I originally was writing this story to introduce She-Hulk into the AEMH timeline, since I plan on running a Marvel Heroic Roleplaying campaign set in the AEMH timeline and one of my players wanted to play She-Hulk. But as the story progressed, I realized I would be better served simply writing it for the pure enjoyment of writing it. She-Hulk and Spider-Man seemed to take on a life of their own and I'm enjoying writing about that.
Now, the legalese. Even though the story in and of itself is copyright by me, Dale W. Robbins, the characters, the setting, and much of the setup storylines are copyright Marvel Entertainment, who is owned by Disney. This is a fanfic that I hope has been properly rendered under Fair Use copyright laws.
Avengers: The Earth's Mightiest Heroes
Season 3, Episode 1
"She-Hulk Awakens, Part 1"
Jennifer Walters stepped carefully into the warehouse, dressed sharply in a lady's skirt suit and carrying a satchel. It was dark. Of course it was dark; he didn't want to be seen. But Walters already knew who she was meeting.
"I have your money, Trask," Walters declared, absently brushing aside some of her plain brown hair out of her eyes. "Come on out and get it."
"That's an awfully presumptuous guess, little girl," an unfamiliar voice said as a big, burly, bald man stepped out of the shadows. Compared to Walter's immaculate appearance, this man's jeans and sleeveless shirt made him look absolutely grungy. He stepped up to Walters and held out his hand.
"Trask gets it or no one does," Walters scowled at the man. "I'm not just handing it to some dimwitted flunky I don't know... even if he can use fancy words like 'presumptuous.'"
The big man scowled and started to raise his hand to backhand the insolent lawyer.
"Now, now, Danny," came a far more familiar voice from behind the thug. "Is that any way to treat as honored a guest as Jennifer Walters."
"Honored? Really?" Jennifer growled as her hated nemesis, Nicholas Trask, stepped out of the shadows. "You killed my mother. You've tried to kill my father three times now. All because they were good honest police officers. Where's the honor in that?"
Trask laughed as he stepped up to stand beside Danny.. "Young lady, you have nothing to base those allegations on beyond pure speculation. Now, did you indeed bring the gift you freely offered to me?"
"It's not freely offered nor is it even a gift," Jennifer fumed. "I just want my dad safe. Take the money you demanded and get out of our lives." The last part was practically screamed as she thrust the satchel into Trask.
"Now, now, young lady," Trask soothed, as much to bring his hired muscle to heel before he pummeled the lawyer as to quiet the girl's temper. "You're 23 years old, one of the best lawyers in New York City, and still as naive as ever. Before we part ways, I should make sure the entirety of the gift is here. I would hate to see any misfortune befall you or yours because you were compulsively dishonest, now."
Trask opened the satchel on a nearby table and counted it visually. "This is short a thousand dollars," he declared suddenly, turning to Danny and Walters. "Where is that thousand dollars? Are you trying to get yourself killed by crossing me, Walters?"
Walters held up a bundle of dollar bills in her hand, smirking. "No. But I did want to see your reaction when you thought I was cheating you."
"As did I," came a fourth voice. As Trask spun around, another figure floated down behind Trask. Dressed in red and blue and hanging upside-down on a spider's web-like rope, he had a mini-camcorder held to his masked eye.
"I wonder how much Jameson will pay for footage of New York's most notorious crime boss extorting protection money from New York's most beautiful lawyer. I bet I could actually get the latest Kung Fu Fighters video game this week."
Trask roared furiously and lunged at Spider-Man, only succeeding in throwing himself awkwardly across the table in front of him. Spider-Man had already righted himself and somersaulted through the air to land nimbly in a crouch on top of Danny's head.
"Man, gymnastics just isn't your forte, is it, Trask?" Spider-Man ventured. "Have you thought of taking up yoga? I heard it can really loosen up the muscles."
Spider-Man flipped up into the air as Danny reached violently above his head in a vain attempt to grab the teenage superhero. As Spider-Man hit halfway through a somersault, he aimed his web-shooters and fired, covering Danny's eyes with a sticky substance with the tensile strength of steel.
Completing the flip, Spider-Man landed in a crouch in front of Trask, who had managed to stumble back off of the table and turn around.
"So, do you want to give up all nice and quiet-like?" Spider-Man asked of the crime boss. "Or do I get to hang you upside down and laugh at you like I do the Green Goblin. And the Goblin is actually prettier, by the way. I thought you should know."
Trask grabbed the satchel behind him and ran.
"Okay," Spider-Man mused. "Upside-down it is. You know that's bad for your circulation, right?"
Trask didn't answer. He ran. He ran as hard as he could towards the limo waiting outside the back entrance for him. And he pulled out his pistol. Spider-Man may be fast and agile, but could he really dodge a bullet?
Trask almost reached the back door when Spider-Man landed on the wall above the door.
"Leaving the party so soon?" Spider-Man asked, audibly disappointed. "But we'd already taken a poll and decided you were going to be the clown."
Trask aimed his gun fired. Six times. If Spider-Man survived that, he... What the...!
Spider-Man wasn't even there anymore! That freak could dodge bullets!
A tap on his shoulders nearly made Trask jump straight out of his skin.
"You forgot, Trask," Spider-Man pointed out as he webbed the crime boss down in a cocoon of webbing, leaving his head free. "I have spider-sense. I could tell you were going to fire the gun before your brain had told your finger to pull the trigger. How does that one red-headed cartoon girl say it? So not the drama?"
As Spider-Man dusted off his hands, Walters stepped up behind him. "What about the vidcam, Spider-Man?"
"What?" Spider-Man asked, looking at Walters in confusion. Then his brain caught up with the question. "Oh, yeah, right here. Here you go, ma'am, just like we agreed."
With that, Spider-Man handed his mini-camcorder to Walters.
"I'll buy you a new one, of course," Walters offered. "But I'll need this one for state's evidence."
"This was a setup!" Trask screamed. "That's illegal! That's unconstitutional! That's inhumane! I have some of the best lawyers in the country, Walters. I'll get out. Just you wait and see."
"I am one of the best lawyers in the country," Walters replied smugly. "We'll see."
She then turned to Spider-Man. "As for you, young man..."
Spider-Man's face must have been priceless underneath his mask. "Um, uh, yeah, wh-what?"
Walters smiled softly and turned slightly away. "Thank you for calling me beautiful back there. That made my night."
"Um, yeah," Spider-Man responded absently before regaining his composure. "I was just wanting to emphasize how much of a liar Trask was by telling the truth to the camera."
"You're sweet," Walters gushed.
"I'm actually really impressed," Stark said, several hours later. He was sitting at his desk in the Avenger's Mansion, looking over the incident report on his holographic computer screen. "He played along well with Ms. Walters, didn't go gung-ho, quickly and painlessly wrapped up the situation in less than five minutes. And even got enough video evidence to give police probable cause to investigate a great deal of Trask's illegal ventures."
With a flick of his wrist, Tony Stark, aka Iron Man, dismissed the holographic screen and turned to the man on his right. Steve Rogers, aka Captain America, was quietly watching the sun set on the New York skyline. But Stark knew Rogers was listening.
"You were right about Spider-Man, Cap," Stark continued. "I'm glad we brought him into the fold. I just want him to finish college before we pull him out of reserve status."
"He's a good, solid, American citizen with more moral fiber than many of us can claim," Rogers agreed, still looking out over the sunset. "He gets a bad rap for being behind a mask, but he a true hero. And you're right. He does need to finish college and forge a career. But I'll tell you, Tony, I'm looking forward to the missions I'll serve beside him."
"You realize I'm not letting you off the hook about this leadership thing, right, Steve?" Stark smirked, propping himself on his desk.
"It's a weight I accept proudly because of who the Avengers are and what we've been able to accomplish," Rogers nodded, turning to Stark. "But just because I lead the Avengers doesn't mean I'm above the Avengers. I serve beside them, not over them."
"Spoken like the true patriotic American icon you are," Stark laughed. "And trust me, Spider-Man won't go under-utilized. I..."
Suddenly, both Stark's and Roger's ID cards started beeping. Stark quickly had his in his hand and identified the caller. "Spider-Man? We were just talking about you. You did a great job with..."
"No time," Spider-Man interrupted. "Get here! Now!"
"Here?" Stark replied, raising a brow. "Where's here?"
"I dunno, track my card or something!" Spider-Man replied. "Just get here. And bring that ambulance driving girlfriend of Thor's or something. Someone shot Jennifer!"
"WHAT?" both Stark and Rogers yelled.
"Jennifer and I exchanged phone numbers," Spider-Man was explaining to Iron Man in the living room of Walters' brownstone. "So, yeah, she knows my secret identity. Big whoop. She's a lawyer. But as I was slinging home, she called me, screaming for me to get back here, where I dropped her off. I got back and this is how I found her."
"You were right to bring me along," Jane Foster, the ambulance driver of whom Spider-Man had referred, said as she examined the unconscious body on the floor. "She's lost blood. A lot of blood. I've stopped the bleeding, but we need to get her to a hospital. I just hope it's not already too late."
That caused Iron Man, Spider-Man, and the three other heroes present, Captain America, Wasp, and the Hulk, to pause. "What do you mean, not already too late?" Iron Man dared to ask.
"She got three bullet wounds," Foster explained. "Two of them entered her through the rib cage. It looks like they missed her vitals, though a surgeon's going to have to confirm that. But in the time it took us to get here, she lost a lot of blood. If she doesn't get a blood transfusion... and soon... she'll probably die."
"That won't happen," the Hulk huffed, scowling more deeply than usual. "Not on my watch."
"It's okay, soldier," Captain America said, placing a gentle hand on the green behemoth's arm. "We can get her to a hospital faster than anyone else in the city and she can get the transfusion there. She's going to live."
"The hospital won't get the right blood in time," the Hulk growled.
At that point, even Jane Foster had turned around to look at the green monster.
"Banner says that Jennifer has a special blood type," the Hulk continued. "Really rare. A local hospital probably won't even have it in stock."
"We can't just give up, Hulk!" Wasp admonished, flitting about anxiously. "There's gotta be someone we know who has Jennifer's blood type."
"There is," the Hulk replied gravely.
"Who?" Iron Man asked, almost afraid of the answer at that point.
With that, the Hulk closed his eyes, took a deep breath, and calmed himself down, allowing himself to shrink and transform into a more human-like visage. Once the transformation was complete, he opened his eyes again and looked at the others... as Bruce Banner.
"It's me," Banner replied. "I'm her cousin. And I have her blood type."
"This isn't going to end well," Iron Man breathed, careful not to let the statement slip outside of his helmet.
The room seemed shaky and blurry as Walters opened up her eyes. As her vision cleared, she saw that she was looking at a sterile-white ceiling. The ominous beeps of electronic equipment and the heavy trace of chemical smell made it all too clear she was in a hospital room. Then she noticed, from the corner of her eye, a young man sitting next to her bed.
"Peter?" Walters breathed softly. "Peter Parker?"
"I shouldn't have been the first person you noticed," Parker smiled, pointing to the other end of the room.
As Walters looked in that direction, she smiled brightly, if weakly, at what she saw.
"Bruce!" she whispered. She had wanted to scream it out in joy, but she felt so weak.
"You're a lucky woman, Jennifer," Banner smiled, walking over to the bed, sitting in a chair on the opposite side of the bed from Parker, and placing the clipboard he was holding on the bed. "The Hulk doesn't usually let me stay out this long. But he knows how much you mean to me."
"I love you, Bruce," Walters said, nearly sobbing it, as she reached a hand up. "I thought I was dead."
"You almost were," Banner said softly, taking Walters' hand in his own. "Spider-Man called us in quickly and we were able to get you back to the Avenger's Mansion. I was able to operate on you, with Black Panther's help. Stark Industries state of the art medical equipment, incorporating Wakandan advances. It was a joy to work with, though I wish it'd been under better circumstances."
"Yeah, Bruce really pulled triple-time saving you," Parker added. "I'm glad you're okay."
"Thank you," Walters smiled softly, looking from Banner to Parker. "Both of you."
"Hey, Peter," Banner said, looking up at the teenager. "You mind giving my cousin and I a few moments alone. I need to discuss something sensitive with her."
Parker nodded and stood up. "I'll talk to you later then, Jennifer?"
"I still have your number, Peter," Walters chuckled, wincing as the laughter shot mild doses of pain through her system. "You're not getting out of talking to me later even if you wanted to."
Parker smiled brightly and then turned to leave the room.
"You realize he's only 17, right?" Bruce admonished, smirking.
"What?" Walters gasped, wide-eyed. Then she calmed down. "Oh, well. He's gainfully employed as a web designer at one of the most prestigious newspapers in the city and fairly good looking. I think I can stand waiting six months. Is that the 'sensitive matter' you wanted to talk to me about?"
"Um, no, that was just an afterthought," Banner admitted, scratching his head. "No, I wanted to talk to you about the full extent of your medical treatment."
"Yeah, I took some nasty bullet hits," Walters said, tracing some fingers down her torso with her free hand. "Did you have to cut me open to get them out?"
Banner shook his head. "No. Thankfully, they all passed straight through. Tony found the bullets shortly after we found you. Let's just say that that old wall mirror that Aunt Elaine gave you needs to be replaced now."
"Oh, no... Mom..." Tears were welling up in Walters' eyes.
"I... I heard what Trask did to Aunt Elaine, Jenn," Banner said, squeezing Walters' hand reassuringly. "I'm going to keep you alive and you're going to take down that scum."
"It was Trask's men," Walters breathed, looking back up at Banner. "They were the ones that shot me."
"What?" Banner gasped. "Are you sure?"
"I'd opened up my window just before they shot me from their car," Walters replied. "I recognized them as men who served as Trask's bodyguards."
"Really?" Bruce blurted angrily. "He's putting hits out on you so soon after being put in jail? That tears it. You're staying here at the Avengers Mansion until the heat blows over."
"Is Stark going to be okay with that?" Walters asked quizzically. "It's his place, after all."
"I live here, too," Banner clarified. "And Tony will probably insist on it harder than I will, if that's even possible."
"Thank you so mu..."
Suddenly, Banner's ID card started beeping. As he pulled it out of his pocket, Captain America's voice rang out through the room.
"Avengers Assemble. The U-Foes are attacking the Liberty Science Center and the Fantastic Four are unavailable. We need to get down there, fast!"
"Did you need me to Hulk out, Steve?" Banner asked over his card.
"Nay, Friend Banner," came Thor's voice. "While the Hulk's strength and heroism are truly legendary, your own astonishing skills of medicine and science are most needed at your cousin's side right now. The U-Foes are but four in number. Verily, we shall thrash them soundly and return to the mansion swiftly."
"Yeah, what the big guy said," Iron Man's voice added. "Thor, Cap, Panther, Hawkeye, Ms. Marvel, you're with me. Spider-Man, Vision, Wasp, Yellowjacket, stay with the mansion in case any more calls come in."
"Woot! Monitor duty!" came Spider-Man's voice. "I'll get to finish my trig homework after all."
Walters couldn't help but smile at that one.
"Told you he was 17," Banner smirked.
Nicholas Trask sat in his cell, looking fine in his orange jumpsuit and twiddling his thumbs. With his first phone call, he'd given the coded message authorizing the hit on Jennifer Walters. He was now just waiting for a call from his lawyer giving him the coded message that the hit was a success and that the camcorder was recovered.
"I'm afraid your plan was a failure," a disembodied woman's voice purred.
Trask jumped to his feet and looked around. He glanced at the guard passing by, who just looked at Trask weirdly before moving on.
"No one can hear me but you, dear," the voice continued. "I'm afraid your boys didn't finish the job. They hit their mark, but Spider-Man got there before they could finish the job. The Avengers were able to save her. She lays in a medical room at their mansion as we speak."
"No!" Trask snapped, exasperated. "Wait! Who... who are you? How do you know all that? And why are you telling me all this?"
"Let's just say I have my own business with the Avengers," the voice replied. "And you, dear Nicholas, are the key to exacting my master's wishes."
"What about Walters," Trask stuttered, looking around him nervously. "She... she can put me away for life. Or worse."
"That, dear Nicholas, is already being taken care of," the voice soothed. "The most powerful members of the Avengers are already being distracted. The rest will fall easily soon enough. And Jennifer Walters will fall along with them."
"What... what do you need from me, then?" Trask asked, scared.
With that, a fiery nimbus exploded into being in front of Trask. It slowly convulsed until it took the shape of a woman. Within it, the beautiful visage of Amora the Enchantress formed.
"Why, your undying loyalty and service to my master, of course," the Enchantress said, grinning wickedly.
"So, you had to give me a blood transfusion?" Walters asked guardedly.
"I was the only one available who had your blood type, Jenn," Banner replied, hanging the clipboard on its hook in front of Walters' bed. "It was either that or I lose you."
"Bruce," Walters smiled softly, soothingly, at her cousin. "I love you. More than you will ever know. You are not a failure and neither is the Hulk. Whatever happens going forward, I know I'll have you and the Avengers to help me through it."
Banner nodded. "That you will certainly have, no doubt about it. And thank you, Jenn. Thank you for understanding."
"Thank you for saving my life, Bruce," Walters added. "I..."
Banner's ID card sounded off again.
"What's going on?" Banner asked into his card.
"Bruce, lock Jennifer and yourself in that medical room and do not come out!" the voice of Hank Pym, aka Yellowjacket, rang out. "The Lethal Legion is attacking the mansion. We need you two safe. Spider-Man, Vision, Jan, and I can handle the Legion."
"You sure you don't need the Hulk?" Banner asked carefully. He didn't like the idea of turning back into the Hulk while Jenn needed his help, but he also knew how angry the Hulk would be if he didn't ask.
"Actually, it's best if you stay with Jennifer," Yellowjacket replied. "We think they're after her. So if they do make it past us, they'll still have to get past the Hulk to touch her."
Banner knew that idea would make the Hulk happy.
"Okay, I'll stay with her then."
"The Lethal Legion?" Jennifer asked as Banner stowed away his ID card.
"A group of mercenary assassins led by the Grim Reaper," Banner answered. "Whoever sent them meant business. And I don't see Trask having the sort of clout to pull in guns likes the Grim Reaper."
Banner looked over and saw the scared look in Walters' eyes and cursed himself.
"Don't worry," Banner said softly, forcing a wry smile. "The Avengers have beaten them into a retreat several times already. Even with half of us gone, we'll still be able to handle them."
Walters nodded softly, taking a relieved breath.
That relieved look turned into terror as Walters felt a hand close around her throat.
Banner's blood ran cold as he saw the black silhouette-like figure phasing out of the wall behind Walters. "Deathurge!"
"This one's hour is not yet at hand," the villain hissed, picking Walter's up by the throat. "But her presence has been requested."
As Banner lunged forward, he gave in willingly to the anger, frustration, and fear coursing through his veins. His muscles expanded exponentially and shifted into an ichor green coloration. Banner knew he stood no chance against the mysterious Death's Agent style villain... the Hulk, on the other hand...
Deathurge's solid black, featureless face showed no emotion as the Hulk erupted ferociously in front of him. Instead, he calmly wrapped his arms around Walters and phased through the wall behind him.
A puny wall wouldn't stop the Hulk. Neither would the next one. Or the one after that. The Hulk intended to smash through every single wall until he got to Deathurge and got Walters back. Then that puny Deathurge would pay.
Deathurge simply and calmly fled backwards, phasing through wall after wall until he got outside. The Hulk erupted through that final wall right after Deathurge. But he was greeted by not only one, but two villains.
"Say g'night, Gracie," the villain Bullseye smirked as he began tossing darts at the Hulk like a precision acupuncturist plying his trade.
"Puny villain!" the Hulk roared, stomping forward towards Bullseye. "You think darts are going to stop me! Hulk is... Hulk is... strongest... of..."
The Hulk stumbled as he spoke, his vision becoming blurry. Just as the green behemoth reached Bullseye, his eyes rolled into the back of his head and the Hulk passed out on the ground. He quickly shrank back down into Banner.
"Scarlet jungleroot," Bullseye bragged. "A special herb found only in Wakanda. I used enough to take care of everyone in Harlem, which should be enough to help the Hulk take a nap long enough for us to get out of here."
"Then let us leave," Deathurge replied. "We do not know how long Grim Reaper, Black Talon, Goliath, Man-Ape, and Nekra can hold off four of the best Avengers."
"Right," Bullseye agreed, turning and following Deathurge into the Quinjet-like aircraft behind them.
As the aircraft lifted off, the Vision emerged through the wall of the mansion. The android watched impassively as the aircraft sped off at mach speed. Then he brought his ID card out.
"Iron Man? Captain America? This is Vision. The Avengers Mansion has just been attacked by the Lethal Legion. We were able to subdue the Legion, but it turned out to be yet another distraction. Unknown parties have just kidnapped Jennifer Walters and fled."
The Vision then lowered his card and watched as the distant aircraft quickly disappeared beyond the range of even his computerized sight.
Jennifer Walters slowly woke up. Unlike last time, she didn't feel lethargic or weak. Strangely enough, she felt better than she'd felt in years. She chanced a glance out of one eye and found herself in a dark, computer-laden room. And she was being held vertically in power shackles on a circular frame. She glanced down and noticed she wasn't in her hospital gown anymore. She was wearing a violet and white leotard under a pair of jeans and a jean jacket.
"Like the apparel, Ms. Walters?" a man's voice asked. "Unstable molecules fashioned to look like everyday clothes. Very functional."
"What?" Walters started, looking around. "Who? Who are you? What do you want?"
"Name's Shocker," the man replied, stepping out of the shadows to reveal a yellow-costumed masked man. "And I suggest not getting too excited, Ms. Walters. We're not in need of your... unique talents quite yet."
"So, you're the mastermind who got the U-Foes and the Lethal Legion to distract the Avengers while Deathurge and Bullseye kidnapped me?" Walters asked incredulously. She knew of Shocker. She followed the news like most others. He'd tangled with Spider-Man a few times... and usually lost.
Shocker laughed merrily. "I would love to claim that. But, alas, I am just the techno-genius of the group. You love your accomodations? My design."
"The... the group?" Walters asked, her heart sinking.
"Indeed," a feminine voice replied from the shadows. She stepped into view, with Deathurge to one side of her and Bullseye to the other.
"The Enchantress!" Walters gasped.
"You know of me?" the Enchantress asked in exagerated surprise. "I am so flattered."
Two more villains stepped into view as the Enchantress spoke. Walters recognized them as Moonstone and Melter.
"Ms. Walters," the Enchantress continued, motioning to the assembled villains. "These are my new Masters of Evil."
The Enchantress then turned to Walters and grinned wickedly.
"And you just joined them."
Tony Stark, aka Iron Man, tapped a pen on the Avengers meeting table nervously. He concentrated on the holographic screen in front of him as Steve Rogers, aka Captain America, spoke.
"We let our guard down on this, people," Rogers said, with no hint of malice in his voice. "But we're not going to let it happen again. We assumed that Trask was a simple crime boss. Clearly, his network of contacts reaches farther and is more powerful than we gave him credit for."
"Fortunately," the Vision added, "when the villain's air transport flew away, I was able to trace and analyze the vapor trail of their exhaust. I uploaded the data to JARVIS and Iron Man is using satellite imagery from the last 24 hours to trace the location of the transport's destination as we speak."
"Yeah, kinda focused at the moment," Stark mumbled as he reached up with one hand and flipped from on holographic image to the next with numbing speed.
"I can't believe we let ourselves get sucker-punched like that," Clint Barton, aka Hawkeye, snarled. "Seriously. I never would have thought that Trask was so important that at least eleven villains would coordinate to take care of the lawyer handling the case against him."
"I believe we have been played for fools on more than one level," Black Panther ventured. He had been silent through most of the meeting, so his deep yet gentle African voice caught everyone in the room off guard.
"How so?" Rogers asked. He had come to trust the counsel of the wise Wakandan sovereign known as T'challa by his people.
"If it were simply an exercise of eliminating the legal threat against Trask," Black Panther continued, "would they have not simply sent one or two assassins in to kill Ms. Walters and ensure her death? Instead, they amassed a significant dual-pronged distraction, sacrificing the freedom of two rather competent villain teams to extract Ms. Walters from the Avengers Mansion."
"That doesn't make any sense," Carol Danvers, aka Ms. Marvel, replied. "What sort of value would Jennifer hold that would make the imprisonment of nine supervillains worth the while?"
"My belief," T'challa answered, "is that the person coordinating these attacks knew of... or worse yet... had specifically planned on the eventuality of Banner giving Ms. Walters that blood transfusion."
"How is Banner doing, T'challa?" Rogers asked. "He didn't look good at all when we got back."
"Scarlet jungleroot is no playtoy, of that one can be certain," Black Panther agreed. "Fortunately, it is found only in Wakanda and I was able to identify the symptoms. Adminstering the antidote was a fairly simple if critical ordeal. I have Spider-Man observing Banner now, but he appears to making a remarkably good recovery, thanks to his gamma-enhanced metabolism."
"Wait," Janet van Dyne, aka Wasp, interjected. "I mean, it's great that Banner is alive. I sure don't want him to die. But back to Jennifer. You think someone kidnapped her because... because you think they want her to Hulk out?"
"Indeed," Black Panther replied. "A gamma enhanced individual with power along the lines of the Hulk or the Abomination would easily be more valuable to a criminal mastermind than all nine of the captured villains combined. And if behavioral blocks could be put into place before her first transformation..."
"Oh, no!" Wasp gasped.
"Trask can't possibly have the resources to frame nine supervillains so two other supervillains can kidnap a potential city-leveling powerhouse, can he?" Danvers asked incredulously.
"Of that I cannot be sure," Black Panther admitted.
"So, basically, we have to move fast," Hawkeye said, clearly exasperated, "or we'll find ourselves fighting yet another Hulk who is definitely the puppet of some criminal crackpot. As if the Red Hulk wasn't enough."
"That's the plan, then," Captain America affirmed, leaning on the meating table and looking at the other Avengers. "We need to find where they took Walters and get her back. Tony?"
"Just finished, despite all of your babbling," Stark replied, expanding the holographic screen he was looking at so that everyone else in the room could see it. "There is an abandoned Air Force base in the southern Appalachian Mountains. It looks like Jennifer was taken there."
"Then we move out now, people," Rogers concurred. "Let's get down to the Quinjet."
"I'm coming, too," came a voice from the doorway.
Everyone turned to see Bruce Banner standing at the doorway, leaning slightly on Spider-Man as they stepped into the room.
"I'm sorry," Spider-Man spoke quickly. "I tried to keep him in his bed. But he really really wanted to talk to you guys."
"Bruce," Stark replied sympathetically. "I don't think that's a good idea. That root-whatever-it-is hit you pretty hard. You should be recovering."
"I know, Tony," Banner said, looking at the other man straight in the eyes. "But this is my cousin. She's the only family I have left, besides her father. I have a responsibility to protect her."
Rogers folded his arms and looked at Iron Man. "I can't argue with that logic."
Stark sighed. "Neither can I. Let's get down to the Quinjet. We've got a new unstable molecule outfit ready for you down there, anyway."
As the rest of the Avengers walked past, Thor took over helping Banner along. As Captain America walked to the door, Spider-Man stepped in beside him.
"Hey, Cap?" Spider-Man asked as they walked along. "Can... can I tag along? I mean, I know I'm just a reserve member and all. But... but I kinda feel responsible for all of this. I helped Jennifer tick off Trask and then wasn't there for her either when she got shot or when she got kidnapped. I need to make that all up to her... somehow."
Rogers stopped and turned to look at Spider-Man softly, placing a reassuring hand on the teenage hero's shoulder. "Son, you're taking too much of the blame. You can't be everywhere at once nor can you think of every eventuality. Even the Leader, one of the Hulk's enemies who claims to be even smarter than Mr. Fantastic or Doctor Doom, didn't anticipate how the Hulk was able to defeat him. Spider-Man, everything you've done so far for the team has been above and beyond. No one blames you for what's happened to Ms. Walters. So don't blame yourself. Okay?"
"Oh," Spider-Man nodded, disappointed. "Okay. I'll try not to. Well, you guys be safe. And get a few licks in for me, okay?"
Captain America smirked. "Who said you were staying behind, soldier? I'm just telling you to not blame yourself."
"Oh," Spider-Man nodded again. Then his brain caught up with what Roger just said. "OH!"
"I don't know how well the Hulk is going to like this, but it feels kinda good having a full set of clothes that I know I'm not going to rip to shreds when the Hulk comes out," Banner smiled, sitting in his seat and playing with the sleeve of his new outfit.
"Unstable molecule clothes don't come cheap, but they're real useful," Stark agreed. "Carol, what's our ETA?"
"We're ten minutes away," Ms. Marvel, who was piloting the Quinjet, replied. "So I suggest everyone get ready for action."
"I'm ready when everyone else is," Spider-Man said, crouched on the ceiling of the Quinjet.
"Shouldn't you be strapped in, Spidey?" Wasp asked, concerned.
"Proportional strength of a spider and wallcrawling grip?" Hawkeye laughed. "He'll be okay. Don't worry, Jan."
"Besides," Spider-Man added. "If I do somehow lose my grip, I'll just deploy my Asgardian airbag right there."
"Indeed," Thor laughed. He was standing behind Ms. Marvel and her co-pilot, Black Panther. "My Asgardian girth and strength would be enough to safeguard all of you, my allies, I..."
"Incoming!" Ms. Marvel yelled.
Out of nowhere, a giant electrical blast struck the Quinjet, blowing it apart in a fiery explosion. As the dust of the explosion cleared, Iron Man was in the forefront of the team, a arc reactor force field surrounding the Avengers. Captain American had his arms around Iron Man's shoulders. Ms. Marvel held Bruce Banner while the Vision had a hold of Black Panther. Wasp was carrying a shrank Yellowjacket. Thor floated in the center of it all, holding Hawkeye while Spider-Man sat crouched on Thor's shoulders.
"What was that?" Wasp asked.
"JARVIS," Iron Man snapped, looking around. "Lock onto the energy signature of that blast and give me an origin point."
The Avengers quickly scattered as another electrical blast attempted to take them out. Iron Man's sensors then zeroed in on the source of the blast.
"Sir," JARVIS's voice stated. "There appears to be a battery of ion cannons on the ground below from here to the Air Force base. The design of the cannons bear a similarity to the past weapon designs of one Herman Schultz."
"Shocker?" Spider-Man cried, riding along on the shoulders of Thor. "Great. Just great. Apparently, I'm bringing my rogue's gallery with me along with my skills and powers."
"You're an Avenger now, Spider-Man," Captain America reminded him. "Anyone who targets you targets all of us. And we respond in kind."
"Which means I might actually get my lifelong wish of dancing a few rounds with Doctor Octopus," Hawkeye quipped.
"You're more than welcome," Spider-Man joked. "Just make sure you lead the dance to the left. Doc Ock tends to favor his right tentacles."
"Focus, people," Iron Man snapped, dodging another electrical blast. "We need to neutralize those cannons."
"Drop me," Banner told Ms. Marvel.
"What?" Danvers shouted. "At this height?"
"Just aim me for the first cannon," Banner responded sternly.
"Why would I... OH!" Ms. Marvel said as she finally realized what Banner was doing. At that, she spun Banner around, got some momentum, and flung the frail scientist at the first ion cannon.
"I just hope the scarlet jungleroot has worn off," Black Panther breathed.
Banner crashed into the first ion cannon and was rewarded with a huge explosion. The rest of the Avengers watched with bated breath as the explosion hit its crescendo.
"Oh, no. Bruce," Ms. Marvel breathed. "What have I done?"
As if to answer Danver's question, a horrendous roar rang out across the mountaintop. The Hulk leapt out of the settling dust of the explosion and crashed into the second ion cannon with even greater devastation.
"Hulk's cutting us a path," Captain America said. "Thor, can you do a sweep and make sure there're no cannons topside."
"I'll take your load," Ms. Marvel said, flying up to the Asgardian.
"Take Hawkeye," Spider-Man said, leaping off of Thor's shoulders as the Thunder Prince handed Hawkey to Ms. Marvel. "I'm going to websling on after Hulk."
"Be careful, son," Captain America responded. "I know you can dodge the cannon blasts. But we don't know what Hulk is going to find at the other end yet."
"Right," Spider-Man agreed. "Follow Hulk, dodge some blasts along the way, and try to sell vacuum cleaners to the flunkies Hulk doesn't thrash. On it."
With that, Spider-Man swung down and across after the Hulk while Thor flew off to start attacking higher-placed cannons.
"Let's move, people," Captain America yelled. "A young woman needs saving. And if Panther's right, the world along with it."
"Apparently, that Walters woman is serious business," Melter said, watching from inside the Air Force bas as the Avengers closed in. "The Avengers came out here in full force."
"We just have to give the Enchantress the time she needs to do what she needs to do on the inside," Shocker explained, lowering the binoculars from his eyes.
"How?" Moonstone asked angrily. She pointed out into the cannon field. "I mean, seriously, how? There's only five of us and there's eleven of them! Two of them are the Hulk and Thor. On top of that, most of us are inventors, skulkers, and snipers. Deathurge and I are the only ones who can hold their own in a stand-up one-on-one fight. How are we supposed to buy the Enchantress time?"
Shocker simply looked at Moonstone. The venom in his masked glare was palpable.
"Please," came the bemused response from Bullseye. "Just give me a vantage point and sixty seconds. I'll have the entire team down."
"Besides," Shocker growled, "we're not doing it alone."
Shocker then crossed the room and opened the large double doors there. As he stepped aside, a legion of fire demons began pouring out of the room beyond.
Melter, Bullseye, Moonstone, and Deathurge watched in fascination as the swarm of fire demons flew past them and into the courtyard beyond.
"Oh," Moonstone breathed. "I stand corrected."
Deeper within the base, Amora the Enchantress strode up to a large reinforced steel door. Jennifer Walters stepped up beside the villain.
"This is it," the Enchantress explained. "Beyond these doors, my dear, is the object that my master desires. And you're going to open the doors for me."
"What?" Walters asked, looking at the Enchantress quizzically. "Seriously? How am I supposed to do that? You think I have superpowers?"
"Oh, I know you do, my dear," the Enchantress replied, holding up a device not dissimilar from a television remote. "I made sure that your darling cousin gave them to you."
"What?" Walters gasped.
Before Walters could say anything more, the Enchantress aimed the device at Walters and pressed a button. Walters screamed in abject pain, falling to her knees while holding the back of her head.
"That's it, my dear," the Enchantress laughed. "Feel the pain. Let it scare you, anger you. Give in to the rush of adrenaline. Let it consume you."
As Walters tried to fight off the pain, the frustration and fear began to overwhelm her. She started to panic further as her skin began to turn green and her muscles began to develop and become more visibly toned. She grew almost a foot taller before she felt the transformation complete.
As Walters stood up, the unstable molecule outfit having resized itself to fit her new taller, more muscular physique, the Enchantress looked her over appraisingly.
"My, my, my," the Enchantress smiled. "Aren't you absolutely gorgeous, my beautiful She-Hulk."
"Okay, so I'm a Hulk now, too," Walters growled. "But I'm still possessed of Jennifer Walters' mind. So what makes you think I'm going to do what you want me to do, instead of punching your face across the country."
"Oh, Shocker's little invention has that little problem covered, as well," the Enchantress purred. She aimed the remote at Walters again and pressing another button.
Walters had started to step forward, fists raised, to attack the Enchantress. Suddenly, she stopped and righted herself into a neutral standing position. Her eyes glazed over as an emotionless expression settled over her face.
"You see," the Enchantress laughed. "I have my ways of getting even women to do my bidding. Now, would you be a darling, my She-Hulk, and take down that door over there?"
"Yes, mistress," Walters replied absently.
Walters turned and dug her fingers into the door. She pulled mightily at the door. Slowly, ever so slowly, the door began to budge, creak, and bulge. Finally, with one great heave from Walters, the door gave completely. Walters tossed it casually to one side as the Enchantress stepped towards the now open doorway.
"Yes, it is here," the Enchantress beamed excitedly. "Just like my master said."
The Hulk stalked angrily up to the door of the Air Force base. He held an ion cannon in his hands. With a mighty roar, he ripped the cannon in half and then threw the pieces to either side of him.
Spider-Man swung in and landed next to the Hulk.
"Bad cannon! Bad!" Spider-Man admonished the now completely demolished pieces of the cannon. "You should know better than to fire your blasts at the big, angry Hulk."
"Jennifer is in there," the Hulk growled, looking at the door.
"Right," Spider-Man agreed. "We'll get in there, bust up some baddies, rescue Jennifer, and she'll be safe. I... I owe her that much."
"Banner doesn't want you dating her," the Hulk rumbled, still looking at the door.
Spider-Man paused, looking incredulously at the Hulk. "What? Why would Bruce even...?"
"You're too young," the Hulk said, continuing to look at the door.
"Wait a minute. Too young? What business do you have even...?"
The Hulk turned to look at Spider-Man, scowling.
"Right!" Spider-Man corrected himself. "Gotcha. Play nice with Big, Green, and Angry. Save Jennifer now. Talk with Bruce later."
"First, we get inside," the Hulk added.
"Easy enough," Spider-Man said, looking at the metal wall surrounding the base. "I can wallcrawl over the wall. You can jump over it. Let's..."
Before Spider-Man could say anything further, the Hulk screamed a gargantuan, primal roar, coupled up his fists, and slammed them into the doors. The large metal doors fell forward onto the ground, kicking up a huge cloud of dust.
"Or... we could just walk in through the front door like this," Spider-Man concurred.
The Hulk looked at Spider-Man again. "Banner really doesn't want you dating Jennifer."
"Riiiiiiiiight," Spider-Man said. "Message received. Loud and clear."
As the dust settled, the view into the base courtyard began to clear. Spider-Man's heart sank as he saw the forms of dozens of fire demons standing there looking at the heroes.
"Aw, man," Spider-Man moaned. "And me without my hot dogs and marshmallows."
The Hulk roared and charged into the fray.
Thor flew down and met with the other Avengers. They had followed the Hulk's rampage and were a few minutes out from the base.
"I have destroyed the last of the outlying cannons, Iron Man," Thor reported. "Our path to battle has been cleared."
"Good," Iron Man replied, retracting his faceguard as he stared across the field into the base. "Because I think the Hulk just picked a fight with an army of little fire men from Mars."
"What?" Thor exclaimed, spinning around to look across at the base as well. "No. Those are fire demons. Minions of Surtur, the Fire Demon."
"I take it this fire demon guy is bad news, from the way you're reacting," Hawkeye said, looking at Thor.
"Aye," Thor replied breathlessly. "Far worse news than imaginable. Surtur the Fire Demon is Evil and Destruction personified. He wants nothing less than Ragnarok itself."
"Ragnarok?" Iron Man asked, turning to look at Thor. "Isn't that the Asgardian version of...?"
"The end of the world, aye," Thor finsihed, still in shock. "And if these fire demons see fit to stand vigilant against us here, then Amora is here as well!"
With that, Thor spun Mjolnir and hurtled himself into the sky towards the base.
"Well, there goes Thor," Iron Man sighed. "Anyone else want to go off half-cocked?"
"Don't worry, Tony," Captain America said. "Spider-Man is with Hulk. Both Hulk and Thor can handle their own. The rest of us need a plan, though."
"How about lie down and die?" came a voice above them.
The remaining Avengers primed their weapons and looked up. Above them, on a small flying platform, was five villains. Flying around them were a contingent of fire demons.
"Shocker, Melter, Bullseye, Moonstone, and Deathurge," said Iron Man, identifying each villain in turn. "I don't suppose you don't mind spilling the details of your master plan before you defeat us?"
Shocker laughed. "No, Stark. How about we don't tell you and you don't find out. Fire demons! Masters of Evil! Attack!"
"Wait, you're the Masters of Evil?" Captain America exclaimed. "Then where is Baron Zemo!"
Shocker only laughed as he and the other Masters of Evil leapt from the flying platform, followed by the fire demons.
[[TO BE CONTINUED]]