Bruce leant over the man at the back of the small hut. He had been monitoring this outbreak closely for a few months now, but so far, he couldn’t find a conclusive cure that worked for everyone. Some patients would reach well to some medications, but then another’s symptoms would have sudden downward turns after being administered the same dose. It was beyond frustrating and Bruce could feel the mounting stress that each new case brought.
Thanks to the Other Guy he was immune to the effects, so he didn’t worry about being around the victims, but he was concerned for the health workers that he had been working alongside. As often as he could he made sure to take on the worse cases in hopes of sparing the other volunteers from too much exposure.
Though it was a fairly new strain it was proving to be fatal in several recent cases, with those who had contracted the disease early on being the first to succumb before any treatments were found.
Bruce himself had spent every waking moment not with patients working on finding a possible cause or source for this outbreak as it seemed to be unique to this region. Digging through his bag he quickly swabbed a patch on the man’s stomach, talking to him lowly as he carefully drew the medication into the subcutaneous syringe and pinched some of the fat there. A quick countdown and he administered the dose and swabbed the spot one last time before pulling the other’s shirt down and carefully disposing of the needle into a small bio container he started keeping with him.
With a slight groan he pushed himself to his feet and made his way back into the main area of the shelter him and the other volunteers had set up for this village. He glanced down at his watch and found that his shift was over for now.
Taking a minute to flag down another volunteer to let them know he was leaving for the night he made his way out of the shelter and over the wear the jeeps they had been using were parked.
Checking one out on the roster he climbed in and started the short drive back to the main city. They had hoped that by separating the affected individuals they may help with slowing the spread though so far, they hadn’t seen any conclusive evidence that it was working.
Twenty minutes later he arrived at the back of the main medical facility and parked the car in the lot. Making his way in the back entrance he immediately went into the changing room where he disposed of his clothes to be heavily washed and took a quick shower. This procedure was something he had personally insisted on for all volunteers upon offering his help with the disease to help contain the illness.
So far it seemed to be working as not many of the volunteers themselves had contracted the illness.
After finishing his shower and changing into a fresh set of clothes that he had dropped off earlier this morning he made his way down a separate hallway then the one he had come from that lead out a side exit into the main street.
Even this close to the evening the area was still alive and bustling, one of the things he actually loved about this place. Yes, the crowds and rather lax security here helped him to hide, but despite what many assumed Bruce loved cities like this. The pure thrill of life gave him a sense of joy and freedom that he so often struggled to find. There was always something happening around him and he felt himself get lost in the thrum of just existing.
He slowly made his way back to the small rundown hotel he was staying at while here. Due to his rather small budget he often found himself staying in similar places, but he was a simple man of few needs and found that such places suited him just fine.
He made a slight detour to a nearby food stall that he had taken a liking to this past week and after bidding the owner goodnight crossed the street to the hotel. A short trek up some rather dimly lit stairs and he had reached his own room.
He fumbled his keys from his bag and unlocked the door. His had was just turning the handle to enter when the Other Guy suddenly reared his head, snarling and pushing against his mental barriers.
Startled Bruce let his hand drop from the door and he began to breathe deeply in an attempt to keep the other at bay. What the hell was setting him off? He allowed the Other Guy’s voice to wash through his mind for a moment and though there was no words he was nearly overwhelmed by the sheer sense of danger that the Other Guy seemed to be feeling from his room.
The more he listened the more shocked he became because for the first time since the accident the Other Guy was afraid. Whatever was in this room was a bigger threat then even the Hulk wanted to face and that alone terrified and in a sick way intrigued the doctor.
Forcing the other to remain quiet Bruce carefully grabbed the door handle again and after taking a steadying breathe, pushed the door open.
He dutifully ignored the roaring in his head as he stepped into the dimly lit room. He had left a lamp on in the main area and it cast long dark shadows. He couldn’t see anything out of the ordinary from here though. Another step and he had enough space to close the door behind him and with a final click that was that, he was closed in with whatever this thing was.
Moving slowly, he reached to the wall next the door and flicked the light switch on, all his senses on high alert for any sign of an attack his eyes darting around frantically trying to spot the threat.
But there was nothing. The room was just as he had left it, empty and untouched.
Confused he stepped further into the small space, quickly glancing around the frames of the kitchen and the bathroom as the Other Guy continued to rage in his mind.
“What the heck is your problem there is nothing here?”
He mumbled as he did one last sweep of the place before figuring that he was at least alone in here. He immediately began to run through possible scenarios and after dropping his bags he began a more thorough search, checking for possible signs of a break in, checking and closing the window curtains incase the attacker was actually set up on a neighboring roof. He checked under and behind every piece of furniture for possible bombs
There was nothing here.
“Why are you so afraid huh? What could possibly be dangerous to you?”
“Oh, sorry that might be me.”
Bruce didn’t even realize he had moved before he was facing the door with a chair in his hands looking at a man he was certain had not been in the apartment a moment ago.
The strange man was mostly shadowed, but Bruce could see him raise his hands in a universal sign of surrender. In his mind the Hulk was still fighting viciously for control. He forced him down and watched as the stranger stepped forward a little into the light of the main room.
He was a little shorter then Bruce, with tanned skin, dark hair and a beard. He wore a plain black shirt and jeans and was staring at Bruce calmly, but Bruce didn’t need the Hulk to notice the aura the other gave off. This man was dangerous.
From the way he walked to the way he held himself and even his eyes screamed apex predator, this man had the confidence of someone who didn’t lose and that set off every red flag Bruce knew.
“Hey, sorry didn’t mean to startle you, especially not you of all people, right?”
More alarm bells went off at those words. This guy knew who he was, what he was and that was dangerous.
“Some would say that. Then again I think it’s hard not to be startling when you just show up in someone's home uninvited.”
The other man grinned at that and gave a sheepish looking shrug.
“Guess you got me there, but what can I say? You my friend have a hell of a reputation where I come from and a guy gets curious.”
Bruce was frantically thinking of exit plans, he had already had several made, but he wasn’t sure if anything like that would work with this man. There was something off about him that made Bruce feel like a cornered animal.
“I see and what kind of reputation would that be?”
Stall him, he could get out of this without it getting violent he just had to think. The man lowered his raised hands and hooked them slowly in his belt loops. Too close to his pockets. Did he have a weapon? He knew who Bruce was, so he couldn’t have a normal weapon right?
“A pretty amazing one actually. The mystery man who controls the spirit of a raging beast and can’t die but spends his time in backwater hospitals treating the sick for free. You are quite the anomaly. I mean I’ve been watching you for a while and if it weren’t for that dark little shadow of yours you could be doing some pretty big stuff couldn’t you.”
Bruce felt a bead of sweat drip down his temple.
“Guess we’ll never know huh?”
“Ya, that’s a pity. You seem like a really great person Doc but guess that’s just life.”
Bruce shifted his weight subtly as the man rocket forward a little, ready to move should the other make any move of attack.
“So, it seems you know a pretty good amount about me, but I don’t even know your name.”
The other looked confused for a moment before his mouth formed a ‘o’ and he whispered a small “oops”.
“Oh, oh shoot I didn’t, I didn’t introduce myself, did I? Damn sorry about that I don’t do this very often, can you tell? I guess I’m kinda rusty on the whole social etiquette thing. Uh, so ya let’s uh try this over I guess? Man, okay how about this.”
Bruce tensed as the guy wiped his hands on his pants and looked down for a second. Suddenly the man looked up, smile on his face and held out his hand.
“Hi my name is Tony, I’m a huge fan of you and your beastly other side.”
What was this guy playing at?
“Right Tony I’m just going to be straightforward with this, what are you? Cause I know I’m not usually the one to say anything, but you definitely aren’t human.”
Tony’s smile looked a little less bright as he lowered his hand back to his side.
“Oh uh, um ya you would be right. I mean I thought I was doing pretty good with the whole human look, but man I guess I still don’t quite have it down. Honestly, I was hoping you wouldn’t pick up on it that fast and I could just kinda get to know you the human way, but this works too I guess.”
Tony’s look of dejection almost made Bruce feel bad in a way? But the Other Guy still being on high alert wouldn’t let him feel too bad, but he still couldn’t help but want to reassure the other a little.
“Oh, I mean it wasn’t your appearance that gave you away, it’s more cause I have a built in danger sensor you ‘know? Plus, I mean wouldn’t it be easier for us both to come clean if you wanted to talk to me?”
What was he doing? This man scared the Hulk and here he was trying not to hurt his feelings and have a conversation with him?
Tony seemed to think about that for a minute before shrugging.
“Fair enough I guess. So ya you already know I’m not human so that’s out of the way. As for what I am I’m called the Merchant of Death-”
Bruce went completely rigid at that, who just casually threw out a name like that, better yet what kind of person earned that name?
Tony must have seen the other tense because he immediately threw up his hands in a placating manner.
“Hey! No no no it’s not that bad really! It’s kinda a title? I’m kind of like what you call the Grim Reaper? Is that what you guys call it these days? Language changes too damn fast, but ya I am essentially your everyday reaper just a little higher on the totem pole? But I’m not here for you! No no like I said I had heard of you, so I wanted to come meet you in person cause like I said I am actually a huge fan, not many people with as much power as you decide not to just go on a killing spree and create a bunch of work for me so really thank you for being a good person.”
Bruce was reeling. A Grim Reaper? He knew there was a ton of lore about such beings, but he never actually thought about it as being a reality. Honestly by this point in his life he didn’t even know why he was surprised by crazy things like this anymore, he turned into a giant monster.
“Uh Doctor Banner? You okay there? Like I said I really just wanted to meet you, if I’m making you uncomfortable though I can leave. I’ve been told many times I’m not everyone's cup of tea and I absolutely won’t be offended. “
Bruce visibly got his mind back in order with a slow shake of his head.
“Okay okay, let’s say that what you are saying is true, how does this make you want to break into my apartment?”
Tony was shifting his weight from one foot to the other, could supernatural beings have nervous ticks?
“I mean like I said, you’re a pretty unique guy even by my standards which are pretty high if I do say so myself. I haven’t had a lot to do and was in the area for the disease anyways so when I saw you I just knew I needed to pick your brain. If you don’t mind that is. How bout this, we can both sit down, you eat your food that’s going cold and we ask each other questions, you can pass on anything you aren’t comfortable with and we can both learn some things? Sound good?”
The Other Guy was still screaming in his head, but Bruce forced him down and found himself nodding slowly.
Tony lit up and his entire posture changed into a more at ease and approachable stance.
“Great! Okay so what do you want to know?”
What followed was the most confusing and informative conversation Bruce had ever had. The hours flew by as he had his entire view of reality and existence itself flipped around and he learned things that people had only ever speculated.
Finally, in the early hours of the morning the conversation finally started to trail off to a natural end and Bruce and Tony both sat in companionable silence as they took time to process everything they learned. It was a lot.
The silence was interrupted when Tony pushed his chair back and stretched a little, Bruce wondered if the position had caused the other’s wings to cramp up, one of the many oddities he had learned about Tony over the last few hours.
“Okay so I think we both have a lot to think over and you should probably sleep? Humans do that a lot right? So ya it really was a honor to meet you Doctor Banner, like I don’t say that often, but I really did enjoy this talk. Hey who knows? We may get to do it again sometime.”
Bruce nodded and rubbed his face a little, only now realizing how tired he actually was, and stuck his hand out to Tony.
“Ya maybe? Either way I hope we do get to talk again someday. You’ve definitely given me a lot to think on. So, thanks.”
Tony stared at the outstretched hand for a moment before grinning and gripping it in a firm and enthusiastic shake.
“Well I guess I’ll see myself out! Oh, I almost forgot, Banner that third petri dish you were waiting on is done and I think you will be very pleased with the results you find, I see an end to this disease pretty near in the future thanks to your research. Good luck Doctor!”
And with that Bruce was suddenly alone in the room. He simply stood there for a moment before shaking his head in disbelief before making his way over to his bed. He would deal with all this in the morning.