I really struggled with this chapter, but I hope you enjoy!

"I know you won't eat me now," Harry points at Romanoff when she emerges from the elevator. Last time, in Stark's lab, Harry had been convinced Romanoff was his mother, a witch, coming back to devour him. James marvels at how far his son has come, how much safer he feels about magic in general, even if the Widow is not truly a witch.

"She won't hurt you," James replies, as much a threat to Romanoff as a reassurance to Harry.

"I'm just here to chat. No fighting this time," Romanoff agrees. "You saved us a trip to Kolkata."

"Guess it's not a super secret boy band if you're in it." Stark levels a look at her. "I remember you saying they shouldn't invite me. Something about being volatile, self-obsessed, not playing well with others."

Romanoff glances at the mostly assembled team. "Clearly I was wrong. Are you going to exclude me now?"

"Nah. I need to set a good example for the kid," Stark glances pointedly at Harry.

"There's good witches and wizards." Harry tells Romanoff, who had been unaware of magic at the start of her last visit, "But the bad one in my head is trying to eat my brain. Like Dad."

"Next thing I know, our lives are actually going to become a zombie movie," Stark runs a hand through his hair. "Though I guess Cap here did come back from the dead."

Steve is too busy dealing with Coulson's obvious adoration to comment that he was in suspended animation.

Coulson smiles, shaking Steve's hand profusely. "Captain America. You're alive. It's like a dream come true."

Steve's eyebrows rise and Stark snorts something about fanboys. Coulson clears his throat. "I mean, it's an honor to meet you, Captain. We were searching for you, of course, but-"

"I did what dear old dad never could," Stark raises a hand and conveniently forgets to mention following an owl. "Or you and Fury's monkeys. You know, I'm totally going to lord this over you forever."

To Stark's obvious annoyance, Coulson does not deign that with a reply. The agent smiles at Steve again. "I can't say how relieved I am that you were found by the right side,"

Stark grins, clearly about to gloat some more, but Steve's jaw tightens and he very pointedly avoids glancing at James.

I know you're thinkin' about me, punk. Bucky says in James's head. Steve's eyes are full of guilt, and still won't meet his. No doubt wishing he'd been found by HYDRA to spare James.

"We could really use someone like you, now." Coulson lets go of Steve's hand after shaking far too long.

"To fight HYDRA," Steve nods, expression growing even darker. "Since I did so well defeating them last time,"

'Least you didn't wind up working for them. Bucky's voice sounds far guiltier than Steve. James has a sudden urge to sling an arm around Steve's extremely-broad shoulders. It would feel wrong. His arm remembers Steve's shoulders feeling far narrower and bonier.

"We're getting them this time," Stark claps an arm on Steve's shoulder. James still hasn't moved to do so himself.

"Did you find a better wizard to get the bad guy out?" Harry asks Coulson. "Moody can't."

"We're dealing with a lot of bad guys right now." Coulson is clearly too preoccupied to truly listen to what Harry is saying.

"Too many bad guys." Harry nods in agreement, casting an offended look out the window. "Too much HYDRA."

James ruffles Harry's hair, though his face is somber in agreement.

HARRY IS NOT SAFE UNTIL ALL HEADS ARE SEVERED.

"Do you want the Avengers fighting HYDRA?" Potts does not even feign ignorance of group..

"Ideally, yes. Unfortunately-" Coulson is quickly interrupted by Stark.

"We're fighting them already, but they keep popping up like whack-a-moles." Stark pulls up holographic videos of Captain America, Iron Man, and a large green guy that must be the Hulk. Banner looks intensely uncomfortable.

Stark gestures to a screen showing a muscular, bearded man with long blonde hair holding a huge hammer high to summon lightning. "Guess that's why you're recruiting a hammer guy for our real life Justice League, huh? So what is it, HYDRA wizards?"

"He's like Storm," Harry sounds rather unimpressed, having seen her make a tornado in addition to lightning.

Banner winces, clearly worried about the mansion's privacy, but Coulson nods.

"He has similar powers, but he is an alien."

"From Space?" Steve sounds almost awed, and James tries to ignore the excitement of the Bucky voice. "Stark said we went to space, but the only aliens he mentioned were fictional. He looks human."

Stark gestures almost proudly at Banner. "If you're expecting little green men, we've got a big one right here,"

Banner doesn't return Stark's smile, glancing anxiously at the agents as if they'll suddenly whisk him away. Romanoff holds up her hands in a gesture of peace. "We're just here for your help finding the Tesseract."

"What do you want me to do, swallow it?" Banner's lips quirk in a wry smile.

"We want you to find it." Coulson tells him calmly, not projecting any worry about Banner's other form. "We're dealing with a very powerful wizard, and we don't want him to acquire more power."

"Dumb-Bell-Door?" Harry interrupts with a look back at Moody.

Coulson raises his brows at Harry. "Thor's brother, Loki,"

"He's after me and Dad," Harry sounds more resigned than scared, though he grips James' prosthesis tightly. "Bad guys always are."

"The good news is that he shows no sign of knowing you exist, and, being from another world, has no known connections to HYDRA. He tried to destroy Puente Antiguo last year, and now he's here himself."

"So now there's competition for world domination," Banner smiles wryly as he plays with his glasses.

"That seems to be his goal," Romanoff tells them. "He stole the Tesseract, and the mind of one of our best agents."

Her face is still blank, carefully controlled, but James recognizes the concern in her eyes. She cares more about the agent than the Tesseract.

James was already wary but now his body goes rigid, ready for a fight. Steve's expression grows stony at the mention of the Tesseract.

Sounds like HYDRA. Trust me.

LOKI HAS ACCESS TO A CHAIR. THREAT LEVEL: HIGH.

Romanoff takes a tablet from Coulson and hands it out to Banner, but addresses Banner and Stark at the same time. "Doctors, we need you to look this over."

"Finally, someone remembers my doctorates." Stark mutters.

"It's sick?" Harry points at Banner. "He's my doctor. He made me stay in bed."

Harry's pout turns into an all-out scowl when Coulson gestures to the night skyline and tells them that Harry should be in bed, as he had suggested during their one previous encounter. "Have you set up a consistent sleep schedule for him?"

"I'm not sleepy!" Harry protests as James scoops him up. Stark, just to be contrary, argues that superheroes don't need Coulson playing supernanny.

"Bedtime," James states, almost an order.

Harry tries every tack to delay- he's hungry, he wants a hug from Stark, and Potts, and Banner. He even quickly hugs Steve's legs, though he shies away from getting a hug in return.

Running back to Stark, Harry mentions that he didn't get to see the tower's promised basketball court, ice hockey rink and flying area.

"Later," James says. He doesn't want to promise too much, doesn't want to promise tomorrow. There are too many threats, and this tower is very conspicuous.

James tucks Harry into bed, where his protests become quieter. "Don't leave. The bad guys are out there." Harry stares out at the city below.

MORE THAN HE KNOWS.

Jarvis helpfully blocks the view, and provides a holographic night light. Harry falls asleep quickly, despite his protests.

James smooths his son's long hair again, though he does not run a hand through his own.

Jarvis promises to watch over Harry- a bit unnecessarily, since he constantly monitors the interiors of all of Stark's properties as well as watching for external threats. All the same, it eases something in James's still coiled chest as he stands and goes to learn more about Loki.


Harry's nightmares have been getting less frequent as they've settled into some degree of safety at the mansion, but James isn't surprised when Harry wakes up from a nightmare tonight. Waking up in a new room, especially, seems to make things scarier.

James himself hasn't slept. He is unable to stop thinking about Barton and Selvig, whose minds were stolen, their loyalties forcibly realigned. Coulson said it was recent, and fast. Loki opened a portal, used a scepter to rob them of their agency, as Professor X would say.

Coulson reported it was almost instantaneous and appeared painless.

James is torn between relief that nobody has to go through the long, torturous reprogramming processes he'd endured, and jealousy. Not that he wants to be wiped into an obedient soldier servant ever again, but the scepter sounds like it would have been vastly preferable to the Chair and compliance conditioning.

Even if they'd had the scepter, they would've used the Chair, the thought comes in Bucky's voice.

HYDRA did love pain. His pain, of course, not their own.

James is almost relieved that Harry has a nightmare. He must be an awful father, to find any positives to his son's fear, but helping Harry helps keep James out of his own head.

Someone- Stark or, more likely, Potts or Jarvis- had the foresight to stock the penthouse kitchen with the ingredients for hot chocolate, along with copious amounts of coffee and tea. As Harry helps mix the cocoa, he shares of vague nightmares of creeping hands reaching for brains. Of James's own brain being pulled out.

"I'll do everything to make sure Loki doesn't steal my brain," James promises, as much to himself as to Harry. He tries not to think about how there's likely little he could do to prevent it, should Loki's scepter be pointed his way.

Harry wraps his hands around a cup of warm cocoa.

"He could take the bad guy out," Harry rubs his scar. Before James can tell him that's his worst idea yet, worse than asking a snake to slither in his ear, Harry adds "but he's badder."

"He is worse," James agrees.

Harry abandons his cup, racing to the window and pointing at the night sky. "We need the X-Signal to call the X-Men! Jarvis, please?"

Jarvis projects a holographic X near the window. Of course, it does nothing to summon the X-Men, but Harry grins all the same.

"I would be happy to call the mansion for you, Master Harry." Jarvis tells him. "However, I must warn you that it is 3:56 am and the residents are most likely sleeping."

Harry nods. "Is Mr. Stark sleeping?"

Stark and Banner had left for the shiny new lab, Stark promising something called a geiger counter while dropping terms like "reverse polarity" and "stabilizing agent". Steve had followed, looking confused but seeming determined to strategize.

Clearly, Steve will be picking up his shield once more.

"Mr. Stark and Dr. Banner in the lab, working on tracking the Tesseract." Jarvis replies.

"What's that?" Harry's brow furrows.

"The Tesseract is a cube of-"

"What's a cube?"

Ever patient, Jarvis helpfully projects a glowing blue cube, identical to the projection Stark had pulled up during the later briefing, when Harry was in bed.

"It's a box!" Harry nods in understanding, pointing at the transparent floating model and making it spin. "Is it empty? Is Loki going to put brains in it?"

"It contains an amount of energy that could be used for world domination."

"I have lots of energy!" Harry declares, repeating what Stark had, quite hypocritically, mentioned as Harry ran around the penthouse before Coulson and Romanoff arrived with their bad news.

"Too much, sometimes," James scoops Harry up, dangling him by his ankles so Harry sees an upside-down view of Manhattan's skyline. Harry shrieks as James swings him around.

James stops when Harry is breathless with laughter. Bucky's voice berates James for wearing Harry out. The voice doesn't sound too worried- Harry's breathlessness is due to amusement rather than asthma.

Too soon, Harry's expression grows too serious for a child, his eyes seeming too weary. "Are we going to hide from Loki?"

"Coulson said he was not looking for us."

BARTON IS A SPY. IF HE MENTIONS THE SOLDIER-

Loki is a myth, like the Soldier. James wouldn't be surprised if he went hunting for an infamous assassin that was viewed as a ghost story by many. James has already proven himself easy to reset.

LOKI WILL NEVER BE A HANDLER.

James grits his teeth. He wouldn't actually have a say in that matter. His practice with Professor X may provide resistance to the trigger words, but the scepter is another matter entirely.

James wonders if the professor would be able to help him reemerge from the Tesseract's grasp, as he had during the exposure therapy to the trigger words.

THE PROFESSOR WAS A HANDLER. THE PROFESSOR FREED THE SOLDIER.

James glances at Harry- another handler who had tried to relinquish control. Loki, likely, will not be that handler at all.

"I can fly us on my moto-broom." Harry suggests when James picks him up and heads toward the stairs. The thought of standing in a small metal box, watching doors shut in front of his face, makes his body shiver even if Jarvis keeps the elevator comfortably warm and the box is ten times bigger than the cryogenic chamber.

In the lab, Stark and Banner are busy typing lines of code on computers and continuing to drop long, scientific terms that even Harry doesn't ask the meaning of. Steve has a holographic map pulled up, busy pinpointing locations with his finger. Romanoff watches with folded arms.

"Look who joined the party!" Stark tosses a grin at James and Harry before turning back to his code. "You had hot cocoa already? There's some here if you want it. I don't want you on a sugar high, kid. I know none of us are good examples for consistent sleep schedules, but Coulson's supernanny powers might be right about that one."

"I had a bad dream." Harry shares, far more openly than any of the adults in the room would, despite all of them suffering from nightmares as well.

James rounds on Romanoff. "Did you tell Barton about us?"

If Loki extracts the information from him, they'll have another hunter on their tails.

Fortunately, Romanoff shakes her head. "Nothing specific. We've been a bit busy demolishing HYDRA. We started dumping all their files on the internet."

"The X-Men are going to kick Loki's butt." Harry grins, swinging his dangling feet. James continues to hold Harry close.

"Yeah, but the Avengers will help, too." Stark continues to scroll on his computer as he talks. "Superhero teams teaming up, it'll be epic. This sort of thing would make billions in the box office. Not as many billions as I have, but heck, there are already movies about you, Cap."

"Bobby and Rogue made one," Harry adds helpfully. Steve had been embarrassed but encouraging, watching their amateur video filmed on the mansion's front lawn.

"Jarvis made an X-signal." Harry crosses his arms in the shape of the letter.

"Professor X might be able to break Loki's hold on Barton and Selvig." James glares at a screen, avoiding eye contact as to avoid seeing any pity or sadness.

Stark points finger guns at James.

FINGER GUNS ARE ENCOURAGEMENT. NOT A THREAT.

"Right. And I know I saved Natalie a trip to Kolkata, but it looks like we're heading for Stuttgart."

My interview with the amazing ChaosBlue was released! Check out her podcast The Fanfic Maverick! We talked a lot about this fic, some of the behind-the-scenes and stuff, and a bit about some of my other stories. I love listening to her interview other authors! If you're interested, it's on several major podcast platforms (my interview is as YodelingProspector, without a space, like on AO3 rather than my FFN name of Yodeling Prospector).