Tony fell back against the cold cement floors of the HYDRA bunker, forcibly ripping his gaze away from the darkened doorway from which Steve, carrying a half-conscious Bucky, exited. No one was coming for him. For the little rich boy playing pretend. For the arrogant bastard breezing through life. For the villain finally falling to his long overdue defeat.
His steadily blurring vision and the crackling fissures of pain radiating from his chest made his breath catch then release in stuttered huffs, little clouds of white looking more carefree than they ought to be. Tony tracked them to the best of his abilities, following his exhales and counting his heartbeats. Tony was exhausted in ways that defied comprehension and capacity. His life was an endless cycle of failure and fatigue, one that he could not seem to escape from no matter what he tried. Oh, how he tried.
Perhaps what he should have done was stop.
Stop trying. Stop fixing. Stop being.
He destroyed everything he touched.
The Avengers, imprisoned.
Tony's eyes blinked close, ice clumping his lashes and frost biting his skin. Small stinging sensations that were nothing compared to his shattered heart. The only comfort was the knowledge that it would end soon.
The searing agony spreading across his chest and into his bones jerked Tony back into consciousness.
Dimly, he heard the buzzing of a saw, smelled the dry desert in the air, and tasted copper on his tongue. One voice called his attention, one he hadn't heard in years, one he shouldn't be hearing now.
Tony woke again, this time more aware of his surroundings than before. The coarse cot he was on, the muffled sounds of gunfire, and the tube lodged in his nostril. Somehow, he was back in Afghanistan. Before he was Iron Man. Before he created Ultron. Before he signed the Accords.
Before he destroyed everything he touched.
With a groan, he pushed himself up on an unsteady elbow and reached for the car battery with his other hand.
"I wouldn't do that if I were you." Yinsen warned.
Tony smiled, mirthless and hopeless and lifeless. "Actually, I would." With swift and shaky fingers, he increased the voltage and, as a result, disrupted the delicate magnetic field surrounding his heart. Pulling the pieces of deadly shrapnel in instead of holding them still.
Yinsen reached for Tony, frantic and futile. "Stark!"
"Sorry, Yinsen." Tony caught the other man's hand in a surprisingly strong grip. "My life is better wasted."
Four years later, waves of Chitauri troops poured through the portal atop the Empire State Building, flooding the streets with destruction and drowning the city in death.
Captain America coordinated and assisted with evacuation efforts, his shield steadily losing its gleam as it ricocheted off of endless enemies in its effort to provide cover for the officers and civilians.
Thor bid lightning to do his will, determinedly calling down crackling strands of electricity despite Mjolnir growing heavy in his hand, or perhaps it was his waning strength slowing his movements.
Hawkeye covered his teammates from his perch, first with arrows then with timely warnings; he longed to join the fray but lack the movability of his enhanced teammates to cover the expanse of the city.
The Hulk reduced Loki to a crumbled heap, uncontrollable anger from the thinly veiled mistrust and poorly disguised fear from his supposed teammates rolling off his rigid shoulders.
Black Widow managed to close the portal following Dr. Selvig's advice, though triumph glee was short lived.
A nuclear missile was heading for New York City with the hopes of winning a Pyrrhic victory against a seemingly indomitable alien invasion. Nothing could sway its path or change its destination.
Black Widow and Hawkeye died instantly.
Captain America met a slow and suffering end, the super soldier serum could not counteract radiation poisoning.
The Hulk disappeared from the United States and occasionally resurfaced in the remotest locations but Bruce Banner was never seen again.
Thor, partially blind from the initial blast but otherwise unharmed due to his Asgardian physiology and Mjolnir's protection, returned to Asgard and sought its healers to mend his vision.
Loki was defenseless and drained during the missile's detonation, he slumbered on in a recuperative sleep and would someday face trial for what he had done.
In the meantime; however, Midgard was to be brought to justice.
Thor's rage at betrayal from a world he fought to protect was evenly matched by Odin's fury at the harm done to Asgard's crowned prince. Though neither compared to the maternal wrath of Frigga when she cataloged the pains inflicted on her sons with cold and merciless eyes.
The World Security Council greeted Stane with tight smiles and tense handshakes. Earth was in need of more weaponry and Stane Industries was happy to oblige.