This story was written for the Marvel Big Bang 2014 on Livejournal. And it's crack, total and utter crack... with a plot. Beware the gratuitous movie/tv show/book references and dodgy comic book science that only vaguely makes sense if you squint. I had a ton of fun writing this, but sadly all my lovely formatting for the social media bits got lost in uploading, so it doesn't look nearly as nice as it did in my original draft. :( Many thanks to LittleBounce for beta-reading the story, and PinkElephant42 for drawing amazing artwork to go with it (seriously, go check it out: archiveo fourown collections/ marvel_ bang_2014/ works/2531969).
Takes place within the Marvel Cinematic Universe, but with a healthy flavouring of "Avengers: Earth's Mightiest Heros". Cannon-compliant (although spoiler-free) for Thor 2, but completely ignores "Captain America 2".
Disclaimer: Nope, don't own anything but the plot. Also, I did make up all the screen names I've used in this story, but if I've accidentally guessed someone's then I apologize. It's not intentional.
To Hug a Hulk
It all started with a little girl.
She was eight, maybe ten years old with light blonde hair tied into pigtails with bright purple bows. The Avengers never did figure out just why she decided the Hulk was the best one of them to approach – perhaps it was simply because he was the tallest or possibly the closest. Or maybe she just liked the colour green. It wasn't like any of them knew the first thing about children.
All they knew was that they'd just finished subduing a hoard of large mutant locusts. That ate metal. Iron Man was not pleased with the bite marks in his suit and even less pleased that they apparently disliked the taste of Vibranium, which meant Captain America's flying metal disk had come out completely unscathed. His only consolation was that Thor's armour was apparently just as nibble-worthy as his suit.
The Hulk was feeling restless, but satisfied. The big bugs had been annoying, flying all over the place with that odd humming sound. So, the Hulk had smashed them and now it was much quieter. He wished there were more things to smash, but at least the annoying flying bugs were gone. In the distance he heard the loud flying thunder man's laughter. The Hulk grinned. Maybe he'd finally succeed in smashing the thunder man today.
Just as he was about to go smash the big blond man, he felt a gentle tug on his pant leg. The Hulk whirled around, teeth bared and then paused. There was nothing there
There was another tug. "Mister," said a tiny voice and the Hulk looked down. He blinked at the human. Most humans were tiny to the Hulk, but this one was especially tiny. She looked up at him with wide, soulful eyes that held absolutely none of the fear he usually saw when humans looked at him. "Mister, can you help Buttercup?"
The Hulk grunted, curious about this tiny human who wasn't afraid of him. The tiny human beamed at him before grabbing one of his fingers with both her miniature hands and tugging him forward. The Hulk cocked his head to the side, wondering if she actually thought she had the strength to pull him anywhere, but followed along behind her anyway.
Captain America put the little old Italian lady and her pack down, letting the paramedics take over. One of them grabbed the pack and grunted.
"Holy sh – is this hers?!" the young, red-headed man said, his awe at coming face to face with Captain America momentarily forgotten in favour of eyeing the eighty-year-old woman, who looked like her limbs would snap in the slightest breeze. "This has to weigh more than she does; what's she got in here?"
The captain shrugged. "I didn't ask," he said and then left. In truth, he didn't want to know either.
Looking around, he saw that the newly-arrived rescue workers seemed to have the rest of the scene in hand. Thankfully the locusts hadn't seemed to care much for people so long as they could get at any and all metallic substances. Which meant that while the bus from which he'd pulled the Italian grandmother and her pack had only half a roof and not much of a back, the people who'd been riding it were shaken and slightly bruised, but otherwise alright.
He reached back and touched his shield, part of him wanting to make sure it was still there, that it hadn't fallen prey to the locusts. He was sure Tony already had a bunch of theories as to why the bugs hadn't found the shield tasty, but he didn't rightly care. The shield survived the ice with him, it would've killed him if it hadn't managed to survive a swarm of mutated bugs.
"How're things going everyone?" he asked, tapping his earpiece. "Anyone got eyes on Banner?"
"Oh, I'm just peachy. Seriously considering getting into the bug repellent industry. What with the mutant escargot last week and all... for the record if we get mosquitoes next week, I'm sitting it out. 'Cause I don't think-"
"Stark, shut up." Steve sighed. He could always count on Tony to babble at the slightest excuse. Thankfully, he could also count on Natasha to cut him off. Most of the time. Occasionally she would find his babbling amusing and let him go on. And on. And on. And then she would cut him off.
Just then, Hawkeye chimed in. "Uh Cap, Banner's not in the building yet, but I've got eyes on the Hulk."
He frowned. "The Hulk? It sure is awfully quiet for the Hulk to still be around..."
"Yeah, he's uhh... I'm not actually sure what he's doing but it looks like he's trying to get something out of a tree. It's a residential area two blocks down from you and – dammit there's a kid there!"
Before he knew what to think about that, he was already running. It wasn't that he didn't trust the Hulk, but Bruce didn't really seem to know what to do with children and the Hulk had never been tested with them. And, more importantly, children were tiny. The Hulk was not. Nor was he used to looking at his feet unless he was looking down with satisfaction at the things he'd just smashed.
Whatever the Hulk was doing to that tree when Hawkeye had spotted him, he was still at it when Steve reached him. The child was still there too: a little girl that looked more like a porcelain doll next to his enormous bulk. She was staring up into the tree, watching the Hulk anxiously as he rummaged amid the branches. Finally, the Hulk let out a frustrated growl and stepped back. Steve cautiously stepped
"Hulk, are you-?"
The words caught in his throat as the Hulk grabbed one of the tree's larger branches and ripped it off with a splintering crack, accompanied by an ear-splitting yeowl. He looked down at the little girl and gave her a satisfied, toothy grin before lowering the branch to the ground in front of her. Clinging to the base of the branch was a fluffy white cat that looked like it had just come out of a dryer. Its fur was standing on end and it was trembling.
"Buttercup!" the little girl cried happily as she ran to scoop up the poor terrified creature. The cat valiantly attempted to cling to the branch with its claws, but the girl gave it another, unconcerned tug and hugged it to her by the upper body. The child smiled up at the looming green Hulk. "Thanks Mister!"
The Hulk cocked his head at her and then grunted before moving off to join the other Avengers.
"Hey Cap, I think Big Green just stole your boyscout shtick. You should watch out for him."
Captain America rolled his eyes at Iron Man.
The Avengers laughed about it afterwards and teased Bruce – who listened to the whole story with a bewildered sort of bemusement and then shook his head. It was an odd sort of coincidence – and some four meter long wasps – that brought them to the same neighbourhood two weeks later. Subduing them had taken hours, even after the Hulk had gotten frustrated and tore out a streetlight from the ground and began swatting them with it. Thor was visiting Jane in London and they'd felt his absence keenly.
Hawkeye remained in position, carefully watching for signs of survivors, while the rest of the Avengers gathered down below to assess their situation.
The Hulk stomped on a wasp with a repulsor burn on its torso and grinned at the resultant splatter. Iron Man landed nearby, next to a grimacing Captain America, who was attempting to use a newspaper to clean bug innards off his shield. It wasn't going very well. Iron Man's visor came up to reveal a similar expression on Tony's face.
"Okay, I know I was joking about the bug repellent before, but now I'm totally grabbing Bruce for some science bro-ing once he's slept off Big Green," said Tony.
"I have no problem with that," said Steve as he looked around for a garbage can, having finally given up on getting his shield clean with mere paper. "Less work for me."
"Except that with our luck, next time it'll be some sort of lizard," Natasha commented dryly as she joined them.
"Then I'll just make it everything-repellent."
"Gonna keep it in your utility belt, Iron Man?" Hawkeye's voice came over the comms.
"Just for that I'll make it a repellent against everything except sharks."
Steve frowned. "Why sharks?" He exchanged a look with Natasha, who shrugged. He could hear Hawkeye snickering through his ear-piece as Tony groaned.
"Oh man, you guys are going to make me sit through an Adam West marathon aren't you?"
"Oh hell yeah."
Steve's frown deepened. "Who's Adam West?"
"Batman. The cheesiest, corniest, most awesome Batman ever."
"I know Batman!" said Steve, his face lighting up with delight. "I don't remember any sharks though."
"Just think of him as the ultimate boyscout," said Tony. "Ready for anything, including shark-infested waters."
They all paused and turned to look at the sound of running feet approaching them along with an odd clacking noise. Even the Hulk went still and watched as a small human ran towards him dragging a plastic wagon containing several plastic bags.
"Mister, Mister, don't go yet, Mister!" she called out as she headed straight for the Hulk. The others tensed, but waited to see what Bruce's alter ego would do.
The Hulk stood where he was until she finally came to a stop in front of him, cheeks red with exertion and panting slightly, but with a huge, happy grin on her face. She looked up at the Hulk, her eyes lighting up with excitement.
"Hi, Mister!" she said. "You helped Buttercup before and mommy says that when someone does something nice for you, that you always do something nice back. So, I baked you cookies!"
She immediately turned to the plastic waggon and reached into one of the bags. The cookie she pulled out was slightly lumpy and lopsided and a bit bigger than a large frisbee. She handed it proudly to the Hulk, who looked as shocked as anyone could ever remember seeing him. Carefully he reached down and took the cookie daintily with his fingers. The little girl looked at him with anticipation.
"Hey, how come no one ever brings me any cookies?" Tony asked with a pout. He turned to Steve. "What did the Hulk do to get cookies?"
"Rescued her cat from a tree," the captain answered with a straight face. "Sadly the tree didn't make it out of the encounter entirely intact."
"Oh, this is the kid with the cat. She's really short. Like, really, really short and I'd just like to point out how happy I am that the stretchy pants for the Hulk were a sucess."
Just then he felt hollow reverberations as something knocked on his armour. He blinked and looked down. The little girl was standing in front of him holding a second walmart bag, which she lifted up towards him when he looked down.
"I have littler cookies for you too," she said. "Thank you for saving New York. I like New York and I would be very sad if it was gone because then mommy and daddy would have to find a new place for us to live and I don't want to move. I had a friend who moved. She went away and never came back and I don't want to go away and never come back."
Tony chuckled. "I like New York too, kid, so I'm glad we could save it for you. Win-win situation all around!"
He gently patted her on the head and she giggled. Then he took the cookies. Meanwhile, the Hulk had finally decided he'd stared the cookie into submission and took a careful bite of it – which meant that half of it was gone. He made a brief face, but continued chewing.
"It's for all of you," the little girl told Tony as she beamed up at him. "I made them all by myself!"
Tony raised an eyebrow. "Is that your way of reminding me to share?"
She nodded enthusiastically. Tony sighed. "Fine. Widow, Cap, come have a cookie."
Black Widow smiled at the child warmly. "I'm sure they're wonderful, but I'm watching my figure," she said. "I'll have one later though."
"Oooh, okay," said the child conspiratorially. "Mommy watches her figure a lot too. She says it's important."
Bewildered, Tony shoved the bag of cookies in Cap's direction. "Gosh, thanks kid," the man said, smiling in the little girl's direction as he took two cookies. Tony glared at him and pulled the bag away as he grabbed one of his own and bit into it.
Oh. He really should've learnt by now to follow the Black Widow's cues. He forced himself to swallow the cookie down.
Tony plastered his best media smile onto his face. "Wow, these are really great," he said and the girl's face lit up.
"Yes, really," said Captain America, his smile only slightly wooden. "Thank you for making them for us."
Steve waited until the child had gone out of earshot before speaking softly out of the corner of his mouth. "You know, when I was in the field during the war they once added chocolate chip cookies to our ration packs." A beat. "They were almost this bad."
Tony nodded. "You know, we were told to share, weren't we? Hey Hawkeye, we've got cookies down here, wanna come down and grab some?"
"Uh, yeah, you guys do realize the comms are open so I can hear your entire conversation up here, right?"
"So, that's a no?"
The only reply he got on the comms was static. He and Captain America waited until the little girl was out of sight in order to quietly sneak their half-eaten cookies back into the walmart bag they'd come from. The Hulk sat down on the curb and growled at anyone who looked like they wanted to take his cookies away from him. He ate every last crumb.
"You know, you'd think as an arch-nemesis, Doom would make a point of knowing when the Fantastic Four were in town," said Iron Man over the comms less than a week later when a small army of doom-bots were attempting to... do something nefarious to Soho (the Avengers weren't entirely sure what they were trying to do other than perhaps enact a vendetta against cast-iron buildings and commercialism – because commercialism was a popular thing to have a vendetta against).
"Maybe it's the other way around; maybe the Fantastic Four are just that good at predicting Doom's attacks that they make a point of not being here when they happen."
A repulsor blast sent a lonely doom-bot careening directly into two of its mates with a loud metallic thud that caused the casing on one of the bots to crack open. Seconds later, an arrow flew into the crack. The exploded seconds later with a force that caught the other two bots in its wake and made them explode as well. The buildings around them shook and screams could be heard from inside as several windows shattered.
"Nice, Hawkeye. Either way, when Richards gets back I'm going to tie him to the Empire State Building with his own stretchy appendages and give Doom a proper target to aim for. One he might actually have a chance at hitting."
Two blocks away, Captain America rolled his eyes. He'd figured out after their third mission out that he would never manage to get Tony to stop chattering on the comms and once Tony got started, Hawkeye was an enthusiastically willingly participant. The trick was to divert his attention to something he needed to concentrate on.
"Iron Man, is there any way you can use, I don't know, some sort of signal to bring them down all at once?"
There were a few moments of silence. "Do you mean can I hack their primary systems and access their internal communications in order to override their directives and send out a remote signal to initiate a shut-down subroutine?"
"Is Yogi a bear?" There was a pause. Steve threw his shield at a doom-bot that was bobbing its way towards a small art gallery. "Wait, don't answer that. I'm not really sure why I thought the seventies was a great place to be right there." Another pause. "The answer is 'yes' by the way."
"What do you need?"
"A live doom-bot and ten minutes."
"On it. Any particular requests?" Steve caught his shield, feeling rather satisfied at the dent it'd left in the bot's side.
"Uh, well, I'd prefer a nice stylish one in bright red, maybe with a gold racing stripe along the side..."
"Sorry, Iron Man, this week's models all come in a boring gunmetal grey. Widow, on your three o-clock!"
"Are you colourblind? That's not gunmetal grey! That's just... grey. Plain, ordinary, boring gre-"
"I see it, Hawkeye. And Stark, shut up."
Captain America had stopped paying attention to the chatter once he knew what he needed. He threw his shield and ran after it, dodging the doom-bot's laser blast automatically. The shield hit the side of the cast iron building and ricocheted at the bot from the opposite side of his last hit. The doom-bot was thrown off its course by the blow, its laser firing wildly. Steve threw himself to the ground and rolled out of the way of a blast that would've caught him in the abdomen. He came back up to his feet just in time to smoothly catch his shield as it came back to him. No sooner did he have a grip on the familiar leather of the straps, then he was off again. A single leap had him crouching on the window-ledge of the building he'd used to ricochet his shield off. The ledge was slightly precarious and not very wide; his shield tapped the glass behind him when he pulled his arm back.
He watched the shield spin, saw it crack the asphalt when it hit the ground at an angle just before careening upwards towards the doom-bot. He heard a small explosion as the doom-bot's hover propulsion engines were hit. The doom-bot shook from the impact and then listed slightly to the side. Steve leaped down on it, the impact of his weight bringing it down all the way.
He tapped his comm. "Iron Man, I've got that doom-bot for you."
"Really? Already? Where are- no, nevermind, I've got you. Give me a second. Son of a-"
Steve heard repulsor fire in the background on the comm as he slid down the side of the bot to retrieve his shield. It actually took Tony Stark 11.2 minutes to hack and rewire his way into the doom-bot's systems. The other Avengers breathed a sigh of relief when the doom-bots all suddenly started powering down and dropping to the ground.
Until they heard the crash.
"Hawkeye, what was that?" Captain America demanded into the comm.
"One of the doom-bots fell right into the side of one of those old buildings with all the little shops inside. It's all starting to cave in."
"Those old iron buildings that civilians took shelter in?"
Captain America was already running in the direction of the crash, but he was still grateful to Black Widow for asking for confirmation.
"Yeah. Those things are made of iron; they'll take quite the beating. Except, apparently, for direct hit by doom-bot."
"Man, the New York Historical Society is not going to love us in the morning. JARVIS, make a note to prepare a large donation to cover the cost of repairs."
From up ahead came a loud thud that shook the surrounding streets. Steve cursed under his breath in French (in case someone overheard him) and picked up speed as he raced towards the street Hawkeye had indicated. The streets shook again – this time with the sound of a Hulk roar. He touched his comm.
"Guys? What's going on?"
"I have visual, Hulk is on sight. He's holding the building up. Wait, hang- shit, it's falling forward!"
"Crap, I see it! Woah there, Big Green, I'm friendly, remember? You like the red and gold man in armour." There was a pause as the comm relayed sounds of exertion and then some quiet swearing. "Uh, Cap? Widow? You guys on route? 'Cause the Hulk might be able to keep going and going, but at current output my repulsors are only going to last another 18.76 minutes."
"I'm almost there," Captain America replied just as he came around the corner.
"I'm at the back of the building. There's a window; I'm going in."
"Understood, Widow. I'm going in through the front. Hawkeye, alert SHIELD, ask them to send people to evacuate civilians from the area. We'll get them out and as far from the building as possible."
It would be risky, taking people through the front. The Hulk was standing just to the side of the main doors holding up the front facade of the building, using two window sills as handholds. Two stories above him, Iron Man was pushing against the front of the building, his repulsors going full-blast. Steve could immediately see where the impact of the doom-bot had twisted the iron facade and made the brickwork behind it crack and crumble. The doom-bot itself lay on the other side of the street in a mangled, torn-up mess, having not liked the impact any better than the building had.
Steve didn't care about the doom-bot. He nodded to the Hulk as he ran past him into the building. Seventeen minutes later, the building was clear and Captain America helped the Hulk and Iron Man lower the pieces of building to the ground to avoid as much collateral damage as possible. As soon as they were done, Iron Man sat down heavily on top of the mangled doom-bot. The faceplate slid up to reveal Tony's pale, sweat-covered face.
"You okay?" Hawkeye asked, having come down from his perch to join the rest of the team.
Tony chuckled. "Not so much, but a drink and some serious charging will make me 130% better. Possibly more than one drink. Actually, definitely more than one drink. And maybe pizza or – ooh, Chinese. Hey, Cap, you been introduced to the twenty-first century tradition of Chinese take-out yet?"
"Yes, Tony, I have."
"Seriously, Stark? You thought we hadn't dragged Steve out for Chinese yet? We've even managed sushi while you were busy playing with your new Chitauri toys that you and Fury are both pretending you don't have!"
"...I don't know what you're talking about."
If they'd been looking at Captain America in that moment, they would've noticed the way his eyes softened and his lips curled into a small, slightly sad smile as he remembered another group of friends from another time and another place bickering just like this. Natasha met his eyes from where she'd manoeuvred to stand slightly behind Tony with a look of equal parts exasperation and amusement. Steve's smile widened. He looked around for their last member and found him further away, towering over a man and a woman. For once, however, the Hulk seemed to be calm and the man and woman looked neither scared nor threatening, so he left them be.
Tony and Clint were bickering about the best place to get Chinese take-out in the city when Steve turned back to them. He rolled his eyes.
"Iron Man, are you going to be okay to get home or are you going to need SHIELD to give you a lift to the tower?"
Stark blinked. "Nah, I'm good. Left myself just enough juice to get home," he said and then stood. "I was going to wait for Bruce, but Hulk seems in a lingering mood. Which is weird, but who am I to argue with a giant rage monster? You'll make sure he gets back safe and sound before his pumpkin explodes, right?"
"Of course we will," Natasha answered.
"Gya!" Tony actually managed to make the Iron Man suit jump several inches into the air with an involuntary burst of repulsors before whirling to Natasha. "Stop sneaking up on the man with a heart condition!"
"Stop making such amusing noises and I will."
"How does that even- no, you know what? Screw you guys, I'm ordering Chinese! I'll see you at the Tower."
Steve blinked, wondering if he'd missed something. "You will?"
Tony threw his hands up in exasperation. "Of course I will! Someone's gotta introduce you to some proper Chinese food. I mean, I know I get wrapped up in my projects, but I'm not that anti-social. God, I don't know why I invited you all to live with me."
Ironman's faceplate slid back over his face while Steve exchanged a bewildered look with Clint.
"Uh, 'cause you didn't?" said Clint.
Iron Man froze. A few moments passed and then the faceplate slid away again. Tony blinked at them in equal bewilderment. "I didn't?"
They shook their heads.
"Oh. I thought you guys were being unexpectedly quiet house-guests." Suddenly his eyes widened. "Wait, you mean the inconsiderate rat bastard who's been drinking all the coffee was me?!"
"Sounds about right," said Clint.
Steve grinned. "Not unless you think the Hulk has developed a sudden taste for caffeine."
Tony shivered dramatically. "Gee, thanks Cap, 'cause I really needed more nightmares."
"Okay, so anyway, since I apparently fail at these things, you're all officially invited to live in Stark Tower. We can even call it Avengers Tower if you want, or maybe just Tower Cool. Come as you are, bring your entire collection of sharp pointy objects – although if you've named them please keep it to yourselves, because I really do not want to know if I'm living with people who name their throwing knives. Celebratory Chinese and drinks are on me tonight. I'll see you in an hour."
"Tony, there's debriefing-"
"-Hour and a half then. And don't forget to drag the green guy home once he's de-greened."
The Hulk and Iron Man in Soho
Published Jun 14th, 2013
OMG, doombot attack in Soho this afternoon while I was out with my girlfriends! Here's the video we got of the Avengers saving a bunch of people from a collapsing building.
Likes 78,994 Dislikes 2,781
(ALL COMMENTS 40,877)
TwilightQueen Are you alright?
+TwilightQueen Yeah, I'm fine. We were in the building across the street.
jamesp55 dude is hulk holding up the entire fucking blding?!
+jamesp55 Nah, just the front of it. ;)
+jamesp55 It was crazy! You can't see it so well, but a doombot fell on top of the building and then the front part started to come down and then suddenly bam the hulk's there and he just like grabs at it and STOPS IT FROM FALLING! You can see Ironman helping too cuz I think it was falling foward too.
+NY4dawin, +Specs8472rulz still is crazy! hulk is ridiculous strong, prolly strongest of avengers.
+jamesp55 He's definitely the strongest. No contest.
MadDash The Hulk's a fucking monster! Why is he a hero? He should be put in a fucking cage!
+MadDash Ur the monster! The Hulk's a hero 'cause he saved all the people in that building. There were like 70 people in that building and they all lived because of him.
+NY4dawin So he saved people this time? Good for him. Doesn't change that he's big and angry and uncontrollable. Even the Avengers are afraid of him.
+MadDash Didn't see you complaining when he was busy saving the world from aliens. And the Avengers are so not scared of him! Where are you getting this?
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Rusalka38 Yay Ironman is there! I love ironman, Tony stark so hot!
Drdonna Hey did u notice at the end when that couple went to thank the hulk he looked really confused and awkward? So cute!
+Drdonna OMG I didn't! Aww he's all embarrassed. :)
+Drdonna lolol He really is sort of adorable there.
+FlyingDutchwoman It shouldn't be posible for something that big and green to be adorable... but he sort of really is.
+JurassicAvenger, +FlyingDutchwoman I'm reluctantly finding myself agreeing.
+FlyingDutchwoman You guys are all fucking mental!
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42Roads I was at Culver U a couple years back when suddenly a bunch of military tanks raced through campus. It was out of nowhere and no one had any idea what was going on until suddenly the Hulk was there too. And they started shooting at him. In the middle of campus! At the time it was just terrifying, but afterwards... The thing is, more people got hurt from shrapnel and stray bullets than from anything the Hulk threw. Hulk was aiming right at the tanks and jeeps and helicopters.
+42Roads Holy crap that sounds terrifying!
+42Roads How did no one know the Hulk was there? I mean it sounds like maybe he was minding his own business, but the Hulk is freaking huge!
+JurassicAvenger Not sure, but there were some people who said they saw the military chase down and then surround this skinny guy in a red ball cap who then somehow morphed into the Hulk.
+42Roads Seriously?! You mean the hulk is a big green werewolf?
+Specs8472rulz Uh, I don't think so.
+42Roads Fucking military.
+42Roads Wait wha?! That just makes it worse! Especially when they could've waited for him to get to somewhere with less people!
Ants. Hawkeye's first apartment (temporary though it had been) had hosted an ant infestation. Since then, he'd hated the small insects. So it gave him great pleasure to shoot the seven-foot long ones off the suspension bridge. He gave himself ten points for each one he managed to knock into the water and five for each one he got in the head. He was up to 165 points and counting when Tony's voice came over the comm.
"Um, guys JARVIS says he thinks the ants are nibbling at the bridge's supports."
That wasn't good. Hawkeye pushed his enhanced vision goggles over his eyes and took a careful look at one of the thick steel ropes holding the bridge up. He'd seen several of the ants start climbing up onto the supports, but had shot down every single one Apparently not quickly enough, because now that he was looking there were definite signs of cables being gnawed on. Yup, definitely not good.
He tapped his earpiece. "Yeah, I can visually confirm that. A couple of the steel ropes have teeth marks on them."
"Really? 'Cause I didn't think ants usually had teeth..."
Clint rolled his eyes, debating whether or not to bother replying to Stark.
"Ants are usually a lot smaller too."
Clint aimed and let loose an arrow at an ant trying to lift a bright silver SUV. Another five-point hit. "Thanks Cap. So bet they didn't have bugs like this back in your day."
There was a pause and Hawkeye readied another arrow – his titanium-steel alloyed arrows were one of the few things that were managing to pierce through the ants' exoskeletons. There was an ant getting dangerously interested in the steel ropes. Another ant came up behind it, its antennae flicking back and forth like biological scanners. Hawkeye adjusted his aim.
"No, back in my day our bugs were much smaller. It made them more difficult to see, but easier to squash with your shoe. I know the world now seems to live on a 'more is better' philosophy, but I don't think these new-fangled bugs are an improvement."
Hawkeye let the arrow fly and then grinned. Who knew Captain America had such a straight-faced sense of humour once he got comfortable around you? It made him even sadder to realize just how well Colson would've gotten along with his childhood hero had he had the chance to get to know him. The arrow hit his target before it could commence gnawing and Clint's grin widened: another twenty points.
Just then, he noticed movement beneath the bridge. He frowned and changed the setting on his goggles, turning them to infra-red.
"Son of a-" he whispered before tapping his communicator. "Hey guys we have another problem. There a bunch of them on the underside of the bridge."
"-On it, Cap." Hawkeye notched another arrow as he watched Iron Man leave his post to fly beneath the bridge. "A bunch, Hawkeye? A bunch?! We seriously need to fix your vocabulary. This is not a bunch of anything; this is a goddamned swarm, a metropolitan population. As in, they're on the verge of building themselves a highway down here! Maybe even a community centre and a-"
"What about the bridge structure?"
"Not good, Cap, not good." The sound of repulsor fire came over the comms. "One of the supports is half chewed-out. It'll start collapsing on its own under the strain soon."
"Understood. Widow, how's evacuation going?"
"There are still people trapped in the centre, but we've got most of the ants cleared."
Yeah, Natasha had the Hulk with her to help clear the bridge from her side (while he'd been initially a bit disappointed by the Captain's orders not to smash too hard, he was now merrily practising his overhand pitch), but SHIELD only had industrial water hoses on their end. There was a second team ready with flamethrowers for the moment the bridge was clear of civilians. Who they were having some difficulty getting to, because while the giant ants couldn't swim any better than their smaller counterparts, they were much more water-resistant and all the non-toxic gases they'd dared to try hadn't done a thing.
The majority of his arrows were going towards the SHIELD side of the bridge, but it wasn't helping much. At least Cap's defensive line was managing to keep new ants from getting to the bridge.
"Do we know where these things are coming from yet?" he asked.
"Hill says they're working on it."
"That must be one hell of an anthill."
"An anthill...? Hang on." Hawkeye sent another ant down into the river, already pitying whoever was going to get stuck fishing dead ants out at the end of the day. Giant dead ants. "Hill says they've expanded their search to any suspicious-looking hills."
"You'd think an organization of spies would be naturally suspicious of suddenly-appearing hills."
"Stark, concentrate on clearing the bottom of the bridge. Hawkeye, keep the ants off the ropes. Widow, it looks like SHIELD's helicopters are finally here with the nets so I should be able to join you on the bridge soon. Radio if you need me sooner."
"Aye aye, Captain."
"On it, Cap."
The Hulk roared an affirmative.
Clint notched another arrow and then lost himself in the simple act of firing arrows. This was a dance he'd played a thousand times: it was a familiar rhythm, a familiar motion – if played against slightly less familiar targets. He absently reached into his quiver for a new arrow and notched it as he watched the arrow he'd just shot sail towards its target, hitting it exactly where he'd aimed for. As he stretched the bowstring, his eyes darted to the rest of the bridge, noting the bluish light of repulsor fire coming from beneath it and catching a glimpse of the Hulk wrestling a red two-door away from a rather determined ant.
He turned his attention back to his arrow. Looking over the tip, he found another ant curiously eyeing one of the steel ropes. He aimed, gave the insect another few seconds to lift itself higher and provide him with a better target, and then let go for another five points.
It was about then that the flying ants arrived.
Because regular, boring ants weren't enough fun. Apparently.
Clint was amassing a large number of increasingly creative ideas of what to do to the evil mad scientist villain responsible for the giant bug infestations.
Thankfully, the Hulk seemed to be in an absurdly playful mood and took the arrival of the flying ants as an opportunity for batting practise to go with his pitching practice from earlier. With one leap, he managed to grab one of the flying ants by its last link and drag it down to the ground with him. What developed soon after was a bizarre sort of caveman batting practise where he would grab an ant off the bridge, throw it up, wallop it with his flying ant and send it flying towards the other flying ants. He knocked two more out of the sky in this way.
As usual, SHIELD response vehicles managed to arrive all at the same time, long after they would've actually been useful. The helicopters managed to shoot down the last two flying ants by taking out their wings, and the small ship that sailed under the bridge was armed with the same neurotoxin they'd used on the colony they'd finally managed to discover. The neurotoxin took out the last of Iron Man's city of ants under the bridge.
Hawkeye wasn't entirely certain when Captain America had joined Black Widow and Hulk on the bridge, but he did notice when the bridge suddenly swayed and listed to one side. Most of the ants had been cleared out by then, many trapped in sticky nets brought by one of the SHIELD helicopters and the last dozen or so civilians were finally being evacuated off the bridge.
The Avengers actually on the bridge most definitely noticed when the ground beneath their feet suddenly moved and the steel creaked ominously. They – and the civilians they were herding – froze. One of the steel ropes snapped. Someone screamed and then someone else began to run, triggering some dormant primal herd instinct.
"Wait!" Captain America called out to them. "Stop running or you'll-"
The bridge creaked again. A few people paused, but not enough to stop the inevitable consequence of steady impact vibration upon an already unsteady surface. Captain America stood staring at them helplessly: his bulk running across the bridge would only make things worse. He looked to Widow.
"Shit, Cap, the bridge-"
He tapped his comm. "Can you fuse it, Ironman? Or something?"
"Or something?! Something like what? You want me to glue it together with moonbeams and fairy dust?"
"Focus, Iron Man!" he snapped, not in the mood for Tony's theatrics at the moment. "What about your repulsors? Can you use them to-"
"Oh, I'm already doing that, but it's not gonna hold. I've had JARVIS send Hill a list of what we'd need to stabilize it, but none of it will get here on time. This bridge is coming down!"
"Then we need to get everyone off the bridge."
Another steel rope snapped. The bridge tilted slightly to the left and there were more screams as the human herd finally came to a halt a hundred or so feet away from the safety of the end of the bridge. Steve took a single, calming breath.
"Widow?" he said, barely daring to move.
"On it," she said as she began to slide carefully forward.
The bridge shook and the captain braced himself. Suddenly a large shadow fell over him and he snapped his head up in time to watch as the Hulk landed in the water with a splash that nearly capsized one of the SHIELD boats. He looked over the side and watched in amazement as the Hulk swam towards the unsteady bridge support. The support itself couldn't possibly have had any sort of handholds or footholds (or at the very least none that would've been designed with the Hulk's giant bulk in mind), but that didn't seem to bother him as he climbed.
As soon as the Hulk had dragged himself out of the water, Iron Man zipped down to meet him and then followed his progress while gesturing to something above their heads. At one point the Hulk swatted at his fellow Avenger, causing Iron Man to quickly back away to avoid joining all the drowned ants. Then the two of them climbed their way out of Captain America's line of sight.
A few moments later, something impacted with the bridge from below. A few civilians screamed. Above his head, Steve heard the familiar whirling of multiple helicopters. He didn't bother looking up to see if they were SHIELD or the media – they were probably both in any case. He held his breath.
He felt the bridge on the far end lift up. He waited a breath and then tapped his comm. "Iron Man, report."
"Hulk's holding up the bridge. I repeat, Hulk's holding up the bridge. Apparently Bruce ate his wheeties this morning."
Captain America snorted in amusement. Moments later, a cheer went up from the civilians. He grinned as he watched Widow escort them the rest of the way off the bridge.
The Hulk held the bridge up for nearly two hours while rescue crews and their equipment arrived and set up to take over. When he was finally able to get down, he swam to shore and dragged himself out. Looking tired as well as dripping wet, the biggest and scariest of the Avengers was greeted with thunderous applause. The Hulk blinked in surprise and confusion. He was saved by the arrival of his teammates, who swooped in and surrounded him with warm smiles and pats on the back, effectively distracting him from all the loud, staring humans.
Bruce zipped up his hoodie and stuffed his hands into his pockets to ward off the early-autumn chill. He scanned both sides of the street out of habit, taking in everyone around him in a sweep of sharp eyes. Not seeing anything suspicious, he allowed himself to relax and began to walk away from Stark Tower.
He'd run out of granola bars and dried fruit in his lab, so he was heading to the store to restock. He knew he could've just asked JARVIS to add it to the shopping list (that mysteriously got filled by elves or something according to Tony), but, well, it'd been a while since he'd been out in anything other than an avengers capacity. He'd been getting antsy, too aware of the walls surrounding him. Usually he was perfectly happy to spend his days inside his lab with only minimal contact with the outside world, but every once in a while he got an itch, a bone-deep need, to test his escape route – to make sure he could still leave with it.
Intellectually he knew Tony would never force him to stay. Plead, bribe and cajole, sure, but if Bruce insisted, Tony would let him walk away. Unfortunately, his subconscious remembered the years on the run all too well...
Bruce had always felt nervous around crowds of people unless his mind was occupied with science, with his passions, his ideas. He could speak without problem to an academic audience, where he was at home with the numbers and theories and facts. Regular, non-academic people? They made him nervous. He'd had to force himself to learn to blend in with them. To hide his nerves, because nervous people made others nervous and wary, wondering what they were hiding and why. To most people it came naturally; for him it was a hard-learned skill. He trusted Tony and the Avengers – and to an extent even SHIELD – but anything could happen. It was best he not lose that skill.
If anyone asked, he was very particular about his granola bars. Also, it gave him a leg up over Tony when anyone (Captain America) asked them whether they'd been out of their labs at all during the past week. Bruce could honestly say that yes, in fact, he'd gone out just the other day.
He passed by a strip of shops taking advantage of the clear skies in the form of a sidewalk sale. He quickly peeked at some of the merchandise as he passed by, curious. Perhaps on his way home he'd peruse more closely. Suddenly, he heard raised voices behind him: a man and a woman. Bruce hunched down and tried to tune it out. He hated when couples argued in public; the angry tension that was too private to intrude upon, but too loud to ignore. He pushed back the memories that flashed by in his mind at the familiar background noise.
A scream made him pause. "Oh my god Gerald, what are you doing?! Why do you have-"
The next sound was most definitely the sound of knuckles hitting flesh. Another sound he was intimately familiar with. In the midst of the ensuing screams, his ears just managed to pick up a faint, hysterical 'Mommy!'.
Bruce turned around.
There was a man with blond hair that just managed to touch his wide shoulders. He was solid, but no body builder, no fighter, and he had the first hints of a beer belly. He was holding a gun and waving it around wildly as he stared angrily down at a dark-haired woman who was staring up at him with fear as she did all she could to keep her frightened child behind her. There were others, bystanders, crouching down, hiding behind tables and merchandise racks.
"Gerald, you don't want to do this," the woman was saying and Bruce almost had to admire her calm. "Please, Gerald, put the gun-"
"Don't tell me what to do, bitch! This is your fault! If you hadn't-"
Bruce couldn't hear the words anymore, couldn't feel anything beyond the anger vibrating through his limbs and rushing in his ears. A distant part of his mind tried to tell him to control it, but it was a small, weak voice. There was a man threatening a woman with violence while her child helplessly looked on. He remembered being that child.
Control had never had a chance.
The sound of a gunshot exploded into the air. There were more screams. The woman had gone silent, though he could see it was out of fear, not because she'd been hit. She was desperately scanning the crowd, looking for anyone who would help her. Bruce barely felt his limbs morph as his anger boiled over into his skin, into his flesh and into his bones. All he could see was red and, when he closed his eyes, the world turned green.
The Hulk opened his eyes and looked at the world around him. He was angry. Furious. But usually it was like fire. He always felt what the Other One felt when he opened his eyes. And usually it was fire, sometimes there was the fluttery itchiness of fear. This time it was ice.
The first thing the Hulk saw was a man and a gun. Hulk hated guns: the people who hunted the Hulk carried guns, tried to hurt him with them. This man wasn't looking at the Hulk, he was yelling at a small human woman in front of him and there was a smaller human she was hiding behind her. Hulk knew guns could hurt humans. But they couldn't hurt the Hulk.
The man looked big as he loomed over the woman, but in the Hulk's shadow he became tiny. The Hulk saw the woman's eyes widen when she noticed him. The man with the gun whirled around. A shot rang out and the Hulk felt a small sting around his belly. The Hulk hated the little stings that came from guns.
He reached out and picked up the man. The tiny human's eyes had gone wide and he was squirming. The Hulk roared at him.
The man went limp. The Hulk examined him closely, poked him once, to make sure he wasn't trying to trick him. The soldiers liked to do that – to play tricks. He shook him, but the man stayed limp. Satisfied, the Hulk let him fall to the ground. Then the Hulk saw the gun. It was lying on the ground. The Hulk hated guns. He growled and stomped on it with a thud, grinning when he heard it crack and felt it become tiny pieces beneath his foot.
Then the Hulk looked around. He didn't see any of the humans he usually did. His 'friends', the tiny colourful human with the round shield had called them (the others called round-shield 'Cap'). The Hulk liked the word 'friends'. They were fun to smash things with. He wondered where they were. Had the Other One come here alone? He looked back to the street covered in tiny humans. The woman who the man with the gun had been yelling was standing up and holding the tiny human in her arms. She was looking up at the Hulk nervously and swallowed before taking several steps forward.
"Thank you," she said. There was water coming out of her eyes. "I-I thought he was... thank you so much!"
The Hulk grunted. People never said things to the Hulk before. Soldiers shot at him. The pretty human woman had tried to talk to him a long time ago. She'd called him Bruce. Was Bruce the Other One? Maybe Hulk would ask the people who called themselves 'friends'. Other humans were scared of the Hulk. They pointed guns at him or ran away from him while making annoying, high-pitched noises. Humans who weren't 'friends' and didn't point guns and didn't run were new. They were strange and Hulk didn't like strange things he couldn't smash.
Hulk looked away. In the distance he could see the big tower that the flying metal man always went to. He'd smashed the annoying green, horned man inside it. The Hulk didn't understand why, but he felt like that was the right place to go. He felt something unusual when he looked at it, warm but not angry. It wasn't a familiar feeling, but he liked it.
The flying metal man met him outside the tower along with the human with the round shield.
"You went superhero-ing without us?" the metal man said. "I feel cheated."
The Hulk pulled his lips back to show him his teeth. The red and blue man with the shield rolled his eyes at the metal man and then grinned up at the Hulk. "So, apparently there are some really big cockroaches crawling out of the subway station. Wanna go smash some bugs on behalf of all apartment-dwellers everywhere?"
The Hulk grinned. Smashing was fun. He would go smash things with his 'friends'.
Several days later, Bruce decided to try again. Although JARVIS had quickly remedied his granola bar-less situation, he still felt somehow cheated. And he liked picking out his own lab snacks - it was a ritual of sorts.
This time he made it to the small grocery store without any mishap. No one seemed to recognize him or give him more than a moment's notice. He made his way directly to the health food section and then paused to carefully examine his choices. In the end he walked out with some nut crackers and a bag of roasted chick peas. On his way home he decided to pass by the shopping strip where he'd hulked out a few days ago. The rest of the Avengers had assured him that there's been no damage apart from a fallen canopy and some scattered clothes from the Hulk's roar, but he wanted to see it for himself.
The sidewalk sale was still in full swing, with the addition of several new stands that didn't seem to belong to any of the shops on the strip. There was a hotdog stand for one and at least two booths that seemed to be selling homemade jewelry. Half-way down there were a couple of children standing behind a very short table with a large pitcher full of green liquid with ice cubes, lemon slices and raspberries floating inside. The piece of neon green Bristol board sign taped to the table identified it as 'green lemonade' in shaky, mismatched letters and proclaimed it was $1 for the St. Anne's woman's shelter.
Bruce smiled, wondering whether that meant it was limeade or lemonade with green food colouring, as he dug a dollar out of his wallet. One of the children dutifully took the dollar and placed it into a pink plastic treasure box while the other poured the lemonade into a clear plastic cup. He thanked them and walked on. As he looked up at the canopies the merchants had strung up over the sidewalk, he realized there was actually a lot of green at the sidewalk sale now.
It wasn't until he reached the very end that the green began to make sense. The second last stall was selling cupcakes – superhero themed cupcakes. Bruce's eyebrows rose as he took in the neatly arranged rows of vanilla and chocolate swirl cupcakes decorated with Captain America's shield next to chocolate Iron Man cupcakes, red velvet cupcakes with a big black spider, strawberry cupcakes decorated with what looked very much like Mjolnir and hazelnut raisin cupcakes with an arrows made out of toothpicks and pipe cleaners sticking out of them. The last row was labelled 'Green Vanilla' and was empty except for a few crumbs and a small cardboard sign that read: 'Sold Out'.
The blonde manning the stand noticed his gaze. "Yeah, sorry, the Hulk cupcakes were all gone two hours after we opened up. But we'll be back tomorrow with more."
He looked up at her and blinked. "I wouldn't have expected the Hulk cupcakes to have been that popular," he said carefully.
She laughed. "Are you kidding me? After he single-handedly stopped that nutbar from hurting anyone last week, he's the local hero. I mean, sure he was before, 'cause he's with the Avengers and all, but the Avengers weren't here."
"Dude, the Hulk is just awesome," a new voice said. Bruce looked over to the last stand. It was one of those typical t-shirt stands that sold to tourists, except that it seemed to have an overabundance of bright green t-shirts that proclaimed 'I 3 HULK'. The young man manning the stand had shaggy, bright green hair and a nose piercing. He held out a large pin with the same logo on it. "You should totally get a button, man, it's like the new thing right now."
Bruce shook his head in bemusement, not quite sure what to think of this. Part of him wanted to be pleased even as the other part knew that this would only last until the next time the Hulk trashed a part of the city in his anger.
"No, I don't think-" he began.
"I'll take one," said a voice from behind him, startling him. He looked over his shoulder to see Steve grinning happily. He slipped around Bruce and dug out his wallet. He paused for a moment and looked back up at the stand. "Actually, I'll take two of the t-shirts in woman's small as well please."
The young man quickly began rummaging through his inventory.
"Steve, what are you doing?" Bruce hissed at him.
The other man shrugged. "Natasha would plot nasty things if I didn't bring her back one and you know how Pepper refuses to wear any Iron Man t-shirts? Well, I'd bet my shield she'd wear this one just to see the look on Tony's face."
It was at this point the two sellers seemed to realize who they were speaking to. They both gaped at Steve.
"Oh my god, you're-" the young man spluttered as he mechanically took Steve's money and handed him a bag with his purchases.
Only Bruce noticed how awkward Steve found the awed stare as he thanked the man and took his bag, adding it to the one he was already holding. Bruce leaned over slightly to catch a look at the logo, fairly certain he recognized it as being from an arts supply store in the area (he would never admit to the relief he felt when he realized his friend hadn't actually been following him). It gave him something to think about as he ignored the curious gaze of the cupcake-seller.
Then Captain America turned his attention to the blonde and she promptly forgot about Bruce.
"Is there any chance I could have an order of cupcakes prepared to pick up tomorrow morning?" he asked. He looked thoughtful for a moment. "Two dozen, mixed varieties?"
The girl's eyes widened. "I-I think so, uh, let me text my boyfriend and see if he can make another batch."
While she whipped out her cellphone and quickly began texting, Steve turned to Bruce. "So do you think we could get Tony out of bed for breakfast with Ironman cupcakes?"
Bruce frowned at him disapprovingly. "Cupcakes for breakfast? That's not particularly healthy."
Steve chuckled. "And you're not that kind of doctor, Doctor."
Bruce snorted. "Fair enough. And the answer is 'maybe'... provided there's coffee to go with them."
The next morning they discovered that the answer was that, yes, Tony Stark could be roused from his bed with the curious promise of coffee and Ironman cupcakes, so long as one didn't require him to be awake as well. In fact, he loved them so much he ordered several dozen for a board meeting the following week. Pepper retaliated by proudly wearing her 'I 3 HULK' t-shirt to the next movie night.
Greetings! I'm a NY City gal
who loves to draw. New York's a crazy city – it's why
we love her after all – and there's just so much to see and do and I
want to draw it all! Check out my art, drop me a line,
tell me what I've missed!
Wowzers, did you all see that craziness over the weekend? Seems the Avengers don't just do crazy things at home. If you haven't heard yet, they were in Detroit on Thursday fighting some sort of weirdos in bright yellow outfits and an updated version of Tesla's deathray on the freeway. Seriously, it looks super creepy, go google it. Anyway, the Avengers won (duh), but at one point one of the bad guys misfired the deathray and it hit the Detroit Zoo. There are some really awesome post-battle shots of the Avengers trying to get the animals back into the zoo. Including, that's right, the Hulk who apparently got along really well with the three grizzlies living at the zoo. I've never been to Detroit, but I did happen to go to the Central Park Zoo on Sunday with my niece. So this week's work is a watercolour of the Hulk playing with the snow leopards in Central Park.
Penguinlove OMG that's adorable! I can totally see the Hulk having a soft squishy centre. :)
LifelongPancakeObsession Haha, thanks! Yup, bet he's a marshmallow underneath all that rage.
MistressSnape Wow, that looks amazing luv. The expression on Hulk's face, and those little snow leopards... just brilliant. Wonder what would happen if someone handed the real one a kitten?
Penguinlove Aw man, we should totally do that!
Holy crap, I just googled the Detroit Zoo thing and apparently a few of the zookeepers posted photos on the zoo's blog. You should see them, they're adorable! The Hulk looks like he's not sure what he should be doing with all those monkeys draped over him.
LifelongPancakeObsession Aw, thanks! I second handing the Hulk a kitten.
TwilightDream Might want to start with a stuffed one, tho. Lol, great drawing. Ur so talented!
HowlingCommando Beautiful as always, Pancake! The newest craze among my students right now seem to be these large green 'I love Hulk' pins. I finally asked my class after lunch and they came out with a fifteen minute explanation that basically boiled down to 'he's just so misunderstood!' Teenagers right?
LifelongPancakeObsession Thanks Commando! I've seen those pins around, hadn't realized they were such a craze. I'll have to get myself one then. ;) But hey at least the teens are looking up to a genuine hero even if he has anger management issues, right?
Yes, they could certainly do worse for a role model I suppose. I just don't understand why it can't be Captain America.
Not weird enough, maybe?
Ironasaurus Haha, god teenagers right? Can you imagine, the world once made sense to us like that too? By the way, there's a rumour going round that the Hulk isn't just the Hulk, but that it's a guy who transforms into the Hulk...
Ooooh, conspiracy! Are we talking government experiment here?
Well, that would explain why no one ever sees him around town until he's with the Avengers. It's not exactly like he could just get an over sized trenchcoat and blend in.
InternwithSkilz Hey, wow, I love this painting like crazy! I see you don't have a Twitter account, do you mind if I tweet it?
LifelongPancakeObsession No, not at all. I'm flattered you like it so much. :)
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Pic of our favorite green rage monster being not so ragey on Tumblr! Inspired by the Detroit Zoo thing. #Hulk, #Avengers, #CentralParkZoo, #LifelongPancakeObsession
From London, UK
7:32 pm - 28 September 2014
Giant centipedes in Brooklyn! These things are just shoving cars out of their way! Avengers now arrived! #GiantBugs, #Brooklyn, #Avengers
From New York, NY
11:46 am – 3 October 2014
Haha, check out this pic of the hulk! I feel like that some days too. Hey, maybe the hulk just needs a hug too? #theHulk, #angryhulk, #hulkneedshug
From New York, NY
2:13pm – 3 October 2014
"Okay, gang, do we all know what we're doing?" Iron Man asked into the comms as they approached the area. The large black swarm was visible from a distance.
"I'm not sure, I think I might need you to repeat it again."
Iron Man flipped in mid-air and glared at the quinjet that was following him. "Okay, Hawkeye, for you the instructions are simple," he said, speaking very slowly. "You take the arrows I gave you this morning – those would be the ones with the bright yellow tips. Got that? Bright. Yellow. Tips. Then you aim and fire them at the over-sized fruit flies. Depending on how many arrows it takes to bring one down, we'll adjust the concentration of the pesticide Bruce created."
"And if it doesn't work?"
Inside the armour, Tony rolled his eyes. "Then you can sit back and twiddle your thumbs 'cause you'll pretty much be useless at that point. Everyone else set?"
"We're all set, Iron Man. Just say the word."
Something warm fluttered in his chest to hear Captain America deferring to him, waiting for his go-ahead. Since this newest threat/nuisance/whatever was going to be used as a test for the bug spray he and Bruce had been working on for months (well, mostly Bruce since organics weren't really anywhere near Tony's alley), Cap had given Tony command of the mission. They'd been waiting nearly two weeks to test it.
On the plus side, if the bug spray didn't work, they at least now had two fliers to deal with the bugs thanks to Thor's return last week.
Finally, he figured they were close enough. "Alright Hawkeye, Thor, you're on."
"WE HEAR YOU MAN OF IRON, I AND THE HAWK'S EYE SHALL PROCEED TO OUR POSITIONS!"
"Gah! JARVIS, turn down the volume on Thor's comm. Do we always have it on so high? I'm pretty sure I specially calibrated his to not be as loud as the rest."
"Understood, sir. And, sir, I don't believe Prince Odinson has his own device at present as you have not yet replaced the one he broke during his last mission."
"Then make a note for me to correct that when we get back. Like the second we get back."
"Very well, sir."
From where he was flying, Tony saw the back door on the quinjet open and then watched as Thor leapt out, Mjolnir held in front of him in one hand while holding Hawkeye around the waist with the other. His cloak was like a bright red flag signalling his movements as it fluttered behind him. It took mere moments for Hawkeye to find himself the perfect perch.
The fruit flies were hideous and loud. Tony was glad he could dim outside noise thanks to the suit as he slowly flew in closer, not wanting to startle them. Fruit flies were quick little annoyances when they got started and they needed for Hawkeye to be able to hit the same one at least twice. Well, they hoped it would be no more than two arrows that would be needed to take each one down. Bruce had tried to make the insecticide as harmless to other organic life as possible, but anything higher than a three-arrow equivalent would be harmful in concentrated exposure.
The plan went without a hitch. Almost.
The fruit fly Hawkeye targeted began weaving erratically after the first arrow. The second arrow took it down completely. Then the Avengers threw themselves into the fray, working at keeping the fruit flies (that had for some reason developed a taste for plastic of all things) contained and away from as many houses as they could. There was, however, at least one outdoor rubbermaid shed that would need replacing after this. It took Bruce half an hour to mix the insecticide into the right concentration and then Tony gave the word to retreat. The quinjet circled above the fruit fly swarm and dumped the new insecticide directly over it.
The fruit flies dropped out of the sky like very large clumps of black furry hail. Which was great, wonderful even. Unfortunately, it meant they didn't have enough insecticide left for the spiders.
Big, long-legged evil-eyed things they hadn't noticed at first because they were moving more slowly, keeping to the ground and using whatever shadowed cover they could. Mostly they looked like common domestic breeds - the daddy long legs that stepped over fences, cars and crossed the sidewalk in one spindly step was certainly not the sort of spider Tony would've chosen to take anything over with. A funny-looking creature when it was two inches wide, it looked even more ludicrous when its head was ten feet off the ground. It looked like something AIM would build and call A Good Idea.
"Woah, is that a tarantula?"
"A tarantula?" Tony asked, looking around. "Where do you see a- oh, I see it now. It was hiding underneath the trees. Somehow. And hey, do you guys realize this is the first non-local bug we've seen so far? Like, if I was going to take over the world with giant bugs, I would probably choose something exotic and cooler and probably poisonous-"
"Well at that size that tarantula is definitely poisonous."
"Hm, point to you, Bruce."
"The other insects all developed odd tastes for metal and plastic, let's not wait to find out what these spiders have developed a taste for."
"Second that, Cap."
"Okay Cap, this is Iron Man handing over the reins. How do you wanna do this?"
"Acknowledged, Iron Man. Widow, fly us low so that Hulk and I can jump out. Iron Man, can you scan the area and figure out how many we're dealing with and where? You and Thor co-ordinate to get the ones that have gotten further away. Hawkeye, do you need to re-locate?"
"Uh, I think a bit more to the east would be a better position."
"I UNDERSTAND, CAPTAIN OF AMERICA AND I SHALL ASSIST THE HAWK'S EYE WITH FINDING A NEW PERCH."
"Uh, ehem, yes thank you Thor. Any questions, anyone?" There were a few moments of silence on the comms. "Alright then, lets go Avengers!"
"Yeah, let's get those eight-legged freaks!"
Tony rolled his eyes. "Hawkeye, I haven't even seen that movie and I want to strangle you right now."
"There's a movie about giant spiders?"
"Of course there's a movie about giant spiders. And, no, we are not watching it."
"Oh yes we totally are! Movie and pizza night tonight!"
It turned out spiders were actually really fast. And agile. And they climbed things. They never did find out just what these spiders ate, but Iron Man was not particularly happy to be the one who discovered that they weaved webs that seemed to be made of very sticky steel wire. And, as an unfortunate local bus discovered when its roof was sliced off, the wire was also incredibly sharp.
The Hulk was the one who ended up taking on the tarantula. It was the only spider that didn't immediately scurry away when he roared at it. The fight was interesting – not that Tony saw much of it – because that many legs were a bit of a change of pace for the Hulk. But in the end, the Hulk's smashing power was left uncontested. Although he clearly seemed miffed that there weren't more things to smash.
It didn't really take that long to take care of the spiders, but nearly an hour alone to route the last one out of its hiding spot (it had somehow managed to climb up on top of a giant apartment building without anyone noticing and then sat perfectly still like it was waiting for all of them to give up and leave).
After they were done, Iron Man grabbed Hawkeye and flew him down to the ground while Captain America talked to the police and rescue workers. Widow and Thor were examining some of the leftover spiderweb, although both for very different reasons.
He looked around and found the Hulk examining the remains of one of the larger spiders, looking like he was trying to decide whether it would be entertaining to try and squish it some more. Suddenly, the Hulk's eyes narrowed and he whirled around with a growl. Tony automatically brought his gauntlets up in defence... until he realized he wasn't the target of that growl.
There was a crowd gathered on the other side of the street made up of a variety of different people, random passers-by by the looks of things. They all seemed to have the same nervous look on their face as they exchanged furtive glances amongst each other. Suddenly, an elderly lady parted from the crowd. Her hair was grey and tied back in a bun. She wore wire-rimmed glasses and skinny jeans and walked with a cane made of sleek dark wood. She held her head high as she slowly made her way towards the Hulk.
Tony tensed, ready to jump into action should the Hulk prove to be in a grumpy, smashy mood.
But the Hulk stood still. He cocked his head at the old woman in confusion. The woman didn't stop until she was right in front of him. Then she looked up and smiled a warm pleasant, grandmotherly smile.
"Thank you," she said, her voice cracking slightly with age, but clear and strong nonetheless. Then, to Tony's astonishment, she opened her arms and embraced the Hulk - or at least as much of him as she could put her arms around.
The Hulk's eyes widened in astonishment. He raised his arms and then just held them that way, looking like he didn't quite know what to do with them.
To Tony – not to mention the Hulk's – eternal amazement, that woman seemed to have broken some sort of dam. Half a dozen people quickly joined her, all of them embracing the Hulk and holding on.
Hawkeye came up beside him. "Um, what's-"
"I have no idea. Is this what a suicide pact looks like?"
Moments later, the Hulk finally had enough of being surrounded and being confused even if no one was actually hurting him. He let out an angry roar. All his enthusiastic huggers backed off immediately, fear flashing in their eyes. The Hulk looked down at them warily and then huffed before stomping off to join Thor. Whom he grabbed and hurled directly into the spider mess he'd been examining earlier.
"Uh, Avengers assemble in the conference room. There's coffee, tea and freshly baked muffins." Tony paused. "And don't worry, I didn't make them."
He tapped an icon on his tablet and shut the intercom off. Or rather JARVIS shut the intercom off, since the intercom ran through his systems - although it could be locked out and work independently as well.
"Oh good," said Clint as he walked in, Captain America right behind him. Both of them looked like they'd just come from the gym. "I was worried there for a minute that I'd have to bring a fire extinguisher."
"Really?" Steve asked innocently. "I would've thought gloves and a net when they tried to either zap you or run away."
Clint snorted. "Yeah, that'd actually be more like Stark to make the world's first muffin with artificial intelligence."
Tony rolled his eyes. "Oh hardy har guys. You know, I'm pretty sure Jim Henson beat you to that joke."
"Did he?" Clint looked thoughtful as he sat down. "No, actually, I remember talking furniture, talking vegetables, talking fruit, talking snowmen and tons of talking whozamawhatsits, but no talking muffins."
"I'm sure there was at least talking cake there at some point."
Steve sighed and grabbed a muffin off the platter in the centre of the table. "As usual I have no idea what you two are talking about."
Tony's eyebrows rose. "You haven't seen the Muppet Show yet? That needs to be remedied. JARVIS, queue The Muppet Show for next movie night."
"Very well, sir."
"You'll love it, Cap; it's iconic."
Steve just shook his head with amusement. "Tony you say that about everything."
"Well you've got seventy years of iconic things to catch up on."
"Ah, my friends, where are these Midgardian delicacies that are called muffins?" Thor asked as he swept into the conference room with a beaming smile.
"Not sure if I'd call them a delicacy... but then again you think Poptarts are a delicacy, so go figure," said Tony. Then he waved at the platter on the table. "But that's them there. Help yourself"
"Thank you, Man of Iron."
Thor and Steve were both on their second muffin when Natasha waltzed in dragging Bruce behind her. Tony hid a smile at how disgruntled Bruce looked (he hadn't looked any different himself an hour ago when Natasha had dragged him out of his workshop – in fact he'd been much louder - but that wasn't the point). She shoved him unceremoniously into a seat and sat down next to him. Then she looked at Tony expectantly.
Tony cleared his throat. "Right, okay, so we're all here."
"Glad we cleared that up," Clint muttered.
Tony ignored him. "So, as we've all had no choice but to notice, someone's been playing around with some sort of bug grower thing."
"Is that its official name now?" Natasha asked with a straight face. Tony narrowed his eyes at her, trying to decide whether or not she was joking.
"Well, given that we have no idea how it's being done, 'thing' is about as good a term as any," said Bruce.
"You haven't gotten anywhere in your investigation?" Steve asked, the light-hearted air he'd carried into the room with him suddenly gone.
Bruce shook his head. "I can tell you approximately what's been done to the insects, but not how." He paused. "A few of them are also curiously... different from the rest."
"Well, they all carry trace elements of gamma radiation, but some of them also showed changes in their DNA, as well as alterations in the shapes of their sensilla and faster metabolism than is considered normal in insects, even given their vastly different size. However, the snails, wasps, centipedes, cockroaches, spiders and flying ants weren't any different from their regular species other than their size."
"I'd say that's a pretty big difference – no pun intended," said Clint.
Tony frowned as he thought about the bugs Bruce had just mentioned. "Wait... those are all the bugs that didn't do weird stuff like eat metal or plastic."
"So, you're saying that some one changed the bugs' metabolisms and then made them grow?" Natasha asked.
"Yes, exactly that. I'm comparing samples and trying to determine whether there was a reason why the other ones weren't altered. It could be that someone tried, but it didn't stick or they didn't have time. The process might not be completely perfected yet... Could be anything, really."
"Want me to give a crack at trying to figure out what sort of contraption might've been able to do this?" Tony asked, finding himself suddenly intrigued by this conundrum.
Bruce shrugged. "Go ahead. If it's possible to reverse-engineer something from a few trace elements, then feel free to try."
The conversation lagged for a moment as Tony considered how he'd go about doing just that. This was just one more impossible thing to do before breakfast, after all. Not that Tony ever ate breakfast if he could help it. It required first of all getting up and second of all having gone to bed at some point in time during the night. So basically, it only happened if Pepper dragged him to bed and then managed to catch him before he disappeared into the depths of his workshop in the morning.
Captain America cleared his throat. "I spoke to Deputy Director Hill this morning-"
"You know, you can stop pretending that you don't call her 'Maria'," said Clint with a sly look.
Rogers rolled his eyes, but just kept talking. "And she said they've got a few leads on the culprit, but nothing concrete. They've got their own scientists working on the problem as well as a team of agents trying to find whomever's responsible for creating these things, but it seems they're mostly striking out. The whole thing just doesn't fit the MO of anyone they've heard about or got eyes on."
Tony snorted. "Yeah really doesn't surprise me that SHIELD is striking out. I've got JARVIS compiling a list of possible suspects, but the whole thing is just too vague when we don't know exactly what we're dealing with."
"Well, it's definitely someone in the city," said Natasha.
"That only somewhat narrows it down."
"Can JARVIS bring up what you have so far?" Steve asked.
"That won't be a problem, Captain Rogers. Just one moment please."
"Thank you, JARVIS."
"You're very welcome, Captain."
Moments later, a three-dimensional projection appeared above the table showing a map of New York and several lists of facts. Steve leaned forward and studied the information being displayed intently.
"A lot of these seem to be in the same general area," he said after a few moments.
Tony nodded. "Yeah, I noticed that too. It makes me wonder if maybe the ones that aren't are, I don't know, accidents or something. I mean, the entire thing just seems so frustratingly random. Like it's just a giant prank by a mad scientist with too much time on their hands instead of an actual evil villain."
Several Avengers looked to Thor, who shook his head. "I assure you my brother is safely secured in a prison cell buried deep beneath the halls of Asgard. And I have left orders to be notified the moment something should change."
"Which doesn't help if he manages to escape without anyone noticing," Clint muttered.
Thor shook his head sadly. "Rest assured, friend Hawkeye, though crafty my brother may be, even he cannot so easily escape from the gaze of the All-Father."
"Either way, Tony's right, it doesn't feel like whoever's doing this is trying to take over the city or do anything more than cause a lot of chaos," said Steve, before Clint could snipe back and cause an argument with Thor. "I may be a city boy, but even I know there are more dangerous bugs this guy could be using."
Natasha nodded. "Yes. The wasps were the most dangerous of all of them and even they were just garden-variety insects."
"Okay, so that's great and all, but what exactly are you trying to say?" Clint finally asked. "That we shouldn't leave all the investigating to SHIELD and try and get to the bottom of this on our own?"
Tony shrugged. "Pretty much. I don't know about you guys, but while Bruce's new insecticide is going to make a killer profit once it gets to the market, I'm mostly just getting really tired of bug squashing. At this rate they'll be calling us the Exterminators soon."
Bruce blinked at Tony. "Profit? The insecticide is going to be sold?"
Tony blinked back at him. "Did I forget to tell you about the meeting you have with Pepper and the legal team about that?"
"No, wait, you should've gotten a nice official e-mail about it. Pepper's all about doing things nice and official-like. She's got this thing for paperwork."
Natasha and Steve exchanged looks that were clearly restrained eyerolls while the two scientists continued to discuss the insecticide and its marketability – and that Bruce should really check his e-mail more often. Steve reached out and pulled the map in closer.
"JARVIS, could you please map out the path the ants took to get to that bridge?"
"Certainly, Captain Rogers."
There was a pause and then a highlighted path showed up on the map: it twisted and turned before it got to the bridge.
"Son of a-" said Hawkeye softly. "That brings their origin back to the area with the flies, spiders, wasps and locusts."
"Which makes the centipedes and cockroaches even more random," said Black Widow.
"Maybe they're to throw us off?" Cap suggested, although he looked sceptical even as he said it. "Or an accident?"
"Mayhaps the villain was in those areas for other reasons and decided to try their magic on the creatures they encountered there," said Thor, his voice uncharacteristically quiet, lacking its usual boisterous tone. He was leaning forward on one hand as he studied the map with sharp, narrowed eyes.
"That... actually sounds like a logical theory," Natasha conceded after a moment.
"Might give us another lead too," Steve added. "That's a fairly large area to cover and most of it is residential. We can try to narrowing down the list of suspects by seeing if any of them have ties to one of the other two areas."
"Which fails if the only reason they were there was a shopping trip or visiting friends or something," Clint pointed out.
Steve shrugged. "It's a place to start. We'll search for one connection and then see if we can place them in the other."
"Get JARVIS to help you, it'll go faster," said Tony, having finally looked up from his conversation with Bruce. "I mean whoever created these giant bugs needs to have a background in biology, entomology and engineering. Can't be that many people living in all of New York with that sort of background given that it's not us and it's not the Fantastic Four, 'cause they've been back in town for months now, and Sue would've killed Richards if one of his experiments went haywire like this."
"Could be a bunch of people working together," said Bruce.
Clint groaned. "Great, so we've gone from one crackpot joker to a possible organization of crazy bug-lovers?"
"I, uh, really hope not."
Steve nodded. "Okay, then we'll try and see how far we can narrow down the list of suspects. Bruce, you and Tony continue to see if you can figure out how this was done."
Tony rolled his eyes. "We were gonna do that anyway, but thanks for coming to the party, Capsicle."
Steve glared at him.
"You know, beetles are way cooler when they've got guitars," Tony quipped over the comm.
"And when they're not crawling over an elementary school."
Tony blinked. "Cap, did you get that reference?
There was a pause. "You're talking about the British rock band, right?"
No one could see him behind Iron Man's stern mask, but Tony was grinning. "Aw, Capsicle, you're acclimatizing: I'm so proud."
"Status report, everyone. Is anyone having any luck with these things?"
Even as Captain America's request came over the comms, the sky above them was rapidly darkening. The media helicopters flying overhead immediately manoeuvred to the side – not completely out of the way, just less central to the schoolyard.
"My widow bites seem to be affecting them, but they're not enough to take the beetles out completely unless I can get one under their shells."
"Most of my arrows are just bouncing off those damned shells. Except for the ladybug. I was actually a bit sad about killing that ladybug."
"Iron Man, I noticed your repulsors aren't getting through the shell either..."
"Uh, yeah, they're scorching the outside of the exoskeleton, but not cracking it open. I could try using a full chest blast, but I'm afraid that much power might damage the school too. What about the shield?"
"It's caused a couple of dents, but I haven't even come close to cracking them yet. I think Thor had a bit more success with Mjolnir."
The dark grey sky above them rumbled. Moments later it lit up as a bolt of lightening came crashing to the earth, hitting one of the ten-foot long beetles that had spread its wings and flown to the top of the school gym. The beetle fell to the ground almost instantly as a blackened, smoking lump with little legs sticking out.
"AH MY FRIENDS, IT APPEARS THAT THESE BEASTS ARE NO MATCH FOR MJOLNIR'S MIGHT!"
"Thor, you're aware that the purpose of the comms is to communicate with us, not deafen us, right?" Tony asked as he glared at the thunder god from behind his mask. "I mean, I'm pretty sure I've mentioned this at least once before."
"I apologize, Man of Iron, I allowed the thrill of battle to overwhelm me. I shall take more care in the future."
"Thank you, Thor. The rest of us will also be very grateful to you for that. Ironman, what's SHIELD's ETA?"
Tony looked at the readouts JARVIS was feeding him on his holoscreens. "About two minutes. Oh. Uh, Bruce also messaged to say that we should try and see if we can flip them onto their backs."
"Right, of course. Beetles are helpless on their backs. Iron Man, come down and help me with that. Thor stay in the sky and make sure none of them fly away."
"On it, Cap."
So Captain America and Iron Man got to work. Flipping over beetles wasn't quite as easy as flipping over cars - not that Tony had a habit of flipping over cars – they moved and squirmed and occasionally tried to fly away. Although at least they hadn't yet discovered a taste for metal, plastic or people. Thor zapped another one out of the sky when Steve finally heard the sound of incoming helicopters.
The beetle he was trying to flip over moved forward. He felt a dull impact just before he was flung through the air by the beetle's shell as it split and the beetle spread its wings. He landed onto a set of bleachers, crying out in pain as his lower back impacted against a wooden plank. He took several deep breaths, breathing through the pain as he shoved it as far from his thoughts as he could. He stood up with a wince, holding the straps of his shield in tightly-clenched fists.
The beetle hadn't waited for him to recover. Its wings caused a slight wind and an annoying high-pitched buzz as it lifted itself off the ground and flew off...
...Until something big and green fell on top of it, sending them both careening back down. A loud crack-splat sounded through the air and the ground shook. The Hulk roared with triumph – and possibly as a greeting to the Avengers (it was sometimes difficult to tell with the Hulk whether he considered them friends, comrades, or just those-people-who-are-always-there).
Cap looked up as he felt a fine mist fall over him. It was colourless and odourless and coming from the SHIELD helicopters Bruce had arrived with. Steve looked on as the insecticide fell on the giant beetles to see if it would work. The Hulk didn't seem to want to wait for the chemical to do its job and leapt upon another beetle just as it was spreading its wings.
"Okay, so apparently that shell isn't Hulk-proof either. Still wanna grab some samples of that stuff and see if I can't replicate it and use it for body armour or something."
Steve shook his head; trust Tony to already be back in his inner lab with a new project to work on.
The insecticide didn't work as instantaneously as it had with the flies, but eventually the beetles all succumbed to it. After the all-clear had been called, a frazzled school principal came out of the school to thank them. He was a short, stumpy man with a balding head of reddish-brown hair and a bright green bowtie. He looked like the sort of man who was usually all smiles, even if he looked jumpy and nervous as he thanked them.
Steve looked up to the school to see dozens of small faces plastered up against the windows looking out at them. He grinned and waved. Dozens of small faces lit up brightly and then there was total mayhem at the windows as they all tried to wave back at once. Iron Man walked up next to Steve and joined in the waving. Black Widow looked on with amusement.
Meanwhile, Hawkeye had paused on his way to join the others in order to watch the Hulk glare at the group of people who'd assembled at the edge of the school grounds. The first ones to move were a couple of kids wearing Columbia University t-shirts. They walked right up to the Hulk and smiled up at him. Then they stepped in and threw their arms around him.
The Hulk grunted, but didn't throw them off. His arms hovered above them like he didn't quite know what to do with them. Hawkeye slipped his cellphone out of his pocket and snapped a picture. He looked up after he'd sent it to Natasha and blinked at the hoard of people suddenly surrounding the big green figure. A kid with a green baseball cap, who looked like he should've been in school, was telling the Hulk he was his favourite avenger.
An old man shuffled over with a cane. He patted one of Hulk's massive arms affectionately. The Hulk looked over to him in confusion.
"Young man, you are a true hero," he said. The Hulk cocked his head at him. "Are you by any chance single? My granddaughter could use a man like you-"
"Granddad!" a tall girl with short dark hair and a nose piercing peeled herself off the group hug surrounding the Hulk, looking horrified.
"Now, hush Elizabeth. I've seen those good-for-nothing brutes you keep bringing home. So he's a little off-colour. It's what's inside that matters!"
Clint lost it. His laughter caught the Hulk's attention. He growled at his fellow avenger and the deep, rumbling sound seemed to be enough of a signal for the group-huggers to let go and back away from the green rage monster. But Clint was too far gone in his mirth to notice much of anything until suddenly he was grabbed by a massive green hand and found himself looking into the unamused face of the Hulk.
The Hulk observed him for a moment as Clint furtively struggled to ease the iron grip around him, then easily tossed the archer over his shoulder and went over to join the other Avengers.
f search for people, places and things
Songwriter's block hit, so I grabbed a beer and turned on the TV. Spent half an hour watching the avengers deal with a bunch of gigantic beetles. Don't remember elementary school being that exciting when I was a kid. Think I'm starting to see it though: the Hulk sort of is really cool. Check out the cover I did in his honour!
It's Not Easy Being Green: Hulk version
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The next time there were termites - and two mice the size of SUVs.
"Okay, the mice are really random. Do you suppose they got caught in the crossfire, or is our culprit escalating to mammals?"
"Well, it would sort of suggest that there's an enlargement ray of some sort involved, something with a wide field of influence. Someone probably aimed it at the termites not realizing there were mice in the walls as well."
"Hawkeye, can you get those mice?"
"I'm trying not to be insulted by that question, Cap. I could hit a mouse at this distance even if it was regular size."
"Good, then I'll leave them to you."
Natasha suppressed her amusement at the exchange. She'd bet none of the other Avengers realized just how much Captain America truly despised rodents - too many years of sleeping in places where he could hear them scurrying about as he fell asleep. She could sympathize, though the revulsion he felt had been trained out of her long ago. Though this didn't mean she wouldn't feel any measure of satisfaction when she noticed Hawkeye's arrows impaling their skulls later, when she'd had the chance to look.
She jumped and then ran up the hood of the blue, two-door ford sitting in the driveway, using its height to then leap onto the giant termite chewing its way through the side of a pale yellow house. The pale, almost-white bug was slightly smaller than the car and it paused as her weight landed on it and backed away slightly from the woodwork, the mandibles on its front clicking as it turned its head from side to side. It was a truly hideous-looking creature.
Natasha sank her widow bites into its front section, just behind its head. The termite twitched, its mandibles clicking frantically for a few moments before it went still and slumped to the ground. The Black Widow pulled out the bites and neatly flipped off it. Her eyes darted to the side as she heard scurrying across the house's front porch. Two termites crawled off it and along the side of the house, heads darting from side to side until they reached their dead fellow. These two looked different from the first: their bodies were slightly darker with stronger-looking shells and red heads with larger, darker mandibles.
Natasha's first thought was soldiers. She knew ants had castes of soldiers, did termites as well? She activated her comm.
"Bruce, I don't think your insecticide is working on these things," she said.
She heard a sigh. "Yes, I've noticed that. Captain, do you want the Hulk to help with these?"
"So long as you think you can stop him from smashing them while they're on the houses."
"... I can try."
"I don't think it should be a problem. The Hulk's seemed more... gentle lately."
"The Hulk, gentle?! I don't-I find I can't really picture that."
"It's true, Doctor Banner. He seems to have scaled down the amount of force he uses."
"I believe you. I-I just would feel a lot more comfortable with it if Thor and Iron Man weren't in Delaware dealing with that robotic chicken thing."
"C'mon man – Hulk up, Banner. Wouldn't want to disappoint your fans by not showing, would you?"
Natasha observed the soldier termites, noticing almost immediately that they didn't seem to have any eyes. Of course, they wouldn't need eyes if they lived in the dark She almost felt sorry for them; being thrust from their home, which had suddenly become too small for them, only to find themselves stuck in a completely alien world against an enemy with a distinct advantage over them. Slowly, carefully, she walked up to them, watching those big mandibles cautiously, recognizing them for the weapons they were.
She aimed her widow bites at them and fired. It was over in seconds and then she turned away from the soldiers who now lay beside their dead charge.
She walked up to the porch and grabbed for the small flashlight she had hooked onto the back of her belt. Shining it between the wooden slats of the porch grating, she was relieved not to see any movement. Distantly, she heard the Hulk roar. She stood up again, slipped her flashlight back into its holster and pulled herself up onto the porch in order to retrace the steps of the two soldier termites. Sure enough, she found another soldier and several worker termites diligently at work on the other side of the house. It took her minutes to kill them all.
"Haah! Get away from there! Don't think I'll let you chew at my house, you overgrown pests!"
Natasha was up and running at the first syllable of high-pitched screaming coming from two houses down. She jumped the white picket fence in one smooth motion and ran to the back garden where she paused for a moment to take in the sight of a woman in her fifties - who admittedly looked like she could've wrestled bears in her spare time - wearing a long floral skirt and frilly white blouse beating several termites away from her house with a wooden broomstick. Natasha shook her head and hurried up to the scene of the battle. Her widow's bites took care of the rest.
"Thank you, my dear," the woman said warmly after the termites were all dead. "If you have time afterwards, please do feel free to stop by for a cup of tea."
Natasha smiled pleasantly at her. "Thank you," she said. Both of them knew it likely wouldn't happen, but she did appreciate the gesture. "Someone will be by later to dispose of the termites."
A dog suddenly began to bark furiously from somewhere across the street. Natasha excused herself to go check on it. Turned out, she needn't have bothered. The termites hadn't stood a chance against the large German shepherd guarding that particular house. When she came up to the back gate, he looked up at her from where he was seated amid the carnage, tongue lolling out of his mouth and tail wagging behind him like a victory flag.
Natasha nodded to him. "Good dog," she said and moved on.
Getting rid of the termites wasn't difficult so much as it was tedious. The Hulk's height helped in getting some of the more adventurous ones down from the tops of houses, wooden sheds and telephone poles, where they'd managed to climb up to. Clint's sharp eyes kept finding ones in odd places, and in the end it took them hours before they and SHIELD were satisfied the area was clear.
Natasha had noticed them gathering for a while now, staying studiously clear of the Avenger's way but slowly increasing in numbers as the hours passed. Of course, some of the on-lookers were clearly from the press, but not all of them. Not nearly all of them. Most of them were wearing bright green and black t-shirts. Now that she had the time to look properly, she realized they were an assortment of t-shirts, some of them professionally printed, some obvious homemade jobs using a plain black or green tee and fabric markers and two older ladies looked like they'd hand-embroidered the letters. All of them said 'HUG A HULK' in big, bold letters.
SHIELD had created a perimeter around the affected area to keep people at a distance from the scene. Natasha suddenly found herself fighting to keep a straight face as the Hulk – grumpy face still intact – surreptitiously inched his way closer to the dividing line, carefully eyeing the assembled group as he did so. Eventually, he got close enough that the group felt brave enough to duck under the yellow perimeter tape and run to the Hulk.
Natasha lost the fight with her lips and felt them curl into an amused smile. She felt a presence approach mostly silently from behind her.
"You know, for all his angry glares, I think he's actually enjoying this," Captain America said.
"He's not really fooling anyone," she agreed.
Cap sighed. "Well, at least this time we have a definite place of origin," he said, amusement gone from his voice. That should help narrow down the location of whoever's responsible for this, right?"
Black Widow's amusement vanished too and she turned away from the Hulk and his puppy-pile hug to face the captain. He was right, the house the termites had originally burst from was rather obvious thanks to the giant gaping hole in its foundation. The owners hadn't been home and she doubted it was anywhere near structurally sound enough for them to return now. She hoped their insurance covered termite damage.
"Depends on how clever the culprit is. They could've come here just to use their enlargement ray or whatever Bruce was calling it."
"Yes, but then they still would've had to have found a way to inspect the houses in the areas for termites without looking too suspicious."
"Okay, so I'm voting Startroopers for movie night tonight," Clint declared as he walked up to them, looking highly annoyed.
"That was a terrible movie," Natasha told him.
"Totally was not."
"Not surprisingly, I've never heard of it," Steve said dryly.
"Stark will hate that choice."
"Tough, he doesn't get a vote." Clint turned to Steve. "It's about a bunch of guys – and girls, sorry Natasha – going to an alien planet to kill giant alien bugs."
Steve blinked and then shook his head. "You haven't had enough killing of giant bugs."
"Oh I have, but I'd take great pleasure out of watching someone else do it for a change."
Natasha shook her head and turned back to look at how the Hulk was doing. She blinked as she watched a young woman in a navy pencil skirt and matching blazer hold something out to the green rage monster that towered over her with both hands. The Hulk didn't look angry anymore, instead staring down at the thing she was holding with a mixture of curiosity and confusion. The woman gestured for him to take it and after a moment's pause the Hulk cautiously reached a hand out for it. The woman carefully deposited the thing into his hand and then stepped back, looking rather pleased with herself.
The Hulk stared at the thing in his hand. Natasha frowned and took a few steps forward. Suddenly, something small and grey poked out from behind the Hulk's thick fingers. It was tiny next to the massive bulk that was the big green rage monster and looked so incredibly fragile in his hands. It looked out at a world that was farther away from it than the tiny creature had ever been and meowed pitifully. Natasha could hear the fear in its voice.
The Hulk's chest rumbled, a deep, almost soothing noise she'd never heard from him before, and the little grey kitten looked up at him. Oh so carefully, the Hulk's other handed descended at the creature cradled in his hand and touched it with one finger. The kitten froze for a moment and then tentatively pushed back against the large finger. The Hulk's eyes lit up and he proceeded to move his finger along the kitten's back and the top of its head.
The Hulk's chest rumbled again. The kitten began to purr.
Natasha slipped her cellphone out of a pocket on her thigh and snapped a photo. She then sent it to Bruce: See? Gentle.
Tony was not particularly thrilled with the tower's newest inhabitant, but he did name her Little Grey.
"This just seems too obvious," said Tony as he slid out of the driver's seat of his silver BMW and looked over his sunglasses at the innocuous-looking house. "I mean, I've heard of neighbour feuds, but this a bit over-the-top even for that."
"If you have a better suspect in mind, we're all ears," said Steve with a sigh, looking up at the clouds where he could just barely catch the light reflecting off Thor's armour as he hovered high above them, in case he was needed.
It wasn't that he didn't necessarily agree with Tony, but otherwise everything fit the profile. They'd identified the occupants of the house as Doctors Richelieu, a married couple who'd lived in the neighbourhood for over five years now with their daughter, who was now eleven years old and went to the local elementary school. The same one that had fallen victim to the giant beetles. Doctor Anabell Richelieu had Phds in environmental science and entomology and Doctor Jean-Paul Richelieu had a Phd in biology. Both worked part-time at the university.
Neither one had published any of their research in close to four years. As Bruce had been quick to point out, that was a very long time in the academic world and one generally only did that when they were sitting on something big.
To add to the wonderfully convenient picture, Jean-Paul's mother, Marie, lived two blocks down from where the cockroaches had shown up. Oh, and then there were their neighbours, the Zubrovskis, whose house now sported a lovely gaping hole out of which gigantic termites had come gushing two days ago.
It was almost too perfect.
The Avengers had opted to make this house call sans uniforms so as not to draw too much unnecessary attention to themselves. Natasha didn't seem to share their doubts, however, and strode up to the front door resolutely and rang the doorbell. The little girl who answered the door looked very, very familiar.
"Hello," she said brightly and after a moment's pause it became clear she didn't recognize them without their uniforms.
"Hello," Natasha smiled down at her. "Are your parents home?"
The little girl looked nervous for a moment before nodding. "They're busy, though."
"Busy doing what?" Bruce asked, having picked up on the sudden change in his friends, but not understanding why it happened.
"Doing important science things," the girl answered solemnly.
"Aah, of course they are," said Tony coming to the front to kneel in front of the child. "And I totally understand why they wouldn't want to be disturbed when doing science. Science is sacred, after all, and normally I'd be all for leaving them alone but unfortunately we really need to talk to them. Do you think you could get them for us?"
The girl looked indecisive, staring up at them thoughtfully.
"Hey kid, how about a compromise?" Clint suddenly interrupted her thoughts. She looked at him curiously. "You don't want to disturb them to get them to come up here, so how about you just take us to them. That way they don't have to be interrupted from their work and we can ask our questions and then leave. Whadda ya say?"
The little girl thought about that and then smiled happily as she nodded. "Okay, follow me."
"Good thinking, Hawkeye," Steve said from between his teeth.
"I can't believe she fell for that," Hawkeye muttered back.
"Who is she?" Bruce whispered.
"That's the kid that brought Hulk cookies."
"Yet another really weird coincidence?"
They followed the little girl into the house where she led them to a heavy wooden door that looked like it probably led into the basement. The Avengers exchanged looks. It really was almost too easy. The little girl reached up and pulled on the door handle. It opened easily enough, though the hinge screeched loudly.
"Emily, honey, did you want something?" they heard a female voice call from down below.
The little girl left the door open as she bounded down the stairs. "Mommy, daddy there's these people here who want to talk to you!"
"Oh? And who are they?"
Tony elbowed his way to the front and went down the stairs into the scientists' lair first. Natasha followed at his heels and the rest of the Avengers filed down after them. By the time they'd all made it downstairs, Tony was enthusiastically introducing himself and generally overwhelming the mousy-looking duo.
Steve went down last, watching for traps. He saw nothing out of the ordinary, nothing suspicious – other than the obvious science lab in the basement. Several large tanks lined the back of the lab, but all he could see from this distance were plants. He saw several microscopes and a few other pieces of equipment he recognized from Bruce's lab at the tower, although the set-up looked a lot more makeshift. Large wooden tables were lined with clear plastic and the white fridge in the corner had probably been bought at a regular store. When he looked closer, Steve realized that most of the equipment was scratched and dented, a far cry from the gleaming state-of-the-art things Bruce played with.
"And, of course, I'd like to introduce you to my colleague and friend Doctor Bruce Banner," he heard Tony say. "Soft, squishy stuff is more his area of expertise than mine."
Steve felt Bruce beside him stiffen and then take a deep breath, bracing himself before stepping forward with a polite smile and his hand stretched out in greeting.
"Doctor Banner," Jean-Paul Richelieu greeted him with a look of awe on his face. Steve exchanged a look with Natasha. But then the scientist seemed to shake himself mentally and an excited grin appeared on his face as he reached out to grasp Bruce's hand. "It's an honour to meet you, Doctor Banner. Your work on cellular mutation using gamma radiation has been instrumental to my – excuse me – our work. Although we've managed to find an alternative method to inducing a more specific and localized mutation. Please, if you'd like to come this way, I would love to hear your thoughts on the matter."
Tony looked over at Steve with surprise. Then he shrugged and followed on behind them while Jean-Paul and his wife herded them over to a large computer screen, talking a mile a minute using words Steve stopped following the moment they'd gotten past introductions.
The two scientists couldn't have looked more harmless if they'd tried. Anabell was a pale, bony woman with light blonde frizzy hair that refused to stay in the ponytail she'd evidently tried tying it into. She looked like she was swimming in the labcoat she was wearing, bright colours peeking out from everywhere the white coat didn't manage to cover. Steve noticed that even her sneakers were neon pink. Her husband, in contrast, seemed to own the drab, monotone scientist look. His head was covered in a short mop of brown hair that stopped just short of touching the top of his wire-rim glasses. His colours of choice seemed to be black and grey. Both of them were soft-spoken and seemed slightly jittery.
Steve sighed and casually strolled over to the tanks. There were three of them. The first one had a pile of bruised, half-decomposed fruit on the bottom sitting next to a pile of assorted bits of plastic. There were a few plants inside as well as wooden and metal ledges alone the back. The entire tank was a buzzing mess of fruit flies.
He walked over to the second tank. Amid the greenery on the bottom, the locusts were fairly easy to spot. As was the pile of empty tin cans and other scrap metal. It took Steve a few moments to find the occupants of the third tank, but eventually he managed to observe a few ant workers moving leafs of aluminum foil towards the mound of soil in the back corner of the tank.
"Aren't they cool?"
Steve looked down at the voice. The little girl was looking up at him, excitement shining in her eyes.
"You mean the bugs?" he asked. "Yeah, I guess they are. You like bugs?"
She grinned and nodded. He looked back to where her parents were still meeting minds with Bruce and Tony.
"Do you understand any of that?" he asked her.
She made a face and shook her head. "Mommy says that's why I have to go to school so that I can learn things so that one day I can understand their big people science."
Steve chuckled. "Well, I went to school and I still can't understand any of that science."
She frowned. "Then why did you go to school if you can't understand it?"
"I was never particularly good at math and science; I learned to do other things."
Steve hesitated for a moment, but part of him felt sorry for the child. Her parents clearly spent a lot of time down here in their lab. That had to make for a lot of very lonely days.
He smiled down at her. "Is there a piece of paper and a pencil around here I can use?"
She blinked and then ran to a desk in the corner, where she opened a drawer and took out a large notebook and then reached up onto her tiptoes to slide a sharpened pencil out of a cup. Then she ran back to him and handed him the items. Steve thanked her and settled down onto the floor.
"Now, go stand over there. Look up and spread your arms. Smile. That's it. Now hold, this'll take me a few minutes."
She obediently did as he asked, following his instructions very precisely. Steve sketched as quickly as he dared, knowing a ten-year-old's patience didn't last very long. When he was finished, he tore the page out of the notebook and handed it to her. The little girl's eyes lit up at the picture of her flying on a butterfly, wind blowing through her hair.
"Wow," she said. Then she looked up at him with a smile. "If you can do this then it's okay that you can't do science."
Steve laughed. "Oh, I'm glad you think so."
Just then he found himself surrounded by a gaggle of scientists crowding around the tanks.
"Move Rogers, you're in the way of science," said Tony, as he shoved at him ineffectually.
Steve stayed where he was for a few moments just to aggravate the genius before finally moving out of the way. He grabbed Tony by the arm first and dragged him back from the group. Tony squawked at being manhandled.
"Tony, have we got anything here?" he whispered.
"Yes, we have some very fascinating science." When Steve didn't let go at his glare, Tony sighed. "Seems they've been working on a way to genetically engineer common household pests to digest non-organic matter that we would normally dispose of as garbage. Sort of like organic recycling using insects instead of giant factories."
Steve nodded. "Like plastic and metal, you mean."
"Doctor Stark?" Jean-Paul Richelieu asked, looking confused.
"Ah sorry, my non-science friend here wanted a layman's explanation."
Steve smiled at the scientists. "I'm sorry. So if I'm understanding it correctly, you're trying to, uh, genetically engineer ants and locusts that eat metal and fruit flies that eat plastic."
Anabell Richelieu nodded. "To start with, yes. They're among to the most prolific and damaging of the insect pests. Well, other than termites, but termites already eat wooden debris, so we don't really need to bother with them."
"And have you heard about the recent attacks? There were metal-eating ants among them..."
Her eyes flashed with anger. "Yes, we have. And I would really love to know who's been stealing our research! We've been so careful with it."
Steve blinked. Suddenly Natasha appeared on his other side.
"Did it occur to you to check and make sure your own ants were secure in their tanks and not getting out?" she asked neutrally.
The couple blinked at them before exchanging bewildered looks.
"Well, no, not really," said Jean-Paul. "I mean those ants were huge. Our ants are, well, ant-size."
Yes, okay, Steve could see their point. "Could someone have maybe stolen the ants?" he asked carefully.
"Well, I suppose it's possible," Anabell said carefully, looking wary for the first time since the Avengers had entered their basement. "But we haven't exactly been telling anyone about our research."
"Do you know how many ants you have in this colony?" Bruce asked.
Tony whipped out some sort of scanner out of his back pocket and began scanning the tanks. Steve stepped back to let the scientists work again. After a few moments, he felt a tug on his pant leg. He looked down at the little girl.
"Wanna see something cool?" she asked him, eyes twinkling with mischievousness.
"Uh..." He looked up and met Natasha's amused eyes. She nodded at him curtly and then looked back to observing the scientists. He looked back down at the expectant child and smiled. "Sure, let's go."
"Hey, Cap, if you get a temporary tattoo, make sure it's a unicorn," Hawkeye said softly as Steve walked by him to the stairs. Steve rolled his eyes at him.
Back in the main part of the house, Steve turned to the little girl. "Hey, so I just realized I don't know your name," he told her.
She blinked up at him. "I'm Emily," she said.
"Well, it's nice to meet you Emily. I'm Steve. So, what were you going to show me?"
Emily smiled. "This way!" she called out and then bounded towards the back of the house.
Steve followed her into the kitchen and waited while she dug something out of her pink Barbie princess backpack. It looked a bit like a weapon, although rounder and with more extraneous bobbles than a gun would have. A water pistol perhaps? A very well-made one by the looks of things. Steve never ceased to be amazed by how far technology had come even in something as silly as the toy industry: the plastic on that water gun almost looked like real metal with actual glass in the top bits that looked like they contained some sort of coloured liquid.
Wondering what she was planning on showing him with the water pistol and hoping it didn't result in him getting wet, Steve followed her out into the yard. Outside, Emily ran to a rather wild-looking flower bed and crouched down. Steve knelt down beside her.
"See, look," she pointed at a magnificent-looking monarch butterfly. "It really likes my garden; it comes here all the time."
"Oh wow, it's beautiful. If I'd known you had your own butterfly friend, I would've drawn you flying on his back."
"Okay!" Emily exclaimed, eyes bright and practically glowing. "We'll model for you!"
Then she leapt to her feet and stood back, pointing the water pistol at the butterfly with both hands. Steve's eyes widened in surprise.
"Wait! You can't do that, you'll kill it!"
She squeezed the trigger and a yellow-green light blasted out of the pistol and covered the butterfly. It shimmered for a moment and then Steve scrambled back as it grew and grew until finally it was big enough for Emily to theoretically ride on it. Steve sat back and gaped at the gigantic butterfly. With the flower it'd been resting on no longer able to support it, the insect had become airborne and flown to rest on top of the tall fence surrounding the backyard.
Steve ran a hand over his face.
"Did you take the ants from your parents' tank?" he asked tiredly.
Emily cocked her head. "The ants? No, I found the ants outside. There were so many of them and they were building a new home, but ants fight when there's more than one home, so I had to move them."
"Right of course. That was very smart of you."
"I know, right?" she said with a grin.
"That's a really cool toy," he said casually, not wanting to spook her. He did not want to become a Captain America Giant. "Do you mind if I borrow it for a moment?"
Emily looked down at the ray gun – definitely not a water pistol – and then shrugged. "Sure," she said and handed it over to him.
He carefully took it from her, surprised by its weight. Then he walked back into the house and opened the door into the basement. "Hey, could you guys come up here for a minute, there's something I want to show you!"
"Not now, Cap, we've finally managed to figure out how the bugs got out of their tanks!"
"That's great Tony, but you really need to see this!"
"Come on Stark, you know he wouldn't be calling you away from science if it wasn't important," he heard Hawkeye say.
"What are you talking about?! Cap's calls me away from science for unimportant things like briefings and food and sleep all the time!"
It took Clint and Natasha several minutes to drag the scientists away from their passion. Natasha slid in next to Steve with an inquisitive eyebrow.
"So, how did the insects get out?" he asked.
"Chewed through their tanks," she said. "Apparently, the fruit flies and locusts evolved to the point where they began to eat glass and the couple didn't notice, and they lined the bottom of the metal-eating ants' tank with metal..."
Steve nodded. He walked up to Anabell and held up the ray gun. "Doctor Richelieu, do you recognize this?"
The woman looked down at it. "Yes, it's a toy Emily picked up," she said dismissively. "She's been dragging it around ever since."
"Here, take it."
She frowned and took the 'toy' from him. Almost immediately her eyebrows rose in surprise. "Oh, that's..." She looked at her daughter. "Emily, honey, where did you get this?"
Emily, who'd been glaring at Steve since the moment he'd called down for the others, looked at her mom. "Upstairs in grandpa's case. There were a lot of papers I couldn't read and then there was this."
"May I?" Tony asked quietly, gesturing at the ray gun. Anabell handed it over to him without a word. He turned it over in his hands. "Wow, you guys are making my parents look like they should be getting 'Parents of the Year' awards; how exactly did you miss that this wasn't just a toy? Anyone have any idea what it does?"
"Go look outside," said Steve, gesturing towards the backyard.
The butterfly was, thankfully, still there. Thor had flown down from the sky and was casually leaning against the other side of the fence, murmuring gently to it. The rest of the Avengers gaped.
"If I may ask, who exactly was your father, Anabell?" Bruce said after a while.
"A scientist, Martin Scarr... I'm not entirely sure what he was working on since most of his work was destroyed in a lab fire the day before he died."
"Traffic accident." She took a deep breath. "He was always going on about how he was going to change the world and then he was killed by a drunk driver on his way from the grocery store. He was getting ice cream."
"Somehow I don't think he was planning on changing the world in the way you were thinking," said Clint.
"Aha!" Tony exclaimed. Then he pointed the gun at the butterfly and pulled the trigger. A green light enveloped it and it shrunk down to its original size. After a few confused moments, the butterfly took off, landing onto Thor's out-stretched finger.
Tony turned to them with a wide grin. "It's a shrink ray: the kid was using it on the reverse setting."
Jean-Paul walked up to his daughter and knelt in front of her. "Why were you doing it? Emily, those huge insects were hurting people, you had to know that. And it certainly wasn't good for them; they're not meant to be that big. You were taking them out of their natural habitat."
Emily shrugged. "It was fun."
Steve blinked at her and then stood and looked at the others.
"SHIELD's on their way," said Natasha.
"Good, I'll happily leave this part to them."
"Amen to that, Cap," said Clint.
Aw man, the avengers are fighting some freezer guy by the public library and I don't have my shirt! #theavengers, #HugaHulk, #anyonehaveaspare
From New York, NY
5:03pm – 28 November 2014
Avengers fighting on 5th Ave by bryant park, everyone in area grab your shirts! Bad guy looks lame, won't last long so hurry! :) #theavengers, #HugaHulk
From New York, NY
5:06pm – 28 November 2014
OMG girls finally it's time to get those uniforms out! Bryant Park everyone and hustle! #HugaHulk, #theHulk, #uniformtime, #BryantPark
From New York, NY
5:11pm – 28 November 2014
Freezerburn was yet another lame villain intent on making Manhattan fall to its knees (or something), only this time with a somewhat cool freeze-ray gun. Iron Man crowed behind his mask about how his suit had no problem with ice because he'd fixed that a long time ago. Because he was a genius.
Up until Freezerburn doused him in ice so thick it made him look like an Iron Man iceberg. If Captain America took a little too much pleasure in hitting said iceberg with his shield in his attempts to break through, it was his secret to keep. Although judging by the expression Black Widow sent him afterwards, it likely wasn't much of a secret.
It was the Hulk who ended up taking the villain down while the others concentrated on getting civilians out of the range of his weapon and his minions (Hawkeye insisted on calling them Freezies). The Avengers weren't actually sure what Freezerburn's plan for the Hulk had been, but he didn't seem to do anything more than throw ice at him. Which only served to further enrage the Hulk when he slid on the icy streets.
However, instead of smashing things indiscriminately the way the Avengers had expected him to, the Hulk got to his feet and glared at Freezerburn. Then he smirked and raised his arms so they were parallel to his shoulders. While Freezerburn merrily blasted away at Captain America and Black Widow, the Hulk stared at him and waited. Finally, the villain had to backflip away from Cap's shield, putting him at a safer distance from the other two Avengers.
The Hulk brought his hands together in a collision powerful enough to send a shockwave right at Freezerburn. The skinny, annoying man was lifted off his feet and thrown directly into the side of the big concrete office building behind him. He hit the wall with a crack and a cry of pain before slumping to the ground unconscious for Widow to handcuff.
It took very little time to subdue the minions once their leader was out of commission.
Once that was all done, the Hulk found himself a curb free of ice and sat down. A minute later a group of people began to approach him from all sides. Their t-shirts were still a mismatched array of homemade and printed, some more decorative than others. Four young women in their early twenties were the first to arrive on the scene wearing short green and black cheerleading skirts with bright green t-shirts. Like the others they read 'HUG THE HULK' in big, bold letters.
Iron Man landed next to Captain America and lifted his facemask. "Okay, now I'm officially getting jealous," he said as he watched the four attractive young women lean in to hug the Hulk. "Where are my cheerleaders?"
"Remember what happened when you asked where your cookies were?" Cap said mildly.
Tony made a face. "Right, gotcha. Nevermind."
Just then the Hulk-hugging cheerleaders shared a look between them. The one on the far right bit her lip. They stepped back and reached up to each plant a kiss on the Hulk's cheeks. The Hulk froze. Then his cheeks began to redden as his eyes looked between the young women frantically. He began to shrink.
Iron Man and Captain America gaped at the scene. "Did-did they just break the Hulk?!" Tony asked in awe.
Meanwhile Doctor Bruce Banner found himself very confused at all the people surrounding him, looking away instantly when he realized he was eye-level with some very well-rounded assets. The four cheerleaders exchanged bewildered looks and then grinned as they sat down right onto the curb next to the curly-haired, half-naked man.
And that was how the Hulk became New York's favourite Avenger.
Thanks for reading! Make sure to check out the amazing art done by PinkElephant42 and tell her how awesome it is: archiveo fourown collections/ marvel_ bang_2014/ works/2531969 (remove the spaces).