Title: Contradictions of the Heart
Sources of Inspiration: Intensity by Dean Koontz and 'The Call' by Regina Spektor from The Chronicles of Narnia: Prince Caspian
Virginia "Pepper" Potts knows that it is possible to love and hate something at the same time, like smoking cigarettes, but she never thought that state of mind would apply to her.
When Tony had first come home from his life-altering disappearance in a Middle Eastern mountain range, three months after Pepper Potts had come close to suffering a heart attack (Rhodey's voice, bringing the worst birthday gift of her life: It's Tony, Pepper – there was an attack on his caravan, no survivors…but his body is missing), Pepper had at first loved that arc reactor. She'd missed Tony so bad, come to realize that he was all she had and possibly the only person she loved outside of her severely downsized family (cancer did that to a group of blood relatives), anything that had helped bring him back to her is something she'd forever treasure.
The blue-white glow cast by the reactor onto Tony's face is reassuring, because she knows the hum she feels when she places her hands on it is Tony's heart still resolutely beating, against the odds. Thanks to his own genius, of course, and she is grateful that he is the most brilliant person she knows.
Then she begins to hate it. She'd realized it one night, when she'd rushed into Tony's room after receiving an unauthorized call from Jarvis that Tony was undergoing the heart attack of all nightmares. He'd woken up the very moment she had placed a cold hand onto his sweltering face, grabbed her hand and had managed to realize who she was before he broke it. He'd apologized, in his own way (I'm not accustomed to waking up looking at someone without a beard, Miss Potts – can we make this a routine?), and, after she'd babbled an apology and an explanation as to why she was in his room (The mother of all heart attacks? Hmm…well I can make someone feel like they're having one. Would you like to experience it for yourself?), eventually drifted off to sleep with her cajoling and her pledge to stay there until he fell asleep at least.
She'd stayed there, like she'd promised she'd do. More than she promised, actually, since she ended up staying the night curled up next to his bed, her face propped upon an elbow digging into the mattress, right next to Tony's face. Before she herself had fallen asleep, she'd studied the arc reactor, and realized that she had been wrong. The arc reactor would not keep her Tony alive forever, would not keep him safe for her, because while Tony's heart couldn't function without the reactor, the reactor could function without Tony. It didn't help that she is sure Tony knew this too.
She hates it for more than that, however. The reactor had come to be a reminder of Tony's three-month-long nightmare, the circumstances in which it was made. Had Tony not been captured, he never would have needed to make one while simultaneously pretending to make a Jericho missile when he was secretly creating the Iron Man prototype. Pepper didn't think she'd ever forget the way she felt, or the way he looked (both appearance wise and how he looked at her), when he walked down from that plane, one arm in a cast while the other waved away the stretcher. She knew for a fact she would never forget walking in on Tony, his face contorted into pain as he was subject to nightmares that were not nightmares at all, but memories.
At the same time though, she loves it. Even though one well-placed bullet could put it out of commission, and therefore Tony, it is a part of him. It is part of what made Tony Stark the Tony that maybe only she ever saw in him – not the playboy, not the reclusive genius, but the man who is willing to suit up and dive right into a conflict where bombs were exploding and bullets were being fired everywhere in order to not only save lives, but to not waste his own like he had so carelessly before. In short, it is very much indeed proof that Tony Stark has a heart.
She hates that arc reactor, the thing that lies to the entire world except Pepper and perhaps the man that houses it (like a host houses a parasite). But it is a part of Tony, and so she loves it.