Disclaimer: I own nothing.
"You stumble through your days,
Got your head hung low, your sky's a shade of grey.
Like a zombie in a maze, you're asleep inside.
But you can shake awake."
Come Alive – Hugh Jackman (The Greatest Showman)
Tony Stark liked to believe that he had simply been going through the motions that life had to offer. That he spent his nights drinking and partying and having himself scraped up off of the ridiculously expensive bathroom tile more times than he cared to admit. Or count.
Until he met her, that is.
She had come into his life like a whirlwind of sass and sarcasm and atrociously knitted hats. He tried hard to make it seem like he didn't show her any favoritism when her boss sent her down to speak with him about getting lab space, but, truthfully, he would've given that little curvaceous ball of wit anything that she'd asked him to.
And that ended up damning him in the end.
"Sir, you have an urgent message from Dr. Foster," JARVIS announced over the dull roar of guitars wailing throughout his lab as he tried to fix the one machine that kept breaking. Under the mentioned doctor's supervision.
Tony glared up at the ceiling, wiping his grease covered hand across his cheek. 'Tell her I'm busy – "
"Her assistant requires urgent medical attention, Sir."
And hell if that didn't get him out of his workshop faster than anything ever had before. He'd made it to their floor just in time to see the petite astrophysicist throw a tray of tools across the room in a fit of rage.
A rage that he now completely understood.
When Tony's parents died he felt an innate sense of responsibility. Stark Industries was now his life and he was forced to grow up much too fast, too quick. So, obviously, he drowned his sorrows in alcohol and women and forgettable promises that meant nothing. He'd struggled with his sobriety until she popped into his kitchen one day, like she damned well owned the place.
"Who the hell are you?"
He would've sworn that someone had broken into the penthouse if he wasn't so cocky about his security. But seeing a bright-eyed, enthusiastic young woman in his kitchen covered in flour wasn't exactly what he expected to see so early in the morning.
But her smile didn't last long. It nearly evaporated when she saw Tony glaring at her. "I-I'm sorry. I didn't think you'd be here – "
"And where else would I be? That's a rhetorical question, sweetheart, don't answer. How'd you even get in? This whole floor is blocked off. I would know, I wrote the code – "
"Speaking of code," she interrupted, trying to wipe the flour off of her hands and setting the mixing bowl aside, "I'd love to help you rewrite them. I cracked them in about, hm, five minutes? J-Man's offline, but he'll be coming back soon. I needed a mixer. And there wasn't one in the common area. Did you even know you had one? It was still in the box!"
He gaped at her like a fish. "JARVIS? Offline? Who are you?"
"Jane Foster's assistant," she said by way of introduction. She held out her still-flour-covered hand and pulled it back after a second. "You sign my checks now. Or, a nifty little stamp engraved with your signature does. Like I said, I needed a mixer and when I asked JARVIS where you were, he didn't say here."
"In my defense, I said Sir wasn't presently in the kitchen," the AI said as he booted back up. "I'm terribly sorry, Sir. She's already written a fair bit of coding that she'd like you to look over."
He blinked at her owlishly for a minute before he shrugged. "Whatever. JARVIS, get whatever she needs for…baking?" At her nod, he nodded, too. "Baking. Including new appliances for the common area." He grabbed a bottle of scotch from a hiding place underneath the cabinets and he heard her click her tongue. "Something bothering you?"
"Drinking will kill you, y'know? I had a friend in college drink their way through school and they needed a kidney transplant at twenty-three. Not to mention a liver transplant at twenty-eight." The brunette shrugged, looking down at him over her glasses. "But, you do you. Just don't come to me when you need a kidney. Or a liver."
Tony should've known right then that that was the start of falling down a rabbit hole that he could never get out of. Not that he wanted to.
He'd wake up almost every morning to something freshly baked – and still warm – placed on his kitchen counter. And damn it all to hell if the way to a man's heart wasn't through his stomach. Especially since alcohol had become a decoration to the penthouse instead of something he guzzled like a car guzzled gasoline.
He always had thought he was more of a recluse around people that wanted to be his friends for reasons other than his money. When the Avengers Initiative rolled around, he jumped on it, but he was in it to help the people, not make friends with the people that lived in his tower.
And she just had a way with changing all of that.
Tony went down to the common area, the lounge, the other labs. He made small talk with the people that were employed by Stark Industries, made an effort to get to know them other than just signing their checks.
He learned that Mary in accounting had just lost her husband after thirty years of marriage – he paid for her to go on a nice vacation to spread his ashes in Moscow like they'd wanted. He learned that Daniel in engineering had just recently lost his hearing and was trying to pick up sign language – which Tony took multiple classes in just so he could make the transition easier.
And Tony learned all of this because he saw how she interacted with people.
She stopped every morning to check in with the maintenance workers on her floor. She brought coffee to the scientists that didn't even belong to her. She helped Steve Rogers – the original boy scout – adjust to the current times and learn lingo so he wasn't so left out. Colored pictures of the Avengers would find their way into Bruce's lab and he'd lovingly hang them up like a proud father. Barton had taught her how to shoot – "What do you mean she wants to learn how to shoot? Fine, give her some grade-A Kevlar then." – after throwing knives had almost left him handicapped. She polished her nails with the Black Widow for fuck's safe.
If anyone was able to keep up with Tony Stark, it was her. And, boy, did she keep up.
"I want to take you out."
She finished filing something for Dr. Foster and looked up at him, a smirk painted on her red lips. "Oh yeah? I didn't take you for the mob type."
"No, smart ass. I meant take you out. Leave the tower and maybe grab some dinner?"
"No offense, Tony, but I've seen the girls you bring home. I don't really fit in with that." She shrugged, snapping the file cabinet closed and grabbing her ugly, chunky, olive green sweater off the back of her chair. "It's not that I don't think I'm pretty enough, because, dude, look at me. But you can't just kick me out when you're through with me. I'm not that kinda girl."
The brunet looked up after he shook himself from his thoughts. "Hey, Bruce. Thanks for coming – "
"You know that there isn't any place I'd rather be," the doctor said sincerely. His suit jacket was a little worn and his smile was a little forced, but it's what he'd expected, really. "How're you holding up? I know that today's hard…hard for all of us."
He'd spared absolutely no expense when it came to her funeral. They weren't married, weren't expecting a child, but, dammit, she was his. And he refused to send her off in anything less than the best.
"Steve thought it might be nice to watch a few of the videos she's taken over the past couple years if you wanted to join us."
Tony tapped his fingers around the glass of amber liquid that sat in front of him. He hadn't had a drink in the last sixteen months, her birthday excluded because she'd begged him to have a sip of her champagne, and he didn't particularly want to start the habit again. But the pain…
Bruce shuffled awkwardly before he sighed. "Let us know if you need anything, okay?"
"So…are we a thing?" She asked breathlessly, limp on his chest with his cock still buried inside her warmth.
They'd been at it for hours and the sun was starting to rise, casting the most beautiful shadows over her curves. It had all started with ordering pizza and watching budget horror movies and somehow it had turned into something else completely.
"I take you out, I kiss you. I'd say we're as official as they come, cupcake," he shrugged, his hand tangling in her mane of hair. "Pretty sure Romanoff's gotta bet running with Barton. Should've had Foster bet, too."
She giggled and smacked his shoulder without heat. "Stop it. It took you six months to get me into this bed – "
"And I'd do it all over again if it meant I got the same results."
"Yeah?" She whispered, propping her chin up on his chest and meeting his eyes with happy blue orbs. "You sure I'm worth the trouble?"
"All that and more, baby," he promised, cupping her cheek in his rough hand and kissing her soundly.
Tony woke up with sweat covering his body, a bottle of alcohol next to his head. His vision was blurred and it took him a moment to realize that it was from the tears filling his eyes and not from the remnants of all the alcohol he drank. Although, he was sure that was a contributing factor.
A quick glance towards the windows let him know that it was still late. There was no sign of sun in the sky.
No sign of sun anywhere.
It didn't take much convincing to grab another bottle and sit in front of the window, waiting for the sun to rise. Waiting to feel anything.
He'd purposefully avoided Foster's lab. And Foster, if he was being honest. Which, the alcohol definitely reduced his brain to mouth filter.
Bruce tried to get him back in his workshop, tried to get him to care about anything, but it was useless. He had no want to tinker with his projects or create anything new. All he wanted was the family that they'd talked about, the one he wanted more than anything.
"Condoms, Stark. Don't think that I'm just letting this happen," she snarked from under him, cutting through the sexual tension and making him groan.
"You're on the pill, aren't you?"
"That doesn't protect against STDs or STIs!"
Tony pulled back from her, a pout on his mouth. "I've been tested, clean as a whistle."
"I can still get pregnant. No mini-Starks, okay? Birth control isn't always one-hundred percent effective and you're still having trouble calling me your girlfriend in front of everyone."
He pushed a stray curl out of her eyes and kissed her softly. "Would mini-Starks be such a bad thing? And here I thought you'd hyphenate…"
"Are you ready for kids, Tony?"
"I'm a man in my mid-forties. Of course I'm not ready."
She rolled her eyes and giggled. "Let me know when you are and we'll talk about getting a bun in the oven, okay? But, for now, how about you make me come enough times that I can't walk."
It didn't take long for them to talk about kids again. They'd been actively trying for a few months before she…before everything happened. But he was never lucky enough to knock her up.
"Tony, do you have a minute?"
"What's up, Foster?" He didn't want to be here. Her lab was only a few feet away…
"I'm packing up her apartment a little later today, unless you wanted to. I…" the petite doctor fidgeted, tucking a stray lock of unwashed hair behind her ear. "I didn't know if there was anything you wanted. I know you spent more of your time in the penthouse than anywhere else, but," she sighed, "I wanted you to have the option."
Tony nodded. "Thanks, but I already packed up everything about a week ago." Had it really been that long? "Everything left behind was stuff I thought you'd want."
She looked at him with wide eyes. "Oh. I guess I just thought – "
"Just because I spend most of my days drunker than I'd care to admit doesn't mean I don't know how to get stuff done, Foster. I told you that I'd take care of everything."
"I wasn't insinuating anything – "
"You don't have to. I see how everyone looks at me." He scoffed unhappily. "I'm fine."
Jane put a small hand on his shoulder and squeezed softly. "I know you loved her, Tony. We all did. I know it hurts to let everything in, but she was like that, too. Kept everything bottled up until it exploded. I don't want you to self destruct."
"Don't worry about me, Foster."
It was Steve that finally convinced him to talk to someone other than himself. After six months of wallowing in the penthouse and drinking his way through every day, he agreed to meet with Sam Wilson, or, as everyone else knew him, Falcon.
They met in the common area, sitting down with a table between them that might as well have been an ocean. Tony regretted it nearly as soon as he sat down, but he was committed. And Starks didn't run.
"Tell me about the last six months of your life," Sam started, a white notepad in his hand as he clicked his pen obnoxiously.
He huffed. "It's been spent chasing the bottom of every bottle I happen to come across."
"And why is that?"
Tony gave him a look like he'd grown a second head. "Why the fuck do you think?"
"It helps to say it."
And that's when he realized that he hadn't actually said it before. He'd thought about it. Dreamt about it. But never said it out loud. Like if he didn't acknowledge it, it never happened.
The sirens of the lab were too loud. He saw Foster through the window, chucking a tray that made a metallic clang as it hit the floor. With a huff, he shouldered his way into the lab and barked out, "JARVIS. Call the local fire department. Now!"
"She's not breathing, Dr. Foster!"
If there was ever a moment where Tony was legitimately scared, that was it.
A crowd of bottom-feeding scientists were crowded around a loud knit disaster of yellow and green. One of them was doing chest compressions while the other kept two fingers planted against her neck, feeling for a pulse.
"Move!" He growled, pushing them aside and falling to his knees. He looked her over for injuries, concerned when he found none. "Did she inhale something? What happened?"
A small scientist, barely older than his girlfriend weakly said, "She pushed me out of the way. A machine exploded and – " The girl dissolved into hiccupping sobs.
Tony patted the brunette's face gently, trying to get any sign of life. His fingers found her pulse points and he felt his heart sink. She was as pale as a sheet and she wasn't breathing.
She wasn't breathing.
It wasn't until the fire department arrived and she was moved onto a gurney that he saw the pool of blood that was beneath her.
"What were you working on?" Tony asked Jane with as must restraint as he could muster.
Her hollow eyes looked up at him and she whispered, "A pathogen. A pathogen that SHIELD asked us to design. They gave us a formula and we were supposed to follow it." Her hand reached up and covered her mouth. "It was supposed to be used for war and it took her instead."
He gave her a curt nod. "JARVIS, see that Dr. Foster is locked out of her lab for the next seventy-two hours. And scrub the air. Get a decontamination unit in here and destroy anything that's left of the pathogen."
"Right away, Sir."
"Tony – "
He held up his hand and cut her off. "We're done here."
"I lost the love of my life," he finally said, reliving the most horrific thing that had ever happened to him. "I lost her."
Sam nodded. "And how have you been coping?"
"I haven't been," he admitted, wringing his hands together under the table. He hadn't been dealing with anything. He'd straight up refused to accept that she was gone, even going so far to sleep on the couch every night so her scent would still linger on his sheets. "I can't. Do you know how long it took me to get my life together? And then she comes in like, like the missing piece of the puzzle! Everything slotted back into place and I feel like a can breath again."
"Tony – "
"She was everything. I cleaned up my act, stopped being such a dick. She made me a better man, Wilson. And now she's gone! It's like she wasn't even here."
Sam sighed. "But she was. She was here, Tony. And you know that she wouldn't want you living like this." He set down the pen and leaned in on his elbows. "Your friends are worried about you."
"I'm fine," he said.
But it was a lie. It was all a lie.
"Mr. Stark, perhaps it's best if you sit down."
That was all the red flag that Tony needed to nope the fuck right out of there. But, he was an adult – as she so aptly reminded him on many occasions – and he took a seat at the doctor's desk. And twiddled his fucking thumbs like a teenager that had been caught with a joint.
"There's no easy way to say this – "
"Just say it, doc."
The grey-haired doctor sighed and straightened his glasses. "You have stage four liver cancer and it's spread to your bones."
Tony nodded numbly. It's what he'd expected really, especially when he'd gone in for a simple check up and it ended with a sweet 'we'll call you'.
"Now, you have the option of chemotherapy, but it will only extend your life. The probability of being cured is…not in your favor in the slightest."
"How long?" He managed to get out, looking up from his hands. "How long do I have to get my affairs in order?"
He'd been dreading the appointment since his secretary had told him, but he didn't think it would be this bad. Maybe high cholesterol or he needed to exercise more. Being diagnosed with cancer? Stage four at that was not what he'd bargained for.
"Based on the progression of your diagnosis, I'd say about a month without chemo."
A month was just enough time to do all they things that they said that they were going to do together.
Tony signed away Stark Industries to its shareholders, making sure that it would fall in the right hands when he was gone. He officially resigned from the Avengers, making Steve the head of the initiative – Coulson was ready to argue with him, but something made him stop. He made a video will – JARVIS promised to play it after the funeral.
He planned on being buried beside her.
His first stop was Hawaii. He spent three days with his toes in the sand and not a drop of liquor in sight. He watched the sunrise every single morning and made his peace with the universe. Which was hard seeing as he'd been a real prick for most of his life and getting cancer was probably a way of the world righting itself.
His second stop was Paris. He hiked along the Catacombs and passed more skulls and bones than he cared to count. Sometimes, he wished that he was among them, watching the travelers that came by.
Rome. London. Glasgow.
They all passed in a blur. And at each place, Tony left one of her hand-knitted beanies, lovingly placed in somewhere that he thought she'd love.
"One day, I'm going to take you everywhere you want to go," Tony said, looking up at her sitting across his hips like she owned him. His hand traveled between her breasts and he cradled her soft cheek, smiling when she turned her face to kiss his palm.
"Yeah?" She asked, rolling her hips and making his eyes roll up into his head. "I've always wanted to go to Paris. Maybe even Scotland."
"Anywhere, baby," he promised, his other hand on her supple hip and guiding her movements until her breath hitched. "I'll make you see stars on all the continents."
She giggled, the movement making him grit his teeth. "Even Antarctica?"
"Baby, you'll scream so loud the penguins will run for cover."
Tony made it back to the tower by the end of the third week. He was tired, mostly running on fumes. He'd been afraid to sleep, afraid that each breath would be his last. And, truthfully, he wasn't quite ready to leave this world. Yes, he was ready to see her again, but everything was going a little too fast, coming a little too soon.
Bruce had come up see him, knowing that something was going on that he didn't know about.
"How are you feeling? We haven't seen you in almost a month."
Tony chuckled, staring out the window at the Manhattan skyline. He'd taken the view for granted for so long that it was odd that it might be his last time seeing it. "Sorry. I've been taking care of a few loose ends."
"For her?" The doctor asked quietly, knowing that the other man would know whom he meant.
"For everything. It's been a long eight months, Bruce. And," he sighed, closing his eyes. "I'm just so tired."
Bruce was a smart man. Maybe not a doctor of the medical field, but a doctor nonetheless. "When did you get the diagnosis?"
He smiled. "About a month ago."
"How long did they give you?"
"About a month."
Wilson was right. When he told someone about what had happened, what was happening, it made it seem so much more real. He couldn't ignore it anymore, couldn't put it off.
And the strange thing was that he was okay with it now.
He was ready.
He turned his head and met the gaze of the man he considered his brother, even if it was just in science. "Yeah?"
"You're a good man."
Tony closed his eyes, only opening them again when he felt a soft hand on his cheek. He blinked, seeing his girlfriend curled up on the windowsill in front of him, one leg supporting her weight as she reached out to touch him.
"Hi," she whispered, a beautiful smile lighting up her face.
He wasted no time getting out of the chair and sweeping her into his arms, one arm thrown around her waist as he brushed his fingers of the other across her cheek. "I never thought I'd see you again."
She reached up on her tiptoes and pressed a kiss to the underside of his jaw. "Not gonna happen, Stark. You can't get rid of me that easily."
"Yeah, yeah, Lewis," he sighed happily, kissing her temple. "You know I love you, right? Fuck, Darcy, I loved you with everything I had."
"Love," she corrected. "You love me. I was never going anywhere, Tony. I was always right here." She tapped against his chest, right above his heart. "I love you so much."
And in that moment, he understood what it meant to be loved. Completely, wholly, without any reservations. With Darcy's wide blue eyes looking up at him and the small smirk that pulled at her red lips, he just knew that he was the luckiest person alive or dead.
And the latter seemed to be the plane he was occupying.
"I'm coming home to you, Darcy," he whispered, kissing her soundly. "Only to you."
"Tony?" Bruce said, noticing that the other man had gone completely still. He sighed and wiped away the tears that had gathered under his eyes. "JARVIS, please alert medical to come up here – "
"Sir has a DNR order, Dr. Banner."
"Of course he does," he replied, rubbing between his eyes. "Just…let them know."
Tony Stark was many things in his life – a genius, billionaire, playboy, and philanthropist. But most of all, he was a man that changed his life for the love of one good woman.
And he'd do it all again if he got the same results.
Hope you enjoyed it!