Actions

Work Header

Countdown to the End of the World

Chapter Text

Rhodey stands over him in the Mark II. Tony lets out a cough and tries to sit up, but fails to get far as burning searing pain crushes down on his chest. The palladium is causing more and more pain with every passing minute. He flinches, but no one sees it through his suit. Tony doesn’t need to see his friend’s face to know what he is thinking. His body language, and the way he doesn’t make sure Tony is okay, says it all. He is pissed. Rhodey has every right to be pissed, and hate him. On a normal day he would have felt bad for doing this to his friend, but not today. Not now, because it has been Tony's plan all along. It is a good plan. He has at best 48 hours before the poison pumping through his veins completely takes over. Tony did his research. He knows what Vanko told him was true. Tony knows the palladium in his blood stream will spread the black poison to every muscle in his body, and eat through his muscles, and veins. It will break down the all of his internal organs and corrode them. Slowly. He will be useless in 48 hours, probably lying on his back convulsing and going into shock, and in 72 hours he will be dead. Pepper will likely find his body covered in the crossword puzzle like burns under his skin, but she won't be sad. Tony had just spent the past hour making sure of that. Nobody is going to miss him, and that is how he wants it. 

Tony lets himself fall onto his back as his friend fires up his thrusters and leaves. He is alone now. That's the way it should be. He should be alone when the screams tear through him. There shouldn't be anyone there. It will just make it worse. Dying in someone's arms is the worst way to go. Tony doesn't want to make anyone suffer when the seizures and pain come to claim him. He is a superhero. Superheroes always keep the people's best interest at heart, and while he doesn't want to die alone screaming into oblivion he knows that this is the only way no one else suffers.

Finally Tony works up the strength to sit up. Every muscle in his body writhes and aches. He lurches forward in a twist of pain, and utters a groan. His body burns. Not like a fiery burn, no his body burns like acid... probably because acid is slowly killing him from the inside. His gut convulses, and he throws up. The muscles tightening cause a shooting pain to course through his body in an overwhelming pulse. He throws up again. 

 

Jarvis wishes he can power down. He wishes he didn't have to watch what Tony was doing to himself and what what was being done to him. He has seen Tony do many things. He has seen the man drink himself half to death out of depression and anxiety. He has seen him isolate himself. He has seen him suffer guilt for things he had no control over. Jarvis has seen a lot, but he has never seen Tony give up, at least not until now. Jarvis had watched the party with curiosity. He had watched Tony carefully. He had acted far more waisted than he actually was. Jarvis knows for a fact that Tony has a very high alcohol tolerance. The three sips Tony had taken from the bottle were not enough to get him as drunk as he was acting. Jarvis knows Tony is a good actor. It makes the AI sad. Tony has told no one he is dying, and the AI knows that he isn't going to. Jarvis knows that Tony just spent his last birthday getting rid of everyone who loves him, and trying to get them to hate him so that when they find him is approximately 56 hours they won't be sad. Jarvis doesn't tell Tony that there is a flaw in this logic. Rhodey, Pepper, and Happy love him. It will probably make them sadder when they realize what he tried to do tonight.

 

Tony fires up his thrusters and leaves the ruined house. He is going to go do something he actually enjoys. It’s his birthday, he is dying, and he has made sure no one will miss him. He is going to have a good time before it's time to go home and prepare himself for the waves of pain that will take over and eventually send him into shock. The shock will probably kill him before the palladium actually disintegrates the walls to his organs.

Tony is going to go enjoy some doughnuts on his last birthday.

Chapter Text

A coyote howled outside. Tony rolled over on his camping mat on the floor of Clint’s living room with a groan. He didn’t know why he was attempting to sleep. He knew what would happen if he slept, and it wouldn’t be good. Nightmares of blood and death. His friends’ deaths.

You should have done more. You could have save us.”

Tony sat up shaking his head trying to forget. He tossed a glance over at Steve who was asleep on the couch. Then it vanished. The whole house vanished. Tony was on his feet in a second. He was there again, on the massive piece of of stone overlooking Earth. Tony looked around desperately. The Avengers lay strewn about the rock. They were all dead.

No. No. No. NO!

The dream was different this time. Something was different. Wrong. Was it even a dream?

“Don’t move Stark.”

Tony froze at the sound of Clint’s growl behind him.

“Don’t fucking move.”

Tony turned around slowly to face the archer.

“I swear I will shoot you if you move again!” Tony flinched at the sheer rage in Clint’s voice.

“Clint I-” Tony tried to start, tried to explain something… he didn’t know what he was trying to say, but he needed to say something.

“SHUT UP! You did this!” The archers sounded terrified.

“What do you-?” And then Tony looked down at himself. He wasn’t himself. He was wrapped in dark gray metal. Dark and twisting metal. Red light danced and writhed underneath it, almost like some spark of evil life. Ultron. Tony lifted his hands, they to were wrapped in the cold dark metal, but there was more. There red. Blood. Blood on his hands, dripping from his fingers. He looked back up at Clint who now had an arrow pulled back in his bow.

“Please don’t…” Tony pleaded. What had he done? What had he done? WHAT HAD HE DONE!  His head screams. Did he do this? Was he the man that would kill the Avengers?

“No Stark! You forced this on yourself! You have to die for what you’ve done!” Clint screamed back at him. Tony looked up through the whole in the sky that was the window to Earth. The planet was no longer blue and green. It was black with evil red light glowing through huge cracks in its surface. Dead. The planet was dead and he had killed it.

“You are the man that killed the Avengers. That is your legacy Stark, and you have to pay!” Clint loosed the arrow. It struck Tony in the chest. He reeled back from the force of the arrow. It tore through the evil metal wrapped around him, and sank into his heart. An evil laugh filled the air. Not Clints. No. A thick, evil malaised laugh of triumph.

I’m coming Stark.

He hit the ground.

Tony sat bolt upright with a gasp. Blood pounded past his ears, and sweat streamed down his face. He could feel his hands shaking… he could feel his whole body shaking. Tony looked around checking his surroundings. Soft blankets under him. Cool air. The air conditioner humming loudly in the window. He was safe. He was still in Clint’s house. Everyone was safe. He wasn’t Ultron. He hadn’t failed them…

 

Yet…

Chapter Text

Clint clenches his hands tighter on the clutch of the quinjet, and heaves a heavy sigh. He tosses a quick glance over his shoulder at the team. Each and everyone of them seems to be trapped in there own separate world. He had all but carried Nat out of the ship. Steve and Thor had meandered after him. Both of them deep in their own thoughts. Quiet. They were all to quiet. He had gotten them all to the plane just as a building went down in the city. Not a whole lot of time passed before Stark descended from the sky in a half destroyed suit carrying an unconscious Bruce in his arms.

The only one not sitting staring into space is Stark. He is talking to Hill.

“Thanks Hill,” He hangs up the call and comes to stand behind Clint.

“Want me to take a turn?” Stark asks leaning against the wall. Clint holds back a snort. He knows Stark. He knows the man is probably running on deep reserves of failing energy, and caffeine. He knows the guy is probably tired as shit.

“No, I’m good,” Clint assures him, “I can keep flying,” Stark lets out a sigh as though he he had been hoping Clint would say that, “Try to get some shut eye. We’re a few hours out.”

“Few hours out from where?” Tony asks confused.

“Safe house.”

The man just sighs again, “Alright, well if you need to switch let me know.”

Stark turns to leave.

“Try to get some sleep Tony.”

He laughs. Clint just shakes his head. He knows Stark isn’t going to sleep.

Clint turns his attention back to the dark sky before him. He sighs. Maybe taking the team home isn’t the best choice. Taking the team to his family could be a liability. Ultron could easily be tracking them. He could be leading danger straight to them. He had almost done it once before, when Loki had had him under mind control. The demi god had found out, and the tiny part of him that knew what was going on, the bit that was still him, had been terrified for his family’s safety. He had gotten lucky. Loki hadn’t used the information he had, to do unspeakable things. Clint has a feeling that Ultron will not be as merciful. He shouldn’t be doing this. This is to dangerous.

Clint is about to turn the jet around, but gives his team one last look over. He keeps the jet going the same way as he looks over the team. He has never seen a more a broken group of people. Bruce and Natasha are asleep, but twitching uncomfortably; strain written on their faces. Steve and Thor both have their eyes closed, but they aren’t asleep. Their eyes are moving beneath their eyelids, and there faces are drawn up into uncomfortable frowns. Tony isn’t trying to sleep. His eyes are traveling over the team. Clint’s eyes lock with his for a second, and then he shakes his head a little and gives Clint a weak half smile. The kind of half smile men give when they are trying mask guilt and pain. Clint feels bad for him. He turns back around in his seat and continues heading the jet toward his home. They are broken and Clint is pretty sure he hand his family can fix them... at least a little. He is going to risk it.





Chapter Text

“Mr. Stark! Check this out!” Peter exploded into the lab. Tony looked up from his work in surprise. Peter usually only came to hang out on the weekends. It was Wednesday. Why was here? Wait. Was it Wednesday? Tony really wasn’t sure what days were what anymore. They all consisted of close to the same thing. Lab work, a next to empty compound, more lab work, dinner with Pepper (when she wasn’t on business trips), hours of verbally sparring with Ross, and finally nights, nights of restless sleep and nightmares, or no sleep at all, “Look at this super epic lego set I got!”

Peter waver the big lego box in the air above his head. He was smiling from ear to ear. Tony couldn’t help but laugh at the teens enthusiasm over a lego set.

“Do you want to build it with me?” Peter asked and sprinted across the lab over to Tony. He really wanted to. He hadn’t sat down and built anything recreational in long time, but he had a lot of work to do.

“Sorry kiddo, but I’m super busy,” Tony gestured to the new the arc reactor design.

“Oh…” Peter mumbled and his shoulders drooped a little.

“Why don’t go do it with Ned?”

“Ned is visiting family in Maine.”

“During the week? Don’t you have school?” Tony was confused. He had never actually met Ned, but from what Peter had told him the boy wouldn't dream of missing school especially for something as trivial as family. Peter snorted and in what seemed like an attempt not to laugh.

“What?!” Tony cried. It probably wasn’t Wednesday.

“It’s Friday Mr. Stark.”

Friday? Already? That ment Pepper would be back tomorrow, and that didn’t seem right. It seemed like she had just left that morning? Sleep deprivation was no good at all.

“It is?”

Peter just nodded, “What day did you think it was?”

“Wednesday…” Tony trailed off. How was it already Friday? Had he even slept since Wednesday?

Peter laughed, “How long have you been in here working alone?”

“Longer than I thought apparently,” Tony scoffed.

“Well if you’ve been working on that for a while then maybe you could take a break…?” Peter inched closer to him, “...and play legos?”

Tony looked into the kid's big round puppy dog eyes and sighed.

“Fine.”

“YES!” Peter did a little dance, “Thank you Mr. Stark!”

The boy hugged him. Tony hadn’t been expecting it and coughed in surprise.

“Oh… Uh, sorry…” Peter hoped back awkwardly.

“No it’s uh-- fine,” Tony said slowly, then snapped out of his momentary shock, “Anyway, that corner over there is clear, so we can set up there.”

“Great!” Peter exclaimed and rushed over to the corner. Tony followed him at a slower pace. They both sat down and Peter opened the box.

 

“Come on! I’m a genius! Why can not figure this thing out?!” Tony cried in dismay trying to figure out what the hell he had done wrong. Peter laughed.

“Maybe you shouldn’t have thrown the instructions away,” Peter said helpfully. Tony just frowned. In hindsight that had not been the best idea he had had. He wanted a challenge.

“Well I did want a challenge…” Tony muttered peering at the lego creation in his hand.

“What time is it?” Peter yawned. Tony just shrugged. He had left his watch on the counter and was too preoccupied to go it.

“Does it matter?”

“No, not really,” Peter replied and picked up a lego piece. Somehow the kid hadn’t been struggling without the instructions. Tony was jealous.

 

Pepper pulled her car up to the compound and parked. She was mildly concerned that Tony hadn’t been waiting for her at the airport. He usually met her there, but it was very early. Pepper had a faint hope that maybe he was sleeping, it didn’t seem likely though.

Everything inside was dark, all except the lab. Pepper frowned. Tony had probably been in there since she left. Her hopes of him being asleep dwindled away as she approached the lab. The door shicked open and she stepped into the lab.

“Tony?” Pepper called into the lab. He didn’t respond. Pepper narrowed her eyes and ventured into the lab. It was far to quiet, and she didn’t like it. She walked around one of the counters and stopped in her tracks. A smile spread across her face as she looked down. Tony was laying on the floor next to a mound of legos. Peter was flopped against the wall; both of them were snoring peacefully Pepper smiled. Tony had a content smile on his face, he looked the most peaceful she had seen in a long time.

“Friday, do me a favor and dim the lights,” Pepper said quietly.

The lights dimmed as Pepper slipped out of the lab.



Chapter Text

He looks to the hole in the sky. His target. He knows this is where his end is to be. He doesn’t fight it. He embraces it.

“Stark you know that’s a one way trip.”

He knows, but he clutches the nuke even tighter. It is rocketing full speed toward his his tower; if it hits it the whole city dies.

“Give me full power on the thrusters Jay,” Tony orders pushing up on the massive bomb right above him. His thrusters increase their force, and he and the missle are angling upward. His foot scrapes along the building as he rockets toward the sky. That was close. To close.

“Shall I try miss Potts?” Jarvis asks softly. Tony swallows hard.

“Might as well.”

Talking to her would be good. Saying goodbye. The call just sits there at the edge of his vision. Pepper doesn’t pick up; he climbs higher into the sky. The missile is doing most of the work now, he could let go, risk it swerving off course, he could take a chance, a chance for himself, but he doesn’t. Tony clings to the missle gives a little more thrust into his thrusters, and pushes harder toward the hole in the sky. He glances at the corner of his display. Pepper’s picture is still hovering there. He turns his gaze back to the hole in the sky just as he passes through it. This is it. His end. The picture of Pepper fuzzes away, and Tony turns his gaze toward the massive ship before him. The lights in his suit go out, and he releases the missile. Away it goes. The air in the suit is sucked away by space.  He chokes as the last tiny amount of air is spent. The missile hits its target, and bright burning fire fills Tony’s gaze as darkness slowly pulls itself over him. He allows his eyes to slip closed as he falls back. Earth is pulling him back, but he will be dead before he makes it back through the portal. He doesn’t regret it. He had to do it, for the world, for the city, for his team, for Pepper… he hopes she understands that he had no other choice. There was no one else to carry the nuke away from the city. It had to be him. The full force of the darkness grabs him and pulls him under its thick waves. He can’t feel his body anymore. He can’t feel his thoughts anymore. He is slipping away, falling deeper into the black abyss.

Chapter Text

Pepper yanks out her phone as soon as she sees the red armor rocketing through the sky toward the spaceship ascending into the sky. She prays it isn’t Tony, but there is no one else that it might be. Her future husband is launching him full speed toward a spaceship. She needs him to come back. She needs him to stay.

“Tony?” To her relief he answers. Maybe she can get him to come back, to get someone to save the world. She knows it’s selfish, but just this once she wants him to be selfish. She wants him to be selfish for her.

“Hey honey-” Not many people can hear it, or notice it, it the subtle change in his voice. She heard it a lot after his first encounter with aliens. Terror. Tony is better than most at concealing his fear, but he has never been able to hide anything from her, “-- we might have to push our 8:30 res.”

No. No. No. He is on the ship. Pepper already knew that, but the realness of it is driving itself into her mind.

“Please tell me you are not on that ship!” She tries not to scream. He can’t be. No. Please no!

“I’m sorry,” His two simple words cut her deep. She can hear the dread and terror dripping from his voice. She can hear it; he wants to come back. He is up there alone and terrified, and he wants to come back, but she knows he can't- won't.

“Tony I swear! Get your ass back down here… please!” Pepper cries. Come back! Come back! Come back!

“I’m sorry Pepp- I Pepp?” the connection breaks up.

“Tony! No! Please no! Not again! Come back!” Pepper screams this time, but the connection is gone and she knows it, “I love you.”

She knows he can’t hear her say it. She knows the connection is already dead, but she says it because she'll hate herself if she doesn’t. The spaceship has vanished from the sky. He is gone.

“Boss- I’m sorry… but I lost him. He is to far away.”

He is gone.

Pepper sinks to the ground biting back tears that want to push themselves out. He is gone and she hadn’t had the chance to tell him. She had lied. She had been going to tell him over dinner, but now he was gone, and he may never know that he is a father. Pepper runs her hands gently over her belly and curls in on herself. She doesn’t care if anyone is watching her. She has a feeling deep inside her heart that she will never get him back.

He is gone.

 

Chapter Text

Tony paced nervously running his hands through his sweaty hair. Why was he sweating? He shouldn’t still be this hot. The fight in Monaco had been an hour ago-- an hour.

Shit. He has been in the kitchen of the jet for an hour. How had it already been an hour? Pain exploded through his chest and he found himself on the floor. A spasm wrapped its cold hand around him and his whole body convulsed. He bit back a scream of pain as the poison in his bloodstream pulsed through his body. Pain radiated from the arc reactor and tore through his body. Tony pulled himself into a small fetal position, and let himself cry. Crying helped. It made the pain a little bit more bearable. These sudden attacks of pain had become more an more common with every passing day to the point Tony was afraid of making any appearances in public. He could usually sense them coming a few minutes in advance, but sometimes they hit without warning. He didn’t need the world to know he was dying. He did however need Pepper to know. He had to tell her at some point… Gosh he wanted her there with him. He wanted her to hold him. He wanted to be with her until his final poisoned breath was spent. He let out a rasping sob as another burst of pain exploded through his body causing every muscle to lock and stiffen. He jerked violently and groped for the closest trash can. He threw up. His stomach muscles clenched as his body emptied the little food he had left in his sistem. He leaned himself against the wall of the cabinet and forced himself to breath. At first it was difficult, and his body didn’t want obey, but He finally managed to slow his breathing, and collect his thoughts. He needed to tell Pepper. He couldn’t do it here. He needed to do it somewhere special. Somewhere safe. Somewhere quiet. Somewhere the world would leave them alone. Somewhere beautiful. He would find a place, and take her there. He would tell her everything. The palladium poisoning. The fact that it was killing him, and maybe if he managed to dig up the courage he would tell her he loved her. He had never said it, and he felt like he needed to tell her before he died. Tony sighed and hauled himself to his feet. He could still feel his body shaking from the ordeal. Take her somewhere special. Tell her everything. It made him queasy just thinking about it.

I love you.

He thought maybe he could work up the courage when the time came, but for now he would just make her an omelette.

Chapter Text

A scream of terror rips Yinsen out of his peaceful sleep. He fumbles around through the pile next to his cot for his flashlight. He clicks it on and light floods into the room

“Stark?” Yinsen calls to the young man. The beam of light from the flash light settles on him. Yinsen can see his shoulders heaving as though he is breathing hard, “Stark? Are you okay?”

The man flinches as his voice carries through the cave.

“I… um… I can’t…” Yinsen instantly knows what is going on. He can tell from the quiver and hoarseness in Stark’s voice that he is about to slip into a panic attack. Yinsen is on his feet in a second, rushing to Stark’s side.

“You’re okay Stark,” Yinsen tries to reassure the trembling man. He places a comforting hand on the young man’s shoulder, and he flinches.

“Don’t-” Starks chokes, his strangled words seem to be begging for something.

“It’s okay Stark. You are okay,” Yinsen repeats, and gently wraps his arm around Tony’s trembling shoulders.

“But-”

“You’re okay.”

Yinsen wishes more than anything that he could tell the terrified young man that he would be okay, but frankly Yinsen knows he can not. Likely as not the Ten Rings will come in the morning and drag him away for another round of torture. Telling Stark that he is okay, and will be okay are two very different things. One is mostly likely a lie, and the other is the truth… for the time being.

“There going to come back…” Stark’s voice is a low moan of terror. His whole body shakes in Yinsen’s arms.

“You are stronger than this Stark,” Yinsen doesn’t know how else to reassure the man. He can’t tell him that they won’t come for him tomorrow, “You are strong.”

He cradles Stark in his arms as violent sobs shake the young man’s body. Yinsen used to curse the Ten Rings for tearing his life apart and ruining everything, but now… now as he cradles a very broken man in his arms he begins to realize that there is a purpose to everything that has turned his life upside down. That purpose was Stark. Yinsen’s family had been good. They had been happy. They hadn’t needed anything. It was all perfect. Their lives had been lives well lived, and they had died as good people. This man on the other hand? This man needed saving. Saving from himself, and saving from who he had become. Yinsen was beginning to realise that his purpose-- the reason-- for him being locked in this cave was to save this man. This young man with so much potential. Yinsen knows that he will some day leave his mark on the world, and not a mark written in red.

Stark was strong. He would survive.

“You will be okay.”

“No, they’ll come back-”

“No. Stark, you will be okay, and you will make it out of here. I promise.”

Yinsen means it.

 

Chapter Text

Tony climbed into bed. He hadn't slept since the cave… how many days had it been? Days? No. Hours? No. He didn't know, but he was finally home, and safe. He curled up in his soft warm bed, and prepared himself to let sleep take him.

To soft. Tony rolled over in bed. This was wrong. Why was this wrong? This was supposed to be normal, not the cots on the cold stone floor of cave, yet somehow a hard cot on the cold stone floor was where he needed to be. At least for tonight.

Tony sat up in the far to soft bed and looked around his dark room. This wasn't going to work. He pulled himself out of bed and made his way out his room, down the stairs, through the dark house, and down to the basement.

“Sir? Surely not a project so soon?” Jarvis spoke up with as much care as an AI could possibly muster.

“No Jarvis. No project tonight. Just coming down here to sleep,” Tony yawned and made his way carefully through the dark workshop over to the darkest corner. Tony curled himself into protective ball in the corner. He rested his head on his arm, and closed his eyes. The cold hard ground felt firm and reassuring beneath him. Normal. Yes this was the way it should be. Cold. Hard. Painful almost. Peacefully painful. Tony’s mind wandered as he drifted off to sleep. Why had he survived? What had he done? He had seen the destruction he had reaped on the world. He had broken it. He wanted to fix it, fix it 100 times over. He wasn't sure if he could. He would try.

 

Blood. Screams. Pain. Searing pain tearing his chest wide open. Hands reaching in and taking his heart, replacing it with a cold metal contraption.

Blood. Screams. Pain. His head was driven underwater by firm evil hands. Freezing stale water clawed at his insides as he accidentally screamed into the drowning black.

Blood. Screams. Pain. Not his blood, screams, and pain. No everyone else's. He had done this to everyone.

Blood. Screams. Pain. A broken body in his arms. The body of a man who cared for him. Loved him. Saved him. Tony could have saved him. He could have stopped him. Like everything this was his fault.

Blood. Screams. Pain. Blazing hot sun, burning him, killing him.

Death.

 

Tony sat up and screamed, and for the first time in two months there was no one there to hold him and comfort him. He blamed himself.

Chapter Text

The objective was simple. Go in. Start the fire. Get out. Don’t get caught. They hadn’t told her how to set the fire, only to make sure it killed their target.

She had set the fire charges in the vents beneath the target’s room. She now sat outside and waited. She didn’t know why she was waiting. The man she had been told to kill would definitely die in the fire. He was on the sixth floor and in a coma. The fire would come up through the floor and kill him...

This was wrong. She couldn’t do this. There were to many people in the hospital. Children. Good people. The man she was told kill was defenceless. She had to stop it. Stop what she had done. Natasha lept from where she sat outside the hospital and rushed toward the building.

BOOM!!!

A shock wave swept from the building blowing out every window, and it threw Natasha to the ground. She recovered enough to look up at it as black smoke and white hot flames poured out of every opening. The black smoke filled the sky and blotted out the sun. This was to fast. This wasn’t right. It hadn’t happened like this.

Screams of pain and terror rose from the building and tore at her ears.

“No, NO!” She screamed and tried to drown out the horrible sounds of her sins. The screams grew louder and rattled her skull. She screamed louder too. She gripped her hands over her ears and buried her head in her lap. Tears stung her face and her throat hurt from screaming, but she couldn’t stop. She couldn’t stop anything. The screams. Her screams. The pain. The terror. The fire. The tears. The death. The blood….

A red figure rose out of the black smoke and laughed. The figure was made of blood… the blood she had spilled. It suddenly collapsed and spilled over her. Pulled her under drowning her. She tried to scream as it pulled her under. She fought against the thick drowning darkness, she screamed to escape, but the only thing that echoed back were the screams rising from the inferno of the hospital. She could still see the black smoke, and evil flames as the wave of red pulled her under.

She uttered one last horrified shriek before she was cut off by the drowning darkness.

“You did this!”

 

Natasha sat bolt upright with a scream of terror. Her blankets had been tossed from the bed and she sat panting in a cold sweat. She could feel the droplets dripping down her face and back. She stared into the blackness of her room and slowly began to remember that she was  not at the hospital anymore. That had been nearly 20 years ago.

“Tasha?” A beam of light spread through the room, as a warm soft voice called to her through the dark. Clint.

“You okay Nat?” Clint asked from the door.

“Yeah, I’m fine,” The crack in her voice gave her away and she knew it. The door opened wider and Clint walked into the room and plopped himself down next to her on the bed.

“You don’t have to lie to me.”

Nat nodded, “I know.”

“Nightmare?” Clint asked slowly.

“The hospital fire…” Natasha forced herself to reply. Clint didn’t say anything. He only nodded his head in understanding.

“You want to go for a walk?” Clint finally ask after a long time of silence.

Natasha could only muster a nod.

Clint tucked his arm comfortingly over her shoulder as they stepped outside. The air was fresh and cool. Refreshing. She looked around the compound. The building’s were dark… but not in a menacing way, in a peaceful resting way. Nat loved the compound at night. It was always peaceful and comforting. It reminded her that everything was okay now. She and Clint began their walk, setting off down one of the paths that wove between the buildings. She was okay now.

 

But the shadow would always be there...

Chapter Text

I Called Him Dad.

He Called Me Dad.


Peter flopped down face first on his bed. Imberacement burning in his cheeks. He begged Nad to pick up. He needed his friend's wise advice in his great time of need.

"Hey Peter. You do realise it 2:00 A.M. right?" his friend's tone was drowsy. Damn. It he was right. It was late, but Peter didn't care. He was having a crisis.

"NED YOU DON'T UNDERSTAND!!!" Peter almost shouted, on the edge of hysterics, "I CALLED HIM DAD!!!"

"Who- what- dad? Peter what-?"

"MR. STARK! I CALLED HIM DAD!!!" Peter was pretty sure he sounded like a crazy person now.

"WAIT! You WHAT???" Ned seemed to snap to attention on the other end of the phone.


"Tones... It is literally 2:00 A.M. what could you possibly want?"

"RHODEY! The. Kid. Called. Me. Dad!!!" Tony cried. He wasn't sure whether to be touched, or whether to completely lose his shit, so he decided he'd lose his shit. The kid had called him dad. 

"It's about damn time someone notice," Came Rhodey's reply.

"But-"

"Come on face it Tony, you are the kid's dad."

"But what do I do? He- he said it and then realised he said it, and then he ran away to his room! WHAT DO I DO RHODEY?" Tony cried on the verge of actual tears. He had a son. The kid saw him as his father.

"You do what any good dad would do and you go talk to him," Rhodey made it sound like it was obvious.


Ned was mid sentence when someone knocked on the door of his room. Peter hung up on him instantly. He'd apologise later.

"Who is it?" Peter called despite knowing who it was.

"Tony-" His fath- mentor sounded unsure.

"Oh um- uh..." Peter panicked, "I'm asleep?"

No dumbass! Of course you aren't asleep!

"Oh... Uh I can come back..." The tone that the man spoke with hurt Peter a little, and he realised he wanted to give him a hug.

"No! No, you can come in," Peter replied hoping he hadn't already left. The door to his room opened slowly and Mr. Stark entered quite timidly and sat down next to Peter on the bed. They both sat in painfully awkward silence.

"Sorry I called you dad."

Mr. Stark flinched. Peter thought that had been the right thing to say.

"Really?"

"No," Peter confessed. He did see Mr. Stark as his father.

"You mean you do see me as your father?" Tony asked hopefully. Peter smiled and nodded. Mr. Stark's face brightened into a smile. Before Peter knew what he was doing he found himself hugging his dad.

"I love you dad."

Mr. Stark hugged him back.

"I love you son."

 

 

Chapter Text

Tony flinches slightly as he sits down in pilot seat on the quinjet. He’s grateful that Peter didn’t notice. The kid doesn’t need to be worrying about him, not yet anyway. He’s fine.. Or at least he hopes so.

“Alright Friday, fly us home will you?” Tony asks the AI as he powers up the jet.

“Yes sir.”

After insuring that the AI has everything under control Tony makes his way back to where Peter is sitting, he looks exhausted. Tony fully understands the feeling. He plops himself down next to his kid and heaves a heavy sigh. Pain shoots up through his side, and he almost uters a gasp of pain, but manages to hold it back. He can’t let the kid see him hurt. He has to be strong for his son.

“Hey Mr. Stark,” Peter says opening an eye lazily, “How long until we get home?”

“Em, Probably like two or three hours,” Tony replies leaning his head back against the seat.

“Issit okay if I sleep?” Peter mumbles slowly.

“Sure kid… do what you need to. It’s been a long day…” Tony replies slowly, as he speaks blood drips down his side under the suit. It tickles, and Tony fights the urge to flinch.

“Thanks…” Peter says slowly obviously already falling asleep. Tony cracks a smile at his kid. It has been a very long day. Him and Peter had been forced to take care of a gang of guys who had alien tech from Toomes. Usually Vision and Rhodey would have joined them, but Vision had vanished… Again, and Rhodey was off flying an air force combat mission. Peter had done amazing in the fight, so amazing in fact that he had been so busy fighting that he hadn’t noticed one of the guys stab through the metal plates protecting Tony’s abdomen. He is grateful for that. He is also grateful that the extra emergency plate had time to fold over before the kid had seen the gap in between the plates.

“Pete?” Tony nudges the kid. He only lets out a small snore. Tony sighs weakly. He can see about his injury now.

“Hey Fri?” He is surprised by how weak his voice suddenly sounds.

“Yes boss?” The AI replies.

“How bad am I?”

“Sir? I don’t think you’re ba-”

“The stab wound Friday. The stab wound damn it!” Tony growls. He knows he is losing blood and getting worse, “How bad is it? Time frame. How long until I pass out?”

“Oh… Your heart rate is on the low side, but you seem to be holding steady. Blood pressure seems to be on the low side of okay for now. Calculations suggest that this will not remain the case for very long. Your blood loss is slow but steady. May I suggest waking Mt. Parker and getting him to help-”

“No!” Tony barks a little louder than intended, “No, The kid doesn’t need to know. He’ll just end up freaking out, and then I’ll freak out, and it will be no good.”

“Fine, but at the very least you need to stay awake,” The AI’s Tone is firm. Tony doesn’t argue. He knows she is right.

They have been flying for an hour. Tony wants to wake up the kid. He wants to get help for his injury. He wants to pass the slowly ticking away hours talking to his kid. Talking would help. Anything to get his mind off the blood slowly slugging its way down his abdomen under his armor. His vision has gotten increasingly more blurry. He isn’t sure if he’ll be able to stay awake. He wants to wake up his son, but he can’t do that to him. He is supposed to keep him safe, not freak him out. Tony is supposed to be the one doing the comforting and taking care of, not Peter. The cloud over Tony’s vision darkens.

“Sir you are slipping!” The AI’s voice is barely audible. Everything goes out of focus, and then fades to complete numb blackness.

 

Friday flashes lights on the jet in dismay. Her creator is the smartest man alive, yet he is also a stubborn dumbass. She knows it his against his direct order, but her programing to protect him over rides his verbal command. He needs help, and there is only person who can help right now. She decides to wake up Peter.



“Mr. Parker!” Peter shakes himself awake at the sound of Friday’s voice. Tony is slumped with his chin rested on his chest asleep. His arms are drooped uselessly by his sides. Peter cracks a smile. He is glad his mentor is sleeping. His smile fades as he realizes something wrong. Strain is written all over the man’s face, and his breath is short and labored.

“Mr. Stark?”

Drip…

Peter’s enhanced hearing picks up the tiny sound of something splashing on the floor. He looks down to find a small puddle of red at the man’s feet. A small oozing trickle of blood is coming from one of the cracks in the suit.

“SHIT!” Peter is on his feet kneeling in front of the man in a matter of seconds, “Mr. Stark?! Hey! Please wake up!”

Peter lifts the man’s chin gently, “Mr. Stark?!”

Thunder booms in a deafening bang next to the jet. The whole plane lurches. Mr. Stark almost falls off his seat, but Peter manages to catch him.

“Friday?! What the hell was that?!” Peter almost screams.

“We will be experiencing turbulence. May I suggest you lay Mr. Stark somewhere safe until we get through the storm?" Peter takes one look at his drooped pale mentor.

“Already on it!” Peter gently lowers the man to the floor of the jet, “Mr. Stark, please wake up!”

The plane lurches again, the man lets out a displeasured groan.

“Friday? Can you open his suit for me? I need to see what’s wrong?” Peter squeeks helplessly, fighting the panic rising in his throat, “I- he needs… I can’t-- Get it off him! I can’t- he needs it off--”

“Peter. You need to calm down,” Friday’s voice is reassuring and calm, “Mr. Stark will be just fine. The weapon didn’t puncture any organs or major arteries-”

“He got stabbed?!” Peter chokes. Why hadn’t he told him?

“Yes Peter, but he will be okay. You just need to be calm.”

“How can I-? He- he got- I can’t-” Peter is trying very hard to keep it together, but his father is bleeding out in his lap, and he can’t do anything, “FRiday please open his suit!”

“I can, but Peter I need you to calm down before I do. You have to be ready to do exactly as I tell you without hesitation.”

Peter swallows hard. He can do this. He can keep his cool. He has to. Mr. Stark needs him to. It is just him. There is no one else to help his mentor.

What if he messes up? What if he makes it worse? Doubt begins to creep into the back of the his mind.

“Peter? Can you keep it together?”

Thunder crashes outside the jet, and the whole thing rattles. Peter clenches his teeth.

“Yes I can do this.” Peter shoves his anxiety out of his mind and takes a deep breath.

“Alright, go get gauze and peroxide out of the medical cabinet,” The AI says with an unnatural calm. Peter does as he is told and then returns to his father’s side, “Okay, I am going to open the suit. When I do pull the shirt away, pour the peroxide on the wound then put the gauze on it and web it to him.”

Peter gulps. Maybe he can’t do this… Maybe he sho--

The suit opens. Peter’s breath is sucked from his body like a vacuum. The entire lower part of the man’s white shirt is stained red. The blood is congealed in a small pool and slipping slowly down his side. Dark. Thick. Smooth. Red. Red.

“Peter! NOW!” Friday’s voice explodes through the panicked silence rattling Peter’s mind. Peter snaps out of his shock in a matter of seconds.

“Okay Mr. Stark, this is going to sting,” Peter warns, he's not sure why he says it. His father is unconscious. He peels the shirt away from the deep knife wound, how the knife got through the suit Peter still isn’t sure, but it’s there and it’s bad. He pours the peroxide onto the wound, and Tony’s whole body flinches.

“GAH! Whattha fuck!” His father coughs and tries to sit up.

“Stay down Mr. Stark!” Peter orders, and presses a hand firmly against his shoulder to push him back down. In the same motion he pushes the gauze against the stab wound, and webs it onto the man’s side. He lets out a growl of pain. Lighting flashes and lights up the jet. The whole plane jolts and Peter is thrown forward onto his mentor who gasps in pain.



Tony didn’t want this. He wants them to both just sleep until they reach the compound. He doesn’t want Peter to worry about him.

“I’m sorry! I’m sorry!” Peter apologises hauling himself off Tony.

Why is the kid apologizing? It was Tony who had failed. He had failed to keep his injury to himself and now the kid was scared. He did this. He should be the one apologising. Not Peter.

“It’s fine kid,” Tony says through clenched teeth. The wound in his side hurts more now, “I’m fine…”

Tony carefully maneuvers himself so that he is in a sitting up position. Pain tugs at his side, and he bites back a groan. He has to pretend it’s nothing. For the kid. He can do that much can’t he?

“You’re not fine!” Peter cries in dismay.

Damn. He can see straight through the lie. Tony knows he’s not fine. He’s lost to much blood.

“Kid- can you just let me have this one…?” Tony chokes. It would be nice if he can at least pretend things are okay.

“But Mr. Stark-”

“Look Pete this isn’t as bad as it looks. We will be to the compound soon…. Alright-?” Tony growls through clenched teeth, suddenly losing the capability of being gentle.

“No, Mr. Stark. You are bleeding really bad! Look!” Peter’s tone is short and angry. Despite himself Tony looks down at where the kid has tried to stop the bleeding and flinches. Blood is already seeping through the white. He inhales sharply, ignoring the way the kid raises an eyebrow.

“Yep. Okay this isn’t going to work. We are going to need something better than this shit job- no offence kid. I appreciate the effort,” Tony tries to keep his voice as nonchalant as possible. The kid needs him to keep it together. “See that cabinet over there?” Tony nods to the cabinet with the medical supplies, “Get the kit that has the stuff for stitches.”

“...Stitches? Are you-” Peter starts to argue.

“Kid please,” Tony’s voice cracks as he speak. He isn’t going to make the kid give him stitches. He is going to do it himself. Peter comes back with the kit.

“Mr. Stark-”

“It’ll be fine kid,” Tony gives him a weak smile, “Turn around Pete. I don’t need you puking while I do this.”


 

Peter does as he’s told and turns around. He hears his mentor suck in a deep breath and hold it. Peter holds his breath with the man. Finally Mr. Stark let his breath out, and so does Peter. Peter sneaks a glance over his shoulder to see the man wrapping a bandage around his injury. Peter turns around all the way. He looks paler than he did a few minutes ago.

“Mr. Stark?” Peter questions and scoots close to him. His breathing is heavy and strained.

“I’m fine kid…” He leans his head on Peter’s shoulder and his eyes slip closed.

“Mr. Stark?” Peter asks softly. He doesn’t respond. Peter lets out a nervous whine, and wraps his arm around his now unconscious mentor. He holds him tight as the jet shakes from the turbulence.

“Friday?” Peter calls to the AI.

“Yes Peter?”

“Change course to the closest hospital please. Mr. Stark isn’t going to make it the compound.”

“Right away.”

Peter is grateful that the AI doesn’t argue. Peter glances down at the white bandage wrapped messily around his mentor’s abdomen. Red is already slipping through. Peter holds Mr. Stark a little closer to him. How could he have missed something like that? How could he have noticed that the man was in pain? He should have noticed and dealt with this so much sooner, but he had been tired. He had been so tired that he hadn’t even checked to make sure Tony was okay after the fight. How could he have been so stupid? His mentor is barely clinging onto life, and it’s his fault, because he could have done something sooner.

“Peter, we are landing,” Friday warned right as the jet touched down with a jolt. Peter doesn't waste a second pulling his mentor into his arms and picking his up. He makes sure to keep the man’s head tucked in the crook of his neck.

“Hey! Someone help!” Peter cries as he explodes into the ER. A nurse rushes over to him immediately.

“What happened kid?” The man demands as he rushes to help Peter.

“He got stabbed…” Peter can feel his voice quivering, “I- I think… I don’t know he’s lost a lot of blood.”

“It’s okay kid,” The nurse replies gently rescuing Peter, “Can I please get a stretcher over here!?”

His mentor’s body shudders in arms, and goes limp.

“Dad?!” Peter drops to the floor laying his mentor down, “Mr. Stark!”

Peter desperately feels his neck.

Please let there be a pulse. Please let there be a pulse. Please!!

“Let me take him,” The nurse says firmly, “Since apparently no one in this damn place is capable of grabbing a gurney.”

Peter can’t bring himself to answer the man he is to numb with panic. The nurse slides his arms under Tony’s limp body and pulls him into his arms, “I’ll send someone to check on you. Your dad will be fine.” The nurse carries Tony away. Peter can vaguely hear him screaming for someone to get a gurney.



Tony wakes up to find himself laying on his back in what can only be a hospital bed. A heart monitor beeps steadily by his head. He feels infinitely better than he did last time he was awake. He sits up a little and finds that Peter’s head is rested on the side of the bed. Tony cracks a smile and ruffles the kids hair.

“Wake up kiddo,” Tony whispers and the kid instantly lifts his head.

“Mr. Stark! You’re okay!” the kid sounds surprised.

“Of course I am. I don’t lie Peter,” Tony says and gives the kid a big smile. The concern in Peter’s eyes melts away and a smile spreads across his face. He leans forward and hugs Tony. Tony hugs him back despite the tugging pain in his side. He decides not to mention the fact that he heard the kid call him dad.

 

Chapter Text

Tony bowed his head slightly in grief. He was in space once again, and this time he would not be free falling back to earth. No. This time he would be taken far away, quite possibly out of reach of his home forever. He was quite possibly on the ship that was bearing him to his death, the death he that he was bound for the second he put on the suit. He had seen this coming from a million miles away, he had tried to prepare himself and everyone, but as usual he had failed, and now he was preparing to face the biggest threat to ever oppose Earth alone. Thinking about it, it was his fault. He had tried so desperately to keep the team together, that in the end it had torn them apart. He blamed himself.

Tony took a deep breath and exhaled slowly. No panic attacks. He couldn’t afford to have one right now. There was to much at stake. Tony took another deep, and pushed himself forward. He had to find Strange. Strange had the Time Stone. The enemy wanted it, and Tony could not let them have it. No matter what he was not going to let them get it. He would sooner die than let them have it, and he didn’t have worry about someone -Thanos- using Peter or Pepper against him as leverage, they were the only people he would sacrifice the stone for. They were safe on Earth.

Something tapped Tony’s shoulder and he whirled around charging up his repulser only to find that it was Strange’s cloak.

“Damn,” He breathed, “You are a seriously loyal piece of outerwear.”

“Speaking of loyalty,” Tony’s blood froze.

No. No. No. Not the kid. Not here. Please no. Tony spun around quickly to face the the boy, who for once he did not want to see. Tony had gotten on this ship with the knowledge that he would not be coming back. The last time should have been a one way trip, this one definitely was. Part of him had been okay with the knowledge the that he would die up here, but only because it would ensure that the kid and Pepper would be safe. He had sent the kid home. The kid had been going to be safe, and he was supposed to stay that way, but now Peter would die up here right along with him. Tony blamed no one but himself.

Chapter Text

Tony stared at the the bright blue light shining before his eyes. It looked like a star burning brightly before him. For all he carried it was a star. It was so close yet he could nothing to reach out and grab it. It might as well have been a star burning millions of light years away. It brought him no warmth, no life. It was beautiful like a star, but just like a star it served no purpose, not while it was away from his chest.

“It’s beautiful isn’t it?” Tony flinched at the gentleness in Stane’s voice. It is so quiet and soft, that had the man not just ripped his heart out -or the thing fueling his heart- and stabbed him in the back he would have believed Stane cared about him, “You’re ninth symphony.”

Tony tried desperately to speak, say something to the man that had just betrayed over 20 years of trust, but he couldn’t force his muscles to move. The sonic taser had done its cruel job; the high pitched sound waves had coursed through him and tightened every muscle and joint in his body rendering him limp and helpless. He could only a muster a small whimper as the man he had once thought of as father placed his heart in a briefcase and clamped it shut.

“You should see what I came up with. It’s not as conservative as yours but it will still work quite well, and make me quite rich,” Stane said smiling down at Tony with a greedy look in his eye. Money. This man who had looked up to, cared about...loved, had betrayed him for money. As Tony stared wide eyed up at the man, he realized that perhaps all he had ever been to Obadiah Stane was a chance at striking it rich. Perhaps the man had never actually cared about him.This man had never loved him. Just like his father, Stane did not give a rat’s ass about him. Tony’s world, his foundation, his trust crumbled around him like the cities his weapons had rent destruction on. He had spent the last 20 years believing that someone actually wanted him, that he actually had someone he could call father.

“It’s a shame you brought Pepper into this. I really would have preferred she live,” Stane stated as he turned to leave Tony to his death. His blood ran cold with fear. Him dying was one thing, but Pepper couldn’t die. He wouldn’t let her. He loved her....

Proof that Tony Stark has a heart….

She loved him too, and he couldn’t fail her. He would have done anything for her. He would have waded through the fires of hell and back for her, he would have fought a million armies to get to her, but right now the only thing he had to do was make it down stairs….

Chapter Text

Tony peeled his eyes open and found himself lying on his back, on the cold metal floor of the Guardian’s spacecraft, staring up at a glass window in the ceiling. Cold stars burned a millennia away. He contemplated getting up, but there wasn’t much point, and the sky above him was so beautiful, and he really had no reason to get up. He didn’t mind staying in the stars’ cold and distant light. He wondered if one of them was the sun. Which way in the massive black eternity was his tiny planet… his home? Was anyone there waiting for him? Or had everyone he ever loved been torn from him?

“Mr. Stark?” A familiar voice echoed through the ship. Tony sat up.

“Peter?!” Tony cried into the darkness.

“Please Mr. Stark! I’m scared,” Peter’s voice cried again.

“Kid where are you!” Tony called and climbed to his feet, “Peter!”

“I’m right here Mr. Stark,” Tony whirled around at the sound of Peter’s voice behind him. His voice had just been coming from the other direction, but all the same the kid stood before him crowned in the pale star light. He looked almost like a ghost. 

“Kid how-?” Tony breathed, “How are you back-”

Peter smiled and reached his arms open. Tony rushed to him accepting the hug.

“How are you here?” Tony repeated tears brimming in his eyes.

“I’m not,” The voice that replied was masked with evil and hate. Wrong. It was so wrong. Not Peter. Tony tried to pull away, but the kid grabbed, “I am not here, and it's your fault. You could have saved us.”

Tony’s sword- the sword -extended from Peter’s arm and he gave Tony a look of pure hate that burned a hole in Tony's heart.

“You deserve this,” He drove the sword forward. Tony tried to scream in pain, but all of the air left his body from the force of the blade plunging through his abdomen. He stared in shock at his son. The boy just smiled coldly and let go of him. Tony stumbled back a few steps, gasping desperately for air, before sinking to the ground.

“You could have saved us. This is your fault.”

“I’m- I’m sorry… I tried… Peter I tried,” Tears dripped down Tony’s cheeks as he choked out his apology.

“But it wasn’t enough,” The boy replied coldly, “You should have died.”

Tony just stared up at him in horror, he couldn’t make himself speak.

“Half the universe is dead, and it is your fault. Good-bye.”

The kid crumbled away to dust before Tony’s eyes.

“No…” He sobbed and closed his eyes. Now he was going to die, actually die, just like he should have back on Titan.

“TONY!”  A hand grabbed his shoulder and he was ripped out of the ship, “Tony wake up!”

His eyes snapped open and he sat bolt upright in bed with a scream. He could still feel hot tears streaming down his cheeks; his whole body was shaking.

“Tony, baby you’re fine. You’re fine,” Pepper grabbed him and pulled him close to her, “You’re okay, it was just a dream…”

“But-” Tony tried to find a way to put words into his mouth but he failed... he always failed...

“You are home. You’re safe,” Pepper ran her fingers through his hair as she cradled him. Tony let the sobs that he had been holding back for so long, go. He cried into his fiancee’s shoulder as she held him and rocked him back and forth in the bed.

“It’s my fault!” Tony cried around his uncontrollable gasps.

“No baby. No it’s not. This isn’t your fault,” Pepper kissed the top of his head and hugged him closer. He gripped her soft shirt in his hands and leaned his head against her chest. He didn’t say anything else, and neither did she. He only cried, and she held him.

Chapter Text

He drifted through the sky. He was alone. Time had become nothing to him. He had no need for it. Today? Tomorrow? An hour? A minute? It didn't matter it all felt like a lifetime, and an instant all at the same time. Tony’s mind drifted just like him. The only difference was that his mind was home, and he was not. He traveled across the stars, and he was back. His life. His choices. His mistakes. His attempts to save the world. To hold it in his hands. To bare its weight upon his back. His failure. Why was he here? Why had Strange sacrificed half the universe for his sake? Especially if he was going to die here? Alone. There was no point. Maybe Strange hadn’t seen a future where they won. Maybe he had only seen Tony’s predestined fate that was written in the stars. His fate to die among the distant cold lights that tormented him. Maybe Strange’s last act was to carry out the universe’s final wish for him.

Red light danced inside the ship, shining through the windows. Tony rose slowly to his feet and made his way to the window. Outside a nebula danced. Red and angry. Beautiful and terrible. Tony lowered himself to the ground, and leaned against the window. The universe, the galaxy, the stars, space, all of it was so beautiful. Tony hated it.



“Hey miss Potts…” Tony sighed. He had a day of oxygen left. What he was  about to say would be the last thing he would ever say to the love of his life. Tony had thought about starting the message differently, but starting with Miss Potts seemed the right way to go. It was just like it had been before Thanos, before the war, before Ultron, before the Avengers, before Iron Man, before the cave in Afghanistan. He wanted it the way things had been before his world had been rocked and torn apart and put back together, and destroyed again. He wanted it like when they had been young and innocent. More than anything he wanted that time back.

“If you’re seeing this, don’t feel bad,” This wasn't her fault. This was his choice. His fate. It was always going to be like this. The stars willed it so. It wasn't something that could be fought. He needed Pepper to know that he was okay with this.

“Part of the journey is the end.”

He knew from the start. From the time he first put on his suit of armor he knew that it was always just a means to the end. A path to the end of his journey, a ride there. His journey here had been so long yet far to short. He had hoped for far more than he knew would ever be possible. Love. Family. A child. Now he had no hope. His journey would end here and he was ready.

“Just for the record drifting through space with zero promise of rescue is more fun than it sounds.”

Space had been amazing and horrible. Gorgeous and terrifying. It wasn't actually the worst place to die. At least he had a good view from his casket. Not even the pharaohs in their tombs of gold could have dreamed of such a  beautiful resting place.

“Food and water ran out four days ago.” he needed Pepper to know that he fought so hard for her. He had tried for so long to survive, to see her face again. He sighed.

“Oxygen will run out tomorrow.”

He finally admitted it to himself. Tomorrow he would die.

“That’ll be it.”

His end. His journey finally drawing to a close.

“When I drift off,” He was going to drift away into an unwakeable sleep. No pain. Just peace. Finally peace.

“I’ll dream of you.”

He would drift away for eternity, and in that eternity he would dream of her. Forever it the stars. It was always her.

“It’s always you.”

 

Time slipped by in a blazing eternity. Each breath drew less and less air. He got more and more drowsy. And finally the eternity burned itself out, and Tony drifted away from consciousness. And as promised he dreamed of his love.



Chapter Text

The sun rose bright and beautiful and the earth was the way it should be. Everyone who had turned dust was back. Thanos’s body lay dead and lifeless on the ground. Stephen Strange was the first one come back to awareness. He stood and looked around at the destruction as the Avengers slowly rose and collected themselves from various mounds of rubble. They were all bloodied and bruised none of them were worse for the wear . Strange scanned the heroes that were slowly accumulating around. They had won.

Stephen’s eyes finally lay rest on an idol gauntlet that lay on the ground gleaming in the pale morning light. He glanced back up at the gathering heroes that were beginning to hug and congratulate each other. Something was missing. Something was wrong. Strange couldn’t place it.

“We did it!” Captain Rogers was the first to speak. He pulled his best friend into his arms. Barnes had materialized shortly after Stephen had, “We won!”

“And we are all alive and back!” Peter Park whooped, “We all lived!”

What was missing? What was it about all of this that was wrong? What was different? What had happened?

Stephen had watched the fight from the soul realm, but he couldn’t quite put his finger on how it had ended.

“We all made it,” Natasha confirmed proudly, “I thought for sure this would end badly, but we’re all here.”

The woman tucked her arm around Wanda.

It hit Strange. It wasn’t what was missing. It was who. Strange’s eyes snapped back to the gauntlet and then back to the titan’s dead body, and finally he scanned the heroes gathered before him. It hit him harder, he closed his eyes and he remembered.

 

“If you do this, you die!” The mad titan screamed against the building wind and energy.

“For smart guy you are pretty dense if you have yet to realize it doesn’t matter to me!” Stark- the Iron Man - roared back over howl of the energy surging around him.

“Why? Why would you die for a world that has done nothing for you! They don’t deserve-”

“Silence!” The man hissed, and his voice echoed through the air, and crackled in the black sky, “You are a coward. Weak. Groveling in a last ditch effort to save yourself.”

The power around the metal man burned hotter and more powerful his words still a maliced echo in the the dark energy rot air.

“If you use that power you not only die, you will be wiped from existence! No one will remember you! Do you want that!” Thanos roared back at his formidable, now unstoppable enemy.

A cold smile spread across the Tony’s face. The power of the gauntlet began to glow through his veins, his eyes gleamed with the light of the stones.

“Good.”

The word reverberated through the air.

“How can you say that!”

“For once no one will suffer for the choice I make.”

“But-”

“This was never about me. This was always about the future. What becomes of me was always moot. It was your wish that I be remembered. Not mine,” Stark’s whole body glowed from the power flowing through him. He lift the gauntlet that danced with pure power and energy, “It is over.”

“No!”

Earth’s best defender closed his fist and everything exploded into pure blinding whiteness. The whiteness washed over the whole of the universe.

 

Stephen’s eyes snapped open and looked around at the joyful heroes. There was no red and gold armor among them, yet they were rejoicing. Just like the titan had said. No one remembered.



Chapter Text

“Hey grampa can you tell us a story?”

Tony grunted as James pulled himself onto his lap. Tony heard his daughter laugh from the other room.

“Dad, you should tell the one about the time you fought the Hulk,” Morgan called.

“Mom! He told that one last time we were over,” James groaned, “Oh- uh no offence Gamp, it’s just-”

“None taken,” Tony smiled at his grandson, and ruffled his red hair, “What if I tell you about the time your mom stole one of my cars, and Uncle Steve caught her?”

“Oh geez! Dad please don’t!” Morgan cried in dismay from the kitchen, “The kids don’t need to know about what a wild child I was when I was little.”

“Wait! You were a wild child?!” Almost as if on cue Alexis came sliding into the living room followed by Charlie and June Parker.

“Oh you gotta tell that one!” Peter said and hopped over the back of the couch. Tony jumped a little as he plopped down.

“Yeah!” All of the kids cried in unison. Tony glance over his shoulder at his daughter who was obviously trying to conceal her laughs.

“Fine! Fine! Go on,” Morgan waved her hand dismissively.

“It’s okay Morgan, they were going to find out eventually,” Tony heard MJ soothing his daughter.

“Alright so it all began on a cold rain night many years ago!” Tony waved his hand through the air dramatically and all of the grandchildren scooted a little closer to the couch.

 

Peter couldn’t help but beam as he watched his mentor- his father tell stories to all of the grandchildren gathered before him. He deserved this. This was what the man had always wanted. Peace, quiet and a family. A family, people he could share his huge huge heart with. Peter’s smile widened. This was good.

 

Chapter Text

Carol finds him still and silent, silhouetted against the window illuminated by the nebula dancing beyond outside of the space craft. She closes the distance between her and the familiar body in a matter of seconds. She can not see his face, yet she knows who he is in long before before she turns him over to gaze upon his face as pale as star light. Her breath catches in her throat. What is he doing here? How had he ventured this far across the stars? She can tell from one look that he is broken... that he has been broken and glued back together and broken all over again, far to many times. She reaches to feel for a heartbeat, but stops. She hesitates. Fear stops her, the fear of what she will not find. The fear of what will be missing from the once jubilant man.

“Please...” Her whisper is a quiet cry. I cry to him. A prayer to the cold universe to spare him... give him back. She knows him. She knows him like a sister knows her brother. She loves him like family. A long time ago he was that. Her brother, the one she had taken upon her self to protect. Here he was 20 years later cold and limp in her arms. Finding her courage, the courage to be sure of what she has already excepted, she places her fingers on the broken man’s neck.

The universe answers her prayer in form of a tiny, so preciously tiny, weak, so very weak, thump, and then another. Carol slips her arms around him and holds his weak body close to hers. Her quivering hands run through his damp bedraggled hair.

“You are safe... you’re safe...” She is assuring him just as much as she is assuring herself. She clings onto his fragile body even tighter as she rises to her feet. She bares him back through the cold dark ship, she carries him away from his cold metal casket toward warmth and safety. Toward life.

Carol lays his still and feeble body down on her own cot in the safety of her ship. She steers her ship away from what could have been his final resting place. Kneeling beside her friend she begins to care for him. She lifts his head from the pillow just enough to slide the band of the oxygen mask over his head. If not for the slow and uneven fogging and defogging of the mask over his nose and mouth, she would have thought him dead. He had yet to move, flinch, acknowledge anything. It frightens her. He is so weak and fragile, the fear that he may silently slip away is prominent her mind.  

“Please stay,” Her plea echoes through her lonely ship. She doesn’t even know if he can hear her, “Please wake up...”

He looks as though he may drift away to place that he will never return from, at any second. She rests her hand on his sunken cheek and smiles sadly. She is glad to see him, but not in this way. The look of pain and brokenness written on his face tells her that the years have not been kind, and that they have taken so much from him. He looks like a man who has given until he has nothing left to give, but continued to give all the same, and the hungry world kept on taking.

“What have they done to you,” Her fingers rest on the cold light glowing through his smeared black tank top. Her question is greeted with a shiver running through his body. Her first instinct is to check the mask to ensure he is still breathing. Movement snatches her gaze away from his pale face. His finger twitches. When she looks back up she is staring into deep, brown, pained eyes.

Tony Stark opened his mouth and spoke.

 

 

 

 

“I wish I had lived a little longer.”

 

Chapter Text

The days slipped by- were they even days? - slowly painfully they slugged by. With each of the slug like days that passed the man on the ship with Nebula slugged ever so much closer to death. The ship had died a day ago, and the food had run out two days before that. Nebula needed no food nor oxygen, but Tony Stark did. Tomorrow his oxygen would run out. Neither of them had said it aloud, but they both knew it. Neither of them had said a word since the ship had died. Talking used more air, and all of the words that needed to be spoken had already been said. Tomorrow she would watch him die.

He was away now, wasting precious minutes of air to speak one last message to his love. Nebula wished that there was someone left alive who she would do that for. Die for. There wasn’t. Everyone she loved was dead, and the the only person in the vastness of all space, in the universe, that was left who seemed to care about her was going to drift away and never wake up, tomorrow. Tomorrow she would officially be alone… again.

“Hey,” Nebula looked up as Tony soft voice split the silence, “Spending my, well you know… spending that in complete silence seems like a shitty way to spend these 18 hours or so…”

The man gave her a weak smile. She hadn’t seen him smile… ever. She could tell it was forced, but it was still nice to see.

“You know talking will-”Nebula began, but Stark held up a hand and silenced her.

“Look, talking is going to take up what? A few hours? It doesn’t matter. Die-” his voice choked out. Die. Nebula flinched. The word, the truth had finally hit the fleeting air.

Tomorrow he was going.

“I am going to die. I have what 18 hours. I am okay with cutting that time down, because I am going to die, and I do not to spend those few hours in silence… I can’t. I can’t do it. I want to at least try to enjoy them…”

Nebula nodded in understanding. Try to have fun.

She had an idea.

“I’ll be right back,” Nebula pulled herself to her feet as Stark began to lower himself to the floor.

 

She knew where Quill kept his liquor.

Chapter Text

He sinks to his knees in the sand as hard wind blasts sand against his skin, stinging and biting him. The sun beats him down with harsh burning savage claws. Particles of sand slice across his face stinging his eyes and searing his skin. He isn’t going to make it. After all of that… after everything, he isn’t going to make it. The sun will scorch him, the sand will cut and sting him. He will die crumpled in some weak position while the winds and sands bury him. He will be lost to the sands never to be found again. He lets himself lay down on the hot unsteady ground. It burns him, but he doesn’t move. He pulls the remains of the leather work coat over his head to block the sun and the sand, and he closes his eyes. He lets his mind wander and he blots out the sun beating him down, and sand burying him. His mind wanders back home. Cool waters and luxury life. He misses it, but more than that he misses the people. His friends. Pepper and Rhodey. Are they waiting for him, or have they given up on him? Have they resigned themselves to the belief that he is gone? Soon it would be true. He had had a shot at living, at changing, but that chance was gone now, blown away by the desert winds.

Don’t waste it.

A man died for him. It is wrong. He hates it. He almost wants to die.

 

Don’t waste it. Don’t waste your life.

 

The man’s words echoing in his mind are what give him the strength to stand up. He might die, no he will die, but he is going to do so fighting. He has to.






It comes like a roar, and wonderful roar filling the air and blowing sand around him. The two massive metal contraptions sail over his head in a whirlwind of sound and sand.

 

He is saved.




Chapter Text

The ship jolts as it touches down on the grounds of Terra- Earth. Nebula looks over at Stark who is flopped unconscious in his seat. She carefully unbuckles the straps holding his still boney frame to the seat. She slides her arms under him, and hauls him up.

“We made it Tony… you’re home,” Nebula whispers as she holds him close to her, his head nestled in the crook of her neck.

“-- home…?” Tony’s mumble is weak, and barely audible, but it still floods her with relief. He isn’t quite dead yet. She picks up her pace carrying him toward the loading ramp of the ship. She slams the release button and the gate begins decent.

“Don’t move!” A shout sounds from the ground as the door opens all the way.

“What did you do to him!” another shout sounds. Nebula glares. The people below her all have guns trained on her… on Tony. Tony is in their line of fire.

“What did you do to Stark!” The tall blond man below her demands again.

What did she do to him? What did she do to him?

Nebula is pretty sure the angry blond man before her is Steve Rogers, which is why she lets her angry reply out.

“I sure as hell didn’t hurt him or leave him to die if that’s what you mean,” The man seems a little taken aback by her retort. Good. He had hurt Tony.

“Hey, guys calm down!” A dark skinned steps forward and pushes the man who must be Steve’s gun down. He calls to Nebula, “Do you think I could have best friend?”

Stark shifts a little in her arms, “isokay…”

Nebula takes the man’s words to mean it is okay for her to let the dark skinned man take him.

“If I can come with him,” Nebula says staring into the man’s eyes.

“Of course,” The man confirms. Nebula steps down onto the soft terrain soil, “Here I’ll even let you carry him.”

Nebula is guided by the man toward a large building. She holds Tony a little closer to her.




Chapter Text

 

His mentor crumpled to the ground before him with a groan of pain, the gun shot still reverberated through the air. Peter stood frozen in shock. For the first time since he had been bit by the spider someone had acted faster than his spider senses, and that person was his father. The weak cough snapped Peter out his frozen panic and back into reality. Peter sank to his knees next to still mentor. He reached a quivering hand to touch the man's shoulder, but stopped.

What if he didn't respond? What if he turned him over and he bore the same blank stare as Uncle Ben. What if he was dead?

Red slipped across the smooth tile floor toward Peter's knees. He gulped and despite himself he rolled his father over.

Deep evil red was spilling across the man's white button down.

"Mr. Stark! Mr. Stark please no! Oh please no!" Peter cried as he ran his hands desperately over his father's still chest. Where was it coming from? Where was it coming from?! Where?!Where?! Where?!! Hot sticky blood pooled around Peter's fingers as he searched. He had to make it stop. Make it go away. STOP! STOP! STOP! It wouldn't stop.

"Mr. Stark wake up!"

He didn't respond. He didn't move.

Peter needed to make him wake up.  He had to move. He had to wake up. He needed to. Peter needed him to wake up. He needed the hot thick red to stop spilling between his fingers.

"STOP! PLEASE STOP! STOP BLEEDING!!" Peter screamed as he pushed his jacket over where he thought the wound was, but there was too much red to tell. Peter screamed louder. He didn't form real words, he just screamed. Hot tears stung his cheeks as he pulled his father's limp body into his arms. His lonely screams echoed down the empty halls of the Stark Industries building.

Peter clung onto his mentor's body, and hugged him close. He didn't care that the blood was leaking across him. He just clung onto him like the force of his hug would force the man to stay with him, he buried his face in the mechanic’s form and his screams choked away into long rechid sobs. The smell of aftershave and oil on his father was drown out by the sour metallic stink of blood.

"STOP!" Peter wailed into the man's shoulder, "Don't die! Please! don't die!"

New bouts of sobs tore through Peter as he held his father's body in his arms.

"HELP! SOMEBODY HELP!" Peter didn't know who he was screaming to. There was no one on this floor of the building. They were completely alone.

 

A quiet thump echoed through the man, and beat through his body. It was so faint that at first Peter thought he had imagined it, because how could it be real? Tony had taken a bullet to the chest... he had taken the bullet for Peter, a bullet that was meant to kill him. All of Peter's fathers left him. How could it be real?

But then there was another one. It was real. He hadn't imagined it that time. The heart beat was there. His father still had a chance.

Peter clutched Tony's limp form in his arms and stood up; holding his father close to him he took off at the fastest speed he could possibly muster. He had to get him downstairs. They could save him. They could call for help. They could save him. He wouldn't die. They could save him. They had to save him. They had to.

"HELP!" Peter screamed as he exploded out of the stairwell into the lobby. He could feel hot sticky blood slugging its way down his arms and body. Every second his father grew so much closer to death. There was to much blood.

It was Happy who made it to Peter first.

"Son of a bitch!" The man hissed, "Clear out of the way!"

Peter felt a firm hand guiding him. He didn't know what was happening, he just knew he couldn't let Tony go, he had to make him stay.

Peter didn't remember how he got into the back of the car speeding through the streets of New York blowing its horn. He didn't particularly care either. He just clung onto his father tried to will him to stay.

"Somebody help!" Happy was yelling beside him as they exploded through the doors of the ER, "We've got a gunshot wound to the chest!"

"Set him down on here," A nurse ordered. Peter hesitated. He didn't want to let him go. He wanted to keep him with him.

"Kid now!" Happy's bark sprang into his jumbled thoughts. Tony was almost forcibly taken from his arms. They couldn't take him! He couldn't leave! He had to stay. Peter couldn't let him go. He couldn't lose another father.

"No!" Peter screamed and tried to leap toward the stretcher moving out of his sight. A strong arm reached out and held him back.

"NO! No! I need to be with him!" Peter screamed and threw himself against the arm holding him back.

"Kid! Kid! he'll be fine! He'll be fine," Peter faught as Happy pulled him into a hug, "He'll be fine."

Peter's struggle to get away from the hug. His father needed a him.

"I need to be with him!" Peter wailed, but slowly quit struggling and leaned farther into the hug. "He can't die..."

"Let's go sit down," Happy guided Peter over to the chairs. Peter sank into one of the seats, a sudden wave of exhaustion washing in as the adrenaline pumping through his veins eddied away.

 

He should have acted faster. Peter banged his head against the wall behind him. His senses should seen the danger coming long before Tony stepped in front of the shooter. This as his fault. He should have stopped it... he could have stopped it. Just like he could have stopped it when his lost his last father figure. Maybe he should just stop trying to find a father. Maybe he should stop trying to have family. Something always happened to them, and it was always his fault. They always left him and the only person he could blame was himself. He blamed himself for not being fast enough... not an enough. He was never enough. He always let them die.

Happy got up- probably to call Pepper.

Peter couldn't bare to sit an wait for the bad news that he knew the doctor would bring. He couldn't bare to sit and be told that he had lost another father and that it was his fault. So he didn't. He got up, and he left.



Tony opened his eyes and found himself lying in an all to familiar hospital bed, Pepper sat beside him with his hand clutched in hers.

"Where's the kid?" Tony's throat is scraped as he spoke.

Pepper sighed sadly.

"Pepper? Is Peter okay?!" Tony demanded trying to sit up more. Something had happened to Peter. Tony had failed. He had taken the bullet fo his son, the man had shot the kid anyway. The kid was gone. More panic burst through Tony as he searched his wife's gaze.

“I think so, Happy said he left shortly after you were taken to surgery,” Pepper said easing Tony back down into a laying down position.

“Why’d he leave?” Tony had been expecting the kid’s face to be the first thing he saw when he woke up.

“Don’t know, but Happy and Rhodey are both out looking for him,” Pepper explained. He tried to sit up again. He needed to find his kid. The boy was out there somewhere, and he needed him back. He needed him here. He needed to know he was safe. The bullet that just been removed from his chest had been meant for Peter. What if the shooter was still after Peter? Worse yet, what if Peter had gone after the shooter? Alone…

“Tony, quit trying to sit up!” Pepper stopped him a second time, “You are going to tear a stitch.”

“I’ll be fine,” Tony brushed her arm away. He had to find Peter.

“Tony,” Pepper’s voice was authoritative and shrill. There was fear in her tone, “you need to lay down and rest. You lost close to two quarts of blood.”

Tony looked at her in surprise.

“But-”

“No buts Tony. You are staying,” Pepper’s voice shook.

“But I have to-”

“You have to rest. Peter will be fine.”

“Pepper I-”

“No,” Pepper’s tone was almost a shout, “Tony. You need to stay right here. They lost you on the table twice. You are going to sit right here in bed and get better.”

Her words soaked in. Two quarts of blood. He he had lost two quarts of blood. His heart had stopped twice during surgery. If he had been a second later it would have been Peter, and maybe the kid wouldn’t have made it. His kid had almost died.

 

Tony was pulled out of his restful slumber by the door creaking open. Standing in the doorway was his son. Peter was safe. He was okay. A smile spread across Tony’s face. He hadn’t failed his kid.

Chapter Text

Tony lifted an eyebrow and looked himself up and down. The other him returned the look of scepticism. Tony had so many questions for this older him standing before him. But the most prominent question burning in his mind, was what the fuck have they done to you? No. Not you. Me.

What the fuck have they done to ME?

He looked like he had been beaten down more times than humanly possible. He looked broken. He looked tired. He looked lost, and he looked… old.

Tony felt his glare melt away from his face, he felt as his eyebrows furrowed with concern. He couldn’t mask the emotions that flared through him. Fear worked its way into his mind.

What happened- happens?- to me?

What do I lose?

He can see it in his eyes looking back at him.

Loss.

So.

So.

SO  Much loss.

Pain and grief.

SO much loss.

Tony opened his mouth and tried to speak, but no words came. He wanted to apologize, but he didn’t know for what. He wanted to tell this other him it would be okay, but he couldn’t. He didn’t know if it would. Looking at himself he really didn’t think it would be okay. He was SO broken. Tony opened his mouth again, and this time a small choked sound came out.

The other him spoke first looking him over with sad apologetic eyes.

“I’m sorry. I am so sorry.”

That was what he had been going to say! Why was this him apologizing…?

Oh. Tony choked. He was apologizing for everything that was going to happen. He was apologizing for whatever it was that was hurt him so bad.

He blamed himself for everything that would happen to get him here, and he was apologizing for it because he knew it would hurt him.

Then Tony did the thing he least expected himself to do in this situation. He reached forward and he grabbed the older broken him, and he pulled him into a hug, and he hugged him tight.

“I forgive you.”

He didn’t know what had been done… what would be done... but he forgave this sad version of himself for whatever it was, because he had a feeling that this older him would never would.

Chapter Text

dzzzzt!

"Argh! Damn it!" Tony yanked his hand back as spark from the welding torch hit his hand. He shut the thing off. He shook his hand in the air to cool it off, "Son of bitch..."

"You okay Tony?" Nebula asked from behind him as she shut off her power tool.

"Yeah, I'm fine..." Tony muttered sucking on the burnt spot on his hand. Nebula slammed her tool down on the table. Tony flinched.

"Did you burn yourself?" The blue alien demanded approaching him with the displeased look of a mother scolding her child. 

"Nah, I'm fine," Tony said quickly pulling his hand out of his mouth and hiding it behind his back, "No burns."

"You burned yourself!" Nebula barked with both amusement and anger, "Did I not say this would happen? Did I not tell you to use my welding gloves?"

Tony hunched his shoulders as Nebula scolded him.

"Well I felt like you needed them more..." Tony mumbled. Nebula's eyes softened.

"Let me see it," Nebula demanded stepping closer to him.

"I said it was fine," Tony snapped and turned away.

"And I said let me see it!" Nebula hissed and grabbed his arm.

"Hey!" Tony yelped as she yanked on his arm to examine it closer.

"How does that look fine to you?" Nebula demanded as she eyed the burn closely. She had a point. It didn't look pretty, and it did hurt like a son of a bitch.

"I never said it looked fine," Tony growled as she glared down at the burn on his left hand.

"Come on, there some stuff in here that will help not hurt so bad."

They made eye contact for a second. Tony could see nothing but a warm caring light in her eyes. He gave up on arguing and followed Nebula to get whatever solution it was that would make his hand not hurt.

 

 

He even let her wrap his hand for him.

Chapter Text

Love the Stars for me...

 

He steps toward the abyss. The darkness calls his name.

 

Pepper can see he is slipping. Slowly losing himself. Each day she can practically feel him getting closer and closer to slipping into the black void of despair that has opened up in his mind. She tries to pull him back, but each day he slips a little more. She can’t help him… save him… he won’t let her, he barely even speaks anymore. It has become clear to her, so painfully clear that Tony never really came home. He lost part of himself in the stars. She doesn’t think she can bring him back.

 

She wakes late in the night after a hard day to find the bed next to her empty. Fear begins to trickle into the back of her mind. She lost her trust in him being alone with himself a long time ago.

“Friday?” Pepper knows that the AI will understand her question.

“On the roof,” The AI’s words send jolts of fear spiking through Pepper. No. He wouldn't. Not that way. To uncertain. He was to smart for jumping. He wouldn't… would he?

“What?!” Pepper chokes and picks up her pace rushing toward the route the roof.

“From my calculations he poses no threat to himself or Morgan,” The only thing Pepper hears is her daughter's name. She bolts, panic driving nails into the very fabric of her being.

He wouldn't. He wouldn't. He wouldn't!

The words scream in Pepper’s mind as she rockets up the stairs to the roof. He wouldn’t.

Pepper stops in her tracks as she reaches the roof. Tony is laying on his back, no where near the edge of the roof, with Morgan on his chest. He has one strong arm wrapped protectively around the child. Her fear eddies away as she watches him with his daughter. He points toward the stars with his hand that isn’t holding the child.

“See that one? That one is Cassiopeia,” He traces an invisible line in the air. The baby in his arms does the same, “It looks different from the other side of the galaxy. Bigger, bolder… scarier."

Morgan lets out a murmur of wonder.

“They’re beautiful aren’t they?” There is a hit of something in his voice that Pepper hasn’t heard in a long time. Wonder. Beautiful wonder.

The baby lets out happy babble.

“Don’t be afraid of them…” Something haunts his voice as he speaks these words, “They are too beautiful to be feared. Love them.”

Confusion trickles into Pepper’s mind. Does he hate the stars?

“Love them for me. I can’t… not anymore,” The longing in Tony’s voice slices into Pepper.

The baby turns her attention from the stars, and runs her fingers over one of the long scars on her father’s arm, and coos. He doesn’t flinch. For the first time since coming home he does not flinch at the touching of his scars. He laughs. Not loud a boisterous one, and not flat one. A real one. A fond one.

“That’s not a star constellation,” There is amusement in his tone that Pepper has not heard in a long time, but there is also a twinge of regret and sadness, “The story there is no good…”

Pepper hasn’t heard his stories from what happened. She only knows it was bad.

“It involves a lot of pain… and loss…” His words trail off, “Some stories are better left untold, so they can someday die away, and be released into the winds.”

The baby grabs his arms and pulls it close to her.

“Thanks for taking me bad stories and all Moe,” His whisper is peaceful and loving. Pepper slides into a sitting position, and stays. She listens. She listens to his finally warm voice as he shares time with their daughter. She listens to him speak of stars, and moons that hang in the sky billions of miles away. She listens until she dreams, and even in her dreams she listens. She dreams until a gentle hand shakes her awake. She opens her eyes to find herself staring into Tony’s deep brown gaze. Their small child tucked neatly and protectively in one of his strong arms, asleep.

“Me and Moe are going inside, I thought I’d see if you want to join,” Tony’s voice is calm and loving. Before she knows it she is on her feet, and his strong arm is around her, keeping her close. Together they make their way inside and leave the night behind.

 

Pepper can see the change. Something about that night… their daughter has brought him home from the stars. She has saved him, and with every passing day he seems to come back a little more. A laugh. A joke. Warmth in his voice. He is finally coming home.

 

He turns his back on the abyss. He can no longer hear the darkness call his name.

 

Chapter Text

The high ranking company officials always shoot for the offices with the best views. Views overlooking the powerful cities they reside in. People like good views. People like to look out at their great view close to the sky. Not Tony Stark. Tony Stark looks down, and three or four times a week Tony Stark contemplates the cement sidewalk 90 stories below him.

“Tony, can you please focus?” Stane interrupts Tony’s thoughts of the cold ground below. He snaps his attention back to the room of stiff corporate leaders that he has been ignoring for the past few hours.

“Yes, sorry dear,” Tony says with a mock smile. He knows being flirtatious makes everyone in the room uncomfortable, so he uses it.

“We are talking about a major company merger and you are staring off into oblivion Tony!” Stanes words are harsh, and angry, “This a very big deal! And if we don’t play it right we could lose the whole company!”

Tony sees no problem with this. Tony crosses his arms and sits back in his chair. He eyes Obie up and down. He doesn’t care if the company goes under, in fact he prefers it does. The company goes under, he can just cut his losses and run.

“Okay,” Tony shrugs, “Where the papers for me to sign? Let’s sink this puppy!”

Tony’s response to Stanes statement about the company going under is met with nothing but irritated silence.

“Mr. Stark. This isn’t a joke!” A strawberry blond lawyer pipes up from her place at the conference table. Tony swivels his chair around to face her, one eyebrow raised, to his surprise she doesn’t flinch under his gaze, as a matter of fact she glares back. Lady’s got balls. That’s rare. Tony respects people who aren’t going to take shit. He makes a mental note to get her name from someone later.

“Look, guys I honestly couldn’t give a rat’s ass what happens to this company,” Tony waits for the grumbles and and angry remakes to quiet before he continues, “This was my father’s company, and I wanted no part of it.”

“Except the money,” Some indiscernible person states masking the comment with a cough. Tony still hears it, but chooses to ignore it and continues his speech.

“You people are the ones who care what happens from here on out,” Tony continues, “So I just had a wonderful thought! You guys figure all this out,” Tony gestures vaguely, “And then give me the papers to sign. It will save so much more time. My time. Your time. Everybody’s time.”

Tony pushes his chair out from the table, and stands up collecting his things.

“You can’t just get up and walk out!” Stane cries as Tony makes his way to the door. Tony stops at the door, and smiles belligerently the man.

“Watch me.”

Tony slips through the door and slams it behind him. He glances at his watch. 3:00 PM. Damn he has been in there for a long time. Tony shakes his head a little, and marches down the hallway.

“Mr. Stark? Is that meeting over?” An assistant calls to him.

“Nope,” Tony replies and keeps walking.

“Um, sir your four o’clock is here early, if you want to go ahead and meet with him.”

Tony stops in his tracks. He doesn’t want to go talk more stuffy business. He honestly doesn’t even remember who he has plans to meet with. Might as well get it over with now.

“Sure, yeah. Send him up in about fifteen minutes,” Tony replies and begins to move toward the elevator, but changes his mind. He’ll take the stairs. He has time, and he needs exercise. Time to clear his head is also a plus.

Tony arrives in his office panting. He sighs, he really needs to get out more and exercise. He walks to his chair, and thinks about sitting down, but instead goes over to the window. He looks down. Way down. People mill about down below on the cement. Tony squints down at the ground hundreds of feet below him. Grey and dark. He places his hand on the glass. Only about a half an inch of glass stands between him and a 750 foot drop to the ground. Tony does the same math that he has been doing for a long time. He always thinks about it when he is alone in this room. 17 seconds. Half an inch of glass and 17 seconds of free fall is the only thing between him in the ground. Tony pears down at the ground. All he would have to do would be break the window and step off, then his life would be out his hands. Tony sighs and steps back away from the window. I

“Are you quite done staring out that window?” Tony nearly jumps out of his skin at the sound of the gruff voice; he spins around to face the tall military man standing in front of is desk.

“What? Yeah?” Tony has never been caught contemplating before. He is always careful. The last thing he needs is people worrying over him. He doesn’t think he will ever actually do it, so there is no point in anyone knowing he thinks about it. Doesn’t everyone from time to time? It is normal right? Tony thinks it is. That is enough for him. He is never wrong.

“Should I could come back some other time?” The angry black man with the eye patch demands. The question seems rhetorical to a degree as if the man has no plans to leave.

“Sorry, no. Have a seat,” Tony gestures to one of the chairs in front of his desk. The man eyes him with a skeptical look and sits. Tony smiles halfheartedly, and sits in his office chair.

"So tell me about this Jericho missile design you have going." 

Chapter Text

His name was Charlie Spencer, and you murdered him Stark, not that you care in the least…

Tony gripped the steering wheel a little tighter.

You murdered him Stark.

What had he done? What had he done?

Tony knew what he had done. He had failed, and he done so in the worst way. Failing to create his dream, failing to build it, his dream of safety, his dream where the stars didn’t fall from the sky as millions of armies, his dream where the world didn't burn. Failing to build it would have been better, much better than this. He had created it, but he had done something wrong, something horribly wrong, and he had almost lost. Lost everything. He had driven a sword through the heart of the thing he had all ways tried to save. He had almost destroyed everything. He had let his visions, his night terrors, control him and trick him. It was guilt and fear that had driven him to creating Ultron.

Not that you care in the least.

Tony slammed on the breaks, and pulled over.

“Son of bitch!”

He pounded his hands against the steering wheel.

He wished he didn't care.

He wished he was numb to what he had done, but every day it found him. Every night the screams of the people who would be alive if he hadn't tried to hard echo through his mind, and when he’s alone, when no one is watching, he drinks. He tries not to feel. He tries not care, but he doesn't deserve not to feel, he deserves the punishment of drowning in his guilt. He deserves to be pulled under the river of despair that he had thrown the world into. 

Tony he deserved what he got.

He had broken the fragile world that he loves, and he can never get over that.

Tony glanced over at the thick book in the passenger seat. He didn't like the idea of surrendering his freedom, but he needed to do it. Sighing he pulled back out onto the highway.

He wasn't sure what was right anymore, but he was pretty sure signing that document was. Maybe this way he could fix things instead of breaking them. Maybe the world would be safe this way. Maybe The Avengers would be okay this way. Maybe for once he was making the right choice.

 

 

It would make everything better...

 

 

Right?

 

Chapter Text

Pepper walked into the kitchen after work to find Tony sitting with his head flopped on the counter, his brown eyes staring blankly out into space. A half empty bottle of vodka sat next to his head. Pepper sighed and put the groceries in the refrigerator; she used those few precious moments to prepare herself for whatever conversation would take place next.

She reached for the bottle, and as she did so Tony grabbed it.

“Don’t,” his voice was broken and raspy as he spoke.

“Tony you have had enough,” Pepper warned, but didn’t take the bottle, not yet.

Tony uttered a hard cold laugh. It fell flat, and made Pepper feel sick.

“You have had enough,” Pepper repeated firmly and placed a hand on the bottle.

“I wish,” Tony said coldly, and turned his hollow gaze to Pepper; his deep brown eyes were worn and bloodshot.

“Tony you need to stop,” Pepper tightened her grip on the bottle, “Drinking isn’t going to solve any your problems, and it isn’t going to change what happened.”

Pepper never thought she would look back and actually miss the aftermath of New York.

“No, but it will help me feel better.”

Help him feel better, as in not feel at all.

“That’s not the way to do it,” Pepper sighed and attempted to take the bottle out of his hand, but he gripped it tight.

“Tony give me the bottle,” Pepper warned, “This thing was not even open when I left this morning.”

“A lot can happen in seven hours Pepper,” Tony grumbled coldly as he pulled the bottle from her hand, titled it and poured himself a drink. Pepper put her hand over the glass as he prepared to lift it to his lips.

“Don’t. Just don’t Tony. You need to stop.”

She didn’t know if she could mentally take this any more. She had tried hundreds of countless ways to help him, and to try to get him to stop. Each and every one of them had failed. The most success she had had was convincing him not drive and go out to bars. He had an inhuman intolerance to alcohol, but him driving drunk was still a very unsettling thought to her.

“I’m sorry,” Tony’s apology was half-assed at best. Right now he wasn’t sorry.

She looked him in the eyes, “Tony I don’t know if I can handle this anymore. You’re going to drink yourself to death, and I am not going to sit here and watch!”

“Then don’t.”

Pepper gaped. Irritation and indifference were ripe in his voice.

“You should go,” Tony removed her hand from the glass and drank. Pepper took a shocked step back.

“Tony I don’t want to-”

“Pepper please?” Tony’s voice was high and pleading, “You don’t want to see me like this, and I don’t want you to see me like this.”

“Tony?” Pepper wasn’t entirely sure she was hearing him right.

“I think we both just need some time.”

Pepper didn’t actually disagree with this statement.

“I need time to sort myself out,” Tony continued, “Alone time.”

Pepper just nodded,  “Are you sure about this?”

Tony nodded.

Pepper sighed and picked her keys back up.

She pressed her lips against his cheek, the smell of alcohol masked every familiar scent on the man; she brushed his face with a lingering hand.

“I love you Tony. I will be back when you are ready,” Pepper spoke softly and head slowly for the door.

“Thank you Pepper.”

As an act of good faith she left her belongings behind.



The door clicked closed and he was alone. For the first time in a very long time he was not distressed about being alone; he was okay with it. He was grateful she was gone. He now had motivation to pick himself up off the floor.

Chapter Text

Gasping, Tony staggered back; the coppery tang of blood worked its way into his mouth as he sank to the ground. Every tiny movement sent new pain coursing through his body from where the massive piece of metal had pierced all the way through his torso. Blood dribbled down his chin as he gasped for the air that he couldn’t quite get. Every jagged breath he tried to take sent new waves of pain coursing through his body, as the sword scrapped his insides. After what seemed like an eternity Tony found the strength to look up from the sickening piece of metal wedged through him.

Thanos towered over him, a smirk smeared across his evil face. The titan stepped close to him. Tony tried to dig up enough strength to pull away, to get away, to do anything, but he couldn’t. He couldn’t make his body move. The pain had numbed his body into refusing his commands. Thanos rested his heavy gauntleted hand on Tony’s head. He tried to make himself pull away, but the thought of moving sent its own sensation of pain pounding through his body.

Tony choked.

“You have my respect Stark.”

Thanos straightened his back, and stepped away from Tony, who clawed for another breath. Each one was its own tiny battle. He had failed in every way.

“When I am done half of the universe will be dead.”

Dread flooded into Tony. He was stuck like bug by a pin. He was about to die. One way or another he was going to die here, but that wasn’t the worst part. It worst part was that he had failed. Again. The only consolation was that for once he had only failed himself. He would die here, but it would mean that world would not die. He was okay with that.

“I hope they remember you.”

Tony couldn’t help but chuckle internally at this. He didn’t care if people remembered him; he didn’t deserve to be remembered. On the off chance he was, he would only be remember as failure (which he was). Tony thought it would be best if he just slipped from all memory and faded into the stars as a lost memory.

The gems on the gauntlet illuminated with a hum of power. Tony stopped struggling to breath. One more breath. One less breath. It really didn’t matter to him. He would be dead in a moment. His only wish was that he could have said a proper goodbye to Pepper.

“Stop,” Tony’s blood froze at the sound of Strange’s voice.

No.

“If I give you stone will you let him live?”

“Don’t!” Tony choked around a mouthful of blood.

Strange couldn’t give it up, not for him, for Peter maybe, but not for him. He didn’t deserve it. He had been ready. Dying for the universe was fine with him, it was what he wanted. He had gotten on the Q ship with the knowledge that he would pay the ultimate price… he was ready for it, especially if it meant the universe would be saved.

“No tricks?” The glowing gems powered down.

Strange only nodded, and pulled the green gem out the air.

Before Tony knew it Thanos vanished before them.

“Why would you do that?” Tony hissed. He didn’t even bother trying to keep the poison out of his voice.

 

The universe was going to die, and the only person blamed was himself.

Chapter Text

 A warm arm wrapped around Pepper's middle, and brought her out of her deep sleep.

"Wake up sleepy head," Tony's gentler voice whispered in her ear, and his soft lips pressed against her side of her neck.

"What time's it?" Pepper mumbled, and reached an arm up to run her fingers through his hair.

"11:00," Tony tucked his head into her neck as he spoke.

"What?!" Pepper sat up abruptly, "Tony! I have work!"

Tony smiled sheepishly, "I called in for you... I thought maybe we could spend the day together."

Pepper softened her face into a wide smile.

"I love that idea ."

Pepper draped her arms over fiance's shoulders and kissed him.

"I thought you'd be happy," Tony mumbled around her lips. Pepper pulled her head back a little to look the man in the eyes.

"Thank you." 

Tony just beamed as she leaned in and kissed him again. He slid his hands down her back, sending warm shivers through her body.

This time it was his turn to break away from the kiss and he leaned down and kissed her belly.

"How is the smallest Stark doing?"

Pepper laughed. Tony never missed a chance to talk their child.

"Baby Stark is doing just fine this morning."

"Of course she is," Tony sat back up and pulled Pepper close to him with his strong warm arms; she felt safer than ever sitting there wrapped in his warm hug.

"I made breakfast," He spoke in between each kiss that he showered her cheek in.

"Why didn't you open with that?" Pepper giggled, "You know I am always hungry these days."

"Just thought I'd enjoy some time with soft early morning Pepper, before bossy Pepper wakes up for the day."

"Oh? So there are two of me now?"

Tony smiled, "You know what I mean, plus this will be our last valentine's day alone for at least the next 18 years," Tony pointed out rubbing one hand on her tummy.

"This is true," She kissed the top of his head.

"You want breakfast now?"

"I'm okay with being soft morning Pepper a little longer," Pepper murmured softly and reached her arm around his head that now rested on her shoulder. They hugged for  long time just soaking up each other's presence. Pepper closed her eyes and breathed in his scent. The oh so wonderful scent of after shave and beneath that oil and the smell of hard work. She inhaled his wonderful aroma.

"I love you Tony," she tightened her arms around him with the sudden fear that he might fade away.

"I love you to Pepper," His voice was warm and soft, "I'm sorry."

"Sorry for what?" Pepper pulled away from him a little to look into his deep brown eyes.

"I'm sorry I'm not here."

"But-"

"No Pepper. Its time for you let me go."

"No-" Pepper choked in confusion.

"I'm sorry, but I'm not coming home."

"Tony you-"

He looked at her with regretful brown eyes, obvious sorrow and pity written in them. He placed his warm hand against her cheek, and smiled sadly, "It's time to wake up Ms. Potts."

"Tony please no! Please just let this be real!" Pepper cried slowly realizing what was happening.

"I'm sorry Pep."

"No!" Pepper sobbed and hugged him, but the time she had, he was already fading away back to an untouchable memory.

 

 

Pepper sat bolt upright in bed with a cry. She looked wildly around her dark room and desperately searched the bed for the man she loved with some fading hope that he would some how be there. 

He wasn't.

Pepper curled into a small ball on the bed, tucked the t-shirt of his, that she had taken, close to her. She breathed in its fading smell. She lay alone apart from the child in he womb, and she wept. She wailed into the dark lonely room. She cursed the stars burning millions of miles away that had swept Tony away from her.

She didn't go back to sleep. 

Tony was lost somewhere in the stars, and he wasn't coming back.



Chapter Text

Dum-E swiveled his head up to face the massive purple groovy chinned ugly mother F-er. His father lay on the ground just below the ugly giant in a pool of red liquid... his oil. Dum-E knew that oil leaks were no joke, especially ones that bad. A few tiny drops was one thing, but a puddle? Puddles of oil were bad and could lead to horrible malfunctions, that could lead to total system failure. His father going through system failure was not an option. Dum-E was concerned that he was already going into system failure,  because he knew that there was the distinct possibility that the pieces of metal in his father's body had cut some important wires.

The purple giant picked up a long, wide piece of jagged metal and raised it above his head.

"You will die for ruining my plans Stark.

Rage was a new concept to Dum-E. It wasn't something he had really felt before now. He kind of liked it. It gave him power. It gave him strength. Rage helped Dum-E Do something that he probably never would have done had this new power not worked its way into his circuitry, his wiring, the very sole fabric of his being. The rage that sparked in Dum-E was the reason why the giant Barney's stroke never fell. Dum-E powered up his flame thrower and blasted the ugly prune. The prune roared and backed away a few steps. Dum-E moved forward, closer to his father still spraying fire at the grape. He was going to turn it into a baked raisin. It had hurt his father.

Dum-E had an awful feeling deep in his wires that he would not be able to hold off the evil Barny. He needed back up. Something beeped. The fuel on the flamethrower was running out, but Dum-E blasted away anyway. Thunder roared in the sky, and  lightning crackled in the air. Thor was coming. Dum-E quit touching Thanos as soon as the god of thunder landed behind him. Dum-E didn't see what happened after that because he turned his attention to the man laying on the ground before him. He nudged his father's limp form with his arm. He didn't respond. Dum-E nudged him again. The red oil that his father ran on was caked around his mouth. Dum-E knew oil wasn't supposed to leak out of that place. This much oil wasn't supposed to come out of him. Dum-E whirred desperately and nudged him again. Surely he wasn't to badly damaged. He couldn't be. He was invincible. Dum-E spun around frantically. He needed someone who could fix his father, and make it so his systems weren't crashing.

His father needed help!

A hand reached out of nowhere and pushed Dum-E to the side, Dum-E almost attacked, but it was just Pepper. She knelt down next to Tony and lifted his oily head with one hand.

"Tony? Tony baby?"

Her tone made Dum-E feel... sick?... sick was a new concept for the bot, and he didn't like it. He also didn't like it when his father didn't move as Pepper pulled him into her arms. He really didn't like it when she started to make gasping sobbing sounds, and he didn't like the clear oil coming out of the corners of her eyes.

What was happening?

"You're going to be okay baby," Pepper rose to her feet holding Tony close. Red oil dripped onto her purple metal suit. She fired up her thrusters and left. Dum-E could only watch as she disappeared.

Dum-E didn't know what to do, so he didn't do anything. He shut himself down and did nothing.

 

Dum-E powered back up, and found himself in a the familiar white lab of the compound. U and Butterfingers were gathered close to him. The both whirred excitedly as he powered up.

"Where is daddy?" U whirred in a pattern of zeros and ones.

"What happened?" Butterfingers beeped in a more crazed tone.

Dum-E did know. He didn't know if their father was okay, or even really what had happened.

"Daddy is hurt," Dum-E hummed, this he knew for sure. The other two bots went still and silent.

"Bad." Dum-E added. The other two bots drooped, but Dum-E dropped further. He blamed himself for not helping sooner, for not getting there. The other bots seemed to sense his distress and they wrapped their arms around him. The three bots embraced in the dark of the lab and whirred quietly in distress. They didn't move from their place in the middle of floor. One by one  the bots slowly drifted into their power saving mode and quieted. Dum-E was the last of the three to drift off. He didn't want to sleep, he wanted to stay up and wait for news on his father, but he failed to keep himself up.

 

The bots woke from time to time and continued their mournful cries, and they would drift back off to power saving mode. No one brought them news so they continued to wait. Days passed, and finally the bots decided to do their daily duties. U was the first one to pick daily life back up. Butterfingers was next, and finally Dum-E picked up his broom and slowly began to sweep. The bots moved in slow forlorn patterns cleaning up the already spotless lab. They needed something to do to keep their gear like minds from dwelling on what had probably become of their father.

The three bots had become so focused on their work and drone like movement that they didn't even notice the lab doors open.

"Good lord guys, you look like I died or something."

All three of the bots stopped what they were doing.

Tony stood in the entrance to the lab smiling like he had never smiled before. Dum-E was the first to get to him. The bot reached his arm and tucked it around his father. The man grunted a  little but hugged Dum-E back. Next the other two bots careened to a stop and wrapped themselves around each other and there father, as their creator hugged and kissed each of them



"I'm fine guys!" Tony laugh, but made no attempt to get away from the bots' grabbing hands. He flinched a little as Dum-E bumped his wounded torso, but he didn't mind. He was glad to be out of the hospital, and he was even happier to be with his bots.

"You guys are acting like I died or something!" Tony tried not to laugh as the bots pressed closer to him.

"Ow!" Tony yelped as Dum-E bumped right against one of the bandaged wounds, "Come on guys!"

The robots only hugged him closer. Tony gave up on trying to stop himself from laughing. He let himself go. He laughed, and it pulled at his side, but he only laughed more. He laughed and wrapped his arms around his bots. He even laughed harder. He laughed until the pain wasn't even a thought in his mind. The robots hummed and beeped happily around him.

 

Pepper rolled her eyes as they fell upon Tony's empty hospital bed. She couldn't help but chuckle despite her irritation. Tony had been ordered not to attempt moving around for at least another two days. She wasn't worried however, because she knew exactly where he had snuck off too. She left the infirmary wing of the compound and headed to the lab. There was no way that that was not the first place he would head.

Pepper slipped into the dimly lit lab. she discovered Tony sitting atop one of the counters with his back leaned against U who had his single metal arm tucked supportively around him, cradling him. Dum-E and Butterfingers were wrestling with a blanket attempting to put it over top of him. Pepper smiled and watched the bot's struggle. She also studied her fiance's face. He was most definitely not asleep, but from the looks of it he was pretending, and letting the bots take care him. Pepper smiled fondly and stepped out of lab leaving the bots to their struggle.

 

Pepper went back to the lab a few hours later to check on them, and discovered Tony snoring peacefully with a blanket successfully tucked around him and his three bots supporting him. All four of them, Tony and the bots, seemed to be resting, and quite content. She could practically see the bots smiling, and she could definitely see Tony smiling.









Chapter Text

The titan brought his fist down. Tony raised his arms above his head at the last second and blocked the blow. His body was wrapped in the almost completely useless fragments of his suit. He almost nothing left to use, but he had to try something- anything. Tony lowered one of his arms forming a sword. Maybe this time it work. Maybe this time it would end differently. He drove the sword forward, but like clock work the titan grabbed the sword, snapped it away from his hand, and drove it through his torso.

Tony sat bolt up with a gasp, and found himself in complete darkness. Beads of sweat dripped down his face and back; he could feel his heart hammering against his chest, and the sound of blood rushing past his ears, and pounding in his head was nauseating. His hand instinctively went to his side. His fingers traced over the rough edge of his scarred skin and he let out a sigh.

No sword.

No Thanos.

Only the scar.

He ran his hands through the soft sheets of the bed. He was home. He was safe. Titan had been five years ago. Everyone was safe now. Thanos was dead. Tony let these thoughts circle in his head, and slowly let them calm him.

Safe.

"Daddy?" A hand touched Tony's arm and he jerked his hand back in surprise and momentary panic. His fear melted away instantly at the sight of his daughter who looked a little bit frightened by his sudden reaction to her touch.

"Sorry..." The little mumbled and shuffled her feet a little. Tony sighed.

"It's okay sweetie," Tony whispered, "You just startled me."

Morgan seemed to brighten up, but there was still a hint of fear in brown eyes.

"What's wrong sweetie?"

"I had a nightmare," Morgan squeaked.

"Do you want to come get in bed with me and mom?" Tony asked scooting back to make some more space for the frightened child. Morgan shook her head.

"I don't want to go back sleep. I'm to scared."

Tony knew exactly how she felt. When he woke up from nightmares he didn't go back to sleep. He would try, and then he would give up and go to the workshop.

"Do you wanna go down to the workshop?" He was going to skip the trying to go back to sleep phase.

"Yes please," Morgan nodded her head. Tony knew she loved the workshop almost as much as he did. She was five years old, and already taking after him. Even with the nightmares.

 

Morgan had not had a nightmare. In fact she almost never had bad dreams, but she was smarter than most people would give credit to a five year old.

She noticed a lot more things than even most adults, which was why she had noticed a long time ago that her dad was haunted by nightmares. The knowledge of his night terrors was what had brought her to her parents' room, like it had many nights before. When ever she woke up in the middle of the night she would take the opportunity to go and check on her father. Some nights when she snuck into her parents' room her dad was fine and resting peacefully. Other nights he was not. On those nights she would wake him up, and pretend that she had a nightmare as an excuse to be there. She thought it would make him feel better if he thought he wasn't the only one, and that having to be strong for someone would actually help him be stronger.

"Let me grab a shirt, and we'll go down stairs," Her dad spoke with a quiver in his voice.

He scooped her into his arms as after pulling on one of his old t-shirts. Morgan leaned her head against his warm chest; the sound of his heart beat hammered in Morgan's ear. She could feel how tense his muscles were. Morgan wished she could make him relax. She knew she couldn't keep the nightmares away, but she could be there when he woke up. She could be a light for him when the night was to much.

"I love you daddy."

His muscles relaxed and Morgan felt his arms wrap a little tighter around her, "I love you to kiddo."

Chapter Text

Peter inhaled sharply, dust stung his throat as he drew in the breath. He coughed as the particles tore at his throat, which only caused him to draw in more dust, and cough more. His chest tightened as he wheezed. Panic gripped his throat. He couldn't breath! To much dust! Toomes... was he here? Did he do this?

Peter gasped for more air, but he couldn't find any. The sound of blood rushing past his ears only furthered his panic. Soon it was all he could hear.

Get out. Get out. GET OUT!

The words hammered in head with every stressed pound of blood against his skull. Peter tried to scream, but the dirt and overall lack of air choked him off and he ended up just squeaking.

"Kid..."

A strained voice cut into Peter's panicked thoughts. He knew the voice...

Peter forced his eyes open. Everything was dark apart from a pale blue glow just above him. It illuminated the dark figure over him.

"Kid I need you to calm down... Okay? Can you do that for me Pete?"

"Mr. Stark?" Peter coughed his mentor's name. It was to good to be true. There was no way he was here. He hadn't been there the last time a building had collapsed. Why would he be here for this one?

"Yeah kid..."

Peter's muscles relaxed and the blood pounding in his ears quieted. His father was here. He would be safe. His dad would never let anything hurt them they would just fine.

"Are you hurt Pete?" Tony's voice cracked as he spoke.

"Yeah, I think- I think I'm okay," Peter felt surprisingly not broken. How had all of the debris missed him? How was he almost completely untouched.

Peter looked up at his mentor's armored form just above him and came to a realization.

None of the debris had fallen on him because Tony had covered him with his own body.

 

The math had only taken Tony a fraction of second to do. There were hundreds of tons of rock on top of them, and there were at least good ten tons bearing down on him alone. If his suit had been much slower both he and his son would be dead.

Sweat trickled down his forehead.

"Sir I am detecting-"

"Shut up Friday," Tony growled. Hearing about his injuries would only send him into panic. He could not panic. Not here. Not now. Not in front of the kid. A panic attack would potentially weaken him, and if he was weakened he might not be able to hold up the tons of cement baring down on his back.

So he didn't panic, for once he didn't panic. No, instead he decided to talk.

"So kid... How was school today?"

His muscles screamed.

"Mr. Stark is now really-"

"Kid!" Tony almost shouted, "Please- just can you- I can't- can you-"

The suit could handle weight, but not all of it.

"Right um- yeah... school was great," Peter rasped.

"Cool... what did you do?"

Something liquidy and metallic tasting tickled the back of his throat.

"Not much. We had some tests," Peter rambled, "I am a little nervous about my geometry test, but geometry is pretty easy so..."

Tony was only half listening. He was listening to the kids voice, but he couldn't focus enough to really know what the sounds were actual saying, so he didn't focus on the words he focused on the music of his son's voice.

His bones cracked

 

Peter was half way through the story about making a volcano in science when something warm and wet dripped on his abdomen, and soaked through his shirt. Peter ignored it. It was probably just water. Peter was about to start his story up again when another one hit him in a different spot. Then other in the first place, then back to the second place, and then a drop hit him in a third spot. The small warm drops came irregularly, but they kept dripping against him. Shivers ran down Peter's spine. He didn't think they were water anymore.

He reached his hand down and wiped one of the wet spots on his shirt and brought it up to his nose and sniffed it. The metallic odor of blood hit him like a punch in the gut.

"Mr. Stark-?"

The man didn't answer him.

"Mr. Stark!" Peter screamed.

The pale blue glowing eyes of the Iron Man suit stared down at Peter. Cold and unresponsive.

"DAD!" Peter screamed louder.

"hmm? ... What do you need kid?" Tony's hesitant response was thick with strain and pain.

"You're bleeding," Peter stammered.

"Cool I'll put it on the list," His father rasped with a halfhearted joke.

"We need to see what's wrong!" Peter cried, "What if you bleed to death?!"

"Kid-"

"Mr. Stark!" Peter squinted through the blackness just enough to make out the vague outline of three rebars poking through the torso of the suit, "No! No! Mr. Stark we have to do something! It's ba-"

"Kid!" The sharp anger in his father's voice choked Peter's words out of his throat.

"but-"

"I need you to stop," Tony's voice was shrill and pained, "I need you to not talk about it. Okay?"

"but-"

He had to do something to help his father.

"No buts Peter. I just need you to ignore it and keep telling me about your day. Friday called for help. Someone will be here to save you soon."

You.

 

Blood had worked its way into Tony's mouth a long time ago. He wasn't entirely sure at what point the feeling had left the lower half of his body, but it would've had to have been pretty soon after the building came down, because other wise he was pretty sure he would've been able to feel what ever it was that was causing him to lose blood.

His muscles weakened.

"You mean us?"

Peter's voice cut into Tony's concentration.

"What?" Tony choked out his question as a little more blood slipped into his mouth.

"You said some will be here to save me, you meant us... right?"

"Yeah... us..."

You.

They were coming to rescue Peter. He was pretty sure that they weren't going to be fast enough for him.

"Sir the rescue teams have set to work."

"Thanks Fri," Tony muttered.

"You'll- we'll be fine," Tony hated lying to his son.

His vision blurred.

"You'll be fine kiddo."

"So will you Mr. Stark..." Peter's voice was more distant than it should have been.

His muscles gave a little.

No! Be strong! Be strong! Be strong! Don't give in now!

Pieces of jagged metal from the suit poked into his back.

Don't break now.

Something in him gave.

He had thought he could hold it. He had thought he could have held it for ever, but it was about to break him. He was going to break and it would kill his son.

The rock crushing down on his back shifted a little.  It got lighter. It didn't push down as much.

Tony let his eyes close.

 

Peter's muscles screamed as he pushed up on the massive piece of stone above him and his father.

"It's okay Mr. Stark. You don't have to hold it any more," Peter assured his father, who didn't respond. Peter didn't freak out this time. His dad was probably just focusing on the toil at hand. Not talking was probably wise. They needed to save energy.

The silence bore down on him almost as much as the mass of stone above them. Peter had an idea. He maneuvered himself so his feet were pressed against the stone to hold it up, and he went for his phone.

"I am going to put on music," Peter announced. Music would help him focus, and it might aid the rescuers in finding them.

The rocks shifted above them. Help was close.

Peter was pretty sure he could it until then.

"Thanks for the help kid," Tony's mumble was barely audible, but it still filled Peter with strength.

His dad was obviously spent, but Peter wasn't. His arms and legs hurt, but he could hold it.

He would hold it.

He would hold until help got them.

He had to.




Chapter Text

"Kid, you really need to go see one of the medics," Steve put a hand on Peter's shoulder; he promptly shoved the super soldier's arm away, and shifted his feet nervously on the rubble. He wasn't going anywhere until his father was free from the rubble.

They had pulled him out first, but getting Tony out was much harder because of the rebars that had impaled him multiple places. Pulling him off of them while he had the suit still on wasn't an option. He could very easily bleed to death before they could get his suit off. To make matters worse his dad had passed out, so having him take off the suit wasn't going to work either.

"Peter please!" Steve pleaded.

"No," Peter insisted, "Not until they have Mr. Stark out."

"Kid it could be a long time, and you need to get checked out and rest."

"No. I am fine. I need to make sure they get Mr. Stark out."

"They will kid. Natasha just called in over the comms to say that they are cutting the rebars. Tony will be fine."

Peter shifted his weight, and every muscle in his body protested. He did want to rest, but not yet. Not until his dad was safe.

"Kid you were holding up a 6 ton slab of concrete for three hours, you NEED to come get checked out," Steve wasn't asking now, but Peter wasn't budging.

"No. I don't know how many times I can say it!" Peter almost shouted as he faced Captain America, "I. Am. Not. Going. Anywhere. Without. My. Dad."

"Peter I am not asking anymore. Even with your super strength that concrete could have done a lot damage to your bones-"

"And what about my dad?!" Peter demanded; tears began to well in his eyes, "What about Mr. Stark! He held that thing up way longer than I did, and it actually hit him at full force!"

"Peter-"

"NO!" Peter screamed, "I am not going anywhere!"

Steve's concentration went else where, as he put a a hand up and the other went to his ear. The captain visibly slumped. He didn't look Peter in the eyes as he took his hand away from his ear. His slow suddenly tired  movement made Peter's hair stand on end. Something had happened.

"What happened?!" Peter demanded.

Steve shook his head.

"Don't shake your head at me!" Peter shouted, "What happened!"

Steve took a deep breath and slowly looked up at Peter, "It's worse than they thought-"

Peter could practically hear the next words before they were spoken.

He's dead... he's not going to make it...

You failed.

Your dad is dead, and it's your fault.

You should have done something sooner.

You killed him.

Peter didn't actually hear the rest of what Steve said, because his body gave up.

Peter was unconscious before he hit the ground.



Pepper climbed into the helicopter right behind her husband. She took a seat near his head and pulled his still armored hands into hers; she ran her other hand through his bloody matted hair.

"You're going to be okay baby. You'll be okay," Pepper kept her  eyes trained on Tony's blood caked face. She couldn't make herself look at the rest of his very broken body. She could see the medics working just out of the corner of her eye, but she knew very well that she wouldn't be able to stomach seeing exactly what they were doing.

Tony let out a small choked gasp and his whole body seemed to convulse; blood dibbled out of his mouth as he coughed again. One of the various machines began beeping faster.

"He's crashing!" One of the medics called.

"We got him out of the suit!"

Pepper squeezed her husband's hand tighter, "Stay with me Tony. Stay with me."

Pepper lost track of everything as she sat there holding her husband's hand. The whole world seemed to simply fade out, leaving her alone with him. She payed no heed to the people moving around them. For all she cared or knew they weren't there at all.

"MIss, miss! You can't go into surgery with him," The voice snapped Pepper out of what ever haze she had been in, and she was aware of her surroundings again. She was some how in a hospital now.

How had she gotten here? Didn't matter. She needed to be with Tony.

"Miss! You can not go back there!" The nurse pushed against her, "You have to go wait in the waiting room."

"But I need to-"

"You need to go into the waiting room," The nurse spoke gently this time, "Come on I'll take you there."

He guided her into a cozy room lined with chairs.

"Is he going to be okay?" Pepper asked as the nurse sat her down in one of the chairs.

"One of our best surgeons is on stand by for him. He is in good hands," The nurse rubbed her arm as he spoke, "Is there someone you can call?"

"They are on the way," Pepper nodded.

"Good, good, Do you want something to drink?"

Pepper shook her head. She could not even begin to fathom consuming something right now. News could come through at any second and inform her that she would never hear her husbands laugh again, feel his warms around her, or see his smile again. The thought made her to sick to even think about food or drink.

"It would help your nerves," The nurse looked her in the eyes.

"No, I'm fine."

The nurse cracked a weak smile, "We both know that isn't true, but I get what you mean. I-"

The doors to the ER opening made them both look up. A stretcher was wheeled in with an all to familiar teen laying unconscious on it. Steve Rogers followed close behind it.

"Peter!" Pepper cried and sprang from her chair, "Steve what happened to him?!"

"He passed out," Steve explained as Pepper rushed up to him, "They are saying he'll be fine, and that he was just exhausted and over whelmed."

"They are sure that is all it is?"

"That's what the medics said on the ride over here."

The nurse that Pepper had just been talking to trotted up to her and Steve, "That kid a friend of yours?" He directed the question to Pepper.

"Yes..."

"Alright, I'll run and see what I can get from the doctors on him," The nurse said helpfully and set off at a jog through the doors that Peter had just disappeared through.

"How's Tony?" Steve asked guiding Pepper back to a chair.

"Don't know," Pepper mumbled.

On the verge of death.

"He's crashing!"

Dying.

Not going to make it.

Pepper looked up into Steve's blue eyes, "I don't know. I really don't know..."

Then the dams broke, and the tears were unleashed.

Pepper felt Steve wrap his arms around her.

"It's okay Pepper."

It was not okay. Nothing about this was okay. Nothing about any of this would ever be okay.

"Excuse me."

Pepper looked up through her tears to see the nurse returning with a doctor.

"Are you the kid's legal guardian?" The doctor asked stopping in front of Steve and Pepper.

"No, we are just friends of the family... his- his aunt should be on the way," Pepper stammered, "Please, is he going to be okay?"

"He looks mostly fine, but we want to do some x-rays and other scans to make sure. We need a legal guardian to sign for the test before we can do anything though."

"I can sign for her-"

"Legally I can't let you do that. I'm sorry. Do you know how much longer she will be-"

Almost as if on cue May Parker burst into the hospital waiting room, "Where the hell is my nephew!"

"That's her," Steve nodded toward the angry brunet.

"Thank you," The doctor nodded and departed. The nurse on the other hand stuck around.

"I managed to talk one of the nurses in the OR, and she said that your husband is stabilized and going into surgery as we speak," The nurse informed Pepper with a pat on the shoulder.

"He's going to be okay?" Pepper perked up.

The nurse seemed to weigh this in his head for a minute.

"If there are no complications during surgery," He sounded hesitant, as though he was keeping something back.

Pepper pinned him with a stern look, "What?"

He shook his head a little, "You should talk to one of the doctors... I- I don't have all the details."

With that the nurse tossed her an apologetic look and made a hasty escape back through the double doors of the hospital.

Pepper sat back in frustration, running her fingers through her hair.

"I'm sure he'll be fine," Steve said running a hand down Pepper's back.

"I wish I shared your enthusiasm."

She couldn't shake the dear in the headlights look the nurse had given her at her question.

Something was wrong.

 

Peter woke to a gentle hand stroking his hair; at first he thought it was his dad, because who else would it be?

"Mr. Stark-?"

"No Peter it's May," His aunt whispered.

That's right. Of course it wasn't his father. His father was dead and it was his fault. His fault because he hadn't helped him with the slab of concrete sooner.

Of course his father wasn't here. Peter had killed him.

"He's dead isn't he?" It took ever ounce of Peter's strength to force the question out. He didn't want the answer.

"No Peter. He is just in surgery."

All of Peter's guilt and pain left him in a split second and he suddenly felt like he had the energy to do any and every thing he wanted.

"I didn't kill him?!" Peter breathed. 

It was to good to be true. There was no way what his aunt had said was true.

"No Peter! Why would even say something like that?!" Aunt May cried in dismay.

"Because it was my fault..."

"Nonsense," His aunt shushed him as she pulled him into a hug, "Mr. Stark is not going to die."

Peter leaned into his aunts hug.

Maybe everything would be okay.

He hoped his aunt was right.

 

Tony knew something wrong,something didn't feel right, and he knew it long before he opened his eyes and saw Pepper flipping through what looked like a medical file. She looked more upset than he had ever seen anyone look... ever. She had one hand cupped around her mouth and she looked as though she had been crying.

"You'd think I was dead from the look on your face," Tony joked pushing the off feeling out his mind. The raspyness of his voice startled him. Pepper looked up, a mix of relief and great sadness fighting her gaze. The relief won.

"Shut up you," She said lovingly, and rested one of her hands on his cheek.

"The kid okay?"

"Peter's fine. He is over in the other room itching to see you-"

"Well let him in!" Tony exclaimed. He could practically see the kid going nuts.

"We will but-"

"Oh great there is a but," Tony shifted his arms so he could sit up.

"Please don't try to sit up..." Pepper's request was so quiet and pained that almost thought he had imagined it.

"Why?"

He didn't wait for her to answer before he made his attempt.

He made it half way up and then pain exploded up his back, and nothing at all happened in the other half of his body. 

Nothing.

No pain.

Nothing.

No movement.

Nothing at all happened.

He tried to make himself sit up farther than he was, but nothing happened. 

He jerked his head around to face Pepper who had her face buried in her hands.

"Pepper!" He tried again to sit up, "What's wrong with me!"

She looked at him with a lost gaze.

"Why can't I move?!"

Terror and panic gripped him like cold claws.

"What did- I can't- Pepp... Please- I -" His words were dying in his throat and he tried to claw himself into a sitting position.

"Tony please-" He could barely hear his wife's soft plea over the sound of blood pounding past his ears.

"I can't-" He choked. 

He was trapped. Stuck. Helpless.

"What did they do to me?!" He didn't mean to scream, but it happened anyway, "Help me!" He tried hard to pull himself all the way, "PLEASE!!! NO! FIX IT!" He didn't care that he was screaming anymore, "PLEASE HELP ME!!!"

He could feel the hot tears stinging his face. He didn't care. 

He could still hear himself screaming; he wasn't sure what he was saying. He didn't care.

He couldn't feel his legs or lower back. He did care.

Warm arms cradled his head, and gentle hands ran through his hair.

"Shh Tony... please... please," His wife's gentle words drifted into his ears, and he his screams died away in his throat, and were replaced by long drawn out sobs, "I got you baby. I got you. I got you."

Tony cried into his wife's arms.

"We'll get through this. I promise. I promise."

Tony quieted with each soothing pass of Pepper hands through his hair.

"We'll figure this out."

Tony believed her. He had to believe her. His back was broken and he couldn't do anything. He was essentially helpless. He had to believe her that they would figure this out, because if he didn't he was pretty sure he would not make through this.

Chapter Text

Peter had tried to be strong. He had tried so, so, SO hard to be strong, to be understanding, but it was to much and he just could not do it. It hurt him to much. Pepper had been very understanding, and his father, did he even deserve to call him that anymore?, had been indifferent. It was that same indifference that had driven Peter to not wanting to go back to the compound. It was Tony Stark's cold indifference towards everything that had forced Peter away. Peter had gone to visit him everyday for weeks, but the man's bitterness and depression had become to much, so Peter had said good bye a week ago with no intention of going back, at least not for a long time, and the lack of messages from the man on his phone, told Peter that Tony didn't care.

Peter didn't blame him; he actually kind of understood it. It made sense. The man had broken his back in three places in the lower back, and would never walk unaided again, and it was Peter's fault. Peter was surprised that in all of his visits to Tony that the man had never once put the blame on it's rightful owner.

Peter. He was the one to blame. He had done this...let this happen. He had been slow getting out of building, and it was his fault that Tony had to come back. Further more he hadn't helped his father bare the weight of the concrete sooner.

It was his fault that Tony had nothing but indifference toward everything, life, Pepper, the Avengers, even Morgan, and finally Peter.

Peter hadn't killed father.

But what he had done might just be worse.

 

The sun came up.

Tony didn't care.

Pepper got up and left for work.

Tony didn't care.

She called a few hours later.

He still didn't care, but he answered the phone from his place in bed.

She spoke, but he didn't listen simply because he could not force himself to care.

All of the shits that Tony had once given were gone. He would have wanted them back if he had actually cared.

He thought that sometimes people in his situation would think about and or commit suicide. He probably would have put more thought into it if he had actually given one single tiny fuck either way.

Pepper came home, and brought him dinner. He ate it because she made him. He didn't care enough to argue or refuse.

"I love you Tony," She kissed the top of his head and left the room. 

Tony wondered if that was still true, or if she was just saying it out of habit. It would make more sense if she was saying it out of habit. He had become quite unlovable. Not because his back was broken in three places, no that was a stupid reason not to love someone anymore, but because the unstoppable unchangeable cloak of indifference that had wrapped around him. It was hard to deal with someone who had no feelings toward anything what so ever. He knew. He had to deal with himself. Part of him somewhere maybe wanted to want to care again, but to much of him didn't care enough to dig the feeling out.

Sometimes he wondered if one day Pepper would out of habit tell him she love him, and then leave and not come back.

Just like Peter.

If she did he wouldn't blame her, just like he didn't blame Peter.

Pepper came back. She climbed into the other side of the bed, and she wrapped a soft arm around him.

The sun went down, and part of Tony wanted to care again.

 

 

Chapter Text

"How's Tones doing?" Rhodey asked as he found a seat on one of the stools by the kitchen island.

Pepper's sigh told him exactly what he needed to know.

"Still no change?"

Pepper only shook her head and continued washing dishes.

"At what point are you going to give one of your famous Potts talking tos?" Rhodey asked, "Those always knocked sense into his that thick skull of his."

"Yeah, they would always work because he cared about my opinion," Pepper spoke coldly. It was the most angry and bitter that she had sounded through out this whole ordeal, "So-"

"He doesn't care anymore so it won't work," Rhodey finished for here.

"Bingo!" Pepper snapped her fingers sarcastically.

"Other than not giving a rat's ass about anything how is he?"

"Well he is still eating, probably because he doesn't care enough to argue about it," Pepper hesitated for a minute and then sat down across from Rhodey, "You know honestly I feel like it would be easier to take care of him if he was cripplingly depressed."

Rhodey tilted his head in curiosity and confusion, "How do you figure."

"I mean like at least he would care about something that way..." Pepper trailed off and flopped her head down on the counter. Rhodey reached his hand across and stroked her hair.

"We both know that as horrible and hard to deal with this is, you don't rather he be manically depressed."

"No... I guess your right," Pepper thought for a brief moment, "Do you realize how long it has been since he said anything other than "yeah"?"

Rhodey sighed. He had been visiting for a long time, and he had yet to even get that much out of his friend.

"He seemed okay after we left the hospital you know? and then it sort of slowly just started happening. He would just space out and stay that for a bit, and then snap out of it. Then it got worse."

"I know Pepper."

"then he just stopped you know?! Just boop! Stopped!"

"I know Pepper," Rhodey repeated.

"You know the most emotion I get out of him is when he wakes up screaming at 2:00 A.M." Pepper rose to her feet and started pacing the kitchen, "And even then he will stop screaming and just stop and settle back in!"

"Pepper-"

"What am I supposed to James?!" Pepper almost shouted, "I don't know what the hell I am supposed to do! You know I actually don't blame Peter for giving up!"

Rhodey closed his eyes and put his face in his hands.

He didn't know what to do either.

 

Morgan snuck past her yelling mother, and snuck up the stairs to her parent's room. She glanced down at the copy of Frog and Toad are Friends, and pushed the door to her parent's room open.

Her dad was laying on his back staring blankly up at the ceiling. Morgan took a deep breath and approached the bed.

"Daddy?" Morgan whispered as she got closer.

He lifted his head to look at her. His hard gaze softened slightly as they made eye contact.

"Hey Moe," His voice was hoarse and weak, but all the same she was happy to hear it.

She ran around to the other side of the bed and climbed into the bed. She scooted next to her father.

"What are you doing?"

"I want you to read me a story," Morgan said and handed him the book. He shook his head. Morgan's spirits sank.

"Not today sweety, I really don't feel up for it."

Morgan drooped, and slid off the bed. He never felt like doing anything anymore. She headed toward the door. She didn't know what she had been expecting by coming in the room. He never wanted to do anything anymore. She opened the door and prepared to leave.

"Morgan?"

She stopped and turned around.

"Can you  read to me?" His voice was so soft and hesitant that she almost thought she had imagined it.

Morgan couldn't stop the smile that spread across her face.

"Of course I will read to you!" She ran back to the bed and climbed in scooting close to her father who was slowly hauling himself with his arms. She could see him shaking. He gave her a weak smile as he worked himself up right.

"Give me a second," He dad grunted. He finally got himself situated, and nodded for her to start.

Morgan opened her book and flipped to the second chapter.

"Chapter 2: Story," she began to read the book, "One day in summer Frog was not feeling well-"

She was about half way through the story when her father carefully tucked his arm around her shoulders. He rubbed her arm with his thumb in a small circular motion. She stopped reading and looked up at him. He didn't seem to notice that she had stopped; he just sort of stared blankly at some indescribable object, and continued to rub her arm absent mindedly. Morgan leaned against his warm body, and tucked her small arm behind the lower part of his back.

He glanced down at her and smiled.

"Why'd you stop reading?"

He had noticed.

Morgan just shrugged, nestled closer to her father, and continued reading.

She relished every second with her father's strong arm wrapped around her. He hadn't held her in a very long time.

She finished the story and closed the book. She was getting ready to leave when her father spoke again.

"Can you read me another one?"

"Of course!"

Morgan settled back down into the protective crook of her father's arm and opened the book.

 

Chapter Text

A cold stone hand clamped around Tony’s throat choking off his screams of terror.

“You can’t do anything.”

The blackness grabbing around him’s voice reverberated through Tony’s skull, and thundered in his ears. He tried again to scream, but remained choked off.

“I will break you.”

Long slender strips of rusted evil metal extended from the black forms free hand.

“No…” Tony choked and kicked his legs.

“There is nothing you can do.”

It thrust the three pieces of metal through his torso.

Tony’s cry of pain was choked out by blood flooding his throat drowning his attempts to cry out.

“I will break you,” The black mass repeated.

Hard jagged stone drove into Tony’s back.

This time his scream pushed past the hand strangling him. This time his scream made through the drowning blood choking him.

“I will crush them, and there is nothing you can do to stop me.”

Tony was thrown to the floor.

His head hit the ground, his eyes shot open, and he was not laying on a stone floor, rather his own soft bed.

“Pepp?” Tony called for his wife through the blackness of the room.

Sweat dripped uncomfortably down his face and shoulders. He wanted to angle himself around so he could see her, but terror had frozen the working half of his body.

“Pepper!” He cried out again.

 

Tony’s weak cry pulled Pepper out of her sleep.

“Friday, light’s,” Pepper ordered as she sat up and scooted close to her husband; she could feel him shaking where he lay in the bed. His hands were clutching the pillow so tightly that his knuckles were white. She reached to touch his sweaty shoulder, but stopped. If he was having a panic attack she could make it worse.

“Tony?”

“Pepp?” Her husband opened his eyes and lifted his head a little.

“Yeah sweaty it’s me.”

He whimpered something incomprehensible able and seemed to shrink where he lay.

“I got you Tony,” Pepper gently pulled him to her arms and held his head close to her chest. He slowly wrapped his arms around her and leaned into her embrace. She silently prayed that he wouldn’t lapse back into his cold indifference. She ran her hands through his sticky wet hair, “I am right here Tony. I’m here. I will always be right here.”

The man’s shoulders shook and long drawn out sobs filled the quiet room.

“Shh Tony, you’re safe now. You’re safe,” Pepper pulled him closer to her. What horrible tourture had his mind forced upon him tonight?

“I’m sorry,” Tony sobbed into her chest. His trembling hands squeezed her shoulders, “I’m sorry- I can’t- I don’t-”

“Shh. It’s okay Tony. It’s okay,” Pepper soothed.

His cries of fear and pain slowly quieted as Pepper held him.

“What’s going to happen to me?” Tony finally spoke in a coherent sentence. He looked up at her with frightened brown eyes.

“I don’t know Tony,” Pepper stroked his cheak, “But we’ll figure it out.”

“When?”

Pepper sighed.

“I wish I knew.”

“I don’t think I can do this.”

“You can Tony,” Pepper assured him.

“I can’t Pepp,” Tony whimpered, “It hurts… I can’t-- and then it… Pepper it keeps, and then…”

“Shh, slow down baby. Breath. Breath, your safe,” Pepper stroked her husband’s sweaty hair in an attempt to calm him.

“I can’t Pepper. I can’t do anything-” A fresh bought of sobs shook Tony’s frighteningly thin body.

“Shh, you can Tony-”

“It broke me- I can’t- what if I and then-”

“Tony shh-”




Dark metal drove through his abdomen, and he screamed. Something grabbed around him; he screamed louder and tried to pull away. It, the black, the metal, the crushing stone, it was all back and it was crushing him. His daughter, his son, his wife, everyone, all of them were in danger, it was coming for them and he couldn’t stop. He could stop It because It had already broken him, crushed him, crumpled him and thrown him to the ground to die.

“Tony, it’s okay your safe.”

Tony wished he could believe the voice that was echoing somewhere in the distance.

“Tony, baby I got-”

The torrent of blood rushing past his ears drowned out the voice calling to him.

He didn’t want to keep fighting the drowning black and pain.

He didn’t want to try any more.

He couldn’t stop it.

Any of it.

He screamed louder as twisting pain throbbed up his spine from where his back had been snapped.

“Tony!” Pepper’s shrill cry sliced through the roar of blood hammering past his ears, “Tony! Come on baby! You’re okay, you’re okay, I got you. Shh…”

She was here. She shouldn’t be here. Not under the rock. He couldn’t save her now. He couldn’t protect her now. He was broken…

“Please leave,” Tony choked, “Please go before-”

“I am not going anywhere Tony,” Her voice was firm and unstrained, “I am not going to leave you like this.

“Please!” Tony begged. He needed her to go, he needed her to be safe, “I can’t protect you much longer.”

He thought he could feel the pressure on his shattered back grow.

“Tony open your eyes,” Pepper whispered.

“They are…”

“No, Tony look at me please.”

“I can’t-”

He wanted to. He wanted to so bad, but it was to dark. Far to dark.



“Tony, baby please open you’re eyes,” Pepper whispered and stoked his sweaty cheeks, “Baby you are okay. You’re home. Safe.”

Tony only whimpered and squeezed his eyes shut tighter.

Pepper was pretty sure he was caught somewhere between a dream and real life.

“It’s okay Tony. Just open your eyes.”

She guided his head so he was facing her.

“Listen to me Tony. You are at home. I am safe. Morgan and Peter are safe. Tony, you are safe. You don’t have to hold the building up anymore.”

Slowly Tony pealed his eyes open.

“See? We’re safe,” She stoked his cheek, and wiped the tears away from his eyes, “You’re safe now.”

Tony just nodded slowly and leaned his head against her.

“Pepper?”

“Yeah baby?” Pepper rocked him in her arms.

“I’m scared…”

“I know,” Pepper said softly and kissed the top of his head, “I know. It's okay. I am scared too, but we will get through this.”

“But what if-”

“No Tony. No what ifs. Being scared is okay. It’s okay.”

“I’m sorry-”

“You don’t need to apologize Tony. You didn’t do anything wrong.”




Tony gave up on holding back. He let the tears out. All of them this time.

He was done not caring, because in truth he did care, and he had cared all along.

He let himself cry as Pepper held him close.

“Tony when you calm down enough, I need you to talk to me,” Pepper spoke calmly as she soothingly combed her fingers through his hair.

“I will,” Tony swallowed. He knew he had to. Maybe it would help.

“I need to know what’s happening in there,” She tapped his temple, “So I can help you Tony.”

“I know,” Tony mumbled his response.

Pepper kissed the top of his head.

“I love you Tony. I will not let you do this alone.”

Tony knew she wasn't saying it out of habit this time. He knew she meant it, so  Tony tilted his head upward and for the first time in a very long time he kissed his wife.

For the first time in a long time feeling came back to him. A feeling other than cold lost desperation.

For the first time in weeks Tony felt ready to try again.

 



Chapter Text

 

“Mommy, I don’t feel good,” Morgan lied as soon as her mother came to wake her up for school. Her mother sighed.

“You do feel warm,” He mother said as she put her cool hand against Morgan’s face.

“Can I stay home?” Morgan mumbled pulling out her best sick voice.

“I have work, and you shouldn’t be home alone,” Her mother replied rubbing her back in gentle soothing circles.

“But daddy is home,” Morgan reasoned.

This had to work. She had plans that needed to be carried out.

“I don’t know how-”

“I mean we’ll both just be asleep all day, and I really don’t feel good…” Morgan added a little bit of an extra whimper to the last part. She had to sell this.

“Fine, alright. I’ll be sending uncle Rhodey to check in as soon as he is up,” Her mother agreed with a sigh, and got up, “Be good while I am gone, and don’t bug your dad. He had a rough night.”

Morgan knew. She knew the night had not been kind to her father. She had lain in the dark of her room, and she had heard him scream. A shiver crawled up her spine as she remembered how cold a terrifying the cries had been. She wished she could forget, but she couldn’t, so she would just fix it. She had a few ideas.

“I don’t feel like getting out of bed anyway,” Morgan lied.

“Alright baby, sleep well,” Her mother kissed the top of her head, “I’ll set some medicine out for you if you need it.”

“Bye mommy,” Morgan mumbled as her mother closed the bed room door.

She waited until she heard her mother’s car pull out of the driveway to get out of bed. She had honestly been expecting the heater vent trick to fail. She thought it was only the stuff of legend. Morgan slipped down the stairs, and stopped by the kitchen to retrieve a snack.

“Alright kiddo.”

Morgan nearly jumped out of her skin.

“What are you planning?”

Morgan closed the refrigerator door, and faced Happy who was standing with his arms over his chest. She hadn’t been expecting him to show up this early.

“I am going to make my dad better,” Morgan stated. The family body guard raised a skeptical eyebrow.

“This should be good.”

“It will be, and it will work.”



Tony woke to a small hand shaking his arm.

“Daddy, wake up.”

He opened his eyes to find Morgan’s face about two inches from his.

“Shouldn’t you be at school kiddo?” Tony groaned and closed his eyes again.

“She lied to her mother so she could stay home and try to get your depressed ass out of bed.”

Tony jerked his head up at the sound of Happy’s voice.

“It’s been four weeks Tones. It was about damn time we try to get you on your feet again,” Rhodey slipped into the room behind Happy.

“Rhodey we both know I’m not walking again,” Tony laughed coldly. He was not in the mood for an intervention right now. After last night he didn't want to do anything.

“Funny thing, when I broke my back I thought the same thing, but yet here I am.”

Tony scoffed. Physically the leg prosthetic took more energy and strength then walking normally. They took a strength that Tony just did not have anymore.

“I can’t guys. I’m sorry,” Tony said weakly. He knew he was letting them down, but he just could not do it.

“Tony-”

“Rhodey, please. Just don’t,” His voice cracked. They were only making the situation worse, “Please don’t argue. I can’t do it. I just don’t have the strength to do it- I’m- I’m sorry...”

“You can-”

“Rhodey please?!” Tony almost shouted.

“But-”

“Nothing out of you Hap.”

“Tony-”

“Please leave,” Tony’s order surprised him almost as much as it surprised his two friends. To his surprise they both did as he asked and left the room; Morgan followed them out, her head drooped.

Tony wished he could be strong enough to try to get on his feet again. He wanted to walk again. He wanted to try, but if the leg braces didn’t always work, and if he tried-if he let himself hope- and then it failed he was pretty sure he would lose it and probably end things. He didn’t want that, so instead he would sit here with knowledge that it might work. The knowledge that something might work was enough to keep him going, but the knowledge that it might not was also enough to keep him from failing.



Morgan watched angrily as Happy and Rhodey left. Both of them grumbling something about getting a drink. Her uncle did however leave behind the prosthetic walking braces. Morgan frowned at them.

Her dad had said he wasn’t strong enough. She didn’t believe him. He had fought a mad titan, and he had survived being stabbed and then spending close to a week with no food or water. He had come home and promptly turned right back around and fixed the broken world, and wasn’t even the half of crazy things he had lived through. Morgan hadn’t been alive for all of that, but she still knew it had been hell on him, and she also knew that it was completely unacceptable for him to give up now.

Morgan straightened herself up, and marched back to her parents’ room. Her dad was sitting up in bed staring up a the ceiling. She climbed into the bed next to him, and it wasn’t until she nestled close to him that she realized he was crying.

“What are you doing kiddo?”

“Don’t know,” Morgan admitted. She wanted to convince him to try to get back on his feet, but she wasn’t going to try just yet. She needed a game plan.

“Me to kid,” Her dad tucked his arm around her.

They sat in silence for a longtime. Morgan didn’t mind. She liked the peaceful quiet, and even more than that she liked sitting with her dad. He made her feel safe.

“Daddy?”

“Hmm?”

“What are you so afraid of?”

A heavy sigh escaped her father and his arm squeezed her a little closer to him.

“A lot of things,” Her father admitted.

“Me too."

At this her father chuckled. It wasn’t cold and hallow. It was genuine.

“What happened last night?” Morgan felt him stiffen next to her at this question, “You don’t have to answer.” Morgan added.

Her dad smiled down at her weakly, “Just a nightmare.”

For him nightmares were never just nightmares.

“Did I- Did I wake you up?” Her father asked, guilt thick in his tone. Morgan wanted to lie, and say that he didn’t, but she couldn’t bring herself to do it, so she nodded a little.

“I’m sorry kid,” Her dad apologized and pulled away from her slightly as if he thought putting some distance between them would protect her, or make up for him scaring her.

“It’s okay,” Morgan assure him and covered the gap between them that he had made. She leaned her head against his chest, “Bad dreams aren’t any fun.”

“Tell me about it.”

He hugged her a little closer to him, and stroked her hair.

“You know it wouldn’t hurt to try walking again,” Morgan ventured after a few minutes of silence.

He twitched nervously

“I can’t Moe. I’m sorry.”

“Why not?”

He sighed, “Because what if it doesn’t work?”

Morgan frowned. That was a lame excuse, but she still understood it.

“But what if it does work?” Morgan countered.

Her dad just shook his head.

“Please try,” Morgan pleaded.

She held her father’s gaze for a long time, using her eyes to plead with him. He would never get emotionally better if he didn’t try, if he didn’t do something.

He looked at her and nodded his head slightly a few times, “Alright. Alright Morgan I’ll try.”



Tony buckled the last strap on the leg braces, and gave his daughter an affirmative nod. All he had to do now was pull himself up. That would be it. It would either be a new path for him to take, or it would be the end of the line.

“It’s okay daddy,” Morgan patted his shoulder as she stood loyally beside him.

What if-

Tony cut off the doubts trying to claw their way to the surface. No more what ifs. He had come this far. He could try to go a little farther. He would do it for Morgan.

“Alright kiddo. Here I go.”

For the first time in four weeks Tony Stark stood up.



Pepper came home to the sound of laughing coming from the basement. She wondered briefly as she walked down the stairs if she was day dreaming. It was Tony’s laugh rising from the basement, and that was the last thing had expected to hear upon her return home. It was almost to good to be true.

Pepper found Tony sitting up right on the floor with his legs spread out; he had on a leg brace very similar to the one that Rhodey wore. Morgan was rolling on the floor next to him giggling uncontrollably. Neither of them seemed to notice that she had come in.

“Dum-E I swear if you did not get that on video I am going to actually donate you this time!” Tony laughed pointing at one of his bots.

“You should have seen the look on your face!” Morgan cried tears rolling down her face, “And the noise you made!”

“I know!” Tony laughed.

“Morgan I see you are feeling better,” Pepper said with pretend disapproval. They both clapped their mouths shut and looked up at her.

“Oops,” Morgan gulped and scooted a little closer to her father, who simultaneously scoot a little fearfully away from Pepper.

“Before you yell at us I gotta show you something,” Tony said holding up his hands dramatically.

Pepper had no intention of yelling at them. The thought had not even crossed her mind, she was to flooded with joy because she had actually just heard her husband laugh.

“Alright Moe, help me out,” Tony grunted and maneuvered himself on the floor.

“Right!” Little Morgan hopped to feet and braced herself as her father used her and Dum-E to haul himself to his feet.

He was on his feet. He was standing up. Pepper could no longer contain her joy, she crossed the distance between her and him; she slid her arms around his waist and pressed her lips against his. He seemed to lose his balance for a second, but then leaned in and kissed back. Pepper closed her eyes and scooted a little closer in. Tony moved closer in. He tucked his strong hands around the back of her head, and leaned into the kiss even more. Pepper never wanted it to end.

“Gross!” Morgan cried in dismay.

“Zip it kid!” Tony said around their kiss, barely breaking off before going in for more.

After who knows how long they both lost steam and broke off from their kiss and then just hugged. Pepper leaned in closer to her husband as he wrapped his strong arms around her. A smaller pair of arms wrapped around her upper legs. Pepper smiled and scooped Morgan into her arms. The Three of them hugged, and Pepper go the urge to kiss Tony again.

So she did.




Peter lay on his bed. He didn’t feel like patrolling or really doing anything at all. He clicked his phone on hoping for some message from Tony, but just like the last thousand times there was  nothing. He sighed and clicked it off. Maybe he should go visit him. No. Tony was probably mad at him for walking out. He couldn’t go back. He would have to live with this one. He had abandoned his father- no he couldn’t call him that anymore, he didn’t deserve to.

Someone knocked on his bedroom door.

“Not now Aunt May, please,” Peter said and sniffled. He had been trying to avoid another crying fit. His door opened all the same.

“Aunt May ple-”

“Sorry kid. Not Aunt May.”

Peter’s jaw dropped at the sight of Mr. Stark standing in his doorway with his arms wide in his signature stance.

“Mr. Stark?!” Peter sat bolt upright and sprang to his feet. He cleared the room in a second and jumped into Tony’s outstretched arms. He didn’t care that he probably wasn’t his son anymore, he was going to hug the man damn it! He was okay!

“Hey kid.”

Tony wrapped his arms around Peter.

“I am so sorry Mr. Stark!” Peter cried. He could feel the tears coming, “I am sorry!”

“Nonsense son. I don’t blame you,” Tony pulled Peter a little closer.

Son. He was still his son! Tony was still his father. Peter was overjoyed, but how was he not the one to blame?

“But-”

“Peter. None of that now. I made my choices, and the only I would have changed would be letting you leave. I should have called you. Told you I still care.”

His father- yes Peter thought he was his father again- hugged him tighter.

“I love you kid, and don’t you ever think about blaming yourself for this,” His father’s tone was firm and loving, “Plus, I can walk again!”

Tony stuck out a leg for Peter to see the leg brace.

“I’m glad you’re okay, and I love you too dad,” Peter hugged his father back



Tony smiled as he hugged his son. Now. Now, this time he was sure that everything would be okay. For the first time he truly believed what Pepper had said when he had first woken up.

They would make it work.

They would figure it out.

Everything would be okay.

Tony believed every word of it.

 

Chapter Text

Tony felt useless. He had tried helping Nebula fix the the Guardians’ ship, and he tried to help her move the rubble away, but he strained himself to much and accidentally reopened his wound. He shuddered, remembering falling down and clutching his side, blood filling his mouth as his side dripped blood slowly onto the ground. He had gotten it closed back fairly fast with the web fluid Peter had given him, for just in case emergencies like this one.

Now he was sitting alone in the small shelter Nebula had made, wrapped a blanket that she had found aboard the Guardians’ ship, she was off trying to get the ship back up and running. They had been there for the past three days. Tony shivered and hugged the blanket tighter around him, he wasn’t really sure if the shiver had been because it was cold, or because of blood loss. It was probably both. He had slowly been losing blood over the past three days, and was getting weaker and weaker everyday; part of that was blood loss, and part of it was that they had very little food and water, and were rationing it.

Tony leaned his head against the doorway of the hut, and watched Nebula work from a distance. He wanted nothing more then to get up and help, but he couldn’t; he could barely find it in himself to stay sitting up.

“Hey, you should be inside staying warm,” Nebula said as she approached the shelter. She helped Tony back inside where he sat on a cot she had pulled out of the ship, “The ship is almost ready to go.”

Tony nodded his head a little. He felt kind of bad, he really hadn’t said much at all to her over the past three days, but it hurt to breath, let alone talk. He hoped she understood, she didn’t seem like the kind of person who talk much anyway. He had noticed something interesting though; never once had she asked him how he was, probably because she knew the answer. He also had a feeling that she knew, just as much as he did, that his strength was failing quickly, and that he was most likely going to die before they made it to Earth.

“You can’t die, you know,” She spoke almost as if she had read his mind.

“I’ll try my best not to,” He replied and smiled wryly.

“I’ve always been alone, and the only people I care about are dead. Having to be here keeping you alive, is the only thing keeping me going… the only reason I haven’t…” She trailed off, Tony knew what she meant by this, and it scared him a little. He was a little curious about this blue person's history.

“I’m sorry.”

“Sorry for what? It was Thanos not you.”

Tony shrugged, “Sorry you don’t have anyone.”

“Oh.”

Tony sighed and immediately started coughing, a little blood came up and ran out of the corner of his mouth. Nebula reached forward and placed a gentle reassuring hand on his shoulder.

“You just have to make until tomorrow. I have a just a few tweeks and the ship will be good to go,” Nebula said quietly and helped Tony lay down. She pulled a blanket over him, “You’ll survive Stark.”

He wasn’t so sure about that, and he wasn’t even sure he wanted to survive. What would going home bring? Surely more heartbreak. Were Pepper, Happy, and Rhodey okay? Tony thought about these things as he lay quietly with his head propped up on Nebula’s leg.

“Stark, your bleeding again,” Nebula said with a touch of concern. Tony lifted his head a little to look. Sure enough fresh blood was soaking through his hoodie. He lay his head back on Nebula’s leg, his vision getting blurry. He closed his eyes. He didn’t even care anymore.

“Come on Stark, wake up,” Nebula said frustrated, “Damn it.”

She lifted his head off her lap, Tony was too tired to open his eyes. She got up, turned him on his side, and left the hut. Tony moved his hand to his side. Hot sticky blood covered his hand; He was bleeding more than he thought. He knew he should get up and try to stop the bleeding again, but he just could not make himself open his eyes.

He was done.

 

Chapter Text

"Stark please wake up," Nebula whispered and shook the sleeping man's arm, "We need to leave."

"You should just go," Stark mumbled. There was small blood stain on the balled up towel, serving as a pillow, where the corner of his mouth touched it.

"I am not going to leave you here," Nebula insisted and shook him a little harder.

"You'll make it farther without me," Stark rasped, "I'll be dead in a few hours. There is no point."

"You won't be dead. I'm going to get you home," Nebula snapped, "Now please get up."

Tony didn't respond this time. Rolling her eyes Nebula pulled the dying man into her arms bridal stile, and stood up. She had meant what she said about him being the only thing keeping her going. If he died she would be alone again, and she hated the idea of that. Maybe a year ago she would have been okay with being completely alone, but things had changed. Her sister had changed her, shown her that it was best not be alone. Besides over the past three days she had become steadily more attached to the broken Terrian man who so obviously needed a hug. Nebula would have given him one, but she didn't do hugs.

"See that wasn't so bad," Nebula said sitting Tony in one of the seats of the ship.

"I told you to leave me," Stark whimpered, "I don't want to go back."

Nebula took a confused step back. 

"What about Pepper? Think about her," Nebula reasoned. Tony had told her briefly about the woman he was going to marry.

He scoffed, "She's gone."

"You don't know that-"

"The universe has taken everything else from me, why would it spare me that loss?" Stark hissed between clenched teeth.

"Don't know," Nebula shrugged, "But if the chance that it didn't take her isn't enough, stay alive for me."

Tony snorted, "You don't want to be any closer to me."

"And why is that?" Nebula demanded.

"I fuck everything up."

She started the ship. Whether he liked it or not she was getting him home, "I don't believe that."

"Well you should."

"Why should I?"

"Because it's true," Stark stated angrily opening his eye. The were dull and hallow with pain. Nebula actually found herself wanting to give him a hug, "I can't do anything right."

"See I don't believe that either."

"You are pretty trusting in humanity for someone who was tortured their whole life."

"Excuse me?" That statement had hit the wrong nerve.

"I'm sorry," Stark muttered, "But now you see what I mean. I fuck everything up, even this."

"No you don't," Nebula argued, "You didn't fuck this up."

"Didn't I?"

Nebula just stared at him realization dawning on her.

"I mean isn't this all my fault? I mean if I had done something differently Thanos wouldn't have gotten the time stone," Tony rose to his feet, "I mean I pretty much did this!" Nebula could see tears beginning to well in his eye, "This is my fault! I didn't do enough. I wasn't ready. I knew- Damn it Nebula, I knew! I saw it coming! I could feel it! Now look at what happened!" He flailed his arms out, "Half of the damn universe is dead, including the people you called family! All because I was not fucking ready! It is my fault. In the end I couldn't even FUCKING DIE!" Tony was shouting now, "I could not even do the most simple easy task imaginable. I couldn't give up and die! I should be dead! Not half of the fucking universe!" Tony's shout died down into a weak whimper, "I couldn't even die to stop it."

He crumpled forward, and Nebula caught him.

"Why couldn't he have just let me die?" Sobs shook the man's shoulders, "Why couldn't I have just died?"

Nebula sighed. Tony may blame himself for what happened, but Nebula didn't. She blamed Thanos, not Tony for the death of the people she called family. 

Tony gripped her shoulders and cried.

Nebula didn't do hugs, but she wrapped her arms around him, and guided him to the ground anyway.

He needed the hug.

Chapter Text

“Stark?” Nebula shook Tony’s shoulder to wake him from the light slumber he had fallen into, “Hey I found something that will help your wound heal.”

“Hmm,” Stark sounded disinterested in what she was trying to offer him.

“Come on, roll over. This stuff’ll have it sealed up, and healed in a matter of days,” Nebula shook him a second time.

“Fine,” Tony grumbled and rolled over onto his back.

“Lift your shirt up,” Nebula ordered unscrewing the lid of the healing paste tube, “This might hurt a little.”

“It’s fine, it’s not like I am pain free right now anyway.”

“So Terra- uh Earth, tell me more about it,” Nebula’s reasoning for asking went beyond just curiosity. She needed to keep his mind off the pain that was about to go down.

“Didn’t I already?”

“You told me a little bit about Pepper, but something tells me there is more to it than that.”

“What do want to know about?”

Nebula felt Stark’s whole body stiffen and seize as she spread the past on to the large gash, but he made no sound to express his pain.

“Your fine,” Nebula rested a reassuring hand on the man’s forehead.

“I thought you said it would hurt a little, ” Tony hissed between clenched teeth. The muscles on his neck bulged, and his nostrils flared, “nmmh ah son of a bitch!”

He writhed as the paste on his abdomen began to bubble a little.

“Earth. Tell me about Earth,” Nebula coaxed.

“Oh you know pain and misery with a slight occasional side of joy,” The man growled between bared teeth.

“Pain and misery?” Nebula questioned.

“Yeah,” Stark seemed to relax just a little, “You know, give it your all, try, and then have it chew you up and spit you out over and over again because you didn't do enough. Try to do something right and then get betrayed, and have the universe smash you in the face, and break you chest with a metal shield? Pain and misery.”

Nebula raised an eyebrow as Stark finished his explanation of what Earth was like. The details seemed oddly specific.

“Those details seem very specific,” Nebula commented. His wording had been odd to. He had used chest not heart, it could have been that it was an Earth thing, but she didn't think so.

“Maybe,” Stark shrugged, and then changed the subject, “Do you need to do the other side?”

Nebula nodded. What was this man’s story?

Tony didn't even need to be told to roll over on his stomach, he just did it. He convulsed a little less this time when she put the paste on. Nebula rubbed her fingers through his hair as he silently worked his way through the this second round of pain.

She would figure him out eventually.

Chapter Text

Meals were small, and getting smaller. Tony’s hunger pangs had become normal and left his mind as something that he didn't need to worry about anymore. Really everyday was it’s own gift because he had expected to die a week ago, but each days was also its own kind of hell. Slow drowning hell, but nights were worse. They were filled with dreams of pain and failure. Loss and desperation. Sometimes he would wake up and scream, other times he would wake up and cower. Occasionally Nebula would come and sit with him and sing him back to sleep. Who would have thought aliens could sing? Her songs didn’t have words in the traditional sense. They were more just melodic sounds, that somehow despite lack of words, told a story. Her songs told a mournful story. He was pretty sure it was her's.

The best nights were the ones where they did not sleep. The best ones were when they stayed up and played cards and told stories. Nebula’s stories were far better than his, but she still insisted he tell her his. He told her about the Avengers, about the compound and Pepper, and he told her about the missions they ran, and on one especially low night he told her about the civil war. The lies, the secrets, the attempted compromises, and in the end the betrayal, and his mistakes.

Nebula was a good listener. She would occasionally ask him questions, but for the most part she just listened. Some people when they listen silently one begins to question if they are indeed still listening. Not her. She listened, and he could see it in the intensity of her eyes.

“Why do you still do it?”

“Do what?” Tony looked up at her ashe plopped a peanut (or something very similar to a peanut) down on the table as his bet.

“Why do you still protect Earth? I mean what has it ever done for you?”

Tony thought about for a minute. He wasn't entirely sure why anymore.

“Because it needs to be done.”

Nebula nodded.

“It’s my home. I am not just going to sit back and let it be destroyed, nor destroy itself.”

“Even if it destroys you.”

Tony sighed, “Even of it destroys me.”

There was no doubt in his mind that it would.

Chapter Text

The food ran out. The following morning Nebula woke him, and the ship was silent. The power cells had died. Tony made peace at that very moment with the fact that he was going to die here.

“Not all of the power cells are dead, just the ones powering the propulsion systems,” Nebula explained as she lead Tony to the power cells of the ship. He ran his fingers through his greasy hair in frustration.

“So we are stuck?” He asked the question already knowing the answer.

“We’re stuck,” as the blue alien spoke the whole ship went black.

“Shit!” Nebula swore. She broke a flare. And took off down the hallway.

“What?” Tony demanded chasing after her. She slid stop at one of the control panels.

“No, no, no. NO!” She slammed her hands against one of the dials, “No! Please no.”

Tony stood in shocked silence as she descended into angry screams and beat on the control board, “Come on! No!”

“Nebula! What is the problem?” Tony demanded. She came to a stand still. Her shoulders drooped and she turned to face him. Tears sparkled in the light of the flare.

“I am so sorry Tony,” Her voice was broken, “Life support is gone.”

For some reason it didn't overly surprise him, or terrify him. He had known he eaten that last bite of food, that it would indeed be his last bite of food.

“It’s okay Nebula,” Tony replied slowly. He had already resigned himself to his fate. This just sealed it.

“No it’s not Tony!” Nebula sounded like she was about to shout, “You are going to die! That’s not okay with me!”

“Nebs, it was always going to happen,” Tony said shaking his head.

“Okay! So just like that? You’re mortal so you are okay with it happening when ever?” This time Nebula did shout, “That’s it??? Oh well I was always going to die so that makes it okay for me to die now. NO! Tony it doesn’t!”

“Nebula! We are out of food!” Tony couldn’t hold back his own frustrated shout, “We ran out of food two days ago! I am either going to suffocate, or I am going to starve to death. I knew two fucking days ago that I was going to die! This!” Tony pointed at the oxygen gauge, “This just speeds it up by what a day maybe two? And you know what? I am tired!" He could here his voice shake, I am SO. DAMN. TIRED. And I can't keep doing this. I give and I give, I don't have anything left. I got nothing Nebula. Zilch."

Nebula opened and closed her a few times. Tony sighed. He hadn't meant to shout, and he sure as hell hadn't meany to say all that.

“I’m sorry Nebs. I really I am.”

 

Nebula bowed her head in defeat. She had done it again. She had let herself care, and she was going to pay for it again.

“I just- Tony I can’t lose anymore…”

Strong arms wrapped around her in a firm hug. She had never like physical affection, but she leaned into Tony’s hug all the same. She didn't mind his hugs, as a matter of fact she loved them. They were like hugs from a father she hadn't ever had before now.

He pulled her head close to his chest, and held her like that. Deep down she had know too, she had watched him eat the last of the food, and she had known. She had known in that moment that she was going to lose again. The oxygen running out had just sealed the fate of the last person in the universe that she cared about.

 

Chapter Text

A scream echoed through the dark empty halls of the dead ship. Nebula was off her cot, and into the next room in a matter of seconds. She flicked on one of the battery powered lamps that they had hung around the ship. Tony was sitting up on his bed; his chest heaved as he drew in long heavy breaths.

“Tony?”

“I-” He gasped, but didn’t finish what he was saying. Nebula rushed across the room and pulled him into her arms.

“Tony talk to me!” Nebula demanded. He looked like a fish out of water.

“It’s… can’t… hurts…” Tony mouthed the words.

What was wrong with him? Nebula searched him up and down. Oxygen still had another 24 hours, he wasn’t suffocating.

“Tony what’s wrong?”

He just whimpered and buried his face in her shoulder.

“It hurts,” He curled in on himself and clenched around his stomach.

“Shh, I got you Tony.”

“Make it stop,” the man whimpered around weak gasps of pains, “Please…”

Nebula squeezed her eyes shut, and hugged him a little closer.

“Shh Tony,” She didn’t know what else to do or say to make things better.

“Please make it stop!” Tony begged, “I can’t-”

He broke off into low mournful cries of pain. Nebula tucked him closer to her. She would hug him and hold him as long as he needed it.

Nebula ran her hand up and down his back, and slowly his pained gasps quieted. His jagged breaths smoothed out a little to even shallow breaths.

His whimpers quieted.

“I’m sorry dad.”

“Hmm?” Tony lifted his head a little and eyed her with confusion, “Did you just-”

“Yes, now shh. Rest,” Nebula quieted him. She hadn't even meant to call him dad. It had just happened.

“Thank you,” Tony mumbled as he closed his eyes and curled a little closer to her. She caught a glimpse of a smile.

 

Tony knew he would be dead soon, but Nebula had called him dad, so he smiled. Peter had never called him dad, but Tony had known the kid had thought it. That had always made Tony very happy, but actually hearing the words spoken allowed directed at him gave him almost to much joy to contain. He would die tomorrow yes, but he would die a father. He leaned in a little closer to his daughter. He would have felt a little better if he had been the one comforting her.

 

Nebula held him close like that, as he rested, for the rest of the night. Or whatever counted as night in space. She tried to push back the thought that next time he drifted off to sleep he would not wake up.

 

Chapter Text

Nebula pulled Tony’s limp body into her arms and held him close. His chest stopped moving in its short uneven jerks, as a matter of fact it just stopped. All of him just stopped, and with him everything else came to a stand still. Nothing moved, not even Nebula. She just sat stone still with the dead body of the last person in the universe she cared about in her arms. Her father. The only person who had ever been a real father to her, and he was dead in her arms.

The only thing that moved was a small droplet of water slipping down her cheeks.

She was going to kill Thanos even if it took her dying breath. She was going to wipe him out of existence. He had taken the last thing from her. He had taken her real father and he would pay for it dearly.

A heavy metal clank rattled the ship, but Nebula still did not move. She didn't especially care what it was that had latched onto the ship. The only thing she cared about was dead man in her arms. She had watched him die, and she hadn’t been able to do anything as he had convulsed and choked. She had only been able to hold him. Every jerk from his body had torn her apart, then he had lie still, his chest had risen and fallen in a few short gasps, and the had gone completely and utterly motionless.

Footsteps echoed through the halls of the ship, and Nebula remained holding onto her last family member's body

It was a gasp that made her finally look up. A deep purple metal suit of armor stood before her.

No words were spoken between them, they both seemed to come to a silent understanding that they both cared very deeply for the dead man that lay in Nebula’s lap. Nebula did not question nor protest as the other woman picked him up. She only followed loyally as the armored woman carried Tony’s limp body through the airlock, and onto another ship. There were other people on the ship, but she ignored them, keeping her eyes on trained on Stark’s limp body. She was quite sure that people were speaking and moving around her, but her world was focused on Tony, and his silence filled her world. She focused on him, and all other sounds became irrelevant.

Silence.

She watched his body jerk as someone pounded on his chest.

Silence.

Another jerk shook the man’s body.

Silence.

His body jerked a again.

Thud.

Nebula listened harder, and the sound came again.

Thud.

She let the sound from the rest of the ship flood back into her consciousness.

“We got him!” The man who had been pounding on Tony’s chest sighed, “Pepper get the oxygen mask.”

Nebula watched as the people on the ship worked.

“Hey,” Nebula jumped, she had been so absorbed in watching over Tony that she hadn’t noticed the woman in the purple suit of armor approaching.

“Sorry. I didn’t mean to startle you,” The woman apologized

“No it’s fine I just-” Nebula trailed off, “Just spaced out.”

“Understandable,” The woman took up a position standing next to her.

“Are you Pepper?”

The woman’s smile answered the question for her, “He told you about me?”

“All the time,” Nebula nodded with a fond smile.

“Can I get your name?” Pepper asked after a few minutes of silence.

“Nebula.”

“Nice name.”

“Hmm.”

They both lapsed into silence after that. Nebula didn’t mind it, she actually preferred it. It made it easier to focus her advanced hearing on Tony’s weak heartbeat. She was glad that Pepper seemed to be just as content to stand there and watch over him as the man (probably a doctor) worked on him. The man lifted Tony’s shirt and then made eye contact with Nebula.

“How’d he get this scar?”

“Thanos.”

The man raised his eyebrows.

“He survived a fight with Thanos?”

Nebula nodded. He had only survived because Strange had sacrificed half the universe for him. She didn’t say that though, because she wasn’t sure how these people would react. She didn’t know if they would blame him like he blamed himself.

“What happened to him?” Pepper pinned Nebula with inescapable look.

“We were all out of the fight. All except for him. He went toe to toe with Thanos, and it- it ended badly.”

“How badly? How did he get that wound?” Pepper demanded.

“Thanos had him beat, but he kept trying anyway. He tried to stab Thanos, but um he- he got the sword.”

At the time Tony had just been a distant figure on the battlefield, just another meaningless fighter trying hard to stop Thanos. At the time her feelings when he got stabbed only went as far as, yet another person had failed. Then everyone had died. Everyone but him. It had just been them, and then they had spent two weeks together, and instantly bonded. He was her father now, her family, now when she looked back, the memory made her sick.

She was going to kill Thanos.

 

“Psst, Nebs.”

Nebula snapped awake. She hadn’t even realized she had fallen asleep.

“Your awake?!” She sat up straighter in the seat she had been in, "Do you need something? I can- Are you okay?”

“Yeah, surprisingly enough I am,” Tony replied resting his chin on the top of Pepper’s head. The woman had climbed into the bed with him and gone to sleep with her head tucked into the crook of his neck. She could see the relief in his eyes at knowing that Pepper was okay.

“How are you feeling?”

“Like hell.”

Nebula furrowed her eyebrows in concern.

“But I’ll be fine,” Tony added reassuringly, “Just fucking hungry.”

“They have you on an IV,” Nebula nodded toward the line going into his arm.

“I want real food,” Tony put the emphasis on the real, “Like a cheese burger.”

“A cheese burger?” Nebula frowned.

What the hell was a cheese burger?

Tony’s jaw dropped.

“Hold up! You have never had a cheeseburger?!”

Nebula shook her head.

Tony shook his head in disbelief, “I do not care what kind of horrible disarray the Earth is in when we get back, when we get home the first thing we are doing is getting you a cheese burger. Saving the world will wait the hour that it takes us to get you one.”

“Sounds good.”

“I can’t believe you have never had a cheese burger!”

“It’s not my fault!" Nebula objected. She was very grateful that Tony had steered their conversation away from his poor health situation. She never wanted to think him dead again.

“We’re getting you a cheese burger,” Tony’s eyes closed, as he mumbled, obviously still exhausted from the past two weeks of hell, “and me a cheese burger… cheese burger for you… cheese burger for me… Cheeseburgers all around…”

He trailed off into small content snores, probably now dreaming about whatever the hell a cheeseburger was. Nebula climbed onto the bed, and curled up next to Tony. She rested her head on his chest and listened to his steady relaxed heart beat. He reached an arm around and rested it across he shoulders and back. 

She smiled.

She loved his hugs.

Chapter Text

A manila folder landed in front of Rhodey’s face as he sat with his chin rested on his office desk lost in space. He sat up abruptly startled by the folder hitting he his desk.

The officer who put the file down exited the room as though she was fleeing an angry beast. Rhodey picked up the file and cautiously opened it. He only had to scan it briefly to understand why the officer had booked it out of his office.

 

“What the hell is this?!” Rhodey demanded throwing the file down on one of his superior's desks. In any other circumstance he never would have never dreamed of doing something like that, but he couldn’t keep a lid on the anger bubbling up inside of him, “You can’t call off the search! He is still out there!”

His superior leaned back in his chair and rubbed his eyebrows tiredly, “I’m sorry cornel, but Mr. Stark has been missing for over three months, and with things heating up we can no longer utilize valuable manpower and equipment searching for someone who as of an hour ago was officially presumed dead.”

“What?!” Rhodey cried in dismay.

“I am sorry Rhodes, but with no word from the ten rings asking for ransom money we can only assume he is dead.”

“But he’s not! He can’t be dead,” Rhodey tried his best not to completely lose it.

“I’m sorry colonel, now please leave my office before I decide to press disciplinary actions against you for your very rude intrusion.”

“Yes sir,” Rhodey dismissed himself from the room. He hadn’t even made it two steps down the hallway before his cell phone rang.

“Hello?”

“Please tell me this report isn’t true!” Pepper anything but shouted in Rhodey’s ears, “Please tell me they didn’t call it.”

News traveled fast around here.

“I am sorry Pepper…”

“Did you read it!? It says: After three months of searching Tony Stark had been PRESUMED DEAD, and the search has been CALLED OFF!!!”

“I know-”

“This isn’t okay James! What if he is still out there?!”

“Pepper-”

“Listen to me damn it! I do not care what you have to do! You get him back right now. You do what ever you need to do to get him back James!”

“I will Pepper,” Rhodey confirmed.

“You make sure and get him home.”

“I will Pepper. This isn’t anywhere close to being over.”

“Promise me.”

“I promise Pepper. I will get him back.”



“Danny!” Rhodey shouted and ran after his friend on the helicopter pad. The man stopped and turned around.

“Hey James,” The man said with a smile, “What can I do for you?”

“Can I ask you a favor?” Rhodey said coming to a stop in front of the pilot.

“What do you need?”

“Can I tag along on you training run?”

“That’s not all you want is it?”

“No.”

“Of course not. What else do you want?”

Rhodey shuffled his feet nervously, “They called off the search for Tony.”

“I’m sorry man,” Danny patted him on the shoulder.

“I was wondering if you could maybe swing wide on your route… one last look?”

Danny smiled.

“One last look,” Danny said affirmatively.

“Thank you so much man!” Rhodey hugged his friend.

“Load up,” Danny said shoving Rhodey toward the helicopter.

 

“Holy shit,” The call came from the lead helicopter, “That’s Tony Stark!”

“Bring the choppers in for the landing!” Rhodey cried, as his friend came into view below them.

He was out of the helicopter before it had even completed its touch down.

 

 

 

Chapter Text

The light from Tony’s suit glowed an unnatural orange.

Something was wrong. Pepper knew it just from looking at the crimson and black suit.

The smirk that the Titan was glowering down at her with wasn’t boding well either.

“Tony? Please tell me that’s you in there,” Pepper panted as she hauled herself to her feet. She was the only one who hadn’t been knocked out by what ever  Thanos had done.

The face part of the mask opened. Pepper’s heart did a flip in her chest. She could feel her stomach drop. Tony glared at her. His eyes glowed tinted red and fiery angry orange. He looked sick, not ill, no, evil. Wrong. Something was wrong with him. Horribly wrong.

Pepper tore her gaze away from his burning eyes and turned an angry glare to Thanos.

“What the hell did you do to him!?” She demand. Her words echoed through the still air despite the fact that there was nothing for the sound to bounce off. Everything felt off. The air was thick with an invisible evil haze. She could feel it; it made her skin crawl.

“Not to me. For me,” Pepper spun her head around to face her fiance, “What he did for me.”

“Tony?” Thanos had done nothing for him.

“He saved me,” Tony’s voice was all wrong. Cold and… evil, “He showed me what I was doing wrong.”

“No,” Pepper growled.

“It’s okay Pepper,” He smiled.

Pepper hated it.

“No. Tony, please tell me-”

“Join us Pepper,” He pinned her with his eerie glowing eyes and extended his hand out to her, “Join me.”

Pepper shook her head and took a half step back. Tony looked disappointed, but not surprised.

“You know Ms. Potts I had been hoping you would make this easy on me.”

His black mask closed.

Pepper narrowed her eyes and closed her mask.

“I am only going to give you one more warning. Join freely, or we will make you.”

Pepper took a deep breath.

“Friday scan him. I need to know what Thanos did to him.”

“On it boss, but I need time. His suit is blocking me. I can hack in if your suit is touching his.”

“On it.”

She cracked her knuckles, “You know what Tones? I was always curious which of us was the stronger.”

“I really wish we didn’t have to do this,” He hissed as a long sword like spike extended from his right hand.

Pepper let her own nanotech form into a sword and shield. She was going to try her best to go defensive on this one.

“Oh Potts you can’t be afraid to dream a little bigger."

What looked like a double bladed ax extended from his other hand.

He was not going play defense on this one. The feeling soaked into Pepper with sickening realization. If he had to, he would kill her. For both their sakes she could not let him do that.

He leapt at her, sword extended forward. Pepper threw her shield up and the blade glanced off, but he followed through with the ax. Its blade narrowly skimmed the top of her helmet as she ducked. She follow his attack with her own. She drove her knee up word and landed a firm blow to his left side. To her surprise he faltered ever so slightly, as though the blow had hurt… or hurt more than is should have. Taking advantage of his brief weak state she dive tackled him, and pinned him to the ground.

“Friday run the scan!” Pepper cried as she pulled Tony into a headlock.

“Already on it boss,” The AI confirmed.

Tony grabbed hard around Pepper’s suit, and squeezed.

“Let go of him now!” The AI ordered suddenly, “He is uploading a virus to the suit!”

“Shit!” Pepper swore and released him from the head lock. He didn't let go of her arm. Pepper struggled to squirm free.

“50% uploaded.”

Pepper clenched her teeth, and slammed her knee forward again. Tony didn't react this time.

“I am beyond pain now.”

He didn't sound so evil that time. Just broken.

“67%!”

“ I am working on it!” Pepper hissed, and attempted punching his elbow. He didn't react, “Give me thrusters.”

“But-”

“ Friday now!”

The thrusters kicked on and she rocketed into the sky, Tony still clung to her for arm.

“Damn it! You got more clingy!” Pepper growled as Tony attempted to land a punch to her face. She blocked it

“89%”

“You know what Tony? I really wish I was sorry for this, but you are kind of being an ass right now.”

The nanotech on her arms formed into hundreds of long thin spikes in a matter of seconds. Multiple spikes stabbed through Tony's clamp like hand. He yanked it back. Red coated the purple nanotech spikes.

“argh!” Tony howled in pain clutching his hand.

“I thought you said you were beyond pain!” Pepper snarked and roundhouse kicked him in the head with the full force of her thrusters behind it. He plummeted for a heart stopping second before regaining his composure and rocketing back up toward her, his nanotech sword held out before him.

She moved back at the last second as he rocketed past her.

“How far did you get with scan?”

“Mr. Stark is- is I can't even describe it… I think he is gone-”



He had to make her understand. This was how it had to be. He had to make Pepper understand like Thanos had made him understand- no. Not like that, he wouldn't wish that upon anyone else. He would make her understand differently so Thanos wouldn't do things his way. This was the only way to save her.

Tony changed direction as soon as Pepper moved to the side to avoid his attack. He wheeled around in the sky and got a grip on Pepper's neck. The pain in his hand had eddied away to distant throb, just like all the pain did. Nothing hurt for long anymore, not after the power Thanos had given him using the stones.

Tony let the energy from his veins writhe into the suit. If he could transfer it from his suit to her’s even just for a second then she would understand. She would join him. She would see what he saw. A safe world. No war. Plenty to go around.  She would understand that the mad titan wasn't so mad.

Her suit somehow rejected his attempt to transfer power to it.

Tony slammed Pepper into the ground. She clawed at his arms frantically, but he held her down.

“Tony please! Come back to me!” Pepper choked as he focused the power of the aether trying to get it into her suit systems. He needed her to have the power. Once she had it she would understand. Tony want to share this new world, that he envisioned, with her.

Stop. Don’t do this to her! Please! He couldn't do this to Pepper. He loved her. He couldn't let the same thing that had happened to him happen to her. He couldn't let her fall into the the months of torture that had broken him in two. He couldn't let Thanos have her. He would not let her die and become like him.

Tony Stark decided to start hacking into her suit to override a certain protocol. It was the only way to save her from him and Thanos.

 

“What did Thanos do to him?!” Pepper cried to the AI.

“My scans point toward metal manipulation, but on a higher level than we have ever seen, even with the mind stone.”

“What do u mean?!”

“There is more than one energy signature present in his mind. Scans indicate Three. Two are similar to the energy emitted from the mind stone, and one is identical.”

“So Thanos brainwashed him with the infinity stones?”

“Brain activity scans suggest severe cerebral trauma.”

“What are saying?!”

“15% capacity on the suit blocking systems.”

“Friday! Are you telling me he was tortured and mind controlled?!”

“12% defensive actions suggested.”

“FRIDAY!”

“9%”

“FRIDAY! TALK TO ME DAMN IT!” Pepper screamed as the hands around her throat tightened.

“5% activating iron lance protocol.”

“WHAT?! OVERRIDE! FRIDAY OVERRIDE! OVERRIDE RIGHT THIS DAMN SECOND!”



It had worked. Tony had successfully given the AI the ability to disregard Pepper’s override order. Tony couldn't save her from himself by himself, he had lost control of himself a long time ago, but Friday could save her now. She would follow her programming unless ordered otherwise, and she would no longer follow that order. Tony didn't let the other part of himself know what he had done. He just silently prepared himself.

Tony pushed his power forward with more force. He was almost through. He would be able to change her mind any second.



“3%. Critical damage imminent. Launching protocol.”

“NO!!!” Pepper screamed louder than she had ever screamed before. Tony’s body jerked, his hands released her throat, and he toppled back. A long purple spear of nano tech stabbed through his abdomen. Pepper screamed again.

His mask opened revealing his clear brown eyes no longer glowing red. Pepper sprang to him, and caught him in her arms as he slumped forward.

“Tony? Baby? Please don’t die!” Pepper cried as she maneuvered his impaled body so she could look into his face, “I’m sorry! I’m sorry, I couldn't stop the suit. It wouldn't let me! I couldn't stop it!”

“It’s not your fault Pepp,” Tony’s voice was his own now. The evil conniving malice had left it.

“But-”

“I did it Pepper,” Tony coughed. Blood dripped from his mouth.

“What do you mean?” Pepper demanded.

“He- I… part of me was going to hurt you, maybe even kill you… I couldn't let… couldn't let it…” Tony rasped, “I had to save you…”

“You hacked my suit?!”

“I had to Pepper…”

Part of Tony had remained through what ever hell Thanos had inflicted on his mind, and now he was going to die. He was going to die having saved her from the one thing he had always wanted to protect her from. Himself.

“I’m sorry Pepp…”

“No Tony! Just hang in there. You won’t die. I promise. I promise Tony. Just stay with me!” Pepper begged. A shiver ran through his body and he went limp, “No! Tony no! Stay with me!”

Pepper ran her hands through his dirty sweaty hair.

“Please.”

She pulled his head close to her chest, as she did so her suit fell away.

“What a shame.”

Pepper looked up to see that Thanos had risen from his seat atop the mound of rumble.

“He had the makings to be great. Greater than all of my children.”

The Titan had the audacity to sound sad. Pepper was about to rise from her place by her dead fiance's side but stopped at the sight of Nebula rising to her feet.

“You are going to die for what you did today!” She shouted angrily. The Titan turned to face the blue alien.

“And what? You are going to do it?!” Thanos sneered. Nebula pulled out a long sword and pointed it at him.

“By the blood of my sister and my father, I swear it!”

“I am your father fool!” Thanos hissed.

“No! My father is the one who you tortured and mind controlled to make him one of your slaves! My father is the who is dead in who should be his wife’s arms because of you! You are going to pay! I swear it!”

Nebula leapt forward, driving her sword at the Titan with unmatchable speed and force. He tried to leap to the side but he was slow. Her sword drove clean through his heart.

“Die!” Nebula screamed. Thanos sank to his knees, but did not die. Glaring Nebula yanked the gauntlet from his hand, and put it on her own hand.

“You can’t!”

“Watch me!” Nebula shouted. Power already glowing from her eyes. A shiver from Tony’s body had Pepper tearing her gaze from the angry alien getting ready to smote the foe of the universe from existence.

“Tony?”

He nodded his head ever so slightly.

“d’you think i’d go that easily…?”

“You crazy son of a bitch,” Pepper snorted a little, through a new set of tears.

“Yeah well,” Tony coughed a little. More blood dripped from his mouth, “I try. Still we should get that looked at," He gestured weakly to shard of metal impaling him.

Pepper kissed the top of his head. She wasn't sure how he had managed to survive, but he had, and that was all that mattered.

“We will.”

Tony smiled weakly and tucked his head into the crook of her neck.

“Nebs looks like she’s going to wreak havoc on the world,” Tony mumbled proudly.

She was indeed going to do just that.

 

Chapter Text

Tony let out a weak cough over the coms.

“You okay buddy?” Natasha inquired as she slammed her fist into one of the the mutated creatures they were fighting.

“Yeah, just a little cough I picked up a few days ago.”

“Alright Tony just keep us posted,” Natasha replied and drop kicked another mutated monster. Tony didn't get sick. Everyone knew that, but Nat also knew that as long Tony didn't want them to know the truth, they wouldn't. Steve beat her to a response.

“Alright Stark, fall back and help Clint on containment duty,” The Captain ordered.

“WHAT?!”

Natasha flinched. Of course he wasn't going to make this easy.

“You heard me Stark.”

“Rogers, Thor and Banner aren’t here so I am seriously the biggest gun you got, why the hell are you putting me on containment?!” Tony argued with little less oomf and liveliness than Natasha liked.

“Stark you have your order.”

Steve very rarely pulled the “I am in charge and I gave you an order” card. As a matter of fact he only ever used it when he absolutely needed to.

“Fine,” Tony hissed over the coms. Natasha was pretty sure she caught a hint of relief in his tone. She watched the red gold suit sail smoothly through the sky and to Clint’s position.

Natasha looked over to Steve, “You think he’s hiding something?”

“I do,” Steve answered.

“You think it’s that bad?”

“Not sure, but you can never be to safe with him.”

“We’re all cleaned up out here,” Clint burst in over the open channel.

“Copy that. How does Stark look?”

“Guys. I said it was a cough,” Tony stated angrily as he landed in front of them. Natasha raised an eyebrow at him. His helmet snapped open. “Believe me. It is a weird concept for me too.”

Tony looked pale.

“Are you sure you’re okay man?” Clint asked as he jogged up to the group.

“Guys! I am fine! Can we please just get on the jet and go home?”



Natasha took careful note of the way Tony sat down and went straight to sleep without even taking his suit off.

“Please tell me I am not the only one thinking there is something wrong with him,” She didn’t quite mean to speak out loud.

“He is definitely not okay,” Clint agreed with emphatic nod. As if to confirm what the archer had just said Tony let out a low moan and fell off his seat.

“Stark!” Natasha was the first one to reach his side, “Tony? Tony are you okay?”

He just mumbled some incoherent reply and pushed Nat away.

“Um guys…” Natasha looked up Steve who staring down at the floor. She followed his gaze and saw it too.

“Oh shit!” Natasha swore on impulse as her eyes landed on the small pool of blood beginning  to form around Tony.

“Tony we need you to take the suit off,” Steve ordered kneeling down on the ground. He lifted Stark’s head up a little, “Come on man!”

No response came from the slowly bleeding man.

“FRIDAY! Open his suit!” Nat ordered.

“ Order not authorized. I can only open for Mr. Starks order,” The AI responded.

“FRIDAY he is unconscious! Open the suit!” Steve sounded panicked.

“Denied.”

“Mother fucking idiot!” Steve cried in dismay and shook Tony, “Tony you need to open your suit for us!”

Tony nodded ever so slightly and the suit snapped open. A large dark stane spread across his already dark shirt.

Natasha didn't hesitate lifting up his shirt. It revealed a deep stab wound just below the right side of the man’s rib cage.

“Shit, Clint give me the first aid box, Steve call ahead to the closest hospital,” Both men obeyed her orders without protest.

“Here,” Clint handed her the box.

“Alright Stark hang in there,” Nat coaxed as she pressed a wad of gauze against the leaking wound. Tony inhaled sharply.

“Gentle there spy lady,” He mumbled softly.

“You’re an idiot Tony.”

“Yeah well I try,” Tony half laughed half coughed his response.

“Well you should start telling us when you get stabbed,” Natasha quipped back.

“I didn't want you guys to worry,” He mumbled.

“Stark, you do realize it is more worrisome when you pass out and start leaking blood onto the floor than if you had told us. Right?” Steve asked standing over them.

“Eh,” Tony shrugged.

“We’re landing, just a heads up,” Steve added, ignoring Tony’s shrug.

“Steve is right, Stark. You can’t hide these things from us,” Clint joined in.

Tony didn't respond this time.

“Go figure he’d pass out while being lectured,” Steve grumbled as the jet landed with jolt.

“We’ll yell at him when he wakes up,” Natasha assured Steve as he picked Tony up.

Clint and Natasha followed him into the hospital ER. There were people already there with a stretcher waiting for him.

“He’ll be fine,” One of the doctors assured them sneaking a glance under the wad of gauze, “It doesn't look like that hit anything vital.”

Natasha frowned as she watched the hospital workers wheel Tony away to surgery. She was glad he was going to be okay, but the thought that he had kept it from them that he was injured, scared her. What if he did it again? What if next time it worse? What if next time it killed him?

They would have keep an extra careful eye on him during battles from here on out. She wasn't going to let the worst case scenario happen. Ever.

 

Chapter Text

"Tony look, you seriously can not keep that kind of thing secret anymore," Steve lectured.

Tony rolled his eyes. He didn't particularly care that their feeling had been hurt or what ever by him not telling them that he had been stabbed by one of those nasty mutated creatures. He didn't even get what the big deal was. He had said he was fine, and then... wait for it he was quite literally fine. He was actually just a little offended by their lack of trust in ability to tell whether something was fine or not. It was his stab wound after all. He would know.

"Well hey, I said I was okay, and low and behold! I am fine!" Tony threw his hands dramatically in the air. The movement jerked at his side, and he almost flinched, but managed to keep it together.

"Yeah! After we figured out what was wrong with you!" Clint countered.

"Exactly! You guys figured it out! You saw the problem when you needed to! If I told you exactly when it happened we would have pulled out of the fight and those things would have continued terrorizing that town-"

"Bull shit," Natasha piped up, "If that had been your logic at the time you would have told us afterward which you didn't."

"You people over react to everything!"

"Yeah! When you get stabbed!" Clint cried angrily.

"I was fine! I knew I was going to be fine. Look if I get injured again, and it is to much for me to handle then I'll tell you. I know what I can deal with."

"Pride," Steve spoke up for the first time in a while, "Pride Tony. Don't let it be your down fall."

"What ever," Tony was done being lectured by a room full of spies who had no right to preach to him about not keeping secrets. He hauled himself to his feet and limped toward the lab. Each step tugged at his side sending small bursts of pain through his abdomen.

"Hey! Get back here!" Steve shouted as the lab door closed behind Tony.

"Alright FRIDAY how we looking?" Tony exhaled sliding into an office chair.

"You are running a low fever."

"Well that's not good," Tony sighed pinching his eyebrows.

"The wound itself isn't infected. My diagnostics show it just weakened your immune system."

"So I can pop an Advil in and nap it off?"

"I would suggest telling the team, and consulting a doctor. You don't want it to get worse."

"Nah."

It was a low fever. Nothing anyone needed to worry about. Advil coffee and naps were all he needed to get better. Really just coffee. Tony skipped the nap and Advil, and just poured himself a mug of coffee. He had to much work to do to take a nap.

Chapter Text

Tony rested his head down on the the cool lab counter. It felt nice against his hot sweaty skin. He tried to focus on the damaged gauntlet he had been trying to calibrate for the past month; he needed a way to increase the power input. He had given up on it a week ago, and hadn’t planned on picking it back up, but his head was swimming to much focus on hundreds of piles of paper work that needed to be filled out. Working on the gauntlet was better, maybe not safer but definitely more tangible.

“Tony?”

Tony snapped his head up immediately upon hearing Steve’s voice.

“Little busy right now!” Tony called clipping one of the power transfer lines his arc reactor. Doing a direct transfer from the the arc to the gauntlet could work to give it more power. He would have to rewire all of his suits if it worked, but it would be worth it.

“When was the last time you slept?” Steve asked walking over to him.

“Yesterday I took a nap before you guys started lecturing me.”

Steve ran a stressed hand over his forehead, “Tony that wasn't yesterday.”

“Yeah it was,” Tony argued despite not being sure of that.

“No Tony. That was on Tuesday.”

“And? It’s Wednesday.”

“No Tony. It is Thursday.”

Tony raised an eyebrow and sat back in his chair. Steve glanced under the lid of a doughnut box.

“Tony when was the last time you ate a real meal?” Steve asked concern rich in his voice.

“Tuesday apparently.”

“You should come eat something, and get some sleep.”

“Maybe in a little while.”

“Tony come on you have been in here for three days.”

“I’ve been busy,” Tony countered.

“Tony-”

“Rogers please get out. I have work I need to do,” This time Tony let his agitation into his voice. To his relief Steve didn’t argue and left the lab looking a little defeated.



Tony threw his screw driver down on the table in frustration. His hands were shaking to much for him to move it to his will. He buried his face in hands and closed his eyes trying desperately to force the nauseating pounding out of his head.

“Friday what’s wrong with me?”

“Where do you want me to start?” The AI quipped.

“My head,” Tony groaned and let it thump against his desk.

“You are running a high fever, and coffee is not adequate for keeping you hydrated.”

“How high is the fever?” Tony groaned. He was pretty sure he was going to throw up.

“104,” The AI replied, “I would highly suggest telling the team, and resting.”

“Steve told me you kicked him out,” Tony looked up as Natasha walked over to him, arms crossed angrily over her chest, “Gosh Tony! You look like shit.”

“Thanks.” Tony rasped dryly. He felt like shit. He wished he could curl up in bed with Pepper and sleep. He couldn't sleep when she wasn't around. He should have gone on the business trip with her to Europe.

Natasha pushed her cool hand against his face. Instinctively Tony jerked back.

“Hey cut that out idiot,” Nat scolded and pressed her hand against his face. The touch of her cold hands sent an involuntary shiver down Tony’s spine, “Tony your burning up.”

“Mmhmm,” Tony sighed and leaned his head against her.

“I’m going to call Pepper if you don't start letting us help you. We both know she’ll be pissed if she has to reschedule her meetings.”

“Mhmm,” Tony mumbled.

“Come on Tony,” Natasha guided Tony to his feet, “Clint got take out for dinner.”



Tony flopped down on the couch with a plate of pizza, and coffee.

“No sir,” Clint gabbed both his plate and his coffee. Clint knew as well as the next person that coffee and pizza was not the kind of food that should be eaten when one is sick.

“Hey give those back!” Tony cried half heartedly.

“Nope,” Clint said and handed Tony a bowl of chicken and rice soup, and a glass of ginger ale mixed with orange juice.

“Seriously?” Tony dead panned.

“Dead serious,” Clint stated, “That’ll help you feel better, and it is much better on the stomach.”

Clint was really curious what Tasha had threatened Tony with to make him so agreeable, because he ate the soup with no further argument.

“Hey I have returned with the medicine!” Steve announced walking into the room holding a small bag over his head.

Tony looked up from his bowl of soup looking relieved.

“Here you go buddy,” Steve poured two pills onto his hand and gave them to Tony. Tony nodded his appreciation and swallowed the pills with no further prompting. Clint REALLY wanted to know what Tasha had threatened him with. Tony finished off his bowl of soup, and curled up on his side on the couch. The next time Clint looked up from his pizza the man was snoring softly. Clint’s smile faded into a frown when he noticed the shivers shaking Tony’s shoulders. He set down his pizza plate and grabbed the thick couch blanket. Clint tucked it gently around Tony’s shoulders. He never the touchy feely type, but he still brushed his hand against Tony’s cheek to see how hot he felt, which was far to warm.

“Uh guys, his fever is really bad,” Clint stated prompting Steve and Natasha to look up from their plates. He had three kids he knew how to guess temperature by feel, and Tony was way to hot.

“How bad is bad?” Steve asked standing up.

“Not sure,” Clint hissed through gritted teeth, “Friday how high of a fever is he running?”

“104.”

“That’s to high,” Natasha commented and came to stand next to Clint and Tony, “Friday recommendations?”

“I would suggest proper rest, and an IV fluid drip. He is quite dehydrated.”

“Steve you wanna get him to his bed?”

“On it,” Steve scooped Tony carefully into his arms.

“Nat can you get an IV set up?” Both she and Clint had been given medical training and they were both very familiar with putting together an IV, “I am going to call Pepper because she should know what’s going on with him.”



Tony woke to find Clint sitting next to his bed

“Is there a reason you’re in my room?” Tony asked sitting up a little. A slight prick in his arm made him look down and discover the needle in his arm. A line ran from the needle to a bag of clear fluid hanging above his head, “Is there a reason I have an IV in my arm? And how long have I been asleep?”

“Yes and yes, 40 hours.” Clint said folding his magazine down.

“And what might those reasons be?”

“Answer to question one: It was my turn to keep you company. Answer to question two: You were very dehydrated, because coffee does not count as fluids, and we also needed a way to give you medicine to bring down your high fever,” Clint answered.

“What’d you mean keep me company? I can sleep perfectly fine on my own. I don’t need a babysitter,” Tony was confused why they would sit there and waste away hours of their lives while he slept.

“Because we wanted to.”

“Why?”

“Because we care about you!” Something seemed to snap in Clint, “I honestly don’t see why it is so damn difficult for you to understand that! You acted like we were the ones over reacting when we expressed our concern that you think you have to do everything alone. Tony you got stabbed! That is something that normal people get concerned about. That is something that normal people tell their teammates! You weren’t doing anyone any favors by not telling us. Sure you spared us some concern for a little while, but Tony that isn’t worth risking your life over. Trust me buddy we can handle being concerned about you. We are a team. It is part of job to be concerned and take care of one another. That is why we each took turns sitting with you. We care about you and we wanted to be here for you. You are our team- no family member, you are valued and the last thing we wanted was for you to wake up alone and think that we didn’t care. We care Tony, and that is why we want you tell us things."

Tony really didn’t know what to say to Clint’s speech.

He knew his team cared about him… or at least thought they did. He had sometimes lain awake at night and doubted it along with many other things, but now, thanks to Clint’s speech, he was pretty sure he could actually believe that he had a family.

“Thanks Clint,” Tony mumbled. He didn’t feel sick anymore, but he wanted to sleep more, so with the comfort of knowing he had family right there he drifted back off to get some more much needed sleep.

 

Chapter Text

Anthony Edward Stark had many different armors. They all protected him from dangers that his skin could not, but they’re were some dangers that the man could not face with a metal suit of missile totting armor. Sometimes the man required something more subtle. Something he could slip on and off, in and out of a pocket. Quickly. Quietly. Unnoticed.

The sunglasses of Anthony Edward Stark had hidden many things. They hid things that the man did not want the world to see. They hid his tears. They hid his sorrow. They hid his pain. They hid him in some small way from the anger of the world, for if the world could not look into his eyes than it could not know what it had done. If the world did not know what it had done, it could not revel in his pain. The sunglasses did their job well.

The sunglasses of Tony Stark had seen many things. They had looked on as a beautiful blond challenged him and his company, his ethics, his very being. They had seen soldiers in Afghanistan laughing and then they had witnessed death, and they crumbled away to nothing. Shattered glass on the ground of a battle field strewn with bodies.

When the sunglasses of Anthony Stark came back into the realm of existence they were only put to use for a very short amount of time before Anthony did not need his armor anymore. No armor was needed when he was with the woman of his dreams. He had no need to hide himself from her.

The sunglasses hid him away from the world, and witnessed, as poison spread through his body. They hid the pain in the dying man’s eyes from the world, and even the people he usually did not hid things from. They watched from a shelf as he saved himself.

For a time the sunglasses became nothing more than what they were intended for. Things to block the sun, not the world. They were there in his pocket as he was dragged into a war. After the war he needed them again. After the war he needed to hide.

The sunglasses of Anthony Edward Stark became armor again and hid his fear and sorrow as he watched over his friend who had been injured so severely that he may never wake again.

They hid his shame and fear, when his night mare became a reality, and the reality created a monster, and the monster murdered thousands.

The sunglasses hid him more than ever before as a man with white mustache approached him about a new set of laws.They watched from a table as Anthony Stark argued and fought with someone who had once been his friend. They had watched the two men try and fail to reach an understanding. A compromise. They watched as one man left the other in a fit of anger. Then they had been placed back upon Anthony’s face to serve their purpose once again. To shield him. To protect him. To make him feel safe.

The sunglasses had witnessed many a joy as well, or rather they had been swept away to reveal through an untinted gaze the joys that the life still held. There were some things that they did not need to keep Tony safe from. They had been swept away from his face to clear his gaze so he could look unhindered upon his son. They had remained away as he proposed to the love of his life. For a long time the man did not need his armor.

A war came… again, and the man placed his armor upon his face, perhaps for the last time.

The sunglasses of Anthony Edward Stark became his armor as two aliens approached him. They were taken from his face, and for brief moment before the nanotech bots closed a mask around his eyes Anthony Edward Stark’s fear was open to the world, but only for a second.

The sunglasses were no longer sunglasses. They were part of his armor. They were part of his metal protection. They witnessed from a new perspective as Tony Stark launched himself into space to face the root of his fear. 

They witnessed him fight a monster.

They witnessed as a moon crushed him.

The sunglasses, or the particles that had once been the sunglasses, were put to their final use as Anthony Stark struggled under the weight of the mighty Titan Thanos’s fist. They joined the man’s last reserves of tech in forming a sword. They formed the tip. They had always been his first wall of defense. Now was no different, or at least it should have been no different.

They failed to do the one job they had always been so good at. For the the first time ever they did not protect him. No instead they stabbed through him. They broke through every level of armor the man had ever had. They rendered him broken and defeated.

Chapter Text

"Okay guys, here are the rules," Rhodey said turning around in the passenger's of Carol's mustang, "Tony you are not allowed to drink."

"Hey! That's not fair!" Tony protested. It wasn't fair. They were all going to get drunk,

"Tones your 17," Carol said and turned around driver's seat, "You shouldn't even be allowed in there."

Tony huffed and crossed his arms over his chest. He just wanted like one beer. Was that so much to ask? He didn't even have classes the next day.

"Carol you are not allowed to get in a bar fight," Rhodey continued giving out the Friday night rules, "It's my turn to be the designated driver, so I will be joining Tony in not drinking, and Maria, since you handle your alcohol better than all of us, it is your job to enforce all the rules."

"Sounds good to me," Maria laughed.

"So I am the only with no restrictions?" Carol beamed.

"No." They all spoke in unison, "You can not get into a bar fight."

"Oh come on guys! I did it once!"

"At least you get to drink," Tony grumbled.

"We could have left you on baby sitting duty," Maria snapped.

"You wouldn't!" Tony objected.

"Wouldn't push it buddy," Maria said sternly, "I am going to be keeping my eye on you."

Tony only let out an angry snort and turned his angry gaze out the window of the car. He would figure out a way to sneak a drink in. He just had to have a time when no one was paying attention to him.

"Hey bet!" Everyone stopped halfway out of the car as Carol announced her bet, "15 bucks says Rhodey fails and ends up drunk by last call."

"Oh come on you are going to easy on him!" Maria laughed, "20 says he's toasted by 12:00."

"Guys! Guys! Let's have some faith in our friend here! 100 bucks says he is passed out by 11:00."

"Alright who ever is closest gets the money," Carol announced.

"And if I make through the night?" Rhodey question.

"You get all the dough, but we all know that isn't going to happen," Tony gave his room mate a comforting pat on the shoulder.

Tony decided then that he would make sure of that. A plan was beginning to fall into place to get himself a drink.

 

Chapter Text

Tony slouched in a corner booth of the bar, and propped his feet up on the table. He scanned the bar with a calculating gaze. For him to be able to get a drink he would need Carol, Rhodey, AND Maria to be distracted. Getting Carol and Rhodey distracted and drunk was easy. Really the whole thing was very simple. Step one: get Rhodey drunk (this could be done by introducing him to any female in the bar) Step two: find an asshole motorcycle gangster and coax him and Carol into a fight, forcing Maria to divert her attention to breaking it up since Rhodey will be of no use because if everything went as planned he would be passed out. Maria focusing on breaking up the bar fight would open a small window for Tony to get at least one drink, maybe more if he hurried.

Tony focused his attention on Rhodey. He needed to find the perfect girl who could serve the purpose of getting him drunk. He tracked Rhodey’s gaze as it flitted to a bad ass looking red head. There she was. Tony slipped out of his booth and headed for bar counter.

“Hey,” Tony slipped onto a stool next to the girl.

“Aren’t you a little young to be drinking?” The red head scanned him with judgmentally.

“Yes, but I was wondering if you could do me a favor.”

“I am not buying a minor a drink if that’s what you’re getting at.”

“No. No. I wouldn't dream of doing something illegal.”

She raised an eyebrow, “mmhm.”

“What ever, see that guy over there?” Tony gestured to Rhodey.

“What about him?”

“Well he is quite lonely and could use someone to talk to.”

The girl narrowed her eyes, “Why don’t you talk to him?”

“Because… I can not get him drunk.”

“Why do you want him drunk?”

“Because I have a bet with my friends, and if he passes out by 11:00 I get the money.”

“I see,” The girl glanced over at Rhodey, “Before I agree to this, how far do I have to take it?”

“Honestly he is super awkward so really you just need to talk to him. He’ll do the rest for you.”

“The rest?”

“Getting drunk. Trust me that’s as far it’ll go with him. He won't try to get you in bed.”

The girl nodded, “Okay, but I want some of the pay day.”

“Um…”

“Think about it bud. I am doing the work for you.”

Tony thought for a second, “That is true. You get half.”

“Also little secret between you and I, this is a virgin,” She gestured to her drink.

“Oh?”

“I’m only turned eighteen yesterday. Can't get real alcohol yet.”

“Oh happy birthday! I turn 18 in a few weeks,” Tony smiled at her.

“Cool, well I got a guy to get drunk,” She winked and slipped off her bar stool.

Tony smiled and slipped off his stool and headed back to his booth. He caught Maria glaring him down and waved innocently. He would wait for the red head to come back and report on Rhodey’s drunkness status before he moved to phase two of the plan.

He liked the look of the biker gang guy playing pool with his back to Carol’s pool table. All it would take to get her to fight him would be one little bump.

“I got him started,” The red head slid into the booth across from Tony, “Then he went to go flirt with some blond.”

“Great work,” Tony high fived her, “I’m Tony by the way.”

“Nice to meet you Tony. I’m Virginia.”

Chapter Text

“So you got your buddy drunk, what are you up to now?” Virginia asked after a few seconds of silence.

“Well I kind of what to get a drink,” Tony replied with a shrug.

“You’re Seventeen. I think that is a bad idea.”

“Just one.”

She raised an eyebrow. “Well I’m not going to help you with that.”

“That’s fine,” Tony slid out of the booth, Rhodey had just face planted on the bar counter. Tony had a bar fight to start. He just had to slip in and bump Carol so she thought it was the motorcycle gangster. He headed toward the pool tables. He was so focused on getting to Carol that he didn’t watch where he was going, and he accidentally bumped into a much bigger much scarier motorcycle gangster.

“Hey! What the fuck!?” The man shouted, and gave Tony a shove.

“Sorry,” Tony replied, and innocently raised his hands in the air.

“You made me spill my drink all over my shirt!”

“I said I was sorry buddy!” Tony took a step back.

“Don’t you “buddy” me squirt!” The man growled.

“Sorry  sir. I didn’t mean to.”

“Are you mocking me?!”

“Not all,” Tony let just a little bit too much sarcasm into his voice. The man cracked his knuckles.

“I think you are,” The man growled and lifted Tony into the air by his shirt.

“Okay, but let’s be honest. What’s not to mock?” Tony couldn’t help himself.

“Why you!” The man slammed his head into Tony’s face. His snapped back and he couldn't hold back his yelp of pain, “I gonna beat you with an inch of your life!”

Tony’s back slammed into one of the brick walls. He let out another cry of pain. Blood dripped down his face from his nose.

“I said I was sorry…”

“And then you continued to mock me.”

“It was joke…” Tony moaned.

“Hey asshole!” Tony looked up just on time to see a stool come crashing down over the gangster’s head. The man dropped him, and he slumped to the ground. His head hurt like hell, “Pick on someone your size!”

Tony looked up to Carol face off with the motorcycle guy.

“Sorry lady. I don’t fight women.”

Tony cracked a smile. The guy had just sealed his own fate.

“But you’ll beat the shit out of seventeen year old kid? That makes sense.”

“Apparently so,” the guy hissed, “Now I gotta get back to teaching this runt a lesson.”

The man gave Tony a kick. He let out a small yelp, as the man's foot collided with his side. He was pretty sure he felt his ribs crack.

“Oh you mother fucking!” Carol clenched her fists, “Do not fucking touch him again!”

“What are you gonna do? You're just a girl.”

The man nudged Tony with his boot again.

Carol popped her neck, “You’re going to regret that.”

“Am I?” The man hissed, and Tony felt himself being lifted into the air again.

“Last warning. Put him down.”



Carol watched as the man tossed Tony on the ground with enough force to make him gasp in pain.

“That does it you mother fucker!” She clenched her fist tight and sucker punched the guy in the face. Nobody beat up Tony. Nobody. The man stumbled over in surprise.

“Oh sweetie. I am not the one who will be regretting anything.”

“Do not fucking call me sweetie!” Carol tackled the man.



The whole bar descended into chaos. Virginia watched as an angry blond tackled a big motorcycle gangster who had just been beating up Tony. Another motorcycle gangster grabbed the blond woman by the hair and tried to drag her off her victim. The woman let out an angry high pitched snarl. This cough the attention of a bad ass looking short haired black woman who promptly picked up a bar stool and smashed it over the head of the guy who had his hands in in the blond woman’s hair. The four people descended into an angry mass of fists and feet. Tony slinking toward the bar caught Virginia’s attention. She wondered if this had been his plan the entire time. She was about to go talk him out of attempting to get a drink when the fight moved to the counter. Someone was shoved into Tony’s passed out friend, waking him up. The man slipped off his stool and faced the four… no another motorcycle gangster had joined in, there were five people fighting now, he did not even hesitate before throwing himself at the closest guy.

“That’s enough!” The bartender hopped over the bar and threw himself into the fight as well.

Knowing when to call it a night, Virginia got up and left the bar. She was curious to see how things would go, so she sat herself down on a bench and waited outside.”



“That’s enough!” The bartender pushed Maria away from her victim who had pulled Carol’s hair, “You too,” the man stepped in between Carol and her opponent, he turned his attention to Rhodey but said nothing when he realized that both James and his opponent were passed out, “Alright Maria get your gang out of here.”

“Fair enough,” Maria agreed. She looked down her row of friends and came to the horrifying realization that no one was watching Tony, her eyes met the bar tenders. There was also no one watching the alcohol. She spun around just on time to see Tony consume a large glass of clear liquid. From the pinched look on his face she knew that it was not water.

“Son of a bitch! Carol get Rhodey,” She ordered and marched over Tony who still had blood trickling down from his broken nose, “Joey put whatever this idiot drank on my tab,” Maria called to the bartender as she caught Tony right as he passed out.

“You bet I will. I am putting the damages on Carol’s though,” The bartender replied.

“The motorcycle guys started it,” Carol grumbled as she draped Rhodey over her shoulder.

“Don’t argue Carol,” Maria ordered. Carol rolled her eyes, but obeyed.

“Tony you are so grounded,” Maria said as she buckled him into the back seat. Carol shoved Rhodey in the car from the other door, and then slid next to him. Maria frowned. All four of them were drunk, to drunk to drive. She would have just made them all camp out in the car for the night, but Carol looked like needed stitches above her eyebrows, and Tony looked like shit and a check up was probably a good idea. She straightened her back and leaned against the car, and that was when she saw the young woman watching her from a bench. Maybe she could get her to drive.

“Hey!”

The girl perked up.

“Yeah?” She stood up and walked toward Maria.

“Have you had anything to drink tonight?” Maria asked the red head as she approached.

“No, why?”

“Do you think you could maybe drive me and these idiots to the hospital?”

The red head glanced in the window.

“Yeah sure.”

“Thank you so much!” Maria patted her shoulder.

“This one sweet car!”

“Yeah, but hey don’t scratch it. It’s not mine, and I am pretty sure Carol will murder me if her car got damaged by someone I told to drive.”

“I’ll try my best.”

“Oh, I am Maria by the way,” Maria introduced herself and climbed into the passenger seat of the car.

“Virginia,” The red head offered her hand. Maria shook it, “I met Tony earlier in the night.”

“Yeah, he’s a charmer isn’t he?”

“Yeah.”

Maria glanced at Tony who was snoring with his head leaned on Rhodey’s shoulder.

“He’s also a dumbass, but he’s like the collective group’s little brother, so we put up with him.”



Tony’s first thought when he woke up the next morning was that he had never given Virginia her half of the bet money. If he ever saw her again he would pay her back.

Chapter Text

“You okay Tony?” Pepper asked and hauled Tony to his feet.

“Yeah I’m fine,” Tony panted, “Getting repeatedly knocked out of the sky is just a tad bit draining.”

Pepper laughed. Tony smiled like an idiot under his mask. He loved her laugh. He loved her. He wanted to marry her like they had planed to do before Thanos sent the universe to hell.

“Well you better get ready for round four,” Pepper nodded her head toward the chitauri that were beginning to mass into yet another wave. Tony joined her in staring at the next wave. They weren't going to make it through this battle. Tony had known that this was his endgame ever since Pepper pulled him back from the brink of death on the Guardians ship. This path was always going to end with his end. He had been prepared for this. Tony tore his eyes away from the sky and looked over at Pepper.

“We should get married.”

Pepper looked over at him, “We will after this.”

“No Pepper. Now.”

“Now?” Pepper laughed, “Tony we are in the middle of a battle!”

“I know,” Tony knew it was a crazy idea, but he had always wanted to marry her, and he didn't want to die with her not being his wife.

“That’s crazy,” Pepper chuckled.

“Pepper,” Tony opened his mask, “I am serious.”

Pepper opened her mask and looked him in the eyes.

“I know Tony.”

Tony pulled her into a hug.

“We might not get the chance after-”

“I know Tony,” Pepper nodded, “Let’s do it.”

Tony beamed, and this time his mask wasn’t there to hide his idiotic smile, but he didn't mind because Pepper’s smile reflected his own.

Tony tapped his ear piece, “Rogers I need you to marry me and Pepper.”

“What?” Steve blustered, “Tony we are a little busy, and another wave just hit our section!”

“Rogers please? You’re a captain. You gotta do it.”

“Fine. Okay.”

Tony gave Pepper a thumbs up and opened an open com link, “Alright people group up. Me and Pepper are getting married.”

“Now?!” Nat was the first speak up.

“Damn straight. Rhodes I need my best man.”

“Guys is now really time?” Clint interrupted, “That next wave is going to drop on us at any second!”

Tony turned to Pepper, “Sky wedding while fighting evil aliens?”

Pepper shrugged, “Sounds fun.”

“Steve can you fight and wed us at the same time?”

“Yeah sure.”

“Alright me and Pepper are going to multitask.”

Tony closed his mask.

“Pepp you wanna do this the right way?”

“Tony we are about to get married while fighting aliens.”

“I know, but we can make an isle through the aliens if you want?”

Pepper laugh and shook her head a little, “Hell yes. Let’s do it. I’ll be up in a minute.”



Pepper watched her very soon to be husband launch himself into the sky toward the massing aliens.

“Friday can we do something about the lack of wedding dress?”

“What do you mean?”

“How does white and gold sound for a suit color?”

The nanobots wavered for a minute a white spread like a wave across he suit.

“Beautiful,” Pepper smiled. She had wanted a normal wedding but she would settle for this. This was so much more them than a normal wedding. She chuckled to herself. This was what normal looked like for them.

“You ready babe?”

Pepper smiled and looked to the sky where Rhodey was carving a path through the hoard of aliens to Tony.

“You bet I am!” Pepper launched herself into the sky. A chitauri fighter dove toward her. She released tiny war heads that exploded on impact with several of the aliens. She flew through the fire, and was met by more alien fighters. She dispatched them as quickly as the last group.

“You two almost in place?” Steve asked in Pepper’s ear.

“Almost there,” Pepper responded through clenched teeth.

“Oh hang on Pepp, I got something to add to the mood.”

Love is a Battlefield began blasting through the coms. Pepper rolled her eyes and pressed on. She exploded through the final line of aliens and flew into Tony’s arms.

“I thought you idiots were going to clear a path,” Pepper laughed as she launched a repulser ray over Tony’s shoulder.

“Shall we?” Tony asked. His mask didn’t need to be down for her to know that he was smiling.

“Steve do your thing.”

“Um… okay I’ve never done this before i’m going to try my best,” Steve panted. Gun fire crackled over the coms. Full on battle had now descended on all of them, “Um we are gathered here more or less in the general vicinity of Pepper Virginia Potts and To- Anthony Edward Stark, to bare witness to their wedding, but also fight aliens… and um anyway but also you know be here for the unification of these two wonderful people -oh shit!” gun fire erupted again on Steve’s end of the coms, “sorry about that, do you two have vows to exchange?”

“Pepper duck,” Tony shoved Pepper down ward and something exploded behind her.

“Very romantic vows sweetie,” Pepper quipped.

“Okay fine Ms. High and Mighty you go first since you got this whole thing figured out!” Tony retorted cheerfully.

“Okay fine,” Pepper wished she had prepared for this better, but of course her idiot fiance had other plans. Idiot. That was as good a place as any to start, “You’re an idiot.” This prompted multiple snorts from various people over the com link, “You do stupid stuff all the time, and I mean like ALL THE TIME,” Pepper blasted an alien that was aiming for Tony, “You are the idiot who flew a nuke through a wormhole, you are the idiot who decided to go hand to hand with Thanos, and you are the absolute idiot who thought it was a good idea to get married in the heat of a battle, but I love that about you. You don’t give a shit. You do what needs to be done. A few years back I thought I needed a break from your dumbassery, but let me tell you those few months were the most boring dismal months of my life, and I realized that I love your idiocy. You scare the shit out of me and I am always terrified you are going to something crazy and get yourself killed, but I love you, and being with you makes the terror worth having.” She ducked under Tony’s arm and blasted another alien just as he blasted one behind her, “Tony I love you, and everything that comes with,” Pepper launched three missiles at more on coming aliens, “And I promise that isn't going to change. I love you. I love the beautiful mess that you turned my life into. I couldn't imagine it any other way,” She wheeled back around so she was facing Tony, “I don't want it any other way. I want you. You, my idiot human disaster who I love for all I’m worth.”

“Tony your up.”

 

Tony wanted to drown out the battle around them, he wanted to ignore it. He wanted it to go away. He wanted to give Pepper a peaceful wedding with a dress, and flowers and cake, but he couldn't. He couldn't do any of those things because they had a self assigned job to do. Tony couldn’t give her the peaceful wedding she deserved, so he didn't. Instead he would give her one with fireworks.

A chitauri hovercraft exploded to his right as he launched a missile at it.

“Pepper, um-” He ducked as a laser blast flew past his head, “It’s what I said in that message. It’s like I have always said. It’s always you,” He blasted another chitauri war craft, “It always has been, and it always will be. I love you,” He took her hands in his, “Pepper I love. That’s all there is to say. I could go on to compare you to the cool breeze that blows the storm away, or the dew sparkling in the light of the early morning sun. I could compare you to the sun set across the ocean that dies the water a vibrate flame red, or the cherry blossoms that blow in a spring breeze, but those things don’t come close,” He launched an explosive over her shoulder and he could have sworn the alien glider exploded in slow motion, “The truth is Pepper don’t need anything else. Just you. I love you, and that will never change.”

He leaned his head against her’s.

“Alright Steve do your thing,” They spoke simultaneously. They were ready. It was time. After ten years it was finally time.

Tony let his mask peel back, as did Pepper. They held each other as they hovered in the sky. Tony pushed his forehead against Pepper’s. He ignored how sweaty she was. He was pretty sure he was just as bad, if not worse.

“Pepper, do you promise to love and cherish Tony as your husband through sickness and health, through dumbassery, and genius?”

Pepper’s eyes pinned Tony’s gaze, “I do.”

Tony’s heart danced in his chest. So close.

“Tony, do promise to love and cherish Pepper as your wife through sickness and health? For better or for worse?”

Tony looked deep into Pepper’s crystal eyes that were brimming with tears. Something exploded behind him, but he ignored it.

“I do.”

He formed a small ring from nanotech. Pepper smiled in understanding, and the suit slid smoothly away from her hand.

“By the power vested in me by… by um the U.S. Military, and all of you guys-”

Tony slipped the ring onto Pepper’s finger.

“I pronounce husband and wife, and I don’t think you to need to be told what to do next!”

Tony leaned in and he kissed his wife.

The battle around them could wait a few minutes.

And it did.

 

Chapter Text

He had to get it down to an exact science. He couldn't be messing this up in front of a room full people, college students no less, kids really. Every time he thought he had his mind completely focused on the memory he was trying to project something would screw up and send the projection before him spiraling down a dark path. A path that a room full of kids did not need to see. A path that nobody needed to see.

Tony focused hard.

Try to remember…

That was it. His mother’s voice. The last time he heard her sing…

A kind of September…

There is was. The last song she had sung for him.

Pictures began to flicker onto the neural image projectors.

The piano. White. Just like he remembered it.

The couch. Him.

He appeared on the couch.

Tony focused hard. Maybe it would work this time. Maybe he could actually keep his mind focused on the memory. His hope faded as a pale blue circle appeared in the chest of the projection of himself. This was already wrong.

He tried to pull his memories back make them the way they should be, but as he did so the white memory faded into a dark cave. Always the cave.

Why did he keep going back to the cave?

He closed his eyes in frustration and reached to tear the glasses from his face. He couldn’t see this. He couldn’t go back to the cave in Afghanistan.

“Stay with me.”

Tony recognized the firm pleading voice.

He slowly opened his eyes to memory that he did not recognize. It was some memory back in his subconscious. One that he had forgotten.

“Stay with me Stark!”

Yinsen was standing over a man-- him-- Yinsen was standing over him, blood coating his white gloved hands.

“Please don’t die,” Yinsen gently lifted Tony’s head in his bloody hands.

Tony lowered his hand away from the BARF glasses. He was beyond looking away from this memory. He felt like he needed to remember it.

“Son of a bitch!”

Tony flinched a little as heard Yinsen curse. He hadn’t heared him curse the entire he knew him. The man let Tony’s head flop back on to the table.

Tony felt his stomach drop as he looked at the projection of himself laying on the surgery table. He wanted to look away and escape the blank stare on his face that stared back him.

Tony watched his body go stiff and convulse as Yinsen pressed some very questionable looking defibrillators against his chest. Tony flinched as he watched himself jerk on the table again and again.

He had died.

With that last convulsion his blank staring eyes closed and he choked up some horrible mess of clotted blood and regurgitated food.

Tony wanted to look away. He wanted to make the memory go away, but it had sucked him in. He couldn’t escape it. He couldn’t make it go away. The memory that he didn’t know he had, had trapped him.



“What’s Tony up to?” Rhodey asked as he walk into his friend’s house.

“He is working on a project in the work shop,” F.R.I.D.A.Y. responded helpfully, “I think you should go down there.”

There was a tinge of concern in the A.I.’s tone that filled Rhodey with a sense of urgency. He rushed down the stairs to the basement. There was a man standing obstructed by the counters that Rhodey did not recognize.

“Wanna let me?” Rhodey questioned the AI.

As the door to the work shop opened the strange man lifted blood soaked hands.

“Tony?” Rhodey questioned and advanced quickly into the room, and slid around the corner of the counter and was met with the sight of Tony laying on his back, chest cut clean open. The stranger had his hands inside of Tony’s chest cavity. The man had yet to react to Rhodey’s intrusion.

For the first time in his life panic wrapped it’s hands around him and stopped him in his tracks. Froze him stone still. Rhodey watched in shocked horror as the man lifted out a significant chunk of Tony’s sternum and set it on the small surgery table. This couldn’t be real. Rhodey choked on something that he was pretty sure was tears as he watched the man pick up a metal cylindrical tube and work it into the open gap in his best friend’s chest. Tony uttered a choked wail of pain like Rhodey had never heard before. A whole new wave of shocked horror washed of Rhodey as it dawned on him that Tony was awake. They were taking him apart, tearing him open and he was awake.

What the hell was this. This couldn’t be real. It couldn’t be. Rhodey forced himself to turn his tear blurred gaze away from the bloody scene playing out in front of him. His gaze was met with sight of Tony sitting on the counter staring intently at what was going down before him.

“Tony!” Rhodey freed himself from his panicked paralysis and rushed to Tony’s side, “Tony?!”

Tony had been telling him about the neural image projector tech he was developing. Rhodey hadn’t thought it was possible, apparently it was, and Tony was watching some horrible memory play out before him.

Afghanistan. Of course that’s what it was.

“Tony?! Buddy?!” Rhodey shook him. The image of his friend’s bloody body wavered, “Tony snap out of it.”

Rhodey waved his hand in front of Tony’s face. The graphic scene behind him wavered again. Blood trickled down from his friend’s nose.

“Come on Tones,” Rhodey pulled himself onto the counter next to his to his friend and tried his best ignore whatever horrible memory was being shown, “Tony can you hear me?”

Rhodey shook him desperately. The image flickered and changed. Rhodey wheeled his head around to face the new scene playing out before him. To his shock he was met with the sight of a much younger him kneeling beside a much younger Tony. The scene playing out before him was blurry as though the whole thing was a haze, but it wasn’t a haze to Rhodey. He remembered it like it was yesterday. He didn't need the haze to clear in order to have a clear picture in his head of the bathroom, and the empty bottle of vodka, and his unconscious friend. He didn't need anything special to see it all clearly. He had almost lost Tony that day, and that was something his mind would never let him forget.

“Tony buddy you gotta snap out of it!” Rhodey tore Tony’s sunglasses away from his face, and the image faded away to nothingness. Tony flopped forward but Rhodey caught him, “Tony please wake up.”

Rhodey carefully lowered Tony to the ground. His friend’s eyes remained closed and blood trickled sluggishly down from both his nostrils.

“Rhodes…?” Tony mumbled quietly and leaned his head against Rhodey’s shoulder.

Rhodey tucked his arm protectively around Tony’s shoulders, “I got you.”

“James… they cut me open,” Tony rasped weakly. Rhodey’s stomach dropped. He didn’t remember the last time Tony called him James.

“I saw.”

“You did?” Tony lifted his head and looked at Rhodey with sickly eyes.

“It’s okay now. You’re safe now,” Rhodey soothed.

They sat in silence for quite some time on the floor of the workshop. Rhodey could feel Tony’s shoulders quivering. He was pretty sure his friend was crying. He wasn’t entirely sure that he himself was not crying.

“Rhodey?”

“Yeah?”

“Thank you.”

“For what?” Rhodey asked absently.

Tony only mumbled two words. It was all he needed to say for Rhodey to understand,

“December 17th.”

Chapter Text

“James?” Rhodey’s mother shook him awake.

“Hmm? Let me sleep… it’s break…” Rhodey grumbled and buried his face in his pillow.

“James this is important,” His mother shook him a little harder, “When was the last time you talked to Tony? Did he call you last night?”

Rhodey sat up slowly, “No. Why?”

There was a sense of urgency in his mother’s tone that he did not like.

Rhodey looked into his mother’s deeply distressed eyes.

“Mom what happened?”

Rhodey sat up more alertly.

“The morning paper…” His mother, “James, Tony’s parents were killed in a car accident last night.”

“WHAT?!” Rhodey was suddenly very awake. He leapt out of bed, and pulling his pants on faster than he had ever done before, “Why the hell didn’t he call me?!”

“I don’t know James,” His mother replied slowly.

“I’m driving over there,” Rhodey said quickly and grabbed his keys off his dresser, “Love you ma.”

“Make sure you call me!” his mother called after him as he dashed out of his room.

 

The tires slid across the gravel as Rhodey skidded to a stop in front of the Stark house. He didn't even bother closing his car door before bolting up the stairs of the house. There was something horribly wrong. The lack of sound coming from house sent up a million red flags. This was all wrong. Rhodey wrapped his his against the door. It open on it’s own.

“Tony?!” Rhodey’s call echoed through the dark house, “Tony where the hell are you?”

Only silence replied to Rhodey’s shout. Every passing second of silence set new ripples of fear coursing through him. He swallowed the lump rising in his throat and sprinted up the stairs that lead to Tony’s room.

“Tones you in there?” Rhodey knocked on his friend’s bedroom door. It creaked open slowly. Rhodey didn’t waste a second pushing into Tony’s dark room. The room was all but overturned. Rhodey looked panicked from corner to corner of the room, “Tony?!”

Rhodey’s eyes caught on a light seeping out from under the bathroom door.

He hopped over the broken glass that coated Tony’s floor and knocked on the bathroom door.

“Tony you in there?”

No response.

“Tony?”

Rhodey tried the handle of the door, but it didn't budge.

“Tony are you okay in there?!”

Again no response came.

“Damn it,” Rhodey hissed under his breath, “I am kicking this door in.”

Rhodey slammed his heel against the locking mechanism of the door, and it flew open with a bang.

“Shit!” Rhodey cried in dismay as his eye landed on his unconscious friend.

Tony sat slumped against the wall of the bathtub with his head flopped forward, chin resting on his barely moving chest. An empty bottle of what looked like vodka lay turned over under his left hand, and loosely gripped in the the other hand was a gun.

Rhodey rushed over to his friend, and knelt next to him.

“Damn it Tony,” Rhodey hissed and knocked the cocked gun away from his friend’s hand. The fact that the gun was still cocked, and the lack of blood was a small comfort to Rhodey, or it would have been, had there not been empty bottle of vodka. That much Vodka was just as dangerous as the loaded gun. He pulled Tony’s pale limp body into his arms and felt his pulse. His friend’s heart beat was weak and faltering at best, “What the hell were you thinking.”

Rhodey knew full well what his friend had been thinking, and he hated it.

Rhodey…?” Tony rasped almost silently.

“Yeah man I’m here. I’m got you Tony,” Rhodey rocked him a little, “How much of that bottle did you drink?”

“No…” Tony mumbled without opening his eyes.

“Tony this really important. How much did you drink?” Rhodey demanded.

His friend shook his head a little, “Don’t know…”

“Was it full when you started?” Rhodey’s voice rose with panic.

“Almost… I think…” Tony trailed off, and his head flopped back.

“Tony I need you to stay awake!”

Tony’s body jerked and he gagged.

“Damn it,” Rhodey maneuvered Tony into a sitting position near the toilet. His body convulsed and he threw up into the toilet… or more the general direction of the toilet. After a painfully long time he stopped throwing up, but remained unconscious.

“Come on buddy,” Rhodey lifted his surprisingly light room mate into his arms, “I got you.”

Tony tucked his head into the crook of Rhodey’s neck.

 

The tires squealed as Rhodey slammed on the brakes in front of the hospital doors. He leapt out the car, and slid across the hood; he opened the passenger door where Tony sat. A violent jerk shuttered through Tony’s body as Rhodey unbuckled his seat belt.

“We’re at the hospital, you’re safe. You’re going to be fine,” Rhodey tried to sound to sound reassuring as he pulled Tony’s seizing body into his arms.

“Hey somebody help!” Rhodey shouted as he burst through the doors into the emergency room. Tony let out a choked gag as his body shook, “He needs help!”

“Right here,” a nurse rushed to Rhodey’s assistance, “Through here,” The nurse guided Rhodey through a set of double doors, “What happened?” The nurse asked while taking Tony’s pulse as they rushed down the hallway.

“Alcohol overdose I think,” Rhodey replied quickly.

“Right here. Set him down,” The nurse directed pointing to a gurney, “HEY! I NEED A DOCTOR!” The nurse shouted down the hallway and then turned his attention back to Tony, “How much did he have?”

“I don't know… I wasn't there- I found him-” Rhodey stammered, he couldn't make himself speak in a coherent string. The sight of Tony still seizing tore all his thoughts away.

He was going to die.

Any second he would just stop.

Stop and never move again.

“Hey! Bud snap out of it! I need an estimate, anything, what kind?” The nurse said quickly and pulled out some kind of needle.

“uh..  um vodka, and he- the bottle was empty… I don’t know how full it was when he started--” Rhodey trailed off as a doctor came running down the hallway with two nurses at her heels.

“What we got? Talk as we walk, Trish take that gentleman back to the waiting room please,” The doctor barked her orders and ran along beside the gurney as it was wheeled away by two nurses.

Rhodey tried follow, but an arm stuck out and stopped him.

“I’m sorry, but you can’t follow. You need to go back to the waiting room,” One of the nurses that had been with the doctor guided Rhodey back toward the waiting room.

“You’re friend is going to be fine,” The nurse reassured him as she guided him into a chair, “Do you have someone who you can call to come be with you while you wait?”

Rhodey nodded absentmindedly, “Yeah, I’ll go call her.”

 

“Hello?”

“It’s me, ma,” Rhodey replied slowly.

“Hey baby, how is he holding up?” His mother asked.

Rhodey glanced over at the door Tony had disappeared through.

“I wish I knew. We are at the hospital right now,” Rhodey responded slowly.

“What?!” His mother demanded, “Why?”

Rhodey rubbed his forehead. He was pretty sure he was going to cry.

“He overdosed,” Rhodey’s voice cracked as he spoke.

“Oh my goodness!” His mother cried, “James baby I will be there right away!”

"Thank's ma."

He didn't wait for response before hanging up. Rhodey let himself slip to the ground slowly, where he buried his his face into his knees, wrapped his arms around his head, and let himself cry.




Tony forced his stone heavy eyelids open, light blasted against his now open eye sending shooting pain exploding through his brain. He let out a soft whimper and squeezed his eyes shut; He tried to drown out the light stabbing against his eyelids and sending shots of pain into his pounding head. Everything was to bright. Far far FAR to bright, and loud. SO FUCKING LOUD. The steady beeping next to his head send pulses of shocking pain reverberating through his screaming head; every sound and the bright light only made the blood pounding in his head pound faster and more ferociously hammering hard against his skull. The blood rushing past his ears was near deafening. He could feel each heartbeat as the sound pounded in his head.

He gasped for much needed air, but even that  betrayed and tortured him. The air tore at his throat and ripped against his airways sending searing agony tearing through his chest. He felt like his head was going to explode, and if it didn't he was pretty sure his insides were going to burn.

He whimpered in pain and twisted head deeper into the soft pillow trying drive it away.

“Shhh Tones, you’re okay now,” The voice melted against Tony’s ears and felt warm and soothing. It was perfect. Not to high pitched or blaringly loud, “Here bud I’ll turn off the light.”

The light stabbing against his eye dissipated and peaceful darkness soaked in. Tony slowly made his second attempt to open his eyes, which hurt much less this time around. He was met with the sight of a hospital room, and his best friend sitting beside him, concern furrowing his brow.

“What happened… why am I here?” Tony forced himself to form the words despite the new wave pain that washed over him. He knew something was wrong with him, he knew something had happened to him, but he just didn't remember what.



Rhodey couldn't stop himself from flinching at Tony’s question. He knew that forgetting things was bound to happen from the amount alcohol his friend had consumed, but for whatever reason he hadn’t expected Tony to forget. He hadn’t expected to have be the one tell him that his parents were dead. Was it even right to put him through that again? It had obviously already almost killed him once. He hated being the one who had to tell him, or more remind him of what he already knew.

“Tony how much do you remember from- from two nights ago?” Rhodey asked slowly.

Tony looked at him in confusion. Rhodey sighed, he had to make this simpler.

“Tony what is the last thing you remember?” Rhodey corrected his question.

“Mom and dad leaving for the airport,” Tony rasped slowly as though speaking hurt him.

Rhodey sighed and pitched his eyebrow. He didn't remember. Rhodey didn't know how to tell Tony what had happened. How was he supposed to remind his friend of perhaps one of the worst things that would ever happen to him?

“Tony do you remember anything else?” Rhodey asked cautiously.

Tony hesitated and a wave of fresh agony washed into his gaze. Not like what had been there before, but a look that was far deeper and far more broken. He remembered.

Tony swallowed hard, “The police came to the house…”

Rhodey closed his eyes. The pain in his friend’s gaze was to much.

“They’re gone…” Tony whined miserably, “No… no…”

Rhodey forced himself to look back up at his friend.

“I’m sorry Tony,” Rhodey whispered.

“No!” Tony’s mournful wail drove nails into Rhodey’s heart, “What am I going to do?”

“We’ll figure it out,” Rhodey reached forward grabbed Tony’s hand trying to calm him as he banged his head repeatedly against the pillow.

“There gone…” Tony rasped and squirmed in the bed, “Why…”

Tony broke off into pained sobs.

Neither of them spoke. Rhodey sat next to him. This was practically torture. Going through the shock once was bad enough, but going through it twice? That was just wrong, and completely unfair.

“James?”

Rhodey looked up at Tony. A new look had come into his eyes.

“Hmm?”

“Am I here because I- did I almost… or try to…?”

Rhodey didn't need him to finish his question to know what he was asking.

“I think so… yeah…” Rhodey replied through a sigh, “I think… Tony I think the alcohol poisoning saved you…”

Tony tilted his head in confusion.

Rhodey hesitated before continuing, “I found you… I found you with a um with a gun. Tony if I may… I think... I think you were trying to get drunk enough to use it.”

“So you found me?”

Anger rolled into Tony’s eyes like dark thunder clouds.

Rhodey nodded slowly. The anger that had set in scared him, especially how quickly it happened.

“I wish I hadn't passed out,” Tony hissed in a low dangerous tone, “I wish I had… No.” Tony looked Rhodey in the eyes with a gaze like he had just been horribly betrayed, “No. I wish you had left me. You should have left me there.”

Rhodey gaped.

As quickly as it had come, Tony's look of rage melted away to a look of lost, hopeless, misery.

“Why didn’t you let me die?” Tony whimpered in a soft pleading tone that tore at Rhodey's very core.

Rhodey could only shake his head. Tony’s eyes seemed to be begging him to help, to fix things and make them better. He wanted to. He wanted to make everything better for his friend, and he wanted to help him, but he didn’t know how.

 

Chapter Text

Rhodey found Tony still sitting at one of the tables in the massive dining room that had been reserved for the meal after the funeral. The meal had ended four hours ago. He wondered if his friend had actually eaten anything. He probably hadn't.

He still looked sick from the alcohol poisoning that had almost killed him three days ago. He probably was still sick.

“You know this champagne is pretty good,” His voice was drowsy and sickly.

“Damn it Tony!” Rhodey spat angrily. Tony had promised not to drink anymore for a while until he recovered completely from his overdose, “You said you wouldn’t do that!”

“Do what?” His friend asked belligerence spiking in his tone, “Get drunk?”

Tony laughed dryly.

“Tony…”

“Shut up James,” Tony spat, “You don’t get it.”

That stung. Tony knew full well that he knew what it was like losing a loved one.

“Tony you know that I do,” Rhodey replied gently. He needed to be gentle not forceful… Not yet any way.

“Dead parent. Yeah. If just my dad had died you could give me the “I know what your going through” speech, but you didn’t lose both your parents!” Tony hissed, “You just lost ONE.”

“Tony that’s not-”

“Fair?! Is that that you were going to say?! FAIR?!” Tony almost shouted as he rose to his feet, “Damn straight it’s not FAIR! You still have family!”

“That’s not what I was-”

“I don’t have ANYONE! Rhodes! I have NO ONE,” Tony’s voice was close to a scream, “And it’s not fair that you get to choose if I live or die!”

Rhodey inhaled sharply. The same lost desperate look, that he had seen in the hospital, dashed across Tony’s face, but this time there was more to it. This time there was pure rage, as though he was truly angry that Rhodey had saved him.

“You should have never broken into my house! You should have let me die!”  Tony ran his shaking fingers through his hair.“Why? Why did you have to save me?!”

“Because you are my friend dumb ass!” Rhodey yelled back.

“If you were my friend you would have let me die!” Tony screamed.

“No! No real friend would sit back and let you die!” Rhodey cried angrily.

“No! you are selfish! You don’t care what I want!” Tony screamed.

“When you “want” to kill yourself, yes I don’t give a fuck what you want! But Tony you did not want to die that night!”

“Yes I did!”

“No! You didn’t! If you had wanted to kill yourself you would have pulled that trigger long before you touched that vodka bottle! I know you! When you want something, and I mean really want something, you don’t get drunk to do get it!” Rhodey shouted, “You wanted yourself to want it, so you tried to get yourself drunk enough to really want to die! But you don’t want to.”

“Yes Rhodey! I do! I can’t do this anymore! My mom is gone!” Tony shouted, tears welling in his eyes, “She is gone, and I didn’t tell her I loved her! I never said it.”

Rhodey opened and closed his mouth a few times. He didn’t know what to say.

“I didn’t say goodbye,” Tony repeated barely above a whisper.

“Tony she-”

“I let them leave without telling them I loved them! I… Rhodey I can’t live with that. I should have done something. I should have told them to stay… my dad was drunk. I should have never let them go!” Tony shouted and shoved a chair across the room, “My dad killed them! And. It. Is. My. Fault.”

Rhodey shook his head slowly. Of course Tony would blame himself.

“You know that’s not true!” Rhodey shouted. He couldn’t let his friend believe that it was his fault.

“It is James!” Tony shouted back.

“No it isn't,” Rhodey stepped closer to him, “You didn’t kill your parents.”  

“I wish you were right,” Tony growled and shook his head angrily; he reached for the half empty glass of champagne on the table, but Rhodey smacked it away. The glass hit the floor and shattered.

“Do not fucking touch that,” Rhodey shouted more than he meant to.

Tony looked at him, rage burning in his deep brown eyes.

“Don’t do that again,” Tony hissed, and grabbed the bottle to pour himself more in a different glass.

Rhodey did not hesitate in snatching the bottle from Tony’s hand. He threw it on the ground and the  bottle shattered.

“I told you not to drink any more,” Rhodey spoke keeping his voice stern and even.

Tony looked from the broken bottle back up to Rhodey with a broken hopeless gaze that was begging him to help.

“I can’t do this,” Tony’s shook as he spoke.

Small movement caught Rhodey’s attention his friend was slowly wrapping his hand around one of the steak knives left on the table.

“Tony it’ll be okay,” Rhodey held out one hand cautiously, and eyed the suddenly very sharp looking knife. He wasn't even sure that Tony realized what he was doing, “I’ll get you through this.”

“How?” Tony demanded with a broken tone.

“We’ll figure it out-”

“Nothing is going to change what I did,” Tony whined.

“Tony please,” Rhodey pleaded.

“I can't,” Tony whimpered. More hopelessness flooded his gaze. His grip tightened on the knife handle.

Rhodey wasn't taking any chances. He didn't know what Tony would drive himself to do, and he didn't want to find out. He didn't give Tony time react before tackling him. They slammed into the ground. Rhodey grabbed around Tony’s knife arm, and reached around and put him into an awkward headlock with the other.

“Let me go!” Tony howled and tried to yank his arm free, “Please let me go! Just let me die!”

“Never,” Rhodey growled and held on tight to Tony’s straining arm, “I am not going to let you do this.”

“Please!” Tony begged, and squirmed in Rhodey’s grip, “I can’t do this anymore.”

“Drop the knife,” Rhodey ordered and slammed his friend’s hand in to the ground. It clattered away across the floor.

“Please!” Tony screamed and fought harder against Rhodey’s grip, “Make it stop!”

Rhodey held him a little tighter.

“I don’t want to be alone!” Tony wailed. His fighting lessened.

“I’m here Tony,” Rhodey forced him into a restricting hug, "You're not alone. I am right here."

“Please help me…” Tony sobbed and his fighting subsided and he just curled into Rhodey’s protective hug.

Rhodey didn't know what to say to him. He wanted with every fabric of his being to help Tony, but he didn't know how, so he just held him as he wept. He would hold Tony as long as he needed him to.

"I'll get you through this Tony, what ever it takes."

Chapter Text

Twice in one week was two to many times. Rhodey refused to let Tony leave his eyesight, except to use the bathroom, and shower, and even then he had Jarvis monitor him non stop. Rhodey only slept, when his friend slept (which was a precious little amount), and he would have Jarvis wake him if Tony started to wake up. Rhodey hadn’t been lying when he had promised he would get Tony through this.

 

“Rhodey, I am telling you I am fine now,” Tony insisted, the desire to annihilate himself for what he had done had eddied away considerably, and now he only slightly felt like dying. He felt sober enough now not to kill himself, “I’m not going to do anything stupid.”

“You said that a weeks ago after the funeral, and then you proceeded to try to stab yourself!” Rhodey exclaimed exasperatedly.

“I was drunk!” Tony protested (not that that would really help his case much.)

“Exactly! You also said you wouldn’t drink!” Rhodey cried. That was fair, “Frankly, I don’t think you have the self control not to get drunk again!”

“Rhodey please! I need some alone time!” Tony begged, “I’m ready!”

“See, your desperateness tells me you’re not!” His friend argued.

Tony didn’t feel suicidal anymore. He wasn’t going to try to kill himself again… or at least he didn’t think he would. Maybe Rhodey was right, maybe being pretty sure wasn’t good enough.

“Fine, Fine!” Tony threw his hands up in defeat.

“Let’s compromise,” Rhodey suggested, “You can have alone time in the work shop, but Jarvis gets to monitor you, and I can come check on you anytime I want.”

“Fair enough,” Tony agreed. That was probably the best deal he was going to get.

Tony almost did a little skip on his way to the work shop. Freedom felt kind of nice. He definitely wasn’t going to attempt death again. Not today at least.



“What’s he doing?” Rhodey asked the AI that was keeping an eye on his friend. It made him nervous not being right there with Tony. What if something happened? What if something triggered him? What if he tried again? What if he wasn’t there to stop him?

“He is sitting at one of the counters drawing,” The AI replied.

Drawing? Or writing? What if he was writing a goodbye letter? Rhodey didn’t know if he could handle Tony’s alone time. Rhodey hopped off the couch and made his way to the workshop. He couldn’t handle the anxiety that was coming from not keeping an eye on Tony.

“Mr. Rhodes, I would like to inform that Tony’s heart rate is the most relaxed it has been since the 16th.”

The calm before the storm was the only thing that flashed through Rhodey’s mind. Rhodey slipped into the workshop.

“Congratulations Rhodey you made a total of thirty three minutes without bugging me. All time high score. Good job buddy!” Tony laughed. He laughed. He had laughed a real and true genuine laugh. Rhodey would have done a joyful dance if he had been alone. It had been far to long since he had heard his friend laugh.

“What are you working on?” Rhodey asked and peered over Tony’s shoulder.

“Designing a new house,” Tony replied, not looking up from his drawing, “I already bought the land.”

This was good. He was planning for the future, that was good sign. It meant he had at least some plans not to die. This was an improvement.

“Where are you building?” Rhodey asked still trying to see around his friend’s arm that was covering up the drawing.

“Malibu.”

“Nice!” Rhodey breathed.

“Yep,” Tony moved his arm to the side revealing the outside design of the mansion, “I just have to draw out the interior and floor plans with measurements, and then hire some people.”

Tony retracted the lead into his mechanical pencil, and sat back in his chair. A wide smile danced across his face. Rhodey smiled back at him. He would be okay.

Chapter Text

25 years of guilt and self resentment washed away from Tony in a matter of seconds. For a brief moment he was free. It hadn’t been his fault. It hadn’t been Howard’s fault. His dad hadn’t killed them. Then a mix of pure blinding rage and horror struck grief rushed in, it rushed in so fast Tony was powerless to stop it. It was in control.

“Did you know!”

“I didn’t know it was him.”

“Don’t bullshit me Rogers! Did. You. Know?”

He knew the answer before the super soldier replied. Yes.

“Yes.”

Something snapped.

Then they were fighting.

Then Tony was on the ground, and for the first time in the past--he didn’t even know how long-- how long had they been fighting?-- he was him again. Rogers couldn’t see that Tony was himself again. Rogers couldn’t see that he was his friend again. That he cared again. No. How could he see it?

The Captain brought his shield down hard. Friday was out.

He slammed the shield, the symbol, down hard.

Tony’s helmet broke into tiny pieces.

Steve rose the shield high above his head.

Had he realized the helmet was gone?

Tony threw his arms up to shield his head.

The shield came down.

He felt something in his chest crack.

If the air hadn’t been knocked out of him he probably would have screamed.

His suit became dead weight.

“You don’t deserve that!” Tony choked as Steve walked away, “That doesn’t belong to you! My father made that shield.”

Rogers dropped the shield.

Tony was left alone with the most dangerous and life threatening foe he would ever face. His own thoughts.

Chapter Text

Tony poked the emergency release on the suit. Thankfully it opened. He stood up slowly, and winced at the crushing pain in his chest. Something there was probably broken, and not just bone. Something deeper.

His trust?

His heart?

His will?

Tony limped outside into the snowy wilderness. He didn't know why. Inside the bunker, was warmer and safer. It made all the sense in the world to stay in there and wait for help, but he didn't really want help at the moment. He wanted to think.

He hoped Zemo wasn’t still lurking around. Tony would be defenseless if the man tried anything… Maybe he did want that. A lonely, trapping, darkness was starting to creep into his mind. A very dangerous darkness.

The cold air stung his face, and sent a shiver through him. Maybe he should go back to the bunker. He almost did, but the vast wilderness before him called to him. He wanted to lose himself in it.

So he carried on.

His toe hit something hard, it slid across the rocks with a clatter. Tony looked down.

A small hand gun lay on the ground before him.

Tony crouched next to the gun lying in the in the snow. The universe was tempting him. It was giving him an out. Tony let himself flop down so he was sitting down in the cold snow next to the gun. He didn't touch it. He was only going to touch it if he decided to do what he thought maybe he should. He would think it through to the full extent of his reasoning. There would be no going back if he picked up the gun.

For the first time in his life his mind felt clear enough that he trusted himself to make the best decision here.

He let his thoughts and reason go.

He looked down at the gun sitting innocently next to him.

He should pick it up.

He had tried his whole life to help. He had made weapons to help protect the soldiers who were fighting for the country’s safety, but he hadn't cared enough to make sure there was no dirty dealing under the table. As a result the people he had tried to protect were dead, and it was him.

He had tried to save Yinsen, but instead the man had died for him.

He tried so very hard to create something that could protect the earth and make sure nothing like New York ever happened again… or maybe he had created it for himself. So he could feel safe. Tony looked down at the gun. His fear had nearly destroyed the planet, but the Avengers had been there to counteract what he messed up.

Now?

No. He had torn them apart. He tried to fix what he had done out of fear, but instead of fixing anything he had just broken things worse. Now there was a broken world, with nothing left but a broken man to defend it.

Tony felt very broken. Physically and mentally.

Tony was pretty sure that he was not what the planet needed. He would try to rebuild but he would probably end up breaking something else.

Tony stared at the dark gun in the quickly fading light. He knew what the Earth needed saving from, and for once in his life he knew exactly how to fix it.

He smiled at the gun. This gun was the luckiest gun in the world. It was going to save the planet. One loud shot, and Earth would be safe.

The Avengers would regroup, maybe they would mourn him; he didn't think they would, and he didn't think the world would either. It was what he deserved. Maybe he would be forgotten, but more likely he would be remembered as a mass murder.

Welcome Tony Stark. The most famous mass murder in the history of the United States.

The merchant of death.

The man in the Afghan cave had been right. Even Tony claimed to be fighting for the people he had gotten killed. He should have died before letting anyone get hurt.

You think you fight for us? You don't. You only fight for yourself.

Tony was pretty sure Ms. Spencer was right. He had felt like he was doing it for the world but maybe it was all just so he could sleep at night.

He wouldn’t have to worry about that now. He would pick up the gun and fix everything with one tiny motion.

Tony sighed. He needed to do this. He needed to do it to save the world. The thought of writing a note dashed vaguely in the back of his mind, but that would insinuate that he blamed someone other than himself. No note.

He felt brave. Brave enough to die to save the planet.

Tony reached for the gun. His hand hovered above it. If he touched it it would seal his fate.

Don’t throw it away. Don’t waste your life.

Tony stopped reaching for the gun. He felt like everything he had done since leaving the cave had been a waste.

“You didn't waste it Stark.”

Tony looked up to Yinsen standing looking down at him.

“But I did,” Tony whimpered, “I ruined everything. Everything I’ve done has- I broke everything.”

Tony looked up at the man hopelessly.

“No Stark you have done wonderful.”

“But you died for me, and I’ve thrown it all away. You’re death was waste. You shouldn't have died for me. You should have let them kill me. The world would have been better off.”

“That isn’t true at all,” Yinsen sounded almost amused, “ Tell me Stark what do you think would have happened if you hadn't come back? If Obadiah Stane had taken over company?”

Tony opened and closed his mouth. He could see it: his once friend rising to power. War annihilating the middle east. It spreading as his company found new buyers. Death.

if that’s not enough for you, what about New York?”

A waste land. The dead world with Loki at the helm.

“and Killian?”

A world in fear, at war with itself.

“You aren’t destroying the world Tony. You’ll be damning it to hell if you touch that gun.”

Tony looked down again at the contraption in the snow.

“Think about the people who need you.”

Tony looked up at Yinsen as he faded away.

“Don't waste it.”

Tony sat in lonely silence. He thought he had known what to do, but now?

The snow beat down on his back, and freezing wind sliced against him like razor, cutting him deep, clawing at his core, b ut he ignored it, and he he ignored the gun resting beside him. He focused his mind on what Yinsen had said, or more what his hallucination had said.

Think about the people who need you.

He ignored the freezing cold, and the taunting weapon of death and he focused on the images dancing in his mind. At first he had looked at his life and seen a bleak excuse of a life that no one needed. He saw something that needed to go, but as his mind wandered he saw what Yinsen had talked about.

The people that needed him.

A young boy with new found powers. He was just beginning to see the world. He would need someone to guide him. Tony hardly thought he qualified, but there was no one else, so he had to try. Maybe this time he wouldn't fail.

His best friend laying on his back in a hospital bed, his back broken along with his hopes. His best friend that saved him more times than he could count. His best friend who had been there through the greatest struggles of his life. His best friend who would sacrifice everything for him. Tony bowed his head, his best friend was alone, and would remain to be that way if Tony chose to save the world from himself. Tony had always said he wouldn't hesitate to sacrifice himself for his planet and the people of earth, but he had also said he would he would give anything up for his friends. Anything was all encompassing. It wasn't just his life he was willing to give. Rhodey needed him now. Tony knew it was his fault that his friend had a broken back, but he wasn't going to turn tail and run. He couldn't fix everything… he couldn't fix a lot of things, but he was pretty sure he could fix his friend.

The world may need Tony dead, or even want him dead, but Rhodey needed him.

For the first time in a very long time Tony did not care what the world needed him to do. He only cared what his friend needed.

 

Anything was all encompassing, and it included the world.

 

Tony pulled himself to his feet, turned his back to the gun, and headed back toward the bunker.

What the world needed could wait.

Chapter Text

“What do you guys mean he is missing?!” Rhodey demanded as Happy paced nervously back and forth across the small hospital room. Rhodey turned his gaze to Pepper for an explanation, “Where the hell is he?”

It made so much sense that Rhodey actually hated it. He hadn’t seen Tony since he had left for the raft prison approximately 48 hours ago. He had been growingly concerned for his friend, but at the same time had half expected to hear that Tony had just retreated to his lab. He did that when he was trying to process. Rhodey had known this was not the case as soon as Pepper had entered the room. She had called him shortly after his crash, but they had both agreed that it would be best if she kept her distance for the time being. Tony could only cope with so much, and the guilt of pushing her away was not something he needed to deal with while also trying to stopping some cataclysmic hell from exploding.

“Ross was the last person to see him, and that was close to 48 hours ago,” Pepper explained.

“Are you serious?!” Rhodey hauled himself into as much of a sitting position as he could muster.

“Yes, Rhodey! I wouldn’t joke about this!” Pepper cried.

“And of course the giant pain in everyone’s asses didn’t have any idea where he went,” Happy hissed from his position glaring out the window.

This was so like Tony: Do something mysterious, and then drop off the face of the planet.

“Have either of you tried calling Rogers?” Rhodey ventured.

If he knew Tony at all, his friend probably went after the rogue soldier and his friend.

“Yes,” Happy snorted, “10 times. The jackass isn’t answering.”

Steve had mentioned something about other winter soldiers. Fear wormed its way up Rhodey’s spine. If Tony had gone after Rogers and Barnes to help with whatever Rogers had mentioned, and no one had heard from Tony or Steve in the past 48 hours they could be looking at very big problem.

 

 

Tony wrapped a make shift scarf, he made from an old uniform, around his head, and stepped back out into the freezing cold. He had waited for help long enough. He was going to find his own way back. 

Chapter Text

It had been two days, and Steve was genuinely concerned. Tony was completely absent from the news, to the point that people were beginning to speculate. Some said maybe the stress got to much for him, and offed himself, and the Avengers were keeping it a secret. Others wondered if he had been arrested for what happened in Germany, a great many of them thought he deserved it.

Steve wondered if he had killed him.

He knew he shouldn’t have left him.

Steve wondered if Tony had told anyone where he was going. Knowing Tony he probably hadn’t. Steve knew Tony was smart, but he was afraid that maybe he had lost his motivation to put those smarts to good use to get himself home. The thought of Tony alone freezing in Siberia did not sit well with him. Steve was not going to be the one responsible for killing Earth’s best defender.

“Buck get ready to go,” Steve called to his friend who obediently stood, and picked up his backpack, “I am going to make a phone call, and then we are going to hit the road in case it gets traced.”

Bucky nodded slowly in understanding.

Then Steve did what he probably should have done as soon as they had left the bunker. He put in a call to the compound.

Chapter Text

Tony sank to his knees in the snow and bowed his head against the stabbing wind driving fragments of ice against him, cutting him. The piece of cloth wrapped around his face and head had failed at its job hours ago. Had it been hours? Tony didn’t remember, and didn’t really matter. A cough tore through his body and small droplets of red appeared on the snowy ground beneath him. He pulled his numb hands out of his pockets and wiped his mouth. Red smeared smeared across his already frozen red hands.

He sat back, looked up into the black sky spitting evil razors of cold white at him and laughed.

“I can’t win!” He screamed at the sky, “I can not fucking win!”

Just as expected the sky did not respond to him.

Tony coughed again and more flecks of blood spattered in the snow. The cold tore at his lungs every time he took a breath. 

He shook his head and laughed again. It tore at his throat and lungs with wicked slicing claws, but he didn’t even care.

He had made a choice. He had chosen his best friend over the rest of the world and now he was paying for it. Maybe he had been supposed to pick up that gun, since he was dying now anyway. He had chosen to live, but as usual the universe had different plans.

Tony wondered if he could maybe stand a chance against those plans.

He placed his numb hand into into the snow and pushed himself to his feet. He didn’t bother tucking his hands back in his pockets. It would only use to much of his precious little energy.

He had only made it a few steps, or maybe it had been a thousand steps, before collapsing to the snowy ground, again, in a fit of coughs. They raked and clawed at him. His chest felt like it was being squeezed and restricted by giant frozen hands.

He had to get free, get away from it. He had to keep going. Tony grabbed for the zipper of his jacket. It was trapping him. He had to escape. He ripped the makeshift scarf away from his head, and then focused his struggles on the zipper of his jacket. He tore uselessly at it trying to get a grip on it.

“Come on!” He hissed.

Panic wormed its way through him as he tried uselessly to free himself from his cage. He had to get it off.

Finally after an indiscernible amount of time he managed to get a grip on the cold metal zipper and yank it down. He clawed at the frozen fabric until he was free from the cage it had trapped him in. He tried to haul himself to his feet, but was blown over after a few seconds of staggering. He tried a second time, but didn’t even make it halfway up before he collapsed in another fit of bloody coughs. Since walking wasn’t going to work, he decided to crawl.

Tony didn’t know how far he made it before he finally collapsed all the way. He tried to sit up, but his body was done. He lay crumpled on his side blood dripping onto the snowy ground and freezing just below his mouth.  He could feel his body quitting. He could feel it dying. There was nothing to be done, so he remained laying in the freezing snow as flakes fell from the sky and began to cover him.

 

Chapter Text

Tony became vaguely aware of a light taking its place in the sky above, and shining down on him. He didn’t think it was the sun because it bore no heat, it just beat against his frozen eyelids, and begged him to open them. He wanted to open his eyes and greet it. He wanted to stand up and call to it: the precious light, but he couldn't. He couldn't even force himself to tear his eyes open and look at it. Maybe the light would take him anyway. Maybe it would come down and save him.

Tony didn't actually think it would, but one could hope. He decided to hope.

He didn't know what the light was, or even where it had come from.

He basked in it, hoping for everything he was worth that it would see him and save him. Not that there was much of him to save anyway. His body was numb. Even where his chest wall had been next to crushed seemed to be numb to the crushing pain that had been choking his breaths.

The light moved away, and with it went Tony’s hope. He was going to die here. He already knew that, it just became more clear to him now. The cold would finish working its way into his body, and it would slowly freeze his blood and insides. He was pretty sure he would drift off to sleep before that… if he wasn't already unconscious. Maybe he was, and maybe the light just been a dream: one last, cruel, cold trick from his mind.

 

Chapter Text

Tony collapsed to his knees in the freezing snow, which he found odd because he distinctly remembered not being able to stand up. All the same he knelt in the snow, which strangely enough didn’t feel cold anymore. He wanted to get up. He wanted to keep going, but he had nothing left. He couldn’t even see where he was going anymore; there was to much snow around him.

“Tony,” A warm whisper drifted to ears, “Wake up baby.”

A warm hand slid down his cheek and slipped under his chin. It guided his chin upward so he was gazing into Pepper’s warm smile.

“I need you to stay with me, okay?”

Tony blinked at her once, and then twice. Why was she back? He thought that that they- he- had decided she would be safer and better off if she kept her distance from him. She couldn’t be here in this frozen waste land. She would freeze and die too, just like him. He didn’t want that. He wanted her safe. Plus someone had to take care of Rhodey since he wasn’t going to make it back.

“Please?”

Tony tilted his head away from her pleading eyes.

“You should go before you freeze to death too,” Tony whispered quietly.

“Never. You need to get up.”

“I can’t,” Tony replied.

“Come on baby, you’ve made it this far. Look at me!”

Tony turned his gaze back to Pepper.

“You have made it so far! You can’t give up now,” Pepper pleaded and cupped her hands around his face.

“I can’t Pepper,” Tony whimpered. He was pretty sure he was dreaming. There was no way she was here. He had made her promise she would stay away until he was sure he was safe for her to be around, “you should go.”

“Tony I need you to open your eyes please.”

“They are…” Tony mumbled in confusion. Could she not tell that he was looking right her?

“Please baby, open your eyes.”

Tony just shook his head slowly and let his eyes slip closed. He didn’t have the strength to keep them open any longer. He was okay with dying and having his last dream be of Pepper. Had it been a dream? Perhaps it was his brain’s last ditch effort to keep him alive. At least it had been something good.

Tony felt bad for leaving Rhodey, but he had faith that Pepper would take care of him.

“Tony, please wake up,” Pepper’s words drifted through the blackness of Tony’s mind once again, “Open your eyes for me.”

Tony found some small reservoir of energy that he didn’t know he had left, and forced his eyes open. He found himself looking up into Pepper’s tear stained face.

“Thank you,” Pepper whispered and brushed his cheek with her thumb.

“I like this dream,” Tony muttered and let his eyes wander. He was in a strangely real looking Quin jet. It didn’t seem like a dream, but he knew it had to be because the other option wasn’t possible. He was lost in a white waste land buried in snow where no one would ever be able to find him.

Dead.

The way it should be.

“This isn’t a dream. You’re safe. We found you,” Pepper spoke in a quiet comforting tone.

Tony just shook his head a little. He was becoming painfully aware of how cold he was. Maybe this wasn’t a dream.

He tucked his head closer to Pepper. He was glad she had ignored what he had told her. He was glad she had come for him.

“I didn’t think anyone would come for,” Tony mumbled.

“Tony, I will always come for you when you need me,” Pepper whispered and kissed his forehead. A shiver ran down his spine as warmth of her lips spread through his body. The feeling was beginning to return to his body. Tony liked this.

He hoped more than anything that this was not a dream.









Chapter Text

When Tony opened his eyes again, he was positive that he had not been dreaming. A heart monitor beeped steadily next to his head, and an IV was running into his arm. Pepper was sitting in a chair at his side looking at a magazine. Soft morning lift sifted in through the window and bather room. He smiled a little as he looked her over.

He wanted her with him. He didn’t want her away from him anymore. He didn’t want to be on a break. He wanted to marry her.

He wondered if she would take him. He knew that he dragged her through hell with him. This was hardly the first time they had been in this situation.

“So miss Potts, how close was the call this time?” Tony asked. His voice was raspier than he had expected.

She set her magazine down with exasperation and glared at him. It wasn’t an angry glare per say. It was filled with care and concern. It came from a place of love.

“That bad?” Tony found himself breaking off into a coughing fit.

“Baby? Are you okay?” Pepper leaned forward in her chair to steady him.

Each cough sent a pain bursting through his chest. It felt like there was something crushing insides, and compacting his chest.

“Yeah, just… What the hell is wrong with me?” Tony broke off.

“Where do you want me to start?” Pepper fussed and ran a gentle hand through his hair.

“Why do I feel like my chest is being crushed?” Tony wheezed.

“That would be because your sternum is fractured,” Pepper explained.

That wasn’t supposed to happen. The suit was supposed to have enough shock absorption to protect from blows like that. Steve could have killed him.

“Anything else?”

He was extra sure that the fractured sternum was not his only problem.

“Let’s see, we found you half frozen… hypothermic- and… well let’s just say that you, your nose, ears, toes, and fingers are very lucky that Dr. Cho’s regeneration cradle works with healing frostbite.

“Frostbite-?”

“Yes Tony! We thought you were dead!” Pepper cried suddenly getting very agitated. “And then when you weren’t I was still convinced I was going to lose you.”

“I’m sorry Pepp,” Tony apologized.

“What the hell were you thinking? You went to Siberia and didn’t tell anyone! And then you wandered out into a blizzard! IN A T-SHIRT! You could have died.”

“I’m sorry didn’t-”

Didn’t what?

Tell you?

Tell someone?

No. Didn’t care?

Pepper slipped into bed next to him, and hugged his head close to her chest. Tony leaned in. He missed having her close.

“I don’t want to lose you Tony,” Pepper whispered and kissed the top of his head.

“I won’t leave you again,” Tony whispered back.

He wanted to be with her forever.

Maybe he would work up his courage and ask her to marry him. He really wanted to.






Chapter Text

“Mommy?”

Morgan’s small whisper pulled Pepper out of the first peaceful slumber she had had in a long time. She missed peaceful nights. She missed having good dreams. She wanted the night mares to stop. More than any of that she wanted Tony back. She wanted him there to see the daughter he didn't know he had. She wished he hadn’t climbed onto the alien ship and disappeared into the stars. More than anything she wished she had told him about Morgan that morning they were running in the park, four years ago.

“What is it sweetie?” Pepper asked, forcing herself to sit up in bed

Morgan had his eyes.

“I had a bad dream,” Morgan whispered and climbed into Tony’s side of the bed.

“I’m sorry sweetie,” Pepper soothed and pulled her daughter close to her, “Do you want to talk about it?”

Morgan shrugged her tiny shoulders, “I don’t know…”

Pepper rubbed Morgan’s soft hair.

It felt just like Tony’s.

“Mommy?”

“Yes?”

“What was daddy like?”

Pepper sighed.

“Well your dad was- He was strong and brave, and he tried really hard. He always did his best,” Pepper smiled sadly as she spoke.

“Why did he leave?”

“Because… Because he had to, because the world needed him to.”

“Why?”

“Morgan, your father was- is a hero, and he needed to go so he could save the world.”

“He saved the world?”

“Many times,” Pepper assured Morgan.

“Then why did half the world still die?”

Pepper felt heart skip a beat.

Because he was dead?

He failed?

He didn’t make it?

“I don’t know,” Pepper replied.

“Oh,” Morgan mumbled and tucked her head next to Pepper.

They sat in silence. Pepper listened to he daughter’s steady breathing and gently rubbed her arm.

“Mommy?” Morgan lifted her head a little, and stared into Pepper’s eyes with the eyes of her father, “Is daddy dead?”

Pepper closed her eyes.

Yes.

“Yes. I think so.”

It had been four years. It was time for her to be honest with herself and their daughter. It had been four years and half the planet was dead. Tony wasn’t coming back. If he was, he would have already. He was dead. Pepper’s worst fear for him had come true. The man who tried his best, had given one last thing his all, and it had killed him.

 

Chapter Text

Sparks flew off the red hot metal with each heavy strike from the iron mallet. For a brief moment Tony was back on Earth, and back in the cave. For a split second he was building the mark I. Then the moment passed and he was back on the Airidad. Back where he had been working for the past four years so he could get enough alien money to buy a ride back home.

“You want a break?” Nebula asked as she tossed wood into the furnace.

“No. If I take a break I don’t get paid.”

Nebula just sighed and picked up the next piece of metal that needed working, and placed it on her own anvil.

“You realize if you work yourself to death you will never get home?”

“You realize I have been doing this for four years. I’ll be fine,” Tony growled and brought the mallet down hard on the metal he was working. Nebula didn’t say anything else. The sound of heavy clanking took over, and Tony’s mind fell back into the rhythm with the hammer strokes.

What if she was gone?

Tony brought the hammer down.

Four years was a long time. Hell two and three years was also a long time. One was a long time, but not to long.

Sparks flew from the metal.

What if she had moved on?

He lifted the hammer.

It was understandable if she had.

The hammer fell swift and hard.

He didn’t think she would.

He turned the metal over.

No matter what, he had to get back to her.

The metal flashed bright red as he struck it.

“Stark I think you should take a break,” Nebula’s voice pierced through Tony’s thoughts.

“I said I was fine,” Tony grumbled and brushed his wet hair out of his face. His hair wasn’t the worst it had been in the past four years, but he felt quite due for a haircut, not that it was something that was actually important. Maybe he would cut it right before he went home. They were so close to having the money to buy him a ride home.

Not him. Them.

And for not the first time Tony lifted his head and asked Nebula a question.

“Why are you still staying with me?”

Nebula frowned as she normally did.

“Because you don’t have any one, and I'm pretty sure you wouldn’t survive going through this alone.”

Tony let the hammer strike the steel.

He was pretty sure she was right.



Chapter Text

Nebula found Tony laying on his back staring up at the starry sky far above.

“I brought food,” Nebula said and sat next to him.

“Not hungry,” Tony muttered, not tearing his gaze away from the sky.

Nebula narrowed her eyes at him. Physically Tony had healed from his fight with Thanos, but here they were four years later, and the man seemed just as broken as he had been the day they had lost.

“Stark, you need to take care of yourself. When was the last time you ate or slept?”

The man seemed to be regressing with every passing day. She needed to get him home before he stopped everything all together.

Tony shrugged.

“Damn it. Tony you are going to get yourself killed before we even get home.”

“I’ll be fine.”

“That’s bull shit.”

Tony rose to his feet.

“I need to get back to work,” He muttered as he walked away.

Nebula watched him go. His well built muscles and torn tank top didn’t hide just how gaunt and bedraggled he was. She was pretty sure that if she didn’t make him rest he would work himself to death. She had seen it happen with other people. He seemed like the kind of the person who do something like that. His new no rest until the job is done philosophy probably stemmed from how close to being done they were. The last stretches of journeys were the most dangerous. They were when people over estimated their strength.

She sighed and ate half of the food she had purchased. She would hunt him down and force him to rest later.

 

The metal workshop was oddly silent. To silent.

“Tony?” Nebula called as she entered the workshop.

He didn’t respond. She rounded a corner and discovered the man sitting slouched against the wall with his face buried in his hands.

“Tony?”

He looked up. Tears stained his dirty face.

“Are you okay?”

He scoffed.

Of course he wasn’t.

“I thought I could do this,” He rasped weakly.

“You can. You just have to take care of yourself at the same time.”

Tony lifted very shaky blistered hands.

“I don’t think I can Nebs. I can’t even stand up anymore.”

Nebula slipped down on the hard ground next to him.

“Eat this,” She directed and handed him a piece of bread.

Tony shook his head.

“I can’t,” Tony whimpered, “It hurts…”

“Tony you have to. At least a little bit.”

He shook his head and coughed.

“Okay. fine. At least drink this,” Nebula ordered and handed him a water canteen.

He obediently took it. He started off sipping it slowly, but quickly began gulping down large mouthfuls at a time.

“Woah! Woah, there Tony. Slow down,” Nebula ordered, “You’re going to make yourself sick.”

She covered the mouth of the bottle with her hand, and Tony obediently lowered it.

“Sorry…”

“It’s fine, just going to fast will make you sick. Here try to eat this, slowly.”

Maybe now that he had water in his system it would enable him to eat. He nibbled at the bread, obviously happy to have it.

“Thank’s Nebs,” He whispered and leaned his head against her shoulder, and closed his eyes.

“Just taking care of you,” Nebula replied and decided it was best to just let him fall asleep like he was.

Chapter Text

Morgan slipped silently down the hallway of the Avengers compound. The place was huge, she had spent her entire life there, and she was still discovering new things. It was only the previous night that she had discovered a new hideout, or a potential hideout. She had discovered a set of doors she had never been through, and for kickers she had put her finger on the dna scanning device that would unlock the door. She hadn't been expecting it to work, but the doors had opened for her. She hadn't gotten the chance to explore before she heard someone coming.

Now though? Now everyone was asleep, and she could explore the strange dark room.

The doors opened for her. Morgan stepped in and they closed behind her. She almost screamed as she was delved into total blackness, or what she had thought was total blackness until a dim blue light caught her attention.

“Friday? Can you turn on lights?”

As ordered the lights in the room flickered on. Some of them were burnt out, while others were dim and flickering. The room looked very similar to Bruce's lab, but it was more messy. More lived in. It also looked like it hadn’t been touched in a very long time.

Morgan cocked her head at the sight of three strange looking robots huddled together in a corner. Standing above them in a glass case was a gold suit of armor with highlights of red. It almost looked like it was watching over the robots. Morgan thought it was rather cute. 

Morgan crept toward the huddle of robots with caution. She hadn't seen anything like before; she gave them a good long look over, before she finally decided to reach up and touch one of the resting robots.

 

Dum-E didn't like intruders in Dad-E's lab. He was supposed to protect it. Protect it until Dad-E got home. Dad-E was coming home. F.R.I.D.A.Y had said he wasn't. Dum-E knew she was lying. Dad-E always came home. He wouldn’t leave them.

“Oops… sorry Mr. Robot… I- Did I… wake you up?”

Dum-E tilted his head at the small intruder. She sounded like Daddy. Not a lot, but just a little. The girl looked at him with deep brown eyes. She had Daddy’s eyes. She looked a lot like him. Dum-E knew she wasn't Dad-E, but she was very close. Part of him was there with her.  Part of Dad-E had come back to him. Part of his father was safe. Dum-E decided he wanted this precious part of his father to stay safe. Dum-E would keep her safe. Dum-E reached his arm forward, and wrapped around the child. He pulled her close, and hugged her.

She giggled and wrapped her arm around him.

Dum-E accidently bumped U in his giddy excitement. U yanked his head up and accidentally bumped Butterfingers. They both woke with indignant beeps.

Dum-E didn't care that they were angry. Part of their father had come back. Dum-E had told them he would.

Dum-E whirred loudly to silence his bickering siblings. He showed them the child. They beeped excitedly. They recognized her to. They began poking her gently. Examining her.

She giggled loudly.

“You guys are great!” She laughed, “Ow stop!”

Dum-E took her cry into account. He beeped at his siblings and they ceased their poking. She patted Dum-E’s head. Dum-E loved it.

“I am going to give you guys names.”

Dum-E tilted his head. He liked his name. Dad-E had given it to him. He also liked the child. He would let her call him something else.

“You will be Smarty, because you are obviously the smartest.”

She patted Dum-E’s head.

Smart-E. Dum-E was okay with being called that.

“And I will call you Pushy, because you pushed me the hardest.”

U didn't protest to his new name.

“and you will be Fluffball, because why not?”

The new names were great, but Dum-E would always be Dum-E. Dum-E was the name that Dad-E had given him, but he decided he would let the child call him Smart-E.

Chapter Text

Pepper found herself laying a top the flat roof of the compound. She stared up at the stars burning cold and distant above her. Tony was somewhere out there among those stars. She knew he wasn't  coming back, and she knew that sitting on the roof gazing at the stars, waiting for him, wasn't going to change that. She did it anyway. She needed to.

“Whatcha doin?” Pepper looked up to see that Morgan had joined her. She smiled at her.

“Nothin much. What are doing up?” Pepper replied.

“I got bored.”

Pepper snorted. That was something Tony would say.

“Wanna come hang out with me?”

“Sure!” Morgan waddled over and laid down next to her.

Pepper tucked her arm around her daughter.

“mommy?”

“Hmm?”

“Can you tell me more about daddy?”

Pepper opened her mouth to speak but was interrupted an alarm blaring across the compound. Pepper leapt to her feet scanning the ground below for danger.

“Oh look a shooting star. I wish I could me meet my dad,” Morgan babbled.

Pepper swiveled her head up toward the sky. It was not a shooting star. It was something coming through the atmosphere; It looked to much like a space ship.

“Morgan go get inside now.”

“but-”

“Right now,” Pepper snapped.

This time Morgan obeyed.

Pepper tapped the outer arc attachment on her chest, and let the nanotech engulf heras she marched toward the edge of the roof.

The other Avengers were already gathering near the flat field that the ship was head for when Pepper landed.

“What is that?” she demanded looking up at the night sky being lit by the ship blazing from friction as it came down through the atmosphere. It got bigger with every passing second.

“Scanner put it’s trajectory here, and there are two life forms on board,” Steve replied. The ship’s decent slowed at is it neared the ground; Pepper closed her mask as it came in just above them. Bright lights shone from its sides as it lowered from the black sky and landed with surprising grace; thick steam rose from its sides.

Pepper clenched her fists preparing for a fight.

The door to the ship hissed open revealing a man silhouetted against the orange light pouring out of the ship.



“You guys really need to work on the concept of welcome party,” Tony said and stepped out of the ship. He didn’t have time to make an more quips before before lips were planted firmly against his lips. He jerked back ever so slightly in surprise then leaned and took it.

“That’s more like it,” Tony mumbled around Pepper’s lips and leaned farther in to her armored body.

“Just shut up and kiss,” Pepper mumbled and continued kissing him.

Tony was completely fine with it.

 

Morgan’s mouth dropped as she watched everything go down from her place hiding behind a corner. She had never seen her mother kiss anyone before. It was kind of a foreign concept to her. The first thought was “Yuk” followed by the Earth shattering realization of just who exactly her mother was kissing. Morgan gulped and stepped out confidently from her hiding spot. She had about 30 steps worth of time to come up with something clever to say to him. She had no doubt that it was indeed him: her father; the father she had been waiting her whole life to meet. Her first words to him needed to be something really good.

Morgan walked confidently toward her parents, she pushed through the shell shocked Avengers, marched with all of the Stark confidence in her blood, stopped in front of her parents, and spoke her first words to her father.

“Get a room.”

Her parents stopped mid passionate kiss and looked down at her in shocked surprise. Morgan was equally surprised with herself. She was completely overjoyed to see her mother happy and she actually really had no desire to make her parents stop kissing.

Her father looked down at her, and for the first time in her life she made eye contact with him. He broke away from her mother’s hug an knelt down in front of Morgan. Morgan looked into her father’s deep brown eyes and open and closed her mouth a few times. He was right there. She was finally seeing him, and she couldn’t make herself speak.

“Pepper?” Her father spoke without breaking eye contact with Morgan. Morgan loved his voice. It was spiked with exhaustion, fear, and pain, it wasn't that, that she loved, it was what was under all of that. It was the warmness and love that spoke louder than the pain that she loved. His voice made her feel instantly safe.

“Yes Tony.”

Tears spilled into her father’s eyes. Morgan felt tears in her own eyes.

“I’m Morgan,” Morgan pushed her hand out for him to shake.

He made a small shocked choking sound in his throat, and bypassed her hand. Before she even knew it Morgan was pulled into her father’s strong arms. He smelled like smoke and metal, and sweat and oil, and yet strangely familiar and good. Morgan wrapped her arms around her father’s thick neck and hugged him back. She felt something warm and wet drop onto her back.

Chapter Text

Morgan didn't pay attention to what the adults were saying. She didn't particularly care. She was content where she was, sitting on her father's lap with her head leaned against his chest. He now smelled clean and fresh, but deep under it was the smell of work and pain that his shower hadn’t quite been able to wash away. He rubbed her back with one strong hand while he spoke. She didn't really understand what he was saying; there were a lot of big words she didn't know yet. Morgan didn't mind though. She just liked hearing the sound of his voice.

Morgan accidentally yawned, she had been trying so hard not to let on that she was tired. She wanted the adults to think she was fine staying up until 3:00 A.M. and more than that she wanted to stay close to her father. She wanted to stay and listen his voice and the even pounding of his heart, and she wanted him to keep rubbing her back.

“Alright Morgan it’s time for bed,” her mother whispered in her ear. Her father shifted beneath her in an attempt to get up, “It’s okay Tony, I’ll go tuck her in-”

“No,” Morgan whimpered and hugged around her dad tighter.

“It’s fine Pepp. I think it’s about time I take a turn,” Her father replied and her mother reluctantly sat back down.

Morgan clung tighter to her dad’s chest as he stood up and wrapped his arms around her. He carried her out of the meeting and headed down the hallway.

“Do you know where my room is?” Morgan asked.

Maybe he did. He was her father after all.

“ No kiddo I do not,” Her dad replied with a slight chuckle.

“Good. I don’t want to go to bed.”

Her father raised an eyebrow.

“So you take after me. Good to know.”

“Really?” Morgan perked up. She liked that idea. She had only known her father for a few hours and she already never wanted to let him go.

He snorted.

“Do you want to meet my best friends?” Morgan asked as he continued the trek down the hallway in the opposite direction from her room.

“I’d love to,” He father replied with a soft smile.

“Here let me down and I’ll take you to them.”

 

Tony let Morgan slide to the ground. He didn't especially want to. The fear that if he let go of her she would drift as nothing more than a good dream was all to present in his mind.

He was a father.

How was he a father? How was this real?

How did he deserve this?

Morgan grabbed his hand and squeezed it a little. His anxiety eddied away a little. This was real. She was there. He was here. He had a daughter.

Tony let her lead him down the familiar hallway all the way to a very familiar set of doors. She stuck her finger on an all to familiar key pad, and the doors opened to his lab. Morgan stepped in a head of him and clapped her hands.

“Look alive guys! We have a guest!”

Tony’s mouth dropped at the sight of his bots coming to life and waking up before him. It only took them a total of two seconds do come careening toward him and Morgan.

“Let introduce them,” Morgan said and patted Dum-E’s head, “This one is Smarty because he the smartest of the bunch. That one is Fluffball,” Morgan pointed to Butterfingers and then pointed to U, “And he is Pushy.”

Tony smiled and rubbed her shoulder and debated whether to break it to her that they were his creations, and that they had names already.

“I know,” Tony settled for that and tucked his daughter close to him.

She could call his bots those names. He liked them.

 

Dum-E screeched. Dad-E was home! He was HOME! HOME! HOME! Dum-E didn't know where he had been, or why he had been gone so long, but none of those things mattered. He was back. Dad-E was home.

 

Morgan watched happily as her bots greeted her father.

“They like you!” Morgan laughed as Fluffball shoved her father.

“Of course they missed me,” her father replied with a laugh, “Isn’t that right Dum-E? Oops sorry. Morgan says you wizened up.”

Morgan tilted her head a little as she watched her father the bots. They knew him, and the way he ran his hand along Smarty’s head told her he knew them very well.

“Were these your robots?” Morgan asked yanking her father’s attention away from the bots.

“Yes,” Her father patted Smarty’s head, “I built this one back in college a good” he calculated something in his head, “30 or so years ago.”

“Woah! Really?!”

Her father nodded.

“That’s so cool! Can you tell me stories?!”

Her father frowned for a brief moment before letting a smile take over, “Of course.”

He grabbed the closest dusty chair and sat down. Morgan didn’t need to be told to climb into his lap. The three bots gathered around them.

“So Smarty’s real name is Dum-E, and he saved my life one time…”

Chapter Text

Tony fumbled for his keys on the counter, his world fading in and out of focus. He could feel hot sticky blood dripping down his arm and shoulder, soaking into his shirt, making it cling to his skin. His shaky fingers closed around his cold keys. Driving was probably not the best idea, but he needed to get away from the compound and to a hospital. He forced his way down the empty hallways of the compound; Tony blinked his eyes desperately trying to clear the fog that was gathering over his vision. He stumbled and fell against the wall, leaving a bloody spot behind him.

Fuck. He wasn’t going to make it to the car, or the hospital.

Clutching the oozing bullet wound an inch or so below his collar bone, Tony let himself slide down to the floor, blood leaving a long smear down the wall. His vision completely fuzzed out for a second. He blinked his eyes until his sight cleared again. Losing this much blood was no good. He needed help, and he needed it now. Tony flipped on the comms on his watch in a desperate hope that maybe his message would get through to the other Avengers.

“Hey guys… If you can hear me… I need- uh I could use some- I… help…” Tony whimpered, forming words wasn’t working like he had wanted it to. He hoped that on the off chance they heard him, that what he had said had made at least a little sense, “...Please…”

Something crashed to the floor and broke in the living room.

“Shit…” Tony groaned.

Taking a deep breath Tony managed to haul himself back up onto his feet. His legs quivered beneath him. He wouldn’t be able to make it far in his rapidly weakening state, but he wouldn't have to. The lab was just around the corner. If he could he make it to the lab he would be safe… safer. In the lab he could find something to protect himself from the crazy, obviously impossible to kill assassin, that he had just shot, who was apparently, from the sounds coming from the living room, getting back up to come find him.

Tony guided himself, stumbling, down the hall, using the wall for support. The hole in his shoulder burned like all hell, and the pulsing of his vision was getting worse and worse with every stumbling step. After what seemed like an eternity of struggling down the hall, he reached the door to the lab, and pushed his bloody hand against the unlock pad. Nothing happened.

Fuck. Actually fuck. Of course the key pad wouldn’t work, the whole fucking building was shut down.

The only other ways in were either to unlock the door manually, and then pry them, open also manually, or the ceiling hatch, which required climbing into the ceiling, and then using a special key to unlock the hatch door that lead to the ceiling section above the lab. Unlocking the main door manually, and prying the door open would take to long, and Tony wasn’t sure if he was even physically capable of opening the doors. Maybe on a good day, but not with a injured shoulder, broken wrist, and a staggering amount of blood loss. He would have to go the ceiling route. He glanced up at the ceiling high above his head, and cursed himself for being short. He would have to go back to the kitchen living room area, and climb up with the help of a counter. The only problem with his plan was the fact that the assassin was still there, and probably would not miss his heart again.

Chapter Text

Peter yanked the last robot’s head off and fell over with it, panting. The team had been planning this op for quite some time, and Mr. Stark had been very excited for it to get finalized, and approved. Sadly Thor had accidentally broken Tony's  wrist when the team had decided to play spoons for game night. Peter felt bad for him. Nobody had pushed harder for this mission to get approved, and now he hadn’t even been able to join in the fun. Missions like this were fun. They didn’t involve world ending events or civilian casualties. This was simple mission of knocking some heads off some illegal robots. The only reason they got green-lit was because it was to much for law enforcement, and the military didn’t want to use there funds, or risk their soldiers, so the Avengers had decided to volunteer.

“We’re clear from what I can see up here,” Clint spoke over the comms, from his perch in the rafters of the warehouse, “Peter you good?”

Peter gave a thumbs up from his position laying on his back, “All good, just pooped.”

This may have been a small knock some heads off mission, but it had still taken a considerable amount of energy.

“Come on kid, get up,” Steve coaxed reaching his hand out. Peter took it, and let the captain haul him to his feet.

“Anyone else hungry?” Thor asked landing next to them. The rest of the team was slowly beginning to gather around.

“We could pop by Mcdonald's on the way home,” Clint suggested as he slid down his rope from the ceiling.

“I second that motion,” Natasha spoke up, brushing dust off her black suit as she made her way over to the team.

“I’m down for some nuggets!” Peter chirped. He was both exhausted and famished.

“I don’t know guys,” Steve sounded conflicted, “I feel like we should just head on home. Stark’ll probably be getting worried about-”

“HA! Tony is probably loving having the whole compound to himself,” Pepper’s laugh sounded through the air as she landed next to them opening her mask, “Tony will be grateful that we are taking our time getting back, Plus we got done here quite a few hours early so he won't start worrying yet.

Steve rolled his eyes, “If you say so.”

Chapter Text

Tony pulled himself up straight, and tensed his weakening leg muscles. His plan was simple. Get the assassin’s attention, get him to follow the trail of blood smears on the wall, and then once he had left the living room area Tony would be free to go in, climb up into the ceiling, and get to the lab. He would be safe in the lab. The lab was a good goal. Tony took a deep breath and smacked his hand against the wall. He heard the assassin stop moving around in the living room, and then footsteps began echoing down the hall toward him. Clenching his teeth, Tony turned and ran the other direction toward the hall that lead to the second entrance of the living room. The footsteps behind him picked up their pace. Every time his feet hit the floor it sent a jolting shock up his body, and rattled the throbbing wound in his shoulder.

“I got you Stark!” The assassin hissed from behind him.

Out of the corner of his eye Tony saw the man pull a gun out of his jacket. He raised it toward Tony as he ran. He fired. Tony attempted to leap around the corner for cover, but the bullet tore through his side all the same. Tony collapsed to the ground and clutched his wounded side. His vision blurred more than ever before.

Tony ignored the new pain searing through his body and pulled himself up with great effort. Blood trickled down his side, and the wounds jolted with sickening pain after every step. Tony could feel his body slowing, trying to give up. He couldn’t let it.He pushed on a little faster. The sound of foot steps advancing quickly.

Tony skidded to a stop in the kitchen, and hauled himself onto the counter. He lay on his back for a second, allowing himself to breath, but only for a second before he slowly, and dizzily crawled to his feet, and reached up to move the ceiling panel.

Pain exploded through his shoulder and chest as he reached up. He stifled a cry of pain as he pushed panel to the side. More pain shot through his shoulder as he began pulling himself up. Tony bit down on his lip to keep from screaming, and continued pulling himself up. The searing pain shooting from the bullet wounds exploded, and Tony’s vision went white for a second. The muscles and cracked bones in his wrist ached and crackled in protest to the strain of holding up his body weight. Tony wasn’t entirely sure that his body wouldn’t just give up on him, and let him fall, and die. He managed to wriggle the top half of his body up into the ceiling. The cry of pain that he had been holding back finally escaped in a small choked whimper, as his side scraped the the tile. Coughing and spitting, Tony managed to get himself all the way up into the ceiling, where he rolled over onto his back and lay there gasping. The warm dark of the crawl space comforting. Maybe he didn’t need to make it all the way to the lab. Maybe he could just stay here.

No. No, he need to go to the lab. He would be safest there.

Tony slowly maneuvered himself around and put the the ceiling tile back into place, and everything went pitch black.

 

Chapter Text

Tony half jumped half fell out of the ceiling into the lab. His feet hit the ground and his legs instantly gave out. He toppled to the hard tile floor of the lab with a gasp. Pain jolted through his body as he hit the ground. He groaned weakly and gripped the counter to haul himself up. His bloody hand slipped on the slick granite counter top, and he fell over again. He rolled over onto his back and stayed like that.

Maybe he should just stay put for a bit. The sticky blood making his shirt cling to his skin got more and more uncomfortable with every passing second. He was pretty sure he should get up and try to get the first aid kit to try and patch himself up. He lifted his head with great effort and looked across the lab to where the first aid kit sat perched in one of the cabinets… on a top shelf.

“Shit,” Tony moaned and flopped his head back on the hard ground. It was to far away for him to be able to make it. He let out a defeated sigh, and closed his eyes. Maybe he would be fine if he just slept until the rest of team came to save him.

Darkness folded over him, and engulfed him in a sea of numb silence.

 

Dum-E had watched the building go black. Dum-E had called to F.R.I.D.A.Y but she had not responded. Then he had picked up a gunshot echoing through the building followed shortly by another gunshot. Then silence had come over the building for a long time before another gunshot sounded, and not long after that his father had come crashing through the ceiling. Dum-E had expected him to get back up, but when he didn't the robot decided to investigate.

Dum-E approached his father who was laying on his back with his eyes closed. A large oil stain was spread across his shirt. Dum-E new as well as the next machine that oil leaks were no good, he also knew that for whatever reason they were worse for humans because their oil was different and more important. Dum-E rolled over to his sleeping father and nudged him with his arm. The man groaned softly.

Dum-E nudged him again. He needed to wake up. He needed to fix his oil leak.

 

“Come on Dums… let me be…” Tony whimpered and tucked himself into a ball to avoid the the bot’s grabbing hand.

It poked him again.

“Please…” Tony groaned.

The bot obviously wasn't going to have any of it, because he poked Tony again.

“Okay… fine,” Tony mumbled and rolled back over on to his back, “but I’m gonna need your help.”

The bot seemed to understand, because he lowered his arm to Tony’s level and waited. Tony forced himself into a sitting position and draped his arm over the robot.

“Alright help me up,” Tony grunted and the bot lifted him up him up, “Over there.”

Tony pointed to the cabinet that held the first aid kit. They had made it halfway across the lab when a heavy metal clank came from the lab doors. Tony stopped and glanced over his shoulder at the doors to see them budge open a crack.



Chapter Text

The doors to the lab finally scrapped open, and the assassin stepped into the lab.

“So I am little curious, how are you not dead?” Tony coughed weakly from his place on the floor leaned against one of the counters.

“Funny. I was asking myself the same thing about you,” The assassin hissed and pulled out his gun.

“So? You’re gonna shoot me while I am defenseless? Kinda unsportsmanlike,” Tony rasped eyeing the metal contraption nervously. He really hoped that Dum-E would actually successfully carry out the plan.

“Whatever gets me paid.”

“Paid?” Tony questioned.

Someone wanted him dead… well that was actually fair. A lot of people wanted him dead for a lot of reasons that were actually not half bad.

“That’s how assassins work,” The man replied.

“Guessing I couldn't get a name?”

“Sadly for you that is not how assassins work.”

“Figures,” Tony scoffed and rolled his eyes.

“Well that’s enough chit chat.”

“I couldn't agree more.”

The man stopped advancing for a brief moment in confusion. Then Dum-E whacked him with a fire extinguisher. The man collapsed to the ground with a roar of pain. His gun slid across the floor. Tony hauled himself up and dove for it. The assassin did the same. They reached it at the same time. Tony gripped the gun and tried to pull it away from the man, just as he slammed his body forward. The assassin’s shoulder slammed into Tony’s bullet wound. New pain burst through Tony's body. Tony  cried out in pain as the man pinned him to the ground, and shoved the gun against Tony’s chest. Tony pushed the gun to the side just as it went off. The bullet embedded itself in the ground next to him. The assassin growled in annoyance and tried to yank the gun from Tony’s grip. They grappled, the gun between them, and it went off.

Chapter Text

Peter always loved stepping off the Quinjet when they landed in the Mcdonald’s parking lot. He took great joy out of the shocked expressions on the bystanders’ faces as the whole team filed off the jet and went inside; even better than that was the cashier’s responses. Sometimes they would look really done, and other times they would just act straight up shook that the Avengers had just rolled up and started ordering happy meals.

“I still think one of us should give Stark a call,” Steve grumbled, plopping himself down in a chair with his large order of fries in hand.

“Nah,” Pepper shrugged, “He is probably napping.”

Peter also felt a strange urge to call his mentor

“Should we get him something?” Peter inquired. People always seemed to get pissed when everyone went out, and didn’t bring something back.

“Might as well,” Natasha replied biting down on her burger.

Peter turned on his phone and was met with a red alert sign flashing across the screen.

“What the hell?!” Peter scowled and placed the phone on the table, “What’s that mean?”

Everyone stopped eating.

“We gotta get back to the compound!” Pepper was the first one to move. She leapt out her seat and bolted for the door, as she did so the rest of team followed. All of them seemed panicked and frantic.

“Friday fire up the jet!” Natasha cried into her earpiece.

“I don’t get it,” Peter questioned as jogged along behind the team.

“That was an emergency alert from the compound,” Clint explained as they piled back onto the jet, "It comes up on our phones when it can’t get through to Friday.”

“Is Mr. Stark in danger?!" Peter cried in dismay. Panic started to rise in his gut.



“Guys, I got blood,” Pepper spoke into the comms as she examined the blood smear on the wall before her.

They had split up to cover more ground in the blacked out compound. Pepper followed the bloody hand prints as they tracked their way along the wall. She had no doubt that they were Tony’s. Fear and worry wormed in stomach. Something had happened to Tony. She could feel it. She should have let them go straight home. She came around the corner to discover the doors to his lab had been pried open. She ignored the trail of bloody smears and ran into the dark lab.

“Nice of you to show up.”

Pepper whorled around to see her husband slumped against the wall. A weak smile plastered on his face. There was a man lying dead at his feet. Pepper ignored the dead man and rushed to Tony’s side.

“Tony are you okay?” Pepper could see two large red blood stains smeared across his shirt.

“Never better,” Tony mumbled as Pepper knelt next to him.

“Yeah, I can tell,” Pepper scoffed a little as she took off her jacket and pressed it against the wound that was little to far down from his collar bone for any real comfort.

“Fuck. Wanna be gentle?” Tony’s hiss was spiked with shrill pain.

“Shut up,” Pepper growled.

“Yikes. Someones pissed,” Tony coughed.

“Yeah, because someone else decided to get shot twice,” Pepper growled.

“You act like I had a choice, and in my defense the second one isn’t that bad,” Tony mumbled, “Plus I’m not the one who took so damn long getting back.”

Pepper sighed. He had point. They should have gotten back sooner, and she should have listened to Steve.

“How bad we looking Mrs. Potts?” Tony coughed weakly.

Pepper glanced under her hoodie that was pressed against his chest. The blood was still oozing at a rather steady pace, but the wound was to high up to have hit his lung, or if it had it would be an easy fix.

“Not the worst you’ve been hit,” Pepper admitted.

“But not the best?”

Pepper shook her head, “No baby, far from that.”

Tony nodded his head a s little, “I think I might need to clunk out for a bit here…”

“No. No, no you don’t,” Pepper ordered and patted his cheek gently.

“Mm’sorry Pepper,” Tony closed his eyes all the way, "tom’much bloodsl loss.”

“You idiot,” Pepper growled.

She really didn’t know why she was blaming him. It wasn’t his fault. She slid her arms under husband and hauled him up.

“We’ll get you all taken care of sweetie,” Pepper promised.

He would be fine. He had to be.

Chapter Text

Peter sat perched on a chair next to Tony’s infirmary bed; Pepper was out talking to Bruce and the other doctor who had helped with the surgery. Tony's surgery had gone off without a hitch or complication. Neither of the bullets had even done much damage apart from blood loss, and yet Peter was still worried about his father. This was hardly the first time the man had been severely injured, and heaven knew that there had been many times that things that been much worse, but no matter what Peter was never numb to his father being injured.

“What’s up kiddo?”

Peter jumped at the sound of his mentor’s voice.

“You’re awake!” Peter cried happily and leapt from his chair to Tony’s bed.

“Careful now kiddo!” Tony laughed, “You’re acting like I almost died.”

“You could have!” Peter exclaimed.

“Well I didn’t,” Tony reasoned.

“I’m glad you’re okay Mr. Stark,” Peter leaned forward and hugged the man.

“Me too kid, me too.”

 

No matter how many times it happened, getting shot and or stabbed was still scary and painful as hell, but he was always grateful to wake up and find that his family and friends had taken care of him. They had gone through their rough patches, but in the end they pulled through, and were there for him.

“Have you ever thought about retiring?” Peter asked.

“Many times, but in this particular case I don’t think it would have helped.”

“I mean it may have,” Peter mumbled.

Tony shook his head a little. He didn’t get to retire. He had known that since this all started however many years ago. Fairy-tales weren’t real. In real life the heroes didn’t get happy endings.Tony forced a smile across his face, and as he looked at Peter it became a genuine. He might not get a happy ending, but right now he had a son and a wife and a team who loved and cared about him. He didn’t need the knowledge of a happy ending. He had everything he needed right here in this building. He had a family.

"It'll be fine kiddo."

Tony reached up and ruffled Peter's hair.

Chapter Text

Tony sank to the ground at Thanos’s feet. He clung helplessly to the piece of metal that had been skewered through his body.

“I find it amusing that you thought that would work. It didn’t even work the first time. What made you think things would go differently this time?” Thanos sneered and leaned down so his face was inches from Tony’s.

Tony coughed and shook his head miserably, then turned his defiant gaze up to face the Titan.

“Got you bitch!” Tony hissed through clenched teeth.

Confusion dashed into the Titan’s eyes for a brief moment before a metal beam swung through the air and struck him in the head sending him flying through the air.

“Get lost FUCKO! No one’s allowed to stab me!”

Tony bowed his head a little with a brief pained chuckle. He admired the snark that the younger him still had left. He wondered if the younger him would end up like this now that things had changed so much.

Tony coughed and crumpled all the way over in the ash ridden sand.

“Hey I didn’t say you...me, we whatever- could die,” The younger version of himself cried in dismay and knelt next to him.

Tony just shook his head a little as the world fuzzed out of focus for a moment. The sooty sand felt nice and cool… soothing even,  against his cut and bleeding face.

“Did you not hear me? Please tell me I don’t go deaf!”

“Nah, no deafness,” Tony mumbled without lifting his head from the dirt.

It was so soft.

“Look we both know that Stark schedule books are total bullshit, but watching an older version of myself die a violent death by being impaled on his own weapon was really not on my list of things to do this week.”

Tony cracked a weak smile. He really was probably the biggest idiot in history.

Tony wanted to pull himself through this. He knew better than anyone that this would seriously screw with the younger him’s mind and give him all kinds of anxiety, and Tony really didn’t want to do that to himself. Anxiety sucked ass.

He didn’t want to traumatize his poor younger self but the wound in his side was bleeding so much, and the pain was so nauseating, and the dirt was so cool and soft, and the darkness behind his eyelids was so inviting.

Tony let his eyes close. Keeping them closed somehow got easier after every slowing heartbeat despite the desperate pleas from the younger him. Soon Tony couldn’t even hear himself anymore.

Chapter Text

Tony didn’t have the slightest clue what the hell he was going to do, nor what the hell was going to happen to him. He was pretty sure the impaled mirror image of himself laying on the ground in front of him was dead.

He had just died right in front of himself. The worst part was Tony didn’t even know how to react. He was lying dead on the ground in front of himself and he had no idea what to feel.

“So there are two of you. Fascinating.”

Tony turned to face Thanos.

“Well now there is really just one,” Thanos laughed in triumph.

Tony glared him down with all the fire he could force into his gaze. He let his emotions take over. He knew it would get him killed but he didn’t particularly care.

He leapt at the Titan who grabbed him around the throat and threw him to the ground. Tony coughed as the air was knocked from his body as he hit the ground.

“I will kill you, just like I did your predecessor. Except maybe this time I’ll have more fun with it,” Thanos sneered and brought his fist down hard as Tony struggled to get back up. The pain only added to his rage, “You can’t escape it.”

Tony felt his ribs crack as Thanos brought his foot down hard on his armored chest.

“What happens if I kill you here I wonder.”

Tony shoved at Thanos’s foot as he watched the Titan pick up the closest piece of metal and raise it above his head. Tony tried to sit up but was driven to the ground as the long pole was thrust through his shoulder.

“I told you there was no escape.”

The pressure on Tony’s chest was lifted. The relief only last for a brief moment before he was hoisted into the air by the spike impaling his shoulder. Pain ripped and tore at his shoulder as all of his wait was hung from it. He screamed in pain.

“I also said I’d I have fun.”

Thanos threw Tony to the ground. The metal shifted and tore deeper into him as he crashed into the ground next to the limp lifeless form of the older him. His eyes landed on the time travel device wrapped around the dead man’s hand.

He could fix this.

Chapter Text

Tony slapped the younger him’s shoulder.

“Don’t give yourself an aneurysm pal.”

Personally Tony was trying so very hard not to freak out himself. He had never even dreamed of meeting a younger version of himself. Sure he had made the tech to make it possible, but he hadn’t really fully quantified this.

The younger him opened his mouth like he was about to speak when the door to the room practically exploded open. Tony felt like he was about to pass out. The younger Tony did.

“You!” The new comer Tony pointed his bloody armored hand at Tony, “You’re plan doesn’t work.”

The man collapsed to his knees in the doorway, blood seeping out from between his armored fingers as they clutched his shoulder.

Tony jumped forward and slid to the ground next to the bleeding and beaten man.

“If I hadn’t just met that younger version of myself I would be very confused right now,” Tony said taking off his jacket and pushing it against the wound on the newest him’s shoulder.

“You can’t go to Titan.”

“We kind have too,” Tony replied with a grunt and tied his jacket around the other him’s shoulder.

“It doesn’t work. Trust me. I just came back from there.”

“Wait what?”

“If you two,” The beaten him waved his hand in the direction of the passed out him, “If you go there, You die, and he becomes me.”

Tony couldn’t help but move back in surprise ever so slightly.

“So then how do we-”

“I don’t know… maybe if all three of us go.”

Tony frowned, “You can’t fight in your condition…”

“Listen to me!” The younger him grabbed his shoulders frantically, “You can not use your plan-”

“I agree.”

Tony’s blood froze at the sound of Thanos’s voice behind him. Tony spun around to see the Titan grabbing the other younger him by head and forcing him to his knees.

“This really is not me… our well any of our day I suppose,” He babbled from where he knelt in Thanos’s feet..

“Silence pest.”

Tony flinched as Thanos tightened his grip on the man’s head causing him to scream.

“I’m curious what happens to you if he dies.”

“Don’t you fucking dare!” Tony cried.

“I think I will-”

“Not on my watch.”

Tony was quite surprised to see himself slam his elbow into the Titan’s groin. He was even more surprised when Thanos let out a grunt of pain and stumbled back a little and release the younger Tony from his grasp.

“Keep him occupied for like two minutes while I get my suit,” The younger Tony shouted as he sprinted away from the Titan.

Tony tapped his arc reactor and his suit engulfed him.

“Can you still fight?” He turned his concerned expression to the bleeding and battered man on the floor.

“Sure.. Why not?” He replied hauling himself to his feet.

 

Tony entered the room fully armored only to discover that there really wasn’t much of a room  left and that there was really only one future version of himself still in the fight. The one that had come in injured was crumpled against the far wall bleeding from his mouth. His chest moved in short uneven jerks.

“Take care of him!” The oldest future version of himself ordered as he roundhouse kicked Thanos.

“You can’t take him on your own!” Tony argued and ignored his order.

“You’re suit isn’t a match for him!”

“Well it’ll have to do,” Tony argued and slammed his fist under the Titan’s jaw.

“You are mere insects to me!” Thanos roared and wrapped his hand around Tony’s throat, “And I will crush you!”

His grip tightened.

“Insects have six legs! Do your math dipshit!”

Tony couldn’t help but smile at the older him’s quip.

A tabled smashed over Thanos’s head and he released Tony, but he still managed to kick him. Tony smashed into the wall. He was really beginning to wish they hadn’t sent the rest of the team away on a separate mission.

 

“I should have killed you years ago,” Thanos growled pinning Tony to the wall. “I should have killed you back on Titan.”

“Am I annoying you?” Tony quipped.

Out of the corner of his eye he spotted the younger him recovering from being thrown into the wall.

“I will smite you, and then I will wipe you out of existence.”

“Sounds scary,” Tony bantered.

The younger him leapt at Thanos. Tony thought for a brief moment that he would actually get his blow in, but his hope died as Thanos grabbed him out of the air and slammed him with sickening force down onto one of the metal table legs sticking up from the floor. The younger him let out a choked gag and grabbed at the piece of metal impaling his torso.

Time was up. If either of the younger Tony’s died than he would too. He was pretty sure that’s how this worked.

“What is that? Three in one day?” Tony growled and wrapped his fingers around the rim of the gauntlet.

“It’s about to be four,” Thanos growled.

“I wouldn’t count on it,” Tony roared and slammed both feet into Thanos’s chest with all his might. The Titan reeled backward.

His hand slipped out of the gauntlet.

Thanos froze and looked from his naked hand to the gauntlet now in Tony’s hand.

Tony opened his helmet and sipped the metal glove onto his arm.

“No!” Thanos roared and leapt at Tony.

It only took Tony a split second to make his decision.

He could have done a lot of things with the gauntlet, but he only did one thing, because when it all came boiling down there was only one thing to do. He wasn’t sure what it would do, but he was willing to take the risk.

Tony directed his full concentration on Thanos and he snapped his fingers. The universe went white.

 

A warm hand slid along Tony’s bare torso

“Wake up sleepy head,” Pepper’s warm lips pressed against Tony’s cheek as she whispered to him.

“What time is it?” Tony mumbled.

“Seven,” Pepper whispered.

“Why do I need to get up?” Tony groaned and nestled deeper into the bed.

He wanted to sleep. He loved sleep. He loved it far more than caffeine or really a whole lot of other things.

“Because we both have a meeting to go to.”

Tony only groaned and pulled the pillow over his head. He didn't want to go to his dumb consulting meeting where he sat and talked to a bunch of boring SHIELD agents about stupid things. Ten years and he was still a little pissed about not being brought officially into the Avengers Initiative. Consulting was boring.

“Gosh you are impossible!” Pepper laughed and pulled the pillow off his head.

“Fine, fine, fine,” Tony moaned and sat up.

“That’s it,” Pepper said sweetly and planted a kiss on his lips before she got out of bed.

A shirt hit Tony in the head.

“Come on dummy,” She called.

“Jarvis you wanna open the windows?” Tony called to the AI as he slipped into his black sabbath t-shirt.

The tint on the windows cleared revealing a sun rise coming up over the Atlantic. Tony liked his New York mansion better for the very purpose of the sun rises that he got. He liked it so much more than the sun sets he got in Malibu. This morning however Tony could not stay to watch the sun rise. He had things to do, so he turned his back on the sun as it rose on a new universe.

A universe where Thanos never existed.

Chapter Text

I Love You

 

Tony smiled down at the sleeping baby tucked in between him and his wife. She was the most beautiful thing he had ever seen.

“I love you Morgan,” was the first thing Tony said to his new born child.

 

Tony tucked the blankets around his daughter, and kissed the top of her head lovingly.

“I love you Morgan.”

The five year old sat up in bed a little and wrapped her tiny arms around his neck.

“I love you too daddy,” The child whispered as she planted a kiss on his cheek.

Tony smiled. He needed her to know that he loved her. He would do anything for her. He promised for not the first nor the last time that nothing would ever happen to her. Not as long as he lived and breathed.


“I’ll be back to pick you up around 5:00,” Tony said hugging his seven year old daughter goodbye.

“I know daddy,” She giggled hopping up and down excitedly.

“Have fun with your friend,” Tony ordered and poked Morgan’s nose.

“I will!”

“Alright, go on,” Tony directed.

Morgan didn’t waste a second running across the room to her best friend.

“I love you Morgan!” Tony called to her.

“Love you too!” Morgan called back as she dashed down the hall with her friend.

She stopped half way down the hallway and ran back. She leapt up and jumped into his arms and gave him a kiss on the cheek.

“Bye daddy,” She said with a beaming smile and slipped out of his arms. She ran back down the hallway with her friend.

Tony smiled smiled fondly and then turned his head to the parents of Morgan’s friend.

“Take care of her.”

“You know we always do.”

“Thanks,” Tony nodded and left their house.

He climbed into the car and stared at the door of the house. He glanced back at the empty car seat. Coming to a decision he pulled his phone out and called Steve.

“What’s up Stark?” The captain answered.

“I’m going to sit tonight’s mission out.”

“Alright, we’ll drop to plan B then,” Steve responded and then added, “You okay?”

Tony glanced at the door of the house he had just left, “Always.”

“Mhmm.”

Steve didn’t sound impressed or in the least convinced.

“Morgan’s on a play date, and Pepp’s at a meeting so I gotta be around,” Tony explained.

“Alright, well talk to you soon,” Steve chuckled, “Bye.”

“Mhmm,” Tony mumbled his response and hung up.

He started the car and hesitated; he made one last glance at the house before pulling out onto the road.

 

“Daddy?” Morgan’s frightened wail pulled Tony out of his sleep.

“I’m gonna go check on Morgan,” Tony whispered to Pepper and slipped out of bed. He trekked down the long hallway to Morgan's room, and found her sitting up in bed with tears streaming down her face. As soon as her eyes landed on him she dashed out of bed and wrapped her arms around him.

“What’s wrong sweety?” Tony asked leaning down and picking her up.

“I had a bad dream,” Morgan sobbed.

Tony couldn’t help but glare a little. He couldn’t protect her from those. He wished more than anything that he could.

“Do you want to talk about it?”

“No,” Morgan sniffled a little, “I know you’re safe now.”

Tony flinched a little. He worried about her so much that it had never occurred to him that she worried about him too.

“What happened sweetie?”

She only shook her head.

Tony sat down on her bed and tucked her close to him; he rubbed her back softly.

“I love you sweetie.”

“I know,” Morgan nestled closer to him, “I love you too.”

Tony smiled and kissed the top of her head.

 

“Dad, it is one week,” Morgan said with an eye roll as she stood near the bus.

“And a lot can happen in one week,” Tony replied still hugging his 14 year old daughter.

“I promise I’ll be safe,” Morgan whispered from where her head was pressed against his chest, “But only if you promise to be safe on all of your missions.”

Tony smiled and kissed the top of her head, she stopped fighting his hug, “I promise.”

“I’ll miss you dad.”

Tony smiled, “I’ll miss you too.”

“I should go,” Morgan pulled away from his hug.

“Alright, have fun.”

“I will!” Morgan called over shoulder as she skipped to the bus.

“I love you!” Tony called after her.

“I know!” Morgan called back as she swung onto the bus, her red hair swishing behind her.

“You are getting way better about goodbyes,” Pepper laughed and bumped Tony’s shoulder.

“Hmm,” Tony mumbled and watched the bus rumble to life.

“She’ll be fine,” Pepper whispered and tucked her hand into Tony’s.



“I don’t like him,” Tony stated resolutely.

His 16 year old daughter’s jaw dropped.

“What the hell dad?!” She cried angrily.

“Language!” Pepper called from the kitchen.

“Get over it!” Morgan called back to her mother.

“Hey!” Tony snapped and stood up angrily, “Watch how you talk to your mother!”

“What ever,” Morgan grumbled, “and as far as Jamie goes I don’t particularly give a fuck what you think of him.”

Tony raised an eyebrow.

“Don’t give me that look!” Morgan cried, “He is a good guy! Okay? Why don’t you trust me?”

“It’s not you don’t trust,” Tony replied sternly.

He trusted Jamie about as far as he could throw him. Which wasn’t far considering the football player’s size.

“Okay well, trust my trust in him,” Morgan reasoned.

“Look kiddo-”

“Dad! I am sixteen! I am not a kid anymore!” Morgan shouted.

Tony forced back his own shout and took a deep breath.

“Look I have been around a lot longer than you have, and trusted a lot of people I shouldn’t have-”

“Do not drop that card with me!” Morgan roared, “This isn’t a multi billion dollar company! Everyone isn’t out to get me!”

“No! But dudes are ass holes, and that guy screams bad vibes!” Tony raised his voice more than he meant to.

“Oh! And you would know all about that wouldn’t you!?”

“What the hell is that supposed to mean?” Pepper piped up coming out of the kitchen throwing a towel over her shoulder.

Morgan seemed to realize she was now out number and backed toward the stairs to her room.

“Well it doesn’t matter what you think of him, because we are going to prom whether you like it or not!” Morgan shouted and dashed up the stairs. Tony rushed up the stairs after her. This needed to be discussed.

“Hey! This conversation isn’t over!” Tony shouted.

Morgan’s door slammed in his face.

Tony slipped his hands in his pocket uncomfortably.

“Morgan?”

“Go away dad.”

“We need to discuss this.”

“Go. Away.”

“Come on Tony, give her some space,” Pepper whisper rubbing his back, “She’s gotta figure somethings out on her own.”

“I know, but isn’t it my job to protect her?” Tony replied.

“We’ll cross that bridge if things get that far,” Pepper responded and kissed his cheek, “Let’s go to bed.”

She slipped down the hallway.

Tony stood and stared at Morgan’s door for a lot longer than he meant to.

“I love you Morgan.”

“What ever!” Morgan growled from the other side of the door.

Tony hunched his shoulders and headed to his room.

Did she believe him? Did he show her enough? Or did she just think it was words with no meaning?



“I fucking hate him!”

Tony looked up in surprise as Morgan exploded into the house and threw her corsage at the wall.

“What happened?” Tony asked moving to stand up.

“He fucking dumped me!” Morgan shouted, “And save the “I told you so” bull shit!”

Morgan didn’t wait for Tony’s response before storming away to her room. Tony frowned after her. He hadn’t been going to say I told so. He had planned on being there for her. Now he was kind of debating beating up a minor. Dumping someone at prom was a dick move.

Tony wished Pepper was home as he made his trek up the stairs. She was better at this kind of thing. He was not the best with the after break up talk. Back in the day it had usually been his break ups, and Pepper his wonderful P.A. at the time had talked him through them like a champ. Maybe if he could remember how she had done it he could actually have this conversation with some small amount of success.

Tony hesitated before wrapping his fist against the door softly.

“Go away dad,” Morgan shouted bitterly from her room.

“No Morgan. I am not going to go away.”

“Please?”

“Not happening,” Tony responded.

“Dad! Come on!”

“Nope.”

“Gah! You are unbearable!”

“Well I’m also your dad so you’ll have to get over it.”

“Dad! Seriously!”

“Morgan,” Tony softened his voice, “Can I please come in?”

“Fine.”

Tony entered her room and found her curled comfortably in the corner of her bed.He walked across the room and slid into the bed next to her. He wrapped his arm around her shoulders and tucked her close. She was almost taller than him now, but that didn’t matter.  He would always hold her when she needed it.

“I should have listened to you,” Morgan sobbed.

Tony knew that already, but he kept quiet. Saying something would be unwise here.

“He dumped me and instantly moved on to some bitch!” Morgan hissed.

Tony snorted.

“Do I need to vaporize him?”

“That would be nice, but I like having you around and not in prison,” Morgan sniffled and smiled up at him through her tears.

“That’s good. General rule of thumb I try not vaporize people.”

“But you’d do it for me?”

Tony nodded.

“Thanks dad.”

“Anything for my baby girl.”

Morgan didn’t protest to this, she only leaned a little closer to him.

“I love you kiddo.”

“I know dad.”

Tony grinned. He was glad she knew. He didn’t need her growing up like him.



Morgan headed to her apartment after a long day at work and turned her phone on to see the daily missed call from her dad. She smiled fondly and played the voicemail. His voicemails were the highlight of her day. She knew she should try to make room in her busy schedule to call him, but it was to late at night now.

She hadn’t actually talked to him in ages.

“Hey kiddo, just calling to check in. Hope you’re having a good day. Also just thought I’d let you know I have a mission tomorrow, but don’t worry about me. I’ll be fine. And as always I love you.”

Morgan frowned and turned off her phone. He sound more tired than usual, and he was going on a mission. For not the first time Morgan was reminded of why she had left home so early. She knew it was stupid and mistake, but she was tired of seeing her dad hurt. She was tired of his determination to keep playing super hero. He was getting old, too old. She had left home to escape her fear for him, or at least try to escape.



Tony pulled himself off the jagged piece of steal, gagging in pain as it tore at his body. He bit back a scream as he stumbled back. The massive robot grabbed him by the back of the neck and threw him to the ground. He cried out in pain as he smashed into the ground. Blood oozed thicker from the wound in his side.

“Down to back up reserves,” Friday said helpfully.

“Guy’s where the fuck are you?” Tony coughed into the coms.

“We’re coming as fast we can Stark. Just hang in there,” Carol was the first to respond.

The timer on the robot’s chest was running out fast.

“We’re out time,” Tony growled hauling himself to his feet just as the robot slammed into him. The pain in his torso ignited and he screamed in pain as the robot’s shoulder slammed into the wound.

“Stark you know the plan!” Steve shouted.

“This thing is about to blow,” Tony grunted and wrapped his hand the robot’s throat.

“Tony don’t you fucking dare!”

Tony flinched at the sound of his wife’s panicked cry.

“We’re almost there!” She pleaded.

“And we are out of time,” Tony choked and launched himself and the robot into the air.

He ignored the blood pounding out of the wound and streaming down his torso. He ignore the robot as it tore at his armor with its jagged claws. Everything would be okay as long as it didn’t damage his already dying arc. They climbed higher into the sky. He had to get as high up as possible before it detonated. He ignored the robot as it’s claws tore through the suit, and into his skin.

“Pepp?”

“Tony I am coming for you okay,” Pepper cried.

“You know I love you…”

“Shut up Tony. You aren’t dying.”

“Pepper?” Tony mumbled around the blood filling his throat.

“I know Tony. I love you to, but seriously I almost there. You’ll be fine.”

“Do me favor.”

“No you’ll be fine!” Pepper’s cry cut deeper than the claws tearing him open.

“Tell Morgan I love her.”

Tony glanced at the timer on the robot’s chest.

:03

He hurled it upward as hard as he could.

:02

His suit died.

:01

He fell back toward the Earth.

:00

Darkness folded over him.



Morgan glanced at her phone as she left work. There was no message. She frowned. There was always a message. Her dad always left her a message. Fear shot up her spine like a bolt of lighting. He had had a mission today. She was in the process of typing in her password when her phone rang. Her father’s picture showed up on the screen.

“Hey dad you kind of scared the-”

“Morgan.”

Morgan stopped at the sound of her mother’s voice. There was something horribly off about it. So terribly wrong.

“Mom? Why are you on dad’s phone?”

“That’s not important sweetie-”

“Where is dad? Is he okay?”

“Honey I think you should come to St. Joseph’s hospital-”

“Mom is dad okay?” Morgan demanded fear rising in her tone.

“I’ll explain everything when you get here.”

 

“Where the hell is dad?!” Morgan demanded as she exploded into the hospital waiting room. She was met by Rhodey.

“Morgan you-”

“No! Where the fuck is dad!” Morgan shouted.

“You can’t see him yet,” Rhodey said softly.

“Try and fucking stop me!” Morgan shouted and pushed past her father’s best friend.

Out of the corner of her she spied the team. Carol Danvers had her face buried in her hands; the woman never looked that defeated.

With new fear rising in her guy Morgan pressed on.

“Morgan you can’t go back there yet!” Rhodey protested as she pushed through the double doors that lead to the ICU.

Her eyes went straight to her mother who was standing by a door talking to a small group of doctor’s. There. Her father was in that room. She slipped around the doctors and her mother so fast none of them caught her, and she pushed into the room and stopped dead, breath catching in her throat. Her father lay unconscious in the bed. His entire torso and chest was wrapped thickly in bandages. Red had soaked through them. Morgan coughed and choked on her own surprise. There were so many IV’s and machines hooked up to him that she couldn’t even begin to put together what things did what, and what cords led to what machines and bags of fluids.

Tears stabbed at her eyes as she approached her father. His chest rose and fell in short jerking movements. He looked very… old. Older than she could have ever possibly imagined him looking.

Morgan slid into the chair next to him and scooted very close. She brushed a gentle hand against his pale face.

“Oh dad…” She muttered, “What were you thinking?”

She looked over her father’s very broken body.

“What were you thinking…”

She knew what he had been thinking. He had been doing what he always did. He had been saving people. Like he always did. Morgan wished for once he hadn’t. She wished that for once he had been selfish, for his sake and hers.

There had once been a time when she still hoped that he would retire and hang up the suits before something like this happened to him. She had wanted his retirement to be a choice, but she knew, even before now, that he would either do this until it killed him, or until he physically could not handle it. Looking over him now Morgan couldn’t tell which this would be. She glanced over to the machine beeping with reassuring steadiness. She half expected the lines to stop and go flat.

Tony Stark’s 24 year old daughter slipped her hand into his and brought it to her face. She ignored the IV running into it as she pressed it against her tear soaked cheek.

She kissed his warm hand. The hand that had held her and kept her safe her entire life. The strong hand that guided to the life she led now. She squeezed his hand. It was her turn to be strong for him. She would hold onto him and never let him go.

Morgan leaned forward and tucked her head next to her father’s warm body. She pulled his hand close to her and closed her eyes. She let her mind drift back to the long past days where he would hold her in his strong arms. She let herself dwell in that warm memory as she lay tucked against his side. She finally found it in herself to say something that she had not said in a very long time.

“I love you dad.”

Chapter Text

“Mr. Stark you’ll be okay,” Peter forced himself to lie as he held his injured mentor in his arms.

Tony just nodded a little.

“Okay… Pete… whatever you say…”

“You can’t leave me,” Peter sobbed.

Tony reached up and ruffled Peter’s hair.

“See ya kid,” A weak smile dashed across Tony’s bloody face.

It was there, and for a second, for an instant Peter had hope. For a flash he thought his mentor would make it. As quickly as it came the feeling left, and the hollow space it left behind was filled tears and despair.

The smile faded from his father’s face, and his hand slipped away from Peter’s head. Peter didn’t say anything. He couldn’t say anything. There was nothing. Nothing but the tears that came spilling down his face. Peter clung tight to Tony’s limp bloody body and wailed. His wails echoed through the cold night air. They echoed off the empty warehouses.

His cries could not save what had been lost, they could not heal what had been broken, so they didn’t, but they, with the wind, carried a soul home…

They carried it to the stars.

Chapter Text

The blood and pain stopped.

The cries stopped.

It all stopped.

 

Tony opened his eyes to a white eternity. For the first time in a very long time he felt peaceful, and all the pain was gone.

“Well, he did better than both of us,” A voice echoed through the vast whiteness.

Tony sat up to see who had spoken.

“That is sadly not saying much.”

The voices came from two men sitting at a small white table that  somehow still showed up against the white behind it.

“What is this?” Tony was surprised with how well his voice carried.

The two men looked up from their game of cards and stood up.

“I think you already know the answer to that.”

They took one step and then they were there. Standing above him. They both looked familiar. So, so, SO familiar.

“Why am I here? I need to be back. I need to be with Peter.”

Both of the men shook their heads solemnly.

“We did too.”

Tony narrowed his eyes in confusion.

“No! You don’t understand! I am his father!”

“So were we.”

“WHAT?" Tony demanded.

The younger of the two men smiled sadly and extended his hand down to Tony.

“I am Richard Parker.”

“That’s not- No! That would mean-” Tony trailed off as he stared into the man’s eyes.

“I am. And this is my brother Ben.”

“But-” Tony protested.

The only explanation here was that he was dead. He couldn’t be dead. His son needed him.

“It’s true,” The other man, Ben, said.

“But I can’t leave Peter! He needs me!”

“I’m sorry Tony,” Richard spoke softly and hauled Tony to his feet.

“You don’t understand! I can’t leave him!” Tony knew even as he spoke it that these two men were the only ones who truly understood.

“I’m sorry Tony.”

“It’s too late. There’s no way back.”

“No.” Tony protested.

Both of the men stopped and turned to faced each other.

“I said no. I can not die. I can not leave him. I won’t.”

“Believe me we all wish that was true-”

“It is!” Tony shouted. A black crack cracked across the endless white sky.

Richard and Ben looked from the crack to Tony, and back up at the crack.

They looked at each other. Hope flashed in their sad gazes.

“Going back isn’t possible,” Ben pinned Tony with a look of mischief.

“I have to!” Tony shouted.

“Tony you are already dead. You helped our son. You saved him. Now you get to rest,” Richard replied.

“I don’t care if I get to rest!” Tony screamed, “I need to go back!”

The crack in the sky widened.

“There is no way back,” Ben Parker insisted.

“There is! And I will find it!” Tony shouted louder.

Sharp pain exploded in his abdomen and he fell on his hands and knees.

“Peter needs me…”

Pain slammed into his back. He cried in pain.

“He- he needs me…” Tony squinted up at the two men.

They knelt down in front of him and each rested a hand on his shoulders. He coughed and something black that probably should have been blood splattered on the ground.

Tony grimaced as waves of pain seized his body.

“Thank you Tony,” Ben whispered.

“Thank you for doing what neither of us could.”

Tony convulsed. Black flooded his vision. A crack opened up beneath him and swallowed him. With the black came stomach turning waves of pain.

The black gave way to cold blurred light, and strangely familiar shapes.

Chapter Text

Tony’s body jerked in Peter’s arms and the man uttered a gut wrenching cough. Blood clotted out of his mouth as he convulsed.

Peter lifted his head.

“Mr. Stark?!” He almost screamed his father’s name, “Stay with me!”

Peter pulled the man’s broken bleeding body closer to him.

“Help is almost here Mr. Stark! PLEASE! Please don’t leave me again! Please!” Peter wailed.

Had the man even been dead? Or had he just passed out? Peter had been sure he was gone. How was he moving again?

Peter decided it didn’t matter because Tony was alive. He was fighting. He was trying to stay.

“Please,” Peter forced his broken whisper out as he cradled Tony’s head close to him.

A light appeared in the sky, and the air was filled with the roar of helicopter propellers.

“I made it…” Tony mouthed. Red slipped from his lips.

“Yes! Just a little longer! You have to do it!” Peter held Tony so tight he could feel the rise and fall of the man’s chest, and it didn’t stop. Not a second time.

The helicopter landed a few feet away. Tony would be fine. Help was here.

Chapter Text

At 72 hours of no sleep hallucinations may occur, along with hallucinations one may start experiencing paranoia. Tony Stark always thought that those things only applied to normal people. It has been 112 hours since he has slept, and for once in his life he is wrong about something.

 

“How the hell are you here!” Tony cried in dismay and grabbed the closest weapon he could (a screwdriver) and pointed it defensively at the slowly advancing Obadiah Stane, “You’re dead!”

“And you are about to be,” Stane said coldly, “Yet here we are. Talking.”

“No!” Tony cried, “This isn’t possible! It’s a trick.”

“No it isn’t,” Stane examined his fingernails as he walked closer to Tony, “I actually just came here from a chat with your friends.”

“That’s not-” Tony blustered.

This couldn’t be happening. Stane was dead. He. Was. Dead.

But maybe he wasn’t. He was here after all.

“I told them everything you did…”

“What do you mean…?” Tony choked.

“I told them about all the people who are dead because of your company.”

“But that wasn’t my fault!” Tony cried, “I stopped it when I knew what has happening! When I knew what you were doing!”

“That doesn’t matter Tony. They hate you now. They actually sent me here to give you a gift.”

Tony took a terrified step back and almost fell over as Stane produced one of Natasha’s hand guns from his suit jacket.

“No!” Tony held out his hands defensively, “Please don’t… please can I just- talk, let’s talk about this.”

“Oh Tony, there is nothing to talk about,” Stane gave him a very fake smile.

“Please…” Tony whimpered.

A deafening bang echoed through the lab. Tony staggered back in shock and crumpled to the ground taking various trays down with him.

“What’did you… do…” Tony sputtered as red began to spread across his chest.

“What should have been done a long time ago.”

 

Tony found himself alone in the lab. He didn’t try moving. Not yet. He didn’t dare look down at the blood that he knew was spreading across his chest. He stayed where he was.

They already think you’re a monster.

Tony jerked his head up to see where the voice had come from.

And they are monsters too.

Panicked Tony clawed himself to his feet with the assistance of the counter. The blood on his shirt had vanished along with the pain. He didn’t care why the bullet wound was gone. He only cared about the voice speaking to him.

And they will come for you.

Tony’s gaze darted around the lab. Was the voice in his head?

They will try and kill you.

Tony gave up on finding the voice. Was it even a voice or was it more just a deep knowledge making itself known?

Tony decided to listen to it.

You have to act first, or we will die.

We?

You will die if you don’t act first.

Tony believed the voice in his head.



Rhodey knew the second he walked into the lab that something was horribly off about Tony.

“Hey Tones,” Rhodey said casually and walked into the room.

“Please leave,” Tony rasped in response. His voice was angry and dry. Dangerous.

“Tones when was the last you slept.”

“It doesn’t matter,” Tony growled.

“Yes it does.”

“Leave!” Tony shouted.

“Not until you get some sleep,” Rhodey insisted.

Tony spun around and glared Rhodey down with angry, dark, bloodshot eyes. He lifted the armor gauntlet on his right hand.

“I wasn’t kidding Rhodes. Get out.”

Rhodey took a surprised step back.

“Tony have you been drinking?”

“Now Colonel,” Tony hissed, and the gauntlet hummed.

“Alright buddy. You win. I’m going,” Rhodey lifted his hands and slowly backed out of the lab.

As soon as the doors closed Rhodey turned on his heels and bolted toward where all the Avengers were gathered, relaxing. He had thought that this scenario had just been a hypothetical that Tony had told him about. Just one unneeded thing to worry about and have a contingency for. Rhodey had never actually thought that Tony would actually go this far.

“Guys we have code gold,” Rhodey almost shouted as he slid into the living area.

Bruce and Natasha were on their feet in a second.

“Are you sure?” Bruce demanded.

“He just threatened to blast me with a gauntlet, so yeah. I am pretty damn sure,” Rhodey snapped. Steve and Thor got up now. Peter just gave them all a confused look.

“What’s a code gold?” The teen asked with a great deal of worry lacing his voice.

“It’s where Tony out does himself in one way or another, whether it be drinking or sleep deprivation, and he becomes a danger to himself and others,” Natasha explained.

“What do mean a danger?”

Natasha ignored the question and turned back to Rhodey, “How bad?”

“I’m pretty sure he isn’t just sleep deprived,” Rhodey said hesitantly.

The smell of liquor had been lingering in the lab.

“How far gone do you think he is?” Steve asked.

“He still recognized me, and he warned me to leave before he threatened me.”

Rhodey really wasn’t sure.

“Bruce do you think making him sleep could fix the problem?” Steve asked turning to the very nervous doctor.

“It should, I think.”

“So we just need a plan to sedate him?” Clint asked, “That’s simple!”

“Unless he gets in a suit,” Rhodey replied, “But yes, we need to sedate him.”

 

Tony stuck the needle in his arm, and injected the glowing orange liquid into it. He clenched his teeth as it burned his veins. It would stop a lot of things. Primarily pain and any attempt to sedate him with something. He was about to do what no other advanced individual had ever done before. He was going to take on the Avengers, and he was going to win.

 

The team had yet to tell Peter what was going on, and why exactly they were all suiting up. He knew it had something to with Tony being really sleep deprived, and also drunk, maybe? Nobody was really telling him things, they just told him not be afraid to fight him if he attacked. This really concerned Peter. He didn’t want to fight his father. They had also warned him not to pull his punches. That scared him even more. He didn’t want to hurt his mentor.

“Someone needs to call Pepper. I think we’ll need her here for this,” Steve ordered.

“You know guys I don’t think that is going to work.”

Everyone in the armory froze. Peter’s blood ran cold at the sound of Tony’s cold gravelly voice.

“See the tech in this building listens to me,” Tony said with a sardonic laugh and snapped his fingers, “Clint? How much do you like your explosive arrows?”

Tony winked.

“Shit!” Clint shouted as his quiver began to beep, “You son of a bitch!”

The archer hurled his quiver full of arrows at the armored figure standing in the doorway.

“Every one down!”

The team dove into action. Peter jumped behind the closest shelf just as a deafening boom shook the room. Searing heat scorched the room. Peter bit back as scream of fear. Ringing filled his ears, and smoke poured into his throat with every breath. He choked.

“Come on kid,” Steve hissed and strong hand grabbed around his arm and yanked him along.

They broke out of the back door of the armory and out into fresh air. Peter’s vision cleared in clean air. Steve dragged him along behind him as they ran full speed down the hallway. Close behind them were Clint and Natasha.

Where were Thor and Bruce?

The question was answered by lighting crackling from smoke belching armory. Something else exploded from with in the room, and a roar followed.

The Hulk had joined the fray.

 

Everything was going just as Tony had planned. He had successfully gotten Bruce off the field. Bruce was the only one smart enough to come up with a real plan to stop him, and he was now of play due to the Hulk’s appearance. Tony shot a tank missile at Thor, who barely flinched as it detonated in his face. Thor was a problem. He needed to focus on the god. What he really needed was the god killer. Tony let a long blade extend from his hand. The sword would work for now. The other suit was in bound.

Tony leapt at Thor, but a massive green fist slammed into him and smashed him through the wall of the compound.

“Come on guys, I would really prefer to do this with the smallest mess possible,” Tony reasoned from where he hung in the air surveying the damage to the side of his building.

Hulk exploded out the wall and leapt straight for him.

“Wow. You completely ignored me,” Tony grumbled and moved to the side. Hulk sailed past him and smashed into the ground below, “Really? you ‘re going to to tear up the grass too?!”

Tony looked up just in time to see Thor’s hammer right before it drilled him in the chest and drove toward the ground. Tony smashed into the ground with jarring force. He coughed and tried to sit up but the hammer remained planted firmly on his chest. Hulk let out a roar and beat the ground with his fists.

“Woah there buddy!” Tony held out a hand to try and stay the beast, “You don’t have to smash me!”

Panic rose in Tony’s throat as Hulk charged roaring in rage.

“Fuck.Fuck.Fuck.Fuck!” Tony tried to yank the hammer off his chest, “VERONICA!”

Hulk leapt in the air. A flash of red and gold blasted past him and collided with the Hulk.

“Friday open the top of the suit,” Tony ordered.

He was half way out of the suit when Thor stepped down next to him and picked up his hammer.

“Do not even fucking think about it!” Tony hissed.

“You need to get it together Stark,” Thor growled.

“Yeah whatever,” Tony gave the god a toothy smile at the sight of god slayer creeping up behind him. The suit lifted a very large piece of metal and slammed into Thor. The god went flying. Tony laughed and pulled himself the rest of the way out of his suit. God slayer wrapped itself around him just as Hulk ripped the hulk buster’s head off.

“Dick move buddy!” Tony cried angrily.

Hulk threw its head at him. Tony expertly ducked, but Hulk followed the head toss up with a punch that Tony did not see coming. The fist slammed into his torso and sent him reeling backward. A thick hand crushed around his legs and yanked him off the ground. Hulk swung him into the ground, and his helmet smashed into the cement.

 

“Clint do you still have that arrow?” Steve asked as they burst out onto the roof.

“Yes I do,” Clint said already fashioning the sedative tipped arrow to his bow.

“And you know where a safe place to shoot him is?” Natasha questioned.

Clint nodded. He knew the human body, and placement of arteries and organs like the back of his hand. He knew exactly where to shoot.

“You can’t shoot Mr. Stark!” Peter cried in dismay, “What if the shot doesn’t line up!?”

“The shot always lines up kid,” Clint assured him and fit the arrow to his quiver.

He crept to the edge of the roof. Far below Hulk was smashing the hell out of Tony.

“Hulk I need a clear shot,” Clint hissed into the encrypted communications link.

Hulk obediently tossed Tony into the air. The man’s jet boosters immediately jumped into action. Tony hovered in the air above Hulk. Clint honed in on the man’s right shoulder and took very careful aim. He loosed the arrow. Tony moved upward at the last second. The arrow wedged itself into his side just above the metal plates guarding just above his hip.

“Shit!” Clint cried in dismay.

“What?!” Peter screamed.

“Shot didn’t line up,” Clint hissed, “Oh! Damn it, more shit!”

Stark gripped the arrow. He didn’t have the normal demeanor of someone who had just been shot in the upper hip with an arrow. He mostly just seemed as annoyed as he yanked it out of his side.

Clint loaded another arrow.

“You can’t shoot him again!” Peter cried.

Tony began flying toward them.

“Clint?” Steve questioned as the metal man rocketed toward them.

Clint clenched his teeth and loaded the arrow to the bow. He knew where to shoot so it wouldn’t do any permanent damage, but it would also take Stark down. He didn’t want to take the shot. It was risky, but it needed to be done.

 

Tony could barely feel the blood dripping down his side, and he couldn’t feel where the arrow had stuck in him either. The arrow had told Tony two thing, the first was that the anti-pain stuff really worked, and the other was that the Avengers were indeed trying to kill him. He dove toward the archer who loosed an arrow. Tony rolled gracefully to the side and landed on the roof.

“Tony we don’t want to fight you,” Steve said and took a step toward Tony.

Tony stepped back and instictivly blasted an energy beam at Steve.

Kill them first.

Captain America managed to roll out of the way.

“Tony you just need to sleep,” Steve said in a calm tone.

Never sleep. They want to cage you. Sleep is a cage.

Tony blasted Steve again, and this time he was to slow. The Captain smashed into an air conditioning unit and lay still.

“Stark! Stand the fuck down!”

Tony whorled around to face Clint who had an arrow drawn and trained on him.

“If you do not stand down I swear I will shoot you again.”

“Mr. Stark please.”

Tony turned his head to see Peter inching toward him. The worst betrayal of all. Stane had turned his own son against him. Tony thought that maybe he would allow his son to live. Maybe the boy’s mind could still be changed.

“Please listen to Mr. Clint,” The boy reasoned and inched closer to him.

“Back up kid,” Tony order and lifted a gauntlet in warning.

He didn’t want to hurt the kid, but he would if he got to close.

“Hey! Drop that glove now!” Fear spiked in Clint’s tone.

Tony raised his other glove and pointed at Clint.

“Stark I swear I will shoot you again! And you won’t brush this one off!”

Peter took another step forward. In surprise at the advance Tony fire his repulsors. Clint loosed his arrow.

 

Rhodey really hoped the team was handling Tony okay. He hated being the one to have to leave, but someone needed to get Pepper VERY quickly before everyone ended up dead. Rhodey was pretty sure she was the only one who could turn Tony around at this point.

 

Pepper was almost grateful when the doors to her meeting room were smashed open. She would have been grateful had a fully armored James Rhodes not stepped into the room.

He never did this. NEVER. Something was wrong.

“James what happened?!” Pepper demanded and rushed to Rhodey’s side. She ignored the angry shouts from the board.

Rhodey opened his mask to reveal his very concerned face.

“Code…” Rhodey panted, “Gold.”

It only took Pepper a split second to register.

“I’ll be back to deal with you people in a few days,” Pepper turned her attention briefly to the board and then excited the room tugging Rhodey behind her. She would probably need a few days to clean up the mess she knew they were making.

 

Chapter Text

A massive green fist pounded into Tony’s head and slammed his head back into the dirt. A low throbbing pain was starting to work its way into Tony’s body. Primarily in his shoulder and his hip where he had been shot.

The fist hit him again.

Tony’s nose made a sickening pop sound. He tried to fight back against the hulk’s pounding fist but he could barely force himself to move.

“Bruce get out of here!”

A crystal clear voice cut through the air and the Hulk stood down.

Tony pulled himself out of the crater he was smashed into. Pain throbbed into his hip as he stood, and looked into the sky where Pepper floated gracefully. Anger and panic flooded into Tony. How had Stane gotten to her? How had he changed her mind? She had been right there for his worst.

“What did he do to you?” Tony croaked as his wife landed a few feet away from him.

“No one did anything to me,” Pepper said soothingly and stepped out of her suit.

She’s lying!

No. Pepper wouldn’t lie to him.

She is going to kill you.

No. Pepper wouldn’t do that.

A wave of tiredness and pain washed over Tony. He faltered where he stood.

Weak! Don’t give up now! They’ll kill you if you sleep.

Tony ignore the voice in his head and opened his helmet.

“I didn’t- They were going to kill me…” Tony whimpered softly and sank to his knees.

Pepper caught him before he fell over all the way.

Fight!

No. He was done.

Tony leaned forward and tucked his head into the crook of Pepper’s neck. He didn’t care if she killed him. He wasn’t going to fight her.



Tony seemed to melt into Pepper arms.

“Shh, no one’s going to hurt you anymore,” Pepper soother and ran her hands through Tony’s greasy wet curls, “You’re safe.”

“Please don’t kill me…” Tony mumbled into her shoulder.

“Never,” Pepper said sternly and hugged him closer.

His plea for her to let him live cut deeper than she was willing to admit. Had his paranoia really gone that far that he thought they wanted him dead? Or had his mind made up something that he thought he deserved?

‘Please don’t…” Tony sobbed again.

Pepper frowned and hugged his armored body a little closer.

“You’re okay Tony,” Pepper breathed into his ear, “No one is going to hurt you anymore.”

Tony’s shoulders heaved.

“Sssh, baby I got you, you’re safe now. You can rest now,” Pepper whispered and rubbed the back of his sweaty head.

Tony relaxed in her arms and drooped. Pepper cradled her now sleeping husband close to her. Her eyes went to the small holes in his armor that were leaking small droplets of blood and she narrowed her eyes and pinned Clint down with a glare that could melt through a wall.

“What the FUCK did you do?!”

She let herself take in the full damage of everything around her. She glared at all of the Avengers.

“WHAT THE FUCK DID YOU DIP SHITS DO?”



 “Please don’t strangle Clint,” Bruce reasoned from where he was dressing Pepper’s unconscious husband’s shoulder, “Neither of the arrows went very deep at all, and neither of them were very close at all to anything vital.”

“He still shot him!” Pepper fumed from where she stood watching Bruce, “TWICE.”

“Pepper I know you are pissed but if Clint hadn’t have shot him the second time he probably would have killed Peter.”

“How the hell did this even happen?” Pepper asked absently, and ran her quivering hand through her hair, “I go on a business trip for one week and this shit happens.”

“Sleep deprivation,” Bruce replied and pressed the bandaging into place on Tony’s shoulder, “And he was drunk.”

"How did you people let it get this far?!"

"Tony is good at hiding things."

Pepper snorted.

The doctor pointed to a chart on the table next to Tony.

Pepper frowned down at her husband's brain scans.

“Is there a way of telling which came first?”

“From the blood tests he hasn’t had alcohol in his blood stream for very long. I’d say it’s what tipped him over the edge.”

Pepper frowned and turned her gaze back to her resting husband. He was okay now. Resting. He suddenly flinched. Pepper yanked her head up to look at Bruce.The doctor nodded down to the needle he had stuck in Tony’s arm.

“IV,” He explained briefly, “Get his fluid back up to standard.”

When Bruce left the room, Pepper pulled herself in bed next to Tony. She would yell at the team for how poorly they had handled the situation later. Right now she needed to make sure Tony felt safe even while he slept. He nestled close to her as she tucked her arm around him.

“You’re safe Tones,” She whispered and planted a kiss on his cheek.

A ghost of a smile flitted across his face.

 

Chapter Text

“Stark! Get down!” Steve dove and tackled Tony to the ground just as a massive bomb exploded and shook the building. Pieces of rock crumbled down on top of them. Steve had seen the first one coming, but he hadn’t expected the second bomb that went off below them. Before there was anything he or Tony could do they were crashing through the floor of the abandoned Hydra warehouse. His head slammed to a piece of rubble and everything went black.

 

Steve recovered consciousness with gasp. Thick smoke and dust raked at his throat sending him into a fit of coughs that only drew in more dust and smoke, causing more coughs. Steve struggled and finally after a painstakingly long time managed to regain his composure.  Black smoke filled the air making it nearly impossible to see anything other than the red flames liking up the walls and around the collapsed ceiling above.

“Stark!?” Steve shouted as loud as the thick air would allow. Another fit of coughing raked through him as the smoke seared his lungs, “Stark where are you!”

Steve looked desperately around trying to set  eyes on the red and gold suit through the thick smoke. Something hot and flaming crumbled from the ceiling and crashed down few feet from Steve. He hopped back and tripped. He fell a few feet from a pile of rubble. His face landed a few inches from red armored hand poking out of the pile of collapse ceiling pieces.

“Shit!” Steve swore and hauled himself up. Tony’s hand was the only thing visible under the pile of rock. More pieces of ceiling fell, and the building groaned. He needed to get them both out of here before the whole thing came down.

Even with his super strength, removing the rubble proved difficult. The Iron Man suit appeared to be damaged beyond all repair. The arc reactor flickered dangerously. Steve hoped it was just the one in the suit.

“Stark, come on you gotta wake up,” Steve tapped on the man’s helmet. He didn't respond. More flaming debris crashed down from the ceiling. He didn't have time for this. Steve threw one of Tony’s arms over his shoulder and hauled him up. The suit was heavier than he had expected. Staggering under Tony’s weight Steve hauled him toward the glowing red exit sign.

He pushed on the door but it refused to budge.

“Son of a bitch,” Steve swore and kicked it. Tony let out a quiet moan, “Hang in there buddy. I’ll get us out of here.”

Steve let Tony slip to the ground next to the wall. He threw his whole body weight against the door, pain jolted his body as it slammed against it. The door barely opened.

“Come on!” Steve growled throwing himself at the door a second time. It screeched open a little farther.

The thick air was getting harder and harder to breathe in. An unwelcome wave of drowsiness washed over Steve.

“COME ON!!” Steve threw himself against the door with so much force it broke off its hinges and crashed open. Steve hit the cold snowy ground outside with a gasp of shock. He gasped in the freezing clean air. The building groaned, and Steve was on a his feet in a second rushing back into the smoke barfing building. He hauled Tony onto his shoulder and dragged him outside back into the frigid outside air.

“Rogers?”

“What is it Tony?” Steve hauled him a little farther from the structurally unstable building.

“We need to find cover… there are three helicopters inbound and they aren't friendlies…” Tony panted from with in his suit.

“Let’s get to the jet,” Steve said and angled himself toward the jet.

As he spoke a missile hissed through the air and hit the jet. The shock wave threw them to the ground in a heap. Tony let out a cry of pain.

“Where are you hurt?” Steve demanded rolling Tony over onto his back.

“Doesn't matter right now,” Tony gasped, “we gotta get to cover, and I gotta ditch this thing.”

“Shouldn’t we keep it?” Steve questioned. Tony must have hit his head pretty hard, because the Tony he knew would never dream of ditching a suit when it was still somewhat salvageable.

“No, it’ll make it easier for them to track us,” As the man spoke the suit peeled away. Revealing just how bloodied Tony was.

“Oh shit,” Steve couldn't hold back his gasp. A jagged shard of metal was wedged in Tony’s abdomen just below the right side of his rib cage.

“Rogers quit gawking! We gotta move!” Tony’s shout snapped Steve out of his shocked stare, “Give me hand will you?”

Steve pulled Tony’s arm over his shoulder and helped him hurriedly toward the woods. He could hear the helicopters that Tony had warned him about now.

 

They made it about 40 feet into the woods and then Tony seemed to just give out. Steve almost toppled over at the sudden increase of weight on his shoulder.

“Damn it Tony,” Steve swore slowly lowering him to the ground at the base of a tree. His head drooped forward and rested on his chest. Blood streamed in a sluggish trickle from his hairline, and dripped at a relatively steady pace out of his nose. Still the most concerning thing was the large shard of metal buried in the man’s side. Steve pulled out the ace bandage that he kept with him. It wouldn't do much but could help slow the bleeding. Hot blood seeped in between his fingers as he pushed the fabric around the shard of metal.

“Come on man! Please wake up,” Steve coaxed.

Tony’s eyelids peeled open slowly, “Steve you’re bleeding.”

Steve glanced down at his bloody hands.

“No Tony, it’s not mine,” Steve replied.

“Oh,” Tony leaned his bloody head forward and eyed the metal stabbed in his abdomen, “I forgot about that…”

“Tony please sit back,” Steve pleaded and gently guided the man back so he was leaning against the trunk of the tree.

“You know that needs to come out right?” Tony asked voice quivering as though talking hurt.

“If we pull it it out you will bleed to death!” Steve cried. Under no circumstance could they pull it out. Steve was not prepared to have Tony die on him any time soon.

“You still got any bullets?” Tony scooted himself upright a little more.

“What do you want a-” Steve trailed off mid sentence as he realized what the answer to the question was, “No. No. No we are not doing that,” Tony gave him a look, “Stark we are not doing that!”

“Rogers take a second! Look at it!” Tony’s voice was shrill with pain and panic, “That is rusted metal. If we leave it in it will get infected, and it will kill me.”

“But-”

“Rogers! I will be fine.”

“Tony what you are suggesting is not only extremely painful, but also extremely dangerous,” Steve didn't really know why he was trying to talk Tony out of it. He was right. The metal needed to come out, and cauterizing it was the fastest most reliable way to stop the bleeding.

“Save it Rogers. If you don’t like it leave me a bullet and your lighter and go sit behind a tree. I’ll do it myself.”

“No!” Steve barked, “No Tony I’ll do it. Just… you know this is going to hurt. A lot.”

Tony nodded and picked up a stick off the ground.

“Don’t tell me before you do it. Just do it, and make it fast,” Was Tony’s only response before he put the stick in mouth and closed his eyes.

Steve popped open a bullet using his knife, and set in the snow along with his lighter. Inhaling deeply he rapped his hand around the large shard of of rusty metal. He could do this. Tony had survived much much MUCH worse. He’d be be fine.

He yanked it out. Tony blanched, jerking from the obvious pain Steve had just caused him. Steve didn't think about, he just pulled Tony’s shirt up out of the way and quickly poured the gun powder along the gash that was gushing dark red blood. He threw the empty shell casing away and grabbed his lighter. That was were he hesitated. Tony still had his eyes squeezed shut. Steve lit the gunpowder. Tony’s scream of pain was muffled by the stick clenched between his teeth, but the stick didn’t stop the series of convulsions that shook Tony’s body. Steve held him back as he panted eyes wide with shock and pain. The smell of burnt flesh and gunpowder stung Steve’s nose as he held Tony down. The man went limp under his grip.


“Tony are sure this is a good idea?” Tony let himself relax as Pepper wrapped her arm around him as they lay in bed.

“Don’t know, but mission's simple. They aren't even storing any heavy artillery there,” Tony comforted his wife.

“I know, but the whole team knows how heated you and Steve’s arguments can get-”

“Which is why we have to go. We need to be able to trust each other and be able to call each other out and A be able to take it and B be able to discuss things without battling it out,” Tony sighed. He didn't especially like the idea of a solo op with just him and Steve.

“Just make sure you come home,” Pepper kissed his cheek, “I don’t have plans to be a single mother.”

“Your acting like I am going away to war!” Tony laughed, “It is a small warehouse bust.”

“I’m serious Tony!” Pepper scolded, “Be cautious. It’s still Hydra even if it is just a small bust. They always have a trick or two up their sleeve. Promise me you’ll be careful.”

“I promise,” Tony said and kissed his wife.

 

“Tony come on! You gotta wake up,” Tony came back to the painful present. Everything hurt so much that he couldn't focus on anyone thing, “Tony we got trouble we need to get moving.”

He knew he should probably try to respond to Steve, but he couldn't even think of what words he should form to reply. He couldn't even really focus enough on what Steve was saying to understand what he was saying. It was all just noise, the noise was more pain. The noise hurt his head, and rattled his brain. It made the pounding worse with every passing second. He needed Steve to stop talking. He really just needed everything to stop. The pain the, the noise. The damn noise needed to stop. Tony managed to find two words that he needed.

“SHUT UP!!!” The sound of his own voice stabbed  into his head. His stomach muscles clenched, and a convulsion wiggled it’s way up his body.

He threw up.

Tony toppled over meeting the cold embrace of the snowy ground. It numbed some of the pain overwhelming his mind and body.

“Shit.”

He heard Steve swear before thick arms wrapped around his shoulders and slid under his legs. Before he knew it he was being lifted into the air. He was pretty sure it was Rogers who had picked him up, but it was hard to make anything out for sure through the blurry haze that Tony couldn't quite get rid of. The even pace of who ever was carrying him lolled his blurry vision into blackness, numb soothing blackness. He wanted to stay there.

 

Tony shivered uncontrollably in Steve’s arms as he trekked deeper into the woods. If there had been any doubt in Steve’s as to whether Stark had a concussion it had been expelled as soon as the man had thrown up into the snow. Steve wished more than anything that the concussion was the worst of Tony’s problems, but there had been spots of blood in the puke which meant something inside him was bleeding. It really wasn’t surprising considering the injury to his abdomen.

The heavy thud of helicopter propellers over head made Steve nervous. They were being hunted. The whole damn op had been a trap.

They had told the team three days was their time frame, which meant it would be two days until the team realized something wrong, and after that who knew how long it would take for the team to find them. Steve knew he was making their search radius bigger with every step, but with Hydra agents prowling the sky searching for them, they needed to get as far away as possible. Steve knew that foot soldiers probably would not be far behind.

Tony coughed weakly and leaned into Steve a little more.

“Where...we going-?” Tony’s words were slurred together and barely audible.

“Not sure, but we need to ground between us and that Hydra facility,” Steve responded sneaking a glance down at the bedraggled man in his arms.

“Do you want me to walk?”

Steve sighed. His arms were getting tired, but Tony needed whatever little bit of energy he had left to keep warm.

“Nah, you’re good,” Steve replied, “How are feeling?”

“Cold.”

Of course he was cold. Tony had designed special cold weather suits for the whole team, and of course he had skimped out on himself. His suit was equipped with a heater so why would ever need something for outside of his suit. Steve couldn't help but let out a scoff.

“What?” Tony mumbled.

“Nothing.”

Now was really not the time to get into a fight.

“Bullshit…”

As bad as it would be, Steve kind of wished that Tony would pass out again. Not talking was good.

“Look, just forget it, we don’t need to get into a fight right now. There are more important things to worry about.”

Tony opened his mouth to reply but broke into a fit of coughing.

“Set me down a sec-” Stark gasped between wretched coughs. Steve did as Tony asked and set him down. Tony immediately collapsed on to his hands and knees coughs shaking his body. Droplets of blood spattered into snow.

“Shit,” Tong groaned as his hacking coughs subsided.

“You wanna stop for the night?” Steve offered. It was really the only thing he could offer. The bloodied man kneeling in the snow nodded slowly.

Steve helped Tony over to the base of a pine tree, “Wait here I am going to see what I can find for temporary shelter.”

Tony didn't argue, just slipped silently to the ground.

“Good luck capsical.”

Steve cracked a smile. He hadn’t heard that one in a while.



Hazard Madock stepped out of his truck and surveyed the collapsed building.

“So your helicopters didn't work as well as you thought for the retrieval of Captain America?” Hazard chuckled and turned his gaze to the three high ranking Hydra agents standing before him.

“Zip it if you want to get payed. We called you in to get track and bring in Rogers, not critique our methods,” One of the agents hissed.

“Just Rogers?” Hazard questioned. Did these bungling idiots not realize what a valuable asset Tony Stark could prove to be? “You don’t want Stark too?”

“We gauge that Stark will be dead by morning.”

Hazard raised an eyebrow.

“What did you idiots do to him?!” Hazard demanded angrily. Stark had far to much value to just simply die, well valuable for them, Hazard still wanted to bash the man's brains in.

“It wasn't what we did. He ditched his suit which means he is now exposed to the cold, and we found a considerably large piece of metal with his blood on it.”

“It matches his blood type,” The other agent stepped forward and handed Hazard a bloody shard of metal. Hazard examined the piece of steel closely.

“This went in deep,” He mused mostly to himself, “What else did you find?”

“There’s a bloody spot over in the woods.”

“Show me,” Hazard ordered. If they took this piece of metal out and not had a way to stop the bleeding that Stark would indeed be dead, in fact he probably already was depending on where it had stabbed. Since hydra seemed to have very little interest in Tony Stark, Hazard thought that when he found them, maybe he would kill Stark if the man wasn’t already dead.

 

Tony curled in on himself trying to keep himself warm with the very little amount of coat he had. When this was all over he was definitely going to make himself an exosuit that had a heater like the ones in everyone else’s suits. The cold tugged at him trying to pull him back into unconsciousness. He tucked his head between his knees and tried to trap the relatively warm air from his breath to warm his face up. He could practically feel the temperature drop around him. Violent shivers coursed through his body.

“Tony?”

Tony lifted his head at the sound of Steve’s voice and peered through the dark woods. The super soldier was approaching at a quick jog.

“Do you think you can make it about another mile?” Steve asked kneeling down next to Tony.

Tony didn't know if he could even move let alone walk, but he nodded his head all the same. If he needed to go another mile he would.

“What did you find?” Tony asked as Steve helped him to his feet.

“I found an old hunting cabin. We can’t make a fire or anything, but it will still be warmer than sleeping out here.”

 

Tony limped along slowly next to Steve. He was grateful for the support the super soldier had offered. Each step Tony took was its own tiny world of pain, sending jolts up through his body worsening the already unbearable pain clawing at his side, and adding miserably to nauseating throbbing pound in his head. Every few steps his vision would blur for a second. If Steve hadn’t been there helping him along he would have collapsed nearly as soon as he stood up.

“Do you need a rest?” Steve asked for probably the tenth time in the last 20 minutes.

“I said I was fine Rogers,” Tony grunted through clenched teeth. To say he was fine wouldn't be lying. He had been fine, but was beginning to not be fine.

“We can take a rest Tony. It’s fine-”

“I said I’m fine-” Tony broke off into a fit of coughing and collapsed in the cold snow. Coppery tang burned in his mouth as coughs raked his body. Tiny dots of red spattered in the white snow beneath him.

“Tony!” Steve cried in dismay and knelt down next to him.

“I’m fine,” Tony rasped, “I’ll be good. Just… just give me a minute…”

Tony peeled off his coat and grabbed a handful of snow. He knew shouldn't be hot, but he was, and he needed to cool off.

“Stark what are you doing?!” Steve sounded both angry and concerned.

“Just give me a second,” Tony hissed and pressed the cold snow against his face.

“Nope.”



Steve didn't give Tony the chance to protest before he leaned down picked him up.

“Rogers put me down! I’m fine,” The man spat.

“We both no that’s bull shit.”

“Rogers!”

“Stark can you please-”

“Put me the fuck down Steve.”

“Fine!” Steve let Tony down with an angry shout, “If you are so fine walk all by your damn self!”

Steve walked a few angry steps, stopped and turned around to face Tony who still stood exactly where Steve had put him down. He hated every bit of making his point like this, but he needed Stark to know that it was perfectly okay to accept help, and also that he really did need it. He wasn't going to let anything happen to him, but he was going to let him learn the lesson that he was begging for.

“What are you waiting for Tony? We need to get to the cabin soon,” Steve hoped Tony wouldn't fight him to much longer. They could only afford maybe two or three hours of sleep before heading back out. Hydra likely as not had already started a ground search.

Tony didn't say anything. The man peeled his hands away from his side looked down at them, and then looked up at Steve. He opened and closed his mouth, and then fell over.

“Tony!” Steve cried and was on his knees next to his friend in matter of seconds, “Tony? Come on man!”

Red was smeared on Tony’s shivering hands.

“Shit, shit, SHIT!” Steve pulled Tony’s shirt up enough to see that blood was beginning to slowly ooze out of the injury again.

“Idiot,” Steve hissed under breath and pulled the unconscious into his arms. He would have to carry him the rest of the way.

 

Steve set Tony down on the ground leaning against the wall of the tiny hunting cabin, and then went for his lock pick. Blood had started to work it’s way down from the corner of Tony's lips about half way through the last stretch to the cabin, and he had also stopped shivering, which had he been some place warm that would have been a good thing.

The lock clicked and the door creaked open a little ways; Steve pushed it open a little more and peaked inside to make sure it was empty. When he was sure the hut was empty he returned to Tony’s side, and pulled him back up into his arms. Tony left behind a red spot in the snow. Steve sighed and carried Tony inside the hut. He set Tony down on the bed, tucked the dusty blanket around him, and then began the search for a first aid kit and more blankets.

 

Steve leaned his back against the bed and let his eyes close. He had done everything he could for Tony, which wasn't much, but it was better than nothing. He had managed to find three more blankets, and the first aid kit had proved very helpful. Steve had made good use of the sewing skills he had developed back when he was small, and stitched up Tony’s wound that had reopened. He still wasn't overly confident that he had done enough, but he needed to catch at least a few minutes of sleep.



“Daddy, how long are you going to be gone?” Morgan asked and jumped into Tony’s arms. Steve smiled as he watched Tony hug his daughter. When they had met eight years ago Tony had been the last person on earth he had expected to get hitched and have a kid. At the same time he always thought Tony would make a great dad, and here he was being proved right.

“Steve.”

Steve jumped at the sound of Pepper’s stern voice behind him.

“Yeah? What’s up?”

“Make sure and get him home to us.”

“Okay-” Steve was a little confused she usually only issued thag order before high stakes, high risk ops. Not small little wearhouse busts, “Everything okay?”

“Yeah, just a bad feeling,” Pepper shrugged, “Both of you be safe.”

“Alright kiddo, daddy’s gotta go to work,” Tony kissed his daughter’s forehead and set her down on the ground.

“Alrighty Rogers let’s roll,” Tony turned his attention to Steve and swung his duffle bag on to his back.

“Please be careful,” Pepper called after them as they climbed onto the jet.

“Always am!” Tony blew a kiss to his wife and closed the door. Pepper’s unease soaked into Steve. Something was wrong. Cold seeped into the jet and Steve shivered. Something was very wrong.

 

Steve sat bolt upright. The same feeling that something was horrible hung thick in the air. Steve pulled himself to his feet and lit a candle he had placed near the bed where Tony lay. The man looked deathly pale where he was curled under the pile of blankets.

“Tony we need to get moving again,” Steve coaxed, but no response came from his injured teammate, “Tony?”

Steve gently rested his hand on Tony’s ice cold cheek. Steve swore under his breath and pulled the blankets tighter around Tony. He had purposely not made a fire, because he knew it would attract attention. He had planned on sticking to that, but Tony needed real warmth. Not just blankets.

Steve picked Tony up, bundled blankets and all and carried him over to the fireplace. He knew that lighting that fire was a mistake, but allowing Tony to die from hypothermia was an even worse mistake. He had promised Pepper he would get Tony back, and even if he hadn't it would still be his first priority. One of his teammates dying one his watch was not an option.

Steve let Tony rest for sometime before trying to wake him again.

 

“Hey Tony we really need to get moving. Hydra is probably gaining on us,” Steve shook Tony through the thick bundles of blankets.

“How long have I been out?” Tony mumbled and sat up a little. He still looked dazed and out of it.

“Few hours, you had me worried there for a bit. You felt like an ice cube,” Steve patted him on the back.

Tony just scratched his head and looked around the room with unfocused eye, and then curled back up in the blankets. Steve could see him shiver through the thick covers.

“You okay?” Steve sat down next him.

Tony shook his head.

“Do you think you’ll be okay if we go back out?”

Tony nodded, but Steve wasn’t convinced.

“Will you be able to walk?” Steve questioned. He wasn’t sure if he had the strength to carry Tony for another day’s walk.

“Yeah,” Tony’s voice was shaky, “Just need something to eat I think.”

Steve frowned. He hadn’t thought about scouring the place for food.

“I’ll see what I can do,” Steve left Tony staring into the fire in search of food.

“Rogers? Why did you light a fire?” Tony mused.

“Because you were about to freeze to death.”

“Well it was a stupid idea.”

“You’re welcome for saving your life,” Steve shot back curtly.

“Steve, they’re going to find us now! You gave them a fucking beacon!”

Steve bristled a little at that comment and slammed the cupboard closed.

“No Tony I saved your life.”

“Which was pointless,” Tony hissed under his breath.

“What did you just say to me?!” Steve barked, “Tell me you did not say what I think you just said!”

“Okay. I didn’t.”

Steve just growled angrily under his breath, and opened the cabinet to find quite a large selection of canned food.

“Bingo.”

Steve decided it was best to change the subject before he ended up punching Tony out or something like that.

“You find food?”

“Yep,” Steve said looking over the store of food.

 

Chapter Text

Tony was holding up far better than Steve had expected. He just picked his way along next to Steve at steady pace, and didn’t speak or really do much of anything other than limp along obstinately. Occasionally he would cough, and from time to time he would stumble a little. Steve had tried to help him along at one point but Tony had pulled himself away.

“Do you need to take a rest?” Steve studied Tony. The man only shook his head. His lack of speaking was alarming. He had barely said a word since they had left the cabin close to three hours ago. Steve almost preferred their arguments over this silence.

Tony stumbled and groaned in pain.

“You okay?” Steve looked him up and down with concern. Tony laughed dryly, and lowered himself to the ground using a tree to support him as he sank into the snow.

“That there is the million dollar question,” Tony chuckled through clenched teeth, and pressed his hand to his side and looked at it, “That doesn’t bode well now does it?”

“What is it?” Steve questioned concern spiking in his mind. Tony held up his hand in reply. Red was smeared on his shaking hand.

“You’re bleeding again?!” Steve cried in dismay and plopped to the ground next to Tony. 

“Yeah,” Tony rasped, “Give me a minute and we can keep going.”

“Tony we gotta figure this out!” Steve cried. If Tony continued to lose blood he would run out of energy and not be able to fight off the cold or infection. That was one thing they could be grateful for, the wound hadn’t been infected yet.

“I’ll be fine,” Tony coughed, and as if to contradict his statement fine red mist dissipated in the air from his mouth as he coughed.

“Damn it Stark!” Steve hissed in frustration.

“Language…” Tony mumbled weakly. Steve rolled his eyes.

“Tony I need you to cooperate. Your getting worse whether you want to admit it or not, and you need to quit trying to bull shit me and tell me what’s wrong.”

Tony chuckled, “Everything.”

“Tony that’s not what I meant!”

“Look Steve I know you want to help, but there really isn't anything you can do out here-”

“Tony that’s not-”

“Rogers would you shut up for five seconds and let me talk?” Tony snapped. Steve shut his mouth, “Look, whether you like it or not I am not going to survive much longer out here-”

“Tony-”

“Would you please shut up?! Believe me I don't want this either, but I am bleeding both externally and internally. I was and probably still am hypothermic. The cold isn’t making things better. I almost definitely have a concussion, and I am about 80% sure that my ribs are broken,” Tony’s voice shook as he shouted.

 

Tony watched Steve open and close his mouth a few time in flabbergasted shock. Tony leaned his head back against a tree and coughed. Uncomfortable heat was beginning to worm it’s way through his body. He had left out one tiny detail. He was extra sure that the wound was infected. One of them had to keep going and find help, and it wasn't going to be him.

“You should go,” Tony forced himself to speak. Talking hurt more than he allowed himself to show.

“Are you nuts?!” Steve almost shouted.

“Listen to me Steve. I’m only going to slow you down. You need to go. I can’t run any more,” To confirm what he had just said he coughed up a mouthful of blood.

“I’m not leaving you Tony. I promised Pepper I’d get you home. We both know I don’t break promises,” Steve whined.

“Steve go!” The coppery tang of blood burned Tony’s throat, “You have to…”

Hot blood slipped in between his fingers.

“Not on your life!” Steve threw one of Tony’s arms around his neck and began to lift him up, but stopped with a shocked expression on his face, “Oh geez Tony you’re burning up!”

Tony slid back to the tree.

“It’s infected Steve. Like I said I am not going to make it.”

 

Steve backed up ever so much in shock.

“No. no. Tony you’ll be fine. We’ll find help and you’ll be okay.”

Tony looked away from Steve shaking his head miserably.

“You gotta go Rogers,” Tony said in quiet resignation.

“I already told you! That isn’t happening!”

Tony only shook his head.

“Come on Stark you need to get up,” Steve coaxed and tucked one of Tony’s arms around his neck.

“Let go of me Rogers,” Tony barked as Steve hauled him up.

“Nope.”

“Seriously let me down!” Tony’s voice was shrill with pain this time.

Steve obeyed, and eased him back to the ground.

“What’s wrong?”

“Were you not listening to me when I just told you that big long list?” Tony snapped harshly.

Steve looked him in the eyes.

“Specifically. What hurt when I picked you up?”

“Everything,” Tony laughed wryly and broke off into a gut wrenching cough. Blood spattered in the snow. Tony continued coughing.

“Hey, hey, take it easy, take it easy,” Steve soothed and pulled Tony into a warming hug.  His coughing died away and he buried his head in Steve’s shoulder, “You’ll be okay Tony. You’ll make it. I promise.”

Tony’s tense muscles slackened in Steve’s arms.

“Tony?” Panic flooded into Steve, “Tony?”

Steve shook Tony a little, but he didn’t respond.

“Shit, Stark? Come on stay with me!” Steve maneuvered Tony so he was lying in the snow, “Come on man!” Steve shouted this time.

“Oh. Damn he looks pretty dead.”

Steve whorled around to see a rugged man dressed in winter tactical gear standing on a small embankment a few feet away.

“Which really sucks because Hydra told me I could keep and do what I wanted with him if I found you two.”

Steve cast a nervous glance down at Tony who was lying pale and limp in the snow. He did look rather dead.

“You won’t touch him,” Steve growled and took his shield down off his back.

“”He’s dead so I’ll leave him be,” The man laughed and hopped off the embankment.

“That’s close enough!” Steve warned.

The man pulled two shotguns off his back.

“Don’t think so.”

Steve shifted his shield on his arm and prepared to throw it. He walked menacingly toward the man.

“I think you might be the one who wants to stand down.”

“And why is that?” Steve growled.

A gun cocked behind him.

“Because if you don’t we’ll make sure he’s dead.”

Steve turned to see a Hydra agent holding unconscious Tony in a head lock with a gun pressed to his temple.

“Put the shield down captain.”

“Only if you promise to let him go,” Steve countered.

“You’re not the one to be making demands here,” The Hydra agent countered.

“He’s not going to do anything,” Steve growled, “Let him go.”

“Put down your shield and I will.”

Steve obediently dropped his shield.

The man gave Tony hard shove to the side and the man hit the ground, hard.

A creaking sound crackled through the still air.

“What the hell was that?!” Steve demanded.

“Look under your feet captain.”

Steve scooted his feet in the snow and cleared it away to reveal dark slick ground that was in fact ice.

“I take it you didn’t know this was a river. Not a wide one, but I hear it’s a deep.”

The ice popped louder from where Tony lay on the ground.

“Please get him off the ice,” Steve choked and tried to shuffle a little closer to where Tony was.

“Nah-ah! Stay put!”

The ice cracked a gain.

“Please,” Steve whispered. He hated begging but he would do it if it saved Tony.

“What do you say Hazard?” The Hydra agent address the man who had first shown up.

“Drowning and freezing to death isn’t exactly what I had in mind, but as long as I can break the ice I don’t particularly care.”

“No!” Steve yelped and as he did so Hazard fired off a line of shots at the ice. It gave one last sickening creak and then Tony vanished beneath the black surface of the water.

Steve stepped on his shield and flipped it into the air. He dove for the ice and smashed a new hole through it while the men were still focused on where Stark had disappeared.

“Hey!” One of them shouted as Steve plunged into freezing blackness.

Bullets zipped past him in the water. Pain shot through his calf as one of the bullets struck him. He ignored it and dove deeper.

It was pitch black beneath the ice. Steve didn’t really have a plan, he just knew that he had to find Tony.

Glowing blue flashed for a brief moment in the black water before vanishing. Steve ignored the burning in his lungs as they screamed for air.

Tony and then air.

Steve surged forward with the current. Every instinct screamed at him to surface, or close his eyes to protect them from the dirty water, but he didn't do either. He pulled himself forward in the water. The blue light shimmered again. Steve dove toward it as it got smaller sinking further and further away from him. With one last desperate grab he caught a handful of shirt. He grabbed tightly to Tony’s shirt and angled them upward. Steve lungs burned in his chest as he fought to hold his breath. Gripping Tony in one hand Steve used the other to punch the ice above their heads. Nothing happened. Steve slammed his fist harder into the ice this time. Still nothing. Mustering all of his failing strength Steve drove fist upward with all his might. Pain exploded through his knuckles as it smashed into the hard surf, but the ice gave, and his hand exploded out into dry freezing air.

Steve pulled his hand down and breathed in the freezing air above through the hole. Finding new strength Steve gripped Tony’s shirt in his mouth, grabbed the hole with one hand and used his shield to smash through the ice with the other.

He hauled himself out into the freezing cold, and then pulled Tony up after him. They had made it far enough down stream to where the men were no longer with in eye site.

Steve released Tony from his grip when he was sure they off the ice. Tony flopped limply to the ground.

Panic ignited in Steve's as he stared down at Tony's unmoving body.  There was no rise and fall of his chest as he lay pail and freezing on snowy ground.

“Come on Tony!” Steve begged as he knelt over him and pressed his hands the man’s torso. He knew that what he was about to do would almost definitely injure the man further, but it was the only way. Steve pushed his hands down hard. He could feel Tony’s ribs crack beneath his hands as thrust his hands down ward.

Tony’s body convulsed and he rolled to his side and threw up a mix of dirty river water and blood.

“You’re okay Tony,” Steve assured him and gave him a gentle pat on the back as he regurgitated more water.

“I don’t know man,” Tony coughed and flopped back over on his back.

Droplets of ice were already beginning form in the man’s wet hair and beard.

“Come on you'll be fine,” Steve coaxed, “We need to movie. I don't know how far the river took us, and Hydra is close.”

Tony lifted his head a little and examined Steve.

“You’re hurt,” Tony nodded to Steve’s bleeding calf.

“Don’t worry about it.”

“You need to wrap it with something,” Tony sounded choked as he spoke.

“I said don’t worry about it,” Steve growled.

“Rogers! You need to deal with it,” Tony’s voice cracked as he scolded Steve, “If you lose to much blood and get to weak, we both die.”

“Fine,” Steve grumbled and tore a strip off his shirt.

“You act like I’m being unreasonable,” Tony mumbled.

“There are just bigger problems than my leg right now,” Steve growled and pulled the fabric tight around his leg. He couldn't help flinching as the fabric tightened around the wound.

“Well we might as well deal with the problems we can.”

Steve sighed and held out his makeshift bandaged leg.

“Is this satisfactory?”

“Could be better,” Tony shrugged.

“Damn it Stark!” Steve shouted.

“Language.”

“Shut up!” Steve rose to his feet in anger, “A lot of things could be a lot better! You’ve been coughing up blood for nearly two days, and your worried about my leg!”

“One of us has to be,” Tony retorted.

Steve ran an angry hand through his hair.

“My leg is fine! Frankly I think you really need to be worrying more about yourself!”

Tony shook his head.

“Worrying isn’t going to do anything for me Rogers,” Tony snapped, “It’ll just make it worse. I need to not think about it. Okay?”

“Tony we need to-”

“Listen to my words,” Tony interrupted, “I am slowly bleeding to death, mostly internally. There is nothing we can do while we are out here. Worrying isn’t going to change that, it will just make it worse. I need to not think about it.”

Steve opened and closed his mouth a few times, and then decided not to say anything.

“Now, you need to go find help and-”

“Tony we have been over this damn it. I am not leaving you out here-”

“Pity. You would have made it farther.”

Steve spun around to face Hazard and the other Hydra agent. They had found them faster than he expected.

Tony struggled to his feet behind him.

“What’s the plan?” He whispered almost silently in Steve’s ear.

He had no plan at all.

“Look captain if you come with us we will leave Stark to die in peace at his own speed,” The Hydra agent said stepping forward a little.

“As I was just telling him. I’m not leaving him,” Steve growled and put his body and his shield between Tony and the two men.

“I have a plan. Just keep them distracted, and do not move,” Tony breathed in his ear.

“Okay. Fine we will shoot him-”

Steve felt his gun leave its holster and a split second later a gunshot crackled through the air and the hydra agent dropped dead mid sentence.

Hazard reacted with lightning fast reflexes.

Steve didn't wait for Tony shoot a second time he hurled his shield at the bounty hunters head. His gun went off as the shield slammed into his head and knocked him to the ground.

“Damn it Rogers I told you not to move…”

Steve spun around to see Tony look down a bloody hand for a brief moment before staggering back and toppling over.

“Shit!” Steve fell to his knees in the snow next to Tony and lifted his head a little, “Where are you hit? Talk to me Stark.”

Further panic seized Steve as he stared into Tony's pained gaze. This was his fault. He should have obeyed him.

Tony  halfheartedly tapped his shoulder.

“We gotta patch it up,” Tony mumbled looking at the blood dripping down his fingers.

“I know!” Steve replied frantically and pushed his hand against the wound

“Calm down,” Tony muttered.

“Easier said than done!”

“come on Rogers keep it together please,” Tony whimpered and grabbed Steve’s hand.

Steve took a deep breath and exhaled.

“Okay Tony. I’ll try my best,” Steve said through his exhale.

Calming himself down really wasn't working.

“Thanks,” Tony breathed and his eyes fluttered closed.

“Hey! You need to stay awake!” Steve cried in dismay.

“It’ll be fine Rogers, you just… just need to go…”

“We have been over this a million times! I am not leaving you behind!” Steve shouted.

“Please? I’ll be fine… just come back for-”

“It’s not happening Tony!” Steve yelled.

Tony flinched a little.

“Rogers-”

“No!”

“please…”

“For the last fucking time! NO!”

Tony swallowed hard and pulled away from Steve. The weak bleeding man lay his head back in the snow.

“I’m done Rogers… i’m not going anywhere.”

“Then I’ll carry you!”

“Steve… stop… please-” Tony mumbled as Steve began to pick him up.

“No-”

"Now!" Tony's cry of pain was almost a shriek as Steve attempted to pick him up.

He stopped and let go of Tony in surprise. Tony squirmed miserably on the ground gasping in pain.

“What?” Steve demanded with concern.

“Please don't do that again,” Tony whined and curled in on himself squeezing his eyes tighter shut.

 

Pain wormed through all of Tony’s body, and violent shivers racked his body as he lay in the cold snow. He could feel it pressed against his face, but it provided no comfort. The fever burning in his blood was to much for the snow to combat it. A convulsion tore through Tony’s body and he threw up in the snow. He was barely even aware of Steve grabbing his shoulders as he threw up a second time.

“Hey take it easy,” Steve soothed and eased Tony against a tree, “You’re okay.”

Steve pulled Tony’s jacket tighter around him.

“You’ll be okay,” Steve assured him, “Just stay here.”

Then Steve did what Tony least expected.

He stood up and he left.

Chapter Text

Steve returned to where he had left Tony, hauling a few long and sturdy branches. It was way to clear that Tony wasn't going to be moving on his own, and he also was not going to let Steve carry him. Staying where they were wasn't an option. They had to keep moving. Steve cast a nervous glance over at Tony who lay unconscious and slumped against a tree. His chest rose and fell in labored uneven jerks. Each time his body moved it seemed like more blood pushed in between his fingers gripping his shoulder.

Steve finished making his makeshift sled, and then went to his friend’s side.

“Hey Tony I need to move you a little,” Steve whispered not entirely sure if he had been heard.

He scooped Tony up with as much care as he could muster, but the man still whimpered in pain.

“You’re okay,” Steve grunted  and lowered Tony onto the makeshift sled.

Tony grabbed Steve’s hand as he tried to move away.

“Rogers…?”

“What is it?” Steve knelt in the snow next to him.

“If I don’t…” Tony coughed, “Take care of… Pepp and Morgan…”

“You’re going to make it home Tony,” Steve assured him.

“Please?” Tony choked.

“Tony-”

Tony grabbed his arm in a firm hold, and pulled himself up a little.

“Promise me Rogers!”

“No-”

“Rogers…”

“Fine, but you are making it home.”

Tony shook his head. His eyes fluttered closed, and his grip on Steve’s arm released. He flopped back, and didn't so much as flinch as his head hit the wood.

“Stark?” Steve shook Tony’s shoulder but he didn't give the slightest indication of noticing, “Tony please.”

Steve pulled Tony into his arms. He dangled limply and made no protest to being moved.

Snow began to fall around them.

 

Clint knelt in the snow next to the rapidly disappearing tracks. The falling snow was covering everything up to fast. It was in times like these that he wished the team had made purchase to a good dog.

“Hey! I got something!” Natasha called from up a head. Clint took off at a run to get to her. She stuck her arm out at the last second and stopped him.

“What?”

“That’s ice Clint, and look,” Natasha pointed out a patch that was just beginning to be buried in snow.

“Something broke the ice,” Clint commented, “You think-”

“so did something else,” Nat pointed to another patch of freshly frozen ice being covered by the heavy snow.

“So you definitely think-?”

“I do,” The woman replied gravely.

“So we should follow the river?”

“Exactly, and we need to be careful about it.”

Together they stepped out onto the ice and began making their way down the river. Clint wondered if it was too early to call the rest of the team back from their own sectors of the search radius.

 

They had walked in silence for sometime before Clint stopped. Nat stopped and looked at him in confusion.

“Nat?”

“What is it?”

“What if this isn’t a rescue mission? What if it turns into recovery?”

Nat hadn’t even allowed herself to think about that very distinct possibility. She wasn't going to be losing any of her family, she couldn't.

“It won't Clint.”

“I hope you're right,” Clint seemed to be convinced by Natasha’s confidence. She wished she herself was convinced.

“Look at that,” Clint pointed to a spot up a head where the snow was piled oddly. They both cautiously picked up the pace and examined it closely. There were faint yet definitive tracks in the the snow. The only problem was: there was only one set.

Nat decided not think about which one it was. She couldn't stand to lose either of the two men.

“We might have something,” Clint said into his ear piece as the peaked the bank of the river, “We have them!”

Natasha broke into a run before Clint had finished speaking. Nestled at the base of a tree was one significant mound of snow. Natasha baseball slid to her knees next to it. It turned out to be Steve Rogers huddled protectively over Tony who dangled limply in his arms. Both men were unconscious, or Steve was unconscious. Tony looked… dead.

Crystals of ice and frozen red blood were congealed in his dark hair. Dark blood was dried and crusted blood was caked around his mouth and nose, and a long ago dried stream of blood was smeared down his face.

Natasha sat in shock taking it all in for an embarrassingly long time before Clint slid next to her.

“The team is on their way here with the jet,” Clint said quickly and pressed his fingers against Steve’s neck, “Take care of Tony, and I got Steve.”

Natasha obediently pulled Tony into her arms and moved him a little was away from Steve. The only indication that he was even still alive at all was the tiny labored movement of his chest moving in quick spaced out jerks. Dried blood was caked in between Tony’s fingers that firmly gripped his shoulder.

“What’s the eta on that jet?!” Nat demanded as she moved Tony’s hand away from the bleeding hole in his should.

“15 minutes tops,” Clint shouted back from where he was wrapping Steve in a blanket from his emergency back pack, “How bad’s Tony?”

“Bad,” Natasha growled as she began to unzip Tony’s frozen and wet coat. As she peeled the fabric away it seemed to tear at his skin, and she realized with a jolt of shock that it was clinging to his body by dry crusted blood.

“Shit!”

Clint looked up at her.

“He okay?!” The archer called to her.

“Shit,” Natasha swore again.

She peeled the coat away flinching as she did so.

“Fuck.”

There was deep wound in Tony’s side just below his rib cage, and the worst part was the color of it, and the fact that it was coated in black crusted blood, and what looked like charred skin.

“Fuck.” Nat repeated as dark blood oozed out of the wound, “Clint he needs serious help now!”

“The jet is almost here!”

As Clint shouted the searchlight from the jet blasted down on them, and it descended from the sky. Snow danced and basted around them. Natasha held Tony a little closer to her.

 

Steve found himself contently nestled into soft warm blankets in a soft warm bed with a heart monitor beeping away at a steady pace next to his head. Steve smiled and curled into the the bed a little more. He still felt frozen to the core, but the bed and blankets were making him feel so much better. He closed his eyes for a brief moment and then memories of the past two days slapped him in the face. He sat bolt upright.

“Tony!” He made an attempt to get out of bed, but was stopped by Bucky’s firm hand.

“Lay back down,” His friend ordered.

Steve ignored him.

“I promised I wouldn’t leave him-”

“Chill out,” Bucky replied and pushed Steve back down, “Stark is fi- okay I am not going to say that, but he is here at the compound, and he is… erm safe?”

The unsureness in Bucky’s tone about Tony’s condition scared Steve all the more.

“What do you mean you’re not going to say he’s fine?!” Steve cried in dismay and sat up again.

“Simmer down!” Bucky barked and pushed him back down for a second time, “I’ll put it like this. Normal old shit looks are like right here in terms of badness,” Bucky held his hand waist high, “Your shit looking level is about here,” Bucky lifted his hand to shoulder height, “and then Stark’s was like WAY up here,” Bucky reached his hand as high up in the air as it would go.

Steve groaned and rubbed his face in misery.

“How bad?”

Bucky took on a more serious look of concern.

“Bad.”

“Answer the question Buck,” Steve growled.

“It wasn’t your fault.”

“Did i ever say it was?” Steve demanded.

“No, but you were thinking it.”

Steve sighed. His friend knew him to well.

“Come on Bucky give me the details.”

“I don’t think-”

“Please?”

“Fine,” Bucky huffed and began needing his hands nervously.

“What is it?” Steve sat up a third time.

“The injury in his side was… whatever stabbed him hit his liver.”

“What?!” Steve choked.

“And it got infected,” Bucky added gravely, “His liver was failing. They are trying to turn it around, but he might- he’ll probably need a new one. They’ll know in a few hours.”

“That’s not-” Steve trailed off, “Is he awake? Can I go see him?”

Bucky shook his head, “they’re keeping him under because he’s in a lot of pain. The stab wound wasn't the only problem.”

Steve snorted. He knew that.

“How bad was his gunshot wound?”

The other things weren't his fault, but Tony getting shot was. Steve knew he should have let him execute his plan completely before jumping in, but he had thrown his shield and left Tony defenseless.

“wasn't bad at all, apart from it adding to his blood loss. Really all the other things are all gonna be fine. Just gotta worry about-”

“You know Steve? That really wasn’t what I had in mind when I said get Tony back in one piece.”

Bucky stopped talking as Pepper announced her presence.

“I’m sorry I-”

“Don't apologize Steve. You still got him through the mission. Thank you.”

 

Tony felt almost like he was floating in a soft cloud of warm fluffiness. Then he opened his eyes and discovered the fluffiness was a hospital bed. He yawned and shifted a little in bed. He was a little curious how he had gotten to be here, but he was too grateful to really question it.

“Hey sleepy head.”

Tony turned his head around in the amazingly soft pillow to find himself face to face with Morgan.

“Hey kiddo,” Tony rasped, grateful to see her. He ruffled her hair with his hand despite the pain that tugged at his shoulder, “Where’s mom?”

“I think she went to yell at uncle Steve again.”

“What?”

“No Morgan, she went to the meeting and Steve is filling them in on what happened.”

Tony lifted his head a little to peer over Morgan and look at Peter who had just spoken.

“How are you feeling Mr. Stark?”

“Never better,” Tony chuckled.

“And you liking your new liver?”

“My new what?!” Tony snorted in surprise, and threw his blanket off to reveal the white bandages wrapped around the better part of his abdomen.

“Calm down Mr. Stark!” Peter’s firm hand rested on his shoulder, “You’re fine. The operation went really well, and Rhodey is fine too-”

“Rhodey?! What the hell’d he have to do with a liver operation?!” Tony demanded and tried to sit up, but pain tore at his abdomen and stopped him, “And what? New liver?

“Please Mr. Stark calm down. Everything is 100% on the up and up.”

“Please explain to me what happened? And how long was I out?” Tony squeaked.

“You were asleep for like five months!” Morgan groaned.

“WHAT?!”

“NO!” Peter cried in dismay, “She is exaggerating! You’ve been out since they found you four days ago..”

Tony breathed a sigh a relief.

“Okay now what’s the deal with my new liver? Why do I have a new one? And what does Rhodey have to do with it?” Tony demanded.

“Okay so when we brought you back here your liver was failing due to what ever stabbed you stabbing it, and then it getting infected. Bruce tried to get the effects to reverse but it was already too far gone so-”

“So you needed a new one,” Morgan butted in, “The whole team and everyone took a blood test, well except me they said I was to small, but I would have given you half of my liver if they would have let me-”

“That’s okay sweetie,” Tony gave Morgan’s arm a quick rub.

“Anyway, Rhodey was the only one who had the right blood type so-”

“So half of his liver is in me!” Tony choked. 

“Yep,” Peter confirmed, “But it was completely fine! He is up in a wheelchair at the meeting right now.”

“You’ll both have awesome matching scars now!” Morgan sounded a little thrilled.

Tony was still a little shocked, and attempting to process that half of his best friend’s liver was inside of him.

“Anything else I should know about?”

“Not that I can think… oh um never mind,” Peter had guilty grin on his face. Morgan took a deep breath as though she just remembered too.

Tony narrowed his eyes at the two children.

“What?”

They both gave each other nervous glances.

“You know, what he doesn't know can't hurt him," Morgan reasoned giving Peter a devious glance.

“That is true-”

“What?! You two had better tell me what’s up right now.” Tony ordered.

Morgan shook her head nervously, and Peter looked equally cautious.

“WHAT?”

“Okay fine, but we didn't have anything to do with it so if you’re going kill anyone kill Bruce. He’s the one that did it-”

“Did what?!”

Tony was starting to get very afraid.

“Peter let me tell him. I am the least likely to die doing it.”

The mock seriousness in Morgan’s voice made Tony laugh. She rested her hand on his arm in a tone more serious than Tony thought possible she looked him in the eyes and spoke.

“Daddy I am so sorry, but I am afraid your- Daddy they had to shave your hair.”

“They what?!”

“You had a deep cut a ways above your hairline and they had to get to it to stitch it up and um… your hair was in the way,” Peter explained.

“So i’m bald?” Tony choked.

Peter and Morgan nodded solemnly.

“I kept your hair in a box for you, if you want to have a funeral for it,” Morgan offered.

“Yeah… that’d be… that’d be good,” Tony mumbled absently.

He was bald. He had never ever been bald before. He wasn't sure how to process this. What if it didn't come back? What if his days of having a full head of hair were over?

 

Tony looked very strange missing the better part of his hair. Steve tried extra hard not to stare at it  when he walked into Tony’s room for a visit.

“How are you doing?” Steve asked as he stepped in.

“Well I hear I am bald, and also have a new liver, so the answer to that is up to interpretation,” Tony replied dryly.

“Okay, how are you feeling?” Steve tried and sat down next to the bed.

“Numb.”

“But no longer deathy.”

“No. Not deathy anymore,” Tony replied closing his eyes, “Just tired.”

Steve sighed, “Alright. I’ll let you sleep.”

Steve stood back up and limped toward the door.

“Rogers?”

“Yeah what do you need?” Steve asked and turned around.

Tony was looking him over with a grateful smile.

“Thanks for not leaving me.”

Steve smiled and walked back to Tony’s side.

“No problem. Thanks for not dying.”

“Pleasures all mine,” Tony chuckled, “Sorry I was so difficult.”

“Nah, you were in a lot of pain. Frankly I’m surprised you weren't worse.”

“I can be next time,” Tony offered.

“Let’s not have a next time,” Steve replied and gave Tony a pat on his uninjured shoulder, “Next time I think we should listen to Pepper’s danger radar and be more careful.”

“Agreed,” Tony laughed a little, “Plus I don't think Rhodey’ll be able to give half of his liver again.

Steve snorted.

“Well you might live a little longer with that one.”

“What’s that supposed to mean?!” Tony demanded.

Steve patted him on the shoulder again, “Come on buddy. We all know how much alcohol you drank when you were younger.”

Tony nodded in agreement, “Guess this was a blessing in disguise. I no longer have a pickle liver.”

Steve snorted again.

“Alright buddy, I’m gonna let you sleep now.”

 

Tony watched Steve leave the room shaking his head in amusement, and smiled. They had gotten lucky. He had gotten lucky. Anyone lesser than Steve Rogers would have listened to him and left. Tony was glad to have Steve around.

Chapter Text

Stark coughed in his sleep and turned over on his cot; Nebula frowned and glanced over at the man. She could see his gaunt shoulders shivering under his blanket. His condition was worsening, but he refused to let her touch him, or get anywhere near the wound that she could practically smell the infection on. She could see the pain of the infection in his face every time he looked at her. The ever paling and thinning of his cheeks was becoming harder and harder to watch. Nebula had never really cared about people; they tended to die or betray her, but she couldn’t stop the growing concern for the man that was festering inside of her. She was actually beginning to care for him. She knew it was a mistake. The oxygen on the ship wouldn’t last forever and the amount of problems piling up around the man’s health was overwhelmingly negative. She was pretty sure he was going to die.

“I’m beautiful I know, just impossible not to look at,” Stark’s words caught her by surprise, “you can admire my beauty when I’m not sleeping.”

Nebula hadn’t realized she was staring at him, nor had she meant to.

“You’d look a whole lot better if you let me take care of that infected wound,” Nebula retorted.

The man sat up, surprised.

“How did you- never mind.”

“So it is infected then?”

Stark nodded and pulled himself so he was sitting at a better angle.

“Yes.”

He sounded defeated.

“You should let me look at it,” Nebula offered and scooted a little closer to him.

Stark recoiled.

“No,” His voice was a sharp bark of pain.

“It’ll kill you.”

“I’ll die anyway.”

Nebula rolled her eyes and rose to her feet. Stark recoiled with fear in his eyes.

“Suit yourself,” Nebula growled and slunk off to find some other place on the ship where she didn’t have to look at the sad dying man.

It would probably be a good idea if she didn’t get attached to him.

 

Tony watched the blue alien storm out the room, and shook his head a little. He needed help; he knew it. His hesitancy to let her help didn’t come from mistrust or fear, none of those things really mattered anymore, his hesitance came from a different place entirely. If he let her get close to him, help him, care about him even, it would only hurt her more when he didn’t pull through.

He recognized her reluctance to care almost instantly. He could see that she was hurting, and that she had lost everything. He recognized her pain and grief because it was a mirror image of his own.

Tony rested his head against the cool wall in defeat. He found the cold soothing against his hot feverish skin. He lifted a shaking hand and ran it through his sweaty hair in an attempt to cool himself down more. He eased himself down back into a lying position. The pain in his side yanked at his insides as he moved. He couldn’t bite back his groan of pain.

Tony rested his head on his pillow and tried to do back to sleep.

 

Another day had passed and Stark was still refusing any form of help she offered. He had even turned down the water she had offered him mumbling something about saving it for later. Nebula doubted if there would be a later for him. He was regressing so rapidly that she hadn’t the slightest clue what to do. By now it was probably too late to save him from the infection spreading through his body.

Despite knowing better Nebula went to go check on Stark. She found him sitting up looking out at the stars. His ribs shone clearly through his black tank top.

“You need help Stark,” Nebula whispered to him.

He turned his sad brown gaze to her.

“I know,” He rasped.

“Can you let me help you?”

Tony shook his head.

Nebula huffed and turned to leave, but stopped as he spoke.

“I don’t want you to waste your time.”

Nebula turned back around.

“It wouldn’t be a waist.”

“I am going to die up here,” Tony rasped, “You know that right?”

“Not necessarily,” Nebula replied, "And it's not like I have anything better to do with my time up here."

Tony sighed in defeat.

“I’ll let you help me, but under one condition.”

“Go on.”

“You’re not allowed to get attached to me. I’ll be dead sooner or later, probably sooner, and I don’t want to hurt you.”

“That should be my decision.”

Tony shook his head miserably.

“Please? I don’t want hurt anyone else,” Tony mumbled.

“Fine,” Nebula lied and slid down to the ground next to Tony, “Now lift up your shirt so I can look at the wound.”

Nebula could see the shirt tugging at his skin and pulling away dried blood as he peeled his tank top up.

Nebula raised her eyebrows in concern. The wound was dark a swollen.

“Bad hu?”

Nebula nodded slowly.

“I know what to do.”

 

Tony watched in silence as the blue alien worked away at his side; he tried desperately not to flinch at the pain as she cleaned away the dried blood and hardened clear discharge around and in the stab wound.

“Drink that,” Nebula pushed a blue water bottle into his hand without looking up from the cut in his side, “You need to stay hydrated or you won’t last long.”

Tony knew he wasn’t going to last long anyway, but he drank the water all the same; it slid down the back of his throat and soothed the horrible dryness that had been clawing at him for days.

“Scoot away from the wall,” She ordered, “I need to look at your back.”

 

The exit wound from the sword looked just as bad, if not worse.

“Shit,” Nebula muttered and eased Tony so he was leaning back against the wall. The thin man closed his eyes, clearly exhausted.

“I’ll fix this,” Nebula whispered and brushed his hand with her’s. She could feel the heat rising from his skin before she even touched him.

 

Tony flinched more than he meant to as Nebula stabbed a needle into his arm, but he didn't complain.

“Sorry,” Nebula apologized and pulled the needle out of his arm.

“Don’t be,” Tony moaned letting his tired eyes close.

“Hey, Stark you need to stay awake,” Nebula patted his cheek gently.

“Tony…”

“what?”

“You can call me Tony,” Tony forced his eyes open for a brief moment to meet Nebula’s gaze.

A brief smile flashed across her face and then she pushed some form of rag against the wound in his side. Tony lurched forward in pain as hot stinging spread deep into the wound.

“You’re okay. Shhh,” Nebula patted his back as he squirmed under the nauseating pain, “Its okay Tony.”

Tony relaxed ever so slightly as she leaned him back against the wall; it was cool and relaxing. Tony watched through blurred vision as Nebula tore pieces of medical tap, and began taping the rag to his abdomen.

“What was that?” Tony rasped as shivers of pain racked his body.

“Synthesized alien nanites.”

Tony coughed in surprise.

“WHAT? You put aliens in me?” He heard his voice crack in surprise, but didn't care.

“Not in the way you think!” Nebula assured him.

“Explain?” Tony croaked.

“They are nanite bacteria, and they are bonded with- no more programmed to eat away infections-”

“So you put things that will eat me inside my wound?!”

“Calm down!” Nebula hissed, “It’s not like that. They only get rid of the infected cells. Give them about a 24 hours and you’ll feel much better.”

Tony nodded slowly, and tried to ignore the pain throbbing through his body.

“Sleeping through it will make it not be as horrible,” Nebula commented.

Tony only shrugged. He didn't think he could sleep.

“I can give you something if you want?”

Tony nodded.

 

Tony passed out in her arms almost as soon as she injected him with the sleeping medicine. She felt a little bad for not telling him about the whole truth about the nanites. She had left out the out the part where he would get sicker before he got better. Not a dangerous kind of sick like he was right now, but he would feel like shit for quite a few days.

She eased him down onto the pillow, and tucked his blanket over his shoulders.

“You’ll be okay Tony,” Nebula whispered letting her hand linger on his shoulder. She knew what she said was a lie. He was safe from the infection, but they didn't have enough food or fuel to make it back to Earth. He was going die on the ship. Nebula told herself she wouldn’t care when it happens. She couldn't care, it would hurt to much to lose someone else.

A thought was worming its way into her head so subtly she barely even noticed that she was actually starting to like him.

 

Nebula watched Tony’s quivering hands as he slowly and carefully fidgeted with with a piece paper. It was mesmerizing watching him work the paper over, and fold it bit by bit.

“What are you making?” Nebula finally asked, breaking the silence.

Tony glanced up at her briefly before returning his attention to the paper.

“You’ll see.”

Nebula moved from her place in the corner over to a chair across the table from Tony. She watched him as he folded the paper one last time.

“Tah-dah!” he held up a small triangle of sorts.

Nebula raised an eyebrow.

“what is it?”

Tony lowed the paper looking disappointed.

“It’s a paper football,” He acted like she should know what it was.

“Okay?”

Tony’s look of disappointment intensified.

“What?!” Nebula cried defensively, “What does it do?”

“It’s something to pass the time with,” Tony explained.

 

Tony expertly positioned the foot ball between his finger and the table, and flicked it at Nebula. She reached out her hand and caught it.

“What was that for?” She demanded.

“That’s what it’s for,” Tony explained.

“So you spent the last hour making something to flick?”

Tony shrugged. It had seemed like a good idea, but now it only seemed foolish and juvenile. Now wasn’t the time for games.

“Sorry, it was a stupid idea,” Tony muttered and stood up, “I’m going to go get some real work done.”

Tony was halfway to the door when something small hit him in the back of the head. He turned around and faced Nebula who was smiling.

“Wasn’t a stupid idea.”

Tony bent down and picked up the paper football.

“I’m sure there’s more to it than just flicking paper at people. Teach me how to play.”

Tony hesitated.

“Come on! You can’t leave me hanging!”

“Alright,” Tony replied with a smile and returned to the table.

 

“Ha!” Nebula laughed for joy as she flicked her 23rd touchdown as Tony called it.

“Aw come on!” Tony cried in defeat and then laughed, “I’m not teaching you any other games.”

“Oh come on!” Nebula chuckled and gave him a friendly bump on the shoulder, “This can’t be all you do for fun at home.”

“When I’m bored it is.”

“Surely not.”

“No, alright. You’re right,” Tony admitted with a duck of his head.

“So what else?”

“I don’t know,” Tony shrugged, “I like making stuff.”

“What kind of things?”

“Any and everything. I’m a mechanic. It’s what I love. It keeps me-” He turned a suddenly very sad gaze to face her, “It helps me sleep at at night, or saves me from sleep…”

“Saves you?” Nebula questioned looking Tony over.

Tony sighed.

“Some nights when I- I have night mares. So…”

“So you don't sleep so they can't hurt you.”

Tony nodded and got up from the table.

“I got stuff I need to do.”

 

Tony had lied. He didn't have much of anything he needed to do. He hadn't been trying to escape Nebula, in fact he loved her company. He had just needed space, and a few minutes to process the memories of the dreams he had had three nights ago. He hadn’t slept since he had dreamed of his son those nights ago. Tony leaned his head against the window of the Benatar and gazed out at the stars. Somewhere out there was home, and if his luck changed, Pepper.

“Yep. You look really busy.”

Tony turned at the sound of Nebula’s slightly irritated voice.

“Sorry,” Tony mumbled.

“You don’t have to be-”

“I wasn't trying to get away from you,” Tony interrupted her, “I just… talking about night mares made me think and…”

“Oh…”

Nebula slid to the ground next to him.

“You wanna talk about something else?”

Tony shrugged.

 

After a long time Nebula found her voice again.

“So we all my “father” was a disgusting fuck-”

“Don’t call him that,” Tony growled dangerously, “No one like that is any real father. He was a kidnapper and torturer. Not a father.”

Nebula nodded her head in agreement.

“As I was saying that is what i had. What about you? Do you have family?”

Tony turned his sad gaze out the the window.

“Nah.”

“Oh.”

“I dreamed I did. I dreamed I had a family, and then I guess it was so real that I thought it was true. I thought I could have that life, and then I sent it all to shit. I was fixing things you know?”

Nebula opened her mouth to speak but Tony kept going.

“I was so close too! This close! I had a kid. He was like a son to me… I had finally proposed to Pepper. We were going to get married, and then I dreamed… I dreamed of our child, and now I’m here. I don’t think I get a happily ever after.”

Nebula did something she had never done before. She leaned her head on Tony’s shoulder. With only brief hesitation he wrapped his arm around her shoulders.

“I don’t think that’s true.”

“What?”

“I think you can get a happily ever after if you want to. You just have to chose it.”

“What do you mean?” Tony asked keeping his gaze trained on the stars.

Nebula shrugged, “Don’t know yet.”

“well let me know when you figure it out.”

“will do.”

Nebula smiled as Tony rested his chin on her head. He was the father she wished she'd had.

 

It started with him dropping a wrench, and went downhill from there. The food had run out a day ago and Tony had stopped sleeping.

He became too weak to work on the ship anymore. He would sit and watch Nebula work, and try to give her pointers, but his words were slowly beginning to regress into nonsense. After three days with no food or water Nebula decided it was time prepare herself for what would happen within the next few days. She wanted to leave and pretend not to care, but she didn't. She was going to make sure he knew he was with someone who loved him until he breathed his last breath. Nebula didn’t care what it did to her emotionally, so she sat with him and listened to babble meaninglessly. Or at least meaninglessly for him.

She listened and processed every single word he said. He babbled about his parents, and then he apologized for complaining about nothing. Nebula didn't think that made sense. What she had been through was Hell. In retrospect it was far worse than what Tony had gone through, but for Tony what he had been through was hell as well. He hadn't been through something worse so for him it was the the worst thing ever. She thought he had every right to complain.

 

“Nebula?”

“Hmm?”

“I don't want to die.”

Nebula sighed. There were only a few hours of oxygen left at best. Their final attempts to fix the ship had failed. She knew one way to give the ship power, but Tony had forbidden it because of the likelihood that it would kill her. He had made her promise she wouldn't use her core energy to power the ship. She had lied. As soon as he slipped away to unconsciousness she would do what she had wanted to do all along. She wasn't letting him die, even if she had to die to save him.

“Shhh,” Nebula soothed, “It’s okay.”

Tony muttered something under his breath and hauled himself to his feet.

“I’m sorry I couldn't survive,” Tony mumbled and limped away.

Nebula followed him.

“Can I be alone?” Tony’s voice was almost a growl as he made this final request.

Nebula nodded and retreated away to another part of the ship but only for a little while before she crept back to where Tony was.

“Tony?”

He didn't answer.

Nebula inhaled sharply, and approached him. He made no sign of acknowledgement as she brushed his shoulder with her hand.

“I’m sorry I lied to you,” Nebula whispered her apology  and then headed to the power core of the ship. Earth was already entered into the navigation system, so all she needed to do was give the ship a power boost.

She hooked herself up to the power cell and took a deep hesitant breath. It was very likely that she would never know if this worked, but she had to do it. She wasn’t going to let anyone else she cared about die.

She hit the power button.

Chapter Text

Whisper

Rage was a roar. Rage was a blast from his repulser as he blasted Steve Rogers. Rage was choking James Barnes between his hands. Rage wanted death and blood. It screamed for it.

Tony wanted to more than anything to give into it and give it blood. He wanted blood.

But there was a whisper.

The whisper was quiet. The whisper stopped him from using his missiles to destroy his enemies. The whisper was stopping him from giving the roar what it wanted. The whisper was holding him back. It whispered quietly “It’s not worth it”

The whisper saved him.

 

Calls

Despite suffering from frost bite and great number of broken ribs, Tony Stark still made two phone calls upon his return to the United States from Siberia. He made the first call to Pepper Potts. He should have done it sooner, but he hadn’t, so he did it then. The second call Tony Stark made was an anonymous call to the best lawyers in the entire world. Tony then made a very large payment to said lawyers and sent them on their mission. By that point Pepper had returned his call and was willing to talk. He needed to talk.

 

Deals

Clint had been expecting to spend a very long time behind bars. Each of those days he planned to spend fantasizing over getting some form of petty of Stark. He would never actually go through with his plans, even if the opportunity was presented. He didn’t hate him.

Clint did not expect to be taken from his from his sell, and he didn’t expect to be taken to a comfortable room, and he definitely did not expect to be greeted by a very high and prestigious defense attorney. Clint knew exactly who had sent the lawyer. He didn’t hate Tony.

 

Starks

Hank had always said never trust a Stark. Stark had seemed reasonable; Scott had thought that up until the point he was shoved in a prison sell. His heckling of the man hadn’t been as good or impactful as the other Avengers, and afterward he had felt a little bad about giving the dude such a hard time. He had seen regret and hurt in Stark’s eyes. 

Scott wasn’t sure what to think when a lawyer that very few people on the planet could afford walked into the room, but he was pretty sure he knew who had sent them.

 

Grateful

Tony was in the middle of trying to get his very expensive lawyers to negotiate deals for the rest of the team (Scott and Clint were out on house arrest) when he reserved a call from Secretary Ross. He put the man on hold. Tony then put a call into his lawyers and cancelled his attempts free the team. Steve may have been done taking care of him, but he wasn’t done with the team. Tony was glad one of them could help. He had never wanted any of the team gone or in imprisoned. He hoped they understood that.

 

Loss

A lot of people lose things, some lose a lot. Tony Stark had lost too much.

Millions of miles from home Tony sat on a hard rock and contemplated the end. He was losing blood from the stab wound in his torso faster than he had imagined possible, and he couldn’t find it in himself to care. Everything had been ripped from him. Torn away and turned to dust in hands.

He was millions of miles from home, from Pepper, he had nothing left, and nothing left in him to try. He wanted to try, but Tony Stark was done.

 

Stars

The stars terrified Tony. They glowed cold and distant as an eternal reminder of the day he had almost died. They had glowed so bright as his life was sucked from his body by the vacuum of space.

As a boy he had loved the stars. They had been his escape. His freedom.  A dream.

As a man he hated the stars. They were his prison now. His cage. A nightmare.

Now his night mares burned silently billions of miles away as they watched him die. Tony stared up at the burning stars. Maybe it was time they take him.

 

Collapse

Pepper could see that it hurt him to move. She could see his ribs poking through his shirt. She watched for a sickening moment as he struggled to meet her. Pepper didn’t let him finish his journey. She ran to him and grabbed his frail body in her arms. He wrapped around her with boney arms. Pepper tried to ignore the feeling of his ribs poking against her body.

He was home. He was safe.

She could feel him melt in her arms as she hugged him. He collapsed. His light body sank in her arms. Pepper held him closer.

 

Scars

Every scar has a story behind it. Some are meaningful, while others are just reminders of mistakes that were made.

Tony Stark has a lot of stories to tell.

Morgan knows her father had a lot of scars, and there for a lot of stories, but she doesn’t ask. She doesn’t ask because she knows that the story behind each scar is a painful one. One that her father would probably rather forget.

She did ask her uncle about them once.

He had said some stories are best not to be remembered.

Morgan listened because her uncle was very wise.

Chapter Text

Tony frowned up at Peter.

“What is it Mr. Stark?” the kid questioned with concern.

Tony folded his arms over his chest and attempted to look taller. It failed.

“I told you not to grow anymore,” Tony huffed angrily.

“I didn't grow that much!” Peter laughed.

“bullshit,” Tony snorted, “three inches. You have 3 inches on me now.”

Peter rolled his eyes with a laugh.

“Shall I try to shrink? Or do you want me to crouch?”

Tony glared harder, and the kid gave out into bursts of laughter.

“Mr. Stark! You look like your about to murder someone.”

Tony shifted his feet angrily on the smooth air port floor. He was pissed the kid was taller than him, but he was overjoyed that his son was back from his overseas classes. He would get over their new height difference.

“How big has Morgan gotten?” Peter asked and hopped joyously around Tony like a small child.

“hmm, about yay high,” Tony held his hand at waist height.

“Uh oh Mr. Stark you better watch out! She might get taller than you!” Peter laughed and picked up his suitcase.

“That’s enough out of you!” Tony laughed and tousled the kids hair. He really had to reach up now.

Peter laughed.

Tony didn’t care that he was so tall. He was just happy his kid was back from college.

Chapter Text

Rhodey looked up from his book as his small roommate pushed into the room.

“Do you mind if we turn off the lights early?” Tony asked plopping himself down on his bed.

He didn’t sound well. His nose sounded stuffed up and his cheeks were pale and flushed.

“You feeling okay buddy?” Rhodey asked with concern.

“Never better,” Tony mumbled and curled himself under his blankets.

“Alright,” Rhodey replied, not believing him at all.

He flipped the light off and slipped off to sleep with ease.


It wasn’t until the next morning when Tony didn’t protest to Rhodey’s alarm that he go concerned about his underaged roommate.

“Tony buddy it’s time to get up,” Rhodey called and tossed a pillow at his friend’s head.

Tony just mumbled something and nestled deeper into his blankets. Rhodey crossed over to his side of the room and sat down on the edge of the bed.

“Mmm cold…” Tony groaned from beneath his pile of blankets.

Rhodey pressed his hand against Tony hot cheek.

“Buddy your burning up-”

“No,” Tony whined and pushed Rhodey’s hand away.

The sixteen year old was so obviously running a fever.

“You need to go to class,” Tony rasped.

“Don’t worry about me Tones. Worry about you. You’re running a fever.”

“...Sleep it off…”

“Mmhmm,” Rhodey snorted.

“I’m fine,” Tony groaned, “Go to class.”

“Fine, but I’ll be back in to check on you. Just stay in the dorm and take it easy,” Rhodey ordered.


Tony woke up to a pounding headache driving nails into his skull. He let out an involuntary moan of pain.

“And I thought the beds in boot camp were bad.”

Tony snapped his head up in surprise at the voice that was very much not Rhodey’s. He instantly regretted the action as a wave of queasy nausea wormed its way up his body. He half rolled half fell out of bed as his stomach clenched. He grabbed the trash can and pulled it under his face just has his body convulsed and he threw up his last meal of microwaved pizza. The after taste burned his throat. His brain seemed to pound against his skull all the harder. His stomach clenched again, and a second bout of throw up forced its way out of his body.

“Woah there. Take it easy buddy.” A firm yet gentle hand rubbed his back as he threw up a third time. Tony leaned back from the trash can. His whole body shook uncontrollably as he looked the intruder of his dorm up and down. She was middle height and looked tough as hell yet also very gentle and caring. Tony opened his mouth to ask who she was but his stomach made an uncomfortable sound and he decided it was best to leave his mouth closed.

“I’m Carol,” She explained as if understanding his failed attempt to speak, “James sent me in to check on you. Good thing he did too.”

Tony chuckled a little but broke off into a small hiccup.

“Do you wanna get back in bed? Or stay down here?” Carol questioned.

“Floor,” Tony gulped.

He didn’t trust himself with a full sentence right now.

“Well if you’re staying down her you should at least be comfortable,” Carol replied and grabbed a pillow off his bed, “Here lean forward bud.”

Tony did as he was told, and she slipped the pillow behind his back.

“And a blanket,” She added before he could lean back again.

Carol wrapped one of his thick blankets around his shoulders and then helped ease him back.

“I’m going to put you back in bed here in a little while then run out and get you some medicine.”

Tony could only bring himself to nod.

Carol brushed a cold hand against his cheek and inhaled sharply.

“Okay. Never mind. I am going to make that medicine run now,” Carol said.

The concern in her tone didn’t make Tony feel much better about his predicament.

“Up you go.”

Tony was surprised  by how easily she scooped him up and tucked him back into bed.

“I’ll be back soon,” She ruffled his hair, and a few moments later the door to the room clicked closed.



“Rhodes you have a call out in the hallway from a Carol Danvers.”

Rhodey’s professor sounded pissed, and rightfully so. Nobody liked having their class interrupted.

“What’s up?” Rhodey asked as he picked up the phone in the hallway.

“When you get out of the class you are in now we are driving him home.”

“Carol I don’t think his dad’ll-”

“Not his home dummy,” Carol interrupted.

Realization dawned on Rhodey.

“Philly is four hours away,” Rhodey argued.

“Doesn’t matter. It’s Friday. You don’t have class tomorrow. We are driving him down there.”

“Gosh, I let you around my roommate for what? five minutes? And you already want to adopt him as your sad puppy.”

“First off his fever is really high and he needs the full mama Rhodes treatment and second he is SO adorable and I am 100% adopting your very small precious roommate.”

“Boy, this is the golden retriever puppy all over again isn’t it?”

“Yes. That is exactly what this is, but in all seriousness he is really burning up.”

“Then we should take him to the doctor not-”

“Look James I know the hospitals around here, and I know your mother. And there are many things that hospitals do better, but treating bugs like the one he’s got isn’t one of them. I am driving him to Philly with or without you. Plus we are all broke college students, and if your mom thinks he should see a doctor then we'll take him.”

“Okay fine,” Rhodey agreed not seeing the point in arguing, “I get out of class in about fifteen minutes. Meet out front in your car.”

“Woah! No! Nuh-uh! The kids puking his guts up. I am not putting him in my car.”

Rhodey face palmed.

“Fine. whatever. Use my car, just meet me out front.”


Carol lighted Tony off his bed and kept him bundled in his blankets. He was incredibly light and felt just a little bit frail.

“Where we going?” He mumbled and leaned his small head against her shoulder.

“Don’t worry about it.”

To Carols surprised he just shrugged and went back to sleep.

She tucked him neatly into the passenger seat of the car and buckled him in. She couldn’t help ruffling his hair again. It really was the puppy incident over again.

James only took a few minutes getting out to the car.

“I called ahead so mom knows we’re coming,” Rhodey explained his slight tardiness as he climbed into the back seat.

He reached up and brushed Tony’s cheek with his hand.

“Damn. You weren’t kidding.”

“What’d I tell you?” Carol replied and pulled out of the parking spot.


Cold air wormed its way into the blankets as the car door clicked open.Tony squirmed a little as the cold crawled up his spine.

“Let me see him.”

Smooth hands cupped Tony’s cheeks and he forced himself to open his eyes to find himself looking into a gentle motherly face that he didn't recognize.

“Poor baby,” The older black woman cooed as she held his cheeks in her motherly hands, “Poor sick baby.”

Tony didn’t bother questioning who this woman was.

“Okay Ma, we should get him inside,” Rhodey’s voice suggested from somewhere out of Tony’s line of vision.

“Yes of course. Come here child,” The woman scooped Tony up, “Lordy! Do you ever eat? I can feel your ribs!”

Tony didn’t grace that with an answer. He only leaned into the warm body carrying him. He wasn’t exactly sure who this woman was but he knew he liked her. He felt very safe with her.

He was vaguely aware of being carried into a house and being set down on a very cozy couch. It was all fuzzy through his blurry vision and pounding headache.

Various warm tasting things were put into his mouth. Some of them tasted very good, and others made him feel like he was going to throw up, but he never did. As the last of some warm lemon tasting substance was put into his mouth, he actually began to feel better, and very tired.

“Alright you can sleep now sweety,” The woman said in a warm tone and leaned Tony down on the couch. New softer blankets were pulled over him, and a smooth hand brushed the hair out of his face.

“Sweet dreams. You’ll feel better when you wake up,” The woman assured Tony as he slipped off to a surprisingly comfortable sleep.


When he woke up again he did feel much much MUCH better, and learned that he was in the house of Mama Rhodes.