Authorís Note: This was written as a RPG (roll playing game) between co-authors Hope1iz and BlackFox12. Set after the season one finale. Seventeenth in the Redeeming Grant series.
Disclaimer: We don't own anything from Marvel: Agents of SHIELD or The Avengers and we're not making any money from this fic.
Summary: Grant tries to find a way to help his father.
Warning(s): Spoilers up to the season one finale and for the Avengers movie; spanking
Co-Authorís Website: BlackFox12's fanfiction.net page


REDEEMING GRANT
COMFORTING THE COMFORTER


The first few weeks after finding out the truth about his relationship to Coulson hadn't been easy for Grant. Years of conditioning to believe he wasn't worth anyone's love unless he earned it had made it difficult for him to accept the fact that Coulson loved him unconditionally. But being hard didn't necessarily mean bad and he had to admit he was happier now than he had been in a very long time. Coulson had decided the team needed to be able to associate with other people and have opportunities to do other things and, with Tony Stark's encouragement, had decided to keep the team at the tower for the unforeseeable future.

Simmons was ecstatic at the thought of being able to work closely with Dr. Banner, Trip and May were enjoying being in a place that was so secure they could actually let their guard down and relax and Grant was grateful for the chance to relax, but also grateful because it gave him time to get to know his father better.

Since he was still grounded, he spent every evening in his father's company and he hadn't had any nightmares since being at the tower; mostly because he slept in his father's arms every night, Copper curled up at his feet. The time in the tower had given him time to bond with his dog as well, and the animal was good at his job. Whenever he sensed Grant was having difficulty, he would come up and nose his hand to get his attention. If that didn't work, Copper would go find Coulson, or Clint...or if they weren't available, Tony or Bucky. One time, he had even gone and grabbed a visiting Fury by the sleeve of his leather trench coat and dragged him to where Grant had spaced out, lost in thoughts from his past. The days were harder than the evenings, which defied all logic as far as Grant was concerned, but Copper was taking care of him, so he didn't worry too much. He just made sure to tell his therapist of his episodes.

Beyond that, every day was spent doing whatever training or operation needed to be done, but he always had a partner now, either from his team or from the Avengers. Evidently, his father wasn't the only one he had scared.

He was on one of those operations now, staking out a small HYDRA cell, Bucky next to him. His father was back at the tower, receiving the information as they provided it. Just then, he noticed one of the men they had been watching walking away from the building, carrying a briefcase. "Keep watching the house...I'll be right back..." he muttered to his partner and took off without waiting for an answer.

Coulson was monitoring the situation, because no matter how good Grant was at what he did... he was still Coulson's son. And Coulson had repeatedly had to face the possibility of losing his son, which was something he never found easy to deal with... and even less now that he'd discovered Grant was the son he'd thought lost.

Alarm spiked through Coulson as he heard Grant's words and realised his son was leaving Bucky. "Where is he going?" he asked the other man, fighting hard to keep the worry and panic from coming through in his voice.

Bucky frowned. "Grant..." But he didn't have to a chance to finish his thought, as the headstrong kid was already out of range of his voice and he didn't want to bring the rest of the HYDRA cell down on them by yelling. Sighing, he spoke into his com. "Sir...the boy's taken off after one of the targets. Do I chase after him, or stay in position to watch the remaining cell?"

"Go after him." Coulson didn't hesitate. Grant's safety had to come first... and if something went wrong while the two were separated, they'd have less chance of getting out unscathed. "Be careful," he added, knowing it was unnecessary to say that... but he felt pretty useless from where he was right now.

Bucky didn't hesitate to go after the younger man and his target...keeping out of sight of both the HYDRA agent and Grant. He was glad he'd kept his presence a secret when the agent went down an alley and Grant followed, only waiting long enough to glance in and make certain there were no other agents there. Bucky frowned and quickly moved to the mouth of the alley, just in time to hear a grunt of pain and then sounds of fighting. Shaking his head- Grant had obviously been made by the agent and the man was now attacking his young colleague- Bucky did a quick sweep of the perimeter with his eyes and, satisfied that no more surprises would be on their way, ran into the alley. One punch with his 'arm' and the Hydra goon was out cold.

"Sir, if you could please send a vehicle to retrieve a prisoner and both of us, I'd appreciate it. Hopefully, the rest of the cell isn't expecting him back anytime soon...." He shot Grant an irritated look that caused the man to blush and look at his feet like a scolded schoolboy. Then an irritated look flashed on Grant's face as he realized what he was doing and he straightened his shoulders, even if he still couldn't look Bucky in the eye.

"You're lucky you're going home to your daddy..." he muttered in irritation, ignoring the fact that the comms were still on and Coulson would still be listening in (and possibly anyone else in the room with the director at the time). "Because if I didn't know he would be taking care of this, you'd be going over my knee right now...." The stern look he gave kept the other man from protesting, even if Grant did shoot him a dirty look for the comment.

"I've sent Trip and May to retrieve you," Coulson said, not commenting on Bucky's statement. "Are either of you hurt?" He was quite clearly concerned, even if he was very unhappy with how the situation had gone.

Ward huffed slightly, but hearing the concern in his father's voice, made sure to keep his tone calm and respectful. "We're fine, sir," he said carefully.

"If you count having a split lip and bruises fine," Bucky muttered. Grant shot him another dirty look, but the older man just gave him a smug grin, not phased in the least by the younger man's ire.

"I'll check you over when you get back here anyway," Coulson said. Even if they were merely bruises and a split lip, he wouldn't be happy until he'd assured himself his son was fine. "I'm sorry about this happening," he then addressed Bucky, hoping that Grant would take the hint and apologise on his own behalf.

Ward barely refrained from whining in frustration at his father's words. He did catch his father's hint, but still smarting from the older man's remark, he couldn't bring himself to apologize. Especially not when he hadn't seen anything wrong with what he'd done. He was about to take the man down himself before Bucky stepped in. He hadn't needed to be 'rescued'. He didn't say what he was thinking, however. Instead, he gave Bucky an irritated half-smile and crossed his arms over his chest to wait for May and Trip to arrive.

Twenty minutes later, he and Bucky were loading the prisoner into the back of the van and then crawling into the middle seats behind Trip and May.

"Man, I don't know what you did, but your father looked ready to spit nails when we left...." Trip said off-handedly.

No one else said anything the rest of the trip back...not even to comment on the sudden paleness to Ward's face or the fact that he wasn't glaring any longer...and in fact looked like he was very nervous.

Coulson headed down to meet the van, partly because he was going to have to deal with what Grant had done... but also because he needed to reassure himself his son was all right. He knew that Grant was well-trained, but even before, he'd been unable to stop worrying about his son's safety... it was even more difficult now.

Pulling into the garage, May and Trip quickly took the prisoner down to the holding areas, where they would keep him until they were through with the interrogation and would then transfer him to the nearest SHIELD prison. Bucky stood by Grant to make certain the younger man didn't attempt to 'disappear' before his father could catch him. The way the younger man was acting, he wasn't entirely certain he wouldn't take off to 'do some work' and avoid the director; and there was no way Bucky was taking the fall for messing this operation up.

Grant gave Bucky another irritated look. "I'm not going to run...I know you think I will, but I'm not going to. He's worried. I could hear it in his tone...I'll stay here so he can see for himself that I'm ok," he finally said softly, his irritation changing into resignation and a bit of shame. He kept worrying his father for no good reason. Just because he was highly trained and able to handle things that not too many other people could handle didn't give him the right to just switch the plans for an operation without giving the director or even his partner a heads up so they knew what was happening. He hadn't been on this mission solo or with communication 'dark', so there was no reason to just make his own decision without sharing with the other two.

He glanced at Bucky sheepishly. "I owe you an apology.... I'm not really sorry for it right now, although I'm sure I will be..." He sighed, "...But I know what I did wasn't fair to you and it wasn't right. So...even though I'm not feeling sorry, I do know I was wrong and I apologize for that..." He wrinkled his nose in slight embarrassment, noting the moment the elevator reached the level they were on and turned to watch for when his father exited. His father may be acting calm, but that didn't mean he wasn't irritated....

Coulson stepped off the elevator, his gaze immediately going to Grant to assure himself his son wasn't hurt too badly. Stepping over to Grant, he placed a hand on his shoulder, looking at Bucky. "If you're unhurt, do you want to give your report to Steve? Grant and I need to talk." Of course, there probably wouldn't be a lot of talking going on... but Coulson generally didn't discuss punishments in front of other people.

"I'll do that, sir," Bucky answered immediately and went to look for Steve.

Ward swallowed, then licked his lips and tried to stay standing straight and act like he wasn't nervous, but he knew it was a lost cause. Even if no one else could tell he was nervous, his father could always tell when he was nervous.

Coulson sighed and turned to Grant. "Do you have any wounds that need treatment?" he asked gently. No matter how unhappy he was about this, he'd always take care of his son first. He couldn't see anything obvious, but there were plenty of places someone could be injured that weren't so obvious.

Ward shook his head wordlessly before finally answering, "No, sir. Bucky was right. Just a split lip and a few spots that will bruise...."

Coulson took a deep breath and then closed his hand around Grant's wrist. Although his touch was gentle, there was a bit of tension there as well. Now that the worry was lessened, it was a bit of a struggle to keep his anger down. Coulson had made a private vow to himself never to lose his temper with Grant, or punish his son in anger... so he was considering standing his son in the corner so he could make sure he was calmed down.

For now, Coulson led Grant over to the elevator.

If Coulson was able to tell when Grant was nervous or scared or any number of emotions, despite his attempts to hide it, Grant was almost as good at deciphering his father's moods. He could tell his father was upset, and that if he said one wrong word it would make the man even more angry. So he kept quiet and meekly allowed his father to take him wherever he wanted. Not that it was easy. If his father was this upset, chances were he was going to be finding it difficult to sit for the rest of the evening.

He still didn't feel overly guilty about what he'd done, though. Well...that wasn't entirely true. He felt guilty that he'd apparently messed up the plans for the operation, since Bucky had ended up following him instead of staying to watch the house...and if the agent they'd captured ended up having no information, then it was for no good reason. And he felt guilty that he'd managed to scare his father again because he acted without informing anyone else- or getting permission- which considering Coulson was the director and Bucky had been the agent in charge of the operation... ok. He felt guilty. He just didn't want to admit it to his father.

Coulson was silent during the ride on the elevator, not wanting to say anything and risk anyone coming on and overhearing. As he led Grant out onto his floor, though, he spoke in a quiet voice. "When we get to my office, I'm going to put you in the corner. Partly because I need you to think about what just happened... and partly because I need time to calm down." He held eye contact with his son. "I still love you as much as always. I just need a few minutes to let go of those feelings."

Grant nodded in understanding then let his own gaze fall to the floor. "I love you too, daddy."

Grant remained pliant, allowing his father to direct him wherever he wanted him to be. He had known he'd upset his father, but if he'd upset him enough that he felt the need to calm down, well maybe he had been more wrong in his actions than he'd already admitted to himself. The first real twinges of guilt settled on him.

Coulson guided Grant into his office and over to the corner. Kissing his son's head, Coulson squeezed the nape of Grant's neck and then moved away, heading over to his desk... though he kept a careful watch of Grant's reactions. This was the first time Coulson hadn't stayed close after putting his son in the corner and he wanted to make sure that absence wouldn't be too overwhelming for his son.

Grant felt his father moving away and it surprised him how bereft he felt when the man wasn't standing behind him, offering his silent support. Especially considering he knew his father was still in the room and hadn't actually left him alone. He slumped and took a deep breath, before forcing himself to straighten back up. He was supposed to think about what he had done. So...if he could list everything, he'd either come up with a reason for doing it that was acceptable...or he wouldn't come up with a valid reason for doing it and he'd have to admit he was wrong. He was hoping he could come up with reasons, but he suspected that he wouldn't.

Closing his eyes, he thought and realized: he'd changed the parameters of the operation without speaking with the Op Lead or the director. Neither his father nor Bucky had realized he was going to do anything different until he was doing it and it didn't leave either of them much time to formulate their own response or actions. That was disrespectful to both of their positions. It was also extremely dangerous; what if the HYDRA agent had been armed with any number of the new weapons that had been developed in the last several months? Instead of Bucky rushing into the ally to knock out the HYDRA agent, he could have rushed into the ally to find Grant dead and then been killed himself before he could stop it. Grant didn't think he was being narcissistic by believing that his father would have been devastated at such an event.

In short, he'd acted without thinking again and done something extremely foolish. He knew his father didn't mind him going off on his own or disobeying orders when he could give a valid reason for doing so...but not thinking things through and acting on his impulses was not a valid reason by any stretch of the imagination. He really owed Bucky a better apology than he'd given the man- because he was sorry now. He let his head thump against the intersection of the two walls, as he finally admitted to himself that he was completely and utterly wrong.

Coulson sighed as he saw the change in Grant's stance. He waited a few more moments, to be sure his anger was now at manageable levels (to be honest, his fear tended to keep that at bay) and then he stepped over to his son and placed a hand gently on his shoulder.

"Do you understand, son?" Coulson asked softly. He didn't guide Grant with further questions, instead waiting for Grant to explain in his own words why this had been unacceptable.

"Yes, sir," Grant answered immediately, if a bit quietly. "I changed op parameters without permission or even informing those in charge. I didn't leave either you or Bucky time to react to the change I had made. I was disrespectful to Bucky as team lead. I was disrespectful to you as director. And it was a dangerous risk that could have resulted in both my and Bucky's death if the HYDRA agent had been armed, because I hadn't left anyone any time to formulate a new plan to accommodate my actions. And on a personal level, I scared my father unnecessarily. I tried to come up with a reason to validate my actions, but there are none. It was unnecessary. And....I'm sorry." He didn't hesitate during any of his confession until the very last, as if he was uncertain if his apology would be accepted.

Coulson sighed and drew Grant in closer, pressing a kiss to his head. "I love you so much," he said against his son's head. "The thought of losing you... I can't tell you how scary that is. I would be devastated."

"I know, sir..." he admitted softly, ashamed at what he'd put his father through. "I know and...I really am sorry. I didn't think about what my actions were doing or would do to anyone else. It was selfish of me."

Coulson tightened his embrace around Grant. "I'm very glad you weren't hurt worse," he said softly. "But I don't need to tell you what's going to happen now, I'm sure."

"No, sir." Ward swallowed hard. "I know what is going to happen and I know I deserve it." He slumped slightly. "A...are you going to use the ruler, sir?" he asked hesitantly. He hadn't directly disobeyed an order this time, but it was close...and he'd put himself in danger...and he knew that he had really angered his father, even if the man waited until he was calmer to deal with him.

Coulson sighed and pressed a gentle kiss to Grant's forehead. "No. Using that on you last time felt wrong." He hadn't been able to force himself to continue, no matter what Grant had done... and he knew he wouldn't be able to do it again. "But it is going to be harder."

Grant nodded, relieved. He didn't want to admit it- not even to himself- but if he had to be punished, he preferred to feel his father's hand over any implement. Yes, it was more personal...but...it was more personal. He took a slow, steadying breath before unbuttoning his jeans, then waiting for his father to lead him to wherever he'd decided to administer the spanking.

Coulson slid his arm around Grant's shoulders and guided him over to the chair. Taking a seat, he gently brought Grant across his lap, wrapping an arm around his waist and rubbing his back gently before taking his jeans and underwear down.

Ward kept his breathing steady and tried to relax. He knew he deserved this and there was no reason to be stubborn and try and fight it by tensing up. He would attempt not to cry...or at least not to cry loudly. He knew how much his tears affected his father and he didn't think it was fair for him to cry and his father to end his punishment sooner than he would have otherwise because of it. Of course, attempting not to cry and actually not crying were two different things.

"I love you, Grant," Coulson said softly. "You are very important to me. I never want to risk losing you. I need you to think the next time you're on a mission. I know you're capable, but when you head down a destructive path, I will step in. And this will happen again." He took a deep breath and brought his hand down in a hard swat, using more of his strength than previously, even if he wasn't swatting quite as hard as he could.

Grant let out a tiny hiss that ended on a whine and closed his eyes tight. He could tell this was going to be painful; his father was already starting out harder than he ever had before. It took all his control not to tense up. He couldn't stop himself from gripping his father's leg tightly.

Coulson continued the hard swats, still careful not to use his full strength, but wanting to ensure his son knew this was unacceptable. He went down to Grant's thighs and then began swatting from the top again, his other arm still wrapped tightly around his son's waist.

Ward continued to hiss with each swat...but eventually the hissing turned into pained moans and whimpers. He thought he was handling everything ok...until his father started over, swatting already punished territory. He couldn't help but throw his hand back in a childish attempt to protect his backside. His eyes had already begun watering, tears threatening to spill down his cheeks.

Coulson paused to move Grant's hand out of the way, lacing his fingers through his son's as he held it against his back. It was hard, but he forced himself to complete a third circuit before he shifted Grant forward so he could start swatting his sit spots.

Grant gripped his fatherís hand firmly, only barely managing not to squeeze too hard. By the time his father had started the third circuit, tears were streaming from his eyes and his tiny moans and whimpers had turned into quiet huffs that sounded suspiciously like the beginning of sobs that he cut off at the last second. Cut off until his father started on his sit spots. He couldn't hold back any longer and, going limp over his father's lap, his tears became vocal, quietly sobbing. He didn't beg for the punishment to stop. He knew he deserved it. He didn't repeatedly apologize; his father already knew he was sorry. He just quietly cried and waited for his father to determine if he'd had enough or not.

Coulson stopped, Grant's tears affecting him as they always did. He quickly drew his son up and into his arms, hugging him as tightly as he could. "I love you," he whispered in Grant's ear, kissing his forehead.

As usual, as soon as the punishment ended and the comfort began, Ward gave up trying to stay brave and allowed himself to almost selfishly, like a child, absorb the love and affection. He wrapped his arms around his father, holding tightly and hiding his face against Phil's shoulder. "I love you, daddy..." he said quietly once he'd gotten his crying under control.

Coulson kissed the top of Grant's head as he cuddled him tightly. "I love you so much, Grant. I'm glad you're safe here with me." He wanted to protect his son with everything he had. It was the same wave of fierce, protective love that he'd felt the first moment he'd held his baby son... and he felt it just as strongly now.

Ward snuggled closer, uncertain what to say. He was safe with his father, but going on missions wasn't safe and he worried what it would do to the other man if he were hurt, or worse. He would just have to be very careful to insure that didn't happen, he decided; and promptly promised himself to be more careful for his father's sake. "I'm safe at home with you, daddy. You don't need to worry about me." He leaned up and kissed the older man on the cheek.

"Am I grounded again? Or am I to have an early bedtime tonight?" he finally asked in a teasing voice, although the possibility was there.

Coulson threaded his fingers through Grant's hair. "I'm tempted to give you an early bedtime, if only because you can't get yourself into trouble while you're sleeping," he said, teasing gently, before adding seriously, "I need to think about grounding you. Each time you're let off, something like this happens."

Grant couldn't help the amused snort that escaped at his father's words about the bedtime. He quickly controlled his amusement, though, at his father's gentle admonishment (if it could be called that) about how every time he wasn't grounded, something happened. He wanted to protest those words, but realized his father was right. He sighed softly. "Yes, sir." He pressed closer again to hug his father. "I'll stay here or in the common area so when you decide you can find me quickly." He sighed.

Coulson kissed his head gently. "I know you're not going to be completely safe all the time, but there are ways of making yourself safer."

Grant nodded. "I know. And I seem to do the exact opposite of all those things." He leaned back and looked into his father's eyes. "I really don't know how you manage to have so much patience with me...even with the fact you love me. But...I'm thankful you do." He gave a crooked smile then kissed his father on the cheek before carefully standing up and fixing his clothing with a hiss.

"I think I'm going to need to find things to do today that need me to stand up..." he muttered under his breath; not to complain, but because he wasn't sure there was a whole lot he could do standing up without having people know exactly why he was standing. Then again, maybe he deserved the embarrassment of having people know he'd gotten spanked- yet again- for doing something unnecessarily dangerous. Especially when this wasn't the first time he had done something like that.

Coulson stood up, wrapping an arm around Grant's shoulders. "We can do something together after you apologise to Bucky," he suggested. "Maybe we could play some cards... we can do that alone, or have Clint join us..."

Grant smiled happily. "I'd like that...either alone or with Clint. I'll go find Bucky now... if that's alright?" He stopped, waiting for permission to leave.

Coulson nodded. "That's fine. We can spend some time alone and then do something with Clint later this evening."

"Ok, daddy..." Grant smiled again, giving his father a quick but tight hug, before heading to look for the ex-soldier.

# # #

When Coulson blinked himself awake, it took him several moments to realise where he was. It had been a long time since he'd dreamed about losing a member of his family, but when he focused on Grant in his arms, all he could remember was the fear of losing his son...

Grant had woken up just before his father had, the man's arms having tightened around him to an almost uncomfortable level...as if he was trying to keep from losing him. He'd heard slight moans, whimpers and muttering and his father was so tense, Ward knew the older man was having a nightmare. He had been about to sit up and try and awaken his father when he felt his father's breathing change and the tenseness in his arms change to the lesser tension of being awake. He listened carefully, giving his father a chance to acclimate, before he carefully extricated himself from his father's hold and sat up, looking into the other man's eyes.

"Are you ok?" he asked softly, worry clear in his tone. Ward was used to dealing with his own nightmares; he wasn't used to his father suffering from them.

Copper lifted his head up from the foot of the bed where he had snuck (with Ward's help) and whined slightly, before licking a foot that had become exposed at some point during the night.

Coulson focused on Grant, resisting the urge to pull his son into his arms. "It was just a bad dream," he said softly, not wanting to worry Grant. "I'm all right now." But he couldn't help the slightly haunted look that came across his face.

Grant saw the haunted look in his father's eyes and it worried him. What kind of dream would have made his father look that way? "Want to tell me what it was about?" he finally asked softly. He'd told his father his own dreams so often he wanted to reciprocate if the older man would let him.

Coulson sighed and reached out automatically, hand shifting to the nape of Grant's neck and squeezing gently, needing some contact with his son. "It was a combination of dream and memory."

Grant nodded, reaching his own hand up to clasp the wrist of the hand Coulson was using to squeeze his neck, giving his own gentle squeeze. "It must have been a horrible memory..." he whispered, not pushing for answers but making it clear that he was ready and willing to listen to anything his father wanted to tell him.

Coulson moved closer to Grant, needing to feel his son close. "It was when I lost you as a baby."

Grant bit his lip and gave his father a sad look. He noticed that the older man kept touching him, moving closer, as if afraid that he would disappear if he didn't have physical contact. Grant did the only thing he could think of that might help his father and moved as close as he could get without actually sitting on the man's lap, wrapping his arms around his father's waist and putting his head against his chest, just under Coulson's chin. While it was true that he could have wrapped his arms around his father and held him...he somehow got the feeling that his dad needed to feel like he was protecting him and not the other way around.

He felt a small twinge of guilt. He didn't recall his father having dreams like this before, which meant that either a) his father had had them before and he was too self-centered to have noticed; or b) his father hadn't had them in a very long time and Grant's actions in putting himself in danger, earlier in the day, had triggered them to start up again. Either way, it was his fault. He had to know for certain which it was, though... "Did you just start having these dreams, or have I just been that blind?" he asked softly.

Coulson wrapped his arms around Grant, holding his son tightly and gently threading his fingers through Grant's hair. "I haven't had those kind of dreams in a very long time," he admitted.

Grant closed his eyes, hugging just that small bit tighter. He'd had a feeling that was the case...but hearing it from his father's lips just drove home how much his actions of late had affected his dad. "I'm sorry, daddy..." he finally whispered. "I don't like that you worry so much that it gives you nightmares..."

Coulson kissed Grant's head. "I worry because I love you so very much. I don't want to lose you." He sighed. "I know you're safe here at the moment... but I can't help worrying that the next time might take you from me for good."

"I know..." His voice was small and, though he tried to hide it, guilt laden. If he hadn't run off without speaking with Bucky or his father first, his dad wouldn't have felt so out of control of the situation. He might not have been scared so badly- even if he did worry- and he wouldn't be having nightmares. He wished there was something that could be done to help his father not worry so much, but couldn't think of anything.

Glancing at the clock and realizing it was still too early in the morning for anyone to be getting up, Grant snuggled closer to his dad. "Is there anything I can do to help you get back to sleep?" he finally asked.

"You being here with me helps and is a comfort," Coulson said honestly. "Just... stay with me. It'll help."

Grant smiled slightly at that and nodded, hugging his father again. "Ok, daddy. I wasn't planning to go anywhere else," he admitted quietly. Shifting so that he was leaning into his father, his ear against the older man's chest where he could hear his heart beat and his breathing, Grant sleepily uttered, "I love you, daddy...."

"I love you, son," Coulson said softly, leaning back while he continued to hold onto Grant. His son's presence was a comfort to him and he could let his eyes close.

# # #

When Grant had finally woken several hours later, sunshine was streaming in through the window and he was alone. His father had left a note for him, instructing him to make sure and eat some of the breakfast he had made and then to find something productive to do; his father also indicated that if he was lucky and the meeting he had to attend didn't go too long, he'd be able to eat lunch with Grant.

Grant quickly took a shower and got dressed before following the instructions to eat. It didn't take much time, however, to eat and then clean up. "C'mon, Copper," he finally said to his dog companion. "Let's go see if we can find something to do."

# # #

Steve was just finishing his workout in one of the rec rooms. After showering and getting changed, he headed to find Bucky, wanting to spend some time with his friend.

Bucky was reading the newspaper in the common area of the tower. He hadn't felt like being one of Tony's guinea pigs, but he also didn't feel like holing himself up in his room where no one else could find him. With HYDRA wanting to capture him, he didn't get to leave the tower as often as he'd like...but then again, he was comfortable just relaxing and reading. He looked up when Steve walked in. "Hey, pal. Enjoy your workout?" he asked lightly.

Steve smiled, stepping over to take a seat next to his friend. "It wasn't as good as facing off against HYDRA, but it'll do. I might take up running again soon."

Bucky eyed the other man with a raised eyebrow. "Running, huh?" He put the newspaper down and leaned back in his chair. "Maybe I should start doing that. Think you'd like a running partner?"

"I think that would be good." Steve grinned, teasing, "So long as you think you can keep up with me."

"Oh...them's fighting words, boy!" Bucky teased back. He glanced out in the hallway when he heard the elevator ping. His eyes narrowed slightly when he saw Grant exiting, Copper following along behind. He wasn't angry at the boy for what he'd done the day before, exactly. He'd actually gotten over his irritation fairly quickly. But the whelp had yet to actually apologize in a way that meant anything. Knowing you were wrong didn't mean a damn thing if you didn't alter your behavior, after all; and if the kid still wasn't sorry for what he'd done, chances of that behavior alteration were slim.

Ward walked into the common room and glanced between Bucky and Steve, his face turning slightly pink. "I...uh..." He blushed more darkly when he found himself stuttering. "I was looking for you...." he finally blurted out to Bucky. "I...I know I admitted I was wrong yesterday, but that I wasn't sorry...?" He got a very sheepish and ashamed look on his face.

Bucky's eyebrow rose higher and he glanced at Steve to see what his reaction to such a declaration was, before he commented, "I remember." His voice was calm and decidedly unimpressed.

Ward couldn't help but fidget, feeling more and more like a child than an adult agent. He bit his lip and glanced at Steve as if asking for help, or at least a little bit of moral support, as he worked up the nerve to admit he was sorry. Very sorry.

Steve gave Ward a sympathetic smile, having had a lot of experience with stubborn young people who only realised later that they'd done something wrong. "Your dad talked to you?" he asked, trying to give the other man an opening without actually putting any words in his mouth.

Ward nodded rapidly. "Yes, sir..." he blurted. "He did, but..." He blushed again, but decided that, since Bucky had been directly affected by his actions, he had a right to know. "Well, he made me stand in the corner and think before he...um..." His blush darkened. "Before he spanked me..." he admitted quietly. "...and while I was thinking, I realized that...I wasn't just wrong. I was disrespectful and reckless and..." He sighed, looking at his feet. "...I shouldn't have done it. I know I shouldn't have..." He finally forced himself to look Bucky in the eye. "...and I am sorry."

Bucky nodded slightly, only wanting to know one thing. "Are you going to do it again?" he asked seriously.

Ward winced then smiled crookedly at both the older men. "I don't know, sir. I tell myself I'm not going to, but when it actually comes time to actually not do something...I don't know what my problem is...I just...I never messed up this badly before...but now...I can't promise anything. I can just say I'll try to remember not to..." Ward winced again, not sure if that was good enough.

"Well, I guess that will have to be enough until you learn a bit more control over yourself." Bucky sighed and glanced at Steve to see if he had anything to add.

Steve had a bit of a thoughtful look on his face as he listened without interrupting. Then, when Bucky glanced at him, he spoke. "If you're having that much trouble and can't guarantee you won't rush off headlong into danger, maybe your dad should keep you here. Or on a shorter leash." Though he wasn't sure how Coulson would do that, short of actually coming along with Ward on every mission just so he could pull his boy back if necessary.

Ward winced at the thought of not being able to go on missions and being stuck at home when everyone else went on them. "I don't want to stop being an agent or going on missions...." He couldn't help but sound worried. As scared as his father had been for him, it could very well be a possibility. And as far as a shorter leash... "...Maybe Fitz could do something to one of those bracelet tracking things that they had on Skye, but I don't know what good that would do..." he muttered.

"What kind of bracelet was that?" Steve asked.

Ward looked up at Steve and slanted his head, thinking. "It kept tabs on her, pretty much. Her location and such. But it also locked her out of areas where she wasn't supposed to go and kept her from accessing anything on the internet that Dad didn't give her permission to access first." He didn't go into any details about why she'd be wearing it; that was between Skye and his father.

Steve glanced at Bucky and then at Ward. "It might be worth using something like that, then. At least until you can be more sure of how you react to certain situations."

Ward nodded. "I...I'd be willing to do that if it would make Dad feel better. I... I keep doing things that worry and scare him and I don't mean to, but..." He sighed and looked at his feet. "Maybe I should bring it up and see what he says...."

"That might be the best thing to do," Steve agreed. "It would also help in case HYDRA manages to get you in their clutches again. At least tracking you down would be easier."

Bucky nodded in agreement with Steve. "With the amount of trouble you seem to find, a tracker would probably be a very good thing."

Ward nodded and smiled sheepishly. "Then I guess that's that, then. I'll talk with my father and see if he wants to 'leash' me..."

"It might help his peace of mind, too," Steve said. "You didn't see the bad way he was in when HYDRA captured you." Steve spoke seriously, though not unkindly. He didn't think Coulson would have told Ward just how scared he was, but he felt that the other man should know... and be aware that his reckless behaviour affected more than just him.

Ward nodded, his face falling at the news, feeling guilt weigh him down again, his shoulders slumping. "Yes, sir. I...I knew he was upset, but I didn't truly realize how scared he was until last night..." He didn't elaborate, but he figured Bucky and Steve were wise enough to figure it out if they wanted to.

Bucky watched the younger man through narrow eyes, seeing the guilt. The kid had been hiding it pretty well until that point. "His punishing you didn't make you feel better?" he asked quietly.

Ward winced. "It did...until I realized what I'd really done to him with my actions," he admitted forlornly.

"You know that proves how much he cares about you?" Steve asked. "Even before you found out you're his kid through blood... but he lost you once already. It's going to be hard when you go and do your own thing and risk your safety."

Ward nodded. "I...I know he cares about me." He swallowed. "It was kind of hard to ignore when he nursed me back to health after my illness... and he's done nothing but prove it time and again, since that moment." Ward ran a hand through his hair distractedly, not sure if he should admit this to the other two men. "I know it, but it's hard to...accept it sometimes. Even though I know in my head that nothing I do will ever change the way he feels about me and how much he will worry...sometimes I... I don't know. I think I feel like I need to test that or something. It doesn't make sense, because when I think about it, I don't want to do that, but like I said. I do things without thinking a lot of the time...." He blushed.

Bucky snorted, but it wasn't in an amused way. "You're really mixed up, kid. Good thing your father has you, because I'm not sure you'd survive long without him. I don't think you're testing him.... You know by now that he isn't going to leave or send you away for anything you do. You just admitted as much. I think you're testing yourself. You don't think you're good enough to deserve to be happy and you're trying to prove it."

Steve nodded his agreement with his friend. "That isn't something you can just force yourself to believe. That's why I think you should convince your dad to use that leash, even if he's reluctant. Because until keeping yourself safe is instinctual, this is just going to keep on happening... and one day, you won't come back. And it isn't just your father who would be devastated by that. Your younger team members? They look up to you. That's a huge responsibility." He knew that as well as anyone.

Ward swallowed hard. "I know they care about me, but how could they look up to me? After everything..." His voice broke and he forced himself to take a deep breath and straighten his shoulders. "If I'm going to ask him to do this, I need to do it now before I chicken out..." he admitted. "Would you stay? So you can help explain if he disagrees and I can't argue with him?" He smiled, a mixture of pleading hope and embarrassed chagrin on his face. He may have disobeyed direct orders several times and done things without thinking, but he hadn't yet argued with his father about anything. Any time he was physically with the man, his desire to please his father always overrode any arguments he might have had and he wasn't sure he wouldn't cave on this if his father told him he didn't want to do it.

"Of course," Steve replied, second nature to agree to help one of his family or extended family members. "But if he knows you think it's a good idea, he'd probably agree anyway." He could imagine the only issue Coulson would have would be any potential negative effects on his kid.

Ward nodded in thanks, then, taking a deep breath, looked up at the ceiling. (As often as Tony had said that JARVIS wasn't actually in the ceiling, he couldn't help but look that direction to talk to the AI). "JARVIS? Is my father out of his meeting yet?"

JARVIS immediately answered. "He is, Agent Ward. He is speaking with Ms. Potts about that newest coffee shop down the street, if I am not mistaken."

Ward wrinkled his nose at that odd bit of information JARVIS supplied, then smiled crookedly at Bucky and Steve. "Um...ok. Can you inform him, please, that I would like to speak with him? And let him know where I'm at?"

"Of course, sir."

# # #

As soon as JARVIS addressed him, Coulson politely excused himself from Pepper and headed to the common area. Stepping inside, he smiled at Steve and Bucky and then stepped over to Grant, squeezing his shoulder gently. "Is everything all right, son?"

Ward weakly smiled, trying to get the courage to ask for what he knew would help his father not worry so much; and what he needed himself, if he was honest. It felt strange asking to be confined- by anything- and he wasn't certain how to begin. Finally, he blurted, "Will you put one of those bracelets on me?" then winced and gave an embarrassed look toward Steve and Bucky, before looking back at his father.

Coulson was surprised for a moment, not because he didn't know which bracelet Grant was referring to... but because it was surprising that his son would specifically ask for that. The only time any mention had been made of the bracelet was before he'd gone to retrieve Grant from HYDRA's clutches that first time.

"I can't say that, after the latest issue, that idea isn't tempting," Coulson said. "But wouldn't it just make you feel... trapped?"

"This isn't the first time something dangerous has happened that could have been avoided," Steve said. "Using that kind of thing would be better than keeping your boy grounded."

Ward glanced at Steve, nodding at what he said, then swallowed and looked at his father. "I thought it would...but...I know now what my actions are doing to you and I don't like it. I don't like worrying you and scaring you so badly..." He smiled crookedly, his eyes sad. "But I also know that I can't seem to stop doing it, despite my best intentions. At the end of the day, I... I know that the risks I've been taking aren't necessary and are dangerous, but at the time I'm doing it, I don't care because I'm just not thinking and..." He winced, not sure how his father would react to his last words. "I think I'd rather feel trapped by you and have you feel more secure, knowing you can always locate me no matter what...maybe more if Fitz programs the bracelet that way... than to be free to act like a fool and have something happen that hurts you beyond healing." He slumped and looked at the ground.

Bucky watched the younger man then looked at the director. "You could always view it as less 'being trapped' and more... added armor? To protect and all. I mean, it isn't like you can't go wherever you want; except when you're grounded, of course. You just can't go anywhere without your father knowing exactly where you are, so you'll have to think before you do something, because he'll know immediately what you are doing. Kind of like a guardian angel." Bucky smirked and glanced at Steve.

Coulson listened intently to all of them then tugged Grant gently into his arms. "I'm glad you feel like you can talk to me about this," he said softly. "I'll be honest... I'm not that keen on the idea. I didn't even like using it on Skye. But the thought of losing you... I hate that idea even more." He sighed. "I think we should use it on a trial basis. See how it works for a while and then sit down and talk about whether we think it's helping or not."

Ward wrapped his arms around his father tightly and nodded. It wasn't a direct no and if it helped him learn how to stop for even a few seconds and think before acting, it would be worth it. And as much as his father didn't seem to like the idea, he knew it would give the man at least a small sense of peace, at least knowing he could locate his son and go after him quickly if needed. "Ok, daddy. What features do you think we should put on it?" he asked quietly, stepping back so he could look in his father's eyes. He glanced at Steve and Bucky, figuring their input would be helpful as well. They tended to do the kind of jobs he did, so might know what would be most helpful- and what might hinder.

"I mean, I don't tend to go on the internet or hack computers- so the feature of making me not able to do that unless you give the clearance to is kind of pointless...." He grinned slightly.

Bucky snorted then gave the younger man a grin as well. "Only feature I can think of that might be useful would be a small 'shock', so if you start to do something you know you shouldn't be doing, your dad there can send a physical reminder, since he won't be close enough to smack your arse for it." He shrugged, seeing Ward roll his eyes. "I don't see your dad going for that option, though...."

"You could have the bracelet warm up when you're doing something you shouldn't be," Steve suggested. "Not enough to burn... but enough to be uncomfortable."

"Having the ability to activate a magnetic quality to it might be useful, too," Coulson said thoughtfully. "I might not be able to physically stop you, but if it could restrain you... even if it's a temporary thing."

Ward blinked and slanted his head as he thought about the suggestions. "Magnetic as in, if I'm doing something I shouldn't, you turn it on and I get stuck to the nearest metal surface? Or it makes the bracelet heavier, so I have to sit down on the ground because I'm 'locked' to it?" He sounded a little confused, not sure how it would restrain him, but not necessarily against being restrained if his father was the one doing the restraining.

Bucky crossed his arms over his chest and thought also. "I think giving the director a way to restrain you- stop you- or at least slow you down long enough for whoever you are partnered with to catch up to you and talk sense into you would be a good thing." Yeah. He may have accepted the apology, but he was still a little bit miffed that the kid had run off and left him to choose between salvaging the operation or chasing after him to make certain the boy stayed safe.

"I think it would depend on which is easier to work," Coulson commented. "We'd have to ask Fitz what kind of restraint might work best." He paused, remembering Grant's comment about the computers, and added, "I know you're more than capable of hacking into computers, so I think that should be a part of it..." He remembered very well how Grant had set off an alarm doing that before.

"You should also have a comm system locked in to it," Steve said. "So your dad can talk directly to you, Grant."

Grant nodded. Now that the ideas were being generated and it was actually going to occur, he found himself feeling a bit nervous...not overwhelmed, exactly, but he realized that he'd basically just asked to be put under his father's control. "Should we have JARVIS send Fitz up here then? So he can be part of the planning?" he finally asked. Even if he was having second thoughts, over all, it was a good idea and he knew it was necessary. He couldn't keep going like he had been, just reacting and acting without thinking things through first. He'd been very lucky, but he knew the next time he could end up hurt severely enough to do permanent damage or even die; and he knew that would devastate his father...and hurt everyone who he'd begun to think of as family. He needed to learn self-control and until he did, it was better if he gave over control to his father.

Coulson nodded, but simply used his comm to call Fitz. When the scientist responded, he asked Fitz to come and meet them without going into details. After getting an acknowledgement, he then turned back to Grant, gently squeezing the nape of his son's neck. "I know this is going to be hard on you, but I think we both know something needs to give here."

Grant chuckled softly, even as he moved closer to his father, the hand at his neck calming him slightly. "It isn't like I can complain. It was my own freakin' idea."

Bucky started to laugh at the comment, but managed to stop himself in time so that what came out was a very loud snort.

"That doesn't mean having it actually happen can't be overwhelmning," Coulson said gently. "But I appreciate that you want to keep me from worrying so much, you'd be willing to do this." He kept his hand at the nape of Grant's neck, wanting to comfort his son.

Ward smiled crookedly. "I love you, dad... and since a large portion of your worry is caused because I can't control myself...." He shrugged lightly, blushing at the admission.

Coulson leaned in to press a gentle kiss to Grant's forehead. "And that worry is because of how much I love you, son."

Fitz came in just then. "Is there a problem?" he asked.

Ward glanced over at Fitz and gave the younger man a smile. "Not a problem, exactly," he said, the smile carrying through in his tone. "More like a project for you...." He glanced around the room at the other three men, then looked back at his father to let him explain exactly what was needed. It may have been his idea initially, but it just felt weird giving Fitz directions on how to give his father the ability to have more 'control' over him.

Bucky stretched, then smiled at Grant. "I'm going to go work out, I think. Oh...and by the way, kid? I accept your apology." He clasped Ward's shoulder and squeezed gently, before continuing on past him. "I'll talk to you later, director."

Coulson nodded, moving out of the way as Bucky passed him.

"I should probably see what Tony's up to." Steve smiled at them and then followed his brother out.

Coulson turned to Fitz, wrapping an arm around Grant's shoulders as he spoke. "Do you remember that bracelet Skye had for a while? I'd like you to do some work on one for us."

Grant smiled at the two men as they left, then leaned into his father when the older man put his arm around him. He looked at Fitz. "It will be slightly different...."

"In what way?" Fitz asked.

"There need to be some other factors built in," Coulson explained. "A comm link for one... and other features that can be accessed remotely."

Ward blushed, but decided to list the features himself so that Fitz would know that he was on board with the idea and not being coerced.

"We need to know if it is possible for you to put in a feature to...remotely restrain someone. At least long enough for another person to be able to step in and take over in keeping the person in place. We'd also need a tracking system."

"A tracking system would be fairly easy to install... restraints might be a bit more difficult," Fitz said thoughtfully. "It depends on what type would be best, without actually hurting you in any way."

Grant wrinkled his nose at the fact that Leo had figured out immediately that the device was for him, despite him phrasing it in such a way that it could have been for anyone. He supposed he shouldn't be surprised. Leo was intelligent and he knew how much trouble Grant had been getting himself into lately. Everyone knew how much trouble Grant had been getting himself into lately.

"So... maybe a magnetic system of some sort? That would cause the bracelet to attach to something and not release until the command is given? Or maybe something that works with gravity and causes the bracelet to 'go to ground', making it impossible for the wearer to leave the spot they are standing? Is that feasible?" Ok. So he could have just started referring to it happening to himself, since it was obvious it was him the bracelet was for, but he had to maintain some pride, damn it. It was hard enough admitting that he'd been acting like an out of control toddler, just running wherever the mood struck him and ignoring all 'calls' for him to stop.

He glanced at his father, wondering if he'd left anything important out or if Coulson had any other suggestions or questions for Leo.

Fitz nodded. "I can see what I can come up with... the only problem with making it magnetic is that, if there isn't a surface it can attach itself to, it might not work so well. I might have to experiment a bit," he suggested, a bit hesitantly.

Grant nodded. "If you can make it so that..." He hesitated, glancing at his father then decided he may as well own up to the fact that he needed a 'baby monitor'. "If you can make it so that it prevents me from moving...it wouldn't necessarily need to 'stick' me to anything. Maybe a modified version of the night-night gun? If it gets set off, it puts me to sleep for a short while..." He glanced at his father again, not certain the older man would be ok with that.

Coulson frowned. "I'm not sure I'm very comfortable with that idea. If it puts you to sleep, you'll be helpless and unable to defend yourself."

"It might be possible to include that as one of the features, but not the only one," Fitz suggested hesitantly. "Like... if you were hidden enough that someone wouldn't stumble over you, the feature to put you to sleep could be used. Otherwise, some other kind of restraint."

Grant nodded. "That's true..." He glanced at Fitz. "Do you have any ideas? Keep in mind that I'm not exactly using my mind when all this is occurring." He gave both Leo and his father a chagrined smile, before muttering under his breath, "I'm not sure what happened to my common sense, but until it returns home, I'm going to need help...."

"I would think maybe making it heavier would be the best way of going," Fitz said. "It'll just be one wrist, so you can use your other hand if you need access to your gun or something."

Grant nodded again then sighed. "How long do you think it will take you to make it?" He glanced at his father to see how he was taking all of this. His main reason for doing it was so that his father could feel more at ease; and if giving his father the ability to curtail any dangerous stunts he might pull helped the older man feel at ease, then he'd willingly give up that small bit of freedom.

"The restraining part will be what takes the most time," Fitz said. "The other things should be fairly easy."

Coulson still had his arm around Grant's shoulders and he looked at his son. "Are you sure about this?" he asked softly.

Grant looked at his father and swallowed, then nodded his head. "I'm sure, daddy." He spoke softly. "I don't trust myself right now...I keep doing things I know are stupid and I shouldn't do and then you suffer because of it. I feel so bad about what I put you through last night..." He allowed Coulson to hear his guilt. "This might actually work; if not to get me to stop and think before acting, at least to give you a chance to stop me. And...it doesn't really bother me...giving you that small amount of control over me. I know you won't abuse me...." He smiled at his father crookedly.

"I'll go and see what I can do about the bracelet," Fitz said quietly, excusing himself and leaving so that the other two could have some privacy.

Coulson acknowledged Fitz leaving, but then wrapped both his arms around Grant in another tight hug. "The only time I'd step in would be to stop you doing something dangerous." He kissed his son's forehead. "I don't think it'll need to be a permanent solution. This is part of the damage we need to work on healing." Healing that would take time... but that was time Coulson would always have.

"Well...I'm glad you're confident I'll get better, at least. I'm not confident I will at all," Ward admitted with a sigh. "So...how did your meeting go?" He not so slyly tried to change the subject.

Coulson shrugged. "The meeting itself wasn't that interesting, but afterwards, I was speaking with Pepper about a new coffee shop that's opened not far from here. I thought maybe we could go and have a drink there together... sit and talk... just spend some time together." He smiled at his son. "Some father-son bonding time," he said softly.

Grant smiled back, "I'd like that. Do you have time now?" He tried not to sound too hopeful, but it came through in his voice anyway.

Coulson kissed his forehead again. "I always have time to spend with you," he said softly. "Now is fine."

# # #

Skye had ended up leaving her floor, sequestering herself in a quiet corner as she used her laptop to hack into some systems. She asked JARVIS for help if she had difficulty, but for the most part, she was just looking into some companies that might or might not have connections with HYDRA. Since there was still the virus that could be released, she'd been looking mainly at larger companies with wider areas of distribution, whether in food or medicine.

May had spent the morning training with some of Stark's security, testing their abilities and her own stamina. She'd just finished a shower and now was walking through the common office areas, checking out security as well as potential entrance or exit points. One never knew if it might become necessary for a quick escape. While looking around, she found Skye. Walking up to the younger woman, she asked, "Have you found anything interesting?"

Skye glanced up, pulling her attention away from her laptop screen. "I've found a number of shady deals going on, but nothing concrete that's connected to HYDRA. I've found a couple we can safely ignore, though."

"Well, that's a help in itself. We won't waste time on them at least." May smiled at Skye.

Skye nodded then sighed, trying not to look as frustrated as she felt. "But there are so many other potential companies that could be distributors..."

"One step at a time," May admonished gently. "You've eliminated some and I'm sure you will eliminate others. And when you reach a point where you can't eliminate any more, that's when I will have something to do." May smirked.

"I just wish I could do more," Skye said. "We only saw the effects of the virus once... that was more than enough." And those images had haunted her dreams long after Ward had recovered. He was the only one who had been given the serum to fight off the infection. What if one of the others fell ill with it before they had a viable cure?

"I know..." May sympathized, she really did. "But you are doing what you can. And Bruce and Jemma are doing what they can to make a serum or vaccine to protect everyone. Everyone is doing what they can. We just have to hope that, added up together, it is enough." May did her best to encourage the younger woman, but being touchy feely really wasn't her style.

Skye nodded. "At least we've got the best people working on it," she said, hoping that if she sounded positive enough, she'd eventually start feeling it.

"Yes, we do. You're one of them. Keep that in mind..." May smiled this time, then held out a hand to the younger woman. "C'mon. I think it's almost dinner time and Tony was supposed to cook. Which means we'll probably end up with take-out and we'll want to be there to put in our input on what to order." She laughed slightly.

Skye smiled, putting her hand in May's to allow the older woman to help her to her feet, before closing up her laptop. "I'll see what else I can find later..." she commented.

May nodded and wrapped an arm around the younger woman's shoulder, surprised at herself when she found herself doing it. She must be picking up some of Phil's habits. She smiled. "You do that. But make sure you take a break and rest...it's easier to see things with fresh eyes." She led Skye toward the community dining area.

A bit surprised, Skye nevertheless leaned a little into the touch, nodding. "I know. I'll take a few minutes... go back when I'm not feeling as frustrated..."

# # #

Natasha didn't have a problem with 'getting her hands dirty' and when the intel she'd gathered had pointed to a HYDRA agent with samples of the virus that Ward had been infected with, she'd checked in with Coulson for permission to go after him.

And now, there was one less HYDRA agent and they had more samples of the virus.

Heading to the lab, Natasha put the box containing the samples on the table. "Be careful with these. There aren't any more."

Simmons' eyes widened and she opened her mouth to ask how Natasha had got the samples, but Bruce shook his hide minutely and she shut her mouth with a snap, carefully picking them up and taking them to where they secured the more lethal and delicate items in the lab. "Thank you..." Her voice was filled with awe.

Bruce chuckled slightly, turning toward the older woman. "I think you have a new fan. We've been wondering how we could get our hands on another sample...there's only so much we could do with the small amount of blood we'd taken from Ward when he was sick." He carefully placed the slide he had been looking at back in its proper storage, then turned to give Nat his full attention. The first few months of living in the same building, she had avoided him; remembering, no doubt, the day on the helicarrier when the Hulk had come out and she faced her own mortality. She had slowly but surely been warming up to him, however, and he found that he enjoyed her company as well...the anxiety and distrust he'd originally felt due to the way she had made him come back with her to the states forgiven, if not forgotten.

"How was the trip?" he asked softly, eyes taking in her stance, as well as looking for any possible injuries that might need some 'doctoring'.

Natasha was fairly relaxed... or at least as relaxed as a woman constantly scanning for danger could look. "It's amazing what you overhear when you just happen to be on a grocery run," she replied. "It was one guy. I managed to take him." She didn't say what else she had to do. Most people didn't like the more violent aspects of her work... but when it came to something like this virus, it was necessary to put aside any regrets or vulnerabilities.

Bruce nodded at the words. He understood doing what needed to be done. And it wasn't like he had room to judge her actions. He'd killed too- and less discriminately- when the Other Guy took over. "He hurt you at all?" he finally asked, not expecting her to answer in the positive if she had been hurt, but deciding to give her the option anyway. He hoped if she was hurt, she'd trust him to help her, but he was never sure exactly where he stood with her. He counted it as a positive that she was willing to be in the same room with him now, without Tony, Clint or Steve also being present.

Natasha hesitated. Not because she didn't trust the people here in the tower, but because she wasn't used to relying on anyone. For anything. Finally, she held her arm out, turning it over to reveal a bite mark. It wasn't bleeding anymore, but it was still a human bite. "The guy fought dirty. Got anything I can use to clean it with?"

Bruce winced. "Ouch. Bites can be really nasty. Come over here...I'll clean it up and then give you an antibiotic to take. We'll probably also want to monitor you for the next couple of weeks, if not months, to make certain he wasn't infected with something and didn't give it to you." He kept his voice matter of fact, not wanting to worry the woman. Chances were, nothing would happen because of the bite, but there were enough saliva born illnesses that the possibility was there and he'd feel better keeping an eye on it. He didn't wait to see if she followed...she'd mentioned it to him, after all, and he took that as a sign that she was willing- if reluctant- to accept his help.

"Who got the body?" he asked in a softer voice, not wanting Simmons to overhear. "We might want to have the coroner run some tests to make sure he wasn't infected with anything that we'd need to keep a watch for...."

Natasha followed Bruce without protest, perching on the edge of the nearest lab table when he stopped. She replied in a voice that was just as quiet. "I called one of the teams for cleanup. They'll probably bring the body to the coroner soon."

Bruce nodded briskly, quickly and efficiently cleaning and bandaging the wound, giving her an apologetic look when he went to put the disinfectant onto the wound- he knew it would sting, but he also knew she wouldn't say anything and act like it didn't. "I'll give her a call then..." he said. "There. Hopefully that will keep it from getting infected. Have you eaten dinner yet? Tony was supposed to cook tonight...of course we all know what that means...." he smiled, the fondness in his tone for the inventor clear.

Natasha gave a faint smile, breaking the mask she'd put on while he cleaned the bite. "We should get our order in quickly."

"My sentiments exactly." He grinned at her. "Jemma, we're going upstairs to put in our orders for dinner. You coming?" he called to the back, where the younger woman was.

"I thought Tony was fixing dinner...." Simmons said in confusion, before her eyes widened and she rapidly nodded. "Oh, yes. Of course. Tony is fixing dinner. Let me put this vial away and I'll be right behind you...."

# # #

Bucky glanced at his prosthetic in frustration. He wasn't sure what was going on. It had seemed to be working fine, despite being hit by a bullet during the last fight he'd got into while on mission...but now it wasn't cooperating, moving a few seconds slower than it normally would when he 'gave it a command'. A few seconds slow might not matter to most people, but to him and the missions he went on, a few seconds could be a matter of life or death; his or one of his team mates. So he was going down to Tony's lab to have the inventor look at it. With Tony's expertise in robotics, Bucky figured he would be able to figure out what the problem was fairly quickly.

It wasn't until he walked into the lab and the only person there was Leo Fitz that Bucky remembered Tony was in charge of dinner that night. "Well, damn...." he muttered, then sighed. "Guess it will have to wait."

Fitz had been working on the bracelet, testing out various types of restraints, but glanced up as Bucky entered, focusing on the other man. "Is there a problem? Can I help?" he asked.

Bucky paused then slanted his head. "Maybe?" He eyed the younger man, considering. True, he wasn't a genius in robotics like Tony Stark- he actually didn't know for certain what the boy's field of expertise was- but he wasn't stupid, by any stretch of the imagination; and he did work with robotic type items. Maybe he could help.

Nodding to himself, he continued, "My arm got shot the last mission I was on...and now its response time is slower than it was. Not by much, but when seconds count...." He left the rest unsaid.

"I can take a look at it," Fitz offered. "Is it possible to remove? I can still examine it if not, but it might be easier to examine if you can."

Without a word, Bucky reached up with his 'real' hand, pushed against his shoulder and the next second, the arm was dropping and he was reaching out to catch it before it hit the ground. Giving the younger man a cocky smirk, he said, "Now you can't say I never gave you a hand...."

Fitz held out his hand for Bucky to hand him the robotic arm, even as he moved the bracelet to one side. He couldn't do much more without testing it out on Grant. He didn't want to have something go wrong and the other man to end up getting hurt. "I don't think you'd get far as a comedian."

Bucky wrinkled his nose and sniffed in pretend offense. "I have you know that none of the dames I was with ever failed to laugh at me..." He blinked then glanced at Fitz. "Ok. That didn't come out the way I intended..." He quickly changed the subject. "So...you think you can fix it?" He was hopeful. Yes, he could still ask Tony, but if Fitz could fix it, then that meant there would be one more person he could go to if he needed help; and that was always a plus.

Fitz nodded. "I recognise a lot of the technology used. I should be able to figure out what's wrong with it..." He began examining the arm, a look of concentration coming over his face.

Bucky watched the younger man work, taking note how careful and attentive to detail he was. If the kid managed to fix the problem, Bucky was certain he wouldn't have to worry about it being fixed right.

He glanced at what the kid had been working on when he came in. "You know, I was with Ward when he decided to ask for that thing..." He nodded at the bracelet. "I doubt they asked for it, but maybe you should put in an override that will let it fall off...in case Hydra figures out a way to hack into it to hurt the boy." Bucky's face was bleak as he remembered the machine...and couldn't remember much of anything from before the machine.

"That's a good idea," Fitz said, carefully checking the arm once more before he began working on it. "I need to test it out a bit before I can finish it, though... I'll have to ask Ward if I can try out a few things while he's wearing it."

"Good...better to find out if it works or if it causes problems where you have help near by." Bucky nodded.

"So how do you like living in the tower?" Bucky asked curiously. It was still taking him a while to get used to not being on the run all the time. He wondered if he was the only one to feel odd about the situation.

"Well... we have more room here," Fitz commented. "And it's nice here. We get to spend time with other people as well. I mean... the Bus was good, but it was a bit too confined at times."

"Yeah, I can see how that could become frustrating," Bucky said. "I'm having a hard enough time adjusting to living with people," he admitted.

Fitz nodded. "I can imagine that must be hard when you've been used to being alone for so long. I think it's good that you're here, though." At least he had Steve for support, though to be honest, they'd both acclimated to this time quite well.

"I won't disagree." Bucky smiled. "I'll adjust. So did you figure it out already?" He watched curiously.

"I think the bullet caused some of the circuitry to short," Fitz explained. "It's easy to fix, though." Putting action to words, he began working on it.

"Thank you. I do appreciate this." Bucky smiled. "Hey, when you're done, you want to go grab something to eat? Tony is ordering..."

"That sounds good." Fitz made a few more tweaks and then handed the arm back to Bucky. "It should be working properly now, but let me know if it gets bad again."

Bucky nodded and reattached the arm. He squeezed his fist, testing it out. "Good job. Common. Let's go eat." Putting his arm around Fitz's shoulder, he led him from the lab.

# # #

The dinner had gone well, with everyone carrying on good-natured conversations. Coulson was tired but happy when it was finally time to go to bed. Once again, he had his youngest in his arms... but only a short while into sleep, Coulson was tensing and moving around, stuck in the throes of another nightmare.

Ward woke, feeling something was off. It didn't take long for him to realize what it was. Biting his lip, he gently shook his father. "Dad? Daddy?"

Although normally a light sleeper, it took a while for Coulson to wake up. Focusing on his son, he quickly wrapped an arm around Grant and sighed, trying to calm down.

"Was it the same dream?" Ward finally asked quietly, not able to sleep himself, knowing how his father was suffering from worry about him. He pressed closer to his father, snuggling closer and putting his head against his chest, listening to his heart and wishing there was something more he could do.

Coulson kissed Grant's head gently as he cuddled his son close. "It was," he said quietly. "But I can see that you're safe, here with me. That helps."

"I'm so sorry, daddy..." Ward finally whispered. "If I'd have just stopped taking chances...you wouldn't have had to be scared so badly and maybe this wouldn't be happening." He held onto his father more tightly, feeling more and more guilty.

Coulson stroked Grant's hair as he spoke softly. "I know you aren't doing it consciously. I think you've gone from one extreme to the other; from blind obedience to your own thing. I think it's going to take time for a balance to form."

"Still..." Grant swallowed hard. "If I'd just stopped to think, even a little....given you warning or something, so you wouldn't have felt so out of control..." His voice caught. "If I thought it'd help you, I'd ask you to spank me again..." he said in a tiny voice, his own helplessness at not being able to comfort or help his father the way he was always being helped weighing him down.

Coulson kissed Grant's head again. "You were punished for what happened. I spank you because you need consequences that aren't going to cause you lasting emotional harm." His arms tightened around his son as he spoke softly but earnestly. "I love you. Having you here with me helps more than I could ever put into words, because it helps remind me that you're safe and I haven't lost you."

Ward swallowed again and leaned up to kiss his father on the cheek. "I love you, daddy...and I'm sorry...and I'm going to keep being sorry...I can't help it." He smiled crookedly against his father's chest.

Coulson gently stroked his hair and back. "Well, along with the bracelet, maybe you should try also thinking about how it would affect me," he suggested. "That might help if you think about how it affects the members of your family." He pressed another kiss to Grant's head. "I love you very much."

Ward nodded, not entirely sure he'd be able to do that. If he stopped to think about that, he'd also be able to stop and think about if it was a good course of action and be able to stop himself. His problem was stopping to give himself enough time to think.... Period. "I'll try," was what he finally answered.

"Well, hopefully by activating the bracelet, it'll give you that time to think if you're restrained," Coulson said. "And if you're stopped physically each time the bracelet is activated, then maybe the stopping and thinking will become instinctual even without it."

"I hope so, daddy..." Ward said softly. "I don't like worrying you."

"I know. Don't feel bad that there are still some things you have trouble with," Coulson said gently. "Things aren't going to be perfect straight away, but you're trying and that's what's important." His embrace tightened around his son. "No matter what happens... I won't ever give up on you."

"I know," Grant said softly, nuzzling against his father's chest again. Knowing his father loved him and would never give up on him wasn't the problem, though, was it? He thought with self-loathing. The problem was him hurting his father and his father seemingly being ok with that. If the bracelet didn't work...or if his father didn't use it the way it was meant to be used for fear of hurting him...He swallowed hard and didn't bother to hold back the tears that slipped from his eyes and slid down his cheek. Sometimes he truly hated himself.

Coulson could hear the tears and he cuddled Grant tighter. "We'll figure it out," he said, gently and reassuringly. "Until you can pull back on your own, the bracelet will mean I can step in if you forget to be careful and put yourself in danger."

Ward nodded, holding more tightly to the older man. "You'll use it though, right? You didn't seem like you were sure about it.... I just...I don't want you to worry so much and I was hoping this would help a little...." His voice came out sounding more young and uncertain than he would have liked.

Coulson kissed his head. "I know this is important to you. I'll use it unless there's an occasion where using it would put you in even more danger," he promised. "It's a good idea." If he was honest, one of the main reasons was that he was reluctant to do anything to associate himself with the people who had harmed his son in the past.

Ward nodded again, relaxing somewhat at his father's words. He didn't know what he'd do if this didn't help ease the other man's worry...although it was still a good idea. As often as he got into trouble with HYDRA trying to kidnap him, at least there was a quick way to locate him if he got taken. If he didn't think they'd baulk, he would have suggested ALL of the team wear some type of tracker.

He managed to stifle a yawn, reluctant to fall asleep when his father was unable to...especially knowing he was the cause of the other man's nightmare induced insomnia.

Coulson's arms tightened around his son. "You should go back to sleep," he said softly. "As long as I can feel that you're here and safe... I'll be fine."

"You need sleep, too," Grant mumbled, already in the process of obeying his father, even if reluctantly.

Coulson pressed another kiss to Grant's head. "I should be able to sleep now. I love you, son," he whispered in Grant's ear.

Grant snuggled a little closer, whispering into his father's chest what could have been ĎI love youí, and then was out like a light.

Sleeping hadn't been as much of a problem for him since he started sleeping next to his father. He was sure psychologists would have a field day with him, if they knew, but he didn't really care.

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