The Other Half of the Ironman by AndromedaMarine
Tony Stark peered out one of the windows in his house. He thought and rethought if he'd said the right thing a few hours ago – if his confession was in the best interest of Stark Industries or if it – oh, screw it. He knew it wouldn't have gone down any other way; not with Obadiah's death lingering over him like an angry cloud. Like a dark, furious cloud.
His weapons were the most advanced in the world – he smiled in ego – that had fallen into the hands of terrorist war lords – he frowned with a mixture of anger and sadness. Sure, Pepper Potts had given him her fair share of sympathies – especially right after he got back, what with being held captive for three months. But for Tony it wasn't enough. He had everything, yet he had nothing. Damn it.
The arc reactor within his chest was a glaring reminder of his past.
He wrapped his arms around himself, holding together what was left of his company's mangled reputation – what was left of his mangled heart. Perhaps it had been the gunfire that finally got to Tony, or maybe it was the poison-tipped words: you have everything, yet you have nothing. To Tony the reason itself didn't matter, only what the result was: Ironman.
He didn't know how long he stood with his gaze out the window, not really looking. He vaguely felt it when Jarvis raised the temperature to keep Tony from freezing. When the Ironman – even to himself the name sounded odd – finally saw what he was looking at the horizon was dark. Even then he wished he hadn't snapped out of his reverie. "So empty," he whispered, his voice quiet in the enormous silence of the Stark residence. "So pointless."
He wouldn't have heard her if the silence had been a tad noisier.
"Mr. Stark, it's two in the morning." Her voice was calm, not demanding or exasperated, which is what he would have expected if he'd known Pepper was going to speak.
Still, he jumped.
"Can't sleep," he tossed back carelessly, simply wanting to wallow in his emptiness.
"That's because you're thinking too much. By the way, you needn't worry about getting up early – you have tomorrow off."
Tony didn't answer.
He heard her light footsteps get closer with each second, and suddenly she was in front of him, blocking his somewhat wandering view of the city. "Mr. Stark, please just get some sleep. You must be exhausted."
A smile threatened to leap onto his features when it tugged at the corners of his mouth. "I thought we already went over this, Pepper, maybe four years ago. You can call me Tony."
She crossed her arms, mirroring his position. "Maybe so, but that doesn't change the fact that you're my boss. If you won't go to bed, will you at least tell me what's on your mind?"
The ex-ironmonger was silent for a while, staring through unseeing eyes through his assistant. "There's a strange sense of peace inside, knowing that the terrorist problem is over...for now. And then there's that feeling that life as I know it is going to change with no warning, but that happened five months ago. Pepper..." he trailed off and didn't finish his sentence. His eyes snapped to her features. "I feel empty."
Pepper would have laughed if Tony's expression wasn't so serious. Instead she reached out, placing her hand on Tony's tight arm. "If you were empty you never would've had the courage and determination to get out of that prison. No, Mr. Stark, you are not empty – just incomplete."
His brown eyes practically pleaded with her.
The smile made its second offer. "Pepper, I'm incomplete. Ironman is only half of who I am."
"Can we discuss this in the morning?" she yawned.
"You still haven't told me why you're up – let alone here." Tony's expression became curious.
Pepper was grateful the darkness hid her warming cheeks. "Exactly for this reason."
Pepper stifled another yawn. "To make sure you're all right."
Tony allowed some of the smile to claim his features. "Pepper, I'm perfectly fine. Just..."
"Incomplete?" she finished. "Or empty?"
Tony grunted, his eyes becoming emotionless again. Pepper's hand was still on his arm. "Both."
She added her other hand and took a step closer. "What would change your mind?" She felt him tense, and watched as his eyes regained focus. He blinked down at her, the arc reactor making her face gleam. "Or are you a lost cause?"
"I honestly don't know," Tony said, surprising himself with the answer. He relaxed, and suddenly he looked as tired as she felt.
Pepper's eyes traveled downward, lingering on his lips a moment longer than they should have, and came to stare at the blue glow of his reactor. She traced its outline with one long, slender finger, and suddenly her wrist was encased in Tony's large, calloused hand.
"I'm under enough scrutiny as it is, Pepper," he explained softly, cocking his head as he looked at her. She refused to meet his gaze again.
If he had been any other boss she would have wrenched her arm out of his grip, stumbled backwards, and fallen onto the couch in an effort to get away from his touch. But this was Tony Stark, someone whose life had been changed in an instant. He was softer, gentler. He understood the threat of his weapons much more than he had before, and he was making a real effort to be the responsible man his father had tried to raise. Pepper placed her other palm flat on his chest, over the reactor. It was hard, but not cold, and the blue glow shone through her skin, making her hand appear reddish. "I'm not scrutinizing you, Mr. St – Tony. I'm trying to understand you."
"I thought of you when I was there," he said, tearing his eyes away from her face and releasing her wrist. He turned away from her, and began to walk toward the couch. "About what you'd do if I didn't make it out."
Pepper didn't know what to say.
"After seven years I didn't know if you had a family to fall back onto, if there was another job offer you could accept. And I wondered why you've stuck around all this time, what with me being an absolute idiot."
She gave a little grin that disappeared when he collapsed onto the couch. "I had every hope that you would come back. And I was grateful you did, because I hate job-hunting."
The smile tempted him again. He didn't want to give her a snarky reply, not with him feeling incomplete and utterly hopeless, which was very ironic, considering who he was. Just that thought allowed the smile to win for a moment. "I promise that as long as I'm alive," he grimaced, "you'll never have to go job-hunting."
Pepper sank onto the couch next to him, just barely touching his arm. "And as long as you're alive I'll never quit."
Tony grabbed her wrist again and brought it to his mouth. He pressed his lips against her palm, and reached out with his other hand to rest it on her cheek. "So, with me being a superhero, does that mean I have a girl that constantly worries about me?"
Pepper closed her eyes, fighting the new emotions that rolled over her. But it was all for nothing when she felt the light touch of Tony's lips on hers, and the scratch of his beard that gave him away. Every wall she'd built to keep her emotions in check came shattering down as Tony pulled her closer, the kiss igniting nerves in her brain. But he was exhausted like she was, and it was only a few minutes before Tony was lengthwise on the couch with Pepper's head resting on his chest. Somehow a blanket found its way onto the two of them, and the Ironman fell asleep, with his other half breathing peacefully beside him.