CHAPTER 3 WELL DESERVED BREAK
One thing Harry quickly learned about preparing for the Stark Expo was that there was always something to do and not a lot of time to do it. Whether it's contacting suppliers for food or decorations, or simply making sure that the right people receives their invitation to the event, it all required highly developed organizational skills – to coordinate everything so it all falls in line – that Harry has never had the opportunity to train. Luckily Pepper was there every step of the way, making sure he doesn't mess up too badly and make the company look bad.
When Harry had informed Pepper a few days ago that his first task as an intern would be to help organized the Expo, the CEO of Stark Industries had looked so exasperated that Harry actually wondered if he had said anything wrong.
"No, it's not you," Pepper told him with a small smile, "It's Tony; he should be the one organizing this and not delegating his tasks to you. He's probably involved in some stuff that he insists is very important."
"Yes," Harry said, because it was true, "Tony told me he's developing some kind of new armor for the Expo."
"He's most likely holed up in his lab, sulking," Pepper said with a sigh, making Harry choke a little on his water, at her blunt words, "He's such a child sometimes."
"Anyway," Harry said because he has no idea how to reply to that, "I hope I won't mess this up." Auror training hasn't prepared him for this kind of work at all.
But luckily, as it turned out, Harry apparently had a natural charm to him that made people want to do business with him. Talking to suppliers was actually pretty easy and asking them to lower their prices, bargaining for a better deal was fun. It was undeniably different from what he was asked to do during Auror training but it wasn't that hard to adapt.
A week before the Expo – and nearly a month after Harry's first day in California, Harry found himself once again in Tony's lab giving the man a run-down of the preparations – what was done and what was left to do. Even as he spoke, Harry couldn't help but notice the pallor of the other man's skin; the bloodshot of his eyes and the inconstancy of his gait. He didn't look healthy at all and Harry was once again given a vivid reminder that Tony Stark was a dying man.
Truth be told, the desire to help Tony has grown since his first day here. Before, Harry's instinct to help him stemmed more from his hero complex then anything else; he could easily forget it if he didn't actively think about it.
Now, however, he was barely resisting the urge to question the man and ask him what was going on with him. He didn't really understand why his feelings were changing so much, considering that his contacts with the man were limited to hellos in the morning and goodnights if he sees him before going back to the dorms. After all, Harry had been way too busy getting everything ready for the big event, that he barely had time to sleep or think about his mission, let along talk to his boss. And as for Tony, he spends most of his time in the labs researching; probably desperate to find a solution to his illness. Harry didn't know how to approach this and can't even contact Hermione to ask for advice. For now, he decided, all he can do is just sit back and watch things develop. If he gets too desperate, he can always find a way.
"And that's about it," Harry finished with a flourish, smiling a little proudly at what he had accomplished. Tony smiled too, looking delighted at the progress.
"Great job Harry," he said, "At the beginning, I wasn't sure if you can pull this off, even with Pepper's help but you've proven me wrong. You deserve a break."
Harry immediately started to protest.
"I don't have time for a break," he told Tony seriously, aware how Pepper-ish he sounded at the moment. It was unavoidable, truth be told, considering the number of hours per day he spends with the woman. "I have too much to do; I still have to contact the model agency to confirm that their girls will be available for the event."
Tony waved his hand as if to dismiss his concerns.
"You can do that tomorrow. One day won't hurt."
"But," Harry tried again but was interrupted once more.
"I'm taking you out to dinner. And that is non negotiable," Tony said firmly, charming smile fixed firmly on his face, "Don't even try to get out of it. Think of it as an order."
"To accompany you out for dinner?" Harry asked, wondering if that was perhaps a little bit inappropriate. He didn't actually believe that Tony had some interior motives to invite him out other than to congratulate him on a job well done, but if reporters catch them, they would surely spin the story in a way that would portray the other man in a bad light. At least that's something Harry can sympathize with Tony.
Tony rolled his eyes, as if already sensing his thoughts.
"It's just dinner; dress nicely and if it makes you feel better, we can even talk about work. I think it's about time we get to know each other better. I'll be waiting for you at the front entrance at 7."
Since Harry didn't know any way to get out of this without disobeying Tony's will, he shrugged. What could it possibly hurt?
"He's taking you out for dinner?" Alex sounded incredulous, his blue eyes wide with surprise, "Wow, isn't that getting a little bit personal?"
"There's nothing personal Alex," Harry groaned as if he hadn't been thinking about the same thing on his way back to the dorms, "It's business. Bosses can have meals with their employees, right? He told me he wanted to get to know me better since I'm his intern and all."
"But it's Tony Stark," Alex said, as if that explains everything. His next words were more hushed, as if he was telling Harry some kind of secret. "He doesn't do business meetings, not for a while anyway. If he takes someone out to a restaurant and tells them he wants to get to know them better, it's to get in their pants."
Despite himself, Harry felt his whole face flush at Alex's words.
"Well, you don't have to worry about me," Harry said jokingly, "My virtue is safe since I'm not interested."
While Alex was shooting him a doubtful look, Harry knew his words were the exact truth. Harry may be bisexual in nature, but he can say rather proudly that he has never thought of Tony Stark in a sexual manner, ever. Tony just wasn't his type. Harry was more of the long-term kind of guy and would never settle for one-night stands. Tony, on the other hand, didn't seem to know how to do anything other than one night stands. Even if for some reason, Tony was getting slightly more attractive every time Harry sees him, the fact that he's Harry's employer and that Harry has a mission to accomplish, makes anything more than a platonic relationship between them, totally impossible.
Besides, Harry was pretty sure Tony's constant touches were more because he was a natural flirt rather then because he was actually interested in Harry. Furthermore, he didn't know what Tony's usual partners are like, Harry was sure they were closer to Tony's age.
"Right," Alex drawled, still looking unconvinced, "Maybe I should get you to wear a chastity belt."
"Alex, we barely had any contact for the past month except hellos and goodbyes. Don't make this more then it seems. I'm already swamped with work, I don't need any work place drama to add to my plate."
Alex raised his hands in surrender and Harry was left to choose an outfit in peace.
For once in his life, Tony was actually on time, to Harry's ever lasting shock. He had been sure the man would be at least 10 minutes late, but no; at 7, Tony was standing at the front door, next to one of the sexiest cars that Harry has ever seen. Harry may not be an expert on vehicles and has never bothered getting a license; even he could see that car was more work of art than method of transportation.
"Wow," Harry breathed in awe, making Tony smile in amusement. The man must love showing off his little gadgets.
"Zenvo ST1 sports car, worth over a million dollars," Tony told him, hands caressing the hood almost gently, "Fast and gorgeous; one of my prized possessions. Wait till you see the inside."
The inside was as impressive as the outside; all smooth leather and chrome finishing, it looked once again like some kind of thing one would see on a high-budget sci-fi movie than in real life. With the car's ability to reach 60 mph in 2.9 seconds and a top speed of 233 mph, they managed to reach the restaurant in record time. Harry knew if he weren't already used to riding the Firebolt, he would probably be puking right now after the intense ride he had just experienced.
"What did you think?" Tony asked as they both made towards the entrance, Tony's hand once again on the small of Harry's back, gently guiding him. "Too fast for you?"
"Nice try," Harry replied with a smirk of his own, ignoring how his magic hummed contently at Tony's proximity and was actually calm for the first time in weeks. Harry didn't know why it was acting this way but if this trend continues, Harry won't be able to continue believing that it was all coincidences. "That's nothing. I love speed."
Tony looked absolutely charmed by his words and didn't look away from him until they were sat down at one of the more private tables inside the restaurant.
The place Tony has chosen for their little celebration was surprisingly small and homely. It might still look too expensive for Harry's tastes, but it was a far cry from the scrumptious interior of Stark Mansion. Compared to the dining room that Harry had eaten in his first day, this place was almost like McDonalds.
It didn't take long for Harry to understand why Tony had chosen this over other places. For one thing, the food was absolutely delicious; the fish was tender and savory and the wine so exquisite that Harry could die. The wait staff was discreet and didn't spend the entire time staring at Tony. It was nice really, and Harry let himself relax for the first time in weeks.
After a confortable dinner talking about work and other related things, such as Harry's family and Tony's hobbies, Harry was feeling rather warm and bubbly from the alcohol and at peace with the world. He didn't even blink when Tony slid an arm around his waist and hugged him closer than usual. He figured Tony was probably as tipsy as he felt.
Instead of going back to the car and risking driving slightly drunk, they ended up walking around the small park Tony found near the restaurant. It was peaceful and confortable; Tony even told Harry about his adventures in Afghanistan and showed him his arc reactor. Like most people seeing it for the first time, Harry gaped at it for a while and proceeded to ask Tony how it worked. Too drunk to actually master up a defense against Harry questions, Tony told him how they were shrapnels around his heart and that this thing was keeping them from reaching the center. Harry drunkenly wondered if that was the cause of Tony's illness but luckily wasn't drunk enough to ask the question out loud.
Their evening came to an end around 9 when Pepper decided to check up on them by calling Tony's cellphone repeatedly. After the 3rd time, Tony gave up and picked up the call.
"Tony?" Pepper sounded almost hysterical, "Harry's gone. Do you-"
"He's here with me," Tony slurred in to the receiver.
After making sure everything was all right, Pepper ordered both of them to come home. Since Tony was still too drunk to drive, Pepper sent Happy who arrived 15 minutes later, in a limo. Harry climbed in after Tony, finally feeling the exhaustion weighting on him and unable to keep his eyes open any longer. He fell asleep right there, head cushioned on Tony's shoulder.
While the last thing he remembers is falling asleep in Tony's limo, he wakes up in his own bed, and to find Alex staring down at him.
"Bloody hell," Harry cried, trying to get away from the other man, heart pounding as loudly as his head, "What on earth are you doing?"
"Checking you for marks," Alex replied seriously, as if watching someone sleep wasn't creepy as hell "Someone from the model agency called by the way; maybe you should call him back."
Harry groaned, not really in the mood of going back to work but knowing he had to. He forced his tired body out of his comforter and headed towards the bathroom. He was lucky that he didn't drink enough the previous night to end up with him puking this morning. But it still required a shower before Harry was feeling any close to human.
Once he was out of the bathroom, he picked up his cell and checked his messages. He ignored the ones from Tony for the moment – why was the man texting him when he has never done it before, he wasn't sure – and found the number for the agency.
As he scheduled a date with the owner for his models to try out the cheerleading uniforms he had ordered, Harry really hoped things would calm down after the Expo was over. Because as unbelievable as it may sound, this secretariat work was more taxing on his body than those 6 months of Auror training.
To Be Continued…