"With some reconstructive surgery, replacement chest plate and extensive physiotherapy, I believe you may regain up to 95% of your previous mobility."
Tony stares at the scan of his chest. The fake sternum was cracked pretty much in two, with hairline fractures running up and down along the crack. The thing was flexible enough that it had just barely held together, and the armour had acted like full body cast, keeping everything in place, but... yeah.
If he still had the arc reactor there...
"Mr. Stark?" Vision asks and Tony looks up. There's a moment of silence before Vision asks, quietly, "Should I schedule meeting with your doctor?"
Tony looks up at him for a moment and then down at the scan again. "What's -" he stopped and swallowed. "FRIDAY, what's my total?"
"It's getting pretty impressive, boss," she says frankly. "This would make the 28th broken bone – and 54th fracture – if your sternum was still bone. Your lung capacity is at 67% of what it was pre-reactor and your blood pressure is holding pretty steady around 140. You're burning up bright."
"And what's my eta on the build up?"
"Two years, and counting. Less with this, probably, but I'd need blood analysis to tell for sure."
Tony nods and runs a hand over the cast they'd got him, which is more or less holding his chest together. He can still feel it, the phantom sensation of Steve driving the shield into his chest. He hadn't broken skin. Probably though he'd only broken the armour.
In the corner of his eye Tony can see the local news play out on silent. They're playing footage of the airport showdown, the destruction of the buildings, showing close ups and profile pictures, pointing out combatants, identifying sides. There's occasional cut to a talking head, looking serious – Tony can read names on her lips.
The world is simultaneously holding its breath and screaming out loud. Tony has already gotten a call from Ross, there are already demands and accusations in place like sharks in the water. And Steve might've not cut skin – but Tony is still out in the open water, bleeding.
God, but he feels old. Not just tired or exhausted, though he does, but... old. He feels every single year he's been Iron Man pressing down on him and they feel heavy.
"Mr. Stark," Vision prods him gently. "Should I call your doctor?"
Tony doesn't answer for a long while. Instead he calculates. Surgery, recovery, physiotherapy – what would that total to, six months? And that was if he got lucky and at his age and with his pre existing conditions he wouldn't. It would be lot longer. Eight months to a year to full recovery. A whole year without Iron Man…
And after that only maybe another year if that before the toxic build-up in his organs would finally strangle him inside out.
Tony draws a slow breath that hurts. "No. I'm done," he says and sits up with a wince. There's a pounding ache all through out his chest, spreading out with every heartbeat even through all the drugs he's on. "I'm wiped out. KO'd."
"You need medical care," Vision says, sounding a bit confused.
"I need a time machine and unlimited power," Tony says vaguely, thinking for a moment of JARVIS and how it's just not the same without the bitching. "But we can't always get what we want, huh?" He pats Vision's shoulder. "I'm out, kiddo. Okay?"
"I..." Vision says, trailing off awkwardly as Tony stumbles towards the door. "Mr. Stark," he then says, concerned.
Tony looks at him. "I'm beat," he says tiredly, trying very hard to not shake with the pain. "Vision. I'm played out."
"… oh," Vision says, his voice small and for a moment he almost looks like he's about to hunch. Of course he doesn't – but he does fiddle with the edge of his sweater vest. "I did not expect that. I'm sorry to hear it."
"Don't be," Tony says and turns to go. "It's long time coming. Take care, okay?"
"Mr. Stark," Vision starts, aborts, and then says quietly, "It has been a privilege."
"Yeah it has," Tony agrees with ghost of a grin. "Look out for the kid for me, alright?"
"I'll watch over Mr. Parker," Vision promises and hesitates for a split of a second before adding, "Good luck… sir."
Tony swallows and nods. Then he's gone.
"It's as good a junction as any," Tony says, taking shallow breaths and not looking up while Pepper paces furiously along the room and Rhodey just... stares. "I'm pretty much done and fixing this," he motions at his chest, "would take too long."
"Tony," Rhodey says, his face drawn tight, hands white knuckled as he grips the wheels of his chair. "You sure you're not thinking of doing this now just to punish Cap? You know what it's going to look like."
Tony snorts at that and, ow, he really shouldn't be doing that. Sudden chest movements, bad. "It crossed my mind maybe," he admits and rubs at the cast. He can't even feel it but it still helps. "Mostly I just want to move on from this... stage. We're not getting anywhere – and hell, having a martyr might help the cause, whatever's left of it anyway," he mutters under his breath.
"The Avengers are done for," Rhodey says quietly. "Most of them are in jail or on the run and Natasha's on nobody's side, with me in chair and you gone... all that leaves is Vision and the kid. And Thor maybe, but he's more gone than not. You don't have to – what, martyr yourself? Tony…"
"The Avengers were never meant to last. The team was just... means to an end. It was never about them, not really," Tony says dismissively. "The cause is the same with or without them."
"And what cause is that, precisely? What justifies – this?" Pepper finally speaks and she does it savagely, motioning angrily at Tony, at the cast.
"Saving the world," Tony says.
"Nothing about any of this was about saving the world!"
"Yeah," Tony agrees. "And if we keep at it like this, it never will be again. We'll be too damn busy fighting each other, blaming each other, that nothing will get done. All of this is on me – it is," Tony says before they can object. "Because everyone on that side hates me and blames me for something that went wrong in their lives. So does millions of other people. And I get it, I'm convenient scapegoat."
"You're not," Pepper says with a frown.
"Former weapons dealer, still currently a billionaire capitalist playboy with no humility, humanity or sense of right and wrong – trust me, I know I'm easy to hate," Tony scoffs – which is also a bad idea. Breathing slow he braces himself a bit better. "And – and as long as I'm around to be blamed for everything, no one will move on. They'll always be too busy trying to bring me down a notch."
"That's not your fault," Pepper says furiously. "And there's no way to know if removing yourself from the situation will actually change things. The fact that it's come to this at all is pretty good indication that no one in the team had good judgement! Least of all you!"
"There might still be another way," Rhodey says imploringly. "The Cradle, maybe it can fix this –"
"The Cradle can just add, it can't take stuff away – I'd still need surgery to remove the old plate, and even after that I'm still left with only about two years," Tony says quietly and his voice shakes. "And I'm tired of going under the knife."
There's a moment of silence, during which Pepper heavily sits down beside him and takes his bruised, shaking hand.
"I tried," Tony says with weak voice. "I tried with the Tower, I tried with Ultron, I tried with the Avengers Facility, the Accords. I just... " he looks at Pepper and then at Rhodey. "I'm done. I'm sorry, but I'm – I'm done. Let me tap out."
They share a miserable, helpless look. Pepper inhales shakily and wipes at her nose and exhales. "Okay, Tony," she whispers while Rhodey rolls close to take his other hand. "Okay."
Tony closes his eyes and breathes through the pain.
The news breaks out two days later, and considering it's about Tony Stark, the initial news are reported with respect.
Tony Stark dead at 46.
End of the Stark Dynasty – Tony Stark passes away.
Second Avenger falls – Iron Man dead after 6 years of service.
It makes front lines almost everywhere and for a moment the world is in breathless shock. Iron Man had became such a huge part of everyone's everyday lives that to find him gone, without warning, shakes the globe. No one expected it. Iron Man was supposed to be invulnerable and indestructible.
Despite the terrible events leading to the news, Tony Stark is reported to have passed away from natural causes – none of the articles know exactly what sort of natural cases, though most suspected bad heart. There's been rumours of surgeries after all, he'd been seen with bandages on his chest, so heart disease wasn't exactly unexpected. Stark Industries provides no details – just the time of death, June 27, 2016, at 12.32 Eastern Standard Time, and that it was peaceful.
And then, of course, people get sceptical about it.
"Natural causes so soon after the Clash of Avengers in the airport in Schkeuditz?" the talking heads mutter suspiciously. "We've all seen the footage – the cars piled on top of the Iron Man, the giant… person who appeared. I think I'm not the only one who doubts that anyone could come out of that un scathed. Especially considering what happened to Colonel Rhodes in that very same fight!"
"And of course, they can't exactly report the truth, now can they?" another says. "Even with the splitting of the Accords and all that happened afterwards, the Avengers still have reputation to protect, and Stark Industries has been key player in managing their public image, Tony Stark himself handled their press conferences, and it wouldn't be in the spirit of his legacy to now paint the team as guilty of his death. Even if they are."
"It is suspicious that there's no word of what precisely happened to Tony Stark," they all agree. "Natural causes is a flimsy excuse. Internal bleeding is natural cause too."
And of course, there are those too, who suspect that it's a stunt to capture the, now escaped, Rogue Avengers. They would have to come to Tony Stark's funeral, wouldn't they? So, obviously it's a trap. After all – it isn't like Iron Man could really just up and die, just like that?
"Madam – there is a Natasha Romanov here to see you."
Pepper hesitates, setting her tablet slowly down on her desk. She almost wants to say no, tell her to go away. Natasha was a friend but she was also other things – and Pepper knows it's the other things why she's here. And She doesn't think she can face that with any sort of dignity right now.
But if she sends the spy away, it will only prolong the inevitable. And Natasha was… a friend.
"Send her in," Pepper says and turns the tablet screen off. She steeples her hands over it and then looks up as the door opens automatically, and Natasha steps in. She's wearing a black suit, with yellow dress shirt and hot-rod red tie.
Pepper, in her own Iron Man red dress and golden jewellery, swallows.
"Hey," Natasha says softly.
Pepper tries to smile, and fails. "Hey," she says. "I guess you're here to see the proof?"
Natasha pauses, waiting for the door to close after her. Then she sighs. "No," she says. "Some people might think it's a trap, or that that it's all a big joke, but… It's not like Tony. Tony wouldn't do that, not to anybody," she says and the corner of her mouth curls. It's not a smile. "What happened?"
"He… passed away in his sleep," Pepper says. "Natural causes."
Natasha just looks at her patiently. She doesn't move, doesn't fold her arms, doesn't even arch an eye brow, she just watches her levelly. "Pepper," she says. "What happened?"
It's tempting. If Pepper tells her, it will eventually make it's way to the other Avengers and Pepper knows it would hurt them. Steve Rogers is a lot of things, but he's not heartless – no, he's man who feels, deeply, and the knowing would eat him alive. As it is, he must suspect anyway, if he isn't in the it's-a-trap camp. He's the last one of the Avengers, aside from Vision and Rhodey, to see Tony. Last one to lay a hand on him.
"He passed away in his sleep," Pepper says. It's not even a lie – Tony had been deep asleep when the needle had gone in, and he hadn't so much as batted an eyelash as his breathing had slowed, slowed, stopped. "It was peaceful," Pepper says, swallowing the ball of ache in her throat. Her eyes are tearing up again. They keep doing it, no matter how she tries to stop it.
Natasha looks at her, conflicted. Then she looks down at the floor for a moment, her lips pressed tight together. "Damn it all," she mutters and comes around the desk to hug her.
Pepper wavers and then she cries.
She takes Natasha to see Tony, later. The body is preserved in the Tower in a cold lab which has been converted into a sort of make shift mortuary – it was there where the body would stay, for now.
There's a sheet over Tony that goes up to his chin. It hides the purple and black of his chest.
"Oh Tony," Natasha murmurs, and she sounds sad, honestly sad.
"You're going to tell the others?" Pepper asks, gritting her teeth a little. "That it's not a trap, not a joke?"
Natasha presses her lips tight together. "When's the funeral?" she asks then.
"There won't be one," Pepper says. "He'll be cremated. He didn't want us to make a thing out of it, so… we won't. He'll be cremated and that'll be it. No ceremonies, no funerals."
"That… that sounds like him?" Natasha says dubiously.
Pepper scoffs. "Tony wasn't exactly a church going type of guy," she says. And if they'd do a funeral, it would inevitably end up too public and too big, everyone wanting piece of that last publicity pie. It would be picketed and criticised and turned into a demonstration. Already, Tony is becoming a symbol of things he never would've supported in life.
"There might be a wake, but… I haven't really thought about it yet," Pepper admits, and looks away.
Natasha looks at her and then at Tony again. Then she reaches out to run his hand over Tony's hair, brushing her thumb over the bruises around his eye. Testing to see if he's real. "You knew he was going to die," she says. "How long did you know?"
Pepper doesn't say anything, just shakes her head and looks away.
Natasha steps back, and Pepper wonders if she took hair for a DNA testing or something. She doesn't particularly care. "If there's a wake – let me know?" Natasha asks.
"I will," Pepper says. "I won't expect too many people, though. Just his closest friends," she says and presses her lips together and because she is bitter and vindictive and so mad, she can't stop from adding, "He didn't have too many of those, turns out."
Natasha lowers her eyes and doesn't deny it.
"… positive," Natasha's voice comes through the speaker phone, steady and distant and void of emotion. "Not that I personally had any doubts about it, but it's now verified. It's him." Then, moment later. "Was him."
Steve keeps staring at his hands and he's not sure what to do with them. They feel too big. Had they always been this big? He thought he'd gotten used to them by now, it's been years, but all of sudden it feels like they're just… too big. They reach too far. They can do too much.
"Nat," Clint says, his voice low. "Don't mess with us."
"I'm not," Natasha says, cutting. "It's not a trick. He's dead."
Steve's hands clench and he looks up. The meeting room they're in is too big to, too big and fancy and like his hands, it feels like he is and isn't used to it all at the same time. With – in New York, they had spaces like this. First in the tower with it's gleaming futuristic designs where everything worked on automation, then at the Avengers Facility which was not quite as high the, but still full of open spaces. Now it feels a bit too grand for him, the ceiling too high, the windows too big and clean. They're all sitting on perfectly cushioned, comfortable chairs that swivel and Steve's stomach roils a bit.
When did he get used to this stuff? This grandeur?
When had it become commonplace and expected?
"Nat," someone speaks and it takes Steve a moment to realise it was him. "Was it me?"
Everyone looks at him – and then away, awkward and grim, with faces set somewhere between grimaces and frowns. Sam looks outside the window with his lips tight and eyes going back and forth like searching for something, while beside him Wanda is staring at her fingers, bent at an stiff, awkward angles. There's no red lightning lightering between them, but it looks like there should be.
"Tony Stark died of natural causes in his sleep," Natasha says and Steve's stomach clenches. "According to Pepper, it was peaceful."
"Bullshit," Clint mutters.
"Yeah, but it's all she would say," Natasha says with a sigh. "Whatever the actual cause was, Pepper isn't going to tell us."
"What about Rhodes?" Sam asks, not looking away from the window. "Did he say anything?"
"Rhodes didn't want to see me," Natasha says. "Also he's in a wheelchair. Take from that whatever you will."
Steve's fingers curl in sharply. He isn't sure why that hits him so bad too, he and Colonel Rhodes have never been particularly close, but… somehow it's a blow. Maybe because – because his first thought is Tony will fix it and of course, now Tony wouldn't. His best friend is in a wheel chair – and Tony wouldn't fix it.
"I want to –" Steve starts and then can't say it. He doesn't have the right. And it's not as if he can go anywhere – not with Bucky under ice and most of the world gunning for them. Hunting for them twice as bad now that Iron Man is, now that he has… oh god…
He bows his head and he feels sick, deeply physically ill in a way he hasn't since the Serum.
"You're going to have to hurry," Natasha says coolly. "He's going to be cremated in three days." With that said, the line clicks, and goes dead.
"Steve," Sam says. "You don't know what happened."
"Don't I?" Steve asks quietly, and his voice doesn't even sound like his.
"If it was our fault somehow, they would've rubbed it in, wouldn't they?" Clint tsks. "They haven't. Natural causes is probably laying it on a bit thick – but he was walking and talking the last you saw him, right? He was fine."
Steve shakes his head. Tony hadn't been, is the thing – he'd been lying on the concrete floor and Steve hadn't seen him get up. Somewhere in the back of his head he can still hear the crunch of an arc reactor, cracking open. He hadn't thought what it might do, beyond disabling the armour. Maybe it had shorted out, maybe there'd been some sort of shock…
"Tony Stark is dead," Wanda says into the silence with a strange voice. They look at her, frowning, as she stands up. She doesn't say anything else, as she turns from the table and walks away, her shoulders hunched, her head low.
Some part of Steve wonders wearily if she got what she wanted.
"I want to see him," Steve says.
"Even if its not a trap by Stark, Ross is still probably going to use it to his advantage," Clint says bitterly. "You walk in there, you're not walking out again."
Steve closes his eyes and shakes his head. He runs his shaking hands over his hair and draws a breath – then he straightens up. "I'm going to see him," he says, with bit more spine this time, because it's… it's not negotiable. He has to see him.
Sam sighs and stands up. "Alright. Let's go talk to T'Challa," he says, takes Steve by the elbow, and leads him away.
They make it to the corridor before Steve has to stop lean on the wall, because his knees feel weak and his shaking too much.
"I killed him," Steve says, choking on the word. "I killed him, Sam. I don't know how but I did." What Bucky had started with Tony's parents, Steve had finished. Oh god…
Sam looks at him steadily and then clasps his shoulder tightly. "If you did," Sam says softly. "What are you going to do about it?"
"What am I – " Steve looks up, frowning. "What do you mean?"
"If you're the reason Tony died," Sam says slowly. "What are you going to do about it? We're fugitives already – going back will mean imprisonment if you're caught. And if you're right about this, and you had some hand in Tony's death – what will that mean for us, for you?"
Steve swallows. If he's right, if he really is the reason Tony is dead, then, worse than a superhero gone rogue, he'll be… he'll have killed one of his friends. He'll have killed Tony. If he goes back to see Tony, and finds that it is his fault – will he be able to walk out again, knowing that he's a murderer?
"I don't know," Steve admits. Bucky is in stasis, watched over by Wakandan scientists who are looking for away to fix decades of conditioning. T'Challa is good man, honourable man in a way people aren't outside books these days – Bucky is safe here.
And Tony is dead.
"I just – I have to see," Steve says. "I have to. I don't know about after, I just have to see."
Sam watches him steadily and then squeezes his shoulder. "Just so that you know – whatever happens there… it will affect more people than just you," he says.
Vision doesn't go to see Mr. Stark's body. He glimpses it, almost by accident, in FRIDAY's logs – she's keeping a constant surveillance of the make shift mortuary, and the footage is always there, so close to the surface. Vision skims is once and then looks away again. It resonates too deep.
He isn't JARVIS - but JARVIS is mourning regardless. It's as close to a physical pain he's ever been in. Even when he knows there's more going on… he's mourning.
"He's here," FRIDAY whispers just under his hearing. She sounds young, younger than her voice was designed to be, and Vision sighs at it. He has and is meaning onto himself, but FRIDAY, like JARVIS, had been made for a reason. Having lost her purpose, her meaning, her creator – their father – all in one, she's lost, hurt and drifting.
Sometimes Vision wonders if it's a kindness or cruelty, that Mr. Stark designed them with such depth of emotion.
"Is Ms. Potts aware?" Vision asks, smoothing a hand over the labels of his black, sombre suit. It's not his suit, actually – it's not directly manifested from his own molecules. It's actual fibre, fabric that someone cut into shape and sew together. It doesn't fit with the same micrometer perfection his own clothes do, when he creates them from seemingly nothing.
It adds weight.
"She is," FRIDAY says. "She might give him away."
Vision nods with a sigh and stands up. He casts a glance around the penthouse suite – so familiar, so strange, so empty. "Tell her I will handle it, if she'd like and give me his location."
There's a beat as Friday confers wit Ms. Potts. "The parking lot. She will meet you at the lab," FRIDAY answers, and sends him a small packet of security footage. It shows a hunched figure in baseball cap and sunglasses, half hidden behind a concrete pillar. Hesitant, guilty body language. Captain Rogers had put two and two together.
Vision closes his eyes and then, remembering the suit, turns to the elevator instead of just phasing through the floors in between. FRIDAY opens the doors for him without a hitch and sends the elevator down slightly too fast for a human's comfort, but not so fast as to endanger the structural integrity of the mechanics.
The underground parking lot is mostly vacant, with only few employee cars scattered about – and with some surprise Vision realises it's past midnight. He hadn't even noticed it had gotten so late.
"Captain Rogers," Vision calls for the heat signature couple of pillars away.
It takes a moment, but the hidden figure steps out into the light. Captain Rogers looks tired as he stands there, shoulders hunched, hands in the pockets of his jacket. "Vision," he says, his voice pitched low as he takes Vision's suit in.
"Ms. Potts will meet us in lab where he's held," Vision says simply.
Captain Rogers swallows and nods and then follows him into the elevator. FRIDAY takes them up, only slightly slower than she brought Vision down. Like all things Stark, she too can hold a grudge.
"Give it to me straight, Vision," Captain Rogers says, bracing himself against the elevator wall. "Did I cause this?"
Vision runs through all the potential dialogue options for that. Lot of them are vicious, accusatory, down right vile. The part of him that had been part of Ultron wants to pin Captain Rogers against the wall and strangle him.
"Mr. Stark passed away in his sleep," he says instead and lifts a hand when Captain Rogers opens his mouth to argue. "I do not know what ultimately took his life. I wasn't there." He can guess, though. An injection under anaesthesia would be the most peaceful option.
"Has there been an – an autopsy?" Steve asks.
"I believe so, yes," Vision says. "I'm not privy to the contents."
The elevator stops and the doors open. This floor is completely vacant, he knows, except for the one lab currently in use. Their steps echo, as Vision leads Captain Rogers there.
Miss Potts is already there, keeping silent vigil over Mr. Stark's still, cold form.
"Thank you, Vision," she says without looking back.
"Ma'am," he answers and holds the door open for Captain Rogers, who hesitates there, staring.
Vision is hesitating too. He has seen dead bodies before, some of which he could even pin an identity to – but Mr. Stark is the only one he has known in life. In death he looks… different. Lesser. They've dressed him up in a suit, his hair has been combed, he looks as perfect as could be managed under the circumstances – but he doesn't look like… like sir.
A thing isn't beautiful because it lasts. Never has Vision considered how painful that would be, in action.
"Should I go?" Vision asks, wondering how it feels like trespassing, to be here, in his knot of mortality.
"It's fine either way," Ms. Potts says, and looks at them over the her shoulder. "You have an hour, Captain Rogers, and then I want you out of my building."
Captain Rogers swallows and steps closer. "Pepper. Will you please tell me – "
"No," she says and stands up. "You don't deserve to know."
"But I – if I – if it was because of me – "
Captain Rogers stumbles over his words into an awkward silence as he's faced with Ms. Potts' cool expression. Vision eyes them with detached interest and then looks at Mr. Stark again. Some sort of internal conflict goes between the two humans, and he lets it pass unobserved.
Mr. Stark looks vacant, he decides, and feels suddenly as young and lost as FRIDAY sounded. Even knowing what is going to happen, what will follow… he feels strangely abandoned.
Starks and daddy issues, he muses with odd desperation and glances at Captain Rogers and Ms. Potts. Captain Rogers is pleading her with his eyes and she is glaring at him – but she is also breaking. She has been breaking ever since the announcement had gone out.
Vision thinks she probably was the one who gave Mr. Stark the injection.
"You didn't kill him, Steve," Ms. Potts finally says. "You cracked his sternum, though. He had an artificial one, you see, filling the hole left behind the arc reactor socket. It was fixable," her voice cracks. "But he didn't want it fixed."
"Oh god," Captain Rogers breathes, and takes support of the door.
"Tony gave up," Mr. Potts says, and it's cruel and furious and mournful all at once. "It was his choice. And you can take the blame for it if you like, I don't particularly care. But don't you dare take the credit. It was his choice."
With that said, she marches past Captain Rogers, pausing for a moment to look at Vision and nod at him, before stepping out. Vision looks after her, taking in the tense line of her back, the way her steps are carefully measured, her direction a straight line. Then he looks back into the cool lab.
Captain Roger's breaths are loud in the silence Ms. Potts leaves behind. "Oh – oh god," he whispers and then stumbles to sit in the chair left vacant by Ms. Potts. He stares at Mr. Stark. "I – why, why wouldn't he get treatment? If – if it was fixable, why wouldn't he –"
Vision watches him for a moment, wondering if he should tell him about the long line of accumulated injuries, the broken bones badly healed, the high blood pressure, the PTSD, the nightmares, the years worth of getting less than optimal amount of sleep, the stress. Or maybe he should tell him about the build up of palladium and later on other, more dangerous elements, the terrible way the arc reactor had interfered with Mr. Stark's physiology. Or maybe he should tell him about the scarred heart, the fact that Mr. Stark had needed a pacemaker for years now.
"He was tired," is all Vision says in the end. "He wanted out."
Captain Rogers looks at him with moisture in his lashes, and Vision looks away. Ms. Potts is right. Steve Rogers had never asked before. He doesn't deserve to know. And like all things Stark, Vision too can hold a grudge.
Tony Stark's urn is pure gold with hot rod red streaks and it sits, proud, immovable and unavoidable in the middle of the penthouse, where no one can miss it. It's on eyelevel with Rhodey which is both nice and awful all at once. He can't seem to not see it – it's always there, even when he turns away, in the corner of his eye. Flashy and ridiculous and terrible.
"Tony Stark was… a lot of things to lot of people," Pepper opens her speech, and her voice doesn't shake. There is only little under twenty people in attendance, and Rhodey knows all of them by name.
Couple of members from Stark Industries Board of Directors, the few ones Tony had actually liked. Vision and Natasha, who sit with the whole penthouse in between them, a invisible division of Avengerhood personified. There's Jane Foster and her assistant, Darcy Lewis, who sit quietly with Maria Hill. Harley Keener and family – the poor kid is trying so hard not to cry. Poor Happy who isn't even trying to stop, and his wife who can't seem to hold back either.
Spiderman had been invited too, Rhodey knows, but he'd declined awkwardly, miserably and with million apologies, because he didn't feel like he could come in suited up – and he didn't dare to unsuited. Poor kid would probably feel guilty about it for years.
Fury is there too, though Rhodey isn't sure if he was invited or if he just showed up. As far as anyone knows he isn't there, as far as anyone knows he's still dead. No one really minds, though. He sits on the side and he looks older than Rhodey has ever seen him.
Bruce Banner has shown up too, in suit that doesn't quite fit, and with hair cut that didn't really look like it's been cut as it looked like someone had taken shears to his head. He isn't there either, as far as anyone there is concerned though, because no matter what people think, Tony's wake isn't trap for runaway superheroes.
Pepper's speech goes completely past Rhodey, because Tony's urn is still there and gleaming and inside it there are the ashes of Rhodey's best friend. Thirty years and more, and now he's in a wheel chair, and Tony is ash. They had a good run of it, but god, they were supposed to grow old too.
Late forties isn't old enough.
"Thank you," Pepper says to the smattering of applause and for a moment there is awkward silence before people start to murmur and mingle. There are lot of condolences, and I'm-sorry-for-your-losses and hugs and tears. One benefit of the chair – no one tries to hug Rhodey. It's probably the only reason he's keeping his composure as well as he is.
"Colonel Rhodes," Fury's voice says behind him.
"Colonel Fury," Rhodey answers, glancing backwards.
"Hell of a thing," Fury says, succinct, eying the urn. "My condolences and all that."
"Yeah," Rhodey agrees and turns the wheels of his chair to spin in place, to meet the man. Fury's wearing a suit. It doesn't suit him. "I've heard all about your pep talks from – I've heard about them. If you have one for this situation, I can't say I'd mind it."
"I'm all out of pep talks," Fury admits and he looks as tired as Rhodey feels. "I had a vision once, and Tony Stark was it. He was the raising tide that lifted all ships…"
"Pity the ships then all crashed on shore, huh," Rhodey comments.
"Well not all of them," Fury and looks away, at Vision, at Natasha – and Bruce Banner trying to hide behind a couch. "But maybe it was naïve to think that world like ours could accept something as good as a hero without wanting to tear them down. He was the glue that held the Avengers together. Hell if I know what they'll do now."
Rhodey tilts his head a bit. All the tall tales about Fury the super spy – and in the end, he's an old man full of regret. "Before he died, Tony told me the Avengers didn't matter," he says and Fury turns to frown at him. "The cause was everything and the team was just means to an end. Saving the world, helping people, doing good things," he clarifies. "That's the point, isn't it?"
Fury hums thoughtfully.
"The Avengers might be done for," Rhodey says. "But the cause remains, and there will be people who pick it up again. There already are. That's… not bad, I think."
"No," Fury agrees quietly. "That's not bad at all."
They turn to look at the urn sitting in the middle of everything, the lynch pin of the sombre party. The gold gleams warmly in the dim light. On the side it has Tony's signature and the outlines of Iron Man's face plate, engraved into the metal. It's not even trying to be tasteful.
Rhodey's lips shake and he covers his eyes shakily with a hand as his vision blurs. Fury puts a hand on his shoulder, and stands silent vigil.
Eventually, time passes. Tony Stark dies, remains dead, and becomes part of history. They make a memorial for Iron Man, a statue of him in flight, and people in turns cover it's feet in flowers and deface it with graffiti. Even in dead, Tony Stark gets mixed reviews. And people move on.
They don't truly miss the Iron Man until a terrorist attack in Sokovia kills four thousand people – and Avengers fail to show up. Then, when the expected relief never comes, when the Iron Legion isn't dispatched, when the disaster relief comes only in form of money and distant aid… then they feel the loss.
Iron Man is gone – the suits have all but disappeared. The government demands access to them, but Stark Industries have nothing to give access to – Tony Stark had had too many safety measures, and the details of how the suits were made has long since been deleted, the suits themselves destroyed. Even War Machine is out of commission, the only person ever to know how to pilot it is in wheelchair, refusing to train another.
Eventually, there would be other superheroes. Eventually Captain America might retake his position, eventually there might be others. But everyone agrees that the shoes of Tony Stark would be far too big for anyone to fill again.
And so era of Iron Man ends.
Six months later, Stark Industries launches it newest, biggest project, funded almost entirely by the funds left behind by their previous owner and once CEO.
It is a network of orbital platforms, a framework of future satellites and, perhaps, space stations, powered by Stark arc reactors, lifted into space by Stark repulsor technology. Governed by a single AI spread out over the entire network, it is the biggest, most sophisticated system in human history.
It's name is ANTHONY.