Dying… wasn’t going the way that Tony had expected. His last few moments had been so agonizing that it had been a relief when his vision had gone black, when the voices of his loved ones, and then even his own heartbeat, thrumming in his ears, had faded away.
He hadn’t been expecting to wake up again.
Really, he should have known from the moment he opened his eyes that something was wrong. Tony had never believed in the afterlife, and waking up in his own bed, sunlight filtering through the windows like the last few days hadn’t even happened? That felt a little too much like heaven to be real.
But he wanted it, so badly, and that made it too easy to pretend, to think that just maybe, somehow…
He’d sat up in bed, slowly, carefully. He’d expected his body to be broken, incapable, but there was no medical equipment, no IV or beep of a heart monitor, so he risked it. And to his surprise, nothing hurt, not even the familiar achey joints and muscles that came from being a retired superhero on the far side of fifty. And when the act of sitting up in bed didn’t send him into cardiac arrest, he’d chanced looking down at his arm.
(Tony was a pragmatist. no sense in putting it off; he needed to know what he was working with.)
If he hadn’t been suspicious before, looking down at his ruined arm, only to find it whole, intact, scarless probably should have tipped him off. And somewhere deep inside, Tony knew this was, quite literally, too good to be true. But it didn’t stop him from telling himself that maybe he had been out longer than he’d realized, maybe Carol had brought something back from space, or Nebula had found a guy who knew a guy who could save his arm.
He’d slipped out of bed, and when he stood up without issue, made his way for the hall, and downstairs. The house was quiet, still, and it sent shivers up his spine. For a moment he wondered if he was here at all, if this wasn’t some kind of vivid comfort dream in the last moments of his life. Pretty shitty of his subconscious, though, not to even give him Morgan or Pepper or Rhodey.
The thought didn’t have long to sit before he heard voices, coming from outside. Following the sounds, he stepped out onto the porch and stopped dead.
There was a small crowd of people gathered across his lawn, all his friends and family — and Ross, for some damn reason — all dressed in black.
Not one of them turned to look at him.
“Oh,” Tony said quietly, the realization hitting him like a punch to the gut. This was a funeral. This was his … “Oh. Shit.”
Carol was standing next to him, looking out toward the lake, and with panic thrumming low in his stomach, he turned towards her.
“Danvers?” he called. “Hey, Danvers!” He waved his hand in front of her face, but she didn’t even flinch. Swallowing down bile, Tony turned to follow her gaze, trying to turn off the part of his brain reminding him that he hadn’t smelled the scent of Pepper’s shampoo on her pillow, hadn’t noted the way her perfume had seeped into the walls of the cabin. How his fingers hadn’t quite seemed to touch the railing on his way down the stairs.
Then his gaze settled on Pepper, standing on the edge of the lake, holding tight to Morgan’s hand, the two of them clothed in black dresses. And it didn’t matter that nobody could see him, that he was beginning to suspect he wasn’t really here. He shoved his way past everyone, ignoring the way that they didn’t respond to his movements, until he was standing in front of her. Pepper was staring out over the water, her back to everyone else, and there were tears spilling over down her cheek, but Tony could see the way her hand was shaking, how she was biting her lower lip to fight back a sob. How she was trying to keep her cool, so she didn’t scare Morgan, didn’t lose her composure in front of everyone.
“Oh, Pep,” he breathed. She couldn’t seem to see him, but he stepped forward anyway, rubbing his thumbs over her cheeks in a futile attempt at brushing away her tears. “Oh honey. I’m so sorry.”
She didn’t respond.
He stood there for a long time, after everyone had trooped back inside, then left altogether, until even Peter and May had left, and it was only Pepper and Morgan and Rhodey and Happy inside the house. Until it had grown dark outside, the lake a black void despite the moon’s reflection on the water, until he had watched the lights inside flick off, one by one.
He didn’t know what he’d expected dying to feel like, but it wasn’t like this.