A/N: *shuffles on stage* ok… so, I know it's been forever, but…


Chapter 16

She didn't realize she was screaming until Ross' glower moved in her direction, followed by the gun, and she fell silent immediately, her voice clogging in her throat.

Was it just her, or had the rotations of the helicopter dimmed down? The sound was dying in her ears, so when she heard the General shout at her, it made her jolt.

"You had a chance to get away from this! Why didn't you take it?!" he looked deranged, blood trickling off his forehead. Why was there so much blood? Her elbow propped underneath her, she remained motionless, staring up at him, hoping the words would somehow pour out of her mouth, because every moment she didn't say anything was a moment closer to his breaking point she could see it. "Why?!"

And then her view of his face was obscured as someone stepped in front of her.

She recognized the pants that didn't quite fit, but more importantly, she heard his voice.

"I'm not going to let you hurt her." Bruce's voice was calm and collected, with a surprisingly hard edge to it.

The gun swung wildly towards him.

She wanted to shout, to scream, fear making her lurch forward towards him.

Bruce raised his hands in submission.

"You can die right now!" Ross' anger turned to triumph, "I have you cornered!"

Bruce's voice had a harsh, sarcastic edge to it, "You've made that abundantly clear."

"Step away from her!" hissed the general.

"As long as you promise not to shoot her," he told the general, arms raising higher.

"Step away from her, now," the fire in Ross' eyes was fueled by hatred, "Or you'll both die."

"Promise me you won't shoot her," Bruce demanded, his voice a growl.

"She's a traitor!" bellowed the general, "Aiding and abetting you! She has just as much reason to die as you do! She will die a traitor's death, maybe after several years at Guantanomo-."

"Ross!" Bruce shouted, stepping towards Ross so the gun refocused pointedly on Bruce's chest.

"Why are you still protecting her, coward-," his voice was unhinging, the pitches wild, "Why are you still standing in front of her like you did my daughter?!"

Against Ross's wildness, Bruce's sudden calm was astounding, "Because I love her."

A shock ran through her, as though she'd touched a livewire, the feeling filling her to the brim and blocking out the tension. He what?

She studied the back of him, his arms still raised, unshaking. He didn't turn back to look at her. She could barely breathe.

"You couldn't stop me from hurting her now!"

The tension came back, shattering the elation.

Bruce's declaration forgotten, she couldn't help but stare at the crazed form that was General Ross. The muscles in his arms spasmed. She felt her heart lurch at the thought of his trigger finger accidently twitching.

"I could." His voice was blasé, though the edge was creeping back into it.

The gun was shaking and yet steadily pointing at Bruce. Couldn't it point elsewhere?

"How?! The drug makes you prone!" Ross was hysterical, his voice cracking and growling.

The drug. The drug – the alien something in Bruce's system? Stephanie couldn't process correctly. Her stress levels were too high, too high. If the gun would've just gone away!

He was resolute. "I didn't say it wouldn't be messy for me. I just said I could."


"You- you're a monster- a- a-." He didn't seem to know what to say.

Stephanie felt the stifled words rebounding around her insides- go, run, get somewhere safe, please!- all rebounding inside of her. Why were they not coming out? She opened her mouth, but it was as though there was something like a barrier at the back of her throat keeping them in.

Somehow she hadn't noticed that Spiderman had snuck away until he was completely out of sight. She looked around for him frantically, unable to see him.

"It seems I'm not that way anymore, if this drug works as well as you say," Bruce took a small step towards the general, and Stephanie's eyes snapped to him. "Why don't you do it? Kill me now."

WHAT? The cry that ripped through her resounded around the nearby buildings, "No!"

He completely ignored her as he continued to speak over her. "You've always wanted it over. This is your chance. Take it." Bruce held out his arms wide.

What was he saying? How could he want that?

"No! Please!" Why were her limbs not moving? Why couldn't she force herself to stand? To run to him? To get between him and the gun!

"Then do what you've wanted to do for ages now. Kill me." Stop! Stop, why was he asking for Ross to- to- her mind refused to process. She didn't understand!

"Please! No," her voice choke, the horror of what was happening making it impossible to speak. He was asking to be shot?!

Ross stared between them both, unsure of what to do, his eyes wide and his pupils crazy. It was as though several emotions were trying to take over his face at once. Hatred and loathing were ever present, confusion and was that envy that canvassed his eyes?

"What's wrong, General?" Bruce's voice was all tension, and aggression, "Now that it isn't a hunt, isn't a game, it isn't as fun anymore?"

"You. You were supposed to be the spineless coward, a scientist turned monster," Ross told him, his voice still quavering, "I'm the hero!" he gained volume, though it was all just cracking now, no growl, "I'm the hero!"

Bruce's response was terrifying, louder than Ross's, "You're no hero!"

Ross's expression faltered, his face freezing, causing Stephanie's heart to stop.

Was this it? Was this the breaking point?

"You've hunted me to the four corners of the earth, looking for the fight of your life, and hoping glory would follow!" Bruce took another step, this time unfaltering.

Why was Bruce testing him? Couldn't he tell he was pushing Ross to his limits?

"And now, there is no glory in killing me anymore, is there?" Bruce stepped forward. Ross's gun snapped up to his chest, locked there. Stephanie's voice was stuck again, her mind was frenzied, watching as Bruce took another step towards the General. "Whatever this person promised you, it wasn't worth it, was it?"

What was happening? He took another step. And another.

"It wasn't worth it," Ross' voice was small, but it was there, "You're not worth it anymore."

His steps didn't waver, his quiet confidence suddenly emanating from him. Stephanie couldn't move, couldn't think, breathless, waiting for the worst. She wasn't the only one. Ross, now shaking, stared at Bruce in upmost horror and disbelief.

"That's what I thought."

He took the gun from the General's hand forcibly, and tossed it away with contempt.

General Ross slumped where he stood, his spine curling as if in defeat.

Instantly there was webbing, blasting him backwards, coating him against the safety wall that was the side of the building. Another few blasts just to make sure, she could almost hear Spiderman say.

She didn't see Bruce until he was kneeling next to her, and she had to blink several times to focus on him properly. It took her a moment to realize it was ok to breathe again.

With that came the hearing.

He was calling out to her now, trying to snap her back into reality, "Stephanie! Stephanie, are you alright?"

"He," but she couldn't find what she wanted to say. Words were sloshing around in her mind.

He helped her to sit up straight.

"It's alright," Bruce was helping her sit up, his Doctor voice on, "You're alright. We're safe."


He took her hands, folding them over a source of pain she had momentarily forgotten in the panic, "Put pressure on your leg. We have to get out of here."

Safe- Bruce was safe.

Ok. She could process that.

"Bruce..." maybe she could pass out now. She made to ask him, but he spoke first.

"I'm here. You're ok."He was brushing the hair out of her face. She hadn't even realized it was there. The helicopter must have whipped it into a frenzy.

"But what about you?" she wanted to know, her eyes groggy.

He was smiling, reassuring, "I think you passed along some of your energy- earlier. I feel, less feverish."

That made sense somewhere. It hadn't registered earlier. She'd been too focused on escaping, but now she sensed that although she'd been about a half tank full, she was now running on fumes. "But," what was there to protest? She couldn't remember clearly.

"It's alright, Steph," It was Spiderman, crouching down too. "We'll get you out of here-."

Ross interrupted him, "Don't underestimate her!"

"Who is he talking about?" Spiderman demanded, annoyed.

"I don't know," Bruce stood up again, pushing off his knee and turned to face the General, "Who?" he had little tolerance at the moment.

"I don't know," came the disturbed response.

Spiderman was unconvinced, "How could you not know? Aren't you like a General in the Army or something?"

"Air Force," Stephanie corrected automatically, hostility coloring her tone as Spiderman lifted her up in into his arms.

"Technicalities? Really?" Spiderman sounded exasperated.

"She wanted me to get rid of you," Ross said, gaining Stephanie's attention, his eyes fixed on Bruce, who had wandered over to him, "I wonder if she had plans for anyone else she wanted to get rid of."

"I think you broke him, Doc," Spiderman was turning around, dismissively.

"Wait!" Stephanie called, though she had a hard time processing, looking over Spiderman's shoulder, "What does he mean?"

"It doesn't matter," Spiderman told her. "We have to get you back to the tower-."

"What do you mean, she?" Bruce was interrogating the almost comatose man now caught in webbing against the wall, "Who is she?"

"Doc, this she is bleeding over here," Spiderman was annoyed, "You know, the one you just declared love to?" he told Bruce, and then added to Stephanie, "By the way talk about sappy-."

Stephanie would have thrown him a withering look but she was having a hard enough time as it was staying focused. It was though her mind wanted to shut down, and was fuzzing at the edges, like a radio station. It was only a matter of time until she tuned out all together.

"She'll come get you, now that I've failed." It was Ross again

"Who is she?!" When he didn't answer Bruce shoved Ross's shoulder hard into the wall, "What's this drug they're using on me?"

"She won't hesitate."

"Doc, c'mon!" Spiderman called, "Steph's bleeding! I'll come back for him and we can play good cop, bad cop later-."

Bruce's tone was dark, "He won't be here later."

She lost her grip on lucidity, finally tuning out as her head fell against Spiderman's arm. She knew the pain as she was jostled, and she tried to blot it out, because it was all that was keeping her conscious. Her eyes focused in and out on random things. The sky, the clouds, a red and blue suit that rubbed against her cheek uncomfortably, a pair of glasses with dark eyes that looked all too queasy.

She caught snippets of conversation.

"I'm out of webbing!"

"Out of what?"

"Out of- ugh, we have to land!"

The jostling stopped abruptly.

"You ok, Doc?"

"Just let me check on her."

"What, here? On the street?"

"No. C'mon."

More jostling. Wouldn't it end? She was becoming all too lucid again.

There was a loud crash.

"Breaking and entering? I didn't take you as the type."

It was dim around them, that much she could make out.

"She's bleeding too heavily. We've got to staunch it."

She was laid down on something. A couch, with thin, beaten padding that left the skeleton of it digging into her neck as her head flopped back onto the dusty arm. She wasn't used to being so weak. She stared, dizzily, up at the darkened ceiling. The blinds were closed, but she realized there wasn't much sunlight to be had. There was enough to see the dust particles dancing in the air, however, and she smiled ever so slightly at the random beauty of them. Maybe stopping and smelling the roses became more appreciable after a few near death experiences.

There was a sharp pain in her thigh, and she felt herself spasm, though no sound escaped her. A hand soothed her back into stillness, though she was rigid with anxiousness.

"Glass?" hissed Bruce's voice. She hadn't realized she'd closed her eyes until she searched out his face. He was angry, examining her leg. She frowned. Hadn't there been a pant leg there? Now there was only a cut off short.

Spiderman was speaking, "I might have pulled her through a window."

"Great. Phenomenal," Bruce spat angrily.

Spiderman shoved a thumb against his chest, "Hey I saved her, what were you doing?"

Bruce ignored him, "I'm going to need alcohol, and tweezers. And towels. Clean ones," he listed off, "She needs a transfusion."

"Well, anybody got an IV handy?" Stephanie could tell Spiderman was trying to make light of the situation.

Bruce wasn't having it. "No."

"Sheesh, man, we'll just get her back to Stark Tower."

"You need to get her back to Stark Tower."

"You're not ditching yet," Spiderman told him. "Besides, we caught the guy after you, right?"

"Not for long," Bruce's voice was quiet, "I'll stay until she's stable."

Stephanie heard Spiderman mutter as he walked out, "You really think she'll be stable when you leave?"

"Hurry!" barked Bruce, who had obviously heard what Spiderman had said, "We have to stop the bleeding."

"Alright then!"

"And don't forget the towels!"

"I won't, I won't!" Spiderman was obviously at his limits with the whole situation, muttering incoherently until the sound faded from Stephanie's ears.

Stephanie managed to focus on Bruce's face, "You shouldn't be mad at him. I'm fine…"

"You're not fine. You're pale and delirious. You gave me too much of your- your- energy," Bruce's expression was full of self loathing, and he wouldn't look at her.

"We, need to work on your bedside manner, Doctor," she grinned broadly as she took in deep lungfuls of air.

Bruce shook his head, "You can't keep doing that. You don't have enough for yourself you know."

"I didn't mean to. You stole it," she smiled. She wanted to giggle.

"What?" he was perplexed.

Maybe she really was delirious if she felt like giggling, "And I don't think you stole all that much."

"I don't think you had much to give," Bruce told her, brushing the few wisps of hair out of her face again, "Why isn't your system working to plug the blood-?"

"I have von Wildebrand's disease," she told him weakly, "I heal- really slowly on my own. Remember? It was in my medical file that Tony found illegally," she said the last part with sarcastic distaste.

"Then here," Bruce took her hand pointedly, and it was sticky with her blood, "take some of my energy-."

She would have snatched her hand away if she could, "And turn you into the Hulk?" That sounded absolutely exhausting at the moment. She didn't think she could find the resources to pull Bruce from the depths of the Hulk at the moment, "No thanks."

"He trusts you now," Bruce sounded, happy? By it, but there was a tinge of bitterness as he added, "He could get you back safe."

"You'll get me back just as safely," she told him peaceably. She had full confidence in that, trusting him wholeheartedly.

Bruce seemed perturbed by that. He turned his face down, no longer meeting her gaze, "Stephanie-," he started, and there was an edge to his voice that she wasn't sure of.

"Towels!" Spiderman entered, holding them up. "I also found some pain killers. What do you think, Doc?"

"They couldn't hurt," he spoke so softly someone with normal hearing wouldn't've been able to hear at that distance, but Peter brought her them, and some water in a dingy cup.

"I think it's clean," he smiled at her guiltily, and she smiled back, before she swallowed the pills, and gulped water. She hadn't realized how thirsty she was until she had finished the entire cup, and she still wanted more. It was enough for now though. She felt the pounding in her head, something she had become accustomed to, dissipate somewhat. When had she become accustomed to a constant head ache? She couldn't remember.

"Could you turn on the light?" Bruce asked. He was brusque now.

"Yes sir," Spiderman did as he bid, and Stephanie had to blink as the light stabbed at her eyes.

"Tweezers?" Bruce was asking as she could finally focus.

"Right here," Spiderman told him. Though he was Peter now. He'd finally taken off his mask. Huh. It was weird. She'd never realized that she liked Peter more than Spiderman. She didn't know why. Now that she thought of it, she liked Iron Man better than Tony, liked Steve and Captain America the same amount but differently, and Thor could have only been Thor. She didn't think there was any split in his personality.

Her thoughts were interrupted by Bruce.

"Ok," Bruce told her firmly, but gently, "This is going to hurt."

She nodded. She hadn't seen the wound, afraid that looking at it would make her panic. She continued to avert her gaze, finding Bruce's.

He nodded back at her, once, before setting to work.

There were more pieces of glass shards then she could have guessed. At some point she stopped counting. She was dizzy enough that the pain only stabbed at her sometimes, but more it ached than anything else. She could barely focus, and she was glad of it, because the moment she did, she would cry out.

It would choke out of her, and she would feel the tears burning her too tired eyes, and Bruce's face would contort with guilt, and Peter would try and lighten the mood, soothing her back down into forgetting. She knew it was better to not focus, to let her mind drift, but when the pain became so sharp that it brought her back she couldn't help herself, no matter how much she gritted her teeth.

She must have lost consciousness at some point because someone was clapping her on the cheek, calling out to her.

"Is it over?" she wanted to know, opening her eyes blearily.

"Yes," Bruce told her softly, Peter moving away from her face. She found the towels serving as bandages covering her leg, already soaking up blood. And she saw all of the glass that had caught in her thigh. She had to swallow deeply and look away. "We should get moving."

"Alright," "Anyone got cab money?"

"No, but we'll tell them we're heading to Stark Tower, and that we'll pay them there?"

"You think that will work?"

"Trust me, it works every time."

"Ready to go, sunshine?" Peter had dawned a

She would have commented if she'd had the energy, "I can walk."

He almost said something she could tell would have been sarcastic, but he held himself back. "Well, just in case you can't." He picked her up delicately, adjusting her so she felt all of five.

Bruce didn't seem pleased. His mouth twitched into an unhappy line, but he motioned them forward, a bundle of bloody towels in his arms. As he closed the door behind her and Peter, she heard a soft chink of glass in the midst of the bundle, and shied away.

Bruce trashed the towels in a huge garbage dumpster, before leading them down an alley.

They found their way back to the street, Stephanie watching as best she could. She felt bad when people gave them odd looks. Peter finally had to wave off a lady who kept inquiring about Stephanie's health, asking if she needed to call 911.

"It's a social experiment," he told her, forcing a smile. "You passed. Another tally for the small amount of people who care in New York City."

The woman was flattered, and left them alone after Stephanie gave her a huge smile and a thumbs up. Bruce almost cracked a grin when she asked if she was on camera.

Peter was annoyed after the fact, "Seriously, the one day people actually care." He shook his head, "It's because you look so pathetic."

"Thanks, you're such a confidence booster," Stephanie snided right back.

"This way," Bruce told them abruptly.

She didn't like how tense Bruce was. It wasn't who he was.

He was crooked smiles that twisted to the right of his face, and light laughter, quick wit and dark, bright eyes. He was brilliance, and sarcasm, and…

"If you keep staring at him all googily eyed I'm going to throw up on you."

"You always ruin the moment, don't you?" she wondered aloud, looking up at him.

"What moment? You were staring at the back of his head!" "Though, I guess it's a nice back of his head, if you're into that kind of thing-."

"Peter, I swear, I'm gonna-,"

"Peter." It was Bruce, nodding towards an alley.

Peter followed him.

"How are you?" Peter asked in hushed tones. Stephanie opened her mouth to answer, and realized that the question had been directed at Bruce. She looked to him, perturbed.

Bruce shook his head. "I don't think I can go much further."

The comment frightened Stephanie. She looked to Bruce. He seemed as stalwart has he had been on the rooftop. Now that she looked closer, he was still sweating. Was he shaking? He had seemed to walk so straight to her- how ill was he?

Whatever it was Peter seemed to have known. How had she been so easily fooled? "I'll go get us a cab."

"Thank you," Bruce sounded more grateful than she would have liked.

Stephanie felt herself being lowered onto the ground, leaning heavily against the alley wall.

"I'll be right back."

"Ok," Bruce nodded to him, and Stephanie watched from the ground as Peter half jogged away, and out of sight.

Bruce slumped against the alley wall, and fell into a sitting position right next to her.

She smiled half heartedly at him, because she was studying him. Was he alright?

"How are you?" he asked her before she could. His eyebrows raised at her faulting expression.

She wasn't worried about herself, "I'm fine." He didn't like her response, she could tell. She pressed on anyways, "How are you?"

"Fine," he replied in response.

She frowned at his smile, placing her hand against the rough pavement to steady herself. It came up dirty, and greasy. She made a face.

Bruce smiled at her again, noticing her hand and chuckling at her expression.

She wiped it off on her remaining pant leg, "I shouldn't be so squeamish, after all that I've been through." And yet she couldn't help but think she was sitting in whatever was on her hand.

"If you think New York City is bad, just wait until you get to India," Bruce chortled, peering down the alleyway.

He didn't even realize. There was no hiccup in what he said, nor any doubt.

With that she realized what he'd said on the roof was true.

She hadn't thought that she'd doubted it. In fact, she hadn't thought about it consciously.

Now she could.

She smiled, and let her head slip down onto his shoulder.

She felt him relax, leaning towards her.

"You meant it, didn't you," she found herself whispering before she could stop herself.

"I did," he spoke softly, and though he sounded nervous, what overwhelmed her was the tenderness there. "I know, I'm old enough to be your father-."

"Not quite," she told him, tilting her head up on his shoulder to get a better look at him, her eyes sparkling with a quiet teasing.

"Not quite, but close enough," and the frustration broke through the tenderness.

She didn't like the change in tone, "I'm old enough."

"Old enough," he laughed to himself, and she liked how it felt. "Old enough," he murmured. She smiled, listening to the quiet lilt in his voice as he said, "So. You know how I feel. Despite it being… well."

"Well?" she could tell she wasn't playing fair, making him show his cards before she showed hers. But then again, she was pretty sure he knew exactly what cards she had on the table.

He chose his word, "Unconventional."

She raised her eyebrows, "Unconventional, huh?"

"Unconventional," and he stuck to it, meeting her gaze before looking away.

"I never thought that love was conventional," she decided the words sounded prettier than she had anticipated as they spilled out of her mouth, but, that might have been because her headache altered her thinking.

"Ah, it's supposed to be more conventional than, this," he decided.

"Well, I like it," she sounded almost childish in her declaration, "And, since I'm pretty sure you know how I feel-."

"I don't know how you feel."

"Really?" she didn't mean to sound as harsh as she must have, because how could he not have? After all the doting and the following and the worry?

He shook his head, "Really."

"Well." She blushed immediately, "I," It was such a small word to mean so much, "I," she didn't know why she was having such a hard time saying it, "Lo- I care about you too."

"Lo- care huh?" he smiled fondly, his black eyes bright.

She felt a blush blooming across her face, "Well, yeah."

"Maybe when we're not in some dirty alley all beat up and worn down huh?" he looked away from her, at the opposite wall. She nodded against his shoulder, the motion turning her ear uncomfortably, "It's not quite the place I had in mind either."

"Yet here we are," she spoke softly, and found his hand next to hers on the ground with her pinky finger.

He took her hand in his. "Yet, here we are."

She felt the peace spread at his warm touch, and nestled her hand more comfortably in his. He let her, and they sat together, momentarily, in silence, or as much silence as New York City would allow with honking horns and sirens and people walking and talking. But it was their little bubble of joy, and even though it didn't completely work as a sound barrier, it worked enough for her.

That reminded her though.

"So," she spoke tentatively, breaking the peace, "we're going to India when all of this is over?"

"Stephanie-," he stopped himself, and she didn't like the strain in his voice"Just because, I, well, doesn't mean you get to throw away your life."

She furrowed her brow at the opposite wall, "I wouldn't be throwing it away-."

He interrupted her before she could finish, "Your education, your future means so much more than just being chained to an old man who has serious anger issues."

"I wouldn't be chained, I am a free person-," she declared.

"Who can live a full and happy life-," he told her.

"How?" she asked, "Knowing you're out there, possibly in danger?" she wanted to know, pulling her head off of his shoulder to look at him.

He met her gaze, before adding quietly, "You'll move on."

She felt defiance blaze in her, "I don't think so-," she reacted, her voice dark.

He sighed, and pulled his hand out of hers, "You will, if given enough time," he rested his head against the wall, almost looking skyward.

She felt her mouth move without thinking, "Is that just you're way of saying you want to move on?"

That got a rise out of him, "No! Stephanie, I-," he searched her face, "That's not it at all."

"Then what is it?" she demanded.

He cast his eyes downwards, "I don't think I could bear making someone so unhappy," he finally admitted, "Not again…"

Oh. This was about Betty. Beautiful Betty, who had meant the world to him at some point in his life she was sure of it, but now? Because she had pushed him away? Or because he had pushed her away? "But I'm not… I'm not her," she was able to say after a moment, finding her words carefully, "I wouldn't stay behind and wait for postcards. I'd come with you."

He smiled wryly at the opposing wall, "She said the same thing."

"Well then let me prove it-," Stephanie was adamant.

"I don't want you to prove it." He was truly frustrated now. She could hear it in his voice, "That's the problem. Don't you see?" His dark eyes met hers. "You won't be able to live a normal life with me."

She held his gaze, eyes penetrating, "Normal life? After all of this? How could life ever be normal again?"

He slumped back against the wall, "Time heals all things-."

She wanted to get in his face, "Nothing needs to be healed-!"


"No! I'm serious," and she was, "To leave this? I would break-."

He lurched around to meet her, "Stephanie, how many times have you been broken already?" His face was ablaze, "Look at you! You're fragile, you're weak! You'll get so damaged one day I won't be able to fix it!"

She had nothing to say to that. She was fragile, and weak. How many times had she gotten hurt now? How many times had that held him back? How damaged was she at that very moment? She was hurting, all over, bruising from head to toe, broken bones that made it hard to breathe, and pain in her leg that still hadn't dulled enough to ignore yet. She was broken.

There had to be another way though.

When she found herself outside of her inward examination, Bruce's back was on the wall again, and he was looking towards the alley's entrance, hoping for Peter's return.

"We're arguing about this as though we know if you're still the same," she spoke softly, though it caught his attention, "What if you can't turn into the Hulk anymore? What if you can't change?"

"We aren't arguing-," he sighed, before realizing that they indeed had been, "and I can. Don't you remember last night?"

"I do." Had it only been last night- had it only been yesterday that the wedding had happened? "But now, we don't know what this drug does. What if you're as prone as Ross said?"

Bruce shook his head, "It slows my healing process," Bruce said, holding out his arm, showing her a series of scabs that made her cringe, "It obviously makes me ill. I suspect it's controlling my ability to change into the Hulk, which is why you couldn't get me into or out of the Hulk yesterday."

That was mind boggling, "How would that even be possible?" she wanted to know, "How could you control something like that with technology?" Someone could do what she could, all with the press of a button? After finally being useful, now she was truly rendered useless by a drug?

"It's a hormonal process, transforming into the Hulk, from what research I've gathered, so I'm not entirely sure," Bruce was getting back into his own self, the harsh stress alleviating from his tone, "I don't know, nanotechnology is my best guess."

"Nanotechnology?" Stephanie gasped. Wasn't that all supposed to be science fiction though?

"Why are we talking about nanotechnology?" It was Peter, back from his quest, but Stephanie was too enraptured by the thought of technology controlling the Hulk. Rendering her useless.

"If that's the case, then-," Stephanie stopped herself, eyes wide as she understood something.

"Then I'm a walking time bomb again," Bruce nodded gravely.

"Well, I'm still the best candidate, then, aren't I? Last night I figured out how to change you back-." Sort of. Ok, not really, that had probably been the nano-whatever, but if he didn't know-.

Bruce called her bluff, "Not how I recall it."

Stephanie blinked, confused, "How-?"

"Your touch, when you pull me out, it's gentle, fervent, but gentle, like someone guiding you by the hand. The, illness, makes you, no matter what you want. It was a shove like I've never felt before."

"But I can still get energy to you," she reminded him.

"And that is a mystery. I wonder if your ability to transfer energy works on other people as well…" He frowned outright at that.

Stephanie wasn't sure if she had heard him correctly, "What?"

"Hey, guys, we have a cabbie, waiting for us," Peter inserted in the momentary pause.

"Oh!" Stephanie looked up at Peter, who was obviously annoyed at their exclusion of him.

Bruce was already getting to his feet.

Peter bent down to grab Stephanie, but Bruce had beat him to it, looping his arms underneath her, and pulling her up, "Don't worry, I've got her."

Peter was hesitant, "Don't strain yourself, old man."

Bruce made a grim "I-told-you-so" face at Stephanie as he walked down the alleyway.

Stephanie in turn shot Peter a withering look over Bruce's shoulder.

"What?" Peter demanded, following after them.

"What's wrong with her?" the cab driver asked as they approached, his window down.

"Nothing," Stephanie said easily as Bruce slid her into the car that smelled like an ash tray and BO. "She had a nasty scrap on her leg a while back," Bruce told the cab driver calmly, "Sometimes it acts up and she has a hard time walking."

"Yeah, that happens." Stephanie couldn't help but smile at the man's thick New York accent.

"Nice suit you've got there, by the way," the cab driver said as Bruce settled next to Stephanie, and Peter swung in on the other side.

"It's cosplay," Peter assured him easily.

"Oh," the cab driver was still suspicious, "I didn't know there was a convention this weekend."

"You follow cosplay conventions?" Peter wanted to know, eyebrows raised.

"No, no I don't I-," he seemed embarrassed now. Stephanie had to commend Peter on his ability to deter the man, snickering under her breathe. "Where do you need to get to?"

Bruce spoke first this time, "Stark Tower."

"Right then," the man blubbered, and swerved onto the street without so much as a glance towards the rear view mirror.

Stephanie kept her head as high as she could. The conversation with Bruce had been- draining, to say the least, and she was sure if she thought about it at that moment she would have burst into tears.

The driver made idle chatter, about the weather lately, about the latest mutant riot, but when nothing seemed to impress them, he moved onto a different topic.

"So this crazy thing happened," he was saying, Stephanie barely listening. She'd used up all of her effort arguing to Bruce and would have been happy to pass out again if she'd been allowed, "I have a friend that told me that he had to drive a girl to the hospital last night- some guy dumped her in his car before running away, and she opened the door and fell out of the cab! Crazy, right?"

"What?" Bruce wanted to know, his head turning sharply towards the cab driver.

"I know!" the cabbie was enthused that finally someone was showing interest in what he had to say, "He had to take her to the ER, and when she had broken ribs and a cracked head, they thought someone had been beating her, poor thing-."

A pained look spread across Bruce's face.

Was this seriously happening right now? Stephanie had to wonder. Out of all of her bad luck this last day, was this really going to be on top of it?

"I think he's going to go see her in the ICU today. She didn't have ID, so she's basically a Jane Doe until she wakes up," the cabbie was continuing.

"What if she's already gone?" Stephanie managed to croak, which caught Peter's attention.

"Well, he said she'd hit her head pretty hard, and that there was blood everywhere," shrugged the cabbie, "She'd have to be pretty resilient to be awake by now."

"Very resilient indeed," Bruce muttered under his breath.

Finally it clicked in Peter's head. "Wait, is he talking about yo-," Peter had the grace to stop himself, before cracking up. "Talk about a small world!"

"What's so funny?" the cabbie demanded.

When Bruce brushed it off as teenage hormones, the conversation died, and Stephanie couldn't help but to quit thinking.

If she had been lucid enough to watch how the man drove, she might have died there in the car of a heart attack. Thankfully, her feeble head flopped to one side, resting on Bruce's shoulder, and she managed to drift in and out. New York City driving terrified her, she realized then. Of course, she had been in several bad instances, but she shouldn't rule it out as a whole. Wow, she really was thinking in the most random of circles.

When she realized this, the cab driver had pulled up to the side of a building.

He charged a certain amount, which somehow got paid, and Stephanie felt herself lifted out of the car as dusk set in amid the city skyline. She knew it was Bruce carrying her by the smell, and she knew Peter wasn't far behind.

"Are we there?" Stephanie muttered, unable to form proper words.

Bruce affirmed in some way, whether it was a yes or an uh huh she was unable to tell.

"Home sweet home," she sighed, before falling out of reality and down into an easy oblivion.

A/N: So! What did you think?!

We always knew Bruce was a self sacrificing punk, didn't we? I'm kinda ticked at him at this moment because that is not how I wanted this chapter to go. He did it to himself though. And Stephanie didn't help. She keeps thinking long term. Then again, who could blame her, right?

XD I say all this because these characters wrote themselves this chapter, except Ross. He was hard to pin point. How'd I do with him? Too much emotion maybe? I think he needed more time to snap, and I didn't give it to him. Poor guy.

This chapter (mostly the part in the alleyway) was listening to Nine Inch Nails' song, Right where it belongs, v2. Thank you for telling me about this song in that PM! Guys, you have no idea how much music affects my writing.

ANYWAYS! Tell me how I did, and send me music! Seriously, I appreciated everyone that told me about music, you have no idea! Thank you!