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Man of Iron, Man of Fear
The phone wakes me in the middle of the night, piercing through my dreams like a knife through a piece of thick cheese.
I grope awkwardly through the darkness for the small ringing piece of metal on my table. It’s only then that I notice the bed is empty.
“Tony?” I say it quietly, so as not to awaken the silence that lingers in the darkness, but the phone’s insistent ringing has already done that.
Reluctantly, I press the “talk” button.
“Hello?” I don’t realize how clogged with sleep my voice is until I hear myself.
“Hello? Pepper.” For a moment, I don’t recognize the voice “It’s Happy.”
“Oh.” I sit up in bed, and wipe my arm across my eyes. “What time is it?”
“I-I don’t know.” His usually calm voice is strained. “Pepper, where’s Tony?”
“Tony?” Once again, I peer into the impenetrable darkness of the bedroom. “I don’t know.”
“Pepper, you need to find him right now. Something’s wrong.”
I’m already on my feet, holding the wireless phone.
Happy continues “Tony called me about five minutes ago. I couldn’t understand a word he was saying… he didn’t sound good.”
I sigh. This has happened far too often. “Thanks, Happy. I’ll find him. Go back to bed.”
“Are you sure?” He sounds more awake then I am.
“Yes. Don’t worry. I’ll call you if I need you.”
I pad across the cold stone of the living room and downstairs. My fingers fumble with the code to open the door to Tony’s workshop, but somehow I get it open.
It’s very dark, and for a moment, I am consumed by the blackness.
“Tony?” I call furtively.
For a moment, there is silence, and then I hear a sniffle followed by a whine of machinery.
The darkness opens up for a moment, revealing the blue shine of Tony’s arc reactor.
It illuminates the slack body of my love, thrown across the ground like an old piece of twisted metal.
There’s another sniffle, and I can’t stand it any longer.
I run across the slippery floor, strewn with bits of metal.
“Jarvis,” I tell Tony’s computer “Turn on the lights.”
In an instant, the room is bathed in the harsh glow of florescent lighting.
It bites into my eyes, leaving white blisters trickling across my vision.
When I can see again, I find myself beside Tony.
His face is turned away from me, and I panic. I can’t see if he’s breathing or not.
“Tony?” I try.
And for a moment there is a dreadful silence, and then a horrible, heart wrenching sob.
Tony doubles up, as if he has been shot.Tears are splattered across his face like a Jackson Pollock painting gone terribly wrong. They dry, leaving crusty trails, even while he gives birth to new ones.
“Tony.” I like my lips trying to stay calm. I have no idea what’s wrong, but that doesn’t matter. “You need to take deep breathes. It’s okay…It’s okay I’m here.”
He whimpers, and I feel slick droplets of salt water running down my cheeks. Tony is my love, my hero. He has saved so many lives….I can’t stand to see him like this.
Slowly his breathing returns to normal, and the sweat dries on his forehead. My knees ache from crouching on the hard floor, but my heart hurts far more.
“What happened?” I ask as I slowly ease him up.
“Nothing.” He rolls his eyes as if he could just make it all go away. I’ve lived with Tony for years. I’ve seen him drunk with alcohol, but never with fear.
“Did you call Happy?”
“I-I” his voice quavers uncharacteristically. “I’m not sure.”
“You’re not sure?”
“I was dreaming—I panicked.” He stands up, and I struggle to my feet.
“Was it the same dream?”
“Nightmare more like.”
I know Tony’s been having nightmares but I had no idea they were this bad. Ever since he came back from New York, something hasn’t been right. Ever since he fought alongside a demi-god, a rage monster, and a man from a different century against aliens, all in the same day, he hasn’t had the same self-assurance that he once did.
I follow him up the steps, past his shining suits.
We reach the living room, and the darkness envelopes us again. I remember we have to ask Jarvis to turn the lights on. First world problems.
“Pepper.” He looks into my eyes, and I stare into his dark retinas. “Pepper—I don’t know what to do. I can’t sleep any more, and when I do I have nightmares.” His voice rises desperately until he ends at almost a scream.
“Shh. You’ll be OK.” I murmur, but I’m not sure he will be.