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Before The Sun Sets

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“Arm bothering you again?” Rhodey asks.

“A little, yeah.” Tony answers, rubbing his chest absently. “Some pretty serious heartburn too. I *knew* that thing Vision made smelled a little funky”

Rhodey shakes his head. “That’s what you get for trusting a being that never eats with your food.”

“Come on, you know it’ll hurt his feelings.”

“So you value his pride in his baking versus your actual life? Tones, you gotta stop spoiling your kid. He’s a big boy now. Actually, he’s always been a big boy.”

Tony rolls his eyes, and goes off to his workshop. He’s moved it up to ground level to give Rhodey an easier time visiting him. The feeling of exposure being so easily accessible gives him is a little uncomfortable, but in the grand scheme of things, that’s nothing to what Rhodey has to go through every day.

This decision may have saved Tony’s life.

Three months after the Avengers split up, Tony Stark collapses in his workshop. Rhodey is there to see it, manages to grab at Tony before he hits his head, and is able to administer CPR. FRIDAY calls the nearest hospital, and Vision readies the nearest jet and carries a barely conscious Tony to it.

They land at the hospital’s helipad, and Tony Stark is successfully brought in for surgery without a media circus following.

It’s a minor miracle, but one Tony richly deserves.

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Bruce comes back home sometime during Tony’s second week in hospital.

The news about the Accords and Steve’s subsequent desertion reach even the most remote corners of the world, and Bruce can't ignore it.

He would've been back earlier, except he'd more or less scrapped the jet he took with him. It was kind of too bulky for someone on the run.

He hates Ross, but he understands people’s fear. He understands the need for limitations and accountability. And just because he doesn't want to be an active member of the team doesn't mean he doesn't want to be there for his friend.

Tony Stark is the first friend he's made after he became the Hulk. There's no way Bruce is going to let Tony down now.

Rhodes is still undergoing therapy, and Vision freaks the staff out. Bruce takes charge of all the medical concerns, and his heart breaks more and more every hour he sits beside Tony’s bedside.

Bruce shouldn’t be the only one here. None of them are the one Tony wants most to be here for him. But Steve chose his own path, and it was too late to turn back.

Steve’s not allowed to dangle Tony around anymore. Bruce won’t let him.

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Iron Man doesn’t retire. Peter Parker was officially taken in as an intern in Stark Industries even before the attack, and when Tony is hospitalised, he starts spending half of his internship hours remotely piloting the Iron Man suit. Peter is alternately too chatty or too quiet when piloting it, but that’s fine. As long as the voice modulators work and no one finds out the suit’s empty, no one will ever find out.

Peter feels honoured to have been chosen. Tony Stark is basically every nerd’s idol. He is the genius everyone wanted to be - rich, successful, and most of all, popular. When you’re a maths and science nerd who’d rather dive into books and theories over making friends, it gets lonely. Tony Stark is the living proof that you can still have it all. Nothing about Peter’s first encounter with the man changed this. He was so cool, had equally cool friends, and had that air of command Peter could only ever dream of having.

But now that Peter’s spent so much time with the guy, he just feels bad for Tony.

Tony Stark. Genius billionaire superhero. One with no family, few friends, and the weight of the world on his shoulders.

Peter wishes he could do more, but for now - he’ll give this job all he’s got. It’s the least he could do.

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Pepper hasn’t been this stressed since Afghanistan. Even with Extremis, it wasn’t this bad. Extremis was a little too… fantastical. Even if she knew it was real, that there was every chance she and Tony could die, it wasn’t like… this.

She guesses she’s gotten used to bad guys. Bad guys can be fought back. Sure it’s dangerous, but Tony hasn’t lost yet.

A failing heart, however…

This is not something anyone can fight back. They can only trust in the doctors, and in medical science, and… hope.

Pepper hasn’t gotten as far as she has on hope and uncertainties. In fact, the feeling makes her so uncomfortable that she’s given up what she and Tony were building together so she could experience it less. Sometimes she wishes she never broke up with him - but not breaking up would’ve been unfair to both Tony and herself. She isn’t who Tony really wants, and Tony… no amount of love is enough for her to go through all of that worry every single day.

Distance has helped her a lot, and probably would’ve helped Tony if things didn’t just… happen all at once. Right now, though, not even distance is helping her. She’s not Tony’s girlfriend anymore, but here she is, still hoping and waiting on life to throw her a bone and keep Tony alive. She feels guilty thinking it, but she’s still glad they’re broken up. She’s not ready for this to happen to someone she’s chosen to be the centre of her life.

Tony’s still one of her closest friends. Possibly her best friend. And she’ll still be here for him. Just in a different capacity than what they were getting used to.

She prays.

-----

If one really thought about it, despite being born in an adult form and from the brain of the most advanced AI in the world, Vision is only four years old.

Right now, he feels his youth acutely.

The Avengers are a broken husk of who they once were. The world is in an uproar. Wanda is gone. And now, Tony Stark is in a hospital bed, fighting to stay alive.

Seeing Tony so still and quiet is unsettling. Vision is used to him being vibrant, used to him sharing his inexhaustible energy with the rest of the team. But, as Vision has apparently forgotten, Tony Stark is human, and humans have limits. And while Tony’s limits are not as short as others - it looks like he’s reached it now.

Wanda isn’t the only one important to him. The Avengers, and especially Tony Stark… they all hold a place in what people would call his “heart.” So many are lost to him now, and to have the brightest among them dim like this…

Vision doesn’t know what to do. As with after Germany, there are no actions left to be taken. All that is left… is to wait.

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