SATURDAY, APRIL 14, 2012 - 6:11 AM
SHIELD HELICARRIER RESEARCH DECK 4 - APPROX. 30,000 FEET OVER MANHATTAN, NYC
A second ago, the room had only been on fire metaphorically.
Now the entire laboratory was engulfed in flames as an explosion ripped straight through it. Applejack felt herself get thrown off her feet and was tossed into the doorframe she’d been standing in. Tony and Steve were hurled bodily into the opposite wall. Natasha and Banner, meanwhile, were thrown through a pane glass window and went hurtling to the floor below.
Thor and Fury managed to duck for cover away from the sudden gout of flame that burst through the center of the room. Jen wasn’t so lucky. A light fixture suddenly dropped from the ceiling, collapsing on top of the poor girl with a terrifying crash of broken glass. Jen cried out in pain as the lights slammed down onto her legs, throwing her to the floor.
“Jen!” Applejack shouted, desperately scrambling to her feet.
“Put on the suit!” Cap grunted at Tony, who nodded back, rolling to his feet and running out the door.
“Jen!” AJ cried, ignoring the flames that danced around her legs as she scrambled over to a coughing, hacking Jennifer. She struggled, pinned beneath a large light fixture. “Jen are you okay?!”
“Is she hurt?” Steve asked, rushing over.
“I’m fine!” Jen shouted at the Captain, “Go with Stark!”
Steve nodded and rushed out of the room. Applejack grabbed hold of the light fixture and made to heft it off of her, only for Jen to let out a sharp, pained shriek. AJ gasped.
Jen clutched at her gut. Her fingers came away red and wet with blood. “It’s just a scratch.” She coughed, shifting and scrambling away from the fire and smoke, trying to stand up. “I’ll be fi-AAGH!” She collapsed back down to the ground. Applejack gasped when she saw a shard of glass nearly the size of her palm sticking out of her friend’s abdomen.
“Celestia… That ain’t just a scratch, Jen!” Applejack said, reaching for Jennifer’s gut.
“Don’t touch her!” Fury shouted, halting AJ’s hand. She whirled around, glaring at the director hatefully for daring to keep her from helping her friend. “If it hit a vital she could bleed out.”
Applejack blanched. “What do we do?”
Fury leaned down, slipping one of Jen’s arms around his shoulders and hefting her up with a grunt, supporting her weight. “I’ll make sure she gets to the medbay. You go with Stark and Rogers!”
“Wait!” Jen croaked weakly. “Bruce! Where is--”
A guttural bellow suddenly resounded through the ruined laboratory, wracked with pain and anguish and hate. As Banner cried out from the maintenance tunnels below them, his voice distorted, growing lower and more thundering with every moment, transforming into a feral roar, rumbling and howling with unfettered rage.
Applejack turned to Fury, gulping heavily. “Be frank with ya, Director? I think I’d better see to Doctor Banner instead.” She turned and made a dash towards the broken pane window Banner had been thrown from.
“Applejack wait!” Fury shouted, but it was too late. AJ leapt out the shattered window. “Dammit,” he snarled, hefting the groaning Jen as fast as he could out of the ruined laboratory.
--- --- ---
--- --- ---
‘I screwed up’ Banner’s mind swam. He was scared. Panicked. Angry. And he knew exactly where it was going to lead him. ‘I screwed up I screwed up I screwed up I took too long and now we’re under attack and Loki’s going to break free and it’s all my fault and now He’s coming out stop please for the love of God I’ll do anything just stop’
Banner scraped and scrambled for purchase on the grated floor of the maintenance area he’d fallen into, his muscles twitching and spasming erratically. He felt tiny shards of glass digging into his skin, tumbling down the back of his shirt and opening a dozen tiny cuts down his back. One had found its way into his shoe and was digging painfully into the arch of his foot. All it did was serve to spike his adrenaline higher - make him angrier.
“We’re okay!” He heard somebody shout from off to his left somewhere. Natasha.
‘It’s her fault we’re here NO!’ Banner shouted, his muscles all seizing up painfully as he tried to stand, only to feel a shard of glass digging into the back of his knee. He fell back to the floor with an agonized cry, panting and breathing heavily.
“...we’re okay right?” Natasha asked him. “Doctor?”
Bruce couldn’t take it. He let out a pained scream as his knuckles whitened around a handrail. The metal started to twist in his fingers as his muscles seized and contracted again all at once. His scream quickly deepened several octaves as he howled in agony, both from the dozens of injuries he’d received not moments ago, and from the way his muscles twisted, contracted, tore apart and expanded, shifting rapidly beneath his skin.
‘She brought us here We were good We were helping people She roped us into this It’s all her fault No no no!’ Bruce’s brain felt like it was spinning inside his skull. He felt his mind tearing in two. Two personalities warring, desperately trying to fight each other off. A fight the Banner side of him was quickly losing as the veins running through his body started to turn green. ‘I can’t lose control again you need to stay down Attack We were good We were quiet We can still be good She planned this She tried to stop this Smash her Make her regret it Please for the love of God think about Jenny!’
For a split, crucial moment, the other voice quelled.
Banner seized hold of that moment. ‘We promised we wouldn’t screw up again for her sake Dragged her into this It was her choice to join she wanted to see us again Used her If we screw up now then we might never see her again!’
“Bruce you’ve got to fight it,” Natasha said, desperately trying (and failing) to keep the waver out of her voice. “This is what Loki wants. We’re going to be okay, listen to me.”
“Doctor Banner!” came another voice from somewhere above the two of them. Somewhere off to his right, he heard the sound of a body - a heavy one - crashing into the metal floor.
“Get out of here!” Natasha shouted to the newcomer.
‘Applewood!’ Bruce thought ‘She’s insane What does she want with Jenny She’s dangerous So are we Could hurt her So could we Smash No Smash Stop Smash her before it’s too late!’
“Bruce, are you okay?” he heard Applewood ask, completely ignoring Natasha.
‘Stupid girl Get away!’ Bruce twisted and writhed in place before letting out a howling cry of rage and anguish. He felt his body forcing the jagged pieces of glass out of his skin, painfully feeling every single shard slowly sliding against his muscles and blood vessels as they were ejected from his body.
Applewood spoke again, desperately trying to calm him down. “Bruce… Bruce I need y’all to calm down. I need you to get a grip. Jen’s hurt and we need you to--”
“HURT?!” Bruce howled, his voice low and monstrous. Both women froze in place as he reared up onto his back, muscles seizing once again.
‘Jenny is hurt Wouldn’t be hurt if she weren’t here Only here because of her SHIELD Natasha Applewood Jenny’s hurt Her fault Smash her Crush her Punish her Jenny No Jenny Yes Crush Break Smash’
Bruce felt the fabric splitting around his shoulders as his muscles expanded, skin shifting and growing to contain his new bulk even as it turned a dark, emerald green. The buttons on his shirt all popped off at once as he thrust his chest out, his pecs expanding rapidly.
“Get away!” he heard Applewood cry, along with the sound of shifting metal. “I’ll try and hold him.”
“But--” he heard Nat say
“Just go! Help Jen and Fury!”
‘FURY! Fury’s fault Fury Rage Livid Hate Smash them Crush them No Please Smash’
His bones popped and cracked as they swelled with mass and weight. He groaned and howled as his spine lengthened and his feet burst from his shoes. He scrambled, one final last ditch effort of lucidity to try and get away from the two of them, to try and spare them his imminent wrath, only to find himself tumbling off a catwalk onto the cold, hard, concrete floor below. His arms and legs were bulging now, swelling with new mass as his neck and abs thickened, giving him a solid trunk of a torso. His shirt was now little more than rags as he cast one last look up to the catwalk. There stood Applewood, gazing down at him, her mouth open in horror and her eyes shining with pity and sadness.
And then he lost himself.
--- --- ---
Applejack had seen a lot of terrifying things in her relatively short life. She’d seen a chaos god turn her hometown into a strangescape of whimsy and madness. She’d seen an army of insectoid shapeshifters descend upon the capital of her nation. She’d seen the sun itself banished from the sky as Nightmare Moon declared that the night would last forever. Each and every one of those events had been terrifying and world-shattering.
Bruce Banner’s transformation gave them all a serious run for their money. Oh sure, it was nowhere near as apocalyptically world-breaking as her adventures in Equestria might have been, but it was far more visceral and stomach turning. Applejack was taken off guard by how utterly gruesome it was to watch. She felt nauseated and shivers ran down her spine with every pop of bone, every horrible ripping noise as his muscles and tendons tore themselves apart only to reknit themselves and do it all over again. And the whole time, he screamed; not just in the rage and fear that triggered the transformation in the first place, but in pain. Unbelievable, excruciating pain.
How could anyone expect anything else as your body was torn apart from the inside out and stitched back together, over and over again, until you’d grown to three times your normal size?
And it wasn’t just the sight of Bruce’s body twisting, breaking, and rebuilding itself that turned her stomach. It was the smell. Nobody had bothered to tell her just how awful Bruce smelled in this state. AJ was reminded of a time she’d joined Rainbow Dash at a carnivore restaurant once - Dash had gained an appreciation for certain meats over the course of her friendship with Gilda. The scent of cooking meat was nauseating to the strictly-vegetarian farmpony.
This smell was all too similar: Like Bruce’s flesh was cooking and burning from the inside out under some sort of intense, searing heat.
Her mind already reeling from witnessing Bruce’s horrific metamorphosis, though, Applejack now found herself at a loss for what to do. Part of her ached so much to try and reach out to Bruce, to try and ask if he was okay and offer what little comfort she could. But Steve had told her what Bruce was like in this state, and if what he’d said was accurate, there was little reasoning with him like this.
For now, he’d crushed a boiler tank under his forearm and seemed to be ignoring her, panting heavily and catching his breath in the aftermath of his transformation. But there was no telling how long that would last. As far as she knew, Natasha had vacated the area and was on her way to help Fury get Jen the proper medical care she needed, so she didn’t have to worry about her getting hurt by Bruce’s alter ego.
Maybe if she just stayed completely quiet he’d hold tight where he stood and calm down; revert back into mild mannered Bruce Banner. She gently started to back away, praying that he didn’t have enhanced hearing in this form.
Applejack winced at the sound of glass crunching beneath her foot. The monstrous form that had replaced Bruce stiffened, and the Hulk slowly turned its head to gaze at her, feral eyes glowing green and mouth turned into a rictus snarl.
“...Whoa Nelly…” Applejack muttered resignedly under her breath.
The roar was earsplitting. Far louder than anything a human voice box should have ever produced. Applejack flinched, clapping her hands over her ears, only to be caught off guard and forced to stumble and leap away clumsily as the Hulk came at her with murderous intent. A single leap and he was back up on the catwalk with her, the metal groaning and buckling beneath his massive feet. His swing was wild, whiffing past AJ as she leapt to the side. Even so, she could feel the force behind it. The air whistled and screamed as his fist rocketed past her. Her orange jacket rippled around her in the gust of wind his wild haymaker created.
There was no time to speak or think. The Hulk followed up with a left cross. She barely managed to leap back in time, only to crash into the catwalk railing. She felt herself stumble back as her balance failed. Backwards over the rail she went, falling a dozen feet and crashing flat on her back on the concrete floor below. The wind blasted out of her lungs on impact. Her ears rang as her head collided with the concrete. Only her new sturdiness kept her skull intact.
The Hulk gave her no time to rest. Before Applejack could catch her breath, he came leaping over the catwalk rails. His feet angled to drop right on top of her. AJ rolled to the side and narrowly avoided the Hulk’s deadly foot dive. The floor buckled and cratered beneath him. She rolled to her hands and knees, standing just in time to cross-block a crushing hammerfist. The blow forced her back down onto one knee. Her other knee impacted the concrete with enough force to make it crack beneath her. AJ yelped in pain and shock, sweat rolling down her forehead as the Hulk’s overwhelming strength bore down upon her.
Her arms trembled and shook, desperately trying to hold off the monster’s hammerblow. Her eyes were wide with panic. The meaty fist was inching closer and closer to her face. The Hulk shot out with his other arm and suddenly Applejack felt a pulverizing blow to her ribs as he punched her in the side with his other hand. AJ went flying. She crashed spine-first into a metal pipe. The pipe bent and broke beneath her weight, spraying steam everywhere. AJ fell to the floor, landing on her stomach. She struggled to breathe, clutching her side. Nothing seemed broken.
If she’d still been a pony that punch would have shattered her ribs and liquefied her insides.
Another roar warned of the monster’s approach. AJ looked up to see the Hulk charging through a mess of pipes, rails, valves and pumps. The metal fixtures shattered under his onslaught, bursting away and scattering all over. The Hulk reared back with both arms, crashing forward onto AJ with both fists. She barely scuttled to the side as the Hulk’s fists cracked the pipe she leaned against.
Applejack rolled to her feet. ‘Have to end this fast.’ she thought, ‘Can’t let him keep tearing up this place.’
AJ didn’t know what the pipes and valves surrounding them were for, exactly, but she assumed that they were probably important. If they were connected to the engine, too much damage would probably send the whole airship falling from the sky.
Not that it wasn’t already, but anything she could do to keep the situation from getting worse…
AJ ducked aside from another of the Hulk’s wild swings, a plan quickly forming in her head. As the Hulk threw another punch at her, he overextended himself and AJ snatched hold of his huge wrist with both hands. She pulled the Hulk forward and kicked at the back of the monster’s exposed knee.
It felt like kicking a block of pure steel. Applejack’s foot ached and throbbed. Nothing felt broken, though. Thankfully, the kick had the desired effect and the Hulk went to one knee, uninjured but startled.
Applejack took her chance to duck under the Hulk’s arm and scramble behind him. Before he could climb back to his feet, she leapt upwards. She wrapped her arms around the Hulk’s neck and grappled him from behind, desperately tightening her grip around his throat.
The Hulk did not take kindly to AJ’s attempts to choke him out. As soon as the monster was back to his feet, he began thrashing, swinging this way and that. Forward and back he struggled, trying everything he could to dislodge his opponent from around his throat. Applejack held on tight, dredging up her experiences at the Equestria Rodeo. She’d spent a lot of her childhood wrestling angry, thrashing bulls as they tried to desperately buck her off.
The Hulk reached back with his arms to grab her and throw her off. Ironically, the Hulk’s own massive frame was just too big for him to reach her. His own enormous muscles were getting in the way of each other, leaving him incapable of reaching onto his own back.
So the Hulk started slamming himself into the walls.
AJ winced as she felt a boiler bend and buckle beneath her as she slammed bodily into it. Her spine felt like it was being crushed under a collapsing barn. Still she held tight to the Hulk’s throat.
The Hulk repeated the move, slamming her into pipes, walls, and other machinery. Applejack winced, screaming through her gritted teeth as she desperately held on with all her might. Pipes and valves broke against her body, buffeting her head and back. Still she held on, unwilling to lose this rodeo.
He slowed, allowing her a brief, second’s worth of reprieve as AJ no longer felt her spine slamming into the surrounding machinery. A small spark of hope alighted in her chest that her efforts might have borne fruit…
Then the Hulk leapt.
He steadied himself, leaning forward and bending his knees. With a mighty heave, the Hulk leapt into the air. Applejack watched as the ground disappeared beneath them as they sailed two stories up, past Banner’s ruined lab and straight into the ceiling.
There was a resounding CRASH as the two of them broke straight through the ceiling and kept on going. Dust and debris scattered through the air as Applejack felt concrete, steel, and tile shatter against her back. Her grip slackened as she felt another, massive object thrown aside as the two of them burst from below.
Still they rocketed upward, until they hit the next ceiling and Applejack felt glass explode against her spine. They’d crashed into a fluorescent light fixture, shattering it to pieces and sending sparks and shards flying everywhere. Applejack screamed out in pain and exhaustion as she felt her grip release from around the Hulk’s throat as gravity reasserted itself.
Hulk and Applejack both fell through the air. They tumbled a good fifteen feet, chunks of glass and metal scattering through the air around them. They’d emerged from the floor into a large, well-lit room. AJ crashed face down onto a smooth, polished surface. The metal screeched and crumpled beneath her. The Hulk impacted the tiled floor, leaving another crater of faux-marble and grout around him, not too far from the ruined hole in the ground from where they’d made their overly dramatic entrance.
AJ groaned, rolling onto her side and coughing up dust. She blinked her eyes clear, taking in the room. Rows upon rows of long metal tables were arranged in a grid, one already knocked aside next to where they’d emerged from the ground. Along one wall, large sheets of pane glass allowed her a glimpse of the sky outside. Or it would have were it not obscured by clouds of thick black smoke from the Helicarrier’s failing engine. Along the opposite wall ran a counter with a glass pane running along it, where trays of food were clearly meant to be held. And behind the countertop, she could clearly see a kitchen of some kind with two terrified cooks boggling at the both of them.
Applejack waved an arm desperately at the cooks. “Go!” She cried, “Git outta here!” The cooks finally managed to take the hint and fled out another exit. AJ didn’t have time to reorient herself, though, when she heard the Hulk roar again.
The Hulk, back to his feet, charged at her, arms open, clearly planning to grab her in a crushing bear hug. AJ rolled off the table, ducking to the side as the Hulk crashed into it. The table was sent flying into the windows, shattering through the glass. The room was suddenly filled with howls and screams of gusting wind. Smoke from the engines choked the air in the mess hall.
AJ leapt to trembling feet. She couldn’t just defend anymore. The Hulk was too powerful. She didn’t want to hurt Banner - if she even could - but if she wanted to survive this then she had to fight back and try and get him on the back foot.
She just prayed she wouldn’t make him even angrier.
The Hulk skidded to a halt as he tried to reverse his charge, turning on the balls of his feet and digging long grooves into the floor. He slammed the ground with his fists and growled, rearing for another charge. Applejack wasted no time. She grabbed hold of one of the polished metal tables and heaved.
It had been bolted to the floor, but that hadn’t seemed to hinder her at all. The table came away with the trademark screeching and snapping of twisted, breaking metal. Widening her stance, she steadied herself on her feet and as the Hulk came into range she chucked it at him.
The Hulk ducked his head, battering the table away with his shoulder. It tumbled over his back and clattered to the ground behind him. The move forced him to take his eyes of AJ for a second, though. She hunkered down, planting her feet and struck forward with a powerful kick to the monster’s gut.
It felt like kicking solid steel. AJ’s toes ached and throbbed. She managed to briefly stagger him, though. The Hulk stumbled to the side, his charge diverted for now. He growled, rage bubbling behind his eyes. Applejack didn’t give him a chance to reorient himself. She dashed forward and shoulder-checked the Hulk with everything she had. Both of them to tumbled backwards, crashing through the serving counter. The ceramic countertop cracked and crumbled beneath their combined weight.
Applejack felt herself sprawling atop the fallen Hulk - exactly the last place she wanted to be. Before she could leap off him and get back to her feet, the Hulk sat up and grabbed her around her around the leg with a single meaty hand. The world inverted, then spiralled as she was dragged through the air by her leg and then hurtled backwards over the Hulk’s head and into the kitchen.
A stove broke her fall. Her weight crushed the appliance beneath her and set one of the burners ablaze. Pots and pans went flying, an empty stewpot clattering away into a corner. She barely managed to avoid getting scorched by the errant flame, stumbling backwards as she pulled herself out of the broken fixture.
The Hulk burst into the kitchen, sending a stack of dishes tumbling and shattering to the floor. He grunted and roared, grabbing a serving cart and barrelling toward AJ. He held the cart held out in front of him and slammed full force into the staggered Applejack, who crashed against the back wall.
A splatter of blood burst from AJ’s lips as she impacted the wall. Again the Hulk slammed the serving cart into her middle with all his ungodly strength. He pressed, trying to crush her between the cart and the wall. Applejack felt the wall creak and crackle beneath her, cracks spiderwebbing around her body. The serving cart twisted and bent in the Hulk’s hands. He pulled back, giving Applejack a sweet, split-instant to stumble back to her feet and take in a breath of precious air, only for the Hulk to smash the cart into her ribs again.
AJ felt her bones creak. Her body was screaming in pain. Too much more of this and even with her enhanced durability she’d be a smear on the wall. The Hulk reared back again and Applejack fell to one knee, managing to catch the serving cart with her hands this time when he tried to slam it forward again. Her arms shook. Her elbows bent. The Hulk’s strength was just too great. She couldn’t match him in a one-on-one test of strength like this. She needed to find an advantage to leverage.
In a desperate move, she heaved the serving cart to the side. The Hulk twisted off balance, stumbling to the left. With her right hand, Applejack felt out, reaching for anything she could grab - any weapon at all would do. She felt her fingers close around a metal handle. Swinging out, with a wild uppercut at the Hulk’s face, she discovered it was the discarded stew pot.
The stew pot impacted the Hulk’s skull with a resounding, metallic ‘CLANG!’ The Hulk stumbled back, falling backwards into the fiery stove. He flinched and twisted in pain when his massive hand settled onto the flame-spewing burner. Applejack saw her chance. With a shrieking war cry, she leapt forward. She tackled the Hulk around his shoulders and slammed the stew pot down atop his head. Blinded, the Hulk twisted and thrashed in place.
AJ took the chance to grab the next thing she could: a frying pan. She shot forward and slammed it into the stew pot. There was another terrible ‘CLANG!’ and the pot dented and distorted. She hit him again. ‘CLANG!’ Again. ‘CLANG!’ The frying pan broke off in AJ’s hands.
The Hulk roared in rage and pain. The tinny, metal crashing noises tore at his sensitive ears. AJ tossed the ruined frying pan away and pressed her advantage with her fists. She ducked under a wild swing and drove her fist into the Hulk’s gut, a thunderous ‘POW’ ringing out as her super-strong punch landed in his solar plexus. The Hulk stumbled back, lashing out again with another blind swipe at her. This too she ducked. She drove another punch into the side of his belly, then kicked him in the shin. He lost his balance and stumbled backwards into a countertop.
Before AJ could press any further, though, the Hulk seemed to take a page out of her book. Grabbing out blindly, his massive green hand grabbed hold of a blender. He ripped it out of the wall and blindly lashed out at her. Applejack yelped and blocked but she was too slow. The glass pitcher of the blender impacted her head with enough force that it was practically reduced to dust.
AJ felt something hard and jagged land in her eye. She screamed, rearing back and clutching it.
His opponent now on the back foot, the Hulk upped the pressure. He grabbed out again, blindly grabbing an electronic mixer and chucking it at the spot where the scream came from. The hefty machine crashed against Applejack’s head. She fell to one knee, dizzy and still clutching her eye. Next came a food processor, which crashed against her hips. The Hulk ripped a microwave out of the wall, planting his feet and slamming the bulky appliance into AJ’s side, sending her tumbling back out of the kitchen and crashing against what remained of the serving counter.
Applejack’s head spun. Her ears were ringing and she coughed up a wad of blood, staining her shirt. She scrambled against the counter and struggled her way to her feet. Her left eye was bleary. Whatever landed in there had since dislodged, but her vision was still bleary with tears. She tried to shake off the dizziness and blink her vision clear when she heard the deep, screeching sound of twisting, tearing metal. Turning to the kitchen, she was too late to duck when she saw a refrigerator hurtling towards her head.
The massive thing crashed into her, completely unimpeded. Applejack screeched as she heard something ‘POP’ in her shoulder and her entire right arm felt like it was being torn straight off. Her arm went limp as she crashed through the countertop, through the remaining tables, and went skidding across the floor towards the shattered windows and the open air outside. She scrambled, trying to stop herself, but her right arm wouldn’t respond properly. She barely managed to get a grip, her fingers digging grooves into the floor with her left hand, as she felt her body twist and jerk around. Her legs fell out the window, followed by the rest of her torso, when she finally managed to dig herself to a stop.
She dangled there, hanging out the mess hall window by one hand. She struggled and screamed in terror, pain still radiating up her right arm as it hung limply against her side. The wind buffeted her with an intensity she’d never felt before, and would surely have torn her away and sent her hurtling into the rocks below were it not for her enhanced strength. Her heart hammered in her chest, her eyes wide and panicked. Her breathing was rapid and shallow and she felt herself grow dizzy from how petrifyingly high up she was.
The sound of screeching metal once again drew her attention. The Hulk stood over her, tearing at the pot upon his head. The Hulk tore at the metal with his bare hands, his fingers sinking into it and ripping it asunder from around his skull. The pot came apart in his hands in two pieces of twisted metal, which he quickly tossed out the open window. His vision cleared, the Hulk glared down at the helpless Applejack with a feral snarl, his teeth clenched murderously.
Applejack watched with horror as he reared back, clasping his hands together and bringing them up over his head, intent on crushing her remaining hand.
A pair of meaty arms appeared from behind the Hulk and something was suddenly pulled against the monster’s exposed throat. “AWAY FROM HER!” Thor bellowed, yanking the Hulk backwards and off balance.
Thor’s hands wrapped around the haft of his hammer, desperately trying to choke the Hulk out. Despite the god’s impressive height and frame, he dangled like a ragdoll from the monster’s back as the Hulk thrashed around, trying to throw him off.
Mind running on autopilot, Applejack took the chance while she still had it. Summoning up as much of her impressive strength as she could, she one handedly hauled herself up, fingers digging deeper grooves into the floor to get herself better purchase. She dragged herself up out from the window, her elbow catching onto the floor. Dragging her useless right arm in, then swinging her legs back over the overhang, she rolled onto her back and back onto solid ground, scrambling to get as far from the open window as she could. She took in a deep gasp of air. Coughing and sputtering, she groaned in pain as she sat up, watching Thor as he desperately tried to keep the Hulk off of her.
The two of them weren’t anywhere close to bringing him down.
--- --- ---
Natasha managed to rendezvous with Fury minutes after leaving Applewood to hopefully deal with Bruce. The director was needed on the bridge to help coordinate the counterattack, so it was up to Natasha to get Jennifer Walters the medical attention she needed.
She felt useless leaving AJ behind. No way the pony-turned-human could possibly take the Hulk on alone. But she was in no condition to help her fight him. She’d been hurt in the fall, and even now her leg still twinged as she ran through the hallways, hefting the limp, barely conscious form of Jennifer Walters on her back.
Even if she hadn’t been hurt, there was nothing she could reasonably do against the emerald giant. Her skills lay in quick takedowns, lethal precision strikes, and nimble evasion. Much as she hated it, the truth of the matter was that she simply had nothing to even slow him down. And one good hit from the Hulk would probably kill her. If she’d tried to stay she’d have only been a liability.
She just hoped that Applewood was durable enough to live through a Hulk attack.
Nat abandoned the grim thoughts and focused instead on what she could do to help. Right now, one of their number was wounded. Jennifer dangled from her shoulders, weakly holding onto Natasha in a limp piggyback. Though her ankle screamed at her with every step, Nat would let nothing get in the way between her and the medical attention Jen needed.
And she needed it badly.
There was a shard of glass the size of her palm sticking out of the poor woman’s abdomen, blood seeping around its edges. Natasha had to hold onto the smaller girl’s hands just to keep Jen from following her instincts and pulling the glass out. There was every chance that if she did she would undo the only thing that was stopping the flow of blood. She carried Jen carefully, making sure not to press the glass further into Jen’s belly. For once, she was thankful for the years of strength and endurance training she’d received before joining SHIELD. It helped that Jen was a tiny thing.
Jen groaned and cried out with every bump and stagger through the rumbling hallways as she fought through the pain. What little adrenaline she’d had coursing through her when the lab first exploded had quickly drained away and she was beginning to swim in and out of consciousness. The only thing keeping her awake was the pain.
Natasha burst down a flight of stairs and through a pair of large, swinging doors labeled with a red cross. “Medic!” She cried out as several doctors and nurses turned away from where they were bandaging a gash on one agent’s arm, while several others looked up from where they’d been treating another’s mild burn. She heard several gasps as she laid Jen down on a vacant medical stretcher.
“What happened?” one of the doctors asked, dashing over and shining a pen light into Jennifer’s eye, breathing a small sigh of relief when the pupil shrank.
“Light fixture fell on her in the explosion,” Nat said, perfectly masking how shaken and exhausted she truly felt. She watched as a pair of nurses descended upon the smaller woman, cutting away her suit jacket and shirt with a pair of scissors and tearing them away to reveal her bloodstained belly. “About six minutes ago.”
One of the nurses inspected the wound, dabbing around it gently with a cotton swab to clear away the blood. “Doctor, it’s punctured her liver. She’s going to need surgery.”
Another nurse prodded at Jen’s stomach, causing the tiny girl to cry out in agony. “There’s a great deal of blood pooling in the abdomen. It may have nicked the hepatic artery.”
“Dammit.” The Doctor swore, running his hands over his face. He turned to Natasha. “Do you know her blood type?”
“Same as Doctor Banner’s,” Nat said. “O-negative.”
“Is there a problem?” she asked, growing increasingly tense as a nurse desperately tried to calm Jen down, poking an IV into the girl’s left arm and making calming shushing noises at her. The other nurse busied herself by dabbing at the girl’s forehead with a damp cloth.
The doctor turned and started down a nearby corridor, gesturing for Natasha to follow. “She’s sustained damage to at least one major blood vessel. She’s going to need a transfusion.” He led Natasha down a short hallway and opened a door labeled with the words ‘Cold Storage.’
“Normally this wouldn’t be a problem,” the doctor continued, “but the explosion rocked us pretty badly.”
Natasha looked. Where the doctor gestured, there was a massive refrigerator lying damaged on its front, ripped away from its spot on the wall. Blood leaked out from a crack in its face and pooled in a deep red puddle around where it lay.
“Bozhe moi,” she cursed.
“We’re trying to salvage as much as we can, but O-negs can’t take any other blood type besides their own. We could try to call an agent in for a transfusion but…”
“...the alert.” Nat finished for him.
“Nobody will come until the crisis is over, and if we don’t get her into surgery asap she’s going to drown in her own blood.” The doctor said, running his hands over his face again. He turned and looked Natasha in the eye. “None of my staff are O-neg. You wouldn’t happen to be…?”
“Damn,” the doctor grumbled.
Natasha chewed the inside of her cheek, desperately trying to figure out how to save Jen. It was a cold, callous thought, perhaps, but if there was anybody that needed to get out of this attack alive, it was Jennifer Walters. They’d brought her on board the helicarrier. It was because of them that she was in this position in the first place. If they let the Hulk’s cousin die, there would be hell to pay. An enraged Hulk, with all of his ungodly fury condensed into a laser focus targeted directly at SHIELD? The whole organization would be crushed to less than powder within a month.
But what could she do? Run into the halls and start yelling at passing agents, demanding to know their blood type? One agent could be the difference between turning the tide of the battle and the helicarrier dropping from the sky. Natasha felt her mask slipping. There was nothing to be done...
“I have an idea.” Natasha said, spinning on one foot, ignoring the pain in her ankle as she sprinted towards the medbay exit. “Keep her alive until I get back!”
The doctor didn’t even have a chance to ask her what she was planning before she’d burst through the medbay doors and darted a right towards the stairwell leading to the lower decks.
Natasha had to get to Phase 2 storage.
--- --- ---
Thor was clearly not as experienced as AJ at holding onto a raging bull. With one mighty thrash, the Hulk dislodged the thunder god from his back, sending him hurtling over his shoulder. The god was still a skilled combatant, though. Gracefully, he flipped over the Hulk’s head, landing on his feet and spinning in place. As he spun he thrust his arm forward and his hammer hurtled straight toward the Hulk’s face. Hulk dodged, but as the hammer soared past him the beast reached out and grabbed at the haft.
Applejack’s eyes widened and she was forced to duck under his massive green body as the Hulk was dragged along with the hammer. The Hulk sailed over her head before crashing to the floor, his hand pinned beneath the hammer’s handle.
The Hulk snorted furiously. Quickly he rolled to his feet and grabbed hold of the handle with both hands. He roared in frustration and rage as the hammer lay steadfast on the ground. Hulk pulled and pulled with all his might. His feet began to sink into the floor, tiles buckling and cracking beneath his weight and strength.
Applejack boggled as she slowly stood on trembling legs, supporting herself against a crumpled table. Was Thor really that much stronger than the Hulk? Not moments ago the Hulk had been tossing around refrigerators with seemingly no effort. Now he was struggling to lift a hammer that Thor wielded as if it were nothing? How heavy was the hammer? How powerful was Thor?!
Questions for later. Action now.
Applejack took the opening presented to her. With the shrillest battlecry she could muster, she charged the Hulk, completely ignoring her throbbing, useless right arm. The Hulk turned her way just in time to see her charge him with a headbutt directly to the bridge of his nose.
Applejack’s forehead plowed into the soft tissue of the Hulk’s nose (soft being a very relative term with the Hulk involved). Her skull rang, but it worked. The Hulk stumbled backward, clutching his nose and howling.
A drop of dark, forest green splattered against the floor.
All three combatants paused, eyes locked on the droplet of blood. The Hulk’s eyes burned as he glared daggers into AJ.
The Hulk moved so fast he practically teleported. Before AJ could react, the Hulk had already swept her up in one palm, lifting her up and slamming her into the ground. Once. Twice. Three times she was slammed into the floor, tiles cratering around her. She was only saved when Thor tackled Hulk off of her and made to wrestle him to the ground.
He only managed to drag the monster off balance enough to get him to one knee, though. Changing tactics, Thor wrapped his right arm around the Hulk’s impossibly thick neck, desperately trying to choke the monster out. “We are not your enemies Banner!” He snarled, struggling with all his strength to try and hold the beast down.
Hulk howled in rage. He grabbed Thor by the arm and swung him over his head. The god of thunder was chucked flailing across the room. He crashed straight into Applejack, sending both of them sprawling in a heap across the room. They crashed to a stop against smooth metal, ruining another table as it crumpled beneath them.
Hulk stomped, grunting and snorting as he beat his chest twice with his meaty fist. The monster leaned forward and roared, lowering himself for another charge and--
A noise reverberated through the room. A silver canister clattered to the ground between the fallen AJ and Thor and the charging Hulk. The Hulk hesitated, rearing back at the sight of the thing and a moment later world suddenly exploded in noise and horrible, blinding light.
Applejack shrieked in surprise as the world suddenly flashed away in a haze of bright, eye-scorching white. Her ears rang, whining with a terrible, high pitched squeal. Faintly, through the pounding in her skull and the ringing in her ears, somebody shouted.
“GO! GO! GO!”
AJ blinked frantically, rubbing desperately at her eyes with her good hand. Her vision slowly started coming back to her. At first it was faint, and she saw double, but she could make out a second canister on the floor, some kind of stinging gas pouring from it and filling the room with an irritating, white smoke.
She saw the Hulk, thrashing about wildly as the emerald giant tried desperately to get his bearings. He clawed at his eyes and swung about with flailing arms. He struck out at the air around him in a vain attempt to force away his newest attackers.
Through the smoke, AJ spied a dozen heavily armored men, mere shadows through the haze and blur of her vision. They lined up in formation, three in front and the rest falling back. Those in front knelt down, putting the Hulk between them and the broken window, and each hefted up a large, silver, oblong device; so long that the agents were forced to rest them on their shoulders. AJ couldn’t begin to tell what they were, but she sensed she knew what was about to happen.
“N-no!” AJ tried to shout, only to choke and sputter through the stifling haze.
“Wave one!” came a rough, gravelly voice from somewhere deeper in the cloud of smoke. “FIRE!”
The air itself distorted.
Heavy vibrations caused the air to warp and twist. The cloud of smoke was suddenly blown apart as a terrible rumbling, warbling noise cut through the air. Applejack felt her teeth rattle in her skull and she clasped her hands over her ears as best she could. Still, it felt like her entire skeleton was vibrating apart.
Whatever it was doing to her, though, the Hulk was getting far worse.
The furious giant was standing directly in their line of fire, and the crashing wave of sonar tore into him, sending his flesh rippling. The Hulk tried to retreat, taking several steps backwards towards the broken window. Suddenly though, the Hulk sank to one knee, his muscles spasming and seizing.
As Applejack’s vision cleared, she watched as dark, forest green veins began to poke out from the Hulk’s forehead and neck. Sweat beaded upon his brow. The Hulk’s face was caught in a terrible snarl, as he glared hatefully at the attacking soldiers.
...but for some reason, the Hulk did not move.
“That won’t keep him down for long!” the commanding voice once more shouted. “Wave one fall back! Wave two, ready up!”
The three men who’d fired their weapons at the Hulk fell back into line, discarding their massive weapons. Three more took their place, each carrying another sonic cannon device.
True to the commander’s words, the Hulk was already getting up. He shook his head and roared, ready to charge.
The second wave of men fired their own sonar devices, another wave of distortion cutting through the room. Once again, the Hulk found himself forced back. The Hulk held up his arms in front of him, desperately trying to block the pulverizing burst of sound, but all to no avail. He stepped backwards towards the window, one heel peeking over the edge when he froze up again, dropping to one knee, his veins pushing out against his throat and face once more.
Again, AJ felt her teeth and bones rattle. She heard a noise from beside her and turned to look, only to find it was difficult to turn her head. With a surprising amount of effort, she turned and looked to see Thor, too, was down on one knee, groaning and supporting himself with his hammer.
Whatever this weapon the agents were using was, it was enough to even affect Thor.
The Hulk now stood at the edge of a massive drop, the wind from outside the window buffeting at his short, dark green hair. His looked agonized. Whatever these sonic weapons were, they not only somehow froze him in place, but they were terribly, oppressively painful.
As the second assault from the agents ended, the front line of soldiers all threw their bulky weapons to the ground, standing and falling back as a third line of soldiers with bulky silver weapons resting on their shoulders took their place. The Hulk began to recover again, climbing to his feet and shaking his head, disoriented.
“Third wave!” the commander called out.
“S-stop!” Applejack tried to cough out. “You’ll--”
The final line of soldiers fired.
The Hulk raised his hands in a futile attempt to cover his ears.
The wave hit.
He took a step back.
“No!” AJ and Thor both shouted.
And the Hulk fell, roaring as he tumbled out the window and hurtled toward the unforgiving ground below. His terrible howl of anguish and fury faded away, growing softer and softer as he disappeared beneath the clouds, until all that could be heard was the rushing of the wind outside.