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Mercy

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The television showed the monsters attacking the skyscrapers. You brought your hand to your mouth to stifle the scream. With shaky fingers you dialed your mother’s cellphone and received the beep beep of an unconnected line. Next you tried your father. Same response. Of course it was just because cell phone towers had to be down. That was it. You would hear from them in a few hours.

~~~
Lone Survivor: Local woman is the last member of her family alive, after parents perish in New York City Attacks. Who Is to Blame?

Tony stared at the article. He could recite the thing word-for-word. There were hundreds of stories out there like this, all of the seventy-four casualties had family, but the picture of the smiling young woman next to the photo of her crying at her parent’s grave shook him to his core.

“You’re not responsible for that.” Bruce took a seat across from Tony. “Why are you torturing yourself?”

“I’m a glutton for punishment.” Tony dropped the newspaper.

“You saved the world, not destroyed it.” Bruce peeled a banana. “A lot more people would be dead if it weren’t for you.”

“That must be why I have a class action lawsuit filed against me for wrongful death.” Tony smiled.

“Is that girl on the paper a plaintiff?” Bruce had noticed the article.

“Actually she’s one of the few who didn’t join the suit.” Tony didn’t like it that Bruce saw the photo.

“Leave the lawsuits to the lawyers.” Bruce took a bite. “It’s been months, have you talked to a doctor yet?”

“I’m talking to one right now.” Tony folded the article, promising to look at it again later. “Are you going back to work?”

“Not today.” Bruce took another bite. “What about you?”

“I’m at work right now.” Tony stood up. “I work from home remember? Speaking of which, how long are you going to be staying?”

“Are you kicking me out?” Bruce raised an eyebrow.

“No.” Tony started to walk towards his workshop. “But I’m thinking you start paying rent. Two men sharing this house? We split it 50/50, I don’t have a mortgage per say, but the taxes are crazy high in Malibu. Given my mansion’s worth and the amount we spend on utilities I’m thinking one-hundred fifty thou a month should cover it.”

“I’ll write you a check.” Banner yelled from the table.

Tony went down to the basement, two stairs at a time. Once the Iron Legion was up and running he would have atoned for his sins against the world, unfortunately that was still months away. He wanted to do something, to alleviate some of the pain.

“Jarvis?” Tony took a seat at his workbench. His Artificial Intelligence unit ran the entire household. He would be lost without Jarvis, and actually regarded his advice as the most prudent. “Pull up everything you can find about Y/F/N, Y/L/N.”

The same picture from the news article popped up. Along with the dozens of other website that Tony had seen before.

“I’m afraid there are no new developments sir.” Jarvis’ voice filled the room. “As promised I will send you an alert when new information arises.”

Tony started scanning the information, not caring that he read it all before. The girl was a college senior, one semester shy of graduating. Her parents were on vacation in New York when they died from structural collapse. She dropped out of school as a result and was now slinging drinks at a dive bar in LA.

“Did you ever find out why she dropped out?” Tony asked.

“Her university did not keep personnel files, only academic records.” Jarvis switched the screen to her transcripts. “The only way to find the real reason would be to ask her yourself.”

“That would go over great.” Tony snorted. “Hi, please to meet you. I’m the billionaire superhero who accidentally killed your parents. Would you mind explaining to me why your life derailed?”

“Maybe some of your questions are better left unanswered.” The files started to close.

Tony let out a sigh and leaned back in his chair. Jarvis was probably right, but that never deterred Tony from trying.
~~~

It was a slow day at work, but tonight was karaoke and that meant all the wannabe musicians would pack the place. Too bad you never heard of a record exec showing up at a dive bar searching for new talent. They would have better luck singing on the corner.

The bell above the door jingled and you looked up. A man walked in with a baseball hat, sunglasses, and a hoodie. In any other city you would have thought him dangerous, but this was actually something you were used to. He took a seat and you set down a coaster.

“What’ll it be?” You leaned back against the register.

“Scotch.” The mystery celebrity muttered.

“Don’t worry.” You grabbed the bottle of the most expensive single malt you had. “I’m not going to try and figure out who you are.”

You turned around and set the glass down. He tilted his head.

“We get celebrities in every now and then.” You laughed. “You’re far from the first. Keep your disguise on all you like.”

It wasn’t a lie, and normally they tipped pretty good. So you walked back down to the end of the bar and continued wiping. When that was done you went to the shelves to make sure you were stocked for tonight.

“What’s your name?” Whoever it was spoke with an overly gruff voice.

“Y/N.” You didn’t turn around as you answered him.

“College student?” They asked.

“Just a bartender.” You grabbed a clipboard and started to take notes of what you would need from the back.

“Why?” The man asked.

You raised an eyebrow and spun towards them.

“That’s a pretty insulting question.” You let the clipboard fall to your side. “What’s wrong with being a bartender?”

“Sorry.” The man swallowed. “Bad assumption. Do you want to be an actress?”

“Nope.” You turned back to the liquor.

It dawned on you that this was a hospitality business, and you were not being hospitable. The last thing you wanted was to lose your tip. You turned back to the customer.

“I was in school, but I dropped out.” You smiled.

“Why?” This man was being very pushy.

“I had some personal problems.” You went right back to being rude and shook your head. “I’ll go back eventually, well maybe. I need to pay down my student loans before I take any more out.”

“Wouldn’t you make more with a degree?” The man took a drink.

“Ha!” You clapped your hands. “I wanted to be a family counselor, that means once I finish my undergrad I need a masters to get a license, and it also means government work that will probably start at thirty thousand a year.”

“Thirty thousand?!?” The man choked on his scotch.

“That’s how the real world works Mr. movie star. You probably make thirty million a picture?” You smiled at the man, letting him know you were joking. “Believe it or not I pull in about a thousand in tips a week here. So I figure a year or two full time, then I’ll go back to classes.”

The door opened and another day drinker walked inside. You left the movie star and went to get their order. When you looked up the man in the sunglasses was gone. You were curious about the tip and your eyes about fell out of your head when you saw the stack of one hundreds. Forgetting the other customer’s order, you ran to the bills and snatched the up. You stared dumb struck at your hand and then to the door.

Grabbing the money, you ran outside, but your celebrity stranger was long gone. With a hand on your hip you looked at the cash and shook your head as you walked back inside.
~~~
“What do you mean they were paid off?” You bit your finger as you paced back and forth.

“Your account balance is zero.” The operator sounded as annoyed as you felt.

“Last month I owed over fifty k. How is this possible?” Your chest tightened.

“Look lady, we don’t care who pays the bills. Just that they’re paid.”

“Well can you tell me who made the payment?”

“That’s confidential information.” The operator typed away.

“You’re telling me, I don’t have the right to know who paid off my student loans?” You were growing frustrated. “That makes no sense.”

“What makes no sense is someone getting upset that their loan balance is zero.” The operator stopped typing. “Now is there anything else I can help you with?”

“Uggghhhh!” You hung up the phone and tossed in on the couch.

“Did I hear that right?” Your roommate stuck her head out. “Someone paid off your student loans?”

“Yes.” You pinched you nose, feeling a tension headache coming on.

“Do you think it was that celebrity? Mr. ten grand?” She reached for the cigar box on the top of the fridge.

“I don’t know. I doubt it. I didn’t even tell him my last name.” You eyed the box as your roommate started rolling a joint.

“Why are you upset?” She sat at the small kitchen table. “You should be jumping up and down with joy.”

“If you’re going to smoke that can you do it outside?” You folded your arms and looked down your nose.

“Only if you take a hit.” She gave you the devil grin and you laughed.

“Fine.” Maybe it would help your headache.

You opened the door and took a seat on the lawn chairs set up on your balcony.

“I wanted to pay for them myself. I don’t like handouts.” There was a creak on the roof.

“You’re so weird about money.” She popped a seat next to you. “You gonna go back to school then?”

“Yes…I don’t know…” You rubbed your temples. “Maybe.”

“You got even more money coming your way.” Your roommate took a hit. “I heard that Tony Stark is settling all the wrongful death suits for undisclosed amounts.”

“I didn’t sue him.” You grabbed the joint from your roommate. She was just a random Craig’s List find, and you regretted telling her about your parents’ death.

“You are crazy.” She exhaled. “You could be a millionaire.”

“It isn’t right.” You shook your head. “Profiting from their death.”

“Are you going to hit that?” Your roommate pointed to the joint.

You took a small puff and passed it back.

“The whole student loan thing, it’s just creepy.” You wrapped your arms around yourself. “It’s a violation of privacy.”

“It’s not like they stole money from you.” Your roommate took another hit. “I wish I had the kind of stalker who pays my debts.”

“You think I have a stalker?” Your eyes went wide. “I do get the feeling someone is watching me sometimes. Especially when I leave the bar late.”

“Everyone thinks someone is watching them late at night.” She handed you the joint. “Yes. I think you have a stalker. I think he is a millionaire movie star who left you a ten-thousand-dollar tip, never to appear again, but instead secretly follow you around and pays off your debts.”

Both of you burst out laughing. You put your hand up rejecting the smoke.

“I think I sound paranoid enough already.” You stood up. “Want to watch a movie?”

“I’m going out with Bev.” She took another hit. “Why don’t you come out with us? It’s your night off.”

“I work at a bar. I don’t want to spend my free time in my work environment.” You started walking inside.

“Well now you can quit the bar and come hang out with us.” She smiled at you.

You turned around and walked inside. She was right, you should be happy, but instead there was a raw feeling covering you. As if you were exposed against your will. It made you uncomfortable and you hugged yourself again. It had to be a mistake. Someone at the processing office had an error. There was no way some mysterious benefactor paid off your loan. No way at all.
~~~
Tony slammed the front door, throwing his hands up in the air.

“Do you want to talk about it now sir?” Jarvis’ face appeared in the hologram.

It had been a quiet flight home; one Tony knew he should talk about.

“I thought she would be jumping up and down with joy!” Tony paced. “Re-enroll, get her life back on track. Instead she might not go back to school and is smoking pot?”

“Perhaps the young lady was just surprised.” Jarvis’ voice remained inflectionless. “And marijuana is legal under California law.”

“That doesn’t mean she should be getting high all the time.” Tony continued to pace. “Is her life that miserable? She works in a rundown bar, has no close friends, no family thanks to me. Can’t she find any happiness?”

“You are not responsible for her happiness.” Jarvis moved to a different hologram station. “In fact you have no responsibilities towards her at all. New York was not your fault.”

“Then why did I settle those lawsuits?” Tony walked towards the back of his home, wanting to look out and the ocean. “Why couldn’t she have just sued me like the rest of them? Allowed me to make the restitution.”

“You settled those lawsuits because of a guilt you are feeling. One that you should let go from and move forward.” Jarvis’ face appeared on the outdoor bar. “Have you made progress with The Iron Legion?”

“You know she works in a really crappy area?” Tony poured himself a drink. “And she walks home too. I have one of my machines follow her, to keep her safe. She thinks that’s stalking? It’s not even a real person.”

“I am not sure that is wise Sir.” Jarvis paused. “Some people don’t like being followed.”

“I’m not following her.” Tony slammed his drink. “I am keeping her safe.”

“Without her knowledge?” Jarvis asked. “You said she was kind when you met at the bar. Why not introduce yourself? Maybe the girl bears you no ill will.”

“Or maybe she hates my guts.” Tony poured another glass.

He opened a screen and typed into the Iron Machine guarding her. It was stationed outside her apartment building. The window was open and Tony zoomed in. He couldn’t get a good view so he instructed the suit to levitate until it was even with her window. She was lying on the couch with a bag of popcorn in front of her.

The movie was one of his favorites. He enhanced the audio until he could hear. He would find some way to make it up to her. He promised himself as he zoned in on the film.
~~~
It was three am by the time the bar closed. You let out a yawn as you started the walk towards home.

“Hey Y/N?” The owner’s son pulled up in front of you. “Do you want a lift home?”

“Thanks.” You did not hesitate as you ran around the car and jumped in the passenger’s seat.

You looked at the darkness surrounding the parking lot and were pleased to avoid the awkward walk.

“Everything okay?” He asked.

“It’s nothing, just sometimes I feel like I’m being followed or watched.” Your eyes scanned the scenery.

“Did you see someone?” Josh started scanning the area.

“No. Just a feeling.” You gave a soft chuckle. “My roommate says I’m being paranoid. This isn’t a bad area of anything. I’m about a mile up the road. Sunset Apartments.”

“You walk a mile to and from work?” He looked shocked. “That’s it. I’m giving you rides home every night.”

“Most nights I appreciate the walk…”

“It’s not open for debate.” Josh lifted his finger, silencing you.

You didn’t want to admit that hearing that made you feel safer.

“So how long have you been in LA for?” He turned the radio off. “I know you’ve been at the bar for almost six months now.”

“Your dad hired me the day after I moved out here.” You smiled at him.

“Well I think he made a good choice.” Josh grinned down at you.

He was cute, maybe five years older than you, and had a great work ethic. You hadn’t thought of dating anyone since your parents passed and you weren’t sure that co-workers were the best choice, but a little flirting wouldn’t hurt.

“You move out here to chase your dreams?” He asked. “Going to be a movie star?”

“Me?” You shook your head. “Not a chance. I wanted to move somewhere warm, crowded, and as far away from New York as possible.”

“Is that where you’re from?” Josh didn’t wait for you to respond. “Let me guess, wanted to get away from an ex-boyfriend. Start fresh?”

“Something like that.” You weren’t about to tell him the truth. Then he would look at you like a victim, which you were not. “I’m up here on the left.”

Josh pulled up to your building and you started to exit the car. Feeling bold you paused and looked at him.

“You want to come up for a drink?”

“Sure.” He grinned at you.

You yanked the car door shut and directed him to a parking spot.

“How far do you live from here?” You asked as the two of you start up your stairs.

“About half an hour.” Josh pointed west. “My dad owns a house in Malibu, I live on the edge of Santa Monica.”

“He owns a few houses right?” It was no secret that Josh’s family was wealthy. His dad owned six or seven bars in the area. Some of them worthy of celebrity visits.

“Yeah.” Josh was right behind you. “Sometime you should come out to the beach house.”

You stopped in front of your door and unlocked it. When you walked inside you were smacked with the scent of pot.

“Apparently my roommate forgot she’s supposed to smoke outside.” You gave him a nervous laugh.

“Toke away.” Josh held his hands up.

“Want a beer?” You walked to the fridge.

“Y/N!” Your roommate came down the hall. “Guess what came for you today?”

She ignored Josh altogether and held an envelope in an outstretched hand. Your stomach dropped and a cold went through you when you saw the return label.

“Open it up!” She giggled.

You grabbed the envelope and shoved it in your back pocket.

“What?” She pouted. “I want to know what’s inside.”

“Later.” You gave a fake smile and turned your attention to Josh. “This is my co-worker. We’re going to sit on the balcony and have some beers.”

“Wow. Y/N does have friends. The entire time I thought she was secretly a pod person.” Your roommate checked Josh out. “Meh. You two kids have fun.”

She turned and went back down the hall. You gave Josh a sheepish smile and motioned towards the back porch.

“She’s a trip.” Josh laughed.

“Craig’s List find.” You stepped outside and took a seat.

“I understand why she is excited.” Josh cracked his beer. “It’s not every day you know someone who got a letter from Stark Industries.”

“It’s probably junk mail.” You had no idea what it was and debated on not opening it.

“Iron Man.” Josh took a sip. “He’s been laying low since that Battle of New York. Hey, that was about six months ago. Were you there?”

“No.” You took a swig of your drink. “I was away at college at the time.”

“I didn’t know you had a degree.” Josh scratched his head.

“I don’t.” You were starting to regret inviting him up. “I didn’t finish. Probably never will.”

“I never went to school.” Josh laughed. “I turned out alright.”

“Oh did you now?” You raised your eyebrows.

“I think you did to.” Josh reached his hand out and touched your chin.

His eyes went to your lips and then back to your eyes. He started to lean in for a kiss and you were automatically raising your arms to block him when SMASH! The sound of metal crunching echoed across the parking lot.

Josh immediately changed directions and jumped up from his chair. You did the same as you both leaned over the balcony.

“What the hell was that?” Josh asked.

“It must have been on the front side.” You went back inside and to your front door.

When you walked outside and saw what the noise was from you brought your hand to your mouth.

“MY CAR!” Josh was right behind you.

He ran to the stairs and raced down, you followed but his pace was much faster than yours. The back of the car was practically caved in and the bumper hung off. It looked like a giant rock had fallen from the sky and landed right on his trunk, but there was no rock on the ground.

“How the hell did this happen?” Josh examined the ground, looking for what must have fallen.

You held your hands up and shook your head. Unable to offer an explanation.

“I’m going to grab my phone and call the cops.” You went to the stairs and tried to push the thought away from your mind, but it kept coming forward.

What if you weren’t paranoid? What if all those times you felt eyes on you they were real? What if whoever your stalker was did not appreciate the ride home you got from Josh?
~~~

“I will admit. I may have gone too far.” Tony hit the button of his wrist and the suit detracted. “But come on man. She can do so much better than that loser.”

“Shall I send the young man payment for the damage?” Jarvis’ face appeared in the hologram.

“No. He can afford it. One of those boys who mooches off of Daddy.” Tony went to a screen and started hitting buttons. “You don’t think she was going to kiss him. Do you?”

“Sir, I believe you’ve done all you can for the young woman. Maybe it is time to focus your efforts elsewhere?” Jarvis asked.

Soon he had the eyes and ears of his Iron Legion member.

“I’m really sorry about this.” Y/N folded her arms. “The cops said they’ll look at the security footage.”

“No they won’t.” Tony smiled, knowing he cut the feed to the camera seconds before the landed on poor Josh’s car.

“I’ll see you at work.” Josh climbed in his front seat. “I don’t close the next few days. So you’ll be on your own for rides home.”

“Oh.” She gulped. “Sure.”

“See. I knew he was an ass.” Tony pointed to the screen. “He won’t even drive the poor girl home.”

“Sir, I think you should take a step back from this situation. I believe some may consider this a violation of privacy…”

“Shhh.” Tony waved his hands in the mail. “She’s about to open the envelope.”

He leaned in close to the screen and watched as her eyes read the lines. She rolled her teeth over her lip and Tony thought he finally got it right. Paying off the student loans didn’t work, because she didn’t get to choose what to do with the money, plus she didn’t know who picked up the tab.

Now she would get the money to spend as she saw fit, Tony would feel relief over her parent’s death, and she would get her life back on track. The joy he was feeling faded as he saw the anger wash over her face.

It was after four in the morning and she let out a silent scream before grabbing the letter, and the check and ripping all of them to shreds. She didn’t bother throwing the papers in the garbage and scattered the little pieces across the parking lot.

Then she brought her hands to her face and started sobbing, dropping to her knees in the parking lot. Nobody was there to pick her up, to hold her and tell her it would all be okay. That was Tony’s fault. He stole her comfort away.

“Sir, this is a private moment.” Jarvis’ voice broke his concentration.

“One that I caused.” Tony looked up. “All I want to do is give her some retribution. I thought that the money and the letter would make her happy.”

“I thought it was a good idea.” Jarvis closed down the screen in front of Tony. “But you have tried. I think that has to be good enough. You are not responsible for her. It is best you move forward.”

“You’re right.” Tony stood up and started walking towards his bedroom.

Of course Jarvis was correct, but that didn’t mean Tony was going to listen to him. If anything he felt even more beholden to the girl. By trying to make her happy he only made her sad. Even if nobody else believed it he knew she was his responsibility. One that he would not let down.

~~~
You had no intention of using that ten-thousand-dollar tip. The amount was astronomical and deserved to go to a charity. But after the letter signed by Tony Stark showed up you broke down and spent it.

Most of it went to the car you were currently driving that had all your personal belongings in the back seat. It was time to move on.

Dear Ms. Y/L/N,

I am saddened to hear of your parent’s passing. It was an unfortunate occurrence in a series of unfortunate occurrences. This letter may sound awkward, because it is awkward to write. I have reached a settlement with those who lost loved ones in New York. I know you opted out from those seeking damages, but I wanted to make an offer to you as well.
No financial amount can be placed on a human life. In no way will this make you whole or bring back your parents. I only hope that it will assist you.

Very Truly Yours,

Tony Stark

That letter ripped you to your core. What was more insulting was the astronomical check included. Accepting that would be profiting from your parent’s death, and that was something you would not do.

You didn’t understand how Tony Stark even had your address, since you declined to participate in any of the legal proceedings. You were having your mail from your parent’s house forwarded to your apartment, but this wasn’t sent there. It had been directly addressed to you.

There was no grudge on your part to Tony Stark. He was just the rich one, and the savior. He wasn’t any more responsible for New York than the rest of the Avengers. Not that they were responsible either.

“A loved one is shot. Do you blame the person who pulled the trigger? The person who gave the shooter the gun? What about the store the gun was bought? Are they responsible? How about the plant that made the gun? What about the worker who forged the metal? Or is it the bullet maker’s responsibility?” You asked the question out loud to nobody.

There was no answer. Because when a loved one is killed there are endless people to blame and all it results in is an empty feeling. Tony Stark was buying forgiveness, but you didn’t have any for sale. There was nothing to forgive.

That being said you didn’t want to hear about Tony Stark. You didn’t want to see him on television, magazine covers, speaking at peace summits. And you certainly didn’t want personalized letters from him showing up in your mailbox. Because after everything Tony Stark was a reminder. A reminder your parents were dead and that was something you did not need.

L.A. was a mistake. You wanted a populated place hoping you would get lost in the crowd, but you could never shake the feeling that someone was following you there. Too many people to notice you. Now you decided on the opposite. Low population, nobody would pay any attention to anyone.

You started stopping in small towns once you crossed the border into Wyoming. Bar after bar had turned you away, having all the wait staff they required. You spent your nights in cheap roadside motels, rarely being bothered by another person.

No car had followed you, but you still felt eyes on you. There was always the feeling that someone was standing just out of view. Maybe L.A. wasn’t the problem, maybe it was your paranoia.

You made it to Casper Wyoming, population fifty-five thousand. A bigger city than you wanted, but maybe there would be some work. There were enough restaurants and bars in the town that you knew you would need a room for at least a night.

You found the standard Bates Motel you were getting used to and checked in. Knowing most bartenders were hired based on looks rather than skill you took a shower and did your hair and makeup, dressing in jeans and t-shirt with white gym shoes before heading out to look for work.

The first two bars you went to let you know they were fully staffed. You told yourself third time was the charm and walked inside a small establishment that didn’t have a proper sign outside. You pulled open the door and saw an older gentleman behind the bar, he looked up when he saw you. Plastering a huge smile on your face you approached him.

“We’re not hiring.” He looked apologetic.

The fake smile on your face melted and you took a seat at one of the empty stools.

“Am I that desperate?” You laughed. “You could tell as soon as I walked in?”

“We see the other owners as colleagues, not competition.” The man went to the drafts and poured a beer, setting it down in front of you. “Gabe called, said a beautiful young woman was looking for work. He thought he’d call around and see if anyone was hiring.”

“Well that was sweet of him.” You guessed the beer in front of you meant the job prospects were limited. “He didn’t bother to take down my number in case he heard of a lead for me.”

“There’s other job options in town. The state is always looking for paper pushers, and there’s an industrial area that pays pretty good.” The man leaned on the bar across from you. “What are you running from?”

“What makes you think I’m running?” You raised an eyebrow.

“People don’t move to Wyoming looking for jobs that can be under the table unless they don’t want to be found.” The man narrowed his eyes.

You reached into your pocket and pulled out your wallet, then set you license on the bar.

“Find me all you like. I prefer the social interactions and hours that come with bartending, it pays decent money.” You took a huge gulp of your beer. “And I don’t like crowds.”

The man glanced at your ID, but you stood up from the bar.

“Now if this is a community that looks down on the service industry I think I would be better off trying somewhere else.” You snatched your ID back. “At least in LA they don’t pretend to be friendly, their just dicks right off.”

You started towards the door, feeling your pride bruised even though the man hadn’t really done anything wrong.

“Wait.” He didn’t yell, but you froze. “Why don’t you leave me your phone number? In case I hear of any openings.”

You picked up a foot and spun on your other pad. The man set out a pen and piece of paper. Not wanting to waste a lead you walked back.

“With that sort of sass you’ll fit in fine out here.” The bartender chuckled. “Only interested in Casper?”

“I just don’t want a major city.” You jotted down your number.

“Casper is a major city. In Wyoming.”

“Nothing bigger than here then.” You shook your head.

“Try and hang out for a few days. I’ll make some calls.” He took the piece of paper and pinned it up on the wall above the register.

“What? You and all the other bar owners have a convention?” You didn’t mean to sound as sarcastic as it came out.

“It may be a large state, but it’s close knit.” He folded his arms. “If I can’t find anything your best bet is to head into Colorado. The bars there are always hiring.”

“Thanks.” You weren’t object to Colorado, but at this point in your life you wanted the pace of Wyoming. If it didn’t pan out here you were likely to try one of the Dakotas next.

You left the bar and decided to explore Casper before heading back to your motel.
~~~
Tony tapped his hands as Jarvis ran through the list of properties he owned.

“Come on, come on. I know there’s something out there.” Tony had no clue what he owned, spending most of his time at Malibu or New York, but he always saw real estate as a good investment.

“I am not showing any ownership in Casper Wyoming Sir.” Jarvis slowed the display of files.

“Expand to the entire state.” Tony bit his fingernail.

“May I ask how you were able to hear the conversation?” Jarvis already knew the answer.

“I had one of my Iron Machines drop an audio transmitter in her purse.” Tony responded casually. “It was getting to difficult to tail her during the day. This way I can hear all of her conversations, even if I can’t see her.”

“Sir, please take a step back and acknowledge this is not healthy.” Jarvis stopped flipping files across the screen.

“Oh come on Jarvis. We both know I only want what is best for her. She’s all alone now. She needs someone watching out for her.” Tony signaled for the files to continue scanning. “I’ve accepted she doesn’t want to go to school at the moment, but unemployed, surrounded by strangers? That doesn’t make sense.”

“Zero properties owned in the state of Wyoming.” Jarvis reverted back to his task.

“Anything for sale I can buy quick?” Tony felt his nerves straining. This was a shot to help her out, a shot he risked missing.

“There are several thousand properties for sale across the state.” Jarvis started to flash real estate listings.

“What’s the big tourist spot? For the rich and famous?” Tony needed to limit his search.

“Jackson Wyoming has attracted several prominent figures during the ski season, which ended last month.” Jarvis pulled up a few mansion listings.

“What about a hotel? Is there a resort for sale?” He needed to think big. “I want to personally buy it, not the company.”

“No, I’m sorry Sir.” Jarvis showed several resorts.

One caught Tony’s eye. It was more modern than the rest. The main photo showed a giant heated pool with floor to ceiling glass windows. The Snow King.

“Get me the information for the owner.” Something not being for sale had never detoured Tony before.

He would make Y/N happy. If a job in Wyoming was what she wanted he would get it for her. Tony reached into his pocket and pulled out the article. Her smiling face looked up at him and he ran his hands over it. That smile would be back on again. He’d make sure of it.

~~~
You never expected to work at a resort, or think you would enjoy it this much. When the man in Casper called you about an opening at The Snow King’s Resort in Jackson Wyoming you almost turned it down. It was on the east side of the state, way out of the way of the Dakota’s, but you didn’t have anything to lose.

The interview went well and the job came with free employee housing and paid surprisingly well. You were a bartender at the main bar and worked five days a week with an occasional evening. The other summer employees lived in the same building as you and for the first time since your parents died you found yourself forming friendships.

It almost felt like things were going to good. Everyone you spoke to had similar interests and hobbies as you did. They were all eager to be your friends. And there was no way a job with this little responsibility should pay what it did. It felt like this was too good to be true.

“Earth to Y/N.” Carrie snapped her fingers in front of your face.

You stopped daydreaming and looked at the leggy blond next to you.

“Can I get a margarita for that poor mother over there?” Carrie nodded towards the woman sitting just outside the bar.

Her husband was checking in and she had four kids trying to drag her in every direction. The sight brought you back to reality. It was just a hotel for the rich. You treated them nice so they treated you nice.

“I’m going to drop this off and tell her about our daycare program.” Carrie leaned on the bar.

“Sorry.” You grabbed a blender and started making a frozen one. “You sure they don’t mind us giving out free drinks like this?”

It still felt odd to you. Like some corporate overlord was going to come down and fire you.

“Free alcohol now and then? Makes them come back and spend their money on other ventures.” Carrie readied the tray. “It’s a small price to pay. Want to go shopping after work? I want to get a new dress for the party tomorrow.”

“Sure.” There wasn’t much of a reason to leave the resort, you had been here a month now and thought it may have been three weeks. “I could use some scenery.”

“Meet you in the lobby at seven?” Carried grabbed the drink.

You nodded. A smile crossed your face as you started cleaning the blender. A party. The last time you went to one was back at school. Of course the date was strange, but you still kept a tight lid on all personal information. Not even Carrie knew it was your birthday tomorrow. L.A. was not your scene, not like Wyoming. The people here were just friendly. Maybe you deserved a little happiness, and fitting in was sure helping.
~~~
Carrie parked the resort’s SUV on main street and you got out. Little tourist boutiques lined both sides of the street and you had a feeling they catered more to the guests at the resort than the staff.

“Can we afford any of these stores?” You asked Carrie. “I’ve only been to the grocer.”

“You’ve been saving your money right? Treat yourself.” Carrie smiled and opened the door to the first boutique. She ran right towards a teal flowly dress. “This would be perfect on you!”

She grabbed the hanger and tossed it in your arms.

“I bet they have matching shoes, and we can get you some jewelry.” Carrie moved towards the display of shoes.

Your eyes went straight to the price tag. You held the garment arm’s length away from you as you walked it back to the rack.

“No way.” You went to your eager friend. “This place is way too expensive.”

“Come on! Live a little.” Carrie picked up a wedge with a ridiculous heel.

“Aren’t we shopping for you anyway?” You kept your arms at your sides, determined not to touch anything.

“In the spirit of honesty, I have tons of outfits to wear. It’s your wardrobe that could use some sprucing up.” Carrie looked at your foot. “What size shoe?”

“Stop.” You crossed your arms. “Even if I could afford this place I would never spend my money on clothes.”

“Stop being Mother Teresa.” Carrie went back to the dress. “If you don’t want to spend the money let me.”

“I’m not letting you buy me an eight-hundred-dollar dress.” You tried to back away, when a hand touched your back.

You jumped a little and turned to see an elegant older woman smiling at you.

“The entire store is fifty percent off.” She smiled. “This color would be fabulous on you, and the cut is perfect for your figure.”

The woman walked around and took the dress. She held it up in front of you. It was gorgeous, probably the nicest dress you had ever seen.

“Sorry, four-hundred dollars is even out of my limits.” You shook your head.

“I’ll put it in the fitting room for you.” The woman smiled and walked towards the back.

“Really, that’s not necessary!” You went on your tip toes to see over the racks.

“Live a little.” Carrie elbowed you. “If you make as much as I do I know you can afford it. What are you saving your money for anyway?”

Carrie did have a point. You found out your new job included free tuition to a number of correspondence schools, including an online master’s program in family counseling out of the University of Wyoming. You didn’t need to pay for housing or food, and your paycheck was larger than the tips you brought it which were still pretty hefty. Still it felt wrong to be so frivolous.

“Just try it on.” Carrie pushed you towards the fitting room.

You rolled your eyes and went. Even though you were scared you might ruin the dress you pulled it over your head. The damn thing looked like it was tailored for your body and you practically let out a moan. It was going to be hard to turn this down.

“I’m coming out.” You opened the door and saw Carrie with a smug look on her face.

“I told you.” She jumped a little. “I’ll go find you some shoes. Flats or heels?”

“Good news miss.” The shop keeper walked by with the other versions of your dress folded over her arm. “There was an error in the marking. I scanned the tag to make sure. These are left over from last season and are ringing up ninety percent off.”

Your heart jumped. Eighty dollars was doable. Then it felt deflated. This didn’t seem right. You went to pinch your arm, thinking you may have gotten in a car accident and this was a dream or a coma.

“I’ll pick out your accessories too.” Carrie scampered off.

You shook away the feeling. This was luck. That was all. You had your share of bad days, the world was just on an upswing for you. You changed back into your street clothes and didn’t object at Carrie’s other purchases. Your total barely crossed one hundred bucks.

“Want to grab some coffee?” Carrie pointed to the little shop across the street.

The ski hills decorated the skyline and this town looked like a post card. It felt unnatural in a way too. Like the nature didn’t deserve to be disturbed. Trying not to over think your situation you followed Carrie.

“You alight Y/N?” Carrie set down a cup in front of you.

“Huh?” You were already seated at one of the little tables outside. “Can I ask you something strange?”

“Shoot.” Carrie smiled.

“Have you ever seen the movie the Truman Show?” You hadn’t thought of the film in a long time.

“Jim Carey’s life is secretly reality tv.” Carrie took a sip. “Good movie.”

“I’m starting to feel like that.” You glanced around at the tourists that walked around. None of them paid attention.

Carrie started to laugh and clap her hands.

“Because you found a deal on a dress?” She wiped a tear away. “You’re hilarious.”

“You got hired at the Snow King a day after I did right?” You didn’t want to sound accusatory.

“Yes. I was hired by the television studio to be your new best friend.” Carrie rolled her eyes. “I would be offended if I wasn’t so sure you were joking.”

The way the job fell into your lap, the perks, the friends, the free schooling, and now magically low price dresses. There was still the feeling that you were being watched, even though there was no place for a stalker in Wyoming and you never left the resort grounds at night. Sometimes you would wake up and feel like someone was in the room with you, of course a quick flip of the light would calm your fears.

You let out a sigh and shook your hands. You were starting to feel crazy.

“Sorry.” You sipped the coffee. “You’re right. If my life was a tv show than I’d have a love interest.”

The idea of dating was the least of your priorities, but it felt like the right thing to say. You couldn’t imagine anyone touching you romantically.

“Anyone you got your eye on for tomorrow night?” Carrie asked. “Rob is pretty cute.”

“And taken.” You thought of the rest of the staff, they were at least eighty percent female. “Do they throw this party for the staff every summer?”

“I don’t know I wasn’t here last summer.” Carrie leaned back. “Most of the staff is either only here over the summers or winters, not both seasons. If you stick around maybe the snow will bring some cute ski instructors.”

You thought about who else you could ask about the party, but most of the people you interacted with were new. In fact, only a handful had been there longer than you and it was still their first summer. You realized you were thinking crazy again.

“It should be fun.” You smiled. “What are you going to wear?”

Carrie babbled away about her outfit and you tried to ignore the voice screaming at you that something wasn’t right. It was like your brain wouldn’t let you be happy and that was more depressing than anything else.
~~~
“You think I over did it with moving the dress to clearance?” Tony stared at the screen, watching the two young women chat over coffee.

“I believe this entire experiment may be overdoing it sir.” Jarvis began fast forwarding the stream.

Tony spent most of the day working, but always watching a highlight reel of Y/N’s day before bed. Since she was living in his facility he pretty much had access to her 24/7. Carrie had alerted him to the pricing issue and he took a break to correct it.

Of course Y/N was smart enough to figure something was amiss. He should have thought objectively about it before making that drastic of a change, but he was with Bruce at the time and wanted to make sure his actions with Y/N were a secret to everyone, except for Jarvis of course.

“So she wants a boyfriend now?” Tony bit the inside of his cheek.

He should feel proud of himself, Y/N was finally happy, and it was his doing. But the idea of a man worthy enough for her escaped him. He shook his head.

“No.” He paused the video stream, watching her brush her hair sitting on her bed. “She should focus on other things. Friends, school. She’s not ready for love.”

When the L word left his lips he wished he could take it back. Lovely was a word used to describe her. That dress was tailored for her, he picked the color knowing it would pop against her skin tone and highlight her eyes. It was easy for Jarvis to get her measurements and the thing cost him sixteen thousand dollars. Not to mention the four extra versions he had made to appear natural. He should have just had one on the clearance rack to begin with, but he wanted to make sure she got a special birthday gift. Of course the ten-dollar diamond necklace Carrie grabbed was valued at sixty-three thousand. He couldn’t wait to see her in the ensemble, even if she didn’t know it was his gift.

“In a few years when she graduates I’ll find someone for her.” He said the words, but they made a pit in his stomach.

“Sir, how long can you keep this up realistically?” Jarvis started fast-forwarding the screen. “You have repaid the debt to this woman ten times. Maybe it is time to move on.”

“She’s still upset by her parent’s death. I can’t force her to move on.” Tony watched as she climbed into the bed.

“I meant you, sir.” Jarvis paused on the sleeping beauty. “You have cameras on her twenty-four hours a day.”

“And I make you delete the personal parts. I’ve never seen her naked or in the bathroom.” Tony didn’t appreciate his AI’s argument. “I’m in another state for Pete’s sake. It’s not like I’m hiding in the bushes.”

“And the member of the Iron Legion you deployed?” Jarvis asked.

The robot was literally hiding in the bushes at the moment.

“I can’t leave her without protection.” Tony watched as she slept, zooming in the hidden camera on her face. “I couldn’t live with myself if something bad happened to her.”

Jarvis didn’t have a response. The girl rolled over and Tony let out a yawn.

“Wake me if anything happens overnight.” Tony flipped off the screen and went to his bed.

He couldn’t make the world a safer place yet, but he could make Y/N’s world safe. He surrounded her with nice people, gave her a good job, and options. Maybe if she found out she would show him mercy for having caused her parent’s death. It was something he didn’t deserve, but craved. Of course the last time he tried to reach out ended with her sobbing in a parking lot and skipping town. Once enough time had passed he would tell her the truth, or most of it. Maybe she would even be grateful, maybe he wouldn’t have to find her a boyfriend, maybe she would want to repay his kindness. It was a pleasant thought as he drifted off to bed.
~~~
The DJ played hit after hit and you danced with your new friends. Everyone complimented your dress and you had to admit you felt like the bell of the ball. It had been so long since you let go and you realized you wanted to have more fun.

“Want to take a shot?” You asked Carrie.

“We shouldn’t drink too much.” She laughed and shook her head.

“Suit yourself.” You shrugged and went to the bar.

The staff was about one hundred people, most under the age of thirty. It didn’t make sense that there weren’t people blacking out or empty bottles everywhere. Everyone was dancing, having a good time, nobody was smoking pot or drinking too much, or even smoking a cigarette. That sent a shudder through you. Like it was unnatural.

“Stop thinking crazy Y/N.” You shook your head and went to the bar. “Can I have a shot?”

“Sorry, no shots. Boss’ orders.” The hired out staff grabbed a glass. “How about a water?”

You had three drinks over the last two hours and most of it sweated out on the dance floor. Still a water did sound good and you nodded your head. The resort’s director stood at the corner of the room and you decided now was the time to find out if this was an annual event.

He didn’t see you approach and when you taped him on the shoulder he jumped.

“Oh Y/N,” he dabbed his forehead. “You startled me.”

“Is this something you always do for the staff?” You asked.

“First annual.” He shrugged. “Our owners were bought out about a month ago. The new company instituted all the rules, employee morale being a priority. If you ask me they should focus more on the guests, or move this to between seasons. But they insisted this weekend.”

The manager did not quell your fears, in fact he only made them worse.

 

“Why did you hire me?” You asked, unsure you wanted to hear the answer.

“I’m good friends with Jamal Murray.” He turned towards you. “He called, said a decent bartender needed work. I told him to send you on over.”

You let your shoulders relax. Everything was just a coincidence. There was no stalker, or reality television show. It was just life. You needed to stop with the paranoia.

“Thanks.” You started to walk back to the dance floor.

“It was lucky too.” The manager added. “About twenty minutes before he called the hotel had just been sold. We needed all new staff. Some of them were hired by an outside company to make it easier on me, but I had a lead on you already. That made the new boss happy.”

“How many?” You spun back towards him.

“Huh?” The manager looked confused. Then he glanced back around the room. “Well that’s strange. I guess all of them.”

Your mind went back to L.A., when your old roommate called you a pod person. The strange things happening in your life, how perfect it was going, your new friends with similar interests, the high paying job, the dress. It was an insane idea, but the walls holding up the flood of paranoia were too much.

You sprinted outside, needing air. Part of your brain struggled with whether or not you were going crazy. It felt like everything was spinning. You keeled over, a hand was on your back.

“Y/N?” Carrie leaned down next to you. “Are you alright?”

“Stay away from me!” You pulled away and fell to your side, then scrambled against the concrete. “Who are you?”

“What do you mean?” She crouched down in front of you. “Do you want me to get you some water?”

You needed to get out of this place. You didn’t respond as you took off running. It didn’t matter where you were going, just as long as it wasn’t here. The resort felt more like a prison. You drowned out Carrie’s shouts and burst passed the swimming pool. You didn’t stop as the tennis courts and entrance to the golf course vanished. Next was the skiing hills. They were mainly used for trails in the off season, and not lit at night. The incline went up drastically but you kept running. Unsure if you could even trust your own mind anymore. Was any of this real?

You forced your way up and to the right, knowing that you were on the edge of one of the hills. A trail would come soon, one that would take you into the mountains away from whatever was watching you.

Then the sound came. Someone was right behind you. They were coming for you. You didn’t even know who they were, but you knew you had to get away. The ground seemed to rise up to meet you and you tripped, slamming your knee into the ground.

There was a whirling behind you and you saw glowing eyes approaching. The idea that these people were all aliens did not seem so foreign at the moment. Maybe they were of the same variety that murdered your parents.

“LEAVE ME ALONE!” You went to grab a rock.

It was getting closer and you chucked the rock, your mind trying to process too much at once. There was a low growl and you came crashing down to Earth. The glowing eyes weren’t an alien. They were a mountain lion. You saw the outline in the black of night and brought your arms up the shield yourself, losing your support in the same moment. Your head fell backwards and slammed into a rock. Unconsciousness took over before the claws came down.
~~~
The snarl of the mountain lion and the vision of fangs on display made you jump upwards. Your heart raced and you took a moment to regain your bearings. The last thing you remembered was running through the woods, speeding away from the resort.

“I hit my head.” You brought your hand behind you and felt no bump or wrappings.

You stopped caring about where you had been and started to worry about where you were. It was a giant bed, no chance it was a hospital. You crawled to the side and the dim lights illuminated. The far wall was all windows. There was a closet and a vanity, with some very expensive looking artwork hanging.

Your feet were bare and you were dressed in a long satin nightgown, not something you owned. You went to the window and noticed it overlooked the ocean. Even in the nighttime sky you could see the waves crashing below you.

“Good evening Miss Y/L/N.” The voice sounded like it was coming from everywhere.

“Who’s there?” You jumped and spun around.

“My name is Jarvis. I am the artificial intelligence that runs this house.” A small screen materialized next to the nightstand. “If it makes you more comfortable I can appear in hologram form.”

“Where am I?” You touched your head again. “What happened to me?”

“I am sure you have many questions.” Jarvis’ face smiled. “There is a dress hanging in the closet. If you would be so kind as to change I will take you to your host.”

“Is this a spaceship?” As soon as the words left your mouth they sounded stupid.

“No.” Jarvis did not laugh. “I told him that was a risk. You’re not going crazy. I promise everything will be explained. If you would rather wear your current clothing that is fine.”

You glanced in the mirror. You were clean, your hair slightly styled. The attire was provocative, but somehow the perfect size. You were scared, angry, but above all confused.

“I want to leave.” You ignored the computer’s instructions. “Where is the door?”

Without response a piece of the wall popped open. You wasted no time sliding through the opening. It led to a hallway made of marble. More expensive artwork lined the walls. When you made it to the end there was a large open space. To your left you spotted more hallways. To the right there were a few couches, a grand piano, a bar, a roaring fireplace, and a wall in floor to ceiling windows.

“This was never my intention.” A different voice spoke.

Your head followed the noise and at the corner you saw a man looking out over the ocean.

“I suppose the path to hell is paved in good intentions.” He took a drink. “Could I be any more cliché?”

You had a lot of questions, but none that you wanted from this man. His voice gave him a way in an instant. Suddenly the last few months of your life made sense. It wasn’t aliens. It was a stalker, and a very wealthy one at that.

“Are you hungry?” He turned towards you.

He was shorter in person, but just as handsome. Your eyes locked on his and you saw something the pictures in magazines never showed, a profound sadness. He moved towards you and you took a half step back.

“I would like to leave please.” Your voice shook.

“I’ve sent for all your belongings. Of course I can give you a new car, some new clothes, and then send you on your way.”

“I don’t want anything from you.” The words sounded more hostile than you intended.

“I know.” He put his drink down and took a step closer. “But see I want something from you. I want your forgiveness, I want your mercy, I want you to let me atone.”

The press painted Tony Stark a certain way. You always imagined a carefree genius playboy. One that turned a horrible experience into a positive one, but still had narcissistic tendencies. Right now face to face, you saw something different. You saw danger.

“I never blamed you for my parent’s death.” You tried to keep your voice calm. “There’s nothing to forgive.”

“You say that, but your life changed after they died.” Tony continued to walk towards you. “I lost my parents at a young age. I know how hard that can be. I wanted to help you, needed to help you.”

“Thank you.” You tried not to cry, deciding it was best to say whatever the man wanted to get out of here.

“You didn’t like any of my gifts.” Tony was about ten feet away from you now. “You wouldn’t touch the cash until you were forced to, you weren’t happy when the student loans were paid off, you shredded the check I sent you.”

The image of the man in the bar followed by the night Josh’s car was smashed sent a tear rolling down your cheek. Not because of sadness, but because of what this man was capable of.

“I had to make it up to you.” Tony got closer, but your feet started carrying you backwards. “You wanted to work for a living, I could respect that. I got you a job, a damn good one, gave you friends, safety, a road to return to school. I even threw you a birthday party.”

“I don’t know you.” Your back hit a wall.

“That’s true. Which is probably why you wouldn’t accept my presents.” Tony was about a foot away from you. “But I know you. I see a young woman with a lot of potential, who won’t grab on to the opportunities presented to her.”

“You’ve been following me.” You gulped. “It’s been you this whole time.”

“Please don’t cry.” Tony reached out and you tried to melt into the wall. “I only wanted to make you happy.”

His fingertips wiped a tear away and it became apparent, you weren’t crazy but he was.

“Don’t touch me!” You shoved against his chest and took off running. “HELP ME!”

“Shall I dial the authorities?” Jarvis’ voice filled the house.

“Jarvis ignore the commands. I want you to reboot yourself, go offline for the next few hours.” Tony sounded just as calm as he had before.

The house was big enough you were sure you would find a place to hide. You moved towards the opposite hallway of the windows. To your luck a large front door was in view. You ran to it and started to yank the handles. They were locked and you didn’t notice a spot for a key even. You continued to yank on the door and slap the metal.

Large arms wrapped around your middle, pinning your own to your side. A guttural scream escaped, but one hand secured you tight while the other covered your mouth.

“Calm down.” He pulled you away from the door. “I am not going to hurt you. I realize that I may have gone about this situation poorly, but we are alone here. When Jarvis reboots everything is on lockdown. Neither of us are leaving for four hours and fifteen minutes. You are not in any danger around me. In fact, I just want to protect you.”

His mouth was right next to your ear. You didn’t believe a word he said. This man had been following you for at least two months. He made you question your reality. You struggled again and he tightened his grip.

You tried to kick, but he pulled you backwards into the house. You had to bend your elbows and grip onto his arm or risk falling down completely. He was strong even without the Iron Man suit. You would not be able to overpower him.

You focused on your breathing and tried to use your feet to walk back with him, willing your body to relax. When he sensed your submission he removed his hand from your mouth.

“That’s a good girl.” His arm around your waist loosened, but didn’t let go. “You’re so smart Y/N. You really remind me more of myself than I wanted to admit.”

When you made it back to the room with the piano he let go and moved his arms to your shoulders, applying pressure until you sat down on the couch. Without asking he went to the small bar.

“I’m sure you have some more questions.” He pulled out an empty glass and started mixing a drink. “Ask away.”

He was far enough you could try and run again, but it was his house. There would be no way he wouldn’t find you. If he wanted to talk, maybe you could distract him until you could get a weapon, knock him out with a candlestick.

“Why am I here?” You thought about every show you’d ever seen with a stalker. The victim almost always ended up dead, especially if nobody was looking for them.

“You ran away from your birthday party, got chased by a mountain lion, fell and hit your head.” Tony walked over and handed you a drink, with a shaky hand you accepted. “I had your body guard fly you down here. I didn’t see anything if that’s what you’re worried about. My robotics team fixed the bump on your head, cleaned you. That sort of thing. We have made some amazing medical advances.”

“When you say robotic team?” Stalkers did not respond well when their objects of obsession didn’t reciprocate. You had visions of you dead on the floor by the end of the night.

“An actual team of robots.” Tony sat on the opposite couch and seemed to pull a screen out of nowhere. You recognized different styles of Iron Man costumes as the image appeared. “I’m calling them the Iron Legion. They will be able to protect the world and Iron Man can retire.”

“And one of these was my bodyguard?” You tried not to look at Tony, realizing the violation of privacy may have been much worse than you expected.

“Trust me, the last few months you were the safest person on Earth.” Tony smiled.

You tried to ignore the turning in your stomach. If there had been food in there you would have thrown up. You needed a way out of here and off his radar. He said earlier he wanted forgiveness, mercy. Did he think that’s why you wouldn’t join the lawsuit? You closed your eyes and remembered receiving the letter. If only you had accepted than none of this would have happened.

“Mr. Stark,”

“Tony,” he interrupted.

“Tony.” You moved your face towards him. He did have soft brown eyes, they didn’t look crazy. They were almost inviting. You focused on them and tried to get through the next sentence without showing fear. “I forgive you for my parent’s death. I’ve never blamed you. It was not your fault.”

You watch as the sadness in his brown orbs almost vanished. A slim line of water started to form and he turned away.

“That is great to hear Y/N.”

It sounded wrong to hear his name on your lips. You had never introduced yourself to the man. He had no problem being so familiar with you.

“The student loan repayment, the ten thousand dollars, and the money in my bank account is more than enough.” You tried your hardest to keep steady. “Have some mercy on yourself. We’re square with each other.”

He moved back towards you. The watery eyes were gone, but they were dancing all over your face. It made you uncomfortable and you looked away. He got up from his couch and moved right next to you. One of his hands went around your shoulder and the other rested on your thigh.

“Will you have dinner with me?” His voice was cheery.

You wanted to shove him off, but instead of screaming you bit the straw and took a sip of the drink. It was the best tasting mixed drink you’d ever had in your entire life. Good enough that you looked back at Tony.

“I’ve noticed all the drinks you’ve ordered and created this recipe off of your preferences.” He grinned, so filled with pride.

“I’m not very hungry.” You gave a fake smile, not wanting to anger him, but the idea of eating twisted your stomach.

“Oh not right now.” Tony dropped his arm and sat straight up. “I think if you give me a chance, you will realize we have a lot in common.”

“Oh?” You took another sip, well aware the last thing you should do is accept alcohol from the insane person next to you.

“Money doesn’t make you happy, that job didn’t make you happy, material possessions didn’t make you happy, don’t think I didn’t notice you barely glanced at that diamond necklace.” Tony’s finger went under the chain on your neck. It was the one Carrie picked out. There was no doubt she was working for Tony. “Y/N, I want to make you happy. Happier than anyone else in this world. I think what will make you happy is a personal connection with someone.”

“And that someone is you?” You tried to keep yourself from shaking.

“I know it.” Tony’s eyes started dancing around your face again. “This isn’t how conventional relationships start, but we’re not conventional people are we?”

The fear was rising again. He was leaning in closer to you, his eyes honing in on your mouth.

“All the wealth, the power.” Tony licked his lips. “It means nothing. The last few months I’m starting to realize I was only put on the earth for one reason. To make you happy.”

His mouth made a move towards your and you brought the glass in your hand to the side of his head, smashing it and knocking him backwards. You rolled off the couch and took off running. This time it didn’t matter where you ended up, just as long as you were away from him.

You didn’t scream or make a sound. Nobody else was here, no help was coming. You were on lockdown. Your only hope was a space to hide. Most of the house was dark and you couldn’t tell if you were running up or down the stairs, it felt like both. Then you pushed open a door that seemed to lead to some garage.

It was pitch black and the light wouldn’t work. You smacked all the buttons on the side, but nothing turned on. The space was big enough you could hide though. You debated on getting in one of the multiple cars, but instead spotted a work bench. You opened up the bottom. It was empty and you crawled inside. You knew you should try and find a weapon, but you wasted the chance to attack with that glass, besides feeling around might make too much noise.

Your body trembled and you tried not to make a sound, you were so fuzzy it was hard to tell if it had been thirty seconds or thirty minutes. You tried to count, giving yourself something to focus on, but your mind refused to stay on one idea. Tony Stark was crazy, but he was right. Money did not matter to you, neither did work, or your possessions. At the moment, nothing mattered to you. Maybe your freedom, and your life, both you doubted you would leave with tonight.

Since your parents died you had been moving through the world like a zombie, not caring about your future, or your safety. All those nights you walked home alone from the bar in L.A. at three in the morning. Were you asking for someone to attack you? The way you moved to a strange place, staying in questionable hotels. You couldn’t let yourself enjoy Jackson, it was a farce of course, but you didn’t need to know that. All you did was look for holes, you wanted it to go south.

There were a zillion opportunities to get your life back on track, not just from Tony Stark either. Your school offered you a scholarship for your final semester which you turned down. Your parents had life insurance that would have taken care of your student loans, you donated it to charity.

The tears started flowing. You didn’t even care how much noise you were making. The last time you really cried was at your parent’s funeral, and even then it had been a few tears. Sure you had some controlled outbreaks, but they lasted minutes. This was a full on sob, one you did not try and control. You cried for the loss of your parents, but mainly you cried for yourself.

You had shut everyone out. Left all your old friends behind, not bothering to return their phone calls, even changing your number. Made it a point not to make new ones in L.A.. Even holding the people Tony paid to be your friends at arm’s length. Without some form of anchor in another were you even human anymore?

“Not cool Y/N.” Tony’s voice echoed across the garage.

Through the crack in the cabinet you saw the lights come on.

“Even though Jarvis is offline all the computers are still up. I just have to do it manually.” Tony’s steps grew closer. “That includes heat sensors.”

The footsteps stopped right outside your cabinet. Tony pulled the doors opened, but you had your head buried in your hands. You continued to sob, no longer afraid of him because you were too focused on your own faults. Strong arms reached around you and scooped you into the air.

“Hey.” Tony held you close and you couldn’t help but lean your head against his chest. “It will be alright. I promise. I will make sure of it.”

You sniffled and tried to wipe away some of your tears. Rationality told you to pull away, to attack the man, but you were defeated and not by him, by yourself.

“You will have a life, full of goals and friends, and people who love you. I swear.” Tony carried you back into the house.

How in the world did the man know what you were crying about? Had watching you the last few months really taught him that much? Any normal person would have though you were crying over being stalked and kidnapped, but you weren’t and Tony knew that. It was beyond creepy, but hearing his words did bring you a little peace.

“Shhhhh.” His hand rubbed your back as he carried you through the house. “Let it all out.”

You did. For the first time in your adult life you were sobbing uncontrollably. There was no doubt you were alone. Nobody could understand what you had gone through, not even yourself. All you wanted was to bury the pain, to find a reason to stay invisible. That was no way to live.

“I should have been there.” You finally spoke. “I should have died with them.”

“No.” Tony squeezed you tighter against him. “This world needs you.”

“Nobody needs me. Nobody even knows where I am.” You ignored the part of the brain that told you that was Tony’s fault. Besides him, nobody knew where you were when you ditched your University.

“I need you.” Tony kept you in his arms as he sat down.

You lifted your head and realized you were back in the bedroom you woke up. You tried to sit up, but Tony held you still. He pulled his arm from underneath you and grabbed your chin.

“I need you more than you can possibly imagine.” His eyes fixed on yours.

A chill went through your spine.

“You don’t even know me.” It became obvious the man fixated on you for all the wrong reasons.

“I know you better than you know yourself.” He started studying your face again, this time you didn’t look away. “Even with the tears you’re the most beautiful creature on this planet.”

The wind knocked out of you. Nobody had ever paid you such a genuine compliment before. There was no doubt in his voice as he spoke the words. You were trying to think of a response when he leaned down. You weren’t paying close enough attention and his lips pressed into yours.

It was a light kiss. You tried to remember the last human contact you had. Even a hug seemed to escape you. To your surprise it felt nice, his mouth was soft and warm. Your lips parted slightly and his tongue slid into your mouth. Was this man the cause or the solution to your problems? You had no clue, but right now the kiss was everything you wanted.

You brought your hands up behind his neck and he responded by sliding you off of his lap and moving you backwards until you were laying on the bed. His body pivoted until he was on his side, leaning over you. A hand was on your leg, sliding up the satin nightgown. It left tingles in it’s wake.

A tiny voice was screaming inside of your head to push him away, but you had spent the last several months burying tiny voices and paid it no attention. Right now he was warm and inviting, something you forgot existed.

His hand reached the top of your thigh and his fingers slid underneath the top of your panties. He griped the edge hard and started to slide them down. This sent flares through your body, souring the kiss. Your eyes popped open and you pushed him away.

 

The kiss broke and you crawled back and away from him. He stared at you with shock, but didn’t let go of his grip on your underwear and they slid down your legs.

“I don’t want this.” You kept backing up, certain you were going to fall off the other side.

“Of course you do.” Tony rose from the bed. He lifted your panties to his face and inhaled.

The sight made you tingle and to your horror you realized you were very, very wet.

“No.” You shook your head and looked behind you. You turned your body until you were standing on the shaky legs on the opposite side of the bed. “I’m not thinking right, you put something in that drink!”

“I promise I did not.” Tony tossed your underwear and then pulled off his black t-shirt.

He stood in black pants and nothing else. Even though he had years on you his body was perfection. The silver on his chest stood out and you wanted to run your hands over it.

“This isn’t right.” You needed to stay away from him. “Just let me leave and I promise I won’t tell anyone.”

“Tell anyone what?” Tony tilted his head and started to walk around the bed. “That a philanthropic hero who saved the world was stalking you? That he brought you here against your will? What will people believe? The truth Y/N.”

“That is the truth!” You cried and moved closer to the wall, away from him.

“No. It’s your version of the truth.” Tony tilted his chin and his eyes ran over your body. “Mine is that I met a girl, fell in love, kept her safe, gave her money and gifts, medical attention when she was injured and her response was to deny what she was feeling and smash a glass into the side of my head.”

Tony pointed to the butterfly bandages near his temple. Your heart rate increased.

“Stop.” You reached the wall and he still circled. “You’re one of the good guys.”

“I am.” He rounded the edge of the bed. “That’s why I am trying to help you.”

His chest looked so inviting. You imagined curling up to him, embracing the contact you hadn’t realized you were desperately craving. Instead you lunged yourself forward onto the bed and tried to crawl away. A hand was on your ankle in a second, pulling you back and flat on your stomach.
Tony wasted no time lying on your back, pinning you to the bed. His hands grabbed each of your wrists and held them into the soft mattress. He lowered his head to your shoulders, his mouth right next to your ears.

“Why are you being so stubborn?” He kissed your neck. “We both know this is what you want, what you need. Why are you fighting this? We belong together Y/N.”

“No.” You tried to move your head and cover your neck, but that only exposed the other side and he moved, biting down lightly on your skin and sucking.

Your breath caught in your throat. The feel of him on top of you, the way your body responded to his lips. It was confusing. Why would a man like him want you in the first place.

“Don’t overthink it.” He slid your wrists until they were above your head and transferred them into one of his hands. “Give in to what you want. It’s the only way to live.”

“I don’t want this.” Tears started to sting your eyes. “I don’t want you.”

He moved his freehand between you and started to slide it between your legs. You went to press them together but Tony placed his knee between them, leaving you vulnerable. He pulled the satin gown up over your ass and your were exposed.

“Stop.” You let out a whimper. “Please.”

He ignored you and instead kissed your back. His mouth alternating between sucking and nibbling on your exposed skin. His fingers traced your leg until they came to the apex of your thighs. Your breath caught again as you felt a fingertip trace up your slit.

“What I thought.” Tony kissed your shoulder. “So wet for me.”

A single digit penetrated you with ease and you gritted down as your body betrayed you. He started sliding in and out and you couldn’t help but admit how good it felt. This intimate contact, with someone who cared enough about you to practically buy a town just to keep you safe.

He must have sensed you relax because soon a second finger was added and the grip on your wrist loosened. Tony sat up, relieving his weight. Then the hand vanished from your wrists and slid down your back. He stopped right above your ass and started pushing your hips forward, then releasing. His fingers continued to move in and out of you as he rocked you into the mattress.

“Admit how good this feels.” He ordered. “Admit how right it feels with me here, guiding you, helping you.”

His actions were causing your clit to rub against the sheet as his fingers twirled inside of you, pushing deeper and rubbing against your fleshy spot. You knew he was barely holding you down. It would only take a quick crawl to be out of his grasp, but the orgasm was building.

“When was the last time you came Y/N?” Tony’s voice went husky. “I bet it’s been a very long time. Stay with me, be mine, and you will cum every single night for the rest of your life.”

His hand was pressing you into the mattress less and less. You found yourself in control of your body, but you were still doing the same motions, making your clit rub up and down against the sheets and he fucked you with his fingers. The familiar coil you had long since forgot started to form in your body. You increased your speed and he responded by going even faster with his fingers.

This was wrong. You didn’t want this, but oh God you did. The need was unbearable. It was as if you forgot the pleasures the world had to offer and you were tasting them for the first time. Your fingers formed fists, digging into the sheets.

“That’s it little girl, cum for me.” Tony grabbed your shoulder and squeezed.

His words sent you over the edge and your orgasm exploded from your core sending ecstasy through you. You didn’t need his help at all as you continued to thrash wantonly against the bed, never wanting his hand or the feeling to go away. The request was not granted and his fingers disappeared as the pleasure started dying down.

You let out a moan as both his hands disappeared from your body. There was a ringing in your ears unlike and you no longer cared about anything but trying to maintain the high you were feeling.

Hands were on your hips and you were rolled over, the gown pulled over your head in a second. Tony kneeled between your spread legs, his erection firmly in his hand. You let out a moan at the size of him.

“Please don’t.” You weren’t sure you meant the words. “I can’t be with you. You’re crazy.”

“I am only crazy about you little girl.” His hand grabbed your ankle and bent your knee.

You body was like jell-o and all resistance was gone as he lined up with your entrance.

“If you don’t want this, then why are you so wet?” Tony guided his head into your entrance. “Why did cumming for me feel so good?”

You knew the answer was biology, but you didn’t want to talk science. You wanted him to hold you down and give you a second orgasm, even though it was so wrong. Instead you whimpered.

“Give in Y/N. Just give in.” He pushed further inside and your back arched.

As he filled you entirely his body came forward on top of yours his lips were soft and warm against your cheek and you opened your mouth, inviting his tongue to dance with yours once again.

He rocked in and out of you, slower than you would have liked, but you didn’t want to correct him. Tony Stark knew what you needed. Maybe the man always had. Maybe it was time to give in and let him make you feel human once again.