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-fifth 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: Trying to fix things that are ‘wrong’ causes problems of a different sort.
Warning(s): Spanking; spoilers for Agents of SHIELD and Avengers Assemble
Co-Author’s Website: BlackFox12's fanfiction.net page
There were several reasons why Natasha and Clint worked so well together. One of the main ones was the level of trust, which meant that Natasha could focus on her job and trust Clint to watch her back... and vice versa.
Having found a HYDRA base, the siblings had infiltrated it with little difficulty and Natasha was currently working on downloading as many files as she could before their presence was discovered. It helped to have Skye and Tony on the other end of the comms, talking her through the potential back doors she could use.
Even though the infiltration had gone off without a hitch, Clint was still behaving as if things were going to go wrong at any moment. He wasn't sure why, but his instincts were itching and he'd learned long ago never to ignore that sensation. It was probably nothing...but he hadn't lived this long by ignoring small clues.
Natasha's fingers flew over the keys as she finished off the download and then grabbed the flash-drive, joining her brother moments later. "All done," she said in a low voice.
"Great," Clint whispered back. "Let's blow this Popsicle stand." He quickly motioned her to lead the way while he guarded their back. He should have known it wouldn't be that easy.
Natasha had made sure the flash-drive was safely away, so when they were intercepted by guards, she had both hands free and was able to fire her guns as the two of them searched for another exit.
"We're under fire here and are heading out the east side. Going over the fence..." Clint reported over the comms, so Tony and Skye could get their vehicle to them for a get-away. He then began firing his own gun and leading Nat in the direction he'd told the other two.
Natasha moved with Clint, knowing his movements well enough that she didn't need to check which direction he was going in. She was careful with the shots she made, but still had to pause to reload before they reached the east side.
They exited the building at a run, Clint pausing just long enough to jam the exit so that they would have a bit more time to get over the fence...only to stop a few feet from the fence where Nat was standing. "Uh...Stark? We gotta problem..."
"Yeah, I noticed, Katniss... Look up," came over the comms.
When Clint looked up, it was to see Iron Man quickly descending.
"Nat first?" Iron Man lowered down so she could grab hold of him for a lift over the high voltage electric fence.
Natasha didn't waste any time in grabbing hold of the suit, though she did it with one arm that she wrapped around Tony, so she could keep one hand free and keep covering her brother for as long as it took for her to get over the fence.
Tony, for his part, didn't waste any time getting Natasha over the fence...even as he provided his own cover for the archer. As soon as Nat was on the ground, he was flying back up and over to get Clint. "Unless you want Skye driving getaway, you might want to get the van ready," he said over the comms.
Within seconds, he was back to Clint, the archer holding onto him with one arm while shooting at the agents who had finally broken through the door. Unfortunately, they weren't just using guns. "Uh oh..." Tony muttered. "Sorry, Robin Hood, but I'm gonna have to toss you..."
"Go for it." Clint prepared himself to 'fly'.
As soon as she was on the ground, Natasha was moving to the vans, updating her dad and Steve even as she quickly climbed in and drove over to the fence to pick up the remaining two members of their team.
Skye had to grab onto her laptop to make sure it didn't go flying, but since she had her seatbelt on, that was all she had to worry about.
As soon as Tony cleared the fence, Clint let go and jumped, hitting the ground in a roll before he began running for the van while Tony covered him.
"I'll cover you all as soon as Clint is in the van; take off and I'll fly be....oh shit!" Tony exclaimed, as he flew forward erratically.
"What? What's wrong?" Clint exclaimed, turning around just in time to see Tony intercept a miniature rocket that had been aimed toward the van. He watched in horror as the rocket carried Tony into the fence before Tony was able to redirect it into the ground. The fence lit up like the Fourth of July, while Tony couldn't help but scream in agony.
Natasha jerked the van to a stop and got out as quickly as she could, leaving Skye to update the others on what had just happened as she'd been told to stay in the van.
Not bothering to tell Clint what they needed to do, Natasha snapped a long branch off a tree and pulled a glove onto her hand so that she could use the branch to dislodge Tony from the fence with Clint's help.
Clint was ready...and soon they had knocked Tony free, although it hadn't been easy. The current wouldn't let Tony go. If it hadn't been for the fence shorting out and the electricity suddenly being cut, Clint wasn't sure they would have gotten him. As soon as Tony was loose and lying on the ground, however, Clint had grabbed him and began dragging him to the waiting van, trusting Natasha to cover them both.
Natasha returned fire as she trailed her brother and 'cousin' back to the van. Although very worried about Tony, she kept her attention on the soldiers until all three of them were safely in the van.
"We're going to drive Tony straight to the hospital," Natasha said into the comms.
"We'll come and meet you there," was Steve's immediate response. He was clearly very worried and from the sounds of it, was already leaving the tower, only pausing long enough for the others to join him and asking JARVIS to contact Pepper, who was in a meeting.
Clint hadn't wasted any time removing the armor from Tony and checking his vitals. "Oh no...no. No you don't!" he muttered as he began CPR. "Damn it, Tony, wake up!"
"Do you know how to do CPR?" he asked Skye, as he continued chest compresses. "I need you to breathe for him!"
Although temporarily frozen with shock, as soon as Clint spoke, Skye was undoing her seatbelt and at Tony's side. She began giving Tony mouth-to-mouth, somehow keeping her balance even with Natasha driving at top speed.
Natasha reached the hospital in record time, only focused on the driving and pushing aside her own fear and worry in single-minded purpose.
It was the hardest thing Clint had needed to do in a long time, stepping back as the emergency room doctors took over trying to resuscitate his cousin. He bit his lip and began pacing as he, Nat, and Skye were left in the waiting room...uncertain if they had got their family member to help in time.
Natasha leaned against the wall, but even though she wasn't pacing, she was just as troubled as Clint and Skye.
Skye wasn't pacing, but she was shifting around, unable to stay still and constantly looking at where the doctors had taken Tony.
Steve arrived only a few minutes later with the rest of them, quickly going to join the other three. "Have they said anything?" he asked quietly.
Coulson moved over and wrapped an arm each around his son and daughter, trying to offer them some comfort, even though he knew this was one of the hardest things any of them had had to experience.
May had moved to Skye's side, knowing that she hadn't been an agent as long or seen as much and hadn't formed the protective 'callouses' that enabled seasoned agents to continue functioning when things like this occurred. It was hard enough on those who were seasoned.
Clint shook his head. "They took him in immediately and we haven't seen anyone since." His voice was hoarse with worry.
Pepper arrived ten minutes later, carrying a file and crying.
Skye looked gratefully at May and moved closer to the woman, biting her lip and fighting hard not to let her worry overwhelm her. She still felt like she wanted to cry, though.
Coulson nodded. "They'll do everything they can for him."
Steve moved over to Pepper's side. "The doctors have taken him in, but say the word and I'll get them to tell us more." He was worried and scared for Tony, who he thought of as his son, and it had taken a supreme effort not to immediately demand more information.
Pepper nodded and handed him the file. "You'll need this if you want them to tell you anything...Patient confidentiality would keep them from telling you anything otherwise..." She swallowed back tears. "I found these in Tony's office several weeks ago...he signed them, but apparently couldn't work up the nerve to have you sign them...even though he and I talked about it being a good idea." She choked back a sob and ran a hand over her eyes.
Steve nodded, taking the file from Pepper. He didn't hesitate in signing for the power of attorney... but he paused when he reached the adoption papers. Not because he didn't want to adopt Tony. For all they'd clashed when first meeting, Steve had got to the point now that Tony might as well be his son. And that seemed to be how the rest of the family viewed them anyway. So it only took a second before Steve was signing the adoption papers too and then taking the file over to the desk so he could find out the status of his boy.
Pepper followed behind. If they refused to tell her anything because she and Tony were not legally wed yet, she knew Steve would tell her.
The nurse looked up at their approach, a sympathetic look on her face.
"I need to know the condition of the man who was just brought in... Tony Stark," Steve said, handing the file to the nurse.
The nurse quickly looked at the documents before looking back up. "You're Steve Rogers, his medical power of attorney? May I make a copy of this for our file? In case we need you to make decisions regarding his care?" The nurse hesitated so he could answer.
Steve nodded. "I am. And, yes, that won't be a problem."
The nurse quickly made the copy, handing the original back to Steve. "I'll see if I can find a doctor that can update you on his condition..." She gave another sympathetic smile, before heading behind the doors keeping Tony's family from him.
Steve waited, trying hard to keep his impatience from showing, and stayed by Pepper's side, knowing she needed the support.
"Why aren't they coming out?" Pepper fretted. "It must be really bad..." she choked out, but managing not to cry.
It felt like an eternity, even though it was only a few minutes, when a young doctor came out into the waiting room. "Are you all here for Tony Stark?" He blinked in surprise at the full waiting room.
Steve nodded, stepping forward. "What's his condition?" Although he sounded calm, he couldn't hide his fear and worry from the people who knew him best. His whole body vibrated with the need to go to Tony... to be at his side.
The doctor glanced around then turned toward Steve. "We were finally able to get him stabilized...he coded twice before we were able to do so though, and he is currently in a coma. I understand you are the one he's designated to make decisions on his behalf? I need to find out from you, how you want us to proceed should he have further complications."
The doctor kept his voice matter of fact and calm, but it didn't help Pepper...she choked back a sob and bit her lip in an attempt not to cry.
"Whatever it takes to save him," Steve said without any hesitation. "There isn't anything I'd ask you to hold back on doing." Not when it came to Tony's life. "Can we see him?" Even if Tony wasn't conscious, it was speculated that people in comas still had some awareness.
"I can let you and his fiancé in to see him, but more than two at a time is not permitted; and I must warn you, it looks bad...he did receive multiple burns from the electrical current. We've treated those as best as possible," the doctor responded.
Steve nodded. "We'd both like to see him." He glanced at Pepper to make sure she didn't mind him speaking for her.
Pepper nodded quickly, wiping at her eyes before blindly reaching for Steve's hand. "Yes, please...I need to see him," she said, only a hint of the turmoil she was feeling coming through in her voice.
Steve took Pepper's hand, squeezing it gently, and looked back over his shoulder to make sure the others knew where they were going before following the doctor.
Pepper followed behind, holding his hand tightly and grateful Steve was there. She wasn't sure she could take one more life or death experience of Tony's by herself.
When they walked into the ICU room, she couldn't help the tiny gasp that escaped. Tony looked so small and pale in the hospital bed...wires and tubes connected in so many places there was little of Tony that wasn't being monitored or wasn't covered in bandaging. "Oh, Tony..." she finally let out in a broken whisper.
Steve moved to Tony's side, reaching out to carefully place his hand over his boy's, avoiding the wires and bandages. "Hey, Tony," he said softly. "I'm not sure if you can hear me or not... but I'm here and so is Pepper. The others are in the reception. I'm sure they'd storm in here the moment they got the chance."
Pepper moved to the other side and gently placed her hand on one of the few unmarked areas of skin. "You've got to wake up and get better, Tony. Rhodey is threatening to fly out in the Iron Patriot and you know you'll want to give him grief about the name..." She tried for a lighthearted teasing tone, but it fell flat. Wincing, she reached up and rubbed her eyes again. "Please, Tony? I don't want to even imagine a life without you... You've gotta wake up..." she said in a tiny voice.
In the waiting room, Clint's pacing was becoming frantic and he was seriously considering climbing up into the hospital ventilation so he could go check on his nearly-brother.
Coulson placed his hand on his eldest's shoulder and squeezed gently. "I know you want to check on Tony, Clint, but Steve and Pepper are with him right now and they'll let us know his condition." He wrapped his arms around Clint and kissed his forehead. "You did good, son," he said softly, then looked over towards Nat and Skye. "All of you did."
Grant moved over to his brother and sister's side. "I feel so useless here...did you get any info that we can use to hurt the bastards that did this to Tony?" His eyes flashed with suppressed worry for his friend and anger at HYDRA.
Clint straightened at that and nodded. "I know Nat got something...maybe once Cap lets us know what the prognosis is, we can go kick some ass."
The look in his eyes would have had Grant feeling sorry for his brother's target, if he hadn't wanted the same thing as Clint.
"Just make sure you take comms with you," Coulson said, his voice mild, but worried nonetheless. "I don't want any of you ending up in the hospital." Or worse.
"I'll check the intel properly once we know how Tony is." Natasha nudged her brothers' shoulders then leaned lightly against her dad a moment, knowing how worried and frightened he was... they all were.
"Sounds like a plan," May said, even as she wrapped one arm around Skye. "If it's feasible, maybe we can make a large group op out of it and close them down. Or at least close this part of them down. I have to admit I'd like a little payback of my own," she admitted.
Trip nodded his agreement.
"I think I need a bit of air," Bruce said suddenly, taking his arms from around Jemma and Leo as he stood. "I feel like I'm turning green." His face did look a bit sickly.
"I'll come with you?" Jemma quickly said, standing and rubbing his arm gently, worry on her face.
Bruce didn't argue with her, already on his way to the door. His friend's precarious situation was taking its toll.
Leo had felt completely useless, but when Jemma went to join Bruce, he quickly stood to follow them, also worried about the man that some small part of him still viewed as his father.
Skye leaned into May, a worried look on her face. "I hope he'll be all right..." she said softly.
"If anyone can pull through something like that, it's Tony Stark..." Trip said quietly.
Bucky nodded. "Tony's told me a bit about how he became Iron Man...as well as things he's gone through since that time. He's a fighter and I have no doubt he'll pull through. Steve and Pepper wouldn't allow him to do less." The ex-soldier smiled crookedly.
Although Steve was reluctant to leave Tony's side, he knew that the others wanted to know the condition of their family member. Telling Pepper to let him know if there was any change, he returned to the waiting area and explained Tony's condition to the others, doing his best to hide his own strain and worry.
May nodded then glanced at Coulson. "Since there is really nothing any of us can do here, maybe we should head back and work on the information Nat got. I'm sure Steve will contact us as soon as anything changes, or if there is something we can do. And I'd like to stop the ones who did this to him."
Coulson nodded and stepped over to Steve, placing a hand on his shoulder. "If you need us for anything, you know how to get in contact with us."
Steve nodded gratefully. "Thank you."
Clint nodded also. "I'll keep you updated too..." he said to the Captain, before motioning toward Nat, Trip and Skye to follow him.
May moved to stand next to Coulson.
Bucky moved to stand next to his brother. "Anything I can do?" he asked Steve quietly.
Steve smiled at his brother... or tried to, anyway. It wasn't a very good attempt. "I'll be staying here with Pepper... do you mind bringing things over for us?"
"Consider it done." Bucky wrapped an arm around his brother and hugged him tightly, kissing his forehead. "Try to get some rest and eat. You won't be any good to Tony if you wear yourself out."
Steve nodded, hugging Bucky, grateful for his brother's support. "I will," he promised. "If you could update me about the intel, too, if you think there's anything I need to know..."
"I will." Bucky gave his brother one last hug, then turned toward Coulson and May, motioning them ahead of him. "Let's go finish the op," he said firmly, ready to go break some HYDRA heads.
It hadn't taken long for Natasha to go through the intel. For the most part, it wasn't very useful. There were some mentions of people they could track down. But it wasn't until the videos that Natasha felt the need to call in the other members of the team.
"JARVIS? Could you ask the others to come and join me?" Natasha asked, calmly enough, though her eyes were focused on the screen.
Clint and Grant came in together. "What'd you find, Nat?" Grant asked curiously.
Bruce came in before she could answer. "The others will be here soon if you only want to say everything once." He smiled faintly.
Natasha nodded. "That would be best. Though maybe showing you would be more demonstrative."
Skye came in then, along with Leo.
Coulson walked in after the two.
Jemma walked in with Trip, moving to stand next to Bruce.
May and Bucky were the last to arrive. "What'd you find, Nat?" Bucky asked.
Instead of answering with words, Natasha brought up the file and silently set it to start playing.
For a while, everyone was quiet as they watched, but eventually, Jemma could keep quiet no longer. "How many people did they do this to?" she asked, horror in her voice.
"Conditioning like this... it takes a lot of time and work," Natasha said, her voice distant. "It wasn't that long ago. His appearance hasn't changed much... at least where he's not marked by what they've done." It was easier to catalogue what she could see, rather than treat the person on the screen as someone who'd been a comrade once.
Leo swallowed. "We weren't there when the HYDRA agents were activated in SHIELD HQ, but I remember meeting Rumlow briefly when he brought back some material for an op..." His voice trailed off.
"They would have captured him during an op," Coulson said. "And then staged a rescue. Or allowed him to 'escape' on his own."
Grant frowned slightly. "Didn't he fight Cap? When HYDRA first made their move? Do you think they've had to continue the conditioning? Or was it so thorough it will never come undone?" His voice was haunted, remembering how he did Hydra's bidding, all for John Garrett, and he'd never been brainwashed. Rumlow had fought, hard and long, only to lose the battle in the end.
Coulson pulled his gaze away from the screen to focus on his son, placing a hand on Grant's shoulder in response to the haunted note in his voice. "It's difficult to say." He hesitated. "But if it's continued conditioning, there's a chance it could be broken."
Natasha reached out to stop the video playing and looked at Grant and Bucky. "He was in charge of the agents who captured you before... did either of you notice anything about him?"
Bucky frowned slightly. "Sorry, Nat...I don't think I've ever known him when he wasn't working for HYDRA. And during the time he wasn't...I unfortunately was." His smile was brittle as he remembered his own brainwashing.
Grant bit his lip. "I didn't think of it at the time...but he was acting different than he did all the times I'd seen him before HYDRA made their move...before, he never seemed to trust Garrett and always gave me this half-pitying, half-derisive look. When he had us hostage, it was like he didn't even recognize me. I assumed it was because I'd turned against HYDRA, but..." He shrugged uncertainly.
Coulson nodded. "That would fit with the conditioning." He sighed. "I don't know if it would be possible to break that brainwashing." After all, the two times it had happened earlier had been slightly different, at least in Clint's case. Bucky's situation was probably more similar to Rumlow's. "If we have the opportunity to capture him... I think that call needs to be made." He looked around, to see if anyone disagreed.
Grant looked at his father, his eyes hooded. "If he was brainwashed, he didn't follow them by choice. Doesn't that deserve a second chance, or help?"
Bucky nodded in agreement with Grant's words. "I can't say someone else doesn't deserve the same chance I was given. If we have the opportunity to capture him, we should at least try. If it fails, at least we tried."
"I'm glad you agree," Coulson said, not having expected anything else. "In the meantime..." He looked at Natasha. "I think there was mention made of payback... did you find anything that could help with that?"
Natasha nodded and indicated one of the files she had open. "This should help."
No one had wanted to be left out of the 'payback'. At the same time, they realized that not all of them could realistically go. Because of this, Jemma had stayed behind with Bruce to give information and support, as well as being available to take care of medical issues.
Bucky had informed Steve of what they were doing.
Grant watched his 'uncle' prepare, then watched his brother, father and sister prepare. He had already got his equipment together.
Trip glanced at May, then at Skye. He finally turned to Thor and Loki, who had just returned from visiting their father in Asgard, and continued to fill them in on the plan of attack (and the reason for it).
"What am I doing?" Skye asked May, sticking close to her. She didn't want to be left behind when they all went on the offensive... but she knew she couldn't fight as well as the others, even if Grant had spent that time training her.
Thor immediately volunteered to go with them, glancing hopefully at his brother. It had been a long time since he and Loki had fought side by side.
Loki, noting Skye's look and his own brother's hopeful glance, spoke to May and Coulson. "Perhaps Skye can fight beside Thor and myself? If things get dicey, I can get her out of the area."
Coulson looked at the others, mainly May, and then addressed Loki. "I can't see a problem with that personally." But he was still concerned about the possibility of Skye getting into trouble and waited for May to voice her opinion.
May narrowed her eyes slightly. She didn't like the idea of Skye going into what would most definitely be a firefight when she wasn't as heavily trained; but she had been trained and she obviously wanted to be part of the team. Looking at Skye, then at Loki, she finally nodded. "That is a good idea. I know you have been training heavily, but if something does go wrong, I trust that Loki and Thor would be able to keep you safe."
Skye smiled, looking grateful, and gave May a hug. "Thank you... I promise I'll be careful," she said. "And follow orders."
Coulson gave a slight smile and then stepped over to his children, planning to fight along with them.
Loki smiled, nodding his head toward May; part in acknowledgement of her words of trust in his and Thor's ability to protect her daughter, part in thanks for that trust. He moved closer to the group and glanced over the plans. "What are my orders?" he asked quietly.
Attacking the HYDRA base was brutal, mostly because the team wanted payback and were prepared for that. Even so, being involved in the firefight wasn't the only thing and Natasha had quickly gone with Clint to gather more intel... although taking a roundabout way of doing so, since payback was also on their minds.
Clint was merciless. He and Natasha were getting the intel they needed, but he was also taking his revenge, as well as making sure that there would be no chance of reinforcements coming and cutting off their escape, or forcing them to exit out a back way. The information that they'd used to plan their first operation hadn't included the fact that the back exit was blocked by a high voltage fence, or they would never had gone that way. This time, they would not be forced to alter their plans and risk something like that happening again.
Skye kept close to Loki and Thor, just like she'd promised, and the brothers protected her as she put her training into practice.
Coulson kept his attention divided equally between the HYDRA soldiers and his teammates and family. He knew his oldest son and daughter were gathering intel, but he trusted them to be as careful as possible.
May moved over to Coulson's side, providing cover. She noted Trip and Grant working together like a well-oiled machine...their training together under John Garrett making itself known. She looked around, "I think we've nearly taken them all down. Shall we move all the prisoners out so we can destroy the building?"
Coulson nodded in acknowledgement and let Natasha and Clint know they were doing that over the comms, knowing his children would get out safely.
"We got everything, Tash?" Clint asked his sister. "If so, then we should head out now so they can begin the demolition..."
Coulson slipped into the hospital room, stepping over to Steve, who looked like he hadn't even moved from Tony's side. "I brought you some food." He held the bag out to his friend.
Steve took the food with a rather pathetic attempt at a smile. "Thank you." He sighed. "There's not been much of a change... has anything happened your end?"
"A couple of things," Coulson answered. "We hit a HYDRA base... but not before discovering they took at least one SHIELD agent and... well, they tortured and conditioned him. Brainwashed him."
Steve paused in the act of reaching into the bag for the food. "Who?"
Bucky walked in a minute later, carrying a drink holder filled with juice and coffee. "You tell him?" he asked in a whisper, not wanting to wake up Pepper, who looked as if she hadn't slept at all the last two days.
"You don't have to whisper...I'm awake," Pepper said sadly, sitting up straighter on her chair before finally standing to stretch. "Phil...Bucky..." She smiled at the two men before moving to Phil and wrapping her arms around him in a tight hug, doing her best not to start crying again. Stepping back and then hugging Bucky, she took one of the coffees and stepped back before asking, "Who is Rumlow?"
"He was a SHIELD agent turned HYDRA..." Steve frowned, this news just making him feel worse in many ways. He actually had some very mixed feelings about it. "I worked with him on several ops... at least I know he wasn't putting on an act. But..."
"...It doesn't feel good to know they captured an agent and turned him," Coulson finished. "We're going to try and get him back. I don't know if the conditioning can be broken... but at least we can try."
"Never leave a man behind..." a hoarse mutter carried in the room. “Or is that the marines?"
Pepper stiffened then whirled around so rapidly, she got dizzy. "Tony! Oh, Tony..." She rushed over to the side she'd been nearly plastered to since he'd been brought in.
Steve was nearly as fast as Pepper in reaching Tony's other side, taking his hand as carefully as possible. "I'm so glad you're awake, son," he said softly, the endearment slipping out automatically.
Tony blinked and opened his mouth, before wincing and trying to swallow. "How long...?" he finally whispered, as he licked dry lips and tried to open his eyes, the lights making him squint warily.
Pepper swallowed hard and quickly began looking for a cup so she could pour him some water, even as she answered him. "Two days, Tony. You were out for two days...." She didn't say that they weren't sure he'd ever wake up, although the worry and stress in her voice clued him in that things weren't good.
"…That bad?" He finally opened his eyes enough to look at Steve, since Pepper was pouring him some water.
Steve squeezed his hand gently. "Everyone's been really worried about you," he said softly. "Phil and Bucky are here as well... everyone else will be really happy to know you're awake. How much pain are you in? You need the doctor?" He gently stroked Tony's hair.
"I...Do you want my typical answer or the truth?" Tony winced slightly. "...It hurts bad..." he admitted reluctantly, not wanting to worry anyone in the room, but knowing that lying wouldn't be in his best interest. He squeezed Steve's hand back weakly, while reaching for Pepper's hand. "Sorry I've worried you all...."
"It's not your fault," Steve said softly. "I'm just glad you're awake. I'll call the doctor." He reached over for the on-call button, before hesitating. "I signed the paperwork, Tony." He wanted to let his boy know that... that he'd made their relationship official and wanted to make it official.
It took Tony a few seconds to realize what Steve meant, but when it sunk in, his mouth dropped open slightly and he asked, in a voice that was half hopeful, half afraid-to-believe, "You signed it? I...I'm...." He swallowed, afraid to complete the sentence in case he was misunderstanding.
Pepper quickly took Tony's hand and gently squeezed it, but didn't say anything, knowing how important this was to Tony...and she suspected important to Steve, too.
Steve smiled at Tony, his care and love for the other man coming through. "I made it official. You're my son." Still holding onto Tony's hand, he gave it another gentle squeeze, wishing he could hug him.
"Yeah, I..." Tony swallowed, a grin suddenly lighting his face. "You're my dad..." He swallowed again, blinking back tears and laughing at the same time. "When I get out of here..."
"We'll throw a party to let everyone know..." Pepper smiled.
"Yeah..." Tony glanced at Pepper, squeezing her hand. "You gave him the papers..." he said softly. It wasn't a question.
"I did," Pepper admitted. "We both agreed it was a good idea for him to have control over your medical decisions if you couldn't make them... I didn't realize the adoption papers were in the file as well...but I'm glad they were. You two need each other."
Bucky snorted. "That's an understatement.
Tony couldn't argue with that. Glancing from Pepper to Steve and then at Bucky, he noticed Coulson standing a little further back...and remembered why he was in the hospital. "Agent! Clint? Tasha? Skye?" His heart monitor spiked with the sudden worry he felt.
"They're fine. Worried about you," Coulson said, stepping forward, though still trying not to crowd Tony. "You got them out and they got you here. They'll be happy to know you're awake and talking." He smiled. "And about the adoption."
Steve resumed stroking Tony's hair, trying to soothe him. "You don't need to worry. Everyone's fine." He leaned over so that he could press the button to call the doctor, knowing how much pain Tony was in, and then took hold of his son's hand once more.
The heart monitor slowly eased back into its easy rhythm as Tony processed that his family had escaped harm. "Good...I...I was afraid I'd not been able to stop it...that it had..." He swallowed and shivered.
Pepper bit her lip and continued to gently squeeze Tony's hand, rubbing it softly.
Bucky glanced at the door as the doctor came in. "I'm going to go head back out into the waiting area and call everyone to let them know you're finally awake...give the doctor room to work," he said gruffly, nodding at his 'nephew' and smiling crookedly, before matching words to action.
Coulson left as well, after a quick comment to Tony that he was glad to see him awake and talking.
Steve nodded in acknowledgement to Bucky, then addressed Tony as he still held his son's hand and stroked his hair. "You saved them. You didn't fail. Now you just have to worry about getting better." He shifted so that the doctor could get to Tony, but didn't let go of his hand.
Normally, Tony would have argued with the doctor about all the little 'tests' that he was doing...and argued against taking the morphine drip that the doctor was requesting the nurse to set up. The fact that both his fiancé and his father were there kept him from protesting, though. He knew they would over-ride his protests and he didn't want them worrying any more than they already were. "Morphine makes me dopey..." he muttered, as the doctor examined him and scheduled various scans to make certain that he was healing inside as well as he was healing outside.
"It'll help you feel better," Steve pointed out, his voice gentle. "I know you don't like it, but we'd both rather you not be in pain if there's something that can be done about it." He squeezed Tony's hand.
"Used to pain...." Tony muttered, trying to keep his eyes open. He didn't want to fall asleep again so soon after waking up.
Pepper winced at the words, but managed to keep Tony from seeing. "Well, used to it or not, there's no reason for you to hurt right now and we want to do whatever we can to help you not hurt. You'll be able to rest better and that will help you heal faster..." she said softly, leaning over and carefully kissing him on the forehead.
Steve nodded. "We want you to get better. Everyone does. And none of us want to see you in pain. We're your family and we love you."
Tony licked his lips, blinking drowsily as he glanced from Pepper to Steve and back. "Ok..." he finally said sleepily, "…But you need to take care of yourselves too," he retorted quietly. "…No more sleeping in the chair by my hospital bed...go home and get some sleep in a real bed...hospital know to call you if something happens..." He yawned.
"Tony..." Pepper was about to protest and bit her lip as Tony shot a stern look at her.
"I won't be able to rest if I worry about you not resting..." He wasn't above a little 'blackmail'.
"I don't want to leave you," Steve said honestly. "But if we do go... I want you to promise to make sure they call the moment you need us. Even if you think it isn't an important reason, because I won't be able to rest if I think you'll try and pretend you're all right when you aren't." He leaned over and pressed an affectionate kiss to Tony's forehead. At least he could do that now without worrying in case Tony might think he was overstepping some boundaries.
"Ok..." Tony agreed, glancing at the nurse who had just come in. "Did you hear that... Kathy?" He glanced at her name tag then looked back up at her. "If I need to call them, I'll need you to do my dialing..." He looked sheepishly at his hands. His fingers had been one of the more grievously wounded parts of him, due to his holding onto the rocket and then trying to push himself away from the fence. He looked back at Pepper and Steve. "Maybe you could come by again later, after dinner? Maybe I'll be more awake then..." He smiled crookedly, torn between changing his mind and asking them to stay and his wanting them to take care of themselves so they didn't get sick.
"After dinner is fine," Steve said. "We could bring you something to eat... what would you like?" Hospital food had never been that good in his time and his understanding was that not much had changed.
Tony got a mischievous look on his face, or as mischievous as it could be with all the bandages. "A cheeseburger and fries? And a coke...?" he asked hopefully, shooting the nurse furtive glances, hoping she wouldn't veto the idea.
"I don't think I can smuggle in that kind of food... but I'll see what I can do," Steve promised, still holding Tony's hand.
Tony smiled crookedly. "Just anything from home will be fine..." he said quietly, squeezing his hand slightly. "Thanks...dad." He said the term experimentally. He'd only said it once since becoming an adult again; and this was the first time it was ever said where it was based on more than just a feeling. He couldn't help but smile bigger after doing so...a feeling of belonging wrapping him up like a warm hug. Steve had actually wanted him...despite him being well past the age when 'children' were usually adopted. It felt good.
Pepper smiled, knowing how much it meant to Tony to be able to say it. Leaning over, she gave him a chaste kiss, squeezed his hand again then reluctantly let go. "I'll see you tonight, then," she said softly, nodding at Steve as she exited the room to give father and son a little time alone to get used to their new relationship status.
Steve smiled when Tony used the term and leaned over to kiss his forehead gently again. "I'm sure everyone will know by now, but celebrating the official adoption sounds good... at least when you're well enough," he said.
"I'd like that..." Tony admitted. "I...I don't have words, really." He knew Steve would know that meant he was overwhelmed...he was seldom without the ability to talk; about anything.
"I know. I feel the same," Steve said. "I'm glad you put those adoption papers there... though I did plan to talk to you about how you felt after this next mission."
"I...I had them drawn up at the same time May had the papers drawn up for her and Skye. I just couldn't work up the nerve to ask you if you still wanted me that way..." Tony admitted softly. "I was afraid to hear the answer if you thought we should go back to the way things were before...."
"Even before you were deaged, I still wanted you that way," Steve said sincerely. "And it just became a stronger desire when I had the chance to look after you as a child. Even without the papers, I've still seen you as my son. It's just official now,"
Tony swallowed, then sniffed, embarrassed to find himself tearing up. "I... I think I've looked on you as a father since the day you first stepped in and let me know my days of being reckless and not thinking things through before acting were over," he admitted with a soft snort. "All the times you protect me and...and correct me...and teach me...and are there for me just made the feeling stronger until I didn't just look at you as a father; you were my father...and I wanted everyone to know it and I wanted it to be real...not just in my heart..." He swallowed again, not sure he'd explained well; the morphine made things a bit hazy sometimes.
It was difficult, but Steve managed to get one arm carefully around Tony's shoulders, even if he couldn't hug his son as properly or as fully as he'd like to. "It is real and it has been real for a long time. You're never going to be alone again, Tony. I'm here. I love you. And you are my son. There is nothing that could ever change that."
Tony shifted as much as he was able, putting his head on Steve's shoulder. "I love you too..." he sniffled, before yawning. Blushing, he sighed. "Sorry, dad. I think I'm about to fall asleep on you...literally..." he said with a tiny laugh.
"That isn't a problem," Steve said, gently threading his fingers through Tony's hair. "I'll stay with you until you fall asleep."
"...'k," Tony murmured into Steve's chest. It didn't take long before his breathing had evened out into the gentle rhythm of sleep.
Pepper, who had come to stand in the doorway but hadn't wanted to interrupt, whispered, "Happy is here to take me back to the tower. Would you like a lift?"
Natasha had discovered intel that had them flying out to Peurto Rico. Steve hadn't been too happy about leaving Tony, but his son had insisted he'd be all right for that short amount of time and Natasha had discovered that was Rumlow's last location.
The group had reached the particular area and were fanning out, blending in with the crowd and looking for the HYDRA agents.
Rumlow wasn't overly fond of working with others. He hadn't been given a choice in this case, but somehow, he had made the situation work and had got what he'd been sent to retrieve. He was rewarding himself with a local brew at one of the pubs near the seedy motel he had been staying at. His ride out of the town was due early in the morning. The agents he had been assigned to work with were in the pub, too, but he'd somehow persuaded them to sit on the other side of the building so that he could be alone. His particular seat also gave him a good vantage point for seeing the front entrance, as well as being very close to the back exit that was supposed to only be open for employees.
Distracted and worried about Tony, Steve had ended up moving away from the rest of them, thinking about what he knew of Rumlow's past habits from the missions they'd been on together. Recalling that there'd been a couple of occasions when they'd shared drinks together after a successful mission, he began checking in the pubs that were in that area.
Rumlow noticed the Captain before the Captain could notice him. He considered Steve Rogers a bit of unfinished business...his superiors had not been happy at the results of what they had attempted at the Triskellion and had held him responsible. He'd had several months of retraining to make up for his failure and he held Rogers responsible. He made certain the other man saw him before leaving out the back. He was positive the Captain would follow...and when he did, Brock would be waiting.
Under normal circumstances, Steve would have paused to make contact with the rest of the team. He couldn't say exactly why he didn't do that... except... he'd been powerless to help Tony. This was something he could control, whether or not he went after the man who'd once been a teammate. And even if he failed... at least he would have tried. So he followed.
Rumlow moved in the shadows, staying just far enough ahead that it would seem like he was trying to hide and get away (and he was trying to hide to some small degree...he had no doubt Steve had a team somewhere nearby and he didn't want to be caught by them). He stayed close enough that Steve wouldn't lose track of him, however, and eventually he'd moved to a back alley that seemingly had no escape. He would take the Captain out and drag him back to HYDRA for his own retraining. Or, should Steve prove more difficult than he thought he would be, he would be able to escape through the hidden tunnel that was behind the dumpster.
The alley gave Steve a momentary pause and he thought again about calling the others to help him. But if he paused to call them, there was no guarantee that Rumlow wouldn't get away... and then they might not be able to find him again.
Once he had hold of the man, he could call the others on the comms.
Steve followed Rumlow into the alley, prepared for a fight, since he doubted he would come without a fight.
Rumlow smiled to himself as Steve came into the alley. He knew Steve was prepared for a fight; the Captain wasn't a fool and Rumlow knew he wouldn't have the element of surprise, even if Steve believed that he wasn't aware of the Captain following him. Because of this, as soon as Steve was far enough into the alley that it wouldn't be seen and that it would be more difficult for Steve to get back out of the alley, Rumlow attacked- swinging a two by four that had been abandoned near the side of the building at the other man's head.
Steve reacted immediately, using his shield to knock the two by four before it could hit him in the head. He didn't waste any time in following that block with a punch and then another one, going immediately on the defensive. He couldn't give an inch, because if there was a chance to break the conditioning, he had to take it.
Rumlow was like a machine, punching and kicking at any opening he saw or thought he saw. His conditioning wouldn't allow for anything less. The conditioning also had a tendency to make him ignore any pain he might have felt from blows Steve made that had connected. His first real order when Hydra went active was to take out Steve Rogers and he had failed; that order had gone active again the minute he saw Steve and he would not fail a second time.
Steve quickly realised that Rumlow was ignoring the pain from the blows and he began aiming to knock the other man out, whether it was by hitting him in the head or knocking him into the wall hard enough for him to be knocked out through hitting his head.
It hadn't taken Bucky long to realize that Steve had separated from the rest of the group, and that he gone off completely alone. A flash of irritation had bloomed at that knowledge. Bucky knew full well that if anyone else had done such a thing without speaking with the operation leader, they would be facing whoever they answered to as soon as they returned home. Granted, Steve was the operation leader...but still. He should have at least informed Coulson that he was going and which direction. If anything happened to him, no one would know...and by the time they realized they needed to worry, finding the Captain would be next to impossible.
The really worrying thing was, it wasn't like Steve to just take off without at least letting one other person know. He was normally too responsible for that. Running off without telling anyone was more like something Grant would do...or Clint or Tony...not Steve. Frowning, Bucky motioned to Coulson, who was standing across the street, then spoke into the comms through a private channel, so that none of the others could hear him. "Steve left the group. Did he tell you what he was planning?"
Coulson frowned when Bucky spoke over the comms. "I haven't heard from him," he replied, heading over to where Bucky stood. "Is it possible he saw Rumlow and then went after him? But then why wouldn't he say where he was going...?"
Bucky grimaced. "If he saw Rumlow, I have no doubt he went after him. He seemed pretty bothered about the fact that Rumlow was one of HYDRA's brainwashed 'recruits'. Why he didn't say anything, though, I'm not sure. He's been pretty worried about Tony...."
"He might not have been thinking clearly." Coulson knew he had trouble when one of his kids were hurt or sick... Grant being captured had forced him to step down, knowing he couldn't negotiate, after all.
"No, he probably wasn't. He did that with the Howling Commandos too...if he was worried about any of us, he tended to act before thinking. I got after him several times for that..." Bucky muttered the last bit, not really meaning Coulson to hear it.
Coulson didn't comment on Bucky's last bit, though he looked worried. "If Rumlow saw him, he might have tried to lead him into an area to fight him if he wasn't looking to escape... an alley would be far enough out of the way."
Bucky frowned. "There are too many alleys in this town for us to be able to find him quickly...even if we did manage to figure out at which point he left us and which direction he'd gone..." His voice was worried. Finally, he spoke into the comms again. "JARVIS? Are you able to get a location for Captain Rogers?"
It took JARVIS a while to answer- long enough that Bucky was beginning to think their connection to the AI had been lost- when JARVIS finally answered, "The signal is faint, Sargeant, as if it is being blocked by something... but it appears that the Captain is approximately eight blocks east of the street you are currently standing... and then another five blocks south...he is in what appears to be an alley."
Coulson looked at Bucky. "Do you want to call the others? Or just us to go on our own?" He was worried as well, but trying to figure out their next move helped.
"I think we should let the others know what we are doing and leave one of them in charge...and then you and I go. If he needs more help than we can provide, we can call the others...but too many of us going at once might draw more attention to him than we want," Bucky finally answered.
Coulson nodded and used the comms to call his eldest. "Clint? We believe Steve's gone after Rumlow alone... Bucky and I are going after where his signal is. I'd like you to take charge of the mission and we'll let you know if we need any more backup."
"Got it, sir..." Clint quickly replied back, motioning from his position on top of the roof of the nearby building to reinforce the fact he understood.
Bucky gave Coulson an unhappy grin. "Alright, then... eight blocks to the east..." He began heading in that direction at a very fast clip...not exactly running, because they didn't want to draw undue attention to themselves, but moving very rapidly all the same.
Steve kept at Rumlow, refusing to let himself tire or register the pain of the hits the other man landed on him. After blocking one hit aimed at his throat, he caught Rumlow with an uppercut to his jaw, knocking him back against the wall.
Rumlow staggered, the combination of Steve's punch and hitting the wall rather forcefully causing his vision to grey and his legs to buckle. He took one last swing at the Captain, but his eyes refused to focus and he knew the minute he made the attempt that he wouldn't even connect. His momentum carried him forward and he fell into Steve.
Steve caught Rumlow almost automatically, keeping his balance, and turned as he heard two sets of footsteps approaching the alleyway, on his guard until he saw his brothers come into view.
Bucky narrowed his eyes, taking in the situation at a glance then scanned the surrounding area to make certain there weren't any of Rumlow's allies nearby. He also noticed the rather beat up appearance of his brother; enhanced healing or not, Rumlow had done a number on Steve and it would be a few days before the signs of the fight would be completely gone. "Why didn't you let us know where you were going?" he asked in a calm, almost conversational tone; although if anyone was looking into his eyes, they'd see he was extremely upset with his brother. Upset enough that he remained back at the entrance to the alley, not going to help his brother carry Rumlow...as he felt like if he got close enough to Steve, he'd upend him there and then and he didn't want to do anything until he'd calmed down and heard Steve's side of the story.
Coulson could understand that Bucky was upset with Steve and although he wasn't too happy either, he still went over to help Steve with Rumlow, not concerning himself with saying anything, since Bucky had said it anyway.
"I wasn't sure he'd be gone by the time I was able to call any of you." Which was part of the truth, but Steve wasn't sure how to word the rest of it. That he'd gone after Rumlow because that was someone he could do something for... unlike when he hadn't been able to save Tony.
Bucky knew there was more behind Steve's actions than being afraid that the man would take off...especially since Steve had wandered off on his own when there hadn't been any indication that Rumlow was in the vicinity. After all, if Steve had seen Rumlow when he had still been with the group, being afraid he'd be gone by the time he called for help would not have been a worry of Steve's. Bucky didn't say anything about it, however, taking several deep breaths before he finally moved forward to help carry the unconscious HYDRA operative. Once he'd got a good grip on the man, enabling Steve to step away, he asked, "How bad are your injuries? Any stab or bullet wounds? Or did he just use fists?"
"He only used his fists," Steve answered. "There's nothing broken." And he could still move under his own power.
"Well, that's good news..." Bucky muttered, before turning to Coulson. "We have our main objective right here. Do you want to try and capture some of his cohorts, or head straight back so we can get him in a secure area?"
"I think we should head straight back," Coulson replied. "The longer we can make sure HYDRA doesn't realise we have him, the better."
Bucky nodded, before preemptively picking Rumlow up in a fireman's carry so that Coulson and Steve both would have their hands free. "Ok, if either of you want to contact the rest of the kiddies and let them know to head back to the jet..." He began a brisk walk in the direction of where they'd landed, sticking to shadowed areas in the hopes that HYDRA wouldn't note one man carrying another man down the street. He only stopped long enough to pick up a half-empty bottle of rum that had been abandoned on a stoop and dumped it over Rumlow, so that any innocent civilians who noticed him would just assume he was carrying a buddy's drunk butt home.
Steve and Coulson followed Bucky, Coulson speaking into the comm to let the others know they'd managed to capture Rumlow and to meet them back at the jet, before checking Steve over as they walked... just in case the Captain had missed anything that was more serious.
It didn't take long at all- and yet took so much longer than Bucky wanted it to- to get back to the jet. He didn't relax until he'd personally secured Rumlow and all the rest of the team were back on board and accounted for. Finally, taking a deep breath, he felt calm enough to speak to Steve without yelling at him or upbraiding him in front of everyone; which he didn't want to do. As irritated as he was by his brother's actions, Steve was still the leader of the group and it wouldn't do to take him to task in front of everyone, no matter how much Bucky wanted to chide him. "When we get back, I want you to let Bruce check you over. Make certain that you really weren't injured more seriously," he finally said, shooting his brother a look that dared him to argue the matter.
Steve knew his brother about as well as he knew himself and he knew this wasn't something he could argue with Bucky about. Besides, he would have insisted Bucky do the same if their positions were reversed. "I will," he said, a note of apology in his tone.
Bucky heard the apology and noted the quick agreement and relaxed even further, giving Steve a crooked half-smile. "You scared me, Stevie..." he finally said, resorting to an old nickname that he'd used for his brother when they were still kids and he was the bigger one who protected the other. He knew Steve was capable of protecting himself now; and in some cases was better able to protect him...but sometimes he still saw that skinny runt of a kid from Brooklyn that he took care of so many times and it was hard not to react when his brother was hurt, or when he did stupid stunts that could get him hurt. "And I'm not gonna be the one explaining to your kid why you suddenly look like you wanted to try all the shades of the rainbow on your skin...."
"I'm sorry," Steve said sincerely, well aware of how scared his brother had been. He grimaced at the mention of Tony, knowing his son would be worried. "I'll explain to him what happened..." Even though he knew capturing Rumlow was the right thing to do, he was feeling guilty, knowing he'd never accept that kind of running off from one of the others.
Bucky nodded in acceptance of the apology, moving to sit next to his brother and put an arm around his shoulder companionably. He glanced around, noting the others had stopped paying attention to his and Steve's conversation once they realized he wasn't going to start yelling. They were now distracted with their own conversations. Leaning even closer to Steve, he said softly so that only his brother could hear... "Do you want to have a talk with me, about why you really ran off, before or after you go see Tony?"
Steve leaned automatically into his brother. "I want to see Tony first," he said softly, his son being a priority. "I know we need to talk... but I need to assure myself he's all right first." Even if he did know that he'd be informed if anything changed with his son.
Bucky nodded, squeezing his brother closer. "You got it, bro," he agreed easily.
After getting the jet (and Rumlow) back to the tower, Steve took only moments to clean himself up before he was driving to the hospital to visit his son. After informing the reception he was there, he headed through to Tony's room.
Tony had been staying awake for longer and longer moments of time. He'd stabilized to the point where Pepper finally was able to return to running the company without being afraid that she'd get a call from the hospital with horrible news...she was currently at a meeting now. He was getting antsy to get out of the hospital and the doctor had just left after telling him that, as long as he took it easy and didn't over-exert himself, he saw no reason why he couldn't do the remainder of his recovery at home. As a result, he was visibly excited and anxious when Steve walked into the hospital room. "Dad!" He sat up straighter, a big smile on his face...which quickly slipped as he saw the cuts and bruises on Steve's face. "What the f...hell ran into you?!" He almost forgot to monitor his language in his surprise at Steve's state.
Steve immediately walked over to Tony's bed, sitting down on the chair and reaching for his son's hand. "Hey..." He smiled at his boy. "I went after Rumlow," he admitted, not adding, 'on my own', but figuring Tony would guess that anyway. "The good news is that we now have him."
Tony wrinkled his nose, carefully reaching out with a hand and gently brushing over one of the bruises he could see. "He looks worse, I hope..." he finally joked feebly, his eyes clearly showing his worry. He wanted to ask where everyone else was; as far as he had been made aware, there was a group going down for this op...so unless there were more Hydra agents there than expected and everyone was fighting one on one, he couldn't understand how his father managed to get into a fight that would leave him hurt. He didn't ask, though. He was afraid if he heard a confirmation to his suspicion, he might say something that would irritate Steve and he didn't want his dad upset with him...not when he was about to ask if he could go home.
"I knocked him out," Steve replied, squeezing Tony's hand gently. "Everyone else is fine," he added. "How are you, Tony? You're looking better... and I noticed the doctor was leaving as I arrived."
"I'm doing a lot better," Tony answered, deciding to let his questions go for the moment. "The doctor said I could go home to finish my recovery as long as I take it easy. Some of my internal organs are still weak because of the electricity."
Steve smiled slightly, relieved to hear that Tony was doing better. "I can guarantee that everyone will be happy to have you home... myself included," he said softly. "Taking it easy probably means less work in the lab while you recover... but that'll give us an opportunity to spend more time together."
Tony relaxed when he realized he wasn't going to have to convince his father and he would be going home soon. "I'd like that..." he said softly.
"As soon as you're ready, we'll sign you out." But Steve decided that he'd take advantage of Tony being recovered enough to be sitting up and he reached out, wrapping his arms around his son in a gentle hug, since he hadn't been able to hug Tony properly since his boy had been electrocuted.
While the hug hadn't been expected, it was definitely welcome. Tony quickly wrapped his own arms around his father, pressing closer and letting out a tiny sigh. He may have never been certain of Howard's love or affection (even if he did find out long after the man's death that he had indeed been proud of him), but Steve never hesitated to let him know...and he couldn't help but respond every time. He didn't want to let go, but a throat clearing from the doorway had him reluctantly loosening his grip so that Steve could step back.
"Captain Rogers..." Tony's doctor said by way of introduction and waited for Steve to acknowledge him.
Steve gave Tony one last squeeze (just to make sure his son knew Steve didn't actually want to pull away) and then turned to the doctor. "Yes. I understand my son can come home today..."
Bucky stood in front of the cell they had placed Brock Rumlow in...the barrier shaded so that he could see in, but Brock couldn't see out. He was watching the other man, trying to see if he had any tells that might help them be able to break the brainwashing he'd undergone. Steve had called from the hospital earlier that day to tell him that Tony was going to be getting out and come home as soon as they'd signed all the paper work for discharge. By his estimation, that meant they should be home in another thirty minutes.
Turning, he headed back up to the common floor, where they'd set up a space for Tony to relax and everyone could come in and welcome him home. While everyone else was welcoming Tony home...and Pepper was mother-henning him... Bucky would draw Steve aside for a discussion about just what had occurred on their mission.
Having finished signing the discharge papers, Steve drove Tony back to the tower, going carefully to make sure his son wasn't jostled by the movements. Parking in the garage, he got out of the car and then moved round to open the passenger door so that Tony could get out. "I called ahead to let everyone know you've been allowed to come home, so I suspect they'll all be waiting to welcome you," he said.
Tony, who had until that moment been sort of slumping in the car- already beginning to feel a little tired- straightened up and smiled brightly, looking, to the untrained eye, like he had more energy than he knew what to do with. "I missed everyone...it will be nice to see them in a non-hospital setting," he said honestly.
Steve nodded, wrapping his arm around Tony's shoulders as his son got out of the car. "You will be getting plenty of rest, though... and I'd like you to have an early night." Which he'd make sure of, as well as Tony not doing anything that strained him too much... at least after his conversation with Bucky. Still, he planned to have a quiet word with Bruce and ask him to make sure Tony didn't do anything he shouldn't.
Tony sighed, leaning into Steve. "Between you and Pepper, I'll be spending two-thirds of my day in bed..." he teased lightly, not really upset at Steve's 'order', since he knew Steve was only giving such directions because he cared. "…But...an early night probably isn't a bad idea," he admitted, a small twinge of irritation at how quickly he was becoming tired seeping into his voice.
"Give it time," Steve said gently. "You were badly hurt. Recovery is going to take time." He kept his arm around Tony's shoulders as he steered his son towards the elevator, enjoying being able to hold onto Tony like this and happy that his son was on the way to full recovery.
"Yeah...well...I've got that, luckily. I just hope I don't drive all the rest of you nuts..." He grinned again as they got onto the elevator and began their trek up to the common floor.
Bucky, as well as all the rest of the family, were waiting when Steve finally led Tony off the elevator and onto the common floor. He'd quickly gotten up and gone to his 'nephew', giving him a hug then helping Steve help Tony to a newly purchased recliner. "We got you a new chair," he teased lightly, as Tony sat down and tested out the chair's features.
"Wow...a heater, a massager and...a place to plug in my electronics?" Tony blinked. "When did furniture get so high-tech....and are we in the furniture business?" He turned toward Pepper with a quizzical look on his face.
While Tony began talking and bantering with everyone else about the possibilities of a new furniture division of Stark industries, Bucky gently pulled Steve to the side. "We really need to talk..." His voice was calm and caring, but steely.
Steve nodded. "I know." And he could let himself concentrate on what his brother had to say (and do), now that he knew his son was safe here at home. "Your floor, or mine?" Really, the floors could be considered shared, as Steve and Bucky spent time on the other's floor more often than not... but the sentiment was still the same.
"We'll go to yours..." Bucky said with a tiny smile. "Sometimes I wonder why we don't just blend yours, Tony's and my floors into one huge living area. Other than Pepper possibly feeling odd having two other men live in her living space, there really isn't a reason not to...and I'm not sure she'd object, to be honest," he muttered, as he put a hand on Steve's shoulder and gently directed him onto the elevator so they could head up to Steve's floor.
Tony noticed his father and uncle leaving, but didn't say anything. If Steve wanted to let him know what was up later, he would.
Steve caught Tony's eye, giving him a reassuring smile, before walking alongside his brother, entering the elevator. "You're right about the floors. The only reason I haven't suggested something like that is because I think having a bit of space to ourselves can be important." Though Steve rarely found himself needing to be alone.
"Well...there is that," Bucky agreed easily; although when he felt the need to be alone, he'd found leaving the building entirely and going to a park was more beneficial than hiding himself away on his floor. Usually when he needed space, he needed it in the form of no walls and being surrounded by nature.
When the elevator stopped on Steve's floor, Bucky once again put a hand on his brother's shoulder and gently directed him into the living area where the couch was. He gently pushed Steve down onto the couch and then sat beside him, turning so he could face his brother.
"Ok. I heard your explanation before, but now, I want to hear it again and in more detail. Why didn't you let us know where you were going? And I don't want to hear you say it was because you were afraid he'd disappear if you took the time to contact us. Yes, that may have been an issue when you saw him and went to follow him, but you left the group long before you saw him. If you had seen him while you were still with the group, telling us wouldn't have caused any issues. Why did you leave the group without letting anyone know where you were going?"
Steve allowed his brother to direct him without protest, sitting and meeting his brother's gaze. "To be honest, I wasn't planning on going after him on my own to begin with. I started thinking about the missions I'd gone on with Rumlow in the past and how there were times he would celebrate the success of a mission with a drink in a pub." He hesitated. "I didn't really say anything because I couldn't be sure that would still happen." He paused in his explanation, to see if Bucky wanted to say anything or ask any questions.
Bucky frowned. "So, you thought of something we hadn't thought of when making our mission plans...but weren't positive it would pan out. And decided that since you weren't certain anything useful would come from it, you just wouldn't take anyone else...that you'd leave them to follow through on the original plans?"
Steve nodded. "That was the original idea. I didn't want to pull anyone else off the routes that had been decided, just in case nothing came from it." He grimaced. "The real problem, I think, was that I didn't tell anyone when I did see him."
Bucky nodded. "That's a problem, but I disagree that it's the real problem..." he said softly. "See...while I'm not happy about you not telling anyone when you did see Rumlow...because you clearly should have...telling us you saw him wouldn't have really helped us get to you much faster than we did. And we still would have found you fighting him. And if he'd had a weapon and had used it on you before you could do anything to him? We could have found you dead. I would have much preferred you let us know what you wanted to do and then take at least one person along for back-up. Even if it didn't pan out...all we were doing was searching the streets ourselves, so it wasn't like it was imperative we remain in the one spot we were at." With the final sentence, Bucky let his frustration at the situation come through in his voice. It really hadn't been necessary for Steve to go alone...and it certainly hadn't been necessary for him to go in secret. Bucky had to wonder if his friend had even been thinking things through at all.
Sighing, he asked softly, "If Grant was on a mission with the group and suddenly thought of something that he thought was important enough to check out, but wasn't sure if anything would come of it, so didn't bother to tell anyone else what he was doing or where he was going... what would Coulson do? Better yet, if Tony thought of something and just took off without word, what would you do?" Bucky shook his head.
"I know exactly what both of us would do," Steve replied promptly, his own honesty not allowing him to lie or pretend otherwise. "We'd make it quite clear that their own safety is not something that should be disregarded and that the group needs to be kept informed. And then spank them." He sighed. "I'm not trying to make excuses, Bucky. I know what I did wrong. I just... I guess I felt so helpless, not being able to save Tony, that I tried to save someone who I did have a chance of saving."
"I understand that, Steve....I felt helpless, too and while he isn't my son, I care about him. I understand you wanting to save Rumlow, too...and having been in his position, I'd be a hypocrite to not give him a chance." Bucky took a breath, then continued, "I also never thought you were making excuses...but I did want to make certain you understood where you went wrong and why I was upset. And even though I understand why you were feeling the way you did...I need you to understand why I can't let it go."
Steve continued to hold eye contact with his brother as he spoke. "I understand and respect how you feel, Bucky. And I would never expect you to let it go." Steve's own sense of fairness wouldn't let him. He couldn't, in all good conscience, refuse to accept the consequences of his own actions when he knew how he'd respond if Tony did the same thing.
Bucky nodded, not surprised at Steve's reaction. His brother was nothing if not fair; and they both knew what his response would be if Tony...heck...if Bucky...did what he did. Carefully, he shifted and then pulled Steve over his lap, placing a hand on his brother's back and rubbing gently. "Is there anything you want to say before we take care of this and then put it behind us?" he asked quietly.
"Only that I'm sorry," Steve replied. "I know better than to do that." And he couldn't risk taking himself away from Tony. His son needed him. Steve knew that Coulson took less chances because of his children... and Steve was aware that he should do the same.
Bucky couldn't help but smile at that. "I know," he said gently, rubbing Steve's back one last time before pulling his brother in tight against his stomach, lowering his pants and underwear, raising his hand up and then giving the first firm smack.
It wasn't overly hard as far as spankings normally went. Steve knew what he'd done wrong and was already sorry for it. And unlike the children, Steve normally didn't do things without thinking first (he'd finally learned that when he became responsible for people other than himself during the war.) This was a reminder of everything Steve knew and normally followed...as well as an 'incentive' not to forget again.
Only giving Steve enough time to feel the sting of the first smack, Bucky raised his hand and quickly landed another smack just below the first.
Steve winced, holding himself still over his brother's lap. He knew the swats weren't as hard as Bucky could normally give out, but they still stung.
Bucky wasted no time in covering his brother's backside with the firm swats. As soon as one area was the shade he was going for, he'd immediately move his hand to another area, continuing at the same pace and level of strength until he'd finally turned Steve's skin bright red from top to just below his sit spots.
Bucky didn't feel it was necessary to bring his brother to sobbing tears. It could have been argued that the spanking wasn't really needed in the first place, since Steve knew his error, was sorry for it and wasn't trying to delude himself into thinking what he had done was acceptable. Bucky would have argued that it was necessary to help Steve deal with any feelings of guilt, though; his brother was a fair man and would have felt very guilty if he'd had a double standard with how he acted and how he expected Tony- and all the other family- to act. But his brother didn't need to break in order to learn and grow...not at this time. So he stopped after one circuit and placed his hand on Steve's back, rubbing gently.
Still.... He didn't let his brother up...waiting to see how Steve reacted so that he'd know if Steve felt like he'd 'paid' enough.
Steve wasn't crying, but there were tears in his eyes by the time his brother had finished. He shifted slightly under Bucky's hand, not sure himself if it was over and not wanting to push up if Bucky felt it wasn't enough.
Bucky bit his lip then swallowed. "You ok?" he finally asked softly, carefully righting his brother's clothing before resuming rubbing his back.
Steve let out a long breath. "Yeah..." He carefully pushed himself up, so that he was sitting next to his brother. "I'm sorry I worried you. I guess I grew used to having no one to answer to." He smiled faintly.
"Ah..." Bucky held up a hand and made a teasing, tsking noise. "You always had someone to answer to; you just forgot about it." He smirked slightly.
"Besides...even if you didn't have anyone to answer to in the sense of there being someone to correct you..." He paused, giving his brother a serious look. "...You'd still have people to answer to who cared what happened to you and would be hurt if something hurt you. Tony may not spank you like I just did, but you can't tell me that his opinion of you or your actions matters so little to you that you don't care what he thinks. Because I know it does matter. So in a way, you answer to him. And you answer to Coulson and his kids...and Bruce and his 'kids'... and May and her kid... and... well you get the idea." His smile turned teasing again then he wrapped an arm around Steve's shoulder and pulled him in for a hug, mussing his hair up like all 'big brothers' tend to do to their siblings.
Steve quickly wrapped his arms around Bucky, hugging him tight in return. "No, you're right. The whole family here... I normally know to temper my own recklessness, even when I just started taking care of Tony." He sighed. "I feel partially responsible. For Rumlow. Because I knew you were brainwashed... but I'd worked with him before and I knew him as much as any of the others. And the possibility still didn't even cross my mind that HYDRA had got to him. Even if, logically, I know there was no way I could have known..." He shook his head. "That video took place over a long period of time. Someone should have known he'd disappeared."
Bucky nodded slowly. "Maybe they should have known. Maybe someone did know...but was working for HYDRA and managed to misdirect any questions anyone else might have had." He glanced at his brother. "How many years was Grant under Garrett's control before actually being brought into SHIELD academy? No one suspected anything at all with him, even though he literally disappeared from the face of the earth until he showed up to go for training. Fury's boss was HYDRA...and no one knew HYDRA was inside SHIELD. They were good at hiding themselves and hiding their actions. You shouldn't blame yourself for not realizing about Rumlow. Especially not when you're doing everything you can to help the man now that you do know."
Steve sighed. "I know, it's just that... I didn't even question it when he turned. I know I shouldn't blame myself, but if it had occurred to me to question his sudden change, we might have got to him a lot earlier." He hugged his brother, needing the comfort Bucky offered, before asking, "What's the situation with him?"
Bucky hugged Steve back tightly, wishing he had the words to say to help his brother not feel so responsible, but knowing it was something Steve would have to work through; he couldn't get into his head and force him not to feel responsible, after all. "We've put him into a cell where we can watch him but he can't see us. His wounds were tended to and Bruce has given him a mild sedative so that he can rest and heal up a bit more. We've actually begun trying to unravel the brainwashing by showing him familiar objects and people from his childhood. We're hoping that, if we can rebuild a 'foundation' for him, since the brainwashing basically eliminated that, it will be easier to break through the brainwashing in other areas as well. Kind of like when you reminded me of who I used to be...it made me remember; and remembering helped me fight the conditioning..."
Steve nodded. "I hope that will work, then. I'm trying to remember if there was anyone he was close to that I knew about when we worked together. If he had a family member, whether through blood or otherwise, that he would fight to protect... because that might trigger the response we need."
Bucky nodded. "It's worth looking into, although I suspect he has no one. HYDRA preferred to take people no one would miss."
Steve watched Rumlow through the one way glass. It was difficult to tell for certain if what he'd seen so far had had any effects on the man, but breaking the conditioning wasn't going to be easy. Steve had talked it over with the rest of the family and they'd decided that, due to Steve having worked with Rumlow pre-conditioning, it would be a good idea for him to try talking to Rumlow.
Some of the others were going to wait in the other room, just in case Rumlow reacted badly and needed to be subdued. Steve headed through to the cell, pausing to see what the other man's reaction would be.
Rumlow glanced up as he heard his cell open, narrowing his eyes as he recognized Steve. "Rogers..." He snarled, but didn't make a move toward him.
Steve walked over and sat down at the other end of the table... though he was prepared to move at a moment's notice if it became necessary. "Do you know why you're here?" He wanted to see if the conditioning was beginning to fracture, but he knew he couldn't lower his guard.
Rumlow narrowed his eyes and snorted. "I assume I was captured...though for the life of me I don't remember when or how," he finally said.
"What do you remember?" Steve asked.
"I was supposed to capture you..." Brock frowned. "Pierce's orders..." He shook his head slightly.
"Do you remember anything before that?" Steve probed. "Do you remember any of the missions we worked on?"
"We never..." He shook his head again as one of the missions slipped to the front of his memory.
"You didn't work willingly with HYDRA," Steve said. "They captured you... brainwashed you. You were a SHIELD agent. A good one."
"That's very hard to believe," Brock scoffed. He didn't actually say he didn't believe, though.
"Is it?" Steve asked. "You said you don't remember how or why you were captured. How did you join HYDRA?" He was hoping to target the holes in Rumlow's memory... give the other man the tools to look further and break through the conditioning.
"I was talking about you capturing me!" Rumlow said with a bit of frustration. It was clear he didn't know the answer, though; he didn't remember ever wanting to join HYDRA, let alone doing it...he just remembered the mission to capture and eliminate Steve.
"I know," Steve replied. "And I'm asking you why you joined HYDRA. When did it happen?" He could see the frustration and hoped it was a good sign. That he could force Rumlow to start questioning... to see the holes for himself.
"I don't remember the exact date," Rumlow growled. He wouldn't look at Steve. The truth was, he didn't remember any date or why. That bothered him more the he wanted to admit. "I'm not going to tell you anything," he finally said, hoping Steve would take that as his cue to leave. He didn't want to be asked any more questions he wasn't sure of the answer to.
"I'm not asking you to tell me," Steve stated. "I'd like you to think for yourself. I know you don't know any of the details about becoming a part of HYDRA. But I know you were captured by them. I saw the recordings they made." He paused, looking directly at Rumlow. "I'm sorry I didn't realise."
Rumlow frowned. "I don't know what game you're playing, Rogers, but it won't work. They'll get me back and when they do, that's when you'll be sorry..." For all the venom in his voice, Brock sounded uncertain. He didn't want to believe he was a pawn...a puppet... But Steve had been distressingly right about one thing: Rumlow didn't remember. It was the lack of memory that made him afraid Steve was right. And if he was? What then?
Steve thought about suggesting to the others they show Rumlow at least part of the recording, but he didn't want to push the other man over the edge. "I know you don't want to believe you've been messed with like that, but this isn't the first time HYDRA has brainwashed people. There are holes in your memory, aren't there? Events you have no logical explanation for."
Rumlow didn't want to hear it...didn't want to face it. "You're lying...you want to confuse me and get me to turn on HYDRA so you can get their secrets from me, but it won't work! Such s pathetic attempt..." He mocked. "Why don't you just give up and go away...leave me alone." When Steve didn't immediately do as he said, he screamed, "LEAVE ME ALONE!" then rushed at the captain, intending to fight like they had in the alley.
Steve had been expecting Rumlow to attack him, so when the man rushed at him, he was quickly on his feet. He grabbed at Rumlow, pushing him against the desk in an attempt to keep him from attacking. "I know you know something's wrong!" he said. "Freeing those hostages wasn't the first time we worked together..." Holding eye contact with the other man, he began listing off the places their missions had taken place.
"What...I..." Rumlow stopped struggling and closed his eyes. He only vaguely remembered working with Steve to save hostages. Everything was fuzzy and the lack of memory was what was most unsettling to him. "What'd you do to me? Why can't I remember?" He tried to sound angry and indignant, but the worry and fear came through clearly. He winced.
"I didn't do anything to you," Steve said. "HYDRA captured you. They brainwashed you. They conditioned you to work for them, but that isn't who you are. I know you can break through it. I've seen it happen before."
"No...that's not true! It isn't..." Rumlow argued, but it was in a weak voice at best. Everything Steve had said about his memory was true. And he knew HYDRA brainwashed people. He'd witnessed it being done. The thought that everything he thought he believed and that everything he had done was because of someone else overcoming his own willpower was not only too frightening to admit...it was demoralizing and humiliating. He slumped, turning his face away from Steve and refusing to talk any more...refusing to do anything, really. Although he was trying to remember the things Steve had mentioned. If he could only remember....
"They tortured and broke you," Steve said, knowing he had to sound harsh to get Rumlow to listen to him. "But they had a long time to work on you. You did fight. And you can fight again. If we thought it was hopeless, you wouldn't be here now. I know you're stronger than this." Maybe they hadn't been close, but they had been friends. Steve had trusted him to watch his back. He couldn't believe there was no hope. Just like he'd never stopped believing Bucky would come back to him.
"Just...go..." Brock said quietly, stiffening up, but not making any effort to fight or get away from Steve's grip.
Steve sighed and let go of the other man. "I'll make sure some dinner is brought by in a while. We're not going to give up on you." It was a promise.
Rumlow didn't answer, determined that he wouldn't cooperate or give in, so he wouldn't be eating anyway.
It was a few days later and everyone had decided to do a group dinner. Tony had been home for a little over a week and was healing nicely; as far as he was letting anyone know, at least. Pepper was due to fly out to SI's London office for a conference, so she and Tony were a bit late arriving.
When they entered the common dining area, Tony pulled out a chair for Pepper before smiling at everyone. "So what's up?" He hadn't been allowed on any missions since he'd returned, having been told he would not be allowed to don his suit again until the doctor had given him a clean bill of health. He'd had a check up that afternoon and the news hadn't been good.
Luckily, as far as Tony was concerned, Steve had been called away on urgent SHIELD business and hadn't been present when the doctor told him his heart, lungs and other internal organs weren't showing improvement and actually seemed to be getting weaker. Tony didn't want his father hearing news like that...Steve was already stressed out about him being hurt in the first place (Tony knew Steve felt responsible, even though it was ridiculous to think the Captain would have been able to prevent what happened). Add Brock Rumlow into the mix and Tony didn't want to burden his family with more bad news.
In the end, the group had ordered some takeout, so that they could all eat together. Coulson took his seat and looked at Tony. Having had experience with children who tended to hide how badly injured they were, Coulson had a pretty good idea that Tony wasn't as 'fine' as he'd led everyone to believe. If it wasn't for the fact that he knew Steve was due back in a few minutes, Coulson would have pushed Tony for the details himself.
"Your dad told me he's on his way back," Coulson said to Tony. He could have left it as a surprise, but he knew it would make the other man happy to know that.
"Perfect!" Pepper answered before Tony could. "He can make sure Mr. 'I'm fine' here doesn't overdo it...since I'm going to be gone for two weeks..." She didn't sound happy about it and had actually told Tony she wanted to cancel the trip; but he had reminded her what sharks the board could be; and said he would Skype her every night- and wouldn't let her.
Tony rolled his eyes, but smiled at Pepper good naturedly. "I'm not allowed on missions. I don't know how much easier I can take it," he teased, knowing full well she was referring to his tendency to not sleep and overwork himself in his lab when she or Steve weren't watching and dragging him out when needed.
"Well, I'm sure Steve will want to spend time with you," Coulson commented as he began putting food on the plates, Natasha helping him.
By the time the food had all been laid out, Steve had entered the elevator and come to the common area. He immediately headed towards his son, wrapping an arm around Tony's shoulders and squeezing gently. "How are you feeling?" he asked, not bothering to even try and hide his worry.
Tony didn't hesitate to wrap his own arms around Steve in a tight hug. "Feeling great!" he said with a grin. It wasn't a lie. He did feel good, as long as he didn't attempt anything overly physically exerting.
Steve smiled, hugging his son close. "I'm glad to hear that. What did the doctor say?" he probed gently.
Tony frowned slightly. "He said I still have to take it easy...my insides are still healing."
It wasn't a lie. It was completely true. Tony just didn't want to tell him the rest of the news about seemingly becoming weaker. It would worry Steve more...there was nothing he could do, and he already was worrying enough for ten men.
Steve nodded. "Well, you will be taking it easy. And I'm going to go with you to your next doctor's appointment," he promised.
Tony nodded. "I was expecting that...and my next check-up is in two and a half weeks," he answered cheerfully.
Steve nodded, squeezing his shoulder gently and then taking a seat on the other side of Tony. "I don't want you hiding yourself away in the lab, either," he said.
Tony's smile was more sheepish this time. "Got it, sir," he answered agreeably. What he had in mind shouldn't require him to hide in the lab, anyway.
Since everyone was now sitting round the table, they began eating, talking and generally just spending time together. After being under so much stress with Tony in hospital, it was nice for all of them to be able to relax a little.
Tony enjoyed being with his family, but seeing how relieved they were to have him back home convinced him of two things. The first was that he didn't want any of them to know he was getting weaker. The second was he couldn't tell them what he planned to do to stop becoming weaker, since that would involve telling them he was getting weaker. Pushing those thoughts down deep so that no one would suspect anything, he relaxed and did his best to make certain those he loved did the same.
It had been a little over two weeks and Tony had implemented his plan to 'get better'. Of course, he'd had to keep his actions hidden from everyone; they'd worry if they knew what he had done. To implement privacy, he had removed JARVIS's access to one of his smaller labs.
Of course, despite his intentions to quit once his body started healing, he hadn't ever reached the point where he thought he was healed enough to stop. It was because of this that he was currently in the small lab, injecting himself with another dose of Extremis.
Grant had wanted to ask for Tony's opinion on a weapon upgrade he wanted. After looking for several minutes and not being able to locate the inventor, he'd finally asked JARVIS where Tony was, only to have JARVIS say he was in an area inaccessible to the AI system. That was odd; luckily, the AI was able to indicate where that area was. Grant had quickly headed to the small lab. Just as he was about to step in and ask his question, he noticed what Tony was doing. He quickly backed away, leaving the labs and heading to his father's floor...not sure if he actually saw what he thought he saw. He frowned, very worried and uncertain what he should do.
Tony never saw Grant and, since he didn't want anyone accidently finding him, had quickly finished and left the area to go to one of his labs where JARVIS still was. He had been very careful (or so he thought) to only take the smallest amounts of extremis, in the hopes that he wouldn't become addicted again and would only reap the benefits of the formula; not the negative side effects of over-confidence (he already had enough confidence for two men normally, so overconfident for him was terrifying for those who loved him to watch) and paranoia. "JARVIS? You didn't tell anyone where I was, did you?" he asked.
"I could not see where you were, sir, how could I tell anyone where you were?" the AI asked primly, with a hint of chiding.
Tony nodded, positive that his efforts to hide his actions were working. "Good. Good. Keep it that way."
"Just so, sir..." JARVIS would have sighed if he could breathe.
Coulson had just been finishing off some paperwork and was now in the process of leaving the office, since he'd asked his children to come to his floor to share lunch together and have some family bonding time.
Grant walked off the elevator, looking troubled. He wasn't sure if he should say anything to anyone. What if he had been wrong and it wasn't what he thought at all? If he told someone and they confronted Tony and it wasn't what he thought, it would hurt the older man to realize Grant had thought that of him; and that others had believed Grant. After all, that's how Grant would have felt if someone accused him of abusing the pain medication again and he hadn't been. But if he was right, then Tony really did need help; and Grant didn't know if he was the one who was best suited to do that. In fact, he was fairly certain he wasn't. Which meant he needed to tell someone. Seeing his father leaving the office, the younger man quickly walked to him, wrapped his arms around him tightly and hid his face against his father's neck.
Coulson might not have expected his youngest to come and hug him, but that didn't stop him from wrapping his arms around Grant and hugging him tightly in return. "What happened?" he asked softly, threading his fingers through his son's hair, a note of worrry in his voice along with the love that always warmed his tone when he was with his children or talking about them.
Grimacing slightly and tightening his arms around his father for long enough to get his courage together, Grant finally released his father and stepped back so he could look him in the eye. "I...I think I saw something that... well, if I wasn't misunderstanding or seeing things wrong...then it means someone needs help. But if I was seeing things wrong and he wasn't doing what I thought then telling you might cause him to feel betrayed and I don't want.... I don't know what to do, daddy?" he finally admitted, his voice troubled and confused.
Coulson reached out and gently grasped his son's hands, looking into Grant's eyes. "If you saw something that's worrying you, son, then you should say something. I'm sure he'll understand that you were worried and weren't meaning to upset him or make him feel betrayed, because I'm certain anyone here would rather you set your mind at rest. If you're right about what you saw, then the person needs help and keeping it to yourself will only harm him in the long run." He leaned forward and kissed his son's forehead. "Doing the right thing can sometimes be hard, I know."
Grant nodded. He had known that, really, but hearing his father voice it helped him feel more confident in his decision. "I was looking for Tony," he began softly. "He was in a lab that JARVIS didn't have access to, which I thought was really strange..." He continued, "When I was about to walk in to ask him my question, I noticed him injecting something into his arm. I don't remember him having any medication that needed to be injected, but beyond that- the area around the injection briefly looked how I remember the extremis from the Centipede program looking. It didn't cover his whole body, but the orange glow was there..."
He bit his lip. "But I'm not certain...what if I just think I saw that and it was perfectly innocent? I was afraid to confront him because if I am wrong...I don't want to hurt him...but if I'm right, I'm afraid he'll be hurting himself..." Grant swallowed and ran a hand through his hair.
Coulson moved his hand to the nape of Grant's neck, squeezing gently. "I know how conflicted you feel, son. But Tony was electrocuted. That isn't something that's easy to recover from, so if Tony is using extremis, I can see why he did." He kissed his forehead again. "You did the right thing saying something, Grant. I'll talk to Steve about it. He'll know what to do, whether you're right or not."
Grant nodded once briskly, relieved that his father thought he'd done the right thing and was also willing to step up and handle it. Grant really didn't know what he could have done himself. "Thanks, daddy..." he said softly snuggling closer.
Coulson kissed his cheek. "There is nothing I wouldn't help you with," he said in Grant's ear. "I don't want you to ever hesitate over coming to me, because all I want to do is make you happy and feel better. I love you, Grant. And you're a good cousin to Tony."
Grant stepped back, smiling crookedly. "It feels like I'm always learning things I should have learned twenty years ago. How does it feel 'raising' an adult?" His laugh was genuinely happy, if a bit self-mocking.
"It feels good to have you in my life, no matter what," Coulson replied honestly. "I know there are issues. If I wasn't prepared to deal with those, I wouldn't have come to see you in prison. Or come for you every time since then." Coulson reached out and squeezed his arm gently. "When I found out you were my son biologically, it didn't make a difference to how I feel about you because you've been my son in every way that counts. If ever you feel disheartened about mistakes, remember how far you've come in such a short amount of time."
Grant's smile softened, his eyes getting a bit glossy as his father's love washed over him. "I love you, daddy," he finally said, hugging his father again and kissing Coulson on the cheek.
Tony sighed in frustration. The day had started out so good too. He'd completed several projects, taken his dose of extremis- feeling so much more energetic than he had since being electrocuted- made plans for lunch with Pepper. Unfortunately, it hadn't stayed good.
First, he'd gone to check on Rumlow, curious if the man might remember him from a few years before when he'd been guarding Tony after the Mandarin fiasco. Rumlow had taken one look at him and started holding his head like he had a migraine, rocking back and forth. Jemma had asked JARVIS to call Bruce back to check on Brock. Tony, hesitant to be near Bruce so soon after taking the extremis, quickly left with apologies to Jemma and Leo, who had to calm the man down. Who knew if the Other Guy could smell something off about him? He'd rather wait a few hours in the hopes that what he'd done wouldn't be noticeable to his 'brother'.
That wouldn't have been enough to ruin his day, but his lunch with Pepper hadn't gone all that well either. Apparently, he'd been a bit riskier with his driving than she was comfortable with and she'd insisted on driving them back, or she'd take a cab.
On top of that, he was positive they were being followed; but Pepper insisted he was imagining it. It had led to a small argument, with him leaving her on their floor while he went to his lab to work through his frustration.
Seven hours later and he was still there. He knew if Steve found out, he wouldn't be happy, but Tony was still feeling a bit put out that Pepper hadn't believed him about being followed; and he was sure that the culprit had followed them to the building. He was almost done with the upgrade to JARVIS's scanning protocols. Soon, the AI would be able to scan every person in the Tower; on the personal levels and on the public levels. Just a few more hours....
Steve had had a long day and he was relieved to get back to the tower and therefore spend some time with his family. He parked his motorcycle in the garage and then entered the elevator, looking forward to seeing his boy, as well as his brothers and the rest of his extended family.
Pepper was worried. Her lunch with Tony had been weird and nerve wracking and afterwards Tony had stormed off- muttering about making sure people couldn't follow them any longer- and literally locked himself in his lab for seven hours and counting. She hated doing this to the man she loved- it made her feel like a five-year-old tattletale, running to Tony's father with her concern- but she didn't know what to do. And if what she thought was happening was really happening, she wouldn't be able to deal with it alone.
Because of this, she'd instructed JARVIS to let her know immediately when Steve got back. As soon as the AI let her know, she was on the elevator, going to Steve's floor.
Stepping off the elevator, she stood in the entryway waiting for JARVIS to inform Steve of her presence.
Surprised when JARVIS informed him that Pepper wanted to see him, Steve nevertheless went to meet her on his floor instead of immediately seeking out Tony. "Is something wrong?" he asked as he approached her. "JARVIS said you wanted to speak to me."
Pepper bit her lip and began pacing in front of the elevator, uncertain how to say what she was thinking. Finally, she just blurted it out. "Tony is acting odd.... He's acting like he did the first time he became addicted to extremis," she said in a rush.
Steve sighed, worry for Tony overtaking just about everything else. He opened his mouth to reply, but then glanced towards the elevator as it opened and Coulson stepped out onto the floor.
"Oh... if you're busy, I can talk to you later," Coulson said.
"Is it about Tony?" Steve asked, recognising the worry on Coulson's face.
Pepper glanced at Coulson as well, her already worried face taking on an almost ghostly look as her worry grew. "Phil?" she asked, her breath catching in her throat.
"Grant saw something that made him think Tony might be taking extremis again," Coulson explained. "He was worried, in case he was wrong and he didn't want to hurt Tony, but he did close himself off in a lab that JARVIS couldn't access and Grant saw him injecting something."
"That sounds like he might be doing that," Steve said, looking worried. "Where is Tony now?"
Pepper winced. "After we got into an argument about his risky driving and the fact that I didn't believe his assertion that someone was following us...he went to his lab and has been locked away in there for over seven hours..." she admitted. "I feel horrible about it, because normally, if he said we were being followed, I'd instantly believe him....but there was absolutely no one or anything behind us and I was already upset at his stunt car driving, so didn't give it much credence...." Her voice was guilt filled. "I tried to get him to come out, but he's locked the door and turned off his phone and the intercoms."
"I'll go and see if I can get him out." Steve reflected that, if he had to, he could easily break down the door... he just hoped it wouldn't come to that. He gave Pepper and Coulson a reassuring smile. "I know you're worried... I'll take care of him," he promised, before heading towards the elevator.
Tony was in manic mode as he feverishly worked on completing the scanning protocols. He'd told JARVIS not to disturb him for any reason, so when the AI tried to tell him that his father was on his way to the laboratory he muted him without registering what was being said. If he'd been paying attention, he would have been more worried.
Steve reached the labs and could see Tony working harder than he should be. He paused outside and addressed JARVIS. "Can you override the lock on the door, please?" He could have banged on the door, but he wasn't sure that Tony would pay attention... or that he wouldn't startle his son.
"Yes, Captain." Seconds later, the lock was open.
Tony continued feverishly working, oblivious to the fact he was about to get a 'wake up' call.
Steve thanked JARVIS and opened the door, stepping over to his son. "Tony, it's time to stop working." His voice was firm and laced with worry as he reached out to grasp his son by the shoulder.
"What...? NO! I've almost completed it. NO one will be able to sneak past the scanners once I've uploaded this to JARVIS..." Tony muttered, completely ignoring his father's words. The mixture of complete confidence in what he was about to do, mixed with paranoia, would have clued in anyone who was familiar with Tony's past. The inventor was pale, fidgety and almost manic in his endeavor.
Steve sighed, disappointed that Tony had slipped backwards, even though he wasn't that surprised. He grasped Tony by both shoulders, gently tugging him away from his work. "No. You're done," he said firmly.
"No!" Tony ripped himself away, turning to face Steve, all the frustration and paranoia he was feeling clear on his face. "I have to finish this. After that, I'll go to bed. I promise...but until I can make certain the tower and everyone in it is safe, I can't stop."
Steve looked at his son, a worried, affectionate look on his face. "The tower is safe, Tony. That's not you thinking those things. It's the extremis doing that."
Tony stiffened. "Extremis? I don't know why you would think that is involved..." His voice was calm and steady; too steady...as if he was being very careful to modulate his tone and words.
"You're even more manic than your worst day," Steve said. "I'm going to guess you've been frustrated at how slow your body's healing and it started off as a way to help... but you haven't been able to stop."
Tony laughed then; a fake, forced-sounding laugh where the mirth didn't reach his eyes. "Frustrated...that would be an understatement, Cap. The doctor told me, my insides? They weren't getting any better...in fact...they were getting worse. I didn't want to worry you or Pep... not anything anyone could do about it... but yeah. I was frustrated," Tony admitted, not realizing he was speaking in past tense. "But that doesn't mean I took extremis to fix it. Or that I'm still taking it, as you seem to think..." The lie rolled too easily off his tongue and Tony quickly spun around and began working on his project again, before Steve could see the guilt in his eyes from said lie.
Steve wrapped his arms around Tony, tugging him gently back and into his arms. "We're due to see the doctor tomorrow," he pointed out. "What do you think the scans are likely to show?"
Tony was torn between the need to relax into his father's arms and the need to keep hiding his secret. "I don't know..." he finally answered honestly. He really didn't know. He suspected there would be improvement, but he didn't know how much there would be.
"Do you think there'll be improvement?" Steve didn't let go of his son, pressing an affectionate kiss to the top of his head. "You should have told me what the doctor said." He spoke softly. "I appreciate that you don't want to cause worry, but that's what being part of a family is. I worry more when I don't know what's happening."
"Hopefully there will be an improvement..." Tony snorted, then got paranoid that his hopefulness might have inadvertently given away that he'd done something to cause improvement. After all, the doctor had said he was getting worse. He didn't pull away from Steve a second time, though, his father's affection worming under the paranoia. Since part of his paranoia was beginning to manifest into him being afraid that Steve wouldn't want him anymore if he found out the truth, he was clinging to any sign that Steve wouldn't just dump him.
Steve tightened his embrace around Tony, speaking as if his son had admitted to using the extremis and he wasn't just operating on very-likely-to-be-true basis. "Do you remember when Grant was abusing the painkillers? It didn't change anything between him and his father. This won't change anything between us."
Tony chuckled nervously, finally pulling away and turning back around so he could see Steve's face. "I remember... but that was totally different. He actually was taking the painkillers. I haven't taken anything..." he denied, still unwilling to admit he'd taken something he knew full well he was an addict of. "I really need to finish this upgrade...I was almost done and since I'm pretty much useless to everyone except with my gadgets and inventions...." He let his words trail off, looking away from Steve again, guilt washing over him at the fact that he was continuing to lie, when it was obvious Steve knew the truth and wasn't going to believe a lie. It felt foolish, but he couldn't bring himself to admit the truth.
"Tony..." Steve rested his hands on his son's shoulders, squeezing gently. "You're paranoid and you've been working in here for seven hours. Pepper told me you thought someone was following you, but that there was no sign of it. Lying to me isn't going to change anything, because I know you are taking it. Pepper's worried about you. Coulson is... and so is Grant. Grant saw you injecting yourself."
Tony's mouth fell open at the knowledge that someone had actually seen him. If he was going to confess, now was the time to do it. Of course, the paranoia was strong. Instead of coming clean, Tony got upset and went on the offensive, lashing out verbally. "So you'll automatically believe I'm taking extremis because Grant saw me injecting something... but not believe me when I tell you I haven't? How do you know I wasn't drawing blood to make sure I wasn't having more problems... you know... because of organ failure? Don't think I don't know how people really view me... a screw up... someone that can't be trusted. Pepper proved she didn't trust me this afternoon and now you're showing me you don't trust me now...." His eyes flashed and he pulled away, crossing his arms over his chest and clenching his hands. And again refusing to look at Steve.
"I'll believe that Grant probably knows the difference between you injecting yourself with something and between you drawing blood," Steve said, keeping calm without much difficulty. "And if you were drawing blood, you wouldn't have locked yourself in a lab that JARVIS had no access to." He stepped nearer to his son. "You aren't a screw-up, Tony, and I love and trust you. But part of that love is not letting you harm yourself in this way. You didn't even notice when I came in and you've been feverishly working for hours. You are my son and I won't let anything harm you."
"I was feverishly working on something to keep people from sneaking into the tower!" Tony nearly yelled in frustration. "You don't trust me to be able to know when I need to quit...to be able to take care of myself!" he accused, stepping back again, having to stop when he felt the work table behind him.
Steve took a deep breath and then nodded. "All right, Tony. I'll make a deal with you. I'll take you to the doctor now. If I'm wrong, then I'll apologise and do your chores around the tower for the next month." He didn't say, 'If I'm right...' because all he wanted was to look after his son. Even though he knew he was right, he'd like nothing better than to be proved wrong.
Tony blinked and quickly looked into Steve's eyes, not having expected that offer. "You really mean that...." he muttered under his breath, partly in surprise, partly in worry. There was no way he'd be able to hide what he was doing if they went to the doctor early. It was going to be hard enough explaining how he 'miraculously' improved. If he went before the residue was gone from his latest extremis injection, a blood test would tell on him immediately.
"Tony..." Steve met and held eye contact with his son. "I'd like to be proved wrong. I'm not out to get you. I love you. All I want is for you to be happy. Safe. I know this has been difficult for you. Seeing you in the hospital was one of the worst things I have ever experienced. I was so scared I would lose you."
Tony winced and swallowed hard, looking away again...his guilt strong. "I didn't want to worry you. I didn't want to scare you. I wanted...I only wanted to get better so you wouldn't have to be scared or worried..." His voice was soft...hesitant. He was so afraid the truth would send Steve away. "I can't prove you wrong..." he finally whispered. "I want to...I know the truth will just worry you more...not to mention leave you ashamed of me for...for lying. But I can't prove you wrong..." He finally shook his head and turned around to face the table, unable to look his father in the eye. Bracing his hands on the table, his head fell forward, dropping low...waiting to hear footsteps walking away from him.
Steve didn't walk away from his son. He never would, no matter what happened. Instead, he stepped forward, hugging Tony tightly to himself. "Thank you for being honest," he whispered into Tony's ear, before kissing his head.
Tony's laugh was almost a sob as he admitted, "I only told you because there was no way to hide it anymore...how was that honest? I...I messed up, dad....I messed up bad. I thought I could control it, but I can't..." Once he'd begun confessing, he saw no sense in not admitting every sorry detail. "I lied to you...I accused you of not trusting me while doing the one thing guaranteed to break your trust..." Running his hands agitatedly through his hair, he growled in frustration at himself.
"You weren't thinking logically," Steve said, tightening his embrace around Tony. "I know you were worried I'd walk away from you... that would never happen. I can't walk away. You're my son and I love you. That was true long before I signed the papers to make it official."
"You aren't even a little angry? Disappointed in me? I'd say I'm sorry, but I ... I'm afraid it's too little too late..." Tony found himself pressing closer to his father, though, trying to believe that he really wasn't going anywhere.
"I know you're sorry." Steve tightened his embrace around Tony. "I'm worried about you. I'm not the only one. I know there are times you find it difficult to believe, but everyone here cares about you and seeing you hurting is difficult. But that doesn't mean I want you to keep things hidden from me."
"Hiding things from you was wrong..." Tony admitted. "I didn't want you to know because you'd tell me not to do it...at least I assumed you would." Tony had to force the words out, as he still felt paranoid that his actions had ruined his relationship with Steve. (He wasn't allowing himself to think about what he ruined with Pepper.)
Steve sighed. "I don't know what I would have said, but I know the lasting effects of the extremis are bad. Pepper was really worried about you and the fact that you'd closed yourself off from everyone. Grant went to see his dad because he was so worried."
"I ..." Tony bit his lip. "There are no reasons or excuses that justify scaring my family...not when I knew what would happen." His voice was guilt laden. "Even now, I keep having to talk myself out of believing outlandish things that my paranoia is insisting are true. Even knowing how false it is, I can't stop thinking it... Thinking that you're going to regret taking me as your son and punish me by leaving." He couldn't face Steve.
"That would never happen." Steve spoke without any hesitation. "I'm never going to regret adopting you and I would never withdraw my affection or love for you. There is nothing that could ever change that."
"Even if I deserve it?" Tony's question was hopeful; and broken at the same time. The extremis induced paranoia was bringing his strongest fears and insecurities to the front.
Steve kissed his forehead. "You would never deserve it, Tony. It doesn't matter what happens. You could never deserve my leaving or withdrawing from you. It will never happen," he promised.
"But...I lied...knowingly and willingly to your face..." Tony was confused and it came through clearly in his voice. Part of him wished he could just accept the words and stop pushing...the other part of him was positive that he did deserve to be left and he just needed to wait long enough for a Steve to figure it out.
"You did," Steve agreed. "But it doesn't change anything between us. It doesn't matter what you do. I will never give up on you. I will never walk away from you."
Tony couldn't say anything else. He was afraid if he did, he'd talk Steve into leaving after all. As much as he was certain he would deserve it, he didn't want it to happen, so he stopped arguing. Instead, he finally wrapped his arms around his father and held on.
Steve continued to hold onto his son, speaking softly. "Here's what's going to happen. We're going to come out of the lab and sit down with the people you feel comfortable knowing about this to make a plan of what to do next. I'm not going to leave you. I promise."
Tony nodded wordlessly. Part of him wanted to refuse...to claim that he could get it under control himself and no one else needed to know...but while he'd made a foolish decision in regards to trying to heal himself without anyone else being aware of the truth, he wasn't a fool. "Ok, sir..." he answered, all belligerence and obstinacy gone. He still had a very hard time letting go of the thought that Steve would punish him by taking away his presence. Even if it wasn't permanently, that was always the first way Tony expected to be disciplined for errors of judgment. He steeled himself for Steve 'needing to go' on a really long mission as soon as Tony was squared away...one where he couldn't call or make contact in any way, so Tony would have to feel his absence and know that it wouldn't have been that way if he'd behaved or made better decisions.
Pushing those thoughts down, he tried to focus on what Steve wanted him to do. "I...maybe the whole family should know...but those who need to know and be part of the plan... you, Bucky, Phil, Bruce, Pepper.... By the time it's over, though, anyone that lives with me or deals with me closely is going to know and be affected. If you think I'm paranoid and over-confident now, it seems to be worse when I'm...withdrawing." He grimaced.
Steve nodded, pressing a kiss to Tony's head. Because even if his son didn't say anything, he knew Tony expected him to withdraw. Because that was how Howard had treated him... and it bothered Steve a great deal that someone who'd been a friend had treated his son that badly. "I love you, Tony. There is nothing that could ever change that. We'll sit down and talk to the others," he promised.
"Ok, dad..." Tony answered softly, pressing as close as he could without ending up on his father's lap. Swallowing, he asked hesitantly, "Am I in trouble?" He didn't know how else to phrase the question, as childish as that turn of phrase made him feel. Steve was adamant that he wouldn't ever leave Tony's side; and Tony wanted to believe that, no matter how difficult he found it to believe. But Tony had done a lot of questionable things and if Steve wasn't going to just abandon him, did that mean he was getting away with what he'd done? Beyond the whole needing to tell everyone what he'd done and going through withdrawal, that is. Which, now that he thought about it, was going to be painful and embarrassing and maybe that would be punishment enough....
Steve gently stroked Tony's hair as he considered his response. "What do you think?" he asked finally. He wasn't actually sure what the right thing to do was, since his first inclination was to hug his son and convince Tony he wasn't going to abandon him.
"I think I don't deserve you..." Tony admitted, but didn't pull away. "Beyond that, I don't know. I...I feel really guilty about lying to you though.... I'm sorry about that...." he said softly.
Steve tightened his embrace. "You weren't thinking clearly," he said gently. "I'm not going to punish you for lying to me, because I know it was the paranoia and extremis talking. I just want to help and support you, son."
Tony swallowed hard, burrowing against his father. "I only wanted to make things better..." he said sorrowfully. "...not make things worse."
"I know," Steve replied reassuringly. "I've been worried about you since you went into that fence. I thought I might lose you... I was so happy when you woke up." He continued stroking Tony's hair, arms tight around his son as if he could protect him by shielding him with his embrace.
Tony slowly relaxed, managing to see beyond his paranoia to accepting his father's affection. "I'm sorry I added to your worry..." Tony whispered.
Steve kissed the top of his head. "I just want to protect you, son. I want you safe and well... happy... The extremis doesn't do that," he pointed out, his voice gentle.
"It was meant to repair me...inside. I hid how bad it really was...if I didn't find something to fix me, I'd never be able to go out with the team on missions again. I'd have difficulty working in my lab...I couldn't face a future where I was useless..." Tony said quietly. "I know it was risky. I should have told you...been honest."
Steve nodded. "If you'd come to me, we could have talked about what to do." He wasn't scolding. He just wanted to be sure that, if there was a next time, Tony would come to him.
"I was foolish..." Tony said softly. He knew Steve wasn't scolding. He almost wished his father would scold him. Steve was being so understanding and forgiving and Tony wasn't sure how to deal with that.
"You made a mistake," Steve said. "And even if it took you a while, you've realised and owned up to it." He rubbed his son's back gently. "And now we work on getting you weaned off the extremis."
Tony chuckled unhappily. "You sure you want to be around for that? It wasn't pretty last time. I was a complete bastard...during the good moments." He eyed his father shyly.
"I'm sure I want to be at your side, no matter what," Steve replied honestly. "For the good and the bad."
Tony didn't have words to convey how he felt, so he just wrapped his arms around Steve and snuggled closer. He might have been embarrassed at the needy, childish way he was behaving...had it not been his father he was cuddling up to. Finally, hesitantly, he said, "I guess we should gather everyone so I can tell them why I'll be gone the next few days...and enlist the help of Bruce and Phil, at the least..." Shame coated his voice...not that he was telling his entire family of his addiction, but that he was addicted in the first place and needed to tell them.
Steve nodded. "If you don't want to tell the youngsters, you don't have to." He knew Tony trusted everyone here, but he also knew that telling them would be hard. Even if they would all understand and do everything they could to support Tony. "Would you like me to ask JARVIS to send a message to Phil, Bruce, Pepper and Bucky, asking them to meet us on my floor?"
"I...I think the kids should know...but I don't want to be the one to tell them...." Tony said softly not able to look Steve in the eyes. "It was hard enough admitting it to you and you already knew...." He swallowed then straightened up. "Yes...please...have JARVIS bring them to your floor."
"If you would prefer me to tell the kids, I can," Steve said. "But we'll worry about talking to the others first." Still holding Tony, he addressed JARVIS. "JARVIS? Can you ask Phil, Bruce, Pepper and Bucky to meet us on my floor, please?"
Nodding, Tony waited for Steve to give JARVIS the orders then waited for his father to lead him out to go to his floor. Truthfully, he wasn't certain he'd be able to get the courage up to tell the other four what was going on and feared he might need to have Steve explain to them as well. The stress of the paranoia was getting to him and he was just very weary.
He hoped Pepper wouldn't be too upset with him; looking back on their afternoon, he could admit she'd had reason to be alarmed by his driving and by his insistence that they were being followed. He hadn't made things easy for her. The paranoia that had him believing they had been followed had him worried to let his 'immediate' family out of his sight; which was going to prove interesting when it came time to go to bed. He somehow doubted Pepper would want to share a bed with his father and uncle...even if it was large enough to hold all four of them comfortably. That was something to worry about later, though.
First, he needed to get through admitting what he'd done.
Steve kept his arm around Tony's shoulders as he guided him out of the lab and to the elevator. "I love you, Tony." He kept saying it, but he wanted to be sure Tony believed it. "I know this is hard for you, but accepting the help from your family is half the battle. We'll support you. When you need something in particular, all you need to do is ask."
Tony didn't answer with words...instead, he just pressed closer to his father again. He wondered briefly how Steve could walk, with Tony plastered to his side as he was, but he didn't worry about it enough to pull away. The comfort of his father's presence was one of the few things that kept the paranoia at bay. When they stepped onto the elevator and stopped walking, Tony turned slightly so he could hide his face against his father's chest and took several deep breaths in an attempt to calm himself down.
Steve responded by wrapping his arms around Tony and hugging him close. Even when the elevator stopped, he kept his arm around his son to guide him out onto his floor, heading to the living room, since he was sure that everyone would gather there.
Once in the living room, Tony sat carefully on the sofa, leaving room for Steve to sit on one side of him and Pepper on the other. Then he waited for everyone to arrive.
Bucky was the first to arrive, walking quickly down the stairs from his floor, which was right above Steve's. He took one look at his brother and nephew, then went and sat in the chair closest to the sofa, giving both Tony and Steve an encouraging smile. He wasn't certain what was up; but he had a feeling it had to do with Tony's health and the serious looks on both their faces had him worried.
Bruce was the second to arrive, with Pepper. Tony's fiancé had gone to his 'brother' to wait for Steve to finish talking with Tony. She'd had a feeling that Bruce would be needed when all was said and done and while she didn't give him any direct details, she'd made certain that he was available to come immediately when Steve requested him.
Steve sat down on one side of Tony, wrapping his arm around his son's shoulders and squeezing him gently. He smiled at Bucky, relieved to have his brother there for support, and then glanced towards the door as the others arrived.
Coulson was the last one to get there. Already having a fairly good idea of what was up he didn't say anything and merely gave each of them his own encouraging smile before taking a seat.
Pepper had quickly sat on the other side of Tony and taken one of his hands in both of hers, giving him a tiny smile.
Bruce sat in the chair opposite Bucky and gave the others each a considering look, but kept quiet.
Tony licked his lip then glanced around at his assembled friends before quipping... "I guess you are all wondering why we called you here tonight..." Taking a deep breath, he opened his mouth and tried to get the words out, but found he couldn't figure out how to say it. Helplessly, he looked at Steve.
Steve's arm tightened around Tony's shoulders as he took over the explanation. "We're going to need your help." His voice was frank, but still laced with concern. "After finding out from the doctor that his organs were getting weaker and weren't recovering, Tony let his fear and worry take control and began using extremis to heal himself." He spoke simply and there was no blame or censure in his voice. "Unfortunately, it has now reached the level where the drawbacks are outweighing the benefits."
"And I imagine withdrawing is going to be hard," Coulson said softly.
Steve nodded. "Tony knows it's a problem and that he needs help... we've dealt with half of the battle." He kept holding onto his son, indicating that he wasn't talking as if Tony wasn't in the room... just explaining the situation as best he could.
"I..." Tony started to contribute to the conversation. "I thought I could handle it. Only take enough to heal myself up and then quit...I should have known better, but the thought of being so weak wasn't just frightening...it quite literally terrified me." He glanced at Steve, blushing slightly at the admission. "The last time I was addicted to it, it... it took me too long to get off of it because I tried to do it on my own. It wasn't until I informed Pepper and Bruce what was going on that I was able to get a handle on it. I figure if I have all of you in my corner from the very beginning...maybe it won't take so long this time- even if it isn't easy...." he finished in a whisper.
Pepper bit her lip, squeezing Tony's hand. "Just tell me what I need to do..." was her only response.
Bruce nodded slightly. "First thing I'm going to need you to do is tell me where all your extremis is stored; and I need you to be honest about it. Don't keep any of it hidden...I need to find and retrieve it all...."
Bucky glanced between his brother and nephew. "What kind of withdrawal symptoms are there? Will it be like with Grant?" He glanced at Coulson, then back at Steve. "I'm in for the long haul, whatever is needed...but it would help to know what we're facing...."
Steve listened while Tony talked, not moving his arm, wanting to support his son as much as possible. "I'm not sure exactly what kind of withdrawal symptoms there are." He glanced at Tony. "What sort of symptoms did you deal with last time?"
Tony winced. "Last time, my paranoia was so bad I was afraid to leave the mansion and wouldn't let anyone- even Happy, Pepper, or Bruce- near me. I also had bouts of being positive that I was invincible and attempting some really stupidly dangerous shit..." He winced again, running a hand through his hair.
Pepper swallowed, frowning. "I remember that. You went up to the roof and were going to try and fly, without your suit on." Luckily, JARVIS had been paying attention and sent one of the few remaining suits Tony had left and encased him in it just as he had jumped; otherwise, he would have been crushed on the ground below.
Bucky's eyes widened. "Right. So my job is to make certain you can't escape to any dangerous places and do stupid stunts..." he muttered, shaking his head.
"Maybe we could all take shifts of duty," Coulson commented, then glanced at Steve. "Outside of you staying with Tony, I mean." He knew full well that Steve would stay with Tony, just as Coulson had stayed with Grant. The two of them were markedly similar when it came to their family.
Steve nodded, not even trying to deny what Coulson said. "Asking JARVIS to keep tabs on you would be a good idea, too."
Tony glanced at Bucky. "I guess if anyone can physically stop me, it would be you and Cap..." he said with a crooked grin. He bit his lip. "JARVIS? I know you're listening, buddy... you up to keeping tabs on me?"
"Of course, sir..." the AI responded. "May I also suggest that Captain Rogers establish the 'Lunatic' protocol? Before things get bad and you try and tell me to mind my own business?" The AI's tones were droll.
Pepper blinked. "You actually set that protocol up?" She glanced at Tony in surprise.
Tony blushed. "It seemed like a good idea, given my history and the fact I was about to do something I knew full well I shouldn't be doing..." he admitted.
"What's the Lunatic protocol?" Bucky asked in confusion.
Bruce smiled at his brother. "It's where JARVIS is instructed to ignore all commands Tony gives him, except if they are to save a life in the event of an emergency, and obey only the commands of Steve and whoever else Steve tells JARVIS to obey. Steve is the one that initiates it and he is the only one that can end it once it has been initiated. I wasn't sure you'd actually go and set it up myself. You were drunk when you were telling Pepper and I of the idea...." He snorted softly.
Tony just scratched at his ear and turned pink, not able to look anyone in the eye.
Steve kept his arm around Tony's shoulders, squeezing gently. "That was a good idea. I'm proud of you," he praised softly, before speaking to JARVIS. "Yes. Please do initiate the 'Lunatic' protocol." He glanced around at the others in the room and added, "Please confirm Pepper, Bucky, Coulson and Bruce as those able to give you commands as well as myself."
"As you wish Captain, protocol is now in effect." JARVIS responded immediately.
"I'm surprised you didn't call it Genius protocol or something like that...since it is basically to keep you from doing something drastic or dangerous..." Bucky chuckled, hoping to get Tony to stop acting like a whipped dog.
Tony glanced up and grinned impishly. "It's apt. The only time it would really be necessary is when I'm being a lunatic...." He looked at Coulson. "I...I know Grant saw me. And I'm sorry I worried him. I...when this is all over I need to thank him...for telling on me." His grin turned more chagrined. "How am I going to explain this to everyone else?" He sighed, putting his elbows on his knees and then dropping his face into his hands.
"I want you to know that Grant didn't just blurt it out to me," Coulson said. "He was worried in case he was wrong and that it would hurt you. It caused him a lot of emotional turmoil, but I think he'll just be happy to know you are getting help... and want to support you the same way you supported him."
"Would you like one of us to talk to them?" Steve asked.
Tony smiled at his uncle. "I don't think it would have mattered if he had blurted it... fact is, he cared enough to tell you, even if he wasn't sure... and because he cared, Steve got enough information between what Grant saw, what Pepper experienced and his own experience with me to be able to not be fooled when I tried to convince him everything was fine." His tone was sheepish. "And I owe him thanks. Soon as I'm able to face him again without wanting to hide in shame..." He sighed again, turning to Steve and biting his lip. "Would one of you please tell them? I...I don't mean to be a coward, but... well, I'm wanting to be a coward..." he admitted.
Steve gave his son a reassuring smile and kissed his head affectionately. "I know it's hard to admit what happened, but I'm sure they'll all be worried about you and want to do whatever they can to help. But don't worry about having to tell them about it... one of us will take care of that," he promised.
Tony nodded in thanks then glanced at Pepper. "I'm sorry, sweetheart...for scaring you so badly this afternoon..." he said softly.
"I love you, Tony..." Pepper said with a trembling smile. "I'm just glad you're getting help...." She choked up, wiping at her eyes, before grabbing onto his hand and holding tightly again.
Tony winced slightly at the pressure she was putting on his fingers, but didn't say anything. Instead, he looked at Bruce. "Do you need me to go with you and show you where all the extremis is hidden, or can I just tell you where it is?"
Bruce glanced at Steve. "I'm thinking it's probably best if you not leave this floor until we have you squared away... so if you give me a list, I'll trust that you aren't leaving anything off of it." He gave his brother a gentle smile. "Bucky can help me get it all together."
"Sure thing, Doc..." Bucky responded to Bruce's suggestion. "We going to make a schedule of who is going to be on the floor with Tony when? Are we teaming up, or going solo?"
"I'm going to be with Tony all the time," Steve said honestly. "But it'll be good for the rest of you to come up with a schedule, since it'll be better to have an extra pair of eyes where possible."
Bruce glanced at the three remaining people who wouldn't be with Tony constantly. "If we each take six hour shifts..."
"I can take from 6pm to midnight," Pepper quickly said. "That way, I can continue to go to work and no one will suspect anything..."
Bucky nodded. "I figure I practically live on this floor anyway; and generally, if anything is going to happen, it will happen at night. So I'll come in early, 9pm, and then stay all night."
Bruce glanced at Coulson. "Would you prefer a 6am to noon shift or a noon to 6pm shift?"
"6am to noon," Coulson answered after a moment's thought. After all, that would give him time to spend with his children as well. He was sure that Grant and Clint, at least, would need support... and he knew Natasha cared about Tony, too.
"Then I'll do noon to 6pm," Bruce acknowledged, glancing back at his friend. "We'll get you through this, Tony."
Tony swallowed, overwhelmed by the love and support. "Thanks....I really don't know what I'd do without all of you..." he finally said, his voice thick, as if he was trying not to cry.
Pepper wrapped her arms around his waist and snuggled close, making certain not to dislodge Steve's arm while doing so. "If I didn't think it'd be too much to put on Steve, I'd just ask for Bucky and I to move in here till you're all better..." she said faintly. "I don't know if I can even leave you the rest of the day when I need to be working...."
"I'll be ok, Pep..." Tony said gently, kissing the top of her head and hugging her. "And I don't want any of you getting run down and sick because you're helping me... so having a schedule and sticking to it...probably the best thing."
Steve kept his arm around Tony's shoulders as he spoke quietly. "If it would help you at all, I'm quite happy for Pepper and Bucky to stay on my floor with us." He wanted to do anything within his power to help his son.
Tony blinked, torn. While he didn't mind having Bucky on the floor, he wasn't sure he wanted Pepper there as frequently. He loved her and the thought of her seeing him go through what he was about to go through, again, it hurt. At the same time, if it made her feel better, then.... "I only want to get better so everyone else can stop worrying...and I don't want anyone to get sick because they are taking care of me..." he finally said, glancing at Pepper, then Bucky. He hadn't actually answered the question, but then, he wasn't really sure how to answer.
"Just tell us what you'd like to happen," Steve said gently. "Whoever you'd like to stay with us here, we can have stay. And whatever you'd like to do, we can do that." Within reason, but he didn't concern himself with saying that.
"I don't really think it is a good idea for Pepper to be here the entire time when she isn't at work; that's a lot of stress and no chance of a break for you..." He turned to look at Pepper, trying to explain what he was thinking. "But I also don't want to keep her away if she feels like she needs to be here, so...I...I wouldn't mind if she and Bucky stayed on the floor with us. But only if they promise to go back to their own floors if it gets to be too much..." What he really meant was Pepper returning to his and her floor if it got to be too much; he doubted Bucky would have that problem, but he wanted to be fair.
"I'm sure that's an agreement they can make," Steve said softly, still hugging his son close. "Why don't you make that list for Bruce now?"
Pepper nodded quickly. "Of course, Tony! I know you wouldn't be able to get better if you were worried about me being stressed out. If I start to get worn down, I'll go back to our floor..." she promised easily.
"Yeah, kid. Same here," Bucky answered, even though he knew it was Pepper Tony was worried about.
Nodding in acceptance, Tony turned toward Bruce. "I...actually made the extremis using the revised formula that I used for my surgery." He moved his hand over his chest where the arc reactor had once been. "There is a lab on the 64th floor that I removed JARVIS's ability to monitor. It's the only lab where JARVIS can't currently monitor, because I was attempting to keep anyone from being suspicious. All the extremis I made is there. The formula for making it is in our main lab though. The file on my computer is EXmod45. I don't want to get rid of the formula completely...someday it might be useful, especially if I can figure out a way to remove the more dangerous aspects of it and make it so it isn't addictive...but it's better if you keep it and not me." He sighed then gave his brother a crooked smile. "Thanks, Brucie..."
"Well, I'm off to hunt extremis..." Bruce said in a voice reminiscent of Elmer Fudd, attempting to get a smile out of Tony. When his brother gave a slight laugh, he nodded at everyone and left.
"Is there anything I should bring down from our floor other than clothes?" Pepper asked softly, standing up as well. "I'll go pack you and me a bag..."
Tony shook his head then watched as she left.
Bucky looked at his watch. "I've got a few hours yet before I'll be here for the night. I'll go pack my own bag and then gather the rest of the family in the common room so we can let them know what's up. You want to come with me, Phil? So we can explain together?"
Coulson nodded, standing up. "Grant will already have some idea, of course, but he won't have mentioned it to the others." He smiled at his brother and nephew, especially at Tony. "We're all here for you, Tony. Whatever you need... don't be afraid to come to any of us." He waited for Bucky to precede him and followed him out.
Steve still had his arm around Tony and since they were alone, he took advantage of that to pull his son onto his lap and hug him close. "I love you," he reiterated. "I'm not going anywhere. I promise."
Tony wiggled around just enough to wrap his own arms around his father. "Thank you..." He swallowed hard. "That means a lot...you being here now and helping me."
"I'll always be here," Steve promised, tightening his embrace. "And I will always help you. Along with everyone else here. You have a whole family who loves you."
Tony shivered. "I know...I think it's just the paranoia causing me to question it. I hate being so suspicious..." He pressed closer, snuggling.
"I think there are times when you do struggle to believe it," Steve said honestly. "And I think this paranoia is awakening all of those old doubts." He pressed a kiss to Tony's head. "Your doubts are understandable, considering what you've been through in the past."
"You're so understanding..." Tony said with a sigh. "It's going to get worse, you know...before it gets better. I'm afraid I'll push you all away before it's all said and done..." Tony admitted reluctantly.
"You could never push me away," Steve responded, his voice filled with reassurance. "Even before you were deaged, you were already my boy. When I signed those papers, all it did was make official how I feel about you."
Even if the paranoia was making it difficult to accept, that was what Tony needed to hear. He relaxed into his father's arms and basked in the love he knew the other man held for him. When Pepper returned thirty minutes later, he still hadn't moved and didn't mind her seeing at all.
Giving Steve a grateful smile, Pepper kicked off her shoes and crawled up onto the couch beside the two men, wrapping her arms around both of them, then snuggling close...easily insinuating herself into the cuddle session.
Steve willingly opened up to include Pepper in their cuddle session, since she was as much a part of the family as anyone. He didn't say anything, taking advantage of this calm before the storm he knew would hit.
Bucky had gone straight to the common floor then asked JARVIS to alert the rest of the family that they needed to have a meeting. Taking a deep breath, he looked at Coulson. "You suspected?" he asked quietly, in what really wasn't a question. The other man had not been surprised in the least when the news of Tony's problem had been relayed. To be honest, Bucky hadn't suspected... but then, he wasn't surprised, either. Tony had admitted to his prior addiction once before and Bucky knew that, once you were addicted to something, it was way too easy to slide back into that addiction when a situation got too rough to handle.
"Grant told me he'd seen Tony injecting himself with something," Coulson explained. "After everything he went through with the pain pills, they talked about the fact that they'd both become addicted to substances, which was why Grant came to me about it. He was worried about admitting what he saw, in case he was wrong. And I went to talk to Steve."
Bucky nodded. "Grant's a good kid. We need to make sure he knows Tony isn't angry about him telling you...." he said quietly. "Do you want to do the honors, or have me tell them all?"
"I think however works when we start explaining," Coulson said. "I'm sure they'll be worried and have questions... most of them will probably want to try and help, so we might want to give them tasks so they don't feel useless."
"That's actually not a bad idea. I'm pretty sure Nat and Clint will want to go to Steve's floor and help out; and as much as he values their friendship and looks on them as family, I get the feeling that Tony wouldn't want them to see him that way...so we better have some other ways they can help available," Bucky said with a sigh.
Then the elevator dinged and various members of the family started piling out and taking up sofas and couches around the room.
Natasha leaned against the wall, looking at Coulson and Bucky and waiting to see what they would say.
Skye sat down on the couch, sitting next to her mother. Leo settled next to Jemma and Thor came in with his brother.
Clint slipped into the room with his little brother, waiting until Grant sat down to go and sit on the arm of the chair next to him.
Trip came in with Fury, glancing around at the assembled group, then straightened up when he realized no one else was coming. "What's up, boss? And where are Cap, Tony and Bruce?"
Bucky cleared his throat, then began, "Tony is with Steve and Pepper at the moment and Bruce is taking care of something that can't wait to be taken care of...." He didn't want to give too much information on what Bruce was looking for until they'd explained what was happening.
Coulson gave each of them a reassuring smile, particularly Grant, since he knew his youngest would have some idea of what they were about to say. "When Tony was electrocuted, he was in much worse shape than he allowed us to believe and instead of getting better, he was getting worse. Because he didn't want to worry anyone, he decided to take extremis to heal himself... unfortunately, he wasn't able to stop himself and his body has now grown dependent on using it."
Clint let out the breath he had been holding in a loud whoosh. "Tony..." he muttered under his breath and shook his head. He should have suspected something of the sort; the first week after he'd got home, Tony hadn't acted at all like himself and had actually acted more subdued after seeing his doctor than Clint would have expected. But Clint had allowed himself to believe it was just because the older man was still healing.
Grant slumped, not happy that he had been right, but not terribly surprised. "Was he upset that you found out?" he asked quietly, positive that Tony wouldn't trust him after this.
Bucky glanced at Grant and quickly answered, "He's not upset at all...in fact, I believe he is relieved that his secret was found out and he can't hide it any more. He didn't want any of us to worry; but I think he'd reached a point where he knew he couldn't handle it on his own. He needed someone to step in...."
"Tony did try to deny that there was anything going on, but I believe that was the extremis talking," Coulson said, automatically stepping over to his sons and placing a hand on each of their shoulders, squeezing gently. "He isn't upset with you, Grant. Because both you and Pepper knew something was wrong, Steve was able to keep pushing Tony to be honest until he had no choice but to tell the truth."
"Is there anything we can do?" Leo asked, a worried look on his face.
Bucky glanced at the younger man and smiled. "That's actually why we've gathered you all here. We wanted to let you know that until Tony has been weaned off of the extremis, he'll be staying on Steve's floor. Pepper, Phil, Bruce and I will be assisting Steve in caring for Tony and helping him get over his dependence.... which means you likely won't see Tony or Steve at all and will only see the remaining four of us when we aren't with Tony and Steve. I know all of you want to help a lot, but Tony already feels ashamed that he's even in this predicament, without having everyone see him as he goes through the withdrawal, so one of the things you can do is make certain to not go onto Steve's floor unless requested directly."
Grant glanced down, remembering his own withdrawal and understanding Tony's reluctance to let anyone else see him. "Ok... but beyond giving him space, is there anything we can do?"
He glanced up at his father.
"I think it'll help if you can take it in turns to do Tony's and Steve's chores around the tower," Coulson said. "The other four of us have agreed on shifts we'll be with Tony and Steve, so when we're around, we'll be able to help, of course... but if some of you can work on a rosta, that would be helpful. A modified rota for who's doing meals would be helpful, too."
"Would it help to retrieve some of the Asgardian artifacts early, so that Tony can study them as a way of distracting himself?" Thor spoke up, remembering that Tony had expressed interest in studying some of the different items they had on Asgard and that there were times his brother found study to help take his mind off things.
Bucky slanted his head, willing to concede that decision to Coulson; since he'd gone through the withdrawal with Grant, he'd have a better idea than Bucky what might prove helpful, even if their situations weren't exactly the same.
"I'm sure it can't hurt, though I'm not sure when he'll feel up to it," Coulson said. "But it would provide a good distraction. If you can bring the artifacts to one of us, we can make sure they go to Steve's floor."
"I will find ones that are the least likely to cause difficulty and still provide a challenge..." Loki said quietly, almost shyly. Despite having been accepted into his brother's mortal 'family' he still sometimes felt as if he was an interloper and didn't want to overstep his bounds.
Coulson smiled gratefully at Loki. "Those would be very helpful artifacts to bring back. I'm sure Tony would be very grateful to have something to occupy his mind with."
May glanced at Natasha, then at Fury. "Natasha, Nick and I can collaborate on a schedule for taking care of the various chores and meals. I figure we won't include either of you two, Bruce, Pepper, or Steve on the chore list, since you will have your hands full with Tony. But I can give you a copy in case you need to know what's going on," she said calmly.
Coulson nodded. "Steve will be with Tony full-time... the rest of us will be on shifts and when we're needed, so we will still be around at times."
"Would you like me to have Brock Rumlow moved to a secure SHIELD prison?" Fury asked.
Coulson considered that, but shook his head. "No one's going to be able to get to him here. And the people here are in the best position to help him, once Tony's in a better condition."
Jemma bit her lip then said cautiously, "I think...I think maybe Rumlow knew what Tony was doing even before we did. I don't understand how he would have known, but...." She glanced at Leo then hesitantly continued, "Rumlow was rocking back and forth, holding his head, earlier this afternoon. I thought he had a migraine... but then I noticed him mumbling, so thought maybe he was having an episode. I had to tranquilize him because he was becoming quite agitated and I was afraid he'd hurt himself. But before he fell asleep, I recognized some of what he was saying. He said something to the effect of, 'Tony's afraid of his shadow...' and it being hard to 'protect someone who is paranoid about ghosts'." She gave a tiny shrug.
"Rumlow was on protection duty for Tony in the past," Fury said. "If Tony went to see him and Rumlow recognised the signs of the addiction, that might have been enough to trigger a flashback."
"Tony's our main priority, but if Rumlow is experiencing flashbacks, we shouldn't just ignore it," Coulson said. "Jemma, Leo, Skye... I want you to keep tabs on him. If it's at all possible to draw him into a conversation, make sure you don't do that without Clint, Grant, Trip, Natasha, or May - or any combination - with you."
"If he's having flashbacks, then our chances of breaking the brainwashing increase greatly..." Bucky remarked calmly. He would know; it was his flashbacks of Steve that enabled him to break his own brainwashing.
Jemma nodded at Bucky's words then answered Coulson. "Yes, sir. We'll work on that."
Coulson nodded. "Good. We might need help at other points, but we'll inform you about that. We'll also keep you updated on Tony's situation."
Grant nodded. "We'll do everything we can to make sure things keep running smoothly here while you take care of him."
"Do you want us to bring meals up for whoever is with Tony, whenever it is time to eat? Or do you plan to have that floor on complete lockdown except for those who are changing shifts and make your own meals there?" Clint asked curiously.
"At first, it'll probably be better to keep the floor on lockdown," Coulson answered, glancing at Bucky to make sure the other man agreed with him. "As the symptoms lessen, we can look at changing the situation."
"I concur with that. Tony's paranoia is pretty bad right now, and it's getting worse. The less chance of him getting out and running away, the better...." Bucky sighed.
Clint gave a quick and brief nod. "You can have JARVIS tell us if you need anything...we can get it together and give it to whoever's shift it is when you change shifts."
Trip whistled softly then sighed. "I hope that the whole reason he took the stuff again actually worked and he isn't going through this with nothing positive to show for it..." He shook his head gently.
Bruce walked in just in time to hear that comment. "He had a doctor's appointment tomorrow...I took the liberty of calling their office and asking that the doctor come here for the check up. Any scans he needs, I'm sure JARVIS can provide. Am I right, JARVIS?" he asked the AI.
"You would be right, Dr. Banner. I can run the scans and print them out for the doctor to look at and put in Sir's file," the AI responded.
Bruce nodded. "At that point, we should be able to tell if the whole reason for taking the extremis was fixed or not."
Coulson nodded. "That's likely the best thing to do. Your support is important." He looked around at the whole family. "I know this is going to be hard, but if we all work together, I think we can get through this."
May smirked at Coulson then gave a tiny shrug. "That's what families do for each other. Or so I'm told." Her tone was teasing, since it was Coulson who had often said something of that sort to her.
Jemma grinned at Coulson and Bucky, then walked over to Bruce and gave him a hug. "If there are any items in the lab that you specifically need me and Leo to handle..." she said softly.
"I will be certain to let you know..." Bruce smiled gently, hugging her back. He turned to Coulson and Bucky. "I believe I have found all of the extremis. I also gave JARVIS back his presence in the area that Tony had blocked his access to; and he will be watching to make certain I didn't miss any of it. The formula is actually very useful and could actually help in a lot of areas, specifically grievously wounded agents... but we shouldn't have it in the tower. Is there someplace safe and secure where it can be stored, in case it is needed?"
"On the Bus might work," Coulson replied. "We might not be staying there any longer, but it's still secure and safe."
"I could work on generating firewalls and passcodes to hide the formula," Skye offered. "I could create so many blocks, it would take someone at the top level of genius to untangle them." Which would mean Tony would be able to... but she was sure Steve, or Bucky, or one of the others would stop Tony trying.
Bruce nodded. "The extremis is currently locked in my lab. First thing tomorrow, if a group of you could transport the extremis to the Bus... and then work on the firewalls, passcodes and whatever other traps you can think of to protect it... My first shift isn't until noon tomorrow, but I'm going to make an early night of it anyway; just in case Tony has a medical emergency and they need me."
"Here's hoping you get to sleep through the night undisturbed..." Grant muttered softly; but not softly enough, as several heads nodded in agreement with him.
Trip cleared his throat. "Um...I was going to order a pizza for dinner...if the rest of you haven't already eaten, I can order enough for everyone..." He glanced around curiously.
"That sounds good," Coulson said. "If you order extra for Tony, Pepper and Steve... one of us can take some up to them." He looked at his children, addressing them. "I'm taking the shift from 6am till noon... means that I'll still the rest of the day to make time to spend with the three of you."
"Okay," Natasha said softly.
Trip nodded at Coulson and pulled out his phone to make the order. He could have easily had JARVIS do it, but with everything else the AI was being tasked with, he didn't see the sense in adding to the load.
"Sure thing, Pop..." Clint smiled.
Jemma began clearing off the dining room table, so everyone who wasn't with Tony would have a place to eat.
Bruce went to discuss some items with Fury.
May walked over to Skye. "You doing ok?" she asked the younger woman, knowing that Skye and Tony had spent quite a bit of time together, due to their love of 'hacking' into places they weren't supposed to be in.
"I'm... it's kind of a shock," Skye admitted. "I really hope Tony can get through this... but I know he's got the best people on his side."
May nodded. "That he does. If...If you want to stay with me on my floor tonight..." she said hesitantly; still not used to being overly demonstrative, but wanting to be there for her daughter if Skye needed her.
Skye looked hesitantly at her mother. "I would like that..." she said, knowing that May wouldn't offer if she wasn't willing to have her there.
May smiled more widely at the answer. "I would too..."
Bucky sat back in the chair to wait for the pizza to arrive. Trip had ordered enough that he could take four boxes with him for Steve, Pepper and Tony... and he figured he'd just wait to eat with his brother, nephew and future niece-in-law.
Grant smiled, moving over to his father and hugging him. "If any of you need us beyond what we've already arranged, you'll let us know, right?" he whispered into his dad's ear.
Coulson wrapped his arms tightly around Grant. "I promise we will," he said softly in his youngest's ear. "I love you. And telling me what you saw was the right thing to do. I promise. Tony understands."
Grant nodded to show he'd heard, then just held onto his father tightly, knowledge of what his cousin was about to go through reminding him of when he had been going through his own withdrawal.
Trip went to the elevator to meet the pizza delivery guy.
Loki went to help Trip.
Coulson tightened his own embrace around Grant, aware of what his son was more than likely feeling. He threaded his fingers gently through Grant's hair. "I know this is bringing back bad memories for you," he said softly. "You can talk to me any time you need to. You don't even need to talk. If you just want some comfort... I would never turn you away," he promised.
Grant leaned back long enough to smile at his father and say, "I know..." before hugging him again. Finally, he stepped away. "If Bruce has the after lunch shift, does that mean you have the breakfast to lunch shift?" he asked quietly. "If so, I'll keep my evenings free and maybe we can do some things together. All four of us." He indicated Clint and Nat.
Coulson smiled. "I think that would be a very good idea," he agreed. "I think I'll need the time to spend with all of you." He squeezed Grant's shoulder gently then moved over to hug Natasha and Clint too.
Clint hugged his father tightly before going and wrapping an arm around his little brother's shoulder and leading him to the pizza.
Trip carefully handed Bucky five of the boxes, having ordered extra. "I am going to assume that you plan to head straight back upstairs to help with your nephew...so here you go. If you need a break...or Steve needs a break...just say the word."
Bucky nodded in thanks, taking the pizza. He stopped long enough to stand next to Fury. "Even though it wasn't said...I think everyone knows who's in charge while Steve and Phil have their hands full..." He gave Fury a wolfish grin, before disappearing into the elevator.
Fury took half of the boxes from Trip. "Do you want me to take a box down to Rumlow? Or would you rather do that?"
Trip smiled. "We could take three boxes and go together if you'd like."
Fury nodded. "Let's do that, then." He grabbed three boxes and then wrapped his arm around his son to guide Trip from the floor.
Skye smiled and leaned against May a little. "How are you feeling?" she asked, a bit hesitantly, because she knew that May wasn't that comfortable with talking about her own emotions.
May blinked. "I'm doing good sweetie. Worried about Tony...and Rumlow to be honest. I knew him in the academy. But I'm doing good." She followed Clint's example and led her daughter to the pizza.
Skye willingly allowed herself to be led, reaching out for a slice of pizza.
Loki smiled at Thor walking over with his brother to join the remainder of their family.
Thor smiled at his brother, hugging him a moment before guiding him over to the food.
Bruce smiled, drawing Jemma and Leo closer to himself, before turning to grab a slice of pizza and say something to May.
Natasha pushed herself away from the wall, after having hugged her dad, and stepped over to the food. Coulson joined his children, checking that each of them were eating enough.
Leo took a slice of pizza and began drawing Jemma into a conversation about how to handle things with Rumlow.
The trip to the cell where they were keeping Rumlow was short. Trip carefully keyed in the code to enter the cell; then, after his father had entered with the pizza, gone in and closed it again. They were both on guard for Rumlow to attempt an escape, but they needn't have bothered. Brock was stretched out on the cot, arm covering his eyes. Trip could see the faint track of tears on his face, although he currently wasn't crying.
"How many, sir?" The tear roughened voice came out of nowhere and would have startled Trip, if he hadn't been watching the man who it belonged to. "How many of my friends are dead because of me?"
Fury hesitated, his usual bluntness warring with the fact that anything he said would pile on the guilt and that wasn't what was needed right now. "When HYDRA attacked, there was warning given. Most of the agents were able to react and fight back." He wasn't sure there were many Rumlow had killed personally, but saying that probably wouldn't help things.
Rumlow moved his arm so that he could actually look at Fury; his eyes were haunted. "You don't know how many I killed personally...but you can't say I didn't kill any..." It wasn't a question...and it was barely a statement.
To Trip, it sounded more like a confession. He swallowed, then carefully took the pizza boxes from his father and carried them over to the tiny table that was bolted to the floor. Rumlow didn't know him well- they'd never had occasion to work together- so at this moment in time, Trip felt it better to stay out of the way and let his father handle the other man.
Rumlow slowly sat up making certain that everything he did was done in a non-confrontational way. He looked and acted like a beaten dog. "Why didn't you just kill me?" His voice came out tight, forced, wounded.
"I was shown the tapes." Fury held eye contact with Rumlow, letting him see the honesty there. "Even if it was you, you were brainwashed... tortured... forced into those actions. The moment that was discovered, killing you was no longer an option. Leaving you in HYDRA's clutches was not an option."
"I deserve to die..." Brock muttered, rubbing at his face before slowly standing and walking over to where the pizza was. He might have felt like he deserved to die, but he didn't really have a death wish and the pizza smelled good. His stomach growled loudly; he hadn't been able to eat lunch due to the headache and subsequent tranquilizer that he'd been given.
Fury stayed back, letting Rumlow move over to the pizza. "There's a tower full of people who would disagree with you. Steve might be with Tony right now, but I know he'll still want to know how you're doing."
Rumlow looked up at that. "After what I did...even if..." He shook his head, taking a slice and moving back to sit on his bed, leaving the chairs for his two 'guests'. "Everything is all jumbled up. I remember doing things...seeing things...but I don't even know what's real and what was..." He shivered then carefully took a bite of the pizza, waiting long enough to make sure it would stay down before taking another bite.
Fury took a slice of pizza and then sat down, glancing at Trip to make sure his son was going to eat before addressing Rumlow. "It might take a little while to sort out everything in your mind. Your real memories have penetrated through the brainwashing and that's a big step on the road to recovery."
"It...it's hard to accept that they were even able to brainwash me in the first place. I...I don't remember any of that. I..I hope I fought..." He frowned unhappily, staring at the pizza he was holding.
Trip had taken his own pizza and was eating quietly, allowing his father to handle Rumlow. At the other man's broken words, he finally said something. "You did. It took them a long time to wear you down. If HYDRA hadn't had agents buried deep enough to keep your absence covered... I'm sorry we didn't find out until it was too late. You fought hard."
Fury nodded. "Your absence shouldn't have gone unnoticed for so long. It did because none of us were aware that HYDRA had been growing inside SHIELD. You shouldn't have been there for so long." Fury felt responsible, knowing what Rumlow had gone through. It was perhaps a mercy the other man didn't remember, but that didn't mean the memories wouldn't come out in other ways.
"What good am I to SHIELD now? I'm broken. I can't remember things I need to remember...and what if...what if I do things that HYDRA programmed me to do? Just because I'm remembering who I really am now doesn't mean they can't still...." He clenched his fist, mangling the last bit of the pizza he still held, then grimaced looking at the mess he had made.
Trip wordlessly got him some napkins and handed him a bag to place the mess in.
Fury waited for Rumlow to clean himself up and then picked up one of the boxes to offer him some more pizza. "It's a long road, but rehabiliation is possible. You know Bucky, Steve's friend? He was in the same position as you."
"Bucky?" Rumlow looked confused for a moment then some of the things he'd learned about Captain America's earlier life came to the forefront of his memory. "Bucky Barnes? He..." He grimaced at the slight headache that was forming from his trying to remember. "The Winter-Soldier...." he finally whispered. Swallowing, he took another slice of pizza and forced himself to eat, knowing that he needed the nourishment, even if his stomach was roiling.
Fury nodded. "Bucky was able to break through the conditioning and although it's been a long road, he's managed to heal with Steve's help. I'm not saying it will be easy, but it will be possible... even if it will be something of a long road."
Finally having finished a slice, Brock leaned back against the wall. "I hope you're right..." he finally whispered. "Will I be staying here until I'm better?" He glanced around the cell.
"Now that you're throwing off the conditioning, I don't believe it's necessary for you to stay here, though I'd have to see what the others think," Fury answered. "You were here because there was question about how safe it would be for you to be elsewhere... but I think moving you is feasible, even if we still need to have safeguards in place."
"Maybe...maybe I should stay here a bit longer...until I know for sure that I'm safe. I don't trust myself..." Brock admitted.
"If you think you'd feel better here, then you can stay," Fury said. "We can put a comm down here, though, in case you need anything." He looked around the cell, adding, "And bring some things down for you to do." He thought it was probably important for Rumlow to have things to keep his mind occupied with when he didn't have someone to talk to. Though he did plan to come and speak to the other man and perhaps encourage Bucky and Clint to talk to him, too, since they'd both experienced being brainwashed.
"Thank you." Brock nodded gratefully.
Trip leaned back, then said softly, "Maybe you can do meals with us...give yourself a change of scenery."
Brock thought about it for a second. "Maybe."
"Being around other people will likely help you on that long road to recovery," Fury said. "I know you had friends before HYDRA took you... but my understanding is that there was no one you were that close to. Forming relationships will probably help disrupt HYDRA's influence even more."
Brock thought about that a second then nodded his head abruptly. "I'll try..." He sounded hesitant, but willing. "I'm tired...May I sleep now?" He didn't want to appear rude, but the headache was really draining him now.
Trip narrowed his eyes slightly, glancing at his father to take his cue from him.
Fury nodded and took his comm off, placing it next to the cot. "I want you to use that to call one of us when you wake up. While you rest and regain your energy, we'll let the others know about the situation and sort out some items to keep you occupied while you're down here."
Brock glanced at the comm then looked up at Fury, a slightly confused look on his face; as if he couldn't understand why or how he was being helped in this way. "Ok, sir. Thank you..." he finally replied laying back on the cot with a wince.
"I'll let Jemma know you are suffering from headaches still...maybe she can find something to give you some relief," Trip said as quietly as he could, before picking up the pizza boxes and opened the cell to leave. He didn't bother closing it behind him, knowing that his father would be following.
Fury lingered a moment, mentally planning what he could have brought down, and then followed his son from the cell, closing the door behind him and looking at Trip. "I'll ask Coulson to let Steve and Bucky know about the change," he said, before wrapping his arm around his son's shoulders and steering him towards the elevator.
The first few hours hadn't been bad. Bucky had returned with pizza and he, Pepper, Steve and Bucky had all had a nice family dinner, chatting about the various projects they were working on and what they'd like to do the next real break that came up. Somehow, Pepper had convinced all three of them (for some reason, she wanted a 'family' vacation, not just a lover's retreat) to go back with her to visit her parents. Tony would have laughed at the look on the other two men's faces- being expected to go along even though they weren't the ones dating her- but he knew the reason she was asking and he knew it wasn't entirely because of him. Her folks had been older when they'd had her; they weren't more than a few years younger than Steve and Bucky would have been, had they not received the serums they had and gone through what they had.
Pepper was an only child and so were her parents. When they died, the only family Pepper would have left would be Tony and the family he had made for himself and she longed to be included in that beyond being just 'the fiancé'. Pepper was one of the most confident and put together women he knew... but he knew she didn't feel entirely secure in the new family arrangement...she just hid the insecurity well. Tony considered himself very lucky she didn't just decide to dump him and go find someone that didn't put her through the things Tony did and where her insecurity would disappear.
By the time it was bedtime, he was wishing he hadn't gone down that line of thinking...his paranoia was back in full swing and trying to convince him that Pepper was going to leave the first chance she got; that the only reason she hadn't was because of the company and her job. Not wanting to hurt her and knowing that it really wasn't true, he avoided saying anything and tried to think of other things. So, of course, he began to think about Steve leaving and starting a new family with actual children and wife...and finding a less troublesome son.
He couldn't sleep and was pacing in front of the big picture window that looked out over the city.
Steve had stuck by Tony's side, drawing him into conversation throughout the course of the evening... and so he could tell that his son's mind was elsewhere. Stepping over to Tony, he wrapped his arms around his son, drawing him back into a tight embrace. "Do you want to tell me what's on your mind?" he asked softly, pressing a kiss to the back of Tony's head.
Once upon a time, Tony would have made up something feasible that wouldn't really give away anything personal and leave him vulnerable (or hurt the listener, if he actually cared about them). Months of being in Steve's care as a child, where the truth was always expected...and his reluctance to lie after his foolish attempts at hiding the Extremis had Tony spilling the truth. "Pepper's going to realize she can do so much better...I'm surprised she hasn't given up already. And you could get married and have kids that are actually yours and actually kids, instead of the broken, messed up adult you got saddled with. I don't know what I'll do when you both decide enough is enough...." His voice was reflective; and if it weren't for the clench of his hands as he talked, the strain of his fear wouldn't have been noticeable.
Steve tightened his embrace around Tony. "It's quite simple, son. We both love you. Very much. There is never going to be a time when I decide that enough is enough, because there is no limit when it comes to me and you. And I know that Pepper's love for you is just as unconditional. You don't ever have to worry about pushing me away or about things getting too much. Because nothing could ever make you less important to me."
Tony turned in his father's embrace and wrapped his own arms around Steve tightly, as if afraid to let go. "Pepper's in the guest room. I'm guessing Bucky's in your room. I should let you get some sleep...it's only going to get worse," he said softly.
"I'm going to stay with you," Steve replied, without any hesitation, hugging Tony just as tight in return. "I'm not going to leave you alone to deal with this paranoia on your own."
"I don't deserve you..." Tony was chagrined to feel tears forming in his eyes and begin rapidly sliding down his face before he could even think to stop them. "But I was thinking I should probably go lie down too...before it gets bad enough I can't sleep at all." He was reluctant to leave his father, though...even though there was just as strong an urge to go make certain Pepper was all right.
Steve nodded, kissing Tony's forehead affectionately. "Why don't we go and see Pepper and then go to sleep?" he suggested gently. "At least for as long as you're able to sleep."
Tony nodded wordlessly, kissing Steve on the cheek, before reluctantly pulling away and walking down the hall to where Pepper was lying in one of the single beds that was still in the room from Bucky and Tony's stint as children.
Pepper hadn't protested being in a different bed than Tony...no one said it, but everyone knew that if Extremis fueled Tony's nightmares, it would be better if she weren't easily within reach. Instead, she had borrowed a pair of Tony's old sweat pants and one of his old AC DC T-shirts to sleep in and picked a bed. It wasn't a surprise to find her sleeping in the bed close to the door.
It was a bit of a surprise to find Bucky reading in the other twin bed. Bucky glanced up at his brother and nephew's arrival, then whispered, "Since she couldn't safely sleep in your arms, her and I decided that it might be more helpful if you were able to sleep in your dad's arms. If you think it will be better being in the same room with her and not actually sleeping with anyone, I'll move."
Tony swallowed hard, not liking the first jealous reaction that spiked in him. He knew he could trust Pepper and Bucky. He knew Pepper had wanted to be with him tonight, but when she realized how scared he was of possibly hurting her in an Extremis fueled attack, she hadn't argued about separate beds. He knew sending him to Steve since he didn't trust himself next to her was more than likely her idea. "She was okay with it?" he finally asked softly, not entirely sure what to say.
"She was fine with it," came his fiancé's sleep filled voice from under a red and gold blanket. For the first time, Tony noticed she had picked his childhood bed. "If it won't bother you both..." She peeked out from under the cover, looking between Steve and Tony uncertainly.
Steve gave them both a reassuring smile. "It would never bother me," he said honestly. He looked at Tony. "I'd rather be with you in case you have nightmares and you don't have to worry about accidentally hurting me if one is triggered. He placed a hand on Tony's shoulder, squeezing gently, as he added, "Of course, the rooms are next to each other. If it would help you feel better, I can take the wall out." He was completely serious.
Tony's eyes widened comically at that. Pepper's eyes were almost the same width. They looked at each other in worried surprise, both knowing how serious Steve was.
"Uh, no thanks, dad..." Tony finally managed to get out, while Pepper began to giggle hysterically. "If you want to do that in the future for whatever reason, we can hire contractors and electricians. So you know...you don't accidentally electrocute yourself on all the wiring and all." He gave his father a weak smile, appearing worried that Steve hadn't even thought of wiring and such when he made his offer.
Bucky managed to hide his laughter behind his hand with a muffled snort.
Steve squeezed his son's shoulder gently. "Don't worry, Tony." His voice was reassuring and held a trace of amusement. "I didn't mean I was just going to take the wall apart with my bare hands. I just meant that, if it'll help you feel better, it is an option."
"Oh..." Tony said briefly with a hint of sheepishness. "I wasn't the only one who thought that!" he tried to defend himself weakly, but couldn't help but laugh at himself.
Pepper's grin was wide, but also sheepish. "Sorry, Steve..."
Bucky shook his head faintly then smiled at his brother. "Go to bed, you two. We're close enough if you need us for you to holler through the wall...although I'm sure JARVIS would tell us as well."
Tony quickly leaned over and gave Pepper a hug and kiss. "G'night, Pep...love you," he whispered, before waving at Bucky and turning to follow Steve.
"Night...love you too," Pepper responded quietly. "Night, Steve..."
"Good night," Steve said to his brother and soon to be daughter-in-law, before wrapping his arm around Tony's shoulders to steer his son from the room. "You might want to think about if taking the wall down is something that might help you feel better even after the extremis has left your system," he said quietly to Tony. "My floor is open to you and Bucky, of course, but Pepper's also included in that. You can both come here any time you need to."
Tony smiled crookedly. "I'll think about it," he said quietly, shifting closer to his father. He couldn't help it as a yawn escaped and was grateful his family was doing everything possible to help him relax and sleep. He knew it wouldn't be long before the paranoia became so bad, sleeping wasn't an option.
Soon, they were in Steve's room and Tony was crawling into what he viewed as his side of the bed...it's where he had gone when a child. "Night, dad..." he said quietly, giving Steve a thankful smile.
Already changed, Steve didn't waste any time climbing into bed next to his son and wrapping his arms around Tony to draw him into a close, tight embrace. "I love you, son. Good night," he said softly, but no less sincerely.
Tony quickly settled as close as possible to his father, wrapping his arms around him and snuggling close. "Dunno how I ever slept before you and Pepper came into my life and got me used to snuggling like a danged puppy..." He muttered softly in amusement before nuzzling his dad like said puppy and closing his eyes. Within seconds he was asleep.
Steve smiled, his face soft as he held his son tightly. It didn't take long before he too fell asleep, knowing he'd feel it if Tony began having a bad dream... or woke up due to the extremis.
Tony managed about two hours of sleep before he woke up. He thought he heard something and nervously looked at his father, wondering if he heard it as well. JARVIS hadn't said anything about intruders, but it hadn't been the first time someone had found a way past JARVIS's defenses. Carefully extricating himself from Steve, he quietly got out of bed and walked to the living area, where he thought he heard the noise. The shadowed figure standing by the window there was a shock.
Steve wasn't a very deep sleeper and he quickly felt the absence of Tony from his arms. Getting out of bed, he stepped out of the bedroom, quickly tracking his son down to the living area. Careful not to spook him, he stepped over to Tony. "Tony?"
"Stay back, dad..." Tony's voice was worried...he wasn't sure if Obie posed a threat to the other man or not, but he wasn't taking any chances. "Answer me, Obie. What are you doing here...?"
Steve wrapped his arms around Tony. "Tony... Obie isn't here," he said gently. "It's the extremis in your system that's making you see things that aren't there."
"Steve....dad...he's right there! You can't see him?" Tony couldn't believe Steve wasn't able to see his mentor from his young adulthood...and couldn't understand why he would pretend.
Steve tightened his embrace around his son. "The extremis is playing tricks on your mind." He kissed Tony's forehead. "It's not real. I know it's scary, but trust me to know the difference and tell you."
"But...he's there...I can see him..." Tony swallowed hard; his voice sounded strained as he tried to keep his fear at bay. "...but he died...I killed him..." His voice was tiny and he pushed backward so that he was more firmly in Steve's grip and further away from 'Obie'. "I'm sorry, Obie...I'm sorry...you didn't give me a choice..." His voice quivered and he blinked back tears. "I didn't want... I thought you loved me. Why? Why did you want me dead?"
Steve cuddled Tony tightly, wishing he could protect his son from the pain of the memories, and kissed his head. "I know the memories are hard," he whispered in his son's ear. "I understand that kind of betrayal hurts... so much... but Obie is gone. I'm here. I love you." He stroked his son's hair. "You're safe with me."
"Why did you.... Why...?" And suddenly, Obie wasn't there anymore. Tony stiffened, frantically looking around the room...afraid to let the older man out of his sight. He'd left him for dead twice and almost succeeded a third time at the factory, when he'd attacked with Iron Monger. Tony wasn't sure he would survive a fourth attack. "Where did he go?" His whisper was harsh and frightened.
"He's not here." Steve spoke in a quiet, soothing tone. "It was a hallucination. You're safe here, son. I promise you. No one can hurt you." He tightened his embrace around Tony. "I won't let them."
"Steve....? Why...? Obie, he... I...." Tony gulped then began to shake slightly, turning in Steve's arms and trying to hide against the other man.
"Sorry....so sorry...I didn't want to kill him. But he would have...would have killed Pepper...tried to kill me...would have made a weapon from the reactor...I didn't want to kill him. I didn't want to be a murderer...." His shaking grew more pronounced as he closed his eyes; afraid that Obadiah Stane would still be there, despite what Steve assured him.
Steve's embrace tightened around Tony as he spoke softly to him. "You aren't a murderer, Tony. You were defending yourself." He pressed an affectionate kiss to his son's head. "I know it hurts, but you aren't a bad person. You did the right thing."
Tony couldn't help it...everything was just too much and he broke down into silent sobs, gripping his father as tightly as he could. He couldn't stop fearing that Steve would leave...Pepper would leave...he was even afraid Bucky would leave. All he could think was if he ended up alone in this huge tower after so long of having a family, he'd ...."...kill myself..." he whispered through his tears.
Steve responded by holding Tony tightly to him, gently stroking his son's hair and back. He caught the whispered words and his concern grew, worried about what had caused Tony to say them, even though he could probably guess. "None of us are going anywhere," he whispered in Tony's ear, trying to allay at least some of his son's fears. "I adopted you. You're my son in every way that counts. You were long before I signed those papers."
Whimpering, Tony just shifted so he could get even closer. He was shivering, even though the room wasn't cold in the least. The only reason he wasn't losing it completely was because of Steve holding him...grounding him in reality when his fears wanted to sweep his feet out from under him. Finally, utter exhaustion caused him to sleep...though the constant whimpers and gasps for breath indicated it was far from restful.
As promised, Coulson was up early and heading to Steve's floor. Since his children were all early risers, he'd had time to check in with each of them and agree to have dinner together, before taking the elevator to Steve's floor. As he exited, he tried to decide if he should inform Steve of the change in Rumlow... or have a quiet word with Bucky and let Steve's other brother figure out the best time to let them know.
Bucky, having heard the elevator, quietly walked out to meet Coulson and motioned him silently towards the kitchen. Once they were safely there and he was able to slide the door gently shut, he returned to cutting vegetables while Pepper readied eggs for omelettes. "They're asleep in the living room...it was a rough night," he said to the other man.
"It's only going to get rougher..." Pepper said sadly, remembering the first time being difficult...and he hadn't been taking it nearly as long at that time. "Would you like an omelette, Phil?" She tried to sound cheery.
Coulson frowned in concern. "At least he's sleeping at the moment..." From the sounds of it, Tony was going to need what sleep he could get. He then nodded. An omelette would be lovely... thank you."
Pepper had quickly made omelettes for the three of them, making certain to leave enough ingredients to feed Steve and Tony when they came in. Finally, she looked at the clock in annoyance. "What good is being the boss when you can't stay home when you'd rather?" She sighed before standing up.
"I will leave my love in your capable hands...please let him know I'll return as soon as I can." She smiled at Bucky and Phil, before gathering her bag to head toward the elevator.
"Of course," Coulson replied with a warm smile, having sat down at the table to eat. When Pepper had gone, he looked at Bucky. "Fury informed me that Rumlow seems to have shaken off a lot of the brainwashing..." Though he knew that didn't mean the man was healed fully... or even mostly.
Bucky slanted his head thoughtfully. "How did he seem? I...was broken for a long time after I finally broke through. Hopefully, he won't be quite so bad- since he wasn't under for the decades I was- but he'll probably need someone to talk to."
"I haven't seen him personally yet," Coulson replied. "I planned to take lunch down... perhaps have Clint or Grant with me. From what Fury said, the guilt seems to be a prevalent factor. He's worried about him getting caught in his own mind, so I think we're in agreement about making sure there are things he can occupy himself with whenever someone's not with him... but I'm going to try and make sure he's left alone as little as possible."
"Good..." Bucky nodded. "The most dangerous time for me was the months between when I started remembering and when I finally came back here to Steve. There were several times I would have taken my own life if some stranger hadn't walked up or one of the memories not suddenly been good enough for me to hold on."
"It might help if you're able to talk to him, too, since you're probably the one who understands what he's going through the most," Coulson said. "I'm hesitant to leave him in the cell still, but Fury said he doesn't trust himself to be out of it. Even so, I think bringing him out under supervision might help, too." Every person Coulson saw harmed by HYDRA made him even more determined to destroy the organisation.
"If he doesn't trust himself to leave the cell, then let him stay there. It probably helps him feel safe. When he finally does feel safe enough to leave it, you can let him stay on my floor. I stayed with Steve for months after I came to myself...still do occasionally. It might help him." Bucky was matter of fact.
Coulson nodded. "I can't pretend I know what will help and what won't, but I trust your judgement," he said honestly. "If you think of anything else that might help... anything that helped you... do let me know."
"Of course..." Bucky nodded then smiled. Placing his dirty plate into the sink, he began to make omelettes for Steve and Tony. He'd heard them stirring in the other room.
Having decided that breakfast first was in order and then they could get dressed, Steve appeared in the doorway. "Morning." He smiled at his brothers, even if he did look a little tired.
Bucky smiled at Steve, placing an omelet in front of him then turning toward the door as Tony came in. Tony looked ragged and Bucky knew he likely would not have slept at all if he hadn't been in his father's arms.
"Mornin..." Tony said quietly with a hoarse voice.
"Hey, come sit down," Steve directed softly, waving his son over to the table. He would have preferred to have Tony sleep a bit more, but figured he could always make sure he had a nap later.
"Morning." Coulson smiled at both the newcomers, even though his expression was tinged quite obviously with concern.
Tony immediately moved to do what Steve said, smiling crookedly at Phil. "Hey, Agent…Your turn for baby-sitting duty?" He smiled. He very deliberately avoided looking at the far corner of the room.
Steve wrapped an arm around Tony's shoulders, squeezing gently, before beginning to eat his omelet.
"Well, more helping you out," Coulson replied gently. "You had a rough night?"
"Eh..." Tony said nonchalantly...although it was obviously forced ease... "Obie wouldn't leave me alone, but I'll be all right..." he said, knowing Coulson would figure it out fairly quickly.
Coulson's look of concern became more pronounced, but he nodded. "When it happens... make sure you stay close to Steve." He didn't really need to say that, because he knew Steve wouldn't leave Tony's side... but he didn't want his nephew chasing after hallucinations.
"Yessir." Tony saluted, but the smile on his face made it clear he wasn't trying to be difficult...and he would listen. He still deliberately avoided looking into the corner of the kitchen.
Bucky noticed and glanced into the corner himself before placing Tony's food in front of him. "Eat up, kiddo..."
Steve placed a hand on Tony's shoulder and squeezed gently. "If you're seeing anything that shouldn't be there, you can tell any of us about it," he said, not having missed the way Tony had been avoiding looking at the corner.
Tony nodded. "Ok. In that case... Yinsen has been sitting in that corner staring at me since I got in here." Tony said matter-of-factly and then took a bite of his omelet, doing his best not to look toward said corner.
Steve wrapped his arm gently around Tony. "I know that's disturbing, to say the least, but there really is nothing to worry about," he said reassuringly.
"Yeah..." Tony said softly. "I keep telling myself that. As long as he doesn't start talking, I should be ok..." He sounded uncertain about it, though.
"We'll be right here for you," Steve promised, hugging him close.
Tony smiled crookedly. "Thanks..." He glanced toward the corner. "I have a family now..." he said matter-of-factly… "I've tried to make my life worth your sacrifice... I tried to get you out too...I really did..." He blinked then shook his head... "And I'm talking to my hallucination again..."
"It's all right," Steve said gently. "Whatever helps you feel better..." He kissed the top of his son's head.
"…Yeah...feeling better." Tony's chuckle was dark. "Feel like I'm losing my mind...and since that was arguably the best part of me..." He sighed and pushed the remainder of his omelet away, suddenly not hungry anymore.
"You aren't losing your mind, son," Steve said softly. "You're going through the withdrawal from the extremis. I know it's scary, but the effects are temporary... and when it's over, you'll be better." He tightened his embrace around his son. "Even though I know it doesn't feel like that right now."
Bucky pushed the omelet back in front of him. "Go on and eat the rest of that...it wasn't that big and you need to keep your strength up. When you're done, we can play that game...Trivial Pursuit? I'll likely do horribly at it, but it does help me brush up on whatever history I missed." His smile was kind but firm. He wouldn't take no for an answer.
Tony blinked then looked at Coulson to see what he thought about all of this. He couldn't help but press back into his father.
Coulson gave Tony a reassuring smile. "I think Bucky has the right idea," he said. "There are other games we could play as well." He would have suggested watching a movie, but he felt (and was sure the others agreed) that encouraging Tony to use his mind would work better. Besides... "Thor and Loki said they'd bring back a couple of artifacts early for you to begin taking a look at."
Steve kept his arms tight around Tony, pressing another kiss to the back of his head. "You need to eat, son," he said gently.
Tony sighed, realizing that he was outnumbered. "Yeah, okay." He started eating the omelet again.
Bucky glanced at his brother. "You need to eat too." His voice was just as firm.
Steve nodded, not trying to argue, and began eating his own breakfast, sitting close enough to Tony that his shoulder was leaning against his son's.
It hadn't taken long for them to finish and soon they were cleaning up, then going out to the living room where Bucky began to set up the game,
"So, Uncle Agent." Tony gave Phil an impish grin before his tone turned more serious. "I hope I haven't caused any problems for anyone else..." He meant Grant in particular, but considered Clint a good friend, so worried about him too.
Coulson shook his head. "Everyone's worried about you, Tony. You haven't caused them problems. They just want to help you in any way they can."
Steve sat down next to his son, wrapping an arm around Tony's shoulders.
"I feel like the world’s biggest idiot..." Tony sighed. He glanced toward Coulson, although he was looking more behind him then stiffened. Resolutely, he turned his head away, swallowing and clenching his teeth. "Of course you would agree with that..." he whispered.
Steve tightened his embrace around Tony. "None of us here agree with that, no matter what the hallucinations say." He spoke with a firm note to his voice.
Coulson stepped forward, reaching out to gently squeeze Tony's arm. "No one in the whole Tower thinks that either. We all care about you."
"I never lived up to your expectations...no matter what I did or how hard I tried..." Tony didn't seem to hear the three men that were in the room with him. His voice had taken on a tone that indicated his attention was elsewhere. "I keep wondering if you'd be proud of me now...I took things further than you ever were able to... but you'd probably hate what I've done." He sighed.
Steve wrapped his arms around Tony in a tight hug, pretty sure he could guess who Tony was hallucinating now. "You're a good person, Tony. You've done a lot of good things. You've saved people. You're a hero." He pressed a kiss to the top of his son's head, whispering, "I'm proud of you."
Tony blinked rapidly, then shook his head and glanced up at Steve, his eyes sad. "I'm doing it again..." He didn't pull away from his father, though, wrapping his own arms around Steve and holding tight. "I'm probably going to say a lot of embarrassing things before this is all said and done..." he finally said with a soft snort. "Good thing I don't get embarrassed any longer...mostly..." He gave Bucky and Phil a crooked grin, before hiding his face against Steve.
"It doesn't matter," Steve said softly, still hugging his son tightly. "We're here for you. No matter what." His voice was sincere, warmed through with the love he had for Tony. "I love you. We all do."
"Let's..." Tony swallowed, glancing at the game on the table and determinedly not looking where he had been looking before. "...let's play the game and I'll just ignore Howard... Turn about being fair play and all..." His tone was bitter.
"Don't think about him," Steve said softly, keeping one arm around Tony, but loosening the other so his son could play. "You're with us. We want to spend time with you.
"Steve's right," Coulson said. "Even if you weren't suffering from withdrawal, we'd still want to spend time with you."
Tony nodded, giving them all a weak smile, and prepared to play the game. He didn't say anything when first Yinsen and then Obie joined Howard in the corner of the room. He just forced himself to ignore them and played games with his family.
Coulson left Tony's floor after Bruce arrived, reiterating to his nephew that everyone was thinking of him and just wanted him to get well. He thought about going to the rec area, but decided to just address JARVIS directly. "JARVIS? Can you ask my children to meet me, please?"
"Where would you like them to meet you, Director?" the AI asked solicitously.
"My floor," Coulson replied after thinking about it a moment or two. He wanted to ask them about seeing Rumlow with him, but didn't want them to feel forced to meet him there.
"Agents Barton, Romanov and Ward are heading to your floor as we speak, sir," JARVIS answered a minute later.
"Thank you," Coulson replied, already heading in that direction.
Clint walked off the elevator and into his father's foyer, Natasha and Grant trailing behind him. Not sure what his father wanted to speak to them about, he walked into the living area and took a seat on the couch, amused when Nat and Grant sat right next to him so that they were all lined up like peas in a pod. He glanced at the other two and snorted. "Beginning to feel like I've been called to the principal's office...."
Reaching the living room area, Coulson smiled at the sight of his children, a trace of amusement in his affectionate look, and moved over to take a seat opposite them. "You all know about the change in Rumlow's condition," he said quietly. "I thought I'd take some lunch down to him, but I think maybe talking to one of, or even all of you, might help. Since you've all had experience with mind control or brainwashing in some form or another."
Clint winced, while Grant looked at his feet. It was Natasha who answered their father. "I wasn't brainwashed...so much as completely controlled for a large portion of my childhood...but I'm willing to try."
Grant finally looked up. "Me too. I never worked with him...but I heard things and what happened to him...well, I want to help."
Clint nodded. "I actually did work with him a couple of times and remember what he was like before; so if I can be of any help at all, I'm there."
Coulson looked at each of them lovingly, reaching out to gently touch each of their shoulders. "That means a lot that you'd all be willing to try," he said softly. "Afterwards... we can do something together; just us." Because as nice as it was to spend time with the rest of the family in the tower, it was always good to spend time with just his children.
Clint glanced at his siblings before looking back at his father. "We going down now?"
"If you're all ready." Coulson stood up. "I placed an order for food just after leaving Tony, so it should be here in the next couple of minutes. And Tony's doing okay," he added, knowing how worried everyone was for their family member. "He was hallucinating, but Steve was able to get him to sleep for a while and I let him know everyone's thinking about him."
Grant winced. "Hallucinating...that's rough."
"Knowing Tony, it's the worst possible things too...." Clint muttered then sighed. "Steve's got him...I know. Still. Kinda wish we could see him."
Natasha put an arm around both of her brothers' shoulders. "I do not think Tony would like for you to see him at his lowest...he is a proud man and if we went to see him, he would try and pretend everything was ok when we know it is not...and likely wear himself out in the process. He has got much better since the days he attempted to hide the fact he was dying from Pepper... but there is still much room for improvement when it comes to sharing his burdens."
"Yeah...you're right." Clint sighed, standing up as well ready to follow his father to Rumlow.
"Don't you know she's always right?" Grant teased as he stood up as well.
Natasha gave an enigmatic smile, then rose to her feet and stood next to her father.
Coulson gave each of them a quick hug, then led the way to the elevator, planning to take it first to collect the food and some objects for Rumlow to use in the cell and then to the cell itself. "I've spoken to Fury and both of us think Rumlow shouldn't be left without company for too long. I think perhaps factoring him into the rostas would be a good idea... but it would be better not to have the kids talk to him on their own."
Grant blinked at that- normally, his father considered him one of the kids- but then again, he was a trained special forces agent. They were more likely worried about Leo, Jemma and Skye, since the three of them might be learning to defend themselves better, but weren't anywhere near on a level that Rumlow would be at. "That sounds like a good idea," he finally said. "I know one of the worst things when I was still being held was the boredom. It let me think about everything..." He glanced at his father. "While that was probably a good thing, since it made me ready and willing to listen to what you had to say...it wasn't so good when I wasn't sure which thoughts were my own or how to deal with it..." he admitted softly.
Coulson nodded, placing a hand on Grant's shoulder and squeezing gently. "I know you were suffering before I came for you..." And for a long time afterwards. "Fury told me Rumlow himself is concerned the conditioning might not be fully broken." He smiled slighty. "The three of you are my children, but each of you are trained and well. I know that, if something happens, any one of you would be able to subdue Rumlow." Of course, the same could be said for many of the others in the tower, but having spent so much time with his children, Coulson knew their strengths better than most.
Natasha began gathering items up, glancing at her father. "We'll do what we can. Maybe when he realizes how many people are here to help him...and to stop him if he needs stopping... he'll be more agreeable to joining everyone else and leaving that cell..."
Coulson nodded, gathering up the food and a pack of cards (since his children liked card games, he figured it was worth taking them). "Bucky offered to have him on his floor once he feels like he can leave the cell. When he feels safe leaving the cell, that will probably be better. And he can form closer relationships with people, which might help break the conditioning more."
"Well, lead the way, father mine..." Clint grinned, before taking a few of the items from his father to help carry them.
Grant grabbed some things too then took Nat's arm and soon they were all on the elevator heading toward Rumlow.
Reaching the cell block, Coulson keyed in the code to enter Rumlow's cell. After talking to Fury, they'd decided that, if Rumlow wanted to leave the cell, to have JARVIS contact whichever of them was available, rather than giving the code to the other man, since he still didn't feel comfortable leaving.
Rumlow was laying on his cot, his arm over his face. When he heard the cell opening, however, he carefully sat up, glancing between the four people who had come to see him. His eyes widened slightly and he swallowed hard. He'd remembered a bit more since Fury and Trip's visit; specifically his kidnapping of Grant and Bucky and the fact that Grant was Coulson's son. He watched the older man uncertainly. If Coulson wanted a little payback- and he couldn't blame him if he did- now would be the time to give it. Rumlow braced himself, expecting pretty much anything then softly addressed Coulson, unable to look him in the eye. "Sir...."
Grant was watching closely and noted the other man's demeanor. It was obvious he expected to be beaten, or something worse. "There are no hard feelings, you know..." he finally said, softly enough not to startle Rumlow, but loudly enough to be heard by everyone.
Rumlow's eyes shot up to look at Grant, not completely believing. He finally allowed himself to look at Coulson with a little trepidation. "I would deserve it if you did have them..." he said uncomfortably.
Coulson set the food he was carrying down on the table, careful not to make any sudden movements. "You weren't in control of your own actions." He spoke softly and reassuringly as he added, "Most everyone here in the tower has had some experience with a form of brainwashing, even if it's seeing someone else undergo the effects. HYDRA has a lot to answer for. You don't."
Rumlow snorted softly, giving Coulson a sad smile. "Maybe I'll believe that one day...." He glanced at the food and other items everyone had brought down then got a curious look in his eye. "I've seen Director Fury and Agent Triplett. Now I've seen you four. I've seen Dr. Banner and his little minions... About the only one I haven't seen since my memories started kicking in is Stark. He ok?" he couldn't help but ask. He'd been a bodyguard for the man, after all, and even if the genius had a tendency to get on your last nerve, he had been a decent sort. And because watching the other man's back was a big memory, he still felt an inclination to protect him.
"I understand that, before you were taken by HYDRA, one of your missions was to act as a bodyguard for Tony," Coulson answered. "And that you had experience with his misuse of extremis. Unfortunately, there has been a similar situation now and Steve is currently taking care of Tony."
Rumlow frowned. "Yeah. Nasty stuff. It did a lot of good as far as physically healing him, but it messed his head up a bit... I'm surprised he'd take it after the last time and knowing what it did to him." He slowly stood up and walked to the table, getting himself a plate and putting a very little amount of food on it.
"You need to eat more," Natasha said quietly, putting an apple onto the plate next to the other items. He blinked and gave her an odd look, but kept the apple.
"He was desperate," Coulson commented. "He'd been electrocuted... and he was getting worse. Not better." He then added, "Natasha's right. I'm sure you don't have much of an appetite right now, but you need to keep your strength up. Recovery is possible. I promise."
"I'll try," Rumlow said quietly, walking back with the plate of food and forcing himself to begin eating. "I'm remembering more and more...some from before I was...brainwashed.... some from during. I might have some useful information if I could just figure out what was real and what wasn't..." he said with a wince, then continued eating.
"If it helps at all, you could always write down everything you can," Coulson suggested. "It might be good to get it out of your head and down on paper... or in a computer file... and then you can worry about what's real and what isn't." Plus, he hoped that, if it was down on another medium, it might mean that Rumlow could get it out of his head.
Rumlow nodded. "I'd like to try that..." he said agreeably. "…If there is anything I know that will be useful...maybe I can make up for some of the harm I caused; even if I didn't have a choice at the time..." He sighed then continued eating.
Grant got a plate of food and sat down to eat, watching Rumlow with a sympathetic expression. He knew he was very lucky...he could so easily have been in Rumlow's position. Only the fact that Coulson had been watching him so closely and quickly figured out what had happened had prevented HYDRA's attempt to control him from being successful. He wondered how many loyal SHIELD agents had not been so lucky and were brainwashed into turning against what they believed in. He knew everyone else was looking into it, but if there was something he wasn't remembering that might help everyone, he hoped something would jar his memory so that the information would come forward. His musings were interrupted when he heard Clint speak.
"It won't be easy..." the archer said somberly. "…And no matter how much good you do, you'll never forget the people that were hurt because you didn't have control over your own actions.... When I think of who I killed..." He swallowed thickly. "...I also have to remind myself that if they had known the reason I was doing what I did, they would forgive me and would be the first to encourage me not to give up. There isn't anyone in this building that holds you responsible for what you did while brainwashed. I think you'll find that we aren't in the minority."
Coulson knew this was bothering both his sons and, automatically, he placed a hand on each of their shoulders, squeezing them both gently. "There will be times you feel hopeless, but we're here and can support you," he said to Rumlow. "You're not going to be left on your own for very long. If that is necessary... well, that's why we've brought things down for you to occupy your mind with. And Bucky's already offered to have you stay on his floor when you feel comfortable enough to leave here," he added.
Rumlow looked up at that. He didn't see any signs of Coulson hiding anything from him. Nodding once, he went back to eating. It didn't take long for him to ask a question, however. "Do...do you think I would heal more quickly if I moved onto his floor? If I was around you and your teams more frequently?" He tried to keep his tone curious, but there was an uncertainty in his voice mixed with a tiny bit of hope. He didn't know what was best for him to do. He knew he was afraid to leave the cell because he wasn't certain he wouldn't hurt everyone. At the same time, he'd begun to feel a bit lonely during the times when everyone was busy and couldn't visit him. And he did want to get better.
"I think being around the rest of us will probably help you feel better faster," Coulson said honestly. "I understand you're concerned about HYDRA still being able to manipulate you. There are compromises we can make, but the most important thing is that there are a lot of people here who can react to subdue you if that became necessary... without causing you serious harm."
Rumlow thought about that then nodded slowly. "Ok....if you think it will help..." he finally said quietly.
"I think you'll do better around others," Coulson said. "I know Clint felt better when he was around people." He glanced at his oldest, just to make sure Clint agreed that was correct... though he wasn't sure his son had felt better until he'd finally given Tony his number to pass on to Coulson.
"I felt a lot better around people...especially when I was around people I knew could stop me if something happened. It gave me a feeling of security that I didn't feel when I was on my own," Clint admitted. "Of course," he glanced at his father, "I didn't really start the final process of healing until I'd got back into contact with my father.... Do you have any family members, or people who are close to you like family that you would like to have come stay nearby?"
Rumlow shook his head. "Not that I can remember right now. I...hopefully there is someone and I'll remember them soon," he said wistfully.
"If you do find yourself remembering anyone, you can tell one of us... or ask JARVIS to contact one of us if we don't happen to be around," Coulson said. "The same applies to anything you think might help you. Even if it doesn't seem like something you think should be important... if it's meaningful to you, it is to us."
"Ok...." Rumlow gave Coulson a crooked grin that didn't quite reach his eyes; they were still haunted. Finally, he finished his food and carefully stood back up to put the plate on the table. "When should I...how should I...?" A brief look of frustration crossed his face. He wasn't sure to ask when and how he was to be moved to Bucky's floor. He had a feeling that, even though it had been agreed upon, the actual logistics of his moving up to join the rest of the group hadn't been thought out.
"We can take you to Bucky's floor now," Coulson said. "We might have to sit and talk about any restrictions that should be placed on your movements in the rest of the tower, though... at least at first. I don't know if you have anything in an apartment in the city, but someone can always go and get anything you'd like to be brought here."
"I had an apartment before... but I haven't been back there since the whole Triskellion thing went down. I wouldn't be surprised if all my stuff had been sent to auction and the apartment leased to someone else." He sighed softly, faintly depressed about his few possessions- he'd travelled too much for SHIELD to own much- being gone.
"Someone can still check, just in case," Coulson commented. "And if there's anything you want to get back, I'm sure we can track them down and buy them back. Just make a list."
Brock smiled crookedly. "…Nothing of any real value. I had my parent's wedding rings...if I could find those and get them back; everything else was just knickknacks to make the place feel less like a box...."
Coulson nodded. "I'll have Skye track down the belongings from your apartment and we'll get them back," he promised. "We should also visit one of the shopping centres and get you some clothes and anything else you might need. But we don't have to do that straight away."
Brock let out a tiny sigh. "Thank you...." He glanced around the tiny cell then visibly forced himself to straighten. "I guess...I'm as ready as I'll ever be..." His voice was still hesitant, but he was forcing himself to act brave.
Coulson had been eating during the conversation (and making sure his children ate, too) and he now stood up, beginning to gather up what he could. "Can you think of anything that might help you at the moment? Don't worry if not. We'll deal with it as and when."
Brock shook his head. "Honestly...I have no clue what might help me." He shrugged, hating that he was so clueless and helpless, but not able to do much about it.
"It's all right," Coulson replied reassuringly. "Just let us know if you do think of anything." He carried the items over to the door to key in the code so they could leave the cells.
"I will," Brock answered quietly, giving Coulson a thankful smile. He followed the older man hesitantly, not entirely certain about what he was about to do, but believing Coulson when he said it was the best thing. He did want to get better. And he wanted to make up for all the wrong he'd done while under HYDRA's control.
Coulson stood back as the door opened and then walked out into the hallway, waiting for the others to exit before he spoke to Rumlow. "I think Bucky is with Steve and Tony right now, but I'll let him know you feel you can move onto his floor. I think it'll help you a lot to talk to him." After all, Bucky's brainwashing had been long-term as well.
Brock nodded. "If...if he'd rather I wait until he's done with helping Tony..." he wavered.
"He said when you felt able to. Now is fine," Coulson replied, his voice still reassuring.
"If you're sure..." Brock agreed hesitantly and continued to follow Coulson to the elevator.
Grant was carrying an armful of items, keeping silent. He didn't know what to say at the moment and it was more important that they get Brock settled. He noted that Clint seemed to feel the same way, as he wasn't speaking either.
"I'm sure," Coulson said to Brock, before looking at his children. He gave each of them a loving, affectionate smile, his eyes soft. It always felt good to have each of them close to him.
Brock, noting how Coulson looked at the other three, suddenly felt a pang of wistfulness. He had remembered enough of his past to know that he didn't have any living family; at least none that he had been aware of before HYDRA took him. He was grateful that Coulson and the rest of the group were willing to try and work with him to save him...but he wondered if it wouldn't be easier if he had someone that he could call family. He pushed those feelings away almost as soon as he became aware of them, though. It wouldn't help him get better, wishing for something that wasn't.
Stepping into the elevator, Coulson waited for everyone to join him before activating it to go to Bucky's floor. "JARVIS? Could you let Bucky know that Brock is moving onto his floor, please?" he requested, making the decision to start using Brock's first name to speak to or about him.
"Of course, director," JARVIS said quietly. "He said he will join you shortly to make certain Agent Rumlow settled in comfortably."
Brock swallowed. He didn't know what he was going to do next, but he didn't want to be a burden to anyone. "If he is busy, he doesn't need to worry about me," he finally said.
"Thank you," Coulson said to JARVIS, before addressing Brock. "You aren't a burden. Bucky wants to help you. He wouldn't have made the offer if he wasn't prepared to follow through with it."
"If you're certain..." Brock winced at how uncertain and almost needy he sounded. His memory may be full of holes like Swiss cheese, but he did remember that at one point in time, he was a confident man who wouldn't second guess himself constantly. HYDRA had taken more than his memory and freedom when they brainwashed him.
"Yes," Coulson replied. "I understand this is difficult for you right now. But healing is possible. And even if you can't go back to the way things used to be, you can still grow and heal from these experiences." When the elevator reached Bucky's floor, Coulson stepped out.
Bucky came around the corner from the stairway as Coulson stepped out of the elevator. "Phil..." He nodded. He glanced toward Rumlow as everyone else stepped off the elevator as well. "Hello, Brock. I've got your room ready for you. It's bare essentials at the moment; take as much time as you need to settle in and then you can give me a list of items to make it more homey."
Brock swallowed. "Thank you. I appreciate everything you're doing..."
Bucky nodded. "I'm just paying it forward, as they like to say now. Steve and everyone else helped me immensely when I was going through what you're going through."
He turned toward Phil. "I'm not sure what you all had planned, but I figure I'll give Tony a bit of a break from me. Bruce is there and has called the doctor to examine him and too many people in the patient's room can be distracting..." He laughed lightly.
"I think we were intending to spend a bit of time together," Coulson said, indicating his children. He looked between Brock and Bucky, adding, "Of course, if you'd like the company, we can always stay here. If you'd like," he added to Clint, Natasha and Grant... not wanting to speak for them or change plans if they wanted to have some time just alone with them.
Bucky shook his head. "Not necessary to change your plans...I'll just read for a bit...probably fall asleep. Although I was thinking of watching a movie. You interested in a movie?" He turned toward Brock, an eyebrow raised curiously.
"Uh...sure?" Brock said noncommittally.
Grant smiled. "I don't think I'm interested in a movie right now...maybe another time, thanks."
"What he said." Clint grinned. "If you need anything...either of you...have JARVIS get me," he said, making sure to look at both Bucky and Brock when he said it.
"The same is true for me," Coulson said. "It doesn't matter if it's the middle of the night." He carefully placed the items he was carrying for Brock down. "I'll let Fury know you're here," he said to Brock. "I think he was hoping to invite you to his floor later on."
"Thank you, for everything..." Brock smiled at Phil and his kids.
Coulson smiled warmly at Brock. "We take care of our own. I'm sorry it took us so long to realise what had happened, but we're now all dedicated to helping you heal."
"I appreciate it..." Brock said softly.
"We'll see you later, Phil." Bucky smiled, before taking Brock back to show him his room.
Grant fidgeted slightly, then smiled. "Anyone want to play poker?"
Having received Coulson's message about Rumlow, Fury gave the other man enough time to be sure he was settled in on Bucky's floor before he took the elevator there... to check on the other man and see if he'd like to join Fury and Trip for dinner later.
Brock had settled in and begun making a list of items he would need. Soon, however, he found himself making his way out to Bucky's living room, where he could watch a movie with the other man. It was obvious, despite Bucky's efforts not to seem anxious, that Bucky wanted to go back to Steve's floor to check on his brother and nephew. Brock finally cleared his throat and said, "I'll be ok on my own. Why don't you go back to help Steve with Tony?"
Bucky had searched his face and, finally seeing what he was looking for, nodded slowly. "Ok...but if you need me..."
"I know. Have JARVIS get you..." Brock smiled crookedly.
At that moment, the elevator dinged. Both Bucky and Brock turned to see who had arrived.
Fury stepped out of the elevator and made his way over to the two. Nodding to Bucky, he addressed Brock. "Coulson told me you felt able to leave the cell. I wanted to come and check in on you and invite you to come and spend some time on my floor." He was aware that Bucky was helping Steve with Tony... but apart from that, he might not be director of SHIELD anymore, but Brock had still been one of his agents and Fury wanted to help the other man heal as much as any of them.
Brock looked a little surprised at the fact that the Director of SHIELD (or ex-director; he needed to remember that Coulson was director now) was taking an active interest in him, but he gave a slight smile at the invitation. "I...if you don't mind...I think I'd like that," he finally said.
Bucky grinned at the two men. "Well, now that that's been established...I will leave you two gentlemen to talk things through while I go make sure my brother isn't neglecting his own health taking care of his kid's...." Giving a slight wave, he went to the stairs, running back to Steve's floor.
Brock blinked at that. "This whole family thing is...going to take some getting used to. Last I saw him, Tony was more of a loner type...hard to imagine that Steve adopted him and that they're both not chafing at the arrangement...And that's not even taking into account the fact that Ward, who was Garrett's shadow for so long, is actually Coulson's kid." He shook his head, the confusion clear on his face, then pushed the random thoughts of John Garrett that had popped into his mind to the side for a moment. "I guess a lot happened while I was...being controlled." He sighed.
Fury gestured for Brock to follow him to the elevator, speaking as he did so. "Coulson chose to believe there was good in Grant and Grant has proved him right over and over again. You won't know this, but Grant is actually Coulson's biological son. He was taken when he was a baby." Stepping into the elevator, Fury continued, "Steve stepped in with Tony soon after they joined forces. I think their relationship was like father and son long before now."
Brock's eyes widened at the news of Grant being Coulson's biological son. "Grant was taken?" he asked faintly, his mind automatically going to HYDRA and then imagining the worst. He closed his eyes, not wanting to think about the implications. How many other children were taken so that they could be raised in a way that would make them easy targets for HYDRA recruitment
He sighed quietly, his eyes troubled. "Was Garrett behind him being taken? I always thought that relationship was unhealthy, but Garrett outranked me and there was never anything concrete that I could report...." He frowned. "Thinking about Garrett just gives me a really bad feeling."
"I don't know if Garrett was behind his kidnapping, but it wouldn't surprise me if he knew about it," Fury answered. He looked at Brock closely. "He could have been involved in your disappearance... or have known something about it."
"Yeah....he might have. If I actually remember anything, I'll be sure to tell someone. I probably have all kinds of names that would be useful if I could only recall..." Brock frowned in frustration.
"Don't force it," Fury said. "If anything relevant comes to you, tell one of us or write it down. But don't force yourself to remember." As the elevator reached his floor, he exited it, waiting for Brock to leave after him.
Brock didn't say anything, but nodded in agreement, knowing that the older man was right. Quietly, he followed Fury off the elevator. "Sir...I just...I know that I was being controlled and wouldn't have done it otherwise...but I still. I want to apologize for what happened at the Triskellion. I can't help but feel like if...if I'd been paying closer attention, or fought harder, or...or anything really... that they wouldn't have been able to use me like they did and I wouldn't have betrayed you..." He winced, unable to look Fury in the eye.
Fury looked at Brock, reaching out and placing a hand on his shoulder. "Everyone here has done something they're ashamed of, whether through choice or because they were being controlled. But they've all received second chances. And none of this was your fault."
Brock nodded briskly to show he'd heard, but didn't say anything. He understood the words and knew them to be true, but it didn't ease the guilt he felt whenever he thought about what he'd done for HYDRA. He doubted telling that to Fury would do much to help, though. The other man would likely try and ease his guilt and he didn't think that was possible. Plus he didn't want his ex-director to worry about him; at least not any more than he already was worried. Shifting awkwardly onto his heels, he finally looked up at Fury and asked, "So, Trip... is he yours? I mean, since everyone here seems to have formed family groups within the one big family group."
"I haven't officially adopted Trip, but he is mine in the same way that Tony is Steve's and Clint, Natasha and Grant are Coulson's," Fury answered.
Brock smiled at that. "It doesn't mess up their ability to do their jobs? Most specialists like we all are; well, except for Tony, tend to not form too close of attachments...at least that's how it used to be." He didn't sound like he found fault with what he'd heard, though. He was more curious to see if it affected the other's job in a negative way.
"I wouldn't say it does," Fury replied. "I think not forming attachments can be a mistake. When you have a family, there are people you fight for... who care about you when something happens... who are a support for you."
"Yeah..." Brock winced and couldn't help but think that, maybe if he'd formed some closer attachments, someone would have realized what had happened to him before it was too late and he'd stepped over a line he'd never wanted to step over.
Fury led the way to his living room area, not sure if Trip was there, though he had invited his son to join them just before going to find Rumlow. "It isn't too late to join a family," he commented.
Brock looked skeptically at Fury, a hint of amusement in his eyes. "Unless you're offering to adopt me, I'm not really in a position to make friends or be closer with other people." He was joking, but his tone wasn't mean and he couldn't help the sad look that crossed his face.
"You need a family," Fury commented. "And you're still one of my agents. It's not like there's no history there. So what if I am offering to adopt you?"
Brock blinked, the amusement fading as it sunk in. "You're serious..." he finally said, almost in a whisper.
"As a heart attack..." Trip walked out of the kitchen, having heard the last part of the conversation. He gave Fury a smile then held out two bottles toward each man. "Don't worry...It's root beer...the good kind." His grin was impish. "Figured you'd want to discuss things sober like..."
Fury smiled at Trip, reaching out to take one of the bottles. "Probably a good idea," he agreed. "Living room?" He didn't ask Trip to leave, considering this involved his son as much as it did him and Brock.
"Sure thing, dad." Trip nodded and headed that direction.
Brock followed quietly, almost in shock.
Reaching the living room area, Fury sat down on the couch. He didn't wave either of the two younger men to seats, figuring they'd sit where they felt most comfortable.
Brock, still a bit off balance from the offer, dropped onto the couch next to Fury, every so often giving him and Trip uncertain looks.
For his part, Trip settled into a chair directly next to the couch, a tiny hint of amusement on his face. "I'm sure you've told him all about how a family can support and be there for him while he's getting better...and offer protection. But maybe he needs to be told the expectations for himself as well. That might play a big part in his choice." Trip shrugged. It hadn't changed his mind in the least- had actually cemented his desire to be Nick's 'kid'- but Brock might not be the same.
Fury nodded, acknowledging that Trip was right, and looked at Brock. "We operate as a whole family here, even if some of us have broken off into smaller family groups. Obviously, being a part of the family means there are certain things you can't do. Taking off on your own, without checking in with someone, during a mission or otherwise, is one of those."
"That doesn't seem all that different from living on base, really..." Brock shrugged slightly, uncertain how being in this 'family' could be so different. "We all had to check in and out and make sure they knew where to find us if needed..."
Trip managed to refrain from snorting, but the knowing look in his eyes said enough.
Fury nodded. "But living here, it's much more personal. Not just with the family dynamic, but with the consequences if you endanger yourself. Or take off. Or any of the other things you shouldn't be doing."
Brock frowned, then asked hesitantly, "So we won't be written up or if the infraction is big enough, dishonorably discharged or jailed?"
Fury shook his head. "Where appropriate, more personal punishments are used. This can be grounding... which is really more a case of keeping the other person close. Spanking is also an effective punishment... and used when necessary."
Brock's eyes widened and he laughed. "You'd ground or spank me for misbehavior?" His laughter died off and his eyes widened even further when he realized that Fury wasn't joking. "You'd really spank me for a rule infraction?" It was obvious he was having a difficult time wrapping his head around the idea. "But...but that's..." He faltered, not certain what to say about it. "But that's not an adult punishment..." he finally said; but again, his tone of voice indicated he wasn't entirely certain of that either.
Trip looked at the other man sympathetically, but didn't say anything. If Brock was going to accept what was being offered, he had to know exactly what accepting it meant. He would leave the explaining to his father.
"It might not technically be an adult punishment, but it is effective," Fury said. "The important thing is that it is a family punishment... and if you let us, that's what we'll be for you. A family. People who will accept you for who you are, no matter what. Maybe you won't have as much freedom as you're used to... but with any kind of relationship, you have to allow for some concessions; to accept that there are people who you answer to in different ways."
Brock swallowed. "I can't say I've not had to answer to anyone since I left my parent's home..." he said quietly. "…Being an agent, there was always someone higher rank that I had to answer to.... It just was never so," he wrinkled his nose before settling on a word, "...personal. I'm not used to being that personal," he finally admitted. "I'm not sure I'd know how to behave in a 'family' situation...."
Trip slanted his head. "You got along with your parents? How did you behave with them?"
Brock glanced at Trip. "When I was in their house, it was their rules. But even then; once I was eighteen, the only expectation was that I wouldn't get in trouble with the law and I wouldn't rub their noses in it if I chose to do things they wouldn't approve of.... If I wasn't willing to do that, they said they'd help me find an apartment in a safe area and would still be there for me, but I wouldn't live in their house." He shrugged. "I joined the army not that long after anyway, so it was a moot point."
"There aren't many here who have known how to behave in a family situation at first," Fury commented. "No one's going to expect perfection from you... only that you try your best. You saw how Grant was when he was with Garrett," he continued. "Compare that to how he is now... There might still be problems, but he's getting there."
Brock snorted. "Grant was a sycophant when he was with Garrett. Kinda creeped a lot of us out, how he couldn't seem to make any decisions for himself when he was with the man. Don't get me wrong...Grant was and is a very good specialist, but he really was like a robot when it came to being able to make a decision on his own. He...he seems happier now, though; and what little I've noticed, he seems more capable of making his own decisions. So maybe there is something to what you're saying..." He straightened up and took a steadying breath. "So...that's all that's really expected? Make sure I don't go running off without letting someone know what I'm doing?"
"To be honest, there are other things... such as no endangering yourself. Honesty is also important," Fury added. "And taking general care of yourself... which means no skipping out on meals and getting appropriate amounts of rest."
Brock wrinkled his nose. "Part of me thinks I should be offended that you all think I need that level of supervision...then again..." He sighed and ran a hand through his hair while looking down. "I probably do..." he muttered. "When...when would this whole... 'family' thing... start?" he finally asked.
"Straight away," Fury answered. "And it isn't just about supervising you. It's about you having a family for protection and support... everything you've probably seen so far. It might not be the most conventional family, but it's still a real one."
Brock took another breath, then quickly made his decision with a short nod. "Ok...I...I'm not entirely certain about this; but I trust you and....and I think I need what you're offering." He glanced at Fury a bit nervously, hesitant. "So...do we shake on it or something?"
"I don't think we need to shake on it... but I think drawing up papers to make it official as soon as possible would be a good idea." Fury glanced at Trip, adding, "We should do the same." Because it had been on his mind since May had adopted Skye... and even though Trip was his in every way that counted, he'd like to make it official.
Brock's mouth dropped open slightly before he closed it with snap. "You're talking about adopting me..." It wasn't a question, but he did sound surprised.
Trip, on the other hand, wasn't surprised, but he was pleased. "I'd like that, sir..." He smiled.
"I'm talking about adopting both of you," Fury confirmed. Wrapping one arm around Trip's shoulders, he gently squeezed Brock's shoulder with the other. "Family isn't just a word here," he said to Brock.
"I see that..." was Brock's faint reply. He felt overwhelmed and really wasn't sure how to take Fury's plans or his new status. The one thing he did know was that this group of people had saved him, were willing to continue protecting him and wanted to include him in their group despite what he had done, willingly or otherwise. He knew his chances if he tried to go out on his own in his current condition and he had always respected Fury, so even though it seemed a bit quickly decided to him and he still hadn't fully wrapped his mind around what was being offered, he felt like he'd be a fool to turn it down. Brock wasn't a fool. "How do we...?" He finally motioned between the three of them.
"We'll need to talk to Tony's lawyers about getting the papers drawn up and signed," Fury answered. "We can do that as soon as you're both ready."
"I'm ready now..." Trip laughed.
Brock grinned crookedly at the other men. "Guess as soon as they're able to..." he finally said quietly.
Fury nodded. "JARVIS, will you send a message to the lawyers and ask them to meet us in the office?" he asked the AI.
"I have done so, sir. They said they can be there in thirty minutes. Shall I tell them what it is regarding, so that they may have the appropriate paperwork?" the AI asked.
"That would be helpful," Fury said. He wanted to get the adoptions done fast, mostly because he wanted to be certain Brock knew he could trust him to keep his word.
"Just one question," Brock said with a shake of his head. "Am I still living on Bucky's floor for the time being?" He had about reached his quota for life changing events and wanted to be able to stay wherever he ended up for a while.
"You can stay wherever you feel more comfortable," Fury replied. "It's entirely up to you." He stood up, waiting for his boys to join him, before heading down to meet the lawyers.
Grant lay his cards face up on the table. "Two kings," he said, watching his father's face as he waited to see Coulson's hand. They were playing Poker; Clint and Natasha had folded earlier and it was between him and his father. If he won, he'd get a week of his dad doing his chores. If he lost, it would be a week of him doing extra chores for his father.
Coulson kept his face calm and expressionless... mostly bland, apart from the affection there for his children. He put his own cards down and waited to see Grant's reaction.
Grant looked at his father's face, then down at the cards, then back up again. "Three aces..." he muttered. "...Three aces." He groaned then thumped his head down on the table.
Clint started laughing. "And now you know why I immediately folded!"
Grant finally leaned back in his chair and smiled with a sigh, then shook his head. "Well, sometimes you just gotta take a chance." Looking back at his father, he gave a crooked grin.
"Director Coulson," JARVIS interrupted. "Agent Rumlow would like me to let you know that he is moving onto Director Fury's floor, as Director Fury has decided to adopt him."
Grant blinked and couldn't help looking up at the ceiling. "He's adopting him?" he asked, not certain he'd heard right; it seemed to have happened so quickly.
"Yes, agent Ward," JARVIS responded.
"They did know each other before Rumlow was taken and brainwashed," Coulson commented. "I assume Brock needs a family and Fury decided to be that for him. It doesn't often take long to decide you want to be part of someone's family."
"Ah...right," was Grant's slightly distracted answer. He was obviously thinking about something.
Clint narrowed his eyes. "Don't strain your head too hard; we wouldn't want to overwork your brain," he teased.
"I'm not...what? No! I was just thinking bout the fact that JARVIS still calls me Ward even though I never really felt like one....Everyone does, really." He shrugged and began gathering the cards up do they could start another game of Poker...or maybe a different game.
Coulson looked closely at his youngest. The different surnames was something he himself had thought about, but while Grant had seemed content to be referred to as Ward, Coulson hadn't mentioned it. He did now. "You don't have to keep the last name Ward."
"I'd rather just have a first name, like Skye did all those years...than to be reminded of them," Grant said in a whisper.
"You could do that," Coulson said, his voice quietly supportive. "Or you could use the last name you should have had all these years."
Grant looked up with a hesitant smile. "I'd like that," he said quietly.
Coulson smiled, reaching across the table to gently place his hand over Grant's. "If it's something you would like... I'd like that too," he said honestly. Natasha and Clint had always been happy to keep their last names otherwise Coulson would have been quite willing for them to take on his last name as well. But it didn't make them any less his children that the names were different.
"Bout freakin time.." Clint muttered. He'd never taken their father's last name because he'd actually loved his mother and brother and it was a connection to them. Grant didn't want or need such connections, though...and he'd wondered numerous times why they were holding back on him changing the name.
Squeezing Grant's hand, Coulson smiled at Clint. "Perhaps." He didn't go into details about why he hadn't brought it up before; that he wanted Grant to choose whether he took that step or if he wanted to keep a last link to that past... because although it was awful, they had ultimately found each other again.
Grant smiled and squeezed his father's hand back, then stuck his tongue out at Clint. "Well, since I now owe dad an extra week of chores, I don't think I want to risk gambling any more..." He laughed. "Anyone want to play Trivial Pursuit?"
Steve stood close by Tony as the doctor examined his son... as close as he could get without actually being in the man's way. As soon as the doctor was finished, Steve moved so that he could wrap his arm around his son, listening to the doctor as he explained that Tony was healing faster than he should have been.
"Well...it worked at least..." Tony said wearily. The hallucinations had been keeping him up at night and he had been beginning to think it might have been better to just remain in his weakened state the rest of his life and just contribute to the team and family by using his brain...but the fact that the extremis had healed him helped him feel slightly better about what he was going through. He knew Steve probably wouldn't agree- he likely thought there were other better options that should have been tried- but Tony was glad that he wouldn't have to remain at risk of his body failing him because he forgot and overdid it. And he really hadn't wanted to give up being Iron Man either.
Bruce listened to the doctor and nodded. "It isn't really that surprising; there was an experimental procedure that he tried on himself..." he gave Tony a frustrated and stern look, "...that apparently worked. Before you ask, it can't be released to the public; there were some rather nasty side-effects that, until those are worked out, it really isn't safe for general consumption," Bruce continued, before the doctor could ask more.
Steve sighed, looking at his son with a trace of fondness, despite how worried he was. He squeezed Tony gently and spoke to the doctor. "Thank you for coming out to see him."
"I'm happy to oblige," the doctor replied. "With as much as you group do for this city- for the world- a house-call is the least I can do in return." He smiled briefly at all of them, before allowing himself to be led out by Bruce.
Tony waited until it was just him and Steve in the room, before turning to his father and searching his face. "Do you think I shouldn't have done it? Since I wasn't sure it would work...?" He sounded hesitant. After everything Steve had gone through with him- because of him- he felt the other man had more right than many to tell him if he was wrong. He wanted to feel justified in his actions, since they had worked, but he wanted Steve's approval of what he had done more. Because he really felt guilty about what the other man was having to put up with and if Steve approved, then at least he could pretend that it was ok.
Steve kept his arm around Tony's shoulders. "I don't know how to answer that," he admitted. "I was scared at the thought I might lose you. And I know how much you were frustrated and scared at not recovering the way you should have been. You shouldn't have done this on your own and hidden it from everyone... and I don't want this to happen again. But I am glad that you're improving..."
"I hope there is never a reason to even have to consider it..." Tony sighed. "I am feeling much better, though. I'm hopeful I'll be able to sleep tonight without hallucinations," he said softly. It wasn't entirely a true statement...he was currently hallucinating at that moment...but he was able to ignore the hallucinations and that went a long way to helping.
"Well, I'll stay with you anyway," Steve said. "I want to make sure you are all right... and be there for you if something does happen." He pressed a kiss to Tony's forehead. "You hungry? We should probably eat something."
"I could eat..." Tony admitted, just as his stomach growled loudly. "Or I guess yes." He looked down at his belly with a sheepish look.
Steve smiled, using his arm around Tony's shoulders to guide him into the kitchen. "What would you like?"
"You know...I'm not sure. Grilled cheese?" he asked hesitantly, not sure if Steve would think it healthy enough...he'd eaten more vegetables and fruit since Steve decided to take care of him than he normally ate in a month.
"If you have grilled cheese, I'd like you to have some kind of vegetables and protein with it, too," Steve said, already starting to prepare them both food.
Tony sighed good-naturedly, chuckling to himself. "Congrats, dad. You accomplished in less than a month what poor Pepper has been trying to accomplish since we became more than acquaintances. How about if we grill some lean chicken slices, grilled onions and green peppers and cheddar cheese on focaccia?"
Steve smiled at his son. "I think that sounds like a good idea," he agreed. "Why don't you start with the chicken and cheese and I'll take care of the peppers and onion?" He passed said meat and cheese to Tony, before setting to work on slicing the peppers and onion.
It didn't take long, both of them working together, for their dinner to be completed. Bruce had returned by this time and was putting some sliced potatoes in the oven to bake. "You seem to be doing much better," he commented, watching Tony closely. "I might take myself out of Steve's and your hair and go see how Leo and Jemma are doing; if you don't need me and would like a little one on one time."
"We're probably all right for a while if you want to eat with us and then go and check on them," Steve said with a warm smile. "Did you manage to check in on anyone else?" Tony might be his primary concern, but he did still care about what was happening with the others.
Bruce nodded genially. "I stopped on Coulson's floor to let him know Tony is healing well, and found out that Brock is going to move onto Fury's floor instead of in with Bucky. Apparently Nick decided Brock needed a bit stronger ties to help him through everything...and adopted him."
"He was an agent of SHIELD, so I suppose that makes sense," Steve commented. "And I think Fury's right about him needing stronger ties... forming relationships is more likely to help than hinder."
"Oh, I'm not disagreeing. It would be a bit hypocritical, considering I've been debating doing something similar myself..." Bruce said leadingly with a smile.
Tony's eyes widened. "You thinking of making it official, then? Am I going to be an uncle, Brucie?" He grinned impishly.
"If he agrees..." was all Bruce would admit.
"I can't imagine he wouldn't," Steve said, pretty sure he knew who Bruce was referring to. "Even if it's real in every way that counts... official adoption is good." He smiled, hugging Tony gently to his side.
"It will mean a lot to him..." Tony agreed quietly. "Shall I congratulate you now, or when the paperwork goes through?"
Bruce laughed. "How about we throw a big party once it's done and welcome all the new additions to the family?"
"We haven't had a chance to celebrate ours yet, so that sounds like a good idea," Steve commented.
"That's what we'll do, then," Bruce said agreeably, then continued eating. "This sandwich is good. How'd you convince Tony to put onions and peppers on it?" He glanced at Steve. "I thought he only did greasy hamburgers..." he teased his 'brother'.
"Ha, ha. I am capable of eating other things," Tony griped, but there was no heat in it.
Steve finished his own mouthful before answering. "Tony's been doing a lot better with eating more healthy food." He gave his son an encouraging smile.
"I know." Bruce smiled. "I can only hope I have as good an influence on Leo,"
Tony snorted. "The kid looks up to you, Brucie. Don't think you need to worry about not influencing him."
"I think you've had a good influence on him ever since he was deaged and you started taking care of him," Steve commented.
"As scary as that was, it was good for all of us. He influenced me too." Bruce smiled. "Thank you for lunch," he said. "Will we see you both on the common floor soon?"
"I imagine it won't be long." Steve glanced at Tony, waiting to see what he thought.
"Oh, no...not long at all," Tony agreed. He deliberately didn't acknowledge the figments of his imagination that were mocking him.
Finishing his food, Steve wrapped his arm around Tony's shoulders once more. "Is there anything in particular you'd like to do?" he asked.
"We can watch TV if you want...something funny where I don't have to think..." Tony suggested.
Bruce cleaned up his plate. "Thanks again for lunch. I'll let you know about that party." He smiled again before heading to the labs to find Leo and Jemma.
Steve acknowledged Bruce, then smiled at Tony. "Sounds good." He washed up his and Tony's plates, then wrapped his arm around his son's shoulders once more to guide him into the living area.
It was all Tony could do not to stiffen up or begin crying at Steve's actions. The hallucinations had, of course, been there all day, saying their normal hurtful accusations. But when he'd lied by underplaying their presence and acting as if they hadn't been bothering him as much...they had begun to include calling him a liar in the accusations...and telling him that if Steve found out, it would be over. The man had already given him one free pass when he lied about the extremis, after all. Tony had continued to ignore it, but by the time they began watching the movie, his nerves were a mess. Still, he acted as if everything was fine. He'd already told the lie, after all...no sense in worrying Steve or upsetting him now.
Steve kept his arm around Tony all through the movie. He could feel how tense his son was and he worried, but hoped that Tony would tell him if there was more bothering him. "I'm going to have a shower," he said, after the movie was over and they'd chatted a while. "I'd like you to tell me if anything happens."
"Yeah, sure, dad..." Tony said with a smile. He sat there after watching his father leave for about two minutes before he glared at the shadows. "Just stop! He isn't going to just give up on me because I told him you weren't there..." he hissed under his breath.
"Is that why you still won't tell him about us? Even when he made a point of telling you to? Because he won't give up on you?"
Obie's tone was smarmy and all knowing, while Yinsen and his mother looked at him with disappointed eyes and Howard shook his head in a mixture of disappointment and non-surprise.
Tony couldn't take it anymore. They were right, even if they were representations of his Extremis-addled mind. Steve didn't deserve any of the worry and grief he'd brought to him. He had stuck around because he was a good man and wouldn't abandon someone who needed him, but Tony was better now (barring the still recurring hallucinations) and there was no reason for him to stick around for someone who willfully lied to him. Making the decision without any thought whatsoever, Tony stood and left Steve's floor, heading down the stairs. If Steve was too stubborn to do what was needed, then Tony would do it for him and save him more grief later.
Brock was just heading to Bucky's floor to pick up the few items that belonged to him; and thank the other man again for his offer of a room and understanding when Brock suddenly chose to be adopted and move in with his father, when he saw Tony move past him at a rapid clip. It didn't take much thought at all to follow the other man and offer protection.
He'd protected Tony once before and now that they were 'cousins' of a sort, the instinct to do so again came naturally. It didn't come so naturally to alert anyone else to what was going on and not just handle it himself. He didn't think he would need help...and surely Nick wasn't serious about telling someone where you were going every time you left the tower? Maybe if you were going on a mission, it was necessary and Nick was serious about that...but not every time, even when you weren't planning to do anything where something bad could happen?
As a result of that thinking (he'd never admit to wanting to see if Nick was serious...about that and a few other things he'd said), he didn't tell anyone he was leaving, conveniently forgetting that he told Nick and Trip he'd be right back. He caught up to Tony- who didn't slow in the least- and ran beside him, since the other man was running by this point. "Need some company?" he asked.
Tony eyed him. "You going to leave me if I say no?"
"Nope," Brock said, the 'P' popping clearly.
Tony grimaced. "Of course not. Then yes...I'd love some company," he lied through his teeth.
Brock gave a toothy grin. "Good. I'll come with you.”
They didn't speak again until they were snug in one of Tony's more nondescript cars and leaving the Tower, heading out of the city towards Tony's mansion. He hadn't been there since the tower had been rebuilt; it always made him moody because of the memory, or lack of. He hoped that everyone would forget it existed and not look for him there until he'd got his shit together and had left again. He glanced at Brock, noting the other man could probably fit in his clothes, even if they were slightly short on him. They would do until they could find something better, anyway. Unless he convinced Brock to go back. "I have some stuff you can borrow. It isn't too late for you to go back, though..." he finally said.
Brock eyed him quizzically. "You running away from home?" His voice was slightly incredulous.
Tony winced at the almost childish sounding phrasing, but couldn't argue the validity. "Yeah...guess I am."
Steve came out of the shower in time to be informed by JARVIS about Tony leaving the tower... along with Brock. He held back a sigh, reflecting that he really shouldn't have been surprised... and next time, he was going to push Tony to tell him what was going on, since clearly he'd still been hallucinating.
"Can you let the others know, JARVIS?" Steve requested, taking the elevator down to the garage.
"I have informed Director Fury, sir, as well as everyone else. However, I do not believe it is necessary to have everyone go on this search, as sir has seemed to forget that all his vehicles have tracking systems installed and I know exactly where he and Agent Rumlow are headed." If it was possible for an AI to sound smug, JARVIS was smug. He proceeded to tell Steve where the other two men were headed.
Steve reached the garage just as Fury arrived. "Do we need any of the others?" Fury asked Steve.
"They obviously left of their own free will, so I think we can have the others on standby... but we don't need them to come with us," Steve said. He didn't comment that they could probably use the privacy to talk with their wayward charges,,, but he was reasonably certain that Fury would understand.
Fury didn't say anything more, instead getting into one of the cars along with Steve, informing his other son where they were going... and that they would inform the rest of them if it did turn out they needed backup.
Steve waited just long enough for Fury to finish on the comms and then began driving in the direction JARVIS had indicated.
They had been driving for thirty minutes and were about fifteen minutes from their destination before Tony finally spoke again. "We're almost there. I plan to pack a bag and grab some money before taking off again. You don't really need to come with me, though."
"Yeah, I do," Brock muttered. "Someone has to make sure you aren't nabbed by HYDRA; your face is a bit well known these parts. Besides...things just moved really fast the last few hours and I suddenly find myself not sure about everything. How do I know Fury meant what he said and it wasn't some elaborate trap or plan to jar my memory so they could get more info? How do I know I can trust him?" He said it out loud, but was obviously talking to himself.
Tony found himself answering anyway. "I don't know exactly what he told you, but if all he wanted was answers, he wouldn't have made you part of the family. I'm pretty sure you can trust that."
Brock glanced at him. "I guess I'll never know; I blew it when I chose to walk out of the tower."
Tony slanted his head as he turned the car onto the final road before they reached the mansion. "I somehow doubt you blew it. For as impatient as he can be, Nick has a lot of patience."
Brock didn't answer. Instead, he watched out the window as Tony drove the remaining distance. Soon, they were parked in the mansion's garage and walking into the kitchen.
"Well, if you're going with me, you'll need some stuff too. Why don't you come up and pick out some things that you think will fit? We'll pack our bags, I'll grab the money and we can be on our way. We'll stop and get you some stuff that will actually be yours when we've put enough distance....then I can call Pepper and see if she's willing to join me." He sounded sad.
"You don't have to go either, you know. Steve will take you back with open arms," Brock commented neutrally.
"I don't deserve to be taken back. And he deserves better than me..." Tony muttered. "Come on." He led the way upstairs, where his spare clothes were kept.
Steve kept to the speed limits, but he still reached the mansion in record time, barely taking a moment to stop the car before he was out and knocking on the door.
Fury was right behind him. "I'm sure you could easily break the door down."
"That's plan B if neither answers," Steve replied.
Tony was standing in front of his closet holding up a designer jogging suit. "Think this will..." He blinked as he heard the knock on the door. "Who...? Surely they can't have..." Dropping the outfit on the bed, he ran to the window, looking out. He couldn't see who it was, but he recognized the car as being one of his. "I don't believe it. They found us already!" he sputtered, turning toward Brock.
"Maybe we should go let them in..." Brock suggested in what he thought was a reasonable manner. If the look on Tony's face was any indication, the other man thought he was being very unreasonable.
"Not when I can sneak out the window..." he muttered, carefully sliding said window open and preparing to crawl out if he heard the door downstairs open.
"Is that really a good idea?" Brock asked in his own mutter, but prepared to follow the billionaire; if only to grab him and keep him from falling if he slipped.
Steve normally did a very good job of being calm and in control... that calm and in control lasted exactly as long as it took for him to spot one of the upstairs windows sliding open and glimpsing Tony, clearly prepared to climb out. And then calm and in control went out the proverbial window as Steve broke down the door.
"I'll stay here... stop any escapees," Fury said, moving back as Steve merely nodded before moving fast into the building.
"Oh, shit..." Tony spluttered, before throwing all caution to the wind and beginning to crawl out the window. He'd expected them to try and pick the lock; not actually kick the door down.
Brock's eyes widened as he heard someone running up the stairs at an incredibly fast rate. There was no way in hell they'd both make it out the window in time and he didn't want to be in between Steve and Tony if Tony hadn't made it out before the super soldier made it inside. He'd blush when reminded about it later, but he threw himself onto the floor and rolled under the bed.
Steve reached the room in time to spot Tony trying to climb out of the window. He didn't hesitate in lunging forward, wrapping his arms around his son, and pulling Tony back and into his arms, hugging him tightly against his chest. He was scared... more scared than he had been in a very long time.
Tony gasped as he was caught and dragged back into the room, but he didn't fight. He didn't argue. Instead, he closed his eyes and went limp, not struggling at all as Steve held him close; not even protesting, even though the grip was tight enough to be uncomfortable. He could tell instantly that Steve was scared and regret filled him, pushing out all the reasons he'd given himself for leaving. He'd allowed his own self-loathing to cause him to hurt a man who had done nothing but show love and concern for him. Finally, he spoke, his voice hesitant and guilt filled. "I'm ok, dad...I'm not hurt...you...you caught me in time..."
"You were going to climb out of the window..." Steve didn't so much as loosen as his hold on Tony. "You could have been badly hurt... worse..." His voice was soft, a very real note of fear in it. His fear had caused him to react without thinking and right now, all he could do was hold onto his son and try to let himself calm down.
Brock, sensing that Tony wasn't going to run and not wanting to interfere in what was obviously a 'family' moment, carefully rolled back out from under the bed and slunk downstairs and outside...stopping when he saw Fury standing there. "H..hello, sir." He bit his lip and hesitantly brushed his hand through his hair, dislodging a dust-bunny.
Fury had watched to make certain that Steve had Tony and now he turned to face Brock, eyes scanning over him automatically to make sure he was unharmed. "I'd like to hear why you followed Tony." Although his voice was calm, he'd been just as worried as Steve and it probably still showed.
"I..." Brock debated only telling the part where he was trying to make sure Tony had someone backing him up as protection- make it sound more noble than it was- but he had always respected Fury and couldn't bring himself to tell half-truths.
"Part of it was so he wouldn't be alone and I could help protect him..." he finally said hesitantly. "…The rest...I..." He sighed and ran a hand through his hair again, not able to look the older man in the eye. "I got scared, ok? Everything's happened so fast and I just...I don't understand how I can go from being your enemy, brainwashed or otherwise, to being your son. Even though I thought Steve would probably come after Tony, I didn't really think you'd come after me...that it would matter." He winced. That sounded horribly ungrateful to his ears and he only hoped it didn't sound that way to Fury, because he had been; was grateful. He stared at his feet, waiting for the other man to tell him that he would be moving back into the cell, since he obviously couldn't be trusted.
"I don't make the decision to accept someone into my family lightly," Fury told Brock. "I understand that, for you, it moved quickly. I was there when you were captured and brought to the tower. And I saw the effects on you when the brainwashing started to break. You were failed when you were taken by HYDRA in the first place and then when no one realised your betrayal didn't happen by choice. I didn't make the decision to adopt you lightly. I made it because I wanted to open my family to you."
"I...I know that...I didn't mean..." Brock groaned in frustration, jamming both hands into his hair and hunching in on himself. "I know, but I was still...I was still scared and it's stupid and I know I shouldn't have run with Tony; I should have stayed where I was and told someone what he was doing...but I just felt so overwhelmed, doing what I knew I should was the last thing I wanted to do." He winced, hearing the petulant tone in his own voice and knowing he probably sounded like a thwarted child. "I know you probably realize it was a mistake offering me a place in your family...I won't blame you if you've changed your mind..."
Fury stepped forward, reaching out to place a hand on Brock's shoulder. "Offering you a place in my family wasn't a mistake. I haven't changed my mind and I'm not going to," he stated. "You must have seen the way Steve charged up the stairs the moment he saw Tony about to climb out the window. That's the kind of family you signed onto with me. Not a family who drops you when something happens."
Brock finally looked up, eyes guilty and hopeful at the same time. "So...you still want me?" His voice was gruff.
"There is never going to be a time when I won't," Fury promised. "But I am going to respond every time something like this happens."
Brock swallowed hard. "I don't suppose you were kidding about how you handle breaking the rules, were you? I know it's too late to claim I didn't know what I was doing or that I didn't know it was wrong..." His voice was sheepish, resigned and nervous.
"I wasn't kidding about it," Fury replied. "But there won't be any official punishment. It won't be brought up again. And it doesn't mean I'm going to give up on you."
"Ok," Brock said with an exhaled breath he didn't know he'd been holding. "I know I deserve it...but...I've never...what do I...?" He couldn't help but blush.
Still with his hand on Brock's shoulder, Fury guided the other man through to the living room. "I'm going to have you across my lap," he told Brock, knowing that was more personal... but also the best way when it came to family.
If it was possible, Brock blushed even more, but he didn't argue and actually relaxed once he realized his new father was going to explain to him before he did anything. "Ok," he answered in a shy whisper.
Fury moved over to the couch and took a seat, but instead of pulling Brock over his lap straight away, he settled his son down next to him, arm around his shoulders. "It'll also be without your pants," he continued. "But I'm not going to use anything other than my hand."
Brock gave his father a startled look; not so much embarrassed at the fact he'd be bare- in his line of work, he'd been in all kinds of situations- but he was a bit worried at how personal things were going to get. It would be difficult to hide how it affected him and since he didn't know how he would react, it worried him.
Fury waited a beat to see if Brock wanted to say or ask anything and then spoke. "I think we should get this over with now, since I can't imagine putting it off is going to make you feel better." He prepared to pull his son across his lap.
"Wait!" Brock blushed as he started to panic. Swallowing hard, he looked at Fury. "Once it's over...we'll be ok? You'll forgive me?" He wished his voice didn't sound so nervous...afraid.
Fury nodded. "We'll get past this. I'll forgive you. We'll be okay," he promised. "And it won't make any difference to our relationship now."
"Ok..." Brock said in a small voice. He was still nervous. What was about to happen would leave him completely vulnerable and dependent on his father. But he knew it needed to happen.
Fury hugged him close a moment and then gently moved Brock over his lap, settling him and securing his son with an arm around his waist before divesting him of his pants and underwear.
Brock shivered slightly at what was being done. He couldn't help the tiny whimper that escaped. This was the first time this had ever been done to him and he was having to fight his instinct to argue about it and fight.
Fury took a moment to rub Brock's back comfortingly before he lifted his hand and brought it down in a firm swat at the crest of his son's backside, before repeating it.
Brock couldn't help himself. He yelped at the first smack. He would have been embarrassed and tried to contain his response, but the second swat fell almost on top of the first and he wasn't able to focus on anything but what was happening. A tiny whine escaped and he gripped his father's leg tightly.
Fury didn't waste any time in covering Brock's entire backside, down to his thighs, in the swats. He was careful to moderate his strength, but made sure they were enough to make an impression.
Brock was ashamed at what he considered weakness...the vulnerability combined with his nerves and guilt combined to make it impossible for him not to react. It didn't take long at all for him to begin crying and not much longer than that for him to begin squirming in an attempt to get his backside out of the line of fire. Finally, he threw a hand back to block the smacks.
Fury moved Brock's hand out of the way, holding it against his back, as he started a new circuit of swats and began speaking. "I'm sure you've been used to acting on your own, but you aren't on your own now. You have a whole family."
Brock sobbed softly as Fury took his hand and began a second circuit. The older man's words only caused the sobbing to increase in strength. "I'm sorry...I didn't know...I'm sorry...."
Fury's hand came to a stop and he wasted no time in drawing Brock up and into his arms, knowing the spanking had reached the point it needed to and that it was more about affirming the boundaries right now. "You said you didn't think it would matter that you left," he said, holding his son close. "It does matter. You matter."
Brock twisted around so he could hold onto his father, hiding his face against the older man's chest. He hadn't believed Fury before; hadn't believed he actually mattered enough that the man would come after him, let alone punish him for breaking the rules and running. He hadn't believed it before, but he did now. His sobbing slowly ebbed until he was just softly crying, reluctant to let go of his father or leave his embrace. But soon, he'd calmed enough that his position and lack of clothing sunk in and he slowly pulled back, blushing. Carefully, he stood and fixed his clothing, unable to look his father in the eyes.
Fury reached out, resting his hands on Brock's shoulders and speaking quietly to him. "You've been punished and that's it. It's over. And you're still my son. Even if it happens again, it won't change anything."
"And...and you'll spank me like this if it happens again?" he asked, to clarify; more willing to believe what his father told him now.
"I will," Fury confirmed. "But I won't decide you're too much trouble. I won't change my mind about adopting you."
Brock swallowed hard then hesitantly moved closer to Fury. "I'm sorry I didn't believe you or listen before. I don't want you to have to do that ever again," he said softly, giving his father a shy look.
Fury responded by wrapping his arms around Brock once more, drawing him in close and tight. "I know you don't, but if it needs to happen again, it will," he said, seriously but not unkindly.
"I know," Brock whispered as he wrapped his own arms around his father. He sounded relieved.
Fury tightened his embrace around his son. "I'm glad you're all right."
"Thank you...for coming after me." There was no doubt in Brock's mind...if Steve had come for Tony, Nick had come for him. For the first time in a long time, he felt like maybe he'd be ok.
Even though he knew that he needed to address Tony taking off, Steve couldn't force himself to let go of his son for a little while. Finally, he guided Tony over to the bed, sitting down and cuddling his son on his lap. "Why did you take off?"
Tony just held still, allowing his father to hold him. His guilt grew with each passing moment as the magnitude of what he'd put the other man through the last month became more and more clear. When Steve finally spoke again, it was all Tony could do to keep from crying. He managed, though, wrapping his arms around his father and holding tight before speaking. "I ran because I was a foolish liar...the hallucinations never stopped. They kept pointing out how I don't deserve you and how I've been nothing but trouble to you and you'd be better off without me. I should have told you, but I didn't want you to worry more, so I pretended I was ok. Except I wasn't and...I listened to them. And ran." His voice was a whisper by the time he finished.
Steve hugged Tony tightly, pressing a kiss to the top of his head. "I'm not better off without you, Tony." He spoke with quiet, intense sincerity. "You're my son and I love you. You should have told me the hallucinations were still there, instead of letting me think you were all right. I wasn't with you for any reason other than that I love you and want to be there for you." His embrace tightened as he spoke softly in Tony's ear. "There is not one single thing you could do that would succeed in driving me away."
"I know that...I do. I just have a hard time believing it. It doesn't make sense, I know..." Tony sniffled, swallowing hard. "I don't know how I can ever make it right- everything I put you through because I'm such an insecure...." Tony tried to find an accurate term then shook his head in resignation. "...child." He pressed closer to Steve, not able to look him in the eye, but not wanting to let go either, hugging him more tightly.
"I know you have trouble trusting that people love you and care about you and want to spend time with you," Steve said gently. "I know everything isn't perfect and that there are going to be setbacks. But nothing is going to change anything between us. I came after you because I love you and I can't imagine my life without you in it anymore."
"Ok..." Tony snuggled closer before sighing. "I shouldn't have run...I didn't want to worry you anymore and ended up doing it worse..." His guilt was thick and he still couldn't look his father in the eye.
"We're going to deal with you running." Steve spoke firmly, but no less lovingly. "I know you were insecure and hurting, but running is never the answer. You have to come to me when something upsets you or makes you feel like you don't matter, because you do. You have mattered to me since the beginning."
"Dunno how it will help..." Tony muttered. "This isn't the first time...I never seem to learn." He swallowed. "And after everything I've put you through, it doesn't seem like I'll ever be punished enough to make up for it. I hate myself..." he whispered harshly.
Steve pressed a kiss to the top of Tony's head. "Everything that's happened is worth it because it's brought us together," he said softly. "I know your parents withdrew from you and made you feel like you aren't important. And you have no idea how much I wish I hadn't been frozen, because if I had been around, there is no way I would have let you be lonely. I would have been there for you then in the same way I am now."
"I wish you had been too...maybe I wouldn't be so messed up..." Tony sighed softly, relaxing against his father. "I'm so sorry. I feel so bad about hurting you...scaring you..." he whispered.
"I was scared because I love you," Steve said. "I came after you without hesitation because you are my son. I know you feel guilty. I know you're sorry." He kissed Tony's forehead. "And we're going to deal with this. I'm going to punish you for running and then we'll be all right. I'm not going to withdraw from you. I'm not going to disappear. I'm not going to ignore you. I'm going to take care of you. No matter what kind of form that care takes."
"I love you, dad." Tony said quietly. "I'm ready...I need to be right with you..."
Steve held Tony close for a few more moments, needing to feel his son was safe, and then carefully turned him over his knees, wrapping an arm around Tony's waist to pull him in tight before tugging down his pants and underwear. "We'll work on you coming to me being instinctual, son," he said.
"Yes, sir..." Tony's voice was already heavy with tears and he immediately held onto Steve's leg in a tight grip as soon as he was positioned. He couldn't help but tense up in anticipation of the first smack, but he didn't argue or try to get out of what he knew he deserved.
Steve rubbed Tony's back gently a few moments. "I love you, son. There is nothing that could change that or make me want you to take yourself away from me." He took a slightly tighter grip on his son and raised his hand, bringing it down in a firm swat before repeating it.
"I love you too, dad..." Tony said with a whimper, starting to cry almost immediately. He did his best to not be too loud; he didn't want Steve to think he was actually harming him...but keeping control of his emotions and not crying was beyond him. He felt too guilty about having hurt and scared his family...and too overwhelmed by Steve's steadfast refusal to give up on him or leave him.
Steve had to harden himself to Tony's tears, even though all he wanted was to gather his son back into his arms. He settled quickly into a rhythm, swatting down to Tony's thighs before starting over from the top again. "You aren't a burden, Tony. Everyone in the tower you ran from loves you and cares about you. They don't want you to suffer or hurt yourself. None of us do. That love is unconditional. It isn't going to dry up just because there's a difficult situation to deal with for a while."
"I know...I just have a hard time believing it..." Tony cried softly. He could feel the sting building from the swats, the second circuit causing it to move from uncomfortable to painful. He trembled, gripping Steve's leg harder, attempting to hold still and not squirm the way his body wanted to. "I'm sorry I'm so distrustful. You don't deserve that...I'm sorry!"
He finally couldn't control himself any longer and began to squirm in an attempt to at least control where the smacks landed, even if he didn't stop them.
Steve tightened his hold on his son as he began to swat a bit harder and faster. It was difficult to punish Tony; it always was. Only the knowledge that his son needed the boundaries he hadn't had for so long kept Steve pushing. "I know trusting people is a hard thing for you to do, but it doesn't matter how many times we have to do this. There will never come a time I would ever give up on you."
Tony had heard the words many times and while he'd believed that Steve wouldn't lie about something like that, and while he'd known that Steve meant them, he'd never fully been able to trust that he wouldn't be given up on...even though it had been proven many times already that Steve was with him through good and bad. When Steve tightened his grip and didn't let go...and didn't stop...Tony realized that it wasn't just words. His father could have easily just chided him for running and then 'forgot about it' as if it didn't matter. But it had mattered; he mattered. Steve could have easily given him a token punishment and then said it was taken care of and to forget about it...but this punishment was anything but token. It was then that Tony finally realized that, yes, Steve loved him when things were going well; but he also loved him when things were going wrong. He loved him when he was wrong. And he loved him enough to not gloss over his actions as if they didn't matter, or push him out of sight until it could be 'forgotten about'.
It took only seconds for the realization and connections to run through Tony's head...when the faster pace and harder swats broke through the little control he still had left. Going limp over Steve's lap, Tony just cried, pained whimpers escaping every now and then. He continued to hold onto Steve's leg. It took a bit of effort, but he finally managed to gain control of his breathing to gasp out a pained, "I'm sorry, daddy...." It was low pitched; almost a whisper. He wasn't trying to get Steve to stop- he knew his father would stop when he'd reached whatever point Steve knew he needed to reach. But he wanted his father to know that what he'd said had finally broken through whatever wall was blocking it and Tony finally understood, at least for the moment.
Steve's hand came to a stop and he didn't waste any time in gathering his son into a tight embrace. Although he was careful not to hold onto Tony tight enough to hurt him, he still cuddled him as tight as he possibly could, kissing the top of his head. "I love you," he said softly. "Even before you were deaged. That might have been the first time I said it... it wasn't the first time I felt it. I'm here. I am never going to leave you. No matter what happens, I'm here to stay."
Tony whimpered as he sat on his very sore bottom, but he didn't even try to shift off of Steve's lap, wrapping his own arms around his father as tightly as he could and pressing close. He shivered with the effort to try and regain control over his emotions, but so much had been happening between his originally being hurt, and then the extremis and the hallucinations, that it was impossible. He couldn't stop crying and finally gave up, just snuggling as close to his father as he was able and letting all the fear, frustration and pain out with his tears. "I love you..." he whispered back, over and over, as if he was afraid Steve wouldn't believe him.
Steve cuddled his son tightly, rocking Tony as if he was still the child Steve had taken care of, and felt that fierce, protective love kindled in him that had never gone away. He responded to each of Tony's whispers with his own declarations of love, stroking his hair gently.
Slowly, Tony was able to calm down, Steve's assurances of love and physical demonstrations of it aiding him in relaxing. Finally, he'd stopped crying and was just snuggling close. He sniffled once, closing his eyes, suddenly weary. "I'm sorry I hid things from you again..." he said in a tiny voice. He knew he'd already apologized numerous times, but he hadn't actually apologized for that directly and he wanted Steve to know he realized it was wrong. He bit his lip. "Am I in trouble for that?" he asked hesitantly, not sure if the spanking covered every single wrong thing he'd done, or just the fact that he'd run and then tried to do something reckless in his attempt to keep running.
"I think the spanking I just gave you encompasses that," Steve said gently. "I'm not going to spank you again. I am going to keep you close... even after the hallucinations have stopped. Not as punishment, but to help remind you that I am here for you. I will always be here for you."
Tony sniffled again then glanced up into his father's face with a tiny smile. "So I'm sorta grounded, but only as far as it means staying with you where you can watch me?" He swallowed, putting his head back down against Steve's chest. "Thanks, dad," he finally said quietly.
Steve kissed the top of his head. "I love you, Tony. And, yes, you're going to be staying close to me. And Pepper, too," he added, knowing how worried his son's fiancé had been. "And when you feel up to it... we're going to have a big family meal all together, so that you can see how much everyone worried about you and loves you."
"Ok..." Tony agreed easily. Reluctantly, he carefully extricated himself from his father's arms and fixed his clothing with a tiny hiss. Reaching back, he rubbed at his backside gingerly; then, giving a tiny sigh, he reached into his pants pocket and pulled out the key to the car he and Brock had taken and gave it to Steve. "I'm guessing part of being grounded means I don't get to drive by myself..." He didn't sound upset about it. Instead, there was an oddly hopeful tone in his voice.
Reaching up and rubbing his eyes, he attempted to get some semblance of normalcy to his appearance. Despite his efforts, for those who knew him, he still looked like a thoroughly chastened child, tear streaks on his face and all. And it was obvious he was tired, as he was fighting not to yawn and kept blinking his eyes sleepily.
Steve wrapped his arm around Tony's shoulders as he stood up, taking the key from his son. "I'll drive you back," he promised. "I'm sure Fury can take the other car with Brock... and when we get back to the tower, I think resting is in order." He kissed Tony's head.
"Yessir..." Tony agreed with a murmur. He wasn't entirely certain he wouldn't fall asleep on the way back and he suspected Steve knew that.
Steve kept his arm around Tony's shoulders and guided his son out of the room. "You can stretch out in the back and fall asleep," he suggested. "I'll carry you in."
Tony huffed; slightly embarrassed, a lot amused. "I'm not a baby, dad..." He grinned, but didn't say he wouldn't fall asleep. He let Steve lead him downstairs to where the door had been broken in. He winced, seeing the door hanging on the hinges; it might close, but it certainly wouldn't latch again. "I really scared you bad, didn't I..." he said faintly, pressing closer to Steve apologetically and kissing his father's arm where it was draped around him.
"I saw you climbing out of the window and all I could think was what would happen if you fell... that I could so easily lose you..." Steve's arm tightened around his son. "I love you. And I can't lose you."
Tony took a deep breath. "Yeah. That wasn't the smartest thing I've ever done..." he admitted faintly.
"No....it wasn't..." Brock's voice carried from the door to the living room, where he was stood, Fury close behind him. "But considering I was going to follow you out of said window, had your father not been so fast, I can't really comment on it too much." He gave Tony a crooked grin, pointedly ignoring the tearstains on the other man's face and hoping that Tony did the same for him.
Fury gave a slight smile, placing a hand on Brock's shoulder and squeezing gently. "I'm not sure either of you were thinking clearly," he commented, before glancing at Steve. "You're going to drive your boy back?"
Steve nodded. "You've still got the keys from the car we drove here, so I'm guessing you'll take your son with you and we'll see you back at the tower."
Brock shifted slightly, shoving his hands into his pockets and giving Tony a sheepish smile. He wasn't entirely used to having a father around to take care of him and was surprised at how much...safer... he felt now that he knew Fury was taking charge. "See you later, Tony?" he asked hesitantly; although it was really his father and Steve he was asking...uncertain if he or Tony were going to be allowed to socialize right away after the stunt they'd pulled.
Tony's answer was a bit more certain, but he still looked toward his father and Fury for confirmation. "Yeah; maybe not tonight, but I'm sure we can get together tomorrow...." Suddenly thinking of something, he actually blushed, then asked, his own voice suddenly hesitant, "We aren't going to need to talk to anyone else and apologize before going back to our floor, are we?" Tony bit his lip. He could tell just by looking at Brock's face that the other man had been crying and it wasn't hard to guess why. He knew his own face was just as telling and while everyone in the tower knew how the 'children' of the family were disciplined, it didn't mean the 'children' wanted everyone else to know exactly when they were disciplined.
"I think you can apologise to people later," Steve said. "But everyone was worried about you... both of you." He made sure to include Brock in that, since Fury might have adopted him, but the others in the tower had accepted him too.
Fury nodded in agreement. "You could probably both do with a bit of rest," he said, knowing it had been a long day for Brock as well.
"Yeah....ok," Tony agreed easily. He'd been planning to apologize anyway and it was easy to agree to rest, since Steve had pretty much already told him to do so and he was so tired, he didn't feel like arguing.
Brock looked a bit surprised at Steve's comment. He certainly didn't expect anyone else to worry about what happened to him; with the exception of perhaps Trip; and maybe Coulson and his kids; and Bruce along with his kids; and... ok. He should have expected that more people would worry about him. He swallowed and quickly agreed with Tony. "Ok." He glanced at his father. "I'll rest..." he answered softly, barely holding back a yawn at the thought of it.
Steve kept his arm around Tony's shoulders. "We'll see you later... or tomorrow." He smiled at both Fury and Brock, then guided his son out of the door and towards the car.
Fury squeezed Brock's shoulder gently again and guided him outside, too, heading towards the other car. "When you wake up, the three of us can go out for a meal... or get a takeaway, whichever you'd prefer," he said.
"Ok, sir.." Brock answered quietly, allowing himself to be guided to the car. When Fury opened the back door of the car and indicated he should get in the back seat, he didn't say anything. Instead, he gave his father a thankful smile, then crawled into the car and lay down on the back seat on his stomach. He had a feeling that it wouldn't take long for him to fall asleep in this position, but suspected that was Fury's intent in the first place.
Fury watched Brock a moment or two and then got in the driver's seat. "Don't worry about trying to stay awake," he said. "It's fine if you fall asleep." He began driving.
Tony had followed Steve to the car and, remembering Steve's instructions from inside the house, opened the back door of the car and crawled onto the backseat, lying on his stomach. He waited till Steve had closed the door behind him and gone around to get into the driver's side before he said softly, "Thanks, dad...for everything..."
Steve got into the driver's seat, looking back at his son with a smile. "I love you, Tony," he said simply, before starting to drive.
Steve and Fury arrived at the tower at about the same time, their sons both asleep. It was a moment's decision for each not to wake their sons... instead Steve lifting Tony into his arms and Fury lifting Brock in his so they could take the elevator to their respective floors.
When Fury exited the elevator onto his floor, Trip was waiting for him. The younger man only raised one eyebrow at seeing Brock asleep in his father's arms. He quickly moved down the hall toward the room where his brother was going to be staying (until Tony gave him his own floor, as was likely to happen). Quickly, he opened the door for his father and went in to turn down the sheets so Fury could put Brock down, then went back into the living room to wait for his father...not sure how far his father would go to make certain his brother was comfortable and figuring Brock would thank him later if he wasn't there to watch him be changed into sleep clothes like a toddler.
Fury gave Trip a grateful smile as his other son turned the sheets down and then carefully placed Brock onto the bed. He considered leaving his son like that, but figured Brock would be more comfortable in sleep clothes, so changed him quickly and quietly, careful not to wake him up.
That done, Fury lingered a moment or two longer before he went to join Trip in the living room area, moving to sit down next to his other son and wrapping an arm around Trip's shoulders.
Trip leaned against his father, then gave the man a sideways look. "I didn't expect him to take off like that so soon. Kinda figured he'd wait at least a week before testing the water..." He snorted softly.
"He didn't truly believe I'd come after him," Fury said. "I''m sure he's going to test me again. And I'm just as sure that I'll be responding to it each and every time."
Trip nodded. "Yeah. Well, I'll try and help him adjust as much as I'm able. Considering I tested you...and I haven't had nearly the trauma that he has...it wouldn't surprise me if you're right."
"He was left in HYDRA's clutches," Fury said. "It'll take a while for him to believe he is safe and has a family here."
Trip nodded. "It makes me angry that HYDRA did that to him...but I'm even angrier that we somehow missed the signs and didn't help him sooner. I know there was little we could do, but..." Trip sighed. "He's lucky he has you now...just like I'm lucky." He smiled.
Fury responded by tightening his embrace around his son. "We missed a lot about HYDRA growing in SHIELD and dealing with the fallout hasn't always been easy. At the same time... it's brought a lot of us together as a family."
Trip leaned even closer to his father in response, putting his head back so that it was on his dad's shoulder. "Something good in all the chaos..." He smiled, then let out a contented sigh.
Fury nodded. "And I'm going to be sticking around a lot more," he promised. Not just because of Brock... but also because he and Trip hadn't had much chance to be a family and he knew he couldn't keep taking himself away from them. Coulson had made the decision long ago to cut back on the dangerous things he did after he adopted Clint... and Fury knew he had to do the same.
Trip looked askance at his father. "Really? I mean, don't get me wrong...I'd love that, but you always have at least five things going on in opposite directions of each other. That won't make it easy on you..." He sounded worried.
"You don't need to worry about that," Fury replied, his voice reassuring. "I began making arrangements to make sure I could stick around more a while back. Besides, it'll be good to spnd more time with both of my sons now."
Trip's smile was more reassured. "You've been planning this for a while, huh?" He couldn't help but be pleased at that knowledge...it meant that this wasn't just a knee-jerk reaction to everything Brock had and was going through...and therefore it was more likely to stick once the other man was more settled and in less need of constant supervision.
Fury noddeed. "It isn't a spur-of-the-moment decision. I know the others have been changing their own responsibilities to be closer to the rest of the family. I chose to do that before Brock came into the picture."
Trip nodded. "I've noticed. We've been lucky we haven't needed to go on too many missions that are far away, really. Although we may need to go on a few...while you were going after Brock, Skye and I found a few more locations of places where HYDRA might be training children...or worse." He glanced at Fury. "None of them seem to be something that needs to be taken out right this instant...but knowing you and Coulson, we'll be going after them soon. Maybe that's something that can be discussed at the big family meal that is being planned, though..."
"I think we'll send a team out as soon as possible," Fury said. "We'll want to get any children HYDRA have taken away from them where possible. But you're right about us discussing it at the meal... though afterwards might be better, since I'm sure everyone will be asking Tony how he is."
Trip nodded. "Think he'll be honest about it this time?" Trip couldn't help but sound a bit frustrated at his friend. Surely the man knew how much he meant to everyone...and that all they wanted to do was help; which they couldn't do when he was hiding things from them.
"It's difficult to say for certain, but I think he might be more inclined to be honest," Fury said. "Steve ended up kicking the door of the mansion in... I don't think Tony actually expected him to do that."
Trip choked back a laugh, snorting at the mental image that provided. "I don't suspect he did expect that.... Although he probably expected what came after." Trip winced, knowing that Steve was as 'hands on' as Fury was when it came to his kid...and if he kicked the door in, then any chance Tony had of talking himself out of Steve getting his hands on him was probably long gone.
He glanced back in the direction of the bedroom where his new brother was still sleeping. "How did he take it? You proving that you meant what you said and it being out of his control?" He bit his lip and looked at his father. He knew how he had taken it- he'd been relieved when Fury had stepped into his life- but that didn't mean Brock felt the same way and he didn't know if he would need to talk with the other man to ease any uncertainties that he might not have been willing to share with their father.
"I think he's going to have a lot to deal with," Fury answered. "Believing he has a family... really believing it... isn't something that comes easy when you're not used to it. It might be a good idea for you to talk to him when he wakes up, so that you can talk about what to expect. He didn't actually fight me on anything," he added.
Trip nodded. "Not fighting is a good sign..." he said softly. "But yeah, I'll talk to him. See if he has any questions. But until then, while he's sleeping, want to watch a movie?" He grinned at his father.
Pepper was pacing in front of the elevator when Steve exited.
Bucky was leaning calmly against the wall, one eye on Pepper, ready to be there if she needed him (tear stains on his shirt were evidence that she'd already needed him at least once) and the other eye on the elevator, ready to help his brother wrangle his nephew into bed if necessary. His shoulders eased up slightly in relief when he realized it wouldn't be necessary.
"Oh, Tony..." Pepper's whisper was almost non-verbal, only Bucky's enhanced hearing enabling him to hear it. He glanced at Steve, knowing the other man probably heard it as well, then smiled crookedly, before heading to Steve's room and opening the door. After the month they'd had, he was fairly certain Tony was going to be sleeping where his dad could keep an eye on him at all times. If Pepper's lack of protest was any indication, she hadn't been expecting anything else herself. Bucky quickly walked in and turned back the sheets on the bed, then stepped out of the way; noting that Pepper had followed Steve and Tony as far as the doorway to the bedroom, but hadn't stepped inside. She still wasn't entirely certain of her place in their unconventional family.
After carefully placing Tony on the bed, Steve looked up and caught Pepper's eye, waving her into the room. "He's all right," he said, his voice a whisper. "Just very tired. He'll want you here, though."
Pepper bit her lip, then gave Steve a grateful smile and threw her arms around the other man in a tight hug. "Thank you!" she whispered, before stepping back and blushing slightly. Glancing at Tony, her gaze took on a softer, exasperated but loving look; she quickly kicked off her shoes, then carefully crawled up next to her fiancé, wrapping her arms around him and putting her head on his chest so she could listen to his heartbeat...the sound making it more real that he was all right. Tony immediately wrapped his arms around her, pulling her snugly to him, even though he didn't wake up in the slightest.
Steve moved back, but didn't leave the room. His face was soft and loving as he looked at his son and soon-to-be-daughter-in-law, stepping closer to Bucky. "Depending on how Tony's feeling tomorrow, I thiink it would be good to have a big family meal," he said softly to his brother.
Bucky nodded, watching his nephew and 'niece', a fond look in his eye. "Sounds like a good idea..." he answered, just as softly, before pulling the sheet up over the two 'younger' members of the family. (Sometimes he felt every one of the 90 years he technically was; even if physically, he was still in his twenties.)
Steve clasped his brother gently on the shoulder. "Thank you for being here, Bucky," he said softly. "I'm glad I can count on your support."
Bucky smiled. "You'll always have my support." He glanced fondly at his brother's family. "They left enough room for you...why don't you crawl into the puppy pile and get some rest? You need it. I'll go make plans with the others for that family meal..."
Steve nodded, reflecting that sleep sounded like a very good idea right now. Before he climbed into bed, though, he hugged his brother tight. "Maybe the four of us could go out to see a movie in the next few days," he suggested.
Bucky hugged back, just as tightly. "Sounds good; if nothing happens, we will definitely do that," he agreed.
Steve nodded and released his brother with a quiet sigh. "I'll see you later." He moved to get into bed with his son and daughter-in-law.
Bucky watched long enough to see Tony shift so that he was in Steve's arms, while keeping Pepper in his, then turned to leave with an amused grin. They really did resemble a pile of puppies; arms and legs all twisted up in a way that, if the alarm went off, they'd probably end up on the floor tangled together.
Steve wrapped his arms around Tony and cuddled his son close, relaxing now that he had his son in his arms and knew he was safe.
Later, everyone was awake and beginning to filter into the common dining area. Coulson and Fury had ordered takeaways to be delivered to the tower and were in the process of setting food onto plates, helped by their children.
Coulson had had JARVIS contact Tony's lawyers, so he and Grant could get Grant's last name changed, and it was a nice feeling to know that he had all three of his children and that one of his sons was going to take on the last name he should have had.
Skye had been working on the intel, going through what she could, and had only put her laptop down with her mother's encouragement. She headed into the common dining area with May, a bit twitchy still.
Brock wasn't certain what to make of the situation. When he'd woken up, he'd gone into the living area and spent the remainder of the afternoon with his father and brother...but now that it was dinner time, he was on the common floor with them, getting ready to eat with the rest of the family. It was a bit overwhelming, going from no family to such a huge family in one day. As a result, he practically glued himself to Fury's side...and when his father was busy doing something that required a little space between them, he plastered himself to Trip. His brother was shooting him amused glances, so he knew it wasn't bothering either of them.
Tony was watching everyone else with hooded eyes, Pepper snuggled up under his arm. Every so often, she'd lean up to kiss him on the cheek; as if proving to herself he was still there. He wasn't quite plastered to Steve's side, but every so often, he'd catch his father's eye and smile crookedly.
Bruce had come in shortly after Skye and May, Leo and Jemma in tow. The two younger scientists were arguing over something or other, but at a fond but stern look from Bruce, they'd quickly ceased their spat and wandered over to Skye's side to talk over what she'd been working on and find out why she seemed so nervous. They gave big innocent grins to Bruce as they did so, causing him to widen his own eyes in slight worry that they were planning something he wouldn't exactly appreciate.
Grant and Clint were helping their father and Nat plate up the food, teasing each other; and every so often teasing Nat. They were doing their best to do it whenever their father wasn't looking at them directly...teasing him by trying to act innocent and like they weren't doing anything and seeing how long they could keep it up before he said something.
Loki stepped into the room quietly and glanced around, curious about the proceedings. "They are doing this to welcome their new family members? It is important to them to do this?" Loki sounded wistful...he'd never truly felt welcome in Asgard and seeing the difference in attitude between the Midgardians and the Asgardians, it was difficult not to be jealous; although he was happy for his friends.
Bucky watched everything occurring, a tiny grin on his face. He really loved his family.
Fury wasn't worried about Brock staying close to him and he made sure to touch Brock's arm; squeeze his shoulder; give him a one-armed hug... all touching to ensure Brock knew he was a welcome part of the family. He included Trip in that, too, for the simple reason that he was his son as well... and Trip might not need the reassurance, but Fury still made sure that both his sons knew they were greatly cared for.
Steve stayed quite close to Tony when he wasn't busy doing other things. He was staying close to his son because he needed to feel that Tony was safe and doing all right at the moment. And to make sure that Tony knew he was completely forgiven for what had happened and that Steve wanted to be with him. No matter what.
Skye smiled at Leo and Jemma as they headed over to her, allowing herself to relax a bit more and be distracted by her two close friends.
Coulson, well aware of what Clint and Grant were doing, eventually placed a hand on each of their shoulders and squeezed gently. "Don't make me separate you two," he said... joking, because he liked how well his children got on.
Natasha smiled, almost to herself, as she remembered similar joking comments being made by their dad when she and Clint got into mischief together.
Thor smiled at his brother and wrapped an arm around his shoulders. "It's important to spend the time together, which is why we try to eat breakfast all together regularly," he commented. "And you're a part of the family too, brother." He hoped that Loki was starting to believe that... but Thor intended to convince his brother every time it was necessary.
"Of course not, sir..." Clint and Grant both said at once, then made faces at each other.
It wasn't long before the food was plated and everyone was sat around the huge dining table. Tony glanced around at his family- and his extended family- and let out a tiny sigh of happiness. The only thing that would make it better was if Rhodey was able to come home for a visit and meet all the new family members. He glanced at Pepper, giving her a smile and squeezing her hand gently, before looking at his father and giving him a grin. "I can't believe we all fit...did we have to special order the table, JARVIS?" He chuckled.
"Of course, sir. It not only had to be large enough; it had to be strong enough." JARVIS deliberately didn't say why it needed to be strong, something Bruce was grateful for.
Brock looked around, suddenly bashful and not knowing what to say. He glanced at Fury, a question in his eyes.
Loki, never one to hang back and be quiet if he could get a word or more in, asked, "What's the special occasion?" He glanced to his left at Skye and whispered, not so softly, "Did I use that contraction correctly? I feel as if I used it wrong. I do not often use contractions...."
Skye smiled at the Asgardian, but managed to keep her voice a little softer than Loki's. "You used it correctly. I don't think you need to worry."
"We're celebrating," Steve said, smiling at Loki and then looking affectionately at Tony. "At least three official adoptions..." He clasped his son's shoulder gently. "Tony is now officially my son."
"And I have adopted my sons." Fury rested a hand each on Trip's and Brock's shoulders.
Loki smiled back, pleased that he had got it correct, then turned to listen to the answer.
Bruce nodded at Steve and Nick. "Congratulations, all of you." He glanced at his 'brother'. "I know at least one of you has been waiting his whole life for something like this..." He grinned at Tony's sheepish yet pleased look.
Tony cleared his throat. "A little birdy told me that isn't all we have to celebrate..." He glanced pointedly at Grant and Coulson.
Coulson smiled, resting his hand on the nape of Grant's neck and squeezing gently. "Yes... Grant's changed his last name to Coulson." He didn't go into why his youngest had done that; most everyone here knew something about how awful Grant's past had been.
"I'm surprised it didn't happen earlier," Fury commented, before smiling at the both of them. "Congratulations."
"All very good news..." May said with a smile, reaching over and giving Skye's hand a squeeze.
Pepper gave Tony a happy smile, then glanced around the table at their family. "I think all these celebrations call for something a bit more special than plain water..." she said suddenly, standing and disappearing for a few moments before returning with three bottles of Sparkling Cider. "I know it isn't actual Champaign...but since some of you are still recovering from various things and are on medicine...." She bit her lip, handing one bottle each to Steve, Nick, and Phil.
"Oh, hey, sweetie, good thinking!" Tony quickly stood up to get Champaign flutes, kissing her on the cheek as he did so.
"Oh, let me help!" Jemma offered, quickly jumping up to help Tony procure the glasses.
Skye smiled at her mother, squeezing May's hand back before looking around at the rest of the family.
Leo got up to help with the glasses as well, since there were so many of them.
Coulson smiled, taking the bottle. "It's a very good idea," he agreed, pouring out some for each of his children and himself when he had his bottle.
Nick and Steve did the same for their 'immediate' family, before passing the bottles round.
Bruce, seeing everyone had a glass, stood up and held his own glass out in a toast. "To family..."
The words echoed around the room, leaving a warm feeling in their wake.