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Challenges 5 - The Phantom Librarian
Spewing out too many words since November 2003
fernwithy
fernwithy
Challenges 5
OUAT: Maybe something AU with Henry and Neal for gabrielladusult
(I watched the last episode of last season, which was actually a pretty good Henry outing, though I could have done without the Hook-ship being SO oversold. Like, really oversold. Have I mentioned that I loathe the Hook ship, and pretty much the Hook character? Anyway, there's going to have to be time travel, or something. I'll set it right after that, so I don't have to figure out the next season. ;p Oh, well. There's more than a shade of Teddy Lupin in this.)
---

No magic can bring the dead back to life.

Henry lay in bed, staring at the broken pieces of the quill, resting in the valley of the open book. He shouldn't have broken it.

Bring dad back. You can erase it later, when you've had enough time.

But there wasn't enough time. There'd never be enough time. And it probably wouldn't work. He probably couldn't do it at all, or Grandpa would have done it when he got Isaac to re-write the world in the first place. If there was one thing Henry was sure of, it was that Grandpa would have done anything at all to get Dad back, and he wouldn't have let a rule stop him if it was just a rule.

But he needed his father.

Neither of his mothers could help. Regina would try, but she was worrying about getting things right with Robin Hood. The happy ending she was supposed to get. Emma…

He turned over and stared at the wall. The Dark One had taken Emma Swan. She'd let it, to save Regina, and that was what she had to do, and they'd get her back, but Henry needed her now. He needed someone. Anyone. To tell him what the Author was supposed to do, now that he'd snapped the magic quill. Was he just telling a story in his head? Letting it happen? Setting things up to happen? He sure hadn't set this one up very well. Grandpa was dying. He'd forgotten. He'd forgotten that, even if Grandpa turned good, the Dark One would still be alive somewhere, and it would escape from Rumplestitskin and…

He punched the pillow beside him.

I need my father.

Suddenly, the little dip in the pillow began to glow. It was faint, easily mistaken for a pool of moonlight, but there was no moon. It occurred to Henry not to touch it -- it really did -- but he was tired, and, to be honest, a little desperate.

He reached into the hollow, and was swallowed by the light.

The landing was so soft that he wasn't sure he'd actually fallen. He found himself in a large pool of moonlight, in a dip in the greens that looked like a giant had punched the forest.

One did. You're the Author. What you do shapes the world.

He sat up, confused, then he saw it: Skull Island. The lagoon.

Neverland.

He scrambled as quickly as he could back toward the shadows, but he'd already been seen. Someone was coming out of the shadows, a dark shape with a spear raised. One of Lost Boys?

"Are you Pan's?" it asked.

"No!" Henry said, though he'd actually been Pan for a while. He wasn't anymore. "No, I'm not. I swear."

The form came into the light, and Henry gasped.

The boy was thin and olive-skinned, with deep brown eyes and shaggy black hair. He was Henry's own age, but he looked older somehow. He probably was. Henry had no idea how long his father had spent in Neverland before escaping.

"You're Baelfire," he said.

Dad looked at him narrowly. "Where did you hear my name?"

"From you." Henry smiled. "I can't really say how, but… Am I really here?"

"Did you follow the kid with the detachable shadow?"

"No. I just… I wished. Maybe it was on a star I didn't notice."

"And with all the people you could wish to see, you wished to see… me."

"More than anyone."

He still looked suspicious, but he lowered his spear. "You have a very strange priority list. I can't even get out of Neverland."

"You will, though. You'll see."

"I don't have any powers. I don't want any powers."

Henry almost said, You have the only power I want right now. Someday, you'll promise to be with me forever. That's the power I need.

Instead, he said, "I need shelter. Before Pan finds me."

"Well, I guess I do have that power." He gestured for Henry to follow, then stopped. "How can I be sure Pan didn't send you as a spy?"

"I can't think of a way to prove it. Can't you just, you know… see it?" Henry leaned forward, hoping Dad would recognize him, the same way he put all the pieces together the second he saw everyone in his apartment.

Of course, he didn't have all the pieces yet. Some of the pieces weren't even born yet.

Including me. If I do something wrong here, I might not be born, and I don't know if that will work.

Dad leaned forward and looked for a long time at Henry, studying his face carefully. "You do look familiar," he said. "Are you from the enchanted forest?"

"My family is."

Dad nodded. "Okay. I probably know them. Come on. I guess if you were Pan's spy, it's too late, anyway." He grinned and nodded toward a little hut. Henry recognized it. It was where Dad had spent his many years here.

They went inside.

Dad had several bowls of fruit, and when he lit his little gourd lamp, the star map was projected on the ceiling. Henry looked up at it, then suddenly jumped. Dancing among the stars, where the constellations should be, he saw Main Street, through his window.

His heart crashed down from some great height. "It's a dream," he said. "This is a dream."

"It is?" Dad asked, handing him a bowl of fruit and a fork. "It doesn't feel like a dream to me."

"That's because you're in it." Henry sighed. Now that he looked around, he could see everything. He saw pictures of himself. Of Mom. Even of Grandpa. The real Baelfire wouldn't have pictures of his father anywhere, not at this time. "I guess I just really needed to see you. But you're gone."

"I don't feel gone." He sat down. "Why did you need me, Henry?"

"I didn't tell you my name." Henry looked down at his bowl of fruit, feeling more miserable than he ever had. Had he really thought he could find a way to cheat the deepest magic of all? It was nothing. Just a thought in his head while he slept. But it had felt so real at first.

"Sure you did. In New York."

"You haven't been to New York yet." He got up. "Look, I need to wake up. There's a lot going on, and I can't… the magic won't work."

"Never did like magic," Dad said. "Promises, on the other hand, I like just fine, as long as they're kept. My father broke a promise to me. I'd never break one to my son."

Henry paused. "You said… you said we'd be together again."

Dad spread his hands. "In here. I remember in here. Outside, I won't. You probably won't when you leave. But if you need a safe space, well… I can't do much to protect you, but maybe, if you just need to get away, I could help you. This place kept me hidden for a good long time. Maybe when you need to gather your strength, I can help you out."

"But is it real? Or is it fiction?"

"Feels real to me."

"But you died in the real world. The apprentice said that if you died in the real world…"

"But I'm not from there. I exist in a lot of places. I existed here longest of all. Consider it your inheritance. Or a third custodial home, if you want."

"And I can… I can just come here? You can help me here?"

He nodded. "Any time you need me, by the look of it. What did you need me for, Henry?"

"Everything's falling apart. Your dad's sick. Mom's the Dark One. Mom -- Regina -- almost died. My grandparents were evil. I mean, not just your dad. Snow and Charming. And I'm the Author. I gave up the quill, but I have to do something and I don't know what and --"

"And it's too much?"

"It's too much."

"Sounds like you need rest. Why don't you sleep?"

"Because if I go to sleep here, the dream ends, and I won't see you anymore."

"Sure you will. Like I said. It was a promise. You can rest here. I'll watch over you."

Henry protested. He wanted to stay awake. He wanted to talk to Dad about everything there was to talk about, everything they'd missed. But the weariness was bone deep, and the flickering light of Dad's gourd lamp was hypnotic. He slipped into a deep, undreaming sleep.

He felt safe.

When he woke up, he was in his bed in Storybrooke, and the sun was rising. He knew he'd dreamed, but he couldn't remember it.

All he knew for sure was that he felt like he could face the coming day.



Would it be wrong to just ask for ANYTHING Peggy Carter? for Anon
---

"Bloody hell, Howard," Peggy said. "Does Maria know you have the baby in the workshop?"

"Eh, he's fine," Howard said, and waved a handful of shiny discs in the baby's direction. "You're fine, right? No troubles, right, pal?"

Tony gurgled happily and banged some colorful crystals on the tray of his high chair.

Peggy said down on the workbench with a sigh. "If you needed a sitter, Stephanie could have come over. She's short a few pence for her prom dress, and she adores Tony."

"I don't need a sitter. This is some quality father-son time right here. Tony here is going to take Stark Industries to the next level."

"Yes, I'm sure he's as full of ideas as his nappy is with other substances. You didn't let my girls get this wet when you watched them, did you?"

"Your girls always made noises when it was time. Tony's made of sterner stuff. Here, give him to me. I'll take care of it."

Peggy plucked Tony out of the chair and handed him over to Howard, who pressed a button on the wall. A shelf came out, and he set the baby down on it, then, to Peggy's astonishment, picked up a microphone. "Nanny Mark Two!" he said sharply, then grinned. "Get a load of this!"

Padded braces came up out of the shelf, embracing the baby, and, judging by the giggles, tickling him. Another arm undid the pins on the nappy and slid it off, then a third entire apparatus appeared, carrying a fresh nappy, some powder, and pins. Peggy waited for it to start stabbing the baby, but it didn't.

The first arm dropped the old nappy on the floor.

"Aw, come on," Howard said to it. "You were doing so well."

"You know, it's actually a damned sight easier to do it by hand," Peggy said.

"Yeah, but where's the fun? Tony likes the robots. See? He's smiling. I made my son smile." He puffed up his chest as though no other father in the history of the profession had ever accomplished such a thing. If one hadn't known him for a quarter of a century, one might never suspect that his first reaction to his young wife's pregnancy had been sheer, unadulterated terror.

Peggy rolled her eyes as Howard plucked the baby up and put him in a little carrier he'd invented to keep him on his back (trust Howard to reinvent stone age technology by putting bells and whistles on it for Tony to "communicate" with him in a language he pretended to understand). "The office wants to know what the project is."

"I bet they do," he said.

"And?"

"And, maybe I'll tell them someday, if I finish."

"Howard, what's going on? You haven't brought any of your inventions to S.H.I.E.L.D. since the baby was born."

"Before, actually." He went to the far side of the room. Tony pushed a few buttons on the carrier, which lit up lights on a bracelet Howard wore. "Exactly, Tony," he said. "We don't share when we don't know what the other guy wants." He opened a cupboard and brought out more of the crystals Tony had been playing with.

"The other…" Peggy rubbed her head. "Howard, you're a founding member of S.H.I.E.L.D. How has it become 'the other guy'?"

"Don't tell me you haven't noticed, Peg. You notice everything."

"All right, yes, I've noticed something wrong, but you don't fix that by leaving. If you abandon the organization, of course its less desirable elements will come to the fore. I don't like Zola being there any more than you do, but if he's not in prison where he belongs, then I rather prefer to be able to see him. I certainly don't like the idea of him sneaking around without any oversight."

"Good. You oversee Zola. I just don't want him overseeing me."

Peggy considered it, then nodded. "Point taken. And I suppose you're correct. But if you don't give them something, they'll be suspicious."

"They can have the Nanny, once Tony's trained."

"I don't think they'll find a use for it."

"Fine," Howard said, and tossed her what looked like a small silver pistol. "Give them that. Makes a little energy shield. It'll usually block a bullet, if it happens to be aimed in six inch radius around your hand."

"Wonderful. What are you really working on?"

"I'm inventing a new element, but I can't get the atoms to fuse right. It may have to wait for some other technology. Why are you really here, Peg?"

"I told you."

"No way. I think you're here for the same reason I am. What don't you want them overseeing you doing?"

"HYDRA." She said it before she knew she was going to, before she even knew what it was. But the shape had been forming in her head for a long time, and when the word came out, it was flat and plain. "I took the old HYDRA files from the basement. They're back at my place, and I've been reading them."

"How's Snookums with that?" Howard asked.

Peggy was sure he must have said her husband's real name at least once in their acquaintance, but she couldn't pinpoint a memory of it. It was annoying. "He's fine with it. HYDRA had him prisoner, remember? Right up until Steve saved him. He doesn't exactly love that particular organization."

"I know, I know. But I also know that he worries about you all the damned time."

"And he knows that my life isn't going to abruptly change into something he doesn't need to worry about. We've all accepted that." She shook her head. "He's been helping me, actually. Telling me everything he remembers about the prison. The experiments they were doing. God, Howard, they were twisted."

"Yeah, I know."

"I keep thinking, we fight Leviathan. The Maggia. You name it, we've fought it. But it's HYDRA I keep coming back to. Is it just because that's where it began? Or just because we've brought Zola in, and I'm thinking about all of it again."

"Maybe because it's all the same thing, Peg. You know that's true."

"Take one head, two more grow back. Are they all just HYDRA heads, after all this time? Is it going to be HYDRA again at the end of everything?"

"That's just morbid, Peg. There's no end of everything."

"Maybe not, but there are some very unpleasant confrontations."

He didn't argue. It might have been because he agreed. It also might have been that he was distracted by an incoming "message" from the baby, which necessitated an explanation of the principles of flight for some reason.

"I don't think he understands that."

"Maybe not. But it's all going into that brain-soup in his head, and it'll be there when he needs it."

"Why not just explain it to him then?"

"Please, Carter. I'm the one who keeps the detailed letters you write to your daughters every year, just in case."

She shrugged. "All right. I suppose you're right that there's no end of everything, too. As long as humans are humans, some of them will turn out bad, and we'll have to fight them, because that's what we do. So there won't be a last fight for the whole planet. But there may be such a thing as our last fight. And I just can't shake the idea that it will come back to HYDRA in the end." She fiddled with one of the wrenches on the table. "I keep thinking of something Steve told me --"

"You still think about him, too?"

"Of course I do," Peggy said reproachfully. "But he told me, during the rescue from the prison, that that was when Schmidt's false face was destroyed. That the image he put out to the world disappeared, and Steve could see what was underneath it. I keep thinking that all of these little battles we've been fighting since the war ended, they're just Schmidt's face, and someday, all of it will fall away, and we'll see the truth underneath. They're all just Red Skull. They're all just HYDRA."

Howard's bracelet flashed randomly, and he sat down across from her, moving the baby around. He pushed a button on the carrier, and it reformed itself into a comfy looking baby seat.

"Tony thinks you're on the right track," Howard said.

"Oh, really."

"Yeah. Only he's not sure HYDRA's the start of it, either."

"Then what was?"

"He doesn't know. Nobody knows. Maybe somewhere back in time, there was caveman who decided to train a sabretooth tiger and sic it on the next village, just so he could take their bones to make weapons with. Tony hasn't had much time to read philosophy, so he doesn't know why anyone would do that. But I sometimes think the only things under their masks are more masks. Only they all think they're the real thing."

"I think HYDRA came damnably close to the origin point."

"The bones of a whole lot of my cousins say HYDRA's sponsors came a lot closer."

Peggy nodded. There was no argument there. "But Howard, we've let them in."

"We always let them in. They have much easier ways of opening doors than we do."

"What are we going to do?"

"I don't know, Peg. I really don't."

She sighed. "Me, neither."
8 comments or Leave a comment
Comments
redrikki From: redrikki Date: January 20th, 2016 03:39 pm (UTC) (Link)
I got a kick out of Howard's wacky parenting amidst a rather tense conversation with serious consequences.
fernwithy From: fernwithy Date: January 21st, 2016 04:42 am (UTC) (Link)
I just feel like, before he had to draw away from Tony, he would have been an awesome wacky dad. I think Tony will be, too.
maidenjedi From: maidenjedi Date: January 21st, 2016 12:46 am (UTC) (Link)

Oh my.  I love both of these, but that Peggy Carter one is just brilliant.  You're missing a fandom calling, I think :-)

fernwithy From: fernwithy Date: January 21st, 2016 04:42 am (UTC) (Link)
The continuity snarls in comic book fandoms scare me... ;p
maidenjedi From: maidenjedi Date: January 21st, 2016 04:48 am (UTC) (Link)
Ah, but that's why the MCU is so brilliant - tons of movies and a couple of television shows, yes, but no comics needed. ;-)

In any event, I really enjoyed your venture forth for this. I hope writing is helping as you hoped.
fernwithy From: fernwithy Date: January 21st, 2016 06:46 am (UTC) (Link)
I've got fresh eyes, anyway. And I found out I can still write in third person past; it's been a while! ;p

If television hadn't gone the way of the arc plot, I'd think about writing a spec script for Agent Carter. Alas, pretty much all of television is staff-written these days.
From: (Anonymous) Date: January 21st, 2016 02:20 am (UTC) (Link)
Wow -- Peggy and Howard. Love it! As always, you do amazing work!
fernwithy From: fernwithy Date: January 21st, 2016 04:43 am (UTC) (Link)
Thanks! I like Peggy and Howard.
8 comments or Leave a comment