Disclaimer: I do not own anything belonging to Marvel Comics or anything associated with it. I have written this story solely because I enjoy writing.
Chapter 1: Shocking Revelations
As Janet Van Dyne exited the portable laboratory of Hank Pym, she didn't bother looking at the incredible scientific equipment that surrounded it. She didn't bother looking at the PDA she carried, she didn't say a word as she made her way from huge scientific complex beneath the Avengers Mansion. She simply walked in a very polished, controlled manner, her footsteps the only sound made as she made her way into the elevator and pressed the button that would send it up into the mansion proper.
And then she screamed.
"Aaarrrrgggh!" Janet howled, clenching her free hand into a fist and slamming it into the plexiglass wall. "I can't believe that man! What does he think I am, one of his creepy robots?"
Her naked fist stinging somewhat from her blow, Janet glanced down at the PDA once again, looking at the information that had recently been put on it. Letting it spur her fury to new heights before firing off another punch. "I spent forever on planning all this out! The arrangements, the reservations, everything! And he actually has the gall to blow it all off?"
Her fist a bit sore, Janet decided to vent her growing frustrations with a few kicks to the elevator even as it arrived at her destination. "Science is fun, Jan! Science solves all our problems, Jan! I don't have time to waste on this, Jan!" she ranted in a mocking imitation of Hank's voice as she left the elevator behind. Pausing to look back at it, she scowled viciously as she pictured the jerk that had happily sent all her hard work and preparation down the toilet with no effort whatsoever. "Hmph! Like he's one to talk!" Shaking her head disgustedly, Janet continued down the hallway, thinking evil thoughts. "I swear, one of these days, he's gonna push me too far, and then -!"
"Who's gonna push ya too far?" came a deep, rumbling of thunder shaped into human speech. A voice that stopped Janet in her tracks and prompted her to look down another hallway. "Someone give ya trouble?"
Janet knew even before she looked who the owner of that voice was. A massive figure of a man, eight-feet tall at least, his entire body composed of massive coils of muscle. His outsized hands and feet gave him a brutish, primitive appearance, one that was enhanced by his emerald-green hide and ragged purple trousers. As was usual, a scowl hung about his eyes, like he was waiting for somebody to come along who was stupid enough to pick a fight with him.
Janet just smiled and answered, "Hulk! Hey, how have you been?"
The jade giant shrugged, something that looked like two mountains sliding together. "Same as usual," Hulk muttered as he approached. "So, what's with you?" He gave a hopeful curl of his lip before asking, "Somebody you want smashed?"
Despite everything, Janet couldn't help but chuckle. "No, not particularly." Then she glanced back at the elevator before muttering, "Though if you wanted to turn Hank's portable anthill into a pile of scrap metal, I sure wouldn't complain!"
Giving a mild snort, Hulk muttered, "Having problems with that egghead again?"
"What makes you think I ever stop having problems with him?" Janet grumbled before starting forward again. After a moment, the Hulk moved to follow a polite distance behind, his massive weight resulting in a minor earthquake with every step he took. "I swear, he's so impossible! It makes me crazy sometimes!"
Hulk issued another mild snort, this one with a hint of a laugh to it. "So what did he do this time?"
"Ruined two days of solid work, that's what!" Janet immediately answered, again looking down at her PDA. "With everything that's been happening lately, what with Kang's invasion and that whole mess with Hydra and AIM, I thought it would be nice for the two of to go out on the town! Relax! Have some fun!" Pausing to open up one of the files she had, the brunette began scanning the list of preparations she had made. "I made reservations at this one restaurant Tony recommended - you know, the one that caters to 'unusual' clientele?" Hulk made a rumbling sound of agreement to this. "I got advanced tickets to this great movie that's coming out next week, as well as reservations at a dozen of the most exciting places New York has to offer! I had everything all planned out for the perfect day out on the town!" Feeling her heart pounding angrily, Janet closed the file and lowered the PDA. "So, what happens when I drop by Hank's lab to surprise him with it?"
"Let me guess," Hulk rumbled in a knowing manner. "Mr. Science blew you off."
"Feh! You know it!" Janet growled, giving the PDA a vicious shake. "He just glanced at it before saying that he didn't have time to waste on stuff like this! That he was too behind on his research!" Shaking her head at the memory searing at her insides, she continued, "When I tried to tell him that he needed a break, and that it wouldn't hurt to relax a bit, have some fun, he just said ,'science is fun'!"
"And went right back to whatever it was he was doing, right?" Hulk gathered.
"Oh, no! Even worse!" Janet grumbled, again glaring at her PDA. "Without even bothering to look up from his microscope, he downloaded a bunch of meetings he said he needed me to take!" Opening the file in question, she glowered angrily at the boatload of bureaucratic red tape Hank wanted her to navigate for him. "Business arrangements, applications for more grant money, the whole works! He's got me tied up for an entire month, Hulk! Longer, if we get another supervillain invasion or whatever!" Feeling a tremor of pure rage run up her spine, Jan looked up at her massive companion. "And you wanna know what the worst part is?"
"You mean you haven't gotten there yet?" Hulk replied, arching an eyebrow at this.
"I could actually have understood it if Hank were blowing me off to work on something important! You know, if it were something that actually helped people!" Janet went on, thinking of all the projects a man of Hank Pym's technical brilliance was capable of accomplishing. "New medical treatments, reversing environmental damage! Something useful!" Pressing her lips together, she then fumed, "Even replacing all the Ultrons we lost during Kang's invasion, or - or his plans for rehabilitating supervillains! Something!"
"And you call wasting time on a bunch of would-be conquerors useful?" Hulk muttered, making it quite clear what he thought of that. Not that Janet could blame him, her being of a similar opinion. "So what is he working on?"
"Oh, you're gonna love this!" Janet informed him in a mocking tone. "He's synthesizing yellowjacket genomes! He wants to be able to make little bugs from scratch!" Letting out a disgusted noise, she punctuated it by sneering, "Now there's a real benefit to the world!"
If possible, Hulk's near-perpetual scowl deepened. "You're right. I should smash that stupid anthill of his."
Chuckling at this statement, Janet let out a low sigh before continuing, "So, not only has Hank again succeeded in isolating himself in his own little science world, but he's got me bogged down for, like, forever!" she ranted once again before letting her arms and the cursed PDA she held fall to her sides. "I should've known this would happen..."
And she should have. Janet knew that. She had been working with Hank for a long time now, knew how he worked, how he acted. Knew that, given a choice between spending a fun-filled day at Coney Island and staring at a bug under microscope, he would gladly choose the bug every single time. And even worse, act like an excited little kid at Coney Island while doing so.
Why do I bother? Janet thought sadly. Why do I even try getting him out of his own little world? To notice something that isn't related to science? Lowering her gaze somewhat, she added, To notice...me...
A low rumble in Hulk's throat stirred Janet back to the moment, just in time for him to ask, "So what are you gonna do now?"
"I dunno," Janet admitted sourly. "It's too late to cancel half the things on this list, and canceling the other half would take forever! And I don't have forever! Not with everything Hank's dumped on my plate." Then she darted a glance at Hulk, smiling slightly as she asked, "Say...I don't suppose you'd want to go?"
His eyes widening somewhat, Hulk paused before smiling gently. "Thanks, but...I'm not exactly built for nights out on the town."
That's for sure, Wasp agreed, thinking of all the places in which half a ton of muscle-bound Hulk would not fit in, physically and metaphorically. "Well, just thought I'd ask," she said aloud. "I dunno...maybe Tony would enjoy it. Or maybe Steve." Then she looked up and added, "I mean, he's still trying to get caught up on everything. Maybe I could help him with that while we're at it."
Hulk shrugged again, not having anything to say to this. Not that this was a surprise to Janet; the green goliath was far from skilled at dealing with people, even on his best days. Then again, it's not like I can blame him, she thought, recalling how they had first met during the battle against Graviton. The day the Avengers had first assembled.
The Hulk had been a frightening thing to see in action, the way he had savagely and brutally assaulted Graviton. It had been easy for Wasp, who had known nothing about the man-monster at the time, to see why the military and SHIELD had so thoroughly hounded him since the day of his genesis. But even then, there had been no getting around the fact that the Hulk's arrival had turned the tide against the maniacal scientist, allowing Iron Man, Thor, and Hank and herself a chance to recover and rally against the man who had become Graviton.
Then came the moment in which Janet had gotten what she considered to be her first look at the person the Hulk truly was. The green goliath had been falling to the Earth, Graviton pelting him with numerous shipping containers, far more than even he could successfully smash his way through. And then Janet, as the high-flying Wasp, had arrived at his side and started blasting a path through the containers.
It had been nothing in Wasp's mind. Hulk had saved them, was fighting the enemy they had been powerless to defeat. And when he was in trouble, she had come to his assistance. But she had started blazing a trail for him, it was clear that her assistance was far from nothing to him.
You're...you're helping me... came the Hulk's words, echoing in Janet's mind. The look of total astonishment on his face, the look of someone too horribly abused to believe that anyone would ever want to help him. In that moment, it had become clear that the Hulk was many things, but not a monster. Something that had only become clearer with time.
After the disastrous first encounter with Enchantress and her cruel attempts to manipulate the Hulk into doing her bidding, the jade giant had left the team for a time. And during that time, Janet had looked through his files, trying to find out more about him. Tried to understand him, learn how she could convince him to trust them again. And what she had found was tragedy after tragedy, horror piled up upon horror. The sorrowful existence of Bruce Banner had soon left her in tears, even before she began reading the details of his life after the infamous disaster that had resulted in him becoming the creature known as the Incredible Hulk.
If I had been through even a fraction of what he's suffered, I think I would have gone insane a long time ago, Janet thought woefully. Beaten and brutalized throughout his life, with no one to turn to as Bruce Banner. Endlessly hounded and persecuted by the military and SHIELD, his very appearance sending people running from him in terror as the Hulk. And both aspects of him always alone.
Wondering not for the first time as to exact nature of the two personalities that lived with him, Janet then thought of a time when she herself had experienced a fraction of the Hulk's torment. When she had been transmogrified into an insectoid horror by the Leader in a mad attempt to remake the world in his own image. Is that what it's like for him? she wondered, thinking of the savage impulses that had been released in her, channeled at her own friends by the Leader's mind control. All that rage and power, flowing through you, driving you forward. Leaving you able to do nothing but smash anything in your way...
And as she thought that, Janet smiled, for the fact was that, despite everything the Hulk had been through, he had the heart of a hero. Despite his inner demons, he had tried to extend a small amount of compassion to her when she was dealing with her own relatively minor problems. And with that in mind, she then said, "Say, if you don't mind, there is something I would like to do." Making a questioning sound in his throat, the Hulk looked at her as she said, "After what Hank pulled, I sure would like to vent some anger. Wanna help me find some creeps to beat up?"
Hulk looked at her for a time before smiling a more dangerous smile. A smile Janet had seen sending grown men running away, screaming for their mommies. "You actually have to ask?" he rumbled with undisguised eagerness. "Where do we start?"
"Hey, this is New York! There's always creeps to be beat up somewhere! It's just a matter of knowing where to look!" Then Janet brought her free hand to her chin and smiled deviously. "Say, didn't Hawkeye say that he had a good friend in SHIELD? What was her name...?"
"Mockingbird," Hulk rumbled a bit more sourly. "What about her?"
"Well, it just occurs to me that she might be able to help us get a line on any Hydra or AIM goons that managed to slink off during that last battle," Janet explained. "And if not...well, we can always go looking around, and hope we get lucky."
Furrowing his brows, Hulk visibly considered this before shrugging. "Eh, why not?" he finally decided. "Besides, Cupid's pretty good in a fight. Maybe we'll let him tag along."
"Great!" Wasp grinned eagerly. Despite what Hank thought about violence, there was nothing quite like a little bad guy bashing to help her feel better. "Let's hurry up and find him so we can get going! There's plenty of jerks out there, just waiting for us to beat 'em all up!"
"Yeah!" Hulk grinned dangerously, driving a fist into the palm of his other hand.
"You've gotta be kidding me!" Tony cried out in dismay. "We suffered this much damage?"
Chuckling at the horror in his teammate's voice, Clint Barton sat up on the sofa he was lounging on and looked over at the so-called leader of the Avengers, who was presently sitting at a table in the mansion living room, wearing civilian garments instead of his Iron Man armor. Which was just as well, because he was presently struggling with an enemy that his armor couldn't help him against, that no amount of blasting could keep at bay.
"Stark Tower might be the most advanced building on the planet, Tony, fitted with top-end defense systems and automated repair systems. But even it can take a pounding when it loses all power," Pepper Potts countered easily as she handed her boss more bad news. Adding another form to the mountain of paperwork that was already spilling off the tabletop. "And that's not counting the problems we've had at some of our subsidiaries." Then the redhead pressed her lips together, a hint of sadness appearing in her eyes as she added, "Williams Innovations was hit especially hard. We hadn't finished upgrading their systems when the EMP hit. They'll require extensive repairs to their main office before..."
Smirking as Tony brought his hands to his face, his eyes glazing over as Pepper continued to tell him everything he needed to do instead of running the company for him as she was usually forced to, Clint tuned them out before focusing his attention on the big screen TV in the mansion living room, and the baseball game that was being played. "So, what do you think, old man?" he asked in somewhat joking manner as he glanced over at the other Avenger watching the game. "Betcha not used to being able to watch a baseball game without actually being there."
Glancing back at the archer, Steve gave a wry curl of his lip. "Believe it or not, Hawkeye, we actually did have television back in my day. It might not have been as fancy, but we did have it," said the living legend known as Captain America. Then he smiled when the Yankee batter blasted a ball for a home run. "I'm just glad the game itself hasn't changed all that much."
Sitting back himself, Clint contented himself to relax and enjoy the game. The past few weeks had been exhausting for the Avengers, what with two invasions and the entire planet nearly being turned into a giant snowball. And as much as the team sometimes seemed like a bomb just waiting to go off in his face, it was nice to have someplace where he seemed to fit in, even if his teammates were more-or-less a bunch of misfits. Kinda like me, when you think about it, he thought, recalling his own interesting past. Not too many places where an ex-circus performer, ex-SHIELD agent can fit in...
Even as he thought this, Clint felt a minor earthquake running up through the sofa, one that was promptly followed by another. "Hey, everybody!" came Janet's exuberant voice alongside set of footsteps readily recognized as being made by Hulk. "What's happening?"
Looking up from the mountain of business bull that was overwhelming his table, Tony groaned and sourly muttered, "What's happening, Janet, is that my secretary is trying to bore me to death while Cap and Hawkeye sit on, doing nothing to save me from this gruesome fate."
"Well, it is your company," Pepper commented, sounding somewhat amused by Tony's ire. "You can't get away from doing real work all the time."
Chuckling at this and pausing to wonder which of them was really in charge of Stark Industries, Clint sat up and looked at the newcomers. "Hey, Jade Jaws," he commented as Hulk followed Wasp into the living room. "So what are you and Jan up to?"
"Looking for you, actually," Janet commented. Then she paused and glanced about the living room. "Say, where're Thor and Panther? Did they go back to Wakanda already?"
"Thor did," Steve confirmed. "He's been spending a lot of time with Wakandan shamans and scientists lately. And as for T'Challa, he had to go back to the Wakandan embassy."
"Really?" Wasp frowned worriedly. "Why? Is something wrong back home?"
"He just said that he had a meeting with a foreign ambassador of some kind. From...Latveria, I think it was." Then Steve frowned and added, "He didn't seem too happy about it, though."
"Gee, now there's a surprise," Tony smirked in knowing manner.
"You know something about this?" Steve wondered.
"Nope. But I do know quite a bit about Latveria," Tony grinned, giving Steve an knowing look. "Let's just say that I met the ambassador in question once before. And trust me when I say you wouldn't like her preferred method of negotiating."
As Steve frowned, making it clear that he was in the dark about Latveria and its monarch, Clint focused on Janet. "So, you said you were looking for me, huh?" he asked in a coy manner. "What happened? Did you finally get tired of waiting for Hank to develop an interest in something other than bugs?"
"Hmph. I'm closer to that than you might think," Janet replied in a sour manner. Then she brightened up and said, "But, seriously, you know that friend of yours? Mockingbird?"
The code-name conjuring up an image of a woman in a rather unforgettable costume, Clint hesitated before responding, "Bobbi? What about her?"
"Well, you told us that she had a line on some Hydra bases or something here in New York, right?" Janet asked. When Clint numbly nodded, she smiled and explained, "Well, Hulk and I are looking for some goons to vent some of our frustrations on, and Hydra creeps are always good for that!"
"What?" Tony started, sitting bolt-upright, his eyes bulging from their sockets as he swung about to look at the lone female member of the Avengers. "Jan, are you kidding me? You want to ask a member of SHIELD to help us track down some Hydra agents just so you and Hulk can use them for therapy bags?"
"And what's wrong with that?" Janet wondered in a playful manner. "They're Hydra agents! You know, as in bad guys? What's wrong with us beating them up and putting them in jail?"
Letting out a sound that was a cross between an exasperated groan and a disbelieving laugh, Tony sat back and said, "Jan, I don't know if you've noticed it, but Hydra isn't a group you can take lightly!"
"I know that!" Janet protested. "But, c'mon! Strucker's in jail, along with all his lieutenants and a whole platoon of his goons! Hydra's leaderless now! All they can really do is hole up in whatever bases they have left and hope that we can't find them!"
"I wouldn't be so sure of that," Steve countered in a low, stern manner that was backed up by personal experience. "Hydra may have been defeated and in disarray, but I wouldn't count on them staying that way. Cut off one head," he said, holding up his fingers to illustrate his point, "and two more take its place. That's their slogan, and it's something they took very serious in my day."
"And they take it just as seriously now," Tony confirmed. "We have no idea what kind of firepower they might still have lying around, or just how many of their people got away. And with everything that's been happening lately, I'm pretty sure your average New Yorker wouldn't appreciate us stirring up trouble just for the fun of it." Then he furrowed his brows unhappily before adding, "Besides, we've got enough problems to deal with without us picking fights we don't have to."
"What's that supposed to mean?" Hulk rumbled ominously.
"Remember what Maria Hill, SHIELD's current director told us after that mess with the cosmic cube?" Tony explained. "How she was going to go to the president and congress to force us to work for SHIELD?"
This statement immediately destroyed Clint's ability to pay attention to the baseball game he had been watching. "Let me guess," he grumbled, recalling his own experiences with the woman in question. "She wasn't just talking, was she?"
"Afraid not," Tony confirmed. "A friend of mine, Rhodey? He's been in contact with some of his friends in the military and congress. And it turns out that Hill is already in overdrive, trying to make it happen." Scowling bitterly as he glanced back at his paperwork, clearly without any interest in doing any of it, he continued, "She's making the case that, without regulation, the Avengers are every bit as dangerous as Hydra and AIM. And therefore we have to be registered and put under SHIELD's control."
This earned a heavy scowl from Steve. "That's a violation of constitutional rights," he commented with heavy disdain. "Or is that something else that's changed over the years?"
"Nope. The constitution hasn't changed, Steve," Tony assured him. "It's just that SHIELD has no trouble ignoring it when it suits them. And, from the look of things, Hill is even more inclined to disregard it than Fury was."
"So what's that mean for us?" Clint wondered, not liking the sound of this. The Strategic Homeland Intervention, Enforcement and Logistics Division was an organization charged with keeping the Earth in one piece, and as such possessed both tremendous resources and influence. And while they had done a fairly decent job of keeping the peace under Nick Fury, it was also obvious that they had been doing things that were far from legal. And now that Maria was Director of SHIELD, she had made it clear that she didn't care what it took to get what she had wanted. "Do we just sit back and wait for her to indoctrinate us all into SHIELD? Or do we actually try and do something to stop it?"
"Well, I still have friends in high places that might be able to help," Tony responded. "And I asked T'Challa to have his ambassadors try and put in a good word for us with the UN. I mean, I have to figure that saving the world a few times will have won us a favor or two." Then the armor-user gave Janet a heavy scowl. "But for now, the last thing we need to do is to do anything that would help prove Hill right. So do me a favor and don't start roaming around, picking fights with a few leftover Hydra goons just for kicks!"
Groaning heavily, Jan leaned over the sofa and folded her arms beneath her. "Ugh...I figured that SHIELD was too dramatic for my tastes, but this...!"
"Yeah, well, it's not like it's a big surprise!" Clint grumbled, thinking of his own stint with SHIELD. "Maria's always been a major control freak. She lays down the law, and anybody that don't like what she says is the bad guy. If you're not for SHIELD, you're against it. And so on, so forth, yada yada yada..." Shaking his head in memory of some of the things he had had to deal with back then, he then grumbled, "At least when Fury was around, he was able to keep her from doing anything too stupid, but with him gone - aw, man!"
"What?" Janet started, her eyes going wide with alarm. "What is it?"
"Oh, nothing," Clint responded sourly as he sat back on the sofa. "Just that the game just ended, and I missed the winning run."
Ignoring the incredulous stares this garnered him, Clint glowered at the TV screen as the commentators started yammering about the spectacular grand slam home-run he had been too distracted to see for himself. "Just catch the instant replay or something, Clint," Tony muttered sourly. "And Jan, no offense, but if you and Hulk want some excitement, fine! But don't go around picking fights we don't need. I don't want to end up giving SHIELD anything they can use against us, not until I've got something in place to head them off."
While Steve asked what Tony had in mind, Clint looked up at Janet and Hulk. "Well, that takes care of that," he commented in a what-can-you-do manner. "It's too bad, too. I know I wouldn't mind busting up a few Hydra creeps."
"Tell me about it," Janet muttered, rolling her eyes in response. "Oh, well. I guess we could always try tracking down a few supervillains instead..."
"You know, in my day, we did have ways of entertaining ourselves that didn't involve looking for a fight," Steve commented in an offhand fashion. "And there are quite a few ways to distract one's self right here in the mansion."
As one, Clint, Janet, and Hulk looked at the Super Soldier, who simply sat there and looked right back at them. "Well, boys," the lone female began, glancing about at them, "any ideas?"
"No swimming," Hulk rumbled unhappily. "Not after what happened last time."
Wincing at the memory of that incident, as well as the Hulk's understandable anger at being left behind in a frozen pool, Clint looked up at the TV screen. "Well, we could always see if there's anything decent on," he decided, not having any better ideas. "Hey, old man, mind changing the channel?"
"In a moment," Steve replied, holding up the remote and pressing a button. "I'm still trying to get the hang of these things."
"Well, you could always try passing it to someone who knows how it works," Clint immediately countered, rolling his eyes as he wondered how the heck even a man out of time couldn't figure out how to work something as simple as a remote control.
As Steve responded by giving the archer look, as if wondering just how incompetent Clint thought he was, a voice from the television caught his attention. "...and this just in," spoke an anchorman of what was obviously a news program. "We have a breaking story from the Los Angeles. Less than an hour ago, a young woman was nearly killed when what police believe to be a car bomb detonated."
"Ugh. Hurry up and change the channel, Steve," Janet muttered unhappily. "It's bad enough I know that there are all kinds of jerks in the world. I don't need to be reminded of it every other second."
Knowing what Janet meant, of how hard it was to do the things that they did, and no matter how hard they fought, to be confronted with the fact that there were always more creeps and thugs and lowlifes out there, Clint was about to stand and grab the remote when the news program went to their on-the-scene reporter. "Thank you, Vance," the reporter began, looking harried and hurried. "The prosecution against reputed Los Angles mobster Nicholas Trask was dealt a heavy blow when local lawyer Jennifer Walters was severely injured in a..."
Very nearly jumping out of his seat at the bolt of thunder shaped in a to single word, one that shot through his brain like a hot knife through butter, Clint gaped as he looked back to see Janet teetering off-balance with a hand to her ear. Tony and Pepper had fallen out of their seats, and even Steve was stunned as he looked at the Hulk. Nor could Clint blame him for that when the former SHIELD agent looked at the green goliath's face.
Clint had been around the Hulk long enough to know that he didn't always wear the exact same scowl on his face. He had his moods, just like everybody else, even if the vast majority of those moods revolved around anger. But anger wasn't the emotion the archer saw in the jade giant's face at that moment.
It was fear. And shock. And horror and a host of several other emotions all blurred together into single quagmire that left Hulk's mouth hanging open, his eyes wide and filled with dread as the reporter continued, "...though Ms. Walters wasn't in her car at the time of the detonation, she was still severely injured by the ensuing shrapnel and fire. Fortunately, several bystanders witnessed the explosion, and called for EMS units to be sent." Letting this sink in, the reporter frowned before adding, "Ms. Walters was admitted to Parkview Medical in downtown Los Angeles, where she remains in critical condition."
"No..." Hulk moaned, his eyes growing even wider as he stumbled towards the TV. "No...it can't be...!"
Blinking a few times, Clint just stared stupefied as the green goliath stood transfixed in front of the TV. Tony just sat on the floor, wondering, "What's with him?"
You got me! Clint thought as he sat there, utterly dumbstruck.
"Police were reluctant to issue an official statement regarding the explosion, though the officer in charge would not rule out the possibility of foul play," the reporter went on. "According to Ms. Walters' associates, she has been working with local prosecution to build a case against Nicholas Trask, a local businessman reputed to have extensive mob connections. Word has it that she had recently acquired crucial evidence proving Trask to be guilty of racketeering, and possibly murder."
"Whew," Janet whistled lowly. "Sounds like a serious creep."
"No kidding," Clint muttered, despite his focus being elsewhere.
"Doctors at Parkview Medical are presently fighting to save Ms. Walters' life," the reporter went on. "However, everything we've heard thus far seems to indicate that they are fighting a losing battle."
"No...!" Hulk gasped, his voice low and menacing like a rumbling that proceeded a full-on earthquake. Then, before the eyes of everyone present, the green goliath's body shook with such tremendous hatred and rage that it seemed to crack the very air about him. "Nooooo!" Instinctively covering his ears, Clint watched as the Hulk drove his fists into the wall, the plaster and concrete giving way to the gamma-reinforced hands like it was putty. Snarling pure hatred and rage on a level that Clint had never heard before, he tore the television out of the wall, and in one swift motion, slammed it down on the floor, pulverizing the delicate electronic device immediately. Startled by the sheer force of the blow, Janet fell to the floor while Steve leapt back, his training coming into play as he effortlessly landed on his feet a safe distance away. As for Clint, all he could do is sit there, confused as he watched the Hulk continue to pound away at the floor, snarling, "No, no, noooooo!"
"Hulk, what do you think you're doing?" Tony shouted, his already-frayed nerves failing him at the sight of his property being mangled. He stepped towards the furious gamma mutant, who glanced his way. "What the heck is - ack!"
Clint never even saw the Hulk move. One moment, he had paused in the midst of his smashing, his furious green irises focused on Tony. The next, one of his monstrously huge hands was wrapped about the billionaire's frame. Standing up to his full height, the green goliath hefted Tony up so that they were face-to-face, barely a couple inches from each other. "Give me a Quinjet!" Hulk roared, his voice cracking the air again. "Now!"
Blinking a few times, Tony simply hung in the jade giant's hand for a moment before angrily countering, "Look, first of all, I don't know what's going on with you! And second, you think I'm going to hand over a Quinjet after you just -!"
"NOW!" Hulk roared even more furiously, Tony's face and hair rippling in the wash of his wrathful exclamation.
Not liking the look of this, Clint automatically started reaching for his Avengers ID card. I always said that the Hulk was a bomb waiting to go off! he thought worriedly, well aware that no one present was equipped for combat. But I never thought that he'd go off like this!
Even as he was about to pull out his card, hoping that Thor could get to them within the next thirty seconds or so, Janet was rushing up to the furious titan's side. "Hulk, what are you doing? What's wrong?" she asked, completely without fear of a man that could wad her up into a hacky sack. "Hulk!"
While Hulk was glancing down at her, the rage in his eyes deepening the pit in Clint's stomach and making him wish that he had his bow and arrows on him at all times, Steve looked from the shattered TV to the angry gamma mutant. "That woman...Jennifer Walters," Steve gathered, speaking carefully. Trying to avoid prompting the Hulk into doing something dangerous with Tony in his hand. "You know her, don't you?"
Glancing back at Steve, Janet then looked back at the Hulk. "Is that it?" she asked worriedly. When the green goliath didn't answer, she gently placed her hands to his side. "Hulk, please, talk to me! That woman...who is she?" Cocking her head to the side, she then asked, "I-is Jennifer a friend of yours or something?"
For a long time, the Hulk just stood there, trembling with unspent rage as he stared down at her. But then, so slowly that Clint barely noticed it at first, the rage in his eyes began to fade, leaving in its place a deep sorrow and longing. Without warning, the Hulk slumped forward, falling to one knee as he released Tony to fall to the floor. While the head of Stark International was issuing a pained squawk, the jade giant lowered his face. "Friend. Family. Confidant. Soul mate," he issued lowly, such sadness in words that no one could have missed it. "The tree house duo. Her and me, against the world. A childhood pact," he continued, his words nonsensical. Drawn from an unseen past that only he could perceive. "She's all of that...and more."
With that, Hulk looked up, his eyes focusing on Janet. Allowing everyone else to look into them, and see the anguish that seethed within him even as he said, "She's my cousin."
The silence that fell in the wake of these words was deafening. And it fell upon everybody in that room like the SHIELD helicarrier, leaving them struck speechless for a seeming eternity.
"C-cousin?" Clint sputtered when his capacity for speech slowly returned. "Wait a sec - you mean - you have a cousin?"
This incredulous question immediately rekindled the anger the Hulk was so well known. "Yeah, that's right! My cousin!" Somehow managing to ask if Clint had a problem with that without actually doing so, the green goliath then swung his furious gaze back at Tony. "Now, are you gonna give me a Quinjet, or am I gonna have to beat one out of you?"
"Whoa, hold on, Hulk!" Janet spoke, her words still gentle but with enough force to draw the angry titan's attention. "We're all want to help you! There's no need to threaten anybody!" Then she narrowed her eyes at Tony, and even more sternly said, "Isn't that right?"
Taking note of the glance, as well as the fact that he had half a ton of furious Hulk glaring at him, one wrong word away from exploding, Tony hesitated before folding his arms across his chest. "Sorry, Hulk. But cousin or not, I'm not about to let you go joyriding in a Quinjet all by yourself."
Oh, man! For a genius, Stark, that was probably the dumbest thing you could have possibly said! Clint thought as fresh anger twisted the Hulk's features, making him look more and more like something that had popped out of a nightmare or three. We're going to be cleaning you off the walls for weeks!
As Hulk took a step closer to Tony, the self-assured billionaire just smiled before adding, "Which is why we're all going with you." Pausing in mid-step, the green goliath just stood there, his anger shifting to confusion, prompting Tony to smile and look towards a computer terminal embedded in the wall. "JARVIS, I want a Quinjet ready for launch immediately."
"Very good, sir," answered Tony's personal AI.
"Right. And be sure to have the AEMU-1616 loaded onboard while you're at it," Tony added almost as an afterthought.
"Yes, sir," JARVIS replied without missing a beat. "Activating loader units now. The AEMU-1616 will be loaded and ready in approximately two minutes, fifty-six seconds."
"Great. That gives us just enough time to get suited up and ready to head on out," Tony answered with a smile. Then he turned towards Hulk, and explained, "The AEMU-1616 is an automated emergency medical system I developed. It's like a miniature, self-contained hospital that can be readily transported anywhere in the world, and its equipped with the most advanced medical technology on the planet."
"What?" Hulk started, clearly surprised by this. "You...you mean...?"
"I mean that we're not going to sit back and watch as one of our people tries to deal with something like this on his own," Tony explained with a ready smile. "Besides, unless I didn't hear that story correctly, there's a good chance that this Trask guy is behind what happened to your cousin. Which means that we need to make sure that he doesn't get a second chance at her."
Even as Steve and Janet were making expressions of relief and approval, Pepper was frowning her concern. "Excuse me, Tony, but...didn't you say you didn't want to give SHIELD anything they can use against us?"
"That's right," Tony confirmed. "Which is why we're going to have to be very careful once we get to LA." Then he looked over at the computer terminal. "JARVIS, get me all available information regarding the location and condition of Jennifer Walters."
"Very well, sir," JARVIS answered.
"Send the location of the hospital she's at to the Quinjet," Tony continued as he started off towards the hallways. "And contact Hank, Panther and Thor. Let them know the situation." As JARVIS acknowledged this command, the playboy glanced back at his fellow Avengers. "Well, what are you all waiting for, people? Let's get moving!"
Double-stunned by this, Clint could only stand there and watch as Steve darted off, presumably to get dressed and ready to depart. As he realized that it might be a good idea if he did the same, Janet smiled as best as she could. "It'll be alright, Hulk," she told him even as she placed her delicate hands about the jade giant's monstrous hand. "I promise, we'll do everything we can for you...and for Jennifer."
Meeting her gaze, the Hulk slowly replied with a tiny, worn smile. While Clint just turned and started towards his room. I don't believe this, he thought slowly. Hulk...has a cousin?
Author's Notes: I must say, Avengers: Earth's Mightiest Heroes is likely one of the best cartoons to be produced in recent times, and it looks to be getting even better. And so, since I'm gummed up on some of my other stories and had some inspiration, I decided to take that inspiration and put it into words. Please, read and review! And check out my other stories if you like.