Tony rubbed his eyes gently, a yawn departed from his plump pink lips as he tried to clear up his blurry vision. Tony was sitting on a bench on campus as he thought over his lesson plans and the new material he was forced to teach. There was always something when it came to his classes and what he taught, and as much as he wanted to raise hell and give the dean a harder time than he was having, Tony decided against it.
Blinking repeatedly, Tony quickly noticed a familiar figure approaching.
"Hey, Tony, what's going on?" Bruce said rather softly. His voice was soft, delicate on the ears like a yoga instructor or a soothing father. Tony had only ever seen the man angry once and he swears to the day that Bruce was changing colors with every muscle in his neck bulging out.
Tony made a noise of uncertainty. "Got all the way here then was told that I had to cancel since they were upgrading all the machines. Decided to stick around and do my lesson plans. You?"
Bruce sat on the back of the bench, placing his backpack between his knees. "Ah, just waiting for Betty. Hey, so, how's Pepper doing? Felt like I asked about everyone but her."
"Good," Tony started, rubbing his eye once again, another yawn washing over him, "her husband is working a lot, out of town stuff mostly, but he's getting good cases and she's been scoring some good ones herself. Not sure how lawyers make it work but Peter says she's happy."
Bruce couldn't help but notice the exhaustion written all over Tony's being. "You doin’ okay?"
Tony stopped rubbing his eyes, blinking repeatedly, before he began to notice what he was doing. "Yeah, yeah, no, I'm fine. You remember the guy from the store? Steve?"
"The heart doctor, right? He's a looker." Bruce said admittedly.
"Yeah well, I stayed over at his place last night and basically slept all day since I didn't have to be here until 6 and his shift didn't start until tomorrow morning. I think he drugged my coffee so I wouldn't leave."
Bruce laughed softly before twisting his eyebrows and mouth into a rather displeased expression. "Sorry about blabbing your whole life story to him."
"No, no, it's fine. I mean, we did just start dating and no one needs that much on their plate but Pepper keeps riding me about telling him and I know it's not a big deal but it just hasn't come up. I know his past but I don't want him to judge me or something, I don't know. I'm scared I guess. I'm not particularly sure how to say, 'hey Steve, I used to smoke meth and then got cancer, twice, and now I'm old and fat and somewhere there are pictures of me in a wig when I thought I was going to lose my hair. And I officially stopped abusing drugs a year ago but I swear I'm clean forever and won't steal pills from your work.' Doesn’t sound like something I’d want to hear." Tony danced on what he wanted to say. There was so much on his heart and mind that it all made his body ache, particularly his chest.
Bruce snorted, shaking his head slightly. “I’d say just that, honestly.”
"I don’t know. It's been maybe a month and I know almost everything about him when he only knows bits and pieces about me. It's unfair, really, but I just don't know how to bring it up. " Tony's voice was shaky, changing tones from high to low as he thought over the issues. Tony began to cough, air beginning to feel as if it were locked out of his lungs.
Bruce was making a face as he thought over all that was said. "Well, if you're going to get serious with him I think he should know about your past. I’d be different if you were worrying about him judging you, if he’s that kind of person but I doubt if he'll think you're still a junkie. I'm sure doctors learn how to spot those things from a mile away. Plus, you got your life together now and you have something to show for yourself." Tony coughed again, gasping after each small fit. Bruce continued to talk until he noticed his friend turning blue. "Tony? Hey, what’s the matter?"
"I don't know, I can't breathe.” He wheezed. “I can't catch my breath." It took so much out of him. His body was against him, strangling him from the inside and there was nothing that he could do. He was a fish out of water, feeling the life slip from him with each gasping breath.
Bruce jumped up to see Betty pull up just in time. "Come on, we'll take you to the hospital."
The beeping was such an irritating sound. The noise was all that could be heard when Tony slowly regained consciousness. Pepper was beside him, tapping away at her phone with a stack of papers occupying her lap. She had left work to be with him, he thought. There were millions of reasons why he loved her, but the one thing that stood out was moments like these. They were no strangers to hospital rooms, and they were no strangers to Tony being the sick one. These moments, though they’ve had more than they needed or wanted, were the moments when he remembered what made him worthy enough to be her husband.
Tony, playing melodramatic, was groaning to get her attention.
"Good, you're awake." She said, placing the phone in her lap and reaching for his sweaty forehead.
"What the hell happened?" His voice was cracking, dry from what he assumed to be from sucking in too much air. At least he could finally breathe.
"Bruce called me and said you couldn't breathe, you were gasping for air until they got you here and the nurses gave you something and you fell asleep. I came just when the doctor did and said he should be coming back soon." For once she wasn't afraid, or at least that’s what she was putting on. Tony didn't want to panic, though after so long, he didn't know what to expect.
"I'm not going to die, am I?" He was being playful though there was an underlining tone that caused Pepper to pinch her lips into a frown.
"I should be able to answer that for you." The cheerful voice said from the door. The man was tall with blonde hair swept into an upknot on the crown of his head. Tony knew him from pictures at Steve's place but said nothing about it. "Dr. Theodore Odinson, but call me Theo. We ran a few tests and some flags were raised or me so, Mr. Stark, does anyone in your family have a history of heart disease?"
The question was off putting, leaving Tony with an open mouth as he thought it over for a second. "No, not that I know of."
"Well, right now your heart beat sounds sounds as if it's struggling to pump blood properly and that’s what raises a red flag to me saying that it's linked to a heart condition. I would like to run a few tests just to see what it is and then we can consider the possibilities."
Tony shook his head. It was difficult for him to wrap his mind around the words properly and digest all that was being said. Pepper cleared her throat to get his attention.
"What kind of tests?" Pepper asked for Tony.
"Are you Mrs. Stark?" Theo asked almost reluctantly.
"Not anymore, but I'm still his emergency contact and closest of kin."
Theo nodded. "Our first go to test is called an echocardiogram. Basically it shows us sound waves and helps us pick up on any damaged or diseased arteries. If that doesn’t work what I like to do since it gets the best results, is a heart catheterization. We inject a special dye into the heart, a sort of x-ray and we see what the damage is."
Tony still said nothing. Pepper looked over him once again, waiting for a question or a remark but instead, only received his silence.
"Thank you, doctor." She replied. Turing to take his leave, Pepper looked over at the silent man.
Pepper touched his hand as his face grew tired and sad. It was all too much, he thought. His health was always in the red, no matter what he did or how hard he tried, Tony felt like his poor health was the universe giving him a bigger sign. It wouldn't be his first time feeling like God was giving him the middle finger and leaving him on his own. It was no secret that between getting cancer and feeling like he had nothing to show for himself other than his fancy degree, he wasn't exactly the happy about the cards that he was dealt. Cancer takes a toll on your mind and body, they told him, and Tony was no exception. Everyone watched him suffer: his hair thinning, his eyes sunken, his skin slightly yellow, and his body aching all the time. It was still a shock to him that he had the strength to endure it twice. But now, he wasn’t feeling that strong.
"Well, depending on what the test say, we get the surgery and we'll get through this." Pepper wasn't afraid like she was when the stomach cancer was detected. Stage 2 was when they caught it. The cells were multiplying so fast but not as fast as they could've been. Pepper cried for days, hugging Tony as if he were to die the next day and kissing his face over and over again. The next time was lung cancer. It had spread to the organ and since his body didn’t take well to chemo the first time, radiation was his only choice. Pepper was right there, holding his hand and rubbing his back when nothing stayed in his stomach. Still, even had going through it before, she was still afraid for him.
Unlike those times, Tony wasn’t afraid. This time, there was no fear, just the feeling of defeat.
"Pep," Tony started to say, sucking in all the air he could through his nose. "I don't want to do this anymore."
Her eyes were wide, mouth slightly open as she tried to spit out what she needed to say. "What does that mean?"
Tony shook his head, rubbing his face with both hands. "I'm done with fighting. I survived cancer, I got over the drugs, and I stopped drinking and now this? I can't do it anymore. I can't put my body through this again and again. I'm done. I just want this to be it. This is how it goes."
"Tony, you can't. That's why you can't give up like this."
"I'm tired, Pep. I'm so fucking tired. I can't sleep right or eat how I want and now with this I'll have to change more in my life and I don't want to do it. I'm sick of my body working against me. I'm sick of this constant reminder of this person I used to be. First it was my stomach, then my lungs, and now my heart? I don't know how many times God can try to tell me how much of a fuckup I am. I was trying to do him a favor. All the drinking and pill popping I did last year and I couldn’t even kill myself correctly. I can’t go through that again, that depression and sadness and fighting just to end up old with barely any organs to donate."
Pepper felt her jaw ache for clenching her teeth. It was hard to hear, maybe even harder for Tony to say but none of that took away from what he felt, or what she felt. Tony looked away from her, scanning the floor as if more of his feelings were to be found. Pepper held back her tears, swallowing air as she cleared her throat a time or two. Instead of speaking her mind, saying what she felt and not what he wanted to hear at all, she nodded.
"I have to get back to the office." It wasn't true but she could bear another second in that room. Tony reached out for her hand, the digits slipping through his fingers as she tore herself away from his side. "Peter said he wanted to come back over this weekend so I'll call you then."
"Pepper," Tony called out as she stepped towards the door.
"No, you obviously are thinking a lot about you right now and I'll let you until your sense come back. You're in shock, you're tired, and your chest is aching, I can get that but you wanting to die because you can't handle it? You can't deal with this again? What about me? I married you because I loved you. You said you needed me and I was right there, right beside you for nineteen years. I was there all those times, and you know what? I'm tired too. I'm ready to throw in the towel because I'm sick of us spending all of our time together in a hospital room. Peter grew up watching you fight, he watched you crumble and rise again and now you're done?" Pepper didn't fight the tears. She wept as she spoke, yelling as she held nothing back. "You only care about you Tony. Does Steve even know what he's gotten himself into? Have you even had the decency to tell him that he’s only with you for what? Maybe a couple more months until you let yourself die? Do me a favor, tell him to I said to save himself from the train wreck. You’re on a downward spiral and for some reason you wanted to bring him along. You’re a selfish prick, Anthony Stark. I hope you see that."