This is a (sick!Tony secret identity AU) series of stories called If die, only in Manhattan. I will post them as a single for the convenience of my dear readers :)

Summary of the series: Tony Stark, genius billionaire playboy philanthropist alcoholic. Iron Man, Avenger. Nate Rives, mute self-taught computer genius consultant for S.H.I.E.L.D. Everything is a puzzle.

Age of darkness

Malibu doesn't feel like home anymore.

Tony has never been a sentimental man, not the kind to sigh and use big words while talking about sweet lost years of his childhood; on the contrary, he's been the one to embrace change and newness and excitement and to always want to be somewhere else. At least all that is still a thing, even if the weights have shifted.

Malibu feels alien even after two months; Tony can't get used to the constant murmur of the sea down the cliff, the rock vibrating under the mansion's foundations. The light and the space surprise him every morning when he wakes up, as long as it isn't with the nightmares in front of his eyes. Tony finds himself, more often than he'd like to admit, wandering through the vast echoing rooms, running his fingers through the surfaces, enjoying the almost-silence, staring into space. He doesn't let anyone see him like that, besides JARVIS, but the A.I. is a completely different case. Pepper and Happy and Obie come and go, talk and stays silent; there is a certain calmness to it, a certain routine that Tony has been missing and can't seem to figure out anew.

The cave – the cave was a routine, too. But under extreme circumstances, the reality gets distorted and humans get distorted to match it, like in a war books. Tony would like to pretend it's not the case but he's been done with lying to himself before he was even a full-blown teenager; even if being honest to yourself is painful it's better than living an illusion. He is a smart man – even if he is an asshole lots of times – and he knows putting things together takes much more time and effort than tearing them apart.

So that's what he does: wake up, eat, work on Mark II, space out, work some more, drink chlorophyll, eat, space out again, try to sleep, fail, go listen to the ocean and pretend he is not hearing the wind howling over the desert, go to sleep, dream nightmares. Repeat, repeat, repeat.

The only changes are Pepper's comings and goings, an occasional delivery of food or tools or raw materials, and Obie's too loud phone calls.

And, when Tony wakes up too early but knows he won't be able to go back to sleep, he goes out and runs along the shore – barefoot on the sand, until his feet hurt.

The patching-up is going… decently. Unless when he manages to dismiss food what always ends up in and argument with Pepper; when she comes and sees he has hardly eaten anything out of the fridge; she calls him irresponsible and silly and asks if he is all right. Tony smiles sheepishly, nods and says yes, yes until she goes away. The concern is sweet, but – he's been eating rice an strange stews for so long, not always fresh, not always entirely edible, so it's only logical that his stomach is a mess.

It will come with time, Tony tells himself. He doesn't really feel hungry. He might lose some weight and it's not such a big concern; it's not like he is going to die.

The days continue the same way as August and September roll by. Tony still doesn't leave the house much, besides re-discovering the land that he owns around it. Given the news reports and speculations, he doesn't feel like meeting any curious people from the outside at all.

He is just tired – so often. Sometimes it's difficult to hold something heavier for longer than a few minutes and that's not normal. Tony figures he's been slacking off, rather true, and starts working out in the gym every morning, adding the new activity to his routine. It turns out his body is weaker than he thought, after the time in Afghanistan – and especially the special treatment he's been giving himself because of the arc reactor. It still hurts when he moves too fast or in an incorrect way, but it's incomparably better than it was even just after he was collected from the desert.

The constant feeling of being tired is exhausting itself and incredibly frustrating. Tony knows that his work would go much faster if he could concentrate more easily and stay up longer doing his job, but his body just shuts off after a certain period of time. It's – fine, at the beginning, completely understandable, but after two or three months it means something is wrong. The most obvious answer is depression. Tony knows so many of the symptoms match and he's has some episodes when he was a teen, like his family liked to put it. A logical assumption – only that there are some pieces of puzzle that don't fit.

Tony doesn't have enough time to focus on the matter completely, either, as he is permanently behind the schedule these days with his work on Iron Man. He smiles to Pepper though and tries to eat more – that's mostly futile – and ignores the fact that the palladium is slowly, slowly, slowly creeping in his blood. It doesn't match the symptoms either and there is nothing to be done.

It's in mid-October when JARVIS gives him a new clue.

'Sir, while I've been taking your vitals this morning, I noted that your body temperature is above your average. In fact, it has been on the high end of normal recently, but today it is 99,5 degrees. Perhaps you should consult a doctor.'

'Perhaps,' Tony murmurs, but ignores the A.I.'s advice.

The story repeats for ten days before Tony finally gives in and calls one of his doctors, asking him for an appointment; Doctor Eisen has been one of the few people Tony saw before closing himself in the mansion, figuring that someone should know about his current physical state and possible needs – just in case. They have known each other for almost twenty hears.

Doc comes the next morning; there is a long talk before he even proceeds to examination.

'I will draw blood and I should have all the results ready by tomorrow,' Doc says before he leaves. There is no conclusion as to whys. The symptom – if they are, in fact, symptoms – are not specific enough to give an answer.

Tony resumes working when the man is gone and when he is too tired to continue, even with all the caffeine he's been consuming, he spends rest of the evening outside, staring at the sea, trying not to remember a lot of things that come to his minds and sipping a chilled chai; he usually has it burning hot but he blames the fever for this.

'There are some abnormalities in your blood results,' Doc tells him the next day on the phone. 'Bilirubin is pretty high. I'd like to do some liver tests – can you get here or do you want me to come over?'

Tony smiles at Doc's question. It's nice to have at least this one person that doesn't judge him. Sure, Pepper and Happy seem accepting Tony's new reclusion, but they are not really, they are wondering what it wrong with him all the time. Not to mention Obie or Rhodey. Doc is casual about mental comfort and it puts Tony at ease.

'I'd rather you came over,' Tony replies truthfully. Even if it were a problem, he could just pay the man a lot for the trouble.

'Been drinking?' Doc jokes; Tony just told him yesterday that he hasn't been drinking nearly as much as he's wanted recently. Acting responsible – he's still trying to persuade Pepper that when he said trust me, I know what I am doing, he really knew.

Tony laughs in response and says goodbye. It doesn't feel long before he says hello and goodbye again; time seems to be strange these days. Inconsistent.

'Your liver tests are not really okay, Tony,' Doc tells him. It's the last day of October, unusually warm, and Tony takes the call when he is trying to force himself to eat a lunch of reheated lemon risotto that he normally likes a lot, but it just seems to stare at him from the plate. 'I need to see you here and perform some test. Are you up for that?'

'Sure,' Tony says around a bit of the risotto. His voice might be casual, he can pull that off always, but – it's no good news. 'I'll clean up and be there at…'

'Five. I've got patients till four and knowing them, it will take longer.'

'Thanks, Doc,' Tony replies genuinely. The clinic actually does appointments till four, but Tony knows that whatever Doc says is the law; he's that one brilliant authoritative charming man.

He has no idea what to think about this situation – what to expect. Not enough data, JARVIS would say.

Tony takes a quick lukewarm shower, trims the goatee and tries to arrange his hair, but it's too long and it's just a Harry Potter-style mess, so he gives up after a few moments. Staring at the mirror for a longer period of time doesn't make him anyhow happier; he really does look like shit. And the clothes are laughably unfitting, besides that one suit Pepper had prepared for him and sent to Afghanistan, the one he wore for he memorable press conference. It's probably two sizes smaller than the rest and it's still kind of loose.

'I haven't realized,' Tony murmurs to himself as he puts on a watch and grabs his wallet; better not to be caught without a driving license, he's has fair share of that kind of media frenzy in his life and Pepper would have his head.

Also, it would mean talking to people and Tony still isn't sure he feels completely comfortable with that. As in, strangers are still a thing he's prefer to avoid, mostly.

'Have you been experiencing any kind of abdominal pain?' Doc asks Tony when he is undressing himself to underwear.

'… no.' Tony tells the man after a short pause. 'No, can't tell I have. That's good, right?'

'It usually is.'

'Now, you've got some high numbers on a few test, Tony. It can be a variety of problems with your liver, gallbladder or bile duct… Let me examine your abdomen – lay on your back and relax, okay?' Doc orders Tony, finishing to write something down and moving to put on latex gloves. Tony does lay down, but he is feeling exposed.

It's a new feeling. He has always been okay with his physicality and didn't have much shame, so his half-naked photos ended up in papers and in the internet quite often, but the presence of arc reactor makes it worse. It's an obvious weakness, an obvious spot that just asks to be attacked and then – a few hours of agony before he dies. That's not something that makes him feel safe at all.

'Sorry, Tony,' Doc says as soon as he turns around. He always knows when Tony is distressed. 'I'd let you stay in a tank, but I need to see your body – you've lost too much weight, by the way.'

'You tell me,' Tony murmurs, almost flinching at Doc's cold gloved hands touching his abdomen. It's definitely not a comfortable feeling when the man presses various areas; it feels as if he were kneading Tony's body and the vision only makes him want to laugh and he really shouldn't right now. There is no pain, just the hardly nice feeling, but Doc's face is serious and unchanged what probably means something is wrong.

'Something here,' Doc explains, pressing his fingers to one spot near ribs. 'It doesn't feel completely normal. A slightest change… I can't explain it well to you, doesn't matter. I can't be sure it's actually an issue, but we'd better have it checked out.'

Tony nods in agreement, what else can he do? He was only hoping that he's stay away from doctors and medicine in general since being stared at so much after Afghanistan, all eyes trained on his chest, making him want to scream and run.

'I want a CT to be sure – since you can't have an MRI – but it needs to be done within our normal working yours, Tony. It's Sunday tomorrow, so maybe you could come by on Monday? Anytime you want.'

Tony blinks and doesn't reply for a moment, surprised by the fact that it is Saturday. He's been sure it's Friday. One day must have got lost in between all the perfectly similar ones; no surprise that it can happen so easily.

'Yeah. Monday. I – I don't have any plans for Monday, besides the usual,' he finally replies with a sigh. 'I'll be here in the morning? Early? Since I've been waking up early anyway. At eight, I know you start at eight.'

'As you wish, Tony. You're the one who gives us money here,' Doc jokes and gestures at Tony to dress himself. 'You look tired. Not sleeping good?'

'Nah, just the usual…'

'So, not good,' Doc concludes, sitting by the desk to write something in Tony's file. 'But I won't bug you if you don't want to talk. Well, at least not know.'

'Thank thee for thy mercy,' Tony replies with a smirk, finishing to button up his shirt. 'So, no guesses what is wrong with me this time?'

'You know I won't give you guesses because you will have JARVIS read you all the medical information all night and it's not going to do you any good. Go home, get rest, for heaven's sake eat something. Eat a lot. Just not before the CT, but you know that. Right?'

'Right, Doc.'

'You're dismissed,' Doc waves at him, not moving away from the desk.

'Sorry you had to stay here for me on Saturday evening.'

'No problem, Tony. You know I don't have many exciting things to do anyway.'

'Whatever you say,' Tony replies and disappears into the hall.

On Sunday he finally finishes the helmet for Mark II and therefore the whole suit is ready. He only has to tune the powering system and figure out flying with repulsors, finish assembling the armor and actually use it. Piece of cake.

The next morning he wakes up at four from a marvelous flashback and orders JARVIS to play him some loud, really loud music; it doesn't help much with the voices he's still hearing in his head.

He's gets to the clinic seven minutes to eight and stays in the car until the electronic clock's numbers turns to eight hundred.

CT is the same way it always it, too loud and annoying and he almost falls asleep – thanks to the white noise – and when it's done, Doc makes him sit in his office and eat a breakfast; an all-organic sandwich, as befits a middle aged California man. Doc disappears to look at the scans and comes back maybe twenty minutes later with another man.

'Doctor Lee,' he introduces. 'Tony Stark, of course.. I asked Doctor Lee for a consultation,' Doc starts and Tony freezes. That definitely means something is bad, and more likely bad bad and not just imperfect. 'There is some… mass around your bile duct and liver. I don't want to say anything more until we are sure what it is – I'd like to perform an ERCP, endoscopic retrograde cholangio-pancreatography, but it might be painful to get the endoscope down in your case' he says, eying the now-invisible reactor. 'We will need a PTC – percutaneous transhepatic cholangiography – injecting a dye to the liver and then x-ray. ERCP is similar, just gets the dye through your esophagus, but I don't want to risk it… You will need to stay in for at least a day afterwards though, Tony.'

From the explanation it doesn't sound particularly nice, but whatever is necessary, Tony figures. Actually, it sounds awful and he's kind of terrified, though it's not an easy thing to admit. And he really doesn't want anyone to worry; he knows that Pepper will be so upset. And everyone else – there is hardly anyone else, truly – is far away.

'You need to be at least eight hours after your last meal and you'd have to get some of your things for the overnight stay, so – tomorrow? I would like tomorrow. And in the meantime you need to eat,' he adds, eying the half-eaten sandwich. 'Get some meat on those bones.'

'Gee, you're so charming,' Tony teases, making Doc grin. The other doctor doesn't seem too friendly, but apparently he is necessary; maybe he just has this sad face permanently.

'Can you have someone come over with you?' Doc asks. Tony just stares. Lee frowns at the silent interaction, of course he does: no one would expect Tony Stark to be so alone. Even if it's by choice to some extent.

They talk for a few minutes before Tony is let out; he puts on a hat and sunglasses and drives to his favorite burger joint just out of the LA. Eating the thing is not as pleasant as he'd like since he has no appetite.

He tells Pepper he is going to visit one of his friends – female friends – in LA. She doesn't seem too surprised, is if she's been waiting for him to go back to being his old self. After the call, he has JARVIS play some blaring music as he packs his bag, putting some items that seem remotely useful. The workshop is locked down with no override password, it would be the worst thing ever if someone learned what he is doing down there and maybe took it the wrong way.

After admission and leaving things in a one-person room, Tony is given antibiotics and led by the doctors; the procedure takes place in an OR equipped with an x-ray machine. It all feels – surreal, and gets even more strange as Tony is given a mild sedative that makes him lightheaded and giddy, but seeing Doc's funny hair sticking out from under the green cap makes it better. At least it makes him less anxious.

Lee numbs an area on the right side of Tony's abdomen with a local anesthetic injection. They don't let Tony look as the long needle enters his body; it's a strange sensation because he can't feel any pain, but he can tell that something in wrong there.

The whole procedure takes a bit less than one hour and afterwards Tony is forced into a wheelchair and transported to his room. It's going to take a few days to get the results. At least three, Tony knows perfectly well.

After another dose of antibiotics he is left alone and just falls asleep. He is woken up for food, Doc comes to talk, too, and stays for a few hours after he's finished work.

It all still feels unreal, more than the previous – what, five months? It's over five months since Tony came back to walk on the American land and it really doesn't feel like much more than a week, maybe. Days melt into one and the only way to recognize the passage of time is remembering that Mark II is very close to being ready now.

The next morning Tony comes back to the mansion, lies a bit to Pepper and Rhodey on the phone and makes the Mark II completely ready by working on it for twenty eight hours without a break other than for food and coffee, like a responsible person he is. It's much easier to sleep well when he is exhausted like that, no nightmares, at least almost never.

Doc calls and tells him to come on Friday as he will have the results by that time. Tony agrees and spends the hours in the meantime by trying to start to learn to fly what results in bruises, mostly, his chest hurting around the arc reactor, a split lip and a complete satisfaction when he figures out the way to stay stable in the air, even if he still needs much more practice to actually fly without almost killing himself.

He brings Doc a huge box of the man's favorite Belgian chocolates, shipped from Europe just the day before. Doc takes them gratefully; at least he is one of those people who know that it's actually a pleasure for Tony to be generous and give away his money to make other people happier. The nice trait, it just gets… buried under the great number of bad decisions.

'When I drew your blood, I took some more than necessary for the tests I've performed,' Doc starts when Tony enters his office. Doctor Lee is nowhere to be seen. 'I wanted to make some other tests, just in case – you know, the perks of your completely unlimited health insurance coverage. We also took a bit of the tissue during the PTC. That's s standard procedure I am sure you were aware of.'

'Yeah, sure. And?' Tony prompts, nodding and putting his hands on Doc's giant desk, chin cupped between his hands. It stops his hands from shaking and makes him feel more… composed. Self-aware, in a strange way. This is not going to end well.

'It's that – me and doctor Lee, we checked the…' Doc stumbles and now Tony is just totally assured that something is very wrong.

'Out with it, baby. Shoot,' he tells the man with a fake smile and leans back.

'Tony,' Doc says and his voice is different, deeper, his speech slower. More audible space between vowels and nasals. 'It's cholangiocarcinoma. Bile duct cancer – I did the tumor markers check from blood and biopsy, um, it's a rare one, you're so lucky we caught it rather early, and the treatment…' Doc continues, but Tony doesn't really hear the man's words, there is just buzzing in his ears and he tries to breathe deeper –


Well, he's been dying once and it hasn't been more than half a year ago, so nothing new –

Fuck. Why – it's just – he – it shouldn't

'Tony!' Doc's voice cuts through the noise and a pair of hands is wrapped around his arms. 'Breathe, boy. Calm. Down. Copy me,' Doc adds, placing one of Tony's hands on his chest; it takes a few long moments but Tony manages to synchronize his breathing with Doc's and it makes the buzzing and the lights in front of his eyes go away.

A perfect medial example of hyperventilation, congratulations.

'Calm down, boy,' Doc repeats, squeezing Tony's arms. It helps a bit. Tony shakes his head and looks up slowly, only to meet Doc's hazel eyes; then he looks around and the room looks just normally. It seems inappropriate. 'I've got you, okay? I've got you. It's an early stage, barely 2A, most people don't get diagnosed until 3 and it's usually too late – but I will tell you everything later. Okay? You with me?'

Tony nods in agreement, again staring at the man's face – or at something behind, a children's deception.

So, he's been dying and it's time to die some more now. It doesn't feel like he had a break in between at all. Calmed down a bit, he just feels… disappointed.

'I know it's a shock,' Doc says, still standing in front of Tony. 'Especially in your situation, you've just come back – but we will do everything we can. Everything. You will need a surgery and some follow-up treatment and I swear I will find the best people 'cause seriously, you are too precious to this world to just die now.'

Tony has to smirk at that; it's typical Doc, saying things like that. He has to admit, too, that it's the kind of thing that he always likes to hear and there aren't many to offer such a genuine and straightforward words.

'You need to tell someone,' Doc tells Tony, still unmoving. That bastard, knows me too well, Tony snickers at the mental comment. He probably shouldn't, it's neither time nor place but he can't stop himself.

Obie would be sad because of practical reasons; it's what he is and Tony's been aware of that for years. Not that it makes things easier.

Rhodey would be terrified, lost and sweetly supportive, but he couldn't be here.

Pepper would be panicking and exaggerating and Tony doesn't want to burden anyone – especially her – with such information.

But he knows that Doc won't be satisfied with well and I'll think later because he knows Tony too well to believe those perfectly acted lies. So there is only one answer.

'I'll tell Happy,' Tony decides suddenly, his throat tight as he speaks. 'He's the closest thing I have to family, besides Pepper. He's always there, even if invisible,' he adds, more to himself than to anyone else.

'And how are you going to keep Pepper from knowing? I mean, she could be inquisitive… Because I take it you don't want?...'

Tony smirks.

'She's been pretty distracted with taking care of my messy affairs, doing a great job. And I've had this one idea since I came back – maybe you will see. Can't give out all my secrets so easily.'

'You never tell me anything,' Doc whines, continuing the game.

'Sorry, man. You know me…'

'Yeah,' Doc sighs and then moves away, finally letting go of Tony's shoulders. 'Can we talk now? Do you think you can take it or do you need some more time? There are treatments and all the jazz, Tony, and –'

'Let's do it now,' he replies, making a face. 'The sooner the better, huh?'

'I will just call Doctor Lee – he is an oncologist.'

So that's why he has this sad face, Tony comments silently to himself.

When they finish talking, he isn't sure he remembers 10% of all the information and it's not a normal state because he usually misses no more than 5% of the information he's given. He knows Doc will tell him again everything he might need later, anyway.

Tony is in the happy very exclusive group of people who find out about that particular cancer before it's too late; thank heavens for JARVIS because Tony would just miss – and then dismiss – the symptoms, of course he would.

Happy takes it with stoic calmness and Tony is sure for a few moments that he's in love with the man. Happy swears not to reveal any information unless explicitly allowed. It's not even close to the best stunt Tony's wanted to hide, but it still feels cruel to ask someone to share such a secret.

The surgery is to take place at the end of the next week, truly the sooner the better; it's an early stage two so it's just removing a part of the bile duct and a small part of liver attacked by the cancer cells.

Before, Tony masters his flying and goes out for the first time and it finally, finally, after everything he's gone – and will go – through feels free and happy, at least for some time. He goes out flying at least twice a day just because he can; he doesn't care too much about being seen. It's a mystery to the world.

Depending on his physical state, the surgery may require anything from 4 to 10 days stay in the clinic. Tony tells Pepper to take care of all his affairs and claims to go away with a friend of his; it's not something he's never done before and it matches the lies' pattern, making them more difficult to distinguish from the crazy reality.

The surgery takes place as planned and when Tony wakes up, in pain and groggy and trying not to freak out because he can't see the blue light shining from his chest – even if it's just because of something he is wearing – Happy and Doc greet him. Smiling hurts, physically hurts, but everything probably does; Tony doesn't try moving though. He learns that a big part of the bile duct and a small part of the liver are gone, just as planned, and Tony repeatedly tells himself how lucky he is. He stays in the hospital for 8 days and it's only because Doc insists, given Tony's tiny physical impairment of the arc reactor embedded in his chest.

There is this one nurse, Roxanne, that takes care of him most of the time. Tony doesn't get it really how it works, since she seems to be around at least 16 hours a day, he just accepts things as they are. She is sweet and never asks unnecessary questions and treats Tony like a normal person and not a precious breakable bibelot. She offers him small smiles and gives him a weather report every morning when she comes to wake him up with his medicine – he's mentioned once and in passing that he likes to have the data, it's just something he's got used to with JARVIS around, he doesn't tell her that though.

She listens to him and offers explanations and blinks a real lot and when Tony can start eating normally, she exchanges his pudding for a flavor he prefers.

'You're one of the nicest people I have met in a long time,' Tony tells her, taking the new pudding. Day 6 and it doesn't even hurt so much, the surgery spot, without medicine, so everything is okay all things considered.

'Well, you haven't been anywhere other than your house and this room in a long time,' she comments with a playful note to her voice. Tony appreciates the non-gloomy and non-depressed approach so much, it's completely different from what word cancer makes people be like.

That's how you make friends, apparently, when you're not trying to unconsciously – or ever worse, consciously get a billionaire's attention.

Before Tony leaves the clinic, Doc tell him everything he needs to know, gives him some advice and answers questions. Tony has endless questions, he always does, and this is a completely new level of important.

'You should be able to lead a normal life, no problem,' Doc says and it makes them both burst out laughing because well, Tony hasn't had a normal life, he really hasn't. Ever. Whatever it has been it never qualified as normal, especially not after, especially not with the nightmares and the light in his chest; especially not with a rare illness now – supposedly mostly dealt with, as the surgery is successful. Juts a follow-up treatment now.

'We call it adjuvant chemoradiotherapy. Destroys all the cancer cells that might have been left, too small to notice. Two weeks of a course of radiation, two weeks break, two weeks of a course and you're done. Then light chemo, 5-FU via IV monthly for one year. I'll give you pamphlets with all the information for the future, all right?'

'Mhm…' Tony murmurs and Doc looks up at him with his eyebrows raised.


'Am I going to –' Tony starts, making a face; he is no coward, but the words just seem wrong in his own mind, maybe it's his hidden vanity speaking or maybe he's just scared. So he smiles at Doc and cocks his head.

'No, you're not, Tony. Be reasonable, I told you that if you don't want to tell anyone, I can't force you and they won't know. So no clearly visible side effects, at least not commonly.'

'Small blessings,' Tony comments with a undertone of sarcasm, but he smirks a bit. Doc always understands what he means; losing hair would be kind of a difficult thing to hide or explain.

'I will see you on December 9th, okay? You'll finish the course right before Christmas.'

''Cause you know how I love that holiday,' Tony replies quickly, rolling his eyes, and gets up. 'You're letting me go –'

'Tomorrow morning. Doctor Lee will be discharging you, I'm on a consultation a few hundred miles away from here.'

'Okay,' Tony nods, waves the man goodbye and disappears into his room. 'I'm coming home tomorrow, baby,' he tells JARVIS via his phone later. 'Have all the toys lined up.'

'Sir, do you think it's wise –'

'I'm not dying, J,' Tony sighs, climbing onto the bed. 'At least, not in this very moment. Might not last long, so please stop the patronizing.'

'… I will have the suit on stand-by, Sir.'

'Good boy,' Tony replies and disconnects the call.

It would be probably a nice impulse to change something now in his life, Tony thinks, according to psychologists and all the funny people, only that he's had enough of those recently and they all somehow involved death; he is not really a fan of the current theme of danse macabre.

He still wants to rip his body open and get rid of the monster that he's been surrogating for probably years – it's a slow process, usually, Tony – even if it's supposedly not there and will be gone completely when he's done with the medicine.

It's funny how the little thing can make everything else fade into the background.

As soon as he's back in the Mansion, Happy driving the Audi – he wouldn't let Tony, even if there are no medical contraindications – he goes to the beach and lays on the sand for hours, legs caressed by the soft touch of the waves.

Everything is going to be all right. Of course. Is just never does.

Doc prohibited the pessimistic thinking, saying that if anyone has a chance of getting out of this, it's you. Tony has had JARVIS check the statistics, obviously. They are terrifying, and he thought he would not be… scared so easily, after the cave. And he is now because this is slow and constant and inevitable and no amount of intelligence or foolhardy bravery is going to help. He thought he could be more familiarized with dying by now.

'My springs of life were poisoned. 'Tis too late! Yet am I changed; though still enough the same in strength to bear what time cannot abate, and feed on bitter fruits without accusing fate,' he murmurs to himself, barely louder than the hum of the ocean. If there is one writer that has answer for everything, it definitely is Byron.

Tony isn't familiarized with dying at all – but it's all in doctors' hands now, the dependence is awful; there is nothing more that he can do about himself.

Ah, but there is.

There really is, he suddenly realizes. He has started it by the decision to stop manufacturing weapons. Now – it's time for step two, no matter what might be happening, Tony decides. The determination sets easily in his chest and it's finally a good warm feeling. He smiles at the sun or maybe at the ocean, gets up – slowly, no need for dizzy spells – and almost runs to the mansion.

Whatever happens, there is no time for self-pity. He has a world to change.

A/N: All my medical knowledge is a result of a long and pleasurable but somehow terrifying research. I hope it's accurate, please correct me if I got something wrong.

I'd love to hear what you think about this piece and if you'd be interested in reading following parts. Thanks for reading and please let me know your opinion! :)