I finished my summer job as an assistant in a classroom. It was great, I could go work with kids and then go home and not have to worry about anything. I'm a little unsure about next year, but we'll see how it goes.
I'm on a writing roll, though! This is the second fic I've updated today!
Recovery feels like failing a mission. James knows that it will take time, Professor X has emphasized that James' progress won't be linear, setbacks are almost to be expected.
The desensitization to the trigger words had taken a weight of his shoulders, but the weight's been added again as James remembers more and more real missions. He sees innocents- guilty only in the eyes of HYDRA- shot down by his gun, choked by his hands, stabbed with a knife in his prosthesis.
He writes these in his new journal, along with memories of his life before the war and funny things Harry says. Things he actually wants to remember.
Harry seems to be recovering more successfully than James. Harry sometimes even sleeps through the night; there are nights without a hot chocolate trip at 0214. James misses those trips, even though he is glad his son is suffering fewer nightmares.
Harry's therapy involves drawing pictures and playing under the gentle eye and guidance of Professor X. Harry works through emotions and trauma while getting to learn to be a child.
"Adults can benefit greatly from art therapy, as well." The professor mentions. Steve takes him up on it, but James declines. Steve was always the artist, Bucky says A masterpiece for me was a circle that didn't look like a misshapen potato.
James stares at Steve's latest sketch- a realistic depiction of the Asset jumping off a train, with Harry in his arms. In the background, a man falls off a train on a mountain.
The paper has water damage, indicating Steve had shed a few tears.
James turns from the picture to Steve. Steve still shies away from the prosthesis, and James can still see the metal hand wrapped around Maria Stark's neck, positioning Howard to make the crash look like an accident. James slowly reaches out with his flesh hand, lays it on Steve's shoulder. He nods down at the drawing. "That an art therapy project?"
Stark walks in with Harry on his hip, telling Harry all about how he was famous before he could walk, too. To an outsider, Stark seems to relish attention and fame, yet he actually appears glad that Harry is out of the public eye.
Harry is clearly happy with Stark, but lights up upon seeing James. Stark makes a beeline for James as well, and Harry flings himself out of Stark's arms. James reflexively catches Harry.
"Are you famous too?" Harry asks.
James clenches his jaw. The Soldier was infamous, a legendary assassin.
I was pretty well-known too, you know. Bucky grumbles. Stark can't hear the voice, but voices a similar sentiment. He'd recognized James as soon as he'd removed the mask.
Even before the war, dames were lining up to go dancing with me, Bucky continues. James almost wants to roll his eyes.
"You have to be famous." Harry interrupts James' thoughts and voices. "That's why bad guys are chasin' us."
"I don't want to be famous." Harry decides, not even giving James time to reply. He's clearly picking up Stark's habits. "Mr. Stark said he got kidnapped, but he's not a kid. I need a secret iden-ty."
Harry proceeds to spend the next half hour running around with his face hidden behind his basketball while James stops him from running into doorways. "You don't know me!" Harry shouts to Steve. "I'm Basketball Boy!"
"Funny, you look like you're made from Harry's basketball." Steve replies.
"No I don't!" Harry yells. Stark is almost bent over with laughter. James stops Harry from attempting to fly his broomstick as Basketball Boy.
Later, James finds Harry kneeling on a bathroom sink, scribbling over his lightning-bolt scar with a red marker. Harry scowls at his reflection. "I can't get a star."
"Ask Steve." James suggests, and Harry runs off. He parades around the school, showing everyone how he has a red star just like James does. His hair is starting to grow long. Even though they're not biologically related, Harry is beginning to look like James' son.
James leaves his next therapy sessions feeling worse than when he entered, stalking out and ignoring the Professor's words.
His brain is buzzing, but not like after a wipe. The inner voice rattles off the names of some of his missions, which makes it even worse. His head is filled with screams of victim's families when they saw their loved ones murdered, their screams as he murdered them to ensure there were no witnesses.
Suddenly, his brain's on mute aside from the Professor's voice. James scowls. He's used to ignoring voices.
He should join Logan for a smoke, or a drink. Or several, even if they can't affect him.
Steve is out, which is almost a relief. Stark is nowhere to be seen. Harry sits on the couch with Jean Grey, showing her one of his childish drawings. "See? He got me out of the cupboard, and then we jumped off a train."
James stands silently. Jean looks at him, but Harry is engrossed in sharing his art. He's been making a sort of storybook about his rescue and adventure, narrating his childish drawings of events.
James slips away, finds Logan, who wordlessly hands him a cigarette. Logan doesn't give him pitying looks or tell him it wasn't his fault, wasn't him. Logan doesn't tell him he's a hero, and James appreciates the rather taciturn company.
Sometimes, James feels more of a connection with Logan than Steve. Steve's from his time, they'd grown up together, sure. Steve had been part of an experiment that made him enhanced. But Steve hadn't been wiped, hadn't been turned into a weapon and an unwilling recipient of metallic body modifications. Logan mentions Weapon X exactly once, but from what James can tell it was essentially another Winter Soldier program.
They smoke outside, away from the students milling around. Logan flicks his cigarette butt into a trash can, muttering that Charles complains if they're stomped out on the ground.
"Those words ain't in your head anymore." Logan grunts. "What's stopping you from giving 'em hell?"
James looks at his hands. "I don't want to fight anymore."
Logan's answering grin is almost feral. "Leaves more for me."
"You smell weird." Harry remarks bluntly when James re-enters the mansion. Enhancements negate the effects of nicotine, but don't overpower the odor of smoke. Not to mention the smell of rain from the thunderstorm that had struck, not from Storm.
Stark frowns. "I'm really, really not one to talk, but you're not setting a good example for Harry. I know it was different back in your day, but that stuff blackens your lungs. Well, maybe not yours, but still. Remember when your kid was literally begging for a cigarette? I'm enough of a bad influence for both of us."
James scowls. A lecture from Stark is unexpected, but preferable to getting one from Steve. Not that either of them can talk, Steve had smoked in the trenches with the rest of the boys in the Howling Commandos, sometimes passing around a single cigarette.
James had chain-smoked today, telling himself it calmed his mind as he remembered what went on behind the walls of another base he'd been deployed from. He relays the location to Stark, who adds it to his hit list.
A holographic globe floats above Stark's phone, marked with red dots. Stark's been putting the information he extracted from Zola to good use.
Stark and Steve are clearly planning more attacks, along with Storm and other members of the X-Men.
James sits back. The Asset had never been included in mission planning. James is sure the plans were made before they'd even taken out of the cryogenic chamber. He was simply given a mission, a target, suited up and sent out to eliminate another enemy of HYDRA.
It's hard not to fall into that mindset as the others discuss strategies, which bases to hit, how to draw undercover HYDRA operatives into the open. Stark wants to get his legal team after Pierce and sics JARVIS on Pierce's email and computers.
Stark ends up passing his phone to Harry, shooing him from the room while Harry talks excitedly to Jarvis. James hears Harry tell Jarvis "I missed you," before the door shuts. He hears Harry's footsteps fade down the hall. He's probably going flying again.
"Where's the prof?" Stark asks, looking around. "I mean, I don't mind being the leader of the group, but..."
"Who says you'd be the leader?" Steve counters, though his tone is mild. Storm gave them both an impatient look.
When they leave, Storm sets off toward an already-stormy area, blasting a base with lightning. "What are the odds?" Stark grins, when the news reports of the fire hit.
Professor X stays in the basement the next several days- not building gadgets as Stark had, but changing the course of history. Forget the Winter Soldier, HYDRA would've died to get their hands on this guy and make him join their cause.
With the power of some computer headset called Cerebro that Stark isn't shutting up about, the Professor almost singlehandedly takes down HYDRA.
On national television, Pierce closes a speech with "Hail HYDRA", though James barely registers it. He stands, rigidly, at attention.
He's not your handler, Bucky says. James forces himself at ease. If he can ignore the trigger words now, he should be able to ignore this reaction to a former handler.
Professor X finds the location of several high-ranking HYDRA members even faster than Stark, finds several that James doesn't remember.
"This guy's a Professor X Machina." Stark sounds somewhere between pleased and jealous.
James isn't sure what Coulson and Romanoff have been doing behind the scenes, but one day a Quinjet approaches the mansion. Before Stark can even suit up, Storm hits it with a bolt of lightning and Jean Grey makes it crash relatively harmlessly into a lake. Jean Grey lifts out several STRIKE team members who are immediately taken into custody.
James watches from the basketball court, shielding Harry with his body. One of the members who remained conscious starts to say the trigger words.
"Bye, bad guys!" Harry shouts over the words, waving with a wicked grin as Logan marches the agents away. James waves with his prothesis, a small smirk forming on his lips at the agent's thunderstruck expression. He know the agent won't ever spread the word out that the asset is unaffected by the triggers.
Stark and Steve seem to think the decimation of HYDRA will make James feel better, but seeing the numerous crimes Pierce is charged for just reminds James of everything he's done.
"It wasn't you." Stark says for the millionth time.
"It wasn't them, when they decided to hand themselves in." James retorts. He expects Steve to agree that they're sinking to HYDRA's level by mind-controlling its operatives the way they'd controlled the Asset, albeit far less painfully. He had before. But Steve just seems satisfied.
"They deserve it." Stark waves a hand carelessly. "You didn't. And trust me, my legal team won't let you get locked up."
All the same, James shuts himself in his room. The Soldier had been a closely-held secret, but one of the bases may reveal something. He almost wishes the trigger words were still in effect; there's little proof now that he was brainwashed. Without the words, he seems just like every voluntary agent.
Harry storms into the room, but he doesn't ask James to play or even why he's sitting there. Harry slumps, sulking and ignoring James's presence entirely. James wants to reach out to him, ask what's wrong, but sees his hands reaching out to smother the Dursley boy.
He tells himself Harry may react as Steve always did when he was tiny and pissed off, that he needs space. He's being a bad example, failing his mission to keep Harry happy and safe.
After a while of stony silence, Harry leaves the room. James takes an additional twenty-four minutes before following him. Harry is now all smiles.
How do kids recover so quickly? Bucky muses.
Harry hands James a piece of paper and a green crayon "to get your mad out." He holds up a paper filled with furious scribbling, a few spots torn from the force of it.
James is busy looking at Steve's drawing. The HYDRA skull with its insidious tentacles is near the top. A string hangs from each tentacle, controlling the Winter Soldier like a puppet.
James wonders if Steve knows the codeword Harry had used to become the handler.
He flips past that drawing, sees a progression to Harry and Bucky pulling the Winter Soldier puppet, freeing him from the strings.
"Steve did that." Harry shares, unnecessarily. "Get your mad out, Dad."
James scribbles on the blank paper just to make Harry smile. Harry grabs other materials from a large bin. "P'fessor X said to make safe places. Mine's here, 'cos the bad guys can't get us here. You're here, an' Mr. Stark, and.." Harry proceeds to list off everyone as he builds a mansion out of an old cereal box, dabbing yellow paint on as windows. He makes some basketball hoops out of pipe cleaners on a piece of black paper, then picks up the paintbrush again.
"It's too big to be a broom," Harry frowns, demonstrating that the brush is nearly as long as the entire craft basketball court. Harry eagerly holds the brush out to Logan as he passes by. "Cut it into a broom, please!"
Logan takes the brush, slices off the end with his claws, and hands it back to Harry, who grins. James could've easily snapped the brush with one finger, if Harry had asked him.
Harry pushes the bin of craft supplies at James. "You should make your safe place."
James picks up a plastic tube, thinking of the cryogenic chamber. It had been horribly cold, of course, but at least he'd known he wouldn't hurt anyone, wouldn't be hurt until he was thawed again.
James snaps off pieces for chimneys and helps Harry add details to the miniature mansion.
"Next thing I know you'll be building an Iron Man suit." Stark remarks as takes in the scene. Harry grabs Stark's sleeve and gleefully points out every detail of the mansion.
When the tour of the craft is done, Harry gathers toilet paper tubes, painting them red and gold. The suit isn't finished by Harry's bedtime, and Harry tries every tack to stay up.
"I'm not tired." he whines as James picks him up and heads to their bedroom. Harry speaks around his toothbrush, bartering for hot chocolate, arguing that Mr. Stark gets to stay up, the big kids get to stay up.
"I have to watch the paint dry." Harry protests pathetically as James tucks him in. James raises a brow at that one, and Harry crawls across the bed to adjust the position of their miniature mansion.
Harry asks to hear the story of their adventure, slipping out of bed again to grab the drawings he was showing Jean several days before.
James flips through them, rehashing the events of taking Harry, running from HYDRA and Dumbledore, finding Stark and finally moving from Stark's mansion to this one. He must make it sound like a boring report, because Harry's eyes are soon drooping.
Harry falls asleep while gazing at his replica mansion, safe and sound in the real one.
A few chapters ago, I wanted to avoid Charles being OP, but honestly with his powers he kinda is already. And once I thought of 'Professor X Machina', I had to use it. Plus I didn't even want to focus on the HYDRA plot line, so I guess it'll keep going on behind the scenes. I think they kinda glossed over it after Winter Soldier, anyway? I mean Civil War and stuff focused on other things.
I started another story about Harry being rescued and taken in by someone else. It's called The Boy in the Cupboard and it's a big reason why I took so long to update this. But I banged out five 2k word chapters of that (and this chapter) in around 2 days each, so I may be able to get another chapter out by Harry's birthday (July 31). Can't promise anything, though, I certainly can't keep that pace up forever.