Author’s Note: This was written as a RPG (roll playing game) between co-authors Hope1iz and BlackFox12. Set after the season one finale. Eighteenth 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 is captured by HYDRA. Again.
Warning(s): Spoilers up to the season one finale and for the Avengers movie; spanking
Co-Author’s Website: BlackFox12's fanfiction.net page
TRUTH WILL OUT
Fitz was finally satisfied that the bracelet had all of the features it needed and was as protected from other influences as it could be. After asking JARVIS where Coulson was, he headed to the director's office, knocking on the door and entering when he had an acknowledgement.
"I have the bracelet ready," Fitz explained, handing it over to Coulson. "There are all of the features you wanted there... and you can use this control to access it remotely." He handed Coulson a small object that looked like a television remote. "There's also a way of disconnecting it, in case HYDRA or anyone else figure out how to hack into it."
"Thank you," Coulson replied, taking both of them. This still wasn't something he was completely happy with, but he knew it was a good idea. "How far is the range on the tracking feature?"
"As far as I could make it," Fitz answered. "He'd have to be in the next state to be out of range."
"Great." Thanking Fitz again, Coulson checked with JARVIS and then headed to the common area to find Grant.
# # #
Grant was sat on the couch in the common area, next to Clint and Bucky, watching a movie. Steve was sat in the arm chair, only semi-paying attention, as he was reading what appeared to be a report. Both Clint and Grant looked up and toward the door as they heard footsteps and recognized who it was. It was a bit creepy, if endearing, Bucky decided.
"What's up, Dad?" they said in tandem, before looking at each other and shouting... "Jinx!" …also in tandem. They blinked in surprise and were about to shout something else out when Bucky covered both their mouths with his hands to shut them up.
He grimaced, looked at both of them and wiped his hands on his pants legs. "Really? Are you two five or something?"
Clint grinned. "Don't want to be licked, don't put your hand over someone's mouth."
Coulson smiled, amused (yet again) by how alike his two sons were. He hadn't mentioned the bracelet to Clint and wasn't sure if Grant had... then again, Clint knew how much Grant had been putting himself in danger.
Stepping over to his sons, Coulson patted each of them on the shoulder. "Fitz finished the project," he said to Grant... wording it that way just in case Clint didn't know about the bracelet.
Grant straightened up. "You have it?"
Clint glanced between his father and brother curiously. "Yeah. Do you have it? I'm kinda curious to see what this tether looks like." He glanced back at Grant when the younger man gave him a surprised look. "What? I'm a spy. You think I wouldn't find out? Sides...Tony got curious what Fitz was working on and decided to go over the security footage from when you discussed it." Clint had absolutely no problem throwing his partner in mayhem to the wolves...or, in this case, the good Captain.
Steve glanced up from his report, just to make it clear that he'd been listening and knew exactly what Clint had just said. For now, though, he turned back to the report. He'd be discussing this with Tony later...
Coulson looked at Grant, just to check that his youngest was all right with Clint seeing the bracelet, and then handed it over to Grant. "It has the features we discussed... the tracking range is quite long, so if something does happen, that won't be a problem. There's also a way to disable it remotely... just in case someone attempts to hack it."
Grant's eyebrows went up at the mention of disabling it. "We didn't even think of an option in case it was hacked when talking to Fitz. I'm impressed." He looked at the bracelet from all angles before putting it around his non-dominant wrist and clicking it shut. "Ready to test it?" He looked back up at his father.
Coulson nodded. "Would you like to go somewhere specific to test it?" He trusted everyone in the tower, but he didn't want Grant to agree to having an audience if he wasn't comfortable.
Ward glanced around. Clint being there to see how it worked was a given. He was his brother and it didn't feel right to exclude him. Bucky and Steve had been invaluable in helping him process his thoughts which had led to the request in the first place. Plus, he and Bucky had been on several missions together, so he felt the other man should be there to know how the thing worked and what he might need to do if Grant's dad needed to use it. And Steve...well, he was Captain freakin' America. If you couldn't trust him with something this personal, who could you trust? Grant shook his head. "Unless you have somewhere in mind, we can just do it here..." he finally said softly.
Coulson nodded. "That's fine with me. Is there a particular feature you think I should test out first?" he asked, unwilling to just spring it on his son.
Steve put the report away so that he could give this his attention.
Grant blinked then shrugged. "Uh...not really? I guess maybe first we can see if the tracker works...although being in the same room as you probably won't show us much...."
Bucky grinned. "You could always play hide and seek...." he suggested in amusement.
Clint brightened up at that suggestion. "I know just the place to hide you, too!"
Coulson had to smile at Clint's enthusiasm. "Why don't you go with Grant, then?" he suggested. "How long do you need before I can activate the tracker?"
Clint eyed Grant up and down, then smirked. "Probably ten minutes. Tree here may not fit and then I'll have to think of another place...."
"Hey!" Grant protested, even as he started laughing.
"Well, even if your hiding place doesn't work, I can still use the tracker," Coulson pointed out. "So long as you're not right outside the room or something equally obvious."
"True," Clint said quickly, grabbing Grant's hand and yanking him to the elevator. "C'mon...time's a wasting!"
Grant started laughing and couldn't stop, the sound carrying even after the elevator doors had closed and begun its trek to wherever Clint had in mind.
Bucky snorted. "If I didn't know better, I'd think Clint was yours by blood, too. They are entirely too much alike."
"It's good to see them like that together," Coulson commented. "When Grant first joined the team, he was very closed-off... enough to earn himself the nickname of Robot. Of course, I understand much better now why he acted like that..."
Bucky nodded. "Getting close to those you are meant to take down is too painful and difficult...unless you are being controlled, are a robot, or have no soul..." he agreed.
# # #
Clint led Grant onto his floor and then pointed to a trunk that he had just emptied that morning. "Think you can fit in there?" he asked, an impish gleam in his eye.
Grant straightened his shoulders, looked at the trunk, then looked at his brother. "You're kidding, right?"
Clint frowned, pouting. "No! I'm serious! Dad would never think to look for you in that because of the fact that you're tall...and would have to wrap yourself up in a tight little ball to fit. So if he finds you there, it's definitely because the tracker works..."
Grant didn't look convinced, but walked over to the trunk anyway, stepping into it and beginning the process of folding himself into the tiny space. "If he hasn't found me at the end of ten minutes, you'll have to get me out of here, man. I really don't like tight spaces..." he admitted nervously.
Clint blinked. "Hey, man. If you want to go somewhere else..." he said uncertainly.
"No. I think I can do it. Just make sure it's only for ten minutes, right?" Grant made his voice as confident as he could.
"Of course...." Clint, still was hesitant, but Grant was already folded into the fetal position. "Ok. Closing the lid, but not locking it..." he said, by way of encouraging his brother. "And going to tell dad to start looking now." He quickly ran back to the elevator and went back to the common area to tell his dad to start.
Coulson nodded, taking the remote and activating the tracker on it. The remote itself had a screen attached to it that provided the coordinates for Grant's location. After glancing at the others to check if they were coming or not, he began heading to the coordinates. The screen also had a maze-like path below the coordinates, that would be activated as soon as the remote was within a certain distance of the bracelet's location.
Clint was literally bouncing in place behind his father as they carefully followed the coordinates on the screen. Bucky shook his head in amusement at the archer, but got up and followed as well, curious to see if Fitz's hard work would work.
Steve followed as well, walking next to Bucky with a faint trace of amusement.
As Coulson headed into the elevator, the maze showed Grant's location as a flashing but stationary circle and Coulson's location as a moving circle, indicating which direction the director should walk in.
Clint kept staring over his father's shoulder, curious as to what exactly the tracker was showing. Bucky couldn't help but glance over his shoulder as well.
Ward was starting to feel a bit cramped in the trunk and hoped that the ten minutes were almost over. He really, really wanted to get out of this dang trunk. But he forced himself not to move, not willing to let his discomfort in tight, enclosed spaces cause him to ruin the test.
Reaching Clint's floor, Coulson followed the directions on the screen, finally ending up at a trunk. A concerned look came over his face as he quickly moved over to take the lid off the trunk. He knew Grant would be uncomfortable in there... at the very least.
"Oh, thank you." Grant groaned slightly and stood up as quickly as he could. "I didn't think I'd last much longer...."
Clint wrinkled his nose. "I told you we could hide you somewhere else if this bothered you...why didn't you say something?"
"I didn't want to be a baby." Grant shrugged.
Coulson squeezed Grant's shoulder gently. "It isn't being a baby to say if you're not comfortable doing something. Everyone has things they don't like and that bother them. And if you can't be honest with your family, who can you be honest with?" He wasn't scolding. His voice was filled with loving concern.
Grant didn't argue, just smiled at his father and brother...and made a point of stepping out of the trunk. "So how did the tracker work?" he asked curiously.
Coulson stepped back to give his youngest room to get out of the trunk as he answered, "It flashed up the coordinates and I assume Fitz must have created a program to access blueprints of buildings, because it also showed me which directions to take."
"Wow...a lot more detailed than I expected." Grant was impressed. "What do you want to test next? My ability to go places you don't want me in?" he asked curiously. "Was that a feature Fitz added?"
Coulson nodded. "I understand Fitz did utilise your suggestion for temporarily putting you to sleep, but he put the feature in to make the bracelet heavier for the main use, I believe."
"Alright...guess we should try to restrain me...see if I can still fight if I'm not able to move," Grant agreed.
"Now this I gotta see," Clint mumbled.
Bucky nodded in agreement.
"If it's just one hand, you should still be able to access your gun," Steve commented.
"Ready?" Coulson waited for Grant's acknowledgement before he activated that feature.
"Ready," Grant said cheerfully...and then, "Shiiiiiooot!" He managed to catch his language just in time and blushed. Even expecting it, the quickness with which the bracelet suddenly got heavy and dragged his arm to the ground caught him by surprise. One minute, he was standing tall next to his father; and the next, he was sat on the floor at his dad's feet, looking up at him like a toddler. "I guess we can safely say it works..." He chuckled somewhat nervously.
"Too much?" Coulson asked, concerned. He was going to deactivate it, but paused, in case Grant wanted to check how easily he could use his gun.
Grant shook his head. "No...I just wasn't expecting it to work so quickly, is all." He was glad he had thought to put the bracelet on his non-dominant arm, as he was still able to reach his gun and his knife. "I think I'm good. Wonder if I can shimmy it off though...." He began trying to twist his hand in various contortions to see if he could pull his hand out of the bracelet. It was obvious that he would either have to dislocate his thumb or seriously abrade the skin on his hand in order to slip out of the cuff.
Coulson frowned. "It's probably good that you can't get it off easily. Even if you're not thinking clearly, I'm sure you wouldn't do serious damage to yourself to remove it." He waited until his son was ready before deactivating the effect.
"The only real problem I can see with that kind of speed is that it might drag you to the ground at a point when you need to move," Steve said. "Unless there's a video built into the remote, your dad's not going to know if you're running across a road, for instance, and whoever's with you might not be able to let him know in time."
"Yeah...that...is a bit problematic...." Grant admitted, imagining himself going splat because he got stuck to the ground while running across the street in front of one of New York's cabs.
"Ask Leo if he can put a video feed on it? Or make the effect slower; you feel it getting heavy, you know to find a safe spot- or tell dad through the communicator that you aren't in a safe spot and please don't make you kneel in front of a semi?" Clint was teasing, even though he wasn't.
Bucky just shook his head.
"I'll ask about the video feed and making the effect slower," Coulson said. "A video feed would be useful anyway. It would allow me to check on your condition if you did get captured."
Grant frowned at that. "I'm not sure I'd want you to see my condition if I got captured. If that happened, I think I'd feel better if you let May or Steve keep an eye on my condition, because, well... getting captured really doesn't lead to very good treatment and the thought of you having to watch that...."
Coulson placed his hand on the nape of Grant's neck and squeezed gently. "I know the risks, son. But I'd rather be aware of what's happening to you than not have any idea. In those types of situations, people often break faster when they have no hope. But I'd know when I could use the comm link to safely talk to you."
"Ok." Grant sighed softly, leaning toward his father's touch. "Guess the only thing left to test is the mini-night-night... Maybe I can just call it the dozer or something." He shifted from one foot to the other, not certain his father would want to test it, but thinking it might be a good idea in case he reacted badly to it. Better to know now that they shouldn't use it at all and remove the feature, than to wait until his father felt like he had no choice to use it and then Grant get put into a coma because his body couldn't handle the level of whatever chemical was used.
Coulson sighed. "I'm not sure I'm that happy using that as a feature at all. Even if it only puts you to sleep for a short time, that's still time you'd be unprotected for."
Grant nodded. "To be honest...unless I do something stupid to my hand to get loose, restraining me will do just a good of a job. And If I do something stupid to my hand to get loose, I've got bigger problems than putting me to sleep will fix." He smiled crookedly.
Bucky put in his own two cents "Only reason to keep it would be if he WAS taken captive...being unprotected would no longer be an issue; making certain they didn't have any reason to hurt him would be. If he's unconscious and they can't get info from him immediately, they're less likely to torture him until he wakes up. Gives you a few more minutes to get him out. Even so...Not sure that very small possibility makes it worth keeping."
"Maybe," Coulson said, thinking about it. "But then that might draw a captor's attention to the bracelet if Grant falls asleep suddenly. If they think it'll transmit his position, then they'll either destroy it or remove it."
"To be honest, I didn't think the restraining me would be so effective. That's why I suggested just putting me to sleep. If you are that against it and there are no real compelling reasons to keep it...." Grant shrugged.
"I don't see any compelling reasons, other than using it in the Tower when you're being a pain in the butt and dad needs a break," Clint said, teasing. "Instant nap time for baby...." He ducked the hand that was suddenly aimed at his head.
Bucky shook his head at the two youngest and looked at Coulson. "If it makes you uneasy, remove it. The whole point of this was to make you feel more secure about his safety. Won't work if one of the features worries you."
Coulson nodded. "I'll ask Fitz to remove that feature... and also talk to him about slowing the bracelet down as well as adding the video feed. Is there anything else we need to test out?"
"Not unless you asked him to add something that I didn't hear..." Grant smiled.
Coulson shook his head. "You know all of the features I asked for. Do you want to give me the bracelet back for now, so I can get Fitz to implement those changes?"
Grant held his hand up so his father could take the bracelet off. There wasn't anything that would allow him to do it himself...he would definitely be under his father's guard once it was ready. "Do you think any of you would like to play cards?" he asked hesitantly, not looking at any of the other three.
Coulson took the bracelet off and then squeezed Grant's shoulder gently. "If there's anything else you think of, let me know."
Steve looked interested. "I have time. I can play cards."
Grant looked up and smiled at his father. "I can't think of anything...I trust you to know what's needed." His voice was matter of fact and didn't have an ounce of doubt that his father would take care of everything.
He glanced at Steve and smiled. "Great! Anyone else?" His tone was hopeful.
Bucky nodded. "I have time. Sounds like fun."
"Count me in," Clint agreed.
"Unless you want me to get the bracelet sorted out now, I have time as well," Coulson said, wrapping an arm around each of his sons' shoulders and squeezing them gently.
Grant grinned. "I'm not going anywhere and I'm sure Fitz needs a break, so the bracelet can wait a bit..." Grant pressed closer to his father before pulling the pack of cards out of his back pocket. "Who wants to deal first?"
# # #
It was two days later and Fitz had come up to the briefing room, carrying the bracelet. Grant assumed that meant it had been fixed. It likely couldn't have been fixed at a better time, given the fact Coulson had just received word about a possible Hydra attack on a science facility just outside of the city. He was getting ready to brief the team on what they would need to do to take it out.
Fitz handed the bracelet to Coulson, who took it with a slight nod, but put it away for now. He continued to explain the situation to the team and give them their instructions.
As everyone began to disperse, Coulson walked over to Grant. "I think now is as good a time as any to utilise this." He didn't want to risk something happening to his son... and he also knew that Grant wouldn't take being left behind very well at all.
Grant straightened up and nodded. "Yes, sir," he readily agreed. He'd been worried he'd be relegated to sitting in one if the vans doing comm detail, since they were dealing directly with HYDRA. He was happy that there was another option now. Giving his father a tiny smile, he held his wrist out.
Coulson carefully fastened the bracelet around Grant's wrist, making sure it wasn't too loose or too tight. He then leaned forward and pressed an affectionate kiss to his son's forehead. "Be careful." The bracelet might give him more control over his son's actions, but he couldn't be there to protect Grant himself.
Grant pressed forward, hugging his father tightly, surprised at how his father's putting the bracelet on him gave him a sudden sense of comfort and safety. "I will, daddy," he answered quietly, before quickly grabbing his gear and leaving to catch up with the rest of his team.
Even though he didn't need to switch it on yet, Coulson activated the video feed... just to satisfy himself that he could still watch over his son, even if he didn't need to do anything yet.
Grant was teasing and interacting with the team as if they weren't about to go into a dangerous situation, but he and Trip especially had an alert and wary look on their face.
# # #
Coulson checked in with the teams constantly, making sure they were in position and that none of them were taking any chances. As HYDRA agents attacked the facility, his people demonstrated just how good they were at this, covering each others' backs, and not taking any chances. Even Grant seemed to be being careful, which meant Coulson didn't have to activate any of the bracelet's other features.
And then reinforcements attacked.
Coulson could only watch helplessly on the video feed as Grant was separated from Trip and the other team members. He did his best to guide the other teams to the location, but by the time help arrived... it was too late.
# # #
Ward had done his best to get back to his group. Unfortunately, his options had been limited; once HYDRA had realized exactly who he was, they'd sent more reinforcements to insure he was surrounded and captured. Continuing to fight them at that point would have only insured that he would be wounded. He needed to try and keep his health at an optimal level as much as possible, if he wanted to be able to escape or assist in his own rescue later. Or if he wanted to resist HYDRA interrogation.
Even after he stopped resisting the capture, a few HYDRA agents made a point to beat on him. He managed to not react or make a sound, knowing his father might be watching and definitely would be listening. Sooner than he would like, he was in the trunk of a rapidly moving vehicle, unable to keep from hitting his head every time they went over a ditch or bump in the road, due to them tying his hands behind his back. When the cavalry arrived (possibly literally), he was going to be getting even...see if he didn't.
# # #
He didn't know how long they'd driven for or how far they'd gone (they could have driven in circles for all he knew), but eventually, they'd pulled into an underground garage and he'd been dragged out of the car and into a tiny room where he'd been strapped to a metal chair that was bolted into the floor.
He tried not to panic when a sour faced man in a dirty white lab coat injected a large syringe full of a murky liquid into his arm....especially when his arm immediately began to feel like it was burning from the inside out. He tried not to make noise, not wanting his father to hear and worry more, but the pain was too much. He couldn't stop the scream as it tore out of his throat....he screamed for a full minute before he blessedly passed out.
# # #
Seeing his son in pain, but not able to do anything about it, was torture for Coulson. Even as he issued a recall for the teams, it was hard to keep calm and focus on any details that would tell him where his son was.. and not on Grant's unconscious form.
Since Skye was still in the tower, Coulson utilised her help in checking the video feed for any clues as to Grant's location.
# # #
May had been methodically taking out enemy agents, making sure to leave them alive for questioning later. When she saw Ward surrounded and taken, however, it was like letting a dragon loose. The ones captured first could be considered lucky; any captured after the fact wished they had died.
Trip was the same way; he considered Ward a best friend, if not a brother, and his need to get to the other man fueled a rage that didn't often come out of the cheerful man.
Bucky had immediately plowed through the agents he had been fighting in an attempt to get to the van before it could take off, but the HYDRA soldiers- realizing that the Avengers were fighting with Coulson's team - had made it a point to keep the super-powered team under heavy fire. The fact that they would also like to capture Bucky, and in fact had large groups of men moving to do just that, caused Tony to have to give up his initial pursuit of the van in order to fly over to help Bucky avoid capture, ignoring the other man's protests and demands that the iron man go after the van instead. Tony knew about the tracker and as soon as Bucky was safe, he would immediately go to where the tracker led.
Clint did his best to provide support from up high, but it was hard to focus on the job, knowing that his brother had been taken. He was a professional, however, and it was important, so he put himself into the zone where everything but the mission became secondary. He'd go to the rec room and tear it up later.
Natasha kept a level head as she fired her guns at the HYDRA agents. She would have tried to get to Ward as well, but there were too many agents attacking and she could barely take a breather to reload her guns when she ran out of ammo.
Steve had ended up covering Natasha, using his shield to deflect attackers and their bullets. Spotting Bucky in danger of being captured, he sent his shield flying towards those HYDRA agents as he punched and kicked the others.
"I've had about enough of these out-of-touch goons..." Tony muttered, noting how nearly every single HYDRA soldier that wasn't already actively engaged with someone else was making their way toward Bucky in an attempt to get the man. "Going in hot!" he finally sent out over the comms, before redirecting his flight to plow through a large group of the soldiers blocking Bucky from the rest of the team. He plowed into them like a bowling ball running down pins, before landing next to the Winter Soldier. "You wanna get out of here?" he asked the other man cheekily, offering his arm.
Rolling his eyes, Bucky moved close enough to wrap his arm around Tony's shoulder and got a good grip. "Ready when you are, Tin Man...." he teased.
Tony snorted and immediately took off straight up into the air, making sure to blast his repulsors enough to take out a few more HYDRA agents. He dropped Bucky off next to Clint.
Now that Bucky was obviously out of danger, Steve returned to fighting the HYDRA goons, though he checked on the others to make sure none of them needed any help. He stayed with Natasha, still covering her as she fired shot after shot, finally beginning to thin down the numbers.
Seeing that the HYDRA thugs were being thinned sufficiently that they were no longer in danger of being over-run, Tony decided to focus on the next biggest problem. "Hey, J? You got a bead on Agent's kid?"
"I have already determined where the signal ended...as long as they did not put him in something that blocks the signal, I can lead the rescue team directly to him," JARVIS said clearly. Everyone on comms could hear the AI and it eased some of the worry that they would not be able to locate Ward soon enough to help him.
"Good, J. Send me the coordinates," Tony said, without any discussion with any of those in charge.
"Right away, sir..." JARVIS did as asked, although he sounded oddly reluctant.
Clint frowned. "What are the coordinates, Tony? So we can form a squad to go in...."
"JARVIS, give the coordinates to everyone else. I'll meet you all there, if I don't get back to the tower before you have your group together..." Tony announced and then took off without warning, heading to go get his 'cousin' back.
Steve cursed, quite eloquently, under his breath as he had the coordinates transmitted to him. Redoubling his efforts, he worked on getting the rest of the HYDRA agents killed or captured before he quickly called the rest of the team together and headed towards the van. He could just take his motorbike, but more of them would fit in the van.
Natasha was quick to move, climbing into the van and checking the ammunition in her guns.
"What the hell does he think he's doing?" Bucky was incredulous before he let out his own string of cursing; not quite as eloquent as Steve's...but perhaps more colorful, since it included several different languages.
Clint shook his head. "He's being Tony. That's what..." he griped, then informed his father what was going on. "Tony is flying off to get Grant, dad. He didn't bother waiting for the rest of us. We'll keep you informed...." Clint knew his father wasn't going to be terribly happy about what Tony had done either, even if he understood the sentiment behind it.
Trip kept quiet, efficiently taking out the few remaining HYDRA and restraining them. As much as he wanted to go after his team mate, someone needed to stay behind and keep an eye on the prisoners until they could be properly dealt with... even so. "What are May's and my orders, Sir?" Trip asked quietly. If Coulson wanted him on rescue detail, he'd gladly go; but if the Director needed him on prisoner detail, he wouldn't argue.
May waited quietly.
Coulson was still keeping watch on Grant's condition, checking constantly to make sure his son was still breathing. He acknowledged Clint's words with a worried admonishment to be careful and then addressed Trip. "I'll call one of the other SHIELD teams to come and start cleanup. Stay with the prisoners until they get there and then go and join the others."
"Yes, sir," Trip and May said together, not so gently moving all the prisoners (who were still alive) into a large group that they could cover more easily.
# # #
Tony had reached the building where Grant was being held fairly quickly. He didn't go in immediately. Contrary to popular belief, he did occasionally stop and think things through before acting. Not a lot, and not often, but he did do it. "J? Can you tell which floor of the building he is on and if he is in an outside room near a window, or if he is in a center room without a window?" he asked softly.
"Agent Ward is in the basement of the building, sir," the AI answered after scanning. "There are many individuals guarding him."
At that moment, Tony's comm crackled. "Tony, stay where you are," Steve's voice directed. "We'll come and meet you."
"I know where he is. I can begin clearing the area out and by the time you get here, you'll be able to grab him easy...." Tony argued, already looking to see what entrances and exits there were.
There was one basement entrance and his guards were likely to take him up a floor and out of one of the other entrances while he was fighting. Best thing to do would be to take out their ability to move. So...disable vehicles first. "J? Can you send out a localized EMP that will render all vehicles in this area useless? Without causing problems for innocents?" Tony asked curiously.
"Of course, sir." The AI was silent for a few seconds before speaking. "No vehicles will start from now."
"Tony, I am not joking," Steve said. "Wait." His tone carried a strong hint of, 'Or else'.
"Is there a way we can block this exit so that I can come in from the top floor without worrying about them sneaking out the back?" Tony asked J, deliberately ignoring Steve's tone. It wasn't like he wasn't being careful...he was. He was being responsible and making certain that they couldn't get away with Grant before he went in. "Although...is the basement door closer to where Grant is? I'd rather reach him as soon as possible. Maybe find a way to block them from sending reinforcements from the other floors...."
Clint bit out in frustration. "Tony...just wait and we'll be there in a few minutes. Dad...." He couldn't help but attempt to draw his father into the discussion. As director of SHIELD, surely he had some pull?
"Tony, the others aren't far away," Coulson said, trying to keep his worry out of his voice. "Wait for them to join you. If HYDRA has a way of disabling your armour again, they'll capture you as well. Grant is unconscious right now and they aren't moving him. I can see his condition. You don't need to rush into this."
"I'm really not rushing..." Tony mumbled, only partly hearing what Coulson was saying. He shut off the part of his comm that let him hear, so that he didn't have to listen to them nagging him to stay back. "J? Can you link me to the feed Agent is seeing?" he asked his AI quietly.
"Sir...I really think you should consider listening to Captain Roger's and Director Coulson..." His AI sounded a bit worried.
"Et tu, JARVIS?" Tony sounded frustrated...he'd not turned off the comms for his voice, so everyone could hear exactly what he was saying to the AI. "Feed, J!"
"Very well, sir." if it was possible for an AI to sigh, JARVIS sighed. He showed Tony the feed of Grant. The boy was indeed unconscious...and surrounded by HYDRA goons. It was dark in the basement- only lit by a few light-bulbs- and it was dirty. Tony couldn't help the hard swallow he made or the fact that his breathing increased to a point where he'd be hyperventilating if he didn't calm down. Flashbacks to the cave in Afghanistan hadn't happened to him in over a year now; his flashbacks of late had been about flying into the void of space and seeing that alien ship right before he almost died. But this situation...it was too close.
"Sir? Sir, I'm going to...."
"Turn off all comms, J. I don't want them to hear me..." Tony whispered, knowing that his action was going to infuriate Steve, but beyond caring. He wasn't about to have any of the other Avengers hear him if he couldn't keep from breaking down.
"Sir, I don't believe that's..."
"Do what I say, J! And then mute yourself...." Tony growled.
# # #
Steve drove faster as he gave up his attempts to talk to Tony, not that surprised by the other man's actions. He did find himself getting angry, though, and pushed that down, telling himself he'd deal with Tony later... as long as the younger man didn't get himself killed.
"Tony's planning to turn off the comms," Steve said into his own comm. "We need to speed up. He's going to go in. Alone." The last word was filled with a world of worry.
JARVIS only listened to one of Tony's orders; he turned off the connection that would allow Tony to hear the other Avengers. JARVIS had developed enough of a personality, however, that- after determining the odds of Tony's survival if he followed his current plan of attack and realizing they weren't good- he decided to disobey the order to turn off the part of Tony's comm that allowed everyone else to hear him. And he didn't mute himself. He just stopped talking to Tony. Instead, the AI began talking with Coulson and Steve.
"I am certain that Sir will not be happy with my disobedience," he said to the other men, "and will likely do something to limit my ability to do so in the future..." the AI continued. "But I think it vital that you at least be able to hear what Sir is doing- and what he is going through- as it will likely impact whatever your decisions are." The AI was calm, but the worry was clear.
Tony, meanwhile, had blocked the exit to the basement from the outside. Unless someone that was already outside discovered the fact that the exit had been rendered useless, they would have to go up to the first floor to exit; and since Tony would be coming in from that direction....
His breathing was still ragged, bordering on panic. "Hang tight, kid," he muttered to himself, not realizing everyone else could still hear him. "I'll get you out of that cave before they can do anything to you.... You won't be there for three months...."
The two men acknowledged JARVIS and then Coulson asked Steve, "How far away are you?"
"A couple of minutes," Steve answered, speeding up. "I think the best thing will be to follow him straight in. We're not going to get time to stop and plan straight away." He switched over to talk to Bucky and Clint in the other vehicle. "We'll have to jump into the fight as soon as we get there."
# # #
Tony had started talking to himself...not in a crazy way, but talking as if JARVIS was still talking to him and not on mute; he wasn't exactly in the throes of a flashback. He knew where he was and what was going on, but the similarities of the situation Grant found himself and his situation in the cave had completely knocked him off his game. Had he known everyone was listening to his mutterings, he wouldn't have said anything.
"Ok...ok. Blocked basement level escape route from the outside...so unless more HYDRA show up from outside and come in that way, they won't be able to take him and run while I'm coming in from the first floor....Going in the first floor side entrance, as there seems to be less people there and hopefully can get rid of a few of HYDRA before they call reinforcements...then I can block the stairwell and only have to deal with the HYDRA that are already in the basement...and those that might come down the elevator. What am I forgetting?" he mumbled to himself, even as he began his plan.
"Oh, of course. My own way of escape. I blocked the basement exit off from the outside and won't be able to easily get out without blasting down a wall. I like blasting down walls, but I can't do that carrying the kid. Damn. My head really isn't in this. I am NOT going to admit Cap and Agent were right. They'll never let me forget it. Think, Tony...think!" he muttered, even as he took out the first few HYDRA agents near the door he'd just entered and was flying rapidly toward the stairwell. "Stop thinking about the cave, damn it..." he muttered once again and took out another set of HYDRA.
# # #
Steve barely took the time to park the van before he was out and darting into the building, Natasha following close behind him. Steve had listened to Tony's comments with gradually growing concern and even if the younger man was keeping his head straight right now, Steve knew it would only be a matter of time before they were dealing with a flashback.
As he began fighting the HYDRA agents alongside Natasha, Steve reflected that at least Tony's running commentary had made it clear where he was...
Tony had quickly barrel rolled his way down the hall and to the stairs, where he took out a good twelve HYDRA agents, before forcing his way downstairs and making certain that it would be very difficult for anyone to follow him down. As soon as he was down, he made a bee-line for Grant, landing beside him and bodily throwing any agents that were directly near him away, making certain they were unconscious by the time they landed. "JARVIS- unmute," he finally said, giving his AI the opportunity to speak to him again and stop pretending that he had listened to his order in the first place.
"Sir?" the AI's tone was a mixture of worry, exasperation and disapproval.
"As soon as I have Grant's restraints off, I want you to remove the suit from me and put it around him." Tony's voice was calm but firm.
"Sir...if you do that, you will not be able to access the weapons and...."
"And Grant is unconscious and vulnerable and the suit will offer at least some protection from all the shit that is flying around currently. Just do it!" Tony interrupted the AI, just as he finally finished breaking the last restraint and tried to hold Grant up so the suit could get around him easier. "Now, J!"
"Very well, sir..." JARVIS said reluctantly. Within seconds, the Iron Man suit had removed itself from Tony and wrapped around Grant... just in time, as one of the HYDRA goons shot a weapon that went straight toward the younger man and knocked the suit offline.
"SHIT!" Tony yelled, thankful he still had a com in his ear, even if he wasn't in the suit. "JARVIS? Did the blast get through the armor?"
"No, sir," the AI said with some relief. "The blast has made it impossible to use the suit, but it did not get through. Young Grant is still unwounded; beyond the wounds he had when we first arrived, at any rate. You might want to fight, though, sir- before YOU get wounded."
Tony blinked, all his attention having been on Grant, and ducked just in time to avoid having his head caved in by a metal bar. He began to fight...thankful that Natasha and Steve had insisted he train with them. He found himself using their moves more than he would have liked to admit.
Steve and Natasha fought their way through the HYDRA agents, just in time to find Tony fighting against the enemy with his suit gone and deactivated.
Seeing the younger men in danger, Steve fought his way to Tony's side, sheltering them with his shield to give Tony time to get Grant's unconscious form out and to safety.
Bucky and Clint had been listening to the comms just like Steve and Coulson had and realized if they went in through the basement door that Tony had blocked, they would be able to clear a path of escape for everyone else. So that was what they did. They incapacitated the few HYDRA agents who had come around that way to find out why their colleagues hadn't answered and then they'd removed the barriers that Tony had placed.
When they fought their way inside to the basement, it didn't take Clint long at all to move to where Tony was trying to drag Grant's unconscious form away from the fighting, the bulky armor he'd placed the young man in for protection slowing him down because it was, well...bulky. With Clint's help and Steve, Natasha and Bucky guarding them, Tony was able to get Grant outside. His original plan had been to fly the younger man to safety, but with the suit out of commission- again- that wasn't an option.
"You all have a vehicle, right?" he finally asked, out of breath.
"We have the vans." Steve put his shield away and grabbed Grant's unconscious body, hoisting him up over his shoulder so they could get into the vans as quickly as possible.
Natasha fired off several more shots, before following Steve into the van.
"Alright, then..." Tony quickly followed, crawling into the van with Steve and Natasha. He couldn't look the Captain in the eye and the one time he managed to look Natasha in the eye, she gave him such a disappointed stare that he couldn't look at her for long either. He ended up vacillating between watching Grant and looking at his feet.
Bucky had jumped in the driver's seat with Clint riding shot-gun and they'd quickly pulled out, Clint calling in the location of the HYDRA base to headquarters so that they could be apprehended.
Not able to stand the silence, Tony finally asked, his voice coming out higher pitched and more hesitant than he would have liked, "So, uh...where are the others? May and Trip?"
Clint's tone wasn't brusque, but it wasn't very encouraging, either. "They stayed with the prisoners back at the other location. They'll meet us back at the tower with Coulson."
Tony nodded, swallowing then finally glanced at Steve. "Um...I...uh..." He sighed and shut his mouth, not entirely sure what to say or if it would even be a good idea to say it.
"We'll talk when we get back at the tower," Steve said. "For now, take the armour off Grant. I want to check his condition. He's still alive," he said into the comm to Coulson, "but I want to check his pulse and the injection site."
"I understand," Coulson replied. "Just... get him and yourselves back safely." He then contacted a team to head to the HYDRA base, before asking if anyone else had any injuries that needed to be treated.
Tony gave a brisk nod, looking down again, before quickly releasing all the emergency releases on the armor that allowed it to easily fall off of Grant. He watched as Steve checked over the boy, swallowing hard. "Is he ok?" he finally whispered, not wanting to draw attention to himself, but afraid of what might have been done to the younger man before they were able to get to him and help.
After all... it hadn't taken 10 Rings long at all to do horrible things to him after capturing him. Not everything done could be seen immediately with the naked eye.
Steve placed a hand against Grant's forehead, checking his temperature, before taking his pulse. "His pulse is steady, but a little weak," he said. He then checked the injection site. "It doesn't look inflamed... the needle was probably sterile... but when we get back to the tower, Jemma or Bruce should take a blood sample." He carefully prised open one and then the other of Grant's eyes. "The pupils are normal... his eyes aren't bloodshot."
Tony nodded, keeping quiet as Steve gave his assessment, knowing that Coulson was listening on the other end of the comms and didn't need his input. The man was likely already very worried. Tony sat back and wrapped his arms around his torso, keeping his eyes on Grant, and tried to calm himself down. They'd got the younger man out and he was out of the dark, musty ca... basement. Tony shook his head. He wasn't in Afghanistan, damn it. And they were safe and going home. "Get a grip, Stark..." he muttered under his breath to himself.
Steve glanced up, focusing on Tony with a worried look on his face. "Tony?" He waited until the younger man looked at him before speaking quietly. "Grant's safe. So are you. You won't need to go back there." No matter how upset he was with Tony right now, his concern overrode everything else right now.
Tony searched Steve's face, trying to determine if the man was hiding anything from him, but all he saw was sincerity and concern. Taking a slow but deep breath, he carefully nodded his head. "Ok..." he said softly "Ok...." He closed his eyes and just allowed himself to breathe, reminding himself that he was with his team and everyone was safe and he wasn't alone and he wasn't fighting for his life and....
He didn't realize he was shaking until Clint glanced back at him in concern. "Tony...we're almost home. Is Pepper in town?" The archer tried to get the other man focused on something else but what had just gone down.
Tony shook his head. "No...no. She...she had meetings in Tokyo. She won't be home till the end of the week...." He sounded lost and forlorn in his answer.
Since he couldn't do anything else to help Grant right now, Steve removed his jacket and moved over to Tony's side, wrapping the jacket around the younger man's shoulders before settling his arm there. "When we get to the tower, Coulson will take care of Grant and we can go and talk on my floor. All right?" He knew that Tony knew there wouldn't be much 'talking' going on, but he needed to try and get the younger man out of his head.
"Yes, sir..." Tony answered quietly, not entirely focused; if he'd been focused, he wouldn't have called Steve sir. He shivered slightly. He knew what 'talking' would entail, but he also knew he deserved it, so he wasn't going to argue. If it kept him from thinking so much and from having to be alone on his floor when Pepper wasn't there, he wouldn't fight it at all.
Clint frowned, glancing at Steve, then at Natasha, before looking back at one of his best friends in the world. He knew Tony's past, as much as Tony was willing to talk about it and share. The infuriating man had erased any files on the subject, so Clint suspected there was a lot that no one but Tony knew that happened.
As they continued on the way to the tower, Steve continued talking to Tony, but just bringing up general things... such as the projects the younger man was working on. He was asking questions that required more than yes or no answers, trying to keep the younger man out of his head.
By the time they reached the tower- and they had reached it fairly quickly, as Bucky was driving as quickly as he could through every short-cut he could remember, in an effort to get home quickly- Tony had started coming around and was able to focus more on what he was answering.
He blinked at the last question Steve asked him then gave the man a suspicious look. "Did you just ask me if I had put an artificial intelligence into the toaster?" he asked in amusement, shaking his head. He realized what the other man had been doing the last however many minutes, talking to him the way he had been, and he was grateful. Of course, now that he was no longer slipping into past memories, he was able to focus more clearly on just what he had done and the fact that he was going to be having a 'discussion' about it with Steve and very soon.... He couldn't bring himself to be upset at that fact, though. He gave Steve a grateful smile before carefully taking off the jacket and handing it to the other man. "Thanks, Cap...."
Clint relaxed, seeing Tony finally come out of whatever fugue he had been slipping into. He might need to mention this to his father and see if he thought getting another dog would be helpful. Copper was a good dog and had helped all of them more than they had thought he'd be able to, but he was still Grant's dog... and since apparently Grant wasn't the only one suffering from past issues....
Bucky pulled into the underground garage and parked, looking out the window as Banner, Simmons, Fitz, Skye and Coulson all emerged from the elevator, a gurney being pushed by the two youngest scientists. May and Trip were coming from the other direction after having delivered their prisoners. "We're here," he announced unnecessarily.
Steve patted Tony's shoulder gently as he put the jacket back on and then carefully picked up Grant, putting the young man over his shoulder once more as he climbed out of the van, before transferring Grant to the gurney.
Coulson immediately moved to his youngest's side, but he also scanned the rest of them for injuries... and especially Clint. He'd had experience with his oldest son hiding injuries before and he wouldn't be surprised if Clint tried it again.
Clint knew what his father was looking for and couldn't help but squirm slightly at the intense investigation he was undergoing. "I'll have Bruce check me out, dad..." he finally said, in an effort to get his father to not worry about him. It wasn't like the man didn't already have enough to worry about with his youngest son still being unconscious.
Simmons smiled brightly. "Well, let's just get him up to the medical wing and take some blood so we can figure out what exactly they've given to him that has him still knocked out..." She attempted to focus everyone and remain positive.
Trip nodded and took one end of the gurney, planning to help push it. "Sounds good to me."
May moved over to Coulson's side and wrapped an arm around the man, giving him a gentle squeeze and a look that promised whatever support she could offer to him.
Bucky stuffed his hands into his pockets and glanced at Steve and Tony, who was hovering near his brother uncertainly. He couldn't help but smirk slightly. "Since everyone else is going to be busy taking care of hurt or errant children..." He ignored Tony's glare... "I'll just go to the common area and make dinner tonight. I'm thinking Italian. Any objections? No? Good!" And without giving anyone any time to protest, he had left the group to head upstairs and do just that.
"I'm not a child..." Tony muttered under his breath, although he couldn't really argue the errant part.
Coulson sighed, relaxing a little in response to May's comfort, but he still couldn't help the worried look on his face as he eyed both of his sons. "I still want to know if you're injured," he said seriously to Clint. "I'll worry more if I don't know what's wrong."
Steve sighed and looked at Tony. "I think we can go to my floor and talk now." He spoke in a tone that didn't leave much room for an argument.
Skye hovered close by, wanting to help but not knowing what she could do. She just tried to keep out of the way.
Fitz adjusted his grip on the gurney to start taking it back inside the tower.
"Yes, sir," Clint answered immediately. "I'll let you know whatever we find out as soon as we're done. And you know if I didn't, Bruce would..." He glanced at the older scientist and gave a crooked grin.
Bruce smiled back and nodded. "That I would...." he confirmed, in an effort to help Coulson relax. "I've got Clint covered...and as soon as Simmons is able to look at Grant's blood, we'll begin working on him too. Go with them, Phil. It will be ok." The normally taciturn man reached over and squeezed Coulson's shoulder gently.
Simmons smiled crookedly at Coulson. "He will be ok, AC..." She used Skye's nickname for him in an effort to remind him that he wasn't alone; just in case all the hugs and touches hadn't done the trick. "Common, Fitz, sooner we get up to the medical floor, the sooner we can find out what they gave to Grant..." She nodded at her best friend and motioned Trip to begin moving the gurney. May followed along behind, just in case they needed another set of hands.
Tony swallowed hard. "Ok, Cap..." His voice was low and soft and anyone listening would have thought it sounded almost childishly nervous. Taking a deep breath, he turned to follow the others to the elevator. He may as well ride up with them, since the medical floor was one of the first floors in the private area of the tower. He couldn't help the slump of his shoulders, however, and when he glanced at Coulson, it was hesitant; as if he wasn't sure if the man would be upset with him as well...and if he was upset, what did that mean exactly?
Coulson stayed close to both his sons, though he was relieved that at least Clint was walking unaided... and also talking. Still, he was their father... and he wanted to be sure both of his sons were all right.
Natasha nudged Coulson's shoulder affectionately, but then stood next to Clint without speaking.
Coulson finally looked at Tony. "I can't be anything but grateful for you rescuing Grant... but you shouldn't have gone on your own without waiting for backup," he said quietly. "Things could have gone much worse and you could have been hurt as well."
Tony would have said something snarky, like, 'I didn't know you cared, Agent...' but the fact was, he knew that the older man did care; and saying something like that would be rude and mean in the face of the man's obvious concern. So instead, he nodded his head, attempted to straighten his shoulders like the adult he purported to be, and swallowed before answering, "Yes, sir. I...I realize that. I apologize for any problems or worry that my...headstrong actions cause to you."
He couldn't help it. He slumped again. He wasn't sure- Coulson was trying really hard to be fair, since Tony had gone to save and protect Grant- but he suspected the older man was disappointed in his actions and it felt like he'd disappointed a favorite uncle. Just like disappointing Steve felt like he'd disappointed an older brother/father-figure. He hated disappointing people he actually cared about.
Clint watched all of this with slightly narrowed eyes...being close friends with Tony, he knew what it took for the man to admit when he'd screwed up. He made a note to warn Steve to keep Tony away from the booze until the billionaire's emotions were back on an even keel. Putting an arm around Nat, he smirked. "I guess this means you get to fill out all the paperwork and reports..." he said cheekily.
Steve placed a hand on Tony's shoulder and squeezed gently. "You had the right idea... you just should have waited for backup. I'm sure you wouldn't have wanted to give them an extra hostage to use."
Natasha raised her eyebrows. "I think I can delegate," she replied. "Your hands aren't injured, after all."
"No...that wouldn't have been good and it wasn't my intention. I should have waited..." he admitted with a sigh.
Clint wrinkled his nose. "But Naaaat....you know how much I hate paperwork. And no one can read my handwriting..."
"You can use the computer," Natasha replied, nudging him.
The elevator stopped on the medical floor and Fitz moved to start wheeling the gurney out. Not sure where else to go, Skye made to follow, unwilling to leave when she knew that Grant was hurt.
Coulson followed, his attention divided equally between his two sons.
Clint sighed. "Fine...as soon as Dr. Banner gives me the all clear and Dad is able to relax and knows I'm NOT hurt, I'll meet you upstairs and help with the paperwork...." He tried to sound long-suffering, but there was too much mirth in his voice for the ruse to work. Giving Nat a smile, he stepped off the elevator, following the gurney with his brother on it, noting that Dr. Banner and Simmons were right beside him.
Tony seemed to shrink in on himself as over half the elevator emptied out and the only ones left were him, Steve and Nat.
Natasha left the elevator on her own floor, leaving Steve alone with Tony.
Steve shifted closer to the younger man. "Is there anything you'd like to tell me about what happened that I don't already know?"
Tony swallowed and looked at the floor before looking back up at Steve, wary. "You mean other than completely disregarding your orders and then turning off comms so that I wouldn't have to listen to you or have you know what I was doing?" He stopped to think about what he'd just said and got a very shamed look on his face. "I'm not sure...there probably is, but to be honest, I don't really remember a lot of what I was doing at that time. I was just kind of...acting..." he hedged, not certain he wanted to admit that he'd come close several times to being lost in past memories.
Steve hesitated, not sure if he wanted to get Tony's AI into trouble, but it didn't sit right with him to keep that from the younger man. "The comms were only switched off so you couldn't hear us. We could still hear you."
Tony blanched. "So....you...you heard?" He blushed, embarrassed. "I...I guess that's something else to admit... I was talking to myself. About...well... um...." He ran a hand through his hair, slumping even more. "I guess you're going to want me to talk to a shrink now...." He sighed.
"You're still dealing with a lot of issues," Steve pointed out, his voice more gentle than anything else. "Talking to someone might help you... After all, Grant's doing a similar thing; and that's a long road, but he's moving down it gradually."
"Yeah....I was seeing someone...just with everything that happened....and then you all moved in and I wasn't really having problems anymore, so I thought..." He winced. "Guess I was wrong. Not the first time. I've been wrong about a lot of things lately, including disobeying you." He swallowed again, looking at his feet before looking up again...noting that they'd somehow reached Steve's floor and had moved off the elevator and into his friend and leader's living room.
Steve nodded and then addressed the other main issue he had... had since JARVIS had directly disobeyed Tony's instructions. "JARVIS mentioned you'd probably do something about him disobeying you. That's not going to happen. If it wasn't for those comms, we might not have known where to go or what your plans were." And in many ways, since moving into the tower, JARVIS had also become part of the family. And Steve's protective nature had extended to the AI as well.
Tony blinked at the protectiveness in Steve's tone in regards to the AI then got an offended look on his face. "I wouldn't do anything to hurt JARVIS....yeah...I threaten to sometimes. Tell him I'll change his parameters so that he can't go against what I tell him...but I'd never actually do it. I thought he understood that...." He was genuinely horrified that anyone- including the AI- would believe he would take away the free will that the AI had developed. JARVIS was like his child and the fact that he had developed to the point where he was able to disregard Tony's directions because of well thought out reasons; that was something that made Tony proud.
Steve nodded, squeezing Tony's shoulder gently. "I wanted to make sure. I know you weren't thinking clearly before... but I want you to know that I appreciate we might not have got to you in time without his help."
Tony bit his lip and looked Steve in the eye. "I...I know. I should have listened to you. We're a team, I'm not alone and I...I need to not act like I am. I know this...." he admitted, the shame in his voice growing. He knew exactly what he'd done wrong and he knew why it was wrong. And he knew he deserved consequences. He just wished the thought of the consequences had been enough to stop him from doing what he knew he shouldn't have done. Because... "I don't know why I felt like I had to disobey you like that. It was stupid. I'm not a stupid person. So...yeah." Tony's eyes dropped, unable again to meet Steve's eyes.
"You aren't," Steve agreed. "But you're also not used to someone stepping in when something happens. You've been used to acting without thinking for a long time... and used to acting alone when it comes to missions." He suspected it would take time for Tony to become completely used to being part of a team.
Steve led Tony over to the couch, keeping in contact with the younger man... just in case.
Tony followed, reluctant yet not fighting in the least. He couldn't believe how many times he found himself in this position; and truthfully, if it were anyone other than Steve, he would never accept such correction from them. (Well, possibly Fury, but Tony had a hard time imagining the older man caring enough to do that.)
"I'm sorry..." he finally said in a small voice. "I know you're disappointed in me." Tony's voice took on a hurt tone. It was obvious he was more bothered by Steve possibly being ashamed or disappointed in him than he was about the correction he was about to receive.
Steve sat down on the couch, but instead of pulling Tony across his lap immediately, he gently tugged the younger man down to sit next to him. "I know you were trying to do the right thing. I've been more worried than disappointed. I thought I might not get to you in time. Even when we did get there... you'd put your armour around Grant and you were unprotected against all of those HYDRA agents."
Tony looked up at those words. "I needed a way to protect him. Once I was there, I realized he couldn't protect himself and if they decided to hurt him because I had come...and I couldn't stop them in time... it would be my fault," he admitted. "If I'd listened, there would have been plenty of people to protect him and it wouldn't have been as big a problem," he said softly. "I was surprised Phil didn't yell at me...since my actions put the kid in even more danger." And shame was front and center in his tone again.
"Relief tends to overpower anger," Steve said softly. "I think he's just happy to have Grant back before they could do worse to him." Though he hoped Grant hadn't been infected by a virus again. That had been hard on everyone involved...
"You're right that, if you had waited, there would have been more of us able to protect him. You were trying to save him, but you were only one person... and without your biggest defence, you would have been captured. Or even killed." Steve's voice grew even softer as he remembered the overpowering fear he'd had for Tony's safety.
"I messed up," Tony admitted in a small voice. "And the fact that I'm here shows that you really care about that..." He of course meant 'care about me', but couldn't quite bring himself to say that, still finding hard to believe that people cared what happened to him.
"I care about you." And even though Steve knew that was what Tony meant, he felt it was important to voice the distinction. He squeezed Tony's shoulders gently and then tugged the younger man across his lap.
Tony couldn't help but whimper as he was positioned over Steve's lap. This was such a childish, humbling position to be in. Reaching down, he grasped onto Steve's leg with both hands and tried to not fidget.
Steve wrapped an arm around Tony's waist, tugging him gently against his stomach, before he tugged his pants and underwear down and brought his hand down in the first hard swat before repeating it.
Tony managed not to whimper again, just barely, but couldn't stop the gasp when the first swat landed. Steve's hand was hard and precise and unyielding and.... Tony closed his eyes as tightly as he could in an attempt to prevent tears from forming, but he should have known it was a lost cause. They were already forming by the second swat.
Steve continued the hard swats down to Tony's thighs before he started over from the top again. "No matter how used you are to doing things on your own, that isn't acceptable anymore. If you put yourself in danger again, we will be right back here." He spoke firmly, but with a caring note in his voice, rather than scolding.
Tony was certain that it was the tone that did it. It was just so...Steve...to sound caring when, by rights, he should be chewing Tony up one side and down the other for being a fool. To make it worse, there was nothing in this position that allowed Tony to keep even a shred of his aloofness; a shred of his pride; even a tiny miniscule portion of belief that he had any control over this. Which made Steve's promise that they would be doing this again if Tony didn't learn all the more believable. Tony knew that Steve was in charge and his only choice was to get with the program and cooperate in protecting himself from needless danger, or suffer the consequences.
Tony never had liked being vulnerable and under someone else's supervision. His first instinct always was to fight authority and do his own thing...so why was his instinct this time to obey Steve? He was unable to answer that question, though. His thoughts were painfully redirected back to the reason he was in this position by a hard smack to an area that had already received attention. He couldn't help the tiny whine that escaped. Of course, once the whine was out of his mouth, the tears he had been trying so hard to keep back followed, streaming down his face like a dam had burst.
"I...I'm sorry, Steve...Cap...I..." He took a shuddery breath and forced himself to relax, even though it made the swats hurt that much more. He deserved this, he wasn't unused to pain and... and he did feel guilty about what he'd done. There was no way he'd ever be able to make up for it on his own.... Relaxing, unfortunately, meant becoming more vocal and unable to control his crying. There was no way Steve wouldn't be able to tell how he'd been affected.
Steve finished up with a final few swats and then stopped, helping Tony up and into a tight embrace. He understood completely why Coulson had kept Grant with him after the many times his son had endangered himself... right now, Steve was seriously considering doing the same, past keeping Tony on his floor so that the younger man wouldn't be alone.
Tony considered pulling away from the comfort, for all of two seconds. He'd been feeling off-kilter since this whole mess had begun, Pepper had left two days before and wouldn't be returning till the end of the week and...the embrace felt nice. It made him feel like he didn't have to be on top of everything, or strong, or...all the things people expected Anthony Edward Stark to be. So he didn't pull away. Instead, he let his head drop onto Steve's shoulder and wrapped his arms around him; at first loosely, but as he realized that Steve wasn't pulling away and didn't mind the contact, more tightly. He continued to sniffle, as his tears slowed and finally stopped, but he still didn't let go. Finally, once all the tears were done, he spoke softly, "I really am sorry...."
"I know." Steve tightened his embrace a bit. "I don't want anything to happen to you. You are important to me." He sighed, holding eye contact with Tony. "I think I might have to ground you from missions unless you're with me or Bucky."
Tony winced at that then bit his lip. "You think? Or...you know?" he asked, uncertain if Steve was just thinking out loud or if he actually was going to be grounded. The thought of not joining his team on missions actually hurt; and that fact surprised him. He kept his eyes on Steve's, even as he carefully rearranged his clothing, unable to hide the wince from the sting his jeans caused as he pulled them up.
Steve paused to think about that for a few moments before answering, "For now, I won't ground you properly. But I want you to check in with me before you go on any missions. Or, if you think you won't be able to do that, give JARVIS a standing order to contact me."
Tony nodded, finally allowing his eyes to drop. "Yes, sir..." he said softly, realizing that he really meant to agree and would obey the request.
"Forgive my stepping in, Captain, but if you would like, I could report to you anytime Sir is planning to do something that could be potentially harmful; if it isn't evident that you already know," JARVIS intoned.
Tony's mouth dropped open at the AI's suggestion. He didn't know if he should feel betrayed by the offer or not.... Tony knew he couldn't trust himself. With his emotions all over the place so frequently, it wasn't unlike him to withdraw from other human contact. Sometimes the only thing he could do was go and hide in his lab until the feelings of fear, or worthlessness, or self-loathing, or whatever negative emotion decided to bombard him let up and he could face the rest of the tower without feeling like an abject failure and burden. Maybe JARVIS reporting to Steve, at the least, despite what Tony might feel about it...would make things easier on Steve- on everyone else- even if it made things more difficult for Tony. And maybe, just maybe it would help Tony; although he had a hard time seeing how.
It was confusing, having JARVIS take initiative like that, and so he wasn't entirely sure if he wanted to protest the offer...if he should protest the offer. So he kept quiet.
"I think that would be a very good idea," Steve agreed. He knew the AI worried about Tony as much as he himself did, but JARVIS was likely very limited in how much he could step in. Placing a hand on Tony's shoulder, Steve squeezed gently. "You aren't alone, Tony. There are people who care about you."
"I...I know. I just need to remember that..." Tony's voice was faint, as if he still was having trouble wrapping his mind around the fact, even after having had it proven to him so physically not more than five minutes before.
Reaching up to rub at his eyes, he sighed softly, suddenly feeling a bit lost and almost bereft. He supposed now he'd go back to his floor and try and find some way to occupy his time that wouldn't worry or bother someone else. He'd ask JARVIS to keep an eye on Grant; and as soon as it looked like his presence wouldn't cause any more stress to Coulson, he'd go check on the younger man and apologize to Agent. But until he could do that, he didn't know what to do with himself. The thought of going to his empty floor and being alone didn't really appeal, but Steve had already wasted enough time on him and he didn't want to be a child and ask not to be alone...so....
Even after determining that he should go...he found himself hovering near Steve, dangerously close to invading the other man's personal space with an irritating need to 'be close'.
Steve responded automatically, reaching out and wrapping an arm around Tony's shoulders. "You don't have to disappear off to your lab, or your floor, or wherever else it is you go to be alone. You can stay with me," he offered. "I'd like to spend time with you." And he wanted to reassure himself that Tony was safe.
Tony blinked at his words, eyes widening slightly in surprise, uncertain if he could believe the words. "Really?" He blushed at the tone of disbelieving hopefulness in his voice. Wow...if he hadn't seemed like a needy child before, that would have cleared up any doubt on the other man's part as to how pathetic Tony really was. He suddenly found his feet very interesting. "I mean...I know you probably have lots of things to get done and I always have work to do and..." He trailed off, unable to keep the wistful tone out of his voice.
"Tony..." Steve squeezed him gently. "I want to spend time with you. Anything I have to get done can wait. And I'm sure your work can, too," he added.
"Yeah..." Tony quietly admitted. "It can...if you're sure?" He hated how uncertain he sounded. He would never question some random stranger's desire to spend time with him (mostly because he knew they only wanted to be with him because of what he could give them). Why was it, when it was someone he actually cared about and wanted to like him, he had such a hard time believing when they did? He even had bouts of doubtfulness about Pepper, Rhodey and Happy... and they had been with him forever and he knew they liked him for who he was (they had to like him for who he was; that's the only way they could have put up with him for so long).
He blushed darkly as he suddenly realized that he'd pressed even closer to Steve. Truly pathetic. He couldn't bring himself to move away, though.
"I'm sure," Steve replied, tightening his embrace around Tony. "I like spending time with you. I like you."
Tony couldn't help but grin at that, even if he had a hard time looking up from his feet. "I like you, too..." he said sheepishly. "What would you like to do?" he asked curiously, his mind already going in a million different directions of what he could do with Steve, or show Steve.
# # #
Simmons had taken all of Grant's vital signs and drawn blood to test. All of his vital signs were within normal range. There had been a compound element in his blood that she wasn't able to place, however, and she was currently doing her best to figure out what it was; and determine if it would wear off on its own, or if she needed to give him some type of medicine to flush it out of his system.
It was while she was trying to figure out what the compound was that Grant finally woke up. He didn't open his eyes immediately; his special training had trained that reaction out of him long ago. Instead, he was careful to keep his breathing at the same normal pace it usually was...only a slight hitch in breathing when he first woke up would give him away. He listened carefully to the sounds around him, but it wasn't until he heard Simmons talking to Fitz about blood and something else he couldn't make out that he determined he was in a safe location and finally opened his eyes. He glanced around in confusion and no small amount of worry. "What...?" He stopped as his voice caught and coughed, trying to clear his throat.
Coulson had moved only to give Simmons space to work on Grant, but otherwise stayed close to his son, apart from directing Clint to let Banner look at him when it seemed like his oldest would slip away when he could.
Responding automatically, Coulson picked up a cup and filled it with water, before holding it against Grant's lips to try and encourage him to drink. "You're safe." His voice was relieved and loving... but at the same time worried. Grant didn't seem sick, but it was impossible to tell for sure.
Grant's eyes quickly zeroed in on his father, relief clear on his face. He drank slowly from the cup his father helped him with, then carefully lay back down. "You got me...." He winced as he remembered being given the shot and how painful it was, but couldn't remember anything else. "I don't know what happened or what they did to me..." he admitted with a small touch of fear.
"I know you were injected with something." Putting the cup down, Coulson began gently stroking Grant's hair. "How are you feeling?"
"I feel like crap. My head hurts, my throat hurts, it feels like a truck ran over me and it's really bright in here..." Grant rattled off without stopping for a breath, before his eyes widened in shock.
"That was... oddly specific," Skye said.
Coulson frowned, thinking the same thing. "Did they say anything to you before they injected you?" He had been listening, but maybe he'd missed something...
"No, sir. They didn't say anything to me. Just had this look on their face like they knew whatever it was they were injecting would hurt like fuck and they were enjoying that fact." Grant frowned. "Excuse my language...my head to mouth filter seems to have disappeared...." He blushed slightly as he glanced at Skye.
Coulson glanced over at Simmons and Fitz as he continued stroking his son's hair. "Could they have injected him with a kind of truth serum?"
"That... would make a lot of sense," Fitz said, referring to how Grant had been responding to things.
Simmons bit her lip then nodded. "It makes a lot of sense...the problem is, it isn't made up of any chemicals or compounds from any truth serum I recognize. So I really can't say how long it will last; if it is indeed a truth serum...."
Grant bit his lip to keep from saying the first thing that popped into his head, which really wasn't very nice; and it wasn't Simmons fault that he was in this predicament.
Coulson sighed. "I think we should avoid asking any questions." He looked down at his son before adding, "We should go to our floor..." But he didn't want to force Grant away from everyone else.
Grant nodded, reluctant to even agree out loud due to not being able to control what he was saying. He sat up carefully, then carefully shifted around so that he was sat on the bed they'd put him on. Then, he slid off the bed and onto the floor and had to stand there for a few moments, with his eyes closed, taking in deep gulps of air through his mouth.
"Ok. Not good. I'm going to hurl..." he finally blurted, holding his hand over his mouth and looking for a container.
Coulson quickly grabbed a bucket and held it in front of his son, using his free hand to gently rub Grant's back.
There really wasn't a lot in Grant's stomach to expel...but that didn't keep his stomach muscles from cramping up for what felt like several minutes, causing him to heave dryly over the bucket. When his stomach had finally settled enough for him to pull away from the bucket, he collapsed weakly against his father's shoulder. "Ok...that was the opposite of fun..." he mumbled softly, before glancing at Simmons, Fitz and Skye. "Can I go to my room now?" he finally asked peevishly, not feeling very good; realizing that anything he said could be horrifyingly blunt and possibly cruel and not wanting to subject anyone to his drugged person.
"I'll come with you," Coulson said softly. "I don't want to leave you on your own." And he was used to hearing bad things from people. He wouldn't get upset by anything Grant said.
"Ok, daddy," Grant said with a tiny smile. "I want you to come with me. I'm still feeling a bit freaked out about the whole being grabbed and drugged thing and I just really want to be held and snuggle..." he said, then closed his eyes with a wince and blushed darkly. "And none of you heard me admit to any of that!" He pointed at the three younger members of the team. "Gah. Maybe I should go and be alone. With my luck, I'll admit to a bunch of stuff that will end up with me over your knee..." he grumbled to his father.
Coulson wrapped an arm gently around Grant's shoulders. "We'll just go so you can rest," he said gently. He kissed his son's head gently and then addressed Simmons and Fitz. "See if there's anything you can do to test the serum..." He then turned to Clint with a serious look, though his tone was filled with affection. "I still want to know about any injuries," he said to his oldest.
Clint had just been standing there, watching the proceedings, becoming increasingly nonplussed. When his father spoke to him, it took several seconds for it to register and then he blinked. "Bruce has already looked me over..." he said quickly. "And other than the usual scratches or bruises that you get when fighting hand to hand with someone, I wasn't hurt in any noticeable way. I've promised to come see him if I start feeling any weird pains, though.... And that stuff they shot him with seems like a very strong truth serum...maybe if Simmons figures it out, it can be made for SHIELD use...." He glanced at the younger scientist. "And I'm going to go help Nat write reports if you need me...ok?"
Grant hid his face against his father's chest and avoided looking at or talking to anyone.
Simmons nodded at the 'Coulson' men, as she'd begun referring to them in her head. "I'm testing it in every way imaginable. If I find out anything useful, I'll call you, sir."
Bruce just smiled and nodded, moving over to where Simmons was working and looking into the slides she had, curious if he'd notice anything she hadn't.
Coulson wrapped his arm around Grant, hugging him close, as he nodded to Clint. "I still want you to try and rest later. You can always come and join us," he suggested. He felt the need to have both his sons close... and he also knew he could trust Clint to watch what he said.
"Sure thing, Dad." Clint nodded then waved at everyone as he headed to meet up with Natasha.
Grant just yawned. "Didn't know telling the truth all the time would be so tiring..." he teased lightly.
Coulson pressed another kiss to Grant's head before guiding him from the lab. "Do you want to go to my floor or yours?"
"Yours, daddy..." Grant said quietly. "It feels more like home than my floor does." Grant had spent so many nights sleeping in his father's bed due to being grounded that half his belongings had ended up on his father's floor...Grant stayed on his floor when he had a date or when he needed a little bit of space, but normally, if given the choice, he'd want to be near his father.
Coulson nodded and stepped into the elevator, keeping his arm around his son as he waited for them to reach his floor. "I'm glad you're back safe," he said softly.
"I am too, daddy. I honestly wasn't sure they wouldn't just kill me. I had to choose between fighting them and definitely dying, or giving up for a short time and hoping that they kept me alive long enough for you to get me back..." Grant winced, not having meant to say that, because he didn't want his father to be upset. "Damn, I really can't control my mouth..." he mumbled in chagrin.
Coulson pressed an affectionate kiss to Grant's head. "I'm glad you made the choice you did," he said quietly. "I would never have wanted to lose you." He sighed. "Tony ended up going after you straight away... he didn't wait for backup." And Coulson knew he should be unhappy with the other man for doing that, but he couldn't be anything but glad about having his son back.
"Uh oh. I'm guessing Steve wasn't happy about that. You don't seem too upset, though..." Grant wandered over to the couch and sat down carefully, before glancing up at his father. "Or are you just hiding it really well?"
Coulson sat down next to Grant on the couch, wrapping his arm around his shoulders. "As much as I know I should be unhappy with him, I'm also aware that he was at least partially responsible for bringing you back to me."
"I like Tony. He messes up nearly as often as I do..." Grant said with a little amusement as he kicked his shoes off, tucked his feet up under himself, wrapped his arms around his father and leaned against him, putting his head on his chest. "Sometimes I think he needs a dad too." He snorted softly.
Coulson encircled his arms around Grant, cuddling him tightly and stroking his hair. "I think Steve's taken that on for him," he commented.
"Yeah? Wonder how he feels about that...if he feels as lucky as I do." Grant closed his eyes and relaxed against his father, enjoying the closeness and comfort.
"Possibly not when he does something he shouldn't." Coulson kissed the top of his son's head. "I love you." His embrace tightened. He was thankful that Grant hadn't been hurt worse... even though the truth serum wasn't a pleasant experience.
"I dunno." Grant smiled crookedly. "I still feel pretty lucky, even when you spank me. Just feel lucky in a different way." He shrugged slightly, but didn't elaborate.
Coulson didn't ask Grant for clarification, not wanting to force his son to say something he wouldn't normally. "There are many ways in which I feel lucky to have you," he said instead.
"Love you, daddy..." Grant murmured against his father's chest, starting to get dozy. "Hope this stuff wears off soon, though. Makes me feel all weird and out of control like I took drugs...not that I've done that....recently...oh please shut up, Grant...." Grant hid his face against his father's chest.
Coulson pressed another affectionate kiss to Grant's head. "Try to get some rest, son," he said softly. "I'll be here. I love you."
"Love you, too, Daddy." Grant closed his eyes and was out within moments.
# # #
It was around noon the next day and a Grant had spent the rest of the previous day and that morning holed up in his father's rooms, hiding from people. He would have still been there if Simmons hadn't called and asked for another blood sample to see if the chemical concoction he'd been given was finally wearing off or not.
Fitz ended up in the lab with Skye, after Simmons had been called away to help Dr. Banner with some samples. As Fitz checked some samples, Skye hopped up onto the table and commented, "If the truth serum's still in his system, it would give us a chance to learn more about him, you know."
Fitz glanced at her. "That would be wrong."
Skye rolled her eyes. "I'm not suggesting asking him about bad things. Just... you know... the little things that most people talk about without being prompted."
Ward walked into the lab and glanced around, before looking at Fitz and Skye. "Simmons wanted my blood?" he said, a bit put out that he'd left the safety of his father's rooms only to be stood up.
Fitz nodded. "Dr. Banner had to ask her for help... are you all right if I take your blood? Or you can wait for Jemma, if you'd prefer."
Ward slanted his head thoughtfully then shrugged. "Nah. No need. I trust you not to drain me dry." He smirked at his 'little brother'. "Do you know if she found out anything about the stuff I was injected with?"
Picking up a needle and sterilising it, Fitz indicated for Ward to take a seat. "Well, many of the chemical compounds are ones we don't recognise. But it's fairly safe to say that it is some form of truth serum. It doesn't seem to cause any more harm apart from that, though..."
Grant nodded and held out his arm. "Any harm except that I can't seem to keep from saying the first thing that pops into my head, even if I haven't been asked a direct question," he muttered.
Fitz nodded. "That must be hard to deal with..." He carefully took the blood sample.
Skye, swinging her legs, had been considering asking all sorts of questions. What came out when she opened her mouth surprised even her, though. "You know... we don't really hang out anymore. At all."
"It is," Grant agreed, before looking at Skye. He looked reluctant and not very happy that she brought the subject up, but he couldn't stop himself from replying.
"It's uncomfortable for me to hang out..." he said with a wince. "I keep remembering how inappropriate and obsessive I behaved and it wasn't healthy and I'm trying to be better, but I'm not ready to be in a romance with anyone and I know that's what I'd want with you if I hung out and I'd just get frustrated if you didn't want that too...and someone shoot me now...." His face was bright red and he couldn't look at Skye.
"It's not like we couldn't hang out as friends," Skye said. "Like you do with everyone else."
Fitz, starting to look uncomfortable by the turn the conversation was taking, tried to think of some kind of redirection. Unfortunately, he was drawing a bit of a blank...
Ward winced. "I know we could. I just didn't know how...." He shrugged helplessly. "I'm not really good with people and after everything I did...I mean, you were mad and thought I was horrid and while I know you decided to give me another chance, I just didn't know how to...." He ran a hand through his hair in frustration, wishing he could shut up or change the topic.
"What was your first mission like?" Fitz spoke without thinking, just wanting to put an end to this awkward conversation... though even as he asked that, it occurred to him that there were other ways he could have done that.
"My first mission was an assassination....Garrett told me that officially SHIELD needed to take out this scientist because he was developing bio weapons, but the truth was that HYDRA needed to take him out because he'd found out about their presence and was threatening to expose them. I didn't want to do it, but Garrett told me it was necessary and he hoped I wasn't too weak to do what was necessary... But I cried for three hours after...." Ward had tried to stop his mouth, but unable to keep from talking, and unable to get away fast enough, his eyes went wide in horror and he jumped to his feet, ready to bolt as soon as he was able to get away.
Fitz's eyes widened, shocked (and kind of sickened) by the fact that his attempts to make things better had only made things worse. It was kind of a relief when he looked up to see that Coulson had chosen exactly that moment to reach the lab... although Fitz wished he'd got there earlier.
Catching the tail end of Grant's response, Coulson moved, making enough sound so that his son knew he was approaching. He wrapped an arm around Grant's shoulders. "Grant, son, let's go and get Copper from Trip."
Grant hunched in on himself, leaning against his father and shaking. "Ok, daddy...I'm so sorry. I try not to think of all the vile things I've done, but I can't forget them...." Grant was close to crying.
Bucky and May had come in with Coulson as well. Bucky watched the younger man being led away, a serious look on his face. "So care to explain just what happened here?" he asked quietly.
May nodded, her eyes narrowed.
Coulson kept his entire focus on Grant as he led his son from the lab, speaking soft, reassuring, loving words to him and trying to draw his mind away from those images of the past.
Fitz's shoulders slumped. "I..."
Skye winced. "I... was asking things I probably shouldn't. Fitz was trying to distract him..."
"I could have chosen a better way," Fitz mumbled.
"I'm fairly certain that Coulson warned everyone NOT to ask any unnecessary questions of Grant," May scolded.
"And distracting him by asking a question like that? You could have just told him to shut up. Yeah. It's rude. But he'd thank you for that!" Bucky chided.
Fitz nodded, already feeling guilty. "I know..."
Skye looked down, not able to make eye contact with either of them.
"I don't think we need to tell you how badly this could set back the progress he has made with trusting himself and others," May said sternly.
Bucky continued, "If Ward had been the one to do what you did, how would you have felt?"
Skye swallowed. "I... didn't think. I just... acted." Which was something she often struggled with. She darted a quick glance at Fitz before adding, "Fitz told me it was wrong... he panicked..."
"I still shouldn't have said anything," Fitz mumbled.
"Neither of you should have," was May's response.
Bucky sighed. "Panicking is understandable. What isn't understandable is that you did the exact thing you knew to be a bad idea...because the first result of doing that bad idea bothered you. Doing the wrong thing twice seldom, if ever, makes it right."
May nodded. "You realize we can't just let this go. Even if this doesn't set Ward back considerably, he's ashamed and embarrassed through no fault of his own."
Fitz nodded. "I... know. When he's up to it, I'll apologise..." Though he wasn't sure Ward would actually want to talk to him after this... Having the feeling he knew where this was going, he shifted from one foot to the other.
"Me too," Sky added, feeling bad.
Bucky nodded. "Fitz, if you'd please come with me, I would like to talk to you privately. And I believe May has something to discuss with Skye."
May nodded at Bucky's words.
"O-okay..." Fitz had already put the blood sample he'd drawn from Ward away, so waited for Bucky to lead the way.
Skye opened her mouth, but then closed it again, knowing she couldn't argue... and honestly felt too guilty to anyway.
"Let's go to your floor, kid." Bucky smiled gently, wanting to put Fitz more at ease. Or at least as much at ease as possible.
May looked at Skye. "Do you want to go to your floor or mine?"
Fitz nodded and started towards the door of the lab.
"It doesn't really matter," Skye replied quietly.
May nodded. "In that case, you'll come to my floor." She had no doubt that after she had her talk with the younger woman, she'd want to keep an eye on her and make sure she was ok. It was a lot easier to do on her own floor.
Bucky, not wanting the younger man to feel worse than he already did, put an arm over his shoulder as they headed to the elevator.
Fitz kept his head down as they entered the elevator and started heading to his floor. He didn't say anything, ashamed of his part in what had happened and desperately hoping that Ward didn't hate him now... though he wasn't sure he could blame him if he did.
Bucky kept his arm around Fitz the entire time. He could tell the younger man felt guilty about his part in what had happened. Fitz was a good man. Which made his actions all the more baffling. When they stopped at Fitz's floor, Bucky took the initiative, leading Fitz out of the elevator and into the living room, where he sat down on the couch, pulling Fitz down next to him. He still kept his arm on the younger man's shoulder.
"Now, I'd just like you to explain to me again how you came to be asking Ward questions that you would never have asked him if he hadn't been under the influence of a truth serum." He kept his voice calm. "I know you feel badly about it. I know you told Skye it was a bad idea. I know you were trying to change the subject off of what she had asked him. I guess I'm having difficulty understanding why you thought asking that question was a good alternative." Bucky glanced over into Fitz's face, giving him a small smile to let the younger man know he wasn't angry. He genuinely wanted to know Fitz's thought process before he addressed anything further.
Fitz sighed, staring at a point on the ground. "All I could think... was that it was clearly uncomfortable for him. I didn't really think about telling him to shut up... or call for Coulson or someone else. I figured... first mission was a safe topic." He hunched in on himself. "Even as I said it, I knew it was the wrong thing to say... but I didn't realise just how the serum would make him interpret that..."
Bucky nodded. "I expected as much. And it's only the reason that you weren't trying to get information from him that he wouldn't normally give, and that your intentions were good, that has earned you a bit of leniency. But the fact is, you wouldn't have even been in a position where you needed to worry about what you were asking him- let alone shutting him up or changing the topic- had you just firmly told Skye no when she first broached the subject to you, things would have been very different. I realize you told her it would be wrong, but when she tried to convince you and herself that she wasn't going to ask anything very bad, you didn't argue against it. You let it go, giving her the impression that even if you didn't do anything, you wouldn't stand in her way."
Bucky sighed softly. "Sometimes doing the right thing means standing in the way of our friends. When you chose not to do that, you put yourself in the position later of having to come up with an alternative; and then made the wrong choice out of the numerous choices you could have made because you panicked. Granted, a lot of that has to do with training; and I plan to begin training you, starting tomorrow, how to think on your feet and make good choices, even when you are in a hurry and panicking. But we still need to deal with the fact that you didn't tell Skye no and that you put yourself in a position to make a very bad choice." Bucky waited for his words to sink in before acting.
Fitz nodded, feeling too guilty to even try to argue. "I know..." he said quietly. "I know it was wrong and I wish I'd made more of an effort to stop it. I deserve..." He couldn't bring himself to say the word, even though he was fairly certain he knew what was about to happen.
Bucky gave a tiny smile. "I'm glad you agree, because I am going to spank you. It's easier if you are able to accept the fact that you deserve it." Giving Fitz's shoulders one last squeeze, Bucky carefully tugged the boy over his lap, wrapping an arm around his waist tightly then tugged his trousers and underwear down. Barely giving the younger man time to register the fact that he was exposed, he lifted his hand and let it fall with a firm, hard smack, then raised his hand again and smacked a second time directly below the first.
Even expecting it... knowing it would happen and how it probably would happen... Fitz was startled, though he made no attempt to fight or resist. He jumped when the first swat connected and whimpered with the second.
Bucky saw no reason to chide or rehash all the reasons that Fitz found himself in this position. The kid already felt guilty, even before Bucky had pointed out his mistake. This was more about helping the younger man move beyond the guilt and learn, so that he didn't make the same mistake in the future. Because of this, Bucky kept the smacks firm, but not overly hard. Nowhere near as hard as he could have made them. Even so, the sting was far from pleasant. And he didn't follow any particular pattern, not wanting the boy to focus on that and lose sight of why he was being punished. He spanked from the top down to mid-thigh before starting over again.
It was on the second circuit that he finally spoke. "You're a good man, Fitz. Better than your actions today demonstrated. But I'm going to help you. I'll teach you how to think on your feet and give yourself options when you are too scared to think clearly, instead of going with the first thing that pops into your head. But on the occasion that you let your fear or panic take over, you'll find yourself in this position again. Because letting your panic control you is dangerous. It not only lets you do things that hurt the people you care about, but it's damn dangerous! And I won't have you hurt or die because you didn't learn to control it."
Bucky was surprised- though maybe he shouldn't have been- that he truly meant those words. He cared about the boy...considered him a friend now. And Bucky had precious few of those to risk losing.
Fitz already felt guilty enough that tears were falling with the first few swats. Another whimper escaped as Bucky began the second circuit... but his breath hitched in a sob at Bucky's words. He wasn't even sure why. It wasn't that the older man's lecture made him feel worse (he wasn't sure anything could), but they hit him hard.
Bucky had been listening closely and as soon as he heard the sob (even if Fitz had tried to hold it in), he quickly tilted the younger man forward to give attention to Fitz's sit spots. "I care about you, Fitz, and I know I'm not the only one."
Fitz quickly gave into the sobs, affected by the other man's words as much as the spanking itself. He hadn't really been fighting the punishment, but even his slight shifting in response to the swats had stopped now.
Bucky immediately stopped the spanking when he felt the younger man give in. Rubbing his back gently for a few moments, he carefully lifted Fitz to his feet, standing next to him, then pulled the kid into his arms and held onto him loosely; not gripping him as tightly as his instincts urged him to...at least not until he'd given Fitz the chance to pull away if he didn't want the comfort.
Fitz automatically leaned into Bucky, wrapping his arms around the other man, needing the comfort... even if doing so made him feel a little childish, he still needed it.
Bucky tightened his arms around Fitz, gently rubbing his back with one hand. "You'll be okay. You're a good man, Leo. I also know you want to apologize to Grant." He squeezed a little tighter. "I can guess that you are worried he won't want to speak to you because he'll be too angry or upset; that he'll feel betrayed by you. I know that's how I'd feel if I were in your position."
He continued, "...But I also know that, more than likely, Grant is more worried about how you will see him now that you know even more of his dark past. He's probably afraid that you won't want to talk to him. And the longer you put off facing him, the more sure he'll be that you don't want to have anything to do with him anymore. I know he's feeling that way because that's exactly how I felt when Steve first found me and reminded me who I had been; and I remembered what I had done and what I became. Steve didn't leave me alone until I knew he didn't look at me as a monster. Grant's going to need that from you." He glanced down, catching the younger man's eyes with his own. "Think you can handle that?"
Fitz blinked, a bit taken aback, but quickly nodded. "I..." He cleared his throat. "I've seen Grant do some awful things, but I know he isn't that person. I have never stopped believing in him... and even learning some more of his past hasn't changed that. I just... feel bad that it's been brought up again. I'm not going to stop spending time with him..."
Bucky nodded back. "I know. Like I said. You're a good man...and you're a good friend. Grant is going to have a hard time believing it, though...because his own belief in himself isn't strong enough yet." Bucky finally stepped back from Fitz to give the younger man some room, but ready to step forward and give more comfort if the boy needed it. He didn't appear to be focused on himself, however, and Bucky fully expected the kid would want to go hunt down his friend as soon as possible. "Maybe we should ask JARVIS to find out if it is ok for you to go to Coulson's floor and see him...."
Fitz nodded. "I'd like to do that." He still felt anxious, but more worried about Grant... and hoping that his friend wasn't too distressed. At least Coulson had taken him. Fitz knew that the director would give Grant all the attention and affection he needed.
Bucky nodded. "JARVIS? Could you ask the Director if it would be alright for Leo to come to his floor and speak with Grant? He'd like to apologize...."
# # #
May had led Skye to the elevator and taken her to her own floor, leading her to the living room and tugging the girl down beside her onto the couch. "Ok. I want to hear what exactly you were thinking, questioning Grant the way you did." May managed to keep her voice calm and collected, as always, but she couldn't help the disappointment showing in her eyes.
Skye had spent the entire walk thinking about exactly what was going through her mind... and she didn't like what she'd realised. Or what it said about her. Looking away from May, she leaned her head against her hands and spoke in a very quiet voice. "Because... he had to tell me... why..." Her voice trailed off.
May couldn't help but frown. She had a few suspicions, but until Skye actually admitted it, she didn't want to react. "Tell you why, what?" She finally prodded gently.
"...Why he didn't want to be around me..." Skye spoke in a very quiet voice. She thought about leaving it at that, but once she said that, she found she couldn't leave it at that. "I could never... ask any of them. Why they didn't want me. Why they gave me away. Whether it was... because of me..."
"Oh, Skye...." May sighed, sympathetic to the girl, but knowing Skye had gone about everything the wrong way. "Sweetheart...it was never you," May finally admitted. "I...I can't say anymore right now, but I will speak with Phil about certain things that I really think you should be told and we will talk about it. At the very least, I need to give him a heads up that I'm going to tell you," May said softly.
May slanted her head and looked into the girl's eyes. "You do realize that Grant wasn't them. And it wasn't fair to him to ask him when he was unable to make the choice about what and how he'd tell you the answers to your questions."
"I know," Skye whispered. "I didn't actually intend to ask that... and Fitz even said it was a bad idea," she mumbled. "I should have listened to him..."
May nodded. "Yes, you should have," she agreed. "I do think you need to speak with him about things when he isn't under the influence of whatever is affecting him. I doubt he realized it was bothering you. And given what happened, he probably didn't think you wanted him to go back to the way things were before. But I don't know. You should talk to him, when he is able to decide how to answer."
May sighed. "C'mon, let's get this over with. I hope you realize I don't want to do this...but I will when it is necessary. So please don't make it necessary again...." She smiled crookedly as she tugged Skye over her lap, securing the younger girl against her stomach and then tugging her jeans and underwear down. Raising her hand, she let it fall in a firm smack.
Skye thought about voicing at least a token protest, but she felt guilty about taking advantage of the effects of the truth serum. In any case, the first swat killed any protest she might have made and she hissed out a slight gasp, taken aback by how much it hurt.
May didn't bother talking. It really wasn't her style and she felt everything that had needed saying had been said. She made sure to keep the swats at less than her usual strength, however; Skye was already sorry. This was about helping her remember to think and not do whatever she wanted, when she wanted. This was about helping her feel as if she had paid for her mistake so she could let it go and move on. This wasn't about making her feel worse or causing pain (even if pain was a natural result). May was methodical, starting at the top of Skye's bottom and swatting every inch until she had reached mid-thigh.
When she began from the top for a second circuit, she finally spoke. "I know you didn't mean to, but you hurt him, Skye. He's already so confused about so many things and is working through so much already. And it could have been avoided if you'd been patient and waited for a better time."
Skye whimpered softly, tears filling her eyes and slipping out. She pressed her head into her arms to try and muffle her tears, but she still got out a response to May's words. "I...I know... Didn't mean to..."
"I know you didn't. And next time you're tempted to be impatient, I hope you remember this and will think twice before acting. Because you are not a mean person. And I won't allow you to behave in ways that hurt your family, even if you don't mean to. You will find yourself in this position again if needed." May finished the second circuit and could tell Skye was crying, even if softly, so tipped her forward enough that she could focus on the girl's sit-spots. "But I promise you this. I won't let you hurt your family without consequences...but I won't let them hurt you either. You are too important to us; to me. I hope you realize that."
Even if Skye had wanted to hold in her reactions, May's words made it impossible for her to do so. She so wanted to believe in the older woman's words... that she had a family who wouldn't abandon her when she became too much trouble... but she didn't know how much she could trust that. Because being ignored had hurt. Growing up didn't make that pain any easier to bear... it just made her wonder if even this family would eventually abandon her.
A quiet sob caught in Skye's throat and that one alone seemed to open the dam.
"You are important to all of us...and if we gave you any reason to think otherwise, then I am sorry." May had finished the spanking by this point and was gently rubbing Skye's back. "I didn't mean to make you feel ignored and I'm certain Phil didn't either. And Grant...well, like I said. He probably thought you didn't want him to come around so much. He still gives me a wide berth and we actually talked things through...."
Skye took in deep breaths, trying to stop crying... or at least slow the tears a bit. She wiped at her eyes and sniffled. "Every..." She stopped, cleared her throat and tried again. "It... never lasted. None of the families. No one wanted to keep me." She hated how lost she sounded. Even growing up, she hadn't succeeded in convincing herself she was better off looking after herself and didn't need anyone.
"Oh, Skye...." May's voice was soft and regret filled, knowing as she did that the reason no one had kept Skye was because of the orders that had been given by SHIELD to the orphanage that she should never be able to settle into one place for any length of time; for her protection and for the protection of those providing the home. The younger woman deserved the truth and the first chance she got, she was going to tell Coulson that he needed to talk to Skye, or allow her to.
Carefully, she pulled the younger girl up and sat her on her lap, wrapping her arms tightly around her and hugging tightly. "We want to keep you...in fact, we're not going to let you go. Ever. You're stuck with us, whether you want to be or not...."
Slowly, Skye wrapped her arms around May in return and leaned into the older woman, hesitant over whether May was really comfortable doing this but still desperately clinging to that comfort... which she hadn't even got from the foster families when she had been with them. "Really?" She couldn't keep the note of hope out of her voice.
"Absolutely." May's voice wasn't emphatic...it wasn't her style. But it was firm and resolute and sure. "Your ours...mine...and I don't give what's mine away easily."
Skye wondered if that statement should bother her, but knowing that she was wanted was a comfort... and made her feel warmer than she had in a long time. "Is it safe to say I'd better not mention this cuddling to anyone else?" She tried to joke... tried to get back to some semblance of feeling normal, even if that couldn't be further from how she felt.
May sighed. "I'd say yes, but somehow I get the feeling everyone has figured me out now." She frowned as if it bothered her, but the twinkle in her eye gave her away.
"Maybe like how everyone figured out AC was much more affectionate than he originally seemed," Skye commented, relieved to be back on more familiar ground.
May nodded. "I kept my soft side hidden a lot longer though. So I win." She grinned. "And you can tell him that." She kept her arms loosely around the girl, in case Skye wanted to get up, but didn't release her completely, not wanting to rush the younger woman if she still needed comfort.
"I should ask if Grant would be up to me apologising..." Though Skye didn't actually get up, feeling reluctant to leave the comforting embrace.
"Easy enough to accomplish," May responded, before asking, "JARVIS? Would you ask Phil if it would be all right for Skye to visit Grant so she can apologize?"
# # #
Coulson kept his arm around Grant the whole time through picking up Copper and then heading to his floor. He guided his son into the living room and then sat down, tugging Grant down to sit on his lap and wrapping his arms around him. "I love you," he said softly, kissing the top of his son's head.
Grant had pulled in on himself, shivering, but quiet and tight with tension. He only realized where he was when his father pulled him onto his lap and Copper curled at their feet, whining softly. As soon as his father's arms were around him, he curled up as tightly as he could against his father and held on. He still didn't say anything, but the shivering quickly became shaking and it was readily apparent that Grant was sobbing, out of control.
Coulson tightened his embrace around his son, stroking his hair and back and rocking him as if he were much younger. Kissing Grant's head again, he continued to whisper soft declarations of love to his son, his arms never so much as loosening their tight hold on Grant.
It was difficult to calm down, but his father's tight grip and gentle words finally soothed Grant enough that the sobs died down. He was still crying and shivering, but he was able to speak. "I don't want to remember..." he said in a tiny voice. "I did horrible things...things you would be appalled and ashamed of and I don't want to remember, Daddy...." He pressed his face against his father's chest. "I was a monster.... " He sobbed out the last word and shuddered, quietly crying again.
Coulson cuddled Grant tightly. "You weren't a monster, Grant," he said softly. "Your loyalty was to the first person to ever care about what happened to you. You were manipulated and used. But it doesn't make a difference. Because I have you and even if I learn more things that happened in your past, they won't change anything. You're mine. Even before I came to you in prison. That's why I fought so hard to keep you... and will continue to fight for you."
"I love you, daddy." Grant's voice was hoarse and weak from crying and his grip hadn't loosened even once since he'd ended up in his father's arms.
Coulson kissed the top of Grant's head, still rocking his son gently. "I love you, son, very much. No matter what, that will never change."
"I...I was a fool...believing Garrett. I did so many bad things...I don't want to be bad...." Grant whispered. "I want you to be proud of me...."
"I am proud of you," Coulson replied, softly and reassuringly. "There are a lot of good things you've done, even before I brought you back. But since I did, you've proved that was the right thing to do. I love you and I am proud of you."
Grant sniffled, reaching up and wiping his eyes with the back of his hand. Giving his father a hesitant but hopeful look, he asked, "Really? You're proud of me?" He hated that his voice sounded so childish, but he really wanted to know.
Coulson nodded, leaning in to kiss Grant's forehead. "I'm very proud of you, son."
Grant gave his father a tiny smile then put his head back on his father's chest, listening to his heartbeat. The sound was soothing. He took a deep breath, his father's scent calming him further. Between the scent and sound and the security and warmth of his father's embrace, Grant was finally able to calm enough that he was loose limbed and almost dozing. He asked quietly, "Is there anything you want to know? Before this serum wears off? Because I want to answer any question you have, but I don't always have the bravery to...but I don't need bravery with the serum, cuz it bulldozes over any worry or fears...."
"Grant... there isn't anything I need to know," Coulson said softly, kissing his head again. "I know everything I need to. And even if I find out more, it won't make me love you any less. But..." His arms tightened around Grant. "...If there's anything you've wanted to ask me, but haven't had the courage to do so, I won't lie to you."
Grant snuggled closer, nodding. "Ok...I...just one thing.... When you came to the jail, before you'd decided to give me a second chance...you'd come for information. What did you see that made you decide that...that you would spank me and then give me a second chance? I don't think that's what you'd planned originally...and you hadn't seemed to care what happened before then..." He couldn't help but sound a little hurt as well as confused, even knowing at the time that he didn't deserve anyone to care. "I mean...I didn't cooperate with you anymore than I did anyone else who'd visited...even went out of my way to try and push you away. I thought you'd given up on me when you captured me...."
Coulson wasn't too surprised by that question and he stroked Grant's hair as he answered, "I didn't just come for information. When I found out you'd betrayed us, I was angry... but when that anger was gone, I was hurt. I wanted to believe there was good in you... and I remembered that you'd saved our younger team members on more than one occasion. Even then, I couldn't come and see you as early as I would have liked. But I came as soon as I could."
Still stroking Grant's hair, Coulson paused to gather his thoughts before continuing, "When I sat there, looking at you... I saw everything you tried to hide. I knew you were hiding behind a mask. I saw how you reacted when I told you Fitz and Simmons were still alive. And I saw the evidence of what had been done to you while you were in prison and helpless." Coulson's jaw tightened a bit, still angry at the agents who had beaten someone so helpless and... young. "It was then I realised that you were still mine. Because you weren't a bad person and I could see that."
"I was so sorry I had b..betrayed you. All those months alone, all I had time to do was think. At first, I made excuses for myself, but once I stopped trying...trying to fool myself that Garrett had really cared, I had to see everything I'd done for him and what I'd done to all of you and...I...I was afraid to let you know how sorry I was, but you knew anyway...." He swallowed. "You were so good at seeing what I was trying to hide; still are so good at seeing when I'm trying to hide something.... I have no clue how I fooled you before." Grant huffed in faint amusement, obviously still wondering how it had happened.
"I think you were very distant before," Coulson said softly. "And I put that down to you not being used to working as part of a team... which, of course, was true; just not in the way I thought. It wasn't until later I realised just how much you needed someone to support and care about you unconditionally." And it hadn't taken long for Coulson to decide he would be that person.
"...And correct and teach me? And protect me...." Grant bit his lip. "You decided to be my father before I knew I needed one." He pressed a kiss over his father's heart. "I'm so lucky...thank you, daddy...."
Coulson smiled, pressing another kiss to Grant's head. "I love you. And I realised that when I had to face losing you after HYDRA infected you with that virus." He wanted Grant to know how quickly that had happened... that Coulson loved him for him; and not because it was some kind of duty.
Grant blinked, then leaned back to look in his father's eyes, his own wide. "But...that was almost immediately!" His voice caught, as the truth caused him to choke up.
Coulson nodded, meeting Grant's eyes. "It was," he said. "It's why I stayed by your side the whole time. I couldn't bear the thought of losing you."
"And now we'll never lose each other, because I'm yours in every way possible." He smiled crookedly. "You made me...you and mom." His voice became hesitant. "Tell me some more about her?" he asked softly.
"Sir..." JARVIS interrupted gently. "I have two requests from some very sorry youngsters to be allowed to apologize to Mr. Ward and one youngster that is about to come visit you because he does not realize that it may not be a good time. Shall I tell all of them you will see them, or lock your floor and tell them to try later?" The AI was perfunctory...even if there was a hint of worry in the tone.
Coulson leaned in and kissed Grant's forehead. "Are you ready to see them?" he asked softly. "I can tell you more about your Mom later... or I can tell you now. Whatever you want," he said, softly and lovingly.
Grant bit his lip, and looked at his father, worry clear in his eyes. "You heard what I told Leo," he fretted. "How can I ever face them again...?" His face was full of fear and longing. Leo was his little brother...he couldn't bear the thought the younger man would hate him. And Skye? Even if he wasn't in a place, mentally, that would be good for a romance, he still cared deeply about her and wanted her to like him.
"JARVIS said they wanted to apologise," Coulson pointed out gently. "I don't think either of them are going to hate you... not now; not after everything. When I came in, Leo looked horrified... but it was more guilt-horrified. I won't make you speak to them, but I don't think they want to do anything other than apologise and make sure you aren't upset with them."
Grant swallowed hard, then nodded. "Ok, daddy...JARVIS? Please send them in..." He carefully stood off of his father's lap and sat beside him, his shoulder touching the older man's, and waited.
# # #
Tony glanced at Steve. "JARVIS just said it was ok to go see him...may I?" he asked hesitantly. Tony hadn't gone anywhere or done anything in the last two days without Steve's permission. He would have been irritated at how childish the situation made him feel, if it hadn't been for the fact that it actually felt good answering to someone else who he knew cared. Steve now had a place among Pepper, Happy and Rhodey as one of the few people who could influence his behavior just because of who they were.
Steve nodded, placing a hand on Tony's shoulder and squeezing gently. "Would you like me to come with you?" He wanted to offer in case the younger man needed his presence and support, rather than thinking Tony needed someone to keep him in hand.
"I..." Tony hesitated then gave a sheepish smile. "Actually, I would...if you don't mind." He slumped slightly, leaning towards the other man.
Steve wrapped his arm around Tony's shoulders. "I don't mind at all," he said reassuringly.
Tony gave a brief nod. "Thanks, Steve..." His voice was quiet, without too much emotion or inflection; but his eyes gave him away, the gratitude and relief palpable. "Shall we?" He sounded nervous, but he still managed to turn himself and walk to the elevator.
Steve nodded, walking after Tony and entering the elevator.
Tony stood as close to Steve as he could be without it looking obvious that he wanted to stand next to Steve and quietly waited for the elevator to reach Phil's floor. When they passed the floor and kept heading to another, he spoke up. "Uh, JARVIS? You just passed Director Agent's floor, buddy. Why?"
The AI's voice intoned calmly, "We have two more stops to make. While you speak with Director Coulson, Agents Skye and Fitz wish to speak with Agent Ward."
Steve waited calmly next to Tony as first Fitz and then Skye got onto the elevator, both still looking bothered and guilty.
Tony frowned slightly at the looks on the other two's faces. If he hadn't done anything or gone anywhere without Steve's permission- he also hadn't actively searched out any of the other members of Phil's team or the Avengers. He had seen Bucky last night- the man was still sharing a floor with Steve, although Tony had set aside a floor for him to decorate for himself, when he felt like he wanted his own space. Anyone else? Not so much.
He started to open his mouth to ask what was wrong, but then looked more closely- decided the looks on their faces weren't worrying in a bad way- and decided to let them tell him if they wanted to and keep out if it if they didn't.
Soon JARVIS had stopped at Coulson's floor and the doors opened. Tony gave Skye and Leo a tiny smile and motioned forward. "After you, kiddies...."
Skye and Fitz exchanged glances and then, taking a deep breath, Fitz stepped out of the elevator, followed by Skye, and headed to the living room area, knocking lightly on the door.
Tony looked at Steve hesitantly, wondering if maybe he shouldn't come back another time, but took his own deep breath and followed them.
# # #
Grant heard the knocking on the door and gave his father a hesitant look, unconsciously reaching for the older man's hand.
Coulson gently took Grant's hand, squeezing it, as he called softly, "Come in."
Opening the door, Fitz stepped hesitantly into the room, but looked straight at Grant. He still looked guilty, but his voice was sincere as he said softly, "I'm sorry."
"Me too." Skye stepped in too, stopping next to Fitz.
Tony stepped in and kind of to the side of the younger agents and got a sheepish look on his face. He would have rather talked to Phil in private; just in case the man wanted to add his own opinion of his actions to what Steve had already made clear...but he'd noticed the grip Grant had on Phil's hand and decided his pride would have to take a hit if it meant Phil's son would feel better. He cleared his throat hesitantly and actually blushed; which should have surprised him, since his sense of shame had disappeared shortly after he became a teenager, but didn't because that same sense seemed to have found him again when Steve Rogers entered his life. "Uh...I'd like to apologize too, sir." He kept his tone as respectful as possible and looked straight at Phil, so the older man would know he was talking to him.
Grant blinked then looked at his father, wondering what Tony could have done that needed an apology, but not asking. He squeezed his father's hand once, then gently extracted his hand from his father's grip and bit his lip, giving Leo and Skye a tentative smile. "It's ok...I know you didn't mean to...to... I know you didn't want to know...." He sighed and looked down. "Maybe we can go talk in the kitchen?" he said softly, even as he looked at his father for his opinion.
Coulson nodded to Tony, giving him a reassuring smile, and then made eye contact with his son. "If you'd like to talk to them in the kitchen, that's fine," he said softly. "I'll be right here if you need me. For anything." His voice was soft and loving. He guessed it would be better to talk privately, but he didn't want Grant to feel that he had to leave if he'd rather not.
"Thanks, dad..." Grant said softly, using the more 'mature' term of endearment to let his father know he'd be ok; or at least he felt like he would be. Standing up, he motioned to Fitz and Skye. "Would either of you like a drink?" he asked on his way to the kitchen.
"Coffee would be good," Fitz said, following Grant out of the room and to the kitchen.
"I'm okay," Skye said, as she joined them.
Grant looked at his two younger team mates and smiled weakly. "I'm sorry I lost it in the lab...you shouldn't have had to see that..." His voice was slightly embarrassed and a lot hesitant. Despite his father's assurances, he still wasn't sure they wouldn't hate him after what he had revealed.
"That was... my fault." Skye hesitated, not sure if it was appropriate for her to mention the reasons why. Eventually, she said, "It wasn't the right way to go about getting answers. I know that."
"And I know I should have thought of a different way of distracting you," Fitz said guiltily. "I just made things worse for you."
Grant winced. "Yeah, well...if I wasn't so weak it would never have happened and I wouldn't have had anything to be bothered by.... I honestly don't know how you all can stand to be around me sometimes...." he admitted sadly.
"But you aren't weak," Fitz said. "And, well, I've seen you do bad things... and I know those don't define you. You're still a good person and I'm glad you're here with us."
Skye nodded along in agreement. "There's a reason I was bothered by us not hanging out much, if at all."
Grant looked between the two of them and couldn't see any signs of them lying about their feelings. He found himself relaxing, relieved that he hadn't disgusted them to the point they wouldn't want to be around him any longer. "Thank you...." he finally said, the relief clear in his voice. He then glanced at Skye. "I didn't mean to hurt you by not hanging out...I...I honestly wasn't sure you wanted to hang out with me like before," he admitted.
"May... said that was probably it," Skye said quietly. "I know I shouldn't have picked that time to bring it up, but it kind of brought back some memories," she admitted.
Grant nodded. "Maybe...when I'm able to control what comes out of my mouth better...we can actually have that conversation." He smiled crookedly.
"That would be nice," Skye said. "I do miss doing things with you. Even if that was only when you were a robot," she teased.
Grant smiled. "I miss it too. I...I was just about to see if dad wanted to go back to the lab with me and see if Jemma had discovered anything new...would you like to come?" he asked the two quietly.
"I'd like to come... if you'd be all right with that," Fitz said.
Grant smiled. "I wouldn't have asked if I wasn't all right with it. Let's go get my dad and we can head down."
"That sounds good... I hope Jemma's thought of a way to help," Fitz said, a bit anxiously.
"Yeah... though at least AC will be there in case you do start saying something you'd rather not," Skye said.
Grant nodded, then put his arms around both his younger team members and headed back to the living room. "Hey, dad. I want to go find out if Jemma has found out anything...will you come?" He knew his father would, but it was only polite to ask.
# # #
Tony swallowed, shoving his hands into his pockets and glancing at Steve from the corner of his eye and gnawed at his lower lip, suddenly nervous. He actually liked and respected Phil a lot and until the Avengers, that had rarely been the case. He was actually nervous at what the man would have to say to him; not that he would be angry or finding fault (Tony expected that he deserved that), but that he would be disappointed like Steve had been...and as much as it scared him to admit it, he didn't want Agent's disappointment any more than he wanted Steve's. He closed his eyes and shook his head. Somehow, without his brain giving him permission, his heart had gone and picked itself up a 'family' and he really didn't want to lose that...with any member...but especially not the 'favorite uncle'.
Steve shifted closer to Tony and placed a hand on his shoulder, squeezing gently.
"Would you like to sit down?" Coulson asked them both.
"Yeah, uh...thanks," Tony said hesitantly, before walking over to the nearest chair and sitting down before leaning forward and putting his elbows on his knees and trying not to fidget.
"I...I really do want to apologize." He finally looked up and faced Coulson, looking him in the eye. "I was out of line. My intentions were good, but disobeying direct orders from both you and Steve was disrespectful at best; dangerous to possibly deadly at worst. I could have made things a lot worse than they were...and if I had, I would have never forgiven myself..." His voice trailed off and he blinked back his remorse, looking at the floor again.
Coulson nodded. "I know you had good intentions, but it's not that you disobeyed my orders... it's that you put yourself in danger to do so. Regardless of the fact that you might have given them another hostage... none of us would have wanted anything to happen to you," he said, seriously and honestly.
Tony gave a tiny but unhappy smile. "That's what Steve said..." he said softly "…I'll have to take your word on that." He shrugged slightly, still finding it difficult to believe that so many people actually cared about him. "I just...I didn't want you to think I didn't respect you or trust you to handle things, because that's not it; even if it's what it seemed like. And I am sorry...." He winced. "...I still do a lot of things without thinking them through all the way. I know you know what I'm like. You've seen me at my worst...." He huffed out a laugh that wasn't very amused.
"I know," Coulson replied, giving Tony another reassuring smile. "I'm not angry with you, Tony. I'm just glad you came back safe."
Tony smiled crookedly. "I don't know how you can not be mad at me...but thank you." He looked down at his feet then glanced at Steve before looking back at Coulson. "I'm...I'm trying to do better. I've got a bit more help than I've had in the past to help me be better...." he said with a little amusement.
"I can see that," Coulson said. "But I am glad that you're safe. And I'm sure Steve's had many things to say about it... I'm not going to add to that."
Tony nodded. "Oh, yeah. He was very, very clear on a lot of things..." Tony reached back and rubbed his backside without thinking, but realized, almost as soon as he'd done it, what he was doing. Blushing slightly, he quickly moved his hand up to run through his hair and cleared his throat. "So...anyway. I just wanted to make sure we were ok...." He bit his lip again as he looked at Coulson.
"We're okay," Coulson replied. "Just try to listen next time. So nothing happens to you."
"I'll try, sir," Tony answered seriously. "I uh...I'm guessing you'll want to spend the rest of the day with your son," he said quietly, before glancing at Steve. "Is it alright if I go to my lab and work on some projects?" He didn't even realize he was now asking permission to do things that he normally did without a thought.
Steve nodded. "Just be careful not to get too caught up in your projects, all right? I'd like to spend some more time with you." He'd been careful not to crowd Tony, but still spending time with him.
Tony shifted from one foot to the other then hesitantly asked, "You could come with me, if you wanted? I'm working on some stuff that you might be interested in...." The normally self-confident man seemed anything but as he asked for the company.
Steve smiled. "I'd like that. It would be good to see what you're working on. And also to spend the time with you."
Tony's confidence seemed to come back at Steve's answer and he straightened his shoulders and smiled. He glanced over as the younger members of the 'family' came back, then rocked back and forth on his heels. "I guess we can go now...get out of Director Agent's hair..." He grinned impishly at Coulson then clasped Steve on the shoulder before heading to the elevator. "I've actually been working on some armor for you...the same basic design that Agent originally came up with, but using a material that is lighter and stronger...so it hopefully will deflect more things so you are less likely to get wounded...."
Steve walked alongside Tony, listening intently to the younger man's explanation. "That sounds very good," he said. "I think it'll be extremely useful."
Coulson smiled as Tony and Steve left then turned his attention back to his son. "Of course." He stood up. "I'm ready whenever you are."