Chapter Three

When the Villain is Revealed

"Is everything going according to plan?" the scrambled voice over the small laptop said.

"Yes, sir, it is. Hulk has obtained control of the body and is refusing to allow Banner to regain control, just as you suspected would occur," the young man, a boy about twenty or so with dark brown hair cut to his jawline and piercing gray eyes said into the microphone.

There was a laugh, which sounded all the more nefarious because it was behind the voice changer. "Good, good. Make sure Ross is aware of the Hulk's current location; let's see if we can't put some dents in that spirit of the beast's. Put in the anonymous tip we discussed."

"Of course, sir. Um, what about Parker?" he asked, wringing his hands slightly. "He's…unpredictable."

There was a snort. "Don't worry about Parker. He's insignificant, and so is his team of children pretending to be heroes. Ignore them."

He nodded. "Okay, sir. Anything else?"

"Oh, did he kill Stark, by chance?" the voice asked, hopeful.

"I don't know sir, the whole thing has been kept quiet, my guess is that it's within SHEILD only. If he's dead, the public hasn't been notified," he said with a shrug.

Behind him, there was a knock at the door. "Sir, I have to go."

"Very well, check in in twelve hours."

He slammed the laptop closed and went to the door, and put on a radiant smile. "Mary Jane!" he said as he opened the door to his dorm room to see his date for the night.

"Hey, Charles. Are you ready?" she asked with a brilliant smile.

"Oh, yes, Mary Jane, very ready, starved in fact, and I can't wait to see this movie…how was your day?" he asked, grabbing his coat and heading out the door.

"Oh, my best friend, Peter, you know, he's having boyfriend issues," she said with a sigh.

"Oh that's never good, here, tell me about it over dinner," he said, shutting the door. "Don't want to miss our reservation!"

-oooooo-OOOOOO-oooooo-

"Sir! General Ross is on the line!" Maria yelled across the helicarrier.

"Fuck," Fury muttered under his breath. "Put him in the conference room."

Just what he needed, that psychotic son of a bitch messing with the hulk right now. He had to put him off the trail but he was at a loss for how to do it. Tony was still in surgery with no word on exactly how long he would be out of commission and no idea of what condition he would be in mentally when he woke up.

"General Ross, so good to hear from you," Fury said as he sat down and stared at the dour face of the General.

"Cut the crap, Fury. You lost control of hulk, didn't you?" he said.

Fury arched a brow. "What makes you say that, general? The hulk is right where we put him and under SHIELD surveillance at this time. Northern New York, helping with some forest removal."

General Ross growled. "Bullshit, Fury. You let him go out of control, and now I'm taking him down," he said, the line going dead.

"Dammit," he muttered, standing up. "Barton, get your ass in here!" he yelled out the door.

Clint came running. "Director?" he asked.

"Have Thor show you where hulk is, take the strongest hulk dropping tranqs we got and bring him back. Keep him sedated even if he turns back to Banner. We don't know what the fuck is going on, but Ross is on his way to deal with the hulk if we don't get him back first. It will take him a few hours to mobilize, but Thor can get you there in a few minutes. Take him down, bring him back, we'll question him then," he said with a nod.

"Got it, boss," Clint said, and took off, clapping Thor on the back and heading out.

Asgardian express wasn't his favorite way to travel, but he had to hand it to Thor, he could move fast when the need arose. Before long they were close to where Hulk was effectively deforesting an entire area. Clint and Thor dropped down into the newly formed clearing.

"Friend Hulk!" Thor bellowed, getting the green monster's attention.

"What Thunder want?" he yelled back.

Clint spoke up. "Ross is coming this way. We need you to come back. I'll tranquilize you, and we're not going to let Bruce have control," he said, hoping that he would listen.

He roared, "Hulk no go!"

Clint nodded. "Look, I get it, but you want Bruce to get in trouble for what he did, right? Be punished?"

The hulk tilted his head and nodded.

"Okay, then, I'm going to use this tranq arrow, and you're gonna let me, got it, big guy? If Banner wakes up, you can just take control back," Clint said, loading up the arrow and pointing it at him.

The hulk looked like he was about to debate the issue but nodded. "Hulk go." In the distance, they could hear Ross's people heading their way. Clint took the shot, hitting him in the thigh and he crumpled into Bruce's form, but he was out before he hit the ground. Thor picked up Bruce and tossed him over his shoulder and looked at Clint. "I cannot carry two."

Clint shook his head. "Ah, I'll wait for Ross."

Thor nodded and headed back, leaving Clint to deal with the annoyed general. He hoped his friend would be alright there alone. He had to get Bruce back and under sedation before he woke up again, though, so he headed back, going unnoticed by the army massing nearby. He landed on the helicarrier and went directly to the med bay where Bruce was set up on a high powered sedative. He went to the other area and the waiting room where Steve and Pepper sat waiting for word.

"Has there been any news on the man of Iron?" Thor asked quietly as he entered. He had actually learned how to speak in appropriate tones to a situation in the last three years.

Pepper shook her head. "Not yet, Thor. The last we heard they were having to watch for swelling around his trachea where those bruises on his throat were, and they were almost done with the abdominal surgery. It looked worse than it was, they said, but there was a perforation they had to repair as well as a few other internal and external tears that had to be stitched. We have to watch for infection over the next week or so, and he'll be on a nasal feeding tube for a while, as long as his nose doesn't swell too badly. That's broken, and both his cheekbones were fractured somehow. So far, there haven't been complications to the surgery however."

Thor nodded. "I wish that I could bring a healer to him, but I fear my father may not approve such use of Asgardian magic."

Steve smiled at him. "Don't worry, Thor. You guys picked up the hulk?"

"Yes, friend Clint stayed behind to deal with the Ross fellow," Thor said. "The hulk is in the other medical bay under sedation. They said they had many tests to run, since the recent acts were out of character for friend Bruce."

Steve nodded. "Yeah, you could say that."

Steve stood and went to leave, but Pepper put a hand on his arm. "What are you doing?"

"I need to move around," he said quietly, heading out of the room.

-oooooo-OOOOOO-oooooo-

Peter came up to the carrier with more than a little trepidation. The shuttle had met them at the tower, so it was obvious that Fury was watching the tower. He wasn't really looking forward to discussing the situation with Fury, or anyone for that matter. Danny and Sam weren't letting him slip away though. He had to own up to it. As expected, he was met by a stern faced Fury.

"Mr. Parker, I think we have something to talk about," he said.

Peter looked at him and shrugged. "About my really good catch rate?" he asked.

Fury pointed to the conference room. Peter and his team went in quietly. To be honest, Peter was out of smart aleck remarks today.

"So, Parker. Care to tell me anything?" Fury said as he sat down opposite the younger man and his team.

Peter shifted a bit uncomfortably. "I guess you already know by the way you're looking at me."

Fury nodded. "A tiny bit of footage that Tony forgot to erase from his databanks. Hard to come by. Tony worked really hard at hiding everything that happened in that tower. You were there, and I'm sure you were aware of what happened."

"Please…tell me Bruce…he didn't…" Peter stammered, staring at his hands nervously.

"Tony's not dead. He's in surgery. What I need to know is what the hell were you thinking?" Fury said, leaning back and sighing.

Peter looked to his friends and found they were all avoiding his gaze. "I thought…I thought he was telling me the truth and that he l-loved me, and that him and Tony were wrong for each other and that…that…he wasn't going to leave him because it would look bad for Tony if they got a divorce so soon."

Fury shook his head. "I believe you," he said and sighed. "Wish I could punish you for being a stupid kid, but I can't. Bruce had us all fooled, it would seem. What I do need to know is how it started."

Peter sighed. "I met him after a function at the school. We talked, he knew who I was, had read the file, and so he wanted to do some testing. I mean, at first, that was all it was. I was working with him on the stuff in the lab. Then I asked about Tony and he said he was busy and not to worry about him. Then…just this one night, he just came on really strong and…you know…one thing led to another…"

Fury frowned. "Had anything changed for you recently? New friends, relationships around you?"

Peter shook his head. "I remember it was funny that I'd end up getting together with him because my friend MJ started dating a new guy the week before, a guy named Charles, I think. Nothing serious, and they're still together now."

Fury nodded. "This Charles, new in school?"

Peter looked up. "Um, yeah, actually, just moved to New York from Connecticut. Good guy, a chemistry major, so we have a lot of classes together. When they started hanging together, of course, we saw each other a lot."

Fury nodded. "Might be nothing, but I'm looking for anything that might be important."

After a while Fury told them they could go, and everyone else left, but Peter wanted to stay and see if Tony was alright. He really didn't want to see anything bad happen to him. He never did. He got up and headed out and ran into someone. He started to mutter apologies when he felt a very strong hand grip his arm. He looked up to see himself staring into a face that perhaps everyone in all of SHIELD knew very well. Steve Rogers was giving him a very strange look. Oh, hell, he thought. He knows too.

"C-captain…Rogers," he said, trying not to tremble. Just not what he wanted right now. Like the rest of the team he idolized Captain America, who wouldn't? He was the first Avenger, the supersoldier… He didn't want to meet him under these cirucmstances.

"Parker," he said quietly, and that one word made Peter want to crawl in a hole and die. "I see you came on board. Bruce is sedated. We're not planning on letting him wake up for a while, though."

Peter nodded. "Yeah, th-that's good. I don't think I could talk to him right now."

Steve sighed, letting go. "Look, I get that you were used in this. Just, try to do the right thing now. That's all I ask."

Steve turned and left, leaving Peter standing feeling a lot less confident than when he started. He sighed and leaned against the helicarrier wall for a moment to collect himself. He moved down the halls and found himself in the outside of the med bay where they had Bruce. He was sedated, but otherwise, it looked like Bruce. He sighed, winding his way down to where the other medbay was and he saw that apparently Tony had come out of surgery. Pepper, he thought her name was, was sitting beside the bed, holding one of his hands, and Thor was leaning against the wall by the door. Peter winced. His face was black across both cheekbones and his nose was terribly swollen. He could see the stark purple marks around his neck, and otherwise he was covered with the blanket, the only other thing was the blue of the reactor in his chest. Several IV bags ran, and there was a breathing tube in his throat.

Peter put both hands on the glass for a moment and looked. Bruce did that. Bruce had done that to Tony. He gulped and ran toward the nearest bathroom and threw up. Was it all a game to him? Was Peter just a passing fancy for him? What was it? He sat down on the floor in the stall and waited. He didn't know what to think about the whole thing anymore.

-oooooo-OOOOOO-oooooo-

"Ross failed to capture the beast," the masked voice spoke from the computer. It was well into the early morning hours.

Charles had dropped off Mary Jane and come back and tried to sleep, quite unsuccessfully. Twelve hours had passed. Four am.

Charles rubbed a hand over his head. "Sir, I have no other plays, please, can you…can you please…release her? There is nothing else I can do, it is completely out of my hands. Parker is on the helicarrier, so are Bruce and Tony as well as the Avengers. There is nothing I can do."

There was a long pause. "Bring the rest of the compound to the train station. Your mother will be returned when I have the compound. Then, you will be free to go."

"Okay," he said, swallowing a lump and going to the closet and pulling out the steel case.

He hailed a cab and hit the train station they had met at before. He didn't know how long he'd wait. He knew that he would make him wait a while because it was the way he did things. It didn't help his nerves. This had all started nearly a year ago when his mom disappeared from her home and he got a text message on his cell phone to come to this station. There, he met with one of the masked men who handed him a phone where he talked to the leader on it. He told him what to do, which at the time was to wait for further instructions. A month later, he was instructed to move his classes to New York and take a Chemistry major. He was an English major. He managed though. He had to get his mother back. Somehow, his failing grades didn't seem to affect his academic career. The leader must have been manipulating someone in the school.

Then, he was called back to the station and given the case with instructions to get close to Peter Parker through his best friend, Mary Jane Watson. He was to plant increasing amounts of the substance in the case on him. The substance was immediately absorbed into the skin wherever it touched and Charles had to be careful with it. He didn't know what it was. He didn't ask, he didn't care. He would do anything to get his mom back. Now, though, he couldn't do anything more for this leader of these men.

A man approached and reached for the case. Charles looked up.

"The case, boy," came a rough male voice. "The Leader said you'd have it."

He nodded. "Where…where's my mom?" he asked quietly, looking around.

"Oh, don't worry, I'll take you to her," the voice said, taking case and ushering him away from the front of the station behind the taxi stand area. Seconds later a shot rang out from behind the Taxi stand, and a man with a steel case left alone.

The news carried a story of a mugging the next morning, and only SHIELD put together that Charles McDaniels of Connecticut was the same boy Peter had talked about. He was brought on board the carrier for an autopsy, and the examiner delivered the findings to the director.

"What is this?" Fury asked, reading over the report. "Trace amounts of a gamma active compound?"

"Yes, sir, we're analyzing it now. I thought perhaps if Mr. Parker would like to take a look, he is the only one besides Banner that knows anything about gamma radiation," the medical examiner said softly.

Fury nodded. "Put him on it. I think he stayed on the carrier last night."

-oooooo-OOOOOO-oooooo-

Tony's first realization was that he was somewhere with way too many bright lights. Dammit, had he left the shields up on the bedroom windows? He usually put them down at night. He groaned and tried to cover his face but found that he couldn't move his hands. Well that sucked, what the hell was going on now, he thought. He blinked, unable to focus well in the bright light. What was the last thing he remembered?

His eyes shot wide. Hulk, Bruce…pain, lots of that…and blood, he remembered vividly and gasped, trying to sit up, as panic settled over his chest like a vice.

He felt hands on his shoulders and he tried to get away from them. What if Bruce took over again and was mad that Tony hadn't cleaned up everything before he returned? That had happened on more than one occasion. Bruce wasn't happy when he returned and found that Tony hadn't fixed things back to the way they were before he got upset. He couldn't take this right now.

"No," he said, trying to shake his hands out of whatever was holding them down.

"Tony, please, look at me," came a familiar voice that was not Bruce. He tried to calm his breathing and felt something cool run through his arm and he was feeling a lot more relaxed.

He opened his eyes to look at up at pair of sky blue ones. "Hey…Steve…what's goin' on?" he said slightly slurred.

"What did you give him?" Steve said, looking over at the doctor by the IV.

"A sedative. We can't have him panicking like that, he'll pull his stitches," he said, checking thins and leaving the room.

Steve pulled his chair over and sat down by Tony's head. "Hey Tony. Are you feeling okay?"

"Hmmm, I feel sleepy and really, really high," he said with a lopsided grin. "You look so worried," he muttered, frowning.

"Oh, just waiting for you to wake up. You had surgery yesterday," Steve said, putting a hand on his shoulder gently.

Tony's eyes fluttered again. "Oh, yeah? Wha happen, don't 'member."

"I don't think you should worry, Tony, okay?" Steve said, biting on is bottom lip.

"I need to scratch mah nose," Tony said, wrinkling his nose. "Let my hands go?"

Steve reached up and rubbed Tony's nose gently. "No, you have to leave them down like that for now, Tony, you have a few tubes that need to stay put, okay?"

"If you say so Steve," he said, sighing as Steve obviously cured his itchy nose problem. "Thanks Steve," he muttered, eyes fluttering again and he seemed to doze off again.

Steve looked up as the door opened and Pepper came in quietly. "He said he'd woke up," she said, coming over and looking at him.

"He did, but he had a panic attack, so they gave him a sedative to calm him and now he's fallen asleep again," Steve said, patting Tony's shoulder.

Pepper sat down on the foot of the bed and laid a hand on Tony's leg. "He's so fragile, Steve. Inside, you know. He tries his best to look so tough and strong and all that, but he's really not. He's just like glass inside. I couldn't handle it, you know. I couldn't hold him without breaking that glass. I thought Bruce could. I really did. But now…"

Steve put a hand over her hand. "Pepper. I'll do everything I can, okay? You need to take care of yourself and the baby, or Tony will kill us."

Pepper smiled and nodded. "You're right. I'll come back in the morning. I'll spend the rest of the day with Happy, and maybe tomorrow he'll be up without sedatives."

Steve nodded. "I'll stay with him."

Pepper smiled and stood up, patting Steve on the back. She left and took a chopper down to the ground. She had to release a press release on Tony or else things were going to get sticky with the company. She sighed and hoped that Steve was careful. Tony had loved Bruce with all his heart, but Pepper knew that there was a piece of him that was still a little boy that adored Captain America more than anyone else in the whole world.

-oooooo-OOOOOO-oooooo-

Peter started when there was a loud knock on the door to the quarters he'd slept in the night before. He'd called Aunt May and told her that he was going to spending the night with a friend. He sat up and answered it to see a SHIELD agent standing there.

"Mr. Parker, Director Fury requests your attendance in laboratory 3," he said and turned on his heel and left.

Peter sighed and threw on his jeans and t-shirt without a word and took off toward the lab. What in the world the director wanted him for. He was definitely not looking forward to whatever it was.

"Mr. Parker," Fury said with a sigh. "I've got a job for you. Since our Gamma expert is currently under heavy sedation, you are the only person who knows enough to handle this. We need to know what this compound is," he said, pointing to a slide.

Peter went over and looked into the microscope. He sat back. "What…where did this come from?"

"From the body of Charles McDaniels. He was found dead at one of the train stations this morning," he said with a nod at Peter.

Peter stared. "Charles is dead?"

"I'm afraid so, Mr. Parker. It seems that whatever is going on is a bit more complicated than we would like to believe," he said. "And this is the only clue to Mr. McDaniels death and what is happening with Bruce. So far, this is our only link, and he's turned up dead today. You need to figure out what that substance is," he said.

Peter nodded, a little shocked as he looked at it under the microscope again. He reached for a pad and started making notes. It took almost all morning but he finally mapped out the properties and stood outside Fury's office with the clipboard in hand.

"Enter," came his voice when he knocked.

"Director, sir, I've got some findings…" he said, looking at him.

Fury nodded. "Go ahead."

Peter swallowed hard. Steve Rogers and Clint Barton were both sitting in the chairs opposite his desk. "Ah yeah, so it is a gamma reactive substance. It looks like it is absorbed through tactile contact," he said. "Um, and it only affects gamma irradiated individuals. I tested both my blood and Bruce's blood and found high concentrations in both. It…it is my theory that I was infected with the compound and passed it through touch to Bruce. However, my gamma radiation levels are lower, so I did not have as extreme a reaction to the substance."

Fury stared at him. "What sort of reaction are we talking here?"

Peter sighed. "I'm going to be honest, but it seems that my reaction lowered my senses. My extra sensation has been dulled, something I had noticed, but hadn't paid much attention to because I've been working with the team. I just…I thought it was normal. So that explains why I didn't sense danger from the situation. By this point, my extra sensation is nearly non-functional. In Bruce, it…it seems to have drawn the anger and rage that he normally has in check to the surface and suppressed the hulk like it suppressed my spider-senses. It took Bruce actively pulling hulk to the surface for him to even express himself. Hulk may not be capable of coming to the surface on his own anymore."

Fury nodded. "The question is, who could develop something like this?"

Peter shook his head. "I don't know. I don't think Bruce could have come up with something like this if he tried. I mean, this completely suppresses the gamma changes, but the secondary effects are detrimental, like Bruce's increase in violence and anger, and my…um…well…yeah."

Fury and the other two arched a brow. "Your what?"

Peter shook his head. "Looking at it, I might have had an increase in things I normally suppress, namely libido and the like…"

"So, it turned you in a sex fiend and turned Bruce into a raging psycho?" Clint said with an oddly serious face.

Peter blushed. "Yeah. I guess that's a way to put it…"

Fury rubbed his forehead. "What purpose?"

Peter shook his head. "I don't know. I'm pretty sure Bruce was the target. I duplicated the compound," he said, holding up a small tube of a bright green substance. "Watch," he said, taking Clint's hand and pouring it onto him. It sat on top of his hand like a thick liquid. He then put his finger into the puddle of it and it crawled up onto his finger and disappeared into his skin. "It doesn't affect anyone not affected by some form of gamma radiation. But it will transfer from me to another person," he said, putting his hand on his forearm and the green glow moved from his finger to his arm and disappeared again.

"Is there a way to fix it?" Steve said, frowning.

"I don't know, I'll keep looking, but I'm compromised. I don't know for sure if there are any other effects to this stuff that we haven't seen yet. I…I don't know."

Fury nodded. "Keep looking," he said. Peter nodded and left quietly.

Fury looked at the two. "Alright, so that meshes with what you came across, Barton. Is Widow still in the field?"

Clint nodded. "Yeah, she was still working on another angle. But this group might just be our people."

"So you're telling me, this is a group of people that worship the hulk like a god?" Fury said, eyeing him.

Clint nodded. "They call him their King and they think that he's the reincarnation of most, if not all, the past gods of destruction on earth. The have this belief that he's going to destroy the world and it will come back perfect. They call themselves the Verdant Saviors. The truly think that they represent the salvation of the earth. Most the members are ecowarriors, Eco terrorists, people that want to see the earth renewed."

"This is a cult," Steve said with a nod. "So who is the leader of this cult?"

Clint shook his head. "All we could find out is that the guy calls himself the leader, and they call the hulk is the king. That's all I could glean from the outside. Maybe Natasha will have better luck from the inside."

-oooooo-OOOOOO-oooooo-

Natasha hated being undercover when it was something like this. She didn't even know if she was going to get the information they were hoping for. She just knew for Tony's sake, and for Bruce's sake, really, she had to figure out what this was. If Bruce wasn't being manipulated or something, she was going to rip his spine out through his chest, hulk or no hulk.

She stood among a group of about fifty people wearing green robes. They were all here to hear the leader speak. She hated going under cover in cults. The people were always so damn weird. Everyone hushed as a man in a green robe stepped up to the podium. She frowned because he must have been wearing some sort of headpiece under the cowl of the cloak because it stood up really high.

"My dear ones," came a smooth, male voice over the speakers. "The day has come where we will wait no longer for our God-King to come before us! Destruction is nigh, my dears! The great green beast shall lay waste to the land and a new world, verdant and healthy shall rise from the ruin!"

Around her, the crowd cheered and yelled, "Yes! Verdant!"

"The Verdant Saviors shall pave the way for the rebirth!" he said, raising his hands high and Natasha saw something that made her stare. His hands were green. Hulk green.

"Saviors!" shouted the crowd around her.

"Who will wash the earth clean and raze to the ground these foolish constructs?" he said, arms higher.

"The God-King!" the crowd responded.

"And who will lead you to the God-King?" he shouted.

"The Leader!" the crowd responded. "Lead us! Lead us! Lead us!" the crowd chanted and Natasha quickly covered her mouth as an alarm on her earpiece beeped gently. Gas, she thought, as she slipped a nasal plug into her nose and slid an air feed into her mouth. From the outside it was invisible almost, just a small piece of tubing that ran from a filter on her pouch. There was some sort of gas being pumped into the area. She obtained a sample and continued to watch.

"Yes! To pave the way we must release our God-King!" he shouted at the crowd.

"Release him! Release him!"

"To do that we must destroy those that hold him! Destroy SHIELD, destroy the Avengers! The God-King will save the Earth! Green as the earth, those of his chosen will stand before you like I do!" he said, pushing the cloak off his head and Natasha saw that he wasn't wearing a headdress at all. His skull was expanded and bulbous and his skin a darker green than hulk's.

"Destroy them!" the crowd shouted.

Natasha slipped away through the shouting, cheering crowd. She had no idea what this was, but this was weird, that was all she knew as she ditched the cloak and slipped down to her ninja that she had hidden in the edge of a wood nearby. She had to get back to SHIELD.