Author: Del Rion (delrion.mail (at) gmail.com)
Fandom: Iron Man 3 (MCU)
Rating: T / FRT
Characters: Aldrich Killian, Pepper Potts, Tony Stark (Iron Man). (Mentioned: Maya Hansen, James “Rhodey” Rhodes (War Machine).)
Summary: While Tony is tinkering with Extremis in order to fix Pepper, everything is not okay between them.
Warnings: Violence, nightmares, attempted murder (in a rather roundabout way).
Disclaimer: Iron Man, Avengers and Marvel Cinematic Universe, including characters and everything else, belong to Marvel, Marvel Studios, Shane Black and Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures. In short: I own nothing; this is pure fiction, created to entertain likeminded fans, for no profit whatsoever
Beta: Mythra (mythras_fire)
About Embers: My first actual foray into the world of Iron Man 3.
This was originally supposed to be something quite different, but I’m happy with the result.
Story and status: Below you see the writing process of the story. If there is no text after the title, then it is finished and checked. Possible updates shall be marked after the title.
It had been a few weeks since the events in Miami. Things had calmed down, and there was a sort of routine to their lives: Tony was working on Extremis, and fixing Pepper, while Pepper took more time off work than ever in her life, for fear of setting something on fire.
Tony had told her it wouldn’t happen just like that, but after she did end up setting their bed on fire in the aftermath of a nightmare, he guessed she had a point.
So, Tony worked, and Pepper worried. They were staying in L.A. because Tony still hadn’t decided whether he wanted to rebuild his house in Malibu, and he wasn’t going back to that place on the East Coast that still made his heart pump twice as hard, his skin grow clammy and his breaths grow strained in his chest.
Tony liked to think he was between homes, and that was the least of his everyday problems. He was trying to fix Pepper, but he still couldn’t sleep properly – not that Pepper was any luckier when it came to a night of uninterrupted sleep, and that left both their tempers clashing more than they otherwise would have.
He kept his promise, though: Tony didn’t create distractions. He didn’t work on the suits – not even Rhodey’s, although his friend had hinted that in the aftermath of the whole AIM mess, War Machine was making a hasty return to replace Iron Patriot. He hadn’t started any real work on DUM-E and U, either, although both bots had been salvaged and Tony kept slowly fixing them up in between bursts of work.
Even he needed some down-time.
Their current house was isolated, owned by Stark Industries, and Tony absolutely did not feel at home there. He wished he could install J.A.R.V.I.S., for some familiarity, but it would have taken time – time which was better spent trying to deal with Extremis, and Tony didn’t want to give Pepper more things to agonize over. His AI could wait. Everything could wait until Pepper was better, and then… Then Tony would have to figure out what he wanted to do next.
After the burning-down-the-bedroom incident, Pepper had resolutely split them up for any foreseeable nights. Not that it kept Tony from wandering into her bedroom every once in a while, and sometimes she would even let him lie down for a moment. Mostly, though, they slept in different parts of the strange house, tossing and turning, sweating from nightmares and hoping for a reason to get up. Well, Tony had reasons more often than not, and he exploited those reasons, too.
It was one of those nights when it may have been better to be awake, but Tony had managed to catch a few hours of uninterrupted, peacefully blank sleep. He guessed such a blessing should have been considered as a bad omen, but he had been up for several days already and needed all the shut-eye he could get.
That’s why he stirred slowly, to the faint smell of smoke and crashing sounds. Once his brain registered them, he jumped and struggled to free himself from the sheets – but it was too late: a shape moved in his vicinity, and before he could react to it, a hand was around his throat and his body shoved back into the mattress.
For a second, he hoped Pepper was having another episode.
It wasn’t Pepper. He could hear Pepper, further away, although the sounds themselves were not familiar: she was fighting. It was not something he should expect, but he had seen Pepper hand Killian his own ass in Miami –
Killian, who was staring down at him, grip tightening on Tony’s throat as if it had missed this depraved intimacy in the afterlife.
Tony considered, for a moment, that he was still asleep, but then his brain kicked in. Had he really dared to hope that after all Killian had survived, he would have died in a simple explosion? Sure, he had hoped. There had been no sign of him after Pepper was done with him, but clearly that hadn’t meant a thing and the knowing look in the other man’s eye informed Tony that Killian knew something he did not. Or, something Tony had yet to admit to himself.
“Where are your suits now, Tony?” Aldrich Killian asked, voice smooth, head cocked dramatically.
Tony couldn’t have answered even if he’d wanted to, the hand still on his throat cutting off any movement from inhalation to a swallow. There were no suits. He had blown them up, for Pepper; to minimize the distractions, to offer her a clean slate… He should have known that would come back to bite him in the ass. Without J.A.R.V.I.S., he had no idea if anyone would know what was happening, until it was too late. And even if his AI was operational in the house, whom was he going to call? Rhodey wouldn’t be a match for these people – because Killian wasn’t alone, judged by the increasing sounds of fighting outside Tony’s bedroom.
“I made her perfect after all,” Killian went on, and Tony’s vision was starting to fill with dark spots. The other man must have noticed his lack of responses because he let up, allowing Tony to cough and breathe raggedly.
“Not perfect enough; I’m still cleaning up after you,” Tony managed after a brief struggle to straighten his thoughts.
Killian offered him a smile, and the hand was back, although it gripped Tony’s jaw now, bruising. Killian could break his jaw and not break a sweat, Tony knew that, and he would rather not have that happen. “I did hand you the gift of desperation, didn’t I? In order to make sure she’s safe, you’ll perfect Maya Hansen’s work –”
“And then I’m going to find a way to kill you with it,” Tony promised, despite himself. “For good, this time.”
The fingers on his jaw tightened painfully, and he felt the inhuman heat begin to simmer beneath the skin of Killian’s hand. “You think you have the upper hand here?” the other man hissed. The heat was getting uncomfortable, bordering on pain, and Tony desperately lashed out with his hands, to dislodge the hold. Killian batted his hands away with an annoyed look, then shifted his body and pressed a knee against Tony’s stomach. “I’m starting to think you enjoy this,” Killian noted.
“Thinking of zip-tying me to the bed-frame again? Real original,” Tony managed. He could smell burnt hair for a moment, then the grip shifted again, back to his throat. Between that and the knee pressing into his stomach, he was caught.
“You think you finished something in Florida,” Killian taunted him. “You didn’t. You simply made yourself vulnerable to anyone who would want to exploit you.”
“Is this the new version of AIM’s recruitment speech?” Tony asked, words coming out as a wheeze – then he jumped slightly as the wall beside them appeared to explode and two women came crashing through it. One of them Tony wasn’t sure he had seen before, at least up close, but Pepper’s form was familiar, even when aglow with orange light beneath her skin.
Killian didn’t budge, but his fingers tightened around Tony’s throat, completely cutting off the air. On the other side of the room, the women grappled, tossing each other around and breaking furniture as if they were made of matchsticks. It was painfully obvious Tony was the weakest person in the room, but that had never stopped him before. He tried reaching for Killian again, to find a weak spot – not something that would actually kill, because that was improbable and impossible and a waste of his limited time, but something that he could use to injure, and which Killian’s body would reflexively try to protect. He went for the eyes as a logical choice, but just as fast he felt a burn around his throat.
“Tsk tsk,” Killian said as Tony’s world dissolved into a sensation of burning skin, and he couldn’t hold back a roar of pain.
“Tony!” Pepper shouted, and something got punched through another wall.
Tony couldn’t see anything between the pain and tears, the whole room swimming and fading in and out.
“Tony,” a whisper in his ear – followed by a sob.
He blinked his eyes open and felt like someone had tossed hot water all over him: it sufficiently woke him up, but also increased the burning sensation on his neck. Not knowing what was real, he reached up – only to have Pepper grasp his hand and keep him from finishing the motion.
“Don’t,” she said, voice shaky. “We need to… I burned you,” Pepper finally stated, and Tony frowned, because it didn’t make any sense. “I was dreaming, and the next thing I know, I’m… Oh god,” she gasped and moved away, to the far edge of the bed, and Tony wondered how she figured that was better than actually remaining next to him, being supportive.
Tony looked around. The room was whole. There was no one else there. No Killian. His neck radiated with pain, however, and he finally peeled himself off the mattress, stumbling to the bathroom. He heard Pepper follow, her breaths anguished; she was close to tears, and Tony wanted to comfort her, only he knew she wouldn’t allow that right now.
The bathroom light was painfully bright. Tony looked at himself and saw a perfectly hand-shaped mark wrapping around his neck. He stared for a moment, remembering what had to be a nightmare on his part, then reached out for a towel, placed it under the tap and ran cold water over it before pressing the wet towel to his neck. The pain receded slowly, and he looked at Pepper who was hovering in the doorway, eyes red and haunted.
“We were both dreaming,” Tony said. “It’s okay.”
She didn’t respond.
“Pep. Pepper,” Tony tried again. “You were dreaming –”
“I felt you struggle,” she whispered. “So I squeezed harder. I don’t know why. I think I knew it was you, all the time, but I just… couldn’t stop.” She turned her face away from him, a curtain of hair falling between them.
Tony wasn’t sure what to say. He removed the towel, looking at the red hand-shaped mark again, and wondered if there was something he could do to fix this – save for figuring out the ins and outs of Extremis and helping Pepper, once and for all. Until then, this was going to keep happening.