The Crucible: The Return Of Tony Stark
Rplog-icon Who: Darkseid, Bruce Banner, Natalia Romanova, Pepper Potts, Tony Stark
Kalibak, various unfortunate citizens
Where: Downtown Metropolis
When: 2014.03.24
Tone: Dark, Heroic, Gritty
What: Tony's last struggle in his return to Earth. Getting by with a little help from his friends.


Kalibak, inadvertently hurtling through a portal, lands heavily upon the roof of of an adjacent building. He lets out a roar of genuine annoyance at that. Tony is somwhat lucky; although he had requested an initial teleport to Orbit, the Mother Box seemed to believe a city full of heroes that might help was better. But the second portal is high above, and his Mother Box is pulled out into his free hand, not holding the huge Beta Club. << My boy. Hello. >> << Hi, Mother. >> he responds, with affection allowed only to her. << I am sensing Anthony Edward Stark's signature. His robotics appear far too advanced for his current level. He is also interfaced with DeSaad's Mother Box, and an AI duplicate of Motherly Helper #12. >> << What...? That fool. He should know... you can only unleash the true power and faith of a Mother Box... with love. >>

With a flash, Kalibak's favoed aero-glider manifests beside him, teleported from Apokolips. Leaping up it, he rockets upwards, breaking the sound barrier with a great CRASH after a few moments... heading right in Tony's direction. He is not the only one with a powerful AI... and one that's firmly allied with him, too.

Meanwhile, above Earth, in High Orbit --

"Sir.." JARVIS asks inquisitively, "..I'm picking up your telemetry again. Is this indeed the case?"

"JARVIS - it's good to hear you, buddy. Yeah. It's me, and I brought you a gift from Apokolips. Ladies, this is JARVIS, JARVIS, this is DeSaad's Mother Box, and Twelve. You guys play nice, but make it quick. I've gotta go to work."

With that, Tony engages the stealth systems and goes streaking around the planet, into an orbit insertion that will allow him to land in Metropolis.

Natalie Rushman is sitting at her desk, flicking through final reports for the day, scanning quickly and sorting through what needs to be done now and what needs to be done later. "Pepper," she calls through, using that old-school PA system, "did I send you the report on the practical applications Dr. Caruther's energy conservation experiments? Do you even want that report?"

Because, really, it kinda made her eyes glaze right over. But, maybe Pepper will have better luck with it? She reaches up to rub the back of her neck, letting out a low sigh... Maybe an extended assignment here isn't such a good idea...

JARVIS says to Natalie, tone somewhat grim, "Miss Rushman, I hate to be the bearer of bad news at the end of such a stressful day, but it would appear that a boom tube has opened approximately three blocks from the Tower. Preliminary news outlets and monitored frequencies have identified the intruder as Kalibak - one of Darkseid's most powerful Elite. I thought you should in order to take suitable action."

"...Yes. I have it." Pepper honestly doesn't have MUCH more of a chance of understanding the report from Dr. Caruther, but she can at least get the gist, or sweet-talk someone from R&D into translating for her. She marks it to peruse when she gets home, but then blinks at JARVIS speaks up. "That's... a bad thing, isn't it?

Bruce had gotten the call from Pepper to show up and discuss some of the final arrangements for him to start his dual role working for SHIELD and Stark Industries. He was alone, this time, which was generally a bad role for him, but he had his medication and his brownies, and was shag-footing it along, moving towards Natalie's desk.

"Hi, Nat," he says in a soft tone, looking a bit grim. "Pepper called, said she needed to talk to me?" he says, twisting one corner of his lab coat nervously. He's wearing slacks and a clean button down shirt, though his labcoat remains ever-stained and scorched.

JARVIS speaks, in a rather halting tone, despite Bruce's presence. "Miss Potts, I have activated the secure link so I'm not heard outside this office."

"I'm not sure how to inform you of this. Frankly, I'm not sure what to make of it yet, either.."

JARVIS actually pauses, before saying, "Miss Potts, I have reaquired telemetry."

JARVIS speaks, in a rather halting tone, despite Bruce's presence. "Miss Potts, I have activated the secure link so I'm not heard outside this office."

"I'm not sure how to inform you of this. Frankly, I'm not sure what to make of it yet, either.."

JARVIS actually pauses, before saying, "Miss Potts, I have reaquired telemetry."

Tony enters the atmosphere of Earth, his angle and trajectory solid. He's on a course to put him Metropolis in approximately seven minutes.

"Sir, I've taken the liberty of advising Miss Potts of your reaquired telemetry. I advise you be the one to give her the actual news yourself."

"Duly noted. We are five by five. JARVIS, give me a heads up when we hit Metropolis airspace."

"Of course sir."

Natasha is scraping her chair back away from her desk almost before JARVIS' words are complete. "Yes, it's a bad thing," she tells Pepper, her voice slipping firmly out of Miss Rushman and into Black Widow. "I gotta go -- I've got the 'bag'."

She looks up, then, to discover Bruce and hear his awkward greeting. "Doctor Banner..." She glances to the office door and lets out a soft curse in Russian, since they three are alone here. "Now's not a good time, Doc. Darkseid just dropped Kalibak on Lower Metropolis." A beat. She looks at his condition. Her lips press together thinly. "I could... use help. But only if not you're high."

She'd prefer him to be green.

She's already reaching down under her desk for a black coach bag -- the one that used to be teal and bronze. She kicks off her heels, glances down at her black dress pants, and sighs. If she survives this, then she'll worry about replacing her wardrobe.

She sets the bag down and activates it. Dark teal and bronze, so dark they're virtually black, ripples up her body like an old school Transformer, encasing her in what was once Pepper's Rescue armor, but is now something quite different.

Bruce runs to the edge of the window in Pepper's office along with Natasha, peering upwards. "/Shit/," he hisses. "I read the brief on him. You're gonna need me," he says, shucking his clothing, down to a pair of over-baggy panama shorts. He fishes in his lab jacket, finding a pair of cylinders about the size of a paint marker, and squints up at the sky. "I think I see him," he confirms. He backs up a few paces and looks at Natasha, holding up the two cylinders. "Red light," he says, holding up the autosyringe full of sedatives. He bares his teeth in a grin, his body already turning a pale shade of green.

"GREEN LIGHT!" he roars, jamming the syringe into his neck.

"rraaAAAUAUAUAUUGUGUHHH!" comes an inhuman bellow. The outer windows of the office blow out, and the Hulk comes flying like a bolt of green lightning, leaping across the street to the building opposite. In two great, bounding moments, he's on top of the roofs, squinting skyward for Kalibak.

"HULK SMASH! HULK SMASH PUNY KALIBAK!" he bellows, beating his chest savagely. With a huge grunt of effort, he squats down, then /leaps/ skywards, hurling himself at Kalibak like a living green missile, smashing the roof under him into a small crater.

Pepper Potts frowns at JARVIS's words, looking up at one of the array of sensors set into the ceiling. "What?" But then Natasha is yelling back that the AI's announcement to her is indeed a bad thing while deploying Rescue and Bruce disappears from her line of sight almost before she realized he was there. She moves to stand as her brain catches up. "Wait, WHAT? JARVIS, do you mean...?"

Seven minutes. That might be how long it would take if Kalibak wasn't also rushing upwards at the same speed. There's a great roar as the sound barrier is shattered, leaning forward with a fierce expression. His hand on the Beta Club is intense, although the one on his Mother Box seems almost gentle. He's no fool. If Tony has DeSaad's, the only way to battle it... is with another. "You belong to my Father!! I will drag your broken body to Apokolips!!" he roars, hefting up his Beta Club and beginning to fire intense blasts of energy, roaring with surprising dexterity despite the aide of #12 and JARVIS aiding his movements. The New God is still faster...! << Be warned. Kalibak's box is stronger then me. >> offers his own Mother. << His has unconditional love... I never have. Although we have it... the link is much weaker... >>

"Sir there's an incoming--"

"On it, JARVIS--" Tony says abruptly. He pulls back, his suit still gleaming hot from his orbital re-entry. Flight control surfaces respond with thought-quickness, he rears back at the oncoming Kalibak and punches him squarely in the middle of the face, knocking him for a loop back from whence he came.

For everyone else..

It looks like a comet in the Metropolis twilight, streaking brilliantly against the dull orange-blue of the sky. Kalibak flies up to meet it, and it pauses its approach very briefly, and the Apokoliptic Heir is knocked back down to earth.

The streak continues it's approach, still brilliant. However as it draws closer, the comet has a familiar roar..


And then..the sound. Familiar to all, striking close to home to others. Music.

Within the Rescue armor, it's inescapable.

"Shoot To Thrill" by AC/DC is audible.

"Agent Romanov...Miss me?"

The comet that was thousands of feet over the city has landed in a familiar three point pose, and is standing a suit of familiar looking armor, except that Gold Titanium Alloy has been changed to silver and black..but the blue glow that permeats the suit is still the same.

Holding palms out, as steam rolls off the suit in clouds, a few more advanced weapons pop up from the shoulders, and a very familiar voice says, "I need everyone on crowd control, this one's mine..."

He levels a gaze at Kalibak, "Alright, Ghoulies 2 -- let's dance."

The armor's faceplate snaps down over Natasha's features seconds before The Other Guy smashes through the Pepper's office. She's turning, racing after the Green Guy, "Hulk--" only to have her internal com system completely hijacked by...

Shoot to Thrill?!??!

She stops. She stares at Pepper for a full heartbeat in stunned response, measuring her response as well. "Bozhe moi..." comes her voice from the suit's speakers.

Then, however, her hands spread, she leaps through the broken window, and the sound of lighter repulsors echo off the remaining windows of the Tower. The Voice from Beyond then interrupts her and her eyes flick to the telemetry her suit now picks up, then to the comet. The pose. The style. The colors? "Stark?!"

Inside, the suit, the Black Widow -- Iron Widow? -- grins and rockets toward the fight. "Stark, you sonuva...!" She cuts herself off. There's work to be done. "I'm on it."

Pepper Potts is still too shocked to really believe what JARVIS has just told her, but seeing that comet-like streak landing nearby through her office's windows alongside Natasha's reaction and the AC/DC she's refused to listen to for the past couple of weeks...

Wasting several more seconds standing there with her hands over her mouth while both Banner and Natasha actually start DOING something, Pepper's brain finally kicks into gear. "JARVIS, I'm heading for the armory. You know what to do." And with that, she turns and RUNS for the elevator.

The Hulk misses. Kalibak and Tony are dueling in the air, and the Hulk goes wide. This makes the Hulk angrier.

The Hulk hits the apex of his jump, about two miles up, and then starts falling, arms and legs pinwheeling madly to turn him around. No one else could swim through the air but the Hulk, with his massive hands and feet, disproportionate to his size, blurring wildly.

And then he starts falling, using those same organic paddles to steer himself. And he aims for Kalibak, growling and snarling, spittle flaring from his green lips, with nearly a ton of muscle and fury hitting nigh terminal velocity.

When he hits, he smashes Kalibak down into the building the Elite is standing upon. There's the sound of struggling, of things being smashed, and then Kalibak goes flying out of another side of the building in Tony's direction, followed by a trail of flying rubble, having been hurled bodily by The Hulk in his state of rage.

"RAUAUAUAUAUAGAGAHHHH!" The Hulk bellows, smashing his fists. Like a giant gorilla, he shuffles on his knuckls and broad feet, then leaps through the air after Kalibak.

Kalibak is struck in the chin by the heel of Iron Man's amplified feet, causing more pain than he expected. He rockets down like a missile to the street level, but his Mother Box suddenly catches him, and he descends to land on his feet with a slightly wobble. It appears there's three of the insects in the air, one of which is obviously dangerous, but the most important matter at hand for Kalibak is the Hulk. It doesn't take a very long exchange for the New God to be flung away, shattering through and landing on his feet to skid down a street, sending cars crashing into either direction. But what might surprise the Hulk is that he did not do such unscathed; Kalibak is infinitely faster than the raging beast, and his power barely below Superman himself. Breathing heavily with a dent in his armor, his mother box swirls over him in blue before it seems to coalesce back together, wounds fading. << Assaulter known as the Hulk. Gamma-amplified mutate from a rare metahuman gene. Anger creates battle strength, invulnerability, and regeneration without known ceiling. >>

With that, Kalibak just beckons Bruce to come towards him, breath still a touch heavy. And if the great hulking beast does hurtle himself towards the Scourge of Apokolips... instantly a Boom Tube would open up, and a great, incredible suction would draw in the massive monster. If he made the mistake of leaping, there's probably little end result outside being launched to the very moon, countless thousands of miles away!! If he can remove the Hulk, then the rest... should be easy!!

The Elite comes flying back at Tony, courtesy of Hulk. Tony pulls up a parking meter as he approaches and swings like Babe Ruth, knocking Kalibak into a nearby car who accordions under the impact. Dropping the meter, he advances towards Kalibak. "Go. HOME." he says, flatly. He raises the repulsors and sends a double blast into the alien. "You don't get to take me back to your dad, you don't get a year's supply of Turtle Wax. You just get to GO HOME!"

Natasha's armor was once -- and may still yet be -- called Rescue. And, as the Hulk smashes Kalibak through a building and out into the street beyond, that puts a hundred different civilians at risk. She's fast in this armor, to be sure. Almost as fast as Tony, likely. Well. As Tony's red-and-gold suit. But, does she have the strength to catch or divert Hulk? She's not really sure. What she is sure about, however, is that more people are going to get hurt if this keeps up. So, yes. She chooses to let the Hulk deal with the boom tube, rather than let unlucky civilians fall 50 storeys to their deaths. She grabs one fellow by a hand, and a second by a leg, hearing the repulsors whine. "I got you..."

Pepper Potts makes it to the Armory as quickly as the elevators allow, ignoring the confused looks and interrupted questions from anyone she passes on the way. She rushes through the door that JARVIS opens for her and hastily moves to change out of her office attire and into the form-fitting black shirt and leggings that seem vaguely reminiscent of neoprene (but breathable) that one of the bots holds patiently for her. While she struggles with the garments, the gantry/assembly... thing near the currently empty armor storage bays begins to move, bringing out the pieces of a powered armor for Pepper.

The Hulk snarls in a grin as Tony takes a whack at the Elite, growling hideously, and then turns to a pair of parked cars. He grabs one and hurls it, then another, pitching them like fastballs. He makes a guttural sound barely recognizable as a laugh and then runs pell-mell at the Elite, feed pounding the ground at superhuman speeds as the Green Meanie charges forward, rushing to just get his hands around the Elite's body. When the boom tube opens, the Hulk spins and drives his hands and feet into the ground, roaring defiance at the vast pulling sensation of the Boom Tube. He suddenly starts slamming his fingers into the ground. In a moment, he vanishes into the undertunnels, using his great steam-shovel hands to disappear into the tunnels under the city and temporarily vanish from the danger of the boom tube.

Slowly, Kalibak picks himself up, blood coming from his nose and breathing heavily, one rib feeling cracked through shattered armor. But again his Mother Box flares, and in a ripple, his armor reassembles, and he stands strong and hale again. "What is a monster like that weak against?!? << The Hulk is a result of anger and gamma radiation. I recommend love. >> "I'm not hugging him." << No... let me... >> Suddenly, the Mother Box erupts. Everyone within a mile would feel a great sense of happiness and elation, as if they were light and everything in the world is perfect. Even Kalibak grins, shoulders relaxing slightly. Ah... that's relaxing... although whether it's going to be much help against a slowly ramping-up Hulk is another matter entirely.

Tony doesn't care if the guy just hit the reset button, or if he just played "All You Need Is Love" -- the dangers of pushing Tony Stark too far, and nearly breaking his mind, is that the peacenik approach doesn't apply to him. Of anyone that might, could, or would be affected right now, the rage he feels trumps even that of the Hulk's.

Tony's not hugging anyone, either. He advances towards Kalibak, and without another word, throws his higher powered right cross at the jaw of Darkseid's first born.

And what is a perfect world to a woman like Natasha, whose own mind has been broken and rebuilt so many times over the decades she doesn't even know if Natasha is her real name or not. She doesn't know if any of her memories are really real, save for those in the last handful of years... and even some of them, she won't swear to. Not to mention the overwhelming feeling of love to a woman who, frankly, can't tell you if she's ever truly felt the emotion in her life or not? Happiness? Happiness is fleeting in the face of all that. Powerful, perhaps, but disorienting and bittersweet.

She gasps, and though it could be mistaken for elation, it sounds much like pain. Her fists tighten on the men she holds, repulsors stabilizing as she lowers them down to safety, rolling all three of them onto a side street where they can get up and high-five each other and celebrate... while she curls down into a small armored ball and presses gauntletted fists to her helmetted forehead. "Make it stop..." she whispers. "JARVIS, what is it? How do I make it stop?"

"Make what stop, Miss Rushman?" JARVIS asks, "I am not detecting any external stimuli, I do read heightened dopamine and serotonin levels in your blood stream, however, but I can't do anything about those."

Pepper Potts pauses for a second or two at the edge of the armor assembly... thing at the strange (foreign) wash of happy feelings. She's too far into mental lockdown mode to give in to the desire to go hug Dummy, though, so she just shakes her head sharply before hastily tying her hair back into a low ponytail before setting her feet on the pre-marked spot on the gantry and waiting for JARVIS to complete the armor assembly. Luckily, AIs don't get distracted by happy.

The armor, once assembled, clomps toward the nearest (actually desiged to be an exit) exit, but before taking off toward the sky in a blast of repulsors, goes through a final JARVIS-run checklist to make sure all systems are working correctly, including shifting all surface panels about. "Tell me when everything is ready, JARVIS," Pepper says to the HUD inside the armor's helmet.

The Hulk groans and grabs his head, suddenly.... sad. He slumps to one knee in effluvia, trying to shake off the Mother Box. He weeps, then, collapsing to both knees. Who can argue with the power of love? Especially for the man trapped inside, experiencing something akin to it for the first time in years? The Hulk starts to shrivel and shrink, reduced in slow measures by his own humanity.

JARVIS responds to Pepper, "Everything reads green across the board, Miss Potts. I do detect, as with Miss Rushman, a very elevated level of serotonin and Dopamine in your blood system. Is everything okay? It may not be best for you to engage in an altered state like this."

Kalibak snaps his eyes up as Tony rockets forward, and Kalibak's response is brutal and simple. Stamping a foot upon the ground, digging boots into asphalt like it was clay, he /whirls/ and swings his Beta Club with all his might. Tony's fist finds a metal on par with Adamantium meeting him, swung at a significantly greater force than even Tony's amplified body is offering. On top of that, his mother box pings out. << Disintegrating. >> Instantly there's a haze of dust shedding from Tony's suit, before his own mother box states frantic, "Reintegrating!!" He's in a weird flux, armor partially falling away only to suddenly recombine. It doesn't seem to be affecting any systems, being only enough to muss up his paint. "I... can't stop it forever." apologizes Tony's Mother Box. "But I will grant you what backup power I have..." Suddenly Tony's power systems, engines, and weaponry feel a surge of potent power, revving him up so much the suit is blaring warning lights. It can't handle the force he has now... not with Mother trying to stop him from being atomized. But it's pretty clear he's on a time limit now... "Kalibak's weakness is..." #12 begins. There's long moments. "Nothing in particular. He is a master gladiator fighter, extremely fast, durable, and one of the physically strongest beings in the universe. I suppose he's of mundane intelligence?"

Tony takes in the information on his screen and what the Mother Box is telling him. "Understood. Do me a favor then..if we got a shelf life, let's hit him where it hurts."

Tony arms everything he's got, with everything on it. "Target that son of a bitch's own Mother Box and take it out. I'll send DeSaad's home with him, if he makes it that far."

Meanwhile, JARVIS pings another armor, and he doesn't even need to ask who it is.

"Miss Potts, are you up?"

Serotonin and dopamine? Affecting Natasha also? Then it's an externally created effect. Pepper takes a deep breath, then answers the AI while studying the armor's HUD. "Doesn't matter, JARVIS. I need to get out there." But then Tony's voice comes through and she has to keep herself from gasping audibly enough for it to carry. She answers quickly, before her voice can betray her reaction, "How can I help, Mr. Stark?" Oh, yeah, the PARAGON of calm efficiency there. not.The newest suit of Stark armor blasts up and away from the Tower in a flare of Repulsor energy, arcing toward the epicenter of the chaos.

... Dopamine... Serotonin...

Are you frickin' kidding her?!?

Natasha, over the years, has rather perfected the art of emotional control. And to have it taken away from her so quickly, tears on her cheeks behind the faceplate? No. Actually...


A little bit of sunshine and happiness is not about to derail the woman know as the Black Widow. Not gonna happen, sweetness. Not today.

She rises and begins to run down the street, black metal boots clanging before she leaps skyward, repulsors singing and stabilizers glowing. She needs to find out where that effect is coming from, JARVIS' assessment be damned. Because she doesn't just trip out like this. It doesn't happen. Eight decades of training tells her it doesn't happen.

"You want happiness?" she mutters, priming up a charge as she goes, "I'll give you happiness, milaya..."

Kalibak stands firm, the Mother Box within his left arm, glaring upwards at the three assembled individuals in armor. The intent of the Mother Box was to remove Bruce Banner's rampage; whatever other tingly happiness rushes over the others is a secondary. It's clear pretty fast that the gargantuan New God is the source of all this, and the one currently trying to take down Tony -- presently in a much more advanced looking suit of armor than he's ever been in before, if covered by a peculiar shimmer like he had a bad case of static. Redoubling the grip on his Beta Rod, Kalibak hurls himself into the sky, a sonic boom shattering windows behind before he lands with a crash atop a multi-story skyscraper. "Come, insects!! Face the might of Lord Darkseid's blood heir!!" His Beta Rod is extended, before he begins firing a number of intense blasts of orange energy. Readouts would go DANGER DANGER DANGER for both Potts and the Widow; they can both heavily damage the armor of the basic units. Only Tony's could take the hits, although not comfortably. And the man is damnably fast and accurate; one would think someone of his size would be slow!!

Tony knows he's the only one who can withstand Kalibak's assault currently. Probaby at any time, really. Launching himself in the air and taking the fight to the skies, he starts firing repulsor blasts at the Elite, while trying to dodge him. However, if it means taking a hit for either Black Widow or Pepper he will do so. He keeps trying to target the Mother Box, hoping that at least damaging it will keep Darkseid's heir from regenerating the way that he has.

Natasha isn't really focussed on Kalibak himself, so much as she is in finding the source of the emotional manipulation. And she's quick enough to notice that SuperTony is targeting the motherbox the motherfracker carries. So, really, that seems as good a target as any, to her. She's happy to oblige that target.

Entirely happy.

Thus, like Tony, she trains her suit's systems on the box, rather than the monster. That said, however, she has the added complication of trying to dodge energy blasts which, JARVIS, perhaps, quickly informs her, would be really bad for her health. "Yeah. Got that..."

So, maybe her shots don't hit. But, as long as Kalibak's don't, either, it's all good. Her reflexes, after all, are better than any of the others in this fight -- save, perhaps, Kalibak's own. As long as the suit doesn't slow her down, the woman can spiral tight around and away from the center of those shots, and just keep coming, firing as she goes.

Pepper Potts barely has time to think before the HUD flashes a warning and a combination of her reflexes working alongside JARVIS's control of the suit manage to keep the first few volleys of orange energy clear. "JARVIS, I want that staff thing he's using." She wants to wrest it away from that... person and shove it up his nose like a troll in a girl's bathroom in Hogwarts, or something like that. Then an idea comes to her and the newest of the armors abruptly drops below the main building line as if the most recent orange blast affected it somehow. She's aiming for a bit of hopeful stealth while the other two are all up in Kalibak's grill.

Kalibak realizes rather quickly where the enemies are aiming. "Leave Mother alone!!" he growls out, twisting up a forearm and shifting it behind him. The repulsor beams from Natasha and Pepper impact him, leaving scorch marks and cracks in his armor, but otherwise seem to do little damage. But the moment Tony's repulser fires, there's explosive feedback. One armor plate on his forearm guard explodes off, cracks appear, and a number of warnings go off. A massive beam goes flying straight at Kalibak, who widens his eyes. A forcefield appears out of nowhere, dampening the blow for a second before striking into him. The building's top explodes in a roar of energy, collapsing down a few stories and sending smoke and concrete into the sky. They are still repairing Darkseid's damage, damnit!! From within, Kalibak pants, pushing up to his feet. His torso armor is blown away, and the bronze, supple skin beneath charred black. "What... Mother, you saved me..." She lets out a Ping! once more, the box surrounded by a much more potent shield. "I'll not let him hit me again!!" Pepper is completely off his radar for the moment!!

Under the sewers, Bruce/The Hulk are stumbling along, trapped midway between transformations. "We have to get up there!"


Bruce/Hulk falls to his knees, looking at the water. Bruce's face reflects up.

"You worthless, lazy, goddamned monster!" he screams. "The one time, the ONE TIME they need you, you fall down! You're weak! You're pathetic!"

"HULK NOT WEAK!" The Hulk roars, smashing his fists into the concrete, splashing effluvia everywhere. Banner still sneers up at the green meanie. "HULK NOT WEAK! HULK NOT SAD!"


There's a ripple of noise and the Hulk smashes through the wall to his left, growing by the second. He turns his snarl upwards at the ceiling, Bruce's mocking voice still ringing in his ears. There's the sound of floors collapsing, and The Hulk snarls loudly and narrows his eyes.

Tony makes a hole to get to Kalibak. If he can't punch through, he'll blast and punch. But all too soon, Tony's in Kalibak's face again. "There's no where you can run, Kalibak." the Iron Man says, voice laced with rage but maintains staying even. "There's no place you can go that I won't be in your face just like this."

Tony fires, relentless. With his right hand he fires a sustained repulsor blast at the shield, he's erected. His left waits for the shield to fall, before it fires as well.

As the building collapses under Kalibak, Natasha pulls up short. She scans the battlefield quickly. As she does, she takes stock of just what this armor really has to offer. Repulsors, sure. Cutting lasers. But, nothing heavy. It's rescue armor... not blow-the-frickin'-city-sky-high armor. (More's the pity.)

Thing is, Natasha's rarely ever been the frontline soldier. And, as the building collapses in a plume of smoke, dust, and an overwhelming *BOOM*, she realizes that charging in is not in her best interest. Evidently, and as always, Tony is far more suited to this fight.

Too, it's only now that she's had a chance to register the chatter she's been hearing. And her brows rise. "Pepper?" The second little radar blip JARVIS' telemetry has been updating. She may not be able to see the woman, but... Well, it's probably a good thing the petite Russian prefers to curse silently and in her mother tongue, rather than over an open com.

"Alright, Widow." she mutters to herself. "Leave the heavy lifting to the heavy hitters. Time to bite this bastard in the ass, instead..."

Because Kalibak has that stupid shield that keeps popping up. And while Tony may be able to disrupt it time and time again, that's got to get tiresome. And time-consuming. And she wants this fight over.

So, repulsors flaring, she overshoots the concrete cagematch to circle around behind Kalibak, moving at speed. Then, a suitable distance away, she stops and finds a place on a separate building to land, plant, and brace herself. At that point, she pulls out the closest thing this repainted-used-car has to a Widow's Bite... which happens to be a sonic field generator. "JARVIS," she says, voice grim, "see if there's any way to modulate the sonic frequencies to keep that damned shield down or vibrate that damned box generator thing into atoms. I don't care which. Let's just clear the field so Stark can finish this."

And, with that... she triggers a sonic shockwave pure enough to make any metal band ever conceived green with ecstatic envy.

The armor that still has yet to actively engage Kalibak blasts around to one side and slightly behind the giant alien, blasting up from below the current roof-level of the building. Thanks to JARVIS (she'd kiss the AI if she could), her approach is perfectly timed for just after Rescue's sonic attack.

The blood and brass colored armor's left hand reaches to snag the Beta Rod from Kalibak's hand, the fingers of the gauntlet each glinting with a small hooked blade like a cat's claws while a blade extended from the back of the right gauntlet rather akin to the 'data spike' from the original Robocop movie is jabbed toward Kalibak's eyes in an attempt to blind him.

Things are not going well for Kalibak. He is an upfront, brute strength fighter; tactics and multiple opponents, even his lessers, are not his forte. Let alone when it includes the likes of the Hulk, who would defeat him in single combat. "I--I AM NOT THE ONE RUNNING!!" roars the New God, before suddenly another shield is erected from his Mother Box. Black Widow, from behind, offers a consolation. "The shield happens to be well outside my capability to confirm, but I believe this frequency has the highest chance of being effective." The roar of vibrations appear well-timed, as this erected shield is much more potent; the overcharged blast seems weaker the second time, although cracks once more ripple up the arm of his advanced suit from the feedback. The shield collapses just as the weaponry shorts out, a blast of remaining energy staggering Kalibak.

The second blows through, a narrow beam striking Kalibak within the chest in a thunderous roar. It pierces a circular hole clear through his stomach, cauterized neatly. "...!!" The repulsor on Tony's left arm blow out completely, no longer useable. His bare flesh visible, only the box hooked in remaining intact. << Disintegration field... nearly overriding... but Kalibak's Mother Box levels are reaching a critical low... >>

And then, there's a flash. Blood erupts from Kalibak's eyes, completely blinding him before his Beta Club is thefted away by that thieving Pottser. He falls dying to his knees, before there's an intense flash. Slower this time, but the Mother Box heals him. He blinks, surprised, hole upon his chest closing up. His armor starts to repair, but then falters.

His mother box makes a faint, tiny ping!

<< Kalibak's Mother Box levels are at less than 1%. >> offers #12.

"STOP!!" Kalibak suddenly says, holding up a hand. "PLEASE!!" It's not clear what the reason for this is, but he is desperate, frantic, no longer looking like the most monstrous fighter beneath Darkseid, but almost a child...

A fist slams out of the floor beneath Kalibak, grabbing for the New God's ankle. It pulls /down/, bringing Kalibak- and the entire /floor/ he's on- down a level.

And The Hulk is there. He's ten feet tall if he's an inch, the darkest of greens, and blasts of steam escape his nose with each growling breath. He grins- an awful, rictus animal grin- and with a bassy screech of delight, starts swinging Kalibak around by the ankle like a child's plaything, smashing him into concrete pillars and iron girders with neck-breaking velocity. And the entire time, he laughs, a grostesque bellow of laughter that has no place on a monster of that size. Overjoyed? Sure. There's love. And there's loving to smash stuff. And it is very clear that the Hulk in in love with the idea of breaking the entire building apart by using Kalibak as a living crowbar.

Spotting Tony on the approach, Hulk grabs Kalibak by the head- like he's holding a cantaloupe- and squarely faces the New God and roars in his face, spittle flying.

"PUNY GOD!" Hulk roars, in a tone loud enough to break windows. He shakes Kalibak like a rattle and thrusts him at Tony. r


From within the helmet, Tony smiles.

Damn right, he's gonna smash.

Walking purposefully towards Kailbak. The faceplate goes up and back, reveaing Tony's face. Physically, he looks just as it did before. Not bad at all for a corpse. With Hulk holding him and likely to not go anywhere, he shakes his head. "No." he says, to Kalibak's pleas.

Kalibak might see it. Natasha definitely know it looks like. It probably won't register with Hulk, and Pepper might instantly recognize the look in Tony's eyes: It's the look that newly freed prisoners of war have, that shattered look. The thousand yard stare. The lights are on, and there's somebody home, but there's no way in hell to know where they are. Tony, with his still armoed hand strikes with everything he has into a brutal looking backfist. Darkseid might've killed Tony because of his mercy.%rMercy doesn't live here anymore.

"You want me stop? I'll show you where I stop. I'm gonna stop when I send the message to your old man that if he EVER comes back to Earth again, he's gonna have a lot a more to bargain for than simply Superman. I won't be as nice as I was last time."

The Iron Man looks down and sees the Mother Box. He has the same information as Kalibak does. He knows it's all but worthless now. But not entirely. He reaches down with a rapid snatch, and with a ruthless twist, rips the box right out of it's socket.

The facepate comes down again. Tony hovers in the air, "Miss Potts." he says over the comms, "I need you to do something for me." and he tracks where Pepper's armor is to his relative location, and puts a marker on the mother box and then throws it out the nearest opening with a motion that would make Nolan Ryan proud.

"Please..take out the trash."

As for Kalibak, Tony turns back to him. "" he says, and with Hulk holding him, he isn't really worried about the consequences of his next actions. He brings every available weapon on line that's functional, and pours it onto Kalibak. An alpha strike with everything. Will it piss Hulk off? Probably. Will it hurt him? Probably not.

If there were any time that Tony would be considered to be entirely without mercy, it is in this moment where he brings hell down upon the Elite.

Oh, Natasha recognizes the look on Tony's face, alright. She's worn it enough times, herself. She also knows that, underneath that brass faceplate... there's a similar look on Pepper's face. Because Pepper Potts is not a violent woman.

Until now.

The Widow watches almost impassively, at this point, back straight, fists at her sides, gaze focussed. Indeed, more accurately, she stands witness. She, of all people, understands just what is happening here. And it's possible, somewhere deep inside, beneath the layers of experience and well-built emotional walls, her heart breaks. But, it cannot be seen in her body language, nor even would it be seen on her face, were her faceplate open -- which it's not.

She and Hulk? This isn't their fight any more. Hulk may hold Kalibak still to receive Tony's punches, but he is no more than a piece of furniture. A green brick wall that shackles the prisoner. And she? She's the witness, the recorder.

And the one that will bury this moment away from the rest of the world so far under the surface even the deepest pit of hell will be above it.

Because, while all great events such as this -- whether bright and exulting, or, as is the case now, terrible and horrific -- need a witness... this still remains a private grief and a private war. And no one else but Iron Man and Vindicta ever need to share it.

I don't recognize "nat".

Vindicta reaches out to neatly catch the Mother Box thrown to by Iron Man in the hand not currently occupied by the Beta Rod. After only a moment of consideration, the Mother Box is run through by Kalibak's own weapon then lauched back into the air to be swatted away like the batter to Nolan Ryan's pitch. Of course, there's no ordinance in baseball. There is here, though, and the volley of repulsor blasts and missile fire that follows the Mother Box to turn it to ashes is rather frighteningly similar to what's brought down upon its former owner.

That's when the blood and brass armor finally speaks up, the emitted voice electronically made to sound genderless. Flat. Emotionless. "Will there be anything else, Mr. Stark?"

Kalibak is in no real state to do anything reasonable right now. The Hulk manages to erupt from the ground beneath, and then yank him down; he finds himself grasped, free hand holding the wrist of the titanic rage machine. In the midst of the unexpected yank, his Mother Box is dropped and clatters to the ground in front of Kalibak. "Don't... Don't... Please...!!" He reaches for it desperately, even as Tony picks it up.

<< It's okay, son. >> says a soft voice within Kalibak's head, unknown to all present. It is not the normal one of a Mother Box, that Tony is intimately familiar with. Soft, gentle, and warm.

Tony hurls it over to Pepper, but he's almost completely ignoring Tony at this point, as it spirals through the air.

<< I wish I could have stayed with you longer. >>

"MOTHER!! MOTHER!!" Kalibak wails, struggling forward with such strength Hulk might have a moment of difficulty keeping him in place.

<< I will always love you, son. I will always...>> And then in an eruption of photon fire and an impact of a missile, the Mother Box crumples inwards. A moment later, Tony's remaining weapons unload at point blank. However, they no longer overload his circuits; they are normal secondary weapons, a series of missiles, a few laser blasts, and a chest-based concussion beam. They certainly wound the hell out of Kalibak in a giant explosion, but he's not struck dead as they proved capable earlier. Within Tony's earpiece, DeSaad's box confirms. << Kalibak's mother has been destroyed. >> The word 'box' was not in that sentence.

There's a huge explosion from Pepper's final assault, and broken fragments of the Mother Box remain in pieces on the ground. Kalibak sizzles, smoking, hanging limp until Hulk releases him. He seems no threat now. Trembling hands extend on hands and knees, taking up what little remains of the celestial technology amidst rubble and blackened foundation. "Mother... Say something... Mother..." Tears well up in his eyes, and he doubles over, placing the fragments against his face.

Upon Apokolips, Darkseid sits upon his throne. His body is still ruined and destroyed by the assault of Thor and Sif, leaking of his essence gradually shrinking. He has a shimmering portal open, having watched the entire scene. He had expected Kalibak to fail. If Grayven had not been useless, Tony would have likely been retrieved. His cheek is in a giant hand, red eyes idly simmering. But he finds a memory stirring, so deep within the darkness of his soul that he had forgotten, in the eternity that followed.

Suli, on her deathbed. Poisoned by Heggra, through condensed Radion that not even a Mother Box could purge. Darkseid only watched at the time, arms behind his back, as impassive as ever. But young Kalibak, still a child, kept clinging to Suli. "Don't leave me. Don't leave me...!" Tears streaming endlessly down the tiny heir's face.

"Don't worry... they say a Mother Box exists to love... unconditionally... no matter what. Here... I only wish... this could contain mine for you..." she followed. A weak, shaky hand gave Kalibak her Mother Box. Her eyes then closed, and the device shined bright blue. In that moment, Suli passed into the Source, beyond even the power of Darkseid to revive.

And then, as the sobbing Kalibak hugged the Mother Box to his chest, before it let out a gentle ping!.

"Mom?" Kalibak stated. Darkseid immediately left the room, pretending to not have heard it.

Darkseid had not realized his eyes were closed. They open, as he stares at the portal of Kalibak prostrate before his Mother Box, carrying the last vestiges of Suli's personality. His son. The son born of the only woman he ever loved. Within his sash, his own Mother Box dares a plaintive ping. For some reason, he no longer wishes to see this. In a gesture, the window to Earth dissipates.

The Hulk roars and screams, the punishing alpha strike enough to burn even his redoubtable flesh. But as fast as it burns away, it heals, the monster enraged to a capacity beyond the risk of death. Cast him into the sun and he would swim out- a nuclear blast would irritate him. But he holds Kalibak up as a shield, roaring, until that last, awful blast of Tony's blast is used up, and Pepper's vindictive strike smashes them all down another floor, to lay in the rubble.

Kalibak falls to the ground, weeping, and The Hulk rises and looks to Tony, standing a full twelve feet tall, shoulders heaving with angry, deep breaths. Irradiated and blasted skin closes and patches, and the Hulk snarls once at Tony, then subsides.

He looks down at the broken, crawling, mewling Kalibak, then drops a foot down and kicks Kaliback onto his back, then stands on him. He grunts once to get Tony's attention, then makes a gesture with both giant, clubby green fists- like a farmer snapping a chickens' neck.

He snorts and growls again, tilting his head at the Iron Man.

Tony watches with hardened eyes. He takes in a deep breath. It's almost done.

"Mother.." he says within his helm. "You're up. I apologize for this, but I won't let him stay here. This is the best thing for everyone involved. I can't express to you my thanks, my gratitude for your assistance. I wouldn't be back home if not for you. Pease understand that. I know DeSaad is vile, and horrid. But if I let you stay, I'm going to have to do this every week. Then every day. I can't have that."

He looks at Hulk and shakes his head, "That'll start more war than it'll end..and..yeah."

He reaches over, and unplugs DeSaad's Mother Box from his own suit.

He kneels down, and grabs Kalibak by the back of the hair. "Remember what I did here today. Remember what it cost you. Remember these eyes."

Then a beat pause, "And tell your father, from me, that I am /STILL/ an athiest."

With that, he slots the MoBo into the space previously occupied by Kalibak's. "Back to Apokolips" he says to the Mother Box, and takes a couple of steps back and aims his repulsor and whatever weapons he has at the Elite. If he makes any moves, he'll end them both if need be.

The Black Widow rises up almost gently from the building upon which she stands witness. She drifts in as the final blows rain down on the hapless godling, doing little more than continuing to watch the whole scene unfold.

Her eyes and sensors do scan for civilians, but by this time most of them have been evacuated, and those that haven't be... well, they probably can't be.

So, Natasha stands sentinel and watches Kalibak's inevitable disgrace dispassionately.

Vindicta moves closer as well as the last volley of weapons fire dies down, stopping just slightly behind and to Tony's right side. It's a silent declaration to the fallen combatant that to mess with Tony is to mess with everyone here. Just try to come back. Hell hath no fury like Pepper upset to the point of crying. Now go away, little man. We don't want you here.

Something deep inside Kalibak begins to crack. Something deep within his soul. He had always been a gentle heart. He had been born so much of Suli; and that, in the world of Apokolips, made him weak. It is what made Darkseid dismiss him so -- to see the echo of someone he loved within his face. Eventually he learned to hide it. But through all the torture, the mental destruction, the failures, the deaths, the revives, he had his mother there. Nursing him. Soothing him. Keeping his gentle soul alive.

It has now shattered.

Tension slowly builds within Kalibak. His breath is coming faster now, fingers digging into the side of his head as his entire body trembles. Something new is inside. Something twisted.

Hatred. Absolute hatred. In hundreds of thousands of years, he has never felt it. Not like this.

'And remember what I did here.'

A mistake has been made here, of sorts. The Hulk is stronger than Kalibak; enough to even overpower Darkseid himself. But his speed... his speed comes from force. The Scourge of Apokolips has a body sculpted for aeons. Yet somewhere within him, he always kept it shackled. Restrained. There's a roar, so loud that the wave of force would crash into all the adjacent heroes. Fists slam into the ground beneath him, and it is not the floor that shatters... but the entire building. If Hulk were to stomp down, it would do little to stop what's already being done. And like water, the New God's speed is nearly that of a speedster. Suddenly, there are huge chunks of concrete in freefall, metal, steel and glass shattering and twisting all about.

There's time for Tony to put DeSaad's Mother Box back into his armor's slot, as #12 offers a helpful, << Look out! >>

An eruption of force and displaced mist breaks through the air; that of a being instantly shattering the sound barrier. Said being would be the badly wounded Kalibak, hurtling forward so fast even JARVIS is a notch behind tracking it. Tony is grappled by the massive beast, as the pair of them impact the building opposite in a huge crash, skidding within.


  1. 12 and DeSaad's box are working in tandem. << Reinforcing armor! My power level is down to 21%. Rerouting to amplify physical strength! You only have a second to get him off you!! >> << Kalibak's weaknesses in this state are... >> #12 begins. << ...Data unknown. Kalibak has never been recorded in this state. >>

There's a vast roaring noise and the Hulk finds himself in freefall for a few seconds. He hits the floor below, awkwardly, falling backwards, then is on his feet in an instant, snarling bellicose rage, infuriated by the consequences of Tony's decision. He casts about wildly then with a scream of fury sprints and launches himself at Kalibak with a few quick sprints and a launch of a green missile, aiming at Kalibak's lower back with both hands outstretched.

Tony is crushed under the force and speed of Kalibak. One minute he's kneeling there - the next second he's not.

Being slammed into the opposite building causes Tony all sorts of injuries, not unlike the severe injuries he took from Darkseid. Irony knows its place, here, obviously.

"Well..start..recording!" He says, grunting through the armor. He summons that boosted physical strength to knee Kalibak square in the balls. He isn't sure if it'll even hurt him, but it's the best thing he can come up with right now. He's not in the frame of mind to fight fair or honorably. His balls, best he can figure, are fair game.

Like a boxer in a clench, he starts hammering his fists on the back of Kalibak's head and back. Until he can get the alien to break his grip, it's the best he has.

Oh, sonuva...

Natasha rockets skyward as the building starts to rain down. She can't dive straight into the midst of it without risking getting crushed. And there's also the reality New York knows all to well of the consequences of large buildings imploding from the top floors down.

She can barely track what's happening within the plume of concrete dust and smoke. But she can see what's happening to the support structures surrounding it. So, she fires up her repulsors and starts working on trying to keep casualties beyond the site of this one building to an absolute minimum. Sonic shockwaves, repulsor blasts, cutting lasers... even an EMP pulse. That's what she has available, so that's what she uses.

All just to try to contain the damage.

Vindicta moves forward the moment JARVIS registers Kalibak's charging toward Tony, reaching not to pull the alien away from Tony but instead aiming to pull Tony clear, especially as the Hulk is aiming a football-esque tackle at the giant's back. If she can get him out of the way, then she can let deal Banner with this jackwagon even though she'd very much like to off Kalibak's head at the pass herself. She's still more than angry enough to do so.

Pepper certainly moves as fast as she can, but Tony's suits are not equipped to operate with genuine super-speed; although they can fly quite fast, reactions are mostly up to the user, and she's not had the decades of training. Tony's fists slam heavily into Kalibak's face, bloodying his nose, breaking his jaw, as the Mother Box works as best she can to give him the edge needed. A few blows from Kalibak shatter the front of his armor, exposing flesh beneath. But in a glow, he's healed; ribs knit together, bruises vanish, and none of the damage remains. But she can't keep it up forever. << 16%!! >> DeSaad offers. It's the Hulk that saves Tony from a difficult position. Kalibak hurtles upwards, breaking through more roofs in a crash before in a whirl, his sleek metal aero-glider flies up and he lands upon it. "You think Father the only one who's wrath can be feared?!" he snarls down, before his aero-glider rockets forward in Tony's direction once more. "I'll give you his head, and have him send your shattered spirit to the Source... beyond even the Gods to retrieve!!" Makeshift armor flows over the broken bits of Tony, covering up his chest and fists, but it's not the super-tech alloy. Mother Box has to conserve energy. << Approximate peak speed was 928 miles at initial impact. >> #12 offers. << Reaction speeds appear to be at least 17 times a peak human. I recommend leading him into the Hulk's punch somehow. >>

Tony's armor is in trouble. It's covering him but only by the grace of the mother box. This fight has to end, and it's gotta end soon. He just can't keep it up, and it's up to him to finish it off. Tony takes a deep breath, and launches himsef towards the air-glider riding Kalibak. There's no words, no wisecracks, no wit.

Tony is running out of time, more than in just one way.

Tony collides with the glider, ripping Kalibak off. Exerting several G's as he swings him around, whipping him towards Hulk like a projectile.

The Hulk snorts and grins broadly, launching himself into the air towards Kalibak and intercepting Tony's 'pitch'. He flies through the air, pummeling Kalibak and taking hits in turn. The Hulk roars as they crash through the side of a building, and there's the sound of blows being exchanged and the Hulk's roars echoing around New York.

With an explosion of glass, Kalibak goes flying out the side of the building, back at Tony, and with the Hulk running after him in hot pursuit, leaping through the air to the other side of the street yet again, like a giant green torpedo.

Black Rescue, such as she is, moves about as fast as her armor will allow. The damage control teams that will come in later may even appreciate her work. It's only when she buzzes low to the ground that she finds a clustered few survivors in the remains of a coffee shop, trying to avoid the falling debris.

She lands in front of them and directs her sonic wave at the cascade, dusting the concrete into fine powder before she turns and uses the armor's strength to free them from beneath rubble that has fixed them in place. As they scramble out, she points down the street away from the fight. "Subway tunnels. There. Go. Now. Hurry!" She looks up and tries not to let the stress sound in her voice. "I'll cover you." As more debris rains down.

Vindicta ends up chasing after Tony, though when he yanks Kalibak off of that glider thing and throws the alien to the Hulk, she takes it upon herself to make sure that that glider is not an option again. Still holding onto the Beta Rod in one hand, she again uses the weapon like a baseball bat and swings it to knock the glider out of the sky.

There's only one problem with Tony's method. That in order to take Kalibak down from the aero-glider, he has to take a hit. And it's one hell of a hit. Three shields manifest before him, but all three collapses before Tony's impacted right in the head. << Damage reduced 57%! Spreading remaining damage across armor integrity!! >> Like one of those Crash Test Dummy toys, suddenly Tony's armor shatters all around him. He's left with a codpiece, most of a bicep, the forearm with the DeSaad box, and a single boot awkwardly hovering him around with inconsistent putters of jet that remove a lot of the dignity, compared to having just had the Hulk break Kalibak's neck in the first place. << Power at... 3%... >> But in that moment, he manages to fling Kalibak right into a collision course with Hulk.

This isn't a winning engagement. If Kalibak were smarter, he's much faster than the Hulk; fast enough to evade every blow. But he's venting his rage, going through raw instinct. The trouble is, if you are going to Hulk Out, don't do it against the Hulk. A broken Kalibak is sent tumbling head over heels out of the building, but he manages one last act of defiance. He presses a button on his wrist, before bouncing atop a roof. A moment later Hulk crashes on him with catastrophic force, and in a spasm, Kalibak goes limp.

However, from behind Tony, there's a roar. Pepper is smart; very smart. She just saved Tony's life. The Beta Club hits the AI-programmed glider hard, but the force likely knocks the club out of her hands. That thing has more kick than a thousand mules, heavily dented in the front. It wobbles, accelerationg severely hampered for a couple seconds. << Behind...! >> The box notices in time as it resumes accelerating in a suicide course, beginning to beep heavily, obviously rigged to explode. << Tony... You were nice. I prefer this to going back... >> DeSaad's Mother Box suddenly explodes in a shower of blue energy out of the shattered forearm slot, and in a shimmer, Kalibak's glider vanishes just before hitting Tony's naked chest. But where's #12?! He lost the forearm piece with her in it!

This is not the worst thing Tony's been seen doing. So he's got that going for him which is nice.

He's also got a single boot keeping him from becoming road pizza. This is also nice.

He lowers himself, various areas of his body are smouldering. The clothes he was wearing undernearth ripped to shreds, mostly. He makes his way to the ground, and is just staring up now, motionless where Kalibak was, or is, in relation to the big green giant. He doesn't even realize that both Nat or Pepper are there, or that media are actively recording this.

The Hulk roars as the two of them pound one another. They start freefalling through the air, beating the loving snot out of one another. The green giant and Kalibak hit the ground, hard, and a few muffled blows can be heard from the dust.

From the giant dust ball comes silence, for a few moments, then heavy footsteps, with a dragging noise accompanying them. The Hulk emerges, his skin almost black, growling and snarling and carrying Kalibak along with a massive hand wrapped around his neck. He stumps up to Tony, emitting a low rumble, and holds Kalibak up- the battered, dazed Kalibak. To witness his own defeat- to witness the hands that had undone him. A mere mortal- a man. A man had become his undoing. A god had fallen at Tony's hands.

The Hulk grabs Kalibak's head and body in different hands and with a single, violent motion, twists in different directions. There's a terrific snap and crack, and The Hulk tosses Kalibak's broken body at Tony's feet.

"/Hulk/ smash," he grunts, snarling.

Widow does her level best to make sure anyone stupid enough to be in an area where earth-shattering ordnance, cosmic-warping energy beams, and flying thousand-pound green torpedoes doesn't get caught in the crossfire. Ultimately, she's the one actually taking hits, keeping the debris and flying glass from puncturing less protected surfaces.

At one point, she sweeps down and actually physically scoops up a pair of reporters -- one with a microphone, the other with a camera -- physically moving them back a good two blocks. "It's for your own good," she says, dropping them gently back to earth before she spins in the air and takes off in streak back toward the epicenter of the battle.

She reaches the edge of the dustbowl in time to see Hulk snap Kalibak's neck and lay the monster at Tony's feet.

"Bozhe moi."

Pepper winces inside the suit as the recoil of the Beta Rod smacking the glider knocks the weapon from her hand, but then she's just THAT much too late to keep the glider from... oh. Disappearing just before running Tony down. So she instead moves to follow Tony (yet again) and make sure that he doesn't end up falling out of the sky. Her only comment as the blood and brass colored suit keeps pace with Tony is a slightly surprised, "That was... really violent."

And then the Hulk sets his offering at Tony's feet and she has no words for that. Because compared to that? What Pepper did was akin to rolling her eyes in mild annoyance. However, that doesn't stop her from staying within arm's reach of Tony.

There's another crack in the air, and a white orb slowly coalesces into multiple emanating rings. Standing within it is Darkseid; looking down, with none of his normally imposing features. Cameras take him in, body still broken in countless areas, blood staining his body, crimson seeping out of pores. Arms remind behind his back. Despite it all, there's no lack of power within him, despite the dull shimmer in his eyes. Which suddenly shine, before two beams shriek through the air. One of them zigs and zags, no matter how much the Hulk might try to catch it like an eager cat, to slip past. But the target is not Tony. Instead, it is Kalibak, who glows red before vanishing. The other whirls over to the building that completely collapsed, causing the entire wreckage to shine for a brief moment, to no apparent visual difference. Tony's given a look. A long one. But he can't linger; the Hulk hurling himself at him would be troublesome in his current condition, and he retreats back within the portal without any word, collapsing mutely.

Darkseid stands within his throne room, looking down at the corpse of his son. Slowly he builds up power again, cracks forming anew, body stressing. Before in a blast, Kalibak spasms, eyes fluttering open and gasping. He remains badly wounded, but not dead. Realizing where he is, slowly his face falls to disappointment. He shifts to a kneel, bowing his head.

"...I failed, Father."

"... ... ..." Kalibak glances up. This is not a normal occurance.

"As if I care about a single mortal. It was DeSaad who failed. And Grayven, who purposefully ignored my demand. You, without hesitation, went and fought to the death."

Kalibak's not really sure what to say. It wasn't exactly a compliment, but nor was he scolded. And then, Darkseid extends a hand. Numbly, Kalibak reaches out and takes it. A small grey box. After a moment, a weak ping! is heard.

<< Hello, son. I'm glad... we're back together. >>

Slackjacked, Kalibak looks up, but Darkseid's back is already in the distance, stepping out of the throne room before the massive doors slam shut behind with finality.

The Hulk growls and snarls at Darkseid as the God approaches, but hammers fruitlessly against the shields the dark god has erected. And then... they're both gone.

The Hulk snarls and snorts, then looks down at Tony. He rises up onto his hind feet and with a ululating roar, beats his chest, screaming defiance at the sky.

He grabs Tony up in his left hand, holding him as if the man were a babe, then with a chuffling grunt, looks at Pepper, then Natasha. He hands the man to the women when they approach, snarling and growling, then roars again, and with a flexing explosion of motion, bounds off into the distance, following the skyline outside of the downtown of the city and into the distance.

Tony looks down at the dead Kalibak, nudging him with a armored foot. "Rot in hell." he mutters.

Then when Darkseid appears, Tony says nothing. He just watches passively as he retrieves his broken and dead son. Tony gives Darkseid a little snide finger-waggle of a hello. After Darkseid and Kalibak has disappeared, he looks up to smile at Hulk, a bit dazed, "Good goin' big guy. Quality smash work.." and then he looks to Nat, "Nice..good to see ya." he says, nodding his approval at the suit she's wearing, and then finally looks at Pepper and the new suit, "That's a signature look.." he says, becoming increasingly disoriented, "Who's your..tailor?" he asks, before everything slams home to him. All the pressure, all the internal strength that he's had to sustain, the constant limits he'd been pushing himself to and beyond since he first faced Darkseid in that hot, metal room on Apokolips.

Tony's eyes completely glass over, as he goes still and catatonic.

The crack of Darkseid's arrival has Natasha spinning around and lifting back up into the air. Another internal curse. Hulk hammers away fruitlessly at the self-professed god. Her eyes go to the building as his power reaches out to it, though she cannot fathom at all what he has done. When the beams lance out, though, and appear to come toward Tony, she lands, flanking the man's prone form with her own... perhaps even as Pepper does much the same.

When the alien monster disappears with his son, however, and Hulk tenderly gives Tony's body over to Pepper, she lets out a breath she didn't know she was holding.

"Come on," she says to her, as Hulk disappears down the street. "Let's get him home, before the vultures descend." The media, after all, are already closing in.

Within the rubble of a nearby building is a broken forearm gauntlet. All power has been severed from it, leaving a matte gray box within. Unharmed, despite it all. << ...Mr. Stark? >> is asked. Into nothing. Because right now, #12 is within blackness, unable to interact with anything. << Mr. Stark? Did you... forget about me? ...It's okay. I still love you. I'll wait... >>

Vindicta steps forward to put herself between Tony and Darkseid when he appears, but as soon as he and Kalibak disappear Pepper turns toward Tony again just in time for him to check out and the Hulk to catch him and then hand him over.

With the help of the armor's srength and JARVIS's control over Vindicta's systems, Pepper is able to take Tony from the Hulk, not yet fully realizing the ramifications of his collapse; that'll come soon enough. Instead, the armor's faceplate lifts and Pepper looks up at the Hulk before he departs. "Thank you for your help. And tell Banner I said thank you." Then she nods to Natasha and the face plate closes again before they take to the skies to return to Stark Tower.


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