A/N: Takes place before the Iron Man movies, so Tony and Pepper aren't together yet. This chapter was inspired by the song "Walk Away" by The Script.

15: Past

Heaving a longsuffering sigh, Pepper set aside the stack of documents she was filing, closed the metal drawers of her office filing cabinet, and pursed her lips in irritation. She knew she wouldn't be getting any work done the rest of the day; she couldn't very well concentrate with Tony breathing down her back. Metaphorically speaking, of course. In actuality, Tony wasn't breathing down her back at all. Instead, he was sitting rather proudly on her desk, his perfect butt crumpling the papers he sat on, legs swinging back and forth, rhythmically thumping against the desk drawers and driving Pepper up the wall.

"What do you want, Tony?" she asked, utterly exasperated, yet not looking up from her work. "I'm trying to get things done. You know, the sort of 'things' you're too lazy to do for yourself? What you hired me to do?"

Tony leaned forward, and the instant he did, Pepper could smell the alcohol on his breath. He was drunk. Panic flooded through her as she lifted her eyes to meet his, seeing that they were somewhat out of focus. Not a good sign. She had to get out; she had to get away from Tony. She knew his habits of alcoholism and his rampant sex drive often coincided, and she didn't want to be around when they did.

"Maybe I hired you to spend more time with a beautiful woman," Tony said, surprisingly coherent for a drunk, although there were hints of a slight slur in his voice. Man, his breath stank. Yet another reason Pepper wanted to hightail it out of there.

"I'm not going to stick around and put up with this," Pepper said abruptly, gathering up her papers (the ones Tony wasn't sitting on, anyways) and her BlackBerry, clutching them protectively to her chest. She knew what it was like to deal with alcoholics. She wouldn't have taken the job as Tony's PA if she hadn't. "After all, I think I deserve to head home a little early for once in my life."

The threat of Pepper leaving seemed to sober Tony up. He grabbed her arm as she made for the door, overshooting a bit and accidentally grazing her chest. Once he had a firm grip on her upper arm, he spoke, a hint of desperation in his voice.

"Wait, Pepper." He took a breath, slowly, deeply, and Pepper waited expectantly for him to speak, but he did not.

Keeping herself at a safe distance despite Tony's hold on her, Pepper prompted the billionaire. "What? What do you need?"

Something in the phrasing of her question must have struck a chord with Tony, because he winced and looked away. "Don't… don't say it like that."

Careful to keep her voice soft and slow, Pepper tilted her head in an attempt to reestablish eye contact. "Hey," she said. "Hey. Don't say what?"

"Don't… don't ask me what I need." That was all Tony said; he didn't elaborate. Pepper realized she was going to have to pull information out of him word by word.

"Why not?" This was tedious, but she had the feeling it was necessary to keep Tony calm. And she knew that keeping people calm was important when they were this drunk. She'd seen it before. She'd failed at it before.

"I…" Tony stood, took a step towards her, leaned into her until their faces were barely inches apart, their mouths almost touching. She could smell the alcohol more strongly even than before, and it repulsed her, but she did not pull away. In a few moments (although at the time it seemed like hours, days, eternities), Tony shut his eyes tightly and withdrew. His fingers were still wrapped around her arm, cutting off circulation, but still she didn't pull away.

"I need you to stay," Tony finally said. "I can't be alone. Not tonight."

Pepper scrunched up her nose in confusion. "What's different about tonight?"

There was a moment's pause as Tony hung his head, a few stray strands of hair sweeping across his forehead. He muttered something under his breath, his words too soft for Pepper to hear. "What was that?" she asked.

Tony's head snapped upward, his gaze meeting hers, eyes blazing. "It's the anniversary of my parents' death, dammit!" he shouted.

Startled, Pepper wrenched her arm from Tony's strangling grip, taking several steps in retreat before her back hit the wall. Her papers slipped from her hands, fluttering to a pile at her feet, as one hand flew up to shield her chest defensively. Her eyes were wide and her heart was beating rapidly in her chest.

Memories of her brother overwhelmed Pepper: of trying to talk sense into him, chasing him down after he escaped rehab the first and second times, staying with him during his recovery. Intervening when his daughter called in hysterics. Barging into the house to find him yelling, his wife cowering in a corner, and when Pepper tried to stop him…

She shuddered, forcing the memories away.

"I'm sorry," Tony immediately said. He made to move towards Pepper, reaching out, but she cringed and he remained still. "I'm upset. It's been nine years and still, every year, it's just…" He couldn't seem to finish his thought.

This side of Tony – the drunk, grief-stricken orphan with tears in his eyes – was one Pepper was utterly unfamiliar with. She'd only seen confident, arrogant, self-assured Tony.

"I can't be alone tonight, Pepper," Tony said quietly. "I can't… Don't leave me, Pepper. I can't…"

There was pain in Tony's eyes when they met hers, and Pepper couldn't bear it. Against her better judgment, she reached out and placed her hand on his cheek, meeting his eyes. "Let's just calm down, okay?" She took a breath, pressed a soft, chaste kiss to his cheek. "I'll stay, Tony. I'll stay." I'll always stay.

. . .

ash the airbender

. . .

A/N: A pretty short chapter, but I like it. Decided to give Pepper an alcoholic brother for a few reasons. It explains why she's so tolerant of Tony. After all, she's stuck with him all these years. And he's a difficult man to put up with.

Please review! Do you like how I've been filling in Pepper's backstory? Do you hate it? Let me know!