"Just close your eyes, the sun is going down.
You'll be alright; noone can hurt you now.
Come morning light, you and I will be,
safe and sound."
'Safe and Sound' - Taylor Swift feat. The Civil Wars
His eyes peel open, vision blurry with sleep.
The gears crank to life in his head, working to figure out what woke him up. He's confused for a moment until he hears it again and his mind catches up. It's a whimper. A heart-wrenching, terrified whimper that isn't coming from him - although he was still prone to anxiety attacks - but he knows who it is coming from and he sighs softly. He hates this. He hates that she had to endure torture because of him. He hates that she has nightmares and he hates that most nights he's helpless to stop them. She twists and writhes in the sheets, sobbing his name in a pained desperation. She had sobbed for him to save her, to make it stop but he wasn't there.
It's night like these, when the tears blur his vision and his heart snaps in half, that Tony Stark wishes he could go back and change things. He wishes he could have gotten to her sooner but there was no way. He couldn't. All he could do was help Pepper through it and wait for morning to come. He carefully rolls over and sits up. He knew he wasn't supposed to touch her when she was in the middle of a nightmare - he didn't know how many times he had been warned against touching her - but right now, when she needs him, when she's desperate for him, he doesn't give a damn about those warnings. He reaches over and lays a gentle hand on her back. She's tense like piano wire, pulled taut and straining, ready to snap at any moment. Without a second thought, he scoops her into his arms, careful of her thrashing limbs and eases her against his chest, cradling her in a manner similar to the way a father might cradle his newborn daughter.
She tries to wrench out of his grasp but he holds firm, keeping her tucked against his chest until she realizes where she is. Pepper Potts is a stubborn woman, something he knows from experience, and these nightmares keep a pretty strong hold on her. Her subconscious is relentless, torturing her with images of her agonizing ordeal; of everything she had gone through with Killian. Of twisted smirks and latent imaginings. She fights them hard but it doesn't do anything to stop them from coming back.
God, he really did not want to do this. Not to her. Not like this. He doesn't have a choice, though and he knows it. She's trapped somewhere, deep in the dark visciousness of her own imagination and is fighting like hell to get out. He's all to aware of how much his own nightmares could have hurt her and he refuses to let her be hurt by her own mind. It's painful and heart-breaking, that place. That cold darkness that seems to have no outlet, no escape. It's just you and the twisted images of your subconscious. He can only imagine what it's like for her after her ordeal with Aldrich Killian.
There's no way out of this.
For either of them.
"It's almost over, baby," He whispers, hoping like hell it's true. Tears pour in hot, salty floods but he could care less. He just wants this to end so he doesn't have to restrain her anymore. It hurts. Damn it, it hurt him to do this to her, to his Pepper.
"Tony!" Her sobs are desperate and heart-wrenching, "Tony, please, make it stop!"
"I'm trying, baby, I promise." Tony whispers, still stroking her hair. "It's almost over, baby. It's almost over."
"Please, help me, Tony." Pepper whimpers softly, her body finally giving into exhaustion."Help me, Tony. Make it stop."
"It's okay, baby. It's over." He kisses her head repeatedly, "It's over, baby. Wake up now, it's alright."
Her eyes peel open, swollen and red from crying in her sleep and she seems to finally register where she is. Her body goes limp and she relaxes into his grasp, quietly crying into his shoulder. It's over. Finally. His shoulders shake and tears pour into her hair as he cries in relief. It seems like hours had gone by but a quick glance at the clock tells him that it's only been ten minutes since the beginning of this whole ordeal.
"Tony?" Her voice is hoarse and slightly croaky, thick with tears and panic.
"I'm right here, Sweetheart." His hand moves up and down spine soothingly, almost hypnotically. "I'm right here."
"Shh." He shushes her, using his other hand to brush her hair away from her face, tucking the damp strands behind her ear. "No apologies, baby. You couldn't help it."
"I don't want to be like this." Pepper cries softly, clutching him like a lifeline.
"I know you don't, sweetheart." Tony murmurs tenderly, "It's over now. He can't hurt you anymore. I'm right here."
He rocks her gently, rubbing her back and kissing her head in an effort to calm her down. He isn't used to this. He isn't used to seeing Pepper Potts, usually a strong, independent woman, reduced to the likes of a scared child because of her own mind. She's scared and crying; trembling even in the comforting warmth of his arms. He continues his gentle rocking motion and slips his hand under her shirt, tracing random patterns on her back. Her trembling stops, her breathing starts to even out and her grip on his shirt eases slightly, her knuckles flushing red as opposed to the shocking white they had been.
Even now, as she sleeps in his arms, he'll be awake for hours just like always. He never sleeps after one of these episodes. He replays the events of the last month in his head over and over again, with each new nightmare. She's safe and sound in his arms; safer than she had been in months, even since New York but he still can't help but think about the 'what ifs'. He tries not to think about what would have happened if he hadn't of been able to save her. He tries not to think about how she would have been forced to endure the effects of Extremis until Killian decided to use her as a human bomb.
Those thoughts, those what-if situations make him all the more glad that he was able to save her.
What makes him happiest?
Daybreak. When she'll wake up safe and sound in his arms because it will remind him that he still has her. She is still with him. She survived Extremis and Killian and the craziness of the last few months. It'll remind him of the battle they won; of the hard fight that's over. And he'll fall in love with her all over again, even if he doesn't think it's possible, he will because there is nothing that makes him happier than holding Pepper Potts in his arms.
Aldrich Killian had most definitely lost.
So I know Pepper might seem a little OC and so does Tony for that matter but you have to understand that nightmares can do unbelievable things to people. Believe me. Sleep, for that matter, can make you do crazy things and in all likelihood, you won't remember them in the morning. I tried not to make them to OC but I am sorry if it came out that way, I couldn't help it. My muse has been kind to me lately, I'm trying to stay on his good side so he won't disappear again. LOL! So, in case you're wondering, Pepper's nightmare wasn't about her fall - that would have been way too obvious - I imagined that if she had nightmares, it would probably be about the Extremis procedure. I wanted her nightmares to induce the need to fight and nothing triggers a fight or flight response like torture. He tortured her and seeing what that did to Tony emotionally was enough to make ME want to kill him. I didn't like him anyway but then he decided to not only torture Pepper - whom I adore - but also go after Tony and then it was like 'oh hell no, you do not go after him like that!' You can imagine how happy I was that Pepper killed him at the end. Leave me some love, Dolls.
P.S. Also keep in mind, I was sleepy when I wrote this so um...don't get too attached. It could change.