Author's Note:  This is my seventh story in the "It's the End..." series. Verse/Setting: Post-Angel; Harry Potter; Numb3rs; S4-NCIS:LA; Avengers; It's a Good Day to Die Hard; and S8-Supernatural.  Pre-series finale ST:Voyager.
Character bios:
-Lindsey McDonald (b. 1974) is from Angel.
-Ian Edgerton (b. 1962) and Colby Granger (b. 1972) are from Numb3rs.
-Hermione Granger (b. 1979) is from Harry Potter.
-Owen Granger (b. 1955) is from NCIS:LA.
-Tom Paris (b. 2346 age 24) and Chakotay (b. 2329, age 41) are from ST:Voyager.
-Dean (b.1978) and Castiel (b. ?) are from Supernatural
-Clint Barton (b.1971), Loki (b. ?) and Natasha Romanoff (b. 1984) are from Avengers.
-John McClane (b. 1955), Matt Farrell (b. 1978), Lucy McClane (b. 1982), and Jack McClane (b. 1984) are from the movie franchise Die Hard.
Disclaimer: Don’t own recognizable characters. Not making money from this fic
Warning(s): There will be spanking/discipline of adults. VERY AU

It's The End Of the World As We Know It
Another Way to Die Hard

New York City

From Lucy and Matt’s apartment, the trip to the airport would normally have only taken thirty minutes. The situation wasn’t normal however and Jack had found himself needing to take numerous detours to get around stalled or abandoned cars; looters; evacuees who did not have transportation; and citizenry who in general did not know what was going on but didn’t have the sense to hide themselves in their homes or leave instead of milling around on the sidewalks and in the streets just staring at the tumult. When he finally pulled around to the private airstrip where he had been directed to catch the plane, everyone in the car was pale and tense.

Jack frowned as he pulled up to the plane that he’d been told he would need to take. It seemed entirely too quiet, considering they were supposed to be expecting him. The fuel truck was pulled up to the tiny Cessna, the line connected to it and running. A large puddle of fuel was pooling on the ground from where the fuel had overflowed. Why hadn’t they stopped the fuel transfer once the plane was full? Licking his lip nervously, he swallowed hard.

“John…” he said softly, “I’m going to get out…see if I can stop the fuel and get the plane ready to go…” He darted a look at his father and continued before the older man could disagree. “I need you to get behind the wheel here… if the situation’s FUBAR like I expect, I’ll need you to pull out as fast as possible while I jump back into the car-every second could count. I’m hoping I’m wrong though…” he didn’t sound confident that he would be wrong and the look on John’s face indicated he doubted this excursion was going to end positively.

John wanted to argue with his son, but he knew that they needed to find out what was going on here- and Jack was right. There probably wouldn’t be enough time for him to get back behind the wheel if he had to run back to the car. Reluctantly he nodded. “Ok. But the minute you sense anything off, you get your ass back to the car. Got it?” John’s voice was gruff and authoritarian.

For once Jack didn’t mind his father telling him what to do. “Got it,” he nodded once briskly then quickly opened the door and stepped out, his gun ready in his hand.

Carefully he made his way to the plane. He hadn’t quite made it to the fuel truck when he saw the men who were in charge of refueling- or at least they wore the uniforms of the men who would have been in charge of refueling the plane. The way they moved indicated that whatever had been happening outside the apartment had already spread to the airport. Jack quickly stopped, but it wasn’t enough. The two creatures (they weren’t men any longer) had noticed him and raised their heads with a growl.

Jack swallowed hard and glanced around quickly. There were no other people or creatures visible, but if there were two creatures at the fuel truck, chances were any other personnel who had been near or on the plane had been killed or turned also- and were just hiding where he couldn’t see. The two creatures he could see growled again and turned in his direction- time to leave then.

Quickly turning he ran back to the car, gratified to see that his father was behind the wheel. Nat was up front in the passenger seat with her guns aimed behind him and Lucy had shoved the back door open for him as soon as she saw him coming. He threw himself into the back seat, even as Nat began shooting at the pursuing ‘zombies’ and slammed the door shut while John slammed his foot on the gas and the car peeled away from the plane. Jack lay back against the seat taking in deep breaths before running a hand wearily over his face.

“We need a new plan,” he finally ground out. John grunted in response.

“I have a safe-house. It is about four hours from here.” Natalie- Jack supposed he needed to start thinking of her as Natasha now- said softly. “…If we have enough gas to get there.”

“I filled up the car before I got home. We may not have enough to get us all the way there, but we should have enough to get us far enough away from here that we can hopefully stop and get more. If we can’t, then we’ll need to keep an eye open for replacement vehicles.” Jack responded.

His response wasn’t cold exactly, but it didn’t hold any of the warmth that Natasha was used to hearing from him. She winced and sighed softly to herself. She should have just been honest with him as soon as she was convinced he wasn’t on the wrong side of her mission. She knew he would understand- he was CIA after all- but understanding didn’t mean he wouldn’t still withdraw from her. Now wasn’t the time to think about that however. Forcing her regret to the back of her mind, she looked at John and began to give him precise directions to the safe-house.

John watched his son through the rearview mirror, concern reflecting in his eyes before he turned his concerned gaze onto Natasha. He didn’t say anything however. He just nodded briskly and drove where Natasha directed. Now was not the time to deal with personal drama. He’d take care of it when they were remotely safe.

# # #
In shuttle, heading toward S.H.I.E.L.D. carrier somewhere over the Atlantic Ocean

Chakotay watched Dean curiously, amazed that the younger man seemed so at ease among the rest of their group considering how reluctant he had been to join them in the first place. When Dean noticed him staring and raised a questioning eyebrow, Chakotay smiled faintly then leaned forward taking advantage of the opening. “You don’t seem terribly upset or uncomfortable with the change in plans, considering you didn’t want to go with us originally. You aren’t worried about going into the belly of the military beast?”

Dean scoffed good naturedly, then shrugged with an embarrassed grin. “What? You think I didn’t want to be around you guys because you’re military or special ops? That’s not it at all. My father was a marine. I’ve got nothing but respect for you all. My issue is with being in places I can’t easily get out of.”

The younger man frowned, glancing down at his arms that were crossed defensively across his chest. “What happened in the outpost that we had planned to go…it’s happening in a lot of other places. We were checking out the various rumors when Cas decided to bring us all together, so I know it isn’t isolated to the one spot. Whatever it is that is doing this to people- it needs to be stopped. I’ll do whatever it takes to stop it. Even if it means being in a position I can’t get out of.”

Chakotay nodded in acceptance of his words. What else was there to say really? They were all in the same boat. As much as Chakotay wished Q would send he and Tom back to Voyager where they belonged, he knew that neither one of them would feel right leaving these people to fight this battle on their own. Just because it was an alternate reality, didn’t mean it wasn’t earth. So in a way, he and Tom were also in a situation they couldn’t get out of. Not if they wanted to be able to look at themselves without feeling shame afterwards.

“We’ll figure it out.” He finally said to no one in particular before leaning back in his seat and closing his eyes. The next few days- perhaps weeks- may offer little time for rest. He would take it when he could. He could sense when Dean followed his example.

# # #
Loki had been very quiet after seeing the video from the base. Clint had decided to let him be, thankful that the Asgardian menace hadn’t decided to wax poetic about what should and should not be done. They had been flying for several hours though and Loki hadn’t said one word or even shifted all that often. It had finally begun to worry Clint- he had promised Odin to look after the brat, after all.

Sighing mentally, he forced himself to look at the other man closely, his eyes penetrating and taking note of every detail. He couldn’t help an amused smirk when Loki began to squirm under his gaze.

Loki swallowed hard then finally spoke. “I…I wanted to help.” Clint frowned at the tiny, almost little boy tone in the demi-god’s voice.

Loki continued, “I wanted to help but instead I unleashed a plague…” the brunette almost gasped the last out and quickly brushed at his eyes in an attempt to hide their glassiness. “And the worse of it is, I do not know how or why it occurred, so I do not know how to undo it….” Loki slumped, feeling the weight of his guilt keenly.

“We’ll figure it out. It would have been nice if your father could have shed more light on the situation…” he smirked at Loki’s grimace at the word father, “…but he DID make it clear there was a third party involved that helped cause this mess, so you should not blame yourself entirely for the fact you can’t figure it out.”

Loki looked about to argue, but then slumped and nodded his head wearily. “I will attempt to remain positive. Have you called any of the rest of your hero-friends?” The dark haired demi-god asked with genuine curiosity in his tone.

“Haven’t really had time,” Clint answered, pulling out his cell phone. “I will do so now.”

# # #
Tom watched the other men on the shuttle, listening quietly when they spoke above whispers. He supposed he could always move closer to one of the conversations, but to be honest he was just too…much too something. He grimaced at not even being able to put a name to his own feelings. Maybe he was in shock. It wouldn’t be unheard of and it wasn’t like they didn’t all have valid reason to be.

He glanced at the one they said was an angel- Castiel?- and noted the smaller brunette’s badly hidden grimaces of pain. It must definitely be shock. He hadn’t even asked if he could look at, let alone tend to the other man’s wounds and normally that would be one of the first things he did. Even if he was in a different reality and many centuries in the ‘past’ didn’t change the fact that he was a trained medic. Frowning at his own thoughtlessness, he moved closer to Castiel before addressing the shuttle at large.

“We should look at that scratch again- make sure the infection isn’t spreading. And we probably should make sure that bruise from the bite isn’t worse…. If there is a first aid kit on board, I may be able to do something for him…at least until the doctors at the base are able to see to him…” he said more calmly than he felt.

He glanced up to see varying looks of curiosity on all their faces, with the exception of Chakotay- whose face registered surprise and then chagrin. Apparently his commander had forgotten he had medical training as well. He smiled sheepishly at the older man and shrugged.

Within seconds, the archer had located and thrust a small box into his hands with a terse nod, even as he continued arguing into his phone with an urgent, yet calm tone. “You may be safe in the tower right now, Stark- but there is no guarantee it will stay safe, no matter how many security precautions you’ve added. I’m assuming Rogers and Banner are with you. Get them, Pepper and whoever else will fit on the jet and head to the carrier. I’m pretty sure the safest place at the moment is the middle of the ocean….”

Tom’s attention was drawn away from the phone conversation by Dean clearing his throat and then hesitantly saying, “If you need any help, I’ve had a lot of practice stitching people up and stuff….” The young hunter glanced around at the others as if expecting unwelcome comments, but everyone took his words at face value and said nothing. Tom smiled at him.

“Sure. An extra set of hands can’t hurt. Especially if he needs help in holding still…” he glanced at Castiel not really expecting the angel to move much. The man was out cold from the looks of it. But looks could be deceiving.

He began to work, glad that he had decided to check on the angel when he discovered the scratch inflamed worse than before- heated stripes of red radiating from the wound into previously untouched skin. The area of the bite no longer was just a bruise- the skin opening and showing where infected teeth had ripped into the angel’s side. Cas was definitely getting worse, not better.

Tom found himself relieved that Dean’s comments at having a lot of practice in taking care of wounds seemed to be true. They were able to work together well, not getting in each other’s way at all. They had decided against stitches- uncertain that it wouldn’t cause more problem than help, since the wounds weren’t reacting normally- but they disinfected as much area as possible before covering it with a large bandage. The extra help allowed Tom to think while he administered aid to the wounded man- something he had been trying to avoid doing too much of.

Chakotay hadn’t once asked him about his behavior since they had arrived in this place, although Tom had felt the older man’s eyes on him on more than one occasion. He knew that eventually, they would arrive in a place where things weren’t as ‘life and death’ and his mentor would start asking questions- and expecting answers. As much as he wanted to believe he would be able to dissuade the older man or, at least deflect, Tom was under no illusions that eventually he would tell Chakotay what he wanted to know. He felt small and childish knowing his reasoning himself- he didn’t know how he would be able to face his friend once he knew the truth of it.

Tom sighed silently, finishing up the cleaning and bandaging before putting the supplies away and giving a slight smile to Dean to indicate they were finished. It would come out in its own time. He just wouldn’t think about it until he absolutely had to. That’s what he told himself anyway.

# # #
Ranch just outside of Las Vegas, Nevada

They had ridden in silence for at least 15 minutes before Nana had let out a choked breath that indicated she had been fighting tears. Owen had reached out and taken her weathereda hand in his, squeezing gently but never taking his eyes off the road. Leaving town was proving much more difficult than entering had been. He had needed to swerve his vehicle on more than one occasion to avoid hitting fleeing people.

Needless to say, they were all tense. Colby reached up from his position in the middle of the back seat and placed a hand on his grandmother’s shoulder. He wasn’t choking up like she was, but he wasn’t actively trying to stop the tears that were streaming down his face either. Ian silently bumped his shoulder against his younger friend in a sign of support then went back to staring out the window.

Hermione- who had found herself on Lindsey’s lap again- had buried her face against her husband’s neck, unwilling to look outside of the car to see the chaos that surrounded them. She shivered quietly, taking deep breaths and trying not to compare the situation she now found herself to the one she had experienced over a decade before. She couldn’t help burrowing closer to Lindsey when he’d wrapped his arms tightly around her and pulled her firmly against him. His unspoken promise of protection went a long way to helping her calm down. She wasn’t a helpless victim in this mess. She had abilities and resources that not many others had, and she would use them to protect her family if it was the last thing she did. Still…it was comforting to know that she had the support of the man she was currently clinging to like a limpet.

It was Lindsey who finally broke the silence. “We can’t stay at the house…” his quiet drawl flowed through the car gently but it still managed to startle at least half, if not all of the rest of the car’s occupants. Owen glanced in the rearview mirror, catching the younger man’s eyes and nodding imperceptibly for him to explain his comment.

Lindsey swallowed then followed the unspoken command. “It won’t take long before whatever is in the town starts heading out of the town. The ranch is near a main road and will be in a direct line for any refugees- and any creatures that tag along or follow them.”

Colby grimaced before agreeing, “He’s right. We need to leave the ranch and head somewhere that we can protect better….”

“North or south?” Ian asked calmly, accepting the fact that they would be leaving.

“North…” Owen said only one word, but the tone in his voice didn’t leave any room for argument.

“Hermione and I will get provisions together, extra bedding and clothes for when it gets cold- just in case we can’t come back before winter. You four men will get any weapons and whatever else we might need for a long journey.” Nana’s voice was strong. There was a time for everything under the sun- right now the time was for survival. She would mourn properly once they were all safe.

No one said anything. There was no need- they all agreed.

# # #
They had all quickly fallen out of the car and began their assigned jobs the minute the truck was in park. Hermione and her grandmother had quickly filled one suitcase with blankets. Another suitcase had been filled with first-aid supplies and cleansing agents. Nana had then pulled a small trunk out from the closet and headed into Colby and Ian’s room, beginning to rummage through the dresser.

“Gather enough basic clothing for a week. Add one extra pair of shoes or boots that are good for walking and three items that can be layered over the basic clothing for warmth. I doubt anyone but me has a winter coat or jacket available, since you all were just visiting- but if you find any of those, bring them as well. You get yours, Lindsey’s, and your Uncle Owen’s clothes. I’ll get Colby’s, Ian’s, and mine.” Nana began pulling items out of the dresser, not looking to see Hermione quickly obey.

By the time Hermione had gathered all the items and brought them back to the trunk, Nana had loaded up all the clothing she’d gathered and was in the process of stuffing a few more old jackets and coats that she’d pulled from the back corner of the guest closet, into the top of the trunk.

“These belonged to your grandfather. I always was on him to lose weight, bless him. I guess it’s lucky for the fella’s that I never convinced him to….” Hermione’s grandmother had a fond tone in her voice, speaking of her late husband. Hermione had to smile at the comment, mentally imagining each of the men in one of the oversized coats and unable to stifle an unladylike snort. Nana just smiled impishly at the younger girl and then motioned her to pick up the trunk, while she began to wheel out the two suitcases.

Hermione, waiting till her grandmother was out of view, quickly did a feather-light charm on the trunk so she could pick it up, then began following the older woman through the house to the outside where the men had begun to pile weapons, ammunition, and gas cans- empty and filled. They’d left the two suitcases and trunk with the other items and headed into the garage so that Hermione could get the cooler.

“We aren’t taking anything that is perishable…but you never know when a cooler might come in handy…” Nana muttered to herself as she began to pull canned vegetables and meat from the pantry. “Grab a can opener girl…and one bowl, plate, cup, and set of cutlery for everyone. Also, grab my cast iron skillet- the large one- and my cast iron pot. They can be used over a campfire.”

Hermione quickly grabbed the items in question and put them into the box Nana indicated then lugged the box outside to sit beside all the other items that were accumulating. The men had gathered tools of all sorts while the women had been inside, and Owen was now in the process of examining the back of his truck to figure out how to fit everything inside. Hermione went back inside to help Nana carry out the now full cooler. When they finally set it down, Owen turned with a frown on his face.

“We can’t take all of this. We either have to downsize or take two vehicles. I’d rather we not separate into two vehicles though. If we got separated- even for a short while- who knows if we’d be able to get back together again…” he frowned as he examined the stacks of provisions and tools as if trying to decide what could be left behind.

“We really shouldn’t go with less food- we don’t know what the situation we are heading toward is. What if the food we have is the only food we have available for more than a week?” Nana frowned back. “And we can’t go without first-aid supplies. The hospitals will more than likely be overflowing- even if we dared go to them. And as accident prone as Colby is…” Colby let out a half-hearted protest, but he couldn’t really argue her point.

“Same with the gas… we don’t know how much if any will be available and without it, we aren’t going anywhere…” Ian contributed.

“I don’t want to face whatever is happening without enough weapons…” Colby added.

“Maybe if we just wear the clothes on our backs, take the extra coats for if we need them later, and spread the blankets out on the seats and under all the boxes so we have them later, we can leave the trunk behind?” Hermione bit her lip uncertainly.

Lindsey nervously ran a hand through his hair then glanced at his own truck. “Maybe we can hitch my truck to yours- keep the supplies and extra gas in it?”

“That might work. It will be unwieldy if we have to move quickly…but if our only choice is that, splitting up, or leaving stuff behind that we may need later…” Owen narrowed his eyes thoughtfully.

Hermione closed her eyes tightly. There was one other solution. Of course it meant exposing muggles to the world of magic- but at this point Hermione was less afraid of the American Ministry of Magic than she was of the plague that seemingly sprung out of nowhere. Besides- technically she was allowed to share her secret with family. As Ian was the only one that didn’t officially fall into that category- and he was as close to a brother as Colby was ever going to get- there wasn’t really a problem. Of course it would open a whole other can of worms with her family, but she’d cross that bridge when she came to it. Sighing, she pulled her wand out of the hidden holster she had belted around her waist.

“There is one other option,” she muttered before uttering a charm and shrinking everything except the weapons and ammo. Everyone just stared at the now manageable pile of items- it would easily fit into the back of the truck and still leave plenty of room for the passengers to sit mostly comfortably.

There were varying degrees of shock on every face, except- oddly enough- Lindsey’s. He’d narrowed his eyes and stared at the now small pile of items, then straightened his shoulders and headed straight for his truck. Hermione’s stomach sunk as she watched him walk away. Great. She’d managed to scare him away. She actually liked him too.

She was so convinced he was leaving, due to her show of magic that it took her several moments to realize he’d pulled two more trunks from the back of his truck and carried them over to the pile. “Since these’ll fit now, might be useful to have them…” he said matter-of-factly, deliberately ignoring the surprised and grateful look on his new wife’s face. He also ignored the moment her look of surprise turned to calculated planning when she noticed him pull out a book written all in Latin and go over to the truck beginning a chant of protection.

“What is he…” Owen blinked in consternation before leveling a stern look on his niece as she quickly shushed him.

Nana’s dismayed gasp when Lindsey pulled his dagger and cut the palm of his hand before placing it on the truck was also quickly quieted.

By the time Lindsey had placed his own spells on the truck and turned to look at the group, all but Hermione were staring at him in confused and horrified fascination. Lindsey couldn’t help but fidget under the scrutiny and- to his mortification- blushed dark red before stammering out an answer their unspoken question. “I…I’m a sorcerer. I…I just put a protection spell on the truck. To…you know, make it less desirable to anyone who might want to steal it or try and stop us or something….”

Nana narrowed her eyes and walked up to the young man standing toe to toe with him and staring into his eyes. “You used your blood.”

Lindsey swallowed hard. “Yes Ma’am.”

“I don’t know nothing about magic- though I expect I’ll learn a bit…” the older woman glanced over her shoulder at Hermione sternly before looking back at Lindsey, “…but all the movies and such make that it is a very dangerous and bad thing to use blood in magic.”

“Yes, Ma’am,” Lindsey lowered his eyes, unable to look into her face, “although, sometimes it isn’t bad- this time it wasn’t. But it usually is…” he had to admit.

“No, it wasn’t bad this time- but it was dangerous?” Nana’s eyes narrowed even further if possible.

Lindsey cleared his throat and glanced toward the other men, hoping one of them would step in and save him. No such luck. Colby and Ian were watching the older woman uncertainly and warily- even as they gave him sympathetic glances. Owen looked like he would step in and take over wherever his mother left off.

Any hope Lindsey had that he might be misreading the older man was dashed when Owen bit out, “Well, answer her. Was it dangerous?”

Lindsey winced and closed his eyes before nodding his head, only belatedly answering verbally. “Yes Sir, Ma’am…” he finished his answer with a surprised yelp, Nana having taking a tight hold on his ear and dragging him over to Owen.

“You take care of him…I’m so mad I’m afraid I might hurt him worse than I mean to…” She muttered before going over to the shrunken pile of provisions and beginning to load them into the back of the truck.

Lindsey watched her in consternation before turning worried eyes onto Owen. Owen stared after his mother and then sighed loudly, rubbing at his face. “We don’t have time for this…” he grumbled before giving Lindsey a stern look.

“From now on, if you feel it is necessary to do something dangerous, you talk to me first. If I agree with you, then I’ll run buffer for you against my mother. If I don’t agree with you, then you aren’t to do it. Understood?” Owen’s voice was firm.

Lindsey wanted to balk at being told what to do, but some part of him understood that they were worried and he found himself agreeing, “Yes sir.”

“Ok.” Owen nodded, relieved that he wasn’t going to have to have a huge talk with the young man. “She won’t be happy if I don’t make sure you understand you were wrong to just take a chance like you just did.”

“I…know?” Lindsey couldn’t help be confused, but he was willing to accept anything if it calmed Nana down.

Owen smirked, “I’m sure you don’t. But you will eventually. Let’s get it over with then.” Taking Lindsey by the arm, he got ready to lead him around the side of the house, when Lindsey dug in his heels.

“Everyone already knows what’s going to happen,” Lindsey sounded resigned. “May as well do it here and save some time. ‘Sides- the way everyone was looking at me, maybe knowing you stepped in will calm ‘em down somewhat…” his voice softened and sounded slightly hurt if Owen wasn’t reading it wrong. He looked into Lindsey’s eyes and frowned. No, he wasn’t reading it wrong. Part of him wanted to comfort the younger man and tell him not to take the looks the others had given him the wrong way- but he knew nothing he said would convince the younger man. It was something that the others would have to work out with him on their own- although they better do it soon or he would be nudging them, in a not so pleasant way, to do so. He looked into Lindsey’s eyes then nodded briskly.

“Ok. If that’s what you want.” Quickly turning Lindsey so that he was slightly bent over, his left arm bracing and holding the younger man in place, Owen quickly raised his right hand then proceeded to land hard measured smacks on the lawyer’s backside. He only smacked him ten times, but it was enough to bring a slight sheen to Lindsey’s eyes and more than one pained grunt escaped the boy’s mouth before it was over. He gently righted the younger man, placing both hands on Lindsey’s shoulders and squeezing.

Just to make certain there wasn’t a repeat, Owen asked “What are you NOT going to do?”

“Perform dangerous magic without running it by you first…” Lindsey drawled out, looking down at his feet and fidgeting like he was ten years old.

Owen smiled slightly. “Not just magic son … anything dangerous … and why aren’t you going to do that?”

Lindsey blinked and looked back up again, a confused look on his face. He bit his lip and was obviously thinking carefully about his answer. Finally he answered hesitantly, not entirely certain of the answer. “…Because you don’t want me to be hurt unnecessarily?”

“You got it kid. Remember that and you’ll do just fine.” Owen patted Lindsey on the back, noting that everything had been loaded on the truck. “I suggest everyone make use of the bathroom before we leave. Once we pull out, who knows when we’ll stop….”

# # #
Upstate New York

They had indeed run out of gas. They had exited the highway not more than 30 minutes before when it had become necessary to pull over into a station to fill up. There weren’t very many signs of life when they pulled in, and it became obvious why when they noted the bodies of a few zombies in groups near but not next to the door to the little convenience store that was attached to the station.

Jack had warily gotten out of the car to fill it up, leaving John in the driver’s seat so that they could take off immediately if necessary. The bodies didn’t move however. Taking a more candid look at the bodies, Jack had noticed the bullet holes, neatly placed in such a manner as to permanently put the poor souls to rest.

After the care had been filled up, John had carefully pulled away from the pump and parked in such a way that they could make a quick escape. Then they had all carefully crawled out of the car and quietly made their way into the shop. John thought he’d seen a man with a shotgun inside the store, hiding, but he didn’t make an active attempt to investigate. It was obvious they weren’t zombies. Everyone quickly made use of the facilities, being as quiet as they were able and then loaded up with whatever snacks and food they could. No one came out to ring them up, so they left a couple of hundred dollar bills on the counter before quickly going back to the car, loading up and taking off- this time with Natasha driving.

It was only after they were well on their way that a tenseness that no one had really realized was there drained off of the entire group and they began to talk. Mostly it was random comments that didn’t require any actual thought or response- they knew they would need to discuss their future plans in more depth, once they reached the safe house, but for the moment they could pretend that they were just on a nice drive and that the world hadn’t gone to hell. If there were zombies around, they were hidden inside the houses that were sparsely dotted along the old country road- not where they could easily be seen. It was Matt that finally broached a subject that wasn’t meant to be a distraction.

“Nat…I…I’m sorry that I snooped about you. I really wasn’t trying to do that, it just kind of happened. I didn’t tell anyone at all… well… other than tonight, but you were there when I did that and…” Matt’s voice tapered off uncertainly as he stared at the back of Natasha’s head while she drove. Lucy, sitting on his left, reached over and quickly squeezed his leg in support.

“I know.” Natasha answered shortly. It was hard to tell from her tone if she didn’t care or if she cared a lot and was just hiding it. “You are lucky you stopped looking as soon as you realized what you’d hacked into though. My boss doesn’t take kindly to outsider’s infiltrating the systems. If you’d kept looking….”

Matt swallowed hard at the implied threat- not from Natasha but from the unnamed boss. “Yeah…I kinda figured that,” he whispered nervously. “Anyway- I’m sorry. I hope it doesn’t cause any problems for you…” he stated weakly.

Natasha lifted one hand from the steering wheel and waved it in slight dismissal. “There won’t be any problem for me. I’ll have to let them know what you managed though. See if Stark can’t figure out a way to make the system more secure. He’ll figure out a way. He doesn’t like anyone being able to hack into the systems- well…except for him.” There was a tone of exasperated fondness in her voice and Matt couldn’t help but chuckle a little.

He blinked as John, who was sitting on his right, reached up and gently but firmly squeezed the back of his neck. “We’re still having our discussion when we stop, kid,” the older man stated in a no-nonsense tone.

Matt winced, but nodded his head. “I know sir…” he replied respectfully. He was proud of himself when there was only a slight wobble in his voice. The firm grip on the back of his neck loosened slightly and he blinked as the older man- the man he looked to as a father- rubbed gently as if to calm him down. He couldn’t help but shoot the man a small grin even when he blushed at the affection.

# # #
Jack glanced at Natalie- Natasha- when she answered Matt. She glanced back at him giving him a crooked and uncertain smile, but didn’t say anything else. He gave her the same crooked smile back then turned to face forward again.

He could tell she felt badly about having kept such a large secret from him. Granted, she was a very good spy and there was a chance that her feelings of remorse were an act- but he didn’t think so. Now that he knew the truth, looking back on their relationship and all their interactions, there had been signs all along. He’d just ignored them- which didn’t say a whole lot for him as a CIA agent, that he would wilfully ignore something like that. There had been signs and right now everything seemed genuine. Maybe it was wishful thinking on his part, but he wanted to believe that she truly was sorry for hiding her real identity from him and that perhaps she wanted what they had to be real- just as much as he did. He didn’t want to admit that or have this conversation in the car with the rest of his family listening in however. Maybe he’d be able to eke out a little time while they were at the safe house and speak with her.

Thinking of the safe house unfortunately made him think about what his father had promised to do to Matt for his hacking into the data-systems of a major spy organization. If it weren’t for the fact that he knew his father planned to have a ‘discussion’ with him as well- for his own actions- he would have been one hundred percent behind what John planned to do. Matt couldn’t just go around hacking into things willy-nilly and not expect consequences, especially not when he was going to marry his big sister!

Unfortunately, his own actions hadn’t been pristine and he was left with a dilemma. He felt very strongly that John had no right to treat him like a child and punish him for his actions- however unwise they might have been. And he had planned to fight John about it and refuse the older man’s correction. But the conversation between Matt and his father, however brief, had surprised him. Matt hadn’t argued with John about John’s plans at all. In fact, he had quickly agreed! He’d been so surprised by this fact that he’d surreptitiously glanced back, just to see if Matt had any type of look on his face that would indicate he was being sarcastic. What he’d seen was a shy and respectful smile on Matt’s face, an exasperated yet fond smile on John’s face- and his father actually being physically affectionate with his future son-in-law.

It took him nearly thirty minutes of staring out the window to figure out that the burning ache in his gut was jealousy.

# # #
It hadn’t taken them much longer before Nat had turned off the quiet country road onto a narrow dirt road. That road wound in a meandering path through numerous trees until it finally came out into a clearing. There was about two acres of open land surrounded by the wooded area and in the center of the two acres was a medium sized ranch house.

Nat had pulled up to the garage and stopped the car before cautiously getting out. There were no signs of there being anyone in the vicinity- so chances of hidden zombies weren’t that high- but she could see no sense in taking chances. Jack had gotten out with her, his gun at the ready.

John had brusquely ordered Lucy and Matt to stay with the car as he had gotten out, his own weapon at the ready. They’d begun with the garage, but it hadn’t taken long at all for them to search the entire house and decide that it was safe. John had returned to the car and carefully pulled it into the garage before lowering and locking the garage door, Matt and Lucy followed him into the house.

“There are three bedrooms. I’ll take the smallest one, the girls can have one with its own bath, and you two can have the last one.” John told Matt and Jack in a no-nonsense tone as if it was a done deal. When he noticed the absolute silence from the ‘children’ he turned around with a raised eyebrow. There were varying degrees of disbelief and indignation on all four faces looking back at him- Nat’s was the least offended, but her eyes were still flashing irritably. He chuckled, smirking at them before shaking his head. “You all are too easy…. I’ll take the smallest room. You two sets of love birds can decide which couple gets the bathroom…” still shaking his head, he went back to the car and started grabbing out the various bags.

Matt bit his lip then glanced at Jack and Lucy uncertainly. “Maybe we should do rooms like he said,” he said hesitantly. “I don’t want your dad to kill me!”

Jack snorted while Lucy rolled her eyes in amusement. “He’s not going to kill you, sweetie. And even if he tried, he’d have to go through me first, so you’re safe.” Lucy smiled before leaning up and kissing Matt thoroughly. A clearing throat told her that her father had returned and she stepped back before grabbing her and Matt’s bags from him- he was juggling everyone’s bags- and took them to the room that had the bath.

Jack glanced at Nat, who was smirking, but neither of them argued the loss of a private shower. Nat took hers and Jack’s bag from John and headed to the other room to put their items away.

John dropped his bag onto the floor beside the hall. Glancing at the two younger men he motioned at them. “Come on. Let’s make sure the perimeter is secure…among other things.” Matt shivered visibly and Jack found it difficult not to cringe. To both of the younger men’s credit, they didn’t argue or try and come up with an excuse not to go with John.
# # #
Thirty minutes later, all three men were convinced that there was no immediate threat to their well-being anywhere in the vicinity of the house. And since there was enough open land between the woods and the house, it would be easy to notice any threats coming toward them, should one show up. Jack had hoped to head back to the house before the inevitable confrontation with his father, but the older man cleared his throat as he turned to head back.

“Ok, Matt. Jack…” John said his name loudly and firmly enough that he couldn’t pretend not to hear him.

Matt swallowed hard. “I already know what I did wrong. And I know why it was wrong and why you’re upset, cuz we’ve gone over this before…” he admitted with a sad tone in his voice. Jack looked over at Matt in surprise, not realizing that he’d been in this position before. The other man looked ashamed of himself and when John took him by the arm and began tugging him toward a fallen log, he almost looked as if there was relief on his face- as if he wanted to be punished. Jack shook his head having a hard time believing that. It became easier to believe as he watched events occur.

Matt didn’t try and pull away from John’s firm grip. John was doing exactly what he’d promised. And he hadn’t been lying when he’d said they’d had this conversation numerous times before. John was always warning Matt that he needed to stop his forays into other people’s computer systems- that one day he was going to get into something that someone would kill to keep him out of. Plus, he was drawing the wrong kinds of attention to himself. He didn’t want to end up in another situation like he had with Thomas Gabriel- drawing the attention of someone who would want to use him and then kill him.

John had warned him repeatedly and he’d agreed that he wouldn’t do stuff like this- but it was so difficult. It wasn’t that he didn’t want to do what he’d agreed to- it was that he found himself doing the exact opposite without even thinking about it. Hacking was like breathing to him. He just did it and often didn’t even realize until he was looking at sensitive information just what he was in the process of doing. John had also warned him that if he caught him hacking into anything again that he would have a hard time sitting after. John was much better at doing what he said he would than Matt.

When John stopped by the fallen log, he’d held out his hand to Matt with a determined look on his face. “Give me your belt.”

The words were spoken calmly, but their mere utterance caused Matt to pale. John had spanked him before. This wasn’t the first time Matt had made a stupid mistake in the other man’s presence where John felt the need to correct his behavior. But he’d never used anything more than his hand before. He’d usually get between 20 to 50 smacks over his clothing depending on how bad his offense was. He didn’t think he’d be able to handle 20 with the belt, let alone 50.

John must have seen the fear in his eyes because the stern look on his face faded somewhat and he looked at Matt with a small bit of worry. “Hey! You’ll be ok kid. You trust me, don’t you?” he asked softly.

Matt forced himself to nod his head jerkily as he removed his belt and handed it to the older man. His hand was shaking noticeably.

John sighed, then reached out and grasped Matt by the shoulder. “You’re only getting five this time, son. I didn’t think you’d want to go over my knee and have me use my hand with another person watching…” he slanted his head and frowned slightly. “Am I wrong? Would you prefer to go over my knee like normal?”

Matt blinked at having been given a choice. John always said that if you did something bad enough to warrant a punishment- you didn’t get to choose how said punishment was given. He swallowed and actually thought about what the other man had said and realized- he didn’t really want Jack to see him go over John’s knee.

He knew that everyone in this family group- sometimes even Lucy- viewed him as a bit childlike and naïve. Lucy thought it was endearing. John tolerated it-possibly even found it endearing himself. He had always suspected that Jack was irritated by it at worse, amused by it at best. He wanted his brother-in-law’s respect, not his condescension- and he wasn’t entirely certain Jack would be able to respect him if he was punished like a recalcitrant 10 year old. The belt was a more adult punishment- and John had said there would be less strikes given, and he trusted John not to harm him so there was really no reason to be afraid….

“No. You aren’t wrong.” He finally answered in a soft voice, amazed when his voice didn’t wobble in the least. “Where do you want me?” he looked up into John’s eyes doing his best to be brave. His reward was a gentle, proud smile before John carefully took his arm and adjusted him so that he was slightly leaning against the thigh of John’s left leg- that he had lifted up and braced against the fallen log.

John didn’t wait long once he was in position. He landed five hard, searing stripes on Matt’s backside- careful to start at the top of the younger man’s buttocks and laying each additional stripe right below the one before. By the time the fifth one landed- right on the crease where thigh met butt- Matt was hard pressed not to yelp. Somehow he managed to keep quiet.

The minute John had brought the belt down for the fifth time, he dropped the belt and brought his hand up to rub Matt’s back gently. “It’s over kid. You did good. I’m proud of you.”

Matt stood carefully, unable to stop the tiny hiss that escaped his mouth when moving caused his jeans to rub against his punished backside. “Th…thank you sir,” he finally forced out when he was sure his voice wouldn’t sound whiny or tear-filled.

John smiled at him again, patting him on the shoulder before bending over, picking up the dropped belt, and then handing it to him so he could put it back on. Matt took the belt and carefully threaded it through his belt loops then slowly walked back to where Jack stood- his mouth hanging open in what appeared to be shock.

John turned and looked at his son, the stern look back on his face again. “Your turn Jack. Front and center, now!”

# # #
Jack had watched as his father had belted Matt without saying anything. It was so confusing. Matt was just accepting everything as if he deserved it- and honestly, Jack couldn’t say he didn’t deserve something if he’d been warned repeatedly about hacking into things. But still.

Jack wasn’t sure what agitated him the most. The fact that Matt just went along with it willingly and his father obviously expected him to go along with it as well, or the fact that Matt wasn’t angry at his father for doing it and his father seemed to be proud of Matt for submitting. Or maybe it was just the fact that underneath the disappointment in Matt’s actions and the whole punishment thing, there was genuine concern and caring there. No. That wasn’t the reason. That was just ridiculous. He pushed the jealous ache further down and tried to ignore it.

Whatever the reason for his agitation, he did know one thing. There was no way in hell he was letting John belt him. Yeah- perhaps pulling the gun on his father hadn’t been his smartest move, given that he had no intention of actually using it. And perhaps the fact it was the second time he had done something of that nature made it an even more foolish action. But he wasn’t going to allow John to whip his butt for the action.

With that thought in mind, he watched John handle, then take care of Matt- becoming more and more agitated the longer he watched. When John finally turned to him and told him to come to him, it was easy to refuse.

“No.” He narrowed his eyes slightly, jerking a tiny fraction when he noticed how cold and angry his tone came out. Swallowing in an attempt to not let his emotions bleed through in his words, he continued. “I’m not letting you do that to me. I know you think you have a right to tell me what to do, and to correct me when you think I’m wrong, and…and punish me if you feel I’ve stepped over whatever line you’ve put in place. But you don’t. You don’t have that right at all.” Despite his attempts to keep his emotions in check, his voice was coming out faster and more angrily than he would like.

John took a few steps toward him as he began talking, the frown on his face growing darker and his eyes increasingly more concerned as he listened to his son speak. He opened his mouth to respond, but Jack didn’t give him the chance.

“No! You don’t have the right to act like my father! You haven’t had that right since before mom left you and took us with her. You were gone too much and I’ve been on my own too long to be expected to obey you now. You may have spawned me, but that’s all you did. You aren’t my father… and you aren’t going to just come in and…and start playing daddy now. You aren’t.” Jack’s voice was quiet but harsh. He pushed down the guilt he felt at saying what he was saying- it felt like he was lying, no matter that he really believed what he was saying. Didn’t he? The guilt became more painful when he noticed the hurt in John’s eyes at his awful words. He pushed it down and forced himself to stand tall, despite a sudden urge to take it all back and beg John to forgive him and go ahead with the punishment.

John swallowed hard and blinked several times and Jack couldn’t be sure, but it looked as if the man might actually be fighting tears. Jack swallowed hard himself, tensing when John straightened his own shoulders then nodded slowly.

“Ok. You’re right. I haven’t been your father for a long time. I apologize for overstepping the boundaries you have set.” John said softly, sounding old and tired. His shoulders slumped slightly before he nodded once again in Jack’s direction and turned to head back inside. “I’m going to go see about fixing something to eat. You two probably shouldn’t stay out too much longer. It will be dark and…well…” he shrugged slightly then walked back to the house, disappearing inside.

Matt just stared at Jack with a gob-smacked expression on his face before shaking his head slowly and turning to follow John back into the house.

Jack watched the two men disappear before allowing his own shoulders to slump slightly. “Well…that went well…” he muttered before following them.

# # #
Shuttle somewhere over the Atlantic Ocean

Castiel wasn't doing any better. He wasn't doing any worse either, so everyone forced themselves to remain optimistic- but the fact that an angel had been laid low by whatever this- infection?- was, was a major concern to everyone. Dean sat by his friend's side, talking nonsense to him when he was asleep and explaining what the plans were, the few short times he woke enough to understand what was being said.

If Loki hadn't known better, he would have thought the two were brothers, the way they behaved with each other. The strong affection between them was obvious, as was the way Dean teased Cas when the Angel was awake- and worried when he wasn't. Loki took a deep calming breath and looked at his hands. He missed Thor.

Oh, he would never admit it to the brawny Asgardian when in his presence, and had tried to deny their relationship numerous times since finding out his true heritage- but the fact was, Thor was Loki’s big brother in every sense of the word, and Loki missed him. He wondered dejectedly if he'd ever be able to make such an admission to Thor or if all his chances at reconciling were lost. The way this illness was spreading through Midgard, he might not ever get another chance. He blinked as he felt Clint sit down next to him, shoulders almost touching.

“I don't like you. I don't really trust you. But...I know this isn't entirely your fault. And I know you want to fix it. And I know Thor believes there is good in you somewhere, and I like and trust Thor so I am willing to give you the benefit of the doubt.” The archer eyed him sideways. “You haven't been behaving at all like I expected you to behave. It is almost as if you've given up. Don't give up Loki. We need you to help fix this. Besides...Thor would be hurt if he never got to see you again, and I don't want him hurt.”

Loki turned enough to face Clint and watched him thoughtfully for a few seconds before giving a quick, barely there, nod of his head. He smiled crookedly, trying for his usual arrogant smirk, but if the wrinkled frown on Clint's face was anything to go by, he hadn't succeeded. He swallowed then answered the archer. “I will not give up until I am either dead or we have defeated this new unseen foe. I...I do not wish to hurt Thor anymore. I have hurt him enough....” his voice faltered and he had to look away from Clint. “I will try to make certain to survive long enough to at least make things right with him.”

“Hmmm...” was Clint's only response to that. Instead the archer reached up and patted Loki on the shoulder, then stood and went back to the cockpit to find out how much further they had to go before reaching the carrier.

It wasn't much, but it was enough. Loki straightened his shoulders and gathered his thoughts. He had a job to do, and by Odin he would do it as befitted a prince.

# # #
Chakotay looked at Tom with worry. Once he had helped tend to Castiel, the younger man had moved to a seat that was a bit away from the rest of the group and almost huddled in on himself getting lost in his own thoughts. If the look on the younger man's face was anything to go by, the thoughts weren't pleasant.

Chakotay sighed. Tom and he had been forming a closer bond on voyager- definitely one of friends, but closer to that of a mentor and protege. Before Tom had suddenly done a 180 and begun acting out as if he didn't want to have anything to do with Chakotay, didn't trust him, and didn't plan to follow his orders in anything- he would have come to Chakotay and told him what was on his mind. Maybe it had been a mistake allowing the younger man to pull away and act the way he had without stepping in immediately. The problem was, he had hoped that by not stepping in immediately- the younger man would come to him with whatever was bothering him and they could take care of it without Tom feeling forced into the situation.

Janeway would have argued with him and said that it was a bad idea to let things go and not force the issue if she had known- but Chakotay had only done enough to make certain that Tom's disrespect and disobedience weren't completely ignored. However, the punishments he had threatened the younger man with hadn't made any impact on him and he had continued to behave worse and worse until the incident on the holo-deck had finally convinced Chakotay he HAD to step in. Of course that was when Q had decided to do whatever the heck he had done- and there really hadn't been any time to address the issue once they had landed in this new and dangerous reality.

There was a lot to be talked about and perhaps most of it should be done once they arrived to their destination so that they could get a private room for it- but the look of utter loss on Tom's face convinced Chakotay that they at least needed to begin their discussion now. So that the younger man was aware that Chakotay hadn't forgotten nor decided it was unimportant- Tom would come clean about his actions and the reasons for them and he would face consequences.

Once he'd made the decision to act, it took mere seconds for Chakotay to stand and go to Tom's side, sitting down in the seat directly next to the younger man. Tom looked up a combination of worry, slight fear, and ... relief in his eyes. Chakotay lifted the armrest that separated the two seats then slid even closer so that he invaded Tom's personal space. There wasn’t anywhere for the younger man to move unless he stood up and walked to another area of the shuttle.

Tom managed to school his face and gained enough control over his feelings that his eyes became shuttered- but their bodies were touching from hip to knee and Chakotay could feel the tension in the boy. He could feel every tiny, almost imperceptible shiver. He could also feel when the younger man pressed closer to him, as if seeking comfort. When he felt Tom give in and press closer, he finally allowed himself to put his arm around the kid's shoulders in a loose hug and pull him in tight. Leaning toward the boy he whispered, “We'll have our talk when we reach the carrier and they assign us a room- you WILL be rooming with me. I haven't forgotten. I'm not letting you run away any longer.” He emphasized his statement by hugging Tom to him even more tightly before loosening his grip only slightly.

Tom showed his acceptance of Chakotay's words by sighing slightly and allowing himself to droop against the older man in unspoken submission.

# # #
They arrived to the carrier much faster than Tom would have liked- and yet not fast enough. In reality it was only another hour- but it was an hour of quiet reflection and worry.

At some point Castiel had woken and indicated that he was feeling slightly better, even if he wasn’t completely healed yet. Tom had taken a look at the angel’s wounds and they did appear to be getting better. Before the wound was completely healed and any evidence of Cas having been ill was gone, Tom had taken samples of the infection that still oozed slightly, and then taken a vial of the angel’s blood. It probably wouldn’t help- since Cas was an angel, his ability to heal was likely magical in nature and not something that could be replicated for normal humans- but if there was even a small chance of making an antidote the answer might be found in the samples.

Cas was more than willing. Dean wasn’t quite as eager to allow his friend to help in that manner- he seemed to be worried about what a government lab would do with the blood- but Cas had calmed him enough that he didn’t object when Tom had taken the samples. They were now safely stored in a tiny case that Barton had produced.

It hadn’t taken more than a few minutes, however, to gather the samples and store them safely, so Tom had spent the majority of the time waiting to arrive, sitting next to his commanding officer and thinking about just what he was going to have to confess. By the time the shuttle had landed on the ship, he felt like his skin was going to crawl off of him, he was so nervous.

Chakotay had seemed to realize this and done what he could to ease the tension, but the man’s solicitous and caring actions only served to add guilt into the mixture of nerves. Tom was ready to get the conversation over with and could only hope that they didn’t have to spend an overly large amount of time debriefing Barton’s boss before they were allowed to retreat to a private room.

# # #
Clint found himself relaxing as the pilot finally landed the shuttle onto the carrier. Once they had realized exactly how dangerous and contagious the illness they needed to study was- Fury had quickly made the decision that anyone with the illness would be kept off the ship. Of course- that added a whole different stress to Clint’s shoulders, since they currently had an angel that had been infected. He’d contacted Fury as soon as he had been able and informed him of the situation.

Fury- wanting one of his best agents back in his clutches- had decided that since the angel wasn’t responding to the illness like all the other people apparently were, they could land on the carrier but they would be kept in quarantine until it could be proven that no one else in their group had been infected. Meanwhile, the medical personnel had learned from their earlier mistakes and would handle the situation like the highest tier of bio-hazard.

Clint wasn’t happy about having to spend several hours to days in quarantine when he wanted to get back out and locate his team- his friends. He wasn’t a scientist and he knew he wouldn’t be able to do a lot once in quarantine to help the situation. Then again, Loki would need someone to stand between him and the rest of S.H.I.E.L.D. Even after learning that the demi-god had been under the control of someone when he’d made his attack, there were many who wanted to see the younger of Odin’s sons pay for his actions with blood. Perhaps Clint wouldn’t be so useless after all.

He glanced at Loki, noting that the other man was even paler than the last time he’d looked. He frowned slightly. “You okay?” he finally asked in a whisper.

Loki swallowed hard. “I am better than many. I find myself…dreading…meeting your Director Fury. The man was formidable the last time we met and this situation is far worse than then. And I have even less control than I did then. Does that make me a coward?” the brunette wrinkled his nose in distaste at the thought and gave Clint a tiny self-abasing smile.

“Nope.” Clint couldn’t help but grin. “Makes you smart.” Feeling the shuttle power down and noting the doors begin to open, he stood up carefully and took Loki by the elbow. “Come on. Let’s get this over with.”

# # #
Cas was feeling stronger, which relieved and confused him all at the same time. The youngster- Tom- had looked at his wounds one last time and taken samples, and even then it appeared he was finally healing. That was a relief. What was confusing was why it had taken so long for his healing to kick in, in the first place. He doubted the blood or wound samples would tell anyone anything- but he hoped they would.

Dean had not left his side since they’d boarded the shuttle- and now that the shuttle was landing, the young hunter was pressing ever closer in an attempt to make certain they weren’t separated. Carefully, Cas sat up and leaned against his friend. “Will they allow us to stay together?” he whispered uncertainly.

“Barton believes that all six of us will be placed in quarantine together until they can be certain we will not spread the disease to anyone else. Once they have decided we are safe to mingle with other people, I don’t know- but I don’t think they would attempt to separate us.” Dean gave Cas a sideways look, then smirked. “They better not try. No way I’m allowing you out of my sights now….”

Castiel couldn’t’ help but chuckle at the possessive protectiveness in Dean’s voice. “I’m feeling much better and can feel my powers returning. If they DID try, they would not be able to hold me and I would find you.” He was pleased when Dean’s shoulder’s relaxed noticeably at the information.

“Good. That’s real good Cas,” Dean whispered in relief. “Looks like we’re getting off now.” The hunter stood carefully when he noticed Clint and Loki standing. He helped Cas to his feet and noted that Tom and Chakotay were also standing. He maneuvered Cas and himself to the back of the pack, feeling more comfortable not taking point this time. Cas didn’t say anything.

Slowly, the group exited the shuttle and carefully walked to where a tall black man, dressed all in black, stood. He wrinkled his nose as he took in the man’s appearance- he was giving off serious vibes of ‘don’t fuck with me or I’ll break you.’ Of course this caused Dean’s inner-snarky-child to come to the front.

“Barton never said he worked for a pirate…” he said in a whisper that managed to echo around the landing bay and carry to every ear within fifty feet. Dean faintly blushed as every eye turned toward him. “Sorry…” he apologized sheepishly as Castiel gave him a not-very-impressed look.

At least Clint was grinning.

# # #
Northern Nevada

Owen had driven for a good three hours before Nana had instructed him to pull over to the side of the road so she could stretch her legs. They were on one of many numerous small country roads that her son had chosen to follow instead of the highway; he had chosen to take the country roads so that they could avoid the traffic from other refugees who had decided leaving the city was necessary.

They had all piled out of the car and begun walking around, stretching, and observing their location. Owen stretched his back out before walking toward Lindsey, who had given him a small smile but then proceeded to stare at him with a thoughtful- slightly odd- look on his face. “What’s up, kid?” he asked the younger man in a gruff tone.

Lindsey shook his head slightly and blushed, shrugging slightly. “Nothing really, sir… just… I’m traveling with you all now….” His voice had a slightly confused tone to it.

“Yes, you are. I hope you aren’t regretting it, because it’s too late to change your mind now.” Owen smirked at the surprised, then sheepish smile on Lindsey’s face.

“No, sir.” Lindsey drawled, his smile turning into a grin. “I’m not regretting coming with ya’ll. I just…” he bit his lip hesitantly then forged ahead. “I’m just wondering if someone can explain to me what the family rules are, cuz maybe if I at least know the rules, I won’t be getting a spankin’ for something I didn’t know I was sposed to avoid…” he eyed Owen his grin turning chagrined. There was an impish gleam in his eye though.

Owen raised an eyebrow when he noticed the impish sparkle, and snorted. “Somehow I get the feeling that knowing what the rules are, isn’t gonna help you keep your butt safe. You’re the type that likes to skirt the lines and step over them as often as possible. Admit it.”

Lindsey laughed, causing the eyes of every other member of the family to look in their direction. “You got me figured out, sir. But still. I’d like to at least try not to get into trouble. So…rules I need to know?”

“Tell you what,” Owen nodded, chuckling slightly himself. “The situation being what it is, there are only a very few rules I think we need to worry about- and all you kids should hear them. So…I’ll go over them when we’re back in the car. You wanna take a turn at driving?”

Lindsey looked at the older man, noting the strain around his eyes- even if he was doing his best to hide it. “Yes sir. I’ll drive for a bit. Do I need to add any gas to the tank before we start off again?”

“We still had a little under half a tank, but it would probably be a good idea to fill up. And if you see a gas station, pull over so we can fill up all the cans again.” Owen stated.

Within a few minutes, it was done. Everyone was loaded and they were back on the road again.

# # #
Lindsey looked in his review mirror taking note of the other occupants of the car who were in varying stages of nodding off. He’d been driving for nearly four hours now. The sun had gone down approximately one hour before. The stress of their situation, as well as general boredom, had caused nearly everyone else to fall asleep- the only one not sleeping was Owen. He sat in the front with Lindsey, watching the landscape go by.

The quiet in the car and the darkness outside had enabled Lindsey to think more. He thought about the rules Owen had explained to everyone in the car- they were straightforward and simple really: Don’t wander off alone. Always let at least one other person know where you were going (preferably Owen or Nana). Don’t take unnecessary chances or do unnecessarily dangerous things.

All were common sense and wouldn’t be difficult to do. The very last one- Owen was in charge and made the final decisions. That might be more difficult to follow, but it had been made clear that they were not in a democracy at the moment. Until they were able to find a safe place to stop, they couldn’t waste time voting on everything. And Owen was the one with the most experience, so he was in charge. Lindsey figured if Nana was willing to let her son boss her around, he was in no position to balk at it.

He thought on the rules and what they meant for him as long as he was able, because the place his thoughts wanted to go to was entirely too painful.

Colby had needed to kill his mother in order to protect Lindsey. Oh- he knew that the being that Colby had shot was no longer Monica- Monica had already died by that point and what Colby had shot was just a reanimated corpse. Lindsey knew that logically. But it didn’t stop the guilt that filled his belly or stop him from asking himself ‘what if?’ What if Colby hadn’t needed to shoot? What if they were somehow able to find a cure for whatever this was? The cure could only be used on those who hadn’t been shot in the head- so in saving Lindsey, had Colby condemned his mother to never being healed? He swallowed hard, and found himself blinking rapidly as he took in a gulp of air.

“You’re thinking too much…” Owen said softly from beside him.

“Can’t help it,” the younger man replied in an even softer tone.

“It wasn’t your fault, you know.” Owen turned away from the window to face the boy beside him, taking note of the pale skin, the glassy eyes, the rigid way he held himself still, and the short shallow breaths he was taking. Lindsey had no clue how the older man knew what he was thinking, but he’d somehow figured it out.

“If I hadn’t been there…” Lindsey began only to be cut off.

“Don’t.” Owen said firmly. “Just…don’t.” The older man took a slow breath himself. “It was already too late for Monica, son. If you hadn’t been there, the creature that went after you would have likely gone after Colby himself… or Hermione... or me. The end result would have been the same, no matter what. There was no choice in what was done- and Colby did what he needed to do. You can ask him yourself, but I’m sure he’ll say he doesn’t blame you.”

“How can he not?” Lindsey swallowed hard.

“I had to shoot what used to be my own brother. And I’d do it again without any thought. They weren’t Monica and Wendell any longer. They were zombies. And they were after you and they were after Ian. And I’m not saying it doesn’t hurt- because it does. But I don’t blame Ian for needing to take out that creature and I’m sure Colby doesn’t blame you. It wasn’t Ian’s or your fault. It was the disease that did this to them.” Owen kept his tone low, even, soothing. He eyed the younger man, noting how the boy wanted to believe him, but still seemed determined to hold onto some of the guilt.

“If I have to turn you over my knee to get you to let go of this useless guilt, I will. Is that what you want? To be punished for something you had no control over, that wasn’t’ your fault, and that needed to be done?” the older agent stated calmly and watched for Lindsey’s reaction.

Lindsey winced and frantically shook his head. “No! No sir...” he snorted softly then swallowed. “I … I know feeling guilty about it isn’t very useful, and doesn’t really make sense ‘cuz when I think about everything, I know that it had to be done and it would have needed doin’ even if it wasn’t me she was going after. But knowing all that doesn’t make it less…. You know?” he glanced at Owen with a frustrated look and bit his lip hesitantly.

Owen sighed. “Yeah. I know- just don’t let the guilt lead you into doing something foolish and we won’t need to talk about this again.” He glanced over to the side of the road where a sign advertised lodging and food places that they would be passing soon. “I think we need to stop and actually…rest. There’s a little motel a mile ahead. Pull in there and we’ll see if there are any rooms and if it is safe to stop.” He didn’t say anything else, but Lindsey obeyed.

It hadn’t taken long at all to realize that either the disease hadn’t reached this part of the country yet- or if it had, enough people had fled that the zombies weren’t sticking around either. The motel was as safe as it could be for the moment. Owen had quickly gotten one room and arranged to have two cots. There was no way they would be staying in separate locations- not when there was a chance of needing to fight their way out and flee at any moment. He and Colby had checked the room out to make certain it was safe while Lindsey and Ian protected the women (and Hermione had not been impressed by what she termed his chauvinistic streak).

Once it was determined that everything was safe, Hermione and Nana had quickly claimed the bed farthest from the door, then pulled the tiny partition that separated the sleeping area from the closet/sink area giving everyone time to change clothes in semi-privacy.

Ian and Colby had claimed the cots almost as quickly as the women had claimed their bed. Colby's words of “Ian kicks in his sleep,” and Ian's response of “well, at least I don't cuddle...” being their excuse for not letting Lindsey or Owen have a choice. Not that Owen cared- the bed was more comfortable. If Lindsey turned out to be a kicker or a cuddler, he'd live with it. Within minutes, the other two men had changed and crawled onto the cots.

While all of this was going on, Lindsey had been using a piece of chalk to mark symbols around the doors and windows- chanting under his breath. Owen walked over to stand beside the younger man and watched him carefully to make certain he didn't use his blood again- as he was fairly certain Lindsey was putting protective wards on the room. As soon as Lindsey stopped his chanting and turned to put the chalk away, Owen reached over- smacking his backside once, sharply.

Biting back a yelp and turning offended and confused eyes onto the older man, Lindsey bit out in an aggrieved tone, “What the heck was that for?”

Owen smiled gently at the boy, reaching over and patting him on the shoulder. “Preventative measures...” he said, leaving it to Lindsey to figure out what he was trying to prevent. “I get the side of the bed closest to the door. Get some sleep.” He didn't wait to see if Lindsey obeyed, quickly changing his own clothes before climbing into his side of the bed.

Giving Owen one last disgruntled half-glare, Lindsey changed his own clothes and crawled into bed next to him. “I won't do anything stupid just cuz I feel guilty, ya know...” he mumbled softly. “I know better. You'd prolly have me wanting to stand up the rest of my life if I did something stupid...” he grumbled some more, not quite hiding the amused tone in his voice. It didn't take the younger man long to fall asleep, stress taking its toll. His breathing had evened out before Hermione and Nana had opened the partition and crawled into their own bed.

Owen sighed softly to himself, fluffing the pillow and closing his eyes. He’d managed to get through to the boy without having to spank him again- he didn’t count the warning as an actual spanking. He knew that he wouldn’t always be that lucky though. One of the kids, at some point, was going to either test their boundaries, his leadership, or they were going to let the stress and worry get to them and would do something foolish because they just weren’t thinking (or felt guilty). He’d take care of them when that happened though. Until then, he’d be grateful for their obedience. It made it so much easier when they were cooperative.

Owen didn't fall asleep until the last member of his little party- Nana- finally began snoring. Assured that they were all getting much needed rest, he finally allowed himself to drift into slumber.

# # #
On board the carrier

They had all been brought into a meeting area to speak with Fury; even Castiel was included in the group, as it had been determined that he wasn’t in danger of biting anyone so he more than likely wasn’t contagious. Even so, anyone that had not been in the group with Castiel, wore a mask over their face- just in case.

Loki attempted to stay as unobtrusive as possible, but it had been useless really. If it hadn’t been for Barton moving next to him and placing a proprietary hand on his arm- showing Fury that he was in charge of the demi-god, Loki had no illusions that he wouldn’t have been arrested and in some high-tech brig by now. He straightened his shoulders and tried not to look too offended- or grateful- that Clint was protecting him.

“Report, Agent.” Fury commanded in his own demanding way that only he could pull off. Clint smirked, letting his head fall forward slightly in acknowledgement. And then he told of everything that had occurred from his point of view since Loki had suddenly shown up in front of him.

Fury took in all the information only speaking when he needed clarification. Clint had been doing this for many years however, and he knew exactly what information Fury needed from him. He didn’t go off into tangents, but by the time he was finished, Fury knew where each of the group had come from and why. The rest of the group only had to answer a few questions to confirm information for the director- or give a little more detail if Clint hadn’t been there to see it in person.

Loki had thought he might actually get away from the meeting without having to say too much, but just as he thought Fury was going to let them go, the man turned a stern, frowning glare onto him. “So you wanted to help us…and of course your ‘help’ turns into the worse plague that mankind has ever known…” the words were cold and calculating.

Loki wanted to argue but there was no defense against the truth. Still, he was tired of being looked down on. His intentions had been good, and what happened had been as unexpected to him as everyone else. He wasn’t the bad guy in this situation. Not alone at any rate. “It would seem so…” he finally answered drily, allowing himself to take on a superior tone that he knew would irritate the director.

Not surprisingly to Loki- but to Fury’s shock- Clint stepped closer still and reached up smacking the back of Loki’s head. “Enough. If you want to fix your mistakes, it’s a lot easier to do if you don’t antagonize everyone who might be able to aid you.”

Loki swallowed hard, noted the considering gleam in Fury’s eye and decided to add a little shock of his own. “Yes, of course you are right Barton. I apologize, director.” The fact that the apology was sincere was the biggest shock to the S.H.I.E.L.D. personnel who hadn’t witnessed Loki in the shuttle.

Fury’s eye narrowed before he gave a brief nod of acceptance to Loki then turned toward the rest of the group. “We have taken the blood and sample of the infection that you gathered from your … angel …friend and our medical scientists are attempting to analyze it in the hopes of finding a cure- or if that is not possible, a prevention.” The director intoned. “You all, by your own admission, are explorer’s… researchers … hunters of the unnatural. I would like you to remain teamed with Agent Barton. There has been a development- please remain ready to take off at a moment’s notice. We may need you to rendezvous with someone.” He waited for each nod of agreement before giving a satisfied smirk. “Until then you are dismissed. Try and get some rest.”

# # #
Tom walked into the room they had been given, followed closely by Chakotay. He was dreading this talk, though he knew it was necessary. He wondered idly if he could postpone it any further by pretending weariness. Glancing toward his commanding officer, he opened his mouth in a fake yawn- to be surprised when it turned into a real one. Huh- maybe his weariness wouldn’t be entirely faked.

Chakotay gave him a non-impressed look, his eyebrows rising slightly. The man wasn’t truly annoyed if the amused twinkle in his eyes could be believed. “Nice try, hot shot, but we’re going to have our talk now.” The older man’s voice was kind but firm.

“Yeah. I figured as much,” Tom sighed softly, then went to stand next to the wall, slumping back against it and staring at his feet.

Chakotay watched the younger man, letting his concern bleed out through his eyes and in his tone. “Why Tom? We were getting along so well. You had begun trusting me and we were working well together. What did I do that would cause you to suddenly…” The man waved one hand weakly in agitation.

Tom glanced up with a sad smirk. “What did you do that would cause me to suddenly stop listening to you and to do the opposite of everything I knew you wanted me to do?” His voice was rough and almost mocking- although it felt more that he was mocking himself than his commander. “You didn’t do anything.”

Tom watched as his mentor’s mouth pursed thoughtfully. Chakotay’s eyes were still worried. “Then wh….” the older man began. “You didn’t do anything.” Tom interrupted. “I did.” The younger man took in a sharp breath and held it for a few seconds before letting the air drain out of him slowly.

“I know you were wondering what was wrong. I haven’t been behaving as an officer should for the last week. If Q hadn’t taken us from Voyager when he did, I have no doubt you would have put me in the brig to cool my heels…” he reluctantly started elaborating.

Chakotay nodded slightly to acknowledge Tom’s words, but made no comment on them. Tom swallowed hard and continued.

“Do you remember the mission we were on a week ago?” he asked hesitantly, waiting for his mentor’s nod before continuing. “There was a little girl- a native of the planet. She had an illness that her people believed had been caused by the gods- and the Captain ordered us not to do anything because her people had refused to let us come into the town and she felt the Prime Directive…” he stopped and swallowed. There was no need to go into details about the fact that he had vehemently disagreed with the captain and her worries that interfering on the planet by helping the girl could cause unforeseen problems.

“We had determined that the girl’s illness was not life threatening and she would eventually get better on her own…” Chakotay remarked in an attempt to move the conversation along.

“I wasn’t so certain of that.” Tom admitted hesitantly. “In fact, I believe that not helping her would have caused her illness to get worse and she would have eventually died.

“You never said that.” Chakotay chided gently.

“The captain seemed so certain that the girl would be ok and that helping would break the Prime Directive…I wasn’t sure she would listen to me and I didn’t want to be told no a second time; especially after voicing my concerns. So I didn’t say anything.” Tom admitted.

“You disappeared for a short time from the camp as we were packing up.” Chakotay remembered. “You went back to the girl…” it wasn’t a question.

“Yes sir. I went back and I gave her the medicine that would heal her.” Tom said softly. “I feel like what I did was the right thing to do. The humane thing- even if it broke the directive. But…my method of doing it was wrong. I…” his voice wavered.

“You felt guilty because you had disobeyed a direct order in a sneaky and underhanded way.” Tom winced at the accusation, though Chakotay’s tone was far from accusing and actually sounded somewhat sympathetic.

“Yes sir.” Tom answered in a tiny voice. “I…I knew I should confess what I had done, but I didn’t know how to do so. And I was afraid that my actions would cause the captain to lose trust in me…but I was even more worried that they would cause you to lose trust in me. And I didn’t want to see the disappointment in your eyes.” He stared at his feet, unable to face the man whose opinion mattered so much to him.

“So instead you kept it to yourself, your guilt grew…and you began to act out in the hopes that I would step in and punish you for something- even if it wasn’t the action you were feeling guilty about?” This time Tom could hear the question in his mentor’s voice, although he was asking more for clarification than because of confusion. Tom looked up and saw the knowing look in his friend’s eyes and shivered.

“Yes sir…” the younger man answered weakly, his voice shaky and uncertain.

Straightening his back, Chakotay put a stern look on his face, only hints of his sympathy and concern showing in his eyes. He carefully walked over to the younger man and took him by the arm before leading him to the lone chair that was in the room. Turning the chair so that its back faced Tom, he gave firm instructions. “You will bare yourself and then lean over the back of this chair. I want to be clear- you are not being punished for helping the child. However disobeying a direct order and then hiding your actions deserves punishment- and THAT is why you are about to be spanked. Do you understand?”

Tom found himself nodding rapidly then quickly turning to face the chair before lowering his pants and underclothing and leaning over the chair back to grip the seat tightly. “I’m sorry I…I’m sorry I hid it for so long.” He whispered, not willing to lie and say he was sorry for the disobedience since he knew he would do the same thing over if given the choice.

Chakotay smiled gently, knowing exactly what Tom was sorry and apologizing for. “I know you are son. We’ll take care of it and then it will be behind us. You will need to tell the captain of your actions when we return to Voyager- but I will make certain she knows you have already received punishment for the actions. You will receive 50 and you will count.” At Tom’s mumbled ‘yes sir’, he raised his hand and then swung down with a harsh smack.

Tom, to his embarrassment, yelped out the first number- “One, sir!” and stood straight up hands going to his backside at the sudden burn. Chakotay didn’t need to say anything. A quick glance at the stern frown and Tom had gulped and quickly bent back over the chair, gripping the seat tightly.

After that it took all his focus to stay in place and force numbers out from between clenched teeth- and not choke on the words as he attempted not to cry. He was grateful that Chokatay didn’t lecture him during the spanking. It was hard enough knowing he’d done wrong and disappointed the man without having to hear it in his tone as he heated Tom’s butt to a nearly unbearable level.

The smacks always remained focused, firm, just enough force to cause pain but not harm. They were not however in a predictable pattern which prevented him from being able to ‘prepare’ and negate some of the pain. Despite his best efforts, Tom was soon crying out the number instead of saying it. By the time he’d reached a count of 30, he couldn’t articulate enough to be understood and Chakotay took over the count for him.

Finally Chakotay raised his hand one last time and let it fall with a harsh last smack. “Fifty,” the older man forced out, his own voice sounding strained and hoarse. Chakotay reached up and placed his very hot hand on Tom’s shoulder and gave it a gentle squeeze. “It’s over son. I hope you will never hide anything like this from me again…” he gently reminded Tom of why he had found himself in this position.

Tom carefully stood up and then pulled his clothing back into place, unable to hide the wince or the small whimpering gasp that escaped when the material chaffed at very sensitive and sore skin. “I won’t sir. If I disobey you, I’ll do it to your face…” he attempted to joke, watching the older man uncertainly.

Chakotay grinned before pulling Tom into his arms and hugging him tightly. “You do that. Then all I’ll have to do is assign you kitchen duty as punishment. I don’t want to…” he stopped, but he knew Tom understood his meaning as the younger man returned the hug and lowered his head onto Chakotay’s shoulder.

“I know sir. I’m sorry I made it necessary. I know you don’t like…” the younger man briefly pressed closer before forcing himself to step back and gave his mentor a chagrined and sheepish smile. “What now?”

Chakotay smiled in amusement. “Now, we clean up and get some sleep. You can use the facilities first. I will go see if I can get us something to change into.” The older man disappeared out of their room.

By the time Tom had finished showering Chakotay had indeed found some items. A pair of sweat pants and a t-shirt had been left on the sink for his use. Quickly drying off, he’d pulled the new clothing on then stepped out to find Chakotay sitting on the chair and reading a file. “I’m done if you need the shower,” he said softly.

“Thank you. You get into bed. I’ll just take a quick shower after I finish this last page of this report…” Chakotay answered him, his eyes never leaving the paper. Before Tom could ask what he was reading, he said “this is the information they have so far on the illness. You can read it in the morning. Bed now, Tom.” His voice was gentle, but it was obviously an order.

Sighing, Tom went over to the bed and crawled into it, lying on his stomach. “Yes sir. Goodnight…”

“Goodnight, Tom.” Chakotay answered softly. Within moments, the younger man was snoring softly into his pillow. Chakotay carefully pulled the cover up over the boy’s shoulders, brushing a hand gently over his hair. He then went to take his own shower and prepare for bed.

# # #
The next morning, Fury had called the six of them together again to confirm plans.

He looked around taking in the expressions on each man’s face, and making mental note of what he knew each man had done the night before (it was difficult to hide anything from the director- especially on the carrier). Everyone had obviously made use of the rooms they had been given, cleaning up, changing clothes, and getting actual sleep in a real bed. The lines of stress that had been lining all their faces had cleared somewhat, so Fury was more assured of the fact that they would be thinking clearly and maybe might be able to give a bit more information.

Castiel seemed to be doing much better, although Dean still eyed him warily- afraid that the angel would relapse and enter into a much worse state. He wasn’t as worried as he had been though, since he and Cas had given the medical personnel every bit of information they could and the doctors and scientists were keeping a close eye on his friend as well.

Dean had attempted several times to get hold of Sam, but his brother either no longer had his phone or worse, was unable to answer it. The hunter was trying to remain positive however and not think the worst. His claim that the Winchester’s had cheated death numerous times before, Sammy was smart and wouldn’t be caught unprepared by these zombie things, bolstering his own courage when no one else knew what to say.

Paris and Chakotay had obviously talked. When they had arrived on the carrier, the younger man had seemed tense, withdrawn, and nervous- staying close to the older man but never looking at him. This morning the kid was relaxed and smiling- leaning toward the older man when he put a hand on his shoulder and directed him where to sit. Fury made note of the fact that the younger man winced slightly when he sat down, but didn’t show any visible signs of having seen the wince. Part of what made Fury such a good spy was noticing things and not reacting to them so that people didn’t realize he’d noticed. He wasn’t sure exactly what had gone on between the two- he had several different possibilities- none of which were alike. He wouldn’t say anything or assume anything until he had more information and knew exactly what he was dealing with.

When Barton finally stepped into the room, Loki trailing meekly behind him, Fury straightened. He had held a separate meeting with Clint and the fallen prince once everyone else had disappeared to their rooms. Clint had explained how he came to be ‘in charge’ of the trickster and Loki had explained again- in more detail- what exactly he had done, why he had done it, and then apologized. The fact that the apology was sincere (and Fury could tell the difference between true sincerity and false sincerity), was in the demi-god’s favor.

After even Barton and the younger Odinson had gone to rest, Fury had made contact with the directors of the other agencies S.H.I.E.L.D. was attempting to assist. He’d confirmed the information and now he just needed to pass it on. Waiting until all of them were seated, Fury finally stalked from his place near the back of the room, to stand at the head of the table. He allowed his one eye to stare into the gaze of each person present, until he’d looked into all six pairs of eyes.

“It has been confirmed. Gerry Lane- an ex-agent for another organization- has been gathering information. One of the areas where the outbreak first occurred was in Korea. He has gone to interview some of the few remaining soldiers at a camp there- as well as an ex-operative that may or may not be crazy, but who claims to have some information that might help. When his data has been collected, we will decide further actions and I will assign you your task.” Fury kept his tone even. Once he was finished speaking he waited to see if there were any questions. When none were forthcoming, he dismissed the group. “Until I call for you again, try and rest. If any of you think of any other information that might be useful, bring it to my attention. That is all.” Nodding at the group, he watched as they stood and slowly left the room.

Pretty soon, only Clint and Loki were left.

“What are the chances this Lane character will find information that we don’t already have?” Clint asked sardonically.

“If we are lucky, he’ll find out several different things. However, I don’t believe in luck and I suspect his findings will just confirm our own; even so, the more information the better.” Fury stated calmly. “Did you get hold of the others?”

Clint didn’t blink at the sudden change of topic. “I got hold of Romanov. She was with her mark and his family when the situation went down. She said they were attempting to get to the airport to catch a plane that the agency had set up for him, but that was the last time I was able to talk to her. My last few calls have gone through to her voice-mail.”

Fury frowned slightly, but didn’t allow himself to worry just yet. “She has a safe-house somewhere in upstate New York, I believe. If they were unable to get the flight that was set up, they would have gone there is my guess. If everything is ok, she will find a way to check in from there. I’ll let you know if and when she does…. Did you reach the others?”

Clint sighed. “Tony was at the tower. He had planned to barricade himself there, but I told him to get anyone still in the building and try and get here to the carrier. If he was by himself, he would have been here by now, so I’m guessing he had Pepper with him and possibly Cap and Banner-maybe even a few others. I haven’t been able to get hold of him again either.” The archer frowned, trying not to let his concern turn into actual worry.

Fury nodded his eye narrowing. “I will see if we can locate him. If he wasn’t able to get a shuttle to fly everyone else out with him, he wouldn’t leave them behind. As narcissistic as the man likes to act- he’d put their welfare above his own.”

Clint just nodded, taking hold of Loki’s arm so that they could leave.

Fury watched as they moved away from him, then shook his head slightly and went to find Hill. He wanted his team on the carrier as soon as possible. Having them separate and cut off wasn’t doing him any good- and he doubted it was helping them much either. Until they got more information from Lane, he would spend his time trying to get earth’s mightiest heroes back together to fight this pandemic.

# # #
Upstate New York at the safe-house

When John had returned to the house, Matt and then Jack trailing along behind him, Matt was a bit subdued but John wasn’t acting any differently than normal and neither was Jack. The women had been informed that there were no threats around (that the men had seen at any rate) and everyone decided to go straight to bed- the stress of the day having caught up with them, on top of it being well after midnight.

They had all slept until the sun shone through the windows to wake them up. After showers and changing clothes, they had all met in the kitchen by unspoken agreement. John had proceeded to instruct Jack and Lucy to make breakfast while he, Natasha, and Matt did a quick inspection of the wooded areas next to the house- to make certain no unfriendlies had moved in.

Jack had spent a good five minutes arguing with his father about how he should be the one to be outside searching for the creatures, since he was more able to protect himself if they showed up. He didn’t subside with the argument until Natasha gave him an irritated and very non-impressed look and Matt had admitted he wanted to go so that John could give him a few more pointers on how to defend Lucy and himself if they somehow- God forbid- got separated from the rest of the group, and it was better to learn while they weren’t actually under attack.

When Jack finally backed off and stopped arguing- even he knew he was being graceless and churlish, but he couldn’t seem to stop himself. He watched as his father, his girlfriend (and he really wanted to talk with her and figure out what they were, now that he knew the truth), and his future brother-in-law marched out to make certain the perimeters were still safe. Once they were out of sight he turned and stomped into the kitchen, ignoring Lucy glaring into his back.

Lucy followed him into the kitchen silently and began pulling out the ingredients to make pancakes.

“You got something to say, just spit it out.” Jack sniped irritably.

“Matt told me what dad did to him.” Lucy said calmly, giving her brother an indecipherable look. “He also said nothing happened to you.” The tone in her voice indicated Matt had told her everything- not just the fact Jack hadn’t been punished.

“I don’t want to talk about it Lucy.” He said it quietly, but the hint of steel in his voice and underlying heat in his tone convinced her not to push. His sister just gave him a slightly disgruntled, but more than saddened look and turned to start mixing the batter.

“Suit yourself. But just remember- you may be ‘getting even’ with dad- but he isn’t the only one that’s going to be hurt by the fallout…” she said so softly, he almost didn’t hear her.

Jack turned away from her to make the coffee, before she could see him wince.

# # #
The days following their arrival (and John’s discussion with the younger men) were tesne, to say the least, and it wasn’t because they were all nervous about possible zombie attack. They had quickly fallen into a routine. In the morning, John, Matt, and Natasha would patrol the perimeter while Jack and Lucy made breakfast. Then Natasha and Jack would spend the rest of the morning trying to repair the almost ancient radio they found in the garage so that Natasha could contact her people for further instructions (their phones couldn’t get reception, no matter where they stood). John and Natasha would make lunch then they’d spend the afternoon looking over old maps and throwing out ideas about what they would do if there weren’t able to contact anyone by the end of the week. Then-just before evening fell- John, Natasha, and Lucy would patrol, leaving Jack and Matt to fix dinner.

Jack and Natasha had discussed their relationship the second night they were there, in furtive whispers as they lay next to each other in bed. Natasha had apologized- had explained that she’d been under orders not to say anything, even though she wanted to tell him as soon as she realized he was innocent- and told him that she genuinely cared about him and she hoped he could forgive her one day.

That had arguably been the best moment he’d had since arriving at the safehouse, Jack thought morosely. Lucy hadn’t attempted to talk about his relationship with their father since her first attempt had been rebuffed with such venom. Natasha hadn’t said anything to him either, even though his behavior had become progressively more confrontational and irritable. Matt seemed determined to avoid him since he was usually next in line- after John- to receive the sharp edge of Jack’s acidic tongue.

John- behaved as John always had. He’d respond to Jack’s rudeness and vitriol either with a sarcastic comment that Jack just didn’t know how to respond to; or he’d tell him to stop with the attitude in a gruff voice; but he never let their confrontations become physical- even after Jack got in his face and dared him to take his best shot, after one heated argument. It confused Jack.

He just didn’t understand it. He should have been happy that his father had admitted he was an adult and John had no right to step in. He should have been happy- but all he could think about was the hurt look that John had done his best to hide after Jack lashed out with his cruel words. The fact that John hadn’t done anything at all in retaliation…it didn’t make sense.

Did John truly not care if Jack didn’t want to be his son any longer? Was he giving up that easily? Maybe the fact that he was gaining a son in Matt had helped ease him from the loss. Jack didn’t like the fact that he could be replaced that easily and it angered him that the thought he was being replaced actually hurt. He was getting what he wanted, wasn’t he?

Jack went over his actions- and John’s actions- over and over repeatedly, trying to understand what happened and where he went wrong that he was upset that John had done what he’d asked. It was so confusing though, and the more he thought about it, the more confused he became. Confusion only led to more anger and the anger led to more belligerent and difficult behavior.

Pretty soon, the only one who wasn’t actively angry with him was John.

They had been at the house four days and were currently all sitting around the table eating dinner. No one was talking and the air was tense with unspoken words. Jack could feel Lucy’s glare each time she looked in his direction. The fact that Natasha was also glaring in his direction did not bode well for a good night.

He supposed he really shouldn’t have said that Matt should take Lucy’s place in the evening patrol because she was much more useful in the kitchen. He didn’t really mean it, after all. Just because he felt resentful that he had been relegated to staying at the house every time patrol was done, didn’t mean he had to take it out on his sister. John had made a very good argument about why he was the only one not going out. Matt and Lucy needed practice in looking for potential danger and defending themselves; it was Natasha’s house so she knew the area better; and everyone was more likely to listen to John if something happened and orders had to be given, where they might argue with Jack. Still, the situation was another irritant in his already foul mood.

As soon as the meal had been eaten, everyone quickly took their own dishes to the sink and cleaned up- still silent- and then the women and John disappeared to their rooms. Jack felt too out of sorts to go to bed just yet- and he wanted to give Natasha a little time to cool down before going in and apologizing for his chauvinistic and untrue remark. He’d have to apologize to Lucy in the morning, since he doubted she’d let him into her room to apologize tonight. Running a hand through his hair in agitation, he went into the garage to double check the door there and make sure the car was ok. He wasn’t surprised when Matt followed him.

“You’ve been a complete bastard the last few days…” Matt finally said. Jack was impressed that the other man’s voice didn’t break at the words. He opened his mouth to protest, but Matt talked over him, not letting him start with an excuse. “No. You don’t get to talk just yet. You’ve been a complete bastard…it doesn’t matter what John says or does, you’ve found fault with it. Even when he is RIGHT, everyone KNOWS he is right- including you!- You still find fault and argue. He’s done his best to give you what you asked for- and that doesn’t seem to be enough for you. What do you want? To have him go off on his own so that you never have to see him again?!” Matt somehow managed to keep his voice low- but Jack still felt like he’d been yelled at, the other man’s vehemence and disgust with his behavior obvious.

“No! Of course not!” Jack protested hotly, shocked that Matt would have gotten that idea from him. The guilt he’d been fighting pressed down on him even more heavily. If Matt got the impress he wanted John to just go away- to disappear- then what did the others think? What did JOHN think? Matt was so easy going and normally assumed the best of people, so for him to assume Jack wanted such a horrible thing…. “I don’t want him to go away. I don’t….” Jack finally repeated himself weakly, unable to keep the guilt he felt from bleeding through in his voice.

Matt straightened up and stared at him pointedly. Jack couldn’t help but fidget and he finally had to look at his feet, unable to meet the other man’s gaze. Sighing softly, Matt ran a hand through his hair before speaking. “You need to go to your father, Jack. Go to him and confess everything you’ve done or said that you are sorry for. Ask him to forgive you and ask him to…to…take care of you.” Matt wrinkled his nose at his inability to say the word spank, but he figured Jack would know what he meant. “You need to do this because you obviously need and want your father in your life, need him to care about and correct you- but you shoved him away when he attempted it and if you don’t get your pride in check and just admit it man, you’re gonna keep being angrier and angrier until one of us snaps and wrings your frickin neck!”

Jack’s eyes widened in surprise at Matt’s words. “I don’t want my father to correct me!” he sputtered.

“Bull. You obviously do, because you’ve been jealous of me ever since you realized that your father corrects me- and your jealous streak got worse after I got my ass handed to me. I don’t want you to hate me because…because I have the relationship with your dad that you want to have. I like you Jack and we’re going to be brothers, man. There’s no reason you can’t make things right with your dad. You just gotta stop being so dang proud and obstinate.” Matt’s tired and saddened voice stopped any other argument Jack might have made.

“I don’t hate you Matt,” he finally whispered. “I’m sorry if I made you think I did…I’m….I’m sorry for everything really, but it’s too late to do anything. I’ll try not to be such an ass though.” Not waiting to hear Matt’s reply, Jack spun around and rushed back through the kitchen and out the back door- not even taking his gun.

# # #
John frowned and stopped, cocking his head to the side to listen once again. Thirty minutes before, Matt had barged into his room, literally catching him with his pants around his ankles. Luckily, his shoes and jeans were all that he had removed, because after Matt had blurted out his reason for his impromptu and rude entrance- explaining about his and Jack’s conversation and the resultant bolting of Jack- John had been able to easily redress within seconds and had grabbed his gun, a flashlight, and been out the door. Matt was waiting back in the kitchen, in case Jack returned before his father.

John frowned to himself as he began carefully walking in the direction that he had thought he heard movement, his gun ready. He was fairly certain there weren’t any zombies around- they’d done a thorough check of their perimeter, after all- but zombies weren’t the only danger in woods; especially not at night.

When he caught the boy, protestations of being an adult and not being under his father’s authority, be damned. When Matt had explained the talk they’d had, just before Jack ran away, (nope- the brat wasn’t going to be able to call it anything else. He ran away from home), John had realized that he’d let things go on for too long. Yes, Jack had hurt him by denying him the rights of a father- even the right to be called father. But he had hoped that by doing what Jack wanted, that the boy would calm down enough to at least let him back into his life as a friend. He’d done his best not to react- well, not to over react- to Jacks blatant disrespect. He’d also tried not to behave any differently than he normally would have. He’d hoped that the lack of confrontation and the fact that he hadn’t changed would set the boy at ease and he might actually come talk to him.

He’d definitely let things go on too long. If what Matt said was true, Jack felt guilty about his behavior- about everything he’d said- but he thought it was too late to fix things. In trying to behave normally and not force the issue, John had somehow managed to convince his son that he didn’t care. At least that’s what seemed to have occurred. So, he would find his son and convince him of the opposite. It was too bad for Jack if the method of convincing wasn’t pleasant.

Stopping once more and listening, John heard a branch break to his right. It was closer than any of the other sounds he’d heard previous, so carefully and as silently as he was able, he walked in that direction. When he finally stepped through the clearing, he felt his throat close up at the scene in front of him.

Jack sat on a fallen log, shoulders slumped, head bowed and his arms wrapped tight around himself. It got chilly at night, and the kid had run out without even grabbing a light jacket- so every so often a tiny tremor would course through him. He wasn’t shivering too badly, yet, but if the temperature dropped any further, he’d be chilled.

“Interesting spot you found here. Far enough away that no one could hear if something were to happen to you, close enough that when you finally came to your senses it wouldn’t take all night to return.” John’s voice carried through the night air, sharp as a knife. Jack jerked up, eyes wide as they looked toward his father. As he took in John’s narrowed eyes and the disapproving frown on his face, he knew immediately that the older man was not impressed with his decision to just run out of the house.

“I…” he looked around taking in the clearing for the first time since stopping. He had been lucky there was nothing threatening here. He hadn’t been paying attention to his surroundings at all. “Go ahead and say it…” he finally said wearily.

“Say what, Junior?” Jack raised an eyebrow, eyes and mouth still firm.

Jack swallowed hard, then winced and shook his head. “Never mind. I know I just did something phenomenally stupid…” he uttered under his breath. John’s snort told him that he hadn’t said it softly enough.

“Yeah. I’ll agree with that,” John snarked out. “What I want to know is, why?”

“I just needed to get away and think…” Jack muttered, not wanting to spill his guts. He eyed his father sideways, part of him hoping the other man would let it go- but a lot of him hoping he wouldn’t.

John huffed. “And you couldn’t do that by going into the garage and shutting the door? Cuz no offense kid, the way you been acting- I doubt anyone would have gone in after you to bother you.” His voice was gruff and while it didn’t sound chiding, Jack could hear the disappointed disapproval in the tone.

“I kinda did…Matt followed me…” Jack attempted a joking smile but failed miserably. “I dunno…” Jack said weakly, looking back down at his feet.

Walking over to his son, John lowered himself down onto the log next to the boy pressing shoulder to shoulder. Swallowing and then taking a steadying breath, he turned to look at Jack’s profile. His child looked tired, and worn down by guilt…and maybe just a tiny bit afraid, although he wasn’t sure what Jack would be afraid of. “Talk to me Junior…” he finally commanded in a soft voice that wouldn’t accept argument.

Jack tried not to say anything…he truly did. But he couldn’t just say nothing- he already felt so wrong footed about everything and he knew remaining silent would not help with that. The problem is, once he started talking, he couldn’t stop. He couldn’t stop and every last sorry, sordid detail about what he was thinking and feeling bubbled out of him like boiling liquid from a too small pot. It all came out:

…his confusion about having his father back in his life and actually wanting to be a father; his fear that if he allowed John to have any authority over him, it would hurt so much more when he disappeared again;

…his jealousy that Matt was fitting in so well to the role of son- when Jack seemed to do everything wrong;

…the shame he felt at actually wanting his father to take charge and step in when he disobeyed, because he was supposed to be an adult. Adults weren’t supposed to need that type of guidance or correction, so what was wrong with him???

…the fear that he’d messed everything up completely by refusing to submit to John earlier- even though he knew he’d done wrong, deserved what John planned, and was actually sorry for pulling the gun and wanted to make things right.

…and finally, he admitted the fear that his father would never be able to forgive him for his words of denial. Words that he didn’t mean at all and regretted the moment he’d said them.

John listened quietly as Jack confessed everything, not interrupting or asking questions. When finally the boy slumped forward, putting his face in his hands and quieting, he placed his hand gently against his sons back and rubbed gently.

“I forgive you, son.” He said softly. “I forgave you the minute you said the words, just as I forgave you for pulling the gun on me, and for all the other obnoxious things you’ve said and done.” He gave a crooked smile at Jack’s soft huff of indignation, but the boy didn’t say anything so he continued. “You haven’t messed anything up completely. And you and I are gonna fix what has been messed up.”

“I understand you being confused at my being back in your life, but I never left because I wanted to. I know I put being a cop first and it led to a very unhappy home-life and your mom wanting to start new. But if I’d had any way to convince her to stay in New York so that I could be near you I would have. By the time I realized I’d screwed up so badly, it was too late to fix.” John allowed all his regret for the past and his not being there come through in his words.

“You have no reason to be jealous of Matt. Yeah- I look on him like a son, but that doesn’t mean he’s replaced you. I hope you know that…” he bumped shoulders with Jack, staring at the boy until Jack finally looked back at him with a blush and gave him a tiny grin. “You do know that don’t you?”

“Yes sir…” Jack answered softly. “I know. Just…needed to remember.”

“As for you being ashamed at needing…because I don’t think you actually want it, but you do need it… as for you needing me to take charge and step in. There is no reason to be ashamed of that. That’s part of being a father- guiding and correcting. And I’m more than willing and able to guide and correct and do what needs doing. But you have to be willing to accept it, because if you don’t accept it- nothing I do will make a damn bit of difference.” John’s voice had started out gentle, but by the end he had straightened his shoulders and his voice had gone gruff and firm. The stern look in his eyes added to the affect and Jack found himself cringing down, as if he was trying to sink into the ground and hide.

John reached over taking hold of Jack’s chin and making him look at him. “Are you son?” he asked sternly. “Are you able to accept my guidance and correction?”

Jack stared into his father’s face, eyes wide and nervous. He swallowed hard. He felt like he was walking a tight rope and about to step off into the unknown. Whichever direction he stepped, there was no turning back. He’d have to live with his decision. Was he? Was he able to accept John’s authority? Shaking slightly, he blinked and then took a slow breath. “Yes sir…” he finally whispered.

It was enough. John heard it and the proud smile he bestowed on Jack helped the younger man calm down for a short while… until John began speaking again, at least.

“Good boy. I’m proud of you. Now all we need to do is address your behavior the last several days, including pulling a gun on your father, saying hurtful lies to get out of a just punishment, and finally running out of the house without any type of weapon or a coat…” John’s tone was conciliatory and matter of fact and it took a few seconds for Jack to realize he was going to be punished.

He winced, but knowing he had it coming, he didn’t argue. Instead he stood and asked in a shaky voice. “Ok. Where do you want me?”

John slanted his head, watching Jack’s face for a few moments before answering. “First, lose the jeans and underwear.” His tone didn’t indicate he was joking, so after an embarrassed, uncertain look, Jack bit his lip and did as he was told- glad that he’d worn one of his longer t-shirts as it at least let him attempt to preserve his dignity.

Meanwhile, John had positioned himself so that he was on a sturdy section of the log with one leg braced against the dirt. He nodded at Jack’s obedience, giving him a tiny encouraging smile. “Now place yourself over my knee.” He commanded calmly.

Jack blinked in consternation. “But…” he swallowed as his father’s eyebrow rose as if asking if he was truly going to challenge him. Closing his eyes tightly, he shuffled to John’s side and then- with his father’s help- lay over the older man’s knee. He couldn’t help but whine slightly, “I’m not a child….”

John smacked him lightly on the thigh, causing Jack to let out a tiny hiss, before he pulled Jack tightly against him, making certain to trap his legs between his own legs. He trapped the arm that was closest to his torso between Jack and himself, then carefully took Jacks remaining arm and pulled it up behind the younger man’s back, trapping his wrist against the small of his back. Jack couldn’t move if he wanted to.

“You’re my child.” He finally remarked on Jack’s comment. “You took things to a very personal level when you decided to assert your independence. So this punishment will be very personal. Spanking you like you are a child is the most personal I could make it without harming you- which I will never do.”

“I…I understand.” Jack finally whispered. He felt so vulnerable. At the moment he couldn’t move at all and was reliant on John to be fair. Reliant on him to do what was best for him; reliant on him to protect him. Reliant on him to give him not only what he deserved but what he needed. “You’re in charge…you’ve got every right to be in charge…and I’ve behaved horribly. I deserve whatever you do…” he admitted in a hoarsely contrite voice.

John didn’t waste any more time talking. Jack knew what he’d done wrong. And the boy wanted things to be right between them- had basically asked for this, even if he hadn’t said the actual words. John raised his hand and began spanking.

Jack closed his eyes tightly as his father began to heat his backside. He’d forgotten how thorough his father would be when he’d decided Jack had overstepped his bounds enough to deserve punishment. He lost count of how many times the older man started at the top of his buttocks and methodically covered every inch down to mid-thigh with firm, controlled smacks. It wasn’t that John was hitting overly hard- but the repetition over already admonished skin caused the slight tingle to turn into a slight sting and then turn into a steady burn. He felt like his backside was on fire and he was helpless to put it out. He didn’t even realize he’d begun trying to jerk away from his father’s hand, or that he was whimpering until John tipped him forward and gave a flurry of sharp swats to the tender crease between thigh and bottom. “Hold still,” the older man ordered calmly then returned to his steady spanking of an already scarlet butt.

Jack wasn’t sure how long his father planned to admonish him, but he was fairly certain he couldn’t be brave through it much longer. Tears were already streaming down his face. If it didn’t end soon, he was going to start crying vocally…and maybe making promises to be good for the rest of his life…and maybe that wouldn’t be such a bad thing if it ended the punishment and … and he just wanted to be held by his dad and told that it was over and everything was ok…he just wanted his dad to hold him but he didn’t deserve that he didn’t….he couldn’t….

Jack finally went limp over John’s lap and began sobbing brokenly. As soon as he felt the boy submit and let go of the pride that prevented him from fully accepting the correction, John gently let go of the wrist he held trapped and gently patted the boy on the back. “That’s it son. We’re almost done. Five more and it will be over…” John gently tilted Jack forward and ended the spanking with five sharp smacks to his son’s sit spots, then carefully pulled his child to his feet.

Carefully, John pulled Jacks clothing back up and into place. Jack hissed as the material rubbed against his chastised bottom and started crying even harder, snuggling as close as he could when John quickly pulled him into his arms and held him tightly.

“It’s all over son. You’re going to be alright. I’ve got you.” Jack crooned softly to the distraught younger man, kissing the top of the boys head and rocking him slowly back and forth.

“I’m…I’m sorry dad. I’m so sorry. I love you…I don’t want you to not be my father…I didn’t mean it….” Jack admitted in a small voice.

“I know son. I’ve got you and I’m never letting go. Even if you try and push me a way; I AM your father and I will never let you go. Got it?” John pushed Jack far enough back that he could look in his eyes when he told him that. Jack, able to see the truth in his father’s face, calmed down considerably before putting his head back on John’s shoulder and snuggling a little more before reluctantly stepping back.

“McClane’s don’t hug…” he muttered sheepishly.

“I won’t tell if you don’t,” John smirked then rubbed the top of his head affectionately.

Jack smirked back, before rubbing the tears off his face. “Whatever you say, dad. You’re in charge….”

“And don’t you forget it…” the older man chuffed in amusement. “Now…I think the house is back this way…” he muttered to himself, grabbed the flashlight and the gun then nudged Jack behind him. “Follow me, Junior.”

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