Title: Of Nightmares and Safety Zones
Author: Del Rion (delrion.mail (at) gmail.com)
Fandom: Iron Man (MCU)
Timeline: post-Iron Man 3
Genre: Drama, hurt/comfort
Rating: T / FRT
Characters: Tony Stark. Mentioned: J.A.R.V.I.S., Aldrich Killian, Pepper Potts, Obadiah Stane, Tony’s bots (DUM-E and U).
Pairing: Pepper/Tony (implied)
Summary: Tony has plenty of nightmares about falling, fire, and betrayal. Luckily, he also has a couple trusty sources for less disturbing dreams.
Complete. Part of “Genius, AI & Bots” series.
Warnings: Some morbid imagery and implied (canonical) character deaths, implied canonical violence
Disclaimer: Iron Man, Avengers, and Marvel Cinematic Universe, including characters and everything else, belong to Marvel, Marvel Studios, Jon Favreau, Joss Whedon, Shane Black, 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)
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.
Of Nightmares and Safety Zones
Tony dreams of falling more often than he would like: plummeting out of the wormhole in the New York sky; his home crumbling into the waters of the Pacific Ocean below; the structure shifting and his hands unable to catch Pepper in time.
His brain is fixated on falling.
There are dreams of the suit malfunctioning mid-flight, too, both completely fictional and historically accurate – like that time Mark 2 froze. While Tony often suspects the failure during his maiden flight was more due to J.A.R.V.I.S. making a point and pretending to shut down rather than an actual catastrophic failure keeping the suit’s functions from running, he has no proof. The AI is getting good at covering his tracks.
It’s not as if Tony’s brain needs proof; there’s enough fodder to go around, be recycled, and reassembled into new bouts of nightmarish images.
The worst part is that his body remembers how it feels to fall, or the utter horror of failing to catch the love of his life or save his home from being blown to bits just because he wasn’t ready.
Even when he’s asleep, he feels the gravity – the weight of the suit immense and crippling as it drags him down. A safe cocoon turned into a coffin.
He wakes up gasping for air, still reaching out to save her even though it’s too late. Each time thinking he’ll be fast enough, reach out far enough, but he’s doomed to fail and the memory keeps repeating itself as it always does. He always watches her fall, but the dreams never include the part about her stepping out of the flames.
Not unless he’s having a dream about fire and heat, and there are a few of those to go around, too. Most of those have to do with fire and an inferno swallowing up his girlfriend – or Mark 42’s faceplate popping open like a too-ripe fruit.
To this day, Tony isn’t sure which is worse: having expected to see Killian’s face burning within, features crisp and blackened, contorted in agony, or the reality that the helmet was empty save for the flickering flames. His dreams vividly feature both options in equal measure, although the head within isn’t always Killian’s, which is too morbid to think about.
Tony may dislike a lot of people, but there are very few of them upon which he would wish such a horrible end.
People talk big about how they would like their worst enemies treated, but in his vast experience of unpleasant things, Tony isn’t so willing to bet people would actually go through with it – especially if they had to personally take part in getting it done.
Getting one’s hands dirty is almost a spiritual event, profoundly capable of having a huge impact on a person. Tony has dealt a lot of second-hand destruction – of which he wasn’t even fully aware until it stared him right in the face and blew a cloud of shrapnel into his heart.
He has taken lives wearing the armor since then, or in direct connection to being a superhero, and while one might say there’s a difference between collateral damage and making the world a better place, Tony knows he’s a changed man either way.
He’s seen Obie’s death play out in front of his eyes many a time while asleep. More so there are twisted visions of the years before the man’s betrayal, but now with a knowledgeable undertone that it had all been a lie and Tony was the one being played for a fool. Many of those dreams are colored, over-emphasized versions of real events, but there is no dismissing the message his subconscious is sending him.
Fool me once, fool me twice…
If it’s any consolation, most of the dreams he has of the bots are good – save for the few directly linked to his Malibu home being destroyed, and the bots with it.
One might assume the suits are his go-to source of happiness and security, but Tony won’t begin to list the dreams he’s had of various scenarios relating to the suits malfunctioning, being stolen or copied, or downright attacking him.
No: it is the bots that are safe. Dummy, You, and J.A.R.V.I.S. The oddball family he built and programmed – created and raised. Tony isn’t sure when it changed from the former to the latter; there’s only so much he put into the bots to begin with. The rest of it accumulated over the years from real-life experiences, and wasn’t that what Tony originally wanted?
Helper bots intuitively anticipating and knowing what he needs.
To other people, J.A.R.V.I.S.’s evolution is the most obvious – a transcendence from an interactive UI to a full-blooded artificial intelligence. Tony built him to be special, and he really is.
The bots’ worth is less obvious to outsiders, their usefulness limited to rather simple and mundane tasks. Tony has suffered many a headache as a direct result of their antics, but his responding threats have always been empty.
You don’t get rid of your family just because they mess up sometimes. Especially a family you built and nurtured to grow smarter than necessary for their intended purposes. That is something the bots have surely done, on their own as well as under Tony’s tutelage.
To most people, they still don’t look like much, but Tony isn’t most people – and the bots are his.
Also, to some degree, Tony belongs to the bots; his attention, affection and trust. He knows – from experience – that they’ll always try to protect him, and somehow they’ve always pulled through even when the odds were against them.
That isn’t why he feels safe with them – not the only reason, anyway. Much of it has to do with familiarity; he knows his bots and AI, even when they sometimes manage to surprise him. Maybe it’s a sense of ‘home’, too, because the bots have almost always been a part of his life of engineering. They have lived in his workshop for most of their lives, always there with him since he first built them.
The knowledge that he has something his brain is yet to twist into a nightmare is a comfort he can’t quite explain.
That is why he still dares to go to sleep.