly as the pain began to turn to cold fury. He'd failed her. He was supposed to protect her and he'd failed. The fury was escalating as the anguish began to mix in. The Other Guy was breaking apart inside. His fiery one, his mate, his love, could not be gone. She couldn't be dead. They'd just found her. There was supposed to be a happy ending somewhere in there, wasn't there? Didn't he deserve that at least with the life he had had to live? He finally had the chance and it was torn from him yet again.

He didn't hear Rogers speaking with Tony, he didn't see the worried glances that Natasha and Thor gave. Bruce simply clenched his fists and looked over his shoulder, catching sight of Iron Man leading a particularly large, grotesque leviathan that was flying through the air by some unknown means. He glanced back at the others before he turned and walked toward the creature, Iron Man flying overhead. It had now flown low to the street and was crashing into everything in its path.

"Dr. Banner," Captain America called to him, walking a few steps forward as he held out a hand to get his attention. "Now might be a good time to get angry."

Bruce almost laughed at that, the cold fury continuing to build up within him, as he glanced back at the soldier but kept on walking ahead. "That's my secret Captain." He stopped, a few traitorous tears slipping down his cheeks as he frowned. "I'm always angry..." He turned away and as he did so his frame smoothly transitioned from that of Dr. Banner into the Hulk, ripping shoes and shirt and bottom leg pants along the way.

The creature was just upon him when the Hulk threw down a heavy fist against the creature's snout, a huge bellowing roar escaping him, his tears still falling. He braced himself against force of the creature, his bare feet digging into the concrete.

Iron Man had turned back around and stopped to hover in the air, taking aim. "Hold on," he said to the others and fired at the large metal scaled backside of the creature that was rising into the air. He fired straight between the metal plates, the little missile exploding on impact. Pieces of meat, metal and electrical workings flew everywhere. The smashed head of the creature continued sliding off the thruway and down to the street below.

The Hulk let out another bellowing roar at the aliens that were scaling down the surrounding buildings, his anguish and anger could clearly be heard. Iron Man could certainly hear it and he swallowed, wondering what had set Bruce off so easily.

"Natasha, what exactly did you tell him?" he asked the agent.

Silence and then. "The truth. Ana's gone. There was no other way to let him know."

Shit, Iron Man thought as he broke the communications link and hovered down to the group, settling himself down next to the Hulk, who was clenching his massive green fists. Don't worry Big Man. You're in for a very good surprise. He thought as he smiled, thinking of Cin, who was fighting her own battles several blocks down from where they were. All they had to do now was cross paths and then the real fun would begin...

Chapter Text

U feel so good...

U smell so good...

U feel so warm...

Just like I knew U would

Can't let U go...

Can't let U go...

I can't let you go...

Teach U A Lesson – Robin Thicke

-o-

Chapter 24: Romance on The Battlefield

Romance on the battlefield could be a beautiful thing, if only because of the dire situations that made such a love possible.

When it happened between two raging monsters that had mated, and both thought the other had perished, it made the romance much more primal.

The desire, the urgency, the pure emotion, that was involved was enough to make even the most well experienced of people blush in surprise. That was what Thor had been witness to the moment Hulk and Cin had finally come across one another.

All of the Avengers team had been fighting, following the strategies that Captain America had called out, taking out the Chitauri as they went. As it happened, Thor and the Hulk had managed to get themselves on the back of one of the floating whale-like leviathans that harbored the Chitauri army. As the creature flew its way down one of the many streets, Hulk and Thor were doing all they could to decimate the Chitauri creatures that were climbing out of the thing. They were doing a hell of job, but the leviathan needed to be put down...

It had happened just as the Hulk had ripped off a piece of the creature's metal plates and stabbed it down deep into the neck of the thing. Thor swung his hammer and slammed down on that piece, giving a good jolt of electricity. It was at that point that a banshee-like cry had surrounded them, a familiar form had jumped off a passing hover vehicle and landed onto the head of the creature.

Just as the jolt of electricity surged the creature, the familiar form had let loose a primal high-pitched roar as she stabbed her red claws in between the metal plates and into the meat of the thing, releasing a burning jolt of heat. The head of the creature exploded in a fantastic array of lightning and flame. It immediately took a nose dive and crashed through a building, one that held the familiar Grand Central Terminal. It crashed through the wall and into a landmark, decimating it completely before it slid to a stop, now good and dead.

Thor took a few steps down, surveying the damage done, when his blue gaze sight of the Red Lady he had thought perished. She was ripping and tearing at the neck of the thing, her feral cries of anger echoing off the walls of the station.

By Valhalla, Thor thought, the blessed Red Lady survived... His thought was cut short from a violent punch he received from the Hulk. He was thrown several hundred feet into the nearest wall and broke through it. He emerged from the rubble just in time to see the Hulk staring in surprise at the female in front of him, who had not noticed him behind her.

He let out a bellowing roar, catching her attention. She paused in her onslaught of decimating the carcass of the creature and looked over her shoulder, her glowing orbs focusing on the large green male before her. They widened for a moment and she turned away from the carcass to face the Hulk. She let loose a series of high pitched roars, which the Hulk responded with one, deep growl of his own.

The next moment, an explosion of flames erupted and the Red Lady was gone. There had been a trail of flames along the back of the dead creature and then the Hulk was also gone, taken by the force of the female. Thor quickly climbed out of the rubble and rushed his way outside, hoping that they were ok. His worries were unfounded.

They were on the street, surrounded by the burning bodies of many Chitauri. The Red Lady was on top of the Hulk and crooning to him in a heartbreaking tone, rubbing her forehead against his as her tears fell down her cheeks, the liquid hissing off into steam. She let loose a series of crooning sounds before she hiccupped and buried her face within the crook of his neck.

The Hulk had wrapped his large arms around her lithe frame, a deep grumble emerging from his torso as he rubbed his cheek against her dark curls. They held each other for some time before the Red Lady started to smother his face with kisses before capturing his lips with her own. The look of surprise on the Hulk's face was enough to warrant that this behavior was completely Ana's. Her human self had shown through, relief at finding her mate alive.

The Hulk took the kiss in stride, having never been kissed before, at least in this form. He simply held her tighter against him, looking so relieved. His mate was alive and safe. She had finally broken away and started nipping at his neck, her long limbs wrapping about his hips as she started to move against him, her urges quite clear. That had immediately caught the Hulk's attention and the growl that emerged was one of urgency and need.

Oh my, thought Thor as he saw the primal display and the blush was in his cheeks before he could stop it. They mean to...

The attack of a passing Chitauri hover vehicle broke that the moment fairly quickly, the laser catching the Red Lady upon the back. A very bad move. Both raging monsters glanced up at the passing hover vehicle and their mutual roars of displeasure could be heard for several hundred feet around.

The Hulk had gotten to his feet, carrying his female with him by one arm. He had glanced at her and let out a questioning grumble, which was promptly answered by a deep growl of anger from her as she adjusted herself in his grip, looking as if she wanted to be thrown. The Hulk had smiled then, an evil looking smirk that graced his green lips. He quickly nuzzled her neck before pressing a kiss against the base of it, the glowing red patch that was always there now glowing brighter at the contact.

The Red Lady crooned to him before she braced herself. The Hulk took his mate in his arms, bracing himself, before he threw her at an oncoming leviathan. Her claws were bared as she let out a piercing roar and landed on the face of the creature, digging her red claws into its eyes before the head exploded from a fiery eruption. The Hulk had been running after her and leapt up into the air to catch his mate just as she was thrown from the carcass of the creature. She looked at him and crooned softly, rubbing her forehead lovingly against his as the Hulk landed in a crash to the street below. He was focused on the ministrations of his female, his look of contentment unlike anything Thor had seen before.

They truly are mates, thought Thor as he allowed a smile to touch his lips. Love was present here and it gave Thor renewed hope. If those two feral creatures could find hope and love within each other, then anything was possible. He took his hammer in hand, ready to fight alongside this couple. If anything was worth fighting for in this life, love was quite a good reason.

-o-

So, the battle raged on, except this time the odds had been evened out. With Cin now reunited with the Hulk, her attacks were much more focused and deadlier. Her ability to bring any alien to spontaneously combust within a certain radius of her had gotten the Hulk to start throwing her around like a bomb waiting to explode. He was always there to catch her and the moment he did, their reunion was always as sweet as the first. With a loving croon from her and nuzzle against the back of her neck from him, the attack would begin again.

Thor was ecstatic to see such a display. They were so in tune with one another that the majority of the Chitauri that were near them were focusing their attack on Cin whenever she appeared. Apparently, they had finally recognized her for what she was. Still, it did not detain the mated couple from their attacks against the aliens, in fact the enraged Cin was remembering strategies from a life gone by. She knew of ways to bring the aliens down, their weak spots in between their armor, the best places to aim when firing from long distance. The god of thunder was glad that at least one Lyttan had survived long enough to remember these creatures' weak points.

It had gotten so well for the Avengers, and so bad for the god of mischief, that Loki had finally given the command to send the rest of the army. In the end, it didn't matter. The red veined Lyttan had found her mate and her rage. For her destroyed people, for revenge against the stupid frost giant who thought he could control such an army, for everything that had been lost and for everything that had been gained, Cin had found her calling in life. And the Hulk was there to catch her with each fall, his loving grumbles to her and fierce growls against any attack upon her being all the support she needed.

It had finally been brought to a halt the moment that Hawkeye had managed to attack Loki in one of the hover vehicles, the god's attack focused upon a dodging Black Widow, who was controlling one of the creatures on another vehicle by steering it with blades imbedded in its back. Cin had pointed the falling god to her mate, her roar for vengeance being all the incentive the Hulk needed to hear. He had taken her upon his back and leapt from building to building until he made it to the balcony of the Stark Tower where Loki had crashed upon.

The Hulk threw the god through a window, a hail of broken glass following after them as he crashed to a stop upon the tiled floor of Tony's personal apartments. He allowed his female to slide off his back before he thumped his massive green fists against the floor and went after the god.

"Enough!" cried Loki, rising quickly to his feet as he threw back his green cape. The Hulk stopped, thrown slightly off guard by the sudden yell from the small male.

Loki glared at the Hulk, trying to look intimidating but failing considering who he was glaring at. "You are, all of you, beneath me! I am a god, you dull creatures! And I will not be bullied by-"

His speech was cut off the moment the Hulk had taken him by the legs and started pummeling him against the tiled floor, chunks of broken black tile flying everywhere. Cin's growling laughter could be heard the moment the Hulk paused in his pummeling to stare at the small male in his hand. Loki managed few breaths of surprise before the pummeling began several more times until he was smashed against the tiled floor one final time, a small crater forming from the impact.

Loki remained where he was, the breath completely knocked out of him, a slight groan escaping his lips.

Cin continued to laugh in her growling way as she made her way toward her large green mate, her clawed feet clicking against the tiled floor.

"Puny god," was all the Hulk had to say as he took his female by the waist and pulled her up onto a massive shoulder, walking off with a hand gripping her firmly by the thigh. Cin glanced back at the puny god and her feral smile was telling, her pride in her mate all too clear. The Avengers had a Hulk on their side, a Hulk who was mated. That was indeed a dangerous thing to come across...

-o-

In the end, it wasn't the Chitauri that the Avengers had to worry about.

It was the nuclear missile that Fury's higher ups had ordered against his advice.

It was flying straight to the island of Manhattan and the worst part was that there were civilians still there, trying to get away from the fighting. It was with Fury's call to Tony, with Jenn's hurried instructions to send the missile through portal, and Jarvis' warning about Tony's energy levels, that set the whole thing in motion.

With a strangled breath of hope and prayer, the Iron Man had grabbed the nuke himself and took it through the portal. It was the primal, protesting, roars of the Hulk and his mate that bore the true emotion of such a sacrifice. They were the ones who remembered the genius, billionaire, playboy, philanthropist for what he was. A true friend and brother.

It took a moment, a long and tense moment, before the aliens around them began to fall down dead. The portal began to waver as the power that sustained machine was finally cut off, thanks to Selvig's instinct to build in an emergency cut off switch, which needed Loki's scepter to activate. The Black Widow had taken care of that.

As the portal wavered and began to shrink, the bated breaths of the Avengers continued on. It wasn't until a speck of familiar gold and red armor appeared that the breaths were released. Except, he wasn't slowing down in his fall... Tony wasn't awake.

The high pitched, protesting roars from his female as she started running, jumping off the roof they had been on and trying to aim herself to catch the man she thought of as Brother, was more than enough to get him started in running on his own. He was much taller and had much more strength in his limbs than she did and leapt after her. He had managed to catch Iron Man, his green hand and feet tearing against the side of the building across before he threw himself off of it. He turned around and took the brunt of the fall, crashing into a car in the process on the street below.

The Hulk took in breath before he threw Iron Man aside, the sudden slam of broken concrete alerting him of his mate beside him. Cin was on her knees as she crawled to Iron Man's side and turned him to his back. She began to croon in a worried manner as her red claws dug against the crevices of the mask and tore it aside with little regard.

Captain America and Thor had just arrived on foot, seeing the female as she gently ran a claw against Tony's face, her crooning one of deep sadness. Tony wasn't waking up and the heartbreaking croons of Cin were made even worse as she tapped a red claw against his chest piece, trying to get the glow back. She pressed her ear against his chest and closed her eyes, her growl one of anger and deep sadness. Thor and Captain America had gathered round the two, their sadness quite clear in their mannerisms.

The Hulk couldn't take the sight of the one he called friend being asleep. He couldn't stand the heartfelt cries of his mate as she tried to wake their friend up. He took a step forward and let loose a bellowing roar that vibrated through all those present.

Tony let loose a frightened gasp, his hazel eyes opening wide as he looked around at the group surrounding him. The Hulk let out another roar, slamming a huge green fist against his massive chest.

"What the hell!" said Tony, looking around at the group in shock. "What just happened?" He looked at Thor before he caught sight of Captain America close to him. "Please tell me nobody kissed me."

The sudden sight of glowing yellow orbs caught him off guard as a warm purr began to emanate and the nuzzle against his cheek from Cin was unexpected. She pressed her hot lips against his cheek as tears fell from her glowing eyes and hissed against her skin. "Bro... ther..." she growled in such a heartfelt way before pressing her lips against his forehead.

Tony stared at Cin and allowed a hint of a smile to appear on his goateed lips. "OK, I don't mind that kiss," he said as Cin continued her ministrations to him, purring and crooning to him, her tears still falling. She nuzzled his forehead, rubbing it against her own, before she looked up at her mate and smiled, a breathtaking smile that resembled Ana's at her happiest moments.

The Hulk knew that smile. It was a promise of things to come. Oh goodness... That smile... He needed his mate...

The sudden feel of primal urges was cut off as Captain America mumbled something about them winning. The clanking of Tony's metal fist against the concrete broke the feral, sexual tension between the two raging monsters. "All right... Hey!" He thumped another metal fist against the ground. "All right, good job Guys... Gal... Let's just not come in tomorrow... Let's just take a day..."

He looked at the large green frame of the Hulk and pointed to him. "You ever tried shawarma? There's a shawarma joint about two blocks from here."

Cin's growling laughter could be heard as she reached out to pull Iron Man upon her lap and nuzzled his forehead again. He smiled up at her, knowing that Ana was shining through. "I don't know what it is but I wanna try it."

Thor glanced up at the remains of Stark Tower then and let out a heavy breath. "We're not finished yet..."

-o-

Loki was struggling from the crater that the Hulk had beat him down to. The Metal Man hadn't been lying. They had had a Hulk. One who was very much protective of the female demon he had originally come across that fateful night in Stuttgart. Something told him it wasn't mere coincidence that all of this had happened as it had...

He paused as he tried pulling himself up the few steps toward the bar that the Metal Man had originally offered a drink from. His keen senses told him that moving any further would mean a world of pain he hadn't experienced yet. He took in breath as he turned himself over, his aches and pains doubling at the sight of the feral couple at the back of the group of Avengers. He ignored them as best as he could. "If it's all the same to you," he began, adjusting his aching body as he sat up. "I'll have that drink now..."

The growl from the Hulk at his request was enough to keep him silent.

-o-

Tony Stark was relieved that it was all over.

Thor had taken his adoptive brother by the back of the neck, a threatening gesture that was amplified with the Hulk and Cin so close by. Cin's growls were menacing enough as she flexed her red claws, aching to rip into the frost giant with everything she had. The large green hand on her lithe waist was what kept her from attacking. The Hulk was growling as well, keeping his female close beside him as they watched Thor take Loki and led him away from their midst.

Tony sighed heavily as he looked at Captain America, Black Widow and Hawkeye. "So, who's up for some shawarma?"

Their reactions were less than pleasing but Tony's hazel eyes were drawn to the sight of the feral couple behind them. Cin had leapt up into the Hulk's arms, her long limbs wrapping about his massive neck and waist. She was crooning to him, rubbing against him, her urges quite apparent. The Hulk was responding in kind, his massive green hands holding her by her backside, his rumbles of pleasure echoing off the walls.

Goodness, these two would wreck his tower more than the Chitauri already had.

"Hey, Big Guy," cried Tony, catching the Hulk's attention. "I'm glad you found your girl but please... Don't do it near my stuff."

That familiar line, from what had seemed to be from another life time, had caught with the Hulk and his smile was telling. Oh no, he wouldn't do it near Tony's stuff. This place was too breakable. He had a better place in mind to claim his female...

The others were surprised when the Hulk had taken Cin in his arms and ran off, leaping from the balcony and landing a good distance away to another building. He then continued in leaping great distances, scaling large buildings until he had to leap from suburban wooded area to less suburban wooded area. Until, finally, they had reached a mountain range, surrounded by woods, and no human civilization in sight...

Perfect...

Chapter Text

Can you see the flame

That burns inside my body

Every time you are here

Cause you're the one I dream of

Every day and night...

My Passion – Akcent

-o-

Chapter 25: He Remembered This

Bella Coola – British Columbia

He remembered this place after the fight in Harlem over a year prior.

It was where the Little Guy had brought them in an attempt for him to manage the rage. It worked to a certain extent. Now, he was so very glad that he remembered...

The Little Guy's memories were fuzzy whenever the Hulk tried to recall things from him. There were flashes at best, things that were brought on by strong emotions. Betty had been one of them, his first love. Her father, General Ross, was another, his first true cause of anger. Until recently he couldn't recall much whenever the Little Guy was dominate. That was until Ana had shown up.

Everything about her had brought out such strong emotions in the Little Guy that the Hulk could recall much of their time together. The Little Guy loved Ana. Now, it was his turn to love his female. His fiery one... The side of Ana that truly belonged to him. To find her alive in that battlefield... For a moment the Little Guy had almost emerged, the pulse of desperation and the passionate love and relief almost overwhelming the Hulk.

His fiery one had felt the same desperation as, for a split second, her calm side had taken over, smothering his face with kisses before kissing his lips. The Hulk had never been kissed. Oh, he could recall that moment with Betty in that hotel room once upon a time, when the Little Guy had almost given in. He recalled that the Little Guy had liked it a lot. Then there was Ana, who had given the Little Guy what he so desperately needed. That memory was strongest of them all and the Hulk knew that there was pleasure involved. A lot of pleasure. Then there was the cargo bay... Oh that memory was delicious. He had almost gotten to taste her for himself. Almost but not quite.

Having a memory of such a thing was very different from experiencing it yourself.

His fiery one was desperate for him the moment he had finally come to a stop in the middle of a dense forest. He looked around the familiar area, knowing that the cabin was close. There was path that led to it. He knew that their other selves would need it once everything had calmed down. Now, the weather was the least thing on his mind.

He turned his attention to his woman and grumbled with anticipation, feeling her hot body brushing against his, the wonderful apex of her legs was already moist. She was nipping at his neck and sucking on the green skin, rubbing against his prominent arousal. She had been doing that since they left that tower. It took everything the Hulk had not to claim her right there on the spot. This was a first for him. To actually experience such a primal pleasure was something he had always wanted to do. The Little Guy had gotten to in the past and then again thrice with Ana. He wanted it for himself so badly...

"Hu...lk..." she growled to him, that name that had been plastered on him from day one. Hearing it coming from her sweet little mouth just made it sound so feral and primal and right.

She abandoned his neck and started sucking his lips, those hot lips of hers drawing them in, her even hotter tongue running along the skin with her desperate moans. The pleasure that had arisen from such a simple action hit straight to the groin and his growl of surprise rumbled in his massive chest. He really liked kissing.

The moment she had again rubbed up against his arousal, the feel of that promising heat running up and down against the cloth of his tattered pants, his hips automatically bucked in response. It was a natural enough reaction but one that caught him off guard. It was different having flashes of such a thing but to feel it...

That was when her purring started up, a gentle vibration within her torso that emerged from her throat. His arousal gave a painful throb in response. Oh, he loved it when she purred for him like that. He started mimicking her kissing, trying to elicit the same response from her that he had given. Her little croon of delight sent another painful throb and he quickly lifted his woman, aiming to get those scorched jeans off of her...

That was when her purring stopped and she suddenly leapt out of his arms.

Confusion touched his passion drunk mind and he looked down at his hands, now devoid of his female, before glancing around. An urgency touched him.

Oh no, not when they had been so damn close...

He continued looking around before a croon caught his attention and he glanced up, catching sight of her perched on the branch of tree. She was looking at him and tilted her head to the side, her glowing eyes studying him with a look of amusement.

He looked around her, making sure there was no one else around, before he growled at her, urging her to come back to him. She didn't move. She simply smiled at him, her pronounced canines giving that smile a feral quality. He huffed in annoyance before he took a step back and leapt up to get to her. She immediately jumped away to the next tree, the result was the Hulk knocking down the tree she had just been in. He landed on the forest floor with a ground shaking thud and glanced up his woman, her growling chuckles an indication that she knew exactly what she was doing.

He leapt after again, trying to grab her, but she was much quicker than him and a few trees were knocked over in the process. The Hulk finally had enough and threw a massive fist against the tree she was currently on. It was knocked over with little trouble but again she leapt away. This time she landed several hundred yards from him on the ground and the smile on her face was telling as she slowly took a step back and then another...

Come get me...

The Hulk stood dumbfounded for a moment as he stared at her and then understanding replaced it, the smile that appeared looking very wicked indeed. His woman wanted to play.

Oh, hell yes...

The moment she saw his smile, she was gone in a heartbeat, running through the trees. He let out a bellowing roar and chased after her, his heart pumping with anticipation and excitement. Oh, he liked this game a lot. Though he was stronger, she was faster on her feet and was already a good distance ahead of him. He caught glimpses of her, her growling laughter taunting him.

He crashed to a stop in a clearing, looking around at the trees as he focused on the sounds of her. He could make out the sound of her clawed feet thumping against the dead vegetation on the ground, muffling the sound but not completely. He measured the distance between himself and her thumping feet before he crouched down and took a huge leap. He sailed over the trees and landed down with a crash right in front of her, knocking over more trees in the process.

She had skid to a stop in surprise at the sight of him and his smile was one of triumph.

Gotcha.

She let out a grumble in laughter just as he ran forward to grab her. She leapt out of the way of his grasp and, with an eruption of flames from her feet, propelled herself forward into the air. She disappeared from sight, but he could hear her running footsteps from several hundred yards to the west of him, heading toward the mountain range. He started to laugh, enjoying himself immensely, and ran after her. He truly loved his fiery one. She knew how to have fun.

It went on that way for some time. Just as he was close to catching her, she'd slip his grasp. Their chase continued up into the mountain range, their cat and mouse game finally ended when he reached to grab her ankle just as she was about to jump from him. He slammed her up against a jagged rock wall and threw himself against her, caging her within his large arms. He growled at her, his green eyes showing victory.

"Mine," he rumbled to her, his hardening arousal pressing against her thighs.

She crooned to him and growled in response, her glowing eyes showing satisfaction. "Yours,” she growled in agreement, her clawed hands digging into the rock behind her. "Al... ways..."

Damn right.

With a tearing of fabric that had little chance, the Hulk was free and that sweet promise of pleasure was his for the taking. He spread her legs wide as he pressed the tip of his thick, throbbing member right against her moist slit. She was even hotter there than the rest of her body...

With swallow against the tightness in his throat, he thrust up into her and the sudden feel of hot, tight wetness surrounding him caught him completely off guard. A stuttered grumble escaped him as his green eyes grew slightly wide, the croon of satisfaction from his woman at the feel of him fully within her making his hips buck up against her.

He had no idea it would feel like this.

A faint memory of such a pleasure held no candle to the real thing.

The moment he withdrew from her, the stuttered grumbled turned into a broken growl of shock, the pure feeling of pleasure emerging from such a movement unlike anything he could recall. Oh, this felt really, really, good. No wonder the Little Guy's memories were so strong when he did this with Ana.

Her crooning turned into a gasp of pleasured surprise the moment he slammed back into her, the force of it making the mountain wall behind her crack beneath her. The gasp of her pleasure made his hips automatically buck in response, sharp and deep, and she cried out. His green eyes grew alight with understanding. Oh, now he remembered. Ana loved it when the Little Guy thrust like that.

Angling himself just right, he braced her hips and thrust sharply and deeply within her hot moist slit. Her response was a cry of pleasure, the tightening of her walls around his hardness, and her claws raking down across his shoulders. The sudden feel of pain mixing with the pleasure of thrusting in her tore a strangled growl of surprise, his hips slamming against her, his member pounding up within her.

Oh, he liked that.

He did it again, thrusting sharply and deeply up into her, the sound of her gasping cries and the raking of her claws against his green skin, started building a knot of pleasure within the pit of his lower abdomen.

"Fe-el... go-od," he said in a broken growl as the pleasure starting tightening, wounding up inside of him with every powerful thrust into her. The rock behind her was cracking more and more from the force of each thrust, pieces of rocks flying around. The pleasure was creating a haze in his mind, everything was focused on every single thrust that gave such a powerful force of pleasure.

Her breaths were in shuddering cries and he could feel her hot moist walls fluttering around him, the promise of something very good to come. He took hold of her and pulled her away from the wall, moving her quickly to the ground. He withdrew from her, ignoring her protesting growls, as he turned her around so that she was on all fours.

"Mine!" He roared as he lifted her hips up and pressed his hand down on her back, forcing her upper torso to the ground. Without warning, he took hold of her hips and thrust down deeply into her, the hot wetness suddenly tighter than before. His roar had broken into a strangled gasp pleasure, her own growl cutting off into a cry of relief. She lowered her head to the ground and dug her claws into the rock, bracing herself against the powerful thrusts he gave.

He liked this submissive position a lot. It felt even better than ever. The knot in his lower ab was tightening quicker, his breath coming in strangled growls and deep moans. A sudden thought emerged from somewhere deep inside him, a random piece of knowledge that was sure to get his woman over the edge quicker than anything. It had the feeling of the Little Guy written all over it.

Not hesitating, he reached around to where they were joined and rubbed a broad finger against the very edge of where he was sliding in and out of her at a faster pace. It took just a few simple strokes against a little swollen nub he could feel within her folds and the sudden tension that gripped her body threw him off his rhythm.

She threw her head and let out a piecing cry of release, the walls that surrounded his hardness tightening around him. The sudden feel of wet warmth surrounded him as he pulled out, the warmth growing hotter by the moment as her back arched and her muscles spasmed and twitched.

Oh, whatever she was feeling, he hoped he would get to-

The shock of heat that surrounded him caught him off guard and he thrust into her one last time, his eyes growing wide as a broken roar of shocked elation escaped him, the tightening knot in the pit of his lower ab suddenly exploding. Pleasure surged through his body and struck every single nerve ending in him. The pulsing release as he came into her was like nothing he had ever experienced.

The pleasure was so good that a haze fell over him and his trembling legs gave out, his hips still thrusting into her as he gave every last ounce of himself to her. She had collapsed beneath his weight but didn't look as if she was about to complain. Her heaving breaths, and the dumb struck look on her face, meant he had fucked her and fucked her good.

The Hulk's own breaths were heavy as his first climax finally subsided to a pleasing feeling of languid relief. He tried to gather his thoughts as he glanced down at his woman and carefully lifted himself from her, pulling her up with him. He wrapped his arms around her and stared her down at her.

She was still breathing heavily but the smile she gave him was absolutely brilliant.

"A... gain..." she growled to him, stilled joined with him. She started moving her hips against him, bringing him to attention right away. He took in another breath, his green eyes studying her, before his smile emerged, looking very wicked indeed.

Oh, HELL yes...

Chapter Text

You see through

Right to the heart of me

You break through my walls

With the strength of your love

I never knew love

Like I've known it with you...

I Have Nothing – Whitney Houston

-o-

Chapter 26: It Was So Warm Around Her

It was so warm around her and it surrounded her in a protective cocoon.

Ana stirred lightly as the tears fell from her eyes, the wonderful dreams she had been having now fading away. They were always of her mate, of the one man she fell in love with.

Bruce...

She took in a shuddering breath as she swallowed the lump in her throat. She didn't want to wake up.

Her dreams had been so vivid... So real...

She called his name, wanting him, but knowing he was gone.

The warmth that surrounded her stirred and she felt a shuddering beneath her. Her eyes snapped open and she threw her head up, looking around in fright and surprise.

Her brown eyes caught sight of larger green ones and the smile that greeted her was unlike anything she had seen before. The large hand that had been holding her protectively now rubbed soothingly against her back and gently pressed her closer against a massive chest.

"A... na..." growled the Hulk, the look on his face of one of languid relaxation and smug satisfaction.

She swallowed as she looked around her, catching sight of the sun setting, toppled trees, gouged earth, and a hell of a lot of evidence that her other self had been enjoying time with her mate. That and the fact that she was very, very, sore... But not in any way that meant a bad thing. She swallowed again, trying to fight back the tears as she looked at the Hulk, who was studying her with a peculiar look in his green eyes.

"Hulk," she said, her accented voice dazed and confused. "Mon dieu... You... You're..." She couldn't finish, the tears were already spilling down her cheeks. He took her in his large hands and picked her up, bringing her close to his face.

"A... na..." he growled and gently rubbed his forehead against hers. "Sa-afe... Mi-issed you..." He then pressed his warm lips upon her forehead and settled her back down on his chest. "Lo-ove..." He growled and pressed her against his chest, close against his heart. "Lo-ove..."

Ana couldn't respond at first. She was crying too much as she rubbed her cheek against his chest, hearing his strong heartbeat. He was alive. He was safe. Oh, thank the heavens. Thank every power on Earth... She took in a shuddering breath as she pressed a kiss against his chest and looked up at him. "I love you. Bruce... Hulk... I love you. All of you."

They were the right words to say. His smile was beautiful. He took in a breath and got to his feet in a tired manner as he carefully carried her in one hand. "Ho-ome..." he growled before letting out a yawn.

It was then she realized that he, and she, were very much naked...

Oh, fuck it.

"Home," he growled again, carrying her carefully past downed trees and even more gouged earth.

Holy shit... How many times had they...?

Oh... Better not think about it. She was too sore and too tired to care...

-o-

The Hulk had taken her to a cabin and set her gently on her feet, running a gentle finger against her copper brown curls. The rumble in his chest was one of satisfaction and deep contentment.

"Lo-ove," he growled again, his deep green eyes filled with emotion. "Lo-ove..." He tucked a large finger beneath her chin and gently pushed it up so he could see her brown eyes. "A... na... You... Lo-ove... Me?"

She let out a laugh as she took his large finger in her small hands and nipped it gently between her very human teeth. "I love you," she said and kissed where she had bitten him. "I love all of you..."

The Hulk let loose a very happy growl and carefully took her in his hands, pulling her up and gently pressing a kiss upon her forehead. "Mine," he whispered and kissed her again. "Lo-ove... you... All... you..." He gently nuzzled her and, with a happy and tired sigh, set her back on her feet. "Clothes... Home..." he grumbled, letting out another tired yawn.

Ana giggled and nodded, apparently her other self had really tired him out. Oh, what the hell, he was alive! She didn't blame her other self for a moment. She was just glad that her love was alive...

With a happy sigh, she entered the cabin, which looked as if it hadn't been lived in for quite some time. However, the Hulk took her here so, she made due with what she could find. She found plenty of stretchy pants, (she tried not to laugh too much at that) and an array of shirts made for cold weather. She slipped on a pair of black pants, tying a string around to keep them secure, and donned a flannel shirt that was too large and too long. Oh well, it was warm.

She found another pair of black stretchy pants and went outside to her mate, holding them out to him. "Will this work?" she asked, catching his attention from where he had been about to doze. He grunted an assent and gently took them from her. Of course, his feet were too big for the pants, tearing the legs as he pulled them up. But it covered. Good enough.

He took her in his arms and grumbled two final words to her.

"Lo-ove... You..."

"Love you," she whispered to him.

He heard and his smile was one of deep satisfaction and contentment. Oh yes, he had heard. And he was very happy.

-o-

Tony Stark was caught by surprise the moment something large had crashed through a window of his personal apartments. It was enough that most of the windows had been smashed, he didn't need another one. "What the hell!"

His protests were cut off the moment he caught sight of a familiar, large green form standing in the room. The Hulk set down the small female in his arms before he plopped himself down with a shuddering thud to the floor, looking very tired but very happy.

"Tony!" Ana's accented voice was a surprise as he was suddenly assailed by a small woman and wrapped tightly in a heartfelt embrace. She had kissed him several times on the cheek and nearly choked him as her embrace tightened. He coughed but tried not to laugh as he hugged her in return.

"Hey, Mrs. Rage Monster! Glad to see you're aliv- oof!"

His comment was cut off as her embrace tightened even further before his head was pulled down and a warm kiss pressed against his temple. "I missed you too, my brother," she said in a low growl.

Warmth touched his heart, and he tried not to let it show, though his hold on her tightened in response and he buried his face against her curls. He swallowed back the tightness in his throat and relished in the feel of a hug from someone who considered him family.

"All right then," he said, clearing this throat as he released her, rubbing his eye in a suspicious way. He glanced over at the sight of the Hulk and suddenly started to laugh. His laughter echoed through the room and he took hold of Ana, pulling her close against him. "What the hell did you do to him?"

Ana looked at her mate tried not to let the satisfaction show on her face. "I didn't do anything... That was all her!"

"Ah hah, Cin! You little slut!"

The snarl he got in response and the heavy punch was evident enough that Ana's other self had heard what her brother had said. He winced in response but it didn't stop the laughter.

"C'est quoi ce bordel!" said Ana but her smile was hard to erase. "You called me a sin and a slut!"

"Not sin," said Tony, pulling Ana into a hug, not even acknowledging the slut comment. "Cin. Short for Incinerate. It's what you do after all. Your other self gives nightmares, blows shit up, and makes Hulks cum so good, they fall asleep. A good Avenger name! Cin."

"You're a dick," said Ana but she was laughing too much at the truth of it.

The Hulk had fallen asleep right in the middle of what used to be Tony's living room. He wasn't going to awaken anytime soon...

-o-

Calm relief...

Relaxation...

Warmth....

Love...

Bruce felt all of this and the moment he had awakened it shattered like the wonderful dream it was.

Oh god, he didn't want this.

He didn't want reality.

He wanted Ana.

Her warm embrace, her soft croons, her whispered words of love...

He wanted his dream back.

He wanted her back.

He swallowed against the dryness in his throat and the tears started. He wanted his woman. The one who was right for him. For every part of him. He wanted her back...

God, if there was ever low point in his life... Now would be it.

He wanted his Ana.

He tried to fight back the tears, he swallowed convulsively as he reluctantly opened his eyes. The streaming warmth escaped his eyes and he closed them right away, the tightness in his chest aching him.

Why he couldn't he fall back to sleep? She was there! He wanted her so badly...

"Hey, Big Guy, what are the waterworks for?"

A familiar voice called him from his dream world and the anger rose in him, though there was nothing else that followed. Just a regular human reaction.

Huh... That was new...

He swallowed again and opened his eyes. He found himself lying on a couch in the middle of a trashed high-rise loft. It looked as if it had seen better days. His soft brown eyes glanced around and caught sight of the familiar form of Tony Stark.

"Tony?"

"The one and only," said the playboy in response, though the look on his face was worried. "Are you ok?"

Bruce frowned, wondering if his friend hadn't heard the news. "No... Ana's-"

"Tony, is Bruce awake?"

That voice...

Bruce immediately sat up from the couch and pulled on the overstretched black pants he wore. His soft brown eyes caught sight of the most wonderful thing he had ever seen. "Ana..."

She was walking into the room, dressed in a familiar flannel shirt that was much too big for her and a pair of black, stretchy pants that were tied tightly around her hips, though they still sagged. Her brown eyes caught sight of him and they sparkled with joy. "Bruce! You're awake! I thought you would sleep all day!"

He didn't respond.

He simply got to his trembling feet and staggered toward her. He grasped her face in his hands and kissed her as if there was no tomorrow. "Never again," he growled as he pulled away, pressing his forehead against hers. "We can't be apart. I need you."

"I'm here," said Ana, reaching up to grasp his hands in her own. "I'm here... I love you. I won't leave you. I promise."

"Love you," he whispered in response, an echo of his dream. He swallowed tightly as he rubbed his forehead against hers. "You're mine. Always."

"Always," agreed Ana, her smile heartfelt. "You're mine..."

"Always," he whispered before pressing a kiss against her lips...

"Guys! Not near my stuff!"

-o-

"OK, why are we here again?"

"I told you: This shawarma joint would be here and I wanted to try it. Did you think the Avengers team would go eat shawarma without the whole team present?"

"I hate you."

"Nah, you love me. Cin called me brother. That means I get special privileges."

"No, it just means you're an asshole that she and I consider as family. It still doesn't change the fact that you're an asshole."

"To-MAY-toe, to-MAH-toe," said Tony, waving off Ana's complaints, much to the chuckles of Natasha and Thor.

Bruce simply tightened his hold around her waist and pressed a kiss against her temple. "It'll be fine. You've been around people before."

"Not with you," she said, her nervousness quite apparent. With Bruce nearby, after all that had happened, she found it harder to control her other self. The one the others called Cin... Cin really wanted her mate again. It hadn't even been twelve hours yet since their last encounter.

Bruce could sense the tension and he nuzzled the back of her neck, nipping it gently, before he whispered, "I feel it... Later. I promise you later. We'll get through this and I'll make you all mine all over again."

Ana took in a deep breath, her voice now taking on a tone that was close to a whine. "You're not helping," she said, loud enough for the others to hear.

This time Tony, Thor and Natasha started laughing outright, especially when Bruce had squeezed Ana's ass and nipped the back of her neck again.

Oh god, what did she do to this man...

"OK, I really need to hear this story," said Clint Barton aka Hawkeye, who was watching the scene between the couple with amusement. With all that had happened to him, he had missed out on the great romance between the two raging monsters.

"Oh, you'll love this," said Tony, as he led the way into the decimated shawarma shop, bearing a tattered OPEN sign in the window. "It all started in a little place known as Stuttgart. It was evening and a monster like no other craved to fight! To defend the honor of her dear old mother..."

Ana groaned in annoyance and reached out to try to push the playboy but Bruce had stopped her. "I want to listen," he whispered to her and held her closer. "This might be funny hearing it from the others."

"It'll be embarrassing," said Ana, a bit of a pout appearing.

"Like when we crushed that crate that housed SHIELD weapons designed for the cube and Rogers found it?"

Bruce had said this loud enough for the others to hear and Captain America was quick to turn his gaze to the couple. "Wait... That was you two? How in the world did you-"

"Tony! Talk! Now!" cried Ana, her cheeks flaming with embarrassment. Thor and Natasha were now giving full belly laughs, knowing full well how those two had managed to crush metal crates...

~End of Part 1~

Chapter Text

I was working in the lab late one night

When my eyes beheld an eerie sight

For my monster from his slab began to rise

And suddenly to my surprise...

Monster Mash – Bobby Pickett

-o-

Chapter 27: Monster Mash

~Intermission~

"You have to come to my party."

"I said no. I'm not going."

"Big Guy, you live here now. At some point you're going to have to get change of clothes. Now, I understand that going off to that cabin of yours to have wild sex with your girlfriend is important and hell, I don't blame you... But damn it, we need to have this party and Ana's supposed to help with the barbeque! Everybody's going to be there and I have a whole pig I need roasted!"

Bruce sighed heavily as he pulled off his glasses and pinched the bridge of his nose, the deep blush quite evident on his cheeks. "Tony, you're not asking me to come. You're asking the Other Guy..."

Tony was smiling as he leaned against the desk that Bruce was currently sitting at. They were in one of the extensive labs in Stark Tower and Bruce had been working on a project with the arc reactor. Until his friend came in and started hassling him about the Halloween party he had planned for that night.

"Yeah, so?"

Bruce dropped his hand and frowned at Tony, his brown eyes glaring at the genius playboy. "You're asking the Other Guy... to come to a party... as the Jolly Green Giant..."

"And?"

The good doctor stared blankly at Tony and let out a huff of laughter. "There is nothing jolly about the Other Guy. You know that! He'll destroy the place."

"Not if Ana's there," Tony countered as he folded his arms across his chest. "You know he'll do anything for her."

The blush deepened in Bruce's cheeks as he swallowed back the lump in his throat. "Um... no. He'll do anything to her, not for her. I don't think you'd want us so close to everyone else."

"Bruce, if it gets that bad just take her and get to your cabin." Tony was laughing by this time. He loved it when he made the good doctor uncomfortable. Especially when it came to his sex life.

"I'm not going."

"Well too bad. Pepper says Ana's coming and they've already got the costumes."

"What?"

Tony walked off, ignoring Bruce's calls to him as he kept chuckling. He couldn't wait. This was going to be hilarious...

-o-

The genius, billionaire, playboy, philanthropist was laughing his ass off that night.

Not only had Ana convinced her mate to come out and play, she had convinced him to wear the Jolly Green Giant costume. It was made even funnier because she came in dressed as a female Sprout. A very skimpy version that thankfully had a green leotard suit to cover her and match her mate's skin tone.

OK, Tony had to admit it was funny as hell the moment the Jolly Giant had taken Sprout in his hands and set her firmly on his shoulder, glaring at the other males in the room.

Tony nearly lost it when he saw Clint Barton was there dressed as Legolas from Lord of the Rings, with full blown blonde wig and latex pointy ears. He had a bow and arrow ready, his own authentic set that worked well with the costume. Huh, Tony wondered if Hawkeye remembered that comment...

He was there with Natasha, who had come dressed looking like a dominatrix for some BDSM club...

Yeah, not surprising.

Thor had shown up as well and he was... dressed as Thor. The guy had very little understanding of Earth holidays...

Pepper was schmoozing the crowd dressed as a sexy version of Dorothy from the Wizard of Oz. She was complimenting Tony, who had come dressed as the Tin Man. Hey, it was funny.

Steve Rogers came dressed as a cowboy... He couldn't think of anything original and frankly, all the outfits he had seen the women wearing for Halloween out in the street today... Whoa... Poor guy.

Director Nick Fury was there dressed as himself, another man with no sense of humor.

The next person was Agent Phil Coulson who came dressed... as Captain America.

OK, Tony just about died laughing at the sight of that.

Once the whole group had gotten together, and the rest of the invited guests arrived, the music started and all hell broke loose.

The Jolly Green Giant was growling at every male that stepped to close to him or his woman. He was standing guard by the glass doors that led to the balcony that overlooked Midtown. Ana was showing Pepper exactly how she roasted a whole pig her way out on the balcony and caused a minor explosion when someone didn't tell her it was a kerosene grill as opposed to charcoal.

Needless to say, she had little left of her costume, though she was unharmed of course.

She was actually laughing her ass off when she caught sight of the singed dress of Pepper, who still looked in shock. It was only her laughter that kept the Green Giant at peace. In fact, he had a familiar glazed look in his eyes as he watched her.

Oh boy...

Without warning, the Jolly Green Giant had scooped up his scorched female Sprout, smashing through a patio window, and disappeared into the night.

O...K...

Apparently, Bruce remembered that little detail.

Now he owed Tony another new window...

The billionaire wondered if he should have had this party out on the roof instead...

"Are they always like that?" Clint had asked, a faint blush on his cheeks as he stared at the smashed area of glass and broken tile and bent patio door frame.

"Oh yeah," said Tony, reaching up to straighten out his tin hat. "Happens about once a week. They have their own version of the Monster Mash." He clapped his hands as he turned to the crowd, a bright smile appearing on his face. "So, who's hungry?" He looked at the blackened carcass of the pig behind him, which still had a few flames dancing about. Well, he did expect her to be a hit at barbeques...

"Actually... Who's up for shawarma?"

"Oh, aye!" cried Thor, raising his hammer as he smiled brightly.

"I'll place the order," said Natasha as she pulled out her phone from between her breasts.

Clint was laughing.

"I'll get the beer," said Pepper, walking off in her singed costume.

Actually... that wasn't a bad idea.

Tony smiled as he followed his Dorothy off into the kitchens...

"Things are never normal around here, are they?" Phil Coulson asked after a few moments, looking at his idol, his own Captain America shield displayed proudly on his arm.

Steve Rogers looked at his number one fan and had to laugh. "This is Stark Tower... When is anything normal?"

"This music," said Thor as listened to a rendition of the Monster Mash playing on the surround sound. He was quiet a moment before he smiled. "I like it. Does anyone here know how to mash a monster? I would like to see how the dance is done!"

"Oh, I do!" cried Pepper as she ran into the room, having brought the beer and looking particularly disheveled. Tony was following after her and looking happier. She thrust the beer into Tony's arms and ran toward the middle of the room, taking Thor by the hand. "Come on!"

...

OK... Well. At least everyone was having fun.

Heh, especially the Jolly Green Giant...

Chapter Text

When I think of how you saved me

I go crazy

You're all I can't resist

And I need to tell you

The first time I held you

I knew

You are the love of my life...

Love of My Life – Sammy Kershaw

-o-

~Part 2~

Chapter 28: He Could Never Get Enough

He could never get enough of waking up to the feel of her tangled around him.

It was like he had awoken to a completely different life in a completely different universe.

One in which he almost felt normal. He had a place he actually could do legitimate work and a woman he absolutely adored. He was afraid that one day he would wake up and find himself back in his little dingy, one room hovel in Kolkata. He would be alone, in the dark, afraid of what the day might bring that had the potential to set him off. He was afraid this was all some beautiful dream...

The moment he heard her soft snores and gentle growls, feeling her arms tightening around him, her gentle calls of his name and the Other Guy's, her gentle croons of pleasure and her whimpers as she snuggled against him... Bruce fell in love all over again and he finally believed this was all real.

Ana, the one woman who complimented all sides of him, the one he had no fear of ever hurting with the Other Guy, was lying beside him and talking in her sleep. She always said the same thing, her protective side shining through since she was quite keen in making sure they remained tangled while in bed.

"Mine... Always... Love... all of you..."

He would always hear this and his fear would always fade. It never failed. He fell in deeper in love and became more exuberant in his day. The woman he loved, the one he craved each night, loved him in return. Her other self, her own raging monster, saw the Other Guy as her mate. The Other Guy was happy to be so. He couldn't get enough of their primal lovemaking and was keen to make Bruce aware of it whenever his woman was near.

And Cin, Ana's primal self, was all too eager to oblige.

Sure, they had damaged quite a bit of the property in Stark Tower the first month they stayed there.

And Tony had the whole floor rebuilt, using the same material that SHIELD had used to make that glass prison, to keep them from doing it again...

But it had been worth it.

Bruce couldn't remember a time when he had ever been happier or more satisfied since the accident that brought the Other Guy out. SHIELD had, inadvertently, brought to him the one person out of nearly seven billion on Earth that was compatible for the whole of him. She was kind, sweet, funny, smart in her own way and, damn it all, he was always attracted to her. No matter which side of her emerged.

The fact that she found the Other Guy so irresistible, his own quiet self so endearing and kind... She was always quite keen in showing her love for him. Be it in the biblical sense or not. It had gotten so bad after the Chitauri attack that Tony had reserved one floor of the R&D labs specifically to them so that way he wouldn't have to worry about them doing it near his stuff.

The man could be quite anal about his stuff actually...

"Bruce," her sweet voice had whispered his name then and a soft purr had emerged.

His body immediately responded to her subconscious call to him and he took in a much-needed breath. Love filled his heart, tightened in his chest, and made him thank every deity in existence. He could never get enough of her... Damn it. When their lovemaking was calm, it was everything he loved. When it was primal... He swallowed at the thought of it.

It was everything he needed.

He had been blessed to find a best friend, a stable home, a team he could be a part of, and a woman who could stay by his side, no matter which side it was.

"Bruce," she called to him again, this time stirring in against him and nuzzling his neck.

His arousal was becoming prominent as he took Ana in his arms, already falling into that wonderful haze at the thought of their lovemaking to come. The urgent thrust of breasts against his chest immediately stopped all further thought.

Oh, hell yes, was Bruce's last thought as he growled response to her urgency and took her without another word.

When it was primal... God, it was everything he needed and loved.

-o-

Three months after the attack from the Chitauri Amy, Midtown was beginning to show signs of rebuilding itself.

Stark Tower was one of the many buildings showing signs of reconstruction except for one little detail. Tony Stark had not fixed the large sign that had identified the tower belonging to Stark Industries. He had left the single A that had survived the battle alone. He didn't state his reasons but those closest to him had a hunch.

Within the tower, the top floors that had been damaged by the confrontations between the Avengers and Loki were coming along rather nicely. On one particular floor, that was several below the top ten of the R&D labs, was the personal apartments of one Dr. Bruce Banner. It had been built specifically for his needs for those many, many, times his girlfriend came to visit. Even one of the labs had been made for his specifications in case of... well just in case.

Bruce had to admit, Tony was very accommodating considering how much damage he and Ana had done in the past. He supposed that since the both of them were extremely brilliant men, Tony was able to "talk shop" with having Bruce close by. If it meant having Ana there with them, even better. Tony could never get enough of bothering the woman he considered his baby sister.

Bruce had to admit it was funny seeing the two of them when they had gotten into one of their many arguments. It was a never-ending thing between them, but it seemed that it was something they both needed. Tony had, like Bruce, grown up a single child knowing little of what it was like to have a family. Ana had better experience with having her mother and aunt for the last thirteen years, but she never had brothers or sisters to call her own aside from her older brother from a life gone by. Theirs was a relationship that brought random bursts of explosions, cursing, name calling and finally, Ana leaving the room in a huff after she had damaged some priceless something or other of Tony's.

Normally, she could take Tony in stride but now that she was around him a lot more, they were acting more like children. They seemed to be making up for something that both of them craved. A feeling of a siblings. Bruce could only laugh and shake his head...

-o-

Virginia "Pepper" Potts, the lovely redheaded girlfriend of Tony Stark and CEO for the company had taken the sudden arrival of Bruce and Ana in stride. Apparently, she was quite used to Tony's random adventures. The fact that his most recent one had scared the living shit out of her, and to see that he was alive and well, made her quite open to the two raging monsters that had watched his back where she couldn't.

Ana had actually taken a shine to Pepper the moment they met. To meet a woman close to her own age that she could be open with who and what she was... It made a hell of a difference in life.

Ana's mom, Sido, and her aunt, Jenn had been the only women she had known in her life that cared for her. Yann, Sido's bodyguard, was like a father figure. The other employees that worked round the clock to maintain Ana's anonymity always had that guarded fear of getting her angry and setting her off. So, there were no friends to be made there. Meeting Tony, Bruce and Pepper had opened up a new world for her. It was a wonder why she hadn't moved into the tower with Bruce yet.

An excellent question that Tony brought up many a time over the last three months. After all, Ana spent enough nights there and, between Bruce and her, had done enough damage to the tower that she owed quite a bit in costs.

Actually... that was a lie.

Sido paid for the repairs right away but Tony liked to guilt his new baby sister. He had thought of it again that morning after the telltale signs of shuddering walls, floors and ceilings and- despite sound proofing Bruce's apartments- muffled roars had awoken him and Pepper up.

"Oh goodness, those two are like rabbits," said Pepper, as she plopped her head back on Tony's chest with a giggle. "They can never enough of each other."

Tony chuckled at that as he wrapped his arm around her and pulled her close. "Pep, you gotta remember. This is a man who's gone without sex for a number of years. He found the one woman he could finally unleash himself on without fear. It's only been three months since they started. I can't blame him for making up for lost time."

Pepper outright laughed at that and slapped his chest. "I don't want to hear about Bruce's sex life at the moment. Believe it or not, it's none of our business."

The shuddering walls around them told a different story.

"Uhh... I think it's been made our business the moment I offered Bruce a place to stay. It's a wonder why Ana hasn't moved in yet..."

Pepper was silent at that, knowing the reason why Ana hadn't taken up on Tony's offer of moving in. There was quite a bit that could be said between two women when left alone a number of times.

Ana was afraid.

She was afraid of leaving her mother and aunt and of the unknown. This was as new to her as it was to Bruce. She didn't want to leave the comfort of the people she had known the last thirteen years just yet. Bruce didn't pressure her about it, that much she told Pepper. He was understanding and sweet.

She loved the man so much but she was torn between her loyalty to Mother and Aunt and her newly found Mate and Brother. The feral part of her wanted her pack together in one place. It was something Sido did not wish to do. Jenn was in a safe place in their native France, tied to an advanced computer system that if moved in any way could kill her.

Sido and Jenn had talked of it with Ana and they all agreed it was best to leave things as they were. It still made it difficult to be apart because Ana had finally found her family. She found Mother, Aunt, Brother and Mate. She wanted them all physically close together so she could feel at ease. It just couldn't be done at this time. So, Ana bounced between visiting her mother and aunt and visiting her brother and mate. It was a difficult situation because Ana was growing tired of moving around as she had done so many times in the past. She wanted a stable place to call home with the people who she called family. Stark Tower had that potential.

"Penny for your thoughts?" Tony asked, reaching up to brush her red hair aside.

Pepper took in a breath and glanced up at her boyfriend. "I think we need to invest in another reactor," she said, her eyes slightly wary.

"Another reactor?" Tony moved slightly so he could get a better look at her, his hazel eyes filled with confusion.

"Like yours," said Pepper, reaching out to gently run her fingers over the glowing orb in his chest. "There's someone who needs it and could use it. If we can give that to her, she could be moved here to Manhattan. Then Ana won't be so torn. She could stay here with you and Bruce like she wants. Then everyone will be happier."

Silence followed this statement and then understanding filled his gaze. "Jenn..." he said, sitting up in their bed to look at her. "That's why Ana hasn't moved in?"

Pepper nodded, rather glad her boyfriend wasn't completely clueless to what was going on. This was his baby sister after all. He rather enjoyed having her nearby.

"Damn," he said, running a hand through his dark hair. "Why hasn't she said anything?"

Pepper gave him a look and that was all he needed to see before he gave a nod. "Oh... right. Um," he hesitated, his mind going a mile a minute as he thought over what he knew about Jenn's life support computer system and how an arc reactor could be applied. "Give me some time. I'll think of something." He threw off the blanket and got up from bed, moving over to a large desk on the other side of the room. "I still don't understand why they didn't tell me." He sat at the desk and opened a notebook and grabbed a pen. He started jotting down notes of everything he knew of Jenn.

Pepper sat up, holding the sheets against her bare breasts. "Tony, these are women who have been on their own for a number of years. It's something they felt they could handle. They probably didn't think of asking you for help."

"Bullshit," said Tony, already working on the sketching of an arc reactor that could be used in Jenn's life support system. "This is my little sister. If she wants her whole family here, they're going to be here."

She had to admit that was one of the sweetest things she had ever heard him say. She tried not to smile too much as Tony worked away. It seemed the idea that having a whole family around him was all the inspiration he needed...

The sudden banshee-like scream that echoed from several floors below, followed by a deeper roar, and a shuddering of walls and floors, set Pepper to laughing her ass off.

"You better get used to that," said Tony, his own smirk showing on his goateed lips as he continued to work. "We're going to be hearing that for quite a while..."

Pepper could only choke before laughing even more.

She had no idea if she should be wary with all that's gone on or happy at the fact that Tony was completely ecstatic. He loved having those two near.

And when Tony was happy, Pepper was happier.

Chapter Text

This fire is growing

It's burning deep inside of me.

Focused

Driven

Certain

The way it's got to be…

Determined – Mudvayne

-o-

Chapter 29: It All Began Again

It all began again the moment the news footage of the Avengers team against the aliens reached international levels the first month since the battles had ended.

That much press coverage, that many people with devices that could capture video footage in that area, and the internet accessible to each and every one of them. The organization, one in which hid under the front of the Brandt International Genetics & Pharmaceuticals Inc., had worked diligently around the clock under the guidance of one Jennifer Dupont and Sidonie Brandt to manage all sightings of the one now known as Cin. Unfortunately, they could not contain such a flow this time around. They tried their hardest, even with such advanced technology at their disposal. Some things were just meant to go unleashed.

The moment Sido had taken her daughter to Midtown to find her mate, and to help the Avengers, they had known they were taking a big risk. However, with an ally like Stark Industries on their side, and the potential of the Avengers team with SHIELD backing, they had something they hadn't had before. A legitimate way of defending themselves and protecting Ana.

Now, all Sido and Jenn could do were to keep an eye out for the signs of the Life Foundation to make their move.

And they would too.

They weren't ones to give up easily.

-o-

"There! Pause it there!"

The computer monitor was showing news footage of the attack on Manhattan by the alien army three months before. The man behind the monitor, who was dressed in a pristine white lab coat and looking particularly nervous, tapped on the keyboard, pausing the shaky footage of what belonged to a smart phone. On display was an unfocused shot of a tall, lithe red-veined creature in the large arms of an even bigger, green skinned monstrosity. They had been fighting off the horde of aliens in Midtown and the footage had been paused right as the green one had been about to throw the female. Even to the untrained eye, one could see that the two monsters were behaving in a very familiar manner.

The large hulking thing was very protective of the female.

"That's it! That's her!" exclaimed another man, who was standing behind the man sitting behind the computer. He started laughing in exuberant way, one that made the man at the desk fidget in an uncomfortable manner. "After all this time, they've finally let something slip." He leaned over the man's shoulder, his glasses reflecting the light of the monitor. "Just look at her... After all of these years, she's grown magnificently. All that rage... That power..."

The man in the glasses paused as he focused his gaze on the green monster and frowned lightly. "But that thing... What is that with her?"

The man in the white coat swallowed nervously as he moved the cursor of the mouse to another window and pulled up a file, one showing a fight between that of it and another monstrosity in the middle of Harlem over a year prior. "Th-that is the Hulk. He's a monster carried by one Dr. Bruce Banner. You could say he is like project 01. He is only brought about if provoked into a rage. He disappeared after that fight with the... Abomination. That is what the U.S. Government calls the other creature."

"The Hulk..." The man in the glasses studied the unfocused shot with extreme interest. "Now, how did such a large specimen come across our darling little fireball..."

The man in the white coat could only swallow nervously. The man in glasses was apparently making him very uncomfortable. "I'm... not sure sir. They were fighting with several others against the alien army that attacked. I've searched what I could and found SHIELD has all their fingers wrapped tightly around them. They have all their current info on these people under tight security. I can't hack into their system without setting something off."

"Of course not, we wouldn't want to bring attention to ourselves now." The man in glasses didn't even look upset. "But, I'm sure if we keep sniffing around we can dig something else up." He continued to study the still frame before he ordered the other man to play the video again. It started up, this time with a female news anchor's voice coming through the speakers, commenting on the raging monsters. They split to another shot of the Harlem fight from the year before and back to the current footage. It was at that moment that the Hulk was seen nuzzling the neck of the red-veined female before hurling her at one of the large, floating monstrosities. This time subtitles appeared at the bottom of the screen.

Mrs. Hulk?

Green monster from Harlem appears again with female by its side. Alien hordes decimated.

Monsters or Heroes?

"Pause it!" The man in glasses cried out, pointing to the moment the Hulk had nuzzled the female's neck. The man in the white coat did as he said and the unfocused frame was better than before despite quality. "Do you see it, Parsons? Do you see it!" He reached out to shake the man's shoulder in an excited grip. "There! Look at her face!"

The man in the white coat, named Parsons, cleared his throat and looked at the still shot. He really couldn't make out what he was expecting to see. His silence must have been telling because the man in glasses shook his shoulder again. "Look at her face! She's mated to this thing..." He started laughing again, this time a triumphant laugh. "I cannot believe it! They had allowed her to become mated! Can you imagine Parsons? The offspring that could come from the union of these two creatures... All that rage and power combined into one being! The potential of harnessing an entire army of such beings!"

"Um... Dr. Dunns," said Parsons to the man in the glasses. "How exactly would you think such a thing would be possible? They're both powerful creatures running free... We couldn't take them alone."

"No, that is true," said Dunns as he released the other man's shoulder. "However, I'm sure we are not the only ones who are interested in having such power." He stood up straight, the manic look now gone from his eyes. "This Hulk creature has to have its own interested parties. I say we track them down and work up a partnership. Don't you?"

Dr. Anthony Parsons didn't say anything to this. He simply swallowed and nodded. Not for the first time in the last twenty years of his employment with the Life Foundation, he was beginning to question the true motives of his employers. Protecting an underground fallout shelter with their super soldier army was understandable enough. But to go after the female again after she had decimated their forces the last time they had tried to acquire her...

Now, she wasn't alone and Dr. Parsons had a hunch that the man who was Dr. Bruce Banner was not one to mess with. He wouldn't be alone either.

Parsons swallowed and wondered just how badly this was all going to turn out for all of them in the end.

-o-

Elizabeth "Betty" Ross was nervous.

She could admit that.

She stood at the front doors of the expansive Stark Tower in Midtown Manhattan, watching the comings and goings of construction workers and various employees. She was a beautiful woman, with long dark hair that hung to the middle of her back. Her blue eyes were large and filled with anxiety. The moment she had seen the news footage a few months ago of the alien attack, and she had seen Bruce, her whole world had stopped. She hadn't seen him or heard from him going on almost a year. The last time had been when he had sent her mother's necklace back to her in the mail. The one she had pawned to finance their trip to New York.

Had it been over a year since then?

Goodness, it felt like another life.

It had taken her plenty of blackmailing and favors to get the time off from her job at Culver University to come here to Manhattan. After two months, she finally got the paid time off and couldn't believe she was finally here. Bruce was in there somewhere, she was sure of it. She had no idea why she needed to see him again. It was obvious he had wanted to break ties with her because of the Hulk. He didn't want to hurt her. That was probably it though. The fact that he loved her enough to let her go, to keep her safe...

She took in a breath as she adjusted the strap to her purse and into the lobby of the tower. She had to maneuver her way around the bustle of construction workers but she made it to the reception desk in one piece.

"Yes, can I help you?" greeted a very pretty and very bubbly woman behind the desk, her dyed honey blonde hair hung in neat curls around her face.

"Uh, yes," said Betty, adjusting her strap again as the nervousness kicked in. "I'm here to see Dr. Bruce Banner."

The smile had frozen for just a split second on the receptionist's face but Betty had caught it. The woman shook her head as she turned back to her computer and typed away at the keyboard. "I'm sorry ma'am but we do not have an employee by that name here. Was there anything else I can help you with today?"

Betty frowned at the receptionist. "No, thank you," she said before she turned and left the lobby. Once outside on the busy street, she glanced up at the tall tower before looking around on the sidewalk. She caught sight of construction workers making their way in and out of an alleyway. Resolve overtook her nervousness and she walked toward the alley, her steps quick and purposeful...

Chapter Text

Call me possessive

But every time I turn around

You're on my baby

But I'm his lady

Am I possessive

Just because I'm claiming what's mine?

Crazy Possessive – Kaci

-o-

Chapter 30: She Was on a Mission

She was on a mission to get inside Stark Tower.

It took a bit of sly movements and some quick feet but thankfully Betty had made it from the alleyway and inside to the one of the garages without being seen. There were so many construction workers going in and out of the place, she was hardly noticed by anyone. She moved along the concrete walls, locating a stairwell that led up to the next floor. She felt her heart beating a mile a minute as she took in a breath. It was going to be a long climb but, if she managed to stay out of sight, she would make it past any security guards. Hopefully, the stairwell was a place that was hardly looked at.

Pulling the strap of her purse over her head for a more secure hold, she moved quickly to the heavy metal door that marked the garage and emergency fire exit. She pushed on the handle and readied herself for a long climb...

-o-

Bruce had the usual large smile on his face when he emerged from the elevator to Tony's personal apartments. There was still some construction going on here, but it wasn't going to stop him from sharing a breakfast with his best friend since they had started on the Helicarrier. He was holding onto Ana's hand, who was following behind him looking particularly tired. She let loose a yawn, confirming how tired she was.

"Bruce! Ana!" called out Pepper as she waved them to a long black table set up in the middle of all of the construction. Various dishes was set up on the table ranging from different styles of eggs to pancakes and waffles. Coffee pots were sitting on burners, still fresh and warm. "Breakfast is ready when you are," she said as she tried not to laugh too much at the sight of a very happy Bruce and a very tired girlfriend of his.

"Coffee... Need... Now," said Ana as she plopped herself down at one of the black chairs near the end of the table, reaching out to grab a steel coffee pot from a nearby warmer. Bruce had sat down next to her and pulled her chair close beside his before moving her legs up to set them on his lap. Ana served them both coffee as she glanced up at the red head and a faint blush touched her cheeks. "I hope we weren't too loud..."

"Nooo..." said Pepper, much too quickly. "You were fine. Didn't hear a peep."

"Sure did feel it though," said another voice from behind them and they turned to catch sight of Tony emerging from his office, a door that blended seamlessly with the surrounding wall. He was looking at one of his own personally made tablets, his fingers moving over certain files when he caught the grumbles of Ana. He smiled when he caught the word asshole among the grumbles and he tried not to laugh. He really did. He couldn't help it though. He loved annoying her.

He made his way to the table, walking past Bruce and Ana, before he reached out to ruffle her copper brown curls that were set in a neat braid. It immediately became tangled around his fingers, the silky curls coming undone from the braid and now resembling a bird's nest. A choking sound from Pepper could be heard and Bruce was smiling the moment Ana had taken Tony's hand in her own before bending it back.

"Ah, ah, ah!" hissed Tony as he moved down in the direction of where she was bending his wrist, trying to keep the pain to a minimum. "OK! OK! Mercy!"

"You know I hate it when you do that," growled Ana, releasing his hand with a look of anger. The red veins could be seen in the hand that had been gripping Tony's own but were now receding.

"I know," said Tony as he shook out his hand, still smiling despite nearly having his hand twisted. "That's why I do it." He quickly reached out to ruffle her hair again and backed off just as quickly to avoid her snatching hand. He rushed to Pepper's side and hid behind her, his hazel eyes glancing at Bruce as his smile grew. "You need to put her on a leash."

Ana's growl was quieted the moment Bruce had automatically reached out to massage the back of her neck. She closed her eyes at the pleasure that erupted from his touch and her head lolled slightly as a soft moan of contentment emerged. The smile that touched the good doctor's face was a loving one before he glanced at the playboy. "You two really need to stop."

"Hey, I didn't do anything," said Tony, sitting down at the table as he set the tablet aside. "She's the one trying to break my hand." A smack on the back of his head shut him up quickly enough and he glanced back at Pepper with an incredulous look though he was still smiling. He knew he deserved that.

"Apologize to your sister," whispered Pepper, a meaningful look in her eyes as she nodded the tablet. She had sat down beside him, reaching out to start serving herself some breakfast. Tony glanced at the tablet before understanding touched him and his smile grew. He took it in hand and held it up, catching Bruce and Ana's attention, who had been about to serve themselves breakfast as well.

"Here. I think you might like this," said Tony, catching Ana's eye as he waved the tablet back and forth. He saw the confusion on her face and beckoned her to come and take a look at it.

Glancing at Bruce, she moved her legs from his lap and got up to walk over to Tony. She took the tablet from him once she reached him and turned it over to take a look at the screen. A moment of silence passed as she looked over the files. She reached out to look at some diagrams and the color had faded slightly from her face as she realized what it was. She looked at Tony then Pepper as the tears began to well in her brown eyes. "Mon dieu... Are you both serious? You would do all of this? For me?" She held out the tablet, her hand trembling slightly.

"Not just for you," said Tony as he took the tablet from her, preventing her from accidentally dropping it, and handed it to Pepper. She took the tablet and got up to walk around the table to Bruce so he could take a look at the files as well. "For all of us. We're a family, right? We can't be a real family if we're all spread apar-" He was cut off the moment Ana had thrown her arms around his neck and proceeded to embrace him rather tightly.

"Oh Tony, thank you!" cried Ana before she started smothering his face with affectionate kisses.

Pepper was laughing at the uncomfortable expression on her boyfriend's face while Bruce smiled, still gazing at the diagrams displayed on the screen of the tablet. It was the beginnings of an arc reactor, designed to sustain the power of the life support system that belonged to Jenn. She would be able to be moved from her current location without the risk of her system being shut down. Bruce had to admit this was an incredible thing to do. With Jenn being able to move, Ana's family could finally be in one place. And he would finally have his woman beside him without the worry of her needing to leave to confirm the safety of that family. They would all be safe under one roof and better protected with Jenn fully connected with Jarvis straight from the system.

"Sir," a distinguished computerized voice with a British accent had spoken from an unseen intercom system at that moment. Speak of the computer himself. "I've detected an intruder making their way up one of the stairwells to the tower. They had managed to enter from one of the construction areas down in Garage level A. Shall I have them escorted out?"

"I don't know see why not," said Tony, easing himself out of Ana's embrace. "Show me the video. I bet it's some member of the press hoping to get some good footage of the place..." He chuckled at the thought, having had many a member of the press trying to infiltrate his place only to be "kindly" escorted out by a member of security.

Ana pulled away from Tony and quickly went to take her seat next to Bruce. Her excitement was still clear as she hugged Bruce's arm and smiled happily at him. A hologram monitor appeared above the table in front of Tony and the video footage revealed a slender woman with long dark hair climbing her way up the stairs, the look on her face one of exhausted determination. Everyone had taken a good look at the woman and three of them recognized exactly who it was.

Only one had uttered her name aloud.

"Betty?" said Bruce, the look in his soft brown eyes one of confusion and disbelief.

Ana felt a churning of unease in the pit of her stomach as she caught sight of the look in Bruce's eyes. However, she didn't allow it to grow any worse than that. She looked at the video of the security camera and took in a deep breath to calm her nerves. "That is Betty... Isn't it?" She looked Bruce and he looked at her, his confusion still so clear.

"But... How...?" He couldn't even talk; the shock had seemed to stop all rational thought.

Ana swallowed the lump in her throat as she looked at Tony and Pepper. "She's his... She's a good friend of Bruce's. I can only imagine she must be here to see him. Right?" She looked at Bruce, knowing that this was something he needed to confront himself.

"I..." Bruce could barely talk.

Ana took that as a sign and looked at Tony, giving a firm nod. "She must have known Bruce would be here. After all of the news footage..." She cleared her throat, after her voice had cracked slightly, and she tried to speak again. "Tony, you should let her up here. She needs to know Bruce is all right. I'm sure Bruce would like to see her too after so long." She looked at the man she loved again but he didn't say anything. He simply stared at the video of his first love climbing her way of the stairs to Stark Tower, trying to get to him.

"Ana..." Pepper was frowning as she studied the other woman. She could tell right away that Ana was very uncomfortable with all of this. The unasked question could be heard in her voice.

Are you sure?

Ana looked into Pepper's eyes and gave another firm nod. "This is important. To both of them. They need this. He needs this..."

Tony had been listening to the entire exchange between the two women he cared for the most. He took a deep breath in and let loose a heavy sigh. This wasn't a good idea, even he realized that. At least for Ana. Here was Bruce's old girlfriend coming out of the blue to find him. Here was Ana, trying to be supportive. That was a lot of emotion brimming under the surface. She was handling it a lot better than he ever would and he was a guy. He couldn't imagine being so cordial if some old boyfriend of Pepper's was trying to see her...

Tony pulled out his smart phone and called one of his most trusted of employees, aside from Pepper. "Happy? You busy? There's something I need you to do..."

-o-

The moment Betty found herself face to face with a rather unpleasant looking, dark haired, well-built man in that stairwell, her heart dropped. She was sure she had been caught, especially when he had called her by her name and said that she needed to come with him. She had no choice but to follow the man.

So, it was a surprise when, instead of leading her back down to the first floor, he had taken her to an elevator and led her inside. He pressed a button, one that was apart from all the rest and looked to be on the top most floor, before he folded his hands in front of him. They stood in silence as the elevator began to ascend, a long and very uncomfortable silent ascent.

He didn't speak to her and the frown that was constant on his face was a deterrent for any invite of conversation. It continued to ascend in that awkward silence before the elevator finally came to a stop. The doors slid open and revealed a rather spacious loft that was still under construction for repairs. Toward the other end of the loft, where a long black table was set in front of a breathtaking view of Midtown, sat a group of people.

"Ma'am," said the grumpy looking man as he gently nudged Betty out of the elevator. He followed after her but came to a stop at the doors, keeping them open just in case. Betty walked uncertainly into the loft, her blue eyes searching the room in slight awe, before she finally looked at the people who apparently were waiting for her.

"Ms. Ross," said a darkly handsome man with a well-groomed goatee. "Welcome to Stark Tower. I have to admit, you are determined."

Betty didn't respond to the man she knew had to be Mr. Stark. Her eyes searched the group until they fell upon a familiar form at the table. "Bruce...?"

Bruce had gotten up the table at the sound of her voice and the look on his face was one of disbelief. "Betty... What are you doing here?"

She didn't respond to his question. She simply let out a sob of relief at the sight of him alive and well. She ran the length of the room and threw her arms around his neck, hugging him tightly. "It is you! Oh, thank god, you're all right!"

She had hugged him tightly for a few moments. It took those few moments for her to realize that the familiar feel of his arms that she had been expecting hadn't come...

The sudden crushing snap of metal and wood broke through the tense silence and Betty jumped in surprise. She looked over Bruce's shoulder to catch sight of a terrifying looking woman with pulsing red veins in the skin of her hands. She had been gripping the table so tightly that it had shattered beneath her very grip. The flash of a yellow glow could be seen in her eyes as she got up from the table.

"I-I'm sorry, I didn't mean to do that," the woman said as she quickly hid her hands in the long sleeves of her blue blouse. She glanced down at the floor, her copper brown curls hiding her glowing eyes from view. "Don't pay me any mind. Please... E-excuse me..." She quickly ran off toward the elevator, the guard who had been standing there immediately moving aside to let her go. His rather fierce look had softened slightly as he watched at the woman leave. The softened look had turned to one of worry as the woman pressed urgently on one of the buttons in the elevator, the doors sliding closed after her.

"Ana," said Bruce, his worry could be heard clear in his voice. He quickly pulled himself from Betty's arms and looked at her. The look in his soft brown eyes was something she had never thought she would see before. It was one of disappointment. "Betty..." He took her hands in his own and gave her them a gentle squeeze. "I'll come back and talk to you. I promise... but..." He glanced at the elevator and released her hands without another word. He ran toward the elevator, running after the strange woman who had left the group.

Betty stood there, completely caught off guard by all that had happened.

"So," said Mr. Stark, catching Betty's attention as he gave her a charming smile that did not seem to reach his eyes. "Come to crash the party huh?"

"Tony," said the red headed woman beside him, glaring at him, before she turned her attention to Betty. "Ms. Ross, please have a seat. We were having breakfast before you came. Are you hungry?"

"I..." Betty moved as if in a daze toward one of the chairs and sat down, her movements somewhat numb. "I... I'm sorry. I'm not thank you." She composed herself and looked at the other woman. "I'm so sorry for intruding. I'm an old friend of Bruce’s and..." She trailed off, unsure of how to even begin. She knew that whatever had happened to Bruce within the last year since she had seen him, it had changed him completely. He wasn't her Bruce anymore. Not from the look that had been on his face when he ran after that woman. "I am so sorry for coming without calling or... I don't know why I even-"

"It's all right Ms. Ross," said the woman as she gave a comforting smile. "Bruce will be back. I'm Pepper by the way and this is-"

"Mr. Stark," said Betty as she gave a nod to Pepper in greeting before looking at the man, who was still frowning slightly at her. He looked as if he really didn't want her there. "I am sorry. I'll leave. I'm staying in a motel nearby. If you could just tell Bruce that I just wanted to see him."

"It's fine," said Pepper as she looked at Tony and tilted her head, the look in her eyes meaningful. "Stay here until Bruce comes back. He won't be long."

It was at that moment that Mr. Stark allowed a hint of smile to show through. Apparently, there was something he knew that Betty didn't...

-o-

"Ana?"

Bruce had emerged from the elevator and walked into the living area of his own personal apartments. He knew if there was any place Ana would go, it would be where he had been most recently. Her other self found comfort in the rooms that carried the strongest scent of him. He continued to walk down the few steps that led from the elevator and into the living room, which had its own wide windows that had a great view of Midtown. "Ana?"

It was at that moment that he was tackled from behind and turned forcefully around so that he was facing his attacker. Bruce stared into the glowing yellow eyes of Cin and was caught completely off guard. Of the many times they had been together, Bruce had never met Cin in his calm state. They were always together as Bruce and Ana or as Hulk and Cin. Never one with the other. Ana had said she had met the Hulk before but he had no memory of it.

He swallowed back the tightness in his throat as he looked up at Cin, the sight of her red toned, clawed hands and feet an unexpected one. He never realized how tall she truly was. It was different seeing her this way. She stood at a full height of seven feet while he was a mere five feet seven inches in his calm self.

"Cin," he said her name as if it were a prayer, his voice a gentle grumble.

"Bru...ce," she growled in response as she leaned down to press her forehead against his. "Mi-ine." She crooned gently to him as she leaned down further, pressing her hot lips against the side of his neck. "Lo-ove..." she growled again, this time tears falling and hissing against her hot cheeks as she nuzzled his neck. "Mi-ine..."

Bruce swallowed the tightness in his throat. "Always," he said in response, not missing a beat.

That seemed to be the trigger she needed to hear because he was suddenly thrown back against the beige loveseat that was nearby. He didn't get to get in a word edgewise because her red claws had quickly ripped about his slacks, the fabric torn away in one fluid movement. He barely took in a breath to say something to her, anything to her, when it caught in his throat.

The most hot, moist surface that he had ever felt had run from the very base of his member right up to the very tip. He groaned, his knees starting to tremble, as the hot moistness surrounded him completely.

Oh god, was she reall-

The thought was cut off as Cin sucked on his hardening arousal, her hot tongue swirling around his tip. She was purring as she did so, the vibration coming straight from her torso, up to her throat, and straight to his hardness.

"O-oh... g-god..." Bruce barely managed to stutter out as the pleasure completely overtook him, having never felt anything like this before. She was so hot and her mouth... He twitched the moment she sucked him in again, this time taking all of him in. The very tip of him had hit the back of her throat, her purring still vibrating from her torso and up to her throat.

"Oh, Jesus," he muttered as he held onto the edge of the loveseat, his hands trembling as the pleasure quickly spread from the pit of his stomach all throughout his body.

Was it supposed to feel so good?

She quickly sucked as she pulled back, her teeth very, very, gently grazing the length of him. He closed his eyes as he threw his head back, his moans emerging from his mouth before he could stop it. Her mouth was so hot, so wet and so... so...

"N-not s-supposed... to feel... so g-good," he said in groaning words, the disbelief could clearly be heard. His moans were suddenly cut off as a choking gasp escaped him, his climax coming so unexpectedly. "A-Ana," he groaned out her name as he came into her mouth, his muscles twitching with each pulsing release. "L-love... O-oh..." His words had trailed off into a stuttered groan as his hips thrust forward into her mouth, the most natural reaction, giving her everything as he completely fell apart.

Cin sucked on him one last time, taking it all in, before she finally let him go and moved close to nuzzle his firm stomach. "My... Bru-uce," she growled, her long, lithe, arms wrapping around his hips and holding him tight. Her skin was hot to the touch but so comforting.

Bruce could barely breathe as he looked down at Cin, his limbs trembling from the extreme pleasure he had just experienced, disbelief warring with the deep love he felt for her. God, if she was this way from feeling the way she had... He really, really, needed to try it with Cin from now on.

"Mi-ine," growled Cin, her hold tightening around him.

"Always," Bruce said in a breathless word, never once feeling a single thought or emotion the Other Guy. Bruce supposed this was a sign. All sides of them, feral and calm, loved each other. They were one, the same, and everything together...

Chapter Text

I caught a glimpse in my rearview mirror

Of an old familiar face

Blurry image coming in clearer

Of a past I can't erase

I could've sworn I put him in the ground

But looks like he's found his way out...

My Own Worst Enemy – Casting Crowns

-o-

Chapter 31: The Plan Seemed Simple

The plan seemed simple enough to a man like Dr. Anthony Parsons.

There wasn't much that could mess it up.

He would either get a yes or no answer to his question.

Yet, as he stood at the doorway to that rundown bar that was beyond the limits of an army base in a very rural part of Virginia, he felt a deep sense of unease. Perhaps it was because it was late in the evening or perhaps it was because of the local roughnecks that were eying him. Either way, he felt as if he were waiting to make a deal with the devil himself.

Suppressing a shudder, he straightened out his brown trench coat and walked into the bar, sidling past a couple of bikers that refused to move for him. Inside, he was greeted by a very smoky atmosphere and low lighting. There were several mismatched tables and chairs from what he could see, several battered pool tables all currently occupied, and one long bar counter that spanned the length of the right side of the room. There were a few people seated and one in particular that still wore the deep green coat of his former occupation as an army general.

Taking in a breath to calm his beating heart, he walked over to the rather stoic, middle aged general at the bar. He stood there for a moment before he pulled out the stool beside the man and awkwardly sat down on it. Dr. Parsons was a short man, with a receding hairline of salt and pepper hair and thick glasses that constantly slid down his small nose. He was just the kind of man to get on the wrong side of General Ross in a heartbeat.

"Son," grumbled the general before he took a puff on his cigar. "You better have a good reason for sittin' there. If not, you'd best move your ass somewhere else." He spared a glance at the smaller man, took one appraising look, before he blew a stream of smoke into Dr. Parson's face.

Parsons coughed but didn't bother waving the smoke away. Instead, he reached in his coat and pulled a manila envelope out before setting it down between them on the counter. "I'm here for business, Mr. Ross. Something that may be of interest you. My employer is looking to get a very important piece of property back, one that had been stolen from us a number a years ago. It's recently been spotted with something that had been of interest to you until over a year ago."

Ross took another puff of his cigar before he picked up his shot glass and swallowed the whole thing down in one gulp. He slammed the glass down and turned in his stool, completely ignoring the envelope, as he leaned forward and blew another stream of smoke into Parsons face. "I'll tell you what I tell every science weakling that comes in here looking for the Hulk. I don't know where he is and I'm not lookin' for him. He's no longer my responsibility. So, I suggest you take your shit and get the fuck out."

Parsons swallowed and reached out to take the envelope in a shaking hand. He opened it and pulled out a few large photos. He set them on the bar and tapped his fingers on them, catching the General's attention. "It's not the Hulk we're after..."

Ross glanced down at the photos, first in a casual glance, and then with interest as he took a good look at the subject in the photos. They were pictures of a very tall, very feral looking, dark haired woman with prominent red veins against her visible skin and glowing yellow eyes. He leaned away from Parsons and looked at the photos with increasing interest. "What the hell is that?"

"That," said Parsons, rather glad the man had moved away from his personal space, "is 01. The very first experiment in a privately funded project. One in which the U.S. Government had no knowledge of until very recently. One in which my employer is eager to get back."

"And? What the hell kind of experiment did you do on her? Gamma radiation?"

"Ah, no," said Parsons, actually chuckling a little bit. "That would be the first assumption based on your experience." He shook his head and pulled out another photo, this time of the Hulk and the female together on the battlefield in Midtown. "No... 01 is unique in the fact that she had merged with an alien entity early in her life. It mutates her in such a fashion. She is triggered in much the same way as your Hulk but hers is a more... natural mutation. A simple yet elegant blending of organisms."

Ross didn't bother with the poetic shit coming from the scientist's mouth. He was interested in the most recent photo the weak man pulled out. It was of that feral female in the arms of the Hulk and they were looking rather familiar with each other...

"She's with Banner," said Ross, pulling the photo forward and studying it. He'd never seen such a look on the Hulk's face, not since that time in Harlem with Betty. The major difference was that the Hulk had found a female that was as close to his equivalent as he could find. A feral female... The look in the Hulk's face was much more intimate and very much like an open book. The Hulk had a weakness.

"The human part of her," said Ross, looking at Parsons with increasing interest. "What does she look like? She has to have a calm side."

"Ah, yes..." Parsons cleared his throat and nodded. "She does... Unfortunately, as I stated before, she was taken from us number of years ago by a geneticist that worked with us. Apparently, she had connections we weren't even aware of when she was hired. The moment she left with the experiment all of the data on the project was wiped out from our mainframe and our backup systems. That is the only data we have aside from our own testimonies." He pointed to the photos, now feeling uneasy again.

Ross sneered as he pushed the photos away from him and leaned back in his chair, taking a pull on his cigar. "And I'm supposed to take your word alone? How do I know she isn't an experiment from some other country lookin' to start a war?"

"Look around," said Parsons, holding out his hands as he gestured. "You’ll find no record of her. No pictures, no files, nothing. I'm sure you'll find the beginnings of something with SHIELD but you're not a part of their little club, are you? You won't have clearance for that."

Ross stared thoughtfully at photos, letting out a breath of smoke as he studied the female and the Hulk. They were close, that much he could tell. He wondered...

"If I agree to help you catch your little pet project, what would I get in return?"

"What you've always worked so hard for General," said Parsons, rather glad that the man was showing signs of considering it. "Power, prestige, a super soldier army…"

Ross bit on his cigar and continued to stare at the photos. "And how would that be achieved?"

Parsons took the photo of the feral couple and tapped on the female, most particularly her face. "She is mated to your Hulk. She is, in every sense of the word, feral. She's found her mate and will look to, at some point down the road, start bearing his young. As my employer says, the offspring of such union would be unstoppable. Now, imagine an entire army of them..." He set the photo down and reached into his coat, pulling out a small memory card. He set it on top of the photo and pushed everything toward the general. "That is all the video we collected on the Midtown battle from three months ago. All the relevant footage is of our two points of interest. Study it and let us know what you think." He took a card from the same pocket in his coat and set it on top of the pile. "Call us. We have several plans in place for capturing 01. You help us and we’ll help you… I’m sure being an army general is not all you wished for your career."

With that, Dr. Parsons got up from the stool and left, feeling very relieved. Hopefully, the General caught enough interest. The next two people to be a part of the plans were hinging on the General’s cooperation.

They would certainly agree, if only out of revenge, that much Parsons knew. But controlling one of them would be a different matter…

-o-

Ana was feeling tired and her joints were aching by the time she came to. The sun was already setting from her vantage point of the large windows in living room of Bruce's apartments. She was lying on the large area rug in the floor of the living area and she felt a warm body beneath hers that was gently stirring.

"Mm... Ana?"

She felt a hand against her hair and she looked up to catch sight of a very tired, but very satisfied, looking Bruce smiling at her. "Hey, you're back..."

"Bruce?" Ana looked around in surprise, finding themselves in his apartments. "What... happened? What are we doing here? And why is it eve-" Realization cut her off as she caught sight of the love scratches on Bruce's shoulders as well as the dark hickeys on his neck and chest. "Mon dieu, Bruce! Did Cin...?" She buried her face in his chest then and started trembling. "I'm so sorry mon amant. Did she hurt you? I-"

The moment his hands had grasped her face, pulled it up to his, and pressed such a warm, loving kiss against her lips, she felt the calm come back. He pulled away and brushed the copper brown curls from her eyes. "Don't ever apologize. You never let me. Don't ever think you need to do so with me." He smiled, his soft brown eyes gazing into hers. "Just promise you'll do it again... I rather enjoyed it. Now I see why the Other Guy loves keeping Cin to himself."

Ana could do nothing but stare at the man she loved. The tears started rolling down her cheeks before she threw her arms around his neck and hugged him close as she kissed him soundly. "Je t'aime, my Bruce... I love you so!"

He laughed a bit as he returned her hug, feeling so complete and so at ease. "I love you, Ana... Always."

She pressed her forehead against his before she pulled away, feeling much better. At least until the memories from that morning came trickling back up from the depths of her mind. "Ah, merde, Betty... We left her up there with Tony and Pepper. Oh, I feel awful."

"It's fine," said Bruce, moving gently to sit up and pulling her up with him. "They know us by now... At least Tony would expect something like this. I'm sure Betty's still here. We'll get dressed and head back up."

"I'm sorry Bruce," said Ana, after a moment of silence as they got to their feet, now devoid of any kind of clothing. The furniture of the living area was torn to shreds, as was usual in Bruce's bedroom as opposed to this. "I didn't mean to lose control like that."

"It's fine Ana," said Bruce, this time allowing a smug smile to touch his lips. "Cin was jealous... You had no control over that."

"Ah... oui," was all Ana could think to say in reply, thanking her lucky stars that she had Bruce. He was so understanding and he was all hers.

"Come on," he said as he wrapped an arm around her waist and pulled her along to the bedroom. "Let's get dressed. I have a strong part of my past to greet again. I need you there for support."

"Always," said Ana, rather glad that Cin's possessive display hadn't thrown off her man's need for her calm self by his side.

Chapter Text

I'll probably wake up a little sad

But then

I'll get up

And

Let go of it all instead...

Let Go – Avril Lavigne

-o-

Chapter 32: What Had Changed

What had changed in the span of twelve hours? In the span of a year?

Those were the questions that went through Betty's mind as she sat on one of the long, plush leather couches in the reconstructed living area of Tony Stark's personal apartments. The moment Bruce had went chasing after that strange woman, that was the last anyone saw of either of them for the rest of the day. Betty was growing concerned the more hours had passed but neither Mr. Stark or Ms. Pepper Potts seemed worried. It made Betty wonder if this was a common occurrence with Bruce and that woman.

"Here," said Pepper that early afternoon, as she walked toward Betty and sat down on the couch beside her. "They might be longer than I'd hoped. I am sorry. They tend to... do that sometimes." She smiled nervously at Betty as she held out a personal tablet. "These are files concerning the battles that happened here a few months ago. It contains all the footage the news media weren't able to access. I'll think you'll have better idea of why Ana had reacted the way she had this morning."

Betty glanced at Pepper a moment before she took the tablet and picked the first file on display. "That woman's name is Ana," she said as she watched a video file of the Hulk lying among some burning alien bodies outside of the building belonging to Grand Central Terminal. It seemed to be taken from a camera angle of someone who was very close to the action. On top of the Hulk was a strange female. A very tall female with prominent, glowing red veins showing through a tattered and scorched blouse and jeans. Surprisingly normal clothing considering the creature they adorned.

Through the audio feed, one could hear the heartfelt croons from the female as she rubbed her forehead against the Hulk's. She was crying. The Hulk had responded in turn and had wrapped his large arms around her, grumbling to her as he held her. It was an intimate moment between the two of them. A very intimate moment from what Betty witnessed next. The blush was in her cheeks as she heard the voice of the person recording the scene. "Oh..." The blush could be heard in the man's voice.

Pepper laughed a little. "They're very... affectionate."

"That's... Ana?" asked Betty as she stared at the feral, terribly tall female with the glowing yellow eyes. The Hulk had gotten to his feet after they were attacked by a passing alien vehicle. He now had her in his arms, had nuzzled her neck, and then threw her at an oncoming alien monstrosity floating toward them. The head of thing promptly exploded in a fantastic fiery explosion once the female had landed on it.

"That's Ana," said Pepper. "At least, another part of her. This part of her is called Cin. It's a side to her that has the potential to be provoked easily." She watched the video with Betty, watching the feral couple, as the Hulk had caught Cin once she was thrown from creature. The moment Cin had pressed her forehead to the Hulk's, and crooned to him, the look on his face pure bliss.

"She's like Bruce," said Betty as realization hit her. She looked at Pepper, looking for confirmation to her thought. "What happened this morning... That was her other self trying to come out. She saw me..." Dread and regret filled her then as she thought back on what she had done. She had hugged Bruce. It had nearly set Ana off. Yet, the woman didn't yell at Betty or try hurt her. She had apologized and excused herself. To keep from hurting any of them...

"Ana's a good person," said Pepper as she got up from the couch. "She was the one who said it would be best that you and Bruce meet again. For the both of you."

"Bruce told her about me?" asked Betty in faint surprise.

"Mm," was all Pepper said in response as she nodded. She took in a breath as she grasped her upper arm in her hand. "They had had a lot to talk about from the time they met. They have one very strong thing in common. It was a given they would get to know each other." She gestured toward the tablet. "Take a look at the files of the battles. You'll see what I mean. I'm going to get lunch brought up for you. I also had your things brought from your motel to one of the guest apartments."

"Oh, you didn't have-"

"I insist," interrupted Pepper. "I don't think Bruce would have liked you to be in some motel. Not if we have the room here." She smiled at Betty then. "Make yourself comfortable. I'll be right back." She then turned and walked off.

Betty stared after the redhead as she walked away to the elevator before she glanced down at the tablet. She took in a breath and settled herself into the couch to watch the rest of the files.

-o-

The hours had passed and the day had moved on as it always did. Evening was settling down.

Betty had watched all of the video files on the battles in Midtown, all of the ones focused on the Hulk and Cin. She had shared a lunch with Pepper and Mr. Stark before they had gone off to handle whatever business they had scheduled for the day. She had remained in the apartments and waited for Bruce and Ana to come back. She knew they would. Bruce was too kindhearted and sweet for that.

After she had seen those files, she had a slightly better understanding as to why Ana had acted the way she did and why Bruce had gone after her. Their relationship was on a completely different level than anything Betty had had with Bruce. Since their other selves were so in tune with each other, it only made sense that their human selves would follow along the same path. Bruce had found the one woman he didn't have to fear of hurting by accident. There was no worry there. Cin seemed strong enough to handle the Hulk. Both in a physical and emotional sense.

Betty would have to lie if she said it didn't hurt.

Of course, she had known the moment Bruce left her in Harlem that he was saying goodbye. However, deep inside, there had always been that hope. Hope that he may come back. Hope that they could be what they were before. There had been hope.

Now...

She had reason now to finally let him go.

She had come here to find out if he was all right and she had gotten her answer. He was all right and he was finally finding his place in life again. There was no need for her to be here. She let a sad smile appear on her lips as she got up from the couch. She looked around at the extravagant loft, though most of it was still under construction. She wondered where Pepper had placed her things. The woman didn't say what floor the guest apartments were on...

Actually, she wasn't sure how she could contact Ms. Potts.

Betty made her way across the large open area of the loft toward the elevator, her mind wandering. She climbed the few steps and was just about to reach elevator button when the doors dinged and then slid open. She was greeted by the sight of Bruce and Ana, their hands firmly intertwined. Both were looking very nervous.

"Betty," Bruce was the first to notice her standing there, his soft brown eyes growing slightly wide behind his gold rimmed glasses. "Thank goodness, you're still here."

"You were right," said Ana as she smiled at Bruce and then at Betty. "They did keep her here. Mais... She looks to be leaving..." The smile had faded from her face and a worried frown had replaced it. "You weren't leaving, were you?"

"It's... probably best..." began Betty only to be cut off as a very warm hand had grabbed hers and she was suddenly pulled back toward the living area.

"Non! Vous ne pouvez pas laisser!" said Ana in an accented dialect of French, not realizing she had switched in her language as she pulled both Bruce and Betty toward the long black couch. Betty had glanced at Bruce in surprise but all he could was smile and shake his head. Apparently, this was something he was used to with her.

"S'asseoir," said Ana as she released their hands and pointed down to the couch. When they looked at her in confusion, she pointed to the couch again. "Sit, sit! Both of you! You haven't seen each other in a long time and have much to catch up on. Besides, Ms. Ross, for you to leave when you had come all this way to see him is just... just rude!"

Ana stood there, breathing heavily for a moment as she stared down at the both of them, looking particularly annoyed. It was only when Bruce began to laugh that Betty began to relax and Ana, realizing what she was doing, proceeded to blush terribly. "Ah, mon dieu... I'm sorry. I don't know why I did that... Ms. Ross, please forgive me for both now and this morning. I haven't even introduced myself yet-"

"You're Ana," said Betty, a gentle smile appearing on her lips as she from the couch and held out her hand. "Mr. Stark and Ms. Pepper had been kind enough to fill me in on the basics while you two were gone. It's nice meet you. Please, just call me Betty."

Ana's blush had deepened but she didn't hesitate to take Betty's hand in her own. "Anamaria Brandt. Likewise, Ms. Ross... Betty. Bruce had told me all about you."

"I hope it was all good things," said Betty as she looked at Bruce and smiled. He smiled back at her, that familiar, sweet smile that used to be all hers.

"Nothing but," said Ana as she released Betty's hand and smiled at him as well. "He tends to have nothing but kind things to say."

"That's true," said Betty in response and both women glanced at each other before laughing, especially at the sight of the Bruce's blush.

"Bien," said Ana, after a moment, as she clasped her hands behind her. "You are both here as you were supposed to be this morning. I'm sure you have much to catch up on, so I'll leave you both to it."

"Uh," Betty felt the worry grow at the thought of Ana leaving. She didn't want to set Cin off again. "Are you sure that's all right? I-I don't want to make the... um... Other you... upset."

"Ah, they told you about Cin," said Ana as she took in a breath, a look of regret touching her features. "I am sorry about that Betty... She is very... um... possessive of Bruce. I tried not to let it show though."

"It's all right for you to stay Ana," said Bruce as he got to his feet and walked toward her. He pulled her into a tight hug and held her close. He didn't seem to mind that Betty was standing right there. Ana held onto him for a moment and she took in a deep breath as if to calm herself. Betty saw all of this for herself and she knew, right then, that her Bruce was now Ana's. Yet, to see the smile on Bruce's face, Betty truly felt it was right thing to let go. He was in good hands.

"You both need this time to catch up," said Ana as she pulled away from Bruce and smiled up at him. "I'm fine now. Cin knows she has nothing to worry about."

Bruce laughed and nodded before he took her face in his hands and pressed a gentle kiss to her lips. He leaned to her ear and whispered something to her. Ana closed her eyes as she listened, a faint blush reaching her cheeks, before she nodded as well and took his hands in her own. She kissed his fingers before she pulled away completely and then looked at Betty.

"It is very nice to finally meet you Betty," she said before giving a very sweet smile. Betty couldn't help but smile in return. "I'll be downstairs bothering Tony. I'm sure he's in the lab somewhere."

"Don't get in another fight with him," said Bruce as he tried not to laugh. "You know how he is about his stuff."

"Oui," said Ana as she walked off toward the elevator and raised a hand in goodbye. "That's why I bother him. Au revoir!"

The moment the elevator doors closed behind her, Betty started laughing and shaking her head. "She is quite the character, isn't she?"

"Yeah, she is," said Bruce as he smiled fondly at the elevator.

"I can see why you love her," Betty began as she sat down on the couch.

The smile had faded slightly from his face as he looked down at her. "Betty... I-"

"Don't apologize Bruce," said Betty, allowing a fond smile to touch her lips. "I didn't when you came back into my life back then. That's what life does. It changes us and... everything around us."

He let out a sigh as he moved to sit down on the couch next to her. "I didn't want you to get hurt again. Not with everything that had happened. All of those people still coming after me..."

"I know," said Betty as she reached out to take his hand in hers. "I know. Otherwise, you would have stayed." She placed her other hand over his and held it tightly between hers, squeezing it gently. "I just wanted to see for myself that you were all right after all this time of not hearing from you. I'm glad to see that not only are you but... you're happy. You're the Bruce that I've always wanted to see again. Even if I couldn't do it... I'm glad someone was able to. I'm grateful to Ana just because she's helped you find yourself again."

Bruce smiled a little at the thought of it and nodded in that nervous way of his that Betty always loved. "I guess... she did." He glanced at Betty for a moment before he reached out and pulled her into a warm embrace. "God, I did miss you Betty."

"I missed you too," she said as she returned his hug. "I'll always be here for you Bruce. You can always count on me as a friend to be here when you need me."

"Now that it's safe enough... I think I'd like that." He pulled away to smile at her before the echoing sound of an explosion could be heard from a couple of floors below.

"What was that?" cried Betty in surprise as she looked around, scared that the Tower might be under attack.

"Uh... That would be Ana," said Bruce as he glanced at the elevator and then at Betty. "She tends to do that when she and Tony get in an argument..." He got up from the couch and offered a hand to help Betty to her feet.

She took it with muttered thanks before she let go, the look on her face was one of slight shock. "Does she... do that a lot?"

"Get in an argument with Tony?" He gave that nervous nod as he swallowed, his Adam's apple bobbing. "Y-yeah... They both seem to enjoy getting on each other’s nerves. Shall we?" He held out a hand toward the elevator door. "I'm afraid he's just going to get her more annoyed..."

"Lead the way," said Betty as she started to giggle while they walked across the way toward the elevator doors. "I think this is going to be an interesting visit."

"You're staying here at the Tower, right?"

"Yes, Ms. Pepper invited me to stay for the duration of my visit. If that's all right with you."

"Of course," Bruce said as he waved it off. They had reached the elevator by this time and he pressed his thumb against the button. "How long were you planning on visiting?"

"A couple of weeks," said Betty in reply as they entered the elevator and Bruce pressed a button for one of the labs. "I figured that would be good time to come and search for you. I didn't think I'd see you right on my first day here..."

"You were always determined when you wanted to get something done," said Bruce with a gentle laugh as the elevator began to descend. A moment of silence passed as the stood beside one another. Finally, Bruce glanced at Betty and moved over to bump his shoulder against hers. She looked at him and huffed out a soft laugh as she moved close and rested her head against his shoulder, reaching out to hug his arm.

He was no longer her Bruce.

Still... Betty felt good to let him go.

At least this time around, she knew he was doing all right. Hopefully, they could stay in touch. Who knows? Things would turn out all right. She could finally move on with her life without looking back and wondering "what if?"

It was that thought that made her happy. She could finally let go...

Chapter Text

Pack your bags and come with me

You and I had already seen what we meant to be

I still don't understand that look in your eyes

But we both know where this history is gonna take us

And I say in my deep state of love

That you are mine...

Mine – Emmy Curl

-o-

Chapter 33: To See the Love

To see the love between the two was like some sweet scene from a romantic movie. You could feel that they loved each other so much. Every movement, every touch, every smile, every word... They radiated off of one another like their own personal sun. When one was upset, the other was there to calm and bring a smile. When one moved, the other was quick to stay close and remain by their side.

Betty had thought that she would be hurting much more than this. To be under the same roof with Bruce and his new girlfriend was a situation straight out of a soap opera... or a sitcom. Whoever thought it was dramatic or funny. Oddly enough, she didn't feel as much hurt. There was some jealousy but not enough to make her resent Ana's relationship with Bruce.

It was more like envy.

She envied what Ana had with Bruce.

Their relationship was pure, positive, emotion. They seemed to glow with this inner knowledge that everyone else seemed to be lacking. It was as if they knew exactly who they were and what they were to each other. Damn any differences they may have had, any disagreements that may spring up, damn all the negative shit. They knew that they loved each other, their other selves were immersed in each other, and that was all they needed. They were right for each other and the little negative things just didn't matter.

Pepper had told Betty she thought it was because of the Hulk and Cin that Bruce and Ana's relationship was so calm. The two feral sides of themselves saw the other as Mate. Their other selves saw their life partner in this crazy hell of a world. The odds that they would have crossed paths in such a way was almost unimaginable. When they were close together, they brought each other a much-needed calm. They understood that with each other, they could learn to control their other selves and not be triggered easily. They could learn to control their change. They were a long way from that but they were learning. At least, that's what Pepper thought from watching them the last three months.

Who knew for sure outside of the two of them.

Betty could only laugh and shake her head in amusement. That was one thing she could say about Virginia "Pepper" Potts and Anthony Stark. They were far from normal people. They took whatever was thrown at them in stride. Especially when it came to Bruce and Ana. That was another story in itself. Betty had only been in the guest apartments for a few days before she had experienced what was considered a normality within Stark Tower.

She had been scared awake early one morning by the sounds of deep roaring, high pitched screaming and shuddering walls, ceilings and floors. It lasted for another hour and it was only after the silence had finally fallen that Betty had gotten up and gotten ready for the day. She had emerged from the elevator to Tony's apartments to join everyone for breakfast twenty minutes later. She was greeted by the shit eating grin of one Tony Stark.

"Betty, good morning! Did you sleep well?" he had called out to her in a much too cheery manner.

Betty mumbled a greeting in good morning as she reached for a pot of coffee. She didn't respond further until she got a good, large gulp from her coffee. She had looked at Tony, which he insisted he be called, and frowned at him. "Not particularly Tony. What kind of experiments do you run here that you have involved with loud animals and heavy machinery that shakes the very building? You really should invest in a quieter route of experiments. At least at that time in the morning."

The choking laugh from Pepper had been incentive enough for Betty to look up at the redhead in question. Said woman was trying hard to hold in her laughter but Tony was already far gone, guffawing rather loudly as he slammed a hand against the long black table. It was at that moment that Bruce and Ana had made their appearance and both were sporting deep blushes. This only made Tony and Pepper laugh even harder.

Betty stared at the laughing couple before she turned her blue eyes to the very blushing, quiet couple that joined the table. It didn't long to put two and two together and her own blush was deep as she quickly bit her lip to keep from joining in the laughter. Goodness. No wonder Bruce was so calm now.

Bruce and Ana could see that Betty was trying not to laugh at their expense and it was this that had the blushing couple smiling in an embarrassed manner.

"Sorry," said Ana as she sat down at the table. Bruce sat down beside her and quickly pulled her chair close beside his. "We really did try to be quiet this time. It's been a few days..."

A snort could be heard from Pepper and then the laughter started again. That was all it took and Betty was gone with them. If this was what she had to look forward to in her visit, she knew things weren't going to ever be normal.

-o-

A week after Betty had arrived, another unexpected visitor had come to Stark Tower.

He had arrived from swirling thunder clouds and a series of flashing lightning, landing right on the balcony of Tony's personal apartments. He was a very tall man, dressed in armor with a flowing red cape, an outfit that looked more at place in some old Norse artwork. A large hammer was gripped tightly in his right hand. He had shoulder length blond hair, blazing blue eyes and a ready smile as he stormed his way into the living area, shattering the patio doors as he did so.

"Metal Man! Are you here? It is I, Thor of Asgard, son of Odin!" He stood in the middle of the loft and looked around before he caught sight of the long black table where the group had been having breakfast.

"Really?" asked Tony as he stared at the Asgardian. "I just had that replaced and you're just going to waltz in here, damaging it all over again?"

Thor smiled brightly as he set his hammer down on the floor, shattering the newly replaced black tile as he did so, and creating a small crater. "Is that anyway to greet an ally?" He walked over to the table and pulled Tony from his chair and into a very strong hug. "It has been too long my friend! How fair you here in Midgard?"

"It's only been three months, Point Break. Not too long at all," said Tony as he tried to take in a breath and pull himself out of Thor's grasp.

"Truly?" said Thor, releasing Tony and taking step back to look at the others. "Time moves slowly on Asgard." He shrugged a broad shoulder and pointed a finger at Bruce once he caught sight of him. "Ah, my large green friend! We still have to have the rematch, don't we?"

"Uh," said Bruce, glancing quickly at Ana, who was trying not to laugh. "No... No, no. That wouldn't be the best of ideas right now."

Ana snorted, having remembered a few flashes of the last fight that the Other Guy had with Thor.

"Ah, the Red Lady," said Thor as his smile turned a little brighter. He walked around the table and pulled out the chair right beside Ana's before plopping himself down on it. The chair creaked under the force. Considering it was Thor who sat on it, it was surprising it didn't break. "I have actually come to see you."

"Moi?" asked Ana in surprise, her brown eyes revealing her confusion. "What on earth would you wish to see me for?"

"In the rush of getting Loki back to Asgard and back to our father, I had not been able to speak with you concerning your other self." He reached at his side, where a leather satchel hung, and pulled out a single stone slab. He set it on the table in front of her and watched her expectantly. On the slab was a series of runes, ones in which Ana didn't understand. She never had reason to learn the runic Norse language.

"What... is this?"

"Touch it Lady. It is something that had belonged to an old ally of the Asgardians." He pushed slab toward her, the look on his face revealing an excitement hardly seen before. It seemed he liked this mission a lot better than the one he had before with Loki. "If it reacts to you then it will prove you are who I believe that otherworldly part of you is. A descendant of this ally."

Ana, looking doubtful but sensing no danger from the stone slab, simply smiled at the Asgardian before she glanced at Bruce. "Should I?"

Bruce was looking wary but a part of him was curious. "If Thor knows who Cin is, where she had come from... This might answer a lot of questions."

She looked at Tony, Pepper, and then Betty, seeing the curiosity on all of their faces, before she decided what the hell. She reached out to touch the slab with her right hand, her fingers barely brushing against the stone, before the runes immediately reacted. They started to glow a deep red as a sudden, alien warmth swept up her arm. The red veins had grown from the base of her neck and raced down her right arm in an alarming speed, glowing with a burning heat that Ana never saw herself. It had only happened while Cin was dominant after all.

The glowing runes lasted for just a moment before an image suddenly emerged from the glowing slab. It hovered there, the image of a lovely tall woman with blonde, curly hair and creamy skin with an ever-present flush in her cheeks. She was dressed in revealing clothing, an outfit that seemed to suit a desert or tropical area, a place that experienced constant heat. The woman smiled at Ana as she reached her hands out toward her.

"My young one," said the woman, her voice reaching into the minds of all of those present. "If you are seeing this that means you are of my flesh and blood. It gives me great joy to know that my line continues. I had wondered if any of my descendants would find this last record of mine." The woman dropped her hands and folded them neatly before her. "You must be wondering who I am. I am sure that your parents, maybe even your grandparents, had long forgotten me by now. I was nothing more than a gentle flame in the history of our people. I was an alien among them and yet they had welcomed me when my own people had not."

The woman paused, taking in a breath before she continued. “My name is Lytta. I was born of the realm of Olympia. My own people had forsaken me because of the... unique... gifts that had been bestowed upon me. I was once a goddess to the people of the realm known as Earth. My status among them was as the goddess of rage, fury, and... madness... It is what had set me apart from the other gods and goddesses. To instill these raging emotions within others at the merest thought... It was not the best of gifts to be remembered by from my brothers and sisters." Lytta looked as if she had started to walk but the hologram of her merely showed the movements. "I was cast out from my own because of what I could do. I had found a home among our closest ally, the Asgardians. They were more understanding to my plight and I will be forever grateful to them for taking me in. However, it was place I never could call home, despite them calling me one of their own. So, I had moved on and disappeared into the realms. I traveled far and wide among the portals, visiting many different realms, until I came across a realm that was unlike any other. The people there were a feral group that had control over the very fires of their world. My powers of instilling raging madness in others did not affect them. They had embraced that part of themselves. It was divine to be... a part of a family again."

Lytta had stopped walking by this time and smiled at Ana. "I had fallen in love with one of their men and settled there. I raised a family there, watched my children grow and have children of their own. My people have long lifespans... I was able to watch my children be fruitful. They did not know of the Olympian side to themselves and I did not feel the need to tell them. That part of their line had rejected their daughter. Still, I didn't want them to forget that part of their lineage. Though I have not lived in Olympia for many years I was still a daughter of them. As are you, a part of you, a child of both Olympia and Pyragia." She held out her hands again and looked as if she wanted to embrace Ana. "I wish I could see you and hear your voice. I wonder what you look like. Do you have my eyes? Your great, great, many great, times grandfather's smile? His mother's dark hair? Perhaps even her cousin's blunt tongue?" At this, she giggled and Ana couldn't help but smile in return as Lytta continued. “Are you well? Are you happy? Are all of my children? That is what I wish to know... But by the time you see this I will be long gone. My life decreases with each passing cycle. Still, know that I love you, my young one. I love you and your brothers and sisters. All of your family, who is mine. This slab was left with the Asgardians in the hope that one of my own would be curious enough to wander far beyond our realm. That you are hearing this means yes... And I am glad to finally have spoken to one of my own. Trust the Asgardians. They are a strong ally as I am sure you will be to them. Be strong my love, no matter what trials you may come across."

The hologram had faded by this time and the stone slab lost its red glow. It was once again nothing more than a piece of rock with runes carved into its surface.

Everyone was silent after seeing such a message from some alien woman from ages past, it was enough to set the reality to something surreal. As always, Tony was the one to break it in his own fashion. "So, you're the daughter an alien goddess... Great! Just don't expect any sacrifices any time soon OK? I don't have any spare lambs at the moment." The sudden sight of food flying, followed by the splattering sound of effect of said food against Tony's face, was enough to set everyone to start laughing.

"Merde," said Ana as she snarled at Tony. "You are such an asshole!"

Tony was laughing as he scraped the food from his face and flung it back at her. "I know. You love me."

"This proves it then," said Thor as he smiled at Ana. "You are a true Lyttan. I had a feeling that you might be but to have the proof makes it much easier."

"Easier?" Bruce asked, looking at the god of thunder in surprise. "What makes it easier?"

Thor glanced at Bruce and gestured toward Ana. "I had told my father of the Red Lady and he was ecstatic to hear that a Daughter of Lytta still lived." He looked at her as he thumped a fist against the table, rattling cutlery as he did so. "My father has offered you a place in Asgard, Lady. We have all the records pertaining to your people, to your realm. At least, for the part of you that is not human. You can learn all you can of your ancestors. You will be one of the first humans to be welcomed in Asgard. I have told him of our battles together and he is most impressed. He wishes to meet with you and welcome you as daughter of our ally, Lytta and also as a new ally to Asgard. What say you?"

"You mean... I will need to leave Earth?" Ana stared at Thor as if she had never seen him before. It was too much information all at once. It was enough to learn that the part of her that was Cin actually had ancestors, a planet, a home...

To have Thor suddenly offer her a chance to learn of these people...

She would have to leave Earth in order to do so. She shook her head and glanced at Bruce, who was looking particularly tense. "What about Bruce?"

"Your mate," said Thor, his blue eyes focusing on the doctor. "My father did not extend the invitation to him. I am sorry. It will only be a temporary stay. I had explained to my father of your relationship but he felt it was best to invite only you. He says he will send you back to Midgard whenever you feel-"

The sudden slam of a heavy fist against the table stopped Thor from continuing, the fist bearing patches of green skin. "Ana is not leaving." Bruce was glaring at the god of thunder, his soft brown gaze now bearing a hint of green in them. "She is not leaving me. Not again. Not... ever."

"Bruce," said Betty, looking worried as he took Ana's hand in hers and got up from the table, his chair falling back from the force.

"Bruce?" Ana was worried as he started to twitch, pulling her up with him, before he turned and walked quickly toward the broken patio doors, pulling Ana along behind him. He twitched again before he suddenly let out a bellowing roar, his frame exploding with corded muscle and ripped clothing. "Mine!" The Hulk roared as he took Ana in one massive arm and leapt off the balcony in a giant leap to the nearest building, Ana's cry if surprise echoing out behind them.

Silence fell at the mess left behind before Tony picked up a plate of eggs and tossed it at Thor. It landed right against his face before falling down to the table with a clatter, eggs dripping down from his cheeks and brow. The god of thunder had not reacted, he simply stared at the smashed patio windows.

"Way to go Point Break... You pissed off the Big Guy."

"I... didn't think-"

"That's your problem," said Tony as he finished his breakfast, glancing at Pepper and Betty, who were still staring out the broken windows in shock. "You don't think. If you'd remember the last time you pissed him off by nearly killing his woman, this time wouldn't have surprised you."

Silence fell again but this time it was thoughtful silence.

Tony continued to eat his breakfast and sip what was left of his coffee. He wondered off hand how long they would be gone this time.

-o-

Ana was breathless as the Hulk leapt from building to building in New York City, and then through suburbs and farm land, steadily making his way toward upstate New York. It wasn't until he found a secluded area in the Catskill Mountains that he had finally come to a stop. They were surrounded by nothing but trees, mountains, and a view of the distant horizon.

The Hulk walked in a purposeful manner as he made his way up a sharp incline toward what looked like an opening for a cave. He carried Ana close against his chest as he ducked his way into the opening of the cave. It was muted inside, the light from outside barely showing the rocky ground and ceiling. It was warmer though. Or maybe it was because the Hulk was giving off massive amounts of heat...

"Hulk?" Ana began as he took her gently in his large hands and held her up close to his face. "I'm not leaving. I never said I would. Not without you. You know that, right?"

"A... na..." he grumbled as he leaned forward and rubbed his forehead against hers. "Mi-ine..."

Ana could only let out a shuddering breath, feeling his warm breath against her cheeks. She couldn't feel Cin in any way. No pulsing warmth, no heat coursing through her veins... Why was she not reacting now that Hulk was here? Was she making a point? The Hulk had called her name after all... Not Cin's. He knew her name. He would call her when he wanted her or he would call her his fiery one. Those were his names for her. Now, he was calling her Ana...

The nervousness began to rise. He was wanting her...

"Hulk..."

"My... Ana..." He didn't respond to her call, he had held her carefully in one hands before savagely ripping her clothes apart with the other, leaving her utterly naked. "Mi-ine..." He groaned as he leaned forward, holding her carefully, as he took a breast within his lips and suckled gently on it, knowing how small she was compared to Cin. He set himself down on the ground on his knees while he continued his attentive suckling, getting himself comfortable.

"Ah, merde," Ana let out a surprised gasp at the sudden warmth that began to pool in the pit of her lower belly at the feel of those lips around her breast, that broad tongue swirling around her nipple. He had moved to her other breast as repeated the gentle suckling, the breathless gasp he got in response earning a grunt from him in return.

He then trailed his lips down across her stomach, his hand holding her firmly as while the other had spread one leg to the side. He could hear her protests, her gentle whimpers telling him to be careful but the breathless anticipation was there under the words. He smirked at this as he licked the inside of her thigh before moving closer and taking one, long stroke against her slit. Her sudden cry of shock was what he wanted to hear and he did again, this time the tip of his tongue swirling around that wonderful nub that always set her off.

"No, no, no," said Ana as she squirmed against his grasp, the sudden aching pleasure catching her off guard. He was being so gentle...

Oh god, it felt so good.

Her protests had turned to another cry of shock and she arched her back, her heart now pounding against her chest, though Cin did not respond. His swirling tongue had found its way right inside of her and was making firm, agile thrusts as he licked and suckled on her.

Oh god, she thought, this isn't supposed to feel so good... Not this good... Ah!

Her body had twitched moment his tongue had withdrew and he gave a broad lick against her clit before suckling it in his lips, the tip of his tongue of swirling in fast circles around it. "O-oh god!" she cried out as her climax hit with the force of an oncoming freight train. She fell apart in his large hands, her body twitching and spasming as her screams echoed off the walls of the cave. Hulk had moved away from the apex of her legs and smirked at her as he released her leg. He still held her in one hand as he reached his other to rip apart his own pants.

Ana was a gasping mess as she looked at into his green eyes, knowing that he was going to want her completely. But, she was too small for him... It just wouldn’t...

The sudden pulse of warmth from the base of her neck caught her by surprise. There had been no reaction all this time... Why was her other self now...?

The feel of heat coursing from the base of her neck, through the skin of her chest, stomach and down to the pit of her lower abdomen, was answer enough. The heat was pulsing in her womb and her heart was racing against her breast. The Hulk had freed himself from the constraint of his pants, his hardness large and prominent, Ana could admit she was intimidated. How could Cin even fit him? She was only seven feet. That was nearly a two-foot difference in height with Ana. He was so thick and long...

The answer to that mystery was answered by another pulse of warmth and Hulk's grumbling voice calling Ana's name as he lowered her down toward his arousal, one hand holding her waist and the other spreading her leg wide.

There's no way, no way, no way...

Her gasp was answer enough the moment the tip of his throbbing hardness had inched its way into the opening of her wetness. The coursing warmth at the pit of her lower belly that Cin was playing an active part in changing that part of her anatomy to suit the situation.

"A... naa..." Hulk groaned with longing, wanting this with her, with her quiet self. His hold on her tightened and he thrust up into her, her breasts bouncing. Her cry of sudden shock and pleasure, the feel of him fitting fully within her unlike anything she had ever felt. He actually fit.

Cin... Cin... Why do this? Ana thought and she felt another pulse of warmth as he pulled out and thrust into her again, cutting off all thought of her other self. He was groaning, his eyes now closed as a look of utter bliss touched his face.

"My An...a..." He grumbled before thrusting in again.

So big, so big, so big, was all she could think as she felt him pull out and thrust in again. The pulsing warmth from the base of her neck seemed to be urging her on to embrace this unique mating dance. The heated warmth in her lower belly rising with each strong thrust he gave in and out of her tight wetness.

So good, so good, so good...

"So... go-od," he groaned in echo of her thoughts, thrusting into her again as his deep voice cracked. "Lo-ove... My Ana..." He pulled out again, his breath coming in shuddering gasps as her own gasping cries joined his, the heat of pleasure in her lower belly growing taunt with each thrust he gave. "Never... Leave..."

He thrust in at that point, making her cry out in pleasure. He pulled out slowly, his green eyes focusing on her brown ones. "Nev-er..." He thrust in. "Lea-ve..." He pulled out. "Mine..." He thrust in again and began to shudder, his eyes closing as the pleasure could be seen on his face. "Say... it... Mine. My Ana!" He thrust in one last time, his declaration ending in a roar of release as Ana fell apart all over again in his arms.

With the sound of his words, the feel of his throbbing hardness, the feel of his warm seed filling her completely, she had come undone. "Yours! Al-ways!" she cried as her hands grasped his larger one and dug into the skin, her body convulsing with each passing heartbeat.

So good, so good, so good! Love... him!

That was her very last thought before blackness overcame her…

Chapter Text

I just might bend but won't break

As long as I can see your face

When Life won’t play along

And right keeps going wrong

And I can't seem to find a way

I know where I am found

So I won't let it drag me down

I'll keep on dancing anyway...

Move – Mercyme

-o-

Chapter 34: To Feel the Shivering

To feel the shivering on top of him was not something he had expected.

Then again, it was cold here, wherever it was...

Bruce opened his eyes and looked around, finding himself in a dark cave. The coming evening was a telltale sign to the chill and to find a shivering Ana on top of his naked self was very unexpected indeed. He felt the worry rise up in him as he automatically wrapped his arms around her and held her closer against his chest. She was deep asleep, stirring gently in his grasp but did not awaken. He tightened his hold around her as he glanced around the dark cave.

He could only think that the Other Guy had come out. Something had triggered him but Bruce could not recall what it was exactly. There were flashes of memories from the Other Guy, high emotional triggers that had remained with Bruce. They were flashes of Ana, her face thrown in moments of passion in this cave...

The worry began to grow worse as he glanced down at Ana. The Other Guy had been with her, that much he knew. Had he hurt her? From the flashes he could recall, Cin had not emerged. He hoped he didn't hurt her. It was different when Bruce was with Ana or Hulk with Cin. To have one with other was very rare. Bruce had been with Cin but his calm self could handle her tall frame. Ana with the Hulk... That was different story altogether. She was a short woman in her calm state, a simple five feet three inches. Cin was a full seven feet in height but still shorter than the Hulk. The Hulk's nine-foot broad frame compared to Ana's short stature was quite a difference. He really hoped he hadn't hurt her...

He reached up to brush the copper brown curls from her face and pressed his lips against her brow. "Ana?"

She didn't respond. She simply purred, a subconscious response to his voice, and continued sleeping. She was shivering in his grasp, despite how warm her body always was, and the red veins beneath the skin of her neck was very faint. This was something he had never come across before. Her red veins were almost nonexistent now.

He held her closer as he glanced around the cave, looking for something to wrap around her and keep her warm. He could see scraps of Ana's clothes, and remnants of his own pants, but nothing large enough to keep her warm. He swallowed the lump that had formed in his throat, wanting to find something for his woman but not willing to move if it meant waking her up...

"Dr. Banner?"

A stranger's voice had called from the entrance of the cave, someone he had never heard before. He looked at the entrance of the cave and found the slight form of a woman standing there. He couldn't recognize who it was due to the lighting but he was sure was someone who knew who and what he was. The fact that they found him in this out of the way place was a given.

The woman had entered the cave and was careful to avert her eyes as she held a bundle of clothing in her arms. "Dr. Banner, my name is Cameron Nguyen. I work for Ana's mother and her aunt. Jenn had sent me here after you and Ana had disappeared from Stark Tower." She was looking embarrassed but still walked toward the couple, setting the clothes down beside them. She made sure to keep from glancing at the naked couple as she backed away and turned her back toward them. "Whenever you're ready, we'll take you wherever you need to go..."

"Ms. Nguyen," said Bruce, being careful as he sat up, cradling Ana in his arms as he looked at the other woman. "Thank you... I-I don't suppose that you could leave us?"

"Of course," she said. "I'll be right outside when you're ready." She left the cave and Bruce turned his attention back to the woman in his arms. He let out a soft sigh, his worry still growing, as he set her carefully down on the ground. He reached for the clothes and pulled out the ones for Ana. He studied her sleeping form and wondered if she would be all right... She'd never fallen asleep like this before. He was careful as he dressed her and then reached for the rest of the clothes. He was quick to dress himself, pulling on the loafers that were set aside, before reaching out to take the sneakers for Ana.

Once they were both dressed, Bruce gently ran his fingers along her cheek. "Ana?"

This time she did react and her lashes fluttered gently before they opened, focusing on his own. "Bruce..." A soft and tired smile touched her lips and the worry Bruce had been feeling disappeared at the sight of the love in her eyes. "No wonder... Cin keeps the Other Guy to herself... Promise we'll do it again..."

He actually chuckled at that and helped Ana to her feet, slowly and carefully. She was sore for good reason. "Come on Ana... Jenn sent someone to come get us."

"Oh, good..." said Ana, her smile still tired. "Is it Yann?"

"No," said Bruce. "A woman named Cameron Nguyen."

"Oh, Cammie," Ana said as she let out a yawn. "Bien. She's a sweetheart..."

Once outside the cave, they found the woman that Ana had affectionately called Cammie waiting for them. The sound of a helicopter could be heard in the distance and Cammie, who Bruce could now see was a lady of Asian descent, beckoned them to follow her. Their ride was apparently waiting for them.

"Cammie," Ana called out and gave a weak wave. "It's good see you again... Thanks for getting us. How are you feeling?"

"I feel great, thanks for asking Ana," she said with a smile as she led the way to the helicopter. "Yann is waiting. Did you want to head back to Stark Tower?"

"Non," said Ana. "I want to see Mama and Tante Jenn. If that's all right with you Bruce?" She looked at the good doctor and the smile she gave him was a sweet one.

He smiled in return, knowing that he wouldn't deny her anything at this point. "That's fine. I'm sure Jenn will contact Tony..."

"Oui," Ana agreed as she stepped carefully down the trail. The helicopter could be seen resting on a level clearing ahead. "I'd like to get started on the plans for the reactor to be installed for Jenn..."

Bruce glanced at down her as he followed beside her and his smile was infectious. "So soon?"

"Of course," said Ana with a gentle giggle. "Thanks to Thor for setting the Other Guy off, I think it would be best."

Now he remembered. Thor had found proof of Cin's ancestry and he had invited Ana to go to Asgard without Bruce. Ana had not responded to the invitation because the Hulk had made an appearance. He couldn't stand the thought of Ana being a whole continent away from him let alone a whole planet.

"I'm not leaving without you," said Ana as they neared the helicopter. Cammie had stayed ahead of them to give them privacy and was already boarding the vehicle. Ana had stopped walking and looked up at him. "I had told the Other Guy and I am telling you, mon amant. I will not go anywhere far without you. I had promised that I would always stay close and I mean to keep that promise."

Bruce smiled down at the woman he loved so much and leaned down to press a firm kiss against her lips. "I know... The Other Guy just needed to be reminded..."

Ana giggled a little before taking his hand in her own and leading him to the helicopter.

-o-

Yann had flown the helicopter to the nearest airport, where from there they had taken a private jet that belonged to one Sido Brandt and flew to the lovely country of France. It was a long flight and Ana had slept the entire way against Bruce's shoulder. Bruce didn't mind and Cammie had laughed at the sound of her soft snoring.

It was late morning by the time they had landed in the Bordeaux-Mérignac Airport and from there caught a connecting flight to the La Rochelle – Île de Ré Airport, where a car had taken them for the long drive to a port town known as Royan. It was here that the ancestral home of the DuPont family was located on the outskirts of the resort town. And it was here where the infamous Jenn had her sanctuary and Sido Brandt had stayed for the last few months.

Driving through the back roads of this resort town, they had finally turned onto a long gravel drive that led toward an old two story, very large brick home. It was a quiet place but if one looked closely, you could see the telltale red lights of security cameras. The car had pulled to a stop by the front steps of the home and Cammie had emerged from the front passenger side. She opened the rear door for Bruce and Ana to exit the vehicle just as the front door was opened and a very worried mother had emerged.

"Oh, you two," cried Sido as she rushed toward them and hugged her daughter close before she moved to hug Bruce. "Can there be one day when either of you would not be set off?"

"Hello Mama," said Ana with a laugh as she watched her mother hug Bruce tightly, who returned the hug in an awkward fashion. He was still not used to Sido's affectionate nature but he was getting there.

"Hello Sido," said Bruce as he pulled away and smiled at Ana's mother. "I'm sorry for causing any worry for you all."

"It actually was a particular god's fault this time around," said Ana as she leaned in close to Bruce, hugging his arm tightly. The movement had brought a smile to his face as he visibly relaxed.

"Ah, oui," said Sido as she waved Ana's comment dismissively. "Pepper had told us of all that had happened. Thor doesn't think before he speaks, does he?"

Bruce didn't respond to that but the amusement could be seen in his eyes. Thor did have little knowledge when it came to the aspects of humans. Still, he had a good heart and he had meant well.

"Never mind," said Sido as she took her daughter by the hand and pulled them further into the large home that belonged to the DuPont family. "Come in, both of you. You must both be so hungry and tired. Have you eaten? Of course, you haven't. Come, come. Let's get you fed."

Bruce had wondered where Ana had gotten her insistent attitude from. Now, he knew. He couldn't help but smile at the motherly ways of Sido, who continued to chatter away about everything that had happened thus far. This had been the first time he had come to Sido's home. The other times he had met with Sido, it had been at Stark Tower. He had been hesitant to come with Ana, mostly because he didn't want to accidentally damage anything that Jenn was connected to in the home if he and Ana might have gone too far. The Tower was different, since Tony had pretty much monster proofed it. This place had been adjusted to Cin's specifications but not the Hulk's.

"Don't worry about anything while you are here," said Sido, almost as if in reply to Bruce's thoughts, as she led them to the kitchens. "Tony had been very kind in offering some advice on how to set certain places to your... needs." At this, Sido giggled as she glanced back at Ana and Bruce. "So, if you both feel the need to go out of control... We'll be fine here."

Ana promptly blushed and started to protest, her words coming out in French, the tone of it apologetic. Bruce was blushing as well but he was laughing at the sight of mother and daughter conversing in French, both women blushing though Sido was laughing with every word. Ana finally gave up and continued to blush, holding onto Bruce's hand, as she kept her gaze down at the floor. Bruce had pulled his hand from hers and reached out to hug her close. The blush was still in her cheeks as she glanced up at him and smiled.

Having these two under one roof would be interesting…

-o-

Breakfast had been an interesting affair, mostly because the conversation had been held in French. Between Sido and Ana, Bruce had no idea what they were talking about but he figured it was of past events, since both were laughing.

After breakfast, Sido had shown them to Ana's room. It was a decent sized room that was done in soft shades of blue. It contained a canopy bed with blue curtains, a pine wardrobe, a loveseat that was set before a quiet fireplace, and large windows that allowed the sunlight to shine in. Sido had excused herself, stating she had several things to take care of for business. Ana had waited until her mother had left the room before she turned to Bruce, her smile expectant. "This may seem out of place but this is your first visit... Would like to meet Jenn?"

Bruce smiled in response, having just remembered that Jenn was under the same roof. "Of course," he said, "I'd love to."

Ana laughed and reached out to grab his hand before she pulled him out of her room. She led him down the corridors, down a flight of steps, and down another corridor that led to a single wooden door. She smiled up at Bruce before she reached out to open the door.

The good doctor could feel the nervousness rise up in him as Ana gently opened the door and walked inside to a very large room. Bruce had spoken with Jenn so many times but he had never seen her before. The large room Ana had led him into was covered from wall to wall in blinking computer servers though there were several windows that allowed the light in. In the middle of this room, a female nurse was taking care of another woman, who was lying in a large bed. The nurse looked up in surprise at the sound of the door opening but at the sight of who it was, she smiled.

"Ana," said the nurse in thick accented English as she moved over quickly to the couple and pulled Ana into a tight hug. "It's so good to see you. Jenn will be so happy to see you're finally here."

"Adeline," said Ana in greeting as she returned the hug. "It's good to see you too." She pulled away and glanced at Bruce, reaching out to take him by the hand. "This is-"

"Dr. Bruce Banner," said Adeline as she shook his hand. "The man who stole our Ana's heart. We know all about you here. It's so nice to meet you."

"L-likewise," said Bruce, slightly stunned at how welcoming she was being.

"Well, I won't keep you," she said as she released Bruce's hand and walked around them. "I'll give you some privacy. Just call on me if you need me." She looked past the couple and called out to the woman on the bed. "Jenn, I'm heading to the kitchens!"

"All right Adeline, thank you," said a familiar, computerized voice from a PA system that must have been installed into a surround sound. It came from everywhere in the room. The nurse smiled and left, closing the door behind her.

"Well, don't just stand there Ana. Bring your man here so that way I can see him with my own eyes."

Ana laughed and pulled a hesitant Bruce further into the room. He followed behind his woman, his nervousness rising as they stopped beside the bed and Bruce finally was finally meeting Jenn face to face.

She was a beautiful woman, a younger version of Sido, with straight dark hair and pale blue eyes. However, her beauty was hampered down by the sight of several thick pieces of wires that were implanted directly into her skull, neck and spine. These were connected to the computer system that surrounded her, several monitors displaying her health status. Her face was set in a blank expression but her eyes had moved to look at the couple. One could tell that she wanted to smile at them but all she did was blink.

The voice that emerged from the speakers around them bore a hint of happiness. "Dr. Banner... It is nice to finally meet you in the flesh. Goodness, you are a handsome one, aren't you?"

Ana started to laugh at the sight of Bruce's deep blush but he smiled at Jenn. "It's nice to finally meet you too, Jenn."

Ana had let go of Bruce's hand and leaned down to press a kiss upon Jenn's brow. "Tante, I missed you."

Jenn blinked in response and her voice bore hint of longing. "I missed you too my sweet. Hopefully, with Tony and Pepper's help, it won't be much longer. We'll be together again."

"That is why we're here..."

"Oui, Tony told me of Thor's visit," said Jenn, the look in her eyes one of deep curiosity and worry. "Have you decided on what you wished to do?"

"Not yet," said Ana, reaching to take hold of Bruce's hand and gripping it tightly. "I want all of us together first, as a family, before I make such a decision. In any case, I won't go anywhere without Bruce."

Jenn's laugh sounded through as she blinked again, her pale blue eyes filled with amusement. "Of course not. No one should have to ask either of you to part. Not when you had just found one another. It'll take time before you can get to that point of surviving as you had before you met. Your relationship is still new and your other selves are dependent on one another to stay calm at this point."

"Have you thought of moving to Stark Tower?" asked Bruce as he studied Jenn with interest.

Jenn's eyes glanced at him and she blinked. "Of course. Since Tony and Pepper had told us they would install an arc reactor to my system. Sido and I have already started making plans of the move to Manhattan. Now that we have a way of staying close with Ana, it'll be worth it." She blinked again and her voice took on a hesitant tone. "The only downside is that I will be offline during that time. When that happens, we will lose track of those we have been watching."

"We'll just have to trust the others," said Ana, though the look on her face was one of worry. "Perhaps we should fully involve SHIELD? I suppose they may consider me a part of the Avengers now, after all that had happened. Maybe they can help?"

"It would be a risk," said Jenn in reply but the tone in her voice was one of agreement. "It may be for the best though. We'll need all the help we can get. I've been watching those at LIFE and they appear to be planning something. Though exactly what I haven't been able to find. They've been keeping their plans out of their systems. It seems they had learned after the last time."

"It'll be fine," said Bruce, squeezing Ana's hand. "We'll be prepared for whatever they might plan in trying to get Ana." He looked at her and pulled her close. "We'll be fine..."

Ana allowed a small smile to shine through the worry and leaned over to bury her face against his chest. He held her close and rubbed his cheek against her copper brown curls. Jenn saw all of this and though she could not smile, the tears could be seen in her pale blue eyes.

She was happy that her niece had finally found love in someone who would take good care of her. It was nice not having to worry as much as she used to. Since Bruce, Tony and the others had come into their lives, the DuPont-Brandt women had found things had gotten a little easier. Even if it meant that things would get a little harder in the future...

Chapter Text

I am affliction

Through all confusion

I am the chaos

I'm the thing that makes you hurt

Laughing at your loss...

I Am Abomination – Exodus

-o-

Chapter 35: The New Destination

The new destination for the residents of Stark Tower was to the lovely country of France, where Bruce and Ana had apparently jetted off to after their impromptu escapade in the Catskills Mountains. Betty had been hesitant to join but Tony had been quite persuasive. Mostly it was because of the fact that he had sent one of his own biologists on staff, who specialized in cellular biology like Betty, to substitute for her job at Culver college so that she could join in the trip to France to Ana's home.

Her bosses had not been happy at first but the substitute had worked out great and they had approved of her extended leave, as long as it was Stark Industries that continued to pay for the substitute. If it meant for them to save money, why not? Well, the decision had been made for her and now she was sitting in a private jet that belonged to one Tony Stark and staring out the window to the clouds and ocean below.

Betty had no idea why Tony had wanted her along in the trip. As far as she was concerned, she had no reason to tag along but Tony had insisted her expertise would be needed. Her PHD in cellular biology was going to put to good use with the coming project Tony had planned for Jennifer DuPont. Exactly how, he didn't explain right away. He said he needed to get a better idea once he met Jenn face to face himself but Betty would be needed regardless. Again, he didn't elaborate...

Betty sighed heavily as she placed her chin upon her hand and stared out the window, wondering where this path would lead her to now. She had hoped that after seeing Bruce again she would go back to her normal life. Or at least as normal as it had been for the past year. Now, she was flying off to France to the home of her ex's current girlfriend...

This just seemed like some awful soap opera yet she wanted to laugh so bad. How in the world would she had thought her visit would lead her to meeting not only Iron Man, but the infamous god of thunder? Sure, he was the god of Norse myth but to meet him in the flesh, a real live alien being from another planet, was something else entirely.

"You seem deep in thought my lady. Tell me, what troubles you?"

The deep voice that spoke to her had her glancing to the god that sat in the plush leather seat across from her. She allowed a hint of smile to touch her lips as she tilted her head a little, studying him. "I was just wondering what I had gotten myself into this time."

Thor studied her thoughtfully in turn before he adjusted himself in his seat and drummed his fingers against the leather arm of the seat. He seemed to find the jet ride rather tedious. He was a god after all. He could probably fly at a faster pace than this jet ever could. "You are a friend of the doctor's, correct? The Metal Man had said you knew of the Green one before any one of us had met him."

Betty huffed out a gentle laugh as she looked out the window, her dark hair spilling over her shoulder. "I was... an old flame of his. Before the accident turned him into what he is now..."

A moment of silence passed before understanding touched Thor's piercing blue gaze. "Ah, his first love." He gave a nod and leaned forward to get a better look at the human woman before him. "Yet, you had met the Red Lady... Are you not aware of their relationship?"

"I am," said Betty, turning her own blue gaze to him. "And I'm happy for him." She fidgeted in her seat, Thor's blue eyes seemed to look straight through her. It made her uncomfortable. "I can admit there is a bit of envy there but... Ana can be there for him where I never can be myself. She is like him and that is what he needs. Someone who can be by his side... No matter which side that is." She glanced out the window once again and sighed. "I can't do that. I'm simply just a woman..."

"You speak too little of yourself, my lady," said Thor as he continued to study her, his thoughtful gaze taking on a hint of sadness. "You are the woman who had first held his love. I am sure he still cares for you though perhaps not in the way that he used to. You are strong. You must be if you feel very little ill will towards the Red Lady."

"Ana is a good person," Betty said with a smile, finding it amusing how the god would refer to Ana as the Red Lady. "She makes Bruce happy. Why should I feel upset toward her? She hasn't done anything to me personally. She came into Bruce's life long after he had left mine."

"You do not wish for anything bad to happen to her?" he asked, now intrigued. "You do not wish to be in her place?"

Betty allowed a moment of silence to fall between them, wondering if there was something in Thor's questions that were of a more personal level. She focused her gaze upon his and firmly shook her head. "No."

Thor didn't respond, he simply sat back in his seat and glanced out his own window. The thoughtful look on his face was one of sadness. Betty could not help but wonder what it was that made this otherworldly man so sad...

Across the aisle, in another pair of leather plush seats, Pepper and Tony had been listening to the conversation between the two. They glanced at one another and Pepper simply smiled before she focused her attention back on the tablet in front of her. Tony glanced back at the two of them, the look on his face one of curiosity.

-o-

"They're on their way," said Ana with a smile as she walked into the bedroom. "They'll all be here soon. It's almost nerve wracking to think that Tony and Pepper will be here." She couldn't help but giggle as she walked upon her bare tiptoes across the lush carpeted floor toward Bruce. She still liked to walk around barefoot, that was something that hadn't changed. She loved it even better when they went to sleep at night because she had an excuse to sleep in the nude. It was currently well into the evening hours and the large house was quiet now that dinner was over with.

The good doctor was working on a computer that was set in a corner of Ana's large room. It had one of the touch screen monitors that he liked a lot and it currently displayed a diagram of Jenn's life support systems. He had pulled off the new pair of reading glasses that Sido had provided for him and glanced over at his woman with a welcome smile.

"That's good to hear," he said as held an arm out for her, an automatic gesture. She immediately slid into his embrace, his arm wrapping about her curvy waist and pulling her close against him. He had focused his attention back on the monitor and pointed his glasses at the diagram. "I'm going to need Tony's help with configuring the arc reactor to Jenn's system."

"Well, Jenn has the plans already, does she not?" Ana glanced down at Bruce, her fingers running gently through his wavy, dark brown hair.

"Y-yeah," said Bruce, his eyes growing unfocused at the feel of her fingers. "But Tony would have a better idea of how to implement it. They're his plans after all. Jenn isn't able to work through the physical aspect of installing it..." he trailed off, the feel of her fingers relaxing him like nothing else.

He set his glasses aside and turned in his seat to wrap both arms around her waist. He pulled her closer to him and rested his head against her bosom. "Ana," he said, his hold tightening around her as he inhaled the gentle smell of the cucumber melon soap she loved to use. "I love you... You know that right?"

"Bruce-"

"I love you," he said, interrupting her as he closed his eyes. "The Other Guy... He loves you too. Even if he may be... rough. He... I can feel it whenever we're close. He loves you. He would never wish to hurt you."

"You're still worried about yesterday," she said, reaching out to brush away that one lock of hair that always seemed to fall on the left side of his brow. It was one of the many things she adored to do him. She gripped his face in her hands and lifted it up so that he had no choice but to look at her. She leaned down to press her lips against his brow. "I know you love me. The Other Guy is a part of you so he feels that love." She closed her eyes as she pressed her brow against his. "I love you. Cin is a part of me so she feels that love as well." She took in deep breath and moved her head slightly to press a kiss against his cheek. "We are together, all sides of us. There is nothing that we can do at this point that would make us hurt one another. Our love... it's unique but so very strong. Don't ever think that because we are together, no matter which form it is, that we would hurt each other."

"I know... but-"

"You still worry," said Ana with a gentle laugh. She kissed his lips softly and pulled away from his embrace. She took hold of his hands and pulled him up from the chair. "If you still worry... Then show me." She released his hands and went to close the door to the bedroom, locking it with an audible click. She turned back to him and held out her arms to him. "Show me your love Bruce. Slowly and sweetly... We haven't been calm... I crave that calm. Show me, please."

He didn't need to be told twice. He swallowed back the tightness in his throat and made his way toward her. He slipped into her welcome embrace, the feel of her arms around him the most natural thing he had ever, and hoped he would ever, feel. Their kiss was gentle, soft and sweet.

Their clothes fell away from searching hands and gentle caresses as he led her toward the bed. There was no urgency, no deep primal craving, just a sweet love. Her body was willing and craving as he slipped in between her parting thighs, his arousal seeking the warmth of her. The one true place that he felt at he belonged.

The moment he took that first slow thrust into her, her soft cry of relief allowed that one breath of soft elation to escape him. He reached out to hold her thigh as he pulled out and slowly thrust in, her warmth tightening around him. She reached out to wrap her arms around his shoulders, pulling him down toward her. He allowed himself to be drawn close, nuzzling her neck as he continued in those soft thrusts. He immersed himself in her. His every thought was focused on the feel of her, the scent of her, the sound of her, completely surrounding him.

"Le mien," she breathed as he thrust into her and held himself firmly against her, rocking his hips against hers as her gasp of pleasure escaped her lips.

"Toujours," he replied with a shaky sigh, the pleasure beginning to build within him. He had heard that phrase in French many times over the course of their relationship. "Always," he repeated again in English, emphasizing how much she meant to him. He had learned the response to that a long a while ago and he always loved how sweet her cry of relief afterward was.

She began to tremble as her climax overcame her, her body tightening, her hold on him drawing him as close as possible to her. She almost seemed as if she was trying to join them even further. He closed his eyes as the feel of her warm, wetness tightened around him and his breath hitched as his own climax followed after. His thrusts became deeper as he let go, every pulsing release as he came into her knocking away every worry he had ever felt. All there was in the world was the two of them, joined in this soft, gentle, erotic embrace. It was pure heaven.

"Je t'aime, my Bruce," said Ana as she dropped her head back against the pillow. "I love you..."

"Mine. Always... I love you," he said in response and pressed a firm kiss against her neck...

-o-

Dr. Parsons' new destination was anything but a five-star cruise.

He was shaking from head to toe as he walked down a very long, fluorescent lit hallway that led to holding cell. The guards that walked with him were rather stoic men of the Marine variety. They held rather impressive weaponry, they looked to be assault rifles, but Dr. Parsons was not familiar with weapons. He was nothing more than a quiet man of science. This place was the one place he did not wish to visit. However, since he had been so successful in persuading General Ross to their cause, it was left to him to persuade their next interest.

Their next person of interest was located in this place, which was not just any holding cell in any jail. It was a cell that had been built hundreds of miles below the Earth's surface located in a secret scientific facility simply known as the Homestake. It was located in a closed gold mine in South Dakota and was one of the most premier locations for experiments on dark matter and neutrinos.

It also was an ideal place to hold a scientific monstrosity prisoner.

There was much that could be allowed when certain government officials were given enough incentive. The visit with this particular prisoner was one of those allowances. The soldiers said nothing to him as they stopped before a heavily vaulted door. After going through a series of identifying scanners, the door released with a heavy hiss of air being allowed in and slid open.

Dr. Parsons took a heavy gulp as he glanced at the soldiers, who didn't look at him and simply waited for him to go through. He took in breath and stepped inside to a rather large, cavern that had only several florescent lights strewn about. He was standing on a metal grill that was situated nearly twenty feet above the floor of the cavern. He took a step toward the railing, his trembling hands reaching out to grab hold of the it. He didn't notice the soldiers stepping in after him nor of the door sliding closed behind them and locking them in with the prisoner.

His gaze was focused on the huge monster below them. It was some creature with murky brown skin, spinal ridges protruding along its back, a visible rib cage against its skin, and what appeared to be pure bone emerging from its elbows and heels. It had several, thick metal cuffs wrapped around its feet and hands, which covered them from view. A similar restraint was wrapped around its torso and neck. The restraints were all connected to a series of machines that kept the creature in check. Whenever it tried to move, the chains would tighten and a shock of electricity would course through its system.

Dr. Parsons was intimidated.

However, he continued on his mission and cleared his throat. "Emil Blonsky..." He nearly backed away from the railing the moment those horrible eyes of the Abomination had glanced up and focused on his. He stood fast though and continued speaking. " My name is Dr. Anthony Parsons... I'm here on behalf of an organization that wishes to offer you a chance for your freedom and perhaps... revenge."

The deep growl he received in response nearly had him release his bladder but he continued on, his trembling form leaning against the railing for support. "Just listen... I promise it will be worth your while..."

Chapter Text

Somewhere

Something is calling for you

Two worlds, one family

Trust your heart

Let fate decide...

Two Worlds – Phil Collins

-o-

Chapter 36: The Night Sky

The night sky could be very beautiful here in Tromsø.

Considering that this quaint little part of Norway was one of the best places to see an Aurora Borealis did help in the fact.

The research facility that Jane Foster had been a part of for the last several months was indeed quite an exceptional place. Having been offered such an incredible opportunity, to not only continue in her own personal research, but to also continue in her search to find a way between Asgard and Earth...

She had thought of him so many times over the time that had passed since their parting. Did he think of her? Was he trying to find a way back to Earth as she was trying to find a way to Asgard? So many questions that had been plaguing her for over a year. All of it to be for naught...

She had seen the footage of the battles in Midtown Manhattan. It wasn't hard to pay attention when an attack from an alien army on New York City was all across international news. The sudden opportunity here in Tromsø came at a convenient time just before the attack happened... Had Thor made that possible with all that had happened? She had recognized him from the footage. The fact that he had found a way back to Earth had made her excited. Yet here it was three months later and he had not come for her as promised...

Was she so naïve to believe in such a promise from him? He was a male, regardless if he was not from Earth. Maybe all males were alike no matter what realm they were from. Jane sighed heavily as she turned away from her telescope and focused back on her notes. She did not see the flaming star that fell from the sky, a fiery cascade of brilliant light that landed a good distance north from the town...

-o-

Ana was drumming the nails of her right hand against the skin of her upper arm, her brown eyes were filled with worry as she paced the length of the corridor outside of Jenn's room. Every once in a while, she would tug on a copper brown curl then chew on a thumbnail before reverting to crossing her arms and drumming her fingernails against her upper arm. Her pacing was beginning to get on the nerves of one particular god of thunder, who was standing in the corridor with Ana.

They were not needed in the initial transition of installing the arc reactor into Jenn's life support systems. Sido, Bruce, Tony, Pepper, and Betty were all currently in Jenn's room and working. They had been for the past few weeks and today was the day that the arc reactor would finally be implemented. Ana had every right to be worried. This was her aunt's life on the line. If something were to go wrong...

"Do not worry Red Lady," said Thor, catching Ana's worried gaze. He attempted a reassuring smile, unsure as to how to offer comfort. "Your mate and your brother will do all they can to ensure that your aunt will remain safe."

Ana shook her head as she paused in her pacing and turned to face the Asgardian. "It's not only that... I worry about what will come after." She bit the nail of her thumb as she looked away. "I am considering in agreeing to coming to Asgard-"

"Really?" interrupted Thor, his smile was one of relief as he pushed off the wall he had been leaning against. "That is wonderful news-"

"Yet," said Ana, holding up a hand to stop Thor from continuing. "I will not go without Bruce. He is my mate... My love... Surely, you can understand that?"

Thor had paused at the movement, his electric blue eyes studying her with slight apprehension. "I... can..."

Ana gave a nod, dropping her hand as she glanced at the door. "You owe Cin a debt..." She allowed this to sink in, the silence from the god of thunder all she needed to reassure her. She looked at Thor and allowed a small smile to come through. "Cin needs Hulk... I need Bruce... We need each other. We are still so new at this... Please, do not tear us apart." She took a step toward the god of thunder and placed a hand over her heart. "You owe us at least this... Please. Convince your father to allow Bruce to come with me to Asgard. That is all I ask." She glanced back at the door to her aunt's room and took in a shuddering breath. "I would be happy to swear my life and my allegiance to Asgard if only my mate is by side."

Thor was silent as he studied this strange woman before him. She was right. He did owe her a life debt... It was a fairly simple thing to ask of him considering he owed her his life. The matter was convincing his father of such a notion. However, he could understand quite well the depth of her love for her mate. He felt it for his own Jane after all...

"I give you my word Red Lady," said Thor, taking a step toward her and grabbing her hand in his. He lifted it and pressed a gentle kiss upon her fingers. "I will be sure that your mate will remain by your side should you come to Asgard."

Her smile was answer enough that he had made the right decision. They stared at one another, one other worldly being to another, before the door to Jenn's room had opened. They turned in unison toward the open doorway to find Tony Stark, a bright smile upon his goateed face.

"Lady and gentleman," said Tony, moving slightly from the doorway and opening the door a little wider. "May I present the new and improved... Ms. Jennifer DuPont..."

Chapter Text

I long to feel My heart burned open wide

'T il nothing else remains

Except the fires from which I came

Like parted souls

Divided for an age...

'Cause I've been waiting

All my life, just waiting

For you to shine

Shine your light on me...

Nova VNV Nation

-o-

Chapter 37: The Door Had Opened

The door had opened wider and Thor and Ana were greeted by the sight of Jennifer DuPont, standing on her own two legs. Her body was supported by a metal suit similar to what Tony Stark wore as Iron Man except it seemed thinner, not meant for use in battle. It was a more subdued color, blue and silver, and the core of the arc reactor glowed brightly in the center of her chest. Her black hair hung long and loose about her face and, though she did not smile, her eyes were filling with tears that refused to fall.

"How do I look?" asked Jenn, taking another step and raising her arms out as if waiting to embrace someone. Her voice came out of a speaker located at the neck of the suit, which supported her head and allowed her to turn her head. "I hope it's not too bad. I do rather like the colors..."

Ana let out a choking sob at the sight of her aunt standing on her own two feet. Jenn was perfectly fine and seemed perfectly at ease in the suit that Tony Stark and Pepper Potts had designed. Her mother and Betty Ross had helped to implement the connection points of the suit to those of Jenn's non-responsive nervous system so that it activated to the responsive parts of her brain. The end result was an almost fluid and natural motion that came to the suit when Jenn moved. Though it was the suit that was moving her dead limbs, it was her brain that made the commands to do so. Of course, Bruce's expertise in all matters of bio-organics meant he was a shoe in for the final touches of the arc reactor while it was being installed into the suit.

"Ah, tante!" cried Ana as she ran over to her aunt and was quickly swept up into a tight embrace that threatened to creak her bones. Her tears were falling freely as she had the first real hug from her aunt. She could feel the urgency in the embrace as Jenn hugged her tightly, her own tears finally falling.

"Ana, it's so good to finally hug you with my own arms."

"Tante," Ana whispered as she tightened her own hold on her aunt. "My auntie... I'm so glad you're all right," she whispered in French and nuzzled the warm skin of her aunt's cheek, which elicited a giggle from Jenn and prompted her to hug her niece even tighter. Ana did not complain.

"So, do you like the suit?" asked Tony, watching aunt and niece hugging each other, the look in his eyes could be described as slightly envious. "I hope the colors work well. Jenn insisted-"

He was cut off as he was engulfed by the tightest embrace he had ever experienced. Ana had her arms wrapped tightly around his neck and she was openly sobbing as she pulled Tony out into the corridor and buried her face into the crook of his neck. "My brother... Thank you..." Ana whispered, hugging Tony ever tightly as she nuzzled his neck.

Tony Stark was never one to be called an emotional man. However, the moment the woman he considered a little sister hugged him close and whispered her thanks and her love... He swallowed back the tightness in his throat and returned her hug, though awkwardly. "I-It's nothing, Ana... You know tha-" He was cut off again as Ana's hold tightened around him and she snarled her protest to his words.

"It is everything," said Ana, her words a husky growl. "Everything... My family..." Her words were whispered at this point. "My brother..."

Tony knew that this was a part of Cin coming through. Ana was more reserved than this, unless he provoked her in some way. Yet, he had not done anything to provoke her and still, Cin shown through Ana. She was so emotionally bonded to him that no matter what he did, Cin would shine through. He smiled at this and returned her hug, his movements sure and full of conviction.

"Anything for you little sister," he whispered in her ear.

A sob was all he received in response and he smiled at the sweetness of the hug he received...

"So, Ana approves of the color?"

Tony pulled away reluctantly from Ana as he smiled at Pepper, who was standing at the threshold of the open door. Betty and Sido were standing behind her, watching the two with open affection and amusement.

"I would take it as a yes," said Tony as he pulled away from Ana and pushed her toward the doorway. Sido, Betty, and Pepper moved away from the doorway with smiles on their faces. Bruce was standing there, looking slightly apprehensive as he wiped his hands on his pants.

"I-I hope it's what-" He barely got a word in edge wise before he was tackled and his lips covered by the softest pair of lips that he ever hoped to feel for the rest of his days. Bruce stumbled back but held on tightly to his woman as she showed him just how happy she was with what he had done to help her aunt.

"Goodness, I still can't get used to that," said Pepper as she turned away and giggled against Tony's chest.

Tony wrapped an arm around her and pulled her close, rather glad that his girlfriend was one of the most intelligent women he had ever been blessed to know. Without her, this entire work wouldn't have been possible...

"So," said a familiar cool voice that caught everyone's attention. "My niece and her man are supposed to go to Asgard... What are the plans to make that happen?"

All eyes turned back to the feral couple, who were standing in the middle of Jenn's bedroom and barely paying attention to the others. Ana was currently keeping Bruce's lips occupied and he was more than happy to oblige...

"I suggest we wait until they are done," said Sido, trying not to smile too much at the sight of her daughter and her mate. At this rate, it wouldn't be too long before she was dreading being a grandmother. She turned away and walked out of the bedroom, her steps light and full of bounce. "How about we all enjoy a nice breakfast? It has been a long night."

No one disputed this diversion. It was obvious that the couple they left behind would be enjoying themselves in a way that none of them wished to know of in a familiar manner. It was a blessed thing that the room was in a far end of the old home from the kitchens...

"I don't know about you all but a breakfast burrito would be good about now," said Tony, only to wince slightly as Pepper slapped him on the back of his head. "Ow! What was that for?"

Pepper frowned at her boyfriend and rolled her eyes in exasperation. "We're in old French villa. Burritos aren't something they would have on the menu."

"Actually," said Sido with a bright smile. "We do." She glanced back at the couple and tried not to look too amused. "My daughter has very peculiar tastes considering who she is and what she is. It helped everyone involved to cater to her very specific needs. Her other self, Cin, rather enjoys the Mexican and Jamaican cuisine. A bit too spicy but," she shrugged as she led them toward the kitchens. "It keeps her calm."

"So... you have breakfast burritos?" asked Tony, looking expectant.

Sido laughed and nodded, "Yes, we can make them if you crave them."

"I just look forward to actually eating on my own," said Jenn, her movements rather erratic in the suit. Of course, she was quite excited so the jerky movements of her suit were to be expected. "I wonder how real food will taste while I actually chew on it on my own..."

No one commented on this.

No one could.

None of them could understand the complete freedom Jenn now experienced after being a quadriplegic for most of her life. To finally have the freedom to move on her own... Yes, she was not connected to the main frame to monitor LIFE at the moment... Still, this was a freedom she had yearned for and she was not going to waste it.

"Sido! Race you to the kitchens!"

She ran off ahead of her older sister, knowing full well she couldn't keep up. Sido stared after her younger sister and, knowing this was her inner child coming through, started running after her. "Attendez-moi!," cried Sido as she raced after her sister. "I'm not as young as I used to be!

Betty couldn't help but laugh at the sight of the two sisters and she was glad that she had taken part of this long and arduous procedure. She sighed softly as she hung back a little, watching Tony, Pepper and Thor walk ahead of her. She glanced behind her down the corridor of the old home, her yearning clear but her peace with the situation clearer.

"My lady, is everything all right?" asked Thor, who had been kind enough to stop and wait for her. The others had already followed after the sisters and were turning down another corridor. Betty glanced at Thor and gave a small smile.

"Yeah, thanks..." said Betty, turning her back and walking on, feeling stronger with every step.

Chapter Text

It's one-two-three and suddenly

I see it at a glance

She's radiant

And confident and born to take this chance.

I taught her well.

I planned it all!

I just forgot...

Romance...

Sido, how could you do this?

How will we get through this?

I never should have let them dance...

Edit of Learn to Do It (Waltz Reprise)Anastasia Film [1997]

-o-

Chapter 38: Her Kiss was the Sweetest

Her kiss was the sweetest he had ever experienced so far in their relationship.

There was so much emotion behind her embrace, so much yearning, as her lips danced against his own. His arms had tightened around her waist before she had pulled away and placed her hands over his. "Come with me."

She pulled Bruce's arms from around her waist but held onto his hands, the look of longing on her face clamping down any questions he had. She kept hold of his hands as she pulled him out of Jenn's room and down the corridor, in the opposite direction of where they normally walked to reach the kitchens. Ana knew these corridors by heart and she led Bruce down one corridor and another before she reached a heavy oak door that had no door knobs and only a security panel imbedded in the wall on the right-hand side.

Ana reached out and pressed her hand against the panel. It scanned her hand print and beeped in recognition. The oak door unlocked and Ana pushed against it to show a corridor that Bruce had not seen yet. It resembled the rest of the house but Bruce knew that this was a place hardly used aside from Ana and her family. Along the walls, Bruce could see various pictures of Sido, Jenn, and Ana, all at various stages of their lives. All looking happy, sad, hopeful...

Toward the end of the corridor, Ana stopped before a large portrait held in a gilded frame. It was of a family that no longer existed. Bruce could see that the handsome middle-aged couple were of Sido and Jenn's parents. The younger versions of Sido and Jenn were easily the spitting image of their mother yet had their father's eyes.

Bruce could see the sad look upon Ana's face before she turned away from the picture and pulled Bruce down a short hallway and toward another oak door. This one had a regular doorknob and it was not locked as Ana twisted the door knob with ease. It opened out and Ana led him outside to a private garden. There were various hedges, bushes and seasonal flowers that were in full bloom all around. The path Ana led him down was tiled brick and the sound of their shoes could be heard thumping against the surface.

The vegetation was becoming thicker the further they went until the villa could no longer be seen. The path curved into a little thicket of trees and the sound of gushing water could be heard ahead. Bruce was greeted by the sight of a small pond with fountain spouting water from the very center. Lily pads floated serenely across its surface, the ripples distorting the reflection of the coming dawn above.

Ana had come to a stop at the edge of this pond and released Bruce's hand. She gazed at the rippling surface of the water, not saying a word as Bruce studied her beneath the dim light of the early morning. He swallowed back the lump in his throat as he moved to stand next to her. "Ana?"

"This was my sanctuary," she began, her brown eyes studying the fountain. "Before I met you, I was always so close to the edge... One small thing could set me off in a heartbeat and Cin would react to the perceived threat." She closed her eyes and shook her head. "I was kept here during those times to protect my family and the people who worked for us... I was safe and it was quiet... But I was always alone."

She kneeled at the edge and reached out to run her fingers over the surface of the water. "This garden is enclosed from the outside world. The walls are too high for any wanderer to climb over, security had always been tight and Cin... Mon dieu, she did not want to escape..."

"You've always been on the run," Bruce said gently, frowning lightly in confusion. "Why did you leave this place if you were safe?"

Ana frowned as she pondered the answer to that. After a moment, she glanced at Bruce. "I didn't want to be safe all the time. I wanted to live. I wanted to experience a normal life." She looked away again and continued to run her fingers over the water. "Despite what I am, I still had that dream of wanting to be a regular person... Mama didn't agree but she understood. So, we traveled despite the risks, searching for a way to cure what I was. One day, I will pay the price for making such a such a selfish decision." Her fingers paused in their movements and such a haunted look appeared in those brown orbs. "Those lives I had taken... I should have remained hidden. They would have remained alive."

Bruce understood well enough the guilt she carried but he was selfish enough to feel a flare of anger at her. He crouched down next to her and took a hold of her face, turning it gently so that she could look him in the eye. "Then we wouldn't have met... We would have never-" He stopped himself from saying the words. "I love you and I'm selfish to admit that. But no matter the mistakes we both made in the past, our paths had crossed here and now. I'm thankful for each and every moment I have with you Ana."

A soft laugh escaped from her, a sob mixing in with the sound. "This is what I am talking about. You come into my life with your shy smile and kind eyes. You've been nothing but supportive and... you've done so much for Jenn. I feel as if I'm not giving you enough in return."

"Ana, you're all-"

She cut him off with a sweet kiss, her hands gripping the nape of his neck tightly. She broke away from the kiss and pressed her forehead tightly against his. "Show me what you truly want... Show me what I can give to you."

"Ana, I don't-"

The grip on the back of his neck tightened and Bruce could feel the sudden intense heat coming from her touch. Several pin pricks could be felt against his skin and Bruce's heart gave a sudden lurch in response. "Ana, what are you doing?" He reached up to take hold of her hands to try to pull them from his neck but her grip was too strong.

Ana was rocking her forehead back and forth against his, her eyes moving from side to side behind her closed lids, looking as if she were reading something. It was but a moment later that her eyes snapped open and she looked into Bruce's gentle brown eyes, awe and love shining in her own. The intense heat faded from her hands and Bruce was finally able to remove them.

"What was that?" he asked, a part of him panicking slightly. Of course, he knew a part of Ana was truly alien. That had never bothered him but the feel of those pin pricks against the back of his neck. It was like she was trying to merge with him. "Ana?"

"I'll try," was all she said as she reached up to brush his hair from his brow. "I'll try. I can't promise it will work."

"Ana, I don't understand," he said. "What are you talking about?"

"Hulk," whispered Ana and she pushed Bruce back to the ground, knocking him over from his crouched position. "He needs to be aware. Cin needs him. I need you. We need you both. Maybe it will work this way..."

The tightness in his chest at the sound of the Hulk's name meant that the Other Guy had heard his woman's call. Bruce tried to clamp down on the sudden possessive conscience that was emerging from the depths. "Ana, I can't change here so close..."

"Not change," said Ana as she began to kiss him, her nimble hands already working on the buckle of his belt. "Just be aware of him." She pulled away to look at him and Bruce could see the slightest yellow glow in her eyes. The red veins in the sides of her neck had darkened but there was no anger or rage there, simply the purest love that Bruce had ever seen in her eyes. "Can you feel him? Is he aware?"

Bruce closed his eyes at the feel Ana's hands undoing his slacks, his body was already responding to her touch. He did not see the slight patches of green that appeared on his hands or the sides of his own neck. When he opened his eyes to look at her, they were that beautiful shade of green when the desire became too much. "He's... there. He's not trying to come out but... I can feel him."

Seeing the patches of green on his skin, Ana pulled away to pull off her shirt and bra, glancing at the red veins on her abdomen that were glowing with subdued heat. She could always sense Cin when she was close to Bruce. This time though... This time was different. She could feel the heat pulsing in her womb, a different sort of heat that was in no way connected to want.

"Bien," she said before reaching out to free his hardness from the constraint of his pants. He hissed at the contact and nearly groaned at the loss as she released him. She stood up to rid herself of the rest of her clothing and looked at Bruce, trembling slightly at the cool air against her fevered skin.

Bruce's gaze followed her movement as she walked toward him and moved to straddle him. His hands reached out to grip her by the hips, his desire for her always clear. "Ana..." he groaned he moment she had gripped his hardness and lowered herself down onto him. His groan became a soft gasp of shock as her wetness suddenly tightened around him and her body heat, always warm, began to rise slightly.

She lifted herself slowly from him, one stroke that robbed all thought from her mind as the pleasure began. This was so different though. It was calm and yet... She reached out to grip the back of his neck with both hands, the connection from before reigniting. She slammed back down on him and whimpered at the shock of pleasure that emerged. Her hands twitched as she stared at Bruce, watching as his green eyes suddenly widened in shock.

"Oh g-god... I can feel you," he said, awe coloring his words. "How are you-"

She rocked against him as she pressed her forehead against his once more. The connection was nothing like what Cin had done in merging with Ana but it was close enough. Their consciences were connected in a way that was much more intimate. Each jolt of pleasure from her movements could be felt on both ends, intensifying their connection. The Hulk and Cin were aware of all that was going on, feeling each and every movement that their calm sides were experiencing. Four different consciences all aware, all moving in sync.

The physical changes were minute but it was all that was needed...

Bruce was gasping and rumbling deep in his chest, his green eyes focused on his woman as she continued moving against him. He could feel everything from her, from Cin... It was incredible.

This was completely different from anything they had done before. His heart was pounding hard against his chest as he tightened his grip on her hips, her sudden trembling form catching him off guard. He could feel her mental state of pleasure before her body had even registered the explosion that was soon to come. He moaned in complete ecstasy as he twitched against her, moving with her, their love-making in perfect unison.

With a final thrust upward, a tightening of heated bodies and gasping shouts and screams to the sky, they all fell over the edge together. Their climaxes unlike anything experienced before. It had not been mad desire or calm love. This was completely different. A merging of the two in the hopes of forming one...

-o-

A month had passed since that unexpected joining in the private garden of the DuPont Villa.

The group had returned to Stark Tower with Sido and Jenn in tow. She was enjoying her new-found freedom in her own suit and the moment she had connected directly to JARVIS it was as if had been meant to be. Jenn had never been more in love with a computer than she had at that moment. The sheer power of Jarvis' system was immense. For a hacker like Jenn, it was heaven.

Shortly after that, SHIELD had then been contacted directly by Jenn as a way of introducing herself, Sido, and the corporation that they ran to protect Ana. Now that things had changed drastically it was time to come out into the open. At least by SHIELD's standards.

Fury had not been happy when he found out the reasoning behind the mysterious blank spots that had been in regard to Anamaria Brandt. He would have taken it as direct breach in national security. If Agent Coulson had not kindly stated that if it were not for those people, he would not have been alive today to continue enjoying his job.

Hesitance was all there was on Fury's part but the fact that Jennifer DuPont was willing to offer her services to SHIELD should they be in need, was what kept him from acting on anything. Since she was now contracted with Stark Industries, who was the reason for current state of existence, her obligation was to them first.

It took some delicate negotiating but eventually the two separate parties were able to come to an agreement.

And it was at this stage in the game that Thor, Bruce and Ana were preparing for their trip to Asgard...

-o-

"My friend, we will be leaving soon. You will be by your mate's side. Why do you seem so sad? This is a happy occasion!"

Bruce looked at the large blond as the Asgardian slapped a heavy hand on his shoulder.

"I'm not sad," said Bruce in reply as he glanced back at his woman, who was talking to Betty and Pepper. They were all standing in the living area of Tony's personal apartments in Stark Tower. Everyone had gathered together to see Bruce and Ana off as they prepared for their trip to Asgard.

"I'm just... worried." He frowned lightly, unsure about where these feelings were coming from. Ever since that day in the garden, he'd been feeling more attuned to Ana's state of being. There was something... different. She didn't look different, act different or sound different. But there was something...

"You worry too much," said Thor, slapping another hand down on his shoulder as he let loose a hearty laugh. "Things will be fine. To be honest my friend, I cannot wait to return to Midgard after this mission is complete. I will finally be free to find my Jane."

Bruce allowed a smile to appear at this, glancing back at Thor, whose blue eyes were gazing off into the distance. Ever since they had returned from France, Thor has spoken nonstop of finding the woman he had fallen in love with over a year ago. He had promised he would come back for her and now he would keep that promise...

He was distracted by the feel of a very warm body against his, warm arms wrapping around his waist. He returned the embrace and lightly kissed the copper brown curls that were currently tucked against the crook of his neck. "Hey."

"Hm," was all Ana said in reply, seeming content to just be held. Thor smiled at the two of them before leaving them to their privacy.

"Are you feeling all right?" he asked, moving his head slightly to try to get a look at her.

"I'm... happy," said Ana, not looking at him though her arms tightened around him. "I'm very happy... and scared." She laughed at this and finally pulled away slightly to look up at the good doctor. "This trip is going to change things, isn't it?"

Bruce studied her face before sighing heavily and planting a firm kiss against her brow. "It will," he said in agreement. "But you need to know about Cin's past. If this is the only way to do it then I'll be right there with you."

A small smile played on her lips before she hid her face within the crook of his neck again. She held him firmly and sighed heavily, wondering if the changes she was already feeling were hinting at something to come.

Chapter Text

My life before you

I was a flame burning down

I was burning out...

But you knew me better

For you there was never a doubt...

That spark, that shot to the heart,

You are the hope that leads me out of the dark...

You put this light in me...

- Brandon Heath

-0-

Chapter 39: A Portal to Another World

A portal to another world was not something Bruce Banner had ever thought possible. Plausible? Yes, but not possible. Yet, considering the life he had lived so far and the people he had met, the plausible was quickly becoming possible...

-o-

Ana was saying farewell to her mother and her aunt, the look in her eyes could best be described as heartbreaking. She was leaving the only family she knew to chase after an unknown past, a past that belonged to the inhuman part of herself. There were no guarantee that she would find the answers she sought but it was a step in the right direction to better understanding the part of her that was all feral. To find the why behind the how and what.

Sido was trying her best not to cry as she hugged Ana closely and tightly. "Promise me you will be safe," she whispered against Ana's curls, her hold tightening around her only daughter. The unspoken words could be felt in the familial link between them.

Please don't forget us... Please come back...

Ana quickly shook her head, returning her mother's fierce hold. "I'll be fine. We won't be gone long Mama. We'll be back before you know it..."

Bruce was watching his woman as she held onto her mother and then her aunt. He took in a breath as he turned to glance out the patio windows to catch sight of Thor standing out on the balcony, staring up at the skies above, looking deep in thought. A muscle twitched in his jaw as he felt a fist bump up against his bicep. He turned to look at Tony, who had stopped beside him, his gaze on Ana.

"All set for the trip?" asked Tony, the look on his face was of nonchalance but Bruce knew the playboy well enough. He was upset at the thought of his close friend and little sister leaving. He had folded his arms across his chest and the look in his hazel eyes was distant. He glanced at Bruce, giving him a once over, before quickly looking away. "You aren't bringing anything with you?"

Bruce kept his gaze on his closest friend, his own soft brown gaze reflecting the usual nervousness he felt when facing the unknown. It had been absent from his gaze since taking up residence at Stark Tower. Now, he was resembling the man who had been on the Helicarrier. "Thor said that they'll have all we need at Asgard. It'll be easier to travel through the portal with little as possible to drag us down."

Tony gave a huff in response but said nothing else. They stood that way for some time before the playboy finally turned his gaze slightly toward the good doctor, not quite looking at him. "You two better come back soon. We have a lot of projects in the works and I need you here for advice."

Bruce smiled at this as he looked at his fellow "science brother," as Ana affectionately referred to them, and gave a nod. "Don't worry. We'll be back before you know it."

Tony cleared his throat, glancing sideways at the good doctor, before giving a quick, jerky nod and slapping a hand on Bruce's back. "Good," he said then turned around and walked off without another word, heading to his office. Bruce simply stared after him, the smile remaining on his lips.

"Bruce?"

He felt a hand on his shoulder and turned slightly to find Betty smiling up at him, her big blue eyes filled with tears. She glanced over at Ana before looking back to him, her gaze filled with unsaid words. "So, this is goodbye again..."

"No," said Bruce, turning to face her properly and pulling her into a tight hug. "This time... This time it's a 'see you real soon.'" He heard Betty's tearful laugh and he smiled, tightening his hold on her as she returned his embrace. "Thank you for coming to find me Betty..."

"Always for you Bruce," said Betty as she pulled away and looked up at him. "I left my contact info with Tony and Pepper so when you and Ana come back, you can reach me when you need to."

Bruce's face fell slightly at these words. "You're leaving?"

Betty nodded as she took a step back, putting a comfortable distance between them. "I have to head back to Culver, I... just have a lot to catch up on."

He caught the hesitant tones in her voice and he knew it was for other reasons that she was leaving. He gave a single nod in understanding as he glanced over at Ana, who was now saying goodbye to Pepper. Three was a crowd after all and despite how supportive and accepting Betty was, she was still feeling hurt. It was a hard thing to get rid of such a love in over a year. Bruce still loved Betty in a way, he would always love her, just not the way he had before.

Meeting Ana had not changed that fact alone. It was his self-isolation that had changed it, his acceptance of a lonely, cursed life because of what he had become and what he had dealt with. His feelings for Betty were something that he accepted as something of the past, a wonderful memory but not anything he could renew with the life he had now. He had hurt her terribly once before, he could not do it again to someone else...

When he had met Ana, it was as if he had been slapped awake from the slump that had been a part of his daily routine for so long. Her presence had brought his spirits up, brought that needed calm, and the fear that had been there at first was obliterated the very moment they had become intimate. Here was his second chance. His chance of not being alone...

Now Betty was the one alone, cursed with her own feelings and longing for the memory of what had been. He didn't argue with her, he understood better than she knew. "I'll be sure to call you the moment we get back," was all he said.

Betty smiled, the tears in her eyes now falling as she studied his features, looking as if she were taking one last memory of him. In this moment in time, with the unspoken understanding between them, they were simply Bruce and Betty, as they had been once upon a time...

Clearing her throat, she looked away, breaking the intimate moment and glanced over to Ana. The other woman was watching them, had been from the moment Bruce had hugged Betty, but Betty did not see anger or jealousy within Ana's brown eyes. She saw sympathy and understanding and Ana had simply smiled at her, giving a nod as if to say, I know... It's all right...

Betty smiled in return, grateful once again that Bruce was with someone who he never had to fear of hurting and who would take care of him. She quickly closed her eyes and sniffed, suddenly eager to get away and get back to the dullness of her life before. However, she knew there was no truly going back. She would just be as she had been for the past year and a half, simply existing...

She smiled at Bruce, reaching out to brush that stubborn lock of brown hair that always fell over the left side of his brow. She whispered a tearful goodbye before turning and leaving Tony's personal apartments altogether. Everyone watched her go and everyone understood her reason for why.

Bruce watched Betty disappear into the elevator, his heart giving a guilty twinge. He looked around to Ana, his heart aching slightly as he saw the sad smile on his woman's lips, the understanding, and the love. The love that filled his own heart at the sight of this was not from him alone, the Other Guy was echoing his thoughts.

Mine... Always...

He watched as his woman quickly excused herself from Pepper's company and made her way quickly over to him. She was by his side in an instant and the feel of her warm hand in his quickly amplified the love his heart. Regardless of the past, this moment was here and now with Ana and Cin, who he – and the Other Guy – loved dearly.

"Are you sure you want to do this, mon amant?" asked Ana, her brown eyes studying him with worry. "We can stay Bruce... Just tell me and we will forget this whole thing."

"I'm fine," said Bruce, his hold tightening on her hand as he leaned in to press a firm kiss against her lips. "Let's go find Cin's past..."

-o-

The swirling vortex of clouds, thunder, and light that swirled above Stark Tower was quite a show. Thor, Bruce and Ana were waiting at the end of the long, runway, platform that Tony normally used to take off as Iron Man. The rest of the group was watching from the large balcony, their breaths bated as Thor raised his hammer to the sky.

"Heimdall! We are ready!"

A bolt of white lightning struck down from the vortex and connected with Thor's hammer. An array of sparking electricity filled the air and surround the small group in a barrier that jolted in a haphazard sphere. Ana drew close to Bruce in both comfort and fear, his arms already wrapping around her tightly. The only ones in the group who knew of how it felt to go through a portal was Thor and Cin, and at the moment Ana did not have access to those memories to know the proper way of moving through a wild vortex. The moment they were shot up into the air in a shaft of rainbow light, the fear, the tension and the emotional turmoil she felt all at once was what would be the trigger to the chaos that would wait at the other end. However, at this time, they were nothing more than a sphere of rainbow light that shot straight up toward the swirling vortex of clouds, disappearing from sight.

Sido continued to stare up at the sky long after the swirling clouds had disappeared, the ache in her heart refusing to leave. She took in a shuddering breath, the fact that this was the first time in near fourteen years that she had let her daughter go was something she had never experienced before. Ana had always been with her and now...

"It will be fine Sido," said Jenn, who had walked up silently behind her and placed a cool metal hand against her sister's pale cheek. "She will be home before you know it. It is only natural for children to leave the nest."

Sido glanced at her younger sister, her blue and silver suit shining beneath the light of the sun that now shown. "I know, ma soeur. It does not stop the hurt though..."

Jenn gave a nod and simply reached out to wrap a metal arm around her older sister's shoulder...

-o-

The ride through the portal was a flash of colors, flashing sights of distant galaxies, and a rush of powerful winds. Bruce held tightly onto Ana the moment he felt her tension rise from the take off. He had closed his eyes against the sight of their dizzying surroundings and hoped that the ride would soon be over. They were moving at such a force, Bruce was worried in spite of the protective barrier that surrounded them. The moment he felt Ana twitch in his arms, heard her soft groan as if in pain and then her sudden stillness, his worry turned quickly to panicked fear and then fierce, protective anger.

Thor had not noticed the sudden change going on behind him, he was concentrating on maintaining the protective barrier around him and his guests. He could withstand the force of the portal but humans were more fragile and with these two, who had the ability of changing at any mere threat, needed more protection just to keep them calm.

They had landed on a broken bridge of light that led toward a vast city of staggering towers and spiraling buildings that floated amidst thick clouds and sharp cliff faces above a wavering sea. The sea fell over the edge of wherever this realm was, a hint to the strangeness of the new world they were in. Up above and down below, where the sea ended, the universe seemed to begin and have no end.

Thor had braced himself for the landing and it merely jarred his bones. He took in a breath of the familiar Asgardian air as he stood up to his full height. He was greeted by the sight of not only his father, Odin and mother, Frigga, but also of his closest friends and brothers/sister in arms. They had stood behind the rather tall and stoic form of Heimdall, his gold armor gleaming beneath the sunlight of their realm. His sword was powered by that of Odin's, the power giving the guardian the ability locate and open the wild portal that every so often connected between Asgard and Midgard.

Thor gave a broad smile in greeting at the sight of his parents, he had not been expecting them to be there to greet him. "Father! Mother!"

He would have gone to embrace them if the sudden tense form of his father and his comrades did not alert him to the fact that something was very wrong. It wasn't until he sensed a familiar large presence behind him that he finally turned around. He nearly groaned at the sight of the large, green form of the Hulk looming over the limp form of Ana in his huge hands. He was growling in a threatening way, glaring at the strangers and pulling Ana close against his chest.

Volstagg, one of the Warriors Three, took his weapon to arm as he stared at the Hulk, his wide girth made more threatening with the thick muscles that made up his arms, though he could not compare to the nine-foot frame of the Hulk's mass. His auburn hair stirred in the rising breeze of the sea around them as he tightened his hold on his weapon. "Thor, step away! There is monster behind you!" He rushed forward from his place among the group in his earnest to protect his comrade from the hulking thing that had hitched a ride with the heir of Asgard.

What he had not expected was for Thor's hammer to block his attack and for the heir himself to stand between him and the green creature. "Are you mad Thor?" he shouted, nearly wincing at the sound of the huge roar that emitted from the Hulk. "Why are you protecting this monster? He means to attack!"

"You mean to harm!" shouted Thor back in return, his blue eyes growing fierce. "That is the mate of the daughter of Lytta. If you attempt in any way to harm him, she will be most displeased." He took in a breath, still struggling against the force of his friend's determination to get past him to the Hulk. "My father had wanted her to join us here. She would not unless her mate was here with her. I owed her a life debt... That is why he is here." The struggling continued a moment more and Thor shook his head slowly. "Please my friend, they are my allies. They mean us no harm unless we mean to harm them in return..."

"Volstagg," called out a woman's voice, the sound of it regal and full of prestige and power. Everyone glanced back at the sound of it, the voice coming from the Queen of Asgard herself. She was a tall, graceful woman cloaked in a dress of white and gray. Her blonde locks were piled high atop her head in a cascade of curls. Frigga had stepped away from her husband's side, having caught sight of the unconscious woman within the Hulk's arms. "Stand down."

"M-my Queen," said Volstagg in slight protest but at the sight of her walking toward them, he immediately halted his attempts at getting to the green creature. He moved away from Thor and bowed in courtesy to his liege queen. She nodded in return before she turned to her son and reached out to gently brush her fingers against his bearded cheek. She smiled at him, the look in her eyes asking him to trust her. Thor understood and nodded before moving away to let his mother pass.

The Queen proceeded toward the Hulk, whose grumbles of warning could be heard. She stood before him, looking up at the great creature, before glancing down the human woman within his arms. "Welcome Green One," she said with a smile. "Please forgive our warrior for his rude greeting." She took in breath and gestured toward the man in question "He is not well-known for his manners. I do hope you can forgive us." She glanced up at him, studying his fierce green eyes, before looking down at the unconscious woman. "Your mate seems unwell. If I may, would you permit me to look at her?"

The Hulk studied the Queen with an appraising look before he grunted and very gently held out his mate for the Queen to look at. "A...na..." was all he said as he looked at his woman, the gaze in his eyes filled with love.

Queen Frigga was nearly breathless at the sight of such raw emotion on display and she couldn't help but smile at him. No matter the fierceness this creature may project, to have such love for another meant more to her. "That is her name? Ana?"

The Hulk grunted but said nothing else as the Queen leaned over and placed a hand upon Ana's forehead and another hovering over her breast. Her hand above Ana's heart moved slightly down as she concentrated, her eyes growing distant, before it stopped right above Ana's lower abdomen. Frigga's eyes snapped into focus and she stared at her hand above the woman's lower ab. She looked at Ana and then up at the Hulk. "Would you mind if we take her to our healing chambers? She needs attention after enduring such a trip. Her fainting spell is not uncommon for such a journey. She will be just fine once she rests."

The Hulk, studying the Queen again, grumbled as he looked down at his mate. He leaned down to rub his forehead gently across hers before holding her out further toward the Queen. A gesture that Frigga took as consent. She smiled in relief and quickly called upon Sif, the single female warrior among the group, to take the daughter of Lytta from her mate's hands and to be very gentle. The Hulk did not seem to mind if another female were near his mate.

Sif complied, moving forward quickly and bowing her head in respect to the mate of the Lyttan, before carefully taking her from his large hands. The Hulk stared at the strange female who took his woman away before he went to follow, not wanting to lose sight of her. The other warriors stood aside to let the beast past, knowing it better to just let him go.

Thor stared after them as they walked down the bridge of rainbow light toward the city. After a moment, he looked at his mother and frowned lightly in confusion. "Mother, is the Red Lady all right? She had seemed alright before we traveled here. I had made certain the barrier was strong."

"It was the stress," said Frigga in return as she looked at her son. "It happens to those who are with child. That is why it is unwise to make such a journey in such a state. I suppose you did not know if you took such a risk."

Thor nearly paled at those words and shook his head, looking as if he had not heard correctly. "Wh-what?"

That confirmed Frigga's thoughts and reached out to brush his long, golden hair from his brow. "I suspect they do not know either or else they would not have dared to make such a trip. Do not breathe a word to them. I will speak with Lytta's daughter myself." She leaned in to kiss her son's cheek. "Welcome home my darling," she said, before she walked toward her husband to place a gentle kiss upon his cheek, and then proceeded back toward the city.

The Asgardian men were simply left on that broken bridge of light, unsure of just what had transpired or how to even react.

Chapter Text

I wish I was strong enough

To lift not one but both us

Someday I will be strong enough

To lift not one but both of us...

Both of UsTaylor Swift

-o-

Chapter 40 : The Falling Star

The falling star had not been a falling star as so many had thought it was.

It had not been a meteorite or any other space debris, as so many had hoped it had been, though it had reported as such by those who caught wind of such things. The falling star had been an alien. An alien that Jane had found and brought back to the observatory base over a month ago. She could not understand what the alien, who looked like a human male, was saying the moment he had awoken. After all, she had found him naked in his crater; unconscious save for a few deep rises and falls of his breath. He had reminded her some much of that time when she had first met Thor, when he too had fallen from the sky...

She, and her team, had taken him in and nursed him back to health. Of course, she knew that her team was in the pocket of SHIELD. Yet, to have found this alien being meant much more to her. She had found a way that would lead her to her Thor...

The alien was a tall male, all wiry muscle and lean of frame with a ruggedly handsome face. His dark hair was long and in frazzled waves while his skin was a deep, russet color that would have made any person who tanned on a regular basis jealous. His deep blue eyes were once again studying Jane with slight curiosity and wariness when she came in to talk to him that day. He had been staying at the facility for a well over a month now, having been offered a room of his own in which to gain his strength back. However, throughout the entire time he had not uttered a single word since the first day he had awoken. He seemed keener in studying Jane then in trying to communicate with her in anyway. Especially when she spoke to him, his gaze seemed to focus on her lips, as if he were trying to read each syllable she spoke.

She had found him sitting at the metal table in his room, his lean frame looking quite comfortable and normal in a pair of faded jeans and a black t-shirt. His sneakers were thumping against the linoleum floor, a timeless beat that left little for the woman to wonder on his state of being. She went to take a seat in the folding chair across from him. He was impatient today. His gaze was focused on the surface of the table before him, though his body was tense, each muscle poised as if ready spring.

"Hello again," said Jane, a bright and ready smile on her face as she set her folders down on the table before her. She flung back her straight, brown hair and straightened out her blouse before clasping her hands on the table. "How are we doing this morning?"

He didn't say anything in response, which was normal, and Jane proceeded to open up one of her folders, which contained all of her observations of him so far. As she got ready her pen, about to take further notes on the non responsive alien, the slight creek of his wooden chair caught her attention. She looked up and into his blue eyes, nearly paling at the sight of red veins that were now pulsing within the skin of his neck, that which could be seen through his long, wavy hair. She had seen something like that before...

He had leaned forward in his hair, the look on his face set with conviction. "Where... sister?" he asked in a deep, guttural voice, his blue eyes flicking between her own. "Where...?"

Jane nearly dropped her pen, caught completely off guard by the sudden words that had escaped his lips. "Wh-what?"

The man leaned away from her and the frown on his face grew. "Er... in... Sister. Where...?"

"Air... in?" Jane was so surprised at the sudden words he was forming in coherent enough English but she had caught on quickly to what he was asking for. "You're looking for your sister? Is that her name?"

The frown on his face gave way to slight relief as he reached up and pounded a large fist against his chest. "Sister... Er-in..." He held out his hand and closed it into a fist, indicating something but what Jane had no idea. He opened his hand before he closed it once again, pounding it against his heart before holding out his other hand to the air. "One... Split." He indicated himself, staring intently at Jane, the look in his blue eyes meaning he hoped she would understand. "Er-ai," he said before motioning to the hand that was held aloft. "Er-in. Sister. T-two..."

"Your twin..." muttered Jane in awe, completely flabbergasted that he would learn even a slight fraction of the English language in the span of a month without anyone teaching him. "You're here because you're looking for your twin sister. Erin? Is that how you pronounce it?"

Relief, pure and simple, was all that could be described on the face of the alien man, who Jane now knew was named Erai. He had dropped his hands and leaned forward in earnest, the red veins in his neck deepening. "Sister. Where...?"

Before Jane could respond, the door to the room had opened and three people had walked in. Two of them were men, who were wearing the infamous black suits of SHIELD operatives, and the last was a female, who wore a full navy blue and black bodysuit. Her vibrant red curls added a splash of color to the dark colors that adorned her but the look on her face was that of one who was not to be messed with. "Ms. Foster-"

The sudden growl that emerged from Erai was a familiar if deeper growl that the redhead knew very well. The tall alien male had leapt from his chair, pulled Jane out of her own chair and behind him, before his growl grew deeper as the sight of red veins became prominent against his visible skin. The slight yellow glow in his eyes, which remained fixed on the redheaded agent, left little doubt. This was a survivor of the alien race that Cin originated from.

"Congratulations Ms. Foster," said Natasha Romanoff, as she studied the tall male specimen before her. "You have found yet another alien." She focused her deep green eyes on the other woman, trying not to crack a smile at the stunned look on Jane's face. "I wonder, are you some kind of magnet for the extraterrestrial? If so, we could really could use your talent..."

Jane had nothing to say, she was still surprised at the very feral nature of the alien male that stood protectively in front of her...

-o-

"Tony, will you stop pacing? You're making me dizzy."

"They said they would message us as soon as they arrived," said the playboy in response, glancing at Jenn with slight annoyance before he continued pacing the small area in his office.

Jenn was sitting comfortably on a black leather chaise by the large windows of his office, a long dark cable extending from the base of her neck and into the nearby wall. She had such a contented look on her face as her personal system worked in sync with that of JARVIS. The computer was currently connected to the Stark satellites that were focused on picking up any signal that would come from Thor's neck of the woods. Jenn was there to decipher the signal, who knew the signals her niece's tracking implant gave off better than anyone. After all, she had designed it. No other satellite in existence could pick up the frequency Ana's implant gave off, save now for Stark Industries. A small exchange for gaining access to a large array of satellites.

"Oui, and she will the moment she is ready to," said Jenn, closing her eyes and focusing on the scanning. "It is as I told Sido, do not worry. Ana is a strong woman and who is focused on the needs of her family. She will contact us the moment she is able to." There was a slight tone of worry in Jenn's computerized voice, as if she wasn't too sure if that would be the case.

Tony had certainly heard it and he stopped in his pacing to glance at the woman in the blue and silver metal suit. He turned slightly and walked toward the chaise that Jenn was currently sitting on. He watched as she opened her pale blue eyes before they moved up to meet his hazel ones. "What do you know?"

Jenn didn't reply at first, she merely blinked, before the neck of her suit allowed her to move her head in a nod. "I'm not sure as of yet. I won't be until I can see Ana again and run some tests. Just... do not repeat this to Sido. I do not want to get her hopes up."

"Jenn," growled Tony, thrusting a hand into his dark hair as the worry began to grow. "What is wrong with Ana?"

"Nothing is wrong, per se," said Jenn, turning her body slightly so that she was now sitting upright and facing him properly. "It was just something I had caught last minute." She paused slightly, hesitating a moment, before she plunged on. "Ana takes a shot every few months that helps control her hormones and in turn helps to control the rage during her menstrual cycles." She hesitated again before a slight blush filled her cheeks. "This last shot she was given... It didn't take. Her body had fought it off relentlessly... I was concerned."

Tony was by no means slow when it came to understanding the basic functions of the human body, be it male or female. Considering this was the body of a female who harbored an alien entity meant an even quicker understanding. It was no secret how hot and heavy Bruce and Ana could get. It was no secret how even hotter and heavier their other selves made such an act. It was bound to happen at some point. Tony had no idea that it meant that Ana's own body could fight off the birth control in favor of a more different result of their unions. Of course, he shouldn't be surprised. Cin ruled her basic instincts. If she wanted a particular something to happen, by damn it was going to, come hell or high water.

"You mean she's...?"

"I don't know," said Jenn, studying his face with interest. She could see, just barely beneath the indifferent mask on his face, the slight tinge of hope and excitement. He wanted this to happen. He wanted his family to grow in some way or form. What better way than the potential to be an uncle? "I won't know until they come back and I can run tests."

"All right then," said Tony as he took a step back and turned around, the look in his hazel eyes was of someone who was already planning something. "Keep on scanning and let me know if you hear anything." He walked off and left the office before Jenn could say anything in response.

She was left alone, staring at the door to the office, before she sighed heavily and looked back out the large window before her that gazed out over Midtown. "I wonder if she's all right..."

"Please do no stress yourself Jenn," said JARVIS, "A rise is your blood pressure is the last thing you need at this time. We will keep scanning until we hear from them."

Jenn wished that she could smile then, if only to have the satisfaction of giving such an action. Instead, she stared out the window, allowing her suit's inner computer system to continue focus on the search for her niece...

 

Chapter Text

With him along

Who could be lonely?

I reach for his hand

It's always there...

Where do I Begin? (Love Story) Shirley Bassey

-o-

Chapter 41: A Golden Light

A golden light was the first thing that greeted her sight when she finally opened her eyes. Her lashes fluttered, trying to clear away the threads of unconsciousness from her vision. Dizziness assailed her senses but she could feel that she was lying in a comfortable bed of sorts.

What had happened?

The last she could recall was traveling through that portal and then...

Her heart nearly leapt out of her chest as she struggled to find the strength to lift her head and search her surroundings. Had they made it to Asgard? Where was Bruce? Oh, she hoped he was all right. He could not be far...

A hand twitched in her right one, one that had been clasping hers so firmly. She turned her head and found herself staring at the most beautiful sight of her man sleeping peacefully by her side. He wore no clothing save for the tattered pair of slacks he had been traveling in. A definite sign that something had gone wrong. He had changed into the Hulk.

She rested her head back against the pillow, not noticing the golden barrier that surrounded them. She struggled to turn ever so slightly so that she faced Bruce, her fingers moving to intertwine with his. She took in a breath, the calm that was ever present when they touched filling her heart.

"I am glad to see that you are awake."

Ana jumped slightly in fright, the red veins against her neck darkening slightly as a snarl emerged. Her deep brown eyes had caught sight of the tall blonde woman who had entered the room. The woman held out her hands, showing that she meant no harm as she took a step closer. "Peace. You are safe. My name is Frigga, wife of Odin and mother of Thor." When she heard no other threatening sound come from Ana, she took another step closer. "You had fainted on your travels here and had given your mate quite a scare. He would not leave your side for a moment." She glanced at Bruce and a fond smile played upon her lips. "He loves you deeply. I am honored to be witness to such a strong bond."

"Frigga?" repeated Ana, her voice croaking slightly. "Mother of...?" Her eyes grew wide as the revelation that the Queen of Asgard was standing before her hit her fully. "Oh! I am sorry! I did not realize-"

Frigga held up a graceful hand and shook her head once. "No apologies are necessary Red Lady Ana. I am quite familiar with how strongly a Lyttan will protect their mate, based on the records of your people. Instead, please accept my apology for scaring you in the first place. I should have known better." She lowered her hand and clasped them before her, studying Ana with keen interest.

"How did you know my name?"

Frigga's smile grew as she glanced at the sleeping form of Bruce. "Your mate had told me before he had changed back to his human self. Although, he did not tell me his name."

Ana looked at Bruce and the look on her face softened with affection. "Bruce..."

"A fine name," said the Queen, her smile growing as she studied the love that clearly showed on the younger woman's face. Oh yes, this was quite a strong bond. She knew that the life that had formed from such a union would be even stronger when nurtured under such a light. "Now, I apologize for this being sudden. However, I must ask of your health. Traveling the portals between realms can be quite a stress for those of a delicate nature. How are you feeling? Any nausea? Dizziness? Headache?"

Ana looked at the Queen, her gaze filled with confusion. "I... am a little dizzy but nothing to worry of. I feel weak but that usually happens when-" Her heart nearly fluttered in her chest. "Did I change as well? Please, tell me that no one was hurt! I am so sorry. My other self triggers easily when Bruce-"

Frigga held up her hand once again, interrupting the young woman as her smile grew. "No, my dear one, no. You did not change. No one was harmed. Your Lyttan side must have been aware of the state that you are in. You were still in your human form when you had arrived."

"Then why...?"

"Did you truly not know that you are with child?"

Silence fell as Ana stared at the Queen of Asgard with a look of shock. She swallowed the tightness that had formed in her throat, the tears were beginning to fill in her eyes. "I am... with child?" She swallowed again as she looked at Bruce, awe overcoming the shock. "I am pregnant?"

Frigga could see the underlying happiness that was overcoming the young woman. She had been hoping for such a thing, had been yearning to hear of it. The Queen was very happy to give such news to an expectant young mother. "Yes, we had done the necessary tests while monitoring for your health. We checked your body's hormonal level and it showed positive signs of pregnancy. We had also delved a little further and detected a smaller, faster heartbeat within your womb. I am unsure to the reproductive cycles of a human merged with a Lyttan but I would assume you would be within your very beginning cycle of carrying the child."

"It has been a month in our time frame on Earth," said Ana quietly, reaching out to brush the hair from Bruce's brow. He stirred lightly but did not wake. "I had searched into his heart and he wished for a family. A child of his own... He had wished it of it so dearly. Even before he had met me..." She took in a breath and sighed, her breath coming out in a shaky way. "I did not know if it would work with how he is and how I am... With how difficult our bodies were because of what we had gone through. I was not sure if it would take. But it had." She closed her eyes, the tears spilling down her cheeks. "It had happened. I had prayed and prayed... I wanted him to be happy. And it worked."

Her tears came faster now and she cried from the joy filling her heart.

It had worked.

Bruce would become a father.

It was the only thing he had truly wanted. Now, it would come to pass.

Frigga could only watch the young woman as she clasped her mate's hand, crying softly as she pressed watery kisses against his cheek...

-o-

Steve Rogers wasn't one to believe that peace would last long.

He was a war hardened soldier who knew that the time peace brought was a time used to prepare for the next war.

The time since the fight in Manhattan was spent traveling the US, learning all he could about the state his country was currently in with his own eyes. He was also learning about the various updates on weapons and warfare courtesy of SHIELD. Now it would seem his traveling was spent for a purpose...

SHIELD had called him in for a new mission. This one was not based on anything to do with the Avengers. It was strictly SHIELD business. Concerning a particularly dangerous criminal that had recently escaped a very high security prison. Agent Phil Coulson had been the one to deliver the files. Seeing the Agent up and about, after supposedly being in a coma that he had no hope of awakening from, made the Captain do a double take. Then again, he shouldn't have been surprised.

This was SHIELD.

They used any means necessary to get their soldiers to do the job.

Sighing heavily, Steve stared down at the files showing an ex-soldier of the UK's Royal Marines Commandos. He was sitting in a diner in Roper, North Carolina, where his travels had been halted when Agent Coulson had found him. Sitting in that booth, with Agent Coulson sitting patiently across from him, Steve wondered exactly what SHIELD was dragging him into this time.

The files on Emil Blonsky were straight and to the point. He was loaned to US service under one General Ross well over a year ago to hunt down Bruce Banner. General Ross had Blonsky undergo some questionable experiments to enhance his physical capabilities in the great chance he would face the Hulk. Of course, it had happened at Culver University in Virginia and the result was Blonsky being mortally injured and the Hulk escaping with one Betty Ross. Steve was familiar with that situation, having seen the files when he was first introduced to Bruce Banner.

Apparently, Blonsky's body had undergone even more radical changes, due to side effects of the treatment. To make a long story short, Blonksy had received an untested treatment from a cellular biologist named Samuel Sterns, who had been in contact with Banner for the six years he was MIA and who had managed to obtain a blood sample directly from Banner. Banner had sent it as his last hope in finding a cure. The doctor had used it to synthesize the samples with the intention of applying its limitless potential toward modern medicine. It was here that Blonksy had caught up with Banner and had forced Sterns to inject him with Banner's blood, regardless of the results.

He had coveted so much of the Hulk's raw power that in the end he became an abomination. That was where the fight in Harlem had taken place between two monsters. Where the Hulk had emerged the victor. The Abomination was caught and kept prisoner within a research facility deep within an old gold mine in South Dakota. It was supposed to be heavily guarded and offered little chance for Blonsky to ever see the light of day again.

He had recently escaped.

And now SHIELD was placing Captain America on the case of finding out how the Abomination had escaped and who had helped him to do it.

"Well," said Steve as he placed the tablet on the table and pushed it back toward Coulson. "You really don't believe in giving me easy mission, do you?"

The agent smiled slightly at that and shook his head slightly. "No sir. The only other person we could ask to help us find this man is currently no longer on the planet."

"You mean Dr. Banner?"

Coulson nodded an affirmative. "He and Ms. Brandt had recently gone to Asgard with Thor. Apparently, the Asgardians may have the key to finding out Cin's true origins. No one else would know better than Dr. Banner on how to track this thing down but since we have no means to reach him directly at this time, we need our best soldier to at least find a trail to where this thing had disappeared to and find out how the staff had not detected it before hand." He sighed heavily as he reached up to rub his jaw. "I'm not going to honey coat it for you sir. This thing is massive. If you thought the Hulk was intimidating, the Abomination makes the Hulk seem like an easy-going guy in comparison." He lowered his hand as he leaned forward, staring at his idol with a look of wariness in his eyes. "I'm going to go off the record here and ask you to be careful. If you come across this thing, do not confront him. The Hulk had barely managed to get out of a fight with that thing alive. We only need you to find some clue as to where it had gone. Once you do, let us know. Do not attempt to pursue this thing on your own."

Steve was quiet but a moment as he looked at the tablet again, a picture of the monster stared back at him. The look in his blue eyes hardened slightly as he looked at his comrade and gave a firm nod in agreement. "You have my word Agent Coulson."

Chapter Text

I've got emotion

Dripping out my pores and I

Thought I would let you know

You are the night light,

Ripping through my wicked world

How you make it sparkle and glow

Before I lose control

There's just one thing you should know

This is for real

This is for Real – Motion City Soundtrack

-o-

Chapter 42: The Feeling of a Small Hand

The feeling of a small hand clutching his own was the first thing that registered in his mind.

Bruce's hand had tightened around the small hand that held his and he slowly opened his eyes to find Ana's deep brown ones staring into his own. Relief touched him as he pulled her hand close and gently kissed her fingers. "Ana..."

Her smile was one of deep love and relief. "Mon amant," she whispered in return as she gently adjusted herself to move closer to him. " I was worried you would not awake."

He shook his head in reply as he pressed another firm kiss against her fingers, the warmth of her skin bringing a much-needed calm to his befuddled senses. What had happened this time? The last thing he could recall was traveling the portal and then Ana-

His gaze focused on hers as he moved away slightly, struggling to sit up. He enjoyed the feel of her hands as she reached out to help him sit up in their bed, wherever they were. "Are- are you all right?" he asked, his voice coming out in a croak as he reached out to brush the copper brown curls from Ana's face. His eyes studied her face, her neck, her arms and torso while his hands moved diligently over her, searching for any telltale signs of harm to his woman. She was dressed differently then what he remembered, a simple light red, almost pinkish, dress of some very soft, thin material. She was barefoot and she looked completely at ease as she allowed Bruce his thorough examination of her.

She giggled a little the moment his fingers had danced around her waist and he paused, looking back up at her, before a smile touched his lips. She had squirmed lightly beneath his touch but she was smiling at him, her deep brown eyes filled with love. "I am all right... We had made it to Asgard in one piece. It seems traveling by way of portal did not agree with the three of us." She studied his face carefully after she said this, looking for any signs if he had caught what she had said.

Bruce's face showed no signs of understanding as he let out a soft sigh and plopped back down against the pillows, his chest rising and falling with a deep sigh. "Thank god... The Other Guy didn't like it one bit when you fainted." He rubbed his face and groaned lightly. "What I don't understand is what would have made you faint like that. You've been through worse." He paused at this and pulled his hand away from his eyes, glancing at Ana with curiosity. "Did the Other Guy hurt anyone?"

Ana giggled again as she moved slightly on the bed, shifting her position so that she sat up straighter to get a better look at him. Her copper brown curls fell in a loose mess about her face, there was a certain glow about her. "No, but he wouldn't let any males touch me when I had fainted. He was very adamant about keeping me close and keeping every Asgardian male, aside from Thor, away."

Bruce muttered under his breath as he shook his head. "You would think he would realize by now that he has nothing to be worried about..." Ana's laughter brought a smile to his face and he looked at his woman, the happiness filling in his heart at seeing her well. He had waited until her laughter died down before he shifted his position to move closer to her. He was still slightly weak but nothing was going to keep him from being near his woman. He placed his head down on her warm lap and sighed in contentment. Ana smiled down at him as she began to play with his dark brown waves, her fingers moving in a gentle manner.

Bruce hummed his appreciation as he folded his hands on his bare chest, allowing the relaxing tingles from her touch to soothe his worries away. After a few moments, he opened his eyes and stared up at her. "How is Thor by the way?"

Ana didn't cease in her movements as she focused her gaze on her hands weaving through his thick locks. "Thor is fine. He wasn't affected by the travel. I suppose since he is so used to it, it's to be expected."

Bruce frowned lightly at that, his soft brown gaze focusing on hers. "I thought you said that he was feeling unwell from traveling through that portal?"

Ana kept her gaze focused on her fingers but she tilted her head slightly in his direction. "When did I say that?"

"Just a few minutes ago when I asked how you were," said Bruce, the frown on his face deepening just a bit. "You said that traveling through the portal didn't agree with the three of us."

"Ah, oui," said Ana, nodding once as a light smile danced on her lips. "I did say that but I didn't mean Thor. I meant the three of us. Thor was not included in that equation."

Bruce reached up to stop her fingers in their movements within his hair, his soft brown eyes revealing the frustration he felt. "Ana..." he began, pulling her hands down so that way he could press them against his heart, his own hands resting over them. "Sweetheart... I love you, but even I know you know basic mathematics." The slightly affronted look she gave in response to that helped ease the tension he was feeling and he pulled her further down so that way their faces were just inches apart. "Tell me what is going on."

"Mon amant," she said, a teasing smile touching her lips. "Je t'aime... But if you insult my intelligence again, I will deny you the pleasures of my body for the next month."

"Hey, c'mon," he said, the look on his face growing worried. "I didn't mean it! I was just saying. There were three of us traveling that portal and three of us arrived to Asgard. If there were three of us who were unwell when we arrived, and Thor was not one of them, then who were you speaking of?"

Ana pursed her lips in a thoughtful manner before she leaned in close and pressed a firm kiss against his lips. "An unexpected stowaway..."

"Stowaway?"

She pulled away from him and moved slightly across the bed, giving him reason to sit up and look at her. He frowned slightly as he watched her sit there, before he felt the uncomfortable sensation of her being too far from him. She needed to be close to him...

Without a word, he moved across the bed and pulled her close in front of him, wrapping his arms around her and burying his face within the crook of her neck. He sighed with relief, his hold tightening around her. The ache in his chest had eased...

He opened his eyes, confusion touching him, as he looked down at Ana. She looked up at him and an easy smile touched her lips. She took hold of his right hand and pulled it down from its spot on her left breast. She moved it down settled it firmly over her lower abdomen, the warmth he could feel through the material of her dress throwing him off guard. She was warmer there than normal...

"Ana?" His voice was filled with uncertainty, a slight tremble at the tail end of her name indicating his worry.

She looked up at him and her smile was one of love and slight fear. "A stowaway... You feel it don't you? You didn't want me far from you..."

His heart slammed against his chest as the indication of what she just said began to sink in. He swallowed the tightness in his throat as the fingers of his right hand spread over her currently small belly. "You..."

"Oui," she said as her smile began to waver from the emotion that was filling her.

He swallowed again as he slowly removed his hand from her and pulled away from her completely, his soft brown eyes bearing an emotion that she could not read. "But... I can't- I can't have kids."

The alarm in her own brown eyes was a sign as she turned quickly around on the bed, pulling the skirts of her dress and the sheets along with her. "Wh-what?" She began to pale slightly as the meaning of his words touched the part of her heart that always feared his rejection, no matter how often she knew that his love for her was real. He had always been too good to be true, such a sweet reprieve from the nightmare that had been her existence. How would it have been possible that so kindhearted of a man would love her for all that she was, regardless of how similar they were? Now, she had mistook what she had read in his heart of hearts...

Perhaps she had read his subconscious thoughts incorrectly. Perhaps he did not want children...

His deepest desire was not to have children.

The negative emotions continued to fill her as the horror of what she had done sunk in deeply. She had ruined what they had... He did not want children and she had gotten pregnant...

Oh god...

"I..." She twitched slightly, the sight of the red veins in her neck darkening and now traveling down the length of her arms and over her chest a warning sign. "I thought..." She twitched again, she could feel Cin within her, a deep burning anger that was making her thoughts clear.

Baby... Protect... Ours...

"I'm sorry," she said as she continued to move away from Bruce, her eyes glancing around the spacious room they were in, the sight of curtains and carved marble offering little respite for Ana's need for escape. "I... didn't think... I saw it when we were together, our minds one. I-" She closed her eyes, trying to fight back the tears. "I won't bother you with this. I'll make sure you do not have to worry about it. I'm sorry."

It was the rejection, and the sudden distance of his woman, that set Bruce into his action. He could see it on her face. She thought he was rejecting the life in her. That little life that had unexpectedly happened. He had never thought...

It couldn't have been possible with how he was, how she was, how they were...

She was supposed to have been on birth control just in case, but even he knew with how different their genetic structures were, a child could not have been possible.

His thoughts were brought to a screeching halt the moment Ana had gotten to her feet and was moving away from the bed in a slightly stunned manner, as if she were in shock. She was moving away from him even further and the ache in his chest was growing with each step she took. He did not hear her words but he understood the sudden distance that she was putting between them. The Other Guy reared from his subconscious, screaming at Bruce to move and move now. This was his woman, his woman who was walking away. She was to never walk away from him.

He was off of the bed in a heartbeat and grabbing his woman with the unexpected strength that came when the he and the Other Guy were in sync with their thoughts and desires. He ignored the gasp that Ana gave and he pushed her the several feet to the nearest wall. He pushed her up against the wall and snarled, his eyes now flashing a dangerous green as his hold on her upper arms tightened. "Do not ever think I would not want you! Want this!" He reached down, ripping her skirts aside, the tearing of the fragile fabric offering little resistance. He reached to the sagging waistband of his own tattered pants, ripping the button and zipper apart, the sudden demanding desire for his woman taking him by surprise.

He had to show her.

She had to feel it.

"You're mine," he growled, patches of green appearing on his arms and chest as he freed his thick, throbbing member from the constraints of his pants. He pressed up against her, his aching hardness seeking the hot wetness that belonged to him and only him. The moment the tip of it had touched the thin fabric of her undergarments, the moistness of her tempting him, he growled again. "Mine... Everything of you, from you, is mine..." He reached between them, staring into the wide eyes of his woman, his mate, the mother of his child...

He nearly groaned at the thought of it. His child was growing within her. A little life, a little breath of hope... His member throbbed with urgency, the Other Guy was demanding. He ripped her underwear from her and threw the torn fabric aside. He then reached around, his large hands cupping the warm flesh of her thick thighs and lifted her up with ease. "You're my woman... Mine!"

"Always," Ana breathed as she reached out to wrap her arms around his shoulders, opening herself to him as her legs relaxed within his grip, allowing him to move them without resistance. He pushed her up against the wall again and thrust into her with unadulterated passion.

The moment he was fully sheathed within her, he let out the deepest of groans. "You're everything..."

-o-

The moment his thick member thrust up into her, Ana let out a soft cry of relief. Cin crooned from within her subconscious, loving the feel of their mate within. Deep within, close to her womb, where he belonged.

"You're everything," he groaned as he withdrew and thrust back into her, her body bouncing from the force of it. "You're all I feel, all I crave, all I need," he said, pulling out before thrusting back into her so deeply, hitting the one spot that set off the warmth in her lower belly. It spread throughout the rest of her body and she let out a small whimper of complete ecstasy, her muscles trembling from the pleasure. He continued in those deep, sharp thrusts that always filled her like nothing else ever could. Filling the ache in her heart...

"My Ana," he whispered as he moved to hide his face within the crook of her neck, his body trembling from the passion that held him. His thrusts were growing more urgent as his hold on her tightened. She was gasping from the pleasure, nearly crying from the passion that she felt from him.

"You are the reason... Coursing through my veins... Always you..." He was thrusting harder into her now, his body visibly shaking. Ana had closed her eyes from the onslaught of his passion, losing herself in the feel of him thrusting in and out of her, when she felt the unexpected warmth at her neck.

Her eyes had sprung open and she looked down at her man, her mate. His face was hidden in the crook of her neck but she could feel the warm liquid touching her, slight droplets that were being smeared against her skin.

"Tell me you're real... Tell me you're mine!" He thrust up into her tight, wetness. His body was trembling, his hold on her tightening to the point of being painful.

"Always," said Ana in a breathy sigh as she wrapped her arms around his shoulders, her right hand moving up to grasp the back of his neck, her fingers disappearing into the thick, brown waves of his hair. She fell apart in a quiet way, her climax more subdued, while she felt him thrust one last time into her. He groaned as he filled her with his warm seed, several spurts filling her womb, though there was no reason other than to claim everything within her as already his. Marking her as his. She was already with his child...

He was trembling by the time the last pulse of his climax faded from his body but the warmth that was falling from his eyes and onto the skin of Ana's neck continued. He did not release his hold of her, though the urgency of his need to claim her was now softening. He kept his face buried within the crook of her neck and took in a shuddering breath. "Tell me this is for real," he said, his voice muffled against her skin. "Tell me this isn't a dream... I don't want to wake up. You... You..." He took in a shuddering breath as he nuzzled her neck and a soft sob escaped him. "I couldn't live if you were just a figment of my mind... I would never want to wake up." He swallowed again, his voice now trembling. "Y-You- You're... r-really... pregnant?"

She moved her head slightly, trying to get a better look at him and she gently ran her fingers against the nape of his neck, her short nails gently scratching the skin. She did not respond to him and instead tightened her hold on him. "Feel me. Feel how close we are. The calm... The warmth..." She closed her eyes and sighed. "If this is not enough, just know that the Asgardians have technology like nothing on Earth. They had monitored my health the moment I arrived. They found positive signs of my pregnancy from the hormonal levels of my body. They even heard a heartbeat..." She tightened her hold and rubbed her cheek against his hair. "They had recorded everything. They can show you if you still doubt."

A choking sound was all Bruce gave in response and he nuzzled her neck further, almost afraid to pull away...

-o-

The feel of normal skin, muscles, sinew, and bone had not what he had been expecting to feel ever again. He sat up from the gurney he had been lying upon and looked at his hands, his normal human hands. He allowed a smile of satisfaction to touch his features as he looked at his forearms and his biceps, triceps...

"I take it you like the look?"

He glanced at the source of the voice that had spoken to him. He caught sight of a rather thin looking man, tall and malnourished. He had a thick head of white hair and thick glasses that were tinted black, hiding his eyes from view. The white lab coat and the chart in his hand indicated his status as one of the doctors who had worked on him.

"How did you do it?" he asked, looking back at his hands, taking in the sight of the young, healthy flesh. The strength was still there, still thrumming at the very depths of his being, but there was more control now. He was more like the Hulk like he always wanted to be...

"Simple enough," said the doctor as he walked closer to the gurney and looked at the chart. "It was a matter of stabilizing your genetic structure. You had much of Dr. Banner's genetic structure fighting for dominance within you. Add that and the treatments you had before meant a very unstable mix. It was just a matter of thinning out the unknown treatments that had been done to you to allow the... Hulk's genes... to gain more control." The doctor looked away from the chart and smiled at the man on the gurney. "You now have your human form... Of course, if you get emotionally triggered..."

The man smiled at the doctor as he clenched his fists, feeling the power within and loving the control.

"So, Mr. Blonsky? What do you think?"

"I think, Dr. Dunns, that we have an agreement." Emil Blonsky shifted his shoulders, testing his muscles and loving the feel of the strength within them. "I'll get your wayward experiment. Just make sure the Hulk will remain mine to deal with...”

Chapter Text

You remind me of the days

In that infamous war

When we weren't quite sure

What we were fighting for

We're searching for shelter now

From the coming storm

Are you the man who can lead us once again?

So come on, suit up, let's go...

Captain America – Styx

-o-

Chapter 43: On the Horizon

On the horizon, the town of Lead, South Dakota loomed ever closer with each mile that Steve Rogers drove down the long route of 385 that led into the small town. His Rubicon jeep handled the winding roads with ease, the surrounding mountains and hills giving a spectacular view of nature left untouched by man. The town was nestled among the surrounding, dark forested, Black Hill Mountains, a place far enough away from major populations. However, he could not help but feel a sense of dread the closer he got to his destination.

The town of Lead was home to a well-known facility called the Deep Underground Science and Engineering Laboratory, otherwise known as DUSEL. To those in SHIELD, it was unofficially called the Homestake. It had been built within the closed Homestake gold mine within last two decades and it was a prime place for many studies being conducted for the research in neutrino scattering, dark matter interactions, and other such nuclear physics research. Having such easy access to such great depths, it also helped to open up the study in the fields of geomicrobiology, geosciences, and mining engineering. At a depth of 8,000 feet below the surface, the laboratory was the deepest to have ever been constructed underground.

Of course, all of this meant very little to Steve when he had been debriefed on the facility and the town by Agent Coulson. His only concern was his mission at hand, locating any sign of how and where the Abomination had disappeared to. The fact that such a small town – with a population of 3,000 or so – had been unaware that a monstrosity had been held prisoner some 8,000 feet below them...

No matter how strong the force of such a facility, no matter how deep in the earth it was, it was inconceivable to have such a monster as the Abomination so close to the home of citizens. Men, women and children, mere citizens who lived their lives in relative peace, were unaware of what was chained deep underground beneath their feet...

It was a mere miracle that this creature had disappeared without the townspeople being aware of it in the first place.

The moment he was finally driving down the town center of Lead, his grip on the steering wheel tightened and he took in a deep breath. He couldn't help but shake the feeling this was going to be the start of something else he really had no choice but to be a part of.

He took in another breath as he parked his jeep at the parking lot of a local inn, knowing that a room had already been set aside for him by SHIELD. After taking a moment to calm his nerves, he got out of the vehicle and grabbed his duffel bag, a pretense to his traveling. He swung it over his shoulder before he made his way up the front steps of the building. It was located on the West Main St of town, a rather old brownstone building that had been built in the early 1900's. It used to be the town hall and then it was used as the general office for the Homestake Mining Company, before being converted into the Historic Town Hall Inn. It was a quaint place and one that Steve would have been at home in if the circumstances had been different that had led him here.

He walked down the length of the lobby and stepped up to the counter, greeting the middle-aged Caucasian woman who stood behind it. She had dyed red hair and wore little make up though she was dressed nicely in a casual black uniform indicating her as a member of the staff. She glanced up at him when he came to the counter and, at the sight of his smile in greeting and the unmistakable charm that flowed from him, offered a smile in welcome. The tired look on her face seemed to lighten with her smile and showed the beauty she still possessed before stress had taken hold.

"Welcome to The Historic Town Hall Inn, my name is Amy. How may I help you today?"

Steve rested a hand on the counter as he looked around the very small lobby that had been an entrance hall in the past. He took in the sights of an old radiator across the counter that looked to still heat the room, the ceiling fan above that circled in a slow cycle, to the maroon armchairs that sat in front of the staircase that lead to the rooms above, even down to the maroon rug that bordered with the tile of the entryway. He felt right at home and his smile grew as he looked at the woman named Amy and gave a nod.

"Good morning ma'am, my name is Steve Rogers. I have a reservation."

Amy turned toward her computer, the only modern thing in the room, and tapped away at the keys as she looked up his info. Her smile grew a little as she verified his info and turned to him, asking for his identification to verify who he was. He pulled his wallet out with little problem, his ID bearing a false date of birth considering he did not look his age.

Once everything had checked through, Amy was leading him to his room on the second floor and advised him of a local restaurant he could get a good breakfast. He thanked her as he dropped his bag on the bed and looked around. Aside from the modern enmities of a microwave and coffee pot on top of a mini-fridge and an AC unit in the window, the style of the room was classic.

It bore wall to wall patterned carpeting in brown and earth tones, the walls were painted in a warm yellow and beige color that matched the bed spread, curtains and wooden frames of the windows and doors. There was a bathroom to the right, small but quaint, and a wardrobe with mirrors in the doors beside the entrance to the bath. It was small but just to his taste. At least this mission would be comfortable.

Amy had left him alone in his bedroom and he took a seat on the bed, looking out the single window of the room that showed a good view of the mountains. He sighed heavily and rubbed a hand over his face, thinking about where he would have to start looking for a 13 foot tall monstrosity gone missing...

-o-

Jane sighed heavily as she rubbed her forehead, wondering what SHIELD was going to do with her now.

Having been designated as the unofficial guardian of the alien known as Erai, SHIELD had kept her on pretty much lock down since they brought Erai and her to their floating base known as the Helicarrier. Where they had kept Erai, she had no idea, and they did not wish to tell her or take her to him. She was once again taken from her work by those in this government agency who felt they had a right. However, she was so used to these people now, even expected it because of whom she had known and what she did.

She only wondered what they were going to say or do to her now...

"Ms. Foster."

Jane was staring at the ceiling of her prison/room, her chair rather comfortable despite the surroundings, which were rather gray. She had her hands clasped on the back of her head, her pose one of nonchalance, before her eyes flicked over to catch sight of an African American man, dressed all in black, with a single black patch over an eye. He was bald and only a goatee around his mouth was a sign that he was capable of growing hair. He was standing near the doorway, his hands clasped behind his back, pulling away the black trench coat he wore and revealing his gun at his hip.

Jane was not threatened by such a display; she simply smirked and raised her gaze back to the ceiling. "Are you here to ask me about Erai, Mr. Fury? I had told Ms. Romanoff all I that know. I suggest asking her for the report."

Nick Fury found this woman to be rather amusing and, dare he say it, even brave. She had no fear of him nor showed any sign uneasiness. No wonder Thor adored this woman. She seemed to expect that SHIELD would come back for her. Considering her past with Thor, it was not surprising. She faced the uncertainty of her future path as one willing to embrace it with open arms, if it meant leading her to the Asgardian she loved. He wondered how well she would get along with Anamaria Brandt if they ever met or with Cin for that matter.

Well, first things first, she would have to meet the alien male known as Erai in his primal state.

"I am not here to ask you about the gentleman who had been escorted in with you," said Fury as he turned on his heel and went to the door to open it with a simple swipe of a card key. "I am here to escort you to him. He has been rather agitated since we separated you two and we thought it best for you to come and... calm him down."

"Sure," muttered Jane, as she got to her feet with little hesitation, just glad to have a chance to get out of the room. "Well, c'mon then, show me where he is and I'll calm him down as best I can." She followed Fury out of the room, not really thinking that SHIELD agents would need her help in calming down an angry man. What was the worst that he could do?

Fury led her down a series of corridors, and down several levels, before their trek through the Helicarrier ended at a single door at the end of a lone corridor at the lowest level of the floating base. "I'll warn you now Ms. Foster. The gentleman you knew is nothing like the creature you will be seeing now."

Jane huffed in annoyance and waved her hand, beckoning him to move on with his dramatic warning. He merely smirked as he pressed a button on a control panel beside the door and leaned forward to have his single eye scanned. Once the system had recognized his retinal scan, the door slid open and Jane Foster was bombarded by the sound of deep roars and howls from a creature that was in no way shape or form to be considered human.

She moved ahead of Fury, ignoring the SHIELD staff in the small control room that was monitoring the creature in the cell below them. A fire proof, bullet proof, glass wall separated the alien creature from the control room. Jane was shocked at the sight of him. He was insanely tall – standing at a height of ten feet – his dark hair still bearing the frazzled waves, while his body was all wiry sinewy muscle. His skin was the color of the deepest crimson and the veins that protruded from every visible surface of his body glowed with a burning orange and yellow heat that was sure to be felt if one stood close to him. His eyes were nothing but pure glowing orbs of yellow light and he was roaring his displeasure at being kept captive.

The room he was in was a room made from materials that had proven effective against such attacks, a fact they had learned from their contact with Jennifer DuPont with Stark Industries. Though the creature was beyond feral, they were quite safe. A fact learned from having one such as him aboard to study from.

"You need to let him out," cried Jane as she rushed toward the glass wall that separated her from the raging alien that was currently hurling explosive attacks toward the surrounding walls of his prison. "He can't be locked up like this! He needs to find his sister! He needs help!" She turned her angry gaze toward Fury and her hands curled into tight balls, her clenched fists paling from the tension. "...but you already know this..." She took in a breath to calm her nerves as she turned away from the director. "What do you want?"

"Nothing, Ms. Foster," said Fury, walking to stand beside her, his single gaze staring down at the raging creature. "We only need you to calm him down. He trusts you." He turned his head to gaze at her and his single, dark eye was one of understanding. "Only you. We might have an idea as to who he is looking for but we need more info."

Jane Foster stared down at the alien creature, a part of her feeling the fear of having to face such a being. However, she knew Erai would not intentionally hurt her. Not from how he had been when they were first approached by SHIELD.

"All right," she said as she straightened her shoulders and swallowed the lump that had formed in her throat. "Where do I go in?"

-o-

"There! There! JARVIS, I have something!"

Jenn nearly jumped from her chair in Tony's office as she caught a familiar signal from a part of the sky they had scanned for the past two weeks. It was faint but the signal was there. Ana's tracking implant had been found and she was alive and well. Her signal was revealing her vital signs, though at first erratic, had calmed for some time, before becoming erratic again. It was a sign that was quite similar to other reports in the past when it happened when Bruce and Ana would be... intimate.

Jenn could feel the blush in her cheeks at the readings but she could say with extreme relief that Bruce and Ana had made it to Asgard in one piece. Now, she only hoped that Ana would be able to send them a message soon.

"I have alerted Mr. Stark, Jenn. I suggest girding your loins. Goodness knows how he will react," said JARVIS, his British tone bringing a sense of amusement to Jenn, who wished she could smile. The AI had wormed his way into her affections and she was beginning to, despite her reservations for her human emotions, growing rather fond of him. The fact that they had been connected in such a way these last several weeks as to integrate with each other’s systems did not help in matters...

The door to Tony's office had slammed open then, the look in his hazel eyes was one of extreme excitement and relief. "You found them! Are they ok?"

Jenn turned her pale blue eyes toward Tony Stark, trying her best to keep the amusement out of her eyes as her elder sister came trailing in after him. "Jenn, have you heard from Ana? Are she and Bruce all right?"

Jenn looked over the recent readings from Ana's tracking implant in the internal memory banks of her computer system, seeing the erratic readings. Her pale blue eyes had grown unfocused as she looked over the readings before her soft laughter could be heard from the voice box at the neck of her blue and silver suit. "I think, ma soeur, that they are perfectly fine..."

 

Chapter Text

Somewhere down this road

I know someone's waiting

Years of dreams just can't be wrong

Well

Starting here

My life begins

Starting now

I'm learning fast

Courage, see me through

Heart, I'm trusting you

On this journey...

To the past...

Journey to the PastAaliyah

-o-

Chapter 44: Congratulations, My Friend!

"Congratulations, my friend!"

Bruce nearly choked the moment he had emerged from the bedroom he and Ana had been recuperating in. He had been swept up into a very tight embrace by none other than Thor, who was now pounding him on the back and laughing heartily. "There is word you are to be a father!" He gave Bruce another pound on the back before he set Bruce back on his feet and let him go. "This is wonderful! We must celebrate!"

Bruce took a step back from the god of thunder, a little wary of being slapped on the back again. He glanced back to find Ana was laughing a little as she walked up to him and took him by the hand. He allowed a small smile to touch his lips as he intertwined their fingers and pulled her close. She returned his smile as she wrapped her free arm around his and hugged him. The Asgardians had been kind to give them new clothing, considering their previous clothing did not last past their lovemaking. It stood to reason that they now looked more at home with the population of Asgard then they did before. Of course, Bruce didn't feel very comfortable in the dark brown, snug fitting pants and dark green shirt he had been given. Ana was wearing another lightly flowing dress, this one a light orange as opposed to the light red Bruce had torn earlier.

"A dinner in honor of our new allies," said Thor in a booming voice as he turned around to look at his comrades, the Warriors Three, and the Lady Sif. The other three male Asgardians studied the quiet couple, in particular the now unassuming male. How such strength could lie within such a small human male... They were wary of what the female Lyttan might be capable of.

"All in good time Thor," said Lady Sif with a smile, her light brown eyes were studying Ana with interest, her straight dark hair pulled back into a conventional ponytail. Her armor was practical but looked light, what looked to be brown leather and a series of silver and gold plating covering the vital areas of her body. Her sword was currently sheathed behind her back. She looked as every bit the warrior as the men beside her and Ana found herself intrigued by the lady warrior.

"The All Father requests their presence at this time," she continued as she glanced at Thor and gave a slight bow of her head. She looked at the couple and her smile grew warm, she could see how close they were. The love between them was so clear, it shone like a beacon. "My lord Bruce and lady Ana. If you would be so kind as to follow us, we shall take to you see Odin."

Bruce glanced down Ana, who simply looked up at him and gave an encouraging smile before she turned her attention back to Sif. "Please, lead the way."

Lady Sif smiled at Ana before she motioned to her comrades and led the group down the corridor...

-o-

The throne room was expansive.

Considering that there was no one else in the very ornate and large room bathed in golden light, it was not surprising. However, as Lady Sif led the group down the aisle toward the throne, a sense of unease was beginning to fill the newly expectant mother. With Thor and Sif ahead of them, and the Warriors Three behind them, they were either well protected or well surrounded...

With a subdued growl, Cin arose from Ana's subconscious, instinct taking over. Her hold on Bruce's hand tightened as the red veins within her neck began to pulsate and then grew down the length of her arms and legs with each step. Since her dress did not consist of sleeves, everyone had a full view of the red veins that were now pulsating against the caramel flesh. Bruce certainly noticed and he had stopped completely, pulling Ana close and rubbing a comforting hand again her bare flesh. She did not relax.

"I think this is far enough," said Bruce as he pulled his woman within his embrace, sensing her tension and not liking it at all. "Thor... Would you mind telling us where Odin is?"

"Dr. Banner, my father-"

A snarl emerged from Ana's lips as her eyes took on a yellow glow, her gaze darting from one place to another. There were various pillars surrounding them and behind those various pillars were convenient shadows where one could hide...

It happened within the blink of an eye.

Where before the throne room had been empty, they were suddenly surrounded by armed Asgardian guards. Bruce could barely think to react before his woman had pulled away from his embrace and exploded with raw power. She did not funny change in her form, but she was close. The red veins that pulsated with glowing heat burned through the material of her dress, leaving scorched holes. She had gained a foot in height and her growls were threatening. She stood protectively in front of her mate and had hunched over, protecting the life within her womb. Her hands were glowing with subdued heat as she watched her surroundings.

The movement of one of the guards to her left set her to react and she screamed in anger, hurling a ball of flame toward the pillar. The guard was quick to move behind the pillar and the fireball exploded on contact. A shudder could be seen as the explosion nearly engulfed the length of the pillar, damaging the stone. A series of cracks throughout the pillar could be seen once the smoke had faded.

Silence fell aside from the growls and snarls that Ana gave off.

The silence stretched until Thor had finally took a step backward, adjusting his hammer as if he were ready to battle. The look upon his face was filled with anger as he turned to his comrades, moving close toward Ana and Bruce. As strange as it was, the god of thunder was looking ready to aid the couple against his own people. "What is the meaning of this? Where is my father?"

"Peace, my son," a strong but weathered voice had responded and all eyes turned toward the golden throne, where Odin was now standing. Beside him, his wife Frigga stood, looking none too happy at all that she had witnessed. The moment the guards had relaxed at the sight of their king, Odin turned his single eye toward the red veined female.

"Daughter of Lytta, I wished to see you for myself," said Odin, looking slightly regretful at the method he had chosen in order to bring this about.

Ana turned her glowing gaze toward the King of Asgard and she clenched her fists, her anger rising. A moment passed before she took a step back, moving closer to her mate. "S-son of... B-Bor... Son... of B-Bestia," said Ana, her voice a husky growl as she lowered herself to the floor, a move very clear of a mother protecting the life within her. She let out a soft breath as she felt Bruce's hands reaching out to grasp her by the shoulders. "You... d-dare... to risk th-this new life within me." She closed her eyes, shuddering lightly as the veins in her arms pulsed. She took in a breath and opened her eyes again, her husky growl a sign that this was not Ana who was dominant. "I can't... re-recall all... B-but... I re-remember that my grandmo-mother had be-believed that you would come. Y-you were su-supposed to be our allies... Our hope...Wh-where were you wh-when the Chi-Chitauri attacked us? Wh-when that evil came upon us?"

Odin had not been expecting this, his single eye had grown wide and he took a step down away from his throne. "You remember that much? Though you are merged with a mortal?"

"Seeing y-you... Though our an-ancestors passed... We absorb their me-memories before they le-leave us," said Cin in reply. "We merge wi-with them... I could n-not recall much. S-seeing you has brought back some."

Thor could only watch in amazement as his father walked down the length of the staircase below the throne. He stopped several feet before the raging woman and, though she was a threat, his stance was relaxed. "Tell me, what is your true name Red Lady?"

Cin's glowing gaze studied the King of Asgard before she began to relax, sensing no threat from the Asgardian. "I am... E-Erin... Sist-ter of E-Erai, s-son and s-daughter of Poena...Gr-grandchildren of Pr-Praxi..."

"Praxi was a great-granddaughter of Manai's," said Odin in a soft whisper as he began to recall the lineage of Lytta's children. "Manai was one of the sons of Ouran... Ouran had fought by my side in countless battles…” Odin's single blue gaze focused upon the couple before he glanced at the woman, studying the Lyttan with what could only be described as awe. "So many generations... Yet, you recall despite merging with a mortal." He set the butt of his scepter down upon the floor, his golden armor reflecting the light of the room around them. "Daughter of Lytta, I can only give you my deepest apologies and sorrows. I had not been aware of the attack your realm had suffered. The Chitauri were of a realm unknown to us and their technology was of a power we did not recognize. By the time your people's cry for help had finally reached us, your realm was... already gone." He swallowed, looking ill at ease as he recalled those days past. "By the time we had come to your aid, there was nothing of your world left. It was as if you had vanished from the very face of the Nine Realms. However, wherever your realm had disappeared to, the Chitauri had disappeared along with you."

Cin's eyes flashed as she moved closer against her mate, longing to feel the warmth of him. Bruce continued to rub his fingers over the tense muscles of her shoulders, hoping that she would not fully change. Yet, a part of him was enthralled by all he had listened to and been witnessed to. He was not the only one. This interaction between the Lyttan and the King of Asgard was a moment that meant a making of history for both people.

"Th-that dark void," said Cin, her growling voice growing thick with emotion. "That dark place I-I was born to... The Chitauri were descended from darkness... I-it was the only place w-we could think to take them. To pr-protect the Nine Realms. You did not come, Borson... We had to do something..."

Odin stood there for a moment before he took a step forward and then another. He continued to walk toward the Lyttan until he stood before her. He studied those glowing, yellow orbs before he reached out and took her by the hand. "Erin, daughter of Lytta, I beg you and your ancestors for forgiveness. I give you my word that I, and all those within this realm, shall protect you, your mate, and the new life within you, as we had sworn to do ages past. We will keep our promise to Lytta. Though we had failed before, I will be damned if we fail you again."

Cin studied the King before she let loose the softest of breaths and closed her eyes. She began to relax and her heart began to slow in its beat as she reverted to her calm self. It took a moment but when she opened her eyes, the soft brown orbs that gazed back toward Odin's single blue one brought a sense of much needed relaxation to Bruce, Thor, the Warriors Three, Lady Sif, and the King of Asgard.

Ana gave a soft smile as her hand within Odin's gave a gentle squeeze. "I... hope that Cin was kind enough not to... hurt anyone." She looked tired but very wary. She had hoped that her other self had not offended the All Father.

Odin smiled and then started to laugh, his hearty laugh a clear sign that he was definitely the father of Thor. At the sign of the All Father's laughter, all of the Asgardians within the room put their various weapons away. Anyone who could make the All Father laugh was quite welcome…

Chapter Text

We come from everywhere

Searching for ones to care

Somehow

We found it here

We found us a home

We are not your ordinary family

But

We can agree

We are as close as can be...

We Are FamilyKeke Palmer

-o-

Chapter 45: We are

"We are allies!" said Thor, his booming voice sailing over the grand expanse of the dining hall. He held in one hand a large tankard of what appeared to be mead and was waving it around in an expansive gesture, sloshing the liquid all over the rim of the mug and onto the table before him. He turned his electric blue eyes toward the couple that sat to his right, his smile never wavering. "We are comrades in arms! We are friends!" He held his mug to them, his smile had softened with genuine affection. "To Dr. Banner and the Red Lady Ana, all of Asgard welcomes you both. I am sure I am not the only one in hoping that this day will bring a fruitful alliance between our two... or rather, our three realms."

A chorus of cheers had followed this toast and a rather bashful looking Bruce was glancing at his woman, his cheeks a faint pink. Ana smiled at him and reached out to brush his dark brown waves from his brow. He reached up to take her hand and pulled it down with an embarrassed smile though he gave it an affectionate squeeze. He turned his gaze back to the heir to the Asgard throne, who slammed his tankard back down to the table with a hearty laugh. "We must celebrate!"

"A match!" yelled out a man's voice from the far end of the hall, though who it was it was hard say. "A match to show the strength of our new allies!"

"A fine idea," cried Thor as he pointed to the person who spoke out before he glanced at Bruce. "What say you Dr. Banner? A rematch between us? I have yet to pay back the Green One for the punch he had bestowed upon me on that battlefield in Midgard!"

Bruce just about blanched at those words as he stared at the god of thunder, caught completely off guard. He quickly shook his head as he swallowed in that nervous way he was so well known for. "I-I don't think that would be a good idea..."

"Oh, come now," said Thor as he abandoned his chair and moved over to Bruce to slap a heavy hand down upon his shoulder. The good doctor was slumped forward from the action and bumped against the edge of the wooden table. "It will be all in good sport! You have fair control over the Green One. You need not worry of hurting me."

"I can't-"

"Bruce," Ana's voice caressed his right ear, a soft purring whisper that made him still instantly. He knew that voice, the promise in that voice. It was the Cin's seductive tone, the only one that got through to the Other Guy quicker than any trigger to cause of anger. "You should relax. Let the Other Guy out and let him have fun, mon amant." Her purring whisper was replaced by a soft breathy moan against his ear and he nearly growled in response, his gentle brown eyes now bearing a tint of green in them. "I promise if you let Hulk out, I will..." She leaned in closer then, whispering in his ear.

Bruce's cheeks started to fill with a blush but the green in his eyes was an indication that the Other Guy was listening in. A huff of breath escaped him and he glanced at Ana, a slight brow raised in question. "You promise? No restraints?"

"No restraints," said Ana as she leaned away, a satisfied smile playing on her face. "All the way down, just like you like it."

Thor was trying not to laugh at the look on Bruce's face as he contemplated the offer his woman had given him. Allow the Other Guy out to have fun and he would be rewarded. It wasn't hard to choose. He took in a breath and glanced up at Thor, his green eyes a sign of confirmation to the offer of a rematch. "Is there somewhere safe enough? I don't want to have anything damaged or anyone hurt."

"Oh, we have such a place," said Thor as he slapped another heavy hand on Bruce's shoulder before lifting him out of seat, his laughter bringing a sense of unease to the doctor. He glanced back down at Ana and his frown was telling.

She simply smiled at him and blew him a kiss.

-o-

The place that Thor had spoken of was a vast arena that was located on the outskirts of the city. Word had spread of the coming match between that of Thor and the Green One and the turnout was incredible. The sound of cheering coming from the surrounding crowd of Asgardians was immense. If one was to stand along the main road that led to the palace gates, you could still hear the roar.

Bruce found himself standing at one of the gates that led into the arena proper. He was shirtless and barefoot, only his breeches covered him. The material was of a stretchable fabric, one that had been provided for him for this occasion. It would seem that the Asgardians had an understanding as to how much mass he would take on when he let the Other Guy free.

He was clenching his fists tightly and he was taking even breaths as he felt the Other Guy humming beneath the surface, itching to be let loose. His only calm was standing beside him, rubbing a hand against his back. Her nails gently scraped against his skin and he closed his eyes, enjoying the touch.

"Don't worry Bruce," said Ana, her smile was a sweet one. "The Other Guy needs this as much as you do. It has been much too long since he had a good spar. There is only so much sex could satisfy after all."

Bruce opened his eyes and glanced at his woman, a light smirk touching his lips. "Is that so? Well, forgive me. I beg to differ." He reached out to pull her close against him and captured her lips in a searing kiss. When he pulled away, he smiled at the sight of the glazed look in her eyes. "Remember, you promised. After this, no restraints."

Ana blinked before she focused her gaze on him, her smile lighting up her features with pure love. "I know." She leaned up to press another kiss against his lips. "Now, have fun and remember not to hurt Thor's ego too much."

Bruce's laugh was a welcome one and he hugged his woman close, burying his nose in her copper brown curls and inhaling the scent of her. The sound of the roaring crowd escalated outside, the sound of Odin's voice echoing throughout the arena as he introduced his son. A low growl came from Bruce's throat as he pulled away from Ana and pressed a kiss against her brow. "...Mine... Always."

Ana smiled, her heart giving a gentle flutter at the possessive tones. "Always," she said in reply.

Bruce turned away from his woman just as Odin introduced the challenger to the arena, the first human to spar in such a setting within the history of Asgard. The moment Bruce walked out into the arena, the sound of laughter beneath the cheers could be heard. He swallowed back the tightness in his throat as he glanced back at his woman, the doubt could be seen in his eyes.

She gave an encouraging smile. "Have fun," she called out to him as the laughter began to escalate.

Bruce smiled back at her before he rolled his shoulders and cracked his neck. He turned around to face the son of Odin, who stood across from him in the vast pit. As he did so, his frame began to broaden and where he gained in width, he also made up for in height. His skin took on his familiar green hue and with a final pop from his back, the Hulk stood in his all of his glory. The laughter was quick to fade away at the sight of the huge green monster that now stood in their midst.

"Green One," called Thor from across the way. He was also bare chested and he was cracking his knuckles as he took a step forward. "It is good to see you again my friend! Come! Are you ready?"

The Hulk smirked before he glanced behind him to look at his woman. His green eyes were filled with deep affection as he grumbled to her, "Lo-ove..."

Ana couldn't help the giggle that slipped past her lips as she beckoned to her large mate. "Go! Have fun!"

With further permission from his mate, the Hulk allowed his smirk to grow before he turned back around. He clenched his fists as he took a few heavy footsteps further into the arena, his green eyes focused on his opponent/friend.

With one word from Odin, the match began.

It was like a clash of titans. Though the Hulk was larger than Thor, the Asgardian carried just as much strength within him. Their blows sounded like boulders crashing together and it wasn't long before the crowd was getting swept up into the match. Soon, there were cheers not only for the son of Odin but also for the Green One.

The match continued for some time, neither party showing any signs of weariness despite the pit now resembling a battlefield with the earth and stone gouged up and tossed aside. A few hours later, the match was finally brought to a standstill the moment the Hulk threw a powerful punch that tossed Thor straight across the arena and into the wall. He plowed straight through the stone and a pile of rubble fell over him.

Dead silence took over the crowd, the sight of their prince being tossed into a wall was not something they were used to seeing. It was not until the Hulk had made his way over to the rubble, and tossed aside a several large pieces of rubble, that the sound of Thor's laughter could be heard. The Hulk was smiling as he pulled the god of thunder from the mess, who was looking a little worse for wear, but was laughing all the same.

Thor reached out to land a heavy punch against the Hulk's massive bicep, who merely frowned down at the smaller male. "Well met my friend! You clearly win this round!" He was still laughing as he walked out of the rubble and held out a hand to his friend. "A clear show of strength from our new ally!"

The surrounding crown cheered, the relief palpable that the sight of their heir laughing heartily was a welcome one. The fact that the large hulking creature had been humble enough to help Thor to his feet after such a massive blow was thrown, and not gloat the fact, was a clear sign. This creature thought of Thor as an ally and friend.

It had been a good match and good lesson to the Asgardians. It showed just how much strength could be found within the least expected of places...

-o-

The first few weeks on Asgard had been an experience neither Bruce nor Ana would ever forget.

After having established themselves as welcome allies and friends of the realm, the couple had finally been shown to a room in the palace that held a device that would allow them to contact their family and friends back on Midgard. It was a technology that had a signal that could travel through a wild portal and connect with any device on Midgard. Exactly how it worked was something that Bruce was eager to learn about at a later, more appropriate time.

At this moment, the device was now reaching out to the Stark satellite that Jenn was attached to. The moment the connection had been made successfully, the sound of Sido's ecstatic voice coming from the strange blue crystal in the middle of the room was a balm to Ana's worry. She didn't realize just how much she had missed her mother and aunt.

Tony's usual nonchalance at the fact that he was talking to his best friend and little sister, who were on completely different planet, brought a sense of familiarity to the couple. It was strange how quickly they had become a family in the span of five months. Yet, that was what they had become. They were a family...

The thought still brought a sense of surreal happiness to Bruce...

"So, how is the baby?" asked Tony, bringing the entire conversation to a screeching halt in his typical way.

"De quoi! Tony!" Sido's voice had cut in at the moment before she began chastising the playboy in very fast French. A few words could be made out, most in particular a few colorful choice curses that had made Ana start laughing to the point of tears. In any case, it was enough to break the silence and even Jenn's laughter was heard joining in by this point. After several more phrases in French, Tony's voice came back, this time sounding thoroughly surprised at the fact that Sido had downright given him a good talking to.

"Uh... What I had meant to ask was..." He paused at this and then he muttered something before sighing. "Fuck it, I need to know. Is there a bun in the oven or what? We know Ana's last shot didn't take. We've been sitting down here on our asses since you guys left over a month ago and haven't heard a word and I'm sure I'm not the only one dying to know!"

An audible thunk could be heard this time and Bruce was trying so hard not to laugh. It was obvious Mama Brandt had smacked Mr. Stark on the back of the head.

"What was that for?!"

"For being an asshole," said Sido in a huff. Ana could just imagine her mother standing there with her arms crossed beneath her breasts and her foot tapping against the floor. The look on her face would be on the border between angry and annoyed.

Ana glanced at Bruce, who looked at her in turn and smiled, the happy and proud look in his gentle brown eyes all the encouragement she needed. She looked at Thor then, who was standing on the opposite side of the table that held the blue crystal. He was standing beside Heimdall, who was listening to the proceedings with usual stoic expression. However, the amusement could be seen in his eyes. Both Asgardians had found the entire exchange to be rather funny. Thor had been kind enough not to laugh but he was smiling in a cheeky manner. When he caught Ana's gaze, his smile grew and he gave a nod as if to say, "go on."

She took in a deep breath and let it out in one fell swoop. "Yes."

Silence greeted this statement.

Silence that lasted for several long and thoughtful minutes before a sudden scream of joy permeated the room they were in. The screaming continued and the sound of thumping footsteps could be heard. "I'm going to be a grand-mere!" Sido cried with exultation. "Jenn! Did you hear her?! Ana is pregnant! Un bebe!"

"Oui, oui! I heard ma soeur! Please let me go!"

"How far along?" asked Tony, ignoring the feminine squealing that was continuing in the background.

"Eight to nine weeks," said Bruce in answer, a large hand reaching down to splay affectionately against Ana's lower abdomen. Her hand had automatically reached down to hold it over his. "Give or take a day."

"Well then, good to know," said Tony, though he was sounding deep in thought. Bruce and Ana knew that tone of voice. The playboy was planning something...

"When will you be home?" asked Sido, the excitement could still be heard in her voice.

"Soon enough," said Ana in reply, the warmth in her heart at the sound of her family's voices surrounding her making her happier than she had ever felt so far. "We are still doing some research in regard to Cin's realm and her people. It has been fascinating."

"You'll have to share it with us when you get back," said Sido. "I want to hear all of it the moment you come home."

"Yes, Mama," said Ana, the smile on her face was filled with love.

"Good, take care of yourselves. We'll speak again soon."

It was a teary goodbye and promises to speak soon enough were made. The connection was broken between the two realms but it was, as always, only temporary.

-o-

A few more weeks had passed and Ana was learning so much from the records that were held concerning the Lyttans.

According to the Asgardians, the Lyttans were one of two races that called the far-reaching realm of desert and fire, known as Pyragia, their home. The original feral race of people were described as dark haired and dark eyed humanoids with tones of skin that ranged from russet to deep crimson. They were exceedingly tall, normally standing at a height between ten to twelve feet and possessed clawed hands and feet that were effective in their hunting the local, tough, wildlife. They had unique control over the constant flow of lava and fire that surrounded them in their native realm.

Lytta had discovered this realm in her journeys and had immediately fallen into place. The people had not been affected by their close proximity to the Olympian. Since their anger and rage was something that was a constant tie in with their control over their destructive powers, they had evolved to the point where they were in a constant state of calm and peace. Lytta's powers to incite fury, rage, and madness within a person did not affect them.

She had found her new home and they had, surprisingly, welcomed her.

Over the generations that followed, the race had split into two distinct types. The original Pyragians and all of the descendants of the Olympian that had called Pyragia her home. These people were simply called Lyttans, in honor of their ancestor. The distinct difference with the Lyttans was that they resembled their Olympian mother in looks, one could say more "human." Their skin tones ranged from pale to deep tan, depending on which genetics were more dominant. Thanks to Lytta's blonde hair, their hair color was a beautiful mix between blonds, brunettes, and the original dark tones. Occasionally, a red head might pop up to add more flavor. Their eyes ranged from blue to brown and their height, though tall, would never exceed past six feet. The telling sign that they were not truly Olympians nor Pyragians were of the strange red veins that were a prominent feature on the back of their necks.

The Lyttans looked harmless enough in comparison to their taller, native cousins. However, that stopped the moment they were provoked in any manner to quick anger or tension.

That was the moment when the red veins proved to be more than just some strange quirk of their lineage. They would resort to a more primal state of being, gaining height and strength in body, gaining clawed hands and feet. Their powers were close to that of their cousins' control over fire and heat save it was more explosive and more violent. Their tones would always darken to a crimson shade, their eyes always took on a yellow glow, and their red veins were a constant feature against their skin, pulsing and glowing with thermal energy. However, the true climax of this strange race, was their unique ability to merge with any living thing. They could, literally, merge their bodies either together or with another being to create a more powerful entity. It was almost unheard of. The fact that they could split back to their original forms was mind boggling.

The Asgardians did not know why the Lyttans had inherited such a drastic change of power in comparison to the Pyragians. Bor, Odin's father, who had been the one to forge an alliance with the realm, had thought it was because of the distinct difference in heritage. Where the Pyragians were more controlled after countless years of learning and evolving, Lytta's Olympian blood and her power to incite such anger, fury and raging madness within a person, brought an unknown element to the mix. It could be that the Lyttans had gained abilities that had been lying dormant within the original race only for them to be "reawakened," for lack of a better term, when Lytta's Olympian bloodline was thrown in. Or perhaps it was a distinct inheritance of power from Lytta's blood itself, enhancing an already powerful race.

Whatever the case, the changes had not been an unwelcome one.

The Pyragians had counted on the Lyttans as a needed balance to their calm and peaceful state of being. They were the soldiers that the Pyragians had learned long before to abandon in favor of a more utopian way of life. Though the Pyragians were well equipped to protect and to fight, they saw no honor in it. Unlike the Lyttans, who would fight and protect their home and loved ones to their last breath. They were the allies that Bor, and then Odin, called upon whenever war was called.

That alliance had ended the moment a cry for help had emerged from the realm. The very last of the records the Asgardians kept of the Lyttans were of the strange cry for help had reached the realm of Asgard, their cry had stated they were under attack by an unknown and dangerous enemy. "A hive of mindless things," was what the message pertained.

By the time Odin had his army ready for battle to help defend their allies, the portal that connected their realms was no longer there. The pathways had been cut off. The Gatekeeper of the time, Heimdall's predecessor, had said the realm was no more. It had vanished into nothing. It was as if it had never existed...

-o-

"I wonder what the Lyttans had done to bring the Chitauri into that other dimension?"

Bruce and Ana were lying in their bedroom after a long day of looking over the last of the records. After all they had read regarding Cin's people, they were no closer to finding out what had happened to them after that cry for help. It was obvious that the Lyttans had transported not only themselves and the Chitauri to that dark place, they had also brought their entire planet into that dark void.

Ana let out a sigh as she snuggled deeper against Bruce's chest, her nails light running over his firm stomach. "I do not know. From what I could get from her, she only has flashbacks of her time in that void. She was born there, I know that as much. How she escaped and for what purpose, I cannot say. She doesn't remember much at all." She closed her eyes and allowed the sound of Bruce's calm heartbeat to soothe her nerves. "I'm surprised she had even remembered her true name and the names of her family. From what you had told me, that is the first time that has ever happened..."

"Ana?" He looked down at her and reached out to brush her curls from her face. "Don't think about it too much. We'll figure it out eventually. Cin will remember more. Just give it time."

She didn't say anything in response to that though a soft smile touched her lips. A moment of silence passed as she breathed in and out, loving the peace she always felt with her mate. After her seventh breath, she opened her eyes and stared out into the distance. "Did you know that... according to Pyragian tradition... We are husband and wife?"

Bruce stilled a moment at that and he swallowed once before daring to speak. "How?"

"That day by the pond... When we were connected..." She looked up at him and smiled a little. "I read it in one of the records. I didn't show it to you. You were rather taken by that other record you were reading, I didn't want to disturb you over something so trivial. But... it happens when mates wish to be joined both in body and spirit. Such an intimate act made in such a natural place is more meaningful than any vow given in public ceremony." She laughed a little and shook her head, though the tears could be seen in her soft brown eyes. "If we had lived on Pyragia, our joining would have been celebrated by both of our families as a true union among the pack. Of course, it means nothing outside of that..."

Bruce was silent but he understood the meaning. He tightened his hold around her and pressed a firm kiss against her brow. "It means everything. I'm happy to know that Cin's ancestors would have looked upon us as husband and wife. As mates..." He pressed another kiss against her temple. "We're in this together for the long haul. All three of us." He then reached down to place a hand on her lower ab, still reeling over the fact that his child was growing in her.

They lay silent, enjoying the calm and peace they always felt when they were together...

"...Marry me..."

She glanced up at him, stared at him for a moment, before a huff of laughter escaped her. She moved to tuck her face within the crook of his neck. She inhaled the scent of him and gave a single nod of her head…

Chapter Text

Mama You gave life to me

Turned a young one into a woman

And Mama

All I ever needed

All you had to offer

Was the promise of a lifetime of love

Now I know

There is no other

Love like a mother's love for her child

And I know

A love so complete

Someday must leave Must say goodbye...

Goodbye's the Saddest Word Celine Dion

This is the end

Hold your breath and count to ten

Feel the earth move and then

Hear my heart burst again

Swept away, I'm stolen...

SkyfallAdele

-o-

Chapter 46 : Swept Away

Swept away by the earnest hands of giggling females, Ana had not expected such a reaction when she and Bruce had announced their intent to be wed. Thor, who had been speaking with the All Father and the Queen within the throne room, bore witness to the exchange.

At the mention of their wishing to be married, Queen Frigga had allowed a bright smile to touch her beautiful features. A sparkle could be seen in her eyes as she walked toward Ana and grasped her by the shoulders. "Let us not delay, shall we? This is a very special occasion! Come, let us get you prepared."

"What?" asked Ana, her confusion quite evident the moment the Queen had turned her away from her mate and started walking her out of the room, her hold on Ana's shoulders firm. Ana had glanced back at Bruce, who was being held by the shoulder by Thor to keep him from going after the women. Odin was openly laughing as he watched his wife take the Lyttan away to be prepared in the customary manner of a true Asgardian woman.

Before Frigga had taken her from the room, Ana heard Thor's booming laugh behind them. "You have done it now, my friend! Mother is well known for her wedding ceremonies! We will have quite a bit to prepare for. Come, let us get you ready as well."

"But-"

"No hesitation! You came to us with the intent to wed and so you shall be wed. In true Asgardian fashion!"

It was by this time that other female attendants had begun to follow the Queen, her voice calling out to any available woman in the corridor to come help. At the mention of a wedding, excited giggles and squeals of joy emanated from those present and they were quick to help usher Ana to who knew where. Soon enough, she was being swept away to get prepared for a wedding ceremony that she and Bruce had not even expected so soon.

-o-

The wedding date was set for the following week.

What was normally referred to as Friday on Midgard was, back in Norse times, called Frigga's day. In honor of the goddess of marriage, it was tradition for all weddings to be addressed by the Queen on this day on Asgard. In preparation, Bruce and Ana had been separated to opposite sides of the palace and forbidden from seeing each other until the day of the wedding. It was the longest that Bruce and Ana had been away from each other. It was not a pleasant experience but the Asgardians were adamant at keeping them apart, as tradition dictated. Thankfully, neither lost control of their other selves. It seemed there was a subconscious understanding that this was something their quiet selves needed to do.

The pomp and ceremony of the traditions before an Asgard wedding were a bit too much. The night before the wedding, both the bride and groom had to endure a period of being cleansed in a ceremonial bath house. Deprived of their former garments, they were treated with various herbs and steam in the bath house, a symbol of their previous status being washed away. The next morning, they were taken to the throne room, both dressed in ceremonial garb. Nothing too fancy but it was rich enough for the good doctor and his bride to feel uncomfortable.

However, it was all brought to fruition the moment Ana was brought to the throne room, an audience of Asgardians watching on. Bruce was standing beside throne next to the Queen, dressed in a tunic and breeches of various shades of emerald and brown. The All Father was before the throne, a welcome smile on his aged face as he watched his son escort the Lyttan toward the throne. It was done in mimic of modern weddings held in Midgard of those who followed a traditional Abrahamic Christian ceremony. It was the most popular traditional wedding, even among those who did not follow that particular faith. Thor felt it best that they respect and honor that tradition that the bride and groom had been raised in.

It was a good decision.

The look on Bruce Banner's face as he watched Thor escort his bride toward the throne was one filled with awe and love. Frigga and her attendants had done a beautiful job of dressing Ana for the ceremony. While traditional Midgard garb called for white, Ana donned a gown in lovely red and earth tones that complimented well with her caramel skin tone and dark features. Upon her head was a garland of crimson flowers with emerald leaves and stems that grew locally in Asgard. It normally would have been a crown that would have been handed down from earlier generations but since this was a first generation of a Lyttan and Midgardian being wed, it was completely new.

As Ana walked, the shifting of her skirts seemed to accentuate the slight bulge of her lower belly. She was with child, heavy with child at such an early stage, and the sight of it was a welcome one. She carried a new generation within her. One that was merged from three different realms. Ones that had never met together in such a way before. The moment Thor had given Ana to Bruce, a slight kiss upon her fingers before giving her hand to her betrothed; it was as if a collective breath that had been held was released within the room. The relief was palpable. The feral couple were together again and the tension that had been quite obvious. It had been a surprise nothing had come from it.

Even the Asgardians knew how close they were cutting it when they had separated the two mates.

However, the sight of the feral couple together staring at one another with such longing and love made the separation worth it. They were so enamored with one another they barely noticed when the All Father had begun the ceremony. It seemed as if all of Asgardian upper class had been invited to ceremony as the crowd that watched the wedding numbered close to a thousand. The wedding party consisted only of Thor and Sif, who stood on the respective sides of the bride and groom.

When Odin had finished speaking, his words declaring strength in such a union and new generation to thrive under such strength between the mother and father, he finally turned to his son and gave a nod. Thor took a step forward to stop directly beside Bruce, noting that Sif was doing the exact same beside Ana. Both Asgardians had withdrawn long daggers from their belts, their sheathes decorated with the symbol of three interlocking triangles, the sign that belonged to the All Father. It was a declaration that the couple were under the protection of the House of Odin.

"Since you do not bear the weapons of your own forefathers to give in exchange for this union," said Odin, his single blazing blue eye flicking between Bruce and Ana. "I have had them made for you to pass on to your children and their children. This is a tradition that has been a part of Asgard for many generations. I hope you will do me the honor of continuing it within your family."

Bruce felt completely humbled as he took the long dagger from Thor, who gave an encouraging smile to his friend. Ana had done the same, taking the dagger from Sif and turning to face her mate. They had exchanged the daggers and were thrown off guard when Thor and Sif had presented two gold rings to the bride and groom soon after. They were simple open-ended bands that curled around the finger when worn. On one end of the band Thor's hammer, with Odin's symbol carved upon it, was the only decoration. "It is tradition here as well," said Thor by way of explanation as he handed the ring to Bruce.

Taking the rings and giving the daggers back for Thor and Sif to hold on to, the couple once again faced one another, taking each other’s left hand and placing the rings upon the fingers. It wasn't hard to note that Bruce was trembling slightly, the slight flush in his cheeks and the suspicious glint in his eyes a sign he was emotional.

With that done, the All Father took his own sword and placed the hilt of it underneath their joined hands. "Repeat these words and speak with conviction and honesty." Once the couple had focused their gaze Odin, he let loose a gentle breath. "There shall be one end for us both. One bond after our vows. Nor shall our first love aimlessly perish. Happy am I to have won the joy of such a consort. I shall not go down basely in loneliness for these encircling bonds shall grip us in their midst. And within these bonds the certain hope remains of renewed love and death shall prove to have its own delights. Each world holds joy and in the twin regions shall the repose of our united souls win fame, our equal faithfulness in love."*

Bruce and Ana repeated the vow, the bride now openly crying as the last of the words finally hit home. Odin gave a broad smile as he placed a hand over their joined ones and gave them a firm shake. "You are now husband and wife. May you both live long with the strength that you carry within you and with each other."

A cheer rose up at these words as Odin removed his hand and sword from the couples'. As soon as the All Father had stepped away, Bruce had taken his wife firmly by the waist and captured her lips in a passionate kiss that had her nearly swooning in his arms. When he pulled away, Odin and Thor's booming laughter could be heard among the whoops and hollers from the crowd. Ana looked thoroughly ravished and a few of the Asgardian women were fanning themselves slightly with sly smiles on their faces after witnessing such a kiss. They knew what the Midgardian was capable of turning into. They could only imagine how he was in bed.

A hand slamming down on Bruce's shoulder caught his attention and he looked back at Thor, a smile touching his features. The good doctor was looking exceptionally happy. "Dr. Banner and Lady Banner," said the god of thunder with an excited smile. "My deepest affections to you my friends. Now that the ceremony is complete, let us adjourn to the great hall. Are you ready for the feast? This shall be a celebration like no other!"

"Everything is a celebration like no other for you my son," said Frigga as she stepped down from her place beside her husband and stopped in front of the newlyweds. She leaned into press a kiss upon Bruce and Ana's forehead. "A blessing," said the Queen as she moved away and smiled at them. "You will be fruitful. The life within you is a new beginning for all of our realms. A new union. You will need all the love and strength between you to face whatever challenges that may come your way. I hope that no ill falls upon you. Your lives have been difficult enough so far. You need peace. Just know that we are here should you need help."

"Thank you, your Majesty," said Bruce, bowing his head slightly as he pulled Ana closer beside him, his grip around her waist firm. She leaned in to place her head upon his shoulder, looking slightly tired from all the excitement of the day. She smiled at Frigga in thanks as the All Father had stepped down from the throne to take his wife's hand.

"Let us have no more talk of troubled times. There is a wedding feast to host," said Odin as he smiled at the newlyweds before taking his wife and descending the steps from the throne. Their son and Sif followed after as Bruce and Ana glanced at one another. Ana was smiling a little as she clasped Bruce's hand in her own. He returned the smile though the look on his face was one filled with slight awe.

"You look a little shocked mon amant," said Ana as they followed the Asgardians down the steps and out of the throne room. The sound of hundreds of footsteps followed after them as well as the sound of hundreds of conversations picking up as all the guests followed the newlyweds toward the great hall for the feast. Her hand had squeezed his in reassurance when he did not respond right away.

"I am a little," said Bruce after a moment as they walked, keeping a firm grip on Ana's hand. When he glanced down at her, he caught the questioning look in her soft brown eyes and his smile grew. "I never imagined..." He hesitated before his smile softened and his gentle brown eyes grew warm. "Mrs. Anamaria Banner... I like it."

Ana laughed a little as she leaned over to hug her husband's arm and sighed softly. "I do too..."

-o-

Their stay on Asgard had finally drawn to a close.

With copies of the records about the Lyttans to bring back to Midgard for further study and the ceremonial daggers from the wedding safely stashed in a single bag, Bruce and Ana were cast off with many well wishes from the Asgardians. Thor had accompanied them as he had done several months before. By this time Ana was four months pregnant and, though there were concerns regarding the child and mother's safety, Heimdall was adamant that the portal this time around would be gentle.

After much calming words to Bruce from his wife and even more reassurances from Thor, Heimdall and even Odin himself, they were ready. It took several moments for Odin to power up Heimdall's sword but with a bolt of lightning that streaked off into the star-filled expanse, a wild portal had been caught between that of Midgard and Asgard. With a powerful array of color and wind, Thor, Bruce and Ana were swept from the bridge of rainbow light and back toward home...

-o-

The sudden arrival of three people on the balcony of the personal apartments of Tony Stark did not go unnoticed. In fact, the residents had waited for quite some time for them. The moment the brilliant array of lightning had cleared and the swirling clouds of the portal had faded, a very eager mother was running forward and smothering her daughter in a bone crushing hug. A few moments of very quick French was spoken as she fawned over her daughter, touching her slight bulge with cooing noises. It was some time before the mother noticed the unique gold band on her daughter's left ring finger.

Silence followed as the mother quickly reached out and grabbed the left hand of the man who had stood very close beside them. Seeing the same band on the man's hand, Sidonie Brandt looked at her daughter and then at her daughter's man. A heartbeat passed before her squeal of joy emerged before both Dr. and Mrs. Banner were swept up into another bone crushing hug by the Brandt matriarch. "You are married?!"

It was at this time that Tony Stark and Jenn DuPont had emerged out onto the balcony. A shit eating grin could be seen on the playboy's face as he stopped just beside Thor, who was watching the entire scene with a wide, amused grin on his face. Jenn had moved toward the couple to give her own hugs, not missing the sobbing that Sido was now giving. The overwhelmed mother was murmuring in French as she took a step back away from her daughter to allow Jenn to hug Ana and Bruce, her sniffling a sign that she would be crying for some time.

Bruce was looking a little overwhelmed by the open display of emotion and his brown eyes caught Tony's hazel ones at that moment. Tony smiled as he beckoned to the good doctor. "Hey Big Guy, welcome home. Up for a drink? Let's leave all the mushy stuff to the women and get caught up."

Bruce could only show a relieved smile as he pulled himself away from Ana's side. His wife glanced at him in question and, seeing the desperate need to get away, smiled at him and turned back to speak with her aunt. Bruce leaned down to press a kiss against her temple before going off to join the men for a much needed drink.

"So," began Tony as he reached out swing an arm across Bruce's shoulders. Thor was following behind them, the amused smile still playing on his face. "Back from an adventure on another planet and you wind up getting hitched. How in the hell did you get yourself caught so easily? You should have at least put up a stronger fight. If I were you..."

Bruce tried to fight down the groan that was threatening to come out as Tony went off on another one of his infamous tangents about the joys of single life and parties and women. Which was odd because the playboy was in a happy relationship himself. Still, as Bruce allowed his friend to lead him into the apartment, he couldn't help but allow a small smile to touch his features.

It felt good to be home.

-o-

It didn't take long for Ana and Bruce to fall back into the swing of things once they had gotten home. Bruce had taken to catching up with his work. Ana was happily moving about their various floors in the tower, catching up lost time with those in her Pack.

Most of the time she was with her aunt and mother, helping with whatever projects that entailed with the family business of researching new medicines for various cancers and chronic diseases, especially those inherited from genetics. Though the company had been a front for the inner workings of the team that worked to hide Ana for so many years, now that they had merged with Stark Industries, they could place their focus back developing even more treatments. Ana had been raised in the family business and her knowledge in pharmaceuticals was becoming quite vast. Sido had hoped to leave the running of the company to her daughter if they had managed to find a cure for her condition. Well, though they had not found a cure, they had found an effective treatment in keeping her calm the moment she had met Dr. Bruce Banner. Sido was hoping to speak with Bruce to see if he would be interested in running the company with Ana. He was an intelligent man who had searched for a purpose in his life. Perhaps this would help him further...

Outside of the family business, Ana continued spending time with Pepper and Tony. She resumed picking on her older brother though with not as much fire as she had before. It seemed being pregnant had calmed her down considerably. At least until Tony continued to provoke her... The explosions that would emanate were just as violent as they had been before. Tony was happy to have Bruce and Ana back home.

Thor had gone off on his own in his search to find his beloved Jane. Now that he was free of any obligations, he bore the attitude of one excited to face the great unknown. He was going to claim the love of his Jane as he promised well over a year and half before. He had bid his friends goodbye and promised that he would be back as soon as able, bringing his lovely Jane with him.

Everyone had wished him luck in his quest for love.

A couple of weeks after their return, Ana was taken into one of the R&D labs where she was going to have her very first ultrasound of the baby. Though her pregnancy had been relatively calm for one such as her, recently she had finally been displaying a minor case in mood swings. One moment she was excessively happy and the next she would be crying for no reason at all. It was a blessed thing that was all her emotions had done. The family was surprised that Cin had been very, very quiet throughout the pregnancy outside of the times Tony would instigate her. In fact, Bruce had been fairly quiet as well; no signs of the Hulk could be seen. The couple had been quite content as long as they remained close to one another.

When it was time for the ultrasound to be done, the entire family was present to the occasion. Ana was nearly overwhelmed as she stared at the faces of her mother, her aunt, Tony and Pepper. All of them, save for Jenn (who couldn't), were watching her with varied expressions of worry as Bruce helped Ana onto the gurney. She was nervous, she could admit that, but having the faces of her family watching every move she made was not helping.

"Will all of you please stop looking at me like that? I am fine!" snapped Ana, after Bruce had helped her lay down. "It's just an ultrasound, not the actual birth!"

A soft chuckle could be heard as Bruce leaned over to press a kiss against her brow. "Relax Ana..."

She tried to, taking a deep breath and letting it loose before giving an apologetic smile to her family. "Sorry..."

Her mother simply laughed as she moved around the bed to stand beside her son-in-law and took her hand. "No apologies my sweet, we are only concerned. You were on Asgard for much of the pregnancy so far. Though I am sure they have quite a vast array of technology, we would feel better if my grand baby could actually be seen for ourselves."

Having a doctor for a mother, it was understandable and, though they had monitored the baby's health on Asgard, they did not ask to look at an image of the baby. They had thought it would be best for it to be a surprise with their loved ones at this moment. Ana gave another small smile and squeezed her mom's hand. "I know," she said as she before looking at the technician that Tony had as one of his many employees in Stark Tower. "Can we begin?"

The sonographer, a pretty young woman with wavy dark hair, smiled at Ana. "Of course, when you're ready."

Ana gave a nod and rolled up the hem of her blouse so her stomach was bare. The sonographer, who was prepping the water-based gel to apply to Ana's belly, turned around with the gel in hand and let out a screech in surprise. She had not been expecting to see the red veins that were focused on Ana's lower abdomen. They were pulsing beneath her skin, quick fluttering pulses that gave off a gentle yellow glow every now and again against the caramel flesh of her bulge.

Pepper was quick to get to the woman. "Teresa, we spoke about this..."

The woman took in a breath as she composed herself as she glanced quickly at Tony before looking at the couple, who were frowning slightly. "I'm sorry Ms. Potts. Dr. and Mrs. Banner, I was made aware of your unique situation before you came here. I guess it did not fully sink in... Again I'm sorry."

"She's going to be a mother, Teresa," said Tony, a cheeky grin playing on his goateed lips. "She is a mother from another world but a mother none the less. Her body works the way any female does so let's get on with it."

In a not so subtle way of saying "get the ball rolling", the woman named Teresa applied the gel to Ana's belly, being mindful of the strange veins that were focused around where the baby was growing. Once that was done, she turned to the monitor and took hold of the probe to place it against Ana's lower ab. It took a few rolls over the belly while the ultrasound scanned before a recognizable shape began to emerge on screen. Everyone's breath was drawn in as Teresa moved the probe with her left hand while she worked the keyboard with her right, the screen shifting beneath the rapid strokes of the technician's hand.

Within a matter of moments, the image took shape and the silence fell heavier than before as Teresa smiled up at the monitor. "Well, I can't tell what sex they are from their positions," she looked at the parents to be, trying not to laugh at the stunned expressions on their faces. "They look to be growing at a healthy rate for 16 weeks."

"They..." Bruce's voice was nothing more than a whisper, his face expressionless.

"What the hell man!" said Tony as he started to laugh. He walked over to slap a hand on the good doctor's shoulder and gave it a shake. "Twins! Ha! Way to overdo it. Oh, you're gonna gave your hands full..."

Bruce wasn't listening to his best friend, he was staring at the image of his kids, still growing and looking healthy. They were curled around one another, their little heads moving slightly as they seemed to squirm when the probe rolled over them.

Twins.

They were going to have twins...

-o-

"Bruce, we will be fine. Mama is only taking me shopping. We're going to be right up the street."

Dr. Bruce Banner was not feeling eager at the thought of being parted from his wife.

She was 18 weeks pregnant and her belly was showing clearer than before. Sido was taking her to get maternity clothes since her current wardrobe was now becoming tight around the waist and chest. It was an outing that both mother and daughter were looking forward too. However, Bruce was proving somewhat difficult to convince.

"You can shop for your clothes online and have them delivered here. Is there a reason for you need to leave the tower?"

A flash of yellow could be seen her soft brown eyes. The frown that touched her face was the first that had ever been directed toward Bruce. "I am going to go shopping with my maman. I do not need your blessing or your approval. It was simply a courtesy to let you know where we will be."

Bruce frowned in response, ignoring the shocked look on his mother-in-law's face as she stared between the couple. "And I appreciate it but you are not going." He caught the slight growl she gave in reply to that statement and he moved toward her, placing a large hand over her belly. "The LIFE Foundation is still out there. I don't want to risk your life or the life of our babies. I want you safe."

"Bruce," said Sido, reaching out to place a hand on his shoulder. He turned to look at the other woman, the hint of green in his eyes a telltale sign that this was Hulk who was brimming beneath the surface. They were in sync with their want to protect their mate and their young. "We will be not be alone and we will not be far. I'm taking Ana to the Limelight Marketplace. It's a designer mall, close to Stark Tower, right off of 6th Avenue. We are going to have Jenn and JARVIS keeping an eye on us from afar. Tony will have Happy drive us and Yann will be with us. There will be a whole team of our own milling with the customers to make sure a keen eye will be on everything around us." She could see the hesitation in her son-in-law's eyes. She could not blame him. "We will be protected. We will not be gone long."

A moment of silence fell before the green faded from Bruce's brown eyes and he let out a heavy sigh. He turned his gaze to his wife and pulled her into a tight embrace. "I just want you safe," he murmured as he breathed in the scent of her, his love for her bringing an ache in his heart. He loved this woman so much... She had given him everything he had always hoped for. If anything were to happen to her...

"I know," said Ana, as she returned his embrace and buried her face within the warmth of his chest. She inhaled his scent as well, feeling the calm that saturated her senses. "I'm sorry. I did not mean to get angry with you, mon amant."

"You're forgiven," he said in her ear, a small smile touching his lips. "I know it's the hormones talking."

She giggled a little as her embrace tightened around him before he finally released her and moved away. "Go. Have fun with your mom."

"I'll bring something back for you," she said with a smile before leaning up to kiss his lips. With that, she turned away and went to take mother's hand. Sido smiled at her daughter, loving the excitement she could see there, before she looked at Bruce and mouthed a thank you.

He only nodded in that nervous way of his, his nerves still getting the best of him. There was a sick feeling in his gut as he watched his wife and her mother walk toward the elevator of his apartments. He couldn't rid himself of a terrible foreboding but he had no real good reason to keep his wife on lock down. Jenn and JARVIS were monitoring everything to do with the LIFE Foundation and, last he checked, Tony had gotten in touch with Nick Fury to add SHIELD to that monitoring. Ana and Sido were going to be well watched and there was a team on standby should anything happen.

Still, he didn't feel any better about it.

-o-

The Limelight Marketplace was an indoor marketplace housed within a landmark historic church. It used to be a famous nightclub before it was shut down and the marketplace was built in its place. Having more than 60 shops to choose from, there was a designer maternity store for the local high rise mothers-to-be. Once a new wardrobe was achieved, mother and daughter continued on their shopping, looking at various jewelry stores and shoe stores.

This was the first time in so many months that they were able to go out and be normal like any other mother and daughter. Both women were enjoying it immensely.

When they had their fill of shopping, they had gone to one of the local restaurants to enjoy a nice brunch, before deciding to call it quits. They had been gone for several hours and Ana was getting quite antsy to get back to her aunt, husband and brother and sister. Sido was also feeling that anxiousness. The familial link that had always been among mother, aunt and daughter had grown to include Bruce, Tony and Pepper. They had become a family now, a pack...

"Mama," said Ana, catching Sido's attention. "I'm going to go to the ladies' room, is Yann nearby?"

Sido glanced around and caught sight of the large, broad-shouldered man who was her constant companion. He was sitting at a table nearby, lightly picking at a piece of steak. He caught Sido's eye and winked. A faint blush touched her ivory cheeks as continued scanning the patrons of the restaurant. She had caught sight of Tony's man, Happy, on the other side of the restaurant, reading a newspaper and sipping a coffee. "Yes my angel, go on."

Ana got up from her chair, maneuvering around their many shopping bags, before she stopped beside her mother to press a kiss against her cheek. "Thank you for today Mama, it was fun. I missed this."

"You're welcome my sweet. Now go before the little ones press you further."

Ana's laughter was sweet as she walked off toward the restrooms, a light skip in her step while a hand rested lightly on her growing belly. As she disappeared into the restroom, she did not see the janitor who was emerging from a cleaning closet further up the hall, a mop in hand as he rolled a yellow bucket on wheels ahead of him. He had a cap held low over his eyes as he studied the door to the ladies' room before setting the mop aside and glanced around, making sure no one about. He slipped inside, his lean form tense...

-o-

Ana had found the ladies bathroom to be empty and she let out breath in frustration as she moved to an empty stall, feeling the babies pressing urgently against her bladder. Once that personal business was done, she left the stall as the toilet automatically flushed. She moved to one of the sinks to wash her hands, setting the water to warm as she got soap. It was as she was lathering her hands that the door opened and a man in a janitor's outfit came in. She caught sight of him in the mirror and immediately grew tense.

The man had removed his cap and his light brown hair fell to the sides of his temples. A light smile touched his lightly weathered features as his light gray eyes studied her. "Well, well... 01. We finally meet face to face." He had tossed the cap aside as he moved in a lazy way, his gaze roaming over her. "I have to say, Banner had gotten lucky in finding you, hadn't he?"

Ana let out a snarl at the name, a light yellow glow appearing in her eyes. She did not like the smell of this one. He was like Bruce but... something was off about him. This one meant her harm.

The man laughed lightly as he stopped walking, watching as Ana turned swiftly around, her arms moving about her baby bump in a protective gesture. On her right wrist, she used her left forefinger to press a little button that was on her silver bracelet. An electronic signal emerged, an alarm calling out and reaching every available agent on Yann's team, Happy's team and any available SHIELD agent that may have followed them.

This one had gotten close... Too close...

The man had glanced down at surprise at the sight of the pregnant belly and his smile grew before his laugh emerged. "God, he didn't wait long did he? I can only imagine... It's going to be a shame really. Nothing against you but your man and I have some unfinished business. If getting to you is the only way to get to him, well..." He took a step toward her but not before the door to the bathroom was kicked open. The man whirled around on his heel, his smile turning into a sneer as he watched the large man who stood in the doorway.

Yann had his gun raised, the sight of a red dot wavering slightly between the man's brows. "I would suggest stepping away from the young woman..."

"Really," said the man, his laugh was borderline maniac as he turned to face Ana. "You want to do this here? This way? All right then... The quicker to get Banner here, the better."

"I would suggest you listen to the man if you value your life," said Ana, her voice mixed with snarling growls as she backed away against the sink counter. This man meant to harm her mate. No, he would not. She would not let him harm her mate or her young.

"I would be more worried for yourself," said the man before he suddenly pulled out a gun from the waistband of his pants. He managed to fire off two rounds in quick succession before he was shot from behind by Yann. The shots made their mark in the man's back, causing the man to stagger toward Ana from the force.

Ana had a shocked look on her face as she reached up to touch the two darts in her neck. In no time, the yellow glow in her eyes dulled and she slumped against the counter, the tranquilizer taking effect. The man had managed to catch Ana before she fell and he laid her on the floor in a less than gentle way. Yann had moved forward and grabbed the man from behind to pull him away from Ana's slumped form but not before the man looked at him.

Despite being shot, he did not look the least bit hindered. He reached up to wrap his hands around Yann's forearms and his grip tightened, the sound of breaking bones a nasty one. Yann gave out a harsh cry as the man flung Yann over his back and to the floor. He moved forward to place his foot over Yann's throat. "You should have left well enough alone. You might have survived," he said before he stomped down, effectively crushing Yann's throat and breaking his neck...

-o-

"Come on Mrs. Brandt, we have to move!"

"Non! My daughter is still in there!"

Sido was finding herself being dragged out of the marketplace by Happy, the screams from the other shoppers at the sound of gunshots drawing chaos. Hundreds of people were running to the exits, trying to get to safety. Sido was not one of them.

The moment the electronic light on her own silver bracelet had gone off, Yann had rushed to the bathroom. Sido had made to follow her companion but Happy had blocked her and instead dragged her out of the restaurant altogether. She was putting up one hell of a fight but Happy was a strong man and dealt with the blows the French woman bestowed upon him as she cursed at him in her native tongue.

"Mr. Stark would kill me if anything happened to you," he said as he continued pulling Sido outside toward the sidewalk. "Your man will make sure Ana is ok. That is what you pay him for."

"Let me go!" she cried, trying to twist her arms from Happy's grip. Behind them, where the shoppers had run for their lives, several black cars were pulling up to a skidding stop on the curb in front of the old church. SHIELD agents had heeded the cry for help they had received from one of the Avengers members.

Sido's protests continued in vain but were effectively cut short the moment a great shuddering could be felt on the ground. All the crowds that had gathered out on the sidewalks and all cars that had driven on 6th Ave were brought to an abrupt halt when a massive creature crashed its way out of the historic landmark, flinging brick and pieces of stained glass every which way.

Silence fell as the monster from Harlem stood there, its thirteen foot frame riddled with exposed bone and murky green, muscled skin. The Abomination stared at the crowd before a low grumbling chuckle escaped him. In his right hand, he carried the unconscious form of Anamaria Banner, his grip around her firm; one might say it looked painful.

"I have an audience," he said. "Hm... Well, can't disappoint can I?" He looked around before he took a shuddering step forward and let out a bellowing roar that echoed for several blocks around. That was all it took before screams emerged and people began to run, cars began to crash, and chaos erupted even worse than before. The SHIELD agents that had arrived to help had not been expecting to come face to face with the Abomination and were already notifying headquarters as aimed their weapons. They knew they couldn't defeat this thing but they could try to distract it...

The Abomination watched all of this with a satisfied air, wondering how long it was going to take the Hulk to show his ugly green hide. He did not notice the dark-haired, pale woman who had elbowed the man who had held her in the gut. He had released his hold on her, bending over as he wrapped an arm around his stomach. The woman had grabbed the gun that the man had at his side and she aimed.

A well placed bullet knocked the Abomination against his temple and he grunted in annoyance, the bullet only grazing his thick hide. He looked around, his eyes scanning the agents in dark suits who were taking cover behind their black cars, before they settled on an unexpected sight of a woman. She was aiming a gun his way and the look in her pale blue eyes was fierce.

"Emil Blonsky," she called out to him, her breath heaving from the adrenaline rush. "Release my daughter."

The Abomination smiled, recognition touching his monstrous features, his jagged teeth a nasty sight, as he adjusted his hold on Ana's form. "Sidonie DuPont. You made quite a few enemies..." He shook his massive head as he took a few lumbering steps toward the woman and towered over her. Sido did not show any signs of fear as she aimed the gun higher, her pale blue eyes growing fierce with maternal instinct.

"Let my daughter go..."

"I don't believe I will," he said, staring at the woman thoughtfully. He had to admit, she had plenty of balls standing there and not showing an ounce of fear. "Your daughter is my ticket to getting Banner here. After that, I don't really care if you take her or if the LIFE Foundation does."

Sido fired off another shot, this time the bullet grazing him right between the brows. "You will not harm my son or daughter! Let her GO!" She fired off another shot, the bullet grazing off of the monster's massive, bony chest.

The Abomination growled deeply as he tightened his hold around the woman in his hand. "I think... you need to get out of the way..."

Sido barely had time to react before the monster's massive left hand had smacked her out of the way. The force of it had sent her flying toward the destroyed church, through a broken window pane, and landing in a bloody heap on the destroyed third level of the marketplace. The pain in her broken body was beyond words but the pain in her heart was worse...

She struggled to open her eyes, a weak cough escaped her and blood erupted. She tried to focus her gaze but all she could see was the blurry outline of something sticking out of her chest...

The tears welled in her eyes as she thought of her daughter and how she had failed...

Her sister would be so angry with her...

Bruce had been right...

Ana... I am sorry... my angel...

The pain was not so bad now...

Maybe she should close her eyes and rest...

Yes, rest would be good...

She had her family waiting for her and she couldn't be so tired...

She'll just close her eyes for a moment...

Just a moment...

 

Chapter Text

Though your hands may bleed

And your body may lie broken

The rage you feel

Will consume you and destroy you

Let this rage inside you die.

Every storm must soon give way.

Raise your head up high

Raise your head up high

So the heavens hear you cry

Light the brightest fire,

From the highest mountain

So the whole world knows

That your spirit can't be broken...

ResolutionVNV Nation

I saw you cry today

The pain may fill you

I saw you shy away

The pain will not kill you

It has to end

Living in your head

Without anything to numb you

Living on the edge

Without anything to numb you

It has to end to begin...

NumbSia

-o-

Chapter 47: The Rage Inside

The rage inside of him was building.

It was building at an alarming rate and the anguish had caught him off guard. It struck him in such a terrible way that he had dropped the tablet he had held, the tightening in his chest growing. It clattered to the tiled floor, the screen cracking in one large spiderweb that rendered the machine useless. It had cut off the signal he had received from his wife's bracelet, indicating that she was in trouble.

He took in a gulping breath as he raised a hand to his chest. There was something he had not been aware of on a conscience level – a tether of some kind within his mind that was linked to someone he cared for. It had suddenly snapped and the loss of it could be felt.

The Other Guy was raging beneath surface.

Something had happened to Ana's mother.

Something that had cut the link among the family, among the pack. He could feel the others: Tony, Jenn, Pepper, and – more importantly – his wife, who was in current danger. Yet Sido was nowhere among that strange mental link. He had not even been aware of feeling such a thing aside from Ana. Had Ana somehow managed to link all of them together on some telepathic level? How had he not been aware of it before now?

The door to his lab had swished open and Bruce glanced up at the sound of it, his breath coming in huge, gulping, gasps. Tony Stark had staggered in, his right hand clutching the glowing orb of the arc reactor in his chest, mimicking the same gasping breaths that Bruce was. His hazel eyes had locked with the green orbs of Bruce Banner and the communication that had passed between them went unspoken.

They both knew that Sido was dead.

"Get out... of here," said Tony, struggling to stay upright as the anguish grew. Through their familial link, they could feel the piercing sadness grow tenfold as Jenn's emotions rippled through all of them. She had felt her sister's loss the strongest of all.

"Go!" he cried out as he winced, feeling the shock and then the sadness from Pepper's emotions. She was a smart woman. She could figure out exactly what was going on with all of them. "Bruce, get out of here! You're going green!" He stumbled forward and nearly collided with a nearby counter that held various instruments used for the lab. "Go and... f-find my sister! Keep her safe! I'll be right behind you!"

Bruce did not need telling a third time and he was staggering out of the lab and toward the nearest stairwell. Everything on this floor had been made to withstand the Other Guy's attempts at smashing things to pieces. He had to get to a level that was not made in such a way...

He struggled down the steps, each floor passing with the anguish in his heart increasing. The Other Guy was yearning to be released. He had to find his women and his children and keep them safe. It was the moment he made it down to the floor below his own apartments that he finally felt it was time. He knew Tony would replace what was needed. He clutched his chest as he struggled through the guest apartment, staggering against several pieces of furniture, before he finally let loose a bellowing roar...

-o-

Captain America's heart was pounding with each passing moment.

It wasn't hard to see why.

Three months earlier, he had been on a mission to find the Abomination in a small town known as Lead, South Dakota. He had found nothing of use save for a few members of the guard who had indicated a man of scientific background who had paid the monster a visit in the Homestake. The man had not been registered officially when he had paid a visit. Which meant that there had to be some sort of bribery involved. There were several changes in staff since then and the ones who had worked to guard the monster the day that man had paid a visit were nowhere to be found. False aliases night have been used. However, all of them had checked out as verified in the US Registry as people of rank in the military before being pronounced as officially dead within the last couple of months. If they were truly dead or gone missing, they were still trying to find out.

The Abomination had gone missing and there was nothing tying him with other people to his disappearance. He had reached a dead-end. He had no other choice but to return to SHIELD with what little info he had procured.

Cut to present time and Steve Rogers was presented with the task of keeping an eye on one Jane Foster. Apparently, she had found an alien being who bore eerily similar characteristics to a current member of the Avengers. One who was searching for some missing kin of his. At the moment, they had been called upon by members of SHIELD who were taking on a particular monster that the Captain had searched for.

The Abomination had revealed his current location and he had within his grasp one Anamaria Banner. This was just going to hell in a hand basket...

Captain America glanced down at Hawkeye and then Black Widow, who were piloting the jet that was taking them to Midtown Manhattan. It was eerie how similar this jet ride was to the one seven months earlier when the Chitauri had attacked this very same place...

Swallowing the tightness in his throat, he glanced back at their charges. Jane Foster was sitting in a seat beside the man who called himself Erai. He was looking tense at the moment and the Captain could see the glowing red veins in the man's neck through the frazzled waves of his dark hair. He was tall and lean and looked every bit as nonchalant as Cin did in her quiet state. However, the Captain had seen the video footage of what this man could turn into. The ten-foot-tall, crimson-skinned, monstrosity gave Cin a run for her money. There was no doubt this alien was a member of the race that Cin was. Cin looked like a watered-down version of the real thing considering she was part of a human. Captain America couldn't help the foreboding that filled him. He wondered if the alien would be able to hold his own against the Abomination. He prayed to the heavens above that they would find a way out of this mess. He only knew it was a matter of time before the Hulk would emerge and followed closely behind by Iron Man.

Would this be a fight the Avengers could win? He hoped so...

-o-

There had been darkness for so long...

He could barely remember a time when he had seen the light and those had been the memories of his ancestors.

They had always remained hidden within the bowels of their home world. The only light they had had been the light of the magma that flowed up from within the core of their planet. It had warmed them. It gave energy and life. However, it was not the light of their home sun. They had lost that generations ago when the Chitauri had attacked them and the Asgardians had not heeded their call for help.

It was not the Asgardians' fault.

The Chitauri's technology had disrupted the Bifrost of their own planet. The message had been sent too late and, after all the devastation and the loss of lives, all that the ancestors in power at that time could do was use the Forbidden Stone in trying to seal away the evil that had descended upon them. That blood red shard, which had been placed with the Pyragians in trying to protect it from all those who sought its power, had been used to pull the realm of Pyragia and the evil away from the Nine Realms in an effort to protect other lives. Their realm had been cast into a separate realm of darkness, a separate reality from the time and space of the Nine Realms.

There they had remained for the last several millennia.

Until one of their own, a Lyttan woman by the Erin, had found a way out. She had been a direct descendant the Olympian Lytta. A warrior in her own right. A beloved sister and daughter. One of the two leaders on the seats of the council of their crumbling society. She had disappeared through the wild portal to who knew where. Her mission: To find a way to save their realm and their dying people within it. There had been a problem though. The Chitauri had caught sight of her when she had made the journey to the distant mountains where she had located the fluctuating portal. She had barely made it through alive with the help of some of the warriors who had traveled with her to protect her. They had lost their lives that day save for one, who had made it back to their underground city to deliver the news.

Erin was gone.

The wild portal had been a one-way trip. It had closed after she had disappeared within it.

Her plan had been to find a suitable being to merge with, to gain strength in knowledge and technology. To find a way to communicate to Asgard. To let their former ally know that the proud races of Pyragians and Lyttans were still alive and still in need of help.

That had been cycles ago. There was talk among the dwindling population that the Lady Erin had been lost. It had been a fleeting chance of her return. Not many had held their breath.

He had not been among them.

This was his sister. His twin. The other half of his shared soul.

He would have known if she was gone and dead, no matter the time and space that separated them...

It had happened the moment the Chitauri had been growing restless. They had been flying over the surface of the barren realm of Pyragia for so long that they had been a common sight to the scouts that ventured to the surface. The moment change had come was when the dark skies were no longer filled with the sight of hovering giants nor of the zipping vehicles of the humanoids. They had disappeared. Their mother ship, the one blight upon the endless expanse of stars and galaxies in the darkened skies of Pyragia, had been blown apart in an expansive array of flame and destruction.

The Chitauri were gone.

He had known then that it was sign from his sister. She had found a way to free them of one torture. Somehow, someway, she had survived and she was still trying to find a way to set them all free.

The celebrations had been immense. They all had celebrated the liberation of Pyragia from the hell that were the Chitauri. However, no sign of his sister had emerged. No sign of the Asgardians, nor of any from the Nine Realms, had emerged. They were still trapped within the dark realm. The ruling council had debated upon using the power of the Forbidden Stone as their ancestors had but the consensus remained. The stone was too powerful to bring back into the fold of the Nine Realms. That blood red shard of a gem, which had the power to distort the very fabric of reality itself, was better left where it was. Even if the Pyragians and Lyttans were dying because of it. The people had sworn an oath to that Ancient One and each new life born to them upheld that oath. The Forbidden Stone was to stay away from the hands of those corrupted in heart...

He agreed with them. He was a part of the ruling council, holding the seats he and his sister would have shared upon her return. She never did return. He was beginning to grow more worried as time passed.

Where was Erin?

It was the moment he felt her that brought his resolve. After nearly thirty cycles, he had finally caught wind of her in their familial link. It had been fleeting, a simple taste of happiness that he had not felt himself in so long, but it was hers. His sister was alive and she was happy. What had brought about such a feeling in her? What had brought such a happiness to his twin that he could feel?

The feeling had remained for some time though, coming is sporadic spurts. The happiness continued to grow stronger with each night that passed. Finally, after weeks of this happiness, it had exploded from within his heart of hearts. The happiness had spiraled out of control and, for a moment, he had caught a glimpse of his sister's mind from their link. He caught an image of a man with green skin and intense green eyes. The man's face was caught up in a moment of passion. His sister's passion was rivaled, her emotions screaming of love.

Mate. Hulk. Bruce... Love... him...

The image and thoughts had faded as quickly as they had come but it had done its job. He knew his sister was very much alive and she had found her mate. That much passion was not felt through a familial link unless it was a strong binding that made it so. The gladness in his heart was hampered down by the thought that his sister may have forgotten them. Had she merged with a being only to forget all that she was?

Her people, her family, would have taken precedence over any finding of a mate...

That had been the moment he decided to find her. He was the only living close blood that still bore a connection to Erin. Their other distant relatives had not felt a thing from their wayward daughter. It was after some preparation, where he had secured his seats on the ruling council with a cousin whom he trusted and gained promise that their people would be cared for, that he followed his link to his sister.

The link led him up to the barren surface of the world of Pyragia, through wastelands and valleys that held echoed memories of a time where lush green oases and a few great rivers had once fed life to this already hard world. He had followed the telepathic link of his twin up into some distant mountains and into a single cave that sparked with promise. He didn't wander very far before he was swept up into the gravitational pull of the very same wild portal that had taken his sister. It had appeared again and was taking him to the exact realm where she had been deposited.

The ride had been wild and erratic, filled with the images of distant galaxies, stars, and realms. He had emerged from the other side only to feel the cold expanse of space. He instinctively held the only breath he had and curled into himself, catching a fleeting glimpse of a blue and green planet below him, before darkness overcame him. His body had exploded with heat and he was pulled into the orbit of the planet below him. It had pulled him, faster and faster, until he had landed in one of the northern regions.

His landing had caused some damage to the surrounding area, which was mostly forested. He had not awoken until he felt a strange hand upon his brow. He had opened his eyes and found himself staring up a strange woman. She was a local of the strange realm he was in. She, and her companions, had taken him to their home, gave him clothes, and time to heal. He could not speak their language so his question about where he was and where his sister was had fallen upon ears that could not understand.

Over the weeks that had followed, he was beginning to understand their strange tongue well enough. He had made out that the woman who visited him each day was named Jane Foster. She was a woman of strong intelligence and was well-respected among her peers. There was something about her that pulled upon his mind. Some strange shadow of a link he could not fully grasp. Intuition guided him to the likely source. This woman was important to someone in this realm who was very close to his sister.

The emotions of a familial bond ran strong and deep among Lyttans and Pyragians should a connection be made. Those who were close with any member of the pack, be it friend or lover, were under the immediate protection of the family. They were a potential family member. The moment the telepathic link of the Pack binding touched a soul that was honored above all others, it was made instinctual to care for and protect that member, should the need arise.

Apparently, this Jane Foster was linked to his sister in some way.

He would protect her.

Sadly, the members of this realm did not treat their brethren with such close regard.

A group of people had come to Jane's home, people she did not trust. Erai could sense the unease within the human woman who had shown him so much kindness. It could not be blamed that he would protect the woman who was important to a member of his sister's new Pack. It had only been the fear of harming her that kept him from losing control over his calm side and unleashing hell upon the people who threatened the calm of Jane Foster. They had taken Jane and himself.

They were separated.

His anger had been given new rise the moment Jane was taken from him. She was safe. There was no need for fear of hurting her. He had changed to his feral state, exploding with power and unleashing all the combustible attacks he had within him. It was his surprise when he found that the chamber those people had placed him in was one that could withstand his attacks. His anger had only grown and the fire that burned within him was fueled even more. They gained in such intensity that one of his attacks had nearly melted the strange glass window he knew those people were hiding behind...

It had been sometime after that that Jane had appeared in the chamber.

At the sight of her safe, he had lost nearly all of his anger. The one link to his twin sister was here before him. There was a still a chance. He had reverted back to his calm state and collapsed to his knees. It had been then that Jane had gone to him and spoke to him in her language, basic sentences that he could grasp.

These people might know who he was looking for. There was a chance that his sister was an ally of theirs... A strange human woman who bore similar characteristics as he did. A human who could transform into a feral creature of red claws and glowing veins. Her power to incite explosive attacks and spontaneous combustion within a living being.

Oh yes...

His sister was one of the few within their realm who had the power to incite enough heat within a being that they would go aflame without an outside source. A telltale power that immediately caught his attention. When these people, a somewhat shadowy council that called themselves SHIELD, showed him moving images of this woman transforming into the feral creature; he had nearly wept with the joy that pierced his heart.

Erin was alive.

She had merged with a human woman, who had found a way to gain allies who had the knowledge and technology to communicate with Asgard. Seeing the Asgardian in those footage of battles was no illusion. He bore the hammer, Mjolnir, within his grasp. The features of the male spoke of a strong lineage. One who was a descendant of the great Asgard king Bor. His grandson perhaps?

He did not know for sure but he knew that this Asgard was an ally of his sister's. The link to this male was strong in the connection to Jane and this role of this Asgardian was clear. He was considered a close friend, even brother, to his sister. The confirmation through moving footage and written reports gave credence to that. However, the fear that his sister might have forgotten her people was also true.

She had no memory of her life before merging with the human that was named Anamaria Brandt.

He had been shown the old reports of his sister's growth within this strange realm the people called Earth. She had merged with a six-year-old human female. She had been captured and tested upon by another group of these people who cared little for lives outside of their own. She had grown with this human child and became fully ingrained within this child's body and mind. She could not separate from this girl even if she wanted to. She had merged fully with the child in trying to protect her life.

In doing so, she had forgotten herself...

She had given some clues of her earlier life based on her knowledge of the Chitauri and the other Forbidden Stone, the stone that controlled the fabric of space itself. She had protected it from falling into the wrong hands. A frost giant who masqueraded as an Asgardian, one who called himself Loki and brother of Thor. She had helped to protect this Forbidden Stone and in doing so had shown signs of remembering herself.

Yet, nothing else had sprung forth since then.

She had instead formed a new Pack, out of instinct, and gained new family along the way. She had found a human male who was much like herself. Calm and small in stature and yet, when provoked in anger or anxiety, would erupt into a large, green being. His name was Dr. Bruce Banner.

Bruce.

Hulk.

His brother by way of becoming his sister's chosen mate.

Erin's new family cared deeply for her. She had found a new mother, aunt, sister, brothers, and mate. It was not surprising that she could not remember. Who would wish to remember the darkness of their world when the light of this one was so much brighter?

The sadness that had touched him was a keen one.

His twin had forgotten him...

However, there was a part of her that still wished to remember her old life.

The Asgardian who cared for Jane, whose full name was Thor Odinson, son of the All Father, had taken his sister and her mate to Asgard some several months earlier. She had gone to find out about her people. She was craving for answers. She still felt the link between them.

It was only when they had finally returned to Earth that he demanded to be taken to his sister.

The people of SHIELD had requested that he wait awhile longer, if only to allow his sister to relax. When he had been told of his sister's pregnancy, and that they were twins, had brought him to his knees in shock. Tears of happiness had welled within his eyes and he bowed his head in thanks to the heavens above. His sister was carrying new life within her. She had formed such a strong bond with her mate that she had become gifted with life from one who was not of her own people. Much as their ancestor Lytta had...

He had to protect his sister and her new pack at all costs...

Now, this was where his path in life had led him to.

He was in one of the strange flying vehicles with Jane beside him and a few members of the special group that his sister was a part of within SHIELD. They had gotten word of his sister being taken by a dangerous creature who might have worked for the same group of people who tortured his twin earlier in her human's life. The anger was brimming beneath the surface of his skin. The anger was heating with each passing moment. His sister was in the hands of this monster. None of the people here were strong enough to take this creature down. Only Jane's reassuring gestures and calm words kept him from exploding.

Jane's Asgardian had disappeared a couple of weeks ago so no one knew how to reach him. The Metal Man, the one his sister's mental link pulled to as – and this pain at this thought was a sharp one – a new older brother, was strong in his suit but perhaps not strong enough.

His new brother by way of mate bond was the only one strong enough to fight this monster hand to hand. However, there was no guarantee of success. He had barely survived their last encounter... Yet, this was his mate and young on the line. A man so desperate to protect his family would prove strong.

He only hoped he would prove to be of help to this new Pack. He would be a stranger among them. Yet, their link to his sister would show that he was a wanted ally.

This monster, this Abomination, would wish he had never breathed life in this realm once Erai was done with him.

His sister would ask no less of her twin.

-o-

~End of part 2~

 

Chapter Text

Ouch...

I have lost myself again...

Lost myself and I am nowhere to be found

Yeah, I think that I might break

Lost myself again and I feel unsafe

Be my friend, hold me Wrap me up, unfold me...

I am small and needy

Warm me up and breathe me...

Breathe MeSia

It's breaking me...

I'm falling apart...

The Fight Inside – Red

-o-

~Intermission~

Chapter 48: Tell Me You're Real

"Tell me you're real... Tell me you're mine!" He thrust up into her tight, wetness. His body was trembling, his hold on her tightening to the point of being painful.

"Always," said Ana in a breathy sigh as she wrapped her arms around his shoulders, her right hand moving up to grasp the back of his neck, her fingers disappearing into the thick, brown waves of his hair. She fell apart in a quiet way, her climax more subdued, while she felt him thrust one last time into her. He groaned as he filled her with his warm seed, several spurts filling her womb, though there was no reason other than to claim everything within her as already his. Marking her as his. She was already with his child...

He was trembling by the time the last pulse of his climax faded from his body but the warmth that was falling from his eyes and onto the skin of Ana's neck continued. He did not release his hold of her, though the urgency of his need to claim her was now softening. He kept his face buried within the crook of her neck and took in a shuddering breath. "Tell me this is for real," he said, his voice muffled against her skin. "Tell me this isn't a dream... I don't want to wake up. You... You..." He took in a shuddering breath as he nuzzled her neck and a soft sob escaped him. "I couldn't live if you were just a figment of my mind... I would never want to wake up..."

-o-

He could never get enough of waking up to the feel of her tangled around him.

It was like he had awoken to a completely different life in a completely different universe.

One where he almost felt normal. He had a place he actually could do legitimate work and a woman he absolutely adored. He was afraid that one day he would wake up and find himself back in his little dingy, one room hovel in Calcutta. He would be alone, in the dark, afraid of what the day might bring that had the potential to set him off. He was afraid this was all some beautiful dream...

-o-

"Annaa..."

His voice was one of the first things that brought his consciousness back to the waking world.

The next was the feeling if his hips grinding against a thin mattress, his hardness seeking a warmth that was not real. An unconscious act that was left over from his dreams.

The pleasure and warmth...

The fact that he was dreaming did not stop the groan that escaped him as his body took over, his muscles twitching, and the grip on his thin pillow growing taunt. He bit back the next groan as his climax pulled him under, his dreams holding the whispers of soft flesh, gentle whimpers, and the promise of a life so much better that what he had now.

The moment his climax subsided, he was left with a feeling of emptiness.

He reached out a hand to the space beside him on the bed, a subconscious act from his vivid dreams, and the emptiness that greeted his reach was declaration enough.

Just another dream...

Dr. Bruce Banner opened his eyes and stared at the space on his right. Before, he had always seen Betty in that spot. His fiancée from a life gone by. Now, his loneliness must have cooked his imagination into overdrive. Now, all that he could see was a pair of brown eyes, thick copper brown curls, and a large, sweet smile gazing back at him from that spot. Her face was never really clear but her eyes and that smile always remained with his waking thoughts.

He took in breath, trying to choke down the lump that formed in his throat as he turned away from the empty spot. He could feel the Other Guy humming beneath the surface of his consciousness, the need for his mate, their mate, remaining ever strong. The Other Guy wanted to find their women. He wanted to feel the warmth that his fiery mate had to offer. He wanted to hold the side of her that was soft and calm, which brought him soothing calm in turn.

Ana...

A name so simple that had changed everything within the span of several months.

He slowly moved into a sitting position before bringing his legs over the edge to settle down on the cold floor of his one room abode. His body trembled in reaction but he slowly stood up and made his way over to the solitary sink that hung precariously against the brick wall, which was across from his sleeping area.

He raised his eyes to the broken mirror in front of him, seeing the weariness in his brown eyes, before he turned on the faucet and tried to bathe the sweat from his face. He ignored the sound of the heavy traffic outside of his window, a sound that was no longer familiar or welcome. Calcutta had been a much-needed escape and reprieve. Now, it was just his prison. He knew that there was a chance for him to be happy. To be free.

Outside of this reality at least...

If only...

He raised his eyes to stare at his reflection. He stared, long and hard, before he frowned and turned away from the sight. What was the matter with him? Believing in whatever strange dreams his mind cooked up? There was no way in hell that such a person could exist. A beautiful woman who understood him, who shared his fears and desires, who honestly knew what it was like to have a monster held within...

He ignored the rising of his heartbeat at the thought of his dream woman.

The Other Guy was craving her so badly...

She's there... Our Mate... Needs us...

He could feel this throat growing tight as the emotions of the dreams came forth. A promise of happiness and pleasure. There was no true promise of peace but she was always by his side...

He pushed those thoughts back savagely to the darkest recesses of his mind as he hurried to pull out his simple clothing. A plum shirt, a pair of beige slacks, and a light brown, very wrinkled, tweed jacket. He stared at his ensemble before he felt a sudden rush of excitement. This almost seemed to be the same outfit he was wearing when he first met her in his dreams.

That first dream that began this entire torment.

Dr. Banner sucked in a breath and tried to calm his nerves.

They had been merely dreams. A strange concoction of his subconscious that manufactured these deep, unfulfilled, longings within him. They were not real. Of course, anyone would dream of having another person who understood what they were going through. He had no one else to relate to. It was only a given his mind would come up with some substitute.

Still, he sometimes wished his subconscious would not be so vivid...

Each day that had passed since he started having these dreams of this woman, more and more of the emotions were carrying over to his waking thoughts. Today was going to bring a change. A good or bad change, he had no idea.

One thing he was sure of. He would not be seeing any of those dreams becoming a reality. He couldn't risk the life of another just because he wanted to be close...

His dreams would have to do...

He turned away from the clothes resting on his thin mattress as he went to bathe as best he could from the slow flow of water from the small sink. He took in a breath, trying to make himself forget the dreams from last night...

Knowing that trying to forget such a joy would be a fool's errand...

-o-

"Tell me you're real... Tell me you're mine..."

Chapter Text

Enemy

Familiar friend

My beginning and my end

Broken truth

It finds me

The fight inside is

Coursing through my veins

The war inside

Is hurting me again

Pulls me under

Without you

The fight inside is breaking me again...

Nothing and EverythingRed

-o-

~Part 3~

Chapter 49: Everything to Gain

There was nothing to lose and yet everything to gain.

The Abomination had a distinct feeling that this was one fight that he would win.

He had the one weakness of the Hulk literally within his grasp: A young wife pregnant with his child.

Dr. Bruce Banner was certain to take his – the Abomination's – life should his young family be thrown into the wrong hands. The Hulk would try everything in his power to kill him and save his woman. Yet, the thoughts of this did not bother him. He already had the upper hand in this situation. No matter the outcome of this fight, young Mrs. Banner would not be home safe with her husband this night...

-o-

The Little Guy had once again, willingly, given him full reins.

It was often this way when it came towards Ana.

Towards Cin.

There was no disagreement when it came to the safety of their women. The only time they had ever come in agreement before was toward the safety of the ones they loved. Betty had filled that void at first... but now...

Anamaria... Erin...

Her true names rang through his mental link with his wife.

Ana and Cin. Two halves of one whole. So much like they were...

The Little Guy knew that the only way to save their women and their young was to allow the Hulk to become dominant and try to defeat the Abomination. There was no war within this time. Now, they were both in sync with their desires: Save their family.

The location of the stores that Ana had gone with her mother was not far from Stark Tower and it didn't take long for the Hulk to jump from one building to another, following after the pull his mate had on him. The sight of destruction here was much as it had been then in Harlem: total chaos and pandemonium. However, it was the sight of the Abomination holding an unconscious Ana that got the rage to a boiling point. With a huge roar of anger, the Hulk had swung down from the tall building he had clung to and aimed straight for the monstrosity.

The Abomination heard him before he saw him and held out the female, her slightly round belly on display and in target of the Hulk's wrath. The Hulk saw this and immediately turned his body in an almost impressive display of flexibility, changing his aim and instead landing twenty feet away against some abandoned cars. Broken pieces of concrete flew in an explosion from the force before the dust settled and the Hulk got himself out of the crater he had made. His eyes were only on the enemy before him, a deadly enemy that now held his mate and young within his grasp. The Little Guy was aching from deep within...

Save her... Save our babies... Our wife... Our children...

"Ours," said Hulk, his voice grumbling deeply as he clenched his massive green fists. "Always. Let... her... GO!"

The Abomination let out a deep chuckle as he pulled his hand close, pulling Ana close, and gently sniffing her hair. "Yours?" he said, his gravely, monstrous voice echoing across the now abandoned street. Save for a few dedicated SHIELD members who stood in alleyways and on rooftops, everything else was deserted. "She is, isn't she?" He sniffed her again and chuckled. "She has your scent all over her... On her... In her... You were thorough with this little whore, weren't you? Found the one female in heat that could take you and you stake your claim." A chuckle escaped the monster, a terrible manic glint in his eye as he leaned down, not to sniff her, but to trail his tongue slowly against her neck. "Perhaps she needs to be shown what a true Alpha male is..."

The Hulk's roar of anger was like music to the Abomination's ears as he turned to properly face his nemesis. "Heh... If you think you can get her back... Then come take her." He tightened his grip on the woman before he looked as if about to brace himself. He rolled his shoulders and then...

He leapt onto the roof of what was left of the historic church before leaping to the building across from it. The Abomination had a set course in mind and he knew that the Hulk would follow. Sure enough, the Hulk was right on his tail, his roars of rage echoing for miles around. The Abomination's large feet were destroying the roof of each building that he ran on. Off in the distance, he could see what he had expected: An unmarked black helicopter making its way toward him.

The smirk touched his face as he caught sight of the large net that was being lowered from the helicopter, opening itself up. He kept on running from roof to roof until he was close to the helicopter to take aim. Since he had a four-foot advantage in height, his longer more limbs meant that the Hulk was having a hard time keeping up. He heard the Hulk's roars cut short the moment the woman was airborne.

The unconscious woman went sailing through the air, her limbs waving dangerously about, before she was caught up in the net. Her body was showing signs of red veins glowing with suppressed heat, her clothing was showing burning holes in various places but more so around her round belly. The Hulk let out another roar, this one filled with pain as he hurried past the Abomination to get to the helicopter that was carrying his mate away. His green eyes were focused on the swaying net that he barely noticed the Abomination cutting in front him and, using his momentum, taking the Hulk by the arm and swinging him back down to the street below.

The Hulk crashed through the brick wall and glass windows of a building across the street. He could hear the sound of screaming and scurrying feet as the people who worked in this building attempted to avoid being hit. The Hulk rolled to a stop but didn't hesitate to get back to his feet. He rushed back out the way he had been thrown and used the building for leverage as he leapt back toward the rooftops. He crashed to a stop, his green eyes searching the skies frantically above. He could feel the pull of his mate stronger than ever now. He followed the link between them, moving quickly across the rooftops. He could see the helicopter in the distance, its precious load swaying dangerously close to the buildings around it. He let out another roar in panic as he pushed his body to the limits. He had to get to his mate...

He could hear the sound of grumbling laughter as the Abomination appeared from his left, slamming into the Hulk with enough force to throw him back. "Hulk... You're not going to win this one..."

The Hulk was getting desperate as he got back to his feet, wiping the green blood from the cut on the corner of his mouth. His eyes were still focused on the sight of the fleeing helicopter. His mate was in that net and he couldn't get to her...

His rage was blinding as, instead of attacking the monstrosity, he turned away and raced in the opposite direction. He could feel the pull of Cin with deep within his mind and heart, the aching pain of being so far from him was making her own anger rise, even while unconscious. If he could keep the Abomination away and follow that pull, he would get to her no matter where they took her. However, the Abomination was not going to give up so easily and was quick to block the Hulk's attempts at trying to get to his mate.

Each attempt at trying to past the bastard was met with pounding fists, roars of rage, and chuckling laughter. The Abomination was winning this round... Simply because, the Hulk was so focused on getting to his mate instead of fighting him. The Hulk, seeing that he was not going to make it, roared and started pounding his frustrations against the Abomination.

"That's more like it," said the monstrosity as he took each hit. "Show me how much you hate it. The weakness... It's eating at you. You can't save her." He raised his fist and threw a powerful punch against the Hulk's face. The green being went flying back from the force and off the rooftops back to the street below. He let out a groan as a huge shuddering thud landed right beside him. He opened his eyes as he held a hand to his head. The Abomination was standing over him and placed a heavy foot against the Hulk's chest. "Such a waste..."

The Hulk growled as he stared up at the Abomination, his hatred for this monster was deep and unyielding. He dared to take his mate, touch his mate... He would die for this.

The sound of a jet flying overhead did not gain the attention of the fighting monsters.

However, the feel of a very heavy projectile slamming him away from the Hulk did get the attention of the Abomination. He was thrown back from the force and crashed into the building behind him, one that was still showing signs of rebuilding from the previous battle in the city. The monster crawled out of the rubble of the ground floor of the building, turning his attention to the sight of blond-haired male close by. The projectile had turned out to be a hammer and it was caught by the male, his red cape flowing from the rising breeze of the power that flowed through him. His voice spoke with an authority that bore no mistake to any who had happened to be listening. This man was angry. "You have chosen your battles poorly this day." He started to swing his hammer, the wind rising around him as his sparking gaze focused on the Abomination. "This family is under the protection of the House of Odin."

And with that, Thor flew forward and swung his hammer, knocking the Abomination clear off of his feet...

-o-

The helicopter that was fleeing the scene of the fight had one particular passenger aboard that wished he wasn't in this situation. Dr. Anthony Parsons had been assigned to join in on the mission of obtaining the specimen for recapture. He was armed with only a single gun that housed tranquilizers which were meant to be fired at the female should she be awoken prior to getting her back to base. So far, everything seemed to be going according to plan. Occasionally, he would glance out the window, catching sight of the female swaying in the net beneath them. Each time he saw her, a twinge of guilt would assault him. Though they had worked several months for this, Dr. Parsons couldn't shake the feeling that everything they were doing now... was just wrong.

He could see that this female was not a project any longer.

She was going to be mother. She had people who loved her and would fight to the death for her. From all he had seen of these people over the months, they cared for one another deeply. How many people had he known would be so willing to die for another? No one in the company he worked for, that was for certain.

Dr. Parsons swallowed the tightness in his throat as he looked at the gun in his hand and then up at the pilot and the guard in the seat beside him. His hand trembled once before resolve gave him the strength he needed. For the first time in twenty years, the doctor finally listened to the nagging voice of his conscious. Quietly, un-buckling himself from his seat, he lifted the gun and fired a dart at the armed guard, the dart hitting its mark in the bare neck of the man. The guard let out a shout in surprise before slumping over in a dead faint. Dr. Parsons quickly got out of his seat and held the gun to the neck of the pilot. "You're going to turn this thing around and land... Be careful with the cargo."

The pilot was caught off guard by the sudden aggressive doctor holding the dart gun against his neck. Not looking to be brought under the same involuntary nap as his coworker, the pilot had no qualms with turning the copter around. They didn't pay him enough for this shit. His job was just to fly the copter to where the passengers needed to go. His passenger needed to land so, he would land the thing.

Just as the pilot was turning the copter, a jet passed over them at surprising speeds. The next moment, something had landed with against the nose of the machine. It landed with such force that the helicopter veered off course and was starting into a tailspin. All within the machine were thrown by the force of the thing that had hit them. The doctor had managed to get himself up right and caught sight of a pair of glowing, yellow eyes staring right back at him. The gender was all wrong. The skin was completely crimson. Yet, there was no mistaking what this creature was.

Its claws were burning with heat as it pried the door open and the last thought that Dr. Parsons had was relief. He wouldn't be dying this day with a guilty conscience. He started laughing, a manic glint in his eye, as he took the dart gun and fired it at the pilot, knowing what was coming. This man didn't need to be awake for this. The moment the claws had found their mark in the doctor's lungs, he was still laughing. The heat that engulfed him brought him a sense of peace. At least, the female would be able to get back to her family. And he hoped that they would get the LIFE Foundation in the end...

-o-

Iron Man had chased after the helicopter the moment he caught sight of the Hulk battling with the Abomination in the streets below. The moment he saw Thor flying down from swirling clouds above, the metal man wondered if the god of thunder had felt the loss of Sido like the rest of them...

Ignoring the battle that was raging below, he pushed all he could into the suit, his flight decreasing the distance between himself and his little sister. He could see her swaying in the net, not moving an inch. Pain pierced his heart at the thought of his little nieces or nephews being hurt.

"JARVIS," he growled but the AI was already far ahead of his master as the visor displayed his calculations of a successful capture should he fire the helicopter down and catch Ana at the same time.

The odds were not in his favor.

There was just too much of a chance of him harming his little sister in the process.

"Fuck," he muttered as he kept on after the copter, the pull in his mind and chest leading him straight to his sister. He kept running scenarios over and over in his head, looking at the local area. The best bet for him was to try to shoot the thing down while they were over a body of water. But the lake was too far from the direction they were going and the nearest river...

His thoughts were cut short as a very familiar black jet flew overhead in the opposite direction. The back hatch was open and a very tall, crimson-skinned, figure had leapt from it. From the height of the being, it had enough leverage so that when it had jumped, it was careening straight for the copter. It was letting out a serious of deep roars and the sight of the fire burning from its clawed hands and feet told Iron Man more than enough. This thing was on his side.

The moment it landed on the copter, it had made the machine go into a tailspin. It was melting the side door and glass of the machine before it had gotten halfway inside. The helicopter continued to spin out of control and with it, the net holding Ana was dangerously close to slamming into one of the buildings.

Without hesitation, Iron Man flew straight for his sister, taking aim and firing an energy blast at the cable tethering the net to the copter. The moment the cable snapped, the net holding Ana began to fall...

He caught her just before she hit the roof of the building below them. He held her close as he landed on the roof. He was careful as he set her down, pulling the net off and away from her still form. His scanners checked her vitals, her body, and the babies within. Surprisingly, with all that she had gone through, there was no sign of physical trauma. He let out the breath he had held before he glanced up, catching sight of a fantastic explosion as the helicopter continued to fall and crash down to the street below. The creature had emerged from the fiery rubble, bending and melting the broken pieces of the cockpit that kept it trapped. The fire had no effect on its crimson hide and the glowing veins were testament to the fact that it was a definite ally. Its glowing eyes immediately found Iron Man and, once free of the wreckage, it took a huge leap up to the building and landed right in front of him.

For the first time, he could appreciate the lineage Cin called her own. This Lyttan male was the real thing. Ten feet of lean muscle and glowing clawed hands and feet, the dark frazzled hair that hung around his gaunt face failed to hide the yellow orbs that stared at Ana. Not paying Iron Man any mind, he gently reached out clawed finger to gently run it against Ana's bare cheek. The moment the contact had been made, it was like a set of floodgates had been opened within Iron Man's mind.

Memories flooded from within him, memories that showed of a time and place that no human had ever known...

-o-

The sight of a curly, dark-haired girl with beautiful russet skin could be seen running through some caves that glowed with ethereal light. She had turned her head to look at him and deep blue eyes danced with love as she waved at him. Love filled his heart at the sight of her. "Brother, come!" she cried, her excitement was contagious. "The lake is just this way!"

She started to run faster but he had no problem keeping up with her. She glanced back at him again and her laughter echoed off the walls of the cave. "Erai! This place is just beautiful!" She danced ahead of him as she held out her hands to him. "Come my brother! My twin! We must dance for the ancestors!"

He reached out to take her hand in his own, the same beautiful russet color, and he was pulled into a dance that had no name save for pure, unadulterated joy. She kept on circling around him, his own deeper laughter joining with hers as he twirled her. Her skirts flowed about her as they came to a stop on the edge of an underground lake. Deep within this lake, plants and fish glowed with phosphorescent colors. The light flowed up through the surface and covered the surrounding walls in a myriad of colors.

"Look my brother," she said, as she kneeled on the edge of this lake. She pointed to the wavering surface as he kneeled down beside her. He looked down at the water and caught the pair of the same blue eyes as his sister staring back at him.

"We resemble one another exactly," she said as she reached out to take his hand. "Yet, we are the two halves of other souls lost somewhere in those Nine realms." She gave his hand a squeeze as she looked up at him, her deep blue eyes showing worry. "We share the same side of their souls and they share ours... I worry we may not find them in this lifetime..."

"Erin," he said, his smile was gentle as he reached out a hand to brush his sister's cheek. The sight of her red veins glowing from his touch was shared by the sight of red veins glowing in his fingertips. "We will find a way out of this dark realm and when we do, our mates will find us."

"Do you think so, brother?" she asked, the smile on her face was bittersweet.

"I believe it," he said, his hand fell from her cheek as he turned to stare at his reflection, his frazzled dark waves falling from the ponytail that kept it in check. "We are still young but our people's lifespans are long. If they have not been born yet within the Nine Realms, they will soon. The longer we stay here, the harder it would be for them to find us. The harder it would be for our people to find theirs. The Bonding of Mates are so rare between our people now... We're dying because we are trapped in this place. We are stagnant. We have to free our people from this place."

"I'll find us a way out Erai," said Erin, casting her blue gaze to the lake. "I swear it... We'll be free as a people and then... we will be free to flourish with our destined mates."

-o-

Iron Man would have stumbled back from the sudden jolt of memories that flooded his mind if the suit had not kept his feet firmly planted on the roof. If he had thought that the link between Ana/Cin and him had been strong, it was nothing compared to what she had with this male Lyttan. This was her real brother by blood. Her twin.

The name Erai continued to bounce around his head as he stared at the Lyttan than at Ana, who had sighed softly from the touch. The red veins in her cheeks were glowing softly before they faded. Ana seemed to be more relaxed than she had been a moment ago, even unconscious she knew she was close to those she trusted.

"Bro... ther..." Erai growled as he reached out a large, clawed hand and settled it firmly against Iron Man's shoulder. He gave it a gentle shake, mindful of how much smaller the metal man was compared to him, before dropped his hand and turned on his feet. "Hulk... Bruce... Bonded bro... ther. Help."

Iron Man didn't need to ask the Lyttan twice what he meant and he gave a firm nod as he backed away from the Lyttan, Ana held carefully in his arms. "Go on Erai, I got our baby sis. Go help the Big Guy. And... make sure that bastard pays."

Erai nodded once with understanding, the smirk on his crimson lips a sight to see, before he leapt from the roof...

-o-

Thor found himself being thrown back against the broad form of the Hulk, the punch from this massive beast was a hell of a lot heavier than expected. The force had knocked both of the Avengers clear off their feet and into the rubble of another building.

The Abomination was laughing at their pathetic attempts at trying to subdue him. He was much stronger now. He was more than a match for them. "Pathetic," he growled as he flexed his massive fists. "Is that all you got?"

The answer to his question came flying at him, several projectiles exploding against his broad frame. He growled as he whirled around, his attention diverted by the sight of a black jet hovering some several hundred feet away. It was distraction enough because the humming sound of Thor's hammer slammed into him yet again, knocking the monster straight off his own feet and skidding down the street, breaking concrete along the way. He crashed against an abandoned city bus, which than crashed into the nearest storefront of the building behind it.

The Hulk was letting out heavy breaths as he got to his feet to stand beside his friend, his rage still brimming beneath the surface. The panic he had felt had abated the moment he felt the calm from his mate through their mental link. She was with her brother. Iron Man had managed to get her back. His mate was in safe hands and now he could concentrate on killing this thing in front of him for taking her in the first place.

The Abomination had gotten to his own feet, wiping the blood from his eyes as he pulled himself out of what was left of the city bus. He caught sight of the black jet flying overhead before hovering low near the Hulk and his blond friend. Its back hatch had opened and let loose another passenger, this one dressed in red, white and blue and carrying a round shield that bore the same patriotic colors. Once this new player to the battle was safe on the ground the jet had pulled away and was flying out of sight.

The Abomination could not believe this.

This was supposed to be a fight between the Hulk and himself. Not against these weaklings.

The Abomination had taken several slow steps forward, his massive fists clenched tightly as the anger began to show. "What the hell is this?!" He roared, his thunderous voice echoing. "This is between you and me, Hulk!" He stopped, his gaze traveling over the sight of the others before setting on the green form in the middle. "You were always weak! Now, look at you! Too weak to even fight on your own!"

The Hulk heard all of this and his growl was deep as he curled his large hands into fists. He took a step forward but not before Thor had reached out a hand to curl around a massive forearm. Hulk looked at Thor, his green eyes intense as the anger began to grow at being held back.

Thor was not the least bit worried of being attacked, he could see the worry in the big male's green eyes. "Do not throw yourself into harm's way my friend," he said, his blue eyes focusing on the approaching form of the Abomination. "You are to be a father. What would your mate and your children do should you be harmed?"

Hulk could appreciate the sentiment but he pulled the god's hand from his arm and pushed him back away. He looked Captain America and reached out to push him back as well. "My... fight," he grumbled. "Stay away."

Both men would have protested but both men could understand the need. This was his fight and his fight alone. One's own honor. If he could not beat this monstrosity to protect his family, what good was his strength? They heeded his request and stayed where they were as Hulk started to walk forward, preparing himself for a fight that was going to be much worse than the last.

He took in a breath as he started running toward the Abomination, his anger rising with each step he took as thoughts of his mate being hurt, of the one who was mother lying dead not several blocks from where they were, filled him. The Abomination was running right at him, a terrible smirk dancing on his monstrous lips, a nightmarish rehash of their earlier fight, though this time it was in Midtown and in broad daylight. With a clash that sounded like two large boulders slamming together, the two monsters crashed together.

This time though, it was the Hulk's force that threw the other monster back. Before they had even landed in a crashing sprawl against the broken concrete of the street, Hulk was already throwing punches. There was no holding back as he repeatedly smashed his fists over and over into the face of the creature he hated above all others. They both fell over and over before the Abomination had taken Hulk's fists and threw him off with their momentum. The Hulk went sailing into the nearest building just as the monstrosity got to his feet and spat out a wad of blood. He wiped his mouth and ran after the Hulk, intending to finish this battle once and for all.

It went on this way for some time, both large creatures fighting from one end of the street to the other, both creatures showing no signs of slowing down. It was a devastating scene and those that were watching knew that they were going to have to put a stop to this soon, or else there would be no more Midtown to defend. It was when the Abomination had taken the Hulk by the neck and slammed him down against the broken street, that the group decided enough was enough.

They were about to make a move when a blur of fire had emerged from the rooftops and down to the broken street. It moved quickly over toppled street lamps, crushed cars, and rubble from broken buildings. It did not stop in its haste toward the two monsters fighting until it had slammed into the Abomination. The explosion that followed was a brilliant sight and what was even better was, after the explosion had dissipated, seeing the massive set of claws that were now stabbed deep into the torso of the Abomination.

The monstrosity stared into the glowing, yellow orbs of this new creature that had come into the fray. The crimson-skinned thing let out a snarl before another explosion of heat and flame erupted from inside the Abomination's skin. He flew back from the attack, mottled moss colored skin ripping away as the pain that tore through the Abomination's senses was the first true pain he had felt in a long time. He fell in against the broken street, more pieces of concrete flying as he landed in a bloody heap. Struggling to raise his head, he looked at the sight of his own stomach torn to shreds. It was already healing but the fact that he had been damaged so easily caught him off guard.

He struggled to his feet, intent on killing the little red skinned shit that came from out of nowhere, when he paused at the sight before him. The red thing was helping the Hulk to his feet, it was taller than the hulk but much skinnier in muscle mass. It said something along the lines of "help" and "brother" before it reached out a clawed hand and gripped the back of Hulk's neck tightly.

The Hulk didn't fight off the thing, instead he focused his green eyes on the Abomination, and a wicked grin appeared. The red thing had pulsating glowing veins emerging from its skin and with each sickening second that passed, the red veins would latch onto various places on the Hulk. His neck, his shoulders, his torso, his arms and legs. The sound of popping and crunching bones and of skin ripping apart was too much for those around them to bear listening to much less see. However, it was like some gruesome car crash, you couldn't help but look.

The red thing looked to be in immense pain but it gritted its teeth as its own skin separated and began to latch on to the Hulk. Glowing heat erupted as muscles, tendons, tissue, and finally bone, were absorbed by the red veins that were now merging themselves with the Hulk's massive frame. After several sickening moments, the last of the creature could be seen at the very base of Hulk's neck, a hint of crimson skin, before the green skin grew over, revealing nothing more than fiercely growing red patch.

Throughout this whole ordeal, the glowing red veins could be seen pulsating under the Hulk's green skin. He had gained two feet in height, he had gained muscle mass, and the moment his green eyes faded to nothing more than glowing, yellow orbs, those watching knew that the battle had just been outmatched.

The Hulk clenched his massive green fists before he opened them. Two large balls of fire could be seen in his hands, the flames wavering underneath the glow of the red veins pulsing beneath his skin.

This was more like it...

Chapter Text

I have no patience

When I see that you are

Filled with greed

The only thing

That satisfies you

Is when

I

Bleed

Illustration of Desperation Raised Fist

It's gonna take a lot

To drag me away from you

There's nothing

That a hundred men

or

More

Could ever do

I'll fight for you

Fight for you Jason Derulo

-o-

Chapter 50: The Desperation

The desperation was hitting at her from all sides.

Feelings of anger, shock, disbelief, sadness...

A melting pot of varied emotions from different people who mattered the most to her. Her pack was in chaos. The matriarch, the Mother, the one who helped to start the pack. The one who had saved her life and that of Ana's...

The link between them, which had been the strongest outside of the one with her mate, was gone.

Sido was gone...

Mama...

The cry that she felt came from deep within her heart of hearts, from her human. It was a cry so familiar. A reminder of how she had been from those hellish days of being prisoner to the LIFE Foundation in their terrible underground laboratories. Ana had felt the loss of her mother and she was keening in pain. Though their body was incapacitated their minds were on full alert. Their babies were all right, despite the stress and the heartache.

There wasn't much they could do to stop the bastards from taking them from their pack, their family, after that son of a bitch hit them with that familiar tranquilizer. It rendered them incapable of moving but kept them aware of their surroundings. It was something only the LIFE Foundation had ever used on her to keep her from lashing out. That was before they had found out about her combustible powers...

Ana was crying out louder, this time in frustration, as she could sense the urgency of their mate. Their Green One was close and he was not happy in having his women too far from him. Despite the strenuous pull on their link, despite the effort in trying to get to wherever she was, something was keeping her mate from getting to her.

Her own anger began to build the moment she felt Ana curling up within her mental walls as she used to before the Pack had formed. She was aching to be back within the safe embrace of her husband and family. She could feel their babies stirring within their womb, their twins getting restless from the stress. They were safe for now but they could sense their mother's and father's distress. For much of their short lives so far, they had been surrounded by nothing but love. Aside from the slight stress Uncle Tony caused in his teasing, which they knew was not meant for anything else but affection, a brother showing his love to his sister. He was family, part of the pack, they could feel the love of their mother's brother to her.

This stress was completely different. They had never known their parents to ever be too far from one another and when their grandmother had suddenly been ripped from the link...

Even they had sensed the loss. They were crying out in their own tiny mental voices, trying to comfort their mother as best they could, though they did not fully understand what was truly happening.

There had been restless moments when they were swayed from one place to another and their mate had pursued them relentlessly until...

He was too far away.

Panic welled up within her. Their link could not be broken but she did not want to be far from her mate. She promised to never be far from him. The panic intertwined with Ana's and they wished they could break through the drug that incapacitated their body. They continued to sway from one place to another when the swaying finally became erratic and then they were falling...

Until a pair of arms had caught her and held her closely as they hovered down to a solid surface. "I got you Ana! Don't worry. You're safe- Holy hell..."

The sound of something crashing caught her hearing, whooshing blades striking air before striking concrete and then metal and vinyl crunching before an explosion echoed the surrounding area. A few tense moments later, there was nothing more than the sound of the burning fire from whatever had crashed before something had fallen to a stop close beside them. There was a familiar heat that moved over her in waves, a familiar scent that pulled on her heart-strings. A moment later, a hot touch against her cheek caused an explosion of memories. Memories of a time she had forgotten...

Erai.

Her twin was here. Her brother by blood. How had he come to be here? How had he known where to find her? She had forgotten about her twin, the one other body that shared the same half of her soul. Just like that, some of memories began to resurface. Her life before Earth. Her vow to free her people from the darkness and the means to go about doing it. She had been so close and yet she had lost the main core of her mission. She had faltered in her duty. She had allowed herself to merge too closely to the human child who had saved her... Yet, they would not have survived if she did not.

Well, there were no regrets in her actions. Without Ana, she would have never survived and would have never known of her mate. The one all Lyttans and Pyragians craved to find. She would have never found him and his own quiet self, Bruce. The beautiful lives that grew within their body would have never come to fruition. She would not have changed anything of the path that lead her to her mate. She was a firm believer in the universe working in such a way for things to take place so that a balance could be restored. A catalyst had been called to bring a wayward child back into the fold.

Pyragia needed to find its way back into the Nine Realms and back with other life. Their duty in protecting the other realms from the Chitauri was long over. The Lyttan who had been Erin had been called forth as that catalyst to open the links between their lost realm and the Nine Realms. To see to the destruction of the Chitauri. Her brother had been called to strengthen that link and to open it further. With her link to brother fully restored, it could only mean that it was time to bring the rest of their people home...

The moment she felt Erai's touch, his link with her reaffirmed itself and she quickly latched on, pulling him into a mental embrace. Ana, sensing the new link and the feeling of pure love, latched on to the link as well and wrapped the mental embrace of the twins around herself. The strong love of the twins was what she needed to feel. It was only strengthened further by the feel of Tony so close in that link and her own babies latching onto the happiness. It brought comfort to her grieving. It only grew stronger the moment the links to the rest of the family attached firmly to Erai. A desperation of need to help staunch the bleeding of the open wound that had been Sido's death.

The love that Cin felt toward her twin was like a balm to the grief the family was feeling. It helped to lend strength to the ones who were fighting the battle with the monster who had killed Ana's mother. It was this desperation to avenge the death of the human woman Cin and Ana called Mama that spurred Erai into action.

He was going to help to help the Hulk, his brother by Bonded Mate.

Cin and Ana simply told their twin to make sure that monster felt pain as much as they had...

Tony had expressed the same sentiment vocally. All Erai did was smile before he had leapt off the roof of the building. He had moved quickly among the streets, after the pull toward his sister's mate. Cin could see through the link with her twin the action taking place. Her pride was immense the moment her twin had dealt serious damage to the Abomination. The moment he had merged with her mate to even the odds in the fight, to allow her mate the honor of defeating this thing, all she could do was let out a mental cry of approval and love. Erai was not her twin for nothing.

-o-

He had moved too quickly for the Abomination to react.

The moment this alien version of the Hulk had landed a punch to the gut of the Abomination, the heat that he felt was nothing like the gunfire, missile fire, or explosions he had experienced in the past in this form. This burn reached down to the very marrow of his bones where it left an ache in his ribs and spine. He had doubled over in surprise as he gasped for breath and feeling, for the second time that day, weak.

He had tried to recover but the Hulk had slammed another punch against his gut only this time his fingers had dug deep into his skin. The mottled green skin had separated with ease at the burning heat of those blunt fingers. His skin, his muscles, his very tissue, seemed to be burning away quicker than his healing factor could allow. The fist dug deep only for the fingers to spread, bypassing intestines and major organs, only for the burning hand to wrap around a thick spinal cord. There was no blood pouring from the wound thanks to the burning heat that emanated from the Hulk's right arm.

The Abomination could only let out a roar in pain, reaching out to wrap his massive hands around the Hulk's arm. He felt every single moment of that hand digging through his insides, the pain beyond anything he had ever known in this form. He tried digging his fingers into the bicep of the arm that was deep in his torso, trying to get a good grip to pull his hand out. The only thing he did was successfully piss the Hulk off even more.

The yellow orbs glowed with heat as the Hulk let out a snarl. "Die."

Without hesitation, the Hulk reached out to grip the massive bony chest of his enemy. His fingers kept a strong grip on the revealed sternum as his right hand twisted. The spinal cord snapped and he roared, letting out a massive amount of heat as fire erupted from within the Abomination. The monster let out a terrible howl in pain as he felt the snap and then there was nothing else but heat.

He didn't feel anything but the burn the moment the Hulk lifted a massive foot and kicked his nemesis away from him. The result was the part of his spinal cord that the Hulk had a strong grip on was ripped from the rest of his body. It was pulled out and the connection the Abomination had with the lower half of his body was essentially cut loose. A gaping wound with a terrible sight of inner organs flailing about was left in the center of his torso. He was thrown back from the force, landed several times, before he fell in a bloody heap against the ruined city street.

His body twitched as the blood poured from his gut, his eyes wide open in shock as the pain registered before unconsciousness took over. Was he dead? The onlookers that were the members of the Avengers and the agents of SHIELD hoped he was.

Having one's spine ripped out was a sure way to putting an end to a fight.

The alien Hulk seemed to think so because he had dropped the portion of spine he had with little regard before he had turned on his massive feet and leapt onto the roof of the closest building. He then began to leap from one roof to another, the pull he felt leading him straight to his heart's desire. He could see the familiar sight of red and gold armor on a distant roof and the moment the sight of copper brown curls within the protective embrace of that armor spurred him on even further.

He leapt over roof after roof until he came to a crash on the roof where his brother in all but blood held his mate safely. The Iron Man had waited for this and he immediately secured Ana's limp form in his arms and stood up. He moved slowly carefully toward this strange version of Hulk but it was not because of hesitation. It was to show the Hulk the care in which he, Iron Man, was handling Hulk's mate. She was heavy with children in her womb and every delicate movement counted toward a worried father.

"They’re all right," said Tony, his gaze focused on the Hulk's face. "There's no trauma. She's still not able to move but she's aware."

The Hulk could only grumble in response as he reached out to take his mate in his arms. He kneeled down on that rooftop and held Ana carefully as his gaze swept over her, drinking in the sight of her. He continued grumbling in a sorrowful way as he moved to sit down and adjusted his hold of her to accommodate the change in position. He could sense her relief in being back in his embrace and he could only lean down to rub his forehead against hers. He could sense his young, his twins, crying out in their tiny voices through their familial mental link. The love and joy of being close to their father again was pure.

The Hulk smiled at this and closed his eyes. Deep within his own mind, the Little Guy was showing his relief and happiness. Their mate and young were safe. This was all that mattered to him at the moment.

Deep within the Hulk, and yet separate from him, Erai was feeling the same relief. His twin was back with her mate. Feeling the deep love and relief between the two of them for himself was nearly overwhelming. All Erai could do was enjoy it. He had not felt such joy since the last he had been in Erin's presence. He had missed his twin and he thanked the universe for granting him the chance to be with her again.

The battle was over for now. They had won.

Yet, all who had saw this battle knew this just another in a series to come.

The question was would the Avengers be ready for what was to come?

 

Chapter Text

Loving can hurt

Loving can hurt sometimes

But it's the only thing

That I know

And when it gets hard

You know it can get hard sometimes

It is the only thing that makes us feel alive

We keep this love in a photograph

We make these memories for ourselves

Where our eyes are never closing

Hearts are never broken

And time's forever frozen still

So, you can keep me Inside your pocket

You won't ever be alone...

Photograph – Ed Sheeran

Looking at it now

It all seems so simple

I remember

You took a Polaroid of us

Then discovered

The rest of the world was black and white

But we were in screaming color...

Out of the Woods Taylor Swift

-o-

Chapter 51: The Aftermath

The aftermath of the battle was quieter than it had been when the Chitauri had attacked months earlier. The fighting had done a fair amount of property damage, the injuries and casualties were still being counted, and members of SHIELD, government officials, and local authorities were quick to get started on the cleanup.

Up above on a rooftop, Iron Man was watching as the alien looking Hulk cradled Ana closely, his deep grumblings of worry and relief a soothing balm to the billionaire. It had been a very close call. They had almost lost Ana...

No one could say how long Hulk had held on to his mate, taking in the calming presence of her, but he had finally raised his head and looked at Iron Man. "Take... her," he grumbled, carefully adjusting his hold on her.

Iron Man did not question why, he knew what was to come, and so he stepped forward and carefully took Ana back within his arms. He moved slowly away, his gaze on the Hulk's massive form as it began to tremble and shake. The Hulk gritted his teeth in pain as he blinked once and then twice, the glowing yellow fading from his eyes. From the back of his neck, a mass of bubbling glowing red veins began to emerge. It grew bigger and bigger before the two long strings of tendons emerged from the mass and stuck to the ground.

It was a gruesome sight as, moment by painful moment, the alien who had merged with the Hulk began to take form. First bones emerged and then normal veins, tendons, muscular structure, nerves, more veins... It continued on and on until the last of the red veins detached from the Hulk's neck and burrowed themselves back into the familiar tall form of the Lyttan named Erai. His crimson skin was growing back into place, his form complete and nude. He took a few stumbling steps back from the Hulk before kneeling down, taking few breaths to relax his body from the lingering pain of separating from Hulk's form.

The Hulk himself had an unfocused look in his green eyes, his body quivering from the strangeness that had happened, from the battles he had fought. Both forms, newly separated, began to reduce in size to their calmer states. The battles were over and they were both so tired...

Bruce Banner was himself again, tired and battered, but whole. He had a smile on his face as he looked at Iron Man, whispered his thanks, before keeling over in a dead faint. Erai, who was behind him, did not faint though he looked just as exhausted. He remained where he was, looking as close to a human as one could. The sweat on his russet skin was gleaming under the sunlight, the tell-tale signs of his red veins visible against the skin of his neck. His blue eyes focused on the limp form of Ana while his frazzled dark hair tousled about in the rising wind of an approaching aircraft.

No one spoke.

There were no words to say.

The approaching aircraft was a familiar black jet. They would have company soon and then who knew what next...

-o-

There wasn't as much damage done to Midtown as there had been from the Chitauri attack but it didn't make the turmoil any less. Jane Foster had seen the destruction front and center from the safety of the black jet that belonged to SHIELD. She had watched as Thor emerged from the sky, as he was apt to do, to join in the battle that was happening between the two large monsters on the street below. She could not stop the sudden joy that erupted from her heart at seeing him once again with her own eyes. She had missed her Asgardian so much.

She couldn't sit still long enough to be discharged from the jet once the Black Widow had finally landed the plane once the battles were finally over. She had to get to him. She couldn't lose him again...

Once she was free, nimbly dodging the hands of one of the agents aboard who had attempted to stop her, she rushed to the battered street. She ran as fast as she could, searching frantically for a familiar red cape and blond head. She caught sight of him standing beside Captain America, looking deep in conversation, and shouted out his name in joy, pumping her legs harder. "Thor!"

Hearing his name being called, he turned his head in her direction and the look in his electric blue eyes portrayed disbelief as they focused on her. "Jane?"

She couldn't stop the sob that welled up from within her as she kept running straight toward him and flung her arms around his neck...

-o-

The moment awareness came to her through the darkness was the moment she felt her fingers finally responding to her brain's commands. They were curling around a familiar larger hand, a gesture that was as natural as breathing when this particular presence was close to her. Her eyelids fluttered slightly as she squeezed the hand that held hers, a soft sigh escaping when she felt the familiar hand squeeze hers in return.

"Bruce," she said, her voice coming out in a gentle whisper. She turned her head to her right to focus her gaze on her husband and her relief grew. For a moment, she had feared that she would never see her love again. Yet, here he was lying beside her, his soft brown waves falling over his brow as he slept peacefully. A soft smile had twitched on the corners of his lips the moment he had heard her whisper. He did not wake and she did not have the heart to wake him. He had been through so much in his endeavors to rescue her and their twins. He deserved to rest.

She closed her eyes and tried her best not to think about the losses they had suffered. It was hard not to when the link that had been between Sido and her was now silent and blank. Her mother was dead...

The sob that had threatened her since she had felt the connection snap finally emerged. A keening escaped her and her body began to tremble as the ache in heart grew. Her mother was truly gone. How could her mama be gone? She was supposed to be there for the birth of her grandchildren. There were supposed to be birthday parties, holidays, family gatherings...

The thoughts continued to bombard her and she curled into herself, releasing her hold on her mate's hand. She wrapped her arms around growing belly and allowed the sobbing to grow, allowed the anguish to find its way out of her. The grief that touched every fiber of her being seemed to flow out, the warmth on the back of her neck began to grow hot. Her red veins pulsed against her visible caramel flesh and her sobbing grew until the sudden feel of strong arms wrapped around her.

"Sh, sh, sh... It's all right," said a deep and familiar voice. She was pulled into an embrace that did not belong to her husband however it was no less welcome. She turned into the embrace that Tony offered as he sat on the edge of the bed to hold her close. "It's gonna be all right..."

"Tony," said Ana, her voice nothing more than a whimper between her gasping sobs. "Elle est morte, elle est morte, elle est morte...Elle ne peut pas être... Elle ne peut pas!"

Tony said nothing as he held her close, running his hand over her copper curls in an effort to calm her. Her heartbreaking words whimpered in French stabbed Tony to his core: She's dead... She can't be... She can't...

Her sobs continued to go on, her trembling body refusing to relax from the death grip she had on Tony's shirt. All he could do was comfort his sister as best he was able, knowing that there were no words that could help ease the pain she was feeling. They sat that way for some time before she had finally tired herself out and fell into an exhausted slumber. Tony carefully eased her back on to the bed beside Bruce, turning her carefully so that way she was close to Bruce, who was still asleep.

He took a step back to look at his close friend and sister in all but blood. A muscle ticked in his jaw before he released the breath he had held. Despite the pain that Ana was going through, he couldn't help but feel relieved that she and the twins were safe. He wouldn't know what any of them would have done had the LIFE Foundation succeeded in their plans. The regret that went through the entire group was the loss of Sido. If she had just listened to Happy and evacuated with the rest of the people she may just still be alive.

Ignoring that train of thought for now, he left the room and stepped out into the hallway of the medical ward. It consisted of a few floors that were directly below the R&D labs and had state of the art medical equipment at their disposal. Bruce, Ana and Erai were now recuperating from the stress of the battles on the highest floor, which was cut off from the rest of the staff of the building outside of Tony, friends and family. Tony had opened up the floors below to the public to offer medical aid to the citizens who had been caught in the middle of the fighting. It was the least they could do since the nearest hospitals was already burdened.

After the battle, the group had retreated to Stark Tower to heal and to plan. A few key members of SHIELD were also there to discuss the next course of action they were going to take to deal with the LIFE Foundation. They had crossed a line by aiding the escape of the Abomination and letting him loose in trying to kidnap one of their own. The damage and casualties they had brought down on Midtown was not going to go unavenged. They had blood on their hands and SHIELD was eager to launch a counter attack. Unfortunately, the people they needed to speak with had their own problems to deal with.

In the span of several hours, the people who had the most experience of dealing with the inner workings of the LIFE Foundation had lost two of its key members, Sidonie Brandt and her bodyguard, Yann. The surviving family were to grief stricken to offer much help so it had fallen on Tony's shoulders to be their voice in their time of need. He had worked closely with Sido, Jenn and her group over the months since the Chitauri attack and so he was the next best thing available to SHIELD at the moment in dealing with LIFE.

Until Jenn and Ana were able to join in the planning, Tony would do all he could to make sure SHIELD had enough to start with.

-o-

The moment Bruce struggled sluggishly from the darkness that had consumed him, his first thought was to find Ana. His right hand was already reaching, searching for that solid warmth that had been his constant companion. The moment his searching hand had found the slope of her shoulder, the relief he felt was like a rush of cleansing water through his system. He pulled her close against him and buried his face within the familiar curls of her hair. The calm that always came from their near to one another was like a balm to his frazzled nerves.

When he opened his eyes to look at her, he found that she was fast sleep but looked exhausted. Her face was flushed and her nose beet red from what looked like recent sobbing. His worry had grown at the sight of her but considering the recent loss they had suffered, it was only to be expected. He held his wife close and rested his head back against the pillow, his hand gently running over her curls. He stared at the ceiling before his gaze traveled about the rest of the room. It was comfortable in appearance but still had a sterile quality about it. The décor consisted of the bed in which they were lying in, a couple of beige arm chairs that were settled beside the bed, a nightstand to his right and a closet. The windows showed a view of Midtown, a section that had not been destroyed by the battles. All the colors of the furniture and curtains were done in off white, creams, and browns.

Bruce recognized the room to belong to one of the medical wards of Stark Tower and the realization brought a sense a much-needed peace. Knowing that he was safe at home with his wife beside him made the rest of the tension ease from his body. He took in breath as he turned his head and pressed a firm kiss against Ana's curls, a large hand reaching down to stroke her growing belly. His family was safe, that was all he could have hoped for...

He enjoyed the peaceful sound of his wife softly breathing beside him and closed his eyes, drifting off back to sleep.

-o-

"Jenn, we have found her."

Jennifer DuPont did not acknowledge the computerized voice that spoke to her. She simply stared out one of the grand windows of her bedroom, taking in the sight of Midtown. She stood as still as a statue, the sound of her shattered breathing the only sign of movement. Her blue and silver suit was gleaming beneath the light of the setting sun, the rising smoke and darkness of the destroyed streets where her sister had gone to shop a terrible reminder.

Her face could not portray her emotions but her blue eyes were overflowing with tears, spilling down her flushed cheeks and landing on the smooth glass of the arc reactor in the center of her chest. It had only been hours since her sister had left, she had given her last hug and kiss with a fond farewell. They were supposed to have dinner this evening, just the three of them as a family. A moment to reflect on the changes of the past year and the brightness of the future that was ahead of them. Now, that was nothing more than a fond dream.

Her older sister was dead.

She had felt the sudden pain of disconnect from the familial link. It was a very special telepathic bond that Cin had tied among them from so many years before, when she had started seeing them and trusting them as her family, as her pack. They were always able to sense one another, no matter the distance. It had been some wonderful and comforting phenomena to Jenn, since she had not been able to move on her own before now. She would always know how her sister and niece were feeling and what they were doing. The missing link among the pack was noticeable and very painful...

"Damn you Sido," her voice emerged from the tiny speaker at her throat, a soft computerized feminine sound that did not give the emotion she was craving to bring aloud. "You and your maternal instincts... Why did you not run? Why...?" The silent tears continued to fall down her cheeks as she wept for the loss of the only sister she would ever have.

Jarvis did not bother her again after announcing that they had found her sister. The computer switched off the connection to Sido's room and left her to her sorrow.

-o-

On the top floor of Stark Tower, grouped within the private loft of one Tony Stark, the remaining Avengers as well as a few members of SHIELD were in deep discussion.

Snuggled against the broad frame of Thor, Jane Foster listened as Stark was devising a plan to deal with the LIFE Foundation. They had been lying low up until now and the blatant way that had gone about trying to capture Ana not only had done damage once again to Midtown and its citizens but had taken the life of one of their own.

Jane did not know the man known as Tony Stark but even she could see the fierceness in his hazel eyes as he paced back and forth. This sudden attack was considered a personal one as far as he was concerned. Just based on how passionate his words were as he argued with Nick Fury, trying to get him to see that what that group had done was tantamount to a terrorist attack. Not only had they broken an unstable monster free from its prison but they had put countless lives at risk, not counting the ones already taken.

Jane understood that Stark saw the woman who was merged with Erai's sister, this Ana, was like a sister to him. She didn't know the details of what had transpired among this group of people in the past from that alien attack but even she could see that they were close-knit group because of it. Captain America, Black Widow, and Hawkeye were showing their support to Stark. Even Thor, who had always shown a concern for the people of Earth, seemed more emotionally involved in the conflict that had transpired. To the point that he was also in agreement with Stark in regard to planning a retaliation against these LIFE people.

The only person who was against taking any sort of immediate action was Nick Fury and his reasoning wasn't all that convincing, even to himself. The other SHIELD members with him, Agent Coulson and Agent Hill, did not voice their opinions on the matter. She wasn't sure what they were thinking but she could see tenseness on Agent Coulson's face where the few times before she had seen him as impassive. He must have had some thought to what they should do and if Jane had a guess she was sure it would be leaning in support of Stark as well...

The sound of a huge thud on the coffee table in front of her made Jane jump slightly in surprise. Thor had carefully moved away from Jane's embrace to lean forward in the black leather couch they were now occupying. He had set his hammer down on the table, gaining everyone's attention as he did so.

Seeing that all eyes were on him, Thor allowed the frown on his face to deepen. He focused his gaze on Fury as he clenched his fists, taking in a deep breath. "Regardless of what you may decide, know that this was a direct attack on the House of Odin. My father will not take such an attack against two members of his household lightly. It will be considered an act of war."

At these words, Fury's one eye had widened and, true to his namesake, focused his indignant gaze on the Asgardian. "Are you threatening my planet with war?"

"Not your realm," said Thor in reply, his gaze holding Fury's own. "Against these groups of cowards, these people who call themselves LIFE Foundation." He lifted his right hand and pointed a single finger at Fury, his cheeks turning flushed with suppressed rage. "If your justice system will not bring these cowards down for the harm they had caused not only to the people I consider as my friends and allies but to your very own citizens, my father will see to it that it is done. Heed my word Fury: Deal with these cowards now or Asgard will intervene in your stead."

Chapter Text

Now peace is so hard to find

We're terrorized and victimized

But that's when I close my eyes 

And think of you to ease my mind

You take me to another place

There's no more war

Just love and grace

Baby you restore my faith

I know the struggle's not in vain

When it's cold outside

There's no need to worry 

Cause 

I'm so warm inside

You give me peace

When the storm's outside

Cause we're in love

I know

It'll be alright

Alright

It's alright...

Refuge (When It's Cold Outside) John Legend

-o-

Chapter 52: The Day was Beautiful

The day was beautiful and sweet, the sun shining beyond a few pale wisps of clouds that were pushed along by the cold breeze. The surrounding trees, mostly bare of their leaves, had a few stubborn leaves that danced upon the gentle prodding of the same breeze. Down below in an open sloping field, on the leaf covered grounds of a grand estate, a small group of people were standing around two stone slabs in the ground. It was close to three other stone slabs, two of them bearing the name of the Dupont clan and one of Brandt.

The day, as beautiful as it was, seemed to be mocking those gathered around the grave markers, their heads bowed in solemnity. For despite how sweet the day, it was a day of pure sorrow. Those who were gathered were closest to the ones who had passed. A true family.

Sidonie Brandt nee Dupont was buried near her parents on the grounds of their estate in France. She was beside the first love of her life: her husband who had died of an illness many years before. Yannick, (known as Yann), who had been Sido's bodyguard in the public eye and her lover behind closed doors, was given the honor of being buried on the right side the woman he loved, to guard her in death as he had in life.

The small group of people were paying their final respects, a last hurrah before a new chapter was to begin. The couple who stood at the head of this small group had their hands intertwined, the woman's round belly showing that she was very heavy with the life she carried inside her. The lives that had been lost had not died in vain and they would not be forgotten.

Bruce would make sure that Ana would be all right…

-o-

Ana was sitting on a stone bench that was nestled among some bushes, her gaze focused on the fountain that spouted in the middle of the lily pond some distance away. The last time she had been here, it had been a joyous time. One in which her aunt had moved on her own for the first time in a long time, where her love for Bruce had been brought to seed within her womb, where her mother had been alive…

She absently rubbed her belly, feeling the rolling movement of one of the twins reacting to her touch. She allowed a soft smile to tilt her lips upwards and she glanced downwards, her deep brown eyes filled with a wistful sadness. "Hello mon petit," she said in response to the movement. "Which one of you was it that moved? It's hard to tell..."

It had been a month since the funeral.

How the time had passed, Ana did not know. She only knew that each day had bled into the next. An endless stream of hours that didn't register with her grief-stricken mind. She wasn't the only one to have fallen into such a state. Her Aunt Jenn had locked herself away in her room the day after the funeral and refused to move an inch. She didn't eat or drink anything, she refused whatever aid that was offered to her. Thankfully, she was still connected to Jarvis. Tony had issued commands to the AI to take full care of the quadriplegic woman. The end result was that Jarvis had taken full control of her suit, ensuring that she got the vital nutrients and movement her body required to keep from failing.

Jenn had not said anything or done anything in response. She didn't refuse the AI's help but she certainly was not being an active participant in her own wellbeing. It seemed the only one she wanted close to her was Jarvis. And Ana of course…

She was completely catatonic save for the time Ana was with her. This past month meant that Ana had been spending day in and day out with her aunt, making sure that she was at least responsive to another human on a regular basis. If Ana had not been so concerned about her own unborn children, she was sure she would have fallen into the same deep, dark abyss of grief that her aunt was currently in and her own health giving way…

However, she didn't and she couldn't.

For her own grief, Bruce had been her anchor. He was there with her through every moment of the day and night. Holding her when she cried, being calm and patient when her own irrational anger flared thanks to the grief mixed with the pregnancy hormones, loving her when she was about to drown in her own tears and craving something tangible to keep her afloat…

Her husband had taken his vows to heart and he was doing all he could to ensure his wife did not lose her own sanity in the process of trying to be an anchor for her aunt.

This past month had been trying emotionally and physically for the family. Thankfully, Tony Stark and Pepper Potts had been there to handle everything else. They had taken care of overseeing the pharmaceutical company the sisters owned but it was Pepper who had overseen the details of the funeral and the reading of the will. Of course, Ana had inherited Sido's portion of the business but recent changes had been made to the will about a month and a half before Sido's death.

She had officially claimed Bruce as one of her beneficiaries with a few stipulations that had come into effect thanks to a life changing decision he had made. Even if they were to have never married, even if life had been crueler than it had been and they had never made it as a couple, Sido had been thankful to the man for bringing her daughter the type of love that Ana never would have truly known with anyone else.

He would have been financially well off and would have had no need to ever be around any other human while struggling to keep his calm day to day. He would have been able to live in relative peace away from everyone and everything just because he would have had everything he needed to see him through. However, because he had married Ana, he now had gained even more of the inheritance of the Dupont-Brandt family fortune. He now owned thirty percent of the portion of the inheritance Ana had gained and was in possession of some incredible stock, bonds, and other investments within the company. With the company merging with Stark Industries not too long ago, that inheritance was a considerable amount. Not Tony Stark rich, but he was very well off.

This had no bearing on anything though.

Bruce's only concern was for the woman he loved more than his own life and for his children that she carried within her. He didn't care about wealth. He only cared that his family would be taken care of. The matriarch of the family had seen to it that his family would never want for anything, for which one could say he was very grateful for…

"You are… crying…"

The deep voice that spoke reached through the cloud of grief that hung over Ana's senses. She had paused in her ministrations of rubbing her pregnant belly, being twenty-two weeks pregnant with twins a fact she was still getting used to. She raised her eyes and focused her gaze on the tall, russet-skinned man with the long, frazzled dark hair. He stood a yard away from her, his deep blue eyes studying her with a look that was a mix between longing and caution. He was dressed in beige slacks and a red polo shirt, his large hands were clenched at his sides as if he were trying to keep himself from reaching out.

Ana gave a small but very warm smile to the man who was Cin's- Erin's- twin brother. By extension, he was her half-brother, since they shared half the same DNA. The past month had given Ana and Erai some time to get to know each other, though it was rare they had a moment alone. However, it helped that Cin was remembering her time from a life gone by and the love that overflowed from the depths of her heart for her twin rivaled that of her love for Hulk. Ana couldn't help but be affected by such love between the twins and her own love for Erai had been quick to grow. She sometimes wondered if her own twins would have such a connection. From her understanding of Lyttans and Pyragians, there was always a strong mental link among the pack, the family. When it involved twins though, the mental link between them was the strongest of all.

Wiping the tears from her cheeks, she let out a shuddering sigh. "I do not mean to but I can't help myself it seems. The hormones..." she said, trying to explain but not being able to find the words. She fell silent when she caught the understanding look in Erai's eyes. Of course, he would know; he would understand better than anyone. He had a mental connection to her and could feel what she felt. It still took some getting used to.

Calming her troubled emotions, she moved along the bench and reached out to pat the empty space beside her. Something inside of her had shifted at that moment, whether it was from the longing she had seen in his blue eyes or the pulse of heat from the base of her neck which spread throughout her body, the deep feeling of mutual longing overcoming her, she gave in to the feeling. A month had passed and they had not had true time alone together, to truly get to know one another. "Come on then, sit down, mon frère."

He didn't move at first, his blue gaze studying her a moment longer before he finally took the first step. He took another and another until his hesitant steps finally bought him to the bench. He was slow in his movements, as if he were afraid he would startle her, as he turned around and sat down on the bench beside the woman who was (and wasn't) his sister. The silence between them was uncomfortable at best and the Lyttan man wasn't sure how to proceed. This was his sister and yet…

Ana decided enough was enough. She reached out and took his large hand in her own. The moment their hands clasped, red veins flowed down the length of their arms, wrists and fingers. Their bodies had recognized each other as they did so many years ago and all at once, the uncomfortable silence melted away to familiar comfort.

-o-

During the month that had passed, SHIELD had been working closely with Stark Industries in the hopes of locating those that called themselves the LIFE Foundation. Despite their best efforts, the group was very good at hiding themselves. Like Ana's group, they had a way of staying completely off SHIELD's radar and it was something that those closest to the family were not happy with. Thor had to once again leave Earth to return to Asgard, summoned by his father to deal with recent skirmishes that had been building up in the other realms. He was going to bring the news of the attack upon Ana and her family, the attack against a member of the House of Odin, to the All Father.

A month was too long for the Asgardian to wait for SHIELD to deal with this problem, he was going to ensure that this matter was dealt with and quickly. Normally, the All Father would not bother in the affairs of Midgardians. In fact, he was quite against associating with that particular realm at all if it could be helped. However, he had accepted Ana and her mate as members of his House, which meant she was under his strict protection. The fact that she had been attacked would not go over well with the King of Asgard. It would mean that Odin would not hesitate in granting whatever his son wished to ensure that those who attacked the ones under his protection would be captured and brought to judgement.

With the Abomination back in custody, the LIFE Foundation had fallen silent once again, slipping back into the bowels of whatever hole they had crawled out of. It was a needed reprieve but those that were keeping watch over the family kept a close eye out for anything out of place. They were not going to be caught off guard again…

-o-

Being twenty-two weeks pregnant meant another ultrasound to determine the growth and health of the babies. It also meant another thing: Finding out if the twins would be boys or girls.

It was a bright spot that Bruce and Tony had been looking forward to. The good doctor could admit that he was nervous. Finding out that his wife was carrying twins was one thing but finding out if he would have to worry about sports or scaring off boys was another thing altogether. Not to mention that they were not fully human… He was worried there was no doubt of that. Yet it was such a beautiful reprieve from the aching grief that had been constant with his wife the past month. Ana was excited about the ultrasound but so achingly happy it was infectious. Tony was a nervous wreck though he tried to play it off in his usual cool manner: Not caring either way.

For once in a rare moment, Jenn was active and aware. She was moving on her own and waiting with the rest of the family to find out what to expect in either potential nieces or nephews. Pepper was there, a close and much needed member of the pack with all that had happened. Erai was there, the uncle from Cin's side of the family, and Jane was there as both support to the Lyttan and standing in place for Thor, who could not make it for obvious reasons. Happy was there as well, mostly out of respect.

The woman who had done the ultrasound the first time around was there to check on the progress of her patients. She had been excited to be flown out to the beautiful country of France: An all-expenses paid trip for her and a significant other. She had taken her only child with her, a young son who was seven. It was an adventure for the young boy to go out of country and spend time with his mom. In return for such an opportunity, Teresa was keen to make sure her patient and her family would be happy with the care she gave.

It was in the Dupont home, in Ana's bedroom, that the ultrasound was taking place. Teresa knew what to expect this time around and she was just as excited as the rest of the family to find out what the twins would be. She was proficient in her movements as she rolled the ultrasound wand over Ana's growing belly, her eyes studying the monitor as the image began to form. A few keystrokes and a few more rolls of the wand took place before the image solidified.

The twins could be seen embracing one another but they were side by side this time, their little areas bare for all to see. It was a perfect view from an ultrasound perspective and Teresa was nearly elated to tell the news to the mom and dad to be.

"You should be so proud!" she said, her smile growing with each passing moment. "Boys to pass on the family name..." She paused as she rolled the wand over once more, studying the image closely. "Girls to nurture the family name..." She looked at Bruce Banner and his wife, her smile was honest and genuine. "You will have the best of both worlds. A boy and a girl. A beautiful set to make a family like yours complete."

Bruce could feel the relief and the fear at the same time. He would have the best of both worlds…

Ana laughed with relief, her heart filling over with love. "A boy and girl… Just like their mother and uncle!" She looked over to Erai, her smile filled with joy. The Lyttan could only return the smile, his own heart filling over with love. Of course, the twins would be like the original twins, it ran in the family.

Ana was giggling as she settled her brown gaze to her husband. "A boy and girl, mon amant, can you believe it?" She took his hand and pulled him down for a kiss. He was more than happy to return the kiss though his thoughts couldn't help but focus on the fact that he would have to worry about both potential sports and scaring off boys…

"So… Names? I suggest Tony and Pepper Jr.," said Tony, his smile both smug and sweet.

Neither Bruce nor Ana said a thing to Tony's suggestion in names for their twins. They were still caught up in the fact that they were having both a boy and girl…

Chapter Text

I've dealt with my ghosts and I've faced all my demons

Finally content with a past I regret

I've found you find strength in your moments of weakness

For once I'm at peace with myself

I've been burdened with blame, trapped in the past for too long

I'm movin' on

At last I can see life has been patiently waiting for me

And I know there's no guarantees but I'm not alone...

I'm Movin' On – Rascal Flatts

-o-

Chapter 53: The Days Turned to Weeks

The days turned into weeks...

The weeks turned into months…

The winter had passed them by and spring was well on its way. February had slowly moved into March and March slowly warmed into April. By the time May had arrived, Ana was a month away from her due date and bigger than she had ever been. The twins had run out of room quite a while ago but they were thriving on the love between their parents and amongst their family; their pack.

Ana had grown close with Cin's brother over the time since that day by the lily pond and Erai was the needed balm for the missing part that had been Sido's in the pack. With the pack losing and gaining a new member, Ana had found herself taking the place of head, which had been her mother's place originally. Her Aunt Jenn was still mourning the loss of her sister (though she had been getting better thanks to Jarvis' help) and was in no way, shape or form able to take the mantle her sister had left behind. She had been the beta and now it looked as if that place would fall to Bruce. Ana had been given that mantle of alpha and with her own children due to come in a month's time, she found that she had to better prepare herself. This was where Erai had come into play.

Over the weeks, he had learned the English language fluently and even began to pick up French. He had explained to those within SHIELD and within the Dupont group his origins. The history of his people, their role within the Nine Realms -the universe- and how they had come to disappear. He had explained how his realm, his planet, had been trapped in another dimensional plane with the Chitauri, though he did not explain how that had come to pass. He had explained how his twin sister had been the one to discover a rogue portal in their realm that lead back to the Nine Realms. She had been the one tasked with finding a way to contact Asgard, Thor's realm, for help. Along the way, she had lost her memory of her mission. Hence why Ana was the way she was…

All in all, Erai was there solely to find his sister, who had been missing for some thirty odd cycles. In Earth years it could calculate between twenty and fifty years, depending on a few variables. Now that Erai had found his sister and her new pack, his next goal was to find a way to bring Pyragia back into the fold of the Nine Realms. They had been locked away in that other dimension for so long that their population was declining. Erai and Erin had been one of the last of their generation to be born within the last two hundred cycles.

When Erai had been asked how old he was, he couldn't give a definitive answer but it was a given. He was much, much older than he looked. Not quite as old as Thor but Pyragians had a long lifespan. It was a wonder, since Erin had merged permanently with Ana, would Ana live longer than a human because of it?

It was mystery that Tony Stark was very interested in getting to the bottom of but not while Ana was so heavily pregnant. So, while SHIELD, the Dupont group and Stark Industries continued to work together to locate the elusive LIFE Foundation (which had seemed to disappear off the face of the Earth), the family finally felt as if they could all relax and were getting ready for the arrival of the twins that were due in June.

-o-

It was a wonder why Bruce wasn't permanently attached to Ana.

As the due date approached, he was constantly hovering her, checking to see if she was all right. Did she have enough water? Was she hot? Cold? Were the babies ok? Did she need a massage? Did-

"Mon dieu Bruce! Assez!"

Bruce paused in the middle of going to grab her another bottled water and turned around to look at his wife. He studied her in the noonday sunlight streaming in through the windows of their bedroom in the Dupont estate. She was sitting in a blue armchair, her copper brown curls falling loose and frizzy about her round face. Her hands were resting comfortably upon her large belly and the frustrated look on her face wasn't enough to deter the sudden protective love welling in his heart. Even looking so frustrated, she was the most beautiful woman he had ever laid eyes on. Being heavily pregnant with his son and daughter seemed to just make his love for his wife grow to such an extent, he could never find the right words to describe it. He could feel a prod from the Other Guy and the sudden burst of love from the depths of his mind made Bruce smile. Hulk was in full agreement, as usual when it came to their women.

"Bruce, go call Tony. I want Pepper to come here," said Ana, the frustrated look on her face growing when she saw he was smiling for no apparent reason other than that he was happy. He had been doing that a lot lately and it was annoying her. She was carrying two babies in her womb, she was constantly feeling bloated and swollen in her fingers and feet, she could never get comfortable. As far as she was concerned, there was nothing to be smiling about. "And since you're offering, would you get me a sandwich?"

Bruce's smile only grew, knowing that she was frustrated and annoyed with him but he could feel the deep love she had for him through their mental link. No matter how angry she would get with him, he would always feel her love and he couldn't help the happiness. He moved over to her, set the bottle water down on the end table beside her, and leaned down to give her a firm kiss on her lips. "Sure, I'll be right back." He kissed her again before he turned to leave the room.

Once he closed the door behind him, Ana let out a huge sigh and slumped in her chair. She loved the man dearly but he hovered too much. She felt two kicks against her hands and she glanced down at her belly. She smiled fondly at her little ones. "I know my Sunshines… We need a break."

-o-

Bruce walked down the large corridors toward the kitchens as he pulled out his custom Stark smartphone, one of only a handful that belonged to the immediate family. Jarvis had direct and secure access to all of them and so they did to one another. Since Tony and Pepper had to head back to the States for business two months prior, they had to have a secure way of remaining in contact with their brothers and sisters.

"Jarvis, would you-"

"Already ahead of you Dr. Banner," said Jarvis through his phone. "I could not help overhearing. You will be connected to Mr. Stark momentarily. He is, at the moment, preoccupied. However, I had already notified Ms. Pots of Mrs. Banner's request for her to arrive there. She said she will be on the next jet out."

Bruce paused in mid-step, finding Jarvis' communication a little too convenient, but before he could ask the AI what was going on he was already connecting to his best friend. "Tony?"

"Hey there Big Guy," said Tony, his voice sounding a little strained, instantly bringing up the good doctor's suspicions. Tony never sounded strained, even at his worst moments. "Jarvis told me Ana wanted Pepper out there first thing. Is everything all right? Did her water break? If you need me to I'll fly straight out of Malibu and-"

Hearing the strained tone in the uncle-to-be's voice now made more sense, Bruce began to relax and he continued making his way to the kitchens. "No, no, Tony, everything's fine. I've just been driving her crazy with my worry. She wants a break and Pepper would be a welcome distraction." He made his way into the kitchens, giving a nod to the kitchen staff that worked there. They gave him various greetings in French and English, already knowing why he was there. Many of them had smiles on their faces and were already helping him get together the sandwich his wife was craving for.

"How soon will Pepper be here?"

Tony didn't answer right away and Bruce's suspicions were rising slightly. He seemed distracted…

"She'll be there by tomorrow, she's taking one of my private jets." He seemed to hesitate before his voice came through again. "She's going to be bringing an old colleague of mine along with her. It's sort of a last-minute thing but considering my little sister wants Pepper there as soon as possible I hope you don't mind the extra guest."

Bruce frowned at this and he took in a deep breath to calm his rising heartbeat. A stranger, even if they were an old colleague of his best friend, was still a stranger. They would be close to his wife and unborn children and considering how close to the due date they were, he wasn't too comfortable about it. "Who is this colleague of yours?"

Again, Tony sounded distracted, but his voice was suddenly rushing from the other end. "Her name is Maya Hansen. Don't worry, she was a good a friend mine back in the day."

"You mean an old girlfriend," said Bruce, already knowing Tony well enough to read between the lines. He took the sandwich that was already done by the kitchen staff from the counter, smiling at his employees (it was still a strange thought to him) in thanks, before he left the kitchens and headed back to his wife. "Fine… She'll be welcome to stay here but she only stays in the guest section of the house and stays as far away from my wife as possible, understood?"

"Big Guy, you know I would hurt myself before I would ever let anything happen to Ana or Pepper," said Tony, now sounding like his old self. Bruce couldn't help the smile at hearing the offended tone, this was the Tony he knew. "You know if anything were to happen that would be a potential threat to you and Ana, Jarvis and Jenn will be the first to let you know."

"All right," said Bruce after a moment's hesitation. "I trust you and Pepper. This Maya Hansen? Be sure to warn her what she's going to be coming to. I'm very protective of what's mine. Add an alien brother-in-law and an ever-watchful genius hacker hooked to your AI, you know better than anyone that she's going to be in for a world full of hurt if she brings any trouble with her."

Tony didn't respond right away, there was a moment's silence, seeming as if his attention was elsewhere. When he finally responded to Bruce, his tone matched that of his best friend's. "Pepper's filling her in on the warning. You have my word that if she brings any trouble to your doorstep, you do what you have to keep our family safe Bruce."

Chapter Text

We're facing these giants

The bigger they are, the harder they fall

But I still believe in

The dreams we've been dreaming

The hope that we built on

Is never too far

It's never too far

Family – Toby Mac

-o-

Chapter 54: The Pressure

The pressure was becoming too much.

Ana had no other choice.

She had to get up from her comfy chair and head to the bathroom or she would burst. It didn't help that the twins were bearing down on her bladder.

With some effort, she managed to get herself up and very carefully try to waddle her way across her bedroom toward her bathroom. She almost regretted asking Bruce to get her a sandwich, his help would have been greatly appreciated. As she was halfway across the room, she felt a deep pop in her lower area, mainly around her uterus…

The sudden gush of warm liquid soaking her pants and running down her legs caught her by surprise. Did she lose control of her bladder? Her first thought was to not stain the carpet when a pinching feeling caught her off guard and she doubled over with a pained groan as the first of a series of painful contractions began. She had had them before, the fake contractions over the last several weeks as her body prepared itself for the birth to come. This, however, had never been accompanied before losing one's control of their bladder…

It took a moment before the panic and confusion from her son and daughter started to trickle up through their mental link. Ana's own panic began to build as she realized what was happening. "Oh, mon dieu..."

The babies were coming and they were three weeks early.

She had been preparing for this with Bruce and her family for months. Now that the time had come, she couldn't think of a single thing that could help her in this situation. She was alone and being alone when her water broke had always been her greatest fear. With a whimper, another contraction hit her, and without meaning to her panic, worry and above all fear, was broadcasted throughout the mental link she shared with her family.

-o-

Bruce had been making his way back to his wife, sandwich in hand, when the panic and fear hit him with full force. He paused in midstep, his mind wrapping around the sudden strange emotions bombarding him when his quick wit caught up with what was happening. Dropping the sandwich without a second thought, he was running down the corridor as quick as his legs could carry him, nearly tripping over his own feet as his own panic began to rise.

His wife was in labor.

The babies were coming.

His son and daughter were coming into the world!

The very last thought was what spurred him on and an excited smile, the first that had ever been on Dr. Bruce Banner's face in a long time, emerged on his lips.

He was going to be a dad!

-o-

Erai had not felt such excitement through the mental link he shared with his sister since he had first arrived to this realm. Ever since he had been welcomed into the family, his link with his twin reestablished, he had been washed over with the subconscious thoughts and love between Erin and her mate and her pack for months. It had been so long since had felt such happiness coming from his twin that he couldn't help but linger around her. He was never too far from her if he could help it, at least whenever her mate would go off to grab her something to eat. He would stay a few rooms over during those times, reading various books or perusing the internet, should she need him for anything.

It was one of those times that he was glad he was near.

The moment her panic and fear had reached him, he was up on his feet and tearing through the doorway of the study he had been in.

-o-

There was very little that could get Jenn excited these days.

Losing her older sister had done a number on her.

Don't get her wrong, she loved her niece with all of her heart. Ana, Bruce, and their babies- hell, even the others in this new pack- were the only family she had now. Yet, she still felt isolated from everyone and everything. She always had.

Being a quadriplegic in a metal body that did the moving for her had lost its appeal after Sido's death. The depression that had been a constant in her everyday life was somewhat dulled by the ever-present entity known as JARVIS. Where her family had to take care of their own businesses and needs when they were not visiting her, Tony Stark's AI was able to be in multiple places at once, keeping her company being one of those places. She had to admit, over the months that had followed since she lost her sister, Jarvis – as she had grown to know him as – had become a good friend. Where there were moments when the depression could get so bad that she could barely get up on her own, Jarvis was there to make sure she was able to get up and exercise and take care of herself as she needed to.

Today was one of the good days.

She was up on her own and moving around her bedroom, looking at one of the various servers that dotted the walls. She was still connected to them but on a remote level. Since she had been able to move on her own, she liked to keep up with the maintenance the machines herself, especially on her bad days. It was while she was doing this that all of the commotion hit her from first her niece and then Bruce and Erai.

She froze for a moment before the first real look of happiness appeared in her clear blue eyes. "Les bebes..." She moved away from the server she had been working on, her eyes flicking over to the door before her body began to move. "Jarvis! Ana's in labor! Tell Tony the babies are coming!"

-o-

Maya Hansen was introduced to the family in a way no person would have ever imagined.

On the flight over, the red head had explained to the brunette about the uniqueness of the family she was about to meet. It was during this explanation that her phone had rung. Answering the line, she was notified by a slightly flustered Tony that Ana's water had broken and she was in labor. They were still several hours away from their destination but the anxiousness could be heard in Tony's voice, who was currently cursing himself for not leaving with Pepper so he could be there.

Maya had never known Tony Stark to be the sentimental type. He must really care about this family.

Once they had arrived into the country and made it past customs, Pepper was leading the way out of the airport as she spoke on the phone, Maya struggling to keep up with the redhead's quick steps. There was a car already waiting for them at the exit and they hopped into the backseat. Pepper greeted the driver, a young woman of Asian descent named Cammie, before they were whisked away to what Maya could only assume was one of the grandest old estates she had ever had the privilege to see.

She followed in after Pepper Potts, who led the way into a grand home that was currently swarming with activity. Here and there, members of the house staff could be seen running from one corridor to another, occasionally a staff member that looked like a part of a medical team could be seen as well. As Pepper led the way into the home, they were greeted by one of the tallest men that Maya had ever seen. He was a lean man, with russet skin and piercing blue eyes, his long dark hair was pulled back into a ponytail. It was then that she noted the distinct dark red lines against the visible area of his neck. They seemed to pulse back and forth along with his heart beat. He had greeted Pepper with a bright smile, his piercing eyes flicking over to Maya in faint interest.

Maya could have sworn there was a flash of yellow that appeared in his eyes before his smile faded. He focused his gaze on Pepper and there was a moment of silence as they stared at one another. Maya had the distinct feeling that she was being left out of the loop of whatever was going on. It was only a moment later that the tall man moved to stand beside Maya and reached out to wrap a terribly strong hand around her bicep. Pepper turned around to gaze at the brunette and a slight muscle ticked in her jawline. "This is Erai, he's Ana's brother. I would advise not to do anything rash while you are here and close to our family. Otherwise, you may regret it." She frowned at the brunette, glanced at the tall man, before she gave a nod and turned around to walk deeper into the home.

Maya was slightly confused until she winced, feeling the hand holding her squeeze a little more. She froze when Erai leaned down close to her ear, a deep growl escaping him. "I sense what is on you… Do not think you are going to cause any trouble while you are under this roof."

Maya could not think to reply in any way other than a quick nod.

Although a part of her was beginning to panic.

When this entire ordeal started, it had been her job to lead Pepper to Killian Aldrich. Now, it seemed she was the one who was going to be held captive since she was now in the home of what now seemed to be a dangerous group of people. Her thoughts went down toward the tracker that had been imbedded in her phone that was now giving off her current location. She wondered how long it would be before Killian would make his way to this very location. And she wondered just how big of a mistake she had made by agreeing to this plan in the first place.

Chapter Text

In this world so full of fear

Full of rage and lies

I can see the truth so clear

In your eyes

So dry your eyes

And I'm so grateful to you

I'd have lived my whole life through...

Lost forever...

If I never knew you...

If I Never knew You- Pocahontas - Alan Menken and Stephen Schwartz

-o-

Chapter 55: There was Worry

There was worry, a deep and unyielding worry that gripped her heart. She could admit it. She was worried for her babies. She was worried for herself. This was her very first pregnancy and, with not being completely human, this was a first for nearly everyone involved. Nearly being the key word.

Erai had been the first to reach her since he had been the closest. He had been gentle as he rushed to her side and helped her to her bed, telling her all the awhile that it was going to be ok. Twins ran strongly in their family and the bonus of this: Erai had access to intact memories of how pregnancy and birthing worked for their people. It was something that Cin could not recall very easily. Her memories of her past life were still fuzzy at best even if she was recalling a little more and more as time went by.

She was grateful for the calming thoughts and words that Erai was projecting to her. She was even more happy when Bruce came barging into the bedroom, his soft brown eyes searching about the room before they finally fell on her. He was quick to get to her side, Erai moving out of the way so the good doctor could take his rightful place beside his wife. He reached out brush the copper curls from her brow as she struggled to breathe through a strong contraction. "Are you ok, Ana? How are the babies?"

She smiled at Bruce as she carefully moved herself to get a little more comfortable. "Oui," said Ana, her smile becoming a little strained as she placed a hand carefully over bulging stomach. "As well as can be expected considering that they are coming a little early."

"We spoke about this," said Bruce as he settled down on the bed beside her and reached out to adjust the pillows behind her so that she could sit up. "It's statistically common for twins to be born early. Just try to be as calm as you can." Even as he said this, there was a part of him that was easily panicking. These were his children coming into the world. What if something happened to them? To his wife? What if-

"Both of you, relax," Erai's deep voice broke through the tension, a light smile playing on his face. "I can sense the panic and the worry but you need not be concerned. The babies will be fine, Ana and Erin will be fine. They are strong."

Bruce and Ana glanced at one another, the parents-to-be taking a moment to allow the panic and the worry to slowly ease away to the nervousness that was common to all people who were going through their first birth. There was a calm that Erai was bringing into the familial link that was shared among the family- a calm that was reminiscent to what Sido would often bring when she had been the head of the pack. Sido was greatly missed but Erai had arrived at a time where his presence helped to slowly heal the wound that had been ripped open with her death. Over the months that had followed, while the family had been trying to figure out the new dynamic that had been brought about by Sido's death, Erai had been integrating himself into this new pack. He had slowly been gaining his sister back and with that he had gained a whole new family he had not been expecting. They had welcomed him in as one of their own, his willingness to put life and limb on the line in the fight against the Abomination had earned him their trust. Since that fight, he had been learning all he could about this strange world his sister and her pack called home. He was also doing his own research into the wild portals that would sometimes rip open across all the Nine Realms. In this aspect, he was quite interested in the research and work of his closest friend Jane Foster and her colleague Dr. Erik Selvig.

Due to this close friendship, he was able to begin his own notes and research on the subject in the hope that he would be able to find a way to open up a portal that would lead Pyragia back into the fold of the Nine Realms. There was no stable way for anyone to escape that dark realm. When the ancestors had first used that stone of power to send the Chitauri and themselves to that new reality, that had been the intent. However, Erai had learned that all realms, all possible universes, were interwoven in some way or form. There was always an avenue of escaping from one realm to another regardless of how small or big the opening might be. It was proven since Erin had managed to escape that dark realm and then, 30 cycles later (give or take a few), the Chitauri had found a means of escape by some unknown ally of theirs. Erai had been adamant of finding a stable way to bring his people out of that dark realm since the one tool he could use unfortunately was not within his reach. It had been a slow-going process over the months that had followed but he knew it would be worth it in the end...

At the sound of the bedroom door opening, all eyes turned to find the rare sight of one Jennifer Dupont making her way into the room. Her metal suit was moving with the fluid and grace of a natural dancer as she rushed to the side of the bed that was unoccupied by her niece's husband. Her light blue eyes were alight with a joy that was rarely seen these days and, though she could not smile, her suit followed her brain's command to bounce on the balls of her feet. "Are you all right? How are the babies?"

Ana could only laugh at her aunt's excitement; the energy was infectious enough to make her feel even more relaxed. Almost all of her family was here by her side. She did not need to worry. They would help to ensure that everything would go smoothly as possible with this birth. "I am all right Tante," said Ana as she took in a relaxing breath and eased it out slowly passed her lips. "I am all right..."

-o-

The hours had passed since the initial panic attack that had happened. The medical staff, that had been working to ensure that they had all that they needed to be ready for Ana's delivery, had barely been able take a break. Many were rushing to and from various places in the house to get necessary equipment and supplies ready for a regular birth or an emergency c-section. The more time that went by, the more it was clear that the babies would be making an appearance by that evening. It was only midafternoon at this point and the good doctor had been a nervous wreck with everything that was going on. It had been decided that, though he had his licensing as a medical doctor, he would not be the one to the deliver the babies. He was so afraid that he would make some kind of mistake that the best thing for all parties involved was just to have Bruce there for emotional support.

More time had passed.

Ana had finally gone into the stronger contractions and her dilation was close that soon she would be able to start pushing. She had been offered to get an epidural to ease the pain of the contractions but a harsh growl and a flash of yellow eyes was a clear indication that nothing was going into her system that might affect her babies in any way. Ana was not a typical human woman and the further along in the birthing process she went, the more that Cin was emerging to become the dominant personality. She wasn't fully changing but it was quite clear that Cin was aiming to be the one taking charge in the birth of their twins.

Bruce was having some issues in keeping the Other Guy under wraps. He could sense that his mate was in pain and knew it was because of the babies but he didn't understand why it was that their children could cause so much pain to their mother. Bruce was helping Ana through her breathing exercises, mostly for both of their benefits as to keep their other selves as quiet and calm as possible through this ordeal. There had been discussion as to whether they would move Ana from the room and into one of the vast home's medical facilities in the lower levels but Ana once again refused. Cin seemed to be driving on instinct and she was not going to go anywhere or take anything if it meant any potential harm to her babies. Bruce could only agree with his wife, if only to help keep her- and himself- as calm as possible.

It was during this time that Jenn had gotten word from Jarvis that Pepper had just arrived with a guest in tow. Bruce had been aware of the guest that would be staying with them for the brief time Pepper was going to be there and had given strict instructions that this guest was to stay as far away from their wing of the house during that time. He did not trust anyone outside of his immediate friends and family and with his wife now in labor the Other Guy was brimming beneath the surface, just waiting for something to happen...

Erai had been the one to greet the new woman while Pepper had gone ahead to meet with Jenn in the upper floor, who was waiting for her to lead her to Ana's room. Their medical staff and various security staff were running to and fro, making sure that things would go as smoothly as possible for the coming birth. Erai had taken the woman by the arm and led her in the opposite direction of where everyone else seemed to be congregating, taking her to a well-furnished den on the ground level that looked as if it were rarely used. It was clean and well-furnished but it had the look of one of those rooms where it was meant for show.

He had told the woman to make herself comfortable while going off to take a seat in one of the plush arm chairs that faced a bookshelf that dominated the entire width of the wall opposite of the door they had entered. He was sitting on the very edge of the chair and kept his large hands braced atop his jean-clad thighs. His piercing blue eyes were watching every move she made as she slowly walked further into the room and set her purse down upon the armchair opposite of him.

Maya Hansen could admit that this man was dangerously attractive. There was this inhuman, feral quality that seemed to roll off of him in waves. When she had noted the red veins against the sides of his neck that ebbed and flowed with each beat of his heart, she wondered if he was even truly human. She recalled from his comment before that he could sense what she carried within her purse and it had her wondering if he could truly sense the Extremist Virus that in that small vial. She immediately decided not to dwell on it. It was a dangerous situation she had found herself in and now she was worried just how much trouble she had brought to this small family. She was not a fool. She was well aware that at any moment the situation could escalate to something completely out of her control. She wondered just how badly things were going to go once Killian decided to put one of his many plans into action. Pepper Potts had been the key to getting Tony Stark on board with developing a stable cure for the virus. Now that plan had essentially been thrown out the window...

What would his next course of action be? She was afraid to find out...

-o-

Aldrich Killian was not the kind of man who gave up easily when one of his plans did not come to fruition. His initial plan to use Pepper Potts to gain leverage over Tony Stark's genius to find a way to stabilize the Extremis virus had been a long shot. However, using Maya Hansen as a lure to get Pepper to him had not gone exactly as he had hoped. Instead, Pepper had fled the country with Maya in tow, their destination being the country of France. Based off of Maya's last tracking signal, she was located in some resort town. A town that was home to an old and vast family estate that belonged to one of Tony Stark's most recent business partners. The family that owned a well-known international pharmaceuticals company and who had within their residence another well-known genius. A genius who had been, up until recently, in hiding for years.

Dr. Bruce Banner.

Perhaps this turn of events would work much better in his favor. Killian was looking forward to putting together a plan for this.

-o-

After a several hours of contraction after contraction, the doctor who was overseeing Ana's birth - the only doctor who had been allowed to follow Ana's care since she had initially been found by Sido- finally gave the go ahead to begin. One of the babies had begun to crown, which one it could have been was unknown. When the last sonogram had been done a couple of weeks before, it had been the girl who had been on the bottom, her head nestled in the exact position for an optimal birth. Her brother had been above her, his back facing his mother's stomach and his head nestled against his sister’s legs. Since then it looked as if they had switched around so now the staff did not know who it was that was now getting ready to come out first. At this time, Ana was not caring which one was first so long as both of them finally got out.

By this time the medical staff had equipped Ana's room with all of the medical equipment and devices that would be needed to ensure a healthy and clean delivery of twins comparable to that of any well-run hospital. Bruce was dressed in scrubs and a mask as the room was made as sterile as possible. The doctor had wanted to place Ana on a stretcher and stirrups as in a hospital setting but Ana had declined with a harsh snarl, stating that she was going to give birth in her own damn bed and if anyone so much as tried to move her they were going to have a few singed clothing and objects to worry about.

Bruce could only laugh at this entire situation. His wife was about to give birth to his son and daughter. It was one of the most surreal moments of his life. He was quick to turn that laugh into a cough the moment Ana's flashing brown eyes turned his way and he endured the brunt of her anger as she cursed at him in French, no doubt blaming him for her current predicament and probably swearing off any intimate act with him in the foreseeable future.

Bruce could only smile and give his wife a sweet kiss to her temple. God, did he love this woman...

-o-

After hours of pushing, hours of cursing every person in the room, and plenty of screaming rage, the first cry of a baby could be heard. The doctor held up the first born of the twins and called Bruce over to take his firstborn, since its sibling was quickly following after. Bruce had walked quickly, yet in a daze, as he moved over to take his oldest child from the nurse who had wrapped the wriggling, crying newborn in a warm blanket. She handed the baby over with a large smile on her face. "Here is your daughter, Dr. Banner."

He took the baby girl in his arms and his heart gave a painful thump as tears threatened to spill over. The newborn girl was whining, her eyes scrunched closed, as she turned her head, searching for something to latch on to. He reached out finger to gently brush a stray wisp of a dark brown curl away from her forehead. She had a lot of hair, he noted with a smile, and she looked completely and utterly normal. Another baby's cry filled the room, exactly five minutes later, indicating that her brother had just arrived.

Bruce glanced up the dizzying sight of his daughter's cherubic face to see the nurse wrapping up the baby boy in another warm blanket. Both babies were messy and wet and they had yet to be devoid of their umbilical cords, but the moment the nurse placed the newborn boy in his mother's arms, a wave of emotion swept over the good doctor. Ana was staring at her son with the look that every mother in the world could understand: Awe and instant love.

He had moved over beside his wife and placed his daughter beside her brother in his wife's free arm. Ana looked at her daughter and son, the link that had grown between since she had carried them solidifying and reaffirming itself. "Hello, my sunshines," said Ana as she held her newborns closer. She sniffed back a few tears as she looked up at Bruce, her smile was the most beautiful thing he had ever seen. "They're perfect, mon amour."

Bruce could only nod as he looked at his wife and his children. His family...

Deep within his subconscious, the Other Guy let loose one thought. One thought that Bruce always found was the one thing he could agree with.

Ours... Always...

Chapter Text

Don't let them

Control you again

Just tell them

What I said

Choose your life

You can rise

Don't give up

You're the one I love…

Protect High Sunn

-o-

Chapter 56: The Instinct

The instinct to protect loved ones was something that many could say was an ingrained part of one's psyche. For most people at least…

However, it had to be a universal agreement that, when it came to parents and their children, the instinct to protect would go into overdrive should a threat present itself.

In this particular case, one Dr. Bruce Banner and his wife Ana were an excellent example as to why it was never a good idea to be a threat to all that they loved and held dear…

-o-

Being a new parent to twins, a boy and girl, was something that Bruce would have never imagined could have even been possible in this life he lived. Having a wife that loved him for all that he was was a concept that had just barely began to sink in and now having that love come into fruition was a wakeup call. He was a father now, a father with two young lives that he needed to care for and protect with all that he was. There were going to be people and organizations that would be a threat to his family.

Here were two little lives that would be seen as potential sources for weapons by these organizations if they showed any possible signs of having similar characteristics like their parents.

Organizations like the LIFE Foundation that had done that very same thing to his wife and had almost succeeded…

The Other Guy was brimming close under the surface as these thoughts circled around Bruce's mind, his gaze focused on the baby boy and girl that were sleeping in a bassinet right beside their mother, who was also catching up in much needed sleep. The babies were a few days old and now, after all the hustle and bustle of the delivery was over, all the goings on of the outside world had finally reached them.

While Bruce had been concentrating on the delivery of his twins, his best friend's Malibu home had been struck by a terrorist attack by the Mandarin. It seemed that when he had spoken with Tony, it had been in the middle of a series of terrible events. Apparently, Happy had been a victim of an explosion, an attack by the Mandarin, and this had caused Tony to retaliate in a less than smart way on live news – giving his direct address – and daring the Mandarin to take him on. All of this had happened before Tony had answered Bruce's call – which would explain why the genius billionaire had sounded so distracted.

Now, Tony Stark was presumed dead, and Jarvis was currently offline – which was causing a fair amount of stress and worry for Jenn, who had been so used to the AI's constant presence. Thankfully, she had not fallen back to her catatonic state and instead had taken to using her own genius and hacking skills to find out exactly what happened to Tony and where he may have possibly disappeared to. Tony was like any member of this current family: Resilient and tough to kill. He would have escaped that blast in some way or another. With the babies born and family members missing, it seemed that Jennifer DuPont had found a renewed thirst to engage in everything around her. Her current mission being to find their missing family member and then to ensure that she find a way to get Jarvis back up and running.

Pepper had been beyond worried when Jarvis' sudden silence and news of the destruction of Tony's Malibu home had reached her. Yet, she had not divulged all of the trouble that Tony had been going through when she had arrived at the home with a stranger in tow. It was something that had rubbed Bruce the wrong way. Neither Pepper nor Tony had told of the attack that Happy had been a victim of nor of the threat Tony had given on live news just an hour before Bruce had spoken with him. Now with Tony missing and a stranger in his home, Bruce was feeling less than cordial to the redheaded woman let alone to his unexpected guest. Tony had said that if this Maya Hansen had brought any trouble with her that Bruce had free reign of doing what needed to be done to ensure their family was safe…

Something was telling him he had better be on the alert…

A soft mewling cry had broken through his train of dark thoughts and Bruce looked over to the bassinet from his seat in Ana's favorite arm chair. It had been moved to a place right next to their bassinet so that way he or Ana could be close when they were not trying to get some sleep for themselves.

A soft smile played on his lips as he got up from the chair and moved over to the bassinet to see who was crying. His smile grew warm as he saw his daughter stirring in her wrapped blanket, the little pink cap keeping her head warm from any chill. Her brother was still fast asleep beside her, a heavy sleeper like his mother. It seemed his daughter was going to take after him regarding being a light sleeper.

Without hesitation, he reached down to scoop up his daughter in his arms and cradled her while he moved to sit back in the chair. His daughter immediately calmed at the feel of her father's arms around her and she let out another soft mew, her unfocused eyes blinking in a sleepy manner. His heart filled with an unfathomable amount of love as he reached out to stroke a finger gently against her soft cheek.

"Hey there, Beccie," he said, his soft brown eyes filled with emotion. "Can't sleep either, huh sweetheart?"

It was a sweet gurgle that responded to his question as a tiny hand reached up to wrap around his index finger. His chuckle was soft and filled with warmth.

Sidonia Rebecca Banner was only a few days old and she already had her father wrapped around her teeny, little finger. Her brother, Bruce Luc Banner – or Luc – was like his twin and already was the apple of his father's eye. Glancing over at his son, who was still fast asleep on his side of the bassinet, that distinct feeling of masculine pride was quick to rise with each and every glance. When his eyes settled on his wife, her riotous copper curls having fallen from the bun she had done and spilling in a haphazard manner all about her pillow, that masculine pride gave way to a love so deep that the he was almost breathless from it. The dark mood that he had been in had fallen away and been replaced by peace. The Other Guy had let loose a feeling of pride and happiness before falling completely silent, a moment of rest for him. His family was safe. He was content enough to rest after the emotional turmoil these last few days had brought. Bruce could only agree with that sentiment but he was much too wide awake to think of sleeping at this time.

Feeling a tiny little mental tug on one of the links within his mind, he automatically glanced down to find Beccie's dark eyes staring up at him, her little fist squeezing his finger. A little thought had bubbled forth, a simple yet distinct thought that Bruce was able to catch with little trouble. He chuckled down at his little girl before he stood up, carefully cradling her in his arms, and left to go warm up a bottle of breast milk.

His daughter was hungry.

Chapter Text

You can see that you're being surrounded

From every direction

And love was just something you found

To add to your collection…

Fire with FireScissor Sisters

-o-

Chapter 57: Sounds

Sounds of quiet conversation, footsteps, and the general everyday life of the DuPont home in the late hours of the evenings had been such a common occurrence that no one expected the sound or the vibrations of the explosion that happened from outside.

Ana had certainly felt it from her second-floor bedroom and she was instantly on high alert, carefully holding Luc and Beccie in her arms. She had just finished feeding the both of them when it had happened. They had been sleeping peacefully before the explosion had occurred and now they were crying, both from the sudden loud noise and sensing their mother's tension. She was growling and doing her utmost to stay in control but was finding it very difficult when there was something or someone attacking her home.

The door to her room had slammed open at that moment and the relief of seeing her aunt and one of her most trusted guards, Cammie Nguyen, rushing in was short lived. Another explosion rocked the very foundation of the building and this time a very familiar roar had emerged from somewhere downstairs. It was soon followed by the sound of something huge crashing through the very walls of the home.

"Go, Ana," said Jenn as she moved over to take her great niece and nephew from their mother's arms. The older woman could see that her niece was holding a very short leash on her control and it was only because of her children that Cin had not emerged before now. "Bruce has already gone green- he needs you. I have the little ones; Cammie and I will keep them safe. Go to your husband!"

Ana did not need telling twice and she threw the women a grateful look before she moved out of the bedroom and started to run. Something was attacking her home and had destroyed the peace that she and Bruce had worked so hard for…

The snarl that had escaped her lips was an inhuman sound as the familiar sight of tell-tale points of heat burned through various spots of her clothing. The heat that erupted from her red-veined fists began to glow with suppressed heat as her change began. This time there was no struggle between the two minds as there had often been in the past. This time it was a seamless transition of two beings with a single goal in mind: Protect the family

-o-

Maya Hansen wasn't sure what had been the first sign that things were going horribly wrong.

She figured it may have been the explosion from outside or it could have been the terrifying sound of a roar echoing from somewhere in this large manor before a huge crash followed suit. Several guards that worked for the family had stormed her room at that time and they all had their guns pointed her way. It was obvious that whatever plan Killian had put into the works had backfired spectacularly and now she was going to feel the brunt of the aftermath.

Another explosion erupted, shaking the very foundations of the manor. It was closer this time and Maya immediately knew just from the familiarity of the type of explosion it was that it had to be Killian's men. One of them must have become unstable or something had provoked their body to erupt in such a way.

This was not good, if they came too close to the home…

Her immediate thought was to the newborn babies somewhere in the second floor of this home and the risk of their safety. She mentally cursed Killian, wherever he was right now, as she kept her hands in plain sight. She had been moved from the study she was initially seen to and had been moved to a guest room that was on the other end of the manor. The last several days had been tense for her because she didn't know if she was being treated as a guest or a prisoner. Not to say that she had been treated poorly. They had kept her comfortable and had seen to her needs but there was a distinct coolness from the staff that had been around her. She was quite aware that they did not see her as anything more than a threat to the family they had been tasked with taking care of.

Now with the explosions that had erupted from close to the home and a very real threat facing the safety of their charges, these people were quick to respond to the one apparent threat amongst them. Maya did not fault them one bit and she was quiet and compliant with all of their demands as she handed all of her personal belongings over and tried her best not to shiver from the fear that was threatening to break through.

The man named Erai, who had been the one who kept her mostly under strict watch, had disappeared once the guards had arrived. Maya could feel a sliver of true fear as another deep roar echoed from the corridor he had disappeared down. An answering, higher pitched roar had sounded from somewhere further away in the manor followed by a series of crashes from what sounded like the front of the large home. It sounded like something very large and/or very strong had just crashed through the very walls of the home.

Swallowing down the fear as best she could, Maya could only sit and wait for this ordeal to be over…

-o-

Ellen Brandt thought she had been a given a fairly easy mission.

Track down Maya Hansen and bring back some leverage and intel concerning one Dr. Bruce Banner who was believed to be residing in this very quaint resort town in France. Pepper Potts had escaped from the attack in Miami with Maya in tow to this place. It was a very pretty and peaceful looking place; the evening had settled across the grounds and lights from within the manor could be seen from its many windows. It was almost a shame she would have to shatter it. Almost.

Whatever Killian had found regarding this Bruce Banner, it was her job to make sure that she found a way to ensure his cooperation for whatever Killian had planned. It seemed Dr. Banner was another potential genius who could find a way to fix the flaws of the Extremis virus and if Tony Stark proved to be a failure in this aspect then the doctor would be a plan b.

What she had not counted on was the fact that the place Maya's tracking signal was coming from was a heavily guarded manor with expansive lands. She had only brought a dozen men with her, all former soldiers who had undergone the Extremis procedure and survived like she had. Though the guards of the home were putting up one hell of a fight, they were a hell of a lot stronger and faster and, thanks to their healing factor, able to jump right back up from whatever bullets were fired their way.

The grounds were becoming a killing field for the guards of this manor home and Brandt couldn't help the smug smile that formed on her lips. Up until one of her men were shot by a guard, shot by something that wasn't a normal bullet, and the soldier immediately began to glow with overwhelming heart. The Extremis virus in his system was going out of control and he was screaming bloody murder as his body went into over drive. Everyone within the vicinity was caught off guard the moment the soldier exploded. The resounding explosion had thrown a majority of the fighting to a slight stand still. Those guards who had been closest to the exploding soldier did not survive the blast.

Brandt had cursed at the loss of one of her own, not expecting these people to have a way to fight back against them. Did they know about the Extremis virus? Were they aware of whom it was they worked for?

These thoughts had flown through Brandt's head for a split second before another explosion had erupted, this time from one of her men who had managed to get closer to the large house. The explosion had managed to shake the very foundations of the home and the blast had damaged the front doors. The fighting had been brought to a pause after the first explosion but it looked like one of her men had tried to take advantage of that and had come across someone or something who had shot him with the same type of ammunition that had killed the first one.

The explosion seemed to cause something to happen in retaliation from the people inside the manor because a resounding roar echoed from the direction of the manor itself followed by the sight of something huge pulverizing through the damaged doors and surrounding walls of the front of the manor. Brandt could feel her heart stop in her chest as the sight of a huge monstrous form emerged from the ruined front of the home and began searching the grounds, looking for the source of the attack.

She didn't need a second to call out the order to a retreat, recognizing the huge form belonging to that of the Hulk. Why was the Hulk here? Was this a second, secret, base for the Avengers and no one had been aware of it? She was crying out orders to retreat to her remaining soldiers as she turned tail and started to run, she wasn't going to test the limits of her healing factor by fighting this behemoth. Unfortunately, nothing was going to be working in her favor this day.

The sound of more roars had joined the first and she chanced a glance backwards to see that two more monsters had emerged from the home. They were nothing like the Hulk, one was a shorter female and the other a taller male, both were lithe and lean with taunt muscle and glowing red veins that showed on their arms and necks and other areas of skin that their clothing did not cover. They looked eerily similar to what Brandt had for herself with glowing red heat in her own veins. However, that similarity ended with the sight of glowing clawed hands and feet that were actually erupting with balls of flame.

The taller male had let loose a roar as he spotted the retreating form of one of her men and lifted his clawed hand before throwing loose a fireball that struck its retreating target. The soldier let out a shrill scream once the fireball had impacted with his back. It took a second before he exploded with barely a moment to think, the heat of the fireball too much for his own healing factor to beat. The moment the monsters had spotted them it was too late: All hell had broken loose.

It wasn't a fight now, it was a massacre.

The monsters completely ignored the guards of the home and were racing across the grounds toward them. Brandt's final coherent thought was: Fuck this shit, before she was pushing her body to its limits to escape the raging creatures that were descending upon them. The sounds of her men screaming and howling with pain behind her and the sound of them exploding did not deter her desperation to escape from the trap they had unexpectedly found themselves in.

It wasn't until she was almost at the gates of the manor that a shock of pain erupted from her torso. She let out a gasping breath as blood filled her right lung and erupted from her mouth. She looked down at her chest to find what looked like glowing, red claws sticking out of the right side of her chest, the burning heat from them causing a pain that the former soldier/assassin had never felt before. The clawed hand lifted her up from the ground and she could not help but turn her head to gaze into the raging face of the female monster, her glowing yellow eyes a sign that whatever this thing was, she was much stronger than Brandt herself could ever wish or hope or dream to be.

Her snarling growls were only amplified by the larger males that had come to a stop on either side of the female, the Hulk and the taller crimson skinned male making the woman feel small and insignificant. It was the next thing that happened that caused Brandt to gasp with utter shock and surprise.

The Extremis virus in her system – instead of becoming unstable – began to leave her system. The clawed hand that had pierced her torso and was glowing with immense heat and pulsing, glowing veins could be seen across every visible surface of skin. The glowing heat of the virus was being absorbed by the female monster and at the end of it Brandt was nothing more than a woman, a mere human woman. She had been tossed to the ground with little regard and she could barely hold her head up from the pain that coursed through her. Yet, she heard the growling words from the female demon as she heard multiple footsteps thudding toward them. It seemed more of the guards were coming…

"Take this one… Keep her alive…" the female said this in a growling voice that made Brandt wish she was anywhere else but here. Another human voice had acknowledged the command and she was hauled up roughly, her dizzying gaze catching sight of the female demon's hate filled gaze before darkness descended…

Chapter Text

I'm going there to free my brother…

Old Age – Nirvana

-o-

Chapter 58: The Interrogation

The interrogation had started out as standard interrogations do.

Maya was in a room somewhere in the manor, or rather below it, and it was as you would imagine an interrogation room to be. A bare room with concrete walls, no windows, the only furniture being a metal table and two chairs with a single fluorescent light in the ceiling above illuminating everything. There wasn't one of those two-way mirrors that you would expect to see, instead there was a camera in one corner of the room watching her every move.

It was the morning after the attack on the manor and Maya had been moved from her guest room and down into a cell somewhere in the bowels of this huge home. She didn't issue a complaint and she didn't fight back. She simply waited for her captors to decide what it was they wanted to do with her. When they had confiscated her belongings, she knew that they would find the vial of the Extremis virus along with the tracking device imbedded in her phone. She knew that those two things would be her downfall but she was determined to set things right. She had only wanted to stabilize the flaws of her creation – to use it for the betterment of mankind when it came to healing and medicine. That was why she had partnered with Killian in the first place so she could have the ways and the means but especially the funds to bring her dream into reality.

Now, it was turning into a nightmare…

The door to the room opened and Maya was pulled from her brooding thoughts, glancing up to catch sight of several people making their way into the room. The first person was woman of Asian descent, dressed smartly in a pair of black slacks and a blouse, the gun holstered on her right hip indicated she must've been one of the guards who worked for the family. The next person to walk in was a woman who was wearing an all metal blue and silver suit that looked to be a creation of Tony Stark's. This woman was of Caucasian descent, older than the first woman, but still very beautiful with straight black hair held back in a ponytail and pale blue eyes that seemed, to Maya, to look straight through her. Her face was an expressionless mask but her eyes seemed to be blazing with unadulterated fury.

The next people to walk in were a couple – a man and woman, hand in hand – and they passed the other two women to come to a stop at the table. The man and woman would have been considered unremarkable, average even. Both were of average build and height for their respective genders. The man sported dark brown waves with a hint of grey at the temples, silver rimmed reading glasses sitting on the bridge of his nose. It took a moment but Maya recognized the man – with a shock of surprise – as the ever-elusive Dr. Bruce Banner himself. She had known he was living here of course – after Pepper Potts had given her a rundown about the family on the way over – but she did not think that he would have personally seen to this interrogation. For a split second, Maya considered addressing the man but at the sight of the hardness in his brown eyes and a muscle ticking in his jaw, she thought it best to remain silent.

The woman beside him was shorter than him by several inches; her copper brown curls were a funny mix of a silky frizz that was kept in check by a simple braid. Her own brown eyes were staring at Maya with suppressed rage and every so often – Maya swore it was a trick of the light – a flash of a yellow glow would emerge. However, there was no mistaking the inhuman sight of the deep crimson veins in her neck that were pulsing with the woman's heartbeat and Maya knew that whoever this woman was, she was anything but human. In fact, there was something about this woman that Maya vaguely recognized but she couldn't for the life of her remember from where. It wasn't because she had the same crimson veins in her neck as the tall man named Erai. It was something else, something she had long forgotten. It was nagging at her from the back of her mind as she watched this group of people, waiting for them to finally speak.

It took a few more moments of meaningful and tense silence before the woman beside Dr. Banner moved to take the seat in the remaining chair at the metal table. She carefully placed her hands upon the cool surface and slowly intertwined her fingers in a deliberate motion of trying to calm oneself. Dr. Banner went to stand behind her and reached out to place his hands upon her shoulders, his fingers massaging the tension out of her in a manner that spoke intimate familiarity. The flash of an intricate gold band on his left hand revealed the exact reason why. This woman was his wife and Erai's sister, Ana. She was the one who had just given birth…

Maya could feel the guilt coiling around in the pit of her stomach as glanced between the couple, her thoughts running to a worst-case scenario. She had brought this trouble to their doorstep and she knew anything she said at this point would not make a difference in her defense.

"I need to know," began Ana, her voice was graced with an accent that sounded like French but was mixed with something else Maya was not familiar with. "I need to know why those people attacked my home and why you led them here." She took in a breath to calm her growing tension, Dr. Banner's hands continuously massaging her shoulders in help keep her calm. "Tell me, from the beginning, everything you know and why you needed my brother…" At the questioning glance that had shown on Maya's face, the frown on Ana's had deepened. "Tony Stark. His Miami home was attacked by the Mandarin and he is now missing. It is no coincidence that you happened to be there and happened to tag along with Pepper to come here. Now suddenly my home and my family are attacked by some unknown people who had no reason to come here in the first place." Her clasped hands tightened as the crimson veins began to grow from her neck and down toward her collar bones. "Tell me everything. Now."

And so, Maya did.

She told her story from the very beginning.

From her discovery of the properties of the Extremis virus to her one-night stand with Tony back in 1999. How Tony had, in his drunken genius, created an incomplete mathematical formula that nearly stabilized the virus from its previous wild instabilities. How, after Tony's disappearance, she had partnered with Aldrich Killian and together they continued to develop and improve the virus but could not crack the answer to the incomplete formula, thus keeping the Extremis in its unstable state. She told them everything, out of guilt, out of shame for her petty revenge for a broken heart, and by the end of it all, Maya felt drained both emotionally and physically.

After she had finished her story, she kept her gaze on the surface of the metal table, nervously rubbing her hands over and over. The silence that fell was thick and tense.

Finally, the sound of something clattering against the surface of the table caught her attention. Maya looked toward the sound and found her vial of the Extremis virus, its contents giving a violent red glow. It was resting nonchalantly beside another vial, this one bearing contents that were a subtler shade of red, a faint glow swirling within. Between the two, Maya could see there were some similarities but the Extremis virus was clearly the more violent concoction of the two. When she looked up at Ana in question, the other woman's face was devoid of any visible emotion.

"The one on your right is a creation of my mother's. One she had derived from the healing factor of my own body. The one on your left is… yours. Notice the similarities and differences?" Maya did not respond; she did not know what Ana was getting at. "You truly do not remember, do you?" Ana asked, studying Maya with something akin to indifference. At Maya's continued silence, Ana merely scoffed before she looked behind her at the Asian woman. "Cammie, would you please?"

The woman gave a nod before she pulled a tablet from a satchel at her side and flicking her fingers across the screen. A moment of silence passed before Cammie moved over to the table and set the tablet down in front of Maya. Maya glanced down at the screen and she felt her insides grow as cold as ice with fear. Staring back up at her was file, a file containing a picture of herself with her name and title of intern followed by the symbol of the LIFE Foundation. This was from back in 1997. The file continued revealing her job as an intern working on a project called BIRTH. It went on and on about her status within this very secretive group. She had finished her internship late in 1998 where her discoveries of the Extremis virus had escalated. Now the memories were coming back and Maya knew exactly why this woman was so familiar to her. She had been the project, 01. She had been the focal point of Project BIRTH for the LIFE Foundation…

"You took something that did not belong to you," said Ana, her indifferent look melting away to one of deep seated hatred. "A basis – a grounds to start. The Extremis virus you had created was all from your hard work but you would not have had an inspiration for such a thing had you not witnessed all that you had working for the LIFE Foundation. Mon Dieu…" Ana let out a humorless laugh as she shook her head. "You stole someone else's work, who had in turn stolen it." Her laugh ceased and her eyes began to glow, a continuous yellow that made Maya shrink back in fear. "They had kept me prisoner. Stole all that I was, made me less than human and you helped them!" She slammed her fists against the surface of the table, denting the metal in. "And you took what came from me and created… this." She sneered down at the vial of Extremis. "This unstable concoction that will sooner kill the person it is injected into and all those around them than help them. You are to blame for all of the deaths that resulted from the creation of this thing." She focused her gaze back on Maya and her anger and hatred was clear. "You will tell us everything you know about this Aldrich Killian and this Mandarin, where their bases are, who they work with, everything. They have my brother. Wherever they are, we're going to find them and free him. Then, we will kill every last one of them infected with this thing before they take any more innocent lives."

She stood up from the chair and closed her eyes, taking a moment to calm herself. Dr. Banner had stood in silence behind his wife, offering support, until that moment. When Maya locked eyes with the doctor, his brown eyes had flashed with a green tint. "Don't think your part in this is over. You brought this trouble to our family. We're going to deal with the mess you created and, once that's done, we'll deal with you." He glanced back at Cammie and gave a nod. "Get everything from her. Let us know when you're done."

"Yes sir," was all the other woman said and stood aside to let the couple pass her. The woman in the blue and silver metal suit had not said a word the entire time she was there. She had simply stood as still as a statue, a witness to all that had transpired. She had moved forward the moment the couple had moved away from the table and scooped up the vials. Then, with one last glance at Maya, she turned on her heel and left with couple.

The woman named Cammie had moved to focus her attention on Maya and a cold smile touched her lips. "Well then, let's start with this Killian fella." She took a seat in the chair Ana had abandoned and pulled the tablet toward her, clearing out the files from before and bringing up an app to take notes.

Maya sighed heavily but gave a nod. It's not as if she had any other choice in the matter...

Chapter Text

All blood does is make you related

But loyalty?

It's loyalty that makes you family…

For Blood and Loyalty – Chris Kasparoza

-o-

Chapter 59: If There was One Thing

If there was one thing that Tony Stark could say about his life so far, he had made some mistakes.

He was only human.

Mind you a billionaire, a playboy, a philanthropist, and a genius.

Yet, beneath it all, still human.

Had he known that the decisions he had made back on that fateful night in Switzerland in 1999 would come back to haunt him, he would probably would've thought twice about making those choices. Hey, he had been young and full of himself. Not to say that was an excuse and not to say that he wasn't full of himself now, because he still was. He wouldn't be Tony without these charming qualities about him. Yet, he would have liked to believe that he was older and wiser now, the silver at his temples had to be proof enough of that fact.

Now, as he carefully made his way over the grilled platforms of this damaged oil tanker –flanking his buddy Colonel Rhodes – as they infiltrated this place in their attempts to rescue President Ellis, he couldn't help but have these thoughts drifting in and out of his mind. His thoughts had drifted to the fight he and Pepper had just shortly before she had left with Maya in tow to France. They drifted to the myriad of panic attacks he had experienced within the past several weeks since being apart from his family stemming from anxieties he had not even been aware of until recently. They drifted to the little niece and nephew he had yet to meet since his little sister had given birth when all of this trouble had started. His thoughts drifted in and out of the here and now, a part of him thinking back on his capture and his subsequent escape only to meet up with Rhodey – whose War Machine/Iron Patriot suit had been stolen by Killian's men – and to spearhead a rescue for the members of the Air Force One crew, who had been the unfortunate victims of said attack from Killian's man to kidnap the president. So much had happened…

"We're going to need back up," said Rhodey, as he looked around at the grilled platforms up above and below them, watching the men and women of Killian's successful Extremis experimenting moving quickly as they surrounded them. The sleeveless uniforms revealed their arms to bear a hint of glowing and heated veins, their faces matching this glow, and a part of Tony couldn't help but wonder – for the umpteenth time since this whole ordeal started – if there was any possible connection between what had been done to them and what his little sister had gone through as a test subject…

"Sir," Jarvis' cultured voice had broken through his reverie and Tony cocked back the safety to his gun as he got ready. "Your back up is on the way." The news had come as a surprise to the billionaire since he had not been expecting the back up to arrive so soon after implementing "House Party."

"Jarvis," said Tony, a look of wary hope rising up into his hazel eyes. "That's a little quick, don't you think?"

"Tony," a distinct female computerized voice had broken through the communication at that moment and the sudden smile of relief that touched his goateed features was the first real one he had had in days.

"Hey Jenn, long time no hear!" He said, ignoring the confused look on Rhodey's face. "What've you been up to?"

"Mon Dieu, I swear Anthony Stark!" Jenn's voice was snarling in his earpiece and his smile grew the angrier she sounded – or as angry as a synthesized voice could get. "The next time you decide to tackle a terrorist group and disappear off the face of the Earth, be kind enough to keep us in the loop? Believe it or not, you do have people who care about you!"

"I take it you missed me?" he said, the amusement could be heard in his voice as he looked expectantly up at the surrounding night, already knowing who was coming as his back up.

"I wasn't the only one," said Jenn as the sound of a jet could be heard flying overhead. "Your back up is here. I suggest you get into one of your suits or get out of the way if you don't want to be caught up in the crossfire."

"You got it," he said as he lowered his gun and cast a glance over at Rhodey, the smile on his face turning into his regular smirk as he caught the confused look on his best friend's face.

"Tony," said Rhodey, his own wariness apparent on his dark features as the colonel began to shift restlessly on his feet. He looked around at the surrounding glowing men and women before his gaze landed back on the billionaire. "Tell me that was help on the way?"

"Jarvis," said Tony, ignoring his best friend as he turned around and started making his way down the stairs and away from the trouble that was about to brew. "Make sure they have support. Update the targeting parameters to any hostile laced with Extremis." After Jarvis voiced the affirmative, he glanced back at Rhodey over his shoulder and the smirk seemed to get even more. "We might wanna get going. Things are about to get messy."

Rhodey was confused as he hesitantly turned to follow after his best friend. "What do you mean? Tony! We can't just abandon the pres-"

The sound of the jet from before flew past again, cutting off Rhodey's exclamation, but this time the sights and sounds that followed its passing was something that Tony would remember and laugh about for as long as he could. The look of utter confusion and bewilderment that hit the faces of Killian's soldiers followed by the surprise as three large, raging monsters fell from the skies above to crash among them was the best thing Tony had ever seen in his life. Rhodey let out a curse and was already hightailing it out of the way as Cin, in all of her crimson, fiery rage, crashed through a few of the platforms above them only to catch herself on a broken grill. She hung there above them, her glowing gaze catching sight of Tony gazing up at her from below.

Tony smiled up at her and gave her a salute. "Baby sis! Glad you could come to the party!"

The sound of a deep roar from below her, followed by screaming and explosions, was evidence that the Hulk was never too far behind her. Another roar erupted from the other side of the oil tanker and further up, more explosions and the sound of bullets firing and ricocheting off the surrounding metal work. Erai was making quick work of the soldiers, his swiping claws and fire attacks ripping through their ranks. Even Tony could admit the satisfaction at the sight of it. It looked like the whole family showed up to play.

Cin simply smirked at Tony in response to his comment before she pulled herself up to climb onto the grilled platform she had been hanging from. She looked like she was about to make a leap for a platform higher up when Tony called out to her. She stopped and looked down at him in question.

"Cin, would you be a dear and mind grabbing the president for me? He's hanging in the middle of the air over there, in the suit, can't miss him." Tony pointed to the Iron Patriot suit strung up high above an opening that was dark and foreboding. It was an opening in the tanker itself and it was not going to be used for any good purpose, that was for sure. Cin caught sight of the man in the suit, who was calling out for help, before she looked at Tony and gave a nod in consent.

Tony's answering smile was quite infectious and Cin could only smile in return, the sound of the Hulk crashing through a support beam behind her not dampening the brother/sister moment.

"By the way, gotta say, you look great after carrying around twins. Gotta tell me your secret, might be able to market that…" said Tony, ruining the tender moment in his usual fashion. Cin huffed and shook her head before she turned around and leapt off into the higher levels toward where the president was hanging.

"Uh, Tony," Rhodey began as he followed after his best friend while he watched the insanity and chaos erupt behind him. "Please tell me that wasn't the Hulk just ripping through a support beam to the upper floors…"

"Rhodey, Rhodey, Rhodey," said Tony in response, the shit eating grin on his face as he glanced back at his friend and started to move a faster. The support beam in question was groaning and slowly keeling over before crashing into another support beam beside it. "I think it would be best that we get the hell out of here and not worry about what the raging monsters do to the terrorists' base."

Rhodey didn't need telling twice and was right on Tony's heels the moment the platform started shuddering beneath their feet.

-o-

Aldrich Killian wasn't sure when everything had gone pear shaped.

He supposed it could have been the moment he saw two large, fiery creatures making mincemeat out of his soldiers, tearing them literally limb from limb and/or making them explode just from being in contact with them. It could have been the moment a huge, green, hulking thing had crashed through one of the support beams holding up his office before it went on to decimate the rest of his ground troops. It could have been the moment he and the office, were crashing down, down, and down toward the very pit of the oil tanker, where a fiery inferno was waiting for him.

It could have been any of these things.

Yet, it hadn't.

He knew the very moment it happened.

The moment when one of the raging creatures had crashed into the office, its glowing eyes searching before finally connecting with his. It was the moment the creature, a female by the look of it, rushed forward and the sharp red claws of her right hand had found its mark in the very center of his torso, narrowly missing his heart. How, despite his strength and his own heat from the Extremis virus in his system, it was nothing compared to the fiery heat that rolled off of this creature in waves. She had snarled in his face and took him roughly as she crashed her way out of the falling office and leapt out of the broken window she had entered through.

She was much stronger than she looked and barely flinched as she landed with a crash to the concrete ground of the docking area. Behind her, the sight and sound of the oil tanker exploding behind them was incredible.

Killian was trying to pull the creature's hand from his torso, it was painful and its own heat was too much for the healing factor of his body to handle. He started to laugh as he stared up at the creature's raging face. "You… are a strong one, aren't you?"

The creature only growled in reply, not paying any mind to the two men that were making their way toward them, one of them with their guns drawn. Instead, her claws dug deeper and he cried out as the pain and heat tore through him.

"Well, well," said Tony, as he came to a stop beside the creature. "Killian, fancy seeing you here."

Killian coughed, black smoke easing out of his nostrils and mouth. "Stark… You think you won this? You think you can stop me, the true Mandarin?"

"Me? No, not really," he said in reply before he tilted his head toward Colonel Rhodes. "But the United States government is eager to get their hands on you."

Killian laughed at this. "They won't be able to do a thing. By the time we're through here, everything would have been purged."

Tony merely shook his head as he looked at the colonel. "Can you believe this guy? Always for the theatrics." He looked back at Killian and smiled. "Everything you had ever had your hand in has not been purged. In fact, I have a very good source telling me that she has just finished hacking and downloading everything pertaining to you and your corporation and it's currently being decrypted as we speak." He paused at this and looked up at the creature, his smile growing. "I swear your aunt never ceases to amaze me."

The creature let out a huff of laughter as she closed her eyes and shook her head.

The ground shook at that moment and Killian had the privilege of seeing true power up close and personal. Two more monsters had arrived on the scene, a large green being Killian recognized as the Hulk and another taller crimson skinned monstrosity that looked like it might be related to the female.

For the first time in a very long time, Killian felt true fear.

"I think it's time end this, don't you sis?" asked Tony, as he glanced up at the female beside him.

She gave a nod in consent, before the clawed hand in Killian's torso removed itself. As his body healed itself, the creature grabbed the back of his neck and the claws were dangerously close to his jugular. The hand on the back of his neck had begun to grow hotter and hotter and, to his horror, the Extremis virus that had been in his system for so long was draining out of his body. This creature was absorbing it, all of it, and by the end of it, Killian was nothing more than a husk of his former glory.

He could barely stand as his body twitched, nothing more than flesh and bone.

The creature dropped him to the floor with little regard before she turned and made her way over to the Hulk, who picked her up and settled her on his broad shoulder. "Go home…" she said in a growling voice to Tony, her glowing eyes focused on her brother.

Tony looked up at her and a fond smile touched his lips. "Yeah… let's go home…"

Chapter Text

I know a place where diamonds never fade away

My dearest friend is shining brighter day by day

Any day is a new chance…

A New Chance – The Tough Alliance

-o-

Chapter 60: A New Chapter

A new chapter in his life.

That is what Tony Stark would call this moment after everything that had happened to him.

A new chapter, a new family, a new chance…

When he first held Beccie and then Luc in his arms, he felt the instant connection. They were so tiny and so fragile and so beautifully innocent. Their dark brown curls, their unfocused dark eyes, and the absolute normality of them despite the extraordinary traits of their parents. They were two little babies new to this world that would need to be protected from those who would wish them harm.

Tony would never admit to having any paternal instincts but at that moment in time, those instincts were beginning to come to life. Tony knew he would do whatever he could to protect his niece and nephew…

"Ana and I were talking about it and we would like to you be their g