The Martyr's Morning

Disclaimer: I don't own either Harry Potter or the Avengers, and I'm not entirely sure I want to seeing as how the current owners are doing a fabulous job with them (I refuse to believe HP is over).

Chapter Six:

A shot blasted through the silence, exploding and shattering the thin glass of the night's peace. With a strangled gasp Harry snapped to attention, bolting upright from his bed just as quickly as the silence fell once more, now only broken by the rapid, unsteady rhythm of rasping breaths.

Harry glanced around wildly, straining to make out the shapes moving in the inky shadows of the dark, confused and stricken with fear for a moment more, waiting for the inevitable thud of the fall. The wait seemed suspended in time, as if the moment itself was waiting with baited breath, holding its audience in suspense as seconds clawed by. But only a thin silence stretched onward, an itch on his senses.

He clenched his eyes shut against the darkness, griping the sheets and clutching the fabric between his fingers so tightly the skin around his knuckles turned white, and Harry felt his racing heart beat with an echoing thud in his chest. It pounded like a drum, steadily coming back down from a crescendo and slowing its tempo. He fixed his entire attention on that beat, blocking out everything else. Thud, thud, thud…thud…thud.

It was hard with the blind panic still draped over him in his hazy, sudden awareness. And the ringing; the ringing still hadn't left his ears. The skipped sound relentlessly repeating like a record as it trailed after the bullet, ripping right through his-

No! Harry growled furiously to himself. No…don't go there; it was just a dream…just a dream…

But the sound stayed, a broken record in his mind, drowning everything else out, even his heart beat. And that had to be the worst part, the sound. Harry was very good at remembering sounds and tunes and anything really. It was normally something he took secret pride in. This one particular one, though, that split second of deafening sound would not leave his memory, as much as wished it would.

Not for a while anyways.

And really he should have expected it. He had seen a man die right in front of him, not even two feet away. Regardless of the assured guilt, he had been a human being with a life and a voice and – and Harry had snuffed that right out. He wasn't sure how, but he was just as firm in his terrible realization a few days ago was it really only a few days as he was in this moment.

Somehow, he had caused that gun to fire.

A chill raced up his spine. He supposed, with the ensuing bedlam of the last day or two, that the memory had been held at bay, drowned out with the sheer exhaustion that had hung on Harry as he temporarily 'settled' into the Stark manor. Between Stark, his assistant Pepper (who was definitely not just an assistant), and chaos equal to an Armageddon with the aforementioned secretary's reaction to his arrival, he'd had no need to think of anything past three basic needs: food, sleep, and 'for god's sake leave me alone Tony'.

Obviously, that brief period of respite had ended. And with that, nightmares had struck.

Clutching the silk sheets closer, careful not to damage them because they were probably worth more than he was, Harry glanced to the side and caught sight of bright red numbers resting on the bedside table, squinting at them through the dull throb behind his eyes at the light. 4:52. Groaning, he fell back against the mattress, sinking into it. For a minute he pressed the pillow around his head, wrapping it up like a taco, trying to drown awareness out with fluffy, snobby-rich-guy, feather pillows.

But the money and, for that matter, the snobbishness of the owner didn't make a lick of difference.

Slowly his senses became sharpened in the darkness. He doubted he would've got much sleep anyways, though, at this point. He couldn't even shut his eyes now. But even still, Harry laid there for a few more moments, marveling in the silence. He could hardly believe it himself, now thinking back, that he had been so…rash.

Each time he met Tony the world seemed to hit some sort of automatic fast forward button, flashing through events quicker than he could process, leaving him scrambling to keep up like he'd just tripped over the last vault in a race. Maybe that was part of his decision to come here, a split second of a mad grasp for control, to make a decision before everything went spiraling and ripping away too fast for him to do much more than blink.

In comparison, his daily routine before Stark came stumbling, or more literately haphazardly swaying like a leaf in the wind, into his life seemed to have taken decades to push through. It was sluggish and dull. And so very boring, with some key element always missing. An innate reasoning told Harry that he didn't handle dull very well.

But at the same time, just days before, his monotonous schedule had held a constant drone of background noise, the constant thrumming of New York. Whether it had been in his home or at work, day or night, it had always been there itching at the back of his mind. It was never quiet in New York, not for him anyways.

Now, as ironic as it was with the sudden moving and more excitement than he'd seen in his two months, the more he just stayed here in the dark silence of the room, the entire house, no humming or buzzing at all, Harry found it unnerving. The whole mansion almost felt wrong, it was so soundless. More often than not Harry found himself sitting on the balcony on the other side of the two double doors across from his bed, just to listen to the waves, to anything that wasn't Tony's awkward attempts at conversation.

At the thought Harry made no bother to hold back a groan.

Over the past few days conversations with the man had slowly been deteriorating into awkward glances and brief attempts at socializing. Harry figured the horribly failed attempts at dialogue were Pepper's fault. The woman hadn't seemed happy with how Tony had, in her eyes, simply disregarded Harry entirely that first day and found it her responsibility to rectify it.

Harry was perfectly fine with it himself, preferred it actually. The hours-long flight to Malibu, for example, had been brief to his immense relief. At most Tony Stark had been mildly interested in testing the waters of light conversation with the strange teenager he suddenly found himself alone with in the empty cabin. Prodding at him here and there with comments or questions, it was as if Harry were a mildly interesting bug that had crawled its way into the man's line if sight during a prolonged fit of boredom.

And at worst he had been completely apathetic, one moment fiddling away with whatever gadget happened to find its way into his hands and the next completely ignoring, not just Harry, but the entire world for all he cared seeing as how the same call ringtone had gone off at least five times with no reaction from the man whatsoever.

This 'worst case scenario' happened to fill in the majority of the flight time and Harry had been more than fine with it. In fact he considered the humming silence much better than any sort of conversation with a man who he'd only had two encounters with, both involving a serious hangover the next morning.

Pepper didn't agree.

Harry groaned once more, pressing his face into the pillow as far as he could. That woman could be terrifying in the right mood. And she most certainly had been when Tony stepped off the jet towing a teenager back from his business trip like a souvenir. Her hair seemed to ignite a similar fire of fury in her eyes; she had been more than just upset at the man, she had been livid.

But that had settled to a simmer beneath the surface and now Harry was left with an empty house, void of its two constant occupants most of the time. And the little other times when they were there, they always seemed to be arguing about something or another, usually, he guessed, something to do with him. Suffice to say, it was very awkward and Harry found himself hiding away whenever the two occupied the same room for more than five minutes.

But that left him alone with his thoughts and undisturbed for most of the day. And, as it seemed, that was not a good thing.

Taking one last long glance around the room and staring at the glowing numbers, Harry flipped the covers off and crept to his suite's, his own suites, attached bathroom.

He might as well do something, and he didn't fancy actually having to listen to that echo of a gunshot even one more time live the morning breakfast with Tony he was picturing in his head. It was uncomfortable enough just thinking it, he didn't want have to endure it too. So a trip to a city coffee shop sounded marvelous to him right about now.

And hey, it gave him a great excuse to make use of Stark's personal chauffer.

After a quick shower and a bit of exploration, Harry ducked into the garage (thanking Stark's obsession with them leading to the entire lower levels being dedicated to his cars therefore amazingly easy to find) and gave a wide eyed smile to the man leaning underneath an open hood at 5:30 in the morning.

"Happy, right?" he called out.

Happy, apparently he'd gotten it right, jerked upwards in surprise. Harry gave a sympathetic wince at the loud thud and ensuing slew of language obviously being put to good use. The chauffer's head popped back into view, glancing over in his direction briefly before focusing, open mouth and incredulously, on Harry's small wave.

"Er," Harry stepped forward, "sorry, you know, about the scare. Yeah, um, remember me?" Happy nodded once, eyes flashing towards a watch on his wrist. Now Harry grinned widely, "Can I grab a ride?"

Tony did say he could make himself at home. Employees were definitely fair game.

As Harry left his room though, he hadn't caught sight of the small glass shards that remained of the bedside lamps' shattered light bulbs.

"You've got to be kidding me," Harry muttered, arms crossed and glaring heatedly in front of him. "I can't believe this – I mean, really?"

Wandering was something Harry was very good at. It wasn't like you could be bad at it really, but he just had a knack for being at the right place at the right time for anything and everything. There had been that small money prize he'd won the week after getting out of the hospital for walking into a store and being their some-odd number customer. And while he certainly didn't need, or particularly want, the five years supply of doughnuts, he was all too happy to take the money prize.

But he also knew it wasn't a coincidence.

Most of the time, Harry could recognize the tunes singing softly in a corner of his mind, gently pulling and pushing him in certain directions. Only once had he ignored them, and look what happened then; he'd had a fifteen minute debate over jell-o.

So he learned to follow them wherever they led him. Harry would even chase them down another dark alley at midnight if he had to – it was how he met Stark after all. He trusted the voices implicitly and without exception; they had been with him since the beginning and had yet to lead him wrong. They just resonated with something inside of him, an integral part of who he was.

But they hadn't led him to the small coffee shop squeezed between two giant apartment buildings. And that bothered him. Not because of the absence of the voices, though the feeling left him a bit empty, but rather the presence of something else entirely. It was the same something that held him back from following after Stark that first time.

And Harry didn't even know how to describe it.

The voices were just that, voices; something, not tangible, but real and explainable. They were right there and he could hear them. Voices were something understandable, relatable in a way. They had a strict, distinct pattern and were clearly defined.

Sure explaining it to a stranger or even someone as intelligent as Tony Stark would make him sound like a complete lunatic and earn him a first class flight, this time, to the nearest insane asylum, but the important part was that at least he could rationalize it to himself. Somewhat.

This – feeling, for a lack of a better word, not so much.

It was like the voices and nothing like them at the same time. They were both apart of him in a distinct way, but the feelings stretched deeper, resonating within him on a level that even the music couldn't reach; that part where nothing but the barest and most basic urges moved him, on the simplest state of thinking. So it would stand to reason that he could trust these feelings just as much if not more than he did his strange voices.

He'd only felt it twice though, and neither time resulted in something he wanted to experience ever again.

And because life just felt like squirting lemon juice right in his eyes, Harry was left standing outside Joe's Cup 'a Joe coffee shop in the middle of a street, having an internal debate with himself.

"I just wanted some coffee, really, that's it," he threw the hawaiian-shirted Joe a dirty look. "Not some weird, voodoo thing to ruin my breakfast. Is that too much to ask for? I don't think so." It was mocking him; those beady black eyes were making fun of him. "Fine, let's see you follow the strange voodoo stuff, coward," he muttered, squinting to look through the windows.

And the joint seemed perfectly normal. Well, almost normal. It looked like any other coffee shop that he'd been too, but it lacked one vital thing. People. There were hardly any seats filled, and most of those that were filled had people, old people, that looked as if they could have simply died there and were never bothered to be removed by the staff.

It was suspicious, definitely. The question was, was it suspicious enough to warrant abandoning his breakfast for another ten minutes while he searched for another shop. Harry thought for a moment, debatable. His stomach loudly protested.

"Alright, alright you bloody thing," he scowled, pushing the door open, "I'm going in."

The door chimed happily above him. And because he felt like being different today, he decided to look at the silver lining. At least there were no lines.

"What would you like?" The woman at the counter drawled, eyes never leaving the paperback novel in her hands.

Indecision gripped him for a beat, his mind scrambling to grab to something familiar. You've got to be kidding. This was definitely not what he needed. Again. Harry latched onto the thought of Mrs. Finks. "Can I have black, two sugars please?"

And the book was down. Clara, apparently from her tag, raised a brow. "That's it? That's all you want?" Harry wasn't sure if it was the bright pink lipstick and gaudy earrings, or just the situation entirely, but he found himself hard-pressed not to scowl at the woman.

"Uh, yes?" Uh, duh?

She shrugged, entered a few numbers, and held out a receipt. "That'll be two dollars and fifty-two cents." The scowl found itself flitting across his face. It was definitely the pink; her nails were painted the exact same, eye-searing color.

He dug the cash out of his wallet, thanking whoever was listening that he still had a few bills tucked away. He'd completely forgotten about his now extremely limited funds. Sighing, Harry plopped down on the nearest bench. Looked like this day would double for job hunting.

"You look horrible."

Harry jerked, barely managing to restrain himself from whipping wildly around with the fact that the voice had come from right behind him. As it was, his head still twitched to the side just enough to come within inches of a small, pixie nose with the most outlandish glasses he'd ever seen perched on the end and large, reflective pools of silver behind them.

"Oh my, you look much worse up close."

Harry flinched backwards, a byproduct of both the uncomfortably close proximity and the voice. It was the strangest, most amazing thing. It was an airy melody, drifting through its notes as if blown by the wind, swaying to its own calm beats. Almost ethereal in its quality, full of softly chiming bells.

And it wasn't that it sounded familiar, so much as he felt it should be familiar. Harry barely managed to repress the urge to clutch his ears and flinch away from the sound, hissing like a wet cat faced with a hose. Within two sentences he already felt a pounding headache pressing on the edge of his awareness. It was such a severe comparison to the sweet melody that it left Harry hearing double.

"Now you've gone all funny. Your face, it's all scrunched up." Harry blinked, coming back to himself and jumping back once more, his back making a painful collision with the wooden wall behind him. Large, luminous silver eyes were staring, not intently, but almost…dreamily at him. And they were close. Uncomfortably close. "You know, if you aren't careful, your face is going to stick like that."

"Um, wh-what?" His voice cracked.

"Your face is going to stick all funny like." Those large eyes drifted shut briefly with a firm nod, "You should really fix that. It's not very pleasant to look at. Not at all."

What? And he wasn't even able to voice that. How sad.

Apparently noticing his state of nearly permanent mental absence, the girl who owned the painfully familiar chiming melodic voice, and she was just a girl maybe his own age, walked around to where Harry sat comatose to take the seat in front of him.

And what a bizarre sight she was. Those large, disconcerting grey eyes that flashed silver in the light, were framed by the most ridiculous pair of glasses Harry had almost ever seen, had ever seen. Large and bright red with small feathers sticking out the top and multicolored beads hanging off the ends, it was no wonder they took up most of the focus on her face. Add that to her long, light blond hair that reached down almost to touch the seat, she nearly passed off as some strange type of hippie if not for the red plated school uniform she wore and the small, glass blue butterfly pendant clipped carefully into her hair.

Overall, it was the strangest sight Harry was ever privileged to be witness to.

And this bloody migraine.

Pushing the pain to a corner of his mind, Harry gathered enough of his wits and strung together two words, "My face?" he replied blankly.

The girl nodded decisively, glasses slipping down just a bit as her head bobbed. "Not pleasant at all. But that's alright, it's getting better. I'm sure it was just a bit of bad air. Every time I pass by this street it does awful things to my hair, maybe it does the same thing to you. Just with your face instead."

Harry praised waitresses everywhere when, at that moment, Clara strutted up and set down his steaming cup in front of him. With a pop of her gum and a twisting click of her heels she left the bench with a short 'enjoy', before retreating to her book. But not, Harry noted, without a strange sort of expression marring her face at the sight of the girl in front of him. The glance hadn't been one of incredulous unfamiliarity, much like he supposed his own had been at first sight, but rather of resigned reluctance crossed with disparaging acknowledgement.

So this girl was a regular then.

Harry turned his attention back to the girl just in time to catch the tail of a dreamy grin she directed towards the waitress. The pained grimace she received in reply was just a bit too funny for Harry to maintain his own expression and he cracked a grin.

"Oh, see that's much better."

To his credit, Harry managed not to wince at the sound. "…Thanks?"

The same bright smile, soft and cheerful, was directed towards him this time as the girl earnestly replied, "Oh, you're very welcome. It's always nice to find someone to talk too. Most people don't like talking to me at all. They tend to avoid it actually, I think. Though, that might just be the air again," a shrewd look was directed at the coffee sitting innocently in front of him, steam still gently wafting above it. It looked well practiced enough that Harry had the impression the girl was very sure in her idea on where the source of the air and its apparent problems came from. He was glad for the shift in attention though; Harry felt somewhat awkward about the girl's admittance to being avoided, or rather, the ease with which she pointed it out.

Her gaze shifted back to his face suddenly, "You're new here, aren't you?"

Harry was startled, "Well, I guess yeah. I've only been in town for about a day or two now. But how'd you know? I haven't seen you before, have I?"

She shook her head, a dreamy expression still fixed, "No, you just seemed a little lost is all."

Heat flushed to the tips of his ears, "That obvious, was it?" he mumbled.

But she merely reached over to pat the back of hand gently, "That's okay. Everyone looks a bit lost in this city at some point, even when they think they know where they're going. And besides," the girl brightened considerably, "I like obvious people; they're great at charades."

Harry felt guilty as the thought crossed his mind, but he felt that he knew exactly why people tended to avoid talking to this girl. Speaking of which, Harry fiddled with his cup, feeling incredibly awkwardly, "Uh, I didn't catch your name by the way. I'm Harry, Harry Patterson."

"Luna," Luna practically beamed at him. "So did you come here with your girlfriend?"

The question took Harry by surprise, and he almost managed to douse himself with his coffee as he shook his head frantically, blushing and stuttering, "Oh, uh, no I'm not waiting for a, uh, girlfriend or anything. I just came to New York with a," he paused briefly with a thought, "a friend, I guess."

"Oh, so are you waiting for your friend then?" Luna twisted in her seat to fix the door with excitement at the prospect of two people to talk too, as if Harry's 'friend' were about to walk in at that very moment. Harry snorted at the thought. As if Tony would ever buy his brew at a place like this, much less in person. The man was almost as nit-picky with his coffee, and where he got it, as Mrs. Finks was with hers; almost, but not quite.

"No, I came alone. Tony's not really much of a morning person." Harry grinned wryly. Pepper wasn't either, to be honest, but from what he'd seen that might've just been because she had to deal with Tony not being a morning person.

"Why did you come here, then?"

He shrugged, "I was just a bit hungry. My friend's not much of a cook so-"

Luna giggled, looking like he'd told an incredibly funny joke, waving him off. "Not here, silly, here – why did you move to Malibu?"

The question caught him off guard, coming from this girl, and Harry found that he didn't really know how to answer it. It wasn't the first time he'd stopped to wonder that exact same question, and it wouldn't be the last time either he was sure. But those big, doe eyes hadn't blinked once and he found himself giving Luna the best explanation he'd been telling himself since he came. "I don't really know, actually. Just needed a change of scenery I guess. I've lived in a big city, New York is where I came from, and the beaches were pretty appealing compared to the cabbie drivers." He thought back to his onetime experience with a dry smile.

Luna, though, seemed to have found something in his words.

"You're looking for something, aren't you?" She didn't wait for a response, grinning widely and looking as if she was the cat who had just caught the canary, continuing on in the same breath, "That's why you looked a bit lost, right? You're very lucky, though. You seem to know where you need to be. Most people don't pay attention to where they need to be, they only look at where what they're looking for might be. It's all about location, really."

Harry wondered, briefly, if Luna could somehow read minds. It was...disconcerting to say the least how accurate she seemed to be. He shifted uncomfortably in his seat. "I guess I'm looking for something, kind of. But it's not really something that you can go find in a 'lost and found' box unfortunately," he said bitterly.

Luna patted his hand again, nodding wisely, and Harry felt like a child being lectured on why the sky was blue, "That's alright. It doesn't really matter, remember? It's all about location."

The clock hanging just behind their table dinged lightly, seven times, and Luna glanced at it eyes widening. Attention flickering back to Harry briefly, she grabbed the napkin sitting in front of her new acquaintance, whipped out a pen from somewhere, and hurriedly scrawled something down on the front. Luna shoved it into his hands, beaming.

Harry stared down at the delicate writing of the number on his napkin in a daze, blinking slowly at the girl in front of him as Luna snatched her previously unseen purse and turned to leave. Distantly he noted that the bag had what seemed to be radishes attached to either end.

"Thank you very much for talking with me Harry," Luna said, with her dreamy expression almost solemn as she smiled at him, "You have very good ears, the best I've seen. And it was almost like having a friend."

Harry felt distinctly uncomfortable again, even as he returned her smile hesitantly. "Thanks Luna and, uh, you too."

She laughed - a delicate, bell like echo trilling after it and Harry was hit by the impression once more that this was so familiar that it was nearly crushing him so not recognize it, frustration welling up. But Luna was speaking again, "My ears aren't as nice as yours are, Harry, but thank you. And I'm sure you'll find what you're looking for if you keep staying in the right places."

She twirled and skipped to the doorway, pausing to flash Clara one last dreamy smile, receiving a wary grunt in return, before she paused at the door. Turning back, those large grey eyes focused onto Harry with such intensity that they seemed to almost go through him, catching sight of something beyond what was actually there. A chill raced down his spine, and that feeling stirred in his gut.

Luna's expression was fixed, frozen for heartbeat. "I think you should stay away from blue. It's not really your color," she finally parted with, disappearing out the door in the next second.

Harry watched her leave, a new sense of foreboding settling in. Was she the reason he was drawn here? If that was the case, however odd it was, he wasn't sure he wanted anything to do with girl. He could drop her number in the trash and most likely never see her again.

He glanced at the delicate scrawl. Then again she hadn't seemed bad, abnormal most definitely, but in a way it felt…nice to be able to talk to her, like he could say anything and all she would do was smile and pat his hand again. It was a good feeling.

Harry stood to leave, folding the napkin and gently placing it in his pocket. It couldn't hurt to keep it, just in case. And knowing more than one person in the city who wasn't a self-inflated, terminally ill billionaire would be a nice change.

He glanced down at the untouched, now cooled cup of coffee on the table, grimacing. Maybe he was more of a tea guy – he was British after all. Walking out the door, Harry managed to catch once last glance at Clara's face as she watched him leave and he grinned.

It was a pained, 'I know, right?'


He clicked the enter key, leaning back comfortably in his chair and watching as the screen flashed away. He couldn't find anything while he was in New York, but hadn't had the full capabilities of what his tower offered then.

"Tony, what was that all about?"

Still unusual was that there had been absolutely nothing he could find on the kid - nothing. Granted, at the time, when his interest had first been peaked, Tony had run the name and face through his systems as a passing fancy, to distract himself as much as he hated to admit it. He hadn't expected to find much; the kid had amnesia of all things after all.

Even now Tony was hard pressed to suppress a ridiculous grin at the thought. How Hollywood worthy was that!

When the results had finally come through, however, he hadn't expected what had cropped up. Maybe that was a little exaggerated; he considered the possibility of course, but more out of respect for the stack of paper back mystery novels Pepper kept secretly stashed in her closet underneath the shoeboxes.

It was a giant, white slate. Nothing was there. Not a single shred of evidence on anything from before the kid had quite literately popped up out of the ground in New York Central Park like a British gopher (did they even have gophers?). Not even his personalized facial recognition algorithm hacked into several 'classified' databases could get a hit. Though, in his opinion, 'classified' was a more of an if-you-can-go-ahead open challenge.

Point was that the flat blue screen in front of him had been it; zip, zilch, numero zero, a big fat nadda stuck on it. And that was just unacceptable.

"Tony look at me."A gentle, firm hand cupped his chin and guided his gaze away from the holographic screen to face full of masked worry. Pepper's warm brown eyes melted him every time, seeping right through the cracks and was something he both loved and, well hated was a strong word, but disliked at the same time with equal vigor.

He briefly wondered if she had any idea. Probably; that all-knowing quirk was another tick on the love-hate relationship list of the woman's qualities.

Fighting off a scowl, Tony just as gently removed the delicate fingers and met her stare. The scowl must've slipped a bit. Pepper's lips thinned slightly, turning down at the corners. "Tony what is it? What's going on?" Now it tried to fight its way back to the surface once again. Pepper was too smart for her own good sometimes – for his too.

Eyes turning briefly to the screen once more, nothing had popped up yet which he half expected, Tony flashed the red-head an easy grin. And it was easy, ridiculously so. He'd expected it to be harder, actually, even kind of hoped it would be. That would have meant two things: one, that his practicing in front of the mirror wasn't a complete and embarrassing waste of time, and two that he might have actually changed for the better in the past year. Guess old habits die hard after all; the drinking was proof enough of that, though. Once a game, always a game, I guess.

"You gotta be specific for that one Pep. What do you mean - handing in my school work like a good student, which, might I point out, is something that you've been nagging me about doing for months so, really, there's no need to be concerned or-"

Pepper sighed, "The kid tony, what's with the kid. Last time I checked you wouldn't even adopt a fish, much less a teenager. And in case that busybody brain of yours didn't know, those are generally more difficult to take of than a goldfish." Tony felt he should be offended on principle at the look he was faced with. Honestly, he wasn't five.

"That has nothing to do with this Pep, and really, who wants a fish for a pet. They're so…" he thought for a moment, nose wrinkling in disgust, "smelly."

Pepper huffed, rubbing the bridge of her nose wearily, "It's like dealing with a child," she muttered. "They only smell when you don't take care of them, which you didn't. And it brings me back to my point, Tony. Why has there been a kid sleeping in one of our guest bedrooms for the past two nights?"

Tony flicked his fingers towards the screen, minimizing all of the results, or lack thereof. "Don't think of him like a fish, Peps," he replied, "Think of Harry more like… a stray cat."


"Independent, stubborn streak a mile-wide, but with those big eyes you just can't resist-"

For the second time Tony found his gaze forcefully redirected towards Pepper. Only now she seemed more annoyed than concerned; which was better, definitely better. Tony didn't need Pepper to be concerned, couldn't have her concerned. Concerned would lead to prying into things that didn't need to be pried in to. And annoyance was easier to play to anyway. "Fine," he said, "Think of him more like a side project." Half true. The traitorous part of his brain he'd been so successfully drowning out, almost literately, whispered more like a distraction.

He squashed it down ruthlessly.

But apparently annoyed had stepped quite cheerfully into anger's territory. Pepper bristled. "He's a human being, Tony, not one of your projects that you can just play with until you get bored. He-"

Tony stood abruptly, grabbing Pepper gently by her shoulder's as she continued, her face pinching in unconcealed frustration and worry. Worry for who, or really even why, Tony didn't know. But the effect was instant as she stopped talking, searching his face questioningly. "Pepper, relax," he said, "It's not a big deal. He's just here to stay for-"

"How long?"

Tony halted, faltering a bit. "Its – let's just say it's up to the jury." Pepper wasn't impressed, a scowl marring her features.

"I've been asking you about Harry for the past two days, Tony, and you still haven't told me anything. That usually means something's wrong." So that's why she looked worried. The pinched look softened, blending into a mix of concern and impatience. "So talk to me, what's wrong. Who is he?"

Pepper couldn't possibly know the double-edged feelings that her questions caused to squirm in his stomach – crushing despair, sick emptiness swallowing him whole. She didn't know that they were two completely separate parts to something bigger. How could she? And more importantly, Tony intended to keep it that way. She couldn't know what those two pieces fit together to make.

And damn anyone else who told him otherwise.

But he could pacify her with half of the whole. Sighing, Tony sat back down, "His name is Harry Patterson," he briefly smirked at her look of annoyance, this was nothing new, "and I met him coming home from a club." One more tidbit of information to go into the 'do-no-tell-Pepper-box' was the circumstances in how he met the kid. That didn't need to see the light of day - ever.

Pepper groaned, "What did you do Tony?"

He frowned, a twinge of mock offense coloring his voice, "Why do you always assume I did something? I was completely innocent - this time. Through extenuating circumstances, none of which were illegal, I needed a place to crash and he offered me his. Twice."


Now Tony let loose a devilish grin, genuine and probably inappropriately enthusiastic, "Harry's got amnesia. Can't remember a thing past waking up in a hospital over two months ago."

Pepper's eyes widened, "What?" she gasped. But despite her surprise, she sharpened in quickly to the crux of the matter, suspicious, "That's awful Tony - so stop smiling - but that still doesn't answer what he's doing here?" Blue eyes flickered briefly to the screen she'd ignored; until now. Pepper was definitely too intelligent for her own good.

Tony shrugged, leaning back and completely shutting down the screen with a flick of his hand. "He's here because I offered to help him. Beats what he had going for him in New York anyway. Honestly, the police wouldn't be able to find their way out of a paper bag, much less this kid's history." If he couldn't, they had a snowball's chance in #!*% doing it.

Pepper spoke softly now, skeptically replying, "So you decided it was a good idea to bring him here Tony? You're doing a good thing by trying to help him – god knows what posses you when you choose to do them like this – but what about Harry's family? Don't you think someone's going to be looking for him?"

"Pepper," he spoke seriously and she looked at him, startled, "He'd been in the hospital for a month and out of it for just as long. I don't think anyone is looking for him." Her brows scrunched in the beginnings of a protest, "Trust me." And she fell silent.

For a minute she said nothing, just staring at him. Finally the red-head heaved a heavy sigh, bringing up a hand to pinch the bridge of her nose, "Fine," he really tried not to grin at her disapproving glower, "but what do you want me to tell the press? If they find out about this, the tabloids are going to have a field day and reporters are going to be banging on the door with questions about long-lost kids."

Tony waved her off, with a snort and a twisted smirk. "Just tell them it's a charity gig. They love that stuff and besides, it'll be good press for the Expo."

Pepper rolled her eyes, smiling back with that same mixture of exasperated fondness that he'd become so familiar with seeing, "Of course. We could use as much of that as possible, seeing as how you don't help it any. Have you seen him this morning anyway?"

Here, Tony glowered, huffing. "Yes, he stole my chauffer."

Pepper didn't deign that with a response, just snorted and turned to leave. But she hesitated, only slightly, her eyes holding onto his and trailing over his features for the briefest of moments. Tony could practically hear the gears whizzing about in her head – too many years of working under a Stark had taught her too many lessons on looking for the right signs, the smallest of giveaways that 'no, nothing is alright'.

But Tony had many more years of practice to hide it well, behind a disarming grin and bright eyes that were always looking ahead. So the blue eyes only paused slightly, before turning and leaving, a quiet relief settling inside their depths. Pepper left unaware, she left without a clue and Tony wasn't sure if he praised the fact or hated it with his entire being.

So he sat there long after Pepper left, just thinking. He'd been doing that a lot lately, and it was becoming a habit, one he wasn't altogether fond of in the least bit. Thinking, for the first time Afghanistan in a long while, wasn't healthy for his mental stability at the moment, considering.

Abruptly, rage swelled inside of him, clouding and burning through his thoughts like a rapid heat wave caught in the crest of its jump. And as quickly as it came, it faded, leaving him feeling drained and just – just tired. Tony was past that stage. He was dying; he knew there was no way around it this time, knew it was inevitable. And now that he'd accepted that, for the first time since he'd felt the phantom pains in the arc, he felt empty.

Tony wasn't entirely sure how dying was supposed to feel. It was painful, that was for sure, but on the emotional level that he usually avoided even touching with a fifty-foot pole he wasn't sure if he should be feeling this empty. Was it just another part of growing up emotionally stunted, or was he just as screwed up as everybody thought he was. The most he could muster was a deep bitterness at leaving Pepper, just when something was happening between them, something he cherished. He lessened the hurt with the firm knowledge that he wasn't leaving her with nothing. In fact, he was leaving her everything.

That's not going to mean anything to her, Stark.

He scowled as Harry's words echoed in his head. Tony wasn't sure if the kid was aware of it, probably not as he seemed to carry on fine hours later and had the memory of a toothpick, but he'd taken to avoiding the teenager after their conversation that first day had erupted into somewhat of an argument. It was his right to deal with his death the way he saw fit; he didn't need any brat to tell him otherwise, regardless of any secret that held them together.

Giving her a company is not going to mean anything if you don't tell her.

Well it was going to have to. He had no intention of letting Pepper, or Rhodey for that matter, know anything about his condition. Tony had his reasons and they were good enough for him, better than good enough. The deeply buried part of Tony's mind, the one that craved for the comfort of Pepper, of the only person who would truly care to know, realized the guiltier reason he had in offering Harry a place in Malibu. So that he wouldn't have to tell her and wouldn't have to be alone; he would at least have someone who knew he was dying, even if it was a complete stranger, someone who could understand and not see him any differently because they didn't even know him.

And that it would have to be enough.

Harry's face was livid, a strange mix of disbelief and outrage, "You can't lie to her until you die. It's not fair to Pepper, and it's not fair to you. You tell her soon, Stark, or I will."

And damn Harry for telling him otherwise.

A/N: Ok, yeah, so I'm maybe kind of alive! Hoorah! Sorry for such a long wait but my anonymous friend is no longer available for me to bounce ideas off of or help beta read this so it came out a lot slower. But at least its a good long chapter for you guys! I can't believe when I finished I went back and checked and this thing was like fifteen pages in word! It was supposed to be two chapter, but the first chapter, where I was going to do Harry's introduction to Malibu, did not want to be written or even come into exhistance. So I compromised and took a little bit of that and put it into the beauty you've just read above.

Sorry also to all of my fabulous reviewers, I didn't get a chance to respond to your reviews this capter but if you do review, next time I'll make a point to respond to them! So I dropped a few big hints here in this chapter, and did you guys expect Luna? I just love her character so much and I hope I got her right. You don't know how hard it was not to mention nargles at least once during the entire conversation. hint: Luna gives a hint! And do you guys know what Harry's other feeling is? Everone seems to think its eviil...see if you can find the connection (I forget sometimes that not everyone is in my head...).

Thanks so much for stickin' with me you guys, this is my best story yet and I'm glad people actually like it! Review for confindence points!