By the time he reaches a quiet rooftop, the tower gleaming far behind him, Tony’s vision is going double. A headache pulses through his temples like a knife, making his knees go weak and his stomach bubble up to his throat.
Part of him wants to lie down and get it over with right now. Give in to the pain. Fall asleep and never wake up. But he can’t - not yet. He’s still got shit to do, and besides, that wouldn’t really be his style.
“JARVIS, any chance I can find some aspirin around here?”
“There’s a twenty-four-hour pharmacy in the building to your right,” the AI informs him calmly, lighting up a flight path for Tony in the part of the HUD that didn’t get damaged during his fight with Rhodey.
Tony tumbles down more than he flies. It takes a full minute of standing bent over and panting, hands braced on his thighs, before he can muster the strength to get inside. The pharmacy is blissfully empty - no little kids or nosy teenagers asking for autographs - just an old lady at the register who looks over his beaten-up and altogether pathetic state with a crease of worry between her brows when he rasps his order.
“Take care of yourself, Iron Man,” she says when she hands him the aspirin and a bottle of water, her voice so warm and kind that it makes him want to cry.
He responds with a shrug and a flashy smile, then stumbles out of the shop, rounds the corner, and slides down in an alley. It suddenly takes an enormous effort not to throw up the pills he’s just swallowed, and for a while he just concentrates on breathing through the sick feeling in his stomach.
“Where’s Pepper?” Tony asks the AI when the drug finally starts to kick in and he can think through the pain again. The headache is dulling, but the nausea hasn’t decreased. He’s going to be sick sooner or later - if not the booze, then the poisoning will make sure of that. Keeping down food has become a pointless effort during the past couple of days.
“Miss Potts is still en route home, sir. Mr. Hogan is dropping her off at her private flat. They have nearly arrived.”
Something in Tony feels the need to make sure that she reaches the apartment safely. And something in him just needs to look at her one last time. Say goodbye.
Tony flies high above the rooftops, not wanting to be spotted, and hovers down quietly on a low building opposite of Pepper’s apartment just as the car pulls into the driveway.
The tension on her face is obvious when she thanks Happy and closes the car door. Anger and disappointment are the expressions she shows most often when she looks at Tony, but he knows that there are others. He’s seen how peaceful she looks when she smiles, how beautiful when she dances. He remembers the sparkles of happiness in her eyes the day he returned from Afghanistan.
He’s overcome by the desire to get more of this, to make her smile and dance every single day of her life, and something silly tells him to screw it all and fly over, to let her know what’s happening with him, to ask her to be with him for as long as he has left.
They could be in Venice now, he thinks, just him and Pepper, and for a second, the urge is overwhelming. Just tell her, just be honest, just ask her to spend the last days with you… But no, he’s gone this far - there’s no turning back now. He doesn’t want to make her sad. He doesn’t need people. They’re probably better off without him anyway. And he’s always been better off alone.
But no, that’s wrong, he’s never alone. He’s still got his most loyal friend right there by his side.
“JARVIS, what’s the status?” he asks, his own voice echoing loudly inside the helmet.
“You are running a temperature of 100.8 degrees, your heart rate is elevated, blood toxicity is at -”
“No, the Six Feet Under Protocol.”
There is a beat before the AI’s reply that no one except Tony would have noticed.
“Everything is ready, sir,” JARVIS says, his voice distinctly neutral. “I have transferred command of all of your suits to Colonel Rhodes. As soon as your death is confirmed, your shares of Stark Industries and ownership of your Malibu residence will be transferred to Miss Potts. Your private assets will be equally distributed among Miss Potts, Colonel Rhodes, and Mr. Hogan.”
Tony watches Pepper’s slim figure disappear into her apartment, the red of her hair flashing bright for a second when she switches on the light in the hallway just before the door falls shut.
“Sir, if I may take the liberty, it is not too late to talk to Miss Potts. I am sure she would be-”
“Nope,” Tony cuts him off, “not having that conversation. Pepper‘s gonna have the mansion and a shit ton of money, and that’s the last she‘ll know of me. It’s best that way.” He hesitates. “What would you want, JARVIS? What should I leave you?”
“Sir, as I informed you after your return from Afghanistan, I have developed a self-destruction protocol for the case of your death that only requires your authorisation. It will be activated after the persons on your list of importance have expired and do not require my protection anymore.”
“Following me into the abyss like a loyal spouse, are you?“ He chuckles, then has to swallow against the lump in his throat. “Protocol authorised.”
He watches as his HUD blinks green to confirm the activation. “Gonna miss you, buddy,” he says before he can think better.
“I’m going to miss you too, sir,” JARVIS replies warmly. “As surprising as it is.”
The tightness in Tony’s chest turns into something else and the moment is ruined when the nausea hits full force. He swallows again, but it’s no use, and before he knows it he’s on his hands and knees, barely having time to retract the faceplate before he’s heaving gushes of alcohol onto the rooftop.
Tony retches until all that comes up are strings of bile. The strain of it brings tears to his eyes. He coughs and chokes and definitely doesn’t sob.
It takes effort to pick himself up again, pain and fever and exhaustion having turned his bones into lead. There’s a voice in his head whispering that it’s pointless, that it doesn’t really matter whether it happens here and now or somewhere else later. But he ignores it. Tony Stark’s not gonna bite the dust next to a puddle of his own sick.
So he shakily gets back to his feet, swaying as he does so. He tries for a while to blink away the colourful lights obscuring his vision before he realises that they stem from the distant sunrise.
“Sir, your blood sugar is dangerously low,” JARVIS informs him. “I advise you to eat, otherwise you might lose consciousness soon.”
Tony’s stomach clenches at the thought of food, but he knows JARVIS is right.
“Okay mom,” he banters, launching himself into the air.
When he reaches the river, Tony throttles the speed and opens his helmet. He glides high above the skyscrapers, letting his eyes drift over New York. The city is just waking up, looking almost peaceful in the soft morning light.
Tony puts on his sunglasses and starts AC/DC on the suit’s speakers. Going out in style.
“JARVIS, find me a donut place.”