A/N: PLEASE note that this story is about an eating disorder and it's not just a mentioned issue but the focus here. Some of the descriptions might be triggering as they are pretty graphic, so if it's an issue for you, don't read. And you all get my hugs, you slightly broken people.
Long before you fight to save the world, you learn to fight to save yourself.
It starts slowly and secretly, the way it does in young adult books and television movies. There is this strange period of a few months when you're travelling more than you're sleeping, you spend days and nights and days with Ty and you're out of control in a way you thoroughly enjoy. Then someone mentions something, an innocent comment that everyone would brush off and you do, too, but then you understood that they were right and you find yourself in front of a floor-to-ceiling mirror, staring at your body as if you've never seen it before.
It's new. It's new it's more and you hate it.
Not long after Ty uses you, dumps you like a broken doll and you go back to America for good.
America welcomes you with big tabloid mess and you ignore all the questions skillfully.
You want – no, you need to change so desperately, you need to go back to what you were before you were broken because it was you and not some meager copy, so you drink and forget about Ty and forget about eating when you work on another little thing that will save the world someday. Obie wraps his arm around your back every day and you manage not to cringe. There are girls and smiles and alcohol, and engines wires hard drives and everything is scented like something fake and it's so familiar. Your body becomes familiar again, you can see the shapes of muscles on your body.
Stark Industries is Stark's again and you almost forget the little adventure in Europe, you're almost in control. There are even more girls, more booze, more weapons and you love it, you love yourself, you love the world and you're past caring about girls that dump you. You respect them because they are badass, but you're past caring, you can't afford to care. You don't want to care.
Then there is Rumiko and against your better judgment it ends up the same way your affair with Ty did; you almost accept that you're unable to be in a relationship and you force yourself to believe that it's okay.
There is a dull ache you can't silence with booze and sex and even creating binges aren't enough to make you feel really good.
You spend time with Dummy, he's the only person that's always around and that doesn't always want something from you. He is your brother and son and a defective friend that you'll never abandon.
One time when you're drunk you decide that you want to be able to communicate with Dummy so you decide to create something, someone that would help you with that, just like in Star Wars. You work and work and work for days, neglecting your Stark Industries duties until Obie comes by and shouts until your head hurts. You give him a set of brilliant blueprints for self-navigating missiles and ignore him further and keep working, but you can't make it right.
You are disappointed and losing your mind and quite happy, at the same time, because why wouldn't a genius billionaire not be happy.
Only that you are not happy because the world isn't enough, there is nothing that could fill the emptiness inside you, nothing that would challenge you and keep you occupied. You get these spells, Obie calls them funks and then he doesn't because you learn to act better and better each time and you don't show anything.
There comes the newest spell and you decide that you can't be bothered to get up from bed – it's not really that much of a decision – but after a day you drag yourself out anyway because you're amazing like that and you're gonna make the whole world hold its breath with amazement.
You are twenty-five.
You are out of shape and you have burns and cuts all over your arms and hands, you've been welding and soldering and creating and re-shaping so much that your body hurts everywhere. There is a charity ball that you need to attend, so you wear your best suit, a smile that makes everyone's knees give out, and you put on perfect white gloves to disguise your red and bruised fingers. You don't eat anything, just drink champagne and schmooze, and when you wake up next to a girl in the morning you grin with satisfaction and stroke her head for a few minutes before you go down to the workshop to figure out another life-changing thing or two or ten, Obie mentioned Stark Industries going into medical research with the army funding so you need to brush up on the subject.
There is an emptiness in your stomach that actually makes you feel like a human being, like something that's alive and not a robotic creature.
You come up with half a dozen projects for Obie, starts working on that A.I. code you abandoned a few months earlier and you make the world love you even more, no matter how wild you are.
Your hipbones are sharper and your stomach is thinner and prettier and you adore it, right until you pass out in your workshop because you haven't been eating.
When you wake up, Dummy is chirping worriedly over your head and petting your hair with his claw and your chest is tight with a warm feeling you haven't experienced since Jarvis passed away. You ask Dummy to bring you some snack and eat it before attempting to get up from the floor.
'I'm fine, Dummy, just got a little too caught up in work, you see, I'm gonna make you a baby brother that'll be so much bigger than you, you little fool,' you say and keep talking until Dummy calms down. He brings you another of those candy bars and you eat it, too, and then you go to sleep upstairs, showing off your perfect balance and assuring the bot that nothing's wrong with your circuitry.
You wake up feeling more hungry than you can remember ever feeling, that's only natural, you don't need biology books to tell you how long can a human being go on without proper nutrition.
There is a mirror on your way to kitchen and you love the way the light plays in the hallway, casting shadows on your body, making it look mysterious and perfect.
Rationally, not eating is silly, but you can't be bothered to be rational. It's easy and efficient and it makes you happy so you decide you're gonna have one sandwich before going back to work. The A.I. will take several months and you've got other projects to work on.
You eat a sandwich but the hunger doesn't subside, it only gets worse, so you eat another one, ignoring the pang of guilt. Your body needs it, so you're gonna give it some fuel and do your job.
The second sandwich leaves you with a hollow feeling in your gut that almost makes your eyes water, you need something more, okay, you haven't really eaten in like four days. So you eat third sandwich and then a package of waffles, without even heating the up, and then a whole chocolate bar that you top with three glasses of chocolate milk. By the end, you feel almost painfully full and embarrassed and you're glad there's no one around who could see you pig out like that.
The hunger lessens with the strange feeling in your swollen stomach and it makes you miss the emptiness from half an hour earlier, but you ignore the feeling.
As it turns out, eating doesn't make the hunger go away.
You don't understand: your body doesn't really respond like it should and you know it's your fault, you broke it so now you have to fix it. You eat oatmeal for breakfast and salad for lunch and pasta for dinner, like a normal human being, for some time, but every time you put a bit of food into your mouth you feel guilty and contaminated.
Your bones lose their sharpness, even though there isn't anything like a layer of fat on your body, but it's enough to feel like you're slipping again.
There are more girls and more sleepless nights you spend working and more booze, and it's over a year since the whole madness started when you use that word for the first time in your head. You are still months, away from having your A.I. ready, it's 1996 and no one else seems to think you can create something fully sentient in this millennium. It's the first time you wonder how many calories do you consume with the alcohol and when you realize how much that is, you cut down on food and it leaves you with stomach aching from hunger again and when the pain is too much to bear, distracting you from your work, you leave Dummy in the workshop and march to the kitchen with grim determination and you decide to do something to make it go away.
You eat so much that you end up throwing it up and then you sit in the bathroom for almost an hour wondering what the fuck have you done to yourself.
You swear not to do it ever again and go to sleep so that you can start clean tomorrow.
In the morning, you are doing good. You spend the day with Dummy, working, and leave for a dinner meeting with one investor or another, you don't need to know their names to charm them, it's enough that you thoroughly know their business. Bu the end of the evening you sign the deal and when you're back home, you basically run past your kitchen door and hide in the workshop, nursing a cup of cold coffee, and then fall asleep in the armchair.
A few weeks later there is a business trip to Austria. You and Obie spend five days in Vienna and Obie stares at you suspiciously all the time, as if he was afraid you'd end up causing yet another scandal that would make the media crazy. Under the scrutiny, you need to act the way that wouldn't make anyone notice that you're acting, so you push away the slight and ever-present guilt about all the butter and heavy cream you're eating and you enjoy everything you're offered, from food to opera and elegant European girls.
When you go back you don't eat for three days and you know it's sick, but you need it to be able to breathe, to think, to work. You invite three girls at once and they keep you occupied; when they are gone you take care of Dummy and write codes until your fingertips are aching.
'Two times is not conclusive,' you tell Dummy when he handles you a screwdriver you asked him for; you need to fix the glitch of the engine of your red '67 Jaguar E. Dummy has no idea what you're talking about because you never told him anything, he wouldn't understand the human issues and he'd just end up worried more than he already is.
Two times is conclusive and you know it, you know yourself too well to pretend. You know that you can talk to the president of the USA on daily basis and make fun of prominent generals because they thing you're endearing, and you can charm the whole country with your sleek funny words on one of late-evening TV shows and you can have everything you want to, but you can't fool yourself.
You try to.
It works until you do that again. You put inside your body half of an extra-large pizza and a full dish of pasta and so many oreos that you feel nauseous from the sugar, but you figure that since you already failed and started on this – and you'll get rid of everything that ends up in your body – you eat more and more until you're in pain. You've already sworn to yourself you will fast after this and you want to feel as many flavors on your tongue as possible.
Then you throw up and laugh at yourself, holding your aching empty stomach. You pop a few painkillers before going to sleep and you live off them the next day.
Stark Industries gets another big contract with the military, you travel to China, the business it better than ever before, and you have your dirty little secret.
You finish the A.I. code in mid-1997, knowing that it's far from perfect, but also knowing that it doesn't have to be perfect. It will learn because you made it a learning unit, just like Dummy. You launch it in the middle of hot September night, Indian summer in full swing, and the voice with a perfect British accent greets you.
'Hello, JARVIS. It's me. Sir,' you say, addressing the A.I. with the name that's at the very basis if its code.
'Voice recognition: creating unit Anthony Edward Stark. Hello, sir.'
You grin so wide you think your face must look ridiculous, but you don't care because this was like a twenty-one months long pregnancy and now your baby is here, talking to you and making you the most amazing genius on the planet, not that you didn't know that before, but JARVIS is more than anyone has ever dreamed about.
He is also going to be your secret.
'Run the code and servers check, JARVIS,' you tell the computer. JARVIS has one camera, one speaker and one microphone device at the moment, the bare minimum, but you'll make him beautiful now that you know he's working.
'Command recognized. Estimated time: two hours forty-three minutes.'
'Go on,' you say before leaving the workshop. You want to celebrate and fuck the world, fuck yourself and fuck all your issues, you decide to eat a nice meal with a glass or two of scotch and enjoy it. You are not sure when has food become your idea of a reward, of a celebration, but it might have been around the time it's become a thing.
You eat a plate of mushroom risotto and drink your scotch and visit JARVIS, but he's running his check and he's not good at multitasking (yet) so you go back upstairs. To your credit, you manage half an hour before you give in to the feeling of guilt and angry hopelessness – because what you've intended as a nice and pleasant meal didn't feel like that as soon as the last forkful ended up in your mouth.
There's a lot of food in the kitchen and you don't even think about what you're eating, it doesn't matter, what matters is that satisfies your hunger for now. There's this weird feeling in your gut and you chew and swallow and feel the food slowly constantly fill your stomach; it takes almost half an hour before you're done and you make point of not looking at the wrappers and empty dishes you left around. Your bulged out belly hurts but it doesn't matter, because you go to the bathroom and throw up and you almost feel clean.
JARVIS works perfectly and you are almost happy. There's never fully happy these days, but that's fine, there's never been something like full happiness.
A few weeks later you're throwing up in a three-Michelin-star restaurant somewhere in France and you notice there are strange marks on the back of your hands and you almost panic, it doesn't take you long to you realize where they come from and you swear to take care of it.
Back in New York, you spend as much time with JARVIS as possible, teaching him just about everything, and letting him be friends with Dummy.
In summer 1998 you meet Happy – his name is still Harold at that time – who is an ex-boxer, retired early after an injury, and now working as a driver for a luxury limousine taxi company. You talk for forty minutes and the next morning you fire you security guard and hire Happy to fill the positions of a bodyguard and a chauffeur and a friend.
You don't mention the friend part but you both know that you just fit together.
A/N: Thank you for reading.
So here we go, another experiment story. This kinda hurt to write & I'm not really sure because this is different from what I usually write, I'm letting my thoughts loose this time. I hope you liked it. All feedback here is very very welcome! :)