AN: Right...so, er...let's just say I was otherwise indisposed. I'd rather not go into details.
I really am so very sorry about the delay, but let me say first and foremost, this story is not now, nor will it ever be, abandoned. I have never left one of my stories unfinished before and I don't plan on starting with this one. Even if it might be taking me much longer than I would like, this story will be completed.
So, for those of you wondering, no, I didn't make up the song 'I See The Moon.' It's a lullaby that my godfather used to sing to me. I've never been able to find it on the 'net or anything though, so it might be that he made it up, or maybe it's just a really old folksong or something. I dunno.
And, in case you didn't notice, it is also the lullaby sung in parts 2 and 7.
PS: I noticed that a lot of you seem rather confused about Harry's little interludes. That's okay, so is he.
Harry's mind isn't exactly the clearest point of view to have. The interludes are supposed to make you feel jumbled and off kilter, because that's how Harry feels. Maybe at the end of the story, when more has been revealed, you'll be able to come back and read them again in a new light, but for now...just embrace the insanity.
Though, I will remind you, I did base Harry off of the White Queen. Think of how the White Queen's memory works, backwards and forwards. 'Once upon a time or twice upon a time or all the times together,' remember? The interludes don't really take place at any specific point in the story's timeline. So, knowing that, keep in mind that this part takes place immediately after part 10 'Ch. 8 - In Which The Half-Man Has Eyes And The Nothingness Has Maggots.'
PPS: I couldn't figure out how to include the flying monkey bit. I feel I must apologize for this.
Chapter 9 - In Which The Iron Man Is Spongy And Asgardians Are Shiny
"What are you, a Skittle's spokesman?" Was Stark's response to Harry's complaint about his reds, and really, he should try to be a bit more aqua, maybe a little marine. "Do you taste the rainbow?"
"No, nothing?" Stark asked, looking disappointed that his wit wasn't being properly appreciated. "Interior decorator, then? Because, let me tell you, Spring colors do nothing for me. I am definitely more of an Autumn."
Harry's attention seemed to have wondered somewhere mid-sarcasm, however, and his gaze had ended up locked onto the unfortunate Norse god. While the deity stared back warily, Harry casually began inching his way over, easily forgetting the billionaire's existence, much to Stark's indignation.
Stark turned to Bruce, brow furrowed. "No offense, really, but I think the kid might have lost a couple of marbles."
"Boy doesn't have enough marbles in his head to make a rattle," Fury scoffed.
Stark raised an eyebrow at Fury's not-quite-hidden hostility. "Wouldn't that technically make him brain dead?"
"Harry and his marbles are fine," Bruce interrupted. Stark and Fury both stared at him skeptically, and out of the corner of his eye he could see the Captain trying to pull Harry back away from a rather skittish looking Thor. "He's not crazy and he's not a child, alright? I'll admit, he's a little odd, but—Harry, please stop trying to taste the god of thunder."
Harry stilled, tongue stuck out, while a bewildered Thor carefully held him at arm's length with a firm hand on top of his head.
The tongue was quickly drawn back in as Bruce fixed him with a stern look, and Harry stared at him from under the deity's large appendage. "He's very shiny," Harry explained defensively. "Too much, everything all together, all at once. Like a rainbow, so..."
This time, Bruce didn't resist the urge to palm his face, if only to avoid the triumphant look on Stark's. He made a mental note to have a talk with the man about watching what he said around Harry. His friend had a habit of taking things rather literally.
"Doctor Banner, may I inquire, where precisely did you come upon your young friend?" Thor asked, still staring at Harry as Rogers gently shooed him back over to Bruce, like a stray pup.
"Uh, Paraguay," Bruce answered, just as Fury did the same, much to Bruce's annoyance.
"And that is of this realm?" The demi-god continued to question, looking more confused by the moment.
Not quite comfortable with Thor's curiosity or where it was leading, Bruce carefully maneuvered himself in front of Harry. Judging by the look Fury gave him, he recognized the motion for what it was. "Yeah," Bruce said slowly, keeping a wary eye on the Asgardian. "Paraguay is on Earth."
"Why are you so interested?" Said Fury, giving voice to the question Bruce didn't want asked.
"Your companion," Thor started hesitantly, brow furrowed and head tilted to stare around Bruce, at Harry. "He is rather...peculiar."
Bruce couldn't help but bristle at that—as if the alien, ancient Norse god or not, really had any room to speak. Surprisingly, however, it was Stark who came to their defense before Bruce could even open his mouth.
"Oh, you're one to talk about strange companions. Isn't there an eight-legged horse of dubious origin running around up there in Asgard?" Stark asked pointedly from where he stood beside Bruce and Harry, smirk firmly in place.
The very large, very powerful deity blushed and studiously avoided looking anyone in the eye. "We do not speak of it."
Stark let out an undignified snort. "Oh, yeah, I bet."
Ever the peacekeeper, the Captain was quick to step between the two, as Thor's gaze turned stormy and Tony's smug. "Let's try to keep our focus on the real situation at hand, please, gentlemen."
"Dr. Banner, perhaps now would be the time to show Mr. Stark to the labs. He'll be helping you on your search for the Tesseract," Fury said pointedly.
Stark gave a little eye roll, but grinned at Harry and him all the same. "Shall we go play?"
In response, Harry grabbed his and Stark's arms and pulled them to the exit, quick to get far away from Fury, it seemed. Much to Bruce's embarrassment, as he dragged them to the labs, Harry excitedly babbled to the startled looking billionaire about Bruce's genius and his own problems with reds, much like Stark's, but really, it's okay because purples have room for a lot of blues to balance them out.
Of course, Harry forgot where he was going about half-way down the hall, but Stark seemed to appreciate the inclusion all the same.
"So, where should we start?" Stark asked, stripping off his suit jacket and tie as he went, tossing them carelessly to the side. He walked through the lab as if he owned it, much like he had walked onto the bridge and down the corridor, actually. Bruce suspected the guy must walk in to the men's room like he owned that too, but for the life of him, Bruce couldn't really imagine anybody wanting to boast about that.
"Uh..." Bruce glanced back at Harry, who was ignoring them and scowling at the corner where his tower of furniture had once resided, obviously having been dismantled in their absence. He had been so eager to show the eyes to Stark, too. "Right. Well, um, I'm getting regular readings from spectrometers at practically every major lab, scanning for gamma radiation, and I've got a program running to—"
"I'm thinking the necklace," the billionaire interrupted, unbuttoning his dress shirt and tossing it in the general direction of the jacket and tie, leaving him in the black rock band shirt underneath.
Bruce really hoped that's where the stripping ended. "I'm sorry...?"
"I mean, granted, it's not as weird as a turnip in your ear—which, by the way, not many can pull off a decorative root vegetable. Kudos, kid." Stark leaned around Bruce to give Harry a curious look, which went completely unnoticed, before turning back to Bruce and raising an eyebrow. "But, seriously, corks?"
He gave a quiet sigh, taking off his glasses to rub at the bridge of his nose. "Latest fashion. All the rage in Calcutta," Bruce deadpanned. Which, unfortunately, only seemed to make Stark even more amused. "Now, could we—"
"Please, JARVIS is assimilating your data and doing the other science-y stuff already," Stark said, waving a dismissive hand towards the computer monitors and continuing on before Bruce had a chance to ask who the hell Jarvis was. "Which gives us plenty of time to bond. I mean, come on, big guy. Who else are you going to find on this ship that speaks the same language as you?"
Bruce raised an eyebrow, unimpressed.
"Seriously though, you shouldn't deny my curiosity. It never ends well for people. Ask SHIELD," Stark commented casually, leaning against the lab table.
"I'm just here to work, Mr. Stark," Bruce reaffirmed through clenched teeth. If Stark noticed Bruce's growing annoyance, he didn't show it. "I just want to do my job and then get as far away from here as possible. Other than that, I really don't see how anything else is—"
Bruce paused, tirade interrupted, and caught Stark's equally confused expression, before they both turned to look towards Harry. His unblinking gaze, now at least somewhat focused, had switched from the camera and on to them at some point.
Stark quirked a brow at him. "...What?"
"Radish. Not a turnip. Used to have two, but only the one now. I'm a little off balance," Harry tugged on his scarred lobe ruefully, and Bruce could practically see Stark physically restraining himself from commenting on that sentence. "It's to keep away the wrackspurts. Creeping little things, they'll crawl right inside your head, you know?"
"Right," Stark drawled, nodding with a contemplative look, then turned to Bruce. "What?"
Bruce just shrugged, feeling rather unsympathetic. Stark was the one who was curious, after all.
"The corks are for the nargles—helps him with the reds to keep them off the trail. Not that it does much good here," Harry scowled, casting a jaundiced eye at the lab windows where the SHIELD agents could be seen walking about, shooting the occasional glance their way. "You've gotta be careful of the reds though, yeah. Let one too many spark and they'll...they'll burn you. Right up, from the inside out..."
Harry trailed off slowly, gaze gradually focusing and narrowing in on Stark, as if only just noticing him for the first time. Bruce could see Harry's eyes flicking down at his chest, up to Stark's, then down at his own once more and back again, his expression alternating between bewilderment and excitement. Like he's found a strange new toy, Bruce thought with a feeling not unlike dread crawling up his spine.
Stark seemed oblivious to the danger he was in and made the mistake of taking his eyes off Harry, turning to Bruce. "You wouldn't happen to come with a handy dandy translator, would you Doc?"
"Seemed pretty clear to me," Bruce said casually, shrugging again and trying to fight off the amused smirk that was tugging at the corners of his mouth.
Judging by the squinty glare Bruce got in return, he hadn't been very successful.
Stark turned his attention back to Harry and started when he realized that the younger man was less than an inch away, wide eyes fixated on his chest. "Whoa! Personal space bubble, kid." He took a few quick steps back and Harry followed. "Uh, Doc?"
"Harry?" Bruce took a step towards him, slowly reaching a hand out to touch his arm, trying to get his friend's attention. Harry paid him no mind, though, focused entirely on Stark's center mass. "You okay, buddy?"
"Where's it all going?" Harry murmured softly, oblivious to Stark's discomfort as he leaned in closer, face scrunched in concentration. "Swirling away and in and gone. Sucked right down and gone... Like a—sucked up, like a sponge."
"Seriously, kid, you're freaking me out." Stark twitched nervously, looking to Bruce for help.
Harry reached out and tapped the center of Stark's chest, a metallic ting echoing in the silent lab. "You're better than a cactus," Harry concluded in hushed awe.
"Yeah, I know a lot of people who would disagree with you there."
Bruce was considering a leash.
He remembered back before his accident, and subsequent fugitive status, baby leashes were becoming quite popular. Strap the kid in a harness, clip on a lead, and take a stroll down the street. Of course, trying to find one in Harry's size might end up with him shopping from some...specialized stores, which would be just plain awkward.
That, and it would kind of defeat the purpose of him constantly trying to convince people that Harry was not a crazy child.
Be that as it may, if Bruce had invested in a leash, he probably wouldn't currently be sneaking through the halls of SHIELD's flying fortress, trying to look like he belonged, and not thinking about how many guns these people had or how eager they always seemed to be to use them. Given the number of curious glances he'd gotten so far, he wasn't sure he was succeeding. Then again, no one had stopped him yet and no alarms had been raised. Maybe this spy thing was easier than he'd thought?
Either way, it was only a matter of time before someone else realized Harry was somewhere he wasn't supposed to be, so Bruce knew he needed to find him quickly. Harry wasn't in the break room, where he had trailed in after Bruce, humming quietly to himself and not planning a grand escape, so far as Bruce was aware. He wasn't in the lab, Stark had confirmed with a look of intrigue, which made Bruce a bit twitchy. Bruce may have only known him for a few hours, but if was fairly obvious that becoming a subject of interest to that man was not conducive to keeping secrets.
Ruling out the obvious areas, though, had left Bruce floundering a bit. He had no idea what would have drawn Harry away from the safety of Bruce's shadow, especially with the rampant nargle infestation around here. Well, actually, Bruce did have some idea. But, Harry wouldn't—
Bruce stopped short in the middle of the hall and sighed. Yeah, Harry would. He really, really would.
Feeling a coil of tension tighten in his belly, Bruce turned and started making his way towards where he'd seen the guards escorting Loki.
It took a bit of snooping and sneaking, but he found the abandoned hall leading into the containment cell. Seemed like the agents were avoiding the area and, given what Bruce knew about Loki's skills in manipulation, he couldn't say he blamed them. The sight of the unlocked door, left wide open for all the world to enter, made Bruce groan. He hoped Harry hadn't caused any permanent damage.
He hadn't been sure what exactly to expect when he walked through the door, but he'd be the first to admit that he was a worrier, especially when it came to Harry. So, while he may have been building a list of worst case scenarios in his head, he really had no idea why Harry would want to be here. A staring contest hadn't made the list though, that's for sure.
Harry stood on the ramp in the center of the room leading to the circular glass cell, only just shy of touching it. His gaze was more focused than Bruce could remember ever seeing, his expression serious and intent and fixed firmly on Loki. The god of chaos stood opposite of him, mirroring Harry's expression behind the glass, with the exception of the smirk curling his lips.
Bruce crept into the room slowly, carefully edging around the cell that most likely would have been his own, were it not already occupied. He cast a glance upwards, searching for the cameras that he knew must be watching their every move, silently wondering why they hadn't already been escorted out at gun point. He really hoped Harry hadn't accidentally shorted out SHIELD's security system or something.
He made his way over to the pair, coming to Harry's side. His friend didn't seemed to notice his arrival, though.
"Hmm," Loki's smirk grew, his gaze still solely on Harry and cold amusement coating his voice. "Seems your beast has come to join us."
Bruce bit back a snarl and felt his necklace warming up, as if in response to his anger, sending a gentle comforting heat up through his chest. "Harry? You okay, buddy?" He reached out a hand to grip Harry's arm tightly, trying to make his presence clear. Still, Harry didn't move or speak.
Loki's eyes flicked over to him, interest sparking in the icy depths. "Ah, so that is what you have done. Tamed the mindless creature, have you, child?"
"Harry?" Bruce said again, voice growing firmer and grip tightening a bit more.
"Oh, but it is such a waste, is it not?" The demi-god all but crooned to Harry. "All that power, so eager to be unleashed, and you hand him a shackle for it?"
"You've grown dim," Harry whispered, voice quiet and fierce, cutting through Loki's questions. He shifted his stance a bit, bracing himself, and reached down to grip the strap of his satchel tightly, as if for comfort.
In a split second, Loki's features shifted—from the distant, chilled guile to something menacing, biting and...alien. His eyes narrowed on Harry, mouth turning downwards into a scowl. "Say again, child?"
"Dim and blind and blank," Harry said, not cowed in the slightest by the other, his voice growing stronger as he spoke. "The lighter one is blinding, in that he's too bright to see, but not you. You've lost your colors. You never came back out of the dark."
Loki seemed to freeze, body and face both motionless as he stared into Harry, and Bruce couldn't help but hold his breath in anticipation.
After a beat of silence, Loki forced himself to relax, donning once more the frigid mirth that he utilized as both an armor and weapon. Placing his hands on the glass, he leaned in close and studied Harry through the barrier, gaze intent and piercing. He seemed to find what he was looking for, because only a moment later a wide cheshire grin was dominating his face, lips pulled back to show off his sharp, white teeth.
Bruce couldn't help taking a step back on instinct. He tried to pull Harry behind him, but the younger man wouldn't budge.
"Oh ho!" Loki crowed, delighted. "You are broken!"
Harry tensed and Bruce heard his breath catch in his throat, only a strangled noise escaping.
"Oh, yes, you have been cracked open, haven't you? Like a split dam, and you suffer the flood—nowhere to channel it and no way to stem the flow." Loki gave an impish smile and chuckled. "Does your little fiend know what you are? Do you even know, anymore?"
"All right, stop it," Bruce glowered at the demi-god, and once more tightened his hold on Harry and tried to drag him back. "Harry, we need to go now."
Harry didn't give an inch, though, as if he had cemented himself in place.
"It's gone dark behind your eyes and you can't even see!" Harry nearly shouted. "The maggots squiggle and squirm inside your skull and they spread like a sickness. They take everything and leave nothing for you to call your own, and you don't see it. You're left with nothing inside—you're empty. You got caught by the Nothingness and now you mimic it."
Loki's arms dropped to his sides and he backed away from the glass slowly, staring at Harry. The corners of his lips twitched upwards, a weak imitation of his previous glee. "The things I could do with something like you," he whispered.
"Harry," Bruce's voice came out in a low growl. "We're leaving. Now."
When he pulled Harry this time, he stumbled, falling against Bruce and looking up at him with a startled expression. Bruce was sure Harry had probably only just realized that Bruce had been beside him.
"Oh," Harry blinked at him, wide-eyed. "Hello."
"Hello," Bruce huffed out a soft laugh, before tugging him towards the door. "Come on, buddy."
Bruce could feel Loki's eyes following them as they walked away from the cell.
The trip back to the lab was quick and quiet, as Bruce focused on keeping as many agents as possible from seeing them and Harry silently trailed after him. It didn't give him nearly enough time to sort the chaos that Harry and Loki's tête-à-tête had brought to his mind. He'd always had questions where his young friend was concerned, but he kept them to himself, pushed them to the side. There was never any point in asking, when Harry couldn't even remember the answers.
Now, though, he couldn't quite help it. The questions were running rampant.
The moment they stepped through the door, Stark pounced.
"You," Stark started, pointing to Bruce, "suck at being sneaky. Seriously, how did you stay on the run for so long?"
Bruce didn't have an answer for that—he'd wondered the same thing often enough.
Stark didn't wait for a response, however, and shifted his attentions to Harry. "But you, you're like a little ninja. How the hell did you get into that room?"
Harry shrugged. "This ship isn't real, so it's easy to ignore the walls."
Stark blinked. "Right. Well, I know I make things look easy, but it's actually a pain in the ass, hacking SHIELD's security and looping their feeds without them noticing. Given all my hard work, I think I've earned story time."
"The Half-Man's going to be angry if you keep taking his eyes," Harry muttered, glaring up at a corner where one of the many cameras were probably hidden.
"And can we start with getting me a translator?"