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. Wednesday, 10:27
Amegakure

Team 3’s return to Shigeki had them re-seated in a fresh room, the normally slow restaurant quite accommodating. Of course, serving reheated stew would be reprehensible for any establishment, so a fresh round of orders had been taken, the team now waiting for both their leader and the long awaited meal.

After a brief wait, food yet to arrive at the table, the door to the restaurant slid open once again. But rather than be joined by their leader, instead, a brown haired shinobi girl in red and yellow, Amegakure headband on her forehead under her swept, short hair. Spotting team 3, a brief look of surprise crossed her face, but she didn’t hesitate for long, approaching the table as the second ninja to intrude in the past hour. Refreshingly, she wasn’t in a hurry, no particular urgency in her movements, but they were rather stiff and formal. Though the casual air of the quiet restaurant, bubbling and clattering from the kitchen clearly audible as work was being done, the shinobi introduced herself, stooping on to one knee, fist planted on the ground as she relayed her orders.

“My apologies for the interruption. My name is Tenjin Suzuko. I’ve been ordered to support team 3 on their next mission, and…”

Drifting from proper procedure, Suzuko had only just now noticed that she was only referring to part of team 3. One of the cell was missing, and Suzu didn’t think the commander was here at the moment given that the team was squashed into one side of the table. Looking over the bunch, she didn’t recognize them by face and name at once. She recognized some of her fellow Ame shinobi she’d seen around, naturally, and she had been briefed on the name of her teammates, but putting name and appearance together on her own was a minefield of awkwardness she’d rather not have to traverse. She hadn’t heard bad things about team 3, per se, but the individuals were of enough renown to go by various intimidating epithets despite not being much older than Suzuko herself. At most: one of the present trio was certainly younger than her. Suzu knew she’d asked to be put on new work sooner rather than later, but faced with what she'd asked for, she was feeling more like an outsider than she had in a while.

“...and, I’m about as privy to your next mission as you are, so I’ll stand by for the time being. Excuse me.” Standing in full, she took a step back from the table as the waitress came by, handing out everyone’s orders. Waving away an offer for her own order to be taken, Suzu merely kept at attention, evoking a sort of bodyguard as team 3 was left with their meals at last. Aroma reaching her nose, Suzu felt her mouth water, but maintained her will. Her stomach acted on its own accord however, rumbling ever so slightly.

Location: New York City, New York
United States v. Banner – 2.02

Interaction(s): None
Previously: 2.01

“First degree murder?” Bruce paled. It was the strongest reaction Jeremy had seen out of the man.

A STRATEGY MEETING, SEVERAL DAYS BEFORE THE TRIAL

“Damage of public, private, and federal property, over 40 counts of assault leading to injury, all across both primary incidents, and yes, the first degree murder of Brian Banner.”

Listing off the charges, Jeremy swiveled his chair a bit, watching Bruce out of the corner of his eye as he processed what they were dealing with. The two were joined by Betty Ross and Rick Jones, leaving all the legal expertise in Jeremy’s hands. That said, Bruce was a lucky man to have people willing to stand with him even now, when so much of the country was fully against them.

“Well, I don’t think we can do much about the destruction of property or assault charges, but maybe we can lower the murder charge,” Rick suggested. Bruce winced.

“I mean...do you even remember what happened?” Bruce bobbed his head back and forth, not committing to either a nod or a shake of his head.

“Well, the body wasn’t found. It’s only witness testimony and evidence from his apartment and security cameras. Brian and Bruce went in, Hulk came out.”

“Well, Brian came out too, supposedly,” Rick noted, grimacing as Bruce shifted uncomfortably. Jeremy swallowed: Hulk had left the apartment from the roof, but a window was shattered, the blood on the glass belonging to Brian. They hadn’t been able to find where he’d landed, just more blood, thus he had technically been declared missing up until some time after Bruce had been apprehended. What was once a cold case had been accelerated, another great sign that everything was fine.

Jeremy observed, “I mean it might be in our best interests to shoot for a kind of Jekyll/Hyde defense. Plead automatism through disassociation. It’s not like you’re you when you’re…”

“I am hungry actually.” Jeremy’s mouth narrowed. Bruce gave a slight smile, having gotten the reaction he was looking for.

“It’s not impossible, but...there’s a can of worms there when metahuman powers are taken into account.”

“The Hulk isn’t the same as some teen erupting into flame for the first time and burning down their classroom. I don’t want to try and run from anything I’ve done as the Hulk. This trial is bigger than him...me. I’m going to make it very clear to the jury...”

THE TRIAL

“I am Bruce Banner, and I am the Hulk.”

Raymond, the plaintiff attorney, shot a bemused look to Bruce, sitting in the stand. Jeremy figured that they had called up Bruce first to steal the momentum out from under the defense, starting them on the back foot, but given his tone of voice, it was a move on the cusp of backfiring.

Really? Fascinating. You were...conscious, of everything you did as the Hulk?”

“No, I can’t say that I was. I usually remember bits and pieces after the fact, but at no point during either of the two attacks was I aware of or in control of my actions as the Hulk.”

Raymond was at once, getting what he wanted served to him on a silver platter: Bruce’s accountability, but it remained wrapped up in that enigma that was the Hulk. “So, he is you, but he’s not you?”

“I believe so.” Bruce said, answering without an answer.

“Can you provide any evidence either way?”

Bruce admitted, “I think there’s plenty of footage online that displaces a clear difference in basically all speech and mannerisms. A few physiologists have given opinions (we have their statements prepared), but if the casual testimony of several experts isn’t good enough, then our only option for further study is face to face sessions. Unsurprisingly, no one has been willing to go that far, first of all being myself. Beyond that, no, I can’t prove that I don’t remember something I’ve only heard of after the fact. Unless you have any ideas.”

Raymond stared with one eye, before rolling his fingers with one hand. “Alright then. So, in your words, what is the Hulk?”

Bruce took a deep breath, before delving into his breakdown. “I’ve yet to put him under the figurative microscope myself, but I can speak to my experiences. The Hulk only emerges when I’m feeling a particularly strong emotion, or when I’m in a life threatening circumstance. Typically, it’s anger. Before the attack on El Diablo, I was led to believe my girlfriend was in danger.”

“And in New York? Did Brian Banner threaten Miss Ross? She was in the city at the time. Or was it you who was in danger? Was the man who could become the Hulk, in truth, threatened by a middle aged man?” Bruce swallowed, bringing a thumb to his mouth, lightly gnawing on the knuckle, handcuff chain clinking lightly.

“What did happen there, Bruce?” Rick had asked back at the strategy meeting. And just like now, Bruce had shut down, only a few moments later managing to state that he’d be able to talk about it at the trial, Jeremy recalled. Exchanging looks with Betty, the woman showing concern, Jeremy shifted in his seat to stand while Raymond continued, “Bruce? Are you with us?”

Clearing his throat, Jeremy stood. “Your honor, if I may: recollecting the events of that particular night is clearly putting undue stress on my client. I might ask that we postpone Bruce Banner’s testimony regarding that incident until he is mentally prepared to give his account, and address other witnesses, if the plaintiff is done questioning him?”

Judge Haywood let his eyes linger on Bruce, before stating, “I will leave it to your discretion, Mr. Royton.”

Ray nodded. “I’ll abstain from that particular incident for the time being.” With a cocksure smile, he added, “Wouldn’t want to meet the green guy.” There was a murmur of amusement from the crowd. Betty gripped her pen hard, Jeremy himself feeling a bubble of anger as Bruce’s circumstance was made into the butt of a joke.

“So, just to make sure I have everything straight: you aren’t aware of what happens while you’re the Hulk, but you become him because of your emotional state.”

“Thus, I consider myself accountable for his actions.

“I see. Well, your subjective account is just that. We’re here to determine if under the law of the land, you are accountable for the Hulk. It would smooth things over if you tried to speak more objectively, when possible. As a scientist, I would think you understand?” Bruce shrugged. “Out loud, for the court reporter, if you would,” Ray said with a smile.

“I do.” Bruce sighed.

With a nod, Raymond summarized, “While self-defense, sorry, defense of your girlfriend, may have been applicable: tearing up a military base, and stomping down over a dozen soldiers and SHIELD operatives, including getting into a tussle with the Captain America, would go outside those bounds.”

“I feel as though you’re simplifying the argument. I’m simply trying to state that the Hulk should be treated like a being, one that is an extension of myself. My comments were intended to be general. I would prefer if you avoided applying what I say generally to specific instances.”

Raymond admitted, “I’m simply following the logic you yourself have put out.”

“You’re taking advantage of the fact that I don’t know the whole truth of the incident from memory, even though I was there in body.”

“I was doing no such thing!” Raymond retorted, looking to the judge, who gave him a motion to keep things going.

Bruce did so. “My approach to the base was because I believed Betty to be in danger, yes, but who started the actual conflict?” Bruce let that hang in the air, Raymond caught off guard. “Did the Hulk bust through the gates, roaring, as he ought to do? Or did the guards panic and fire at him at first sight, prompting self defense?”

Jeremy hid a wide grin under his hand. He didn’t know what exactly was going on behind the scenes, but the rushed nature of the trial had opened all kinds of holes in the plaintiff's case. They appeared to have been trying to trap Bruce by using what he didn’t know against him, but that had been flipped back on them pretty easily.

That smile fell, however, when Jeremy noticed Raymond was unfettered. “I think a soldier is well within his rights to defend his base from any apparent threat, but rather than from my mouth, I can gladly bring out the next witness.” turning to address the court, he stated, “Given the rather exceptional nature of these incidents, I felt as though a baseline of accountability should be established right from the beginning. As Mr. Bruce Banner states, the Hulk transformation is triggered from his personal emotional reactions, while as the Hulk, he’s unsure, requiring further analysis based on accounts of people who do know what happens when the defendant has become the Hulk. Any further comments at this time?” Bruce shook his head. “Nope.” Raymond looked to the judge.

Judge Haywood asked, “Would the defense like the take the opportunity to question the current witness before he takes his leave of the stand?”

Mind rushing, Jeremy was on the back foot now. “No, your honor.” He’d thought they had the upper hand, but now it was him who was tripping up, trying to find the right course of action.

“Thank you Mr. Banner, I expect we’ll be seeing you up here again. Call your next witness, plaintiff.” As the judge spoke, Jeremy realized his error, and where Raymond was taking this.

Raymond glanced at the defense table as Bruce took a seat, a slight smile at the edge of his lips. “I would like to call Emil Blonsky to the stand.”
SEVEN NAUTICAL MILES OUTSIDE OF PALETTE ISLAND, THE SEASHARK SHADOW-ROCK FORMATION.

The Hinnon Breeze was riding along swiftly on the waves. It was a good day for sailing. The skies were clear, the sun was shining and the wind was at their back. Their sails full and their spirits were well. That was, until the cowboy in the nest on top of the mast spotted something in the far distance with his eaglelike vision. Something coming closer to him.

“Oi! Everyone! We got incoming! Starboard side!” He yelled, as the others would pay attention to the galley on their side. The marine vessel belonging to the 41st unit. An auxiliary force of the marines patrolling the entrance into the Grand Line. In pirate-language, it’s what they call a ‘big fucking problem’. Lina poked her head out of the kitchen window, Macario from the door of his own vessel still leashed to the Breeze. “I guess there are still Marines in these parts, huh?”

“Ehhhh,” Lina mused, noting the size of the vessel, notably larger than the one they’d encountered a few weeks ago. However, she didn’t move from her spot, thinking little of it all and going back to work, while Macario, more cautious, hopped up onto the deck proper, keeping an eye out.

On the marine ship, the spotters had already gotten a bead on the Hinnon Breeze. The black flag on top of their mast alerted them that this was a hostile ship. And a pirate ship, nonetheless. Those didn’t come around here very often. The bored marines were all iching for a fight. That is, till one of the men in the secondary lookout nest noticed that there were no more than three or four people on the ship. That wasn’t much of a fight. The Marines let out a painfully bored sigh as they all reverted back to their non-combat positions.

All but one. The Captain of the ship, perched up in the highest lookout point of the vessel, her long gun positioned on the railing. She was kneeling to get onto the right height. Her scope seeing each of the three people on the ground, focusing on the blonde man. The new batch of bounty-orders had come in for the North Blue earlier that day, and the woman smirked as he could clearly see that the man she had in her scope was the 50 million-upstarting pirate and former Marine. Gemma Matrix hated deserters.

As the bullet would rip for Chester’s throat, Kuhn had spotted the glint from the scope, and leapt down onto the main deck, shouting for Chester to get down. The Captain ignored what the gunner told him, as the latter pushed him out of the way, the bullet ripping past him, grazing his shoulder as they both fell to the floor.

Kuhn rolled on the ground, to the side where his long rifle was propped. Grabbing it and very quickly taking a position on the mast. Loading in one of his special bullets, he fired at the sniper in the marine ship. The bullet exploded with a charge of TNT, blowing up the nest, the Marine Captain having gotten out of it right before impact, but lost her position.

“We've gotta fight on our hands!” Chester howled, excitedly. Not even caring that he had just narrowly escaped death. The Marines were all gearing up for battle as the ship turned around towards the Breeze, aiming to get into cannon range.

Rolling his shoulder, Macario muttered, “Guess Marines are Marines. Shoulda thought twice about shacking up with pirates but here we are.” From below there was some stomping, Lina’s light blue sundress rustling as she shouted, “What was that!? What did Chester do this time!?”

“No time to point blame” Kuhn shouted, as he moved his hand to indicate to Lina that she needed to get over here. Kuhn pulled off the Tarp covering the new cannon they had bought, as he glanced at the old one.

“It should still shoot with a little bit of fixing. Captain, Scholar, please fire this one. I’ll fix the other one. Lina, help me.” Kuhn told them. Lina went to help while Chester nodded in agreement… And confusion. He looked at the cannon, and then at Macario, then at the cannon, and then at the stack of cannonballs.

Macario frowned. “What is that look?” With the old cannon a bit further away on the deck, the two were out of earshot, especially as the ringing of cannons sounded out, Marines firing their test shots, still going wide, but each one alluding to the coming barrage as the Marine battleship began to approach, heading to cut off their path and preparing to sail side to side with the Breeze once it was closer.

Chester looked at the cannon, fiddling with it. Unable to figure out how to open it up to load the cannon into it. In fact, he couldn’t even figure out how to prep it to get the fuse lit. Not to mention such things as calibrating the aim. He glared at Macario. “Do… Do you know how?” He asked, sheepishly.

“Uhhhhhhh…” Macario murmured. “I’m gonna be honest, I know how to throw a punch but aside from that I’m definitely in the ‘make research papers, not war’ kind of camp.” The whistling of a cannonball coming particularly close, Macario raised a fist, but it merely impacted the water, the force shaking the boat. Flexing a hand, Macario said, “We might have to improvise.”

Chester grinned at the idea. “You’re not all bad, Mac.” Chester told him, as he grabbed a fistful of cannonball. “Watch this!” He growled as he threw the cannonball at an incoming one, the two exploding in the air.

Macario gawked. “Are you crazy!?” Tensing, he raised his fist, but while he did indeed have a ranged attack, it was no gun, not by a long shot. Mid range would be a more accurate descriptor: he could punch someone on the other side of a room, but now with this alternative in front of him, using it to block cannonballs was…

“Scoot over,” Macario said as he stepped forwards, snatching up a cannonball and holding at the ready. Eyes narrowing at a black spot growing as it got closer, he fired it off. Unfamiliar with throwing them and not possessing the same dumb luck as Chester, it went wide, so Macario reared back his fist. “Xun!” It was pretty close for comfort, but the cannonball exploded from Macario’s ranged punch, the explosion rocking the boat. He didn’t like having to use it, but even so, he had it in the wings if needed. Reaching over, he grabbed another cannonball. “Alright, it’s not that stupid…”

Chester grinned. “See, I told you! Genius! Watch this!” Chester joked, grabbing a ball, and pointing towards another one the marines had just fired, he twirled around and threw it with a motion starting from his back, hitting it mid-air. “Ka-boom!” He shouted as the two iron balls collided, exploding. “Let’ em have it, Macario!” The captain shouted, grabbing another two balls and chucking them at the marine ship, not quite making enough distance, as the larger vessel grew ever closer.

The two continued their cannon-less assault, but it could only go on for so long before they expended their store of ammo. Macario had been a bit more conservative with his use, meaning that reaching to find no cannonballs left him with a grumpy look on his face. Switching to the backup, a ranged fist knocked another cannonball out of the air, but with the ship encroaching, they were about to have to deal with way more. The sails were unfurled but Macario realized no one was manning the helm. “Oh shit!” He cried, scampering over to the wheel. Their course had been a bit erratic, guided by the waves, but only now did someone take hold of it. Eyes scanning the horizon he hadn’t spotted their destination quite yet, but it wasn’t a good time for that anyway so he merely kept the course evasive.

While Macario darted for the wheel, Chester picked up the slack, throwing cannonballs twice as fast, but half as accurately, with careless abandon that for his entire journey had been his signum. With his accelerated chucking of the iron balls, the carts that were loaded were quickly empty, and Chester realized he was out of ammo. And soon after he had, the marines began advancing, now that the hail of balls was over and the pirate vessel’s defenses were rendered inert they could safely sail towards the Breeze. Chester grabbed a bottle and took a swig, deciding to look for more cannonballs. He shouted at Macario.

“We’re out of ammo, I’m gonna look for more! Use your fist-stuff to knock out any incoming fire!” He yelled, disappearing under the deck as the marine cannon-fire once more ensued, now from closer range.

“Eh- Wha- buh- Muh-,” Macario stammered helplessly as Chester ducked out of sight. One arm on the wheel, as he spotted a cannonball headed their way, he jumped off, firing another Xun off before jumping back to the wheel. The ship’s movement was a bit erratic as a result, which assisted in evasion, somewhat, but as a result, their escape was staggered, the Breeze failing to make any headway in escaping the marine pursuit. Another cannonball sailing through the air, Macario’s jaw slowly dropped, matching its descent, when he noticed it was heading towards his ship. Sprinting away from the steering wheel, he was too late, an explosion splintering the wood of his cabin. Macario smelled smoke. “No no no no no no no no no n-” he shouted, hopping down, ripping his shirt off and soaking it in seawater to deal with the flames.

Emerging from below the deck, Chester came out yelling, carrying four, embroidered and engraved cannon balls under his arms, On each of them sat a note “DO NOT TOUCH - KUHN”, Chester, of course, touched. Loading it into the cannon up on the deck, he fired, missing the mark, horribly. The ball exploded into a pool of raw rum on the sea where it hit, several meters in front of where the Marine ship was.

Chester loaded the other into the cannon, but it was taking too long, so he decided to simply just throw the three of them, all at once. One hit the marines, taking out the very top of their mast, making screws and bolts fall onto them, the other contained some kind of sleeping gas and silver-misted gunpowder.

They were out of firepower and the marines were about to sink them. Up from the docks emerged Kuhn and Lina. The gunner was angry. Really angry. The other cannon didn’t work, he couldn’t fix it and he saw how close the marines were getting. Kuhn realized what Chester had done and his look went dark, walking up to the captain, his coat blowing in the wind as a cannonball whizzed past him, his fist clenched as it was pulled, like a trigger and with all of the ferocity of his firearm, his fist was planted into Chester’s jaw, making the captain stagger backwards.

“YOU STUPID SON OF A BITCH!” Kuhn yelled, Chester grinned, headbutting Kuhn in the nose and then hitting him in the chest, sending him back into the door down below the deck.
“You wanna fight, NOW?!” The captain asked, a little excited at the prospect to fight the gunslinger himself.

A smack resounding throughout the deck, it was as though the cannonfire was drowned out. A red mark on Chester’s face, Lina’s expression one of frustration, she lowered her hand, eyes rimmed with tears. “What are you doing!? We’re in danger right now!”

As if to punctuate matters, a cannonball exploded, rocking the deck of the Breeze. The three stumbled from the force, catching themselves to various degrees, Lina hopping on one foot as the deck rocked back to catch her other leg, Chester was still rubbing his red cheek, and Kuhn was too angry to come up from under the deck. Not before he could figure out a way to beat Chester to death with his revolver.. As the sound faded out, damage done, cries came from within the ship. “It hurts it HURTS!”

Hands gripping her sun hat, Lina grimaced, spouting, “We have to get out of here!”
Kuhn stayed under the deck, investigating the old cannon once more, as if he hoped he was wrong before. Looking it over, he realized a thing. It was loaded. Completely unfireable and it would, like he and Lina figured out before, take far too long to repair. But it was loaded. One cannonball.

He walked up the deck, iron-ball under his arm, Chester smiled upon seeing him “Aaay!” He yelled, Kuhn shrugged him off, his other hand resting on his revolver. “Let me save our assess. Man the helm, please. And after we’re safe, and da lady Lina is no longer in danger, you and me, Cap’n, are going to have a serious fucking discussion.” Kuhn warned, loading the cannon, the marine ship was now so close they could make out the faces of the people onboard, Kuhn being broken out of his anger for a second, upon seeing the strawberry-blonde hair of the woman from his past, standing on the mast of the ship. Jenna Matrix.

“Forgive me, mon ami.” He said, as he fired the cannon, straight into armory, where the gunpowder was kept on the marine ship, a series of explosions erupting, incapacitating the ship and making it block the path for the ships behind it. The Hinnon Breeze could sneak around the bend, and into safe harbor.

But another storm was brewing for the crew onboard. One born from within the ranks of the Breeze, and Chester was gonna feel the winds.

Location: New York City, New York
United States v. Banner – 2.01

Interaction(s): None
Previously: 1.04

The trial hadn’t even started yet, and quite frankly, Jeremy Eisenhart was already done with this shitshow.



Blank eyes staring across the road next to the courthouse, leaning over a guardrail with a cigarette that had long been burnt to a cold stub he still gripped in a limp hand, he no longer had the energy to even tremble.

Two months ago or so, Bruce Banner had been found in Mexico. Yeah, that one, the Hulk. Big scary green guy. Let himself get turned in to Interpol after being on the lamb for around 5 years or so. Jeremy did not envy the guys who had to transport him up to the States, that was for sure. From there it got ugly. Jeremy wasn’t one for conspiracy theories, but for a time there it looked like one going to be done in was the due process itself. The last two months had been a scramble of confusion, the system pushing Hulk into the courts as fast as possible, almost like they were running from something. The press was having a field day, flinging shit in every direction, but the one taking a fair share of it was Bruce. The reason? He didn’t get to choose his lawyer. No money: law was an expensive trade. Given the important matter there should have been firms willing to take the case pro bono, but a lot of the small ones who’d reached out ended up not returning any calls, while the bigger ones were stacked with work and legal dealings of their own. Those in the middle got a mix of both, if they could even make it or fit Bruce’s needs. Shit was rolling every which way, making such a big obvious mess it wrapped around to basically no one wanting to touch it. So, a lawyer had to be appointed when Bruce couldn’t meet the deadline.

Jeremy had been shafted with impossible defense cases for the good of the due process before, but this was fucked. Raising the butt of his cigarette, he jammed it into his forehead, crushing it against his skull, right where he was expecting the bullet to go. At this rate, an assassination attempt wouldn’t have made him blink, but it wasn’t likely, that was for sure. He’d been picked out of jar so that Bruce would lose, he figured. If he left, or something happened, then the trial would be pushed back, which no one wanted to happen at this point except Bruce, probably.

Checking his watch, he was late. Not late late, but as the defending lawyer he should be there before things really started anyway. Fuck. Closing his eyes, he let the cigarette butt fall, walking back inside the courthouse with a tired stagger in his step. “Here we fucking go,” he muttered. Even in his stupor, navigating the place was routine to him, Jeremy ending up in a mostly empty courtroom, a few guards stationed and his opposition going over notes and documents at their table. Raymond Royton (a US attorney from the Department of Justice no less) didn’t give him more than a passing glance, the defense about as study as TV static in their eyes, no doubt. At his table was Elizabeth Ross, Bruce’s girlfriend, who shot him a dissatisfied glare the moment he walked in. She was the closest thing he had to an assistant. Smart girl, no law experience, and her energy and passion for the case was great when it came to sapping Jeremy’s away. He understood, but fuck he could go for a glass of whiskey right now. Or the whole bottle, fuck it.

Flopping down in his seat, he avoided Betty’s burning glare, but she didn’t say a word. Hopefully, she could tell by his depressing absence of energy and otherwise ‘sunny’ disposition that he was not in the fucking mood. At this rate he was going to turn green before Bruce did: maybe alcohol was a bad idea after all, because he was about to hurl.

The next few minutes were a haze as blood rushed to his head and obscured his vision, but the noise level began to increase as people were brought in. The jury was let into their seats, picked over the course of a good week, because good luck finding anyone with no particular biases towards metahumans. The crowd of hungry journalists and others with interest in the proceedings filled up the room with low buzz of anticipation. Amongst it all, Bruce was brought in from the side door. He was cuffed, more for the protection of onlooker’s feeling of safety than for any practical reason, given what Jeremy understood. Thankfully he was spared the defense’s usual orange prison garb, on account of not being officially incarcerated. Yet. Thanks to some good behavior, the clean shaven man got to come to court in a light blue dress shirt and black slacks (Jeremy and Betty mutually vetoed green). Jeremy would take any break he could at this point. Glancing at the witness list, he ran over their strategy again in his head. He wasn’t one to hope, especially not with how things had gone up to this point, but even a lessened charge or two might be a victory in themselves, all things considered.

As Bruce was seated at their table, he was surprisingly calm, all things considered. A laugh came from the other side, Roy and his assistant, Edward Reynard, relaxed enough to joke, where the defense’s table was more like a funeral home. “Fuuuuck,” Betty murmured, digging the cap of a pen into a folder in front of her.

“We’ll manage,” Bruce insisted, cool as a cucumber.

Jeremy gave him a raised eyebrow. “You alright there?”

Bruce shrugged. “Could be worse.” Jeremy wasn’t going to touch that one.

There was a movement from the front of the courtroom, the crowd tittering in anticipation. The bailiff spoke as the judge entered, wrinkled and gray. “All rise.” There was a mass shuffling as other voices went silent. “The Superior Court of New York City is now in session, the Honorable Justice Anson Haywood is presiding.”

“Be seated, excluding the jury,” drawled Haywood, taking a seat and adjusting his glasses.” Taking a moment to swear in the jury, as they were seated, he clasped his hands, casually drawing himself forward.

“The case of the People of the United States versus Bruce David Banner is now in session.”

Location: Belize City, Belize
A Green God, A Green Devil – 1.04

Interaction(s): None
Previously: 1.03

Shoved to the floor of the brig, Bruce coughed out in pain as he rolled over. The soreness at the beating he’d received earlier had already begun to fade, but it’s not as though it made this treatment any better. Door slamming shut, he was left to his own, another door closing moments later.

Opening his eyes with a groan, Bruce saw no difference. Sharply taking in breath, he tried to sit up, managing to find some kind of balance in the dark. “HEY!” he bellowed. When no response came, another cry came out, this one far weaker. “Don’t leave me here!” Breath coming on harder and faster, he couldn’t perceive much. With virtually no sight in the blackness, the slight movement of the boat in the water starting to make him nauseous without a visual point of reference to fixate on. Sounds from outside were distorted from the layers of metal separating him from the outside.

He hadn’t expected to be taken back like this. Even though there were so many differences, the darkness alone put him in the same frame of mind he’d been trying to escape for twenty years. Bending down and pressing his forehead to the metal floor, as if the cool surface might calm his rising temperatures or rapid breathing, in his closed eyes he saw that crack in the floor, where Brian had removed the boards. A blue bucket and dark green extension cord might seem innocuous enough on their own, but whenever Bruce was being punished, and Brian chose not to get physical, he would make Bruce sit in the bucket. Then, with the cable, he’d be lowered down. Bruce didn’t even know what the room was, or what was really down there. Was it an old basement? A cave? Brian most likely didn’t know either. But it was dark. After lowering him down, Brian would cover the entrance, Bruce stuck in that hole for who knew how long. All he could ever think to do was stay in that bucket and pray. His only link back to his house was the extension cord, not strong near enough to hold his weight. Next to his fantasies of climbing out to escape were those in which thay spider’s thread might fall, or snap, trapping him down there forever. Trapped with nothing...or everything. Whether they were auditory hallucinations or rodents skittering in the distance, unknowable noises haunted him. Odd shapes would form in the darkness: maybe it was phosphenes tracing patterns for him as he shut his eyes to keep out the dark, or the dark coming to greet him.

Although here he could move, Bruce still felt trapped in that bucket, curling up into a ball. Sweat beaded on his forehead, his breath rattled, every gasp he took failing to supply him with enough air. Even though he knew full well who put him here, just this slight similarity brought Brian back to his thoughts. He was gone, Bruce believed. He remembered little of that night after the transformation, but no one survives a drop from 20 stories. And yet, even though he knew that, Brian was here, in Bruce’s mind, in the dark with him. No, more than that: his palms formed the walls, the fingers, bars.

His life here in Belize had been simple, free. As he teacher he focused his efforts on a makeshift curriculum, as a laborer he did simple (if backbreaking) work. The menial work demanded so much of his focus that when he thought back to home he primarily thought of Betty, sometimes other former coworkers or friends like Rick, at worst the likes of General Ross, but with Brian gone he didn’t need to think about him any more. He thought the ghost had been beaten back, but he’d been here the whole time, waiting.

And Bruce wasn’t strong enough. The green spider’s thread dangled, and Bruce didn’t believe it could hold his own weight, nor did he think it could lead to salvation. Perhaps pulling on that thread might bring everything tumbling down, crushing himself and all that he cared about. But if he stayed in the dark, it would only be himself that was crushed.

In the darkness, another moved.

If Bruce would not grab that thread, then the Hulk would.

-----


Bullets hailed against the police car doors. Red and white lights lit up the area, an under-equipped police force held back by rifle fire from the ripped open warehouse.

“One hour!” called one of Jagger’s men. With a light sigh, he admitted it was a better time then he could have hoped for considering the short notice and length of sea in between here and their nearest outpost. Loading everything up onto that boat would be a cinch with Reg, and with the Belize police only equipped with pistols, they could be held back for the time being. If they called in bigger guns it could become a problem, but one rush with Reg and their efforts would be put back squarely. The rocket launcher would be kept in his back pocket for now. Firing his rifle again, Jagger’s thought process was interrupted by the wrenching of metal from behind him. Straightening up, her turned to see the boat lurching from within, jerking in one direction, then another. A rare expression of bewilderment briefly crossing his face, he wisely ran from the front entrance, heading towards the stairs to his office. The gunfire settled, in and out, the noise drawing attention before the Hulk burst from below the deck, landing on the ship before jumping to solid ground, grabbing one of the cartel members and throwing him into the nearest hard surface.

“Reg! Crush him!” Jagger ordered. Tilting his oddly shaped head to the side, Reg’s neck made a crack before his buckled legs skittered the Hulks way, long arms reaching for him, the man eager to put his strength to the ultimate test. Fist launching, smacking into the Hulk’s face, he recoiled from the blow before snarling. The Hulk went to grab with both of his arms, Reg meeting him, their hands meeting one another as they grappled, fingers interlocking as the tried to push the other back. Feet digging into the ground, the Hulk bent his wrists forward, forcing Reg’s back, the Venom laced beast starting to shrink under the mass of the Hulk.

Brain had once seemed like a massive monster to Bruce. If the Hulk had been there to be the bigger monster, then things might have been different. But Brian wasn’t here. In fact, neither was Bruce, not having the control he’d had before, not this time. And to the Hulk, Reg, standing in front of him now, was but a tiny man.

Gritting his teeth, the Hulk let out a roar, straightening out his back before driving his weight down on Reg’s wrists. Those bulky arms resisted, but the knobbly knees couldn’t take it. The skin on Reg’s shins split open like a ziploc bag, revealing muscle underneath. Reg cried out in pain. His ankles snapped, and he collapsed under the Hulk, legs crumpling as he was reduced to a whimpering mass of drug and muscle. Turning away, a smirk came to the Hulk’s face, the behemoth muttering, “Leg day.”

The condescending smile was stricken from his face with a call from above. “Look me in the eyes while you die,” Jagger demanded, brandishing his rocket. The Hulk was not amused. Jagger had begun to perspire. It was out of character for him, but after watching his power gradually be picked apart by this Hulk, his heart pounded in excitement as he faced down that green storm, that force of nature. Practically leaning out the window of his office, knee braced against the low wall, he pulled the trigger, firing into the hurricane.

Though Jagger was a smart man, he didn’t necessarily have all the experience. He knew about the backblast, the force desecrating the office behind him as he fired. But had he actually fired the rocket launcher before, he would have known that the accelerator only kicks off after ten to eleven meters of airtime. The Hulk had only been about 7 meters away when he fired. The rocket bounced off his flesh, a confused Hulk casually grabbing the explosive out of the air out of sheer reflex. Expression bemused, the rocket activated, the Hulk’s hand jerking as it tried to escape, but ultimately keeping firm. Jagger’s expression was blank as the Hulk looked back at him, pulling his arm before returning the gift. The rocket once again didn’t have enough force to explode on impact, bouncing around the office like a bar of soap in a bathtub. As the metal ricocheted, a cocktail of emotions surged, the dam bursting open. Shame, regret, panic, dread, and above all, anger at the fool who thought he could stop the storm on his own power.

The Hulk didn’t even bother to look, heading towards the entrance of the warehouse once he’d tossed the rocket. The explosion behind him didn’t even turn his head. The remaining cartel members had given up, their spirits taken with the extend of their power. Standing over the local law enforcement, they merely watched on. The Hulk ignored them, looking to the sky, the edge of the horizon beginning to glisten with dawnlight. Feet springing into action, Bruce was gone for now, back where he always was. But Hulk knew what they both wanted. Not dark, but the light. And with the light as his guide, the Hulk moved north, where they might one day stand in the sun.

Location: Belize City, Belize
A Green God, A Green Devil – 1.03

Interaction(s): None
Previously: 1.02

The Hulk had never really been calm before. Not that Bruce remembered many of the times he’d been the Hulk.

Of course, it hadn’t helped. The already panicked kids reaching the top deck of the boat maybe would have reacted better had there not been a giant green monster there to greet them. Hulk’s arms were casually by his side, his expression, neutral, at least until he was met with an expected scream of shock. The Hulk shook his head lightly, before reaching out a hand, motioning for them to come over. As more started to surface, the initial shock passing, Hulk began to help them across the gap one by one. Grasping his hand, they were easily be able to clear the gap, Hulk pointing for them to leave. A few strange thumping noises from the ship’s innards didn’t leave room for much room to question anything. Once things seemed to be clear, Hulk reached one hand down to the lip of the ship, yanking it up. There was some noise from below, but as long as it wasn’t screaming children, Hulk didn’t care. Snorting, he stood tall, turning back to the apparent leader, and letting out a roar, sound bouncing throughout the ruined warehouse. Raising his fists, he smashed them both against the boat, crumpling the metal. Fingers tearing in, he pulled it close, yanking at the deck, chunks being ripped out before he grew tired of it, kicking it away where it crashed into the opposite wall, rocking lopsidedly as the warped metal’s center of balance was knocked out of alignment.

The only thing left behind a bunch of helpless cartel members, Hulk’s work here was done. Storming off towards the exit he didn’t even look back. As he reached the entrance, Jagger pulled a case out from behind his desk in the room above, unclasping it with a quick code, pulling out a rocket launcher, casually loading it and heading to the door. His subordinate gawked. “Why didn’t you shoot him before he fucked our stuff!?”

“Because I didn’t want to fuck our stuff myself. I haven’t fired this yet.” Jagger shook his head as he took to the door, heading down the stairs. So hard to find good help these days. Nodding his head to the boat, taking on water, he said, “Make sure everyone gets off of there, especially Reg, and call for the nearest boat to get here asap.” Looking over to a man who’d been hiding, he said, “And you! Wake up anyone you can! Cops are going to be here any minute!” As they went into action, Jagger didn’t hold any ill will. He’d more or less knew how people were going to act and react before they did. For example, a big angry monster walking away from a successful mission was likely to have its guard down.

Eyeing the Hulk through the ripped open entryway, leveling the rocket launcher his way, Jagger got to see something rare. While a big monster coming in to ruin his day had already been outside of his expectations, he also didn’t expect it to be on its knees just outside, breathing heavily. No, it was more than that, it was shrinking.

Bruce really should have seen it coming. The Hulk’s grip fading from his mind as his own hands met the pavement, he was learning new things every day, though he might have preferred some better timing. That freedom and release from becoming the Hulk was now shifting to the reality of it, the consequences, the fear. Should law enforcement come for him he might be pushed to defend himself. If General Ross still had his deep hatred of him then US military action was well within the realm of possibility. The best bet he had was to run for now. He knew where he wanted to be, and as nice as Belize was, it wasn’t for him.

A boot to the back of his head kept him from moving too far though. Bare body pressed against the pavement, Bruce grunted and tried to struggle. “Transform back.” The voice was soft, possessing curiosity with no ill will whatsoever.

Bruce tried. He bit his tongue until he bled, cried out in pain as he tried to work up his anger. But it wouldn’t come out. “Damn shame,” Jagger sighed.

-----

Minutes later, Bruce had been dragged right back into the warehouse. Handcuffs kept his arms at bay as two men dragged him to the center of the warehouse, pushing him to his knees. Looking up, Bruce was more than taken aback at the sight of ‘Reg’. Comparable in size to the Hulk, his proportions were all wrong. A black tank top was stretched across bulging muscles, swollen deltoid muscless the size of watermelons and the shoulder tapering off into a rather typically sized wrist by the end of the arm. The large upper body left the legs, clad in cameo patterned cargo shorts, looking rather small, some large thigh muscles on otherwise less bulky legs not lending good support, bent knees restricting how imposing the brute looked. The face was even worse off, bald, misshapen, with sunken, beady yellow eyes glaring at Bruce.

“What brought you here? Was it really just the kids?” Jagger asked. Bruce was pulled about to face him, the leader still brandishing the rocket launcher on his shoulder.

Bruce coughed, admitting, “Yeah.”

“Well you’re in luck. We only took them in for research. I deal in Venom, you see. You know what Venom is?” Bruce shook his head. “It’s a drug made famous in Gotham City. Hard to synthesize though, I’ve been doing my best here in these parts, trying to get closer to the real thing.” He nodded towards the big brute. “Reg here overdosed on the real thing. Ours isn’t at the level, but it’s close enough to ease his withdrawals. And the better we make our formula, the longer we can pass it off as the real thing. So I’ve been taking up human trafficking these last few months for test subjects. But then, you showed up.”

Bruce glared. His fists were clenched. He lingered on his words, trying to find the one that would send him into a fury, the one that would bring the Hulk back. “I don’t know what the hell you are, if you’re some mutant or lab experiment gone wrong, but I’m sure you’ll have plenty to offer to our cause. If we can get cleaner musculature with more balanced form then I’ll trade a thousand kids for you.”

Bruce let out a laugh. It wasn’t warm or mirthful, it was forced, harsh, biting. “That’s what this is about?” Nodding his head toward Reg, he chortled, “You’re going to experiment on me because your big guy over there skipped leg day?” Bruce’s joke didn’t go over well, no one seemed to understand what he was implying. Shakily, Bruce started to walk, going for a gap in between cartel members. The resisted, pushing him back. “What are you gonna do? Shoot me?” Bruce scoffed, before going for it again. He was met with a fist in the gut. Taking it all, Bruce lunged, teeth catching the thug’s ear. Biting down, he got a yelp, before shoving him with his shoulder and continuing to go for it. For his trouble he got a rifle butt to the head. Spots flitting by his eyes, he dropped to his knees, where he got a kick to the face. Falling to the ground, he was completely open, the whole gang going in on ruining him, stomping and kicking him until he stopped moving. Bruce tried to fight it, tried to let that pain get his anger flowing.

But he just couldn’t. Every time it bubbled, it was quelled just as quickly. With every strike, he was beaten down by fear and helplessness, even though he knew full well he had the potential to be anything but.

Black and blue rather than purple and green, the gang pulled away from Bruce, who was left a groaning wreck. Finally discarding his patience, Jagger roared, “QUIET!” with one last kick, he silenced Bruce. Taking a slow breath, he ordered, “Put him on the ship. If it sinks with him on it, it’s his fault.” Shaking his head, Jagger went back to his office, hoping to enjoy even a moment of peace.

Location: Belize City, Belize
A Green God, A Green Devil – 1.02

Interaction(s): None
Previously: 1.01

“They’re not my kids,” admitted a bulky man wearing only shorts and a loose, open shirt.

His partner in guard duty, resting by the door in a folding chair with an AK at his side, couldn’t hide a light grimace and roll of his eyes. Slouching down, he reached a lanky arm to scratch an itch on his back that didn’t want to go away. Trying to keep his mind of things, Arnold pulled a phone out of his cargo pants, skimming through a mess of apps in search of a time waster, something to keep his mind off things.

Hearing some slur or curse word echo out from behind him, Arnold turned his head. Newer to the group, having come around from El Salvador, he hadn’t fully acclimated to the norm. Looking out from the entryway, he saw the moored ‘Indignation’, their shipping vessel, and the stretches of warehouse around it dedicated to either storage (a crane bolted firmly in the ground propped nearby), or production, makeshift rooms with walls of translucent plastic letting off fumes of god knows what the chemists were working on. The voice actually seemed to come from the catwalks above, a few men patrolling, except two who were in each other’s face, the prior insult having developed into a budding fistfight. Another voice called out, the two looking over to the room mounted to the corner of the rooftop ceiling, seeing their employer in its open window, before reluctantly separating.

Arnold didn’t care for the work, but it paid well and it was easy. People were smart enough not to fuck with any kind of cartel usually, and between pilot and navigator, they could avoid any patrols and generally keep out of danger on the open sea. Considering how various local families benefited with members in other regions working for their sake, the area was pretty quiet and generally overlooked, and many of there spots elsewhere were no different. Considering the poison, or whatever it was, that got made and passed around to allied or unaffiliated crime groups for use in warfare, Arnold generally didn’t feel too bad about what they did, even though he knew it wasn’t right. But that was before today, when their boss ordered an abduction. Children, innocent children. Swallowing, he shook his head and went back to his phone. If he thought any more about it, his anger would bubble, but he knew it couldn’t go anywhere, else he’d be shot dead and left as fish food in the middle of the ocean.

As if to purposely pull his attention away, there was a rapping on the door. Two knocks, the fist requesting a welcome. Arnold looked to his shift partner, just as confused, before the two stood, grabbing their rifles. It wasn’t their usual procedure, and they hadn’t gotten word from any lookouts over their walkies yet.

“What the fuck is that by the door?” crackled the devices scattered around the warehouse. Arnold took it back. Look to his partner, they flanked the side door, the larger shutter nearby rusted closed and in no need of use. Reaching his hand for the door, Arnold gently twisted it.

The world came down around him. With a crash, the sheet metal walls and the door separating them from the outside crumbled down, flattening the two guards. The force dislodged dust untouched in years, debris partly obscuring a massive form as it shuffled in carelessly. Standing tall, the Hulk’s disgruntled gaze elicited grunts of surprise. But the Hulk did not turn his attention on them, they were bugs. Rifle fire raining down, the Hulk winced at the noise as he walked, unfettered. Occasionally a hand would brush away at an itchy spot that had recently met several bullets that had been traveling at 700 meters per second (only to stop dead, bouncing off his skin like it was a BB gun against tires). Mosquitoes were more dangerous to men in comparison, but unlike these gunners, mosquitoes were quiet.

That made Hulk mad.

Looking to a gun poking out of the plastic wrapped lab, Hulk reached in and yanked a screaming man out. Tossing him up and catching him again like he was a baseball, he turned to the catwalks. Pulling his arm back, he sent the man flying. He crashed into the railing, made of reclaimed scrap as it was, and shook the whole walkway. The two gunners behind the railing were knocked back as their shielding buckled and broke, the man shaped projectile knocking them down. Rocking back and forth, weak ties shattered, bolts knocking loose, the walkway they were on spilled them off unceremoniously. As the walkway hung, dangling above the ground, its former occupants lay on the floor, broken.

The rest of the warehouse had gone quiet, those remaining too starstruck to think about retaliating. Only one of them was capable of looking on without shock or distress. Those kind of things were alien to Jagger. Casually sitting in his office, one hand loosening the collar of his cheap dress shirt and briefly adjusting a gold chain, he merely watched as the Hulk moved about, ripping open the lab and kicking down tables of valuable equipment and product as if searching for something. Jagger looked to his right hand, the man expressing what he recognized to be bewilderment, fear, and anger. Jagger knew it wasn’t the time to put on any of those masks: he was calm, he liked being calm, and if there was a time for calmness, this was it.

“He wants the kids.” Jagger knew. The Hulk wasn’t a user, that was for sure. The musculature was too clean, refined. Even true Venom had a tinge of the aberrant in those utilizing it, let alone Jagger’s knock off. But there was an appeal to that. Looking down at the boat, still docked, unnoticed by the Hulk, he saw a few heads poking out, trying to get a bearing on things. Before any more violence broke out, Jagger spoke into his walkie, “Let the kids go.” A moment past, the Hulk looking around at the walkies echoing his voice, before he turned his gaze on him, standing by his window. “Just spook them a little first.”

The Hulk bared his teeth, moments before gunfire echoed from the boat, followed by children screaming in terror. The Hulk looked on, feet shuffling as he went to move into action, but hesitation reeled him in. Daring just a bit, he placed one foot on the boat, his weight shifting the whole thing, more cries of shock coming out. He retreated back a step, before a green eye glared up at Jagger, the boss feeling an uncharacteristic chill tingled in his neck. One he’d only felt twice before. Once was first time he stared down the barrel of a gun as a child, a brief feeling that went away the follow minute while he was beating the teen’s face in with a pipe. The second was when he watched Hurricane Iris rip the world around him apart, the one time in his life he felt truly helpless. And so Jagger smiled, letting the beat of his heart overcome that chill. He was deeply looking forward to the chance to bring this monster to his knees.

Location: Belize City, Belize
A Green God, A Green Devil – 1.01

Interaction(s): None
Previously: N/A

Cough cough HAGCK

Spray of spit and foam splattering in the sink, Bruce caught his breath, rinsing his mouth out before cleaning off his toothbrush. Wetting down his hands, he wiped at the freshly trimmed stubble remaining on his face. Looking around, he pulled out a razor and a can of shaving cream, pressing down on the nozzle only for it to sputter and die. Shaking his head, he went without. Putting on a pair of light purple shorts, flip flops, a plain button up blue shirt, and a wide panama hat over his mess of brown hair, a pair of hazel eyes lidded, he stepped out of the bathroom into the bedroom. If you could call it a room: it was less a room and more of a storage space for a small, rickety bed and worn down dresser that took up 60% of the floor space, the rest of it walkable in two steps. Those two steps took him to the kitchen and entryway, making up the rest of the house, the floor dingy and worn but not dirty. Most of the light came from the windows, the room becoming brighter as Bruce pulled open the door, grabbing his bike (kept stored inside for safety), and locking up before heading out.

Even in the early morning, the humid sea air and blazing sun of Belize was rough, but nothing Bruce was uncomfortable with. His skin was quite tanned: the pasty lab nerd practically a different person. His routine of biking around this district of the city with its many long paths, along with occasional labor to make ends meet, had given him a little meat on his skinny bones. Though his face was relatively clean now, in the slightly cooler months he liked to sport a beard. Stepping out into the sun, he descended a short stairwell to the ground level, looking out to the rows of small, dingy abodes, none of them older than a few years due to one hurricane or another.

Destroyed and rebuilt. That’s where Bruce was, getting down to it. He was ‘Benny’ now, a down on his luck American currently in Belize City, making it by through helping people out with odd jobs thanks to various skills and expertise, and through various handouts and favors he received from the grateful locals who supported the twice a week English classes he did for free (though he just as often taught so much else). Benny never asked for much more than a chance, and now honestly, he could say he didn’t mind things where they are. He could look up at the sky, breathe deeply, and feel as though things were alright.

It had been years since the Hulk first took to the streets of Navapo on a warpath to El Diablo Air Force Base, inviting the ire of SHIELD. And it was less than a year after that Hulk was seen for the last time, in New York. It was still a blur to Bruce, but it was the past now. Betty was better off with Bruce gone. Everyone was. Because as long as Bruce was gone, there was no more Hulk.

Setting down his bike, he pedaled off into yet another day in this run down stretch of paradise. While he could certainly envision better, nowadays he was just grateful it wasn’t so much worse.

-----


Body reminiscent of used rags, steeped in dried sweat and a faint stink from cleaning sinks, as he walked by the old docks, the wreck of so many ships in this dated port leaving it unused after a hurricane a few decades ago rendered it unwanted, while modernization occurred elsewhere, he rolled his bike along, appreciating the quiet. After his day of work the sea breeze was pleasant. The lack of ships meant that the sea scent was free of any muck or pollution: the wrecked ships and debris actually made for good sea creature habitats which allowed cleaners like mussels to live. Plus, few people were around, so it gave him a bit of quiet town. Bruce appreciated the connections he’d made, but he knew it was better to keep his distance at the end of the day.

Then, the pleasant cool went chill, as he heard a voice. A light sobbing for help. Dropping his bike, he carefully moved, trying to follow the voice. “Hello? Where are you!?” There wasn’t much on the dockside, and he had no lights with which to aid in his search, only the distant stars and glint of the moon. The voice came on louder though as his call was heard, a pained wail sounding out. Getting hasty, Bruce sped up, walking quickly until he stepped on something. Though it was largely firm, the surface had a give to it. Bruce immediately recognized its consistency as flesh. Heart nearly stopping he pulled back immediately, seeing the faint shape of an arm in the low light. “Oh god I’m sorry,” he said as he reached out, not questioning why the voice seemed to be coming from lower.

Pulling at the arm, there was no resistance. It was severed, and small, its owner no older than ten. Strangled gasp getting blocked in his throat, he dropped it, recoiling. All sound seemed to vanish as his head swam, then it came back, the panicked crying of the child still out of sight, while a dog whimpered nearby. It didn’t get any closer, the skinny mutt ragged and lost, possibly having been attracted by the scent of blood. Bruce gathered himself, looking over the edge of the dock. Resting on a piece of flotsam that was half submerged, the wounded child lay still, his voice still crying out. Body shaking, Bruce scrambled over the edge, letting himself drop into the water nearby, flip flops drifting off his feet. Testing the stability of the rotted wood, he leaned on it, scooping the child up in his arm before standing. His weight sank the wood underwater, but he still had his footing. Grabbing the lip of the dockside, he found a strength he hadn’t felt in a long time, hoisting them both up and over.

Laying the boy flat, Bruce asked, “Who did this? What happened?”

The boy spoke. “Cartel.” He was still quite out of it. Bruce’s trembling body wasn’t helping any. He hadn’t been one of Bruce’s unofficial students as far as he could tell, but that didn’t matter right now. In him, he couldn’t help but to associate those faces he’d come to know: Luca, Isabella, Micheal, Manuel. Looking up, he saw the largest building in the area, a dockside warehouse, the elephant in the room. This section of the city was often overlooked by the city at large, so protecting it from anything worse was the cartel. Whatever drug trade they did here didn’t matter as long as the people just trying to get by weren’t hurt. Some even found employment there, sent off to other regions with the money they earned coming right back home. Bruce knew of it, but never had he seen or heard of anything like this. One hand clutching his wrist, he held on with a force that would have splinted stone. His teeth gritted, the soft bones threatening to crack in his mouth. He had to rely on that pain to keep him from splitting apart.

It’s no good, he wouldn’t want your help anyway.
Cry, scream, it’s all you’re good for.

Pretend you didn’t see anything.
Trash.
What good have you ever been to anyone?

You never should have existed.

It would be better for us if we were gone. Better for everyone.
Leave him and move on, it’s for the best.

We can’t stay here if we cause trouble.

Worthless.

Keep quiet.

Be still.


Do nothing.

Bruce’s face was burning with tears. The dog got a little closer, intent on the arm. He couldn’t begin to imagine what the cartel had been doing to this place in silent, nor could he imagine what might happen if the Hulk brought them down. So many possibilities filled his brain, each of them deeply negative. But at the very least he could take him to a doctor. Starting to regain himself, Bruce looped one arm under his legs and another under his upper torso, trying to lift him.

“Friends...where are my friends..?”

Bruce’s blood ran cold. He shut his eyes, the warehouse in the distance vanishing from his sight. But despite his eyes being closed, he could see so much. He started to piece together what happened: a bunch of kids going out, or going home, surrounded by adults who had god knew what in mind. One of them tried to defend his friends, maybe at first, maybe after they started to make a move. So he was made an example of: maimed and tossed aside, disposed of. Bruce released his grip. He wasn’t holding onto anything anymore. Bruce’s eyes opened again, everything enveloped in green. He felt a deep anger bubbling inside of him. A strong desire to hurt, to cause harm. It wasn’t his. I’LL SMASH THEM

You’re just a monster. Bruce snapped up the severed arm, then shifted to turn at the dog, still inching closer. Out came a deep bellow, the blood curdling roar sending the dog running before Bruce turned off. His bare feet streaked across the pavement in the other direction. Wet footprints quickly became heavy indentations, then outright potholes, green soles crushing the road like it was snow.

I LIKE being a monster. The Hulk leapt into the sky, clearing the slums and reaching busier parts of town, where lights and cars still filled the streets. As the Hulk landed, screams followed the sounds of footfalls smashing down. And what does that make YOU?

Me? I’m with you. The anger wasn’t his, or rather, it wasn’t just his, nor was it just the Hulk’s. Not one way, not the other. Not this time.

With a wake of fear behind him, traffic stopped and jaws agape, the Hulk smashed down in front of a nearby by hospital. The quiet waiting room became filled with terror as the Hulk came through, bent down to fit, snapping and shattering the automated glass doors that were too slow for him. Unfurling his arms, as he stopped, the noise quieted down. Gently, the green mammoth placed the boy down, the severed arm flopping next to him. There were several cries of shock, calls for help. An air of tension still remained, a collective intake of breath matched with the Hulk standing, turning to go through the doors he’d busted. Stepping out on the streets, onlookers gawked, some took footage, others called for enforcement. Hulk didn’t care, they were small, puny, and couldn’t block his path if they wanted to. Bruce didn’t care, they were quiet, complacent, more inclined to keep out of danger then make any sudden moves.

This world has plenty of monsters. We’ll fit right in. And if there’s no room for us, then we’ll just smash other monsters until we find room.” The Hulk seemed to smile, rolling his neck on his shoulders to the sound of bone cracking that almost sounded like gunshots. It had been a long time since he stretched his legs after all. Sounds like I’m finally speaking your language. Bruce had never felt so lucid, felt so alive. That he was still here at all was astonishing to him. He’d been of the mind that Jekyll and Hyde could never meet, so the story went. Maybe it wouldn’t turn out for the best, but right now, Bruce didn’t have the heart to care.

“GRAAAAAAAAAAAAAH!” The Hulk’s roar echoed across Belize. Those nearby scrambled for cover, shrieking as the Hulk burst into a run, then a leap, clearing the area as the distance lights of police vehicles had only just been sent into motion. The first in a long wave, ripples of the reemergence of the Hulk that would once again shake the world. With every jump, the warehouse came closer and closer. There, he would smash. Smash and smash and smash.

Until there was nothing left to rebuild.
T H E H U L K

B R U C E B A N N E R N U C L E A R P H Y S I C I S T / F U G I T I V E N O R T H A M E R I C A I N D E P E N D E N T
C H A R A C T E R C O N C E P T:


"At this point, I don’t think I care if anyone tries to stop me."

23 years ago, a young boy suffered deeply at the hands of the a monster who tried to turn him into another one. Two shining lights in his life dwindled to one before he was finally freed. 7 years ago, he found a life with that remaining light, and things were good. 5 years ago, he showed the world how much of a monster he really was. 4 years ago he met the monster who’d made him one, and snuffed the life from him.

The attack on Navapo, New Mexico, and El Diablo Air Force Base shook the world, and the inability of SHIELD to capture the Hulk directly led to further havoc in New York some months later. Though Hulk was captured at the end of his tantrum, he would come to escape, few prepared to contain such a powerful superhuman. Since then, while he occupied a specific place in the cultural consciousness, one that couldn’t be overlooked, luckily, for many who remained fearful, his escape resulted in the Hulk virtually vanishing, largely unheard of outside of fanciful, unsubstantiated rumor.

Bruce still lives, having escaped to Central America in an attempt to live peacefully, divorced from the self he aimed to bury. But nothing is meant to be repressed forever.

C H A R A C T E R M O T I V A T I O N S & G O A L S:

Spiritually succeeding the iteration of the character I played in the past, by jumping ahead to year 5, I’ll be able to skip a lot of that introduction (with the freedom to flashback if needed) and put Hulk in a much more free position to interact with other players. As a character with a lot of baggage, both mentally and given his place in recent history, there’s definitely a lot of potential given the inevitable discord between League and Avengers, not even just with Bruce, but Ross as well. All while Brian (spoilers, not dead) continues his machinations in the shadows.

This Bruce is one a bit less reserved. A once shy nerd having been thrown out into a harsh world, he’s fed up with sitting down and telling himself to put up with it if it means overlooking wrongdoing. Why should he run and hide while plenty of other monsters do business in the world openly? Of course, the Hulk won’t be so easy to tame, and no matter what he tries to do there will be those who refuse to accept him, and those who refuse to let him be accepted.

C H A R A C T E R N O T E S:

Elizabeth “Betty” Ross – Bruce’s childhood friend. Largely a reporter on cultural matters (metas and heroes in particular), she also grew up with Bruce, and was his girlfriend before his transformation into the Hulk.
General Thaddeus “Thunderbolt” Ross (to potentially become The Red Hulk) – Betty’s protective father and member of the US Air Force. Highly distrustful of metas, he’s been an active internal proponent of anti-meta measures and resources. Given that he fundamentally can’t respect or trust a superhero or meta who didn’t come from a modern military background first when it comes to metahuman matters, he’s only tolerant of the Avengers while not trusting the Justice League whatsoever.
Brian Banner (the Leader) – Bruce’s abusive father. Killed by the Hulk in New York several years ago. In the chaos of Hulk’s rampage, his body wasn’t found, so despite witness testimony and evidence, he has legally been declared missing.
Emil Blonsky (the Abomination) – A soldier injured in the Hulk’s attack in New Mexico. Through experimental science, he’s been given another chance, currently serving as the head of Ross’ Hulkbuster squad.
Benjamin Tibbets (to become Flux) – A young Marine soldier.
Rick Jones – Scientist at Fendi Labs, friend of Bruce’s. Formerly worked with him at El Diablo Air Force Base before the accident that transformed him into the Hulk.

S A M P L E P O S T:

Cough cough HAGCK

Spray of spit and foam splattering in the sink, Bruce caught his breath, rinsing his mouth out before cleaning off his toothbrush. Wetting down his hands, he wiped at the freshly trimmed stubble remaining on his face. Looking around, he pulled out a razor and a can of shaving cream, pressing down on the nozzle only for it to sputter and die. Shaking his head, he went without. Putting on a pair of light purple shorts, flip flops, a plain button up blue shirt, and a wide panama hat over his mess of brown hair, a pair of hazel eyes lidded, he stepped out of the bathroom into the bedroom, largely consisting of a small, rickety bed and worn down dresser taking up 60% of the floor space, the rest walkable in two steps. Those two steps took him to the kitchen and entryway, making up the rest of the house, the floor dingy and worn but not dirty. Most of the light came from the windows, the room becoming brighter as Bruce pulled open the door, grabbing his bike (kept stored inside for safety), and locking up before heading out.

Even in the early morning, the humid sea air and blazing sun of Belize was rough, but nothing Bruce was uncomfortable with. His skin was quite tanned: the pasty lab nerd practically a different person. His routine of biking around this district of the city with its many long paths, along with occasional labor to make ends meet, had given him a little meat on his skinny bones. Though his face was relatively clean now, in the slightly cooler months he liked to sport a beard. Stepping out into the sun, descending a short stairwell to the ground level, looking out to the rows of small, dingy abodes, none of them older than a few years due to one hurricane or another.

Destroyed and rebuilt. That’s where Bruce was, getting down to it. He was ‘Benny’ now, a down on his luck American currently in Belize City, making it by through helping people out with odd jobs thanks to various skills and expertise, and through various handouts and favors he received from the grateful locals who supported the twice a week English classes he did for free. Benny never asked for much more than a chance, and now honestly, he could say he didn’t mind things where they are. He could look up at the sky, breathe deeply, and feel as though things were alright.

It had been years since the Hulk first took to the streets of Navapo on a warpath to El Diablo Air Force Base, inviting the ire of SHIELD. And it was less than a year after that Hulk was seen for the last time, in New York. It was still a blur to Bruce, but it was the past now. Betty was better off with Bruce gone. Everyone was. Because as long as Bruce was gone, there was no more Hulk.

Setting down his bike, he pedaled off into yet another day in this run down stretch of paradise. While he could certainly envision better, nowadays he was just grateful it wasn’t so much worse.

P O S T C A T A L O G:

A Green God, A Green Devil
United States v. Banner
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