Author: Del Rion (delrion.mail (at) gmail.com)
Fandom: The Avengers & Iron Man 3 (MCU)
Timeline: Set directly after Iron Man 3’s post-credit scene
Genre: Horror, suspense, thriller
Rating: M / FRM
Characters: Bruce Banner (Hulk), Tony Stark (Iron Man). Cameos: J.A.R.V.I.S., Maria Hill.
Summary: After a runaway AIM scientist abandons his work in a closed down underground facility, Bruce and Tony are asked by S.H.I.E.L.D. to take care of the investigation and clean up of any potentially hazardous materials and technology. After Bruce gets a face full of an unknown agent, Tony finds himself face to face with a monster that makes even the Hulk pale in comparison.
Written for: Horror Big Bang’s (horrorbigbang) round 4.
Also fills a square on my card on Hurt/Comfort Bingo’s (hc_bingo) round 4 (square: “torture”).
Warnings: Very graphic violence & torture (including: general violence, water torture, drowning, vitriolage), abuse of a person suffering from PTSD (and using their triggers against them), altered state of mind (aka, a person going crazy), psychological tension, language. Also, Iron Man 3 spoilers.
Disclaimer: Iron Man, Avengers and Marvel Cinematic Universe, including characters and everything else, belong to Marvel, Marvel Studios, Jon Favreau, Joss Whedon, Shane Black, Louis Leterrier, Paramount Pictures, Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures and Universal Pictures. In short: I own nothing; this is pure fiction created to entertain likeminded fans for no profit whatsoever.
Beta: Gamebird (game_byrd)
Feedback: Welcomed (with some healthy trepidation and chewed fingernails)
About Bloodlust: This is the first time I’m purposefully trying to write horror.
For the record, I don’t enjoy horror as a genre: I hate slasher movies, being spooked out of my seat, and the gnawing tension of waiting when some monster is going to jump from behind some furniture, or appear where it wasn’t seconds before.
So, I’m trying to cram as much psychological tension into these words as is humanly possible.
Good luck! (Try to make it out alive.)
Story and status: Below you see the writing process of the story. If there is no text after the title, then it is finished and checked. Possible updates shall be marked after the title.
Written for Horror Big Bang’s round 4.
Also fills a square on my card on Hurt/Comfort Bingo’s round 4 card (square: “torture”).
“… You know, and thank you, by the way, for listening. There’s something about just getting it off my chest, and putting it out there in the atmosphere, instead of holding this in… I mean, this is what gets people sick, you know.
“Wow, I had no idea you were such a good listener. To be able to share all my intimate thoughts and my experiences with someone, it just cuts the weight of it in half.” Tony slowly blinked his eyes open, words and thoughts still rushing forward like a river that couldn’t stop until it reached the ocean.
“You know, it’s like a snake swallowing its own tail; everything comes full circle,” Tony went on, barely registering the sound of something dropping onto a soft surface. “And the fact that you’ve been able to help me process…”
The sound of something falling was followed by frantic, startled shifting, which finally drew Tony’s attention to its source – Bruce Banner, seated on a dark leather chair. The man appeared confused, left hand rubbing his eyes before he looked about, scratching the back of his close-cropped hair in obvious alarm at being found out. “You with me?” Tony asked, because obviously Bruce wasn’t paying attention.
“I was, yeah. We were at, uh…”
“Were you actively napping?”
“I was… I… I drifted.” Bruce stammered, gesturing wildly with his right hand.
“Where did I lose you?”
Bruce scratched his stubble-covered jaw, looking lost for a bit. “Elevator in Switzerland.”
Tony opened his mouth, then closed it, just a tiny bit insulted. “So, you heard none of it?”
“I’m sorry. I’m not that kind of doctor. I’m not a therapist. It’s not my training,” Bruce went on explaining like it mattered.
“So?” Tony challenged.
“I… I don’t have the –”
“What? The time?”
Tony’s brain jumped at the word, dismissing the obvious implication most people would have associated that word with, which came in a big, green package. “You know what? Now that I think about it…” He slid a hand to his forehead at the memory and closed his eyes theatrically. Bruce didn’t want to listen to the latest tragedy of his life? Well, let him nap on this: “Oh! God, my original wound. It’s 1983, all right?”
“Yes,” Bruce threw in, as if he was paying attention this time. He clearly wasn’t.
“I’m 14 years old, I still have a nanny. That was weird,” Tony went on, able to visualize it all – until his phone chimed. He pretended not to hear Bruce’s breath of relief.
Tony dragged his phone from the pocket of his jeans with a small roll of his eyes and frowned at the screen, then opened the video call. “Agent Hill,” he greeted. “I wasn’t expecting a call from y–”
“There is an urgent matter we need you to look at, Mr. Stark,” the S.H.I.E.L.D. agent announced before Tony could finish. Her face was tense, as always, her posture suggesting this was not a call she had looked forward to making.
“Did Fury get stuck in an elevator?” Tony guessed.
“A rogue AIM scientist was located in a shut down facility in North Dakota. The scientist is in the wind, but we need to neutralize the possible threat his research poses to the world.”
She’d had Tony’s attention at ‘AIM’, but the rest of it didn’t hurt. Before Tony could respond, though, Bruce had leaned over:
“What kind of research?” he asked over Tony’s shoulder.
“Is that Banner?”
“Looks like it,” Tony didn’t bother to act surprised.
“Bring him along. You’ll be briefed on the way.”
Tony opened his mouth, but the call was already disconnected and Maria Hill’s face disappeared from his screen. He looked up at Bruce, who was already gazing around as if contemplating what to take along for the trip. “Are you even going to pretend to be mad at how she just ordered you around like a piece of furniture?” Tony asked.
“Why bother?” Bruce countered. “Besides, you’ll have the chance to recount your latest adventure during the flight north,” Bruce flashed him a quick smile before heading for the door.
Tony picked himself up, determined to do just that, in case they ran into trouble cooked up by AIM. After all, it had always been a vain hope that the entire organization would go down with Killian, and that their think-tank had only thought up Extremis and various ill-advisable marketing strategies for it.
a few hours later
As promised, Tony had given Bruce the compacted version of his showdown with Killian during the flight. With that knowledge and between the two of them, it shouldn’t take them too long to unlock the secrets that lay in store before them.
The facility was located in the middle of nowhere, within an old, secret military research base. Above ground, it didn’t look like much, because the majority of the base was located about three-hundred feet underground. All of it had been shut down, sealed up and abandoned years ago, but that had never stopped people like AIM from setting up their evil clubhouse there.
A complementary introduction file Tony and Bruce had been given of the base stated that when the military left, they had sealed up the place pretty tight – including but not limited to filling the staircases leading from the surface to the underground levels with concrete. That left the elevator shaft as only means of transportation, and it was clear the current elevator car wasn’t the original, most likely installed by AIM during their stay.
When Bruce and Tony rode the creaky, barely lit elevator down to the very bottom of the base, there was a single vibe to be gotten about the whole thing – the kind that resonated with bad omens. For most of the ride Tony was certain they would plunge to their deaths at any given second, but seeing as S.H.I.E.L.D. personnel had already ridden it up and down with men and supplies, he guessed it could take just the two of them.
The moment the elevator doors opened, it was easy to tell the place was in a serious need of maintenance: most of the overhead lights weren’t working, and the air was heavy and uncirculated. From S.H.I.E.L.D.’s briefing package, Tony knew AIM had been working here for over a year until their presence was accidentally detected.
A S.H.I.E.L.D. agent met them at the elevator to escort them to the lab area.
“Why are we needed here?” Tony asked, looking around and the bustle of activity as agents moved around, collecting samples and checking room after room. They had clearly been at it for hours now, perhaps even days. “You guys seem to have things well in hand.”
“A part of the research area was heavily sealed when we got here,” the agent explained. “The higher-ups thought it would be best to leave it to the experts to crack that one open.”
“Should have brought your suit,” Bruce told Tony.
“I’m kind of in-between suits,” Tony explained to him, not bothering to mention that he had one already in progress – and a lot of ideas. Brilliant fucking ideas, thanks for asking.
“We need Tony Stark, not Iron Man,” the agent stated, as if that was supposed to mean something, and Tony decided to be insulted.
“Lead the way,” Bruce said, probably sensing that the agent had just put himself on Tony’s black list.
They were led deeper into the facility where fewer agents moved around. This area had probably been scoured down already, which made Tony wonder, yet again, if there was anything here worth his and Bruce’s trip.
When they got to what had to be the main research area, the agent stopped in front of a door, clearly implying this was where his jurisdiction ended. Tony moved in past him, taking a cursory glance around the large space that was actually cut in two by a wall that separated controls from the actual laboratory area. Everything looked less mad scientist and more hasty retreat – with the lab area carefully sealed-off, with a tightly shut cabinet sitting inside it.
Bruce joined him next to the controls, fishing his glasses from his pocket. The S.H.I.E.L.D. agent had already taken his leave. “What do you think is inside the containment area?” Bruce asked, clearly having noticed the lab area – and the cabinet. Most of the wall between the two areas was see-through, from ceiling to waist height, to allow people on both sides to monitor each other. There was a passage on the left side, connecting the two sides through what appeared to be a decontamination chamber.
“Shall we draw lots on who goes in there?” Tony suggested.
“I’ll go,” Bruce said at once. “Nothing in there can hurt me,” he added.
Tony supposed that was true, but it didn’t make him any less uneasy. “Let’s check this side first,” he suggested, and started going over the computers and machines. The actual computers had suffered from some kind of fire – probably intentional, to destroy them and any data they withheld. Tony looked around, located a large toolbox by the door and went to it. Clearly S.H.I.E.L.D. had expected him to get hands dirty, and as much as Tony disliked doing the organization’s dirty work for them, he knew what sort of things AIM was capable of cooking up and anything locked behind so many doors was something he wanted to take a look at.
There was no sledgehammer, which may have made things easier, but Tony made do with other tools like a crowbar. When careful bending, prodding and prying didn’t do the trick, Tony forcibly hacked open some of the panels on the wall, finally gaining access to the mechanical parts that operated the doors; with most of the controls destroyed, one had to go to the source. After a little bit, Tony found the right wires to connect and the door on their side of the decontamination chamber opened. With a bit more testing, Tony found the controls for the other half as well, and Bruce stepped over to the door, clearly adamant on entering.
“You sure about this?” Tony asked.
“What’s the worst that can happen?” Bruce asked in return, then stopped. “If the worst does happen and the big guy makes an appearance, don’t play a hero: get yourself and everyone else out of here. The three-hundred feet between here and the surface should slow him down.”
Tony nodded, not about to get into this argument with Bruce right now. He still refused to think the Hulk was all bad and should be treated as a monster at all costs. After all, the Hulk had saved his life during the Battle of New York – something Tony had no recollection of, being unconscious at the time – but he had been told – and shown – by other people that no one had told the Hulk to save him, and he had anyway.
Bruce stepped into the decontamination chamber and Tony rigged the door to close behind him and the other one to open, granting him access to the space on the other side. Bruce stepped out of the chamber carefully, looking around, then looked over at Tony. “Can you hear me?” he asked, voice barely audible through the protective wall.
Tony gave him a so-so gesture and a thumb’s up.
Bruce nodded and advanced to the large cabinet. Bruce peered inside, adjusting his glasses. Either he saw nothing hazardous inside or didn’t care, because Bruce soon began to search for a way to open it.
Since there was no hazmat or protective gear in sight, on either side, Tony supposed that whatever materials were present, they were properly sealed inside the cabinet. He took another look at the wiring, wondering if he could unlock the cabinet from this side. He saw a few promising leads and circuit boards and proceeded to re-wire them, but when that didn’t give him any results he opted to try and fry the locking mechanism – after being fairly certain he had found the right one.
“Here goes nothing,” Tony murmured and connected two wires that shouldn’t be connected. The circuit board flashed and began to smoke, but nothing else happened. “Crap,” he muttered, glancing at Bruce who had stopped to watch him. Tony shrugged one shoulder, signaling that he was working on it – which was two seconds before the entire cabinet blew up from the inside, showering Bruce in bits and pieces of glass and whatever else had been inside.
“Shit!” Tony jumped up. He was fairly certain he hadn’t done that – unless the whole place was booby-trapped, just waiting for some unsuspecting intruder to come digging through the leftovers. “Are you okay?!” Tony shouted, moving closer to the wall between them. “Bruce!”
On the other side, there was no fire or any kind of visible dust in the air. No chemical reaction, either. All Bruce did was brush his hands over his hair, shaking out bits of glass, and wipe his face – which miraculously had not a single scratch on it. He seemed a bit out of it, and when he opened his eyes and looked at Tony, his normally brown eyes were green.
“What was that?” a S.H.I.E.L.D. agent had appeared in the doorway, attracted by the sound of the small explosion.
“We have a potential Hulk-out,” Tony threw over his shoulder.
The man took one look at Bruce and hightailed out of the room. Tony opened his mouth to call after him, but guessed it was a lost cause. Distantly, he thought he could hear shouts and footsteps, imagining all those hardcore agents running for their lives to get out of here.
“Okay,” Tony said to himself, squaring his shoulders, then looked back at Bruce. “Going to let the big guy out?” he asked, knowing he probably wouldn’t be able to talk his way out of that one.
Bruce blinked, eyes still green, and wiped his hands over his face again. The front of his clothes appeared wet, which meant something had been inside that sealed cabinet – something which he was now wearing, for the most part.
Tony waited, pretending that his frantic heartbeat had everything to do with the scare of the explosion and not the tension that came from waiting whether Bruce would go green or not.
He didn’t: the green eventually receded from Bruce’s eyes and he grew visibly more alert to what was going on. When he properly looked at Tony, tightness disappeared from Bruce’s shoulders and he looked almost relaxed. “Can you open the doors?” he asked, motioning towards the decontamination chamber.
“Let me see if I can make it work,” Tony nodded hastily and returned to the wall. Miraculously, the door controls hadn’t been fried or damaged. He quickly shut Bruce’s side again, however, when the man moved to walk into the chamber. Tony got up and walked back to the wall, to make sure Bruce heard him. “You have to get out of those clothes!” he said loudly, gesturing at Bruce’s stained clothes. “Not all of us are immune to every known substance.”
Bruce looked down at himself, then nodded and began stripping matter-of-factly.
“You do that, I’ll look for a change of wardrobe,” Tony offered and looked around the room, then outside it. After checking few of the nearest rooms, it was clear he was alone: the entire base had been emptied in a matter of minutes. At least S.H.I.E.L.D. knew how to do that.
Tony finally located a pair of pants in a room that may have been used as a changing room. He didn’t get picky, grabbing the pants and returning to the research lab, presenting a now-naked Bruce with his findings. “Hold on,” Tony added and put the pants down, then stripped the black hoodie he was wearing and tugged off the dark gray shirt beneath it, adding the latter into the pile with the pants. That still left Tony with a t-shirt – and not for the first time Tony was glad he still dressed himself in layers of clothes, as had become a habit during the years of cloaking the arc reactor. Some habits stuck, even when Tony was no longer carrying the device in his chest.
Once that was done, he went back to the wall and opened Bruce’s side of the decontamination chamber, then closed it once the man was inside. The chamber actually activated, working perhaps at half the normal capacity, and Tony hoped it was enough when he opened his side, allowing Bruce to step through. Dripping wet, Bruce reached for the hoodie and started drying himself on it.
Tony looked away, giving him a moment to dry and dress, observing the computers once more and wondering if S.H.I.E.L.D. hadn’t already tried to extract leftover information from them.
Through a dim reflection on a cracked screen, he noted that Bruce had finished dressing. The man looked up at him, dropped the hoodie, then moved closer. Tony smiled a bit, relieved that Bruce was fine. “Still feeling okay?” Tony asked. “I totally didn’t mean for that explosion to happen back there, scout’s honor. We should probably get S.H.I.E.L.D. to check you out, just in case.”
“Oh, I’m fine,” Bruce replied, voice pleasant as if he hadn’t just gotten a face full of glass and unknown substances. He kept walking closer and Tony followed his approach through the dark screen – then saw Bruce reach for something on the table behind Tony: the crowbar.
“What are you going to do with that?” Tony asked, turning, and that was all he could do before he saw a blur of movement and pain exploded across his face from skull to jaw.
It felt like forever before his brain rebooted and when he stirred, his world had become filled with throbbing, hot pain. He tasted blood in his mouth, couldn’t feel the left side of his face at all, and was lying on the floor in a weird little heap.
“I’m feeling fantastic,” Bruce was saying somewhere above him, and Tony raised his head, trying to find him, to understand what had just happened. He didn’t have to look far: Bruce was standing over him, crowbar in a loose, comfortable hold, the tip of it colored with a few drops of blood that kept sliding down and falling off it. Tony had difficulty focusing on it, his mind still blurry, but he was fairly certain the pain he was in and the crowbar he was seeing were linked.
“If only I had known this was the way to shut you up,” Bruce went on conversationally, softly, as if speaking to a frightened child. “Then again, everyone responds differently to violence and pain, so… let’s make sure we’re on the right track,” the other man mused, lifted his right leg – and brought it down hard on Tony’s left knee.
The pain made Tony scream – which almost literally made his lower face explode with pain; his jaw was not only throbbing and bruised but most likely dislocated and broken. A chuckle met Tony’s ears over his pained breaths, being the only warning he got before Bruce brought the crowbar down, the straight end first as if he was striking a pole into the ground, and the force drove the metal tool deep into Tony’s flesh at the knee, inflaming the area all over again.
Tony tried not to scream, to keep his mouth from moving, but there was no way he was holding it in as hot pain radiated up and down his leg and Bruce pressed his weight more firmly on what could well be broken bone and a damaged joint. Tony’s heart raced madly in his chest and adrenaline tried to kick in, to block the pain and allow him to fight back or escape – to survive.
Somewhere deep in his body, Extremis had to be taking notice of what was happening, but it was taking its sweet time coming to Tony’s aid. He was starting to see why a more aggressive approach to utilize Extremis’ healing properties might have been useful, after all; Tony had simply wanted to make sure he survived the surgery to remove the shrapnel – and to get rid of the arc reactor and the crater left in his chest. Also, he hadn’t been fond of the idea of blowing up, so he had toned down Extremis’ effects, not thinking he might be regretting it so soon.
He hated being wrong, on principal.
The crowbar was suddenly jerked up and went clattering across the room as Bruce moved off Tony, stretching a bit as if after a particularly good nap. “I have to say, it’s refreshing to really let go. To get all these… urges off my chest,” he said, turning around, still smiling. “I’m sure you know what I’m talking about,” he enthused, and Tony could just stare, riding the waves of pain that rendered his mind unable to comprehend what was happening.
Bruce wasn’t getting green – not the eyes or his skin. He didn’t appear particularly enraged or vexed. In fact, he was acting as if he was having a very good time indeed. Tony spied a few drops of blood on his left hand, and as Tony frantically tried to think of something that didn’t include his shattered jaw and knee, Bruce followed his gaze and lifted his hand, licking off the blood.
“I’m sure we both know a lot about all those suppressed urges,” Bruce said conversationally. “How many times have we watched those in the wrong get away with things while others pay the price? How many times have we wanted to just drive our fist into those pathetic sacks of meat that don’t deserve to take another breath? To hurt, to maim, to make them suffer?” His voice didn’t rise, not once. He spoke with obvious passion, but was almost inhumanly calm about it, like none of it truly affected him.
Tony shifted, testing whether he could do that without wanting to scream or black out from the pain. He needed to get away, he realized, but with Bruce between him and every viable exit – or weapon, although Tony would rather not think on those terms – all he could do was to inch back on the floor, further away from the door while trying to put some distance between them.
“But there are all those rules that don’t allow that,” Bruce went on after a thoughtful pause, choosing not to notice Tony’s activities. “We’re supposed to be heroes, to give the world a good example to live by. They don’t want to see Iron Man exacting his revenge on those who deserve it. You’ve done it, though, haven’t you?” he smiled at Tony before dropping the expression. “How many men escaped the camp where you were held for three months? How many people did you kill during your first appearance in Gulmira? How easy was it to let Obadiah fall to his death after he tried to kill you – to let Ivan Vanko blow up?”
Tony tried to even out his breathing, to gain control of his body. Deep beneath his skin, something stirred – finally! – and the pain receded slightly. He hoped to all the gods who might be listening that it lasted long enough for him to get away. He thought about talking to Bruce, to convince him to stop this insanity, but he wasn’t a genius for nothing: Bruce had just attacked him, and none of those things were something Bruce would say out loud.
Not in his right mind.
Not when he had control.
Briefly, Tony wondered if something had happened on the other side of the wall after all. This wasn’t the Hulk, though, whose rage mostly consisted of an animal instinct to fight and escape; this was calculated and calm, and Bruce’s every act so far hadn’t been to incapacitate and kill but to cause pain without going too far.
This wasn’t the Hulk.
Tony was afraid to actually think what it was, but it didn’t matter: he needed to haul ass, to get out, and find a way to reset Bruce’s brain. It dawned to him, also, that he couldn’t let Bruce leave the facility in his current condition: if he Hulked-out, who knew what would happen. Then again, perhaps Hulking-out would fix the problem and reset Bruce to normal.
It was a gamble either way, but first Tony needed to get away from him, and he wasn’t going to do that by lying on the floor in a growing pool of his own blood.
“You’ve gotten away with so much,” Bruce mused. “I want that. I want to feel liberated.”
Liberate this, Tony thought and with all his might he lifted his right foot and kicked at the table that now sat between them. It shifted forward, catching Bruce hard in the hip, and Tony scrambled up, eyes on the door, his brain focused on nothing but getting there, getting out… His eyes spied the abandoned crowbar on the floor and he reached for it, almost falling because he couldn’t place any weight on his left leg.
“Where are you going to run to?” Bruce asked from behind him, still so fucking calm. The table’s legs screeched against the floor and then the whole thing was tipped to the side.
Tony didn’t see or hear Bruce approach, his fingers curled around the crowbar tight, to not drop it, as he hopped out through the door, pulled it shut and slammed it in Bruce’s face just as the man was reaching for him. With shaking hands, Tony slid the crowbar into the door handle, locking it temporarily in place.
The handle rattled as Bruce fought to open the door, and Tony hopped to the opposite side of the hallway, his heartbeat pounding against the inside of his skull, his left leg on fire, getting worse by the second.
“Tony?” Bruce called from the other side. “Be a good boy and open the door. I promise not to hurt you anymore.”
It was a lie and Tony knew that. He looked frantically up and down the hallway, but saw no one; the S.H.I.E.L.D. personnel were still outside, waiting for an all-clear. Thinking of them made Tony think of back-up, and he reached for his pocket to find his phone – only to discover that even his Stark phone had no signal down here.
With shaky, bloody fingers, he stuffed the device back to his pocket – then jumped as the door handle rattled again, harder, making the crowbar slip. Tony reached out for it, almost falling again, and jammed the tool into a better position, but there was nothing to further fix it into place. He had to make a choice: to remain here and pray Bruce didn’t think of an alternative way to get out, or make a run for it. Not that he could run, and he wasn’t sure how far he would get before the pain would get too bad.
However, he couldn’t let Bruce out like this.