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Del Rion [userpic]

Nuking the Stars; Chapter 2: Recapture

Title: Nuking the Stars
Author: Del Rion (delrion.mail (at) gmail.com)
Fandom: The Avengers & Iron Man (MCU)
Era: Post-Avengers movie, between “Sleeping It Off” and “Smashed Heart” fics.
Genre: Drama
Rating: T / FRT
Characters: Bruce Banner (Hulk), Clint Barton (Hawkeye), J.A.R.V.I.S., Pepper Potts, Steve Rogers (Captain America), Natasha Romanoff (Black Widow), Tony Stark (Iron Man), Thor (, Nick Fury, Happy Hogan)
Pairings: Pepper/Tony
Summary: With all the Avengers have been through in their short time together, flying through a portal and then falling back doesn’t seem like much – nor does it feel like much to Tony either before he realizes he might as well carve a line into the wall next to Afghanistan and the palladium poisoning. While he tries to manage yet another potential breakdown, the Avengers begin their journey to actually become a ‘team’.
Complete. Part of the “Turquoise” –series.
Warnings: Vague (or very strong) symptoms of PTSD (post-traumatic stress disorder), intended but disrupted attempts of self-harm, references to possible alcoholism, language, spoilers for The Avengers movie (and other random spoilers for the rest of the movies in the Avengers cinematic movie universe).

~ ~ ~

Chapter 2: Recapture

Stark Tower
Manhattan, New York, NY, USA

It is dark. The pressure’s changing inside the suit. The exploding inferno, quickly burning out in the lack of oxygen, still glows through his closed eyelids.

He knows he won’t explode nor will his blood boil. There’s not even a sun to get a burn from. He has never felt further from home, from life, from chances of survival.

Seconds tick by. He feels pressure in a new way, suffocating him like a fish on dry land.

He wants to open his eyes and look at something to calm himself, to make him less afraid. He wants to be serene through this, like a goddamn hero ought to be when faced with death after saving the people he loves.

Instead he wants to scream, but if there’s no air left –

“Tony! Oh my God, Tony, please, breathe!”

He came to suddenly, his mind dragging a mile behind his body. No inferno in front of him; just Pepper’s scared face and the lights in the room that had no right to be so damn bright.

“You’re okay!” Pepper hurried to say, more to reassure herself since Tony had no idea what was going on. Well, he felt like he’d been holding his breath for way too long, his body burning, limbs tingling and everything felt just a little too weird. “Just lie there and breathe. Bruce is on the way.”

Bruce? Tony blinked then tried to think of a reason why Banner was coming to their bedroom – not that he minded, not really, but that was not something he should probably tell Pepper although it probably wouldn’t surprise her.

Regardless of all the things he wanted to do he stayed still, breathing, collecting himself.

“Dr. Banner is here,” J.A.R.V.I.S. announced just before there was a quick knock and the door opening, admitting Bruce Banner into the room. The man looked like he had just gotten out of bed, glasses barely on his nose, clothes pulled on haphazardly and his hair even more unruly than usual.

“Hey Doc,” Tony smiled at him cheerfully.

Banner gave him a look. “He’s awake.”

“He just woke up,” Pepper hurried to speak, voice trembling. It reminded Tony of the night Stane tried to kill her with the Iron Monger suit. He had never wanted to make her sound like that again, least of all because of something he did. “He wasn’t breathing earlier and J.A.R.V.I.S. is the one who woke me up, actually.” She seemed most terrified of that and there were actually tears on her face. “Oh my God, I would have just slept while you died!” she gasped, looking down at Tony with a horrified expression.

“Calm down,” Banner said before Tony could piece a sentence together. “J.A.R.V.I.S.,” he then spoke towards the ceiling, “has this happened before?”

“This is the first episode of sleep apnea or anything that resembles it, Dr. Banner.”

While J.A.R.V.I.S. and Banner talked shop – how hot was that? – Tony tried to piece together the clues. Pepper still sat beside him and was trying to clean her face, probably forgetting she didn’t have make-up on that would smear when she cried.

Tony shifted, moving his hand to her thigh, just below the nightgown, getting her attention. He tried a comforting smile then pushed himself to sit up. Tony still felt winded – a sensation too close to the reality of his dream. “Banner,” he noted, “can we move this discussion outside?”

“No!” Pepper snapped. “You’ve been having nightmares for days. You drink yourself unconscious after it or hide in your lab until you’re ready to collapse. Now this! I’m done.”

“How do you think I feel?” Tony snapped, not seeing it coming before it was on his lips. Pepper looked at him with a stricken face. He wanted to take it back, he really did, but he was tired and shaking and if it had just been a surreal dream he could deal with that.

But not when it was real.

Not when it was memories that kept haunting his brain at the most inconvenient of times.

He turned on his heels and marched out, leaving Banner in the dust. “Start up the Mark 7,” he said to the empty walls as he walked a few floors down. “Let’s take it out for a spin.”

“The armor is ready for deployment,” J.A.R.V.I.S. replied.

Since there was no need to go flying out of a window tonight, Tony put the armor on the old-fashioned way. He recalled at once why he had started wearing certain types of clothes under it; too much clothing and the wrong kind of edges chafed and pained him, while too little left him exposed to the interior of the suit – which wasn’t the most comfortable sensation either. He wasn’t going back to change, however, and after the faceplate snapped down into place he remotely opened the sliding panels in the wall to let himself out.

It didn’t take long before his solitude was broken again:

“Tony, did you just fly off in a suit?!” Pepper demanded through the comm signal.

“I’m allowed to do that. And please stop screaming; you’re making my ears ring.”

“Come back, right now,” she ordered. “We’re not done talking about this.”

“I am,” Tony noted and shut down the signal since he was certain he could not just tune her out.

“Sir, Miss Potts appears to be in some sort of emotional turmoil,” J.A.R.V.I.S. piped up.

“She’ll get through it. She’s a big girl,” Tony noted. A bridge passed beneath him, the lights bright in the dark. He turned his head, gazing at it from above and the resemblance to a similar situation shot through him. Spinning around in the air he flew lower, just over the water, stopped then sped out under it, seeking the darkness for something that was no longer there.

The path to the tower looked different during the night but he could remember it, seared into his brain although he hadn’t even paid attention at the time; every building, some of them still wrapped and under construction. There had been few people on the streets then, just like there were now although New York City never truly slept…

Tony could see the tower, his name once again affixed to its side, a beacon of light above the buildings around it. He increased the power to the thrusters, mimicking the speed. “Prepare for a ninety-degree turn,” he said, seeing the HUD coming to life with calculations on how much power and coordination such a maneuver would take.

It would either work or he would go splat against the Stark Tower but he knew he could do it and when the flaps opened and extra thrusters began to work he felt his stomach jump and then drop. He wasn’t clinging to a nuclear missile this time but the pressure was the same, the hum of engines in his ears, the cool determination. The glass windows rattled as he passed them, almost within a touching distance. He kept shooting higher, past the building, into the dark night sky and he could see the stars – but not the same stars.

There was no portal, no enemy ship waiting to be destroyed.

He stopped, hovered in the air, feeling the gravity or at least pretending to.

“Shut down all systems,” he commanded and everything went dark in a split second as J.A.R.V.I.S. did his bidding.

Gravity took hold and pulled him back down. He wondered if this had been what it felt like, falling back from the portal as it closed around him, so close to trapping him to the other side. He tried to go limp, to free-fall, the ground coming closer. His eyes were better at measuring the distance these days but it was still surprising how the buildings were suddenly there and he was crashing down past them. He could make out the cars, the few random people in the night.

He could make out the white markings in the road when the armor suddenly pulsed back into life around him, jerking his hands and feet to a new position as if he were just a lifeless toy inside. The thrusters worked full-time to stop the fall that would have had him leave an Iron Man –shaped crater in the street – if the armor survived the impact, that is.

“Sir,” J.A.R.V.I.S. spoke up, “an event falling under the category of potentially life-threatening or hazardous results has occurred. I am flying the Iron Man armor back to the landing pad for disassembly.”

Which reminded him to never wear the suit if he tried to commit suicide.

Tony twitched, his body still being manhandled as J.A.R.V.I.S. made them shoot up again. In a moment of madness he found himself laughing uncontrollably for the last few seconds before the sound turned into another sob-like breath and he swallowed it as the suit landed on the launch pad with a solid thud. He knew that if he didn’t walk down, J.A.R.V.I.S. would do that for him and the thought was an uncomfortable one so he chose to stroll down, feeling tense and bruised suddenly.

Pepper and Banner were in the newly refurbished lounge – alongside Happy Hogan who had probably been summoned by Pepper like Thor did with his lightning, and who wore his ‘Pepper told me you’ve been misbehaving and now I’m here to make her feel better while you should feel like crap’ –face.

As soon as the armor was off, Pepper was at the doors, welcoming him in with a conflicted face. On the one hand she looked like she might kiss him and on the other her fists were tensed and maybe she wanted to slap him instead. Or punch. She was probably more the punching type.

“Are you insane?” she finally asked in a barely contained scream. Where had he heard that before? Right: Monaco. “The entire building was shaking when you flew by it! Do you have any idea how dangerous that looked?”

Clearly she had missed his near speed-date with the road below – something to be thankful for – and Tony tried to look guilty. Only, he was still kind of upset and should go check on J.A.R.V.I.S.’s programming after the stunt the AI pulled tonight. Of course he was meant to look after Tony; his well-being was J.A.R.V.I.S.’s main concern so perhaps his earlier indulgence of a moment he didn’t even remember had been a bit far-gone on the field of self-preservation…

“Are you even listening to what I’m saying?” Pepper screamed then.

“Yes,” he lied.

“No, you’re not,” she deflated slightly, pulling back, face incredibly hurt. “I don’t know how to do this, Tony. There’s no manual for this, no guidebook on ‘How To Fix My Emotionally Damaged Super-hero Boyfriend’. I’m tired of you pushing me away and then asking me to come back in the next moment. I’m tired of you drinking away your problems after all these years when you know it’s not going to accomplish a damn thing! I’m tired of you not trusting people when they want to help you, refusing to let them in, or even admitting that there is a problem.”

“I’m working on it,” was the only thing Tony could say. Drinking had been his number one solution and it hadn’t accomplished much. Working was another outlet; it always made him calm and centered. Maybe he needed to do more of that since the scene outside had proved he might not be as over their most recent battle as he liked to think.

“Tony,” Banner started, stepping forward.

For an instant Tony thought maybe the man knew what he had been doing – imagining he was doing – outside, but then recalled that his fellow scientist probably had an even hazier memory of the battle and his fall than he did.

“You know the problem isn’t going to fix itself, right?” Banner finally decided on his approach.

“You would know all about that,” Tony snapped although not as bitingly as he could have because Banner was a good man and Tony liked him. “I’ll go to the lab, work on the problem, and I’d appreciate you leaving me alone while I’m doing that.”

Pepper let out a loud sigh and sagged down to sit on a couch. Happy slid down beside her, quiet but not failing to give Tony a dark look. He would take care of Pepper and Banner would take care of himself, which meant Tony could slink down and disappear into the depths of his workshop until such a time that he felt comfortable coming out again.

J.A.R.V.I.S. lit the lights when he walked in, closing and locking the doors and switching on screens and holographic projections all around him. Tony stood there for a moment, staring at nothing in particular, recalling the ground rushing up to meet him as he fell, armor whipped by wind he couldn’t feel on his skin.

“J.A.R.V.I.S.,” he spoke up.

“Yes, sir?” the AI responded at once, sounding as calm and collected as always.

“Thank you,” Tony said, voice lower but he knew that as long as he was making a sound or even moving his lips, J.A.R.V.I.S. would know what he wanted to say. “For saving my life,” he then added – more to himself than for the AI’s sake; he had a feeling J.A.R.V.I.S. would know what he meant even if he didn’t specify.

“It was my pleasure, sir,” was all the reply he got although Tony was certain there was so much more on J.A.R.V.I.S.’s virtual tongue. He wondered if he would discover more about that if he looked at J.A.R.V.I.S.’s program development but he didn’t feel inspired to do that. Instead he pulled up some new armor specs and sat down, still half-clothed but the temperature in the workshop was pleasant and soon enough he wasn’t thinking of the dreams, dying in space or the fall anymore, instead focused on the project at hand.

to be continued…

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