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 8: One Battle Won...
We shouldn't be doing this... Hulk growled inwardly as he came down to land upon the busy streets of Los Angeles, only to coil his powerful legs and again launch himself through the air. Barely paying attention to the many explosions that were echoing up and down the busy streets, the way the people around him fearfully looked up into the sky and watched as bomb after bomb was loosed upon the city by the military forces that supposedly protected them.
As much as the Hulk disliked thinking about it, let alone giving voice to it, he knew just how thoroughly damaged he was inside. He knew the concept of psychosis, of multiple personalities, he knew that there were many who would consider him insane. And in all honesty, he wouldn't be able to blame anyone for thinking so. He, Banner, and the other aspects of the doctor that made up their shared consciousness were always at war. Even those parts of their identity that were subdued were always struggling to unleash themselves. The greed, the guilt, the devil, and so much more, always fighting to get free, and remake their shared body in their own image.
And yet, despite all of this, the Hulk had never felt as torn as he did at that moment.
People were in danger. Innocent people who had done nothing to deserve being thrust into the middle of Ross's insane hunt for the Hulk. Including children whose only crime was to unknowingly be in the wrong place at the wrong time. All of them could be hurt, perhaps even killed, all because Ross didn't care what happened to anyone, just so long as he got the revenge that was the focus of his every waking moment.
But Jennifer's in danger! Hulk couldn't help but think, unable to keep himself from glancing back the way he had came. And despite the fact that he could no longer see the impromptu embassy the Avengers were using to shelter his cousin, his only real family, he could all-too easily imagine the Hulkbusters as they continued to batter away at the protective force field that kept them at bay. Worse, he could picture them breaking that force field down, overrunning the complex, overwhelming Hawkeye, and then...
I should be with her! the Hulk snarled inwardly, fighting those images. Fighting the urge to turn back and place himself between Jennifer and those that would take her from him.
But people were in danger. People that were as innocent and undeserving of the fate that the Hulkbusters would give them as Jennifer was.
The others can protect them! Hulk couldn't help but think.
But the others who were with him, Ant-Man and Wasp, couldn't. They were good people, and heroes in their own right. But they simply didn't have the kind of power that the Hulk possessed. And Iron Man and Thor, their other two big guns, were busy elsewhere, putting into action the armor-user's plan to neutralize much of the Hulkbusters' forces all over the city, not just in one place. A plan that could very likely save many lives, all over the city.
But...! Hulk thought, holding back the rage that drove him as he once again flashed back to the image of his cousin, bruised and broken and still far too fragile after what had been done to her. Easy prey for anyone that succeeded in bypassing what defenses had been left around her. A kindly, gentle person who had unconditionally accepted him and his bizarre nature. The only real family he had in this world. And he was leaving her behind with General Ross and his armed thugs. I can't - I have to -!
"Hulk, please," came the familiar voice of Bruce Banner. Starting at it, the green goliath glanced towards the source, and saw his other self, the core from which he had sprung, seemingly gliding alongside him. Angered by this sudden intrusion, the gamma-powered Avenger snarled, and was about to give voice to his ire when Bruce stated, "I know how you feel about all this."
Do you?! Hulk silently demanded, knowing full well that Banner wouldn't be able to hear it. The Hulk's thoughts were his alone, just as Banner's were his. But he knew his other self would be able to see the rage on his face. He didn't know how that worked, and in all likelihood, neither did Banner, but that didn't matter. All that mattered was that he was angry, dangerously so, and not in the mood for a lecture of any kind.
"Jennifer is as much my cousin as she is yours," Bruce went on, unfazed by the Hulk's fury. "And I don't want Ross hurting anymore than he already has. So I would rather be back there as well, Hulk. Believe me." Normally, the green goliath was unimpressed by words, but even so, he could still see a muted rage in the frail scientist's features. It was hard to see; Banner had kept his true emotions buried as best as possible, even before the fateful day of the Gamma Bomb that had given birth to the Hulk. But the Hulk knew Banner as no other being could. And he knew full well what the slight but perceptible tensing of his brows, the way his features hardened. "But you and I both know what Jennifer would want for us to do."
Hulk was sorely tempted to retort that they couldn't possibly know for sure what Jennifer wanted because she was unconscious and completely helpless. But even as this temptation fluttered through his mind, he growled lowly, for the truth was that Banner was right. He knew what Jennifer would want for him. He knew that if he asked her if she should protect her life or those of others, she would gladly tell him that he needed to protect the many innocents imperiled by Ross's madness, not just her one life.
"I know..." Hulk finally growled, this admission coming only great effort. Because it was that selflessness and compassion that made it so much harder for the gamma titan to not turn back, if only because they were things he had known so little in his life. "But..."
"Huh?" came a perplexed voice. Once again startled and angered as a result, Hulk glanced about to see a familiar, tiny form darting closer to him. "Did you say something, Hulk?"
"Uh..." Hulk muttered, coming down from his leap even as Wasp moved to follow him downwards. "No."
If Wasp said anything at first, it was drowned by the crashing sound of roughly half a ton of Hulk coming down upon the concrete. But as the artificial stone cracked and shattered beneath his weight and the emerald titan again launched himself skyward, the winged Avenger continued to follow him. "You're worried about leaving Jennifer," Wasp eventually said, her wings stinging the sore spot that had already been tenderized by Banner. "Hulk -"
Hulk very nearly retorted in a harsh manner. He had already been lectured by his other self, and that was enough. He knew what had to be done, what Jennifer would want for him to do. He didn't need any other reminders, and more importantly, the fact that someone wouldn't trust him to do what was required of him made him that much angrier, made him want to lash out that much more. But even as his anger rose up and sought out a convenient focus, Banner again spoke. "Don't be upset with her," the scrawny scientist instructed his mighty other self. "She's just concerned, that's all."
Hulk already knew that, but Banner's words were effective enough to stop the anger that had already been twisting his tongue to launch a scathing response. So instead, the green goliath shot a glance at her, and returned, "Hawkeye will keep an eye on her."
Hoping this would satisfy his teammate, Hulk continued onward. Only to wince when Wasp persisted. "But you're still worried, aren't you," she inquired, her tone making it clear that this wasn't actually a question. "Look, I don't blame you. A lot's going on, and..." Trailing off, the winged Avenger frowned somewhat, only for her eyes to brighten with obvious inspiration. "Look, if you like, I could have JARVIS keep me updated on what's going on back at the factory. That way, I can keep you posted on what's going on, let you know if anything happens..."
This statement caught the Hulk's full attention, and very nearly resulted in him botching his next landing. But the green-skinned behemoth was quick to recover even as came down to the ground once more. But this time, he didn't immediately launch himself airborne again; instead, he gave his unlikely friend a look of surprise. "You - really?"
"Of course!" Wasp promptly assured him. "I mean...she's your cousin, right? So I just figured that -"
"Jan, Hulk, what do you think you're doing?!" came the incredulous voice of Ant-Man. Turning towards the source of the voice, they saw a miniscule figure descend towards them upon a winged ant. "We have to keep moving! Lives are at stake here, remember?!"
"Uh - sorry!" Wasp got out, looking much like a little girl that had gotten caught with her hand in the cookie jar. "It's just -!"
"Just nothing. Let's move," Hulk immediately growled, scowling as he again coiled his legs and leapt into the air. His anger once again finding a focus...and that focus was himself.
Lives were at stake. Many innocent lives, not just Jennifer's. And while the Hulk dearly wanted to be at her side, protecting her from Ross and his forces, the green goliath still had a job to do. And with so much at stake, there was no time to allow himself to be distracted by his own inner turmoil, no time for arguing with himself. This wasn't a time for thinking, this was a time for smashing.
As Hulk once more shot through the air, the wind whipping at his hair and his mind conjuring up images of Hulkbusters who would soon learn what 'Hulk Smash!' meant in the most painful manner possible, the sound of tiny wings beating sounded nearby. Glancing over to the side, the jade giant spotted Wasp flying a short distance away, her own embarrassment clear in her features. Her only crime being wanting to offer Hulk a rare bit of comfort in this trying time.
"Uh, Wasp?" Hulk started, hesitant as he tried to articulate something other than the rage that came so naturally to him. Taking note of the fact that she was being spoken to, Wasp promptly altered her trajectory so as to match the Hulk's own arc through the air. Giving him a puzzled look, she continued to fly alongside of him as he growled lowly in his throat before finally managing to get out, "Thanks for...you know."
A puzzled look appeared on Wasp's face before comprehension replaced it, followed quickly by a pleasant smile. "Hey, what are friends for?" As Hulk indulged himself in a tiny smile of his own, the winged adventuress let out a tiny gasp before retrieving her Avengers' ID Card. "In fact, I better get in touch with JARVIS right now. You know, before we're up to our necks in jerks needing to be beat up!"
Unable to argue with the wisdom of that notion, Hulk simply watched as Wasp began working her ID Card. "JARVIS? Could you keep me posted on everything going on at the factory?" she tersely asked Stark's AI. "And keep us updated if there's any change in Jennifer's condition while you're at it! Okay?"
"Certainly, Ms. Van Dyne," JARVIS quickly replied. "Sadly, there has been no change in Ms. Walters' condition. The factory defenses are presently holding. However, the aerial bombardment is causing the shields to degrade. If it continues, shield power will be depleted within ten minutes."
Hulk's body shuddered with barely constrained rage, and if he had been on the ground, he didn't think he would have been able to restrain himself from turning back to protect his cousin. But even as he suffered this urge, Wasp asked, "What about Tony and Thor? Are they ready to do something about that?!"
"Mr. Stark will soon rendezvous with Thor," JARVIS assured her. "Also, Captain America and Hawkeye are working to keep the Hulkbusters here...suitably occupied."
When Steve Rogers had stepped into the arena of war as Captain America, he had quickly learned that, in a battlefield situation, there was always a great deal that you needed to keep aware of. Weapons being fired, enemy movements and stratagems, the efforts of your own allies. All of these things had to be kept in mind, to avoid being felled by the opposition, or falling victim to friendly fire.
But at the same time, it was equally vital to keep your focus on your own situation. To concentrate the bulk of your focus on your own mission, and to trust in your fellow soldiers to carry out their own duties, and to do them well. Whether that duty meant providing covering fire for you or providing a distraction or some similarly vital assignment, you had to have faith that they would do their job, and focus your energies on what you yourself needed to do.
So as Captain America launched himself at General Ross, he was fully aware of the battle that was going on outside the Hulkbusters' Mobile Command Center. He heard every missile exploding, every energy blast being fired, he heard the confused shouts of the Hulkbusters both inside and outside the vehicle, and he felt the MCC shaking badly with blast, explosion, and shockwave it suffered as a result of the battle they were in. He was aware of them, and adjusted to them, but he didn't dwell on them.
He had a mission to accomplish. A job that needed to be done. And Captain America refused to be distracted from that mission.
General Ross remained sprawled on the floor, still stunned from the blow he had taken from the Captain's mighty shield, but that didn't mean that the rogue general was out of action. Already, Ross was reaching for his sidearm, but the super soldier was determined that he wouldn't get a chance to use it. Rushing towards his fallen foe, he watched as Ross raised his weapon, and then drove the edge of his shield down upon his wrist. Crying out in pain, the rogue general nonetheless kept his grip on his weapon, and squirmed about on the floor, trying to free himself.
Captain America didn't give him that chance. Without a second thought, he fired a punch into the rogue general's nose, breaking it instantly. The sudden shock and pain was sufficient to cause Ross to lose his grip on his weapon, and with the sound of metal tumbling down upon metal, the super soldier raised his shield and grabbed the obsessive General by the front of his uniform. "This ends right here, Ross!" Captain America declared, effortlessly picking Ross up, then slamming down upon a nearby control panel. "You're done!"
"Never!" Ross howled defiantly, completely mindless of the blood pouring from his nose. His eyes burning with consummate hatred, he met Captain America's gaze unflinchingly. "You can do whatever the hell you want! This is one soldier who's never gonna surrender!"
"I'm not asking for your surrender," Captain America immediately countered, having dealt with obsessive madmen such as Ross in the past. Knew full well the folly of attempting to reason with them. Raising his shield over Ross's head, he uttered, "I'm saying...you're do-!"
It was the tiniest of noises. So slight that virtually anyone could have missed it in that moment. But Captain America was no ordinary man, and so his ears pricked at the slight but distinct noise of movement from behind, as of a weapon being drawn. Acting on pure instinct, he again took Ross in both hands. In one easy movement, he hefted the determined madman over his head, and threw him in the direction of the sound. As Ross flew through the air, the Captain saw one of the personnel of the MCC at his station, gun in hand, crying out in surprised confusion as his own commanding officer tumbled towards him. Ross crashed down upon the would-be shooter and another nearby soldier.
The remaining personnel onboard the MCC looked towards their fallen commander and the two subordinates that Captain America had laid low with him before turning their gazes towards the super soldier. In turn, the Captain quickly studied the situation before him. It was clear that the remaining soldiers were suitably impressed by his feat, and none of them were going for their weapons. Ross was done, though likely not for the count. He had been disarmed, however, and as fanatical as he was, he was not only injured, but clearly past his prime. Captain America had no doubt that if he tried starting more trouble, he could handle him, along with the others present, as long as he remained alert.
But at the same time, the danger to Los Angeles and all those who lived there remained. It grew greater with every second that passed. And Captain America was there to try and put an end to this senseless chaos, or at the very least, neutralize as many of the enemy as possible. He couldn't waste any more time on fighting than absolutely necessary.
Also, the soldiers before him were younger ones. Their features not hard and cruel like those of Ross or Talbot. And if there was any chance that he could get through to them...
"Listen up, people!" Captain America declared in an authoritative voice. "I know you are all trained to follow orders, but you have to understand that Ross's orders are putting the lives of millions of innocent people in danger! Unless we can put an end to this now, good people, people whose rights and lives are protected under the Constitution that each of you have taken an oath to protect and support, will die! Now you can either persist in following the orders of a madman...or you can stand down. And let me put an end to this nightmare."
A beat passed as Captain America surveyed the soldiers before him, watched as conflict inscribed itself on their features, conflict he understood. For as he had said, soldiers were trained to follow orders. It was the willingness to follow orders, to trust your superiors and your fellow soldiers that kept an army from degenerating into a mob, that it kept functioning as the well-oiled machine it had to be in order to prevail in a conflict. And now, he was challenging them to disregard that training, to heed their own ideas of right and wrong.
Several seconds passed as the soldiers looked amongst themselves, seconds which Captain America knew were vital. But at the same time, he hoped that they would do the right thing, that they would help him end this nightmare quickly before it got even worse. That they would...
"Captain..." came one soft, nervous voice. As the super soldier turned towards the source, he saw one soldier, younger than the others, swallow slowly before asking, "Is it true what you said? About the Hulk having immunity?"
Smiling encouragement at this youth who was listening to his heart and not just orders, Captain America returned, "Yes, it is true. But you don't have to take my word alone. Contact SHIELD, and they'll -"
"Traitor!" roared a voice filled with hatred and madness, followed by the sound of a gunshot. The youth Captain America had focused on let out a pained cry as a metal slug erupted from his right shoulder, causing him to tumble from his seat, clutching at his wound.
At that moment, Captain America wanted to kick himself. He had been focusing on his goal to the exclusion of keeping track of his surroundings. Giving General Ross enough time to recover his bearings and grab a weapon, most likely the one that had fallen from the hand the super soldier had thrown him into. And now, one of Ross's own people was paying for that oversight as the rogue general rose up, mindless of how his nose continued to spill blood, his weapon trained on Captain America. "I told you before, Rogers!" he snarled, smashing his fist down on a nearby control. "I will not -!"
Not bothering to listen to the rest of Ross's rhetoric, Captain America threw his shield and simultaneously dove to the left. Acting on instinct, Ross fired his weapon at the Captain. But he missed the super soldier, and even worse, made the same mistake the Captain had made; he had remained focused on his objective and failed to keep track of his present situation. And thus failed to dodge when the shield found its target, and this time flew straight and true into Ross's head.
As the rogue General crashed down upon the floor, however, Captain America scowled, for the damage had been done. The door to the MCC slid open, revealing even more Hulkbusters even as his shield rebounded back to his hand. Three of the armored troops were quick to spill into the MCC, and whether they were summoned by the control Ross had smashed or they had somehow heard the gunshot from within the MCC, it made no difference. The first thing they did upon entry was level their weapons at the Captain, with one of them shouting, "Hold it right there!"
Congratulations, Ross, Captain America scowled as he tensed himself for renewed conflict. You've just taken this mess and made it that bigger. And that much harder to clean up.
There was no more time for thought as the Hulkbusters opened fire. Leaving the Captain no time to do anything but fight back.
"I don't believe this!" Iron Man grumbled as he flew ever higher into the air, effortlessly evading the numerous missiles, bombs, and even enemy firepower as he made his way to the rendezvous point. "Doesn't the military have regular sanity checks?! How did this fruitcake make General to begin with?!"
"I assume that is a rhetorical question, sir," JARVIS noted in his typically dry fashion.
"More like a mental note to check on military policies regarding obviously unstable lunatics who should have been put out to pasture!" Iron Man retorted, rolling his eyes at his own creation's exceedingly literal nature. "And to give Hill a serious chewing out about letting him loose on Los Angeles while I'm at it and - yeow!"
An energy blast coming within inches of blasting him right in the faceplate snapped Iron Man out of his grumbling. Glancing at the information coming through on his HUD, the armored Avenger glanced towards the source of the blast, and spotted a Hulkbuster helicopter angling in for a better shot.
For a long moment, Iron Man was strongly tempted to hash it out with this particular annoyance. This had already been a long, stressful day, and it felt like the universe at large had been going into overdrive, coming up with new and inventive ways of making the life of him and the rest of the Avengers utterly miserable. And with so much pressure falling squarely upon his shoulders, it was a great temptation to take that frustration out on one of the many irritants that he had to deal with.
But that would have been a mistake. As much as the others accused him of shooting first, thinking later, Iron Man had learned some hard lessons since the Avengers had first assembled, and one of those lessons was that you had to pick your battles. He could dispense with this lone helicopter easily enough, but there was more going on than that the one helicopter. Everywhere he looked, Hulkbuster craft went about, fanning the flames of destruction and unleashing their arsenals on the city below. Too many lives were in danger, and one way or another, they had to put an end to this.
And that's not the only reason... Iron Man reminded himself, forcing himself to be satisfied with giving that helicopter pilot a very dirty look. But don't think you're getting off scot-free, flyboy! We'll be dealing with you and your fellow 'busters soon enough!
With this in mind, Iron Man continued upwards. "Thor! Do you copy?!" he announced, preparing himself for what was to come. "I'm about thirty seconds away! You ready?!"
"Verily, Iron Man!" Thor returned, his eagerness for battle plain in his voice.
"Good!" Then Iron Man focused on his own end of this strategy. "JARVIS, begin charging the EMP generators for maximum output!"
"Very good, sir," JARVIS replied, offering none of the backtalk that he was so well known for. Glad for so succinct a response, Iron Man continued flying until he finally made visual contact with his fellow Avenger. Only to blanch at the sight of Thor flying towards an attacking gunship.
"What the -?!" Iron Man started, a cold chill running down his spine as he realized what was about to happen. The gunship was firing relentlessly at the Asgardian Avenger, while Thor continued to shoot towards it, completely undeterred by a hailstorm of bullets and missiles that would have shredded an ordinary human. Realizing his teammates intent, the armor-user cried out, "Wait! Thor! Don't!"
Unfortunately and to Iron Man's dismay, Thor either didn't hear or didn't listen, and instead plowed into the gunship, hammer first. Crumbling before the impact of something even harder than adamantium, the gunship instantly fell apart. The pilots immediately launched themselves away from their decimated craft, deploying their parachutes. But the problem Thor had inadvertently created remained.
"Thor, stop!" Iron Man called out even as he took aim at the falling remains of the gunship and unleashed a barrage of repulsor blasts. As what remained of the craft savagely exploded, leaving behind only tiny scraps of debris that continued to fall, he looked up to see his comrade already whirling his hammer about, gathering up a huge electrical charge. "Aren't you listening?!" he demanded, raising his hand towards Thor and punctuating his words with another repulsor blast. "Stop!"
The blast struck Thor squarely in the middle of his back. Crying out in pained surprise, he whirled about, murder in his eyes. "Who dares strike the - Iron Man?!" His sudden rage taking on a hint of confusion, the Asgardian flew towards the heroic billionaire. "For what reason do you attack me?!"
"To stop you from taking a big mess and making it even - look out!" Without another word, Iron Man shoved Thor out of the way of an oncoming missile. As the Asgardian let out a noise of indignation, the armor-user then glanced towards the source of the attack; another helicopter, one of the ones escorting the bombers. "Ugh, we don't have time for this!" Iron Man irately declared, unleashing a couple of repulsor blasts on the attacking craft. "Get lost!"
Fortunately, the warning shots had their intended effect; the helicopter swung away in order to avoid taking a hit. "While I still do not understand why you attacked me before, Iron Man, I do appreciate your efforts in this instance," Thor muttered, again twirling his hammer. "But now I -!"
"Thor, no! Don't attack them!" Iron Man instructed his ally, placing a restraining hand on his shoulder.
"What?!" Thor blurted, glancing over his shoulder at Iron Man. "Why not?! They are the enemy! They're imperiling the innocents who reside in this city!"
"That's right, and we don't want to wind up doing the same!" Iron Man retorted. When Thor's eyes widened somewhat in surprised confusion, the armored Avenger went on to explain, "Look, we have the power to blow up every Hulkbuster in the sky, but have you stopped to think about what would happen to them after we do that?!"
A beat passed before Thor returned, "I assumed that they would simply abandon their craft, as did -"
"I'm not talking about the crew, I'm talking about what's left of the ships!" Iron Man pointed out. "You know, as in the parts that could very easily fall down on people? Parts that could still have live ordnance in them?!"
This statement riveted Thor's attention, and it was clear from the surprised expression on his face that he had failed to consider this aspect. But Iron Man knew weapons, having spent years designing and developing instruments of destruction for the military and SHIELD, and he was fully aware that missiles, bombs, and other such ordnance could not only survive the initial destruction of the craft carrying them, but could still be viable even after coming crashing down to earth. Viable enough to explode.
"Look, I know we went all-out with Kang and when Hydra and AIM went to war with each other," Iron Man went on, wincing at the thought of those infamous battles, "but we didn't have any other options. But these Hulkbuster ships are different. I know the kind of tech used in them! Which means that we have a way of taking out their air support without causing a lot of damage to the city."
Blinking a couple times at this, Thor then lowered his hammer. "And how would we do that?"
Grateful that his comrade was listening and thinking, Iron Man quickly answered. "First, I need you to do what you did with the helicarrier; whip up some serious storm activity." As Thor smiled at this prospect, the armor-user quickly elaborated, "But not as heavy, understood? No tornadoes; a lot of wind and storm, but nothing more than that! And I need this thing to cover the city! Can you do it?"
"Aye," Thor nodded before raising his hammer overhead and spinning it into action. An instant later, the light, fluffy clouds that had dotted the sky began to billow up and grow, spreading forth in the form of grotesque thunderheads that rapidly darkened the sky. The wind quickly began picking up, and jags of lightning quickly became evident.
Unsurprisingly, the Hulkbusters took notice of the sudden shift in the weather, and it didn't take long for them to realize what the cause was. Even as Thor went to work, Iron Man's sensors pinged for his attention. "Keep it up, Thor," the armored Avenger ordered as he turned in the direction of the oncoming threat. "I'll keep the opposition of your back."
Thor didn't bother responding to this, which was just fine by Iron Man. Focusing his attention on the approaching aircraft, he raised both hands at them, and unleashed a couple of repulsor blasts just off to their sides. He wanted to drive them away, not detonate them over a populated area if he could avoid it.
One of the craft veered away, and was followed shortly by a second one. But the third, a gunship, completely disregarded the warning shots and continued to approach, weapons blazing and missiles flying. Great. There's always at least one idiot! Iron Man scowled inwardly, focusing his armor's shields to the front and expanding them so as to give Thor maximum coverage. As the incoming barrage exploded harmlessly, the armored Avengers scowled at the gunship as it flew past, already banking to try for another shot.
However, even as it did so, the weather quickly worsened. Even as Iron Man and Thor continued to hover within the eye of the building storm, they watched as the winds grew ever stronger just outside their meteorological oasis. Rain began to fall, and lightning leapt from one cloud to another, forcing the gunship that had just attacked them to try and flow with the storm, to focus on staying airborne and keep from being hammered by the natural forces being unleashed.
"How's the weather looking, JARVIS?" Iron Man wondered, knowing that precision was critical if his plan was going to work. "Are these skies still safe to fly?"
"Only barely, sir," JARVIS reported after taking a moment to analyze the declining weather conditions. "Wind speeds are reaching critical levels. Any higher, and tornadoes and wind shear are likely to occur."
"Alright, then! Thor!" Iron Man called out, holding out his hand towards his Asgardian ally. "This is perfect! Just keep the winds blowing at this level!"
Frowning somewhat, Thor glanced about at the miasma of storm clouds he had called forth, and the antagonistic aircraft that still flitted between them. "But the Hulkbusters aren't yet retreating!"
"Don't worry, they will! Just as soon as I get through with them!" Iron Man declared, scowling beneath his faceplates at their foes. "JARVIS, prepare electromagnetic pulse! Set it for maximum range, and modulate the frequency to match with those used in navigational systems and radar! We're gonna leave the Hulkbusters flying blind!"
"Acknowledged. Modulating the EMP generators now, sir," JARVIS reported. "Frequency match achieved. You may fire when ready, sir."
"Then by all means, JARVIS...let's shut these creeps down!" Iron Man declared even as he triggered the EMP.
An instant later, a familiar whine was heard just below the howling winds that surrounded him. The data being relayed to Iron Man by his HUD showing how his EMP generators were building up power...just before releasing it all at once in a single wave of energy. And though neither he or anyone else could see the wave of energy with their naked eyes, his armor relayed to him how the EMP was spreading through the skies above Los Angeles. At the frequency it was at and their current altitude, the chances of it doing anything to interfere with anything happening in the city below was minimal at best. But as for the Hulkbusters...
"Iron Man! What is happening?!" Thor demanded even as the armor-user smirked in triumph. Watching with a sense of almost sadistic triumph as the various Hulkbuster craft wobbled perilously, their flying becoming increasingly erratic. "Is this your doing?"
"Yup! You remember how AIM was able to take out the mansion during their little war with Hydra?" When Thor gave a quick nod in response, Iron Man smirked that much more deeply. "Well, I just did something similar to the Hulkbusters. I used an EMP to shut down their radar and navigational systems."
"But they can still fly," Thor pointed out, gesturing at the airborne craft with his hammer.
"Yeah, but they can't see their targets to attack them anymore," Iron Man pointed out. "The Hulkbusters might be nuts, but I can't imagine even the craziest of them taking the chance of bombing the city at random. And with their sensors fried, they only have their own eyes to steer by. And since those eyes are filled with all kinds of nasty storm clouds, and they're stuck fighting some nasty weather as well as us, they aren't going to want to stick around any longer than they have to!" With a dangerous smile on his face, the billionaire Avenger watched as two of the nearby bombers fought against the fury of the winds, struggling to avoid clipping each other's wings. "In a situation like this, all they can do is try and get out of here as fast as they can!"
The frown and scowl on Thor's face made it clear that he wasn't entirely satisfied with this strategy. "And what's to keep them from returning once I allow the storm to pass?"
"This," Iron Man responded, holding out both his arms. With a mental command, he deployed the two multi-warhead missiles housed within his gauntlets. "JARVIS, target all Hulkbuster craft within range. Focus on their bombers. Let's mess them up just enough that they won't be in any hurry to come back and look for more trouble."
"Indeed, sir. Locking onto all Hulkbuster craft now," JARVIS intoned.
"Okay, Hulkbusters," Iron Man smirked as a number of targeting reticules appeared on his HUD, marking each and every one of the airborne opposition within his range, "smile for the birdie!"
And I thought we had it tough when it was just the Hulk we were dealing with! Wild Bill grimaced as he fought the controls of his bomber, struggling to keep it flying and in one piece.
When the call had been sent out that Ross was mobilizing the Hulkbusters to go to Los Angeles, Wild Bill had instantly realized that he was in for one very bad ride. The Hulkbusters had been idled ever since the Hulk had hooked up with the Avengers after the mess with the Leader, and Nick Fury had made it clear through subtle but effective means that he didn't want the Hulkbusters interfering with any of the Avengers, even if they happened to be big, green, and have a very short fuse. And while the pilot hadn't minded that in the least, he knew full well that Ross had been infuriated by it. Scuttlebutt said that when the General had learned that he was no longer being allowed to pursue the Hulk, he unleashed such a furious onslaught of ranting and raging and cursing that the entire base he had been at was deafened as a result. Something Wild Bill didn't doubt in the least.
But when Maria Hill had taken over SHIELD, with her definite prejudice to all superhumans in general and the Avengers in particular, Wild Bill had realized that it had been only a matter of time before Ross once again had them on the Great Hulk Hunt. Just as he had realized that their dealing with the Avengers in a populated area made for a far nastier situation.
Ross hadn't cared, of course. He didn't care about anything except bringing down his target at all costs. But Wild Bill had known right from the word go that they would be in a for a bad time on this mission. Though even he hadn't realized just how bad trying to deal with the Avengers would be until a massive wave of storm clouds and high winds somehow materialized out of nowhere. A situation made even worse when his navigational systems, the only thing that had been keeping him flying straight and safe in this meteorological mess, suddenly sparked and went dead on him.
Of course, I know Ross would want us to keep bombing the city, even if we can't even see where we're shooting! Wild Bill thought irritably. Just as well that Captain America's got him too tied up to yell! Giving a slight shake of his head, he frowned and wondered, Honestly, why don't I just file for an honorable discharge and get out of this line of work?!
But even as he wondered this, Wild Bill realized that he already knew the answer to this question. He was a longtime military men, and had been flying pretty much anything that Uncle Sam wanted him to pilot. It was his life, the only life he knew, and had stuck with the military, with protecting this country throughout his adult life. And as a result, he had been part of several military organizations throughout his career. Some teams had been good, and others, not so much. But no matter where he had gone, he had given the job his all, and had proven himself several times over.
Unfortunately, just when he had been working with the best team he had ever had the privilege of being a part of, not only had SHIELD gobbled up most of their resources and funding, but General Ross had come sniffing around for prospective members of his Hulkbusters, and had decided that Wild Bill would be a perfect fit for his team. And so, he had been forced to leave behind some of the best friends and teammates a military pilot could ask for, and was now flying to the orders to the biggest lunatic he had ever had the misfortune of working for. A situation made even worse by the fact that he felt less and less like he was protecting people, and was instead the instrument of one man's vendetta.
It didn't seem too bad at first! Heck, I've seen what happens when the Hulk gets steamed up! Wild Bill thought, shuddering as he recalled seeing the aftermath of a gamma-powered rampage. Of entire cities reduced to ruins, of people sobbing and hopeless in the wake of losing their homes, their livelihoods, even loved ones. But now...with all the Hulk's done since hooking up with the Avengers, and this mess with Ross...I'm starting to wonder which of them is the monster, and which is -!
The sound and fury of an explosion shaking his craft to its core also shook Wild Bill out of his thoughts. "What the Sam Hill -?!" he spat out, only to quickly shift his gaze to the bomber's telemetry. When he saw the readouts, he scowled and began cursing beneath his breath. The gunship's right wing had just been blown. Not completely; the wing was still attached to the bomber, and they weren't in any immediate danger. But he had flown enough missions to know the kind of stress that a storm such as this put on an aircraft, and that there was no way they could stay aloft for much longer.
"Aw, heck! That does it!" Wild Bill declared vehemently as he continued to steer his craft out of the engagement zone. "Ross brought me onboard to deal with monsters, not Avengers! As soon as I get this bird down, I'm filing for a transfer out of this outfit! At this point, I'd rather fly a desk then have to work for Ross any longer!"
"Hmm..." Thor mused thoughtfully as each of the Hulkbuster craft continued to fly towards the outer perimeter of the storm, all of them trailing smoke or demonstrating other signs of damage. "It would seem that your strategy was effective, Iron Man. Well played."
"Hey, if there's one thing I know, Thor, it's tech. I can build it, and I can certainly break it." But then Iron Man turned to his Asgardian ally and added, "But we're not done up here yet. I got the bombers, but the Hulkbusters still have plenty of air support up here. And we need to deal with them before we can go after the Hulkbusters on the ground!"
"Then let us commence with the smiting!" Thor grinned, lighting dancing about Mjolnir as if in anticipation of the battle that was still to be fought.
For a moment, Iron Man wished that he could relish battling as his Asgardian companion and the Hulk did. But he couldn't stop thinking about the long road that lay ahead of them in this nightmare. There was just so much at stake; Jennifer's life, the lives of the people in the city, the reputation and the future of the Avengers. And even if they won this battle, he knew that they would still had Trask to deal with, and he was certain that Hill would not take what they had done lying down.
So it was with a low, almost resigned voice Iron Man responded in when he said, "Just be careful. We need to take these guys out without putting the people on the ground at risk." Then he looked down at the city below, where a madman lay in wait. A madmen who had flooded this city with weapons of mass destruction. "I just hope that Hawkeye and the others can hold up long enough for us to do our job!"
"Ugh!" Hawkeye cried out as the Avengers' impromptu base of operations shook all around him. "I swear, if I was still working for SHIELD, I'd already be giving Hill a piece of my mind before quitting!"
When Iron Man had sent Hulk, Wasp, and Ant-Man to defend one of the targeted factories just before leaving himself to meet up with Thor, Hawkeye had known he was in for a rough time even as he had allowed JARVIS to guide him to the controls for their defensive systems. For even though he had been in his share of bad scrapes since joining the Avengers, and even more when he had a member of SHIELD, this particular fiasco was basically everything he hated about his line of work, all rolled up in one humongous mess. And now, he was essentially on his own, protecting a helpless civilian who couldn't be moved from an army of lunatics that were armed to the teeth, and on top of that, it was a battle he knew he himself couldn't win.
He was far from unarmed, of course. Stark Industries may have stopped making weapons for sale, but that didn't mean that Iron Man had forgotten how to build them. And he had certainly done a fair job of making certain that this facility was well armed and equipped for repelling attackers. But even though some of the Hulkbusters had taken off after the Hulk and the others, there were a great many tanks, helicopters, and other such vehicles circling the impromptu embassy, relentlessly bombarding their shields with shells, energy blasts, and more. And unlike a mobile fortress like the helicarrier, all they could do was try and tough out the bombardment, and hope that they outlasted the enemy.
Yeah, like that's gonna happen! Hawkeye muttered inwardly as he continued to work the controls, unleashing repulsor blasts and missiles upon the Hulkbusters. His eyes straying from the multiple targeting displays to the status readout for their systems. We might have plenty of firepower, but the shields...!
Wincing as he thought about what would happen when the shields finally did fail, Hawkeye did something really stupid. "Hey, JARVIS?!" he started, knowing that he shouldn't ask this question even if he did so. "Any idea how much longer until the shields go kaput?!"
"If the current rate of energy expenditure remains constant, shield collapse will occur in approximately five minutes," JARVIS obediently answered.
That long, huh? Great, Hawkeye groaned inwardly. Honestly, why do I ask questions I don't want the answers to?
That last question was answered by another round of explosions shaking the new Wakandan mission, accompanied by flares of blinding light and thunder that would do Thor proud, dizzied, deafened, and blinded for a moment, Hawkeye closed his eyes and clenched his teeth just long enough to recover before glaring at the opposition confronting him. "Alright, Ross! You want in here?!" he growled, his fingers tightening about the control yokes for the complex's weapons. "Well, you're gonna have to knock a lot harder than that!"
With this declaration, Hawkeye unleashed another barrage upon the Hulkbusters. Missiles shot forth and repulsors burned through the air, lancing out until they found their targets. And as the archer watched, two helicopters were struck, and quickly fell from the sky, while five of the Hulkbuster standing tanks were knocked over, with one of them exploding.
But even as Hawkeye took in this minor victory and proceeded to fire upon more targets, additional forces moved in to take the place of the vehicles he had felled. All the while Hulkbuster troops crowded in closer to the shield perimeter, firing all the while as they prepared to invade.
I don't believe this! Just how many Hulkbusters are there?! Hawkeye demanded as he continued to fire. What, did Ross round up every troop he has in the country?!
Reminding himself that, with Maria Hill supporting Ross, that this was a definite possibility, Hawkeye then groaned in disgust. It didn't matter how Ross had managed to conjure up such a force. What mattered was that he was outnumbered, outgunned, and unless his teammates managed to put an end to this madness soon, it wouldn't be long before the Wakandan mission suffered its first invasion from another country.
At which point, it'll be more than my neck on the line! Hawkeye realized, knowing what had to be done. "JARVIS, get internal defenses ready for action. Close up and seal all of the blast doors. If any of Ross's thugs manage to get in here, we have to make sure they don't get anywhere near our guests."
"Understood. I'm already taking the necessary precautions," JARVIS assured him.
Giving a curt nod in response, Hawkeye then frowned. Dr. Ridge knew about the position they were in; he had known from the beginning that the Hulkbusters were after Jennifer, and Iron Man had warned him about Ross's intent to stomp every Stark building into the dust in order to get her. But at the same time, he couldn't know just how perilous the present situation was, and in all likelihood, would appreciate being informed that they were in very real danger of having some unwelcome guests.
Besides, JARVIS mentioned Wasp wanting updates as to how Jennifer was doing. Couldn't hurt for me to check in on her, Hawkeye decided. And with that in mind, the archer ordered, "JARVIS, patch me into Dr. Ridge."
"Very well. Opening channel to the medical center," JARVIS responded as casually as ever.
Continuing to fire on the Hulkbusters, Hawkeye noticed the image of Dr. Ridge appear on a nearby monitor. The doctor had his back to the camera, and from what the ex-SHIELD agent could see, he was presently tending to his patient. "Hey, Doc!" Hawkeye started, taking a modicum of amusement from the way Ridge jumped and whirled about. "How's your patient doing? I hope the barbarians at our gates aren't disturbing her."
The way his face soured like it had been bathed in overripe lemons making it clear what he felt of Hawkeye's attempt at humor, Dr. Ridge was plainly considering a retort when another missile explosion shook the foundation. Looking about warily as the building shuddered beneath the continued bombardment, he then heaved a deep breath before returning his focus to the camera. "She's...as well as can be expected, under the circumstances." Then he again glanced about at his surroundings before muttering, "Though I doubt this constant shaking is doing her any good. I know it's not helping my nerves..."
Finding that quite understandable under the circumstances, Hawkeye muttered, "Yeah, well, just imagine all the fun I'm having up here." Taking note of a helicopter angling itself for a better firing position, the archer sent a few missiles in its direction. "Listen, I have to lock down all the doors. If these idiots manage to bust in, I don't want them having easy access to you or Jennifer. Got that?"
Nodding shakily, Dr. Ridge replied, "Yes, yes, of course." Then he turned his gaze towards the woman that lay upon the nearby medical bed. "We have to keep those...barbarians away from her."
"Yeah. Only one barbarian is allowed access to that lady," Hawkeye smirked as he blasted a couple of tanks. "So you just worry about Jennifer, Doc. I'll worry about the Hulkbusters."
Privately wishing that he had the Hulk to help him worry about the Hulkbusters, Hawkeye was about to have JARVIS close the channel so he could return his full attention to the problem at hand when a weak groan pricked his ears. Forcing himself to stifle the urge to look for the source of the sound, he nonetheless found himself glancing out of the corner of his eye. Just enough to see Dr. Ridge turning towards the source of the sound, a sound that was followed by a weak, feminine voice asking, "Hulk...busters...wha...?"
"Shh, shhhhh...!" Dr. Ridge quickly urged Jennifer, his voice taking on a completely different quality. Gone was the biting and negative attitude with which he tended to use with the Avengers. Instead, he sounded more like a father doting on his child. "It's alright. You're safe now. No one will hurt you. Just try and rest."
"Rest...no, no...can't rest...have to..." Jennifer groggily muttered, only for her wan voice to be drowned out when another explosion shook the building. Several seconds passed before the injured woman spoke again. "Wha...what's...happening...?"
"It's Ross. He's got the Hulkbusters knocking on our doors," Hawkeye reported, not willing to beat around the bush in this case. "Don't worry. We can hold them off."
Deciding that telling Jennifer that they would only be able to hold the Hulkbusters off for about four minutes wouldn't be such a great idea, Hawkeye instead focused on blasting as many of them as he could. "Ross...damn him...and his Hulkbust..." Then her eyes widened, and she groaned as she attempted to rise up from her bed. "Wait...Hulk...wh-where is he? Where -?"
"Hey, don't you worry about Jade Jaws. He's fine," Hawkeye promptly told her. As she dazedly turned her eyes in the direction of the camera, he gave her a cocky smile and added, "In fact, he and some of the others went to teach the Hulkbusters some manners."
Hawkeye didn't want to go into details, not when he already had so much to deal with. He didn't want to risk agitating Jennifer any more in her condition, and he honestly doubted she was lucid enough to really keep track of what was going on. But even as he was returning his full attention to taking out as many Hulkbusters out as he could before the shields died on him, a low, weak chuckle caught his attention. "Heh, heh...go get'em, cuz...!" Jennifer muttered, again lying back in her bed. Allowing Hawkeye a perfect look at the dangerous smile curling her lips as she added, "Hulk smash...!"
Dr. Ridge looked at Jennifer like he was struggling to keep his jaw from clattering to the floor in horror, and in a very real way, Hawkeye felt like he was doing the same. Even as the wounded woman sank back into unconscious, issuing a few final titters, a deadly dangerous smile that looked way too familiar to him graced her lips. "Oh, yeah," he muttered as he forced himself to look away and close the channel. "They're cousins, alright."
Giving a slight shudder, Hawkeye began firing again, only to hesitate when the monitor to his side flared to life once more. He was about to ask if Dr. Ridge had some other concerns when Wasp's voice sounded instead. "Hawkeye! Come in!" came the lone female Avenger, drawing a glance form the archer out of the corner of his eye. "Can you hear me?"
"Uh, yeah! Sure! Fine!" Hawkeye retorted as he launched another salvo of missiles and repulsor blasts at the Hulkbusters at their gates. "Listen, would you mind keeping this call short? I figure I've got about three minutes before our unwanted guests finish knocking down our doors and start raiding the fridge."
"It's that bad?!" Wasp bleated, her cute features twisting with surprise. Fortunately, the original party girl quickly recovered and gave a quick shake of her head. "Listen, Hawkeye! We just arrived at the factory, and the shields here are down! We'll take care of the Hulkbusters here and get back to you as fast as we can!"
"Sure, great!" Hawkeye grumbled, punctuating his sarcastic remark by blowing up a tank. "Be sure to bring some drinks and munchies! We don't want to be rotten hosts!" As a tiny smile quirked Wasp's lips, the archer then gave her an aside glance. "Oh, and...do me a favor? Check with Hank and make doubly sure that he managed to get all the gamma out of the blood Hulk gave Jennifer."
"Huh?" Wasp frowned quizzically. "Okay, but...why?"
Flashing back to that smile he had seen Jennifer sporting, Hawkeye returned, "Let's just say I have a feeling that this is one lady we definitely don't want going gamma..."
Hank Pym had seen violence more times than he would ever want to think about. He had been on the receiving end of it growing up as a child, he had witnessed much of it as he matured to adulthood, and he had seen so much of it on the news, as well as traveling to various out-of-the-way locations in the pursuit of advancing science. He had seen many abuses of power, and to his horror, his own science twisted in the name of selfish gain and more violence.
Every time he saw such horrors, Hank had asked the world, 'why?', for it was all so pointless. Bullies ruining lives just to pad their own egos, criminals killing for wads of paper and drugs that would eventually kill them, tyrants making untold numbers of lives unbearable, even ending them, all in the name of a few more scraps of power. Money-hungry egomaniacs further wars all to line their own pocketbooks, secretive, paranoid spy organizations focusing solely on their own hidden agendas, citing the 'greater good' as the reason for their destructive actions, the list went on and on. And the potential for humanity was ever the more wasted.
Not for the first time envying insects such as ants and their ability to work seamlessly for the greater good for the colony, Ant-Man guided the winged ant he rode in an arc so as to better survey the latest nightmare of violence the world had sent forth. The once pristine factory complex had been reduced to a warzone. The perimeter fence had long since been trampled by the battalion of Hulkbusters that presently surrounded the imperiled factory, and even worse, the defensive systems had recently fallen. The shields were gone, and smoldering craters marked the locations of whatever exterior defenses Stark had in place there. And as the various tanks and helicopters continued their bombardment, Hulkbuster troops were marching towards the factory proper. Armed and ready for further acts of violence.
"This is completely out of control!" Wasp moaned despondently as she flew closer. "Where did Ross find so many lunatics, anyway?!"
I have no idea. There are times I think humanity as a whole is insane for acting this way, Ant-Man thought dismally. Then he frowned, for now was not the time for doubts. As much as he hated it, now was a time to act. Fortunately, the Hulkbusters seemed to be completely focused on their efforts to the exclusion of everything else, so that the Avengers had gone unnoticed. So let's take a moment to plan things out before we make our move.
With this in mind, Ant-Man looked over at his companion, only to frown. "Wait - where's Hulk?"
"He got held up. We ran into a mob that was trying to get as far away from the Hulkbusters as possible, so he couldn't jump any further," Wasp hurriedly explained. "He should be here soon, though."
This made sense, Ant-Man quickly realized. The Hulk's preferred method of getting to one place to another was leaping, and he could move great distances at a very high speed this way. But at the same time, he couldn't change course in mid-leap, so in a heavily populated city such as Los Angeles, he had to be more careful in doing so. And I don't even want to think about what would happen if he tried jumping around on the roofs! he added, wincing at the image of Hulk coming down from a leap, only to come crashing down through the roof of a building, and the next dozen or so floors in the process. Maybe we should build some kind of mini-jet for him, or -
A massive impact shook Ant-Man from his thoughts, an impact that was followed by Wasp calling out, "Look! There he is now!"
Turning his eyes towards the source of the impact, Ant-Man confirmed that the Avengers' green goliath had arrived, having come down from a small leap. As he rose up to his full height and took in the sight of the many Hulkbusters before him, his perpetual scowl deepened and darkened, and he gritted his teeth in a display of menace. "Hulk, listen up!" Wasp began as the emerald behemoth approached. "We just got word from Hawkeye! The shields are collapsing at the factory! He's locking the place down, but we need to take these guys down, and fast!"
A spark of fearful concern appeared in the Hulk's eyes when he realized that his cousin was in even greater danger, but that fear quickly faded and was replaced by an even deeper rage. "Then let's do it."
"Right. Now here's the plan," Ant-Man began, trying to size up the situation, and figure out the best way to deal with it. "Hulk, you deal with the Hulkbusters on the outside. Wasp and I will -" A tremendous rushing of air sounded, and the size-shifter and his insect steed were sent tumbling. As the winged ant recovered, Ant-Man looked up and gasped as he saw the Hulk shooting upwards. "No, Hulk! We need a plan! We -!"
"Less talk! More smash!" Hulk snarled in response as he reached the apex of his leap. As Ant-Man and Wasp looked he, angled himself so that he was looking down at the armed forces below, and with a savage roar, brought his hands together with all his savage strength. The force of the impact cracked the air, releasing a massive shockwave that billowed forth in all directions. The crushing wave of air first crashed into the nearby helicopters, shattering the glass canopies and wreaking other forms of havoc upon them, causing them to spin out of control, sparks flying from them. As the damaged aircraft spun about wildly, the shockwave reached the ground forces, crashing down upon them heavily. The standing tanks were knocked off their metal legs, and the Hulkbuster troops were driven to the ground. Many fell unconscious while the rest dropped their weapons so they could place their hands over where their ears were.
Even as the two size-shifters rode out the shockwave as well, Ant-Man looked on in a form of horrified astonishment. This was far from the first time he had seen the Hulk fighting, and he was certain it wouldn't be the last. But even when he had seen him fighting things such as the Kree Sentry or even against Kang's army, the pacifistic scientist had not seen Hulk lashing out in this way. He was less restrained, more angry...
Of course, the Hulkbusters have hurt his cousin in the past, Ant-Man reminded himself. Maybe not these Hulkbusters, but still... The size-shifter's thoughts were cut off when the Hulk came down from his leap on top of one of the tanks. With a roar of pure rage. he grabbed the turret and effortlessly tore it off. Pausing to roar into the exposed cockpit, he then shifted his grip to the turret's muzzle, holding it like a club. Then he coiled his legs beneath him and launched himself towards another of the tanks. Even as the crew of the first tank hurriedly abandoned their ruined vehicle, the Hulk smash his improvised weapon into the second tank's side, almost crushing it completely. And we have to stop these Hulkbusters before we can go help Jennifer...but still...
"Wow," Wasp murmured as the Hulk leapt upwards and struck his makeshift club upon one of the helicopters. "Too bad gamma energy doesn't agree with me. I wouldn't mind..." As Ant-Man turned his eyes towards the woman that meant so much to him, she seemed to realize what she was saying and looked back at him. "Uh...I have an idea! I'll go with Hulk, get inside the factory, and save everyone in there! While you go big and beat up the Hulkbusters out here!"
"Huh?!" Ant-Man started, only for his jaw to drop when Wasp sped off towards the Hulk. "Hey, wait!" But his protest met with no avail. Wasp continued towards the Hulk, unnoticed by the Hulkbusters. Leaving the pacifistic scientist to sigh in dismay.
Why, Janet? Why do you love this life so much? Ant-Man asked even as he dismounted the winged ant and leapt to the ground. Do you really enjoy this madness? All this pointless fighting? Furrowing his brows as he thought of the woman that had done so much to further his scientific endeavors, he bitterly added, There has to be a better way, Janet! Do you really love violence so much that you won't help me find it?
Even as he thought this, however, Hank watched as a couple of the Hulkbuster helicopters and tanks recovered from the Hulk's shockwave, turning their deadly attention towards the man-beast that they had been created to destroy. And with great sorrow, reminded himself that there was no time to find a better way at that moment. If he was to protect innocent lives, then he would have to again sully his hands with violence.
There has to be a better way... Ant-Man thought as he pressed the button on his regulator belt, triggering a surge of Pym Particles that was already transforming him into Giant Man. There has to be...
"There has to be a way, Quartermain!" Maria Hill insisted as she studied the death spiral that was the situation in Los Angeles. "We have to put an end to this! Now!"
"We're trying, sir!" Quartermain protested as he and the other SHIELD agents worked. "But it's no good! The Hulkbusters use a secure, coded frequency! There's no way we can break through it! Not at this range!"
Snarling inwardly in frustration, Hill did her best to keep the fury she felt constrained. "Then we don't have any choice," she muttered foully. "Helm! Set course for Los Angeles! Full speed! We have to put an end to this mess! Now!"
The helmsmen did nothing to question her orders. Simply acknowledged her orders and set to work on making them reality. But even as she felt the massive helicarrier slowly changing course, Quartermain leveled a solemn look at her. "Director, you know as well as I do that it will take at least an hour for the helicarrier to get close enough to break into the Hulkbuster communications."
Hill knew this. Just as she knew that, by the time they actually were in range of Los Angeles, it would be far too late for them to do anything; whatever damage Ross and the Avengers could cause would long since have been done. "I'm aware of that, Quartermain," she grudgingly admitted. "But we don't have any choice. We can't just stand back and let the Hulkbusters and the Avengers tear an entire city apart." Giving this a moment to sink in, she then considered her next move. "Contact any SHIELD assets on the West Coast. Tell them to proceed to Los Angeles. Maybe one of them could get there faster than we can."
Quartermain looked like he was about to protest this order, but when Hill gave him a stern look, he instead sighed in defeat. "Understood, sir," he finally responded. Pausing just long enough in his work to give Hill a sour look.
Hill knew what that look meant. She knew that there were no SHIELD agents within proximity of Los Angeles. Certainly none that were close enough to get there in time to be of any use.
She knew this...because Hill herself was the one that had made certain of this.
It had made perfect sense before. Hill was using Ross's instability to push the Avengers into a corner, his obsession with the Hulk to force them to join SHIELD. But she had known right at the beginning that there was a potential danger in doing so. Ross had attacked the SHIELD team that had brought down the Hulk, so there had been a danger of his instability and recklessness causing problems. And while she had had a PR team ready to perform damage control, she knew that having SHIELD in close proximity to the Hulkbusters if they made a mess of things could only serve to damage SHIELD's image. So when she had put her plan in motion, she had headed off this problem...by removing SHIELD from the vicinity of the Hulkbusters.
Damn you, Avengers! Hiding behind laws, playing these games of yours! Hill growled inwardly, wishing as never before that the so-called heroes were in the Cage where they belonged. And thanks to your schemes...you're our only chance of cleaning up this mess you've made!
A massive explosion shook the Stark complex to its very core, very nearly sending Hawkeye tumbling from his seat. Momentarily blinded and deafened by the blast and the way the various displays around him briefly broke up into static, Hawkeye gritted his teeth and tried to ride out the aftershocks. "Alert. The shields have failed," came JARVIS's voice over the colossal din. "I repeat; shields are non-responsive. Hulkbuster forces breaching the perimeter fence."
"Yeah, thanks, JARVIS. I kinda figured that out for myself," Hawkeye grumbled, knowing full well that he officially gone from the frying pan to the fire. "JARVIS, take over weapons control! I'm going to the main entrance! I want to be ready to welcome our guests!"
"Very good, sir," JARVIS returned even as Hawkeye rose up from his seat. "I have assumed control over all weapons systems. Opening fire upon the Hulkbusters."
Hawkeye didn't bother responding, because he knew that JARVIS would not be able to keep the Hulkbusters at bay for very long. The AI was a fair aim, and a better shot than most automatic firing systems Hawkeye had seen. But JARVIS still wasn't as skilled as the archer, and more importantly, the shields were down, and their weapons were now exposed. Meaning that the Hulkbusters would be free and clear to dismantle the defensive systems, one-by-one. It wouldn't be long before their troops and vehicles would be able to break into the complex and tear it apart.
On the bright side, Ross is now going to be in even deeper trouble for violating Wakandan territory, Hawkeye reminded him with a rueful smirk. Not that that'll mean anything if they manage to get to Jennifer.
With this thought in mind, Hawkeye retrieved his bow from his quiver and expanded it. Running at full speed, he made his way towards the main entrance. There were many openings that the Hulkbusters could take advantage of, and he couldn't cover them all, but the main entrance was still the largest, and thus made the most attractive target for a military group hoping to get a large number of troops in quickly.
Internal defenses should be enough to keep the smaller ways in and out of here safe and secure. At least for a while, Hawkeye thought as he moved through the impromptu mission, his Avengers ID Card allowing him past the blast doors between him and the main entrance. But if the Hulkbusters can get their feet in the main door...!
Scowling as his thought trailed off, Hawkeye accelerated. He wouldn't let that happen. No matter the situation, no matter what team he was on, he was still a hero, and there were people who needed him. And if there was even a chance he could help them, then he had to do so. No matter the risks.
Though I have to admit...I wouldn't mind having a little extra help right now, Hawkeye was forced to admit as he sprinted down the last corridor to the main entrance. As was expected, it was sealed with a blast door, and several repulsor blasters and missile launchers were in evidence. "JARVIS," the archer began, drawing one of his trick arrows from his quiver, "What's the situation outside? How many Hulkbusters we got knocking on this door?"
"Twenty-seven Hulkbusters have amassed outside the main entrance," JARVIS reported. "I regret to inform you that most of the external defenses have already been destroyed, and that they are presently cutting their way in."
"Oh, great," Hawkeye muttered as he braced himself for the battle to come. "JARVIS, tell Stark or Thor or anybody that I...wouldn't exactly complain if somebody were to come give me a hand here. As in right now."
Coby Grant couldn't imagine being more afraid then he was at that very instant.
He already lived through some horrific and frightening things. The strange invasion by the golden saucers and robots, the sudden world-spanning blizzard and the ice monsters that came with it. But during those horrific events, he had been at home, in familiar, comforting surroundings. His parents, his family had been there to offer him comfort and reassurance that all would be well. Furthermore, the news had made it clear that SHIELD and Earth's mightiest heroes were fighting back. That there was still hope.
But as he sat on the ground, huddled together with his fellow students, hope seemed like little more than a cruel illusion.
The day had started out so innocently. Coby and his schoolmates were visiting a massive Stark factory, and he and all the others had been so excited. He doubted that they would actually get to see Tony Stark or any of his fantastic armors, but Stark was a legend, as was his technology. And besides, a field trip was certainly far more exciting than another day sitting behind a stifling desk at school.
As Coby stared into the barrel of the blaster being leveled at him and his schoolmates, that stifling desk felt very inviting. He had been wishing that he had been back behind it when the factory they were in had been shaken, when the sounds of explosions echoed through the complex.
What happened after that was a blur to him. Ms. Everhart, their teacher, had struggled to keep the suddenly frightened children from panicking while the tour guide had moved them to one of the factory break rooms. Some time afterwards, the sounds of battle outside increased sharply, the explosions intensifying, until at last the nightmare he had been plunged into reached crescendo, and armed and armored men began flooding the factory. Men in ugly, green armor that were spreading all over the place, shooting at virtually everything that moved without hesitation.
Men that had found their way into the break room where he and his fellow students now cowered in fear. Men that were aiming their weapons at them, demanding that they remain still while their leader questioned their teacher.
"...already told you, I don't work here!" Ms. Everhart repeated herself, her voice a mix of fear and outrage. "I'm a teacher, da- darn it! These children are my students, and -!"
"I really couldn't care less why you're here, lady!" the leader of the armored men declared, shoving at Ms. Everhart with the barrel of his massive blaster. "You and these brats aren't going anywhere! We have full authorization to search this building, and that means that none of you are moving until we're done! And if any of you even think of getting in our way -!" He then paused to aim his monstrous rifle at the ceiling.
Then he pulled the trigger.
The room was filled with blinding fire and deafening explosions. Scared and overwhelmed, Coby screwed his eyes shut and placed his hands squarely over his ears, marginally aware that his fellow students were doing the same. He had never heard actual gunfire before, and it was nothing like what he had seen on TV. It was much louder, much brighter, and much, much more frightening.
The burst of gunfire ended as quickly as it had started, and in its wake came wails of fear and cries of despair as Coby and the others shrank back in terror. "Now then, if there's no more backtalk..." the apparent leader spoke in a slow, smug manner. "You all just stay right where you are. And if you're all good little boys and girls and stay out of our way, then we won't have to hurt you. Understood?"
Coby couldn't even move, but he was aware of several of his fellows giving shaky nods or noises of confirmation. "So glad we understand each other," the armored man stated. Then he turned towards one of his fellows. "Now, if we can just find Walters..."
"Yeah, I heard that!" the other armored man chimed in. "I was part of the team that went after here the last time the Hulk was in Los Angeles! When we tried questioning her, the damned bitch broke my nose!" Snorting in disgust, he added, "What I wouldn't give to put a bullet in her head! Right between the -!"
The wall exploded.
Already overwhelmed with fear, Coby cried out in sheer panic and curled into a ball as massive chunks of stone and shards of glass flew through the break room. The debris didn't touch him or his classmates, but the armored men were pelted. An instant later, a cloud of dust swept through the confined space.
And then...something else. Something huge.
As Coby struggled to recover, to make sense of what was happening, an absolutely huge figure loomed through the ensuing dust. A baleful, brutish figure of a man, far larger than any human should be, his entire body seemingly comprised of muscles of coiled titanium, reached through the clouds and grabbed the two armored men that had been speaking. Snaring one of them by his gun hand and the other by his head, the creature that could only be the Hulk effortlessly raised them up into the air. "You want to put a bullet in somebody?!" he roared hatefully, watching as the two armored men squirmed helplessly in his grip, his brutish hands crushing their weapons and armor. "Then try me!"
Without another word, the Hulk viciously threw both the men out of what was left of the break room. Leaving Coby and the others to stare in horrified amazement as the green goliath went into action.
"Hi-yahh!" Wasp cried out, flying into the seams of the armored neck of a Hulkbuster, her hands flaring with the bio-energy of her stingers. The combination proved brutally effective; the Hulkbuster crumpled over, crying out in pain. "Hah! Take that!"
"Hey, what happened?!" one Hulkbuster demanded, looking down at his fallen comrade in confusion.
"It's the Wasp!" another Hulkbuster declared, pointing in her general direction. "Shoot her!"
As one, the Hulkbusters raised their weapons and took deadly aim before unleashing a hailstorm of energy blasts at Wasp. A hailstorm that she giddily, easily evaded.
"Ha! Whoops! Missed me!" Wasp snarked as she bobbed and weaved between the energy blasts, sending a sting back at the Hulkbusters here and there, making sure to target the vulnerable spots in their armor for maximum effectiveness. "Ha! Missed again!"
As the Hulkbusters continued to fire, some of them issuing noises of frustration at their inability to land a hit, Wasp was sorely tempted to laugh at their aim. The truth was, they were probably decent shots against a normal opponent, but aside from Hawkeye, there simply weren't many people who trained themselves to hit a target the side of a bug. Making the Hulkbusters situation even worse was the way their weapons shook with the recoil of every shot fire. Again, this likely wasn't a serious issue against human-sized foes, but against Wasp, it effectively ruined any chance they had of hitting her, save for an incredible stroke of luck.
Her heart thundering in her chest, Wasp continued to dodge the Hulkbusters' best efforts, the urge to laugh growing stronger with each passing second. Despite the incredible danger and the deadly serious situation the Avengers were embroiled in, she simply felt so alive. She was doing something good, she was helping people, she was actively working to make a better place, and she was having fun while doing so. A far cry from taking meetings and getting grants for scientific projects that seemed to have no purpose other than to amuse Hank.
If only Hank could understand... Wasp thought, her joy fading somewhat even as she continued to fight. How does sitting around all day, studying bugs help anyone?! What good is having all these inventions when you don't use them to help anyone?! Why -?
An energy blast whizzed by in front of her face, forcing her to screech to a mid-air halt. Recoiling as she realized just how close a call she had just had, Wasp acted on pure instinct and instantly shot up and then off in a different direction. No! Stupid! Worry about knocking some sense into Hank some other time! the winged wonder mentally scolded herself, feeling embarrassed and not just a little annoyed for her own stupidity. Taking this ire and channeling it, she did a hairpin turn and fired a barrage of stings at the Hulkbusters below. For now, just keep focused on beating up these jerks!
Fortunately, it was clear that Wasp's teammates were also focusing on dealing with the Hulkbusters. Even as she fought on, she caught glimpses of Giant Man snatching helicopters out of the sky and tossing them even as he gave a tank the boot. Even as she snickered at the unbidden mental image of Hank hanging from the top of the Empire State Building, giving bi-planes a similar treatment, Wasp noticed Hulk roaring his displeasure at several Hulkbusters. This proving more than enough to convince them that invading the Stark factory and terrorizing children really wasn't in their best interests.
It shouldn't take much longer to wrap things up here! Wasp thought as she downed another Hulkbuster. Another minute, and -!
"Attention, all Avengers," JARVIS's voice suddenly sounded in Wasp's headset. Frowning as she dispatched the last of the small group of Hulkbusters she had engaged, she paused and listened as the AI continued. "The shields and defense systems at the mission have been destroyed. Hulkbuster troops are presently cutting through the doors. By my calculations, we have approximately two minutes before they breach the interior. Hawkeye wishes for me to inform you that he would not object to receiving some assistance."
Oh, crap! Wasp groaned inwardly. Did Hulk hear that?!
Quickly glancing over to where she had last seen the Hulk, Wasp frowned in consideration, then decided that he probably hadn't. He was still rampaging, though that rampage had moved outside, and from what she could tell, he was presently taking his frustrations out on the Hulkbusters' engines of war. If he had heard that Jennifer was in even greater danger, Wasp had no doubt that he would have already vocalized his outrage.
Still, Hawkeye, Jennifer, and that doctor are in trouble! Better do something! Wasp decided. Pausing to draw forth her Avengers ID Card, she opened a broad channel. "This is Wasp! I hear you, JARVIS, but we're still clearing things up here!" Pausing to consider matters for a moment, she then tried, "Tony! Thor! What about you two?! Any chance you can give Hawkeye a hand?!"
"Not yet, I'm afraid!" Iron Man hurriedly reported, his image appearing on the ID Card. "The situation's critical on my end! Hulkbusters have invaded one of my office complexes! Dozens of civilians injured! If I leave now, who knows what these creeps will do?!"
"My own situation is similar," Thor grimly reported. "Have these cur no honor?!"
"Offhand, I'm guessing...nope," Wasp grumbled. Heaving a deep breath, she considered the situation before saying, "Okay. We'll try and wrap things up here quickly."
Nodding, Iron Man then asked, "What about you, Wasp? Need any help?"
"Uh, no. Not really," Wasp reported, a familiar roar sounded as a tank was seen flying through the air. "The Hulkbusters decided to make the Hulk angry. They really didn't like him when he was angry."
Chuckling at this small bit of humor, Iron Man then quickly sobered. "We'll get this done as fast as possible, Wasp," he assured. "Besides, there's still Cap. I'm sure he's on top of things on his end."
With a grunt of effort, Captain America put all of his enhanced muscle into a devastating kick that caught his target right in the midriff. The battered and beaten Hulkbuster crashing back into his fellows, tumbling out of the MCC, falling on top of a pile of similar Hulkbusters.
Staring hard at the pile of defeated soldiers, Captain America didn't even bother to keep the venom out of his voice when he told them, "I strongly suggest that you stay down." Then he went back into the Mobile Command Center proper, walking around the prone soldiers that remained within, and picked up one of them in particular. "And one more thing," he declared, carrying the unconscious form of General Ross to the door. Casting a contemptuous glare at the obsessed military man, he then dumped him unceremoniously out the door. "Take this with you."
That said, Captain America closed the door of the MCC and locked it. Pausing just long enough to make certain that nobody would be busting through any time soon, he then turned to face the rest of the personnel within. They weren't making any threatening moves; in fact, they looked more scared and confused than anything else, like young men still in basic training. They had taken their own share of bumps and bruises, accidentally injured during the Captain's battle with the Hulkbusters within the confines of the MCC.
Collateral damage. It's unavoidable, Captain America thought regretfully. Doesn't make it any more acceptable. Pausing to scan the soldiers before him, he asked, "Are you alright?"
The personnel before him looked genuinely surprised at this inquiry, with some of them staring perplexedly at him, with others glancing amongst themselves. Eventually, one of them replied, "A...a bit beat up, sir, but...I'll be fine." Then he frowned and looked towards one of his fellows, who was being tended to by another. "But...Brent, he..."
Turning towards the indicated soldier, Captain America realized that he was looking at the young man who had responded to his peaceful entreaty from before. The one that General Ross had shot. Frowning as he looked at the man who was still clutching at his wounded shoulder, the Super Soldier made his way over to his side and opened up a pouch in his utility belt. "Here, soldier," he began, retrieving a first-aid kit and handing it to the soldier tending to the wounded man. "There's some clean clothes and disinfectant in here. get that shoulder cleaned up and covered."
Blinking a few times, the attending soldier then nodded before accepting the kit. "Uh...thank you...sir," added Brent, he gave a pained smile. "I..."
"No need to thank me, soldier. You just rest for now. We'll get you proper medical attention soon enough," Captain America assured him. "But right now, there's something I need to take care of."
With that in mind, Captain America turned and made his way towards the front of the MCC, pulling out his Avengers ID Card as he did so. "JARVIS, I've secured the MCC," he announced. "Now how do I patch my ID Card into the radio?"
"I'm uploading a holographic blueprint of the standard communications systems used by the Hulkbusters. It's based on Stark Industries technology," JARVIS returned even as a light image appeared from the ID Card. As Captain America once again thought about the old sci-fi serials he had watched in his youth, the AI continued. "Simply connect the interface wires of your ID Card to the indicated USB terminal, and I'll be able to route all Avengers communications through the Hulkbusters' systems."
Studying the instructions and deciding that they indeed looked simple enough, Captain America nodded as he made his way over to the indicated console. Moving with careful precision, he pulled off the end of his ID Card, exposing several wires. He then took one of the wires and plugged it into the port indicated by the hologram. "Okay, JARVIS, I've...plugged in," he began hesitantly. "Do you have access to the Hulkbusters' frequencies?"
"Indeed, sir," JARVIS confirmed, much to Captain America's relief.
"Then patch me through to Director Hill," Captain America ordered.
"Very good, sir," JARVIS obediently replied. "Director Hill is on the line now."
An instant later, Maria Hill's image appeared on the tiny screen of Captain America's ID Card. "So, Rogers," she muttered sourly, glared irately at the Super Soldier. "I see you managed to deal with Ross."
"I have," Captain America confirmed, unsurprised that Hill had been monitoring the situation. "Now it's time for you to deal with the Hulkbusters. And put an end to this."
The scowl creasing Hill's face deepened at this. "Just so you know, this doesn't change anything," she intoned in a deadly serious manner. "As soon as I deal with Ross...you Avengers are next."
"And we'll be waiting," Captain America returned. Knowing that there was still a long road ahead of them.
Author's Notes: First of all, I'd like to apologize for the massive delays in writing this chapter. Life has not been good to me for some time now, and roughly a month ago, my mother passed away. As I was taking care of her at the time, I was forced to find a new place to live. I only hope that this chapter satisfies everyone. So please, read and review. And hopefully you'll check out some of my other stories.
For those of you interested in further details as to how my life has not been going well, feel free to check out my account at DeviantArt. I've been keeping a steady log in my journals. For now, I'll see about answering your comments.
gammawidow, I don't know about using those quotes. This story is very different from that episode of the Hulk cartoon. And I think calling Ross and Hill jerks is to understate the situation greatly.
dianna, sorry to take so long in updating. As I've already explained, life has not been good to me.
Sissy, I'm glad you liked the mention of Betty. Seeing how important a part of the lives of the Hulk, Bruce, and Ross, I felt it only appropriate that she be given mention.
Oriiginal Name, thanks, I've been doing my best to handle the Hulk, Bruce Banner, and their relationship and inner turmoil. Here's hoping I can keep it up. As for Hill, I think in her mind, the only mistake she feels she's made is giving Ross so much power and underestimating the Avengers. As you can see here, she's quick to blame them for everything. I'm glad you liked the way I handled Ross. The situation with Betty has always been a major component in my mind as to why he hates Banner and the Hulk.
gammaxmen, I'm not sure how many people know Black Panther's identity. In the second season episode, Tony Stark comments that, while everybody knows their names, he adds that they might not know T'Challa is the Black Panther. Furthermore, nobody recognizes the Black Panther as being the prince of Wakanda when they first encounter. Not Ant-Man, who's been working on Vibranium, or Iron Man, who attempted to negotiate with T'Chaka. That tells me that, even if T'Challa isn't trying to keep his identity a secret, it's far from common knowledge.
adlerj, thanks, I really worked hard on setting up those twists. I do agree that Hill has a shred of common sense. Too bad her skewed priorities and her need to control everything basically ruin her own intentions. And thanks, you just can't have the FF and Spider-Man without that kind of banter. And believe me, Sally's story isn't done growing just yet.
GreenScar1990, thank you for the kind words. I was pleased with how the scene with Spidey and the FF went. And I do hope this chapter lives up to expectations. And don't be surprised if the fighting isn't over yet.
TolkienGirl052, very high praise indeed. As for Hill and Ross...obsession can blind even the wisest. Which they most certainly are not.
acosta perez jose ramiro, I do my best to get the characters down right.
Linzerj, well, the Hulk just saved the children and Captain America gave Ross the business. Does that work? And I do think that Hill and Ross have always been their own worst enemies. Hill nearly doomed New York by focusing SHIELD's efforts on the Avengers, and Ross...well, I don't think I need to really say anything about him. Yeah, that scene with Spidey and the FF pissing off Hill pretty much wrote itself.
Rassilon001, I think Hill's already Hulk-level angry at this point. T'Challa does seem to enjoy being mysterious. And indeed, there is a great deal for the Avengers to deal with. And you can bet that Trask will take full advantage of the delays provided by SHIELD's interference. Their job is about to get that much harder. And I do my best to give everyone their time in the limelight.
Quathis, I'm just glad I was able to pull everything off in a convincing manner.
general zargon, General Ross has just been shown who's the boss in as painful a fashion as possible. He's going to remember this beating for a good, long while. As for Sally...I can't argue with you on that point.
BeastRage the Hunter, I'm quite certain Fury wouldn't have made this big of a mess out of the situation.
PhinalPhantasy, yeah, Cap's boast really was sweet. Of course, I couldn't have him go completely overboard on Ross, simply because he had more important things to deal with. And I really am sorry for all the delays.
Star Saber21, I did have fun with the Thing riling up Hill. It just seemed like the kind of thing he would do.