He meets Strange's eyes, sees him raising one finger in his spot by the edges of the battlefield, and he knows.
His focus snaps back to Thanos, just in time to see the Mad Titan overpower Danvers. He rushes in, in perfect control of all his limbs, mind 100% engaged with the sole task of keeping Thanos from performing genocide.
All bets are off, now. He's been running simulations ever since the idea of creating the Avengers' version of the Infinity Gauntlet crossed his mind. The probability of his survival is non-existent, but when he balances his own life against the lives of the rest of humanity... Well. He's not shying away from the sacrifice play, not here, not now.
The look on Thanos' face when the titan realizes what Tony has done is priceless and truly unforgettable.
And just like that, it's the witching hour, the minute the bells toll, the second that the war ends, at the snap of Tony's calloused human fingers, instead of Thanos' large purple digits.
"And... I... am... Iron Man," Tony says, defiant and battered, stubborn and proud, victorious but already resigned to his death.
Familiar orange light floods his peripheral vision, and fingers tangle with his free hand. His breath catches when he meets Pepper's gaze, the helmet of the Rescue armor raised.
Before he could react further, there's another hand on his right shoulder, a comforting weight he knows anywhere, and he barely needs to turn his head to confirm who it is: Rhodey, his best friend first and foremost before he became War Machine.
"Mr. Stark!!" Peter shouts, frantic and voice cracking, hanging on to Rhodey's right forearm.
Tony's feels blood rushing from his face as he realizes that the backlash of using the stones will be shared between the four of them, like touching a live wire, like the Guardians of the Galaxy had survived once before.
But that was different. At that time, there was only one stone involved, and--
The most instense pain he's ever experienced rushes through his every atom and scatters his thoughts, and so he doesn't quite notice Steve holding Pepper's other hand, Steve holding Bruce's, then the rest of the Avengers, followed by the rest of the people on their side, holding hands, keeping the connection going, a long series circuit with a number of people that surely surpasses the current Guinness World Record for the longest chain of people holding hands at least three thousand times over.
Interspersed between them are the monks of Kamar Taj, who'd created portals all over the world under Strange's instructions. In that one moment, everyone on Earth stood united, wishing for the same thing. Carol Danvers completes the circuit, grasping Peter Parker's forearm with her own glowing one.
Thanos and his army get dusted with extreme prejudice.
Tony staggers in place as the energy subsides, but Rhodey is there, bracing him up, expression pained but fond.
"Tony!" Pepper sobs, equally pained but unbroken, unbarbecued, alive, relieved, at the same time Peter shouts "Mr. Stark!!!" with equal fervor, clinging to his side a second later.
Tony feels his consciousness fade, energy truly depleted and nerves fried after being ground zero, but he's okay with that. He's in good hands. The last thing he hears is Pepper's soft question of "Friday?" and Friday's voice sounding very faraway indeed as she replies, "Vital signs weak, but stabilizing."
He wakes up to Morgan fast asleep beside him on a hospital bed. Peter is on the floor, covered by a blanket, drooling into a pillow.
Pepper is on a chair right by his bed, hand still tightly holding Tony's even as she slept.
He looks out the window to see the most beautiful dawn he's ever seen.
The door opens, and there's Rhodey and Happy, both holding cups of coffee.
"Hey, did you bring some for me? Also, I could go for a cheeseburger right now," Tony whispers.
Rhodey nearly drops his cup but recovers at the last second. Happy actually does drop his, splattering coffee everywhere.
The ensuing cacophony from that fiasco wakes up the room's other occupants. Peter jumps down from his deathgrip on the ceiling, already smiling as he realizes that Tony's awake and no one is in danger. Pepper's grip tightens on his hand as she gives him a beatific smile. As Morgan tries to strangle him with her three-thousand-love, Tony thinks everything is perfect, and he wouldn't have it any other way.