It is a great irony when something that’s supposed to keep you alive is actually killing you.
And even more so when you are a genius and still unable to figure out a solution.
Tony had run the gamut of emotions after feeling the first symptoms – and after he learned their source. He had worked tirelessly to overcome the problem with palladium, but in the end, nothing worked. There was no out, no alternative. No cure.
He hopes he’ll crack under the pressure, like in the cave, and a flash of determination will provide him with an answer. J.A.R.V.I.S. is running algorithms, calculations and virtual tests around the clock, in order to find something to fix Tony’s problem. Tony is convinced they still have time, but the darker the lines on his skin, the worse he feels, and the firmer is the grasp of the truth that he’s not going to survive this.
So, he focuses on other things: the Expo, improvements for the Iron Man armor, and when he’s feeling particularly horrible, he drinks excessively, because that’s the only way he can pretend he’s simply drunk and not dying without resorting to actual drugs. Being drunk becomes a blanket he can wrap himself up in, to forget the real problem. If he’s throwing up in the bathroom, Pepper’s going to assume the obvious. No one looks at him twice for stumbling, even when he’s only drank chlorophyll all day, or whatever vile concoction You has prepared for him; the bot keeps making a mess, but Tony knows what’s happening, so his insults and threats are half-hearted at best.
They are all coping with his imminent death.
Some of them cope better than others.
There are days when Tony manages to drown himself in things and forgets what’s at stake. He realized long ago that company business doesn’t do the trick, but people still expect him to do his part. So, as an obvious answer to that problem, he spends a frustrating amount of time figuring out how to solve the dilemma. Clearly, if he’s dying, he should be thinking of the future of Stark Industries as well – and ends up with the solution that he’ll appoint Pepper as SI’s new CEO.
With the company’s future as secured as Tony can manage for the time being, he turns to the only thing he has left: he’ll put on the suit and fly out to whatever hot spot is troubling the world that day, and act like the one-man nuclear deterrent everyone knows he is – or should know, but clearly there are some assholes in the Senate who just don’t get it. Well, Tony will sooner die than let them get their fingers on his tech.
It’s sad how soon that statement may come true, but Tony has planned ahead, and made sure that won’t happen. He and the suit are one, after all. If he dies, so does Iron Man.
Which poses the whole other dilemma about a snake eating its own tail, or whatever reference people happen to like most at the moment. The more Tony uses the Iron Man armor, the heavier the toll on the arc reactor. The heavier the usage, the faster his inevitable demise. A logical, simple answer would be to not put on the suit, and buy himself more time, but Tony is a genius and he knows that it won’t buy him all the time in the world. He’s always been an ‘everything or nothing’ type of guy, and he won’t settle for less when he’s already going down.
He’ll go down in a blaze of glory, if it’s up to him, and seeing as he has all the cards in his hand, figuratively and literally, at least he can do this one thing and control where the spiral ends.
Sometimes, he considers ending it right there, in his own hands. Remove the arc reactor and let the shrapnel travel to his heart – or die of cardiac arrest, whichever comes first, because clearly his heart hasn’t been the same since the device was implanted and Tony knows that if he allowed actual medical people to take a look at him, they would probably tell him his heart has suffered a great trauma.
He can make that diagnosis on his own, thank you very much.
It has become an irregular but increasingly frequent habit that, whenever another core is depleted, he’ll turn the arc reactor over in his hands, looking at its lifeless, dull appearance, and imagine that this time, he won’t put it back.
He always puts it back, but for a few seconds, or minutes, before his chest begins to tighten with panic and pain, he can see his death reflecting back from the smooth surface of the front of the device.
“Sir?” J.A.R.V.I.S. interrupts his current debate over mortality.
“Yeah?” he speaks up absently. His chest muscles are constricting, as if knowing something is missing. Hot tears prickle in the corners of his eyes, and his temples throb as if someone’s suffocating him, blocking the natural flow of blood back and forth. He feels nauseous – well, when doesn’t he, these days? – tired and dizzy, but his gaze is fixated on the arc reactor and his focus is absolute when it comes to it.
“The external scan of your vital signs suggests an increasing response to the continued disconnection from the arc reactor.”
Tony narrows his eyes, just a little.
“Sir, please replace the palladium core and insert the arc reactor.”
The single ‘please’ makes Tony start, and he reaches out automatically, plucking a new core from the cigar box and sliding it in, then moves to return the arc reactor to its proper place in his chest. Once it’s in and doing its job, Tony feels like he’s suffocating for about two seconds before his body gets the message and his chest muscles stop seizing in order to let him inhale. “Fuck,” he mutters, closing his eyes.
“Thank you, sir,” J.A.R.V.I.S. says, and Tony glanced upwards, where most of the cameras connected to his AI are located. He’s not sure why J.A.R.V.I.S. is thanking him for saving his own life, but then, there’s only so much the AI can do, and yet it stands in his core programming that he must protect Tony. It doesn’t seem to make a difference when he has to protect Tony from himself.
If only the AI could find a way to fix the palladium issue, then things would be A-OK for the foreseeable future.
“You’re welcome,” he says, anyway, because he’s too tired to not be polite in return.
You rolls over, unsteadily sliding a bottle onto the table next to his elbow. Its outside is stained with the green liquid it contains, and part of the bot’s claws are smeared with it, too. Tony considers this for a moment, then sighs and reaches over for a rag. “Come here, you klutz,” he orders and takes hold of the claws, cleaning the bot up. “Stop making a mess,” Tony continues, but the fight’s been drained out of him for the time being, and he’s just… alive. Which isn’t a bad thing, considering it won’t last forever, but sometimes he wonders why he’s dragging this out. He has his things in order, more or less.
As much has they’ll ever be, anyway.
“How do you feel about death, J.A.R.V.I.S.?” he asks. It’s hypothetical, at best, but at the same time it’s relevant to him, right now, and since his AI and his bots are the only ones who know he’s sick, it’s only fair that one of them share the burden with him.
“My death or yours, sir?”
“Suddenly ceasing to exist is, what humans describe as an unsettling feeling. Since there is no valid research or proof of what comes after, most choose not to think about it. The thought process seems highly upsetting, after all.” There’s a pause, and Tony knows J.A.R.V.I.S. is looking through his vast database for something to suit Tony’s needs at this particular moment.
“What are you planning on doing after I’m gone?” Tony asks – because J.A.R.V.I.S. is the only person – thing – that he can ask that question.
“Very little, sir.”
“Come on, life’s full of… stuff…” Tony’s not sure, exactly, but he would imagine the most advanced AI in the world would have plenty of places to go. Might even take over the world.
“You gave me self-awareness, sir; I do not think I would want to continue functioning after you’re gone.”
Tony blinks. He’s been pretty wrapped up in the thoughts of his painful, agonizing, slow death, and hasn’t really thought what it is like to be a fly on the wall – an instrument in his failure to find a cure. J.A.R.V.I.S. was there when he first discovered something was off. Actually, it was the AI who pointed out the abnormalities in his regular tests, so they’ve both been through this horrible journey together.
That J.A.R.V.I.S. is contemplating some form of technological suicide in response to Tony’s passing is sad, yet somehow appropriate: it’s no lie that J.A.R.V.I.S.’s life revolves around Tony’s. But to hear the AI state that, so openly and frankly, as if he knows what wanting means at all… Perhaps he does, though; Tony’s done a lot of wanting since he built J.A.R.V.I.S., so there are plenty of examples for the AI to add to his calculations.
“So, maybe we’ll figure something out and I won’t have to die just yet,” Tony suggests.
“That would be preferable, sir.”
to be continued…
Author’s note: In case you missed it earlier, this chapter contains heavy spoilers for Iron Man 3. You can skip this chapter if you haven’t seen the movie yet and don’t want to be spoiled.
Tony can fit an uncanny number of heartbeats in between Maya Hansen’s pointed finger and the first missile hitting the house. That’s kind of astonishing, considering how it feels like his heart stops entirely. Maybe it does: all he can think of is Mark 42, and wrapping it around Pepper’s body before she hits the floor – or wall, or anything solid.
The inside of the living room has been transformed into a cloud of gold and gray, suffocating and yet, at the same time emanating the stench of destruction. Tony moves like in a daze, issuing orders, telling Pepper to get out, to take Maya – to stop hesitating. The clock’s ticking on all of them, and they’re running out of time. The very foundations of the building shake, heralding the end.
Tony supposes it’s a statistical anomaly that a terrorist can actually be goaded into attacking a known superhero, but Tony feels anything but in control of the situation, even though he was the one to issue the threat. Clearly he wasn’t thinking straight, but he has to think straight now, because they’re all going to end up at the bottom of the ocean if he doesn’t pull himself together.
More rockets hit the building, explosions and flying debris following seconds thereafter. The floor’s already torn in two, the westward side of the house resting above the water, tilting dangerously. Tony feels exposed, stumbling around, trying to find his footing. His balance eventually becomes impossible to maintain, sending him rolling and sliding. He briefly wonders if he would survive should he fall into the water. The odds are not good enough to try, so he grabs onto the first solid thing he can reach, just as his feet break through already cracked glass.
For a moment he’s not sure whether he’ll make it, but adrenaline is often a life-saver, spurring him on to pull himself up as he tries to catch his breath, sitting on a supportive beam, feet propped up against the floor. The tightness inside his chest suggests another panic attack is well on its way, and he can’t handle that right now – which is the perfect time for J.A.R.V.I.S. to call through the destruction:
“Sir, Ms. Potts has cleared the structure.”
The AI sounds tense and harried. Tony isn’t afraid for him, not really, because there are backups of the backups, and J.A.R.V.I.S. is transferring important data even now, as long as it’s possible. However, it might be the AI is worried about him, and Tony tries to alleviate that by summoning the Mark 42 armor.
Once the pieces lock around him, the panic dissipates. He’s suited up. He’s safe. He’ll be able to fight back. Even with the suit malfunctioning, Tony can make a stand.
They came to his home, and now he’s going to roll out the gold-and-red carpet for them –
He doesn’t really, but not for lack of trying; he takes down two of their choppers, but the second comes back to bite him in the ass as it crashes into the building, and Tony’s world bursts into flames and pressure that throws him forward, the HUD barely compensating against the sudden brightness, and even in the suit he can feel the fall to the lower floor of the house.
Tony clings on, trying to get his bearings, to come up with another plan, another approach. He just needs a moment…
As he turns, he hears a faint beep over the constant rumbling, shifting of elements and occasional explosion when another explosive hits the building. Half-way across the floor he sees the bots. In the midst of all the smoke and rubble it’s impossible to tell them apart; one of them has fallen and the other is struggling to stay still. Whether it’s an attempt to help each other or seek comfort in the midst of destruction, Tony isn’t sure.
Some animal part of his brain would love to curl up in a corner with Dummy and You, to wait for this to be over.
The entire floor continues to tilt precariously towards the ocean. Tony wishes that he could tell the bots it’s going to be okay, but if he can’t convince himself, it’s doubtful the robots will believe it either.
Above him, the old suits explode, startling him. He should move, probably, but all he can do is watch the flames swallow his past, one by one. It’s like someone pushing over dominoes, and the final shove sends the remnants of the house falling. The big finish…
He doesn’t have flight power, and the water rushes closer to greet him. Tony tries to brace for impact, but it still shoves him upwards, then sucks him back down again. He can’t tell up from down, caught in a whirlpool inside the remnants of his workshop. He feels sick to his stomach. Closing his eyes makes it better and worse at the same time, and he can feel wetness near his waistline: the suit is leaking.
The realization hits him a moment before he feels something tightening around his neck. He doesn’t know what it is, doesn’t have time to grasp for it before it pulls him down relentlessly. All Tony can do is kick and squirm feebly until it’s over and he hits whatever is beneath him, the object around his neck still taut.
His hands struggle to free himself from the invisible trap. He can feel the pressure, his ears aching, and there’s definitely more water inside the suit than there should be. Something broken, leaking.
He doesn’t want to drown at the bottom of the Pacific Ocean.
There’s no light beyond the arc reactor, but far above, rippling, he thinks he can see the sunlight. If he can just get free, he can swim back up. He’ll make it. He has to.
Something blocks the sunlight: a large shadow moves down towards him, sparks flaring deep inside it like a last attempt to revive a broken lamp.
Tony wriggles free of the obstacle holding him down – a wire – three seconds before the large shadow hits him. He can’t tell which section of the house it is, but the weight and mass are more than he can simply push away. It crushes him down into darkness. Desperation claws at him from the pit of his stomach. Water fills his nostrils, briefly, as he breathes in. He hates the sensation, and how it throws him right back into the cave, his head underwater, a pressure on the back of his head holding him down.
Tony’s still in the suit, though. No one’s holding him down but an inanimate block of concrete; he can blast, punch and dig his way free.
Only, it’s a long way up, and he feels sluggish when he starts to struggle. Is he even moving? He tastes the ocean in his mouth – can’t get the taste of it off his tongue. It mixes with the slight aftertaste of blood. His eyes sting, and he can’t see much of anything, the HUD flickering in and out; there’s no room for light where he’s buried. Each and every wound and scrape on his body burns from being touched by the salt water.
He tries to focus on the single-minded task of getting himself free. Regardless, he keeps slipping, freezing, slowing down. He tries to count seconds, tries to figure out if his heart might actually give out from the stress of the situation. He can’t think clearly, because he’s starting to panic, all over again.
Tony gasps, sputters, tries to move his head and see something. He opens his fingers the best he can, where they claw at sharp corners, and fires the repulsors, over and over. He sees a flash of them, can feel the jarring power, and then there’s smoke in the water, blocking the blasts and he feels the concrete move, shifting, crushing him, and he belatedly wonders if he’s just buried himself deeper. Is he even going the right way? The suit barely operated above-water, and now, up could just as well be down…
Eventually, he thinks, he may have punched through. He can’t be sure, it could be just another gap between pieces of what used to be his home. He’s running out of air, and room to breathe. He can’t move his legs, and how is he going to keep moving if he can’t move his legs?!
In the darkness, Tony contemplates giving up. No one would know… He tried. He more than tried. He’s hurt, tired, not just a little bit scared, and he wants it to be over. He doesn’t want to remain confined inside the armor for long horrible minutes, feeling it fill up with water, crushed from all sides and knowing he’s not going to get out.
If he weren’t so afraid of the sensation of drowning, he would just get it over with. Open the faceplate, somehow, breathe in for a final time…
“Sir, take a deep breath,” J.A.R.V.I.S. calls out, suddenly; a voice in the darkness, where he thought he was trapped alone, and his heart skips a beat. He barely has time to inhale, his brain struggling for comprehension, when he feels the gauntlet remove itself from around his right hand and forearm. Cool water rushes in, unstoppable.
For a few seconds he thinks this is it, finally. His end rushes in to meet him, and he can feel the suit filling up. As his chest seizes in anticipation, and he knows for a fact he doesn’t want to go out like this, no matter how much he had contemplated it earlier, he manages to spare a thought as to what his AI thinks he’s doing. Is there a plan? Is he malfunctioning? Has he decided it is infinitely better to put Tony out of his misery than leave him to slowly suffer –
Something closes around his bare hand: unyielding metal in the shape of a hand. The gauntlet! The squeeze is vicious, and clearly there is no intention to let him slip out of the hold. Not even if it leaves bruises and risks breaking a few bones.
Tony feels his body moving, dragged upwards, and his upper body finally becomes free of the carcass of his house. The grip lets go of his hand, and for a second it feels like he just lost the only lifeline he had left, but the gauntlet returns, slipping back around his fingers, hand and forearm – sealing Tony back inside with half the ocean, it feels like.
He moves his head, desperately, water sloshing inside the helmet. He’s losing the thread of his thoughts, even though he shouldn’t, because he’s so close now, to being free, to escaping his supposed tomb at the bottom of the ocean. He’s swallowed too much water, though, and the air’s gone. Coherency is leaving him with every frantic heartbeat, his consciousness narrowing, seeking the HUD aimlessly as a few new shapes appear on it. They mean something, but he can’t think. He can’t breathe, either, when he no longer manages to hold his head up.
J.A.R.V.I.S. says something, the water distorting the words.
Something about flight power.
Faint vibrations travel along his body and Tony feels like he might be moving – that maybe he’ll be able to draw another breath after all. His world tilts and narrows further. He wishes he could speak, to confirm that J.A.R.V.I.S. is still with him – that the AI will continue to save his life for a little while longer – but he can’t stay awake.
to be continued…
When people are met by an unstoppable force they cannot fight or control, they’re prone to saying ‘thank you’ if they make it through the ordeal. Think of earthquakes, tsunamis – any natural interference with human lives. As long as the problem is beyond a person’s reach, everyone’s content to embrace survival and gather what’s left of their life to go on.
But when the threat comes from somewhere else – a terrorist attack, an accident, super-villains – the thankful words disappear and all that’s left are accusations and rage; claims that it could have been stopped; demands for explanations; instructions on how to do things better in the future.
There’s nothing like hindsight.
Problem is, when disaster strikes, there’s no time to stop for directions, or advice. If you want to save anything or anyone, you have to move faster than the opponent, take down the threat and salvage whatever you can.
Sometimes being there in time doesn’t matter.
Precautions don’t always work.
There may not be room to explain why or how something happened, and they sure as hell don’t change the end result.
Whenever the Avengers assemble, it should come as no surprise to anyone that the situation is dire and highly volatile. When the heavy hitters are all there – the Hulk, Thor, Iron Man, even Captain America – one can only assume the world may be in danger of ending, being invaded, or something similar.
Sure, sometimes it isn’t that bad – but sometimes it is, and if anyone asks Tony, after all this time, the men and women doing the fighting shouldn’t have to deal with what comes after; they’ve just bled and laid their lives on the line to save innocents and the freedom of their world.
Sometimes… they can’t save everyone.
Not even close.
It’s a little over five hours since the fighting stopped. Tony flew directly to New York City afterwards, to the Stark Tower, which also serves as a base for the Avengers whenever they need it. Everyone else is still in South Carolina, and it will take them at least a couple hours to come close to returning to New York.
As the suit opens at the front, catching and dragging in places where the mechanics are bent or broken, Tony feels like someone just removed a full-body cast from around him. His knees buckle and he finds himself landing painfully on the floor. The first instinct is to get up, but he’s disoriented and probably has a concussion or three. His scalp feels wet, hair sticking to it, and he knows all of it can’t be sweat.
“Sir?” J.A.R.V.I.S. asks, not outright implying that Tony may need assistance, but making himself known nonetheless.
Tony shifts forward – okay, he crawls – and rolls around, resting his ass on the floor, several of his ribs protesting at the twist. The armor is already closing behind him, and Tony takes a moment to marvel at how horrible it looks. Dented and smeared with…
He closes his eyes. At least he knows the blood on the inside is his. Whatever stains remain on the outside, he doesn’t wish to consider their origin. Of course he can convince himself that it belongs to the bad guys, but he’s fairly certain most of them weren’t capable of bleeding red.
Knowing he can’t take a look at that suit before it’s been thoroughly washed – and maybe even that won’t be enough to erase the memory – Tony rolls back around to his front and again considers getting up. He doesn’t feel any steadier, but he’s not feeling worse, either, so he pushes his knees properly under him, then starts reaching for something to hold on to as he levers himself up.
A hand wraps around his forearm and helps him along, and Tony knows he shouldn’t look, but not looking isn’t an option either, so he does. The armor stares back at him, all glowing eyes and battered surface. “Do you need assistance?” J.A.R.V.I.S. asks, with the armor’s speakers.
“I’m okay,” Tony murmurs. “Turn on the TV.”
He hears a soft electric sound from the other side of the room. Which channel was being watched the last time someone was at the Tower, he isn’t sure, but he hears the news. Isn’t that a surprise. “– in South Carolina was met by disaster in the early morning hours, when the Avengers, a group of super-heroes, met their match in a currently unknown group of criminals. Casualty reports are still coming in, and the destruction and vastness of the battlefield may yet leave the Battle of Manhattan in its shadow. Estimates on casualties go as high up as several hundred, while thousands have been injured.”
“I shall change the channel, sir,” the AI offers.
“No,” Tony argues. “Let it play.”
“I know you’re not deaf, J,” Tony snaps, then looks down at his arm the armor is still holding. “Let go. I’ve found my feet. Wonder where they disappeared to for a moment…” he muses idly and watches the mechanical fingers let go. There aren’t any bruises, but he can see smears of dirt and dried something left behind. He stares, even when he doesn’t want to. He knows he’ll be rubbing that spot relentlessly when he finally gets himself into a shower.
He looks at the TV instead, to distract himself, although that isn’t any better: image after image of destruction sails across the screen, but it isn’t half as horrible as the real thing. They’ve cut all dead bodies and torn limbs from the images, for one. They may be showing where a few of the bombs went off, scorched walls and blood stains marking the streets, but Tony was there when one of them blew up and he can still remember the screams.
How he didn’t know there was a bomb, he still doesn’t know. Sure, he was distracted, but he should have paid attention because there were people in the area.
His legs shiver, threatening to send him back to the floor. Maybe he should have stayed down, but that’s one lesson he’s perfected while fighting alongside Captain America: you never stay down; you never give up.
He feels like giving up now, though. Even if they won, it feels like an empty victory. Many died in the last thirteen hours. If the numbers stay in the hundreds, he’ll be positively surprised. The point of taking the battle to a populated area was to give the Avengers a distraction, and to cause a lot more damage than hashing things out where there weren’t thousands of spectators in the vicinity.
Tony can’t rid himself of the guilt that gnaws, painfully, at every fiber of his being. He should have known better. He should have looked into AIM’s business after the whole mess with Killian. Well, he had, and he knew S.H.I.E.L.D. had as well, but somehow they had failed to see this coming: the best and brightest in the new age of warfare. Weapons Stark Industries hadn’t even dreamt about, but which surely were going to burn themselves into Tony’s nightmares.
The worst of it is that whatever will be left of AIM after the Avengers and S.H.I.E.L.D. are done with them, they’ll be selling their weapons at a high price, especially after the demonstration in South Carolina. The body count might as well be a bonus, and the fact that the Avengers had a hard time overcoming the advanced weaponry is enough to loosen many a purse string.
“Some unconfirmed sources claim that an organization called ‘Advanced Idea Mechanics’ may be involved in this latest catastrophe. They were previously known for re-branding War Machine – and were later hinted at being involved in the kidnapping of President Ellis and the explosive events in Miami, Florida. We will update you on any new developments.
“Meanwhile, many victims of this senseless act of violence are speaking up. The social media is filling with descriptions of the events – including some inflammatory comments about the performance of the Avengers, a well-known yet still somewhat mysterious group of super-heroes. ‘They brought the fight to our peaceful home street,’ a person writes. ‘Our whole neighborhood is in flames,’ concludes another. These are only the tip of the ice berg, seeing as many people have not only lost their homes, but their lives as well.”
“Switch the channel,” Tony orders, deciding that he’s had enough of that.
J.A.R.V.I.S. does his bidding and a shopping channel replaces the appropriately saddened face of the female news anchor. Tony’s not certain if it’s a change for the better.
“Is there nothing else on?” he asks as he slowly makes his way towards the living room area. He needs to sit down and take a moment. Just a small moment to ground himself, before he has to deal with this.
“It would seem your battle in South Carolina has garnered much interest. Would you rather watch Disney Channel, sir?”
“I’m pretty sure they can include subliminal messages there was well,” Tony decides and manages to land himself on the couch when he’s finally too tired to move further. “All hate the Avengers. They just tried to save the day, but that’s not enough,” he mutters and lies in an uncomfortable position, one foot resting over the back of the couch, but he can’t be bothered to try and move. His head is spinning and he just… needs that moment.
“A perfect flambé pan for your gourmet cook at home!” a sickeningly cheery female voice announces on TV, and instead of flaming food, Tony’s mind jumps to a flash in recent memory: a man in flames, taking a couple stuttering steps before falling. The building behind him crumbling, collapsing under its own weight after a detonation deep within it. Voices crying for help, trapped inside –
“Enough,” he decides. “Turn it off, J.A.R.V.I.S., or I swear to god I’ll blow up the TV.”
The TV switches off immediately, leaving only a faint crackle of electricity before that, too, fades.
Frustration twists inside him. Tony hopes, for a moment, for the comfort of another, but Pepper’s gone from his personal life, in the aftermath of the last AIM fiasco. It burns that after everything they went through, Killian eventually got between them, although not directly. Things just… fell apart, in the end. She didn’t need this in her life, but Tony couldn’t walk away from the responsibilities he had given himself.
So, now he’s alone, and the others are hours away because he had to get some air, to remove himself from the destruction he should have stopped long before it came to this.
He thought he had.
It burns that he was wrong.
Tony closes his eyes and wishes he could just get rid of how both flames and water are now something he can’t think twice about without risking a small meltdown. He feels a bit of heat under his skin, but it never becomes more than that. However, it is a worthy reminder of the things he did do, in the end, and while that should be reassuring, it really isn’t.
He shifts, sits up and leans back against the couch, forcing his eyes open, to look at the real world and not the images that hover behind closed lids. The building is quiet, the noises from outside muted. “J.A.R.V.I.S.,” he calls out, because that way he won’t be alone, and they’ve been through this together before.
Well, not this, but close enough.
“Yes, sir?” the AI responds, like he’s got nothing better to do. Well, he doesn’t, because his entire existence revolves around Tony, and if that suddenly stopped being the case…
“Let me know when the media starts to mention my name in the same sentence with AIM’s.” It’s only a matter of time before someone starts pointing the finger at where the blame lies, which is Iron Man’s failure to take down AIM in the first round.
Someone might even say today is his fault, and Tony wouldn’t call them a liar for it.
“They already have, sir. Would you like me to collect the sources for you?”
“No, thank you,” Tony sighs.
A shit-storm of this scale is the last thing he needs. It’s not the first time, nor will it be the last, but each time is worse. It’s funny how the people are determined to rally behind him and cheer for him as long as things are going well, but when something truly gruesome takes place, they’re just as quick to turn on him.
He debates the wisdom of one of his enemies – the one he should perhaps thank for today, he’s not sure – and looks out towards the balcony and the landing pad, wondering if anyone would notice if he took that one-step shortcut to the lobby. “J, how long would it take for me to fall from this floor to street level?”
“Approximately eight seconds, sir.”
Plenty of time to recognize his sins on the way down, then. Too much time, in fact, although Tony’s laundry list is long. He’s done a lot of atoning, at least on his end, and he knows that if he ever did it, he wouldn’t be thinking of all the horrible things he’s done, or been privy to. He’s fallen from this very building once already, and although he knew Mark 7 was coming for him… his life may have flashed before his eyes a little, regardless of knowing he had the situation under control.
“Are we going to conduct another armor experiment?” J.A.R.V.I.S. asks.
“No,” Tony replies. “No armor.”
“Then may I suggest avoiding any such activities that could lead you to fall to your death?”
“Motion denied,” Tony huffs a small laugh.
“Yes, J.A.R.V.I.S.?” Tony asks patiently.
“I can sense you are upset.”
Tony purses his lips, but doesn’t reply.
“Would you like me to call someone? Ms. Potts?”
“Nope.” Although talking to Rhodey might help.
“Definitely not,” Tony argues. “Stop… offering to make phone calls for me. I don’t need a… whatever you think I might need.” He looks towards the glass doors again, and as if knowing what he’s planning, J.A.R.V.I.S. slides them shut and locks them, then darkens the glass until he cannot see outside. “What are you doing?” Tony inquires, because the AI doesn’t usually respond to his moods like this.
“I am attempting to distract you, sir,” J.A.R.V.I.S. responds.
“From the view?”
“From your desire to end your life.”
Oh. Is he that transparent? “If I do choose to end my life, it’s not your job to stop me,” Tony tells him.
“I respectfully disagree, sir. My primary function is to ensure your safety.”
“So I’m on suicide watch?” Tony snorts.
“Considering how many times you have contemplated on ending your life, I would agree.” There’s a pause, and Tony isn’t sure if he wants to get into this argument with his AI right now. He knows that J.A.R.V.I.S. has saved him more than once. The AI has also stopped him, more than once, from harming himself. And ‘harming’ does not mean a paper-cut or even shooting himself with a nail gun; it means all those times Tony was so close to wrapping up the party that’s called his life, and in some indirect way, J.A.R.V.I.S. found a way to thwart those plans.
Perhaps what Tony needs to take from that is that he wants to live, because he’s never been genuinely mad at J.A.R.V.I.S.’s interference.
“After days like these, I’m not sure if anyone would care if I was gone,” Tony confesses.
“I would care, sir. It may sound very self-serving, but you gave me awareness and a chance to choose. I would choose to be here and work with you for the rest of my existence, and that cannot happen if you are gone. Also, as you have pointed out, machines do not forget, unless they are made to forget – and I know there is no programmer left in the world, after you’re gone, who would be able to make me forget you, sir.”
Tony closes his eyes and squares his jaw. He should tell himself this is a program he’s talking to. Advanced, yes, and mimicking human emotion, but it’s just that – mimicking. J.A.R.V.I.S. isn’t real, and what he wants, or thinks he wants, shouldn’t matter to him as much as it really does.
“Thank you, J.A.R.V.I.S.,” he says instead, “for saving my life.”
“The pleasure is all mine, sir.”