Author: Del Rion (delrion.mail (at) gmail.com)
Fandom: Iron Man (MCU)
Timeline: takes place after “Thor: The Dark World”
Genre: Suspense, hurt/comfort
Rating: T / FRT
Characters: J.A.R.V.I.S., James “Rhodey” Rhodes (War Machine), Tony Stark (Iron Man)
Summary: While testing a deep-sea suit, Tony runs into a thing with big teeth and an appetite for armored heroes.
Written for: My card on Hurt/Comfort Bingo’s (hc_bingo) round 4 (square: bites)
Warnings: Injury & danger (underwater), language, implied PTSD. Minor spoilers for ‘Thor: The Dark World’.
Disclaimer: Iron Man, Avengers and Marvel Cinematic Universe, including characters and everything else, belong to Marvel, Marvel Studios, Jon Favreau, Joss Whedon, Shane Black, Kenneth Branagh, Alan Taylor, Paramount Pictures 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 Bite-Sized: This is the one where Rhodey isn’t really being helpful – and where Tony can most likely blame it all on Thor.
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.
The ocean was a fairly good counterpoint to the space that spread beyond Earth’s atmosphere: dark and inhospitable.
Still, Tony was all for conquering his fears – or at least learning to manage them – and a suit capable of deep-sea exploration and rescue was an essential part of the new armory he was building. Testing it was a necessary part of development even when large bodies of water still gave him palpitations and he expected concrete and steel to fall on top of him and trap him against the seabed…
Mark 37 aka Hammerhead had been good enough for the job although it had lacked in maneuverability. At the crushing depths of the deep ocean, however, clumsiness was a necessary evil when protecting against the sheer pressure of water. Tony was fond of streamlining things, though, and doing something no one had been capable of before.
It just took some tinkering – and field testing, hence the fact that Tony was slowly moving further and further down into the darkness in the new suit. Technically, he could have had J.A.R.V.I.S. do all the testing he needed at this point, but even with just him and the AI present it would have felt like a coward’s choice if Tony had stayed on the ship which now floated several miles above him at the surface.
Thinking about the distance between him and the surface didn’t make Tony feel any better. He was long past the mesopelagic zone and if not for the radar showing him what lay in the darkness, Tony might have gone mad; even in space there was the sun and the stars in the distance, but here…
Well, there were some fish that had already given him a few extra palpitations as they swam by, their bioluminescence making them look like ghosts slinking in and out of darkness. Ugly fish, too – the true stuff of nightmares. At least they were rather small or Tony might have been tempted to blast them in their hideous faces.
“You are getting agitated again, sir,” J.A.R.V.I.S. noted coolly. “Shall we call it a night?”
“Is it that late already?” Tony blinked. He knew it had to be because he was descending slowly to make sure the suit could handle the pressure – and that the oxygen absorption systems could keep up. However, the more nervous he got the more oxygen he used, and a result the suit would have a harder time compensating. At least at this depth it was very unlikely he would ever get into a real combat situation, which meant he had time to work on the kinks of that particular function.
“It is almost 2 AM, sir,” the AI said helpfully although Tony could have just summoned that information to the HUD if he chose to. He was far too fixated on trying to see something in the darkness around him, whether it was real, imagined or a dot on the radar… It occurred to him he really would go insane if he continued for much longer.
“Keep going,” Tony decided.
Another fish swam past him, slowly, as if it were having a particularly bad day. Of course at this depth fish and other creatures didn’t swim around frantically looking for food, instead waiting for it to come to them.
Again, it was a good thing they were so small – plus Tony’s metal suit probably looked rather unappetizing to them.
He tried humming for a moment, some random tune he couldn’t pinpoint, but that just made him feel more edgy since there were no sounds coming from around him. The silence was similar to space, what little he remembered of it from his first visit before he lost consciousness.
His pulse was picking up again and he suddenly realized that if he got too upset with the comparisons of two places he really didn’t like, Extremis might start heating things up and the suit was most certainly not designed for that.
J.A.R.V.I.S. didn’t remind him about it, though, and Tony focused on keeping his cool. He switched between radar and infrared, the HUD lighting up, and he could see numerous things moving around, from warmer and cooler areas of water to the fish and other creatures floating around.
It was beautiful in a way…
A warning sign appeared at the corner of his eye. “What’s up?” Tony asked.
“Something is approaching you from below, sir.”
“Something?” Tony frowned. He moved around a little, the thrusters helping him turn. For now he could not see anything alarming on the screen save for a cloud of warmer water rising from what could be a faraway hydrothermal vent. Only, there were none of those this far north, now that Tony thought about it, yet he could still see a shape of something moving.
Seeing as the ‘something’ was coming from below, Tony knew it had to be a glitch in the sensors because even sperm whales didn’t come to these depths and giant squids were not quite as large as the heat print he was getting.
It kept rising rapidly, though, and Tony grew tired of the darkness, twitching his fingers and triggering the spotlights mounted on the armor, illuminating the water around him with brightness that was almost painful.
For a moment Tony squinted, retinas burning – then the proximity alert intensified and he looked down just long enough to see a shape moving up so fast it was almost a blur. All Tony had time to do, before the thing reached him, was to flail in an attempted to get into a better position should he need to use the repulsors. For a second it looked like the thing would crash right into him, but then it dodged and something solid bumped at his legs, sending him spinning.
Tony forced himself out of the dizzying rotation, thrusters leveling him out. He would have completely lost his sense of direction if not for the indicators on the HUD, but nonetheless he froze, skin sweaty, breaths coming fast. “What was that?” he asked out loud, trying to spot the thing again. It wasn’t a squid and it was too small for a whale – yet it most definitely wasn’t a shark either because Tony was rather familiar with those after having lived on the west coast for years and enjoyed surfing around the world.
“I do not know, sir, but I think it is coming back,” J.A.R.V.I.S. said hurriedly.
“You think?!” Tony snapped and tried to swim around, the basic animal instinct tricking him to not trust the screen to tell him where the thing was coming from next. The lights illuminated the darkness yet it felt like he was left in a ball of light with crushing darkness all around him.
A bright target painted on a black three-dimensional canvas…
“Shit,” Tony swore and switched off the lights. For an instant it felt like he had gone blind before his eyes adjusted to the HUD’s information again – which provided him the upsetting information that the thing was still coming at him. He hurried to the right in order to face it, this time expecting it from above, and he felt the faint tremble of the repulsor travel through his hand as he prepared to give it a warning shot.
In the darkness he missed his chance to fire: he saw something like a gleam of teeth just before he felt the impact, his brain barely able to register the HUD’s messages with the speed of the approach, and once again he spun wildly from the impact, sensing vertigo although he was virtually weightless in the water.
“Sir,” the AI warned.
Tony gasped, tried to read the HUD to keep up with the attack – which may have not been an attack at all since the thing was just forcefully brushing against him – but the whole big fish eat the little fish thing made him feel he was in a desperate need of a better defense plan.
Before J.A.R.V.I.S. could elaborate or Tony actually saw the thing coming, pain tore through his right calf, metal pressing into his skin.
“Sir, hull pressurization is failing,” J.A.R.V.I.S. stated urgently. The HUD flashed red.
Tony fired blindly at what he suspected to be the source of the pain while shouting to his AI: “Block the leak and isolate it!” He was feeling hot under the collar, literally, from the pain, and then whatever was still holding onto him shook him, like a ragdoll, making the pain in his leg worsen even as the suit attempted to block the leak and return the growing pressure to acceptable limits.
Tony decided, not for the first time, that he wasn’t going to die like this, and instead of struggling he bowed down, grabbed onto whatever still had a hold of his leg and fired.
The pressure released and Tony did not wait to shoot away from it, working the thrusters extra hard, arching up towards the surface that loomed too far up ahead to see…
“Is it following?” Tony asked, feeling breathless. The suit was holding up but Tony could not feel his right leg below the knee; the suit dug into his flesh and bone, numbing the pain.
“I cannot detect it. Sir, just hold on for a little longer.”
Tony knew J.A.R.V.I.S. didn’t mean it as a reassurance against the frantic beat of his heart or the fear-induced adrenaline rush; it was a warning that the AI knew Tony was very close to going a little too hot on the inside and if he did, he would be left at the mercy of the ocean trapped inside a broken metal can.
He wasn’t going to die like that either, so Tony closed his eyes and allowed the suit to guide him up as quickly and safely as possible. Extremis could compensate for some of the safety features at this point.
Tony kept dreading for the next bump against him from below, but the thing that had attacked him didn’t follow. It was possible it couldn’t survive above the depths Tony had just visited.
When he finally popped into the surface, flying straight out of the water, Tony felt immense relief. J.A.R.V.I.S. lowered the repulsor output soon after, guiding the suit down towards Tony’s boat. Once the suit landed, Tony promptly dropped to his hands and knees, just breathing for a moment.
“Shall I take us back to shore, sir?” J.A.R.V.I.S. asked.
“Yeah,” Tony nodded. “I think the tests are over for now.”
“Should I inform someone of your injury?”
Tony frowned and slowly turned, for the first time properly taking a look at his leg. The metal was wrecked up at his knee where the AI must have forced the suit to separate the damaged part. And the damage… well, there were no teeth sticking out of the ruined metal but Tony could easily make out the indentations that went all the way down to the flesh of his leg by the feel of it.
“Let’s pry this open and then decide whom we’re going to call,” Tony decided with a cringe. He never looked forward to this part of any mission but at least he was alive – yet again – and Extremis was already ensuring he didn’t bleed to death.
Manhattan, New York City
“It couldn’t have been a shark at that depth,” Rhodey said.
Tony rolled his eyes. “I think I led with that.”
“Nothing else has teeth like that,” the other man went on stubbornly as if that argument somehow matched his first.
They had been looking at the very same tooth-marks for the last fifteen minutes and so far, they had managed to rule out every sea creature that they knew about.
Tony sighed. “It’s so unjust. When testing a deep-sea suit one expects to worry about the oxygen levels, pressurization – and in my case an unhealthy dose of anxiety that accompanies dark depths. I wasn’t at all prepared to fend off a sea monster.”
Rhodey gave him a look. “First of all, you should see someone about your anxiety issues. Secondly, there are no sea monsters.”
“The marks,” Tony pointed at the suit that hung from the ceiling of his shop.
Rhodey looked at the marks which could not be mistaken for anything but what they were: huge and deadly. If not for the suit, Tony would have been dead meat floating down to the ocean floor, to be consumed by the invertebrates that lived there…
Instead of that grim option, Tony carried still-healing marks on his right calf to match those on the mangled suit. It was a pity that most of the footage the suit had recorded underwater could not be used to identify the creature the way Tony desire. Perhaps the marine life experts would like to give it a go.
Rhodey frowned and circled the suit, taking a look at it from all angles. “Nares Deep is at the top corner of Bermuda Triangle, right?” he finally stated.
“Maybe,” Tony frowned.
“The Colonel is correct,” J.A.R.V.I.S. confirmed.
“I would have thought you didn’t believe in that stuff,” Tony grinned at his friend.
“I don’t,” Rhodey let out a snort of light distaste, “but you heard of what took place in London, right?”
“Right,” Tony agreed and frowned. “How is that connected?”
“Maybe it isn’t, but there were a few briefings I attended after the London thing – because I’m War Machine and that means you should have been there, too, by the way,” he gave Tony the evil eye. “They said things may have come through from other worlds or something, so perhaps what you clashed with was just one of those things.”
“Because Nares Deep is right there with Bermuda Triangle and that equals sea monsters from other worlds,” Tony connected the dots. It was insane. Then again, he had battled aliens just some months ago, so… “Well, in that case Thor can deal with this because the word around the block says he’s back.”
“He’s able to breathe underwater?” Rhodey raised an eyebrow with a big fucking know-it-all look all over his face.
“Don’t think so,” Tony shrugged.
“No one but you can go that deep with equipment that could catch something of that size,” Rhodey said. “You need to fix the suit and get back down there.”
There were days when Tony regretted telling the world that he was Iron Man. This was definitely one of them.
That didn’t mean he wouldn’t don the suit and get the job done, but he would have preferred it if he didn’t have to. Maybe if he asked nicely, Rhodey would do it for him – or J.A.R.V.I.S.