“Anthony Stark. What a surprise.”
Tony took his time selecting a flute of champagne before turning around, and he made certain to wear his best, magazine-perfect smile. “And the local criminal element. What a surprise.”
Gentleman Johnny Marcone smiled thinly, his green eyes narrowing dangerously, but he inclined his head, all elegant poise for the most dangerous man in the ballroom. The charity gala was in full, lavish swing now that everyone had had at least a couple of glasses of champagne, and this was usually the best part of any party in Tony’s regard. Any time now, a few pretty, blonde leggy young things would likely have worked up enough alcohol-fueled courage to try and put their manicured hands up his shirt.
Unfortunately, this was Chicago, and the real reason why he was attending this gala in the middle of a bloody snowstorm was the emotional, possessive type.
Marcone seemed to have come to the same conclusion. “You seem to be alone tonight. Very unusual, Mister Stark.”
“I’m feeling a little under the weather.”
“A pity. Chicago is not to your liking?”
“Some of it is. Most of it is damned cold at the best of times. I could invent a remote snow plow,” Tony said absently, with a glance out at the thickly piling snow. “Rahm mentioned it before.”
“I hear you’re not in his good graces at present.”
“He can’t take jokes sometimes.” It had been only one instance of harmless flirting. One. Granted, it had been in the White House, and the victim had been the President, but it wasn’t as though the said President hadn’t simply taken it in his stride, cool and collected and amused as ever.
“You do seem rather acquainted with the unforgiving.” Marcone said coldly.
Tony sipped at the glass of champagne. “I’ve had a lot of practice. But sooner or later, people just warm up to me again.”
“Or to your money.”
“Some of the unforgiving aren’t very interested in money, are they?” Tony drawled. “As compared to someone who isn’t in the Outfit and has made all his money legitimately?”
“You’re a war monger.”
“Not anymore! Public announcement, company restructure, change of heart,” Tony pretended to count it all off on his fingers. “I got on the front cover of TIME and everything. Person of the Year.”
“Your proclivities are hardly secret. Sooner or later Harry will stop being so tolerant.”
Sometimes, Tony wondered exactly how the hell had Harry Dresden, yellow pages wizard, managed to become the object of obsession of a mafia don, but he supposed it probably involved setting things on fire. Literally. “I guess you’ll have to drink to that. But in the meantime, you’re still out in the cold, I hear.”
Marcone didn’t rise to the bait, unfortunately. “He’s told you he has no interest in becoming the Sorcerer Supreme. Eventually your company and your responsibilities in the Avengers will lend you less and less time to come to Chicago.”
God, but possessive Mafioso could be so tiresome sometimes. Tony decided to hit under the belt. Raising his glass again, he smirked. “It’s a little like being in bed with an EMP device,” he purred, taking a sip. “Makes my heart flutter.”
From the expression of disgust and irritation that briefly crossed Marcone’s perfect mask, Tony seemed to have hit his mark. He drained the glass, passed it to a waiter, and saluted Marcone mockingly. “Try a little harder, Johnny.”
“You’ll regret crossing me, Mister Stark,” Marcone said quietly, his tone icy.
“Not that it hasn’t been fun sniping with you,” Tony said dryly, “But Harry’s opinion? Important deciding factor.”
“So if he decides on someone else, you’ll leave?”
“Sure. I want him to be happy. I like people being happy,” Tony shrugged. He’d loved and lost before, and usually counted it as a plus if the ‘lost’ didn’t involve screaming matches and accusations and lawsuits.
Marcone, however, suddenly seemed… contemplative. “I’ll hold you to that, Mister Stark. Have a good evening.”
Tony watched the mafia don stalk back into the glittering crowd, a wolf cutting neatly amongst sheep, and looked at his watch, feeling the first stirrings of faint unease. If he slipped out now, it’d be a good hour’s drive through the snow to get to Harry’s place.
Hell, that was what the spare suitcase was for.
Harry’s expression of irritation began to thaw gently only when Tony had kicked off the last jetboot and had curled up beside the heater next to the monster dog in a spare quilt, shivering. Boredom during the last time he had been snowed in at Harry’s new place meant that he had modified the previously dead heating unit extensively, and it worked like a charm, just like the phone.
That had been the end of his home improvement shtick, however; for some reason, Harry had objected flatly when Tony had offered to make some other normal household objects magic-proof. Like a toaster, or an electric stove, or fluorescent lights, or a vibrator… For someone who made a living talking to pixies and ghostbusting, Harry Dresden had no sense of humor, sometimes.
A cup of hot cocoa was pushed into his hands, and Tony could smell the woodsmoke from the ancient stove all the way in the living room. He smiled winningly and tried for a pathetic expression. Eventually, Harry sighed out loud and snuggled up next to him, in the blankets, pillowing his cheek against the nape of his neck. The giant dog wagged its tail, thumping it loudly on the ground, shedding fur liberally over Tony’s Caraceni tux.
“I met a mutual acquaintance at the gala.”
“Hmm?” Harry was sleepy, which, albeit adorable, didn’t usually segue into a nice, slow fuck. Wizards were grumpy when sleepy.
“Very possessive guy,” Tony continued, wondering if cocoa mixed well with champagne and unidentifiable hors d’oeuvres as he finished the cup and set it aside. He felt Harry frown against his neck.
“Mmm. Which one?”
“There’s more than one?” Tony asked, surprised to hear it and felt a little put out. Having one difficult rival was already trying enough.
Harry groaned, and rubbed his cheek against his shoulder, as though trying to wake up. “Tony, who are we talking about?”
“Your other concurrent lovers?”
“Don’t have any,” Harry managed somehow to seem petulant even when mumbling against his collar. “Unlike you.”
That was good to hear. Admittedly, the addendum also made him feel like a total heel, but that wasn’t a novel sensation. Some women went for the ‘but you’re special to me’ responses, or the ‘not around you, baby’ parry, but Tony was fairly sure Harry would simply kick him out into the snow without bothering to resort to magic words. And without his spare suit. “Harry…”
“S’alright. Don’t mind.” Harry slid an arm around his waist, then he added, in an undertone, “Much. Who did you meet at the gala?”
“Green eyes, silvering hair, cuts you dead with a stare-”
“Marcone?” Harry actually moved to look over at Tony. “What sort of gala was this again?”
“It was a charity. Against child labor in third world countries, something like that. I was surprised to see him.”
“Child labor?” Harry frowned, blinking. “Nah. He has a policy against harming children. I wouldn’t have been surprised.”
“He’s very fond of you,” Tony said carefully, treading deeper waters.
“Oh, that. He just wants me to work for him. I’ve said no.” The wizard shrugged. Tony carefully hid a smirk. Somewhere along the line, Marcone had shot himself in the foot.
“Warned me not to cross him.”
“Words to live by.” Harry snuggled back up, yawning. “He’s in the Outfit. And you can’t be in that metal suit all the time.”
“If you were around whenever I wasn’t in the suit, that wouldn’t be a problem,” Tony said, with his best, winning smile, glancing back over his shoulder.
“I told you, I’m already employed. And she doesn’t like to share.”
“I haven’t met a woman whom I couldn’t get on my side.”
Harry growled, and nipped him over at the back of his neck, causing Tony to stiffen, with a gasp. “You are not going to talk to her. She’s out of your league.”
“Is that a challenge?”
“It’s a mandate.” Harry twisted and hauled on his shoulders, and then Tony was on his back, with a lapful of annoyed wizard. The arc reactor flickered almost imperceptibly, and Tony’s breathing quickened. “Understand?”
“I want you to be happy,” Tony said, honestly. “Psychotic boss, a lack of salary and poor working conditions-”
Harry smiled slowly, then he tilted his head and rubbed himself luxuriously back against Tony’s growing arousal, chuckling when Tony growled and bucked. “Thanks for the thought. But I can handle myself.”
“All right,” Tony said dubiously, but he leaned up when Harry bent to slant their mouths together, slow at first, then more hungrily, and he slid his warming hands up under Harry’s shirt. Score one for the legitimate businessman.
Between a Doctor Doom Chinese New Year ‘surprise’, the ailing stock market and Fury’s growing concerns that Captain America was about to hike down to Egypt to kick Mubarak out personally, hence starting an international incident of untold proportions, Tony didn’t get around to checking up on Marcone’s game plan, and therefore was caught flatfooted when the call came.
“Tony,” Harry said dryly, once he picked up, edging out of a directors’ board meeting as he did so, “Did you say something to Marcone?”
“Lots of things. Specify please.” Tony peeked briefly back through the glass doors, right into Pepper’s arched eyebrow, and quickly crabbed further out of sight towards the glass windows overlooking the Manhattan skyline. “Why, is something wrong?”
“You could say that. He’s been paying my bills. The rent, electricity use, water, everything. He kidnapped my car and got it upgraded. He’s even given Mac a running tab with my name on it.”
Why, that sneaky little… Tony risked a surreptitious glance behind him, in case Pepper was about to storm out and he had to make a dive to hide behind one of the lush potted plants. “I guess he’s really interested in getting you to work for him.”
“There were a dozen red roses this morning. Long-stemmed. Nice card. Delivered by the local hired muscle.”
So Marcone had finally cottoned on to the root of the problem. “Oh.” Tony found himself calculating the time/distance equation between getting to the spare suit that he kept in his lab at the penthouse of Stark Tower and flying over to Chicago, and had to remind himself that if he ran out on the meeting, Pepper was going to kill him with the pointy end of her new Blahniks.
“What do you mean, ‘oh’?” Harry asked, so very mildly. “You know, I never thought he actually liked me like that.”
Tony fought the urge to facepalm. “It’s mafia money, isn’t it?”
“Well, yes,” Harry sounded a little reluctant. “But he has rules. And he’s asked me out to dinner tonight at a place called Alinea.”
Marcone was beginning to pull out all the stops. Tony looked longingly at the corridor leading to the lifts, then had to force a grimaced smile when Pepper stalked out of the meeting room. Once out of view of the glass doors, she dropped her smile and mimed cutting her throat. Ouch. Tony hastily held up five fingers.
“Umm… if you don’t go, I promise I’ll take you to Noma. In Denmark. This weekend.” Pepper stared at him with an expression of horror, and shook her head sharply. “If the investor meetings finish early. Sometime this month, I promise.”
“What did you say to Marcone, Tony?” Harry sounded amused, now, which was never a good sign. Once the wizard grasped something, he never let go, especially if it was some sort of joke at another person’s expense.
“I, uh, really have to go,” Tony said quickly, as Pepper mimed cutting her throat again. “Please don’t go to dinner with Marcone?”
“We’ll see,” Harry said calmly, as though he’d just discovered a candy store, or a secret weapon, and hung up. Tony swore under his breath until Pepper coughed politely.
“That was Harry?”
“That was Harry.” Tony sighed. “He’s going to go out with a gangster because I don’t have time for him.”
“I don’t think that’s the reason, Tony.”
“Really?” Tony frowned. “I don’t think I’m that much older than Marcone-”
“The reason is sitting on the front page of today’s tabloids, I bet.”
“That shot with Scarlett? I didn’t even know that there was a photographer around!”
“As usual, you totally missed the point. I don’t even know why I bother working for you,” Pepper said, rather cattily, and Tony’s shoulders slumped.
“I’ll go back into the meeting. I’ll be good. But can you… think of something?” Pepper was always very good at thinking of something.
“No, Tony.” Pepper folded her arms. “I think this is a lesson that you need to learn. And at your age, at that. Now get back into the meeting, Mister Stark.”
“You’re only my secretary, you know,” Tony said sulkily, even as he slunk back into the meeting room. He’ll have to come up with a counterattack.
Tony was an old hand at relationships, even discounting blonde leggy young things who tried to pick him up at parties or functions, and one of the best old tricks in the book was bribing the dog.
Given Harry’s usual income, Mouse probably was supplied with dog chow that came from the supermarket, and didn’t ever seem to get any special treats. Like top grade wagyu beef. Granted, it was definitely unhealthy for the dog, but Mouse seemed to enjoy it, and besides, the last time Tony had play-wrestled with the dog (and lost), he’d discovered that Mouse was pretty much a solid, dog-tank of muscle. Either Mouse walked itself when Harry was out, or Harry’s apprentice did it, but either way, Mouse didn’t seem like it was ever going to run to fat.
Watching Mouse lick Tony’s fingers clean, wagging its tail furiously, said apprentice smiled a little shyly at Tony from the door. Molly Carpenter would grow up pretty – albeit not the level of ‘pretty’ that Tony was used to – and she was fiercely loyal to her mentor. “Harry’s out on a job, Mister Stark.”
“I know.” Tony actually hadn’t, because Harry hadn’t been picking up his phone all day, but when in doubt, it was better to seem suave. “I’m here to see Mouse.”
Molly looked dubiously over at the sleek little yellow Ferrari SA Aperta parked outside the tiny garden of narrow terrace house, and the snow steaming away from around it. “This isn’t a good neighborhood for a nice car.”
“It’s modified.” Tony stumbled briefly as Mouse thumped its tail heavily against the back of his knees as it sniffed at the heavy duffle bag slung over Tony’s back, but Molly didn’t seem to notice, having trotted all the way to the fence to look over the car, fascinated.
“It’s the nicest car I’ve ever seen.”
“Harry only has that beat up old junk that he borrowed from one of his D&D friends, and it breaks down all the time. Like yesterday. He hasn’t gotten around to replacing his Beetle ever since it got destroyed.”
“I did offer to upgrade him, but he refused.”
“Really?” Molly said, sounding disbelieving. “To what?”
“Well, for example, if he wanted that car you’re looking at, I’ll give him the keys.” Tony shrugged. “It’s a custom job. I’ve already outfitted it with the alloy, so it shouldn’t break down near magic.”
“Wow. You really like Harry.” Molly sounded envious, and then she grinned again. “It’s a pity you’re a philanderer.”
Tony winced. “Harry told you that?”
“Everyone knows that, Mister Stark,” Molly said mildly, turning her attention irresistibly back to the car. “A magic proof car. I never would have thought.”
“Call me Tony,” Tony patted his pockets. “Can you drive a manual car?”
“Sure.” Molly shot him a Look that adolescents and young adults all over the world seemed to automatically patent: ‘you’re old, mister’.
“Let me rephrase that. Do you have a license?”
“You’re not gaining a lot of points here,” Molly said, though she pulled a purse out of the pocket of her overcoat, then a driver’s license.
“Take the car for a spin,” Tony tossed her the keys.
Step two: bribe the padawan. Tony smiled winningly; he was insured, anyway. “Sure. I trust you.”
“Wow! I promise I’ll bring it back without a scratch!” Molly seemed to bend space and time with the speed upon which she scrambled into the roadster, and there was even an excited whoop when the 670 CV engine roared alive. Tony sat down at the porch as the car squealed away from the curb, and patted Mouse when the dog shot him a reproachful look.
“I said it was modified,” he told it. “Smart mold airbags and proximity sensors, brake overrides.” The dog huffed at him, and sat down beside him, a warm, solid wall of shedding fur. “If only because I sometimes drive when I’m tipsy.” Mouse whined. “Okay, and quite often, my companions tend to get handsy in my cars.” The dog barked reproachfully, and Tony sighed. “Not you too, damnit. C’mon. Let’s get into the house and tinker with something until Harry gets home.”
Tony was so absorbed in figuring out a way to extend the heating unit to work with the shower unit that he didn’t hear his car pull back up at the curb; he only looked up when Harry cleared his throat behind him. “Tony? What are you doing here?”
“Your place has cold showers,” Tony said, as if that explained everything, and Harry frowned. The wizard looked tired and irritable – whatever the ‘job’ had been, it probably hadn’t gone well.
“Does it have any shower at all at this point?”
“I didn’t break anything,” Tony assumed his best injured expression, and Harry visibly softened, albeit with another sigh and a hand rubbing up over his eyes, when Mouse padded up from behind Harry, wagging its tail, to lick at Tony’s face and paw at his empty pockets.
“And what was Molly doing with your car?”
“She wanted to drive it, and I wasn’t using it at the moment?”
“She picked me up from the crime scene,” Harry scowled. “Now Special Investigations thinks that you and me are some sort of an item.”
“We’re not?” Harry’s comment had sent a twinge through him that couldn’t quite be blamed on feedback through the arc reactor, and Harry groaned, probably noticing something crossing his expression.
“I don’t want to have this conversation with you right now, Tony. I just spent the entire day looking at dead bodies.”
“Where’s Molly?” Tony asked, to break the awkward, uncomfortable silence that ensued.
“Dropped her off.” Harry dangled the keys before Tony’s face, and Tony grinned.
“Keep it for now. I hear your previous car got totaled.”
“I still have a car,” Harry corrected, though he looked indecisive as the Ferrari’s keys jangled briefly in his grip. “You and your toys.”
“Did the Ferrari handle well?”
Harry scowled at him. “I’ve told you before that I already have a car.”
“It’s not your car, it’s your friend’s car, and besides, I hear it’s being serviced right now. When it’s all better again, you can return mine to me.”
“You came all the way here to lend me a car?” Harry asked, looking surprised – and grudgingly gratified. Tony silently congratulated himself on upping the ante – evidently, Marcone hadn’t really dug in that deep yet.
“Sure. You need a car in this sort of weather, and it’s been tweaked not to stall in the cold.” Hands deep in the wiring of the heating unit, Tony connected a few more extensions, and turned his attention to the alloy ports, then grinned and slipped the casing back in place as the indicator flickered to life. “Eureka.”
“Either that, or we get electrocuted when the shower turns on.”
Tony counted the ‘we’ as a minor win, and Harry’s expression when the shower spray turned nice and hot as a major one. Two points to one against the Godfather.
Tony was apparently Piscean, which meant that he was meant to be gentle, malleable and patient. He wasn’t so sure how much of this counted outside of a laboratory. Harry had conscientiously returned the car by leaving it at the StarkTech distribution office in Chicago, handing the keys to the manager and giving him a call, and Tony had spent the weekend investors meeting with the nagging feeling that he hadn’t scored as many plus points as he had thought, but Pepper had been keeping a very close eye on him. Apparently investor confidence was necessary in the current economic climate.
On Sunday, Tony’s phone picked up a call with a hidden number, and he sidled out of the meeting, grateful for the interruption, with a bright ‘It’s probably SHIELD’, and trotted quickly up next to the lifts, just in case. “Tony Stark.”
Always the gentleman, Johnny Marcone said, evenly, “Good evening, Mister Stark.”
“Johnny! What a pleasure.” Tony smirked. “And I was thinking that you’d given up on our little game.”
“This isn’t a game to me, Mister Stark,” Marcone retorted coldly. “And I assure you, I will be in this for the long haul.”
“Looking forward to it.”
“I hear he returned your car.”
“That he did.”
“You may have the advantage on resources, Mister Stark, but I have two advantages over you: time, and familiarity.” Marcone said flatly. “And I can be very patient.”
Marcone hung up without so much as a ‘good day’, and Tony stared at the ‘Disconnected’ text on his phone, wondering whether or not to call Harry. Caving after about a minute, he waited until the line rang out (Harry wasn’t answering), then he tried Molly.
“Hi?” Molly asked cautiously into the phone, when she picked up. “Who’s this?”
“The supplier of magic-proof phones to apprentice wizards.”
“Oh.” Molly giggled. She sounded as though she was outdoors; there was a lot of chatter, a deep, bass beat and static, as though she was at some sort of club. “Hang on. Let me get somewhere quieter… okay. Go.”
“I’m thinking that I need a spy.”
“Sorry, Mister Stark,” Molly said breezily. “Someone was way ahead of you.”
“Marcone?” Tony asked incredulously. He had really let his guard down this time-
“Nope. But I don’t disclose my clients,” Molly said loftily. “But,” she added, as an afterthought, “Since you let me drive your car, I can give you an update. This once.”
“Okay. Marcone somehow resurrected the Blue Beetle.” Molly paused, as though this was a significant point.
“The blue what?”
“You know, Harry’s old beat up Volkswagen! He loved that car. Then it got destroyed, and he never got around to buying himself another car; got by on cabs and walking until Billy’s gang finally decided to lend him one of their old pieces of junk. I don’t know how Marcone did it, but the Blue Beetle’s back. Almost in exact detail, except for all the damage marks, and it’s reinforced. Like the stuff you make.”
“That’s my alloy!” Tony frowned, indignant. “It’s corporate espionage!”
“Harry didn’t want to show it, but he’s over the moon. And you want him to be happy, right?” Molly said, in a disturbing echo reminiscent of Tony’s words from the gala, and he groaned.
“Over a Beetle?”
“I’ll give you a hint, because you seem like a good guy, and my dad doesn’t approve of gangsters,” Molly said, mildly. “Harry’s not like you. He’s not interested in money except where it goes to pay off his bills or buy pet food. He doesn’t like fancy toys or flashy restaurants – I think he probably just tried to order steak and chips at that place Marcone took him to. If Marcone’s in this for the real deal, and you’re really, really interested in something meaningful with Harry, then you need to up your game, Mister Stark.”
“Call me Tony.” Tony said wryly, after a long pause, as he leaned against a pillar and looked back over his shoulder at the meeting room. “Dare I ask who you’re leaning towards right now?”
“Personally? I’m on Harry’s side,” Molly said cheerfully. “You’ve both got good points and bad points. So I’ll lean towards whoever he chooses. And, whether it’s you, or Marcone, if he ends up getting hurt, I’ll still kick either of you in the balls. I can be invisible while doing that, too.”
Tony grimaced in reflexive sympathy. “And I suppose your mentor taught you that.”
“Nope. It was mom.” Molly corrected, then Tony heard voices behind Molly calling for her. “Oh hey, I’ve got to go. Talk to you next time.”
“Have fun.” Tony hung up, with a distinct sense of unease. The playing field had just changed again under his feet.
Molly’s words had set him to thinking – other than a (goddamn!) Volkswagen Beetle, what did Harry want most in his life?
They’d met during a rare occasion when the Mandarin had, for whatever reason, decided to hit Chicago instead of the traditional lightning rod that was Manhattan, had coffee afterwards beside the smoking ruin of a section of the Chicago central business district, and had, against all odds, hit it off. The relationship (if it could be called that) had stretched and meandered for a while, on and off based on their schedules, and until Marcone had prowled into the picture, Tony had thought that it was a mutually comfortable arrangement.
Perhaps because he was a wizard, Harry was an intensely private guy, and after a few attempts at prying, Tony had decided to let it slide. He knew that something big had happened to Harry about a couple of years ago or so, something that had created, in particular, an ugly, jagged welt of scar tissue uncomfortably close to his heart that had looked like a healing bullet-wound. Harry was particularly close-lipped about everything that had happened in that incident bar one.
Still, he’d made it clear to Tony in unequivocal terms that Tony was not to go anywhere near Mab. Thankfully, Tony wasn’t the best of persons for following orders, but he knew that he still needed something for the bargaining table. And now that the previous Sorcerer Supreme seemed to be on an extended and inexplicable holiday, Tony could think of only one other who would know anything at all about Faerie.
He found Thor son of Woden sitting peacefully in a line of other hippies who were preventing a confused looking group of loggers with their machines from getting to a patch of rainforest in the Amazon Basin. The loggers whispered agitatedly to themselves and took a collective step back when he landed in a flare of priceless topsoil, and trudged over to his target. “Can we talk for a moment?”
“These mortals are illegal loggers,” Thor said calmly, dressed in a hippie uniform of faded jeans and a white shirt with an Earth graphic that was stretched tight over his sharply defined muscles. “The rape of Midgard must stop.”
Tony sighed, the sound hissing out metallically from behind his helm. “Don’t take this personally, but I thought Gods were usually more on the false worshipper smiting than for environmental kumbayas.”
“Midgard is the linking bridge to all the adjoining worlds. Should it be despoiled, the consequences will be far-reaching. And besides, Man does not have the right to do what he wishes,” Thor retorted, folding his massive arms, clearly happy to sit and argue this point for eternity if necessary.
“All right, fine. If these loggers go away, can we talk?”
Thor shrugged. “Perhaps.”
Switching on the phone link inside his helmet, Tony connected to Manhattan. “Pepper?”
“Tony?” There was a pause. “What are you doing in Brazil?”
“I want to buy a patch of rainforest. Chop chop.”
“Dress it up for public relations, the media will eat it up. Make it… hmm… I think a hundred thousand hectares would probably cover it for now. Find out who owns the land I’m standing on and make an offer.”
It took about half an hour and some haggling, then Tony grunted, satisfied, thanked Pepper, and gestured at the loggers. “All right. You’re all on my property now, and you’re trespassing. I recognize that you guys are probably here illegally anyway, but this allows me to kick you out and then sue the hell out of your transnational logging company employer.”
The loggers looked at him blankly, but one of the hippies came to his rescue, translating into Portuguese. One of the loggers whipped out a phone, had a long, anxious conversation with someone or other, then when Tony pointedly raised a gauntlet, palm up, they hastily packed up.
“You,” Tony pointed at a random hippie in a neon pink shirt that read ‘Bite me!’ and a bird’s nest of dark frizzy hair, once the loggers had quit the scene, “You’re now the overseer of Stark Industries’ Patch of Rainforest. Take your friends and go and oversee something.”
“I don’t bow to corporate demands,” ‘Bite me’ said defiantly, though he looked a little confused as he said so. The other hippies were milling awkwardly amongst themselves now that the Enemy had scarpered, and then Thor sighed, like a faint hint of a storm rolling across a blue sky.
“Marcos, let me speak with my… colleague for a moment, and then we will go and follow those loggers or find another area that is in danger from despoilers. Please meet me at our camp.”
Cheered at the prospect of ruining the day of another bunch of underpaid local labor, Marcos trundled away, trailing the other hippies, and Thor got lightly to his feet for such a big guy.
“What do you want, Stark?”
“Do you know much about the Winter Queen?”
Thor stared at Tony thoughtfully for a long moment, then he smiled faintly. “I did hear that you were seeing her Knight.”
“Yes, I knew that too,” Tony said dryly. “But the knight wants out, and I want to know whether there’s any way that I can trade.”
“I doubt that you are in any place to do her any favors that she would want, large enough to give you her Knight in return,” Thor said bluntly. “No offense intended.”
“I know, I know. Vanilla human, no special powers. What about you?”
Thor actually grinned. “Mortal man, are you trying to trade a favor with me?”
Thor thought about this for a moment. “Large enough to trade with the Winter Queen in return for her Knight? I doubt you have that much money.”
“Why, what did you want?” Tony blinked. “The whole fucking Amazon Basin?”
“As a start.” Thor laughed like the rumble of a gathering tempest, deep and otherworldly and hearty, when Tony swore. “Even if you had the resources to make the purchase, I doubt you would have enough to maintain it. But I appreciate what you have done today, even if it was not for the best of reasons, so I will introduce you to my father. Perhaps the both of you can come to an arrangement. Certainly he has more of an interest in mortal currency than I.”
“The All-father?” Tony frowned, behind his mask. “Don’t tell me. He’s with Greenpeace or something?”
“Actually, he owns a security firm in Oslo.”
Tony had expected Thor to barge right in to his father’s office, and had been somewhat surprised when the Thunder God had merely politely given his name to the two eerie-looking receptionist twins and seated himself comfortably on the couch in the waiting room, one hand on the haft of Mjolnir.
Seeing Tony’s expression, Thor chuckled, deep and rumbling. “The last time I annoyed Alföðr, he threw me out of Asgard and cursed me. It was greatly inconvenient.”
Ah yes. “I did hear something like that from SHIELD,” Tony admitted, sitting down heavily at the armchair, still dressed in his suit. Thor nodded at him, and closed his eyes, clearly uninterested in further conversation.
Thor had spoken quietly with his environmentalist friends for a while, and then they had flown here. It seemed that Marcos had decided to temporarily acquiesce with corporate demands for the greater good, and was now liaising with Star Industries’ somewhat confused Brazilian branch about rainforest management. Pepper had prepped a nice public statement that she had promptly released to the press, and Tony amused himself by reading gushing press reports from his helmet, until a tall, gorgeous blonde lady in tight-fitting office clothes stalked past him, nodding to the receptionists, and disappeared into the lifts.
Moments later, a brunette followed, again disappearing into the lifts, and following her mile-long legs appreciatively with his eyes, Tony realized that Thor was watching him with amusement.
“Those are Valkyries.”
Tony racked his mind briefly and resorted to searching wikipedia (what was a satellite roaming connection linked directly to the information feed in his helm for, anyway?). “ ‘Valkyries also appear as lovers of heroes and other mortals’.”
Thor grinned at him. “Aren’t we here because of Winter’s Knight?”
“We’re not in Chicago right now,” Tony pointed out.
“Ah, well,” Thor looked puzzled at this statement for a moment. “From my experience of Valkyries, they do not share. Skögul once disemboweled both her adulterous lover and his new lover.”
“Oh.” Tony read wikipedia a little more. “Aren’t they meant to be busy carrying off the slain to Valhalla?”
“I hear that business is a little slow of late.” Thor smiled. “The Norse religion appears to have fallen out of favor. But we do already have quite a few einherjar, and Father seems confident for Ragnarok. I believe Father contracts them out as agents to mortals whom he finds amusing.”
“And are there many of those?”
Thor shrugged. “I do not keep track of Father’s matters. But I did hear that one of his favorites, Sigrún, has been assigned to a mortal in Chicago.”
Since Tony hadn’t seen any tall, leggy models hanging around Harry, that could only mean… “Bloody hell.”
Just at that moment, the leggy brunette stalked out of the lift, and inclined her head respectfully at Thor. “Herjaföðr will see you now, Þór son of Herjaföðr.”
Thor nodded and rose from his seat, walking past the valkyrie to the lift. Tony swallowed his instinctive urge to try a compliment when the valkyrie shot him a cool, unimpressed stare, and followed meekly.
Odin held court in a large office that wouldn’t look out of place in any corporate office anywhere in the world, even down to the Newton’s cradle on the table, the paperwork strewn across dark mahogany, and the lush out-of-place tropical plants nestled in the corners of the room. There was a clear view out over Oslo, and Odin stood before it, his back to them, his large hands clasped behind him.
“Alföðr,” Thor said, by way of greeting, a curious tone of love, respect and challenge. “May I introduce you to my friend, Anthony Stark.”
“I know of him.” Odin turned to regard them solemnly, “What business have you with me, mortal man?”
“Can you call me ‘Tony’ instead?” Tony asked out loud with his best smile, trying charm with his helmet balanced against his hip.
Odin glanced silently at Thor, who shrugged, and for a moment, Tony contemplated getting behind his fellow Avenger. Maybe Thor would save his ass for the sake of the Amazon rainforest. Then, abruptly, Odin smiled faintly. “This age seems given to such curious mortals. Have a seat, Stark.”
That was a sight better than ‘mortal man’, and Tony complied, sinking into one of the plush black leather chairs before the desk. Odin spoke quietly with Thor for a moment in something that sounded like the Icelandic tongue, then Thor nodded at Tony and left the room.
So much for the cavalry.
Odin sat back down, his big hands clasped on the desk, and Tony forced himself to meet the god’s keen, one-eyed stare, even though doing so seemed to freeze him to the chair and curdle his hindbrain, turning his breathing shallow and pained. Finally, the pressure seemed to ease, and Odin arched an eyebrow. “You are here about Winter’s Knight?”
Tony was impressed. “I didn’t realize that you could read minds. Thor… ah… your son doesn’t seem to.”
“No. But Muninn keeps a particularly close eye on Harry Dresden for me. His exploits are most amusing. What did you want to ask from me, Stark?”
“Harry isn’t happy about his current employment. I want to find a way to release him from it.”
“Strong words for a mortal with no powers at all.”
“Quite a few of your Norse epics are written about heroes with no powers at all,” Tony shot back, if with his best charming smile, having speed-read wikipedia in the lift. “Is it impossible?”
“Few things involving mortals are impossible. That is why we of Asgard find Midgard so endlessly intriguing,” Odin said wryly. “Well then, what sort of favor would you need?”
Tony thought quickly back over all of his conversations with Harry about magic. Short of asking Odin for a favor – and judging from Thor’s amusement when Tony had asked Thor for a favor, it probably wouldn’t go down well, even with Thor’s probably misguided suggestion that Odin liked mortal money. That left compulsion. “I want the true name of the Winter Queen.”
Odin blinked slowly at him, then he smiled, and leaned back in his chair. “And you think that I know of such a thing?”
“Between the magic ravens, the well, and the tree, I think you’ve got the best bet as anyone else. Sir,” Tony added, as an afterthought.
“I think you do not fear what you do not know.” Odin said calmly. “A word of warning to you, mortal man. The Winter Queen is not so very kind as to tolerate the antics of mortal men as we of the Æsir. And further than that, should you know how to compel her, you may disrupt the balance between Winter and Summer. This can have consequences for Midgard. Further than that,” Odin added, as Tony opened his mouth to interject, “True Names such as hers – or mine, or any of my sons and daughters, for example – have great power within themselves. A mortal mind cannot hold a true name such as any of ours for very long without twisting within itself to nothing.”
“Long enough to free Harry?”
Odin’s chuckle was deeper yet than Thor’s, and it shook him to his bones. The Norse God’s single eye twinkled. “There are easier ways to court another mortal. Even the Wizard Dresden.”
“I’m not looking for easier ways. I’m looking for a substantial one.”
“Perhaps curiously enough,” Odin added, mildly, “Only a day ago another mortal approached me about the same matter – though not with the same questions. And I will reply to you the same way I did he: no favor that you could give could encourage me to intervene.”
Hell. Maybe it was time to ask Pepper to look into the cost of purchasing the Amazon Basin. It was probably possible to get some public funding, and round up a few NGOs and corporate allies… “Ah.”
“Do not look so disappointed,” Odin said, amused. “I may reconsider my position if I can receive one favor each from the both of you.”
Tony grimaced. “Just to be sure, this other mortal that we are talking about is Johnny Marcone?”
“I see that you are already acquainted.” Odin had the bloody gall to smirk – clearly fully aware of their game. “Would you like to use the telephone?”
Tony hesitated even as he reached for the sleek black phone on Odin’s desk; putting on his helmet to call through would probably seem rude. “To be precise, is my favor going to cost me more than buying up a rainforest?”
“You’ll find that I’m far more reasonable than my son,” Odin said dryly, and pushed a white card across the desk. “This is Marcone’s number.”
Despite a niggling doubt in his hindbrain that Odin was possibly up to some form or other of divine shenanigans, Tony picked up the phone and dialed the number.
“Marcone.” Marcone’s voice sounded distant and echoed, as though he was in some sort of tunnel. “Who is this?”
“Johnny! How are you today?”
“You,” Marcone sighed, in the same tone that a person would address an oil slick. “Mister Stark, I have no time for you at present.”
“I’m in Oslo with Odin and he says he wants a favor from each of us to get Harry fired,” Tony said, very quickly.
There was a long pause, in which Tony heard distant shouts and the sound of something like gunfire, then Marcone said, coolly, “Pass the phone to Vadderung, if you please.”
Tony wordlessly offered the phone to Odin, who smiled faintly. “Marcone. Yes, that is correct. What agenda could I possibly have? A favor each from one of the most financially powerful mortal men in the world, and the Baron of Chicago… indeed. Yes, unharmed… the odds are quite favorable. Quite. Very well.” Odin passed the phone back to Tony.
“Mister Stark,” Marcone said, with a hint of distaste, “I think perhaps a temporary truce is in order. Give me about an hour to deal with my current predicament.” There was a pause, and the gunshots seemed to get closer. “Or so.”
Tony turned to Odin. “Can Marcone pay your favor in the next hour?” Odin smiled, and shook his head. “Fuck. Fine. Keep your phone running, I’ll track it.”
“I do not need your help,” Marcone said sharply.
“Think of it as a peace overture. I’ll be there in… a few hours. Yes?” Tony looked up as Odin rounded the desk, then he yelped when the Norse God hauled him up to his feet and pulled him forward.
Reality skewed, and then Tony was blinking as he seemed to stand on the tip of a glacier, that stretched out over an endless sea of glaciers. Before he could turn to Odin and demand an explanation, Odin pushed him over the icy lip.
Before he could activate his bootjets, Tony found himself stumbling heavily against a grimy wall that smelled of old sewage, and someone inhaled sharply next to him. Marcone stared at him in palpable astonishment. “Stark?”
“O-kay. Miracles happen, or something like that.” Tony looked around himself, disoriented and fighting a brief bout of nausea. They appeared to be in some sort of underground sewage system.
“I didn’t think that could work with the Nevernever. Perhaps the rules do not apply to deities when they are in a seat of power.” Marcone frowned. “Vadderung appears to have some sort of agenda.”
Tony pulled his helmet on, and heat signals promptly told him that there was a large group, approaching steadily. “Please tell me we’re not smuggling drugs across the border.”
The Gentleman could really work a derisive glare. “A Sicilian based gang is trying to work a takeover with the remnants of a rival network.”
“You have rival networks?”
Marcone’s jaw was set tight. “I thought not.”
“You sure did fuck up,” Tony said cheerfully. “So what now?”
“My men are delaying the pursuit. This sewage network should lead to the network’s stronghold, within which I should be able to cut off the head of the snake.”
“The enemy had contingency plans,” Marcone admitted reluctantly. “My guard is delayed.”
“What happened to the rented Valkyrie?”
“In an upper floor, trying to get to the hostages.”
“The Provenzano clan is aware of my personal… scruples, but Miss Gard has assured me that she is more than capable of dealing with the situation.” Marcone said coldly, in a way that suggested that there was an intelligence leak in his Outfit that he was about to address lethally after this. “Must we have this conversation now?”
“I’m not going to help you kill anyone,” Tony told him firmly. “I’m going to get you out of here, then I’ll go help with the hostages, while you hopefully try not to get yourself killed until you’ve upheld your end of the truce.”
“No,” Marcone growled.
Tony held up both his gauntlets. “I have two arguments here that are better than yours.”
To his credit, Marcone didn’t back down; instead, he narrowed his eyes, crouching slightly, his hands tightening on the SMG in his hands, as though considering going toe to toe with the Iron Man armor, then he glanced back behind Tony, at the growing noise. “You will help me clean out the Provenzano and their trafficking operations. I won’t kill anyone unless it proves necessary in self-defense. And then we agree to Odin’s demands, and after that, none of this ever happened.”
“But I have video recording!”
“And try not to talk so much,” Marcone grit out. “You are already trying my patience. This way.”
In the end, as it turned out, everyone was rescued by Harry Dresden, who looked decidedly annoyed at having to do so, marching up to where Tony was watching Marcone tally the damage done to his ‘team’ in the partially molten underground car park. It seemed that the Provenzano had ended up employing supernatural muscle in the form of a human-like Babau demon, and they’d walked straight into the trap. That thing had hit like the Hulk.
Molly offered Tony a quick wave behind Harry’s back, and Mouse wagged its tail, then they wandered over to take a closer look at the giant hole in the wall from a stray forzare.
“Stars and stones, Tony, what are you doing here?”
“We’re having a truce,” Tony gestured at Marcone. “I sort of need him alive at this point, so I had to come by to save his ass.”
Marcone looked up from his discussion with a freshly bandaged Hendricks to glare at Tony. “I would have managed fine without you.”
“Says the person who ran out of ammo on the second floor.”
“If you recall, that did not pose much of a problem.”
“What about the floor with the tear gas and the traps?”
“If you had waited as I suggested, I could have disarmed the traps.”
“Yeah? And I suppose you could have disarmed the guy with the rocket launcher at thirty paces?”
“It would not have been impossible, Mister Stark.”
Harry’s badly stifled chuckle made the both of them turn and transfer their glares on him, growling, “What?” at the same time.
At the giant hole in the wall, Molly burst out laughing, and Mouse sat down, its tongue lolling out from its mouth. Tony took a deep breath, and pulled off his helmet. “Not that I don’t appreciate it, but how did you know when to show up?”
“Your secretary called Molly,” Harry said dryly.
Tony stared disbelievingly at Molly. “Pepper is your client?”
“Not telling,” Molly said, though she grinned impishly.
“I’m going to have a long talk with her,” Tony muttered.
“So what about the two of you tell me about this ‘truce’?” Harry asked, with a tone of arch innocence.
Tony glanced at Marcone, who looked at his watch. “The police will be here soon. I suggest that we adjourn to my house.”
“Stark Industries’ office will do just as well, and it’s closer,” Tony countered. Marcone glared at him, and his lip curled, baring his teeth, and Harry sighed out aloud.
“Molly, can you and Mouse stay to talk to Murphy? Thanks. I don’t care where everyone else goes, but you,” he pointed at Tony, “And you,” a point at Marcone, “Are coming with me.”
“But-” Tony blinked, just as Marcone frowned, and said, “Harry-”
“About five minutes ago I lost Winter’s mantle,” Harry folded his arms, “And I want an explanation.”
In the car, on the way to wherever Harry was going to dispose of their bodies, Tony ascertained through phone calls made to Pepper via his helm that yes, this was for his own good, no, she wasn’t on or meant to be on ‘his side’, yes, she had spoken to Harry before, several times, because Tony’s phone routed to her desk whenever he didn’t pick up and he seemed like a good sort of guy whom she felt sorry for, and for Tony’s information, she was just about to go out on a date with a nice gentleman called Mister Vadderung, and if Tony kept trying to call her, she was going to resign tomorrow.
Tony relayed this to Marcone via a voice-to-text as he shut off outgoing sound from his helm, since the jury was still out as to whether they were yet on a truce, and the mob boss’ brow furrowed as he read his phone. Finally, he replied, Doubtful that a date with Miss Potts is Vadderung’s objective.
Let’s see if he tries to bleed us dry with his favors first, Tony responded, a little puzzled himself. Pepper was pretty, sure, but Odin was surrounded by the incredibly hot in his work office.
Will ascertain if Harry’s loss of Winter’s power came via Vadderung. May have been another source. Marcone replied. Harry has many friends. Including the Summer Lady and the Summer Knight.
Good point. Tony was about to text back, when Harry observed, “You’re both being very quiet.”
“Resting,” Marcone said, just as Tony briefly activated outgoing sound and said, “Checking the stock market.” Marcone glowered at him, but it seemed a little halfhearted, the mob boss going back to texting.
About fifteen minutes later, as they rounded into Harry’s neighborhood, Marcone texted, Sources advise that Vadderung fulfilled bargain.
Ok. Hopefully Vadderung was far more reasonable than Thor. I heard this car was totaled.
It’s not difficult to purchase an identical model and refit it from photographs. Trust Marcone to make a text sound lofty. Unlike your heavy handed methods. And the fact remains that Harry prefers someone who appreciates him.
My arc reactor and I appreciate him, Tony protested, then added, snidely, So have you gotten lucky, Mr. Marcone?
Marcone’s lip curled faintly. And how many others have you slept with this month, Mr. Stark?
Tony thought back. Actually, since meeting you in that gala? None. That Scarlett thing wouldn’t have gone anywhere. She was kind of drunk, and people shouldn’t sleep with the blindly drunk.
Marcone blinked at Tony, and then he looked distant, just as Tony straightened up sharply, his mind kicking into gear. Why did you send those roses, if you don’t mind me asking? I mean, they’re conventional and all, but not really… you, if you get me.
Marcone glared at Tony for a moment, then he grudgingly texted, Received an email from an untraceable isp advising me to do so and stating the reasons. Felt that they were good reasons, even if worded in an insulting way.
What email address?
The mob boss consulted his phone, then texted, email@example.com
PP. P.P. Pepper!!!!! Tony responded, even as they pulled up at the curb outside Harry’s place. An attempt to reach Pepper hit an answering machine. Admittedly, Marcone’s expression at this revelation was pretty hilarious, so Tony took a surreptitious picture.
Once inside Harry’s place, Tony asked, “Harry, have you been talking to Pepper?”
“You don’t always answer your phone,” Harry said, in the tone that really meant ‘you don’t usually answer your phone’.
“Did she arrange the gala thing with you? No wonder she insisted that I had to go,” Tony said, thinking back. He’d had to walk out of a SHIELD meeting to do that, too!
“What gala thing?” Harry asked, looking confused. “What about Pepper? All we ever talk about is my life,” he said defensively, when Tony frowned at him. “She asks a lot of questions. Don’t worry, I won’t tell her anything that might put her in danger.”
Marcone stared thoughtfully at Tony. “Your secretary is remarkably… resourceful.”
“She actually runs much of my company,” Tony admitted.
“What’s her salary? I’ll top it by half.”
“First you try and steal my boyfriend, then you try and steal my secretary?”
“The both of you shut up,” Harry snarled, and Tony coughed and froze as the arc reactor flickered, making his heart jump. “This stupid game between the both of you has gone on long enough.”
“It’s not a game to me,” Marcone growled, just as Tony objected with “It’s not stupid,” and they proceeded to glower at each other.
“Firstly, I haven’t decided to be anyone’s boyfriend. Shut up, Tony, let me finish. Secondly,” Harry counted off on his fingers, “I am not going to be the prize in some sort of testosterone-money-dick size competition. Thirdly, what the hell made the both of you decide to just ‘save’ me from Mab? I can take care of myself! Fourthly… what, Tony?”
Tony had raised one hand meekly. “Before you got there, that demon thing got a few punches in, and I think the chestplate is dented and pressing into my ribs.”
“Stars and stones, Tony, why didn’t you say so earlier?”
It took all three of them (Marcone grudging) to help pry Tony out of the armor. It had been one of his older suits – Tony had thought that he was going to have a restful flight to the Amazon Basin, not land in a mafia war zone, and getting out of it without Dummy and the other robots was fiddly.
Eventually, Tony felt gingerly around his ribs. Bruised, possibly cracked, but not broken. Marcone was sporting a set of deep scratches up his right arm, upon which Gard had applied field first aid, but otherwise was only mildly bruised.
“Okay, go,” Tony said, as he pulled off his gauntlets and dropped them on Harry’s couch.
Harry slumped, with a groan, rubbing at his temples. “I’ve forgotten what I wanted to say, but I don’t want to see either of you for at least two months. Now get out.”
Whoops. Marcone scowled at Tony, then he said, gently, “Harry-”
“No, I mean it. Both of you, out. I don’t want to hear what you traded for with Mab, I don’t want to know what you’ve both been up to in my absence,” Harry growled. “Do you have any idea what would have happened if I hadn’t been close by? Or if Molly hadn’t been able to reach me? The Babau would have killed you both!”
Tony wisely decided not to point out that Marcone had started it by wanting to storm the mafia stronghold. When Harry was this angry, it was always better to stay quiet until it blew over, and then try to steal a kiss. Attempting to feed the fire would only get him burned. Maybe literally.
Marcone, however, didn’t seem to have much experience with Angry Harry. Or maybe he didn’t care. “And did you have a plan for leaving the Winter Queen, Harry? Vadderung told Mister Stark and myself that he would be willing to intervene on your behalf should he get a favor each from the both of us. I care about you, Harry,” Marcone said, then seemed to have a bout of honest conscience, and added, with a grimace, “It appears that we both do.”
“You lose points for your lack of conviction, but thank you,” Tony told Marcone dryly. “Harry, I’m surprised to hear myself agreeing with the mafia, but Marcone’s right. As to that building you found us at, it was some sort of turf war. Rival gangs kidnapped some kids and tried to dig Marcone out. We needed to make a distraction such that Miss Gard could get to the kids.”
Harry’s anger seemed to fade slowly and visibly. Perhaps there was something to this truce thing after all. Then he smirked. “Okay. I might accept that there were extenuating circumstances. But this competition between the two of you is ridiculous. If you don’t want to get thrown out, I want you both to kiss and make up.”
“What, you want us to pinky promise to be friends?” Tony demanded, incredulous.
“I think you’ve both been very disruptive to my normal life with your idiotic rivalry,” Harry said tartly. “And I didn’t mean making up by shaking hands and mumbling nice words.”
“I don’t think-” Tony began, then he stiffened up in shock when Marcone abruptly dragged him close and crushed their lips together. There was even tongue. Utterly astonished, Tony could only gape when Marcone finally pulled back to glance at Harry.
“Wha…” Harry was open-mouthed, and then, to Tony’s continuing surprise, he began to blush furiously.
Marcone shot Tony a pointed stare, apparently meant to convey ‘would you rather be kicked out or have to make nice in a humiliating manner?’, and Tony forced himself to relax. Okay. It wasn’t as though this was the most unusual thing, bedroom wise, that he’d ever done, and it definitely would be better than Harry ignoring him for a couple of months.
Still, he made it a point to kiss Harry first, hungry and rough, until the wizard shuddered and moaned against him, then he let up to allow Marcone to pull Harry up against him, their kiss slow and exploratory as Tony pressed himself up against Harry’s back, rolling his hips up against Harry’s ass and purring as he nuzzled up against the back of Harry’s neck.
Harry was already very aroused, judging from the way Tony was beginning to feel light-headed and how Harry pulled back from Marcone with a choked whimper, looking dazed, like all his dreams had come true all at once.
“Do you want to move this somewhere more comfortable?” Marcone asked urbanely, the only hint of desire the hard gleam in his eyes, and Harry looked between them, wide-eyed.
“Both of you…? Wow,” he said simply, and that decided Tony.
Harry’s bed really wasn’t big enough for three, but Tony wasn’t complaining, pinned beneath the wizard’s grabby hands and enthusiastic kisses with the arc reactor on a humming buzz, on the best sort of high, and his heart gave another jump that had nothing to do with the reactor when Harry paused to look down at him, his expression rich with lust and tenderness both. When the wizard got the first two buttons on his dress shirt open, however, Tony quickly caught his hand, glancing questioningly back over Harry’s shoulder.
“It’s not pretty,” he told Marcone, even as Harry growled at him and leaned down to kiss the fabric of the shirt over the hard blue glow of the reactor.
Marcone shrugged, occupied in undoing Harry’s belt. “I’m not interested in you, Mister Stark.”
“Nice to know that we understand each other,” Tony said dryly, even as Harry batted his hands away and unbuttoned the rest of his shirt, fumbling and cursing under his breath, then arching back with a whimper as Marcone managed to pull down his pants and underwear and wrap elegant fingers around his cock. A squeeze, fisting up to the swollen tip, then back down, dry, and Harry choked and keened.
Tony wouldn’t admit it out loud, but that was kind of hot.
He found lube and condoms in Harry’s dresser, fumbling them on the bed when Harry stopped kissing Marcone sloppy over his shoulder and went back down on him, biting at his neck and trying to drag off his pants. Dizzy with want and wincing as Harry accidentally rubbed against his bruised ribs, Tony whined and rubbed his hands anxiously down Harry’s naked back, over the old scars, as they somehow got the rest of his clothes off. Marcone had been more efficient with Harry’s state of dress; Tony ended up moaning urgently and arching as Harry shakily squeezed some lube on his palm and stroked them together, the wizard’s breathing growing harsh and shallow.
The arc reactor flickered when Harry slid inside him in a rough, gritty slide, the preparation barely sufficient, kissing him until Tony was breathless and gasping, then leaning back up to kiss Marcone, and Tony could only watch, blinking, the surge of desire growing hot and tight; he wasn’t going to last. There was another flicker when Marcone pushed into Harry, the bed creaking dangerously as the wizard shuddered and rolled his hips, fingers tightening into bruising grips over Tony’s hips, and Tony wasn’t entirely sure if he was grateful that he couldn’t really see very much from this angle.
And then Harry began to move, growling, snapping his hips between them both and causing Marcone to spit something harsh and loud in Italian, and Tony forgot about thinking altogether.
Sometime after Harry shuddered to pieces between them and curled up sated in an awkward heap over the both of them, Tony tried to take his mind off being crushed by trying to catch his breath.
Actually, that had been some of the best sex he had ever had, which was saying quite a lot. Making up his mind, Tony wriggled until he had fished someone’s pants over with his toes, fumbling until he closed his hand on the phone within it.
It wasn’t a model he recognized, and Marcone growled, behind him, “That’s mine. Put it back.”
“Give me five minutes?”
“I want to text Pepper,” Tony whined, “And my ‘phone’ is a helmet in the living room.”
“You want to text your secretary?”
“Why not?” Tony flicked the phone on, and frowned as it asked for a password. “And possibly get her a pair of shoes as a thank-you. What’s your password?”
“Give me that,” Marcone made a futile grab for the phone, scowling when Tony quickly held it out of reach, then he yelped as Dresden snarled and somehow heaved them both off the bed in a painful jumble.
“I’ve changed my mind. The both of you, get out.”
“Now look what you’ve done,” Tony told Marcone, and had to dodge a punch.
Later, Tony wondered if Harry was also Piscean. The wizard could get really sensitive about nothing at all.
“I can’t believe you did all that,” Tony told Pepper as she opened the ubiquitous box from Manolo Blahnik.
“Your ‘thank you’ is appreciated, Mister Stark,” Pepper told him mildly. “Also, I received an email this morning from Mister Marcone, offering to double my salary if I defected.”
“Why, that bastard!” Tony said, incredulous. “I’m going to send a virus to his goddamn operation!”
“Don’t worry, Tony, I’m not going. I don’t know what you’ll do without me,” Pepper said dryly, trying on her shoes with pursed lips. “Perfect. You’re welcome, Mister Stark.”
“Why did you go to all that trouble, anyway?”
“The ending was a little unexpected,” Pepper said delicately. “But like I said, you needed to learn your lesson. Somewhere down the track, under advisement from my local source, I decided that it was probably better if you had an ongoing rival. You get bored too easily unless you have something to challenge you. And that will be Johnny Marcone.”
“Someday he’ll challenge me by shooting me between the eyes with his SMG,” Tony said resentfully, but he had to concede the point. Miss Gard had appeared after the incident at Harry’s place to pick Marcone up, and Tony hadn’t even tried to look down her cleavage. Even in his pissy fit, Harry had been all but glowing under all the attention.
“You’re still learning,” Pepper said, in a kinder voice. “And maybe one day Harry will decide he prefers you. Maybe not. But either way, you’re going to have to work at it. Sometimes you give up on people too quickly and end up hurting everyone. That’s not how relationships work.”
“Character building at my age, Miss Potts?”
“In your case, Mister Stark, I think it needs to be a permanent and ongoing endeavor.” Pepper wrapped up the box and swept it efficiently under her desk. “The Japanese want to see you at three o’ clock.”
Harry looked through the menu as Tony and Johnny settled into their long-standing and age-old argument about the best wine to have for dinner, and was unsurprised to realize that he didn’t recognize half of anything on the menu. Which was apparently also a ‘degustation’, whatever that was.
Tony had flown them all up to Denmark in his private jet for dinner at some fancy restaurant called Noma that Harry was already feeling underdressed for, despite having been outfitted at the last moment by the ever-efficient Pepper Potts, but the jet lag was making him feel relaxed and sleepy rather than uncomfortable in the setting, so no electronics damage had happened so far. Also, apparently both Tony and Johnny had been here before, which was adding to the wine argument. The sommelier and the maitre’ d were both standing awkwardly between them both, probably ready to jump for the silverware if the men resorted to blows.
Despite his misgivings, weirdly enough, the new… arrangement… was working out. Granted, at best it was more of a timeshare than a repeat of that first time at Harry’s place, but privately, Harry was leaning towards a preference in that regard. Even exhausted and naked in bed, Tony and Johnny would still be able to find something to bicker over. It was probably because of their polar opposite personalities.
On the other hand, Tony hadn’t appeared on any more tabloids, and Johnny was no longer ostensibly stalking him. At this point, Harry knew he wouldn’t be able to choose between them. This made him feel selfish and guilty at times, but Pepper had told him that he was being an idiot. It wasn’t as though either Tony or Johnny were unhappy with the arrangement, after all; somewhere along the line, they’d seemed to settle for tolerating each other.
The wine argument settled on a grudging truce, and the sommelier retreated with an expression of relief as Tony and Johnny handed the wine menus back to the maitre’ d.
“Okay. We’re ready,” Tony smiled at him, and Stars, maybe there was karma in the world after all. For all the shit he’d been put through over the last few decades, he’d ended up out of Mab’s clutches, he could visit his daughter now and then (if under the guise of a family friend), and he was simultaneously attached to two men who were willing to do anything for him.
“Harry?” Johnny prompted, and Harry looked back down quickly at the incomprehensible menu.
“Uh. Does this place do steak and chips?”