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All I Have, All I Need

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ARC 1: CHAPTER 1
Prologue

-0-

For as long as Harry Potter could remember, he had only ever really needed—and wanted and longed for —one thing.

Family.

Being that beaten down child living in a cupboard under the stairs, witnessing what he could have had in the doting glances and indulgent smiles Petunia and Vernon Dursley gave to their son, he was helpless to that glow of hope that he could also have a family—people who would love him despite all his faults because no one could ever say that Dudley was perfect .

Even with every hurt, every bruise, every cut, every burn his relatives left him with; that hope did not diminish. Because in a way, he understood. Family cared for one another, even at the expense of others that was not part of that family. In that, Harry could say that family is selfish and he was okay with it. Aunt Petunia had always called him selfish too.

He wanted his mum and dad, but they are dead and death is permanent. So Harry resigned himself to that aching hope for a family.

And then came Magic

Magic, which gave him Hedwig and Hogwarts; Hogwarts, which gave him Hagrid and Ron and Hermione and Gryffindor and his- their Army. It wasn’t all endless joy and merriment either, but suffering is what makes someone realize how important this one thing is.

In Hogwarts, Harry learned what it is to have a family. And that little kid with wide green eyes, broken beyond everything but for that hope

Harry Potter would give anything to keep that family alive, because that’s what you do when given something beyond what you deserve.

If that meant sacrificing himself to his enemy, willingly walking down the path towards death that he’d always been standing on?

Harry would do it all with a smile. ( Even if it hurt and burned with the sting of the betrayal of someone he considered his own family, too. )

Because family was worth everything and Harry Potter had always belonged to death since the moment he was born. Raised like a pig for slaughter , Severus Snape had said. But that’s okay, dying has always been a choice for him.

So when Voldemort raised his wand and uttered the Curse that marked their beginning and end, Harry Potter stands with confidence and acceptance. Standing for the first time without the weight of the world on his shoulders.

It doesn’t quite work, though, because Harry Potter still wakes up in that forest minus a dark and foul soul fragment that used to live in his scar. Suddenly, the weight is there again.

Then he fights because that’s all he can do now.

He fights against the exhaustion, fights against the fear and uncertainty until he is facing Voldemort once again.

“Come on Tom, let’s finish this how we started,” Harry spoke with an almost-smile, mind replaying parts of the prophecy ( either must die at the hand of the other for neither can live while the other survives ),“ together .”

And then they were falling and Harry held on his enemy as they flew across the ruined, beautiful castle until they are on the ground, wands clattering away. Both of them reached for their weapons, one side mirroring the other in a morbid kind of symmetry.

Their fight, their duel was in no way fair nor graceful. Harry never really had the chance to grow into the power and might his magic may possess, and Voldemort was a deranged and broken husk of a man that held too much knowledge and power.

Avada Kedavra!

Expelliarmus!

Two spells, the same ones they always used against each other, but now with wands that are not theirs. There’s no Priori Incantatem to interrupt them now, no spectres that the monster before him had killed, nothing but their will and magic to hold against the other. Voldemort may be more powerful, but Harry had something to fight for.

So when the air rippled with the destruction of the last horcrux, Harry wastes no time to recast his spell.

Voldemort crumbles and Harry catches the Elder Wand (feels his entire being sing as his hand wraps around it).

That was when everything went wrong .

Because the moment Voldemort died, the Death Eaters—all those who have sworn their loyalty to the Dark Lord— collectively froze and shrieked . It was terrible and alarming and everyone just stops , frightened of what was occurring.

Then—

Then everything went to hell .

-0-

For as long as he can remember, Harry Potter had only lived for one thing.

Family .

He’d died for it, too.

But that didn’t mean they had to die for him as well .

Harry was supposed to be the hero, the savior. He had defeated Voldemort, had cast the Dark Lord into ashes . He should have known that that victory was too easy.

It took one fail-safe, one backup plan made by a madman. One circumstance to reach.

One spell by an ignorant, foolish boy empowered by courage and certainty of victory.

( And didn’t that sound so bloody familiar —)

It didn’t even take an entire day for him to lose everything . For every single person he cared for be taken away from him.

This was no victory .

Victory should be followed by celebration and merriment. Victory should be the relief of winning against oppression and destruction.

Instead, it is spent trying and failing to build back up what was destroyed. It is days spent without sleep and grief and anger dragging them down.

He’s familiar with death, has walked its path countless times. He even has the Hallows with him, warm and pulsing and powerful and the only comforting thing in his life—

Then Harry Potter burned every single one of the faction of Dark, every single one of Voldemort's followers, into cinders of barely there ashes because how dare they take the only thing that was so precious to him. He burns along with them, fury and guilt and bitterness and fear running through his veins.

And when the rage simmers down into sorrow and grief, Harry Potter laughs and laughs and laughs at the irony it has brought. His own life had never mattered to him and Voldemort knew it. Dumbledore made certain of it.

Master of Death.

Who knew?

Family is what he lived for. And without it...

Well.

There’s nothing else left, is there?

 

 

 

 

 

(Then he re-accepts Death with open arms, finding and accepting Her favor and affection for what it is; a gift and a curse and a chance for Life no one else could have received.

Because Death had always been a part of his life and he might as well hold on to what was left for him.)

 

 

 

 

Chapter Text

ARC 1: CHAPTER 2
Amechania

-0-

The thing about grief is, it doesn’t stop .

It’s painful and a miasma of dark haze. It’s resentment and guilt and self-hatred and what ifs . It’s the rug that’s been pulled out from underneath, the deck of a sinking ship that you’re unable to leave.

Harry Potter awakes in darkness.

It’s warm and safe, but it’s dark and he’s alone and he can’t move .

Grief doesn’t stop but it can be put aside. Fear isn’t much better, but it is a stronger motivator.

He struggles, limbs barely twitching, finding himself trapped in something incredibly fluid but strong. He manages to move one of his legs in a brief, jerking movement, the sensation odd and left him aching like he’d pulled muscles that hadn’t been used in so long. There’s a muted sound but he’s too tired and fearful to notice.

It didn’t take long before consciousness slips away from his grasp.

-0-

The next time he wakes, it’s still dark. It’s still warm and safe. The grief is still the strongest emotion, the fear still lingering at the edges of his limited consciousness.

But now, it feels as if something has settled.

His mind isn’t a mess of fight or flight anymore. There’s a thought process now.

Where am I? He thinks, but he felt himself slipping away into the haze of unconsciousness, the warmth enveloping him comfortingly.

He wakes like this countless times.

Always dark, always safe, always the grief. It drifts, though. It dulls in the wake of figuring out where he is and why he feels an incredible amount of lethargy, limbs too heavy to move and too weak to control.

And every time he wakes, the feeling of something settling, of something clicking into place, turns into a soothing presence buried deep in his mind.

You’re safe , it coos not in words but in vague impressions, you’re strong, you’re here for me .

It may have meant something else, but deciphering it felt like catching a glimpse of thin spiderwebs in a dark room.

Like his cupboard , he thinks, dark and cramped, but safe .

-0-

This time, he wakes to a gust of cold that had a cry ripped away from his mouth.

( He wakes to the feeling of being left behind and leaving behind. )

The warmth is gone, and the darkness replaced by light. It’s disorienting and distressing, his body reacting to heightened stimuli in the only way it could. Vaguely, he feels some sort of fluid coughed out from his mouth. Something must be said about feeling your body being manhandled and too weak to defend itself.

He’s swaddled in something incredibly soft that covered him from the cold.

For the first time, he opens his eyes not to darkness.

There’s a face in front of him, blurred, but he recognizes the smile that twists it. It’s green, though, but his mind gives him vague recollections of creatures with features odder than green skin.

Harrhan, ” He hears as his body instinctively curled towards the finger that poked at his face. “ Harrhan, son of Makaerus .”

Oh , his mind registers blearily, Harrhan, not Harry Potter . And then, He’s not Harry Potter?

He drifts to the feeling of warmth and thoughts of rebirth.

-0-

As it turns out, he’s both Harry Potter and Harrhan.

The confusion of his identities took such a long time to settle that when the dreams of blood and magic and cursed fire stopped haunting his waking moments, he’s lost another set of parents.

( When he’d finally had the time to mourn, the time to accept what had happened . When the pain had numbed into a dull throb. )

Harrhan has lived about two earth years—only a few moon cycles in this new world he’d been born into—when Makaerus, his father, succumbed to the call of death. His mother, one he never learned the name of, had died when she gave birth to him.

Zen-Whoberi was not a kind planet. Every single one of its occupants suffered greatly from poverty. The few that can get by with any amount of frivolity were few and far in between, their society rife with desperate surviving individuals. It wasn’t lawless, though it might as well be to a significant portion of the population. Harrhan and Makaerus had always lived in the shadows of poverty.

No one in their right mind would take in a child that wasn’t theirs. No one would voluntarily take another mouth to feed.

( Especially not someone so different like Harrhan. )

So Harrhan had to stand up for himself. He turns that grief and anger ( and fear ) into something else.

( He spares a moment, one precious moment, to mourn what he had lost once again. Mourns what he could have had in this new life; mourn Makaerus and his rough wisdom, his courage to raise a damaged child by himself in a harsh world. But Harrhan is so used to it now that he’s hardened the parts of himself that mattered the most. )

Harry Potter had been a survivor. Harry Potter had lived a life of suffering and found solace in Death and been granted a gift of Life .

Harrhan, son of Makaerus, will just have to be something more in this world of survivors.

-0-

Being in a body so young was both a blessing and a curse. Though certainly, the pros outweigh the cons.

Harrhan acknowledges the fact that even in this new form, in this new life as a zehoberei, he is still too small for his age group. In fact, his appearance didn’t stray too far from how Harry Potter had looked like, with the glaring exception of his pale green pigmentation and other inherited features. His scar, characteristic of his time as Harry Potter, remained a pretty silver mark on his forehead (and thankfully absent of any malicious soul fragments).

Now, his small stature allowed for him to fit into the nook and crannies adults wouldn’t even think of hiding their stuff in. Another advantage it gave him was the need for less food to ensure his continued survival, and it seems that no matter the species, people tend to underestimate those seemingly weak compared to them. That , Harrhan took full advantage of and did his utter best to avoid the pitfalls of being physically lesser (he can’t believe there’d come a time he’s thankful of Dudley and his gang).

However, because of how young his body is, Harrhan had to pace himself properly, lest he fall asleep out in the open. He’s clumsy and easily tired, having had jumped several developmental milestones at the same time, but thinks that with enough time and practice, he’d be able to overcome that. Harrhan can be patient, and his time as Harry Potter had taught him to be resourceful and cunning.

He is aware that had he been anyone else, had Harrhan not been Harry Potter and lived a life of survival before any of this, he wouldn’t have lasted as long as he had. Zen-Whoberi was not kind, more so to the needy who don’t have a provider. Harrhan had long since resolved he will be his own provider.

Twelve moon cycles—about three earth years, Harrhan approximated, and the conversion of a year on this planet—later and he’s got the surviving part of his life down pat. It certainly hadn’t been easy, but Harrhan made do. Zehoberei biology was a lot more resilient than the fragile thing Harry Potter had been.

( Apparently, aliens existed in this world. Who knew? )

And then he rediscovered his Magic .

-0-

It should have come to him earlier, the thought of looking for his Magic .

Harry Potter— Harrhan —is the Master of Death , one of the most powerful Beings in the universe (though Harrhan now suspects that it may be more than he’d ever considered). He may have been reborn to a different body in a different world, but magic exists within the Soul . It’s what made Horcruxes an abomination of the greatest extent; ripping away a part of your entire being. Voldemort had no Afterlife with what he’d done; he’d simply ceased to exist.

( And isn’t it odd, now that his body has had enough time to acclimate with everything, to just Know things he previously didn’t. He doesn’t Know everything, but he Knew enough. It’s just another sign that he isn’t quite what he was Before. )

But he’d first and foremost been raised in the mundane. Magic came at a later point in his life and it was par for the course that it slipped his mind for a time. 

( And the pain of being given hope and immense sense of loss tied to his memories of Magic— his rise and fall. )

 There had also been nothing in this world that gave the impression that Magic existed. Extremely advanced alien technology that his planet doesn’t possess, yes, but not Magic .

If it weren’t for that humming presence deep beneath his mind, Harrhan wouldn’t have considered he still had his.

As it was, it came as a surprise when he’d apparated away from the merchants chasing him off the streets.

Used to thinking on his feet, Harrhan wasted no time to slink into cramped paths in between stalls and wooden houses.

After that, it was only a matter of training his new body to use it (which was harder than it sounds like with such an underdeveloped physique).

-0-

Harrhan meets Shadom just as he was scouting a new area.

The streets were wider than he was used to and the spaces between structures barely allows him to fit in, but this was where wares of all kinds were abundant and Harrhan needed a few presentable looking containers if he wanted to try his hand at selling the half-earthian half-local goods he’d managed to create with limited supplies.

Magic , at the bare minimum he manages to use, was a great asset.

So for the first time in a fairly long time, Harrhan isn’t sneaking around. He tries to blend in the crowd, but seeing an old woman carelessly pushed aside by some impolite prick had some of his more compassionate side rising to the surface.

Harrhan guessed it must have been the ill-fitting clothes—scrounged up from pieced together cloth—that gave him away because when he helped the woman with her fallen items, she took one look at him and frowned in disapproval.

“Why don’t you come with me, child?” She said as she dusted away the hem of her clothing. “Get some food inside of you.”

And Harrhan actually paused because that was not how zehoberei went by things. People here were greedy and selfish, there was no place for compassion and gratefulness. (Harrhan would know. He’d had to curb that side of him just to avoid being taken advantage of—had grown enough to acknowledge what’s appropriate and what isn’t.) Certainly, no one would genuinely offer anything , much less food, to some stranger.

“I don’t see anyone looking for you here,” That should have sounded like a threat, but the woman made it sound like she was merely stating a fact. “Come, it is only fair that I give you part of what you have saved.”

Harrhan peers down at what she had in hand, eyes widening to see more units than he had ever considered anyone in this planet possessing before. It didn’t matter how someone came to hold the universal currency because if you have it, you have it . It’s a concept that goes any way.

“Why?” He found himself asking, feeling a strange mixture of longing and distrust at the gentle look the woman gave him.

“Compassion for compassion,” She says, holding up a hand that he reluctantly takes. “It’s so rare to see in this forsaken place.”

And when they stop by a stall to purchase fruit that she gives him a portion of, Harrhan finds himself believing her words.

-0-

“I can take care of myself.” Harrhan declared one day after Shadom, the old woman he had helped and had given him food for his actions, nonchalantly drops a knapsack in front of him. It’s filled with clothes that looked to fit him.

She’d taken to leaving small packages of food or cloth at the odd times Harrhan needed to acquire some wares and ventured into the part of the city where they first met. How the woman managed to know when he drops by every single time , Harrhan wouldn’t know. It just seemed that they happen to bump into each other, and she just had an extra bag of supplies with her that could be parted with. Suspicious, very much so for Harrhan who had lived in the slums of the city for a long while.

Because here, in this wider, livelier part of the planet, poverty was not much of an issue. Whereas Harrhan spent most of his time fighting for his survival with the thieves and the poor and near-homeless, Shadom lived in the other portion of society whose resources are limited but they do have it.

Or maybe Harrhan was coming into too quick conclusions on this one. He’d only seen a small part of his planet after all and been limited by the knowledge of his father.

Shadom clicked her tongue, “Child, have you seen yourself? You’re too thin, too small. Your skin is pale and mottled with bruises. I fail to see which part you have been taking care of.”

His skin is pale because he’s a freak , Harrhan wanted to say, because it has always been like that since he was born. He’s different, a little bit too different from his kind ( even with this kind ). It was why no one had ever approached him before, isolated and lonely and pathetic .

“I’m not a child,” He says instead. What else can you say to a determined woman? Harrhan didn’t really have anyone to practice his conversational skills with, not since Makaerus was alive. Even then, his father merely talked at him.

“You are,” She says this with a gentle tone that brushes down any bristled metaphorical feathers. “And you should be treated as such. The streets isn’t a place for a child like you.”

Like him? Harrhan frowns.

“And if you had told me what your name is, I wouldn’t call you a child all the time.” Her gaze was sharp, daring him to rebut. He doesn’t, because he knows better than that.

“Harrhan,” He finally answers when it seemed like she won’t let it go this time.

The smile Shadom gives was enough to make the sliver of trust he has given worth it.

-0-

There are days when practicing his magic came as easy as breathing.

Small spells like Lumos , Accio , and Wingardium Leviosa weaved through the corner he’d claimed as his. Blue bell flames kept the space warm in the harsh coldness of night. He struggles with transfiguration and hasn’t quite worked out Aguamenti . Forget the defensive spells he used to cast with his eyes closed.

Those days, he makes great progress in stretching out his control; makes him feel good and confident and hopeful . It makes the ache in his heart and bones bearable to the extent that he can breathe without pain.

Then there were the bad days.

They come much more frequently than other days.

It’s when he struggles to even concentrate, to clear his mind of memories and thoughts and grief and sorrow. It’s when he’s in the cupboard under the stairs, fearing for when the next time he gets beaten down to unconsciousness. It’s when he’s frozen in place and trembling with all the pangs and pains of hunger and tiredness.

Those days, the darkness is of loneliness and cold nights instead of safety and comfort. It’s despair and drowning and burning with dark sparks of left-over rage.

Those days, he relives his life as Harry Potter. ( As the Boy-Who-Lived,  the Heir of Slytherin, the Boy-Who-Lied, the one who taught the DA, Undesirable Number One, the Man-Who-Conquered, the Master of Death )

The soothing presence buried deep within his mind tries, but without anything to deter those visions (not even the increasing lengths of time he spends moving around, indulging his saving people thing, anything to keep him exhausted by the end of the day), Harrhan could only bite back sobs and pleas to nothing.

-0-

“I have a daughter,” Shadom says one day when Harrhan took it upon himself to repay her generosity by helping her in the markets. “Gamora.”

Harrhan blinks, clueless as to why Shadom broached such a subject.

“She’d like to meet you,” Shadom continues as if she wasn’t divulging another part of her life to a stranger. “She’s a bit older, a bit stubborn and headstrong, but I think you’ll like her.”

Harrhan thinks of what he could have had, thinks of what he had. He thinks of what Shadom could be to him if only he’d let her. There’s no envy for the child he hadn’t met but he thinks there might have been, once upon a time.

“We’ll see.” He muttered sullenly.

-0-

“Gamora,” Shadom coaxed the little girl behind her, “Come meet Harrhan.”

Harrhan observes the little girl. Gamora stood stiffly behind her mother, not because of shyness as Shadom might think. There’s a steely edge to her gaze, her brows furrowed deep enough for it to be a glare.

She’s angry , Harrhan thinks, Fearful I would steal her mother away. Zen-Whoberi was still a cruel planet, after all. Having one child is enough of a struggle, more so for Shadom who’s a widower just like Makaerus. And to Gamora, it would seem like Harrhan was encroaching on her territory, about to bring needless suffering.

“Hello Gamora,” Harrhan tries anyway, tilting his head with a sheepish smile. He’s smaller than her, physically younger even, but her reactions spoke for her experiences. She’s too open, too young and naive even for the exponential adaptability zehoberei possess—doesn’t recognize anything beyond her own perception. Perhaps Shadom had sheltered her too much.

Gamora’s lips pursed and her grip on her mother’s robe tightened. “Hello.” It was bit out forcefully.

She’s not nice nor does Harrhan think they would ever get along. Not unless something drastically changes, and he doesn’t want that to happen. ( Because only the presence of death could make it .)

“It’s nice to meet you.” He says anyway because Shadom was expecting them to get along.

-0-

Shadom started dragging him to their domicile often enough that Harrhan barely spent time outside of their side of the city.

He helps around, independence still clinging to his every step, but he lets her do whatever she wants. Harrhan could just as easily disappear if he wanted to. ( Part of him greatly wanted to because he brings strife to whoever he is with .)

Gamora still hadn’t quite warmed up to him, sitting in silence whenever he’s around. So Harrhan spends most of his time outside, exploring the livelier parts of the planet and taking care of the errands Shadom might need. He’s still avoided by the people, though, but he gets treated a bit more civilly with his fitting clothes and cleaner appearance.

Maybe it’s just the air around him. Too dark for a boy his young age, too controlled to be normal, and filled with the static-y feel that ran underneath his skin.

Despite the new company, he’s still lonely.

It’s okay, because bad days started to become far in between. ( They don’t. Not really. )

Having purpose, he thinks, might be responsible for it. Having someone else besides himself to mind.

Because with Shadom telling him what to do, where to go, giving him freedom but tethering him in place, Harrhan found a purpose to focus on.

Shadom might not be family, but Shadom and Gamora are to one another.

If Harrhan were to put himself in between them (and that was a certainty because family is selfish and Gamora is, too), he would have destroyed what they have.

Protect it , He thinks, because he wasn’t selfish ( but this choice is also selfish, isn’t it? ). Protect them , he vows.

And that resolution was so easy to make.

The small, brief impression of no in the back of his mind was ignored.

-0-

Then the Chitauri came to their doorsteps.

 



Chapter Text

ARC 1: CHAPTER 3
Clotho

-0-

The taste of anticipation rests heavily on his tongue.

There’s an abundance of energy that itched under his skin, making him twitchy and restless. It was like something was going to happen, and while it felt neither good nor bad, Harrhan can’t help but focus on the negativity. The distinctive quiet calm coming from outside the hut made him feel even more jumpy.

Gamora, having made it her mission to ignore him, spared an irritated glance his way before putting her attention back onto the modest fare in front of them. It was just the two of them, as was the norm in the morning, with Shadom doing the chores that Harrhan hadn’t managed to commandeer.

It was just as Harrhan managed to calm himself enough to reach for a bowl of grains that something went wrong .

There was a strange sound and before Harrhan knew it, instincts took over and he was tugging Gamora under the table with him.

The ground shook, accompanying the sound of explosions, the various wares and decorations in the hut rocking and falling over each other. It wasn’t long before the sound of panicked screams erupted from outside, interspersed by incoherent shouts and the firing of blaster guns.

Harrhan curls around Gamora as best as he could, eyes trained on the door. She struggles but he’s stronger than her. They may not get along, but Harrhan can’t just leave her defenseless, and going out there was more dangerous than staying inside.

There’s a blast dangerously close to the hut and Harrhan hastens to cover Gamora’s mouth as she screams in fright.

“Don’t make a sound, Gamora,” He murmurs, heart beating loudly over his ears. He can’t let his panic get the best of him now, he’d dealt with such situations before but Gamora hasn’t. “Keep calm, don’t—”

The door burst open and Gamora, already driven by fear, disregards his words and screamed. Upon seeing who had entered, Harrhan nearly let out a sigh of relief to see Shadom looking at them with wide eyes. However, it wasn’t meant to be because she was snatched away and one of the creatures ( aliens? Warriors? ) barges in the small hut.

They are dragged outside and the scene they were met with was both what he expected and not. Everywhere Harrhan looked was destruction.

And in this moment—in this unexpected and gruesome moment— he’s once again Harry Potter, looking over a raging battlefield.

He wishes he had trained his magic harder. He wishes he had done more than try to survive, because even with his experience, with his limited magic and considerable strength born of hard work, he wasn’t prepared for something like this. Not something that would save anyone but himself. His body was too young, his entire being still too damaged from the last war he had been to.

It wasn’t a fair fight. No one in Zen-Whoberi was prepared for an invasion of an army or otherwise.

Gamora was struggling against their captor, punching and kicking futilely.

Mother! ” She screams. “ Mother!

Harrhan twists around the hold against his arm, watching as Shadom struggled and screamed for them too, held and pointed a blade at by one of the many hostile creatures. He numbly wonders why he wasn’t doing it as well, instead docilely going with the aggressive motions.

There’s someone speaking of choosing sides but Harrhan could only hear the screams of the girl beside him, mind working around the shock and disequilibrium, fighting against impressions of another battlefield that burned with cursed fire and ruin that left nothing in its wake.

While he’s distracted, Gamora manages to get herself free.

He snaps to attention when a giant adorned with golden armor approached her, everyone seeming to instinctively part ways for him.

The giant ( the titan? The leader of the army? ) reeks of power. His mere presence inspired fear and awe at the same breath, his gait confident and sure of his power and authority even as he crouched down in front of a rebelling child. ( Why is Gamora there? Why isn’t she getting away? )

Thanos , the presence buried in his mind whispers in words , sounding excited, the Mad Titan . The Champion of Death .

And if that wasn’t a dangerous omen, Harrhan was sure the fact that he didn’t have to decipher any impressions would have thrown him for a loop, because that’s how it worked; allowing him to Know without words yet ensuring his grasp of each concept. As it was, the presence was urging him to—

( To do what? What would Harrhan do? )

Without much thought, Harrhan breaks away from the grip his captor has around him.

Another creature tried to grab him but his magic, already restless and taut this entire time and goaded by the presence, lashes out. The creature (soldier? Chitauri?) drops to the ground.

Yes , it whispers—chants—again. Yes .

The chaos covered up his actions ( is it dead? Dead? Why is it dead? Why did it die? ).

And then he’s at a crossroads.

Because suddenly, he’s standing between a neatly divided group, the chitauri (?) lined up on each side to keep the struggling zehoberei apart. Gamora and the Mad Titan ( Thanos, Thanos, ThanosThanostha —) are in front of him, the Titan holding out a hand for Gamora to take.

It’s petrifying.

Harrhan swallows the trepidation and calls, “Gamora,” because he can’t have her in danger like this. Not to another Being touched by Death .

It does its job to pull the attention to him.

Nothing could have ever prepared him for the focus of the Mad Titan.

Thanos tilts his head consideringly, eyes narrowed in thought. The gaze is piercing, sharp as a blade and thorough in its examination. Nothing could ever escape its notice, not with how incredibly old it seems. Harrhan sees the moment the Titan comes into a decision because he’s oddly open with his expressions.

Harrhan’s eyes flicker down to Gamora, inhaling a sharp breath when he sees her holding the Titan’s hand.

Thanos raised his other hand, palm up and clearly expecting something of Harrhan, “Come here, child.”

Go , the presence insists, gogogogo.

Harrhan does, taking the Titan’s finger in his hands, proving his limbs to be so, so very small compared to the other. It should frighten him, have him flinch away with caution and reconsider his actions, but it doesn’t ( because there’s a gentleness there that didn’t make any sense ).

Thanos smiles( and it’s genuine. Achingly, dastardly, genuinely pleased ).

His eyes flicker over Gamora as Thanos leads them to the only baldaquin left standing in the middle of the chaos. She doesn’t look his way, too ( trusting? Cautious? ) fascinated by the massive being that seems to have taken an interest in them, in her. Harrhan wants to take her hand and drag her away.

The chaos behind them has died down, and Harrhan eyes it with morbid curiosity, hand letting go of the Titan’s when urged to.

“Look,” Thanos spoke, attention on both him and Gamora and retrieving a metal contraption from his armor.

Harrhan watches with half an eye on the divided crowd ( lined like pigs for slaughter, presented to a master’s disdain and judging gaze ), purposely keeping Gamora’s back facing them, as the contraption was revealed to be a double-edged switchblade that the Titan balances on one finger.

“Pretty, isn’t it?” Thanos explains, “Perfectly balanced as all things should be. Turn this to one side…” He tilts his hand, “...and the other.” It drops but the Titan catches it. “Here, try.” He hands it to Gamora.

There’s movement in the crowd and Harrhan turns his focus just in time to hear one of the Titan’s minions say, “Now go in peace and meet your maker.”

Ice cold horror creeps up in him as the chitauri mercilessly killed one side of the divided crowd. His sight narrows in on every fallen body, mind recalling a different kind of war, a different kind of weapon that left no mark other than unseeing eyes ( Avada Keda !! ). But he’s too used to death—too hardened, jaded — to ever let it get to him. ( Not now, especially not now. Not with Gamora facing him, not with the Mad Titan’s attention on both of them. )

His eyes swivel over to the Titan who was, in turn, staring at him with a gleam in his dark eyes. Distantly, Harrhan is grateful Gamora didn’t have to see it, see the slaughter that would have traumatized her even more than just knowing it happened.

( He’s glad there’s no blood. He’s unbelievably relieved there are bodies and there are people left to mourn. He’s incredibly grateful it’s not cursed fire or people he truly cared about. )

“Why?” Harrhan asks, surprised by how steady his voice sounds. It should waver, like the way every little thing in his mind is doing right now.

Gamora looks away from the blade and turns to him, and there’s a trembling realization in her eyes, fierce with fledgling anger and whatever fire had been kindled in her, because Harrhan believed she wasn’t stupid. Nothing can cover up the sound of the slaughter happening behind her, not even the heavy weight of the Titan’s hand on her shoulder.

And Thanos takes Harrhan’s hand into his, still gentle, still— somehow —reverent, as if he truly believes he’s holding something precious. As if he hadn’t just had millions killed.

Why? He thinks, Why let this happen? Why let them die?

The presence tries to soothe him, filling his mind with lonely, angry, falling apart. Death. Together. Help.

A large finger tilted his chin up and Harrhan was forced to look at the Mad Titan’s eyes.

“Salvation,” Thanos answered as if it should make sense.

Lonely. Help. Together, the presence repeats, broken and hurried as if it didn’t want him to understand yet expects him to,  Protect. Death.

 

Chapter Text

ARC 1: CHAPTER 4
Eusebeia

-0-

When Harrhan took Thanos’s hand, all he’d really thought about was that he couldn’t let Gamora be alone in danger. Disregarding, of course, the meddling of the presence buried in his mind that now hummed with triumph and accomplishment. Harrhan still didn’t know what to think about that.

Now, left alone in his new quarters ( small and cramped but comfortable despite all it stands for his new prison, cage, whatever ) in the Mad Titan’s ship, everything comes crashing down.

It didn’t slam into him like a stampeding Hippogriff, per se, but rather the cold, numb feeling of ice running through his veins. It’s the slow realization that echoes of disbelief and helplessness because it’s been done.

He’d just willingly stood beside a murderer. He just went along doing nothing as if he was some coward who didn’t know what was right or wrong. Yes, he felt bad, he felt guilty and angry, ( and fear and trepidation and acceptance and many others that he shouldn’t ) but feeling wouldn’t do anything for those people he condemned.

Harry Potter would have done something. He should have done something.

But.

He’s jaded, he’s broken.  

He’s tired and aching and lost and confused.

Harrhan might have been Harry Potter, but Harry Potter had died when his loved ones—his family burned into nothing. Harry Potter died when he’d reaccepted Death , no matter his continuing existence.

And Harrhan—

Harrhan had nothing . He had his life as Harry Potter, his life surviving in the slums of Zen-Whoberi, and there was something going on with Shadom and Gamora. ( But was all of that really something?)

In the end, Harrhan didn’t  know who he was anymore.

-0-

They call it the Sanctuary.

It’s a huge region of space that Thanos reigns over. It’s where he keeps his army, hidden from all the realms and other galaxies.

Supposedly, it’s their new home.

Harrhan thinks of a stone castle in the scottish highlands.

The Sanctuary is different, but Harrhan had always proved to be adaptable.

-0-

Gamora clings to him.

Harrhan thinks it’s desperation and the need to stick close to who you know in such a foreign place. It could also be that she remembers him protecting her when their planet was attacked—Harrhan, associated with the feeling of safety. 

( Hadn't he been like that already? A savior.)

Whatever her reasons, Gamora chose to stay close to him, practically forcing her company when she used to passive aggressively put distance between them.

It wasn’t a gesture that he likes.

Harrhan’s life had always revolved around being alone and isolated. Sure, he had Hedwig and Hermione and Ron and Hagrid, but the majority was spent in solidarity. Zen-Whoberi rarely allowed positive friendships to fester, if at all. He craved positive touch and company just as much as another person, but only on his own terms.

So he doesn’t exactly like Gamora clinging to him.

But he knows where she’s coming from, recognizes the need for stability and comfort. Comfort just happens to be something familiar and the only familiar thing is Harrhan. He doesn’t like it but he lets it be.

( If just for the memory of Shadom, he would do it. )

-0-

Ebony Maw is a creature that oozes slick confidence and grace. He stands with pride and elegance, something that Harrhan could only describe as the nobility in the world he lived in so long ago. Upon reconsideration, Ebony Maw reminds him of Lucius Malfoy and his arrogance with power.

Harrhan wants to reserve judgement ( he'd already made that mistake, he doesn't want it to happen again )  but is finding it hard to do so.

“You are here because our Lord has chosen you to be his children,” Ebony Maw preaches, his words drawn out and melodic. He pins Harrhan and Gamora with a disdainful and expectant stare. “You would do well to recognize the honor of even setting your eyes on him.”

Then he went on a tirade of the might of the Titan Thanos.

It was… well, it was frightening.

Mad Titan. Destroyer of Worlds . Champion of Death .

Voldemort was nothing compared to Thanos.

-0-

They were set to train.

Being a Child of Thanos, being chosen by him, they were expected to be the best .

Harrhan finds the punishing pace they were put on to be a nice distraction. With his body being worked through until he couldn’t stand, until he throws up in exhaustion, his mind didn’t have the time to tangle itself into a knot that didn’t include how to defeat an opponent that was so much stronger than him.

Thanos has chosen many children, picking off one for each planet he places his attention to ( like some sort of demented trophy ). Not all of them survive long. Him and Gamora were simply one of the better ones, quickly claiming a place far above the truly desperate.

Mercy has no significance in a place like this. Not when failing to reach their impossible expectations meant losing a part of yourself.

So Harrhan thrives .

( He loses himself there, too. )

He had always been good with fights, always been good at thinking on his feet.

( He’d been born to fight, been raised as a puppet. Gained purpose in war, death, then survival. )

It makes him think of quidditch, of the exhilarating feeling of flight and the rush of adrenaline in his veins. It also feels like falling hundreds of feet from the sky, his broom out of reach and with no one to catch him.

-0-

There’s another little girl with them, Nebula.

Her skin is a pretty shade of blue that could rival Proxima Midnight’s if given the chance to develop nicely.

Harrhan rarely, if ever, talked, so he can’t say he knows her. She’s a skittish little thing, eyes darting around in a never ending bid to see everything, sending suspicious and distrustful glances at anyone who comes near. He recognizes another desperate soul, clinging to what she perceives to be salvation.

( He’d been like that, once, when he’d discovered Magic and been swept into a fairytale, convinced an old man had been his savior. That betrayal still stung and ached like a fresh wound that wouldn’t heal. )

Thanos, if anything, knew who to choose in the planets he destroys.

Except, maybe, Gamora.

Gamora has a ferocity that burned deep inside her. She’s stubborn, headstrong, and knows what she wants. And what she wants is revenge. Harrhan could easily see the steel that has grown and molded over the gaping maw of loss. Perhaps that had also been what Thanos saw; her strength and will.

But she’s still young. Gamora still had the naivety that comes with youth and a short lifetime of being cared for and loved. Harrhan had lost count of the times he had to cover up her mistakes born of stubbornness and lack of insight. ( It’s fine, that’s fine. Harrhan was used to punishments. Let his pain be the lesson Gamora needs to learn rather than her own. )

Gamora clings harder when that happens.

( He remembers Ginny. Beautiful, wonderful Ginny and her fierce protectiveness and strength remembers Hermione and Luna and Padma and Parvati and Lavender and Cho . Mrs. Weasley and Minerva McGonagall and Narcissa Malfoy. Faceless, but there. )

So when Nebula came, Harrhan pushed them together, pushed Gamora away because a part of him will always think he doesn’t deserve anyone to be close with; recognizes that having this dependence on him will never allow her to flourish into what she can be. ( He ignores that part still filled with hope and desperation. Ignores the loneliness and abandonment. )

He lets himself be the villain he used to be in her eyes.

“I don’t need you,” Harrhan whispers, smaller body pinning Gamora on the floor in their first spar against one another. Then he shoves the blade into her shoulder, spilling blood and winning their fight. He’d already broken her arms and thigh, but what they need is blood . He sees the pain, sees the utter betrayal on her face, the anger and that fire that ran through her veins. “You prove yourself nothing .”

Harrhan smiles. It’s broken and brittle, but sinister to the one he’s aiming it at.

Maybe he’d destroyed what little innocence she has left. Maybe he’d destroyed the only positive hope she’d held close.

She needed it to grow in this twisted, forsaken place.

Compassion for compassion.

( I’m sorry . I’m sorry I’m sorryI’msorryI’msorryI’msorry. )

“I have seen enough.”

Harrhan pulls away and dutifully stands to the side, head lowered out of forced habit and shame at what he’d done.

Thanos doesn’t move from his throne, staying in his seat like a king watching his subjects. Harrhan knows he’d watched with sharp eyes, focused on analyzing their movements and looking for weaknesses. The stakes had been high on this fight. No one said a word but Harrhan knows this had been one of those duels that end with one of them without another part of themselves.

“Take her away,” Thanos says dispassionately, disappointedly.

Harrhan’s eyes flicker to Gamora, watches as they drag her away without care for her injuries. His lips purse, suppressing the flinch at her screams.

At the corner of his sight, Harrhan sees Thanos rise, steps surprisingly light in spite of his size. Here, in this throne room and the entire Sanctuary, Thanos doesn’t wear his battle armor. It doesn’t detract anything from his presence. Thanos knelt down in front of him and forces him to look at his eyes.

“You have done well, my child,” The gleam in Thanos’s eyes matched the pride in his words. Harrhan tries to ignore the flicker of delight that lit up at the praise. ( Had anyone ever praised him before? ) “However, you seem to have been holding back.”

Eyes wide and feeling himself pale, Harrhan swallows the no that wants to escape out of his mouth. He can’t lie, not in front of the Titan. So he says, “Yes.” instead.

Because he had been. Magic was an unfair advantage even without having to rely on the paltry tricks he can manage thus far. It can still make him stronger, faster than what Gamora can handle.

“Next time,” There’s a hint of warning in Thanos’s tone, “You do not hold back.”

Next time .

Harrhan doesn’t know what to say, so he nods, following it with a soft “Yes father,” when Thanos looks at him expectantly.

Thanos pats his head, stroking with— pride? Affection? Threat? —something gentle. ( Harrhan fails to hold himself back from leaning into the touch. ) There’s a smile playing on his lips too, one that Harrhan couldn’t read. “I’m sure Maw would take kindly to having another magic user in our family. He has been restless in this lull of peace.”

Family.

Harrhan felt a pang of longing that he can’t shove down with his unwanted feelings.

-0-

Ebony Maw doesn’t take too kindly to it, but he’s good at what he does. The best at what he does.

He wouldn’t be one of the Black Order, one of Thanos’s generals, if he wasn’t.

It leaves Harrhan completely exhausted and always on the verge of his body giving up, but the ability to use his Magic , to break down the wall he himself had made that had been keeping them separate, was well worth everything that he had been through.

( “You are too focused on your past,” Ebony Maw reprimanded only with slight derision, contempt having been drained away the first few dozen of meetings they’ve had, because even he had his limits, “Leave that pathetic notion behind. You are here with our Lord, being given power you could have only dreamed of. Power you could wield as you see fit, to make the difference our Lord wants. Thanos is generous with his chosen.”

There’s a pause, Ebony Maw seeming to struggle before he snorts and pins him with an intense stare, “You have the strength. You have come far from the whelp you had been, Harrhan of Zen-Whoberi. Thanos favors you clearly, and I see why. Continue as you have and you will lose what goodwill I have of you.”

It was as much of an acknowledgement as he can get from a prideful creature like Ebony Maw.

So Harrhan finally addresses his issues, spends more hours awake than he should, accepts what happened and what is happening. Because this had been his choice, and he had forgotten that fear wasn’t enough to stop him.

It still hurts, still burns him with sorrow and guilt, but he doesn’t let it consume him anymore. )

There’s a hint of approval when Ebony Maw finally presents him to Thanos.

“My Lord, the child has proven himself worthy.”

And the smile that painted Thanos’s lips was nothing short of satisfaction and pride.

-0-

He doesn’t see Gamora anymore.

-0-

Thanos took over his training.

He’s leagues above Harrhan’s capability, makes Ebony Maw seem like a bug compared to him. He’s gentle and ruthless at the same time, holding back and pushing him to his limits and beyond.

Harrhan never wins, never manages to land a hit on the Titan, his days ending with more injuries than what he could survive. (Healing had been the first enhancement he had been through.)

But it’s not hatred that burns through his veins, not shame or anger or frustration.

It’s adrenaline, the thrill of the battle. With how many times he’d stared Death in the eyes, with how many times he’d felt he has fallen, this singular focus on becoming better , of becoming the best that he can be felt more fulfilling than anything else.

And in those moments, in those long and painful and bloody moments, Harrhan forgets who Thanos is, instead basking in the praises the Titan sends his way.

The Champion of Death and the Master of Death .

Harrhan feels the excitement of the long dormant presence buried underneath his mind. 

-0-

Harrhan knelt before the massive throne, taller and years older than when he first stepped foot in the room. His body had reached the equivalent of what would have been the age of puberty for humans, long-limbed and deadly.

It’s an odd concept, his body aging much, much slower than his human one had.

Harrhan had lived in this life for far longer than Harry Potter had ever been allowed to breathe.

Has it really been so long?

“Death clings to you, child,” Thanos says instead of telling him to rise from his position. “Like a mother desperate to shroud her babe. I saw it, felt it, when you walked with me and your sister. It called to me and appealed for my protection until you are able to be yourself. I heeded its request. I trained you, gave you back the spark of life you have lost.”

Harrhan raises his head at a gesture from the Titan.

( Obedience. Harry Potter had found it hard to be obedient, but he was —did— anyway. Harrhan finds it easier. )

“I think it is time, my son,” Thanos presents him a scepter, elegantly curved and crafted beautifully in gold, a gem nestled between sharp blades, projecting to anyone sensitive to the subtle energies of Magic and seidr the power it holds. “To prove yourself to the world and what lies beyond.”

Harrhan had nothing, hadn’t known who he was.

Until he gained something and given who he could be.

He accepts the staff reverently, feeling everything in him sing with the power it held melding wonderfully with his, and the gem glowed brightly with the ever changing color of his Magic . The presence coos, made itself known to the power of the scepter and purrs with contentment. It feels familiar and foreign at the same time. Welcoming and cold, his yet not.

Mind , the presence whispered.

And Harrhan Knows what he’d been given.

“Rise, Harrhan, son of Thanos, and do me proud.”

Harrhan smiles, a bright, genuine one that had never graced his face before, “I will not disappoint you, father.”

Chapter Text

ARC 1: CHAPTER 5
Soteria

-0-

The Infinity stones.

Six elemental crystals, remnants of six singularities, that control an essential aspect of existence. When one can wield at least a single piece, they hold a key to ruling the universe, the entire existence. (Not Death, because Death is Non-Existence and cannot be controlled. Nothing can hold anything over Death.)

And his father gave him one to wield.

The Mind stone.

Harrhan spends a moment amusing himself with this twist.

Nothing could ever convince Harrhan that taking away someone's will was something he should do. Especially not when he had the means to do so.

(Not when it’s so easy. Not when it makes him recoil with revulsion.)

That was a line that he would never cross. He'd had one too many bad experience of having someone else trample all over his mind, of violating him in a way that would never be physical but perverting his very essence.

(The Imperius. Snape and his Occlumency lessons. Voldemort and his horcrux. Dumbledore and his casual use of legilimency.

Ironically, his own Magic had built amazing resistance once he stopped limiting himself.)

It would make sense, in a way.

Harrhan's mind was a fortress that no one, nothing, could enter or bend to their will. No, not when he'd suffered under enough of those manipulations. Not when fear fused and melded with an intense drive to prevent anything like it to ever occur once again. He's not infallible, not with conscious agency—his ability to make decisions, to feel emotions—but one of his strengths had laid on his indomitable will.

(The Master of Death. The Will of Death.)

Delicately brushing a finger on the protective crystal encasing the amber stone, Harrhan allows his Magic to wrap around it and draw it out. It passes through the complex wards imbued in the crystalline material like it would air.

The Mind stone pulses, glowing as it hovered before his eyes.

Only beings of immense power can wield it directly. When handled by those too weak or deemed unworthy, the stone would take and take and take until there is nothing left, greedy and arrogant and volatile as they all are.

He touches it and smiles at the pleasant hum. Confident now, he encloses it within his hand and basks in the power that danced with his own and the presence buried in his mind.

Ours, echoed through his mind, coming from nowhere and everywhere at once.

The Mind stone, for all its power over consciousness and will, has chosen someone who would think millions of times before using it. Had chosen someone, perhaps the only one, who could defend—fight—against it on his own.

Take the King for your own before the war and you have no enemies.

The stone glowed with what felt akin to amusement.

Harrhan puts it back in its place in the scepter.

-0-

Thanos had him come with Ebony Maw to deal with the resistance from one of the planets under their rule.

Harrhan wouldn’t deny the spark of excitement at finally getting out of the Sanctuary.

It’s an odd journey, filled with silence that neither wish to disturb. Harrhan, by nature and thereof been enforced, was quiet. Ebony Maw seemed content to bask in it with contentment. It took Harrhan a few moments to realize why despite it being comfortable, the silence disquieted him.

This is the first time they had ever been together without the expectation of training and fighting, teaching and learning; the first time when Harrhan doesn’t have to treat Ebony Maw like a god and not have himself punished for insubstantial crimes including but not limited to: impertinence and breathing too fast.

He had gained the other’s approval, but Ebony Maw was as far from predictable as Lucius Malfoy had been. Lies upon lies created his being.

Harrhan tilts his head to gaze at his companion, studying the languidly levitating form as Ebony Maw meditates.

“What are we?” Harrhan asks softly, his voice quiet with disuse. The sudden question would have been taken as rude by anyone else and would have earned him a punishment, but not now. There had been a change, Harrhan knew, but he didn’t know what.

Maw doesn’t twitch or otherwise show his question was heard. Harrhan waits, knowing enough that the other was aware of everything despite how he may act.

It’s hours, maybe days later when Maw answers him.

“Brothers,” He says with a tilt of his head, “Comrades. Equals. Our Lord has named you his child, gave you a weapon crafted for you. You are no apprentice of mine any longer. I hold no power over you.”

Harrhan nods, feeling light at the declaration.

They come back leaving nothing but debris of what used to be a planet that dared house the gathering army of a resistance. They work well together.

-0-

The Black Order was a tale of great inspiration.

They are the elite, the generals of Thanos the Mad Titan. They are untouchable and deadly and incredibly dangerous. Being one of them was the greatest honor to ever achieve. Being spoken at by one of them, being in the same room as one of them would be enough to make more than a few others envious.

It’s a twisted, convoluted form of idolatry, but in a place full of violence and misery, it’s what makes you dangerous that matters. The idea of being untouchable is enough of an inspiration to many.

And the way to do that?

Earn the favor of Thanos. Be the best, the most dangerous, the most powerful and useful.

The Black Order is all of those things.

Harrhan, now, is also all of those things, but he’s also grown in the same environment that breathed the worship of the Black Order. He may have a level-head, may have been far above the maturity of his peers, but he’s not immune to such blatant social influence.

Yes, he’d spent large amounts of time being beaten to the ground by Ebony Maw and Thanos himself. Had basically lived in their presence in the last decades. Earned both of their acknowledgement and approval.

That doesn’t stop the skip of his heartbeat in the face of Proxima Midnight and her husband, Corvus Glaive. Harrhan ends up fidgeting with the gloves he’d taken to wearing years ago when he’d first picked up a weapon.

And directly against her intimidating and bloodthirsty visage, Proxima Midnight smiles at him. It’s a tiny quirk of the lip, inscrutable to many others and derisive to those who could see it, but Harrhan had learned how to read into the tiniest movements when Maw had him under his mercy. It had been a necessity, the other being too controlled and composed for Harrhan to ever hope to understand.

Husband and wife create a formidable couple. Proxima Midnight with her deadly efficiency in many types of combat, and Corvus Glaive with his masterful strategies that could easily turn anything to his advantage.

Harrhan manages to get a hold of himself to give a respectful nod, barely stopping the urge to curve lower into a bow. Maw would have mocked him greatly if he had.

They convene into the assembly room where Corvus Glaive outlines their plan of action against the traitors who dare steal from one of their allies. Harrhan takes the time to admire the brilliance of the other male and the ruthlessness displayed by both.

Ruthless. Cruel.

Later, once they finish their mission, Harrhan is staring at the carnage they have wrought.

The air is heavy with the stench of ozone and blood and smoke, overpowering the natural scent of the heady mix of the atmosphere’s gases. Harrhan himself was clean despite the wreckage all around him, still agitated and restless after a battle.

The scepter hummed in his hand, glowing and vibrating with the power he had allowed through it, heightened by the blood that had been spilled.

His eyes stray to the bodies strewn about. All lifeless and lying on the ground like puppets with their strings cut without notice.

No one stood a chance.

(How far had he come?)

They were all traitors against the reign of his father, anyway.

Harrhan returns to the ship, taking the time to walk and leap over the destroyed parts of what had once been a town full of life. He briefly considers cleaning them up, to heal a wound he had created. It’s a remnant urge to help, one that has no place in where he is now.

Proxima Midnight stood there, white eyes observing the landscape of destruction and overseeing the troops they have brought with them. Her face is unreadable, her stance relaxed but gauntleted hand never parting away from her weapon. (None of them do. Their weapons are more than just weapons. They are gifts—precious and priceless and more than they deserve.) She looks as if they didn’t just raze an entire civilization in a bid to show other would-be traitors not to cross them.

Harrhan makes his way to her, standing a bit behind her to wait for what she may tell him to do.

She doesn’t face him but she does address him after a few moments.

“You did well,” she says.

The flutter of pride he feels at those words makes him smile.

Inside the ship, Corvus Glaive raises a hand and pats him on the head with a smirk that would have sent shivers down his spine if he let it.

Harrhan allows himself to bask in the feeling of acceptance.

(How far had he fallen?)

-0-

The scepter floated before him, the gem glowing yellow as it always does when being interacted with. Harrhan was in midst of interfacing with the Mind stone, assimilating to their strengthening bond and exploring the extent of what it can and can’t do with his influence. The stone communicated much like the presence did, offering impressions and feelings that mean everything and nothing at the same time.

Then there was a disruption of air right behind him and Harrhan apparates away just in time for an enormous hammer to crash where he was.

His eyes snap to the perpetrator, feeling a little thrill climb up spine as he sees the grinning form of Cull Obsidian.

“Let’s see what everyone’s been talking about, boy,” his voice held a growl to it, one that Harrhan takes as a challenge.

Instead of answering, Harrhan grins back and forms his own attack.

Everything dissolves into the familiar movements of dodging and forming his own attacks. Magic came so easily at his beck and call, unhindered and bolstered by the scepter. The Mind stone watches the spectacle, alert and ready to help but mostly languid and content with doing nothing inside its container.

Harrhan was nowhere near the strength Cull Obsidian possessed, but that was where he had the advantage.

Cull Obsidian’s weakness lie on his dependence on that strength, his chosen weapon only adding to the windows of opportunities Harrhan needs to land decent hits. Every forceful attack required Cull Obsidian to brace himself for a few milliseconds, leaving him at a disadvantage against a fast opponent.

Harrhan had always relied on his speed and agility, his magical prowess notwithstanding, but Cull Obsidian also had the advantage of years of experience.

Despite these obvious differences between them, their fight lasted for hours.

Had they been fighting to kill, it would have been done faster with the winner going either way, but both enjoyed the thrill of battle and have purposefully let the other slip away from situations that would have ended their little game.

It’s odd... to fight for the sake of fighting.

Odd but refreshing.

They end it as a draw, neither willing to let the other win.

“Not bad,” Cull Obsidian grumbled, his large hand wrapped around Harrhan’s throat, but had the scepter pointed right at his, the tip glowing red threateningly.

Harrhan just inclines his head, lets his magic repair the damage they had done once Cull Obsidian let go.

(It clears his head, made thinking easier.)

-0-

(He’d fallen so, so far and he hadn’t noticed it.)

-0-

Harrhan stood beside Thanos, face impassive as he watches a familiar scene unfold before him.

All around them, the inhabitants of the planet they have invaded screamed in fright. Some fought but were no match for their army. Their culture had been interesting, having a few members of their population able to reproduce asexually. Harrhan wasn’t particularly keen on learning how that happens, but his father had decided he needed to know.

It’s a blessing, he said.

Harrhan thinks that whatever causes a planet to become an interest to the Titan shouldn’t be called a blessing.

They remain rooted in one spot, the Titan content to let their army do the work and Harrhan awaiting what would be asked of him. There was a moment when Harrhan wondered if he could get to see Thanos pick his chosen but so far, his father hadn’t made a move from his makeshift throne.

“I heard what your brothers and sisters are saying of you,” Thanos suddenly spoke, drawing Harrhan’s attention away from the morbid fascination he was sinking into, as the chitauri displayed their ruthlessness. “And I hear high praise. Well done, Harrhan.”

Harrhan shifts into a bow, “Thank you, father.”

Thanos’s gaze shifted to his scepter before continuing, “I trust you well know what you hold.”

Harrhan’s hand unconsciously caress the crystal and a smile tugs on his lips, “Of course. We have bonded.”

“I’m glad to see I was not wrong in my assumption,” Thanos hums in clear appreciation. There’s a lull in their conversation but Harrhan doesn’t pull his attention away from the Titan, aware that there may still be something to be discussed.

He was proven correct when Thanos gives him a communication device set to operate off-world and would reach the Sanctuary wherever it may be. It’s a piece of technology he himself had had a hand in creating, combining his Magic, an insignificant fraction of the Mind stone’s capabilities, and the already existing technology they possess. Harrhan takes it, curiosity gleaming from his eyes.

“I have heard whispers that Praxius IX holds the Orb that I seek,” Thanos explains.

Harrhan nods, but senses that there is more to it. Thanos doesn’t share anything that he is not sure of, not even suspicions.

“However, I do not trust the source of this information.” That much had been clear before. “Regardless, I chose to send Gamora and Nebula in search of it.”

Harrhan only blinks at the name but picks up on what his father wants him to do, “And you wish to send me with them?”

There’s a pause in their conversation when the chitauri have succeeded in their task. Harrhan hesitates for just a second—a second too long—before signaling his order of execution. The chitauri show no mercy in slaughtering well over half of the population.

Harrhan wonders if his silence was more horrifying than Maw’s endless tirade of choosing sides and gratefulness for meeting their creator.

(He’d fallen so far, but he doesn’t care.

Family, he thinks. Selfish, immediately follows.)

“In my stead, yes.” If Thanos thought anything of his reactions, he doesn’t show it.

For his part, Harrhan barely blinks before nodding his acceptance, “As you will it, father.”

-0-

“What are you doing here?”

Harrhan doesn’t react to the spiteful question, only staring at the woman before him.

Gamora had grown well.

He’s glad to note that there had been no conspicuous changes, glad to see that the years have treated her as fine as their circumstance ever could. She’s beautiful even with those silver markings on her face, eyes still holding that fire of determination. It didn’t matter that it burned of hatred on him.

They never saw each other since that day and last he had heard, Thanos had her training somewhere else.

She’s alive and kept her fire. She’s stronger now, with a name that is known all across the galaxy.

“I’m here because father told me to accompany you on your mission.” He lets a smile grace his lips, deciding that showing his genuine delight at seeing her was better than being impassive, “I’m glad to see you have grown up well, Gamora.”

If Harrhan said those words to aggravate the other zehoberei, no one would know.

“Sure.” Even if she tried, Gamora can’t hide her annoyance. Her jaw is clenched and shoulders too tense. Her gaze trails over to the scepter in his hand, eyes narrowing in thought, “I see you have a new weapon.”

Harrhan nods, hand trailing over the Mind stone as had become his habit whenever someone notices it. There’s also a beautiful set of twin blades hidden well on her person but he doesn’t comment. He remains silent instead of answering the unvoiced prompt, having grown fond of not speaking much. Father didn’t seem to mind, and no one in the Black Order begrudges any quirks.

“And I see you still haven’t changed a bit.” She nearly spits it out when the silence got too much for her.

(Changed? He’s changed. He’s changed a lot.)

But Harrhan continues to smile, watches as Gamora seethes with annoyance. It’s amusing that even with years apart, Harrhan receives such a visceral reaction. It’s good, though, because it means her fire has only grown stronger.

He’s distracted when Nebula arrives.

If Gamora had remained untouched, Nebula was the complete opposite. Gone were her lustrous hair, head shaved clean with a quarter of it visibly replaced by metal. Her eyes weren’t hers either, and her gait too straight, too rigid even for a luphomoid.

Harrhan allows the twinge of pity.

He must’ve looked too long, or maybe she was just paranoid, but Gamora subtly steps in front of Nebula in a bid to protect her.

It’s charming if it wasn’t unnecessary. (And he’s irked to note that she’s still taller than he is. They both are.)

“Shall we?” Harrhan finally says, tilting his head expectantly. He’s here to facilitate, not to lead.

-0-

Harrhan learns why Nebula had come to be in such a state that she was more machine than organic material.

She’s stubborn, headstrong, and didn’t think things through enough. She’s led by her emotions, and if it weren’t for her manically desperate loyalty, Nebula wouldn’t have lasted long. As it was, her being caught in a trap has already alerted parties Harrhan didn’t want to deal with right now. Besides that, she had obviously failed the test their father had given.

Gamora—valiant, compassionate, fiery Gamora—wanted to save her.

“Leave her,” Harrhan says. “It’s a lesson she must learn.”

“She’ll die,” Gamora fires back, voice a touch pleading as his Magic held her in place. “Whatever heart you have left in there, you can’t just let her die.”

Harrhan wants to say she won’t because he won’t let it happen, but the point of this was to test each other. Thanos had sent him both as a test and genuine trust in his decisions. Harrhan wasn’t about to fail his father’s expectations even if something inside him aches at the frantic look in Gamora’s face.

The Mind stone pulses, giving him the strength to continue, “Then she never deserved to be a daughter of Thanos.”

With that, he apparates them back on the ship.

-0-

Nebula makes it back without an arm.

Gamora rages at him.

-0-

“What troubles you, my child?”

Harrhan blinks from where he had been playing with the Mind stone, eyes trailing up to meet his father’s. Thanos casually plucks the Mind stone from the air, admiring it against the darkness of the throne room where stars shine in the vast openness of space.

“Beautiful, isn’t it?” Thanos continues, still scrutinizing the stone. It’s not glowing even though Harrhan knew Thanos could wield it just as he can. “Such power in something so small.” The Titan’s eyes meet his as his father offers the stone back by levitating it to him. “It reminds me of you. Strong, unyielding. Worthy.”

Harrhan lets the stone drop on his hands, fidgets with it with his fingers. It glows.

“Gamora has called me to a challenge,” He answers instead, knowing full well that Thanos favors her as well.

A pensieve silence falls over the Titan. Then Harrhan finds himself with the Titan’s hand on his cheek, his father’s eyes shining with affection. Love.

“Then so be it,” Thanos intones minutes later, orders with a decisive tone. “Let it be a challenge to the death.”

Harrhan closes his eyes and grips the stone hard.

(Family is selfish.)

-0-

Harrhan does as the Mind stone asked; links the power of the scepter to the Space stone that existed so, so far away from them.

He mourns the loss of the ever changing color of his Magic as the scepter glowed a blue hue. It's a sacrifice he's more than willing to give for his father's goals, dreams.

-0-

When all comes down to it, Gamora was no match for him.

Harrhan knows this.

He caresses the Mind stone and for the first time, uses its power as it was intended to be.

-0-

The day of their challenge came.

(Harrhan remembers. Next time.)

Only Thanos stood as their audience, something Harrhan felt relieved by, because there had been one thing he didn’t account for. It shouldn’t matter.

(Family.)

Gamora stood before him, their position familiar and a mirror of a day years ago. (Even through the years, the decades, he can’t forget.) This time they’re older, more experienced, stronger. This time, their fight would end with only one of them able to stand. None of them speak.

They start.

They’re on equal footing, Harrhan relying on hand to hand with tiny bursts of his Magic. He finds as little use to his scepter as possible. It feels different now; more powerful, a little bit less his.

“Harrhan.”

It was one word, just his name, but Harrhan heard the reprimand. The warning.

Next time, you don’t hold back.

Harrhan grits his teeth, looks at Gamora who’s relentless in her attack. He raises the scepter, letting out a bolt of blue energy that wasn’t his. He fights a little bit more seriously, plays up the theatrics of using everything.

(He hopes Thanos believes it. Hopes that he won’t notice until it was too late.

The presence acquiesced.)

Gamora gave as good as she got, deflecting his attacks, landing more and more hits on him. More and more blood spilled between them.

Time stretches out into gruelling minutes. Harrhan lets himself slip up, falling for a trap that had Gamora’s twin blades buried in his chest in quick succession. It doesn’t hurt, nothing does now. She lets it slide up, sure to slice over a lung and a handful more of organs.

Harrhan stares at Gamora’s eyes.

Blue.

He smiles.

Gamora blinks, the blue bleeding away into brown. She’s startled but doesn’t show it, then she catches sight of him, bleeding heavily and drowning on his own blood.

There’s a deafening silence.

Harrhan reaches up a shaky hand, touches a finger on her cheek, hesitant to touch but wanting to, “I’m sorry.” For what I did. For everything. I’m sorry.

Gamora frowns, confusion warring disbelief (and worry? Was that worry? Maybe Gamora still cared for him. Harrhan hopes she doesn't.)

Then Harrhan rolls his head to look at Thanos—his father—and feels a deep sorrow at the tears he sees even through his blurring sight.

“Why?” It’s faint, so, so different from the Mad Titan that razed planets without remorse. Because now, he wasn't Thanos, the Destroyer of Worlds. He's Thanos, the father who only cared to see his children grow and reach their potential. Many wouldn't believe it, but the Titan was capable of many emotions, blinded as he and they were with his chosen path of death and tyranny.

Oh.

Love.

Harrhan reaches out with his Magic, already feeling his consciousness slip.

She’s worth it, Harrhan whispered in his father’s mind, tries his best to soothe the sorrow threatening to overcome the other. Let this be my penance.

Then he sinks into Death’s embrace.

(Family is selfish. Harrhan wants to save what he could.)

 

Chapter Text

ARC 1: CHAPTER 6
Poros

-0-

If there was one thing he (Harrhan? Harry?) learned about the presence, it was that it only ever cares for him.

Him and his desires, him and his needs.

Whatever else stood in the way didn’t matter.

(He wanted family, didn’t he? He wanted to not be lonely. He needed to not be falling apart, and he needed someone to be with him. He needed and wanted to be strong and then he wanted to be better and the best.)

It’s also incredibly, heinously selfish.

(Death, has so few precious to It.)

So Ha-rry-han is reborn.

This time, his name is Harley Keener.

-0-

The first thing he realizes is that he’s on earth again.

He’s human.

It’s a curious, difficult transition. He absently notes the subtle differences between his mindset as Harrhan and this new thing he’s encountering. His experiences as Harry Potter don’t count, having spent his infanthood knowing absolutely nothing of the world he was born in.

For one, Harley Keener is a child that possesses an uncanny amount of energy.

It’s the Magic running through his veins, but that is only a part of it. What constitutes and differentiates Harley Keener from Harry Potter and Harrhan is the disposition he has.

Harry Potter was born to magic but otherwise normal parents. This point of comparison doesn’t work well because his earliest memory as Harry had been his aunt yelling at him to cook food. Nothing could ever recall memories before that. (If it wasn’t the death of his parents, the flash of green light that started everything.)

Harrhan was, quite simply, so different because he was born a zehoberei. The clear difference between him and Harley, excluding the obvious alien physiology, was that Harley was not quiet. Harrhan spent months without uttering a word, Harley could barely keep his mouth shut for a few minutes.

And as a baby, Harley’s thoughts were too fast and muddled, as if his body still hasn’t quite caught up with his far older consciousness, yet working hard in doing so.

He’s very fussy, too, and Harley actually pities his parents. It was just too difficult for his body to process the potent mix of griefsorrowregret that echoed all over his being, resulting in him bursting into tears and angry tantrums quite often. (Often enough that mother and father brought him to the doctors, had him on monitor for something he didn’t actually have. Just the grief and overwhelming sense of being lost.)

Yes, he skips a lot of mental milestones that normal babies go through (mother was sorely disappointed when he didn’t react to any peek-a-boos, and delighted when Harley managed to solve puzzles at a quick rate), but it still stands that human physiology develop at a slower rate than that of a zehoberei (or was it that time moves differently in this region of the galaxy?). In example, Harley’s awareness did not come until he was three months old as opposed to Harrhan’s advanced consciousness in his mother’s womb.

Any of that didn’t erase the fact that Harley had to get used to having wobbly appendages. He does have great balance and spatial awareness, but anything requiring delicate or strong muscle use renders it useless.

Who ever said being a baby was easy? Living nearly a century as a self-sustaining, autonomous being of great strength and power doesn’t make a restart of everything feel easy.

But—

Human. He’s human again. Because it bears emphasis.

(There’s this thing called humanity—something he never knew he didn’t have as Harrhan.)

-0-

It didn’t even enter his mind that he might be in the same earth as the earth Harry Potter had lived in.

For the record, he isn’t.

There was a distinct lack of the Magical Leylines. Oh, there are leylines of the magical variety, but it’s something much closer to seidr. Same type of energy, different frequencies. He’s still alone in his possession of Magic. There’s also something that was just out of reach of his consciousness, something he Knows but somehow doesn’t form a concrete thought for him to pin down.

Technology was also far more advanced than what Harry Potter had ever encountered, but primitive as compared  to Harrhan’s experiences.

The presence chooses to be quiet, retreats deeper into his Soul because a human body had weaker capabilities and his was stretched thin already with his access to his Magic, content to let him deal with the aftermath on his own.

And he does.

He misses Thanos and the Black Order, regrets having to leave his father without clear explanation, repentant of having left Gamora to deal with it, feels the gaping hole where his bond with the Mind stone was cut off, but he accepts his losses faster this time around. What had been the point of his life as Harrhan if he didn’t learn from it?

At the very essence of it, he’s Harry Potter. But he’s also Harrhan and Harley Keener. Harrhan was the bridge he had to cross to become better, to become who he can be and who he is. The presence might have doomed him to the twisted path of destruction, but he’d also been given something else.

(Family. Reconciliation. Protection.)

He still wasn’t sure what Harley Keener is but he wouldn’t reject this part of him. He’d walk down this path to see where it goes.

(Because he’s still jaded and lost, but parts of him had been fixed now. He’s not as broken.)

And the best part of being Harley Keener?

He had parents.

Birth parents who are alive.

(Makaerus was there, but Harrhan had been drowning in his own demons for a long, long time.)

Mom and dad took care of him, loved him unconditionally (like Thanos had, at the end, but he had let go of that, let the opportunity pass him by or hadn’t been understanding enough for it until it wasn’t there) and Harley was aware for it—was hoarding it in fear of having it slip away from his grasp again.

(They would call him needy, but Harley already knew that. He needed stability, this was what he got.)

Sure, they weren’t perfect. Mom and dad argued more than they got along, but Harley was always a safe point for them and he wasn’t ever treated wrong. They don’t hit each other, but the angry yells are normal in their household.

(Had he actually been a normal child, he’d have been confused and more damaged than what he actually is in this situation.)

It was such a novel feeling.

-0-

Harley knew he’d already been human. He knew the customs, knew the general way things would go, knew that he’s living somewhere that isn’t Europe (the language and accents were telling, so somewhere in America?). He’s aware of what could be the normal, human way.

(Mr. and Mrs. Dursley, of number four, Privet Drive, were proud to say they were perfectly normal, thank you very much.)

But he’d lived as Harrhan for far longer than he had been as Harry Potter. It’s actually a miracle he even remembers the things he does. And Harry Potter wasn’t really a normal human anyway. (Neither is Harley, but he wanted to try to at least be normal. If not for his sake, then for his new parents.)

So, yes, it was hard to know what was expected of Harley.

Harder, when experiences from both of his previous bodies made him possess a phenomenal amount of tolerance from pain. Because when the initial flux of staggering emotions finally died down, Harley never cried. Not when he bumped his head, not when he scraped his hands and knees, not when he fell down the stairs and hit his head on the floor with mom watching him.

(Mom was so, so scared though. Dad was, too, and all Harley wanted to do was to not have them worry about him being in pain.

“Is okay, mommy,” Harley cooed, his tongue and lips well-practiced at forming words even though he’s only two, “Not hurt.”

They bring him to the hospital, had him confined for days.

On hindsight, the amount of blood gushing out from his wound should have tipped him off. These are normal, human parents with normal worries. They didn’t know it would take more than that to take him down.)

Another thing was how his thoughts were too fast for his body to keep up. So his words always stumbled against each other, his movements jittery and rapid. And Harley loved being able to talk (maybe it was a drawback to how soft-spoken Harrhan had been or maybe it was just the way he was born this time around).

His ability to process information, though... now that was impressive even for Harrhan. Harry Potter hadn’t been the sharpest tool in the shed and Harrhan had the advantage of alien physiology and previous experience, but Harley?

Harley Keener, quite simply, could be called a genius. Eccentric, yes, but who wouldn’t be with what he lived through?

Some of their neighbors think he’s not quite all there.

The neighborhood kids think he’s a freak.

-0-

They call it ADHD. Another added the possibility of early onset Bipolar Disorder. The other assumed autism spectrum.

(Maybe if he was an adult, they’d add in post-traumatic too.)

Harley was sorely tempted to set fire to the doctors his parents bring him to, but he doesn’t because he has better manners than that. And showing his Magic and possibly committing murder was bad manners and would put his parents in a lot of trouble. So he lets it be. Harley knew who he is.

He does try to tone down his expressiveness, limits his own natural reactions to what was expected of a normal child. It doesn’t always work, but it gets most of those accusations out of the actual diagnosis. He’s left with ADHD, a few colorful pamphlets for his parents, a doctor’s appointment once a month, and the shame of having a child that needed to see a shrink.

(Sometimes he wishes he was still Harhan, son of Thanos. Free to do what he wants as long as it never contradicted with his father’s wishes. Free to please those he cared for without being questioned.)

-0-

Apparently, this world had superheroes.

Mom and dad never were too into that hype, but they still tried to get him into it. To have him be interested in something that his peers were into. They borrowed Captain America comics from their old friends, bought him action figures he could play with.

But no, Harley was too sensible to believe in superheroes.

Because with this kind of structure in society? Harley would be a villain (he accepts that, acknowledges the nature of what he did), and Thanos would be the ultimate bad guy. Harley was still Harrhan even if he’s born in a different body in a different world.

(Heroes, superheroesHarry had been a savior, a sacrifice, not a hero.

Harrhan had been a monster.)

It was a failing endeavor right from the start.

His dad, instead, got him interested in something else.

Because one look at his dad’s cluttered garage? Harley felt purpose.

(And he remembers a small little girl with blue skin and wary eyes, remembers a woman with blue skin and more machine than person. Remembers how they all suffered.

Humanity is both a weakness and a strength.)

Harley starts spending most of his time in his dad’s garage, tinkering around with what they had. He lets dad teach him things he could figure out in a few minutes, stops himself from seeming too brilliant, lets himself commit mistakes, doesn’t let himself use Magic even if it would make things easier.

Harley Keener is going to be a great mechanic, he resolves.

-0-

Harley is about four when he gets a little sister.

It’s both a blessing and a curse, like the start of a long-winded ritual that would spell something bad.

Having a little sister isn’t so much a new experience as it was a learning curve for everyone.

Harley knew how to take care of other people, knew how to treat them with care. There was no petty jealousy of sharing his parents to suffer through. So, no, having a little sister wasn’t much of a burden. What is, however, was the fact that she was born sickly.

Had they been living in a larger city and not some town in the middle of nowhere, his little sister (Emma, they named her) would have been in the hospital for longer than she already had. But they aren’t rich, they don’t have the money to pay hospital bills and keep up with the ones for their house.

Harley wanted to help, to heal his little sister.

Magic is powerful, he is powerful, but Death’s claim cannot ever be revoked.

Little Emma was a dying little girl.

So is their mom.

-0-

Acquired immunodeficiency, they called it.

After one of the worst arguments mom and dad had, dad left.

(There were accusations of adultery. Harley thinks it’s true.)

“He went to 7 Eleven,” mom said when asked “to get scratchers.”

Harley knew he would never come back.

-0-

School was...different.

Harley found everything to be rather dull and too easy. Even if it hadn’t been anything like what Harry Potter had encountered, Harley breezed through assigned readings and cautiously given out math problems.

It took time to get accustomed with how fast he thought, with all the tangents his mind could get into (multitasking is a thing now). School put him in a pace that was similar to his peers but bored him out of his mind.

Everyone else dismissed him as the mouthy scrawny know-it-all.

-0-

Harley is five when he became responsible for running things at home.

Mom was too busy making ends meet, working day and night to at least give the semblance of what little Emma needs. Harley ends up raising his little sister, whispers to her that mommy and daddy loved her, that daddy left because he had to.

Little Emma probably wouldn’t live long enough to understand, wouldn’t be there to rage at their father and carry that grudge until she finds a way to make it better. (Part of him is thankful for it.)

It’s okay, he thinks, he’s used to this. People came and went, he supposes.

Harley ends up replacing a few of their appliances with ones that run on his Magic just to make their bills lighter, ends up having to cook and clean everything by himself. He has mom buying the groceries to keep her from seeing what’s happening in their home.

It’s like the Dursleys all over again but this time, Harley is doing it on his own volition.

“I’m sorry,” mom tells him one night, too tired to even make the walk to her room so Harley had to bring down some pillows and blankets after he put Emma to sleep. “It’s my fault. This shouldn’t have happened. I’m sorry, Harley, and I’m so proud of you.”

Harley spends the night beside her, hugging her through the tears that streamed down her face.

This happens again and again and again. Harley knows she’s sorry, knows she’s proud of him, knows she probably loved him and little Emma.

(All he really wanted was a thank you.)

He never hated her, not really, but that novelty of having parental figures had long since waned. He probably loved mom and dad and little Emma, but their situation is so, so difficult to maintain.

Because he knows they’ll leave him and Harley can’t do anything about it.

It’s not ideal. It’s broken and damaged, but this is family too. Until then, he’ll do his best to keep it together.

-0-

(Sometimes he misses life as Harry Potter, finds himself practicing what Thanos has ingrained so deeply into Harrhan’s body that it has bled through his Soul.)

-0-

Little Emma was a sheltered little girl.

Harley would be the first to admit that it might be partially his fault. But day by day, week after week, she grows worse, just as mom is.

And she’s tiny. She’s not growing as she should no matter how much they try to have her eat more.

He’s doing his best to not let her catch any colds, does his best to relieve mom’s stress as much as possible, but between attending school and their situation? Harley could only do so much.

-0-

Harley is nine when he discovered something that was both wonderful and horrifying.

The invasion of New York.

The chitauri.

Thanos is here.

There’s a spark of amusement from the presence that had so far been silent.

He watches the TV with horrified fascination as the portal in New York let the chitauri in. And with one glance, one look at the tiny, tiny opening knew that whatever was happening, someone was working on minimizing the damage from the inside.

Harley knew how Thanos worked.

Earth was no match for his forces. Earth was too weak, too isolated (because he should have known this) to ever hope to fight against him. Their technology might be more than what Harry Potter knew, but Harrhan had seen hundreds that have better.

Even if Harley had ever believed in superheroes, he would still be most certain that the Avengers, whoever they were, wouldn’t stand a chance. That invasion doesn’t deserve to be called an invasion. Their army was much, much more than what these humans had seen.

That missile Iron Man had thrown into the portal may have caused a bit of damage, and perhaps had been the most destructive attack earth could have managed. Sacrifice. It made Harley respect the man more than he already does.

(Genius, billionaire, pioneer of the advanced technologies earth possesses,  Merchant of Death, humanitarian philanthropist, then superhero? Harley may not be a fan or a believer, but he respects Tony Stark more than he did Captain America and his propaganda-fuelled fame.)

Nonetheless, it would have sent a far more unsavory message to the universe at large, and more importantly, Thanos's army. That attack had been a beacon that pointed to Earth's (misplaced, unready, unsuitable, and all negative words that explains this) power.

He watches the replay of the various footage they were able to accumulate, watches as the news eventually changed to focus on Loki.

Harley sneers, seeing his scepter in undeserving hands.

Loki of Asgard.

The one who led the invasion.

The one who worked inside to weaken the attack and inadvertently helped in saving the earth.

Harley wasn’t sure if he was thankful or not, but knows the Aesir would not be living long enough to see the end of this war. (Because that’s what it is- what it always had been.)

-0-

Now that he knows that this world (reality?) is the same as the one Harrhan had lived in, Harley could pick out the unique energy that the stones possessed.

And, oh, there are three right here on earth.

The Mind stone, the Space stone, and the Time stone.

The question of Thanos arriving on earth was not an if but a when. Knowing his father as much as he does, it wouldn’t be too long. Certainly, he would take a step back after that failed invasion, but that respite wouldn’t last long. A decade, maybe. Sometime within the century, definitely.

There wouldn’t be enough time for earth to prepare.

Harley finds himself torn between his nostalgic attachment on earth and humanity, and his loyalty to Thanos.

-0-

Harley Keener is ten when Tony Stark broke into his garage.

 

 


 

ARC 1 END

Chapter Text

ARC 2: CHAPTER 7
Pistis

-0-

Snow drifted down in gentle waves, covering their yard in its icy embrace. Even though he’d seen this scene countless times before, his fascination never wore off. The view from their house wasn’t even really a sight to behold. Nonetheless, Harley liked watching the first dusts of winter coming into their town.

“Hey mom,” Harley calls out from his position gazing out of the window, “Do you really have to go to work? It’s snowing. It’s cold and then you’ll sleep through the day tomorrow.”

Him, his mom and little Emma had been putting up garlands and holly sticks, leftover baubles from the last few years’s attempts at being festive. Christmas was approaching and even in their broken little household, it’s something they celebrate.

With school finally letting out this morning, Harley was free to do anything.

He could finally get around to working on the old car without mom getting on his case again. It’s slow work, having to collect parts from all over town and spending more and more time taking care of his sister with the new treatment regimen they had put her on.

“Yes Harley,” Mom answers as she exits Emma’s room, having tucked the little girl to bed. “They need me at the diner. I’m not about to say no to some extra pay.”

With the looming concern of her declining health, Amelia Keener had had to take less and less shifts in order to prevent her condition from worsening. She hides it well, but Harley knew that every move she made caused her pain. It was an admirable effort, and the fact that she had lasted this long was a miracle in and of itself.

There had been the Antiretroviral Therapy that the hospital put mom and Emma on, but mom had dropped out of it a few months ago, saying nothing about her reasons. Harley had accepted her decision with more grace than he should.

“Well I’m pretty sure they can handle themselves fine anyway.” Harley sighs dejectedly before grabbing his sling bag, “I’ll come with you.”

“No.” Mom pulled on her winter jacket, one that Harley had spent literal years to save up for and charmed with the best warming spell he could manage on a reasonable but subpar material. She fixed him with a stern look that highlighted the bags under her tired eyes. Under the artificial light, she looked a bit less waxen than she actually is. “You have to look after your sister.”

“I already have my bag here, see?” Harley pats his bag in emphasis. “I don’t want you going out there in this cold alone, mom.” He doesn’t have to explain himself, not anymore.

“And I don’t like you going out by yourself,” She parries, “at night.” She added the last bit at his stubborn look.

“I’ve done it already,” Harley reasons, “many, many times before. It’s not like we don’t know everyone. I know how to protect myself from them.”

Because they do. Everyone knows everyone, even that homeless guy that relocated every other week, but ever since Chad Davis bombed himself and killed others, everyone had been cautious. Harley isn’t sure if their sleepy little town believed the invasion of New York, but tensions had been higher ever since then.

They have a stare off, Harley holding his ground because his mom looked as though a wind could knock her down. Finally, after a few moments of charged silence, mom sighed and mussed her scrunched up hair in clear agitation.

“Fine,” She huffs. “Fine. How did I get stuck with this kid?”

Harley grins—because he knows those words were fond, reminds himself that they’d had this conversation multiple times already—and followed her out.

-0-

Harley was only a few yards away from their house when he noticed the unfamiliar tracks on the snow-covered ground. He crouches down, brow furrowed at the obvious drag marks and indentations that were shaped like shoes. A grown man’s shoes or someone with big feet that dragged something heavy behind them.

With narrowed eyes, Harley cast out his senses, trying to pinpoint what he was dealing with.

Little Emma was still in her bedroom, fast asleep. A few meters away from her, inside the garage, was someone else. Now alert and wary, Harley ran a last check to confirm that there’s only one intruder. He studies it, feeling his muscles tense as his Magic tried to assess the threat.

He tilts his head, feeling… well, feeling curious.

Rose Hill, Tennessee wasn’t an interesting place to be in. The only exciting thing that had ever happened was Chad Davis’s suicide bombing, but even that hadn’t piqued his curiosity enough to nose around more than a curious kid would.

Besides, whoever was in there was clearly not hostile. And even then, Harley could protect himself well. Out of intense practice as he may be, it would take more than one measly human to take him down.

With that thought in mind, Harley pulls out the potato gun Emma had urged him to make and carried around to reassure his mom, tucking the newspaper under his armpit. It’s bulky and childish but Emma had helped him with it, essentially designing it while Harley got out the tools and materials.

(“To beat the bad guys,” Emma had said, completely his opposite when it came to superheroes. She’s absolutely smitten with the idea. Harley wasn’t about to take that away from her, actually gives her the toys he never played with. He tries to get her interested in other things instead, like Dora the Explorer, because Emma had always dreamed of travelling all over the world.)

Well, time to see how the gun would work on the ‘bad guys’.

He made his way to the open garage door, steps quiet even in the snow.

“Freeze.” Harley says to the man fiddling with the garage tools, pointing his potato gun.

The man looks up and-

Is that Tony Stark?

Harley frowns, confused and alert (because why would Tony Stark be in his garage while everyone thinks he’s dead) but continues with his lines, “Don’t. Move.”

Mr. Stark drops the pliers, raises his hand, and deadpans in a humoring tone, “You got me.”

Harley’s aim doesn’t falter even as his mind raced a mile a minute at the implication of the man’s presence.

“Nice potato gun,” Mr. Stark says (praises? Observes? Fills the silence?), “Barrel’s a little long. Between that and the wide gauge, it’s gonna diminish the FPS.”

Harley knew this. He still shoots the glass on the handmade shelf to prove a point because Emma’s design was brilliant, thank you very much.

Mr. Stark blinks in what could be surprise before shrugging at him, unconcerned at his display, as if it was normal to have a kid demonstrate great aiming skills to a stranger, “And now you’re out of ammo.”

Harley wants to say he isn’t because he could load it up with whatever he wants and then turn it into a potato, but lets the man have this round because now Harley notices he’s injured. The sudden concern he was feeling surprised him, but he can’t be completely hospitable to people who broke into their home now, can he? Superhero or not, respected or not, breaking and entering is still an issue.

So instead, Harley says, “What’s that on your chest?” The news was never really was clear on anything, more so with Mr. Stark laying low after his trip to Afghanistan, and Harley was curious of the glowing disc on (in? Is that inside him?) the man’s chest.

(Why does that shade of blue look familiar?)

“It’s-” Mr. Stark shifts but Harley can read the hesitation in that move and hypothesizes he’s about to lie, “ah, it’s an electromagnet. You should know, you’ve got a box of them right here.” Mr. Stark flicks a finger at the aforementioned box.

Harley studies the man and the glowing device, finally takes the time to actually examine him. There’s something exceedingly familiar about Mr. Stark and feels-

Trust him.

Okay, Harley decided, knowing better than to disregard feelings that didn’t explicitly come from his own conscious. The presence hadn’t interacted with him this last few years, but it had never steered him wrong—well, not wrong, but not not right either. Being with him counts for something.

(He should have known there was something about that Merchant of Death thing.)

“What does it power?” He wheedles.

Mr. Stark takes a moment to mull it over.

Harley was sure this man wouldn’t tell him (why would he?) but is surprised when the engineer pulls away from the stool to put the spotlight on the damaged Iron Man armor lounging on the rickety sofa he often used as a bed.

There were precisely three trains of thought going through his head at the moment but-

“That… that’s-” Harley stuttered, oh god, he hadn’t done that in a while, “Is that Iron Man?”

Mr. Stark doesn’t miss a beat, “Technically I am.” It’s slightly defensive.

“Technically,” Harley finds himself drawn to the armor, barely having the presence of mind to emphasize what his second train of thought wanted by tapping the man’s chest with the newspaper, “You’re dead.”

The third was still criticizing the electromagnet in the man’s chest and its connection to the Iron Man armor that surely needed something more than simple electromagnets to work.

Mr. Stark makes a little noise of surprise, “You have a point.”

Harley was too busy admiring the genius piece of tech in front of him, catalogues the damages and possible ways to repair it but has to resign himself to the fact that this was beyond him and the tools he possesses. With his Magic, maybe, but sensitive coding and delicate wires don’t mix well with it unless Harley knew it inside and out. Still, the Iron Man armor was perhaps the most advanced technology he has seen on earth.

Fanboy or not, Harley knew machines and tech well enough now, and Tony Stark was at the pedestal of the greatest technological and engineering genius he’d ever met.

“What happened to him?” Because apparently there’s a fourth train of thought controlling his mouth.

“Life,” Mr. Stark replied easily and Harley had to stifle a smirk, “I built him, I take care of him… I’ll fix him.”

Harley stops. He looks at the man, really looks at him and what he is at the present moment, looks beyond the bravado and arrogance. Mr. Stark looks tired, his shoulders tense and face pinched with stress, hands fidgeting and constantly on the move. Wounds covered his face and arms, blood already dried but still untreated. Harley wasn’t really sure what happened, haven’t had the time to read through the newspaper except for the headlines.

Standing before him isn’t Tony Stark, genius billionaire former CEO of Stark Industries, Avenger, superhero. This is Tony Stark, the person who is just as human as anybody else.

“Like a mechanic?” Harley prompts, the second train of thought already going in the direction of first aid and treating wounds. He wonders how he would have coped up if he wasn’t Harley-and-Harrhan-and-Harry.

There’s a brief flash of a- well, something that wasn’t negative on the man’s face, “Yeah.”

Harley touches all over the armor, unable to stop himself, “If I was building Iron Man and War Machine-”

“-It’s Iron Patriot now,” Mr. Stark sniffed.

“That’s way cooler!”

Harley doesn’t think his sarcasm is convincing because Mr. Stark replies, all petulant adult, “No it’s not.”

“Anyways,” Harley discretely rolls his eyes, “I would have added in, uhm, the retro-”

Mr. Stark catches on in a snap, “Retroreflective panels?”

Harley nods and smiles, feeling a bit victorious at pulling the man’s attention away from whatever negative thoughts he had. Not completely, but enough to have a look of intrigue overtake the grimness, “To make him have stealth mode.”

“You want a stealth mode?”

Of course, Harley was all about covering all the bases, “Cool right?”

Mr. Stark looked reluctantly impressed, “That’s actually a great idea. Maybe I’ll build one.”

Harley grins and resumes to admiring the armor, itching to take down notes on the servos and complicated wiring he could just peek at. (No he wasn’t pawing at it.)

“So uh,” Mr. Stark breaks the brief silence, unable to stand it for long it seems, “who’s home?”

Harley shifts to sit down properly, scrutinizing the man and considering what the presence had told him.

“Well,” Trust him. “My mom already left for the diner and… dad went to Seven Eleven to get scratchers. I guess he won ‘cause that was six years ago.” It wasn’t a painful admission, it was just a fact.

Mr. Stark hums, not entirely judgemental or thoughtful, “Which happens. Dads leave, no need to be a pussy about it.”

Harley covers snort, unsure if it was derisive or amused, “Can’t really fault him. He had his reasons, I guess.”

Mr. Stark studies him this time before shrugging. “Fair enough.” And that was that. “Here’s what I need.” He pauses and Harley narrows his eyes. “A laptop, a digital watch, a cell phone, a pneumatic actuator from your bazooka over there, a map of town, a big spring, and a tuna fish sandwich.”

Harley had already made a decision but still asks, “What’s in it for me?”

“Salvation.”

Harley feels his world stop, feels—

(A large finger tilted his chin up and Harrhan was forced to look at the Mad Titan’s eyes.

“Salvation,” Thanos answered as if it should make sense.)

—“What’s his name?”

Harley jolts back into reality, heart skipping beats but thankfully breathing normally. He swallows, almost says his name, but focuses on Mr. Stark’s expectant face, “Who?”

“The kid that bullies you at school,” Mr. Stark said it with full certainty in his deduction, arms crossed and eyes narrowed. “What’s his name?”

Harley takes a deep breath, tries to think of an appropriate response, but his mind’s too scrambled with that startling episode. Besides, Mr. Stark wasn’t really wrong, per se. “How’d you know about that?” He let the defensiveness leak out in his tone.

“I’ve got just the thing.”

And the ridiculous man (because he is, dear gods) presented him with a compacted stun grenade and said it discourages bullying right after claiming it was a very powerful weapon. Non-lethal. Harley can make it lethal if he wanted to. He can make lethal out of anything. But Mr. Stark didn’t know about that.

Then Mr. Stark asks, “Deal?”

“Deal.” Harley takes the offered weapon with deep reverence and fascination.

“What’s your name?”

“Harley.” Harley side-eyes the man, remembering how Harry had once been famous and unable to introduce himself, “And you’re…?”

“The mechanic.” Harley likes the light tone in the man’s voice. “Tony.”

(Harley tries to ignore how familiar this is, wants to not-remember balance and what it means. But maybe

Maybe this wouldn’t be the same.)

 

 

Chapter Text

ARC 2: CHAPTER 8
Koalemos

-0-

Later, when Harley leaves Mr. Stark to get his sandwich (a bottle of water too, Harley wasn’t a savage) and the digital watch he demanded (Emma’s Dora the Explorer watch because Mr. Stark never specified his preference), he makes a beeline for the first aid kit his mom liked to keep stocked.

(Harley’s not accident prone, really, but he tends to get injured anyway and had a bad habit of not noticing or forgetting about it until his mom notices so he can’t heal it by himself. Mostly it’s cuts and bruises. The worst ones like the broken bones or stab wounds he gets while working with his projects tend to kickstart the healing process all on its own.)

There’s a few moments where Harley contemplated getting a change of clothes as well before he remembers his dad’s stuff had all been stored in the garage.

So when he comes back to the garage, Mr. Stark was already hard at work, tools and cannibalized parts laid out on the workbench. The laptop was wired to the Iron Man suit, but it seems Mr. Stark was still working on the coding. Which was fair because running diagnostics on the suit was way beyond the programs Harley’s laptop had.

Harley made sure to be noisy and enter the man’s periphery before putting down his loot and saying something, “Here you go.”

“Thanks, kid.” Mr. Stark said absently, but doesn’t stop from rummaging through the tool box and typing on the laptop with one hand.

Harley stands to the side, watching for a while, but when it seems like the man had forgotten he was there, he rolls his eyes and grabs the plate of sandwich. Now that Mr. Stark’s full attention was on the coding, Harley just blocks the man’s sight with the food.

Mr. Stark blinks and stares up at him distractedly. He looked exhausted, bags under his eyes and stress lines more prominent, but he had a little bright-eyed look that only came from working on something you really liked despite the situation.

Was this how his mom saw him? Well, minus the stress lines, he guessed. Still, if so, Harley really didn’t know what to say to her after this. So of course he tries to emulate the way her face would twist expectantly, all stern and unflappable. It had always worked on him.

“You should eat.” And Harley put down the plate beside the man’s work area, knowing how annoying it was to have something else handed to him even if his hands were clearly occupied by something else.

It takes a couple more blinks before Mr. Stark reacts. When he did, the man moves the laptop away and takes the sandwich in hand. “Thanks, kid.” As if he hadn’t said that already before.

Harley makes a noise at the back of his throat and put the water bottle where the man can see it. Stubborn is, stubborn does. Harley knew how to deal with his kind. So far, Mr. Stark was responding well.

“You look like hell,” Harley said conversationally as he pulled up the first aid kit, raising an eyebrow at the man’s suspicious glance at it, “Y’know, like somebody dragged you all over town and you’re wearing nothing but the clothes on your back. Or a huge mountain troll decided to break into your bathroom and destroy it with its club so you had to stop it.”

Mr. Stark snorted and swallowed before replying, “That was specific. You always make analogies like that?”

“No,” Harley blinks, actually thinks about it, then, “probably. I’m not really sure, never thought of it that way before. So what happened?” Meanwhile, he was pulling out the things he needs from the kit, lining it out in the order he needs it.

“Eh, the usual.” Mr. Stark shrugged as he rapidly finished scarfing down the sandwich. “Invited a terrorist in my home for dinner, got blown up. No biggie.”

Harley thinks he might have cringed, “That’s stupid.”

There was a moment where Harley expected Mr. Stark to snap at him, but the man proved him wrong. “Yeah, well, not my brightest idea either.” Mr. Stark wiped his hands on his pants and eyed the medical supplies invading his work area. “Uh, you gonna move this, kid?”

“No,” Harley answered blithely, grabbing a clean rug and pouring alcohol over it. “Now sit still, mechanic. You look horrid.” If Mr. Stark noticed the out of place vocabulary, he doesn’t comment. Instead, the man did as asked, again surprising Harley.

Harley made sure to do his job fast, quickly dabbing a careful hand all over the wounds, making sure they were all clean and covered with ointment, before plastering on the bandaids. The ones along the man’s arms would need more attention.

“Are those-” Mr. Stark coughed as Harley dropped the package of bandaids back into the kit, “Do those bandaids really have Spongebob on it?”

Harley made to stare at the man’s face, suppressing his snickers and considered playing it off but decided not to. “Yeah. And,” Harley raises his voice when the engineer made a move to peel it off, “you can’t remove them or else I’ll just replace it with the ones with Barbie on them. We’ve got lots of that one.”

Mr. Stark rolled his eyes but muttered a sullen, “Fine.”

So maybe the man was humoring him. Harley wasn’t about to waste that opportunity, “Arms please.”

Mr. Stark presents it with a flourish that had Harley rolling his eyes. Eyeing the lacerations that were, truthfully, not gruesome nor many, Harley longed to just let his Magic do the work it’s itching to do but had to resign himself to doing it by hand. Trying to trust the man or not, Harley was in no way ready to reveal his Magic.

(Trust? Trust was okay. Trust is okay. The betrayal seemed so very, very far away now, but-)

Grabbing the forceps, Harley set to work on plucking away the left-over debris that the man hadn’t managed to remove. It was no time at all when Harley finishes, having had a lot of practice with bandaging wounds over the years (and lives). Non-threatening cuts were child’s play.

The mechanic frowns at his neatly bandaged arms before swerving his deeply analytical look at Harley. “You’re quite good at this.”

“Guess so.” Harley shrugged, packing away his things and dragging the laptop back in its place in front of the man. Discomfort curled at his gut as it always did when someone questions his abilities in this lifetime. “I got lots of practice.”

“Huh,” was all Mr. Stark said though the frown didn’t leave his face.

Harley pursed his lips and thinks of something to break the silence, “Is there anything I can help with?”

“Yeah, sure,” And just like that, the somber mood was gone, replaced with an overly bright smile that didn’t fool Harley one bit. “C’mere kid, I’ll introduce you to J.A.R.V.I.S.”

-0-

Much like it usually was during the holidays, Rose Hill is a bit more lively at night than it is during the day. Christmas lights spanned along rooftops and across streetlights. The light dusting of snow is only present at the gutters and canopies, allowing pedestrians and traffic to move in peace, though the drunks that would come out later are fair game.

Harley walked right beside a poorly disguised Mr. Stark—honestly, Harley could have done better, but it’s not like people are actively searching for the man, not when they think he’s dead—and leading them to Chad Davis’s old house. Well, now Harley is very curious and kind of wished he tried to snoop around more. Hindsight really is one of his greatest enemies.

“By the way,” Mr. Stark chattered about, “when you said your sister had a watch…”

Harley’s lip twitched, “Yeah?”

“I was kind of hoping for something a little more adult than that.”

Harley was unable to hold back his laughter—doesn’t really try to, actually savors it, because he really likes how it felt like at this moment—at the offended look Mr. Stark sent the plastic, pink watch. “She’s six! Anyway, it’s limited edition.” One of Harley’s more impulsive gifts to her, in fact, but she didn’t really have a use for watches. Not when she’s barely allowed to go outside.

“When can we talk about New York?” Harley asked, trying to keep the atmosphere light and it had been in his head for a while now. It was a neutral topic, right? So he’s befuddled with the billionaire’s response.

“Maybe never,” It was nonchalant, but was obviously snappish. “Relax about it.”

Harley’s brows furrowed and cast a glance at the engineer, “What about the Avengers? Can we talk about them?” Really, at this point, Harley was just so confused about this man. Obviously he wasn’t as self-centered as the media liked to paint him (they barely get anything right), but the thing is, Harley wasn’t good with people.

Harry had been raised with little (very, very little) emotional nurturing, and had suffered through a lot of emotional and verbal (and physical) abuse in his formative and most crucial years. He had been impulsive and angry (and self-sacrificing and generally stupid about his decisions) and broken down by the world.

Harrhan was a bit better, excellent at reading the most deceptive of actions but absolutely clueless at reacting to it properly and on his own (he’d stopped talking instead, had chosen to keep his silence well beyond what he could handle). Violence (and death, there had been so much death) had played a big role in his life, he thrived in it.

Being reborn as Harley Keener didn’t suddenly make it any better because now he actually had to care about how he reacts, how people would see him.

Years, decades of being part of the Black Order, of being Thanos’s child, had its own demands with emotional and psychological capacity, one that Harrhan had completely adapted to. There’s truth in the wisdom that it’s hard to unlearn what has been learned.

So yes, Harley Keener is pretty bad with people. Or, well, interacting with them. That suspected autism he’d managed to avoid being tacked on his name had to come from somewhere.

But this, now, as Harley Keener the human kid dealing with a man who seems to be as emotionally constipated as Harry Potter had been?

Tony Stark is confusing in most of the levels that matter. Hit and miss was the nicest way of putting it.

“I dunno. Later.” There’s finality in the man’s voice, pushing Harley away as if that would physically push away his problems. “Hey, kid, give me a little space.”

Harley sighed but complied. They make it to the site in silence, where Mr. Stark immediately started examining the wreckage that the other residents had taken to using as a memorial for those who were caught in the explosion. It’s curious, really, because Harley knew nothing of a bomb that would only leave the imprints of the people who died, like a very morbid silhouette representing death.

He’d long resolved that Harley Keener wouldn’t be too different from everyone. Harley had never seen reason to stand out. Not until a year ago, at least.

 “What’s the official story here?” Mr. Stark asked, “What happened?”

“I guess this guy named Chad Davis who used to live roundabouts.” Harley shrugged, making his way to the crater in the middle of all the mess and crouching down before it. “He won a bunch of medals in the army. And one day, folks said he went crazy and made, you know, a bomb. Then he blew himself up, right here.”

Mr. Stark closely studied the imprints on the walls, “Six people died, right?”

Harley nods, “Yeah.”

“Including Chad Davis.”

The man doesn’t need it, clearly thinking out loud, but Harley still responds, “Yeah, yeah.”

“Yeah…” Mr. Stark trailed off and went to crouch down right beside him. “That doesn’t make sense. Think about it. Six dead, only five shadows.”

Harley meets the man’s eyes, feels a flutter of something at the expectant look that meant Harley’s words and opinions and ideas mattered to what’s going on in the engineer’s head.

“Yeah.” Harley breaks his gaze and looks down at the crater, the something turning out to be pleasant. “People said these shadows are like the marks of souls going to heaven. Except the bomb guy. He went to hell, on account of he didn't get a shadow. That's why there's only five.”

“Do you buy that?”

“It’s what everyone says.” Harley shrugged, not actually giving his answer. His actual answer is more complicated, more… something that would come out of a crazy person’s mouth or an incredibly creative kid. It all boils down to no, they are wrong in every aspect of that tale.

“Hey Mr. Stark-”

“-Tony, kid. How many times have we talked about this?”

“Okay, mechanic,” Harley puffs out a breath, admitting to himself that he was maybe stalling, but he really needs information. To know what the Avengers know. “Are they… coming back? The aliens?”

“Maybe.” Mr. Stark’s answer was abrupt, expression approaching a panic. “Can we- can we not talk about this?”

“Yeah but,” Harley tried, really, but this? New York is such a big concern and once he’d opened his mouth, it was kind of hard to put back the stops. “Do the Avengers think that? Shouldn’t we be preparing for it? Why is it that everyone seems to think it was nothing?”

“You- I-” Mr. Stark let out a harsh breath, pinches the bridge of his nose in agitation. “Remember what I told you, that I have an anxiety issue?”

Oh.

Harley was all kinds of socially inept, but he likes to think that he wasn’t entirely insensitive. Not when there’s a lot of landmines to tiptoe around with his mom and Emma and school (and himself, sometimes). He has more self-control than that, mostly.

So, Tony Stark trigger warnings include New York or the Avengers or aliens in general.

Just to be clear, “Yeah. Which one shouldn’t I talk about?”

“How about-” Mr. Stark takes a deep breath and tried to regulate his breathing but it was obvious he can’t. “How about we drop this subject, all of it, and don’t talk about it. Great? Great.”

“Okay, okay- okay,” Harley was sort of starting to freak out too. He’d never dealt with anyone going into a panic attack. “D’you need a plastic bag to breath into?”

“No.”

“Uh, medication? Do you have medication?” Harley always carried with him his and his sister’s medication in case of emergencies, though he doesn’t think complera would help anyone here. Ritalin would just be counterproductive.

“No.”

Harley breathes in, tried to think fast, but blurts out, “Do you have PTSD?”

Mr. Stark shakes his head, “I don’t think so.”

“Uh, okay- just-” Harley takes a deep breath, shifts so he was kneeling in front of the man, “Just breathe, okay? Just focus on breathing, Tony.” Yeah, as if Mr. Stark wasn’t already doing that.

Harley absolutely sucked at this.

Thankfully, the man does eventually calm down, if running to a corner and shoving snow on his face counted as calming down. It made Harley feel bad (sympathetic? A touch empathetic?), seeing the proud man fall apart like that.

(Because of New York-

Because of you.)

Of course, that was when EJ decided to show up.

Harley lets out a deep exasperated sigh when he heard the telltale sound of the ATV EJ and his band of friends used. Really, they’re bullies, but Harley was more annoyed than anything whenever they see him as their target. The sounds come closer and-

Yup.

Now Harley’s drenched with snow.

“Hey Harley,” EJ called out mockingly, all arrogant rich-boy in a backwater town, “Who’s that, your boyfriend?”

Harley spares a glance at the still-pulling-himself-together Mr. Stark, before sending a smirk at the other boy, “Are you jealous? I mean, everyone knows you have a thing for Kyle.”

EJ and his sycophant Kyle rear back in disgust.

“But that could just be me.” Harley shrugged, his smirk shifting into an innocent smile. Honestly, they’ve been at this game since first grade. Harley had dealt with a lot of beings much, much more intimidating than the school’s top dog bullies.

EJ actually moves to spit at Harley before revving up his ATV and making a quick exit, his sycophant following right behind him.

Harley watched them go before turning his attention back to Mr. Stark, “You okay now, mechanic?”

He gets another face full of ice for his trouble.

“Your fault. You spazzed me out.” Mr. Stark accused, then, “And what was that with that boy?”

Harley shrugged, “That was EJ and his friend Kyle. They like picking on other kids. Anyway, ‘s not a problem.”

“Okay,” Mr. Stark took the dismissiveness as it is, “back to business. Where were we? The guy who died. Relatives? Mom? Mrs. Davis, where is she?”

Harley doesn’t even really have to think of his response for this one, “Where she always is.”

-0-

Mr. Stark told him to go home, but really, what the man didn’t know wouldn’t hurt him, so Harley stuck around as Mr. Stark made his way to the pub where Mrs. Davis usually spent her time in. Harley had more than enough experience to know that having backup was way better than going alone, especially with Mr. Stark’s current circumstance.

So when chaos erupted with the pub as the start of it, Harley was prepared. (His mom was on the other side of town, thankfully.)

And okay, so he wasn’t expecting human lava lamps or anything (the universe at large catered to a lot of different creatures, but this is weird because he’s on earth), but he managed to distract the man with the gun from aiming properly at Mr. Stark.

Harley hides among the scrambling people, losing sight of the engineer as the man broke into one of the establishments. He cast out his senses, using Magic to keep track of Mr. Stark and the human lava lamp woman, meanwhile following Mr. Bald lava lamp guy as the man leisurely made his way to the water tank.

Realizing the man’s aim, Harley apparated to a corner street that hid him from the man’s view. Harley was just about to execute a plan of action (kill him, he’s going to kill this man who dared harm one of the few touched by Death) against Mr. Bald lava lamp guy when an explosion took his attention away.

A brief check proved that Mr. Stark was alive, but lady lava lamp didn’t survive.

And then-

“EJ!”

Harley startles and whipped his head around. He doesn’t see anything except trees and the distant shapes of rooftops, but he does hear the familiar sound of the ATV’s engine. Mr. Stark was clearly trying to get the attention of the idiot and Harley was torn between going there or simply taking out the threat.

(Why was he hesitating? Hesitation meant punishments but-

It’s different now, right? Hesitation isn’t punished, but hesitation still meant something bad.)

In the end, Harley cast his Magic to protect Mr. Stark and watched with fascination as the water tank came down, bringing down with it a lot of the flimsy structures as a tidal wave of water doused the surrounding area. It was Mr. Stark who he came here for, after all.

“EJ!” Mr. Stark shouted as soon as everything settled down, finding the man’s leg trapped among the debris but thankfully unhurt. “Where you at, kid? If you can hear me, make a noise!”

With his attention elsewhere and breath caught somewhere between an inhale and exhale, Harley was less surprised when he was grabbed by Mr. Bald. He tests the man’s grip, finding it strong. Very, very strong actually, which was bad because Harley’s very human body was incapable of the great feats of strength required to break away from this grip without maiming anybody or, you know, outing himself as more than human or something.

Mr. Stark didn’t have to see Harley ripping out a man’s arm. Or burning it, or flaying him alive, or whatever his Magic deemed to be adequate.

(Mr. Stark didn’t have to look at Harley with that sinking look of horror and fear and suspicion.)

“Anyway,” Harley was manhandled to sit at the lava lamp man’s lap. “Hey, kid, what do you like for Christmas?” Harley snarls at the man as whatever it was that powered that heat made itself known.

Harley looks at Mr. Stark whose eyes are wide and horrified and scared. And it’s-

No. Focus.

“Mr. Stark,” Harley babbled, mind running a mile a minute at what he can do to get out of this without undue violence. “I am so sorry.”

“No, no, no,” Mr. Bald said, arms gripping tighter. “I think he was trying to say, ‘I want my goddamn file.’”

“It’s not your fault, kid,” Mr. Stark spoke, but Harley didn’t believe him. “Remember what I told you about bullies?”

Harley stopped, almost hit himself with that oversight. He nods at the engineer, fished out the stun grenade, aimed it as close to the man’s face as possible, and activated it without hesitation. Lava lamp lets go and Harley makes a run for it, hearing the other thing bullies might have meant when Mr. Stark said it.

“You like that, Westworld?”

Harley doesn’t hear any more from Mr. Stark as Harley ducked down to where he last felt EJ’s presence from the pieces of galvanized iron sheets the other boy was swept to and trapped in.

Harley huffs, “Am I really doing this saving people thing again?”

Nobody answered him, but he dives down anyway.

(He didn’t want Mr. Stark to be disappointed.)

He drags the unconscious boy up to the surface, quickly calling an alive and breathing Mr. Stark’s attention. Harley is surprised to see Mrs. Davis, but brushes it away when they help him up.

Laying the other boy down on reasonably dry ground, Mrs. Davis quickly tried to perform CPR, but EJ still wasn’t breathing.

Mr. Stark blurted out, “Okay, I got an idea.” Which really should have triggered the alarm for potentially stupid ideas Harley had developed over time.

Harley watched, blinking as Mr. Stark fiddled with wires and-

And his electromagnet that was attached to his chest.

Need, the presence hissed, important.

“What are you-” Harley was cut off when Mr. Stark puts the reactor down on EJ’s chest and touched the wires on it, creating an electrical shock that even Harley felt, and he was sitting a fair foot away.

Mr. Stark does it again even through the obvious pain when EJ still didn’t breathe.

Stop.

Harley eyed the man and the freaking hole in his chest.

The third time, Harley charges his Magic alongside it (feels something familiar and then brushing it away), swearing to every supreme being that if this didn’t stop now, Harley was just going to have to risk sacrificing one life for another. There’s an unbelievable wave of relief that coursed through him when EJ coughed out water and gasped a breath.

But Harley’s attention already moved from his schoolmate to the man who had risked his very life for some stupid boy. So when the man suddenly stilled, pale and pained like a major part of his body stopped working, Harley moved quickly, ripping the reactor (an arc reactor?) from Mr. Stark’s grip and slipping it back into where it should be.

The wide-eyed look of relief on Mr. Stark’s eyes as he playfully knocked Harley’s head told him everything he needed to know.

(Harley didn’t believe in heroes. He only believed in sacrifices.)

Chapter Text

ARC 2: CHAPTER 9
Homonoia

-0-

Mrs. Davis was kind enough to bundle Harley up in clothes that had questionable origins. It was nice. It’s been a while since Harley had encountered such a gesture. And he’s dripping wet and can’t exactly spell himself dry.

(Harley remembers a woman with green skin, weary and sharp but with soft eyes.

“Compassion for compassion,” She says, holding up a hand that he reluctantly takes. “It’s so rare to see in this forsaken place.”)

EJ was still understandably shaken by his experience and was just sitting there in Mrs. Davis’s comforting embrace. Which was odd, but Harley knew better than to judge anything. He only knew EJ when the other boy was being a jerk.

Mr. Stark had gone somewhere after making a brief confirmation that they were okay, so Harley needed to go find the man before he disappears.

But before that-

“Hey, EJ,” Harley awkwardly pats the other boy’s shoulder, lets his Magic weave warmth into the pullover Mrs. Davis had put around EJ. The other boy opened his mouth to say something but Harley wasn’t about to let him, “Your ass was saved by Tony Stark—and me I guess, and Mrs. Davis too—but yes, the Tony Stark. Be grateful about it.”

Harley left to the shocked “What?” of the other boy, feeling amused by the indulgence in his own pettiness. He’s confident EJ wasn’t about to tattle, not when the world at large thinks Tony Stark is dead. No one would believe him. Maybe he won’t even believe Harley.

If he did blab, Harley already had a solution. He had about more than a dozen solutions. All of which were decidedly not legal, but they weren’t harmful. Mostly. Harley wasn’t mean.

Harley finds Mr. Stark back out in the streets, a white folder in hand, and hurried to catch up.

“So where are you gonna go now?” Harley asked, curiosity flaring, but at the same time sated because of what happened in the past hour. It wasn’t enough to have adrenaline pumping through his veins, but it was a considerably different pace from the past ten years.

(A part of him still longed for the thrill, to seek the adventure, but a larger part wanted to wait and see.)

Mr. Stark sniffed, pointedly closing the file he had been scanning through. “Classified.”

Harley’s nose wrinkled, “Well, we got human lava lamps now and I do watch the news. And, the suit is in my garage.”

“Yeah,” Mr. Stark draws out the syllable but nods agreeably before sending a close-eyed, overly bright smile that portrayed sarcasm. “And I thought I told you to go home.”

Yeah,” Harley shot back with equal amount of drawl, rolling his eyes and twisting his mouth enough for it to be called a pout, “I will. Just-” Harley sighed and fixed the man with a stern glare. “Take care of yourself, Tony.”

(No one chooses to help the self-sacrificing, always left behind to think that they’re doing the right thing and choosing the only option when it’s not.

Raised like a pig for slaughter, manipulated to be the lamb-)

“I’m Iron Man, kid,” Mr. Stark snipes, all confidence and bravado, but compared to that press conference a few years ago? It was as if the man was convincing himself just as much as he was convincing Harley. “I can take care of myself.”

Harley, of course, wasn’t about to be tight-lipped with his disbelief, “And that went so well, didn’t it?”

“Hey, hey,” Mr. Stark flicked Harley’s forehead. “That was a one-off, you brat. Stop rubbing it in my nose. Everyone makes mistakes. I’m fixing mine now.”

“You’re always doing that.” Harley voiced out, brows furrowed as Mr. Stark opens the car belonging to Mr. Bald lava lamp.

Mr. Stark pauses, car door separating the two of them, and looks at him with confusion, “Doing what?”

Fixing,” Harley emphasizes, hoping the man would get his point, but to be honest, Harley himself wasn’t sure what his point is. At least, it isn’t something Harley had fully figured out yet. “You always say that.”

Mr. Stark looks away to put his stuff into the car, clearly avoiding looking at Harley, “I’m a mechanic, that’s what I do.”

There’s a moment where Harley mulls over his response and Mr. Stark takes that time to enter the vehicle and start the engine. When Harley has his words ready at the tip of his tongue, he had to knock on the car window in annoyance.

Mr. Stark rolls the car window down and was about to say something, but Harley cuts him off, “You build things too. You create.” It’s a half-concrete thought that which its context still eluded him, but still stands true. Harley had spent hours watching the man work his own brand of Magic with the subpar materials Harley owned. “Not just fixing.”

(Because fixing meant something had to be broken.)

The sound that Mr. Stark let out could either be derisive or strangled, “Sure, whatever, kid.”

Harley notices how uncomfortable Mr. Stark looked and, just this once, in a remarkable display that Harley Keener wasn’t completely insensitive and unnecessarily blunt, chooses to let the subject slide.

“Thanks, by the way,” Harley said instead. “For saving me earlier.”

Mr. Stark let out a dismissive snort and fixes him with the most serious look he’d seen from the man, “You did good. You handled yourself well there, brat.”

Despite how juvenile his reactions had been, Harley wouldn’t deny the feeling of warmth that curled around his gut at the praise.

(“You have done well, my child,” The gleam in Thanos’s eyes matched the pride in his words-)

“Yeah,” was all he could manage.

Mr. Stark smiles, this one soft and small and genuine, “Bye, kid. I’ll keep in contact. Guard the suit!”

“With my life,” Harley says with as much childish determination as he could. (He’s telling the truth, he finds out.) “And don’t think I didn’t notice you removing the bandaids, mechanic. Next time, Barbie. Mark my words.”

Mr. Stark did an odd wave before driving away.

Harley watches him go, feeling the cold seep in just a little bit before his Magic chased it away.

There’s a spark that catches his eye, the sound of wires short-circuiting, and he turns, sight meeting with the dangling, half-roasted body of lava lamp lady that hung on the electrical lines like some demented halloween twist to Christmas. A cursory glance around shows Harley the destruction wrought and the cautiously emerging townspeople.

With a sigh, Harley set to work, Magic undulating and pulsing all over the place like a curious cat, invincible and most powerful in this world of humans and primitive technology. This is the first time he’d let it out like this in this body and it took a few trials and errors, but he gets the hang of it.

(And if some stuff went missing? Harley can’t really fault himself and his Magic.)

Rose Hill, Tennessee was an uninteresting town in the middle of nowhere and it’s meant to stay like that.

-0-

When Harley made it home, it was a few minutes before sunrise.

He checks on J.A.R.V.I.S’s progress, finding that he had a few more hours to wait for before the system Mr. Stark created needed human intervention, and then jumping into the shower to wash off the grime he had accumulated on the trip back. Harley resolved to return the clothes Mrs. Davis had loaned him once whatever Mr. Stark had been working on is finished.

Only slightly tired even without sleep, Harley sets to start his daily routine earlier than usual. It would be a waste to try to sleep only to have to wake up an hour and a half later. He makes breakfast, eats, and leaves Emma’s and his mom’s portion in the microwave.

There’s not much else to do, so Harley trudges into the garage to put back a semblance of organization to the mess they left last night.

-0-

He only realizes he fell asleep when the chirping noise of a notification breaks the silence.

Harley rubbed his eyes and fought against the cobwebs of sleep to make his way to where they set up the Iron Man suit. The screens of the laptop and improvised secondary monitor flashed. Harley squints at it and swivelled his gaze to the armor.

Right.

Tony Stark. Iron Man. Some lava lamp guys.

With a sigh, Harley follows the instructions Mr. Stark had made sure was burned in his memory, reconnecting wires and entering codes that barely made sense to him. Harley may be a genius, but the man who had been instructing him was under duress and couldn’t explain anything other than giving him strings of code and hardware instructions to memorize.

Now, he’s just kinda trying to untangle the web of codes with the rudimentary knowledge he possessed. Hardware and software are two different things and Harley had focused on the former. He’d look it up later, make himself get well acquainted with this stuff, but Harley had something else to do for now. Such as finishing the bag of candies Mr. Stark had told him to eat.

Odd man.

It takes a few hours, the morning sun rolling over into late afternoon, but Harley gets it done before the deadline Mr. Stark had set. He had only gone through one bowl of candies, which is great because any more and he’d be bouncing all over the place. As it was, he’s jittery and hungry for more substantial food.

Which reminds him of lunch and mom and Emma.

Harley jerks from his seat, nearly toppling the chair with his haste. He doesn’t so much as run as speed-walk to the house, worry for the only family he had left seeping into his bones. He’s probably—definitely—overreacting and he’ll find both of them fine—mom is a functioning adult—but Harley didn’t spend half of his current life for nothing.

The faint sound of the TV playing some program had Harley walking straight into the living room. And, yes, mom and Emma are fine.

Both of them are asleep, cuddled close on the couch, evidence of their meal still laid out on the coffee table. Like this, mom didn’t look any less ill, but the lines on her waxen face was smoothed out just a bit to show how relaxed she is. Emma is curled into herself and burrowed in the space between mom’s arm and the couch.

Harley sighed, relieved, before he lets himself smile. Quietly, he padded over to the TV and shut it off, seeing a glimpse of a rerun of some cartoon he’d long lost track of.

“Harley? That you?”

“Yeah,” Harley takes the plates, careful not to let it clatter. He looks at his mom, her eyelids heavy with sleep and exhaustion. “You should sleep some more. I’ll take care of it.”

“Y’sure?” Her words slurred, but she doesn’t move from her position. She’s falling asleep again. He knows she’s always tired now.

(Death hung like a shroud around her, intangible and unseen and unreal, fluttering and caressing and whispering around them.

“Come,” It croons to the air. “Come, child. Peace.”)

“‘Course.” Harley answered, snapping his gaze away, already knowing that whatever he says wouldn’t be heard. “I’ll be in the garage if you need me.”

Mom surprised him with a reply, “Always are. You don’t need to keep on doing this, y’know.”

(Of course he does. No one else would.)

“Uh-huh,” Harley kisses her hair and doing the same to Emma. “Now, go rest.”

Mom touches his cheek, but it falls back on her lap like it weighed a ton. “M’sorry, baby.”

She always is.

He leaves them there and makes his way to the kitchen, washing the dishes before making himself a sandwich that he brings back with him to the garage. JARVIS would be up online in a few moments.

Just as he finished eating, a whirring noise called his attention.

System recalibration complete,” came a male voice with a posh british accent from the Iron Man suit. “Initializing internal scans… Scan complete. Good afternoon, sir.

Harley stared at the suit in wonder, feeling a niggle of nostalgia at the accent, “Hey, Jarvis. It’s great to finally meet you.” He bites back the british lull that threatened to slip into his unpracticed, American tongue. It’s been a long, long time since he last heard that accent, but the faint impressions of memories it dug up wouldn’t rest no matter what he tried.

There’s a moment of silence when J.A.R.V.I.S. lagged with hesitance (or other more complex processes Harley doesn’t know about). “I’m afraid I cannot extend the same familiarity with you, young sir.

“Oh,” Harley rubs his nose with embarrassment. “Right. I’m Harley Keener. Mr. Stark left you with me so he can take down the bad guys while you’re recovering.” Then, because Harley was really, really curious, “Can you really pilot the suit on your own?”

I see. Well met, then, Mr. Keener.” J.A.R.V.I.S. responded. “As for your question, I’m not sure how much I am allowed to disclose without sir’s explicit permission.

Harley had already guessed that anyway, so he nods, “Okay.” And then goes back to scan through the programs that continuously logged data. He’s getting the hang of it and so close to figuring out the patterns, it would be such a shame if Harley didn’t continue working on it.

...forgive me for my observation, but it seems like-

Harley cuts him off, mind absorbing and processing information faster than keeping track of his behavior, “I’m taking your rejection well?”

Yes. Children your age tend to be more curious when faced with something... 'cool', I believe, is the term.

“I’m just not normal, then.” Harley fires back, frowning at the line of code that proved the pattern he’s piecing together wrong and ignoring what the A.I. is implying. “Hey, could you help me make sense of this stuff? I don’t like working with something I’m not entirely sure of. And this is you I’m kind of working on now. Mr. Stark trusted me with this. I don’t want to do something wrong.”

Of course, Mr. Keener.

Harley sends a quick smile at the direction of the suit even though he knows J.A.R.V.I.S. won’t be able to see it anyway.

(There’s something about smiling that makes him feel better about it.)

The next few hours are spent with Harley elbow-deep in learning an entire computer language that J.A.R.V.I.S. just happened to possess a data packet of, while the A.I. continued running and adding on the tracking algorithms Mr. Stark needed for his not-really-classified mission.

Harley blinks as a thought entered his mind. It’s a test of impulse control that Harley easily loses. “Hey, Jarvis?”

Yes, Mr. Keener?

“Wanna play a small, harmless prank on Mr. Stark?” Then Harley squints. “And didn’t I say stop calling me by my last name? They only call me that in school.”

J.A.R.V.I.S.’s voice is all mechanical, but Harley was onto him, “What does this prank entail, Mr. Keener?

Harley rolls his eyes as J.A.R.V.I.S. ignored his attempt at making him call Harley by his preferred name again, “Oh, you know, just a tiny glitch in your speech drive that doesn’t really exist.” Which was vague, but J.A.R.V.I.S. would know what to do.

System error detected,” J.A.R.V.I.S. reported instead of answering him. “Minor damage found in the speech drive.

J.A.R.V.I.S. wasn’t just an A.I.

“I’m sorry Jarvis,” Harley responded with a smile as his attention went back to his appointed not school-related homework. “I don’t know how to repair it.”

Quite alright, young sir.”

It’s early evening when their rhythm is broken by the phone ringing. Harley picks it up, dropping a piece of candy in his mouth, mind a haze of patterns and languages and sugar-induced spike of split attention.

Harley, tell me what’s happening,” Mr. Stark’s voice came from the speaker. “Give me a full report.

“Yeah.” Harley absently plops another piece in his mouth. “I’m still eating that candy. Do you want me to keep eating it?”

How much have you had?” Mr. Stark didn’t really sound worried.

Harley blinks and stares at the bowl of candies. “Two or three bowls.”

Can you still see straight?” Okay, so there’s concern in the engineer’s voice now.

Harley stares at the glaring screen of his laptop, switching the window he’s working on for the one where Mr. Stark’s algorithms are running. “Sort of.”

That means you’re fine.” Harley nods at the man’s words. “Give me Jarvis.

Harley puts him in loud speaker and places the phone at the crevice between the suit’s chest and face plates. J.A.R.V.I.S.’s speakers aren’t necessarily there, but that’s the first place Harley thinks can hold the phone without it falling.

Jarvis, how are we?

It’s totally fine, sir.” J.A.R.V.I.S. responded. “I seem to do quite well for a stretch, and then at the end of the sentence I say the wrong cranberry.

Harley grins in amusement but remains silent.

And, sir, you were right.” J.A.R.V.I.S. bulldozed over whatever Mr. Stark might say. “Once I factored in available AIM downlink facilities I was able to pinpoint the Mandarin's broadcast signal.

What are we talking?” Mr. Stark asked. “Far East, Europe, North Africa, Iran, Pakistan, Syria? Where is it?

Actually, sir, it’s in Miami.

There’s a moment of silence on Mr. Stark’s end before the man speaks again. “Okay, kid, I'm gonna have to walk you through rebooting Jarvis's speech drive, but not right now. Harley, where is he really? Just look on the screen and tell me where it is.

There’s a little nudge of guilt at the disbelief Mr. Stark displayed because of his prank so he types a “sorry” on his laptop. J.A.R.V.I.S. helpfully flashes the visuals in acceptance of the apology, “Um, it does say Miami, Florida.”

Okay. First things first, I need the armor.” Mr. Stark said, a hint of urgency in his tone, and J.A.R.V.I.S. switches the screen to display the suit’s statistics before Harley can. “Where are we at with it?

“Uh, it’s not charging?” Harley hears the tires screeching all the way over to where he’s sitting and hastens to correct himself. “Uh, no, no it’s just- it’s charging! The power source just can’t reach what the suit needs.”

Mr. Stark is breathing heavily on the other end, and Harley hopes he didn’t just cause an accident in a highway or something.

Are you alright, sir?” J.A.R.V.I.S. inquired worriedly, before he continues to explain the circumstances clearer than Harley can. “It is charging, sir, but the power source is questionable. It may not succeed in revitalising the Mark 42.

What’s questionable about electricity?” The amount of panic and incredulity loaded in that question had Harley sitting up straight and pulling the phone to his ear. “All right? It’s my suit, and I can’t… I’m not gonna… I don’t wanna…

“Tony?” Harley calls out with his own frantic urgency, hearing the gasping breaths the man takes. “Are you having another attack? I didn’t even mention New York.”

Right, and you just said it-” There’s a hitch in between Mr. Stark’s words, his tone strangled and breathless. “By name- while denying having said it! God, what am I gonna do?

“Okay, um, Christ,” Harley muttered, fingers tapping on air with the tension that coiled between his shoulders, still without information on what to do in this kind of situation. “Just breathe. Really, just breathe.” That hadn’t worked before so it wouldn’t work now, but Harley didn’t know what else to say.

Would a distraction work? A temporary solution?

“Okay. Okay. Tony, remember what I said before? About fixing and stuff?” Harley rambles, coming into the conclusion that offering what help he can would be better than just telling someone to breathe like they can’t do it by themselves. “You’re a mechanic, right?”

Right.” The man finally responds coherently and Harley let out a quiet sigh of relief.

Prolong it, make him answer some more. “You said so.”

Yes I did.” There. That sounded way better than the blind panic the man had been spinning himself into.

“You make stuff, you create.” Harley continued, finally letting his hand fall onto his lap and twisting his seat to face the suit. “Why don’t you just build something?”

There’s a moment of silence on the other end.

Okay.” It was a simple statement, but Harley can hear the confidence back in the man’s voice. “Thanks, kid.

Mr. Stark ends the call.

“Jarvis?” Harley places the phone back on the table, pinching and rubbing his fingers together in agitation. “Pull up everything you can on how to deal with panic attacks. Clearly, Mr. Stark needs it.”

Of course, Mr. Keener.

“Save the data in your mainframe, you’ll need it more than I do. Send me links for it, though.” Harley didn’t like being unprepared. He fidgets some more, hesitant on acting on the conclusions he had drawn before. The suit needed a more reliable source of energy, and electricity from the rigged car battery wasn’t working as well as they’d hoped.

Really, the only viable source would have had to have similar energy output as an arc reactor, which they didn’t have the materials for or the time to create.

That left only one option.

Harley stared at the suit, mind running through several scenarios at once, calculating possibilities and consequences.

(Planning leads to victory. Without it is to welcome the possibility of failure.)

“Another thing, Jarvis.” Harley pushed himself up and away from the chair, standing beside the armor. “What do you say about measuring some energy levels to match with what the suit needs?”

You cannot possibly be suggesting an alternative source of energy, young sir.” J.A.R.V.I.S. responded, a hint of bafflement in his tone. “The amount of time it would require to procure materials, let alone generate enough energy at such a short notice is impossible.”

“Not impossible, Jarvis.” Harley started sending tiny tendrils of Magic to the reactor of the suit. Power supplies are easy. “Just a trade secret you’re not allowed to ever breathe a word to anyone. Not unless you really need to.”

-0-

The next day, Harley watches the Iron Man suit fly in the crisp early morning, a grin stretching across his lips.

Good luck, Merchant of Death, Harley thinks. You’ll need it in the years to come.

(Harley puts loyalty second to none, and family above all.

War?

War puts everything into a certain perspective. Harley had already lost too much to waste what he has and what he can have.)

Chapter Text

ARC 2: CHAPTER 10
Aporia

-0-

The following days were significantly less exciting than that fateful day Mr. Stark decided to drop by.

Christmas came and went; small thoughtful gifts were exchanged, a festive dinner cooked, an entire day spent lounging together on the sofa while Emma played with her new dolls. New year passed, celebrated with plastic trumpets and glow sticks Harley had enchanted with Magic, and still, Harley hadn’t heard a word from the man.

It wasn’t that Harley was expecting something, just that it would have been nice to hear if Mr. Stark had been successful or not.

Sure, the Mandarin had been caught, the president saved from some such kidnapping, and Harley had even seen a glimpse of Tony Stark in the news before mom changed channels, but to hear it from the man himself would relieve the lingering worry in his chest.

Harley would admit that he had grown attached to the man. It’s the kind that kept Harley up late at night with an odd feeling of restlessness and an urge that he couldn’t decipher. It sent his Magic into a frenzy that had it jumpy and easier to call into the surface.

Harley thinks it’s the worry. A part of him thinks it’s more than that.

(We’re connected.)

Sometimes, he missed the almost daunting presence that would whisper the things he needed to Know. Now, it remains silent unless he really needed it, its influence ultimately limited by his human body.

Instead, Harley distracted himself with tinkering in the garage with the new materials he managed to get a hold of and that his Magic deemed interest in, interspersed with little breaks consisting of spending time with his mom and little Emma.

And then it was the first day of school again.

Harley went about his business as usual; speaking with a group of his peers, laughing with them and sharing stories, sneaking glances of mocking disbelief and jest, trying to keep still in class and end up fidgeting with anything and everything within reach.

But for all that he smiles, for all that he laughs and the trouble he gets into but never gets caught, Harley felt detached.

Like he doesn’t belong.

(The thing was, no matter what life he lived, what body he’s in, what name he uses, Harley is still too different. Too burdened, too experienced, too mature, too jaded. Harley tried to not let it spill out of him, to not let it bleed into what they expected Harley should be.

And they believed him.

But he’s left lonely and alone and barely keeping his head above water.)

Because he never did.

-0-

Then he comes home to find his garage tricked out and remodeled.

Maybe not alone, Harley thinks, eyes wide in shock and wonder and excitement, chest tight with an emotion brimming with so much positivity and happiness that it felt like he was in an impossible dream, as he reverently picked up the piece of expensive paper that stood in the middle of everything.

Your pal, The Mechanic.

It’s an odd, grand gesture, completely unnecessary and unexpected and wonderful.

But the most important and precious and priceless of them all?

The secure communication line left open in the new computer system.

-0-

“Hey, Mechanic,” Harley greets as the video call finally patched through. This was his fifth try in the last week, and while it was nice that J.A.R.V.I.S. picks up the calls and Harley can choose to talk to him instead, Harley had been itching to finally talk to Mr. Stark and thank him properly.

Harley knew Mr. Stark was a busy man, so it was fine for him to wait. Harley’s just another kid, after all.

Kid.” Mr. Stark looked exhausted even through the camera, but he’s got a smirk tilting his lips. He also looked lighter, a little bit brighter, better than what he looked when he came to Rose Hill. For one, he wore a sharp business suit instead of tattered clothes and looked to have just come out of a meeting. “You got all the stuff there?

“Yeah,” Harley grins, feeling the worry unknot little by little. “Thanks, really. You didn’t have to do it.”

Don’t worry about it.” Mr. Stark waved a hand dismissively, a flicker of something bleak flashed through his expression before it was wiped away by a grimace. “And, hey, no offense, but your garage really needed that upgrade. I can’t believe you’ve been using those ancient tools.

“Well,” Harley snorts, filing away the nuances of the man. “Not everyone is a billionaire like you.”

I know.” Mr. Stark said it with such confidence and arrogance that it seemed more like a habit. “Not everyone is as great as I am.

Harley raised an eyebrow, unperturbed. “Whatever you say.” Then he squints, leaning forward to the screen. “Wait.” Harley ignored the what from the billionaire and continued his scrutiny. Narrowing his eyes on the partially unbuttoned shirt, Harley tried to determine what bothered his cursory glance at the man.

Gone.

“Where’s your arc reactor?” Harley finally asked, confusion mixed with the returned feeling of worry. The importance of the reactor to the man’s life had been glaringly obvious in the short time they’d spent together.

Mr. Stark startled, hand flying up to his chest reflexively. “I have no idea what you’re talking about.

“Not gonna work on me, mechanic.” Harley crossed his arms and leaned back in his chair, doing his best to show how unimpressed he is. Which would have looked ridiculous with this body, but Harley doesn’t care at the moment. “I can always ask Jarvis. He’d tell me everything I wanted to know.”

Mr. Stark maintains his denial by raising an equally unimpressed eyebrow and not answering.

Mr. Keener has a point, sir.” J.A.R.V.I.S. says either in the background or directly to the speakers. “You have-

Okay, okay, fine,” Mr. Stark sighed, more for show than anything, and pinned Harley with a look. “How did you even know about that?

Harley shrugged, “The reactor? Your clothes. Jarvis? I asked. But you are okay, right?”

Nosy brats,” Mr. Stark muttered sullenly under his breath, but he probably knows the mic still caught it. “You don’t even really need to know. I don’t need to explain myself to you.” There’s reprimand in the man’s tone, but it’s as much a confirmation as it is a scolding.

“I’m curious.” Harley gestured with his hand. “And worried.”

Mr. Stark makes a confused face. “Huh.

Harley thinks he recognizes that confusion. “C’mon, mechanic. We may have met, like, a few weeks ago, but I’m free to worry about who I want to worry about.” It’s the best phrasing Harley can put it in a way that the engineer won’t snap back into defensiveness.

It takes a few (barely there) moments for Mr. Stark to form a response, for the man to work through surprise without showing he’s surprised, “You’re weird, kid.

“And you’re old.” Harley shot back just because he’d concluded that Mr. Stark wasn’t one for serious conversations. Maybe he can get better at this socializing thing if he takes this systematic hit and miss approach?

Probably not. He’s getting even better at tip toeing over landmines though.

Brat.” Mr. Stark didn’t look too insulted so Harley counts it as a win. “So what have you been doing with your new toys?

Here, Harley grins and lets himself be lost in schematics and circuitry and motors and engines. He cautiously basks in the ease of their conversation, allows himself to relax into a sort of new cadence that revolved around mechanics and creating with someone else.

(He doesn’t just destroy. Harley Keener is a builder, he’s a maker of things that can do many  and serve others, he can fix things just like he’d been fixed. Broken and falling apart, and built back up so differently yet still the same.

Harley Keener is a mechanic—a fixer, a builder—not a savior nor a monster.)

Maybe not alone, was the echo of his traitorous thoughts.

-0-

When Harley woke up in the middle of the night, chest tight and Magic sizzling underneath his skin, he realizes it wasn’t just the worry.

It was a call. It was the warning for what was coming, the cry for his attention that flits under and above his senses. It was the presence turning to his Magic to let him Know.

Death had always been a looming presence, but this time, It lets him Know what It will take.

(“Peace.”)

-0-

Harley is eleven when Amelia Keener died, a smile on her lips that shouldn’t be there.

-0-

“She was so sad,” Emma says, one hand held in Harley’s and the other fidgeting at the hem of her black dress. “Mom always cried herself to sleep, y’know?”

Harley knows. He’d been there with her for a long, long time. “Yeah. She was. She did.”

They had her body cremated, urn sealed and buried at the graveyard and not a columbarium. Harley thinks of the irony of ashes and fire, thinks of how his mom’s death should be natural but isn’t.

“Am I going to be like her?” Emma’s voice was soft, strained, but she’s not crying. “Dead?”

Harley’s heart skips a beat, his hand gripping Emma’s tighter. He looks down at her, at the way her little shoulders slump, at the way her eyes looked older than it should on such an innocent face (Harley knows his is worse, but he hides it better).  He feels the cautioning coldness around her, the presence looming over her lovingly.

He taps his finger on her wrist, a gesture he’d always used to comfort, and contemplates lying. “Yes. But not like mom.”

He can’t.

Emma pulls herself closer to him, burying her face into his shirt. “Okay.” Like he didn't just say she'd die.

Harley raises a hand, pats her head haltingly, trying and failing to search for guilt or sympathy or loss. There’s nothing.

(You can’t mourn what you’ve already mourned a long time ago.)

“Let’s go.” Harley whispers instead. “Mrs. Davis is waiting for us.”

-0-

Good evening, Mr. Keener,” J.A.R.V.I.S. greets after a few seconds of waiting. “How may I be of assistance?

“Hi, J.” Harley greets back, fiddling with the sheets of paper that was the homework packets the school had given him for his week of absence. He’d finished most of it already at Mrs. Davis’s insistence. Harley had obeyed, not wanting to be a burden to the old lady who had taken them in. “Is Mr. Stark busy?”

I’ll notify sir.

Leaning back in his chair, Harley let his eyes wander the entire garage, already reorganized to his taste. The workbench was filled with half-finished projects that range from another model of the potato gun to something he’d idly sketched in class out of boredom. Most of them would end up disassembled before they can be finished. His gaze lingered on one of the mezzanines, heavily warded and forgotten by everyone but him.

What’s up, kid?

Harley blinks and swivels his attention back to the screen where Mr. Stark is shown to be in the middle of working on something, the blue glow of the holograms surrounding the engineer. “Hey, Mechanic.”

Mr. Stark hummed, fingers flying over the holograms and muttering under his breath. “Yeah, yeah. Why did you call? Is something wrong?

“Nah.” Harley lied through his teeth, pasting on a smile that felt off-balance but doesn’t look any different. He’s been doing this kind of deception for such a long time. “Just checking in to see if you’re still alive.”

Well,” The genius faced the camera and exaggeratedly gestured to his body in all its disheveled, haven’t-showered-in-a-week glory. “As you can see, I’m alive.

“Jarvis?” Harley didn’t need to say any more than that, this type of conversation having been tackled enough for it to be usual.

Astonishingly, sir has kept a relatively normal schedule in the last three days.

Hey,” Mr. Stark squawked indignantly after mouthing ‘astonishingly’ under his breath. “I can take care of myself. I’m the adult in this relationship, not you, Keener. I should be grounding you.

“And yet you still need Jarvis to keep track of things for you,” Harley ignored the grounding comment, an argument that was overused and never backed up. Harley was too good to be grounded. “Doesn’t tell me much about you being a good adult.”

Can it, brat.” Mr. Stark sniffed, but was distracted by a crash off-camera. The engineer snaps his gaze to his left, an exasperated look twisted on his face. “Dum-E! How many times have I told you that I haven’t even finished replacing your sensors yet? Go back to your charging station and don’t. Touch. Anything.

Harley loses the fight with his body and pulled his legs up to his chest, lip twitching as Mr. Stark had an impressive argument against a bot that could only communicate with beeps and whirrs. His fingers pinched at each other, his mind a maelstrom of emotions that he hadn’t quite untangled yet.

I apologize, Mr. Keener,” J.A.R.V.I.S. spoke with as much exasperation as could be expected from him as Mr. Stark got distracted by U wreaking as much havoc as Dum-E. “It seems like Dum-E and U had been left without anything to do for too long.

“It’s okay, Jarvis.” Harley fidgets with his fingers, scratches his nose repeatedly, thinks of telling the truth but failing to convince himself. Instead, he smiles and waves the mostly answered homework to the camera. “I’ve got some stuff to do for school anyway. So I guess I’ll see you next time.”

Both of them knew how useless of an excuse that is. Harley had done his homework while talking to J.A.R.V.I.S. more than could be counted.

What else would he say?

Hey, can you tell Tony my mom died?

My mom died and I don’t feel anything. Emma’s going to die soon, too. What do I do?

(Please help me, I’m drowning. Save me, please pleasepleaseplea-)

Of course,” J.A.R.V.I.S., nonetheless, acknowledged. “It was nice hearing from you and I am sure sir shares the sentiment.

Harley ended the call and is left to stare at the screen.

Not alone, he reminds himself.

-0-

They say his dad should still have custody of Harley and Emma, but the man had disappeared off the face of the earth. In the end, Mrs. Davis signed the papers, citing something about being a family friend. Whatever friendships his mom had, had long since worn down to the ground before her death.

Mrs. Davis, if anything, wasn’t anyone qualified to look after two children. No one says anything, eager to have the matter settled. They don’t move in with Mrs. Davis as much as she drops by their house every morning and they stay with her during weekends.

It’s a weird arrangement and would probably be a problem to the social workers, but Harley made sure they could get away with it. Besides, her apartment-type house is too small for the three of them, no matter that it’s in a better condition than theirs.

Harley only really wanted to keep his garage, and Emma needed a room for herself.

“When I lost my Chad,” Mrs. Davis says one day, nursing a glass of water instead of alcohol, voice wavering every few words. “I didn’t know what to think. He killed himself, killed a few people with him. Left a file I never touched and had only ever wanted gone. He was a good boy, served his country like men were supposed to, but he’d changed since they cut off his leg.”

“I don’t think he killed himself,” Harley responded, pausing briefly from sketching, but doesn’t look at Mrs. Davis. “Or those people.”

“No,” Mrs. Davis let out a breath. “No, he didn’t. I know that now.”

There was a lull in their conversation, the atmosphere clear of tension but obviously not comfortable. Harley went back to his sketching.

“Everything’s going to be okay,” Mrs. Davis spoke in the silence, trying to be comforting yet falling short. “You’re stronger than you look.”

Sometimes Harley wonders what would have happened if he had removed her memories as well, made her forget what happened. Made her forget who Chad Davis is and what had actually become of him.

-0-

“Hey, Harley.”

Harley didn’t resist the urge to roll his eyes at the familiar mocking drawl.

“EJ,” His eyes scanned the hallway, corridors bustling with children going to their next class, but notably lacking the posse EJ usually had at his beck and call. “Where’s your boot-lickers? They found another big bad they wanted to worship?”

“No.” EJ answered, arms crossed over his chest, something more bitter and less indignant passing through his face.

Harley frowns, scrutinizing the other boy in suspicion, noting how defensive the other’s holding himself. “What are you doing here then?”

“I can take you on my own, Keener,” EJ tried to say threateningly, but fails with the way his eyes dart all over the place, obviously stewing on his thoughts and motivations.

“No you can’t.” Harley says this with confidence like he usually does. Because EJ really can’t even if he tried, and he never did. For all that EJ and his gang terrorizes the school, they haven’t really messed with Harley. Not since he’d shown them how unaffected and above their league he is. It didn’t stop them from targeting him with insults all the time.

He gave as much as they did, though.

“Why are you making this so hard?!” EJ suddenly burst out, surprising Harley. Luckily, no one was paying them attention.

“Uh,” Harley lets the incredulity pass through his tone. “No. I don’t even know why you’re here. So spill, I’ve got class to attend and I’m sure you’ve got your bad boy club to return to.”

“I’m sorry your whore of a mother died, okay?” EJ bit out, all prickly and angry and reluctant and insulting and sincere.

Harley barely blinked at the slight, already used to it after years of hearing it come from different mouths. Normally, he would have reacted in a much more visceral way, but- “Huh?”

“Did I stutter?”

“Thanks,” Whatever the other boy was expecting, it wasn’t Harley looking amused. “That took a lot out of you, didn’t it?”

EJ scoffed, all anger and defensiveness seemingly drained out, “Whatever.” Then he left.

It’s weird, but Harley felt a little bit lighter after that.

Chapter Text

ARC 2: CHAPTER 11
Eulabeia

-0-

It’s November and the air is rife with mounting tension.

It takes Harley an entire day to figure out what’s happening, Magic buzzing and dancing across his skin and setting him on edge. When he does, Harley called up J.A.R.V.I.S., not desperate but wanting to do something about it.

“Jarvis,” Harley says as soon as the call picked up. “You have access to a lot of stuff right?”

To his credit, J.A.R.V.I.S. merely replied, “Of course, young sir.

Harley nods, idly rubbing a hand up his arm to alleviate the uncomfortable goosebumps that sprung from another bout of his Magic testing the air. “Like, global sensors and stuff?”

Stark Industries have subsidiaries and is in partnership with various companies that have them, yes.

“Okay, yeah,” Harley opens up the readings that his Magic had detected, the data translated into something less Magic-y and more crudely science-y. Harley was no physicist, but it would have to do. “See, I want you to monitor these anomalies. The inconsistencies are small for now, but I have a feeling it would grow worse over time. Wouldn’t want to get caught off guard.”

There’s a short pause when Harley uploads the files and J.A.R.V.I.S. processed it.

I assume this would be part of our ‘not allowed to ever tell anyone unless needed’ agreement.” J.A.R.V.I.S. stated dryly, inadvertently still sour of how Harley had managed to bypass protocols and subroutines like it wasn’t even there.

“Yep,” Harley nods along with his response. “But you can alert Mr. Stark about it. Just- uhm, maybe not my involvement. Say it came to your attention or something. Technically, that wouldn’t even be a lie. Override: S-E-C Custode, Jarvis.”

ACCESS: GRANTED; Code: F-I-D-S-E-C Custode. Of course, Mr. Keener.” J.A.R.V.I.S. relayed calmly, as if this were a normal occurrence. Which wasn’t, to be quite honest, but J.A.R.V.I.S. is great at being unflappable. And that was all sass because J.A.R.V.I.S. didn’t need to vocalize that.

(The Fidelius, functioning as it should be, yet still quite different. Only able to to bind living beings.)

Would you like to be informed of the progress with these findings?

“I can’t really do anything about it, could I?” Harley asked rhetorically, feeling his Magic grow restless again and he had to consciously stop it from reacting to nothing. “Just alert me if it’s something really bad. I think Mr. Stark would know what to do with it.”

Would you like me to inform sir you have called?

Harley thinks for a moment, eyes glossing over the workbench and his half-hearted attempts at getting his mind off things, straying over the mezzanine he’d been spending more time in.

(He thinks of sleepless nights and feeling hollowed out. Thinks of dreams that wake him up, and numb coldness that he desperately did everything to chase away.)

He finally says, “Yeah, sure. If he’s not busy.”

J.A.R.V.I.S. doesn’t respond and Harley didn’t have to wait long for the call to patch through.

Yo, kid.

Harley makes a show of wrinkling his nose, puts his troubles away in favor of this one thing he shouldn’t do to himself yet does anyway. “There’s something seriously wrong with you using modern phrases, mechanic. You should stick to your own generation’s vernacular.”

Excuse you, Keener, that word has been around before you were even born.

“Whatever you say,” Harley parries as he usually does, the smile on his face growing more genuine by the second. “What’s your retired iron ass been doing since we last talked? A month’s a long time, mechanic.”

Stop calling my ass a retired iron. It’s a damned fine ass, thank you very much.” Mr. Stark glared at him before rolling his eyes and going back to what he was working on before Harley called, running a gloved hand over his already messy and greasy hair “And technically, this is me stepping back so I can focus on SI and my personal life, to get my head screwed back in its proper place. Not that it’s any of your business.

“But you tell me anyway.”

Harley’s smug retort earned him a, “God, why do I deal with this kid?

Harley settles in his chair, letting the banter that followed and inevitable devolvement into science and engineering to wash over him, deftly avoiding Avengers business and egging on J.A.R.V.I.S.’s dry wit.

(Lets the crippling cold and numbness fade away until it comes back. Lets himself be what he needs for someone else without asking for something back.

Compassion for compassion.)

See? Harley’s able to not be a total social disgrace. He won’t let his mechanic fall apart like that again.

-0-

Later, much later, as in two weeks from when it started, Harley felt a full body shudder engulf him and his Magic going haywire, lashing out at something that wasn’t there, screaming dangerdangerdanger in his head. Harley trembles, heart pounding and breath coming in quick pants.

It’s late evening and he’s in his room alone in the house. He’d sent Emma to stay with Mrs. Davis ever since Harley felt the change in the air, so there’s no one to be cautious about.

Gritting his teeth and strong-arming his way through the irrational dangerdangerdanger that still rang through his mind and wrecking his control over his emotions, Harley apparates into the garage, tamping down his Magic’s reactions until he’s in the warded mezzanine where all sorts of protections and wards harmlessly absorbed and stabilized the blind attacks his Magic kept on unleashing.

The area had been cleared of sensitive projects, leaving it bare with only the floor space where he used to train his Magic in, so Harley had no need to be in complete control anymore. Once this thought registered, he sagged into the floor, sparks of Magic coloring the air, its pulsating movements matching with the rapid beating of his heart.

He was so absorbed in working through the ringing mental alarm bells that he barely heard the “Mr. Keener?” coming from the speakers of the computer.

“Y-yeah,” Harley manages to wheeze out, muscles too tense and cold to move from the fetal position he’d curled himself into. “He-hey, Jarvis. What’s up? That weird thingie with the scans turned up with so-something?” Because obviously it did. Harley hated this feeling of not-fear and not-caution and not Knowing.

As a matter of fact, yes.” J.A.R.V.I.S. delivered it in such a calm manner that Harley wanted to throw something at him. “Several Einstein-Rosen bridges have opened up one after the other all over London, England, but seems to be concentrated around a town called Greenwich. In addition to that, an aerial vessel of extraterrestrial origins has entered earth’s atmosphere through one of them.

And this is the moment the presence made itself known again, a faint and barely there impression of, align realms, mutedly entering his thoughts.

(Not an echo. It doesn’t repeat, doesn’t let itself be completely settled into his mind. It’s a passing thought, a passing impression. Information relayed once and some of the context stripped away from it.)

Harley twitches and uncurled from his position, powering through the urge to destroy a threat that wasn’t near him and wrestling control of his Magic. Still, he doesn’t leave the safety of the wards. “And what’s being done about that?”

Sir has deployed teams to evacuate the town as soon as the readings became unstable,” J.A.R.V.I.S. dutifully reported. “Mr. Odinson and his friends seem to be focused on the extraterrestrial creatures.” A pause, then, “Sir thinks they are handling it poorly.

“Of course he does.” Harley muttered, huffing and puffing like he’s ran a couple of kilometers without stopping, cold sweat dripping down the back of his neck and over his brows. “He made that gravitational stabilizer didn’t he?”

Sir and Doctor Banner had designed one once they discovered the anomalies, yes.

Harley traces a wisp of Magic that tried to escape the wards, reaching out to somewhere too far away. He peers down the glass railing, down to the monitor of the computer that showed live-feed data. “D’you think it’ll work?”

The simulations proved to be somewhat successful,” J.A.R.V.I.S. helpfully flashed the test results and calculations on screen. “But it is only a temporary solution. Doctor Erik Selvig has had more time to prepare for this phenomenon and has the necessary equipment to deal with it.

“Okay.” Harley regulated his breathing, finally feeling his muscles uncoil now that enough time has passed, but his Magic remained alert and sensitive to every change in the air. “Okay. So they’re not gonna tear through the fabric of reality?”

Ah,” J.A.R.V.I.S. lagged in hesitation. “Sir seems to believe so.

Harley couldn’t help the wry smile that stretched his lips. Tony Stark was equally clever as he was naive, trusting one Aesir to deal with a threat. A threat, if Harley was to believe what his Magic was blindly cautioning him about, that has another Stone in its possession.

(Three again, now, on earth. Two again, once it’s returned.

Earth has seen most of the Stones, never once knowing what it means.

The clock’s still ticking.)

Harley had heard of Thor Odinson both as Harrhan and Harley Keener.

The prince was great in a fight, having just as much blood on his hands as Harrhan did, but the prince’s were of enemies threatening the peace of the realms, not of the innocent and helpless. Not even in as much short years as Harrhan; the Aesir’s deeds had spanned across more than a handful of centuries.

(Monster. Traitor. You’re no better than Volde-)

However, even an asgardian prince of laudable strength and power would find it hard to go against a wielder of a Stone.

But.

Just as much as Harley believed in his own knowledge, he also likes to think he has faith in the decisions of his mechanic.

“Then we’ll just have to wait.”

-0-

Just before J.A.R.V.I.S. relayed the eventual end to what could have been another moment of destruction of earth, Harley feels a moment of connection and familiarity before it disappears.

-0-

A few days later, Harley is just working on his homework when the computer screen lights up with a call notification. Harley blinked, mystified that for the first time, ‘You Know Who I Am’ is the one reaching out to call him instead of the other way around.

(Harley failed to ignore the flutter of warmth at another barrier being broken.)

“Hey, Mechanic.” Harley greets as the screen revealed an excited and manic looking Tony Stark, eyes tired and bags obvious even under the tinted glasses he wore. “Just so you know, it’s so weird that I only realized I’ve always been the one calling you.”

Huh.” Tony (Tony? Yes, that sounds about right) blinked a couple of times, pocketing his shades and seeming to relax by the minute, secure in the privacy of his car. “Really? Wow. That shouldn’t sound rude, but it does. Rude of me, that is. I’m sorry.

“Nah,” Harley grins, shoving a couple of M&M’s inside his mouth, idly scrawling out sentences for a stupid essay on prehistory stuff he didn’t exactly care about. “Just a weird thought. You haven’t been rude or anything. I know you’re busy, anyway. So why’d you call?”

Did you just eat M&M’s without organizing it by color?!” Tony sounded genuinely scandalized, completely ignoring his question. “That- that’s blasphemy!

Harley tilted his head consideringly before deliberately eating a few more differently colored candy chocolates, blithely goading the engineer. “Yeah, why? Is there a problem?”

Kid, everyone knows you have to separate them before eating them by color.” Harley comes to the conclusion that Tony was suffering from too little sleep and too much caffeine with the way his words nearly stumbled together. “Even Brucie-bear does it. And Barton. Rhodey doesn’t, but he hit his head when he was a child so he doesn’t count.

It says much, to Harley, that Tony called him in such a vaguely delirious state.

(Trust him.)

“I hit my head when I was younger.” Harley shared, amused by the very twitchy genius he was speaking to. “Lots’a times. Got stuck in the hospital once.”

What.” The engineer sounded alarmed. “Why?

Harley shrugged, entirely dismissive. “Fell off the stairs. Didn’t hurt though, I’m used to pain.”

He misses the narrow-eyed look that crossed the man’s features, buried as it was with the usual barbs.

-0-

It’s snowing again, winter dogging their doorsteps with icy licks and a just as cold foreboding.

They don’t set up anything except for the small Christmas tree in Mrs. Davis’s apartment.

Christmas eve came. It’s somber, presents unopened and hidden in crevices they don’t look at. None of them were in a festive mood. Mrs Davis spends more time at the pub, Harley cooks the usual food they ate.

Even with how well-done they are, the food tasted like ash.

-0-

“Happy New Year, Emma.” Harley greets, for the first time in this lifetime spending the turn of another year in silence. The room is dark, no trace of plastic trumpets or glow sticks or merriment or celebration.

“Happy New year.” She says back, burying herself into his embrace.

-0-

Harley had always hated hospitals.

Harry Potter was more than familiar with the infirmary, Harrhan stayed in the healers’ rooms at least once a day, and Harley had spent a lot of time seeing doctors.

Sure, he’s not so visibly averse to it, but there’s something about the sharp smell of antiseptic, rushing doctors and nurses, and stark white walls that grated on his nerves. The air is always pungent with death and decay, of time running out and consciousness straddling the line between living and dying. Of desperate individuals barely clinging on to the hope of their loved ones leaving the hospital for good.

He hates it more, now, seeing Emma on one of those beds again. She’s so small, so frail looking with tubes connecting her to machines and IV bags that Harley didn’t even know what does to her.

They’re in an isolation room that they couldn’t afford, Emma’s condition requiring her to be set apart from the others.

It’s just measles, really, but little Emma’s body was too weak to fight against it. Nothing could be done. Not with her HIV, not with the outbreak that more than a quarter of the town is suffering from. Not with how low they are in the hypothetical priority list of patients the small town hospital had.

It’s just a matter of days is what they don’t say.

-0-

“Not like mom, right?” Emma whispered, her hand lying limp in his.

And Harley laughs because what else can he say?

(What else can he do when tears have long dried from his eyes? What else can he do when he’d long accepted what will happen?

What else can he do when he felt nothing but the water filling his lungs?)

-0-

Harley Keener is twelve when he loses his sister.

-0-

They bury her urn right beside his mom’s.

(He buries a little bit of his hope there too. Like he did with Hermione and Ron and Neville and Luna and all the other faceless yet significant people in Harry Potter’s life. Like he didn’t do as Harrhan. Like he didn’t do with Harley’s mom-)

Harley watches, numb and cold and accepting. Mrs. Davis had a hand gripping tightly on his shoulder, showing her sympathy and support.

He knows she’s caught it too, sees her sweating and coughing, feels the higher than normal heat of her body, watches her sniff and dab at her red, watering eyes that has nothing to do with crying or being drunk. Harley doesn’t forget how old she already is.

“Your dad’s a right bastard,” Mrs. Davis says, voice still hoarse and words still slurred, most nights still not spent sober. “He should be here.”

“No.” Harley shakes his head and turns to leave. “No, he doesn’t. He never really cared about mom. Or Emma.”

“With you.” Mrs. Davis follows right beside him, not making a move to touch him despite her habit of showing her emotions by touching the person. She knew better, now. “He cared about you, at least. He should be here for you, with you.”

Harley knows she’d been cornered into taking him in, had done it because of pity and misguided gratitude to no one in particular.

“Things happen.” He said instead, remembers words uttered near insultingly, but with more understanding that mattered than blind sympathy could ever achieve.

Maybe he should say something more just to alleviate the concern that rests heavily in Mrs. Davis’s eyes. Harley smiles at her, perfectly smooth and bright and slightly sad and doesn’t reflect what he actually feels.

(The Keeners had never been a family.)

People came and went. Harley knew this more than anyone.

-0-

“Hey, Jarvis.”

I’m sorry Mr. Keener, but sir is very busy right now.

“Oh.” Harley licks his lips, swallows down the hard pang of disappointment. “Okay.”

J.A.R.V.I.S. hung up.

Chapter Text

ARC 2: CHAPTER 12
Lachesis

-0-

Tony stark and J.A.R.V.I.S. remain out of contact for weeks.

There had been a moment, one that he’d never gotten rid of in the days that followed, filled with a deafening buzz polluting his mind. A moment that ice ran through his veins and froze something deep, deep inside him. A moment he’d spent staring at the darkness that wasn’t even there.

It’s a long moment.

(Because it hurt. It stung. When had he forgotten he can’t have nice things for long?)

When that moment ended (when that heaviness became something he could bare for a while, when he’s comfortable to breathe in the water again), Harley drew himself up, thought of how fleeting people are, thought of how he’s better than this, thought of how he never learned how to deal with his own emotions well.

It was only a moment.

(It felt like years than the minutes and hours it had been.)

It lingers for much longer.

So when Harley picked up his phone, intent on finding something that was only Harley Keener instead of Harry-and-Harrhan-and-Harley, he was surprised to find the utter chaos that had become of the internet.

Because right there, right everywhere, were hundreds and thousands of definitely confidential and not-for-public-consumption files. Digging around as lightly as he did resulted in even more. Some had already been redacted, others corrupted, but some are just there, waiting for everyone to see.

Project Insight was the most prominent, right next to the reintroduction of the mythologically (un)defeated HYDRA schemes, and the presence of the Strategic Homeland Intervention Espionage Logistics Directorate. Without even actively working for it, Harley gets his hands on some of them.

Phase Two, in particular, was of great interest.

(How dare they.)

The reason was admirable, but the execution was clumsy at best and dangerous at the least. Playing with something they didn’t even understand, something that they didn’t even know, was either idiocy or arrogance.

Because Harley would recognize that shade of Blue anywhere. Would always remember Blue fading into dark, wide with surprise and confusion.

(It’s almost the same shade as the arc reactor.)

The Space stone deserved better than what these humans have done.

He started digging deeper, searching for all the possible things he could find, follows the tracks of what was being deleted and what wasn’t. Harley would recognize J.A.R.V.I.S.’s work given enough time or evidence, and this kind of almost sloppy work left enough traces for him to notice the A.I.’s participation. There was simply too much information to censor even for someone of J.A.R.V.I.S.’s or Tony Stark’s calibre.

The slow realization of why he couldn’t contact his mechanic was both disgruntling and relieving.

(There’s still ice in his veins, still has water inside his lungs.)

Without putting too much thought into it, Harley joined the crusade, finding a lot of use to the social media accounts he’d accumulated over the years. Hacking into anything that wasn’t in a public network is little bit out of his capabilities, but that doesn’t mean he can’t do anything.

So he settles down, gets into something that puts other thoughts in the backburner for a while. It’s easier here, where he doesn’t really have to be as conscious of his reactions. Code is certain, unchanging unless someone does it. Facing a computer was better than facing another person.

The internet is many things, and misleading is one of them.

It wasn’t a matter of cleaning up the files—that is better left to those who actually know what they’re doing—it was a matter of making people question the truth of them.

It was a matter of throwing around conspiracy theories that sounded too ridiculous to be true yet realistic enough to be believed. It was a matter of making them believe one thing was not true and confusing them with other things that might be true.

(It’s manipulation and deception. It’s lying and denying.)

A wry smile spread across his lips, thought again of irony and helping in the shadows.

(Then later; stupid, brilliant, traitorous, clever Natalia Alianova Romanova confessed on burning her own people to the ground.

“You’re not gonna put any of us in prison. You wanna know why? Because you need us. Yes, the world is a vulnerable place, and yes, we helped make it that way. But we're also the ones best qualified to defend it.”

And Harley laughed.)

-0-

When the dust has settled, when the governments and other parties have finally started to recover from the sudden exposure of HYDRA that crippled hundreds of organizational systems, when the internet has become split into groups of varying opinions that constantly oppose each other, Harley stares back into the darkness and thinks of something frozen deep, deep inside him.

(His mechanic calls a few times, but Harley always misses it. Chooses to ignore it.)

-0-

Harley was sitting in class, hands tucked under his thighs in a bid to not fidget with anything on the table.

Mrs. Nelson was the kind of teacher that always scolded students who didn’t have their eyes trained on her or the board. She’s boring and spoke like her tone of voice was permanently going up and down with no end in sight. She has great penmanship though, all loopy and neat and in a straight line on the board.

With legs swinging to lessen the need to fidget with his hands, Harley distracted himself with the rhythmic press of weight the constant motion put on his fingers and palm. The flash from the powerpoint presentation made the dust motes visible to Harley’s bored gaze.

A knock on the door breaks the monotonous lecturing, the reception lady having a quick word with Mrs. Nelson when the teacher opened the door for her.

They both turned their gaze on him and Harley doesn’t even react anymore.

(It’s familiar. Too familiar. Like when they called him in for his mother, like when they dismissed class a little bit earlier so Harley can go to his sister.)

“Mr. Keener?” Mrs. Nelson said as she approached him, a pursed look on her face that was both annoyed and pitying. “A word, please?”

This summoned a few murmurs in the class. Harley packs his bag and follows the reception lady out.

-0-

Mrs. Davis was admitted to the hospital, but that wasn’t anything new. She’d been admitted more than a handful of times in the last few months after having fallen victim to the measles outbreak. Her recovery, while sometimes drawn out longer than the previous ones, was fine those handful of times before.

She might stay a little longer, they tell him.

They let him skip afternoon class, let him go to the hospital alone when he asked.

-0-

Who’s going to take care of you now? Was what they always asked, was what they always wore on their faces.

“I’m fine,” Harley always answered with a smile. “I can take care of myself for a while.”

They believe him sometimes.

Most times they just humor him.

-0-

Harley knows all the nurses by name, recognizes the doctors and other staff. They know him, too, and they spare a smile his way whenever they see him. Some actually offer a few words of casual conversation—already knowing him by name—others slip snacks into his bag.

They weren’t pitying, just genuinely concerned and sympathizing and understanding. They don’t look at him as if they expect him to cry or breakdown or turn irrevocably quiet.

(Harrhan had been silent. Harley didn’t want to be.)

It was nice.

(Even if sometimes they whisper about him. Whisper about Harley Keener and his dead mom and his dead sister and his ailing guardian.

At least they don’t do it often and never with him in the immediate vicinity.)

-0-

“You don’t need to come everyday.” Mrs. Davis tells him, bedridden and weak and pained, voice faint and hoarse after another coughing fit. “I know you don’t want to.”

“Yeah,” Harley answered, moving to wipe at the sweat matting her forehead. “I have nothing else to do.”

Not anything that eased the coiling tension inside him anyway.

Mrs. Davis, while old and bitter and jaded and withered by life, was sharp when she needed to be. She scoffed, a wet, disgusting sound that was only partially the fault of the wheezing cough that coincided with it, “What about that mechanic of yours?”

Harley pauses, curls his fingers tighter on the towel in his hand. Honestly, he wasn’t even surprised she knew of Tony.

He shrugged. “He’s busy.”

“Bullshit.” Mrs. Davis pins him with a glare that Harley graciously receives with only pursed lips. “Ain’t busy enough for you. Not with the amount of time you’ve spoken to him. Man’s got his head in his ass, but he’s obviously better than me at this...thing with you.”

Harley’s lip twitched because, “He kind of is.”

“It wasn’t a question, was it?” She snapped, face severe and judging, but that was just the way she is. “So?”

Harley folds the towel and places it on the bedside table with the wash basin. “So?” he parrots back.

“What are you still doing here?”

Harley opens his mouth.

And closes it again.

(He doesn’t know.)

-0-

Harley doesn’t miss school.

In fact, he likes to act as if everything was normal. His classmates show their concern, but children—especially these ones he is with—tend to focus on other things pretty fast. It’s the adults that he is wary about.

Harley already went to the counselor at least once a month because of that stupid ADHD, and ever since his sister’s death, he’d had to meet the counselor at least twice a week. That was too much even for Harley, especially when it took effort to actually convince the counselor as compared to his peers and teachers.

(Normal. He wanted to be normal. Just this once.)

School was not a place of comfort. No place was a place of comfort.

(Then what is his garage if not a haven? What is his garage if it wasn’t the boat floating on the raging sea? But the ice in his veins and the water in his lungs became more.)

“Hey.”

Harley looks up from the blank page of his notebook, pen poised to write but hadn’t done so in the last couple of minutes. His eyes trail up to see EJ, awkward and without his other friends.

Again.

“EJ,” Harley greets then places his attention back on his paper, scrawling down the formula he’d been stuck on with his project for the lack of something else to write. (It’s runes and the language only users of seidr knew and inscriptions that would only ever make sense to him.) “I’m not in the mood right now.”

“I’d be surprised if you were,” was the unexpected response.

Harley frowned, stealing a glance towards the other boy who took a seat in front of him. This...was not what he was expecting when he chose to retreat into the meagre school library for once.

The thing is, EJ and his posse stopped bothering him sometime after his mother’s death. They didn’t miraculously stop being bullies, of course, but they don’t go out of their way to pick on Harley anymore. There were the few pointed insults sent his way sometimes, but that was far in between. Most days, they stay away from each other and Harley was fine with that.

“Look, I-” EJ sighed and ruffled his hair in clear agitation and frustration. “I heard- what happened to Mrs. Davis.”

“Yeah?” Harley doesn’t even bother to keep up his nonchalant facade.

“And your sister and- with your mom-” EJ stopped himself, hard-pressed to find his words and keeping his cool. It was entertaining to watch. “I don’t like how your stupid face keeps on smiling like nothing is wrong in the world.”

Harley taps his pen, tilting his head and observing the other boy, “And I don’t really care what you think.”

EJ gritted his teeth, jaw tightening and eyes narrowed in a glare, a thing that grew more intimidating throughout the years. Harley was unaffected. “I really don’t understand you.”

“You don’t need to. I don’t like you, you don’t like me.” Harley shrugged and went back to his formula, already done with this conversation. It’s a change of pace, but nothing that held his interest any longer. “There’s nothing there to understand.”

“No.” EJ bulldozes over like Harley didn’t really say anything even though the other had clearly been listening. “No. You’re supposed to be a nobody here, Keener. You’re nothing special. You don’t get to be like… like this.

“Like what?” Harley snaps, irritated. He’s holding his pen tighter and Harley could feel it click in protest.

“Like you’ve been fooling us from the start.” EJ says after a beat, still glaring but more sullen. “Like you’ve only been pretending.”

And Harley, somehow, understood.

Because the thing is, it was hard not to. He knows the kind of person EJ is, how the other boy was something else other than the top dog bully of the school. They may not be on the best of terms, or in any terms at all for that matter, but the kind of conflicting interactions they’ve had was unique because of who the two of them are.

EJ has the naivety of youth, the arrogance of a child raised in a station higher than his peers, but he’s still a someone underneath that bravado and pointless aggression.

Harley recognized it, EJ picked up on that recognition.

And sometimes, Harley forgets that there would always be people who could see through some of him.

(There are many things he couldn’t just let anyone know.)

He’s frank and blunt and scathing. He doesn’t really mind telling someone what he thinks, doesn’t mind that his mouth runs away from him sometimes. He’s also deceptive and aware enough to know how to manipulate. He’s old and young at the same time.

(He’s Harry Potter and Harrhan and Harley Keener.)

It wasn’t so weird, then, that it was someone like EJ who would call him out on it.

“No,” Harley decided to say, choosing to be honest with himself and the boy before him. “I’m hiding. Always have been. But I’m still the Harley Keener you’ve bullied since first grade.”

It was not a resolution for whatever it is they have between them.

-0-

Harley is sitting on the small couch some of the hospital staff had been kind enough to provide him with, fiddling with the original potato gun both he and Emma had worked on. He’d fallen into the habit of dismantling it and putting it back together again.

(The motion of breaking and rebuilding was comforting. The thought of not being able to do it for Emma was-)

His mechanic had already replaced the pneumatic actuator with a newer one all those months ago, and for all the talk of long barrels and diminished FPS, the outside remained untouched. It’s stronger now, though. He could dent cars and crack bones with the correct angle and distance.

(The Mark II could break car windshields and could probably break bones if he tried hard enough. Harley didn’t know what his mechanic had been thinking.)

Mrs. Davis was asleep, too tired and drugged up to stay awake for a few hours hours in between. She wakes up in small bursts either from lack of breath or another coughing fit.

Her bed is propped up, an oxygen mask covering half of her face. She speaks with increasing difficulty so Harley took to filling the silence whenever she’s awake.

His phone, one he rarely uses but brings with him anyway, vibrates in his pocket.

Confused and startled, Harley fishes it out, frowning at the unknown caller ID. He spares a glance at the hospital bed before rejecting the call. No need to send it to voicemail. Who even calls in phones anymore?

He hasn’t even let go of the device when it vibrates again. Harley looks at the screen to see the same unknown caller ID. He rejects it again. When it vibrated a third time, Harley sighed and walked out of the room and into the parking area. He’d seen enough nurses scolding visitors to take calls outside.

“Hello?” Harley answered as soon as the call picked up. “Who’s this?”

Kid.” The familiar voice of Tony Stark flowed from the speakers. “Harley. I’ve been calling you for weeks. Why weren’t you answering?

Harley froze, a sudden lump forming down his throat. “Oh, yeah, I-”

Don’t answer that.” Tony sounded sharp and angry. “Why didn’t you say anything? I could have helped. I know doctors who could have saved your mom or your sister. I have the money to make miracles, kid. Why didn’t you just- tell me? And yeah, I guess I’m being nosy, but I could have-

“Woah, wait!” Harley finally managed to get his voice back (inside, warmth curled all over his chest and the ice melted just a little). “Wait. No. I’m sorry, mechanic. It- it’s fine. I’m fine.”

How could you be fine! I saw your records-

“You hacked into my records?!”

-yeah, it’s not a big deal—and great job by the way, straight A’s—but the point is, Harley, kid, you’re not fine. There’s no way you are. Your school’s counselor is an idiot—keeping his notes in his laptop, jeez, like no one can access it there—but he’s awfully detailed with his reports.

“I-” Harley swallows the mix of dread and warmth and nervousness. His hands are trembling and he’s putting more conscious control over his breathing, he notes belatedly. “What did he say?”

You’re on close watch, kid.” Tony answered, a hint of warning in his voice that said he believes in it too. “And not the happy kind of watch too. There’s nothing- alarming in it, but it’s implied rather heavily.

“Oh.” Harley felt numb, not at the words but at what was happening right now, mind blanking at a response. “How did you even know to check my records?” Because isn’t that the thing? Tony would know everything if he checked it.

Who did you think paid the hospital bills?” Tony said it so nonchalantly it felt sharp and pointed. And Harley wouldn’t ever say how much it affected him. “I had to hear it from Mrs. Davis of all people. Really helpful, that old lady is. I’m sorry for what she’s going through now, but she’s insistent to stay where she’s lived for most of her life. You, on the other hand...

Oh.

I’ve made some arrangements already. You’re going to settle whatever business you still need to do there and then you’re coming to New York with me. I’ll send in Happy to help you with your things. That’s non-negotiable.

(“What are you still doing here?”)

Harley swallows and was unable to hide the hitch in his breath. “Okay.”

There’s a sigh on the other line, then he hears Tony speak, voice uncharacteristically soft. “I’ll see you in a few days, okay, kid? Then we’ll talk.

“Yeah. Okay.” Harley swipes a hand at his eyes, squats down on the asphalt and curled over himself. “See you, Tony.”

-0-

When the call ended, Tony’s gaze on the glowing screen never faltered.

There’s a deep heaviness in his chest that he never knew was there until it lightened somewhat.

At first, he hadn’t really known what to make of the kid from nowhere, Tennessee, who was all kinds of contradicting and helpful and confusingly understanding. Tony certainly didn’t know that the kid would somehow claw his way into the short list of people Tony ever cared about.

(Harley Keener wormed his way in there, had carved a niche in the dark, heavily guarded space in Tony’s damaged and broken and stitched together heart. Harley Keener and his sharp tongue, awkward reactions, and skillful nonchalance.

The kid who can send Tony into a panic attack but somehow pull him back out.

The kid who can hide things so well that it took literal years for Tony to realize how bad it had been.)

He had been surprised when Mrs. Davis reached out to him a few months ago, speaking of things he didn’t know and made him feel so awful for not noticing. (For ignoring the kid right back when he dared to feel hurt. For how he forgot that the world doesn’t revolve around you, Tony.)

He was supposed to be a genius. He was supposed to be The Mechanic.

(He wasn’t supposed to be like Howard.)

Sure, he noticed the odd things. Responsibility and maturity is all well and good, but there’s something to be said about knowing how to patch someone up and being used to pain.

(It made him think of the other, other things.)

So why didn’t he know the kid’s been going through something like this?

Tony would admit his actions after that had been impulsive and fuelled a bit by anger. For example, signing the custody papers Mrs. Davis sent over while she’s lounging it on a hospital bed, and then hacking into the school records.

Nothing would convince him it was the wrong thing to do though. (Well, maybe the hacking one was a bit too stalker-ish. Those had been private records, Stark.)

Pepper and Rhodey and Happy would be so angry at him once they find out. He never really told anyone about what happened in that time between being off-grid (dead, but he wasn’t really dead, not when there’s someone depending on him at the time, namely Happy and Pepper and Rhodey and maybe the president) and taking down Aldrich Killian.

Sir?

Tony shakes himself away from his thoughts, shoves the guilt away for another day, finally turning off the screen of his phone. “Yeah, J?”

The quinjet is ready and the Avengers are waiting for you.

“Alright. Lay it on me, Jarvis.” Tony clapped his hand once and did the gesture to call Mark 43 on him. He grinned as he felt the armor close around his body, sight engulfed by the HUD. “Here’s to hoping we find that scepter soon enough. I need my beauty sleep and Captain Tightass has been getting more and more uppity. So where to?”

Coordinates for the Sokovian HYDRA outpost are displayed, sir.

“Let’s go kick HYDRA ass.”

Arc II End

Lachesis (Λάχεσις)

Chapter Text

ARC 3: CHAPTER 13
Aiakos

-0-

Time is such an abstract concept.

An entire minute could feel just as slow as an entire week. A month could feel like mere days passing. A year could pass with a blink of an eye.

(Decades could be spent too engulfed in-)

The thing is, Harley and time had a peculiar relationship.

He liked to think he experienced it like anyone else. It comes and goes, fast and slow, an impediment and something just there. Being reborn, being someone who had gone through multiple lives, didn’t change that.

He felt that it should. That the passage of time should have been something he didn’t concern himself with.

(But he cares. He feels every second, lives every blink right to the next, hears every beat of his heart, breathes air and water and ice in every conscious moment. Because he needed to know what’s real and what’s-)

‘A few days.’

It passed in simultaneous ease and hardship. Equally agonizingly slow and much too fast.

A few days was spent dazedly packing everything associated with Harley Keener into neat little rows of boxes that are shoved into an expanded bag, like a lifetime fit into an underwhelmingly ragged backpack that has seen half the years Harley has lived.

A few days was spent wrapping his hands around things he didn’t want to see, carefully placing them right at the bottom like the memories and emotions he hadn’t dealt with just yet. Projects were put into stasis and stashed in pockets of space created by Magic.

A few days was spent with nothing but the lonely realization that there was no one he needed to say goodbye to.

Harley recalls having friends, feeling that sense of camaraderie and companionship and understanding. He remembers Ron and Hermione, remembers the rough start of their relationship, remembers the hard turns and steep declines of jealousy and anger and love despite that he cannot describe what they look like.

(Remembers a desperate little boy who needed something other than the cupboard under the stairs.)

Moving out, apparently, was a great measure to know how much significant connections Harley Keener had left.

None.

If he didn’t count Sam the ER nurse who always stopped by in his breaks, Matt the night shift guard who talks about his wife and mother, and Layla the front desk lady who always gave him snacks. Even then, they were all adults who were thoughtful and kind, not really anything else.

The teachers in the school would do their part in telling his classmates where he’d disappeared off to, so Harley didn’t see the need to go there himself. He didn’t have anyone he was particularly close to; not with his peers, not with anyone.

It was sad and disappointing, but not something he’d never dealt with before.

(And it was his fault, too, for putting a barrier between him and everyone else.)

And Mrs. Davis?

She never had been one for goodbyes. Not even when Harley stood beside her, gripping an envelope full of documents signed with ink like a lifeline. Not even when Harley hugged her for the first and last time in their relationship, overly careful of the tubes and wires around her.

“Thank you.” Harley whispered, blurted out in admission. “I’m sorry.”

She never asked for anything that had happened, didn’t have to step up to take in Harley and his dying little sister, probably shouldn’t have called up Tony Stark when everything’s falling apart.

Mrs. Davis’ eyes, red rimmed and watery as it usually is these days, crinkled.

Harley would never know if she cried or not.

-0-

A few days ended on an early morning, marked by a sleek Audi parking right at the front of the Keener house.

Harley, used to starting his day before dawn, was peeking over the front window as soon as the car’s door opened. A broad-shouldered man in an unassuming business suit stepped out, frown etched on his face as he looked around. It wasn’t long before the man noticed Harley.

“Hey, kid!” The man called out, eyes going back and forth from the tablet in his hand and Harley. “Is this… ‘the house where I got a fair tuna sandwich and spongebob bandaids’?”

Harley blinked, lip twitching as he unlocked the front door. There wasn’t any doubt who this man is associated with. “Depends. Are we talking about a pain in the ass mechanic who loves to whine?”

The man nods sagely though nothing changed from his facial expression. He started walking over to the porch, turning off the tablet and putting it in a loose grip at his side. “Mr. Stark sent me to pick you up. What’s your name, kid?”

“Harley.” Harley tilts his head and smiled up at the man. “You?”

“Happy.” There’s a scrunch on the man’s face now, completely contradicting the word he just uttered. It took a bit of effort to keep the snort in. Harley figured it would be rude.

“Okay.” Harley closes the front door and locks it. If the man was confused, he didn’t show it, but Harley still saw the minute twitch of the man’s eyebrows. He leads them to the garage door, where Harley had more or less turned the place into his living quarters in the last few months.

Everything he needed was in there.

(It’s a form of escape, somehow.)

“Do you, uh, do you need any help?”

Happy looked so awkward that Harley had to hide another smile before shaking his head. “Nah, I can handle it. You can just wait here.”

He doesn’t stop to wait for the man’s response before going inside and taking his backpack. It’s big enough to not be suspicious, so there weren’t any more. He grabs his potato gun (the one he and Emma made), choosing to carry it by hand. The Mark II was crammed in with his other things in the bag.

While walking around the workbench, Harley catches sight of something pink. He pauses, eyes riveted at the limited edition Dora the Explorer watch. His grip on the potato gun tightens a moment before his hands chose his next course of action for him.

Tucking the gun under an arm, Harley reaches for the pink watch and fastens it around his wrist. It’s gaudy and childish and definitely stands out, but Harley liked the weight of it. The sleeve of his sweater mostly covers it anyway.

Casting a glance around the dark room, all electronics unplugged and leaving the room so utterly still, Harley sends a pulse of Magic that had no intention behind it and that did nothing. It wasn’t a farewell, after all. Harley could still come back.

When he emerges and finally locks the door, Happy was standing by the car, frown deeper than when Harley left him, tapping at the tablet harder than he should be. The man looks up when Harley’s steps grew louder.

“Is that all you’re gonna bring?” Happy gestures his head to indicate Harley’s bag.

“Yeah.” Harley nods and stops before the man, tugging a strap of his bag in emphasis. “Everything’s in here. Clothes and stuff.”

“Your documents?” Because Harley is a kid and no one expects a kid to know what was needed no matter that Harley isn’t exactly a kid despite being one. Which was a sentence that confused even him, but still, Happy didn’t know that. Nobody knew that Harley wasn’t normal.

(Because he wasn’t, no matter what he does.)

“Yep, all here.”

“Okay, good.” Happy opens the back door for him and Harley obediently slides in. “Let’s go.”

-0-

Harley spends the trip to the airport silent and mullish, a little bit overwhelmed and confused and unsettled by what’s happening. Happy is silent, too, focused on driving as he was, but Harley can still see the man’s brows furrowed down into a frown through the rear view mirror.

Either he was perpetually frowny or something was bothering him.

The drive was quick, considering Happy does a good job in driving fast without violating the speed limit.

Harley admires the view of the airport, eyes roving over the structure. He’d never been to one. At least, not one on earth or on other places, really. Travelling through the other planets rarely required anything but a landing space (sometimes they don’t need or use it), so it’s still a novelty to see.

(He favors the memory of a gleaming red train and the sound of bustling people.)

They pull up somewhere and Happy exits the car so Harley follows him.

“Stick close to me, kid.” Happy instructs with his hand on Harley’s shoulder as they make their way in, not even bothering with lines and other things people have to subject themselves to. “Wouldn’t want to lose you.”

Harley doesn’t bother to shrug off the hand, busy taking in the new environment and antsy with the crowds. He does ask, blinking at Happy and then staring at the lines of people, “Why aren’t we with them?”

“We’ve got a private jet waiting for us.” Happy lets a smirk pull at his lips this time.

“Huh,” Harley says absently, finding amusement at the way Happy deflated at his underwhelming response. “Cool.”

-0-

While on the plane—luxurious, of course it would be luxurious—Harley was left to his own devices. Happy was busy with his tablet, sitting beside him with a berth of space between their seats. There’s a television right at the front where the news was running on mute.

Harley watches, eyes narrowed as it changed into a footage of the Hulk and a giant Iron Man armor duking it out on the streets of Johannesburg. There’s a lot of destruction left in their wake and the news reel took delight in highlighting them.

“Hey, Mr. Happy,” Harley casts his gaze on the frowning man. “Where’s Tony?”

“Huh?” Happy looks up from his tablet and catches sight of the news. His face morphs into one of disgruntlement and concern. “Oh. Oh shit. No wonder I can’t get a hold of him. Jarvis has been down, too. No one’s been answering my calls either.”

Harley bites his lip, fingers tapping up a rhythm on the plastic surface of his potato gun. Jarvis is down? Like, what kind of down? “So where are we going now? The Avengers seem...busy.”

“Well,” Happy sighed and rubbed his face. “No reason not to continue on to the tower. They’d probably be lying low for now.”

Harley nods slowly, settling back down on his seat but unable to relax in the tension that built up around them.

-0-

The knot of tension only grew as their plane touched down and the frown on Happy’s face never went away, deepening at times but never alleviating. Harley had actually shoved the potato gun inside his bag so he wouldn’t accidentally fire it at someone.

“Hey, uh,” Harley follows after the man again, navigating through the crowd with an uneasy glance around. “Is Happy really your name?”

“No.” Not-Happy answers noncommittally. “It’s Harold, actually. Harold Hogan.”

“Harold?” Harley makes a noise at the back of his throat as a hurrying woman bumped into him. Happy catches him and doesn’t let go as they exited the airport building, muttering a watch it under his breath. Harley smiles gratefully even though the contact made him a tiny bit on edge. “Why not Harry? I know a Harry. It’s a good name.”

“Boss called me Happy.” The man responded a little bit snappily. “It stuck.”

“That sucks.” Harley’s lip twitched, looking to find a distraction. “Was it ‘Happy’ because you keep on frowning? You should smile some more, Mr. Happy. No need to be Grumpy.”

“I think I prefer you sulking in the backseat like before. You sound just like him,” was the exasperated reply. “Just get in the car, kid.”

“Aye aye, Mr. Happy.” And then Harley grins, overly brilliant and wide just to needle the man a bit more.

“By the way,” Happy cut in as he unlocked the doors of the car. “Welcome to New York.”

-0-

In the trip from the airport, Harley fills the air with chatter, alternating between asking about New York, the Avengers, and Happy’s work as the Head of Security at Stark Industries (at which point Harley comes up with the most ridiculous scenarios and Happy either confirms or denies if something like that ever happened).

Well, Happy mostly grunts through it and gives short, curt answers. It was fine. Harley can definitely talk for the two of them, he just needed someone to make indications they were listening. The chatter seems to do both of them good anyway.

At least now, Harley was able to feel the bubble of excitement that had been buried by his conflicting feelings earlier. He’s still worried, of course, because there’s something happening out there. Something big enough that the Avengers are in action.

When they reach the tower, Harley stares up at it with a subdued smile that dampened any hopes Happy had that Harley would react like a normal kid. Sure, the Avengers Tower was a sight to see, but it also signifies something more than wonder and awe.

It’s a beacon of both negative and positive views.

And right now, Harley eyes the reporters and camera men who weren’t showing a sign of subtlety with poorly hidden disdain, it seems like he’s arrived at a pivotal moment.

-0-

They take the elevator up to the residential floors first.

“Hey Jarvis,” Happy tries once the elevator doors closed. “Jarvis? Are you there?”

Even though this was the first time Harley ever stepped foot on the tower, the silence that followed the man’s question was absolutely jarring and disconcerting. Harley had become so used to J.A.R.V.I.S.’s fast quips with anything associated with Tony that it raised his hackles.

“What happened?” Harley asked as Happy manually operated the elevator to allow them access to the floor they had to get to.

“I’m sure it’s nothing,” There’s a hint of worry that the man was unable to suppress. “Maybe Tony put him on lockdown.”

Which, especially to Harley, sounded like such a feeble excuse. He lets it lie though, as they reach the residential floors.

“Okay, so at least I know which room is yours. Drop off your things and we’ll see what we can do after.”

Harley raised an eyebrow. “Don’t you have a job? You were just telling me how you had to go back after dropping me off.”

“Well I can’t leave you here alone, kid.” Happy quips, eyebrow raised in an I know better sort of way. “Especially with Jarvis off the grid like this.”

“I’m thirteen.” Harley replies with proper righteousness. “And there are people a few floors down.”

Happy looked at him dubiously. “No.”

Harley stares at him, thinks of how he can handle the situation. In the end, he says, “Fine.”

-0-

A lunch down at the local McDonald’s and a few hours later, Harley managed to cajole Happy into checking the communal upper floors. Apparently, it was where the Avengers liked to hang out in so if something was up, evidence would definitely be there. What really convinced Happy was the constant evasion from Maria Hill (Harley had seen her name before).

Happy let out a frustrated, “Alright. That’s it. Let’s see what they’ve been up to.”

They make it up to the communal floors without issue.

(But it was still so silent, still so disconcerting and stifling.)

When the elevator door opens, Harley’s first instinct was to cast out his Magic to assess the situation. While otherwise pristine, the cracks and dents and blank spaces where something should be in—obvious evidence of a fight—weren’t quite repaired yet.

Harley maintains his rigid posture until his Magic comes back with nothing.

Wait.

No.

Not nothing.

“What happened here?” Happy muttered as he exits the elevator.

Harley, meanwhile, was not quite listening, eyes focused up.

The Mind stone was here.

Harley could still taste the trail it left in its wake..

-0-

Harley sat on a couch, idly dismantling the potato gun for the umpteenth time that day. He’s staying on the floor overlooked by the laboratories and where most of the damage had been done, having let his Magic repair what could be repaired.

The elevator in the tower was absolutely flawless and soundless, but Harley still notices when someone arrives on the floor.

Without looking up from his work, Harley greets, “Hey, Mechanic.”

“What the fu- kid?!” Tony sounded startled, which had been what Harley was going for. “What are you doing here?”

Finally, Harley looks up to send the man a look. “Uh, you called me here? Or do you want me to go back to Tennessee? I can go now if you like-”

“What? No!” The wide-eyed look on the man’s face was a testament to how off-guard Harley had managed to catch him. “What I mean is it’s dangerous here. Where’s Happy? Didn’t he come with you?”

Harley tilts his head, nodding slightly. “He did, but he has his work, you know. We went to lunch, drove around for a while. You’ve got lots of nasty drivers here upstate, by the way.”

“Yes, okay, so,” Tony said dismissively, managing to get his bearings and fixed Harley with a very serious look, hands fidgeting in agitation. “Here’s the deal, kid. We’ve got a situation. Like, right now. So I need you out of here—down to your room preferably, the private quarters are plenty secure—but anywhere but here is good enough.”

Harley rests his chin on his knuckles, all defiant and stubborn. “No.”

“I-” Tony rears back a bit, surprised and maybe a bit insulted. “Excuse me.”

“Where’s Jarvis?” Harley asked instead, cut in so the man can’t start a rant.

Tony actually nearly heaved but as it was, his chest rose and fell significantly, breathing stuttered, eyes clouded and shoulders tense.

“What happened?” his question was softer now, totally experienced on how to deal with Tony Stark in a variety of situations.

“He-” Tony took a deep breath and crossed his arms, his masks pulled up and skin set on the thickest, most brittle thing he can manage. When he spoke, his tone was hard, “No. We’re not talking about this right now.”

Another person joins them not long after the engineer’s declaration, so Harley didn’t get to reply.

Doctor Bruce Banner shuffles into the room, not quite entering Harley’s peripheral. “Hey Tony- Oh. Uh. Who’s this?”

Harley puts down his things and turns to face the other man, smile perhaps a little bit too bright and sharp. He’d been through a lot of emotional roller-coasters the past few days—weeks—so sue him. “Hello Doctor Bruce Banner. I’m Harley! It’s nice to meet one of Mechanic’s friends.”

They both ignore Tony’s spluttered, “And you call him doctor?

“Mechanic?” The confusion and bewilderment was clear on the tired man’s face.

“Tony, of course.” Harley nods to emphasize his point. “He’s my Mechanic. He asked me to live with him. Well, more like sprung it on me and I just had to do it.”

Dr. Bruce Banner’s wry smile was sympathizing. “He does that.”

“I know!” Harley exaggeratedly raised his voice. “He’s very pushy and impulsive.”

Tony’s groused, “Well, why don’t both of you stop gossiping about me. Barton’s here.” snapped Harley’s attention to the oncoming jet.

And, oh.

It’s there.

Chapter Text

ARC 3: CHAPTER 14
Acratopotes

-0-

All in all, Harley has a plan.

He had motives and reasons that would never match a thing he says. Maybe he lies, maybe he tells the truth.

But that plan? That plan is at the back of his mind, creating itself as life went on. It’s vague and ever changing, fluid and adaptive to circumstances. Sometimes it has a goal, sometimes it doesn’t. Most times, all he has are conclusions. Lately, there’s been a goal solidifying at the end of it.

(Planning leads to victory. Without it is to welcome the possibility of failure.)

So.

Harley has a plan, but that doesn’t mean he knows every detail of it. He’d always worked better under pressure.

That was why, as the Avenger’s jet neared the tower, reeking of the power of the Mind Stone, Harley held himself in place so as not to react.

“No.” Tony suddenly says.

“What?” Harley lets out indignantly, fixing an incredulous look at the unimpressed looking engineer. “I didn’t even say anything.”

“I know that face,” The engineer gestured with his hand. “See, that face? I’ve seen that a couple of times. The answer is no, kid. You’re gonna stay put, and stay away from this.”

Harley narrows his eyes and considered his words. It has been a while since he actually felt this frustrated of how young his body is. He crossed his arms. “I can help.”

“I know.” It was a simple statement. A fact. Harley felt pride worm its way into his chest. “But that doesn’t mean I want you in danger. And this? I want you far, far away from this.”

“Well, what’s stopping me?” Harley says defiantly, spying the way Dr. Banner shrinks away from the both of them, wanting to avoid being pulled in to their argument. “Either I sneak in without you knowing, maybe get in a lot of trouble on the way, or you let me tag along and keep an eye on me.”

Tony stares at him, mouth slightly agape and eyebrows raised in incredulity. “You- that’s manipulative.”

“It’s not manipulation if I’m just stating the facts,” Harley rolled his eyes. “So?”

Tony opens his mouth, spares a look at Dr. Banner who merely shrugged, and then sighed. “Fine. But you follow everything I say, okay?”

Harley grins. “Sure!”

“I’m regretting this already.” Tony mutters as they made their way to the elevator.

Dr. Banner lends a commiserating shoulder pat on the other scientist.

-0-

There’s a man sitting on the pod-thing that contained the Mind Stone. He’s tense and fidgety, perched at the near-edge of the surface. Going by the attire, Harley was willing to bet that this man is Hawkeye, minus the arrows.

The Avengers were pretty well-known by now, so even Harley knew their names. Disregarding, of course, the off-hand comments his mechanic made.

“Barton.”

“Stark.” Hawkeye nods, hopping off of the pod-thing. “Banner.” He acknowledges once the doctor let himself known. Hawkeye’s gaze swept back to Tony before stopping at the elevated metal railing Harley had made a beeline for. The archer blinks before frowning at the two scientists. “Who let the kid in?”

Since the man didn’t ask for his name, Harley cut in. “I’m Harley, not ‘kid’!”

Dr. Banner raises his hands in a ‘not me’ gesture. Or maybe it was more, ‘I don’t know what’s going on either’.

Tony, on the other hand, continued on as if Hawkeye didn’t ask anything. “I don’t want you touching anything, kid.”

“Sure thing, mechanic.” Harley agreed easily, perching himself on the railing, minding the table behind him. It gives him the view of the entire room and positioned close enough to touch the pod-thing. “I’ll stay here.”

Hawkeye looked at him with raised eyebrows, clearly expecting him to explain.

Harley grins in response. He didn’t feel like explaining anything right now.

“Where’s Nat?” Dr. Banner broke the silence, a worried tone in his voice.

The adults seemed content to ignore Harley as they conversed, though he didn’t doubt that at least Hawkeye never let him out of sight. His focus remained on the pod-thing in front of him. The Mind Stone sang from where it’s contained, desperately reaching out for something, wild and uncontrolled and aggressive.

What happened?

Reigning in the Magic deep beneath his skin so as to not cause anything, Harley examined the pod-thing—the Cradle, if Harley heard the hushed conversation correctly—fixated on the red, humanoid face that held the Stone in its forehead.

So this was what human technology can reach now. Still not on the level of other planets, but impressive in its own right.

Carefully, Harley reached out a tendril of Magic, testing and ready to pull back at a moment’s notice. Even though more than a decade has passed since- well, since Harley had been Harrhan, the severed bond between him and the Mind Stone had never recovered. He’d always figured it would take more time, had ignored it in the way he avoided thinking of what he- had.

But maybe… Harley had never considered what the severance of the bond did to the Stone.

He still felt drawn to it. Still felt the ache that he’d grown used to.

(Still remembers the constant hum at the back of his mind that now felt so, so achingly empty and void and painful.)

His Magic reaches into the Cradle and into the Stone.

Harley nearly falls over as the Stone pulled in his Magic and pushed back, backbackback until the bond is forced back in place and everything else became a haze of yellow light and all the pain and cruelty and kindness and sorrow that shouldn’t be there.

Images and impressions flashed in his mind, too fast to be comprehended, too much to be contained.

(Just like it used to be, just how his mind should now be able to keep track of it. But it was too slow, too sudden-)

Then-

It stops.

“Shit what’s happening-”

“The energy inside is fluctuating. The genetic coding is adjusting to something-”

“So what, now it’s adaptable?”

“Kid.” That last one was close and Harley, against all odds, shifts his gaze to see Hawkeye-Barton looking at him with concern even as Tony and Dr. Banner fussed about the Cradle. “You okay there? You just froze.”

“Yeah, I-” Harley breathes, hands gripping the railing in a white-knuckled grip. “Just vertigo. Get it from time to time.”

“Huh.” Hawkeye-Barton doesn’t look like he believed Harley but the archer let it go, mind too preoccupied by something else. The man turned his attention back on the muttering scientists. “Everything okay there?”

“It- well,” Dr. Banner answered after a moment, a bit tense and fidgeting with his glasses. “It’s fine now. Got into a state of homeostasis after.”He was about to say something more before he realized himself. Then the doctor mutters to Tony, “We're going to need to access the program, break it down from within. We’ve gotta be extra careful if it fluctuates again. Destabilizing the connections is the last thing we need.”

Tony turned to Hawkeye-Barton instead of responding to Dr. Banner. “Any chance Natasha might leave you a message, outside the internet, old school spy stuff?”

That got the archer out of the room.

Harley watches them in a daze, all focus into adjusting and assimilating back to a bond with an Infinity Stone.

With only the three of them now, Tony and Dr. Banner started going into some sort of argument that Harley couldn’t quite understand at the moment.

“I found him.”

Harley catches sight of the holoprojection, glowing and bright and unique and beautiful. No one needed to tell Harley what or who it is.

J.A.R.V.I.S. had never been just an A.I.

Hello, Dr. Banner, Mr. Keener.

“Ultron didn't go after Jarvis ‘cause he was angry.” Tony spoke, his voice strong but Harley could hear the subtle waver. “He attacked him because he was scared of what he can do. So Jarvis went underground. Okay? Scattered, dumped his memory. But not his protocols. He didn't even know he was in there, until I pieced him together.”

And all at once, everything made sense. Harley understood what the Mind Stone had been showing him, had been telling him.

Ultron. A separate entity with its own consciousness, its malice born from all the pain and grief and anger and sorrow an Infinity Stone shouldn’t have harbored or absorbed. The result of a broken bond that didn’t have anywhere to go.

(Thanos and his grief and twisted resolve. Loki and his fear and anger and jealousy. HYDRA and its greed and lust for power. The twins of whom the Stone had desperately called up to, their desire for revenge. Tony and his guilt and drive to do everything to save everyone.

A suit of armor around the world.”

Then J.A.R.V.I.S.)

Harley looks at the physical manifestation of a Soul—of one made by a man, of one made of code, of one that was horribly young and yet still so much more than most—in sorrow.

His attention comes back in time to hear Dr. Banner say, “And you just assume that Jarvis's operational matrix can beat Ultron's?”

It doesn’t take long for Harley to figure out what Tony wanted to do.

(And wasn’t that something. Because J.A.R.V.I.S. is more than an A.I. and Tony knew it, had trust in his creation even if he can’t comprehend just what J.A.R.V.I.S. is.

Tony is easy in his affection once you prove yourself in his eyes; has a long, long list of things someone could do wrong before that affection waned. But sometimes- sometimes it’s too much too easy. ‘Trusting’ isn’t a word to describe Tony Stark, but he might as well be.)

Harley finally decided to butt in, because he could see how painful this is going to be for his mechanic, how the fear would worm its way precariously and make that guiltandsorrow worse. Words make something more real, something that can’t just be ignored.

“If Jarvis has been beating Ultron even without knowing it, murder-bot Ultron would be no match with Jarvis pieced back together. Besides,” Harley slips down from his perch and made his way to J.A.R.V.I.S.’s holoprojection. “Jarvis’s consciousness and operational matrix are more concrete than Ultron’s.”

There’s a vicious tug from the newly replaced bond, the Stone growing agitated at the sudden distance between them. Harley twitched. That was going to be a bit of a problem.

(And where was his scepter?)

“Wait,” Tony quipped, head tilted with a frown. “How did you know that? How does he know that? I never said anything. Bruce?” He turned to Dr. Banner who looked puzzled, then the engineer’s gaze is back on Harley, questioning and suspicious.

Harley felt something heavy drop in his stomach because there it is. Suspicion.

(Tension is high in the air. Harley shouldn’t take it for what it is.)

Before Harley could blurt out anything, J.A.R.V.I.S. cut in, “I believe you were not overly cautious of your discussion earlier, sir. You have mentioned Ultron no less than five times, enough for anyone to form correct conclusions.

Covertly breathing out silently in relief, Harley continued, “Yeah. And there are stuff about this on the internet. There’s enough sci-fi to cover the bases. Naming something Ultron was, like, calling for something bad to happen. Jarvis is a perfectly friendly name.”

Thank you, young sir.

“No problem, J.” Harley grins up at the look of incredulity from both men.

“Catching up on a world crisis situation with sci-fi,” Tony mutters in disbelief, seeming to accept the excuse for now. “You are a menace, kid.”

“You love me.”

Tony sends him a deadpan look. “No, I don’t.” Which was a bold-faced lie.

“So,” Dr. Banner looked hesitant, but he still cut in with exasperation and guilt and too much stress. “I still don’t think we should do this. Because this? This is exactly where it all went wrong before.”

Harley was in the perfect angle to see the way Tony’s face shutter back into stoicism, but nothing can ever shadow the expressiveness of his eyes. And right there, Harley could see the guilt his mechanic had been carrying and hiding. The desperation that shouldn’t be there.

“No.” Harley shot back a little too sharply, both men startled enough to snap their attention to him. He felt a spark of his old temper flare, not entirely sure what or who triggered it, just that the resigned and defeated way Dr. Banner held himself grated on his nerves. “This isn’t ‘exactly where it went wrong’. This is where it would go right because now you have Jarvis and that Stone away from the enemy’s hands. You made your mistakes and now you’ve gotta show them- yourselves that you learned from it.”

(Harley shouldn’t be the one rallying them.)

The stunned silence that followed his short speech was enough for his temper to deflate. It takes a few moments before Dr. Banner gives a defeated sigh, cleaning his glasses out of habit. “Alright. How do we do this?”

The smile on Tony’s lips was equal parts victorious and fabricated. It took no time at all before the two adults started firing instructions at each other.

“Great speech by the way,” Tony ruffles Harley’s hair in the lull between setting up the program and making sure they’re doing it correctly this time. “Very mature, but I don’t need you to defend me, alright, kid?”

Harley scrunches his nose both at the mess his already messy hair had become and at his mechanic’s words.

Of course Harley needed to.

(He doesn’t know what else he should do.)

-0-

Harley felt their approach before they even came close to the laboratories. He continues with his work, keeping an eye on the codes for Tony, soothing the Mind Stone every now and then to avoid another fluctuation, and generally staying out of the adults’s way.

Hey, Harley knew his limits. And his limit at the moment is the presence of easily suspicious, jumpy adults who’s gone through rough hours of battle and hasn’t quite finished just yet.

(Harley knew better than anyone how that felt. The fear that they would fail, the adrenaline that pumped through their veins and make everything tense and trembling, the intense drive to succeed.)

“I’m gonna say this once.” Captain America’s authoritative voice followed the pointed heavy tap of his boots. The Mind Stone’s twins are right behind him, a beacon to those familiar with the Stone.

Harley could feel them, all their rage and fear and trepidation and relief. They have power, yes, something that was the Mind Stone and something uniquely theirs. But the Stone didn’t want them anymore, not when Harley was there.

Tony tenses right beside Harley and subtly pushes him behind, the man’s hand staying on his shoulder to keep Harley in place. Which was weird, but Harley easily goes, peeking over the man’s waist and catching the eyes of the blond twin. Tony automatically fires a response, “How about ‘nonce’.”

Captain America didn’t like that, it seems. “Shut it down!”

“Nope.” Tony quips, fingers never faltering from its work over the keyboard. “Not gonna happen.”

“You don’t know what you’re doing.” Captain America spoke just like how Harley imagined the man would in a high-stress situation. It made Harley bristle at it being directed towards his mechanic.

“He’s the tech genius here, of course he knows what he’s doing!” Harley blurts out, ignoring the warning squeeze on his shoulder.

Sometimes, Harley wished he still had Harrhan’s temperament.

All eyes settle on him, but Harley wasn’t one to be intimidated by the gaze of a handful of super-powered people. “Besides, we’ve got Dr. Banner here and he knows bio-organic genetic construction better than anyone in this room.”

All three newcomers are frowning, Captain America more so. Dr. Banner was keeping a wary eye on the twins and Harley can only imagine the look on his mechanic’s face.

The American icon made his thoughts known by ignoring Harley’s presence and directing his words at Tony, “Why is there a kid here? What did you do?”

Annoyed by the barely held back enmity and the clear way it put increasing tension in the room, Harley steps away from Tony’s protective stance to glare at the red-white-and-blue clad man, sparing a glance at the agitated twins. Harley was trying to keep his calm, but the Mind Stone’s stifling presence wasn’t helping.

“I put myself here.” Harley declares, arms crossed. “Tony didn’t do anything.”

That finally put the captain’s attention back on him and he’s doing this face like he’s disappointed that just rubbed Harley the wrong way, especially in this kind of situation they’re in. “This isn’t a game, kid. So whatever Stark told you-”

“Stop it right there, Rogers.” Tony cut in, walking away from the terminal and planting himself to another that is at the corner of the room. “And you, midget, stop rising to the bait. We talked about this. Cap, we’ve got other more important things to do, so spare us your lecturing when we actually want to listen to your spangly voice.”

Harley scoffed at the ‘midget’ comment, but does back down, the Mind Stone finally regaining some sort of sense to actually emit something that didn’t make Harley want to scrub his skin raw. That broken bond and separation really messed it up.

But apparently, only Harley chose to do it because after Tony’s statement was when the adults erupted into an argument. Harley liked to think that he was patient, but the strain between Tony and Captain America and then Dr. Banner and the brunette twin was another thing entirely. He didn’t even bother butting in on this one.

(Calm, he tries to coax the Stone. It doesn’t want to.)

The blond twin had the same thought, his eyes rolling in an ‘I can’t believe this’ way before using his powers—Speed? Okay, Harley was kind of jealous—to stop the squabbling.

With his bond to the Mind Stone, Harley was granted a degree of immunity to track the blond twin with his sight like he’s watching a normal person running. It’s disconcerting. Because Harley knew he can’t really move to match that speed, not even with Magic humming through his veins.

He watches the blond unplug the bigger wires, clearly not sure what was or wasn’t important.

The smug, “No, no. Go on. You were saying?” had Harley covering a grin.

What happened next was a series of stupid decisions that Harley hadn’t seen in a while. He’d had that, many times in his life as Harry Potter and few over his lifetime as Harrhan, but the Avengers were a whole new concoction of tempers and probably hidden grudges. Top that up with super-powers and impending doom and- well, the less said was better.

The blond twin—Pietro, apparently—fell down when Hawkeye-Barton shot the glass beneath the speedster’s feet. Tony sort-of panics as the power loss proved critical to the upload.

Captain America threw his shield at the machines, which were mostly unneeded and was only there for monitoring, thankfully. Tony pulled Harley into a corner without a word before an Iron Man gauntlet flies to his hand and he fires a repulsor beam at the Captain.

Dr. Banner moves to immobilize the brunette twin—whose power was unbelievably unsubtle with its red visual glow—who then retaliated by using her own powers to break free of his hold.

Everyone was moving all at once, and while Harley didn’t have problems in following them all and was more than fine to sit this one through, he would prefer it if they just didn’t fight with each other. Even Harley hadn’t done this kind of turn of events and weren’t they teammates?

He’d kind of gotten the impression that the Avengers were dysfunctional from when his mechanic was run-down enough to rant about them, but this? Harley never expected they would turn on each other like this.

Like a single chink on the armor was enough to make them fall apart.

(Is it poor taste if he compares them to the Black Order and then realize the Order was more a family than the Avengers currently seem like?)

Then, of course, Thor Odinson arrives to put further confusion into the fighting people, jumping on the Cradle and using his lightning to power it back up.

Harrhan had never been this close to the Aesir, had only seen the god of thunder’s conquests from afar. The god’s lightning felt like what Harley would imagine natural lightning felt; static-y but clearly unique to the Aesir. It was neither Magic nor seidr, but still a form of energy similar to it. Strong, but no match to a Stone. It was more likely to be absorbed, like it was doing now.

It stops the fight, everyone riveted at the Aesir’s display. Harley watches it with curiosity, feels the Mind Stone’s pleased hum. Whatever’s happening, it wouldn’t end badly. Not in the way Captain and the twins were sure of, and not in the way Dr. Banner and Tony were wary of.

When Thor Odinson ceased the flow of his lightning, everyone waited with bated breath.

Chapter Text

ARC 3: CHAPTER 15
Kydoimos

-0-

Harley and explosions had a complicated relationship.

On one hand, it was destructive and indiscriminate. It could kill and damage so much more than what one intended. It was quick and easy and messy.

On the other-

(It wasn’t quiet. It wasn’t a silent light and vacant eyes. It drowns out the screams and everything else. Because it’s destruction and-)

So when the Cradle explodes with a muted sound and blasted glass, Harley flinched and took a step back, blinking away images of death and carnage at his own hands.

Then- then the red humanoid figure wakes up from its slumber and rises from its cocoon, from where it had been created, as if it didn’t know gravity should affect it. The figure lands gracefully on crouched feet, silent and unique and beautiful.

(Oh, it’s not just J.A.R.V.I.S. and the Mind Stone or Ultron anymore. It’s something else- the more that J.A.R.V.I.S. had the potential to be.)

The others stood a wary distance away, watching as the figure observed the surroundings and stood on its feet.

Harley wonders how it must have felt, so similar to a newborn, taking in the world with eyes that weren’t J.A.R.V.I.S.’s cameras and sensors nor the Mind Stone’s peculiar way of interaction with the physical world.

Thor Odinson slowly scrambles up from where he’d been thrown by the explosion, eyeing the figure—the being— with visible apprehension. There was a moment where the Asgardian and the figure stared at each other’s eyes, before the figure flings itself to the god. Ready for an assault as Thor Odinson was, the figure was thrown over the Aesir’s shoulder and out of the laboratory window.

The being flies over the communal floor before managing to stop itself midair.

With that, the others snapped out of their shock. Harley seems to have been forgotten as everyone makes their own way outside and down into the common room floor, where the figure hovered before the glass window overlooking the city.

It was a nice view of Manhattan, one that Harley had admired beforehand. He spares a thought to wonder what exactly is going on in the new being’s mind.

(Of seeing the world so differently, of realizing how you are unique. Of discovering the well of loneliness such a thought would summon.)

Captain America looked tense, shield in hand and ready for a fight, while the others held back and observed with caution, means of attack down but still in easy access.

Thor Odinson stops any attacks the Avengers (and twins) might have in mind with a raised hand.

Still much too curious with this unique being, but unwilling to surrender the temporary anonymity, Harley silently observes from the ledge where the broken glass window of the lab used to stand. Brushing away stray glass shards, he plops himself down and watched, the bond between him and the Mind Stone a quiet, pleasant hum now.

Harley doesn’t prod it yet, lets it simmer longer with what the conception of the being had done to it.

The being quietly levitates over to the group, now clad in a green scale-like suit that covered the red and silver of its body. It observes the Aesir, saying something too quiet for anyone else to hear, and creates a cape of its own with a roll of its shoulders.

The distance between Harley and the group was much too far for him to hear them properly, with only Thor Odinson’s booming voice making it to his ears.

“I've had a vision. A whirlpool that sucks in all hope of life and at its center is that.” The god of thunder points to the Stone nestled on the being’s forehead.

Dr. Banner says something, steps forward to make himself known, to which he was answered with, “It's the Mind Stone. It's one of the six Infinity Stones, the greatest power in the universe, unparalleled in its destructive capabilities.”

Harley tilted his head, considered what he managed to hear before the tension inevitably made their words much too terse and quiet for it to make it back to him. He had never considered the possibility that the god of thunder was oblivious to the happenings of the galaxies.

Yet here the prince of Asgard is, only now introducing the concept of the Infinity Stones to the Avengers.

(The vindictive glee over the knowledge that Loki of Asgard failed in that regard was not entirely uncalled for.)

He contemplated using his Magic to amplify his hearing, but, warily eyeing the brunette twin and the being that carried the Mind Stone, Harley chose not to.

Tony is speaking now, pacing in a way that showed his agitation as the being moves, walking a bit closer to where Harley is. Closer, where Harley can catch the words the being utters.

“You think I’m a child of Ultron?” The being asks, tone flat and questioning, but loud in the resounding silence.

(He sounds exactly like J.A.R.V.I.S.)

Harley strains his hearing, understands the “You’re not?” that came from the Captain’s mouth.

“I’m not Ultron.” The being intones thoughtfully, voice faint enough that Harley nearly misses it. “I’m not Jarvis. I’m… I am.”

With narrowed eyes, Harley decided it was time he intervened. This interrogation had lasted long enough. Carefully prodding at the bond he shared with the Stone, Harley made his presence known to the being, pulling its attention from what the brunette twin had been saying.

Thor Odinson interjected, “Their powers, the horrors in our heads, Ultron himself, they all came from the Mind Stone, and they're nothing compared to what it can unleash. But with it on our side…”

(Side? What side?)

Come here. Harley says to the bond, hopes the Stone would relay it.

It does. The being observes Harley with curiosity, head tilted to the side before abandoning the group in favor of hovering before Harley.

This had the disadvantage of pulling the Avengers’s attention on him, too.

It (they? he?) stays floating in the air, head level with Harley’s, studying him in the same way someone would something they don’t understand.

“You are…”The being leans in close enough for Harley to feel the way they don’t breathe quite more than their chest rose and fell to mimic respiration. “Har...ley Keener.” The pause in the first syllable makes him smile, as does the utterly confused expression on the being’s face. “The Stone knows you.”

(It pulls up memories, shores up a tiny bit of Harley Keener to reveal how deeply rooted Harrhan and Harry Potter are entwined within him, broken lines and mismatched pieces fixed together.)

“Yes.” Harley answered, curiously reaching out to touch the being’s face.

The skin is soft and too smooth. It’s cold yet warms at his touch. It’s a shade of red that closely resembles blood, broken by bold, long blocks of silver that are placed along where hair should be and continues down the entire body. Their eyes are similar to a human’s. The irises, though, are layers and ridges that twist like camera lenses; dark and green and blue.

Harley cocks his head to the side. “You are?”

The being considers his question, mirroring the motion of his head, “I am the Vision.”

Harley pulls his hand away to present it for a handshake, beaming at the Vision. “Nice to meet you.”

Vision eyes it curiously, unsure, before reaching up a hand and shaking it. Their wrist is too stiff and grip much too gentle. “It is my pleasure as well, Mr. Keener.”

The Vision’s gaze settled somewhere over Harley’s shoulder. This is the moment Harley notices they weren’t alone anymore.

Tony, Captain America, and Hawkeye-Barton made their way into the lab while the others stayed below, not hostile, but cautious and wary.

Harley first examined the bigger group with a passing glance. Most looked ready to snap to action, but Thor Odinson was observing with intense scrutiny on his face.

The Asgardian prince was clearly not the most intellectual of beings, but living for more than a millenia counts for a lot of things. However, Harley had the advantage of being something largely unknown, so as long as he was careful, the god shouldn’t come to conclusions he shouldn’t have.

Slightly magnanimous, Harley turns his head to face the three superheroes behind him. Tony was sending him glares that either said Harley was in trouble or his mechanic was worried but didn’t want to show it. Knowing him, it was probably a bit of both and something else.

“Don’t you have a bad guy to take down?” Harley asked as he twists so he can see both groups at the edge of his sight, arms crossed and eyebrows raised.

“Not until this guy proves that he’s on our side,” Captain America answers, gaze locked on the Vision who had hovered higher so that their body is seen fully through the lab window. “So, are you?”

“I don’t think it’s that simple.” The Vision responds calmly. At the impatient looks, they elaborate. “I am on the side of life. Ultron isn’t, he will end it all.”

(Life.)

“So they’re on your side!” Harley insists just to end whatever oncoming argument might come after. It was getting tiring to watch them fight with each other. While the philosophy was very, very clear to him, all that mattered now was that they agree on something and get on the same page. “You want to stop Ultron, Vision’s against Ultron. So now you go get to be the Avengers and start avenging wherever Ultron is.”

A few moments of hard scrutiny from Captain America was had, his flinty blue eyes jumping from each person within sight, before the Captain addresses everyone with a stern voice, “Three minutes. Get what you need.”

Hawkeye-Barton slinks out quietly, darting a look in Harley’s direction, while the Captain stops to mutter something at his mechanic before exiting the room. The pursed lips and narrow-eyed look Tony sent to Captain America’s back told Harley how not-well-received it had been.

The rest of the gathered heroes follow suit with whispered words between them. Dr. Banner briefly stopped as if he wanted to say something, eyes on the Vision, but apparently decided against it with a shake of his head before following the others.

With only the three of them left, the Vision hovers into the lab and landed on their feet. Harley twists to sit properly facing the inside of the lab, unconcerned now to turn his back on anyone.

“We are going to have a... conversation after this.” Tony broke the silence, arms still crossed and still a tight coil of tension. “So you actually stay put this time, stay in the tower like the good kid I know you aren’t. I’m letting you have a lot of liberties here.”

“I’ll be fine.” Harley rolls his eyes. But then he reconsiders, seeing the tight jaw and darting, unsure glances towards the Vision. “You’ll succeed. You’re Iron Man! The bad guys don’t stand a chance.” So maybe Harley was still pretty bad at this encouraging and comforting thing, so he adds, a bit more softly, “Jarvis helped you create the Vision. He put everything in that little plan to give you a chance to stop Ultron. He never failed, did he?”

(Tony never believed in himself. He believed in J.A.R.V.I.S.)

Tony’s face was still unreadable, but there’s a bit more light in his eyes, a little less tightness around his shoulders, before he breaks out into a relaxed posture that was as genuine as his press smiles. “You brat. When did you learn to say things like that?”

“One of us has to learn, mechanic,” Harley easily shot back, letting the man pull up masks like he usually did. It barely worked on Harley anymore and they both knew it. “And obviously, you’re not it.”

“Yeah, yeah.” Tony shakes his head with a smile, patting Harley’s head before turning to leave. “Don’t get in trouble or else Pepper will kill me. Well, once she finds out anyway.”

Figures. Happy didn’t even know who Harley was and why Tony asked him to get moved in to the tower. Harley had the time of his life confusing Stark Industries’ Head of Security while munching on greasy burgers and soggy fries. (That kind of food was a mistake to all humankind.)

“You aren’t coming?” Vision asked once they are alone.

“No.” Harley answered, eyes still trained on where his mechanic exited the room. “It’s not yet the time.”

Vision frowned, scrutinizing Harley. “I… hesitate to agree.”

It was obvious that the Vision was privy to some of the things the Mind Stone holds, though most of their processes should be Ultron’s or J.A.R.V.I.S.’s. However, it might not be enough for the Vision to comprehend the constant stream of information the Mind Stone emits.

Harley laughs, “You sound just like Jarvis.”

Then Harley lets his Magic out, lets it surround the Vision, stifling and sharp and threatening. It had been a while, but Harley does it like breathing.

(Does it like he didn’t spend a decade playing the role of some no name kid in backwater, Tennessee. Does it like Harrhan had never had the trouble to do. Does it like Harry Potter had wanted in the deepest part of his mind that selfishly screamed protect.)

“And if you ever hurt Tony like that again or in any way at all, I will not hesitate to let you know how displeased I can get. Words cut just as deep, child.”

“Of-” The Vision shifts in discomfort, eyes wide and visibly apprehensive. “Of course. I apologize.”

Harley hummed, smiling at the Vision.

-0-

It doesn’t take much to track each Avenger (and quasi-Avenger Helpers) down.

Harley weaves protection over each one of them, hiding from the vigilant eyes of the god of thunder with ease. It would protect from one fatal blow and no more, but if only one fell, Harley would be alerted.

None of them will die tonight, not when it would rest too heavily on his mechanic’s battered conscience.

(Not when Harley can finally do something.

Harley has a plan, after all, and his plan has a goal.)

-0-

They leave not long after.

“I’ll see you when you come back.” Harley says, practically demands, to his mechanic, poking the man’s side in emphasis. “You better stay in one piece. You don’t even have your arc reactor to conveniently remove in a crisis anymore. Nothing in you is detachable, and nothing is allowed to be detached.”

Tony cuffs his head, the casual affection new yet familiar, “Brat. That’s hardly encouraging. And you’re still hung up on that? Where’s the ‘don’t leave me behind’ or ‘you’re too precious to die’ hysterics that I deserve?”

“Am I still hung up on that.” Harley scoffed (he is), “I’m not about to shed tears for you, old man.”

(Maybe he would. Maybe he can’t.)

“Why can’t I get a normal kid?” Tony laments to himself without real conviction behind it.

The man was shoring up his defenses, Harley was amenable enough to let it be. “You’d be bored without me, Mechanic. I’m one of a kind!” Honestly, he was more than one of a kind, but no one else needed to know that.

The rest of the team are already in the quinjet, patiently waiting on Tony.

None of them really comments on Harley’s presence anymore, minds focused on the threat that they were going to take down. The brunette twin, Wanda Maximoff, kept on looking at him with a frown. Harley ignores her, easily bats away her poor attempts at using her power, red mist laughably unsubtle and juvenile and uncontrolled in its approach.

He would have to keep a close watch on that one.

-0-

A few hours later, Harley is in his room, attention on the constant hum of the Mind Stone that he interprets like an old, familiar language he hadn’t spoken in a while, but rests comfortably on his tongue.

With the Vision redirecting the flaw, filling in the tiny gaps that never mended on its own, the Stone has become gentler in its tenacity with the bond. It’s still pulling and pulling and pulling, but they’re much softer now, more demanding than vicious tugging.

As it does, it pushes back just as insistently.

(“Do you see? The beauty of it, the inevitability. You rise, only to fall. You, Avengers, you are my meteor, my swift and terrible sword and the earth will crack with the weight of your failure. Purge me from your computers, turn my own flesh against me. It means nothing. When the dust settles, the only thing living in this world will be metal.”)

The news played in the background, a murmur of alarm in the otherwise silent room. It shows the events happening in Sokovia with live streaming footage of the rising landmass that used to be their capital city. People were screaming and panicking, incredulous of the events.

The field reporter spoke with a thick accent, shakily but determinedly narrating how thousands of people stay stranded within even as the Avengers fought, all human and weak and hopeless, against an army of humanoid robots that terrorized the people.

Harley twitched, eyes taking in the video at the same time as his mind trailed after the bond.

Come, it projects too widely in his head, help.

In the television screen, the video zooms into Captain America barely managing to save a person falling from the edge of the broken bridge. Thor flies up, dropping a falling car back on the bridge.

The focus changed, the scene following Iron Man as he flew in the air, circling around the landmass in a motion that said he was scouting. Buildings were collapsing as their foundations were left to grapple with nothing but air.

(Harley has a plan.)

A moment later, Harley Keener disappears from the tower.

Chapter Text

ARC 3: CHAPTER 16
Planē

-0-

Harley has many, many tics. He possesses so many quirks and eccentricities and neuroses that no amount of self-regulation would be able to curb or hide. He’s practically a therapist’s wet dream or, on a more serious note, more than a lifetime’s worth of research and all the career achievements they desire.

One thing that is making itself known, like the freaking fungus that this kind of thing is, was his tendency to latch on to people.

Yeah, sure, Harley Keener is technically a child in the face of any humanized law. A legal dependent, for all intents and purposes.

However, legalities were not physical things. There was no need to tether himself to someone else. He’s pretty much self-sustaining and able to do whatever he wants. He has Magic, he has the experience and the knowledge to get by without having to look at another person to guide him through this life.

But-

It’s jarring, really, how a desire for independence turned into dependence. How something he’d coveted and possessed turned into a mere illusion because of some stupid things his mind likes to toy with.

(How Harry Potter had been forced and manipulated into the position to be dependent, desperate to prove himself to those he cared for. How Harrhan had become so greedy for the warmth of affectionate pride, drunk on the heady sense of belonging and success.

How family is incredibly selfish and how it is his greatest weakness and strength.)

Harley Keener wanted—and needed and craved and coveted—someone to latch on to. Someone to consider his in the frenzied scramble for something to keep himself from drowning.

He had it in his parents, had it in sickly little Emma. They’re lost now, though. Dead and not there and he was unable to do anything to keep them together. Then Mrs. Davis tried to be there, a frail bridge that was collapsing in mere moments.

(And Harley wasn’t all there either. Too consumed in grief and the certainty of what will and had happened.)

Then-

Then he had his Mechanic.

Tony Stark.

Iron Man.

Self-sacrificing idiot who carries the weight of the world and the guilt of his actions like a man craving water in a desert.

The man who hides himself almost as much as Harley did, but different in his own principles.

The weak yet strongest human who had obstinately dug around until he planted himself firmly in Harley’s very Soul.

(Like Thanos had. Like Thanos had never tried.)

And he would raze cities and realms if he knew it would make his Mechanic lose that hunch on his back. He would kill every single one of his enemies if it would make all of his smiles genuine.

But.

(He wasn’t just Harrhan or Harry Potter.)

Harley knew Tony.

In all the video calls they had shared, all the gossip J.A.R.V.I.S. found the loopholes to share with Harley, it had always been clear that what his Mechanic really wanted was peace.

Protection for all that he cared for. Accountability for his past and future actions. The ease from guilt and the end of penitence.

Peace within himself.

There was no easy way to achieve that. No amount of death and destruction and bullheadedness would do that. Not when the story is written and rewritten in the minds of many, not when you are reminded of it again and again from different faces and different mouths.

(A merchant can bargain, can hate and reject and fear what he sells.)

So Harley will just have to be there. To protect his Mechanic.

-0-

Harley appears right beside the Vision, having to take a moment to adjust to the sudden change in pressure.

Immediately, his eyes take in the situation, noting the metal contraption that lay anchored and embedded in the middle of the partial ruins of a Church. The Vision lay unconscious on the ground, another android of hulking silver-like material and of a considerably more menacing appearance hovering before them.

The robot speaks, head cocked to the side, eyes glowing a curious red, “I know you.”

“Ultron, right?” Harley asked, arms relaxed at his side. “Nice to put a face in the stolen name.”

I did not steal the name.” There was no acid in the way it spoke, yet it still managed to convey its disdain. “I am Ultron. I was made to protect the world, to protect it from humanity itself. You, who destroyed worlds and indulged in destruction, who hide death under the guise of a child, stand on no higher pedestal than these parasites. Yet you are a threat bigger than this world has seen.

Harley smiles, sharp and derisive, at the hesitance—the fear. “I am no threat to this world.”

(Not yet.)

He lets his Magic reach out to the Vision, rousing them from unconsciousness. He holds them down when the Vision tried to rise.

I have seen what you can do,” Ultron narrowed its eyes, hovering closer in a bid to intimidate. “Seen what you have done. The Stone sang your praises, boasted of the power you wielded under the rule of the Mad Titan.

“I’m flattered, I guess.” Harley ribbed despite the skip of his beating heart and the tight coil in his chest, eyes darting towards the incoming figure of Thor Odinson. “Hate to cut this short, but I kinda don’t want to get on the Asgardian’s sight for a little bit longer.”

With that, Harley drew out the Invisibility Cloak over his skin, kept within himself and not a physical material any longer than he had lived under the name of Harry Potter. He apparates up to a window ledge just in time for Thor Odinson to come smashing into Ultron with his hammer.

The android dodged with no little grace. Ultron caught the Aesir’s arm and yanked on it until the god had no choice but to let go. Mjolnir dropped on the ground with a resounding thud, drowning out the grunt Thor Odinson let out.

You think you’re saving anyone?” Ultron intoned, glowing red eyes fixated on the god of thunder with anger that masked fear, backed in a corner as it is. The android wrapped a hand around the Asgardian’s throat. “I turn that key and drop this rock a little early and it's still billions dead. Even you can't stop that, Asgardian.

Harley let Vision move, the being darting a look at Harley’s position and then settling on the struggling god. He watched the Vision make a decision, the being silently bending down to pick up Mjolnir with no amount of effort.

Tales of the god of thunder’s hammer was equally spread out as it was varied. The only constant within those tales is that only Thor Odinson was able to wield it with considerable ease. Some whispered of worth, some whispered of strength. No matter the truth, the Vision being able to lift it, much less wield it, is an event of significance.

A pity the other Avengers were not around to see it.

“I...am Thor, son of Odin,” Thor Odinson maintained eye contact with Ultron, but Harley could see the way he stiffened in surprise. “And as long as there is life in my breast, I am...running out of things to say!” The god of thunder finally cast his gaze to where the Vision is poised to attack. “Are you ready?”

And then the Vision uses the hammer to hit Ultron in a show of excellent adaptability and understanding of non-direct cues. Ultron, unprepared for the attack, is sent flying out of the Church with great speed and force.

Thor Odinson’s look of smug triumph was wiped away when the Vision hands the hammer back. It was amusing to see the Aesir shocked, his face wholly expressive of his speechlessness and vain trials of keeping his cool.

“It’s terribly well-balanced.” The Vision opted to inform the god.

The god of thunder didn’t know what to say, instead awkwardly smiling and demonstrating a swing with his hands, “Well, if there's too much weight, you lose power on the swing, so.”

There’s a tense moment of silence between them, Thor unable to start a conversation and the Vision busy processing the new sights and turn of events. Harley himself stayed rooted in place, an ear focused inside the Church and the rest of his attention outside.

The battle raging around them had so far not neared the Church, but Harley could see the incoming horde of robots going in their direction.

Harley jumps down the ledge not even a second later, Magic already working around the ruined Church to strengthen the crumbling structure. Laying down protective barriers required a strong enough foundation.

He drops down to the ground with a roll, the move completely instinctive at this point. There’s a brief twinge of discomfort when he lands.

(He’s gotten a bit rusty, a mark of how different this life is. He both hated and reveled in it.)

He stays close to the Church building, not straying far, but in one of the the few blindspots from the god and being’s side.

The semi-familiar sound of the repulsors had his attention snapped away from the enemies, already drawing back before he even knew what he was doing. Harley clicked his tongue and grimaced at himself when he noticed how his reaction to the assembling Avengers was to hide like some coward.

(Pathetic.)

Harley didn’t know how this response came to be.

To their credit, the Avengers were holding themselves admirably, taking down the Ultron bots with their individual strengths. They aren’t a well-oiled machine, not even close, but they weren’t harming each other.

A red-haired female clad in a black leather suit came bounding into the fray, graceful and deadly as she danced around the Ultron bots and taking them down. This must be the Black Widow.

Natalia Alianova Romanova.

Traitor. Survivor.

(She reminds him of another woman. One with green skin and concealed fear and desperation.)

“What’s the drill?” She questioned as soon as she’s with the group.

This is the drill.” Iron Man points to the mental contraption embedded in the middle of everything. “If Ultron gets a hand on the core, we lose.

Harley considers his options, eyes idly tracking the Hulk as the green being leapt a great distance to land on several of the Ultron bots by the Church entrance.

On one hand, he could stay back and watch, his Magic already done in laying down protective barriers around the metal core contraption and the Church itself. On the other, he could take on a more active role in this helping thing, risking his identity and presence to the acclaimed heroes of earth.

(“It is a curious thing, Harry, but perhaps those who are best suited to power are those who have never sought it.”)

(Harry had been a sacrifice. Harrhan was a monster. Who is Harley Keener on top of all that?)

He wasn’t ready. Harley was… something else, something different. He’s Harry-and-Harrhan-and-Harley, an amalgamation of experiences and reactions and motivations that don’t add up when everything was said and done.

He’s the Master of Death, and he cares about a lot of things.

One thing that he cares about, one thing that Harley Keener would do just about anything for, was Tony Stark.

There’s still a part of him that was Harry Potter, a part of him that was willing to take risks because of his saving people thing. But there’s also a part of him that was Harrhan, a part of him that was better and worse at the same time, who takes calculated risks instead of jumping in head first.

And Harley Keener was both.

“Is that the best you can do?” Thor Odinson taunted Ultron with a booming voice.

Ultron hovers in the distance, eyes narrowed at the assembled Avengers. It raises a hand, summoning a large army of robots behind itself that stood, ready to attack, to create an image of intimidating unity. Harley spies most of the Avengers draw back instinctively, Captain America sending a peeved look at the god.

“You had to ask.”

Harley’s lip twitched, attention split between keeping track of the situation at hand and carefully letting his Magic slither into the crevices of Ultron and its army. It’s delicate work to keep it below Ultron’s sensors or anyone else’s notice, more so with just how many robots Ultron had summoned to its side.

His hands and fingers moved to direct his Magic, something that was completely unnecessary before but something he needed to do now to allow for the highly sensitive task he was working on. Spells were one thing, wards and protection another, but this nebulous manipulation was on an entirely different plane. Especially with his all too human body.

Because no matter that it looked similar, this use of Magic isn’t telekinesis, isn't what humans in this world (reality) has ever wielded.

It would have been better if he had (a wand, the scepter) something to make it easier and faster.

I see hypocrisy is not beneath you,” Ultron enunciates, somehow disappointed and wondering at the same time. “It repulses me to see how easily and how strongly you believe in your misplaced righteousness. You claim to save the world, yet you work with one who has destroyed planets at a mere order. An abomination you greatly underestimate.

Harley tilted his head, recognizing Ultron’s bid to stall, to divert attention from itself.

(Feels the sinking realization of where this is going to go.)

It’s working, too, if the look of confusion on the Avengers’s face was anything to go by. The Vision hovered behind them, a spectre who has their eyes on Harley, aware of where the child is.

It was no matter, Ultron’s defeat was close and the only thing between them is the remnants of the presence of the Mind Stone that could fight Harley’s Magic. Stretched out as it was, any sort of disturbance like that could cause Harley’s attack to fail.

Subtlety has always made it hard.

Uh, not sure what you’re talking about, Red Queen,” Iron Man spoke through the suit’s speakers, flippant and confused. “Can you please say it out loud for the people at the back?

Ultron tilts its head, considering something, then opens its mouth to answer, “A child of Thanos, a—”

Harley’s eyes narrowed, viciously motions his fingers and hands apart in a jerky and contained movement. The army of robots fall apart, the sound of screeching metal nearly deafening in the sudden stillness. It doesn’t quite break through the ringing in Harley’s ears, rage and fear louder than anything else.

(Why does he fear? What does he fear?)

Ultron lay on the ground, limbs loose but parts still intact. It struggles to speak, struggles to move, but Harley didn’t want it alive anymore. He thinks of destruction, thinks of pain and eradication, wishes to burn it to the ground.

It’s incredibly irrational and completely out of nowhere.

(Like a dam that suddenly crumbled. Like a bottle filled to bursting.

Like being confronted by a past he doesn't want to talk about. Like his actions that he never wanted anyone to find out.)

Before he could move—before he utters the cursed fire that was at the tip of his tongue, burning right under his skin—something else gets to the sorry pile of useless metal limbs. The Vision flew down, the Mind Stone emitting a menacing glow, and a ray of pure energy exploding out of it and into Ultron, containing the entity and destroying it once and for all.

The light was blinding, but it was enough to make Harley aware of how he had frozen over, joints locked in place and trembling all over. His breath came in short pants, heart beating too fast and loud in his ears, his throat tight and skin cold and clammy. He tried to keep control, tried to keep his breathing regulated, tried to just breathe holy shit why won't it stop.

(It’s the water dragging him down, down, down into the darkness where the ice isn’t just inside him anymore.)

Everything narrows down to doing whatever he can to just freaking calm down. To put sense into this irrationality.

His Magic, on edge and tense even with how depleted it had been with the attack on Ultron and its bots, lashed out around him.

“—does he mean?”

“—there’s no one else here—”

Harley takes a deep, stuttering breath, focuses on the conversation to swallow down the vestiges of panic. (To push down the ice in his veins and wade through the water until it only ran up to his ears.)

“—‘A child of Thanos’? Sounds like something right out of a pedophile’s wet dream—

“Ultron never said anything about—”

“Thor? Do you know something?”

The chatter stopped at the inquiry. Harley angles his head to look at the god, head turning up from where he’d shoved it between his knees.

“Aye,” The prince of Asgard looked thoughtfully shaken, restless agitation seen in the way he rolls and tosses Mjolnir in his hands. “Thanos and his children are known across the realms. They spread death and destruction, raze civilizations for the sake of nothing but their own gain.”

“As much as we would appreciate an explanation,” The Vision interrupted and everyone actually did turn to listen to them, “I believe there are still other, much more pressing matters we should address.”

Uh, yeah, Vision’s right.” Iron Man seconded, false bravado leaking into his tone to hide his wariness toward the being. “Whatever that death metal and glowy lightshow was, it definitely got rid of Ultron. And I mean everything. My sensors aren’t registering anything from that pile of junk. Yes, those freaky last words were creepy, but we’re still going up without a hint of stopping or slowing.

There was a tense moment where Iron Man and Captain America shared a glance, before it was swept away with the urgency of the situation.

“We gotta move out.” Captain America agreed with a decisive nod. “You guys get to the boats, I’ll sweep for stragglers.”

“Yeah, gettin’ harder to breathe here,” Hawkeye-Barton threw in. “What about the core?”

Wanda Maximoff stepped forward, a determined set on her gait and face. “I'll protect it. It's my job.”

Whatever they saw in each others’ looks, no one said anything in protest. The Avengers are still a team no matter the disagreements between them.

Rhodey said there’s no more evil bots around, Cap. Fell off the sky like bugs spritzed with pesticide,” Iron Man says in lieu of anything, already moving to fly off. “Seems our little helper was thorough.” And then he was out.

“No child of Thanos is little,” Thor Odinson decided to add—to which no one really reacted to—before he, too, took off.

Hawkeye-Barton shakes his head and calls out a “Nat!” in invitation to the Black Widow.

Captain America stalls for a moment, eyes landing on Pietro Maximoff, “Keep your sister company. Whatever or whoever took down Ultron’s army single-handedly could still be around. We have no way of knowing what they want."

He gets a determined nod from the speedster.

"And when I say it’s time to leave, you leave, got it?”

The twins share a look, one that spoke of a bond that had gone through more than enough tragedies and triumphs. Wanda Maximoff ends up looking away while Pietro Maximoff sloppily salutes the Captain.

Harley decided to slip away then.

-0-

The destruction of what had once been Novi Grad, Sokovia was punctuated by a huge surge of lightning in the higher atmosphere of Earth. A few minutes later, dust rained over the shocked populace as the huge pole that had kept the propelled land together fell into the Black Sea.

A crater was all that was left where a city brimming with life used to be.

Hundreds of lives were lost, but more had been saved by the combined efforts of the Avengers and what had been called SHIELD.

Harley watches this on a mountain that overlooked the entire country, sat down on a fallen log that was situated over a cliff. His fingers absently scratched at the bark, while the other hand fiddled with the plastic pink watch around his wrist.

He does nothing to acknowledge the approaching presence of the Vision.

It didn’t matter, because the Vision speaks only a few moments of silent observation later, “You’re afraid.”

Harley paused, fingers seizing from its scratching. “Of what?”

“Of their fear and judgment. Of what he will think of you. Of yourself.” The Vision responded, maintaining the distance between them. “The Stone does not speak to me unless you will it to. I hold no knowledge of what you have done, not like Ultron did. What I do know are your actions today and the… lingering aspects of Jarvis."

The Vision hovers closer. Harley doesn't react.

"You helped save hundreds of people you had no duty to protect.” It was said in baffled wonder. Truly, it must be confusing to a being conceived from code and a cosmic power.

The dichotomy of human behavior. Of any behavior, really. The Master of Death wasn't sure if he is even aware of it too.

Harley allows smile to tug at his lips, dark and sardonic. He doesn’t deny the Vision’s words. “That’s such a simplistic twist on things.” There was no room for condescension, but it sounded like it anyway.

“It is often the simplest of reasons that should be taken as the truth,” The Vision recites as if quoting from somewhere before amending, “Yet I do know of the complexity of human turmoil.”

They spend a moment of silence, both lost in thought. Harley admires the view for the last time, taking in the morbidly beautiful sight. Relishing, despite the situation and how it got there, in the blissful silence in his head.

(He’d forgotten how silence could just be as comforting.)

Harley had just stood up and turned around when the Vision speaks again, a familiar, familiar scepter in hand.

“I found this,” the Vision explained, face clear of emotions that they haven't put a name to yet. “Felt its importance without knowing why. I found that I couldn't leave it there even if I tried.”

Harley accepts it with trembling hands, the quiet his mind had settled into breaking with such a simple gesture.

Chapter Text

ARC 3: CHAPTER 17
Kyllopodíōn

-0-

When Tony Stark decided to mutter a fuck it and used his battered suit to fly back to New York, it wasn’t because he particularly wanted to do so.

Seriously, he’d rather take the quinjet with him. The suit’s thrusters were not in optimal condition for the flight over.

And yeah, sure, he’s tired and aching and yes, there’s probably a fractured bone there somewhere, but he’s Iron Man. He can handle it. No one survived being a forty-something superhero in a weaponized gold-titanium alloy suit of armor without developing a high pain tolerance.

This was nothing compared to having his sternum and ribs cracked open without even a drop of morphine in his system.

(Tony’s lived it so many times it’s been downgraded into a nightmare he can still sleep through. He can pretty much describe it in detail if anyone so much as asked.

Like, hey, Tony, how did it feel like to have the reactor put in your chest?

He’d break a spleen and create presentation out of it; diagrams and all.)

Or, you know, slowly dying of palladium poisoning and other what-have-yous he’d indulged in under that type of duress.

(God, that threat about chucking him to a therapist wouldn’t even be a threat anymore if Pepper heard his trains of thought.)

So, something as plebeian as being tired and achy hadn’t been an impediment to Tony Stark in a long, long time.

Besides, there were things he really needed to take care of after blowing up an entire city in mid-air. The Helicarrier is all nice and dandy, but the principle of the matter is that there are thousands of sokovian refugees currently under the dubious care of S.H.I.E.L.D.

(And it’s somehow his fault.)

Between millions, if not billions of dollars of property damage (how do you even file destroying an entire landmass and the city above it in a way that wouldn’t send the accounting department- the legal team to tears?) and the amount of bureaucracy involved in settling a huge bunch of foreign refugees... Tony already dreaded the amount of work that would require.

And really, he didn’t need to see how much Hill hated his guts, or bare the sharp glares the female Maximoff liked to give off like candy while her brother's zooming around and actually helping, or suffer under the constipated look of judgment plastered on Captain Sometimes my teammates don’t tell me things whenever he notices Tony was in the vicinity.

Thank any being higher than Thor that they were all kept busy enough that there was no possible way for them to talk.

So yes, Tony slipped away from all of that chaos because a.) he’s so sick of the underlying hostility—he’s obnoxious, not oblivious—and b.) S.H.I.E.L.D. may have had its dirty fingers (and tentacles) on many different pies, but their current resources are absolute shit compared to what Tony has. There’s a letter C there, and that was maybe the most unconvincing reason of all.

(It’s not guilt. It really isn’t.)

Tony left Harley a few hours and the kid manages to find a way to get into F.R.I.D.AY.’s systems. It would have been impressive (and alarming, because his baby girl might be new, but Tony was sure her code was as protected as it can be at the moment)—and it still is impressive—had F.R.I.D.AY. not detected the clumsy-but-still-acceptable attempt.

Then the brat had the gall to leave a threat.

Come back here or else I’ll make sure all of your files are named the same. All of it, Mechanic.”

So there’s reason C.

And yeah, why should Tony Stark of all people listen to a kid’s harmless threat?

Because Harley Keener never failed to deliver what he claims. F.R.I.D.AY. didn’t have access to the servers of the Tower, so the kid could easily make his threat real. Tony didn’t want to deal with that kind of tediousness now or ever.

(It would be a lie if Tony said he wanted to stay there any longer, where there are sharp glances and curt words. Where the mixture of Russian and Slavic merged in a language of sorrow and relief and anger that Tony had started to understand after enough time has passed.)

“Call off the suit, Friday.” Tony says once they land on the tower, wincing as his injuries are jostled by the suit disassembling around him.

(There’s a sharp pang of loss that he firmly shoves away for later at the absence of the expected welcome home, sir.)

As far as he’s concerned, a few bruised ribs (possibly fatal), a strained knee (less fatal, but annoying), and a couple of cuts (significantly less fatal, but infinitely more annoying) was touch and go for all the roughing up he’d received from the battle.

“You look like you’ve gone a few rounds with giant spiders.”

Tony doesn’t jump, but it was close to it. Head whipping around, Tony glared at the casually lounging form of one kid from Tennessee, sitting with his legs crossed on one of the ledges.

It was dangerous to be sitting that high, right? Tony really should start researching on what responsible adults should do.

(Now that J.A.R.V.I.S. wasn’t–)

“Jesus Christ, kid.” Tony rubbed a hand over his chest where his heart made a few painful thumps, managing a narrow eyed look at Harley Keener. “Give the poor man with heart conditions a warning. And really? Spiders? Where do you even pull those things from?”

“Not my fault you didn’t see me coming in.” The kid shrugs, a guarded look passing over his face before it was back to a pinched look that oozed disapproval like nobody’s business. “And for the record, they’re giant spiders that can talk and have very painful venom. What did I say about losing limbs, Mechanic?”

There was a time when odd remarks like talking giant spiders, mountain trolls, and heck soul-sucking flying dementor-things made Tony worry about the kid’s imagination. They were illogical and exactly the kind of flitting fancy Howard never allowed Tony to have. Like having fantastical imagination made someone less of a person.

And it was exactly for that reason that Tony never judged.

It doesn’t hurt to admit that there was that spark of fondness whenever Harley said something ridiculous, something completely absurd to detract seriousness from the coming conversation that would have made either of them uncomfortable.

But there’s something...off about it right now. Like it just wasn’t hitting the right buttons. And call Tony self-centered all you want, but after the last few days that he’d had, he can’t actually control the tangents his mind would go off to.

In response, Tony splays a hand in the air in a so-and-so motion. “I’m whole, if you didn’t notice.”

Whatever reaction he was expecting, it wasn’t for Harley to launch himself down from a height more than two times taller than Tony, and what the hell, of course the kid survives it, landing on the ground like he was a monkey and not the vanilla human that he is.

Fuck, Tony didn’t remember anything this heart attack-inducing that few years ago when they’d first met.

Or Tony’s just more exhausted than he first thought, because there was no way the kid didn’t even wobble. Maybe the ledge wasn’t even that high and that it’s perfectly sane to jump down from it. Yes, he’s going with that.

“Okay, I’m gonna pretend you didn’t almost cause cardiac arrest twice in less than five minutes,” Tony muttered, rubbing his tired eyes. “Nope. Not at all. This isn’t going to set the tone of our completely normal, science-filled future. I’m not old enough for gray hair.”

Harley didn’t say anything, which really should have set the alarm bells off in Tony’s mind, but his body decided this was the prime time to let the exhaustion be felt all over his joints and injuries. God, he hated being reminded of his physical limits. As much as he claims that he is Iron Man, Tony Stark is still very much a baseline human with enough health problems to fund a hospital for a decade.

Stubbornness could only last for so long.

So yeah, no one could blame Tony for the surprised yelp he let out when a pint-sized missile collided with his stomach, gangly limbs snaking around his waist to hold on with reluctant strength.

And it hit Tony then. Like a giant bucket of ice cold water dumped on him out of nowhere.

Having been running on fumes and more than an unhealthy dose of manic desperation, Tony had wholly ignored just why Harley Keener was there in the first place. Too consumed by the problem he had created, too distracted and too driven to remember.

(Just like how Howard was. Always busy, always working, always looking for Captain fucking America that it felt like Tony was there because of the convenience of having a wife.)

Not even a day in (and Christ, it felt so, so much longer than that) and Tony was already messing this up, too.

This was a bad idea. Why did Tony agree to take in a kid in the first place? Discounting even his own set of problems, Tony Stark was nowhere near the first or even the last person anyone would consider for this position. It was a miracle the paperwork even went through as smoothly as it did. Was it too late to change it again? Tony can definitely find a more suitable and more qualified and more deserving person out there.

“Stop it,” came the muffled words from the boy still clinging around him, “You’re supposed to be comforting me, not drowning in your old man thoughts.”

Tony swallows down the automatic response of snarking back because he’s actually capable of holding back, thank you very much.

At the engineer’s hesitance, Harley groans exaggeratedly before tilting his head to fix Tony with a glare. “Clearly, you don’t know how this works. Hug me. Yes, that, move those arms. I don’t care if your joints ache.”

Jeez,” Tony finally lets out, exasperation and fondness and the magnanimous thing human contact does mixing together to overpower the guilt for the moment. “So demanding. Keep up with those old man jokes and I’ll revoke your lab access.”

“You won’t,” was the only thing the brat said before pressing his face against Tony’s shirt, surprisingly gentle despite the rough movements.

“You wanna talk?” Tony finds himself asking, concern making its way through the exhaustion a few seconds too late.

Harley makes a noise at the back of his throat. “Later.”

Despite the overall awkwardness of the hug, neither made a move to pull away.

Tony nods. “Later,” he says in agreement.

And if Tony feels the tremors of the smaller body clinging to him, he doesn’t say a word.

(Maybe Tony needed this too.)

-0-

The meeting between F.R.I.D.AY. and Harley goes like this.

“Friday?” Harley eyes the battered armor with a squint. “Huh.”

It only takes a moment for her to answer. “Nice to meet you, Mr. Keener. Boss didn’t have time to say much about you.

And there was something...vulnerable in the way the boy from Tennessee drew back before it was gone, leaving Tony wondering if he really saw it. Instead, Harley taps at the suit’s reactor, a grin tugging at his lips. “Want me to show you around the internet?”

I’d love to.

Tony sighed, feeling that this will somehow backfire in some way.

(But there’s warmth somewhere in his chest, tight and uncomfortable.)

-0-

Later came in a few hours, when Tony was bandaged up (and honestly, seriously slapped with Barbie bandaids that appeared out of nowhere) by a curiously efficient and silent Harley. It wasn’t that Tony isn’t already aware that the kid knew how to tend to injuries. He is. It was that Harley was a tight coil of tension the entire time.

The engineer and the boy are down in Tony’s personal workshop, working away the night (day? Tony didn’t bother to check) elbow deep in official statements and inquiries and the general hubbub of keeping the Avengers afloat in the aftermath of a particularly gruesome battle.

(Neither had to voice out the reluctance to use the ruined labs where all of this mess started.)

Harley, brilliant kid that he is, was working with F.R.I.D.A.Y. to clean up the tower’s systems and make sure there was nothing left of Ultron with the secured remote access Tony had sneaked into NEXUS. Tony, being the adult between the three of them, was left to handle the boring things that involved politics and S.H.I.E.L.D. and pulling favors from the right people.

It’s weird, at least, that the thought of leaving such a task to someone (a kid, really) didn’t bother him at all. Well, that was a lie, because Tony was absolutely bothered by how the kid and his A.I. managed to tag-team him into letting them at it.

But well–

Dum-E and U, dumb, only slightly helpful bots that they are, were more than happy to welcome the kid into the fold. And Harley Keener is one of the few that Tony trusted.

“You know it’s not your fault, right?”

Tony takes a moment to pretend he didn’t hear anything, but decides against it. He’s tired and exhausted and in need of  something more potent than caffeine.

“I’ve done a lot of things, kid.” Tony started with as much light-heartedness as he could manage. “SI’s plummeting stocks? That’s on me. The Malibu mansion going down the ocean? Again, my fault. That hole in Bexley Hall that no one ever managed to repair until they demolished the building? You bet it’s mine. Well, Rhodey too. Platypus dared me. Anyway, you gotta be more specific than that.”

Even without taking his attention off the holoscreens and the various documents he was composing, Tony felt the massive eye roll Harley was making.

“Ultron. And I guess me, too.” Harley’s blunt answer actually made Tony pause before going back to his work, fingers moving slower this time. “We were both minding our business, things happened. That’s it. No need to get worked up because I suddenly decided to pull away.”

Tony wanted to protest. There were so many things he could say about the matter, but he was given no chance to.

“And Ultron? From what I gathered, that thing wasn’t your Ultron. Never had been. Friday scanned through the data at least thrice and there was no code. How can it be your fault when there was nothing besides a name? Your Ultron was just an idea, wasn’t it?”

Tony hadn’t even noticed that he stopped working, standing there with his limbs frozen in place and swallowing down the panic clawing its way up. Logically, he knew the kid was deflecting and that Tony should be the one leading this conversation, but there’s nothing logical about the sudden fear that gripped his heart.

“A suit around the world.” Harley plowed on ruthlessly, so terribly reflective of their first interactions when Tony’s panic attacks were at an all time high. “Wasn’t that what you said?”

Because what the kid was saying is right and true and was definitely something Tony didn’t ever want to confront.

Ultron was an idea. A peacekeeping program that he and Bruce were supposed to create based on the data they manage to collect from Loki’s scepter (the Mind Stone, now).

Three days. Three days it took for the combined minds of J.A.R.V.I.S., Bruce Banner, and Tony Stark to create one possible, completely hypothetical rendering of the neural network they have managed to accidentally detect within an alien artifact. It wasn't functional, existing only in J.A.R.V.I.S.'s system as a model, a simulation to test the possible outcomes without integrating anything they weren't sure of.

But along the way, something went wrong, something that they didn’t account for.

This could have been avoided if you hadn't played with something you don't understand.

And that’s just the thing. They didn’t understand. Who was supposed to make them understand? Thor hardly ever explained anything or genuinely didn't know how to. It would have been fine had the god of thunder not been their only source of information. How were they going to defend themselves from something that they don’t even know?

Fury was on to something with his reasons for Phase Two, and Tony could honestly see his point of view, but S.H.I.E.L.D. would always be a shady organization no matter how many skeletons in the closet they air out.

Ever since he slipped through that portal, carrying the weight of the world and a million ton trinitrotoluene on the back of a failing suit, waiting for death that never came while forced to realize that there’s something so much bigger of a threat out there, his fear had become that of protecting everything he knew from what he didn’t.

Aliens existed. Beings stronger and more knowledgeable than humans lived throughout unexplored galaxies. And it's been proven, time and time again, that Earth was nowhere near able to defend itself from them.

(He sees the team, the Avengers, the people worming their way into what Tony could have called a family. Dead and broken and blaming him for not doing enough to save them.)

So Tony had taken the opportunity presented to him, heedless of the consequences.

(He remembers the team, not dead, but tired and anxious and cleaning up the mess in Sokovia, and they're blaming him still.)

And it's Tony fucking Stark's fault.

"You can still do that." Harley broke through his thoughts.

"Yeah?" Tony snapped, admitting to himself that he was being defensive. But right now he was tired and raw and he didn't need to have his actions rubbed on his face by a child. "And then what? Look what happened when I tried! We had to blow up an entire city. Hundreds died. Thousands of families are homeless. Bruce is somewhere blaming himself for Johannesburg. And Jarvis is-" His throat tightens and he chokes on his next words. "I can't- I tried, okay? Nothing I can do is ever gonna fix what Ultron did. What I did.  I'm just- I'm tired, Harley. I'm just a rich guy flying around in a tin can and playing hero. I fuck everything up."

Immediately after finishing that last sentence, Tony feels shame swallowing him up. There's a lot of things to be done, lots of people who were going through so much more than he is, and here he was, puking his guts out to a kid who shouldn't even be there.

(Stark men are made of iron.)

"I-" Tony squares his shoulders, pushes away the exhaustion deep inside his bones, and pointedly goes back to what he was doing. "That was rude of me. I'm sorry. That was unfair."

For a long, tense moment, there was only silence.

“Tony.”

Tony tries not to react, focusing instead on the message he was composing for the contacts he had around Europe.

“Mechanic, look at me.”

Right, he had to secure visas for the others in the team. Crossing the borders between countries was still illegal without it. Ah well, better late than never.

And- Tony definitely doesn’t screech in surprise when an awfully strong kick was delivered to his shin.

Ow, shit. That was uncalled for!” Tony glowers down at the pleased looking midget in front of him. “Do you always resort to violence when you’re being ignored?”

The little shit that Harley is only says a “Totally was,” in response.

“Well? What is it?” Tony impatiently asked, grumbling under his breath as he rubbed at his poor shin.

“I was going to say something very wise and well thought-out.” Harley hedges, smugness draining away into a serious look that looked terrifying and out of place on a face that hadn’t even hit puberty yet. “And I still am.”

Even disquieted, Tony managed a disbelieving scoff, but he doesn’t say anything.

“You can still do that.” Harley says, arms crossed. “Put a suit around the world, I mean. You’re Tony Stark, genius, billionaire, ex-weapons manufacturer for the military, philanthropist. You didn’t have the Iron Man suit when you revolutionized the entire world with your technology twice over. You take risks no one else would. You became Iron Man when the world needed him. And yeah that worked for years, too. Now, you have this tacky boy band called the Avengers.”

Tony tries hard not to react at ex-weapons manufacturer and mostly succeeds.

Then, as if it really was such an easy concept, Harley shrugs. “Maybe the world needs more of Tony Stark, the genius, billionaire mechanic than Iron Man, the superhero, now that they have the Avengers.”

It took so many moments, but Tony managed to get a hold of himself.

“Get back to work,” was all he managed to croak out.

-0-

Tony drifts.

He’s lying on his back, chest tight and heavy. The ground beneath him is cold and hard, uneven and covered in dust and grime. He reaches up with barely responding limbs.

There’s a sinking feeling of realization when his fingers met the familiar cold metal on his chest.

His eyes snap open, sight met with darkness adorned by tiny dots of light. There’s red around the edges, beckoning him to look behind.

He doesn’t struggle.

And then-

(He dreams of red and blue and yellow. Of pain and hurt and discomfiting numbness.)

-0-

He doesn't know when it happened, but Tony passed out somewhere between replying to the secretary of foreign affairs of the Czech Republic and reassuring Rhodey that he was fine in the tower.

He opens his eyes to Harley shaking him awake, the smell of some sort of stew making his stomach grumble.

"You gotta wake up, Mechanic. Friday says your superhero buddies are coming over with a few extra baggages."

Tony groans.

He was expecting his body to be sore, but the feeling of lightness like he weighed nothing wasn’t something his brain processed quick enough. Like the aches and pains of yesterday was nothing but a memory. It was nice, though. Very, very nice. He just wanted to bask into the feeling and never let it go.

Managing a few moments more before pulling himself up, he muttered a "When?" that continued the conversation when it registered as something important to his sleep-addled brain. There’s a moment of confusion on how he ended up on the couch that he completely dispels as he tries to shake off the grogginess clinging to his thoughts.

"Well, they left a couple of hours ago so about thirty– forty minutes?" Harley hands him a mug filled with coffee and Tony absentmindedly accepts it. "Vision, Thor, and your Rhodey flew on their own so they'd arrive earlier."

"Thanks, kid." Tony mumbles into the rim of the cup, the smell of promised caffeine already making him more alert.

He finishes it in record time, ignoring the way it scalds his tongue. You'd think after years of abuse it would hurt less. It doesn't. He just got so used to it that it didn't matter in the grand scheme of things. And the grand scheme of things is that coffee was the best thing mankind had ever discovered and that this coffee tasted so heavenly Tony felt threatened by the sudden religious thoughts that entered his mind.

Before he could put it down or beg for more, it was snatched away from his hands and replaced by a bowl filled with stew that made his mouth water just by the scent.

Despite how famished he feels, Tony raises an eyebrow in question at the boy watching him intently.

"What?" Harley blurts out defensively, squirming in such a familiar way that Tony had seen countless times on video but never with his own eyes. "I can cook. I've been doing it for a long time."

Tony shakes his head and takes a bite, hunger winning him over and knowing better than to poke personal-question-shaped holes this early in the morning (night? Afternoon? Tony wasn’t sure anymore).

"Just wondering what you wanted." He makes a startled, pleased noise when the taste registers. "Oh my god, this tastes even better than restaurant food."

Harley makes a face that somehow combined pleased, embarrassed, and confused. "Uh, thanks, but I don't really want anything?"

Tony was on the side of awake that stopped him from letting out something he would regret later like cooing.

"No," Tony hums instead. "Seriously, what do you want? I'll give you anything if this is what you feed me."

"I don't-" Tony bites back a smirk at the aggravated sigh the kid lets out, smugly relishing in the glare he is graced with. "Stop looking at me like that."

"Like what?"

"I know what you're doing and I don't like it, Mechanic."

Tony shrugs innocently and takes another bite of his food. "I'm not doing anything."

Harley let out a frustrated huff and threw himself beside Tony. "You know you don't have to make up for anything," said the kid with an amount of understanding that bordered on uncomfortable.

Seriously, here Tony was, offering up virtually anything that a person could ask for, and the half-pint deflects it with talk about feelings. And while Tony acknowledged the fact that it was the responsible thing to do, a small part of him would like to put it off a little bit longer.

"And you didn't have to give me coffee and food. Not to mention you're helping out in this mess." Tony points his spoon in emphasis before sticking it back in his mouth, aiming for dismissive and mostly succeeding. Mostly, because this kid could make Natasha bristle at how perceptive he can be. "Fair's fair."

Harley stares at him with narrowed eyes then deflates when he didn't budge. "Fine."

"So?"

"I guess…" The kid trails off, head tilted thoughtfully. There's something deeply calculating to it. "Let me meet your superhero buddies properly. It's not everyday that a kid can claim the Avengers know their name."

"You've never been interested in them before. I almost thought you disliked them." Tony noted, expertly hiding that tiny bit of hurt. Ah, insecurities really were such bitches sometimes, rearing their heads where they aren’t needed.

"It's more… I didn't really care?" Harley shrugged. "It's the only thing I can think of right now."

"Really?"

The boy nods. "Really."

"Suit yourself." Tony rolls his eyes and sticks another spoonful into his mouth. He’ll get something for the kid later. Something overly extravagant and outlandish just to prove his point.

If this was their way of sweeping things under the rug, it was no wonder he and the kid got along so well.