Warning: Long author's notes.

So first I apologize for taking so long to post this. I truly intended to finish this chapter before my classes started and I failed.

I knew my writing would slow once school started, but I promise not to ignore y'all.

Second, this entire chapter is dedicated to xkittybluex. She helped set up Bruce's German and inspired the chapter that will follow this one. { fanfiction dot net /u/1600797/ }

Third, I'd like to note that I recently revised all my previous chapters, trying to clear up a few inconsistencies and errors. If there's something about the story that bugged you the first time around, please go back and look and see if it's clearer now. Feel free to hit me up if I didn't fix it. Please note, however, that the fixings haven't affected the main story, so it's not necessary to go back over them. Oh, unless you wanna dig the cozy bonding convo between Bruce and Pepper I added in Chapter 4. But again, not necessary.

Fourth, I have barely glanced over this chapter, so please note any glaring errors or inconsistencies you might find. I wrote this in a hurry and I feel I didn't delve into Bruce and Tony's personalities properly during the first half. I hope I earned your love back by the end of it.

Fifth, I will dedicate a chapter to you if you can point out the real life RDJ ref I put into this chapter.

Sixth, I apologize profusely for the bullshit aeronautics, engineering and science I invented for this. I tried to do my research, I did, but sometimes, fact (or access to such) falls short and you gotta wing it. Plane pun? I'm sorry. It was an accident. I'm so sorry for everything. What is this shit? I also apologize for making Tony flirt with Bruce. It's just fun. I like making Bruce uncomfortable. I'm a bad mommy.

a/n 8-29-12 I fixed a few of the most glaring errors. again, please point out any you catch. thanks, loves.

I

As the Stark Industries jet landed on a dirt airstrip outside the tiny town of Drei Grüne Hügelland, Aargau in northern Switzerland, Tony was on the phone with someone from Premier Aviation, and being yelled at in German.

"No, nein, to land, bitte. Das landen, for fuck's sake."

"Sir, bitte beruhigen Sie sich," said the frustrating German speaker.

Bruce walked in from the restroom and observed in silence.

"Get me the fuck off this plane, por favor, s'il vous plait, bitte crappen shitten fuck," cried Tony, hitting his phone against the lunch table. "Or at least someone who speaks English!"

Bruce calmly reached across and said, "May I?"

"Knock yourself out," sighed Tony, collapsing on the table as he handed Bruce the phone.

"Entschuldigen Sie bitte," said Bruce, sitting down opposite Tony. "Mein Name ist Doktor Bruce Banner. Ich spreche, er…im… oh, Namen von Mr. Tony Stark. Wir sind auf Bitten von Justin Hammer hier um, ah… shit, ah… den Fortschritt an seinem Flugzeugdesign zu prüfen."

A long pause as Tony could hear the other person chattering.

"Ja, ja, danke. Eine Viertelstunde? Großartig!," said Bruce, hanging up the phone.

"What the hell was that?"

"I got us permission to land."

"How?"

"By being polite and speaking their language, literally."

"You sicken me."

By then, Tony's plane had finished refueling at the rustic airport – that is, a tin shed, fuel tank, and decrepit Korean War-era plane – and the pilot stuck his head in the cabin to enquire whether or not Tony had gotten clearance for them to land at the aircraft designing company's private airstrip.

Tony glared as Bruce smiled benignly and said, "We're all good."

"I hate you, Banner. Seriously. How do you speak German?" mumbled Tony, kicking back in his seat.

"I speak a lot of languages, Tony."

"I wasn't aware you ever fled civilization to the wilds of the… the Alps?"

Bruce chuckled. "I learned it in high school, Tony. It has nothing to do with my travels. Although, admittedly, it has come in handy."

"Don't let Cap catch you speakin' that shit."

Bruce shot Tony a disapproving look. "He's almost fluent, Tony. You're so insensitive."

"I think someone gave me a trophy that says exactly that."

By the time the pair had finished bickering, the plane was circling low over the private airstrip and they had quite a view from the window. The town was nestled at the base of three fertile, wooded hills that stayed vibrantly green all year long. It was a farming community not far from Wettingen that raised grains and grapes for ale and wine. On the other side of the hills, Premier Aviation had built one of their factories on the vast green plain that spread for miles to the forest in the distance.

"Do we need our long underwear, JARVIS?" Bruce asked the ceiling.

"I am fairly certain you won't, Dr. Banner; it is currently 49 degrees Fahrenheit in Drei Grüne Hügelland. Unless you feel personally inclined to wear the undergarments, in which case, that is your business.

Bruce grinned. "No, I'm good. Thanks. That's a big damn change from Russia, isn't it?"

"Something about this area," said Tony, zipping up his favorite leather jacket, "it's very temperate. I been through here a few times. Very pleasant."

Bruce glanced at him.

"Pepper's German is better than mine and I get by on French."

"Oh, so you can speak more than one language," said Bruce, smirking as he grabbed his own jacket.

"Fuck, Banner, I can swear in seven different languages."

"Only seven?"

II

Premier Aviation Aargau – or PAA for short – was a state of the art facility. It had fifty acres of airfields, a three acre, three story R&D building, two acres of administration, and seven assembly hangars that reached into the distance like massive greenhouses.

"Impressive," said Bruce, stepping off the plane. He zipped his jacket shut as a damp wind whipped down from the hills.

"Even I have to admit it's something. I bet they could really offer some insight into the stabilizers I've been designing for the Mark X," said Tony, putting on his sunshades.

"Good afternoon, gentlemen," said a tall man in a pale grey business suit, approaching them from the main building on a Segway. "Raoul St. George. I'm the plant's overseer."

Tony and Bruce introduced themselves, shaking his hand. Tony distinctly disliked the way St. George's uncut black hair bobbed on his shoulders when he shook hands. Perhaps it reminded him subconsciously of Loki. He wasn't certain.

"I hope you don't mind me asking for identification, gentlemen," said St. George, his Suisse accent heavy. "I know Mr. Hammer sent some friends to come check the status of a project, but this is a very high security facility."

"You want me, Tony Stark, to give you proof of identity?" scoffed Tony, smirking.

"You have a very common face, sir."

The sound of indignation Tony made should not be reproduced at all. Nor should the spluttering sound he made next.

"Sir," cut in Bruce, "if you'll check the news, I've been a little off the grid for a few years. I don't have a photo ID."

"Oh, I wouldn't ask two high profile individuals such as yourselves for a photo ID card," said St. George, chuckling as he motioned the pair towards the main building.

Tony and Bruce looked at each other in relief.

"I just a need a retinal scan."

"What?" barked Tony. "That's impossible. My retinas have never been scanned at all. You're not making that happen."

"Oh, dear. Ever?"

"Ever."

"Well, we'll have to find another way."

"This is shit," said Tony, pulling out his phone. "I can prove to you I'm Tony Stark by hacking into your facility with this and giving myself top clearance to your own office."

"You can't do that."

"Watch me, asshole."

As the trio stepped up to the sliding glass doors at the facility's administrative building, they parted and a cool synthesized voice said, "Welcome back to Premier Aviation, Aargau, Mr. Stark."

St. George stood in shock on his scooter.

"If it'll make you more prone to believe me, I can make all the computer screen savers in the building say, 'Justin Hammer is a jackass who steals my ideas.'"

"No, Mr. Stark, that won't be necessary," sighed St. George, rubbing his face with his hand.

"Wait, no I actually like, 'Bruce Banner's hair is pretty' a lot better."

Bruce rolled his eyes as Tony laughed at his own joke.

"I need some time off," mumbled St. George to himself. "Please come inside," he added to the pair.

"Of course I'm coming inside," said Tony, winking at Bruce, "it's my building!"

"Alright, Tony. Easy now," said Bruce, smirking in spite of himself.

"So, you guys do know about what happened in Siberia, right?" said Tony, wheeling on St. George as he parked his Segway.

"Excuse me?"

"Siberia," repeated Tony.

"What's in Siberia?"

"Nothing," said Tony, spinning on his heel and making a lip zipping motion to Bruce.

"Did something happen to another of Hammer's projects?" asked St. George. "Is that why he's checking up on them all?"

"Ah, a minor threat," said Tony, nodding solemnly. "Just making sure all the bases are covered."

"Naturally," mumbled St. George as he typed something on a holographic computer screen similar to the ones at home in Tony's lab. "Before we go to the hangar would either of you like a drink? We have locally bottled water. It's very refreshing."

Bruce took one out of politeness and did marvel at its crisp taste as they walked across the lobby. It reminded him of his time in Canada.

"Where are we going?" said Tony. "The airfield's out that way."

"Those are only finished products," said St. George. "And our mid-level projects are all in the main hangars outside. Our top-secret projects, like this one, are all below ground."

"That's both ominous and comforting," said Bruce, glancing at Tony from the corner of his eye. The look was returned.

"Now, I'm only the head of the facility. I actually know little to nothing about the projects themselves beyond finance, client, etcetera. I'm going to hand you over to the head of this project. He can tell you more."

"Delightful," said Tony, barely hiding his sarcastic grin.

They came out on the opposite end of the building. There was a large courtyard that clearly served as an outdoor lounge area for employees. The R&D building was opposite the administrative, the hangars farther off to the left and an employee parking area to the right. In the middle of the space was an ornamental stone fountain with a target-shaped series of small flowerbeds around it. Grapevines and roses everywhere were bare for the winter. A pair of young women sat on a cement bench, smoking silvery cigarettes in the crisp air.

"Nice place," said Bruce, smiling.

"You like every Zen garden you come to, don't you, Banner?" quipped Tony.

"Just about."

"Umar!" called St. George.

"Yes, sir!"

A young man of Middle Eastern heritage was jogging across the courtyard to meet them. He had a handsome, rugged face and shaggy black hair. He looked a tad too young to be the head of any project beyond high school science.

"Please escort Dr. Banner and Mr. Stark to the Hammer project, please," said St. George. "If you or they need anything, don't hesitate to contact me."

As the overseer strutted back to the main building, the young man looked the pair over, recognition igniting his features.

"Doctor… the Dr. Banner?" he gasped, clasping his hands together.

"I… I guess. If you mean the Dr. Banner who gets angry and – "

" – and yada yada yada," interrupted Tony. "There's only one. It's him."

"My god, it's an honor to meet you, sir," said Umar, taking Bruce's hand and shaking it violently. "My name is Dr. Umar Hassan – but Umar, please. Before I went into aeronautics, I considered nuclear physics because of you. Your work in gamma production – positron collisions – it's all remarkable. In fact, I actually went into nuclear aviation to reconcile my two passions."

Tony was biting his tongue so hard it hurt, trying to stifle his laughter. Bruce was flushed and smiling shyly, trying to calm the young man down.

"You're one of my top five heroes in science."

"There's a list?" said Bruce, smirking.

"You know, I invented a weaponized flying suit of armor in a cave," said Tony, putting his arm around Bruce's shoulders.

"Oh, I know all about you, too, sir. If Dr. Banner's on my top five, you're in the top ten. It's a thrill to meet you," said Umar, clutching Tony's hand next. You're one of the reasons I had to consider aeronautics. I wanted to work with the British military and help save lives."

"You made the right choice, kid," said Tony, looking a little more proud for a moment and a little less vain.

"I take it you're the head of Hammer's plane project?" asked Bruce, clearly desperate to change the subject.

"Oh, yes. I'm so sorry. I didn't mean to gush. It's just amazing to see two of the brightest minds in the world standing in front of me at my place of work. It's an honor. What… what brings you two here?" he said, turning to lead the pair to a small outbuilding near the hangars.

"You don't know?" said Tony.

"No, I know why, I just… I don't understand why Mr. Hammer would send you two. Doesn't he have a rivalry with you, Mr. Stark?"

"The situation is delicate," said Tony, striding across the lot with his hands in his jacket pockets. "Rivals or not, I was the only one he trusted."

"And I'm the only one Tony trusted," said Bruce with more than a little pride. "So here we are."

"Naturally," said Umar. "I'm so glad."

"Do you know about Siberia?" asked Tony, looking at the young man out of the corner of his eye.

Umar's black-brown eyes narrowed. "I know all about it. I'm the only one here who knows that much. Do you know about it?"

Tony smirked. "More than I'd care to admit."

Bruce grinned knowingly at the look Tony shot him.

"Nearly died of hypothermia when my suit malfunctioned tracking the you-know-what across the tundra."

The young man looked awed. "Only Tony Stark would pursue a stolen weapon across the frozen tundra in a weaponized metal suit. Amazing."

"Bruce had to save me."

Umar's eyes widened considerably, almost sparkling with wonder.

"It was nothing really. Tony, stop boring the man. We have work to do," said Bruce, smiling with gritted teeth.

The small outbuilding turned out to be an elevator, slightly larger and more modern than most. It was clearly only the staff entrance to the underground facility; the freight elevators weren't visible anywhere. Umar leaned into a holographic retinal scanner and the building allowed them access.

"Now, I have to ask you gentlemen to please not touch anything. I know that's a terribly juvenile and uncivilized request to make of distinguished scientists like yourselves, but it's not only standard plant procedure but sometimes necessary. Our facility is state of the art and some of our equipment is extremely sensitive; sometimes, the most innocent interaction can be detrimental. If there's anything you need to see, please ask me and I'll see to it that you do."

Tony and Bruce nodded as the elevator went down what felt like seven stories. It stopped at the only floor beneath the surface and the doors slid open.

"Remarkable," whispered Bruce as Tony started beside him.

The facility was massive. Shaped vaguely like a traditional airplane hangar, its iron struts arching fifty feet over their heads, it looked like an underground bunker. The Devastator plane was suspended from the ceiling by five cable wenches. It looked like a half-eaten antelope carcass: white alloy ribs and struts showed through a platinum-colored hull. It was nearly 4/5 finished, but the lacking hull made it look raw and weak; it was only slightly bigger than a Cessna. On the white cement floor, about a dozen people were making notes and calculating equations on Starktech screens that floated and followed them everywhere. The walls were lined with freshly machined parts, fabricators, computers, painters, scale models of the craft, lab tables and more pale blue holographic screens than one could count.

"I appreciate the high level of me I'm detecting," said Tony, swaggering out of the lift.

"It's all so…" began Bruce, losing the point he wanted to make in his awe.

"Yeah, Umar, why is it all 'so…'?"

"Pardon, Mr. Stark?"

"Tony's fine, kid. But Bruce is right. Why so much shit for a tiny plane?"

Umar blinked at Tony for a moment.

"Oh, you're wondering why such a massive team and facility are required for such a small project," said Umar, smiling. "You see, this craft requires extremely precise balancing. The weight it's meant to carry, the delivery system, the cloaking system, the altitude it must reach for that system to function, all require so much calibrating and recalibrating, calculating and re-calculating, that it's overwhelming. We've been at this for two and a half years. But I am proud to say we should have it finished this week."

Tony and Bruce both turned in shock, their minds racing.

"This week?" they repeated in unison.

Umar was taken aback by the sudden change in their demeanor.

"Yes, sirs. Mr. Hammer forwarded the final payment to us two weeks ago, allowing us to get our hands on a new lighter alloy for the hull, rectifying several of the weight issues we'd faced. It's perfect now. The new material helped clear up several inconsistencies in the calculations. We're very proud."

"Did Mr. Hammer know you were facing difficulties?" asked Bruce, relaxing his face.

"Of course. I asked him myself in a secure phone call for additional funding to, literally, get this project off the ground. He was thrilled to comply."

Tony bit his lip. "Where did the new alloy come from?"

"Some advanced research lab in Japan, I think. Okanasa Alloys, I think?" said Umar, scrunching his nose thoughtfully. "Michelle usually gets our materials. She'll know. Shall I ask her?"

"Tell you what, Umar. I'm going to make a list of all the information I'd like you to send me. I promise, everything's secure on my devices. I just need to clear up some things. I'm fearing a…" Tony paused, looking up at the plane. "I'm fearing a leak somewhere between here and Hammer."

"I understand, sir. I'll have the info sent to you before you leave today," said Umar, retrieving from his pocket a Stark Industries phone and typing a note into it.

"Nice phone," said Tony, unable to hide a smile.

"We only have the best here," said Umar, winking.

III

Tony and Bruce examined the hangar with awe. The employees were some of the most brilliant minds in aeronautics. The equipment was so high-tech even Tony didn't recognize all of it, though his name was on a good third of it.

Though almost everyone worked in the same space, everything about the plane's creation, from rough design ideas to fabrication and painting was compartmentalized. Very little information beyond the obvious (like the hull structure) was shared between team members. The programmer and painter were the best of friends, but neither of them knew anything about the other's work on the plane. Tony and Bruce spent considerable time questioning the employees on what they did specifically on the project, conscious of the fact that most of their questions couldn't be answered due to contractual obligations. Tony admired everyone's dedication even as JARVIS took meticulous notes on what was and wasn't said.

The models of the plane all functioned and could actually be flown around the space using one of the holographic screens as a control pad. Tony and Bruce spent no less than fifteen minutes each, during the design team's lunch break, of course, flying the 1/32 scale model plane around the belowground sitting area, making the employees laugh; they each had killed more than an hour on the model when it was newer.

Tony spent most of his time there listing the questions he had for Umar. He was formulating a hypothesis in his mind about Hammer's plane. It was clear to him that someone found out how close the plane was to completion and wanted to have the weapon ready to go. That the weapon was stolen just a week before the plane was completed, both Bruce and Tony wholeheartedly agreed was no coincidence. There was a leak somewhere.

The entire time Tony and Bruce were in the underground hangar, JARVIS was scanning all the Starktech equipment in the building through Tony's phone, which was hidden safely in his pocket. Everything that didn't pertain to the case was ignored, but any correspondence that linked to Hammer personally, Russia, or any nuclear-related keywords was highlighted and saved to Tony's phone.

"Umar, could you tell me a little more about the plane's specs?" said Tony as casually as he could. "In private?"

Umar caught on and ushered Tony and Bruce into his own office and closed the door. It was a small space, but the young engineer had decorated it sumptuously. The furniture was exotic and expensive, and there was a painting that looked very much like a Renaissance-era original. The wall opposite the desk was dedicated entirely to a row of ceiling-high bamboo that was floating in a wall-length basin.

"What would you like to know?"

"Well, like an overview to start. The delivery system. How do the employees not know what they're working on?"

Umar sat on the edge of his desk and his eyes wandered down to a photo of him and his parents.

"They know it's for a weapon," he said slowly. "They just don't know what sort. I think they're under the impression that it has something to do with a newer version of your old Jericho missiles."

"Old?" repeated Tony, affronted.

Bruce smiled. "There's truth to that," he said. "Who told them that?"

Umar raised his eyebrows and looked at Bruce knowingly. "There's no way to have something like this built without telling the employees things."

"I know," said Bruce, sitting on the arm of the expensive-looking leather sofa. "I'm amazed you were able to keep this kind of secrecy as it is. But they did have to find out some things. Did you tell them?"

Umar sighed. "When the project started, I told them the plane was to be a prototype for a new kind of weapons delivery system. The weapon prototype was being designed and tested in the Southwestern United States by a separate contractor and couldn't be brought to our facility, but we had the specs. When both components were finished, they were to be tested at a private island facility in the South Pacific."

"That's a good story, kid," said Tony, examining the painting with his hands in his pockets. "Yours?"

Umar smiled and said, "Mi – er, Tony, I am a professional secret-keeper. You were a weapons designer yourself. You should understand the importance of secrecy. Yes, I have lied to my employees, but for no other reason than the legal protection my clients are contractually due."

"I don't think Tony meant to question your motives, Umar," said Bruce, folding his hands. "I think he's trying to narrow suspects."

"Narrow suspects?"

"Someone at the facility in Siberia was bribed. We just want to make sure that's not happening here. By comparing what you've told the employees with what they know, we can figure out who might be the leak."

"It never occurred to me that anyone on my team would be a threat to the project. They're all amazing, dutiful people. And, well, not to put too fine a point on it, but we're being paid generously," said Umar, reaching for his coffee cup. "I honestly would laugh if someone tried to bribe me."

Tony shot the young man a look that only Bruce saw.

"We'll clear it all up once I get everyone's names. JARVIS'll get a background check going on all of – "

"JARVIS?! The JARVIS?" gasped Umar.

Tony slapped his forehead and Bruce suppressed a giggle.

"Can I talk to him?"

Tony rolled his eyes as he pulled out his phone.

"J, give this kid an autograph or something," he sighed.

"How can I be of service, Dr. Hassan?" said the AI through the phone's speaker.

"It's an honor to meet you, JARVIS!"

"It's an honor to meet you as well, Doctor. If I'm not mistaken, you're the youngest person ever to lead such a distinguished team of aeronautics designers. Your family must be very proud."

The young man looked like he was going to faint.

"I didn't know this," said Tony, looking at his phone. "How did you know it?"

"I'm currently performing background checks on every name that comes up on this project, sir," replied JARVIS.

"I feel honored to be background-checked by Tony Stark's actual Rather Very Intelligent System. Thanks for letting me talk to him, Tony! I'm tweeting this right now."

"You can't tweet about this!" said Bruce.

"No one knows why. I'm just letting my close friends know I got to meet you guys," said Umar, typing frantically on his own phone. "In fact, I need a picture. Right now. I can't believe I didn't think of this before!"

Bruce turned to Tony. "This is how leaks happen. You don't have to bribe people anymore. Just give a young person a phone and watch all hell break loose."

Umar squeezed the three of them together for a photo, requesting of course that Tony include JARVIS by holding up his own phone.

"That's not geotagged is it?" said Tony as Umar uploaded the pic.

He smirked. "Despite how this appears, I actually take great care not to reveal anything. To everyone I know, this office is upstairs in the admin building and I design aircraft for lazy billionaires."

"That's not far from the truth," shrugged Bruce.

"What happens when it's going around that I'm visiting aeronautics facilities?" groaned Tony.

"Oh, come on, Tony. Since when are you careful about anything?"

Tony paused. And thought. And finally shrugged.

"Touché, Banner. Touché."

"Now back to the actual point. More about the plane?" said Bruce, sitting back down.

"Right," said Umar, pocketing his phone. "I know almost everything about it. What can I tell you?"

"Who knows that it's for a nuclear weapon?" asked Tony.

"Only one person. Michael O'Neill. He's the computer programmer who's responsible for the launch system. He's the one who makes sure this plane recognizes that weapon. He's the only one besides me who knows it's nuclear. He doesn't know anything beyond that, though. He's the same as the rest of the team in all other respects."

Tony nodded, physically making the note on his phone. Bruce shuffled his feet.

"Do any of the people here know Hammer personally?" asked Bruce.

"Not that I know of. Traditionally, we don't design weaponized planes here. We mostly aim for better, faster, smarter, not stronger," said Umar. "This is one of only a handful of weaponized planes we've made out of thousands of civilian, commercial and government projects. We're working on something that can handle both mach three flight and underwater travel."

Tony and Bruce's eyes met and they both stifled smirks.

"That sounds futuristic," said Bruce, biting his lip.

"I look forward to seeing that completed project," deadpanned Tony.

Someone knocked on the door.

"Yes?" said Umar.

"Umar, Hodges needs to see you right away," said a petit blonde woman, poking her head in.

"Oh, dear, what is it now?"

Umar rose and left Tony and Bruce alone in his office. The woman waited until he was out of hearing distance before stepping in and closing the door.

"I know what you two are after," she said softly. "You won't find it here."

Tony and Bruce looked at each other.

"Excuse me, miss?" said Bruce, rising and approaching her.

She held up her hands and backed away.

"When you leave, you'll get a text message," she said, brushing soft curls back from her face. "If you get into trouble before heading back to the States, go to the location in the text. They'll take care of you."

With that, the young woman whirled around and left them alone.

"What the hell was that?" breathed Bruce, reaching for his phone in his pocket.

Tony clutched his own phone tighter. "That was creepy as shit."

IV

The rest of Tony and Bruce's visit was spent being ignored by the petit blonde. They had casual conversations with almost every other employee except her. Clearly she knew something about… well, something, but they were both damned if they knew what that something was.

Tony contented himself with compiling information for the duration of his stay. Bruce hypothesized until his head felt hot and he was glad for the bottles of mineral water.

When it was clear they could learn nothing more on-site, they exchanged contact information with a few people, including Umar, and asked to be seen out. In the elevator, Tony thought it prudent to tell Umar that he was leaving his security team there to supervise.

"Absolutely not," said Umar as politely as if he'd just turned down a cup of tea. "We have the best security here."

"I know I can't force you to take them," said Tony with a tone that implied the exact opposite. "But Hammer gave me permission to do anything and everything necessary to stop this. If you have to clear it with the boss, then fine. Tell them they're consulting designers or some shit. But they need to be here. They'll keep me in the loop and make sure nothing bad happens here."

Umar looked unconvinced as they stepped out of the elevator into the bright autumn sunshine.

"I do not think it a good idea at all, Tony," he said, looking out across the airfield. "But that said, I'll concede simply because, in the unlikely event something bad does happen, I don't want it to be because I didn't do everything in my power to stop it."

"I appreciate that sentiment," said Tony, smirking.

"You trust these men?"

Tony looked shifty. "It's not a matter of trust so much as of having a contract with each of them promising double what anyone else could ever offer them."

"I'm certain there's more to the relationship than that," said Umar, looking concerned.

"A little more, but that's the gist," said Tony.

"Right."

"They won't be in the way. They're professionals."

Umar sighed. "If you can clear it with Mr. St. George, it's good with me."

Tony and Bruce then bid goodbye to Umar. The young man seemed genuinely disappointed to see them go. Bruce and Tony were actually a little relieved to be out of his adoring gaze.

They made a brief stop in the administrative building to talk to St. George about the security team. Fearing Stark-style repercussions, he readily complied.

At the plane, one of the team stepped out to greet them.

"Mr. Stark," he said, "PAA refueled the plane for you. We won't have to stop to refuel on the way home."

"Awesome."

The three security guards were given specific instructions on who to keep an eye on, suspicious things to look for, and what to do in any given situation. They'd basically stand guard on the plane night and day. They could handle the job; Tony handpicked men without families so he never had any guilt trips.

When the plane was finished, the team would escort it to Malibu on a US Air Force cargo plane Tony would requisition on a favor. It wouldn't be out of their sight for more than a few minutes at a time until Tony could store it at his own private airfield.

Tony bid his team good luck and boarded his own plane with Bruce on his heels.

Both their phones beeped before the door closed, notifying them of text messages. They sat down to read them. Both messages said the same thing. A street address in Salzbourg they didn't recognize.

"What do you think this about, Tony?" said Bruce, checking the address on a map. It appeared to be a warehouse in a poor neighborhood. "What would we do in Austria? We're on our way home."

"I don't know, man," said Tony, scratching his chin absently. "I'm confused myself, and me admitting confusion is a rare thing. I almost feel like we should go see."

"I don't see why," Bruce replied, fastening his seat belt for the take off. "She only said if we ran into trouble. I don't see that happening soon."

"You're right. But I'm having JARVIS look into the connection between that lady, Hammer and Salzburg."

"Right away, sir," said the AI.

Bruce settled in and opened a small bag of goldfish crackers, munching contentedly. Tony nervously drummed his fingers as he stared intently at the wall across from him. The plane itself rose gracefully in the air over Premier Aviation, but neither of them thought to look out the window; Bruce was busy unwinding and Tony was busy… well, winding.

They were in the air ten minutes when the pilot announced a problem.

"Mr. Stark, I think you should get up here."

"Holy shit," mumbled Tony, trying to jump out of his seat. The safety belt held him in place and he swore ferociously as he unfastened it.

"What's going on?" he demanded of the pilot.

"I wish I knew, sir."

"What the hell does that mean?"

The pilot, George, who'd worked for Tony for a good nine years, looked up. "I don't know, sir. I'm getting simultaneous readings that are completely contradictory."

"Like?"

"Well, this keeps telling me we're losing altitude," he said, gesturing to a gauge. "But as you can see, we're level. And the fuel gauge is flashing back and forth between full and empty. It's baffling. I've had gauges and sensors malfunction, but there's like, seven of them going nuts! I've never seen this before."

"Is it a computer virus?" asked Bruce, joining them in the cockpit.

"I don't think so," said George. "I don't think autopilot would be maintaining level flight if that was the problem."

"JARVIS," said Tony, whipping out his phone. "What the hell is going on?"

The phone was dead. JARVIS's know-it-all voice didn't issue from any of the speakers in the plane.

"JARVIS!"

Bruce checked his phone. It too was dead. At first, it appeared that the batteries were dead, but Tony's phone could be charged by holding it near his reactor and even then, it still didn't respond. It was more than batteries.

"Okay, I'm getting worried, Tony," said Bruce, leaning in the doorway. "What's going on?"

"There's no need to panic as long as we're flying safely," said George. "But if we don't get our equipment back online, we can't find New York, you know? We'll have to land somewhere and check this out."

"But you just said we don't know where we are," said Bruce.

"Don't worry about that, man. I'm a professional. I just need a control tower and a flat place."

"Sir!" cried JARVIS's voice suddenly, startling all three men.

"What, JARVIS?" barked Tony.

After a long pause, he resumed, "…em-eye device…"

"What?"

"An EMI device, sir!"

Tony realized that there wasn't silence between JARVIS's words but soft static.

"A what?" repeated George.

Bruce looked concerned. "To put it simply, a signal jammer," he said, running his fingers through his hair. "Damn. This is… bad."

"Not too bad," said Tony, striding to the back of the cabin, where his suits were stored.

"You're not getting in a suit while there's an EMI device on board, Tony," gasped Bruce, grabbing Tony's arm.

"If I don't, we won't be able to find an airport and George'll have to eyeball it. That's dangerous."

"…less risky…"

"Say again, JARVIS," said Tony.

"…isky than flying blin…"

"I think JARVIS just said flying in the suit is less risky than flying blind in this plane," said Tony, smirking at Bruce.

Bruce lowered an eyebrow. "That's a mighty big inference from four broken words, Tony."

Tony gripped Bruce's shoulders.

"You do know I have an electromagnet in my chest, right? Don't you think my suits are designed to resist electromagnetic interference?" he said with more sincerity than Bruce was used to.

"Jesus, Tony!" cried Bruce, gripping the collar of Tony's shirt. "You're flickering!"

Bruce had only seen that happen once, in fractured glimpses through green eyes. He was terrified.

"Oh, so I am," said Tony, looking down. "It happens."

"Is it gonna stop?"

"No, no. The power's just intermittent. It'll be fine."

"You sure?"

"Suddenly want me in the suit, now, huh?"

"Yes, Tony. For god's sake, get in the suit."

"I like it when you're bossy."

Bruce gave Tony a shove that was somewhere between playful and violent.

Tony hurried to the Mark IX and let it assemble over his clothes. He watched with barely contained glee as the heads-up display came online and suddenly the world made sense. He dismissed the files on Bruce and George that popped up immediately as well as the weather reports and various tracking programs he kept going even when the suit was off. He needed a very clear display.

"Sir, can you hear me?" said JARVIS in his ear.

"Sure glad to hear your voice, buddy," said Tony, smirking.

"I'm running sensors. It appears the device was installed on the fuel tank door."

"Tony," said Bruce. "Is the suit fully functioning?"

"As far as JARVIS and me can tell."

"What are you going to do?"

"Gotta get outside and get that piece of shit off my plane," said Tony, heading to the exit door. "Hey, George!" he called to the cockpit.

"Yeah?"

"Slow this baby down, okay?"

"Sure thing, Mr. Stark!"

Tony opened the hatch. As air was sucked out, Bruce was almost knocked off his feet. Tony caught him with one strong arm and set him right.

"I'll just wait here," said Bruce, grabbing the back of a seat for stability.

"Shut this once I'm out, alright?" said Tony, bailing out.

"Sure thing," said Bruce to the empty space.

Even through the suit, the air rushing by roared in Tony's ears. He fell a few hundred feet before activating his thrusters and righting himself. JARVIS showed the EMI device on the HUD as a bright red circle. It looked like it was nestled up under the plane's wing.

"Is it in the fuel tank, JARVIS?" said Tony, rocketing up towards the plane.

"It appears so, sir, but I can't be certain. The level of energy it is intermittently emitting disrupts my sensors," said the AI.

Tony grabbed the wing and edged up it, holding tight so he didn't fly off and have to catch up with a plane going 500 miles an hour again. The circle on the screen was now much larger and flashing. He was getting close.

"Sir… srupting…uit…" said JARVIS.

"Come again, J?" barked Tony.

"…dis…ting… the suit…"

"Oh, shit," said Tony, realizing that the device was so powerful up close that it was disrupting the function of the suit.

He didn't feel anything wrong with the controls. His display flickered once every few seconds, but the device didn't seem to affect any other elements of the armor. It must have had to do with the cycles of the emission. The flicker rate was the same in his chest piece.

The fuel tank door was magnetically sealed. It could only be opened when the engines were off. Tony forced the fingers of his gauntlet under the edge of the steel door and lifted, but he almost lost his grip on the plane as it shuddered.

"What the fucking hell was that?" he cried.

"…on't kno…George could…e…damage…"

"What? No, never mind. I'll find out when I'm done here. Hang on, JARVIS," said Tony, forcibly removing the door from the tank.

It hung on its hinges, flopping awkwardly in the wind. Tony was about to remove the rubber seal that covered the fuel tank's opening when his HUD flashed bright red.

"On… or, sir," said JARVIS, garbled.

"The door?" repeated Tony.

"Yes, sir."

The display was failing. JARVIS couldn't speak clearly. The plane was making an unusually strained noise. Tony was hanging off of a plane in full flight by his toes and one hand. He didn't think to be delicate about the removal of the device. He tore the 12 inch square of steel off the hinges and threw it violently towards the ground.

"That rubber better hold," he said to himself.

In seconds, the HUD was vividly displaying everything around Tony. And everything was red.

"TONY!" came a voice in his ear.

"Bruce?"

"You gotta get your ass back in here!"

"Why?" said Tony, crawling up the wing to the door.

"We're going down."

"What? Open the door!"

He was inside the plane again in a matter of seconds, kicking it shut behind him as his helmet opened so he could see Bruce.

"Everything came back online the second you did whatever you did and everything was red!" cried Bruce, wiping a line of sweat off his face.

"Yeah, mine too. Why?"

"We're out of fuel," called George through the open cockpit door.

"How is that fucking possible?" cried Tony, betraying a level of panic few ever saw.

Bruce's hands were shaking as he said, "They must have emptied it when they were supposed to refuel it and the EMI device was to keep us from finding out until we were dead."

"Bruce," said Tony, grabbing his arm, "are you okay?"

Bruce closed his eyes and took a deep breath. He nodded on the exhale.

"Yeah," he breathed. "Just gotta remember I'm needed in a crisis and I can handle this."

"Good," said Tony. "I trust you, but you gotta help me. We good?"

Bruce managed a small smile. "We're good."

"Now," said Tony, striding to the cockpit, "what can you do, George?"

"I can crash land this bitch if she'll let me," said George, gripping the controls so hard his hands were vividly red and white.

"Okay, if conditions are favorable, you can do that safely?"

"Oh, I'm sure I could manage it. Didn't you design your plane for dangerous conditions, Mr. Stark?" George smirked over his shoulder.

"But if worse comes to worse, we can rocket out of here in suits," said Bruce, suddenly joining them. The pair looked at him in shock. "We'd carry George, right?" he added, suddenly sheepish.

Tony smirked. "That's plan Z," he said, patting Bruce's shoulder with a big metal hand. "We have faith in you, George."

"Good. Now, you two sit down and buckle up and don't bother me," said George through gritted teeth.

For the first time, the ground could be seen through the windshield and it was far more terrifying than anyone expected it to be.

"Right," said Tony, escorting Bruce to the cabin.

It was comical for Iron Man to sit down and fasten his seat belt, but there weren't a lot of options. Tony grabbed a bottle of scotch to make the most of it.

"JARVIS," he said between sips, "can you find George a safe landing place and guide him to it?"

"Of course, sir. Good luck," said the computer, something akin to human fear in his voice.

Tony and Bruce could hear him pointing out possible landing locations to George through the still-open cockpit door, all the while, the landscape below loomed in the glass.

"I'm having flashbacks, Tony," said Bruce, suddenly.

Tony looked at him. "What?"

"To the helicarrier. To… To Agent Romanoff. What I… what the Other Guy almost did to her…" he mumbled, biting his lip in a nervous way Tony hadn't seen yet.

He gripped the seat's armrests tightly as the plane vibrated, and his normally soft brown eyes were suddenly sharp. They reflected Tony's helmet-framed face back at him.

"I really need you to stay white right now," said Tony, trying to keep his tone light.

Bruce tried to smile but it looked more like a grimace. "I know. I've just always hated planes and… the other guy, he… he makes it worse. And now I've been on two flights that have almost crashed within six months. It's a little traumatic."

Tony chuckled. "I didn't think of that. You're right. But hey, both times I flew out and fixed it, remember?"

"Did you?"

"Oh, I guess you don't remember," said Tony. "I saved the helicarrier from crashing."

"Oh…" Bruce looked both impressed and annoyed.

"Well, me and the Star-Spangled Virgin," Tony quickly added, pointedly ignoring the strained shudder the plane just gave.

For a moment, Bruce's struggles were forgotten and he laughed out loud.

"Yeah, it was awesome," said Tony, realizing he was on to something. He gestured dramatically from his seat. "The blades were obstructed in the blast. Cap and me went out to see what could be done. He had to do some fancy hotwiring, which was pretty impressive, considering the most he knew about circuits was that they existed."

Bruce chuckled as the plane groaned dangerously.

"I almost got turned into potato salad, stuck inside the world's largest Cuisinart, while Cap had to battle Loki's love-slaves-in-SHIELD's-clothing."

"Sounds exciting," said Bruce, leaning back in his seat.

Tony noted that his grip on the arm rests had relaxed.

"You have no idea," he said, smirking at Bruce. "Well, maybe you do. Tell you what!"

"What?"

"How about the next time we go somewhere, we go by train?"

"No offense, Tony, but I plane on disappearing for a while after this," said Bruce, closing his eyes and resting his head on the seat.

Tony was glad Bruce couldn't see the disappointment on his face.

"I know," he said, trying to sound light. "But later. When you come back to visit."

Bruce smiled at this.

"It can be just you, me and Pepper, and we can take a train through the Rockies, or up the Oregon coast. Something peaceful, just for you," added Tony, trying not to babble, which he was. "Or just you and me."

"You and me?" repeated Bruce, opening one eye and focusing it on Tony.

"You know, a manly… er, outdoor… fishing… thing…"

Bruce sat up and smirked. "I refuse to belie – "

The world roared. Everything hurt. Everything was sound.

Bruce cried out, his arms and legs flopping out around him. The belt around Iron Man gave way and Tony flew head over heels through the cabin, breaking light fixtures. George hollered something unintelligible from the cockpit.

"Son of a cock-loving whore!" cried Tony from somewhere near the lavatory.

"Are you boys okay?" hollered George.

"Fine, I guess," groaned Bruce, struggling to free himself from the safety belt.

"What the fuck, George?" cried Tony. "You said you'd land safely!"

"And I said, 'if this bitch lets me'!" George bit back. "As you can see, she had other plans!"

"Where are we?" said Bruce, rising and collapsing on his knees.

George appeared from the cockpit and grabbed his elbow.

"Somewhere German," he said. "Austria?"

"We're 9.6 miles north of the city of Salzburg, sirs," said JARVIS. "It was the biggest clearing near a city I could find within our range."

"How'd we get all the way to Austria?" asked Bruce, hobbling to the back of the cabin, from which Tony had yet to emerge.

"Got turned around in the confusion," said George, a little sheepishly.

"Tony!" hollered Bruce.

"Under here," groaned Tony.

"Where? Oh, god!" cried Bruce. "See, this is why you don't have a porcelain toilet on a plane!"

The Iron Man armor had tumbled to the bathroom and crashed through the toilet with Tony inside. Water was spraying everywhere, obstructing the view of Tony's prone form.

"Please tell me that's clean water," said George.

"Water only flows through the toilet one way, George," said Bruce, biting back his frustration. "Tony's the only person I know who'd have a fully functioning porcelain commode aboard a goddamned airplane."

He knelt by Tony, holding up an arm to block the water.

"All the times I wound up collapsed under a plumbing fixture," said Tony, reaching an arm up to touch Bruce's shoulder, "winding up in the fixture's a first for me."

Bruce chuckled. "Good to know. Now let's get you out of it."

He grabbed Tony's other arm and pulled and Tony cried out in pain.

"Shit," gasped Bruce, recoiling. "Are you hurt?"

"Guess so," said Tony, wriggling in place. "I think my shoulder's dislocated."

"Great," said Bruce. "Could be worse."

He turned a knob, stopping the water flow to the broken fixture and Tony was now fully visible to them. He was on his back, a pile of broken black porcelain lying over his stomach; his legs where up in the air, supported by the wall. JARVIS had closed his helmet during the crash, thankfully, saving Tony's face from injury and toilet water.

It was a struggle to get him up out of such an awkward position and in such a small space, but Bruce and George succeeded.

"Oh-yeah-dislocated-if-not-broken-or-severed-and-chopped-into-Yankee-dogs-and-fed-to-New-Yorkers-god-stop!" said Tony in one breathless groan.

They stopped and he stood there, clutching his shoulder through the suit.

"Tony," said Bruce, "let's get the suit off so I can check that out."

"You just wanna see me naked," choked Tony.

"I'm serious. I can get it back into place. It's not that hard."

"No!" cried Tony, whipping around with the intent to go back into the bathroom. "I feel great!"

"Tony!"

Bruce grabbed the suit's shoulders and cried, "JARVIS, release the suit!"

"Override protocol?" said JARVIS.

"Johnnie Walker!"

The suit folded open and removed itself from Tony, collapsing empty on the floor by the bathroom.

"Fuck you, Banner!" yelled Tony. "Who told you that?!"

"Pepper!" barked Bruce. "For emergencies! Now let me see that shoulder!"

"No, call an ambulance or something, no!" said Tony, clutching his injured shoulder.

Bruce was relieved there were no visible injuries on Tony, but just looking at his shoulder made his stomach turn. It was definitely dislocated.

"Our comm. system's out, Mr. Stark," said George, who had been watching silently until now. "We can't contact anyone. And we're more or less in the middle of nowhere!"

"I need to fix your shoulder," said Bruce. "George, bring me one of his bottles, please."

"Bottles…? Oh, right."

George disappeared and returned with a bottle of scotch.

"Drink some, Tony," said Bruce, handing him the open bottle.

"It's warm!"

"I swear to god, Tony, if you don't…!"

Tony saw something in Bruce's eyes that convinced him to take the bottle. He downed a third of it in one swig.

Bruce gritted his teeth, thinking about what he was going to do next.

When the bottle was more than half empty, Bruce grabbed Tony, shoving his hard against the wall in a swift motion. With his upper body strength and sheer determination, he popped Tony's shoulder back into alignment. It wouldn't be moral to reproduce the cry of pain Tony made.

He collapsed on the floor, gasping.

"How'd you do that?" he said, sucking air and scotch alternately.

Bruce smirked. "I told you, I've done this before."

Tony chuckled softly, reaching into his pocket and retrieving his cracked phone. The address in Salzburg flashed briefly on the screen before the machine died entirely.

Bruce felt in his pockets, but he couldn't find his phone anywhere. It had been left on the table before the incident and was now lost in the crash.

"Both suits are wrecked," he said. "Our phones are dead. The plane's dead and wrecked. Looks like we're walking to Salzburg."

Tony stood, shaking. The bottle hit the floor and broke. "Yup," he croaked. "We have someone to see, don't we?"

Bruce and George nodded.

"Come on, Banner. The game is afoot."

A/N

Wow, this is my longest chapter yet. Huh. Sorry, I guess? I was typing faster than I read in the last part, on the edge of my seat, like, what's gonna happen next? Literally, I made it up as I went. XD

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