A Moment of Clarity

Today, I’d like to share with you a fanfiction I wrote a while back about my favorite superhero, Tony Stark, aka Iron Man. This story is based upon events from both the movies as well as the comic books.


A Moment of Clarity

by Angel Hall

 

 

So this is what it feels like to die.

He stumbled into a metal counter, catching himself just at the last second before knocking to the floor and shattering almost everything that rested on top of it. One hand clutched his lower abdomen like he could contain the explosion within his body while the other hand desperately grasped for something- anything that could help him.

He realized there was nothing he could do. He’d realized this when he’d woken up in utter agony at 2 o’clock in the morning practically unable to move. He’d realized it when he’d managed to get into the bathroom to stare at his ghostly appearance drenched in sweat in the reflection of the glass above his sink. And now, even as he cried out in pain and scrambled to find help, he knew there was nothing he could do.

He was dying. Tony Stark was dying.

His feet continued to carry him despite this knowledge, years of stubborn indignation fueling his limbs to move forward though his insides shut down. Had he already soiled himself? He didn’t know. He was covered in sweat. His body was freezing and burning up at the same time. Other than the sharp pain in his stomach, the only other thing he could feel was the suddenly cold steel of the metal casing in the center of his chest that held within it his life force. Well, it was supposed to be his life force. The arc reactor could keep his heart running for fifty life times, maybe, but it couldn’t stop his liver from failing.

Tony’s knees hit the ground. He clambered to hang onto something that could keep him upright, only succeeding in knocking two stools and some papers down with him. He tried breathing in deeply but it wasn’t going to happen. Another blood-curdling scream ripped from his throat.

“Jarvis!” He cried out, tears stinging at the corners of his pleading, brown eyes. “Jarvis!” He called again for his only friend in the world- one that he had to create.

“Mister Stark, your vitals are-”

“I know,” Tony croaked, rolling onto his side and squeezing his eyes shut. “Get me… the suit. Jarvis, get me… I can’t breathe.”

“It’s on its way, Sir.”

Well, if the Iron Man suit was on its way, it was taking a hell of a long time to get to him. That thought ran through Tony’s head before another wave of pain immobilized his mind again. There was a gentle nudge to his shoulder but he barely registered the almost nervous gesture from DUM-E as the one-armed bot watched his master writhe in pain.

“Hang on, Sir,” JARVIS’ calm voice reminded him that he wasn’t dead yet. With his ears ringing and his vision blurring, Tony listened to his A.I.’s voice as if it were the only thing keeping him conscious. And it was. He clung to the sound like a child lost in the woods follows their parent’s voice.

Just hang on, Tony. Just hang on.

“Easy for you to say,” Stark replied to his own thoughts. Things were getting hazy now. He was curled into the fetal position so tightly that he was beginning to lose feeling in his legs. It was a numbness that was quickly spreading. Was that from the position he lay in or the death that was encroaching upon him? He’d heard that numbness came with one’s last moments. Most people considered it comforting.

Tony considered it terrifying.

In through the window, shattering glass as it flew, one of Tony’s newest models of the Iron Man suit shone brightly in the darkness of his penthouse apartment. It took less than ten seconds for the compact-version to extend into its full form before encompassing Tony on the ground. Sweat pants and tee shirt were swallowed up by red and gold. Arms and legs forcibly separated and supported. Face disappeared behind glowing eyes.

“Mister Stark,” JARVIS called to him within his helmet. “Mister Stark, wake up.”

But the brown eyes of the mortal hero did not open. His skin pallid and eyes sunken, his bones poking through at sharp points in his body, Tony Stark looked as if Death had already claimed him.

The A.I. quickly read his vital signs again just to make sure there was still a spark of life within Stark. His heart was still beating, his arc reactor still glowing. And the chaos in his liver had subsided. The organ was all but dead. It was three times the size it should be and off-colored. And if it weren’t for the life-support systems in the Iron Man suit, it wouldn’t still be functioning. Thirty seconds longer and Tony Stark would be no more.

“Mister Stark,” JARVIS repeated until the first movement of Tony’s eyebrows signaled his consciousness. He coaxed his creator into waking up, slowly but surely. A groan made its way through Tony’s lips as his eyes cracked open and he focused on the heads-up display in front of his face. The colorful holographic diagrams were monitoring every inch of his body and feeding him information visibly. Immediately his eyes drifted to the information about his liver.

Stark’s jaw tightened at the sight. “…Thanks, Jarvis,” he whispered softly.

“Sir, you are dying,” JARVIS said plainly. “If you take the Iron Man suit off you will be dead in seconds.”

“Huh.”

“Sir, this suit is the only thing keeping you alive,” JARVIS stressed.

“I heard you the first time,” Tony quipped.

The A.I. hesitated. “Shall I phone Miss Potts?”

“Are you nuts?” Tony nearly shouted in reply. “If you do that I will literally rip you out of this entire building and have a bon fire with your wires.”

“Mister Stark, Miss Potts will want to-”

“Damn it, Jarvis, I said no.” Tony blinked a few times and sat up, sighing before getting to his feet. The metal of the suit clapped against the hardwood floor in his kitchen as he moved to the living room that overlooked New York City thousands of feet below the penthouse of Stark Tower.

“Then what do you propose I do?” JARVIS asked him, a slight tone of irritation in his voice.

Tony didn’t reply. He just stared out at the city below him, so alive and bustling. What a dichotomy. A city full of life just out of reach of a dying man. “Let’s go flying.”

“Mister Stark, this is not the time for play.”

“What are you talking about? I almost died just now. It’s the perfect time to play,” Tony retorted. “What better way to celebrate still existing?”

There was an audible sigh from Tony’s most intelligent software. “With all due respect, Sir, you’re avoiding the subject.”

His eyebrows lowered. “What would you have me do, Jarvis?”

“Call Colonel Rhodes, perhaps he can help.”

Tony sneered. “Yeah, I’m sure he can fire a tank missile at me or something. At least it’ll be quick and painless, right?”

“What about Doctor Banner?”

“Bruce?”

“Yes, Sir. Why not speak with someone who is used to such drastic… changes to the human body?”

“I highly doubt he’s an expert in liver failure,” Tony quipped.

“What other options are there?” JARVIS pointed out. “Please, enlighten me. What do you plan to do if you cannot leave that suit?”

Tony frowned, his eyebrows stitched together. He hated being proven wrong. Worse yet- he hated being proven wrong by something he made. That was like him proving himself wrong, which was an even worse blow to his pride because there was no bigger critic of Tony Stark’s life than Tony Stark. It was like looking in the mirror, seeing an entire life of failure, and saying, “I told you so.”

“Fine. I’ll call Banner.”

 

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

 

He adjusted his glasses as he sat on the couch, opposite the glowering suit of hot rod red and gold-plated titanium alloy encasing his friend. Well, this was uncomfortable. He checked his watch again. Three A.M. Suppressing a yawn, Dr. Banner chanced a glance back at the glowing eyes of Iron Man and then back down at the coffee table.

“So?” The mechanized voice of Tony Stark carried through the suit’s lips.

“So… your liver is failing.”

“Failed.”

“Right. Failed.” Banner nodded slowly, steepling his fingers between his knees. “So what is your plan?”

“Plan? My plan? Oh, I don’t know, Banner. Watch some soap operas. Eat an omelet. And- oh yeah, die.

“Listen, Tony, I don’t know what you want me to tell you,” Banner admitted with a defeated look on his face. He held up his hands in a sort of pleading motion to the man. “You had to know this was going to happen. I mean, look at you.” He gestured awkwardly to the man across the coffee table.

The visor of the suit flipped up and the carefully-masked emotion that shown in Tony Stark’s brown eyes stared into Banner’s. “So that’s it? That’s all you got? Shit, you’re bad at giving a pep talk.”

Doctor Banner rubbed the back of his neck awkwardly. “You’re an alcoholic, Tony.”

“So that makes it okay for me to die? Jesus, Banner.” Tony stood up and pinched the bridge of his nose. He turned away from the doctor and started toward the kitchen. “I need a drink.”

“Seriously?” Banner dropped his hand in disbelief. “You’re getting a Scotch?”

“I drink when I’m stressed- in case you haven’t noticed.”

“No, you drink when you’re stressed, not stressed, exuberant, angry- it doesn’t matter. You drink all the time. What I can’t believe is that you’re standing there complaining that you’re liver is failing and pouring alcohol at the same time.”

“Exactly! I’m dying! Why not go out doing what I love?”

“Tony, I don’t think you realize-”

“Listen, you’re not going through this so you don’t-”

“-the gravity of this situation. Without the aid of that suit-”

“-understand, so just give the judgments a rest, okay, Judge Judy?”

“-your body is literally going to shut down within seconds. We have a very-”

“You’re not perfect either, Monster Mash.”

“small window of opportunity to do anything here and I don’t even know where we’d start!” Banner finished the argument with a hand slapping down onto the coffee table. Both men shared a silence between them. One with his hand on the table, the other with his hand wrapped around a crystal glass.

Banner was the first to break the silence as he slid back onto the couch letting out a sigh and taking off his glasses. “Have you told Pepper?”

“Of course I haven’t told Pepper.”

“Why not?”

“Why not?” Tony repeated incredulously. He shook his head, prepared to reply with some smart-ass comment, but just as he was about to say it- he stopped. His expression broke and he let out a small sigh. “Because I’m scared,” he admitted softly.

This earnest response took Banner by surprise and he didn’t respond as he watched Tony come back to his chair, glass still in-hand, staring at the ground.

“I’m scared, Bruce. Okay? I’m terrified. And she can’t see me like that. I won’t let her. I don’t… I don’t get scared. I mean, I’m the Invincible Iron Man,” Tony whispered, his eyebrows furrowed as he stared at the carpet. “How could this happen? I’m Iron Man. Iron Man doesn’t die. Iron Man doesn’t get hurt.”

“…No, but Tony Stark does,” Banner replied softly. “Tony, man, it’s… it’s not something you can stop. You’re human. You’re not like Thor or, or hell! Even Steve! You’re definitely not like me. There’s no immortal monster lurking just beneath the surface prepared to spit the bullet out when you fire a gun into your mouth.”

“I just… I never thought it would end this way, you know?” Tony turned his drink over in his hands, listening to the clink of glass against metal, and cleared his throat to interrupt his tear ducts. “I guess I thought if and when it happened, it would be… I don’t know, while saving the world? Being a hero? Not… not this. You know what kind of death this is, Banner? A loser’s death. A coward’s death. Not a hero’s.”

“Tony, you’re not a-”

“Yes I am,” Stark answered with a cynical laugh. “I’m not a hero, Banner. I never was. Iron Man was, but not Tony Stark.”

“They’re one in the same.”

“No, they’re not. I can try to say that they are. I mean, the media believes that they are. You know what people think of when they hear Tony Stark?” He lifted his glass to Banner. “This. This is what they see. Booze, sex, gambling. Living for no one but himself.” He lowered the glass again, continuously staring at it. “You know what they think of when they hear Iron Man? Hope, Banner. Hope for a brighter tomorrow. Responsibility. Selflessness.Good. It’s what I want to be but… it’s not me.” He cleared his throat again and set the glass onto the table.

“Know what I think when I hear Tony Stark?” Banner asked.

With a sarcastic smile, Tony leaned back in his chair. “Sure, why not.”

“Friend.”

Brown eyes shifted over to look at him, but Banner didn’t continue. Stark looked away again. “That’s because you’re the Green Giant and I’m the only one cool with it.” He smirked and glanced back at Banner. “Ho ho ho.

“Wow. You’re dying and still taking cracks at me,” Banner said with a chuckle as he shook his head. “What would the world be like without that sense of humor?”

“Boring as fuck, that’s what.”

“We certainly can’t deny it the pleasure of hearing decades more of Stark banter, can we?”

Tony cracked a smile. A genuine one. Both men felt rather uncomfortable with the sudden turn the conversation had taken, though, so neither one spoke a word. This time it was Tony who broke the quiet first. Without even looking at Banner- suddenly a spot on the wall became very interesting- Tony muttered, “Thanks.”

“For what? Letting you bully me while you wither and die?” Banner deadpanned.

“For being here,” Tony corrected. “…I’m not exactly the kind of guy to admit he needs help.”

“I know, Tony. You took on Killian and all of A.I.M. without even calling the Avengers for back-up.”

“Hey! I handled that situation fine!”

“Where is your house, Tony?”

“….”

“Where is it?”

Stark shifted in his seat, staring out the window.

“It’s at the bottom of the Pacific Ocean.”

“….I like Stark Tower better anyway.”

“Uh-huh.” Banner rubbed his face with his hand while his other turned his glasses over as he thought. “God, Tony. This really sucks.”

“Oh, thank you for reminding me. I’d forgotten.”

“No, I mean- how would we even… you can’t just stay in that damn suit forever.” Banner gestured to him again.

“I can if it’s keeping me alive.”

“So what are you going to do, just hide away and never come out of your apartment again? It’s not like you can fight anymore, considering if you get blasted at the wrong time it wouldn’t just cost you a few thousand bucks, it could cost you your life.”

“Well then think of something, genius.”

“I thought you were the genius.”

“I am, but my genius has been depleted.”

“Oh yeah? By what?”

Tony shifted in his seat again. “….I played Tetris yesterday.”

Banner remained unconvinced.

“A lot of Tetris.”

The good doctor rolled his eyes and decided not to prod further. “Okay fine. Um… if there was someway we could do a liver transplant, that might work….”

“I am not looking for might work,” Tony griped.

“I’m brainstorming here, okay? Feel free to help out any time,” Banner shot back. He glanced at the RTD core in Tony’s suit. “Wait. What is that material that your arc reactor’s made out of?”

“Why?”

“Well, it seems like it took to your body without any real issues.”

“Not once I changed the power source to that new element-” Tony paused. “Hold up.”

Banner raised his eyebrows and steepled his fingers at his mouth.

“Are you suggesting I build myself a new liver?”

“You built yourself a new heart,” Banner argued.

“Uh- excuse me, no. This,” Tony tapped on the glass of the RTD, “is an electromagnet keeping schrapnel out of my heart. Not a new heart.”

“Really? Wow.”

“Wait, you didn’t know that?”

“…Well, I just sort of assumed you were kind of like the Tin Man.”

“….”

“….”

“The Tin Man? Really? From Oz?”

Banner shrugged.

“What does that make you, the Scarecrow?”

“Hey. Now that’s just mean.”

“Dude, what the hell?”

“Anyway,” Banner interrupted, waving his hands to sort of erase the idea. “Yes, I am suggesting you build your own liver.”

“I don’t know. That’s a little too cyborg-y for me.”

“It’s either that or kick the bucket.”

“I don’t wanna turn into the Terminator or something.”

“Tony, it’s one organ, not your entire skeleton.”

“Still. If I go through with this idea and I start talking like Schwarzenegger, I’m gonna kick your ass.”

“You are not going to start talking like- what does that even mean, Tony? How are your vocal chords at all related to your liver?”

Tony shrugged. “So. You gonna help me with the design, then?”

“Are you going to drink that?” Banner interrupted. He pointed to the drink on the table.

Tony paused, staring at the glass of Scotch. He glanced away from it for a moment before leaning over and pushing it toward Bruce. “Nah.” He shrugged at Banner’s look of surprise. “Yeah, I had this thing that alcoholics call a moment of clarity.

There was a hesitation in Bruce’s actions and words, but eventually he took the glass from the table and leaned back in his seat. “Congratulations.”

“Enough bullshittin’ around. Are we gonna do this or not? I’d say there’s no rush, but there is. I’m still dying here.”

“I don’t have any plans for the day.”

“Oh, well that’s good. I wouldn’t want my imminent demise to inconvenience your schedule.”

Banner just smiled in reply.

 


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