Shadows of a good doctor's past

Rated M because of violence and I'm paranoid. There will be Tony/Bruce at the end so if that bothers you-oh well.

I do not own Avengers or Marvel but I love whoever does.

Leave comments at the end to let me know how you felt. For now this is just one chapter but I could be convinced to make more chapters if I get enough love/favorite/reviews/follows. I kind of like it as a one shot though.


Trapped.

Well, in a manner of speaking.

The six members that made up the Avengers all found themselves paralyzed in a most literal and unsettling sense, an invisible force making them completely unable to move any of their limbs. They were frozen smack dab in the middle of some immense black, black room that was completely without any markings on the walls. No doors, no windows, no anything. And the worst part was none of them had a clue where they were or how they'd gotten there.

"Stark, I swear if this is your fault-" Natasha began to threaten, because she hated being trapped the most. Black Widow didn't get trapped, not really, she just pretended to be. But at that very moment, unable to move, she felt very trapped and she didn't like it one bit.

"Hey!" Tony squawked indignantly, "How can this be my fault? I don't know where we are either and incase you haven't noticed I can't move either!"

"It usually is your fault though." Steve stated, almost innocently, though the slight blame in his voice didn't go unnoticed.

"Hey! That's not fair! It's not my fault I'm so popular. I'm loveable. People just want to get closer to me."

"By shooting at you?" Clint quipped.

"They shoot because they're unfriendly." Tony whined with an added pout, "Not my fault they don't know me yet."

Bruce sighed from where he was frozen, really feeling the need to rub at the bridge of his nose. Of all the people to be frozen with...

"Friends?" Thor spoke, looking rather confused, "Why do we all congregate here?"

"Wish I could tell ya Point Break." Tony said airily, "But none of us know what we're doing here-or really where here is? My guess is it's a dream-Natasha's maybe. Because this just seems like something she'd dream about with her limited imagination. Definitely not mine."

"If only Tony's mouth was frozen also." Natasha deadpanned.

"Hey!"

"No, Tony's right. This must be a dream." Steve said, shocking everyone by agreeing. "I remember falling asleep tonight."

"Aren't you supposed to wake up when you realize it's a dream?" Clint pointed out.

"I remember falling asleep too." Bruce spoke up.

They all did once they thought about it...

"Well..." Tony drawled, "I've got nothing."

"Feels too real." Natasha said after a few moments of silence. Dreams never felt like this before.

"That is because, mortals, it is real." a voice broke into their conversation from before them.

Loki appeared like smoke forming before them, a tall blonde dressed scantily in all white at his side, eyes as blue as ice.

"Loki." Steve growled, all Captain America now. His voice hardened and even without moving his aura shifted instantly to that of their leader.

"The man out of time." Loki leered with his insane smile.

"Brother!" Thor's voice boomed, "What is the means of this?!"

A dry, demented chuckle. "Dear Brother, I missed you. How great it is that in one's mind physical strength does you no good."

"Excuse me," Tony instated, "We're where? In whose mind?"

"I'm not foolish enough to recite how I did this," Loki took a few steps closer to the Avengers, flicking Thor in the nose with a wild look in his eyes, "But I will tell you what you're about to endure.

"Over the last few weeks I've been shifting through your memories. I probably know you all better than you know yourself. You all have such dark pasts it's a wonder you function together." Loki relished in the shocked expressions on all their faces before he continued, "I would test your metal.

"It will be the most torturous thing you'll ever endure, and when it is done, your team bond will shatter to glorious crumbles. The Avengers will be destroyed from the inside.

"I'm going to trap your collective consciousness into the mind of the most lurid, tortured member of the Avengers as you relive their most painful moments."

All of the Avengers looked to Natasha.

"No offense, 'Tasha, but I really don't want to know what goes on in that dyed-red head of yours." The others silently agreed.

Loki's smile grew into a twisted grin, "But man of iron, I spoke not of her."

Loki took slow deliberate steps towards the self-effacing scientist. Cherishing the looks of confusion on the other's faces and fear hidden deep in the eyes of the good doctor.

"I was speaking of the beast." Loki was looking very much like a cat batting at a fallen bird as the Avengers all stared in shock at the meek, gentle doctor.

The silence was deafening.

"Hate to ruin you little evil moment," Tony broke it, "but I think you have the wrong man. Bruce is as meek as a kitten when he's not hulking out and even then his darkest thought is probably 'Hulk smash'. Are you sure you aren't confusing him with Natasha?"

Loki smiled, a slow smile that creeped onto his lips, "Then, heroes, this will be painless."

Then he, the blonde, and Bruce all vanished and the world around the Avengers shifted.

.

.

.

Bruce blinked to find he was in a sterile metal room, something that looked like a mix of an interrogation room and a lab.

He looked around warily to find three metal chairs and a metal table.

"Please let this be a dream." he mumbled weakly, knowing better.

"Oh, I assure you, beast, this is no dream." Loki spoke as he emerged from out of the shadows, "This is very, very real."

"What makes you think I won't just let the Other Guy out to play with his 'puny god' toy?" Bruce raised an eyebrow.

"Simple: you can't." Loki stated, "Go ahead, try to conjure the beast."

And Bruce did. He dove into that part of his subconscious that the Hulk rested in and he dipped in to find it was silent. He couldn't sense the Hulk at all. It'd never been this silent...like the Hulk was just not there.

Bruce opened his eyes wide, bewildered.

"What did you-?" But the demi-god brushed off his question with a dismissing flick of his wrist.

"Sit beast. You don't want to miss the show." Loki made a gesture with his arm and suddenly there was a giant window behind him. Bruce's eyes widened when he saw the Avengers below them, on the other side of the glass, confused in the dark and slowly gaining movement.

"I assume they wouldn't hear me if I yelled?" Bruce raised at eyebrow.

"Nor can they see you."

"Why?" Bruce demanded as he looked back into the glaciers that were Loki's cold, pleased eyes, "Why are you doing this?"

"Because," Loki relished in explaining, stalking as he spoke "This will break the team. Seeing their dear friend go through hell - it will truly break them. Thor and the soldier haven't experienced the crippling pain needed to make the percussion I require. I could have chosen the woman or the archer, both have experienced such great pain. But the team would expect it - I needed shock. No. Then there was the metal man;" Loki chuckled, a mad chuckle that made Bruce's stomach drop, "held by terrorist for months with the constant threat of his life, weighed by guilt for his weapons effects, poisoned by his means of life, terrified by the thought of his metal heart being stolen. Oh, he was scarred. But, no, all of them already knew of most of that. And it wouldn't have the desired effect either."

Loki's wild eyes focused on Bruce, "But you-you're perfect. Horrible. A story so terrible even I almost felt pity for you. And through my searches I learned that everyone had a certain soft spot for you, they confide in you, depend on your steady calm and your patient listening. Is it not too perfect? The heart of their team shown for what it is."

"You're mad."

Loki's face turned hard at that, screwed into something of held-back anger, "Frost. Make him sit." he said coldly and not a moment later Bruce's body was being moved by an invisible force. He was thrown into the chair roughly before the chair slid across the floor right up to the glass window.

"Now." Loki regained his noble composure, "Watch."

.

.

.

"Where are we?" Steve asked as he looked around the foreign lab that had formed around them all.

"Well, if what Loki said is anything to go by then we're in Banner's past." Natasha stated, looking at the chemical beakers and scattered notes with a critical eye. Stark was lazily strolling, looking at the beakers with interest.

"See? Told you it would be boring." He passed his hand through a beaker with interest before doing it again for fun, a little "huh" escaping him before he continued airily, "The only horrifying thing about his life is probably how much time he spends working in his lab."

A moment later a very young boy, probably no older than five, came in. The team stared at the boy in bewilderment as he pattered over to the notes carefully, before suddenly they all collectively realized who that young boy was supposed to be, recognizing the soft brown curls and gentle brown eyes.

"Bruce?" Tony whispered, taking a step closer. But the young boy ignored him, something that would usually infuriate the billionaire but oddly enough he felt a strange nervousness instead. They watched as the young Bruce looked over the complex formulas.

"Bruce." a cheery voice called from another room, "You're father will be home soon. Don't let him catch you in his lab again." she chided warmly.

The group felt a small burst of happiness and love at the voice followed directly by a hesitant nervousness.

There was the sound of a door slamming a few rooms down, nervousness and slight fear rippled through the group as Bruce shot quickly from the stool he'd been perched on and shuffled out of the room.

"We can feel what he feels?" Natasha deadpanned, shocked and disturbed by the thought.

A man burst into the room before anything more could be said, briskly walking past them without acknowledging them. What shocked them though was that the man in the lab coat didn't look like a father but an angry scientist.

They all looked confused as they watched him walk around the lab looking very frustrated with something.

It was like stepping into a movie. A really real movie.

None of the Avengers knew what was happening. Bruce recognized the man and the memory instantly though.

No...

"ROBERT!" the man yelled, making some of the members of the team jump at the volume and anger in his voice. A moment passed before the man yelled again, louder and angrier.

"Who's Robert?" Tony whispered to Clint, who just shrugged.

A moment later Bruce pattered into the room nervously, looking every bit like a child afraid of being scolded. Suddenly a strong wave of fear struck them all head on.

"I don't like were this is going..."

The man glared, coldly, unfeelingly at his son. Hatred and anger were poorly hidden in his eyes as he looked at his son like a stranger. Ignoring him except for the two, sharp words he spoke.

"Stay out." he commanded with no warmth. It nearly broke all the Avengers' hearts. Bruce's it did break.

Bruce nodded quickly.

Then time shifted, fast forwarding through weeks, maybe months, and the group felt strange about seeing rooms and things blurring until they stopped in the kitchen. Bruce was helping his mother wash the dishes, they felt the nervousness and fear settle when Bruce was around her, replaced by warmth and the feeling of being loved. Happiness.

They listened and watched as Bruce hummed happily with his mother.

"I've never seen him so happy..." Natasha whispered, they all silently agreed. Bruce was always calm, but happy?

But the happiness only lasted a moment longer before they watched Bruce accidentally drop a plate he was passing to his mother. Natasha expertly reached out to grab it mid-fall, but it went right through her hands and hit the tile with a loud crash, shattering like porcelain.

Bruce's fear ran straight up all their spines.

"It's just a broken plate right?" Tony said, "Why's he so afraid?"

Then as if to answer they heard it, the man that was Bruce's father, yelling drunken from the other room a curse. The hairs began to prickle on the back of their collective necks. Their guts felt like cold spaghetti.

"Honey, go behind the table." Bruce's mother instructed him as she squeezed his shoulders and pushed him to the other side of the room. Her voice shook. Her eyes were wide and alert with fear. Bruce did as he was instructed.

Then the man burst through the room and it was with complete and utter shock that they saw the man start to beat his wife in his drunken rage. The heroes watched helplessly as the man beat and beat his wife, unable to stop him. Feeling all the hurt and fear and mortification and anger that Bruce felt as he did so. They could hear the crack of each hand and the whimpers and begging and the drunken curses, the soft sobs of Bruce muted out behind his small hands. His mother begged him to stop, chanting that it was an accident, that she was sorry. But the hits kept coming, each one sloppy but no weaker than had he been sober. They just kept coming and coming and coming.

Captain America was yelling, pleading for the man to stop, trying to be heard though they all knew it was impossible and that this was years in the past. They could do nothing.

Then the screams stopped and it got silent.

His father stopped.

Bruce's father looked wide-eyed and horrified at what he'd done. He began sobbing into his hands.

Steve quickly went beside Bruce's mother and after his hand passed through were he was trying to check for a pulse he leaning in and everyone could see the relief when he heard her broken breaths.

Bruce's father looked around suddenly before finding Bruce shivering behind the kitchen table. He was young and terrified and had never seen his father like this before.

Bruce's father looked hollowly at him before speaking almost eerily, "My father was a monster. I've got the monster gene in me." he said the next part like it was a sad truth, "You've probably inherited the monster gene and my genetic faults." It was a statement that evaporated into the air like poison gas. The words filled Bruce's lungs like liquid lead, knocking the air out of him and leaving him gasping for air.

That was the first time Bruce's father beat his mother...but it wouldn't be the last.

Time shifted forward a few years.

Bruce now looked around seven.

The group recognized it as Christmas instantly, even Thor knew of the human holiday and its festivities. They were in the Banner living room watching the family look almost happy together. Bruce was opening a present now.

They watched as he pulled out a complex model. They felt Bruce's happiness thrum through them as he poured all the complex pieces out and began assembling it easily despite his young age. Apparently Bruce had been a genius from a young age. His mother cooed over how quickly he was getting it done and ruffled his soft locks, saying how smart he was. But Bruce's father was silent.

As he watched his son effortlessly construct a complex model that grown men would have trouble with, Bruce's father was convinced that his assumptions about Bruce were correct.

The team saw the rage flicker in his eyes as he stood and loomed behind Bruce before striking the model with a powerful kick, shattering it. His father resented his genius.

"You little monster!"

Bruce scrambled out of the way and was horrified and frightened as his father stomped the model further.

"Brian!" Bruce's mother called aghast. But Bruce's father was already in a rage.

Bruce's father began raging about how Bruce inherited the monster gene his father had given him and how the model proved it.

He beat Bruce and, after Bruce's mother came to her son's aid, his mother as well.

Another shift in time, this one much shorter than the last. It now looked like spring time, judging by the garden full of flowers in the dark driveway.

It was night. They could see Bruce's mother was packing the car in a panic. Bruce was on the front porch in his PJ's watching blearily as he hugged the wooden post.

"Mom?" he called quietly. It was cute and sad how he sounded sleepy and worried at the same time.

His mother came up to him, fear and tears in her eyes, and shushed him softly.

"Bruce, we're going to go away for a while okay?" His father had drunken himself until he passed out that night. His mother hugged him with a watery smile on her bruised lips, "No matter what he says you're not a monster, Bruce. I'm going to keep you safe." a choked sob, "I love you, so much, Bruce." then she kissed his forehead sadly.

"I love you too..." Bruce answered in his young voice. They could feel he was afraid and worried. His mother was crying and frightened and he didn't like that. All of the Avengers watched in trepidation as Bruce's mother hugged him, wondering what could go wrong this time.

"Come on." his mother slowly pulled away and grabbed his hand, putting him in the car and closing the door softly for him.

Then the loud crack of the door slamming startled them all.

It was Bruce's father.

"Please no..." Steve whispered. He looked at the man, enraged and drunk and out of control and he knew where this was going but he was begging nonetheless.

"Mom!" Bruce called in a panic as she backed against the car door. He wanted her to get in the car too, he wanted her to be safe. Bruce tried to open the door but his mother had locked it and he couldn't seem to get it open in his frenzy. Please, no...

His father began beating her, yelling at her, mercilessly. His anger seemed worse this time though, fueled by his wife and child trying to run away, he seems unstoppable. His mother begged him to stop, pleading for him to calm down as she sobbed. But Bruce's father was furious. He yelled, screamed, at her. He demanded to know where she thought she could go, why she would leave him, saying she saw him as a monster just like his father had. As he beat her he shouted about how he loved her and she couldn't do this to him.

This wasn't like any of the other times.

Steve yelled at Bruce's father. Begging God to make this stop. He couldn't take this. She was just a woman. How could anyone do this to a woman they loved? Captain America was openly crying and begging, cursing the man and pleading for mercy.

"He's going to kill her if he doesn't stop." Clint spoke, his voice rough but otherwise unemotional.

Thor looked at the archer with shock before joining Steve in his desperate plight, "LOKI! I command you cease this!"

There was a loud thud, this one different from any other and more final sounding.

Then it got deafeningly silent.

His father stopped, it all stopped. And what worried them most was that they didn't hear anything but his father's drunken pants.

And they knew. She was dead.

Brian Banner had smashed his wife's head against the pavement and killed her.

Time blurred again and suddenly they were at a funeral and they all felt a crushing weight of dark emotions. Sadness, so much sadness, but more than that they felt GUILT and HATRED. Hatred that Bruce had for his father, and they realized with sadness, hatred Bruce had for himself.

It was closed casket, it had to be they knew, but what surprised them was that a few yards away from their sobbing Bruce was his father, sitting vacantly staring ahead of him.

"Why isn't he in jail?" Steve demanded angrily, "He murdered his wife in front of Bruce! Why isn't he in jail?!"

Tony, in a surprisingly uncharacteristic moment, grabbed Steve's shoulder in a comforting gesture. At that moment Tony looked nothing like the genius billionaire playboy philanthropist he boasted to be. He looked like a brokenly fragile human who knew too much of loss and pain.

"Justice doesn't always get served." Natasha deadpanned. She'd worn a straight face the whole time, not letting a single emotion be shown. No one wondered how she did it; she had to, it was trained into her not to show weakness to an almost reflexive condition. But they all knew she was being torn apart on the inside just as much as they were being. None of them knew a thing about Bruce's past.

"It is not right." Thor spoke gravely, tears streaking down his face unabashedly, "She was a good woman and a kind mother." The demigod towered over them all, but in that moment he seemed smaller than usual. He made no movement to wipe his eyes, allowing them to trickle down with no self-consciousness. For some reason, this seemed more alien than anything they'd ever seen him do before.

"Hey, big guy," Steve patted his shoulder as he wiped his own tears away, "It's okay. It'll get better." It had to.

But it didn't.

.

.

.

"Have you ever felt happiness beast?" Loki asked as they watched the funeral and the younger Bruce sob painfully.

"You're sick." Bruce spat but it had no strength behind it.

Bruce had his head cradled in his hands, his eyes squeezed shut as he tried to take slow, deep breaths.

They know, now, his breath hitched, They know I hid as my mother got beat to death. They'll hate me.

"Make it stop..." He whispered, broken, begging...No more.

"Stop?" Loki was so damn gleeful, "Hardly beast, my favorite part has yet to come."

Bruce didn't have to guess to know which part of his life Loki meant.

"Fury will stop you...He'll wake them up."

Loki laughed at that, a bellyful, hearty laugh, "Impossible. They can't be woken up from the outside world, they're as trapped as you are. No, we shall go until they are as pitiful and broken as you are."

.

.

.

As the world refocused they found themselves in a new building. This one felt less like a home, more like a lived-in lab. The first thing they noticed was the smell of alcohol, a strong stench that stung even Thor's nose. Then they were slapped with Bruce's emotions; strong fear, ever stronger than before. They all felt chills, something was wrong. It was about to get worse. A lot worse.

They all looked before them in trepidation as the man who called himself Bruce's father came upon Bruce. He looked like a giant compared to how small and innocent Bruce was.

They felt the hurt and rage and hatred at the first crack of his father's palm against Bruce's cheek. Bruce was shaking with agony and rage as he crumpled to the ground and was kicked by the man who was genetically designed to love him unconditionally.

There was anguish felt throughout them all, not just their own but Bruce's. Tears flowed mockingly down Bruce's swelling face as he trembled and writhed and sobbed into the hard wooden floor that held no memories of love. His mother had loved him and his mother was gone. His fault. All that was left was a large, empty void where her love used to be - now filled with pain and sorrow and abuse.

All of them felt anger at the man. Then he spoke and Bruce's guilt wrapped around them in a vice like grip and nearly suffocated them.

They listened with sickening, dizzying guilt as his father blamed Bruce for his mother's death.

"You should have stopped me dammit!" the man cursed and lifted the bottle to his lips, taking a swig before kicking and shouting, "You were hiding when you could have stopped me! I was right about you! You inherited my father's monster gene!"

"He's blaming him?!" Steve was disgusted, enraged.

"He's drunk." Natasha monotoned.

"Bruce is blaming himself." Tony rasped.

And they all felt it. Bruce was angry, shaking with rage and hatred, but not at his father like they had thought - at himself. He hated himself. And maybe still worse, he agreed with his father. He truly blamed himself for his mother's death.

They watched in horror as Bruce was beat and just took it and felt he deserved it. Writhing with pain as he was abused. His shoulders shuddering with unconfined sobs that threatened to suffocate him and make him hyperventilate.

Bruce's father beat him with reckless abandon, like his pain was unbearable. Those death-like eyes, devoid of all emotions but rage and grief as he cracked fist after fist against Bruce's face.

None of the Avengers had to wonder what it was like for Bruce to be beaten by this man that he hated yet by some sick irony, couldn't stop loving just a little. They felt the hollow emptiness that was oddly sad, rage that was buzzing faintly in the back of Bruce's mind, the crippling sorrow and grief, and the horribly lonely feeling of knowing no one loved him, not even himself.

It was minutes before Bruce's father stopped, panting and exhausted looking, hollow rage fading slowly from his face as he looked down at his battered and beaten son, the one he called a monster. He looked vaguely disgusted by the boy below him, as if he didn't recognize anything human in him.

Bruce was too exhausted to move. And all the Avengers' hearts almost stopped beating, their eyes stared in disbelief, when they saw Bruce cough brokenly and give the faintest of a smile that really looked more like a grimace to his father, one that said he still loved his father and forgave him.

And although that man did such horrible things to Bruce, he showed just a flicker of regret in his watery eyes before he got up and threw his bottle to the far wall where it smashed into broken shards and amber liquid.

"Oh God..." Steve whimpered when the world shifted again, he'd been to war and back but he'd never seen abuse in the home. It was an entirely new horror to him.

This time they couldn't see anything; the world was shifting blackness. Maybe moving too fast for it to really be anything.

"Bruce." Tony whispered, "He never drinks... And he always goes into another room when I do." A sickening guilt clenched at Tony's stomach and made him feel nauseated. How could he have never noticed before? He remembered now how Bruce's eyes had looked when he'd smelled alcohol on him one night at the tower. Sad. Broken. He was a genius. How had he never pieced it together? What did Bruce think when he saw me like that? Did he remember his father?

"It's not his fault." Clint said, and they all knew what he was talking about. His voice was filled with emotion, the usually withdrawn Clint was angry and sad and he was showing it.

The shadows were shifting around them as if time was passing in fast forward but they were all too shocked to think about it. They all felt too raw with emotions that were and weren't theirs.

"This is wrong." Tony said, his voice sounded so exhausted. They all felt exhausted, the emotional strain was baring its weight on them and they didn't know how much more they could endure until it was all too much.

"Guys." Tony begged, "We need to figure out how to make this stop."

"This is an invasion of his privacy." Steve spoke up.

"I don't see how we can stop this." Natasha spoke bluntly in the pitch black, throwing their fear out into the shadows.

"Loki's hold is strong over us." Thor's booming voice seemed small after what they'd seen and felt, "I fear he is getting assistance from another."

"That blonde." Clint stated, his comment as straight to the point as the arrows he shot.

"She must be a telepath." Natasha said, "How else would this all be possible? Even Loki doesn't have this kind of power."

.

.

.

"They know what I am." Emma Frost spoke from the chair in the corner of the room where she'd been concentrating.

"So?" Loki asked arrogantly, "Let them know, it will do them no good. They are still helpless."

"You don't know my friends..." Bruce whispered, wiping the tears from his cheeks, "They'll get free somehow."

They had to, because it was going to get a lot worse...

.

.

.

Time was fast forwarding quickly, years passed in short leaps before they came to a halt. Bruce looked in his late teens or early twenties. His father was in a mental institution now. Bruce had been passed off to his aunt and uncle years ago. He'd lived an uneventful life there, trying his best to fit in and be normal. He'd asked his uncle and aunt to call him by his middle name like his mother had called him. His aunt and uncle hadn't had any kids of their own and treated Bruce as their own son. It was almost nice, except Bruce constantly felt hollow and truculent.

Bruce had hidden his genius over the years from them, secretly researching things, reading advance journals that college professors were confused by. One constant was that he loved science.

And when his family had found out, they had sent him to college. It was there that he met Betty who changed his view on everything. She taught him that it wouldn't hurt anyone if he showed how smart he was. She had loved him and he had loved her in return.

Things started looking up for Bruce. He got recruited by the military to work on some secret projects. He was given his own lab and was able to carry out his own research in any free time he had.

But nothing was perfect.

Bruce was prone to fits of rage. His assistants would always leave the lab crying or quit and they were always constantly being replaced. No one could stand to be around the belligerent man that would throw things in rage and had a sharp tongue and mean spirit. Betty helped a little, when Bruce was around her he felt a little calmer, a little less like a monster. It wasn't enough, they both knew it but only Betty chose to ignore it.

Years of therapist couldn't help him with his depression and anger.

But there was always a reoccurring statement, they all told him the same thing. As one had put it; "Bruce, you're not happy because you don't feel you deserve to be happy. Once you learn to love yourself you'll be able to become happy."

How could he?, he'd always mentally sneer.

He still was broken. Everyone knew the Hulk was a monster, but what none of them realized was that Bruce Banner was a monster first.

.

.

.

"So how does the telepathy thing work?" Bruce asked, trying to distract himself from the painful memories Betty brought up, "You must need a lot of concentration to be working with so many minds."

The woman in white didn't acknowledge him. It might of stung if he didn't expect as much.

"Your attempts are pathetic beast." Loki kept his eyes on the glass.

"Would you stop calling me that. Please?" Bruce tried, knowing it was no use. He quite hated being called an animal, beast, or monster. It always stung a little too close to home.

Loki snorted imperialistically but gave no further answer.

Soon they'd reach the part that he most feared...He had to come up with a plan. No mind can multitask as much as it took to pull off what she was doing...so she needed to be getting help. A tool of some kind or an amplifier...

He began searching the room and the scantily dressed woman for anything that could be amplifying her powers...

.

.

.

The weather was mild, the beginning of spring. They walked up to the building with the sound of the last frost crackling under their feet.

The General was talking with some other military official, and Bruce gave Betty's hand a squeeze. She seemed to have an all right relationship with her father, but his own experience made him color things with his own insecurities and fears. A firm handshake from Bruce and they departed.

"Doctor Banner, can I get a few words with you?" a teenager Bruce recognized as Rick Jones asked. Rick was interested in becoming a scientist after graduating and often came to the lab when he could get past security.

"Not now Rick." Bruce spoke briskly but at the disappointed look in his eyes he added gently, "Maybe later." and walked into the building, leaving the teenager to get himself home.

Once in, there was last minute checks and interns to talk through before they all went outside. It was the first test detonation of the gamma bomb project Bruce had been assigned on. Military officials were everywhere as they stood rigidly by. Betty gave him a weak smile and Bruce would have cherished it more if only he'd known.

If only Bruce had stopped there.

After getting the go ahead Bruce watched as a General or Captain from some branch of the military flipped the switch that started the countdown. A realistically long countdown compared to the ten second ones shown on movies. And then the bomb was off, up, up, up into the air.

That's when everything went wrong.

"Bruce!" Betty grabbed his shoulder as she pointed out towards the test field. People called out to the figure out on the field but that only made him stop, turn towards them in bewilderment. He couldn't hear what they were saying.

The Avengers watched in a weird mix of awed admiration and trepidation as Bruce selflessly rushed to the rescue of the ignorant teenager who had walked onto the testing field, the countdown ticked inexorably toward zero behind him. They could feel that Bruce knew he wasn't going to survive this. He had rushed out there with all the self-preserving alarms screaming in his head and he had drowned them out. After shoving young Rick Jones to safety in a nearby ditch, Bruce was struck full-force by the bomb blast.

There was a flash of green so bright his eyes were boiling in their sockets and every nerve in his body was writhingthrashingscreaming in pain. Or it might have been Bruce himself screaming - he didn't remember that part as well as the rest. Later his only memory would be broken shattered pieces, all tinged with green and an indomitable rage.

He heard a roar, it sound like it was coming from him but it couldn't be. His voice was more human, quieter, this was a monstrous roar that threatened to damage eardrums.

Agony. Pain. So much pain.

That was when the Avengers learned what it was like to transform into the Hulk. They had thought it was just exhausting but this...this was strong and...painful.

Like fire. Bruce's mind felt like it had caught fire and was being torn apart. He could almost feel the molecule to molecule separation.

Then he felt every bone snap and every muscle shift and reshape into something different. His whole body was on fire then, burning and cracking and aching deep into the bones.

Bruce saw things in cloudy, distance hallucination-vision, how he moved and couldn't control it. He let out a roar of agony. He wanted it to stop. His body was becoming a foreign thing he could barely control. He could feel his anger and pain inflating his body as he thrashed around.

He survived, but was irradiated by the deadly gamma energy.

It all became snippets of memories after that. He remembered Betty's scream, high and horrified. The breaking of glass and walls and the pain of bullets being shot at him. Then there was forest.

He woke up in the forest.

All the Avengers felt how in the end he was slammed back into the battered shell that was left when the Hulk left him. How he was never scarred, but the pain and the powerlessness lingered in his head.

Later they learned how it takes him days to be able to trust his own body again after each occurrence.

Bruce had gone to the hospital right afterwards for Betty. She was in critical condition. When he found her she was in a hospital bed wrapped in gauze and plaster with IV tubes coming out of her hospital gown.

The whole team could feel his heartbreak and the old scars his father had given him rising to the surface. They saw the scientist's shoulders slump and felt his hope in the world die and his self-hatred burn through his whole body. It felt like an elephant was on their chests, they could feel the despair and hopelessness of the situation seep into their bones.

All his fault.

Bruce choked back a whimper as he began to sink into the stiff hospital chair beside her bed. The bed he'd put her in. Just as the misery was setting Bruce was ripped from the chair. Held on his toes by the collar. The General was right in his face, but Bruce could hardly believe what he was saying, "You're not going to get away with cheating me out of my end, Banner, by hell you're not."

The General had cuts and bruises all over his face, proof to the destructiveness of the Hulk. "This has limitless potential. The military..." Bruce's stomach dropped, and he was thankful there was nothing in it, otherwise he was pretty sure he'd have thrown up on the General's shoes at the thought of what Ross was suggesting. To use this thing, to try and control it, to bottle it up and build an army of it...

Bruce had ran away that second, the General was yelling after him, promising him a world of pain. Bruce's throat was tight as he burst through the hospital doors and he felt so sorry and miserable. Sorry he hadn't somehow known to stop that launching, sorry he was leaving her, and sorry for his existence.

It wasn't long after he left that Betty had died.

Bruce was declared a monster the same day he'd become a hero.

.

.

.

"You killed her." Loki stated, mirth in his voice at the flinch it pulled from Bruce.

"Yes..." Bruce knew it was true. Whether it was him or the Hulk didn't matter because he was the Hulk.

"You know what is coming next." Loki was grinning madly.

"Yes..." Next General Ross would catch him.

And if he couldn't stop this before that happened then all his friends would have to pay...

Bruce suddenly thought of something.

He may not be able to stop her from showing his memories but maybe he could control which memories she shows them. He concentrated hard and tried building walls and mental blocks around the dark memories ahead. He'd only read one research paper on telepathy by a Charles Xavier but it was thorough and he hoped it was enough. He began the next step.

.

.

.

This time shift took the Avengers to some backwater country. They all felt more exhausted then they ever had in their lives, though whether that was from the emotional strain or from Bruce's condition was vague.

Bruce looked half-starved as he leaned over a chemistry set that looked as though it were made for children. It was hardly the equipment needed for him to develop the cure they knew he was working on.

"How much more of this before it stops?" Steve was the most exhausted, he had grown up in a time of war but his nightmares were left in the past, on a battlefield that had disappeared long ago. This...this was tragedy after tragedy following Bruce around everywhere he went.

"How long do you think he's been alone?" Tony wondered sadly. They could feel the dull ache of deep loneliness in their chests. They all felt like husks of humans. Strangers in their own bodies. Lost and self-loathing to the very core. And they had no doubt that was how Bruce had been feeling.

"Years." Natasha stated, "Look at the calendar." They saw that exactly three years had passed. Bruce looked in his early thirties now.

A rustling from the good doctor brought their attention back to him.

Their hearts stopped and terror held them like a vice-grip as they saw what the doctor, their friend, was holding in his right hand.

"Shit." Tony's voice cracked on the single word. They had all been told about it and although it had shocked them it had never sunk in, not really. Not like this.

"-Incase you needed to kill me but you can't, I know, I've tried...I got low. I didn't see an end, so, I put a bullet in my mouth and the Other Guy spit it out..."

"Bruce." Tony's voice took on a panicked pitch as Bruce stared more deeply at the small black gun. A dark frown had developed on Bruce's lips.

"Hey, buddy, come on." Tony stepped right up to where Bruce was sitting on the end of his makeshift bed. Bruce's face was scrunched up with thought and misery. They could feel his hopelessness, guilt, self-hatred, ever-present rage, pain, and crushing depression. It was horrible. Horrible, because some of them recognized the feeling of considering their own death.

Bruce began to cry, tears rolling down his scrunched up face as he held in his sobs. He felt so guilty. He had destroyed so much and killed so many. The world didn't deserve to have to live with a monster at their backdoor. And Betty. He had killed even who he loved. Everything was out of control and his life had stopped being his long ago.

He pointed the gun vaguely towards his face, not yet deciding the sickening where.

Thor tried to pull Tony away, "Brother in arms, the good doctor cannot hear you." his voice was raw and spoke of thunder and rain and misery. Tony furiously shook Thor's placating touch off, crawling closer to Bruce who his eyes were frozen on.

"Bruce." He tried grabbing the gun from him and was frustrated when his hand passed through Bruce's.

Tony began chanting Bruce's name, begging him with his name. This was all so wrong. Bruce shouldn't have to feel this way or live this way. Bruce was kind and gentle and caring and everything good about this world. He fucking loved him. He couldn't watch this.

"Please, please, don't."

None of the others knew what to do. They'd never seen Tony anything like this. Tony Stark was snarky and guarded and airy. This was wrong, this was all so wrong.

Clint pulled Natasha into his arms, holding her head to his shoulder. Tony whimpered but stopped resisting Thor's comfort. Thor now had his hand resting on the engineer's shoulder. Steve stood feeling hollow and miserable, how could this be happening?

There was a deafening silence as Bruce finally, slowly, miserably put the gun in his mouth. A second later there was the thunder of Bruce pulling the trigger. Tony could be heard cursing in the echo of the shot.

Bruce fell back on the bed deathly still. Blood was everywhere. Splattered on the wall and soaking into the sheets heavily.

And then everything changed so quickly.

The group felt Bruce's, no, Hulk's, indomitable rage boil over beyond dangerous levels. Bruce's body began to contort on the sheets, writhing and shuttering violently. Green flushed his skin and the familiar burning and splitting and cracking was replaying painfully before their eyes.

Bruce...

God, how could he become so miserable?

The Avengers were shocked by what happened next. They suddenly stopped feeling Bruce's emotions and then the created past flickered and vanished. It was soon replaced by a familiar scene they all knew.

The first time Bruce had walked onto shield's floating fortress.

"What's going on?" Natasha asked as she loosened herself from Clint's grip and looked around. This wasn't a bad memory as far as they knew and it broke the pattern. Previously all the memories had been chronologically in order.

"Is Bruce doing this?" Steve asked as he watched himself shake hands with Bruce. It was odd but he hadn't realized he was that tall.

"He must be." Tony had wiped his tears and stood while they were distracted. He now watched as the agents walked in and the structure took flight. Then Bruce and Steve where being led through halls by Natasha. Bruce felt cautious but as they stepped into the bridge they could feel Bruce's interest grow, they'd never noticed how curiously he was looking around before. It was almost cute how lost and curious Bruce looked in that moment that he first stepped into the room. Tony in particular just wanted to hug and cuddle the good doctor that he knew and loved. So alive. He was suddenly so overwhelmed by his gratitude that Bruce was still around. Still alive. He hadn't died.

He'd missed Bruce's arrival so he was happy to see this. Tony needed the distraction.

There was a shift, this one lasting only a second. They were still in the bridge but this time Steve, Natasha, and Thor were there along with Bruce. The Avengers picked up immediately that this was after Loki's stunt in Germany.

They watched Bruce and the others talk. Bruce was guarded, slightly cautious but they could feel he was less guarded around them then most people. Then Tony walked in with Agent Coulson at his side. Tony walked in as always, instantly taking center stage and putting all the attention on him. They could feel Bruce's guard go up instantly full force as he watch Tony move around the room and ramble with hidden caution. Apparently he'd heard about Tony irritating most people.

"He doesn't like you." Clint mocked smugly.

"Shut up Katniss. He probably liked you less when he first met you." Tony snapped. It had honestly hurt that Bruce hadn't liked him right away, after all, he'd liked Bruce instantly.

He continued to watch as he and Bruce exchanged science lingo. He remembered thinking instantly how beautiful Bruce's big brain was. He clung to that thought instead of the image of Bruce holding a gun in his mouth.

Tony and the others felt how Bruce had been impressed as Tony began talking. Tony quite liked that reaction more than he was willing to admit to the others.

He watched himself walk over to Bruce and shake his hand.

"It's good to meet you doctor Banner."

he let go of his hand, "Your work on anti-electron collisions is unparalleled. And I'm a huge fan of the way you lose control and turn into an enormous green rage monster."

All the Avengers had assumed at the time that doctor Banner had been upset by that statement. To their surprise Bruce had felt initial shock and then a slightly warm and fuzzy feeling. Bruce had become so used to people tip-toeing around the Other Guy that it was refreshing to have someone just confront it normally. It made him almost feel normal.

And when Fury had said Tony would be joining him they all felt Bruce's hidden happiness at that.

Another short shift.

Right after Tony had invited Bruce to Stark tower. They felt Bruce's complete shock and happiness even if he didn't plan on accepting it then. People didn't invite a guy who could level a city into their house...ever. And Tony had seemed sincere to him, it just made the offer more touching.

"Okay. This science bonding stuff is way better," Clint spoke, obviously not going to complain about the change in mood, "But why is Bruce choosing to show us this stuff?"

Thor frowned before saying the first insightful thing that the team had ever heard him say, "Maybe the good doctor does not have many happy memories. Maybe he would wish us to know that we make him happy." It was a flooring statement but somehow it made too much sense.

Before Natasha had to quip, "What? And Tony makes him happy." All but Tony agreed that it was odd that Tony was the reoccurring pattern and cause of happiness.

They watched as Tony zapped Bruce with a pointy rod. It was odd to feel the contradicting happiness bubbling from Bruce after a moment of shock and small pain.

Tony felt his ego inflate at the happiness he was giving Bruce.

"That's supposed to make him happy? How?" Natasha pointed to the vision in front of her, confused.

The little bubble of happiness lasted as the past Steve and Tony argued until "-threatening the safety of everyone of this ship isn't funny. No offense doc." They felt the happiness pop like a bubble, instantly replaced by a small spike of guilt as Bruce replied to Steve.

Steve frowned, he hadn't realized he'd hurt the doctor's feelings.

"You're tip-toeing big man, you need to strut."

and there it was again. That little bubble of happiness. It was like every time Tony spoke to him Bruce felt more relaxed and reassured in himself.

"He makes him feel human." Clint said suddenly, his words shot like an arrow right through the room. And then it was obvious. Bruce liked Tony because Tony was never afraid. Tony treated him like a human and didn't tip-toe around him or shy away. Bruce wasn't often given trust.

What they didn't know was that Tony didn't often give trust.

.

.

.

Bruce had hijacked their torture.

Emma frowned as she threw another mental assault to the walls, breaking another down. She didn't know where he learned to build mental blocks but it was quickly becoming annoying.

"How much longer?" Loki urged, glancing angrily at the sickening happiness in the other room.

Emma ignored him as she broke down the last one that the doctor had had time to construct. She quickly regained control and began again, this time making sure he couldn't build any more barriers.

.

.

.

The Avengers watched as the shield lab disappeared and was replaced with a desert. Bruce was starved looking and wandering exhaustedly. He was running away from someone or something...

.

.

.

Bruce glanced over. Emma Frost was sitting with her eyes closed and a hand to her forehead, the other holding a small sphere that fit in her open palm. He figured that the sphere was an amplifier. It was the only thing that made sense.

Bruce looked down at his hands were he curled his fingers experimentally. They had dropped the force field or whatever it was. Soon his friends would go into the darkest part of his past, and he'd prefer if they didn't have the emotional weight to it...it was now or never.

NOW!

Bruce lunged as quickly as he could, grabbing the sphere from her open palm. He saw Emma Frost open her eyes and knew any second the force field would be back, so he quickly put all the strength he could into his arm and threw the sphere down, hoping it was as breakable as it looked.

It was.

The sphere, purple with green swirls in it, broke into a thousand pieces with a satisfying crash. It was strange how Bruce didn't care when suddenly he couldn't move his muscles again. He had done what he had wanted and he couldn't believe how good it felt to fight back.

"Frost!" Loki shouted, anger in his voice, "It's gone black! Get it back!" He commanded. He was very quickly losing his temper at how their plans kept getting undermined by a brutish creature.

Emma shot a glare at Loki before closing her eyes and concentrating, Bruce could feel the tug at his mind now and he quick did the only thing he could think to do. Science. He started rambling gamma radiation readings and theories out in rapid speed, chanting long equations in his head loudly.

"He's locking me out." Emma Frost's eyes snapped open, a distasteful frown on her lips.

"What?" Loki turned and slammed his palms on the table. AGAIN!

"Bruce." Emma spoke as she closed her eyes and tried focusing harder, trying to reach the doctor's emotions, "The emotional tie can't be reestablished without the charm." The sphere! Yes!

Loki turned furiously to the doctor now, who'd been forced to a sitting position in his chair, "You!" anger colored his cheeks and he stomped over to the scientist. The doctor was quickly becoming a problem.

Bruce was frowning but said nothing.

.

.

.

"What's happening?" Steve was the first to speak.

"It's Bruce!" Tony cheered, "He's fighting them!" Hope built in his chest. Please let this be the end. Please let Bruce be strong enough to break whatever was trapping them here.

"Then we need to assist our brother in arms!" Thor boomed. Looking for an escape.

"Sure, sure, just break some walls why not?" Tony snapped sarcastically, "Have you guys forgotten we're in Bruce's mind?! What do you think happens if we start 'storming the castle'?"

The room got silent. For once Tony had a good point. They didn't know what damage they could unintentionally do to Bruce by trying to escape...

"So what do you suggest we do?" Steve asked.

Tony paused, considering deeply, "Try to wake up?"

"We've been trying that the whole time!" Clint wasn't amused.

"Maybe not hard enough." Tony said and then dropped to the floor. He began rubbing his temples and thinking.

"Point Break." Thor's head rose, or rather looked down, to Tony, "Hit me with that hammer of yours."

"You've got to be kidding me!" Clint cried, throwing his archer-strengthened arms out into the air, "You're a genius! That's the best you can come up with?! You'll probably put yourself in a coma!"

"Shut up." Tony growled, sharply and effectively quieting everyone with his seriousness, "Have any of you thought what this is like for Bruce?! He's living all of his worst fucking nightmares over again - and with us watching! He needs my help and if putting myself in a coma is the risk I have to take then dammit I'll take it!"

Everyone was silent at that. They'd never even considered...That Bruce could be watching them.

"Stark-" Natasha tried to persuade him from it still, because it was still the craziest thing he'd ever considered. But Steve cut her off short, "No. He's right. As hard as this is for us it's harder for Bruce."

Steve walked over to the engineer and grabbed his shoulder, "I never thought you could be like this." Steve spoke warmly.

"What? Suicidal and crazy?" Tony quipped like he always did, shying away from seriousness.

Captain America didn't let himself be phased this time though, "No...selfless."

Well that shut Tony up. Tony sat there gaping for a second before Steve continued.

"Bruce will want you there when he wakes up." he said with a sad smile, "We can hold the fort until you get us out of here."

Tony stared into Captain America's eyes and maybe for the first time really appreciated his support.

Steve stepped back and nodded to Thor, who stepped forward hesitantly but with a certain resolution.

"Hey." Tony said airily but with a certain undertone of serious, "No guilt if this goes horribly wrong."

"I would not do this if not for honoring your warriors spirit." Thor spoke gravely, "I swear on the roots of the World Tree we shall all get through this safe."

"All right big guy," Tony smiled his signature grin, "Try not to hit the face - it's my best feature."

.

.

.

"How are you blocking us?!" Loki demanded like the demigod he was. All righteous fury and imperialistic tone.

"Fuck you." Bruce growled and Loki saw a flicker of green in his eyes.

"Frost!" Loki sounded a little shaken, "Keep the beast contained." he warned her.

Bruce felt a slight pressure on his brain, he hadn't even realized she had lost control of that part of his brain also.

"Now." Loki ran a smoothing hand through his raven hair, visibly collecting himself, "Can you be so kind as to get into his memories again. I don't care what damage you do to his brain in the process."

Emma nodded and placed both hands on Bruce's temples. There was a spike of pain in his frontal lobe that could only be her forcing her way in. Bruce resisted her advances but she was coming from all angles somehow and he was quickly exhausting.

He began panting as he looked into her ice-like eyes.

"Why-are you-doing this?" he asked and winced as she broke down another wall between her and his memories. He couldn't build them as fast as she was breaking them anymore.

"Simple," she smiled, a snake like smile that was as icy as her eyes, "Money. Lots of it."

"Tony-could pay you more." He groaned in pain. Shit this hurt, it was like having a bulldozer running through his mind.

"I've worked for heroes before." She simply said, "Not nearly as rewarding." Something about the way she said that made Bruce think she wanted to be more than colleagues with Loki. It was a disturbing thought and he didn't really have the time for it.

And then right before the last wall was broken through Emma Frost cried out in pain and backed away, falling against the table and grabbing at it for support.

Loki looked in shock at her as did Bruce. He hadn't done anything, what could have happened?

"Iron Man," Emma spoke as she grabbed her aching head, "He's broken away."

Bruce's heart began hammering in hope and happiness. He'd gotten away. There was hope.

Loki began sputtering in shock before, "WHAT?!" He rushed to the wall of windows where sure enough Iron Man was missing.

"How?!"

"I do not know...He managed to wake himself up."

"Well don't let any of the others!" Loki commanded, "Freeze them all!"

.

.

.

The Avengers felt all of their muscles be held by the invisible force field again. And a moment later the darkness was washed away and replaced by a clean sterile lab.

"It's starting again..." Clint groaned.

Natasha waited a moment before speaking, "This time there's no emotions though. Whatever Banner did he stopped that at least."

"Thank God." Steve sighed in relief. They all agreed. It was probably going to be bad enough without the emotions...

They didn't have to wait long for the horrors to begin...

.

.

.

"Ahh-ahh!" Tony's eyes snapped open to the bright sun leaking in through the curtains, a headache pounding ridiculously painfully at his frontal lobes, "What the hell." he groaned as he sat up and rubbed at the sore spot.

That wasn't a dream.

Tony snapped into serious mode suddenly as the reality of the situation came to him.

Tony began planning at high speed as he slipped on a pair of sweatpants and a random band-tee.

"JARVIS get Fury on the phone."

.

.

.

Their faces froze in a glassy stare of horror. Because even after everything they'd seen they couldn't believe a human being could do such a thing as they were witnessing.

The room was swept in a pale, fluorescent light. A harsh light that made everything seem alien and unreasonably unpersonable.

Bruce, their Bruce, was in this lab of horrors strapped to a metal table, IV's stuck into his arms, keeping him sedated but just conscious enough to feel and react to everything they were doing to him.

"The test subject has recovered from the first test series with surprisingly short intervals between procedures. Growing all organs, within an hour of their dissection." the labcoat spoke dispassionately.

Red gloves, starkly vivid against the bright white lights, were discarded as the labcoat spoke.

They had cut Bruce open, pealed his flesh back and dissected his organs like he was a middle school frog experiment.

"Ma'am, I suggest we move on to the heart." one of the assistants advised and the one in charge frowned at that.

"We discussed this. The heart and brain are too important. We aren't going to risk killing the subject before the tests are done."

"Of course Ma'am."

.

.

.

"Stark." Fury spoke in his usual brisk, clipped manner, "There better be a damn good reason you're contacting us on a civilian line."

"The Avengers are under attack."

Fury rose his one eyebrow, "I assure you-you're wrong."

"No." the steely tone in his voice told him he was serious, "Loki and some telepath are trapping the Avengers in Bruce's mind and we need to wake them up-NOW."

Fury frowned, annoyed at the tone before, "Agent Hill." he called and the brunette was instantly at his side, "Get some agents to check up on Black Widow, Hawkeye, Thor, and Cap's states - this instant."

Agent Hill began directing agents and giving out orders, within a minute she was back to his side, "All the Avengers members are unconscious and couldn't be woken, sir." she spoke professionally but the worry was hidden well.

"It seems," Director Fury spoke with great distaste at what he was about to say, "you're right, Stark. Do you have a plan?"

"Damn right I'm right." Tony spoke quickly, "Not yet. Get them all set up where I can see them by video feed. And get adrenaline shots just in case-a lot. Oh, and anything you can find on a blonde telepath that dresses in white and looks like a model would be much appreciated."

Then Tony disconnected the video feed.

Director Fury allowed himself to grimace and sigh before he looked to Agent Hill and stated exasperatedly, "See to it that those instructions are followed."

.

.

.

Unaffected by the sedative drugs his spine arched and his arms wrestled against the restraints. For Bruce's effort, he was rewarded with lacerations that bit into his flesh. Small potatoes compared to his lungs being speared.

A guttural, "Nnngghh," escaped his throat and morphed into, "Aaarrrgghh," increasing in pitch and volume as they plunged the metal until there's not a molecule of oxygen left in his lungs to expel. He sputtered blood and his chest retracted as he gasped for air and convulsed again and again.

None of them knew a man could produce a sound so insane, tortured, desperate; so inhuman.

The remaining Avengers watched in shock as horror after horror unfolded before them. Horrors that seemed so distant and couldn't be real because this was Bruce. Their Bruce. Ruffled looking Bruce who spent too much time in the lab and loved tea and croissants and who loved the simple things and listened to all their problems and helped them whenever asked. Gentle, sweet, kind, self-effacing Bruce. How could any of this be real?

They watched as Bruce healed around the metal pole they'd gashed between his ribs. Bone showed up sickeningly white against the bloody meat of the chest. Bloodless white skin was peeled back like a orange peel, held in place by metal clips. It twitched occasionally, unnaturally, trying to knit itself together.

Bruce's familiar face, normally so gentle and wry and kind, was twisted into a snarl of agony. They heard another guttural sound escape him as his eyes shot open. Green as poison. He was holding back the Hulk. Keeping him from tearing everyone in that room apart limb from limb. It was sickeningly noble and all the Avengers were mentally begging him to Hulk out and stop it all. They didn't deserve to be protected. They didn't deserve it.

Ghastly whiteness spread over Steve's face and he felt sick to his stomach, if it was possible he would have lost his lunch long ago. Thor's eyes were pained and flowing tears so openly while something of his frown spoke of many battlefields he'd seen and fought on. Thor pulled Steve to his massive chest, seeking to both give and receive comfort at this time of horror. Steve didn't resist, because honestly, he needed it. And even if he did want to resist, he didn't have the strength to move. His whole body felt numb with horror and shock.

Natasha, stone-faced Natasha, was holding Clint's hand in a vice grip that meshed his knuckles together. He didn't care though because he needed something to hold him together like she needed something to grab onto.

All of them were praying to whatever God they believed in that Tony would hurry up and find a way to save them-to save Bruce.

.

.

.

Tony could see all the Avengers lined up in portable hospital beds, now taking up an entire room somewhere on shield's floating base. He hadn't moved Bruce from his bedroom down the hall but he hardly felt moving the guy to a hospital bed would be a good idea. He was now set up in Bruce's room with all the equipment he might need.

He had had to fight Fury to make sure no agents were sent to Stark Tower, heated minutes spent before he had convinced him to leave Bruce to him alone. "He's been through enough without waking up to a room full of agents."

"Are you sure about this Stark?" Fury frowned at the four agents set up with defibrillator paddles - Tony similarly in Bruce's room.

"No." Tony said dead-serious before- "CLEAR!"

And he placed the paddles to Bruce's bare chest.

The doctor's back arched but nothing else happened. He waited a moment before he was sure it was a bust.

"Dammit!" Tony cursed, this was wasting time if it wasn't going to work.

.

.

.

"Banner, I promised you a world of pain." General Ross stood towering over Bruce, who was still strapped to a metal table, though this one was different. Bruce was dizzy with sedatives, but conscious enough to recognize Ross and glare. They'd lowered his amount of pain killers to none after the first round of tests.

General Ross was stiff and aggravated sounding, "We extracted your blood and any attempts we made at recreating the serum resulted in complete failure." he placed his hands on the table and leaned closer to Bruce, "So tell me! What's the secret to the Hulk? Where are you hiding it?" he demanded.

Bruce spat in his face, "Fuck you." he rasped.

General Ross wiped away the blood-stained saliva with a handkerchief. "Show him." he commanded the labcoat.

Bruce's table was leaned up and he could see a video through the large glass window. Horribly disfigured and inhuman bodies were shown, writhing and clawing in pain. Melting flesh and lips opening in anguished cries. Bruce's lips gaped open as he saw guards open fire. He was only so glad he couldn't hear the audio through the window.

Bruce's table was pushed back down and Ross leaned over him again, "Those were the failed attempts from the serum we got from your blood."

Oh God.

The team could see the horror and guilt settle onto Bruce's beaten face.

This was all his fault.

Those people had died because he'd been captured. They'd used his blood. All. His. Fault. Bruce began sobbing, his ribs and lungs spiking in pain at the exertion of his approaching hyperventilation. It hurt, not just his ribs or lungs or any other part of him, but his soul.

"So, you can tell me the secret to the Hulk or we can use more persuasive methods." General Ross said, he waved a assistant over who handed him a clothe, "What do you say?"

"Never." Bruce choked out, "I will never let you do this to anyone else."

"Alright then." General Ross spoke eerily calm as he pulled the clothe over Bruce's head, "We'll see how you feel in a couple hours." He tilted the table again, this time the other way.

The flow started as a small trickle over his face, growing stronger. It felt like it was creeping in, invading his mouth, his nose, his throat, his lungs...

Natasha had actually begun begging Bruce to hulk out when they kept pouring more and more water. Clint shushed her and held her to his torso. They could all tell she had been in Bruce's position once, Clint had also.

Bruce began gagging the second the water started pouring over the clothe. He struggled against his restraints with each time they poured more water. He could feel the damage being done to his lungs as it carried on and the oxygen deprivation, his bones breaking as he thrashed against his restraints. He wondered foggily how long he'd be out after this before the next torture began.

.

.

.

They'd just tried the adrenaline injections with no success when Agent Hill briskly strutted into the room.

"We got a match on the description Stark gave us. There's a telepath named Emma Frost living in Westchester county, New York." Agent Hill reported to Director Fury instantly on the finding.

Fury looked over the profile and put it in the video feed's view, "This the woman, Stark?"

"That's her."

"I'll have agents arresting her within minutes."

"Good." a pause, "Is there anything that can be used to suppress a telepath's powers?"

Fury caught the meaning instantly, "Agent Hill, I want those men equipped with telepathy helmets and a neural suppressant."

If they couldn't wake the Avengers up by force, they'd cut the power source to this whole mess.

.

.

.

Bruce gave an unearthly scream of agony, struggling as the flames blazed over his skin. The fire spread all up and down his torso, sizzling as it seared open his skin. The horrible smell of blazing flesh filled the room. Bruce gasped for air, screaming in shear agony. The muscles in his body twisted, strained, then snapped with an agonizing wave of pain, burned through by the fire. He could feel his skin burning, shriveling, ripping as the flame tore him apart. Blood surged up through the cracks in his flesh as his very skin was ripped apart in bloody, blackened strips. His blood bubbled, steaming and boiling in the extreme heat of the flames.

The labcoat, this time in a flameproof attire, unplugged the machine and stepped forward, examining the subject's regenerative abilities.

Blood, still boiling from the heat, flooded out of the gaping wounds in Bruce's skin, steaming on the red hot table. Bruce couldn't scream anymore; his throat was charred too badly. He lay on the red-hot table, dry-sobbing in agony, trying to pull air into his burned lungs.

The Avengers' had lost the ability to speak as they watched. Horribly unable to even so much as blink. They'd never be able to get that smell out of their memories. Bruce's skin began to twitch, already beginning to heal. They almost wished it didn't heal so quickly, wishing he was allowed more time before the inevitable next test.

The labcoat was jotting something down with a disgusted look on her otherwise dispassionate face.

One of the assistants in the lab vomited, probably caused by the stench of burning flesh. If any of the Avengers could they would have joined the assistant.

"This is sick." Natasha mumbled against Clint's chest, her voice so small and watery now, "He's not going to tell them. Why are they doing this? He's not going to tell them."

General Ross walked into the room, smug as he towered over an exhausted, paralyzed-with-pain Bruce.

"Doctor Banner," the General sneered, "how does it feel to know that for all your brilliance you'll go down in history as a mindless animal?"

Bruce wheezed, trying to form words around his charred body.

"Kill...me." it was barely even a whisper but General Ross heard it anyway.

"Not yet, doctor."

.

.

.

"Fury, how long until your agents are there?" Tony asked impatiently, not looking away from Bruce's sleeping face, so deceptively calm.

"They're already on the scene Stark. Doctor Banner and the rest of the team should be awake shortly."

"Good." Tony said then disconnected the video feed.

.

.

.

Bruce saw Emma Frost look alarmed for a second from his peripheral, as if someone invisible had grabbed her arm. Then suddenly she disappeared from the room. He wondered vaguely where she went before the whole room vanished and he felt himself jolt awake.

His first reaction when he woke up in the tower was fear. They hate me.

Bruce lunged forward and felt dizzy at the sudden rush.

"Whoa whoa whoa." a familiar voice that tugged at his heart said. Bruce looked over in amazement to see Tony in his bedroom. He was smiling at him. Bruce opened his mouth and closed it again.

"It wasn't a dream." Tony seemed to read him.

That statement hit him like a ton of bricks. Tony saw green flicker in Bruce's eyes. "Bruce?" Tony sounded worried as he reached out a hand. Hulk was roaring inside of him, the memories and Bruce's anxious mood making him restless.

"Just - gimme a sec." Bruce said as he tried to sooth the Hulk, telling him that those people were gone and he was safe, that he didn't need to protect Bruce right now. After a few minutes the Hulk settled and Bruce felt calm enough to face Tony again.

"Bruce are you alright now?" Tony didn't sound scared but worried. His brown eyes were like magma, burning into his soul.

Oh God, they know. He knows.

Tony was staring at him differently he thought. He felt claustrophobic. Bruce could feel the shift in his emotions as he stared back into Tony's worried, knowing eyes.

Suddenly he couldn't bare to be in that room with Tony any longer. He abruptly got up.

"Bruce-?"

Bruce's throat tightened. He couldn't let Tony see him like this so he fled. He stumbled to the bathroom through the dark, hyperventilating. Once in it was all he could do to lock the door behind him before he bumped into the door and slid down to the ground. He couldn't breath. The lump in his throat was suffocating him. His head began to swim and the bathroom tile felt like it was rocking back and forth. He sat with his back to the door, his legs pulled up into his chest as he hugged his knees. In some distant part of his mind he knew he was having an anxiety attack.

"Bruce? Bruce are you okay?" Tony spoke through the door. Bruce had never heard Tony sound worried before but that was the only description possible. Bruce could feel he was hyperventilating and he knew somewhere in his mind that he needed to calm down and that Tony was waiting for a response but he couldn't form words around the fear that was smothering him.

"How-?" Bruce cut himself off, too many questions were in his head at once, and it was all too dizzying, "Whe-ere are the others? How are the-they?" he managed past the vertigo.

There was a pause before, "JARVIS?" Tony said and after a crisp "Yes sir" from the AI a holographic screen appeared with video feed of all the Avengers waking up slowly and with what seemed like pounding headaches.

"Shield caught Emma Frost, the telepath." Tony explained through the door, "They don't know where Loki is but I'm pretty sure they're working on tracking him down as we speak."

Bruce rested his head against the door and closed his eyes in the following silence. He tried to take slow, ragged breathes, failing miserably. Why was he still here? He should be taking the next plane out of the country. He'd stayed here for too long, enticed by the luxury and he'd fooled himself into thinking he could live a normal life despite the Hulk. He couldn't even begin to imagine how disgusted the Avengers were by him. Somehow that hurt a lot more than the loss of a comfortable bed or three square meals.

"Hey." Tony said though he didn't need to get Bruce's attention, "I'm sorry. About what you had to go through. And about all of us kind of invading your privacy. It was against our will but...we're so sorry." somehow Bruce knew Tony had slumped his shoulders disheartened.

Bruce didn't know what to say. Not many knew how to respond to Tony Stark's straight-forwardness most of the time. Tony Stark was apologizing to him. What for? He should be apologizing. Because of him they had all been put through his own personal hell. He wouldn't wish that on anyone, much less...his friends.

"Bruce." Tony sounded like he was on the verge of begging and tears, "Can I please just talk to you? We'll talk and after we can do whatever you want. I can buy you the first plane ticket if you want that but please, Bruce, talk to me. I don't want you to be alone."

Bruce just closed his eyes harder and tried to calm his hammering heart. He didn't want to talk. He knew Tony cared but it scared him still. His whole life had been running away and staying away from people who cared. What scared him the most was that he cared. He cared for the Avengers and for Tony especially.

"I know we all just went through some really weird stuff and we witnessed a lot but I need to know you're okay. Please Bruce. I saw you put a bullet in your mouth. I need to know that you're alright." Tony's voice was trembling and cracking and Bruce felt tears well in his own eyes. "Please. Just open this door."

"Tony..." Bruce rasped painfully around his closed throat.

Tony was surprised when the door opened slowly and Bruce Banner was standing before him with tears and a begging look in his eyes. He recognized the look instantly from his own childhood. Bruce's eyes were begging Tony not to hate him. Even if he hated himself he couldn't stand to have Tony hate him.

Shit. And if that didn't break his heart and trample it.

"Bruce." Tony whispered and he didn't even care if Bruce saw he was crying because he flipping loved the guy and he was not about to hide anything from him. "Bruce..." he whispered again and he grabbed his hand and pulled the scientist into his arms.

"Ca-can't breathe." Bruce was still breathing too fast and panicking.

"Just listen to my breaths Bruce. Do you feel how calm they are? How steady? Just pay attention to that." Tony said, taking deep breaths so that Bruce could feel them.

Bruce tried to feel them but it was hard through his own rapid breaths. Tony was warm though, and it helped to feel that warmth and know he was there. Bruce was dimly aware that he could feel the smooth metal of Tony's arc reactor pressed against his back, but it wasn't at all uncomfortable. Especially not with Tony's arms wrapped around him.

But what finally stilled his ragged breaths and calmed him was fingers running through his hair, sliding through his locks, stroking at his scalp. Tony's warmth and touch sent a rush of deep comfort through him, each second his breathing slowed until it was coming out in deep, ragged, ugly, noisy gasps.

Tony slowly realized he wasn't hyperventilating any more. Carefully he lowered his hand from Bruce's hair to his arm, where Bruce's hands had clamped onto during his panic.

"Your breathing has slowed down." Tony whispered.

Bruce collapsed against him. A wave of exhaustion taking him and making all his limbs feel numb and useless. He knew he should pull away from Tony now that he had calmed down but he was so tired. He relaxed against him, his head on his shoulder.

"Are you alright?" Tony asked.

Bruce couldn't answer. He burst into tears.

This was all so messed up. Everything was so wrong. He wasn't supposed to expose himself to Tony like this. Even if it was the wrong emotions to trigger the Hulk he wasn't supposed to lose control like this. He wasn't supposed to be crying in Tony's arms.

Bruce roughly rubbed at his face with wet hands, trying to hide the tears.

"I'm so-sorry." Bruce mumbled around his hands.

Tony shushed him and held him in his arms, trying to comfort him.

"It's okay Bruce." Tony smoothed his hair, "You have nothing to be apologetic for. None of that was your fault."

Bruce just shook his head and continued to rub at his face. This couldn't be real. He kept waiting for Tony to push him away. To call him a monster like everyone else had. To reject him in some way.

"Why are you still here?" Bruce whispered so softly Tony wondered if he was even supposed to hear it.

"Because I care." Tony sunk his head into Bruce's shoulder, "Bruce, don't leave after this."

"But-" Bruce had pulled his hands away for a moment but the second his eyes met Tony's he was blown away by the look in those brown orbs. The hard dedication and tender care were flaring passionately in his expressive orbs.

"We don't hate you." Tony said dead-serious, gently touching Bruce's cheek before cupping it in his callused hand, "We love you." Tony's eyes were blazing, "I love you."

Bruce didn't know what to say to that. Of course he knew Tony was telling the truth but his past made him doubt it. Was he ready to go through this right now? Right after everything that had just happened? No.

"Could you see us?" Tony asked from seemingly no where.

"Tony that..." he started but Tony was staring at him, waiting for an answer and Bruce couldn't bring himself to lie about it. Bruce nodded reluctantly, scared of whether or not Tony would pull away at that.

"Then you know." Tony said and gently held Bruce's face, guiding the scientist to look up at him with his hand, "I love you."

Bruce could almost feel his heart break and rebuild itself at that.

"Tony," Bruce said weakly, "If this is because of what happened-"

"It's not." Tony quickly assured him, "I've loved you since I first met you."

However happy he felt when he discovered that he loved Tony was nothing compared to the sensation of being loved by the person you love. He stared breathtakingly at the man before him who was smiling so softly and sincerely. He could feel the truth and conviction behind those three words and it scared him a little. But he'd be lying if he said he hadn't secretly yearned for this.

But it wasn't that simple, it never was for him. He knew that, and now Tony and the rest of the Avengers knew that. He'd mess this up somehow. He'd hurt Tony. He couldn't live with himself if he did that.

"Tony...I can't..." Bruce saw the hurt in the engineer's eyes and quickly added, "I'm so broken. I - you wouldn't want me." There were reasons why Bruce couldn't be in a relationship, many reasons that Bruce had rationalized prior to meeting Tony. "I'm dangerous. I could hurt you. You deserve someone who won't kill you for making some bad joke or tear down Manhattan because someone bumped his shoulder. I'm a mess-" His life was darkness and misery and rage. Running away had been burned into him over years, he couldn't just wipe it away like that.

Tony effectively shut him up by kissing him. As the engineer continued to kiss him breathless, Bruce suddenly couldn't remember all of his well-thought-out reasons. His indecision and barriers clouded by how amazing it felt to have Tony kissing him, Bruce opened his mouth to deepen the kiss. Tony could feel the exact moment when Bruce made his decision to not push him away. When Bruce opened his mouth with such vulnerability, Tony had to suppress the shiver that threatened to run down his spine. He quickly obliged by sweeping his tongue along Bruce's bottom lip, then entering his mouth to show him what a reformed skank could do.

Tony did things with his tongue that drew slow moans from Bruce that neither knew he was capable of. Lips pressed against each other again and again, tongues dancing. Tony's hands wandered over Bruce's body eagerly, feeling the firm muscle of Bruce's chest before skirting down to his hip and then his back. Bruce's hands tangled in Tony's chaotic brown hair and brushing against the skin of his neck. Theirs lungs were gasping for breath in between kisses. Bruce managed to slow down their kisses, making Tony work at his pace as he took control gently from him. Bruce's kisses were sweet and sincere and were like soft whispers all over Tony's body. Tony had never realized the greatness of slow kissing before Bruce showed him. Bruce caressed Tony's lips with his and kissed him like he was precious and loved and dear. Tony had never felt something so heavenly before. Uncharacteristically, Tony was the first to pull away, reluctant and slowly.

"Hey." Tony said again, this time softer than the last. "Can I just...make sure your here?" Tony chuckled nervously, he hoped Bruce didn't run away after this because he could seriously not go back to kissing anyone else after that.

But Bruce nodded. And he was still there. His eyes were an odd mix of anxiety and lust, like he was expecting Tony to book it. Tony would have to prove over time that he needed Bruce more than he needed oxygen.

Tony leaned in and kissed Bruce's shoulder.

"I can't begin to explain how much I love you." Tony mumbled against his shirt, "And how much I want to kill your dad."

Bruce let out a soft chuckle as he smoothed Tony's chaotic mess of hair, "Too late. He passed away years ago."

Tony nibbled at Bruce's shoulder, "You're so precious. Fucking beautiful." he said as if to chase away any thoughts of Bruce's father.

"You have no clue how sexy you are. How hard it was to not just hump that big beautiful brain of yours thoughtless every time I saw you adjust your glasses or lick your lips." Tony pulled the collar of Bruce's loose T-shirt aside so that he could kiss his collarbone, "And don't get me started on that damn purple shirt."

"You don't like my shirt?" Bruce asked, his voice coming out a little more breathy than he'd like.

"Freakin' love it. It's like a freakin' sex shirt." Tony mumbled against his skin before biting wickedly and smoothing over the bruise with his tongue, "You're more patient that Buddha and you make kittens look evil in comparison to you." Tony began roaming his hand under Bruce's shirt, feeling his smooth, unscarred back below his callous fingers.

"I love how your hair looks ruffled after you've run your hand through it while working. You look every bit the dedicated scientist when you do that, and for some reason I find that to be a turn on." Tony said as he started kissing up Bruce's neck towards his jaw, occasionally nibbling and eliciting a gasp from Bruce, "I can't count how many times I've kicked myself for almost running my fingers through it."

"So-" Bruce whimpered when Tony bit his lip, "why have you waited so long?"

"Because I didn't know how you felt." Tony grinned that signature grin of his, this one confident and lust-filled, "I think I have a pretty good idea now though." He couldn't believe his luck as he planted another kiss on those plump lips that were now kissing back.

"Sir." JARVIS spoke. Bruce pulled away but Tony ignored the AI and continued his ministrations to Bruce's beyond perfect body.

"Not now JARVIS." Tony hissed after giving the good doctor a hickey on the curve of his neck, "I'm a little busy."

"Sir. I'm afraid that director Nick Fury insists."

JARVIS protested.

"Tony." Bruce panted when Tony continued to ignore JARVIS.

Tony sighed exasperatedly before pulling away and glaring pointedly at the ceiling, "Patch him through." Tony commanded, "No video feed."

"As you wish sir."

And then there was a click as director Fury was connected to the speakers.

"What is it Fury?" Tony snapped.

"Is doctor Banner still with you?" Fury asked, either not caring that there was no video feed or not addressing it.

"Right here." Bruce managed to say rather normally despite his flustered appearance and feeling.

There was what seemed like a moderately surprised pause but it was too short to really judge it properly.

"We have Emma Frost in custody and she talked in return for some leniency. The Avengers are being deployed soon to find and capture Loki." Fury informed in his usual manner.

Tony looked at Bruce before speaking for both of them when he said, "I think we'll just sit this one out. The others have got this."

Another pause. They imagined Fury was weighing the pros and cons of arguing with that.

"Don't worry about this." Steve's voice came over the speakers, apparently he'd been in the room, "We'll handle this. And doctor Banner?" Steve asked politely.

"Yes Steve?" Bruce asked back, a little nervous about what he was going to say.

"We all care about you. And if you wouldn't mind I think I speak for us all when I say we'd like to see you after this mission." Steve sounded a little awkward and shy but it was sweet and Bruce felt his heart flutter that he had been so wrong. His friends loved him. They weren't about to leave him or hurt him.

"Yeah." Bruce said with a soft smile, "I'd like that."

They heard Steve let out a relieved breath before Fury stepped back in, "I expect you won't be running away then doctor Banner?" he spoke briskly but Tony wondered if even director Nick Fury cared for Bruce is some small way.

Bruce looked at Tony who was smiling softly and warmly at him.

"No. I think I'll stay right here."


Remember to review at the end to let me know how you feel and what you thought. If this gets enough love I might make it a longer story. For now though just read, review, favorite, follow the story and/or me.

If you enjoy angsty Bruce than I have another story with science bros called "Adopt a dog not a person!" where aspects of this story exist except the plot and circumstances are completely different. It's a slight/complete AU.

I already have another Tony/Bruce fanfic up called "Teacher's pet". This one is much lighter. Give it a go if you liked this. Go to my profile to find it or search it by name.