I'm not usually this dark and depressing, so this really surprised me. I'm not really sure how good this is. Ah, well, here goes.
And a special thanks to the 85th writer and batmansbabe for their excellent writing, because without it, I would not have had the inspiration to write this.
Disclaimer: I do not own any of the following character's, or the Iron Man comic books, or Marvel. But I should.
Falling. Sinking. Drowning. Dying.
I know in my heart that he was trying.
The battle is done, death has won, life is none.
It is the end of me.
Water rushes over his head. He plunges into the darkness. Down, down, down, he sinks. He tries to pull his head up, just to break the surface, for a precios moment or two, but the water builds up constantly above him, like a waterfall cascading down, right on top of him.
The water is cold. He's shivering. But there's nothing he can do. Because the waterfall pours down, never slowing, never ceasing. He sinks further down, it seems that with every struggle he falls down just a bit more than he swam up.
Out of all the ways to die, it was quite disturbing the way he was going to. Cruel, almost. He flashed back to that night. That one fateful night that changed him, scarred him forever. He remembers a boy--not yet a man, but close--standing on a bridge. It's dark, and his expression mirrors the darkness, if not amplifies it. His black hair is tousled from the rain. He hadn't bothered to get out his umbrella. He didn't need it. He couldn't. Just another thing to drop when he heard the fateful words.
The police officer approached him, gazing--no, merely turning his head--out over the side of the bridge. The officer was still 15 meters away, but he read the man like the books he had so many of. In a way, he had always known since he had received the phone call. He had known.
The officer's walk had taken him past the gap. The huge, monstrous bite out of the side of the bridge. The officer's gaze wandered over it, and his body gave an involuntary shudder. The boy watched.
The officer was an older man. His belly portruded, trying to escape his shirt, and fell over his pants. His walk made him look like a penguin, the boy noted. Under normal circumstances, the boy would've smiled at that. But these weren't normal circumstances. The officer was of African-American descent, and though his face was kind, it clearly showed that he would rather be anywhere but here.
The boy related. If anywhere, right now, the boy wanted to be in the river below them. He knew what was going to happen. He knew how it was going to happen. He didn't want it to happen. He knew it had happened. He knew that there was nothing he could do about it. Now. But maybe there had been. Then. When his mother had called him to tell him that they couldn't come to the graduation party. How mad he had been. How harsh he had said that maybe he didn't want them there. How sadly she had said she was sorry. How angrily he had hung up.
And now he understood. They had listened to him. They had understood how much it had meant to him, how much it did mean to them. How they had cancelled the flight to Hawaii for their anniversary. He was spoiled, he knew that. It was his selfishness that had caused them to cancel their flight. It was his selfishness that had caused them to get in that car. But was it his selfishness that had killed them both in one final stroke? He hoped it wasn't. He knew it was.
His mouth was dry, though every other part was absolutely soaked. The officer was but three paces away, and the boy counted them. Counted the three paces that would rock his world, permantly throwing it off orbit, hurdling it towards the sun, towards its destruction.
The officer looked down at his feet. It went exactly as the boy had played it out in his mind. It began with "I'm sorry." It ended with "I'm sorry." Then it all ended.
It got fuzzy then. He knew he had cried on the shoulder of his best friend, Rhodey. Had received the sympathy cards, had attended the funeral, had walked away, alone, after they were buried. But that was it. And it hadn't mattered.
He feels that way now. The feeling of ending. He forces his mouth to keep clamped shut, himself from breathing in that fatal breath, as much as his instincts tell him to. He feels as if he's going to burst.
They say that when you die, your life flashes before your eyes. He believed it up until now. Now is much too short a time for his life to flash before his eyes. Instead, only the most important things flash. Rhodey. He pictures himself crying on Rhodey's shoulder when he had found him alone, hurt, and dying in the Afghan desert. The chopper's blades above them, the sand whipping up around them. And Pepper. He pictures Pepper, her beautiful, glowing eyes, her absolutely stunning body. Her all too real, all too amazing smile. Her motherly, disapproving look she gave him when he brought another girl home. And now the real tears come. Not from what is happening. But what could've happened. It dawns on him that he had never told her how much he loved her. And that hurt more than the fire in his chest. The arc reactor short-circuiting.
He is taken by surprise at this. He could've sworn he'd made it water-proof. But there is nothing that can be done now. He is going to die anyway.
He feels himself sinking, deeper and deeper. The pressure of the water above him pressing down on him hurts his ears. He gives another struggle. He's losing his strength.
And just when he thinks that all is lost, some force wraps its way around his ankle. Normally, he would have jumped. But this is not "normally". Instead, he slowly turns his head and looks down.
What he sees is the face of the shoulder he had cried on when his parents had died, when he had been saved. Lieutenent Colonol James Rhodes. Rhodey.
Rhodey tightens his grip on his friend's ankle. He doesn't want to die. He's crying now, though nobody can tell, because as soon as they form, his tears become part of the killer around them. The water.
Tony looks back to his friend, and the mangled wreckage that ensnares his friend. Tony's car. Twisted metal wraps his way around him, and a blood red cloud comes from beneath him. And then it dawns on Tony. It is blood. And Tony knows what he has to do.
He is endowed with a sudden burst of strength, the burst of strength that you can only get when you're trying to save a life. He doubles over and swims down to the mangled wreckage, and now, as he sees, a mangled Rhodey. But this doesn't stop him. No. Not much can stop him now.
He grabs his friend beneath his arms. Rhodey has always been bigger, stronger than him, but that doesn't stand in his way. The thing that does stand in his way is the mangled wreckage that is his car. Rhodey yells out, in pain. Tony releases him. And now there's nothing he can do, because his strength has gone, leaving him more exhausted than he was before.
He hates himself for the fact that he couldn't save Rhodey. For the fact that now, both he and Rhodey were going to die. Guilt washes over him. 4 deaths, he thinks. 4 lives that he has ended. But he has not one ounce of strength left. He closes his eyes and waits for the end.
Then something grabs his hand. His eyes open. It's Rhodey. And he's smiling. Not grinning. It's not a happy smile. But this smile says it all. It says, "Thank you, for trying."
And Tony smiles back. "You're welcome."
And together, Tony and Rhodey close their eyes. They won't open again.
The light comes.
She looks out at the rising sun, beyond the buildings, beyond everything. She wishes she could be there with it. It is above everything, free from guilt, worry, misery, tragedy. She is normally a logical, centered person, but by no means is this normal. Her hands wrap around her torso, securing herself, holding herself. Because now there's no one to hold her.
Her face is tear streaked. She feels like her heart has been ripped out. No, not her heart. More like her arc reactor. She's not dead yet, but it's coming.
That was probably not how it happened. The report had been vague, stating only that they had been pushed off the road in an accident. The car had ended up in the river.
She feels like she has to wretch, but there's nothing to be wretched. She hasn't eaten anything in the past 18 hours. She hadn't had time, and now she did have time, but she can't eat.
Her mind is swirling pool of misery. There's no denial. She can't make herself believe that maybe there's a chance he's alive. They had found Rhodey's body in the wreckage of the car, but Tony's was nowhere to be found. She had thought that maybe there was a chance they had gotten out, but she knew as soon as they told her of Rhodey, that Tony wasn't alive. Tony wouldn't have left Rhodey. He would have died with him. He had.
She's not angry either. She realizes that she's skipping some of the steps of grief, but she doesn't care. She knows she should be angry at the trucker who had pushed them off the road, but she can't bring herself to be. He was probably just another guy, working double shifts. He probably had a wife, kids, a life. And now he had ended two, and shattered his own. She didn't feel sorry for him, not even close, but she didn't hate him. She would never forgive him, though.
She hasn't slept since, she can't remember when. Everytime she closes her eyes, faces haunt her. She doesn't want to forget them, but it hurts like hell to remember. She sees Tony's deep, dark, intelligent eyes, his dazzling smile, his look of determination he got when he put on the suit. She sees Rhodey, Tony's best friend, who was always there for him, had always covered up for his rididculous antics. It flashes back to Tony, that night on the balcony, when they had been so close to that kiss. And it dawns on her that she has never told him how much she loves him. And that brings on a new string of tears.
She opens her eyes. She wants to sleep, but she knows she can't. She's afraid to remember. Afraid of the pain. So she points her eyes downward, onto the arc reactor in her hands. The blue glow is muted, she can't explain why. And they can't explain why she has it. They said they'd found it in the hands of Rhodey, another reason that Tony had to be dead.
Then she knows.
Tony had known he was going to die. He knew Rhodey was going to die. He knew they would recover Rhodey's body. He had thought of Pepper. He had one last shot to tell her what he should've so long ago. In his last moments, he took the reactor out. He hands it to Rhodey, to give to Pepper. He gives her his heart
Pepper looks up and out through the window again, at the rising sun. She can't say why she knew that, that that was exactly how it had happened. But she knows it like she knows Tony himself. She holds the reactor up to her chest, and hugs it. She sobs.
Out loud, she says, "I love you, too, Tony. I love you."
Then it ends. It all ends.
It is the end of me.