A/N: Dude. Duuuuuude. Has it really been more than a year? Oh, crap!
You know, I realized as I was reading over this silly little fic (oh my gosh so many plot holes and bad writing like why do you people even read this) how long this story has been in the making. You guys know I started writing this in my freshman year of high school, and now I'm going to be a senior come August. That's crazy. You guys have been encouraging me and helping me every step of the way, and I actually can't believe this story is coming to a close.
Your kind reviews really helped bring this chapter along. Some of you mentioned thinking about this fic and wondering if it was gonna be updated, and that blew my mind–the fact that anyone would waste any of their free time thinking about this story that I made. Amazing.
As always, I fondly bid you to enjoy.
Here's what should have happened following the events in Manhattan, if it was a perfect world: Harry should have woken up peacefully from his unconsciousness, his infirmary bed surrounded on all sides by a team of fantastic individuals who suddenly adore him despite only having known him for hours at best. Bruce would break down crying and then Harry would probably cry too and then they'd hug and work something out. And then they live happily ever after.
Here's what actually happens following the events in Manhattan:
Harry wakes up in abrupt, nightmarish phases, his sleep just light enough that his dreams merge seamlessly with his surroundings. His head is pounding, his eyes gummy, his mouth dry. Strange sensations, and he is entirely unprepared to cope with them. For a long moment, he thinks he sees Tom sitting next to his bed, the black, battered Diary held in his long fingers, his outline shining in the sun slanting in through a window. Something's wrong with Harry's eyes; they're blurry and he can't seem to focus them very well.
"No," he croaks at the real-not-real apparition. His breath scrapes over his throat like sandpaper. Tom bookmarks the page and makes eye contact as he primly folds one knee over the other. He's smiling. The pleasant smile widens and widens like a curved blade, and it's cutting its way right off of Tom's face.
"Would you go back into the Diary if I asked you to, Harry?" Tom's silky question, spoken despite his lips not having parted, slips into Harry's ears like velvet. "Would you do it for me? To save me? Like a good, loyal friend would?" Musical laughter. Someone is laughing, high and low and loud and quiet all at once. His head aches. It's a feeling, yes, a sensation, but one Harry would prefer to go without. How strange. He can differentiate between good and bad perceptions now.
"No," he mumbles again, sickly, stomach nauseous. "I can't–please don't make me…" He rolls over onto his side in a jerky, abortive movement, coaxing obedience from muscles that still aren't entirely accustomed to existing. His fingers autonomically clench the starched sheets rumpled around him. Malevolent eyes dig into his back, flaying his skin open, and then suddenly there are little maggots squirming in Harry's exposed flesh; he screams, writhes. His belly muscles contract. He chokes on vomit. The taste burns acrid in his mouth.
Hands right him, tugging him away from the puddle of sick. Something wipes the drips off his chin. The sensation of warm flesh gently touching his face, his shoulders, brushing the hair from his eyes–a full body shudder wrenches its way down his spine. He can't comprehend it, can't fully understand the pinpoints of stunning heat and gentle pressure on his forehead in their enormity of meaning, so his body disconnects, and he seems to be very far away. It's as though he's observing everything from the end of a long, dark tunnel. Is his body floating? What if he floats out the window and keeps going and going until he suffocates in space?
Tom is laughing softly in the background, but he's blue, and isn't it strange how much terror that inspires?
Sleep again, merciful and terrifying blackness.
He wakes up at a later date, knowing he had more nightmares but unable to remember them clearly. He's thankful for this.
Contrary to what popular media likes to portray, Harry doesn't have short-term amnesia when he finally emerges from unconsciousness. He doesn't have to sit still and ask himself, Man, what happened last night? and wait for it all to come crashing down on him again, and neither does he jerk upright from a nightmare. He awakens perfectly still and fully aware of what has transpired. Whether or not this is a good thing is more uncertain.
Someone has thoughtfully arranged him into a supine position, his upper back and head elevated in a gentle incline by a pillow. The amenities are pleasing enough–the pillow is soft and comfortable, the sheets warm and heavy enough to drape over his body. Aside from any lingering echoes of tiredness, he feels fine. Weirdly so.
Gentle calm submerges his body, his muscles limp and relaxed. His untethered conscious wanders, exploring the freedom to think as he likes. There are no directions ordering him to get up, to investigate the room. Nothing telling him to go back to sleep. No one is commanding him to do anything. In fact, no one is even there to give him orders. It's nice, but also leaves him mentally floundering a little, because, well, now what does he do?
Staring upwards through dry eyes at the tiled ceiling, Harry decides that he likes this. He likes being left alone for a little while. Not to get his thoughts in order, or sort out his emotions, but to enjoy the small respite. It's admittedly strange; a person starved of company for so long would be expected to seek out fellowship immediately. But that thought is scary and intimidating because it makes Harry think about the future, which is also scary and intimidating. So instead Harry lays back and closes his eyes lightly, listening to the basso hum of machinery working quietly somewhere near him. Being alone by choice yields a certain kind of relief and a distinct sense of control–knowing that if he so desired, he could roll over and hit the red button on his bedside to summon attention. For the first time in a long while, the ball is in his court. He chooses not to do anything with it.
In the meantime, though, he sings and hums to himself and wiggles his toes and fingers, runs his hands over the dips and planes of his face and shudders in awe, and rakes his eyes over every last detail of the sterile hospital wing. The area does not bear much relation to the pleasant, homey atmosphere of Madam Pomfrey's hospital wing. Coldly sterile, comprised of stainless steel and starched white. And yet it's collectively one of the most beautiful things Harry has ever seen. He spends a while like this; focusing on foreground/background elements with his eyes, taking deep breaths just to feel his chest expanding, pressing his fingertips under his jaw to listen to the faint throbbing of his heartbeat.
Eventually, he feels tired again and closes his eyes acquittingly. The darkness that greets him there isn't as beautiful as looking at the room, but it's still a thing that wasn't a thing to Harry for the longest time, so it provides its own measure of comfort. He folds his hands across his chest and sleeps.
He wakes up again to a hand in his hair. Instantly, he sets about analyzing it. Calloused fingers, the pads rough and coarse. Warm skin. Blunt nails, carding gently through every strand with all the care and caution of a miner sifting through silt for gold. It's a good touch. It's a touch. Harry allows it.
He could lie here, with the hand in his hair, warmly nestled in blankets, forever.
"Are you awake?" Bruce's voice is low, gentle. Harry nods slightly and wills his eyelids open. The lights have been dimmed somewhat, which he appreciates. It takes a second for the pupils to adjust, so Harry revels in the strange sensation of having eyes to focus and the weirdness of depth perception. He cants his head to the left in a liquid rolling motion, his cheek sliding against warm cloth.
Bruce directs him a warm smile. His curly hair is backlit by strong sunlight pouring in through the infirmary window. It washes his outline in gold and drips yellow along the crevasses and folds of his clothing. Dust motes, revealed by the glow, drift and swirl in slow waltzes, like tiny fairies waltzing to silent music past Bruce's head.
"Welcome back to the living," the man laughs, dipping his head at their surroundings. The chuckle is less of an expression of joy and more of an outcry of weak relief. Evidence of his time spent in the infirmary is obvious–Harry sees a stack of what appears to be medical volumes and thick molecular science tomes stacked haphazardly on his bedside nightstand.
Without warning, his vision wobbles, blurs. Bruce's smile fades slightly. With both hands, he cups Harry's head, the way one cradles a delicate eggshell. The gesture is nearly overwhelming in comfort–Harry has never felt as safe and loved as he does when Bruce's hands warm either side of his face and block out the world.
"What's wrong?" the scientist asks urgently, but his thumbs have picked up a soothing, circular rubbing motion behind Harry's ears and he thinks about how much he wanted this, wanted a father, wanted someone who cared about him and would hold him when he cried and maybe not need him to be the Boy-Who-Lived and just let him be a kid.
"I'm really sorry," he manages thickly in a strangled whisper, satisfied in the thrum of his vocal cords and the way his exhale sighs past his lips. Real, he reaffirms to himself, dazed at the thought. Real, real, real.
The infirmary is so pressingly quiet. It's just him and Bruce, their presence blanketed by a background hum of machinery. He clears his throat and bravely forges on. "About the note, and leaving. I didn't want to hurt you, but I guess I did anyway." Apologies have always been easy for Harry, as the Dursleys had trained him to believe that any mistake was inherently his fault. ("Sorry, Aunt Petunia, I dropped the plate," when really Dudley knocked it out of his hands, or "I'm sorry Uncle Vernon, I killed the flowers," when an infestation of beetles devoured them.) He hopes the despair in his voice will prove this one's sincerity.
Bruce passes a hand through his brown ruffles of hair, obviously seeking words. They both know he was hurt by Harry's withdrawal, so there's no hope of carelessly brushing the incident under the rug. Something needs to be said about it before they can move on.
Suddenly, Harry wonders if Bruce will forgive him at all. The consequences of him not doing so are too monstrous to dwell upon. He sniffs loudly and the breath shudders up his nose in unstoppable hitches. Hot tears are beginning to obscure his view of Bruce's face. When he blinks, their weight drops from his eyelids and rushes down his cheeks silently, comets streaking across the night sky. Cold hair rolling over the damp trails left in their wake raises goosebumps on his arm. His throat aches like something is trying to climb up it. In the midst of all these sensations, all these visceral, veritable feelings and touches, a peculiar hyper-awareness of his body steals over him. Suddenly, he is extraordinarily and awkwardly conscious of the sheets coiled around his legs, his hair spread out on the pillow, his fingers clenched by his sides. What does he do with them? Does he arrange them, like a doll, or leave them be?
Unnerved, he lets his hands lurch upwards, sliding over Bruce's and squeezing them, as if to prevent Bruce from pulling away. He tries to smile, but more tears escape at the strain. Blotchy red begins to darken his cheeks as he battles valiantly with the urge to collapse into sobs. "I don't know why I'm upset," he conspiratorially shares in a self-deprecating whisper, hoping in extreme humiliation that Bruce won't point out the tears. Dudley never missed an opportunity to mock Harry when he cried.
Bruce's face twists in sorrow. "You don't have to hold it in," he murmurs, ducking and shaking his head. The motion sends a current of air Harry's way, and suddenly he catches a whiff of Bruce's aftershave–a spicy, cool scent, one that he spent many long daydreams wondering about in the Diary, when he would tease Bruce about his stubble. And now he's finally smelling it–and Bruce dismissed it as cheap and pretty unimpressive but Harry thinks it's amazing because it's real and observable and Bruce.
"I'm fine," he insists, but he's crying even harder now, which is irritating, because it messes with the clarity of his sight. His eyes are still transfixed on the wash of gold in Bruce's hair, and the chocolate brown of his irises is such a vibrant color and the dancing dust motes are so oddly beautiful–
"It's just so peaceful," Harry finally chokes out, dropping the smile as his fingers curl helplessly over Bruce's. "And I–I'm so happy, Bruce. I'm out of the Diary. I'm just really happy."
Bruce lifts Harry's upper body off the bed and into a warm embrace. Harry's head slots into the space between Bruce's shoulder and neck like it was made to fit there.
"I don't usually do this," Bruce mutters into Harry's hair, his hands patting and stroking down Harry's scrawny back. "This, uh, this human contact thing. But for you, I guess I can make an exception."
He turns his head, breath puffing against the shell of Harry's ear. "And I forgive you," are the whispered words, spoken like salvation and a promise.
Harry's just glad that Bruce's shirt muffles his sobs when they finally arrive.
Bruce sits with him when Fury does his debriefing.
Before they leave, the Director of SHIELD is sure to collect all the details of the battle from Bruce's point of view (though he doesn't remember much and Hulk doesn't feel particularly inclined to hand out details). Then he wrings out as many details as he can from Harry about his role in the entire plot, his time in the Diary, his world before it, his friendship with Bruce, and his abilities.
Harry's attempt at portraying a defenseless, hurt child must work pretty well. The moment Fury (aptly named) raises his voice the slightest bit, Harry forces some tears to peek out of the corners of his eyes and give his black irises (so that's a leftover memento from the diary, apparently) a glossy, distressed-child sheen. He hates it when people see him cry, but if it gets him out of this stuffy black and silver office, then he's perfectly content with using it like a weapon. Looking as if he's two steps away from having a panic attack is all that's needed for Bruce to lean forward in his chair, smiling pleasantly but dangerously, and Fury quiets down readily enough, though his fingers twitch like he wants to throw his paperweight at them.
Harry is relieved when they depart. A speculative gleam, he has learned, is rarely a good thing when aimed his way.
Bruce takes him around the headquarters (or at least, the levels they're permitted access to). Acting as a tour guide has obviously never been one of his talents–he trails off into abrupt silences and becomes too reliant on his hands to explain the purpose of rooms or areas when he can't summon the right words straight away. The pinched moments of quiet should be uncomfortable, but Harry can't bring himself to be shallow enough to care. If they don't want to talk–if Bruce just wants to walk meaningless paths through the halls with Harry–then it's fine. If not, well, that's fine as well. Harry is content with rediscovering the meaning of "going with the flow".
"What about the people you were with?" Harry asks. "The man with the hammer, and the lady with the red hair?"
"Do you want to meet them?" Bruce asks, scratching his head sheepishly. "Are you sure you're feeling well enough?"
Harry grins. "I'm fine, Bruce. I slept for two days. If someone tries to stick me back in the infirmary, I'll off myself."
The casual mention of suicide stiffens Bruce's hackles immediately and Harry instantly regrets the reference. It was just a joke to express his shut-in feelings, but maybe it wasn't in good taste.
"Too soon?" he offers meekly. Bruce glares and cuffs him, gently enough so that Harry knows there's no real anger behind it, only heaps of concern and weariness.
"For the rest of your life, that'll be too soon," he mutters, but finally submits to Harry's pestering ten minutes later and agrees to introduce him to the rest of the team.
After a snack of graham crackers and peanut butter ("Honestly, I'm not five." "Just eat it, please.") Bruce leads him into the lower levels of the Helicarrier, where most of the Avengers are clustered.
"Tony ate ten pounds of shawarma after the battle, so he's probably still sleeping off indigestion," Bruce comments as they approach the designated common room.
Bruce shrugs. "I ate it and I still don't know."
Harry laughs and doesn't miss the way Bruce's lips upturn at the sound, as though listening to something precious.
"All right," Bruce sighs when they pause outside the doors. "Don't say I didn't warn you." At the slight wave of his hand, the steel doors retract smoothly, granting entrance into a chamber that's low-ceilinged and brightly lit with rod bulbs. However, someone had obviously put forth effort to cozy up the room. A plush carpet banishes the chill of the metal floor and a few well-used couches slope invitingly against the walls. Sharp clacking sounds crack from the left area, where a green-felted billiard table and dartboard serve as obvious means of entertainment. A blonde-haired man in a tight-fitting blue shirt and a black-haired man with a stylish goatee are examining the layout of the game thus far, but both look up when Bruce steps across the threshold.
Harry's not exactly afraid, but he does find himself unexpectedly mute in a sudden bout of shyness. If Bruce notices his shuffling step closer to his side, he doesn't comment.
"Tony, Steve, this is Harry, my friend."
My friend. Harry smiles bashfully, tilting his head down so they can't see it.
"Hey there, squirt!" The man Harry is assuming to be Tony greets immediately. "I see our Sleeping Beauty has finally awoken!"
The buff blonde to his left rolls his eyes and gracefully bends over to align his stick with the que ball. "As if you're one to talk, Tony. Medical says you slept like a baby after your shot of painkillers."
Tony pouts. "Sorry buttercup, but we can't all have super-serum healing. And I'll have you know getting shot with an arrow in the shoulder is actually quite painful."
"My bad," a new voice apologizes jokingly. Harry's head swivels, finding a new figure that he had not seen previously stretched out on the couch, polishing arrowheads. Recognition hits him like a truck. Barton. "Although, they could have been the poisoned kind, so I'd be grateful it was just a standard issue bolt if I were you."
"Aw, I knew you cared," Tony grumbles, but turns back to his billiard game, groaning as Steve sinks two striped balls into the corner pockets with a single tap.
Barton's eyes slide over to Harry, assessing. A rueful smile quirks his lips. "Hey there, kid. Glad you're feeling better."
"Me, better?" Harry chokes out, prompted by surprise and uncertain of how to handle the influx of human contact. They passed personnel in the corridors, of course, but enduring direct attention from a number of sources throws him off-balance. "You were the one who–are you okay?"
Barton's smile widens, but it's a shark-like thing, cutting and vicious. His eyes–hazel now, not that electric blue Harry had come to associate him with–flicker with dark intent, but the emotion is quickly banished before Harry can analyze it further. "Oh, I will be. Takes more than a tricker god-wannabe to knock me out of the running."
His voice is kinder now, stripped of the militaristic mode that the Tesseract had kept him in. Sensing that to press further would be a bad idea, and discomforted by rising memories of his own experiences with Loki, Harry averts his eyes and turns back to Steve and Tony.
Steve waves a hand good-naturedly, smiling a smile made of apple pie and rainbows. "Hey there, sport. Steve Rogers, at your service."
"He also answers to Spangles, Uncle Sam, Captain Crunch, and Capsicle, if you need a nickname," Tonner suggests, then dodges the chalk cue cube thrown his direction. His chest is glowing in the center, easily seen through the flimsy material of an AC/DC shirt. Harry tries not to stare, but Tony notices anyway.
"Ah, yes, another impressionable young mind enthralled by the beauty of my designs," he preens, tapping his fingers on the rim of the glowing device. Harry realizes after a moment of shock that it's actually implanted in his chest. "You see, I'm actually a cyborg attempting to blend in with the humans. Sooner or later–" he's cut off by another cue cube, courtesy of Barton this time. Throwing up his hands in defeat, he hops onto the edge of the billiard table and does an admirable impression of a sulking two-year old.
"I swear, I'm surrounded by old stiffs with telephone poles shoved up their–"
"Language!" Steve cuts him off sharply, and then blushes. "Sorry, force of habit. But not around children."
Instinctually, Harry is gripped by the urge to protest, but he's, well, he's not too sure of his technical age anymore anyway. Does age only refer to the state of your body, or for the amount of time you've held an individual conscious of self? If the latter, then he would actually be decades older. Judging by the timelines dated in the journal entries after Tom performed his black magic ritual and sent Harry careening off into a separate dimension, he supposes that he landed in this universe's mid-twentieth century. Then time progressed naturally outside his confines until circumstances dropped him in Bruce's hands.
"Are you boys already poisoning this kid?" sighs a feminine, husky voice, and the woman Harry knows as Black Widow straightens up from the sofa wedged in the far right side of the room, sitting opposite an old TV. As the heavy furniture is positioned with its back towards the door, Harry's view of the reclining woman had been blocked and thus her presence gone unnoticed. Now, though, she winks at him playfully and stretches the muscles in her upper arms and shoulders. "Black Widow, but I'm sure Bruce has already told you to call me Natasha."
He hasn't. Perhaps Bruce holds enough respect for her to leave the more personal introductions for their face-to-face meeting.
"Is everybody here, then?" Bruce questions in surprise, finally stepping around Harry to join Widow on the couch. She scoots aside easily enough to make room for him. Suddenly adrift without Bruce at his back to anchor him, Harry nervously shifts his weight from foot to foot, his shyness increasing. A painful awareness of his short, gangly stature and unnatural black irises overcomes him without warning. He feels very out of place and unsure of how to banish the emotion.
Barton waves a hand airily in answer to Bruce's question. Becoming uncomfortably aware of how increasingly awkward he looks hovering in the doorway, Harry crosses the room on quick, nimble feet and tentatively perches on the far end of the archer's claimed sofa, leaving plenty of room between them. Barton grunts and folds his legs beneath him to provide Harry with even more space, despite the fact that he barely takes up half a cushion. The gesture is one of kindness, not disgust, so Harry forces himself to relax and lean against the arm of the sofa. So far, excluding any introductions, nobody's really strived to engage him in deep conversation, an effort he finds himself strangely appreciative of. Knowing Bruce, the scientist probably warned them all ahead of time not to suffocate him with questions and attention. It's much easier to relax when he can listen to the tones of the conversation flowing around him, like a stream parting around a stone, and choose when to join in.
"You were too cooped up in the sickbay with the kid to see him off," Barton answers, "but Thor and his Royal Pain in the–" (Another warning look from Steve) "–ahem, Hiney left for Asgard yesterday afternoon. Should've seen the skinny bas–sorry, idiot. They muzzled him. It was glorious."
"I'll bet," Bruce mutters mutinously. Despite the obvious anger in his voice towards the wicked Asgardian, his control is watertight to Harry's sharp eyes. Not even a shadow of green passes through his warm brown irises.
"Alright, You ready for this, Gramps?" Tony taunts arrogantly as he drops into a series of mock lunges and stretches. Harry curiously directs his attention back to the pool game, which seems to be in its final stage. Steve rolls his eyes as Tony maneuvers his cue stick into a ridiculous position, holding it horizontally behind his arched back. "Top left corner pocket." A sharp tap, the lurching motion strangely graceful in its goofiness, sends the ball careening, banking energetically off the felt sides before rolling gently to a stop. It mockingly balances on the very edge of the hole. Harry observes in amusement as the billionaire coaxingly bumps his hip against the table frame. The ball shudders but holds its position, much to Steve's clear amusement.
"This table's rigged," Tony complains, backing off and shaking his stick as if the fault lay with it.
"Or maybe we've finally found something you're awful at." Grinning like a cat with cream, Steve picks up his stick and lowers over the table, his thumb and forefinger expertly forming a cradle. "Top right corner," he says, and shoots, but his aim turns out to be faulty. The stick digs into the lower half of the cue ball with excessive force. It hops over the bank and clatters along the floor, meandering along until coming to a rest against Harry's foot. Without thinking, he immediately leans down and picks it up, brushing his fingers over the smooth, cold surface. The ball is too large and dense to hold any resemblance to a Snitch, but an intense longing for Quidditch and the enjoyable act of flying passes over him nonetheless. Nausea churns in his stomach as a wave of detachment and isolation towards this particular dimension momentarily overwhelms him. He doesn't belong here, in a room with superspies and genius billionaires and scientists. He doesn't really belong anywhere, anymore.
"Harry," a gentle voice calls softly. Blinking as his attention is arrested, Harry looks up from the game ball gripped musingly in his pale hands. Steve is holding out an extra pool stick, one already adjusted to a much shorter length. He shakes it imploringly.
"Think you wanna join in on the game? Tony could certainly use the help."
Gratefulness rushes over him, and he only hesitates a moment before stuttering out an affirmative and stumbling off the couch. Steve shows him how to shape the stick's tip with the chalk and Tony, after Harry's shy admittance of having never played the game before, explains the basics. Soon enough Harry finds himself cautiously aiming the cue ball for the pockets in an attempt to score the final point, spurred on by Tony's raucous cheers and Steve's kind encouragement. Bruce watches in entertainment and occasionally call out advice. Being fair, Natasha and Barton honorably root for Steve.
(He and Tony somehow win in the end.)
It is 12:34 p.m., and Bruce slips out of Harry's temporarily assigned room on quiet feet. The locks click loudly when they engage, so Bruce eases them shut slowly, muffling the sound, though he really shouldn't bother. Harry sleeps like the dead–didn't even stir when Bruce slipped him into a set of pajamas that were so large he practically swam in them, but they're the best SHIELD can conjure on short notice.
The day had gone fantastically, and Bruce dares to let his mind relax for the first time in days. Harry is awake, Bruce has finished the mass of paperwork that SHIELD required him to read and sign finalizing his entry into the Avengers Initiative, and the rest of the… team-thing that Fury cobbled together took rather well to meeting Harry. Well, re-meeting Harry, when nobody had a Trickster Asgardian playing with their minds.
"He's a cute kid. Kinda twitchy, though," Tony sums up, tossing his altered and specialized Stark-Phone from hand to hand.
Bruce briefly raises his shoulders in a shrug. "Yeah, well," he offers lamely, and leaves it at that. Telling Tony why Harry has the complete right to feel twitchy would take a few hours and more than a few glasses of good scotch.
"That was unexpectedly nice of you and Steve," he suddenly remembers from earlier, the pool game in the common room. "Letting him join like that. Maybe you do have a heart after all."
Tony looks properly scandalized. "Shh, don't tell anyone. Besides, it was Cap's idea. The man is sneakier than you'd think. Smooth as the ice he called home for seventy-so years." He keeps pace with Bruce as they pass through the curve of the hallway, still jauntily throwing his phone and catching it, a cat with a ball of yarn. Bruce briefly considers batting it out of the air. God knows Stark could afford a replacement.
Unexpectedly, Tony's relaxed face pinches into something a little more serious. Bruce can tell by the set of his mouth and the way Tony starts fiddling with the phone's buttons. Living on the run from government agencies tends to really increase the attention you pay to body language. Who knew?
"Is the kid gonna be okay? I mean, he was just part of an alien invasion, and all the shi–oh, not you too–crap he went through before that. SHIELD's Psych team is gonna go wild with him."
Growling is not something mild-mannered Bruce Banner usually does, but he can't help the protective rumble in his chest, or the zealous twitch of his fingers. "Nobody's getting in his head. At least, not for a while. He's had enough of that, don't you think?"
Tony nods, luxuriously stretching his arms above his head to play off the tension. "Yeah, I know. I heard Fury complaining that Barton keeps giving his Psych eval. the slip. Maybe a period of rest would work well for everybody." He raises his hands and squints, like he's framing something. "I'm thinking beaches, martinis, no SHIELD, no government, no psychotic alien invasions..."
When Tony takes that tone, Bruce has come to realize that it likely means two things: One, Bruce is about to be conned out of a lot of money, or two, Fury is about to have a conniption. Wearing a deadpan look that would make Natasha proud, he reluctantly motions for the billionaire to continue.
Grinning at the lack of outright refusal, Tony says innocently, "I just figured since we're technically on SHIELD's payroll now, and thus getting vacation time the same as every other paper pusher in this place, maybe we should use it, huh? You, me, Natasha, a bikini for Natasha, Robin Hood, Cap, and the squirt, cooling it down somewhere warm and Fury-free."
"Surely you realize that we'll seriously have a day at most to ourselves before SHIELD finds us again?" Bruce asks.
"I'm serious, and don't call me Shirley," and then adds in a snicker, "Come on, you walked right into that one. But yeah. I've already bought the tickets to Nassau, so unless you wanna pay me back a grand or two, you're going. The kiddo too, but I'm not liable for any innocence my motor-mouth will squash out of him."
The meek refusal is already on the tip of Bruce's tongue when he falters, re-considering his options. Maybe giving Harry some time away from bureaucratic agencies and debriefings would be good for him, some time to get used to his body and get to know the team a little better. And honestly, Bruce is quite exhausted himself. A martini on the beach would be nice.
(And there's also that mental image of Natasha in a bikini.)
"Fine," he says. "but you're paying for the hotel rooms."
Tony struts the rest of the way, smugness dripping from every pore. Bruce only half-listens to his babbling about premium airlines, beachfront hotels, and plans for designing a custom piece of Stark-tech for Harry to play with. His thoughts are stuck in high-gear, wearily examining and planning the their immediate future. The days ahead of them are guaranteed to be rough–Bruce is one hundred percent sure that Harry has a mental breakdown or two waiting for him in in the next few months, and Bruce himself now has SHIELD protocols and missions to contend with…
He doesn't tell Tony, but this impromptu vacation is sounding better and better every passing minute.
After all the bad things that's happened to him, maybe it's time to finally savor the good.
...of part one.
A/N: I wish Thor didn't leave at the end of the Avengers movie plotline, I feel like he would be a great entertainment to Harry. Anyway, I've had questions about a sequel. When I decide what the heck to do with it, (Insert that Plankton meme "I don't know, I didn't think I'd get this far.") I want to let you know that it will be continued in this story. I'm not gonna make a new story and require all of you to follow/favorite it again. Which reminds me, I accidentally took this story down a while ago, which deleted all the follows and favorites and communities it was in, so if you want to stay subscribed, you should probably double check.