Adversity was something Harley was used to.
He was five years old when his father left. Jessica was only a baby. She wasn't even two years old yet. They hadn't had much, even before Dad left – Dad would stop at 7-Eleven almost every night to buy scratchers. He'd make jokes with the cashier. Harley had gone with him plenty of times. Not that last night, though. That night, Dad had gone alone. And he hadn't come back. Things only got worse afterward.
Mom called the police. Harley remembered that. He remembered a lot of details from that night. There had been flashing lights, blue and red when he'd been trying to sleep, pulsing against the walls of his room like fireworks. The neighbor lady who was always trying to hug him was in their house when he came downstairs to see what was going on. Mom was crying, loud, ugly sobs. That scared him. He heard Jessica crying. She was just a baby, so he went back up the stairs before the grown-ups could see him. He sat by Jessie's bed and talked to her until they both fell asleep. When he woke up, Mom was sleeping on the couch. Mrs. Adkins was still there. She was trying to make breakfast.
Days and days passed, and Harley never asked what happened. No one ever told him either. He sortof just picked it up. Gradually, traitorously, Harley began to believe that Dad wasn't coming back.
He and Dad used to work in the garage together. Mom didn't like the garage, so it belonged to Harley after Dad left. Dad had a bunch of old tools in there. Harley liked to tinker with them. The tools made sense to him. He also liked computers. Mr. Adkins gave him his old laptops, and Harley would tinker with them too. Mrs. Adkins watched Jessica most days. Mom was usually at the diner.
As soon as he could, Harley got a job delivering papers. Mr. Adkins let him run papers for him when he was nine. He liked being out of the house, and if Dad wasn't coming back, then the way Harley saw it, he was the man of the house. Mom cried when he offered her the money. Harley didn't like that, so he left it on the table, and he went out to the garage.
He was eleven the Christmas he met the Mechanic. He was coming home from his paper run when he heard someone in his garage. He threatened the guy with his potato gun.
"Freeze!" he demanded. "Don't. Move."
The man put his hands up. "You got me."
Harley decided pretty fast that he liked the Mechanic. His name was Tony. Iron Man. Harley had seen him on TV loads of times. Tony had brought his suit with him, which was awesome. Harley had never seen something like that up close before. He accidentally broke the suit's finger off. It was pretty beat up. Harley had expected it to be stronger.
Harley liked to watch Tony work. It was kinda like when he and Dad used to work out there, but better. Tony talked while he worked, and he listened. There weren't a whole lot of people who wanted to listen to Harley. Usually they found out about his dad and then that was all they wanted to talk about. That, or they just went away.
"Dads leave," The Mechanic said. "No reason to be a pussy about it."
Harley liked that.
The Mechanic thought he was smart. Tony noticed things, and he acted like he thought Harley was a grown-up. People didn't usually do that, either. He gave Harley lists and sent him for things. Secret things that he couldn't tell Mom or Jessica about. They wouldn't understand. Jessica was eight and thought she knew everything. She'd probably tell Mrs. Adkins and then Mrs. Adkins would call the police and they'd throw the Mechanic out. It would be all over the News.
Harley saw the Mechanic in the News the next day, a colored photo right on the front page, and big black words.
"Technically," Harley tossed him a paper, "you're dead."
Tony wasn't fazed by that. His suit – Mark Forty-Two – was almost fixed. He wanted to know about Chad Davis. Harley had heard of him. Harley told him the story. Harley wanted to know about New York. He'd always known aliens were real, but now nobody doubted it. They'd been on all the News shows last summer. Harley wished he'd been in New York, instead of boring old Rosehill. Iron Man had met the aliens. He'd actually gone through a wormhole to blow them up. It was awesome. If Harley had done it, he'd brag about it to anybody who'd listen. The Mechanic wasn't like that. He didn't want to talk about it. He started having what he called an Anxiety Attack, where he got really nervous about it, and his face got all hot. Harley didn't know that happened to grown-ups.
Harley got nervous all the time. He was really scared when the Bad Guys showed up. First it was just E.J. teasing Harley about the Mechanic – asking if Tony was his girlfriend, but then it wasn't. It was the guys who thought they'd killed Tony. They tried to kill him again. Tony saved Harley from one of them. Then they knocked down the water tower, and E.J. would have died if Harley hadn't jumped in the water to save him. Tony brought E.J. back with his electromagnet. But then Tony would have died if Harley hadn't slammed it back in his chest. When E.J, looked at him, Harley could tell the older boy was scared. E.J. had seen Harley save his life, and they both knew who Harley's friend was now. Nobody else had an electromagnet in their chest. Harley didn't think he'd have to worry about E.J. bullying him anymore.
Harley tried to convince Tony to take him with him when he left. He was sick of Rosehill and his paper route. He liked being a part of something important. "Admit it," he said, "you need me. We're connected."
Tony wasn't having it. Harley tried to guilt trip him. That didn't work either. But it was just as well. Tony told him to stay with Mark Forty-Two and keep Jarvis company. Somebody had to be there.
Mark Forty-Two left the next morning. Harley had to run outside in the snow to let it out of the garage and it flew off in all its pieces up and away into the sky. It was the coolest thing he'd ever seen.
But that was it. Harley didn't hear from the Mechanic again, and he resigned himself to going back to his old life. Christmas came and went, and Christmas break. Then it was over and he had to go back to school. Mom didn't believe him when he said he was sick.
E.J. didn't bother him anymore. Neither did any of E.J.'s friends. In fact, the older boy stopped Harley on his way out of school and thanked him. Harley hadn't really expected that. He thought to rub it in the older boy's face. Make him feel bad for all the times he'd bullied Harley. As Harley opened his mouth, he remembered what the Mechanic had said. "If you do someone a solid, don't be a yutz, alright? Play it cool. Otherwise you come off grandiose." Harley checked himself. Then he cocked his head, and he smiled at the older boy. Uncertainly, E.J. smiled back. Harley held out one hand and they struck palms. Something huge shifted that day. Harley had never had a lot of friends who stuck around. This time it was different.
About a week later, letting himself into the garage, Harley's face lit up as he saw he wasn't the first one who'd been there that day. It was like Christmas all over again, but better. His old tools were set aside, in a cardboard box. Everything was replaced, bright and shining and wondrous. There was even a better potato gun, and a card that said, 'Potato Gun, Mark II' signed 'The Mechanic'. Running his hands over all the smooth metal, Harley grinned. He couldn't wait to show E.J. and prove that it really was Tony Stark who had stayed in his garage.
Mom kept her job at the diner, working more and more hours. Mrs. Adkins was getting older, so Jessica spent less time with her. Harley didn't like having to work around a little sister, but she shared Mom's aversion to the garage, so it was Harley's place still. He could always go there when Jessica was just being weird or when she had her friends over. Mom had a handful of boyfriends who came and went. Harley didn't like most of them. When they came over he went out to the garage, or he went to E.J.'s house.
Sometimes, Harley wondered about the Mechanic. Tony Stark showed up on the News every now and then, or Iron Man. But Tony Stark was a famous person. He wasn't real. He wasn't the man Harley had smuggled tuna fish sandwiches in the dark two nights before Christmas when he was eleven. Harley knew he must've beaten the bad guys who had hunted them, but he wanted to know how. He wished that Tony had let him come. He wanted to know what Chad Davis had to do with anything.
One evening he was looking out the window at the snow, Pre-Algebra homework littered all over the table in front of him, tapping the end of his pencil against the table top. He was wishing particularly hard, when the thought occurred to him that if he'd left with Tony Stark, Mom would have had no idea where he went. There would have been police cars, and Mom would have cried again. He would have been no better than his dad, going off to buy scratchers and never coming back. That made him suck his breath. He didn't like how it felt, hot and heavy and sharp, all at once behind his breastbone. In the window, his reflection had gone very still. Harley turned his head and looked at the penciled numbers on the paper. The scratches meant nothing to him. He wanted to hit something, maybe more than he'd ever wanted to in his life, and he didn't like it. He got up almost fast enough to knock over his chair onto the floor, and he went to the garage.
Mom got in so late that night that she didn't notice the homework all over the table. She didn't even notice that he stayed all night in the garage.
Harley graduated middle school and he and E.J. both moved on to Rosehill High. E.J. joked that it was lucky there was only one school in town. Their class was exactly the same. All the same kids. Most of the parents in Rosehill, Tennessee didn't make enough to send their kids to the more expensive private schools in the cities. Most of the kids didn't care to go. They'd grow up and maybe after going around for a while, they'd come home and get the same jobs their parents had. They'd all get married and they'd have kids and their kids would go to this same school their parents had gone to. E.J.'s father ran the supermarket in Rosehill. E.J. shrugged and said his dad was happy, and he guessed he'd be happy running it too, someday, after he'd had some fun. Harley didn't know what his father did. He didn't even know what his dad had done when he still lived with them. He'd been too little to care before Dad left, and he certainly wasn't gonna ask him mom now. Mechanics took pieces. Worthless little scraps. And they made things. When asked what he wanted to be, Harley shrugged, "A mechanic, I guess," he'd smirk.
Anonymous gifts came sometimes. He and Mom got really good phones that came in an unmarked box at Christmas time during Harley's freshman year. He liked to brag that the gifts were from Tony Stark. And when his classmates would tell him he was full of shit, Harley would just grin. It was exactly as he liked it.
He and E.J. got jobs at the supermarket as soon as E.J.'s dad would hire them. When he got his first paycheck, he gave most of it to Mom. He'd thought that after the past six years she'd be used to getting money from him. She hugged him and cried, which was as terrible as it had been the first time, but as soon as he got away he stashed the rest of it. Mechanics build things.
Jessica was twelve the first time she brought a boy home. Mom got really mad. They were both screaming at each other when Harley got home. Rolling his eyes, he went back out. E.J. was at a movie with some girl from their class. Harley did his homework in the garage, then he fiddled with some things he was building. He didn't sneak inside again until everything seemed quiet.
Harley was sixteen when everything changed.
Mom wasn't answering her phone.
He couldn't find Jess.
E.J. was okay, but his dad had disappeared in a burst of ashes in front of them, and he had to take care of his mom.
Harley didn't know anything could feel like that.
Half of the entire world was just gone. Even the birds and the coyotes that used to howl way back in the fields outside of town. The house was quiet, without his mother or his sister. Harley remembered the way he used to avoid them. The house was too quiet. The tick tick ticking of the clocks was louder than anything he'd ever heard. Harley thought he might go crazy in that huge empty house that had felt too full for him just days before. No one was answering their phones anymore. Everyone had lost someone. Harley wondered if his dad was still out there, but Dad hadn't thought to tell him where he was going eleven years ago when he'd gone for scratchers. Harley certainly didn't expect him to show up now.
His phone scared the crap out of him when it rang about a week or two later. Harley didn't actually know how long it had been. The days just sortof ran together. He'd been just sitting at the table in the kitchen, still trying just to figure out what was left. His hand shot out in reflex and slid the phone across the table top. He didn't know why he did it. He couldn't handle another panicked wrong number. But when he saw the name his hand started shaking so badly that he almost dropped the phone as he lifted it to his ear.
He had to try three or four times before he could push the words past the sudden dryness in his throat, and when he did all he managed was, "Hey,"
"Oh, thank God," the voice on the other end said. "I've had to make too many of these phone calls. You don't understand what it does to you when they just keep ringing – who am I kidding. Of course you know. This hit everybody. You know, I thought you'd be the one to pick up. You know why? We're connected." There was a wheezing sound on the other end that might have been a laugh. "How are you doing, Kid?"
"I'm…" Somewhere between the phone ringing and this moment Harley had bolted to his feet. He looked at the room, the mess of wrappers and dishes that were left out since…There was dust on the dishes that had made it into the sink. Harley hadn't showered in…what, a week? He swallowed thickly. "I'm okay," he decided. He began pacing, scrubbing the heel of his free hand across his face. He didn't know when he'd started crying. "You sound terrible."
Tony gave an amused kind of snort, "Thanks," he said. "I had it better than most. Pepper made it. So did Rhodes…and Happy." Harley knew Pepper was the name of Tony's fiancée and the CEO of his company. He didn't know who the other two were. He was smiling anyway, like an idiot, with tears messing up his vision and stinging as they slid out of his eyes. "You okay, Kid?" Tony asked again, like he'd forgotten he'd already asked. "You got somebody with you?"
Harley laughed. "I'm sixteen," he reminded him.
"God, you're old," Tony said. "Also, not what I asked."
"You're older," Harley scrubbed his hand across his eyes. "And, yes," he glanced sideways at the dishes. "I've got somebody," he lied.
Tony was tired enough that he bought it. "Good," he sighed. "That's good. I…"
The Mechanic that Harley knew was never at a loss for words. Harley stayed quiet.
"I was there, Kid. I…in space."
Harley was older now. Glancing down, Harley smiled. "You want me to ask?"
Tony didn't rise to the bait. "I did the best I could," he said. The words were bit off. Tony had said it a thousand times, Harley could hear it in his voice, and Tony didn't believe it yet. "He…even at our best…it was like we were…nothing."
Harley didn't know what to say. 'Thanks for trying' was laughable.
Tony didn't wait for him to say anything. Harley heard him take a long breath on the other end. "He tried to cream me with a moon," he said, off-handedly.
Harley blinked. "A moon?" Unsteadily, he laughed. "That's awesome."
"Yep," Tony said, "thought you might like that. It wasn't, by the way. Not awesome. Been good to hear your voice, Kid. Take care of yourself, okay? There's been enough death. I don't need to see your face popping up in the obituaries."
Harley nodded his head, "You too," he managed.
"Uh-huh. Got Miss Potts to take care of me," he said flippantly, "What more could I want. Don't do anything stupid."
He waited long enough that Harley realized an answer was expected. "I won't," he said.
"Ominous pause," Tony commented. "Call me if you need anything. This is Pepper's phone. I don't carry one anymore. She'll forward all messages to me. You got it?"
There was silence on the other end. Then Tony sighed. "You still building stuff, Kid? How're the old tools holding up?"
"They're great," Harley smiled. He didn't quite have it in him to jerk Tony's chain.
"Hm. I'll send more once I've got…my feet under me. God this is a mess. You'll call? If you need…something? You know I'm serious, right?"
"Okay. Good. Square deal."
Harley didn't put the phone down until he heard the line go dead. He took a deep breath, then he looked around at the mess. The least he could do was clean it up. Get his feet under him. It had only been five years ago that Harley had come home to find a strange man in his garage. Tony had let him examine the battered Iron Man armor.
"What happened to him?" he'd asked.
The Mechanic had shrugged. "Life."
Thinking of that, Harley barked a mirthless laugh.
There were five years between the Decimation (Decimation? Tony asked him over the phone, Really? You know, by now I shouldn't be surprised. The suit's not iron either, you – at least – know that, right?) and the time after. Five foggy years where nothing felt quite real. Harley did the best he could, gathering up the scraps of the life he'd had before to build something new out of it. He helped out the people he could. Sometimes he looked at the phone Tony had sent him when he was a freshman at Christmastime. Everything had been different then. Grades had meant something. School had meant something. Now there was living, and that was about it. The old systems didn't mean much when half the world was just gone. No one was ready to recover. Harley thought about calling him. On the first two anniversaries, he almost did it. By the third, he knew he wouldn't. Tony called a couple times. Once, that first Christmas. Again about a year and a half later.
Harley wasn't expecting it when they came back. It had been five years. He was coming home, letting the door drop shut behind him and dropping the keys carelessly on the table. It was just another day in the long dragging parade of days that had come since the world had been cut down by half. The garden was overrun. He'd been thinking he should get to that – make the yard look a little more presentable, but he hardly saw the point. Their voices startled him. The muscles across his shoulders tensed up. He didn't take anything to use as a weapon – it wasn't smart, but Harley was past caring. If the lady who had broken into his living room wanted something she could about have it. Hell, if she wanted the house he'd just go live in the garage.
He didn't expect it to be Mom.
There was laughing and crying and lots of explaining to do. Jessica was still thirteen. Neither of them had experienced any of the last five years. Mom couldn't believe how tall he'd gotten. Jessica wouldn't stop staring at him.
It was the same everywhere, all over Rosehill, all over the U.S., all over the world. All over the worlds, he thought. Tony had told him the Decimation had taken people from all over galaxies. If the Earth was any indication, they were back. They were all back.
The old systems didn't really seem to know how to work anymore, but people were trying. Because of the sudden flush of people all trying to fit back into a world that had never really learned to function without them news travelled more slowly, but it would pick up again. Soon, maybe, things could start to be how they were.
It was two days after they all came back that Harley heard how it had happened.
He'd been at work, and when he came home, his mom was in front of the TV. Captain America was giving a speech. There was nothing else on television. They just played it again and again, so everyone could know. The footage was grainy, and shook from time to time, but the audio was good. Captain America looked grim, but he always looked grim. He told them how some of their 'greatest minds' had come up with the idea of a Time Machine, and how they'd gone back to get the stones from the past so they could use them to undo what Thanos had done. Periodically as he spoke, people would cheer. The Captain would glance up from the podium. He'd give them half a smile, then go on with his speech. At the end, he looked up. "There were losses," he said. "Most notably Natasha Romanoff – who served alongside myself as one of the founding members of the Avengers. And…" The Captain's head drooped. Then he squared his shoulders, "And Tony Stark. Without their sacrifice, we would have failed. All of us owe them a debt we can never hope to repay."
Mom squeezed Harley's shoulder. "I know he was one of your heroes," she said. Her eyes were red from crying. Harley gave her a half-hearted smirk. Managing a part-way smile of her own, she squeezed his shoulder again, then got up. He waited until she left the room to turn the television off. He couldn't really understand what the Captain was saying anymore, so what was the use of leaving it on? It just cluttered up his head. He'd had a daughter. Stupidly, it was the only thing Harley could think. The last time Tony had called, he'd told Harley that he'd finally 'taken the plunge' and become a father. Tony had a little girl.
It was too much to hope that everything could have gotten better. Mom acted strange that night. Harley pretended nothing had changed. Mom and Jess were back. Jess's dead-beat boyfriend had moved away. Harley hadn't remembered yet how to be annoyed with Mom's emotions and Jessie's moods.
That night, his phone rang. It was an unfamiliar number. The voice on the other end introduced itself as James Rhodes. Harley recognized the name as the man behind the Iron Patriot armor. Tony's friend. "I assume you've heard?" he sighed. There was no point asking what he meant. He told Harley that they were having a very small, very private memorial service at Tony's cabin. "In Upstate New York," Rhodes said. "far enough from the old facility that it's still standing. I'm forwarding you directions and a plane ticket. There'll be a car for you at the airport."
Harley didn't know what to say. "I don't…" he stammered.
Rhodes seemed to expect that. "Don't worry about the money. He's –" Rhodes stopped himself. "He'd want you to be here," he decided, finally.
Harley told Mom that he had a commitment he'd made months ago, and that he had to spend a night in New York. He told her a colleague of his had just called and reminded him. If she doubted him, she didn't question it.
Harley didn't know what to pack. Any suit he had he'd grown out of years ago. He had a nice enough black t-shirt. At short notice, it would have to do.
That night, lying in bed, Harley wondered why the police had come flashing lights when Mom called them after Dad left. He'd been long gone by then.
His flight was early. He left just a little after sunrise. Mom left Jess home and drove with him to the airport. She was nervous to see him go, and for once Harley didn't hate it. She'd missed five years of his life and she wasn't eager to let him out of her sight. He didn't want to lose her again either. He kissed her cheek when he said goodbye. It wasn't terrible. Maybe he would make it a more regular thing. She seemed to like it. He promised to call her from the hotel.
There were a lot of people all trying to get from place to place. They seemed happy, if stressed out. Half of the world's population was back. Everyone wanted to see old friends again. Everyone wanted to celebrate.
When he landed in New York, someone was able to direct him to the car Rhodes had promised. There was an envelope with his name on it on the passenger seat. Whoever had brought the car had left money for 'expenses'. Surprised, Harley wondered if this was how billionaires lived. The car was nice. At another time, Harley would have been beyond excited.
The funeral wasn't for hours yet. Harley found his hotel, then somewhere he could buy a nice enough suit coat.
The drive from the hotel was nice. The roads wound through wooded hills. It was quiet. Harley could understand why Tony had chosen to make his home here. He tried not to think too much about that. He only almost got lost twice.
He met Rhodes at The Stark family's cabin. The man asked if Harley had done alright. There were more people there than Harley had been expecting, but Tony had had a lot of people who cared about him. He was good at that. Everyone there was a super hero. Harley recognized them from the News. He hadn't felt more out of place in his life. They all had loved Tony, though, and in that they were all united.
The funeral was hard, but the time after was better. No one seemed to care that he wasn't like them. They were all telling stories about Tony, and everyone was laughing. But their mood was short lived. No one was recovered yet from their fight. The stories got quieter. A lot of people were just sitting together, not saying anything.
Harley slipped out. There were plans for a memorial to their lost teammates to be erected after Avengers Compound was rebuilt. But Tony's grave lay overlooking the place he'd wanted to return home to. It was a short walk up the slope of a sparsely wooded hill. The place was nice. From the top you could turn around and see the whole silver lake spread out below you.
"Nice choice," Harley said aloud when he got there. He looked out over the lake. No one was up here anymore. They'd all been here longer than Harley had. They'd said their goodbyes before. Turning around, Harley surveyed the grave. The dirt hadn't settled yet. It was still darker than the rest of the ground surrounding it. The stone was simple. It read only 'Tony Stark', then, under that, 'Beloved Husband and Father'. "This place is beautiful," Harley told him.
Tony didn't say anything back.
Taking a long breath, Harley glanced behind him at the sun shining on the lake. It would be setting soon. Shaking his head, he got down on the ground and sat cross-legged next to the grave. A pine twig poked his leg. He picked it up and fiddled with it. "So I guess it's for real this time, huh?" he gave the headstone a sidelong smirk.
It was harder to have a conversation with a headstone than Harley had anticipated.
He swallowed thickly, peeling the soft bark off the little twig with his fingernails. "I, um. I always meant to say thank you," he said awkwardly. "So," he shrugged, "Thank you, I guess."
He wanted to say other things. Things that were only half articulated in his mind. He didn't know how to make the words untangle from where they were pressed all together in his chest. Tears blurred his vision, and, frustrated, he gave the supple bark a tug. The twig snapped in half and Harley threw it aside. He smeared his hand over his face, smearing the tears away only to have them replaced. "I'm sorry," Harley managed, before his throat closed. Tony had deserved better, but he couldn't find the words to say that. He couldn't find the words to tell Tony that he'd been more a father to him than anybody else.
He'd never actually cried about it, after his dad had left.
The sun had started to set by the time Harley made it back down to the cabin. No one was outside anymore. Head down and hands in his pockets, Harley was grateful. He felt hollowed out and lost. He didn't want to talk to anyone. He glanced at the car. He could just leave, but that would be unfair. Pepper had welcomed him to her home, and Rhodes had gone to such trouble to make sure he was there. At least he had to tell them he was leaving.
The light inside the cabin was soft and gold. It made the room feel welcoming. Harley shut the door softly behind him. Quiet voices murmured in the next room.
Tony's daughter, Morgan, was sitting cross-legged in the middle of the floor, with a stuffed bear sitting on the ground in front of her. Pushing the hair back from her eyes with the palm of her hand, Morgan eyed him. Harley hadn't gotten a good look at her before. It startled him how much she looked like her father. "I know you," she said.
Harley nodded. "I knew your dad," he said. His voice was hoarse.
"Me too." Morgan murmured. She gave him a little half-smirk, then moved the bear over and patted the place it had been.
Harley sat down across from her. "I'm Harley," he said.
Morgan studied him without saying anything. "You were crying," she decided, finally.
He didn't see any point denying it.
Morgan picked up her bear and folded her arms around it, studying the ground pensively. "I like Daddy's toys," she said, finally.
"Your dad gave me some toys a few years ago," Harley said. He cleared his throat. "When I was a kid."
Morgan's eyes got huge. "You know?"
"Just some tools," Harley shrugged. "I helped him with something."
Furtively, Morgan glanced at the door. Then she scooched forward. She looked up at him with her big brown eyes, "Bad guys?" she asked.
It was nice to see her interested. She didn't seem like the kind of kid who liked to hold still. Harley smiled, "Sortof."
"Did you celeb'ate?" she asked, "after? With scotch?"
"What?" Harley laughed, "No, I was a kid."
Peeved, Morgan sat back. She eyed him. "You're still."
Harley leaned forward. "Have you ever tried scotch?" he grinned.
She raised her eyebrows scornfully, "Daddy says it's for celeb'ating." she shifted onto her knees. Then she said, "I want to d'ive a car." She looked out the window.
Abruptly, she got to her feet. Tucking the bear under one arm, she stuck out her hand.
Harley got up, took the offered hand, and followed her outside, to the garage. He wasn't sure what else to do. It was a large, low structure, with a mechanical kind of smell, and tools scattered all across it. She only lead him in far enough that the door closed behind them. Next to him, she was tiny. Her head only came up to his hip. She said nothing, and she did not move. She didn't let go of his hand.
Harley remembered his own father, and the refuge their garage had been for the two of them. Mom didn't care for machines. She was outside of it. After his father had left, there had been a while when he went there and he'd remember what it used to be like.
Morgan gave a little sigh. Softly, she tilted her head to lean against him. She was whispering something, and Harley had to listen hard to make it out. "…only with Daddy," she murmured.
Harley could imagine how it would have sounded when Tony said it. "You can come in here, but only with Daddy, okay?" Harley swallowed thickly, and he gave her hand a little squeeze. She squeezed back.
"Morgan?" the door squeaked. "Mor- Oh, Harley," Pepper gave him a company smile as she entered. "Hi. I," she shook her head, turning her attention to her daughter. "I didn't know where you were."
Rhodes was standing in the doorway behind her. Harley was glad that Pepper had someone to help her. He let go of Morgan's hand, shoving it back in his pocket while he swiped at his eyes.
Morgan went to her mother and let herself be lifted. "When I'm big, we're gonna have a team," she whispered to her mother.
Pepper's eyebrows lifted. She glanced at Harley. "Well, first it's time for bed. Thank you, Harley," she gave him another one of those smiles, more polite than it was genuine, "for looking after her."
Harley didn't hold it against her. He smiled back.
Pepper carried her daughter into the house, Morgan waving sleepily over her shoulder. Rhodes hung back, and they stood together just outside of the garage. It was dark by then, and the breeze coming off the lake was cooler.
"So, you're a team now?" Rhodes said, finally.
Harley scuffed his foot. "I guess so."
"She really likes you," Rhodes clarified, turning his head to face him. "She doesn't usually talk to strangers."
Putting his free hand into his pocket, Harley shrugged. I lost my dad when I was little too he thought, but he didn't say it. Then, "She reminds me of…of her dad."
"Yeah in more ways than one." Rhodes sounded troubled by that. "Look, it's freezing out here. We should be getting back inside."
"I think I'm gonna get going," Harley told him.
Rhodes turned back, "You sure?" he asked.
"Okay. Be safe." Rhodes held out a hand and Harley shook it. "Call if you need anything. Keep in touch."
Driving back to the hotel, Harley thought about that. He decided eventually that it wasn't just a pleasantry. Rhodes was an Uncle to Tony's daughter. Probably, it was as close as such a thing could come to an order. Rhodes wanted what was best for Morgan. Harley could understand that.
Reaching his hotel room, Harley found that he couldn't rest. He'd noticed a bar less than a block from the hotel. He left the blazer on the bed and went back out.
Inside, the bar was dark, lit mostly by the signs that hung on the walls. People laughed and jostled each other, the words muffled by thudding music. No one so much as glanced towards the door when it opened, and Harley was grateful for that. It smelled musty, like old cigarettes and leather. Bars seemed to be a universal language. He slid between the lights and the sounds to an empty place.
The bigger of the two bartenders eyed him suspiciously, comparing his face to the picture on his license, but finally handed it back to him. One eyebrow lifted with amusement at Harley's order, "You sure about that, Kid?" he asked.
"What do you care?" Harley quirked his lips, "Do you want my money or not?"
The bartender showed his palms good naturedly and went to get the drink. Setting it in front of Harley he muttered companionably, "You look about two days past your sixteen-and-a-half-birthday. You want to start a tab?"
"You look like you head a shitty rock band on your days off," Harley countered with a grin. "I'm gonna pay now."
"Probably smart," the bartender set his towel aside. "Two of those and you'll be paying tomorrow. Can you even drive yet?"
"Can you even sing?" Harley gave him the money. He waited until the bartender had turned to take care of another patron before he lifted the glass to his lips. He'd never had scotch before and it made him gag. He thought he saw the bartender smirk at that, but in the lighting it was hard to tell, and Harley didn't care. Not really. The liquid burned, bringing tears to his eyes, all the way down his throat to settle hotly in his stomach.
Nursing his drink, Harley thought about the Mechanic he'd met at Christmastime, ten years ago. And more and more, he thought of Morgan.
"When I'm big, we're gonna have a team."
He had told Mom he was meeting with a colleague.
Hell, he thought, why not?
Harley set the empty glass on the bar and walked back to his hotel room.
I'm not 100% happy with all of it? But as I was editing it, it occurred to me that this is Father's Day weekend.
I had to.
Excuses aside, I took a few liberties with Harley's backstory, but nothing Marvel didn't invite because they give nothing away about this kid. I named his sister. I decided his sister was younger than he was. I decided he was eleven during the events of Iron Man 3. I decided he survived the snap. I built his activities based - by-and-large - on stereotypes and a few people I know who are in similar situations.
E.J. - and his part in the movie-verse I actually did find on the Marvel Wiki page. There's also footage of the deleted scene where Harley saves his life if you look up 'Iron Man 3 - Harley' on youtube.
The bartender was based on 3 bartenders I work with. I don't know why all the sassy bartenders work where I work. But i'm not complaining, because I love them all.
This was a fun one to write. I've never written anything on here not directly related to Asgardians X)
I was just so jazzed to see Harley in Endgame - in spite of the time and place. I loved him in Iron Man 3, but I'd actually - almost - forgotten about him. I'm so excited to see him back, and I really hope there's some kind of 'Young Avengers' idea in the works, because I want to see Harley Keener, Lila Barton, Cassie Lang, Peter Parker and Morgan Stark kicking ass.
I'd love to hear your thoughts on that/on the story!
Thanks for reading!