The truth is that people will always leave him.
It’s the first lesson the world teaches him, long before his parents (his fucking parents). Tony thinks, lying bleeding and numb in this ugly concrete heart he will dream about later, that it might be the last lesson the world teaches him. It takes him a long time to realize he is not going to die. That Steve did not kill him.
He does not think about the shield coming down at him, cannot look at the glinting, polished rim at his feet. The last symbol he put his faith into. It’s completely undamaged. He hurts everywhere. Does not think of his hands around metal wrists, does not think of frayed sparking wires, wires that unravel into nothing, does not think of the sound it makes torn apart, does not think of metal hands around her (anyone but her, anything but this). Cannot. Thinks of Steve instead.
Stupidly, thinks of his father’s first stories. Thinks of the black and white photos over their fireplace where other children had their graduation pictures. Thinks of what he would have done to be noticed. Realizes, embarrassed, as the last strangleholds of it unravelled in his gut too heavy for him to move, that the small, tucked away parts of his youth still worshiped the man. Steve.
Because Tony realizes something else as he counts his heartbeats in the snow, waiting to be rescued because he cannot get up he cannot move cannot—
The truth is, nobody has ever loved him.
It hurts, knowing this. Tony likes to lie to himself. But trapped in the metal shreds of the only good thing he ever did with his life, he is cold in his bones, so tired he feels like dust already. And he cannot lie about this.
It was not enough, not any of it. All of the sacrifices, all of the nightmares, all of the nights spent pushing himself to unmake and remake, to destroy himself in order to protect (take that away and). He wanted to be reborn. Had thought in the burning sands of Afganistan, in the moments Yinsen stopped his heart to save him that he had been a force, re-directed. Had thought giving up his reactor for a heart (take that away and) would make him human.
There isn’t anyone left alive who knows this, but Tony Stark is afraid of the dark. When Pepper leaves, Tony has nothing. Not even thin blue light straining through his shirt fibers. He did not see it coming, but that doesn’t mean he is surprised. Pepper, who won’t return his calls because she thinks he will beg her to come back when he’s only trying to say I’m sorry. Pepper, who won’t pick up because she thinks that he’s starting drinking again. Pepper, who he would have destroyed by loving.
When the sun goes down, Tony is forced to admit that nobody is coming.
The frost has settled deep into the metal joints. Tearing his way out his metal womb is agony. He cannot breathe. It is too dark to see if he is coughing blood. He crawls to the entrance, leaving the bloody wreckage of his suit behind (take that away and).
It is not a rebirth. He is still afraid of the dark.
It is Ross that finds him and the makeshift distress signal, that has been looking for him. Ross who doesn’t know what happens but understands, those flat snake eyes and the sharpened white teeth cutting right through the raw skin. There are no more masks here, at the end of the line, and Tony is more vulnerable than he has been in years.
Ross says nothing. He pulls the shield (my father’s shield) up from the ice and smiles.
A whisper in his ear: "He who pulleth this sword from this stone, will be named King."
Tony feels sick. Tony feels cold. Blank-faced medical personal with clinical hands and latex gloves undress him like an object. Take his pulse, push at his ribs, document bruising, talk to each other over the ice melting in his hair. A light flashes; they put away the camera before he can say no. Water trickles down his spine. Eventually, Tony feels nothing at all.
(take that away and what are you?)