Verse/Setting: Post-Avengers (Part 3 of my short story Off a Short Cliff)
Prompt: Chlorine, Irresponsible, Explode, Wondering
Rating: PG
Disclaimer: I don't own anything from the Avengers movie, and I'm not making any money from this fic
Warning(s): Discipline of adult.

 
OFF A SHORT CLIFF 3 – (a.k.a. Paying the Pepper…er Piper)


The assembled Avengers stood outside one of Tony's personal labs in Stark Tower (although it was more commonly referred to as Avengers tower by the people who worked and lived next to it). Clint had a gob-smacked look on his face- the sheer lunacy of what he'd just witnessed breaking through his normally reserved and quiet demeanor. Natasha didn't look all that surprised- but then she'd worked for Tony while undercover and knew what a menace the inventor could be when he didn't have checks and balances to control his behavior. Thor was alternating between worried looks into the lab and stern glares at the three remaining Avengers.
 
Bruce was really beginning to wish he wasn't part of the three that Thor kept staring at- particularly when every time the demi-god looked in their direction, Cap's grip on his shoulder tightened considerably. Cap hadn't said anything yet, but he stood so closely behind him and Tony, firmly gripping both of their shoulders, that Bruce could feel him vibrating with furious worry and disapproval. The worry and disapproval became more pronounced with every cough Tony or Bruce expelled.
 
Bruce rightly couldn't blame him. Staring through the observation windows into the locked down lab, Bruce observed the yellow-green gas hovering near the floor. Until Jarvis managed to filter all the gas out, this lab would be too dangerous for anyone to enter into again without Hazmat suits. He hesitantly shifted- fidgeted- not surprised when Cap's hand tightened on his shoulder again. What had he and Tony been thinking, experimenting with chlorine gas? He glanced at his cohort, wondering if Tony was feeling as nervous and guilty as he was.
 
Tony just stared into the now locked down lab, an unreadable expression on his face. He didn't move or try to escape Steve's grip- which was in his favor. Bruce had no doubt that the Captain would not hesitate to make movement uncomfortable if not painful should either of them try and escape. Bruce was about to ask Tony if he was OK, when Steve finally spoke.
 
"Of all the irresponsible…" his voice was heavy with disapproval, but Tony and Bruce could both her the underlying disappointment as well and looked at each other with a wince. "What were you trying to do? Did you want the entire building to explode? I can't help wondering just what you were thinking!" Steve gave each tiny shoulder a gentle shake.
 
Tony finally answered when he realized that Steve wasn't being rhetorical. "Uh…I just wondered if maybe it might help with our little problem. You know. Of being little…" the genius inventor shuffled his feet nervously, not quite able to look at Steve as he admitted the reasoning behind the blatant disobedience and resultant hazardous situation.
 
Clint, looking a little impressed at the way the two men-children had contaminated a whole lab, asked curiously. "And S.H.I.E.L.D. scientists didn't try and stop you at all? I thought they were supposed to make sure you didn't do things that could end up like this…" he waved toward the observation window again, before looking at Bruce and Tony- who would have slunk out of the room by now if it wasn't for Steve keeping a grip on their shoulders.
 
Tony swallowed nervously. "Uh….they kinda went to lunch and thought we’d left the labs with them…."
 
"So you disobeyed the requirement that you not be in the labs without an adult present." Steve wasn't asking a question, and the quiet stern way he stated the words left Tony and Bruce looking at each other nervously again. "In addition to the rule that at least one Avenger was to be with you…."
 
Tony opened his mouth as if to defend them- Bruce was already preparing himself to cringe at whatever the inventor would say because it was sure to upset the captain even further- but Tony seemed to have been left without words.  Swallowing again, he sullenly responded. "Yes sir."
 
"How long were you in there before you managed to get out and lock the lab down?" Steve finally asked, his voice still stern- but concerned all the same.
 
"We got out as soon as we realized we'd spilled the chlorine," Bruce answered softly, finally looking up into Steve's face. “I don't think we were in there long enough to do bad damage…" he coughed again then smiled a little sheepishly.
 
"Right," Steve raised an eyebrow and then sighed. "Our transportation should be here now. We will be going up to the Heli-carrier where the two of you will stay in the medical bay for observation for however long the doctors deem it necessary." His stern look had Tony biting back his protest before he could voice it.
 
Both boys nodded their heads reluctantly before letting out a sighed "Yes sir."
 
# # #
 
The trip to the Heli-carrier was nearly silent, save for Bruce and Tony's frequent coughing. As soon as their transport had landed, the two miscreants were whisked off to the medical bay where they were told in no uncertain terms to change into hospital gowns to the two's mortification and disgust.
 
Tony didn't know how they could even call what they were given gowns. Not only did it have the requisite back ventilation- only attaching at the neck with a thin strip of Velcro- but there were no sleeves and the holes where their arms went through were large enough to fit Hulk's arm if he had been inclined to wear hospital gowns. He kept quiet though. Not only did none of the doctor's seem inclined to listen to the complaints of a person they viewed as a child (Hello? Child body, not child mind!), but the remaining Avengers all had satisfied looks on their faces as if they felt that the gowns were the least of what the two trouble causers deserved for what they'd done. Tony couldn't help but pout. None of them understood!
 
It was true that the chlorine gas ended up being a mistake- but for what little time they'd allowed him and Bruce into the lab to work on the problem, all his and Bruce's calculations seemed to indicate they might have found a possible cure for their size-regression. And chlorine gas had been a big component in the possible cure. Granted- they should have waited for the rest of the scientists to return- and grabbed one of the other Avengers as well- but he hadn't wanted to wait. He was so tired being in a body that was his- but didn't feel like his. He knew Bruce was tired of it as well. The quick agreement was proof of that- as lately the pint-sized scientist had adamantly disagreed with Tony whenever it might cause them to disobey one of Steve's edicts.  It was so unfair. If one of them had been shrunk to the size of a seven-year-old and then everyone else started treating them like a seven-year-old… they'd have done the same thing as Bruce and Tony. He was sure of it.
 
Tony's thoughts were interrupted by Steve’s firm "OK, get into the beds. They'll be running scans and blood-work to make certain you have not damaged anything. No arguments."
 
The two didn't argue.
 
# # #
 
Steve was relieved. All scans and blood-work had indicated that there was no significant or permanent damage to Tony or Bruce's bodies. It could have been so much worse. His hand itched every time he thought about the danger the two had put themselves into because of their impatience and refusal to obey Steve. It was frustrating. He knew he wasn't a scientist and that a lot of what they did and said went over his head- but he was still their leader. On top of that, he had a bit more common sense than either of them willingly demonstrated on a regular basis. Being extremely intelligent hadn't helped either of them when it came to self-preservation, so Steve took it upon himself to make certain that they stayed safe. That job was made so much more difficult when they refused to listen to him or cooperate with the simple rules he'd laid down.
 
He sighed softly, before turning to acknowledge Thor. The demi-god had walked in and stood slightly behind and to his side just in time to hear the doctor's give their report on the two boys who were currently asleep on the beds.
 
"Friend Steve," Thor hesitantly began, "I hope you do not plan to let this incident go with only stern words and removal of privileges…"
 
Steve held up a hand, giving Thor a tiny smile. "Do not worry Thor. I may not like it, but the two have definitely earned more than grounding. I would have waited until they were returned to their correct size to administer it- but I think they have proven that waiting has done more harm than good. They seem to think they can do whatever they wish because they believe they will be able to talk me out of their punishment if I am waiting to administer it. That was a mistake and I will not make it twice. As soon as the doctors have cleared them to go home, they will be taking a trip over my knee."
 
Thor visibly relaxed, some of the hesitation and worry leaving his face. He smiled back at Steve and nodded. "Very well- I see you have things under control. If I am able to assist you…"
 
"I will ask." Steve agreed with a slight nod of his own head, then turned to look back onto the two sleeping 'children' he'd sworn to protect.
 
# # #
 
Steve and the other Avengers had spent the rest of the day alternating guard over the two incapacitated members. At first Steve had been worried at the fact that Tony and Bruce seemed to be sleeping so much, but one of the nurses- noticing his furrowed brow- had asked what was wrong, and when he'd explained his worry, she'd informed him that the two had been given a light sedative so that the treatment they were being given had a chance to work. The two 'children' didn't cough as much while asleep and that would allow their raw throats and irritated lungs a reprieve.
 
Realizing that the two likely wouldn't wake up before morning, Steve had sent the rest of the Avengers to their quarters to get some sleep before heading to his own bed. He left instructions with the nurses on the night shift to contact him if anything happened- never expecting that they would need to follow such orders. He was awakened at 3 a.m. by a shrill alarm over his intercom- and then a frazzled sounding nurse was entreating him to return to the med bay as fast as possible. In the background he could hear screaming and sobbing. He couldn't move for a few short seconds as his heart stopped and his breath caught in his throat, but then he was throwing himself out of bed, pulling on clothes and rushing out the door of his quarters before he even fully registered that he was moving. Thor, Clint, and Natasha met him in the hall. Apparently the nurse had taken it upon herself to notify ALL the Avengers. Steve couldn't say he wasn't grateful.
 
Within moments the four had reached the boys room. Doctor's and nurses were doing their best to hold the two 'children' down, but the harsh writhing was making it nearly impossible. It was obvious both boys were in terrible pain- even if their sobbing cries and intermittent screams hadn't made that fact obvious. Shooting Thor a quick look, Steve rapidly made his way to Tony, moving so that he was sat behind him on the bed and held him close- back to chest- as he began murmuring nonsense words of comfort to the tiny inventor. Thor meanwhile had done the same for Bruce.  Clint and Natasha quickly took up posts against the wall and out of the way- ready to step in and help their team mates if needed.
 
At first, no one could figure out what was wrong. The doctors swore that exposure to chlorine gas wouldn't cause such a reaction in the two boys- but since they had been shrunk through the use of other experimental chemicals- it was possible that they were having a bad interaction. Steve felt helpless frustration at the situation. He couldn't help his boys- his team mates. The thought that they might not survive tore at him. Swallowing hard, he forced himself to focus on the NOW instead of what might be. He watched them closely for any sign of improvement. He noticed just a second before Thor did.
 
"Captain…" the demi-god's voice managed to carry over the din of the emergency.
 
Steven glanced at Thor, his eyes wide and hopeful. "You see it too?" he asked and let out a relieved sigh when the Nordic man nodded at him.
 
Bolstered by Thor's confirmation, Steve called to the nearest doctor. "I think they're growing…."
 
# # #
 
It was a week after the 'chlorine incident' as Tony and Bruce had begun to refer to it among themselves and the two men had been back home in the tower for one day. Everyone was very happy and relieved to have their two 'science bros' back to original- if annoying- form and had even thrown a welcome home party for the two men. Sadly, they were still recuperating from the rapid growth they'd undergone, and so had been too tired to stay up very late. Tony hadn't even whined a little when Steve had informed them all at 10:00 that it was time for the two recovering trouble makers to go to bed.
 
They'd awakened to the smells of a big breakfast wafting into their rooms from the kitchen and it hadn't taken them much more motivation to get up and dressed, joining the rest of the group around the large table. Again things had been calm and pleasant…too pleasant.
 
It was not mid-afternoon. Clint and Natasha had gotten an assignment from S.H.I.E.L.D.  Thor had decided to go spend the weekend with Jane- and so had left at noon (after a whispered comment to Steve). And Steve - had sat in the living room reading and occasionally making comments on whatever movie Tony and Bruce was currently watching. Tony and Bruce had given each other furtive looks every so often then looked at Steve, but the man seemed oblivious to their confusion.
 
Bruce had finally cornered Tony after the film "The A-Team" had concluded, when they went into the kitchen to refill their drinks. "We have to just ask him Tony…" the other man whispered urgently. "I…I don't want this hanging over my head for the rest of my life. And I can't believe how guilty I feel about it….and I figured he would have addressed it by now but…" he glanced toward the door to the living room, as if expecting the captain to walk through at any moment.
 
Tony sighed. He really didn't want to bring it up with Steve.  In fact, if Steve could just conveniently forget everything that had occurred, Tony would have been happy. OK. Maybe not happy. Bruce was right. He kinda felt guilty too... really guilty. Tony and guilt did not go together well. Tony looked at the door as well then sighed. "Maybe he's just trying to give us a little more time to get better?"
 
Bruce snorted. "I don't need more time to get better…I need for things to be right between all of us again. We disobeyed several direct orders Tony. I can only imagine what he must think we think of him, since we respected him so little…." The scientist winced. Tony winced as well.
 
"So…how do we do this?" he swallowed. "Just go back in there and ask to be punished? I don't know if I can do that…." Tony blushed, running an agitated hand through his hair.
 
Bruce smiled faintly. "I think that's exactly what we need to do."
 
"Of course," Tony muttered then straightened his shoulders. "Well, since it was my idea- both times- I'll grovel first. If he kills me, that will give you time to run for it…."
 
Bruce shook his head in amused exasperation, before giving the millionaire genius a slight shove in the right direction. "Gee, thanks. I appreciate it."
 
# # #
 
Steve had noted when the movie ended and when the two men had disappeared into the kitchen. He continued to quietly read. He knew the other two men were feeling guilty- the way they moved and fidgeted and shot furtive looks in his direction when they thought he wouldn't notice was all the proof he needed of that. He supposed he should talk to them sooner than later. But he wasn't entirely ready to broach the subject. Even if he felt they both deserved to have their backsides blistered for their actions, he felt that he should at least discover why they felt the need to so blatantly disregard his orders. If it was because they didn't want to follow him….
 
Steve swallowed quietly as he turned the page. He had to admit that it hurt a bit to think that they held such little respect for him. He had thought Tony and he had made a connection and that any resentment the other man had felt for him was finally disappearing. Bruce had never seemed to have anything but respect for him. For the hundredth time since the two scientists became miniaturized, he asked himself how he had so completely misread the situation.
 
When Tony and Bruce returned to the living room, he'd expected them to start another movie. It took him a few seconds to realize that while Bruce had gone to sit on the sofa- Tony had come to stand directly in front of him by his knee. He blinked, lowering his book and giving Tony a confused look. "Is there something wrong…?" he asked the unusually quiet inventor.
 
Tony bit his lip, giving Bruce an uncertain look before facing Steve again, looking him in the eye. "Yeah. There is. I disobeyed you." the iron man responded firmly, although his voice was still quiet and had an uncertain tone in it.
 
"You did…" Steve agreed, just as quietly, but didn't give any ground to the inventor who seemed to be floundering for words.
 
"That was wrong of me. And disrespectful. And you didn't deserve to be treated that way…" Tony continued in a tone of voice that indicated he couldn't believe he was saying such things. It was obvious he meant them though, as he kept looking Steve in the eye as he admitted it.
 
Steve thought about it for a minute before nodding. "You're right." He wanted to smile at the frustrated look on Tony's face- it was obvious the man was hoping that Steve would make it easy on him. After the grief that the rest of the team had gone through on behalf of the two scientists, Steve felt he deserved to not have things made easy.
 
Tony swallowed, glancing at Bruce again before plowing ahead. "You said you would spank us when we first got shrunk…cuz that's what we deserved…" The now blushing man didn't wait for Steve to respond this time. He continued talking. "I behaved irresponsibly, disrespectfully, foolishly… any numerous inappropriate ways just because I didn't want to be told what to do. I was wrong and I know it. I deserve to be punished. Please spank me…."
 
Steve almost couldn't understand the last couple of sentences as Tony's voice took on a higher pitched tone and he rushed through the words to the point where he didn't breathe or enunciate.  When he finally realized what Tony was asking, he blinked then straightened his shoulders, unexpectedly proud of the disruptive man.
 
Bruce's quiet, "Me too…" further surprised the super soldier. Steve stared into Tony's eyes before looking into Bruce's. The men didn't seem to be lying and the guilt they had been carrying around was clear on their face. Steve nodded, slowly.
 
"Bruce, I want you to go stand in that corner until I call you to me." He finally ordered softly, relieved and feeling a bit of vindication as the other man quickly did as told.
 
After Bruce was safely ensconced against the corner, Steve turned to Tony.  He quickly shifted the man's stance so he was beside his knee. "Bare yourself, Tony." He continued with the same quiet tone in what was a clear order. Tony flushed darkly, but quickly obeyed. Steve wasted no time in pulling him over his lap and positioning him so that he couldn't move or escape Steve's grip. Tony let out a tiny whimper when Steve placed his hand on the exposed and well positioned bottom. "Why are you about to be spanked Tony?" the captain asked gently.
 
"Because I disobeyed orders, took irresponsible chances, showed disrespect to you, and behaved like an unruly child who needs to be reigned in…" Tony admitted in a choked voice. "I'm sorry Steve…"
 
"I know you are." Steve responded softly before raising his hand and lowering it again in a firm, hard smack. It took very little time at all for Tony to begin crying, softly at first but increasing in intensity as his backside slowly turned from pale white to a vivid scarlet color. Steve was careful and methodical, making certain not to harm the man he was disciplining- but also making certain to cover every inch of Tony's backside and upper thighs with the punishing smacks.
 
Tony was positive he would not be able to sit comfortably for at least a day, if not longer. That wasn't why he was crying though.  He knew how unfair he'd been to their leader. He knew how badly he'd screwed up and how wrong he had been in his actions. He felt some measure of relief that he was paying for his misdeeds, but he was afraid that it wouldn't be enough. The vulnerability of his position combined with shame, fear, and a need to know that things would be OK, made his normally impenetrable emotions weak and he just couldn't keep a lid on the tears. Finally unable to take it any longer, he went limp over Steve's lap, allowing himself to sob and allowing the captain to see his remorse. He wasn't sure when the spanking stopped and he wasn't sure how Steve had managed to re-clothe him, but he soon found himself being held in the captain's arms while the erstwhile man rubbed his back gently and calmed him.
 
"It's all over Tony. You've been punished and now you get a clean slate. I already forgave you. You did good, Tony….WE'RE good…" Steve spoke gently as if Tony was a skittish colt, not letting go of the smaller man. It wasn't until Tony finally had control over his emotions and reluctantly pulled away from the captain's embrace that Steve gave him a stern look. "I don't want to ever have to do that again. Please don't make me have to do that again, Tony…"
 
Tony just nodded quickly, unable to make a promise like that but wanting to show that he understood what was being asked and that he'd try. Steve let out a tiny sigh before turning Tony to face Bruce. "Go stand in the corner where Bruce is.  Bruce, please come here…"
 
# # #
 
It hadn't been easy for Bruce to listen to Tony's punishment. He wished that Steve had sent him to his room instead of the corner- but he hadn't felt like he had the right to request that. He winced as he heard the smacks, imagining what Steve must be doing to his friend to elicit that sound. When Tony began to sob, Bruce felt like crawling into a hole somewhere and hiding. This was just as much his fault as Tony's. He should have told the inventor no. Tony might be irresponsible and childish a lot of times, but he wasn't unreasonable and if Bruce had voiced serious objections to the plans he had offered, he wouldn't have done them. He had let his friend down by not standing up to him. Bruce made a promise to himself not to let that happen again.
 
All too soon, Tony was shuffling his way to where Bruce stood. The inventor was standing tall and stiff and walking in such a way that it was obvious it hurt. Bruce winced, then turned to face Steve himself, walking carefully to the captain’s side- beside his knee. Without any prompting and assuming he and Tony would be treated alike, he quickly bared himself then allowed Steve to place him over his lap and adjust him. He blushed darkly when Steve placed his hand on his backside and asked, "Why are you about to be spanked Bruce?"
 
"I disobeyed and disrespected you several times. Instead of acting like a responsible adult and convincing Tony not to take unnecessary risks- I allowed myself to go along with his plan and behave irresponsibly and recklessly…" he swallowed hard. "I am sorry Steve….you didn't deserve any of what we did…" he finally whispered.
 
"I know you are Bruce. I've already forgiven you. You will be punished and then it will be a clean slate." Steve calmly told the scientist before raising his hand and smacking down on the pale backside firmly and rapidly. As with Tony, it didn't take long at all for Bruce to begin crying- softly at first but increasing in intensity with the deepening red of his bottom. Steve made sure to cover every inch of exposed skin from the top of the buttocks to mid-thigh. The captain didn't stop the spanking until Bruce let himself to go limp, allowing Steve to hear his remorseful sobs.
 
Carefully lifting the smaller man up and righting his clothes, Steve pulled Bruce in for a hug and rubbed his back gently. "I don't want to ever have to do that again to YOU either. So please don't make me…"
 
"I won't and you won't…" Bruce all but promised. He blushed as stepped away from the taller man, reaching back and rubbing his backside with a hiss. Steve smiled gently then turned so he could face both men.
 
"Please come here Tony," he requested, pleased when the inventor quickly obeyed and came to stand in front of him next to Bruce.
 
Steve eyed both the men sternly. "I want both of you to go lie down and take a nap. You are still recovering from the events of the last month and the doctors said rest was the most important remedy." He smiled, pleased when they didn't argue and immediately went to their bedrooms. He followed along behind checking on each of them to make certain they didn't need anything and letting each man know that they should stay in bed until he retrieved the for dinner.
 
Ten minutes later and both Tony and Bruce were sound asleep while Steve had returned to the living room and picked up his book to continue reading.
 
# # #
 
Natasha and Clint had returned  with Chinese take-out by the time Steve had gone to retrieve his two charges. They walked into the kitchen blearily, each rubbing sleep from their eyes and looking like they would have liked to stay in bed longer; that didn't stop them from protesting when Steve said they should go back to bed after they had eaten.
 
"We'll take it easy- promise!" Tony said cajolingly before admitting, "Pepper returns from her trip tonight and with everything that happened, I haven't talked to her since before we reverted…" he motioned up and down his now adult body. "I want to see her expression when she realizes she has her fiancé back." The billionaire grinned impishly.
 
"That ain't all you want to see, I bet…" Clint muttered under his breath and got a punch in the arm from Natasha for his trouble. Wincing, Clint rubbed at his now sore arm, and pouted. "Well, it's true!"
 
Tony just nodded good-naturedly at the archer, while Steve rubbed at his face and tried not to blush. It was hard for the man to get used to the fact that men would talk like that in front of a lady- but this time was different than his own and he was constantly reminded of that fact by little things.
 
Bruce smiled too before asking Tony in a non-chalant manner, "So when are you taking those Polka lessons you owe Pepper?"
 
Tony blinked, chopsticks half-way to his mouth as he looked at his fellow scientist "Polka lessons?"
 
Bruce nodded sagely. "Yeah. The ones you promised to take if she won the bet you two had going."
 
Tony winced, dropping his chopsticks onto his plate and giving Bruce an imploring look. "She wasn't here, so I don't think this time should count….cuz you know…she wasn't here….and for her to know you'd have to admit it so….and how did you even know what we bet? I didn't think you could hear us…"the man of iron actually blushed.
 
Steve, Clint, and Natasha stared at Tony and Bruce with amused bafflement. Whatever they were talking about, it looked like Tony was near begging Bruce to keep something secret. Lifting one eyebrow Steve finally turned to Tony. "Just what did you bet Miss Potts, Tony? Because if you agreed to do something if she won, just because she is not here currently does not make your agreement any less valid."  The captain gave the inventor a stern look that caused Tony to sit back and swallow nervously.
 
It was Bruce who answered to Tony's chagrine. "He bet Pepper that when we were finally returned to normal that I'd get away without any type of physical punishment- despite your threats and promises- because of Hulk. Pepper believed that Hulk wouldn't even be an issue." He glanced at Tony who was bright red by this time.
 
"Bruce, buddy… I didn't mean anything bad…" Tony started but didn't know what to say. Everyone watching could tell that the billionaire was genuinely worried that he might have offended or even possibly hurt his friend by betting such a thing.
 
Bruce finally took pity on his friend. "I'm not mad Tony. I was a bit worried about it myself." The scientist shrugged.
 
Steve frowned slightly as he looked at Bruce. "If you were worried about it, why didn't you say something? And why…?" he motioned between himself and Bruce, eyes curious.
 
Bruce shrugged again. "Hulk likes you; all of you. And he thought I deserved it."
 
Natasha and Clint blinked at that, then looked at each other before Clint finally asked, "He talks to you?"
 
Bruce grinned sheepishly, not answering. He wasn't entirely sure how to explain it.
 
"Well, then…" Steve clapped his hands together loudly then grinned at Tony. "As soon as Miss Potts returns tonight, I will give her a list of the dancing schools that offer Polka lessons- which you will be gathering for her after dinner, Tony."
 
Bruce smiled, "Don't worry Tony. I'll help you gather the information. After all- we can't have you neglecting to pay the Pepper…."
 
Tony groaned.


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