There was something about the nighttime air in summer that made Danielle want to run. During the cold months, she'd hole herself up in the gym, taking to the toning machines or swimming laps in the indoor pool. But the city lights and sweet and sour smell of New York made her want to run and run. Run like she was being chased.
Every evening, after she'd eaten and finished up any loose ended articles online for publication the next morning, she'd take to the streets. She changed where she ran every few days, but found herself in Central Park at least once a week. At her side she kept pepper spray, and wasn't naive enough to run without knowing she had a pretty good left hook.
But that was all for nothing when someone took her down with a taser. It was late, nearly 11, and she'd only come across a couple of other people.
Fear was an understatement. When she felt every muscle in her body seize up, the realization dawned on her that she was about to die.
She couldn't see the face of her attacker, the shadow from the trees above hid it in his hood. He pulled her stiff body into some nearby bushes, and began to quickly remove supplies from his bulky pockets. She needed to scream, that's what she needed to do. But she couldn't. She could not will her numb muscles to do anything.
She realized he was removing tape from his pocket. It was now or never.
She let out a scream worthy of the cheesiest horror movies. And when she did, she saw the glint of light against something metal. He plunged the knife into her stomach again and again, and suddenly her entire world was just blackness and pain. She couldn't breathe, she couldn't think, she could only feel. She was silenced with the stabbing, and again the only thing she could think of was her impending death, and how she wish she could still be running.
The stabbing stopped. The pain remained. She felt her shorts being tugged away, and knew this would be the last thing she would remember. Her breath came out in shallow gasps. She whispered for her mother, tears slid down her cheeks.
There was an odd noise. The grunting and then a sudden shout came from her attacker. She watched in the darkness as his figure flew away from her, like he'd been thrown. Someone else was there. Not that it mattered. She was bleeding out, each feeble beat of her heart took her further away from her life.
She watched the immense man snap the attackers neck, and then let him drop to the dirt. He was frozen, looking at his own hands in astonishment. The next moment, he was crouching over her. He rested her hand on her stomach, and she moaned in pain. He pulled his hand away, looking down at the blood that poured out of her.
He wouldn't let her die.
"You're going to be okay." she heard a deep voice say, authority behind it. "I promise." He picked her up, and he began to run.
And she was running again.
Steve carried her, running as fast as his legs would allow, not to a hospital, but instead to the shining Stark tower. He made the 30 block distance in under two minutes. He knew if anyone on this planet could save this woman's life by any means possible, it would be Dr. Bruce Banner.
"Help." he said as the double doors on Bruce's office slid open. Bruce had been sitting at his desk, pushing through the holographic charts before him. He saw Steve through the blue translucent screen, and stood quickly. He wasn't used to seeing his friend look so horribly desperate.
"Put her on the table, there." He said, pointing to an empty white countertop he used for dissections. Steve set her down with more gentleness than a mother handling an infant. Her eyes were open, but he didn't know if she could see.
Banner pushed his sleeves back, and put his glasses on his nose. He put his hands underneath a silver faucet, and when the motion activated faucet sensed his hands there, the instantly sanitizing mixture of water and a combination of H2o2 and C3H8O.
He picked up a silver rod and ran it over the length of her body, and the specs appeared in mid air somewhere near her feet. He shook his head slightly as he scanned the information.
"She's lost too much blood Steve." he said quietly. "I can't use any sort of experimental serum on her without her consent, you know that."
Steve locked his jaw.
"If it means saving her life, then do it." Steve said.
"We don't know the full scope of side effects. Yeah, she could end up like you." he said, and frowned. "Or she could end up like me."
"She'll end up alive."
Despite the moral turmoil he felt, Bruce knew that he was right. There wasn't any other option. No hours of intensive surgery could heal the severity of her wounds.
He crossed the lab, using his elbow to power on the facial recognition software. The refrigerated drawer slid out, and he took out a vial with a pair of silver tongs. He unwrapped a sterile syringe.
"I can't believe I'm doing this." he muttered to himself.
He filled the syringe up with the dark blue liquid.
"I need you to tie her arm off." he explained as he walked back to the woman. "There's some-"
Steve had already taken off his own belt and was securing it around her arm.
"Okay, that works." Banner said. He quickly found a vein, and could feel how weak her pulse was. He took a deep breath, looking up at Steve.
"We might have to fight if this goes poorly."
Steve nodded, understanding.
He pushed the needle under her skin.
"Untie it." he said after a moment. Steve loosened the belt, and the serum made it's way into her blood stream. The moment it hit her heart, she gasped, her eyes widening. Banner swore, and in one swift movement, took the end of Steve's belt and put it between her teeth, so she wouldn't bite off her tongue.
Danielle had never felt anything so both searing hot and also wonderful. It was as if someone had poured liquid sunshine into her veins. She could feel everything, every heart beat, growing stronger as the serum curled around her veins. Her stomach was regenerating. She could feel skin growing back, veins and arteries making new connections. She was gasping for air, and could taste the dust and chemical particles with each breath.
Steve and Bruce watched her, taking a step back as her back arched. And she fell back flat on the table like that. The searing stopped. She was healed. She was new.
She'd been reborn.