He was dying, but that wasn't the worst part of it. As he sat choosing watches for his birthday party, possibly his last birthday party, he realised that he felt old.
It was part of the Stark legacy he thought, to die before your time. To die young.
He didn't want to die, and he really hated feeling like an old man. Those times when he needed help, from Happy, Rhodey, and worse of all, Pepper, to stand, or walk really grated on him. Caused as much damaged to his ego as the palladium was to his body.
He never asked for help, his friends just offered, and in Pepper's case insisted. He could order her to leave him be, and had several times, but she usually ignored him, wrapped an arm around him, took a good part of his weight and helped him to wherever he was headed. All in three inch to-die-for heels and keeping her balance, poise and dignity.
Pepper was young.
Tony was not.
He felt weak, he was not weak, but sometimes he felt it, radiating from his chest to his arms. A lingering lethargy and ache that threatened to stop him from even lifting his own arms up, let alone the arms of his suit some days. On his worst days, and as the toxicity count rose higher.
Of course it didn't help that he was finding greys hairs now and then. Which was perfectly natural at his age Jarvis had reminded him, and given that his father had gone grey a little early.
Pepper had kindly (or sarcastically, sometimes) told him, it could be worse, that his hairline could be receding.
She was right, but it didn't really matter.
Natalie's advice had been helpful, but to do whatever he wanted with whoever he wanted meant telling Pepper that he loved her, and that he was dying, all in one moment. He doubted he could do one without the other and he wasn't sure she deserved a deathbed confession.
There was only one solution.
The next morning, he woke up face down, still in his suit, in the wreckage of his mansion, and wanted on thing.
Two things, but despite attempts to build one when he was twelve, a time machine was just out of his reach at the moment.
Donuts, however, were easy to come by for a multi-billionaire in a metal suit. He flew, a little wonky, to the nearest place that sold donuts and to his surprise (and delight) the woman didn't even look twice at him, and told him she'd seen stranger things.
It made him feel better.
Pepper probably hated him, and he felt older this morning than he had the night before. He hadn't gotten that so very drunk for a while and it was first time he'd really felt a hangover in even longer. The coffee and the greasy donuts helped but the pain was pushing at his limits.
He had a high pain threshold, higher since Afghanistan and six months as a superhero but the palladium poisoning caused a dull ache that tired him. A pulse of pain every other moment that he couldn't shake off.
He was going to die with Pepper hating him.
He wasn't sure if that was such a bad thing. It would hurt less if she hated him. Surely?
That did make him feel a little better, the insane notion that his death would hurt Pepper less if she wanted to kill him anyway, and as he took another donut he managed to relax a little (not impossible in a metal suit) and felt a little like his old self for a few minutes, a little younger.
Nick Fury's voice ruined it, adding another ten years onto his shoulders and causing him to climb down from the donut like an arthritic robot instead of flying because he really couldn't be bothered. Using the suit intensified the ache, and he really needed to rest.
Climbing was slightly more dignified for a man in a flying metal suit, falling wouldn't do his his body or his ego much good either.
Fury better have a good reason for disrupting his hangover recuperation. And more coffee.