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It would have been bye-bye Bruce, except the morons grabbed him at exactly the wrong time.

The rest of the R&D team was starting to stare accusingly toward the glass-walled observation/control booth where Tony had been texting off and on for half an hour.

bruce.

bruce.

bruce, honey, come on.

bruce, you're killing me

you are killllllling me

kill ing me

bruce, seriously.

seriously

seriously, where are you?

"Jarvis, check news reports for any disturbances involving 'It's an Organic Grind!' franchises in Manhattan and large green rage monsters." Bruce's laptop and tablet still sat on the lab table he had staked out for his own, surrounded by the welter of printouts and empty mugs. He had left the lab with nothing but his jacket, his phone, and presumably his wallet. The security doors down here were biometric so he didn't even need a keycard to get back in.

Jarvis replied, "Nothing, sir. And there have been no traffic incidents, no robberies or assaults, and no unexplained seismic or weather occurrences in this area in the past hour."

Tony rubbed the bridge of his nose. If it was a case of inadvertent Hulkage, they would know by now. If it wasn't the Hulk... "Find Happy. Tell him to head over to that hippie coffee place on the next block Bruce likes and see if he's there."

"Yes, sir."

Happy called back within fifteen minutes. "Boss, the kids working the counter all know the doc and they ain't seen him today. I checked the coffee counter at the bookstore across the street too, and they didn't see him either, and he's not in the store anywhere. Andre's on the security station at the garage exit and he checked the doc out forty minutes ago and the cameras tracked him heading toward the coffee shop until he walked out of range. I've got our people contacting a couple places along the route to see if we can get access to their street footage, but not every building there has a camera pointing at the sidewalk."

Tony flicked screens through the air, and opened the security feed. It had all been quiet earlier, just a routine day at Stark Tower, but now it was starting to buzz as Happy got their people moving. "Jarvis, trace Bruce's phone."

Jarvis said, "I'm getting no response, sir. The transponder must have been destroyed."

 

Ten minutes later.

"Stark!" Selvig yelled from the video conference screen. Jane Foster was peering over his shoulder. "What the hell's going on? We're running out of time!"

"We're starting the shut down sequence," Tony said, squeezing a stress ball in each hand, his attention on the floating screen with the security feeds and the reports that were being sent to Happy. His plainclothes people were checking the surrounding streets and businesses in case Bruce had gotten a sudden attack of amnesia and was shopping or had had to stop to perform CPR on a cardiac victim and it just hadn't come over the police band yet. "I've got a problem here."

"What problem?" Selvig looked down, checking his own data screens in confusion.

Jane frowned and must have read something off Tony's face or body language. She said, "What, you mean, a reactor exploding problem or a world-in-danger problem?"

"No. I don't know. I'll call you back," Tony said, and cut the connection.

Two minutes later, Pepper called from SI headquarters. "I saw the security alert. You think something's happened to Bruce?"

"Giant green rage monster aside," Tony said, "he wouldn't flake like this. He doesn't flake. He's the antithesis of flake."

Pepper made a noise of agreement. "I'm calling Natasha."

Tony meant to wait but he broke down thirty seconds later and texted Nick Fury.

did you grab Bruce?

Did I grab Bruce where?

lol, funny Fury. Where the fuck is Bruce? What did you do with him? Fuck you.

Forty-five seconds crawled by. Jarvis said, "Sir, Director Fury wishes to speak to you."

"Put him through." As Jarvis opened the connection he said, "So you admit it, that's new. What the hell are you--"

Fury's voice interrupted. "Are you telling me Dr. Banner is missing?"

Tony stopped, staring at the screens, having a moment. He had really hoped it was Fury. Fury was a known quantity, he might actually have an explicable reason that Tony would think was bullshit but at least he would know where he had to go and what he had to blow up to get Bruce back. "You don't have him?"

"What happened, Stark?"

"We've spent the past forty-four hours running an experiment involving several million dollars worth of technology and seventeen of my best R&D people and I have Jane Foster and Erik Selvig and Stephen Fucking Hawking on video conference. We had downtime before we could start the last sequence and Bruce went out to get some air and buy coffee." It had actually been muffins and some horrible shit called hibiscus tea. ("You need a muffin," Bruce had said. "I'm going to get muffins.") They were in the belowground subsections of the tower, the levels just above the Arc Reactor, and it had been quicker for Bruce to take the elevator up several floors to the secure garage and walk a few blocks to the hippie coffee place than it would have been to go all the way up to the penthouse kitchens, and it wasn't like they had hibiscus tea in the pantry, or not freshly brewed from treebark and rainforest clouds or however the hell Bruce preferred it. "He should have been back in fifteen minutes, tops. It's been an hour."

There was a pause. "Hmmm," Fury said.

"I know what you're thinking--"

"You do not know what I am thinking."

"--he wouldn't take off for Mumbai in the middle of something a hundred people have been working on for six months!"

"And you don't have Stephen Hawking on hold."

"I could if I wanted, he follows me on Twitter." Tony sounded hoarse and crazy, even inside his head. "He's happy here, he's like a rescue puppy, an angry genius puppy, rescued from an evil shelter. He would never lie and say he was going out for muffins when he had no intention of bringing muffins. I mean Banner, not Hawking."

Tony could hear keyboard keys clicking over the connection. "Stark, when you said you had been running an experiment for forty-four hours, did you mean you've been awake for forty-four hours?"

Tony took a deep breath. His face was numb from a weird combination of anxiety and rage. "Bruce did not leave because I have sleep deprivation insanity."

"I'll look into it." Fury cut the connection.

 

Natasha doesn't sound worried but then she never did, not when things were blowing up and aliens were trying to eat them and her suit was on fire. "Stark, Banner's go-bag and his fake passports are still here in his quarters. His spare glasses are in the bedside table drawer. If he left voluntarily, it was a spur of the moment decision. Did you trace his phone?"

"No signal. Whoever has it didn't just pull the battery, they destroyed the transponder."

Natasha made a hissing noise, which Tony interpreted as spy-speak for "yeah, that's not good."

Jarvis said, "Sir, Mr. Hogan has an urgent report."

"Put him on."

"Boss, we got street footage from that jewelry store just down from the coffee place. I'm transferring it to your security feed now. You need to see this."

The worried tone in Happy's voice made Tony's migraine level up. "Romanov, are you still in Banner's quarters? Jarvis, copy this to the screen there."

As the security footage played, Tony heard Natasha mutter a curse. Tony picked up his phone and texted Steve Rogers: get here now. some assholes grabbed Bruce.

***

In the past hour, Rogers, Thor, and Barton had arrived, Thor making it in first. He was dressed in battered jeans and a faded UCLA t-shirt, and it was only the giant hammer and the perfect hair that might clue the uninitiated into the fact that an Asgardian god-alien was on the premises. He explained to Tony, "Jane was much concerned that something had befallen you and Dr. Banner and summoned me immediately. I too feared it must be dire, to interrupt the new undertaking with the Arc reactor that you have all spent such effort on. I am to text her as soon as I am made to know the details."

They had convened in the penthouse's media hub because it had the multiple inputs to handle all the different intel coming in from SI security, the NYPD, SHIELD, and the Russian Mafia or whoever the hell it was Romanov kept calling and having angry whispered conversations with over her earbud. Also, Tony still hadn't slept and the big twenty-foot display was the only screen he could actually see now.

When Fury called in from the helicarrier, it made his face weirdly big. "Yes, but what are you doing right now?" Tony asked him.

Fury said patiently, "We have every resource working on this, Stark. I don't want these bastards to have Banner anymore than you do."

Rogers' jaw got tight. He said, "It's not Dr. Banner's value as an asset to SHIELD that we're concerned about."

"I know that, Captain Rogers," Fury said less patiently.

Tony rubbed his face, and mentally tuned out the argument that followed. Rogers was polite and relentless, Fury was less polite and more relentless. Neither ever gave up; it was like the immovable object versus the other immovable object. If it went on too long Thor, who was also polite but capable of more volume than Rogers and Fury combined, would break it up.

It had become rapidly obvious that whoever had grabbed Bruce not only had a tranquilizer that could take effect before the Hulk could stop it, but that they were professionals. The abduction had been fast and so smooth all the passers-by on the street had seen was a guy getting faint suddenly and being helped into a car by concerned "friends."

The only real mistake they had made was pulling this off at a moment when Tony, Foster, Selvig, and most of the SI R&D team were expecting Bruce back within fifteen minutes tops. If it had been business as usual, it might have been a couple of days before Tony or somebody decided to wander down to see what Bruce was working on, or Pepper decided he needed to get out more and asked Jarvis to invite him to dinner in the penthouse, or somebody started to wonder why he wasn't returning calls or texts.

It meant whoever they were, they didn't have access to what was going on past the security barriers in the tower, which also meant it wasn't SHIELD. Fury could have found out what they were doing if he wanted to; he would have waited for a better time.

Tony just hoped it was a tranquilizer the bastards had used on Bruce, and not a poison.

Tony tuned back in as Fury was saying, "I have every resource working on--" Rogers was saying, "If you would tell us what you know--" and Thor had just broken in with, "Friends, this discord does us no good--" Which in Thor-speak everyone knew actually meant "You people are on my last nerve, what the hell is wrong with you?" Barton was wandering around the room impatiently and Natasha was back on the phone.

Then Fury looked to the side, clearly focusing on a screen out of camera range. "Hold it." He tapped his earpiece.

Tony watched Fury listening to whatever it was, and caught the moment his expression changed from concentrated attention to incandescent rage. It was like a light went on in his skull. Barton froze and Natasha hung up on the Russians.

"What?" Tony said. Looking at Fury's face, he thought, They killed him. It should have been impossible to kill Banner without bringing out the Hulk, but Tony did impossible every day. It stood to reason someone else had been able to do it.

And whoever it was, was going to regret it.

Fury said, "We just picked this up on an unidentified satellite feed we've been monitoring. We're tracing the location now." He tapped something and the screen split, half of it displaying a fuzzy black and white image. Tony heard Barton swear, and Natasha draw a sharp breath, all the implications hitting them at once while he was still reeling in shock. It was so fucking simple, that's what was shocking.

Satellite. Tony's brain clicked out of shock and back into overdrive. "Has it launched?" How long do we have?

Fury tapped more keys for about a million years. "Can't have. There hasn't been a launch of any kind in this hemisphere since Banner was taken." He added. "I've got another image coming in, looks like a schedule."

Tony started breathing again. He should have seen that the IV tubes weren't floating, which meant the capsule was still on the ground. It didn't look sophisticated enough to have gravity generators.

Rogers said, "What is it? I can't see..."

Even with the boost the super soldier serum had given his eyesight, Rogers' 40s era brain hadn't been trained from birth by TV and movies to process and interpret images at a faster and faster rate. Tony stepped forward and tapped the image, like he was giving a Ted Talk and needed a laser pointer. "That's Bruce, in the chair."

Rogers nodded. "I see it now. Is that the cockpit of a plane?" Thor hadn't asked, but he was watching them, waiting for the explanation, brow furrowed in concern, all concentrated godly attention.

"It's a space capsule." Tony's throat was dry. Maybe his brain was having a little trouble processing too. As one, Rogers and Thor turned to stare at the image again, the implications hitting them both simultaneously. Tony couldn't stop talking. "Perfect way to get rid of a Hulk. Catch him, tranq him with the rage-monster-neutralizing chemical you've invented, send him into space. When the drug runs out and the Big Guy pops the cork, he'll tear the capsule apart and die in the vacuum. Depending on how long Bruce manages to keep it together."

Into the silence, Thor said, "This is the base act of the lowest brand of cowards, without a breath of honor or mercy." He turned away from the screen in disgust. "We will give these men no quarter."

"What he said," Barton muttered.

Rogers reached over and squeezed Tony's shoulder. "We'll get him back. This is not going to happen." Of course Rogers would say that with the perfect confidence of absolute certainty, it was what Rogers did. It was only the strength of his grip, the finger mark bruises Tony was going to have on his shoulder later, that betrayed extreme stress in someone who was habitually careful about how he touched breakable people.

Fury looked like someone who was grinding his teeth. "The schedule I'm seeing, launch isn't until 0800 tomorrow. That gives us just enough time to move." He added, "They don't know who they're dealing with."

Natasha said, grimly, "Obviously they do, or they wouldn't have been able to neutralize the Hulk."

Fury's lips curled. "I'm talking about me," he said, and cut the feed.

***

Which was how Tony ended up aboard the hellicarrier with the rest of the Avengers, coming up with a plan that involved him and Nick Fury sneaking into a secret launch facility. It was going to be like the Odd Couple or a buddy cop movie, only with more personal insults and a genuine lack of trust.

Fury was the one who had suggested it, which was mildly horrifying. Natasha had voted for it too. She said, "Stark has to go in. He's the only one the Hulk will listen to."

"Hulk like Tony," Tony said mock solemnly, packing the briefcase suit into a backpack. According to the intel that was slowly trickling in, the launch facility had sensors specially designed to pick up the power signatures of the Iron Man armor. SHIELD wasn't sure yet if this was meant to be a trap for as many Avengers as could be caught or just to prevent any of them from extracting Banner. Either way, he was going to have to go in with the suit in sleep mode until they had Banner free of the capsule. "Tony Hulk friend."

Fury sighed.

Rogers had expected to take point, but Fury had vetoed that. "The only thing we know about these people for certain is that they have a thing about the super soldier serum. They took Banner first; there's every indication that they were planning to take you next. I don't want you going in there and finding out they have a way to neutralize you too."

"And they've got a hostage," Barton pointed out. "We need to get in and get Banner out before they know we're there."

"Not 'we,'" Fury said. "Just me and Stark. You and Romanov will be hanging back with the other SHIELD agents."

Barton grimaced and looked at Romanov for help. She just stared at Fury like she was trying to drill through into his brain. Fury stared back at her, tilting his head so he could focus his one eye on her more squarely. Tony lifted his phone and took a photo for Pepper.

While that was going on, Thor clapped Rogers on the shoulder. "I dislike standing by while others go into battle as well, but the plan is a good one. If the capsule begins to rise before Dr. Banner is rescued, I am the only one who can stop it without harming the occupant. If that happens, you must be free to aid our friends."

Rogers clearly didn't like it, but he wasn't going to protest, since no matter how Tony hated to admit it, it was a good plan. Rogers said, "Just don't hesitate if you need to call us in. If we have to do this the hard way, so be it."

Tony said, "We'll save you some bad guys to punch a lot."

Rogers gave him a look. "You do that."

***

Tony napped, or possibly lost consciousness, on the quinjet on the way there. Either way, it cleared his head a little. It was night by that point and the lights in the compartment were dimmed.

From the cockpit, Barton was saying, "It's a weird mix of old technology and stuff we've never seen before."

Rogers, Thor, Natasha, and Fury were huddled around a tablet, the light from it illuminating their faces. The image was mirrored on Barton's heads-up display. Thor swiped the screen to move to a new section, and said, "This is all underground?"

Fury said, "It was built under an abandoned concrete grain silo. We're not sure how long they've been there. If they hadn't grabbed Banner, it would have taken us a lot longer to figure out they existed, how big their operation is."

Tony yawned. "Looks like they passed Supervillain 101."

Steve stood up and moved to sit down on the bench next to Tony. He said, softly, "You okay?"

"Sure. I thrive on catastrophic sleep deprivation." Tony replayed that in his head. "I actually meant that seriously, I'm not being sarcastic."

He could hear Steve smiling. "I think I got that."

"Yeah, well, it's a talent." He eyed Fury, and just to start a fight, said, "My first thought was that Fury stole our Bruce."

Fury's return look was both baleful and monumentally unimpressed. "If I want something from an asset, I ask for it."

"Since when?" Tony wondered aloud.

Fury went back to the tablet. "Since you pulled your head out of your ass and started to notice."

Steve was being Captain America/team leader guy and so did not react. Natasha was too cool to react, Barton was busying flying the plane. But Thor did an amused eyebrow tilt thing.

Tony would have replied and it would have gone on forever, but Barton said, "Head's up, we're coming in. ETA to rendezvous with SHIELD contingent is three minutes."

***

Tony was able to break into the outer level of the security system from the quinjet, working his way through the different levels until the motion detectors and alarms along the perimeter all opened up to him like spring flowers. He could only take it down for a seven minute window, enough to get him and Fury into the building. After that they were winging it. He couldn't get any kind of opening into the internal security.

They still had to crawl under about ten feet of barbed wire to get to the facility and it was just pure luck it was a cloudy night. Of course, than meant Tony couldn't see for shit. He felt absurdly vulnerable on the ground like this without the suit, the cool night air cutting right through his hoodie and t-shirt. The bracelets around his wrists, and the heavy weight of the disassembled suit in his backpack was reassuring. Fury flowed along ahead in his dark coat, blending with the night, and Tony started to stock up Batman references to make later.

He didn't actually see the two guards Fury had taken out until he stepped on one's hand and tripped over the prone body of the other. He stumbled into Fury's back, and Fury whispered, "Watch it, Stark," and grabbed the shoulder of his hoodie to steer him around a third body.

"My God, you are Batman," Tony muttered.

"Shut up," Fury hissed. Apparently he was taking this whole thing personally.

Tony had to disarm and break another internal security alert before they could get in, the door opening with the faint pop of a vacuum seal breaking. The corridor inside was half-lit and dim, white walls with a lot of metal support girders. Something about it, the look, the smell, reminded Tony of a VIP tour of 70s era NASA he had been taken on as a kid. That thought chilled his spine and turned his stomach, the misuse of that brilliant, vulnerable, fearless technology and what these fuckers were doing with it.

So he said, "What, are you pissed that they thought of a way to take out the Hulk when you couldn't?" This was so far below the belt he might as well kick Fury in the ankle, but Tony wanted to see how Fury reacted. Also, he was pissed that he couldn't make Fury mad; it was like the guy was, Jesus, being nice about the whole thing because he knew how upset Tony was.

It was pointless because Fury reacted by not reacting. "What makes you think I couldn't?" Fury said. "I just never had to implement it." He held up a hand for quiet, pausing to take a quick look around the corner, then moving on. "But I'm not worried about Dr. Banner ever needing to be taken out. He's got it as under control as possible now. Notwithstanding mind-altering via alien devices or a psychotic break, something that might just as easily happen to you or Rogers."

They both thought about that for a minute. Fury conceded, "Not Rogers."

The next corner they turned had six guards loitering in the hallway and things got too busy to continue the conversation.

***

Before they had left the tower, Tony had called Pepper, who had said, "Be careful, but get Bruce back."

He had also called Rhodey to let him know who to kill if Tony didn't come back. Mainly because if Tony was dead then most if not all of the other Avengers plus Fury and many assorted SHIELD agents would also be dead, leaving Rhodey with a lot of slack to take up. For some reason, Rhodey didn't sound thrilled by this prospect.

Bat-Fury got them to the concrete-enclosed launch silo without setting off an alarm, but with a dozen bodies in various states of unwellness in their wake. Tony could tell Fury wasn't happy with that, but the intel about how many people were staffing this place tonight had clearly been wrong. Which meant somebody might have detected SHIELD's breach of their security.

When the dim light showed them the steam rising from the level below the base of the rocket, they knew why there were so many people here this late at night.

"Bastards moved their schedule up," Fury said, and spun and charged for the stairs.

They started up the gantry, Fury taking the steps two and three at a time, Tony at a run to keep up. The rocket loomed in the dark, like a giant unexploded bomb. Which was exactly what it was.

They reached the capsule at the top and the hatch had some kind of security seal on it that Tony wasted more time trying to break into.

Standing back on the bridge to keep watch, Fury said, "Stark, these people, they have a thing for aliens, and what they call 'altered humans.' It's--"

"I know," Tony interrupted, still frantically coding. "I remoted in to your laptop on the helicarrier and read the rest of the intel while you were in the bathroom."

Fury rubbed his face and sighed and stared upward, possibly asking the great god of spies to take vengeance on certain people. Then he said, "Then you know that if anything happens, you need to take Banner and bust your suit's ass getting out of here. If you can't take Banner, go without him."

"I'm not an 'altered human,' this is just a souped-up pacemaker." Most of Tony's attention was on the hatch lock, but he was excellent at multitasking. It had also explained exactly why Fury had been so determined to keep Cap and Thor outside; these guys really wanted somebody to vivisect to prove their theories. The only thing that had saved Bruce was the fact that the Hulk was just too dangerous to mess with that way, even with their special tranqs.

"As big a pain in the ass as you are, I don't want you to have to have that conversation with them," Fury said. "Me they'll just shoot."

Tony decided he was going for the third alternative: nobody gets shot. And this lock had a mechanical override that had already been activated and he couldn't get through it. He stood up. "I need the suit. Or part of it. It's going to set off their internal security."

Fury rolled his shoulders. "Do it."

Tony opened the backpack, pulled out the right gauntlet. It woke and wrapped itself around his hand. Then he blasted the lock out of the hatch.

***

Bruce was hallucinating. Rescue dreams. Why else would Tony Stark be pulling IVs out of his arms while Nick Fury watched the door.

"How is he?" Fury whispered.

"He's high," Tony told him. "He's so high he's giving me an LSD flashback just from touching his sweat."

Fury sounded skeptical. "You took LSD?"

"Like you didn't, don't be coy." Tony slapped Bruce's face lightly and Bruce tried to focus on him. Tony said, "Bruce, you have a catheter. You have to pull it out or Fury will."

Fury said, "Don't think I won't."

"I'll do it," Bruce said. The dream was very realistic. It was going to make it that much worse when he woke and remembered where he was.

Getting the catheter out sent a spike of pain through his body that also penetrated the haze in his thoughts. He was dress only in sweat-soaked surgical scrubs. He realized Tony was in street clothes, the Arc reactor glowing through his t-shirt, and he was only wearing the right gauntlet from the suit. But then the capsule was so small, the complete suit wouldn't have been able to fit in here. Fury was too tall for the space and had to half-crouch beside the hatch. They were such odd details for a dream that it jolted Bruce a little closer to reality. He said, "Is this really happening?"

"Oh, you bet," Tony muttered.

***

Fury said, "Stark, we're going. They're in the gantry."

So unfortunately, the intel was right and using the suit gauntlet had tripped some sort of detection system. Tony dragged Bruce out of the chair and toward the hatch, the close confines of the capsule making it as easy as wrestling in an oil drum. Bruce was less limp and more conscious now, and able to help a little by holding on. Fury stepped across the gantry bridge, gun drawn, angling for a view of the bottom.

Out of the capsule, Tony dumped Bruce on the metal decking. "Bruce, any word from our big green friend?"

From the way Bruce curled into a fetal position, Tony was pretty sure the answer was going to be no. "Not yet," he gasped. "Believe me, I'm trying."

Tony kicked the backpack over, spilling out the suit. He squeezed the sensor in the gauntlet and the rest of the pieces shifted out of sleep mode. "Are they coming?" he asked Fury.

Fury frowned, still angling for a better view. Then he swore and hit his earbud. "Romanov, Barton, Hill, clear the perimeter! They're getting ready to launch."

As the suit snapped into place around him, Tony looked up. The concrete silo above the rock was still sealed. "Uh oh." They were going to blow this baby up right here, destroying their base and whoever was in it.

The suit came online, his sensors delivering specifics about the composition and thickness of the concrete above their heads. His comm crackled as Romanov said, "Did you get Banner?"

"We've got him." Tony hauled Bruce up and scanned the dome again. "And we're running, and you should be too."

The dome is too thick, sir, Jarvis informed him. Firing on it will only cause falling debris.

Tony followed Fury off the gantry and onto the walkway around the silo's outer edge. "Jarvis, scan for openings on the other side of this wall."

Bullets pinged off the suit and Tony shifted Bruce to his other side as Fury returned fire. Jarvis said, Here, sir, and the display lit up, drawing a target on the wall. It appears to be a maintenance corridor.

"Fury, found an exit. Hold this a minute." Tony handed off Bruce and Fury slung him over one shoulder.

Tony blasted through the wall into the next corridor and they started down it. The comm came on again and Barton said, "Thor is taking out the anti-aircraft emplacements. If you can get to an open space, we can pick you up in the quinjet."

"That way," Fury said, and pointed.

"I've got my own ride, guys." Tony blasted through the wall Fury was pointing at.

Romanov cut in, "Negative, Iron Man, negative. Don't try to fly in the suit. Cap said one of the guards had a--"

The comm cut off as the rumble of the rocket engines grew louder. The damn thing must be interfering with their signals. "I wonder what an 'ah' is," Tony said aloud, blasting through the next wall.

"I can make some guesses," Fury said. "This should be an outer wall."

"It's a targeted pulse..." Bruce gasped. "Handweapon."

Yeah, Tony had thought that was probably it. He blasted a much bigger hole and they could see outside. They were four stories up, the suit's night vision and sensors showing Tony the compound stretching out below. Lightning chased across the sky and thunder cracked, so close it was audible over the rocket's rumble. A sign that Thor was nearby and dishing out superscience godly hell. Tony fired a signal round out through the opening and a moment later the quinjet dropped into sight, turning to open the rear hatch.

With Bruce over his shoulder, Fury took two long strides and jumped. He landed on the ramp and slid backward a step, but Cap lunged out, grabbed his coat lapels and pulled Fury and Bruce the rest of the way in.

Tony lifted on his repulsars to follow, landing lightly on the quinjet's ramp. Then Jarvis said, Sir! I'm detecting-- and something hit him.

Tony got a confused sensor view of the quinjet spinning away, the ramp sliding out from under him, like a giant had slapped it out of the air. Then his view blacked out and his stomach told him he was falling.

The impact knocked him out for an instant. He came to lying on cold concrete in a pile of disassembled powerless suit components. He rolled over, groaning, stunned, to see a guy standing over him pointing a big gun thing. That must be the targeted pulse ah handweapon.

The guy said, "At least we've got one. Get him to the truck."

"I don't think so." Tony managed to shove himself up on his elbows. The shock absorption and stabilizers in the suit had saved him from broken bones but his head was swimming and his muscles were convinced he had just fallen four stories and should be dead now.

The guy smiled. "Are you going to beg? Or threaten?"

"Neither. I'm going to tell you the people you thought you were talking to are gone and Nick Fury is behind you." The guy stared. "Seriously," Tony added. "He must have jumped out of the fucking plane while it was crashing, he's like Batman."

Fury pistol-whipped the guy in the head and said, "Stop calling me Batman."

"It's a compliment." Tony crawled forward and grabbed the fallen pulse whatever. If they lived through the next five minutes, they were going to need to know what this thing was.

"I do not need compliments from you." Fury hauled him up and threw him over his shoulder, and started to run.

Tony would have had a reply to that, but breathing was an issue at the moment. There was gunfire and more people chasing them, until Captain America ran past and the gunfire cut off abruptly and the bad guys evidently decided that maybe they didn't want to fight after all.

Cap caught up with them at the quinjet, which had landed on top of a truck but otherwise seemed all right. They struggled up the steep angle of the ramp, it closed behind them, and Fury dumped Tony on the bench next to Bruce.

"Ow," Bruce said plaintively. "Did the plane crash?"

"Sort of," Tony admitted. He slid over and collapsed sideways. "I think so. It's better now."

Barton yelled, "Hold on!" and the deck surged upward as the jet took off.

Fury swayed with the motion, one hand on his earbud, and told Cap, "Hill and the others are clear."

"Good." Cap nodded. Something thumped on top of the plane, and he asked, "Widow, was that Thor?"

"Affirmative," Romanov said. "He just landed topside."

"Then let's get out of here."

The jet powered away. His cheek pressed against Bruce's sweat-soaked shoulder, Tony felt the vibration through the metal as somewhere far behind them, the rocket exploded in its silo. Bruce said again, "This is really happening, right?"

"Right," Tony said. "Now Fury will have to go back to pretending he doesn't like us."

"I'm not pretending," Fury said. There was a pause. "And I'm not Batman."

"Somebody do a rimshot," Tony muttered, and fell asleep.

end