Under the Winter Sun
Warnings: Language, some mild homophobia.
A/N: The long awaited chapter you all have been begging me for! Enjoy! Lemme know your thoughts! Thanks as always to my wonderful Beta Gia for her time and effort with each chapter! 3 *** POV jumping around a bit in this chapter, please be aware my darling readers.
*** POV jumping around a bit in this chapter, please be aware my darling readers.
Thoughts in Italics
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Tony has taken to carrying the rings in his pocket everywhere he goes.
They comfort him, being so close. Dealing with cleaning up the mess Pepper had left behind with her absence is, frankly, stressful on a level he didn't remember it being before. Perhaps he had become even more intolerant of the deceptive and backbiting company culture than before. Tony had always hated dealing with the corporate side of Stark Industries and never hidden his intense dislike of it. But coming back to it after years of barely paying it much attention, aside from what his Ex said he needed to, just made it that much harder for Tony to find his bearings.
He felt a little like a minnow in a shark tank, at first. It wasn't a feeling he enjoyed. Especially, when Tony knew he should be the much feared Great White in this particular shark tank. He owned the damned thing after all. But he was well aware that they could smell blood in the water with Pepper's absence, and they were circling. Watching, waiting, debating on their various options. Tony knew the game well enough. Hell, he grew up with it. He was smarter than these fish-eyed, razor toothed, ego inflated mackerel. He'd let the bolder, (more idiotic), ones come to him first and let them try to prove just how brave they really were. If they tried to take a bite, they would quickly find out just how unappetizing Tony could be.
Here fishy, fishy, fishies. C'mon and take a nibble. This minnow has poisonous fangs, bitches. He mused to himself, more than once, when watching the maneuvering they thought they were being subtle about.
His Department Heads were the worst of the lot. They were individuals he didn't recognize in the Boardroom that made all the major decisions for Stark Industries, with Pepper, (formally) as the final word. These were faces of people he didn't know, or trust. Strangers were virtually running his company. This was not okay. Pepper might have known and trusted them. But Tony was now very much doubting his own choices in trusting her. So he was currently finding all of her choices in dealing with his corporate assets as troublingly questionable.
Within the first half hour of becoming aware of them, he'd had Jarvis dig up everything he could find on each person before even entering the conference room for his first meeting with them. These people were handling millions of dollars of his money on a near daily basis. Making choices for his research departments and company that impacted his reputation, and the reputation of his products at every turn. He had every right to know what freaking color lacy underwear they wore, as far as he was concerned.
Alright. So I might be just a little bit paranoid. Who wouldn't be after Obadiah Stane? Look what happened the last time I let someone else run things. At least I know Pepper wouldn't sell my products blackmarket behind my back. But these guys? Yeah...no.
There were names of companies he was working with that Tony wasn't overly familiar with, and important deals he was only vaguely knowledgeable of. He had Jarvis viciously look into each contract to be sure it was on the up and up. Jarvis was looking into the companies themselves, as well. The last thing Tony would tolerate was someone doing shit behind his back again. Stane had nearly killed him, and Pepper...well. He wasn't sure how to categorize her just yet. He figured it was better to assume to worst at this point than to be caught with his pants down. Truly though, he couldn't fathom why she would attack, or try to ruin the company they both (she) worked so hard on for so many years. People have done stranger things though. So Tony put his trusty AI on it, just to be certain.
There were various Charity funds he had no idea he was donating to, not that Tony minded those ones so much, once he understood what was going on. He just hadn't been aware of them. After having Jarvis verify that they were legit, and using the donated money appropriately, Tony left those accounts alone for the time being. Their political affiliations were tolerable, and so he had no issue with them.
It was mostly the people that Tony was having the hardest time with.
Tony struggled with being social with ordinary people on a good day. It frustrated him that he had to slow himself down enough to be understood by those around him. He was impatient, he was short tempered, and he hated feeling like he was somehow out of the loop of what was going on around him. (His own fault, though he would only admit such in the privacy of his own thoughts.)
Tony was pretty sure he'd snarled at Pepper's secretary more than once. He was certain the woman hated him, and he'd only been in the Malibu office for a couple of weeks. He was waiting for something nasty to show up in his coffee, or for some important meeting to be mysteriously missed. Or hell, important documents ending up being misplaced, or him missing a vital call from one of Tony's investors. The death glares that woman could muster up were surprisingly unsettling, even if she never called Tony out on his shitty mood.
He sort of felt bad for never remembering her name.
Thank everything scientific under the sun, that he had Jarvis to help him. Otherwise, Tony was sure he would have murdered someone by now. He felt like he was being bombarded on all sides with information and problems that needed to be fixed.
Was this normal day to day activity for Pep? If so, I'd seriously been underpaying her.
The rings in his pocket helped.
Each time dealing with the business-side of his company stressed him to the point of violence, he wound his fingers into the left-hand pocket of his slacks, and lightly caressed the small ring box Tony had transferred them to. So that he could carry them on his person as a reminder every day.
Everything he was doing now, took him one step closer to Harry. Even if it didn't seem like it at that very moment. In the end, Tony was dealing with this nightmare for Harry.
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It was cold in Malibu.
Harry was not expecting to have to wear a sweater while in California, and so hadn't packed anything but summer clothes for his flight out. It was currently, according to the radio, thirty-four degrees outside, and falling rapidly. California was about to be potentially slammed with a snow storm later that night. Poor Harry was just as unprepared as everyone else in the state. He found himself in desperate need of purchasing appropriately warm clothes, now, before more Cali natives lost their freakin' mind over the threat of a bit of white powder.
The roads were terribly congested with people rushing out to stores, stocking up on food, water and whatever else they thought they would need to hunker down with. Some of them were acting like it was the Apocalypse with how ridiculous they were being. Harry just mentally rolled his eyes as he carefully eased into his hard won parking spot. Their near panic would have been a little funny if Harry wasn't stuck out in the middle of it with his own unavoidable shopping.
Unfortunately, today was one of those days where nothing was humorous. Harry's trip to California wasn't for vacation, despite his compelling need to shop.
Missing Valkyrie eggs were a huge deal and an issue that needed to be investigated immediately. Harry had thrown together a suitcase or two in less than thirty minutes while Kiran booked him a flight that left two hours from when he had gotten the initial frantic phone call. Harry had barely gotten there, and through inspection before the plane had left the ground.
The trip had been so hastily put together, that the only people who were aware that Harry was here in California were Kiran and his brother Meloth. Even his own mother had been told after the fact, and Harry was sure he was going to get an earful once he was back on the east coast.
After touching down in LAX, Harry had caught a cab straight to the rental place, where the car was waiting for him, and then immediately went to the hotel, checked in, dumped his bags, got something decent to eat, and set off to deal with the situation.
Harry had already met with the dozen distressed and furious parents, whose offspring were stolen from a communal Nesting site. That sensitive task had taken up nearly all of his morning, and as each hour passed, it had gotten colder and colder outside. Leaving Harry a shivering wreck when he finally left the interviews with the distraught Valkyrie. Turning on the radio in the rental car had revealed the dreadful news of the incoming storm, changing Harry's plans and forcing him to do some unanticipated shopping.
A typical human might think that using such a child rearing practice to be strange, but communal Nesting was an ancient cultural norm to the Valkyrie, and no one had felt the need to change it when it clearly benefited both child and parent well. Not all Valkyrie communally Nested, of course, like these ones had chosen to do, but there was security in numbers, as well as other social benefits of doing so.
Together like this, the parents could carry on with their own lives much more easily. Secure in the knowledge that a trusted Watcher or two was protecting the little ones, while the parents were at work, or dealing with other life events that could not be ignored. It also permitted the parents to socially mingle with other Valkyrie in that same stage of life, and later, afforded the little fledglings with children roughly their own age to safely interact with when they reached the appropriate age to enter a Creche group.
Watchers were carefully selected by the group as a whole from the parents participating in Nesting, or their immediate family members, such as siblings or grandparents. Always, the Watchers were mated, and had proven they could safely care for their own little ones. An unmated, childless Valkyrie was not eligible to become a Watcher over a Nest. Once Watchers were chosen, schedules are carefully worked out, and the eggs were never left alone for any span of time, day or night.
Communal Nests depended on a few things; size, the number of breeding Valkyrie in an area, and their social hierarchy. Not to say that Nests were arranged in any sort of Class system, because they were not, but it had been noted over the years, that like minded parents often banded together. Mixed Nests were a good way for Valkyrie of different lifestyles to interact and have common ground together. Harry had learned in his history lessons about Communal Nests on their old Homeworld that were as large as several hundred eggs, with dozens of Watchers. There was nothing of that size on Earth of course, and Harry couldn't imagine the logistics of properly running such a large Nest.
There was another option, of course. Not all Valkyrie wanted to, or for some reason couldn't, communally Nest. Some mated Valkyrie preferred the seclusion of a hidden Hearth Nest for the three month period their offspring was most vulnerable. Where the egg(s) are closely guarded by the expectant parents alone. Nothing was wrong with either approach. They were simply different, and a Hearth Nest usually had at least one parent that was regularly home at most times to start with. The Valkyrie equivalent of the human concept of a traditional housewife. Though that was where the similarities ended.
Hearth Nesting was traditional for the Royal family, and Harry intended to continue that tradition, though, with him and Tony as busy as they constantly were, he wasn't entirely sure how he was going to manage that. Due to Tony's Ironman activities, Harry had already partially decided that it would be himself staying home with their egg. But that was the extent of what he'd figured out. Future children were still a nebulous concept for Harry at the moment.
This small Communal Nest, of a dozen breeding Valkyrie had been invaded, its human-mate Watcher killed, and the little ones whisked away to who knew where. While he had met with most of the victims, Harry still hadn't met with the grieving Valkyrie, who had not only lost a child, but their mate in this travesty as well. For the moment, visit requests were being refused by the Valkyrie and their family.
Harry didn't blame them.
They were all devastated, terrified for their little ones. Horrified that the Sanctity of a Nest had been violated, and livid to the point of violence. Unfortunately, there was no direction to point this energy, and so Harry had gotten the brunt of some of it. Though none of them had lost their head enough to dare to attack their Prince. Still, tempers had flared, tears had been shed, and more than one Valkyrie had become verbally aggressive.
The situation was dire. Harry knew he didn't have long before some of these parents went on a rampage looking for their children. The only thing holding them back now, was the need for secrecy for their whole race. And only just.
The entire situation made Harry sick to his stomach.
He couldn't imagine the pain of being in their place. But he also couldn't help picturing a similar scenario, over and over again with his own future little one. So many things could go wrong at this stage. The shell was delicate, stretched thin and brittle as it expanded to accommodate the still growing child inside, and any cracking could damage the little one. Too cool temperatures would outright kill the baby, and too hot would as well.
For that vulnerable and delicate egg to be callously stolen from a place in which they were supposed to be safe. Harry couldn't fathom what he would do in their place.
Probably something unforgivable.
The chances of Harry finding every single egg undamaged were not good. Someone was going to lose their child forever, no matter what Harry did.
If he even found them.
Currently, he had no idea where to start looking. The kidnappers had left no clues aside from the bullet that had killed the Watcher. A single, neat wound through the head. The poor man hadn't even known he was dead before he hit the ground. The only thing that Harry could for certain say, with any confidence, was that someone had used a high powered, ranged rifle to manage that shot. Which meant there was more than one person involved in this robbery, because a single person would not have gotten out of their hiding spot, and then into and out of the building in the short amount of time this had taken.
There were cameras all over the building, for security against neighborhood teenagers, not this sort of high-efficiency criminal. Adding that to the fact that Harry doubted the average person could manage to get their hands on a rifle of that caliber, he felt that he was looking for someone of a military persuasion. But that was as far as the leads went. Someone had policed their brass, so there were no bullets, or casings to be found anywhere. Harry had a specialist coming into the building for fingerprints, but he seriously doubted that there would be any to be found, aside from the parents own.
Which left him with little to nothing to go on right at the moment. He would have to speak in depth with some of his contacts in various organizations to see if there was chatter after this, because there certainly hadn't been any before hand. Which, if it was any of them, only meant that it was kept very hush, hush. Not good. The implications, and repercussions of these events frightened Harry.
How had anyone even found out about the eggs in the first place? How had the nest been discovered, and why would someone want the little ones? Harry feared the worst.
He shivered violently in his t-shirt and shorts as he reluctantly stepped outside of the rental car, cursing under his breath as he slammed the door and hurried his steps toward the busy sidewalk. Finding a parking spot within reasonable walking distance to the shops he wanted to visit had been a brutal nightmare. He officially hated driving in Malibu at this point.
"What the hell was I thinking, coming outside in this weather to do the touristy shopping thing? Should have just stayed in the hotel and huddled under a blanket in front of the TV." He grumbled to himself under his breath.
The cold here was nothing like the chill he was used to in England. Not at all. He was stubborn though, and wasn't ready to throw the towel in just yet. He wasn't going to admit defeat. In spite of his determination to tough it out with some level of decorum, he couldn't help his body's unfavorable reaction to the temperature, only ignore it for the time being to the best of his ability.
He was nearly done with his unavoidable tasks for the day. He was just stopping to get something hot to drink, then he would hit the last stop on his way back to the hotel, and he would not emerge for the rest of the day. He'd sit there and watch bad TV. Or maybe even find something on the porn channel. Harry rarely indulged himself in that activity while out traveling. Then perhaps a nap before ordering room service for dinner. It all sounded lovely in his mind. However, at the moment, there were the crowds to deal with, and the unrelenting cold.
I'm British, for Goodness sake! I should be able to deal with a little bit of chill. Stop being a pansy! Harry snorted to himself at the thought, and stepped into the warm coffee shop with a soft relieved sigh.
Only to groan in dismay when he saw the line at the counter. Apparently, everyone else in the city had the same idea as Harry. Or so it seemed like. The place was packed, and Harry had been so lost in his brief daydreaming, that he hadn't noticed until entering the building.
Grumbling under his breath, Harry moved to get in line, rubbing his hands together to try and urge the cold stiffness from his fingertips. He would rent the defective car that had no heating in it. Though the blasted air conditioning worked just fine. Typical Potter luck.
His eyes trailed slowly over the menu, the wide and varied selection caused his nose to wrinkle. Seriously? Could people make tea and coffee any more complicated?
Thank goodness I'm only here for a hot chocolate. That should be simple enough. But as his eyes trailed over the varied options, his heart sank. They'd complicated that as well it looked like.
Sighing to himself, Harry picked one out mentally that didn't seem like blasphemy and flatly refused to give any others else a second glance. Instead, letting his eyes wander over towards the muffins. He was feeling a little peckish. Quickly picking out one of his favorites, he likewise ignored the other options and turned his attention elsewhere.
He looked around the little drink shop and discreetly watched the other people from under his eyelashes. He saw few gloves, hats, scarves, or sensible jackets. Perhaps it was a little cruel, but it made Harry feel better about his own lack of warm clothes. At least he wasn't the only jackass that hadn't paid any attention to the weather before venturing outside.
He stood in line for nearly twenty minutes before finally reaching the counter and the harried looking Barista. Harry's eyes flicked to the smudged name tag on his bright red apron.
"Good afternoon, Gavin." Harry offered with a pleasant smile.
Gavin just looked at him with an expression of puzzled irritation and grunted something that vaguely sounded like a greeting. Unperturbed, Harry ordered a raspberry hot chocolate with whipped cream and a warm banana nut muffin. He'd be bitchy too if he had to deal with this crowd every day.
Gavin sighed as he rang up the purchase and half turned to shout over his shoulder at a petite blond girl further back by the entrance to the kitchen.
"Heat up a Banana Nut!"
The blond rolled her eyes and snatched up a muffin to do as told, though Harry was amused to note that her attitude was directed toward Gavin, not himself. He didn't comment as he paid for his pick me up and stepped to the side, letting the next person in line step forward to deal with the surly Gavin.
Within a couple minutes, the blond hurried her way over with the muffin, while another young man without a name tag breezed by with Harry's hot chocolate. Plopping it down without breaking stride as he went right back into making the next set of drinks.
The young lady, Charlotte, Harry noted, gave him a sweet smile as she handed him the muffin and told him to have a good day. Harry flashed his own smile and thanked her before moving away from the counter with his items.
At least one of them was friendly. Harry mused, half amused and half bewildered.
Subconsciously, Harry dodged incoming patrons as he carefully made his way to one of the doors. The place was quickly becoming overly packed with bodies, and Harry was finding it harder to maneuver around some of them, since they refused to give even the slightest ground to let him pass. At one point, he got stuck in the middle of the room for several minutes because of a group of college students that were too busy shouting over one another in conversation to pay attention to anyone else around them. Finally, Harry lost his patience and decided to be rude right back. Frowning, he bullied his way right through the middle of the group, trying his best to not knock into anyone unnecessarily.
The jerks barely noticed.
Finally, emerging from the worst of the noisy crowd, Harry spied the exit doors through a brief gap in bodies. It wasn't the same set that he had come in by, but at this point, he didn't care. He just wanted to get out of this mess, get to his crappy rental and get back to his hotel, so he could ignore the rest of the world for the remainder of the day.
Freedom! He crowed in the privacy of his mind as he made a mad dash for the way out. Harry twisted himself around an arguing couple and made a break for the glass portal. Only to be suddenly knocked back wards, his ass meeting the floor in spectacular fashion. The banana nut muffin went flying out of his hand to who knew where, and his hot chocolate, from the sound of it, ended up all over whoever it was he'd run into.
"Son of a bitch! Ow! Fuck, that's hot!"
Harry's breath froze in his lungs. Slowly, he lifted his green eyes. His sore bottom forgotten, and his flash of temper fizzling out near as quickly as it had risen. He knew that voice. He would know it anywhere. He'd have to be dead to not recognize it.
The man was currently grimacing down at his ruined suit, not looking at Harry as he pinched his fingers gingerly on the shirt and held it out from his body as far as possible to minimize the burning of the hot liquid. Tony hadn't noticed Harry yet, focused as he was on the wet stained clothes. Harry had the faint notion that the designer Armani ensemble was officially garbage. Chocolate didn't come out easily.
Harry's eyes greedily took in this older version of his mate. Tony had aged well. His man's skin was kissed from the sunshine here in California. His physique was, frankly, yummy in Harry's opinion, but then, Tony always had worn suits well. Harry briefly wondered about any changes to the body under that fancy suit, but his thoughts were quickly derailed, his brain too busy taking in every little detail it could to linger long. There were a few more nicks and scars of his hands from his work, but Harry was unbothered by them, more interested in the possible stories behind them than anything else.
Finally, after what seemed like an eternity, but was actually less than a minute, blue eyes shifted over to meet his own, stormy grey in his anger, and Harry watched as they widened in shock. The grey color slowly fading as Tony's mind caught up with what his eyes were telling him.
"Harry?" The man breathed softly, nearly inaudible, but Harry's sharp hearing picked it up over the noise of the coffee shop. Harry didn't speak, a little overwhelmed. Instead he offered a hesitant smile and lifted his hand in a little corny finger-wiggle of a wave.
Instantly, Tony dropped the wet cloth from his fingers, no longer caring about it in the least, and reached his hands out to help Harry up off the floor. Silently, Harry let himself be helped. He didn't know what to make of this unexpected meeting. He hadn't known that Tony would be in California. Had, in fact, thought his mate was still recovering in his tower in New York City.
Although, Harry suddenly recalled, I didn't tell Jarvis about this impromptu trip out to the west coast. The need had come suddenly, giving Harry almost no time to get himself a flight. Emergency situations had a tendency to do that, and informing Jarvis of his travel plans had, truthfully, been the last thing on his mind at the time.
Tony's voice shook Harry from his wandering thoughts.
"Harry, are you alright?" The Valkyrie blinked, focusing on the man in front of him, who was now holding both of his hands gently as blue eyes worriedly peered into his face. Harry offered a smile that was more genuine this time, though tired.
"Yes, Tony. I'm alright. It's just been a long day, and, well, I didn't know you were in California. Seeing you surprised me."
Tony arched an eyebrow at him. "Good surprise, I hope?"
Harry grinned. "As if it would be anything else? God, I can't believe you're here. I don't know what to say after so long. I missed you."
Some of the tension suddenly melted out of Tony's frame. "Oh, good. I thought, after everything, you might...well...hate me."
Harry blinked, confused. "Hate you..? Why would I hate you?"
Tony took a deep breath and let it out slowly. "Well, uhm...because of...look can we talk somewhere else? It's loud in here and...well I don't want to have this conversation here…"
Harry frowned, but glancing around, concluded that Tony was right. This really wasn't the place to have any personal conversations. "Alright, yeah. Let's go somewhere else. Your car or mine?"
Tony huffed a happy breath. "Let's take mine, we can come back for yours. Happy was driving me around on my errands, so we have the privacy of the limo."
Harry laughed softly and shook his head. "Still with the limo Tony? Did you ever get your driver's license?"
His mate gave him an affronted look. "Of course I did. Eventually. C'mon."
Still clasping hands, they left the coffee shop together and headed towards the side of the building where the limo was parked. Leaning back against the side of the vehicle, smoking a cigarette, was Happy.
The man looked surprised, but quickly dropped his smoke and stepped on it to put it out, and swiftly opened the door for the both of them.
"Mr. Stark." He offered in greeting, shooting an obviously curious look between the two of them and then at their entwined hands. Tony just nodded to Happy and didn't answer his unspoken question. "Happy, this is Harry Sinclair, Harry, this is Happy, my driver, and one of my oldest friends, aside from Pepper, and Rhodey."
Harry offered the driver a smile and let go of Tony's hand long enough to extend it in offer of a handshake, which Happy took with some surprise on his features. "Hello Happy, it's nice to meet a good friend of Tony's."
Happy blinked, but offered his own friendly smile, though his eyes were still wary. "Nice to meet you too Mr. Sinclair."
"Just Harry." Tony butted in, causing Happy's eyebrows to arch up into his hairline, but he complied without fuss.
Harry nodded and slipped into the back seat of the limo when Tony gestured. Immediately upon entering the car, Tony instructed Happy to take them to the nearby beach before put up the privacy window between the front seat and their own.
Then he turned to Harry, looking rather nervous. "So...to continue our conversation from before…"
Harry quickly, but gently interrupted "Tony, I don't know how much you remember at this point, or how much Jarvis wants you to be told."
That caused Tony to pause, blinking as his mind whirled. "I...there is more that I don't remember, isn't there?"
Harry shifted in his seat uncomfortably, carefully choosing his words. "Well, that's just it, I'm not sure. Why don't you tell me what you recall, in terms of our last interactions."
Tony swallowed and looked away, down at his hands for a moment before shifting his eyes restlessly to gaze out the window. "Well, I remember that we parted badly in college. I remember the years in between that, but...it's hard to say, exactly. I remember some things. Things that don't make sense. Some of it I think I dreamt up."
Harry felt a small spark of cautious hope bloom in his chest. "Like what?"
"Uhm…" Here Tony looked very uncomfortable
"It's alright Tony, just talk to me. This is important." Harry leaned forward in his seat a bit, trying to meet Tony's elusive gaze. It wasn't easy with the gentle rocking of the limo, and with the fact that Tony seemed suddenly shy.
"You're going to think that I'm insane, Harry. I swear I'm not on drugs of any kind, but I dunno if I was sober when this...this...whatever it was, happened. I remember...Feathers...black and….green feathers...and your eyes, they were...different. Silver? Black. I dunno. I didn't understand that one. There was...I think we argued again, but I can't recall what it was about. There was...we..."
Tony huffed, mentally telling himself to get a grip, and forced himself to get the words past his reluctant lips. "We had sex. Kinky sex, but again, I only remember bits and pieces. I'm not sure if any of it was real or not. Everything is hazy. Like I was really drunk."
Harry hummed softly, debating internally. "Okay...do you remember anything else, like, I dunno, strange conversations, strange places?"
Tony is quiet for a few minutes as he furrows his brows, trying to sort out his scattered thoughts. Instinctively, his hand wandered into the pocket with the rings, fingers tips rubbing against the body warm metal in comfort. Eventually, he shook his head. "I'm sorry, I can feel it there, but it's just out of reach. I know I'm missing more. I didn't realize before, but now I can tell."
He looked over at Harry. "The things I'm missing. It's important, isn't it? It's about us."
Hesitantly, Harry nodded "Yes. It's about us. There's so much. But Jarvis warned me, and I don't want to hurt you by accident."
Harry blinked back sudden tears, frustrated and hurt that he couldn't breach this last gap between them without risking damaging his mate.
"Oh Harry, no. No, baby. No. Don't do that." Instantly Tony reached out to pull Harry into his arms, holding him close. "Shhh...Shhh. It will be okay. I'm sorry. I didn't mean to upset you."
Harry snuggled close and hid his face in the side of Tony's neck, barely restraining himself from letting the tears loose. He shook his head at Tony's words. "It's not you. I promise. It's just so hard, being away from you. You haven't done anything wrong, Tony. I just… I'm reaching the limit of what I can deal with. But that's not your fault."
Feeling helpless, Tony just held him close and tried to comfort him the best way he could. Seeing those green eyes shine with withheld tears had pierced Tony deeply. They were all too familiar, and Tony got the impression that he had seen that expression on Harry's face not that long ago. The notion was unsettling.
Just how long have I forgotten whatever it is between us? How long has Harry been hurting and saying nothing out of fear of damaging my screwed up brain? Have we been together all this time and I just can't recall? No. That doesn't feel right, and doesn't explain Pepper's presence in my life before hand. Oh god, were Harry and I having an affair behind Pepper's back?
He hoped not. Tony desperately hoped that he hadn't sunk that low, that he hadn't dragged Harry down that low. He would never forgive himself if that were the case.
Those thoughts didn't feel exactly correct either, but they felt more familiar than some of the other ones running around his mind at the moment. Absently he kissed the top of Harry's head, fingers curling in the long black hair affectionately. For a long time, neither of them spoke. Content to cling to one another.
Unfortunately, time continued to move around them and reality intruded into their little bubble. Happy's voice came through the speaker, a little hesitant. "Hey Boss, I'm pulling into the Half-Cove beach in just a minute."
Tony reached over to the intercom and pressed the button. "Yeah, alright Happy. Just park the car. Don't worry about us, for the time being."
"Yes, Sir." There was something knowing in Happy's voice that Harry didn't understand, causing him to frown at the speaker, but before he could inquire, Harry was distracted by something he felt was much more important.
Tony turned his attention back to the man half in his lap to find green eyes peering up at him sadly. Tony was still at a loss for what to say in this situation. For a few moments, the both of them just stared at one another, uncertain how to proceed.
Finally, Harry sighed and pulled away enough to sit up on his own. "I don't know what to say. I don't know what is safe to say, and I don't want to talk about the past. It's over and done with. The only thing there is pain and misunderstanding."
Reluctantly, Tony nodded, understanding what Harry meant. Unfortunately, the past was all that Tony had at the moment. These recent events that Harry spoke of, were simply blank spaces in Tony's head, ones that he hadn't even known were there until Harry was right in front of him. He reached out to gently cup Harry's face in his hands.
"Alright. So. That type of conversation is out. Can I… can I at least kiss you? I've missed you terribly Harry, and I never thought I would have you back. I intended to come and find you, after I finished a few things with Stark Industries, but...I didn't really have much hope that you would want to see me."
Instead of answering, Harry just leaned forwards and gently pressed his lips to Tony's, effectively cutting off his nervous rambling before it could continue any further. Tony froze against him, clearly not expecting the move, but swiftly pressed into the kiss, firm but gentle, letting Harry direct where it went.
It started out chaste. A simple, sensual exploration and reacquaintance of mouths. A soft mingling of their breaths. Tiny, slow pecks that shifted and gradually deepened into little nips and nibbles on plump lips. Little flicks of the tongue teasing and inviting the other to indulge in something more passionate, and less hesitant on both of their parts. By the time Harry pulled away, both were breathless and panting softly, their eyes shining with building desire.
Tony barely refrained from reaching out to pull Harry back against his body. He had to remind himself that this wasn't the time, or the place for much carnal activity beyond some steamy kisses. Happy was nearby for one, but their jarring situation made such actions less than advisable as well. Tony had more respect for Harry than to push the issue. He was simply glad that the man was back in his arms at all, after his stupid teenage self had walked, so callously, away from the best thing that had ever happened to him.
It had taken him a long time to grow up enough to possibly deserve a man like Harry, and Tony was determined to prove it every day if that's what was needed to keep him in Tony's life from here on out. He wasn't going to lose the love of his life twice if he could in any way prevent it. So for now, Tony simply pet Harry's hair while the both of them let their bodies calm down. Harry seemed content to remain right where he was in Tony's lap, and Tony had no intention of suggesting he move. It was comfortable, and reassuring for the both of them.
Instead, Tony took this time to think some more. He drifted into a half sleep state, with Harry snuggled against him. This mental place was somewhere he often used when working out difficult problems concerning either Stark industries or any Ironman projects he was stuck on. The problem was, it wasn't easy for him to reach this mental zone. Tony had to be relaxed, calm, something he had not been able to say he was for many months. But now, with Harry snuggled into his side, with no demands on his time, because he was done for the day and had turned off his phone, including Jarvis, he was able to slip smoothly into that trance-like state. He took full advantage of the opportunity, not knowing when the next time he would be able to reach it would be.
This time, when Tony searched for missing thoughts and images, he managed to uncover more bits and pieces than before. There was still a jumbled mess at first, but slowly, the pieces were starting to float together and click firmly into place. Once he realized what was happening, his pleased surprise was swiftly overwhelmed with information coming faster and faster. It was similar to a domino effect, once certain memories were recovered and lock in place, it pushed others to where they needed to be, until it was a confusing blur similar to the overload he had experienced in the lab, when he first found the rings.
Sensation and sound lost their meaning as he was drowning once again in the onslaught of memories. He knew what was happening, and there was no fear in him. This time, aside from a vicious headache, he was breathing just fine, he didn't feel ill. Distantly he was coherent enough to contribute that to the likelihood of there being no alcohol in his system. Instead, at the end of it, he was simply exhausted and somewhat confused. It seemed to have taken a long time.
Blinking, his eyes darted around the inside of the limo. Nothing had changed. The clock on his phone showed only a ten minutes had passed. He looked down at the man leaning against his chest to find that Harry had at some point dozed off against him, completely missing Tony's little revelation.
A pity, because Tony now remembered everything that he had been missing before. It still made his head pound fiercely at the moment to pull those memories up, but the point was, they were all there. Being in Harry's presence had been the catalyst it seemed.
Or maybe it was his unspoken forgiveness? Or the shared kisses?
Tony wasn't sure what exactly it was that had triggered the last pieces finally falling into place, but he was grateful and attributed it to Harry in general, not truly caring about the unimportant details. Thankfully, it didn't seem to have done Tony any harm. Some distress, but no harm. He wasn't having any symptoms of a seizure, nor was his brain fried, leaving him a drooling, gibbering idiot, like he'd had nightmares about in the past.
He seemed to be perfectly alright. A little...okay, a lot… pissed about Loki's scepter, on a whole new level than he had been before, but otherwise, unharmed as far as he could tell. Tony could pop a couple of aspirin and be back to himself in thirty or so minutes. Mentally he made a note to hunt down where S.H.I.E.L.D. was keeping that little piece of doom and figure out a way to destroy it before it could hurt anyone else. Barton, Coulson and himself were casualty enough. Nevermind the countless civilian deaths in New York.
Reaching into his pocket, Tony withdrew the rings he'd kept close to him all this time. He couldn't think of a better time to do this. Harry had never cared much for big production, no pomp and circumstance would mean as much to him as Tony simply doing something that came from the bottom of his heart. It was one of the many things he loved about the man in his arms. Tony had every intention of spoiling him rotten after this, in all the little ways that he knew would mean the most to the Valkyrie.
Tony gazed down at the bands held in the palm of his hand for a few moments, contemplating how his life had changed so much in the past year, most of it good where it concerned Harry. Pepper was gone, his company was where it should be, firmly in his own control once more, Harry was home, and still loved him. His mind was his own again.
What better time was there to ask?
Tony clenched his fist over the jewelry to hide them from immediate sight, and then gently shook his love awake from his deepening doze. Harry reluctantly, with some coaxing and a soft, protesting grunt of disagreement, peered up at him with sleepy eyes, and slightly ruffled hair. Tony noted with some concern, that his love was apparently more sleep deprived than he'd let on. He let it pass for the time being without comment, however, resolving to get Harry into bed soon so he could nap.
"Hey there, my beautiful sleepy bird." Tony teased gently, brushing some of the mussed hair from Harry's eyes.
Harry blinked at him, green orbs sharpening instantly at the pet name. He hummed questioningly, as he slid his arms up around Tony's neck and nuzzled his shoulder, still peeking up at him from under those dark eyelashes. His movements lazy like a content feline, rather than the bird he was more closely related to.
Tony chuckled, purposely baiting him with little bits of information. "Aren't you just the cutest little Submissive thing…"
Harry slowly lifted his head, holding Tony's gaze firmly now, nothing playful or sleepy held therein. Instead, there was faint hope blooming, making a hint of silver gleam from his gaze in the dim light of the limo's interior.
"Tony?" The Valkyrie rasped in a rough slumber tone.
Tony smiled at him, murmuring for only Harry's ears alone. "Present, and firing on all cylinders, my little Valkyrie."
"You're sure?" He inquired cautiously, and Tony's heart broke a little bit at the plaintive note edging into it.
Tony nodded. "As sure as Jarvis being my greatest creation ever."
Harry snorted in amusement, unable to help himself, but the smile he gave Tony was wide, and relieved. "I'm glad to have you back. All of you. I can't tell you how much the last few months have totally sucked. I was so worried about you, and...I felt so helpless. I couldn't do anything, Tony! It was terrible, I-"
Tony quickly interrupted, knowing all too well how Harry would work himself up. Especially after bottling up his worries and fears for an extended period of time. He needed to head this off now before it got too far and he had a sobbing Valkyrie in his lap. That wouldn't be good for anybody.
"Hey now, I know. I'm sorry. I can imagine how that must have been, but I'm right here, now. All of me. I'm okay. We're okay." He reached out to smooth back some of Harry's hair from his face again, knowing how much he liked to be pet, though he would never, ever, admit it out loud.
"And we're going to be better than ever. Right? Positive thoughts, love." Tony leaned forward to kiss Harry's lips lightly before pulling back. "Now, take a deep breath..."
Harry grumbled, but complied without much further protest. Inhaling deeply, then holding it for several long seconds, before letting it out slowly, familiar with this exercise from many years ago, when he would panic over college exams. Tony observed him attentively as much of the tension left Harry's body with it. "Now. Isn't that better? Calmer?"
Tony's hand slid to the back of Harry's neck, and he squeezed gently in reassurance. "It's over with. We're right where we're meant to be. Took us some time to get here, I'll admit. And that's almost completely my fault, but we're here. That's what matters."
Harry pressed into the hand holding the back of his neck, seeking comfort in it's steady presence. "I know. You're right. We're okay. But it was horrible Tony, and I don't think that's going to completely go away anytime soon."
Tony nodded, mind brushing over his own continuous battle with PTSD symptoms. They never really went fully away. He just found ways of making himself comfortable and dealing with them. Or at least, that's how Tony chose to handle it. "That's okay. I'm aware, and we both have things to work through, I'm sure. But right now, everything is alright. We don't want to work up into a panic. Not now that it's over."
He squeezed Harry's neck one more time, and moved his free hand back to lovingly cup his cheek, thumb brushing over Harry's lower lip. Tony took a deep breath to steel himself, and Harry tilted his head, sharp eyes picking up on his sudden nervousness. "Tony?"
Tony shook his head sharply, and Harry fell silent, and just observed him. Centering himself the best he could, Tony started to speak.
"For the record. I missed you too, like crazy. I wasn't sure that you were real, but you've proven me wrong in the best possible way. Magic, gorgeous feathered aliens, they can't possibly be more outrageous than Loki and his evil Spear of Destiny, super secret spy organizations, and honest to god super soldiers coming back from the dead. So. You'll have no more arguments from me on any weird shit you tell me from now on. And I'm sorry that I was such a dick, I can't ever apologize enough for that. It seems like no matter what I do, I seem to majorly fuck up with you."
Harry didn't interrupt, but he did release a soft, soothing coo that was entirely inhuman.
Tony blinked at the noise, but purposely let it go, wanting to finish his line of thinking. "So, there is a lot we need to talk about and work out together. That's going to take a while, and honestly, I'm not up to doing it right this minute. I'm just letting you know that I'm aware. I'm also aware, that you are holding things back from me. But, I've decided that I just don't fucking care. I love you. I want no one else except for you, in whatever package that comes in. You want to take over the world? The Universe? Fine, I'll give it to you on a silver platter. You want to open a no-name kosher bakery in South Africa? Fine, I'm there. My point, Harry, is that there is nothing you can do, nothing you can say, that will make me love you any less, or frighten me away. I'm done with that. There isn't anyone else for me."
He paused to take another deep breath, then plunged into the deep end. "With all of this in mind, I want to ask you a very important question. I want you to understand that I have no doubts, and whatever your answer, it won't change anything that I've just told you."
Tony turned his eyes to meet Harry's not having realized that he'd looked away during his little dramatic speech. He lifts his hand, the one holding the rings in a clenched fist. Harry's eyes immediately zero in on it, visibly burning with curiosity.
Harry's eyes snapped up to Tony's, narrowing a little, since he hated his full first name being used. Tony opened his fist to reveal the bands laying on his palm.
"I know I'm wearing a stained, ruined suit. I know you're exhausted, and we're both a bit emotional after everything today. I know we have issues to talk about. I know that after all these years of having my head up my ass, I don't deserve you. But I want you. So, would you do a dumb asshole like me the honor of marrying me anyway?"
Harry blinked a few times, wondering if he heard Tony wrong before a slow, wobbly smile curled his lips. Gingerly he reached out to pick up the rings, examining them closely. Still silent. But Tony gave him a moment, knowing that Harry sometimes needed a minute to find his words. Tony recognized the moment that Harry saw the engraving on the inside of the bands. His eyes lit up, and his lower lip trembled, but he didn't cry. It was a close thing, and Tony wasn't sure if the glassiness of his wet eyes were a good or bad sign.
Still, he waited.
Finally, Harry took both of the rings and grabbed Tony's left in a demanding manner. He gave it to him without protest, as he watched as his still silent partner slid one of the bands onto Tony's ring finger, before handing the other ring back to him.
Solemnly, Tony took up Harry's left hand, and gently slid the matching band onto his ring finger, before lifting the hand to his lips, and kissing the back of it. Then turning it over to kiss, the palm, then the wrist, and finally, Tony reached out to tangle his right hand into Harry's hair, tugging him into a kiss so light, it was barely a brush of their lips together, and mostly a mingling of their breaths.
"I take it, this means yes," Tony stated with calm confidence, all the worry, nervousness and tension gone from him. His heart too full of happiness, gratefulness, and near worshipful love to have room for anything else.
Harry sniffled and huffed a watery laugh. "As if my answer would have been anything else, you imbecile. That was a hell of a proposal. Though, I won't argue with you being an asshole."
Tony laughed, a deep heartfelt emotion of pure joy as he leaned back away from Harry's lips. He entwined their ringed hands together and just looked, unable to help himself. Harry gazed down as well, and for several minutes, that's all they did was look, and revel in the joy shared between them. Neither one needed to have words for this moment, they were together, and working towards the future. That was what ultimately mattered to them both.
Eventually, Tony raised his gaze back up. Amusement coating his tone. "So...how long of an engagement are we talking about here?"
Harry tilted his head, the corners of his mouth quirking up in fond enjoyment. "I didn't have a time frame in mind."
Tony nodded, a grin stretching his lips, though his blue eyes were serious. "I was thinking...and feel free to tell me to fuck off at any point. You need to stay under the radar as much as realistically possible. I know I'm going to make that difficult, simply with my presence, both because of my name, and because of Ironman…" He trailed off, seemingly losing his train of thought for a moment. "I guess...what I'm trying to say is...what I'm trying to ask…"
Tony sighed. "A formal wedding is going to be a media disaster, no matter what I do. S.H.I.E.L.D. will find out about it, eventually, even if it's not splashed across every tabloid rag in the world. Posting the announcement in the British paper would amount to the same thing, if a little bit slower…"
Harry reached over to place a hand over Tony's mouth, effectively stopping his words. Tony arched a brow at him. Harry just grinned at him affectionately.
"Let's hit Vegas Tony."
Harry dropped his hand away. People were going to talk to matter what they did. Maybe this way, it wouldn't be noticed in the mass of regularly ill-thought out marriages that religiously came out of that city. It might give them cover for a little while.
"Fuck yeah, baby. You read my mind."
Harry rolled his eyes. "Not hard to do." He muttered.
Tony shrugged. "I thought you might kill me for just suggesting it."
Harry grinned. It was a shark's smile, and sent a not unpleasant chill down Tony's spine. "Nah. I'm going to have more fun tormenting you in other ways."
"Yes, please." Tony quipped back as they settle back down to snuggle.
At some point, the world intrudes on their little bubble of joy. Happy knocks on the dividing window, before turning on the intercom. "I'm sorry, Mr. Stark, I hate to bother you and your guest, but we need to get going. We've been here for several hours. You have a long distance phone meeting with Germany tonight, and it's going to take us a little bit to get Mr. Sinclair back to his car, and get us back to the house. The storm is going to be hitting us hard soon, I don't want to risk this big beast in snowy conditions."
Tony groaned in dismay, having completely forgotten about the phone call, and the worsening weather. He hadn't done any of his preparation for either. Having been utterly side tracked while picking up a coffee. But finding Harry was more than worth it. He would just have to figure something out. Sighing, he reached out to press the button for the intercom. "Yeah, alright, give me just a few minutes Happy."
Turning to Harry, he asked. "Would you come back to the house with me? I can have someone pick up the car if you like? I really don't want to be separated from you just yet."
Harry was nodding before Tony had even finished. "That's fine. I would love to come home with you. I can easily cancel the hotel room, but I need my bags with my clothes at some point before I do that."
~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~* MB *~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~
They managed to beat the storm back to Tony's home safely, with plenty of time to gather together Harry's things before the storm blustered in. Happy had been able to arrange a retrieval of the rental car, having it parked in Tony's expansive garage. While they swung by the hotel long enough to fetch Harry's bags on the way to Tony's home., arriving with just minutes to spare before the skies had opened up and began dumping thick flakes onto the panicking citizens of Malibu.
Happy, when he finally came back into the house, immediately took Harry's bags, into the guest room, therefore missing Jarvis's warm greetings and too familiar for mere stranger's tone. When he returned to the living room, it was clear that Happy was reluctant to take off to his own little apartment. One that Tony had built in for staff downstairs, closer to the garage. Finally, before the lingering became too awkward, Tony waved him away with a smile and promise of frozen pizza later for dinner.
Neither Tony nor Harry had bothered to correct Happy about where the Valkyrie was going to be sleeping. Tony, because he couldn't be bothered, and Harry because he found the other man's suspicious nature both amusing and reassuring. Happy, at least, was watching out for his friend. Even if he couldn't stop Tony from making possibly terrible choices. It was obvious the man had no qualms about staring someone down in an attempt at silent threat and intimidation.
Unfortunately for Mr. Hogan, Harry had dealt with much more threatening beings in both of his lives. Happy's glare rated about the same level as a petulant puppy, in comparison.
Harry had Jarvis call Kiran, to inform the older Valkyrie of his change in arrangements, and then parked himself in the living room to unwind while Tony took care of his unavoidable meeting. Vanishing from sight after dropping a peck of a kiss on Harry's cheek, mumbling about nearly being late. Harry just smiled in fondness, humming in acknowledgment at his mate's retreating back, and looked around before making himself comfortable on the overstuffed leather sofa as Tony disappeared into the downstairs office just off the living room.
"Jarvis," Harry murmured softly, not wishing to disturb Tony.
The Valkyrie quirked an eyebrow as he eyeballed Tony's overly complicated TV remote. "Can you find a movie on the telly for me? Something relaxing, please?"
"Of course, Harry. Something seasonal, perhaps? There are several of those playing at the present time."
Harry nodded. "That's fine, Jarvis. Thanks."
"You are welcome, Harry. If I may say...you are more than welcome to relax fully if you would prefer. I will certainly inform you if Mr. Hogan decides to return upstairs."
Harry paused to consider it. It would certainly be nice to stretch his wings out over the couch and not have to worry about leaving them so exposed. The only one who would see the shameless display was his mate, which was well within propriety, even if they weren't officially Bonded, just yet. They were engaged, which would keep it from being scandalous. Jarvis, by virtue of being a computer program, didn't count as any sort of audience.
Still...if Tony's reaction the first time is any indication, perhaps not right now.
"Hmm, no. I don't think so at the moment Jarvis, thanks anyway. I don't wish to risk distracting Tony from his meeting. Though I may take you up on that offer after he is done."
"As you wish, Harry. Is this movie acceptable?"
Harry glanced at the screen and saw a black and white Christmas movie playing that he was unfamiliar with. "Yes, that's fine."
"Very well then." They both slipped into a comfortable silence, and Harry let his mind begin to wander as he made himself comfortable.
Outside, the winter storm wailed and rampaged all along the Malibu coast, swiftly turning into full blown blizzard conditions. The poor, unsuspecting populace of southern California was reeling in shock, despite previous near doomsday warnings on the radio earlier in the day. All day, Harry had noticed people vacillating between near blind panic, and almost contemptuous dismissal of the information. Ironically, it had turned into the storm of the century within only a few short hours of the first flurries sighted. Emergency alerts were taking over most channels on the television. Everyone who hadn't previously fled the Malibu area at the first proof of snowfall were now hunkering down in whatever shelter they had found. The Valkyrie Prince hoped that they were fortunate enough, or smart enough to have prepared for a few days, because it didn't look like the storm was going to let up anytime soon.
Luckily, Harry and Tony were safely ensconced within his Cliffside mansion. Despite the fact that the building hung part way over the ocean, it was a strong structure, re-enforced for both the weight of Tony's garage hobby, and the labs where he worked on his Ironman suits. His home could safely endure these high winds, and the weight of the quickly accumulating snow on the roof, without causing a flicker of concern.
Harry gazed in mild fascination as heavy winds battered against Tony's windows fiercely, flinging flurries of white in a chaotic tantrum. With the setting sun on the distant horizon, the very air appeared to glimmer and glint on occasion, as though diamond dust saturated the wind. The clouds were swiftly obscuring the what little remaining sunlight there was, bringing night on faster than it normally would have approached. Still, in spite of the violence of the weather, Harry found himself deeply entranced by it.
He watched the unusual snowfall, immersed in his content lethargy. Moving only enough to pull down the fleece blanket that was draped over the back of Tony's couch, most likely for show rather than use, and curled up on the generously large living room couch. The only thing missing was a piping hot cup of tea warming his hands, but the Valkyrie was in a state of domestic bliss, and couldn't be bothered to move from his spot to fix himself some.
This wasn't his home, but Tony's scent saturated nearly every surface. Both comforting and enticing his inner Valkyrie. This was his mate's nest, he was safe here. There wasn't a hint of Pepper anywhere that Harry had noticed thus far, not even a lingering stale scent that would indicate her presence from some time ago. What was apparent, however, were the freshly painted walls, the newness of furniture pieces, and a distinct Tony style of art placed here and there. It made something inside him, that Harry hadn't acknowledged was there, unclench, and finally relax. It felt like a previously unknown weight was lifted from him. The shift startled him, and made him realize just how unsettled he had been, being separated from his mate, and just how accustomed to that level of distress he had become.
Harry didn't explore more than the common living spaces at this point, too comfortable right where he was, but he felt confident that if these places had been so thoroughly cleansed of her, then surely the more private spaces had been just as meticulously redone. Secretly, he was deeply pleased and amused by the extent Tony had gone to erase Pepper's mark on anything he deemed as his own. It was petty, and Harry had no intention of sharing the sentiment with his mate, but he refused to feel bad for this bit of meanness in his character. That woman had caused both of them too much pain over the years for the Valkyrie to have any sort of generous spirit towards her.
It was only out of respect for Tony's feelings that Harry hadn't violently, and personally, dealt with her during that time frame. Briefly, he wondered if Tony's opinion on the subject might change at some point, but he doubted it. The man had too big a heart behind those shields of his. Tony would rather never have to deal with the woman ever again, then put her six feet under. Which would be Harry's preferred method of moving on, morality be damned. Pepper's blackmail material was set to expire in short order. Harry couldn't in good conscience marry his mate without being honest about the events that led to his parent's murder. He just prayed that their emotional bond with each other was as a strong as he thought it was.
Faintly in the background, Harry could hear Tony debating with someone from his German section of Stark Industries, but Harry was tuning most of it out, uninterested in technical babble at the moment. They had been going back for forth now for close to three hours now. Mixing with the soft meeting conversation from the other room was the current programming on the large TV screen to his left. It was on low volume, playing another overrun Christmas movie that he wasn't paying the least bit of attention to. It wasn't obviously apparent, but Harry could hear the underlying frustration in his mate's voice. It made Harry idly muse about how much longer Tony would put up with whatever the issue was before losing his temper at the poor schmuck that got stuck with the video conference.
The relative quiet was nice while it lasted, broken finally by a pausing point in the meeting, where everyone took a step back to get something to eat and cool their tempers. Harry had no idea what their German counterpart was consuming, but he was perfectly happy with the idea of pizza for dinner. It was yummy, would feed all of them without fuss, and required little effort to make.
At this time, Harry forced himself up from the couch and drifted into the kitchen, where he paused a moment to watch as Tony slid two extra-large frozen pizzas into the oven. Lips quirking up into a little smile, Harry made his way over to his mate and wrapped his arms around his waist, nuzzling the nape of his neck.
"I would ask how things went, but I'm sort of afraid of the answer."
Tony let out a large sigh, and then chuckled softly, resting his hands over Harry's and squeezing them gently. "I'd rather talk about pretty much anything else at the moment, love. Suffice to say, they are a bunch of egotistical morons who think they can get away with using substandard materials and changing my designs as they see fit. Because apparently, things were too expensive or some such bullshit. Their budget was more than what they needed to accomplish the prototypes I wanted. Somebody, somewhere, either royally fucked up, or pocketed a large chunk of that money."
Harry winced and rested his forehead against Tony's shoulder. "Yikes. I'd be looking for someone's head on a platter too. Why specifically have the German portion of Stark Industries make these prototypes though?"
Tony shifted and turned in Harry's arms, making the Valkyrie lift his head and loosen his hold enough for Tony to face him. Tony wrapped his arms around Harry's neck in a relaxed pose. "Because it was supposed to be cheaper for one, and because they were going to receive the first test marketing. It would have been a possible boost for their economy if it took off like I was thinking. It would have created thousands of jobs over the next few years, both in production and sales on corporate and retail levels."
"Ah. I see. And now?" Harry reached up to card the fingers of his right hand through Tony's already ruffled hair.
His mate huffed. "I haven't made up my mind. Depends on what happened to the money first of all, and if I can replace the assholes working on the schematics, I sent over. If no one is willing to play ball, I'm going to take the product elsewhere. I've got another bid offer that was just as good. I went with them because I already have a partial company branch there, and because they needed the jobs it would provide."
Tony closed his eyes and relaxed into Harry's fingers, sighing in gentle pleasure. "Change of topic now?" He murmured softly.
Harry leaned forward to lightly brush a kiss over each closed eyelid. "Hmm, yes. Thank you for sharing the little bit you did with me. Do you have vegetables in your fridge? I kinda want a salad with my pizza tonight."
A small smile tugged Tony's lips as he opened his eyes and gazed into Harry's green ones fondly. "Not sure, honestly. I don't remember the last time I did any shopping. Likely years ago, from never. Jarvis places the order and has it delivered while I'm out, or in the labs, so I usually have no idea what is in there half the time."
Harry raised his brows in disbelief as he gently pulled out of Tony's arms. "Oh my god Tony, really? You are so damned lazy." He teased, laughing lightly. Tony just grinned back at him, unrepentant, and shrugged.
Harry turned towards the appliance and gingerly opened the door. "I don't know whether to be terrified of a radioactive monster colony growing in here, or excited to see what Jarvis tries to get you to eat."
"I assure you, Harry," Jarvis interrupted Harry's good natured ribbing of Tony. "You need not fear being consumed by anything monstrous living in the refrigerator. The maid cleans it out once a week, regularly. There should certainly be the appropriate vegetables in there for a leaf salad. Diana came by yesterday with extra groceries. You will find much more in the storage pantry to your right, if you should choose to look. I believe there to be plenty of variety and quantity that food will not be a concern for the duration of the foul weather. Even if you are confined for more than two weeks. Although the fresh food might be more questionable at that point."
Harry snorted a laugh, "Thanks, Jarvis. That's helpful and reassuring." and opened the door fully to browse his options, pulling out what he wanted. Pointing a cucumber at Tony, Harry narrowed his eyes and haughtily stated. "You Sir, are a shiftless, incorrigible sod that would likely starve to death if Jarvis didn't make sure to nearly force feed you now and again."
Tony laughed loudly, leaning his hip against the counter and crossing his arms over his chest with an unabashed grin. "Guilty as charged, in every sense of the definition of the word."
Harry snorts, and rolls his eyes, as he turned back to his vegetables, quickly, with Jarvis's help, fishing out the cutting board, a large bowl, and an appropriate knife. Completely ignoring Tony as the blue-eyed man plastered himself against Harry's back, sliding his hands into the front pockets of Harry's jeans. More than used to this, since Tony had done it on and off while Harry cooked for years, the Valkyrie had no issue maneuvering about his tasks with Tony acting the part of limpet.
~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~* MB *~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~
This was the strangely domestic scene that Happy walked in on as he entered the kitchen, summoned from his little apartment by the AI since dinner would be ready in only twenty or so minutes. He hesitated in the doorway, a little uncomfortable with the picture presented before him. It shocked him, frankly. He'd never thought that Tony would be interested in men. But obviously, Happy was not privy to all of his friends' secrets. The notion wounded him.
He'd never seen Tony acting this way before, and was a bit disturbed by the seemingly one eighty in personality. Tony showed his affection in material ways, or at least, that had been how he showed it in the past to Pepper and a whole host of other women who had breezed in and out of his life. He kept everyone at a physical distance as much as possible. This sudden change made Hogan question just how well he'd really knew his friend, and also made him even more deeply suspicious of this Harry person. Even as a nagging thought took root in his mind. Perhaps this was the reason Tony couldn't ever settle down? Some of the women in his life had been good women, who Tony had eventually chased away with his antics.
Was this the reason? Has Tony been struggling with this for years and I've just been blind to his pain? Surely, I would have had some kind of an inkling beforehand? Or is this Harry just an exception to the rule? Or is something else going on?
He forced himself to step further into the kitchen and pushed his conflicted feelings on the matter to the back of his mind. His opinion didn't matter here, only Tony's safety.
"Hello, again. Dinner smells good." He offered neutrally, unsure what was a safe topic to broach at this point.
There was no mistaking at this point, what their relationship was. Again, Happy bit his tongue, and kept silent on the matter. He hadn't yet seen or heard anything he could call this stranger out on. Even if Tony, himself, was behaving strangely. He would have to just keep his guard up, and be ever more vigilant about Tony's safety.
Harry looked over his shoulder and smiled in a friendly way, while Tony just grunted an acknowledgment of his presence. That, at least, wasn't out of the ordinary if the genius' mind was otherwise occupied.
"Hi, again Happy." Harry chirped happily, causing Hogan to blink.
"Those should be coming out of the oven in just a few minutes. Go ahead and get comfortable if you'd like while I finish this." Happy just nodded, a little thrown by the perky tone. Harry had struck him as reserved and quiet, though politely friendly, like most other British people he had encountered. Which, admittedly, was only a few.
He was also a little perturbed about how Harry seemed to have instantly made himself at home. Speaking to Happy as though he was a guest in Harry's own house, rather than a long term living resident in Tony's mansion. His eyes flicked to Tony to see if he had caught it, but either the man hadn't, or he simply didn't care, because he didn't react at all. Happy frowned, but quickly cleared the expression from his features.
Now isn't the time. He firmly reminded himself. I have no answers to anything, only speculations, and assumptions.
Seeing what Harry was making, he eyed the lettuce doubtfully, but dutifully pulled down both plates as well as bowls from the cupboard, and forks from the silverware drawer, giving himself the task of setting the table. Something he normally did when he and Tony ate in the kitchen together. Harry would obviously be eating also, since he was making part of the meal in the first place. Happy had no problem with consuming some of it himself, but he felt that Harry was making entirely too much for just the two of them.
He seriously doesn't think that Tony is going to eat any of that salad, does he? Happy mentally scoffed to himself.
It wasn't his place to point such a thing out, however. Pepper had tried several times over the course of their relationship to get Tony to eat a more healthy and balanced diet. Each attempt was met with failure, nine point eight times out of ten. The idea made Happy smug for a few moments, as he anticipated how Harry would react to Tony's childishness concerning green vegetables.
~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~* MB *~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~
Harry was well aware of Happy's skepticism. Could practically feel it vibrating from the man from all the way across the room. He wasn't being as subtle as he thought about it. But Harry ignored it for now and just fixed a bowl of the greens for Tony. Harry wasn't sure what exactly Mr. Hogan was expecting. Perhaps for Tony to refuse the item being handed to him.
Or maybe he was thinking that Tony would turn down eating the salad itself?
Neither happened, of course.
Harry's mate took the bowl from his hand without blinking, or seemingly taking much note of the action itself. Murmuring thanks, and giving him a firm kiss on the cheek before he poked around for dressing in the refrigerator. When Harry glanced discreetly from the corner of his eye, Happy appeared startled, and gave Tony an incredulous look before schooling the expression from his face again. Instead, he just finished setting the table, then walked over and picked up his bowl of salad with a soft thanks of his own.
Harry nodded his head with a little hum, indicating that Happy had been heard. Harry then quickly fixed his own bowl and picked up one of the dressings that Tony had discarded on the counter, taking it to the table with him as he sat down. Tony was busy pulling the two pizzas out of the oven, quickly cutting them into manageable pieces. Within a minute or so, he was bringing them over to the table and setting the platter down, along with his own salad.
Without a word of complaint, Tony pulled the bowl in front of him, and proceeded to consume it, only pausing to pick out an olive or two. Dropping them into Harry's own bowl as he found them. After Harry and Happy had selected their own pieces of pizza, Tony finally reached for his own. Then pulled a Starkpad out of his pocket to get down some of the equations running around in his head before he forgot them.
Harry side-eyed him in amusement, but wasn't upset, this wasn't the first time Tony had brought work to the table, and so long as it didn't happen while they were on a date, Harry ignored it. Harry knew he could get wrapped up in his own work just as easily at times. They didn't talk as they ate. Tony was almost fully distracted by whatever schematic was on the Starkpad. Occasionally, Tony could be heard grumbling under his breath, usually cursing the general stupidity of the human population.
Harry was busy picking all the meat off of his pizza slices with a slight grimace of distaste for the greasy bits of flesh, which Tony periodically stole off the side of his plate and popped into his mouth without even looking up. An act that Harry found highly entertaining. Mischievously, Harry slipped an olive from his salad into the pile. Desperately, he fought to repress a snort of laughter as he watched his mate pick it up. Within seconds, Tony was spitting it out into his napkin with a vile curse of disgust, while Harry lost his battle to keep the snickering locked in. Tony pointed his fork at him in mock threat, one eyebrow raised as he exaggerated a severe frown. No words were needed. Harry knew he would be paying for that later.
Tony hated olives.
Worth it. Harry mused, turning back to his food.
~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~* MB *~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~
Happy, half sunk in his seat, hardly tasted his own food as his sharp eyes darted from one man to the other. His mouth, a thin hard line of increasing alarm and displeasure as he observed every unconsciously intimate and domestic gesture between the two. He didn't know what to make of any of this, yet.
It was obvious that these two knew one another well. Which pissed him off because he still couldn't understand why Tony hadn't told him. He'd thought that the two of them were close enough to share secrets like this. Happy was certainly very much aware of every other conquest of Tony's throughout the years, and never once, had Tony ever shown an interest in another man.
Obviously, this was something he had kept to himself because the two men were not new lovers. Every soft word, every moment of silent communication, every twitch of unconscious body language told Happy that whatever this was between the two of them. It was familiar, it was comfortable. It was old. It had been going on for a long time. And Tony had never told him. It was difficult not to feel deeply offended at the notion.
It was almost impossible for him to not be suspicious of this 'Not Mr. Sinclair, just Harry, please,' person. He was unlike anyone Tony had brought home before, including Pepper. He was more laid back for one. Didn't seem to care about Tony's wealth, seeming to look past it like it wasn't there, which made Happy conclude that he came from money of his own. Possibly old money, with him being British and all. While that reassured him on some level that this stranger wasn't after the Stark fortune, it didn't erase his other concerns.
Tony had taken something from Harry's hands without protest, or even acknowledging the action. Hell, Tony was eating salad without a single noise of protest. Food that Happy knew full well that Tony avoided as much as possible. Then there was the picking off of Harry's plate. Tony never did that. The man was somewhat of a germaphobe in that area. He'd loudly proclaimed more than once that sharing food was disgusting, human mouths were breeding factories for illnesses of all kinds. Yet here he was, stealing sausage and pepperoni without a lick of concern.
It baffled him.
Just who was this stranger in Tony's home? Harry wasn't put off by his less than warm welcome. Happy knew he was just skirting the edge of rudeness. But Tony had yet to take him to task for it, which confused him. Not that he wanted his friend to, of course, but it just made him even more wary. The Tony he was familiar with would have cornered him already if Happy had been this stand offish to any of Tony's previous women. So what was different here? Just because Harry was a man, maybe?
Too many questions, not enough answers. Patience. Observe. Happy told himself, once again, as he concentrated on demolishing his salad.
It's not your place to get in the middle of whatever is going on here. Not yet, at any rate. This Harry, if he is a threat, is bound to slip up at some point. If he's not, then he's not. It doesn't matter in the long run. Besides, he's no different than any other broad that Tony brought home. The only one that had had any staying power was Pepper. Quit being an ass and make conversation. You can manage polite dinner conversation old man, surely.
Happy finished his greens and gently pushed the bowl aside, raising his head with the intention of doing just that. Reassuring himself again, that Harry must surely just be a passing thing. Tony was just falling back into old habits after Pepper had left him. Like he did with the alcohol. The only difference was this conquest happened to be male this time, and Tony was being overly affectionate because he was still reeling from his break-up. Even if he would never admit it out loud to anyone. Happy was prepared to deal with the possible fallout, like he had every other time. Harry's gender put a new spin on things, but was ultimately irrelevant.
Then Happy saw the matching wedding bands.
His every thought ground to a violent, screeching halt.