In the light of the day
Tony thought about death a lot.
He wasn't suicidal. Not quite. And it wasn't so much pondering what would come after life like some people tended towards. No, it was rather simple.
Sometimes, when he was flying about in the darkened night skies with the lights of New York distant and the rush of the city nothing but white noise beneath him, it would drift across his mind, almost absently, how easy it would be to stop his thrusters, how easy it would be to let the weight of his suit drag him down, down, down until he slammed into the ground and broke into a million and one pieces.
Sometimes, when he was fiddling in the workshop, hands filthy with grease and thin shirt glued to his sweaty skin as lay on his back under his latest project, the thought would whisper unbidden through his mind. How easy – so very easy – it would be to kick out the support, to level the struts and watch as five hundred pounds of metal crashed down onto his mortal frail body.
He didn't want to die, not really anyway. These days, in fact, he had a lot to live for. There was Iron Man, and the Avengers and Steve – Steve. Really, that reason was enough all on its own. Wind mussed blonde hair and a smile that must have been responsible for ninety percent of the female swooning in the forties; he really did have a killer smile, Tony was willing to admit.
Tony knew what it was like to die. To be dying and not be able to stop it. He knew what it was like to run on batteries, he knew what it was like to be kept alive by the same thing slowly killing you. He still had nightmares, at times, of a dark sunken cave in the Middle East and the sharp shock of electricity jolting through his veins, still had dreams about curving lines of blue across his tan skin that edged higher every day and made it that much harder to breath, to survive.
He would awake breathless and gasping, fingers tearing at his chest and tracing the blue glow of the arc reactor as his heart thudded loudly, utterly convinced it was spluttering its last dying breathes, that it was about to fade into oblivion.
And then there was the feeling of somebody's arm wrapped tightly around his waist, face pressing against the soft sweat-stricken flesh of his shoulder and Tony would relax – if only a bit – into the possessive embrace of Steve, taking solace in the breathes that gusted over his shoulder in a chill, so in sync with his own and he'd realise he was alive, right then and there with Steve curled up at his side. He was alive.
If there was one lesson that Tony had learnt the hard way it was how frail and breakable humans are. How easy it is for it all to come to an end in the briefest glance of his own name printed across the dusted white of a missile and the ear-cracking explosion of black and red and orange that followed, pulling him under into a place where agony was as relative as the breath that rested in his lungs.
He was only mortal, he was only human and, sometimes, humans died. Nothing special, their hearts stopped working, their breath stopped coming, their blood stopped flowing and all too soon they were a corpse on the ground with a meaningless past and no future.
And it scared him – fuck, it scare him.
He'd never admit it if Steve asked – and he probably would someday, always a shade too observant, too caring, too good – but Tony sometimes thought that it might be more merciful to be dead than living every day wondering if it would be your last.
He'd been to Afghanistan and he'd been to the very edge of life itself, but it never seemed to get any easier, never seemed to be any less frightening than the time before that and the time before that. Dying, death, the whole shebang, it never seemed to get any easier and Tony wondered if it was just him having these thoughts of if the others did too. He'd never put much stock in right and wrong or normal and abnormal, but he was most assuredly convinced that these thoughts, these suspicions, were very wrong and very abnormal and if Pepper or Rhodey or Steve – heaven forbid Steve – heard him thinking these things he'd been in therapy faster than you could say 'Suffering from Post-Traumatic Stress'.
So he lived, or he tried his hardest to anyway.
He went out and saved the world more night than not and he drank less and less – if only because he didn't like the way Steve's mouth turned down at the corners when he reached for the bottle of whisky – and sometimes, when the day was slow and the Avengers were feeling contented enough to be still, he'd sprawl out on the couch with a movie playing faintly on the screen, his teammates surrounding him and his fingers curling absently through blonde hair and one hand resting lightly on the muscles of Steve's shoulder which pulled taunt beneath his creamy skin when he laughed.
Living was hard, Tony decided grudgingly, but somehow those nonsensical moments – arguing with Thor over what was appropriate attire or with Steve about the nutritional benefits of protein shakes – made him feel more alive than he had in years; certainly more so than when all he'd had to look forward to day in and day out was an empty bed and the weighty press of liquor against his fuzzy mind.
So; Tony thought about death a lot still. Some days more than others and some days maybe not at all, but as time continued to tick by and he awoke less and less covered in sweat and gasping for air and instead woke from hazy indistinct blurs with a smile already on his lips and an arm around a pair of sculptured shoulders, he decided that maybe this whole living things wasn't so bad after all.
Death was easy, it was living that was hard, but Tony was always ready for a challenge.
Besides, he thinks he could grow accustomed to this. To waking up with someone beside him, to discovering that Clint had eaten all the coco puffs again, to having to beg Thor to put some clothes on to spare his poor Misgardian eyes and to the slow feeling of something that had been missing a long time – even before he was drenched in sweat hunched over his dying heart in Afghanistan, before the man he'd considered his mentor, his father, almost, tried to assassinate him – slotting slowly into place.
It wasn't how he'd always imagined his life would go or even how he imagined he'd be happy, but Tony was willing to concede defeat on the matter even if there were considerably less naked women – none, really, unless you counted that time he walked in on Natasha in the shower – and alcohol than he'd thought there would be.
He still thought about dying a lot, yes, but Tony's beginning to think it might not be that abnormal after all.
If only because now he's thinking of living too.
He could get used to this – probably – and in the meantime, Tony's willing to wait.