There were hands clawing at his chest again, holding him down. They were clawing through his skin, through his ribs, and right into his heart. He felt the pain down to his bones and he screamed.
You think explosion can stop me, Tony?
Through his half-consciousness, he heard a familiar wheezing laugh, and saw the crooked smile of Ivan Vanko flash at him from beyond the darkness surrounding him.
No, he tried to say, but his throat was closed tight and his chest was throbbing with every breath he couldn’t take. No.
He strained against the hands, thrashing, but it only invited claws to dig into his mouth and press sharply on his tongue. He shook his head violently, wincing when they pressed in harder, gagging when they surged into his throat.
Something cold and heavy crawled up his legs, brushing along his sides, and pressed down onto his shoulders. Vanko’s face, contorted grotesquely, rose into Tony’s view and Tony spat out a gargled obscenity. He tried to shake off the cold grip but Vanko only laughed maniacal at his weakening struggles. The cold weight crushed down on him, closing him in, darkening his vision.
Tony. Why don’t you join us?
Vanko laughed and Tony saw a gnarled hand thrust forward straight into his chest. The pain was blinding, and a chilling numbness spreading from his chest as Vanko’s fist closed over his heart.
Tony, trust me, we will take good care of you here.
Tony could only whimper as the numbness reached his throat and then his cheeks. Everything was blurring at the edges and he couldn’t feel his body. As his vision slowly tunneled to a point, he thought he saw a streak of color sweep through the darkness.
Let me have you!
In a flash of light, the claws vanished and Tony managed to draw in a painless breath. He thought he saw a face with an expression twisted in worry hover over him. He tried to say he was fine, tried to placate the Worried Face but his lips refused to move.
A warmth spread through his chest, languid and slow, soothing and safe, and Tony finally closed his eyes to sleep in peace for the first time in years.