I do not own any of the characters present. They belong to Marvel. This was written purely for fun. Also, there are several references to the 2011 film "Thor" and the 2008 film "The Incredible Hulk" in here. Warning: Possible triggers to blood. Be warned.
I am a terrible person for how late this is. I'm sorry. Please, enjoy this long chapter.
Tony knew that Steve was saying something to him over the communication line, but even with the speaker in his ear, he couldn't hear a single word over the powerful guttural uproar coming from within the rapidly fragmenting glass cage. The engineer ordered JARVIS to close the communication line; he needed to concentrate on the situation at hand.
He had thought the Big Guy had been rampaging before, but that was nothing compared to the frenzy now. The screens before his eyes were constantly changing with each furious blow the Hulk landed against the walls of his cage. The metal panels were buckling and the glass windows were nearly completely covered with cracks.
JARVIS was struggling to keep up with the exponentially growing amount of damage, only speaking up to inform Tony of the cracks with the greatest possibility for rupture. Tony had taken to the air and was zooming around the cell, banging on the metal to capture the Hulk's attention away from the worst of the cracks. The green giant was no longer reacting to his shouts, but the sound of metal clashing against metal seemed to cut through the blind rage enough to turn his fury elsewhere.
With another earth-shattering roar, the Hulk slammed his fist against the wall of his cage again in his mindless rampage. Cracks splintered across the glass; the screen in front of Tony's eyes rapidly lit up and started charting probabilities of how much more force would be needed to break through.
Tony hardly noticed.
The locks that suspended the cage above the chasm opened, sending a deep metallic sound through the air that shook Tony to his core. Before he even asked, JARVIS opened the communication line to Director Fury. "The glass isn't broken!" Tony yelled into his transmitter.
"Yet," was Fury's response.
The iron-clad man was about to launch into a full-fledged argument, but the sensors on the screen in front of his eyes started flashing bright red in warning.
"Sir," JARVIS's voice interrupted, sounding as urgent as an artificial intelligence could.
Tony's eyes shot back to the roaring giant inside the cage and felt his blood run cold. "Hulk, no!" he screamed, but his voice was lost in the clamor as a gigantic green fist flew at the largest of the cracks in the glass, the one that had no chance of surviving another blow from the rampant goliath. "No!"
Heimdall stood at the edge of the Bifrost, eyes trained on Midgard. He didn't so much as flinch when Thor suddenly landed next to him, Mjölnir in hand. "My prince," the sentry greeted him solemnly.
"Heimdall," Thor began hastily, moving rapidly forward to sentry's side, "do you see him?" His blue eyes were cast downward toward the other realms below, as if he could truly find what he wished to see in the vast expanse beneath them.
The sentry did not lift his eyes. "I see the being of rage, 'The Hulk,' as you say the Midgardians like to call him," he explained. He could feel the Asgardian prince tense next to him before he drew a breath and went on. "But I am beginning to sense another presence beneath the rage. It is faint, but it is present."
"That must be Doctor Banner," Thor murmured to himself, sounding relieved. The relief was short-lived, however, when he turned to look at the being next to him. "How faint is this presence?"
"It is like a small flame in the wintry gusts of Jotunheim," Heimdall explained gravely, not once turning his gaze away from Midgard. "It is there, trying to stay alight in an overwhelming battle against forces greater than it."
Thor was silent for a moment, slowly allowing his eyes to fall to the abyss below them. His grip on Mjölnir tightened unconsciously and he took deep breaths in through his nose, simply thinking. "And will this flame continue to burn, Good Heimdall?" he asked at last, his voice tense and dark.
Heimdall blinked and slowly turned to the Asgardian prince. "I know not, my prince."
Tony was still in mid-air, watching in a panic as the Hulk's massive fist sped toward the enormous crack that stood no chance against the punch. His wide eyes were locked on the Big Guy's back. He was powerless to stop the blow; there was absolutely nothing he could do to stop this in time.
The blow never came.
His roar was cut short, as if it had been strangled to a stop. The fist hit the glass, but the strength behind the punch had vanished. His gigantic knuckles slid across the glass, which mercifully did not shatter. Unsteady legs began to back his massive green body away from the wall of the cage, stumbling a little, but he remained upright. The green goliath was breathing heavily, but aside from the rapid lifts and falls of his shoulders, he was remarkably still. With each deep inhale, his massive shoulders seemed to slump a little more.
Tony stared at the suddenly docile giant inside the cage. The unforeseen hush caught him completely off-guard and left him uneasy. "Hulk?" he called cautiously, still at the ready for anything.
At the sound of his voice, the massive green man turned just enough to look at him. He looked positively weary, and even as he was staring, the green in his irises was rapidly fading into a familiar brown hue. As his body began to contort and shrink back down, the Hulk gave Tony a look of deep concern and worry.
"Quiet…" the shrinking giant slurred softly between breaths, a shaking hand traveling to his head. Confusion and weariness mixed into his troubled expression. "…Banner…"
Before Tony even turned to rush to the control panel to open the cage, the still-transforming man's legs gave out beneath him and he crumbled to the ground. Tony opened the communication line for a second. "Guys, Bruce is back. Hulk said his head was quiet before he de-Hulked," he said to the rest of the team and quickly closed the line as he flew to the panel, landing rather gracelessly in his haste. "Hang on, man; I'm coming."
As he was punching in the codes, his eyes shot to the cell. Bruce was lying on his side, curled slightly with his back to the iron-clad man. The doctor was just a little larger than Bruce's actual form and still faintly green-tinted, but what caught Tony's attention first was just how motionless he was. The normal post-transformation shakes were nowhere to be seen.
A chilling thought entered the engineer's head. "JARVIS, find Bruce's vitals," he ordered swiftly as his fingers continued to fly across the keyboard on the panel.
As soon as he was refocused on the man lying limp within the cell, a window popped up on the screen before his face. "Sir…" JARVIS sounded gravely concerned.
The bright zero lingered in his periphery as he stared in panic at Bruce. No heartbeat detected. No… No, no, no, this couldn't happen—
The small window with Bruce's heartbeat unexpectedly went haywire, going from zero and speeding up frantically until it was nearly at one hundred seventy beats per minute, all in the span of two or three seconds. Horrible tremors suddenly shot through the doctor's body, making him involuntarily curl into tight ball before his limbs stretched back out, leaving him arching and contorting against the floor, crying out in agony. Flashes of green appeared across his skin, tinting gently tanned skin a light jade hue, before fading again.
As quickly as the tremors began, they disappeared. The man collapsed back to the floor, panting and shivering, but his heart was beating. His eyes were scrunched tightly closed and there was a look of pure torture on his face, highlighted by beads of sweat upon his brow. A single tremor coursed through him, which made him tighten until he was lying on his side again, curled and shaking and miraculously alive.
Tony rapidly finished punching in the codes and ran to the door as it slowly slid open. He let the visor on his helmet lift, telling JARVIS to alert him to any drastic changes in his friend's heartbeat. "Bruce?" he called as he rushed to the prone and shaking form of his half-naked friend and dropped to his knees.
The sound of metal hitting the floor of the cell sent a particularly harsh twitch through the scientist's body and his eyes flew open, irises immediately flaring completely green. Bruce's eyes shot up to Tony, looking completely panic-stricken and mad with terror.
Tony knew in a heartbeat that if he ever saw Loki again, he would be merciless for what he did to this brilliant man. Just looking down into the depths of the doctor's blown pupils, dilated with anxiety and intense fear, the engineer knew that Bruce was mentally still wherever the demigod had held him captive for the past several hours, doing lord knows what. To see his friend, the strongest person he knew (and he knew a super-soldier and a demigod) like this, beaten and frightened and broken, made his blood boil.
He swallowed his overwhelming desires for vengeance and focused on the present. He didn't move, opting instead to stare straight back into the bright green eyes of his terrified friend. "It's just me, Bruce," he said gently, "just Tony." He waited for recognition, speech, anything other than the panic. "You're back. You're safe. He's gone."
They remained frozen for a lingering moment before the green began to fade slowly to brown again. Bruce blinked rapidly and tried desperately to catch his breath, which were still coming in short gasping inhales. His quaking hands began to claw frantically at the floor of the cell, as if trying to regain a physical hold on reality.
When his eyes, now brown with green ribbons still lingering in his irises, finally landed on Tony, they darted from feature to feature on the billionaire's face, just to make sure he was indeed seeing what his eyes perceived. Between his rapid breaths, he managed to croak out a raspy "…T…T-Ton…"
That was all the iron clad man needed. As Bruce's eyes slipped tightly shut and he curled his aching body just slightly, Tony laid a gentle hand on the man's bare and twitching shoulder. "It's okay. He's gone. You're safe." He slipped a metal hand into the hand Bruce was using to claw at the floor of the containment cell. "It's alright, buddy," he said soothingly as the shivering man's hand tightened around his in a grip he felt even through the armor. "He's gone."
Tony glanced over his shoulder at the small black bubble on the ceiling beyond the cage. "Can we get a medical team down here?!" he yelled to whoever was watching the feed to the security camera. He felt Bruce wince at his sharp call for assistance and returned his focus to the doctor. "Everything's gonna be fine, Bruce."
His eyes lifted abruptly and he looked over his other shoulder when the sound of an opening door came through the air. He nearly did a double take when he saw it was Natasha quickly entering the open cell, a shock blanket tucked under her arm.
As she stepped toward the pair, shaking out the blanket as she walked, Bruce's eyes opened again. She came to a stand-still when she saw the green mixed into his brown irises. A moment of silence passed between the trio before Natasha carefully held up the blanket. "I just want to help," she said cautiously, her voice low and calm.
Tony's eyes moved between the other two, for once keeping quiet.
She moved very slowly forward, so as not to startle the shivering man on the ground. "I just want to help," she said again quietly as she knelt down.
Bruce's eyes slipped shut with a grimace as another bout of shaking overtook him. She took the opportunity to begin wrapping the blanket around his bare form. She paused only once to lift Tony's hand from his shoulder to cover him and then placed the metal gauntlet back to where it was.
When he was properly covered, Natasha looked at Tony. "Medical isn't coming down," she said in a low voice. When he looked like he wanted to demand why, she shushed him and eyed Bruce. "We don't know if Loki's still in there. They will look at him once he's calm—"
"What, do they want to wait until he's passed out? You can't be much calmer than unconscious," Tony shot back quietly. Natasha gave him a long-suffering look and he sighed. "Fine. I'll set up something to see if he's still in there, but I'm still taking him up to medical."
The engineer carefully knelt lower to the trembling man. "I'm going to move you now, okay man?" he asked in the gentlest voice the assassin had ever heard come from the billionaire. He patted Bruce's shoulder when the scientist's body curled tighter and he started shaking his head, his eyes scrunching more tightly shut. "We need to get you cleared for medical to take a look at you, buddy. They won't do anything to you; we won't let them." His eyes met Natasha's in a fierce gaze.
Bruce continued to shake his head as his shivering intensified. He drew a sharp breath. "…don'…" he mumbled feverishly.
"Keep that blanket over him, Natasha," Tony said to the assassin, ignoring the physicist as he gathered him into his arms and stood. Bruce struggled weakly in Tony's grasp, but quickly exhausted himself. "Don'… Don't tou…" he kept murmuring. His head rolled loosely on his shoulders before his temple came to a rest against the iron chest plate.
"It's okay, Bruce," Natasha said soothingly, drawing a mildly startled look from Tony. She moved to cover part of his shoulder as Bruce murmured "Don't touch m…"
She immediately withdrew her hand when a sharp intake of air sounded from Bruce. A gash ripped open right where her hand had been reaching for and started oozing blood.
Bruce's eyes fluttered open for a brief moment. "Don't touch…my blood," he breathed fleetingly. "Don'…don't touch…the blood." He looked like he wanted to shake his head again, but it seemed beyond his capabilities. Another cut ripped open across his cheekbone; this time a soft gasp of pain escaped from the doctor.
Tony only tightened his hold on his friend. "Bruce, as much as you would like to pass out, don't," he said with a harshness that was born from concern and worry. "Don't close your eyes, you hear me?"
The man in his arms mumbled something into Tony's chest plate and his eyes opened for a moment before slipping shut again.
"Alright, here we go—"
Tony paused mid-sentence when the sound of locking bolts floated through the air. He and Natasha instantly turned to the entrance to the cell to find it closed. Next to him, he felt the assassin go rigid. Bruce must have sensed the sudden heaviness in the air, for his eyelids fluttered weakly open to stare blearily at nothing, his irises still more green than brown.
The engineer stared at the locked door for a moment longer before rage began to boil through him. His visor flipped back into place, making the eyes glow intensely white as if in rage. "Fury," he snarled into his communicator, the name coming out sinister with the slight robotic sound to it. "Fury, open this door now."
"We don't know if Loki is still in there, Stark," Fury's voice came over the line.
Another bout of tremors shook through the man in his arms. "He needs medical attention!" Tony protested heatedly after Bruce let out a small whimper of pain.
Natasha warily eyed the shaking man's fists, which were slowly tinting green again.
"I know he needs medical attention, Stark," Fury replied, sounding very much professional, but with an underlying layer of concern in his voice, "but I have the safety of the entirety of the crew to consider—"
"The Hulk said his head was quiet, Director," Natasha said into her communicator, finally glancing away from Bruce when the tremors passed. Her eyes went to the security camera beyond the glass.
"And you trust the Hulk's word, Agent Romanoff?" Fury shot back.
"Fury, I swear," Tony seethed, "if you do not open this door, I will make a new door." Plates lifted on the shoulders of his suit to reveal a line of rockets and other pieces of weaponry, all trained on one of the largest cracks in the glass. "Take your pick."
"You break through that glass, the cell will drop," Fury replied. "I won't have the lives of this crew put at risk. He is not leaving that cell until he's safe to."
A quick silence passed over the communication line before the iron-clad man let out a mirthless snort of a laugh. "Safe," he repeated, loathing dripping from the word. "Meaning until we know Loki's not playing puppeteer, or until the rage monster goes to sleep?" Before a response could be made, Tony bowed his head to look at the nearly unconscious man in his arms. "Hulk, you're not coming back out for now, right?"
When there was no response from the man in his arms, Tony lightly jostled him. "Bruce," he said forcefully, just for the sake of keeping the man awake.
Bruce's eyes slowly fluttered half-open, green nearly drowning out the browns in his irises. He didn't respond, nor did he look like he had even heard Tony's question.
His irises went completely green a second before his eyes shut again with a small painful sound. Another portion of the shock blanket began to stain crimson with toxic blood, spreading far too quickly to be just a light cut.
Natasha saw this and immediately glanced up to Iron Man's face plate. Even though she could see no emotion in the white glowing eye slots, she knew he was looking at her, to her. He had no idea what to do. Tony Stark was many things, but one thing he was not was a medic.
The assassin quickly looked to the security camera beyond the glass as she touched the tiny radio in her ear. "Fury, will you unlock the door to let people in?" she asked briskly.
"If anyone suicidal enough wants to be let in, they can be my guest; just so long as he doesn't leave that cage," Director Fury replied shortly before he ended his end of the transmission.
Ignoring Stark's growl from within his suit, Natasha quickly opened the lines to Barton and Rogers. "Clint, is there any way you can bring that machine down to the Hulk's cell?"
"There's no way this piece of machinery is getting through the door, let alone down the levels to get to your location," the archer answered.
Natasha breathed a quiet curse in Russian, trying to think. The quiet gasp of pain from Banner certainly didn't help, not with the thought of toxic and very, very deadly blood getting all over Tony's suit. Not that she would ever mention it aloud to Tony that she was concerned…
Iron Man tightened his grip on the trembling and bleeding man in his arms when the physicist submitted to another bout of shaking. "I can find a way to make the brain scanner portable. Right now, though, we need to get Bruce stabilized."
"Medical won't take him?" Steve's voice came through, sounding righteously and very royally enraged.
Tony turned to shoot a glare at the security camera. "There's that, and then there's someone who won't even let him leave this damned cell without that brain scan." The director may have ended his end of the conversation, but that didn't mean he was probably not listening and watching. He really wanted to flip the camera the bird, but he was a little preoccupied, what with holding his bleeding and shaking friend.
Barton and Rogers both cursed simultaneously.
"Are you both in the medical wing?" Natasha asked.
"Yeah," Clint responded, still sounding pissed off.
"How bad is he? What does he need?" Steve questioned.
Natasha's eyes darted to the crimson life oozing out of the cut across the shaking doctor's cheekbone. "First and foremost, latex gloves. He's bleeding, and we can't risk—"
"Wait, what did the Hulk cut himself on?" Steve asked, sounding confused. "The glass didn't break, did it?"
"No," Tony replied, pausing momentarily to glance at Bruce as this bout of tremors subsided, leaving the bleeding man trembling and breathing heavily. He carefully knelt down and laid the physicist upon the ground, gazing down at himself to find blood running down the front of his suit. "It must be something Loki did to Bruce himself. Now, like Natasha said, latex gloves. Bruce will be positively devastated if we were to accidentally kill ourselves through gamma poisoning. Bring a field medical kit; he's gonna need stitches," he said as he carefully pulled some of the blanket away to look at the open wounds, watching as JARVIS displayed information on the screen in front of his eyes. "His heartbeat is erratic, and he's going a little green during his post-transformation shakes, so be careful sewing him up. He's probably dehydrated, so an IV would be good. Pain killers, too."
There was a pause on the line before the captain spoke again. "We're on our way."
Natasha let out a long, slow breath and glanced down at Tony, who was watching Bruce intently. "You'd better get going, Stark. The sooner that machine is made portable, the better it will be for Dr. Banner—"
She paused when Bruce let out a sharp yelp and his mouth pulled back into a grimace. A quavering hand shot to his right shoulder as his skin ripped apart into another long, deep gash. Blood seeped between his fingers, gushing out of his body at an alarming rate.
A shouted curse erupted from Tony and he grabbed a handful of the blanket as the doctor rolled onto his side with an agonized sound, something between a growl and a whimper. Tony forcefully pried Banner's hand away from the wide laceration and pressed the fabric against the wound. Bruce let out another snarl of pain and his skin pulsed green as his bloody hand clamped over the iron gauntlet applying tremendous pressure to the slash. His other hand clawed helplessly at the floor.
The iron-clad man cursed through clenched teeth. "That bastard must have nicked a goddamn vein." He turned sharply to Natasha, who was watching everything but couldn't do anything without exposing herself to gamma irradiated blood. "Have you or Clint dealt with wounds like this in the field?" he demanded.
The assassin continued to stare at the growing pool of carmine gore. "Keep pressure on the wound," she answered slowly, unable to look away. "Clint and I will take care of it. Just…just keep applying pressure."
She heard Tony breathe another profanity. "He hit the basilic vein," he told her, no doubt repeating whatever JARVIS was displaying on the screens within his helmet. He sounded like he wanted to say more, but put whatever his thoughts were on hold when Bruce went into another spasm of tensing muscles and quivering limbs. Tony's free hand tentatively came to rest on his friend's shuddering shoulder so he could continue to keep the pressure on the wound and ride out the shakes. "Bruce, buddy, stay with me," he said urgently, watching more and more green coloring splash across his skin. "You're gonna be fine, just stay with me."
Bruce couldn't respond. His eyes, which were no doubt completely green by this point, were tightly shut and showed no sign of opening any time soon. His teeth were clenched and his lips were pulled back in a grimace of agony, and when he was able to breathe, the inhales came in shakily and a little desperately.
The sound of the cell door sliding open made Natasha and Tony turned abruptly. As the door slid open to about half-way, Clint and Steve came dashing into the room, their boots pounding against the metal floor of the room. The captain's eyes widened at the scene before them for the briefest of seconds, but he didn't pause.
As soon as the two of them sprinted over the threshold to the cage, Barton looked pointedly at the man in the iron suit. "Go," he said tensely. He tossed a pair of medical gloves at Natasha, having already donned some of his own, and instantaneously took over.
Tony didn't need to be told twice and backed off immediately. The two agents and the soldier would be able to help Bruce more than he could. They were accustomed to dealing with these sorts of wounds; Tony very rarely saw medical issues this intense. Looking at them all for a moment, he knew he was leaving his friend in capable hands.
He fired up his thrusters and zipped out of the cage. The cell slid shut as he rocketed out of the holding area and into the halls, vaguely hoping the blood on his suit wasn't leaving a trail of radioactive gore in his wake. As he flew, he had JARVIS pull up the schematics of the brain scanner, already working on a way to make the machine portable enough to carry to the holding deck. He didn't know how much time they had, and he really did have faith in the three Avengers tending to their fallen comrade, but he didn't know the full extent of the damage. The sooner that brain scan was complete, the sooner they would be able to get him up to medical and into more capable hands.
Zipping through the halls of the helicarrier this time around, he was extra careful. He flew up toward the ceiling so the risk of running into any passing agent was nearly eliminated. Sharp calls and warnings were still yelled out whenever the sensors on his suit lit up with information that someone was just ahead. Bruce would never live with himself if he knew that his blood was the cause of death of some agent who happened to get in the way of Iron Man's frantic flight up to the medical wing, and Tony couldn't live with the thought of being the cause of his friend's guilt.
He reached the room in record speed, quickly cutting off his thrusters which left him stumbling at a run toward the closed door. He threw opened the barrier and his eyes immediately went to the massive piece of machinery. JARVIS rapidly dissected the scanner and pulled each component apart for the engineer to look at.
Chestnut eyes danced across the schematics, his brain going into overdrive with the surplus of information and haunted by the image of Bruce lying bleeding on the cold metal floor of his battered cage. He spoke at a rapid mumble, shooting out instructions for JARVIS to remove certain pieces of the machine and refit others into certain ports until they had a model with an 87% chance of functionality.
It would have to do.
Tony rushed over to the nearby sink and ran water over the metal gauntlets on his hands, washing away the radioactive blood. He'd have to do a thorough decontamination later, but he had more pressing matters at hand.
He immediately got to work.
With a streak of lightning and a crash of thunder, Thor landed on one of the jet runways aboard the helicarrier. The agents in the vicinity let out sharp yelps of surprise as the force of his landing shook the flying fortress, but the God of Thunder did not spare a thought for the startled Midgardians.
His grip tightening on Mjölnir, Thor took off at a sprint toward a doorway that led to the interior of the helicarrier. He sprinted along, dodging any stray agent that came across his path, toward the medical bay.
As soon as he had finished explaining the situation on Midgard to the Allfather, the reason for his most unexpected homecoming, he had returned to Heimdall and was immediately shot toward Midgard. Loki would be held until his return with information on the latest victim of his brother's malice. Upon his return to Asgard, Loki would face justice.
Thor pushed aside the heaviness in his heart and raced on.
The God of Thunder sprinted past closed doors along a long corridor, racing as fast as he could manage. He noted the light spilling into the hallway from an opened door. He peeked in as he passed by and quickly skidded to a stop before backpedaling to the opened doorway. "Metal Man!"
Iron Man looked up from his work and over his metallic shoulder at Thor for the briefest of moments before he got back to work. "What happened with Loki?" he asked point-blank, skipping past all of the biting sarcasm and quick wit.
Even if Heimdall had not informed him of the happenings aboard the helicarrier, by Tony's tone alone, Thor knew that matters were most grave. "Your suspicions were indeed true," the God of Thunder admitted as he stepped into the room. "I am not well versed in the ways of magic; I know not how my brother managed to cast this spell from within his prison cell. He is in holding at present and shall not be conjuring anything more for a very long time." He paused to let his blue eyes rove over whatever Tony was working on. "How fairs Doctor Banner?" he asked, a small sliver of nerves sneaking into his voice.
Tony's meticulous movements halted for the briefest of moments. With the sound of shifting gears, the helmet swiveled to where the glowing white eyes of the robotic faceplate met Thor's.
The Asgardian prince heard the quick inhale through the speakers on the suit, as if Tony was about to speak, but words never came. The suited man went rigid for a lingering moment before a metallic curse filtered through the air.
Thor felt his brow furrow. "Metal Man?" he inquired hesitantly.
The icon-clad man finally turned and fully faced the God of Thunder. Thor's eyes widened at the sight of drying blood upon the front of the red and gold suit and his fingers tightened on Mjölnir.
"That was Cap. Thor," Tony began quickly, "you need to run up to the medical wing and grab a portable ventilator machine and take it to the Hulk's cell." At the Asgardian's blank and helpless stare, Tony let out an exasperated noise. "Okay, run up to the medical wing, ask one of the medics for a portable ventilator machine, and take it to—"
The engineer broke off abruptly, no doubt interrupted by news from their comrades via the communication link again. There was a moment of silence, and then Tony let out a forced laugh, sounding both frustrated and immensely relieved. "Fury, you are starting to redeem yourself, you glorious bastard, you." He returned his attention to Thor. "New plan: get down to the Hulk's cell. The others are down there with Bruce right now. He can't be removed from that room until we run a brain scan, which I'm working on. Shouldn't be more than another seven minutes. Fury is sending down someone with the ventilator and medics are on standby. I really doubt he can transform right now, but it would put the rest of SHIELD more at ease with you down there. Stand guard, help however you can. I'll be down there soon."
Without another word, he returned to the machinery he was working on with new fervor.
Thor took off out of the room and sprinted in the direction of the holding deck. Agents darted out of the way at the sound of his thundering footfalls, making room for the Asgardian to shoot by. He was met with no resistance and made it to the doorway leading to the cell.
There was no sign of the healers that Tony had mentioned Fury would be sending down, but the God of Thunder did not doubt he would go back on his word in this matter. They would come.
Thor stepped into the room and immediately felt a wave of horror sweep over him. He forced himself forward and into the cell that opened at his approach toward where the archer, the assassin, and the soldier were huddled over the doctor's near-lifeless form near the entrance to the cell. He spared the small pool of blood in the center of the cage one single glance before he focused on his teammates. "How might I be of assistance?" he asked as the cage door locked again.
Steve glanced over his shoulder at the God of Thunder before he nodded toward the small pile of medical supplied against one of the windows. One of his hands was pressed firmly against a nearly blood-soaked blanket at the physicist's shoulder while the other held up a bag of fluids connected to an IV in Bruce's arm. "Put on some gloves, first," he said hastily. He looked to the two agents. "What can he—?"
"Thor, take over for Cap," Clint said without taking his eyes away from the cut he was stitching up.
The Asgardian quickly pulled on the strange rubber gloves as he was told and knelt down next to the super soldier. He listened intently to the instructions given to him, determined not to fail: keep pressure on the wound, keep the bag elevated, and help keep the gravely injured man still during any random bouts of twitching or shaking.
Thor hardly paid any attention to what the others were doing. His eyes remained on his fallen comrade's face. The man seemed to be drifting back and forth between consciousness and unconsciousness, but the obvious pain he was in remained constant. The Asgardian was not well-versed in the ways of the type of magic Loki had taken a certain fondness to, so he was not at all sure what exactly had happened. He knew just from the briefest of looks at the victim that the spell had been of the darkest sort, given the aftereffects the magic had even after it had been broken. Loki had said he had been torturing the doctor during the confrontation; he must have known that this would have been the end result of his spell.
As a tremor shot through Bruce, Thor and Steve managed to keep him still enough for Natasha and Clint to keep stitching up open wounds. Splashes of green appeared across the doctor's grimacing face and elsewhere across exposed flesh. The demigod's eyes were not drawn to the unnatural coloring, however, but to the positioning of the man's eyebrows, so obviously a signifier of intense pain. A terrible guilt gnawed at the Asgardian, a heaviness that weighed down his already heavy heart.
His reluctance to believe Tony's accusation against his brother, his misguided belief that Loki would never dabble with such dark magic, could very well cost this man his life. His disappointment in his brother was painful. Watching Doctor Banner fighting to live, struggling to breathe, was excruciating.
But to see just how low his brother had fallen, just how bleak he had become, was simply unbearable. His original sentencing after the Chitauri attack had done nothing to bring back his reason; Loki was further gone than he had ever seen him, than he could have ever imagined possible. And the worst part: how his brother seemed to welcome this darkness. How he did not hesitate to torture a single man with such brutal means. How he had laughed…
Thor was brought out of his darkening thoughts by the sound of thrusters, swiftly followed by the sound of hurried metallic footsteps entering the cage. He looked away from the physicist's face and over his shoulder to where Iron Man was, just inside the doors sliding shut once more.
Tony's faceplate flipped up as he immediately went to his knees by Thor. There was a look of fierce determination in the billionaire's eyes, but there was an underlying frenzied fear that Thor was able to recognize. It was a look of desperation.
The God of Thunder watched distractedly as Tony began attaching electrodes to Bruce's forehead and paid very little heed to the science-speak spewing from the man's mouth. The portable machine he had brought with him slowly began to light up to a slightly lighter black screen. Tony explained that the machine was scanning brain waves and energy levels, and theoretically, if there was any foreign presence inside those waves, the machine would pick it up.
Steve, Natasha, and Clint continued their work, but their eyes continuously darted up to the screen, waiting for the reading to come through. They all seemed to be holding their breath jointly, all anxious for the results.
Finally, a single line faded into existence toward the bottom of the screen, wavering into tiny peaks and valleys along the black background.
Before they could breathe a collective sigh of relief, Thor felt a twitch beneath the hand pressing the blanket against a grievous wound. Almost instantly, the reprieve transformed into trepid caution and confusion. They all stared at the screen, trying to make sense of what they were now seeing.
"That…that cannot be possible," Thor heard himself say, unable to take his eyes away from the confounding display. "The spell was broken. He has been restrained; he cannot possibly still be performing magic." He could feel the hard tension exuding from the two agents and the wariness rolling off of the super soldier in waves.
A quick look over at Tony told him that the man's mind was going even further into overdrive, seeking possible explanations. His eyes were narrowed in concentration, darting from the display to their fallen comrade's face, and then back again.
It was the very subtle rise of his eyebrows that alerted the demigod to the engineer's conclusion. "No, you're right," Tony breathed. His eyes focused harshly on the screen, so hard that it was surprising that the display did not break.
A grin, appearing almost manic in nature, suddenly broke across Tony's face. "This is right. This makes sense."
"Are you sure—?" Steve began hesitantly, slowly looking from the graph to Tony, who was opening the communication line.
"Fury, he's Loki-free. Open the door," Tony said into the transmitter as soon as the connection was complete.
An almost muted pain was the first sensation to come back to him. How long had he been out? The pain he had been in when he blacked out was nearly gone; he couldn't wrap his sluggish mind around why.
A muffled voice drifted across his consciousness. The words were far too quiet to be understood and the speaker's voice was too obscured for recognition. He just knew it was there—
A different noise reached him. It was so short he almost missed the staccato blip before it vanished. He knew it wasn't a voice; it sounded familiar, like he had—
There! What was that…? And why did it keep happening? He almost wished his head was working properly so he could think, but he wasn't sure if he really wanted that ability back just yet. He couldn't remember why that was, but it was lingering just beyond his grasp, and something told him not to reach for it. Gut instinct, he supposed, or maybe it was the Other Guy.
Another blip, almost a beep.
Where was the Other Guy? He felt like his alter ego was missing, or had been missing for some time now. He had no idea why, but it distressed him terribly.
The beeping suddenly became more frequent, beeping in time with each throb of his head. He could feel his heart beginning to pound in his chest and immediately drew a few deep, albeit painful, breaths; calming exercises seemed like second nature to him now. Had to get his heart rate down—
Why was that thing still beeping? And why did it match his increasing heart rate—
Dawning terror enveloped him as the realization hit him.
A hospital room. White sterilized light shining down on medical equipment. The hospital bed. Her battered body, her broken frame.
Her emotionless face.
The heart monitor.
Oh god, no, not this!
Bruce's eyes snapped open, immediately blazing green, with a panicked and choked shriek. The beeping of a heart monitor was going haywire; just below the frantic beeping were the startled voices of people nearby. His blown pupils darted around, trying to take everything in in his panic, but all he could see was Betty, lying on that hospital bed, practically dead to the world.
The two very different inputs to his senses was a jarring experience. The sound of the memory was altered; there weren't people talking in that memory, nor was the heart monitor beeping this fast, reaching dangerously high levels—
He could feel that presence in the back of his mind beginning to surge forward and a green haze distorted his vision. His panic only increased at that and he slammed his eyes shut, clenching his fists—
There was something attached to his finger, clipped onto the digit and— Oh god, he was attached to the heart monitor. Not a moment later, he became aware of an ache in his arm and realized an IV was attached to one of his veins. A tidal wave of terror flooded through him. He had finally been caught. The military was going to experiment on him. He couldn't feel the straps across his body yet, but he knew they were coming.
He had to escape.
Bruce's eyes shot open again and he actually tried to see what was going on, where he was, but his bleary eyes refused to focus. He could still feel the Hulk in his head, ready to jump out. He ignored his body's screams of protest as he started to push himself upright, ready to run. He felt a pull of wires against both his arm and his head, and the voices raised in volume, sounding worried, followed swiftly by footsteps. Someone touched him and he reflexively began to thrash with as much strength he could muster in his painfully heavy limbs. The voices were starting to break through the pounding in his head and against his ears, assaulting him until something finally broke through the fog.
It was like someone threw a switch, and Bruce instantly went still. Suddenly, Tony Stark was there, staring into his eyes and telling him to focus on him and him alone. Bruce belatedly felt hands on either of his shoulders, both holding him in place and tethering him down to reality, and keeping him from rising off the bed. He noted what felt like a mass of gauze near the engineer's left hand was on right shoulder, but didn't have time or the energy to ponder about it. He stared at Tony for what felt like decades, focusing on nothing more than the engineer's soft chestnut eyes and the calming placations coming out of his mouth, and even then he could only concentrate on the tone of his voice, not the words. He was afraid to look away, terrified that if he did, this would turn out to be just another memory and he'd still be trapped in his mind with L—
The heart monitor, still beeping frantically, picked up pace again as he began to tremble.
"Hey." Tony's sharp voice easily cut through the physicist's panic. "Focus on me, Bruce. You're safe. Whatever he did to you, it's over. He's gone. You're with friends, buddy. You're safe."
They remained like that for a moment longer, Tony's hands still pressing against his shoulders and Bruce still trembling like a leaf, air coming in in shallow breaths. Finally, the engineer saw the beginnings of brown reappearing in the physicist's irises. "That's it. Calm down." He kept up his mantra of soothing placations as the bed-ridden man's heart rate slowly, painstakingly slowly, began to decrease in speed. The green that had appeared in light patches across his skin faded.
Bruce's eyes slipped shut and he collapsed back against the bed, grimacing as pain shot through his body at the sudden, albeit soft, collision. His chest continued to lift and fall at a rapid pace and his body still quivered, but he was calming down at least. The Other Guy lingered just beneath the surface, ready for anything and everything. The physicist was surprised his alter ego didn't just come bursting forth, but had instead opted to simply observe. He wondered why…
He really didn't really want to dwell on it right now. There were other more pressing things to take in right now and dear lord, why was that thing still beeping?
The physicist forced his eyes open just to escape from seeing Betty's face again. He stared blearily up at the ceiling for a lingering moment before he heard a clinking metal sound above the beeping. His eyes met with Agent Barton, who was attaching an IV bag carefully onto a nearby pole.
Clint must have read his mind and turned the bag just so to allow Bruce to read the label across the front of the bag. "Just some pain-killers and fluids to keep you hydrated, Doc," the archer explained quietly.
Bruce couldn't think of a reply. A low rumble in his head enticed him to allow his mostly-green eyes to roam around wherever he was. He was in a room of sorts and surrounded by nearly all of the Avengers. Clint finished reattaching the bag to the pole (he realized belatedly the archer must have removed it to keep the IV in his arm from ripping out) and took a step back. Behind him was Natasha, staring at him with an unreadable look on her face. It made him anxious, so he continued to look around. Further down was Steve, standing against the wall and casting a worried gaze at him. The moment their eyes locked, the captain offered a small, reassuring smile. The doctor's eyes found Tony again, and only then, did he feel the presence at the front of his mind begin to back down.
As his eyes turned to the heart monitor nearby, he heard Tony speak. "Alright, I think it's safe to say that that energy level is the Big Guy." He was obviously talking to the others, but Bruce returned his gaze to the engineer to give him a lethargically confused glance.
"We had to run some tests to make sure your mind was your own," Tony disclosed, his eyes flicking between Bruce and something above his head. "Just a few brain scans, buddy," he hastened to explain when he received a half-panicked look. "SHIELD ran the same one on Barton after…well, y'know." Tony's eyes shifted momentarily to the archer before he looked back at Bruce. "We had to run the same test on you to see if it was just you up there. And well…we got an interesting result."
Interesting was never a good word to hear Tony use to describe the results of anything. Bruce gave the engineer a wary look before he tried to glance at what he presumed to be a screen on the wall behind him, feeling something tug against his head just slightly. He realized belatedly that there were a series of electrodes placed across his forehead.
Clint stepped forward again and pulled the screen away from the wall. There was a blocky-plastic arm attached to the back of the screen that allowed it to move. The archer pivoted the display around to where both Bruce and Tony could see it, without straining the former.
Bruce forced his eyes to focus on the screen, not entirely sure what he was looking at. The display consisted of a black background and two glowing colored lines, nearly overlapping each other. He watched the two lines move around each other, doing their own bizarre sort of dance, and tried to make sense of the graph in his bleary state.
A shift of the green haze in his head made one of the lines dip just slightly, and suddenly the screen made complete sense. He was unable to tear his slightly widened eyes away from the screen, even if the lines were getting fuzzier as the exhaustion began to pull at him.
"So that is the Hulk causing that second line?" Steve asked. He must have seen a change in the bed-ridden man's face when the understanding dawned across his features.
"That's what I've been saying," Tony replied airily.
Bruce slowly looked away from the screen and sluggishly gazed at the heart monitor. His heartbeat had slowed back down to a moderate tempo, but each beep from the machine made him just barely flinch. His eyes slipped shut and he sank back into the bed, finally taking stock of just how exhausted he was and how battered he felt. As much as he would have liked to give in to the tug of unconsciousness, he had questions he wanted answered.
His eyelids fluttered back open. When he found that his throat felt tight and dry, he involuntarily coughed to clear it. Pain shot through his body, making his hands clench into fists and his eyes shut again. He didn't bother opening his eyes when he tried to speak once more.
"Did I hurt anyone?" His hoarse voice came out just barely above a whisper. The Other Guy must have been really vocal for however long he was out, judging by the roughness of his voice.
There was a soft snort to his right, which must have come from Tony. "That would be your first concern," the engineer mused aloud. "Aside from you, no one is hurt."
Bruce forced his eyes open and looked at Tony, trying with very little success to bring the man into focus. "Thor?" he rasped painfully.
When Tony glanced away, the physicist followed the man's gaze to Steve. The super soldier offered a shrug, but looked a little ill at ease. "We haven't seen him since he left for Asgard again," he answered, "but we're expecting him back at any moment." He held his hands up a little helplessly at the doctor's anxious expression. "He's fine, though. He came back right after L—" He paused again, trying to catch himself from saying the offending demigod's name, lest he should trigger some sort of episode or something. He cleared his throat awkwardly and went on. "We had a messenger who told us what was going on."
The captain's reassuring words fell flat upon the bed-ridden physicist. "How long…?"
"You've been out for almost four days, Big Guy," Tony answered the unfinished question. "The Asgardian mailman paid us a visit a day ago. Thor should be back within the next few hours or so. Something about the Asgardian justice system and magic…"
Bruce tried not to think about what the Asgardian standard of justice was and how it would apply to Loki. Thor had told them that he had been imprisoned and that his magic could not be used from within his cell. Either Loki had broken free, or whatever methods they had of tampering with demigod's abilities had been ineffective. Details hadn't been provided about the incarceration of his brother, but from the tone of Thor's voice, the sentence wasn't a pleasant one.
And what would they do to him now, since he couldn't be held behind bars? The physicist couldn't properly conjure a scenario, what with the use of magic involved and his already exhausted state of mind.
A vague sense of nausea made itself known inside Bruce at the thought that he was semi-responsible for whatever new fate awaited Thor's brother. Again, he couldn't fully piece together why he felt this way, but he hardly had the energy to think upon it.
He felt the presence in his head give a rumble, sounding vaguely curious and protective. The physicist fought against the pull of slumber and shifted his eyes to the reading of his brain waves. He watched the two lines for a long moment, how they were nearly overlapping, and heard the Other Guy heave a long, exhausted-sounding sigh in his mind. He realized the Hulk was just as tired as he was, and wasn't that something? The fact that the Hulk was even present on the readout of his brain activity should have been disconcerting, for this was the first time he had ever seen his brutish alter-ego appear on any sort of brain scan, but he couldn't find it in himself to feel worried. The big guy was just as exhausted as he was, but he hadn't gone back into his slumber as he normally did during bouts of downtime.
As he finally gave into the allure of sleep, his thoughts muddled by the fate of Loki and the constant and protective presence of the Hulk, he tried in vain to focus on the soft sounds coming from his alter-ego in his head and not on the light chatter from his teammates and the beeping of the heart monitor. Despite his best efforts, however, his last conscious feeling before he slipped under was that of terrible guilt. The Hulk could protect him from physical harm, but there was nothing that could save him from his memories, his past, and the amount of pain it caused him. Those wounds were still fresh, and he could do nothing but submit to the images so recently brought back into the light in startling clarity. He almost wished he could fight his exhaustion and stay awake, just to keep those thoughts at bay and distract himself, but that battle was lost.
The sounds of his comrades voices faded and he slipped back into oblivion to the clamor of his memories, the constant beeping of the heart monitor at the front with the image of the hospital room from his past at the forefront of the barrage of heart-wrenching images.
A/N: I can offer a plethora of different excuses as to why it took me so long to write this. Basically, it came down to me being depressed and super-crazy busy with summer classes and work since June. I've been working on this since summer classes ended, but there has been so much other personal stuff happening that I've either been too angry to write or I've just had no motivation.
It would come back a few days before the fall semester started. Hmph. So, I'm thinking there is going to either be one longish chapter left. I had planned on wrapping everything up with this, but this was getting long. Like, 9000 word+ long.
So yes. I hope to have this bad boy wrapped up hopefully soon. I am always struck with motivation during the school year, when I am at my busiest. Hopefully I'll have time to write.
Thank you for your patience and for sticking with this story and I. You guys are awesome.
As always, thank you for reading, and feedback is always welcome.