If you could not be bothered to read the [ENDGAME SPOILERS] tag in my summary and are subsequently spoiled, that is not my responsibility or concern.
I am incredibly torn over Tony's fate in Endgame. The way I see it, it's a dignified ending. He died so everyone else could live, and his death has meaning.
But, fuck, doesn't he deserve a happy ending? Doesn't he deserve to watch his daughter grow up? Doesn't he deserve to have more time with Peter after mourning him for five years?
Why is Steve Rogers more worthy of a happy ending? Don't get me wrong; I dig Steve. I thought he was a badass in the movie. But, seriously, his decision to find Peggy in the past and build a life with her was so goddamn selfish. Discounting timeline issues, she had moved on and lived a happy, fulfilling live without him.
So, my little fix-it. ripped is still gonna be a thing, but I have finals. This is just to cure this injustice because I was fuming when I left the theater.
Dying isn't quite like he thought it would be.
And if anybody would have any kind of idea on the subject, it would be Tony. From nearly dying in a cave in Afghanistan to the harrowing battle on Titan, he's got enough experience to, perhaps, be considered an expert. But actually dying isn't at all like nearly dying.
It's quicker and slower than he'd thought. As soon as he snaps his fingers, Tony knows death is inevitable. He can feel it creeping up on him; his heart beats louder, slower, sluggish, and it's impossibly difficult to draw in a single breath. There's black creeping along the edges of his vision, unyielding, and he finds that focusing on any singular thing is a fruitless effort.
He's vaguely aware of the people around him.
He can hear Peter, and fuck, even on death's door, he's so fucking grateful because the kid, his kid, is alive and he'll be fine. There's so many things he wants to tell Peter, but his tongue is like lead in his mouth, heavy, and so the words never leave.
"I'm sorry I got you killed," he wants to say. Because he was responsible for Peter, and the kid turned to fucking dust in his arms, and there's nothing in the world that can take back that feeling of helplessness, that despair as the son of his heart cried out his name and apologized.
He can hear Pepper next, her voice shaky but strong as she tells him, "We'll be fine."
Tony doesn't know what he did to meet such a beautiful, courageous woman, but he's damn grateful. He's so fucking happy because she birthed him a beautiful daughter who is every bit the best parts of both of them, and he's the last person to be considered religious in any shape or form, but he's so fucking blessed.
It's easy to give in, then. His sacrifice worked, the people he's leaving behind can move on, and it's a hell of a way to go, really.
In the end, Tony dies the way he'd lived: on his own terms.
It is a good death, almost peaceful, surrounded by some of his favorite people in the world. Little by little, everything stops. His legs stop throbbing, his arms stop trembling, his lungs stop stuttering, and his heart finally stops beating.
He's not expecting, then, to wake up.
It's disorienting. His head feels like it's wrapped in cotton, waking up from a long slumber, and he sits up, taking in his surroundings in confusion. He's at... a train station?
The station is empty, devoid of any other people and color, and a glance downwards tells Tony that he's in his birthday suit. This isn't exactly a surprise to him; most of his twenties involved him waking up, naked as the day he was born, not a clue as to where the fuck he was or what the fuck he did the night before.
The stark whiteness of the station, alarmingly bright, has Tony wondering, briefly, if maybe a God does exist, and maybe he's about to take a train to Hell.
"Are you satisfied?"
Tony jumps, startled, and he whirls towards the direction of the voice, his arm already halfway up as if he can repulse the person into their next afterlife.
It was a woman that spoke. There's an ethereal quality about her beauty; pale, ivory skin, unruly pitch-black hair tied into a high ponytail, bangs framing her heart-shaped face, emerald green eyes seemingly glowing as she stares him down. She's wearing the strangest robes he's ever seen, but the red and gold trim almost makes him smile.
She eyes him with a cocked eyebrow, her arms crossed over her chest, her right foot tapping away impatiently. He stares at her stupidly for a moment before, remembering his nudity, slowly puts his arms down to cover himself.
"Excuse me?" he says.
She stares at him silently for a few more moments. Tony squirms, uncomfortable, but then she waves her hand, and he's wearing his favorite oil stained jeans and worn, faded Metallica t-shirt.
"Are you satisfied with the way things went down?" she clarifies. There's a quiet intensity in her stare, compelling, and Tony finds that he doesn't want to lie.
"I want to live," he says truthfully. "I want to watch my daughter grow up. I want to tell Peter that he's like a son to me. I want to grow old with my wife. But if I have to die so that they can live, I will. I'd make that decision as many times as I have to."
She nods her head slowly, thoughtfully. When she sticks her hand out again, a folder appears in it, and Tony's mind whirls, itching with curiosity, wants to know who she is, where they are.
"Typically, a reaper would be here to guide you to your afterlife," she informs him casually, flipping through the pages in her folder. "But considering you're a bit of a VIP guest, you get me instead."
Tony licks his dry lips. "And you are?"
She glances up from the folder, offering him a tight smile. "Hari Potter, Mistress of Death."
Tony takes that in, makes a small hum of acknowledgment. After working with aliens, after witnessing Dr. Strange's mystic arts first hand, hardly anything surprises him. "How does one become the Mistress of Death?" he inquires curiously. "Were you always the Mistress of Death? Did you die and become the Mistress of Death? Were you ever human?"
Her smile becomes a little tighter. "I'm human," she tells him. "I died in 1998 when I was eighteen, but it didn't stick. Due to some misfortune on my part, my actions when I was alive have led me to this position. It will be full-time when I die." She studies the file again. "It says here that you were the Merchant of Death before you became Iron Man. Do you know what this means?"
Tony grimaces, his distaste at the old moniker apparent. "I'm... going to Hell? Is there a Hell?"
Hari's smile is a bit more genuine, softer around the edges. "I can neither confirm nor deny the existence of Hell. That would be telling, wouldn't it?" she says slyly. "What it means, Mr. Stark, is that you would, like me, have a job once you die." She snaps the folder closed.
"No rest for the wicked, huh?" Tony tries to smile, but his lips won't quite twist the right way. He wasn't a very good worker when he was alive, not in the sense of actually paying attention to the minute details that were required of the CEO of a major multibillion-dollar company, craving, instead, to invent, build, breathe life into bits of metal and circuitry.
Hari looks at him, and he almost hates her for the pity that he can see in the depths of her green irises. But when he looks a little closer, he realizes that it's not pity. Not completely, at least. There's compassion, empathy, and he feels a sense of camaraderie that he doesn't fully understand with this woman.
"I was eleven when I heard the truth of my parents," she says softly. "They were heroes, and it was because of their sacrifice that I was able to live. I will never forget my father dying to give me and my mum a chance to escape. I will never forget my mother shielding me with her own body. Their actions made me who I am, even though I never personally knew them."
Tony stares at her, his chest curiously tight, his eyes burning. "I'm sorry," he croaks out, and he fucking means it because, damn it, that fucking sucks.
"They chose to sacrifice their lives, and I respect that decision, regardless of how painful it was to me," she continues. Her eyes meet his, and she holds his gaze. "You sacrificed yourself so that others could live, so that your daughter has a world to grow up in. There was dignity and honor in your death." She smiles at him, her eyes misting over. "I hope you don't think too poorly of me, but, as much as I respect your decision, I also can't help but make you this offer."
His eyebrows nearly shoot into his hairline. "...offer?"
"This is against regulation," she continues, as if he never spoke. "And if you feel like this offer is spitting on your sacrifice, please understand that that's not my intention. Rather, I feel like it would be a far crueler injustice to accept you into Death's ranks without letting you decide what you want." Seeing she has his attention, she says, "Right now, you have a chance to go back."
Tony's eyes widen in shock, and he staggers back as if she hit him. Hari's hair sweeps to the side as a train arrives at the platform, shrieking and slowing to a stop.
"Why me?" he whispers. There's longing curling in his chest, and he wants, more than anything, to hold Pepper in his arms again, to smell Morgan's tiny curls, to listen to Peter babble on and on about science.
He wants to live.
But how many other people have wanted to live?
Why is he more worthy than anyone else? Him, with blood on his hands, the countless people who were killed because of his weapons, because of his company, because of him.
As if reading his thoughts, Hari says, "My old mentor once told me that it was our choices that show what we truly are far more than our abilities. You are capable of mass destruction, and your development of these weapons certainly helped you fulfill that potential, but you are also capable of good. You became Iron Man to right your wrongs. You have fought, time and again, to help people, to save people, and when the choice had to be made between your world or the world, you snapped your fingers without hesitation, knowing that death was your only outcome. Tell me," she takes a step towards him, "how are you not worthy?"
Tony's breath comes out in sharp pants. He opens his mouth to speak, but the words won't come. They die in his throat, unspoken, but he stares at her, longing and hope in the worn lines of his face, fear and shame in the very quiver of his lips. "I..."
She takes yet another step, and when she's close enough, she takes his hands into her own, holds onto them tightly, a lifeline that he needs. "Sometimes we don't need to martyr ourselves," she whispers thickly. "Sometimes we can have happy endings, too."
Tony bows his head, overwhelmed. He's caught off guard by the tear that drips onto their hands, but he finds that once he's started, he can't stop. He cries, silently, and it's cleansing, cathartic, and there's a tension in his shoulders that just melts away.
"I can be with my family again?" His voice is raspy, thick.
Hari smiles, still clenching his hands. "You can," she tells him. She gestures towards the train. "That will take you to your afterlife, if that's what you choose. And there is no shame in choosing that," she says adamantly. "If you want to move on, I will put you on that train. You would most likely start working with myself and Death."
"But I can... I can go back?" He stares at her hard, searching her for any sign of deception.
She reaches up to thumb away his tears, and she cups his face. "You can live," she says simply.
Tony nods his head slowly. "I... I want that," he whispers.
Hari beams at him. "Live well," she tells him. "Don't waste your life, okay?"
He smiles, remembers Yinsen, and for the first time in a long time, that gnawing guilt that ate at his insides doesn't churn, doesn't make him feel sick.
"I will," he promises.
Hari nods her head decisively, and she takes a few steps back. "You redeemed yourself a long time ago, you know," she says softly. "Your only mistake was not forgiving yourself."
Tony doesn't get a chance to respond. Hari snaps her fingers, and then it's like he's freefalling, like he's Alice tumbling down the rabbit hole. The universe itself seems to rush past his eyes, and Tony can hardly make out the rapidly approaching ground just before his soul slams back into his own body.
He lets out a sharp gasp, his breathing unhindered, and his blurry eyes gaining focus.