Summary: The Winter Soldier is just passing through England when he saves a child. Things fall apart, but it's alright this time, because the pieces are fitting back together again. James Barnes/Harry Potter
Pairings: James Barnes/Harry Potter, Ron Weasley/Hermione Granger
Sunrise Will Come Again
They had met here, in this room. The room was small, and the two men standing before him were glowering down at him. He couldn't move, could barely think straight (why was that?). They wore strange clothes, so unlike what he had ever seen before, and Soldier had been all around the world for missions. They were growing frustrated with his answers, unsatisfied that they were not the responses they wanted. Again and again, they would start up their stream of questions anew, as if phrasing it a little differently would force him to answer differently. But even phrased differently, Soldier heard the same question. (Why?)
When asked again, his posture and expression stiff and stony, he had responded in his confounded state that he had simply been in the right place at the right time. The strange (hostile) men sneered in disbelief before continuing their questions (interrogation). Soldier didn't understand why, but answers poured from his lips unwillingly, truthfully. It went against all his training, but any attempts to stop the words leaving his lips were fruitless.
Doubt and confusion warred in his fractured mind, and he cried out in pain (weaknesses are unacceptable) when one of hostiles leaned forward, pointing to his person what looked like a stick (weapon). He didn't question how such a thing could be a weapon, but every instinct that had been ingrained in him screamed at him that it was a weapon, and that he needed to get up and eliminate the hostile that was threatening him.
He struggled against the invisible bonds that kept him still, biting his bottom lip until blood burst in his attempt to keep his mouth shut. Something was prickling along the edges of his mind, relentlessly attacking him, and Soldier screamed.
(No, not again. Not the chair, not the mind wipe. No, not again.)
And then it all stopped. A furious teenager had burst in, and the hostiles' weapons flew into the hands of the hands of the newcomer.
"What," green eyes were furiously eying the suddenly timid hostiles, "do you two think you are doing?"
Soldier panted, body shaking in the aftershocks of pain, as he sluggishly tried to right himself. What had they forced him to drink earlier? It had tasted horrible, nothing he wasn't used to before, but it was nothing that he had ever experienced or known of. Fear and doubt flickered to life, and he ruthlessly pushed it down. It had been happening too often after encountering the man on the bridge (Steve) and then daily after the Smithsonian.
("Your name is James Buchanan Barnes.")
However hard he tried, the fear and doubt continued to spring back to life. His body and mind were sluggish, his body going against his mind's orders (defend, attack, eliminate, escape).
"Lord Potter, you cannot –"
And the red faced hostile's voice stopped, and Soldier watched in confusion as the man's mouth snapped closed when no sound left again. The other hostile had shrunk behind the other in the face of the teenager. Soldier appraised the newcomer (threat?), who still looked livid, green eyes flashing at the hostiles, but softening when appraising him. Soldier stilled, not understanding. The teen looked to be in his late teens, but no older than twenty at most, but the large hostiles were recoiling, deferring by their body language, to the youth.
"You saved Teddy," he stated. It wasn't a question, simply said as fact. Before Soldier could respond, could think of a way to respond (Teddy?), the teen had turned hard eyes back to the hostiles, "House Potter and House Black are in this man's debt. He will be turned over to House Potter immediately." That too wasn't a question, and wasn't just a statement, but a command.
"He's a muggle!" the un-silenced hostile all but shouted, disbelief colouring his tone.
The teen (Lord Potter) had already moved to Soldier's side, wrapping a blanket (where had that come from?) around his still shaking shoulders. Instant warmth enveloped him, and he blinked in surprise, staring at teen identified as a lord. But the young lord was snapping at the hostile again, keeping Soldier at his back.
"I owe him a life debt."
There was silence after that.
Soldier didn't know how to feel. He was the one used to defending or protecting when his mission demanded it. But the young lord had stopped his pain, had – was – defending him against hostiles, and had given him a source of warmth in this cold room.
A small hand took his larger one. His left one. Soldier flinched away, drawing the weaponized arm away from the smaller male fearfully. Green eyes blinked at him in concern, before speaking softly, "Come on, let's get you home."
(Home. What was home?)
He glanced at the paralyzed hostiles who refused to meet his eyes, and looked the young lord waiting patiently at the door. He didn't know what was going on, his mind still sluggishly trying to piece together his past, and now whatever it was that was now the present, but the young lord had protected him. He took a careful, small, step toward the young lord.
The smile Soldier received was sweet and shy. At that moment, Soldier couldn't reconcile the image of the enraged youth giving commands to men decades older, and this seemingly vulnerable and small lord that was beckoning him to safety.
Later, when the young lord introduced himself as Harry James Potter, Soldier would hesitate before replying. His tone was unsure, not wanting to lie to the earnest green eyes, but not knowing what else to respond with that felt like the truth other than, "Winter Soldier."
The abduction attempt had been sloppy. It had been made clear through the interrogation of a truth drugged Wallace Ainsley, and the pensieve memories of witnesses, that the perpetrators did not really have a plan beyond 'abduct and sell child.' It was almost laughingly ridiculous. All this time, Harry had been worried about Death Eaters and their sympathizers. It angered him and saddened him in equal measures how ugly humans, wizards and muggle alike, could be for some quick coin. The aurors had let their guard down in what they had deemed an 'unthreatening and harmless muggle' location, and Teddy had almost been taken for good in their carelessness.
The Ainsley brothers had abducted the five year old while he was browsing through toys close to the entrance of the muggle shop. The aurors had relaxed their guard in the muggle world, thinking that there was no threat there, and Harry planned to send a missive to Kingsley to have that remedied soon. The Ainsleys had torn through muggle London, running through alleys and small side streets with a familiarity that the wizarding world borne aurors did not have. The aurors and a horrified Andromeda Tonks had soon lost them in the bustling crowds.
But then there was a commotion somewhere ahead, screaming and shouts of horror. Harry watched the memory of how the aurors had pushed forward, moving against the crowds of people running the other way in fear, and saw the Ainsleys on the ground. One was dead, a knife to the throat, with a growing pool of blood leaving his body, while the other brother was struggling to breathe with the boot of a feral man pressed against his throat.
Feral, that was the first word Harry could think of to describe the man when he first caught sight of him in the memories. Mangy, shoulder length hair that looked like it hadn't been washed in ages, ice-cold eyes, and a vicious snarl curling his lips had painted to a very deadly, but wild man. His clothes hadn't been much better, battered black hoodie sweater, and torn, stained jeans. On the ground close by, a scruffy old baseball hat laid. Harry's second thought of the man had been, a feral, dangerous, homeless man.
But then he had had to revise his appraisal when he caught sight of the memory shade of Teddy. In every angle of every memory he had viewed through, Teddy had clung to the stranger, sobbing and shaking in fear, his arms and legs gripping the stranger in a desperate hold, refusing to let go. The hold the feral man had on Teddy was oddly gentle when compared to his cruel expression. Harry's sharp eyes caught how one arm, the left metal one, pressed gently but insistently for Teddy to hide his face, burrowing against the man's right shoulder, obscuring the child's view of the bloody scene before him. His right arm kept Teddy held up and against his body, practically shielding the small child from the outside world.
That image would stay in Harry's mind.
After that, it was a lightshow of spells and chaos that erupted. Obliviators were apparating on site, the last surviving Ainsley brother was stunned and apprehended, and the feral man was falling when multiple stunners hit him. Harry would continue to seethe in anger for a long time in the future for their thoughtless actions, for disregarding a child who was right there. He would also always remember how quickly the man had moved (so fast) so that nothing would hit Teddy, how he managed to make sure that he would land on his back, ensuring that the child wouldn't hit cement and be harmed worse if he had plummeted face first forward, crushing the small child. The control and care had stunned Harry.
So he had been furious, more so than he could ever remember being in the last few years, when he sought out his godson's rescuer after his pensieve memory perusal, and found the man he was indebted to screaming in pain and thrashing against restraining spells in a level five interrogation room. Level five was only to be used for suspected or confirmed Death Eaters and terrorists. Harry had snapped, and had promised retribution in his gaze when announcing to the two foolish aurors that the feral man was under his protection, that the power of House Potter would seek retribution.
Harry could see that the feral man's eyes were glazed, a mix of pain, and most likely truth and thought-slowing potions. He ignored the eyes and whispers of the ministry workers that his rarely seen public appearance had ignited. He took the man's right hand in his (the left was apparently a no-no), and apparated, belatedly realizing he should have warned the man, should have explained magic and its transportation methods, but frankly, there was no time.
On arrival to his home, the feral man had vomited before passing out. Kreacher had not been impressed. Guiltily, Harry had levitated the man to a guest room after giving orders for Kreacher for food and potions (soup, calming and a nutrition potion) upon his guest's awakening. The feral man, and Harry really needed to learn his name soon, continued to sleep while Harry made his calls, promising Teddy that his rescuer was resting and that they would see him soon.
Teddy had been bawling, screaming at the aurors, and babbling in a rush of panic and entreating eyes to Harry about the feral man when he had appeared in a frantic worry in Saint Mungo's private room for his godson. Already, Harry could feel the stirring of his magic taking on Teddy's debt to his rescuer, (a child should always be protected, it was the guardian that the protector. The guardian whom took upon themselves any burden the child had).
Andromeda had had to be sedated with calming and sleeping potions a while ago, leaving Harry as the only adult Teddy trusted to make sure his rescuer was alright ("They hurt him Uncle Harry!") after the aurors had attacked him. Harry had given Teddy his word in return for the promise that his godson would let the mediwizard look after him and rest. And then it was off to the Ministry for him after being reassured by the sight of a petulant, huffing, but safe and mostly unharmed Teddy.
Later when the stranger woke, and Harry introduced himself, he waited patiently as the man visibly struggled with himself. Finally, expression lost and unfocused, he had a name. Sort of.
The next few days after his first meeting with Harry were frantic and busy. Magic was explained (which wasn't as much of a surprise after reading HYDRA's files on Victor von Doom, and the Asgardians, Thor and Loki), and oaths of secrecy were sworn (nothing new). Harry had refused to refer to him as the Winter Soldier, and had hunted down his files, calling in favors and prying into top-secret intelligence departments. Apparently Harry had a lot of clout, both in the magical world, and with the Queen here in the United Kingdom. Very quickly, within a few hours, Harry had a collection of files on The Winter Soldier and a name to refer to him as – James. ("Your name is James Buchanan Barnes." Oh right. He had forgotten again.) Harry would sound so sad and fond when he uttered the name. It wasn't until he learned that he shared the name of the young lord's deceased father that he understood.
When he asked Lord Potter ("Call me Harry! None of that Lord rubbish."), he had felt the rare stirrings of amusement when Harry had blushed in embarrassment in response to his question. He had asked what he had been referred to when he hadn't been James. Apparently James had been 'the feral man' and the soldier had felt his lips twitching watching the not-teenager (apparently he had been cursed. Something to do with Death. Harry promised to explain later) squirm in mortification for blurting that out. He hadn't felt mirth in such a long time. Harry had thrown his files in the soldier's face, red-faced, before calling for his house elf to bring tea and soup. He had perused the files, eating his soup on Harry's insistent stares and comments.
"Why are you helping me?" the newly named James had asked.
He eyes held onto the green-eyed gaze for the entirety of the explanation. (Body language can give lies away) Children were sacred to magic. In saving the child (his body had just moved when his mind had quickly assessed the situation), he had gained the debts of the child's guardians.
"So it's something you can't control?"
The wizard had indignantly denied that. "It's more of a pull. Like how you feel the need to quiet and be gentle when you see a newborn. Or when you see someone you love sick, you do all you can to help. You feel inclined, because you know it's the right thing to do, but you don't have to. You can leave your best mate naked on the couch pissed drunk for his wife to find, and not cover him up in a blanket even if you know you should. I want to help you," the wizard huffed, "the debt just gives me a legal reason when thick idiots with selective hearing defects decide that they want to pick at my choices. Again." (James would later become familiar with such tirades.) "So stop worrying about your place here. I want you here. Now finish your damn soup."
Medics had swarmed him shortly after his waking and his confession of his identity as The Winter Soldier to Harry. They didn't treat him for any physical wounds, his experimentation in Zola's hands would always ensure a fast healing rate, but of his mental and psychological wounds, there were many. Harry had held his hand after the fight in which he was subsequently subdued by the less than impressed lord. Harry explained his own mental wounds and how necessary the mind healers were to his own healing, and how he would never allow James to live with a mind so fractured when he could help.
James didn't speak to Harry for a good day or two afterwards, but had submitted to the mind healers, silently acknowledging that he couldn't deal with his nightmares, the flashes of bloody memories he got while being Soldier, the brief broken memories of a time before he was Soldier (Bucky!), and the overwhelming guilt, fear, shame, and anger that he couldn't and didn't know how to deal with.
The mind healers had known what they were doing. James was given mind stabilizing potions before and after each mind-walk with a healer (Harry swore that he had them under unbreakable oaths of secrecy, that even Harry wasn't told specifics, just things like triggers and if there was any danger of James mind further declining under treatment), pensieves were used to help keep a distance from memories after they were viewed and he expressed a wish to not remember them as clearly as his mind did.
After the first mind healer had left, scared of James' mind, the other mind healers had wised up to not walk through parts of the mind and memories that James felt a particularly abhorrent dislike for.
When his mind had stabilized to a point where he wasn't having blood-curling nightmares every night (Harry would always be there to hold his hand, a calming and sleep potion in hand, and a mug of hot chocolate to help ease the shakes), the healers tentatively broached the topic of his metal arm. They asked if he wanted it removed, and his entire left arm re-grown. His mind stuttered to a stop at that, because what? They could do that?
Harry grimaced, rubbing his right arm in memory of bone re-growth, while explaining the procedure the Healers would perform should James wish for it. It would take a week, with him unconscious while the healers would rotate on a schedule to re-grow his bones, replicating his right arm, from the muscle, nerves, to blood vessels onto his left arm. It was delicate work, and one mistake in rewiring his new arm to his central nervous and endocrine system could mean redoing the week-long procedure again.
Being knocked-out for a week while different healers poked and prodded him made him blanch and he promptly refused after listening to Harry's explanation. The lord had laughed, his grin had been rueful, and James knew from reading his gaze, that Harry had understood. (Apparently it wasn't a popular procedure for those who were missing limbs and had a more than healthy dose of paranoia.) Harry took to holding his left hand more often afterwards, and James always took care in the beginning until it became such a regular thing that the care and gentleness in his left grip became automatic.
The small child he had rescued visited often with his grandmother. Teddy was a touch shy at first, but was soon seen barrelling through Harry's home with a shout of "Uncle James!" and a running leap into his arms. With his mind more steady and sure, he trusted himself more around Teddy (it had only been mirror chats at the beginning at his insistence to Harry), often throwing and catching the laughing child. It still surprised him how Teddy never hesitated at his metal arm, always wanting a hug from "Uncle James" and demanding a ride atop his shoulders.
Andromeda would roll her eyes good-naturedly whenever the super soldier gave in to her grandson's eyes and pout, patting James' arm while she passed through to the kitchen. (Apparently tea was always needed, no matter the time of day or occasion.) With the exception of their first meeting after the rescue, Teddy didn't shy away from him, snuggling against James' side while watching movies or reading picture books. Those moments were soothing to his soul.
Unfortunately for James, Harry always tried, and mostly succeeded with Kreacher's help, to get photos of those instances. The young lord would gleefully poke at James' red cheeks while waving the photos around in James' face. Andromeda would laugh from behind him where she was tying up his hair, and Teddy would clap happily and ask for the photos from his place in James' lap. Though embarrassed, James hadn't been more at peace or happy. Hadn't been, not for so long.
At times, his mind drifted to Steve. Now that his mind was getting better, he could remember Steve as they were as children, and again the last time he saw him, unconscious at the riverbank. He winced in shame and guilt, remembering and feeling in his knuckles how he had struck against his childhood friend, the one he had always vowed to protect ("Because I'm with you to the end of the line."). He knew he should contact Steve again, let him know he remembered ("You know me." Steve had desperately said) but he wavered, not wanting Steve to see him yet, not knowing if he could or wanted to see Steve knowing what he had done these last seventy years, willingly or not.
Instead of thinking of Steve, James focused instead on his present. He kept Teddy happy, running laps around Harry's garden with the happily shrieking child on his back or shoulders. He sat and talked with Andromeda, drank tea with her as she went through history, law, and magic lessons with him. And he stayed by Harry's side. He helped Harry in the garden, listened when he wanted to rant about bureaucratic idiots, and held his hand in turn when the green-eyed lord had nightmares.
It had been a long time since Harry had such a worthwhile and time-consuming goal like 'Vanquish the Dark Lord Voldemort.' He had assured a worried Ron and Hermione that this time it wasn't anything dangerous like that. He was protecting and helping a broken man reclaim his life. Ron and Hermione wanted to meet the man that had driven Harry into such a fervor that he was actually seen leaving his home, buying potion ingredients, picking up clothes for a still homebound James (the man was adorably picky about his clothes, but understandably so after having had the same uniform for seventy-odd years), attending Ministry meetings, and interacting socially, even if it was just snapping at people (goddamn paparazzi).
Hermione and Ron had taken to teasing the wizard about his houseguest. More so when they noticed a tell-tale flush creep across his cheeks. Hermione was delighted at its reappearance after so long. Harry had muttering a "shut up," as he came by to ask Hermione about muggle technology. James had asked about modern technological advances, and Harry and Andromeda had been seriously lacking in answers to the soldier. Hermione had taken the opportunity to insist again that she come by his home to answer James' questions.
James' mind healer had however, cautioned against not overwhelming him too much too fast, so Harry had delayed the persistent Hermione, promising that when James was ready, they could come over for dinner. He knew his friends were growing more curious by the day, as he grew increasingly flustered when they asked and teased him (It wasn't his fault that the misplaced soldier was incredibly fit, had arresting eyes, and a smile that could make hearts skip). He was almost determined to make sure they didn't meet, if only to save himself some dignity and the embarrassment.
Outside circumstances changed things as they were, and Hermione called him to the Weasley's home early one morning. ("It's important, Harry!") He had already had breakfast with James, watching with what he refused to call a besotted smile as James sipped his coffee, pressing a sleepy kiss onto Andromeda's cheek, winking cheekily when the witch flushed and slapped his arm with a laughing huff (She too, was not immune to James' charm). Teddy got his obligatory bear hug, and they had settled down to Kreacher's pancakes and waffles. James had given him a smile, a shade shy, and he had responded in kind to the soldier's soft "good morning."
Hermione gripped his arm in apology for ruining his good mood, but she knew that Harry needed to see this. She wasn't wrong (She rarely was). On the muggle television, there was a debate on the very man that had given Harry so much purpose this last year. Apparently, Captain America's absence in DC and in the team of Avengers had the public throwing questions until it came out that he was out in the world with the Falcon, searching for an old friend of the Captain's. With all the leaked files out there, it wasn't long until someone pieced it all together, and now it was common knowledge that James Buchanan Barnes was also The Winter Soldier.
Ron's face was grim as he sat on one side of Harry, Hermione on the other. Harry wanted to throw something, but kept a tight rein on his temper and magic as the debate continued on the television.
"He's an assassin. He's killed in cold blood. Deserves nothing but the death sentence," spat one politician to the reporter, before spinning on his heel and entering the building.
Harry snarled, and Ron grimaced, face twisted in disgust at what they heard. Harry had never been more grateful than he did now that he didn't have cable. The television was only for movies in his household.
On screen, a university student was brushing her blond bangs out of her face, "He was a prisoner of war. From what I read online, his memory was wiped each time, so he wasn't under control of his actions." The student paused, fiddling with her straps of her backpack, "I don't think he should be punished, or persecuted," then glaring at the camera, "Captain America has faith in him, we should too. He's innocent."
Back and forth, the reporter interviewed politicians, historians, students, regular people going about their business on the streets, and opinions varied between outright giving James the death sentence to pitying him for his time in HYDRA's hands. Hermione muted the volume, and gave Harry a bundle of files before he could protest. When he saw what it was that Hermione had compiled, he had lunged at her in a hug, thanking her profusely. She smirked, all parts smug, determined, and righteous.
"You never do think too far ahead, Harry. Someone has to do it for you," Ron said pulling a blue labelled folder to Harry's attention. The next two hours were of listening to Ron and Hermione strategize about how to use laws, legal firms, and the public, both muggle and magical, so that one day, when James was ready, he would be able to walk about anywhere with no fear of prosecution. (As of yet, the super soldier had taken to staying in Harry's home, and exploring the grounds surrounding us. Strong wards ensured their privacy.)
Harry felt a glow of happiness swell inside him. It was just like old times, the three of them banding together in a shared purpose. This time it wasn't defeating a dark lord with near-impossible hurdles to overcome. This time they were all older (Ron and Hermione more than him physically), more experienced, and the hurdles to be overcome weren't as near-impossible as identifying and destroying seven horcruxes.
"What do we do about Captain America?" Hermione asked him. He paused, staring at the floo powder in his hands. Harry felt a shred of uncertainty at the mention of the superhero. He knew James and the Captain were childhood friends, knew that James avoided any mention of the man, that James was happy being with Harry and Teddy and Andromeda.
But Harry also knew there were times when James would stare unseeing out the windows, lost in thoughts and memories, and knew the man was thinking of his old friend. His stare would always be so long, but there was so much longing there. Would James leave them if the Captain came calling? Harry felt a stab in his heart, this last year, while at times painful, were some of the happiest Harry had felt since he had discovered the Hallow's curse. Being unselfish had led to the curse, so could Harry be selfish for once and keep James?
He took a rough breath, closing his eyes to avoid looking at his friends, "I'll talk to James about it." And then he was flooing home. In the next room, he could hear Andromeda and James talking about the parallels between the muggle World War II and the wizarding war with the dark lord Grindalwald. He couldn't hear Teddy, so his godson was mostly down for a nap. He closed his eyes, listening to James voice, so different from how cold and unsteady it once was, it was now warm, smooth, all charm and accented with what James had told him was a Brooklyn accent.
The topic of why Harry was not a teenager had finally been breached a few weeks ago, after one of Harry's nightmares in the dead of night. It was a little past three, and Harry and James were bundled up in blankets in front of the fire, sipping hot chocolate from Kreacher, when Harry told him. He held the wizard's hand, listening as he told him of his life, of Hogwarts, of Voldemort, and then, of Death. In the Forbidden Forest on Hogwarts' grounds, Harry had died.
"It was maybe a few minutes outside for everyone," Harry said softly, leaning more into James' warmth. The soldier squeezed the other's hand, knowing not to say anything and to just let Harry keep talking. Harry met his gaze, a familiar lost look that James didn't like, (no one should be lost like him and Harry, no one) before continuing his tale. "But it was a lifetime for me," Harry had struggled with his words a little, a sign that this wasn't a story he told often if at all, and James had been suddenly stricken with the knowledge that Harry trusted him.
(Trusted him in a way that did not mean he could and would kill a target by an appointed time. Trusted him in a way that made James heart skip.)
"I grew old there, in that place between life and death. I was with my parents and godfather," Harry murmured wistfully, "but when my time there expired, Death came to bring me back to the outside." (Not 'to life' but outside.) He had taken a long sip of his cocoa then, looking as if he wished it were something stronger. "After being that close to death's door, and willingly staying in that state for such a long time," Harry trailed off, staring at the flames, "I was changed."
He didn't speak for a while, and licking his dry lips, James broke the silence, "How did you change?" His heart was beating furiously when Harry met his gaze again. It was haunted and sad.
"I'm twenty-three out here," Harry whispered, "but in my mind, I feel like I'm a century."
James' mind did it's best to work that out, "When you said you grew old there..."
Harry smiled depreciatingly, and drew away from James. The soldier frowned, going to grab the wizards hand again, when the lord shook his head, silently asking him to wait. James had watched in silence, awe and shock warring with each other, as Harry slowly aged before him. It must have been close to ten minutes when an elderly man sat where a young Harry once was. (Harry had aged slowly through the ends of his teens, through his twenties and subsequent decades.) Before James could say a word, the Harry that he was used to reappeared. His eyes questioned the wizard, unwilling to vocalize the question. Harry had huffed out a sigh, reaching for James hand again. The soldier quickly moved to pull Harry against him before taking his hand again. He could feel Harry tensing before relaxing again. James rested his cheek on the now shorter wizard's head of hair.
"It's easier for me, more natural I guess," James felt the shrug against him, "for me to appear like this because this was the age I sort of died in?" James had snorted, hugging Harry closer when the not-teen elbowed him. "I can shift ages, figured that out a while ago. But we, Ron, Hermione and me, I mean, told the wizarding world that it was a curse from being touched from one too many killing curses. After the war, the public would've believed us if we told them spaghetti was going to rain down on us the next day."
So many pieces had fallen in place after that. He could better understand now why Harry at times seemed older than he was physically, why Andromeda would look sadly at times when gazing at him speaking with his godson. Maybe that was also why he hadn't brought any of his school friends around yet. James would've noticed that they were noticeably older than Harry.
Speaking of friends, Harry was acting oddly after coming back from visiting the Weasleys. James had only known the other for a little over a year now, but the constant exposure had ensured that he was now familiar with Harry's habits and tells. Harry was shifting more than usual in his seat, and he and Andromeda had shared looks, trying to figure out what was bothering the cursed wizard.
"Is there something wrong with the chicken Harry?" Andromeda asked.
Harry blinked, confusion and a deer-in-headlights look about him, "I – er – what?"
James hid a grin with another bite of dinner. He raised a brow in question when the wizard turned to look at him, as if looking for a clue for what Andromeda was asking for. It was cute how clueless he looked, and how he was desperately trying to hide it. The wave of affection he felt watching Harry try to defend himself against a teasing Andromeda and Teddy wasn't new. It had been steadily growing since he had first met the wizard, but it was still surprising to James how it continued to grow, more in depth and strength than he was ready to look into.
Harry needed to talk to James, to tell him about what was going on in the muggle world, about Captain America, and about the plans he, Ron, and Hermione were making to combat it all. Well, all but Captain America. Harry didn't even know how to broach that topic, didn't know how to start on any of all of it. James looked so peaceful now, reclining on the couch, a history book in hand. Would telling him set his recovery back? More than that, Harry didn't want the peace to leave James, didn't want him to revert back to The Winter Soldier if push came too soon.
("Give him more credit than that Harry," Hermione had rolled her eyes when he had asked earlier that afternoon. She and Harry were waiting on Ron and the tea, "from what you've told me, he's made incredible progress. He's keeping up with his potions regimen, and you've gotten him to see a mind healer five times a week." She had grinned, poking his arm, "unlike someone I know, he sounds like a man that will do what it takes to get better." Harry had rolled his eyes, taking his mug of tea from a bemused Ron.)
He must have been staring too long, because when he came out of his thoughts, James was staring at him, brow arched and waiting. Harry inwardly fumed his fair complexion for the flush he could feel heating his cheeks. Taking a deep breath, he steeled his determination.
"I need to talk to you about something."
In the next coming days, James alternated between states of feeling agitated and lost. Harry didn't know how to help, didn't know quite what to do that would be right. So he did what he had always done, had sat James down again after an awkward lunch with Teddy and Andromeda and brought out the files that Hermione had given him. And then he told James their plans, spoke nothing but the plain truth, what he had always done when it came to this man. He knew James appreciated it. Both of them had been lied to and manipulated too much in the past to tolerate it ever again.
Taking a deep breath, Harry continued, "Of course, in the end, it all comes down to what you want." Harry searched the soldier's face, "What do you want James?"
And his heart had broken a little at the bewildered look on James face. He swallowed heavily, his actions were no longer about the life debt, no longer about any debts. He really cared about the other man, didn't want him to be in any pain or to be hurt anymore. In the last year, he had watched as James steadily reclaimed his mind, battled depression in the face of returning memories, and learned again to smile and laugh. ("I'm never going to be Bucky again, but I think I can be James," the soldier had smiled shakily after another session with his mind healer.)
He had watched as Andromeda came to view the misplaced soldier as a son. She was forever fussing to James about his hair, telling him to either cut it short, or at least let her trim it and then tie it up for him. Teddy had taken to morphing his features to take on James' appearance, and it never failed to bring a smile to Harry's face when he remembered James' surprise the first time it had happened. James in turn, treated Andromeda with affection akin to a son speaking to a mother, more than less, bending to her will. When it came to Teddy, well, James outright adored the little metamorph. It was obvious to both him and Andromeda, and Harry always felt something soften in him, and his affection grew for the soldier whenever he saw how tender and lovingly James treated Teddy, as though he were his own younger brother, if not, son.
So Harry waited anxiously, and with bated breath for James to answer. The soldier's face had flickered through a plethora of emotions, hands gripping hard onto his throw pillow as he thought. Finally, James blue eyes met Harry's green.
"I don't know what I want, not exactly," and by habit, James was reaching over for Harry. Harry allowed himself to be pulled against the soldier's chest, and held his hands, hearing and feeling the shuddering breath that rocked through James' being.
"I know I don't want to be The Winter Soldier. I know I don't want to controlled. I know that I don't want to kill on orders," he had licked his lips nervously, eyeing Harry nervously before continuing, "but I will kill anyone or anything that threatens you, Teddy, or Andromeda."
Harry knew that it was both a promise and a vow that James had stated. He squeezed James hand, "And I would kill to defend you too," (Always) he whispered back. The soldier relaxed from behind him, relief that Harry hadn't rejected him for the darker sides of his personality. Harry spoke up when it seemed that James was trying to collect his thoughts, "You're dear to me James," (Stay with me) Harry was so glad that he wasn't facing the soldier, "I want you to be happy." (Please don't leave)
There was a pause. Harry was worried that maybe he had spoken too soon, said too much, but James hadn't tensed behind him, hadn't done more than reclined back with Harry pressed against his chest.
Finally, "Yeah, I'd like that."
And Harry didn't know if he was going to cry or not when James' arms wrapped more securely around him, and a kiss was pressed onto his cheek.
James danced, his feet remembering the steps as he slowly spun Harry. Harry had aged himself a few years so that he was a little taller, glaring at the smirk James couldn't help when he noticed Harry had never really (and wouldn't, James had already seen) grown any taller than he was at his present physical age of late twenties.
Next to them, Ron stepped on Hermione's feet. Ron and Harry both stumbled while dancing, all awkward footing and flailing arms and hands. James and Hermione exchanged amused glances, laughing together when Ron and Harry in turn glared and grumbled when they caught the two.
He understood quickly why Harry had taken so long to introduce his oldest friends to him. It really had nothing to do with the visible differences in their physical ages, and Harry being concerned over questions. (In hindsight, James should have suspected something different. Harry had never pretended his youthful appearance was indicative of his true age and the wizard had always answered truthfully to any and all of James' questions.) The Weasley couple had both smiled slyly at meeting him, Hermione tugging Harry's arm while staring at the soldier in seemingly wonder, "Wow, you weren't exaggerating about those cheekbones at all."
James had never seen Harry so flustered. The wizard had squeaked in outraged embarrassment, face flushed fetchingly, and his hand slapped over his friend's mouth to stop the witch from continuing to speak, all the while avoiding all eye contact with James. In Harry's ensuing silence, Ron had approached him with his hand held out to shake, but the redhead was shaking too much with the effort of not laughing that it was in no way steady. When the redhead's eyes met his, he felt his own lips twitching helplessly. He had grasped Ron's hand to shake at the same instant the dam had broken. Both were bent over laughing, still shaking hands, although it was more due to their combined laughter than any voluntary, polite movements.
"Are you two done?" the green-eyed wizard glowered down at them.
James had cleared his throat before straightening, adopting a polite expression that made Hermione giggle, and Harry's brow twitch.
Ron however did not have such control, and was still gasping for breath, "Not going to lie, I'm going to need a minute." The redhead's body continued to shake in suppressed laughter, "Or five."
"I knew I should never have introduced you all," Harry had grumbled, and James couldn't stop the wave of affection that overtook him then even if he had wanted to. He took a step over to wrap his left arm around Harry's waist to pull him against his side, pressing a chaste kiss against the wizard's cheek.
"You've got beautiful cheekbones as well," he grinned in the face of Harry's emerging blush and Hermione's beaming smile. ("I see what you mean about charming, Harry." James would overhear later that evening.) Harry swatted him away, but not before pressing a quick kiss on his own cheek in response.
Dinner with Ron and Hermione was lively. They kept up conversation about a variety of topics; Hermione could speak at length on what seemed like every topic under the sun. James had been both intimidated and impressed at her knowledge and analysis of the literature he had read both before and after his Winter Soldier days. Ron had grinned companionably at him when his wife turned to thank Kreacher for the meal ("Brilliant, but scary," the redhead had whispered, and James really couldn't disagree) when dessert was brought out.
After a few dinners with the couple, they were in the habit now to discuss their strategies and plans concerning James. The law firms had already started, and were making a lot of headway. "There were already sympathizers, and many lawyers are already working on your case pro bono whether because it's something they believe in, or because Captain America has spoken out for you," Hermione had explained.
Harry took his hand when Captain America was mentioned, and James took a breath, "Steve?"
Hermione nodded, bringing out a folder of clipped articles, "These are some from some of his interviews, from what I've been able to gather from the newspapers I can get here and from online. Of course there are also interviews you can view online, if you ever want to watch them, let me know, and we can arrange it." James' respect for the witch grew with every blunt piece of information she gave him. Both the Weasleys were like Harry in this way, preferring for the truth and facts to be laid out. He wondered if it was a generational thing that resulted from the war. It was something he could ask Andromeda about tomorrow during lunch.
Steve had been a busy bee. Sometime in the last few months, he had heard of the scandal concerning his missing friend and had teamed with Stark Industries' public relations department and was fighting for James. Harry held his hand while he read through the articles. Steve was quoted in his fierce defence of Sergeant James Barnes, a hero of America, and more recently known, a prisoner of war. With his very public defense, and his admonishment to all who wanted to put his name through the mud, public polls showed an exponential rise in James' favor. He couldn't believe Steve had done all of this, (that skinny, sickly kid had really grown strong) his eyes were flickering from one article to the next in amazement.
Hermione slipped a final article in his hands when he had finished the ones in the folder. This one was short, and Steve's determined and steadfast face took up most of the spread. ("Wherever you are, please come home.") James breath had hitched, and his heart ached for his old friend. Harry was trembling next to him, where he had read next to James. The wizard looked frightened, and was biting his lip, not meeting James gaze. He gripped Harry's hand tightly, he wasn't going anywhere, not without Harry anyway.
("My sister couldn't handle it," Ron's tone was sad, subdued and quiet, indicative of something long accepted, but no less painful. Across the room, Harry and Hermione were giggling and laughing over something in a magazine. "She left him, even before the curse thing was discovered. Ran off with Dean, an old roommate of ours, with hardly a word to Harry or anyone else, and they're now expecting their second child." Ron sipped his wine, not looking at James, but at the happy picture his wife and best friend made, "Harry won't tell you, but he's scared you're going to leave him like Ginny did. He hardly ever comes by the Burrow anymore, and when he does, Mum and the others don't know how to act around him. He withdrew from the family and the world after that." James couldn't help but resent the witch, he had never met her, but just knowing that she had hurt him, and had cost him most of his surrogate family burned him. Ron had given him a knowing look, eyes accepting and agreeing, but no less pained.)
"Would you be able to send an untraceable message for me?"
Hermione broke from her whispered conversation with Ron, and nodded tentatively, eyes flickering in concern between him and Harry who had stiffened at his words.
When the parchment and pen (thank God Harry had both pens and quills), were in his hands, he tugged Harry closer as he wrote, feeling the wizard gasp quietly at his side before sagging against him in relief, wrapping his arms around James, and planting a sweet kiss against his lips. ("Thank you", the kiss had said, and James heard it, he always heard Harry, whether he was silent or not.) He passed the note over to Hermione before pressing closer to Harry to whisper reassurance and stroke at his nest of ink-black hair. Harry was starting to shake from suppressed emotions, and James could tell that he was just moments away from tearing.
Absently he heard Hermione sniff and her promise of sending off his note. Ron had seen himself and Hermione out, but had squeezed James shoulders briefly as he passed. ("You're a good man James Barnes," Ron had slurred in another attempt to drink him under the table. Harry and Hermione were already passed out on the couch and Ron wasn't too far from it with how he was slumped over the kitchen table. "The best-est. 'Aven't seen 'Arry laugh or smile so much before.") James nodded back, pressing kisses into Harry's hair.
"I meant it," James whispered, and Harry pressed closer, as if attempting to hide himself from the world.
Steve, he had written, "Stop looking for me, punk. I've already found a home, and I'm happy. I'll see you when I'm ready. Thanks for the defending me. And he had signed off with James Buchanan Barnes/Bucky/Winter Soldier because, what the heck. He was all that and they were all him once upon a time, and would be ever after.
Part the first complete. Now back to doing practice GRE exams for me
Lemme know what you all think so far.