“And I am Iron Man.”
The snap flooded Stark’s vision with white. Then, there was pain. So much pain. His senses could barely register what happened around him. He heard Peter’s voice, managed to focus his vision on the kid.
“Mr. Stark? Mr. Stark, it’s me, it’s Peter.”
Tony almost smiled. As if he wouldn’t recognize his voice. He wanted to tell him so much, tell him that he was the reason this all happened, to tell him that he had done it all for him and Morgan and Harley, but he couldn’t seem to speak. The pain was fading, but that just meant his nerves were shutting down. Peter told him they won. He said he was sorry. Oh, how Tony wanted to tell him he had nothing to be sorry for.
Looking around, he saw Rhodey and Banner and Thor and… Pepper.
She rushed to his side and touched his cheek. He whispered out a weak, “Hey, Pep.”
If only he could say more, tell her that he loved her. He wanted to see Morgan, but all the same he was relieved she was far away from all this carnage.
I love you 3000. He could barely breathe, every inhale and exhale a herculean effort. Serious organ failure now. He kept his eyes on Pepper, the love of his life. She had a few cuts and scrapes, soot on her face; her hair was wild. She never looked more beautiful.
“It’s okay,” she said, “We’re going to be okay. You can rest now.”
He couldn’t breathe. Darkness started to creep in. No, no I can’t. How will I keep you safe? I have to stay; I’m not done yet.
And then there was nothing. No sound, no light, no feeling.
It was almost like waking up from a bad dream. Tony’s eyes opened in a blink, and he was standing in a garden of sorts. A bright sun was shining down on him, and he squinted to adjust to the light. There was a warm breeze, and he wobbled on his feet, leaning against a nearby well. Other than some mind-blowing disorientation, Tony noticed that there was no pain. He sank to the ground, leaning against the stone of the well. He wasn’t in his suit, just a simple linen shirt and some pants, spotlessly clean. He stared at his hand, ran his fingers along his face. Healthy skin, not even any scars.
His heart hammered in his chest, and he struggled to breathe, gripping at the grass to ground himself. Where am I? What happened?
Looking up, he could see a house, well-built and maintained. He staggered to his feet, shaking just from the confusion and uncertainty. His mind ran through probabilities – it was probably civilians, he could get some basic assistance, maybe communication equipment to contact his team, and figure out where he was. He hoped he spoke their language. He wasn’t quite sure where he was, but he was sure it wasn’t America.
If, however, he was in hostile territory, he had absolutely nothing with which to defend himself, not even the arc reactor on his chest. He had to have been dressed by somebody, and patched up, right? But if they took his reactor, they might also have done so to disarm him. Tony decided it was worth the risk. Ignorance was never bliss in his book.
Just as he resolved to investigate, a young man, maybe twenty, stepped into the garden, spotting Tony. He was carrying gardening supplies and waved amicably at Tony, apparently unsurprised to see him. There was something about his features that seemed familiar, though Tony really couldn’t place it. He turned back to the house, calling out in a foreign language. What was that, Farsi? Tony flashed back to his time in Afghanistan so many years ago.
The boy turned around and smiled, holding up a hand as if to say, “stay there,” and held a finger to indicate “one moment,” then exited back into the house.
Tony turned to lean over the well. He took deep breaths to calm himself. Bruce had given him a few tips for dealing with anxiety. He focused on the coolness of the stone beneath his hands, the smell of the flowers and the light that turned the inside of his eyelids red. His heart rate slowed, and then he heard a voice behind him, a voice he wasn’t sure he’d ever forget.
“I was hoping it would be longer before I saw you, Stark.”
Tony whirled around to stare at the man before him, confirming the impossible. How is he here? He’s dead. Does that mean that I’m…?
Ho Yinsen reached out gently, holding Stark by the shoulders to steady him. “I understand that this must be a lot to process.”