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-eighth in the Redeeming Grant series.
Disclaimer: We don't own anything that belongs to MARVEL and we're not making any money from this fic
Summary: Grant finds out something, Bobbi finds out something, and someone else finds out something too. It all leads to a lot of ‘something’.
Warning(s): Spanking; spoilers for Agents of SHIELD Seasons one and two; spoilers for all Avengers movies to date; spoilers for DareDevil season one. Mentions of violence.
Co-Author’s Website:BlackFox12's fanfiction.net page
Although the family tended to try to eat together most dinner times, it had been a while since they could join each other for breakfast. This was one of those exceptions, though. Everyone had gathered in the dining room.
Steve cleared his throat, glancing around at his family members. "I heard from Sam... he said he plans to come and help us with the move back to the tower."
Tony grinned at his father. "Rhodey said he'd be able to help, too. The security system is being installed this afternoon, so we could probably move in tonight, if everyone wanted. Or tomorrow. The new configurations for the floors took into account our family situations, by the way. Each family has at least two floors that cannot be accessed except through one main 'front door' for their unit. Like a regular apartment, really. Except they all connect to the family elevator instead of the public one. The common floor is the only one connecting to the public elevator, so if you want to order in pizza or something, you'll have to go there to pick it up." He grinned.
Pepper rolled her eyes in amusement. "What Tony didn't tell you is that there are three 'common' floors that have labs, recreational rooms and gyms; and a large kitchen and dining area. And then several guest floors in case Sam, Rhodey, Eric Selvig, or anyone else wants to come visit. He pretty much added floors to the building, since so much had to be repaired."
Tony blushed. "Yeah, well, the family keeps growing and I just wanted to make sure there was enough room to expand."
The look Tony gave Pepper could only be described as sappy and the way he glanced toward her stomach made Bruce wonder if they didn't have plans to expand on their own, but he didn't say anything.
Grant smiled at his cousin, before glancing toward his dad. "I'm game for moving tonight...."
Coulson smiled at his youngest son. "As cozy as the mansion is, in the tower, there's space if someone needs to be alone for whatever reason." As much as he liked having his children close, he knew each of them were independent... no matter that said independence left when they were in trouble or feeling emotionally vulnerable.
"That's a good idea," Steve said, smiling fondly at his son and daughter. "If we're agreed on moving tonight, I'll let Sam know the details... if you want to tell Rhodey, Tony?"
"On it, dad..." Tony grinned at Steve, pulling his phone out of his pocket and hitting the number on speed dial that connected him to his oldest best friend. "Hey...Rhodey... yeah, are you free tonight?" Tony wandered over to a quiet corner, so he could talk without disturbing everyone else.
Clint grinned crookedly. "Well, I'd say we better get packing so that we're ready to move tonight; except that Tony has been so excited about what's been going on in the tower that he kept us updated enough that I've been packing the last two weeks and now have nothing left to do." He laughed. "So if there is any research or anything that you'd like me to do so that we'll be ready for our next op, I can take care of that." He smiled at his father.
Brock snorted. "I'm in the same boat. I finished packing yesterday...."
"I did, too." Kara smiled. "But that's because I promised Jemma I'd help her pack up the experiments they were working on, so that she can continue them at the tower and not have to commute to the mansion to finish them up...."
Bobbi grinned. "I'll help you and Jemma, then."
"So...Clint, Brock, me... and anyone else who finished ahead of schedule can either help the girls pack up experiments... or do research to find our next target?" Trip glanced from his father, to Phil, to Steve and back again to see if there was something else the three in charge would rather have them do.
"I've got a few bits left to pack, but that won't take me long." Even though she was in a much more settled family environment, Skye couldn't get out of the habit of packing up ready to be taken away at a moment's notice.
"I'm going to be packing up experiments as well," Leo said. Despite knowing this was temporary, it was hard to time all the experiments they had running to finish at the right time.
"There's a bit of intel to go through," Fury said. "A potential lead on a HYDRA agent who might know more about the children taken."
A slightly darker look came over Coulson's face. For all that staying calm and patient was something he was known for... it was hard to be reminded of losing his baby son. Although he loved the man Grant had become more than anything, those lost years were still a wound that hadn't fully healed. If he could stop any other parent from going through that pain... he'd do anything.
"Pop has us all packed up and ready." Pietro indicated himself and Wanda. "So we can help with anything.
"Same here," Natasha said.
"I will be helping my children in packing up experiments..." Bruce smiled, clasping his father on the shoulder before sitting down to finish his lunch. "...But before then, I suggest they eat their lunch." He eyed Jemma and Leo sternly.
Jemma swallowed and nodded, quickly sitting back down to eat her half-touched meal. She noticed that Bobbi and Kara sat down to eat as well, giving each of their fathers sheepish looks as they did so. 'No one can say that the parents haven't trained their children....' she thought with amusement.
"Right! So Rhodey will be here later this afternoon to help us move everything and then he said he'd stay for supper and some time to relax with everyone, if that's all right?" Tony glanced around the room, not really expecting any objections.
Pepper pulled him down to sit and eat. "That sounds good, Honey... now eat something...."
Tony nodded, stuffing a bit of food into his mouth, before commenting, "I'll help with the research...."
Grant planned to help with the research also. Anytime he thought about what had been done to him, it made him angry. Angry and scared. Scared because he knew there were other kids out there like him who hadn't had a father who was in a position to save them. Whose parents probably thought them dead and spent their time mourning their loss, instead of looking for them. It was hard to think of the fact that it could have been him in that situation, if his father wasn't who he was. And his sister, or at least the girl he'd grown up believing was his sister, had disappeared a few years after Garrett had taken him...and he hadn't been able to find any clues to her whereabouts. He was afraid that maybe she had been one of those children as well. Would he run into her on opposite sides of an Op one day? He frowned and stabbed his food with his fork with a little more vehemence than was needed.
Steve nodded. "I'll pass that on to Sam, too. I'm sure he'd like to stay and relax." They hadn't had many chances to see the extended members of their family. He kept an eye on Tony and Pepper, wanting to make sure both of them ate a sensible amount.
Coulson might have been bothered by his own memories, but he could tell that Grant was upset... as upset as he himself was. He placed a hand on Grant's shoulder, squeezing gently, making no attempt to hide his concern.
Pepper made certain to eat at least a serving of everything, though she kept the servings small. She didn't tend to need as much fuel, since she wasn't as active as most of the rest of them. She smiled at her father. "Sam is welcome to move in, as far as I'm concerned. I know he's a 'big bad' ex-military type...but he does not live in a good part of town...."
Tony nodded, swallowing a mouthful of eggs before agreeing. "Yeah. Only reason Rhodey hasn't moved in, despite my invitation to do so, is his job takes him across the globe and into communal living so much that he wants a space that is just his when he is home. His words."
Grant smiled at his father, leaning toward him but not saying anything. Sometimes it was just enough to be with your loved ones.
Steve nodded. "I'm sure he'd take you up on that offer." He was worried about where Sam lived. Although his friend could take care of himself, it was hard to be constantly worried about one of the people he was closest to.
Coulson didn't say anything either, choosing to let Grant speak if he wanted to. He rubbed his son's shoulder gently.
"Well, I think the offer should come from Pepper, then." Tony grinned. "She has ways of convincing stubborn men that I don't even hope to emulate." He laughed softly.
Steve smiled, resting a hand on Tony's shoulder gently. "At least the amount of room won't be a problem."
"Nope!" Tony popped the 'p' playfully. "I wanted to make sure we had plenty of room to expand."
"I'll send a message to Sam after we've eaten," Steve said. He hugged Tony a moment and then turned back to his food.
Tony grinned, hugging his father back before taking another bite of food. He didn't tend to eat much, either, but that was more due to his getting distracted than because he wasn't hungry. With Steve watching, he didn't want to worry the other man by not eating.
"Think I'll end up with anymore brothers or sisters?" Grant teased his father gently.
Coulson pressed a kiss to Grant's head. "It's not outside the realm of possibility," he replied, smiling.
Grant couldn't help but laugh. "Should we start calling you 'old father Hubbard'?" he teased further.
"Why don't you wait and see if you do get any more siblings?" Coulson suggested.
"But...where's the fun in that?" Grant asked his father with wide, innocent eyes.
Coulson smiled and allowed himself to hug his youngest son for a few more moments. He loved all of his children equally... but he'd missed out on so much, with all of them really. Having each of them close helped... he knew subconsciously they were safe. "I think we should be worried about one of your uncles catching up," he teased.
Grant glanced around the room, before giving his father an impish smile. "Uncle Bucky is due for at least two more if he wants to break even with Uncle Steve or Uncle Nick...."
Bucky looked up from his breakfast, wide-eyed. "You two better not be plotting!" he growled with a grin.
Coulson smiled at Bucky, somehow managing to pull off 'innocent' better than his kids. "We were just... discussing." He finished his own food and sat back, looking fondly at his children.
"Uh huh..." Bucky didn't look convinced, but didn't say anything else as he finished his breakfast and then sat back, glancing at his own son. "What do you want to do, Lance? Help do research or go out and practice?"
"I'd like to go out and practice." Lance shrugged. "Sounds like there's enough people going to do research." And he always liked spending time training with his dad.
"Yeah...I think any more researchers and we'll start getting in each other's way..." Bucky agreed.
As the food was being finished, Pietro stood to clear the table... partly because everyone else was still seated, which meant he could go fast and not knock into anyone.
Clint smiled at his son. "I think we're pretty much packed as well...if anyone wants to spend the day outside shooting targets and just relaxing? For those that aren't researching, anyway."
Pietro returned to the table in time to hear his father's comments and quickly nodded. "Sounds good to me." He poked Wanda in the shoulder. "You joining us? Or the girls?"
Wanda shrugged. "I haven't decided yet."
"Want me to set up, Pop?" Pietro asked his dad.
"Sure thing, Speedy." Clint smiled at his son. He glanced toward Wanda and slanted his head. "So...do you want to practice with us, or do research, Sweetie?"
Wanda thought for maybe a second and then smiled at her dad. "I'd like to practise with you, Papa." She rarely passed up a chance to spend time with him.
"Great! I know you've been working really hard on learning to control your power. I think maybe we can practice you focusing on certain objects and 'holding'. The more you do it, the more used to it you can become and it won't drain you so badly, hopefully." Clint smiled at his daughter, wrapping an arm around her shoulders.
Wanda nodded, leaning into her father. "Sounds good," she agreed, knowing that she could rely on Clint helping her. She could control her powers well enough... not draining herself was a bit harder.
Pepper sighed softly as she finished up and stood. "Well, I wish I could practice or research with all of you, but I have a meeting I need to attend...and I should finish up some paperwork if I want to be able to join the rest of you when you move in tonight...." She looked wistfully around the table.
Pepper had done a bit better with not over-working since the vacation, but she hadn't improved nearly as much as Tony would have liked. He glanced at his father with a 'can you do something?' look on his face. He'd spent thirty minutes before they'd even come to breakfast trying to convince her that she really only needed to attend the meeting; the paperwork wasn't life or death and could wait one more day...and a lot of it could be done by various assistants.
Steve didn't need Tony's look, though he appreciated his son was worried. Standing up, he wrapped an arm around Pepper's waist, drawing her in close and kissing her cheek. "I'm sure the paperwork can be handled by someone else," he said softly to her. "We'd like you to be with us."
Pepper looked torn, her desire to be with her family warring with her very strong work ethic. The work ethic was winning, currently, but it was obvious she'd willingly do exactly what her father had suggested if her own boss had ordered it. Of course, since she was the boss.... "I really can't...there is a lot of paperwork...."
Tony, who had attempted to give her the order not to go in and failed, because she'd become so used to covering for him when she'd worked as his assistant that she tended to ignore any order from him that involved 'slacking off', sighed softly.
Steve wrapped both of his arms around Pepper, effectively trapping her in an embrace. "Leave the paperwork. It can be done later, or you can delegate it to someone else. No one is going to blame you for taking the time to spend with your family. We don't see enough of you as it is with the meetings... you don't want us to miss you even more, do you?"
Pepper bit her lip and looked up at her father as she tentatively wrapped her arms around his waist; looking closely to see if what he was telling her was as good as an order, or if he was just giving her an out if she was looking for an excuse. If he was just giving her an out or an excuse, she didn't feel right just taking off after the meeting; but if it was an order...well, she'd always been taught to respect those in authority over her and to be honest, Steve was about the only one in her life that counted for that. Well, possibly Nick...it was damned difficult to disobey anything that man said, even if he didn't have any authority over her (she'd never admit it, of course).
Steve's embrace was gentle, but the look on his face was serious as he held his daughter. "I'm not happy with the way you over-exert yourself," he said softly to her. "We've already sat down and talked about not pushing yourself... if I have to make it an official order, I will. I love you. I don't want you pushing yourself too hard."
Giving a tiny nod to indicate she'd heard him and understood, Pepper smiled crookedly. "I guess I'll see you all after my meeting is over...hopefully by lunch." She gave her father a tight squeeze, then glanced over at Tony and, noting his happy and relieved look, gave him a tiny smile, as well then mouthed 'I love you' at him.
Tony gave his father a thankful look. It was a bit irritating, sometimes, that Steve could get his fiancé to do things where Tony couldn't convince her; but then again, he'd gone to great pains to make certain that everyone, including Pepper, viewed her as his equal in everything. He didn't want any snide comments behind their backs about her being a gold-digger, marrying 'above' her station... especially when he was convinced she was too good for him. Being equals made it difficult sometimes to convince her to do what he wanted, though, if she genuinely thought she had a responsibility to not do what he wanted. They still had a few things to work out, obviously. Luckily, Steve was in a position where she felt like she should listen to him, even if she didn't really want to...it at least gave them a fighting chance at changing her view on some things.
Bobbi slanted her head. "Well...if we hurry up and begin researching, maybe we'll have time to practice a little bit, too, after..." she said to Skye and Kara. "You ready to begin?"
Steve smiled at Tony and Pepper. "Thank you," he said to his daughter, hugging her tightly a moment before letting go of her, albeit reluctantly. He looked at Tony. "Any thoughts on what you'd like to do?"
Skye pulled a face. "I'll let you two join in with the practise." She was getting better at training... but it was still far from her favourite thing to do.
Pepper's smile softened as she realized how important this was to her family, not just her, and she nodded with a tiny blush. "Thank you..." she said softly, before moving to Tony and wrapping him up in a tight hug. "Don't forget you have a meeting with the shareholders tomorrow. I tried to get you out of it, but they refused to deal with just me, even though you made me CEO." She sighed.
Tony frowned. "They better not be giving you any problems..." he groused.
Pepper shook her head. "They just want to make sure I'm not doing things behind your back, or haven't performed a nefarious take-over." She sounded amused, if a bit irritated, that they still refused to view her as legitimately a part of Tony's life.
Bobbi grinned at Skye, taking one of her arms.
Kara took the other arm as the three of them walked to Skye's computer. "I think we could make practice fun, if you wanted." Her tone was teasing.
Steve watched his children fondly, a loving look on his face, before he started helping to clear away the rest of the plates to finish the cleanup.
Skye went along willingly with her two cousins. "In what way?" she asked curiously.
"By making it into a game..." Kara grinned. "Capture the flag comes to mind...."
"Oooooh! I like that idea!" Bobbi quickly agreed. "Maybe do girls vs. guys vs. parents or something similar? They'd outnumber us, so we could maybe get one of the guys on our side."
Skye looked interested. "Who should we get to be on our team?" She sat down at her computer, bringing up the intel she had as she waited for her cousins to take a seat either side.
Bobbi slanted her head thoughtfully. "We'd have us three plus Nat, Wanda, Pepper when she gets back and Jemma. Maybe Loki would join our team to make it eight on our side. Then it would be Grant, Lance, Leo, Brock, Mack, Tony, Trip and Pietro. Then the parents would be your mom, mine and Kara's dads, Clint, Steve, Bucky, Thor and Bruce. That would make eight on each side, if I haven't forgotten anyone...."
Skye nodded. "Sounds like it would be fun. I'm pretty sure no one got missed out." A lot more fun than most training sessions were. She brought up the intel and began going through it with Kara and Bobbi, turning more serious with this situation.
They'd all gone into their separate groups and Bobbi couldn't believe how quiet it was in the house with everyone else outside training. She grinned as her brother came into the room, chugging a bottle of water. "Hey... Is everyone taking a break?"
Grant smiled. "Clint decided he should start working on lunch, so that we could eat on time if we wanted to do the capture the flag exercise later. You all find out anything?"
Skye leaned back from the computer screen and sighed. "Bits and pieces... nothing completely concrete. It looks like this agent was involved in kidnappings in the past... but he's kept his nose clean, as far as going after kids, up until now."
"Up until now?" Grant moved closer, a worried look in his eyes. "He's done something to kids recently?"
Skye shifted so that he could look at the screen. "There's mention of a mission... it doesn't outright say what, but... well, you can see from what's hinted. It looks like they might be going after more kids."
"We need to find out more about this mission. See if we can find a location, or something where we can shut them down... Let's show our parents at lunch. See what they want to do," Grant said firmly. He had no doubt there would be an op soon, acting on Skye's information either to stop the taking of children or to get more in depth information.
Skye nodded. "I'll print out a few copies of the intel for them to look over." Even as she was speaking, she was printing off the pages.
Bobbi nodded. "Well, in that case, I suggest we break for lunch. We can give dad the information so he can discuss it with Uncles Nick, Steve and Bucky. Meanwhile, we'll do our exercise. Sometimes a bit of space helps one to see the objective more clearly...."
"Yes," Kara agreed. "Let's go help with lunch. Pepper should be home soon and we need to inform her she's on our team...." Her smile was impish.
"Don't we want to do the same with Wanda, Natasha and Jemma, too?" Skye smiled as she grabbed the paper from the printer, handing it to Bobbi. "Want to take it to Uncle Phil?" She didn't often use 'Uncle' out loud... and she couldn't quite prevent the smile that touched her lips at being able to use it and knowing she wouldn't ruin her chance at having a family.
"Well, yeah, but I specifically mentioned Pepper, because if we don't tell her immediately, Tony will want her on his team." Kara laughed, her tone melodious and happy.
Kara's time with her father had brought about a level of relaxed comfort that hadn't been present for a long time; even before she'd been taken by HYDRA, Bobbi noticed.
Skye's smile grew as she listened to Kara laugh. She hadn't known the woman before... but it was clear that being adopted was one of the best things that had happened to her. And her happiness was infectious. "You're right," she agreed. "One of us should tell Pepper first... or all of us." As she was talking, she held one of the printouts out to Grant, automatically assuming that he'd want to take a closer look.
Grant took the print-out, glancing at it as he took it to his father, who was in the kitchen with Clint. He frowned at one of the names on the list; it sounded familiar to him, but he couldn't figure out why. Deciding that maybe he'd just have to sit on that for a while and go back to it later (stressing about things normally did little except put the knowledge wanted further out of memory's grasp), he held the paper out to his father. "Hey, dad... Skye, Bobbi and Kara found some information that you, Uncle Nick, Uncle Steve and Uncle Bucky will most likely want to look at."
Coulson turned from where he was preparing the salad and took the printout from Grant with a warm smile. "Thank you for bringing it over... did you have any initial thoughts?" he asked, knowing that Grant's instincts were usually spot-on.
"Nothing that I can pin-point. But one of the names on the list sounds familiar to me. I just can't place why...." Grant frowned slightly then shrugged. "I'm hoping that if I just let it sit in the back of my mind for a bit, something might come forward."
Coulson nodded, placing a hand on Grant's shoulder and squeezing gently. "Come tell me if you think of anything." He stepped forward so he could kiss his son's forehead.
Pepper was frustrated. They had finished their meeting an hour before, as far as covering what needed covering...but the board members kept coming up with questions and concerns about the last agenda item that had already repeatedly been covered by her. Or, she should say, one member of the board was doing so. She wasn't certain if they had just not paid my attention the first time she'd covered it, which was severely disrespectful, or if the person in question was deliberately attempting to make her job difficult; which was a different level of disrespect. It was a newer member of the board; someone who looked familiar, though she wasn't sure why, since this particular meeting was the first time she'd ever seen him.
Finally, an hour late for lunch and exasperated after explaining the same item over for the third time (the other members were shooting him dirty looks as well, by this point), Pepper interrupted a rather long winded question that was just a repeat of the previous three questions. "I'm sorry, Mr. Stanislav, but I've answered this question several times already. It is explained in greater detail in the handout that you were given three days ago, prior to the meeting. If you do not understand my explanation or the handout, please write your questions and send them to me via email, so that I can have the appropriate individuals address your questions in a more in depth way; as long as it is not asking for trade secrets." Her smile was wholly friendly and shark like.
"I will see you gentlemen...and lady..." She nodded to the only other female on the board, "...at the scheduled meeting next month. Goodbye." With that, she stood up, grabbed her items and waited for everyone else to precede her out the door. It looked as if Zeke Stanislav was about to corner her again, but one of the older board members, who actually was an ally of hers, pulled the newest member out the door with him and began to 'explain' the answer for a fourth time; in as dumbed down a version as possible, indicating the older member's view of Stanislav's intelligence. The frustrated and insulted look on Stanislav's face almost made Pepper laugh. Served him right, trying to make her look like an idiot in front of her own board.
Quickly, she ducked down a side stairwell, quickly heading down to the garage while calling Happy to meet her there. She was late to meeting her family.
Pepper slumped back into the seat and closed her eyes, letting Happy navigate the city traffic. Then, eyes popping open, she pulled her phone out to call home. If Tony hadn't got involved in one of his projects and lost track of time, he'd be worried about her not showing up. She knew her father would be worried; as he seldom, if ever, lost track of time and would have noticed immediately that she hadn't come home at lunch like promised. Which meant Tony would be worried, because Steve wouldn't let Tony lose track of time, if it meant skipping a meal. She turned on her phone to make the call, only to immediately be greeted with the tiny machine ringing. Sighing, she clicked accept and put the phone to her ear. "Hi, daddy..." Her tone was apologetic, sheepish, frustrated and tired all at once. "I'm ok and Happy is brining me home...."
Steve's worry spiked when he realised that Pepper was late... and even though he didn't think anything had happened, he was still taking his phone out to call her without even thinking about it.
Thor helped himself to another plateful of food as he listened to the good-natured bantering around the table. There was plenty for them to eat, so he wasn't worried about curbing his appetite. "How does this capture the flag sport work?" He had heard it mentioned, but had yet to take part.
Tony was worried, too, though he hid it under a façade of nonchalance. "The board probably held her up. They like to try and assert themselves every so often, which is a real pain in the butt, but I'm sure she's ok. Happy would have called if there were any problems en route...." His voice was a bit strained, despite his nonchalant attitude.
Loki sat next to his brother and, as soon as the question was asked, added his own comment. "Yes, it sounds intriguing..."
"Well, in this situation, there'll be three teams... and each team has a flag at their base," Lance explained. "The idea is for the other teams to try and capture the opposing team's flag. We'd want to figure out any rules beforehand..."
Steve relaxed obviously when Pepper answered... then grew worried for a whole new reason. "What's wrong?" His voice was soft and filled with concern.
Bobbi grinned impishly. "Personally, I always liked the no rules version. Well, no rules except you can't hurt members of the opposite team; but that should go without saying...."
Kara slanted her head. "Shouldn't we have at least a few rules about 'prisoners', at least? I mean...what's to stop them all from just leaving their jail and heading back home the minute the jailer's back is turned?" Her eyes were wide and innocent, with a hint of mischief hidden in their depths.
Pepper found herself relaxing as she heard her father's voice. "Nothing is wrong, really...it was a pretty productive meeting, even if the board was difficult. I'm just worn down from having to deal with one member that seemed intent on acting as if I didn't know what I was talking about...since he pretty much repeated the same question over and over again, just in different wording; as if my answer would change each time. I think he was hoping I'd slip up and he could use that as an excuse to slander me to the other members." She sighed softly. "He looked familiar to me, but I can't figure out why.... Anyway...I should be home in the next fifteen minutes...." She smiled gently.
"We could always tie the prisoners up for a short period of time." The tone of her voice suggested Natasha was probably joking...
"I think you should take tomorrow off," Steve said softly, still very worried about his daughter. His voice didn't allow any room for argument... even though he was prepared for one from Pepper.
Trip looked as if he was actually considering it. "It's a good skill to have- being able to get out of being bound...."
Kara just shook her head, looking a slight bit spooked at the idea.
Tony didn't look any more fond of the idea than his young cousin.
Grant rolled his eyes. "We can have rules for the prisoners- no one can escape unless a team mate has come to free them. Beyond that the only rule I think we need to have in place is perhaps a time limit- for those that have a tendency to hide so that they aren't outside all night long and no one be able to find them- and the rule that the mansion is off limits."
"I...I think I will. I've been to the office every day for the last three weeks...I need a break...." she agreed more easily than she might have- the meeting had really worn her out. And the tone in her father's voice had given her pause enough that she realized he was right. "Of course that's going to make it more difficult to convince Tony to go in for the meeting he has to go to...."
Lance nodded. "Sounds good to me." He looked around at the rest of the table, seeing who had finished and who wasn't.
"What about abilities?" Wanda asked. "Can they be used?"
"I'll deal with Tony," Steve said, his voice firm. "You can't keep working yourself this hard." His voice was loving rather than scolding.
Tony began fixing up another plate. "I'll just make sure Pepper has something warm to eat when she finally gets home..." He glanced at his father, to assure himself that she was actually on the way.
Mack wrinkled his nose. "That seems a bit unfair advantage...since not everyone has abilities...then again, part of the reason for doing this exercise is to practice working together and learning how to get out of unusual circumstances...." He glanced toward the 'parents' in the group to see what they thought.
"Ok, daddy..." Pepper's voice was tiny in response to the firmness in his, but she sounded more grateful than upset.
Steve gave Tony a reassuring smile, mouthing, 'Fifteen minutes' to him, before he addressed his daughter. "I'll see you soon... I love you."
"Utilising every ability available is going to be important in real ops," Fury pointed out. "Besides... not everyone has supernatural abilities, but everyone here is well-trained and skilled in areas. There's no guarantee we won't end up facing someone else with supernatural abilities."
"We could have other exercises where there are handicaps," Coulson suggested. "But for today... no limits."
"Yay! No rules except for the prisoner rule and the staying out of the mansion rule!" Bobbi clapped her hands and bounced in place. "I am so taking you down!" She stuck her tongue out at her brothers. She almost stuck her tongue out at her father, but then thought better of it. Her dad had to have some tricks up his sleeve to get as far in SHIELD as he did... she didn't want to be eating her words with him later.
"I love you too, daddy...." Pepper's smile came through in her voice.
Tony grinned as he heard his father, going to get his fiancé a drink so that everything would be there for her and ready when she arrived.
Grant nodded. "This will be as much learning how to utilize our own abilities to their best as it will be overcoming someone else's abilities."
Steve hung up the phone after saying a soft farewell to his daughter, looking much more relaxed and relieved now that he knew Pepper was going to be home soon.
Coulson and Fury exchanged smiles at the obvious enthusiasm from the kids. It was nice to see them so relaxed for a change.
"I'm going to do a little more research until Pepper gets here and has a chance to eat and change," Bobbi said with a smile.
Kara grinned. "I'll help."
Coulson looked around at the other members of his family. "Would anyone like to play cards while we're waiting?" he asked, knowing they didn't all need to do research.
"Sure...we can play a quick game of SNAP..." Grant said then glanced around at everyone almost sheepishly, since he knew that was normally considered a 'child's' game.
Loki looked confused. "I do not believe I have ever heard of this SNAP...."
Trip grinned. "It's a very easy game... we pass out a deck of cards evenly between whoever is playing face down. Then we all turn one card face over at the same time. If any of the numbers match, you have to yell SNAP...the first one to yell it gets all the cards that have been turned over up to that point. The winner is the player who ends up with the most cards."
Grant's sheepish look turned into an impish grin. "OR...instead of yelling SNAP, we can play the 'killer' version... where you have to slap your hand down over the cards and the first person that covers them with their hand gets them."
Loki raised an eyebrow. "Would that not mean that any of the players who attempted to cover the card after the first player....would slap the first player's hand?"
"S'why it's called 'killer'." Grant's smile was downright questionable at this point.
Fury looked around the table and shrugged. "It sounds good to me," he said. "Either version."
"I'll play the killer version." Lance gave a shrug, not saying that he'd very few opportunities to 'be a kid' and play card games growing up... even if that was at the back of his mind.
Coulson's smile was warm. "Why don't we go through to the family room?"
Brock chuckled. "I'll play...although now I'm torn between winning the game or getting to lay the smack down on someone...."
"I think I'll just watch..." Bruce said dryly.
A few minutes later, most of them were playing the game. Tony made his way out to the porch to watch for Pepper's arrival. He'd not heard her voice, but if the way Steve had been talking to her was any indication, she'd not had an easy morning. He wondered sometimes if it had been fair to saddle her with the responsibility of running the company... but she handled it so much better than he ever had, it had seemed more fair to give her the title and official responsibility, since she'd pretty much run things behind the scenes anyway. She'd deserved the recognition. But before, if she needed a break, she'd taken one. Now...they needed to find someone to assist her that she would trust to leave in control occasionally. Someone who'd ease her responsibilities so that she didn't feel guilty taking her weekends or an occasional vacation. The company was doing well. They could afford to hire her an assistant. They could afford to hire her several assistants, really. Pepper needed to learn to delegate.
"Dad, Pepper and I need to have a family meeting regarding the company..." he finally said out loud to himself. Including his father in whatever plans for the company were made was instinctual; he couldn't imagine making any plans affecting his and Pepper's life without including Steve in the planning or decision making.
It was second nature to join his son to wait for Pepper. As much as Steve enjoyed spending time with the rest of the family, he could tell that his daughter was struggling right now. He came out onto the porch in time to hear Tony's comment and he stepped over to his son, placing a hand on Tony's shoulder and squeezing gently. "I've told her to take the day off tomorrow. After you finish your meeting, we can talk then."
Tony jerked in surprise at his father's voice then gave the other man an embarrassed smile. "Didn't hear you come out...." he admitted with a laugh. "And yeah. I...I want to run some ideas by her that will help- hopefully- and I'm going to need you to be there and let me know if I'm being too unreasonable or back me up if she thinks I am but I'm not. Yeah...if that made as much sense being said as it did in my head...."
Steve pressed a kiss to Tony's head. "I'll be there to support you, son," he promised. "And I understand what you mean. You're good at getting your point across." There was an obvious note of affection in his voice.
Tony smiled at the praise, leaning against his dad. "And she's back..." His voice held a note of happy excitement as he saw the car coming down the long drive. Even though he'd seen her not more than five hours before, it always felt too long for him.
Happy pulled the car up to the front porch so Pepper could get out and meet her family. "I'll go park the car in the garage, Pepper... are you or Tony going to need me anymore today?"
Pepper smiled at her friend. "No...we're home until the contractors call to let us know we can move back into the tower; if you want to take the afternoon off for yourself, go ahead. If we really need you, we'll call."
"Thanks!" Happy grinned at her and waved at Tony and Steve. As soon as she was out of the car with all her items and standing on the porch with her family, he took off to run his own errands.
His arm around Tony's shoulder, Steve waved to Happy and then led Tony over to Pepper, pulling her into an embrace with him and his son. From how she'd sounded on the phone, he was pretty sure that she could use some affection.
Pepper just sunk against her father and fiancé, wrapping her arms around both of them and dropping her head against a chest; but she wasn't certain whose. "I don't know how Zeke Stanislav got himself appointed onto our board, but if there was some way to kick him off...." she grumbled tiredly.
Tony winced in sympathy, reaching over and stroking the back of her neck gently...since she was currently hiding her face against their father. "Come in and sit down, eat, relax..." he finally said softly. "And then work out your frustrations with the family activity that's been planned...we can all take it." His tone was impish enough that Pepper turned her head slightly to peer at him through one eye.
"Do I need to be worried?" she asked skeptically.
Smiling, Steve wrapped an arm around his son and daughter so that he could lead them both inside. "We're going to be playing a capture the flag exercise," he explained. "The teams are already pretty much established... girls plus Loki vs. boys vs. parents. I think everyone's looking forward to letting go for a little while."
Pepper couldn't help but grin at that news. "Loki doesn't mind being on the girls' team?" She glanced into the recreation room as they passed into the kitchen, noting the smaller Asgardian playing a game with his Midgardian cousins.
"If he does, he didn't say so..." Tony shrugged, pulling out a chair for Pepper to sit in before he went and grabbed her plate of food and brought it and a drink to her.
Pepper nodded, immediately digging into the food. She took her time, allowing herself to relax in the presence of her family, but it still didn't take long before she'd cleaned her plate. Giving a satisfied sigh, she glanced between Steve and Tony. "I'm assuming I will be on the girls' team... so if you give me five minutes, I'll change clothes and we can all meet in the rec room to establish whatever guidelines are needed, or you can tell me what ones were established before I got home, if that's already been done...." Smiling, she disappeared down the hall into the bedroom to change.
Looking at his father, Tony grinned. "Let's go tell everyone she's changing and it will soon be time to play...."
Steve nodded, wrapping his arm around Tony's shoulder as he guided him through to the family room.
Natasha looked up as Steve and Tony entered. "Are we about ready for the game?"
"Pepper's just getting changed and then we should make sure there are any guidelines in place that are needed," Steve said, remembering that a suggestion had been made for using rope... but also that Kara, at least, had indicated she wasn't happy with that. They needed to make sure everyone would be comfortable.
"So... no rules... but a few rules?" Bobbi asked, slanting her head curiously.
Bucky looked at his brother then glanced around at all the rest of the family. "Probably more a case of making certain nobody's triggers are triggered..." he said, quietly and calmly.
Tony nodded. "Yeah... like most of you all know not to get my head under water unexpectedly... but if you didn't know that it was a problem, making it a guideline would keep you from doing it anyway...."
"Why would you need to get your head under water in a game of capture the flag?" Pepper asked curiously, as she walked into the room, pulling her hair back into a ponytail. "Oh...and I'm ready, by the way."
Steve smiled at Pepper, before adding, "It's more of an example. I know someone mentioned using rope... well, tying someone up... which would be a good idea for anyone who wouldn't get triggered with that. Who would be all right with the use of rope, or any kind of restraints?"
Fury looked around, noticing that, out of all of them, Kara and Loki were the only ones who didn't raise their hands... Of course, he'd already observed his daughter's reaction to that.
"Are there any other potential triggers?" Coulson asked. He knew his children well enough to know what was more likely to trigger them...but it would help to have that information for any of the others.
"Well...I'm not really fond of being locked up in tiny spaces...I don't think that should be a problem with the game, as long as the 'jails' are just a space set aside with 'invisible' walls... if you all were planning to make actual 'jail' type things, I might have a problem with the rule of not being able to break out of it...." Brock rubbed the back of his head sheepishly.
Bucky noticed Grant looked a bit reluctant at the idea of the teams making 'actual jails' as well, and assumed he wasn't 'fond' of being locked up in tiny spaces, either. "I think we can do the jails the way that children everywhere normally do them; we'll just set aside an area with stones or sticks, or what have you, and anyone who is captured has to remain within the imaginary walls...." He glanced around. "That work for everyone?"
There were various nods of assent from the others. Natasha added, "We can lay out an area made up of sticks laid out on the ground... and unless freed, prisoners aren't allowed to step over the sticks."
"Is there anything else we need to go over?" Coulson waited and when no one spoke up, he continued, "Then we should go and set up our bases... make sure every team has their flag..."
It hadn't taken long for everyone to head outside.
"I suggest that we break into our teams. We can use any part of the outside, as long as it is on the property. This won't be a case of: you touch someone, they are captured. You will literally need to capture them and take them back to your base jail, where they will stay unless or until one of their team mates manages to sneak into the jail to free them. You are only allowed to free one prisoner at a time. Once you have freed a prisoner, you will have to retreat to a distance of at least five yards before you can make a second attempt for a new prisoner. If you get into the jail and tag a prisoner, they are allowed to walk back to your home base. However, the one who freed the prisoner can still be caught." Bucky glanced around to see if everyone understood the rules. When he didn't see any confused faces looking back at him, he continued, "The only other thing that needs to be determined is which direction each team will go to pick their home base and to place their jail. Are there any preferences for directions?"
"Why don't we head east?" Natasha suggested, glancing around at the rest of her team. "We can take it in turns for whoever's going to guard the jail..."
"I have no preference for a direction," Thor said.
Leo was looking around, mentally working out what kind of 'defences' they could put in place. "We could go south..." he suggested.
Steve glanced at his teammates, wondering if they had any preferences.
Tony grinned at Leo. "I like south. South it is."
Loki nodded at Natasha. "East will work fine. We can decide on someone to guard the jail when we decide where the jail is to be located." He glanced at Bucky. "How will we know the game is to begin if all the teams are separated and looking for their locations?"
Bucky blinked. "That is a good question. Is fifteen minutes enough time for everyone to find a spot for their jail and to set it up? And since the mansion is northward, my team can go to the West. Is that all right with you all?" He glanced toward the rest of his team.
"I think fifteen minutes is more than enough time; and I'm good with going West." Clint nodded at his uncle.
"I'm good with West, too..." Bruce added.
"I agree that fifteen minutes should be plenty of time." May just started heading west in lieu of agreeing.
"Fifteen minutes it is." Natasha started walking east, making sure the rest of her team could keep up.
The others broke off in the directions their teams were.
Bucky snuck through the wooded area of the mansion's property, eyes peeled for 'enemy combatants'. They'd left Thor in charge of guarding the prison; mostly because, since they'd approved of everyone using their abilities, they didn't want to have Loki teleporting into their jail, freeing a prisoner and then teleporting out again. He was less likely to accomplish that with Thor guarding...at least that was the theory. The property was larger than any of them had realized (except maybe Tony) and he had yet to run into one of his opponents. He hadn't even seen one of his team mates since they'd separated to go find the flags. Hearing a noise coming his direction, he slunk back into the shadows and did his best impersonation of a chameleon.
The boys' team had split up, with the intention of Pietro acting as a 'runner' in order to carry messages to and from the members. Lance was creeping through the woods, keeping within the shadows, and spotted movement out of the corner of his eye. Since said movement looked like a flash of his father's prosthetic, he adjusted his position and began trying to sneak up on his dad from behind.
Bucky hadn't caught a glimpse of whoever it was yet...but he was fairly certain it wasn't one of his team. He could sense the person attempting to sneak up on him from behind. Unfortunately for his stalker, Bucky had enhanced hearing, much like his brother's, due to the serum in his body. He was easily able to track the movement of whoever was coming from behind.
Lance approached as quietly as he could... which, for most people, would be below their hearing level. He moved to tackle, trying to take his father by surprise.
Bucky heard the moment Lance launched himself and spun around, catching his son mid-air. He spun Lance around in an arm hold that would be very difficult to get out of and then proceeded to tickle him. "Thought you'd sneak up on me, did you? But I knew you were there." His whisper was right against Lance's ear, so his son would hear him but no one else would.
Lance couldn't help the snort of laughter that escaped, even as he half-heartedly struggled in his father's grip. "That's... not fair..." he said, trying to catch his breath, thinking that they should have implemented a rule that stated no tickling... not that he'd expected to need to do that.
"It's perfectly fair." Bucky continued to tickle, even as he began carrying his son back to the jail. "No rules, remember?"
Lance continued his half-hearted struggling, unable to hold back the giggle-snorts that kept escaping. "I'll... make sure it's included as a rule next time," he gasped out. Although a bit unsettled, it was a novelty to do this... so he wasn't really trying to get away from his father; though if an opportunity to get free presented itself, he'd definitely take advantage.
Bucky could tell Lance wasn't trying his hardest to escape, but it didn't bother him. He was enjoying this moment with his son; it wasn't often Lance let himself go in this manner. Soon, though, they'd reached the jail and Thor. "I have a prisoner for you!" He grinned at the Asgardian. "A very important prisoner. Keep a close eye on him, please?" He gave one last round of tickling to Lance's ribs, before gently depositing him in the jail.
"And now I am off to capture your flag!" He gave his son an impish wink then disappeared nearly as quickly as he had arrived, leaving Thor and Lance to look at each other...or talk. Thor looked slightly bored. Maybe having a prisoner would help him get unbored.
Coulson had taken off in a separate direction to the rest of the parents. Sneaking round was something he was used to doing... and he took advantage of the rather varied grounds to keep himself more or less out of view.
But it didn't take long for him to reach an area that was clear, open space. He had two options... cross it and keep his eyes open for any members of the opposing team; or turn back and take a different direction.
Grant was moving through the wooded area from the opposite direction and had come upon the open area shortly after his father. He could see the older man across the clearing from him. Feeling daring and confident, he stepped out into the open area so that his father could see him. As soon as Phil made his move, Grant would take him down and tie him up...and he'd have caught his first prisoner.
Coulson didn't fail to miss his son... but he also saw that Grant was overconfident; clearly expecting to easily grab him. Making himself appear slower than he actually was, Coulson stepped out, moving in the direction of his son... prepared for when Grant would make his move.
Grant was still feeling confident and noting how slow his father was moving, his confidence grew. He circled the older man for a moment watching for his chance to jump in and grab him. It didn't take long for that moment to appear and he pounced, hands grasping for his dad in a bid to get him immobilized so he could tie him up.
The moment Grant moved, Coulson did as well. He twisted himself out of Grant's reach, moving much faster, and then came back round, grabbing his son in a headlock that, while not painful, was near impossible to get out of. "You should know better than to underestimate me, son." His voice was filled with affectionate teasing and he took advantage of Grant's position to gently tickle his sides.
Grant would have responded to the gentle chiding, if he could have caught his breath long enough to do so. He was effectively trapped; and his father was taking advantage of the fact to incapacitate him with what felt like the worst (best) kind of torture. He struggled to get free, but his father's grip was sure and secure and his fingers followed wherever Grant tried to squirm to. Grant gave one last attempt to break free by allowing himself to drop, thinking that maybe the sudden surprise of his full weight would cause his father to let go.
Fully expecting Grant to try something like that, Coulson didn't let go when Grant dropped, transferring his grip to his son's waist as he continued the tickling. He was moving as he did so, back to his own base with his 'prisoner'.
It had been a last ditch effort and Grant hadn't been that optimistic that it would work, so he wasn't really surprised when it didn't work. By this point, he was laughing so hard, no sound was coming out and tears were streaming down his face. He was laughing so hard, it hurt. Finally, he just stopped struggling completely, slumping against his father. "I...I give...I surrender!" he gasped out.
Coulson paused the tickling, drawing Grant up so that he could wrap his arms around his son and walk him in the direction they were going in. "I'll make sure to remember I can tickle you into submission," he teased his son.
Grant couldn't do more than huff at his father's words as he tried to calm his breathing. Finally, he was able to take a breath without his stomach aching. Wiping at his eyes, he gave his father a chagrined look. "That was so unfair...and if I didn't deserve it for underestimating you so badly, I'd be irritated." Letting out a soft sigh, he leaned on his father and let the older man guide him to 'jail'.
Coulson kept his arms around Grant, gently stroking his hair. "I believe there was a mutual agreement for 'anything goes'," he pointed out, his voice amused and affectionate.
Grant sighed again, snuggling against his father. "There was..." he agreed, though his tone indicated that, if he'd realized tickling was going to be involved, he would have asked for rules.
Reaching the jail, Coulson smiled as he spotted Lance and gently pressed a kiss to Grant's head. "Looks like you'll have company." He gently guided his son into the 'jail'.
Grant smiled at his father as he stepped into his 'confinement'. He did blink when he saw Lance there, though. "Who got you?" he asked his cousin in surprise.
"My dad did... same as yours," Lance answered.
"I certainly hope the rest of the guys are doing better than we did..." Grant shook his head.
Steve wasn't sure how the rest of his team were doing, but for his part, he was moving quietly through the undergrowth, eyes and ears open for anything.
Pepper had only seen her father by chance...and luckily before he saw her. She froze in place under the bush she'd rolled under when first catching a glimpse and watched. And winced as Jemma came barreling through the trees opposite her and straight into Steve.
Jemma hadn't seen any of her teammates... but she'd somehow managed to almost run into her uncle Tony. She'd quickly turned and darted the other direction, hoping that he wouldn't give chase. Of course, that didn't help her when she ran smack into her grandfather! "Oh, dear!" she blurted, as she looked up from her position on the ground (she'd bounced off of Steve's chest and landed rather unceremoniously on her bum.)
Steve looked at Jemma with a trace of amusement and reached down to help her up. Of course, he then didn't let go of her and wrapped his arm around her shoulders, drawing her in close. "I think I'd better take you back to base," he said, his voice teasing and affectionate.
"Oh...but I wanted to find a flag!" Jemma pouted. The pouting wasn't very effective, though, considering she was snuggling up to her grandfather.
Pepper held her breath, just hoping they'd go the opposite direction from her. She supposed she could have attempted to help Jemma escape Steve... but Pepper had a feeling that doing so would just result in both of them being 'taken back to base' and that wouldn't help the team at all. Sometimes to reach an objective, you had to give up some things; in this case, helping her team mate immediately.
Pepper bit back a screech as Tony suddenly came running into the clearing from the direction Jemma had originally come from. "I got you now, kid...or not." Tony skidded to a halt and eyed his father; evidently trying to decide if he could get both his niece and his father subdued... or if he should just let Jemma go and try and get his father. "You know what. You caught her first...you keep her." Tony gave a big grin, then took off running back the way he'd come, apparently deciding he didn't like his odds, even if Jemma might possibly be enough distraction to help him capture his dad.
"Well... really!" Jemma's not-pout became even more pouty.
Steve took a split second to decide to go after his son. He gave Jemma a reassuring smile, then settled her over his shoulder, keeping her in place with an arm settled around her waist, before he took off running after his son.
Pepper bit her lip hard to avoid laughing outright at Jemma's undignified squeak as the younger girl suddenly found herself being carried by her grandfather as the man chased after her uncle. Pepper continued holding her breath until she was certain Steve and Tony weren't going to come barreling back in her direction and then carefully stood up, glanced around, then slunk back into the wooded area to hunt for a flag.
Meanwhile, Tony, thinking that his father would be taking his prize back to 'jail', had finally stopped running. He was in the process of trying to decide which direction to go next when Steve popped into the clearing and startled him badly enough he let out a very unmanly shriek. The sound carried through the woods and all Tony could do was give his father a flabbergasted and embarrassed look. Finally, he huffed out, "You chased after me while carrying her?!"
"You say that like you're surprised." Steve stepped closer to his son, advancing slowly. He still kept Jemma secure with one arm wrapped around her waist, patting her back apologetically.
"Oh for Pete's sake, grandpa!" Jemma exclaimed; and the tone of her voice indicated she was rolling her eyes. "If I promise not to run off while you capture Uncle Tony, will you put me down? This position is making me light-headed..." Her voice was sheepish by this point, thinking that if hanging over her grandfather's shoulder made her lightheaded, she probably needed to train more.
"What?! No! No! Do not set her down. I need all the advantages I can get!" Tony spluttered. In his suit, he had no doubt he could take his father on, one-on-one. Out of his suit? He was pretty sure he'd be over Steve's other shoulder within moments.
"If you're feeling light-headed from this, I think that's a sign you've been neglecting your training." Steve addressed Jemma without taking his eyes off Tony. He did, however, put his granddaughter down and wrapped an arm around her shoulders to keep her close.
Steve feinted and then made a lunge for his son, having little doubt he could still take Tony out... even with only one arm free and making sure he didn't jolt Jemma.
"Yes, sir," Jemma said, blushing. "She didn't try and get away; she was certain her grandfather could tie her up easily if he wanted and she didn't want to have that happen, even if it might do her some good to practice breaking free.
Tony, despite his protests, had actually been training more often, wanting to learn how to evade and escape capture more quickly and easily so that his family didn't need to worry quite so much...considering how often he was the focus of attempted kidnappings. When Steve lunged, he parried using a move his cousin had taught him.
Steve smiled as Tony parried, unable to help but praise his son, since Tony was putting his training to good use. "Well done." He didn't hesitate in going after his boy again, but the proud look on his face spoke volumes.
Unfortunately, Tony had been training with goons and very nasty people in mind as opponents (Grant being none of those not-withstanding), so his father's proud look and praise caught him off guard and his next parry fell short of his goal.
Steve quickly followed up, grabbing his son and beginning to tickle him into submission. "I think it will be easier if you surrender," he teased Tony, his voice filled with loving affection.
"Noooo! Not...not tickling!" Tony fell to the ground and curled up in a tight ball in an attempt to hide his stomach.
Jemma raised an eyebrow. "It's a darn good thing the bad guys don't use tickling as a means of capture..." she muttered with a laugh.
Steve gave his granddaughter a smile, but then resumed tickling his son. "You know how to make me stop," he teased... though he was careful not to overwhelm Tony too much.
"No! No, I will not..." Tony gasped as his father found a particularly sensitive spot. "Ok! I give! I give! I submiiiit!" He was laughing so hard, he was crying.
"I thought you might see it my way." Steve stopped tickling and helped his son up, wrapping an arm around his waist to draw him as close as he held Jemma. He pressed an affectionate kiss to each of their foreheads then began towards his team's jail.
"How humiliating. I got brought down by tickling!" Tony moaned.
"Least you tried to get away. I just ran smack into granddad and fell on my butt!" Jemma commiserated.
"Well, I think you were fleeing from Tony, so you can be excused," Steve said. "In a non-training situation, running to an ally when you're being pursued by an enemy is always a good option."
"That scenario would have been a valid point had I been running to Natasha or Bobbi or Loki....you aren't an ally in this game..." Jemma sighed. "But thanks for trying to make me feel less clutzy. I really do need to pay more attention to my training."
"That's a good idea for all of you," Steve agreed, reaching his 'jail'. "Looks like you two aren't alone in being captured," he commented, smiling at his son and granddaughter.
Tony glanced at Lance and Grant, blinking. "There's only five left on our team? Assuming the girls haven't caught some of us?"
Jemma grinned. "At least the girls don't appear to be doing too badly...."
Lance shrugged. "I think we've been underestimating our dads..." Looking at Jemma, he raised his eyebrows. "How did you get caught?"
Steve gently ushered them into the 'jail', after a kiss to each of their heads.
"I ran into grandpa and fell down..." Jemma muttered with a blush.
Grant gave her a sympathetic look.
Pepper had finally located one of the flags, the one belonging to the guys. She wasn't certain how safe it was to go after it yet...she decided to hide and wait for a little while to see if someone was guarding it.
For the time being, Leo, who was actually on guard for his team's flag, wasn't in view... though he had been working on setting up traps around the flag. There was nothing dangerous... but it was surprising just how many things he could use to create triggers for an unwary person.
Pepper was glad she hadn't just rushed in when she accidentally saw one of the traps. Realizing that there were likely more, she snuck back. She'd locate their parents' flag then see if she couldn't get the rest of her team to cause a distraction while she went after the flags.
May glanced around the clearing and the edges of woods near to where she was, hoping to catch a glimpse of an opponent.
Skye had been left guarding her team's jail, but she'd quickly grown bored and had been venturing a bit further out. She'd become more than a bit unfocused and was now thinking about the intel they'd gathered.
May narrowed her eyes as her daughter wandered out into the clearing. At first, May thought Skye might be trying to lure someone out to attempt a capture; but it quickly became obvious her daughter's mind was not on her surroundings, or what she was currently supposed to be doing. This would be entirely too easy; but then, it might hopefully teach her daughter something important in a setting where she wouldn't be hurt...namely to always keep aware of your surroundings.
Sneaking up behind Skye, she pounced at the last second, catching her daughter in an arm hold that could only be avoided if the person knew you were there and counter acted immediately.
Skye jumped and then began to struggle, wincing as she realised there was no hope of getting out of the arm hold. She probably should have paid a lot more attention to her surroundings... She thought about going limp; but that likely wouldn't work either.
May leaned forward enough to whisper, "Never lose track of your surroundings...even when you are in a safe place..." Kissing her daughter on top of her head, she leaned back and grinned. "Do you surrender?"
"I don't think I have a choice..." Skye mock-grumbled.
"Well, that makes things easy...I won't have to tie you up and carry you back!" May teased, as she began to gently lead her daughter in the direction of the 'jail'.
Skye sighed and went along with her mother without arguing. "I really should have been paying attention."
"Mm hmmm..." May agreed, giving a slight back rub to her. "You will next time," she declared confidently as they walked toward the jail.
"Yeah... I think I learned my lesson with that." Skye noticed some of the boys, and Jemma, in their parents' jail. At least she wasn't the only one captured...
Grant wrinkled his nose in commiseration with Skye as May deposited her into the jail. After the older woman had taken off to look for another target, he sighed. "You know...if the parents capture any more of us kids...we'll be lucky if we don't end up with extra training for the next month. Have any of the parents been caught yet?"
"We didn't have any in our jail," Skye admitted. "But there's still six of us left... I'm sure Natasha and the others can bring our side up."
"I have no clue if my team caught anyone or not....hopefully we still have five left..." Tony muttered.
Pepper had carefully made her way to the parent's side, glancing toward the jail. She bit her lip as she saw Skye had been captured. She was tempted to make a rescue, but she knew her strengths really weren't in running or fighting; though she could do both, if necessary. She was much better at seeming non-threatening; or, in this case, keeping hidden until she could make a move. She stayed still while surveying the area and soon spotted the flag for the parent's team. She glanced around carefully, trying to find hidden traps or guards. If she could, she wanted to capture their flag.
Fury had taken the current shift for guarding the flag. Despite only having one good eye, he'd set up traps... many of those with Clint's help, as his nephew was very good when it came to the high vantage points. Fury was currently patrolling, waiting to see if anyone would make a move... and also waiting to be relieved.
Pepper pouted. It was obvious her best chance at getting a flag was waiting till they were changing guards. And since more of the guys had been captured than parents, getting the guys' flag would probably be easier. Wrinkling her nose, she carefully made her way back toward where she'd seen Leo guarding his flag.
Kara had a plan...a plan to surprise attack one of her opponents. To that end, she'd crawled up into the branches of a rather tall tree...high enough up that she could conceivably jump down onto someone and knock them over long enough to capture them. Of course, once she was situated, she realized that, from the height she was at, she'd likely injure anyone she jumped down on, or injure herself; it hadn't seemed that high from the ground. Before she could climb back down, however, Brock had walked into her area, directly under her. She held her breath.
Having been relieved from guard duty, Fury began searching around for any of the 'opposition'. As he was walking through the wooded area, he spotted his youngest son and moved quickly and quietly towards Brock, scanning around... just in case there was someone else lying in wait.
Brock hadn't seen anyone else in the area, never even thought to look up into the trees, and so when he saw his father enter the area, looking around, he attempted to take advantage of the older man's split attention...immediately going on the offensive. All things considered, they were pretty evenly matched, but he knew his father's experience was nothing to overlook...he was a lot more cautious than Grant had been with his own father, without trying to flee like Tony.
Fury's attention didn't stay split for long and as Brock came at him, he responded immediately, feinting one attack while then following up with a second, though he made sure he didn't use any more force than they did in normal training scenarios.
Brock grinned as he feinted himself, trying to find an opening that would give him an advantage.
Fury didn't allow himself to be drawn into the fake attack, but he moved around his son, watching for a break in Brock's guard. He was smiling, too... It was always good to spar with one of his children.
Brock was enjoying himself...maybe that was why he let his guard down slightly (at least, that was what he told his ego. The alternative was that his father was just that much better than him). Needless to say, he left a very tiny opening for his father to take advantage of; and that was all it took.
Fury slipped inside his son's guard and then grabbed Brock into a headlock... one that would be very difficult to get out of. "Do you yield?" he asked, voice light and filled with humour.
"And make it easy on you, old man?" Brock's voice was filled with humor and affection; and a faint hint of pride that Fury was his 'old man'.
Kara continued to hold still and hope that they took their struggle further away, so she could slip out of the tree.
Fury began tickling Brock, still keeping hold of his son. "How about now?"
Brock squirmed and wriggled, attempting to break his father's hold, but he knew he would have to 'tap out' or surrender if he didn't want to risk injuring himself or his father. Groaning slightly, he laughed helplessly. "Ok, you win. I give. I surrender."
Kara relaxed as she realized that the two men would finally be leaving the area and she could climb out of the tree. Of course, her luck was such that the branch she was on decided to crack at the trunk. Before she knew it, she was hanging like an opossum, grasping the branch desperately in an attempt not to fall the rest of the way to the ground, considering the branch had fallen a good six feet before having its descent stopped by other branches. She was now about twelve feet from the ground. Not too far to just drop; but her ankle was slightly sore, so it wouldn't do her any favors to do so.
Fury's attention was immediately drawn to the source of the sound... in time to see his daughter dangling from the branch. He let go of Brock, knowing that his son would help him, and quickly moved over to the tree. "Be prepared to catch her if she falls," he directed Brock.
"Dammit." Kara sighed softly, before craning her head back so she could give her father an upside down smile. "Hi, daddy....I kinda misjudged the sturdiness of this branch...I think I can drop down, but my ankle kinda is sore- I think I hit it when I fell the first several feet. Do you think I should drop down, or try and climb down?" She bit her lip. Normally, she'd make a decision about something like this on her own, but hanging as she was, she couldn't tell which was the safest option.
"I'll climb up to you." The drop might not be very big, but Fury didn't want to risk his daughter getting hurt worse. He put action to words, carefully climbing until he could reach out and pull Kara towards himself.
Brock stood under his sister, so if the branch gave way before his dad could get his sister, he could hopefully break her fall.
As soon as Fury started pulling her toward him, Kara carefully transferred her grip from the branch to her father's shoulders and as soon as she was certain she had hold of him, she carefully un-wrapped her legs from the branch and, like a baby monkey, wrapped her legs around her father's waist.
Fury kept still until he was certain his daughter was safely attached to him. He then carefully began climbing down the tree trunk, going slowly enough to make sure neither of them slipped. As soon as he was on the ground, he wrapped his arm around his daughter's waist, drawing her in close.
Kara couldn't help herself. As soon as her father's arm was wrapped around her, she snuggled close, before kissing him on the cheek. "Thanks for the rescue, daddy..." she said softly. "Guess this means I surrender...." She gave a sheepish giggle. She notably did not remove her arms from around his shoulders, or her legs from around his waist, staying attached like a limpet.
"Yes, so it seems." Fury kept his arm around Kara, even as he stepped over to take gentle hold of Brock. They were still playing the game, after all... even if he knew he was going to need to talk to his daughter. While she hadn't put herself in outright danger, she should have called out as soon as she realised the position had become precarious.
Brock, assured that his father had his baby sister, calmly walked beside him back toward the jail.
Kara snuggled a little more, before leaning back enough to look up into her father's eyes. "Am I in trouble?" she asked hesitantly.
"We'll talk about it after we drop your brother off," Fury replied, rubbing her back so she'd know he wasn't angry with her.
Biting her lip, Kara sighed and put her head on her father's shoulder. She could tell he wasn't as upset as he could be, so she wasn't terribly worried. If she was in trouble, then she was sure she deserved it.
Brock didn't say anything, but gave both his father and sister a smile. Soon, they'd reached the jail and he stepped into it, taking note of all the other prisoners. "I hope our team is doing as good capturing everyone else as our parents seem to be..." He couldn't help but laugh.
"The girls are doing better than us," Lance said, a wry note to his voice, even as he cast a curious glance at Fury and Kara.
"I'll bring Kara back in a few moments," Fury said, carrying his daughter away to a more secluded area.
"It definitely appears that way." Brock shook his head with a smile.
Kara gave a tiny wave to everyone and smiled as her father carried her to a more private area.
After looking around to make sure they were alone, Fury addressed his daughter in a more serious voice. "When you realised you were in trouble, why didn't you call for help?"
"I thought I'd be able to crawl back to the trunk of the tree and get down, as long as I was careful...I didn't realize the situation was as bad as it was till the limb broke and by then, you saw I needed help." Kara bit her lip. "Since I had planned to crawl back, I was trying to keep hidden so you and Brock wouldn't capture me," she admitted.
"While I understand that, you could have been hurt," Fury said. "Not badly, perhaps... but falling from the tree could have still been more disastrous than it was." He hesitated, thinking about what to do next, since Kara hadn't actually put herself in proper danger.
"So....I should have just crawled back to the trunk to get off as soon as I realized things were more dangerous than I originally thought?" she asked quietly.
Fury nodded. "Or called out. Winning a game isn't worth risking yourself getting hurt."
Kara nodded, her smile turning a bit guilty. "I didn't think it was that dangerous, but I should have let you know as soon as I realized...."
"You should have," Fury agreed. He gently led his daughter over to one of the fallen tree logs.
Kara's smile turned fully guilty and a bit sad as she saw where they were heading. "I messed up really bad?" she asked hesitantly, not sure she wanted to hear an affirmative...she truly hadn't meant to do anything wrong.
Fury paused to give her a kiss to her forehead. "This is going to be more of a reminder. I know you didn't mean to do that," he said reassuringly.
"Ok..." Kara said in a tiny voice. She couldn't help but tighten her grip on her father and snuggle closer.
Fury took a seat on the log and, after a reassuring squeeze to his daughter, gently deposited her across his lap.
Kara sniffled slightly, but didn't attempt to get away and instead reached down and grasped her father's ankle. "I'm sorry, daddy...."
"I know." Fury rubbed her back gently and then brought his hand down in a swat that was more of a love tap... not hard, but more to focus her.
Kara blinked at the 'swat', her eyes going wide as she realized that not only were her clothes staying in place, but that the 'spanking' only stung slightly and didn't really hurt at all. She looked over her shoulder at her father, giving a confused and questioning look. "Daddy?" she asked hesitantly.
"I told you... it's a reminder," Fury said, his voice gentle. "Not a proper punishment." He repeated the swat, at the same force then delivered two more just below the first.
Kara blinked; then, thinking about it, found herself relaxing. Turning back around, she squeezed her father's ankle to acknowledge his words, allowing herself to lie limply in place. She focused on the swats, the slight sting keeping her attention. "Ok, daddy..." Her voice was accepting.
Fury continued the mild swats down to Kara's thighs then started over from the top, drawing his daughter in tighter.
Kara quivered as her father pulled her closer. She was surprised that she wasn't more upset; but, for some reason, she felt calm and almost happy. "I...I like you being in control..." she whispered, feeling like maybe that wasn't something that would be considered normal or good.
"Good... because when it's necessary, that will happen," Fury said gently. "You're my daughter. I love you. I don't want you to get hurt. I don't want to risk anything taking you away from me."
Kara sniffled again, squeezing her father's ankle. She couldn't help but smile at his words. "I love you too, daddy...."
Fury rubbed her back before starting a new circuit of the mild swats, speaking softly to her. "This has been a good experience... spending time with you and being able to have fun. But you can't let that stop you being careful."
"I know, sir...I really didn't realize it was so dangerous until I was there...." Kara couldn't help but begin to squirm slightly. The slight sting had built up to the point where it was a constant heat. Ironically, she felt so safe, cared for...loved...that the vulnerability of her position made her feel better.
"I know." Fury's voice was calm and affectionate, even as he allowed the mild swats to act as an emphasis for what he was saying. "But you shouldn't have stopped yourself from calling out for help. If you're in any kind of trouble, you need to be prepared to let your family help you."
"I....I made a bad decision..." Kara agreed, her voice catching as she started squirming more actively. "I'm sorry, daddy...I didn't mean to be dangerous or scare you...."
"I know, but nothing can happen to you," Fury said. "You need to be prepared to ask for help when you need it. Everyone here needs to think more on their own safety," he added, wanting Kara to know that it wasn't just her who needed to be aware of this.
"Yes, sir....I'll...I'll try to remember...." By this point, the swats had built up enough that it was actually beginning to hurt. Whimpering, Kara finally reached back, her hand flailing, as if she couldn't decide whether to cover her bottom or to reach for her father's hand. "Daddy...."
Fury laced his fingers through Kara's, moving her hand to the small of her back and holding it there. "You are important. If something had happened to you, I would have been devastated."
Holding tightly to her father's hand, Kara allowed herself to relax again and just focus on the swats. "I'm sorry, daddy....I'm so sorry..." she finally blurted out, with a soft cry.
Fury stopped and then quickly gathered his daughter into his arms, hugging her tight and gently rubbing her hair and back. "I love you," he whispered to her, his voice soft.
Kara snuggled close, wriggling around so she could wrap her legs around her father's waist again and wrapping her arms around his shoulders, holding on tight. "I love you too, daddy. So much!" Kara nuzzled against her father's shoulder then put her head against his chest.
Fury held her tightly, continuing the gentle, comforting touch. There was an element of relief in the way he held her... that he hadn't lost her.
Kara just continued to snuggle as close as possible, happy to be in her father's arms. Sighing softly, she squirmed slightly at the slight sting she could still feel. She couldn't help but giggle slightly. "I'm so glad I didn't deserve a real spanking...."
Fury pressed a kiss to the top of her head. "I know you didn't realise the tree was dangerous until you were up in it," he said. "This was a reminder... to make sure that if something like this happens again, you ask for help. So that you don't get hurt worse."
Kara looked up at her father and gave Fury huge smile. "I know, daddy...and I'll do my best to remember. I don't want to hurt you by getting myself hurt...." Her voice was serious.
"I appreciate that." Fury pressed another kiss to her head. He didn't point out that she was in danger from her relationship to him as well as having been brainwashed by HYDRA... He just held his daughter tightly, glad that she was here with him.
"I love you, daddy...and I'm really happy just sitting on your lap and snuggling and all... but everyone's gonna wonder where we went off to if you don't put me in jail..." Kara giggled, snuggling closer still.
Fury rubbed her back gently. "We'll be settled back in the tower later... I'm sure there'll be plenty of time for snuggling then." He stood up, allowing Kara time to get down if she wanted... though he was quite happy to carry her back to the jail.
Kara didn't even adjust herself once her father stood, content to stay wrapped around him like a monkey and let him do all the work. Her ankle was more sore than it had been previously; she suspected that she'd hit it on the branch that her branch had snagged on the way down. "I don't know how much good I'll be helping to move tonight." She frowned. "I kinda banged my ankle up, if the way it feels right now is any indication. Think I'll just sit in the jail and prop it up...maybe let Brock check it out while we wait for everyone else to get captured." She sighed.
Fury frowned in concern. "We have first aid kits close at hand. I'll drop you off with your brother and grab one so we can get your ankle bandaged up and you can rest it." He moved back into view of the jail.
"Ok, daddy..." Kara said into his shoulder. She wondered if she should feel more awkward about the fact that she was hanging onto her father like an affection starved six-year-old. Or the fact that she was perfectly happy letting him make all the decisions about what she was going to do. Or the fact that she wasn't upset about the 'reminder' he'd given her and actually was grateful for him making it very clear what was expected. She hadn't said anything to anyone, but she'd felt a bit adrift and afraid about having to make any type of decision on her own; she'd been so used to Whitehall directing her every move. She kind of wished her father would just take over and tell her what to do for everything. It would be a lot easier and a lot less scary...even if she knew that wasn't a terribly healthy thing for an adult woman to want. She wasn't certain she knew how to make her own decisions...not the right ones, anyway. She wished she could find a way to tell her father without sounding like a complete loser.
Fury carried Kara over to the jail area, catching his son's eye. "Brock? I need to grab the first aid kit. Can you take a look at your sister's ankle while I'm doing that?" he requested. They'd managed to find some stones that worked for seats and he carefully deposited his daughter on one of those, stroking her hair a moment before he went to grab the first aid kit.
"Sure thing, dad." Brock quickly came over and gently removed Kara's shoe and sock, placing her foot onto his lap so he could examine it. "Well, it is definitely swollen. As soon as dad gets back with the kit, we'll clean you up and see if you need the doctor or not..."
Kara pouted. "I don't think it is broken."
"Could be a hairline fracture...or something not easily seen. With as much as it is swelling...what'd you do, anyway?" Jemma asked curiously, as she moved to help her cousin.
Kara looked embarrassed as she mumbled, "Fell out of a tree...."
Returning with the first aid kit, along with a bucket of water, Fury stepped into the 'jail', helping his daughter to place her foot in the water, hoping to help reduce the swelling. "We can get Bruce to take a look," he said reassuringly.
"I'd kinda like to not ruin everyone's fun..." Kara grumbled, her face red. She didn't say anything else, though. Whatever her father decided needed doing, she was going to do.
"I doubt he'd look on it as ruining his fun. It isn't like he has to go into enemy territory to check you out, so there's no reason for anyone else to stop and wait while he takes a look..." Tony shrugged and gave his cousin a smile.
"I guess..." Kara glanced uncertainly around the jail, taking note of who was there. She was happy to see only Skye and Jemma had been caught from the girl's team (and herself, of course). That meant there were still four girls and Loki still out there. It looked like there were four guys left. "Did any of the parents get caught yet?" she asked curiously. She couldn't help but laugh at the chagrined looks on everyone else's faces. "I'll take that as a no...." She wiggled her foot a little in the water, sloshing it around, then held it still, wincing as she accidently brushed against the side of the bucket.
Fury rested a hand on Kara's shoulder, squeezing gently. "It's not ruining anyone's fun. No one would want you to go without being looked at for their sakes... and we don't have to stop the game to do it," he added.
Lance gave a kind of half-smile. "You think next time, we should make sure we have comms on us? Just in case of an emergency..."
"What emergency?" Bruce came walking up to the jail, Mack in tow.
Tony blinked, looking at the taller man following docilely behind the shorter doctor. "How...what...?" He looked between Mack and Bruce, his eyes wide and expecting a story.
Bruce smiled crookedly and said, "Ask Mack," before he went over to where his uncle was stood next to his younger cousin. "And what did you do to yourself, kiddo?" he asked Kara kindly.
Mack shook his head at the looks he was getting from the rest of the 'kids'. "I'm not telling. I'm never telling. You can't make me tell." His voice was calm but firm...although Grant was positive there was a hint of blush on the other man's face.
Kara glanced at Mack, curiosity on her face, before she turned to look at Bruce. "I almost fell out of a tree. Daddy had to rescue me." Her words were brief and to the point and she was obviously embarrassed at what happened. "I think I just sprained it, but..." She shrugged slightly, shifting closer to her dad without even realizing what she was doing.
Fury wrapped an arm around Kara's waist, drawing her in close even as he spoke to Bruce. "It's swelling quite a bit. She caught it on the tree as the branch she was holding onto slipped."
Lance looked at Mack. "I'm not sure I want to know how you got caught..."
Mack nodded at Lance and gave him a secretive smile. "That's good, because you never will know." His words were almost Zen in their delivery. If it hadn't been for the slightly darker tint to his skin, it wouldn't even be obvious he was embarrassed about his capture.
"Hmmm..." Bruce hummed sympathetically as he gently began to examine Kara's foot and ankle. "It appears to only be a sprain, but to be sure, I will want to do a scan of it when we get to the tower. Unfortunately, I packed my scanner for the move. Having said that, if you just continue to keep your foot elevated and do not walk on it... you should be alright until we get to the tower and I can do a proper scan of it. Of course, that will mean you'll have to let your daddy or brothers carry you...." Bruce gave her a crooked grin, figuring she might not be too bothered by that.
"Yeah. Ok. I won't even stand on it. This is a nice, comfy spot," Kara agreed easily, knowing that's what her father would want her to do.
Fury nodded, squeezing his daughter gently. "Once we finish the game, I'll carry you back to the mansion," he promised. "I can easily head back in there if you need anything else." He was obviously worried about her, his arm tight around her shoulders as he stroked her hair.
Lance grinned at Mack. "Of course, I don't think you'll ever live it down," he teased. "Getting captured by Bruce, of all people."
"I'll be fine, daddy. Go hunt down more of the boys. Leave your flag unguarded. Go....!" Kara gave her father an impish smile and made shooing motions with her hands.
Mack narrowed his eyes and was about to retort to Lance's comment when Bruce put his fists on his hips and raised an eyebrow at his cousin. "Hey now! Just because I'm not as big as some of the rest of you, doesn't mean I'm not formidable!" he argued. "And it isn't my fault the rest of you don't wanna play with the other guy...." he teased, as he went back to treating Kara's injury.
Mack shook his head. "No...no. I would willingly surrender without you lifting a finger if it kept the other guy from joining in..." Mack laughed.
Tony wrinkled his nose. "I dunno. I like the other guy...."
Pepper had made her way back to where the guys' flag was hidden. She was carefully observing the area, waiting for a moment when it appeared that none of the men were nearby, so that she could take her time working her way through the traps to grab the flag.
By this point, the boys were in the process of regrouping and planning. Since so many of their number had been captured, they figured it was a good idea to launch a rescue mission. Since a quick sweep of the surrounding area showed no one in view, they were confident enough to leave the flag guarded by the traps and began making their way through the undergrowth.
The group did split up... just to ensure that they wouldn't all be captured that way.
Pepper waited an extra five minutes before she made her move. Carefully picking her path through the visible traps...and moving slowly in case there were better hidden traps that she wouldn't see until she was on them... she finally reached the flag. Gingerly untying it- she wouldn't put it past the boys to booby-trap the flag as well- she finally had it in hand and stuffed it into her bra. The only one likely to go after it there would be Tony; and she didn't think he'd dare if his father was watching. Taking a deep breath, she began her slow trek back out of the trapped zone, so that she could head toward the parents' flag.
Wanda crept almost silently through the foliage, using her powers to move branches out of her way and then back again, so that signs of her presence couldn't be seen. Although she had yet to actually come across anyone, she was enjoying herself. She preferred using her mental manipulation powers in a controlled environment... but it was good to have the chance to use her other powers; even if only to evade notice.
Clint had handed over guarding duty so that he could get in a bit of 'hunting' himself. He decided that it was better to let his prey come to him, however and so he'd found himself a perch up in a tree. Unlike his young cousin, he was not only used to heights, but he was used to figuring out which areas were safe and which were dangerous by sight. That and he had stayed close to the trunk of the tree he was perched in, because it was easier to blend and not be seen. He smiled as he saw his daughter come into his line of sight.
Wanda paused in the act of moving another set of branches. Training with her father so much had demonstrated the importance of learning to look up... and she'd been doing that periodically. Although she couldn't see anything obvious, there was the sensation of being watched... and Wanda knew full well that trusting her instincts was always the best course to take.
If this had been a real life operation and not a game, and had it been an enemy agent and not his daughter, Clint would have shot an arrow into her by now. Since it was a game and it was his daughter, he was limited in what he could do from a distance. He held still when she looked up, unable to keep the feeling of pride from filling him that she was paying attention to all her surroundings...not just the ones on ground level. She'd learned well. Of course, it made it more difficult for him to surprise her....
Waiting until she'd turned to look in the opposite direction of him, Clint jumped from his perch, landing nimbly on his feet and quickly moving to grab Wanda in a headlock, hoping that he was quick enough to reach her before she turned around again. If she turned and saw him before he reached her, this fight would very likely go in her favor, given her abilities.
Wanda had moved to take a step when she heard a sound behind her. It was faint, but she reacted instantly as she turned, using her abilities to send herself back out of reach... though she was careful not to use too much force. She'd already learned that lesson once and didn't want to knock herself out by being flung into a tree.
And there went the element of surprise.
Clint chuckled slightly and shook his head. "You're getting good, sweetie. Most people wouldn't have heard me...." He circled her, looking for an entry to grab hold and subdue her.
Wanda smiled, moving at the same time as her father so he couldn't come in from behind. "I have a good teacher." As she spoke, she accessed her abilities once more, causing some branches to separate from the trees around. Her goal was to create a makeshift cage around her father. Knowing that he often used air vents in missions, she was pretty sure he would be able to tolerate a small space.
Clint grinned at that, but the grin quickly slipped as he noticed the branches moving. He quickly moved away from the nearest one, not certain she wouldn't try and wrap it around him then moved toward her rapidly. With her abilities, it wouldn't do to play cat and mouse; he might find that he was the mouse if he did that.
Although some of her attention was on moving the branches, Wanda was aware enough to shift and dodge out of her father's way. While she knew Pietro would probably playfully taunt him, Wanda couldn't bring herself to do that... even in fun... and instead worked on keeping out of his range while she worked on bringing the branches together, attaching them before attempting to trap her father.
Clint found himself dodging more branches than he would have liked and Wanda always kept just beyond his grasp. He was running out of places to move to.
Wanda controlled the branches enough to block her father's movements... though she was careful to make sure none of them touched him; something that she wouldn't ensure if fighting against an enemy agent.
"Good g..." Clint spun out of the way of one branch, only to find his way blocked by another. Soon, there were very few options available. He looked up to see if he could climb over the branches.
Wanda had been making sure to build the branches on top of each other, effectively creating a high wall around her father.
"Wow..." Clint finally just stopped and looked around himself. "You've trapped me. Good job." He couldn't help the pride in his voice. "I surrender." Clint smiled and gently clapped his hands.
Wanda smiled wide in return, always happy to make her father proud. She lowered the branches, since he'd surrendered, and held her hand out so she could take him back with her. "Thank you, Papa."
"No thanks are necessary. I'm proud to have been able to teach you, but you did the hardest part." Clint took her hand and squeezed it, before wrapping an arm around her shoulders. "Take me to your jail."
Wanda wrapped her arm around her father's waist and began heading towards the jail. "I wouldn't have as much control if you hadn't been teaching me," she said honestly. Raw power had served her well in the fight with Ultron... but a lot of what they did had to be more subtle.
"I love you and am glad I was able to help you gain control." Clint kissed her on top of the head.
Wanda smiled, snuggling closer to her father... even though she'd technically captured him. "I love you too, Papa."
Clint pulled his daughter in more closely and walked with her to the girl's jail. He looked at it, then looked at her and wrinkled his nose playfully. "It's lonely in here. You better go capture someone to keep me company...."
Loki, who was guarding the jail, smirked. "I do believe your sister and I have such plans...if you would not mind remaining behind to guard?" He directed his last comment to Wanda.
Wanda smiled at Loki and took up position to guard. "Good luck," she said.
"Huh...." Clint nodded as he moved into the jail. "....I think you'll understand if I don't wish you good luck..." He grinned wolfishly at Loki, then waved at his sister, who he could see sidling up to the rest of them.
Natasha grinned at her brother, then clapped Wanda gently on the shoulder. "Good job." Turning to Loki, she asked, "Ready?"
"I believe so. Did you find which direction our target went?" He grinned at his cousin.
Natasha nodded, beginning to lead Loki away from the jail. "A little way from here. She's searching for our flag, I believe."
Loki nodded and followed behind. It didn't take too long before he saw their target. She did appear to be searching for something.
Melinda May had gotten tired of stalking the other members of her family and had decided trying to find the flags and take them would be a more interesting endeavor, at least for a while, so she had begun trying to locate the girl's team flag. At one point, she had been pretty certain she'd caught a glimpse of Natasha... but as the other woman hadn't made any attempt to capture her and had instead disappeared, May pushed it to the side to continue to look. It didn't mean she wasn't alert enough to snap into a defensive position when Loki suddenly popped into place directly in front of her. "Come to try and take me down?" She grinned wolfishly at the Asgardian.
Loki couldn't help but grin the same way back. "No. We are," he said with a laugh in his tone.
Melinda blinked and quickly glanced around. "We?"
Natasha quickly crept up on May from behind, knowing the other woman was likely to be aware she was there... but then again, that was why Loki and Natasha were working together. As soon as she was within range, she attempted a tackle.
May had been aware of someone creeping up behind. Luckily, she didn't need to see the person to be able to react. She'd quickly maneuvered herself so that she could flip whoever it was over her and roll out of the way. She grinned when she caught a glimpse of red hair- Her and Natasha were pretty evenly matched when it came to fighting. Having Loki thrown into the mix would make it interesting. Especially when.... "Clones? Really?" she huffed as she glanced around and realized that 'Loki' was completely surrounding her. And in her scuffle with Natasha, she'd somehow misplaced which one was the real Loki.
All the Lokis shrugged and gave her a tiny smirk. May rolled her eyes.
Natasha recovered quickly from the flip and smirked as she saw Loki had split himself. She didn't pause for long, though, before she was going after May once more, aiming to subdue the other woman as quickly as possible.
It was moments like these, she was glad Loki had turned over a new leaf and was on their side. If he'd been against her, he could have used numerous methods to take her down that would have been painful. He was attempting to be a team player and somewhat fair, since he didn't use any of them. It allowed her to engage Natasha in hand-to-hand. Not that she was ignoring Loki. She fully expected him to jump in when she least expected it.
Natasha didn't hold back, though she treated this like training rather than an actual fight, so a lot of her punches and kicks didn't have as much force behind them as she could have put. She was working to disable May... not put her out of action.
May grinned. She didn't often get to train with Natasha...she was thinking they needed to change that. They all tended to stick to their regular training partners, but she was getting quite a workout grappling and fighting with her 'niece' and it was a lot of fun. She'd just tossed Natasha away from her and was preparing to do her own tackle when suddenly, she had arms wrapped tightly around her torso, immobilizing her. Loki lifted her up off the ground so she couldn't get a good brace to fight back. "Damn..." she huffed out, blowing a lock of hair out of her face. "I could have sworn the real you was standing next to that tree over there and not behind me...."
Loki chuckled then glanced at his cousin. "I hope you don't mind. I was getting a bit bored just standing there. Shall we take her to our jail?"
Natasha grinned at her cousin and aunt. "Good idea. You'll have company," she teased. "We have my big brother, too..." She headed back in the direction of their jail.
May raised an eyebrow, but didn't bother trying to get out of Loki's grip. "Who caught Clint? He's normally as slippery as you are...."
Natasha smiled. "Wanda did. I don't know all of the details, but I suspect she used her abilities to cut off his avenues of escape."
"Ah...that would do it." May grinned as the jail came into focus and Loki finally put her back down so she could walk on her own. She stepped in and nodded at Clint. "So...do you think the guys caught any of us?"
"Haven't got a clue." Clint laughed.
Natasha grinned. "I'm sure it's possible. After all, my nephew's hard to outrun," she teased.
"He could be trapped, though," Wanda commented.
May nodded then chuckled. "I've been thinking...we never set up a way to let anyone know when the game was over. If someone captures the flags but over half the players are in jail... how is anyone going to find out about it?"
"Tony probably has some kind of loudspeaker in the mansion," Natasha commented. "We can always use that."
"Well...yeah. I suppose so. As long as whoever is supposed to use it knows it needs to be used...." May snorted in amusement.
Pietro was zooming through the wooded area, going at top speed... even though he was keeping his eyes open. He had yet to see any of the members of the opposing teams.
Bobbi was making her own way through the woods when she'd noticed the blur that was her nephew. She halted nearly immediately, deciding that she would attempt to capture the kid...she just needed to figure out how to do so.
Pietro spotted Bobbi's movements at about the same time as she spotted him, but he didn't stop or even slow down. Instead, he zoomed straight for his aunt, aiming to either knock her down or grab her.
Bobbi couldn't say what came over her, but when she saw her nephew rushing toward her at such a high rate of speed, she shrieked and spun around, running toward the nearest tree. Her shriek carried through the woods to all the jails.
Pietro didn't need to speed up to catch up with his aunt and when he reached her, he grabbed her using one of the arm locks his father had trained him in.
Bobbi, realizing that the armlock he had on her would require she either hurt him to escape (something she wasn't willing to do), or hurt herself (something that would make him feel bad and she wasn't willing to do that either) just went limp and dropped. He'd either have to carry her to jail or let her go. She was hoping he'd let her go.
Although he wasn't as strong as some of the other family members, Pietro prided himself on being strong enough to drag people along with him. He dropped with his aunt and took a tighter hold on her, then began running back to his jail.
Bobbi stayed limp all the way back to the jail. When Pietro put her down, she glanced around then pouted. "I'm all by myself...." She wasn't whining, but she did sound disappointed.
Pietro glanced around then back at his aunt. "I'll stay and guard you," he offered. "That way, you'll have someone to talk to." He paused then added, "I think the parents probably got most of the prisoners."
Bobbi nodded. "I think you're right," she admitted. "I haven't seen too many of us the last half hour that aren't parents...."
"You managed to evade capture so far, then." Pietro grinned.
"Until you!" Bobbi was grinning, though.
Trip came by at that moment. "I'm not sure where Leo is, but I think the three of us are the only ones from our team not captured." He chuckled slightly as he relayed the news to Pietro.
"We'd better make sure we don't get ourselves captured as well." Pietro grinned at his cousin.
Bobbi grinned. "I guess we're doing one better than you all..." she bragged playfully. Then, she frowned. "Of course, since I was one of the ones captured, I can't really talk...."
Pepper was hiding. She'd got the flag from the guys' side and if she could just get the flag from the parents' side, then the game would be over. The problem was, there was always at least one parent guarding their jail; and, as a result, guarding their flag. Her only chance was if they let down their guard for long enough for her to sneak in and grab the flag. Unless.... She narrowed her eyes and began to maneuver herself away from the jail. Maybe she could capture the flag from behind where it was hidden, instead of heading in facing it....
Thor had switched over guarding the jail with Fury, who wanted to stay and keep an eye on his daughter. The Asgardian was now moving as stealthily as he could through the undergrowth... which actually wasn't stealthy at all. Thor had never been one for sneaking around. He'd chosen not to bring his hammer with him... but he was certain he'd have no trouble subduing an opponent even without his trusted weapon.
Trip had left Pietro guarding Bobbi and gone to see if he couldn't find at least one other person to capture. He was a bit disappointed in the progress of his team; they were all specialists and yet they'd only managed to capture one prisoner, while nearly all of them had got captured. He was certain there was a lesson in there somewhere...and it would probably be pointed out by their parents, once the game was over. He was being very quiet; he couldn't afford to be captured himself. He began to grin when he saw Thor push his way past...if he could take Thor down... well, he'd have to do it quick. Nodding to himself, he withdrew the rope that he'd tucked into a pocket. He hoped Thor would forgive his methods, but if he was to stand a chance at all, he figured this was the only way.
He quickly pounced, using a move that was meant to off-balance a larger opponent...and then, as soon as Thor was half-way on the ground and trying to twist around to stop him...he quickly tied his arms together behind his back.
Thor stopped twisting round when he felt his arms tied together and sighed, though he was a good sport and looked with some amusement over his shoulder at Trip. "I was not expecting someone to use rope," he all but boomed out. "Good work on capturing me." He wasn't being patronising... just giving credit where it was due.
"Really?" Trip grinned, relieved Thor wasn't upset about him using rope. "I hate that I had to use the rope, but....I don't think I could have got you to surrender if it was just me." His grin was sheepish, as he began to gently lead Thor back to the jail.
Thor went along without protest. "You must use what you have at hand," he said.
Trip smiled. "Thanks, man. Appreciate the understanding..." He grinned as they reached the jail and Thor could step inside next to Bobbi.
Bobbi blinked. "Well, hi there, big guy...." She moved over to untie him and tossed Trip the rope. "I'm not by myself anymore! That makes me feel so much better." She laughed.
Thor smiled at Bobbi as he stepped into the jail, allowing her to untie him before he glanced at Pietro. "Ah... you were captured through speed?" he guessed.
Pietro grinned at the big Asgardian, but didn't say anything.
"Yep. I'm surprised you didn't hear my shriek when I was caught." Bobbi laughed softly.
Trip grinned again. "Well, as we are vastly outnumbered, I'm thinking we better get out there and try and change a few things. You coming, Speedy?" he asked Pietro.
Pietro nodded and grinned. "Of course. Though maybe we should set up traps here... in case anyone comes," he suggested.
"Yeah, that'd probably be a good idea..." Trip began to make such a trap a few feet away from the jail. "After this, we should try and go and free some of our team...."
"Any idea where Leo is?" Pietro asked curiously.
"Last I saw him, he was setting up traps around our flag...Odd. I'm pretty sure he finished that a while ago. You think he got caught?" Trip frowned, looking around trying to see if maybe his cousin had hidden himself close by to catch people and maybe fallen asleep or something. "As much wooded area as we are playing in, he could be anywhere..." he sighed.
At that point, Leo was making his way back to his team base, having scouted ahead to see if he could find their parents' jail. He stepped into view, smiled at Bobbi and Thor, and then spoke to Trip and Pietro. "So... the rest of us have been imprisoned by the parents. Fury's with them right now."
"We three are all that's left? And my dad is the one guarding?" Trip slumped. "Dang... freeing our team ain't gonna be easy, then...." Trip wrinkled his nose. "I know that most people would think one of the Avengers would be harder to get by... but dad wasn't the head of all the super-spies for no reason...."
Bobbi couldn't help snort at that. "I'm beginning to see why so few of the parents have been captured...I didn't think about it when making the teams, but they have the majority of the 'super' powered individuals... or the super-spies... and while none of us are exactly weak, they also have experience on their side. We should have known better...." She laughed.
Trip shook his head. "Well, in any case, if we have any hope of winning, we either need to make a run for the flags, or try and free some of our team. And we have so few people that the choice is either go into both with only two players; or leave our jail unguarded. What do you two want to do?" he asked Leo and Pietro.
"I think we should make freeing more of our team a priority," Leo said. "We can't afford to lose any more."
"I can get in and out at top speed, so long as someone causes a distraction," Pietro said.
Trip nodded. "Leo and I should be able to provide that...as long as we are careful not to be caught ourselves...."
"That shouldn't be hard," Leo said. "There's probably a lot I can use to make something to cause a distraction out of."
"Let's get moving, then..." Trip grinned.
Pietro grinned and tossed a wave at their two prisoners, before heading off in the direction Leo had come from.
Leo smiled at the two 'trapped' family members and headed after his cousin.
Trip shrugged, grinned at Thor and Bobbi, "you two behave yourselves!" And took off running toward the parents' side of the woods.
Leo led the way towards the parents' jail. Not too far, he began working on a trap. "If we can get someone chasing us and lead them across here, they'll fall into the hole," he said.
Trip winced. "I dunno...that's a good idea for a trap, if you don't care if someone hurts themselves or not.... I know Cap and Bucky can heal quick, but if my dad or your dad...or Uncle Phil fell in, it could be a different story...."
Leo frowned, a concerned look coming over his face. "I didn't make it that deep, but... you're right. I wouldn't want anyone to get hurt. I could probably rig up a makeshift net using the same kind of principle..."
"The net would probably be less dangerous... and a lot more funny..." Trip chuckled.
Pietro grinned at the thought. "Yeah... Then we could either carry the net back with us, gaining another prisoner, or leave them for someone else to free... either way, it's one less person to chase us."
"We might want to leave Brock in the jail, especially if your dad's going to be the one chasing us," Leo said to Trip. "I didn't get really close, but I could see your sister has her ankle bandaged. I'm guessing she got hurt."
Trip nodded. "We can wait to get Brock out last, if we have time to get more than one or two out. That way, my dad can stay back with her if needed."
"Should we split up now?" Pietro asked. "I can circle round..."
"You almost got the net ready, Leo? If so...we can go and draw some of them out..." Trip was more than ready to capture someone.
Leo nodded, straightening from his work. "All done. Just make sure to avoid the trigger." He indicated.
Pietro moved away from his teammates, so he could circle round the back.
"Got it!" Trip grinned then made his way forward, making certain to not try and hide his approach. He wanted to draw as many of the parents out as possible.
Leo walked next to his cousin, trying hard to look like he was just stumbling along randomly. Even though he kept his eyes in front of them, he made a few casual observations... as if he had no idea they were headed into 'enemy' territory.
Bucky had come back toward the jail to see who all was in it when the two younger men had begun their procession. "They aren't being terribly stealthy..." he muttered to Nick with a snort. "You think they're up to something?"
Pepper had been hiding, waiting for her moment to sneak in and grab the parents' flag, for so long, she was beginning to think she should just give up. Then, she noticed something out of the corner of her eye. Raising an eyebrow, she watched as Pietro quietly made his way toward the jail...meanwhile, someone was making a lot of noise.
Fury snorted softly. "I think it's quite clear they're up to something. And there's two of them. Which means either there's someone been captured by the girls' team... or they're trying to provide a distraction for someone."
Close enough to hear Fury speak, Pietro put on a burst of speed and grabbed for the first member of his team he could get his hands on.
Grant supposed he should count himself fortunate that he'd been paying attention to what was being said, otherwise he never would have been ready when his nephew grabbed him and dragged him nearly thirty feet before he was able to gain his footing and begin running with Pietro. Even then, his feet only touched ground every sixth foot as Pietro literally pulled him through the woods and back toward their home base.
"Daaaaayum!" Trip could be heard exclaiming, as his cousins went tearing by him at breakneck speed.
Pepper's eyes widened and she watched carefully, hoping that the parents would take the bait and leave things unguarded enough so she could sneak in after the flag.
Pietro knew he would have little trouble getting Grant back to their own base... though he was also hoping that Trip and Leo wouldn't wind up getting captured, which would end up making this an exercise in futility.
Fury hesitated for a split second... but since Brock was with Kara, he knew she was in good hands... which left him free to go after his son and nephew.
Trip didn't want to get too close to his father's base... he wasn't sure how many of the parents were there and how many had been caught....and he knew if he got too close and they were all there, the chances of his getting caught were more likely. He waited until he caught a glimpse of his father coming his way, then turned tail and ran back toward where Leo had built the trap.
Leo barely waited, running almost before Trip did. He swerved past where the trigger for the trap was, heading back to their own base.
Fury continued after his son, relatively fast for his age. He did keep himself in fairly good shape, after all.
Trip skirted the trigger as well, but barely. He wanted his father to run over it, after all; and if he didn't get close to it, his father would follow him around it.
Pepper saw Fury take off. She was about to get frustrated at the fact that Bucky wasn't going as well (she had no clue where her father or Uncle Phil were at this point in time), but then Bucky seemed to decide that he was going to help Nick out and took off after the other man. Glancing around again to make certain no parents were paying attention to their flag, she carefully snuck her way through the traps toward her goal.
Fury was observant... he had to be, after all, due to his job... but it didn't occur to him that his son and nephew would have made a trap. His foot caught in the trigger and he was hauled up into the net.
Trip slowed down and doubled back. He wouldn't get his father down to take him back to jail until he was positive someone hadn't followed his father. It wouldn't do him any good to get caught while getting his father down.
Bucky couldn't help himself. He stopped under the net holding his brother and began laughing. "Are you alright?" he managed to ask between guffaws.
"I'm sure this is very funny," Fury said dryly. "But do you mind holding it in until after you help me down?"
"Yeah...Ok." Bucky managed to reign in his humor as he began looking for the rope that kept the net in place. He was so busy looking for a way to get his brother down he didn't notice Trip sneaking up on him.
Bruce had this strange feeling that something wasn't right. It wasn't a bad feeling, exactly...he knew there was nothing serious going on that he needed to alert everyone too; but something in the game felt... off. Glancing toward where his team had hidden their flag, he narrowed his eyes.
Pepper was lying flat on her stomach under a bush, not more than five feet from the flag. She'd just about been ready to crawl out from under the bush to make a dash to the flag and grab it when she'd noticed Bruce turning her way. It was all she could do to keep still, her nerves were so wound up.
Bruce gave up his search and turned back to face forward, worried that Pietro would grab another prisoner.
Pepper, seeing her opportunity, quickly rushed in, grabbed the flag, stuffed it down her shirt to join the guy's flag and ran back to her bush. She then began a careful trek back to her home base.
Pietro slowed as soon as he reached his team's base and let go of Grant, glancing worriedly back the way they'd come. "I should go back... check to make sure they didn't get caught." If they had, he'd be fast enough to grab one of them and bring them back. Hopefully.
"I'll go back with you..." Grant smiled, moving to do just that.
Pietro nodded and grabbed his uncle, running at top speed back the way they'd come.
Meanwhile, Trip had launched himself at his uncle, hoping that he might catch him unaware with rope, like he'd done Thor.
Bucky saw Trip out of the corner of his eye and moved at the last second.
Leo's eyes widened with worry as he saw Bucky move out of Trip's way from his position several metres away, behind a tree. Not sure what else to do, he came forward to help. Maybe he wasn't as strong as Trip was... but Fury was still in the net; and if Leo could distract Bucky, Trip might be able to bring him down.
Grant blinked as he suddenly found himself back in the clearing with Fury in the net and Bucky facing off with Trip and Leo. He quickly joined the other two members of his team to surround their uncle. He didn't know if Pietro planned to help them, or if he planned to go free more of their team...but he figured if they could catch Bucky, it would make things easier for them.
Pietro hesitated, but even with his uncle as strong as he was, it was currently three against one. He did aim his burst of speed back to the jail at Bucky, though... just in case he could knock his uncle off balance and therefore give his team members a bit more of a fighting chance.
Bucky had to choose who to face; and because he knew both Trip and Grant had been trained as specialists, he focused on them. It wasn't that he thought Fitz incapable, but he wasn't as trained.
Leo knew he wasn't as trained as Trip and Grant were, but that didn't stop him from knowing how to use what was around him. He began working fast to create a trap, as Bucky wasn't focused on him and was concentrating on the others.
Bucky shook his head as first Trip then Grant moved close, before dancing out of reach in a frustrating game of cat and mouse. He backed up closer and closer to Leo, not noticing what the younger man was doing.
Leo worked quickly, creating a 'cage' out of vines and branches. He'd had to move up into one of the trees to do so, careful to make sure he was out of Fury's eyeshot... since he didn't want his uncle warning Bucky. As soon as Bucky had moved within reach (under the branch he was sitting on), Leo shifted his position, careful to make sure the branch was sturdy enough to hold his weight, and made to drop the cage down over Bucky.
Bucky stopped directly under Leo because Trip and Grant had suddenly stopped. "What are you two....?" he began, only to let out a startled yell when a cage suddenly dropped onto him.
Leo slipped out of the tree, climbing carefully down, as he watched to make sure the cage held. He was pretty sure he'd made it sturdy enough, though.
At that point, Pietro skidded back into the clearing, tugging Lance along with him. "Looks like you didn't need any extra help after all."
Trip shook his head, surprised they'd not only managed to catch his father, the ultimate spy, but Bucky...one of the hardest men to catch in SHIELD history (until Steve jogged his memory). "Yeah...let's get Dad down from that net and get them back to our jail before we attempt another jailbreak. They'll be watching for us now...."
"Yeah, well..." A blank look came over Pietro's face as his sister's voice echoed inside his mind. He shook his head to clear it then focused on the team members with a slightly sheepish look on his face. "Seems the game's over... Wanda just told me Pepper grabbed our flag. And the parents'."
Trip just stared at Pietro. "You're kidding, right?" He moved over to the rope holding the net (and his father) up in the air and waited for someone to come help him gently lower him down.
"Really?" Grant looked almost as skeptical as Trip did. "But...how did Pepper find and capture them all? I don't think I've seen her once this entire game!" He went and stood next to Trip, getting a good grip on the rope.
By this time, Bucky had managed to break his way out of the trap holding him and was standing under his brother, waiting to catch him if something went wrong and his nephews couldn't lower the net slowly.
Trip and Grant began lowering Nick down. "I guess someone better go tell the others so they don't sit in jail for no reason...." Trip chuckled.
"I'll do that." Without waiting for a response, Pietro zoomed off to go and let everyone else know that the game was over.
Lance moved over to help his father and brothers. "Typical... I get broken out when all the excitement's over," he joked.
Bucky grinned at his son. "The others weren't broken out much before you... and from the sounds of it, there was no excitement; until Pepper snuck back to her base. I'm still wondering how she managed to elude so many seasoned agents. Tony never said she had ninja training..." He laughed.
Lance smiled at his father. "Looks like we know for next time... don't underestimate the businesswoman," he teased.
Leo helped with getting Fury down and it didn't take long for the older man to be on his feet. "I'll head back... see if Kara needs me to carry her. I'm guessing we'll be heading to the girls' base," Fury said.
Trip laughed. "We should never underestimate anyone, really. She just reminded us all of that fact...."
Leo began dismantling the traps he'd made. "We should do this again soon," he commented.
Trip nodded. "I agree." He began helping to dismantle the traps.
Leo collected up everything that couldn't be safely left. "I'll also head back to our base and dismantle the traps there," he said.
"I'll help," Lance offered.
Pietro zoomed to the parents' base and approached with his hands held up. "The game's over," he said. "Pepper captured the flags."
Tony blinked at Pietro. "Pepper? My Pepper?" It wasn't easy to tell which was stronger; his surprise that his fiancé had won the game or his pride that his fiancé had won the game.
Pietro nodded. "I think everyone's congregating at the girls' base... if you all want to start heading there." He zoomed off to track down everyone else.
Fury came into view at that moment and stepped over to Kara. "I can carry you back," he said, reaching out to wrap his arms around his daughter.
"Ok, daddy..." Kara reached up and wrapped her arms around her father's shoulders. As soon as she was able, she wrapped her legs around his waist again figuring it would be less tiring to him if she helped hold herself on him; plus, it let him have use of his hands if needed.
Tony grinned at the 'picture' his uncle and cousin made then shook his head. "I'll make a quick run by my team's side and dismantle any remaining traps. Don't want to catch unsuspecting wildlife...." He took off at a jog.
Fury made sure his daughter was secure in his arms and then glanced at his youngest son. "Are you coming with us?" he asked Brock.
Skye stood and began heading back to her team's base.
Pepper was taking the long way around to her team's base. She had somehow made it around the group of men who were... had they trapped Fury in a tree? She was still shaking her head about that one, but she somehow made it past them and into her home territory. She felt she could finally relax when she saw Natasha, Loki and Wanda standing in front of their team jail, conferring over what they wanted to do next. "Hey..." she breathed out shakily, feeling like she'd been running for her life, rather than slinking through the woods. She tossed the two flags she'd captured on the ground. "What are we doing next?"
Clint's eyes widened as he saw the flags. "You captured the flags." His voice was flat. It was hard to process that not only had the only non-trained individual in the family captured a flag...but she'd captured both of them. "You captured the flags and there is no one chasing you to get them back...." He glanced behind her, not seeing even a whisper of movement.
Pepper shrugged. "No one saw me. I'll be lucky if I don't have ticks or poison ivy all over me, though, as much crawling on the ground and through bushes as I did...." She shivered, gave a look that conveyed 'ick' and absently scratched at an arm.
Clint smirked. "I'm sure Tony won't mind doing a tick check for you.... Ow!" He rubbed his arm and pouted at Pepper. "You hit hard!"
"And now we need to figure out how to let the others know that... well, they've lost," Natasha said.
"I can tell Pietro," Wanda said. "He can let the others know." Her eyes gleamed red.
Pepper grinned impishly. The effect was ruined by her scratching at her shoulder this time. "I really need a shower..." she muttered mournfully.
Thor frowned in concern. "There is no reason not to return inside, so you can shower," he said.
"You might want to give one of us the flags while you do," Natasha joked. "Just in case anyone tries to call foul."
"And miss everyone's faces when they see that I actually got them? Admit it. None of you thought I'd be much more than distraction while you did all the work," Pepper teased, the impish grin growing in size. "I promise I will take a shower immediately once we are inside, though." She scratched at her stomach unthinkingly. "Are we supposed to all meet back at the house, or is everyone going to come here to make sure we actually have the flags?"
Bobbi wandered closer. "I suggest we all meet here...since that is where most of us started heading as soon as Pietro passed on the news." She laughed.
Natasha smiled at Bobbi... and Thor, noticing the Asgardian following. "Did both of you get captured by the boys?"
Thor nodded. "They were... worthy opponents." He grinned.
"I think everyone was a worthy opponent...I think the parents might have won if it hadn't been for Pepper, though...I'm pretty certain they were well on their way to capturing everybody." Bobbi grinned.
Pepper shook her head. "I think the game might have gone on a lot longer, honestly; the guys made a run on the jail and not only caught Uncle Nick and Uncle Bucky, but freed at least three of their own team...."
Thor's grin widened. "Perhaps it would be a good idea to play again in the future. But with ways of communicating with each other that do not involve sending team members running."
Natasha nodded. "It's good to bear that in mind for the future."
Clint laughed. "Well, I can't argue with that; as much fun as it is to see Pietro flitting around like a busy bee... it would probably be a good idea to do in case someone got hurt and Pietro or Wanda wasn't nearby to relay the information."
"It might be a good idea to mix the teams up a bit, too," Natasha added. "Get everyone used to working with each other."
Clint nodded. "That's true." He began to help Natasha and Loki dismantle any traps that were near their base, while they waited for the others to arrive.
With everyone pitching in, it hadn't taken long for all traps to be dismantled and everyone to finally make their way to the girls' and Loki's base. Loki blinked at seeing Fury carrying Kara. He hadn't realized anyone had been hurt. "However did you hurt yourself?" he asked curiously, walking over and looking at her very swollen ankle.
"I fell out of a tree," Kara admitted sheepishly. "I'll need to put ice on this as soon as I get home, I guess." She sighed.
Loki raised an eyebrow and then, without saying anything, touched the sock that she'd pulled back up over the bandage and 'frosted' it for her. "Until you can find something better." He smiled slightly, nodding at Nick before moving back to join his team.
Pepper couldn't help the big grin on her face as everyone showed up. She held up the two flags she'd captured and waved them. "I got by you...." she said in a sing-song voice.
Tony burst out laughing, but then moved to her side and kissed her on the cheek. "Good job, honey...."
Steve stepped over and wrapped an arm around Pepper's waist, kissing her head. "I think there should be a prize involved... was there anything you wanted?" he asked his daughter.
Fury smiled gratefully at Loki then addressed his daughter. "Ready to head back inside?"
Pietro stopped next to his sister, breathing a bit heavy. "Next time... could we use the comms? I never thought about how big this place was..." And it didn't help that not everyone had been standing in view.
Clint grinned at his son, walking over to put an arm around Pietro and Wanda. "That's the plan...that and mixing the teams up."
"Yes, daddy...." Kara smiled, putting her head on his shoulder. She couldn't seem to stop herself from snuggling.
"Not really...." Pepper smiled and leaned against her father. "Although....I think I'd really like Thai food tonight...if that's ok with everyone else?"
Wanda immediately leaned into her father, cuddling in close. "Can I be on your team next time, Papa?"
Pietro snorted softly, but leaned into his father. "Did you capture anyone?" he asked his sister.
Wanda just smiled at her brother.
Coulson gave each of his children a hug and a quick once-over. "Any scratches or scrapes that need to be seen to?"
Steve tightened his hold on his daughter. "I'm sure we can manage that."
Fury began carrying his daughter inside.
Clint snorted. "She caught me..." he admitted with a hint of pride in his voice.
Bobbi hugged her father back then answered. "I'm ok as far as I can tell. Just need to do a tick check when we get inside...."
Grant wrinkled his nose. "Same here."
Pepper heard her cousins and couldn't help but shiver. "I certainly hope I don't have ticks- I'm pretty sure I got poison."
Tony wrapped an arm around her waist form the other side and kissed her cheek. "I'll make sure you don't have any creepy crawlies on you. And I'm pretty sure we have Calamine lotion for the poison. Or Benedryl. Whichever you'd rather use.
Kara nuzzled closer then whispered into her father's ear. "...love you daddy...."
Pietro smirked at his sister. "Good job."
Wanda just cuddled in closer to Clint.
Coulson nodded. "We should probably all do that."
Steve tightened his embrace around Pepper. "Was it worth it?" he teased gently.
Fury smiled at his daughter. "I love you too."
Pepper grinned at her father and fiancé. "Oh, yeah..." Her grin was so big, Tony couldn't help but laugh happily with her.
When they all got to the mansion and inside, Bobbi stood and watched as everyone went to their rooms to check themselves out and clean up. She glanced at her father before he disappeared. "As much as I know we'll be happy to be back at the tower with our own space, I'm gonna kinda miss being here..." she said with a sigh.
Coulson wrapped his arm around Bobbi's shoulders, squeezing gently. "I know how you feel," he said gently. "There's no reason we can't come back here... after all, the grounds are good for playing capture the flag," he commented.
Bobbi smiled at her father, leaning over and kissing him on the cheek. "I love you, daddy..." she said softly. "Now...I gotta go hunt for ticks." She wrinkled her nose at him playfully, before heading up to her own room.
It was later in the evening by the time the last of the belongings had been moved to the tower, even though the packing itself hadn't taken very long at all. The family, including Sam and Rhodey, were on the common floor, having ordered in Thai food... and several bottles of champagne to celebrate the move back.
Tony was grinning at his best friend. "I know that you won't take me up on moving in here... but there's still a floor for you that you can call your own, for those times when you just don't feel like heading back to your own place...." He turned and looked at Sam and grinned at him as well. "Same goes for you. A floor entirely your own...I know you don't like the idea of leaving your space; but if for some reason you need to find a new place, this one is yours." He raised his glass in a semi-toast to both men, before tugging Pepper in closer against him.
"I know why Rhodey won't move in; he's gone so much, but he does have a nice apartment. I wish you'd reconsider, though, Sam. You have one room. One room! And it is in one of the more dangerous parts of town and I worry about you, even if you can take care of yourself." Pepper's voice matched her words and her nose wrinkled up in distress. "What with all those vigilantes and gang wars between the Russians and Chinese and...well.... That editor got murdered the other day, the one that covers news in that area, and he actually lived in one of the nicer apartments there!" Sniffling slightly and wiping at her eyes, Pepper shook her head slightly. "Sorry. I don't mean to be nagging...I just..." She shrugged slightly, looking at her hands that she'd wrapped around her knees.
"Pepper has a point, though," Steve commented. "It would give us all peace of mind if we knew you were safe."
"I feel like I'm being ganged up on here," Sam said, with a trace of amusement in his voice. "If I say no, are you going to kidnap me?" Although he was joking, he was definitely taking on board his friends' worry. In fact, he had been considering moving. There were dangerous situations... and then there was not feeling safe at all. And if Sam was honest with himself, he didn't feel safe where he was staying any more.
Loki perked up, an innocent smile on his face and a mischievous gleam in his eye. "Is that an option?"
Bucky grinned at the younger Asgardian, before looking at Sam. "The first time I ever saw you, I was on the wrong side of a fight; and I could tell you were more than capable of taking care of yourself. But if you can be in a place that you don't need to take care of yourself all the time? Especially if those who love you worry? I dunno, but it seems like something to think about...." He didn't push or prod, the kid would do what he wanted to do, but at least now, maybe he'd think about it some more.
Grant had been partly listening in and partly looking at the information Skye, Bobbi and Kara had found. He looked up. "All this vigilante, gang war stuff…. Do you think HYDRA could be involved?"
Coulson frowned, his worry spiking. "It wouldn't be a surprise if they are," he answered. "It's something we should see if we can trace to any known HYDRA agents..."
Skye glanced at them. "HYDRA seems to be involved in a lot that's going on."
"We find it at the source, we can break one of their footholds," Natasha commented.
"That whole cut off one head, two more grow in its place...wasn't just to scare the uninformed..." Grant muttered morosely.
Clint glanced at his brother, then the other family members. "If they are involved, we'll find out about it and at least, hopefully, put a stop to this particular area of their goals. And maybe find out more information to go after some other areas as well. If they aren't involved, better we find out who is. HYDRA isn't the only bad guy out there and we'd be foolish to act like they are...."
Tony nodded. "Which doesn't answer the question on if Sam is gonna move in to the floor we made special for him. But I suppose that doesn't need an answer immediately. As long as he and Rhodey both spend tonight, since it is so late and they helped us all move and I was hoping to unveil something that will be helpful to everyone, but I'm not sure now is a good time and I'm really nervous about it...." He bit his lip, glancing at his best friend; who actually knew the secret, but only because he'd walked in on Tony setting in the last parameters to it.
"Go on, Tony, it's a good surprise; even if bittersweet...." Rhodey encouraged.
Tony took a deep breath. "Ok, well... Veronica...how would you like to introduce yourself?"
"I had believed that they had all met me when I assisted you during Ultron's bid for power, sir... but, hello, everyone. I am Veronica. I will be assisting you in running the tower for day to day items, as well as security. I hope you will be happy with my assistance, as I have some rather large processers to fill, considering who my predecessor was...." A woman's voice carried clearly through the room.
Steve smiled at Tony, knowing how much JARVIS' loss had hurt his son, and placed a hand on his son's shoulder, squeezing gently. "That's a very good surprise," he said gently, pressing a kiss to the side of his head.
Lance grinned. "Hello, Veronica," he said.
"It's nice to meet you," Coulson addressed the new AI.
"At least this means you can keep easier track of your family members," Sam said with a quick smile.
"I will also be able to keep track of yourself and Colonel Rhodes, sir. As long as you and the Colonel do not forbid it, that is..." Veronica stated precisely.
Tony got a sheepish look on his face. "Yeah. I would have just had her do it, but...well... I realized you might not like the idea. I am trying to not just steamroll people...."
Sam shrugged. "Most of the time, it wouldn't be a problem... might actually be helpful. As long as there's the expectation that, if it's necessary, I might have to 'go dark'."
Tony nodded. "There are times when the rest of the family has to go dark for certain operations...they just informed JARVIS himself...now they'll just inform Veronica. As long as one of the directors didn't countermand their order, it was all good. Of course, since you don't actually work for SHIELD, the directors won't be able to countermand your order. Do you have a superior officer that can come here and tell Veronica if she needs to locate you? Just in case? Would Steve count as a superior officer with abilities to countermand that order?" Tony stopped and slanted his head thoughtfully. He knew Sam worked with the Avengers sometimes, just like Rhodey did, but he wasn't sure if he had joined officially enough that Steve could give him orders or not.
Sam thought for a moment, but then nodded. "I trust Steve to countermand an order if he feels it's necessary," he said.
"I'm quite willing to act in that regard," Steve said.
"Rhodey?" Tony asked his best friend. He knew better than to offer himself up as able to countermand a direction to keep his location secret- if he was worried enough to want Veronica to find Rhodey, chances are he'd do it whether it was really necessary or not. But if Rhodey trusted Steve or one of the others....
Rhodey- knowing what Tony was thinking- gave his 'brother' a fond smirk. "If it's really necessary, I trust Steve to know when to countermand my order also."
"Good then! Who wants pizza?" Tony grinned.
Steve smiled. "Pizza's good... to celebrate." He ate mostly healthy food, even though he technically didn't need to... but pizza was one of the unhealthy options he allowed himself to eat.
Sam nodded his agreement. "Pizza's good for me, too." He pasued, hearing his phone ringing, and stood up to answer it. "Excuse me a moment."
“You’re hungry again?! But we just ate Thai an hour ago!” Pepper blinked in astonishment. Everyone seemed to be in agreement about wanting pizza, however, so Pepper asked Veronica to take everyone's order. She didn't want to interrupt Sam's call so asked Steve what type of pizza he would like. If Steve didn't know, she was prepared to write down that he should tell Veronica what he wanted on his as soon as he was able.
Steve listed off a selection of toppings he knew Sam liked.
Sam stepped out of the room. "Matt. What's up?"
"I...I'm sorry, Sam...I know it's late, but Foggy and I had an argument and I don't want to hear him say 'I told you so', but he ended up being right and I'm in a bit of a bind and need your help...." Matt spit out the words before he could lose his nerve. Sam and he had become friendly after Matt had worked to get some of the veterans that Sam worked with items that had been promised to them by the landlords for the apartments they lived in. He had thought it disgraceful that someone would take advantage of a person who had, in some cases, given all but their life for their country; and he'd been happy to help. That it had given him one more person to rely on when he had gone further than he was able to handle on his own was a plus. Even so, it was late at night and unlike Foggy, Sam didn't know what his 'other' job was. If Sam helped him, the chances of him keeping that part of his life a secret were significantly decreased.
"Of course I'll help you," Sam replied, without any hesitation. "What happened? Where are you?" His voice was clear and reassuring... in many ways, adopting the same attitude as Coulson and Steve did when dealing with their kids... though he was unaware of that fact.
Matt blinked. He hadn't thought far enough ahead to if Sam actually agreed and wasn't sure what to tell him. "I'm...I'm at my apartment. I...I got into a fight and I've been cut up pretty badly. I can't take care of it myself for obvious reasons and I...I don't want to go to the hospital, because they'll ask questions I can't answer...." He didn't mention that he normally called Claire to fix him up. She'd been hurt herself not too long before; in fact, her being hurt was what had led to his actions tonight (and getting hurt himself) and he didn't want to worry her or scare her any more than she already had been.
"I'm at the Stark tower." Sam kept his voice calm and reassuring. "Doctor Bruce Banner is here as well. If I ask him to, he'll come with me so he can treat you." A note of worry had crept into his voice. He cared about Matt. He didn't want someone he considered a friend hurt.
"I..." Matt hedged. It was bad enough Sam was going to see him like this and realize it wasn't a normal bar fight he had got into. Matt had kept up with the news. He knew who Dr. Banner was. He knew who he associated with. He wasn't sure the Avengers would look all that favorably on his own nighttime excursions; he was pretty sure Sam wouldn't be very happy about it. Foggy certainly hadn't been; although his friend had eventually forgiven him, their relationship was still a bit strained from the fact that not only was Matt playing vigilante, he'd lied and hidden his activities for months and Foggy had to find out when he stumbled on Matt hurt in his apartment...not a lot unlike what was going to happen tonight, if Sam picked up on clues Matt didn't know he was giving.
Sam could tell that Matt wasn't telling him everything... and that there was probably a reason for his friend being reluctant to have Bruce there to help. But if Matt was hurt as badly as he thought, Sam had no intention of letting him suffer without the best doctor there. "I'm going to bring Doctor Banner," he said. "He's the best doctor I know. If you can find where you're bleeding, make sure you keep pressure on the wounds." He put his head round the door to catch Bruce's eye.
"Ok...." Matt said reluctantly, although he was pretty sure Sam had already hung up.
Bruce glanced over as Sam looked in and was surprised when the other man motioned him over. Standing, he walked over. "Do you need something?"
Sam nodded. "One of my friends just called me... he got hurt badly in a fight, but he doesn't want to go to the hospital. And he can't see to treat himself. Would you come and with me to treat him?"
"Of course," Bruce quickly agreed. "Let's stop by my floor so I can grab my bag. If he's hurt too badly, though, will he go to the hospital? If not, we may need to bring him by here."
"He said the hospital will ask questions he can't answer," Sam replied, unable to hide his worry. He began heading to the elevator, so they could get to Bruce's floor and retrieve what they needed.
Bruce gave Sam a startled look. "That...does not sound good." Bruce quickly gathered his supplies and moments later, they were on their way.
Sam was careful to keep to the speed limit... but he still made it to Matt's apartment in record time, getting out of the car almost before he'd parked it. He headed to the door and knocked... though he was prepared to break the door down if necessary.
Bruce followed closely behind. When the door quietly opened but no one could be seen on the other side, Bruce wrinkled his nose, allowing Sam to announce them before they entered.
Matt stood against the wall and to the side, tense and waiting to attack if the visitor wasn't his friend, but was one of his enemies and they'd followed him home.
Sam walked through the door, speaking as he did so. "It's me, Matt. I have Doctor Banner with me." His voice was still obviously worried. He cared about Matt and right now, his main focus was on getting his friend treated.
"Close the door...were you followed?" Matt finally moved away from the wall. Normally, he would have sensed such things without having to ask, but he'd been wounded badly and lost a lot of blood.
Bruce only had to look at him to know Matt was hurt more badly than he could take care of with his medical bag. He shook his head at Sam. "We need to either get you to a hospital or to the tower." His voice didn't leave room for argument.
Sam didn't move to close the door. Instead, he moved to Matt's side, speaking as he did so. "I understand you don't want to go to the hospital, but you're hurt badly. I'm going to take you back to the tower with us. I would suggest not trying to fight me on this... you're hurt enough as it is. None of us want it to get worse." He wrapped his arm around his friend so that he could guide Matt from the apartment and to the car.
"I can't..." Matt protested, but he couldn't actually fight Sam if he didn't want to use moves that would harm the other man. Soon, he found himself bundled into a car. He could only hope his friend had remembered to lock up.
Sam was worried about Matt, but still remembered to lock up the apartment to make sure his friend's belongings remained safe. He sat in the back with Matt, trusting Bruce to drive them back to the tower.
Bruce drove more quickly than he normally would- he hadn't liked the look of the wounds- but he did it in such a way that he hoped it didn't draw attention to them. Luck was with them, though and soon, he was pulling into the garage. "Take him to the medical floor..." he said to Sam. "Veronica? Please have Jemma meet us to assist."
Sam helped Matt out of the car, holding his friend close as he headed towards the elevator. "We're going up in the elevator to the medical floor," he said to Matt, the worry not leaving his voice at all.
Matt tried to keep any sounds of pain to himself. He could hear the worry in his friend's voice and it made him feel guilty for putting Sam through this. He still felt guilty over what he'd put Foggy through, between the lies and the fact he had disillusioned his friend so badly that Foggy was questioning everything about their friendship. He hated that he might end up doing the same to Sam. Unfortunately, Bruce hadn't been wrong and he was in bad shape. He couldn't help the whimper of pain that tore through his throat when he stepped on his foot the wrong way and aggravated an already painful wound.
Sam eyed Matt with worry and when the elevator stopped, instead of helping his friend off, he lifted Matt into his arms and carried him onto the medical floor, heading towards one of the examination rooms.
"Wha..?" Matt fumbled with his hands until he could grasp Sam tightly. The new position was unsettling for someone used to being in control of their body. His skills and abilities weren't working and he couldn't figure out why. It was frightening, though he wouldn't admit it.
"I know you can normally walk, but you don't need to strain your wounds right now," Sam said. "I'm helping you until you can help yourself. There's no shame in it. All of us need to accept help at one time or another."
"I...I can accept help when I have no choice...." Matt admitted softly. "It isn't easy, though...."
Bruce brought over a scanner as well as blood and items needed to do minor surgery, having obtained Matt's blood type from records that Veronica hacked. Jemma had arrived by that point. "There are obvious gunshot wounds...two of which don't appear to have exit wounds, so we need to get the bullets out. It will hurt...we'll need to numb the area as much as possible."
"Ok, daddy...." Jemma nodded, quickly moving toward Matt with the items to numb him.
"I know." Sam rubbed Matt's arm gently, careful not to aggravate his wounds, even as he listened to Bruce's comments. "Someone brought a gun to a bar fight?" he probed gently, absolutely certain that it wasn't a normal bar fight Matt had been involved in.
"It...wasn't a normal bar..." Matt said, with trepidation.
Bruce and Jemma didn't say much, beyond quiet murmurs asking for items or to direct Sam to maneuver Matt into certain positions. They let Sam do the talking.
"What was it?" Sam pushed, still keeping in contact with Matt. His voice was still worried... but also serious, knowing that Matt was keeping something from him.
"It...it was a hangout for the Russians...." he admitted unwillingly. He wasn't sure why he'd told Sam the truth, other than the fact that his secrets and lies had nearly destroyed his and Foggy's relationship and he didn't want the same thing to happen with Sam.
"...What were you doing there?" Sam's mind was conjuring up all kinds of reasons for that... none of them good and all of them causing him even more worry for his friend. Was Matt still in danger?
It was here that Matt's need to tell the truth and not keep secrets anymore ran headlong into his need to not involve anyone else and keep his secrets. He tried to figure out how to phrase things without Sam figuring out that he was the man who had been on the news; the vigilante in Hell's Kitchen that had been accused of murdering policemen (though he hadn't done that and he had hoped that his giving them all the information on Fisk would have stopped those accusations.) He wasn't sure Sam would understand. "I was there for work..." he finally said. "I can't tell you more than that, though...." He winced at the thought that Sam was either going to assume he was acting as a lawyer on behalf of a Russian thug, or that he was going to assume Matt's client was against the Russian thugs. Attorney client privilege should keep Sam from asking any more questions and would prevent him from discovering Matt's night time activities; but Matt had pretty much lied to the his friend by using the truth to misdirect and it made him feel horrible.
Sam was frowning. Even though he knew Matt wouldn't be able to see the suspicion on his face, he was certain that it was going to come through in his voice. Sam might not be observant in the same way as many of the Avengers were, but he was reasonably certain that Matt wasn't telling him the whole truth. Probably if his friend wasn't so badly hurt, he'd be doing a better job of hiding it... but it was likely the pain Matt was in wasn't helping him keep from giving out the non-verbal clues Sam was picking up on.
For now, Sam stayed silent, though he kept in contact with Matt, so his friend would know he was still there. He wasn't sure he should continue to push at all... but he definitely didn't feel right doing that while Bruce and Jemma were an audience.
Bruce might have been unassuming and tended to remain withdrawn in most situations (at least where he wasn't with family), but he was a very good judge of character...and he was very informed of what was going on around him. He could tell Sam's friend Matt was a good man. He could also tell he was hiding something big and was torn between admitting the truth to his friend or keeping it hidden. And Bruce had read enough and watched enough local news to think he knew at least part of what Matt was hiding. "I thought you were a lawyer?" he said conversationally. "I don't envy you if your job has you going into bars where the Russians hang out. It's never been stated openly in the news, due to lack of evidence and the possibility of being sued for libel, but it's pretty obvious the Russians have a mob presence in Hell's Kitchen. The Russian mob isn't a group I'd want to get mixed up with...." he said casually. When Matt flinched visibly, he glanced at Sam, but said, "I'm sorry. Do you need more numbing agent there?"
Jemma quickly added a bit more numbing to the area Bruce was treating. It likely really wasn't necessary, but it wouldn't hurt anything.
Matt licked his lips. "They don't generally announce if they are in the mob to strangers... so...maybe they are?" He didn't want to outright deny it. It was bad enough hiding things (like his abilities and the fact he could 'see' in a strange way...even if he was legally blind and couldn't see anything in the normal way) and lying to keep his identity secret. If he could tell the truth at all, he preferred to do so.
Sam nodded slightly to Bruce and gently squeezed Matt's shoulder, though he was still careful to avoid any injured areas. "Was it because of those connections with the mob you were there?" His voice was gentle... but there was a serious undercurrent to it. He felt protective of Matt. Up until now, he'd assumed his friend could take care of himself... and while he was certain Matt was more than capable, this brought home just how vulnerable any of the people he cared about could be.
Matt would have sighed at the very specific question; it left him with very little choice but to lie or admit that he'd been there specifically to go after mobsters. Luck seemed to be on his side, as one of his wounds was a lot more tender than thought and the sigh turned into a gasp and slight cry of pain.
"I'm sorry, Matt," Bruce sympathized. "This needs to be cleaned out thoroughly, though. Whoever cut you used a dirty, rusty shiv to do so. You'll need stitches and a Tetanus shot as well...."
Sam wrapped his arm carefully around Matt's shoulders, dropping this line of questioning for the time being in favour of trying to take the kid's mind off what was happening. "How are things going for you right now? Personally, I mean." He'd got the impression that Matt's friendship with Foggy had grown a bit strained... but he was hoping just to get a general idea of what was going on with Matt.
Matt could have cried at the question. Of all the things for Sam to ask him, his personal life was nearly as much of a landmine as his secret one. He didn't see any point in hiding the truth about it, though; the chances of Sam running into Foggy were pretty good, since they still had a few cases with veterans that Sam was interested in the outcome for. "I messed up bad...my best friend in all the world can't stand to be near me more than a few minutes at a time and it feels like he'll never be able to trust me again...and it's all my own fault. Other than that, just peachy...." He'd like to believe that the pain and near crying tone of his voice was due to his wounds taking their toll, but he couldn't lie to himself; and he had a feeling Sam would know the truth as well.
Sam winced, sympathy flooding through him. He hadn't intended to make Matt feel worse and he couldn't help but wrap his other arm around his friend, hugging him as gently as possible so that he wouldn't hurt him more. "It's surprising just how much friendship can weather, especially when you're as close as you and Foggy are."
"I can't make it right with him, Sam..." Matt muttered into his older friend's shoulder. "I...I let him believe things that weren't exactly the truth for too long and he found out through ways that weren't me...." He couldn't help but sniffle.
"I'm done..." Bruce said softly, not wanting to interrupt, but figuring Sam might want to take the other man somewhere more private. "We ordered extra food so Matt can eat with you; I'll make sure some is set aside for if you both want to join us." He reached over and took his daughter's hand, leading her out of the room and back upstairs to the common floor.
Sam nodded his thanks to Bruce and tightened his embrace around Matt a fraction. "Tony set aside a floor for me to use when I'm here," he said. "Let's go there. You might find it a bit more comfortable. And if you'd like to eat up there, I can ask one of the others to bring the food up."
"Ok..." Matt didn't argue. He was too worn down and tired to do so. He let Sam lead him from the medical floor to his living quarters; or at least the ones that had been given to him. "They gave you your own floor? Sounds like they want you to move in...." he said curiously.
Sam supported Matt with an arm around his shoulders as he set the elevator to his floor. "They do," he replied. "They don't think it's safe for me. And speaking of safe," he continued, "how safe are you at your apartment?"
"As safe as you are at yours..." Matt quickly replied. "Why wouldn't I be?"
"You've been hurt," Sam pointed out. "Is it possible the people who hurt you can track you down to where you live?"
"They shouldn't..." Matt hedged. He had no clue if he'd been followed home or not. He'd been so disoriented that his senses weren't catching things that they normally would. He hoped he hadn't been followed home. He'd tried to keep his real identity separate from his vigilante identity...if anyone figured out his real identity, it would put Karen, Foggy and numerous other innocent people at risk to be hurt as an attempt to get at him.
"But you don't know?" Sam guessed. "I'm not sure it's a good idea for you to go back to your apartment... you'd be safer staying here, even if it's only temporarily." He carefully helped Matt off the elevator, taking a good look at his floor for the first time.
Matt sighed. "Temporarily..." he said. "As long as you're here. I don't know any of the others and it just feels...odd." He wrinkled his nose. He liked having his own place and his independence. He hadn't had to really rely on anyone since he was a kid and his father died. And even then, his father had relied just as much on him. Foggy worried about him, but he hadn't taken it to the level that Sam currently was. Foggy had worried about him. Matt slumped as he remembered the strain in his relationship with his partner and oldest friend.
Sam tapped out a quick request on his comm to Veronica to ask if she could request one of the others to bring up the pizza and then guided Matt through to the living room so they could sit down on the couch. "I'll move in as well. Don't worry about not being able to keep your independence," he added. "Everyone here is part of a family... but they're free to come and go. Same as you would be... as long as it's safe."
Matt carefully sat on the couch, leaning back in a slouch. "Family? Not sure I know how to deal with those anymore..." he said honestly. Even if Foggy was the closest thing to family he'd had, their relationship was still... well, he didn't know how to describe it, really. At one time, he would have gone to Foggy for help... but then again, at one time, he wouldn't have attempted to single-handedly take on the Russian mob, either.
Sam took a seat on the couch next to Matt. "You'd be surprised how many of those here haven't had any idea how to deal with family... Take Tony, for instance. I'm sure you know as much about him as anyone does. But he's been adopted by Steve. Legally and all that."
"I'd heard rumors about that...had a hard time believing that the quintessential party boy willingly put himself in a position where he's not in charge; and chose the quintessential boy scout to answer to." Matt grinned crookedly. "Must work, though. Haven't heard any rumors about Steve killing him yet..." he teased.
"Well, they're all a big family here... Steve's not the only one who's adopted someone else. And it looks like it's been good for Tony," he added. "The people here care about each other. And I care about you," he added.
Matt opened his eyes and looked toward Sam. "I've been keeping just as many secrets from you as I have Foggy..." he admitted quietly. "You might change your mind if you find out the truth...."
"I'm not going to change my mind," Sam replied. "I can't promise I won't be upset, or hurt, depending on what it is... but it won't make me care about you any less."
Matt swallowed and just nodded. He wasn't sure if he believed that assertion, but he didn't want to test it, either; and too much had happened tonight for him to want to divulge his secrets just now. Just then, there was a knock on the front door.
"I'll go and answer that." Sam patted Matt's shoulder and then stood up, walking over to the door and opening it.
Matt sunk back into the couch. He could hear murmuring and could only assume someone had brought Sam the food.
Sam thanked Natasha and then returned to the living room with the food, also grabbing a couple of plates on his way through, along with a couple of beers. "Food's here." He sat down next to Matt, passing his friend half of the food and one of the cans.
"Thanks, man..." Matt took a couple of slices and opened the can, then began to eat. He ate enough to make Sam happy, but between the stress his body had gone through, the stress of everything he'd been hiding and all his late nights, he really was too tired to be hungry. He finally put the can of beer down and his empty plate and yawned. "Sorry...." he said wearily. "Not much company tonight...."
"It's fine," Sam replied. "I'll take you through to the guest bedroom... you can rest up. We'll talk more in the morning." He stood up and helped Matt to his feet, wrapping an arm around his friend's shoulders to steer him through to the other room. "We can always go by your apartment to pick up what you need tomorrow," he added.
"Yeah...ok..." Matt saw no reason to argue. He planned to return home the next day, but if he tried to tell Sam that now, it wouldn't help anything. Instead, he let Sam lead him into the room he was to stay in and, without any prompting, headed straight to the bed, lying down on top of the covers. The only preparation he made to sleep was kicking off his shoes.
"I'll just be in the next room... if you wake up and need anything," Sam said, his voice reassuring. He reached out and squeezed Matt's shoulder gently. "Don't worry about waking me up if you need to."
"Yeah...ok..." Matt couldn't imagine that he would take Sam up on that offer, but it was oddly reassuring that the offer had been made.
"Good night." Sam's voice was soft. He patted his friend's shoulder one last time and then quietly slipped out of the room to leave Matt to sleep, clearing up the living room.
Grant watched the rest of the family clear up their mess as he packaged up leftovers and stored them in the fridge. It had been an enjoyable evening, but it was late and everyone was tired...and everyone was anxious to go to their own floors and see how things had been done for their individual dwellings.
As everyone began filtering out of the common room area, heading to their own floors, Coulson stepped over to Grant and wrapped his arm around his son, smiling at the rest of his family. "Ready to go see what our floor's like?" he asked them.
Wanda looked like she might be ready to fall asleep where she stood, stifling a yawn behind her hand.
Steve smiled at his brothers and glanced at Tony and Pepper. "Are we still sharing a floor?" he asked, not sure if Tony had changed things.
Grant smiled back, nodding at his father then glancing at the rest of his family. "Yeah, I'm ready."
Bobby piped in, "Me too...."
Clint put his arm around Wanda's shoulders, leading her to the elevator.
Tony grinned at his father, but it was Pepper who answered. With her hair in a ponytail and her face covered in calamine lotion, she looked a lot younger than her age, so it didn't take Tony long at all to respond to her held out hands (not that it would take long normally either) and move closer to put an arm around her waist. She kept a hand out toward Steve as she answered, "We are, daddy. I hope that's ok?"
Each family unit had a first floor with living space and a second floor with sleeping space. However, since some families had smaller family groupings, for families with more than one generation, each extra generation had an added 'sleeping floor'. So smaller families had two floors, while larger families had three. There was always potential to add to the dwellings if needed. Each family unit had one front door that allowed them a measure of privacy from the rest of the family...although it was laid out like other apartments, in that the front doors for various groupings shared a floor. Every floor had at least two guest apartments, even the floors that were taken up by the second and third floors of the family dwellings. Those floors only had doors into the guest quarters, however.
Everyone piled into the elevator together and Veronica began to call off the parent whose floor they'd reached with each stop. "We have reached Director Fury and Thor's floor. We have reached Director Coulson and Agent May's floor. We have reached Captain Rogers' and Sargeant Barnes' floor. We have reached your floor, Colonel Rhodes. You are sharing an entry floor with Captain Wilson."
Coulson had his arms wrapped around his two youngest and when his floor was called off, he gently guided his children from the elevator.
Wanda leaned sleepily into her father, following without complaint. Pietro stuck close by.
Steve had taken Pepper's hand without hesitation, smiling to show he was perfectly fine with the arrangements, and guided his children off the elevator when they reached their floor.
"If I recall correctly, our bedrooms are on the third floor level," Clint said to his son and daughter, as he led them to the stairs that would take them up . "We can explore the rest of the house later." He glanced toward his father, sisters and brother. "Night, dad. Night Sis doubled and Bro...." He grinned impishly at his family then began walking up the stairs with his children.
Bobbi watched as Clint, Wanda and Pietro disappeared upstairs then looked at her father. "I guess this means our rooms are on the second floor?" she said curiously.
"I'm pretty sure that's the way it works," Grant answered his sister.
Coulson nodded. "I think that was my understanding." He touched Natasha's shoulder gently, smiling fondly at his children. "Now... do you three want to use your own rooms? Or would you rather share one for tonight?"
Natasha shrugged, as if to say she didn't mind either way.
Bobbi blushed, but snuggled up to her father. "I want to stay with you, daddy..." It wasn't that she didn't like the idea of having her own room, but some of the things she'd been reading in the research with Skye had got under her skin and while she couldn't bring herself to talk about it with her father, she also knew that she wouldn't sleep well if she was alone, because she wouldn't be able to stop thinking about what she'd discovered.
Grant smiled at his younger sister and father. "If I find I can't sleep, I'll come in to you; but I think I'd like to try out my new room tonight, just to see if there is anything I want to change about it...."
Coulson smiled and hugged Bobbi close a moment. "Then that's fine with me," he said gently.
"I'll use my room... at least for tonight." Natasha hugged her father and brother and sister then headed through to use her own room.
Grant quickly hugged Nat and watched her head to her room, before turning to his father and baby sister. Going over, he put his arms around both of them and squeezed tight, before kissing each of them on the forehead. "I'll see you both in the morning, then. Come on, Copper!" He made a motion with his hand and the dog quickly followed, wagging its tail as he and his master disappeared into Grant's room.
"You sure you don't want to have your room all to yourself tonight, daddy?" Bobbi finally asked, worried that she'd just took away her father's chance for some time alone to think and rest from kids.
Coulson pressed a kiss to Bobbi's head. "I like having one or more of you staying with me," he said honestly. After all, he'd missed out on all of their childhoods... so whenever one or more of them wanted to be with him, he'd never even think about turning them away.
Bobbi grinned up at her father and snuggled even closer. "Ok...I'll just go get into my pajamas and then..." She shrugged faintly, but was still grinning as she carefully pulled out of her father's embrace and went upstairs to change.
Coulson smiled after Bobbi and then went through to his bedroom, collecting his toiltetries so he could brush his teeth and then change into his pajamas.
Bobbi wasn't surprised to find that her room was right next to her father's room...or that Grant's room was directly across from their father. It left Natasha in the room across from Bobbi and next to Grant. Bobbi was a bit amused that the configuration allowed both the men to be the first rooms passed should any intruders make it past the tower security and actually get into their quarters. As much as she knew her brother and father knew that she and Natasha were fully capable of taking care of themselves, she also knew that both men had a protective streak a mile wide. Smiling to herself, Bobbi quickly dressed for bed and went into her private bath to brush her teeth, before she stepped back into the hallway and stood outside her father's door, knocking gently.
"Come in," Coulson called, dressed for bed and ready for his daughter to join him.
Bobbi quickly slipped into the room, leaving the door open a tiny crack, then scampered to the bed and crawled in, snuggling up to her father. "I love you, daddy..." she whispered, as she put her head on his chest, finally relaxing.
Coulson wrapped his arms around Bobbi, kissing her head. "I love you too, sweetie." He stroked her hair and pressed another kiss to her head.
It didn't take long for Bobbi to fall asleep.
Tony quickly opened the front door to the apartment he would be sharing with his immediate family then stepped back so they could all enter. "If you look on the table by the door, you'll notice keys for each of you. Granted, Veronica controls everything and can let you in if needed- but... I just felt like making keys...." he grinned mischievously, his eyes twinkling. He knew he was being ridiculous and he didn't care.
Bruce chuckled. "Thank you Tony. I'm assuming my room and Jemma and Leo's rooms are on the third floor of the apartment?"
Pepper nodded. "You would be correct..."
"In that case...kids? I think it's time for bed...." Bruce motioned for Leo and Jemma to follow him and then made his way up the stairs.
Tony watched as his brother disappeared with his children then smiled crookedly at his father. "You're on the same floor as Pepper and I. Your room is right next to ours, actually...."
Steve smiled at Tony and Pepper, wrapping an arm around each of their shoulders and squeezing gently. "That's good. It means you don't have far to go if either or both of you need me."
"We always need you, daddy..." Pepper said with an innocent smile- although her eyes were twinkling just as mischievously as Tony's were.
Tony nodded in agreement with his fiancé then hugging both her and his father, he took a deep breath and headed for the stairs himself. "I'm really tired, so I'm gonna get ready for bed now...."
Pepper bit her lip, then leaned over and kissed her father on his cheek. "Good night, daddy...." She followed Tony upstairs and into their room leaving Steve to decide if he was ready to head to bed or not.
"Good night." Steve smiled warmly at his children then followed them up the stairs so he could get ready for and into bed.
Sam woke up early the next morniing and headed through to the kitchen after having a quick shower and getting dressed. He began making breakfast, after putting a pot of coffee on to brew.
Matt had slept better than he thought he would, considering the pain he had been in. He wondered if Sam had somehow slipped him a pain killer when he wasn't aware of it; given how his senses were acting the night before, it would have been very possible. He woke up to sounds of Sam moving quietly around and had got up himself. He couldn't really take a shower, not with all the stitches he had, but he was able to clean up a little bit and did so before dressing himself to go to work. When he exited his bathroom, he followed his nose to the kitchen. "Smells good, Sam...unfortunately, I have to get to the office...I need to let Foggy know what happened...or at least come up with a believable excuse for why I wasn't at home last night, if he or Karen happened to drop by...."
"I don't think going into the office is a good idea right now," Sam said. "You need to rest up. Let yourself heal. You can always call Foggy and ask him to drop by here." Sam's voice was gentle... at the same time, he was clearly serious.
"I'll be fine...I'm fairly certain that the guys who hurt me last night won't recognize me in the light of day; and they didn't know who I was...so..." Matt argued confidently. "I have too much paperwork and cases to prepare for...." Matt smiled in Sam's general direction, not expecting that the man would argue back or try and enforce any type of opinion on him.
"You can't know that for sure," Sam replied. "Even if it was too dark for them to see you, the fact that you're injured isn't something you can hide so easily. You'd be better off staying here until you've recovered... until it's safe. There's no reason you can't do your work from here."
"Foggy won't come here...and I really should go into the office. I have a court appearance in five days...." He didn't say that he planned to hide his injuries from Foggy; or at least downplay them. His friend had been so upset to learn what he'd been doing on the side and seeing the results of one of those nights...he was afraid it would send his slowly repairing relationship with his friend back to the point it had been when Foggy first learned of his lies.
"I understand that you have work to do," Sam replied. "But I'm not happy with you leaving when you were so badly injured. I have no doubts Foggy would feel the same... no matter how unhappy he is with you right now."
"That's the problem..." Matt muttered under his breath. He knew a lot of the strain between him and Foggy was because his friend was worried about him.
"Sit down. Eat breakfast," Sam said. "Then you can tell me whatever it is you've not been telling me."
Matt couldn't stop the startled look from crossing his face as he looked toward where he knew Sam to be. "I...." He couldn't very well say he wasn't hiding anything. Not after admitting he was during his weak point the night before. He had no clue how to get out of the conversation.
"We'll talk about it after breakfast," Sam said. "There's a chair in front of you. Spoon and fork on the table." As he was speaking, he plated up the food and placed one plate next to the cutlery. "Plate's on the table, too."
"Thank you..." Matt mumbled, carefully sitting and thoughtlessly beginning to eat, trying to figure out what he could admit to and what he needed to keep hidden.
Sam sat down with his own plate, eating along with Matt. He watched his friend carefully, trying to figure out if he needed another dose of painkillers.
Matt was used to pushing down pain...ignoring it and pretending like he was fine. Of course, it was easier when the person you were with didn't already know the extent of your injuries...but he still pretended. When he finished his food, he carefully pushed the plate away and waited for Sam to be done before continuing the conversation.
Sam finished his own food and grabbed some of the painkillers Bruce had left him, passing them to Matt. "Here. They'll take the edge off."
"Thanks." Matt palmed the pills, pretending to take them so that Sam wouldn't insist. He didn't want to take anything that might dull his senses...even if it also dulled his pain.
"So...hiding things. I guess...I can understand why Foggy was upset. For so long, I let him operate under the assumption that there were things I can't do because I'm blind...but the truth is, even though I can't see like normal people...I can still 'see'...it's just I do it using a....a different sense than sight, for lack of a better way to put it." Matt frowned. "I didn't deliberately set out to lie or mislead...he never asked and I never corrected his assumption...but finding out the truth made him question everything he'd believed about me...." Of course, Foggy would have been able to handle it had it just been his 'ability' to see that he'd been hiding...but Matt wasn't about to admit to a friend of the Avengers that he was the vigilante that the police were looking for. Even if he'd been falsely accused of those murders, he wasn't entirely innocent. Some of those deaths had occurred because of his presence, even if he wasn't the killer. He couldn't admit it, even if he trusted Sam and counted him among his few friends.
Sam was frowning, even though he knew Matt wouldn't be able to see it. "I've seen a lot of things, Matt. I've also seen the friendship you have with Foggy. I can see him being upset about you not telling him everything... I doubt your friendship with him would be in danger if that was all. So what else is there?"
"There is nothing else," Matt protested with an offended tone. "It...he was so upset because there were things he did when we roomed together that he wouldn't have done if he'd realized. It wasn't just my hiding it...he felt humiliated. I told him he shouldn't...that my 'sight' didn't work the same as everyone else's, so there was no reason to be embarrassed, but he got it in his head I had kept quiet because I was enjoying watching him be a fool....it's kind of hard to get someone to trust you when you've been lying to them about something." He winced. That was entirely the truth and he could only hope Sam never found out his bigger secret.
"All right," Sam said quietly, choosing to believe his friend... even though he did still have questions and wasn't certain he was getting the full story. "I still think you should stay here for today... give yourself a bit of extra time to recover."
Matt sighed. "Ok," he reluctantly agreed, just to get Sam to stop worrying so much. "I'll call Foggy and tell him I'm not feeling well, but that I'm staying at your place because I was with you when I got sick..." He hoped Sam wouldn't chide him for the lie he was planning to tell. Although he hoped that by agreeing, it would get his friend to stop questioning him and mother-henning.
"I can't think that lying to him again is going to help your relationship, but I'm not going to tell you what to do," Sam said. "Just keep in mind... lies have a way of building on each other. Telling the truth is what heals relationships. Not more lies. And anyone living here would tell you the same."
Matt grimaced. He knew Sam was right, but he didn't know how to tell Foggy the truth without Sam finding out and...and things were just so horribly complicated. "I'll think about it..." he finally muttered, not willing to tell Sam anything further, even if he decided to tell Foggy the truth. He was actually considering having Foggy come by the tower with some of his paperwork and telling him then; just so he could warn Foggy that Sam didn't know and not to tell him. He had a feeling Foggy wouldn't be any more impressed with him lying to Sam than Sam was with him potentially lying to Foggy, but what could he do?
"All right," Sam said, choosing to drop it for now. "Need to make use of a phone?" He wasn't sure if Matt had grabbed his... and Sam's main concern had been getting Matt to the tower and fixed up.
"Yeah, if you don't mind..." Matt's face was sheepish. "I left mine in my apartment...If you don't mind dialing Foggy for me. Sensing where the numbers should be still isn't the same as actually seeing and with a phone I'm not familiar with...."
"Of course." Sam picked up his phone and dialed, then pressed the phone into Matt's hand. "It should be ringing. If you want, I can swing by your apartment in a bit and pick up your phone and anything else you might need."
"Yeah. I'd appreciate that..." Matt waited for Foggy to answer. As soon as the other man spoke, he quickly told him what was happening. "Hi, Foggy...I ran into a bit of trouble last night and Sam ended up bringing me to his friend's tower to get fixed up. But he doesn't want me to leave until I'm not so...um... wrecked, I guess is a good term for it. So I'm going to be working from the tower... yeah. That tower. I know. I just didn't want to...I don't know. I'm trying... I. Yeah. Can you bring me the paperwork for the cases I need to work on? Oh..." His voice became hesitant. "...Sure...ok..." He bit his lip and held the phone toward Sam. "He wants to talk to you...."
Sam took the phone from Matt. "I got it." He put the phone to his ear. "Hey, Foggy. It's Sam." His voice was calm, though a bit sympathetic. It was obvious, just from what he'd heard of Matt's side of the conversation, that his friend hadn't been exaggerating about the strain in his and Foggy's friendship.
"Hi, Sam...I guess Matt got himself into trouble again. At least this time, he actually asked someone for help..." Foggy muttered the last to himself. "Do you think you could come by our office to pick up the paperwork he needs?" Matt's friend kept his tone friendly and as calm as possible. He suspected that one of Matt's senses that he used to do his vigilante work was a highly developed sense of hearing. He didn't want Matt to suspect anything and prevent Sam from coming... Foggy had a few things he needed to get off his chest and Sam was the perfect candidate to hear them.
"Sure, I can do that," Sam replied. "I'm going to grab some things from his apartment anyway, so I can come by on my way." He didn't say that he thought Matt might feel better to have his friend come and see him... but he planned to mention it to Foggy. Even if he was angry with Matt, pulling away from a long-term friendship would end up with both of them being miserable.
"If you are going by his apartment, I can bring the paperwork there. Save you a trip," Foggy offered. He was interested in making sure no one that shouldn't be there had come by.
"That's fine by me," Sam replied. "Want me to pass the phone back to him?" There was a hint of encouragement in his voice. He didn't say he was sure Foggy would regret it the longer he left things this way with Matt... but his tone implied it.
"Yeah...sure. Thanks, Sam." For all the irritation in Foggy's voice, it was obvious he was worried about his friend.
"No problem." Sam gently pushed the phone back into Matt's hand. "He's still on the line," he told his friend.
"Thanks, Foggy," Matt said quietly, once he had the phone again.
"Are you going to tell me what went down last night, or am I going to have to guess?" was his friend's slightly irritable response.
Matt couldn't help but wince. "Not right now...ok?" His tone was almost pleading.
There was a moment of silence and Matt was afraid the other man had hung up when Foggy finally sighed. "You didn't tell him what really happened, did you? You glossed over it and made it seem like something random that doesn't happen often, when the opposite is true! Damn it, Matt! Just...at least let yourself heal before going out again. At least do that. I'll let Karen know you won't be in today. She'll worry otherwise."
Matt swallowed down the sudden guilt he felt. "Thanks, Foggy...."
"You can thank me by not getting yourself killed..." Foggy muttered, before hanging up abruptly, his emotions reaching a level it was either hang up or berate Matt again.
Matt silently handed the phone back to Sam. "Thank you..." His voice was subdued.
Taking the phone, Sam placed a hand on Matt's shoulder and squeezed gently. "I'm sure it must seem hopeless right now, but real friendship can weather anything. Believe me, I've seen more than enough evidence of that." He knew about Grant's past and had seen for himself how the younger man fit into his family... was loved and cared about and reciprocated those feelings. And, of course, he'd seen Bucky... brainwashed, but able to come back and join the family.
"Is there anything you need before I head out?" Sam asked.
Matt just nodded. It was hard enough to believe Foggy and he would ever get back to the close and easy camaraderie they'd had before Matt ruined it with his secrets and half-truths...that it was Sam- another man he was keeping secrets and telling half-truths to- attempting to help him believe things would get better was not lost on him and he could only think Sam would soon be in the same position as Foggy. Furious at him and not able to talk to him with any semblance of friendliness because the hurt was too raw. Sighing, he shook his head and answered, "No. Just the stuff you were going to pick up for me and those papers. Thanks, Sam...."
"There's food and beer in the fridge behind you," Sam said. "If you think of anything else you need, just ask Veronica to send me a message. She's Tony's new AI, so just address her and she'll respond." He gave one more squeeze to Matt's shoulder before gently releasing him. "I won't be long." He left the kitchen, heading for the elevator.
It didn't take long for Sam to be in his car and driving towards Matt's apartment. He parked outside the building and got out.
Foggy hadn't taken long to inform Karen that Matt wouldn't be in the office because he was working out of Avengers' Tower. She'd seemed curious about the situation, but he didn't elaborate and she hadn't asked questions, seeming to realize that whatever Matt's reasons, Foggy wasn't happy about it and she didn't want to rub salt into wounds that hadn't fully healed. Foggy was grateful for that. He didn't think he'd be able to lie to her and she was worried about enough without adding Matt's nighttime activities to the list. At any rate, he had left soon after the call and headed for Matt's apartment, carrying the case-files his partner had requested. He was standing on the building's stoop, waiting for Sam, when the other man pulled up.
He walked over to the man's car to greet him and shake his hand then began speaking softly enough that only Sam would hear. "I haven't looked around yet; I figured if whatever Matt got himself into did follow him home, it likely wouldn't be a good idea for me to find it on my own..." Foggy said, a bit sheepishly. "So...which mob was it? Chinese? Russian? Or was it the remnants of Fisk's organization? I know they got as many as possible when Fisk was arrested, but there are likely enough of them still out there looking for revenge against Hell's Kitchen's Devil, that the minute they saw the vigilante, he was in trouble...." Foggy glanced at Sam to see how he was taking the information Foggy had just bombarded him with; it had been a calculated move on his part, talking to Sam as if Sam already knew the truth about Matt's nighttime activities. Technically, he wouldn't have told Sam anything...at the same time, he was divulging information that he felt Sam really needed to know. Matt would likely be furious about it, but Foggy couldn't regret it; as angry as he was at the other man, Matt was still his friend and Foggy didn't want him to die because he was too stubborn to accept help from those who actually could help.
Sam paused at the barrage of information and narrowed his eyes as he realised what Foggy was telling him. "Matt's the vigilante they're after." He shouldn't be surprised. Matt had already let slip that his senses were different... and Sam counted Captain America among his closest friends. This made it even more clear, to Sam, that Matt couldn't go back to his apartment.
Sam sighed, feeling a bit weary. "I'm going to pick up his things. It's not a good idea for him to come back to the apartment. For the time being, I'll encourage him to stay at the tower." He could understand why Foggy was so upset with Matt. Sam hadn't been friends with them for as long... and he was feeling betrayed at the outright lies he'd been told.
Foggy swallowed, nodding at Sam's words. Now that he finally had someone else who knew Matt's secret, a lot of tension he hadn't realized he'd been feeling drained from him. "I appreciate that, Sam. As mad as I am at him for lying for so long...for doing things that are questionable... I still believe he's good at heart and I don't want him hurt. I don't want him to die..." His voice caught and he quickly brushed at his eyes. "If you can convince him to stay at the tower that would be wonderful...." He sighed, placing the briefcase of documents he was holding into the back seat of Sam's car. "Would you like some help getting Matt's stuff together?"
Sam nodded. "That would be great." He waited for Foggy, but headed inside first... just in case there was any danger, or someone had managed to find out Matt's identity and where he lived.
Foggy followed closely enough behind that he could assist Sam if there were intruders, but not so closely he'd be in the way of anything Sam might do to stop said intruders. Luckily, there were no intruders. Entering into the apartment, Foggy grabbed a bag and started taking out the clothing that he knew his friend preferred while Sam went to gather up whatever toiletries Matt had. He'd finished gathering up everything and went to stand next to the area where he knew Matt had hidden his costume. He wasn't certain if he should pack that, too, letting Matt know that he'd told Sam, or if he should leave it hidden and let Matt dig his own grave as far as lying to their mutual friend went. "Do you think I should pack the suit he wears....at night, I mean?" he finally asked Sam. "It should be hidden well enough that if anyone breaks in here, they won't find it and figure out who he is...at the same time..." He glanced over toward the other man with a serious look. "Do you want him to know you know?"
Sam paused to think about that, having finished up packing Matt's toiletries. Finally, he spoke. "He's going to realise something's off. Best to get it out in the open straight away." He was unhappy about having been lied to, but he was unwilling to let Matt dig himself in deeper. He'd been honest when he told Matt he was still going to care about him.
Foggy nodded and quickly opened the secret compartment that held the trunk of suit and weapons. Matt would be horrified that Foggy was able to get in; but being friends with the man for years had to have some benefit, such as being able to figure out the passcode for opening the secret compartment. He handed the trunk to Sam and then picked up the bag of clothes. "I'll just lock up and help you load your car. If there is anything else I can do, just let me know?" He glanced toward Sam. "I know we haven't been getting on as well as we had in the past; I've been trying really hard to move past the lies, but Matt still insists on keeping his secrets in some dubious bid to protect me and it just keeps making it hurt more and more, so it's hard...but I still care. And if you need me...." He swallowed hard.
Sam nodded. "I'll let you know... but I think it would help both of you if you come by the tower. Matt was wrong to lie to you for so long... but it's hurting him as much as it hurts you. He still values your friendship."
"I'll think about it..." Foggy said softly, as he put the bag into the back of the car where the briefcase was. "Part of the reason I have such a hard time being around him right now is I know he's hurting, but he can't admit he was wrong and so he makes excuses, or tries to act like he isn't hurting and it just frustrates me so much I...I don't want to say anything I can't unsay, you know? On top of that, Karen still doesn't know and I told him I wouldn't be the one to tell her and I keep my word as much as possible, so it makes things really difficult. It was easier to avoid. But now that you know...I don't have to watch what I say around you, so maybe..." He shrugged, not certain he had made his feelings clear, but if anyone would understand, it would be Sam. "Anyway...be careful. Let Matt know Karen and I have the office covered and there's no reason to rush back; he can damn well follow your advice and get better first...." The last was said in a semi-growl, Foggy's frustration with the situation coming through loud and clear.
Sam nodded his understanding. He didn't say he planned to talk to Matt about this whole situation. He was pretty hurt and upset himself, but knew it was so much harder on Foggy, since the two of them had been friends for so long. "I'll keep you updated," he said quietly, as he got into the car. "Make sure you and Karen don't overwork yourselves."
"I will. Thanks, Sam..." Foggy gave his friend a twisted smile; his eyes were sad, but he was obviously feeling a lot calmer now that Sam knew the truth. "I'll be contacting you about that court case for that veteran you brought to us three weeks ago, but I'm confident we'll win. Just so you have some good news to focus on..." His smile was a little bit brighter. Stepping back onto the sidewalk and away from the curb, Foggy gave a tiny wave and watched as Sam pulled out to head back home to the tower, then turned so he could catch a cab back to his own office.
Grant had woken up fairly early and gone down to the common area rec room to work out; he'd got in the habit of an early morning workout with several of his cousins and didn't see any reason to change his routine just because they were back in the tower. After the work out, he'd showered and then gone to look over the information Skye had gathered the day before. He hadn't expected to find anything...he really hadn't. Because of that, he was very surprised when he saw the name on the list she'd made. Heart in his throat, he reread the name several times to be sure, but it never changed. He'd wondered what had become of his 'little sister' after he'd been broken out of Juvie and taken by Garrett. He hadn't seen her once in all the years since that time...but there was her name. And he could easily guess what had become of her. HYDRA had her.
Writing down the last known location they'd seen her, as well as all the pertinent information regarding her training, Grant quickly went back to his family's apartment and up to his room, where he packed a light bag, threw some money in, threw some weapons in and zipped it up. He stopped only long enough to write his father a note, not willing to just disappear and leave the man wondering what had happened to him, before he left the apartment again and went down to the garage, borrowing a motorbike. He knew he should wait until the whole family was together and tell them what he'd discovered. He knew he should wait until an actual mission was formed. But he'd been worried about his 'little sister' ever since he discovered what had occurred to him and numerous other children and he didn't want to wait. The note would give them all the information they needed to be able to follow behind him. He'd deal with any fallout from his quick and debatably reckless actions when they did.
Coulson had left early in the morning for a meeting, but had returned in the hopes of having a late breakfast with his children. Heading to his apartment, it didn't take long for him to find the note... and worry immediately stabbed through him as he read it.
"Veronica? Can you ask everyone in the tower to meet me on the common floor?" Coulson requested, trying to stay calm.
"Director Coulson has requested everyone to meet him on the common floor..." Veronica announced on all the private floors and in the common family areas not more than five seconds later.
Bobbi came in with Kara, a curious look in her eyes. "Wonder what's up..." she mumbled to herself as she watched everyone else straggle in.
"Are these impromptu meetings common?" Matt asked curiously. Sam hadn't returned yet, although he expected him very soon, so he'd asked Veronica for help in locating the common floor, figuring that Veronica would inform the other man to go there when he did arrive.
Rhodey came in with Tony and Pepper. Technically, he had the next few days off, so there was no reason he couldn't help out with whatever Coulson had called the meeting for.
Steve headed into the common floor living room, glancing at Matt. "Is it when something's happened." He looked at Coulson, noticing the letter in his brother's hands and the worried look on his face. A glance around at everyone else revealed the one person, other than Sam, who wasn't there.
"Grant's gone after the HYDRA agent," Coulson said. "He found his sister's name in the information and he took off... without waiting to tell me or anyone else." As calm as he was trying to sound... he couldn't hide his worry.
"Oh...that's...that's not good..." Tony said quietly in a vast understatement. Pepper bit her lip and glanced around the room at everyone else, clearly worried.
Bobbi frowned, her eyes narrowing. "Did he tell you where he was going? Or at least give her name? If he got the information from what Skye pulled up the other day, then we can find a location using the name, at least...."
Matt wrinkled his nose uncertainly. Everyone in the tower, with the exception of possibly Pepper, was a trained agent. Why was everyone so worried? He didn't understand it.
"He left a note." Coulson read out the contents, giving enough time for the details to sink in, before continuing, "There's no question I'm going to go..."
"I'll go, too." Steve knew just how much it would affect him if one of his children had done the same thing. He looked around. "Bruce... Jemma... can you be on standby? In case there are any injured we need to deal with..."
"Of course, dad..." Bruce said softly.
Jemma nodded in agreement. "Ok, grandpa...."
Matt blinked at the familial terms as he realized that this group wasn't just like a family. They were a family.
"Veronica...are you able to get a lock on the tracking device in whichever vehicle he took?" Tony asked the AI.
The calm dulcet tones carried through the room. "Yes, Mr. Stark... I have a lock on the motorbike he took and am transmitting the coordinates onto your GPS's so that you can easily follow him, whichever direction he goes...."
"Thank you." Coulson started for the door, just as Sam arrived.
"What's wrong?" Sam asked, concerned.
"The others will fill you in." Coulson couldn't quite bring himself to smile, but he headed quickly to the elevator, knowing Steve would join him.
"Bucky? Will you come as well?" Steve asked his brother. "The rest of you... if you could be on standby. In case this turns into a rescue mission."
"Sure thing, dad..." Tony agreed, knowing that all the rest would be ready to join him at a moment's notice.
Pepper gave Sam a weak smile. "Grant discovered information about the girl that was raised as his sister for the first fifteen years of his life. He decided to go rescue her...without waiting for anyone else to join him to help, or even waiting long enough to form a plan." She sighed softly and shook her head.
Matt's face was one of confusion. "I don't get it...why is that so bad? If he went to save her, wouldn't that be a good thing?"
"Because that's not the way we do things here," Fury said. "HYDRA's basically the anti-SHIELD. And their agents would dearly love the opportunity to get their hands on any one of the people here. No one goes off on their own. Not without formulating a plan."
"Yeah... the Avengers aren't really lone wolves." There was a slightly bitter note in Sam's voice, as he was still upset about the fact he'd been lied to.
Matt blinked at Fury's words, but it was Sam's tone that caused a nervous look to form on his face despite himself. "So...since he went against how things are done, does that mean he's off your team?" His tone now was a mixture of confusion and worry; why did Sam sound upset?
"Yeah... that's not how we deal with things here." There was a trace of amusement in Fury's words. "Everyone here's a family... and Grant, the agent who took off, it's his dad who's going after him."
"I never really got how you deal with things here as a family," Sam commented. "I guess I haven't been here long enough to see."
Fury shrugged. "You might learn something when Phil brings his kid back."
Matt was still very confused. "You deal with things as a family...so you what? Ground those who mess up?" He was trying for his own humorous tone, but he didn't think he succeeded.
Bobbi snorted. "Think more old fashioned and personal and you might catch on...." she muttered softly.
Sam raised his eyebrows, having the feeling he might have some idea... though it was hard to imagine anyone in the tower going through that kind of punishment. "And painful?" He waited to see if, by their reactions, his guess was right.
Tony grinned crookedly. "Ding ding ding! Give the man a prize!"
Matt blinked and decided not to comment any further. The idea that adults would be disciplined in such a manner, even if it was their family member doing the disciplining, he had a hard time believing it. He was positive someone was trying to pull his leg.
"Huh. Never saw that coming," Sam said quietly. He waited a beat then glanced at Matt. "I need to talk to you a moment." He left it long enough so that there wasn't an obvious link to what he'd just learned with him wanting to talk to his friend. Glancing around, he added, "Unless you think you might need my help..."
"There's enough of us here to act as backup if Steve, Phil or Bucky call for it," Fury said. "Don't worry."
Matt slanted his head, glancing in Sam's direction. "Ok...where?" He wasn't really certain he wanted to talk to Sam...the other man's tone was worrisome...but he could think of no excuse not to.
"We can go back to my floor." Sam stood up, reaching down to help Matt up. "I put your stuff up there." He nodded to the others then made his way towards the elevator.
Matt allowed Sam to lead him back to the elevator and back to his apartment. He waited until they were inside, before asking, "What did you need to talk to me about?"
Sam guided Matt through to the living room, sitting down on the couch and pulling his friend to sit down next to him. "I know you're the vigilante." He led straight in with that, not interested in allowing Matt to dig himself into a deeper hole.
Matt turned a shocked face toward Sam, before exclaiming, "Foggy told you!" in a hurt, betrayed voice. He'd thought Foggy had understood the importance of keeping his secret and even if the other man was disapproving, Matt had thought he still cared enough not to put him in danger by exposing him.
Sam lightly touched Matt's shoulder. "He didn't tell me directly... but don't be upset with him. He's really worried about you... that you're going to get yourself killed. Judging by last night, I'd say he's right to be worried. You know me, Matt. The fact that I know isn't going to put you in danger... no matter what I feel about you lying to me personally."
"Of...of course I know you won't hurt me...but...but what if someone else overheard? And...he's been so angry at me..." But if he really thought about it, he knew Foggy didn't hate him or want him hurt, either. Frowning slightly and swallowing hard, the rest of what Sam had said penetrated his thought. "I...I didn't lie...exactly...." He wasn't too confident in his assertion, though, and it was obvious. It was hard to sound confident when he'd been feeling guilty for hiding things from yet another friend.
"Yes, you did," Sam replied. "I asked you point blank about what you were hiding. You told me there was nothing else. You don't need to worry," he added. "There was no one around who could have overheard what Foggy said to me. He wasn't going to risk anyone else learning about you."
"I..." Matt swallowed and slumped. It was a mixed bag, hearing that Foggy still cared from another person. It was a relief because it was his best friend in the world, his brother, and he'd been afraid he'd ruined things irrevocably. At the same time, it was hard to admit he had been wrong when he'd been trying to protect Foggy. Even if the guilt was eating him up inside.
And now he'd done the same thing to his other friend; a friend who wasn't a brother (although it was obvious Sam was like family of some sort, the way he just took over, giving orders and expecting obedience), but who still seemed to care just as much and who he'd wanted to keep away from that part of his life for Sam's protection as much as his own. And the guilt was just as strong for what he'd done with Sam, even though he was nowhere ready to admit he'd been wrong.
"I was trying to keep you safe..." he finally said, in almost a whisper. "...And I didn't want you thinking badly about me when you heard I was the vigilante everyone was after." For all Matt knew, the Avengers had been after him as well.
"I don't need you to keep me safe, Matt," Sam replied. "And while acting as a vigilante isn't the answer... it bothers me more that you lied to me." He sighed, feeling weary. "Look... I brought your paperwork. And Foggy packed your clothes, so if you want to get changed, you can."
Matt winced visibly and turned his face away from where he knew Sam stood. "Yeah...ok. Thanks..." His words were soft and much like he had with Foggy, the knowledge of how he had hurt his friend bit into him and brought him to tears; but he was too proud to let anyone see them. He needed to go change, maybe stay by himself and lick his emotional wounds, push the guilt he felt down deep so that he could continue to function. Swallowing hard, he tried to sense where his items were so he could grab them and go hide away for a bit, but between the still healing wounds and his emotions being so raw, he was having a more difficult time of it than he normally would have. He couldn't ask Sam for help, though. If he said anything else, the other man would know how close he was to crying.
Sam had stood up, not really sure what he wanted to do... though he didn't want to have things be strained between them. Pulling away wasn't going to be the answer, but they probably both needed space.
"Here." Sam quietly passed Matt the bag with his clothes and toiletries. "I don't care about you any less, kid." His voice was soft, but still sincere. He wanted to make that clear, even if the lying did affect him.
Matt just nodded wordlessly, eyes downcast as he took the bag from Sam. "Thanks..." he finally managed to force out of what felt like a closed throat, wincing again at how fragile he sounded. He had to get away...regain control over himself. Gripping the handle of the bag tightly, he reached out blindly, not able to focus enough to use his spatial sense or his sense of direction, and felt his way along the hall, hoping that he was going to the right room.
Bobbi had gone back to reading over the notes she and Skye had found. If Grant had discovered anything useful about his sister, then that meant the research was valid and maybe they should be looking more closely at it. She'd been reading for only a few moments when her breath caught in her throat and her heart began to pound rapidly. "No...no..no.nonononono....." she whispered to herself, over and over. Denying it didn't change the facts, though. Swallowing down the sudden, intense, horrified guilt she felt, she took the pages containing her discovery so that no one else would see and folded them into a tiny packet before shoving it into her bra. Then, straightening everything so that it wouldn't look unusual, she went to get herself a drink. A real drink. If anyone asked, she'd just say she was worried about her brother. That wasn't exactly an untruth, either.
Coulson's worry only grew as he drove to the location written down, only just avoiding breaking the speed limits. He had his gear packed and ready... but was hoping he wouldn't need to rescue his son.
Grant had finally reached the location, but since this was a rescue mission, he didn't want to just rush in unprepared. So he'd stayed far enough back that the HYDRA agents he could see wouldn't see him...and he observed. There didn't appear to be many people at this spot. He was beginning to think it had been a pointless trip and that his sister wasn't here any longer, but he had to try. He'd finally decided that his best chance was to wait until the sun had passed overhead and started throwing shadows around the building; he'd be able to blend in a bit better then. By his estimation, he had about two hours to wait for that to happen enough that he could make his move. Pushing down his anxiousness and desire to hurry, he slid further back into cover so that he wouldn't be seen and caught before he could make his move.
Coulson reached the location and got out of the car, quickly scanning the surrounding area as Steve joined him. "I hope they haven't caught him," he said quietly.
"Grant's unlikely to rush directly into the situation," Steve said, trying to be reassuring. As he looked around, he thought he caught movement out of the corner of his eye and motioned for Coulson and Bucky to follow.
Grant could sense them before they fully reached him and moved just a bit further back so that when they did reach him, they wouldn't be seen by the guards below. He darted a nervous look at his father and uncles when they finally reached him, not sure how much trouble he was in. Technically, he hadn't done anything dangerous yet... but he had just taken off on a mission without permission and would have gone in alone had they not shown up. He finally whispered, looking back down at the building, "I've seen the same ten people at least five times each, coming in and out, and no one else. So either they have people in there that aren't planning to leave any time soon... or there aren't any more people there...." He swallowed, waiting for orders.
"Is there any chance they know you're here and are trying to draw you out?" Coulson whispered, crouching beside his son. He was clearly relieved... while at the same time not particularly happy with Grant's actions.
"If they do, they're hiding it really well. I haven't gone any closer to the building than where you first saw me and I've made sure not to do anything that might draw their attention, so I don't think they know I'm here." Grant answered calmly, though hearing the relief in his father's voice caused a twinge of guilt to spear through him.
"It might be a dead end, but we shouldn't just assume that," Steve said softly. He looked at Grant. "When were you planning to make a move?" His voice was even and calm... but not happy either.
"I was going to wait until the sun had lowered enough to form shadows around the building...a couple of more hours from now. I figured, since I was by myself, it would be safer...if you think another way would be better, though..." He winced as he realized that not only had he worried his father, but he likely had worried his uncles as well, if the unhappiness he could hear was any indication.
"If it's a dead end, there seems little point in waiting for so long." Steve frowned thoughtfully and glanced at Bucky. "It might be worth calling Loki... see if he can get a look inside the building."
Bucky nodded. "It might be worth it. Although, even if it was only a clone that investigated, if they saw, then the gig would be up anyway."
"While that's true, I was thinking more of him doing the same thing he did when Lance was missing," Steve said. "I don't think he needed a clone for that... but I don't know how it works." As he was talking, he was using his phone to call Loki. The Asgardians had cell phones as well... made it easier to make contact.
Grant just kept quiet and let the other three talk and make the plans. He did sneak a look toward his father in an attempt to see how upset the older man was at him, since it was obvious Steve and Bucky weren't terribly happy with him.
Coulson remained crouched down by Grant. He rested one hand on his son's shoulder, squeezing gently as he spoke in a soft, reassuring tone. "We'll make sure there's nothing here, son." He left unspoken 'and then we'll talk'... but it was there in his tone.
Grant nodded, grateful that they were willing to look into things for him- even if he knew what would be coming afterwards.
Coulson squeezed Grant's shoulder gently and then looked up at Steve and Bucky. "Any ideas?"
"This might be a bit of a longshot, but I thought we could see if Loki could get a picture inside." Steve waited for the Asgardian to pick up on the other end.
On the fourth ring, Loki finally answered. "Hello? Mack...why will this Hel-forsaken thing not turn on? I cannot hear anyone..."
Loki's voice could be heard as if from a distance and then Mack could be heard: 'You have it upside down, Loks'.
Seconds later, Loki was speaking directly into the phone again. "Well, that was positively embarrassing.... How may I help you, Uncle Steve?"
"We're outside a HYDRA base, but we need to know what's inside," Steve explained. "I know you were able to get a read on where Lance was that time he ran away... is that something you can do again?"
"Only if one of you is already in the base...or if there is an object like the Tesseract inside of it..." Loki's voice was apologetic. "If you need more backup, I can teleport Thor and Mack in to help... I should be able to get a read on your location...."
"Backup would be helpful," Steve said. "Do you need me to describe where we are?"
“No…” Loki sounded like he was walking and then the phone disconnected.
Just then, Grant got a funny look on his face, then shook his head and said softly, "That felt weird!"
Not more than a few seconds later, Loki had teleported behind the four men, gripping the arms of both Thor and Mack. He glanced toward his cousin apologetically. "Sorry about that. It can be a bit disorienting when I 'borrow someone's eyes' so quickly." His smile was sheepish. When he'd used that trick to find Lance, he'd been doing it more slowly and precisely so Lance had never noticed. He'd not been as slow or precise with Grant.
Steve smiled at Loki, Thor and Mack. "Thank you for coming."
"Of course," Thor said. "Are we to act now?"
"That's what we're trying to figure out," Steve replied. "Even if we react now... we should still have the element of surprise. Grant said he's only seen ten different people going in and out... but we can't assume that there won't be more."
"It is times like this I miss my scepter..." Loki sighed.
Grant had continued to watch the building while Steve explained. "I think we can sneak in fairly easy. We may be able to disable most of them before anyone realizes they need to raise an alarm...."
Coulson nodded. "There are more of us now... we should have a better chance of disabling more of them quickly."
"I have never been very good at sneaking... but I will willingly follow your lead," Thor said, hefting his hammer.
"Will we be splitting up or staying together?" Loki asked. "If together, if we are discovered I can provide distraction."
"It might be better to stay together, then," Steve commented. "But this should really be a quick in and out. We want to see if someone we need to rescue is there."
Mack nodded. "Do we have a description of who we are looking for?"
Coulson passed over the information Grant had written down.
Mack committed the information to memory before passing it to Loki.
Loki did the same then handed it to Thor. "What if she fights?"
Thor glanced through the information, taking it in, and then gave it back to Coulson.
"We subdue her without hurting her more than necessary," Steve said. "If we can, knock her out so one of us can carry her."
"Ok....so we go now?" Grant asked, eager to find his sister.
"We go now," Coulson said.
Steve was already heading towards the building, searching for a side entrance or a window that might not be too heavily guarded. Thor moved quickly to join him.
Mack motioned Grant and Coulson forward, indicating that he and Loki would bring up the rear.
Grant moved quickly into the building, noting that Steve and Thor had already taken out two HYDRA agents. He took out a third. The building wasn't very big and it didn't have more than one floor. It didn't take long at all for all seven of them to go through the entire building. They had disabled all ten of the men that they had noticed...and there was no one else. Grant felt his hopes dashed as he realized that his sister wasn't there.
Coulson stepped over to Grant, placing a hand on his son's shoulder and squeezing gently. "I know she's not here... but we'll find her," he promised.
Steve used his comm to contact one of the teams to come and take the HYDRA agents into custody.
Grant nodded, but he was obviously disappointed.
Sighing, Mack put a hand on his cousin's shoulder. "If you give me the keys, I'll ride the bike back and you can go with your dad."
"Thor and I can travel with the van to make certain the prisoners stay prisoners," Loki added, after a glance toward his brother to make certain that was acceptable.
Thor nodded. "That is fine with me," he replied.
Coulson gently tugged Grant in close. "Let's go home," he said, his voice gentle.
The van arrived in a decent amount of time and Loki and Thor climbed aboard. Mack then took the bike and took off for home. Glancing at his two uncles and his father, Grant gave a weak smile and climbed into the back seat.
Bucky, knowing Coulson would want to take care of his son, got in the front passenger seat so that Steve could drive.
Coulson got in the back with Grant, wrapping his arms around his son and pressing a kiss to his head. "We'll do everything we can to find her."
Steve got in the driver's seat and began driving them back to the tower.
"I know you will..." Grant whispered, leaning against his father and sighing. "I knew it was a longshot anyway...it still feels like a punch in the gut, though."
Bucky looked out the window, attempting to give them a little bit of privacy.
Grant just slumped against his father and remained quiet for several minutes, thinking, before he finally asked quietly, "I'm in trouble, aren't I?"
Coulson ran his fingers through his son's hair. "You took off without a word to anyone. I know you left a note, but that could have easily been missed if I'd come home later. And you made it quite clear you were going to make a move on the base without waiting for us. So, yes, you are in trouble." His voice was still loving and affectionate. He tried hard not to get angry with his children... with any of them, really... and now was no exception.
Grant nodded. "Yeah. I deserve to be..." he admitted, softly and without argument. "I'm glad you caught up with me." He spoke a little louder, to make certain Steve and Bucky knew he included them in his gratitude.
Coulson just kissed his head gently. "I'm glad we caught up to you and you weren't in immediate danger," he said softly.
Grant looked up long enough to give his father a tiny smile, before putting his head down on Phil's shoulder again. "Can we take care of things as soon as we get home? I... I know I deserve everything coming my way and I'd kinda like to just be with the family tonight. I...I can't explain how I feel, not sure exactly what it is I'm feeling, but I just want to be with everyone and I don't want to be thinking about...that...." he said with a sheepish tone. "If I didn't think it'd be too difficult for you, I'd ask for you to take care of me now, in the car..." This last was whispered to himself.
Coulson continued gently stroking Grant's hair. He heard his son's whispered comment, but didn't respond directly to that. "When we get back to the tower, we'll go to our floor and take care of things... and then spend the rest of the day with our family," he promised.
"Thanks, daddy..." Grant said, before sinking back into his disappointed thoughts.
Before he knew it, they were pulling into the garage and Veronica was welcoming them back to the tower. Grant didn't do much more than crawl out of the car, letting his father take lead and direct him.
Coulson got out of the car and wrapped his arm around Grant's shoulders, guiding him to the elevator so they could go to their floor. He kept in constant contact with his son, needing to feel that he was safe.
Grant didn't begrudge his father needing to be in constant contact. The constant contact was the only thing keeping his disappointment from turning into depression. He knew going to the building that it was an extreme long-shot that the girl he'd thought of as his sister for fifteen years would actually be there. He'd still got his hopes up. On top of that, now that he had nothing to show for his actions, he was forced to look at them without the added buffer of 'trying to save someone' and realize just how wrongly he'd behaved; if only because he'd worried his father yet again. Disappointment was rapidly mixing with guilt. He was more than ready to have his father punish him, if only so he could feel like things were ok between him and the older man again.
Coulson gently guided Grant off the elevator when it reached their floor, heading through to his bedroom, since he wasn't sure if any of the others would be around. Reaching the room, he kissed Grant's head. "I love you, son."
"I love you too, daddy..." Grant gave his father a timid smile, before walking to stand next to the bed and waiting for his father.
Coulson stepped over to the bed and sat down, reaching out to grasp his son's wrist. "I understand wanting to find your sister, but we both know that HYDRA would capture you as soon as they were given the opportunity. You shouldn't have taken off without waiting for any of us..." His voice was loving... but still serious.
Grant swallowed and nodded. "I know, sir...I have no excuse...." Grant reached down to unsnap his jeans, but reluctant to remove his wrist from his father's grasp (it was oddly comforting, having his father hold onto him like he was a child), he didn't push them down. Instead, he managed to maneuver himself so that he could lay over his father's lap without dislodging his father's grip on him and then put his free hand behind him, against the small of his back, so that his father could use it to hold him in place. "I'm sorry...." he finally said, in a contrite voice, as he waited for his father to begin.
"I know." Coulson gently grasped Grant's hand, squeezing it. He rubbed his son's back a moment or two and then tugged his jeans and underwear down. "I love you, Grant. I never want to risk losing you." He didn't raise his voice... his tone was soft; in stark contrast as he lifted his hand, bringing it down in a firm swat that he then repeated.
"I love you too..." Grant choked out, already tearing up; because he hated making his father worry or afraid and even though nothing terrible had happened (this time), it could have been so much worse and his father had known it even when Grant refused to think about it. He felt really guilty at doing this to his dad...again...when he did know better. Not fighting at all, he just lay limp over Coulson's lap, accepting the consequences of his actions.
It was hard to force himself to continue going... it always was. But Coulson knew his son needed the consequences and that keeping to the rules laid out was for the best. He settled quickly into a pattern of swats, going down to Grant's thighs before he started over from the top. Although he didn't swat as hard as he could, he wasn't holding back as much, demonstrating just how serious he felt this was.
Grant could feel the difference in how his father was spanking now compared to past spankings and while he knew it wasn't as hard as it could be, it was still hard and it hurt. It hurt a lot. Grant tried to remain limp and accepting, but by the time his father started a second circuit, he couldn't help but squirm...his whimpering was done without thought.
"I can't bear the thought of losing you, Grant." Coulson's voice was soft. This had hurt him a lot. "Taking off on your own is never the answer. You have a whole family... people here to rely on. Even when I'm not here for you to speak to straight away, there were plenty of other people you could talk to instead of disappearing."
Grant was able to keep his calm until his father began talking. It wasn't so much the words- his father wasn't saying anything he didn't already know- it was his father's tone that broke him. He could hear the hurt and knew that he was the cause of that hurt...and it was too much. "I'm sorry...I'm sorry, daddy...I'm so sorry...I didn't mean to hurt you...I just didn't think...I'm sorry..." He began trying to apologize, but by the end, his throat was so choked by tears, he couldn't speak. Instead, he just began to sob.
Coulson delivered a final few swats to his son's sit spots, but couldn't force himself to continue. He stopped and, without any hesitation, brought Grant up and into a tight embrace, kissing his son's head and holding him as tightly as he could... just so thankful that he had his son safe in his arms. "I love you," he whispered.
Grant curled into his father's embrace, grasping onto him as tightly as he could. "I love you, daddy...I'm sorry...please forgive me...please..." He cried, hiding his face against his father's chest.
Coulson tightened his embrace around Grant, stroking his hair and back. "I will always forgive you, son," he whispered. "I love you so much, Grant... I just want you to stay safe. Not get hurt."
"I love you, daddy...I love you and I'm so so sorry..." Grant whispered, still clinging to his father and crying, although his father's forgiveness helped him calm enough that he was no longer sobbing.
Coulson hugged Grant tightly, rocking him as if he was much younger than he actually was. "I know, son." He kissed the top of Grant's head. "I love you... and I'm so glad I have you here and safe," he whispered.
It took a while, but eventually, his father's gentle rocking helped calm him and Grant was able to stop crying. Reluctantly, he stood and fixed his clothing, letting out a tiny hiss when the material rubbed against his sore backside, but he didn't complain. As soon as his clothes were situated, he moved back into his father's arms, needing and craving the affection.
Coulson wrapped his arms tightly around his son once more, gently tugging Grant back onto his lap and kissing his head. "I love you," he reiterated, threading his fingers through Grant's hair.
Grant didn't fight it. He didn't want to. He curled up again in his father's arms and pressed as close as he could, soaking in the love, affection and forgiveness. "I love you so much, daddy..." he said in a tiny voice, seeming so much younger than he was.
Coulson tightened his embrace around his son. "I love you," he repeated, knowing Grant knew that, but unwilling not to say it. He stroked Grant's hair and back gently and soothingly. "I'm glad you're here safe with me."
Grant relaxed even more. He would have been content to stay there for a lot longer if Veronica hadn't interrupted.
"I'm sorry, director, but the rest of the family would like to know if you plan to join them for a quick debrief on the HYDRA agents captured and then a meal, or if they should proceed without you?" the AI asked.
Coulson gently stroked his son's hair. "What do you think?" he asked softly. "We can stay here, if you'd prefer... call your siblings and niece and nephew to join us; or just have a quiet meal on our own."
Grant thought about it, but then finally shook his head. "I need to apologize to everyone for just leaving like I did," he said quietly, finally sitting up to look his father in the eye. "But tonight...can I stay in your room?"
"You can at any time," Coulson promised. "You never need to ask." He leaned in and pressed a kiss to his son's forehead.
Grant gave his father a trembling smile, leaning into him one more time before straightening. "Veronica, please let the others know we are coming now..." he said quietly, before brushing the last of his tears from his eyes and turning to head back to the common floor...waiting long enough for his father to walk beside him.
"Do they want me there too?" Matt asked hesitantly, when Veronica asked Sam if they would be joining the debrief and the family meal afterwards.
"You're staying here now," Sam pointed out. "You're a part of this. So yeah. You're wanted too." He waited for Matt to join him before he headed to the elevator, setting it to go to the common floor once they were both inside.
Grant and Coulson had been in the elevator when Matt and Sam stepped in. Matt automatically moved to the side with his back to the wall and close to the exit. It was second nature now to make certain he could meet potential threats head-on, so he did it even when threat was most unlikely. Grant noticed it and darted a surprised look toward Sam. Normally, people didn't do such things unless they were trained.
"Matt is... more aware of his surroundings than a lot of people," Sam said, by way of explanation. He might not be too happy with his friend right now, but he wasn't going to tell Matt's secret.
Matt, realizing he had drawn attention to himself, couldn't help but blush. "I've been blind since I was ten..." he admitted quietly. "Grew up in Hell's Kitchen..." He shrugged, as if that explained everything.
"I'm sure you must have adjusted very well, then," Coulson commented. He didn't say that he could still see the evidence of Matt's wounds in the way the other man held himself, even though he could.
"Sometimes..." Matt murmured. Sometimes all the adjusting in the world didn't prepare him for things that came his way. This situation being one of them. Sam was still upset with him. He could tell. It had been a surprise, really. Foggy, he could understand...he'd been lying for years to him. Sam, though...he hadn't realized the older man had become so invested in him...started to care so much. And as much as he wanted to say it was the other man's problem (he'd not asked to be cared about!), he couldn't rightly do that. So the fact he'd hurt and upset his friend made him feel very guilty. He supposed he would need to make a trip to his priest to seek penance, if he wasn't able to control the guilty feelings.
When the elevator stopped on the common floor, Coulson wrapped his arm around his son and guided him off, pressing a kiss to the side of his head.
"Do you want to go ahead of me?" Sam asked Matt.
Grant leaned into his father as they walked into the main room.
"Ok?" Matt answered Sam, following Grant and Coulson. He couldn't help but notice the slight limp in the younger man's gait...nor did he miss the very small hiss that Grant expelled when he sat down next to his father. Both were so slight that it was debatable if anyone else noticed. Swallowing, he walked into the room then let Sam lead him to a chair.
The debrief was quick. Grant told what he had discovered and what he had done. Everyone else updated with what they had done. Bucky ended the debrief by explaining that no new information had been discovered. They had taken out ten HYDRA operatives, which was a good thing, but that was all.
Throughout the debrief, Grant kept shifting. No one said anything, understanding why he couldn't sit still...well, almost no one.
"Were you wounded?" Matt asked with a slight hint of worry. "You seem to be in pain..." he noted, not realizing that a) he was drawing attention to something that normally the family didn't speak about unless the one punished brought it up; and b) he was exposing the fact that his senses were a lot more developed than he normally pretended.
Grant blinked, his face going red, but before anyone could redirect Matt's focus or inform him that some family matters stayed between those directly involved, he answered, "I broke a big rule just running off on my own to take care of things by myself. It wasn't the right thing to do and my dad reminded me of that fact." He could tell Matt wanted to ask how, so he quickly added, "He spanked me. So...no, I'm not wounded; but yeah, it still hurts a little. But it isn't anything I don't deserve for worrying and hurting my family...." His voice had got a bit more quiet on the last bit; he obviously still felt remorse for his actions, even if they had been addressed.
Coulson wrapped his arm around Grant's shoulders. "Which we've dealt with and don't need to bring up again," he said, his voice gentle, firm and loving.
"Ah... so no one was exaggerating earlier," Sam commented.
"It's normally a family matter," Steve said. "Not exactly a secret... but it tends to be private between the family members it directly involves."
Matt found himself feeling very embarrassed and ashamed of himself for apparently asking about something that was really none of his business. The guilt he'd been feeling about lying to and hurting Foggy and then lying to and hurting Sam compounded matters and he found himself blurting, before he'd even stopped to think (not his usual method of doing things), "I'm the Devil of Hell's Kitchen!"
It was during the absolute silence that greeted his confession that his brain caught up with his mouth and he realized what he'd just done. "Crap..." he muttered softly, his shoulders slumping in defeat and dropping his head into his hands as he hunched forward.
It was Sam who broke the silence. "Well... that makes things easier. I don't have to pretend ignorance."
"The papers have run a lot of stories about your work," Coulson said. "I'm sure I can comfortably say that you're welcome to stay here as long as you like... but vigilante work isn't what we do here, even though we do carry out missions and we do help people... just not in the same way."
"How are you able to fight?" Leo blurted out, instantly curious. "Are all of your senses enhanced? Or is it like echo location?"
"I'm not a Bat-man...." Matt couldn't help but huff in amusement, but then he gave the question some serious thought, not wanting to focus on Coulson's comments. After all...Matt fought different people than SHIELD and the Avengers...he wasn't certain he could give up being a vigilante. It was one of the reasons Foggy was so upset with him...his unwillingness to say he'd stop had made his friend question if he'd ever truly known him. Finally, he answered, "...But what blinded me when I was a kid was some type of chemical spill that got into my eyes, on my skin, I breathed it in..." He shuddered as he remembered that day and how much it had hurt; how frightened he'd been. "...Somehow, what took my sight enhanced all my other senses greatly...and I..." He hesitated, uncertain how they'd all take the final piece of news. "...I can't see conventionally, but I have this sorta...radar? Maybe? That let's me form images of things in my head. It's all red and kinda drippy and not solid, but...." He dropped his cane, stood up and deftly maneuvered around the furniture and everyone standing till he was next to Fitz. "...I don't really need a cane."
Grant watched as Matt slumped again with a sigh, before shuffling back to sit next to Sam, obviously upset and worried. Since none of them had reacted negatively to the news- even his father's response hadn't been negative, even if he'd hinted that they'd expect Matt's solo vigilantism to stop- Grant couldn't figure out why Matt looked so close to tears. He glanced at Sam, hoping for some clue from the other man.
"Wow...didn't take you long to tell the truth to your new friends at all..." Foggy had come over with some items that had come into the office just before he was getting ready to head home. They were part of the case Matt was working on, so he had come over to deliver it. The man didn't even try to hide his hurt as he dropped the newest briefcase onto the floor. "The rest of the files you needed..." He turned quickly and headed back to the elevator.
Tony...who had just answered a call from his AI, of all things...stood up quickly, put a hand on Foggy's shoulder, led him over to where he'd been sitting next to Pepper and unceremoniously pushed him into his spot. "Don't leave yet. Veronica just called me to tell me of your arrival because apparently, she lost her voice. I'm going to go fix that and make sure nothing else is screwy, like her ability to recognize when someone isn't who they claim. I'd rather you not go until I can be certain you are you...no offense." Tony's grin was friendly, if shark-like.
Matt just stared at where his oldest friend now sat, unable to hide the guilt and unhappiness that he'd been doing fairly well (he thought) of hiding. He'd just hurt his friend again.
Sam squeezed Matt's shoulder gently, even as he addressed Foggy. "Why don't you stay and eat with us?" he suggested, knowing that things were strained between Matt and his friend... but also knowing that Foggy wouldn't be so hurt if he didn't care. And he didn't want Foggy to leave while he was this upset...
"Maybe we could order in," Steve suggested, figuring that, with the amount of them there were, that might be easier than cooking.
The fact that Matt didn't pull away, slumping further and actually leaning toward Sam, was enough of an indication how upset Matt was. He didn't normally seek physical comfort. The look of abject hopelessness and guilt was an obvious clue as well. Foggy watched this and felt his own twinge of remorse. Not for his feelings, he had every right to be upset, but remorse that his friend's stubbornness and refusing to even compromise a little about his own safety, regardless of Foggy's feelings, had led Matt to feeling alone and guilty. Unable to be the cause of any more distress, he nodded, before glancing around to make sure everyone else was ok with his presence. "Yeah. Ok. I can do that," he said softly, his eyes never leaving Matt.
"I'll call in an order for Chinese," Bucky said firmly.
Steve nodded. "Sounds good," he agreed. "I don't think there's anything else we need to cover..." He glanced around at everyone to make sure.
Sam responded to Matt leaning towards him by actually wrapping his arm around his friend's shoulders. He was beginning to think that maybe Matt needed someone to step in... that he needed guidance and someone to take on a role that was clearly lacking in his life.
It didn't come as much of a surprise to Sam that he wanted to be that for Matt.
Foggy blinked, suddenly realizing that all the Avengers and SHIELD agents were congregated in one room, plus Sam and Matt, and realized he may have just interrupted a meeting. "Oh...I'm sorry. I didn't mean to interrupt..." He winced as he could feel his face turning red from embarrassment.
Matt responded to Sam's arm being around him by shifting even closer. He was doing it without thought or premeditation, though. He was just so very upset and filled with guilt that any small sign that he hadn't lost his friends was like a lifeline to him. "I'm sorry..." he finally ground out, between lips thinned by his attempt to keep the tears inside. "...I...I appreciate everything and all, but I think I'm just going to go to bed now...I'm not really all that hungry." His voice was soft and amazingly clear and firm, considering it was obvious he was barely holding it together.
Steve smiled reassuringly at Foggy. "You didn't interrupt. The meeting was pretty much over." If it hadn't been for Matt's impromptu confession, they probably would have started ordering food in before Foggy's arrival.
To Sam, it was fairly obvious that Matt wasn't keeping it together well, no matter how much he was trying to hide it. "I'll walk you back, kid. I think we've got some things to discuss." Though maybe there wouldn't be much discussion going on. Sam hadn't missed the way Grant stuck close to his dad, even after it was made clear Coulson had punished him. It wasn't something Sam had thought about doing before... but given the guilt was so obviously crippling his friend, he made the decision to step in.
Foggy smiled back at Steve. "Thank you," he said quietly. At that moment, Foggy heard Sam's comment to Matt and glanced over, wondering if he shouldn't be a part of any discussions. He obviously had no clue what Sam was thinking.
Of course, it was also fairly obvious Matt hadn't caught on either, since his response to Sam was, "Ok, but I've told you pretty much everything that's important. Unless you want names of those I've gone against..." he almost whispered.
"We'll talk when we get to the floor." While Sam knew that everyone in this room, barring Foggy, would probably understand what he was planning, he was aware that it was private. Grant had chosen to share what was done to him... but that was his choice to make.
"Foggy... you could stay here for the time being. Come up once you've had something to eat," Sam suggested to his other friend. He figured that would be enough time... but hopefully, if it wasn't, one of the others would distract him until it was safe.
"Yeah, ok, man. I can bring something up for you and Matt if you aren't going to come back and join everyone else..." Foggy agreed easily. If Sam wanted to talk to Matt privately for a moment, he wouldn't complain. Foggy had had his moment alone to voice his displeasure and concerns. He somehow had a feeling that Sam hadn't been able to yet; or at least hadn't finished. He could wait a bit longer.
Matt just nodded, allowing Sam to direct him wherever. He was so guilt filled and despondent, he couldn't work up the energy to disagree even if he'd been inclined to.
"Thank you." Sam left the room, his hand resting on Matt's shoulder... though he didn't drag his friend so much as offer the emotional support. He stepped into the elevator, but didn't speak until it began moving to his floor. "I know you feel pretty awful right now, Matt," he said quietly. "I can't pretend I'm okay with being lied to for so long... but it doesn't make a difference to how I view you. I still care about you. But, kid... not only does the lying have to stop, the vigilante stuff has to as well. I'm going to go out on a limb and say yesterday wasn't the first time you were badly injured."
Matt gave a startled glance toward Sam. He believed the other man when he said that he didn't view him differently. He was so grateful for that fact, he wanted to make promises that would make the other man happy and not be upset. Promising not to lie was easy...he had no plans to do so ever again. Giving up being the vigilante, though.... "I can promise to not lie...I...too many people need me not to..." He swallowed, pretty sure Sam would be upset at him again. He didn't even answer the part about his being injured. He'd just promised not to lie and he didn't want to admit how often he'd had to call Claire to patch him up.
When the elevator stopped on his floor, Sam guided Matt off and through to the living area, sitting down on the couch with him. "I know you feel like the work you do is important, but working alone isn't the answer," he said firmly. "Now that the people here know your identity, you can bring things here... not go it alone and get yourself hurt even worse." What SHIELD and the Avengers did wasn't a whole lot different... but they didn't tend to work on their own and the missions were at least sanctioned by Coulson and Steve, both of whom could speak to those in authority and make sure no one was going to get into trouble. "You know... they were already talking about the things happening here, with the gang wars and all that, before you called yesterday," he added.
"I...you mean tell you all when I'm going after someone?" Matt couldn't believe it would be that simple. Just tell someone, 'Hey...I'm going to take down this drug dealer and his cronies tonight...just a heads up' and they wouldn't care. He wasn't sure he could handle having to get permission for going after the creeps, either; which might be what Sam expected. What if he told them what he was going to do and they forbade him? He was pretty sure he would have a hard time obeying such an order. But again, he didn't want to lie and he didn't want to argue with Sam about something that he wasn't even sure would occur, even if he was fairly certain it would. So he didn't voice his thoughts or worries about what Sam was saying. "What were they talking about the gang wars...?" he asked hesitantly, wondering if his own actions had featured in the discussions and if it was in a negative way. If it was negative, then Sam might very well insist he promise not to do his solo work anymore; and he didn't want to break promises.
"I was thinking more of it being a team thing," Sam replied. "Everyone here has each others' backs and they don't go on an op alone. If there's more than one of you, it means someone's there to watch your back. You're less likely to get hurt." He paused, before continuing, "While there weren't any concrete decisions made, I think there's a decision being made to find out who is behind everything that's going on. You can be a part of it... a part of the family." For all that he'd kept himself apart, Sam knew he was accepted... and he wanted to make it clear Matt was as well.
"I already know who is behind it..." Matt admitted. He was too focused on Sam's words of working as a team, having someone to watch his back, to really focus on much else, though and didn't think to tell his friend who it was. Plus, Matt was stubborn (he'd had to be, to survive the things he had). He wasn't sure he wanted to be part of a team. Yes, having someone watch his back would be wonderful...but being part of a team meant following orders and he doubted that he'd be the one calling the shots. He wasn't certain his ideas of what needed doing and who needed to be taken down would necessarily be the team leaders' ideas of who was best to go after and take down. And he knew if there came a difference of opinion, he likely wouldn't obey the leader's decision, which would cause all manner of problems. So he didn't agree with Sam or disagree...he just avoided answering all together.
Instead, he focused on the one thing he knew needed to be taken care of, no matter what decision he made about 'joining' some chosen family. "I'm sorry I lied for so long, Sam. I'm sorry I hurt you and Foggy and that...that you both had to find out the ways you did. I'm just so sorry..." he forced out through a tear-tightened throat. He looked down and tried to regain control over his emotions again, but whenever he thought about the lost trust and the pain he'd caused his friends...and they'd ended up finding out the truth anyway; he could have just told them and avoided hurting them so badly... it just made him feel sick inside and like he was the worst type of person. If he had thought it would work to get rid of his guilt, he would have tried to bring more pain to himself as penance for his actions. But he doubted either Foggy or Sam would approve of that and it would only hurt them worse- and make him feel more guilty. Guilt was the price he was going to have to pay for trying to protect his city and his friends (however inadvisable his method had been).
Sam could hear the guilt in Matt's voice and see it in his friend's face. The idea that had been half-playing in his mind since discovering how those here in the tower dealt with things sprang to full force. "I know you are, Matt. And I'm not going to leave you alone to wallow in that guilt. You're right you shouldn't have lied to me and Foggy... so we're going to do something about it. I'm going to punish you. I'm going to spank you," he clarified.
Matt's breath caught in his throat. He wondered if he should be upset about what Sam was saying, about the fact his friend wanted to punish him in such a humbling way. But he had just been thinking about how he wished he could hurt himself further as a form of penance; except he didn't think it would work. If Sam caused him physical pain...it would be different. Sam was one of the ones he'd hurt, after all, so he had a right to cause him pain, if anyone did. And if Sam was doing it, then Matt knew it wouldn't be taken too far, to the point where Sam and Foggy would be hurt with even more worry about him. And maybe...if even a little bit of his guilt could be covered by Sam punishing him... he felt so guilty. "Ok," he finally said, his voice catching.
Sam rubbed Matt's shoulder gently, but didn't add to what he'd said, instead putting action to words. Taking a gentle grip of his friend's hand, he drew Matt across his lap, settling him in place and wrapping an arm around his waist so that he could draw Matt close to his stomach. He paused then, waiting to make sure Matt was comfortable... and in case he had anything he wanted to say.
Matt didn't fight the position in the least, moving only enough so that he felt comfortable and not like he was going to slide off (although Sam's hold was tight enough that had only been a fleeting worry). Swallowing hard, Matt forced himself to relax. "Thank you, Sam..." he finally said softly, tears already slipping down his face.
Sam simply rubbed Matt's back gently a moment or two. He gave it some thought, but tugged his friend's pants and underwear down, deciding that he was going all the way with this. "I know you thought you were doing the best thing, but lying to your friends only hurts them and damages trust." Steeling himself, he lifted his hand, bringing it down in a firm swat before repeating it.
Matt couldn't really say anything to that. He knew it was the truth. If he hadn't already known what Sam was saying, he wouldn't have felt so guilty about the lie (among the numerous other things he felt guilt for). Instead, he reached for Sam's ankle, grasping it desperately. The first swat hurt more than he had expected it to and he couldn't help the gasp he expelled, but he quickly managed to regain control over himself.
Sam began landing the hard, sharp swats in a pattern going down to Matt's thighs before he started over from the top. It was partway through the second circuit that he began speaking. "How do you think you would feel if it was the other way round? If it was Foggy endangering himself every day and you were left wondering if today would be the last day you'd see him alive?" Sam's voice wasn't cruel, but it was firm.
"No...I wouldn't let him do that...I'd find some way to help or convince him not..." Matt began to protest, just the thought of Foggy being in danger, through his own actions or otherwise, frightening him. Of course, he realized mid-protest where Sam was going with the question. Slumping, he couldn't stop the tears from falling. "And he feels the same...." he finally choked out. "You feel the same."
Sam stopped the spanking and drew Matt into a tight embrace. "We both feel the same," he agreed. "You're putting yourself in so much danger... I only just found out, but I can't imagine what Foggy must be going through, knowing what you're doing but unable to help. It isn't fair to the people who care about you to keep putting yourself in this kind of danger... especially not now that you have a whole group of people who would have your back at a moment's notice. Myself included."
Matt couldn't help himself, holding onto Sam tightly. "I understand...I do..." He cried softly. "But I don't know how to...to do things different..." he admitted quietly, still crying.
Sam tightened his embrace, running a hand over Matt's hair and back. "That's why I'm here," he said. "I'll help you. I'm ready and willing to step in at any point I need to. Because you're more than just my friend. You're my family." He spoke with frank, open honesty.
Matt took a shuddering breath and let it out with a tiny laugh. "When I was a kid, I always wished I'd had an older brother to take care of me..." He finally pulled away from Sam and gave him a watery grin, before pulling his pants back up with a hiss.
Sam reached out and placed a hand on Matt's shoulder. "You've got someone to take care of you now, kid."
Matt smiled again, looking down and moving back toward Sam without even thinking, needing to be held again. "Yeah...I guess I do..." he whispered as he wrapped his arms around Sam's waist.
Sam responded by wrapping his arms around Matt and drawing the other man in close and tight once more.
Matt finally got control over his racing emotions and stopped crying, but he didn't let go of Sam.
"Sir, Mr. Nelson has come up with some Chinese food for you and Mr. Murdock. Shall I open the front door and allow him entrance?" Veronica asked quietly.
Matt stepped back from Sam's embrace reluctantly and brushed his hands over his eyes.
Sam stood up, squeezing Matt's shoulder genrly, before responding to Veronica. "Yes, please."
"I hope you like Szechuan, Sam, cuz that's what I brought up. I know Matt likes it..." Foggy said, as he walked into the living room, carrying two cartons-one of chicken, one of beef- and a carton of rice in one hand and a two liter of soda in the other. Putting the food down on the coffee table and then placing the soda next to it, he straightened up and looked toward his two friends. He blinked as he got a real good look at Matt. "You've been crying...."
Matt winced. "I have good reason," he said, a bit defensively, but sheepish at the same time.
Foggy quickly threw his hands up in a placating manner. "Didn't say you didn't...I've felt like crying myself several times the last several days...."
Sam stepped over to Foggy and placed a hand on his shoulder, squeezing gently. "Hopefully, things will be better now." He didn't go into detail about why Matt had been crying... if Matt chose to go into detail, that was his decision.
"I am sorry, Foggy...I...Sam explained a few things to me in a way that I couldn't not understand and I hate that I made you feel so horrible like I did..." Matt bit his lip, hoping that Foggy would be able to accept his apology. He carefully walked to the couch and sat down, not bothering to hide his wince or hiss from the soreness in his backside.
Foggy's eyes widened fractionally. "Are you hurt again, Matt? I swear, you weren't even healed from the last time...if you went out and got yourself shot again..." Foggy's worry was loud and clear, even through the irritation in his voice.
"No!" Matt tried to calm his friend. "I didn't go out again, Foggy! I promise. I'm just sore from being spanked!" Matt bit his lip again and winced. "And I seem to be having a very bad night not blurting out things that I don't mean to, so I'd be a fool to try and take on anyone at the moment anyway..." He sighed in frustration. It wasn't that he was upset Foggy knew... but he was usually so much better controlling his tongue.
Foggy looked at Sam, his eyebrows going up into his hairline. "You spanked him?"
"It apparently seems an effective way of dealing with things." Sam didn't go into details about how he knew that; again, it wasn't his to talk about, even if it was clearly not a secret and many of the people in the tower seemed to talk about it almost casually... when they weren't actively in trouble.
"It wasn't just for my sake." Sam's eyes moved towards Matt. "I could see how bad you were feeling. I figured it would only get worse if I left you to it."
"Yeah..." Foggy sighed. "I was so hurt and upset...and didn't know what I could do to make my position clear that would actually get Matt's attention so he might listen. I'm glad you found a way."
"Uh...I'm still here, guys..." Matt said, with a slight hint of embarrassed amusement.
Foggy grinned and sat down next to his brother in everything but blood. "So next time you get it into your head to ignore good advice and try to get yourself killed...I'm telling on you. I feel so much better now that that is a thing."
Matt couldn't help but roll his eyes. "You are having entirely too much fun with this..." he muttered, but it was without heat. He hesitated, biting his lip again. "Can you both forgive me? For being so...hard-headed and blind to your feelings?"
Sam sat down on the other side of Matt, wrapping an arm around his shoulders and squeezing him gently. "I think that's the point of a punishment, isn't it? Everything's over with and forgiven... but I won't have any problem stepping in should there be a need to in the future."
Foggy nodded and put his arm around Matt from the other side. "Yeah. I forgive you. And now that I know you've got some rather powerful friends to watch your back so I don't have to be so scared...I'm not angry anymore, either." He squeezed his friend's shoulders tightly before letting go and leaning forward to open the boxes. "Now how about you two eat before it all goes cold? Then I probably should be heading back to my apartment...."
Matt swallowed, then reached forward and took one of the cartons. "You could...you know...stay tonight. We could all talk..." he offered hesitantly. He wasn't sure Foggy was over things enough that he'd want to stay the night; and on top of that, it was Sam's place anyway.
Foggy slanted his head thoughtfully, glancing at Sam to see what he thought of the suggestion. "I...suppose I could for tonight..."
Sam took the other carton, even as he replied to Foggy. "It would be good to have you stay the night as well," he commented. "I think it would be good to spend the evening together... time to heal and all that."
Foggy nodded, easily agreeing. "Ok...I...I'd like that."
"Me too..." Matt said softly, his smile slowly growing till it filled his entire face. For the first time since he first donned the suit, he didn't feel the burden of hiding things from his friend; and the guilt he'd had from lying had finally diminished. He wasn't certain about the future, there had been a lot of expectations laid out for him that he wasn't certain he could meet, but for the first time in a long time, he didn't feel hopeless. He bit into a bite of chicken eagerly, his appetite finally returned.
Foggy grinned as he watched his friend then glanced at Sam. 'Thank you,' he mouthed silently.
Tony finished helping clear up the common room, most of the younger 'kids' having headed off to bed at his and their parents' insistence. He glanced at his own father with a crooked grin. "You think Sam will move into the building now that he's gone and adopted his own kid? Cuz...they may not know it now, but I think that's just what he did tonight...."
Steve smiled at Tony, wrapping an arm around his son's shoulders and squeezing gently. "I'm pretty sure that's what happened as well," he agreed. "And it wouldn't surprise me if they both move in here... Sam'll want to keep Matt close and here's probably the best place for that. And now... I think it's time for us to go to bed, too," he added.
"Yeah...ok, dad..." Tony said, smiling at his father. "I already sent Pepper up. She has an early meeting tomorrow, but then normal hours the rest of the day; maybe we can surprise her with lunch..." He started thinking out loud as he walked with his father to the elevator to head up to their apartment. The common floor was quiet.