Chapter 31 – Recoveries and New Beginnings

So, here we are again. A warm welcome and my sincere thanks to all my dear readers who have stayed with this story for so long and haven't given up on it. Free gifts from WWW and firewhisky and butterbeer for everybody!

Bowing to reader demand, which basically means I'm going by the majority vote here, I have been persuaded and convinced to continue with the next arc of this story right here. So, to all of you who recommended the sequel, I really am sorry, but I hope you will still enjoy the story as it unfolds here.

I extend my sincere thanks to everybody who read, reviewed, favorited and followed this story since my last update and helped not only by allowing me to see how you would prefer this story to continue, but also by showing me that this work is appreciated by all of you. So, pauldleast, david9999, randumbdave, ThomasNealy, SayaRules, Evil-Bastard, JanusGodOfPossibiblities, NoOneInParticular17, Delta8, dorfdel, RoyalTwinFangs, harryfansuper, HP-DG-SB-HA-RR-KB-NT-TD-LL-AJ, OregonDucks, Artur Hawkwing, .slytherin, ECTO-DMC, Separ, shizukoyasu, Silvermane1, jrock919, RAD092515, Kitten118, Tanaxanth, Lycan01, DeusImperator92, Pheonixs1518, DrgnDrake, Wulffe, aiko, Addicted to PJO, angelxofxmine, emthereble, running1book, TOWTWUKER, way of life, and ATalkingTomato and everyone who read this work so far, a Huge Thank You for a magnificent set of responses. You, dear people, have rewarded my effort in a wonderful way!

Now on to the next arc, which begins now. We have the whole Avengers movie behind us, that was the first arc, the whole Act I. With some plot twists, of course, just to fun things up. Now we have here, for your entertainment, the second arc, Act II, which is set after Avengers, pretty much like Marvel's second phase movies are.

At the moment, however, I'm not sure how much or whether at all I'm going to involve the latter movies. Will work that out as this story continues. I will be bringing in a bit of Iron Man 3 though, because that I just loved the 'House Party protocol' at the end. And that is the only spoiler I'm going to let out, because I know I talk too much. Besides which, if you know where to look I've already put up your biggest clue for this story.

Like the Ouroborous, the beginning of Arc II is the resolution of the problem at the end of Arc I. This is a long-ish chapter, but I thought that would be fine for a return to the story. Really hope you like how it goes. Buckle up people! And enjoy the ride!


Previously:

Nick Fury sighed, already feeling the compulsion pushing him to confess his prior knowledge, and knowing that the more he resisted, the worse the magic would get. Harry Potter was a menace. He was startled by a projected mental voice, "That's Lord Potter to you Fury. Make your explanations while I tend to your captive. Your fate is up to the Avengers."

Steve Rogers spoke into the ensuing silence. "What did Harry mean?"

And Fury knew he had lost.


"Lord Potter sent me one last transmission 6 weeks ago just before he went into the portal. He told me to keep Loki on Earth because he had some answers. And he told me … that he would return."

And just like that, all hell broke loose aboard SHIELD's state-of-the-art, self-sufficient, military action enabled, air-borne fortress, pride and joy, the Helicarrier. The meeting was being held in the private conference room overlooking the bridge, and the intensity of the collective outburst from the Avengers was so strong that it blew out the glass panes right over the heads of the personnel working below.

Careful of the glass littering the floor, Steve Rogers leaned out and apologized to everyone, shaking his head negatively at Senior Agent Maria Hill. Turning back in, he noticed Thor was looking quite sheepish since a good deal of that sound wave had come from him. In contrast, Bruce didn't seem to be sorry at all. In fact, he got the distinct feeling that if the good doctor hadn't been supporting Tony Stark who was still out cold, he would have smashed the Director's face in.

Without turning into the Hulk.

As it was they were lucky he'd been able to rein himself in so far. Steve could see that the doctor's eyes were ringed in green.

He remembered the gentle doctor's words spoken a bare month ago, "I mean, what are we, a team? No, no, no. We're a chemical mixture that makes chaos. We're... we're a time-bomb." He hadn't wanted Bruce to be right then, but he wasn't going to turn from that fact now.

And the fact that the trigger for their detonation/deployment in the field in both cases was Nick Fury. Who constantly held back crucial information like the Phase 2 weapons Stark had discovered earlier, only releasing it on a need-to-know basis. Who knew that the Tessaract was a power that didn't belong on Earth to be used as a weapon. Who exploited his men and his soldiers as expendable resources.

Steve knew war. He knew sacrifice. He knew honour. He looked over at the group he had fought alongside of, proud to call them his friends despite the short time they'd known each other. He asked them mentally, "Well? Any suggestions about our next step?"

Natasha replied, "He knows too much. And there is the Council to consider. I say we let him be and watch him. Potter can do that; Fury is no match for him."

It was clear that the others had been thinking along the same lines when they all nodded in agreement. Clint asked the obvious question, "Should we contact Potter?"

"No," Steve shook his head decisively. "He's got answers we all want and he's gone to a lot of trouble to get them. Whatever he's doing now must be important or else he would be here. Give him time. We wait."

Bruce who had been checking Tony's vitals spoke up, "I need to get Tony to the medical bay. He's lost color and his pulse is high. He hasn't eaten properly in a while. The shock hasn't done him any favors."

Thor stepped forward and picked up the unconscious inventor in his arms. The man was light as a feather, much less, the god suspected, than should be normal for a human. "I will take the Son of Stark, friend Banner." The team, barring the two SHIELD agents followed him out. Steve looked at Natasha as he walked out and the red-haired agent flicked her eyes at her partner and the Director. Nodding in understanding, Steve left with the others.

When he reached the medical bay, Bruce had already hooked Stark up to an IV drip and was checking his vitals on the array of machines around the bed.

"Doc? How is he?"

"Dehydrated, borderline malnourished, over-worked, stressed, suffering from acute insomnia," Bruce sighed heavily. "Want me to go on?"

Steve sighed and shook his head. "At least he has you around to watch him."

"When he lets me. Most of the time he just locks himself in his workshop working on god knows what. JARVIS has orders to not let anyone else in there unless he's passed out from outright exhaustion. Which doesn't happen unless he's pushed himself to stay awake for at least 48 hours. 60 is his personal record. He doesn't eat during that time, so I only get about a day to get him to eat something along with as many mugs of coffee as he consumes."

The harried doctor rubbed his forehead, face pinched in worry, "It's worse when he crashes. JARVIS calls me then to carry him out from whatever mess he's passed out in. Broken glass, sharp tools, bits of metal, burners, he's got the nicks and burns to show for them all. I patch him up and get him to bed. The most sleep he'd had at a stretch is about 8 hours. Usually, sooner or later he wakes up screaming from a nightmare or shouting for Harry and refuses to eat or sleep after that. I – I've had to drug him sometimes, just to get him to sleep. He gets up more tired than rested. I don't know how to help him anymore."

Bruce collapsed into the chair beside the bed, holding his head in his hands, elbows supported on his knees. He took a long shuddering breath, pressing the heels of his hands into his eyes. Thor and Steve watched their friends helplessly, unable to do anything to ease their suffering.

"How is Miss Potts taking it?" Steve asked tentatively.

Bruce didn't look up at them. "She's busy with all the company work. She signs things as Tony's proxy for now but it's been over a month. She doesn't know how long the board will accept that. Tony needs to put in an appearance once in a while; he knows the capabilities of his company and the reality of world demand for his company's products better than anyone. Better even than Pepper. Stock for SI has been falling since the battle. Its almost negligible for now, but if Tony doesn't make a few appearances, he's going to lose his company to a takeover even if he does have a majority holding." The doctor heaved a sigh. "It's a mess at the tower. Hopefully, with Harry back, things will get better."

The three friends sat at Tony's bedside for a long time. Eventually, Natasha came in and took her place among them. Not wanting to break the silence, she told them mentally, "Clint's keeping an eye on Fury. He can remain out of sight and still watch the Director. We can spell him every few hours. At least until Harry returns."

The others nodded in agreement. Not long after, Tony's breathing evened out and he fell into a deep sleep. Bruce breathed a sigh of relief at the sight. Motioning to the team to leave the room, he stepped out after them and said, "We'd best get some shut-eye ourselves. We need the rest too. Who's going to take the watch from Clint?"

Thor spoke up, "I will take the next watch, friend Banner. The Eye of the Hawk will require a reprieve in an hour. And I shall pass on my watch to the good Captain, if he so wishes."

Steve nodded, "Just tell me when. I should be up in a few hours. Never did need much sleep."

"Good, then, that's settled. One of us should stay with Tony, so whoever comes off duty can stay for a while in rotation and notify me in case there's any change."

"Yeah, but that means you're getting some sleep too Doc. You've been on Stark-watch longer than any of us," Natasha pointed out. "I'll stay with Tony till Clint comes in," she continued, when Bruce began to protest.

Seeing the resolve in his friends' eyes, Bruce rubbed a hand across his tired face and agreed to take a nap. Privately, all of them had decided not to disturb him unless Tony really needed the doctor's expert care. Nodding to Natasha, they walked down to their rooms and settled in for a well-needed respite. Natasha watched them go, noting the slumped shoulders of the Doctor, the measured steps of the Captain and Thor's clenching hands. She shared their helplessness.

Walking into the room, she stood by the billionaire's bed, seeing the pale, sunken featured and lined forehead. There even seemed to be more grey in his vibrant hair. He hadn't looked this bad when he was dealing with the poisoning from his arc reactor's palladium core. Harry Potter had saved him then too.

Settling herself comfortably in one of the chairs, the red-haired agent let her thoughts wander back to all the time she had spent with this new group of people. They called themselves the Avengers now, but they hadn't started out as anything more than very different individuals forced into the same space. All of them had separate fighting styles, much better suited to fighting alone.

Well, except perhaps the Captain and Thor. But even then, they were probably more used to being leaders, with plenty of backup. And leaders don't exactly play well together. Something Fury evidently hadn't considered before he pulled them together for this mission.

Hence the major ego trips they'd had to deal with. At least Thor had been easier to talk to this time around. But wasn't until the battle against the Chitauri that they had found a way to utilize their individual skills as a group. A proper team. Or at least as close to an approximation of a proper team as they could get. They did after all, have a flying wizard on Tony's private team.

And speak of the devil …

Harry Potter walked through the door with a firm step, bright green eyes homing in on Tony. He took Stark's pulse, checked his breathing, then turned to study the moniters and instruments on the far side of the bed. Only when he finished his examination did he turn to acknowledge the other person in the room.

"Hello, Natasha. Sorry, that was rude of me. I just …" He sat next to the spy, holding Tony's hand in his own. "I heard Bruce's diagnosis over the link and then his description of Tony's behavior. I just needed to see him for myself."

"I'll just get you back for it later. You owe me one."

Harry smirked at that. "Yeah, I could work with that." He looked up at the black phoenix who hadn't left Tony's side since the impromptu meeting. "Okay, girl?"

Nyx whistled and chirped soothingly, somehow managing to do so in a strange phoenix whisper. Both Harry and Natasha were quite amused. "Do you really understand her?" the spy asked.

"Yeah, actually. She's my Familiar."

"Familiar? Like an occult thing?"

"Oh, no no. See in my world, we have several different kinds on creatures, including dragons and unicorns, yes," Harry added when he saw Natasha begin to speak. She snapped her mouth shut at once. "But most of them are dangerous. You can't combine magic and wilderness and expect animal instincts to be completely subdued by intelligence. Well, that is what the government hopes …"

"You have a government?"

"Yes, now shush." Natasha looked indignant at being 'shushed'. Harry just smirked and carried on. "The Ministry initially wanted to control every aspect of magic. Even magic that didn't belong to them. Hence the capture and destruction of all known species of magical creatures. Our own scientists were ordered to find out what made the creatures 'tick'. Needless to say, nobody was successful at that task."

He looked away from Natasha and up at the phoenix. "Magic is a part of us. It is a genetic condition that witches and wizards and all magical beings, sentient or otherwise are born with. So far, the magical gene hasn't been found though. And for the sake of my world, I hope it never is. I wouldn't want to see another massacre on the scale of the Holocaust. Because that is exactly what it would be. And I am tired of fighting."

There was a deep silence when Harry stopped talking. The formerly Russian spy chose not to break it, seeing the pain etched on Harry's thin face. Used to being patient in her interrogations, she waited, wondering whether the raven-haired man would continue.

Nyx warbled suddenly and Harry's lips twitched in a small smile. "Apologies, Natasha. I'm sorry I veered off from our main topic. Well, the bottom line is, sometimes, some creatures choose to bond with a magical person. We don't really completely understand the reasons why. It doesn't happen to everyone. But those of us fortunate enough to have a Familiar can attest to one thing. They are our best and most intimate and most steadfast friends."

Harry held out a hand and smiled when the phoenix fluttered down to rest on his shoulder. "Nyx and I have shared a lot together. She knows me best. And she can never be turned against me or corrupted like humans so often can." Harry ran his fingers down smooth glossy feathers. "She's my confidant and my conscience and she keeps me grounded. She's the only one who's stayed constant in all the years we've been together." He kissed the beautiful bird gently on her head.

"You sound like you're in love," Natasha joked, watching the man's fingers run gently down the shimmering plumage as the bird in turn nuzzled into his neck. She could have sworn the phoenix smiled at her joke.

Harry looked at the agent and winked, green eyes bright. "She's a pretty girl, no doubt. But she'd not my type."

There was a loud screechy protest and Nyx nipped at her wizard's ear for his pains. "Ow! Come on Nyx! You know I didn't mean that. But really, you're a bird, for Merlin's sake. Ow! Stop that! Your beak is harder than my head. You'll break it. Hey! Stop whacking me with your wings!"

The midnight colored swan sized bird turned away from her friend and hopped away to perch on Tony's bedpost. Natasha watched, amused and fascinated, as the almighty powerful wizard grovelled for forgiveness from a bird. This was unbelievable blackmail material.

Best thing about it, the whole thing was being recorded by the cameras in the room. She smirked. It took a bird to defeat the most powerful wizard in the world. It was always the little things. Looks like the world worked in basically the same way, whether they were humans, aliens or wizards. People were still people. Well, other than the Chitauri. They were just alien scum.

Subconsciously aware of the sudden silence in the room, Natasha looked around, scanning for any changes, only now noticing all the other team members watching the wizard's antics with amusement. Even the doctor was smiling. Thor was the only one not present, having taken over the shift from Clint, the archer standing right at the front of the group, a hand tight against his mouth.

It was only when Harry knelt and began chanting, 'Hail Nyx, peerless beauty and great leader of the lands of Potter…,' that Clint broke out in raucous laughter, gasping for breath and holding himself up by leaning against the door frame. Bruce's gaze was tired but warm as he watched the silly interaction between man and bird. Steve was reserved, conscious of his position as leader, but he too was grinning widely.

Harry and Nyx both turned to the door as one, when Clint's laughter betrayed their audience. But to their credit, neither were the least bit phased by the newcomers. Together, they turned to fully face their audience and bowed, then turned to each other and high-fived, the phoenix trilling loudly in pure delight.

And it was right then, in the midst of all the fun and laughter that Tony Stark regained consciousness and opened his eyes to a world no longer dark and full of hurt and pain and regret and loss.

He was home. He was safe. He was alive. And he was happy.

A groan from the prone figure in the bed broke through the mirth and brought every present pair of eyes to immediate attention. While Harry laid his hands on Tony chest, his hands glowing with a blue light, Bruce went around to check the medical equipment and take his patient's pulse, blood pressure and pupil reflex quickly. He finished just as Harry completed his own diagnosis and gently brushed his knuckles across a pale cheek, a fond half-smile curving his lips.

Bruce let himself out of the room, joining the others still huddled in the doorway, not wanting to intrude on the private moment unfolding before them. They watched wide, wet, brown eyes drinking in the sight of the green-eyed young wizard, fear and pain and loneliness warring with the rising hope in once-listless eyes. When a weak hand twitched, it was immediately covered, held and squeezed in blatant affection that neither man would normally allow others to see.

Bruce smiled and whispered through the link, letting the others listen in. "Call for me if he gets tired."

"No," Harry replied, fondly watching the other man scanning his person. "I'll get him to sleep, then we can shift him into my room. I'll watch over him now, Bruce. I'm a bit late, but it's my turn."

"Of course Harry. You want to do this now? I guess you'll meet with us later, then?"

"Not too late. I need to discuss several important things with everybody, but I would prefer that Tony be present as well. For that I need to get him up and running. I can do that in my room. I'll bring him back, Bruce. I'll bring him back to us."

"I have no doubt of that. Shall we get started then?"

"Yes. Give me a minute." Harry went closer to the bed, looking down at Tony as he laid a hand on his forehead. "Sleep now, my friend. You will have your answers when you wake. Sleep now."

Tony tried to fight the magic, but eventually caved, trusting this one man with an instinct that overwhelmed almost everything else. Bruce directed the team to shift the bed and its cargo to Harry's room, while disconnecting all the medical moniters from his patient. Harry would take care of that on his own. He followed the team down the corridors to Harry's room and helped maneuver the bed inside.

"How long do you need?" he asked the wizard.

"Not too long. I'll be in touch. But you can pass long to the Director that Loki was under the same brand of mind control that he used on the other agents and Clint. But as of directly after my meeting with him, he is now free from mental manipulation. Oh, and probably best to tell Thor as well. And ask him not to barge in here. I will explain everything in about two hours."

Steve, having heard the conversation, nodded along with the doctor and left the room. Harry sealed it behind them with his magc, ensuring that he would not be disturbed.

"Nyx, could you wait with the others? I'll be there soon."

The phoenix warbled a reply, nipped her wizard's ear and flashed away, content in the knowledge that he was back home. Once she had gone Harry asked, "Why did you stay?"

"I'm curious to see how you cure Stark," replied the red-haired spy.

"As long as you don't say anything and do not get in the way. This is supposed to remain private, but you're now included in the room's enchantments which won't break till two hours are over. You may take a seat wherever you wish, just don't talk."

"Fair enough." Natasha made herself comfortable on the settee and observed in shock as Harry magically divested himself and Stark of most of their clothing, replacing them with light silk pajama bottoms. And only pajama bottoms. Had the situation been different, she would have indulged her sight. As it was, the wizard's activity provided another focus. She watched as he turned Tony's current bed into a replica of Tony's own bed from the tower, complete with mattresses and sheets and covers and pillows. And finally, satisfied with his preparations, he himself slid into bed beside Stark.

Well, that looked personal.

Even more brow-raising was what followed.

Natasha watched as Harry moved to lean over Stark, eventually straddling the man but remaining on his knees. If there was going to be any … unexpected … behavior going to happen, then magic be damned, she was going to leave. But Harry just stayed there, looking down at his friend, a pained expression on his face, left hand clenched tight against his side. Belatedly, she noticed he was trembling.

On the verge of raising her voice to say anything that could be construed as comforting, her good intentions remained unknown as the wizard leaned slowly forward, holding his upper body parallel to Tony's, his hands moving up, the right to lay over Tony's heart and the left over his forehead.

What happened next made it clear why the men were only wearing pajama bottoms.

~ Minor Scene Break: Change of POV – Harry ~

Harry began to glow, a translucent film of light enveloping his body like a second skin. Magic poured through his skin and gradually, it gained color and form, turning sea-green. He flexed his shoulders and focused on moving the tangible magic on his body to coat the palms of his hands. Surprisingly, it seemed heavy and more than once, Harry had to check himself from resting his weight on the man below him.

When the magic had coalesced in his hands, Harry pushed it into Tony's mind and heart, repairing the damage caused by physical and mental trauma. He could feel his magic soaking into Tony's body and moving through his veins, becoming a part of the blood, muscle and tissue and the innermost reaches of Tony's subconscious mind. The deeper his magic burrowed, the darker it became, until, as Harry's hands lost their sea-green glow, Tony's body started to flicker with a purple hue.

Giving himself over to the magic now, Harry didn't even notice when his wings tore out of his back, flexing and arching till they gained their full length and height, moving to cover both men on the bed. Now Harry slid his arms around his friend, lifting him bodily with a strength that belied his slim frame, holding him securely. His wings surrounded them in a cocoon of warmth and magic, the purple glow filling the inventor. Harry looked at the arc reactor and smiled when the blue light flickered green and purple. He leaned down and pressed his lips to Tony's temple, grateful to his magic for being able to do what he alone could. Hermione, in all her research, hadn't come across any references to suggest that there was anyone else in all of magical history who could have attempted to bring someone back from the dead and lived through it.

Of course, he'd had special circumstances and specific requirements already in effect which allowed the ritual to work. But that did not diminish the importance of what Harry had accomplished. Only their family really knew what he'd done, but that was enough. And now, he had enough control over this aspect of his magic to use it to heal the man he loved as a brother. For all that Voldemort's experiments had changed Harry Potter to something undefinable, he was thankful that he could use all that power to save the people he loved.

Speaking of which, he belatedly realised that the glowing had faded away and his wings had retracted and he was looking straight down into Tony's face. And Tony's eyes, though glazed, were open.

Cautiously he ventured, "Hi, Tony."

Newly healed knuckles met hard cheekbones in a loud crack and a body found itself bodily flung to the ground with considerable force, hitting his head on the tiles and landing on a shoulder. There was another crack.

This was going to hurt.

Harry decided to just lie back and wait it out as he allowed his magic to take over the healing of his body. Everything else could come later.

~ Minor Scene Break: Natasha's POV ~

If she hadn't seen it, she wouldn't have believed it. Tony Stark, the man who had looked like a walking ghost, swung his legs off the bed and stood there like the past two months hadn't happened. Lying crumpled at his feet was Harry Potter, open and undefended, with a concussion and two possible fractures, if the cracks she had heard were any indication. It had to be painful.

And he wasn't moving.

Shit.

"Stark, you might want to back off now." She rose and moved, deliberately bringing attention to her presence in the room.

Her words seemed to break the billionaire out of some trance. He looked up at her dazedly, then around the room, eyes roving, surprised to see his own bed in a room definitely not his own. Then he saw a familiar mop of unruly hair lying unmoving on the floor. His knees hit the floor as he gasped in disbelief, one hand moving to clasp a slim wrist. The pulse beating strongly there was reassuring, and his relief palpable.

"What happened?"

"Harry arrived today, brought us all together on the Helicarrier which is where we are. You fainted and Thor brought you to the med bay where Bruce has been monitering you while Harry went to Loki's cell to talk about something. We divided Fury-watch amongst ourselves. Then Harry here came to your room in the med bay on my watch, used his magic a bit, brought you into his room, proceeded to do a lot more magic for," she checked her watch, "just about an hour. I should mention he said that the room would magically unseal itself after two hours, so we have an hour to kill in here." She walked closer, intending to check the wizard for herself.

"Anyway, he did something rather powerful to heal you. I could feel it across the room. You regained consciousness 2 minutes ago, knocked out Harry here with a rather strong right hook and then flung him down to the floor. I'd say his procedure was successful, except that now he's the one who needs help with what looks like a concussion and sounded like a broken cheekbone and shoulder. And since I don't see us gaining any wizard powers any time soon, we'll have to wait for an hour for either a miracle or a belated diagnosis and treatment."

"Actually," came an amused voice, "not nearly that long. Give me a few minutes and I'll be right with you."

"Harry!?" echoed two disbelieving voices. A slight displacement of air at his sides corroborated the certainty of visual confirmation that Natasha and Tony had dropped to the floor on either side of him. Except one had fainted, the other was checking him for damage.

"I'll be fine, Natasha. My magic has had worse to deal with that a couple broken bones. Go check on the boy wonder over there, would you?"

Natasha humphed, but moved over to check on Tony while Harry slowly and gradually straightened out, rotating his shoulder tentatively as he checked his cheekbone by touch. Yes, magic had done it again. He might say the same for Tony as well. Without that much magic repairing his body, the wizard doubted Tony could have gathered the strength to throw him down much less raise a finger to touch him.

Harry shook his head as he got up, jumping on the balls of his feet to shock check his body for any more overlooked breaks. Better than the Weasley twins jumping on him. It had been worse than Lockhart, and that was a memory he did not want to see repeated. Looked good on enemies though.

"He seems fine to me," called Natasha.

"Is he? Hm. Well, okay then. You might want to get behind me for this. We only have about 40 minutes left of our 2 hours, and I'd rather not waste any more. Here goes."

Harry pointed his hands towards Tony, and unleashed a trio of filled buckets over the man, soaking him completely, but leaving the rest of the room absolutely dry. Coughing and spluttering, the genius awoke and floundered, shaking his head, flinging droplets everywhere. With a gesture, Harry conjured thick, fluffy white towels and directed them to rub the wet man dry. Vigorously. Behind him he could hear Natasha stifling her laughter and smiled.

"HARRY JAMES POTTER! Get these things off of me! Now!"

"Wow! You sound like Hermione and Molly together. Not a safe combination," he whispered in an aside to Natasha, who breathed deeply to rein in her mirth. "Okay, I'll let you go now, but you have to promise to listen and not charge me like that time in that bar in Vegas when that pink flamingo girl chose to go up with me instead of you. Deal?" Behind him Natasha mouthed 'pink flamingo girl'?

"Yes. Alright. Get them off me."

Harry flicked his fingers and freed Tony from his aggressors. "I have saved you from your fluffy foes!"

He got an irritated glare for his troubles.

"Maybe you should just tell him what you wanted to tell him," suggested the spy quietly.

"Excellent idea. Please Tony, will you at least hear me out before you throw something at me?"

"Fine." The genius stalked over to the sofa chair and settled into it. Natasha took the settee again while Harry took a seat facing Tony.

Running a hand through his messy hair the wizard looked at the grainy texture of the coffee table between them and said, "I'm sorry, Tony. It was not my intention to disappear for so long and cause worry. But as I am obviously better able to survive in space than you, I will stand by my decision to have gone through that portal instead of you. You would have died within seconds of a chronic lack of oxygen. So, no, as much as you would like to hear an apology from me, you won't get one. If by making you sick with worry was the only way I could keep you alive, then I'll take it any day over having to attend your funeral."

There was a deep silence. Nothing moved, nothing sounded, nothing at all happened for a long while. Harry and Tony glared at each other, across the low table, hands clenched white against the upholstery. The agent wisely chose not to bring attention to herself.

There was a conversation taking place right now, one of silence and emotions and little expressions sent from green eyes to brown and back, zipping through the air faster than words. It was quite fascinating to see. Gradually, two faces softened, but the eyes held, until at some invisible signal the blank masks dropped, and the two men surged up from their seats to stride around the table right into each others arms.

Tony shuddered in his friend's embrace. "You're a stupid git, Harry. A git, you hear me?"

"I hear you, Tony."

"I saw you go through. I saw you go through and not come back. I waited for you for days, Harry. Do you know what I went through when you never came back?"

"I know, Tony, and I'm sorry. But it had to be done."

Shock was pouring off the inventor in waves now. "I lost you, Harry. You were gone. I lost the only family I have left. I lost my brother. Couldn't you have at least told me?"

Harry walked the man to the sofa and sat them both down before replying. "By the time I realised what foolish plan you had come up with and what I had to do instead, I only had enough time to tell Fury that I would take care of things and that I would be back. I had assumed he would pass on the information to the team. Evidently not. Won't be making that mistake again." He looked over at the silent Agent. "No offence Natasha."

She blinked. "None taken."

Harry nodded and checked the time. 20 minutes. It would have to be enough. He would take care of the rest of Tony's healing back at home. Immediately he launched into a retelling of his space adventures, having boldly gone where no earth-bound wizard had gone before. The only fact he left out of the story was his demon form. It was something he'd rather keep to himself. Better to let them think he had a spell that let him survive for so long in space.

When he'd finished with the story, Harry waited for the response. Tony's opinion was the only one that really mattered to him, but Natasha was an intelligent woman. There were sure to be insights from both of them that he could use to better analyze the current situation.

"Will I ever be able to go up there myself?" Tony's voice was wistful.

"I've already discussed the possibility with JARVIS. He's running specs for a space flight enabled suit, based off NASA space suits and your own suit tech as we speak. I'll go over the plans with you both when they're done."

Tony grinned; Harry smiled. All at once there was perfect accord in the room.

Perfectly timed too. The doors to the room opened and immediately there was a sharp knock. Harry sighed and went to open the door. Clint poked his head in and delivered his message. "Steve wants us on deck. Conference room in 5." Then he looked at Harry and added, "He was also wondering if you could do something to repair the place. We sort of … broke it."

Harry raised a brow. "We'll be there, Clint. Thanks," called Natasha from the settee.

Harry waved a hand at the room, setting everything to rights. Natasha stepped out followed by the two men, leading the way to the meeting room above the bridge, while listening to the near whispers from the men behind her.

"It's good to have you back, L.P."

"It's good to be back, T."

A pause, then. "You know you're going to have to explain this to Pepper on your own, right?"

Harry groaned at that realization as Tony chuckled.