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Tuesday, July 21st, 2009 08:48 am
Title: Lethewards: Chapter Three: Wayfaring Stranger part I
Rating: R
Fandom: Marvel - 616
Pairings: Primarily pre-slash Steve/Tony, but with several platonic relationships, as well as references to past relationships and a few minor relationships
Part word count: 3051
Genre: Drama, angst, hurt/comfort, character study
Warnings: These are warnings just this part, seeing as they may change from part to part. Please see this post for overall fic warnings Depiction and talk of mental illness, talk of suicide, blood, graphic images.
Disclaimer: I own none of these characters and make no profit from them
Part Summary: Tony recounts the beginnings of his downward spiral
Thanks: My beta [personal profile] autolobotomysuicide and being absolutely fantastic. [personal profile] jazzypom and [livejournal.com profile] pandanoai for their adivce and beta work, as well as cheer leading. And last but not least, [livejournal.com profile] oddwildflowers for being an amazing cheerleader.
Author's note: Please, please, please see this post for a list of overall fic warnings and for background information/changes from canon.
As always, thank you for all the kind comments. New parts Sunday and Tuesday. This part and the previous one are probably my favorite in the whole fic.
Previous Parts: Prologue Chapter One Chapter Two part I part II




Chapter Three:
WAYFARING STRANGER





SAMSON: Okay, since we're never had a true, formal session before, I'm going to start with a few basic questions. What's your full name?

STARK: Anthony Edward Stark.

SAMSON: Do you know the date?

STARK: September... tenth, twenty-eleven.

SAMSON: Do you know where you are?

STARK: The psyche unit at Forty-Two.

SAMSON: Do you know why you're here?

STARK: Because I'm insane.

SAMSON: Don't say it like that, Tony. You're ill--

STARK: [laugh]

SAMSON: Did I say something...?

STARK: No, no, it's just...I remember telling Logan something like that when we were talking about Wanda.

SAMSON: I see

STARK: Sorry. Go on.

SAMSON: Do you often have suicidal thoughts?

STARK: Not often, no ...I do think about dying a lot, though. It, uh, it comes with the job, I suppose

SAMSON: Yes, I suppose it does. Have you ever attempted suicide before?

STARK: Yes

SAMSON: Not counting the most recent incident, how many attempts have you made?

STARK: Three

SAMSON: When were they?

STARK: Once when I was thirteen, once right after I became Iron Man, and then there was that whole...drinking thing a few years back

SAMSON: You consider that an attempt?

STARK: Well, it wasn't an active one. But, you know, I always just figured that if I was so drunk that I walked into oncoming traffic, I'd be okay with it....[laugh] It sounds terrible when I say it out loud...

SAMSON: I'm not here to judge you, Ton--

STARK: I know, I know, it's just...God, I'm a coward...
[pause]
Well? Next question

SAMSON: Let's talk about the last few months. Were you aware of what was happening to you?

STARK: ...Yes

SAMSON: What was the first sign to you that something was wrong?

STARK: When I woke up in a pool of my own blood and couldn't remember how I got there.

SAMSON: That was your first sign?

STARK: Well, it was the moment I realized I couldn't deal with it on my own.

SAMSON: I see. And this was when you began staying with Maria Hill?

STARK: Yes

SAMSON: Why didn't you seek out help from someone else after Miss Hill was hospitalized?

STARK: ...I don't have anyone else. I either drove them all away, threw them in jail, or killed them. I don't have anyone else...
[pause]
This is what I deserve...

SAMSON: Why do you say that?

STARK: Because it's true. ...They told me and it's true...

SAMSON: "They" ...who?

STARK: Everyone

SAMSON: The voices?

STARK: They're not--! I could hear them. I could feel them. I could smell them -- They-they were people, not voices.

SAMSON: Of course, I'm sorry. When did you start...being visited by these people?

STARK: Six months ago, I think.

SAMSON: How did it start?

STARK: [pause] With a dream.

SAMSON: A dream?

STARK: Yeah. I had had it a couple times before, but it was...different this time. And I kept having it. Twice a night, every night.

SAMSON: When did you stop having it?

STARK: When I stopped sleeping.

SAMSON: What was the dream of?

STARK: [pause] The day Steve Rogers died.

SAMSON: Do you feel responsible for Steve's death?

STARK: Yes.

SAMSON: Was Steve one of the people that visited you?

STARK: Yes.

SAMSON: Can you tell me about his first visit?



Tony awoke in a cold sweat, heart racing, head pounding. He sat up and threw the closest thing he could get a hold of -- a digital clock reading 3:13 AM. It hit the bookshelf on the other side of the room, coming apart and dislodging a few of the shelf's contents. All of it fell to the floor with a heavy thud and then left Tony in silence.

He sat on the side of the bed. He rested his elbows on his knees and his head in his hands. He pulled at his hair, trying to steady his breathing, clear the tears from the corners of his eyes.

The same dream. Steve handcuffed on those courthouse steps. Reporters everywhere, protesters shouting. And Tony...Tony--

He squeezed his eyes shut, trying to get the image from his mind, but it was difficult to do when he could still feel the weight of the gun in his hand, smell the gun powder in the air.

He got up, angry at the dream, angry at himself, angry at Steve for getting shot. There was no point in trying to go back to sleep -- it would take him an hour at least to clear his mind of the dream, and then an hour after that, he would have to get up for work or have the dream again, whichever came first.

He stripped himself of his clothes, deciding to take a shower. He stood under the spray, letting the warm water fall over his shoulders, roll down his chest. He let out a sigh, hoping it would expel all his frustrations. It didn't. He scrubbed a hand through his wet hair.

He turned his head. He saw some dark shape in the corner of his eye. Nothing. He shook his head. That had been happening with increasing frequency the past few days. He should get his eyes checked. He'd work it in somewhere between his three meetings, lunch with Pepper, and legal proceedings against Norman Osborn in hopes of regaining control over his accounts.

He turned off the water, dried himself, got dressed, and went into the kitchen to put on a pot of coffee. Someone else was there. He flicked on the lights. No one. His mind did strange things when he didn't have caffeine in his system. The hot liquid brewed maddeningly slow all the while taunting him with that smell. He should really have the company invest in designing some sort of flash-brewing coffee machine. They could rake in the money from addicts like himse--

Another flash of something out of the corners of his vision. This time it seemed farther away, near the lab. Tony pinched the bridge of his nose, willing the machine to work faster. When it was finally done, he poured the entire pot into a large thermos that he'd gotten for Christmas from Jarvis and something he'd be forever grateful for, then headed off to the lab.

He looked around the work area, a jumble of half-finished prototype, a variety of wires, a mix of tools, and a single house plant -- also a gift, this one from Pepper, who thought that his lab needed more life to it. Of course, no one was there but himself and that plant.

He sat down in front of his computer and began to work on his latest project. It wasn't anything for the company -- frankly, he didn't feel much like doing anything for Stark International since the board had forced him to resign as CEO and take on the rather worthless title of 'Chief Technologist.' Instead, he was working on a personal project -- an upgrade for the house.

It had taken him years to rebuild his family's home after the Mandarin had destroyed it. It was exactly how he had remembered it, plus a few updates. The house was theoretically automatic, except that the tech had been designed when Tony still had the Extremis in proper working order. The idea was that Tony himself could control the systems of the house -- from running security, to working the machines in his lab, to starting the coffee pot while he was still in bed. But now that the Extremis was damaged beyond repair (giving Tony a rather constant headache with that), he need to design a program to do all of those tasks. After digging through his various archives, Tony had found a half-finished AI program he had planned on working into the Iron Man in hope that it would help him run the armor more efficiently. That project had been put on hold after the armor had become sentient on its own however.

So Tony had dusted the program off and now spent most of his free time rewriting the outdated code and working on new code, as well as creating an external control panel through which Tony could interact directly with the AI.

It was around 6:30 when Tony looked up again. His thermos was empty and his neck had gotten stiff. He sat there a moment, trying to decide if it was really worth going into work. He had a lunch date with Pepper in the city as it was, so he figured he might as well.

He headed back to the bedroom to get properly dressed. He again had that feeling of someone being there when he passed through the kitchen to put the thermos by the sink. The security system would had told him if someone had gotten in, so Tony brushed it off as the underline paranoia that he had developed over the years after a rather large number of break-ins.

STARK: It started small. Little things that I could never quite see, and it just got more and more frequent.

Tony regretting going into the city almost as soon as he got there. His head was pounding and by the time he got to the office, he had a full on migraine. He darkened the windows, but he didn't have any real blinds or curtains for the window wall, so he ended up laying by the far wall, suit jacket over his face.

"Tony?" Pepper appeared at his door around the time they had planned to do lunch.

"Come in. Quietly." He cringed, the noise from his own voice hurting him.

Pepper made a small concerned noise when she saw him. She closed the door softly and, from the sounds of it, removed her heels before walking over to him cautiously. She knelt beside him, taking his hand.

"Migraine?" she asked softly. Tony grunted his reply, "Want me to drive you home?"

Tony thought about his comfy bed and his blackout curtains and decided, yes, he would like that very much. He sat up slowly, eyes still closed, letting the jacket slide off his face.

Pepper let out a small gasp, "You're bleeding."

Tony's brow furrowed. He heard her get up and walk in the direction of his desk.

"Here," she put a tissue in his hand, "Your nose."

He wiped his face blindly, still having not opened his eyes.

"Good?" he asked, lifting his head for inspection.

"Good," Pepper affirmed, "Here, you can wear my sunglasses if you want."

Tony chuckled, though he regretted it as pain surged through his temples, "Maybe once we get out to the car. That way no one can laugh at my fashion choices."

Pepper was a very good seeing-eye CEO as it turned out. She managed to get him from his office, through the halls, through the parking garage, and into the backseat of her car without much trouble. He flopped down across the seats, once again placing the jacket over his head.

"I hope we're still friends when I get old and can't function on my own any more, Pepper. You're very good at this."

If it was possible to hear someone roll their eyes, Tony believed he did.

"Tony Stark doesn't grow old, remember? By the time that age rolls around, you'll have replaced all your vital organs with Stark brand replacements."

"Ah, right, how forgetful of me. Iron Man through and through."

"Right. Now, no more talking. It's for your own good."

"Yes, ma'am."

Pepper went through and darkened all the windows that stood between Tony and his bedroom before Tony got out of the car. He made a note to remember to give her a home health care bonus before remembering that she was actually the boss now. He actually ventured to open his eyes when he got inside. Soothing darkness.

"Sorry about lunch," he said as he shuffled through the living room.

"Oh don't worry. I completely forgot about it until you mentioned it, honestly."

"You can stick around for dinner if you want," he offered, "I might be more sociable by then."

"I have a company dinner tonight actually," she gave him an apologetic look, "I can stick around for a while if you need me though."

Tony waved a hand, "I'll be all right."

Pepper helped him to bed. He kicked off his shoes and buried his face in his pillow. Sweet, sweet darkness. He hadn't realized Pepper had left until she returned, two Tylenol in hand.

"You're an angel of mercy," he took the pills and swallowed them dry.

Pepper ran her nails through Tony's hair, "You sure you'll be all right on your own?"

"It's just a headache, Pep."

"Okay, call if you need anything."

Tony mumbled a reply. He wasn't sure, but he thought he drifted off. When he was aware of his sense again, he also became aware that there were still fingers messaging his neck.

"Pep, go on. At this rate, you'll miss the dinner."

He turned his head so he could see the woman standing beside his bed. It wasn't Pepper.

Tony shot up, pain of his headache flowing to the rest of his body, but he didn't care. He had to get away.

Jan's brow wrinkled, her hand still in the air where she had been stroking his hair. She looked at Tony, saddened by something.

"What's wrong?" her voice was full of concern.

Tony's could help but laugh, "Y-You're dead! That's what's wrong."

Jan smiled kindly, "Tony," it sounded like she was talking to a child, "You brought this upon yourself. Get used to it."

Tony blinked out of surprise and confusion, but in the instant, she was gone.



---



Tony chalked the hallucination up to the pain. That was the only logical explanation. He didn't mention it to anyone -- the was no real reason to.

He was woken from his sleep by that dream again. He went through the same routine, except he didn't go into the city today since he had a meeting over a few projects at the Long Island facility. He got dressed, ignoring the hints of something on the corners of his vision, and drove to the labs.

The meeting was far too long and far too pointless and that, combined with the still dull ache in his head made it hard for him to really concentrate. He was hardly paying attention to the man walking beside him, rattling off an idea for...something. It sounded like a terrible idea, whatever it was. Tony glanced around, looking for some kind of exit.

He stopped. The other man had kept walking, doing a double take when he realized Tony was no longer with him. He knew he must look absurd standing there in the middle of the hall, transfixed on something the rest of them probably couldn't see. He knew people were staring, but at this point, he couldn't think.

Scott Lang.

Scott Lang was standing in his old lab, working away as if he hadn't been dead for six years.

STARK: Once it started, they just started coming in fast. One day it was just little things like shadows, the next it was full fledged people.

SAMSON: What was your first thought?

STARK: Some kind of mind control [laugh] Goes to show the kind of life I lead. So, you know, I ran some tests, called in some favors to a psychic or two. Nothing turned up.




---



Tony wet the paper towel and wiped the blood from under his nose. Third nose bleed in the past four weeks. This was starting to be a troubling occurrence. He held the paper to his nose and used the restroom mirror to look over his shoulder. Was it a bad sign that he was getting used to seeing dead people?

Happy stood by a stall, arms crossed, looking disapprovingly at him.

"What?" Tony grunted, knowing he was alone in the restroom.

"You should tell Pep,"

"She'd just worry more than she has to."

"She worries about you anyways. It'll just piss her off if something happens and you didn't tell her the warning signs."

Tony sighed, checking to see if he was still bleeding. He looked back to Happy, but he was gone. Tony cleaned himself a little more before tossing the paper and heading back out.

Pepper was waiting for him by the restroom.

"You all right?" she looked troubled, expression clashing with her elegant cocktail dress.

"Yeah, I'm fine," he shrugged.

She didn't believe him.

"Well, I...I'm feeling a little sick," it wasn't a lie. He had been feeling nauseous all day, "but I can make it through the rest--"

Pepper held up a hand, "Take a sick day, Tony. It won't kill you. Go to a doctor, too -- this has been going on for a while."

Pepper was far too reasonable to protest against. They returned to the table. Tony gathered his things and bowed out as gracefully as he could. The board looked rather relieved to see him go.

He drove back to Long Island, the feeling of nausea in his stomach growing stronger and stronger. He hadn't actually gotten a chance to eat anything at the restaurant, so that couldn't have been the cause. His progress from car to house was slow, trying not to make any sudden movements that might upset his stomach more.

He smelled her perfume the moment he walked in. He knew she was there long before he saw her in the living room, standing by the window as she often did while she waited for his father to return from work.

"Anthony,"

Tony felt dizzy. He squeezed his eyes shut hoping this all would disappear when he opened them again. She was still there.

His voice was hushed, not wanting to really acknowledge her presence, make her real, "Mom?"

She turned to him now. The beautiful blue evening gown she had worn to the company dinner was torn and scorched in places, as was her skin, darkened and crusted with charcoal. Bits of glass and pebbles were embedded in what was remaining of her face, hints of bone showing above her eyebrow.

"This is your fault, Anthony."

Tony's knees gave out and he fought to keep the bare contents of his stomach down. He lost.

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