Author’s Note: This was written as a RPG (roll playing game) between co-authors Hope1iz and BlackFox12. Set after the season one finale. Twenty-first 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 gets into trouble, but it can’t be handled right away. Some family members share their stories to help him feel better.
Warning(s): Spanking; spoilers for Agents of SHIELD and Avengers Assemble; some triggery parts.
Co-Author’s Website: BlackFox12's fanfiction.net page


REDEEMING GRANT
COMMISERATIONS


Grant sat up in bed with a gasp, eyes wide and looking around his room nervously, before his mind caught up with his eyes and he realized he was safe in the tower on his floor. This was the fifth night in a row he'd woken with his heart pounding its way out of his throat. It wouldn't have been so bad if he could remember what the dreams he'd had were about, but he could never remember them. The results weren't easy to forget, however. The first four nights, he hadn't been able to go back to sleep; and he doubted this night would be different. He really needed to sleep, though. Operating on less than four hours of sleep a night was starting to take its toll and he'd been finding it increasingly more difficult to concentrate on his assignments- and keep his temper in check- due to being so tired. It was time to swallow his pride.

Sighing softly, he got out of bed and walked to the elevator, taking it down one floor so that he was on his father's floor. Swallowing, he quietly padded, barefoot, to his father's room and gently knocked on the door, wanting to give his father some warning that he was there so as not to startle him.

Coulson came awake at the knock on the door and sat up in the bed. "Come in," he called, voice slightly roughened with sleep, but still quite awake now.

Grant carefully opened the door and slipped inside, closing it again just as quietly. "I...I had a bad dream, daddy...." Grant winced at how childish that sounded, but he couldn't think of another way to word it that would make running to his father in the middle of the night less childish.

Coulson simply held his arms out to his son, inviting Grant to come and cuddle. "Do you want to tell me what it was about?" he asked softly, nothing but love and concern coming through.

Grant quickly made his way to his father, crawling into the bed beside him and pressing as close as he could get without being on top of the man. Hiding his face against his father's chest, he whispered, "I can't remember what it was about. But this is the fifth night I've woken up from it and I can never go back to sleep after, so...." He swallowed, shivering slightly; still a bit unnerved from the dream, but already calming just by the fact that he was with his father.

Coulson kissed Grant's head and cuddled him tightly, gently stroking his hair. "I'm glad you came to me about this," he said softly. "Do you have any ideas what might have caused the dream?"

"No..." Grant admitted in a tiny voice. "No clue at all. I just know I couldn't go on another night without sleeping. I almost yelled at Nat during practice this morning because I was so tired and I can't focus on my assignments. I probably should have come to you sooner, but I was hoping it was a one time thing...." He yawned slightly, relaxing into his father's embrace further. Already, the safety of his father's arms had allowed him to calm to the point where he was already almost asleep.

"Maybe you should sleep in here for the next few nights," Coulson suggested, still gently stroking Grant's hair and cuddling him even tighter. "I love you," he whispered in his son's ear.

"Love you too, daddy...." Grant nuzzled into his father's chest and was quickly asleep.

Coulson held his son, watching him for several long moments, before he closed his own eyes, slipping back into sleep fairly quickly.

# # #

Coulson woke up about the normal time he did and was a little surprised to find Grant still fast asleep in his arms. Normally, his youngest was awake at the crack of dawn... if not earlier. Coulson pressed an affectionate kiss to Grant's head before gently squeezing his shoulder, already thinking about how he could further help his son.

"Hu....wh..." Grant blinked blearily, before his vision cleared enough for him to see his father. "Hey, dad..." He smiled crookedly, then reached up with both hands and rubbed at his eyes. "I'll be up and out of your hair in a few seconds..." he said softly, although he didn't sound rushed and was obviously teasing slightly. He yawned then blushed. He was still very tired; but then, four days without good sleep was bound to do that to a person.

"You don't have to get up," Coulson said softly. "You're obviously still very tired. Why don't you go back to sleep for a while?"

"I have to finish my assignment, or Bruce won't be able to do his experiment..." Grant protested weakly, through another yawn.

"You can finish it later, son. Bruce will understand. In fact, if you insist on working while you're this tired, he'll probably scold you... and then me for letting you work." Coulson's tone held a slight teasing note, but he was still quite serious.

Grant snorted in amusement. "You're probably right," he admitted. "Ok...but wake me if something happens?" He smiled at his father, before rolling over onto his stomach and burrowing into his father's pillow, the scent making him feel safe.

"Of course." Coulson gently stroked Grant's hair, kissing the top of his head. "I love you, son," he reiterated.

"Love you too, daddy..." Grant responded softly, before falling asleep again.

# # #

Coulson had moved through to his office, so that he could get some paperwork done, when about thirty minutes later, an alarm started going off. Concerned, Coulson headed out of his office, aware that everyone would gather in the common area.

When the alarm had gone off, Grant had jumped out of bed immediately, adrenaline shooting through his body. He'd quickly thrown on some clothes that he'd left in his father's room and ran out of the bedroom, glancing around to see if his father was still on the floor before he headed to the common meeting area.

Just heading to the elevator, Coulson paused to allow his son to catch up before heading inside. As the elevator moved, he looked worriedly at his son, noticing how tired Grant looked.

By the time they reached the common area, several other tower occupants had joined them in the elevator and Coulson paused to allow the others to leave first.

Grant stood in the back, leaning against the wall of the elevator, eyes half closed. When they arrived at the common floor, he waited till everyone but his father had disembarked before stepping off the elevator with his father. He walked into the meeting room, his father directly behind him.

Tony looked up from the 3-D map that he was perusing. "HYDRA decided to hijack a truck full of science equipment...it isn't clear yet why, but given their penchant for biological weapons and experimentation, I doubt we can afford to let someone else handle it." The billionaire looked to Steve for confirmation of his words.

Coulson kept his attention worriedly on Grant even when they entered the meeting room and made sure his youngest had a seat, standing against the wall between his sons.

Steve nodded his agreement with Tony's words. "JARVIS has hacked into roadside cameras to give us an idea of where the truck is heading." He looked at Coulson. "I think we should send at least one person to hack into any of the computer or security systems."

"That would be Skye or myself...in case you were wondering..." Tony said to the room at large, a cheesy grin on his face. "Although I recommend Skye, as you will most likely need me in the suit for other matters."

Clint rolled his eyes then glanced at his brother, a slight hint of worry in his eye. He didn't say anything.

Grant sat down where his father had directed him and listened, not saying anything but yawning every so often.

Coulson was paying as much attention to what was going as to his youngest, aware of how tired Grant was. He placed his hand on his son's shoulder and squeezed gently, even as he spoke to Tony. "I think you're right. It'll be easier to have you doing recon in the air."

Tony nodded, as if he never expected any other response to his suggestion. He glanced at Steve for his input.

Clint straightened. "What's the plan, then? Who is going in and who is holding the perimeter? And is anyone staying behind? I know normally Bruce stays behind, but given the nature of what was taken, maybe he should go this time?"

Bruce looked between Steve and Coulson, willing to do whatever was needed of him.

Steve nodded. "I'm inclined to agree. Bruce... would you be happy to go?" he asked the doctor, not wanting Bruce to do something he felt uncomfortable with.

Coulson looked at Grant and confirmed the decision he'd already made in his mind. "Grant, I think you should stay behind and get some rest." He spoke quietly, his voice laced with concern.

"If Skye's going, do you want me and Simmons to stay behind?" Fitz asked. "In case you need one of us to look at anything?"

Bruce nodded. "I'll be fine to go, Cap." His smile was gentle and unassuming as always.

Simmons shook her head. "I think I can do more to help if I'm with Dr. Banner," she protested slightly, unsure if the Captain or Director Coulson would insist she stay behind.

Grant looked as if he wanted to protest himself, but sighed and shook his head slightly instead. "Ok, but if you aren't back in three hours, I'll come join you."

Steve nodded to Simmons. "You can come, but make sure you stay close to one of us at all times." He considered assigning one of the team members to watch her, but decided that was unnecessary. They'd do it anyway.

"If we're not back in three hours, I'll check in with you," Coulson promised. "I don't want you to just leave here."

Grant nodded, not really able to concentrate enough for his father's words to register.

Bucky glanced around at the assembled group. "We ready to go now?"

"I think so." Steve glanced around to make sure no one had any objections.

"No objections here!" Clint said, straightening up and heading to the elevator. "Let's go."

Loki, who had remained quiet through the planning, glanced at Thor. "I should probably stay here. We would not want to risk panic among the Midgardians should someone recognize me." He sounded disappointed, if resigned at the fact.

Thor hesitated, glancing at the others as they headed to the elevator and then at his brother. "Would you like me to stay with you?" He didn't sound reluctant about it, knowing he would do anything to make Loki feel more comfortable.

Loki shook his head and smiled at his brother. "There is no need, Thor. And you are needed with your team. Do not worry about me." He smiled and clasped Thor on the shoulder, before waving him to go.

"I'm going to go sleep some more," Grant muttered, standing up and heading for the elevator so he could head back to his floor.

***

Grant had slept for the following three hours without interruption. He woke up and showered and dressed, feeling more himself. He grabbed something to eat then checked his phone. His father hadn't called yet, but he could tell the group was not back yet, so he expected a call at any moment.

As promised, Coulson managed to find a secluded area so he could give a quick call to his youngest. They'd run into a few snags, but there currently wasn't any danger, so he could check in with Grant.

Grant quickly answered the phone. "Is everything going well? Do you need me? Is everyone ok?" he asked in one breath.

"Everyone's fine," Coulson replied reassuringly. "It's just taking a little longer than we thought. You don't need to come..." He paused and the sound of bullets could be heard in the background. Abruptly, the connection was lost.

Grant blinked. "Dad?"...Silence, then a dial tone. "Daddy?!"

Shoving his phone back into his pocket, Grant ran to the elevator, heading to the armory to get his equipment. Like hell he was staying where he was....

# # #

There hadn't been enough time to say anything to his son when the attack happened and HYDRA agents were suddenly swarming them. Coulson had lost his grip on his phone when he'd gone for his gun and although he knew Grant would be worrying, he also knew that he couldn't take the time to reassure his son... not with how quickly the enemy was on them.

The rest of the team fought, despite being outnumbered. It helped that both Tony and Clint were high in the air and able to pick off attackers from there.

Steve used his shield to good effect, both to protect the others and to attack the HYDRA agents. Once again, Coulson found himself wondering how their enemy had so many recruits... and somewhere, at the back of his mind, was the uneasy thought that maybe Grant hadn't been the only child taken and indoctrinated into HYDRA.

# # #

Grant hadn't wasted any time grabbing his gear and heading out of the tower. JARVIS had attempted to stop him, making sure the elevator would not run and imploring him to wait until his father had given the clear for him to go join them, because he didn't know what he would be walking into. Grant had taken the stairs instead and ignored all the AI's wise advice.

"You know, rushing into things headlong without thinking never ends well..." A low, cultured tone met him on the bottom floor before he was to go into the garage.

"Loki...my father and family need me..." Grant argued.

"Do you not think Thor would have sent for my help, if it was that dire?" Loki questioned, eyebrow going up.

"Perhaps, if he didn't think you being out where everyone could see you wouldn't cause a panic and therefore more of a problem than they already have...." Grant retorted. "Even if it is true that it's not dire," he conceded, "I can not sit here any longer feeling useless. They are my family and I should be doing my job. You haven't been here long enough to have been given a job yet, so you aren't slacking like I am."

Loki sighed then stepped away from the door. "At least wear a comm, so that you can be reached by myself and JARVIS, or by your family, if needed." The young demigod held out the device to Grant expectantly.

"Uh...thanks." Grant gave Loki a sheepish nod and a half-smile, grabbing the comm and putting it in place and turning it on, then rushed out to the garage and jumped on his bike.

"This is not going to end well," Loki muttered, then teleported himself back up to his and Thor's floor. "Keep me updated on his whereabouts, JARVIS? And as soon as the comms come back online with Son of Coul, please inform him that his own son has run to join him? I would teleport there to inform him myself, but I do not fancy a trip over my brother's knee so soon after the last time."

# # #

Clint and Tony were doing their best to keep a large portion of the HYDRA forces from overwhelming their team on the ground. Slowly but surely, the objective was being reached, HYDRA operatives either unconscious or dead on the ground. The steady stream of new HYDRA was unrelenting, however.

"Where the hell are they coming from?" Tony muttered, as he shot a repulsor beam at a truck filled with HYDRA. It flipped over and exploded. If the soldiers in there got out, they wouldn't be fighting anyone any time soon.

It seemed to take a long time for there to be a breathing space and Coulson quickly changed the mission parameters, directing the team to retreat. They had the van of medical supplies with them and even though they hadn't succeeded in getting all the information, keeping everyone alive and unharmed was more important.

There wasn't time for Coulson to get his phone back as they retreated, covering each others' escape. It wasn't until they were all safely in the van and making a quick getaway that Coulson became aware of a beeping coming from his belt.

Removing the control for the bracelet, Coulson stared for a second or two at the message flashing up and then quickly activated his comm, hoping that his son had thought to bring one with him. "Grant, go back to the tower."

"Dad? Are you all alright? I'm maybe fifteen minutes away from your last position. Are you in the same place? I can provide a distraction..." Grant was thinking of all the different possibilities that would perhaps 'surprise' HYDRA enough that the rest of the team could overtake them and win. He conveniently ignored his father's order, pretending he hadn't heard it; there was no way he was being left at the tower when he was fully able to fight and his family needed him!

"We're retreating. I need you to go back, son. I need to take this van to SHIELD headquarters, but the rest of the team will be on their way back. Don't continue to our last position. It's swarming with HYDRA agents." As calm as Coulson tried to sound, his worry and fear for his son seeped through his voice.

Grant stopped his bike, pulling to the side of the road. "Retreating? Is everyone ok? Do you need me to get the medical lab ready?" His own voice held worry and a hint of fear as he thought about what kind of injuries the group could be returning with. He glanced at the bracelet around his arm. It had become so much a part of his daily life, he'd forgotten he was wearing it. Sighing, he spoke again. "Are you able to look and see my location? Am I close enough to meet up with you on the way back? Just in case you are being followed and need a distraction?"

"There are a few scratches and bruises, but nothing serious," Coulson replied. He checked on the control. "We can pick you up and drop you back at the tower with the rest of the team." He would have joined them, but it was important to get the van safely off the road.

"There's no need to pick me up...I can just go back now if you don't need me. There probably isn't room on the van for the bike anyway..." Grant said calmly; or as calmly as he could. His father hadn't said anything to him yet about his leaving the tower, but he could tell the man was stressed and now that his family was out of immediate danger, Grant realized that he had probably added to that stress ten-fold. His father may not have directly told him not to leave the tower, but the implication that he was to stay there unless told to join them directly had been fairly clear.

Turning his bike around so that he was going the other direction, Grant sped back toward the tower, going much faster than he probably should have, so that he could get back and up to the main floor before he had to face everyone in the garage.

Coulson looked at the video feed and sighed when he saw the speed Grant was going at. He didn't scold his son then, though, preferring to wait until they were in private... and he wouldn't be able to hug and comfort his son until later, anyway.

As he dropped the others off at the tower, Coulson borrowed Clint's phone so that he could send a text to Grant, reiterating his love for his son and telling him they'd talk when Coulson came back. Then, making sure no one needed medical attention, he started off for SHIELD headquarters.

# # #

Grant had quickly put his bike into its designated spot in the garage and headed up to the common floor, flopping onto the couch to wait for the rest of the team. When his father's text arrived, he slumped. He'd hoped to avoid running into everyone in the garage, where evidence of his actions was more clear; he hadn't intended to avoid his father entirely. If he'd known the other man would disappear as soon as dropping everyone else off, he would have stayed in the garage and waited.

The words of love made him feel good; the declaration that they'd be talking on Coulson's return, not so much. He may not have done anything directly wrong, but he knew that he hadn't exactly done everything right, either. Would his father be spanking him? Grounding him? Scolding him semi-gently and making him go to bed early? He didn't have a clue, because he wasn't entirely certain how his father viewed his actions on a scale of 'one-to-you screwed up real bad, mister!' Sighing, he slumped even further, his weariness from the last week and his uncertainty about how much trouble he was in making him feel less than social and very depressed.

"Hey, squirt!" Clint said softly, about thirty minutes later, once he'd taken care of the few scratches he'd had and changed his clothing. His brother sat down next to him with enough force to make the couch shake, making it so Grant couldn't pretend to be asleep and not hear or notice him.

Trip and Tony weren't far behind him and each took a chair, glancing at the pair of brothers. "Why do you look like your best friend moved to another country?" Trip asked curiously. Tony snorted, but didn't say anything, looking up when Steve came into the room.

Steve followed them into the room, raising his eyebrows at Trip's comment and then looking at Grant as well. "Your dad'll be back soon," he commented, taking a seat next to Tony's. "What's bothering you?"

Grant sighed, then shrugged. "Just...I think I messed up today. I mean, Dad never said NOT to come join you all on the mission when I woke up...but it was strongly implied I shouldn't come unless he asked me to first...." He slumped even further, if that was possible. "Guess I'm just trying to figure out exactly how much trouble I'm in. Usually, he lets me know immediately, but since he had to go finish taking care of stuff, all I've been able to do is think...." Grant winced at how whiny his tone was and tried to straighten up.

Tony snorted. "Boy, if I don't know what that feels like..." he muttered with an amused grin.

Clint glanced at Tony curiously. "What do you mean, Tin-head?"

"I mean, that's exactly the way I felt the first time Steve got upset with me after we'd officially decided to remain a team and he was made leader..." Tony grinned at Steve unrepentantly.

"That was a pretty major thing," Steve commented. "And I told you at the time... it wasn't that you got rid of the nuke; it was that you did it without checking in with the rest of the team and putting yourself in danger to do that."

Tony rolled his eyes, but he was still smiling. "Yeah, yeah. I know. But like I told you at the time...I didn't think I had time to check in, let everyone else know what was happening and then argue with you all to end up doing the exact thing I ended up doing anyway...." They'd obviously had this discussion numerous times before, although there was no heat in Tony's tone. He'd started to see Steve's point of view and his objections were more to tease than through any sense of his being right.

Grant couldn't help but grin slightly. "From the way dad talked, you two couldn't stand each other when you first met. How'd you go from not being able to stand Cap to being worried about him being upset with you?"

Tony gave the younger man a sheepish look then shrugged. "That's an interesting question. You see...."

# # #

Clean-up had been under way for several days now and Tony was just finally starting to feel like his old self. Well, if you didn't count the nightmares from being in that portal. For as badly as they had got along when first brought together, the team had come together when it mattered most. Tony wasn't afraid to admit he had been wrong about most of them; and actually considered them all friends now. Or at least friendly with the possibility of being friends. Thor had taken Loki back to Asgard the morning before and Clint and Natasha had disappeared to deal with SHIELD business. Tony had managed to convince Bruce to stay. Even with the tower needing repairs, he still had his mansion and it had a state of the art lab as well. He'd thrown an invitation to Steve to join them when he realized that the man's apartment had somehow gotten flattened by the invading Chitauri.

Steve. That was a relationship that Tony just could not figure out. The two of them were getting along fine now, Steve seeming to realize that Tony disliked being compared to his father in any way shape or form and Tony realizing that he had to tone down his personality until the older man was at least able to adapt to the century he now found himself in and get used to Tony's brashness. Even so, the older man seemed to be keeping something back; seemed to be upset with Tony about something, but was refusing to bring it up. It made Tony nervous and an uncomfortable guilty feeling was weighing down on him. He had a feeling Steve's reticence and unhappiness was due to something he had done, but he wasn't sure what exactly that was. Tony was brave about a lot of things; facing relationship problems where he was the cause of the problem, not so much. He'd started avoiding Steve so that he wouldn't have to feel that sense of disappointment that he felt whenever in the other man's company.

Steve had been trying to forget the image of Tony falling out of the portal and on the ground, looking dead. For all that the group of them had struggled to get on at first, by the time they were actually fighting together (and even before that, when Clint had been brainwashed and led the attack on the helicarrier), Steve had realised he'd started to like Tony... even grow fond of the other man.

But that fondness meant that facing the possibility of Tony dying was a really hard thing to deal with. And Steve had been trying to ignore it (because it really wasn't his place to step in over Tony doing something dangerous), but he quickly realised that the other man was avoiding him... and Steve didn't want that.

It was a bit difficult to get used to talking to someone who wasn't there, but Steve still made the effort. "JARVIS? Can you tell me where Tony is, please?"

JARVIS had quickly and quietly answered in his normal efficient manner. "Sir is at the pool, attempting to overcome his distress of being submerged in water." The AI's tone held a hint of worry in it.

Tony would have ordered the AI not to give out his location, or given out the reason for it, had he realized that someone would actually be asking for him. But Bruce was involved in one of his experiments; Clint and Natasha were still out on SHIELD business; Pepper was at the tower overseeing some of the repairs; and Steve...well, they had been avoiding each other quite well, thank you, so why would Steve want to know what he was doing?

"Thank you." Steve headed to the pool before he could second-guess himself.

Tony was in the shallow end of the pool, taking in deep gulping breaths of air, close to hyperventilating. He'd thought it would be a good idea, going to the pool, immersing himself into the water, lowering his head under the water. After all, if he was in control of the entire situation, the entire time, then nothing could hurt him and maybe- just maybe- he'd get over the phobia of being in water that he had developed after Afghanistan. Of course, it hadn't worked out that way. He'd been fine, up until he'd placed his face into the water. He hadn't even ducked his entire head...and the flashbacks had hit him, he'd started thrashing around, which ended up sending him further into the pool and under the water, which caused the flashback to become worse and he'd frozen. Underwater.

He had been fortunate that he'd only begun his attempt to self-cure at the moment Steve had stepped out onto the patio overlooking the pool. Otherwise, no one would have been aware of just what was occurring; or been able to see that he was in trouble.

Steve saw immediately that Tony was having trouble and he didn't stop to think. Quickly stripping off what was likely to weigh him down, he dove into the pool and grabbed Tony, careful not to let the other man's panic pull Steve down along with him, and began pulling him to the side and out of the water.

As soon as Tony was back onto firm ground, he coughed out the water he had inhaled, gasping in deep breaths of air at the same time as muttering, "I don't know what you want...please...I can't answer you, I don't know.... I'm working as fast as I can....please...." Still in the throes of a flashback.

His eyes were tightly closed and he was shivering as if he was frozen through, although it was a warm day.

Worry came over Steve's face, but he simply grabbed a towel from the poolside and wrapped it around Tony, hugging the other man without actually thinking about it. "You're safe. It's all right. Nothing's happening." He'd seen soldiers suffering from PTSD before and was pretty sure this was the same thing.

It took a few minutes, Tony shivering the entire time in Steve's arms, but finally, the super-soldier's voice broke through the memories holding Tony immobile and the billionaire blinked pool water and tears from his eyes, coughing then asking hesitantly, "Steve? W...what happened?" He glanced around himself in confusion, not even attempting to get out of Steve's grip.

"You decided to try and cure yourself of your water phobia, alone, and got stuck in the grips of a flashback." Steve's voice was serious, but also filled with concern.

Tony blinked again, a chagrined look coming over his face. "That...that's not good. Sorry you had to see that, Cap..." Tony winced internally at the man seeing him weak like this. For all the arguing they'd done since meeting, Cap had been one of his childhood heroes and he would have rather impressed him than have him see him in this state.

Steve frowned. "Actually, I'm glad I was here... What were you thinking, trying this alone? You could have drowned." He was scolding Tony, but beneath that was concern... not anger. The other man had just succeeded in awakening all those feelings Steve had been trying to bury since he'd gone into the portal and nearly died upon falling out.

Tony never had been one to accept criticism all that well, even well-justified criticism. He stiffened at the words, ignoring the care that was underneath, and snapped out the first thing that popped into his head; which, given the circumstances, was probably the worst thing he could have said (as well as being completely untrue). "Oh, come on, Cap. It isn't like you'd miss me all that much if I had drowned. We all know who the weakest link on the team is and we know that I'm the most expendable. If you're worried about the money to fund the team, you shouldn't. I've already updated my will to take care of whatever needs the team might have in the event of my untimely demise..." he grumbled, not able to face the other man.

Steve's frown deepened and he resisted the urge to shake Tony... just. "You aren't the weakest link on the team and I really don't care about money or anything like that. I care about you putting yourself in danger, again, for no good reason and treating yourself like you're expendable when that's the last thing you are."

Tony blinked at that. "What do you mean again and for no good reason? I always have reasons!" he said agitatedly. Even Tony wasn't egotistical enough to claim his reasons were always good, but that was beside the point.

"I mean when you took that nuke through that portal!" Steve stopped and took a deep breath to calm himself down... and fight back that continual urge to shake the other man. "You nearly died... and just now, you could have drowned yourself. You didn't need to do this on your own. If you'd wanted to work on your phobia, you could have asked anyone here... myself included."

"Yeah, well maybe I didn't want everyone to see me so pathetic!" Tony snarled and pulled out of Steve's grip...barely. "We can't all be perfect and I'm far from it- and know it- and am reminded of it continually...so..." He swallowed hard and looked away, not having meant to let his low self-esteem show quite so much. "Besides. If what I did with the portal bothered you so much, why didn't you do anything about it back then, instead of waiting till now? Huh?" Tony crossed his arms over his chest, an almost childish look on his face and completely avoiding the issue of why he hadn't asked for help to work on his phobia issues.

"I was hoping I wouldn't need to and that things could be resolved without my needing to step in," Steve replied. "But you're clearly aware of my feelings, because you've been avoiding me. And this indicates your reckless behaviour wasn't a one-time thing and is something that needs to be addressed."

Tony snorted. "And you're going to be the one to address it, I take it? You aren't my father, Steve." His voice sounded uncertain, though, because try as he might, Tony couldn't take on a snide or dismissive tone with the other man. Despite what he wanted to pretend, he did value the other man's opinion; and if Steve thought he was reckless and that it was bad enough he needed to step in.... Tony swallowed, a wistful look on his face. "You aren't my father...." he said again in a quieter tone, that was less a protest of Steve's ability or right to step in and more a mantra to remind Tony not to let himself get taken in by the other man's caring attitude.

"That doesn't mean I don't care about you," Steve said. "Or that I wouldn't be upset if something happened to you. Because I was upset. When you fell back out of that portal and I thought you might be dead. Just now, when you nearly drowned yourself... not because of some sense of duty, but because I don't want anything to happen. And that's why I'm going to address this issue; now and any other time it might become necessary."

It was Steve's tone that brought Tony up short. His tone and the words that were promising some sort of action; although what Cap thought he could do that would curtail a lifetime of living life dangerously, Tony wasn't sure. "What do you mean, Cap?" he asked hesitantly with a nervous swallow.

"I'm going to spank you." Steve knew that this was a more 'modern' time than he was used to. Spanking a grown man probably wasn't seen as normal here. But having been on the receiving end himself, Steve knew that a spanking might be embarrassing and painful... but it was also a good way of showing care, as well as being a useful deterrent. Well, most of the time.

Tony's eyes widened, and his face went pale then bright red as his mouth dropped open with a yelp. He wound have like to believe Steve was joking, but the other man's tone of voice and serious expression convinced him it wasn't a joke. Jerking away from the other man and stepping back several feet, Tony nearly yelled "no way!" He didn't even wait for Steve's rebuttal before he’d turned and began running for the patio door as fast as he could, planning to head toward his bedroom where he planned to lock himself inside until Steve got the ridiculous notion that he needed to be treated like a child out of his head.

Steve wasn't surprised that Tony ran. He'd actually been expecting it, so there wasn't even a split second before he reacted. Quickly moving to his feet, he went after Tony, catching the other man just before he reached the pool exit.

"No, no, no...this isn't happening..." Tony muttered quietly to himself, the fact that he had been caught so easily and couldn't get away seeming to knock his desire to yell out of him. He was fairly certain he was about to get his arse smacked rather hard and he didn't want to draw any spectators to the embarrassing event.

He did continue to struggle, but it was half-hearted at best. He wasn't sure why he didn't fight harder, except...it was Steve. He didn't really want to fight Steve. And Steve wasn't a bully...he wouldn't do something like this if he didn't think it necessary. Was it possible that he really did deserve the embarrassment of being punished in this manner? It was just so confusing.

"Why couldn't you just ignore me like Howard? I know how to handle that..." he muttered to himself under his breath.

Steve looked down at Tony, even as he half-carried him over to one of the chairs. "Because no one who cares about you should ignore you. And I do care. Enough to not want to lose you... and especially because you chose to do something dangerous."

Tony didn't have anything to say to that; nothing that wouldn't be cruel and untrue at any rate, and he really was trying to be a better person and not rip people up with his words just because he was upset with them. And he was upset...just…not with Steve. He was upset with himself for not waiting for a time when no one might catch him; although...he didn't want to die and there was no doubt he would have if Steve hadn't come by when he did.

Maybe the Captain had a point. "If I say you were right and promise not to be so reckless anymore, will you give up this ludicrous idea of punishing me like I was five?" He tried to use his negotiating voice, but unfortunately, it sounded more like he was whining...just like a five-year-old.

"No, because I know you're too used to acting recklessly and we'd just end up in this position again... or the next time, there might not be someone there to save you." Steve didn't bother even trying to hide his worry now. He took a seat on the chair he'd been heading towards and gently pulled Tony across his lap in one swift movement.

Tony whimpered. There was no other word for it. And while he knew the mechanics of what to expect, he really didn't know what to expect. Howard was pretty much hands off in everything he did with Tony, punishments included, so Tony had nothing to base what was about to occur on.

"Please, Steve...I really didn't mean to scare you...it wasn't deliberate...I do dangerous, stupid shit all the time and no one does anything but roll their eyes; or, in Pepper or Rhodey's case, yell at me....if you want to yell, I'll stand there and not say one thing back in my defense...just don't..." He swallowed and flushed, not even able to say the word spank.

For all his begging, Tony wasn't trying to get away anymore. It was as if finding himself face first over Steve's knee had taken away his ability to move. His hands were clenched tightly around Steve's ankle- the only thing within reach that was stable enough to grip- and he closed his eyes tightly.

"I'm not going to yell at you, Tony." Steve spoke softly as he wrapped an arm around the other man's waist, tugging him gently against his stomach, before baring him. "If being yelled at doesn't make you change your reckless behaviour, perhaps this will." Taking a tighter grip on Tony, Steve brought his hand down in the first firm swat, careful to moderate his strength.

Tony let out a gurgling noise- a hybrid of a yell, a whimper and a cry- letting his head fall forward as he tensed up the rest of his body to prepare for the next swat. It wasn't as hard as he had been expecting, but maybe that was meant to lull him into a false sense of security...as soon as his guard was down, it would get harder.

Steve landed a matching swat on the other side and then two more just below the first, still careful to moderate his strength. "I know we didn't get off to the best start, but I've got to know you now. And I have no intention of letting you act dangerously and recklessly. It's you I care about. Not this tower. Or your money."

"Ok...I...I'm sorry I said otherwise..." Tony squeaked out through clenched teeth, still holding himself tensely. The only sign he gave that the swats were felt was the tiny grunts he gave after each one. "And I'm sorry you had to see me be reckless...from now on, I'll make sure you don't have to see it..." he promised, thinking that the problem was that Steve didn't want to be witness to his stunts.

He still couldn't wrap his mind around the fact that Steve cared so much about him he would actively try to stop him from acting dangerously. If his own parents hadn't tried to stop him- and no one else who claimed to care about him had tried to stop him (well, Pepper and Rhodey, but he'd taken to making sure they didn't know half of what he did)- then why in the world would Steve try and stop him? The man hadn't known him that long.

Sighing, Steve continued swatting down to Tony's thighs before starting over from the top. "I don't want you to be reckless at all. It doesn't matter if I'm there to see or not. I don't want anything to happen to you."

"But why?!" Tony was honestly confused. And it was becoming harder and harder to remain tensed up, especially when Steve started over. His body began to shake from the strain of maintaining control over himself and his reactions.

"Because I like you. Because when you fell out of that portal and I thought you were dead, it upset me. A lot." Steve paused as he started over from the top a third time. "I'm sorry I didn't explain to you how I felt before... but next time, I won't avoid you," he promised.

Tony wanted to say that he didn't believe Steve, but he couldn't. Steve would never lie about something like that. It hurt...knowing that a man who'd barely known him for a month cared about him so much he was willing to step in, when his own father hadn't even been able to tell him he cared. He never even would have known Howard cared at all if he hadn't found that film. It just hurt and that hurt formed a tight little ball in Tony's chest, choking him, until finally, it escaped in a heartbroken sob. Tony gave up and gave in...there was no way he could pretend Steve's actions and words didn't affect him, not anymore. Going limp over the other man's lap, he cried like he hadn't cried since before his parents died, like he never allowed himself to cry because he always had to be strong and in control. "You shouldn't..." he finally said in between sobs. "You shouldn't care. I'm not a good person. I hurt those who bother to care about me...." he admitted, crying harder.

Steve stopped, rubbing Tony's back a few moments before helping him up and into a tight embrace. "You are a good person," he replied quietly. "And I do care about you. It's too late to tell me not to."

Tony pulled away from the embrace at first, embarrassed and ashamed at his reaction to what hadn't even really been that harsh of a punishment. Yes, it hurt, but he'd been in worse pain and not cried. He yanked his swim trunks up, hissing as the wet material chafed, then gave Steve a forlorn look. He was regretting pulling away...the embrace had felt good for the short time he'd been in it...but he didn't know how to ask to have it back after he'd spurned it, or even if he should. He looked at the ground, his face flushed, as he whispered, "I don't think I could tell you to do anything you didn't think was the right thing..." He smiled crookedly, shifting from one foot to the other and hesitantly moving back towards Steve. "I'm sorry....?" he finally said, biting his lip and looking back up at Steve hesitantly once he was within range of Steve's grasp again.

Steve simply reached out to pull Tony in close once more. "It's all right. We don't need to talk of it anymore," he said gently. "I meant what I said. About being here for you if you want to work on your phobia. Or for anything else you need or want." He spoke with quiet sincerity.

"Yeah...Ok, Cap," Tony said softly, pressing closer to his teammate and holding on tightly. He wasn't sure if he'd take the other man up on his offer, but the fact that he knew he could went a long way toward helping him feel better about the situation. And knowing that Steve cared enough to step in made him feel good too, even if he wouldn't admit it to the other man. Just to make sure, though, he asked in a part hesitant, part teasing voice..."I'm guessing I better be careful from now on, or I'm going to be finding it difficult to sit?"

"That's a fairly accurate thought," Steve replied. "You shouldn't feel ashamed to ask for help. Everyone has people they can rely on."

"Yeah, ok. I'll try and remember that..." Tony gave a tiny smile then hugged Steve again before stepping back. "It's getting a bit chilly now...maybe we should go get some dry clothes on..." He gave Steve's clothing a sheepish glance; the man had obviously not planned to go swimming. Tony really was thankful he had shown up when he did. He knew he would have died if Steve hadn't come along and he really didn't have a death wish, no matter what other people thought. "And maybe some hot chocolate after..." he added on, turning toward the door to the inside. "What do you think of spaghetti for dinner....?"

# # #

Grant was staring at Tony with wide-eyed incredulousness. "You actually ran from Steve when he told you, you were in trouble?" The younger man couldn't fathom running from his father in that type of situation. Not only did he know his father would catch him- eventually- but it would be worse than if he'd just accepted it from the beginning. Or at least he suspected it would be; he'd never actually tried to run once it had been decided he was going to get a spanking.

Tony gave a chagrined smile. "Yeah, well.... It wasn't the only time, unfortunately. Sometimes I don't think things through all the way, even now..." He laughed at himself, giving Steve a crooked grin.

"You've been getting better... gradually," Steve commented, teasing a bit. "And your reckless behaviour has been cut down... by about half, maybe?" He smiled. "But, yes, the running has happened on more than one occasion."

"What can I say?" Tony grinned. "Sometimes running from danger is the only thing I can think to do when my butt is on the line...."

Grant couldn't help but laugh at that comment.

"I didn't think you were doing much thinking at that point." Steve paused before adding, "I actually know what that's like, to be on the other end and not think about my own safety. That was before the serum, of course."

Grant's eyes widened in surprise. Steve seemed so in charge and 'with it' that it was hard to imagine the older man being taken in hand by anyone else.

Tony didn't seem quite as surprised, although he did look curious.

Clint grinned. "You aren't a 'do as I say, not as I do,' type, are you, Cap?" he asked teasingly.

Trip, having been told some of the stories of the exploits of the Howling Commandos and Cap, chuckled. "After the serum, you weren't all that better about your own safety, if the stories Grandpa told are any indication. You just got away with more because it was during a war and everyone was putting themselves in danger.... It begs the question, though; exactly what kind of danger did you get up to before the serum and who exactly had something to say about it?"

"I tended to have a lot of problems walking away from a fight, even before being given the serum," Steve replied. "Ironically, growing in strength meant I eventually became more aware of my own safety..."

# # #

It was as Steve was heading past an alleyway that he heard the sounds of fighting coming from there... or, more accurately, the sounds of someone being beaten in a very unequal fight. As much as Steve knew that he should go for backup, he couldn't bring himself to abandon whoever it was caught in trouble.

With barely a further thought for his own safety, Steve ducked into the alleyway, spotting some members of a gang who were beating up a man... either for money or because he'd insulted them. Steve didn't know... and right now, it didn't matter.

Meanwhile, Bucky was half-a-block down the street, waiting for Steve to meet up with him to have dinner. They had planned to go see a movie afterwards, before Bucky would head out for basic training. He'd seen Steve heading his way and he'd seen as the smaller man had stopped, looking toward an alley, before he'd turned and headed in that new direction.

"Damnit, Steve...not again," he muttered, irritation masking the worry he felt. He quickly started jogging toward the direction his friend had disappeared.

Steve had quickly found himself outnumbered... not that that really tended to stop him. At least with the gang members now focused on him, the other man was able to escape... but that was a small victory, considering Steve had very quickly been overwhelmed... though he'd managed to land a few good punches before being caught.

Bucky had reached the alley just as another man, who looked badly beaten, ran out. He could hear the sounds of fists hitting flesh and could easily guess what had occurred. It took no time at all for him to run in and pull two of the bullies off of his brother and begin showing them why it was a bad idea to go after Bucky's family. His arrival had evened things out slightly and the gang, realizing that it wouldn't be an easy victory, had quickly turned tail and run...leaving Bucky to lift his friend up off the ground and give him the once over to make sure he wasn't badly wounded.

Steve winced as his brother helped him up, but he was really only bruised and bleeding from a few minor cuts. He was just starting to have a black eye show up. He looked around to make sure that the gang was gone and then focused on his brother. "Hi..." he said, a faintly guilty note to his voice.

"Hi," Bucky responded, his voice filled with gruffly disgruntled fondness. "What happened to you not going after gangs of guys by yourself? You promised you wouldn't just rush in like that anymore and would at least come get me if something was going down...." he said with frustration.

Steve sighed. "I thought about it... I was going to come and get you... but then I wasn't sure if he'd still be alive if I waited..." A slightly more sheepish note came into his voice. "Sorry about that."

Bucky sighed. "Then why didn't you just shout for me? I was half a block away. I saw you when you went into that alley. Heck, just shouting might have scared those guys off before the man you went to save was hurt worse and you wouldn't have been touched. Bullies don't tend to like hostile witnesses...and there were plenty of people on the street...."

Bucky shook his head, taking his friend by the arm and leading him home. "Come on. Let's get you cleaned up. And then we need to talk a bit more about you saving people at the expense of yourself." His tone was conversational, but steely. He was leaving for basic in the morning. Steve wouldn't have him around to pull his bacon out of the fire if he got into anymore situations where he was outnumbered so badly. The kid really needed to take a more active interest in keeping himself safe.

Steve didn't bother trying to protest and went along with Bucky. "You're right," he agreed. "I should have shouted... I'm sorry," he said again, as much for worrying his brother as for actually putting himself in danger... which he wasn't really that sorry for.

They had reached the stoop of their building by now and Bucky carefully led Steve up the stairs and to the tiny apartment they shared. "I don't think you are sorry, Steve..." he finally said quietly as he let them both into the apartment and closed the door behind him, locking it. "Oh, I'm sure you are sorry for upsetting me. But I don't think you care in the least that you put yourself at risk. You think that the life of that man who you went to help is more important than your own. Tell me I'm wrong." Bucky frowned as he began to clean the cuts and abrasions that were on his friend's face and hands, giving Steve a cloth wet with cold water to hold over his eye.

Steve held the cloth over his eye as he stood still and let Bucky clean him up. "I can't just walk by when someone's being attacked, Bucky. You know that. When they came after me... at least the man they were beating on was able to get away."

"Yeah; and you weren't…because instead of them against him, it was them against you. After tomorrow, I won't be able to come and help you out of messes like that, kid! You need to think things through a little more thoroughly and take your own safety into consideration! I don't want to be getting a letter from home telling me that my brother was beat to death in some back alley because he was trying to rescue someone else who wouldn't even bother to stick around and help once the heat was off of them!" His tone was entirely frustrated now and it was all he could do not to yell. He somehow managed to keep his voice at a normal decibel, however and stayed calm.

"I know, Bucky," Steve said quietly. "I'll think before I act next time." Even if he wasn't concerned for his safety for his own sake... he knew how much it would devastate his brother if something happened to him.

Bucky finished cleaning Steve up and stepped back to give him a considering look. He wished he could believe the smaller man would take care of himself, but he suspected Steve would need a bit of help to remember. "I hope you do...but to insure that you remember to do so, I'm going to be giving you a bit of incentive."

Taking Steve by the arm, he gently led him to the nearest dining chair, pulling it out and sitting down before tugging Steve over his lap and pulling him tight against his stomach.

This definitely wasn't the first time Steve had found himself in this position and he didn't fight or struggle. He reached down to brace his hands, one on the floor and one resting on his brother's ankle. "I am sorry."

Bucky made sure that Steve was secure against his stomach before hooking a finger in the waistband of his trousers and tugging them and his underwear down in one smooth motion. "I'm serious, Steve. I don't want to be getting a letter somewhere in Europe telling me that my best friend in the whole world, my brother in everything but blood, died because he thought someone else's life was more important than his own. Next time you think about rushing into an alley after a bunch of bullies that would sooner ground you into the dirt than listen to you, I want you to also think about how I'd feel if you were killed. And then I want you to think about all the other options you have beyond fighting in a severely outnumbered fight!"

With that, he raised his hand up and let it fall onto the center of Steve's backside with a very firm smack. He was careful not to use his full strength; he didn't want to bruise his brother, after all... but Steve and he had been through this situation more than once and Bucky wanted to make certain the lesson stuck for a bit longer this time, since he wasn't going to be with Steve after tomorrow. He raised his hand again and let it fall with the same amount of force a few inches below the first.

Steve hissed out a breath sharply, but more than the pain of those two swats was the guilt Bucky's words had raised in him. He gripped Bucky's ankle tightly, but didn't make a sound beyond that first hiss of breath.

Bucky soon fell into a rhythm, swatting all over Steve's backside from top to mid-thigh. He didn't follow a particular pattern, but he made sure to cover every inch so that there was a uniform pink color before starting over. Half-way through the second circuit, he started talking again, his voice gentle. "I know I won't be here to look out for you, kid, and it bothers me something fierce...because I know you and I know that if you think there is someone weaker than you that you can help, you're gonna do it no matter what the cost to yourself. So I want you to know that I have people I'm keeping in contact with who I've asked to watch out for you. And if they write me to tell me you're taking risks that are avoidable... the next time you see me, the first thing that will happen is I'll hug you; and the second thing that'll happen is this. Do you understand me, Steve?"

Steve couldn't help wincing, or the soft whimper that escaped him as the spanking continued. Tears filled his eyes, but he tried to swallow those back to answer his best friend. "Yes. I... understand." And Steve didn't think he should feel that relieved that his brother wasn't going to just forget about him... but there was something comforting in knowing that Bucky had still ensured he would know what was going on... even if it was embarrassing.

"Good. I hope you do understand," Bucky answered softly. Steve was almost where he needed to be; he could tell by the sound in his voice, so carefully, he tipped him forward slightly so he could focus on his friend's sit-spots. He put slightly more force behind these smacks, as he wanted Steve to remember this lesson every time he sat down; at least for the rest of the night. "I love you, brother, and I'm going to do everything I can to make sure you stay alive...."

Steve didn't struggle, but his breath hitched as the sobs he'd been holding back escaped. And with one sob came others. He went limp over his brother's lap, crying quietly... but still vocally.

As soon as he heard Steve's crying, Bucky immediately pulled the other man up and into his arms, holding him tightly. "I'd be lost if you died, Steve. Completely, devastatingly lost..." he admitted hoarsely. "Please, please, please take care of yourself for me. Please?" Bucky wasn't above begging...not when it came to keeping his brother safe.

Steve wrapped his arms around his brother as tightly in return, letting himself calm down. "I'll stay safe, Bucky," he promised, soaking up the comfort (because after tomorrow, who knew how much they'd be able to see each other?) And Steve really hoped he could keep that promise... not just because he didn't want to be punished, but he didn't want to upset and worry his brother again.

# # #

Grant looked almost sad by the end of the story. "Was that the last time you saw him before the serum?" he asked quietly, wondering how the other man had taken his brother volunteering for an experiment and coming out so changed.

Steve nodded. "It didn't really change a whole lot about our relationship." Well, apart from the spanking. "It's good to have him here," he added. Even if Bucky was still somewhat affected by what had happened to him... it had been awful to know that his best friend - his brother in every way that counted - had died.

"Yeah." Clint nodded. "It is. You seem more at peace...happier." The archer smiled at his friend, then glanced at Grant. "Like Dad seems happier and more at peace ever since he found out that his 'little boy' was still alive and actually within arms' reach of him." He winked at his younger brother.

Grant rolled his eyes at his older brother. "I'm not a baby, Clint..." he groused good naturedly.

"To dad, you will always be his 'little boy'; and it doesn't matter how old you get or how accomplished you are, he won't hesitate to remind you of the fact that you're his kid if he thinks it is necessary." Clint snorted.

Trip laughed. "Sounds like the voice of experience."

Clint smiled crookedly. "Oh, believe me...it is. He may not have adopted me when I was a child, but in the eyes of the law, I was a minor; and in his eyes, I was a snot-nosed kid that needed someone to take hold of me. Which he did a lot more easily than I wanted, at least at the time. Now I'm glad he got hold of me."

"That sounds like there's a story there," Steve commented with a smile. "Care to share it?"

Clint smiled again then shrugged. "May as well...."

# # #

It was his fifteenth birthday; not that anyone would even know it, let alone remember it. Barney had taken off three weeks before- he'd got mixed up in something that he didn't want Clint to get caught up in and so he'd packed up and run in the middle of the night, leaving only a note telling his brother to be careful and not to trust anyone. Needless to say, Clint had been angry the last few weeks; they could have run together. They always had in the past and Clint didn't see what was so damn different about this time that Barney would just leave him and go. "Prolly got tired of a kid holding him back..." he muttered forlornly. "Thought I couldn't pull my own weight. But I'll show him..."

To prove he could hold his own weight, he'd decided to go after a mark that he never would have attempted before Barney left. Hell, Barney wouldn't have even tried it. The man was a non-descript business man...but he carried himself in a way that suggested he was more than aware of his surroundings and able to take care of himself. Clint was going to get that briefcase from him; then, depending on what was inside the case, he'd either give it back for a reward (pretending he'd found it, of course- and who would suspect a fifteen year old of stealing it in the method Clint had planned?) or sell it to the highest bidder. Or, if he was lucky and it was full of cash, he'd just keep the money and ditch the case. Either way, this was going to be the biggest score of his life and it would prove to Barney that he needn't have left his little brother behind.

The problem was the man never put the case very far from his reach and never out of his sight. Clint's original plan to get one of his street friends to cause a commotion and slip the case away when the man was distracted was obviously not going to work. So Clint went with plan two. Follow the man home, case out the place and then- hopefully- sneak in when the man was asleep and either grab the case, or take something else valuable. As long as he got some money out of this situation, he wasn't picky what he actually took. Clint was small for his age- he'd taken after his mother in build- but that wasn't a bad thing, as it allowed him to quickly move among the rooftops and hide among the throngs of people on the streets. He followed the businessman until he got into a non-descript black car. Frowning, Clint did the only thing he could think to do in order to keep up with the man. He stole a motorbike and quickly pulled out onto the roads behind the car, keeping far enough back that they shouldn't notice anything out of the ordinary, but he could still see where they were going.

# # #

Coulson drove back from headquarters with the briefcase on the passenger seat next to him. Despite Fury suggesting (not for the first time) that Coulson take a vacation, or at least stop pushing himself so hard, the other man had let Coulson take the files back home with him to look through.

Coulson had grown used to coming home to an empty house, though it had taken him a long time to get to that point. He parked outside and carried the briefcase into the building. He poured himself a glass of whiskey and then opened the briefcase.

Clint had stopped the bike at a distance when he'd seen the man park the car outside a non-descript house situated in a middle-class neighborhood. It wasn't one of Clint's usual haunts and he knew he'd have to be careful here. Unlike many of the residents of poorer neighborhoods who had quickly learned to keep their heads down and their eyes off of anything that didn't directly relate to them, middle class neighborhoods had people who were friendly with each other, if not on a first name basis… soccer-mom's and grandparents... in short, nosey neighbors.

Carefully, he'd hidden the motorbike behind a couple of bushes and then walked along the sidewalk, attempting to look as if he had a place to go and belonged here. The time of day was in his favor. It was late enough that most people were already home and, if not in bed, getting ready for bed. Most of them would not be looking outside. When he reached the house where the man had disappeared, he crept around to the back, where he would be less likely to be seen from the street, and surreptitiously peered into the kitchen window, trying to make out if there was an alarm on the house that he would need to get through, or if he could simply break in and take what he wanted.

Coulson had the files spread out on the kitchen table, drinking his whiskey as he looked through them. This would probably be another late night for him, but he didn't really care so much about that. When he got hungry, he would order a takeaway... pizza, perhaps. The content of the files wasn't urgent (Fury had made that quite clear), but at least when he was working, the memories weren't as intense.

Clint noted the businessman at the table, the briefcase open and sorting through papers. Clint frowned in disappointed frustration. He didn't know enough about business or anything of the sort to know if the papers the man had on the table were important enough to get money for or if they weren't. Somehow, taking the briefcase didn't seem like that big of a payoff now. However, there were possibly a few things in the house that might get a nice bit of money at the pawn shop. The house was modestly decorated; he just had to wait for the man to go to bed. It was getting rather late...he was surprised the man's wife hadn't come in to complain...unless the man's wife wasn't there anymore? Divorce was more common than staying married, at least in his experience. The man was working late and drinking; and no wife had come out to greet him yet. Clint sighed. His chances of being able to get easy loot were dwindling by the moment. It was frustrating. Although....

If he could break in and take something while the man was awake in the next room? He may not be able to convince anyone else of the feat, so it wouldn't affect his street cred at all, but it would be good practice for him. Grinning to himself, he carefully slunk along the house until he came to another window and looked inside... bingo! There was a bed. It was hard to tell if it was the master bedroom or a guest bedroom, but that wouldn't matter. Getting in and out unseen and taking a couple of souvenirs was the name of the game tonight.

Carefully, he pulled out one of his tools and slid it under the edge of the window, wiggling until he felt the lock give way with a quiet snap. Glancing around one last time, he gently eased the window up then pulled himself up and into the room, landing lightly on his feet and glancing around, looking to see if there was anything of value that he could easily take.

Coulson might have been caught up in looking at the files, but he was still aware enough of his surroundings to hear a snap somewhere in one of the other rooms. Instantly alert, Coulson stood up, checking to make sure his gun was safely in its holster, and walked out of the kitchen, heading to the guest bedroom... if it could be called that.

The door was closed and Coulson reached out with one hand to carefully and quickly open it, his other hand resting on his gun.

Clint straightened up in shock when the door started to open; he hadn't heard the man walking down the hallway! Cursing in his head, he quickly dropped to the floor and rolled under the bed that he had luckily been standing next to. He wasn't sure he would have been able to get out of the window quickly enough to avoid being seen and even if he had, there wasn't a lot of cover...the man could have easily run to the window and seen him as he was fleeing and who knew what would have happened then? The closet might have worked, but he would have had to open the door to it and that was assuming it wasn't full to the brim with boxes or stuff and...well, the bed was his best bet. Hopefully, the man wouldn't decide to go looking for him and find him under here. Not only would it ruin his plan, but it would cause all kinds f problems if social services got hold of him.

He held his breath, hoping that he didn't sneeze.

Although the room appeared empty when Coulson stepped inside, he was reasonably sure that the intruder hadn't got very far. The window and closet were both possibilities, but since under the bed was a quick and easy place to hide, that was the first place Coulson checked, not surprised that that was where the person was hiding... though he was surprised at how young the person was. "I think you should come out from under there." He let go of his gun, unwilling to shoot someone who looked like he was only a teenager.

Closing his eyes tightly, Clint let loose a string of profanity that would have made his mother wash his mouth out with soap, had she been living. Thumping his head a couple of times on the floor, irritated at himself, he crawled out from under the bed, making sure to get out on the side where the overly astute businessman wasn't. There was still a slight chance he could make a run for the window and get away, after all.

Well aware of the position of the window, Coulson shifted so that he was blocking the boy's escape route. "Were you looking for something in particular... or just breaking in for the sake of it?" His voice was calm, even if seeing a boy only a few years older than his son would have been bothered him more than he would have liked.

Clint swallowed as his avenue of easy escape was blocked. Great, now he'd have to find another way out. The man's calm manner and question rubbed Clint the wrong way...why wasn't the man yelling or threatening to call the police... or threatening in general? What right did he have to be so calm and collected when his house had just been broken into? Putting on his most defiant expression (the one that had gotten him expelled more times than even he was comfortable with), he didn't answer the question; just cursed even more colorfully at the man and then gave him a cocky, daring grin.

Coulson said nothing as Clint cursed, merely raised his eyebrows and waited for him to finish. "Are you done?" He gave the teenager a quick once-over, taking in the thin frame and the ragged clothing. "You don't appear to be on drugs... were you looking for something you could sell for food, or a place to sleep?" When Coulson looked back at the boy's face, he made no attempt to hide his compassion.

Clint blinked owlishly at the man, non-plussed at the lack of reaction. "I don't do drugs...." he finally muttered, that being the one thing in all the questions he was willing to admit to. It was a point of pride with him, not doing drugs...since he'd seen the effects of them on several of his acquaintances (he wasn't certain they could be called friends, as they would have ratted him out for a fix; just like he would rat them out if it got him enough cash for a square meal and keeping him and Barney in rent).

Barney... He winced and looked away from the other man. His brother had paid for this month's rent, but the next installment was due in a week, so after that, he wouldn't have a roof over his head any longer. Shaking himself, not wanting to think about the brother who'd abandoned him (he'd already come too close to crying when it had happened and any time he thought about it, his eyes started stinging), he elaborated with a shrug, "I just was doin it to see if I could." He wasn't about to lay the poor pitiful me line on the man; about how he was hungry and couldn't afford clothes and would be without a home soon, however true it might be. He had his pride, after all. He could take care of himself, thank you very much.

As he answered the man's questions, he was sidling his way toward the door to the hallway. If he could get through it and slam it shut, it might give him enough of a head start to get out of the house before the man could stop him. If the man was going to call the police, he would have done it by now- he might have already and Clint just didn't know it- so better to get away before the authorities showed up.

Coulson shifted, almost subconsciously, to block Clint's exit from the room. He didn't believe the boy was nearly as assured as he was trying to make out and decided to introduce himself. It was easier to relate to someone when you knew their name, after all. "My name's Phil Coulson," he said. "Do you have a name I can call you?"

Clint blinked at finding the door blocked. He was debating just making a run for it, damn the consequences, when the man actually introduced himself. It surprised Clint enough that he held still for a moment longer, likely missing his chance to run and catch the man off guard. Sighing at himself- what was it with this man being able to so completely knock him off his game?- Clint wrinkled his nose.

"Like I'm really going to give you a name you can send the cops after...." he muttered softly under his breath, before giving another cocky grin. "You can call me Hawkeye." It's what most of the street knew him as...on account of him being able to spot a cop a mile away and warn anyone that might be needing to avoid said cops. That and he had very good eyesight. That was one of the few talents he allowed those who he associated with on the streets to know about; he tended to keep closed mouthed on just what he was able to do. Barney had drilled it into him that you never allowed anyone to know you completely. If they knew you completely, they owned you. Because of this, most of his talents and abilities (many of them learned during that short period of time he and Barney traveled with the circus), he kept to himself.

Nodding, Coulson gave him a gentle smile. "You like pizza? I was thinking of ordering one." Not for a while yet, but if it got the frighteningly thin youngster in front of him to eat something, Coulson would gladly fake it.

Clint just stared at the older man in befuddlement. Blinking again, he asked hesitantly, as if he couldn't believe his ears, "You're asking me to dinner? I just broke into your house and you're asking me to dinner?" He began glancing around the room nervously, as if expecting someone to jump out and yell that he was on Candid Camera or something equally bizarre. Granted, he didn't know much about that show, other than his mother used to watch it with him before she died. Since he was fairly young at her death, he didn't remember a lot.

"You don't have to be on your guard," Coulson said, still gentle. "This isn't a trick or a trap. You've probably noticed I'm on my own here. It'll be nice to have some company, even if it's only for a short while."

Clint swallowed. "Er...yeah. Ok. I guess...." Now Clint was nervous for a different reason. The man didn't seem to care that he'd broken into his house; wasn't trying to call the cops; and now was admitting he wanted 'company' to eat dinner? Clint straightened up and tried to look threatening; although with as calm and imperturbable as the man had been so far, he would probably be amused at the act. "Just...you know...I do a lot of things for money, but I ain't never done that and I ain't gonna start with you...so if that's the kinda company you want, you should just let me go now...."

"I don't have any ulterior motives," Coulson replied, a reassuring note to his voice. "Except for getting you something to eat. And talking for a while. Any particular toppings you like?" he asked, taking his phone out.

Clint wasn't sure, and eyed the older man suspiciously, but he seemed genuine in his offer and Clint was hungry. Sighing, he shrugged slightly. "I'm good with anything...you're paying after all...."

He kept just out of arm's reach of Coulson, still uncertain that he wouldn't need to run and quickly. But it wouldn't hurt to get a meal out of the man, if he was willing to pay. Although accepting a meal from Coulson made stealing from him a bit awkward. He wasn't sure he'd be able to do it- it would feel like cheating in a way, if he allowed the man to feed him and act like he wasn't going to steal anything- and then turn around and steal.

Then again, he needed the money and if the man didn't want his stuff taken, then he should know better than to invite potential thieves to dinner.

Coulson nodded and placed the order, getting a couple of sides as well, and then hung up. "It'll be about fifteen minutes. Come through to the kitchen," he suggested. "I'll see if I can find something for you to drink."

Clint wrinkled his nose, but followed Coulson quietly. He still wasn't sure what to make of the man. "I'm fine with water, thanks..." he said quietly. Water was a bit easier to tell if something had been slipped into it. Not always- there was some weird crap out there that could do really bad things to a person- but most stuff that was on the streets had a flavor and Coulson was just a regular business man, so it was unlikely that he'd have anything that Clint wouldn't be able to figure out immediately.

Coulson nodded and, stepping into the kitchen, cleared the files from the table before gesturing for Clint to have a seat. He then took a clean glass and an unopened bottle of water to fill up the glass and then place it in front of the teenager.

Clint took a tiny sip of the water; then, convinced that there was nothing wrong with it, and discovering that he was a lot more thirsty than he had thought, he took several long swallows, before suddenly remembering the manners his mother had tried to instill in him when he was younger. Fidgeting, he found himself blushing slightly. "Um...thanks..." He waved toward the water bottle and glass faintly.

Biting his lip, he frowned then blurted out the question that had been bothering him from the moment Coulson had opened the door to the guest room and caught him. "How'd you know I was there, anyway? I mean, I was really careful and it didn't make that big of a noise...."

Coulson poured himself a glass of water and then topped Clint's up before he answered. "My job means that I have to be very observant. The house is usually quiet, so when you broke in, I heard a noise that wasn't supposed to be there."

"Your job as a businessman teach you how to quietly sneak down hallways, too?" Clint asked snarkily. He still had a hard time believing that Coulson had heard him, but even if the man was telling the truth, the fact that he'd been able to get to the room without Clint hearing him was harder to believe.

"No, because I'm not a businessman," Coulson replied calmly. "I work for an organisation called SHIELD." He took his ID out and pushed it across the table towards Clint.

"Shhhhit!" Clint shoved away from the table and jumped up, all wide eyes, pale face and nerves. "You're a spy... First mark I pick out on my own and I pick a fricken spy!" Clint ran both hands through his hair in agitation.

"You aren't gonna make me disappear, are you, mister? Cuz I know I broke into your house and intended to steal and all, but I really don't think disappearing me would really do anyone any good...." Clint couldn't help the fear that laced his voice. He'd watched spy movies, after all. He knew that people that crossed them seldom lived....

"You don't have to worry," Coulson replied, picking up the ID and putting it away. "I'm not going to make you disappear. I showed you that so you know I'm telling the truth when I tell you how observant I am. I'm not going to hurt you."

Clint bit his lip, not sure he could trust Coulson. Adults always told you they weren't going to hurt you...until they did. And he wasn't cool enough to believe the man didn't expect some form of payback for Clint getting caught breaking in. He really should have run when he had the chance. Swallowing hard, he glanced toward the sliding glass doors that led to the back yard longingly. "So, what? You're just going to give pizza to a kid that broke in to rob you and you didn't call the police and you don't intend to make me disappear? Yeah....right. No one would let me get away with that without some form of payback....." he finally retorted, happy when his voice only quivered a tiny bit. He carefully began inching his way toward the hall where he could make a run for the front door (it had to be easier to open than the patio door).

Coulson took a step closer to Clint, but not close enough to spook the boy into running. "You're too thin. Your clothes are ragged and torn. You're here alone... if you did have an accomplice, they would have run after realising you'd been caught, but I don't imagine you have one." Coulson held eye contact with him. "I lost my family. It's not always good to be alone."

Clint stopped at the man's words, his eyes widening slightly at the man's insights and then narrowing again slightly as his eyebrows lowered and his nose scrunched up as he thought. "So...you want to feed me because you feel sorry for me..." He didn't sound terribly happy about that idea; he had his pride, after all. "...And because you miss your family?" He couldn't help the curious tone in his voice.

"I want you to eat because I can see you haven't been eating properly for a long time, if ever," Coulson replied. "Part of that is because I feel sorry for you. But I can tell you're alone, without your family." The same as him.

Clint stiffened up at the words. How did the man know he didn't have his family? Barney hadn't left that long ago, so it wasn't like he had been completely without family for long.... "I'm not without family..." he lied. "Just cuz they don't keep a tight leash on me like most of dullsville America keeps a leash on their kids, don't mean I ain't got family." He bit his lip. Yeah. He wasn't even convincing himself with the tone of his voice.

His eyes darted toward the front of the house when he heard the doorbell ring. "Your pizza's here..." he said distractedly, trying to decide if he should make a run for it when Coulson was busy paying for his pizza. Yeah, he was hungry; the man had been right about him not eating properly. Barney had always taken care of that and since Barney had left, he'd found it difficult to get food. Still, he was waiting for the other shoe to drop. Good Samaritans didn't really exist and the man would be well within his rights to call the cops, which begged the question of why he wouldn't. It couldn't just be because he knew Clint was hungry and because he was lonely.

Coulson looked at Clint calmly. "You don't need to lie about not having a family," he said. "I'll go and get the pizza. You don't have to leave. You're safe here." He spoke sincerely, compassion the only thing coming through.

Clint swallowed and bit his lip, before nodding slightly and then looking down at his feet, but not moving. Every learned instinct he had was screaming at him to run while he had the chance...but some inner part of him that he hadn't listened to or trusted since before his mother died was telling him to stay. Sighing, he whispered, "Ok." Slowly, he walked back to the chair he'd been in before and sat again. If this guy was planning to do horrible things to him, well at least he'd get a meal first.

Coulson smiled gently at Clint and then walked to the door to pay for the pizza, bringing it back to the table and setting it down before taking his own seat. He didn't ask anything personal at first, instead choosing, "Why did you choose me as a mark?" for the first question.

Clint blinked, frowning as he thought about it. "Beee....because you were dressed nice, so you seemed to have at least some money...but you weren't dressed too nice, which meant that you weren't rich and so probably didn't have a lot of security...." He thought some more, then gave a sheepish and hesitant glance at Coulson. "You also looked like the kinda guy I could get away from easy if I had to run...no offense." Clint was pretty sure that perception was probably false. "And you seemed like the type that if you caught me, you'd call the police first and not hurt me... except you didn't call the police... and I think you probably are dangerous...but for some reason, you don't want to hurt me." He shrugged, looking down again.

The pizza smelled really good and his stomach growled loudly, but he wasn't about to take any until given permission. He could at least remember his manners that much.

"No offence taken," Coulson replied. "Being underestimated can be a good thing. You aren't a threat to me. And I wouldn't just hurt someone without a very good reason." He indicated the pizza. "Help yourself."

Clint didn't need to be told twice; eagerly, but carefully, he took a slice of the pizza and bit into it, closing his eyes at the warmth and the taste. He'd never have admitted it to anyone that asked, but this was the first warm meal he'd had since his brother had left. There hadn't been many groceries in the tiny apartment before Barney had taken off and none of them were the type of item that you cooked. Clint had basically been living off of peanut butter sandwiches. He made tiny sounds of appreciation, eating more rapidly than he probably should have, but he couldn't help himself.

Coulson didn't take any slices for himself, just sipping his water as he let Clint eat as much as he wanted. It was nice to have someone else in the house and even more so to have a youngster there. Coulson had told himself he was fine with the house being quiet and empty... turned out he'd been lying to himself for years.

"When was the last time you had a proper meal?" Coulson asked, once the boy's speed eating had slowed down.

Clint blinked at the question, noticing that he'd eaten two-thirds of the pizza by himself. Giving Coulson a sheepish look, he shrugged. "I eat..." he answered. "Thanks...." He motioned at the pizza, watching the older man through the corner of his eye.

"You're welcome," Coulson replied. "You can finish it, if you'd like. Would you like something else to drink?"

"No, thank you, sir...." Clint fidgeted slightly. Now that his belly was full, he was waiting for the conditions for his meal to be given.

Coulson nodded and then asked, "Where are you living right now?" He kept eye contact with Clint, making sure the boy could see his sincerity and concern.

"I'm living with my brother..." Clint made sure to not look away as he lied, afraid that he'd give himself away. Of course the tightening of his eyes and the slight shifting in his seat didn't help him carry his story. "Actually...I need to get home before he calls... I'm not supposed to be out after nine..." He finished his lie, hoping that the 'responsible adult' would fall for it and let him go without further question.

"I'd prefer it if you didn't lie to me," Coulson said, gently but firmly. "I already know you're alone. I'm not going to hurt you or make you disappear... but the way you just ate that pizza shows you haven't eaten properly in a while. I'd like to know what your home situation is really like."

Clint's eyes widened and he opened and closed his mouth like a fish. How did Coulson know that he was alone? Even if he could tell that he was lying about needing to get home, it wasn't necessarily because he was alone. Clint swallowed hard and looked away from Coulson, fingers toying with the napkin that was by the plate he'd been given.

It had been a long time since Clint had had an authority figure in his life who actually gave a damn about him. Barney had done his best, but they were brothers and Barney was little more than a child himself when their mother had died. It was all he could do to keep them in food and clothes; caring about his brother lying, or stealing, or being out after hours, or anything of that nature? He hadn't really paid attention to it.

Despite his desire not to reveal too much about himself, Clint found himself responding to the firm tone in Coulson's voice and the request that he tell the truth. "I eat a lot of peanut butter sandwiches..." he muttered, almost in a whisper. "The gas for the stove got turned off about three months ago. Barney was bringing home leftovers from his job when he could... he worked at a Waffle House... but..." He shrugged, not wanting to admit that his brother had up and left him three weeks ago because he'd got on the bad side of some rough people and didn't want Clint dragged into it.

He bit his lip and stared at the napkin that he had torn up as he was talking.

"He's gone?" Coulson asked softly. "I'm guessing the rent on the place you're staying in is going to run out soon... you know, stealing isn't going to help you survive. I caught you this time... the next time, it might be someone willing to turn you over to the police." Or worse, but Coulson didn't voice that.

"Yeah, well...you're a secret spy man. Most people don't know how to listen as good as you.... I've done it plenty of other times and not got caught," Clint bragged. Ok. So he'd only ever done it twice and both times were homes of really old people, who wouldn't have been able to hear him if he'd driven a semi into their home, but Coulson didn't need to know that. "Besides. It isn't like I got a lot of options. I wouldn't last in a foster home. I'm too mouthy, don't cha know? Last teacher I had swore I'd end up in juvie by the time I was driving....that was two years ago and I ain't there yet and don't plan ta be...." He shrugged, trying to act like it didn't bother him and he was just fine on his own.

He deliberately ignored Coulson's first question about Barney being gone. That was just a whole other can of worms he didn't want to have to talk about...that his brother had got on the wrong side of the mob and left to protect him. Come to think of it, he'd noticed a few strange guys hanging out around his place...maybe it was time to move now, even though he still had a couple of weeks left before the rent was due.

"You don't have to go back to where you're living at the moment," Coulson said. "And you don't have to go to a foster home... or end up in juvie." He paused, to make sure the suggestion he was about to make was what he really felt was the right thing to do... and found that he did. "You could stay here."

"Nu-uh!" Clint shook his head vehemently, his eyes wide. "I mean...yeah, you've been nice and all and didn't kill me, or do other stuff that isn't so nice, but you're a spy and you don't like lying and I think you prolly don't like stealin either and I do both of those. A lot! You'd end up hating me!" Clint gave a crooked smile, tried to end on a joke, but his eyes were scared and sad and a little bit wistful.

"I don't think that's likely," Coulson replied. "I like you right now, despite the fact that, yes, you tried to steal from me and did lie to me. I wouldn't make the offer if I thought I'd end up hating you." He smiled at Clint, but his voice and face were sincere.

"Thanks, sir, but.... I just can't." Grant stood suddenly, backing away from the table. "I know you mean it...and I know you believe it... but...I..." He swallowed hard. How did you tell someone that you'd only met a few hours before that you were afraid to give them a chance because you already trusted them (despite every learned behavior you had telling you not to) and didn't want to be hurt when everything inevitably fell apart? Turning, he ran to the front door, opened it and ran.

Coulson had absolutely no intention of just letting the boy run. He headed out of the door after Clint, after grabbing his keys, and locked the door behind him. He would have taken his car, but he had drunk some whiskey and didn't want to risk his reaction times being inhibited. Maybe following on foot would be better.

Clint had run to where he'd hidden the motorbike, but in his haste, managed to flood the engine. Cursing, he dropped it back to the ground and half-walked, half-jogged to an area of road where more cars were driving and stuck out his thumb. He needed to get back to his apartment. Pack what few belongings he had. Get out of this town...maybe even this state. Barney wasn't here anymore. It wasn't like he had anything tying him down. He had never felt so alone and scared and uncertain what to do. The wind had picked up and the temperature had dropped in the time he'd been in Coulson's house and his thin jacket did little to protect him. He blamed the wind on his watery eyes.

Coulson spotted Clint by the side of the road and felt his jaw tighten. Hitchhiking was dangerous... and Coulson felt a protective wave of emotion he hadn't felt since he'd held his baby son. Quickly heading over to Clint, Coulson reached out, grasping the boy by his shoulder.

Clint spun around, eyes wide, and held his hands up defensively as if expecting to be hit. It took a few seconds for him to realize it was Coulson behind him and not one of the many men that he had been avoiding for the last three weeks. "You...you followed me...." He sounded uncertain, as if he wasn't sure if he wanted to be upset at being followed or relieved.

Coulson nodded, reaching out to lightly touch Clint's shoulder again. "I don't think you really wanted to leave." Noticing that the boy was shivering, Coulson removed his jacket and draped it around Clint's shoulders.

"I...." Clint glanced behind him at the road...even being the busiest road at this time of night, there were few cars driving on it. He'd be lucky to get a ride back to his apartment and Coulson's jacket felt really warm and comforting and it smelled good and.... Clint shook his head, trying to focus. "It doesn't matter what I want...." he said softly. "I gotta get back to my place. Pack my stuff. It's time I moved on too...now that Barney's left me...." He sounded like nothing more than a hurt and lost child at that moment.

Coulson wrapped his arm gently around Clint's shoulders. "Come and stay with me," he said. "I'll drive you over to your apartment tomorrow and you can bring anything you want back to my house. I won't leave you," he promised.

Clint swallowed, blinking tears out of his eyes before wiping at them with the back of his hand. "Ok, sir..." he finally said quietly and let Coulson lead him back to the house.

Coulson kept his arm around Clint's shoulders as he guided the boy back to his house, unlocking the door and guiding him inside. "Maybe you should tell me your real name," he suggested, looking down at the boy.

Clint sniffed softly then said in a quiet voice, "Clint Barton, sir... If you wanna check with the police, I've gotten in trouble a few times, but nothing that would get me put in juvie...not that they caught me for anyway...." He shrugged slightly, figuring if Coulson was that determined to find out the truth about him, he'd rather it come from his own mouth.

"I don't think that's necessary." Coulson led Clint through to the living room and sat down, gently pulling the boy down to sit next to him. "Now might be a good time to talk about rules and punishment," he said gently.

Clint turned wide eyes to the older man and swallowed. "You sound like my mom...." His tone was a mix between surprise and a whine...and it was obvious he had loved and missed his mother a great deal.

Coulson kept his arm around Clint's shoulders. "I know how it feels to lose someone you love," he said gently. "One important thing you need to know... don't ever feel afraid to talk to me about anything that might be on your mind. I won't get angry. Or irritated. Anything that's important to you is important to me."

"Y..yeah. Ok...." Clint was hesitant in his answer. It was obvious Coulson meant what he said, but it had been so long since Clint had an adult in his life that wanted to listen, who had time to listen, it was hard for him to agree.

Coulson squeezed him gently. "Lying and stealing aren't going to be acceptable. I won't throw you out or shout at you if either of those happen... what I will do is punish you and then we will move past it."

Clint nodded. He'd expected that much. Truthfully...as long as he was staying here with Coulson, he had no reason to steal; he'd only been doing it to try and survive, after all. The lying, however....

"I won't steal while I'm living here..." he agreed quietly. "I'll try not to lie...it's kinda a habit, though."

"I know," Coulson replied. "The other main thing that will get you punished is putting yourself in any kind of danger. That's far worse than stealing or lying. Your safety is important."

Clint couldn't help but stare at Coulson in wide-eyed surprise. Putting himself in danger had never been an issue with anyone before...well, that wasn't true. His mother had cared. The last time she'd ever spanked him had been because he'd snuck out of the house 11:00 at night to go to a midnight showing of Rocky Horror Picture Show that was showing at the theatre four blocks from their apartment. He had been nine. Cancer had taken her by the time he was ten. Biting his lip, he just nodded hesitantly.

He supposed he really should ask... "How will I be punished? If I mess up?" His voice was soft and a bit nervous.

"For most things, I'll spank you," Coulson replied, firmly but not cruelly. "Something that's more minor will probably get you grounded... or lectured," he added. "Some people might say that would be worse than a grounding." He was joking, a little, but still serious.

Clint smiled crookedly. None of the punishments sounded too horrible. Even the idea of a spanking didn't sound horrible; his mother had used that when nothing else would work with him, after all. Even so... "I'm fifteen! Spankings for kids!" His protest was only token, though; as if he thought it was expected of him, so he was doing it. Truth be told, the fact that Coulson was stepping in so quickly to take charge and give him a bit of direction- something that had been sorely lacking in his life since his mother's death- while scary, was also comforting. Or maybe he was just in shock and would protest more once he'd gotten used to everything.

"Spanking is quite effective, no matter how old you get," Coulson replied. "And when it's necessary, it will happen. No negotiations. But no matter what happens... I won't give up on you. I won't abandon you. I will take care of you."

Clint swallowed. Did he really want this? He'd lived rule free and pretty much on his own for the last five years. Yeah, Barney was there; but he didn't give him rules or have expectations. Did he want to give up that freedom for a place to live and regular meals? Maybe the better question was, did he want to give up that freedom for someone to actually care about what he did and take care of him? Because when he thought about it in those terms- yes. He did. "Ok..." he finally said in a whisper, agreeing to Coulson's rules.

Coulson nodded, hugging Clint against his side. "Good. There's some pizza left... if you're still hungry," he said. Almost absently, he gently stroked Clint's hair. Going after the boy had cemented in his head that he wanted this... to take care of Clint and become the father-figure he was sure the boy needed. Of course, it meant he would have to take on much less dangerous missions... but he wouldn't risk taking himself away from Clint.

Clint stiffened at first; he hadn't been hugged since before his mother died and he wasn't sure how to react...add in the hair rubbing and he was really confused...but despite himself, he found himself relaxing. This was nice...it made him miss his mom, though. He didn't let himself think of her too often, because it hurt too much. And he knew she'd be ashamed of how he was living his life; she'd taught him right and wrong, after all.

Finally, he answered, "No thank you...aren't you hungry? You didn't eat anything?" He looked up into Coulson's face without dislodging his arm...then dropped his head against the older man's shoulder.

"Besides...I gotta know..." He swallowed hard. "How much trouble am I in for breakin' the lock on your window? And tryin' to lie so much? And runnin' after you fed me? And takin' that motorbike? Police'll prolly come round bout it, by the way...if they find it and someone saw me... An.... And for tryin' to hitch-hike?" He hoped none, since he hadn't known Coulson's rules when he'd done all that stuff. A small part of him hoped a little, cuz it would give him an idea how serious Coulson was and how brutal he might be in punishing him (he knew some kids that had missed school after gettin' in trouble at home).

Besides... He'd known it was wrong, even if he hadn't known it was a rule. His momma hadn't slacked...she'd just got sick. He'd thought about his momma a lot tonight and, for the first time in years, he was a bit ashamed of himself.

Coulson continued to hold Clint close. He thought about telling the boy that he wasn't in trouble for it, but to be honest, Coulson knew that if he responded, it would set the tone for the rest of their relationship. Continuing to stroke the boy's hair, he replied, gently but firmly, "I think that's earned you a spanking."

Clint winced, but didn't pull away, actually relaxing a little bit. It was nice to know that Coulson stuck by what he said, even if it was unpleasant. It actually helped him to trust the other man more. "Yeah...kinda figured..." He sighed softly, not really happy at the idea, but knowing he'd agreed to the conditions.

"Should I bend over the chair or table? And do ya want me to give you my belt? I don't have a hairbrush..." He blushed slightly, not really knowing what to expect. He'd only been spanked once as a child (that he remembered) that one time he'd snuck out at age nine. His mom was more likely to lecture him and make him stand in a corner for misbehavior. She'd only spanked him then because he'd put himself into danger and had scared her so badly, she was crying by the time she found him.

His friends had talked, though and some of the stories they'd told had made the whole idea of being subjected to a spanking frightening. His questions only mentioned some of the 'milder' forms that his friends had spoken of; if Coulson was going to be more harsh, Clint wasn't sure he'd be able to take it and it would be better to know now when he could say he'd changed his mind and leave, than to be surprised later after he'd gotten comfortable and didn't have another place to go home to.

Coulson shook his head. "I'm not going to use a belt or hairbrush on you... or anything else. Just my hand. And I'm going to put you over my knee." He squeezed him gently as he added, "It'll also be bare... but I'll do that once you're over my lap." It would still be embarrassing, but hopefully not as much.

Clint blinked again at that. He wasn't a fool to think that someone's hand wouldn't hurt, but he didn't think it would hurt more than a belting or a brush; and he was fairly certain it wouldn't be with a closed fist (that couldn't even be considered a spanking, could it?)

Going over Coulson's knee instead of a chair or table; well, ok...that might be a bit more embarrassing, especially the bare part; and Clint wasn't sure how to take that. The man hadn't made any inappropriate moves on him so far tonight, though and Clint's instincts were usually spot on when it came to bad situations where people wanted that from him. He wasn't getting that vibe from Coulson; at all.

"Why bare?" he asked in a tiny, confused and somewhat nervous voice, blushing darkly.

"It helps to make it more memorable," Coulson answered. "Without me needing to be more severe. It also means I can see what I'm doing. I don't plan to do anything inappropriate, Clint. I know trusting is hard for you... all I can tell you is give me a chance. I won't let you down."

Clint bit his lip hard then nodded his head in a jerky manner to agree; not able to voice his consent, but deciding that he would give Coulson a chance. His instincts hadn't let him down yet and they were telling him to trust the older man. He really hoped he didn't regret it, though....

Coulson gave Clint one last squeeze and then gently moved the boy over his lap, wrapping an arm around his waist to secure Clint tight against his stomach. Once he was satisfied that Clint was positioned, Coulson rubbed his back gently and then bared him.

Clint couldn't help but stiffen and whimper as he felt the cool air on his backside. He felt secure against the older man- he wasn't in danger of falling, at any rate- but he felt extremely small and vulnerable and young, suddenly. It was as if all his defenses and barriers had disappeared. He gripped Coulson's leg, scared; if Coulson was going to prove that it had been a mistake to trust him, now would be the time that he showed it.

Coulson rubbed Clint's back gently again and then brought his hand down in the first firm swat. He didn't swat really hard, but made sure the swats were felt as he repeated it on the other side and then just below the first.

Clint couldn't help but yelp at the first swat. It was embarrassing, but he yelped at the second swat too before he bit his lip and managed to keep the yelps inside so that, on the third swat, he just grunted pathetically. The nerves he'd been feeling, the uncertainty and fear, weren't helping his state of mind at all, either; his eyes began watering almost immediately and, to his horror, he knew it wouldn't take long for him to begin crying like a baby.

Coulson settled quickly into a rhythm, working his way down to Clint's thighs before he started over from the top... and that was when he began speaking. "You don't need to steal or lie or run anymore, Clint. This is your home now."

Clint closed his eyes tightly, his tiny grunts having become breathy gasps. He was doing ok until Coulson started to speak. Shaking his head rapidly in an attempt to fight back the tears, he finally gave up and slumped over Coulson's lap. His grip on the man's leg tightened, even as his fear disappeared. He trusted Coulson. It was that simple. He wasn't sure why or when, but he trusted him and wasn't scared anymore. And the lack of fear let him focus on the why he was being spanked...and on the fact that it hurt. Letting out a tiny sob, Clint began to cry; not blubbering like a baby like he'd worried he might, but very vocally all the same.

Coulson stopped and, without any hesitation, lifted Clint up and into his arms, hugging him close and tight. He stroked the boy's hair gently as he cuddled him close.

Clint was surprised, although maybe he shouldn't have been, to find himself being comforted. Gripping onto Coulson's shirt, he pressed as close to the man as possible and hid his face against his chest as he continued to cry. He wasn't just crying because he'd been spanked- that was probably the last thing he was crying about- but as he sat on Coulson's lap and was held, he could tell that he was safe and protected and it had been soooo long since he had felt that way. And it had been even longer since he had felt any affection from someone...Barney loved him, but he wasn't affectionate. And he had been scared. And even if he wouldn't admit it exactly, he had felt guilty about what he'd done to Coulson, but that had been taken care of. And everything all added up to one confused and emotionally charged youngster; and once he'd started crying, he just couldn't stop.

Coulson just hugged Clint tightly, rubbing his hair and back gently and soothingly. He didn't immediately speak, but just held Clint comfortingly, rocking him almost subconsciously... just as if Clint was younger than his fifteen years.

Finally, Clint started to calm down, hiccupping every so often as he regained control over his emotions. "I'm sorry I did all those bad things..." he finally said, realizing that part of starting a new life and not doing things he shouldn't included apologizing when he messed up. He snuggled closer, reluctant to leave the safety and security of Coulson's arms; afraid that if he got up, it would all be over and the man might change his mind about keeping him.

Coulson threaded his fingers through Clint's hair, quite willing to hold him as long as the boy wanted him to. "I know... and you're forgiven. I won't be bringing them up again," he promised. "But I meant what I said... even if you slip up, it won't change anything."

"Promise?" Clint asked in a hesitant yet hopeful voice. He sat up enough that he could look into Coulson's face, so he could see the truth in his face no matter what he actually said.

"I promise," Coulson replied, allowing all of his sincerity to come through on his face and in his voice. "I want you here. I like you. Nothing will ever change that."

Clint gave Coulson a crooked grin. It was easy to believe the older man and Clint couldn't believe how relieved and happy he felt at the words. Snuggling closer for a bit longer, he held onto Coulson tightly until he felt completely calm, then carefully got off the other man's lap and fixed his clothes.

He blushed darkly at the fact that he'd gotten his bare butt smacked. "I don't ever want you to have to do that again..." he admitted shyly, running a hand through his hair and looking at the floor.

Coulson leaned forward, wrapping an arm around Clint's shoulder. "I know. But if it's necessary, it will happen again. It still won't make me give up on you, though. This is your home now."

Clint nodded slowly then smiled again, leaning against Coulson. "Ok. That's fair..." He shuffled his feet. "I guess I should warn you I tend to get into trouble a lot...not with the police necessarily, but with everyone else." He sighed. He straightened up suddenly. "Oh! Do you want me to fix the window latch I broke? I've got a little money I've been saving up, so I could probably buy a new latch...." He bit his lip, wide eyes on Coulson. He was the one who'd messed the man's house up. The least he could do was fix what he'd broken.

"You don't need to worry about fixing it," Coulson said. "I'll take care of it." Just like he planned to take care of anything else to do with Clint...

# # #

"I'm glad Dad caught you..." Grant smiled at his older brother.

Clint smiled back fondly and ruffled his hand through Grant's hair. "Believe me, kid. I am too." He chuckled slightly and gave an impish grin. "And I was really glad he'd caught me and decided to take me in when, the next morning, the police did show up asking questions. I don't know how, but he somehow convinced them not to arrest me and let him 'handle it'. That's not the only time he's ever gotten my bacon out of the fire, either."

Tony laughed. "Yeah, Director Agent's really good at saving people's bacon...." he remarked, remembering a few times when Coulson had managed to come to his rescue...or Pepper's rescue; which was one and the same as far as Tony was concerned.

Trip grinned at everyone and shook his head. "Your all's stories make mine seem a bit bland in comparison."

Steve smiled at Trip, not that surprised that the man had his own story to tell, even if he did seem to be more... together than a lot of them. "What's yours?" he asked.

Trip smiled, a fond look coming over his face. "I think you all know my Granddad was a Howling Commando..." He glanced at Steve, not certain the other man had been told. "Gabe Jones..." He smiled again. "He was my mama's daddy. Anyway... he took over helping mamma raise me after daddy died of cancer; seems that 'Nam got him after all. It happened to a lot of the men in his platoon." Trip sighed sadly then shook his head.

"Anyway...Granddaddy...he was a very hands on and strict disciplinarian. I respected him and loved him more than any other man alive... he lived long enough to see me accepted into SHIELD Academy. I had only been in the Academy for two short months when he had a heart attack and died."

# # #

Trip dropped his books onto his bunk and stretched, trying to work the kinks out of his back. He hadn't been sleeping well lately. Between trying to keep up with all his classes, making sure his mamma was doing alright and didn't need him to come home and trying to keep a lid on his grieving for Granddaddy... the stress just made it too difficult to sleep. He looked at the books in frustration. He had some very big tests coming up the next morning that he really should study for, but the thought of spending one more minute being responsible when he just wanted to scream at the world was too much and he quickly grabbed his jacket, made sure he had his wallet and keys and left the room.

Maybe a few drinks would help him relax enough to concentrate. With that thought in mind, he'd driven off the Academy campus to the only bar in the nearby town. He was only eighteen and technically, they shouldn't be serving any alcohol to him; but a twenty handed over to the bartender and a fake ID that a friend of his had made him but that he'd never used took care of that little problem.

He'd quickly lost track of the time as he drank away his sorrow over his grandfather's death and the fact that he felt completely adrift without the older man's stabilizing influence in his life.

Fury had left a meeting with his best friend, relieved that Coulson's adopted son had gone a long way towards healing the wounds left over from losing his wife and baby son. Clint had become a trained agent in SHIELD and was currently off on a mission... though he was keeping in contact with his dad wherever possible. And Fury had to admit that, in spite of how Clint had started, he'd grown into an asset... both professionally and personally.

Now, Fury felt the need to wind down himself and so he drove to the bar, parking outside and walking in. As he headed over to order his drink, he happened to glance around and notice that one of the students from the SHIELD academy was there... someone who was technically underage.

Shaking his head (he should have known unwinding wasn't going to be an option), Fury walked over to Trip. "You shouldn't be here," he stated, sliding onto the barstool next to the younger man.

Trip, unfortunately, had had just enough to drink to lose all his common sense, even if he was still able to function for the most part. He turned his head to face Fury and frowned. "You can't tell me where I should and shouldn't be...." he stated clearly, if a bit over-enunciated so that it would be clear. "No one got the right to tell me where I can and can't be, anymore..." he muttered the last to himself, his tone unhappy.

"You're a student at SHIELD Academy," Fury replied. "That means I have every right." He picked up Trip's drink and moved it out of the way of the younger man. "And I'm taking you back to your dorm." He grasped Trip's shoulder to draw him up from the stool.

"No! I ain't gonna go back there!" Trip yanked away from the older man and ended up falling off of the stool. "Now look what you made me do!" he griped as he tried to stand up, feeling slightly dizzy from the combination of the rapid descent and the alcohol.

# # #

"Wait a minute! You mouthed off to Fury? And you lived to tell about it?!" Tony's eyes were wide and incredulous.

Trip frowned. "You mouth off to him all the time...and besides. He's not that scary."

Tony shook his head. "Uh, no. I only mouth off to him when I know he needs me for something and can't kill me. And he really is that scary!"

Grant smiled sheepishly. "He kinda is..."

Clint rolled his eyes. "He's only scary if you act like a complete ass-hat to him..."

Trip wrinkled his nose and looked at Steve, as if to ask, 'What can you do?'

Steve shrugged. "He can be scary and harsh... but that's mainly to get results, I think. And he's become much calmer since Coulson took over being director." Of course, Coulson's methods were vastly different to Fury's... especially taking into account his relationship with his team. And the Avengers.

# # #

Fury gave Trip a stern, no-nonsense look and reached down to haul the younger man to his feet. "If I thought that was anything but the alcohol and drink talking, I'd let you go. But when you're thinking clearly, you'll be regretting that decision."

"You don't know nothing 'bout me," Trip protested; although it was a bit weak, as he was still trying to get his bearings after having been hauled up almost as quickly as he'd fallen down. "I don't wanna go back to the dorm. Not like I'll be able to study or sleep or nuthin anyway...." he grumbled, stumbling into Fury and being just drunk enough not to care or step away.

Fury simply supported Trip with his arm around the younger man's shoulders as he guided him from the bar. "Then I won't take you back to your dorm," he said, deciding he might as well drive Trip back to his apartment. He didn't really want to leave the younger man on his own, after all.

"Good...that's...alright, then." Trip frowned, not having anything to argue about, since the older man had given in to his demand not to be returned to his dorm. He couldn't help but feel like there should be something he should ask, but couldn't really think clearly enough to figure out what it was, allowing Fury to lead him out of the bar and to Fury's car.

"Oh, yeah!" Trip suddenly spun out from under Fury's arm and staggered a few steps, before righting himself. "I drove. Now where'd I put my keys...." He began rummaging through his pockets, not noticing when the keys fell onto the ground at his feet.

Fury leaned down to pick up the keys, quickly sequestering them in his pocket. "I'll send someone to pick up the car tomorrow." He took hold of Trip again and helped him into the passenger side of his own car, buckling his seatbelt and closing the door before moving round to the driver's seat.

Trip frowned again, not quite sure how he found himself buckled into the passenger side of the car. "Why you wanna help me?" he asked in honest confusion, as he leaned against the door to keep his head from spinning.

"Because you don't need to screw up your future and you deserve a second chance," Fury replied. Putting his car into gear, he began driving to his apartment.

Trip couldn't help but giggle at the comment. "Granddaddy was right...." He grinned brightly over at Fury, even as he slumped against the car door.

Fury glanced sideways at Trip as he drove. "About what?"

Trip sighed loudly then grinned again. "He said...'If ya ever get yerself into trouble and ya can't call me to come help...Nick Fury is a good man and will help ya out. He might blister yer backside if the trouble is of yer own makin, but he'll help ya out." Trip wrinkled his nose. "You aint gonna blister my backside, are ya?" He eyed SHIELD's director with suspicious, crossed eyes. He didn't wait for an answer, sighing again then sniffling. "He told me that right 'fore he dropped me off at the Academy. Think maybe he knew then he wasn't gonna be round much longer...." His voice took on a lost, childish tone and he stared out the window of the car, falling into a sad silence.

Fury turned his attention back to the road, considering his reply. "Since I have the feeling that's what your Granddaddy would do... that is what I'm going to do. I know you're grieving, but you don't use that as an excuse to throw away your future. We both know he wouldn't want that."

Trip turned confused eyes toward Fury, having already forgotten what he'd suggested to the other man. "Huh? Uh... no. No, my Granddaddy wouldn't be very happy with me right now..." Trip admitted, his voice catching. Before he could take a breath to try and calm himself, tears were streaming from his eyes and he was gasping in a breath before starting to cry; not as loudly as he could have been, but it wasn't quiet.

By now, Fury had parked outside his apartment. Although his reputation was quite scary, seeing the younger man's tears woke Fury's more protective nature and he reached out, wrapping an arm around Trip's shoulders and drawing him in close.

"I...I'm sorry..." Trip sniffled against the older man's chest. "I didn't mean to...I shouldn't..." He choked back a sob and took several deep breaths in an attempt to calm himself down, but didn't pull away from Fury's grip.

"It's not healthy to hold in your grief... but there are unhealthy ways to release it," Fury said, tightening his embrace around Trip. "You're lucky I found you and not a police officer."

Trip nodded a little bit and shivered. "I know, sir..." Already, some of the effects of his drinking were beginning to wear off. Luckily, he had not imbibed to the point where he was passing out...a little bit of water or coffee and a nap and he'd probably be fine in an hour or two. "I'm sorry to be a problem to you, though. I'm sure you had other plans..." Trip's voice was heavy from unshed tears. He'd managed to regain control over himself and reluctantly pulled away from Fury, undoing his seatbelt (it took two tries before he was able to get it to unclasp) and then opening the car door (again taking two tries). Luckily, he was moving slowly, or he would have face-planted onto the pavement outside.

Fury opened his door and stepped out, closing and locking up the car. He placed a hand on Trip's shoulder for support and steered the younger man towards the apartment. "Taking care of you isn't a problem. I don't want to see you mess up your future because of the choices you make."

"Thank you, sir..." Trip sounded like he wanted to cry again, but managed to keep control this time. He allowed himself to be led to the apartment without argument. He was normally a happy and agreeable man when he wasn't drunk; it seemed the cry he'd had in the car had calmed the slight temper he'd had due to the drink and brought him back down to earth somewhat, as he was subdued and willingly did whatever Fury directed without argument.

After unlocking and opening the front door, Fury guided Trip through to the living room and settled him on the couch. "You wait here. I'll make you some coffee and then call your instructors at the Academy. You have a test tomorrow, don't you?"

Trip winced and put his face into his hands. "I have two tests tomorrow..." he moaned, feeling extremely foolish and irresponsible now that everything had been done.

Fury nodded. "I'll call and let them know you're with me. I'm sure they'll let you retake the tests later."

"Thank you, sir," Trip's voice was subdued and he gave the director a grateful look, remaining on the couch where he had been told to sit. He swallowed, leaning back into the cushions, and began to fidget. As the effects of the alcohol lessened more and more, he became more and more nervous about what he'd done. It had been ridiculously stupid and he knew it. He hadn't been lying. His Granddaddy would have been very disappointed in his actions.

Fury just nodded, before heading through to the kitchen to make some coffee for Trip. He came back with the mug, that he handed over to Trip, and then called the Academy to let them know Trip was with him and would need his tests rescheduled.

Trip remained quiet through the call, sipping the coffee dutifully, feeling the caffeine seep through his body and help him regain more focus. By the time Fury was done making his calls and rearranging Trip's schedule for him, Trip had finished the coffee and set the empty mug down on the coffee table. The younger man folded his hands on his lap and stared at them, unable to look the older man in the eye.

Disconnecting the call, Fury took a seat on the couch next to Trip. "I'm sure I don't need to explain to you further about why tonight was a bad idea."

"No, sir," Trip admitted quietly. "It was stupid. If the police had caught me, the Academy would have had no choice but to discipline me. I wouldn't have been able to make up the tests, which would have hurt my scores. If you hadn't come by, I might have kept drinking and done something even worse that would have not only gotten me kicked out of the academy, but might have led to me dying or, worse, killing someone else.... I should never have gone there."

He clenched his hands for a moment, before loosening his grip then glanced hesitantly up at the director. "I...are you really gonna punish me? Like...like my granddaddy would have?" His voice was hesitant and slightly embarrassed.

Fury nodded. "I am," he confirmed. "You're a smart young man... much smarter than this behaviour would indicate. You came very close to throwing your future away."

Trip swallowed hard, but nodded in acceptance of Fury's decision. "Thank you for stopping me..." he said, wanting to make certain he expressed his appreciation before he'd been punished and couldn't speak clearly again.

"I wasn't going to ignore it." Fury reached out for Trip's arm so that he could pull the younger man across his lap, securing him with an arm wrapped around his waist before he bared him.

Trip whimpered as he was bared, mortified more than he would have thought possible to be in this position with his superior officer doling out the punishment. It was hard enough when his grandfather had punished him in this way, the position always making him feel like a child, vulnerable and ashamed.

But to have the director punishing him in this way? Not only did he feel like a child and vulnerable and ashamed, but there was the added humiliation that he hadn't behaved the way an agent should behave and someone not family had seen him at his worst. It was hard to take.

Fury gave a gentle rub to Trip's back before lifting his hand and bringing it down in the first swat. He then repeated the swat just below the first and then two more on the other side. He didn't spank too hard, but definitely hard enough to make it known he wasn't messing around. "Not only are you too young to be going out drinking, that's the kind of thing that can really affect your future. Things could have gone so much worse for you."

Trip let out tiny hisses and whimpers with each smack. He didn't argue, though. He knew every word Fury spoke was the truth. "I'm sorry..." was the only thing he could think to say, but it didn't seem like enough.

Fury continued the firm swats down to Trip's thighs before starting over from the top. "You're much smarter than what you did tonight indicates. If this happens again, I will step in and do this each and every time it's needed."

Trip nearly whined at those words. "Wh...why would you do that, sir? You have more important things than me to worry about..." he finally gasped out, his eyes tearing up at the sting that had built to a very uncomfortable level in his bottom.

"You're one of SHIELD's. That means you're one of mine," Fury said. "It means you are important enough to worry about." He paused to tip Trip forward slightly and begin swatting his sit spots.

Trip somehow knew that those words were Fury's way of saying he cared...he'd seen plenty of other cadets go off and do the exact thing he had without the director stepping in, after all. He lay over Fury's lap, quietly accepting the punishment, knowing he deserved it...but when the older man began targeting his sit spots, he couldn't keep quiet any longer. He began to cry again; maybe not loud or hard, but it was steady crying and it was loud enough to be heard by the man punishing him. "I'm sorry....I'm sorry....I just...I miss him so much...." he said in a heartbroken voice. "I miss him and I don't know how to...he...he was more than just my granddaddy! I'm sorry...." he said again weakly, then sobbed quietly, going limp over Fury's knee.

Fury stopped as Trip went limp, accepting the punishment. He helped the younger man up and into his arms. It was true that most people didn't see the more caring side of him... but he didn't mind showing that care to those select few he'd allowed to creep past his defenses.

Trip wasn't too ashamed to wrap his arms around Fury and hold onto him tightly, still crying out his hurt and sorrow at his grandfather's death and his shame at his own reaction to it. When he finally felt calm enough and had managed to stop his tears, he leaned back and swallowed. "Thank you, sir...I won't ever do something this foolish again..." he stated firmly, before carefully standing and pulling his pants back up.

He couldn't promise he wouldn't ever do anything ever again that wouldn't earn him a trip over the other man's knee; he had a feeling that, now that Fury had taken notice of him and taken him in hand, the other man would be keeping his eye on him more closely. It felt good, though...he thought his grandfather would have approved.

"I know you won't," Fury replied... or, at least, that the younger man would do his best not to do anything. "You'll stay here, at least for tonight." Probably more than just the one night. "I think you need to have an early night."

# # #

"So...Fury kind of adopted you?" Tony said, slanting his head "...and made you stay the night with him so he could keep an eye on you and made you go to bed early because he knew you needed to sleep?"

Trip shrugged slightly, a tiny grin on his face. He glanced over Tony's shoulder briefly, but not long enough to draw the billionaire's attention. "And I wasn't wrong. He kept an eye on me throughout the rest of my time at the Academy. Still does, to be honest. It's one of the reasons I'm so well behaved." Trip grinned impishly at Grant, laughing when his friend stuck out his tongue.

"Wow. I guess Fury really isn't as scary as I thought he was..." Tony said, still with some slight disbelief in his tone.

Fury had returned to the tower with Coulson and the two of them had come to the common area in time to hear the tail-end of the stories.

"As long as you behave, you won't have to find out just how scary I can be," Fury said from behind Tony, although he sounded amused more than irritated.

Coulson stepped over to his sons. "Sounds like you were reminiscing," he commented, placing a hand on each of their shoulders.

Tony jumped about five inches into the air, yelping, before putting his hand to his chest and glaring at Trip. "You coulda warned me!" He pouted, before looking over his shoulder at Fury and smiling innocently. "No worries there, big guy... I'm the model of good behavior.... Lately, anyway." He gave Steve a sideways glance.

Grant looked up at his father and gave a tiny smile. "They were telling me their own stories to help me feel better," he admitted.

"I'm glad to hear it," Fury replied, keeping a straight face.

Coulson smiled, brushing a gentle kiss against both of his sons' heads, before asking Grant, "Are you ready to talk?"

Tony leaned over to Steve and whispered, loudly enough that Fury could hear, "He's laughing at me...I can feel it. He's laughing at me, isn't he?" He was grinning.

Grant swallowed, then sighed and nodded. "Yes, sir." He stood up and gave a wave to the rest of the group.

"Of course I'm not," Fury replied, still completely straight-faced.

Steve just smiled and waved the ex-director over to take a seat.

"I'll see you in a little while, Clint?" Coulson waited for the acknowledgement from his eldest before wrapping his arm around Grant's shoulders and steering him from the room, towards the elevator.

Tony wrinkled his nose impishly. "Yeah...you're laughing at me." He nodded calmly then grinned again. "Hey, Big Guy. You in town long? Got a room with your name on it if you are."

Clint nodded at his father, giving a wave back at his brother before turning back to the group.

"Hey, sir. It's good to see you," Trip said with a smile.

Fury shrugged and took the seat Steve waved him towards, next to Trip. "I'm thinking about staying. I don't have anything else right now."

"Well, the room is yours, mi amigo." Tony nodded.

"Appreciate it," Fury replied.

# # #

Grant followed his father to the elevator and got in with him, taking it to his dad's floor. When they reached it, he walked off ahead of his father and went straight to the living room, sitting on the couch. "How much trouble am I in?" he asked softly, glancing up at his dad.

Coulson walked over and sat down on the couch next to his son, wrapping an arm around Grant's shoulders. "You took off after us without my permission," he said. "I understand you were worried, but coming after us without pausing to think about the situation was dangerous."

"I know. I had a feeling that was where I went wrong." He sighed. "I was feeling useless and the first excuse I saw to go after you all, I took it...without thinking things through all the way." He looked down and frowned. "I know I was wrong and I know I deserve to be punished," he admitted softly.

Coulson pressed a gentle kiss to Grant's head, hugging his son close. "You said the others were telling you their stories to help you feel better..." he said gently, giving his son an opening to talk about what had been on in his mind.

Grant sighed and pressed close to his dad. "I was feeling nervous because I knew I had messed up again and knew I deserved a spanking," he admitted. "And I was feeling like I was the only one- other than maybe Clint- who messed up like I did. And I was worried because I knew I deserved a lecture from you and had probably disappointed you and was nervous to face you because I don't like disappointing you." Grant blushed. "Tony started telling his story, to make me feel better I think, and it just went from there."

Coulson cuddled Grant tightly. "I'm sorry I wasn't able to deal with this straight away," he said softly. "But no matter what happens, it won't make me love or care about you any less. I was more worried than disappointed. If it wasn't for the bracelet, I might not have known you'd left the tower until it was too late."

"Yes, sir..." Grant looked down. "I didn't think of that. I told Loki, but there was no way for him to let anyone know except through JARVIS. I don't think he thought it was a good idea...." He looked sheepish at the thought that Loki thought of things he should have.

Coulson nodded, gently stroking Grant's hair. "I think next time, you should listen to what someone else tells you. I love you, son. If anything happened to you, it would devastate me."

"I know, daddy...I feel the same way about you," Grant said softly, leaning into his father.

Coulson pressed another gentle kiss to his son's head. "I think we should get this over with," he said, his tone warm and loving.

Grant nodded quickly, before standing up and moving to stand beside his father's knee. "I...somehow saying I'm sorry for what feels like the millionth time doesn't seem adequate," he whispered. "Especially not when I keep making the same mistake." Sighing, he unbuttoned his jeans and pushed them down to his knees, before laying down over his father's lap.

Coulson wrapped his arm around Grant's waist, pulling him tight against his stomach, before pushing his son's underwear down as well. He rubbed Grant's back gently as he spoke. "If I don't know where you are, I can't protect you. I lost you as a baby, Grant. I'm not strong enough to go through that again." Steeling himself, he brought his hand down in the first sharp swat at the crest of his son's backside, before repeating the swat on the other side.

Grant let out a tiny hiss as the first swat landed, whimpering at the second. His father's words caused a sharp sense of guilt to stab into his heart and between that and the fact that he had been nervously waiting for this all afternoon, it didn't take long for tears to form in his eyes and begin sliding down his cheeks. He reached down and gripped his father's leg tightly with his hands. "I'm sorry, daddy..." he whispered contritely.

"I know, Grant. I love you. There is nothing that can change that." Coulson's voice was soft and sincere, even as he kept landing the hard swats, covering Grant's entire backside, down to his thighs.

"I know, daddy. I'm not at afraid of that ever changing," he admitted with a strained voice, the tears leaking through. "I'm worried that I'll never learn and I'll keep hurting you because I don't think," he admitted with a sob. He felt so guilty for worrying and hurting his father, it was almost a relief to feel the punishment his dad was doling out.

Coulson started over from the top as he replied, his voice still gentle, "Remember how long you've had apart from me. There are going to be setbacks. There are going to be mistakes. But you've been doing better. And even when something happens again, I'll punish you, but you'll be forgiven and we will move past it."

"Thank you for believing in me..." Grant whispered hoarsely, leaving unsaid the fact that he didn't quite believe in himself. He couldn't help but squirm as the sting from the spanking built. Shaking slightly, he reached back with one of his hands...not so much to block the smacks from landing, but because he needed to feel his father's firm grip holding him.

Coulson took hold of his son's hand, lacing his fingers between Grant's. "I will always believe in you." He paused to shift Grant forward slightly and start swatting his sit spots.

Gripping his father's hand tightly, Grant slumped limply over his father's knee, but the submission this time was one of relief and acceptance, rather than one of giving up any sort of fight for pride. He was crying quietly, but it was calm and not afraid. He knew his father loved him, just as he knew he deserved to be punished for his disobedience; he felt peaceful for the first time since he'd disobeyed.

He shivered slightly as his sit spots were covered, but a tiny whimper was the only concession he made to any pain he felt. Squeezing his father's hand again, he took a deep, quivery breath.

"I love you, daddy. Th...thank you for not letting me get away with acting foolish...." he finally said through his tears.

Coulson stopped and then gathered his son into his arms, holding Grant close and tight, stroking his hair and back. "I love you," he said softly into Grant's ear. "And I will always have you," he promised.

Grant wrapped his arms tightly around his father, hiding his face against his chest. "I know, daddy," he admitted softly, tears still running down his face in a slow, quiet river. "I think for the first time I might actually feel it, too..." he finished with a sigh and nuzzled closer.

Coulson pressed a kiss to Grant's head and held him tightly. "I've loved you since you were born," he told Grant, because it was true. That love had never really gone away. Even with Clint (and Grant, before finding out he was his biologically), Coulson had loved him, but Clint had never been a replacement.

"I'm so glad you found me..." Grant started crying again, a little more vocally. "I don't know what I would have done if you hadn't come back for me..." he admitted brokenly. "I tried to kill myself several times...I had planned to do so again, the day you came and talked to me...spanked me for the first time and told me you weren't giving up on me..." he whispered. "I think I would have succeeded that time...." He shook his head slightly and took a deep breath. "But you saved me...before you even knew who I really was and before I even attempted to prove I wanted to change. I owe you so much...." He finally sat up so he could look his father in the eye. "I love you." He leaned over and kissed his father on the cheek, before putting his head back down on his shoulder.

"I want to stay with you tonight, daddy..." he said softly. He knew his father would allow it- might have even insisted on it himself if Grant hadn't said anything- but Grant wanted to say the words. He wanted his father to know how much he needed him and always would.

Coulson tightened his embrace around Grant. It hurt to know how lost and broken his son had been... and still was, in many ways... but even though Coulson hadn't gone to him as quickly as he should have (and that was something Coulson knew he'd never quite forgive himself for, abandoning Grant for so long), he had him now... and always would.

Stroking the back of Grant's head, Coulson said softly, "I'm glad you said that, because I was planning to insist. I'm sorry I wasn't there for you before. I'm sorry it took me so long to come for you. But when I did see you... I knew I had to bring you back. And that's why I came for you every single time... and will still... I love you. No matter what."

Grant pressed as close to his father as possible and made a contented but unintelligible sound, before saying, "As long as you have me, I'll be ok. Do you want to join the others for a bit before dinner?" He finally sat up so he could talk to his father's face instead of his chest and gave a tiny smile, only shifting slightly in response to his sore bottom.

Coulson smiled and leaned in to kiss Grant's forehead. "That sounds like a good idea," he agreed. "Maybe we could fit in a couple of games before bed, too... either a card game or a board game."

"A board game might be fun... Maybe Taboo... You can form teams in that one, so everyone who wanted to play could." He was thinking about Skye and how she'd admitted to feeling shut out of his new life. Given that she'd looked on Coulson as a father figure, he could only imagine she felt worse about not seeing him much. This would give her the chance to join in.

Standing up carefully, he tugged his clothing back into place with a tiny hiss, then grinned. "Wanna order pizza?"

Coulson stood up and wrapped an arm around Grant's shoulders. "Pizza sounds good... and playing Taboo does, too." He pressed a kiss to his son's head and then began steering him from the room.

Grant wrapped an arm around his father's shoulders and hugged him to him, then began walking to the elevator before stopping. "Do I look like I've been bawling my eyes out?" he asked curiously. "I mean...I don't really care if the guys know I was, since they knew what was gonna happen... but I'd rather not have the pizza delivery guy wondering what's up..." He laughed.

"It's a little obvious. You could try washing your face," Coulson suggested, pausing next to his son. "That might make you feel better anyway."

Grant nodded and quickly took a detour to the bathroom to clean up a little bit, before rejoining his father to head back to the common floor.

Coulson wrapped his arm around Grant once more as they took the elevator back to the others.

# # #

Trip smiled at Fury. "Since you're staying tonight, maybe you'd like to join in on a little team bonding, sir?" He kept the question casual.

Tony could hear in Trip's voice, as casual as it was, that underneath was a hopefulness that every other 'kid' in the room would recognize. Fury had become Trip's 'anchor' at some point; just like Coulson was for Grant and Clint and Steve had become for Tony. And since Fury was seldom around, that meant Trip was usually 'alone' among a group of individuals that had paired off into 'family' relationships....a part of the family, but not as close. Like a cousin that comes to visit during the holidays or something. Tony smiled faintly as he watched the younger man, happy for him.

Clint stood up. "That sounds like an excellent idea, sir, if I don't mind saying myself. And to that end, I'm gonna round up the other team members so they can join in this little bonding session too. Minus the stories...." He laughed and wandered off to go look for Nat, so they could go gather Bucky and Bruce and the others... and warn Thor and Loki that Fury was here so they could decide if they would face the man now or hide.

Fury also heard the underlying note of hope in Trip's voice and when he looked at the younger man, his face softened... fractionally, but enough to indicate he cared for Trip in a different way to the others. "That sounds like a good plan."

Trip's smile couldn't have grown more brighter. "Great! I'll just make sure to let whoever's ordering the pizza know what one to order for you!" He couldn't help but give Fury a gentle shoulder nudge.

Tony smiled again, pulling his cellphone out of his pocket. "Just let me call Pepper and make sure she's doing ok and that the board members aren't giving her a hard time because they don't like me...and then I'll rejoin you gentlemen." He put his hand on Steve's knee, using him as leverage to stand up (not that he needed the leverage; it was more to be affectionate without showing affection than anything) and pressed one on his speed dial. "Hey, sweetheart..." he could be heard murmuring into the phone as he walked into the common area's kitchen for a little privacy.

Fury smiled, an expresson that came more naturally to him now. "I'm sure you remember what I prefer." He placed a hand on Trip's shoulder and squeezed gently, deciding that he was going to make sure to stick around more.

Steve leaned back in his chair, glancing after Tony with a fond look on his face before drawing Fury and Trip into a conversation.

# # #

Clint had located Nat and Bucky in the rec room and quickly let them know what the plan for the evening was. The two had readily agreed to join the group and had left to their own floors to clean up before meeting everyone in the common room.

Clint had then gone to the lab and cornered Bruce, Jemma, Leo and Skye, telling them that dinner was in an hour, to let him know if they had a special request for pizza and that, after dinner, there was going to be team bonding and they weren't allowed to come back to the labs until the next morning. Smiling brightly, he'd left to go find Thor and Loki.

Bruce looked at the younger team members and raised an eyebrow. "Did he just tell me I had to leave the lab and wasn't allowed back in until tomorrow?"

Jemma nodded her head as she stared at where Clint had disappeared. "Yes. Yes, I think that's what he did. Although...a little team bonding doesn't sound like a bad evening...we haven't done that in a while, between missions and researching...." She gave the man she was beginning to look on as a mentor a hopeful smile, before glancing at Fitz and Skye.

Bruce caught the hopeful look then smiled back. "Ok. This research will wait one night and after the day we had, a little fun could be just what the doctor ordered. C'mon, kids. Let's lock up, go clean-up for dinner and get to the common area." He ushered the other three out.

Skye looked interested... and a bit relieved. Although she still felt like part of the team and she understood how much Grant needed his family, she'd felt left out... and it was nice to know that they could spend some time with the rest of the team and family. "I wonder where May is," she said out loud.

"This should be fun," Fitz commented. "Even though Fury's here... and he's a bit intimidating..."

# # #

Clint had gone to Thor's floor. Even though being near Loki still made him uneasy and agitated, he didn't want the Asgardian to feel like he was being excluded from the other team members. And if his father was willing to give Loki a chance- despite having been killed by the man- then he couldn't justify not giving him a chance. He'd had JARVIS announce his arrival before stepping off the elevator, though, and he stayed in front of the elevator and waited for Thor to come speak with him, not feeling comfortable wandering through the other man's floor without being invited. When he saw Thor, he smiled crookedly. "We're having a team bonding night...everyone will be there- including Director Fury- and I want to make sure you know that you and Loki are invited if you want to join us." He fidgeted slightly.

Thor smiled at Clint, recognising and understanding the man's hesitation. "Thank you. I will talk about it with Loki and see if he feels comfortable enough to come and join." Thor knew a lot of the others were uncomfortable with his brother and although it would be important for them all to get on, this might not be the best place to start.

Clint nodded and started to turn to go back to the elevator when he hesitated. "I know that Tony and I are the biggest obstacles to your brother feeling comfortable. But I don't want you to stay away because of us. We'll never be able to move past what happened if we aren't given a chance to get to know Loki as you see him." He swallowed then shrugged. "Although if you do decide to come, have JARVIS give me a heads up so I can warn Fury. He doesn't know Loki's in town yet." He gave the demi-god an impish smile, clasped him on the shoulder and turned, stepping onto the elevator and heading to May's floor.

Thor nodded and smiled, watching Clint leave, before he headed through to the living room area, where he'd left Loki. "I don't know how much of that you heard..." he said, sitting down next to his brother.

Loki smiled at his brother. "I heard it all," he admitted. "What do you think we should do? He is right that they will never learn to trust me if they do not have a chance to get to know me. At the same time, Fury is not aware I am back and if he does not react well to the news, it will ruin the evening for everyone...." He frowned thoughtfully. "Perhaps we could invite everyone to your floor for a dinner at some point..."

Thor nodded. "That might be for the best... but I don't want you to feel left out of anything. If you think it's best for us to stay here tonight, that's what we'll do."

Loki smiled. "I am more than happy to spend the evening with you and will feel left out of nothing."

Thor smiled, wrapping his arm around Loki's shoulders. "I'm very glad to hear that."

# # #

Not finding May on her floor, Clint quickly asked JARVIS where she could be found. Learning that she had actually joined everyone else on the common floor, he headed back to the elevator so he could join them all. While he was walking, he gave JARVIS the rather substantial pizza order (including at least one pizza for each person, so that they'd have a favorite available). There would be enough left-overs to feed Thor and Loki later, should they decide not to join everyone.

The elevator stopped on his father's floor and his father and brother joined him the rest of the way to joining the others.

Coulson smiled at his oldest and wrapped his other arm around Clint's shoulders, still holding Grant close against his side.

Grant smiled at his brother, reaching over and messing up his hair.

"Hey! It took me two minutes to get it to stick out the right way!" he groused good naturedly. When the elevator stopped and they were walking into the sitting area, he was still patting down his hair in exaggeration. He caught Nat's arm as she exited the stairwell and dragged her along in their 'family chain'.

# # #

May had been on her own floor, but had decided that she wanted a bit of company and a snack and so had wandered down to the common area, only to see Director Fury, Trip and Steve sat around chatting and Tony in the kitchen area on the phone. Walking into the sitting area, she glanced at the lounging men with a raised eyebrow. "Hello, sir..." she said to Nick with a tiny quirk of her lips. "What's going on?" she finally asked the room at large.

Fury returned May's greeting, nodding slightly to her.

"We're going to be having some team bonding time," Steve said. "Clint didn't track you down?"

May sat down on a chair near the couch Fury and Trip were on and shook her head. "Afraid not...although if he is tracking everyone down in person he may not have reached my floor before I left to come here on my own." She smiled enigmatically.

Bucky came in not long after, his hair still wet from his shower, and sat down next to Steve. "Where's your boy?" he asked gruffly, his eyes teasing.

Bruce trailed in behind Bucky and sat in another one of the chairs that was near a couch.

Tony wandered back in from the kitchen just in time to catch Bucky's words. "His 'boy' is right here," he snarked. "And how come I'm suddenly his boy?" He crossed his arms over his chest and pouted playfully. "What happened to being Tin-Can?"

Skye and Fitz came in after Bruce, Fitz taking a seat next to Simmons and Skye leaning against the wall.

Steve smiled at his best friend and the young man he felt, in many ways, like he'd adopted. "I'm sure there are worse things you could be called."

Tony grinned at Steve, then walked over and sat down between Bucky and Steve, landing so that he was half sat on each of them. He then began to wiggle until he was able to cram himself in between the two of them and then put his arms around both of their shoulders. "Nice and cozy. And yeah..." He glanced at Steve and gave a cheeky grin. "There are worse things I could be... and have been... called. I try not to bring those up in polite company, though. Too many innocent ears nearby." He nodded towards Fitz, Simmons and Skye.

Steve smiled and wrapped his own arm around Tony's shoulders in turn. "That's probably a good idea," he agreed, teasing a little. "Is Pepper planning to join us?"

Tony looked down at Steve's question, a wistful look on his face. "Nah... Her meeting ran very late and they decided to hold another one first thing in the morning, so she decided to stay in Malibu." He tried to act as if everything was fine, but couldn't quite hide the worried, stressed and sad tone of his voice.

Steve squeezed Tony gently. "You'll be able to see her tomorrow... and tonight, you could stay on my floor," he suggested, his voice fond.

Fury glanced towards the door as Coulson came in with his kids in tow. A slightly amused look came over his face at the sight of the 'train', but he didn't say anything.

Tony leaned into Steve and sighed. "Thanks...I might just do that..." He smiled and some of the tension left him; he still seemed a little sad, though. "I miss her," he finally admitted.

Clint saw the amused look on Fury's face and grinned, pulling Nat and Grant closer then crowding Phil so he'd feel like a beleaguered father with young children hanging off of him.

"I know," Steve replied, still with his arm wrapped around Tony. "You'll see her tomorrow, though," he said reassuringly

"You're too old to make walking like this easy," Coulson said, sounding amused. Patting each of his kids on the shoulder, he nodded towards the couch closest to Skye. "Let's sit down," he suggested, before making sure he made eye contact with and greeted the others he'd missed earlier.

"Yes..." Tony smiled again.

Grant laughed and extricated himself from the tangle his brother had pulled him into and went to sit next to Skye.

Nat whapped Clint upside the head and took Coulson's arm, going to sit on the only remaining couch.

"Ow! Nat!" Clint winced and pouted at the room at large, before pulling a chair out of the kitchen to sit on.

Coulson sat down on the couch, settling back and looking quite happy and comfortable. "Grant and I were talking about playing a game like Taboo," he said to everyone. "That way, anyone who wants to play can."

"Are you feeling better?" Skye asked Grant quietly. She'd noticed, of course, that during the meeting earlier, he'd been exhausted... and even though he did look better, it would be nice to have it confirmed verbally.

Grant slanted his head, looking at her and thinking, then smiled. "Yeah. I think I am." Looking up as everyone agreed to the game suggestion, he grinned. "Skye's on my team!" he announced, before poking her gently in the ribs.

"Oh, yeah!? Well, then I get Jemma," Clint retorted.

Soon, everyone was choosing a partner.

The End

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