The house was completely dark except for the soft lights of the waterfall and a fire in the fireplace. A list of songs played over and over on a continuous loop at a level loud enough to be heard on the balcony that overlooked the ocean where the house's loan occupant sat in silence in the chilly February night air. Tony Stark sat in one of his deck chairs with his feet propped up on the railing with a brand new bottle of scotch next to him and a glass with ice melting in the amber liquid. Tony sat in silence, with tears slowly slipping from his eyes that fought free of his control and left the drink untouched as he just stared out over the water.
It had been five months since he had been taken captive and two since he returned home. A majority of those two months had been spent in his workshop working on improvements on his suit and "laying low" as Obadiah had put it. The only reason why he was not in his garage now was that his latest improvement required five hours to process.
JARVIS had picked up on the depression that his creator was pushing himself into almost immediately. The A.I. took it upon himself to phone his creator's assistant, Pepper Potts. Humans needed other humans for compassion and emotional support and a computer could not do that no matter how advanced they were.
Pepper had been frightened when JARVIS called her saying that Tony needed her urgently. She had thought that Tony had been injured and was unable to ask for help or even worse. She sped over to her boss' house but entered quietly, not exactly wanting to startle a man who had just spent three months held against his will. JARVIS had told her that Tony needed her for something he could not provide and that puzzled her at first but quickly figured it out when she entered the house and the somber and sad air about it hit her like a ton of bricks.
Tony heard his front door close and the fading scent of Pepper's perfume hit him and he knew who had just walked in. He quickly wiped the tears off his face and tried to pull some semblance of control over himself so she would not worry about him.
"What are you doing here, Pepper?" Tony said quietly as he watched the waves, his voice still thick with emotion. "I thought you called it a day."
"JARVIS called me saying that you were in need of my help, Mr. Stark?"
"If you call me Mr. Stark one more time right now, I am firing you instantly," Tony ground out, using anger to try to cover his true emotions.
"Something is bothering you, Tony." Pepper flat out told him.
"Nothing is bothering me. Why in hell would you think that?" Tony said quickly.
"When JARVIS calls me saying that there is something you need which he can not provide, that only means that there is something emotional you need. I am just trying to be here for you." Pepper said gently, deflecting her boss' anger as a defense mechanism.
"There is nothing wrong!" Tony ground out, punctuating every word.
Pepper noticed the bottle next to him on the small table with a full glass. "How many of those have you had?"
"Not one damn drop." Tony said quietly. "I thought it would help but this seems to be working better."
"Working better for what? This music is depressing." Pepper said, trying to slip behind his defenses.
"If you listen to the words, there is a message." Tony whispered. "JARVIS, cue up the first three songs for Pepper."
"As you wish, sir."
The three songs played. All three of them were from the soundtrack of RENT. They were about life, legacies and time. A powerful message ran through them and Pepper figured it out quickly.
As the three songs played for probably the twentieth time for Tony, a few tears rolled down his face again. He was reminded of the day in the cave where he had hit rock bottom. He had been told he had a week to live and his only legacy was a body count written in the blood of innocents. When reality hit you in the back of the head with a sledgehammer, it can stick for a long time.
"Why are you doing this to yourself?" Pepper asked as she placed a hand on his shoulder, still not looking him in the face.
"Because I am living on borrowed time," Tony whispered, his voice cracking with pain. "I should have been dead five months ago."
Those few words were like ice through Pepper's veins. She had never given up the hope that he would return, even though many others had. She knew Tony would not just lie down and die. But what was happening right now was almost like that.
Pepper walked from behind the chair and knelt down next to him, putting her hand over his as she finally saw his face and the tear tracks and tired eyes that betrayed his words. Something was deeply wrong.
"But you're not. You survived Hell and came back from it. You came back a stronger man than when you left. Why are you putting yourself through this?" Pepper asked as Tony turned his head away from her. "If you think you are living on borrowed time, then why don't you look as every day as a gift?"
Pepper placed her hand on Tony's cheek and eased his head so he was forced to look at her. She tenderly wiped the tears away without saying a word about them. "You are giving up right now and that is the one thing you can't and never do. I never gave up on you so don't quit on me now."
Tony didn't say anything as his dark eyes seemed to burn. Yinsen told him not to waist his life and Pepper was right, he was giving up at the moment. He looked down at her hand over his and he turned his over, wrapping his fingers around her hand and then pulled her up off the deck and into his lap. He slid his arms around her waist and buried his head in her neck, embracing her as if she was his strength right now. He needed her.
Pepper didn't say a word as she was pulled into Tony's lap. When he buried his head against her neck, she could feel the tears that he was trying to hide. She just held him as she leaned her cheek against his head, letting him take from her what he needed.
The song list that JARVIS was playing had gone through twice before Tony loosened his grip. He pulled his head back so he could look into Pepper's eyes and he gave her a small smile.
"Thank you," he told her softly.
"For what?" Pepper responded as she wiped the tears away for the second time.
"For reminding me…of what's important…and…for coming over." Tony whispered, still not completely trusting his voice.
"Anytime. I am always here when you need me." Pepper said warmly.