Chapter 1: ~prologue~
He woke with a gasp and found himself surrounded by complete darkness.
The air was stale and he stifled a moan upon feeling some sort of breathing apparatus sealed over his nose and mouth. The slightest movement brought instant pain and the realization that he was trapped within confines which left no room to rise, let alone move. Panic kicked in, despite years of training and conditioning, and his knees and elbows knocked into soft-padded walls which did not budge or give an inch.
His breathing became more erratic, resulting in the mouthpiece filling with droplets of moisture. When he thought he would pass out from sheer hyperventilation, there was a scraping sound outside before the cover got lifted. “I'd apologize for the current circumstances of your transportation, but the end justifies all means.” Bruce's frantic eyes darted from the familiar countenance down to his surroundings and back.
He tried to reach for the breathing apparatus and take it off. All it got him was a stern shake of a head. “The oxygen supply is going to last another 72 hours. You should still be mindful of your consumption rate.” Wayne started to frown and made a fumbling attempt at getting up. His opposite sighed at his growing agitation and produced an item the size of a car key. It had a glittering, sharp needle on one end.
"There is no other choice for the moment."
Bruce made a muffled sound of protest and tried to twist away, but then there already was a pricking sensation on the side of his throat. “A muscle relaxant. Also lowers your body temperature enough to fool any biometric scanners.” Feeling the instant effect of whatever drug was entering his bloodstream, Bruce's vision started to blur as his limbs turned heavy and sluggish. Soon, the voice above was nothing more than a far-away hum.
“Once you're out of country, stay out of country. Don't trust anyone.”
Nick Fury moved to lower the lid of the coffin again, pausing one final time.
“It's been a pleasure, Agent Wayne.”
For the first weeks after the assassination, Tony was kept under heavy sedation to make him get at least some sort of rest. The Mandarin had been taken down by the National Guard, but it left Stark feeling bereft of his revenge as soon as he learned of it. Rhodey and Happy took turns in watching over him, together with an ever-present Jarvis, but despite their best efforts, Tony Stark remained a hollow-eyed shell of his past self.
Cutting off all ties to the outside world, he holed himself up inside his Malibu mansion, swearing to never lay a foot into the fatal Tower in New York again, and started working on building suit after suit, trying to compensate for the failure that had taken away Bruce's life because of his negligence. The media hassle around his person still remained high, and Tony made the mistake of laying eyes on a gossip magazine once.
Seeing the big bold headline about the TRAGEDY AT STARK PRESS RELEASE – BILLIONAIRE FIANCÉ DIES SAVING HIS LOVER'S LIFE resulted in making him physically sick on the spot. He went to raid the liquor cabinet of the house bar that night, passing out from a drunken stupor around three in the morning. From that moment on, his dormant alcoholism reached a sad new height, up to the point where he was drunk almost 24/7.
Slouching on the couch of his workshop, bottle balancing on his thigh, Tony cast dulled eyes over to his workbench. There, the Bulgari watch sat still inside the plastic bag. A dark, soaked-in bloodstain was on the inside of its strap, but Tony had no energy to clean it or change the leather. He kept on telling himself it was the closest thing left from Bruce. The only thing. Even his Brentwood apartment did not exist anymore.
SHIELD had chosen to keep Wayne's burial site hidden from public, and not even Jarvis was able to find out details on the exact location. And if that was not enough, Nick Fury and his staff had gone off the radar ever since, almost as if the whole organization had been nothing but a figment of Tony's addled imagination. With a grunt, Stark then rose, sloshing some liquor onto the concrete floors of his workshop in the process.
“Sir, may I recommend not adding to your current level of intoxication?”
Tony held onto the headrest of the sofa.
Jarvis' disembodied voice echoed through the workshop, carrying nothing but honest concern. "At the current rate, you have already disrupted the balance of your gamma-aminobutyric acid and glutamate inside your brain. Permanent damage to the central nervous system will also lead to reduced tolerance levels." The billionaire hummed and rubbed down his face. "Small favors an' all that."
"No, Sir. It will prevent you from being able to operate the Iron Man armor long-term. And I assume you are going to want to suit up, seeing there is evidence of SI weapons being dealt in Cambodia.” Bleary-eyed, Tony blinked over at the dark screens of his mainframe. “What?” Upon seeing the grainy satellite footage of men in guerrilla uniforms, carrying out crates with emblazoned Stark Industries' logos, Tony put the bottle aside.
"I'll take a shower. Have an espresso ready. Double shot."
"Coming right up, Sir."
After a cold shower, and fired up on caffeine and a vitamin-laden smoothie, Iron Man headed out to Cambodia.
Brief mention of suicide attempt in this chapter, albeit non-graphic.
Sleeping off his ongoing inebriation, Tony touched down in the southern portion of the Indochinese peninsula several hours later. There, he got doused in a monsoon-like torrent so violent, it almost made his suit's electronics go haywire. Under the mist of sated air and a curtain of rain, he still managed to extinct the gun running business in less than twenty minutes, blasting his past legacy to smithereens.
While he was at it, slicing through weapon crates with the help of his laser cannon, Jarvis blinked a status update top left inside his HUD.
“Sir, we have a visitor.”
Watching the Stark Industries logo become obliterated with grim satisfaction, Tony's eyes then followed the crosshairs tracking the motion of a fast-disappearing silhouette within the tropical forest. “Another little gun runner?” Someone, presumably male, moved in the shadows, stealthy but no match for Iron Man's sensors. Tony crushed the final Stark Industries' rifle between his hands and swung around. “Let's cook him out.”
It took two tries, then a well-aimed repulsor blast to the back brought the guerrilla fighter down to crumble and disappear within the deep undergrowth. By the time Tony had reached him, the man was moving again. With a non-too-gentle booted foot to his midriff, Tony turned him around, only to gasp and visibly recoil when their eyes met. “No. No! Jarvis, tell me I am hallucinating. Badly hungover. Dehydrated. Anything.”
Jarvis rattled off stats before he spoke with factual accuracy. “All of your vitals are in the regular range, despite your heart rate starting to become rapidly elevated.” Iron Man shook his head all the while staggering back when the person in front of him got to his knees. “... It can't be. Can't.” A window popped up right in the middle of his HUD. “Wayne, Bruce. Male. Caucasian. Height 6'1. Blood type 0 Negative.”
Tony's vision blacked out from one second to the other.
Once his senses returned one by one, Tony found himself staring up at the darkening skies of Cambodia.
Apparently, Jarvis had seen to maneuver the suit into a horizontal position. When the faceplate lifted, rain hit Tony's skin, and a countenance he thought he would never see again in his life loomed above. Barely recognizable with a full beard and hair down to his shoulders, held back by a tattered bandana, Wayne stared down at him with eyes full of misery and incomprehension. Bile rose from the bottom of Tony's throat.
Without warning, he turned sideways and retched onto damp soil.
Unaffected, Wayne kept on kneeling by his side and un-clipped a small metal flask from his belt. As soon as Tony was only dry heaving, he held it out. “Here. Rinse your mouth.” A shaking, gauntleted hand clasped for the dented flask, then Tony sipped on lukewarm water and spit it out. Once done, he willed the suit into a vertical position and threw the flask onto the ground. “What a twisted, fucked-up, sick person are you?!”
Wayne grabbed it and also rose to his feet in a swift motion. “I thought about you every goddamn minute of each day!” Bruce then lowered his voice down to a snarl. “Not being able to contact you almost tore me apart, but I needed you to be safe, I...-” He heaved a shuddering breath.
“They told me should I ever go and try to seek you out, they had ways to get to you before I could. Project Insight has been monitoring me for weeks until I finally managed to get off its radar.” His voice sounded broken. Tony frowned. “Project Insight?” Wayne nodded and re-attached his small water flask to his belt. “Heavily armed, satellite-linked Helicarriers. They are-” At that, Tony held up a hand, deep frown between his brows.
“-designed to strike out against potential threats, yeah, my company's been involved in the design process for a while.”
Bruce stared at him from underneath a sodden, ratty bandana. “You know that they carry enough power to kill nearly 20 million people?” Tony glared back before he snorted. “They were built to ensure overall civil safety!” Wayne exhaled. “Until it got into the wrong hands. I've seen Project Insight in action. It tracks and roots out individuals in no time. Which means they know where you are as well.” His smile turned brittle.
“You have to leave and get somewhere safe. Right now.”
A dark shadow set over Tony's gaunt features. “What the fuck? I've just found out you're alive after I've been told you were dead - and you tell me to leave?! SHIELD told me you died of your injuries! When I got to the hospital, your room was empty! I jumped off the Tower's roof that night, but Jarvis sent a suit after me.” Bruce inhaled sharply at that bit of information. “God, Tony, I didn't-” Stark shook his head with vigor.
“To learn you've died in my arms – died because of my fucking stupid bravado regarding the Mandarin - was the hardest thing I've ever had to come to terms with. Way harder then Afghanistan and everything about it. They say time is a healer, well, you know what, Wayne? Fuck that theory!” He turned around and hid his face inside a gauntleted palm with a sound that came out like a suppressed sob.
“I tried so hard to make myself forget in so many ways... but nothing helped.”
When he turned around, his eyes brimmed with excess liquid.
“Nothing helped, Bruce.”
Devastation lay in those three, final words. Bruce's swallowed and reached out for him. He drew back in an instant when he saw Tony flinch as he was about to cup his side of the face like he used to. “Sorry, I didn't....” Bruce dropped his arm. “You've moved on of course.” Sadness shone back at him. “My bed has been empty ever since. And it would've stayed that way. I'm not quite a widower, but...”
Wayne looked at him with his brows knitted together and a glint in his eyes Tony had never seen before. “I'm so fucking sorry.” With that, Bruce pulled him into a crushing embrace. He buried his face in the crook of Tony's neck and inhaled while his fingers clawed into his armored back.
“Forgive me. I didn't know. I didn't...-”
After returning the hug, Tony then took Bruce's face in between his hands with care and darted his eyes over his flushed cheeks. “There's one thing I need you to understand.” Bruce nodded at the low, serious tone; worry lurking behind his eyes. Tony wet his lips. “I'm gonna kiss you now, and things will go from 0 to 100 really fast, so if you don't want us to end in horizontal, you should probably back off this very inst-”
The rest of his sentence ended in Bruce's mouth.
Ignoring the fact both of their suits were drenched in mud and grime, Tony pressed closer, and Bruce refused to budge. At some point, however, the need for oxygen forced them apart, and Stark gave a shaky smirk. “You taste of swamp water.” Panting with his breath visible in the moist air, Bruce's thumbs traced the sensitive skin under Tony's large, soulful eyes.
“Come with me.”
non-graphic m/m situations
After a long march through lush tropical forests and humid savannas, which Tony spent in his suit but not airborne, they reached a small hut raised on wooden stilts. The roof was made from clay and dried leaves, and there were no windowpanes but tattered fabric serving as blinds. Bruce inspected the skies before he eyed the gleaming metal armor. “Take the suit along. If there's a mudslide, it'll be safer inside.”
Inside was sparser than Tony had imagined. A single room featuring a crooked little bamboo table and a cot with a thin mosquito net hanging from the ceiling. Spiders and a gecko scurried past as he set out to dismantle in the corner. Bruce grabbed a banged-up pot with a handle from the lone shelf at the wall. “I'll be right back.” Putting the armored pieces on the ground one by one, Tony's eyes flew up, alarmed. “Where are you going?”
Bruce tilted the metal pot with a rueful little smile.
“Preparing the shower.”
Tony gave a soft hum.
The shower turned out to be fairly cold water from a bore-well around the corner of the hut. It was framed by three slanted pieces of wood being rammed into the soil, providing at least some sort of shelter. A piece of soap half the size of Tony's palm was resting on a protruding ridge. Upon Bruce's initiative, they started to rid themselves off their soiled clothing until they were left in nothing but their underwear.
Both of them had lost weight, though for entirely different reasons, leaving hard sinewy muscle under taut skin. At the sight of a simple yet solid silver chain around Tony's neck, which carried a ring as a penchant, Bruce felt a bitter sting in his heart. He then motioned for Tony to hold up his Neoprene-like undersuit as he doused it down. Once it hung over the wall to dry, Wayne fetched more water. “You first.”
With that, he started to run fresh water down Tony's arms and upper back, watching his skin erupt in goosebumps despite the sweltering humidity. Stark worked up a lather and scrubbed his hair and body, peeling off his briefs. Bruce did the same himself, and when they faced each other, mutual longing was written all over their bodies. Tony pressed up to his growing arousal and grabbed his neck. “Please.”
Instead of waiting for a response, he captured Bruce's mouth and felt him respond with a low grunt before Bruce's hands came up to tilt Tony's head back with his thumbs, deepening the angle. Their kisses became sloppy and urgent as slick fingers started to grope and fumble until they soon had stroked each other to completion, shuddering in each other's embrace, wet lips clinging to equally wet skin.
When Tony went pliant in his arms, Bruce took the added weight without ado. "Better now?” From where he rested against the scarred, familiar body, Tony drew back just enough to wash the stickiness off his skin. “Just getting started.” After toweling off with a threadbare piece of cloth, Bruce offered him a thin stripe out of a rolled-up tube of toothpaste. Tony mimicked him by putting it on his index finger.
After rubbing the paste all over his teeth and tongue he spat it out and rinsed his mouth with sips of bottled water which Bruce handed him. “Think they'll come for us?” Wayne brushed the back of a hand over his mouth. “Yes.” Tony's fist tightened around the sodden towel. “I'm not leaving, least of all letting you go again, mark my words.” At that, Bruce felt for the engagement ring on the chain and encased it in a gentle fist.
“Nothing in this world can drag me away from you. Never again.”
Fingers interlaced, Tony tugged at his arm, pulling him towards the hut. Outside, it got dark fast, so most of their illumination came from the bluish hues of the ARC. The cot inside the corner was barely big enough to accompany one person. After fastening the mosquito net behind him, Tony knelt down and inched along the hard, uneven surface until his naked limbs were stretched out all over Bruce bare body.
For a while, they simply lay enjoying the feel of skin on skin and listened to each other's heartbeats, as well as the sounds of the jungle all around them. While he ran a hand through Tony's thick, wet hair, finger-combing it back with affection, Bruce eventually caught him staring at the scar on his shoulder. The silent question in his eyes made Stark hum without mirth. “I can still see the moment before my inner eye."
"That exact moment when the bullets hit, you know?”
Tony's index finger reached out to trace the area in question before it circled lower until it had found the second scar below Wayne's ribcage. “Can see the blood rush out of your body, see your lips and face go paler and paler-” Bruce cupped his chin, trying to break the spell he was under. Without further ado, he pressed their lips together and devoured his mouth. After a few seconds, he finally felt Tony respond.
Just like before, their kisses turned fervid in a matter of seconds, and Bruce shifted until Tony was nestled between his splayed legs. “Need to feel you.” At that, Stark gave a desperate hum against his lips. “Lube?” Bruce placed a kiss against the pulse point on Tony's neck and made a negating sound. “Doesn't matter.” Tony drew back. “It's going to hurt.” Long fingers reached for the slightly damp hair curling in his nape.
“Nothing compared to what you've gone through.”
Heavy disagreement mingled with lust on Tony's features. Arousal present, he tore himself away to reach for his dismantled suit and returned to the cot with a flat metal can. Inside was a white, thick paste Bruce recognized as petroleum jelly. Tony smirked as he swiped some on his finger.
“Not much but it'll do.”
They ended up with Bruce's legs hooked around his waist, heels digging into the small of Tony's back. At each thrust, Tony kept his gaze locked on the face below; afraid Bruce would vanish at the first blink of an eye. Even through a haze of lust, the Gothamite saw love and desperation shine back at him in equal shares. He extracted the palm from Tony's nape and placed it square over the glowing ARC.
Face shrouded by the shadows his fingers cast on the reactor, his eyes found those of his lover again. “I love you.” It resulted in a sudden shuddering gasp. Like a puppet whose strings had been cut, Tony lurched forward, but Bruce caught him with ease as his orgasm washed over him. Once Tony was able to move again, he reached in between them and took care of Bruce's pressing need until he, too, groaned out in release.
After the pleasure rush ebbed off and left pleasant drowsiness in its wake, both fell into a light slumber.
Bruce was awake the second he heard Tony whimper in his sleep, twitching on the cot. He ran a hand over his arm, causing Tony to wake with a choked sob moments later. He blinked into the dark, lost and confused despite the close proximity of his fiancé. Bruce made a soothing noise. “You're safe. You're safe with me. Tony.” It took a while until realization set in, then Stark sat up to rub at the glowing ARC.
“Does it hurt?”
Bruce cast his down eyes to inspect the area. Tony pulled a face, fingertips pressing into the scar-tissue around the metal casing. “Constantly, even if the scans show there's nothing wrong.” With a sharp inhale, Bruce's arms went around him, trying to scoop up as much of his body as possible. “I wish I could have spared you all the pain.”
That night, lying in the arms of the man Tony Stark thought he would never see again, he cried for the first time in years. Cried as though he relieved all of the nightmares of the past months anew. Bruce Wayne was there to hold him close throughout all of his catharsis without urging him to speak. At some point, when there were no more tears to fall, Tony cleared his throat with new-found determination.
“Your face haunted me for weeks. But as time passed by, I found myself trying to remember the way you used to look, used to talk. It scared me that my memories were already starting to fade.” Bruce tried to clasp him tighter, but that time Tony managed to evade him, sitting up to look down at him. “Can you believe that? How could I forget after such a short time? The only thing that mattered to me? What kind of monster am I.”
His eyes held so much misery that Bruce once more reached out without thinking. “Stop torturing yourself. None of this has been your fault. If anything, it was--” The muscles underneath Tony's skin moved as he balled a tight fist. “SHIELD's.” One word, but it was laced with more venom than Bruce was used to hearing from Tony's lips. Wayne swallowed. “Yes." At the bitter disappointment radiating off of him, Stark leaned in close.
“We've both been played, Bruce.”
His dark eyes blazed fire.
“And it's about time we make them pay.”
With the help of Jarvis, Tony and Bruce left Cambodia 48 hours later. Stark had seen to have his AI dissolve their tracks to thwart off any potential followers with ill intentions by chartering a handful of aircrafts specialized for long-range flight, and taking stopovers on small, private airfields.
From where he slouched in the plush leather seat of a sleek Gulfstream, elbow on the armrest and chin propped up on a fist, Tony stared out at the darkening skies above the clouds. He could feel the withdrawal symptoms of not having a drink for the past 72 hours and tried to suppress the nervous shake of his hand. Somewhere over the Slovenian Alps, the door to the jet's lavatory opened and Bruce stepped out.
Tony lowered his arm, slipped his hand underneath his thigh, and sat up straighter. “How's the head?” Bruce dropped into the seat across from him, rubbed his forehead, and leaned back. “Took another Tylenol. I'm fine.” At the way he pressed a thumb and an index finger into his eye sockets, however, Tony allowed a small frown to dart over his face. “Sleep some more. We'll be reaching Zermatt in about six and a half hours.”
After months without proper vision and no means to acquire any optical aid, it turned out Bruce was suffering from severe bouts of migraine; a fact he had only grudgingly admitted after Tony had found him outside the hut the morning after, puking his guts out and being unable to stand the day's brightness. The Gothamite took his fingers away and tried not to squint. “Switzerland?” Tony's nod was rather wistful.
“We need to lay low for a while, so what better place to do that than in the Swiss Alps. At a beautiful chalet with a bearskin rug and a fireplace so big you just have to get laid, to be exact.” Bruce's mouth curled underneath its full beard with a sorely missed air of fond exasperation. “You and your priorities.” The debonair expression Tony cast him was more for show than anything else as Stark palmed his chin with his free hand.
“You know me.”
The chalet was clean and quiet. With a deep exhale, Tony dropped the bag he had brought along from the jet by the large, open fireplace of the living room area and took a moment to relish the marvelous view of the majestic Matterhorn outside the ceiling-high window front. At their feet, the snow-covered mountains and many illuminated chalets of Zermatt created a stunning panorama at dusk.
Bruce had disappeared in one of the two bathrooms immediately after their arrival, and Tony listened to the sounds of a running shower before he went to order a sumptuous dinner via the chalet's on-site chef. While Tony had not been in Switzerland for years, he was glad that Jarvis had been able to plan ahead for them. His eyes traveled across the room and flew over to where he remembered the house-bar to be.
He did not make a move to check whether it was stocked. It probably would be, seeing housekeeping always made sure to keep the premises ready for imminent usage. Thankfully, the doorbell rang just before the need for a drink won over Tony's rational mind. He gave a more than generous tip to the two young and starstruck employees from service, who were also so kind to light up the stone fireplace for them.
Tony took it upon himself to set the table, foregoing the spacious dining area in favor of the dark wooden table of the living room. While he distributed servings of veal and mushrooms with cream sauce and rösti - grated potatoes in the style of a fritter - his stomach gave a loud rumble upon the delicious smell. Instead of starting to eat alone, he went to get a bottle of water from the kitchen and sipped some while he waited.
Finally, the bathroom door opened and Bruce stepped out, wearing a clean set of nondescript dark clothes. His long, damp hair was neatly combed back, and he carried his previous clothes in a tight bundle. “I thought you wanted to shower as well.” Tony beckoned him over with a shake of the head. “Later. Now come and eat.” A whiff of shower gel caught his nose when Bruce had disposed of his laundry and took a seat next to him.
Bruce accepted a hearty portion being shoveled on his plate and wasted no time digging in. For a while, they ate in greedy silence in front of the crackling fireplace, relishing their first real warm meals in days. When all the food containers and plates were empty, Bruce leaned back into the plush couch and palmed his eyes again. Tony stacked the tableware into a precarious pile and wheeled the serving cart outside. "Be right back."
Eyes closed and head tilted back, Wayne gave an almost too-easy-to-miss hum.
Once Tony was finished showering and brushing his teeth, he exited the bathroom to find his fiancé fallen asleep in his seated position. For a while, he watched him from atop the small gallery with an almost reverent expression, but then Bruce's eyes snapped open, so Tony hurried to make his way over to him. “Let's get you into bed.” Wayne followed him without actual protest, stopping just long enough to also brush his teeth.
They lay propped up against fluffy big pillows and under fine bed linens next to each other ten minutes later. Warm light from a table lamp on the nightstand illuminated parts of the bedroom, creating a cozy atmosphere compared to the darkness outside. The eiderdown blankets rustled when Bruce rolled over to pin Tony to the mattress. The latter gave a soft moan of surprise. “Thought you were tired.”
Instead of an answer, Bruce dipped his head low to brush his lips over a spot on the side of his neck. A snorting giggle escaped Tony's lips and it prompted Bruce to draw back. “What?” He sounded rather irritated, so Stark raised an apologetic palm. “That tickles like hell. I'm so glad once all this fuzz is gone for good.” It earned him a good-natured scowl. “There was no razor, otherwise I would have taken care of it.”
With a placating hum, Tony raked his fingers through the ginger-colored scruff. “Reminds me of which - I haven't told you about our fancy hairdresser appointment yet. Barber session included.” At that, the Gothamite looked thoroughly displeased. “Is this really necessary?” The hand dropped from his beard back on the mattress. “I think a little pampering can't hurt after all those fucking miserable weeks, now can it.”
Tony's voice had an edge to it which made Bruce pull back and lean into the pillows on his side.
He then held out an arm and Tony went willingly, snuggling up against him.
Tony's Swiss chalet inspired by this beautiful private estate:
Tony woke sometime during the early morning hours, drenched in sweat and shivering uncontrollably. His pulse was racing all the way up to his throat, but he forced himself to remain quiet as to not wake the man next to him. He scooted out of the bed and tiptoed into the bathroom en suite, closing the door before switching on the lights. In the artificial illumination, Tony frowned at the image staring back at him in the mirror.
His face held a waxen color, with dark circles under his eyes and hollowed cheeks; hair sticking up in all directions. The gray t-shirt he wore showcased dark spots from his armpits up to the crew-neck and in between his pecs, right atop the glowing ARC reactor. With a disdained and resolute tug, the clammy fabric came off to land on the closed lid of the toilet, and Stark turned on the faucet to splash cold water onto his face.
He did the same with his armpits and toweled himself dry, but his attempt to put the terrycloth back on its hanger failed as another flash of jitters made him drop the towel. His trembling fingers then knocked the soap dispenser down into the enamel sink with a clatter. Cursing under his breath, Tony fumbled it back in its place but left the towel on the floor since a bout of vertigo made him hold on to the sink instead.
As he stood there with gritted teeth, trying to breathe through his nose until the spasm would pass, there was a soft knock from outside. When Tony took too long to formulate an answer, the bathroom door then opened just a crack to allow two concerned eyes to squint at him through the mirror. “What is wrong?” Stark's head shot up from where it had hung low between his braced arms, and he forced out a weak smile.
“N-nothing, I just... needed to freshen up real quick. Let's go back to bed, 's too early.”
Exhaling deep, he let go of the sink and proceeded to leave the bathroom, but a gentle hand landed on his wrist. At the faint tremors under his palm, Bruce's narrowed eyes flew up to rest on his fiancé's face, worry marring his features. “What are you not telling me?” Tony averted his gaze with another deflective smirk. “Just a bit jittery and shaky, nothing too bad.” Though tired and weary, Wayne was not fooled by his charade.
“What kind of withdrawal are we talking about?”
Stark pulled his wrist free. “Don't start this.” He tried to bypass him again, but Bruce planted himself firmly in the doorway, haltering his steps and not letting him escape. “Right back at you.” It was soft-spoken and made Tony sigh and run a hand through his hair, damp from sweat and curling at the edges. “I haven't had a drink in a while and it shows, okay? Nothing more. I'm gonna ride it out and soon I'll be back to normal.”
Out of nowhere, Bruce's palms found their way around his neck, thumbs caressing his jaw.
“There are ways to make this easier. We will sort this out tomorrow. Together.”
Stark allowed himself to be led back into bed and got handed a fresh shirt.
“Knew why I hired you as my PA.”
The breakfast table was already set by the time Tony stumbled down into the dining room late the next morning, yawning and on the hunt for coffee. Bruce inched the bread basket into his direction while he sat inhaling his first cup almost in one go. There was a small white bottle next to his plate. Curious, Tony put his coffee down and picked it up. “What's that?”
“Ativan. A short-term solution to help with your symptoms.”
“Where did you get this?”
Bruce's smile became cryptic and endearing at the same time.
“I thought you knew why you hired me as your PA.”
Tony shook his head with a snort and put the bottle aside in favor of eating breakfast. He took half a pill afterward before they got dressed and ready for the appointment at a local hairdresser around noon. Bundled up in thick quilted coats, woolen hats, and scarves, they made their way down into the village. The salon was situated right in the center of Zermatt which was bustling with tourists who made it easy to blend right in.
Pierre, the salon's owner, was a delicate man in his late fifties with little hair and an eccentric pair of round, red glasses. He was ecstatic upon seeing Tony and kissed him soundly on both cheeks. Bruce who had silently taken off his coat and hat then caught Pierre's attention and prompted the older man to clap his hands together with a delighted expression. “Ah, quel merveilleux spécimen.” [What a marvelous specimen]
With a grunt, Stark shrugged out of his coat and handed it over to a waiting assistant, including scarf and hat. “Hands off, Pierre, he's mine.” Pierre huffed with faux indignation and put his arms akimbo, revealing a leather barber's belt around his waist. “Yes, yes, Antoine, possessif et gourmand comme d'habitude.” [possessive and greedy as usual] Bruce's bearded mouth curved into a rather well-hidden smile. “Antoine, hm?”
It was spoken just loud enough for Tony to hear and got him a dark glower in return. Bruce smirked even harder until Pierre took him by the biceps and, simultaneously, by surprise. “Tres viril, oui, mais beaucoup trop barbe. Beaucoup trop.” [Very manly, yes, but much too much beard. Too much] To a very audible snicker from Tony, a helpless Bruce then got steered towards one of the leather chairs with an attached sink.
“Yes, Pierre, please go and work all your magic on him.”
He gratefully accepted an espresso and an issue of Gentlemen's Journal from the assistant as he waited for Pierre who reappeared after leaving the washing part to his colleague. He did a quick number on Tony's hair and beard before heading back over to lay expert hands on the Gothamite. With a blown kiss over at Bruce's miserable figure, Tony paid in advance, promised to be back, and went outside to explore the many stores.
It did not take long before his steps led him into an optician's shop right in the heart of the city.
Once he met up with his fiancé half an hour later, Bruce awaited him already outside the salon, bundled into his coat and hat. Tony still marveled at his clean-shaven face. “In the mood for shopping expensive clothes?” Bruce's lips curled in slight disdain. “I'd rather get a workout in. My back is feeling the strain of the long-distance flights.” Tony clicked his tongue. “That requires shopping for athletic wear.” Wayne harrumphed.
“A shirt and sweat pants will do.”
Stark rolled his eyes and threw a final longing glance into a nearby window of a luxury label shop.
Back at their chalet, Tony went and took the other half of the pill with two big gulps of water. When Bruce made a move to take his jacket from him, Tony reached into the pocket of his overcoat. “Almost forgot. Here.” He held out an oblong box into Bruce's direction. “I'll be outside soaking up some sun.” With that, Stark went for one of the south-facing balconies and dragged a comfortable recliner from the corner into the light.
He crossed his arms behind his head and closed his eyes, enjoying the warmth despite the wintery temperatures. When Wayne stepped out on the balcony 15 minutes later, Tony blinked an eye open, then two, and actually had to suppress a gasp. Bruce's hair was back to its usual, trimmed length and he was sporting the pair of geometric glasses with a thin frame made from brushed metal which Tony had picked out for him.
Most of all, however, Tony was relieved to find Bruce's persistent frown that came with poor vision finally gone.
Wayne then joined him on the edge of his recliner, one of his long legs stretched out to brace himself on the floor. "You remembered." His voice was solemn. Tony shifted and pulled up his legs to further accommodate him. "Hm?" Bruce used his bent knees as a makeshift counter to put an arm on top of them. "The correct diopters." His fingers curled around Tony's kneecap. The latter first frowned, then broke into a careful grin.
"Ah, of course. Course I do. Genius mind and all that."
Bruce began to draw unintelligible circles into the denim fabric around Tony's knee. “I managed to get an encrypted message through to Coulson.” Stark tsked and clasped both armrests. “Still convinced he's one of the good guys?” A dark glance. “I'd vouch for Phil any given day.” Tony gave a low harrumph while his fingers drummed on brushed metal. “Your precious Phil, of course.” Bruce's caresses slowed to a stop.
“Phil Coulson was the only one willing to trust and work with me after I finished my initial training.”
Tony abandoned his jealous train of thought in favor of the rare chance to hear something about Bruce's mysterious past. “Why's that? Did you go egging Fury's office after passing?” The Gothamite allowed a meek smile to cross his lips and shook his head. “I was an outcast; considered too unstable, too angry. Phil showed me the ropes. He is a good, honest man.” After a while, Tony resumed his drumming.
“Alright, but we gotta take precautions for time being. False name and ID.”
Bruce reached out and took his erratic fingers in his. “Already taken care of.” His eyes then traveled higher until they rested upon the area of Tony's throat. “There is something else I still need to take care of, though.” Curious brown eyes found his. “Which would be?” At that Bruce got up and knelt next to the recliner. His fingers were cool as they found their way below the scarf around Tony's neck and dug up the jewelry underneath.
“Marking what's mine.”
Tony swallowed with difficulty but made no move to interfere until Bruce had freed the ring from its chain. “Allow me?” Wayne's question was low. Feeling like his throat was constricted, Stark simply gave a single nod. Soon enough, his engagement ring gleamed back at him from its proper place. With one hand on the armrest for support, Bruce leaned forward to cup Tony's cheek. "As soon as everything is back to normal. I promise."
They kissed, slow and sensual, under the sun shining from a bright blue sky. Eventually, Bruce got back to his feet and adjusted his new pair of glasses with an eerie familiarity. "And now, I am going to work out for an hour. How hungry are you?" Tony licked his lips and leaned back into the recliner. "Very, but not for food. Go on, but don't work yourself too hard, I've got plans for that body later on."
As soon as Bruce was done showering, he stepped out of the bathroom with a towel tied around his hips, only to find the en suite bedroom empty. With a suspicious frown at the murmur of voice coming from the living room area, he got dressed and headed over to where Tony apparently conversed with the TV screen. “Thought you wanted to join me.” At his voice, Stark looked up and took him in.
“Got a little carried away here. Why are you dressed again?”
With an eye on the black-bluish interface of the TV, Wayne settled down next to him on the couch. “You seem pretty busy otherwise.” Tony sniffed and crossed his ankles, leaning back. “You're not the only one who can establish a secured connection under the given circumstances.” It sounded smug. Bruce cast the TV another gauging look.
“Meaning: Say hi to Jarvis. He managed to dig up some rather interesting facts. Roll the tape again, J.”
Before Bruce could say something, the screen flickered to life. “In 1945, right after the end of World War II, SHIELD made the mistake of recruiting so-called HYDRA operatives. Originally formed as the scientific research branch of the Third Reich, these sleeper agents worked on overtaking SHIELD and rebuilding HYDRA from the inside out to achieve world domination, subverting a large proportion of its agents.”
When the screen faded back to its black and blue static screen, the two men sat in silence for a few moments.
“Project Insight. They were always going to use it to bring down SHIELD.”
Bruce's voice was low. Tony rubbed at the soulpatch of his goatee as he nodded along, all pensive. "Did Agent Senpai mention anything about the rest of them? What about the grumpy Eyepatch on two legs?" Wayne's gaze darkened. "Rumor has it Nick Fury is dead, but even Phil did not know if that was true." He scowled at something on the wooden table in front of him. Tony's hum eventually filled the silence.
“We gotta get to the root of the problem. Fast.”
At his matter-of-fact statement, his fiancé cocked his head. “Any ideas?” Bruce's question was meant to be of the rhetorical kind, but it made Tony's face light up. “Matter of fact I do.” Wayne quirked an eyebrow when Stark then got up to saunter over to the panorama window front, hands clasped behind his back. Nothing else followed, except that Tony started to rock back and forth on his heels. Eventually, Bruce sighed.
“Care to enlighten me?”
At that, Stark turned and walked back over to him, bracing both hands against the headrest of the sofa. A shark-like smile was on his face.
“You're looking at the new director of SHIELD.”
Heavy silence set in until Bruce found his voice again. “Absolutely not.” With a slap to the fabric, Tony straightened up and went for a nearby decanter filled with citrus-infused water. “Absolutely yes. Seeing my father was its co-founder, it's only fair that daddy's legacy goes into the right hands. 'sides, what better way to lure HYDRA out and make them pay for their crimes?” Wayne also rose to his feet, shaking his head as he did so.
“You are out of your mind.”
Tony threw him a disdained glimpse before he reached for the device in the back pocket of his denims. “My mind's finally back in the right place. Hey Jarvis, make a note: I wanna set up the new SHIELD HQ at Stark Tower. Could you kindly take care of all necessary security measures and what-have-yous? Asap if you please.” He had barely finished speaking into the device when the AI's British voice module responded.
“Certainly, Sir. May I also congratulate you on your newly-acquired field of expertise?”
Tony pointed at the mobile with his glass of water. “See? That's the right spirit. And thank you kindly, J, I really feel like this is a huge level up.” Speechless for several seconds, Wayne lifted his glasses to rub down his eyes. “Why do I feel like history is going to repeat itself?” Stark slipped the device back into his pocket and walked around the couch that was separating them to come to stand in front of him.
“It won't, 'cause this time, you're with me from the start. Right next to me.”
Wary, Bruce adjusted his glasses and frowned at him. “I am what?” Tony pursed his lips and raised his glass of water into his direction. “Here's to my sexy second in command.” There was no reaction, so he smacked his lips after downing the whole contents. “I think Commander Wayne sounds all kinds of neat. And badass.”
“You can't be serious.”
“Oh, you bet I can. And am.”
“We have no idea what we are dealing with once we get back to the States.”
The glass made a soft clink when Tony bent down to put it back on the table. “Means we gotta pull as many strings from over here before we make an entrance.” He then reached out and looped his index fingers into the waistband of Bruce's sweatpants, closing the distance between them with a decisive tug. Their eyes met and Tony gave a seductive smirk. “However, I believe we were interrupted-”
There was a shift before his wandering hands got caught in a vise-like grip. “You don't drop a bombshell on me like that and expect me to have a raging boner for your delusions of grandeur.” The asperity of his tone made Tony narrow his eyes. With a strong twist, he freed his wrists and raised his chin. “Wonder why that is. You clearly had no problems banging your boss before. What's with the sudden game changer?”
Bruce's nostrils flared, and he flexed his fingers while his eyes blazed fire. “Maybe I am done watching you getting yourself in the line of fire time and time again? Maybe I am done catching bullets meant for you? Maybe I am done dying for you and getting sent to the end of the world in a fucking coffin!?” He voice had started out barely audible and had risen with each sentence until Bruce was one step away from yelling.
The emotions on Tony's features changed from irritation to horror and back to open anger. “Let's not turn this into a fucking pissing match on tragic life stories, because while I'm screwed up, you seem to take the cake there.” About to sidestep him, Tony gave him a brazen, final once-over.
“Also, newsflash - you're not my bodyguard.”
That was when Bruce lunged forward, grabbed him by the arm and twisted it onto his back. With a push of his knee into the small of Tony's back, he landed him headfirst on the couch, pinned to the fabric. “I am also not the butt of the joke for your personal amusement.” When there was no struggle and only wheezing sounds, Bruce was quick to release his hold and sat back on his heels, breathing harsher than before.
Tony remained where he was with one arm still on his back, the other in front of him, grabbing onto the upholstery. He slowly turned his head to the side to cough out a few times. “Guess I deserved that.” The Gothamite made a disparaging noise but remained silent. Stark then twisted around as much as his position allowed him to, with Bruce still trapping his lower legs, and squinted up at him over his shoulder.
“Alright, back off. I got served, you made your point, let me go. Fuck.”
Once Wayne did as he was told, Tony rolled over onto his back, reaching up to gingerly touch the area around his ARC. His ongoing ministrations made Bruce lean over him. “Let me see.” It sounded gruff, but his fingers were gentle as they lifted the shirt to inspect the skin around the reactor. “It's nothing.” Angered at the edge of pain in his voice, Tony scooted into a sitting position and gave a deflective wave of a hand.
“You know I like it rough sometimes - even if you're not in the mood.”
Reassured there was no visible bruising around the ARC, Bruce straddled his hips, a hand on each side of Tony's head.
“So fuck me. Now.”
He bent down to capture the questions inside Tony's mouth with a rough kiss.
Five days later, they sat aboard yet another long-range jet, headed for the US. After Bruce had failed to talk sense into his fiancé about his outlandish plan, Tony had given him the more or less silent treatment during the time in Switzerland, talking to his AI and typing on his phone.
There and then, Bruce regarded the man across from him. Like him, Stark was dressed in casual denim, boots, and a plaid shirt underneath a heavy-knit woolen pullover. After two hours in the air, Tony still kept his gaze out of the window, watching the clouds underneath their wings with his chin propped up on a fist. When the Gothamite made a move to get up, dark-brown eyes slid his way. Bruce opted for a small smile.
“I am going to tell Phil where to meet us.”
The smile Tony gave him in return did not reach his eyes. “Sure, go ahead.” With a small, dismissive wave he was back to watching the skies. As soon as Bruce had left for the back of the jet and the spare notebook that came with every Stark Industries' private aircraft, Tony's free hand came up to rub his chest.
Using the connection provided by Jarvis, Bruce soon had contact and an unshaven, battered-looking Phil Coulson greeted him. Behind him was a dark wall, the only light source around seemingly artificial and of unpleasant cold, blue neon. “What happened?” Coulson's lips moved before the audio followed suit. “SHIELD is gone.” His voice was scratchy, and Bruce's gaze turned dark. “Casualties?” Phil's tilt of the head told him enough.
“We managed to initiate a self-destruct sequence before HQ would have fallen into the wrong hands.”
They stayed quiet in unison; an unspoken moment of silence for friends and colleagues lost. Eventually, Bruce cleared his throat. “How many are left?” Phil turned his head to look at something off-screen, prompting the visual to be once more interrupted by time-lags and static. “Apart from you and me? Less than a dozen.” Bruce suppressed a curse and glimpsed at the time displayed at the bottom of the screen.
“I'll send you the coordinates. Pick up in six hours.”
Coulson nodded, once, and Bruce mimicked it. “Be careful, Phil.” His colleague's split lips curled, though it was without mirth. “You know me.” Once the connection was cut, Bruce deleted all traces from the computer's protocol and made his way back over into the main part of the cabin. By now, Tony had fallen asleep in his seat, head drooped against the side of the leather seat, arms resting limply his lap.
That immobile, he looked far too sallow; the skin under his eyes too dark and sunken in. Mouth twisting with renewed concern, Bruce took one of the lightweight cashmere throws from the storage above and gently draped it over his fiancé's still form. Tony never even stirred, and so Bruce resumed his seat across from him. He busied himself watching him sleep with a pensive expression and a frown between his brows.
They landed to a heavy downpour on a deserted, private airstrip somewhere in upstate New York. A sleek black Agusta Westland helicopter stood waiting, rotor blades already whipping in the wind. Once they had clearance and were gaining altitude, their pilot turned around and adjusted the microphone. "Good afternoon, gentlemen. How are we going to do this?" Stark kept on toying with some European fizzy drink.
"Here's to the new executive floor of SHIELD. Director Stark and Commander Wayne at your service."
Phil Coulson took the news without so much of batting an eyelid. “The roster is stretched pretty thin, but they'll want in.” Tony bared his teeth in a mock-smile and raised the small can like a toast. “Good personnel is hard to find. Better vouch for their integrity.” His smile turned downright brazen and challenging when the other man looked like he was about to rise to the bait. Instead, Phil locked eyes with his former partner.
“Rumor has it HYDRA managed to hijack the Project Insight launch, despite our best efforts.”
The fingers of Bruce's left hand formed a fist. “If that's true, it would command all existing Helicarriers.” Phil nodded. “So far, nothing has happened. They are likely regrouping, too.” A hum from the third occupied seat interrupted their grim conversation. “So that's good then. Small victories.” Tony tried for upbeat to which Coulson only pressed his lips together. “More like the calm before the storm.” Bruce nodded along.
"We need to be prepared for when they strike. Better yet we strike before they do."
At that, Stark leaned forward. "That's my cue. Gimme two weeks, then we'll have the best and most secured intelligence system out there." Phil Coulson's eyes darted from Stark to Wayne and back, catching the glimpse of an unspoken discussion, before he sighed softly. "Congratulations, Director Stark. I am looking forward to working with you." Tony's eyes lit up. "That sure has a nice ring to it, don't you think, Bruce?"
A muscle in Wayne's jaw twitched, though he remained quiet.
As soon as the chopper touched down on the helipad of Stark Tower, they hurried inside the large leisure deck area. Tony paused only long enough to grab a bottle of Coke from a refrigerator and gestured along with the bottle. "Jarvis will show you your rooms. I'm in the shop, planning my growing empire.” His quip was accompanied by a wink into his fiancé's direction. Bruce watched him go with masked concern.
He and Phil Coulson then followed the AI's instructions and headed for a nearby elevator.
“Sir, your heart rate is elevated and your cortisol levels are rising above the norm. Allow me to contact Mister Wayne.”
From where he was bent over his workbench, heaving deep breaths, Tony chuckled against the surface of the table. “Wouldn't wanna disturb the big teary-eyed reunion there.” He rubbed his face within both palms. “Lights down to 15 percent." His AI did as he was told, and the workshop area was plunged into semi-darkness. After a while, Tony straightened up with an exhale of breath and reached for the nearest screen.
"Tell you what, J. This can't go and impair my life any longer. Access file M_Hansen_0100x.”
His fingers flew over the holographic keyboard hovering in mid-air, typing in some 20-digit code. “May I inquire as to what you are planning to do?” Jarvis' question echoed through the workshop until Tony had access to the coded server. “We're going to use it. On me.”
“Using what, Sir?”
“Extremis. Take all the data we've gathered from Maya, refine it, extract it. I'll do the rest.”
“Sir, I am obliged to inform you that inserting biochemical parts into a functional processing system bears risks of hitherto unknown alterations of your DNA. There are extensive multidimensional parameter spaces that need to be sampled beforehand in order to identify specification-compliant molecular implementations.” Tony Stark sat in the dark, illuminated only by the blue tinge of his screens. A feral grin spread over his lips.
“I know that's supposed to be a bad thing, but that exactly what I wanna see. Make it happen, J.”
With a look of concentration on the readouts in front of him, Tony kept on scratching absentminded fingers over the small scab on the underside of his left forearm. His office was quiet and cool, windows tinted for privacy despite being up on the highest floor of the 93-stocky building. His eyes kept on darting between the two screens on his desk until a familiar voice broke the silence.
“Commander Wayne has entered the premises, Sir.”
Tony stopped running his thumb over the sore spot.
“Very good. Send him up, J.”
By the time there was a sharp knock on his door, Tony had rolled down his sleeve and slipped back into his jacket.
He finished fiddling with the left cufflink as he called his visitor in. “Mmm. Look at you, Sexycakes. All dressed for success. Very spiffy.” Upon Bruce's entry, Tony allowed an appreciative whistle to escape his lips. Wayne was clad in a fitted, navy-colored tactical uniform made from techno-mesh fabric, featuring a slim gray utility belt and a shoulder holster on his left. A groomed eyebrow rose behind bespectacled eyes.
“I still think this is over-the-top. Very much so.”
All cheeky, Tony raised a finger and made a 'Wrong!' buzzer sound. “It's all about corporate identity, babe. And you totally look the part. Hot as hell, too, but that was about to be expected.” Wayne deflected his shameless flattery with a dismissive grunt. “So how come you're not wearing one?” Stark leaned back and spread his arms wide, giving an excellent view of his three-piece designer suit.
“Because I am the Director. I pay for everything, design everything, and make everyone look cooler, so I get to wear a decent Tom Ford if I please.”
Bruce refrained from giving an obvious, cynical retort and instead brought the sleek StarkPad under his arm to life. “The Quinjet prototype is in the stage for final supervision.” With a small snap of his fingers and a new-found boost of energy, Tony bounced out of his executive chair.
“Excellent, let's go check her out.”
Down in the classified section of Stark Tower which featured several laboratories, R&D departments and a private medical bay, a small group of Stark Industries' employees bustled around. A sleek-looking stealth fighter hung in mid-air, its wings folded up to fit into the hangar-like workspace.
“There she is. Ain't she a beauty? Even better than on the blueprints.”
Rubbing his palms with glee, Tony nudged an elbow into Bruce's side. “Let's go take her for a spin.” Without bothering to wait for a reply, he snapped his fingers at a nearby mechanic. “If everything's fully charged, go and get her ready.” He received a nod and graced the man with a grin and a thumbs-up. Next to him, Bruce was back to scrolling through the StarkPad in his arm. “I actually have a meeting with-”
“Meeting, schmeeting. Reschedule, because the Director said so."
When Tony's flippancy was met with a most-unimpressed glare, he tried for a softer approach and took Bruce's free hand.
"C'mon, I know you want to. Just a quick tour 'round the block.”
At Wayne's audible exhale of defeat, Tony grinned and led the way over to the launch bay. Inside the Quinjet, it smelled of faint chemicals, leather, and metal. With a hum of appreciation, Tony stepped up into the cockpit area and sunk down into one of the two pilot seats. He waited until Bruce had buckled up next to him, both examining the view out of the faceted windshield front as the jet was brought in position.
"Project Insight featured a series of Quinjets as well."
At that, Stark hummed in agreement. "Sure did. Heavier weapons capabilities, scramjet engines - you name it." Bruce eyed the wings left and right as they began to unfold and display their true wingspan. "What's different about this one?" Tony let the seat swivel into proper piloting position. "They were created to serve on the Helicarriers-" He pressed his thumb into a red protrusion to which the whine of engines filled the air.
"- but this baby here also has sublime cloaking technology on top of things."
With a pull on the controls, they were airborne. The propulsion brought them high above the clouds in no time, and while Tony assured him they were in stealth mode, Bruce had no possibility to verify that fact. Instead, he watched him take the Quinjet through multiple spirals, barrel rolls, and other basic fighter maneuvers.
“Does it live up to your expectations?”
Tony blinked several times and brushed a hand over his temple. “Oh, that. Yeah. Enough horsepower and even more firepower to get out of any hazardous situation. What's not to like.” Bruce gave a nod while he watched his fiancé describe a narrow arc and felt the aircraft's power press him into the seat. “We are still on the manufacturing schedule, aren't we?” Tony glimpsed at him. “Yeah, half a dozen, like we agreed. Why?”
“I just wonder about the reasons for that growing armada of Iron Man armors in section 79.”
Stark's goateed jaw gave a minuscule twitch but his gaze remained focused on the skies outside.
“Saw 'em, huh.”
“I thought you said you wanted to stick to your Tom Ford suits instead.”
It sounded wary. Tony clicked his tongue and leaned left to press a combination of buttons. “Which I am. Those fellas are just for... playing defense. Remote-controlled. Gonna give us more leeway if push comes to shove.” His smirk hovered on the edge of being evasive.
“Now c'mon, grab the controls. I wanna hear your opinion on maneuverability.”
It happened on the homestretch with Bruce steering the jet back onto the Tower's launch bay. Tony had fallen rather silent for the past minutes, only commenting with a smile or affirmative hums while Wayne seemed to have warmed up to the unseen technological abilities of the aircraft. He brought it to a gentle stop, letting the angle-adjustable rotors take most of the jet's weight and making it touch down with ease.
"You really outdid yourself with this, I have to admit."
Fondness lay in the Gothamite's usually unfazed voice. Chalking his sluggish feeling up to the previous, gravity-defying maneuvers, Tony grabbed both armrests to push himself up to shaky feet. “Glad you approve." He let Bruce walk ahead to catch his equilibrium and his breath, but when the Gothamite turned around to speak to him, he paused and frowned. "Are you alright? You look like you are going to be sick."
Stark tried for a smile that did not really want to come out as suave as planned. "Maybe. Dunno. Everything's a bit fuzzy 'round the edges, and-" He had to forgo talking to grab a hold of a nearby side panel, heaving deep breaths. Full-blown concern was written over Bruce's countenance.
Only his quick reflexes enabled Bruce to catch him just before Tony could collapse on the Quinjet's floor.
One of Tony's lines taken from the Age of Ultron script (2015)