「✤」Far off the grid, in a quiet corner of Manhattan, there was a small facility. It was a somber place that was crafted from concrete and metal, heartless materials that suggested militaristic influences. These influences were visible as soon as someone stepped inside; the rooms were lined with computers and monitored by cameras, with multiple hallways breaking up the space. But while the building seemed large from within, it was actually quite small. There were only four people to a night shift, plus a couple security guards.
But tonight, there was one extra person in the building —
and they weren’t authorized to be there.
He was light on his feet and the hood of his jacket was pulled well over his face. He was an article of the darkness, an anonymous shadow with a plan up his sleeve. The details of this plan weren’t for the faint of heart, though. Sometimes even the man himself didn’t want to think about them. But everyone had to make choices at some point in their life, and sometimes these choices involved bloodshed. Besides, it’s not like he didn’t enjoy the bloodshed — he did.
At least, that’s what he told himself.
If Ross and his crew wanted him to be an enemy of the state, they’d get it — at a cost. He salivated at the prospect of picking them off one by one until only Ross remained. He could imagine the fear that Ross would feel, knowing his officers were gone but not knowing who did it. And tonight, the suspect’s sights were set on a woman, one who had been with Ross since the very beginning.
The man had already tripped the security system, but he wasn’t to be outdone by such a poor interface. It was nothing compared to the tricks up his sleeve — his intellect, his technology — and the alarm hadn’t even gone off before he disabled it. And it had been too easy to re-route the security cameras with archive footage. He slipped through the halls without so much as a wink. Of course, there had been an armed guard at the door, but he was no longer breathing. The assailant turned a corner and made quick work of the second guard, their gun a fruitless defense against him. He was too powerful, and this power was in his control. By the time he reached the board room, only one person remained, and they were wholly unaware of what happened in the rest of the building. He forced the door open with a loud crunch, doorknob falling with a clang, and faced Kathleen Sparr. She had already pulled her gun on him. Soon enough, she was backing up, but the man matched her step for step, his posture calm and undaunted. He finally pulled back his hood, revealing a ghoulish set of green eyes.
"Good to see you again, Sparr."
The woman held her breath. “Banner?”
He advanced on her some more. She continued to point her gun at him — at his head — but as Bruce expected, she wavered, her finger trembling on the trigger. She was fighting the urge to pull it. Bruce cocked his head and grinned. She couldn’t kill him because Ross wanted him alive, and she couldn’t hurt him because she thought he would lose control, transform, and kill her. How ironic.
"Let’s just get this over with, shall we?" he growled, slowly pacing around her.
Then she bolted past him and ran out of the room. Bruce sighed.
At first, the woman made a beeline straight down the hall, but when it branched off into two avenues, she took the left one. Bruce knew exactly where she was going. The whole place had been mapped out, thanks to surveillance cams and hacks and every other way someone could bug the place without physically being there. He knew the clock-ins, the clock-outs, and the fact that her only allies down here were dead. She was just a rat in a maze. And right now, she was heading straight for the control booth — alert Ross, maybe he’d send a storm of people down on him. But unfortunately for Sparr, Bruce knew the other way around to the room, and his feet were already leading him there. He positioned himself beside the door that Sparr would use, waiting, waiting — and then she finally opened it.
He reached for Sparr, his arm changing with a flash of green blood and his hand wrapping around the tender flesh of her neck. He pushed her back against the concrete wall. He could feel the cartilage of her trachea, the pulse in her carotid artery, and he could smell the fear that was rolling off her in waves.
His grip loosened up for a moment. He wanted to hear the woman beg for her life, comment on the green in his eyes, anything. But she said nothing, her eyes wide. Maddened with disappointment, Bruce drew closer to her.
"You took my life," he growled. "Now I’m taking yours."
His grip collapsed on her with a snap.
「 ✤ 」
Bruce drew the front of his jacket closed, too lazy to pull on the zipper, and brushed the snow out of his hair with a hand. Despite the snow, though, it wasn’t too cold outside. And this part of the city was especially warm; there was a pub on his right, and the owners always kept it at a comfortable temperature. As a result, the heat would sometimes leak out into the sidewalk. Surprisingly, although the pub was close to Stark Tower, Bruce hadn’t seen Tony here before. And he’d been living in New York for nearly eight months. Then again, avoiding Tony was one of his top priorities, so he considered himself lucky that the man never showed up. Tony didn’t need to know what he’d been up to lately. He would think of him as a monster.
Then again, he was a monster.
After a moment of deliberation, Bruce stepped into the pub. His hands tensed into a series of fists to get the blood flowing in them again. He took up a seat in the corner, a table for two, his back against the wall so he could survey the bar and its patrons. As his gaze drifted across the bar, he remembered the look on Sparr’s face as he took her life. It had happened two hours ago, but the image was still fresh in his memory. She had been just like the people before her — fearful, and displaying some rancid form of apology. The corner of his mouth twisted into a scowl, then he pulled out his wallet — Sparr’s wallet — and counted how much cash there was in it.
When the server came to his table, he asked for a trio of drinks. When they arrived, he rapidly downed the first one, then he took half of the second before pausing. However, it was during this pause that Bruce looked up and saw a familiar person enter the pub. He quickly looked down at the glasses in front of him and angled his face away from Pepper Potts.
open - nocturnal;
[ Oh wow, he was like a sleepy lion. Much less scary than he seemed from outside the lab. ]
[ Charlie felt herself relaxing almost immediately in the scientist’s easygoing presence. Why had she been intimidated? She always did that and it was just stupid. No one was happy when they were busy being scared. She watched him lock up and nodded earnestly, hands playing nervously with the handle of her tank stand. ]
”That. Sounds. Awesome. I would love to, seriously, that’s—yeah! I’ve kind of always had this dream of being able to raid the school cafeteria after hours, but that was before I realized the food wouldn’t all be magically pre-prepared when I got down there. That was a sad wake-up call, I’ll tell you what! Heh.”
[ Shut. Up. ]
”Anyway, yeah, let’s do it! I’m Charlie, by the way, I’m pretty new, just kind of a runner of errands, filing type person.”
[ As she spoke she stepped out of the door so the scientist could get through, chewing on the inside of her cheek and wondering why the heck someone clearly on a totally different level of existence would want to hang out with her. She was just a lackey. ]
[ Bruce watched as the woman relaxed. She didn’t relax entirely; her hands began fidgeting with the stand of her oxygen tank, but it was enough to put him at ease. He didn’t want to make her uncomfortable. His face brightened with amusement as she began rambling, quite happily, about a desire to raid her school’s cafeteria. She certainly knew how to have fun, he could give her that. ]
“Well, I’m sure there’s a whole trove of things in the cooler.”
[ This wasn’t just a guess on Bruce’s part — he knew it for certain. He’d been down to the cooler numerous times at night, and it was a literal buffet of leftover desserts and snacks. His favourites were the hor d’oeuvres; they didn’t come around often because they were made for special events, but the chefs really knew their stuff when it came to them. The maple bacon wasn’t too bad either, though it was usually all gone by the afternoon. Tragically so. ]
[ Jesus… All this talk of food was making him hungry. ]
"Charlie, huh? It’s a pleasure to meet you.
Nah, you’re not just a runner of errands. I’ll have you know that your job is no less important than mine in the grand scheme of things. One cog stops turning and the whole clock breaks, you know? Oh — and welcome to S.H.I.E.L.D..”
[ He began walking down the hall, leisurely, his direction set on the cafeteria. It wasn’t more than a few minutes from them, but Bruce still appreciated the exercise. He usually stood in one place when he was in the lab, and he never bothered to take advantage of the ship’s recreation center. ]
Thunderstorm || Bruce & Thor
Thor blinked, a split-second of cautiousness overcoming him when Bruce addressed him, before he slipped into the familiar persona like a second skin. Don Blake, read the ID card clipped to his pocket and the wooden plaque in his office back at the hospital. He’d needed a clean start, a fresh break from the life he’d been encompassed in for centuries, and so the first bland-sounding name he pieced together had stuck for nearly a decade. The former demigod hadn’t aged physically in the eight years it took to gain his doctorate, or in the year since he’d began working as a physician. He shaved regularly for a few years and started to grow a beard in recent years, in order to give the illusion of growing old. His true condition was both unsurprising yet terrifying — Odin clearly wanted his punishment to last eons.
Yet lately it felt less like banishment and more like a brief respite. Hearing of Loki’s return to earth (from the man he was with now, no less) was a shock, a pinch, and a slap to the face all rolled into one. The space between realms was hardly anything, Thor realized. Vanishing off the face of existence meant nothing — his brother had managed to prove it with his arrival. Even the thunderstorm raging outside the building was a ghost of his former power.
The sudden flood of light from the lamp Bruce switched on pulled him from his poisonously optimistic thoughts. Thor’s all-consuming daydreams of being welcomed home with opened arms were probably detrimental to his psyche, so it was a good thing Bruce pulled him out of it in time. Finally glancing up at his colleague, the doctor looked worse for wear. His dark hair was a damp mess, and as he put his books down he almost seemed to be closing in on himself. Thor saw an expression of intense discomfort flit over his features. Then the doctor steeled himself, almost as if he could sense Thor observing him from his peripheral vision, and pulled out a stool.
The physician paused in his hasty packing. He knew he was forgetting something… oh, right. His laptop. Only the thing that held all of his research and hospital files. Turning around and facing the windows just as another bolt of thunder struck from the sky, his pulse elevated. The adrenaline rush that lightning and thunder could incite from him was perpetual, even in this weaker form. “Great weather we’re having,” he remarked dryly, though there was a reverent undercurrent in his casual words. Hopefully Bruce didn’t pick up on it, but the nuclear physicist was more perceptive than most. Thor never thought he’d be one for secret-keeping, yet at this point living a double life came naturally to him. And it took one to know one — there were moments when Banner’s words were tight, a razor-sharp and almost tangible anger permeating the air around him. Those moments always passed as quickly as they came; one such occasion came after a jump scare in the lab on April Fools day had been laughed off. Banner may have been more soft-spoken than he, but since then Thor had the nagging feeling that they had a lot more in common than at first glance.
Those thoughts always returned on certain days Bruce came in the lab dead on his feet. Sunken eyes due to bone-deep exhaustion made him almost entirely approachable. Bruce’s behavior then reminded Thor of his own state after he spent twenty hours looking for his brother in the city, only to receive a handwritten note in his mailbox with a single word printed on it: Pathetic.
He eventually located his laptop, pulling it and the accompanying charger into his bulging messenger bag. That was when the nervous inquiry met his ears. Thor’s eyebrows furrowed, because his lab buddy radiated nervousness. Brown eyes seemed to be avoiding the window, which made no sense to Thor. He’d purposely left the blinds open so he could have a front-row seat to nature’s war.
"I… yes, that’d make a lot of sense," he agreed, somewhat reluctantly. "I’ve likely been stuck here for too long." He would’ve been embarrassed to admit that he’d practically craved driving through the storm, nevermind that his beat-up Chrysler probably couldn’t handle it. Bruce’s suggestion was a healthy dose of common sense.
Though “sensible” was the farthest thing he appeared to be. Thor bit his lip and braced himself against the counter before lifting himself up, swinging his legs a little so he was comfortably sitting atop the lab bench.
His expression radiated concern as he regarded the man in front of him. Bruce only appeared extremely tense, but Thor knew better. The dark-haired man was on edge, as in ten seconds away from falling off the cliff of sanity, if his shallow breathing and sweaty palms were anything to go by.
Was he really that unwilling to stay here for a few extra hours with ‘Don’? Sheesh.
"Is everything alright, Banner?" Stupid question. A child could easily discern the answer, but the golden-haired doctor found himself wanting an answer anyhow.
Bruce’s gaze flitted between the work lamp and Blake. The man was casually perched upon the desk, and his blatant concern was eating away at Bruce like a worm in an apple. It made him self-conscious and consequently, even more tense than before. His hands balled up into fists, the skin cold and clammy. This would only worsen in time; being confined to the lab was already making Bruce claustrophobic. Yeah, he’d asked to stay in the building, but doing so wasn’t a panacea for his problems. It was merely the lesser of two evils — he could either be here, with the rain pounding against the windows, or traipsing around in the rain. Either way, there was still rain. And although Bruce was sheltered from the water, it was still right outside that window.
If only he hadn’t come to visit Blake. Maybe then he wouldn’t be losing his grip by stressing out over this torrential downpour, the flashes of lightning…
That Godforsaken lightning…
Bruce didn’t look up at his colleague when he agreed to stay in the building. There was an air of disappointment in his tone, and it made Bruce both angry and confused. Why did he seem so reluctant to hang around? Bruce didn’t think of himself as a bore or someone who was hard to speak with, so it couldn’t possibly be him. But whatever the reason, he just coiled up even more. In fact, Bruce was so drawn into his own little world, engrossed in his mounting tension, that he nearly missed Blake’s subsequent inquiry. The man was right in asking about Bruce’s well-being. After all, he was dangerously close to losing it; to snapping. He could feel it. But god, how he didn’t want to snap in front of his colleague!
If Bruce wanted to keep calm — and this was a shot in the dark — perhaps talking was his best option. He forced himself to meet Blake’s gaze, but doing so was like pulling teeth. His jaw was clenched and his heartbeat wouldn’t stop speeding up. He finally opened his mouth, but before he could speak, a new flash of lightning bleached the room. Bruce’s let out a sharp breath as goosebumps rose on his skin, heat flashing down his spine. It triggered a spark of green in his eyes. He quickly hid the colour by shutting his eyes and pinching the bridge of his nose, looking down again, hoping Blake hadn’t seen the shift.
No, of course I’m not alright!
Fuck, his voice was bordering on aggressive.
"Just close the blinds, would you? Preferably now?”
He didn’t bother to ease the passion in his words, nor did he say anything else afterwards. Asking Blake to shut the blinds was embarrassing enough without telling him the reason behind it. He felt harried by the mere idea of doing so. He couldn’t possibly explain things without bringing up the whole problem with Ross, the gunfire, and the intense panic it fostered. And unfortunately, all of it involved the Hulk, which was entirely off-limits. Bruce wished such a topic wasn’t so sensitive, but he couldn’t change reality.
Why do things have to be so unnecessarily complicated?—
Thunder rumbled in the distance, a consequence of the earlier lightning. It coaxed vibrations into the walls of the lab. They were subtle and unnoticeable to most people, but they were incredibly palpable to Bruce. Not two seconds ago, he was telling Blake to cover the windows, and now he was on the cusp of a breakdown. He was cold, his body was taut, and he couldn’t breathe; the lightning might as well have stopped his heart. It might as well have been the face of a machine gun, ammunition breaking the air with bright light, and the thunder was nothing more than the wheels of a roaring tank. Memories bled into his mind, and while Bruce tried to tell himself they weren’t real, panic told him otherwise. He didn’t feel safe. His body was reacting, trying to cope with everything — he was trying to cope — and Blake couldn’t stick around for that. Bruce just needed to be alone now. He shot up from his seat.
"Get out of here, Don," he urged, his voice thick with warning.
The brown in his eyes had brightened into green again.
Looks like the gig’s up.
Well, Banner, you tried.