Author’s Note: This was written as a RPG (roll playing game) between co-authors Hope1iz and BlackFox12. Set after the season one finale. Thirty-fifth in the Redeeming Grant series.
Disclaimer: We don't own anything from the television series Agents of SHIELD and Avengers movies and we're not making any money from this fic
Summary: Tony owns an island. Tony shares his island. Maybe they should have gone camping.
Warning(s): Spanking; spoilers for Agents of SHIELD Seasons one and two; spoilers for all Avengers movies to date; references to post-traumatic stress
Co-Author’s Website:BlackFox12's fanfiction.net page
As the tiny ferry made its way to the pier of the private island they had planned to spend their family vacation at, Pepper looked out over the waves, a pensive, sad look on her face. Tony watched her, a bit of worry on his own face, before he walked over to her and sat, gently putting an arm around her waist to draw her closer and slanted his head so that it was pressed gently to hers. "Why so sad, Pepper Pot?" he asked softly, letting his worry through in his voice.
"I just...I just realized they aren't going to be around much longer...." She swallowed hard. "And they are so far away from me...." She sniffled once then physically shook herself in an attempt to cheer up for everyone else.
Steve moved over to sit on the other side of Pepper, wrapping an arm around her shoulders and kissing the top of her head. "We can make arrangements so you can see each other more," he said softly to her.
"Yes...of course we can. I should have suggested it myself, sooner, really." Tony was quick to agree. "In fact, if you think they'd be willing, we could move them closer to all of us...."
Pepper smiled crookedly, her eyes still sad, but more peaceful. "I'm not sure they'd want to move; but if they could visit ... and we visit them more often...."
Steve tightened his arm around Pepper. "We can make sure of it," he promised. "Whenever you want to visit them or they want to visit you... we'll make sure it happens." His voice was soft and affectionate as he held her tight.
"Thank you...both of you." Pepper relaxed against her father, pulling Tony closer so the three of them were snuggled close.
"We're docking..." Bruce's voice carried over to the three from where he sat with Jemma and Leo.
Bucky stood near the front, grinning. Jumping off the ferry as soon as they were close enough to the dock, he helped secure the vessel so everyone else could get off.
Steve wrapped both of his children in a tight hug, pressing a kiss to each of their heads, before he helped them both up so they could exit the ferry safely.
Lance was a step or two behind his father, eager to do something to help.
Leo waited until the boat was as secure as it was going to be before he carefully stood up, waiting for his father and Jemma to join him before leaving the boat.
Jemma smiled at Leo and Bruce, shifting closer to her father before asking, "Did you both remember to pack your sunscreen? Being on an island, we are much more likely to get burnt...."
Leo snorted, giving Jemma an affectionate rather than annoyed look. "After how many times you reminded us, I think we're good."
Bruce chuckled and tugged both Jemma and Leo with him as he walked from the pier toward a rather large house on pillars, made of tropical woods with many windows. It wasn't the typical mansion that he'd been expecting his brother to have. Instead, it was more like an oversized tropical bungalow.
Tony smirked at everyone's expressions when they saw where they'd be staying. "Yeah...it has electricity that runs by a generator, so we have kitchen appliances and heated water for bathing...but other than that, the only technological elements are the satellite phones that are for emergency use. I will probably go insane before the end of our vacation," he said cheerfully.
Lance walked alongside his father, glancing at the bungalow, then curiously at Tony. "Do you come here often? I imagine you go stir-crazy if you're out here too long..." he teased.
Steve had an arm around his son and daughter, even as he looked over the place they'd be staying. "It'll give us more of an opportunity to spend some one-on-one time together."
Tony shifted closer to his father, reaching and taking Pepper's hand so that they were all three touching. He had a strange look on his face as he shook his head and answered Lance. "I haven't been here since I was a child..." he admitted, "…there is a caretaker that lives on the larger island that comes over once a week to check on it and make sure it stays in good repair and nothing uninvited moves in. Sometimes we will let a Stark Enterprises employee come here for a week as a reward for doing something really well...." He swallowed and didn't say anymore; such as it was his mother's favorite retreat because his father couldn't spend all his time on the phone or working and actually had to spend time with the family. There were actually some really good memories here...it was bitter-sweet.
Pepper squeezed his hand in understanding and glanced up at their father to see if he'd noticed Tony's rapid mood change.
Bruce glanced back at his brother, a bit worried, making it clear to Tony that he hadn't hidden his feelings as good as he was hoping.
Jemma bit her lip then grinned brightly, trying to snap everyone out of their weird mood. "Did you remember sunscreen, Uncle Tony? I'm assuming granddad doesn't really need it, since he heals from minor things so very quickly...but we don't want a repeat of that day you accidentally fell asleep on the roof while trying to get a bit of color!"
Bucky snorted. "Lord knows we don't want that..." He gave his nephew a fond look, while patting his son on the back and then grabbing some bags as the ferry's porters began unloading them.
Steve tightened his embrace around Tony and pressed a kiss to the side of his head. He didn't say anything, but he stayed close to his son, the expression on his face loving and concerned. Responding to the joking tone from Jemma and Bucky, he said, "I think we all made sure to pack plenty of sunscreen."
Lance moved to help his father, though the look he sent his cousin was concerned.
It didn't take long for everyone's baggage to be unloaded and soon, the ferry was leaving the pier and Tony was leading the way up the path to the front door. "I had Toby bring enough supplies for a month, since I wasn't entirely certain what we'd want to eat or when...anything left over will be sent to the orphanage on the big island. All fresh fruit, we can pick ourselves...there are trees and bushes all around."
"I can pick my own pineapple?" Jemma squealed.
"Just let me or your grandfather know if you want coconut...I don't want anyone falling out of coconut trees, no matter how much they like monkeys." Tony looked at Fitz.
Steve stuck close to his son and daughter, his strength enhanced enough that he could manage all of their bags easily. "How many bedrooms are there?" he asked, thinking about their sleeping arrangements.
Fitz nodded, paying attention, but looking around.
"Well, Howard liked to have people visit; even when it was supposed to be a family vacay... So... I think there are about twenty bedrooms, each with its own bath.... That isn't counting the three different game rooms or the dining room or kitchen. Or the ballroom. None of the bedrooms are super large...but there are a lot of them."
Pepper wasn't surprised; everyone else seemed to be.
Steve squeezed Tony's shoulders gently. "Well, I figure we can have two bedrooms between the three of us." He wanted to make sure Tony and Pepper had privacy, if they wanted... but also that they knew they could come to him at any time.
Lance followed them into the building, carrying his bags and figuring he'd just go where he was told. As long as he was close to his father, he wasn't bothered.
Tony smiled. "With twenty rooms and only needing seven rooms at most...I think that will work. They aren't very big rooms, though. Just enough room for full size bed, a nightstand and a small drawers for your clothes." He grinned crookedly. "I hope that doesn't bother anyone... I guess the idea was that everyone would spend time together outside of the bedrooms, so he didn't want to have them too big that people could hide in them." He laughed.
Bucky didn't say anything to that; he had a feeling it was Tony's mother that had decided on the size of the bedrooms, as 'hiding' in them seemed like something Howard would have liked. Heading inside as soon as Tony had opened the door, he veered to the right and went up the stairs, quickly picking out a room and putting his bag on the bed. Then, glancing at Lance, he asked, "Which room do you want?"
Lance chose the room next to his father, putting his bag on the bed before smiling at Bucky. "This one." He gently bumped shoulders with his father, before glancing around. "This seems lonely." There was an almost sad note to his voice. He knew about being 'out of the way'.
Bucky glanced around, a sad look on his face. "It definitely has potential to be..." he finally said; knowing enough about Tony's childhood that he suspected the other man had been left to his own devices more often than not. He didn't want to say so, though; it was Tony's story to tell.
"What are the plans for the rest of the day?" Lance asked, feeling a bit restless... and wanting to go exploring as soon as possible.
"I think we can do whatever we want until dinner, if you'd like to take a quick look around the island. I'm pretty sure Tony said you could walk around the entire place in about an hour." Bucky smiled at Lance.
Lance nodded. "Sounds good. Want to come with?" he asked, trying hard to be casual and not show just how much he'd like to spend a bit of one-on-one time with his father.
"Yeah...I could do with a walk." Bucky smiled and reached over to squeeze Lance's arm. "You ready to go now?"
Lance nodded. "I don't think I need to change... not if we're just going exploring. Maybe later, if you'd like to go swimming today." As he was talking, he headed towards the door, keeping his steps slow so he could walk next to his father.
Bruce had followed behind Bucky but had veered to the left and gone up those stairs... quickly heading to the end of the hall and picking a room that had a room on either side, so that Jemma and Leo could both be next to him in case they needed him.
Jemma quickly took the room on the very end that was next to Bruce, leaving Leo to take a room that was closer to the stairs.
Leo followed his father and Jemma, waiting to see which room Jemma chose before he picked the last one.
Jemma had quickly changed into a swimsuit and grabbed a book. "Leo...dad...I'm going to go to the beach and read, if you want to join me...."
"Yeah... going to the beach sounds good." Leo glanced at their father, wondering if he was going to join them.
Bruce nodded. "It does sound good," he agreed with Leo. "Let's change and head down."
Leo smiled. "Great." He headed back into his room so he could change, exiting in record time.
Tony didn't bother going up the stairs, instead heading back and then to the left, picking a bedroom that was on the corner of the first floor; it had been his childhood bedroom when he visited the island. Steve had an option of two other bedrooms that were next to it.
Steve looked at his son and daughter. "Do you want me in the middle, or the end?" he asked, wanting them to be comfortable either way.
Tony gave his father a bashful grin. "If you take this one at the end...that was where Jarvis stayed. His room connected to mine in case I needed him...no one else would have to be disturbed...."
Pepper frowned at that off-hand admission that, even when he was on vacation with them, Tony's parents didn't really take care of him. She quickly smiled when Tony looked at her, though. He was already self-conscious of the fact he'd pretty much raised himself, other than Jarvis's input.
Steve smiled and wrapped an arm around Tony's shoulders, pressing a kiss to his forehead. "I'm more than happy to take that room, son. I just want both of you to know that you're more than welcome to join me during the night. Any time you'd like to."
Tony and Pepper both smiled. "We know, dad...thanks," Pepper said quietly. "I'm thinking I'd like to go down to the beach..." She grinned again, pulling a swimsuit out of her bag. "…If you'll excuse me."
Tony bit his lip. "I might be able to handle the beach...water doesn't bother me too
much anymore..." he said hesitantly.
Steve gently squeezed Tony's shoulder. "If you'd like to give it a try, I'll be right there with you," he promised. "And you don't have to go into the water... or do anything you're not happy with." He kissed his son's forehead.
"Thanks, dad," Tony said softly, giving Steve a grateful smile. "I'll just change now...."
Steve hugged Tony close a moment or two longer and then gently released him. "Thank you for bringing us here, son." He didn't say it, but he hoped they could make better memories for his boy. He smiled lovingly at Tony then slipped into his room to get changed as well.
Bucky had waved at everyone else as he and Lance had left for their walk. He had opted to go ahead and change into swim trunks in case he got hot and wanted to jump in the surf to cool down. "Looks like everyone else wants to swim so it's just you and me kid..." He grinned.
Lance smiled back at his father. "I'm not unhappy with that." Even though it was nice to spend time with the rest of his family, since they'd moved into the mansion, there hadn't been many opportunities to spend some one-on-one time with his father.
"Yeah...me either." Bucky smiled. Soon, they were walking down the path. Occasionally, Bucky would point out a lizard or bird that wasn't found in New York.
Lance stuck close to his father, looking where Bucky pointed and generally showing just how much he was enjoying this time. His attention was very quickly drawn to some of the fruit plants and he glanced at his father. "Maybe we could gather some fruit on the way back?" he suggested. "Share it round everyone."
Bucky nodded. "That would make a nice snack or addition to our evening meal," he agreed. "I'll help you...." He quickly began gathering some of the nicer, riper pieces of fruit.
Lance smiled and began gathering some fruit as well. "There are probably animals here... maybe we can hunt," he teased. He was used to 'living off the land', but he knew most of the others weren't. Still, the more food they were able to find on the island... the more they'd be able to save and give to the orphanage.
"I don't think I want to eat lizards, son....and while I'm sure there are other animals on the island, I'm not sure they are the type I'd want to eat if I had a choice either." Bucky laughed gently. "I know what you're thinking, though; and while I'm proud of you for wanting to put those kids first, I have to tell you something that Tony probably didn't mean for anyone to find out." He smiled crookedly. "I overheard when he was making the plans and he didn't actually order an overabundance of fresh foods; he's planning to have the 'keeper' bring a new supply once a week for every week we are here. He did order a bit more of the non-perishable items, in case the generator didn't work and we didn't have refrigeration...but even with that, he'd already made alternate plans to have a month's worth of supplies delivered to the orphanage in our name...and have that continue even after we leave. So you don't need to limit your food intake in the hopes that there will be more for the kiddies...they're going to get more no matter what we do. Tony just told us about sending the extras to the orphanage so that we'd know that if we didn't want
to eat something, it wouldn't be going to waste."
"You're probably right... although lizards don't actually taste that bad." Lance paused. "But there are some I really can't
recommend eating... unless you're absolutely desperate, of course." Then again, there had been so many times he'd gone without as a child, he would have eaten insects if he'd had the chance. Turning to continue collecting fruit, he added, "That's good... about the orphanage." Whenever he had spare change left over from a job, he made anonymous donations of food and clothes to the nearest orphanage. And since, even now, he rarely spent on himself... the spare change had always been considerably more.
"Well...yea. I do rather like 'gator meat. But I don't see any gators here; and those little geckos are so small, we'd need at least six a piece to feel like we ate enough. And I don't think the girls would be all that happy about us eating 'cute little lizards'." Bucky's grin was impish. "I don't think I want to face Pepper's wrath if we hurt any 'cute little animals'." He slanted his head thoughtfully for a moment. "Maybe we can arrange to go visit the orphanage before we head back home. See if there is anything there that they need that we can help with. I know Tony helps whenever and wherever he can with his money- he's generous to a fault, sometimes- but sometimes, kids need one on one interaction and seeing that people care." He shrugged. "Something to think about anyway...."
Lance nodded. "I'd like to do that," he admitted. "I mean... I know what it's like to feel like there's no one who cares. If I could save anyone from that
feeling... that would be worth something. You know?"
"Yeah...I get that." Bucky nodded, reaching over and squeezing Lance's shoulder affectionately. He considered himself very lucky; he'd never gone through a period where he didn't have someone who cared about him. Well, not if you didn't count the years he was the 'Soldier' and even then, he never remembered much of anything in between the points where they had frozen him, so he didn't feel a lack of caring then either. He hated that any child had to feel that way; but he hated more that his
child had ever felt that way.
Lance relaxed, almost unconsciously, when his father squeezed his shoulder and smiled at him. "At least I have a father now." Even though his tone was a little flippant, the look on his face was more serious. He hadn't expected to be adopted as an adult... but he truly was grateful that Bucky had taken a chance on him from the first.
Bucky smiled again, wrapping an arm around Lance's shoulder and dragging him close enough to kiss his forehead. "Well, I never expected that I'd ever be able to be a father; so I think maybe I got the better end of the deal...." His tone was only slightly teasing, since he meant every word.
Lance responded by wrapping his arms around Bucky and hugging him tightly. "Even when I'm difficult?" There was a slight teasing note to his voice... at the same time, that was something he felt the need to be reassured of.
"I think my mother would have laughed...so yeah. Even then," Bucky teased and then hugged his son tighter.
Lance relaxed into his father, tightening his embrace a bit. "You think we've collected up enough fruit?" he asked, after a moment or two.
"Yeah...I think so..." Bucky nodded, tying the fruit into his over-shirt like it was a bag. "Let's go; we want to get back before it is too late." He smiled as they began walking again.
Lance walked alongside his father, standing quite close to Bucky. "This would be a good place to do team building exercises," he commented, a bit out of the blue.
Bucky looked around curiously. "How do you figure?" he finally asked curiously, wondering what type of exercises his son thought would be best done there.
Lance shrugged. "Survival things, mostly. Like dropped on the other side of the island and finding your way back. Having to build a shelter... that sort of thing. I'm not saying it should
be used for that... just thinking it's a relatively safe place to train certain skills."
Bucky nodded. "Some things, it would probably work for. I'm not sure the island is big enough for a navigation exercise; not with this crowd. But the other stuff, I can definitely see it. I'll run it by Steve, Coulson and Fury when we get back." He smiled at his son.
"We'd be able to avoid the public eye here, too," Lance commented, remembering that most of their enemies had a fairly good idea of where a lot of their bases were.
"Yeah...that would be useful...." Bucky stopped, a thoughtful look on his face. "We could always divide everyone into two teams and do a Capture the Flag type of exercise."
Lance nodded. "I think that would be a good idea," he agreed. "Plus, it would be fun..." He was thinking about the members of the family who normally didn't like training, even though they went along with their parents' wishes.
"I think you're right," Bucky agreed. "If we put everyone's name into a hat and then blind draw for teams...including the team leaders...it would be even more useful and potentially fun." Bucky chuckled. "I will definitely mention it to the others when our vacation is over. Even if we don't use this
island...maybe Tony has some other spots we could use."
Tony and Pepper had changed on record time and led the match down to the beach. Pepper had immediately began jumping the waves while Tony had stayed closer to shore, walking and keeping a nervous and worried watch on his fiancé.
Jemma had quickly joined Pepper while Bruce sat on a towel and just watched everyone, a peaceful look on his face.
Leo hesitated, but his desire to swim caused him to join Pepper and Jemma in the water. It was nice to relax and have fun... but he resisted the urge to start a water fight, knowing that he might catch Tony and not wanting to do anything that might cause his uncle to feel worse.
Steve stayed close to Tony, making sure his son knew he was there.
Jemma was under no such dilemma...freely splashing Leo...although she was careful to do it in a direction away from her uncle.
Pepper enjoyed herself for a few moments, but then went to walk next to Tony. She knew he was worried, even if he wouldn't say anything to stop her fun, and she wanted him to enjoy himself, too. Maybe, by the end of their vacation, he'd at least be able to watch her swim without worry; even if he didn't swim himself.
Tony smiled at his father and as soon as Pepper came back to join them, he leaned over and gave her a kiss. "You didn't have to stop on my account," he said softly. "I remember how much fun I had wave jumping as a kid...."
After a quick glance in Tony's direction, Leo responded by splashing Jemma in return, making sure he was well enough away from his uncle that he didn't actually catch him with the water.
Steve smiled at Pepper, recognizing that she didn't want to cause Tony any worry. "If you two want, we could go sit on the sand for a while," he commented.
Jemma squealed and jumped on Leo's back, in an attempt to dunk him.
Pepper grinned at Tony. "I had fun; but I want to be with you now...." She glanced at her father. "Sitting on the sand sounds lovely."
Leo took a deep breath and ducked under the water... so they both ended up being dunked. Since it was the summer, he wasn't worried so much about his lungs... though he knew that, if he started struggling, he'd make sure he got out of the water and dried off fast.
Steve placed a hand on each of their shoulders and gently steered his son and daughter over to join his other son. "Maybe we could have a picnic here tomorrow," he suggested to them all.
Jemma came up spluttering then widened her eyes as she suddenly realized just what she'd done. "Oh my! Leo...are you alright? You didn't inhale any of the water, did you?" she fretted.
Bruce looked up at their approach, just in time to hear Steve's comment. "Sounds like a good idea to me."
Pepper looked happy at the idea, although her answer had been muffled by the long sleeved cover-up she had been pulling over her head when she answered. As soon as the cover-up was situated, she plopped the wide-brimmed floppy hat onto her head and began slathering more sunscreen on, handing the bottle to Tony so he could do her back.
Tony, conditioned to automatically take things from her despite his 'not liking to be handed things' shtick, immediately began putting the lotion on her back. As soon as he was done, he began putting it on himself then held the bottle out to his brother.
"Already put some on, but thanks..." Bruce declined, as he watched his kids playing, wondering if he was going to need to get up to help Leo calm Jemma down from whatever had seemingly set her off.
Tony held the bottle out toward Steve with a raised eyebrow and a quirky grin.
Even if he didn't have to actually wear the sunscreen, Steve's sense of fair play (and taking advantage of his quick healing seemed like cheating, somehow) wouldn't let him do anything other than take the bottle. "You two have to wear it... so I will as well." They did have plenty enough of it anyway.
"That's the spirit, dad! It isn't a trip to the beach if you don't get sand stuck to the sunscreen you just finished putting all over your body...." Tony quipped, even as he grimaced at the patch of sand that was now plastered to his thigh from where he put his leg down too soon.
Laughing, Steve finished putting the lotion on and then put the bottle away. "I'm sure you can have a shower and wash it all off later."
"I'd be better off washing it off in the ocean." Tony laughed. "Unless I want to be sweeping the floor from where I dragged sand through the house...."
Pepper raised an eyebrow. "You're likely going to be doing that anyway..." She smiled impishly.
Leo surfaced and let out the breath he'd been holding, in time to hear Jemma worrying. "I took a breath before I went under," he said, holding his hands up reassuringly. "See? I'm fine. No coughing. No water where it shouldn't be."
Jemma relaxed as she was able to see for herself that Leo was ok. "I'm sorry...I didn't even think about..." She bit her lip.
Leo hugged her. "After I fell in the water before, I started being more careful about 'inhaling' any of it," he said. "Plus, you know what the rest of our family is like... I've been working on my reflexes. Don't think I could ever shoot someone, but being able to take a breath like that could be an advantage." He smiled at her.
Jemma hugged him back tightly. "You...you're right. Maybe I should work on developing some advantages of that sort...." She smiled crookedly.
Bruce relaxed back again once he realized that Jemma wasn't going to freak out and Leo had everything under control. Glancing toward his father curiously, he asked, "...So what's the plan for tomorrow? Do we have
plans for tomorrow?" He looked between Pepper and Tony, then back at Steve again.
Steve shrugged and sat down next to Bruce, letting his arm rest against his son's, after making sure the sunscreen was dry enough. "Apart from the picnic on the beach... we could go exploring. Or just spend the day having family time."
Bruce smiled at Steve. "I'm happy sitting around the house reading and just 'being' with everyone. Seems like we're always busy doing things at home. It will be nice to not be 'doing' all the time...." he admitted softly. "Although I might be convinced to explore...maybe...." He grinned impishly.
Steve nodded his agreement. "Relaxing and spending time with my family sounds like a very good idea," he agreed. "And we have plenty of time to explore... though I know Bucky and Lance are doing that already."
"When we get back, you could do some of the training with me," Leo offered. "I normally train with Grant, though... which does mean getting up early." He was certain that Grant would willingly make time later, but conditioning his body to get up at that time was probably good.
"If you don't think Grant would mind...I think I'd like that." Jemma nodded.
"I think he'd be fine with that," Leo said. "He's actually a really good teacher." Plus, the two of them had grown even closer than before. Leo had liked Grant before it had been revealed he was a HYDRA agent... now that the other man was much more open to the family, Leo felt closer to him than ever.
"Good..." Jemma said softly then grinned at Leo. "Shall we go join the others on shore and let the sun dry us off?"
Leo nodded and headed over to his father and the others, keeping his steps slow so that he could walk next to Jemma.
Jemma leaned against Leo then smiled. "Thanks...for being here..." she said, out of nowhere, before grinning and running to join the rest of the family.
Leo smiled and quickly followed Jemma over.
Tony chuckled. "There really isn't a whole terrible lot to explore...unless they find that cave...." Tony closed his eyes and tilted his head back to let the sun shine on his face.
"Cave?" Pepper asked curiously.
"Yeah," Tony continued easily. "There's a cave on the opposite side of the island... during high tide, it gets covered by the ocean. Jarvis forbid me to ever go there whenever we came here...he was afraid that I'd lose track of time and be inside when the water came up... and it wasn't entirely clear exactly how far back the cave went, so it was entirely possible I would lose track of time...."
Steve frowned in concern. "I think we'd better give that cave a miss... though I'm sure that Bucky will realize the potential danger and make sure he and Lance stay away from it."
Tony watched Jemma and Leo come toward them before looking at his father. "I hadn't actually thought of that cave in years," he admitted. "Jarvis said I wasn't allowed and...well...I didn't often disobey Jarvis. I was too afraid that, if I upset him enough, he'd leave and since he was the only one who.... Thinking about it now, that wasn't really fair to him...." Tony sighed.
Steve wrapped his arms around Tony, hugging him close. "It was understandable... how you felt."
Bruce smiled at his two children, patting the blanket on either side of him.
Jemma quickly sat down and leaned against their father.
Tony leaned against Steve for a moment then sighed. "Yeah...understandable. Still not really fair to him. He never once gave any indication his willingness to stay was based on my ability to obey him." He frowned thoughtfully. "He would have liked you, you know? You had a lot of the same ideas when it came to...taking care of your kids..." Tony grinned crookedly, an impish gleam in his eye.
Pepper sighed softly and leaned against Tony from the other side, wrapping her arms around his waist. "I think I would have liked Jarvis...." she said quietly.
Leo sat down on the other side of Bruce, nestling in close.
Steve pressed a kiss to his son's cheek. "I'm sorry you lost him." He stroked his son's hair, knowing that being here might bring up memories for Tony... no matter how flippant his son tried to act.
Bruce put his arms around Leo and Jemma, pulling them in close and kissing each of them on top of the head. He kept an eye on his brother, though.
"He was the one that held me together after mom and dad's accident," Tony admitted. "Obie helped with the business end; but if it hadn't been for Jarvis, I would have died of alcohol poisoning many times over.... The man had the patience of a saint and put up with far more than he should have had to....he's the reason I'm still alive. He had a heart attack two years after my parents died and was just- gone. And then Obie stepped in and well...we all know what happened there...." Tony smiled crookedly.
Leo stayed close to his father, though the look he directed towards his uncle was a worried one.
Steve hugged Tony tightly, almost cuddling his son on his lap. "I'm grateful to Jarvis for taking care of you," he said softly in his son's ear. He didn't say that he was there for Tony now... but he knew his son was aware of that fact.
Jemma bit her lip as she listened to her uncle. Sometimes it was easy to forget that he hadn't had it as easy as the public liked to believe; he usually tried to appear unaffected. It was only around his family that he let his true feelings show.
Tony smiled, leaning on his father and pulling Pepper even closer, so they were all three in a huddle. "Like I said...he would have liked you...he would have liked all of you...."
Steve cuddled both his son and daughter. "I'm sure we would have liked him, too." His voice was soft and honest. The care and love he felt for his family was obvious.
Tony relaxed against his father and Pepper in contentment; until he got hot, at least. "Soo...I'm thinking of trying my hand in the water again...if either or any of you want to join me..." he said, with false bravado; it was obvious he was nervous. Between the caves in Afghanistan and having his Malibu mansion fall into the ocean with him underneath it when Killian came around...he was better than he had been, at least. Still. Carefully extricating himself and standing, Tony began walking into the water.
"I'll come," Bruce said calmly, gently separating from his kids and following his brother into the surf; carefully not looking at him, but obviously watching him all the same.
Pepper looked at Steve. "One more time in before I head back, shower and begin dinner couldn't hurt..." She finally shrugged and stood up to walk after them.
Glancing at Leo, Jemma jumped up and ran into the surf; far enough away that it wouldn't spook Tony, but close enough to support him. "I think I see Bucky and Lance coming round the bend...." She pointed toward the far edge of the beach, where a trail poked out of the foliage.
Bucky saw her looking and waved.
It was automatic for Steve to join his son, walking alongside Tony... even if he was careful not to crowd him. He watched Tony lovingly and with concern, even as he glanced towards where he could see his brother and nephew appearing.
"I can put the fruit in the house, if you want to go in the water," Lance suggested to his father.
Leo went to join Jemma and his father in the water. It was colder the second time... but it didn't take long for him to get used to the temperature.
"We can leave the fruit on the beach towel...I have a feeling we'll all be going in soon...." Bucky said to Lance, wanting his son to realize he was welcome to join if he wanted. Toeing off his shoes and removing his shirt and folding it, Bucky carefully put everything either on the blanket or next to the blanket; then, clasping Lance on the shoulder briefly, he made his way down to the water, where his brother and niece were 'bracketing' his nephew (for lack of a better word). He looked at his other nephew curiously, mouthing, 'He doing okay?
' before giving a quick glance in Tony's direction.
Bruce just nodded, smiling and making sure to stay close enough to his brother to offer support; but not so close he'd get in the way of Pepper or Steve, who were being very attentive.
Tony blushed, suddenly realizing how everyone was in the water and hovering around him, as if afraid he was going to have a panic attack. Not that they didn't have reason to worry. His PTSD had a tendency to show up at moments that were unexpected and inconvenient. Still...he had been doing much better and as long as he didn't go under the water, he thought he'd be fine. Of course, that's when a wave that was a bit larger than the others decided to barrel over him and knock him off his feet. He reached out and grabbed Pepper and Steve just as his head went under the water.
Since Pepper's feet were knocked out from under her as well, she wasn't a terrible lot of help...in fact was being pulled away from him. He wasn't sure if she was being dragged into the shore or pulled out into the ocean and that caused him more fear than going under the water caused. He couldn't lose Pepper. He just couldn't. Tightening his grip on her arm, he struggled to regain his footing and not to inhale ocean water.
Jemma had seen the wave approaching at the last possible minute and had tried to warn everyone else; but it had hit her too hard and fast and she found herself being tumbled along the bottom, the waves and current so strong she couldn't get her footing. Her worry about Tony was soon overtaken by panic for herself, as she couldn't stand and was still underwater.
Bruce hadn't been quite as far out as his daughter and had seen the wave coming and managed to jump high enough to avoid being rolled. He glanced around quickly to see who'd been submerged and who hadn't. When Jemma didn't come up, he quickly began heading in the direction he knew she'd been standing.
Bucky hadn't got more than a few steps into the water when the wave had hit. He glanced quickly around to determine who (if anyone) needed his help the most, prepared to quickly go to them.
Steve reacted quickly, swimming the couple of feet or so towards his son and daughter. He wrapped an arm around each of them, so they could gain support from him, and began quickly pulling them back to shore with him.
Leo had been knocked off his feet by the wave of water and gone under, swallowing some mouthfuls of ocean water. He kicked to the surface, but was struggling to breathe and unable to get to the shore.
Lance noticed Leo's distress and, having already placed the fruit on the blanket, he swiftly waded into the water, drawing the younger man out. Aware of the troubles Leo had (and having had a lot of survival training), Lance began working on getting the water Leo had inhaled out of his lungs.
Steve somehow managed to get both Tony and Pepper close enough to shore that they were able to catch their footing and stand again. Pepper was coughing roughly, trying to breathe in between expelling the water she'd inhaled. Tony had somehow avoided inhaling at all, so once he was on both feet again, he began taking deep breaths of air; even as he began patting Pepper on the back in an attempt to help her get rid of the water in her lungs and worriedly asking if she was alright.
All Pepper could do was nod in an attempt to calm Tony down, coughing as hard as she was. She did move closer to her father, though...which had the added benefit of pushing Tony closer to Steve as well.
Bucky, seeing that Lance had Leo in hand and that Jemma still hadn't come up, ran to where Bruce was frantically trying to find her. The area she had gone down was rougher, wave upon wave pouring toward the shore and the current underneath tugged relentlessly toward the ocean. Bucky wouldn't have been surprised if there was a riptide nearby. Out of the corner of his eye, he caught a flash of hot pink; and remembering that was the color of Jemma's suit, he shouted, "I see her, Bruce!" before diving after her.
Bruce was as close to turning green as he had ever been in battle. The sand had got churned up by the rougher waves, which made visibility in the water low. He'd been terrified that his daughter had been knocked unconscious and was being dragged out into the ocean...but then Bucky had seen her and was going after her and Bruce felt himself going weak with relief. As soon as Bucky broke the surface, dragging her up, he went and grabbed one arm while Bucky held the other and they pulled her up onto the beach.
Jemma coughed then took deep breaths, only to cough again. She was thankful that she was such a good swimmer and could hold her breath for long periods of time, as that was the only reason she hadn't drowned. The waves had turned her upside down and around so many times, she hadn't been able to figure out where the surface was and every time she'd thought she'd figured it out, another wave had spun her around and made her lose her direction again. Finally, she managed to gasp out, "I'm ok...Leo?! Where's...." before she started coughing again.
Bruce looked toward Lance. "Is he ok? Do I need my kit?" His own voice was worried and bordering on panic again. The slight green tinge in his eyes attested to the state his emotions were in. The only reason he hadn't gone after Leo immediately was that he'd seen Leo come back up, while Jemma hadn't. He gave Lance a grateful look, relieved that his cousin had been able to help his son while he'd been frantically trying to find his daughter.
Steve carefully helped his son and daughter out of the water, gently rubbing Pepper's back as he watched her worriedly. Even if she'd been nodding that she was all right... he still planned to ask Bruce to check her over, as soon as his son had assured himself of his children's safety. For now, all he could do was try to help her get the water out.
Lance had settled Leo down on the sand and was patting and pressing on his back to get as much of the water out as he could... though there was an awful lot of it. He'd also grabbed the blanket to wrap around Leo, knowing there was a high risk of pneuomonia. "Most of the water is coming out..." he said to Bruce, even if he was certain his cousin would still check Leo over anyway.
Leo continued to cough, though not as strongly as when he'd first resurfaced.
Tony looked like he wanted to panic...but somehow managed to control it. His hands wouldn't stop moving- attesting to his nervousness. He rubbed Pepper’s arms, her hair, her shoulders and back. He also made certain she stayed near their father, convinced that if she collapsed Steve would keep her from falling.
"Thank God," Bruce exhaled, gently leading Jemma over so that he could check both of his children over. Leo was the main concern given his history and weakened lungs...but they'd need to keep an eye on Jemma and Pepper as well. Some problems from near drowning didn't immediately show up in a victim. Quietly he began to examine his son.
Bucky, realizing that Bruce was taking care of his kids, walked over to Steve to help with his niece and nephew. "Do you need anything?"
Steve gave Bucky a grateful smile, even as he helped Pepper over to sit on the sand, bringing Tony with him as well. "Some water might help," he said, hoping that it would calm the coughing.
Lance moved out of the way so that Bruce could check Leo over, but he still looked concerned... waiting to see if he was needed to fetch or do anything.
Even through the examination (and his coughing), Leo looked around anxiously... worried about the rest of his family.
Bucky nodded, quickly running over to the tree where they'd put a small cooler with bottled water; they'd kept it in the shade in the hopes that it would stay cool...or at least not get hot. Grabbing the cooler, he went back to Steve, handing a bottle to each of them before taking the cooler and heading to Bruce so that he could give the four of them something to drink as well. While handing Leo the bottle of water, he noted Leo's anxiety and softly told him, "They're all ok. Everyone is out of the water and being seen to..."
Pepper had gratefully taken the bottle of water from Bucky, but hadn't opened it immediately, as she was still coughing; and truthfully, she felt like she'd swallowed a gallon of ocean water and didn't think her stomach would be able to handle any more water, even if it was fresh. At Tony's and Steve's worried looks, however, she opened the bottle and took a tentative sip. It caused her to cough just a little bit more, but then seemed to soothe her throat and she was finally able to stop coughing, even if she couldn't breathe too deeply for fear of starting again. "Thanks..." she finally muttered, although it wasn't entirely clear who she was thanking or what for. Wiping at her face, she finally leaned wearily against her father and reached out to hold Tony's hand.
Tony had his own bottle of water and as soon as Pepper had taken a sip of hers, he opened his bottle and drained it; firstly because he was thirsty, but mostly so that his father and fiancé could see him do so and know that he hadn't been hurt. He was extremely worried, yes, but not hurt. He quickly took her hand and squeezed gently. "Soon as Bruce has Leo and Jemma taken care of, I want him to check you out."
Bruce, finally sufficiently assured that his children weren't going to stop breathing at that moment- even if he wanted to give them a more thorough examination using a stethoscope so he could listen to their lungs- finally stood. "Thank you for your help, Lance... would you mind terribly helping Jemma back to the house while I help Leo? And Bucky, if you'd go help Steve with Pepper and Tony? I want to check everyone out a bit more in depth and they will probably want to be in the privacy of their rooms when I do so...." His tone was firm and indicated that he wasn't going to accept any protest from anyone regarding his request.
Jemma didn't argue, just picked up all her items that she'd brought down with her, made sure she didn't leave any trash behind and went to stand next to Lance.
Bucky smiled at Bruce and agreed. He grabbed the fruit he and Lance had picked and put it into the cooler; he then grabbed it and all the rest of his stuff before going back over and putting an arm around Tony's shoulders to direct him back to the house. "Your dad has her and she'll be fine. Let's get back to the house so Bruce can do his examinations and then I'll cook dinner...." He smiled at his nephew when Tony didn't argue and just followed along docilely after grabbing his and Pepper's things.
Steve wrapped his arm around Pepper's shoulders and pressed a kiss to the side of her head as he guided her towards the house. He kept an anxious watch over her, holding the bottle of water so that he could pass it to her if she needed it.
Lance simply nodded his acknowledgement and wrapped an arm around Jemma's shoulders, smiling reassuringly at her, as he headed back towards the house, following his father and uncle.
Leo's coughing had settled and he gratefully drank the water, before leaning into his father... unsettled and still concerned about the others.
Pepper meekly went with her father, coughing every so often and feeling a little tired, but otherwise fine. She smiled up at Steve, so that he wouldn't worry so much, although she wasn't certain it did any good.
Tony smiled at his uncle sheepishly. "You didn't get to enjoy the water very long...."
"I've got time..." Bucky snorted then grinned.
Jemma leaned against Lance and gave him an embarrassed smile. "Thanks for being here...sorry to be a bother...."
Bruce gently helped Leo up to the house and then inside. Before he could head upstairs to his son's room, Tony was calling out.
"There's a small room to the right with emergency medical equipment. Thought it would be good to have specific items for potential problems you might run into on an island...." Tony's voice was chagrined. He'd hoped to not need any of the items.
Bruce nodded, stopping just long enough to grab a few of the items he thought might possibly be necessary, then continued up the stairs with his son, motioning Lance to bring Jemma up.
Lance guided Jemma up the stairs, smiling at her. "You aren't a bother... I'm just glad our Dads were able to grab you."
Leo went with his father without arguing, leaning into Bruce for support.
Jemma smiled at Lance crookedly, "I am too...that was...scary," she admitted with a wince. "I'm a good swimmer and love the water, but I just couldn't get my equilibrium, or figure out which way was up..." she whispered. Shaking her head, she opened the door to her room. "Thank you for walking me up. I am going to assume dad wants to examine me next, so I'm just going to get out of this wet suit and put on something comfy..." She wrinkled her nose.
Lance nodded, stepping back now that Jemma seemed all right on her own. "If you need anything at all... I'll stay close by till your dad comes to check on you," he promised. "You need anything before you get changed?"
Jemma smiled. "No thanks...but as soon as I'm changed, I'll let you know," she said quietly.
"Okay." Lance smiled at Jemma and let her close the door, taking up position down the corridor a little way so that he wasn't directly outside... but still within earshot if she needed to call.
Bruce led Leo into his bedroom, gently closing the door behind him. "Let's get you into dry clothes, son..." he said softly, putting the equipment he'd grabbed onto the top of the drawers, then handing Leo a towel while he grabbed his son some loose, comfortable clothing.
Leo nodded, quickly drying himself off with the towel and then slipping out of his trunks, changing into the dry clothes. As he did so, he watched his father carefully. He'd seen the hint of green in Bruce's eyes and was hoping his father felt more reassured now.
Bruce took a deep breath then brought the stethoscope over to listen to Leo's lungs. He looked his son in the face and smiled, so Leo could see he was calmer now that he was inside and able to take care of him.
Leo relaxed once he saw that his father was calmer and allowed himself to be checked over without arguing or protesting.
Steve guided Pepper through to her bedroom, where he quickly found one of her towels and wrapped her up in it. "Bucky... can you grab Tony a towel?" he asked his brother, certain his son wouldn't want to leave Pepper's side.
Pepper gratefully took the towel and sidled toward the tiny bath. "I'll just get out of this wet suit..." she said shyly.
"You need help, sweetie?" Tony asked, still worried, though not quite as worried now that they were at the house and he was able to see for himself that she was breathing and walking ok.
Bucky nodded at Steve and went into the hall linen closet to grab another towel for his nephew, bringing it in just in time to hear his question to Pepper. "I'll just step out of the room then...head downstairs. If any of you need me for anything, just yell..." He smiled at the three of them before backing out of the room and gently closing the door so that they would have a bit of privacy.
Pepper gave Tony a small smile then smiled at Steve, before shaking her head. "I think I can manage...I'll leave the door unlocked, though...just in case, so you can get in if you need to," she said, to calm any worry they might have about her leaving their side.
Steve still looked obviously concerned, but he wrapped an arm around Tony's shoulders. "After we all get dried off and dressed, we can come back in here while Bruce checks you over," he said to his daughter. He was still very obviously worried about her... but he didn't want to embarrass her.
"Ok, daddy..." Pepper smiled crookedly, giving a slight cough before going into the bath and closing the door so she could change.
Tony smiled at his father. "I can get changed on my own, if you want to go change. If she needs you, I'll holler...." He began to peel off his wet clothing.
Steve nodded. Before he went to get changed, though, he pressed a kiss to his son's forehead. "You did well today, son. I'm proud of you," he said simply.
Tony smiled crookedly, waiting until his dad had gone into his room to whisper, "It was easy to do well when I was worried about someone other than myself...." Sighing softly, he finished undressing, then dried himself and got dressed.
After dinner, the family played cards together in one of the living areas. Steve was still eyeing his son and daughter, unable to hide his concern... even though he was enjoying this time with them.
It was beginning to get late, though... and although Steve didn't feel tired easily, a glance around at his family members revealed they were beginning to feel the events of the day catching up with them as well.
Bucky was in much the same boat as Steve was; he didn't tire easily, but he could tell his son and the rest of the 'kids' were getting tired. "I think if we don't want to be sleeping in till noon tomorrow, we probably should go to bed now," he finally said with a chuckle. "C'mon, son...."
Bruce nodded quietly. "I think we all could do with some sleep. You all know where to find me if I'm needed," he said to the room at large, although he was mostly speaking to Steve...knowing the other man was worried about Tony and Pepper. He was worried about Leo and knew he'd likely be checking on the younger man throughout the night to make certain there were no complications from his dunking. He was slightly less worried about Jemma; but that was only because she'd stopped coughing soon after he'd examined her and she didn't have the lung problems that Leo did. "Jemma, Leo..." he said softly, holding out an arm to each of them so they could head to their rooms.
Jemma quickly put the cards away, then went and snuggled up to her father.
Tony had Pepper pulled close and was snuggling with her as he watched everyone else get ready to go to bed. He glanced at his father and smiled. "Want us to leave the connecting door to our rooms open?" he whispered, knowing his father, and possibly Bucky, would hear, but no one else would.
Yawning, Lance stood up, stepping closer to his father and leaning into Bucky. He was just tired enough not to be embarrassed about snuggling.
Leo went automatically to his father, cuddling into Bruce from the other side, nearly asleep on his feet.
Steve smiled, fondly and lovingly, at his children, before helping them up so they could go to bed. "Yes. You know that you can always come in to me... either of you..." he whispered, pressing a kiss to each of their foreheads.
Soon, only Tony, Pepper and Steve were left downstairs and Pepper was reluctantly standing up. She'd enjoyed the time with the rest of the family, but she was tired. It had been a busy and eventful day and even though she felt fine, she knew Tony and Steve would worry about her for at least a bit longer; at least until she'd slept through one night without problems. She hoped for both of their stakes that she didn't have any bad dreams. Giving her fiancé and father a smile, she walked back to where their rooms were, thankful they were on the first floor and she didn't have to go up any stairs. She really was
Tony quietly followed behind, gently closing the door separating their room from the rest of the house, before then going to the door that connected their room to the one Steve was staying in and opening it. He turned to say something to Pepper, only to find she'd already crawled into bed and was almost asleep. Blinking, he let out a tiny little huff of amusement. "Good thing we changed into pajamas before
we started playing the game..." he muttered softly. Shaking his head, he gently knocked on the door leading into Steve's room and poked his head in. "Night, dad...love you."
Steve smiled at Tony, his gaze loving and affectionate. "Good night. I love you... both of you." He raised his voice, just a little, to make sure Pepper could hear him too. Stepping over to the door, he pressed an affectionate kiss to Tony's forehead.
Tony grinned, giving his father a hug.
Pepper mumbled something that could only be interpreted as, 'I love you' ... or maybe it was goodnight. It really wasn't clear what she mumbled. For all Tony knew, she could have been mumbling Stark Industries stock prices.
Steve hugged his son tightly. "I've enjoyed spending today with both of you," he said softly. "And we're going to have a good time for the rest of the holiday." He gently threaded his fingers through Tony's hair. "I'm glad we can do this."
"Yeah." Tony's smile turned more wistful and appreciative. "I am too. It's going to be wonderful...."
Steve pressed another kiss to Tony's forehead. "If anything happens... anything at all, no matter how insignificant you think it should be... you can come and wake me at any time. I hope you know that."
"I do...I will..." Tony hugged his father one last time before stepping back. "Love you, dad..." He smiled again, then walked to his bed and crawled in next to Pepper, who quickly snuggled up to him. He left the door between their rooms open.
After one last loving look at his kids, Steve headed over to his bed and got in. He wasn't as tired as most of the others... but it still didn't take him long to fall asleep.
Jemma had been worn out, so as soon as they reached the top of the stairs and her room, she gave Bruce a tight hug, a kiss on the cheek and a quick, "Love you, dad..." before disappearing into her room and crawling into bed.
Chuckling slightly, Bruce followed in after her and made sure she'd settled in alright, kissing her on the forehead. "I'll be checking on you periodically through the night, but if you need me at any time, I want you to come get me..." he told her gently. At her quick nod, he smiled, squeezed her shoulder and then left her room, closing the door gently behind him.
Turning to his son, he smiled at Leo. "The same goes for you...I'll be checking in periodically through the night, but if you need me, I want you to come get me; or call for me, if needed." His tone was serious.
Leo nodded, hiding a yawn behind his hand. He gave his father a quick, tight hug. "Good night, Dad. I'll wake you if anything does happen," he promised. "Love you." He headed into his own room, nestling into the bed.
Bruce smiled, quickly hugging Leo before he could step away and kissing him on the cheek. He waited by the door until he was certain his son was safe in bed then went to his own room. Soon, he was nestled against his own pillow and falling asleep.
Bucky had walked upstairs with Lance, stopping outside his son's door. "If you need me, come get me..." was all he said, although he did put his arm around the younger man's shoulders and gave him a tight squeeze and a kiss on top of the head. He stood outside Lance's door, waiting for his son to get into bed before he went to his own.
Lance nodded. "Night, Dad." He reciprocated the hug, before heading through to his bedroom, situating himself in bed and closing his eyes, very quickly falling asleep.
Sighing softly to himself, Bucky forced himself to go to his own bed. It had been a long day and he should be tired. Laying down on top of his sheets, he closed his eyes, prepared to jump up immediately if needed.
The next morning, Pepper got up early and, after taking a quick shower and dressing, tip-toed into the kitchen to make a light breakfast for everyone. She did her best not to wake anyone; it was vacation, after all; and the perfect time to sleep in. As soon as everything was prepared and ready to throw on the stove whenever people started showing up, she poured herself a cup of coffee and moved onto the back veranda to enjoy the cool morning air and read a book.
Steve woke up fairly early, glancing through the connecting door to assure himself his children were all right. Guessing that Pepper had got up early, he quietly left a note next to his sleeping son, saying where he was, and then moved through the house in search of Pepper... wanting to make sure she was fully recovered.
Pepper was engrossed in her book. It had been a long time since she'd been able to get away and relax enough to just read without having her time interrupted by a phone call from a frantic employee, or board member, or...or Tony. It had taken a bit of convincing for her to feel comfortable leaving everything behind to take this vacation; but now that she was here...she was grateful that Tony had insisted. He was right. Nothing back at SI was so life or death that it wouldn't hold until her return. And if it was so critical it had to be taken care of before her return- that
was why she hired assistants...so they could handle things. She needed to trust them to do their job. Taking another sip of her coffee, she thought she saw movement from the corner of her eye, inside the house. "I'm out here..." she called quietly; not wanting to wake anyone else, but also wanting to let whoever it was in the kitchen know that they weren't the only ones up.
Steve stepped through to where Pepper was, smiling at his daughter as he walked over and took a seat next to her, wrapping an arm around her shoulders. "Good morning," he said softly, kissing her forehead. "How are you feeling?"
Pepper put a bookmark between the pages where she was reading and set her book to the side, leaning into her father with a smile. "I'm feeling fine, dad...any water I didn't cough out must have been absorbed. I took several deep breaths this morning and it didn't send me into a coughing fit." She grinned. "I got everything ready to go, so breakfast can be cooked when everyone gets up. If you're hungry, I can go start a plate for you...."
"You don't have to rush," Steve said, smiling at her. "I'm happy to just enjoy spending some time with my daughter for a while." He looked relieved that Pepper was all right and tightened his embrace a fraction.
Pepper smiled sadly. "That's what momma and poppa said right before we left...." She snuggled closer, putting her head on his shoulder. "I feel like such an awful daughter...living so far away and working so much, I haven't visited often. I told them I'd stay with them longer...let you all come here without me...they wouldn't hear of it. Said my place was with my husband and they were satisfied with the time we had." She laughed softly. "They also said I needed to get to know my new dad better, too, since 'he'll be the one to help guide you when we can't'." She grinned up at Steve. "I think Poppa was fanboying...."
Steve gently stroked her hair. "I think you work too hard... push yourself too much," he said lovingly. It wasn't the first time he'd brought this up... not the first time he'd expressed his worry about how much work Pepper had taken on. He pressed a kiss to the top of her head. "I think we should take a look at when you can take time off next soon... and see them. Or have them come visit."
"I...when Tony made me CEO...I was already doing a lot of the work, but when he gave me the title so that everyone else would recognize
my work.... I know he did it because he trusted me and appreciated me and wanted everyone else to also...despite his claims of it being because he did not want the responsibility himself...." She snorted. "The problem is...even though he never intended it to be this way...I suddenly felt like I had to prove I deserved his trust; not to him, but to everyone else." Pepper sighed. "He's asked me to cut back hours and delegate more as often as you have...I just...I don't know how I can cut back or delegate." She fidgeted unhappily, feeling like she was letting everyone she loved down.
Steve tugged gently to bring Pepper onto his lap, so he could wrap his arms around her and hug her tightly to himself. "I understand it's difficult to change what you've been doing for so long, but if you let me, I'll help you," he said with quiet sincerity. "I know how hard it is to change what seems to come naturally, no matter how much you love and want to be there for someone. Lean on me. Let me help you."
Pepper wrapped her arms around her father and snuggled. She wasn't sure exactly what he could do to help her, but she trusted him...and she knew it was important to everyone, including herself, that she find a better balance between work and her personal life. "Ok, daddy..." she finally whispered. "If you can help me, I'm willing to let you...whatever it takes." She leaned up and kissed him on the cheek then lay her head on his shoulder again.
Steve just cuddled his daughter close, enjoying being able to be with her when she wasn't needing to rush off. "When we go back home, we can sit down and talk about ways to lessen your workload," he said softly. "We can even talk to Phil about how he handles things and if he has any ideas that might make it a bit easier for you."
"Ok, daddy....I have to admit, it would be nice to have more time with my family, plan my wedding, maybe see if Tony is ready to be a dad...." Her tone was slightly teasing on the last.
Steve smiled and kissed the top of Pepper's head. "I think you'll have a lot of help offered with the wedding when you start planning it," he said, amused. "And whenever you two want to start trying for a baby... I know you'll make good parents."
Pepper leaned back and gave Steve a huge smile. "We've got some wonderful examples in how to do it right..." she declared, before hugging Steve tightly.
"Hey! Can I get in on some of that action?" Tony asked with a grin, as he walked onto the porch to find his father and fiancé snuggling.
Keeping one arm wrapped around Pepper, Steve held his other one out to his son. "How did you sleep?" he asked, the tone of his voice loving and affectionate. He was happy to spend time with both of his children and it showed.
Tony walked over and kissed Pepper, before settling next to his father and snuggling under his arm. "I slept good, dad. Didn't even dream, amazingly enough. Although that could have been because I was so tired..." Tony laughed gently.
Steve smiled, cuddling both his children close and pressing a kiss to each of their heads. "I think we were all tired... it had been a long day." Not to mention a very worrying one, considering what had happened on the beach. It went without saying that all of them would be more careful now.
"Yes...I was thinking today would be a good day to just relax at the bungalow; read; talk..." Pepper smiled. "Maybe play some more games..."
Tony nodded. "Sounds good to me," he agreed easily. "We could do a fire tonight...make s'mores."
"I like the sound of that. I'm sure the others will, too," Steve said. "Especially since one of the main reasons for this vacation was the opportunity to spend more time together as a family." He held them both close, smiling.
"Mmmhmm..." Tony murmured, snuggling closer so that his head was against Steve's chest. When Pepper shifted enough that her own head was against Steve's chest, her forehead touching Tony's, Tony couldn't help but grin. "You wanna get up, dad, just let us know...we could snuggle for hours," Tony teased, but wasn't teasing; even if he was a little
Steve didn't let go of either of them. "I'm quite happy to snuggle with you both," he said, simply and honestly. "I love you... and being able to spend this time with both of you makes me happy." He tightened his arms around their shoulders, kissing the tops of their heads affectionately.
"We love you too, daddy...." Pepper said fondly.
Tony murmured his agreement. "I think we should have at least one night a week designated as snuggle night..." he declared emphatically.
"I thought that was already a given," Steve said, his voice holding a trace of amusement. "But I'm more than happy to make it official."
"Yes...yes. Make it official..." Tony nodded emphatically, an amused and teasing look in his eyes. "Make it official for the entire family... we can have a big 'puppy pile' of Avengers and honorary Avengers. We'll put Uncle Nick in the middle of it. That man could use more hugs...." he said impishly.
Pepper rolled her eyes. "Tony
..." she said with a fond huff.
!" Tony defended himself. "You can never have too many hugs, Pepper-pot...." He winked at his fiancé then glanced up at his father hesitantly, to see what expression Steve had on his face.
Steve was smiling, still cuddling his son and daughter close. "I think your Uncle Nick has his hands full with the three kids he has already... but most of us have managed to turn snuggling into an art," he teased. "I think it's safe to say that's now become an official part of our lives."
"Yeah....He probably does have his hands full. Guess it's good Trip is so stable...he can help his dad with the other two..." Tony sighed sadly, thinking about the 'brainwashed' members of the family. Squirming slightly, he moved enough to give everyone a bit more room, without actually moving away from his loved ones. "I'm actually getting hungry, so as much as I love being a moppet, I think I'm going to go start cooking the eggs." He grinned, kissing his father on the forehead, then kissed Pepper thoroughly enough that she was blushing after. He stood and went back inside to the kitchen.
Steve smiled after Tony then looked down at Pepper with a smile that was just as loving. "Are you ready to go through to start breakfast? Or would you like to cuddle some more?" he asked.
Pepper gave him a contented smile. "I could probably do with some breakfast...don't be surprised if I corner you for some more cuddling later, though...." she teased, carefully standing up and tucking her book under her arm to take inside (just in case it began to rain).
Steve stood up and wrapped an arm around Pepper's shoulders, heading inside with her. "Since I enjoy cuddling with both of you... that won't be a hardship." Despite the teasing note in his voice, he was still obviously sincere.
Jemma had got up by that point and had dressed and headed downstairs and into the kitchen. Catching her uncle's eye, she grinned then turned to her aunt and grandfather, shifting closer so she could wiggle under his free arm and snuggle as well. "Can I get in on the hugs?" she asked impishly.
"Where's my oh-so-serious brother at, darling?" Tony asked, drawling that last out.
Jemma glanced at him again. "As far as I know, he is still sleeping. Or possibly taking a shower. I do know he was up several times last night, checking on Leo and myself..." Her voice took on a chagrined and worried tone. "He's likely going to be very tired today; although since nothing bad happened to either of us last night, maybe he'll be able to relax today...."
"Well, we haven't got any plans, so I don't see why he couldn't catch up on some much needed rest..." Pepper interjected.
Steve wrapped his other arm around Jemma, drawing her in close against his side and kissing the top of her head. "We talked already about making this day a more relaxing one, so I'm sure we can let him wake up when his body tells him it's time."
At that point, Lance wandered into the kitchen, holding back a yawn as he rubbed the sleep out of his eyes. "There should still be some fruit in the cooler... if anyone wants to add that to breakfast," he commented, walking over to said cooler.
"Ah...so there is..." Tony looked into the cooler then gave Lance a smile. "I'll cut it up...." He proceeded to do just that.
Jemma snuggled more closely when Steve didn't pull away. "That's what I thought. I didn't want to wake him or Leo if they were still tired, so...."
Bucky wandered in at that moment, running fingers through shower dampened hair. "I see Lance showed you where the fruit was..." he said in an aside to Tony, while walking to his brother and putting a hand on his shoulder and giving a quick squeeze. He couldn't help but grin at the way Jemma and Pepper were pressed close to Steve. "Lucky fella..." he said in a teasing tone, before running a hand over each woman's hair in a gentle caress.
Steve smiled at his brother. "Morning. How did you sleep?" It might have been more of a rote question... but it had been a while since either of them had slept in an entirely new place; and Steve did know his brother wasn't a stranger to bad dreams. He hoped the excitement of the previous day hadn't triggered anything.
"Want any help?" Lance asked Tony. "Since the other members of the family seem to be 'busy'..." He grinned, teasing them.
"I would love some help, cousin mine..." Tony said in a regal tone, grinning back.
Bucky smiled crookedly. "I actually slept really well...I was worried at first, but...I don't know. Maybe just hanging out last night and relaxing with the family helped to head off any problems that might have occurred..." He shrugged slightly.
Pepper smiled, finally pulling away from her dad and heading over to help finish making the breakfast she'd begun preparing earlier. "I'm happy to hear that..." she told her uncle with a hint of relief. "Can I get anyone anything to drink?" she asked the room at large.
"I'll stick with water, I think..." Jemma said with a smile then reluctantly pulled back from her grandfather to go help Pepper. "Let me help..." She smiled at her aunt.
"Depends...if there is juice, I'd like that, please. Otherwise, I'll stick with water and the coffee that I can smell...." Bucky smiled at his niece before walking over and bumping shoulders with his brother. "I see everyone here but my more quiet nephew and great-nephew. Leo didn't have any complications last night, did he?" he asked in a whisper, not wanting to worry anyone else, but not able to keep from worrying himself.
Lance smiled at the two women as they came over to help, but he worked on frying some bacon and doing what he could to help with the preparation. After all, cooking was one thing he'd had to figure out for himself fairly early on.
Steve smiled, leaning his shoulder against his brother's. "As far as I'm aware, everything's been fine during the night," he answered, his voice just as quiet. "I think you and I would have woken up if anything had happened... I suspect Bruce and Leo are both tired after yesterday and everything that happened before
we came on vacation. I figured I'd give them a bit more time and then go and check in."
Bucky nodded. "It has been a very busy month... year, even... it wouldn't surprise me after everything that's happened that they are both worn out. Especially since they both tend to spend an inordinate amount of time in their lab trying to come up with things to help everyone or trying to find solutions to problems...."
Tony was walking by, carrying a bowl full of cut fruit, and overheard the last comment. "I try and drag him out of the labs whenever I leave...he does much better about not staying there non-stop, now that he has Leo and Jemma to worry about...but whenever there is a puzzle that needs solving quickly? He sneaks back down when everyone is asleep to try and take care of it." He winced slightly, uncertain if he should be telling on his brother in this manner or not; or if maybe he should have said something sooner.
Pepper walked out, carrying a pitcher of water and one of juice. "He didn't do that so much when JARVIS was still there...JARVIS would tell him to go to bed, or he'd get Steve and Bruce would immediately cave and go to bed..." She had a sad but amused look on her face, remembering the AI. "I overheard them a couple of times when I had to get up early to make an early meeting...." she said, by way of explanation for her knowing such a thing.
Jemma followed Pepper with an armful of plates and cutlery. "I miss JARVIS," the younger woman said with a sigh. "You couldn't get away with anything
when he was on duty...."
Steve gave them a sad smile. "I miss JARVIS as well," he said honestly. To him, the AI had been as much a part of his family as the rest of them. He was aware of how much more it had hurt Tony, though... and looking at his son, he changed the subject a little. "I think there are a couple of people who need to lessen their workloads when we get back home." He'd already decided to sit down with Pepper and figure it out... now he was going to do the same thing with Bruce.
Lance finished the bacon and put that and the eggs onto two separate plates. He'd put some bread on to fry, too, but he carried out the first two plates before he returned to finish off the fried bread. He glanced towards the other family members with sympathy, but kept quiet, not wanting to risk making any of them feel worse.
"Sounds good to me.... I've always felt delegation was the way to go...well, for most things that I didn't like doing, anyway...." Tony joked quietly, determined not to let talk of JARVIS upset him. The AI had been a member of the family and was sorely missed, but he hadn't been completely lost. Just because Vision, or whatever he decided he wanted to be called, had gone off to who knew where and hadn't returned yet didn't mean he wouldn't return. And even though Vision was not completely like JARVIS, there were still remnants of his friend there. Who knew what would happen? Putting the fruit onto the table, Tony turned back to start gathering glassware and coffee cups.
Pepper put the pitchers she was carrying down and went to help Tony.
Jemma began setting the table.
Footsteps could be heard on the stairs before Bruce quietly slipped into the room. "I felt my ears burning...who’s been talking about me?" he teased. He ignored the suddenly guilty look on his daughter's face. He hadn't been serious with his question, but in a roomful of people who lived with each other and cared about each other, being talked about was bound to happen sooner or later.
Steve smiled at his other son and stepped over to give Bruce a hug. "We were talking about a number of other things as well... but when we get back home after this vacation, we're going to talk about how to handle the workload so many people have taken on," he said, his voice affectionate and loving.
At that point, Leo came down the stairs and into the room, rubbing his eyes and giving a sleepy yawn, before perking up a bit at the sight and smell of food. "Oh... breakfast."
"Want some coffee to help wake you up?" Lance nudged his young cousin gently.
Bruce's eyebrows went up slightly at his father's words, but he didn't question him. He did give Tony a suspicious look.
Tony just held up his hands in a 'don't blame me' manner.
"It's ok, Bruce," Pepper said with amusement. "I'm part of the discussion as well...."
Bruce looked at his future sister and slanted his head. "Yeah. I can see them including you," he finally teased gently, grinning at her mock huff of irritation.
"I think everything is on the table now," Jemma announced. "So if everyone would find a seat...."
Steve pressed a kiss to Bruce's forehead and then gently released him so that he could go and find his seat. He walked over to the table as well, making sure he was situated close to all three of his children.
Leo took the coffee Lance offered and sipped at it, looking a bit more awake as he took his seat at the table.
Lance finished placing the last of the hot food on the table and then plopped down on his seat. "I think we've got plenty... but I'm sure we can always dig more food out if anyone's particularly hungry." He grinned.
"Looks good...." Tony clapped his hands together and grinned. "So...all you young'uns that are younger 'n me...what plans you got for today?" he asked curiously.
Jemma glanced around. "Well, I thought I might take a walk and see what kind of wildlife is on the island...."
"I'll go with you," Leo volunteered, curious about what sort of things there were.
"I thought I might go and sit on the beach," Lance commented. He didn't plan to go into the water straight away, but after the excitement of yesterday, he thought it might be nice to sit out there for a bit.
Steve smiled. "I think 'spending the day relaxing' was on the agenda for me today." But he glanced at his children to see what they wanted to do.
"I'm reading my book!" Pepper said firmly. She didn't often have a chance to read for pleasure and the weather was perfect to just sit out under the shade and relax.
"Huh..." Tony nodded. "Reading...." He didn't sound over fond of the idea, but wasn't dismissive of it, either. "Maybe I can put a few hammocks up between the trees..." He looked pensive. He had a very difficult time not doing things; at home, his hands were always working on something, normally mechanical or technical, and he was already itching to find something to be active with.
Jemma smiled at Leo. "That would be great!" she said in a chipper tone. She turned toward Tony. "Do you know if there are any big mammals on this island? Or is it mostly birds and reptiles?"
Tony blinked. "I haven't got a clue.... I don't think there were any shipwrecks with live cargo that landed here in the past, though. No wild stallions that I'm aware of, if that's what you mean...."
"Hopefully no dinosaurs..." Bruce mumbled under his breath, in as serious a tone as he could manage, even though his eyes were shining impishly.
Bucky blinked. "Dinosaurs are a thing now?" He played along with his nephew.
"I'm sure we'd be seeing the evidence of dinosaurs if there were any... it's a fairly small island," Steve joked. He looked at Tony. "We could always play a game while Pepper reads," he suggested. "Do we still want to do that picnic on the beach for lunch?"
"I can make us a couple of packs up with drinks and snacks," Leo said to Jemma, his mind racing as he thought about what they could take with them.
"Picnic for lunch sounds wonderful!" Pepper interjected, before Tony could answer.
"Uh, sure..." Tony nodded. "Picnic sounds good. And playing a game sounds fun...."
"I could play a game..." Bucky remarked. "Want to play it on the beach?"
Bruce nodded. "Mind if I join in the game?"
Steve smiled at the rest of his family members. "Whoever wants to join in can... and I'm sure playing it on the beach is feasible." He looked at Pepper. "Will you be all right there? I can probably rig up a shelter for you... provide some shade so that you're out of direct sunlight."
Lance looked interested. "If you're playing on the beach, I'll join in with you," he said.
Pepper slanted her head thoughtfully. "I think I'll be okay on the beach...if there are any beach umbrellas in storage, maybe...."
"I think there are...I can check, anyway...if there aren't, I know we can rig something up...." Tony agreed with his father.
Bucky grinned at his son and at everyone else. "Good, it's all settled, then. As soon as we're done eating and clean up, we can head down to the beach."
Steve smiled. "Sounds good to me." He finished eating his food and took his plate and utensils over to the sink to wash them up, before returning to take some of the other plates that were empty.
Leo wasn't long cleaning up after himself and when he was done, he headed to his room to grab a pack for a couple of bottles of water and snacks.
Lance finished his last mouthful and then started washing his items up.
Jemma wasn't far behind Leo, cleaning up her own mess quickly and then heading to her room to grab what she needed.
Pepper and Tony finished at about the same time and began helping their father clean up anything that wasn't already taken care of.
Bruce had finished, but in the process of beginning to clean up, had leaned back in his chair and closed his eyes for a second; and fallen asleep again. Tony didn't say anything, just taking his brother's dirty dishes and carrying them to the sink to wash.
Bucky shook his head at his nephew, then smiled at his brother. "I'll go look in the storage area; see if there is an umbrella for Pepper or not."
Having finished dinner, Steve and Bucky had worked on getting a fire going and they were now all cooking s'mores, sitting round and close enough that they could feel the heat. Today had been nice and relaxing and Steve was looking forward to being able to just talk.
Leo cleared his throat after a few seconds of silence. "We think we've found a rare plant species... maybe one that hasn't been discovered yet." He indicated himself and Jemma.
"Really? Where was that?" Lance asked, curious.
Jemma piped up, "Near a cave that was on the other side of the island! It was really very interesting..." She glanced around to see if everyone was really
interested in the plant, or if they were just humoring them.
Tony got distracted by mention of the cave. "If you go back to take a second look at the flower, don't go into the cave...if it is where I think, high tide covers it up and if you are inside when it does...."
Pepper smiled at Tony's worry over his niece and nephew, then turned toward Leo, "Do you think it is related to any other known species of plant?"
Leo nodded. "We want to take a few clippings... see if it might be a mutated version of a known plant, a related species... or a new plant entirely." He was looking excited at the prospect.
Steve smiled. "I'm sure there's a lab in the house... but Tony is right," he added. "Make sure you don't go into the cave." He glanced at Bucky, wondering if his brother thought it might be a good idea for one of them to go with Jemma and Leo if they went back... just to be on the safe side. Of course, Bruce might go... which would also stop him from worrying, knowing how level-headed his other son usually was.
Bruce nodded. "I think I could be persuaded to go...a new plant does sound interesting...and if it turns out to have healing properties, like so many plants in the Amazon have turned out to have, the possibilities are..." He shook his head, but was grinning.
Bucky looked at his nephew, then at his brother with a raised eyebrow. Bruce seemed as excited as his kids were. "I think I'd like to go too," he said. Bruce was normally level headed, but if he got involved in something he thought was really important, who knew what he might do?
Steve smiled. "That sounds like a good idea." He didn't say that he was relieved Bucky was volunteering to go... then again, if he hadn't, Steve knew he likely would have done.
Leo smiled, happy that his father was eager to go and seemed just as excited. "We can show you tomorrow?" he suggested.
Bruce nodded. "Tomorrow is good. Want another S'more?" He held up the bag of marshmallows and shook them, grinning.
Tony snorted. "Who knew my über healthy brother had a S'more addiction? That's your seventh one, Green Bean!!!" He grinned. "I'd be feeling queasy by now if I did that.
Bruce blinked then blushed. "I didn't realize it's been so many...." His voice was sheepish.
"Don't listen to Tony, Bruce. As long as you don't feel sick, I say eat as many S'mores as you want. They have chocolate, after all. And chocolate has been proven to be healthy!" Pepper encouraged playfully.
Jemma wrinkled her nose. "I thought it was dark chocolate that was healthy, not milk chocolate...."
Steve reached over to place a hand on Bruce's knee, squeezing gently. "Have as many as you like. We're on vacation, after all," he said, his voice filled with affection.
"I'll have another one," Leo said.
"Yeah... me too. Since we're on vacation and all." Lance grinned.
"Well, heck..." Tony grinned. "I might have another too then...they were
Pepper didn't say anything...just passed out graham crackers, chocolate pieces and the marshmallow.
Steve took enough to make himself another S'more then sat back slightly to make himself more comfortable.
Leo yawned then shifted closer to his father. It was getting late, but he was enjoying being with the family.
Bucky watched the rest of the family as the night wore on. Finally, he couldn't take watching the yawning and half-open stares into the fire. "Ok. We either need to bring sleeping bags out here, or we need to put out the fire and head to bed. I vote for putting out the fire." He clapped his hands and stood up, waiting to see if anyone complained before he would begin pouring water onto the flames.
Steve stood to help clean up. "I agree." He looked fondly at the rest of the family, noticing how tired they all were. "We'll take care of putting everything away if the rest of you want to start getting ready for bed."
Tony smiled crookedly at his father. "You'll get no complaints from me..." Holding out a hand to Pepper, he pulled her to her feet and wrapped an arm around her waist. "G'night, everyone. We will see you in the morning." He shifted close enough to give his father a quick hug, and to let Pepper give him a quick hug, then walked up to the house.
"Yeah. Ok. Thanks, dad..." Bruce said with a yawn. His weariness was obvious; not only with his yawning, but in the fact he actually called Steve dad. He thought of the man as such, but he didn't often call him that term of address. "Night..." He gently helped Jemma and Leo to their feet and led them back up to the house.
Bucky began putting the fire out while Steve was cleaning up. Glancing at Lance, he smiled. "You may as well head back too, son. I'll see you in a bit."
Lance stuck around just long enough to make sure he wasn't needed to help and then headed back inside after acknowledging his father's words.
Waiting until he was certain they were all out of earshot, Steve looked at Bucky. "It might be a good idea to gently encourage them to go to bed a bit earlier tomorrow night."
Bucky nodded. "Yeah." He sighed softly. "It's hard to remember that they don't have the same stamina we do, due to the serum for you, or whatever the hell Zola did to me that made me the way I am...." He grimaced. "And if we don't encourage them to, they'll stay up as late as possible to be with us...Considering Bruce would actually manage to keep up with us, if the Green Guy takes over, and he seemed tempted to try
..." He snorted softly. "It's nice
, having people that want
to be with you. But it makes things difficult in a whole other way." He grinned at his brother.
Steve smiled in return. "Either that, or we bring sleeping bags wherever we're spending the evening... After they fall asleep, you and I can easily carry them through to the bedrooms." He finished cleaning the last up and then glanced back in the direction of the house. "I want to build good memories for them..."
Bucky laughed softly at the thought of carrying sleeping bags everywhere at night and then carting fully grown adults back to their beds like children. "I wouldn't have a problem with that, although I can imagine my son protesting that he's too 'big' and
'too old'." He made certain the last of the fire's embers were out, keeping an eye on his brother. "You did wonders for Tony...and Pepper.... Bruce doesn't often show that he needs what you offer, but I know he appreciates it; and I know that this vacation was something that he not only needed, but wanted. I think you're well on your way to building those good memories...." He walked over to his brother and took the bag of trash, though Steve didn't really need his help in carrying anything. Bumping shoulders with his brother, he smiled fondly. "Let's go make sure the kids actually got into bed and aren't sitting around the living area playing some insane game...."
Steve laughed and gently nudged his brother in turn. "I'd say, given how tired they are, that they should be in bed... but it wouldn't surprise me if they suddenly got a second wind." He started back towards the house, relaxed and calm, walking alongside his brother.
The next morning dawned bright and clear. Bruce woke up feeling relaxed and well rested, despite the late hour they had stayed up. Quickly dressing, he left his room and went to knock gently on his children's doors. Jemma quickly poked her head out, fully dressed and ready to go. "I was thinking, after a quick breakfast, we could go look at that plant Leo and you found...." Bruce smiled at his daughter, as he waited for Leo to come out.
Leo had woken up fairly early and showered and dressed. When his father knocked, he opened the door and smiled. "Morning, Dad... Jemma."
"Leo! Dad wants to have a quick breakfast so that we can go show him that plant right away!" Jemma beamed, excited that their father was as anxious to examine the plant as they were.
Leo brightened obviously. "Great! We probably have some fruit left over... I can make scrambled eggs fast," he added, mind racing as he tried to figure out what would be fast to make, but still filling.
Jemma nodded quickly. "Yes, let's! I'll help!" Grabbing Leo by the arm, she dragged him downstairs into the kitchen to begin cooking, to the amusement of their father.
By the time Bruce had made his way downstairs, at a more leisurely pace, they were already beginning to put items together. He sat down on a nearby chair to watch after Jemma shooed him away from actually helping.
Leo finished making up the scrambled eggs, having added in bacon, and then put them onto plates, which he placed on the table before grabbing the plate of fruit, leaving Jemma to pour out drinks.
Bruce thanked Jemma as she handed him a glass of juice, then put the pitcher of juice in the middle of the table.
Jemma then proceeded to put glasses and plates with silverware all around the table in preparation for everyone else to begin showing up. All that was needed was to put the food Fitz had made onto the table and everything was set.
Tony walked in five minutes later, sniffing the air. "Something sure smells good..." he remarked, giving his niece and nephew a big grin.
Pepper, who was trailing behind Tony, smiled at everyone. "It does
smell good. Can I help with anything?"
Bucky snuck in behind his niece and nephew and sat next to his other nephew, smiling at Bruce as he reached over and squeezed the scientist's shoulder. "You three were up early. Excited to go look at that plant, I take it?" He directed his question toward Fitz.
Steve followed in behind his brother, smiling at his other son and niece and nephew. "It looks good and I'm sure it'll taste just as nice."
Lance came in last, sinking into the chair on the other side of his father and yawning as he ran a hand through his bed hair.
"We're all good." Leo smiled at Pepper as he put the last of the food on the table and then took his own seat, before nodding at Bucky's question. "Hopefully, it'll be of some use. Even if it isn't, though, it'll be good to study something new."
"Ah...the joy and excitement of new discovery...." Tony sighed, a strange, faraway look in his eye.
Pepper snorted. "You'll have your toys back soon enough, Tony...." she said fondly, if with a bit of irritated amusement.
"What? I didn't say anything!" Tony protested half-heartedly, giving his future wife puppy dog eyes.
"Uh, huh..." was all Pepper could respond with.
Bruce took a bite of his food, smiling at his children before slanting his head at Tony. "You know...you could try and discover something non-mechanical..." he suggested, without much conviction. Tony was an engineer, not a biologist.
"That's an idea... we could all go and take a look," Steve commented. "It would give us something else to do as well as relax on the beach."
Lance shrugged, reaching to fill his plate. "Sounds good to me."
Tony slanted his head then shrugged. "If Pepper-pot is in, then I'm in...."
Pepper rolled her eyes at Tony then smiled. "I'm in."
"Can't think of anything else I had planned...I'll go too." Bucky grinned, taking a bite of food that Fitz had just placed in front of him.
Steve smiled. "That's settled, then. We can all go after we've eaten breakfast." He reached for his own food, eating with some appetite.
Leo smiled, looking around at the rest of them and making sure everyone else had enough food before he began eating.
It didn't take long for breakfast to be eaten and the mess cleaned, even if they had taken their time. Soon, Bruce was motioning Leo to lead the way to the plant he had found.
Leo led the way to the plant quite happily, also pointing out other interesting things he and Jemma had spotted the previous day... most of them apparent mutations of plants already discovered.
Tony and Pepper each took the obligatory look at the plant, letting Leo explain about it a bit, before they went and put a blanket on the beach nearby. The water on this side of the island was choppier and less conducive to swimming, but Tony had fun telling Pepper of the various sea creatures that she might be able to spot if she sat long enough and watched long enough.
Bucky stood by a little bit longer, chatting with Steve.
Jemma quickly began taking notes on the plant's characteristics, while Bruce pointed out different things to her as well. She noticed that the plant seemed to like shadier areas...and, in fact, more of the plant could be seen just inside the cave entrance. "I wonder how far back into the cave the plant grows..." she idly wondered.
Leo was getting progressively closer to the cave as they were studying the plant. At Jemma's question, he allowed his scientific curiosity to take over... and ducked into the cave to check out the growth of the plant.
Steve was still in conversation with Bucky and didn't notice.
Lance was idly looking around, thinking about the possibility for training exercises.
Unfortunately, Bruce hadn't seen Leo either. He'd moved to another area just out of sight of the cave mouth, so that he could compare the one plant to another one that was growing more in the sunshine. "Hey...Jemma...come look at this, won't you?" he said to his daughter; since he could see her out of the corner of his eye and she didn't appear busy. He didn't want to interrupt Leo if he was in the middle of something.
Jemma quickly went over to help her father, not even thinking about the fact that Leo had gone into the cave. She figured he would be back out within a few moments, so there was no reason to worry.
Tony frowned, looking at his watch then looking at how close the water was to his and Pepper's blanket. "We need to move, Hot Pepper. I looked at the tide chart and the morning’s high tide is in about seven minutes...." He stood and held out his hand to her, helping her to her feet and then picking up the blanket so they could move further back on the beach. As he was walking further back, he frowned. "Anyone see Leo?"
Steve looked around quickly, not seeing any sign of his grandson. "Leo?!" he called, trying hard not to show his panic or worry.
Lance, alerted to his uncle, began searching around for his cousin.
Bruce may not have been aware when his son went into the cave, but he wasn't so involved with what he was doing that he didn't immediately notice when everyone started looking for him. He quickly stood and glanced around, his eyes taking on a rather green tint. "Jemma...did your brother tell you where he was going?" His voice was low and filled with tension.
"He was going into the cave..." Jemma admitted, with a terrified look on her face; she'd noticed the tide rolling in...it was already only inches from the cave opening and it wouldn't take long before it was covered.
Bruce couldn't help the growl that escaped his throat as he dropped the items in his hands onto the ground and ran down to the cave entrance and into the cave...not bothering to tell anyone else what was occurring, or even to call for help. His only thought was of getting to Leo and getting the younger man out before it was too late.
Steve was looking around frantically, so he spotted Bruce as his other son ran into the cave. It didn't take much to realize that Leo had probably gone into the cave. And that Bruce had gone after his
"Bucky..." Steve turned to his brother. "The tide's coming in fast. If Bruce doesn't Hulk out, he might not be able to get himself and Leo out in time." Steve began heading quickly down to the cave. He wasn't going to take off without a word... but neither was he prepared to disregard his son's and grandson's safety.
Bucky nodded. "If he does Hulk out, I'm not sure he'd be able to get either of them out...the cave opening is only large enough for a regular sized man to walk through single file...." He looked around, trying to come up with some way to be able to help without putting more of the family into danger.
Tony, by this point, was running up to what everyone had assumed was a portable restroom and opening something on the side that no one had really paid attention to, figuring it was extra 'supplies'. "I have rope!" he yelled down to his father and uncle, before pulling out a rope that was attached to a flotation device. He ran back down toward the rapidly disappearing beach. "If you can tie it around yourself...if the cave fills before you can get them out, then it can be used to guide everyone back to the opening.... Or tie it around Leo and we can pull him out. I don't think Hulk will let Bruce die..." He didn't seem as certain of that as his words would indicate, but since his brother had already gone into the cave, there really wasn't much to be done about it, even if he was wrong. He didn't say anything about Steve not making it out alive, the thought that his father wouldn't make it not something he even wanted to give a glancing thought to.
Steve looked at Tony and nodded, then took the rope from him. He tied it around his waist and then passed the other end of the rope to his brother. "I'll tug on it when I find them," he promised. He placed a hand on Tony's shoulder and squeezed gently. "I'll bring them back, son," he promised. Left unspoken was his promise that he
would come back... but he might as well have said it out loud.
Not wasting any more time, Steve ducked into the cave, tracking down where his other son and grandson were.
Tony nodded briskly then watched as his father went into the cave, the water already a couple of inches on the ground. He wrapped an arm each around Pepper and Jemma, then shifted up onto the higher area of beach, tugging them with him. If Bucky needed his help, he knew his uncle would ask...until that point, Tony figured his job would be to keep Jemma and Pepper from worrying too much. It wouldn't be helpful to all crowd around the opening of the cave when the water would soon be over their heads; and there was really nothing more that could be done than wait.
Bucky took the end of the rope that Steve gave to him and tied it around his own waist. He didn't want to risk having a big wave crash into him and cause him to lose the rope when that rope might be the only thing that would allow him to pull his family to safety.
Bruce frowned as he felt the water pooling at his feet and walked even more quickly, calling out, "Leo! We have to go. NOW!"
Leo had actually managed to get himself turned around in the cave. It was darker than he'd expected and after a vain attempt to retrace his steps, he'd realized the best thing to do was wait until his family came after him.
But the water level was beginning to scare him... so it was a relief when he heard his father's voice. He quickly headed in the direction he'd heard Bruce. "Here... I'm here." He was still scared, but trying to keep it at manageable levels.
Bruce quickly moved to Leo's side and took his arm in a firm grip. Swallowing several times- he didn't want to just start yelling at the boy, no matter how frustrated he was in the decision Leo had made (yelling really wasn't his style, anyway)- he attempted to calm down so he could lead his son out. Luckily for him, Hulk had a wonderful sense of direction and it didn't take long for him to begin hustling Leo toward the mouth of the cave. Unluckily, the water was rising ever more rapidly.
One of the reasons the cave became completely covered during high tides was because the entrance to the cave was actually recessed into the ground with a very steep bank of sand going down
into the cave. It was almost more like a hole that turned into a cave. Water was literally pouring into this 'hole' now and starting to fill the cave up. When the tide reached the highest point, said hole (and the entrance of the cave) would be completely under water. It begged the question of where did all the water go when the tide retreated...it certainly didn't go back up the steep embankment).
Bruce, realizing the danger they were in, began running toward the entrance, pulling Leo behind him. He hadn't realized exactly how far back Leo had wandered. He was surprised, though maybe he shouldn't have been, when he saw his own father coming down the cave tunnel towards them. "Dad! I found him...."
Steve quickly moved towards his son and grandson. He didn't say anything, even though the relief on his face was obvious. Instead, he grasped Bruce (seeing that his son had a good hold on Leo) and then tugged on the rope as he swiftly began heading towards the entrance.
The water was rising rapidly and Steve wasn't sure they wouldn't end up completely submerged. "Take a deep breath," he directed them, going even faster.
Bruce's grip on Leo tightened...there was no way he was losing his son. He briefly wondered if Hulk would make an appearance; but for some reason, his alter-ego wasn't even pressing at the back of his consciousness. He wasn't sure why; unless it was because he wasn't really scared for himself? (He was terrified for Leo). He didn't think on it too long, just following his father as quickly as he could, allowing himself to be tugged along, even as he tugged Leo along.
Bucky felt the tug and braced himself, then began to pull the rope as gently as possible to help his brother exit. He began pulling more quickly and less gently as the tide finally covered the cave's opening and he himself was treading water, unable to just stand without being submerged himself. They were now underwater. It was imperative he get them out as fast as possible.
Bruce waited until the last possible second before taking in a huge breath of air, then holding it. The only good thing in this mess was that the floor of the cave had begun ascending, steeply, so they couldn't be that far from the opening. By this time, they were forced to begin swimming.
Leo didn't try to pull away from his father, more scared than he'd thought possible. He took a deep breath just before being fully submerged and then began swimming. Even with the problems with his lungs... at least he was a fairly strong swimmer.
Steve began swimming with fast, strong strokes. As they'd been running, he'd also focused on tying rope around his son and grandson, too... so that they were both attached to him. Now swimming, he used his own body strength to pull his family through.
Bruce was relieved, if a bit astonished, that Hulk still didn't come out, even when he was submerged under water; he swam with strong, sure strokes, following his father. Steve's strength helped him move faster and his own strength helped him to pull Leo behind. He could also feel someone pulling on the rope.
Bucky began pulling faster as he felt slack in the rope, praying that the slack was because they were swimming toward him fast and not because the rope had broken. When Tony made his way back into the water to help him pull on the rope so it would go even faster, ignoring his own discomfort at having to tread water over his head to do so, Bucky found the extra strength needed to give one last strong pull of the rope....
Steve swam up out of the hole, gripping the sides for support. He turned to help out first Bruce and then Leo and then quickly stood up, moving all of them away from the hole and towards his brother and other son.
Leo let out a breath as soon as it was safe to do so, following his father and grandfather meekly.
As soon as they cleared the cave and had their heads above water, Bruce grabbed Leo's arm and swam toward shallow water so they could walk ashore.
Bucky quickly moved to meet his brother, bringing Tony with him, and made sure everyone made it to shallow water, where they could walk back up to shore. He didn't say anything. The relief was clear on his face, though.
Tony quickly moved to shore so he could check out his brother, nephew and father.
Pepper made her way down to meet everyone else, Jemma on her heels.
Steve allowed Tony to check him over, smiling reassuringly at him. "It's all right. We're safe." He looked at his son and grandson, the look on his face one of concern and affection... even if he was unhappy with the situation the three of them had been forced into.
Leo glanced down, unable to hold eye contact with any of them.
Lance had stayed close by, in case he was needed. He stepped over to them, but was careful not to crowd. He opened a couple of the packs, taking out towels he'd brought by... just in case... and handed them out.
Bruce took a towel and handed it to Leo. Part of him wanted to dry the boy himself, but he didn't want to embarrass his son. Once Leo took the towel, he took another from Lance. "Thank you..." He smiled at his cousin.
Tony, finally assured that his family was safe, finally let himself realize where he had been, where they
had been, and found himself sinking into the beach...his legs suddenly feeling boneless.
Pepper took the towel he held limply in his hands and began to dry him, making certain to talk to him in low, gentle tones, while frequently touching his face in an attempt to keep him grounded and focused on the present and not sink into a flashback.
Steve took a few seconds to make sure Bruce and Leo were all right... and then he immediately crouched down beside Tony. He wrapped his arms around his son and pulled him close, pressing a kiss to his head. "We're safe, son," he reiterated. "Everything's all right now. I promise."
Lance nodded, casting a concerned look towards his cousin... though he could see that Steve and Pepper had Tony in hand.
Bucky gave his nephew a concerned look, but knew Steve and Pepper were doing all that could be done. Taking a towel from his son, he gave Lance a grateful smile and began to dry off. "You ok?" he asked softly.
Bruce looked at Tony with worry, feeling slightly guilty when he realized his brother had been worried about him just as much as they'd worried about Leo. Sighing, he moved closer to his son...double checking to make certain Leo wasn't having any bad effects from the experience.
Jemma moved to help her father with Leo, her distress at the situation clear on her face.
Lance nodded. "I'm glad you're all safe," he said, his voice just as soft. "That was... scary." And scary was really an understatement.
Leo seemed fine... but embarrassed and guilty over causing so much trouble. "I'm sorry."
Bruce, finally assured that Leo hadn't breathed in any water, pulled his son in tight and held on. "I know you are," he said gruffly. "We'll talk about it at the house....." He then hugged Leo even tighter, before reaching over and pulling Jemma into the hug with them.
Bucky nodded at Lance's rather tame assessment. "It was. Thank you..." Bucky gave Lance a teasing grin. "I would have bet money it would be you or Tony that pulled such a stunt. So thank you for not doing that to me." His words were low enough none of the others, except perhaps Steve, could hear them. And he was busy with Tony.
Tony looked at Pepper and Steve seriously, before pulling both of them closer and hugging them. "You're ok...they're ok...I...I'm ok too!" He shuddered, before giving a nearly hysterical laugh. "I didn't lose it in the water...that's progress. Right?"
"Of course it is!" Pepper declared firmly, before kissing him soundly.
Leo wrapped his arms around his father and Jemma and held on tightly. He still felt guilty, but at least they were all safe... and his father and sister were with him.
Lance snorted and grinned at his father. "One of us was bound
to do something eventually. At least it turned out all right."
Steve hugged Tony tightly and kissed his head. "You did incredibly well. I'm so proud of you," he said, in a low voice.
Jemma snuggled closer to their father, maneuvering so she could grab onto Leo's hand and hold it tightly. "Well...now we know why Mr. Jarvis was so adamant about Tony not going in there when he was a kid."
"Yeah..." Bruce said softly, pressing a kiss to her and Leo's head before looking over toward his own father. "He got in the water to help us..." he said softly to his son. He hadn't been surprised that Steve had come for them; and he hadn't been surprised that Bucky was anchoring the rope so Steve could come after them. He had been surprised that his brother had gone into water over his head in an attempt to help also. He supposed he shouldn't have been. Tony, despite all his protests and act to make people think the contrary, often put others' welfare above his own. "Let's go let the rest of the family know you're ok. Make sure they're ok...." he finally said softly, gently directing his children toward Steve, Pepper and Tony. He nodded at Bucky with a grateful smile.
Bucky nodded at Lance. "It did turn out alright in the end. C'mon. Let's go see how the others are doing..." he finally said, as he noticed Bruce moving his kids toward Steve. Putting an arm around Lance's shoulder, he led his own son toward the small group.
"Thanks, daddy..." Tony whispered, pressing closer to his father. He reached toward Pepper and grabbed her hand in a firm grip, even as he kept it as gentle as possible.
Leo nodded, obediently going with his father over to see the rest of the family. He stayed close to his father and sister, trying to calm down from the fear that had threatened to overwhelm him.
Lance walked alongside his father, watching the other members of the family. At least Tony seemed to be feeling better.
Steve held Tony tightly, gently stroking his son's hair. "I love you."
Jemma squeezed Fitz's hand sympathetically. "Everyone is alright, Fitz...see?"
Her voice was soft, but Bruce still heard her. He turned toward his son, putting his arm around Fitz's shoulders and pulling him closer. "She's right. Everyone is alright now...."
Tony snuggled closer to Steve, pulling Pepper closer as well, so she'd be included in his hug. "I love you too...both of you...so much." His voice shook slightly for a second, before he regained control of it. "All of you, really...." he finally said, while glancing around at the rest of the family.
"We love you too, kid." Bucky's smirk was affectionate.
Leo nodded, relaxing as he could see, with his own eyes that they were all right.
Lance grinned at Tony. "Yeah. And at least we've had
the excitement for this holiday," he teased.
Steve held Tony and Pepper close and tight to him. He was calming down now that he could see his family was safe... but he was still very worried about Tony.
Bruce could see how his brother had been affected by the event and couldn't help but feel a slight bit of guilt, though he couldn't figure out why exactly. Wincing slightly, he ran a hand through his soggy hair and sighed. "Maybe we should go back to the house now...get washed off and dry and maybe eat something."
Bucky nodded at his nephew. "Sounds like a good plan to me. Lance and I will carry the supplies back...."
"I'll grab whatever they can't carry..." Jemma chimed in, moving to grab loose bags and blankets that weren't being used.
Lance sorted the packs so that the wet towels that weren't being used were all in one pack together. He grabbed as much as he could carry and then waited to walk with his father.
Steve stood, drawing Tony and Pepper with him, and wrapped his arms around both of them. He worried for all of them... but he knew how badly Tony had been affected.
Bucky took the remainder of what Jemma and Lance couldn't carry then led the way as they trekked back to the house.
It was a sign of how shaken Tony was that he didn't even try and pull away from his father to walk on his own. While he had finally got over whatever hang-ups he'd had about being touched and hugged, often seeking out a hug from Pepper or his father, he really wasn't one to cling unless he was sick, wounded, or emotionally fragile. He didn't appear to be wounded; time would only tell if he'd get sick; so Pepper knew that it was his emotions that were making him feel unsettled and needy. Pressing closer to her father so that she could wrap her own arm around him...and put her hand on Tony's waist so that he knew she had him every bit as much as Steve did... Pepper began to walk as they followed Bucky back to the house.
Bruce motioned his children and Lance to go ahead of him, so that he could bring up the back of the line. He kept a close eye on everyone, ready to spring into action if someone showed signs of needing medical help. He regretted that a day that had started out so promising and full of happy expectation could have so quickly turned into near tragedy.
Lance stayed next to his father, scanning the surrounding area automatically... even if he knew they were safe now. It was hard to break long-term habits.
Steve walked after his brother and nephew, holding Tony and Pepper close and tight. He was still very concerned and kept casting worried glances at his son.
Leo walked quietly beside Jemma, still feeling guilty about what had happened.
Tony took a shuddering breath, turning his face into his father's side. "I...I think I'm ok, dad. Just really tired all of a sudden. And hungry." He chuckled slightly then looked up at Steve with a crooked grin. "I promise to tell you if I start feeling panicky, though; as long as I realize that's what is happening and have time to tell you..." He slanted his head. "Are you ok? You're the one that had to swim out of an underwater cave...."
Steve tightened his embrace a bit. "I was in less danger," he said honestly. "The serum would have enabled me to hold my breath longer, if need be." He relaxed, knowing that Tony was feeling better... but still resolved to keep an eye on his son. On both of his sons, really.
Tony nodded, not fighting his father's need to hold him so tightly. It made him feel good, too and they were well past the point of Tony trying to pretend he didn't need affection from anyone other than Pepper. That ship had sailed long ago. "I...I guess Hulk would have most likely helped Bruce." He could only hope that's what would happen anyway, if his brother was ever in a situation like that where he wasn't able to get out as quickly. "Leo, though...." He shuddered. Leo already had so many problems due to his dunking in the ocean. This couldn't have helped him with that at all.
Jemma had been close enough to hear Tony's words and shuddered herself, moving closer to Leo and taking his arm. She'd come entirely too close to losing her best friend to a watery grave, again, and now that the panic and adrenaline were wearing off, she felt very shaky and close to tears. "Don't...don't you ever..." She gulped back her words and blinked, afraid she would start bawling any moment. It wasn't like Leo wouldn't be able to understand what she'd been trying to say.
Steve nodded. "I think Hulk would have protected Bruce," he agreed. He had noticed that his other son hadn't actually Hulked out, which was a good thing... even though he intended to keep an eye on Bruce; as well as have the conversation with him he knew they needed to have. "I think your brother is going to keep an eye on Leo," he added, hoping to reassure Tony.
Leo looked at Jemma. "I... I'll be more careful," he promised, feeling even worse that he had so obviously worried so many of them.
"I know he is...but we gotta keep an eye on Brucie...for when he finally relaxes enough that the close call his son had finally hits." Tony gave his father a serious look.
"We will, Tony...all of us will..." Pepper promised.
Steve nodded. "We are going to," he agreed with Pepper. "Don't worry about Bruce... I'm there to catch him. Just like with you."
"Yeah...OK...good..." Tony smiled crookedly at his family. By that time, they had reached the house and everyone was heading to their rooms and showers to clean up and change. "I think I'm gonna take a shower and then lay down for a bit...alright?" Tony smiled at his father as they reached their room.
"I'll just stay with you..." Pepper declared.
"I'm going to talk to Bruce later, but I'll stay with you for a while as well," Steve said to his son. "I suspect Bucky will stay with Bruce when I'm not there." And vice versa.
Meanwhile, Bruce had walked Jemma and Leo to their rooms. "Why don't you get cleaned up, son...then I want to listen to your lungs...just to make sure."
Leo nodded, obediently heading towards his bathroom as he grabbed a change of clothes and his toiletries.
Bucky had headed toward his and Lance's rooms and immediately begun to clean himself up. However, as soon as he was done, he walked by Lance's door and knocked. "I am going to go check on Bruce, then make dinner for everyone...you want to help?"
Lance didn't take very long, just cleaning himself up (it had been hot and he was sweaty) and changing his clothes. He opened the door to his father. "Sounds good. I'm all ready to go."
"Great!" Bucky smiled and put an arm around his son's shoulders. It didn't take them long to make their way to Bruce's room. Bruce was exiting, holding a stethoscope, when they arrived. "We're going to make dinner for everyone," Bucky said. He was closely observing Bruce, while trying to look like he wasn't.
Bruce nodded. "I'm gonna double check on Leo...but if you wouldn't mind taking Jemma with you...?" he asked hesitantly.
"Of course..." Bucky agreed. Walking to Jemma's door, he knocked briskly. "Jemma? Sweetie? Why don't you come with Lance and me while your dad checks out Leo...."
Jemma opened the door and stepped out. "Ok, Uncle Bucky..." she answered and followed Lance.
Lance grinned at Jemma, even as he followed his father in the direction of the kitchen. "Feeling better now?" he asked, knowing she'd worried as much as they had... perhaps more, given the damage Leo had sustained already.
"I'll feel much better once dad says Leo has no bad side effects....but yes. I'm not as scared as I was..." Jemma admitted softly.
Bucky nodded. "I hear that..." he muttered something he'd heard Clint say a few times in the past to show understanding or agreement. He was pleased when it caused Jemma to blink then laugh slightly.
Bruce knocked on Leo's door, but barely waited for acknowledgement and invitation to enter before he was worriedly opening the door and slipping inside the room, his stethoscope and other possibly needed medical items clutched in his hands. "Let me make sure you're ok, son."
Leo had showered and dressed fairly quickly. Now, he sat on his bed and looked up at his father. "I don't think
there was any lasting damage..." But he didn't protest his father examining him.
Bruce's admonition of, "Humor me," was a soft whisper. It didn't take long for him to determine that Leo was correct in his self-assessment, though. Sitting down on the bed next to his son and letting out a deep breath of relief, Bruce finally asked, "Why? After all the warnings and admonitions not to.... Why
Leo hung his head, hunching his shoulders. "I didn't think," he admitted. "When Jemma idly wondered how far back in the cave the plant grew... I just did what's automatic. I didn't think of the danger until it was too late and I couldn't find my way out." His voice was soft... apologetic... filled with guilt.
"Not thinking before acting...that is such a common problem in this family..." Bruce shook his head, his relief at Leo's being okay slowly being replaced by frustration that his 'sensible' child had fallen prey to something that normally would have been Lance or Tony's problem. "You do realize that 'I didn't think' isn't an acceptable reason?" His voice was firm and more matter-of-fact than questioning if Leo understood something so obvious. He knew Leo knew. Even so, he waited for a response.
Leo nodded. "I know." He couldn't hold eye contact with his father. "I'm sorry, Dad. I let myself lose focus... and I know better. I shouldn't have been in there at all..."
Bruce nodded, allowing the fear he'd felt at Leo possibly being trapped underwater to bleed through. "No, you shouldn't have been.... When I think of what could have happened...."
Leo winced at how obviously his father had been affected. "I am sorry," he said softly. "I know it doesn't help..." He wanted to say that he knew his father couldn't let this go... but he couldn't quite bring himself to say that, even if he did know what was going to happen.
Bruce nodded. "I know you are," he said softly, his tone a little softer and a bit regretful. He hated this part of having taken responsibility for Leo. Patting his lap, he gave his son a sad look. "Let's get this over with, then."
Leo didn't have many problems accepting when he'd done something wrong. Taking a deep breath, he shifted closer to his father, moving, a little awkwardly, over Bruce's lap. He didn't repeat that he was sorry... he was certain his father would believe his actions more than repeated apologies.
For his part, Bruce didn't waste time reiterating what Leo had done wrong. His son knew and was sorry. The punishment was more to reinforce Leo's realizations, as well as help him get rid of the guilt he knew his son would be feeling. Pulling Leo in close and tight, so that he was secure and wouldn't fall, Bruce quickly tugged Leo's pants and underwear down. "I love you, son. I don't want to lose you- especially not to something completely avoidable." His words were soft and sincere. Waiting just long enough for the words to register, he lifted his hand and let it fall with a resounding smack on the center of Leo's backside. Lifting his hand, he let it fall a second time, then a third, continuing in swift, firm, precise smacks.
Leo jumped before he could help himself, startled by the first swat. It took only a few more for the first tears to begin blurring his eyes, the guilt triggering them to fall faster than they might have done. He reached down to grasp his father's ankle, struggling to stay still and accept what he knew he deserved.
Bruce was paying close attention to Leo's response, so he knew exactly when his son started crying. Steeling himself, he continued, despite wanting to immediately stop. Leo hadn't quite reached the point he needed. To quicken the needed response, Bruce reminded him why he was in this position with a simple question. "What will you do next time you want to research something that is in a dangerous area?"
Leo choked back a sob as he tried to force out the answer he knew his father wanted. "I... won't go. I'll talk... to you..." He couldn't hold back the second sob, knowing how much he'd hurt and worried his father.
"Good boy..." Bruce said softly. Tilting Leo forward slightly, he delivered ten swats to his son's sit spots; then, unable to force himself to continue, tugged Leo up into his arms. "It's all done. You've been punished and can move on now...you did good..." He hugged Leo tightly, his fear and love causing him to hold more tightly than normal. "I love you...."
Leo immediately clung to his father, pressing as close as he possibly could to Bruce. "I love you too. I'm sorry..." he said softly, part of him worried that his father wouldn't believe him... this wasn't the first time he'd acted without thinking and endangered himself.
"I know you are...but you've been punished and now it is time to move on." Bruce tried to soothe his son and show him that he believed him.
It took a little while, but Leo finally managed to calm down, though he still hugged his father, feeling a bit needier than he normally did.
Bruce hugged his son tightly one last time, before kissing him on the top of the head. "I want you to eat something..." he finally said, in a caring but firm voice. "...And drink some water. You need to keep your strength up to make certain you don't have complications. And then I want you to rest."
Leo nodded, slowly loosening his arms from around his father. He slipped off Bruce's lap and replaced his clothing. "I will." He gave his father another tight hug. "I love you, dad."
Bruce reached over and squeezed his son's shoulder gently. "I love you too, son."
By this time, Bucky had got all the ingredients necessary for various sandwiches prepared. Whenever the rest of the family felt ready, they could come down and make their lunch. He'd noticed the way Pepper and Tony were looking at each other and he suspected they'd be showing up later than everyone else.
Turning to Lance and Jemma, he nodded at the food. "Make a plate and join me on the porch..."
Lance made himself a plate of sandwiches and headed out to the porch after his father, settling down with a cold beer.
It wasn't long before Steve headed to the kitchen, giving his son and daughter some space and trusting that one or the other would let him know if he was needed. He made up his own plate of sandwiches, grabbed a drink and joined them on the porch.
Jemma was quiet. Not to say she wasn't friendly, but she had been very worried for Fitz. And when they were in the cave, she was also worried for her father and grandfather. All that worry had made her withdrawn and pensive. So she ate quietly, sitting next to her Great Uncle and cousin. When Steve had arrived, she'd quickly shifted next to him...almost as if seeking proof he was ok.
Steve wrapped an arm around Jemma's shoulders, noticing that she was quiet. "You okay?" he asked her softly, his voice worried and affectionate.
"Yeah..." Jemma smiled up at her grandfather. "Just...coming so close to something bad happening to you all...scared me horribly and now the adrenaline is gone and I feel drained...."
Steve nodded in understanding, squeezing her gently. "I think we all might feel a bit like that," he agreed. "We'll take it easy for the rest of the day."
"I like the sound of that a lot..." Jemma murmured, looking at her sandwich and knowing she needed to eat it- her father would ask if she'd eaten when he came down- but her appetite was gone. Sighing, she lifted the food to her mouth and took a bite, mechanically chewing and swallowing, even as she leaned against Steve.
At that moment, Bruce came downstairs, an arm around Leo's shoulders. He gently led his son into the kitchen, where the other three had congregated, and nodded toward the counter. "Go on and make yourself a sandwich...and grab some water or juice," he directed; probably unnecessarily, since Leo was already heading that direction. He looked toward his daughter and father, noting how snugly Jemma was pressed against Steve. "Everything is ok, sweetie. I checked his lungs and there is no residual water, so I think we are out of the woods." Jemma's look of utter relief caused him to smile crookedly and reach over to ruffle her hair. Turning toward his father, he asked, "Is Tony alright? I know he didn't go into the cave, but he was swimming in water over his head...." His voice was slightly worried; only slightly, because he knew if his brother had any medical risk, Steve would have called for him immediately.
Leo nodded and obediently went over to the food, making himself a sandwich and pouring a glass of juice before he headed to join the others.
Steve smiled at Bruce, even as he kept his arm around Jemma. "Tony still seems a little emotional, but I don't think there's anything medically wrong with him... and he was talking normally just before I left. I'm giving them some privacy, but Pepper said she'll come and get me if something does happen." He left unspoken the words, 'If Tony doesn't,' but he knew how stubborn his other son could be.
Bruce nodded at Steve's words. He, too, knew how stubborn Tony could be. Pepper would, more than likely, be the one to alert them to any problems. He made a mental note to keep an eye on her when they came down, so he would know if something was wrong.
"Are you ok?" he finally asked his father. He really hadn't expected anyone to follow him in his bid to retrieve Leo. It had ended up being very good that Steve had followed; he wasn't certain Hulk wouldn't have made an appearance if he'd not had his father's help.
Steve nodded, balancing his plate on his lap so that he could use his other hand to place on Bruce's shoulder, squeezing gently. "I was worried about both of you." There was a very soft note of admonishment in his voice. After all, Bruce had gone in after Leo without informing any of them he was doing so... or pausing to figure out how he was going to get out again.
Bruce blinked, catching the tone immediately. He had to force himself not to look around like a guilty school boy to see if the others 'heard' the tone or not. Swallowing, he looked into Steve's eyes, then nodded and said softly, "I apologize...I should have....handled things differently?" He frowned, suddenly realizing he wasn't sure what he was apologizing for. It wasn't like he wouldn't
go in to save his son...and he knew that wasn't what Steve was admonishing him for. But he couldn't quite work out where he had gone wrong, either. He gave Steve a sideways glance, hoping to figure it out by the other man's words or actions.
"We'll talk after we've eaten," Steve said softly, squeezing his son's shoulder. He knew that Bruce was confused about what he'd done wrong, but he didn't want to scold him in front of the others if he could help it.
Bruce nodded briskly, smiling slightly before going to make his own sandwich. He was grateful Steve was keeping it as private as possible; not that he expected any differently. He sat down and found himself finally relaxing, now that he was certain of everyone's health. Even the potential repercussions for actions he was having difficulty figuring out where he went wrong didn't cause him to become tense.
"What's for dinner?" Tony's voice carried around the terrace. He was stood next to Pepper, his arm around her waist, a big smile on his face.
Lance swallowed a mouthful of food and grinned at his cousin, waving a hand at the food his father had put out. "Sandwiches."
Leo walked over to sit on the other side of Jemma, nudging shoulders with her, though he didn't say anything.
"Huh....just what I wanted. I think..." Tony grinned again and walked over to begin making sandwiches for both him and Pepper, motioning her to go find a seat.
Pepper smiled at Tony, then went and sat down next to Bruce. "Everything is ok?" she whispered.
"Everything is more than ok." He smiled back and finished his sandwich...eyeing the ingredient table as if debating making a second sandwich.
Noticing the way his other son was eyeing the ingredient table, Steve, having finished his sandwich, gently released Jemma and stood, walking over to help himself to a second sandwich... just so that Bruce wouldn't feel awkward about going up for seconds.
Leo finished his sandwich and juice, then settled back in his chair with a mild yawn, feeling the day's events catching up to him.
Bruce took the opportunity to walk up next to his father and begin making another sandwich. "I've told Leo I want him to get more rest after we finish eating...if you want to talk to me, I'm sure we can find an unoccupied part of the house...." His voice was soft, not giving any hint of nerves; although it was apologetic...and still slightly confused.
Steve nodded, gently wrapping an arm around Bruce's shoulders and squeezing gently. "We'll finish eating and then we can talk." He pressed a kiss to the side of his son's head. He loved Bruce just as much as Tony... even if his other son didn't always acknowledge that part of their relationship.
Bruce relaxed in Steve's grip. He didn't often lean on Steve so directly as a 'son'. It wasn't that he felt no need of a father...but unlike Tony, his response to the abusive man who had spawned him was to become self-reliant and never depend on another man for guidance or a father's affection. Tony had had Edwin Jarvis in his life, so he'd never quite developed the loner stance Bruce had.
Bruce hadn't quite related to Steve so closely, even though he admired the older man and welcomed his advice; and it was pretty much a given that if Steve thought he'd done something wrong, Bruce would accept whatever Steve decided.
The show of affection didn't surprise him...but he was surprised. What surprised him was the sudden feeling of connection and almost submissive need to please that he suddenly felt. If Tony felt this way anytime he did something to gain Steve's 'attention', Bruce could understand how his normally argumentative brother never seemed to win any arguments against Steve when the Captain truly felt he was in the right.
Shaking his head mutely, he snorted at himself, finished making the sandwich and went to sit back down.
Steve watched Bruce a moment or two then finished making his own sandwich before he reclaimed his own seat. He ate in a more relaxed way, happy to have his family so close to him... where he knew they were safe.
Lance finished his own food and stood up with his plate to go and clean up. "Want to play some cards, Dad?" he asked his father.
"Yeah, I think I would." Bucky grinned. "Anyone else want to play? Jemma? Pepper? Tony or Leo?"
Jemma shook her head and couldn't help but yawn into her hand. "I think I am going to go lay down and read for a bit. Possibly make an early night of it...." She didn't answer for Leo, but the look she gave him indicated she thought he should do the same.
Pepper looked at Tony and then, after some unspoken language between the two of them, nodded at Lance and Bucky. "Tony and I would like to play."
"Maybe later," Leo said. "I think I'll go and get some rest." He stood up to clean his plate.
Lance swiped the plate from Leo and also from Jemma. "I'll take care of these. You two worry about getting some rest." He headed back to clean the other plates up.
"I'll join you for a game in a while, if you're still playing," Steve said neutrally, as he went to clean his plate.
"I might join you later as well." Bruce quickly cleaned his plate so he could walk Jemma and Leo back to their rooms and say goodnight. He had no clue where Steve might want to talk to him, but had no doubt the other man would find him.
"So what game were you thinking of?" Tony asked Lance, as he began putting leftover food into containers for storage.
Lance shrugged. "I was thinking more of something like poker... but I'm open to other suggestions..."
"Poker? I just met her!" Tony blurted, with an impish grin.
Pepper groaned. "Toooony!"
Lance snorted and finished cleaning the plates. "Surely you can do better than that," he teased his cousin, before heading out of the kitchen and to the common room.
Tony wrapped an arm around Pepper and followed Lance. He wasn't surprised that Bucky followed behind.
Lance settled himself in the common room, after grabbing the deck of cards, and began dealing for them all.
Steve quietly moved to where he could wait for Bruce to be finished settling his children down, without encroaching on their privacy.
Bruce walked his children to their doors, giving each one a hug and a kiss on top of their head. "If you need me, for anything, I want you to come get me," he directed each of them.
Leo nodded. "I will... Night, Dad." He gave his father a tight hug.
Bruce smiled. "Good night, kids..." he said softly, watching as they both disappeared into their rooms. Once they were in their rooms, doors shut, he turned and gave Steve a questioning look.
Steve wrapped an arm around Bruce's shoulders and steered him in the direction of the rooms that were a bit further away. "I'm not sure you understand what you did wrong today, son," he said gently. "You were right to go after Leo... but you shouldn't have done that without formulating a plan to get both of you out. Or even asking one of us for help."
Bruce winced at the words. He knew his father was right, but it was hard to admit. Especially when the reason he hadn't done either was a reason he'd punished Leo. Sighing, he looked down, before looking up at Steve. "All I cared about was getting to Leo. I admit I didn't stop to make a plan; I didn't think I had time. But you're right...I should have let you all know what I was doing at least. I..." His face turned sheepish, knowing this wasn't an excuse. "...I didn't think of it. In fact, until you just mentioned it now...I didn't think of it as a problem."
Steve nodded, heading into one of the empty rooms and guiding Bruce over to sit on the bed with him. "I can tell. As much as I know you panicked... getting yourself stuck in the cave as well could have meant you were both trapped in there. Even just a moment to figure out a plan would have been best." As it was, Steve had come so close to panicking himself.
Bruce nodded. "It would have.... It's what I would have expected Leo and Jemma to do...the fact I didn't...and didn't even think of it as a problem...I don't know what to say about it. I guess I've gotten so used to Hulk taking over whenever I'm in danger, I stopped thinking about my own safety. I'm sorry..." His tone was fully apologetic. He may have been confused before talking with Steve, not realizing exactly why he was in trouble, even if it was obvious he was, but now he understood.
Steve still had his arm around Bruce and he squeezed his son gently. "You're my son as much as Tony is. I don't want anything to happen to you. I love you." He pressed a kiss to the side of Bruce's head.
"I...I know." Bruce swallowed. "I know...even if I don't act like it makes any difference, it means a lot.... It does make a difference," Bruce admitted hesitantly. "I hope you know that...." He looked down, almost bashfully. "I love you too."
Steve tightened his arm around Bruce, gently threading his fingers through his son's hair, even as he wondered if adopting Bruce legally would help his other son feel more settled, too. It didn't make a difference to Steve... but he knew how much better Tony had felt once the adoption was official. Right now, though... "We need to talk about how to handle this," he said, his voice gentle but firm. With any of the others, there would be no question... but Steve wasn't sure whether Hulk would erupt to protect Bruce.
"I..." Bruce slumped, sighing softly. "I can't believe I'm admitting this...but the other guy...you don't have anything to worry about from him. If...if you think you need to...spank
me..." He winced just saying the word. "...Then I'm fairly certain he won't do anything about it. He trusts you as much as I do...." He snorted slightly. "He didn't come out in the cave when I was at a great deal more risk, so...." Bruce wondered sometimes what criteria his alter-ego used. It was almost always when he was in danger of some sort, or extremely upset because danger was imminent... but then sometimes, it was as if the big, hulking, green creature knew that things were under control, even if Bruce didn't, and he'd just choose to stay hidden. He was ninety-nine point nine percent certain that he was correct about the Hulk letting Steve do whatever Steve felt was necessary, though. Especially now that Bruce had acknowledged it was a mistake and was feeling guilty
Steve nodded, pressing another kiss to the side of Bruce's head. "I trust your judgement, son," he said gently. "I love you... and the thought of losing you is one that scares me. I know you do think about your safety the majority of the time... when you don't, that's when I'll be here to catch you." He held his son close a few more moments and then gently moved Bruce over his lap, holding him close with an arm wrapped around his waist.
Bruce didn't fight the position- only fidgeting enough to feel more comfortable and less like he was going to slide off his father's lap and onto his head. Steve's grip was strong and did a lot to ease his unease
. Still, this wasn't a position that he was overly familiar with and he was embarrassed to have earned himself such a reprimand. He could feel himself blushing.
Steve took a moment or two to rub Bruce's back, aware of how unsettled his son was, before baring him. "I know you were scared for Leo, but you have to be prepared to take care of your safety as well. We would be just as devastated if something happened to you."
Bruce grimaced. "I....I know emotionally that is true and I really hate that I scared you so badly and feel really guilty about the bad example I set..." He took a deep breath and finished speaking in a rush. "...But mentally, I have a hard time seeing it as putting myself at risk...Hulk wouldn't let anything happen to me...I guess it is hard not to feel invincible in the face of that."
"I know that you're not in the same kind of danger as Leo would be," Steve said. "But it's a similar situation to the one Bucky and I have. We can do things the others might not be able to... but just because we can doesn't mean we should. Partly it's about setting a good example... partly, though, it's about making sure we don't put ourselves at risk of being taken away from those we're responsible for." Lifting his hand, he brought it down in the first sharp swat.
Bruce couldn't help the tiny grunt of discomfort as the first swat fell. He thought on what Steve was saying, although with his attention more on what was about to happen to his backside, he wasn't as quick on the uptake as he normally would have been. Finally, he had to ask, "You mean there are other ways you're afraid I can be taken away from you that don't involve my being hurt?" His voice was slightly strained and confused.
"You could be trapped somewhere," Steve said, each swat used as an emphasis for his words. "Or be emotionally distant... there are many ways I could lose you. I can't keep you safe all the time, even though I'd like to, but there are
ways you can keep yourself safe."
Bruce blinked at that. Wincing, the swats were definitely doing their job, he swallowed and hesitantly said, "But I...I don't think the other guy would let me be trapped and I don't think I'd choose to be emotionally distant...." He was reluctant to voice what he thought might sound like arguing, he didn't mean to argue, but he was still confused...although he was becoming less so the longer the punishment went on. He couldn't help but squirm a bit as the heat on his backside grew stronger.
"It's not always a choice you willingly make," Steve said, his voice gentle and a stark contrast to the slightly sharper swats he was delivering. "I know Hulk can break out of most places... but there are things that can hold even him. And I don't think any of us know how long he could hold his breath for." Or even if Hulk would understand it was necessary.
Bruce opened his mouth to question that assertion, but suddenly realized he had no argument against it...and he knew his father was right. And as he realized Steve was right and the confusion finally turned to understanding, the guilt that had been toying with him hit full force. "I'm sorry, dad...." he finally forced out of clenched teeth. His eyes were tightly closed as well, as he attempted not to begin crying. It wasn't easy; the onslaught of guilty emotion, combined with the rapidly growing pain from the spanking, made it very difficult not to break down sobbing.
"I know, son," Steve said, his voice still just as gentle... even as he shifted Bruce forward to begin swatting his sit spots, going a bit harder and faster now. "Losing you would be devastating. I love you too much to let that happen."
Bruce inhaled deeply as his father targeted where he would feel it most after the spanking stopped. Holding his breath, he listened to Steve's words. Finally, giving a quivery whimper, he went limp over his father's knee. "I'm sorry....I love you too! I'm so sorry...," he half sobbed, half choked out as he exhaled.
Steve stopped, the spanking having done what it needed to, and he gently tugged Bruce into his arms, hugging his son tightly as he gently stroked his hair. "I'm glad I have you safe here with me," he whispered.
Bruce never had difficulty in offering his son comfort after a punishment; it was a bit more difficult accepting comfort himself, though. He felt like he should be able to handle himself better and not need it, especially since he'd deserved what he'd got. As a result, he couldn't help but stiffen slightly as Steve tugged him in to be held and hugged. He stiffened, but he didn't pull away...in fact, letting his head briefly fell onto his father's shoulder before he attempted to straighten up again. "I...I'm glad to be safe with you..." Bruce said softly.
And he was. He couldn't imagine the Hulk staying buried if anyone else had even attempted to take him in hand the way Steve had. It was completely because he was safe.
Steve didn't force Bruce into the embrace, but he kept his arms around his son as he pressed an affectionate kiss to his forehead. "There's nothing wrong with accepting comfort, son," he said softly, wanting Bruce to feel comfortable enough to let Steve take care of him.
"I know..." Bruce gave Steve a chagrined smile. "I just..." Sighing, he stood up and fixed his clothing, then stood awkwardly, staring at his father, before hesitantly leaning over and wrapping Steve in a hug. "I do love you...even if...." His voice was sheepish.
Steve instantly wrapped his arms around Bruce in another tight hug. "I love you," he said, his voice soft and reassuring. "No matter what... that will never change. You're my son, even if you don't always acknowledge it the same way Tony does."
Bruce relaxed at hearing his father's understanding. And as he did do, he realized that it wasn't the hug that had made him uncomfortable; it was sitting on Steve's lap that had made him feel unsettled...he wasn't entirely sure why (considering he held Leo on his lap, it wasn't just because of having an aversion to lap sitting). He supposed it didn't matter; what did matter was his father understood and was doing his best to meet Bruce on his terms and comfort level. He truly was a lucky man, he pondered, even as he shifted closer and held on more tightly.
Steve tightened his own embrace, happy that Bruce seemed more comfortable in this way. He kissed the top of his head then spoke with a note of wry humour in his voice. "At least Tony had rope close by we could use." Almost absently, he stroked over his son's hair and back.
Bruce couldn't help but chuckle at that. "I should ask him if he was ever in the Scouts. He always seems prepared for the most random situations..."
"It's a good job he was prepared," Steve commented. "Otherwise things might have gone badly wrong."
Bruce nodded, his smile going somber. "I know...Dad...if you even felt half as scared as I did when I realized Leo was in there..." He shook his head. "...I am so sorry for putting you through that...."
Steve hugged Bruce a bit tighter. "You're safe now and that's what's important," he said gently. "We don't need to talk about it any longer."
Bruce swallowed but didn't argue, instead nodding his head. "Ok....I...I guess we can go down and join the others?" His voice was hesitant, not sure if Steve had anything else he wanted to say. He noticeably didn't pull out of the hug.
"We can join them whenever you're ready," Steve replied. "If you'd like to stay here a bit longer... we can do that as well."
Bruce nodded, staying in place a few moments more before finally pulling back and smiling. "Let's go join them, then...." He turned to walk back to where everyone else would be. He kept within reach of his father, though.
Steve smiled and walked next to Bruce as they headed through to the common room to join the others.
Tony looked up at his brother, a knowing look in his eye. He didn't make a comment, though, other than to announce, "We're playing Seven Card Stud...want in?"
Bruce glanced at Steve then smiled. "Yeah....deal us in."