The talk with Tony last night had gone much better than I had anticipated, and I had spent hours buzzing with excitement before drifting off into a dreamless sleep. I was sure that Hermione would be pleased with this change in my demeanor, while Ron on the other hand would cover his face with both hands and groan that there were 'two of them.'
I chuckled as I imagined it, heading down the hallway toward the kitchen. I could hear someone bustling around in there, as well as smell and hear grease sizzling. Curious, I peeked inside of the room and then felt my eyes widen and my mouth go dry.
The person had their back to me, but I could tell with a glance that they were female. What was more, they wore nothing but an apron and a pair of black knickers. With their back to me, I was able to see the curve of their back dip downward to a round bottom. My eyes were drawn to a tattoo I could see on their lower back, one which looked like a bird, its wings spread wide.
The view of the tattoo was taken away and instead I found myself staring at the front of an apron. Filled with dread, I allowed my gaze to tread upward, all the way to the face of a woman who wore an amused smile across her lips.
"I—I'm sorry," I stammered, feeling my face blaze as I had been caught staring. "I wasn't—I'm not—"
"You must be Harry," the woman said, still smiling. I clamped my mouth shut and gave a small nod. "Tony told me all about you. How sweet that he's babysitting for his neighbor while they're away."
I frowned, confused. Then, my eyes widened as I realized that Tony had fed this woman another false truth to distance us from one another.
"I… right," I said, blinking. I wanted to flee, but something in the woman's eyes rooted me to the spot. "Who are… you?"
The woman turned and once more I was presented with her backside. I covered my face with both hands, able to hear the sound of bacon curling as well as the smell of it tickling my nose.
"Yvette," the woman said. "I was the lucky winner of Tony in the charity auction last night. Worth every penny."
Again, my face flushed hot and I bit the inside of my cheek. It was quite obvious what Tony and the woman had engaged in last night. And down the hall from me no less while I slept through the entire ordeal.
"…I see," I said, peeking through my fingers. My eyes once more landed on her tattoo before I realized what I was doing and turned to flee. "Um… well, nice to meet you."
"Hold on." I paused in my retreat, glancing over my shoulder. The woman waved her spatula at me as though it were a weapon. "I spent all of this time cooking. The least you can do is sit with me while I eat."
I bit my lip, trying to think of an excuse to escape. However, the woman—Yvette, she said her name was—saw through it.
"Is it because I'm undressed?" A sound of surprise and embarrassment escaped my throat and she chuckled. "Don't fret, I'll go get changed. Breakfast is done, so help yourself."
Yvette walked off, and it took all of my willpower not to trail my gaze after her. Once she disappeared down the hallway, I released a breath I hadn't realized I'd been holding and wandered into the kitchen to see what the woman had prepared.
Bacon, eggs and orange halves were sat on various plates across the counter and I was surprised, for it all looked very good. As I was still debating with myself whether I would eat or not, Yvette returned, now wearing a tight black miniskirt and business jacket.
"Sorry, love," she said, placing an earring into her ear, "but I have to run." Her heels clicked across the tiled floor as she walked toward me and leaned forward, her fruity perfume numbing my brain. I thought she was going to hug me, but instead she reached around me to snag a piece of bacon from the tray and winked at me as she backed off.
"See you around," she called over her shoulder as she opened the front door and then disappeared through it.
I stared forward, my mouth half open. …What had just happened?
Happy stopped by later and I was quick to inform the man of Yvette, sparing no details. To my consternation, Happy just laughed and told me to get used to it, because I was going to be seeing a lot more of it.
When Tony returned and asked how my day was, I made no mention of the mystery woman who had made her way around the kitchen that morning, for I knew the man would tease me to no end about it. Instead, I held my peace, and came to accept that this was what came with living under the same roof as Tony Stark.
It was a few days later, and I had just gotten out of the shower when I heard a knock coming from the front door. I wrapped a towel around my waist with a frown, wondering who could be knocking at the door so early in the morning.
Happy had been coming to check on me every day for the past few days, but he usually only appeared around noon with lunch clasped in one hand and a new video game or movie in the other, a big grin on his face. Until Happy appeared, I usually spent the mornings alone.
The insistent knocking continued so I hurried across the hall to my room to throw on a pair of underwear and trousers, before heading towards the door, my wet hair flipping in front of my face.
"Yeah, yeah, keep your knickers on," I muttered as I jogged toward the door, holding my unbuttoned pants up with one hand while I held my towel in the other. I wiped my face and threw the towel onto the back of the couch, still shirtless. If the person on the other end of the door was offended by my appearance, it was their own bloody fault for interrupting me while I was trying to get ready.
The knocking continued, even louder than before and I scowled at the door as I fastened my trousers. "One second!" I yelled, making sure the annoyance showed in my voice. The knocking ceased and I released a satisfied huff of breath.
When I was as presentable as time allowed, I opened the door, curious as to whom I would find on the other end. A blond-haired man wearing a peach-colored suit and sunglasses was not it.
The man was tall and broad shouldered, his hands clasped below his waist.
"…Can I help you?" I asked, giving the man a once-over. I didn't recognize him, but I hadn't recognized Happy the first time I had met him either, so I thought in the back of my head that maybe Happy was busy and this man was to be his replacement.
"Are you Harry Potter?" the man asked in a far too serious tone. My shoulders stiffened and I clasped my hand tighter on the doorknob.
"Yes… Who are you?"
"I'm Agent Polanski. I work for Tony Stark."
I blinked, relaxing the slightest bit. "Okay… What do you need?"
"I'm going to need you to please come with me."
"…What?" I felt my heart slow and then speed up, my toes curling into the soft carpet as I stared at the man before me. Even though he wore sunglasses, I could feel his cool stare boring into me. "Come with you where? For what purpose?"
"Relax, I'm not some baby snatcher," the man said, smiling. If anything it only set me more on edge. "I told you, I work for Mr. Stark. He asked that I take you to Stark Industries. He wouldn't tell me why."
"…I see," I said, biting the inside of my cheek. The man stood in front of me with a wan smile, but I wasn't totally convinced. "So you should be able to call him, right?" I asked, remembering how Happy had called Tony. It had only been then when I had trusted the man.
The man's smile dipped downward. "Call who? Mr. Stark?" I nodded my head and he sighed, his shoulder's dipping. "Sure, one second." I watched as Agent Polanski reached into his suit jacket. The object he revealed gave off no reflection as it caught the dim florescent lighting in the hallway.
He pointed it straight at my head and I felt my heart sink into my feet. It was a gun… an honest to goodness gun being pointed straight at me. I could barely see straight, for it blocked most of my vision, and I tried to swallow but found that my mouth had gone dry.
I didn't blink. I didn't move. I didn't even dare to breathe.
"Let's try this again," the man said, stepping forward. With the hard steel digging into my forehead, I had no choice but to release the doorknob and step backwards, my hands raised into the air to show my compliance. "I said I'm going to need you to come with me. Now, are you going to comply, or am I going to have to get rough with you?"
My mind shifted into overdrive as I realized what was happening. I was being kidnapped—and I could think of only one reason why. Someone had found out that I was staying with Tony, and they most likely wanted to use me to get to the man.
I felt as if I should have expected something like this, but instead I was completely blindsided. I didn't even have my wand, for I hadn't thought to grab it from my room after I had gotten out of the shower and hastened to throw on some clothes.
I needed to do something or this man would take me somewhere and then… I didn't know what would happen to me, but I certainly was not about to find out.
"Who are you?" I asked, trying to buy time to think of a plan or for maybe someone to come so that I could—
"Ah!" I saw white as my neck twisted, a burning pain along the left side of my face. I stared at the ground, spots dancing before my eyes as I tried to comprehend what had just happened. I could feel something oozing down my face from my temple.
"You're in no position to be asking questions here, kid, so I advise you to only answer 'yes, sir' or 'no, sir' from here on out, alright?"
I looked up, the gun once more between my eyes. I clenched my teeth in anger and frustration but spat out, "…Yes… sir…"
The man grinned and nodded. "Good. Now…" The man lowered his gun and I tensed, prepared to spring into action if he let his guard down for the slightest moment. "We're going to walk downstairs, and then you're going to get in the car waiting there. No funny business, alright?"
The man walked behind me and I hissed as he dug the edge of his gun into my back, sending a shock through my spine.
I edged closer to the door, my mind racing. I couldn't leave the house—if I did then there would be nothing I could do without the risk of getting shot. I had to… I had to think of something.
"W-wait, p-people will be suspicious if… if you go out onto the street w-with a shirtless t-teenage boy," I rasped out, pausing in the doorway and closing my eyes, praying that the man would buy my flimsy excuse.
I stumbled when there was a sudden blow to the back of my head. I felt the world spin and I collapsed against the door frame, turning to glare at the man behind me.
"I warned you," the man said, shrugging. "But you're right. Can't have people thinking I'm sort of kiddy fiddler now, can we?" I watched, my vision blurred, as the man took off his jacket and then tossed it at me, the material resting at my feet. "Put that on."
My breathing was shallow as I reached down to pick it up. I glanced at the man above me through my fringe, knowing that it was now or never. My fingers clutched the soft material of the jacket and I stood to my feet, staring down at it.
I looked once more at the man before me and he gestured for me to put it on, his face twisted downward in impatience.
Gathering all of my Gryffindor courage and foolishness, I acted. I tossed the jacket high into the air. The man's head tilted upward as his eyes followed. And it was that opening that I had been waiting for. With a roar, I charged forward with all of my strength, burying my shoulder into the man's gut.
My would be kidnapper released a grunt of surprise and pain as he crumbled to the ground, the gun falling from his hands when he clutched his stomach. I kicked the gun toward the doorway and spared the man on the ground only a glance before I turned to run towards my room, intent on retrieving my wand.
I cried out in surprise when I was grasped by the ankle, my balance failing me and sending me tumbling awkwardly to the ground. My right wrist bore the brunt of my weight and I howled as I felt it twist. Tears blurred my vision and I prayed that it wasn't broken, but that was the least of my worries.
I glanced behind me and felt a stab of ice lance through my heart. The man stared back at me, but he was missing an eye, the only thing left behind an empty, gnarled socket. His good eye was grey and burrowed into me, the threat of death lurking behind its depths.
"You little shit," the man growled, pulling on my leg. I clawed at the ground with my one good hand, but could find no purchase in the rug, my skin burning as I was dragged across it. Having no other choice, I lashed out with my foot, hearing a sudden crunch as it connected with his nose.
The man reared back with a roar of pain and fury, his hands going to his nose, blood seeping from between his fingers.
I wasted no time in pulling away and dragging myself to my feet, giving the man only the briefest of glances before running into my bedroom and closing the door, making sure to lock it behind me.
"I'm going to fucking kill you!" the man bellowed.
A shiver ran down my spine but I ignored it, instead rushing over to retrieve my wand. Once it was clutched in my hand, I stood and faced the door. I drew in a deep breath and held it, my ears straining as I tried to hear movement from outside the doorway.
At first, there was nothing, and then… footsteps. They were heavy and determined, and I felt as if I could track the man with my eyes as he traversed through the hallway. And then… silence as he stopped in front of the door to my room, his shadow visible underneath the door frame.
I lifted my wand and pointed it at the door, prepared to blast the man into oblivion as soon as he opened it.
The doorknob rattled as he tried to force it to no avail.
"Little Harry," the man said in a singsong. "Are you in there…?"
"Go fuck yourself!" I spat out, causing the man on the other end of the door to laugh.
I jumped in surprise when there was a loud bang, the air splitting as something whipped past my head, too fast for me to notice. A hole had appeared in the door, and I could only stare when a cool grey eye peeked in.
Two more shots rang out, this time aimed at the doorknob, but I ducked and covered my head all the same. I licked my dry lips, rattled but still prepared to hex the man as soon as he opened the door. He didn't disappoint. The door flew open with the force of a sledgehammer and there the man stood, his foot still halfway in the air.
The red beam of light left my wand and sailed toward him.
"What the fu—?" The man shifted his body sideways, the spell zooming past him to impact harmlessly again the hallway wall. The man turned back towards me, his single eye wide and a question on his lips, but I had already sent another stunner barreling into his direction.
The second spell made contact with the man's face and his head was thrown backwards from the force of it. And then, after teetering for one brief moment, he collapsed backwards, the gun falling from his limp hands.
I released a breath of relief, my limbs suddenly turning to liquid as I sunk to my knees, my breath leaving me in short pants. I ran a hand through my hair which was damp not only from sweat, but with the water from my already forgotten shower. My mind was unable to rationalize everything that had just transpired in what could have only been five minutes.
My eyes once more landed on the unconscious man lying out in the hallway and I realized that I couldn't just leave him there. He was a criminal. He had tried to kidnap me. A soft chuckle escaped me when the thought crossed my mind.
I had been living in this world for a week, and already my life was being put in grave danger. My chuckle turned into full blown laughter and I covered my face with both hands, the irony not lost on me. I had hoped that maybe this world would be a safe-haven, a momentary escape away from the hectic life I had lead in the other world. But fate apparently had other plans and would not rest until I was either dead or driven insane.
Once I managed to calm myself, I stood to my feet and headed for the phone, giving the unconscious man a swift kick in the ribs for good measure as I passed him. I found the cordless phone in the living room and dialed 999 before placing the device to my ear.
"The number you are trying to dial could not be reached."
I blinked, looking at the phone in confusion before I slapped my head in realization. I wasn't in Britain anymore, so of course their emergency telephone number wouldn't work. I bit my lip and stared down at the phone as I thought.
What was the American emergency number again…? I knew that it had '1' in it somewhere… With a sigh, I tried 919, 991, and then finally 911. When the call went through and I heard a ring, I clutched the phone closer to my ear, my breath held as I waited for someone to pick up.
"911, what is your emergency?" came a female voice.
"Yes! Um, I… My house, um…" My mind was jumbled as I tried to think of a cover story. For some reason, I did not want the woman on the other end of the line to know that I had been the victim of an attempted kidnapping.
"Sir, calm down and tell me what happened."
I did as instructed and drew in a deep breath. "…There was a burglary… at my home…"
"Was anyone injured?"
"No. Well, my wrist, but I don't think it's broken," I said, staring down at said appendage. It was a little sore and red, but I could move it around, although it did sting to do so. "Oh, and the burglar… He's still here…"
"What?" The woman's voice grew sharp in alarm. "Okay. Remain hidden and I'll send help as soon as possible."
"No, no, he's unconscious." I chuckled and rubbed the back of my neck, embarrassed. "I… I managed to knock him out…"
"You—? …Alright. I'll send assistance. What is your location?"
I told her. She confirmed that armed officers would be there shortly and that I should wait outside of the apartment. I peeked into the hallway, just to be certain that my assailant was still unconscious, and was relieved to find him in the same location.
The man had seen me perform magic before I had managed to knock him unconscious. While I was positive that the police would take his ravings as those of a mad man, it was a risk I couldn't take. So, with only the smallest amount of guilt settling like a rock in my stomach, I took out my wand and cast a silent enervate.
The thug's single eye snapped open, his vision circling the room in confusion. "What…? Where…?" That eye found me and I stared down at the man with a frown. "You!"
He lunged for me with both hands, but my wand was already level with his face. "Obliviate!"
There was a bang and a flash of light as the spell took effect. The man's single eye rolled in its socket and he slumped back to the ground. I waited for him to regain lucidity before standing over him to meet his gaze. There was no recognition in his eye.
"Who the hell are you?" he asked.
I smiled, pleased that the spell had served its purpose. "No one worth remembering," I said before sending the man back into unconsciousness.
Sighing, I glanced down at myself to realize I was still shirtless. There was a nasty rug burn down my front that went from my chest to my stomach, but it only caused a slight discomfort to the touch. I stepped over my would-be kidnapper's body to enter my room, no longer paranoid that the man would wake to seek his vengeance on me.
Once properly dressed, I stood outside of the apartment with my back against the wall while I waited. It wasn't long until I heard the elevator open. Two uniformed police officers stepped out. The last of my tension disappeared.
The officers noticed me and came over. The shorter of the two spoke. "Are you the one who called in about a burglary?"
"I'm fine," I told the officer who had voiced his concern. "I've had worse, trust me. Just worry about the burglar in there."
The men frowned, but dropped it. They nodded to one another before entering the apartment, their hands hovering over their gun holsters.
A few minutes later, one of the officers exited with the unconscious man from earlier—only this time he was cuffed with his hands behind his back and carried fireman style over the officer's shoulder. I lifted an eyebrow in amusement as the officer passed and the man winked at me before disappearing into the elevator.
A sigh behind me made me turned, and the other officer had exited the apartment as well, shaking his head. "You really did a number on that guy," he said to me.
I shrugged, ducking my shoulders in embarrassment. "He deserved it."
"Oh, no doubt," the officer said, nodding. "What's your name, kid?"
"Harry." I could see the officer waiting on me to give him my last name, but I held his eye and remained silent. The man just gave a slight shake of his head.
"You live here alone? Where are your folks?"
"No, I don't live alone," I said with a frown, my eyes lowering when I thought of Tony and the cover story he had used on people not connected to me. "I'm currently staying with my neighbor. My parents are out of town."
"Can I get a name? I'll call them for you."
I sighed, knowing that it was inevitable. "Tony Stark."
"Tony St—you're staying with Tony Stark? The Tony Stark?"
I rolled my eyes, giving the police officer an unimpressed stare. The man coughed and straightened himself. "Yes. I am."
The man gave me a considering look before nodding. He grabbed the walkie-talkie on his chest and conversed into it. I zoned out as I thought of the ramifications that this little fiasco would cause.
I would have preferred to lay low and not make any waves while I was in this world, but I had no doubt in my mind that this would make the six-o'clock news as well as be front page in the newspaper. 'Tony Stark's brave neighbor fights off criminal!' the headlines would read.
And then there would be interviews from reporters who all wanted an exclusive interview from the 'brave hero' himself and intrusive paparazzi who would follow my every move. Not to mention all of the gossip magazines that would speculate on the relationship between Tony Stark and his mysterious neighbors.
My head throbbed and I pinched the bridge of my nose. "I think I need to go lie down…"
"You sure you're okay?" the officer said. "If you need to go to the hospital, I—"
"I'm good, thanks," I interrupted the man. I didn't even wait for him to make his farewells before entering the apartment and shutting the door behind me, the resounding bang sending a spike of pain straight to my head.
I groaned and bounded over to the couch before flopping face first onto it, settling like an anchor at the bottom of the ocean.
Why couldn't my life ever just be simple?
I didn't sleep, but I did close my eyes and try to block all of the thoughts that were hammering my mind, using what little Snape had taught me about Occlumency to rest my mind.
It was… different, to not have constant thoughts buzzing around in my head. I hadn't realized how I much I thought, how much I analyzed every little action and stressed over every outcome. It was if I had entered a sound-proof paradise, the outside world being blocked away with the closing of a door.
I knew it wouldn't last, so I was content to enjoy the reprieve for as long as I could.
…And there it went.
Pain split through my head like a guillotine and I hissed, using my uninjured hand to rub at my forehead, right behind my scar where my temple throbbed.
"Down here," I croaked, using more effort than usual to sit up from where I lay on the loveseat. My vision swam from sitting up and I had to close my eyes as the world tilted. When next I opened them, I blinked in surprise to find the concerned face of one Tony Stark before me.
A hand touched my bruised forehead and I flinched backward.
"Jesus, Harry," Tony said, his eyes flickering over the rest of me as he checked me over. I bore the scrutiny without comment. "If I get my hands on the piece of shit that did this…"
I shooed Tony away, appreciating his concern but knowing it was unnecessary. "I'm fine, I—" My eyes flickered toward the open door where Happy stood, the man's face twisted down into a worried frown as he stared at me. Next to him stood a bald-headed man whom I remembered to be Tony's mentor, and I did a double take in surprise.
"Hello again, Harry," Tony's mentor—Obadiah I believed his name had been?—said to me with a muted smile. I nodded towards him, unsure of why he had stopped by. I turned my questioning gaze towards Tony.
"Obadiah was with me when I got the call," the inventor said, catching the look and throwing a glance over his shoulder. "He remembered you from your visit and wanted to make sure you were all right."
I once more turned my attention towards the man and gave him a small smile. "I appreciate your concern, but as you can see, I'm fine."
Obadiah waved a single hand through the air. "It gave me an excuse to get out of that stuffy office. Maybe Tony should get burgled more often…"
I gave the man an amused smile, my opinion of him changing. He seemed to have the same lightheartedness towards matters that Tony did—yet judging by the stare the inventor gave his mentor, that particular trait of his had taken a holiday.
Tony turned back to me, his eyebrows dipped downward. He didn't say anything, but I could feel his worry leaking out to strangle me.
"I'm fine, Tony, seriously. I've had worse." If anything, his frown deepened. I gave a helpless sigh.
"You wouldn't lie about such a serious matter, would you?" Obadiah said, making me tense and turn towards him, the silent question on my face. "If you were hurt, you would know better than to keep it from Tony, who only wants to look out for you, right…?"
That question made me stop short and I couldn't meet the man's eyes. While it was true that I had suffered worse injuries and the few bruises I did have would have no lasting effect, I couldn't say with certainty that I wouldn't lie about my well being if it meant getting Tony off my back. I had done it before after all without a moment's hesitation.
Instead of answering, I remained silent and stared at my hands.
"Hey, Harry…" Tony's soft voice broke me from my thoughts and I glanced toward him. He was leaning over me, a frown on his face. "You're looking a little pale… I know you're tired of hearing this, but are you sure you're okay?"
I opened my mouth, intent on telling Tony for the one-hundredth time that I was, however, something stopped me. Tony's brown eyes met mine and I glanced away. Then, with a small sigh, I gave the slightest shake of my head.
Tony seemed to get the message for he stood to his feet and faced the other two men in the room. "Hey, fellas, Harry's not feeling so hot. You don't gotta go home, but you've got to get the hell outta here."
"So courteous," Obadiah said with a dry chuckle. The man shrugged and turned toward the blinking chauffeur beside him. "Happy. I was promised a night of drunken debauchery and naked woman by my old protégé Tony, but it seems he's indisposed. Care to join me instead?"
Happy looked baffled as Obadiah slung an arm around the man's shoulder and escorted him out of the flat.
Once it was just the two of us, Tony walked around the couch and left the room. I waited for the man to return, and once he did, he was carrying a white square container which he placed on the coffee table before me. The red cross on the front of it gave no doubt to what the purposes of the container was.
"I could tell you were holding back as soon as you saw Happy and Obi," Tony said as he plopped down on the love seat beside me and began rummaging through the first aid kit. I raised a single eyebrow. "I assume it has something to do with the bullet holes I saw in your bedroom door…?" Tony paused in his search to glance up at me with a frosted smile.
I winced but held my ground, my fists clenching atop my lap. "I was going to tell you about that eventually."
Tony took out a cotton ball and then next a small bottle with a spray nozzle attached. "About the bullet holes? Or the fact that you were shot at with a gun?" Using the bottle, he sprayed a fine mist atop the ball, coating the air with the smell of alcohol. "Or maybe that you were pistol whipped?"
This time I flinched, my shoulder drooping. "…It wasn't that I was trying to keep it from you…"
Tony turned toward me and gestured for me to do the same. I folded one leg atop the couch and turned my body, stiffing when the cotton ball made contact with my skin. I released a quiet hiss, glaring when Tony smiled at my discomfort.
"What else are you keeping from me?" Tony asked, frowning down at the cotton ball when it came away tinted pink.
I sighed, knowing that at this point it was useless to try to hide anything any longer. "It wasn't a burglar who broke in today… It was a kidnapper."
Tony's entire body stiffened and his hands froze inside of the first aid kit. I stared at the side of his face, almost able to see the cogs in his brain shifting as he thought. "But how would they know you were important to me? No one even knows you're here," Tony said.
I could feel a smile trying to work its way onto my face as warmth flooded my chest. "Maybe someone saw us together," I suggested with a shrug. "Maybe they've always been watching you and saw us interacting outside."
In any other situation, the suggestion would have been ludicrous. But this was not a normal situation and Tony was not a normal man. The thought of someone obsessed stalking him, watching him from a distance for weeks—maybe even months—was not outside of the realm of possibility.
"Maybe," Tony said at last, his voice heavy. He once more returned to motion, pulling a roll of bandages out of the kit. "Either way it's my fault."
"This isn't your fault," I said with a glare.
Tony gave a small laugh. "I left you here alone with no protection."
"I'm not a child," I said with a frown. "Nor do I want to be treated like one because of this incident."
"Look at what he did to you," Tony said, shaking his head.
"You should see the other guy," I said in total seriousness. Tony smiled and I returned it a moment after.
"Any other wounds I should know about?" Tony asked.
Without conscious thought, I touched the back of my head with my free hand. Tony frowned and turned my head with gentle hands. He poked and prodded at the area I had touched and I jumped in pain once he found it.
"That's a pretty big lump, but it doesn't seem like any skin broke," Tony said. "…Don't tell me he shot you too?"
"He shot at me, but I don't think he wanted to kill me," I said, my eyes narrowing as I thought. "If he did, he could have done so easily. But he wanted me to follow him somewhere, which makes me believe he would have preferred if I was alive."
Tony just stared at me. "That makes sense, but that doesn't make it any easier to accept…"
I shrugged my shoulders. "I've had so many run-ins with death... Sometimes I think that when the moment finally comes, I won't be afraid. Not because I'm not afraid to die, but because… I'm just so used to always being a hairsbreadth away from it, you know…?"
"You shouldn't have to feel that way," Tony said with a growl. "Not when you're with me. I want to protect you." I opened my mouth to inform Tony, once again, that I didn't need his protection when the man pressed on, rolling his eyes, "Yeah, yeah, I know. You're a strong independent woman who don't need no man. I get that."
I raised an eyebrow in silent amusement. "Strong independent woman…?"
"Doesn't matter, the point is: I know you can take care of yourself. You've proven it. But no matter how strong you are, you're still just a kid."
I scowled. "So what then, you want to lock me away in some tower so I'll always be safe?" The Dursleys and even Dumbledore had done that to a certain extent. Locked me away so that I wouldn't be exposed to the 'dangers' of the world—or the world wouldn't be exposed to the dangers of me, as it were in the Dursleys' case.
"No," the man said, raising an eyebrow. "First of all, I don't have a tower, but I do like the idea, second of all—well, there is no second, but these things seem to just work better when there's more than one point, you know?" I stared, pleading for the man to get back to the topic at hand. "Anyway, no, I was thinking of something simpler, like a bodyguard."
"A bodyguard…? You mean Happy?"
"No, Happy is my bodyguard. Not only that, he's my chauffeur. He wouldn't be able to protect you twenty-four seven. I was thinking more along the lines of hiring you your own personal bodyguard."
I frowned but didn't dismiss the idea outright. "Don't you think that's a little overkill? What type of trouble do you think we'll face in California…?"
"Hopefully none," Tony said. "And the security in my LA apartment is one-hundred times what this place has… Actually, I should probably look into improving this place a bit more. It's rather drab…"
I ignored Tony's rambling, now used to how the man sometimes went on tangents. The curse of brilliance perhaps, there were too many thoughts running in his head to contain. "So I don't need a bodyguard?" I asked to clarify, tilting my head.
Tony frowned for a moment before sighing. "…No. I guess you won't." I nodded, secretly relieved. "However," the man continued, staring at me with serious eyes, "if there is any sort of trouble in California, we're getting you a full time bodyguard, alright?"
I wasn't pleased, but I knew I had to compromise or Tony would never let the issue drop. So, I nodded.
"And a cell phone," Tony added, nodding. "You need one."
"Those small phones everyone use?" I asked. Tony nodded.
"Every kid needs one in this day and age."
I shrugged, not opposed to owning one if Tony thought it best.
"Shake on it," he said, extending his hand. I stared at the extended limb before sighing and doing as requested. We shook hands, quick and firm. At that moment, I was glad that Unbreakable Vows didn't exist, for trouble followed me like a magnet, and this was one promise I didn't know I could keep.
Tony shook his head, satisfied. However, a cloud passed over his face and he hummed. "…That still leaves the news reports, for there will be one, without a doubt. And if one person knowing about you got you into this much trouble, I don't even want to think about the rest of the city, much less the world."
A jolt ran through me as Tony voiced my fears. I bit my lip and folded my hands. "Can't you… can't you do something? To keep me out of it?" I asked, my voice low and strained. "I don't…" I shook my head, pleading with my eyes for him to understand how much I did not want to be the center of the public's attention.
Tony met my gaze as he finished treating the wound on my forehead, something in his own eyes softening. "You're already in the police reports," Tony said. "The news will report the story of a teenage boy fending off a burglar no matter what we do." My shoulders slumped in defeat. "However," Tony continued, grinning when my eyes once more snapped to him, "they aren't obligated to release your name or your connection to me."
"Not obligated," I repeated with a frown, thinking of a certain reporter with a quill the color of poison "That doesn't mean they won't."
"You're right, it doesn't. But, you forget who I am," Tony said with a sly smile. "I have friends in high places—enemies as well, but that's beside the point. When you garner a reputation like mine, when what's written about you during an important business venture can make or break you, you learn to keep a few people in your back pocket."
"So... you have a contact with the media who can keep my name and your involvement out of it?" I asked, voice hopeful.
Tony chuckled. "More or less."
It was as if a great weight was lifted from my shoulders and I smiled so hard my cheeks stung. "Thanks, Tony."
The man seemed stunned for a moment, but then he shook his head and shrugged. "Don't mention it, kid. …Though, it's probably best if we get the hell out of Dodge."
"It's from—never mind. I meant that it's probably best if we don't stick around."
That I understood and I frowned. "We're leaving?"
Tony shrugged. "Yeah. I was only going to be here until my business was finished, but I was itching for a reason to leave early anyway. Don't worry," Tony continued seeing the look I gave him, "Obadiah should be able to handle the rest."
I was hesitant but nodded.
…California. If I had experienced this much excitement in one week while in New York, I did not even want to contemplate the trouble I would find in the remaining months there.