Irony by AndromedaMarine

The Letter

By all accounts, Anthony Stark should be dead. Technically the arc reactor technology didn't exist, yet there it was, nestled in his chest. His life continued, but without the one night stands and hangover mornings. He became gentler, but his purely Stark sense of humor never left – it just diminished. He often fell asleep at his worktable surrounded by incomplete prototypes of the next mark suit. When he did collapse onto his bed he woke constantly, haunted by the Middle Eastern caves, terrorists, and death. Nightmares that had been nonexistent before his kidnapping frightened him like nothing had before. His life did a one-eighty instead of a three-sixty.

The events of his three month captivity brought his fatality to the forefront of his mind. He went almost a year without any human contact save the hugs he pulled me into at seemingly random times. Since the press conference he hadn't stepped into public as Anthony Stark, and paparazzi were banned from the premises. His smiles became rare moments of brilliant revelations or if I made his favorite dish for dinner. The time came when he forgot his own birthday and Jarvis became his prominent raconteur.

I felt as though I was losing him to technology. I had to politely turn Rhodes and the military away when they requested Tony at press conferences. His retreat into silence was ironic considering who he was. Ironman.

Eight years working for Anthony Stark. Now I was working with him. The confession that all we had was each other had been good to us – our professional relationship had less tension, but our personal one still scared me. Oftentimes I caught him looking at me, his eyes revealing more than his words ever did. He'd give me a weak smile and resume whatever he was doing, and my mind wandered, wondering about his motives. I suspected the times I caught him were few out of many.

It was early morning when I sat down to check the schedule when a calendar reminder flashed across the screen.

"Jarvis," I asked.

"Yes, Miss Potts?" The British AI's voice was calm and collected.

"Where's Tony?"

There was a pause. "Mr. Stark is in the workshop."

Naturally. "Thank you, Jarvis."

The reminder flashed again. I sighed. Rhodes would have to wait. I pulled up a new email and typed a message, putting the recipient as Anthony E. Stark.

Dear Tony,

I wish I could say this directly to you, but the saying goes that written words hold more power over spoken ones. Eight months ago I received a call from Colonel Rhodes. I was informed that your convoy had been attacked, and it was less than likely that you were alive. He told me to not worry – that he would do everything within his power to search for you. He never gave up hope. I kept coming to Stark Mansion every morning like I did when you were here; expecting to usher a disheveled fashion model to Happy downstairs, to pick up the dry cleaning. I forced myself to pretend you were just on a business trip – a very long business trip.

I wish I could say that I was always convinced you'd return – but after the first month without a single word from Rhodes I couldn't take it any longer. I was unable to go through the motions; pretending you were just out of touch failed me and, to put it mildly, I cried. What I told you on the tarmac wasn't entirely true. They were tears of joy – but because I had living, breathing proof that you were alive, not because I hate job hunting (which I still do, by the way).

For five months I've watched you go from same old Tony Stark with upbeat humor to Ironman to someone who looks like a lost and confused man in the middle of an ocean of doubt and fear. For five months I've wanted to help you sleep – the reason I stay here 24/7 is because I don't want to come in the door in the morning and find that you've stayed in the shop all night. I want you to live a normal (if that's even the right word) life. I stay here because if you do something stupid in your exhaustion I want to be here to reverse it.

Think back to when you had me change your reactor. I'm all you have. You're all I have. There's no one else – no long-lost boyfriend, no arranged marriage, not even a date. You are all I have. When you were gone it felt like a part of my heart was missing, because it was.

Eight years of employment, Tony. For seven of them I put up with your playboy take on life, and for one I've watched you recoil from human contact. The latter scares me. You barely sleep at night. Nightmares haunt you when you manage to fall into your bed. The workshop has become a bedroom in itself. I'm all you have. Let me be there for you – let me into your barricaded heart. Forget scaring me – I need to know what you went through.

Albert Schweitzer once said, "In everyone's life, at some time, our inner fire goes out. It is then burst into flame by an encounter with another human being. We should all be thankful for those people who rekindle the inner spirit." When you were kidnapped that's when my fire went out. But it burst back into flame when I saw your face again. I feel as though for these past few months your fire has been dying.

Do yourself a favor: walk up those goddamn steps and talk to me.

"The antidote for fifty enemies is one friend." – Aristotle. Don't let pride keep you away from that antidote. I love you too much to watch you inflict that emotional pain on yourself.

Love your friend,

Pepper.

I pressed send.