(A/n)

"... Jade?"

Bruce Banner steps out from behind the curtain and lightly pokes the limp form of Jade Bottle. "Uh... Jade, are you ok?"

There is no response and the good doctor begins to blush as he looks out at the audience. "Ah.. sorry folks... It seems having over 89,000 hits in two weeks has knocked her senseless." He reaches down and places his hands under her arms. He lifts her and starts to drag her off stage. "Hmph! Ah... Hello to the new readers! On behalf of the author, thank you very much! Especially to her favorite, recurring reviewers." He glances down at the unconscious woman and shakes his head in bemusement.

"I hope you enjoy the next chapter," he says before dragging Jade backstage.


My life before you
I was a flame burning down
I was burning out...

But you knew me better
For you there was never a doubt...

That spark, that shot to the heart,
You are the hope that leads me out of the dark...

You put this light in me...

~ Brandon Heath

-0-

Chapter 39: A Portal to Another World

A portal to another world was not something Bruce Banner had ever thought possible. Plausible? Yes, but not possible. Yet, considering the life he had lived so far and the people he had met, the plausible was quickly becoming possible...

-o-

Ana was saying farewell to her mother and her aunt, the look in her eyes could best be described as heartbreaking. She was leaving the only family she knew to chase after an unknown past, a past that belonged to the inhuman part of herself. There were no guarantee that she would find the answers she sought but it was a step in the right direction to better understanding the part of her that was all feral. To find the why behind the how and what.

Sido was trying her best not to cry as she hugged Ana closely and tightly. "Promise me you will be safe," she whispered against Ana's curls, her hold tightening around her only daughter. The unspoken words could be felt in the familial link between them.

Please don't forget us... Please come back...

Ana quickly shook her head, returning her mother's fierce hold. "I'll be fine. We won't be gone long Mama. We'll be back before you know it..."

Bruce was watching his woman as she held onto her mother and then her aunt. He took in a breath as he turned to glance out the patio windows to catch sight of Thor standing out on the balcony, staring up at the skies above, looking deep in thought. A muscle twitched in his jaw as he felt a fist bump up against his bicep. He turned to look at Tony, who had stopped beside him, his gaze on Ana.

"All set for the trip?" asked Tony, the look on his face was of nonchalance but Bruce knew the playboy well enough. He was upset at the thought of two of them leaving. He had folded his arms across his chest and the look in his hazel eyes was distant. He glanced at Bruce, giving him a once over, before quickly looking away. "You aren't bringing anything with you?"

Bruce kept his gaze on his closest friend, his own soft brown gaze reflecting the usual nervousness he felt when facing the unknown. It had been absent from his gaze since taking up residence at Stark Tower. Now, he was resembling the man who had been on the Helicarrier. "Thor said that they'll have all we need at Asgard. It'll be easier to travel through the portal with little as possible to drag us down."

Tony gave a huff in response but said nothing else. They stood that way for some time before the playboy finally turned his gaze slightly toward the good doctor, not quite looking at him. "You two better come back soon. We have a lot of projects in the works and I need you hear for advice."

Bruce smiled at this as he looked at his fellow "science brother," as Ana affectionately referred them as, and gave a nod. "Don't worry. We'll be back before you know it."

Tony cleared his throat, glancing sideways at the good doctor, before giving a quick, jerky nod and slapping a hand on Bruce's back. "Good," he said then turned around and walked off without another word, heading to his office. Bruce simply stared after him, the smile remaining on his lips.

"Bruce?"

He felt a hand on his shoulder and turned slightly to find Betty smiling up at him, her big blue eyes filled with tears. She glanced over at Ana before looking back to him, her gaze filled with unsaid words. "So, this is goodbye again..."

"No," said Bruce, turning to face her properly and pulling her into a tight hug. "This time... This time it's a 'see you real soon.'" He heard Betty's tearful laugh and he smiled, tightening his hold on her as she returned his embrace. "Thank you for coming to find me Betty..."

"Always for you Bruce," said Betty as she pulled away and looked up at him. "I left my contact info with Tony and Pepper so when you and Ana come back, you can reach me when you need to."

Bruce's face fell slightly at these words. "You're leaving?"

Betty nodded as she took a step back, putting a comfortable distance between them. "I have to head back to Culver, I... just have a lot to catch up on."

He caught the hesitant tones in her voice and he knew it was for other reasons that she was leaving. He gave a single nod in understanding as he glanced over at Ana, who was now saying goodbye to Pepper. Three was a crowd after all and despite how supportive and accepting Betty was, she was still feeling hurt. It was a hard thing to get rid of such a love in over a year. Bruce still loved Betty in a way, he would always love her, just not the way he had before.

Meeting Ana had not changed that fact alone. It was his self isolation that had changed it, his acceptance of a lonely, cursed life because of what he had become and what he had dealt with. His feelings for Betty were something that he accepted as something of the past, a wonderful memory but not anything he could renew with the life he had now. He had hurt her terribly once before, he could not do it again to some one else...

When he had met Ana, it was as if he had been slapped awake from the slump that had been a part of his daily routine for so long. Her presence had brought his spirits up, brought that needed calm, and the fear that had been there at first was obliterated the very moment they had become intimate. Here was his second chance. His chance of not being alone...

Now Betty was the one alone, cursed with her own feelings and longing for the memory of what had been. He didn't argue with her, he understood better than she knew. "I'll be sure to call you the moment we get back," was all he said.

Betty smiled, the tears in her eyes now falling as she studied his features, looking as if she were taking one last memory of him. In this moment in time, with the unspoken understanding between them, they were simply Bruce and Betty, as they had been once upon a time...

Clearing her throat, she looked away, breaking the intimate moment and glanced over to Ana. The other woman was watching them, had been from the moment Bruce had hugged Betty, but Betty did not see anger or jealousy within Ana's brown eyes. She saw sympathy and understanding and Ana had simply smiled at her, giving a nod as if to say, I know... It's all right...

Betty smiled in return, grateful once again that Bruce was with someone who he never had to fear of hurting and who would take care of him. She quickly closed her eyes and sniffed, suddenly eager to get away and get back to the dullness of her life before. However, she knew there was no truly going back. She would just be as she had been for the past year and a half, simply existing...

She smiled at Bruce, reaching out to brush that stubborn lock of brown hair that always fell over the left side of his brow. She whispered a tearful goodbye before turning and leaving Tony's personal apartments altogether. Everyone watched her go and everyone understood her reason for why.

Bruce watched Betty disappear into the elevator, his heart giving a guilty twinge. He looked around to Ana, his heart aching slightly as he saw the sad smile on his woman's lips, the understanding, and the love. The love that filled his own heart at the sight of this was not from him alone, the Other Guy was echoing his thoughts.

Mine... Always...

He watched as his woman quickly excused herself from Pepper's company and made her way quickly over to him. She was by his side in an instant and the feel of her warm hand in his quickly amplified the love his heart. Regardless of the past, this moment was here and now with Ana and Cin, who he- and the Other Guy- loved dearly.

"Are you sure you want to do this, mon amant?" asked Ana, her brown eyes studying him with worry. "We can stay Bruce... Just tell me and we will forget this whole thing."

"I'm fine," said Bruce, his hold tightening on her hand as he leaned in to press a firm kiss against her lips. "Let's go find Cin's past..."

-o-

The swirling vortex of clouds, thunder, and light that swirled above Stark Tower was quite a show. Thor, Bruce and Ana were waiting at the end of the long, runway, platform that Tony normally used to take off as Iron Man. The rest of the group was watching from the large balcony, their breaths bated as Thor raised his hammer to the sky.

"Heimdall! We are ready!"

A bolt of white lightning struck down from the vortex and connected with Thor's hammer. An array of sparking electricity filled the air and surround the small group in a barrier that jolted in a haphazard sphere. Ana drew close to Bruce in both comfort and fear, his arms already wrapping around her tightly. The only ones in the group who knew of how it felt to go through a portal was Thor and Cin, and at the moment Ana did not have access to those memories to know the proper way of moving through a wild vortex. The moment they were shot up into the air, the fear, the tension and the emotional turmoil she felt all at once was what would be the trigger to the chaos that would wait at the other end. However, at this time, they were nothing more than a sphere of light that shot straight up toward the swirling vortex of clouds, disappearing from sight.

Sido continued to stare up at the sky long after the swirling clouds had disappeared, the ache in her heart refusing to leave. She took in a shuddering breath, the fact that this was the first time in near fourteen years that she had let her daughter go was something she had never experienced before. Ana had always been with her and now...

"It will be fine Sido," said Jenn, who had walked up silently behind her and placed a cool metal hand against her sister's pale cheek. "She will be home before you know it. It is only natural for children to leave the nest."

Sido glanced at her younger sister, her blue and silver suit shining beneath the light of the sun that now shown. "I know, ma soeur. It does not stop the hurt though..."

Jenn gave a nod and simply reached out to wrap a metal arm around her older sister's shoulder...

-o-

The ride through the portal was a flash of colors, flashing sights of distant galaxies, and a rush of powerful winds. Bruce held tightly onto Ana the moment he felt her tension rise from the take off. He had closed his eyes against the sight of their dizzying surroundings and hoped that the ride would soon be over. They were moving at such a force, Bruce was worried in spite of the protective barrier that surrounded them. The moment he felt Ana twitch in his arms, heard her soft groan as if in pain and then her sudden stillness, his worry turned quickly to panicked fear and then fierce, protective anger.

Thor had not noticed the sudden change going on behind him, he was concentrating on maintaining the protective barrier around him and his guests. He could withstand the force of the portal but humans were more fragile and with these two, who had the ability of changing at any mere threat, needed more protection just to keep them calm.

They had landed on a broken bridge of light that led toward a vast city of staggering towers and spiraling buildings that floated amidst thick clouds and sharp cliff faces above a wavering sea. The sea fell over the edge of wherever this realm was, a hint to the strangeness of the new world they were in. Up above and down below, where the sea ended, the universe seemed to begin and have no end.

Thor had braced himself for the landing and it merely jarred his bones. He took in a breath of the familiar Asgardian air as he stood up to his full height. He was greeted by the sight of not only his father, Odin and mother, Frigga, but also of his closest friends and brothers/sister in arms. They had stood behind the rather tall and stoic form of Heimdall, his gold armor gleaming beneath the sunlight of their realm. His sword was powered by that of Odin's lightning, the power giving the guardian the ability locate and open the wild portal that every so often connected between Asgard and Midgard.

Thor gave a broad smile in greeting at the sight of his parents, he had not been expecting them to be there to greet him. "Father! Mother!"

He would have gone to embrace them if the sudden tense form of his father and his comrades did not alert him to the fact that something was very wrong. It wasn't until he sensed a familiar large presence behind him that he finally turned around. He nearly groaned at the sight of the large, green form of the Hulk looming over the limp form of Ana in his huge hands. He was growling in a threatening way, glaring at the strangers and pulling Ana close against his chest.

Volstagg, one of the Warriors Three, took his weapon to arm as he stared at the Hulk, his wide girth made more threatening with the thick muscles that made up his arms, though he could not compare to the nine foot frame of the Hulk's mass. His auburn hair stirred in the rising breeze of the sea around them as he tightened his hold on his weapon. "Thor, step away! There is creature behind you!" He rushed forward from his place among the group in his earnest to protect his comrade from the hulking thing that had hitched a ride with the heir of Asgard.

What he had not expected was for Thor's Hammer to block his attack and for the heir himself to stand between him and the green creature. "Are you mad Thor?" he shouted, nearly wincing at the sound of the huge roar that emitted from the Hulk. "Why are you protecting this monster? He means to attack!"

"You mean to harm!" shouted Thor back in return, his blue eyes growing fierce. "That is the mate of the daughter of Lytta. If you attempt in any way to harm him, she will be most displeased." He took in a breath, still struggling against the force of his friend's determination to get past him to the Hulk. "My father had wanted her to join us here. She would not unless her mate was here with her. I owe her a life debt... That is why he is here." The struggling continued a moment more and Thor shook his head slowly. "Please my friend, they are my allies. They mean us no harm unless we mean to harm them in return..."

"Volstagg," called out a woman's voice, the sound of it regal and full of prestige and power. Everyone glanced back at the sound of it, the voice coming from the Queen of Asgard herself. She was a tall, graceful woman cloaked in a dress of white and gray. Her blonde locks were piled high atop her head in a cascade of curls. Frigga had stepped away from her husband's side, having caught sight of the unconscious woman within the Hulk's arms. "Stand down."

"M-my Queen," said Volstagg in slight protest but at the sight of her walking toward them, he immediately halted his attempts at getting to the green creature. He moved away from Thor and bowed in courtesy to his liege queen. She nodded in return before she turned to her son and reached out to gently brush her fingers against his bearded cheek. She smiled at him, the look in her eyes asking him to trust her. Thor understood and nodded before moving away to let his mother pass.

The Queen proceeded toward the Hulk, whose grumbles of warning could be heard. She stood before him, looking up at the great creature, before glancing down the human woman within his arms. "Welcome Green One," she said with a smile. "Please forgive our warrior for his rude greeting." She took in breath and gestured toward the other woman. "He is not well-known for his manners. I do hope you can forgive us." She glanced up at him, studying his fierce green eyes, before looking back down at the unconscious woman. "Your mate seems unwell. If I may, would you permit me to look at her?"

The Hulk studied the Queen with an appraising look before he grunted and very gently held out his mate for the Queen to look at. "A...na..." was all he said as he looked at his woman, the gaze in his eyes filled with love.

Queen Frigga was nearly breathless at the sight of such raw emotion on display and she couldn't help but smile at him. No matter the fierceness this creature may project, to have such love for another meant more to her. "That is her name? Ana?"

The Hulk grunted but said nothing else as the Queen leaned over and placed a hand upon Ana's forehead and another hovering over her breast. Her hand above Ana's heart moved slightly down as she concentrated, her eyes growing distant, before it stopped right above Ana's lower abdomen. Frigga's eyes snapped into focus and she stared at her hand above the woman's lower ab. She looked at Ana and then up at the Hulk. "Would you mind if we take her to our healing chambers? She needs attention after enduring such a trip. Her fainting spell is not uncommon for such a journey. She will be just fine once she rests."

The Hulk, studying the Queen again, grumbled as he looked down at his mate. He leaned down to rub his forehead gently across hers before holding her out further toward the Queen. A gesture that Frigga took as consent. She smiled in relief and quickly called upon Sif, the single female warrior among the group, to take the daughter of Lytta from her mate's hands and to be very gentle. The Hulk did not seem to mind if another female were near his mate.

Sif complied, moving forward quickly and bowing her head in respect to the mate of the Lyttan, before carefully taking her from his large hands. The Hulk stared at the strange female who took his woman away before he went to follow, not wanting to lose sight of her. The other warriors stood aside to let the beast past, knowing it better to just let him go.

Thor stared after them as they walked the bride of light toward the city. After moment, he looked at his mother and frowned lightly in confusion. "Mother, is the Red Lady all right? She had seemed alright before we traveled here. I had made certain the barrier was strong."

"It was the stress," said Frigga in return as she looked at her son. "It happens to those who are with child. That is why it is unwise to make such a journey in such a state. I suppose you did not know if you took such a risk."

Thor nearly paled at those words and shook his head, looking as if he had not heard correctly. "Wh-what?"

That confirmed Frigga's thoughts and reached out to brush his long, golden hair from his brow. "I suspect they do not either or else they would not have dared to make such a trip. Do not breathe a word to them. I will speak with Lytta's daughter myself." She leaned in to kiss her son's cheek, "Welcome home my darling," she said, before she walked toward her husband to place a gentle kiss upon his cheek, and then proceeded back toward the city.

The Asgardian men were simply left on that broken bridge of light, unsure of just what had transpired or how to even react.