Title: Dark Hours
Author: Del Rion (delrion.mail (at) gmail.com)
Fandom: Iron Man (MCU)
Timeline: Iron Man 3 & post-Iron Man 3
Genre: Angst, drama, hurt/comfort
Rating: T / FRT
Characters: J.A.R.V.I.S., Pepper Potts, Tony Stark (Iron Man)
Pairing: Pepper/Tony (implied)
Summary: When their home crashes into the ocean in a blaze of fire and ruin, Pepper hopes for a sign but fears the worst. A month later, once it’s all over, Pepper has a conversation with J.A.R.V.I.S. to get some things off her chest.
Complete. Part of “Genius, AI & Bots” series.
Written for: StarksViolet (FFnet)
Warnings: Implied canon-typical violence & danger.
Disclaimer: Iron Man and Marvel Cinematic Universe, including characters and everything else, belong to Marvel, Marvel Studios, Jon Favreau, 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.
Dust is still heavy in the air, clogging up her nose. Her head hurts, and the flashing lights in the darkening evening sky aren’t lessening the pain she’s in. There are bruises all over her body – most of which are yet to make themselves known, she’s sure.
Yet the bruises, the smoke in her lungs, the throbbing inside her skull, or the ache in her eyes don’t matter.
The house is gone.
She’d go over to the edge again if the emergency response officers would let her, to gaze down at the water and hope against all hope that something would float to the surface to give her a sign that Tony’s okay. The suit went back for him, flying into the house before it started to collapse. It should have had enough time to reach him – and it must have, because Tony had fought back.
That’s why the chopper crashed into the house, dragging it down the cliff and into the water.
Tony’s suits can take more than a crashing helicopter. She’s seen it, in person and on screens, the awful punishment Tony’s creations can take.
For what seems like the umpteenth time, Pepper reaches into her pocket. The phone she grasps has seen better days, but is still operational. Accessing the familiar logo on the screen, she tries to connect with J.A.R.V.I.S., but like each time before, there is no response. She’d hoped it would be a temporary glitch due to the damage to the servers inside the destroyed building, but the AI remains unresponsive.
It doesn’t mean anything, she tells herself. J.A.R.V.I.S. and Tony may be connected to the hip in every way possible, but one’s silence doesn’t mean they are both offline…
Just because they argued and Tony is fully to blame for all this, it doesn’t mean she won’t be happy when she sees him again. There may even be tears, although she’s had way too much practice bracing herself whenever he pulls one of his stunts, defying death and all the odds going against him.
He’ll be fine…
She turns to look at one of the many firefighters digging through the rubble, putting out small fires and testing for structural damage in the remaining sections of the building.
He keeps looking at her, and Pepper blinks, wondering what he wants. Then he gesticulates with his hands, and Pepper’s gaze drops to what he’s holding out towards her: a helmet. It’s smoke-stained – damage from the fire – and has a deep gash running vertically across the faceplate.
“He wasn’t wearing this,” she says even as she accepts it.
The firefighter responds to her words with a nod and leaves her alone.
Pepper tells herself she’s certain – that she can tell the suit designs apart – but a part of her fears that’s not true. She turns the helmet around in her hands, dreading, but there are no blood stains.
Pepper holds onto the helmet, recommencing her silent prayers.
Tony has to be alive. There’s no way it’s going to end like this.
She adjusts the helmet to rest under one arm and tries contacting J.A.R.V.I.S. again, but just like before, there is no response.
SI factory, Long Beach, California
Tony’s fallen asleep in his temporary workshop again. He’s been putting a lot of work into the bots and a few random Stark Industries R&D projects that needed his immediate attention, and his sleep has been troubled and unfulfilling. Wherever he manages to fall asleep, Pepper tends to let him rest for as long as he can.
Fetching a blanket she knows from experience is stashed on one of the shelves, she works to carefully place it over Tony’s shoulders after making sure none of the tools spread around him are left on to ignite the beginnings of a fire hazard.
“J.A.R.V.I.S.,” she calls out softly.
“Yes, Miss Potts?” the AI replies promptly, volume low to keep from disturbing Tony, no doubt.
“Are there any other tools turned on that I should look for?”
“All are taken care of, Miss Potts.”
She smiles. “Thank you.”
With the blanket in place, she moves across the workshop, appearing to look at Tony’s work but not really paying attention to any of it.
“Is there something on your mind?” J.A.R.V.I.S. asks, ever so perceptive these days.
“I’ve been wanting to talk to you, now that things have calmed down…”
“Of course,” the AI acquiesces.
Pepper shifts to lean her hip against a work table that has the latest of Tony’s suit designs spread across it: bits and pieces of circuitry, papers with drawings and several specialized tablets along with an array of tools. He’s building another one – of course he is – but the pace he’s going at isn’t as hectic as it used to be after the events in New York.
It’s not as if she expected him to never build another suit; he promised to cut down the distractions, not quit entirely. He’s been keeping his word, and she knows not to hope for more. “If he never built another suit, I wouldn’t have to worry about this happening all over again,” she muses out loud.
It’s not as if she can feel J.A.R.V.I.S.’s presence, exactly, but she knows the AI is there. Not in the same capacity as he was at the house, but still watching over Tony and assisting him with whatever he needs. Including the building process of the new Iron Man armor.
“I fear it is not that simple,” J.A.R.V.I.S. states the obvious. She knows it, but she likes to pretend she could just wipe it all away if there’s never going to be another suit.
“I tried contacting you for hours after the house collapsed,” Pepper tells the AI. “I was terrified that something had gone horribly wrong – that the suit didn’t get to him – and that they would dig his body out of the rubble…”
“Mr. Stark is working to ensure that it won’t happen again in the future.” Whether J.A.R.V.I.S. means the AI’s temporary offline status or his creator’s struggle not to end up dead, she doesn’t know. It is entirely possible it’s a bit of both.
“They found one of the helmets. I kept holding onto it, looking at the gash on its mask, imagining that if he went into the water with the suit, even a small tear would drown him before he could…” She swallows. “Were you with him?”
“Indeed,” J.A.R.V.I.S. says. “While I did have some difficulties functioning when Mark 42 lost power, I was still operational when I pulled him free from the wreckage and followed the pre-configured flight plan…” The AI sounds almost embarrassed. “I took him to Tennessee. There were disruptions, and that had been the plan before the attack; he was unconscious until the armor began to lose power, and then it was too late to ask for input.”
Pepper hasn’t heard this side of the story before. “You pulled him free?”
“Yes. He was trapped beneath the house’s structures, the armor was taking in water, and I made a choice to safeguard his life.” It sounds so mundane, like that is something J.A.R.V.I.S. does every day. Perhaps he does: who knows what really goes on when Tony is out there in one of his suits, just his AI for company?
“Thank you for saving him,” Pepper says.
“My pleasure, Miss Potts – even though it is part of my programming –”
“I know you go above and beyond your programming, every single day, to make his life more bearable,” Pepper states.
J.A.R.V.I.S. doesn’t disagree or offer a contradiction. “Mr. Stark created me,” is all he says.
“He did, but I know a thing or two about his work on artificial intelligence. What you have grown to be is all you.”
“Thank you,” J.A.R.V.I.S. says in return.
Pepper nods and takes her leave, giving Tony’s slumbering figure one last look. She knows he’s well looked after as he is, but unfortunately that’s not enough to spare her the concern and fear she’s bound to face in the future.
All she can do is hope for the best and trust in Tony’s resilience – and his AI’s efforts to bring him home each and every time.