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-seventh in the Redeeming Grant series.
Disclaimer: We don't own anything from Agents of SHIELD or Avengers Assemble and we're not making any money from this fic
Summary: Families grow and bonds forge
Warning(s): Spanking; spoilers for Agents of SHIELD seasons one and two; violence; some references to torture
Co-Author’s Website: BlackFox12's fanfiction.net page
The teams had returned from a rather difficult mission (damn Justin Hammer and his obsession with creating another Iron Man suit that was 'better than Stark's'). What should have been easy was most decidedly not, due to some equipment Tony had never seen before. That, of course, hadn't been the only snag. Tony couldn't help stare at Hunter, waiting for the questions to begin from the Captain or Director. Or Bucky. The other man looked like he wanted to skip briefing and drag Hunter out for some one on one questioning...only his respect for Steve and Phil helping him stay in place and hold his tongue.
Coulson took a deep breath, silently reminding himself that there were always reasons why the younger members of the team did anything. Even if they weren't good reasons, it was never just about doing the wrong thing for the sake of it. So he kept calm as he listened to the reports... and then finally turned to Hunter, who had been suspiciously quiet throughout. "Did you see something that made you decide to leave the group?"
Hunter shrugged. "It seemed like a good idea at the time." He looked like he might have added more... but held his tongue.
Bucky visibly kept himself back from scolding Hunter in front of everyone or dragging him out for their own talk. Taking several deep breaths, he asked, "It seemed like a good idea at the time?" His voice was strained with the effort to keep calm. "What made it seem like a good idea, Hunter?"
Another shrug was the answer Hunter was able to give. "Thought I needed to. Guess I was wrong." He was looking at Bucky, but less like a challenge... more as if he didn't think he'd done anything wrong.
"...You guess you were wrong..." Bucky repeated incredulously. It didn't escape his notice that there was no remorse or even a semblance of guilt on Hunter's face. Was the younger man that clueless to think what he'd done was ok? Bucky had a hard time believing that...all evidence to the contrary. Bucky glanced toward Steve and Coulson, as if to ask for direction.
Coulson looked at Hunter and then tracked his gaze towards Bucky. "Bucky... why don't you and Hunter talk privately while we finish the debriefing?" he suggested, hoping the younger man would be more willing to be honest if he was one-on-one with Bucky, who had taken an interest in him.
Hunter's expression faltered, looking a bit more wary, as he glanced at Bucky, shifting from one foot to the other.
Bucky noticed the faltering glance and it gave him some hope that Hunter would be honest with him if they were one on one. Nodding briskly at Phil, he agreed. "Yes, that sounds like a good idea," he said softly, then stood up. "Come on, Hunter." He motioned the younger man to follow him.
Hunter hesitated, but his feet were moving without conscious thought, following Bucky. He ducked his head, but there was still confusion on his face.
Coulson glanced after the two of them, but deciding that he could trust Bucky to handle Hunter, he turned to continue the debriefing with the others.
Bucky sighed. He could see the confusion on Hunter's face. That meant that he needed to explain things to the younger man again. Explain what was and wasn't acceptable to the family...and the consequences. It would take a bit longer, but he could do no less. Unless the boy truly had a good reason and just didn't want to say in front of anyone else for some strange reason? Quietly, he led Hunter out of the briefing room and to the elevator to take him back to their floor.
Hunter followed without a word, trying not show how confused he felt... though he suspected he hadn't done a very good job of it. He shook his head, feeling slightly paranoid. Thinking of trying to explain anything just tied his stomach up in knots.
Bucky was frustrated, but not so frustrated he couldn't tell Hunter was confused. Gently, he led the younger man from the elevator and into his living room, helping him sit on the couch before sitting close next to him. "You put yourself at great risk, Hunter," he said softly. "You put yourself in danger. You know that isn't acceptable. But we're not unreasonable. I'm not unreasonable. Just explain to me why...if you had a good reason, you don't need to be punished..." Bucky watched the other man closely, hoping that he did have a good reason, considering how blatantly he'd broken the most important family rule.
Hunter knew that. At least logically. But the feeling of paranoia wasn't going away. He didn't even know how to explain. "I know what I did was wrong. I know I shouldn't have gone off on my own." That was the only thing he could be sure of.
Bucky could sense something was up, but he'd be hanged if he could figure out what. And Hunter wasn't cooperating by telling him anything. Hunter was barely saying anything at all, despite obviously being nervous. Sighing, Bucky gave the other man a disappointed look. "You can talk to me, Hunter; I hope you know that. But if you feel like you can't, any of the other family would be willing to listen...." He tried one last time to get Hunter to tell him why he'd done what he'd done...or at least tell someone.
Hunter shrugged, not making eye contact with Bucky. "There isn't anything else to add. I know I shouldn't have gone off. It was a bad judgement call." He wanted to say more, but the words stuck in his throat.
Bucky could tell Hunter was holding back; that he wanted to say something, but wasn't for some reason. Unless Hunter chose to share, there wasn't anything Bucky could do. "Ok, then I guess there isn't much more to be said. You know putting yourself in danger for no good reason is unacceptable and you know what the consequences for doing so are." Bucky somehow managed to keep his frustration out of his tone, although it was difficult to keep the disappointment out. "Come here, son." Bucky carefully shifted and drew Hunter over his lap, pulling him tight against his torso then quickly lowering his jeans and underwear. "You don't take needless chances with your life. Ever." With that declaration, Bucky raised his hand and firmly smacked down on the center of the exposed backside.
Hunter couldn't help the whimper that escaped him and he reached down to grab Bucky's pants leg, trying to take comfort even though he knew the other man was disappointed in him. "I'm sorry..." But he wasn't certain what he was apologizing for. Running off... or the paranoia stopping him from explaining what had really happened? And then there was the part of him that felt endangering himself shouldn't have been necessary... that he should have found a way of letting them know.
Bucky hated having to do this...cause pain to someone who he had rapidly grown to care for. Hunter was family. But it was because he was family that Bucky knew he couldn't let the younger man's actions go without response. Endangering himself without good cause was just not acceptable. Bucky steeled himself against the whimper...and the way Hunter grasped at his leg... and raised and lowered his hand again. And again. Keeping the smacks firm and hard enough to leave a memorable impression, but not hard enough to harm, Bucky covered every inch of Hunter's backside.
When he'd completed one circuit and began smacking already covered territory, he spoke again. "You disappeared in the middle of a mission...with no word to anyone else. That's not acceptable. Everyone tried to reach you on the coms, but you didn't respond. That's not acceptable. When we finally found you, it was obvious you had been in a battle where you were seriously outnumbered, needed help, but did not call for backup- even though you were still wearing the coms and, according to our check, they were working. That is not acceptable." Bucky punctuated the last four words with four firm smacks to Hunters sit spot, before starting at the top for a third round.
He sincerely hoped Hunter responded in a way that would enable him to stop the punishment and move onto comfort.
There was something about this form of punishment that removed Hunter's defenses. It wasn't the first time he'd been disciplined for his actions... but it was the first time that it was someone doing it who he respected and whose opinion of him he cared about. He'd begun squirming early on and the tears began falling quickly as he slumped, going limp over Bucky's lap and accepting the punishment.
"Aw, kid..." Bucky immediately stopped spanking the minute Hunter submitted, carefully pulling him up so that he was sitting on his lap, then wrapped his arms tightly around him. "We're good...you've paid for your mistake and it's behind us now...clean slate."
Hunter responded by wrapping his arms around Bucky, second nature to seek the comfort from him even though it had just been Bucky spanking him. He tried to breathe deeply and calm down... but the whole thing had upset him more than he'd realized.
Bucky tightened his own embrace, gently rubbing Hunter's back in an effort to help him calm. Something about this whole situation had him feeling out of sorts and wrong footed. He didn't know why. What he did know was he had punished Hunter and now the younger man needed to know he was forgiven.
It took longer than it should have for Hunter to calm down, but eventually, he did, resting cautiously against Bucky. "I'm sorry..." But he still couldn't hide his confusion. Not because he'd been punished, because he knew what endangering himself would get... but he didn't even know how to explain his confusion.
Bucky could tell Hunter was confused. He suspected it wasn't about being spanked...was almost positive it was something else...but if Hunter wasn't able or willing to tell him why he was confused, Bucky couldn't do a thing about it beyond what he was already doing. Sighing silently, he pulled the younger man in even tighter. "I know you are, son. And I can tell you are confused. And when you feel able to talk about it, I hope you know I'm here for you," he said softly.
Hunter just closed his eyes. He wasn't used to this... confusion. The paranoia that wouldn't release its grip on him. He pressed his head against Bucky's shoulder and held on tight, not knowing how to explain things to the other man... and wishing he could tell Bucky that he trusted him and didn't know what was wrong with himself.
Bucky frowned at the reactions Hunter was exhibiting. It wasn't that the younger man was needing comfort...but his reactions were so much more emotional at the moment than he'd ever exhibited in their past encounters. It was almost as if he had no control over himself. Frowning, his own suspicions and paranoia fanned into a flame, Bucky gently fixed Hunter's clothes for him then carefully stood. Keeping his arm around the other man, he slowly led him to the elevator while rubbing his back. "I'd like you to get checked out, kid. Something just seems...wrong...and I'd feel better knowing that you weren't given some type of HYDRA chemical or something."
Hunter didn't fight or protest being led along, instead walking quietly with Bucky. "Okay," he said softly, a large part of him relieved that Bucky was picking up on something being wrong. He stayed leaning against Bucky, feeling that little bit better when he was close to the other man.
Bucky didn't bother going back to the debriefing room. Instead, he asked JARVIS to notify Bruce he was needed in the medical floor and took Hunter directly there. He was fairly certain that either Coulson or Steve would show up with Bruce. Maybe he should have waited for the debrief to be over and then have Bruce called, but he was really feeling unsettled about what he saw as out of character behavior from Hunter. He'd deal with the fallout if necessary.
Since JARVIS expressed something of an urgency, the rest of the team broke off the debrief and Steve and Coulson accompanied Bruce to the medical floor, while the kids went to watch a movie together.
Bucky had led Hunter to one of the medical beds and insisted he sit on it. He stayed close with his arm around the other man. When Bruce arrived, Steve and Coulson close behind, he straightened. "Something is off. Hunter is just not acting like himself. Can you check him out? Make sure something wasn't done to him?" he quickly asked Bruce.
Bruce frowned, but quickly began gathering his equipment. "By 'not acting like himself', what exactly do you mean?"
"I mean that he seems confused about everything...paranoid or afraid...and unable to voice what he is thinking," Bucky stated, not looking at Hunter to see what he thought of Bucky's assessment.
Bruce did look at Hunter. "Would you agree with that assessment?"
Hunter sat on the bed without protest, leaning a little against Bucky. When he looked at Bruce when the other man spoke, an almost vulnerable look came over his face. "I don't know what's wrong." He couldn't force himself to say, 'With me.'
Steve heard what wasn't being said and looked at his brother with concern. "Have you noticed anything else?"
Bucky ran the hand that wasn't around Hunter's shoulder through his hair. "It..it's hard to explain, really. Hunter didn't argue about anything. I gave him numerous attempts to defend himself and all he would say was that he knew he had done something wrong...which, yeah, he will admit when he is wrong...but he still gives reasons for his actions. Even if it is just to help me understand what he was thinking. This time...nothing." Bucky glanced at the younger man, clearly worried. "Add to that the obvious paranoia and fear he is now displaying...." He looked back at Steve, his own eyes worried and slightly guilty. What if Hunter hadn't acted under his own actions? Had Bucky punished Hunter for something he had no control over? Had Hunter had a good reason that would have excused him and Bucky punished him anyway?
Steve moved without hesitation, placing a hand on his brother's shoulder and squeezing gently. He looked at Bruce. "Maybe if you could draw some blood... run tests... it might not be something obvious that we would have noticed."
Despite the confusion and paranoia, Hunter made no attempt to get away from Bucky, instead leaning in closer to the other man and extending an arm out to Bruce. Mixed in with the other emotions was obvious hope... and trust that the others would be able to figure out whatever was wrong with him.
"Already on it, Cap..." Bruce smiled at his friend, already getting vials and needles ready. Soon, he was drawing the blood. "Steve, if you could get some of those swabs in that jar over there and get some samples of his saliva and also the inside of his nose...I'd like to see if he maybe ingested or breathed in something foreign." Bruce nodded toward the swabs, as he swiped an alcohol pad over the injection site and put a bandaid over it.
Bucky stayed by Hunter's side the whole time, equal parts worry and guilt clouding his expression.
Bruce watched Hunter and Bucky from the corner of his eye, sympathy for them in his eyes. "Phil? Did we find any witnesses to question? Maybe they saw something that could direct us to a clue, if nothing else...."
Steve squeezed Bucky's shoulder gently before doing as instructed, taking the samples from Hunter, who didn't protest or argue.
Coulson had stepped to the side to check in with the others. "Leo and Mack are working on tracking one down now," he said.
Bucky straightened up at Steve's show of support. He needed to be strong right now for Hunter. The kid had to be unsettled by the whole situation. On hearing Coulson's words, he asked Hunter curiously; as if it was of no consequence, but just something to fill the time while Bruce did his work. He didn't want to stress Hunter out any further, after all. "While you were separated from us all, were there any other people near you that might have seen something?"
Hunter nodded, trying not to let the paranoia be in control. "There were... was... a mother and a baby." He bit his lip, uncertain.
Coulson noticed the way Hunter looked after that and he spoke into the comm, passing on the information... but not his own theory about it.
Bucky had noticed the look, too; as if the paranoia had grown when Hunter tried to mention the two. His own suspicion about the situation rose and he glanced at Coulson. "It's ok, Lance. We'll find them and see if the mother remembers anything odd; she might have seen something you missed..." he said quietly, using the kid's first name and also not voicing his suspicion.
Hunter nodded and closed his eyes, taking deep breaths as he tried to force away the feelings of paranoia. Trouble was they couldn't have been natural... so pushing them away was harder than it would have been normally.
Steve gave his brother a tight hug then gently patted Hunter's shoulder, before stepping over to see how Bruce was doing.
Bruce glanced up as Coulson called the info in, then over at Bucky and Hunter. When Steve came over to him, he gave the Captain a tiny smile. "It's going to take me a while to run these samples. If you'd all like to go to the common room and watch a movie or do something else to relax, I think Hunter is well enough to leave medical. If you find out any other info, have JARVIS relay it..." His voice was quiet but firm. He didn't want them hanging over his shoulder while he worked; and he didn't think it would be good for Hunter anyway.
Steve nodded in understanding. "Let us know if you need anything else..." He stepped back over towards the other men, relaying Bruce's suggestion. "We could always play a game. I'm sure most of the others would join in."
Bucky nodded then looked at Hunter. "It's up to you, kid. You want to watch a movie or play a game? Or would you rather take a nap? You look beat...."
"I don't think I can sleep," Hunter admitted, not wanting to (or not able to) admit that he thought he might have bad dreams. "Maybe a game?" Something he could lose himself in for a little while at least.
"Cards?" Bucky asked with a smile, not pressing for any other response. He wanted Hunter to feel comfortable and relax.
Hunter nodded. "Cards sounds good."
"Just us? Or would you like others to play as well?" Steve asked.
Hunter shrugged. "Maybe... anyone who wants to join in?" Part of him thought he might feel better if there were more people around him.
"We'll go to the common floor, then. We'll be sure to end up with a handful of payers that way..." Bucky smirked.
Hunter nodded, a relieved look coming over his face. He looked up at Bucky gratefully. "Thank you..." He tried to convey that it was for all of the support the other man was giving him.
"No problem, kid." Bucky's smile was genuine, if a bit weak. He was more worried than he was letting on and feeling a lot more guilty. He'd punished the other man for something that it turned out might not have been his fault at all. Of course, there was no way to know for sure until the tests were run, but still. He should have just waited to take care of things. Hunter had been acting odd and that should have clued him in...but he'd somehow missed the clue. He smiled again then glanced at Steve, knowing the other would be able to tell immediately something was wrong. Knowing Steve, he'd figure out what, too.
Steve wrapped an arm around Bucky's shoulders, understanding how his brother was feeling, and then looked at Coulson, who had walked over to join them. "We were going to head to the common floor... play a game. Why don't you join us?" he suggested.
Coulson nodded. "I'm sure many of the others will want to play, too..."
Bucky nodded at Coulson, relaxing into his brother for a moment before straightening up and putting a hand on Hunter's shoulder. "C'mon, Hunter, you can decide what game you want to play. The others will join us soon." He smiled at the younger man before leading him to the elevator.
It had been a little over a day and as far as Bucky could tell Hunter's paranoia had only improved a little. It had improved, though, and Bucky could only hope that they got some answers soon. Answers would come a little sooner than expected, though, even as fast as Bruce was working.
"There is a woman downstairs with a baby that would like to speak with the team..." JARVIS spoke into the room during a group breakfast.
"Well, I know I haven't done anything to be getting visited by strange women with babies since I started dating Pepper..." Tony muttered then yelped as Pepper swatted him on the shoulder. "I thought that would be considered a good thing, Pep!" he said plaintively.
"Send her up, J," Pepper requested, after making certain that everyone was dressed and presentable.
Coulson glanced around at the others. "It might make her feel uncomfortable if all of us are here to greet her," he said. "Perhaps it should be just one or two of us."
"Do we even know who she wants to talk to, though?" Tony asked curiously. "I mean, if she's here with a request, she'd probably want to talk to the big three...but if she has information, or something else, she might need to talk to whoever handles that area of expertise...."
Coulson nodded and addressed the A.I. "JARVIS? Can you ask her what she needs, please?"
A few seconds later, JARVIS replied, "She wants to thank all of you."
Pepper slanted her head and shrugged. "Sounds like she wants to see everyone but me...so I'll just head down to the office..." She leaned over and kissed Tony goodbye, before waving at everyone else and waltzing out.
Tony frowned slightly...Pepper had seemed a bit sad, but he doubted she wanted him to bring it up in front of everyone. If she'd wanted that, she wouldn't have tried to hide it so well. He'd have to go down and see if she was ok after they talked to this woman...speaking of which. He glanced toward the door as the elevator pinged. He could hear Pepper giving someone directions to the kitchen.
Moments later, a young woman came in, holding a baby to her shoulder. She bit her lip and gave a shy smile to the group. "I'm sorry to interrupt your breakfast, but I'm catching a bus back to my parents in two hours and only just recently discovered that the man I was looking for was part of your group. I just want to thank all of you for what you did to save everyone the other day, but specifically you..." She turned to Hunter. "...if you hadn't come when you did, my little boy would be dead. And I probably would be too...."
Steve noticed the look of concern on Tony's face and glanced after Pepper, deciding he would talk to the woman he might as well have adopted as his daughter, considering he cared about her as much as he did his son. When the woman entered, he turned his attention to her then followed her gaze to Hunter.
Hunter swallowed his mouthful of food and smiled at the woman... but he didn't make any comments, since the paranoia was still there, roiling just under the surface.
Coulson looked at Hunter and then spoke to the woman. "Can you tell us what happened?" He didn't want to go into the details of why they didn't know that and hoped she wouldn't think to ask.
The woman smiled her smile impish. "I guess he isn't the type to brag after all... He saved my and my son's life. Those...whatever they were...had cornered us.., shooting everywhere and hitting my car where we were hiding. I was positive they were trying to blow my car up with me and the baby in it. Then, all of a sudden, he was there, providing cover for us to get out of the car and run into a nearby building which they hadn't been able to damage. It was one of the fall- out shelters that had been built during the Cold War, I guess...but the point is, me and Billy woulda never made it out of the car, let alone to a safe spot, if he hadn't helped us." She smiled at Hunter again. "So thank you. Thank all of you...."
Coulson smiled warmly at the woman. "In that case... I'm very glad he was there to help you."
Steve shifted, almost unconsciously, closer to Bucky... since he had a pretty good idea of how this news would make his brother feel.
Hunter nodded to the woman, picking his words carefully to stave off the paranoia. "You're welcome."
The woman smiled back at Coulson, before shooting a worried look at Hunter. "I just was wondering...you gave your face mask to cover Billy's nose and mouth...and you gave me your jacket to cover my face and I know you inhaled some of that hazy smoke stuff, cuz you were coughing. Are...are you ok now?"
"I..." A faint panicked look came over Hunter's face, undetectable to all but those who knew him the best. Although weakened, the paranoia was still strong enough to strangle his words before he could speak them.
Coulson took one look at Hunter's face and stood up. "I'm going to talk to Bruce," he said, his voice reassuring.
The woman looked alarmed at Hunter's response, looking toward Coulson, Steve and Fury. "He isn't ok, is he?" she whispered. "He risked himself to save us and he isn't alright now..." She gently rocked the baby, who had started fussing when the tension in the room had risen. "If there is anything I can do...I'll cancel my tickets and stay. It's the least I can do..."
Bucky shook his head, pushing down his own guilt about the situation and wondering how he had missed so much. "No. Go to your parents. But leave us a phone number to reach you if we have questions. That will be enough..." he soothed.
"He'll be fine," Steve said. "You just take care of yourself and your son right now. We've already got our doctor working on him."
Hunter couldn't force himself to say anything, but he smiled reassuringly at the woman.
The woman nodded hesitantly. "If you are sure...I probably should catch a cab now... My bus for my parents leaves in two hours and I know it will take a bit of time with traffic to get to the station." She hung by the door uncertainly, just in case they did need her.
Bucky smiled and put a gentle hand on her arm, leading her to the elevator. "There's no need for a cab...JARVIS, could you ask Happy to please take the young lady and her son to the bus station and make certain she gets on ok?"
"Of course, sir," the AI spoke.
Tony was nodding at his uncle's actions and, following along behind, pulled out his wallet, handing her five twenties. "For snacks and in case something comes up..." he said unabashedly. "Take care of yourself and Billy and let us know that you got to your parents safely..." He smiled, handing her a piece of paper with a phone number on it.
She smiled shyly, taking the money hesitantly. "Thank you, Mr. Stark... And please, let me know if I can help in any way..." She tore the paper in half, then wrote her own number on it and gave it to Tony. "Thanks again, to all of you..." She stopped in front of the elevator where Happy met her, taking her bags and leading her to the garage.
Bucky stood at the elevator, long after it had gone, then turned, slumping. "C'mon, kid. I think Bruce needs to take a look at you again, after we tell him the new information." He smiled at Hunter crookedly.
Hunter nodded, standing up automatically. He wanted to apologize for being so much trouble... but the words stuck in his throat and he sighed, running his hands through his hair. He really hated feeling like this. And he hated worrying everyone.
"I'll go as well." Steve had no intention of leaving his brother alone to feel bad. He knew how he would feel if he had been in the same situation.
Bruce was speaking softly to Jemma and Leo when everyone arrived at the lab, Bucky leading Hunter forward by an arm around his shoulder.
"How did you know I needed to speak with you all?" Bruce glanced over, a teasing smile on his face.
"We received a visit from a woman Hunter saved." Steve didn't waste any time saying that. He felt bad that it had never occurred to him Hunter might have acted for a good reason... and he wasn't the one responsible for the other man.
"She said that he breathed in some of the smoke," Coulson said. "You found something?"
"Yes, I did..." Bruce quickly responded. He quickly turned around and turned on the viewing screen.
"I had discovered what amounted to an alien fungus that was living in Hunter's respiratory system. While I can't say for sure what it does, it is possible that it is behind Hunter's strange behavior," Bruce said calmly.
Bucky stiffened. "A fungus? An alien fungus?"
Bruce nodded. "Yes..."
"Is there anyway to remove it safely from him?" Fury asked.
Hunter sighed, really hoping there was a way of getting rid of it.
"Well, see...that's why we called you down! It's very exciting, really...the fungus, while alien, is still very similar to a type of fungus found on earth that there is an anti-fungal for...we did some testing and it appears to work on this one as well, soooo..." Jemma explained; so quickly, she didn't even take a breath, to the amusement of Bruce.
Leo smiled at Jemma's explanation, even though he was really worried about their friend and teammate as well. "So we can treat it."
A relieved look came over Hunter's face and he relaxed a bit against Bucky.
"Good....that's real good..." Bucky said in obvious relief, his arm tightening around Hunter. "Can you start treatment now?"
Bruce nodded. "The sooner the better."
It had taken a few days, but Hunter finally felt much better and less like he was going to get overwhelmed with artificial feelings. Indicating that he was able to debrief better, he was now meeting with the others to talk about his version of events. To that end, he was in the debriefing room with the others who needed to know what had happened.
Bucky sat close beside him in support...but also to reassure himself that Hunter was ok. He felt immensely guilty at having punished the other man for running off, now that they knew he'd had good reason...especially when he knew he wouldn't have been so hard on the other man if Hunter had been able to explain.
Since they already knew what had happened, there was a much smaller gathering than there had been previously. Coulson and Fury were there... but Steve was with Tony and Pepper right now, though he'd asked them to let him know when the debrief was over and he could support his brother.
Hunter cleared his throat. "I'm not sure how much extra I have to add... I saw there were creatures heading in another direction. I should have let the rest of the team know, but I wasn't sure I had enough time."
"And once you were there...when we tried to reach you via the coms...you didn't answer. Why?" Bucky asked softly, suspecting he knew the answer and feeling guiltier by the moment.
"I didn't have a spare covering to stop myself from breathing in the smoke," Hunter said quietly. "I know it was dangerous to leave myself unprotected... but I couldn't leave either of them unprotected."
"I.... I understand that, Hunter. I would have done the same thing..." Bucky admitted in a tense voice. "What I'm trying to understand is why you didn't answer us when we tried to reach you via the coms. Even if we were late to the party, we would have come to help you if you had answered us...."
"That's what I mean," Hunter said. "The moment I was unprotected, I guess the smoke's effects started taking hold. I could hear you, but it's like when I couldn't answer your questions earlier. I couldn't see past the paranoia. I couldn't even tell it was artificial... and wasn't what I was thinking. I had no idea the effects would take hold so fast."
Bucky swallowed then nodded. "Yeah, ok." His voice was gruff. "We....I should have been able to tell. I failed you." He shook his head again. "I can't even...sorry isn't even close to enough." Roughly running a hand through his hair, he stood up and began to pace before forcing himself to stop. "Stay here with Coulson and Fury. Answer their questions...maybe they'll be able to figure out some way to go after the bastards that did this to you," he finally said, before stalking out of the area at a rapid clip.
Looking after Bucky, Hunter half-rose to go after him, but was stopped by Coulson. "I'd let Steve talk to him first," he said reassuringly, before taking out his com to quickly pass on what had happened to Steve.
Receiving the message from Coulson, Steve quickly headed to the debrief room, hoping to intercept his brother.
Bucky didn't know where he was headed- he only knew he had to get away. He avoided the elevator, running down the stairs, somehow ending up in one of the gyms. He began beating on one of the punching bags, heedless to the damage he was doing to his hands.
Steve finally asked JARVIS where his brother was and, hearing that Bucky was in the gym, he quickly made his way there. He stepped over, making sure Bucky knew he was coming. "Bucky... you can't do this to yourself."
"I shoulda known, Stevie...he wasn't acting normal and I knew it, but I went ahead and treated him as if he was completely fine. I punished him, but if I'd have waited to find out what was wrong, I wouldn't have..." Bucky's voice was guilt filled and sorrowful.
Steve stepped forward to hug his brother tight. "It isn't always easy to take on the responsibility for someone else," he pointed out gently. "You can't expect to be perfect in all of your dealings with him. I know how much it eats you up, but you can't let it destroy any semblance of a relationship between you."
"How can he trust me if I make mistakes like that?" Bucky gave Steve a broken look.
Steve tightened his embrace. "You made a mistake, but you realized it and got him the help he couldn't ask for himself. And he does trust you. He turned to you for comfort, remember?"
Bucky took a deep breath, shivering slightly and wrapping his own arms tightly around his brother. "I need to apologize to him…" he finally said, quietly and calmly. "I'm not going to be able to forgive myself if he can't forgive me." He reluctantly stepped back, then looked down at his torn up and bleeding knuckles. "Guess I should get Bruce to look at this, too, even if it will heal up fairly quickly. Need to set a good example and all that...." He gave Steve a sheepish grin fairly certain he had been anything but a good example in the last half-hour at least.
Steve smiled, gently squeezing his brother's shoulder. "I understand needing to take your emotions out on something. But you're right. You should get Bruce to take a look. There are better ways than hurting yourself..."
Taking another deep breath, Bucky straightened his shoulders and turned toward the door. "Thanks, Stevie..." he whispered softly, his gratitude palpable. "I really don't know what I'd do without your support...." He began walking back to the elevator to head back to medical where his... mentee? student? charge?... He was reluctant to admit he already viewed Hunter like a son; especially since the other man hadn't indicated he needed a father figure and had only agreed to answer to Bucky, not be family, but he knew that the younger man was important to him. He supposed that was all that mattered. There was no need to label everything, after all....
Steve stuck close to Bucky, his arm wrapped around his brother's shoulders. "You're never going to have to find out," he said, his voice calm and reassuring. "Because there won't be a single moment when you don't have my support."
Bucky smiled at Steve, letting his head briefly fall onto his brother's shoulder in acknowledgement before standing tall again. They quickly took the elevator back up to the medical floor and soon were walking back into the room, where Bruce was finishing up giving Hunter the medication needed to fight the alien fungus.
Bruce glanced up, his eyes going immediately to Bucky's bleeding and swollen knuckles before he huffed out a breath, quickly going to get ointment and bandages. "Couldn't be bothered to tape your hands up first, could you?" His voice was more knowing than Bucky would have liked, causing the ex-soldier to fidget like a child, even as he walked over and hopped up onto the examining table next to Hunter, sitting shoulder to shoulder with the other man.
Bucky glanced at Hunter apologetically while holding out his hands for Bruce to take care of him. "I'm sorry, kid. If I had known the full story, I never would have..." He didn't finish the sentence, because that would mean telling all the others in the room that what they suspected had happened had happened. You didn't tell other people when you spanked a family member. Hunter could tell if he wanted, but Bucky wasn't going to tell. It made it difficult to apologize when other people were in the room, though.
Steve stood close by Bucky, but he didn't speak, knowing this was something his brother needed to do himself.
Hunter automatically leaned into Bucky, careful not to jostle his hands while Bruce was treating them. "It's not like I don't think I should have told you all where I was going before I took the mask off... I don't blame you."
Bucky darted a quick glance at Hunter, uncertain. "I blame me...I should never have done anything until we knew for certain that you weren't sick. You weren't acting like yourself, but I just completely ignored my gut when it said something else was going on that you weren't saying. I should have listened to my gut..." He sighed. "I wouldn't blame you if you didn't trust me anymore after this...but I hope someday you can forgive me..." His voice was soft; not quite a whisper, but not loud either. It was obvious his confidence in himself had been shaken.
Hunter hesitantly shifted in closer to Bucky. "I screwed up first time we worked together. You forgave me and gave me a second chance. I can't do anything less." He looked like he wanted to add more, but bit his lip instead.
"Thank you..." Bucky said, his voice thickening with emotion. Clearing his throat, he leaned against Hunter; unable to put his arm around the other man because Bruce was still fixing his hands, but wanting to show some physical sign of caring. "I know this time that alien stuff was preventing you from being able to tell me what you wanted or needed to tell me...but I hope you know that if I'd had any clue your reasoning for doing what you did, I might have taken issue with the fact that you ran off without word or warning, but you never would have been in trouble for going in the first place. I'm actually very proud of you and what you did to help that woman...."
Bruce finally finished fixing Bucky's knuckles and gave the other man a wry look. "I'm surprised you aren't in trouble for doing damage to yourself...." he muttered under his breath, as he began to clean up. Bucky's enhanced hearing was able to hear every word, though, and he gave Steve a sheepish look, as he finally wrapped an arm around Hunter's shoulders.
Hunter leaned more fully into Bucky. "I know you were disappointed that it looked like I was choosing not to say anything and... that was almost worse," he admitted in a soft voice. "I'm glad you know the truth now."
Steve had heard Bruce's comment and he made eye contact with his brother. "I think we will be having our own discussion about that..." His voice was pitched too low for Hunter to hear, but he knew Bucky would pick his comment up no problem.
"Me too, kid..." Bucky squeezed Hunter closer to him in a side hug, before impulsively kissing him on the forehead. "And I'm very glad we were able to figure out what was wrong with you so we can get you better."
Bucky caught Steve's comment and glanced at his brother, giving him a nod of acceptance. He glanced at Hunter again. "As soon as Bruce clears you, why don't you go to the common floor and let everyone know you're ok...maybe start a movie? I'll join you as soon as I've talked with Steve..."
Hunter nodded, wrapping his arms around Bucky in a tight hug before he slipped to the floor. "Maybe, once I'm cleared to leave the Tower, we could go outside somewhere?" he suggested... partly because he was antsy from being inside for so long; but partly because he liked spending time with Bucky together just them.
"I'd like that..." Bucky smiled. "You know, I grew up not too far from this area. Granted, it was seventy some odd years ago, but still..." He put a hand on Hunter's shoulder and squeezed.
Bruce came over and smiled at the two men. "You're both cleared to leave medical. Hunter, I'd say give yourself a week for the medicine to work and I'll check you out again. If it works, maybe you can take that trip after."
He looked at Steve and nodded with a smile. "I'm thinking of making curry tonight for dinner. Maybe have cake. I've got an announcement to make, if you don't mind informing the others."
Hunter nodded and smiled at the idea. "That sounds good." He glanced at Bruce curiously, but didn't ask him for the details.
Steve nodded as well. "I'll make sure and inform them," he promised, not bothering to say he'd do so after had and his brother had talked.
Bruce smiled. "Thank you." Waving at the two men still sitting on the medical bed, he 'shooed' them away with a grin. "Go on then...I have experiments to finish. Unless there is something else I need to look at or take care of?" He looked between Hunter and Bucky, curiously.
Bucky quickly jumped to his feet and shook his head. "Nope! You got me all squared away. Nothing else wrong here...." He grinned at Hunter crookedly. "Go pick out a movie and I'll be there as soon as I can..." He made his own shooing motions toward the door, even as he walked over to stand next to his brother. He had a feeling he knew what his brother wanted to 'say' and he'd rather not have an audience. Although, in this instance, he didn't think he could rightly be upset if Lance did overhear.
Hunter nodded, smiling and waving at Bucky and nodding towards Bruce and Steve as he left the medical floor to join the others on the common floor.
Steve wrapped an arm around Bucky's shoulders and gently steered his brother towards the elevator. "I thought we'd go to my floor. Tony and Pepper should still be on the common floor."
Bucky swallowed, but let Steve lead him. "Ok," he said softly, without argument. It didn't take long for them to take the elevator up and soon they were stepping out onto Steve's floor.
Steve guided his brother through to the living room and sat down on the couch, gently tugging Bucky down to sit next to him. "I know you were feeling guilty and blaming yourself," he said softly.
"Yeah..." Bucky sighed, but didn't deny it. "Hunter's forgiveness helps a lot, but since I didn't ask him till after I foolishly hurt my hands...." He held his hands out in front of him then gave Steve a sheepish smile.
Steve nodded, wrapping his arm around his brother and squeezing him gently. "Hurting yourself isn't the answer, even if you're trying to get out your negative feelings. You should have talked to one of us..."
"Oh, believe me, I know. If you'd done what I did, we'd be having words. If Lance ever does what I did, we'll have words. There is no excuse for me doing it...at the time, I didn't care, though." He winced, glancing away from Steve. "I'm sorry...."
"I know." Steve squeezed his brother gently. "I know you'd react in exactly the same way I'm going to react now. But then it'll be over. And at least you've repaired things with your kid." He was reasonably sure that his brother had started viewing Hunter as 'his'.
"Yeah....I did..." Bucky's grin was genuine and happy. "I have a kid now..." He shook his head in bemusement. "Guess I need to think about that before doing self-destructive things..." His voice was soft.
Steve nodded. "You have to stay safe for him now. Just like I have to for Tony. I know it's not always easy... but they've all lost so much already." Since Hunter had accepted Bucky being responsible for him so quickly (and the man had made no mention of other family, outside of Bobbi and Mack), Steve suspected he didn't have family... or none who were living now.
"Yeah...I know. But it doesn't hurt to be reminded." Bucky smiled at his brother fondly.
Steve smiled, tightening his embrace a moment before speaking quietly. "Ready to get this over with?"
Bucky winced then grinned good naturedly. "Not really, but it needs to be done, so..."
Steve nodded, giving his brother one last squeeze before he moved Bucky across his lap, wrapping an arm around his brother's waist and drawing him tight against his stomach. He then divested Bucky of his pants and underwear,
Bucky didn't even wince at the position he found himself. Yes, it was embarrassing and a bit shameful that he'd behaved in a manner that would place him over Steve's lap, but he wasn't scared, or reluctant, or even nervous. He knew he had it coming and was ready to accept the consequences of his actions; and he trusted his brother, so really, what more was there? Reaching down, he grasped Steve's leg with one hand and braced himself on the floor with the other hand. "I'm sorry I behaved in a way that made this necessary," he said softly.
Steve rubbed Bucky's back gently a moment or two. "I know you are, brother. I don't like to see you hurt yourself. And it isn't a healthy way to help those emotions." He lifted his hand and brought it down in a firm swat.
Bucky didn't try to play brave or hide anything; when the swat landed, he hissed out in discomfort, but the only effort he made to 'protect' himself was to hold onto Steve's leg a bit tighter. His eyes began watering almost immediately- not because of pain (it hurt, but nothing close to hurts he'd had in the past) and not because of guilt (Hunter had forgiven him and wanted to spend time with him and Steve was taking care of the only other reason he might have to feel guilty). No, his eyes began watering immediately because all the worry and fear and emotions (ok, that included guilt) suddenly had no reason to exist anymore and he wasn't holding onto them. Of course they needed an outlet.
And now he was embarrassed, because Steve hadn't even gone through one circuit of correction and Bucky was already crying like a little kid. "I'm sorry..." he gasped out between tears. "I dunno what's wrong with me...everything is finally going right. I shouldn't be..." He slumped and tightened his grip even more on Steve's leg, then hid his face against it.
Steve paused, barely having finished the first circuit of swats, and gently rubbed his brother's back. "Sometimes emotions can just be overwhelming. And something was wrong with Hunter. You didn't know what it was and felt powerless to help him." He was reasonably sure everything had built up since Bucky had taken his kid to the medical floor the first time.
"I've only ever been scared like that once...that year you got really sick and we didn't know if you'd be ok..." he admitted hoarsely. "Not knowing what was wrong with him or if it would get worse and not being able to help..." Bucky slowly regained control over himself, his tears slowing to quiet hitches in his breath.
"I know," Steve said quietly. "When Tony was electrocuted... I felt the same. I was terrified. I couldn't do anything to save or protect him. That kind of fear... I know what it does to you. I put myself in unnecessary danger because of how I felt and you were there to step in for me. Now I'm here to step in for you. You have to remember that Hunter's all right. Even if you didn't realize straight away, you knew something was wrong with him and you got him to Bruce. And the only thing it's changed is that I'm sure you're going to listen to your gut next time."
"Yeah...I will..." Bucky admitted softly, giving Steve's ankle a gentle squeeze to let him know he was alright and had calmed down. "Thanks, Stevie..." he added gratefully.
"You're welcome, brother. I love you, Bucky. Nothing ever changed that." Steve continued rubbing his brother's back a moment or two before he lifted his hand to begin swatting once more... knowing that they needed to finish this.
Bucky closed his eyes as the swatting began again, knowing that it was the least he deserved...he knew better than to harm himself because he felt badly about something. He should have gone to Steve, talked to him and admitted how guilty he felt about how he'd handled Hunter. Heck, he should have gone to Hunter and just admitted how guilty he had felt...after talking to the younger man and receiving his forgiveness, and knowing that he hadn't done irreparable harm to their fledgling relationship, he'd felt much better.
He knew he deserved this, so he didn't try and squirm out of the way of the swats; he didn't attempt to tense up so that the swats would hurt less; he just breathed deeply and focused on them, hissing whenever a particularly sensitive area was smacked, grunting when it hurt more than expected. When his eyes began to water from the pain that was gradually building from the steady punishment, he didn't even attempt to blink them back or wipe them away or try and hide them from Steve...he just let them drip down his face unabashedly and continued to breathe deeply; even if his breathing sounded a bit more ragged than it had in the beginning.
Steve shifted Bucky forward slightly, knowing his brother needed a little push more to reach the point he needed to, and began swatting Bucky's sit spots, speaking quietly as he did so. "There's more than just me who care about you here. You're a big part of this family too... and there were many people you could have spoken to, rather than doing something to harm yourself. Phil and Nick were both worried about you when you left... Lance was as well. He wanted to come after you..."
Bucky blinked rapidly at that. It was hard sometimes for him to remember it wasn't just Steve who cared what happened to him (although he tended to put Tony in that category now, because Tony was his nephew.) He was only just beginning to realize that Lance cared; and while it shouldn't have been a surprise and he should have remembered it, the fact that Phil and Nick had been worried honestly surprised him. "I didn't mean to worry everyone..." he finally gasped out, a new sense of shame overcoming him. "I just didn't think...." he admitted, his voice tight. "I'm sorry...." he finally forced through a suddenly tear clogged throat. "I'm sorry..." he said again, this time in a whimper, as he went limp over his brother's lap and began to cry more vocally, his body shaking slightly from the tears.
Steve stopped spanking and wasted no time in bringing Bucky up and into his arms, hugging his brother close and tight. "I grieved for you so much when I thought you'd died before," he said softly. "Having you back in my life... I honestly can't tell you how much that means to me. I have no intention of losing you again."
Bucky wrapped his own arms tightly around Steve. "I don't plan on being lost, so I think we're good on that front..." he teased gently, even as he tightened the hug further. "So much has changed in my life in such a short time...." he said softly. "....I can't begin to tell you how thankful I am that you're here, helping me learn how to deal with the changes...learn how to cope...learn how to live."
Steve tightened his embrace. "You always took care of me," he said softly. "I could never do anything less than what you've done for me."
Bucky hugged tightly once more then leaned back to look into Steve's face. "It's what brothers do for each other...." he said softly, then smiled crookedly. Standing up, he carefully fixed his clothing, a slight hiss the only concession he made to his sore backside. "Want to go join the rest of our family? Lance is probably wondering what's taking so long...." His grin turned rueful as he realized that everyone in the family was going to figure out fairly quickly that he'd earned himself a spanking. Not that the 'parents' would care that much; and the 'kids' probably needed to realize it happened to those in charge when necessary, not just those who weren't in charge.
Steve stood up, wrapping his arm around his brother's shoulders. "I'm sure he's just happy you're not withdrawing from him." He started towards the elevator, walking next to Bucky. "We need to let the others know about Bruce's celebration," he added, fairly certain he knew what said celebration was for.
"Yes...!" Bucky nodded, stepping into the elevator, his own arm around his brother's waist. "You know...with all the celebrating going on lately, we haven't taken a 'family' vacation since seven of us were de-aged. I've got an idea that I'd like to run by you, Phil and Nick.... But it can wait until after Bruce's news." Bucky grinned at his brother as they stepped out of the elevator and onto the common floor. He could hear a movie playing as he walked into the common area and noted that everyone but Bruce, Jemma and Leo were there. Giving Steve one last hug, he moved over to Lance's side and sat down next to 'his kid', putting an arm around the other man's shoulder. He thought he did an admirable job of hiding any discomfort when he sat down, but the knowing looks all the other 'kids' were shooting him told him that he'd failed miserably. He grinned sheepishly at everyone and shrugged slightly, but didn't offer an explanation. He figured his bandaged hands told all the story. He glanced at Steve and decided to let the other man tell them what Bruce had asked.
Lance immediately leaned into Bucky. He didn't ask how the conversation went... but just looked relieved that Bucky had come back.
Steve sat down on one side of Tony, stretching his arm out so he could wrap it around both Tony and Pepper before he spoke. "Bruce has an announcement he'd like to make when he gets here."
Tony, who had Pepper sitting on his lap, shifted her so that she was sat on both his and Steve's lap, then leaned in closer to his father so that both he and Pepper were snuggled into the other man. He then asked, "Did he give any clues? I bet I can guess..." His grin was impish, but he didn't say anymore; not wanting to ruin his brother's 'moment'.
Steve wrapped his other arm around Pepper's waist, drawing her in as close as he held his son. "I think I can guess too... but we should let Bruce make his announcement. He mentioned cake, too," he added, smiling.
Pepper blinked at the sudden shift in her position, looking between Steve and Tony uncertainly; not because she was uncomfortable at the show of affection (she actually felt more comfortable with it than she thought she had a right to), but because she still wasn't certain of her place in the new, very large family that had formed in the tower. Just because she was Tony's fiancé (and was sure of his love for her) didn't necessarily mean she was as cared about by everyone else; and the fact that Tony had quite literally pushed her onto his father...well, she didn't want Steve feeling obligated to show affection he really didn't feel. She wasn't sure how to move or how to say as much without drawing attention to herself that she didn't want, so she didn't say anything and instead tried to relax. It was easier than she'd expected it to be. "Bruce made a cake?" She couldn't help but perk up in anticipation. Bruce was a good cook and she always enjoyed when he made food...especially baked goods.
"He mentioned there might be cake... but I'm sure might really meant will be." Steve didn't fail to notice Pepper's hesitation and he tightened his arm around her, drawing her in closer, and wondered if maybe she needed reassurance in the same way that Tony did. Silently, he promised he'd make sure she was included a lot more.
Bruce, who had come up with Leo and Jemma by that point, interjected, "And you'd be right, Steve. There will be- I made a double fudge cake this morning..." He smiled as he walked the rest of the way into the room, one arm around Leo and the other around Jemma. "But before we have cake, I have an important announcement. Yesterday evening, Leo and I signed the final paperwork to legally make him my son. The adoption is final. We are officially and legally a family now." He tightened his arm around Leo and smiled at everyone else.
"Yay! I'm an uncle!" Tony piped up. "And you're a grandpa...old man!" he teased Steve.
Steve smiled, playfully ruffling Tony's hair before addressing Bruce and Leo. "Congratulations. I'm glad it's become official." He knew from personal experience that making it legal didn't change the emotions... but it did help the kids become more settled with their parent figures.
Coulson smiled warmly. "I'm very glad as well." He knew how much it had settled each of his children when he'd officially adopted them... even though they'd become his so completely so fast.
Leo smiled, leaning into Bruce... even if he did look a little awkward at the attention.
Bruce smiled back, hugging Leo closer to himself. "Um, that isn't all, though..." he admitted, smiling at Jemma and pulling her in closer. "I've been in contact with Jemma's parents and arranged with them to become her godfather...as well as arranged to legally have the same rights to make decisions for her, if she is unable to decide for herself, that they would have. It seemed like a good idea, with them being in another country and the type of job we do. So...while they have not given up their rights as parents, they have given me the same rights as a father."
Jemma bit her lip almost shyly, giving Leo a tiny smile. They'd deliberately not told anyone but Leo of Bruce's plans toward her, not certain if it could be arranged, so she wasn't sure what the reaction would be.
Leo smiled at Jemma, definitely more comfortable with her having the attention as well.
"That's good to hear," Fury said, certain he wasn't the only one who'd wondered about Jemma being left out.
"Well, that's just wonderful!" Pepper smiled brightly and carefully got up off of Steve's and Tony's lap so she could hug both of the 'kids' and then hug Bruce. "And I know you said you made a cake, but I think you should let me take care of dinner!" She truly was happy for the three of them. The 'family' was growing even bigger; seeing Bucky and Hunter together, she wondered how long it would take them to form their own little family. Quickly, she went into the kitchen and started to pull out ingredients. She would make one of her mother's recipes; the one her dad always said was his favorite. Since this was to celebrate family, it couldn't hurt to give everyone a little taste of her own childhood.
Tony blinked as Pepper was there one minute, then gone the next. Wrinkling his nose in slight worry and confusion, he glanced at his father, then smiled crookedly and stood up himself to give Bruce a hug, then each of the kids. "I fully expect to be called Uncle Tony now, you understand...." he teased lightly. "And I'm going to go help your Aunt Pepper fix dinner...."
Bruce shook his head as Tony disappeared as well, then pulled both his 'kids' back into his arms and gently directed them to the lone empty couch. "I feel like I should go in and make sure he doesn't make the toaster sentient or something..." He grinned crookedly, but stayed sitting on the couch with Jemma and Leo.
Grant, who was sitting next to his father, leaned against Phil while giving Jemma and Leo a big smile. "Congrats, Squirt.... I'm really happy for you."
"I'll go in and make sure he doesn't do anything he shouldn't," Steve said, standing up... though, actually, what he really wanted to do was check in on them. He couldn't help but notice that Pepper had felt somewhat uncomfortable and wanted to do what he could to reassure her. Smiling at the others, he headed through to the kitchen area, following his son and daughter.
Leo leaned into Bruce, feeling like he should be embarrassed... but then again, all of the kids were cuddled up with their respective parents, which made it easier. He smiled at Grant. "It's nice to have it be official..."
Coulson tightened his arm around Grant and pressed an affectionate kiss to his head. He did the same to Clint, sitting the other side of him, and then reached across to grasp Natasha's hand, squeezing it gently.
Jemma watched as the three left to fix dinner, then looked at Bruce with wide eyes. "Would he really make a toaster sentient?" she asked skeptically.
Bruce chuckled. "With Tony, it's generally safer not to rule something out as a possibility. He likes to prove people wrong."
Clint grinned at Coulson then grinned at Nat, wrapping his arm around her and pulling her in tight and messing her hair up.
Bucky shook his head then looked around at everyone else. "I've had an idea that I want to run by all of you. I was thinking...we haven't really had a 'family break' since seven of us were de-aged. I was wondering if the rest of you might be interested in a family camping trip?"
Loki, who was sat on the floor next to Thor's leg, glanced up at his brother. "I do not believe we have gone camping in many years, brother...." His voice was wistful and interested at the same time.
Thor smiled at Loki. "We haven't. I think it would be a very good idea..."
Loki grinned up at Thor. "I would enjoy it...."
Thor smiled at his brother. "I would as well." His own voice carried a wistful note. They'd grown closer since Loki had joined them at the tower, but part of Thor missed the easy relationship they'd had as children.
Natasha rolled her eyes and nudged Clint in the ribs, before glancing at Bucky. "Camping, huh? Sounds like fun... but persuading Tony to go without any technology might prove to be difficult."
A soft smile spread across Coulson's face as he watched his children, then looked at Bucky. "I had a similar thought... especially since there are a couple of birthdays coming up," he said, almost casually... though it was anything but to him. Though hiding gifts on his floor had been a bit of a challenge with two very curious spy children.
"I'm sure we have time to do that," Fury commented. He looked at Coulson. "You might have to find someone to run things in your absence..."
Bucky's eyebrows went up slightly. "Oh? Whose birthdays?" He chuckled when he noticed both Grant and Clint shift slightly. He turned toward Natasha. "And you leave Tony and his technology withdrawal to Steve, Pepper and I... I have no doubt that Pepper would love to have some time with him where he isn't 'connected' to his 'toys'. Although, we'd probably better have at least one method where JARVIS can get hold of us… Just in case..."
"Thank you, sir," the AI responded drolly.
Clint grinned back at Natasha then glanced at Fury before turning towards his father. "I'm sure Maria could handle things for you."
Coulson nodded. "I'm sure she could as well." He looked at Bucky. "Did you have an idea of when we could go?" He knew they'd have to wait until Lance had the all-clear from Bruce... but hopefully, they'd be able to go soon after. He looked at his sons, but more specifically at Grant. His youngest had spent a long time in the wilderness on his own and he hoped this wouldn't risk bringing up any bad memories.
Bucky glanced at Lance, hugging the younger man closer to him, before glancing in Bruce's direction. "I was thinking maybe the weekend following whenever Lance is finally cleared. That will give everyone time to finish up whatever projects they are working on that can't hold for a week, as well as giving everyone time to get whatever equipment they might need. Plus, we'll need to pick a location."
Bruce slanted his head thoughtfully. "That sounds doable to me. I don't forsee it taking Lance much more than a week for the medicine to have worked enough that he can't take a vacation. Especially since I'll be bringing a bag with medical supplies with me and can easily include the medication he'll need."
Lance leaned into Bucky. "It's not like I have anything better to do." His comment didn't really sound flippant, though. Instead, he sounded happy. It was nice to have someone who wanted to spend time with him... who would arrange things around what he could and couldn't do; someone outside Mack and Bobbi, at least.
Coulson nodded. "That'll give me enough time to make sure I finish what I need to take care of and pass over to Maria what I need to."
Bucky raised an eyebrow at Lance's remark, but he was grinning. "Guess we can clue Steve, Tony and Pepper in when dinner is ready. Any ideas on where we'd like to go?"
Grant shifted somewhat nervously, but not because he didn't want to go. He had an idea, but wasn't sure how to say it without reminding everyone of what had occurred in his life before Coulson had rescued him.
May slanted her head, having noticed Grant's movement. She hoped that she was reading his discomfort correctly and wasn't about to cause a situation. Hesitantly, she asked with some amusement, "Do we want to rough it? Or camp like my grandmother liked to camp when I was a kid? In fully equipped cabins with running water, restrooms and snack machines within walking distance?"
Coulson didn't miss the way Grant shifted and he tightened his embrace around his youngest. "Is there something on your mind, son?" he asked, wanting to indicate to Grant that it was all right for him to share whatever he needed to.
"I was just thinking...I know a spot we could go...if we actually want to rough it. I'm...familiar with the area," he said hesitantly. "And Copper would be welcome there, unlike some camping areas...."
Coulson smiled, squeezing his son gently. "I think Tony might be the only one who wouldn't want to rough it so much, but I think it's a good idea. Why don't you show me where it is and we can look into whether we need to get permission to camp there?"
Grant smiled back, relaxing. "Ok...I can find a map to show you after we eat.... It's... well, it's where I lived for five years, he admitted softly.
Clint perked up at that. "So I might get to see your old stomping grounds, huh?"
"Possibly." Grant blinked at his brother's seeming enthusiasm.
Pepper chose that moment to walk back into the room, a big grin on her face. "Dinner is ready, if you'd all like to find a seat around the table...."
Coulson stood up with a warm smile for Pepper, but hung back a little with his arm around Grant's shoulders, waving for the others to go on ahead. "I know you were on your own for a long time, son," he said softly. "I think it's good if you feel like you want to go back there... at the same time, I hope you know that I'll be there if the memories get too intense. Don't ever feel worried about coming to me. You don't ever have to say anything. You don't have to explain." He pressed an affectionate kiss to Grant's forehead. "I love you."
Grant blinked at his father's words then found himself relaxing against Phil; and he hadn't even realized he was tense. "Ok, dad. Thanks. I love you too..." he said softly, smiling. He followed his dad into the kitchen and took his seat before looking at the spread of food on the table. For being prepared so quickly and unexpectedly, Pepper had outdone herself. Everything was fresh, not out of a box, and even though it was simple fare - baked chicken, roasted vegetables, a fruit salad- it made his mouth water.
Pepper stood to the side, watching as everyone took a seat, trying to appear composed, but her fidgeting from foot to foot and wringing her hands betrayed how nervous she was that everyone like the food. "I know it isn't fancy..." she said hesitantly, "...but it was my dad's favorite meal that mom would make for him and well... it just always reminds me of family and since we're celebrating family...." She bit her lip uncertainly.
"It looks and smells delicious, Pep..." Tony said firmly, kissing her on the tip of her nose.
Coulson smiled as he sat down. "It looks amazing," he said honestly.
"You worked hard on it and Tony's right, it does look and smell delicious." Steve smiled at her. "Thank you for doing it."
"It's a good idea for a celebratory meal," Fury agreed. "You did a really great job."
Pepper visibly relaxed and once everyone was at their seat, she and Tony passed out the drinks. When Tony held her chair out for her, she sat down and gave him a happy smile before looking around the table at everyone. Soon, everyone was eating; and as they all appeared to be enjoying the food, Pepper was able to relax even more and enjoy her own meal.
Making the arrangements for the camping trip had gone smoothly... at least mostly so. Steve, Pepper and Bucky had eventually managed to persuade Tony that it would be a good bonding experience... but as they pulled up at the camping site and could see just how 'rough' it was, Steve could tell that Tony was unhappy as he parked the van he was driving. "Stop pouting, Tony," he teased gently. "I'm sure you'll enjoy it more than you think."
"I'm not pouting. I'm understandably concerned that...." He glanced between those who had begun unloading, all giving him various looks of amusement and disbelief. He sighed loudly. "...Ok, ok...I'm pouting. I just feel so...naked... without my suit, or computers, or JARVIS..."
Steve wrapped an arm around Tony's shoulders and gave him a quick, though tight hug. "We don't get many chances to bond together," he pointed out. "Don't think about what you're missing out on... think about what you're gaining from this."
"Oh, believe me...that's the only thing keeping me from sneaking out of here..." Tony admitted, even as he hugged Steve back.
"You'd better not think about sneaking out of here," Steve said, mostly teasing. He pressed a kiss to his son's head. "Come on, let's go and help with the unloading. It means a lot to me that you came," he added. "When we did things together while you were deaged... those were some of my favourite times."
Tony eyed his father's teasing look (and the small part that wasn't teasing) and smiled. "No...I won't. If I did that, I'd deserve to go over your knee..." he muttered under his breath, so only Steve could hear him then gave Steve a quick but strong hug. "I'll be good...and I'm looking forward to the family time, too," he admitted, before beginning to help unload the van.
Steve headed over to join them, a bit amused to notice the light-hearted teasing going on between many of the kids. He couldn't help thinking it was nice to see the whole family given a chance to bond even tighter together.
Coulson was helping to unload, but also kept glancing towards his children. Not because he was checking for problems - he trusted each of them to come to him if they were having any issues - but because it was nice just to be around them and have them so close.
Grant was surprised to find himself in charge of actually picking out the spots to put the tents. He knew darn well that he wasn't the only person in the group with experience 'roughing it' in the 'wilderness'... and even though he was familiar with the area they'd chosen to go to, they'd still picked an area that was close to a main road so that they could get out quickly and easily if necessary. He decided not to question it, though...whatever reason his brother, sister and cousins had for leaving him to pick the spots...it was obviously done with the best of intentions. Soon, everyone was putting up tents.
They'd decided that, rather than put up a ton of small tents so that everyone would have their own 'space', they'd use larger 'family' style tents that would fit up to six people. Since most of the family groups were no larger than four, that left plenty of elbow room while cutting down on the amount of tents needed; plus, it was meant to be a bonding time and one of the best times for bonding was right before sleep, when everyone's barriers were down and they were relaxed enough to talk about things they might not talk about during regular hours. Since Clint and Natasha had their family's tent under control, Grant began gathering wood and clearing the area where they would have the campfire. Breakfast had been early that morning and the sooner he got the fire going, the sooner he and a few of the others could head to the lake and try to catch their lunch.
Soon, a fire was built and a collection of wood was to the side, ready for use. Grant quickly gathered his fishing equipment so he could go catch dinner. When he'd lived in the woods for those five years, he hadn't had equipment nearly this nice...not until he'd managed to steal some anyway... But he had it now and was more than willing to make use of it.
Pepper had been watching Grant as she helped set up the camp. She hadn't told anyone, but she and her father had camped frequently when he was a girl and she was looking forward to this outing. When she saw Grant's fishing pole, she quickly went and got her own that she had stashed in the van when no one was looking. Walking up to Grant almost shyly (and ignoring Tony's surprised look), she asked, "Can I help you catch dinner?"
Grant blinked at Pepper then nodded with a tiny smile. "Sure... You wanna come too, Tony?"
Tony blinked then shook his head. "Naw...that's ok, but I might come by later to see how you're all doing. I didn't know Pepper could fish...."
Pepper grinned at her fiancé, as if to say, 'There are still a lot of things you don't know about me,' before she addressed Grant. "Lead the way!"
Leo noticed Grant preparing to leave with Pepper and he walked over to them, a little shyly. "Do you mind if I join?" He hadn't really done much fishing, but he'd always wanted to try it... and he thought it would be nice to learn from his big brother/cousin figure.
Natasha left her father and older brother and walked over to join Grant, Pepper and Leo. "Got room for one more?"
Grant blinked then grinned. "Sure...there are some extra poles in the van..." He walked over to help Leo find one that would be easy for him to handle, noting that Pepper had her own pole. He didn't want to assume Nat didn't know how to fish...so gave her a questioning look as soon as he had Leo squared away.
Natasha stepped over to find her own pole as soon as Grant and Leo were done. She hadn't had many opportunities to fish... but she had been in the position many times where she had to find her own food. Picking one out, she stepped over to rejoin the group.
"Ok...there's a spot in the river that looks like it will be good for fish...follow me!" Grant began his trek down the path to the time river, noting the others quickly following, and soon they were beside the perfect little eddy. He helped Leo bait his line before baiting his own line and soon all four were quietly waiting for dinner to bite.
Coulson had known the camping trip would be relaxing, but he didn't really realize just how calming it would be until they'd actually reached the site and were now just quietly relaxing. He'd grabbed a drink after they'd finished unloading and now settled down to watch the others... partly to keep an eye on them; partly just to enjoy the atmosphere.
May had set up her and Skye's tent quickly, with Skye's help. Jemma had come shortly after and grabbed the younger woman to go explore, which left May free time. Grabbing a drink, she meandered over to where Coulson was and sat next to him, bumping shoulders. "This was a good idea..." she said with a smile.
Coulson smiled at May, gently nudging her. "We haven't had family bonding time since they were deaged. Skye give you a hard time about leaving her laptop behind?" he asked, raising his eyebrows.
"Surprisingly enough, no." May grinned. "Although, Tony was putting up enough of a fuss that I think she was waiting to see the outcome of that before saying anything...and once he capitulated, she didn't want to give me a hard time...."
Coulson laughed softly. "I noticed Steve had to be even more stubborn than Tony... quite a difficult thing to be." Of course, his own children were fairly strong-willed; but Coulson had had Clint and Natasha long enough that they knew when to compromise.
"I heard that, Uncle Agent..." Tony snarked on his way to getting a drink. The smile on his face and slight blush made it clear he wasn't offended, though; actually a little embarrassed. He quickly grabbed a soda and then wandered over to where Clint had set up a target for archery 'practice'.
May slanted her head as she watched the billionaire glide off then faced Phil again. "Did you ever think a year ago that we would be in this position?"
"I never really thought about it," Coulson admitted. "I mean, a year ago, we didn't know HYDRA had grown inside SHIELD... and the biggest issue I was facing was trying to get Clint to come and see me." He looked at May with a trace of amusement. "I didn't see you adopting Skye then." He remembered that May had considered the newcomer something of a liability for a lot of the time.
"I never viewed myself as being 'mother material'," May admitted quietly, glancing toward her daughter, who was tussling playfully with Trip. "Now...it feels like I have a whole parcel of children...kinda scary and exciting and...and I don't think I've been this content and happy in a long time..." she whispered, giving Phil a crooked grin.
"I know what you mean," Coulson replied, smiling back at her. "Even back when I first adopted Clint... I knew it would change my life for the better. And now it's become even more so."
"Definitely better...with more family than I ever expected. You know, my mother wants to come meet everyone. Not just Skye...but your kids too. She's still determined that you and I belong together, so your kids are practically her grandkids too...." May's voice was a mixture between exasperation and fond amusement.
Coulson let his smile grow a little wider as he glanced over the family members currently in view. "We'll have to see when's a good time," he said, looking back at May. "If I was with anyone, they'd have to understand my commitment to my children... and I know you do."
May glanced at him, her smile bright. "Yeah...I do. Because I feel the same way..... I guess I should get together with you and pick a time. Otherwise she will show up unexpectedly in the front lobby. I think I need to warn everyone before that happens." She laughed softly.
Coulson nodded. "Maybe in the next month or so after we come back from the camping trip?" he suggested. "It gives us all a chance to settle back in that way."
"That...will work." She nodded, slanting her head as she observed Clint and Tony. "Is it my imagination, or is Clint getting ready to shoot an arrow at that apple on Tony's head?" She wasn't sure if she should be worried or not... Clint was an ace shot, but accidents happened....
Coulson looked over and stood up. "I'd better go and put a stop to that." He glanced around, catching Steve's attention, and waved his brother over to join him as he headed towards his son and nephew.
Melinda shook her head with a fond chuckle. "You do that...I'm going to see if I can round up a few helpers to get a bit more firewood. This will last the night, but if it rains, we won't find anymore dry tomorrow...."
Coulson nodded. "That's a good idea. I'll help you, once I've spoken to my eldest." He stepped over to Clint, careful to make sure his son saw him coming.
Steve moved over to the two as well.
Tony saw them before Clint did, rapidly taking the apple off his head and motioned Clint to look behind himself. Clint quickly lowered his bow and turned around to see his father almost on them and grinned his most innocent grin; which is to say, not innocent enough. "Hey, dad! Coming to do archery with us?" he asked.
Coulson looked seriously at Clint... because no matter how good he knew his son was with a bow, all it would take was a change in the wind, or another distraction, for Tony to be harmed. "What was that all about?"
Steve reached the group about the same time. "I'd like to know the same."
"Uuuuhm..." Tony began hesitantly. "It was my idea, actually. We were talking about Clint's college experience and mine and different things we had done on dares and well...." He scratched the back of his neck nervously. "Re-enacting not such a good idea in hindsight."
Clint swallowed and straightened up imperceptibly. "What he said."
Coulson reached out, placing his hand on Clint's shoulder and squeezing gently. "I'm not calling your ability into question, son," he said, his voice gentle but still serious. "But all it would take is a change in the wind direction... or a distraction... and using your cousin as a target really isn't very safe..."
Steve wrapped his own arm around Tony's shoulders. "This could have gone a lot worse," he agreed.
Clint gave his dad a sheepish smile. "You're right, of course. I shouldn't be so cocky...."
Tony had his own sheepish smile. "We'll stick to non-living targets from now on."
"Good idea," Steve said. "There's no need to use each other... though if you wanted to use technology to create targets to help, you can try that when we're back at the tower. I'd be more than happy to work with you." He squeezed his son gently.
Coulson pressed an affectionate kiss to the side of Clint's head. "I know you didn't think of the danger." He knew his son wouldn't do anything to hurt any members of the family.
Clint frowned a bit in embarrassment. "Actually, we did. We both used a lot of complicated math and gauging wind direction by looking at the direction trees were swaying and were about 99.6 percent certain nothing would go wrong. The part of us that likes to live dangerously ignored the .4 percent." This time, Clint scratched the back of his neck.
Tony nodded slowly. "It wasn't so much a case of not thinking as thinking we were too smart for anything to go wrong. Should know better, really... Sorry dad, Phil...."
"Yeah...sorry," Clint echoed.
Coulson sighed. "As I said... I know both of you are capable. And smart. But there are still things you might not be able to predict." He paused, but really, they both knew better than to endanger themselves needlessly. "I think we need to talk about this in our tent."
"I think we need to do the same," Steve said to Tony. As much as he wanted to spend a nice, relaxing time with his son and the rest of the family, not following through with the boundaries he gave his son would give Tony completely the wrong message.
Tony winced. There was no way that anyone left in camp wouldn't know what was going on...he found that fact more daunting than the thought of ending up over his father's knee for what was really a very stupid reason. Looking at Clint, it was obvious he felt the same way.
Shifting from one foot to the other, Clint finally nodded. "Yes, sir..." he said in a respectful and resigned voice. It wasn't like he hadn't known this was a possibility, after all. He'd just hoped it wouldn't be.
Tony bit his lip and meekly turned toward his own tent. "Yes, sir..." he said softly.
Coulson squeezed Clint gently to him and then guided his son towards their tent. He kept his son tight against his side, wanting to provide him some comfort even though they were about to deal with this.
Clint went easily, knowing he had been in the wrong and he was only getting what he should have expected for his actions. He pressed closer to his father, the closeness helping keep him from being too upset.
Reaching their tent, Coulson pressed a kiss to the side of Clint's head before guiding his son inside. "I love you, Clint." He knew his son knew that... but he wanted to make it clear that he still loved Clint. No matter what.
"I love you too, dad..." Clint quickly answered as he went inside, waiting for his dad to tell him where to move.
Coulson moved over to take a seat on his mattress, gesturing for his son to join him. "I know you wouldn't put Tony in danger willingly, Clint, but you can't always predict what will happen. We have Copper here. What if he'd jumped at you as you were about to shoot the bow?"
Clint wanted to argue that Copper wouldn't have done that, because he'd been trained not to do things like that; especially when Clint had his bow in hand and it could be potentially dangerous. Then he thought about that and realized the dog probably learned quicker than he did when it came to dangerous stunts and wrinkled his nose in irritation at himself. "I know you're right, dad...we can't control and plan for everything; and the best thing is not to do unnecessarily dangerous stuff that just has too many uncertain variables. We would have been better off cliff diving if we wanted a thrill...."
Coulson reached out to grasp his son's hand, drawing Clint in close to his side. "I know Copper is unlikely to do that, but that's just an example of something that you can't plan for. I know that, if something had gone wrong and Tony had been hurt, you would have been devastated." He tugged gently to draw his son across his lap.
"You're right. I would have been," Clint admitted quietly, easily going over his father's lap.
Coulson wrapped his arm around his son's waist, drawing Clint tight against his stomach, before tugging down his pants and underwear. "I love you, Clint," he reiterated. "I know this was a mistake and there was nothing malicious in it." He rubbbed his son's back gently, before bringing his hand down in the first sharp swat at the crest of his son's backside.
Clint managed to stifle his grunt of pain only because he knew the tent walls were thin and even if everyone could hear exactly what was occurring, he didn't want them to hear him reacting like a child.
Coulson didn't waste any time, not wanting to drag this out, and began bringing his hand down repeatedly in firm, hard swats, working his way down to Clint's thighs before starting over from the top. For now, he didn't say anything... knowing that Clint knew what he'd done was wrong and why.
Clint did his best not to be too vocal, but he had to muffle himself against his arm. He didn't bother trying to hold still; he didn't care if his father could see how affected he was...preferred that his father could see. So he didn't hold still and he let himself cry, though he kept himself silent.
Coulson could tell how the spanking was affecting his son, even if Clint was silent. As he completed the second circuit, he spoke quietly. "I've had to come to terms with the fact that your jobs mean none of you can be safe all of the time. But choosing to do something dangerous isn't going to be acceptable. All of you are far too important to risk."
"Ok, daddy..." Clint hissed out, obviously fighting the desire to be vocal with his repentance.
"I love you, son." Coulson knew he couldn't stop, even though he did want to, since Clint was still fighting against submitting. Coulson began again from the top, going a bit harder and faster.
"I love you too, daddy..." Clint whimpered. He knew he wouldn't be able to remain quiet much longer. The whole camp would hear him crying like a baby and the thought was humiliating. Of course, it was only what he deserved...still, it was hard to give in. In desperation, he grabbed the pillow that was nearest and buried his face in it, trying to muffle his response.
"There are much safer things you can do." Coulson paused to shift his son forward, beginning to target Clint's sit spots, wanting Clint to reach the point he needed to so they could move on to comfort.
"I know..." Clint couldn't keep the moan out of his voice. He also couldn't keep himself from kicking his legs out as it felt like his father was setting his sit spots on fire. "I'm sorry!" he gasped out, before letting himself go limp. And the tears started. And once they started, Clint knew there was no way he was leaving the tent with his pride intact. He never was a quiet crier; not when he was being punished by his father, at any rate.
Coulson stopped, quickly drawing his son up and into his arms, hugging Clint tightly. "I love you," he reiterated, rocking his son gently... as if Clint was younger than he actually was. He pressed a kiss to the top of his son's head and just hugged him close.
Clint buried his face against his father's chest and gripped him tightly. And tried really hard to get control over his tears. Maybe it was all in his head, but it sounded to him like his tears were echoing through the entire campsite. Groaning, he pressed even closer to his father. Any embarrassment he felt, he'd brought on himself...and he was ashamed that his father had even felt the need to step in. "I'm sorry," he whispered softly, once he was able to speak again. He was still blinking tears out of his eyes.
Coulson just tightened his embrace and kissed Clint's head again. "I know. You're forgiven. Clean slate," he promised. "I don't love you any less. I could never love you any less." He stroked over his son's hair and back. He didn't like punishing any of his children... but being this close to them was always a good feeling.
Clint swallowed. "Thanks, daddy..." His voice was grateful. He snuggled more closely, not in any hurry to quit the comfort. Finally, after several minutes, he let out a tiny sigh and moved away enough to fix his clothing. Giving Phil an embarrassed look, he asked softly, "Can I just stay in the tent a little longer? I...I don't know how I'm going to face everyone after the fuss I just made...."
Coulson wrapped an arm around Clint's shoulders, hugging him close. "You can stay here as long as you want," he said. "But you don't have to be embarrassed. Almost everyone here knows how we deal with things." The only possible exceptions were Bobbi and Mack... but since punishments weren't a secret (even though they weren't talked about when they actually occurred), it wouldn't surprise him if they at least suspected.
Clint thought about it then nodded. His father was right, after all. "Ok, thanks," he said quietly; then, scrubbing at his face with his hands, he made to follow his father back outside. He may as well face everyone sooner than later.
Steve guided Tony to their own tent, also keeping his son close against his side. "I love you," he said softly in Tony's ear... because he didn't want Tony worrying about him withdrawing, even though Tony technically knew better by now.
"I know, dad..." Tony said in a whisper. "I love you, too...just...I feel really stupid right now, so... "
"You aren't stupid, Tony. You just don't always think through dangerous stunts," Steve said gently, guiding his son into their own tent.
Tony smiled crookedly. "Not sure thoughtless is much better...but thanks," he answered softly. He hadn't wasted any time following Steve to their tent and preceded his father inside. Once Steve was inside and the tent flap was zipped closed, Tony gave his father a reluctant look. "I don't suppose saying that I know it was wrong and that I won't do it again will get me out of trouble, will it?"
"I'm afraid not," Steve replied. "I'm certain Clint is in trouble as well. I know we're on holiday and spending time together... but that doesn't mean that the rules aren't in place. If something had gone wrong, you could have ended up badly hurt." He wrapped his arm around Tony's shoulders, squeezing gently. "I don't want that to happen."
Tony sighed. "Yeah, can't blame a guy for trying, though..." He smiled before walking to stand next to his father. Quickly, he undid his jeans then waited.
Taking a seat on his mattress, Steve reached out and gently tugged Tony across his lap, securing him with an arm wrapped around his waist before he tugged down his son's pants and underwear. "I know both you and Clint tried to plan for every possibility, but there are things you can't always predict. It might have been a small chance for something to go wrong... but it could have still happened."
"You're right," Tony readily admitted, his tone sheepish. "And I am sorry...."
"I know." Steve rubbed his back gently a moment or two before lifting his hand and bringing it down in the first swat at the crest of Tony's backside, then repeating the swat.
Unlike Clint, Tony had no shame or embarrassment preventing him from vocalizing. If everyone in camp knew what happened; well, it wasn't like it wasn't a well-known family method of dealing with misbehavior...and he and Clint had misbehaved in a fairly visible way. Because of this, the first smack provoked a loud, "Ouch," from the billionaire; the second an almost as loud yelp.
Steve settled quickly into a pattern of swats, landing the hard, sharp swats down to Tony's thighs before he began again from the top. "I know you thought of the danger... but you didn't give it enough thought. You could have ended up having to go to hospital again..." Despite himself, Steve couldn't hide the note of fear that crept into his voice... at having to face the prospect of losing Tony again.
Tony was wriggling by the fourth swat, whimpering and gasping soon after. He could hear the fear in his father's voice, though and that was more effective than the hardest swat. He immediately began crying at Steve's words. "I'm sorry, dad...I know you're right. I just didn't bother to think. I'm sorry...."
Steve had to force himself to continue, knowing that he needed to address this danger... but hating having to punish his son. "I know you are, son. I still love you. No matter what happens."
"I love you too, daddy..." Tony cried, going limp over Steve's lap, reaching back blindly with his hand; not to block the swats, but to hold his father's hand.
Steve laced his fingers through Tony's, landing one last swat and then, unable to continue, gathered his son into his arms, hugging Tony tightly and stroking his hair and back as he kissed his head.
Tony, as usual, was not reluctant in the least to show how he felt; he'd given up hiding his true feelings from Steve long ago. Tony was able to ignore a lot when it came to his feelings...but when his actions hurt someone he loved, he was never able to ignore it. Scaring Steve was something that he couldn't ignore and wasn't quite able to forgive himself for; the only way he could make things right (at least in his mind) was by accepting punishment...and the only way he could know he'd been punished enough was if Steve was ready to be affectionate. Because of this, the minute Steve drew him up and into his arms, Tony was burrowing against him and holding on tight, as if afraid he'd be pushed away.
Steve didn't so much as loosen his hold on his son, cuddling Tony as tight as he could without hurting him. "I love you." He did everything he could to convince his son of that... and he still wasn't sure Tony completely believed it. But they had come a long way since the first time their relationship had formed. Steve pressed another kiss to Tony's head. "I can't lose you, Tony." When his son had been electrocuted in hospital... Steve wasn't sure he could ever put into words how much that had terrified him.
"I know...I'm sorry...it was selfish of me not to think of you...or Pepper...or anyone else. It was a foolish idea...and I'm sorry...I love you, dad..." Tony said quietly, his tears having calmed the minute he was in his father's arms and being cuddled.
"I know you're sorry," Steve said, his voice gentle and not scolding. "You're forgiven. We've dealt with it and it's over. I don't love you any less. I couldn't ever love you any less," he promised.
Tony shivered slightly, holding onto Steve a moment longer before reluctantly pulling away and fixing his clothing. "Archery somehow doesn't sound as much fun now..." He gave his father a rueful grin. "Maybe I'll just read by the fire for a bit...?" He looked at Steve, as if asking for permission.
"You could... or we could do something together," Steve pointed out, straightening and wrapping an arm around Tony's shoulders. "There's nothing wrong with archery, as long as you're doing it safely."
"I’d like to do something with you," Tony admitted with a smile. "Maybe, we could do archery without the extra risk?"
Steve smiled. "That sounds like a good idea. Would you like it to be just us?" He didn't mind either way. He always made sure he and Tony had plenty of time to spend just them, so at times like this, he felt they could go either way.
"Us...maybe Clint and Uncle Phil if they want...but definitely I want to do something with you." Tony didn't care that he sounded very eager.
Steve tightened his arm around his son. "It can be just us if you'd prefer." He kissed Tony's forehead. "I like spending any kind of time with you."
"As long as I'm doing something with you, I have no preference," Tony admitted with a grin, letting Steve lead him back out of the tent.
Clint really needn't have worried about other people hearing him be disciplined. Grant, Nat, Leo and Pepper were at the river. May might have known what was about to occur, but she had gone on a walk with Skye, Bruce and Jemma. Bucky was sitting at the fire with Thor and Fury, but those three would say nothing of what had occurred. Loki, Trip, Brock, Hunter, Mack and Bobbi were nowhere to be seen.
Leo was quite enjoying fishing. Having managed to actually catch a few, he was working to reel another in when he felt the line snag on something, jerking in his hands.
Natasha, spotting that Leo was having trouble, moved over to his side to help him with the line.
Grant had caught quite a few on his own and when he looked in the cooler, he was impressed to notice that Pepper had caught even more than him. There was plenty of fish for at least one portion a piece for everyone. Seeing that Nat was assisting Leo, he carefully began to put his equipment away so they could head back to camp.
Pepper followed Grant's lead, but as she watched Nat and Leo, she began to wonder if they needed her to help as well.
Leo winced. "I think it's caught on something..." He stopped pulling, not wanting to risk snapping the rod, and eyed the water speculatively, wondering if he should try getting in and unhooking it from whatever had caught.
Pepper moved closer and glanced into the water. "I think you're right, but I can see where it is caught...hold on a second..." And without further thought, she was scrambling down the embankment so she could lean over and release the line.
"Uh, Pepper, that might not be such a good idea..." Grant said hesitantly; not used to giving his cousin's fiancé orders and not entirely sure how to stop her.
Natasha followed Pepper quickly. "You shouldn't be doing this without a spotter," she said, reaching out to support the other woman. She looked at Leo. "Keep hold of the line..."
Leo looked very hesitant, but since he didn't want the rod to snap and hit either of them, he did his best to hold it still.
Grant wasn't much more assured when Natasha followed; neither one of the women seemed to be taking the muddy terrain into account, or the fact that the embankment was more steep than it appeared. It wasn't even officially spring yet, so he knew the water would be freezing cold. "Uh...ladies.... I have a knife; we can just cut the line free. The lure wasn't all that expensive or important..." he said, his voice more firm and letting his worry through.
"No...I've got it!" Pepper protested, already leaning out as far as she could and grasping the line, attempting to get hold of the branch it was snagged on so that she could break it free and release the line. "Nat...if you can grab the branch with me, we should both be able to put enough strength behind us to break it loose and then we can untangle the line from it back on shore...."
Natasha quickly moved down to grab the branch with Pepper.
Leo fastened the rod into the cooler and went to help them, ignoring the part of him that was saying this was a bad idea.
Grant winced and groaned internally as Leo went to help. He knew what was going to happen, could see it as it was happening, but he was helpless to prevent it. One person leaning over and tugging on the branch in an effort to break it was hazardous. Two people doing so upped the risk factor considerably, since there was less room for the two people to maneuver. Three people all grasping the branch and tugging at it when none of them had very stable ground on which to stand and were nudging each other, deliberately or otherwise, was just asking for disaster. Grant heard the moment the branch 'broke' and then heard the tell-tale splashing of his three relatives as the sudden lack of resistance threw them all off balance and they all tumbled face-first into the river. He was already moving to find a long branch to pull them back to land with as Pepper came sputtering to the surface.
"Oh, crap! This is cooooooold" the strawberry blonde- well, whined could be the only term used for it.
Natasha was the next one to surface, followed quickly by Leo, who was shivering and spluttering. Remembering that the young scientist's lungs weren't the same after he'd been dropped into the ocean, Natasha quickly moved Leo over to the branch so her brother could pull him out, before going back to help Pepper.
Pepper was already treading water and staying as close to Nat and Leo as she could. Having remembered about Leo's weakened lungs as well, she couldn't help but watch in concern as Natasha got him to the branch.
Grant held onto the branch firmly, tugging Leo in until he was close enough for Grant to reach down and haul the younger man completely out of the water. As soon as Leo was far enough from the edge to not be in danger any longer, he held out the branch toward Pepper, knowing that Nat would insist on being the last rescued on principle.
Leo managed to get clear of the water, but was coughing, shivering violently. He wanted to sit up and help Grant, but he had to wait to catch his breath. He was fairly sure no worse damage had been done to his lungs... but he knew he was going to have to get checked out by his father.
Natasha helped Pepper over to the branch, making sure she was able to get out before she got herself out as well.
Pepper was shivering violently, but was more worried about Leo than herself. "Get him to Bruce...I can bring the equipment and cooler...." She shivered again.
Grant gave her an incredulous look, but attributed her words to worry. "We're all going to see Bruce, no exceptions!" He eyed his sister sternly, almost daring her to argue, before looping an arm around Leo's waist and then looking back at Pepper. "I'll send one of the others back for the cooler and the equipment." With those words, he began a brisk walk back to camp.
As soon as they were close enough to be heard, he began to yell for Bruce, his father; and, to Pepper's confusion, Steve.
Leo walked alongside Grant... well, stumbled along, really. He'd managed to swallow a lot of water, which didn't exactly help matters any.
Natasha brought up the rear, checking on Pepper to make sure she was all right.
It didn't take long for Steve and Coulson to hear Grant and they both came immediately, Steve bringing Tony along with him.
Bruce hadn't been in camp, having been walking with Jemma, Skye and May. Grant's voice had carried though and it didn't take him much longer to reach the kids...green tinge to his skin and all.
Tony swallowed at seeing the three wet and bedraggled people, one of whom he loved with his entire being. His eyes were incredulous and frightened at the same time. "I'll go get blankets..." His voice trembled and he kissed Pepper on the cheek, before he quickly turned and ran back to the van to get the extra blankets they'd brought.
"What happened?" Coulson asked, gently drawing Natasha in close, wrapping his arms around his daughter to try and warm her.
"We fell in..." Leo said, through slightly wheezing gasps.
Steve looked at Pepper worriedly, placing a hand on her shoulder and squeezing gently, even as he glanced with concern towards Bruce.
"I was trying to untangle the fishing line from a tree limb...Nat and Leo were trying to help me...we misjudged how off balance it would leave us when the limb gave way...." Pepper explained through chattering teeth, her worried faze still on Leo.
Bruce quickly took over. "Ok....out of those wet clothes- everything- and I want you wrapped up in blankets and in front of the fire pronto."
Tony could move really quickly when he wanted to; and when he was scared, moving quickly wasn't an issue at all. Soon, he had returned with heavy blankets for all three, just in time to hear Bruce. "You heard him...get out of those things before you turn into Popsicles." He looked as if he was going to start helping them undress.
Natasha barely waited for the instructions from Bruce, stepping away from her father so that she could get out of her wet clothes and then letting Coulson wrap the blankets around her, guiding her to sit by the fire.
Leo hesitated, but a coughing fit had him also obeying Bruce's directions.
Pepper stood watching the other two wide-eyed, but once she'd seen the other two do as told with little to no fuss, she reluctantly followed suit; blushing so darkly, her skin was a mottled shade of purple- a combination of being blue from cold and being pink from embarrassment.
Tony wrapped her up tightly and led her to the fire as well, but dragged his father along to sit on the other side of her.
Clint hadn't taken long to sit on the other side of Nat so he could share body heat.
Jemma had followed Clint's example and sat on the other side of Leo.
May, noting that each dunked 'child' had at least one parent and one sibling/significant other warming them up, proceeded to prepare hot drinks, while sending Skye back for the equipment.
Grant, once assured that everything was under control went with Skye to retrieve dinner.
Steve sat down on the other side of Pepper, wrapping his arm around her and leaning in close so that Pepper could share his body heat. He wanted to ask her exactly why they'd been physically trying to get the rod free... but decided the questions could wait until she was warmed up and focused on rubbing her arms and shoulders to help dry her off.
Coulson had Natasha all but sitting in his lap, arms around his daughter's waist as he helped her body to warm up.
Leo clutched the blankets around him, his shivering slowly coming under control.
Skye didn't argue about going with Grant to get the equipment... though she was worried.
Pepper finally stopped shivering enough to speak without her teeth chattering. "I'm sorry, guys..." She gave Leo and Natasha a miserable look. "It was my fault...I should have listened to Grant and let him cut the line...." She snuggled into the cocoon that Steve and Tony had made and sniffled. She was very worried about Leo; with his already compromised lungs, this could have serious consequences.
Tony refrained from comment, though he was a bit surprised that it was his serious, responsible girlfriend who had begun the actions leading to the chilly 'bath'.
Bruce just held his son on his lap, rubbing his arms and back briskly but gently to warm him, nearly holding Jemma on his lap as well as she tried to help. He didn't say anything to Pepper's comments. He had a feeling she hadn't needed to push anyone into going along with her idea.
Steve hugged Pepper gently to himself. "I'm sure you didn't have to do much persuading for them to join you," he said wryly.
"I didn't have to rush to help," Natasha said, nestled in close to her father as he held her.
"I should have stayed with the rod," Leo admitted, his tone miserable, even as he cuddled into Bruce.
"Still...if I'd just listened to Grant, neither of you would have felt the need to help me." Pepper sniffled again. She'd inhaled more water than she had admitted to...more worried about Fitz than her own discomfort.
"How's your throat feeling?" Steve asked gently, worried about how much water the three of them had consumed. Leo was still coughing, though not as much as he had been... and Steve could tell that Coulson was quietly asking his daughter the same.
"I feel like I inhaled a bathtub full of river water," Pepper reluctantly admitted. "I should be ok, though..." She didn't want anyone worrying about her. She wasn't the one with weak lungs.
Tony snorted, snuggling closer to her. "Inhaling any water is bad news, Pep."
Bruce glanced at Steve and Tony with a strange look that was only understandable when he pulled a scanner out of his medical bag and began scanning Leo. "JARVIS, let me know if you see anything that might require a trip to the hospital."
"Of course, Doctor Banner." The AI's voice wasn't as clear as it normally was, since it was coming out of the scanner, but it was clear enough.
"You two are next, so you may as well keep cuddling with your dads." Bruce's voice was firm if droll.
"You're still getting checked out," Steve said, his voice firm. "We don't want you getting sick." He gave Pepper a reassuring squeeze, not sure if he needed to say outright that she wasn't a burden... or if she would believe he mattered to him anyway.
Natasha stayed cuddled close to her dad and brother, not needing any verbal encouragement to stay with them.
Leo held still, not wanting to shift and cause the scanner to give a bad reading.
"Yeah, ok..." Pepper agreed easily. She didn't think it was necessary, but she knew Tony was worried; and to her surprise, she was beginning to think Steve was as well.
Bruce finally finished his scan of Leo then hugged the younger man tightly in relief. "You should be ok...just stay wrapped up in the blanket and by the fire for the remainder of the evening." He was reluctant to let go of his son, since he was still coughing. Glancing at Phil, he asked, "Do you know how to operate the scanner? You can scan Nat next." He held the scanner out to May to hand to Coulson if the answer was positive.
Coulson nodded, reaching out to take the scanner from May without letting go of his daughter. Brushing an affectionate kiss over Natasha's head, he carefully ran the scanner over her.
Steve held Pepper close as he waited to be able to check on her, still rubbing her arms and shoulders to keep her warm.
Leo nodded without argument, cuddling in close to his father.
JARVIS didn't take long to scan Natasha. His report was short but to the point. "Agent Romanov is in perfect health, with the exception of being slightly chilled."
"Thank you." Coulson leaned across to pass the scanner to Steve and Tony, before cuddling his daughter once more.
Tony took the scanner and quickly began to use it on Pepper, frowning when it took JARVIS slightly longer to respond.
JARVIS paused before giving his report. "Miss Potts is not injured from her foray into the cold water, except for being slightly chilled. There is some concern to be had about the fact that she is anemic and underweight."
Pepper blinked and jerked in surprise before protesting, "JARVIS! You only needed to tell them anything relating to my falling in the river!"
Steve frowned, even more concerned, and gathered Pepper in closer. "No, JARVIS should tell us when something's wrong," he said. "You're as much a priority as everyone else here." He glanced towards Bruce, hoping the other man would have some suggestions that would help.
Bruce blinked then glanced at Pepper. "If the anemia is not caused by an undiagnosed medical condition...which I'm assuming if that were the case, JARVIS would have said there was something of more concern...it can be remedied by taking iron supplements. The underweight is likely caused by skipping meals and not eating enough, unless you have been throwing up and not telling us...."
"I haven't been throwing up!" Pepper protested. "And being anemic is not unusual in women...."
JARVIS spoke up again. "Miss Potts tends to not eat when she does not eat the group meals or with Mister Stark."
"JARVIS!" Pepper exclaimed with a mixture of irritation, embarrassment and nervous worry as she glanced between Tony and Steve.
Steve tightened his arm around Pepper. "That's going to stop," he said firmly. "Your health is too important to risk... and if I have to, I'll make sure JARVIS keeps an eye on you and tells me when you skip a meal." His voice was serious, but rather than angry or scolding, his worry and concern were obvious. "You'll be eating more with us, too." It was second nature to give Pepper directions in the same way he did Tony. When he'd first started seeing Tony as his son, it hadn't been much of a leap to begin considering Pepper his daughter .
Pepper's mouth dropped open in shock and consternation, having never expected Steve to go 'parental' on her.
Tony managed to keep from laughing at her expression, but couldn't hide his grin. At her look of irritation, he put on his most innocent yet serious expression. "Hey! You're always telling me to listen to my dad because he only wants the best for me. Time for you to follow your own advice."
Blinking, Pepper shook her head and glanced toward someone she'd worked with in the past and thought would understand why she was too busy to eat. "Phil...?"
Grant chuckled from where he was busy cleaning fish with Bucky, Thor and Fury. He and Skye had returned quietly while the scans were being done. "He's gonna side with your dad...just so you know..." He tried not to sound amused, because it was obvious Pepper hadn't seen this new development happening, but it was difficult.
May made a non-committal sound. "Maybe the three 'kids' should go get dressed before the rest of the children return," she said softly...mostly to remind everyone that they weren't alone and that there were still more 'children' that would be returning soon, so any private conversations should probably be done later or in their tents.
"Grant's right," Coulson replied. "Skipping out on meals isn't okay when anyone does it." He helped Natasha off his lap and stood up with her, wrapping an arm around her shoulders as he looked at his sons. "Why don't you two spend some time together out here?" he suggested.
Steve nodded and stood up, reaching down to help both Tony and Pepper up too. "Let's go and talk in our tent."
Leo's coughing had calmed down by now and at May's suggestion, he began to extricate himself from his father, not wanting to cause more difficulty.
"Sure thing, dad." Clint gave Nat and then his father a hug, before going over and beginning to help Grant and the other three men clean the fish.
Bruce stood up, hugging Jemma before wrapping his arm more securely around Leo. "Why don't you help May and Skye? I'm guessing it will soon be time to cook the fish," he said to his daughter, before leading Leo to their tent so he could put on warm clothing.
Tony hugged Pepper tightly, relieved she hadn't been hurt worse. He looked at his father, not sure if Steve wanted to speak with Pepper alone or with him there, but not wanting to leave her side without good reason.
Coulson smiled lovingly at his sons, before steering Natasha to their tent so he could get her into warm clothes before they talked.
Leo went along with his father without arguing.
"I think you should come, too, Tony, since some of what we need to talk about will involve you as well," Steve said to his son. He definitely planned to deal with what had happened... but it was more important to get Pepper into warm, dry clothes first.
Bruce didn't wait. As soon as they were inside the tent and the flap zipped up for privacy, he was pulling out clean dry clothes for Leo, handing them to the younger man and fully expecting them to be put on. As he was doing so, he was asking questions. "I understand that you were helping Pepper. What I don't understand is why all three of you decided releasing the line and retrieving the lure was so important. Especially if Grant told you to leave it and that he could cut the line." He tried not to sound unnecessarily critical. He wanted to hear Leo's reasoning before he scolded further.
Leo dressed quickly, looking down as he did so. "I just... I saw Pepper and Natasha reaching to free the lure and I wanted to help them. I didn't think it would be that dangerous..." he admitted quietly.
"So, your only reason for going down and helping them was just to help them? Did you think about possibly trying to convince them it wasn't necessary? I have to admit, I'm just a bit confused as to why Pepper and Natasha thought freeing your fishing line from the tree was so important as to risk falling into the river.... It doesn't make sense. They're normally a lot more level headed; not so impulsive. For that matter, YOU'RE normally not that impulsive...." Bruce shook his head, obviously not understanding the reasoning and a bit baffled by all three of the 'kids' who had fallen in. He slanted his head, giving Leo a stern look. "You do realize it was completely unnecessary and rather dangerous?" he asked, as if he wasn't entirely certain Leo did know that.
Leo nodded, looking down and not able to make eye contact with his father. "I know. I felt responsible... cause it was my line that was stuck... and I didn't want to break it, even though I knew no one would be concerned about the equipment, but then Pepper and Natasha were trying to free it and..." His voice trailed off. "I'm sorry."
"I know you are. And I know that had you not been feeling responsible and had Nat and Pepper not taken it upon themselves to try and fix things, you would never have even thought of doing something like that. And to be honest, if it was late spring and the weather was warmer, we wouldn't even be having this discussion. Everyone would be laughing and teasing you for falling into the river, I'd make sure your lungs were ok and everything would be fine. But it isn't late spring. It's still winter. And while the days may be warmer, the nights are still cold enough to keep the river water at deadly temperatures. Doing something unnecessary that put you at risk to fall in and get hypothermia...that's not acceptable, son." Bruce's voice was calm and caring, the worry he felt for Fitz clear in the tone.
"I know." And Fitz did know. All he had to do was imagine how he would feel if one of the others did something like that. He was dressed now, but stood awkwardly, not entirely sure if Bruce was going to respond in the same way he was certain Coulson would with Natasha and Steve would with Pepper... since he'd not yet been in the position to know how Bruce dealt with things.
Bruce observed Fitz closely for a moment before nodding his head, evidently deciding that Fitz really did know what he'd done wrong and didn't need anymore scolding about it. "I'm glad you understand. Now all that's left to do is address your behavior." Carefully, Bruce moved over to his mattress, gently pulling Leo with him. Sitting down, he carefully pulled his son into position over his lap, then quickly bared the younger man. "I know you normally do not do unnecessary life-threatening things. But anytime you do... you will find yourself in this position." Bruce's voice was calm, but stern. Raising his hand up, he let it fall with a firm, hard smack in the center of Leo's backside. He quickly raised his hand again and let it fall to the left of the first smack with the same firm, hard pressure. He continued on in that manner, making certain to cover all of Leo's backside down to upper thighs; while the smacks were hard, they were not hard enough to bruise. Bruce was very careful not to harm his son.
Leo didn't fight or protest being drawn over his father's lap, reaching down to grasp Bruce's leg. He winced when Bruce started spanking, trying hard to keep still, since he knew he deserved this and knew that his father wasn't doing this to be cruel... rather, because he was worried about him.
Bruce completed one circuit, pausing for a moment to comment softly, "Until recently, I had precious few people who I felt I could trust around myself, either because I was afraid of hurting them, or because I knew they would attempt to hurt me in an effort to gain control of him. Now, I have a family that I trust completely and would do anything to protect. I would do anything to protect you, Leo. I just need to know that you will try to protect yourself as well, because losing you would be devastating." Swallowing, he raised his hand up and began spanking again, the second circuit slightly faster, although the firmness was the same.
Leo whimpered softly, pressing his head into his arms as he felt the tears beginning to fall. "I'm sorry..." He couldn't help sniffling slightly, squirming in reaction to the swats, rather than actually trying to get away.
"I know, son," Bruce replied, just as softly, before beginning the third - and hopefully last, if he brought Leo to the point he needed to be- circuit. "I love you, Leo. You are as much mine as you would be if we were actually blood. I can't lose you; certainly not to a foolish, preventable accident." He gently tipped Leo forward and began to focus on the boy's sit spots.
Leo began to sob softly, as much from his father's words as from the pain of the spanking itself. He went limp over Bruce's lap, crying quietly into his arms.
Bruce immediately stopped spanking, drawing the younger man up onto his lap and wrapping his arms tightly around him, kissing the top of his head. "I've got you, son. You've been punished, now the slate is clean. I've got you...." he said softly, cuddling Leo tightly.
Leo immediately cuddled into Bruce's arms, leaning his head against his father's shoulder as he took deep breaths, trying to calm down. Somehow, though, this always left him feeling more emotional than he thought it should.
Bruce just held his son close, kissing his hair, snuggling as much as Leo would allow. He'd thought for so long he'd be alone for the rest of his life and was so thankful he wasn't any longer, that thankfulness manifested in his tight grip.
Leo didn't seem inclined to pull away any time soon. Even though he was, in many ways, more 'adult' in terms of his emotions than a lot of the other kids, he couldn't help but respond to his father's closeness. "I'll be more careful next time," he promised, still nestled in close.
"Good...I really can't lose you..." Bruce admitted, squeezing even more tightly and kissing Leo on top of his head once more.
"I'm sorry, Dad... I'll be more careful," Leo promised, using the name a little hesitantly, but still wanting to indicate how he felt.
"Good..." Bruce snuggled his son a bit more before helping him fix his clothing. "Do you want to go back out and have another hot drink? Just to make certain you are warm enough?" he asked, wrapping his arms around his son again, as if afraid to let him go.
Leo nodded. "That sounds good," he agreed, leaning into Bruce without any indication of embarrassment.
Bruce smiled, moving his arm so it was wrapped around Leo's waist; then, grabbing the blanket he'd been using before he got into dry clothes, he led his son back out to sit around the fire. He took two drinks from May, handing one to Leo, then sat beside his son, wrapping his arm around him again.
Pepper couldn't help but look between both Tony and Steve as they walked with her back into their tent. She wordlessly took the clothing Tony handed her, noting that every piece was one of the warmest items she'd brought, including socks and underwear, then quickly dressed, noting that Steve had turned to face the tent flap in order to give her a bit of privacy. She wasn't certain why he'd bothered- she'd pretty much flashed the entire camp when they'd all had to get out of the freezing wet clothes and wrap up in the heavy blankets- but she was thankful all the same. Once dressed, she bit her lip and sat down on the nearest mattress; which, ironically, was Steve's. "So...I guess you want to scold me now. I know I deserve it..." She sighed.
"Hmm..." was all Tony said, as he sat on one side of her, leaving the other side to Steve. "You feeling ok? Warming up enough?" His tone was very worried.
Pepper blinked and took a closer look at her fiancé, realizing just how worried he really was. She bit her lip harder, guilt washing over her. "Yeah...I'm warming up fine...thanks...." she finally answered softly. She looked up at Steve, her face troubled.
Steve sat down on the other side of Pepper, wrapping his arm around her shoulders. "You aren't responsible for what Leo and Natasha did," he started. "But you know it was unnecessary for you to try and free the lure itself. I'd like to know what was going through your mind when you decided to risk yourself like that." His voice was calm... but still filled with concern.
"I...I really don't know what I was thinking," Pepper said with a slight laugh, though it was more flustered and frustrated than amused. "I knew it wasn't necessary to retrieve the lure. I just thought...it was something I could do. I...I don't know." She sighed.
Steve was pretty sure he knew why Pepper had tried to free the lure and he squeezed her gently to him. "It seems to be quite a normal thing for family members to push at the limits when they're not sure of their place in a family," he commented... and then paused, to see if Pepper would understand what he was getting at.
"That's not... I know my place..." She sounded more unsure than she wanted to, though, and frowned. "I know Tony has pushed you before, to have you prove to him his place, but I'm certain I felt no need to go after a cheap lure in a rather dangerous way because I'm not sure I actually fit in the...fami..ly..." She blinked as her words and thoughts caught up to each other, her eyes widening. "Oh, damnit....I'm turning into Tony!" she squeaked, then turned to face Tony with a look of mixed apology and embarrassment.
Tony's eyes widened in delight and he actually laughed as he wrapped his arms around her in a tight hug. "I think I should be offended by that, but I'm too amused. Lucky for you, my darling, dad knows exactly how to deal with kiddies who aren't sure of their place." He kissed her soundly on the cheek before letting her go and standing. "And I leave you in his capable hands. I'll find you a pillow to sit on later." He chuckled again as he ducked out of the tent. "Turning into me..."
"Pillow...what...?" Pepper turned suddenly nervous eyes onto Steve.
Steve smiled reassuringly at Pepper, even though there was a very serious look on his face, and squeezed her gently. "You know how dangerous behaviour is dealt with in this family. I know you were subconsciously pushing... that isn't what you're in trouble for. You're in trouble for endangering yourself. You're an important part of this family, Pepper. To all of us, not just Tony. If things had gone worse, we all would have been devastated."
Pepper blinked uncertainly. "I know you would have helped Tony through it, if something bad had occurred..." She was uncertain about anyone else being devastated, although she couldn't help wishing it was true.
"I'm not sure how much good I would have been to Tony," Steve said, a slightly wry note to his voice. "I might not have adopted you like I did Tony... but you still mean as much to me as if you were my own daughter. You're as important to me as Tony is."
Pepper turned slightly, still in Steve's arms, to look him in the eye. She could tell he meant it; and the knowledge that she wasn't just an add-on and that she was valued just as much as every other member of the family made her relieved, happy, secure....and guilty. She hadn't really needed to test everyone like she had and if something worse than a cold dunking had occurred, always a possibility in rivers, it really would have hurt a lot of people. Swallowing, she looked down. "I'm sorry...I shouldn't have done it. I knew that when I did it...I just never thought I actually mattered enough that I'd get into trouble for it," she admitted in a whisper.
Steve tightened his embrace around Pepper. "You do matter. And you have for a long time," he said honestly. "And because you are important, I'm going to punish you. But I'm not going to care about you any less. I'm not going to love you any less. And we won't ever need to bring up you falling into the water again."
Pepper couldn't stop the tiny whimper that escaped, even though she didn't pull away. She knew how 'family' was punished and while she trusted Steve, the idea was daunting. As a child, she'd been eager to please; a fact which seldom had her getting scolded, let alone punished. The few times she had been punished, it hadn't been more than grounding. At least that she remembered. Her father had been old fashioned. It was possible she had been spanked once when very young and it had been enough to deter her for the rest of her childhood.
She bit her lip hard and blinked back tears, suddenly very ashamed that she had felt the need to push like she had, subconsciously or not. If she'd just talked to her family, she wouldn't be in this situation. She wouldn't have scared her family. She wouldn't have made Steve need to prove how much he cared. "I'm sorry..." she said once again in a tiny voice, her apprehension bleeding into her tone.
"I know." Steve squeezed her gently. "I'm not going to be punishing you for pushing. That seems to be a natural thing to do in a family. You are going to be punished for risking your own life." He pressed an affectionate kiss to Pepper's forehead before gently moving her across his lap.
Swallowing hard, Pepper couldn't help but grasp at Steve's leg as her equilibrium shifted and she found herself staring at the ground. She didn't try to get away, though, even though it took all her will power not to attempt an escape. A spanking couldn't be that bad, after all... even though no one ever talked about it, everyone knew when one of the kids had gotten in trouble and it happened often enough that if it really was that bad, someone would have said something by now. Wouldn't they? She swallowed again and closed her eyes tight, a very tiny mewl escaping her lips.
Steve wrapped an arm around Pepper's waist, drawing her in tight against his stomach, before he lowered her pants and underwear. "I know sometimes it's hard to see how much a family has changed, but your place here has grown stronger. There are more people who care about you, not less." He lifted his hand, bringing it down in the first hard swat.
To Pepper's mortification, she squeaked again, then whimpered. So much for being a brave, competent, adult woman she thought, chagrined. She tightened her grip on Steve's leg.
Steve rubbed Pepper's back gently before he settled into a rhythm, landing the swats down to Pepper's thighs before starting over from the top. He was careful to moderate his strength, but made sure the swats were still effective.
It didn't take long at all for Pepper to begin squirming. It only took slightly longer for her eyes to begin watering uncontrollably and for her to begin making quiet sounds of distress... more from the fact she was in this position and felt completely ashamed of herself than because of the pain (although it did hurt). She'd never been the 'rebellious' sort and she wanted people to have a good opinion of her; she felt like she'd disappointed her family and herself and didn't know how to make up for that.
Steve began a second circuit of swats, speaking quietly to his daughter. "You are so important, Pepper. All of us would be devastated if something happened to you."
"I'm sorry...." she said softly in a strained voice, trying very hard not to completely lose control over her emotions. "I didn't think about anything bad that could happen...not until we were in the water and I was worried about Leo..." she admitted, her voice catching. "I didn't want to worry or disappoint you or anyone else..." She trembled.
"I worry because I care about you and don't want anything to happen to you," Steve said honestly. "Just because Leo's lungs are weaker doesn't mean he's the only one we're worried about. And if I am disappointed, it's only because I know you're so much better than those actions."
Pepper winced at those words. Normally, she would have agreed- she didn't usually allow herself to do things without thinking; was a big believer in taking into account how her actions affected other people, especially those she cared about, and this time, she hadn't done that. She'd scared, worried, disappointed those she cared about all because she wasn't certain she belonged? What had she been thinking? The problem was, she hadn't...not really...she'd been feeling too out of sorts and uncertain about her place in the family. "I'm sorry..." she repeated again, her tone apologetic.
"I didn't mean to..." she choked out finally, not certain how to finish the sentence. She didn't mean to disappoint him? Check. She didn't mean to worry or scare him? Check. She didn't mean to resort to childish methods to find out her place in the family? Well, that one she had actually intended. She just hadn't intended the results. She'd messed up. She knew she messed up. She also knew she deserved what she got; she only hoped that she hadn't ruined everyone's vacation with her childish need to get attention. "I didn't mean..." She finally went limp over Steve's lap and began to cry softly, not squirming away from the smacks any longer.
Steve stopped, immediately, and gathered Pepper up into his arms, hugging her close and tight and kissing the top of her head. "I'm so glad you're safe," he said softly, sincerity in every word.
Pepper wasn't a loud crier at all, but what she lacked in volume, she made up for in intensity. She held onto Steve as tightly as she could, her whole body shaking from near silent sobs as she tried to come to grips with the fact that she'd been wrong- she was every bit as much a part of the family as any of the other 'kids' and just as valued. She wasn't certain why she had believed otherwise; now, at least, it seemed like such a foolish thing to question; it was obvious she was cared about. And now that she realized it, it was very clear to her why her actions had been so upsetting. "I'm sorry...I'm sorry... I'm sorry...." she kept whimpering, even as she grasped onto her second father, as if afraid that he'd let her go.
Steve didn't loosen his hold on Pepper, hugging her tight to himself. "I love you," he whispered in her ear, gently stroking over her hair and back. "And it's over. You've been punished. That's it. You're forgiven and this will never be brought up again," he promised.
"Ok...." Pepper finally sniffled, too wrung out and distraught to care that her voice sounded tiny and scared like a child. She snuggled as close as she could, taking comfort from her fiancé's father, her father, and tried to calm down. "I do too...love you, I mean..." She sniffled again.
Steve smiled and kissed her forehead. "That's good to know. And if you ever feel the need to push the boundaries by putting yourself in danger again, this will happen again." His voice was serious, but no less loving.
"Yes sir..." Pepper's voice was still soft and hesitant, but seemed a bit stronger. She was slowly calming down and as she came to grips with her position and the fact that, yes, Steve had spanked her, she was able to pull herself back together and finally stop crying. Reluctantly, she slid off of her father's lap so she could fix her clothing; then, leaning into him again, she wrapped her arms around Steve in a tight hug. "Thank you..." she whispered.
Steve hugged Pepper just as tightly in return. "I'm just very glad you're safe," he said, kissing her forehead.
"I don't ever want to make you prove you love me again..." she said with a slight pout and rubbed her bottom, even though she was smiling and hadn't moved from his arms.
"I know," Steve replied, tightening his embrace. "But even if you do, it won't make a difference to how I feel about you." It never had with Tony, after all.
Pepper couldn't help but smile at that and found herself relaxing. "I guess we should head back out so Tony can gloat. He's been telling me for weeks now that I was just as much yours as he was and one day I was going to do something where you'd prove it. I'm just glad I didn't take him up on his bet to that effect...."
Coulson kept his arm around Natasha's shoulders as he guided his daughter into their tent, freeing her enough to find some warmer clothes for her to wear. And although he knew that Natasha didn't care about whether he saw her naked or not, he still turned round to give her privacy.
"I'm done," Natasha said quietly, having pulled on her clothes. She walked over to her father's bed and sat down.
Coulson turned back round and stepped over to sit next to his daughter, wrapping an arm around her shoulders and pulling her in close. "I know you know that trying to free that lure was dangerous... I'd like to know what you were thinking," he said, his voice firm, but no less loving. He had a pretty good idea of why Natasha had acted in the way that she had.
Natasha looked down, recognizing the knowing note in her father's voice even if he would never say, 'I told you so.' Compared to her brothers, she was fairly well-behaved - when Coulson had first adopted her, it had been more about coaxing her into the family than her pushing at the limits. Even though she'd needed proof, she'd needed it in other ways compared to when Clint had been growing up. She leaned into her father. There was no point in trying to lie about it, now that she'd had the time to understand what she'd done wrong. "I shouldn't have gone with Pepper to try and free the lure. I should have talked her out of it and stopped Leo from coming to join us."
Coulson nodded, pressing a kiss to the side of his daughter's head. "Do you think maybe you were pushing at the boundaries to see if I'd respond?" He was fairly certain that had been the reasoning behind Pepper's actions... though he was just as certain Leo had been motivated by a desire to help and being eager to please.
"I'm sure that's what I was doing," Natasha replied, nestling in close. "I'm sorry, Dad." She kissed his cheek and then stood up, waiting for his instructions.
Coulson reached up and gently grasped Natasha's wrist, drawing her towards him and gently pulling her across his lap, where he secured her with an arm wrapped around her waist before he divested her of her pants and underwear. He rubbed her back a moment or two before lifting his hand and bringing it down in the first hard swat, before repeating it on the other side.
It wasn't often that Natasha found herself in this position, but in a similar way to her brothers, she didn't try to pretend that it didn't hurt, or that she wasn't affected. The fact was, she knew she was wrong... and she knew her father cared enough about her safety to step in whenever she needed and whatever she needed it with. She winced at the hard smacks, but kept herself as still as she could.
Coulson settled quickly into a pattern of swats, going down to his daughter's thighs before he started over from the top. It was as he began the second circuit that he spoke. "I know that it's impossible for me to keep you safe all the time, but there are ways you can keep yourself safer. The lure wasn't important. You didn't need to try and free it and especially not at the risk of you hurting yourself for something that could be easily replaced. Because you're not replaceable. You never have been."
Throughout her life, even after Coulson had adopted her, Natasha had been in situations where she'd been injured... and getting spanked didn't really register high on the pain scale. No... what was effective was that her father felt the need to do this; that she'd disappointed him enough that he felt the need to step in and correct her behaviour.
Natasha felt the tears fill her eyes as she listened to her father's words. She didn't doubt them even for a moment. Coulson had never lied to her... and she trusted him to be honest in how he felt. Even when it was hard for her to hear. "I'm... sorry..." she managed to get out, her voice sounding a bit choked through her tears.
"I know you are." Coulson's voice was gentle, even as the swats were firm; hard without being unbearably so. "And I hope that you'll remember this the next time, because you're my daughter. I don't want to ever risk losing you. And the rest of the family doesn't, either." He shifted her forward slightly, to begin targeting swats towards her sit spots.
Relaxing and accepting the punishment wasn't a conscious thing, but the fact that her father cared enough to step in when he needed to helped to break down the last of Natasha's resistance. Going limp over her father's lap, she sobbed into her arms... not loud, but still vocal.
Coulson stopped, never able to continue long past his children giving in, and quickly gathered Natasha into a tight embrace. He kissed her forehead and rocked her gently. "I love you," he whispered against her hair.
Natasha clung tightly to her father, pressing her head into his shoulder. "I'm sorry," she whispered, before just soaking up the comfort and love that Coulson always seemed to have an abundance of when it came to her and her brothers.
Tightening his embrace, Coulson gently threaded his fingers through Natasha's hair. "I know. It's all over now. You're forgiven. And I still love you very much," he promised.
"I love you too." Natasha freed one hand from her father to wipe at her eyes and then simply snuggled in closer, resting quietly against him.
Coulson simply held his daughter close, silently thankful that he still had her safe and sound. He wasn't in any hurry to let her go.
Finally, Natasha pulled back enough so that she could replace her clothing, before moving back to give her father a tight hug. "Thank you... for caring enough to step in when something like this happens."
Coulson simply kissed her forehead. "I love you," he said - for him, it was that simple.
"I love you too." Natasha gave him a last squeeze and then straightened, wiping the last of the tear tracks. "Why don't we see if Grant and Clint need any help with dinner?" she suggested.
"That sounds like a good idea." Coulson wrapped his arm around Natasha's shoulders to steer her out of the tent and in the direction of everyone else.
It wasn't too late when everyone started retiring to their tents for the night, but it had been a long day and there were more than a few stifled yawns. Lance headed to his and Bucky's tent without argument, not sure if it was going to be just them... or if Steve, Pepper and Tony were going to join them.
Bucky followed behind Lance, fighting his own yawns. He was glad he and Steve had decided to have separate tents. It was obvious that his nephew and niece were needing time with their dad. Since he wanted to spend time with his own kid, separate tents worked better. He followed Lance into the tent and quickly zipped the flap closed, before starting to get ready for bed.
"I guess there was some excitement today," Lance commented, having noticed that some of the kids were sticking closer to their parent figure than normal. He began getting ready for bed as well.
"Oh, you could say that. You can ask the others for details, though. I'm still not clear on exactly why what happened, happened." Bucky smiled, not saying that it was all part of not talking about something unless the one involved wanted to talk about it; he figured Lance would understand that without saying it.
"Oh, I didn't plan to interrogate them about it... just noticed that some of them were sticking closer than usual to their parents," Lance said. He didn't mention that being punished caused the same reaction in him. It wasn't an unpleasant feeling... but it was one that confused him at times.
Bucky nodded. "It's understandable. And this trip was meant to help everyone relax and become closer to each other, so I guess it is working. Did you have a good time exploring? I noticed that you were gone for a rather long time, looking for that firewood with the others."
"Yeah... I mean..." Lance hesitated and then shrugged. "Had some words with Bobbi, but that's normal for us. And I'm getting on well with everyone else. It's..." His voice trailed off. He wanted to say that he wasn't used to this kind of family gathering and still didn't know if he really had a place here... but wasn't sure how to say that.
Bucky smiled. "Yeah...took me a while to get used to it too. Going from just Steve in my life to a rather large family was an adjustment...but I don't regret it. Once you become accustomed to it, I don't think you will either."
"It's... difficult not to think this is all going to disappear," Lance admitted after a brief hesitation. "I know all of you are trustworthy, but before you, no one really took that much of an interest in me." He wasn't sure he could believe said interest would last.
"Well, I'm interested now and I have no intention of going anywhere. With our line of work, I avoid making promises...but I will do my best to always be available for you," Bucky said softly.
Lance nodded. "I know you mean that..." At least right now. He didn't know how long that would hold true for. After all, he'd never been very good at having people stick around.
Bucky smiled crookedly. He knew it would take a while for Lance to believe that Bucky not only would mean what he said, but also do it. "C'mon, kid," he finally whispered. "Get into bed." He'd arranged their cots so that they were each alongside the side of the tent, leaving the center free; but their heads were both facing the same corner, forming a 'V' shape and making it possible to talk at night without having to raise their voices above a whisper.
Lance stepped over to his cot without any argument, stretching out. He might not be too sure of things, but he trusted Bucky enough to relax and let his guard down around the other man without second-guessing himself.
"Any ideas for what you'd like to do tomorrow?" Bucky asked curiously, as he got ready and then crawled into his own cot. "Maybe we could go on a hike...."
"A hike sounds good," Lance replied, watching Bucky. "Maybe we could take some food with us? Did you want to have any of the others come along as well?" There was a part of him that hoped they could just have a bit of time to themselves... but he didn't want to admit that out loud.
"I'm sure we could scrounge some food to take. And I'm just as happy it being the two of us...unless there was someone specific you'd like to come? As much as you and Bobbi bicker, it makes one wonder if there's something you aren't telling us..." Bucky teased.
Lance rolled his eyes. "We're two different species," he stated, though without any heat. They didn't work as a couple... but despite their bickering, they were still family.
"Yeah...can't say I've ever experienced that..." Bucky admitted. "Before the war, I never was with one gal long enough to find out if we were different or not. Can't say I've had much chance since coming out from under HYDRA's thumb to meet anyone either." It wasn't clear if that upset him or not.
Lance was silent for a moment or two, before asking quietly, "Does it bother you? I mean... you're a big part of the family here. It's like you're one of the main authority figures..." He frowned, not sure what he was trying to say. "I guess... it doesn't seem like you couldn't be with someone. If you wanted."
Bucky gave the question some thought before answering. "I can't say that sometimes it wouldn't be nice to have someone. Before I became 'the soldier', I used to think of finding a nice girl who would be my partner in everything...raising a family. Now...even if I did meet a nice girl, I'm not sure we could be together. Zola changed me in ways that only a very few understand completely, because they've been changed in similar ways. I don't think it would be fair to start something with a woman who was normal. I don't know if I could watch her grow old, eventually die...when I age so slowly that I have no idea how long I could live before joining her. It's going to be hard enough watching my family do that...." he admitted softly.
He took a deep breath and shook his head, even though Lance couldn't see it. "Right now, I don't think I could have a relationship with a gal...but that don't mean I can't adopt a kid or two. Way I see it, your kids are always your kids, no matter how old they get and it’s just an entirely different type of relationship. And really...right now, that's enough. I'm needed...I have a purpose...a family...even if it isn't what I envisioned before everything that happened." He bit his lip, not sure he should say the last thing he felt; if it would be too much and send Lance running...but hiding it wouldn't do anyone any good. "I've got a son that keeps me on my toes and gives me a bit more reason for wanting to stick around...someone to care about that needs my care...." he finished quietly.
Lance took his time replying to that as he thought on how that made him feel. Until Bucky, there had been no one willing or able to step in and take responsibility for him. Sure, he knew that Bobbi and Mack cared... but while the three of them respected each other, neither of them had any real authority over him. He knew it was different with Bucky, because although he'd chosen to give the other man authority over him, he'd quickly found himself responding in a way that no one else had ever succeeded in.
"I don't really remember if I had parents," Lance said quietly, able to speak honestly in the quietness of the tent. "And... well... it didn't really matter before. I guess I figured that the older I got, the less I needed a parent. Except then you started to take an interest... but..." His voice trailed off. He didn't know how to explain his worry. That if he let himself believe in this, it would be taken away. And he couldn't understand... why him?
"But you can't help but feel like it is fleeting and will disappear the moment you come to rely on it?" Bucky asked knowingly. "I can't predict what will happen in the future, Lance. But I know my intentions. And I know that if anything ever happens to change our relationship, it won't be because I changed my mind or wanted it to change. I hope you can trust in that," he said quietly. "I'd willingly make it legal if I wasn't afraid you'd be scared off, thinking it was too soon..."
"It... feels like it should be too soon," Lance said after a brief hesitation. "I mean, we haven't even known each other for that long. But I have a lot of respect for you. And I want to believe what you say is real, because... I feel the same way," he admitted in a very quiet voice.
Bucky smiled. "If you feel the same, then we can work on the belief." He settled down into his cot. "...Are you interested in making it legal?"
"...Yeah..." It was said very quietly, but it was still a positive answer. "I mean... if you are..." Lance was still uncertain, but just the offer made him want to cling to what that entailed.
"I wouldn't offer if I wasn't," was Bucky's firm reply. "Let's get some sleep, kid. I'll talk to Tony about arranging a meet with his lawyers in the morning...and then we can go on our hike."
"Okay." Lance might have tried protesting, but a yawn quickly put paid to that. He closed his eyes and let himself relax, actually feeling like he had a home and family he could trust in now.
It didn't take long for everyone to start filtering to their tents. Fury suggested to his sons that they retire for the night with a quiet word, giving both of them a tight squeeze before he unzipped their shared tent and slipped inside.
Trip had been the one to place the cots and he had made sure to put his father in the middle, so that he was near both him and Brock. He also made certain to place the cots in such a way that Brock would not only have to go by their father to get out, but would also have to go by Trip. This was the first real outing they had gone on as a family and Trip wasn't certain the change in scenery wouldn't cause his brother to have nightmares or other 'issues', such as sleep walking. This way, he had to go through two people before he 'escaped' the tent. He'd attempted to do this in such a way that it wasn't obvious what he was doing, although he suspected his father knew.
Fury gently squeezed Trip's shoulder, noticing the way his oldest had set out the cots, and started getting changed for bed, speaking as he did so; though he didn't mention the sleeping arrangements. "Is there anything either of you would like to do tomorrow?"
Brock began getting ready for bed, too, but stopped to consider the question. "I'm not sure, really. I haven't been camping for fun in longer than I can remember. I'm not sure what there is to do when I'm not trying to hide from enemy agents trying to kill me, or just plain survive the elements..." His voice was sheepish. Apologetic.
"That's not a problem," Fury replied, giving his youngest a smile. "We could always do some hiking. Or just explore a little bit. Maybe take a picnic with us." He looked at Trip. "What do you think?"
"I like the idea of exploring..." Trip said agreeably. "Taking a lunch with us sounds good too."
Brock nodded, crawling into his sleeping bag. "I like that idea too..." he said softly.
Fury smiled as he settled on his own cot. "We can have it be just us," he commented. "Perhaps make a day out of it... there seems to be a lot of ground we can cover."
"I...really like that idea," Brock admitted quietly. "You don't think the others will mind?"
"I think that the others are all intending to have bonding time as well," Fury said. "There'll be time we can spend as a larger group too... but I'm sure we won't be the only ones doing something with just us."
"Sounds like a plan, then," Trip said decisively. "We spend time just us...getting to know each other better."
Brock smiled crookedly. "Ok. I want to do that."
"I think it'll be good for us," Fury said. "And it's something I want to do as well. We can pack up some food to take with us in the morning."
Brock settled down into his sleeping bag, a bit nervously. He hadn't been on an outing since being taken into Fury's family. While Fury was used to his frequent nightmares...and Trip was at least aware of them...none of the extended family had been subjected to them. Brock wasn't sure what he'd do if he had another nightmare and woke everyone up. He had a feeling staying awake wasn't an option, though. He shifted nervously.
Despite the dim lighting in the tent, Fury could see that Brock was nervous about going to sleep. He reached out and squeezed his youngest's shoulder gently. "Don't try to force yourself to stay awake. I promise you're not the only one who suffers from nightmares."
The darkness of the tent hid his blush, but it was obvious he was ashamed. "I just don't want to wake anyone up," he said in a whisper, automatically shifting so he was leaning toward his dad.
Fury wrapped his arm around Brock in a gentle hug. "Even if you do wake anyone up, it won't be a problem. There might be others who wake up with bad dreams, too."
"I guess," Brock whispered, not fully convinced, but wanting to believe his father. "Good night, dad. Trip..." he finally said.
"Good night," Trip answered calmly, not afraid he'd be woken up at all.
"Good night," Fury said, giving Brock a gentle squeeze. "Try not to worry. No one will be upset if you accidentally wake them up because you have a bad dream... only worried. Good night, Trip," he added, releasing Brock so that he could give Trip a hug as well.
Trip hugged his father back tightly, giving his brother an understanding smile. He lay there a few moments and was soon rewarded by Brock's even breathing. "Thought so..." he whispered with a grin. He doubted Brock would have nightmares tonight- not when he was next to their father- but even if he did, Trip knew their father would have it under control.
Fury squeezed Trip gently before releasing him. "If you notice something and I don't, wake me up," he whispered. It was unlikely Fury wouldn't wake... but just in case he went into too deep a sleep.
Although Coulson normally woke up after his children, unless there was something in particular he needed to do, he woke up fairly early the next morning... mostly because it was his sons' shared birthday and he had the day planned out. Although he and Clint had had plenty of birthday celebrations, this was Grant's first one after the two of them had found each other again.
Coulson moved quietly around the tent, packing what he thought they needed for the day.
Clint woke up to his father's careful movement around the tent and lay still for a moment, just taking everything in. It had been a while since he'd been able to spend his birthday with his father. It had been longer than that since they'd been able to do so with more than a few short hours before having to rush off on SHIELD business. And this was the first time he'd ever been able to spend his birthday with his brother. Smiling, he got up out of bed and dressed before he began to help his father gather the supplies they would need for the day.
Grant woke up as he always did when in a strange place. He made certain his breathing stayed even and slowly took in his surroundings before letting it be known he was awake. When he determined that he was safe with his family, he immediately jumped out of bed and began to get ready for the day, as excited as any child was when going to do something fun with the family. He allowed his excitement and enthusiasm to show unabashedly.
Coulson smiled at his sons, giving them both a tight hug and a kiss to their foreheads. "Happy Birthday." There was a whole wealth of happiness in those two words. Being with his children... just being able to spend time with them... was the best thing in the world.
Natasha woke only a few moments after her brothers, giving each of them her own hug and murmured greeting, before adding, "I'll get started on breakfast."
"Thanks, dad..." Grant smiled, almost shyly. His birthday had never really been happy when a kid and he'd never gone out of his way to celebrate or even acknowledge it once he'd got away from the Ward household. He wasn't quite sure what to make of everyone being excited or caring about the day he was born.
Clint, more used to birthday celebrations, was less shy and more enthusiastic. "Thanks, dad... And happy shared birthday, kiddo!" he teased Grant.
Grant blinked. "Shared?" he asked curiously.
"Yep. Out of all the misdirected youth that Phil could have found and rescued, he managed to find one with the exact same birthday as you. He never said anything...but I think he took it as a sign that he hadn't made a mistake adopting me, when he found out my birthday was the same as his missing baby boy. Now that missing baby boy is back...." He ruffled Grant's hair, before throwing his clothes on to go help Nat.
Coulson smiled at his sons, looking after Clint and then speaking to Grant. "I know your birthday wasn't good when you were growing up... for me, I've always chosen to celebrate the birthdays of Clint, Nat and you... because the three of you are important and having each of you makes me happy." He pressed a kiss to Grant's forehead. "I love each one of you."
"I love you too, dad..." Grant smiled back, hugging his father tightly. Kissing Phil on the cheek, he smiled again. "I'm going to enjoy this birthday."
"I'm glad," Coulson said softly. "I have quite a big day planned." Wrapping an arm around Grant's shoulders, he steered his youngest from the tent, to join his other two children for breakfast.
Grant followed easily, surprised at the amount of food he saw being prepared. "It must really be a big day if we're going to be this hungry!" he teased with a grin.
Coulson smiled. "Well, we'll probably be doing a lot today that's a bit more exacting," he commented. "It'll be important to have enough food to start with."
"Sit down," Natasha suggested, beginning to plate up food for her father and brothers.
Grant quickly sat and gave his sister a grin. "It smells wonderful, Tash..." When she handed him his plate, he waited just long enough for his brother, sister and father to get their food, then dug in. His appetite was larger than he'd thought it would be. He ate and watched as the rest of the camp began to exit tents and begin the day.
Coulson sat down between his sons, giving each of them an affectionate kiss to their cheeks before he started eating, smiling as he noticed how big Grant's appetite was.
Natasha sat down opposite her father and brothers, glancing around at the others.
Grant had just finished his breakfast and was working on cleaning up his mess- he'd learned, after five years of living in isolation, that if you didn't, you would attract unwanted guests- when he noticed Tony and Pepper whispering to each other furtively, then giving him and Clint suspicious looks. The two were obviously up to something. He couldn't help but glance toward Steve to see if the other man had noticed. When he looked back at Tony and Pepper, Tony was giving him his best 'innocent' look, which meant he didn't look innocent at all. Wrinkling his nose, Grant looked at Clint and noticed that the archer had noticed the billionaire's antics as well. Shrugging at each other, they went back to cleaning up their mess; but moved closer to their father, as if in unspoken agreement. If Tony was going to pull a prank, then he'd get Phil in the crossfire...hopefully, that would give the inventor pause. Hopefully.
Coulson noticed Tony and Pepper, but since he knew that Steve would stop his son from doing anything really bad, he wasn't too worried. And he was already deciding that he was planning to give his sons their presents before they went out.
Natasha slipped back into their tent without a word once clean-up was finished.
Tony kept giving Grant and then Clint his manic grin...it was baffling and a bit worrisome, if Grant were honest with himself. He was so focused on what Tony was doing, that Pepper actually managed to sneak up behind him and gently poke him in the ribs. He'd deny to his dying breath that he screamed like a little girl. His pride was only slightly salvaged by the fact that Pepper screamed even louder than he did in shock at him having screamed.
"I'm sorry!" Pepper squeaked out, eyes wide. "I wasn't trying to scare you!" She thrust out a package toward him. "IjustwantedtogiveyouthisfromTonyandme...." Waiting only long enough for Grant to grasp the package, she scurried to Steve's side, since Tony was on the ground, rolling in laughter. "Tony has your gift, Clint..." she blurted to the archer from behind her father.
Clint blinked, looking from Grant (who was dark red) to Pepper (who was also dark red) and then to Tony, who had finally stopped laughing and was now standing up and pulling pine needles out of his hair. "Um...ok? Gimme, Metal Head!" He grinned at Tony, pointedly not looking at the blushing members of his family.
Coulson smiled, wrapping his arm around Grant and squeezing him gently. "I'm going to go and get your presents from me," he said softly to both him and Clint.
Steve rested a hand on Pepper's shoulder, squeezing her gently and giving her a reassuring smile.
Tony was still chuckling, although he was trying to do it softly so that Pepper would stop giving him the 'stink eye', when he walked over and handed Clint his package. "Happy birthday, cuz..." he said with a smile, then grinned at Grant. "You too, squirt!"
Grant rolled his eyes, but grinned back. "Shouldn't I be calling you squirt? You are shorter than me, after all...."
Pepper just huffed from her position under Steve's arm and pressed closer to her father, reaching down and rubbing Copper's ears. The dog had been running back and forth between her and Grant, trying to figure out why they had both screamed.
"Thanks, Tony...Pepper..." Clint said, as he took the gift and looked at it closely, waiting till his father got back to begin unwrapping it. Part of the fun in receiving gifts was sharing in the suspense of opening them.
Bruce had wandered over by this point, Jemma and Leo not far behind. "Our gift is back home, waiting for you, as it wasn't something that could be easily wrapped and carried..." he said sheepishly, running a hand through his hair.
Coulson wasn't gone for too long... although when he came back with Natasha, the two of them were carrying several presents between them. Smiling at his sons, Coulson stood close to them, waiting for them to open their presents from Tony.
Leo smiled at Clint and Grant. "Happy birthday," he said to both of them, happy to have a chance to celebrate with them as part of the family.
Although planning to take both Brock and Trip out, Fury nevertheless stopped by to pass the brothers his own present for them and wish them a happy birthday.
Skye, although normally not an early riser by any stretch of the imagination, had made a special effort to wake up early so she could join the group before Coulson and his kids left.
Loki walked over with Thor, holding two small packages that were wrapped simply. Giving each brother a slight bow, he handed them their respective gifts before stepping back to stand by his brother's side.
Bucky stood to the side, his arm around Lance. "Our gift is back at the tower as well, but it was less due to size and more due to a shipping error that had it arrive too late to bring with us." He grinned crookedly. He included Lance in his comment, wanting to make it clear that he now considered him family.
May walked over to stand next to Skye. "I did not buy a gift...my gift to each of you is one 'favor' each."
Bobbi and Mack glanced around the group then gave Grant and Clint sheepish smiles. "I'm afraid we didn't know it was your birthday," Bobbi began, "but I'd like to treat you to a steak dinner when we return, if that's ok."
"And I'll buy all the drinks," Mack added.
Grant smiled at everyone, acknowledging their gifts or offers. "Thanks. All of you. I never expected...." He swallowed thickly; then, taking a deep breath, began opening the gift from Tony and Pepper.
Thor passed Clint and Grant his own gifts, before he stepped back and wrapped his arm around Loki's shoulders easily and casually.
Skye gave both a smile and stepped forward to pass them her own gifts, with a murmured, "Happy birthday."
Grant had enjoyed opening all the gifts; not because he was receiving a bunch of stuff, but because each gift had been chosen with him and his personality in mind. His father's gift of a Kindle was well received...but then so were the various games and the two collector's editions of two of his favorite books. He had been a bit confused by Tony and Pepper's gift- a rather plain looking watch- but then JARVIS had spoken to him through it and he realized that Tony had given him a way to stay connected to the tower (and through that, his family), no matter where he went, as long as he wore it. Skye's gift of a chess set reminded him of the fledgling relationship they had been building before his fall from grace and reminded him that he wanted to repair their friendship...maybe it was time to start hanging out with her more. Thor had given him a small dagger...an Asgardian dagger...and Loki had given him a sheath covered in runes that would strap around his leg, to keep it in; when he asked about the runes, he learned they were for protection. Grant couldn't help but grin at Fury's gift of several gift cards to some of Grant's favorite shops- Fury always paid attention, even if he wasn't one for being overly sentimental. Trip and Brock had also given him gift cards, but theirs were for activities that they could do when they had a free moment, such as laser tag. Steve had given him a few comic books; closer inspection showed that they were from the forties. They were in pristine condition and Grant suspected that Steve had actually given him something that had belonged to and meant something to him from before he was frozen.
Clint had received very similar items, only geared toward his own tastes. He swallowed as he looked at everything he had been given, knowing that there were a few more things waiting for him at home, and then looked up at his family. Clearing his throat, he said softly, "Thank you all...I...I really don't know what to say. I feel so lucky to have all of you in my life."
Grant nodded briskly. "Very lucky...and grateful." Giving a crooked grin to everyone, he threw his arms around the nearest person and gave a tight hug before moving his way through the group to give his entire family a hug.
Coulson hugged both his sons tightly, pressing a kiss to each of their foreheads before releasing them. No matter how lucky they felt, he always felt fortunate to have three children he loved beyond reason in his life.
The others reciprocated the show of affection, each murmuring their own birthday greetings and well wishes... not just for the rest of the day.
By this time, everyone had broken up into their smaller family groups and were beginning whatever plans they had for the day. Clint had quickly gone to the tent, taking his and Grant's gifts with him to store, and returned with the gear they were going to need for their short hike to the mountain they were going to scale. He began to carefully check the rock climbing gear, not surprised when Grant and his father began to double and triple check it. First rule of safety was to make sure your equipment was in working order, after all.
Natasha moved over to help carry some of the gear after her father and brothers had checked it repeatedly.
Coulson took the backpack with food and water bottles, settling it on his back before looking round at his children. "Ready?"
"I am," Natasha replied.
After breakfast, Fury made sure each of them had supplies before the three of them started out on one of the trails. He walked between his sons as they hiked, speaking after only a few seconds. "How did you both sleep?"
Trip had enjoyed watching his 'cousins' opening their gifts almost as much as Grant and Clint had enjoyed opening them. It wasn't long after Coulson had taken his family on their 'rock-climbing' excursion that he had finished breakfast and begun cleaning up after himself. He'd finished cleaning just in time for his father to hand him a pack with supplies and lead him and Brock out onto the trail. He shifted the pack to a more comfortable position on his back, then smiled at his father. "I slept like a baby..." he said, his smile turning into a full-fledged grin.
"A snoring baby..." Brock groused, the grin on his own face making it clear he was teasing.
Fury smiled, wrapping an arm around each of their shoulders and squeezing gently. "Snoring is a good sign," he commented. He looked at Brock. "I didn't hear you last night... did you have any bad dreams?" He expected Brock to be honest with him, even though he phrased it as a question.
Brock blinked then slanted his head before looking at the ground with a blush. "No...I didn't. That's the first time in a while...." he admitted hesitantly. It was hard to admit, since the only difference between the night before and his normal sleeping habits was that he was sleeping in the same room as someone else and he trusted that someone to have his back. It made him feel a bit childish that he needed to sleep with someone to avoid nightmares.
Fury was fairly good at reading people and even though he hadn't had Brock as long as he'd had Trip, he could tell that Brock was feeling embarrassed... and he was pretty sure he had a good idea of why. "You aren't the only one to feel better when you sleep in the same room as a member of your family."
Brock bit his lip m then shrugged slightly. "Probably not...just...I never needed to before. Feels like failure somehow..." he admitted softly.
"Accepting the help and support of your family doesn't make you a failure," Fury said. "Having a family around helps. All of us here have been in a similar situation at times... and I know Coulson's children have taken support from staying in the room with him before."
"I try and remember that. I don't think I was always this needy...I don't remember being needy, anyway." Brock swallowed. "If I'm going to be needy, though, I'm not that upset that it is you I need..." He blushed. "I do remember always looking up to and respecting you, so...." He shrugged.
"If you need someone, dad is one of the best to have your back," Trip said with a smile.
"You were put through a lot and hurt badly," Fury said. "You might think you're acting needy... you're actually very well-adjusted. Particularly when looking at how some of the others were before their fathers were in the picture."
Brock gave his father a grateful smile, moving close enough to bump shoulders. "Thanks, dad," he whispered...still unused to having someone care about him in that way, it had been so long, and unsure what response he should have. The fact that he wanted to be as close to his rescuer as possible was daunting enough without figuring out all his other feelings.
Fury gently bumped shoulders with him in return. "I'm sure it'll be overwhelming at times, but me and Trip are here for you. So is everyone else."
Brock just swallowed and nodded his head, one of those 'overwhelming times' being right at that moment. He blinked his eyes rapidly and cleared his throat. "I know. That helps a lot..." He winced when his voice quivered slightly, knowing that it was obvious he was emotionally at the edge, even if he wasn't crying...yet.
Trip winced in sympathy, knowing how difficult it was to let your guard down and let other people see what might be perceived as 'weakness'. He reached over and patted his brother on the back, a little more roughly than necessary; like brothers are most likely to do. "It helps me too..." he admitted, figuring it could only help Brock if he realized he wasn't the only one who needed other people that much.
Fury paused so that he could turn to his youngest, wrapping his arms around Brock and hugging him tightly. "I know there are times it feels really difficult. Being overwhelmed is normal. But you can draw support from us any time."
Trip's 'pat on the back' caused Brock to trip slightly, right into his father's arms. It was only a matter of seconds for him to wrap his own arms around the older man and return the hug, letting his head fall onto Fury's shoulder. He took a deep breath and didn't say anything else. What could he say? Thank you seemed inadequate and he'd already said it several times. Instead, he just hesitantly snuggled closer, wondering how much support was actually being offered. Fury didn't have a reputation as a 'snuggly' man, after all. Brock couldn't help but press closer, though, needing the physical confirmation of the words he was hearing.
Fury wasn't a really cuddly person, but when it came to his sons, he ignored any of his own discomfort to take care of them. And now was no exception. "You have a family now... not to mention a lot of 'cousins' who know at least part of what you're going through."
Brock held his breath for a moment before letting it out slowly and relaxing, his hug becoming less desperate and more accepting and relaxed. "Ok...I...I believe you. Thanks, dad..." he finally said softly.
Fury let one hand rub gently over his youngest's hair and back. "If you need support, you don't have to physically ask for it," he said. "Even if you just come to sit with me, I'll know and understand."
Brock remained in his father's arms for a few moments longer before reluctantly stepping back. He gave Fury an almost bashful grin, ducking his head down before looking back up at the older man. "Ok...I think you probably do know...better than me even." He gave a tiny laugh, before turning so he was facing forward on the path again. "Just where are we hiking to, anyway?" he asked curiously.
"There are a couple of trails through the forest," Fury said. "I thought we'd follow one of them... maybe explore a little if we come across any caves." He'd included flashlights in the gear, just in case.
Brock just nodded, happy to go anywhere as long as he was with his family. When out in public and surrounded by strangers, he didn't feel safe enough to let his guard down. Since he trusted Fury and Trip completely, he did feel safe enough; the act of relaxing his guard was ironically enabling him to feel more secure than he had in a long time.
Trip grinned. "I haven't done any spelunking in a very long time. That sounds like fun."
Fury smiled at Trip. "I checked out whether there were caves before we came, so I made sure we have all the right equipment."
"You're better than a boy scout," Trip teased his father, then gave his brother an impish grin. "How much you want to bet he brought enough for us to stay over-night if necessary?"
Brock laughed. "No bet. Since all three of us have been trained to live off the land and sleep on rocks if necessary, he wouldn't have to bring all that much for us to be able to stay over-night...even if it wasn't a comfortable stay."
Fury shook his head, amused by his sons' bantering and teasing. "I didn't plan for us to be out overnight, but I packed in case we found somewhere we'd like to stay longer than the day."
"I don't know...I've roughed it enough, I kinda like having my nice hard cot and sleeping bag..." Brock teased lightly. He knew if they found a really special place, he'd be the first to ask to stay longer.
Fury smiled. "Well, it's up to both of you what we do and how long we stay in places." He was content to just spend the time with the two of them.
"Let's just have fun now and worry about later, later." Trip laughed and began heading down the trail again.
As everyone else began filtering away, Skye walked over to sit with her mother, eating breakfast. "Was there anything you wanted to do today?" she asked.
May leaned back, taking a sip of her coffee before slanting a look at her daughter. "I didn't have specific plans, no. I thought, unless you wanted to go out hiking and such, we could spend the day hanging out around the fire, playing cards, gossiping, planning on what type of car we want to get for those times when we want to take off just us and have a road trip...."
Skye shook her head, shifting closer to her mother. "It's better here than I thought it would be, but I'm not really into hiking..." She preferred her home comforts and technology, after all. "Though, if you want to go exploring later on while we're here, I'll tag along." She didn't want May to miss out on what she wanted to do because she thought that Skye wouldn't want to do it.
"Oh...I'm perfectly happy lazing around the campfire," May said with a smile. "I get enough hiking and activity on our missions and training sessions. It will be nice to just relax." She glanced at Skye. She and Skye had gotten very close, but there was still so much about the younger woman she didn't know. Little trivial things that would help them connect and give her more insight into who Skye was. Sitting around a campfire in idle chatting was the perfect time to find out some of them.
"Yeah... I think it looks like everyone needed this time to relax," Skye commented. "I know it was a bit of work to make sure everything was covered, but it might be nice to have something regular. Maybe not camping every time; just... family time, I guess."
"You're right. We need to make more efforts to do regular things. Eating breakfast with the whole family and the occasional movie night is a good start, but breakfast is often rushed and the movie nights aren't as often as they could be. We need to make the time, when possible, to just be with each other. And you and I need to do the same. As much as we are part of the larger family, we're our own little family, too," May said quietly.
Skye nodded. "That would be good," she agreed. "I just..." She hesitated. "I know it's silly to feel like that, but I keep thinking that I shouldn't be taking up so much of your time. I know you wouldn't have adopted me if you didn't want me, but..." Her voice trailed off. "It was easier when I was deaged."
"It's understandable. I feel odd asking for you to spend time with me...I don't want to be overbearing and you are an adult...." May smiled hesitantly.
"I don't think you're being overbearing," Skye said honestly. "I want to spend time with you. You're the only person who ever wanted to be my Mom," she said, her voice much softer now.
May smiled again. "I'm glad..." She slanted her head. "How about we play a game of twenty questions? We can both ask whatever we like...but if one of us chooses not to answer a question, we have to pay a small penalty of some kind."
"That sounds like a good idea," Skye agreed. "What kind of penalty do you think we should pay if we choose not to answer?"
"For each question I don't answer, I will do one of your chores for a day. For each one you don't answer, you have to get up for the early morning training that you tend to skip normally." May grinned knowingly at Skye. The younger woman was notorious for not wanting to get up before 8:00am.
Skye groaned. "I don't see why training has to be so early..." She wasn't complaining properly, though she really didn't like the early morning training. "I suppose it's fair..." she said, actually liking the idea if not her forfeit.
May's grin was almost sinister, even if it was affectionate. "I'll let you ask the first question, then..."
After passing their gifts onto Clint and Grant, Thor had moved to prepare them both some breakfast, seating himself next to Loki. "Is there anything you wish to do today?" he asked his brother.
Loki smiled at his brother. "Perhaps we could go hunting. We have not engaged in a hunt in many years. And it would give us something to provide the others for dinner," he said quietly.
Thor nodded, returning Loki's smile. "I think that would be a very good idea," he agreed. "I have very fond memories of times we have hunted together in the past."
"As do I..." Loki admitted with a smile. "I believe I heard some wild turkey the other day. A turkey for dinner would be filling."
"It would be," Thor agreed. "And we could see if there are any wild herbs or vegetables growing that would be safe to eat."
Loki nodded his head enthusiastically as he finished his breakfast. "Shall we leave as soon as we finish cleaning up?" His tone was hopeful.
"I see no reason to delay." Thor finished his own breakfast, moving to begin cleaning up, smiling at his brother's obvious enthusiasm.
Loki didn't waste any time cleaning and then going after the equipment and supplies he and his brother would need. Soon, he was fidgeting as he waited for Thor to indicate he was ready.
It was three days later and things had been quiet. Very quiet. Loki couldn't help but feel a bit restless, as much as he was enjoying the time with his brother. He had decided to go on a walk with three of the others: Bobbi, Brock and Lance.
They weren't too far from camp, but far enough away that there was no one in charge close by. They had been goofing around, playing an odd game of truth or dare- refusal to answer or do the dare would lead to a penalty- when he thought of something that he never thought any of them would do.
"Bobbi...I dare you to climb to the top of that tree, jump out and grab that limb on that tree, then swing out so that you can jump into that pool of water." He grinned widely, certain she would refuse and would owe him a penalty.
Brock shook his head. "That's not a good idea," he protested.
Hunter nodded his agreement. "It's too dangerous. You could fall and hurt yourself." They might bicker constantly, but that didn't mean he wanted anything to happen to her.
Bobbi got an irritable look on her face. She hated when the men in her life tried to 'protect' her...she could protect herself, thank you very much. "I've been in places higher and more dangerous than that. That's easy compared to some of the ops we've done in the past! Just because you two don't have the guts to attempt it..."
"Guts has nothing to do with it!" Brock protested.
"No?" Bobbi smirked. "In that case, I dare all three of you to do the same thing. And I'm going first!" She quickly began to climb the tree.
Loki's grin slipped. He hadn't expected her to actually do it...and he definitely hadn't expected to be dared to do his own dare. He glanced at Hunter and Brock, waiting for one of them to put a stop to the proceedings so he wouldn't have to.
Hunter hesitated, but the part of him suggesting that it would be a really good idea to refuse and go back to tell the others was left by the wayside by the part of him that didn't want to be outdone by Bobbi. With a glance and a shrug at the others, he was following her.
"Aw, crap..." Brock muttered. He knew it was a really bad idea and lots of things could go wrong for no good reason. But he didn't want to be the one to break the good mood or drag everyone back to camp... So he began to follow the as well.
Loki watched the three and shook his head. "I should have expected this. I truly should have." He sighed then began to follow as well.
Meanwhile Bobbi had made it to the top of the tree. The branch she was meant to jump to was further away than it would have appeared from the ground and she had a moment's second thought about going through with the dare, but Lance was directly below her, and Brock and Loki were close behind him, and she didn't want to back out.
Taking a deep breath, she threw herself out of the tree, reaching for the tree branch. For a few brief seconds she thought she was going to miss and plummet to the ground, but she just managed to grasp the branch, wincing slightly as she felt bark splinter into her thumb. Not waiting long enough for the branch to take her full weight, she swung off of it and jumped feet first into the waiting pool, nearly gasping as the nearly frigid water went over her head. She quickly swum to the side and began to climb out, wishing that she hadn't let her pride get in the way. She looked up to warn the others not to do it, but the cold had robbed her of her voice.
Hunter hesitated only briefly, but Bobbi had dared him and the others to do it, so as soon as Bobbi was clear of the water, he launched himself forward, grabbing the tree branch and swinging off it, jumping into the water.
Having taken in a great lungful of water, Hunter surfaced spluttering and choking, first thought to get to the bank and pull himself out.
Bobbi, shivering uncontrollably, still managed to retain enough control over her body to reach over and help Hunter out. "Gotta stop Brock...water too cold..." she chattered. She couldn't get her voice loud enough to warn him, though.
Brock really didn't want to do the jump. He remembered how upset Steve, Bruce and Coulson had been when their kids had fallen into the river. Here he and the others were...deliberately jumping into a pond. But he couldn't back down. Not now. Taking a deep breath, he threw himself at the branch, quickly swinging off and jumping into the pool of water. He surfaced with a gasp and a rather colorful curse, as he quickly scrambled for the bank.
Loki hadn't even been thinking of the water being frigid when he made the dare. As he watched each of the other three crawling out of the water, he winced and felt a bit guilty that he'd even suggested the activity. Not willing to let them suffer alone, he leapt toward the branch. Unfortunately, the branch had reached the limit of abuse it was willing to accept and broke, disrupting Loki's direction. Instead of landing in the pool, he landed on his back just to the side of it. The only thing preventing a broken bone was the fact he wasn't human. Even so, it winded him and he couldn't help the groan that escaped his lips.
Bobbi's eyes shot open wide. "Loki!" she gasped, immediately moving to check on him.
Teeth chattering too much for him to properly talk, Hunter crawled over to Loki's side, checking to make sure he wasn't suffering from any broken bones before speaking, each word an effort because of how cold he was. "We should... get him back... to camp. Or... Bruce... h-here."
Brock nodded. "I'll go get Bruce, you two stay with him..."
"No!" Loki protested. "I did not break anything and I can walk," he wheezed. "We will all walk back together, so you can be aided as well." His voice was firm and he forced himself to his feet with a wince before they could stop him.
"Loki..." Bobbi tried to protest, but quickly gave up when she shivered again, rather violently. "Fine...let’s get to camp before my feet freeze in place," she grumbled, pulling one of Loki's arms over her shoulders so she could assist him back.
Hunter moved to support Loki on the other side, wrapping his arm around the other's waist as he began stumbling back to camp. Although he didn't say anything, he was fairly sure they were going to be in trouble.
Brock just shook his head and went ahead of the group, yelling for Bruce as soon as they got within range.
Meanwhile, Loki was protesting that he could walk without help. He'd be bruised, possibly, but he was positive there were no serious injuries. He was more worried about the three humans developing hypothermia.
Bruce, hearing Brock call, had immediately run out to meet them. Upon seeing their soaked condition, he ordered, "Stand in front of the fire and strip out of your wet clothes. Leo, Jemma, please get the blankets. Loki... You go to the fire as well. I'll have Thor use the scanner on you while we warm the other three up. Meanwhile, someone explain what happened."
By this time, Bucky had come over and was helping Hunter undress, ignoring the younger man's protests or efforts to do things on his own.
Hunter gave up after a few tries, glancing sheepishly at Bruce. "Umm..." He really didn't think they'd be too impressed with what actually happened, but he didn't want to be the one to tell on them.
Close by in the camp, Thor quickly headed over, wrapping an arm around Loki's shoulders and carefully guiding his brother to the fire, eyeing him with concern. "How are you feeling?"
Fury, also not that far away, approached his youngest quickly, wrapping an arm around Brock's shoulders as he gathered some blankets. "Come on. Let's get you dried off," he said, leading Brock to the fire.
Bobbi wasn't an official member of one of the smaller family groups, but Coulson stepped over with some blankets for her. "Come and dry off by the fire," he suggested, looking like he wanted to reach out and draw her over... but unsure how she would take it.
Loki gave Thor a tiny smile. "I fell from a tree onto my back. Had I been human, I could have been seriously hurt, which is why they were all worried. As I am not human, I believe I will suffer no more than a few bruises and perhaps a small bit of stiffness. I feel fine." He bit his lip, glancing at the other three. "I feel I must explain what has occurred, though, as it was my foolish dare that set events in motion." With that, he explained everything.
Brock had no embarrassment, quickly stripping down and wrapping the blanket his father held around him and shifting as close as possible to the other man.
Bobbi hesitantly went to the fire, quickly stripping and wrapping the blanket Coulson gave her around herself. She had a wistful smile on her face as she watched Lance and Brock with their fathers and Loki with his brother. It was times like this she felt her lack of family keenly.
Hunter wrapped his own blanket around him quickly, glancing over at Loki as the Asgardian explained. "I think we all know we should have said no..."
Fury wrapped his arms around Brock, quickly guiding him over to the fire and settling down with his son pretty much in his lap.
Taking a seat next to Bobbi, Coulson wrapped an arm around her shoulders to try and help her keep warm, acting just as he normally did when it was one of his children affected.
"Given the fact that we already had one set of you all go through this exact scenario...risking hypothermia on a dare truly wasn't the best thing you could have done." Bucky's tone and voice was mild, but it was obvious he was worried about Hunter and also wasn't terribly happy with the decision the younger man had made.
Brock winced, shifting so he could face his father and snuggle closer for warmth- which had the added effect of putting him fully on the older man's lap. "Hunter is right. We could have and should have said no."
Bobbi responded to the fatherly actions despite herself, pressing as close as she dared to Coulson, going as far as to put her head on his shoulder. She couldn't hide her shivering, and was grateful for his efforts to help warm her up. She worried at the spot on her thumb where the splinter had jammed under her nail.
Loki held still as Thor took the scanner from Bruce and began to use it on him.
"There is no lasting damage to your brother, sir." JARVIS intoned. "Although he will likely be slightly sore in the next few days."
"For more than one reason..." Loki muttered under his breath. It was likely Thor heard him though.
Bucky took the scanner and began to run it over Hunter to make certain there was nothing wrong with him.
Hunter just nodded, not having anything to say in his defense as he held still to let the scanner do its work.
Fury wrapped his arms fully around Brock, cuddling him close and rubbing his arms and back as he waited to use the scanner. "You're absolutely right. You should have said no," he said, his voice mild but still quite serious... and very worried.
Thor wrapped his arms around Loki and hugged him tightly, his concern and worry obvious in the tight way he held his brother.
"Did you get a splinter?" Coulson asked Bobbi quietly, noticing the way she worried at her nail.
Bucky finished the scan, relieved when JARVIS gave Hunter the all clear. He handed the scanner to Fury then pulled his kid even closer, taking a towel and rubbing his hair dry.
Brock bit his lip as his father ran the scanner over him. "I'm sorry..." he finally whispered.
Loki hugged Thor back just as tightly. "I am alright, brother."
Bobbi swallowed and nodded hesitantly. "Yes sir," she admitted reluctantly. Glancing at Coulson, she hesitantly held her hand out to him do that he could look at her wounded hand.
A part of Hunter wondered if he should protest Bucky taking care of him... the rest of him couldn't help relaxing into Bucky. "I know we shouldn't have done it..."
Fury listened as JARVIS indicated Brock wasn't in any danger then passed the scanner onto Coulson before hugging Brock tighter. "I know," he said, not pointing out they were going to deal with what had happened.
Thor didn't loosen his hold on his brother. "Only because you are stronger physically than humans."
Coulson looked over the splinter as he took the scanner then looked at Bobbi. "It might come out on its own, but if you'd prefer, I can get it out... or I'm sure Bruce can."
"I'm glad you realize that. It will save me having to explain to you why you shouldn't have done it..." Bucky teased gently. He knew Hunter would realize that things would be addressed later as well.
Brock sighed softly, just snuggling with his father. He knew he wouldn't get away without his father addressing the issue, but he wasn't going to ask for it. He wouldn't argue or fight it, but he wasn't going to ask.
Loki nodded reluctantly. "This is true. And I feel badly that they could have been hurt grievously because of my dare."
Bobbi swallowed then asked hesitantly, "Could you?" She had begun to warm up, finally, because of Coulson wrapping his arm around her. She didn't want to leave his embrace just so Bruce could take out a splinter.
"Yeah... I realized why it was a bad idea as soon as I'd done it." Before then, too, but Hunter didn't want to admit that he'd gone along with it because Bobbi had dared him to. It still bothered him how much she could get under his skin.
"When you're warmed up, we'll move through to our tent," Fury said, stroking gently over Brock's hair and back.
"They could have been," Thor agreed. "They weren't, but it was still a dangerous action to take."
"Of course." Coulson kept his arm around Bobbi as he handed the scanner back to Bruce and asked, "Do you have a needle in your medkit?"
Bucky nodded, just pulling Lance closer to him and then closer to the fire. He would wait until JARVIS gave everyone the all clear before taking Hunter back to change into warm dry clothing.
Brock nodded, still shivering slightly, but not nearly as much as he had been. He just pressed against his father, soaking in the other man's warmth, and wondered how in the world this had become his life...where he was reduced to the emotional level of a small, needy child whenever he did something he knew Fury wouldn't approve...and yet he stayed still and didn't run.
Loki swallowed then sighed. "I am ready if you are..." he whispered again to his brother, knowing Thor would know what he meant.
Bruce quickly retrieved and sterilized a needle, handing it to Coulson along with antibiotic cream and a bandage. "All the scans have come back normal, so as soon as the 'kids' are warmed up enough to stop shivering, I suggest getting them into dry clothes," he remarked, with only a hint of fond exasperation. He cleaned up his equipment then went in search of all the others who had disappeared as soon as he had given clearance.
Bobbi winced as she saw the needle, but didn't say anything. She'd brought this on herself. Oddly, she couldn't bring herself to regret it; for the first time since joining up with this rather large family group, she felt like she was actually a part of the group and not just an add-on. Not to say she wasn't regretting her foolish actions- she shivered again slightly- but even though she knew Coulson was probably very irate with her and just hiding it, she was being taken care of and that felt good.
Hunter didn't protest, snuggling into Bucky's warmth... though he would deny it vehemently if anyone made any comments about his actions.
Fury kept his arms around Brock, continuing to stroke his hair and back and rub his arms to keep him warm.
Thor nodded, tightening his embrace around Loki a moment before he stood, helping his brother up too.
Taking the needle, Coulson gave Bobbi a reassuring smile before he began to work on carefully extracting the splinter. "This isn't the first time I've had to do this," he remarked, remembering Clint's penchant for getting into places he shouldn't.
Bucky gently rubbed Hunter's back and hair, waiting until he couldn't see Hunter physically shivering before asking, "Do you think you are ready to go get dry clothes on?" He left unasked the question on if Hunter was ready to 'talk' about what had just happened.
Lance nodded, leaning a bit more into Bucky before he reluctantly pulled away, carefully climbing to his feet as he held the blanket around him, not wanting to flash the others any more than he had already.
Bucky wrapped his arm around Lance, making certain the blanket stayed in place and wouldn't trip the younger man, and led him to their tent. Once inside, he began to pull out warm, dry clothing, handing it to Lance with the unspoken command that the other man should wear it; and there was to be no arguments. "As soon as you're ready, we can discuss why you thought jumping through the trees like a monkey and then into frigid water was a good idea. Especially after what happened with Nat, Pepper and Leo...."
Lance began pulling on his clothes, wincing at Bucky's 'request' for an explanation. "I didn't think it was a good idea at first," he said. "But I... don't see clearly when it comes to Bobbi. I guess I never have." Dressed now, he scratched sheepishly at the back of his neck. "When she dared me, common sense fled."
Bucky couldn't help the snort of amusement, even though the situation wasn't really funny. He just could relate so well. "Dames will do that to you. Especially ones you like a lot; even love..." He gave Lance a knowing look. "Even so, you need to make choices with your brain; not your pride...or other parts of your body...." He gently took Lance's arm and walked with him to his cot, sitting down on it and pulling Lance down to sit beside him. "If you have to count to ten and then think a little longer about something than you normally would, that would be preferable to you doing something that puts your health and even your life at risk." Bucky's voice was soft, but it was filled with worry and even a tiny bit of fear.
Lance might have made some kind of retort to the implication about his feelings for Bobbi... and then the man Lance was beginning (at least subconsciously) to look on as his father made his worry clear and Lance couldn't help fidgeting, unable to look Bucky in the eye. "I... know it was a bad judgement call. It might have been Loki and then Bobbi who brought it up... I didn't have to go along with it. I should have come back here if she wouldn't listen to me."
"I'm glad you realize that, son..." Bucky sighed softly. "You know I can't let this go...taking unnecessary chances with your life is never acceptable." He looked into Lance's eyes, waiting for acknowledgement. He wasn't going to proceed until he was certain the younger man understood why he couldn't get away with it and accepted what was going to happen. And it was going to happen. The only question was if it would happen quickly or if Bucky would need to explain things first.
"I know." Lance could have tried to drag it out, but there was little point in that. He wanted to get this over with, because as childish as it made him feel, he just wanted to make things right between them.
"Alright then." Bucky sighed softly then carefully tugged Lance until he was positioned over his lap. Wrapping one arm firmly around his waist to draw him closer and make him more secure, Bucky then quickly lowered his son's pants and underwear. "Putting yourself in danger unnecessarily will never be tolerated, Lance. Never." Bucky's voice still held tones of worry.
Feeling that everything had been said and to continue harping on it would only make the younger man feel worse and not help the lesson sink in any better, Bucky raised his hand and let it fall on Hunter's backside with a firm smack. Barely giving time for the pain to register, he'd quickly raised his hand and let it fall again with the same firmness. It didn't take long for him to fall into a rhythm as he covered the exposed backside with the firm smacks- not missing one inch- until Hunter's bottom was a uniform pink. He paused to examine the results for a few seconds to make certain he wasn't being too harsh and to listen for Hunter's reaction. He only wanted this to continue for as long as it took to get the proper response from the boy.
Lance whimpered softly as he was tugged across Bucky's lap, reaching one hand down to grasp onto his father's ankle. It didn't take long for him to start shifting in response to the swats, tears blurring his vision very quickly as the guilt was already so close to the surface.
Bucky had noted the almost immediate shifting. Pausing allowed him to note Lance's breathing; it sounded as if he was very close to tears. Because of this, when he started over on the second circuit, he did so more slowly. The firmness was the same (although it might have felt harder, given the fact he was now smacking already reddened skin), but he left several seconds between smacks so that he could listen to his son and gauge his responses.
Another quiet whimper escaped Lance's mouth, ending in a soft sob. He managed to get out a quiet, "I'm sorry," not because he was trying to end the punishment... but because he wanted Bucky to know that he was sorry. That he knew why what he had done was unacceptable.
"I know..." Bucky responded kindly. Realizing Lance was almost where he needed to be, Bucky carefully tipped him forward and targeted the younger man's sit spots. "We're almost done." He tried to offer some encouragement, even as he began to redden the previously untouched area.
Lance slumped over Bucky's lap, beginning to sob as he went limp, not resisting the swats at all.
And that was the sign Bucky was looking for. Landing two more sharp swats to the boys sit spots, he stopped spanking and began to gently rub Lance's back. "We're done now, son. We're done and I've got you. I'll always have you...." he consoled softly, continuing to rub his boy's back.
Lance sobbed softly, trying to get his tears under control. He relaxed further as Bucky rubbed his back, desperate to believe what Bucky was saying to him.
Bucky gently righted Lance's clothing, then pulled the younger man up to sit on his lap, wrapping his arms around him in a tight hug. Rubbing his back and hair gently, Bucky kissed him on the top of the head. "I've got you...."
Lance reciprocated the hug, wrapping his own arms around Bucky. It didn't take long for him to calm down, but he didn't pull away from the embrace, still needing the comfort. "I am sorry..." he whispered.
"I know you are..." Bucky soothed softly. "You've been punished and all is forgiven. We'll put this behind us and you'll have a clean slate."
Lance sighed, relaxing against his father. "I won't be doing anything like that again in a hurry."
"I should hope not." Bucky's voice was serious with an undercurrent of affectionate amusement. "If you do, we'll be having another discussion just like this one...."
"Yeah, I got that," Lance replied. "Next time, I'll listen to the part of me that says when something's a bad idea."
"Good." Bucky snuggled his son a bit more. They had a bit of time before dinner. There was no reason to rush back out.
Brock swallowed hard, pressing even closer to his father before finally admitting, "Can we...I know I...I want things to be right again..." He bit his lip, not quite able to meet his father's eyes; he felt too foolish, childish and guilty.
Fury nodded, giving Brock one last squeeze before he helped him up off his lap, wrapping an arm around his youngest's shoulders to guide Brock through to their tent.
Brock meekly let himself be led back to the tent and as soon as the tent flap was securely down, he turned toward his father. "I am sorry, dad.... After everything that happened with the other three when they fell into the river, I don't know what made me believe deliberately jumping into a cold pool of water would be any more acceptable. I...I let my pride get in the way of my common sense." He winced, still not able to look his father in the eye. Brock fidgeted a little more, waiting for the scolding he knew he deserved, shivering just slightly. He didn't bother getting into dry clothes just yet. Since he was pretty certain he was going to be losing two of the items in the very near future, he figured he may as well wait until his dad told him what to do.
Fury squeezed his son gently and then began sorting out warm, dry clothes for him. "I know you haven't been my son for very long, but putting yourself in danger isn't acceptable," he said quietly. "You are important and valued. You could have done some serious damage to yourself."
Brock swallowed, looking at the ground. "I...I know, sir. I shouldn't have done it. I tried to convince Bobbi not to and then went and did it myself...not terribly smart of me."
Fury passed Brock the clothes so that he could get dressed. "I'm very glad you didn't get hurt," he said seriously. "But I am still going to address what happened... because you are too important to put yourself at risk like you just did."
"Yes, sir..." Brock took the clothes and began putting them on, uncaring that he wasn't alone. He bit his lip, then hesitantly continued, "Thank you, sir...for not letting me get away with it..." he whispered. He didn't know if it would seem odd, thanking Fury for punishing him, but one of his worst dreams was that he'd find himself on the wrong side again because of bad choices he'd made. To his way of thinking, the only way to ensure that he never ended up on the side of evil again was if he was punished when he did things that weren't right. Doing things that put himself at risk and worried his family wasn't right.
Fury wrapped an arm around Brock's shoulders, squeezing him gently, before guiding him over to his cot, sitting down and gently tugging Brock down next to him. "Is there anything else you'd like to add?" he asked.
"No, sir. I knew from the moment Loki dared Bobbi that it was a bad idea; when Bobbie dared us to do it with her, I was positive it was a bad idea. And I still did it. I know I was wrong. I'm not supposed to put my life at risk for no good reason. I know that. But I did it anyway. I deserve everything you give me..." he said quietly, wincing when he couldn't hide the nervousness in his tone. Even if he knew Fury would never harm him, there was still a small part of him that was frightened by the prospect of submitting and accepting punishment from the older man.
Fury nodded, squeezing Brock gently. "We'll deal with what happened, but then it'll be over with and we can move on," he said. "It won't be brought up again."
"Ok..." Brock nodded, his voice tiny. He blushed at how childlike he sounded, but decided it didn't really matter. Considering the fact that his father was about to punish him like a child, because he was his child, sounding like a child wasn't really that bad a thing.
Fury gave his son one last squeeze and then gently tugged Brock across his lap, wrapping an arm around his waist to draw his son in close against his stomach before lowering his pants and underwear. Rubbing Brock's back gently a moment or two, he brought his hand down in the first sharp swat, before repeating it.
Brock didn't even attempt to keep from showing how he was affected. He'd worried, possibly even scared his father, because of actions that he knew full well he shouldn't be doing. His father deserved openness and honesty from him, even if it was humbling. When the first swat landed, he yelped. The second swat caused a tiny grunt like whimper.
Fury wasted no time in continuing the hard swats down to Brock's thighs before starting over from the top. It was as he began the second circuit that he started speaking. "Putting yourself in any kind of danger is unacceptable. I care about your safety... so does everyone here."
Brock had begun squirming nearly immediately; not actively trying to get away, but his body instinctually tried to maneuver itself so that the swats wouldn't hurt as badly as they could have. Of course, it didn't work. The swats were hard and they hurt. Brock was able to handle the pain, though, until Fury started speaking about how he cared. The combination of pain and shame he felt at worrying his father caused him to lose the tenuous control he'd had and he began to cry softly...the quiet, watery sounds carrying easily to his father's ears.
Fury tightened his hold on Brock as he began a third circuit of swats. "If something like this happens again, you will be back in this position... because you are important. Because losing you would be devastating. Because even if I didn't adopt you that long ago, you're my son and I love you."
It was hard for Brock to understand, let alone believe, that he was that important to the older man. He didn't remember much from before he was brainwashed- bits and pieces of his memory were returning slowly every day- and at that moment, he suddenly recalled that he and Fury had been friends. The older man had always cared about him. Listening to him now, Brock realized that Nick's caring had evolved and grown and the older man was telling the truth when he called Brock son and said he loved him. And it was overwhelming. And his shame for causing the older man to be afraid for him became overwhelming. He couldn't handle the physical stimuli- the contrast between being held so securely and lovingly and the pain from the spanking- along with the emotional bombardment he suddenly felt. Going limp over Fury's lap, he began to sob brokenly; not loudly enough to carry to the rest of the camp, but loud enough that his father heard. "I'm sorry, daddy..." he cried softly, afraid that Nick wouldn't believe him.
Fury's hand came to a stop and he wasted no time in bringing Brock up and into his arms, enclosing his son in a tight embrace and gently stroking his hair. "It's over now," he said, his voice soft but sincere. "I know you're sorry. We've deal with it and you're forgiven." He held Brock almost protectively, unable to forget how much he'd failed his son.
Brock latched onto his father with a death grip. It wasn't that he didn't believe the older man's words of forgiveness; he did. It was because some small part of him was afraid that if he let go, something would happen to take him away from Fury and he'd be adrift again. Fury had become more than his father- he was his anchor and right now, he needed an anchor, because he felt completely out of control and it scared him. He wasn't afraid to let Fury know he was scared...pressing as close as humanly possible to his father and continuing to cry softly. "Love you..." he finally managed to voice through his tears.
Fury tightened his own embrace, aware that Brock needed the contact and for someone to be there to weather the storm with him. "I love you," he returned, still stroking Brock's hair and just cuddling his son. "You shouldn't have been left in the clutches of HYDRA, but now that you're here, this is where you're going to stay. They'll never be able to hurt you again."
Brock didn't know how long he cried; he did know that by the time he stopped crying, the pain from the spanking had ebbed to mild discomfort, which meant he had probably cried a lot longer than he would be comfortable admitting. Swallowing hard- his throat was sore and his eyes were swollen- he snuggled against his dad some more, his grip loosening slightly so that it wasn't as desperate or frightened. Fury had held him through the worst of it and was still there comforting him, holding him tightly and reassuring him. "Thanks, sir..." he finally said with a tear hoarsened voice. "Sorry for losing control like that...I don't know what came over me..." He blushed faintly, but didn't pull away from his father.
"I'd imagine your emotions have been all over the place since you broke through the brainwashing," Fury said. "Don't be ashamed of losing control. This is a safe place for that. Everyone here understands that might be necessary at times."
Brock nodded wearily, not arguing the point. His father was more than likely right. Snuggling a bit more, he stifled a yawn and fought to keep his eyes open. He didn't want to move out of his father's embrace, the comfort and security provided helping him feel safe.
"If you need to sleep, sleep," Fury said in a soft, reassuring tone. "I won't go anywhere."
Brock swallowed again and made a half-hearted attempt to get off his father's lap. "...Cold...too heavy..." he mumbled.
"You aren't too heavy," Fury replied. "And you don't need to get up. You can stay here with me. You're safe."
Brock found just enough energy to tug his underwear back into place, having kicked his jeans somewhere during the spanking. Too weary to argue any further, he slumped in his father's arms and closed his eyes. If his brother came back to find him sleeping in their father's arms like a baby- well, Trip wouldn't ridicule him for it. Trip was almost as protective as their dad was. The thought put a tiny smile on his lips and he snuggled some more against his father. Soon, he was sound asleep.
Fury contiinued to hold Brock close, watching his son's face... just relieved to have him safe in his arms.
Loki walked back to his and Thor's tent proudly, as if they were just going on a normal walk. It was too much part of him to not allow himself to show weakness when in public, even if it was only his family nearby and he knew he'd be anything but proud in a few moments. As soon as he was in the tent with his brother and the tent flap closed, his shoulders slumped and he looked at the ground like an errant child. "I should have thought about what could happen to them and not even tempted them with suggesting the actions." His voice was soft and guilt filled. He hadn't been hurt, but that was only because of his stronger form and he knew that his friends were lucky they hadn't been the ones that the branch broke on. The frigid water was dangerous enough. If they had fallen from that height onto their back, they could have died immediately.
"I know you didn't mean any harm by it," Thor said quietly, "but they could have been hurt much worse. Even though you're stronger than them, if the fall had been greater, you could have been seriously hurt as well."
"I know, brother..." Loki's voice was low and heavy with guilt. "I have no excuse and I truly am sorry I did it."
Thor nodded in acknowledgment of the apology, but still felt the need to say, "I am as concerned for you as I am for them." He tried hard to make sure Loki never doubted them as brothers again.
Loki looked into Thor's eyes and, seeing the sincerity there, felt guilt wash over him anew. "I...I know, brother. Just because I cannot be hurt as easily does not mean I cannot be hurt and I need...I should. I try to remember that I am not alone and that you would be hurt if something happened to me. I do not always think of that and I am sorry for my careless behavior." He swallowed hard and looked away from Thor, suddenly unable to face his brother. 'It is hard to remember...." he admitted reluctantly.
Thor reached out, placing a hand on Loki's shoulder and squeezing gently. "I understand, brother," he said. "But endangering yourself is not acceptable and there have to be consequences when you disregard your own safety."
Loki gave a brief nod off acceptance. "Yes, brother," he agreed quietly, waiting for Thor to further direct him, but unlatching the fastening to the jeans he wore in preparation. He knew full well what consequences his brother would mete out and he knew how they would be meted out.
Thor gave his brother's shoulder one last reassuring squeeze and then guided Loki over to his cot. Taking a seat, he gently tugged his brother across his lap, wrapping an arm around his waist and drawing him in close, and then tugging down his pants and underwear. "I love you, brother. Losing you again would be devastating." He rubbed Loki's back gently then brought his hand down in the first hard swat.
Loki let out a tiny hiss at the pain, but otherwise held still for his brother's correction. He hated that he had caused distress to Thor and if there was any way at all to ease his brother's worry, he would do so. "I did not wish to worry or distress you. I am sorry..." he said softly, although it was obviously a struggle to keep his voice even, since tears were already forming in his eyes.
Loki forced himself to relax and go limp over his brother's lap so that he would feel the punishment fully and it could achieve the results Thor was after quickly. All Loki wanted was to wrap his arms around his brother and hold him and be held.
It was hard to force himself to continue. Thor could fight well, but hurting his brother, even when the consequences were deserved, was always difficult. He continued swatting down to Loki's thighs, holding back on using his full strength. "I know you didn't intend to risk any of you, but there are still dangerous things here on Midgard even for us."
"Yes, brother. I forget sometimes, but I know you are correct. I must be more careful..." Loki had begun with his voice fairly even, but by the end, it was quivering and he ended with a whimper.
"I love you, Loki. I mourned your loss twice and neither time was easy. I could not lose you again." Thor started a second circuit, covering areas that had already received attention.
Loki had been managing to keep his tears in check until that moment. Thor's words cut into him, guilt at what he'd put his brother through so many times slamming through him and he finally realized with agonizing clarity just what he was doing to his brother when he took chances that weren't needed. "By the all-father, I am so sorry, brother...I did not...I never.... I am sorry, Thor!" Loki lost his battle and began to cry deeply, his body shaking with his remorse.
Thor responded, bringing the spanking to a stop and quickly gathering his brother into his arms, hugging Loki tightly (though he was careful not to strain the bruises from his brother's fall), an almost desperate feel to the embrace. "I can't lose you, brother," he repeated.
Loki continued to be in his brother's arms, holding on as tightly as he was able, trying to show how sorry he was. "I love you, brother. I did not mean to hurt you...not again..." he finally said weakly, his crying finally beginning to subside.
Thor tightened his embrace, pressing an affectionate kiss to Loki's head. "I know you didn't mean it. I forgive you. I love you, brother. There is nothing that could change that."
Loki snuggled closer, finally relaxing at his brother's words of forgiveness. "Can we stay in the tent for a while? I do not wish to face the others just yet..." he admitted with a whisper. He left unsaid that he was craving his brother's affection.
"Of course," Thor replied softly, gently stroking his brother's hair. "I would like it to be just us for a while."
"Thank you, brother." Loki gave a crooked smile, stepping back just long enough to fix his clothing before gluing himself to Thor's side again. He relaxed and just relished being with his brother.
Bobbi couldn't help but give Coulson a nervous smile as he began to tend her. "It isn't the first time I've had to have it done..." she admitted, almost shyly. "I don't think there is a week that goes by where I'm not having to fix up a cut or scratch or some other small wound because of something I did. And that's not counting the times I have things happen while I'm working; that's just on my off time because I did something I probably shouldn't have...." Her tone was sheepish. She had a feeling Coulson wouldn't be impressed by such an admittance, but then again, she'd seen how he dealt with his children doing unnecessarily dangerous things. He wasn't her father, so she felt fairly safe in admitting it. Still, part of her wished there was someone who would care that much about what she did.
Coulson kept his focus on removing the splinter and treating the small wound, even as he spoke in reply to her statement. "Doing things you know you shouldn't isn't going to be acceptable any longer. All three of you are a part of this family... not just Lance with Bucky."
Bobbi blinked, her eyes darting up to look into Coulson's. "It...it isn't? I am?" She winced at how hopeful she sounded. She probably sounded like a needy child now, not a seasoned adult agent. She couldn't help but feel safer, somehow, with Coulson's words and wasn't entirely sure what it meant or how to handle it.
Coulson nodded. "You are... and it isn't," he confirmed as he worked, careful not to cause Bobbi any unnecessary pain.
Bobbi sat by the fire, while Coulson doctored her finger, when the other three of her misbehaving cohorts disappeared into their tents. She quickly began to wish that she could have disappeared with the rest of the camp when it became obvious the tent walls were not sound-proof enough to hide or even disguise what was occurring. Swallowing hard and biting her lip, she couldn't help but flinch as she heard first Lance, then Brock and then even Loki being disciplined, pretty much at the same time. Guilt quickly began to weigh her down.
"But...it was my idea..." she said in a guilt filled, trembling voice.
Coulson finished removing the splinter and put some ointment on the wound, before bandaging it and then giving Bobbi a considering look. "We'll go into your tent, so you can get changed into dry and warm clothes, and then we'll talk," he said, his voice not leaving much room for argument.
Bobbi's eyes shot to Coulson nervously, but she didn't argue. It wouldn't be right to argue about talking with him when the others were being punished with more than talking. "Yes sir." She winced at how meek and childlike she sounded. Standing and pulling the blanket more firmly around her, she went into her tent and began to gather warm clothing together.
Coulson followed Bobbi, but paused to give her some privacy, though he was standing by in case she needed help. "Are you ready?" he asked, not turning round.
Bobbi had quickly dressed in warm sweat pants and a hooded sweat shirt. "I'm ready..." she said quietly, waiting for him to turn around before sitting on her cot and fidgeting nervously.
Coulson walked over to take a seat next to Bobbi, automatically wrapping an arm around her shoulders. "I'm sure I don't need to tell you what's happened to the others," he began.
Bobbi couldn't stop the shiver running through her body and she looked at the ground, unable to face Coulson. "Theoretically..." she said with a shaky whisper. "It sounded like it was... It was harder than I thought... I... I never... Are you going to hurt me?" She finally looked up, her eyes wide and not trying to hide any of the fear she was feeling.
Knowing what a spanking was and actually experiencing one were two different things...and for it to make three grown men- who had been tortured and not broken- for it to make them sob like babies....
"I don't want a spanking..." Normally she would have been horrified at the scared whiny tone in her voice. In this situation, she was more worried that she didn't have a choice.
Coulson squeezed her gently. "A spanking is painful and humbling, but causes no lasting damage... and the reactions it causes are as much due to emotions as the physical pain. Spanking is used as a family punishment here. It's over fast and it removes the need for any official punishment."
Bobbi bit her lip, looking down at the ground. She knew there was no reason to be so frightened; she knew Coulson would never harm her. The fact that she was frightened made her so ashamed of herself, she couldn't face the older man. And she really couldn't explain why she was frightened, either, other than the fact that this was the first time she'd ever heard the results of this particular punishment and hearing these three men who she had known to be so strong had been a shock. Maybe if she'd experienced the punishment herself already, it wouldn't have startled her so badly; she didn't know. What she did know was that as much as she wanted to obey Coulson and accept his correction so that they could forget her foolish actions and move forward, she wasn't going to be able to do it without help. It was all she could do not to try and run out of the tent.
She finally looked back up at Coulson, her eyes betraying everything. "Please..." she whispered. She wasn't sure if she was asking him to not do it...or take the choice out of her hands. All she knew was she couldn't bring herself to move.
Coulson knew that dragging this out would only make Bobbi even more unsettled... and he wanted to get it over with so that they could move past this. After one last reassuring squeeze, he gently moved her across his lap, securing her with an arm wrapped around her waist.
To Bobbi's consternation, she actually whimpered as he positioned her. She prided herself on facing things head on and not letting them affect her and here she was, cowering from what was generally thought of as a child's punishment. On top of that... on top of that, she was already crying; and damned if she wasn't shaking slightly as well. What the hell was she getting all worked up for? Her sense of shame grew as her emotions began to spiral further out of control.
Coulson rubbed Bobbi's back a moment or two before he lowered her pants and underwear. "I understand how overwhelmed you're feeling right now, but your safety is not something that you should take lightly. Putting yourself in danger is never going to be acceptable." He brought his hand down in the first sharp swat.
"Oh....crap..." she hissed softly, closing her eyes tightly, clenching one hand around Phil's ankle and throwing the other hand back in a belated bid to protect her bottom. She could feel her blush spreading from the top of her head down to her toes and could only imagine how pathetic Coulson thought her now.
Coulson grasped Bobbi's hand, giving it a gentle squeeze as he held it against her back and out of the way. "You're an important part of this family, Bobbi. I'm not the only one who feels that way." He emphasized each word with a swat, careful not to use too much force.
Bobbi shook her head frantically, tensing up in an effort to not feel the swats. Why would she be an important part of the family? Sure, Hunter had gotten himself 'adopted' fairly quickly...but Hunter had a way about him that just caused people to want to protect him- when they didn't want to throttle him. She didn't generate that type of feeling in people- at least, she never thought she had- and it wasn't like she was that close to any of the family that they should care about her that much. It didn't make sense. Not that she wouldn't want to be a part of the family...because she saw how they were with each other and she thought maybe she'd like to belong to a group that deeply and completely and.... She shook her head again and moaned slightly under her breath. No...she couldn't allow herself to want that. That way lay folly. What happened when she had to leave for whatever reason? You couldn't care about people that much; it just hurt that much more when you lost them or left.
Bobbi got so lost in her own little argument with herself that she wasn't really paying attention to the swats or what Coulson was saying; not that she meant to tune him out. It was obvious in the way she stilled, though: body tense, but unmoving.
Coulson could tell that Bobbi was lost in her own head and he increased the force behind the swats; not by much, but enough to make them harder to ignore. "I know Bucky adopted Lance fairly quickly, but it doesn't mean you're cared about any less. There is no rule that says you're allowed to only care about a certain number of people. It frightened me when I realized you'd fallen into the lake... because we might not have known each other for very long, but I still care about you."
Bobbi gasped slightly at the increased force, suddenly not able to focus on anything but what was happening right at that moment. "W...why?" she finally whimpered, barely keeping it a whimper. Her eyes were stinging almost as bad as her bottom was now and she feared she wouldn't be able to keep the tears in if the spanking went on much longer. Holding herself so stiffly...so tense...was beginning to hurt, too.
"Because you're worth caring about," Coulson replied. "Because I like you. I know you're lost and adrift and feel like you don't have anyone... but you do now."
"I don't...I can't..." And then the tears were pouring out of her eyes and no matter how hard she tried to stop, she couldn't. She tensed up even further, her breathing becoming labored with her efforts to not break down.
Coulson increased the force of the swats once more, knowing she needed a push. "I will step in every time it becomes necessary, because I will not allow anything to happen to you."
And the hardest part of it all was that she believed him. He wouldn't allow anything to happen to her, either from someone else or by her own foolishness. And if she was honest, it was her own actions that were most likely to hurt her. Knowing what she did. Knowing how undeserving she was of his care. "You...you shouldn't care ab...about me!" she forced out between clenched teeth, her body beginning to shake with the effort not to submit; her voice choked with the tears she was fighting.
"I do care." Coulson's voice was quiet, but no less sincere. "There's no point in telling me I shouldn't. It's too late for that."
Coulson's words cut into Bobbi. She didn't deserve any of his care. The guilt she'd felt at provoking the others to join in her dare was intensified at the knowledge that Coulson had willingly made himself vulnerable for her by caring about her; because wasn't that what caring did? Made you vulnerable? And the guilt was combined with the shame that she wanted and needed him to care...shame that she wasn't able to control herself better...shame that she'd become so terrified that she was about to break...that she was breaking...that she was broken.
All the fight drained out of her at the realization that she cared too...things were going to be so much more difficult now.
Slumping bonelessly over Coulson's lap, Bobbi allowed her tears to fall without barrier. Soon, she was sobbing- silently sobbing, but still sobbing- and limp, letting herself feel each smack as it landed on her sore bottom.
Coulson stopped, the spanking having reached the point it needed to, and quickly gathered Bobbi into his arms, wrapping his arms around her and hugging her close. "You are important," he said softly to her, rocking her in his arms.
The only problem with refusing to submit until it was impossible not to was that, once it reached that point, it was also impossible to regain control over one's self. Bobbi just couldn't stop crying, no matter how hard she tried. And she was crying hard. Hard enough that her stomach and throat were beginning to rival her butt for what ached worse. None of those aches matched the ache in her heart. "I'm sorry..." she sobbed into Coulson's chest, gripping him as tightly as she dared and pressing against him as if still frightened.
Coulson tightened his embrace around Bobbi. "It's all right. I forgive you," he soothed, gently stroking her hair and back. "I'm glad that you weren't hurt and that you're safe here."
Bobbi knew Coulson was trying to comfort her, but his words of forgiveness and care for her just made her feel that much guiltier. She couldn't help it. She hadn't thought it would be possible, but she began to sob harder and grip Coulson even tighter.
Coulson held her close, brushing a gentle kiss against the top of her head as he wondered if there wasn't an underlying issue he wasn't aware of. Uncertain of what it could be, he just held Bobbi close, speaking softly and soothingly to her as he provided the comfort and care, continuing to rock her in his arms.
It was several minutes before Bobbi was able to regain control over her see-sawing emotions. Soon though, her crying had ebbed to shuddery breaths and hiccoughs, her body trembling slightly as well. Finally, in a tiny voice that was part bid for sympathy, part embarrassed shame at having lost control in such a way, she whispered "my throat and tummy hurt...." Her arms were still firmly wrapped around Coulson, although her grip had loosened a little, and her head was pressed against his chest.
"When you feel up to it, I'll get you a drink of water," Coulson said, his voice gentle. "That will probably help." He still held Bobbi close, unconsciously stroking her hair.
"Thank you, sir..." Bobbi sniffled. "I'm sorry I spazzed out so badly. There was no reason for me to be so scared or to have the reaction I did...I don't know what came over me..." she whispered, her voice sounding raw. She snuggled more, soaking up the affection.
"It's always an emotional time," Coulson said, his voice soothing, as he continued to stroke her hair. "You don't ever have to apologise for the reaction you have."
Bobbi wasn't sure she believed him; he hadn't hurt her (as painful as the spankjng was, she'd felt worse), so there really was no excuse for panicking as she had. She didn't argue, though. The comfort was too... comforting...and she wanted to experience it as long as he was willing to provide it. When he discovered that he really shouldn't care about her, she had a feeling she'd miss it.
She didn't even want to let go long enough to fix her clothing, something she was sure she'd be embarrassed about later; but her throat hurt, her stomach hurt, her eyes hurt and to be honest, she still felt scared- this time about the future. She didn't deserve being accepted into this family and felt like a fraud...it frightened her to realize how much she had started to want it, though. Especially in such a short time. Whimpering slightly, she nuzzled against the man playing father and dreaded the day he didn't want her around any longer. It was inevitable.
Coulson wasn't a mind reader, but he was fairly good at reading people and he was fairly sure what lay behind Bobbi being so clingy... because he had experienced the same kind of fear from each of his children, though to different extents. And he was sure that Clint, Natasha and Grant would agree to his accepting Bobbi into their family.
"Once I make the decision to accept someone into my family, it's not one I will change my mind on," Coulson said softly.
Bobbi didn't say anything. What could she say? Anything she might say would indirectly be calling the man holding her a liar. Given her situation, she wasn't going to even imply such a thing. But she was sure his affections couldn't last. Best to accept what was being offered, while it was offered, and try not to think about inescapable future events. Sighing softly, she just snuggled more...feeling like a needy child, a hopeless fraud and a pathetic excuse for an agent. If Coulson hadn't been holding her so securely, she might have snuck out of the camp to cry some more.
Coulson continued to hold onto Bobbi, worried but hoping that, with time, she'd come to believe and trust in what he said. He silently promised himself to talk with his other children about involving her with what they did.
Eventually, Bobbi realized she'd need to pull away. She was dangerously close to falling asleep in Coulson's arms. Even if that was acceptable, the fact was she was a mess and needed to at least wash her face. And pull up her pants. She would clean up immediately then. Just one last snuggle- since she doubted this would be a normal activity; and what a time to realize she craved human affection- and then she'd get off Coulson's lap..and fix her clothes....and wash her face......and get a drink........and..........and............
Bobbi fell asleep, nuzzling against Coulson like a newborn, her grip only loosening slightly. Everything had worn her out.
Coulson couldn't help the fond, affectionate smile that spread across his face as he held Bobbi close. Had it only been today that he'd realised she was one of his? It felt like it had been longer...
Mack had made himself scarce along with everyone else when the four 'miscreants' had stumbled into camp and it became obvious that they would be getting into trouble. When everyone returned, only Loki and Thor were out of their tent and sitting near the fire. Mack would have gone to his tent to clean up, like the others were doing, but he felt odd interrupting Coulson and whatever discussion he might be having with his partner...so he went to join the princes. He gave Loki and Thor an uncertain grin.
Thor smiled as Mack walked over to join them. He hadn't had many chances to speak with the neweest additions to the family... though Loki and Hunter seemed to get on well enough, barring the events of earlier. "Did you explore?" he asked the other man, having noticed everyone else making themselves scarce, even while he'd been concerned with his brother.
"I guess.... I ended up walking to that pond to make sure there wasn't anything to be concerned about that might come back to bite us on the butt later..." Mack grinned crookedly. "Took a sample of the water. Shouldn't be anything with as cold as it has gotten...but since it wasn't connected to the river and was still instead of moving...sometimes weird bacteria can form...."
Thor nodded, glancing thoughtfully at his brother before looking at Mack. "It is a good idea," he agreed. "Though I must confess I have never been one much for study." He smiled with fond amusement at his brother. "Loki was always a much better student than I."
Mack grinned at the brothers. "I'm not as studious as the wonder twins by any means," he referred to Jemma and Leo, "but I like to research things. Of course, I like fighting too..." He chuckled slightly. "Just call me a renaissance man!"
Thor looked confused, but he smiled at the obvious high spirits the other man was displaying. "A renaissance man?" he repeated. "I am unfamiliar with the term."
Mack looked sheepish. "I was sorta joking...but a renaissance man is usually a term that is used for someone clever who is skilled in a lot of different things...in my case fighting and research. The term doesn't really fit exactly...hence the joke..." He scratched the back of his neck awkwardly.
"You seem skilled in different areas in a similar way Loki is," Thor commented. He didn't tend to look like he was watching... but he did normally. "For instance, Loki is a warrior... but also highly skilled in magic, too." He smiled at his brother, not needing to say that Loki was skilled in other areas, too.
Mack slanted his head, watching the two brothers. It was obvious that Thor was proud of his brother. He smiled again. "I guess I am...it is useful for an agent to have different abilities when they work undercover."
Thor nodded, attention shifting back to Mack. "From what I have seen, you are a good agent. And it has been good to have you and your friends join us." Knowing how close Bucky had become to Lance, Thor felt that perhaps they needed the three of them without truly realising.
"It's been good for us too. We were on our own so much, having people we can rely on has been a relief," Mack admitted. "I'm going to miss it when we have to leave..." he muttered under his breath.
"Why would you have to leave?" Thor asked, catching the muttered comment. He watched Mack with a look of concern.
Mack blinked in surprise. He'd forgotten about the Asgardian's keen hearing. "I...I just assume at some point, we'll be sent out on mission again and won't be with the team is all..." Mack knew his answer seemed like a flimsy excuse. It made him feel bad. Thor and Loki seemed like two people he could relate to and become good friends with...had he not been embroiled in something that would make them lose trust.
"You spoke more as if you expected it to be a permant leaving," Thor said. "Do you expect to leave us? Or be forced to?" Thor had had to deal with many partings... and even though sometimes those were necessary, there were times, more often than not, that it was difficult to leave the people one cared about.
"Anytime someone parts with family and friends...there is risk that it might be a permanent leaving..." Mack winced at his hedging, and hoped that the truth in the statement would lead Thor to drop that line of questioning. The thought of lying to the blond did not make Mack happy.
"That is true." Thor could see that Mack wasn't saying everything, but for now, chose to drop it, instead shifting to a safer line of questioning. "Have you camped much?"
"Every chance I get!" Mack grinned. "Granted, that hasn't been in a while, due to work, but I like getting out into nature; testing myself against the elements..." His smile was relaxed and happy. He'd been trying to tell the truth as much as possible and the question had been easy.
"Do you fish as well? Or do you take rations with you?" Thor asked, having noticed that Mack hadn't gone with the team to do fishing... though whether that was because he didn't feel comfortable inserting himself into the group, or because he wasn't fond of fishing, Thor wasn't sure.
"I do fish..." Mack admitted. He got a sheepish look on his face. "I didn't want to intrude on the group that had already formed...Pepper had seemed eager to prove her abilities and I didn't want to detract from that..."
"Then, since you do fish, perhaps the three of us could do some while we're here," Thor suggested, adding with a slightly teasing note to his voice, "Without anyone falling into the water, of course."
Loki broke in at this point. "I have had quite enough winter swimming for my part." His voice was droll.
Mack laughed. "I'd like that. Especially if we stay dry."
Thor smiled. "I can guarantee we will stay dry on the bank," he promised. "And I'm sure there is plenty we could do as well as fishing."
Mack's grin grew. "We still have three days to do it in...maybe we can hike as well..."
All told, despite the somewhat rocky start to the camping trip, it had gone remarkably well. There had been a few setbacks, but it had been a good time for bonding, with the existing families growing closer and a couple even adding an extra.
Steve watched Coulson with a trace of amusement. Since Bobbi's fall into the lake, it had become clear that Coulson had adopted a fourth child and she was sticking close to him and the others. Bucky had spoken to Tony about having the lawyers involved in drawing up the paperwork to make Lance officially his son... and Thor and Loki had brought Mack into their own family, with the three of them spending time together as well as with the rest of the family.
Wrapping his arms around his own son and daughter, Steve smiled fondly at Tony and Pepper. "It wasn't so bad... was it?" he addressed his son. "Though I'm sure you're happy to be going back to civilization."
Clean-up now complete, everyone began filtering into the vehicles, each family grouping sticking together for the drive back to the Tower.