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Like Unto Iron

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They duel at dawn.

The sun is barely touching the tallest buildings in Manhattan as Wu throws her first strike, right for his eyes, and when Orson ducks she gets him with her knee. She fights dirty. He rolls away and comes up smiling, and when she rushes him this time he's got an elbow ready. Danny's got the wide arsenal and honest streak, fuck knows where from, but Wu's like Orson. This is his kind of fight.

She's grinning like she knows it, eyes all over him to prove he can't take her by surprise. She's faster. But he's older and he knows tricks she hasn't thought of yet. He plays to his strengths, and he knows his weaknesses better. She's agile, and time's against him there. But he's big and he doesn't have to move too much if he keeps her using that agility.

She doesn't tire quickly, and he's breathing heavy and his side aches sharp and familiar. He makes to pull a gun, but all he finds at his side is air.

"Did you shoot your dragon?" Wu taunts, gun in hand, and then tosses it away.

"I took whatever advantage I had," Orson bites out, trying not to wheeze.

Her grin turns playful, and she leaps down right into his face, breathing into his nostrils. "Whatever advantage, you say?"

His arms are at either side of her, useless. He brings his knee up but she blocks. "You're an easy man to read," she says. "Like my husband was. Used to being seen and not having to hide."

But that's not right. Orson's pulled off many a stealth operation successfully, crossed borders and broken into buildings and evaded soldiers with practiced ease. He steps back, and she lets him go.

"That was a--" he begins, and then her foot in his face cuts him off. His head snaps around and he tastes blood where he bit his tongue.

"Distraction," she says.

---

He wakes mid-morning, light pouring into the dingy hotel room, opium cloud evaporated and leaving the world pale and grainy. For the number of times he's fought Wu in this room, he's never yet won. The only Iron Fist to live past thirty-three, triumphant in a shitty hotel where they only know him as the druggie white man who pays on time and doesn't talk to anyone. Fantasizing about a woman who died before he was born and did his old job better than he ever would have.

He stares at the ceiling for a while, and then actually gets up for a knock at his door. He watches the crane fly away and curses the way he learned to in the trenches. Then he stuffs his bag full and walks out.

---

"I don't usually like dangerous men," Wu tells him, pinning him down on the summer-baked concrete in the late afternoon light. Her face blocks the sun. Her teeth are very white.

"I don't usually like getting my ass kicked," Orson counters. She laughs, but does not let go.

"How is it that this happens so often, then?"

She stands up and offers him a hand. He takes it, because he can trust her to let him up. If only because it's more fun to beat him up when he puts up a fight. But she doesn't pull him up and push him away. She keeps him held close in, studying his face like she's gonna find something interesting there. She bites her bottom lip and furrows her brows. Orson swallows, as quietly and unobtrusively as he knows how.

"What are you doing?" she finally asks. "What kind of living is this?"

Orson looks down at his dusty, stained suit. He hasn't worn it in years. "Only kind I know how."

"It's no life for the Iron Fist," Wu tells him. "We all go out in glory and violence. You are dying slowly and quietly, and it does nothing for anyone else."

"I ain't the Iron Fist anymore." Orson smiles, shrugs as best as he can with her grip on his arm. "Danny Rand is doing the glory thing. I'm just trying to enjoy the time I got left."

Wu lets him go then, shoves him so he staggers backwards and nearly falls on his ass again. Her face stays cloudy, like she's actually angry instead of faking it for a good fight. "If you think you enjoy this, you're a fool," she says. She has his gun again. "You're numb. It's different."

He waits for the shot but it never comes. The gun lands at his feet, and Wu wipes her hands against her sides. "Pick it up."

Orson bends down to pick it up, never taking his eyes off of her.

"Fight," she commands.

---

He is smoking outside of the airport, because he won't be able to taste smoke on the flight to the US and the thought alone is painful enough. Better get it now while he can. He doesn't have anything with him but the clothes he's wearing; nothing worth keeping. His worldly possessions are about as worthless as he is. And he'll need to be fast on his feet; it'll be easy to find him now that he's digitised, put on lists. If a crane can find him under a false identity when he's been walking everywhere, here he's a sitting duck.

When he finishes the cigarette and stomps it out, he walks back into the airport, bypasses security and the metal detectors with a wave of his hands, and stalks onto his plane. The woman next to him wrinkles her nose at him -- the smell, no doubt. He had no time, no drive, to take a shower. And beside that, he had no soap, nothing to dry himself with. This woman can deal.

He can't sleep once they are airborne. The roar of the engines keep his mind working and the rigid seat position hurts his back. Around him passengers are snoring, and he just stares into space and tries to remember the warmth of Wu's breath on his face and the weight of her pressing down into the road. Something familiar. It's not opium, but it's a better train of thought than planning for the future or fixating on the past.

There are no cranes in the cabin. Orson stares out the window and waits to see them, flying in the wake of the jet engine. Just because he doesn't see them yet doesn't mean they're not there.

Twenty hours later he walks off of the airplane and bypasses customs with a wave of his hand. They find him pretty quick after that.

---

The first time he met Wu was during the war. Dizzy with bloodloss and hunger, he'd sat down in a bunker to rest and maybe die, and she'd been there. She frowned at him like she was disappointed -- she probably was. "Giving up so soon, Iron Fist?" she asked, the taunt clear in her tone and her hand on her hips. "Where is your iron?"

"Somewhere in France," he'd said, or something like that. He thought it was clever. She thought it was stupid. She picked up his gun and turned it over in her hands. What kind of weapon was this, she asked. He explained. She laughed at him. She's done that a lot, since. Then she tugged him to his feet and held him steady when his legs tried to give out again.

"When you fought the dragon of K'un-lun, you became something greater than a man," she told him as warmth returned to his bones and battered muscles relaxed. "Something like unto iron. Something bright and powerful, and when you go out it will be with all that dragon's fire. Your life's purpose is to earn that death, Iron Fist."

Then a shell had exploded nearby, and when the smoke cleared Orson was alone in the bunker. He could have explained it as a hallucination but for the fact that he could stand without pain for the first time in weeks. But it was war -- no one questioned that, not when it could all be moot next second. They all just kept fighting, and waiting, and fighting some more.

---

Danny is nothing like Wu, but actually quite similar. He fights smart, fights fancy, plays fair. He hits where it hurts but not from behind, keeps it clean, keeps it pretty. But he's got fire in his heart and a smile on his face and he swings around and kicks death in the face and Orson can see it, where these two very different people meet.

It's all fighting and hurting and fighting and killing here. Wu would be proud. Danny doesn't even think to be. It's all he knows, this kid, and he loves it, the art of it, the action and the cause. It's humbling and sort of sad at the same time.

Orson doesn't even think to kick death in the face. The moment it comes, he knows it's for him, and he stands firm and lets Davos kill him, Danny make a dragon of him, and in that last moment he can see everything, his mind and eyes clear. Maybe he's smiling.

---

"The Iron Fist dies a glorious death," Wu says, across the wooden practice floor from him. Gone is the costume, replaced by simpler colours; her hair is shaved. Orson's wounds have vanished and his body feels decades younger. "It is our way."

"You kidding?" Orson asks. "I didn't even fight it."

"It is not our way to flee death," she replies, giving him a look to say that she knows he did just that for years. "You know this. Daniel Rand knows this. We fight injustice. Tyranny. Threats to that which we see as our domain. Death comes to us as a trophy, never a punishment." She settles back into her stance again. "Now face me," she tells him. "No more distractions."