Author's Note : This is a new story I started some time ago. I know that with my older stories I have struggled to maintain even a vaguely respectable posting schedule so I've held off on posting this one until it was fundamentally complete. Now the final chapter is at 3500 words and going well and I can't restrain myself any longer.

I hope you enjoy reading this as much as I've enjoyed writing it and I'd love to hear your thoughts in a review. I've recently had to admit the truth to myself, I'm a bit of a review whore and get cranky when not regularly fed although I'm working on that, not particularly attractive, trait, you have been warned.

Chapter 1

A harsh sob rang out through the cold, empty darkness. It echoed off the twisted, ruined metal that littered the room, even after the sound was choked off at the source. Had anyone been there to try to trace the sound they would have been hard put to it to do so in the inky blackness. However had they bought a lantern and were they prepared to poke through the tangled wreckage left by the rampaging Hulk, then, if they persevered they might have found him, curled in an almost foetal position, wedged into a tiny gap in amongst the mangled remains of the machinery that used to fill this space.

He huddled there a pitiable figure, streaked with the soot left behind by the fire that had raged through this area only a week before. Tear tracks left twin lines down his face as he rocked gently in place, one arm clutching his legs tightly to his chest, chin tucked in resting on his knees, the knuckles of his other hand stuffed into his mouth to stifle any further sounds that might betray his position.

Screwing his eyes shut he seemed to be trying to make himself even smaller as he pulled his limbs in tighter against his body. Biting down hard on the knuckle jammed between his teeth he fought to subdue the new wave of grief and anguish that roared through his body, a keening wail struggling to burst free.

Suddenly he stilled, the beaten, broken man of a moment before disappeared as if he had never been, replaced by a warrior, every line of his body taut and poised to attack, his head snapped up as he strained to hear again the sound that had sliced through his distress.

There it was! the jovial sound of a laugh, barely audible over the all pervasive hum of the four giant rotors that kept the mighty helicarrier hovering high above the planet's surface. Slowly his head turned, staring blindly through the darkness as he listened intently. Minutes passed with no repeat of the laugh but the tension within his body did not ease. Something in the atmosphere had shifted and he knew that he was no longer alone, no longer safe.

He'd been trying to get away for days, desperate for escape, watched everywhere he went, eyes following his every move. Finally this morning he'd seen his chance and seized upon it. Repairs to the great ship had been proceeding apace, shifts of men working day and night to fix the damage wrought by attacks from within and without. He'd pitched in, everybody had, but the double and sometimes triple shifts had to take their toll.

The hull was the first priority, everyone would feel much safer without the gaping holes that left the vessel and all within her vulnerable to attack or simply to accidents if the damaged plating gave way at an inopportune moment. Unfortunately the huge plates took time to fabricate, especially those for the lower hull that incorporated the optical camouflage technology that allowed them to hide the ship from unfriendly eyes.

Work had had to proceed without that protection in place. All workers were using safety harnesses but this morning disaster had struck. Joe Morena, an electrical engineer from Baltimore, sloppy with tiredness had failed to properly fasten his harness, mid way through his shift Joe had slipped from the beam he was using to traverse one of the great rifts in the hull and he had fallen. The savage jerk that stopped his fall as he reached the end of the rope securing him had weakened his poorly fastened harness further and as his colleagues rushed to pull him up the last straps holding him safe slowly ripped free and Joe fell.

The man huddled in the bowels of the helicarrier thought back to that heart-stopping moment. He'd been further away than most when he heard Joe's scream as he first fell and he had immediately rushed forward to help. However when he saw Joe fall free he knew there was nothing he could do, the flyers were already being called for and they were high enough up that there was a good chance someone would get to the falling man before he hit dirt. All he needed to do was to remember his training, keep his body flat and do all that he could to slow his descent, giving his rescuers time to get to him.

There it was, a streak of red and gold rounded the hull of the helicarrier and darted down after the falling man.

Suddenly he had realised that this was his moment, everyone was in shock, peering out through the holes in the hull, trying to track the falling body, watching the rescue in progress. No-one was looking at him! For the first time since they had returned to the ship there were no eyes tracking his every move.

A quick glance around confirmed that he was unobserved and softly he took one step backwards towards the shadows

"Hey!" a voice shouted and he froze, but no, he was still unobserved. It was one of the foremen, starting to drag the workmen back from their rubber-necking, back to work. He realised that his window of opportunity was closing. If he wanted to slip away unseen then he had to go, now!

Swift as thought he turned and with a few silent steps he was gone. Hidden in the shadows as he made his way down into the bowels of the ship. Down to the areas where no repair teams yet ventured. until he found himself in this place, the inky, blackness suited his purpose and his mood and he had groped his way to this small niche, crammed his body inside and finally given way to the grief that overwhelmed him.

In a cathartic release of pent-up anger and sorrow all that he had been holding close for the last week finally spilled out of him as he ranted and railed against an indifferent fate. He mourned those whose deaths he had caused, the innocents he had killed or injured and the destruction he had wreaked both on this vessel and on the planet below.

But now the interlude was over, he could hear quiet voices as they got nearer, see the occasional flash of light as the torches of the searchers swept past doorways or rents in the mangled walls of this place. Scrubbing the tear tracks from his face with grimy hands he pulled his mask back into place. Not a physical mask but none the less real for all that as it hid the turmoil within leaving only a confident, calm, cheerful exterior that could be relied upon in any eventuality.

Easing himself out of his hiding place, he was not a small man and that was a very small space, he pulled himself to his feet, he would not have them find him weeping in a corner. No, he would face them head on, he groped his way back across the room to the door and, head held high he stepped through to face... his friends.

AN: Well, what do you think, who is the mystery man? Is it actually a mystery at all? Have I managed to pull this off? A virtual gingerbread man cupcake to whoever guesses correctly first. :-)