His team was kidnapped.
The thin, small man carefully stared at the person through the glass, completely and utterly still. His dark brown eyes were blank, not letting a single emotion slip through. In another life, he would’ve made a good spy.
As it was now, Phil Coulson doubted the man could do much of anything.
If Natasha was here, she’d draw the words out of the agent like a fly to honey, gladly giving her all she needed to know. If it was anyone else really, Phil knew that the rest of the team would be well on the way to being rescued. But… this was Bruce Banner.
Bruce Banner on a good day weighed a 160, well underweight for his height, and was about as threatening as a panda (he studiously ignored the fact that Panda’s were in fact one of the volatile species on earth) and when he was Hulk… he was good for smashing and only smashing.
“Has he spit out the location at all?” He asked slowly, quietly, his voice calm and flat as a desert.
“Hmm, may I try asking him?”
Bruce lifted his hands, still flecked with blood from where he had been saving a child’s life in China. The glass of water, drawn from a nearby well had been gifted to him at the last second as he rushed away, and the crude cut wood was dark.
“You can try.” Phil doubted the man could draw up anything.
Bruce nodded slowly, staring at the water in the cup, before his mouth quirked upwards. “I think I know what I’ll do.”
Banner didn’t expound, merely walked towards the door as if the entire world was on his shoulders, slowly pushing it open, staring down at the cup of water. The man in the room turned towards him, suddenly tense and taunt. “What’re you-“
Bruce settled the cup onto the table, and said very seriously, “I wouldn’t drink that if I were you.”
The man scoffed at him, and Bruce settled into the chair across from him. “Did you know that there are two-hundred and six bones in your body?”
Outside of the room, Coulson wondered where this line of questioning could possibly be going. Judging by the agents face, he was wondering the same thing as well. “At least half of the bones are in your feet and hands. Which means that you can remove half of the bones from a person without killing them.”
Bruce smiled, a quiet little smile that was almost dreamy. “The best part about it is if you’re good with a knife, you can remove all of those bones without even needing an anesthetic, because you can compensate for the thrashing. Or you could just tie them down.”
Blindly Coulson groped for something to wet his suddenly dry mouth. In the room, the agent mirrored his movements, grasping for the cup Banner had left sitting out innocuously on the table. He took a sip from, it, and Bruce sighed.
“I told you not to drink that.”
“Why, what’s going to happen? You gonna dissect me?” False bravdo rang through the words, fast as a beating drum.
Bruce shook his head. “It’s far too late for that. You see, in that water is a sample of a small virus. This virus burrows its way up through the bloodstream to you brain, where it will latch onto the surface and grow. Eventually you will die from oxygen starvation, as your brain chokes and splutters for air- strangled to death by the bacteria growing on it.”
Coulson put his cup down without taking a drink. The man stared at him with wide eyes. “You’re joking.”
“Maybe so, maybe not. Even if it doesn’t kill you, irony might. Because you see, I like Irony.”
Bruce smiled, a small little smile that sent chills down to the very bone. The agent scoffed, “I know your file. I know everyone’s file. You’ve been off in India all of this time, helping the poor folk.” He sneered, the falseness falling away leaving just bravado.
“Well,” Bruce murmured, suddenly very interested in picking off the drying blood on his hands, “It isn’t like anyone’s going to notice if a few people go missing here and there. Or if someone gets better, only to get sick again from some other disease that the doctor can’t cure, but is certainly willing to try.”
A pale white face stared at him. “It was like I was talking about earlier, that you can remove half the bones of a body. Certainly someone had to try before you could come to such a conclusion, don’t you agree?”
“Y-You wouldn’t do that. You’re far too nice for something like that, besides, you don’t have it in you.”
One eyebrow cocked upwards, as Bruce’s voice lowered to a rather amused hum. “Me? Not have it in me? If you read those files of yours, then you’d know that I was originally recruited by the military when I attempted to make a bomb to blow up the entire school. And my accident happened when I was developing a super-serum to create soldiers.”
Bruce leaned forward on one arm, staring the man directly in the eyes, his smile not falling off one wit. “On file they were considered failures- but you know, they don’t have to be that way. To have an army backing up my research? To prove that the serum worked? I won.”
“B-But the Hulk-“
“Like I said, irony. I love irony.” Bruce leaned back, completely at ease while the agent looked at him with eyes that screamed sudden insecurity, “Irony runs in the family you know. My father killed my mother in front of me by bashing her head against the pavement. Several years later, he’s found dead, head bashed in on top of mother’s grave.”
“M-Muggers, that’s what it was said officially, no one…”
Bruce leveled him the kindest, sweetest look, more mocking and crueler then a mirror. “You don’t honestly believe that, do you? It was mother’s death anniversary. I always visited her grave, and one day I didn’t and my father died? Oh, how convenient.”
The smile slipped off, a hungry, predatory look filling his face instead. “Irony dictates that since you kidnapped what was mine, I get to take you and yours back. I’m not just talking about immediate family though- I’m talking all the way down the rotten roots you sprang from. Cousins, second cousins, anyone who shares a strand of your DNA is now mine.”
“W-Wait a minute, you can’t-“
“Of course, we’ll have to take blood samples, and track down your family, but it doesn’t take much, does it? I just have to kill you, leave your mutilated body pieces across the world, watch as those who ever considered you kin flock in, ready to collect, and then it’s easy to take them.”
Bruce smiled easily, “It’s not as if anyone notices me, or the small little pill the puts them to sleep. How horrified would they be, when they saw you? Would they cry? Scream? Or would they just realize that what I’ve done to you, is what I’m going to be doing to them?”
The agent was beginning to back for the door. “You can’t do this to me, I know Shield, they won’t allow it-“
“Who said I needed Shield to help me? Or that Shield could stop me? There’s two problems with that- One, I’m smarter then them, and I can disappear. Two- even if they shot me, it wouldn’t work.”
That caught the spies attention, as a cold, hard, crystal feeling began to squeeze around the heart that Loki had stabbed. “They’d never be able to take me down. And quite frankly, by the time they found you, they wouldn’t dare get close. They’d be far too busy trying to figure out what to do with you. Having all of the bones in your body removed isn’t pretty.”
The man stared at him. “Not possible, you’d have to saw it off-“
“Ah, the beauty of scalpels and their ability to cut through meat swiftly. It’s such a wonder of life… don’t you agree? James?”
The agent flinched. “How- no, it had to be on the files-“ He looked agitated at the door, as if trying to beg someone to save him.
In the split second he looked away, Bruce moved until he were mere centimeters away, smiling gently as he would with a child. A startled scream died in the room as the agent slammed his back against the wall, Bruce looking on amused. “Nobody is going to save you. Who would? Why would they? Why would I let them save you when you took what’s mine?”
Long fingers reached out to tap against a chest. “A heart remains beating at least a minute after its ripped out of an open chest. Longer, if you stab the correct nerve endings which put you into intense pain, but prolongs your life. But, you can’t have life without a little pain, now can you?”
James went completely white. Bruce smiled, a small little smile that Coulson shuddered to see, leaning in close, hissing soft words into an ear that none could hear.
The man broke down into a whimpering, shivering mess as Bruce threw his head back and laughed.
Coulson sucked in a deep breath as he finished writing down the last of the information, and nodded sharply. James continued to rock back and forth, babbling almost incoherently about locations, what they were going to do, and please, spare him his little sister didn’t deserve that. It wasn’t his fault.
The Shield agent stepped out into the hallway to find Bruce calmly watching the man through the window. “I don’t know how much of what he said was true, but it at the very least gives us a base to look off of.”
Bruce turned away, heading for deeper within the helicarrier. “Wait, Bruce.”
“The news report, for your fathers death- it said that his body was found in a gutter, not in the graveyard.” Coulson said it, in a reflexive gesture to reassure himself. Bruce wasn’t… wasn’t the kind to kill, was he? Hulk didn’t kill people outright, more in a gigantic flailing of limbs with too much strength to realize he should hold back.
Bruce regarded him flatly for a few moments. “They lied. The body was found in the graveyard, but because someone who knew someone, who knew someone asked, they misreported it. If you take a look at the police reports, you’ll see that I was right.”
A sharp, insane glint that had nothing to do with the Hulk appeared in his eyes, the same sort of glint that had built the bomb in the school, tested out the serum on himself, that promised darker secrets then could be found on any file. “Don’t you ever wonder if perhaps the Hulk wasn’t created to save me from the explosion, but the world from me?”
Coulson took a tiny step back, and Bruce causally stuck his hands in his pockets, and strode off towards the control bridge, whistling cheerfully.
Coulson swore up and down, all across the board, before a full room, that the lights flickered and dimmed in the man’s presence.
But it wasn’t important right now. Right now he needed to locate the Avengers and fast before Bruce thought they were working too slow and decided to kill them all in their sleep. Or in their face. Either one.
Several hours later, he could have cried in relief when the news came on. “Sir, we found them.”
Bruce’s head twitched towards them, eyes sharp as the news was passed down the line. When the news at last reached his ears, he smiled, nodding in response. He then quietly said he was going ahead.
Nobody stopped him.
Tony groaned pitifully as he stirred on the cold, hard metal table. He was strapped down like out of a kinky, cheap porno, but he really didn’t feel like anyone taking advantage of him unless they had an scary alter ego that was big and green.
At least he was first. That way he didn’t have to see everyone’s eyes when they were dragged back, tortured. Selfish, yes. But he thought he deserved to be selfish for at least a little.
“Really Bruce, wish you hadn’t snuck off to the back of nowhere it would make things much easier-“
Tony’s heart leapt in joy. The Calvary had arrived!
“Hey, big guy, mind giving me a hand over here?” He called out, confident in the big green guys hearing.
The wall next to him crumbled as Hulk came charging in, dragging along what looked to be half of the entire building with him. Hulk eyed him for a moment, before turning away. “Tin man safe here. Hulk come back later.”
“What?!” Tony’s mouth dropped open. Really? Really? Safe? Here?
At the very least he didn’t have to indignant alone for very long when Clint was placed in the room with the admonition not to move. The archer crossed his arms, shooting the most unimpressed look after the Hulk.
Tony bribed him into getting him out in exchange for getting a quiver that would hold more arrows (he had no idea where he’d stuff those arrows, but he was determined to find some way scientifically and not that magic stuff. Ew gross no) and Clint was working on it when Steve and Natasha were deposited in the room gently.
The captain looked about as flustered as one could look when a giant green guy growled at you to “Sit. Stay,” like some kind of puppy. An ill-trained puppy at that. Tony resisted the urge to ask Steve to speak.
Steve went charging out into the battle again. The three left in the room looked at each other in perfect understanding, and weren’t surprised when Thor was tossed in with Steve.
Steve looked heartbroken.
Thor quickly leant his strength into getting Tony unfreed from his kinky porno table.
Steve just blushed, as the building crumbled around their ears. The roars stopped, and the heavy stomps came back, slowly pitter-pattering into a lighter and softer tune of someone they knew just as well, and the entire team turned to look as Bruce Banner stumbled in through the doorway.
Bruce smiled sheepishly, moving towards them as Shield agents cautiously began pouring into the wrecked building. Tony began to complain, “You know Bruce, the service here has been just awful. Drugged water, the room service is lousy, only a thin, cold, hard mattress- I missed you.”
“I missed you as well.” Bruce reached out, brushing across his arm, “I tend to forget to keep control of myself when you all aren’t around anymore.”
“You? Loose control? Say it isn’t so!” Tony laughed, eyes flickering up to the door as Agent Coulson walked through the doorway, “In fact, I bet you could’ve won the award for ‘Best Behaved Avenger When Your Teammates are Captured!’ Do they have that kind of award?”
“I wouldn’t be surprised.” Bruce murmured, “But I like to think that I was very restrained when you were kidnapped yes.”
Tony could have sworn something akin to fear flashed across Coulson’s face, but it went ignored as he buried his head into a bare shoulder. “Since you’re the nicest guy we’ve got on the team, take us home?”
“If you want nice, ask Thor Tony.” Nonetheless, despite the fact that he himself was exhausted from his ordeal, he shifted Tony’s weight into him, burying his nose into hair. “You know, I’d burn the entire world for you.”
“I should certainly hope not.” Tony muttered back, content to be still for once, “I’m not worth it.”
“Hmmm?” Bruce hummed softly. “That’s for me to decide and you to accept. If you died, the world wouldn’t know what hit it.” It sounded like a promise. But it didn’t make much sense- Bruce was a quiet kind of guy.
“Whatever you say Banner- whatever you say.” Tony settled down next to him, threading fingers through fingers, just relaxing where he was safest.
It wasn’t like Banner was serious.
Chapter 2: The Words Have Power
Uhh, so I derped out another chapter. Yep. Hopefully as good as the first.
The grainy image flickered, mocking them in their helplessness. Tony cursed and swore as he wiggled in his bonds, ignoring the hand fisted in his hair, forcing him to look at the video feed, linked to an open area.
Beside him he could hear Clint swearing in an impressive amount of languages, Natasha echoing his sentiments. Steve was quiet, but noble, and Thor so drugged he could barely lift a finger.
It was, in fact, a little scarily reminiscent of the last time they had been captured, where the only member of the team missing was Bruce. Because he was missing now. Again. He was always missing. Yeah, he was missing because he was always off in India, and Brazil, and China helping out the people who couldn’t help themselves, but still.
Hulk would really be appreciated about now.
“Once we have the Hulk in our hands, kill the rest. We don’t need them.”
Or maybe not.
Tony ground his teeth together, tensing and getting ready for what would happen next. For any sign of weakness that would allow him to escape and just warn Bruce-
The camera flickered, and a voice spoke through the loudspeaker, “Ah, Doctor Banner. I’m so pleased that you decided to join us. Please, come closer.”
Tony’s breath froze as Bruce stepped into view on the screen.
He had him. He had the Hulk within grabbing distance. The quiet, ruffled looking scientist was standing in his room, hands in his pockets, dark eyes watching him. The man smiled, wanting to proclaim his victory to the world.
He, Glen Talbot, had done what Ross couldn’t. He had managed to successfully convince Bruce Banner, otherwise known as the Hulk into peacefully giving himself up. Of course, while it might be in exchange for his teammates, he had not intention of letting the Avengers go.
Loose cannons, all of them, uncontrollable and would one day lead to the ruin of America. Thereby, he was eliminating two threats at once.
“Where are they? Where are my teammates? Where’s Tony?”
He smiled, coldly, confident that the doctor wouldn’t dare cross him. The doctor, appropriately, took a step back, hands still in pockets. “You will see them Banner, when I say so, and not before.”
Dark eyes flashed, and a hand in a pocket curled. “Now then Doctor Banner, shall we discuss the terms?”
He had to stall for time, let his men get into position, readying the guns from above-
The sound of a body hitting the floor made him whirl. His bodyguard, lurking out of sight, crumbled to the ground. “What-“
There were more thuds, of people falling, and he felt the first creeps of terror fall on him. Then, a low, amused voice spoke at his shoulder, “Is something wrong Talbot?”
He couldn’t help that terrified screech of surprise as he jumped and turned, Banner standing right behind him. Talbot took a deep breath, staring at the scientist with wide eyes. Bruce smiled back, a calm, gentle smile like one would have with a child.
“Really Talbot, you should calm down. There’s no need to be all surprised. Now, I believe we were talking about conditions?” Bruce’s smile didn’t twitch from it’s calm position.
Tony leaned forward, squinting at the screen, “What is he doing?”
“I don’t know, but he needs to keep it up!” Clint snarled from behind him, shifting against his bonds, as the unconscious men lay behind them.
“Natasha, Clint, do you know anything in Shield that could do this?” Steve questioned, almost uneasily, and Tony glared out of the corner of his eye, because was Steve seriously suggesting what Tony thought he was?
“No.” He twisted to look at Natasha’s pale face. “I’ve never heard of anything that could do something like this.”
“What did you do Banner?!” His voice embarrassingly, rose an octave, as he took a step back.
Bruce shook his head. “Don’t wander too far now Talbot~” How did he know his name? He didn't give out his name. How? “We wouldn’t want you to become like your men, now would we? We still have conditions to discuss.”
He froze, back going stiff. “What. Did. You. Do.”
Maybe, just maybe, one of his men was still awake enough or missed whatever poison Banner had dumped into their food supply somehow. If they knew how to counteract it- “Gamma pulses.”
He collapsed to his knees. Gamma? Gamma radiation? Was he going to turn into a monster like Banner was? No, no, no he couldn’t- didn’t-
Then dark brown eyes were near his, mere inches away. “Get up Talbot. You’re not allowed to die until I know that what’s mine is safe.” There was a long moment of silence as Talbot stared at him. “Now, I know what you want to do with me. You want to dissect me.”
Banner pulled himself to his full height, somehow looking unthreatening in a terrifying way that sent a shiver down his spine, because Banner was still smiling. “You want to dissect me. Hardly an original thought. Three groups have tried dissecting me already.”
“Really? Three? Hey, super-assassins, what do you-“
“We know nothing Tony.” Natasha said flatly, “This is the first time I’ve heard it as well.”
“Guys, quiet down, I can’t hear.” Steve snapped, leaning in closer, as Tony glowered- Why was everyone being so blind to Bruce’s pain-
Then he heard it, Banner’s voice, “According to my own research, a human can only last a full out dissection for maybe two, three hours. Four, if you’re careful. But the human body can only take so much, especially when being full dissected. Surgery is different. Surgery is just going in to a specific place, but dissection? Messy, messy business.”
And Tony’s stomach dropped right out of his body, because he knew that voice, Bruce and him talked in those voices all the time when considering a problem- Professional detachment.
Talbot swallowed hard, gathering what little courage he had left into his legs, forcing himself to get up, stand up. “We weren’t planning on-“
“Don’t you dare try to lie to me Talbot.” Banner’s voice had abruptly gone soft, deadly, threatening, but Talbot couldn’t understand it, there wasn’t even a hint of green in those deadly brown eyes. Hulk... Hulk was the scarier of the two, wasn't he?
“You took what’s mine and you expect to walk away from it? You expect anyone in this entire base to walk away from it?”
Talbot felt the growing of icy-cold dread in his stomach. This base had women and little children on it. Those kids. “Banner, there’s kids here, you can’t honestly-“
“They’re dead already.” Bruce’s voice was completely congenial, as if he were talking about the weather. “They would’ve died first.”
“Your team, they can’t possibly-“
“No, no. I take care of what’s mine you know? Whenever I turn into the Hulk, I release Gamma radiation. There’s no point in being with them if I’ll just kill them, right? So I’ve inoculated them against gamma radiation. It’s very easy to slip into their food you know.” Banner smiled oh so gently, “It isn’t something Jarvis can even register. Very handy.”
“Please tell me that Banner has not been poisoning our food.”
“I- That’s- But Jarvis is calibrated to recognize-“
“But is he calibrated to the specific inoculation? Because I don’t know much about medicine, but… it sounds like there’s all sorts of cures that have nothing to do with the disease specifically.”
“Yeah, but… I didn’t think anyone had created any, otherwise Bruce would’ve gotten rid of the Hulk.”
“It doesn’t have to work on him, just on us.” Clint pointed out dryly, even as there was the sound of a rope finally snapping, “But I guess I could see why he’d do that if he keeps emitting gamma rays whenever he changes.”
“Clint, but he’s only been doing it to us. Not to all of the other Shield Agents who are around at the same time.” Natasha pointed out softly.
Talbot forced himself to his feet, eyes flickering around the room. “So then, if it’s gamma, this room must have been reinforced.” That meant that his attack team could still be waiting.
The smile didn’t change, or so much as flicker. “No. It’s not. What you’re looking at is a tiny pocket. I set up two emitters, that, in this room, in a twenty foot diameter meld together to cancel each other out. But~ you take one step outside of that parameter, and your skin will begin to peel off in boils, your bowels will go completely slack, and you will die screaming in horrible pain due to the amplification of the waves on the edge.”
He stared numbly- he didn’t doubt him. He didn’t doubt Bruce, not for one second. Which is why he stood stiff and frozen as Bruce stalked around him, practically purring, every inch the monster that they thought Hulk was. “Now then, I wonder what I should do. You took what’s mine. I don’t appreciate that. Not at all.”
Bruce paused, mere inches away from him. “You have a wife, don’t you. And three kids? What were their names, oh yes, Mary, Joseph, James, and Benjamin. There’s four. That will compensate for one of my teammates. So who next?”
Bruce circled around him, “I don’t think you could survive a dissection for thirty minutes, but there are other ways- You’re such a good Christian man, aren’t you? Always using your hands to help. A good fourth of your bones are in your hands you know. Maybe I should take them.”
Bruce picked up his hand, and he stood, rooted to the spot, unable to even pull together enough feeling to be terrified of the way a thumb brushed against the back of his hand. “I wonder how well that would go, you having no bones in your hands. There’s instruments for that.”
Eyes flickered up. “Oh, I know. You have the exact color that I’ve always wanted.”
“Have you ever been skinned alive Talbot? It’s a painful process, I know, but you’ll at least live. For now of course.”
Banner slipped around him, eyeing him like he was already a dead body on the slab, ready to be used. And he was. He knew he was dead, just still breathing, and he wanted to get away-
“Now, now, we can’t have you running, now can we?”
There was a quick swipe and then there was painpainpainpainpain. “That was your hamstring. You won’t be able to walk more then a mile for the rest of your life. Not that you’re going to survive that much longer.” Bruce held up slightly bloody dagger. “Even if you escape me, this blade was smeared with poison. Unless I administer the antidote within ten hours, you will die by dehydration. Dying by throwing up is such a painful, pitiful, slow agonizing death. It might compensate for a pinky finger. So I suppose I'll have to work fast then, to extract my compensation.”
“Oh, you honestly think a pathetic organization like Shield is going to save you? Despite Fury’s confidence, it’s easy to take down that organization- The invisible helicarrier is so delicate after all, just one cut wire, and it’s useless.”
Talbot bowed his head, and began to shiver, completely and utterly terrified for his life.
Clint broke the bonds with a triumphant yell- Natasha was right behind him, and the two spies quickly spread out to the room, freeing the other Avengers. On screen, and through the mic that had been originally supposed to torment them, Bruce Banner laughed quietly and happily, like he would when he and Tony stumbled out of the lab, after a full day of SCIENCE.
Tony knew that laugh, he’d heard it in the lab, in bed, around the tower- it had used to be comforting. But now… It was still comforting in a vaguely creepy way.
Bruce loved him enough to kill. Bruce loved him enough to set up a gamma emitter that was killing every single last person in the entire building, and he was insane but he still wanted nothing more then to wrap around Bruce, and cuddle him late into the night.
“Now, the question is, what’re we going to do about Bruce? We can’t-“
“He isn’t going against us guys.” Tony interrupted harshly, defensively, because Bruce was his “You heard him, he considers the team to be important.”
Steve looked at him helplessly, “For now- But then what? What happens after Tony?”
“He won’t hurt us.” Tony insisted stubbornly, “He doesn’t do that.”
Clint pointed mutely at the screen, where Talbot had broken down into whimpering cries and sobs for mercy. The man was never going to recover from that. Never.
Bruce laughed, full of dark delight. “That’s what you get for harming me and mine. I’m going to take it back, and my scales are far heavier then yours. I hope you enjoy being alone Talbot, because every last family member, all the way down to your second cousin Theresa that you kissed five summers ago is disappearing.”
Tony Stark Stared at it, stared at the inexorable conclusion that stared him in the face, no matter how hard he raged against it- and sighed. “But I- I love him.”
Steve reached out cautiously to clasp him on the shoulder, eyes dark, but understanding.
Natasha pointed out quietly, “There’s nothing we can do. There’s no poison strong enough to kill him, no drug powerful enough to keep him down for more then a few hours. All we can do is hope.”
Hope that Bruce never, ever turned against them.
“I can do that.” Tony agreed, grasping at the straws offered. “C’mon, let’s go retrieve Banner. And not a word of this to him.”
Clint grinned through gritted teeth. “I prefer Hulk. Can we just permanently Hulk him out? Hulk isn’t scary. He’s a big kid. I like Hulk and he likes me.”
“So does Bruce.” Tony snapped back, and began rewiring the speaker. “Bruce likes us. If he didn’t…”
Then they would all be dead in their beds by an untraceable poison.
But still- Tony rewired, they pulled off a little magic, and soon Bruce wrapped both arms around him, and Tony sighed as he leaned into those arms, as Bruce hummed in delight. It was like Talbot had never happened, like the gamma emitters didn’t exist, and he was home.
It was a terrifying home, but it was Bruce.
They were both wrapped up in each other enough not to notice Natasha keep one hand on her gun, or how Clint fingered tranquilizing arrow, or Steve tense every time Bruce shifted.
Bruce would. Eventually.
Just not now.