“Steve you need to get out of there, you’re out of time!” the frantic yell cut across the com, as the man in red and gold armor sped towards the red, white, and blue figure holding back the oncoming machine.
“I got this! I can get you more time,” he grunted back, shield slicing the air again and again.
Iron Man pushed harder, “No time get out!” JARVIS was in his ear, telling him what he already knew; he was rapidly loosing power.
“All power to thrusts, shut up JARVIS I know the math,” he also knew the odds, put he was hoping for a little divine providence.
“Please Steve get out,” Tony begged plaintively, the plea far to soft to be heard.
“I can ge-” the blond was cut off, by a sudden explosion.
Tony screamed over the link, “STEVE!” static the only response.
The others where yelling over the link but their voices seemed distant and far; as all rushed towards the last known location of Captain America.
Tony was the first to arrive.
Stumbling blindly as he touched down the metal man was already running head long into the dust and debris still settling in the far to quite street. The large machine was labouring onwards into the panicked city, but the man in the iron suit was focused on one thing.
“Steve?” he managed hoarsely frantically searching, trying to spot that distinctive costume. Hoping that once more the Cap would pop out, disheveled and dirty…but very much alive.
He barely heard the small moan of pain.
Spinning he finally spotted the downed figure. It felt like he was moving in slow motion, his limbs heavy and slow as he slid to his knees beside the man. Tony ripped his helmet off, dark eyes refusing to acknowledge what he was seeing.
“Steve…” he moaned finally daring to look. Disbelieving eyes taking in the three large metal re-bars protruded from that wide chest.One looked as if it had gone right trough his heart. Blood pooling under the fallen superhero at an incredible rate.
Shock set in then, Tony’s world drained of colour and sound. The battle faded and his entire being centered on the man bleeding out before him. A trembling metal hand settled around the bar trying to stanch the ceaseless flow.
“Steve hold on you’ll be fine,” he managed to gasp out; the words ringing hollow.
“Tony…I never told you….” Steve gasped and coughed, blood trickling from between colourless lips,
“No don’t you say goodbye Steve, don’t you dare,” Tony begged, staring into those beautiful blue eyes.
The blond smiled softly, the pain beginning to ease from his features, “Love you…” bloody lips formed the words slowly, crimson trickling from the corner of his mouth.
“No please Steve please, I love you too please,” he gathered the other close, the big body trembling. Tony was crying, unsure when the tears had started, as he begged and pleaded for him not to leave.
Desperately he pressed his lips to the dying man tasting the metallic tang. “Please…” Tony Stark wept desolate, as he clutched the cooling body rocking back and forth.
Once bright blue eyes clouded over; staring lifelessly upwards.
He awoke, blinking slowly. The dream from the long ago past as fresh, and clear as the day it had happened.
Every time he closed his eyes it was there, haunting him, following him into his waking hours.
The jet dipped slightly, and the man heard retching across from him. Impassively he glanced towards the young recruits, pale and shaking. Today had been their baptism by fire; it hadn’t been easy.
Sighing he rubbed his face tiredly, feeling the harsh brush of stubble, interspersed with the smooth, puckered scar tissue; he was getting far to old for this. Ignoring the trembling in his right hand, he clenched and unclenched it trying not to let the others notice. All to aware of what they said about him.
More myth then man it seemed these day. The rumor mill ran rampant where he was concerned. Most of the stories didn’t even come close to the truth. Over the years the elusive facts had evolved, changing, each generation making his tale larger, more grandiose, until he was sure the man they spoke of only existed in legend. The real thing did not even coming close.
They where landing then, the jet touching down on the main base. The young, recruits the first to hurry off, followed by the more seasoned men, while he, as always waited until last. Worn black combat boots slowly disembarking, ignoring the chaos around him. Eyes skimming the blood red sky, the sun a dying orange ball on the horizon as night loomed closer.
In no real hurrying the black clad figure headed into the massive concrete and steel structure, his feet automatically moving along a familiar winding route. Almost home free when a somewhat familiar women appeared.
“Sir, Supreme Commander Wilson would like to see you,” she said radiating efficiency. He paused, staring at the women steadily, saying nothing as she shifted uncomfortably looking anywhere but at him.
“You’re making her nervous,” a hauntingly familiar voice chastised softly. He nodded slowly, trying to soften his look a little as he followed her further into the base.
She left him as they reached the small office, looking relived to be out of his presence.
Once upon a time he would have tried to keep a good-looking young women in his vicinity longer; but that had been life times ago.
“Stark,” the deep voice barked, drawing his attention. He turned to face he middle-aged man glaring at him from behind the haphazard pile of metal serving as a desk.
Slowly he stepped inside, moving to fall in at parade rest, speaking for the first time, “Sir.” His voice gravelly with disuse. The Commander stood moving around the contraption towards him.
Vaguely he wondered how many Directors, Commanders, Generals he had seen come and go. The list seemed far to long. “Stark, have a seat,” he offered. The man declined with a small shake of his head.
Sighing heavily the Commander moved to pour himself a drink, “Drink?” he refused again, watching idly as the man poured the foul smelling moonshine into a lopsided tumbler.
Drink in hand he returned to his seat, studying the almost mythical man before him. “Look Stark there’s no easy way to say this,” he began focusing on a single visible dark brown eye, the other obscured by the black eye patch he wore.
“The decision had been made to end Project Avenger for good.” There was no sound, no movement from the dark headed man, “Stark you’re the last, the others long since buried out there. The world stopped believing in superhero’s decades ago.”
The one called Stark gave the tinniest of flinches, the final statement finding its mark. “You have done great things for us, for the world, and we thank you for your many years of service, but now they ask that Iron Man fades into obscurity.”
The unmoving figure never once changed his facial expression, his expression belling the screaming in his mind. His chest feeling like it would cave in at any moment. “Is that all Sir,” he managed blandly, his world spinning and breaking apart.
“Be strong love.”
The voice offered small comfort, as the Supreme Asshole Commander nodded his dismissal. Turning on his heels he paused when the man spoke again, “Tony…I’m sorry.”
Dark eyes closed in pain, as he stepping silently into the hall.
No one stopped to talk to him, to ask what was wrong. Anyone who cared was long dead.
Unhindered he reached the concrete bunker that served as his sanctuary, locking himself inside. Alone he leaned back against the thick metal door, closing his eyes tightly, trying to steady his mind. The unforgiving words echoing in his head again and again. Everything the Commander had said was right. He was the last, the world turning its back on him long ago.
“That’s not true the world will always need heroes.”
“No they don’t, they stopped wanting to believe in heroes long ago.” He answered aloud in the silent room.
Wearily he stood moving towards the small alcove on the far side of what he loosely termed a lab. Pausing to strip off his dirty uniform he stepped into a haphazardly curtained area that served as a shower. Quickly and efficiently he washed in the weak tepid spray trickling from the hose. Water was far to precious a thing to waste.
A minute later he stepped out toweling off just as briskly. Unintentionally catching his reflection in the small cracked mirror. Looking away just as quickly, repelled by what he saw.
Tony Stark was not the man he had once been.
The arc reactor, his once pride and joy had become his curse; it had slowed time for him. He was far rougher around the edges these days, the weight of the world bearing down on him. Yet even with all the time that had past, he bore only a few wrinkles, and a white streak in still, thick, dark hair. Physically however he looked no older then thirty-eight. He’d be a hundred and thirty-eight next month.
“Still got it,” he mumbled giving his reflection a sour smile, pulling tight the scar tissue on his face. Three twisted white lines cut across once handsome lips, another ran through his left eye ending on his cheek.
That one had cost him his eye.
Under the torn, drooping lid a red glow was visible, Tony able to hear the mechanical whir and hum in his head as it moved and focused. An engineering marvel, he’d created himself a new eye when he’d lost his own. It was a pinnacle of human engineering, although the red glow tended to unnerve many. It was easier to just conceal it.
“You do still have it,” the other spoke again.Snorting a dark brow rose glancing at the shadowy image reflecting in the glass.
“We defiantly aren’t what we used to be,” he replied, Choosing to ignored the plethora of scars crisscrossing his body. Everything from puckered bullet holes, burns, deep furrows from knives, to a multitude of others he’d rather not think about.
Gaze skipping away from his chest he couldn’t help but land on his left arm, or at least what had once been his left arm. He’d lost the limb years ago, during a particularly vicious fight. But in typical Stark fashion he had built himself another. Using the suit design to create another. Then with the help of Bruce, they had attached it to his chest piece using the arc to power the limb.
“I like it, I always have. You really are Iron Man,” chuckling Tony finally turned to face the other properly. A single dark eye, and glowing red orb looked into cloudy blue eyes sunk back in that unnaturally pale face smiling at him softly.
“You still love me like this?” Tony teased making a point to not to look at the three large, bloody holes in the man’s chest.
“I never stopped.”
Shaking shaggy locks he turned away from his reflection dressing quickly in old worn jeans, and tight black thermal shirt. Hanging his towel he stepped back into his thick worn boots before navigating the chaotic workspace. Bots beginning to beep to life, DUM-E and Butterfingers, the last of his friends.
Pausing he lay a hand on the old, old machines his heart turning painfully. “He’s right though I am the last,” he muttered absently stroking the metal. The other was tellingly silent to the observation.
Sighing he moved on, reaching the far end of the room where his true objective lay. To an outside it looked like a haphazard mess of pictures, newspaper clippings, and articles all connected together intricately with bright red yarn. The entire mess chronologically mapping out a small time period in 2013, something he’d been working on it for as long as he could remember.
“You’re not thinking about this again are you?”
Tony didn’t bother to look a the figure standing next to him, “I never stopped thinking about it.”
“It’s a fools mission Tony.”
“Perhaps, but what do I have left Steve? They’re done with me. They what to pretend I never happened. Pretend we never happened.” He could see the apparition flinch wavering beside him.
Tony Stark had lived a long time; far longer then anyone should. He had seen his friends die one by one, leaving him alone. He’d seen the word end; more then once. Civilizations collapse and rebuild. More horror’s then he could name, or wanted to remember.
And all because of a single horrible moment in time, when the Avengers had failed…no that wasn’t accurate. When he had failed.
“It wasn’t you Tony,” Steve said as if reading him mind. Which made sense, since he was a figment of his fragmented mind.
“It was. It really was we both know that. It was all my fault,” he whispered his voice cracking slightly, as he brushed too long hair out of his eyes. His mechanical eye feeding him useless information about the ambient temperature in the room and what the bots where doing behind him.
“Things sometimes happen for a reason,” the hallucinated man tried to reason.
“I don’t buy that, I never have,” Tony said flatly moving towards the board. “You where the catalyst love.” He reached out laying a rough hand on an article featuring a strong smiling man, the headline one he knew without looking Captain America Dead.
“Without you, we fell apart; I fell apart,” he moved to a second article, circled in red. “A week later Eva,” the benevolent looking women smiling smugly from the faded newsprint, “Five days and she unleashed hell. No one was ready for it.”
“You can’t know it was that specific chain of events Tony.”
“Maybe not, maybe I’m wrong…but if there’s even a small hope,” He turned to the dead man sadly resolute. “The tiniest sliver of hope that I can change this,” he gestured around him hearing the clink of his tags against his chest, “It would be worth it.”
He was moving them, Steve blessedly silent in his head as he and the boys hurried around the cluttered space.
“I’m not letting you talk me out of it this time,” he told the figment of his imagination firmly. “Not this time love,” he muttered, his good eye taking on a fervent gleam, as he fired up a dead system, unearthing long buried plans.
He wanted to say he wasn’t sure when it had become an obsession, but that would be a lie. It had become an obsession the day he had lost him. That one bright spot in his miserable existence.
He’d lost his mind and his soul that day.
No not accurate either, he had lost his heart that day. They had buried it with that patriotic hero.
“Tony…” he ignore the voice, eager eyes scanning the data scrolling across the dusty screens.
He moved blowing dust from circuit boards. “Need more power,” he mumbled as he hurried to drag cables, from all corners of the room.
He worked steadily for hours, locking down his space, but no one bothered him. There was no one left to worry over him, make him eat or sleep.
“I’m still here,” the voice reminded him softly.
“I know love…but you’re not real,” he whispered chest clenching. Rationally he knew Steve had died a hundred years ago, that the man wasn’t really here talking to him. It was nothing more then a hopeful delusion his addled mind clung too.
Sanity and Tony Stark had parted ways long ago.
It took him twelve hours to get everything powered up, all the calculations set. Sitting back he scanned the rather ad hoc device. He’d harvested it for parts over the years, but he was almost sure it would work, and if not well… shrugging he gathered his rucksack.
“I can’t stop you can I?”
“How are you going to get back?”
“I’m not going to come back, and if it all works then this god forsaken future will never happen.”
“What if it doesn’t work?”
“Then I die,” he said casually snapping the bag closed, “And I get to be with you again.”
“Tony…” sighing the dark haired man paused to grab an old faded photo, taken a few weeks after the Avengers had first assembled. It was Steve and himself, laughing together about something, a candid photo Clint had taken; and his most treasured possession. Carefully he tucked it safely away.
Moving to the machine he passed by his bots, “Thanks boys, for staying.” They beeped their happiness as he stepped onto the pad. Steve stood silently by the bots.
“See you on the other side love,” he winked, nodding to the machines to hit it. Grunting in pain as electricity coursed through him.
His last conscious thought that if he was going to die, he hoped Steve was still waiting for him.