Author’s Note: This was written as a RPG (roll playing game) between co-authors Hope1iz and BlackFox12. Set after the season one finale. Forty-fifth in the Redeeming Grant series.
Disclaimer: We don't own anything belonging to MARVEL and we're not making any money from this fic
Summary: A family retreat leads to introspection and bonding.
Warning(s): Spanking; spoilers for various MARVEL movies and television programs; mentions of drugging ,mental coercion, assault, mind control, and other potential triggers .
Co-Author's Website: BlackFox12's fanfiction.net page


STORIES FROM THE ISLAND


Tony stood at the bow of the ferry, watching as the tiny island came into view, pulling Pepper in more closely to him and leaning over to kiss her on the cheek. "This was a good idea. I think everyone needed it. I'm so proud of you for thinking of it and arranging it with everyone...." He smiled at his fiancé before glancing back over his shoulder to locate Harry. His son was standing next to his grandfather, but what he and Steve were talking about Tony could only hazard a guess. He glanced around at all the rest of the members of his family; Bruce and his kids; Uncle Phil and all his kids and grandkids; Uncle Nick and his brood; Melinda...Bucky...Sam...Ben...all their kin. Even Odin had joined Thor, Loki and Mack. "I'm also glad you had the guesthouse renovated so that it could fit the entire family, plus a few extra people..." he muttered softly.

Pepper chuckled. "Yes...well, I'm serious about wanting our wedding to be here. So we need to have enough room for all the family. Plus my parents, Jane, Darcy, Eric, Betty, Foggy... and the potential family members that are liable to have been adopted by the time we finally get around to making our marriage legal!" Her voice was seriously teasing. She looked over her shoulder as well, grinning at her the family members behind her who were patiently waiting for the ferry to dock, before looking back at Tony. "Everyone has been stressed lately. I know it comes with the territory of protecting the world and being heroes... but everyone needs some time to unwind. And with all the new additions to the family, it seemed like a bit of family bonding time was needed as well. I may not be a hero or able to save the world, but I can protect my family and help them get what they need," she said emphatically, as she snuggled up to her fiancé again.

Steve and Harry were talking animatedly, although the conversation died a bit as the island came into view and Steve wrapped his arm around his grandson, bringing Harry over to stand with his parents, smiling as he caught the tail-end of what his daughter was saying.

Coulson had moved next to Raina, as Natasha was talking to Grant and Bobbi, and was drawing her into conversation... while at the same time surreptitiously checking to see what her comfort levels were.

Raina, for all appearances, was cool and collected and sure of herself. Of course, appearances could be deceiving; and she had got very good at deception during her years of working with shadier elements in her quest to 'evolve'. Now that she was a part of a family that actually cared about her and her feelings, she had to remind herself to actually let them in and to let them see her vulnerabilities and uncertainties. "How long are we staying on this island?" she turned and asked her father for the third time, distracted enough that she hadn't really heard his answer the first two times.

Grant was watching his newest sister from the corner of his eye, trying to figure out how she was feeling. "I'm curious about that cave that Leo warned us against exploring. Why he would even mention it if all he was going to do was warn us not to go near it is beyond me. He had to have known it would raise my curiosity..." he muttered with a soft laugh. Since none of the parents had seen fit to mention any cave yet, he wondered if he couldn't sneak over to see it anyway.

Bobbi's eyebrow went up. "If Leo warned you against it, you can better be certain we're going to be told not to go near it by either daddy or one of our uncles. I don't think trying to get away to see it before they have a chance to tell you not to is such a good idea..." she whispered, knowing exactly what her brother was thinking, since she was thinking it herself.

"About a week." Coulson didn't show any kind of impatience when responding to Raina's question for the third time. He draped an arm casually around her shoulders, hoping to gently encourage her to open up a bit more. "We don't get a lot of opportunities to go on holiday like this as a whole big family," he commented, aware that Raina hadn't had a chance to meet her grandfather and aunt and uncle yet... but he hoped to get her more used to this family before overwhelming her even more.

Natasha snorted softly, having overheard Bobbi and Grant's whispered comments. "Leo hasn't figured out that the worst way of getting someone not to do something is by telling them they can't do it," she said, amusement in her voice.

"And....we're not doing any work or experiments or anything we normally do? At all?" She sounded dubious. She may not have bonded closely to the family...yet...but she'd observed enough to know which ones were workaholics, which ones were addicted to their electronics and gadgets and which ones liked being surrounded by the noise and fast pace of the city.

"Well, as long as dad....or one of our uncles...doesn't veto it..." Grant's grin was slyly impish.

This time, Bobbi snorted. "Like that's not going to happen..." She chuckled.

"It's a family bonding time," Coulson replied. "We leave the work behind because forming those kind of bonds... spending time with each other... is important." He squeezed his daughter gently. "I want to be able to spend this time with you."

"If Leo's said that it's dangerous, then I guarantee Dad and our uncles are going to agree," Natasha said.

Raina smiled, almost shyly. "I like that idea..." she said softly.

Grant sighed, but didn't disagree with his sisters. He knew they were likely right.

***

Matt stood against the railing of the ferry, his eyes closed, letting the breeze blow over his face and taking deep whiffs of the fresh ocean air. "It smells clean..." he remarked quietly to whoever was close enough to hear him.

Karen moved closer to her brother, bumping shoulders with him and leaning on the railing as well. "It does. And it's a gorgeous view..." She began to quietly describe the island as they approached, giving him quite a bit of detail.

Sam smiled as he listened to and watched his children, edging a bit closer to them so he could join in the conversation where it was appropriate and didn't have to raise his voice to be heard.

"What's the first thing you both want to do when we make landfall?" Matt asked, including his father in the question, even as he moved to squirm underneath Sam's arm for a hug.

Sam wrapped his arm around Matt, hugging him in close, and did the same to his daughter. "After settling in... I think it would be good to either go exploring or hit the beach. We could probably do both in the same day, but we have time to space things out a bit."

"Exploring..." Matt quickly put his opinion forward. "That way, I can get a feel for the island and find my way around easier...."

Sam nodded and looked at Karen. "If you don't have a preference, I think exploring first would be a good idea," he said to his daughter.

Karen smiled. "I like that idea, too..." she admitted.

***

Jemma was sitting on one of the ferry's benches, next to her father, as she watched her brothers. She glanced toward Bruce. "Do you think there will be any new rules this time? Do you have any new rules?"

Bruce smiled. "I don't, but we'll find out soon if your grandpa or great-uncles do...."

"I've been telling everyone to avoid the cave..." Leo commented.

Peter nudged his brother. "Yeah, but telling someone they shouldn't do something just makes them want to do it more. I guarantee someone's going to want to make sure it's dangerous for themselves."

Bruce overheard Peter and raised an eyebrow. "Who was told not to do something? And what were they told? And who did the telling?" he asked, slightly baffled. He was fairly certain it wasn't one of the parents that had said something, because generally, when they said not to do something, the children's first reaction wasn't usually to immediately want to do it.

"I've been warning everyone to steer clear of the cave," Leo said, adding, "The same one that's steep and fills with water quickly... more of a hole than a cave." The same one he'd nearly ended up becoming trapped in... though he didn't remind his father of that fact.

"Ah...I see." Bruce laughed softly. "I have a feeling your grandpa will address that first thing."

Clint wandered over, his arms around Wanda and Pietro. "Address what first thing, cuz?"

"That everyone is to stay out of the cave on the far side of the island," Bruce answered seriously.

***

May walked over to her daughter and put an arm around Skye's shoulders. "Think you'll be ok without your electronics this week?" She grinned.

Smiling, Skye leaned a bit into her mother. "I'm getting better," she defended herself. "I only need to be told twice... maybe three times occasionally... that's progress," she teased.

"You've been improving greatly. I'm proud of you," May agreed, with a smile.

"I don't need them in the way I used to," Skye said, before asking, "Is there anything in particular you'd like to do first on the island?"

May's smile was serene. "I plan to make no plans. If something catches my fancy, I'll do it. If there is something you'd like to do with me...just say the word."

***

Bucky stood at the port side, looking out over the ocean. "Dolphins have been following us. See them?" he said out loud, to anyone near enough to hear.

"I do..." Ben answered.

Lance was sticking close to his father, his brother and cousin (Blake) on the other side of him, talking animatedly. Instead of saying anything, he poked Bakshi in the side.

Distracted from his conversation, Bakshi followed the line of his father's gaze. "Dolphins! I always wanted to swim with them!" The slightly wistful note to his voice gave way to a hint of surprise as he realized an almost-memory had surfaced.

Blake glanced at the dolphins and then at Bakshi. "If it's something you want to do, maybe it's something that could be arranged," he suggested.

Bucky glanced at his younger son and grinned. "That sounds like a good memory...remembering something you've always wanted to do. Blake's right. I'm sure we could arrange it somehow...."

***

Thor stood close to his father and brothers, watching the island as they moved closer to it, and commented, "I do not believe the island will be good to spar upon."

Loki grinned at his older brother then looked at his father and Mack. "We could always try and spar in the ocean...."

"Or not spar at all..." Mack shook his head. "There are other ways we can test our skills against each other..." he added.

All of a sudden, Tony was yelling, "Land Ho!" at the top of his lungs and the ferry was beginning to slow as it approached the dock.

Fury heard his nephew calling out and walked over to the far side of the ferry, drawing his children with him. "We should probably have a system in place for how everyone leaves the ferry," he commented. "Otherwise, it'll just be a free-for-all."

"And I think there are some ground rules we're going to need to cover before anything else," Steve commented, remembering how Leo and Bruce had nearly got stuck down the hole.

Tony had walked back over in time to hear both comments. "You're both right." He smiled at his cousins, ruffling a hand through Kara's hair. "You both want to do the honors?"

"I suspect we can cover those ground rules once we're inside and have taken the bags in," Steve said. "When it comes to leaving the ferry... Tony, why don't you and Pepper take the lead? Nick and I will organize how everyone else exits."

Tony nodded. "Ok. Will do. I've got the key to the front door anyway..." He grinned impishly before taking Pepper by the arm and leading her to where the gangplank had been lowered to the dock. "Ready, Hot-pepper?" He grinned at his fiancé. At her nod, he grabbed both her bag and his bag, somehow putting one over his shoulder and grasping the other in his hand, before offering his arm again and leading her down to the dock...then walking carefully up the walk to the front of the refurbished mansion. "You did a good job, sweetie!" He admired the remodeling touches that had been added to the outside, noting that the added 'wing' matched perfectly with the older part of the house. "How many rooms did we add again?"

"Not too many..." Pepper said softly. "We had to share rooms last time, but everyone seemed to prefer that, so I only added enough rooms to accommodate the rest of our very large family if they share space. Plus three guestrooms for if anyone not in the family visits and they don't want to 'share'. Knowing this group, we'll end up with a few rooms empty because all the family groups will end up in one room..." She laughed softly.

Fury and Steve very quickly began organizing the rest of the family. While some of them were a little impatient, they followed the directions and it didn't take long before everyone was on the island... even with the sheer amount of them there were.

"I'll let you direct people to their rooms..." Tony muttered to Pepper, before opening the double doors to the mansion wide and stepping into the middle of the foyer, turning around to face everyone. "There are a few rules for the island, a very few, that we should get out of the way right now... and then Pepper can show you which direction the rooms are." He beamed at his family, excitement dancing in his eyes.

Steve stepped forward, smiling as everyone quietened and looked towards him. "Most of the rules are the same ones we have normally... don't go anywhere without clearing it with one of us first. There is a particular cave on the island... I know Leo's already mentioned it to some of you. You need to avoid going in there. When the tide rises, it fills with water and becomes more treacherous."

"Aw, man...now it's official..." Grant whined playfully.

Bobbi grinned. "Yep. Now we definitely can't go, unless we want to be in trouble with Uncle Steve..." She grinned innocently at said uncle.

"What? You aren't afraid of being in trouble with dad?" Clint raised an eyebrow, but it was clear he was teasing too.

Raina's smile could have melted butter as she gave her own innocent smile toward Clint. "Daddy didn't say we couldn't go there...just Uncle Steve..." She left it unsaid that the assumption could be made that since Coulson didn't veto it, he wouldn't be the one getting after them if they broke the rule.

"Does this mean if I get daddy's permission, I can go to the cave?" Kara's face was the picture of childish confusion, though the twinkle in her eye indicated she was joining in on the teasing.

Laughing a little, Coulson squeezed each of his children's and grandchildren's shoulders. "To head off anything like that... I'm vetoing it along with Steve. I'd rather keep you all safe and well." Although he was joking with them, he was also very serious about their safety.

"Considering that won't be happening... no," Fury said, his own voice teasing.

Kara giggled, wrapping her arms around her father and holding onto him tightly before stepping back and picking up her bag again.

Pepper cleared her throat. "If there are no more critical announcements.... Those of you who were here before will remember that there were bedrooms on the top floor in two different wings and then three bedrooms downstairs. The remodel has basically added one new wing onto the house. All the old rooms have been left as is for those who don't have large families, or who would like a room to themselves. The new wing has rooms that have been separated into suites for the larger families who don't want to be separated. There are approximately three bedrooms, a sitting room with a fold-away sofa bed, plus a shared bath per suite. They can be found on the first floor and the second floor and there are four suites on each floor. The new wing is the first hallway on my right. Go pick a room and then meet me back down here, so I can show you where the kitchen and family room is!"

***

It was several hours later. Bedrooms or suites had been chosen and most of the family had spent the afternoon exploring the island. It was nearing time for dinner, however. Pepper wandered into the kitchen and looked into the fridge. "I don't know what to make..." She sighed. "Nothing in here seems...vacation-y enough!" she finally declared, with a huff.

Tony wrinkled his nose. "Just what would be vacation-y enough?" He glanced toward some of the other family that had wandered in, to see if they had any ideas.

"I think there was some gathering of fruit," Steve commented, walking over to join his daughter at the fridge. "Why don't we do a barbeque?" he suggested. "Take it outside... then we can all sit round a campfire. Toast marshmallows."

"I think that sounds like a good idea." Sam had wandered in with his children, taking advantage of their exploration to gather a basket of fruit.

Pepper blinked then grinned brightly. "I like that idea!" She quickly began to pull items that could easily be cooked on a grill or over a fire out of the refrigerator and began placing the items into a basket that she pulled out of the pantry. "We even have graham crackers and chocolate bars if someone wants to make S’mores...."

"S'Mooooores..." Bobbi, who had begun helping Pepper pack up items, got a look on her face that caused Tony to blink worriedly then hide the chocolate at the bottom of the basket.

Bucky smirked. "Why don't I just get a group of the guys together and start hauling firewood down to the barbeque pit?" He quickly grabbed both his sons and started toward the back door, grabbing hold of anyone who didn't appear to be in the middle of already helping Pepper and Tony pack up food.

Steve left the others to help with the food, joining Bucky and his nephew to gather the firewood, since he knew his strength would make the job easier.

Pietro ended up joining his uncles, figuring he could get firewood gathered fairly quickly.

More of the others joined Tony and Pepper, while others filtered out to help gather firewood and also collect blankets and pillows to sit on.

Soon, various items were roasting over the fire while everyone lounged around sipping drinks and occasionally checking on their meal to make certain it wasn't burning. It was very relaxing. Loki had just taken his own turn adding a bit more wood to the fire and had returned with another drink for himself and his father, sinking down onto the blanket he was sharing with a tiny, relaxed sigh. The breeze was blowing gently enough to cool but not to blow anything over. He looked over at Thor and gave him a big grin. "I do like eating outside...." he said with another grin.

Thor smiled, sitting back next to Loki and nudging him gently. "This is very different to times we've had to eat outside before," he said. "Do you recall, brother? We were visiting one of the other worlds..."

"We have visited many worlds, Thor. Which one do you speak of? Vanaheim? Alfheim? Please do not tell me you are thinking of that time we went to Nidavellir!" Loki began to laugh.

Thor laughed. "That's exactly the time I was thinking of..."

Mack glanced between his two brothers, a curious expression in his eyes. "Care to share with the rest of us? It sounds like a great story...."

Loki glanced around and noticed that everyone within hearing of Thor's voice was keyed in on their conversation- which meant everyone, since Thor's voice carried easily. "Tis your story, brother..." he teased gently, leaning back against his father and giving his brother a big grin.


~Pranks and Pain~

Today was a day Thor was feeling particularly restless. He wanted to explore one of the realms... but he didn't want to do it alone and Sif and the warriors weren't available. And he knew Loki, although caught up in his studies, would always join him.

Reaching his brother's chambers, Thor didn't bother knocking and instead just barged in. "Loki! Brother! Are you busy?"

Loki had just finished reading one of the tomes of an obscure mystic that he'd become enamored of and was putting the tome back on his bookshelf. Spinning around at his brother's sudden appearance in his room, he wrinkled his nose. "Thor! Must you always barge around like a Bilgesnipe hunting for a mate? You could at least knock!" he said exasperatedly, before his curiosity got the better of him and he had to ask. "I've just finished my studies...so I am not busy, no. Why?"

"I wish to leave Asgard and visit one of the nine realms," Thor said. "I thought perhaps you might like to join me... particularly since you have not left our home in a long time." Of course, given Thor's impatience, 'long' for him was often 'short' for everyone else.

Loki blinked in bafflement; he'd taken a trip to Midgard not more than two Midgardian months before, so he wasn't certain where Thor got his information, but he didn't comment on it. Instead, he asked, "Which of the realms do you wish to visit? I think I would like to go...."

Thor smiled, happy to have his brother willing to accompany him. For all they were no longer as close as they had been as children, Thor still enjoyed Loki's company. "I believe I would like to visit Nidavellir. It has been a long time since I have set food there."

"Are you certain the dwarves will not chase us out of their realm?" Loki asked skeptically. "They were none too pleased that you turned down the princess' offer of marriage...however right you were to do so..."

"I do not intend to meet those particular dwarves," Thor replied dismissively.

"Really?" Loki skeptically raised an eyebrow, not entirely certain how Thor intended to avoid the ruler of Nidavellir, but decided not to ask. "By all means, then, let us go, brother...."

Not wanting to risk Loki changing his mind, Thor draped his arm around Loki's shoulders and began to guide him from the room. "Perhaps we could pass by the kitchens and take some food with us," he suggested.

"That would probably be a good idea..." Loki easily agreed, allowing Thor to lead him out.

Heading to the kitchens, Thor gathered packs for both himself and Loki... though he only filled his own, as he trusted his brother. Very soon, he was done and waiting for Loki to join him.

Loki also filled his pack, adding in a few items that Thor hadn't added that he hoped he wouldn't need to use; but he knew his brother and it was better to be safe than sorry. He quickly joined Thor and waited for his brother to take the lead as he normally did.

Thor walked quickly to the Bifrost, though he walked next to his brother rather than striding ahead of Loki. Within moments, they were at the rainbow bridge and moving past Heimdall.

"Did you inform Father or Mother about our plans or where we were going?" Loki asked nonchalantly as they stood in place, waiting for Heimdall to activate the gate.

"Not exactly." Thor grinned at his brother. "But I do not think it is needed. We will not draw attention to ourselves."

"We will not?" Loki's voice was dubious, but he was unable to retort any further (though he really wanted to say something to the effect that Thor very seldom did anything where he did not draw attention to himself), as Heimdall had activated the portal and they were on their way to Nidavellir.

As they landed, Thor bent his legs enough that the force wasn't as jarring as it could have been. He straightened and turned to Loki, automatically checking his brother had handled himself, though he knew Loki had no trouble. "Everything will be fine, brother," he said... in what, to him, was a quiet voice.

Loki wasn't looking at his brother, however. He was too busy warily watching the Warg that they had inadvertently disturbed from its meal. The animal's hackles were raised and it was growling low in its throat. Loki didn't want to kill the creature; he was trespassing on its territory, after all. Carefully and slowly, he began to back away.

Thor followed the line of his brother's gaze and the next moment, his hammer was in hand. "We could have found a better spot to land."

"Your ability to state the obvious surpasses none, brother..." Loki said drily. "Let us try and retreat without harming it...it has pups..." Loki didn't state how he knew such. His brother would have either noticed what he had, or he wouldn't. As much as he liked to call his brother a foolish oaf, he knew Thor wasn't as stupid or oblivious as he liked to pretend.

"I do not plan to be the one who strikes first." With his free hand, Thor took a firm hold of his brother's arm, watching the Warg carefully as he retreated. Battle was one thing... but there was no honour in killing a creature protecting its young.

Loki would have liked to have said that he noticed the sudden incline that they were backing toward and that it was Thor's fault he continued in that direction; however he had determined long ago that if he began lying to himself, he would have gone too far. He just had not been paying attention as much as it pained him to admit. Needless to say, the sudden slip and rolling down the hill into a chilly, muddy, pond did not make him overly happy...until he realized Thor had not only rolled into the pond, but had gone under. His handsome blond brother's golden locks were a sodden mossy brown. Loki could not help it. He burst into laughter.

Thor surfaced from the mud, spluttering and swiping the dirt from his face as he scowled at Loki... even though he was not truly angry with his brother. "This is not amusing!"

Loki chortled gleefully. "No...it truly is, brother! Very much so!"

Thor couldn't ignore his brother's laughter for long and his own lips twitched, fighting the urge to join in. "Come. Perhaps we could find a cleaner lake where I may wash."

"Yes...and a change of clothing..." Loki agreed, not too fond of his own filthy state. Carefully, he trudged out of the pond. "Which direction, brother?"

Thor looked around. "So long as we avoid the dwarves' palace, I believe we may take any direction."

"Ah, well in that case..." Loki began walking in the direction that the sun would set later that day. He tried to ignore the squelching of his shoes. He supposed he should feel grateful that he had dropped his pack before landing in the pond; at least the items in it were dry and clean still.

Thor walked alongside his brother, quickly regaining his cheerful mood. "At least we have a tale to tell... though perhaps we should change some of the details," he suggested, teasing Loki.

"Like the fact we were chased by a warg into a muddy pond?" Loki said with some amusement.

"Or perhaps that we were chased in by a whole herd of them," Thor suggested, humour lacing his words.

"At which point, mother would ask what we had done or not done to attract them..." Loki's look was wry. "I'd rather avoid that..." He laughed again as his shoe made a rather embarrassing squelch.

Laughing, Thor wrapped his arm around Loki's shoulders, ignoring the fact they were both muddy. "When clean and dry, we will not have to mention this particular part of our adventure."

"And I am perfectly fine with that..." Loki smiled at his brother, not pulling away. "Hey...is that a hut I see in the distance? Perhaps they have clothing?"

Thor nodded and began walking faster in that direction, though he was careful not to drag Loki along. "It is worth seeing."

Loki was happy to find there was indeed clothing hanging on a line behind the hut. There was no one in the hut to speak with, though. "It's all female clothing..." he said matter of factly. "…And there is a creek just over there to clean up in..." He quickly gathered items off the line to wear...careful to keep it from touching the mud on him...and went to the creek to bathe and change...quite literally. One moment, Thor's brother was in the water washing and the next moment, Thor suddenly had a sister.

Used to Loki's ability to shift his shape, Thor showed no surprise or shock as he wrinkled his nose at the clothing. "You are far more comfortable in the female form than I, brother." He left the clothing for the time being and waded into the creek fully clothed, hoping to remove the worst of the mud from his clothes, which could then dry in the sun.

Loki had darted a quick and suspicious look toward her brother at the comment, but, not seeing any ridicule on Thor's face, decided that her brother meant nothing negative in the comment and let it go without response. By this time, she'd washed her clothing as well as she was going to be able to and stripped out if it, hanging it on a nearby branch before going back into the water to clean herself. "If we run into anyone, we will need someone with a woman's voice to answer, as we are dressed as women." She shrugged, daintily washing her hair. She didn't say anything about the fact that Thor would make a very homely and possibly scary woman with his height, build and stubble gracing his chin.

Thor grunted. "Any dwarf will know me true by my face alone. Perhaps there is a veil to cover my face." Realizing he had no choice, he stripped out of his own clothes... not sure there was anything that would fit him.

"I believe there is a shawl among the clothing...bring it up over your head like a hood...it should hide you..." Loki offered, almost primly, as he finished cleaning himself and stepped out of the water and began dressing.

Thor did as suggested... though catching sight of his reflection in the water, he shook his head. "This disguise will not hold up under close scrutiny."

"Well, we will have to hope that we are not scrutinized closely then..." Loki smiled coyly, already shifting into the mindset of being a seductive female to try and keep attention off of her brother. She darted a rather moody look at Thor. "You better not tell anyone about this when we return!"

"If I did, I would have to reveal my own part." Thor grinned at Loki... knowing she would hear it in his voice. "But it is truly an adventure, you must admit."

Loki giggled then blushed at hearing herself giggling. "Yes...it is. We have not had an adventure for quite some time..." she said wistfully.

"We will have to have these more often." A more serious note slipped into Thor's voice. For all he had his friends... his brother (or sister, in this instance) was still important to him.

Loki gave her brother a grateful smile, happy that he understood what she hadn't said, then cleared her throat. "We best begin moving again. If the owners of these clothes return before we leave, I do not want to have to explain the theft...."

Thor nodded, edging closer to his sister... even though he didn't immediately put his arm around her shoulders. "You will have to do the talking for both of us if we meet any intelligent being... but your silver tongue has never failed us yet."

Loki fairly beamed at what could only be thought of as a compliment. "I will do so! I might have need to rely on your strength for any overtly physical challenges. Especially if people are watching. They might be suspicious if I use my magic...and while I am not a damsel in distress...there are limitations to what this form is able to accomplish." She smiled, leaning against her brother for a moment, before beginning to walk quickly in what she hoped was the direction they wanted to go.

Thor nodded. "And I will protect you in any case," he promised... which had nothing to do with what form Loki wore and everything to do with the affection he held towards her.

"Thank you, brother..." Loki said softly. It had been a while since she had felt her brother cared enough about her to do anything in her aid...lately, it had felt as if Thor would rather leave her to her own devices and be with his friends. It felt good to have him reaffirm his caring; she did believe him. "Now...we wanted an adventure! What shall we do?" she asked, with a quirky grin.

Thor laughed outright, but asked, "What would you wish to do?" Their conversation had made him regret not finding the time to spend with Loki... so he felt giving her a choice would make it clear how much he valued her.

Loki slanted her head. She had this inexplicable urge to dance, which was difficult. Firstly, because they were out in the middle of the country with no music and only her brother to dance with...but secondly, because in her normal male form, she hated to dance and felt it a waste of time; Thor would think she had lost her mind if she told him she wanted to dance. She wrinkled her nose and pouted. "I honestly do not know, brother..." she finally said with a sigh. "Perhaps a prank? On the dwarf king?" She perked up, her smile brightening at the thought.

Although surprised by Loki choosing not to be careful, Thor nevertheless grinned at her. "You have always been one for making mischief. I believe we could play a prank... or, rather, you could and I will be there for your protection."

"I do believe the dwarves Capital is this direction!" She began to walk again. "We do not want to do anything that brings harm to him...that would start a war...but perhaps I can trick him out of a jewel or two...."

Thor trailed next to his sister, amused. "I will enjoy seeing you work," he commented... glancing around automatically, still on his guard despite his jovial acting.

"Really?" Loki glanced over her shoulder at her brother. "I did not think you enjoyed my tricks..."

"I enjoy them when they are not directed at me," Thor replied honestly.

Loki gave an abashed smile to her brother. "I have directed too many of my tricks at you..." she said apologetically.

Thor's answering grin was obvious in his voice, even if hidden visibly. "I am aware such trickery is in your nature and I do not mind them occasionally."

Loki blushed, slowing down so she was walking closer to her brother. "I must learn to be more circumspect then..." She stopped suddenly, glancing toward voices carrying in their direction. "We are about to receive company."

Thor's answering nod was obvious, but he pressed his lips together and was silent as a dwarf hunting party came into view, many of the members carrying meat they clearly intended to feast upon.

Loki had attempted to push Thor back into some bushes...it was one thing to attempt a prank on the dwarves' king in his city after planning. It was another to be found by hunters in the wild with no plan in place. She could not help but feel worry at being outnumbered, even if Thor promised protection. Somehow, the idea of changing back into a male did not seem wise. Unfortunately, her efforts to conceal her brother and herself were for naught. The lead dwarf saw them nearly immediately. Loki plastered on a nervous smile, hoping to get the dwarves complacent around her and underestimate her.

Thor's hand edged towards his weapon, though he forced himself to stop when he saw that many of the dwarves carried wineskins and, if their red cheeks were any indication, had spent considerable time drinking.

The lead dwarf focused on Loki and then on Thor... only glimpsing features that he would have said fit a male better. Shrugging, he lifted his wineskin. "Fair ladies! Would you care to partake of our feast with us?"

Loki was not looking forward to spending time with already drunken dwarves...but she saw no other alternative. If they refused, the party might take offense and then she would have to talk her brother and herself out of difficulty. "Thank you, kind master dwarf...I believe I and my sister would be most pleased to join you." No one could tell from her smile or honeyed voice that she wanted to say no.

The lead dwarf beamed, trying to take another look under Thor's shawl before he turned to his companions. "Prepare a fire!" Turning back to Thor and Loki, he smiled wide and gestured for them to take a seat on a fallen tree log that he had two more dwarves drape their coats over... which they did with much grumbling.

Loki, realizing she and Thor were likely stuck for the next few hours, decided to make the best of the situation. She might not be able to trick jewels off of the king...but perhaps she could trick a weapon or something off of one of the hunters. To that end, she put on her most flirtatious smile, wrapped her arm through Thor's and walked over to the log with her brother, sitting down daintily before tugging on Thor to get him to sit.

Thor was stiff and tense, even though he allowed his sister to tug him to the log and sat. He glowered darkly at the dwarves, who seemed heedless of his growing ire.

"Does your sister not speak?" the lead dwarf asked Loki.

"Oh no!" Loki simpered apologetically. "Threna is...well, mama dropped her on her head when she was a wee lass. She does not speak at all. It was horribly tragic!" Loki looked appropriately saddened and horrified. She could not look at Thor, for fear she would start giggling. She had no doubt he would find a way to retaliate, but she could not help herself.

"She certainly seems... shy." The lead dwarf sidled up closer to Thor, who instantly put a hand up to stop him.

"Her hands are certainly big!" another dwarf, drinking from the wineskin, sputtered... though it was impossible to tell if he was shocked or admiring.

Loki, seeing an opportunity to get admiration (and tease her brother), eagerly answered, "And they are very strong as well! She has spent many an evening polishing our father's weapon!" Loki's smile was as innocently naive and guileless as she could make it. She very carefully did not look at Thor.

Thor would have glared at his sister, had he not been busy trying to 'dissuade' the dwarf from looking underneath his shawl.

Another dwarf sidled up to Loki. "Who is your father? And would he be amenable to negotiation for your hand?" he asked her.

Loki blinked at that, realizing too late that her teasing of Thor may have caused the dwarves to get ideas that weren't good for either her or her brother. Feeling a bit foolish, she scooted away from the dwarf and closer to her brother. "Oh, you would not know our father..." she hedged, wishing that she could have told the truth about their parentage. It would have got them to back off...but would have also likely resulted in them being dragged to the dwarf king and most likely held for ransom. "And...you really do not want to ask for our hands... Threna can't speak and has a temper... And I'm hopeless in taking care of a house..." She giggled again, but it was a very nervous giggle. She swallowed hard, scooting even closer to Thor, so that at least one side of her was unavailable to the encroaching dwarves.

"We have emissaries," the lead dwarf said, looking longingly at Thor's shawl. He tried to grab at it, but Thor knocked his hand to one side.

The dwarf expressing interest in Loki hopped onto the log beside her and Thor quickly stood, placing himself protectively between the dwarves and his sister. While he was holding his tongue right now... it wouldn't take much for him to lose his temper.

Loki really was getting nervous by this point. She could use her magic...and Thor could fight off numerous enemies at once...but to do so would expose them and possibly bring the entire Dwarven kingdom down on them; or, worse, start a war. At the same time...

She gasped suddenly as a dwarf that they hadn't noticed (due to his being quiet and seeming uninterested) sneaked up behind her and slipped his hand under her skirt. Loki was too shocked to say anything, spinning around and slapping said dwarf hard enough to send him stumbling over the log she'd been sitting on. Her face was scarlet. "Only if your emissaries have better manners toward a lady than your cohorts!" she retorted, in a high pitched, breathy tone. She was more nervous than she wanted to admit. Of course, drunken dwarves could take her tone of voice another way.

If Thor was incensed at the dwarves' behaviour towards him... it was worse when he realized what had happened to Loki. Heedless of the danger, he flung his shawl back and had his hammer in hand within moments.

The dwarves were just drunk enough to be brave from their ale and the lead dwarf only stood frozen for a second before his face nearly turned purple in rage. "The Asgardian prince!" he hissed, axe in hand as he swung it towards Thor.

"Oh!" Loki didn't even stop to think, swinging her hand up and sending a burst of magic at the lead dwarf to shove him away from Thor...not in time to stop him completely, but hopefully in time to keep his weapon from harming her brother.

The dwarf stumbled and Thor was able to knock him aside with his hammer... but even as their leader crashed to the ground, more dwarves set on Thor from either side... and although he was able to block most of their blows, a wild swing from an axe connected with his arm. It wasn't enough to cause serious damage... but the blade did break the skin.

Loki wasn't certain what to do. Normally, she would have had no problem killing those who would attack her or her brother...but she and Thor were trespassing in the dwarves' homeland...it could be seen by nearly all realms, including Asgard, that the princes were performing acts of espionage, with their disguised state. It didn't seem a good idea to just kill the drunken buffoons, not if they didn't want a war. Still... Biting her lip, Loki grabbed hold of her brother's arm during a lull when all the dwarves were on the ground and quickly teleported both of them out of the fray... a few hundred feet from where the dwarves still were. She wasn't familiar enough with the world to go further. "I think we better run..." she squeaked to Thor, in a very apologetic voice.

Thor didn't make any verbal response, but he grasped hold of Loki's arm, ignoring his wound (he'd suffered much worse in the past) and began to run, pulling her along behind him... even as he kept hold of his hammer in his other hand; just in case the dwarves gave chase, or they ran into others.

It was times like these Loki remembered why he preferred his male form. It wasn't because he viewed females as weak...he knew better than that. It was because most of them wore the most inconvenient clothes to run in. He ended up running more often than he'd like to admit. "Thor...slow dooown..." she finally whined thirty minutes later. They'd lost the dwarves ten minutes after they'd begun, but Thor hadn't seen fit to stop and Loki hadn't wanted to interrupt whatever was going through her brother's head.

Thor finally did begin to slow down... though it was less because of his sister and more because he was starting to feel dizzy; something that he attributed to running for so long, even though he didn't often tire. Still, his arm was still bleeding sluggishly.

Loki tried to slow her breathing enough to talk comfortably. She wasn't out of breath... but her tendency to do more cerebral activities, instead of sparring and other physical activities like her brother made her endurance less than his. "You're wounded!" she finally noticed and gasped out.

Thor glanced at the cut on his arm. "It is merely a scratch, one that will heal if bound," he replied dismissively. "Though it would not have occurred at all if you hadn't made it necessary for me to reveal my identity," he added.

"I did not tell you to reveal yourself!" Loki protested, with an offended huff.

"With the comments you made, there was no other course of action." Thor released his sister's arm so that he could replace his hammer and use strips of his clothing to bind his wound.

"It was in jest! I did not believe they would take my harmless words and go so far!" Loki's voice was petulant and embarrassed. She didn't try and argue that what she'd said hadn't been a mistake or wrong, though. The fact they'd had to run made that argument pointless. She took the strips of cloth from Thor and began binding the wound for him, a pout on her face.

Thor stood still as his sister bound his wounds. "Your jests are well and good... but not when there is a chance they could make things dangerous for us," he said. "We were both dressed as females... among drunken dwarves… our goal should have been to leave their company as fast as possible."

"I did not think they would actually try anything..." Loki said, still pouting and unwilling to accede to her brother that she'd been wrong...even though she knew it. "I thought perhaps to trick them out of one of their dwarven weapons...."

"You need to keep in mind when the correct time to cause mischief is," Thor said. "And we had already made plans." He waited long enough for his sister to finish binding his wound and then he reached out, taking her wrist and leading her over to a conveniently-placed rock.

Loki blinked as she found herself being pulled along by her brother. "Can we not sit before we move again?" she whined, not realizing exactly where they were headed yet. "And plans can change!"

"Not without informing me of those changes." Thor sat down on the rock and guided Loki round to his side before tugging her across his lap. While he didn't plan to be severe with her... she did need to understand that curbing her mischief occasionally was the better path to take.

Loki barely refrained from shrieking when her brother tipped her over his knee. As it was, she let out a very surprised yelp. "Thor?!" Her voice was more nervous than she would want to admit and she could not help but wonder if, instead of arguing when he first brought it up, she should not have acted more contrite. "Wh...what are you doing?" Her voice trembled as she tried to wriggle free of his grip, hoping to stand and put a bit of distance between herself and her brother.

"You need to curtail your mischief, Loki. You must remember that yourself and others can be harmed if you do not." Thor wrapped his arm around her waist and set about raising the many skirts and petticoats of Loki's borrowed clothing.

Loki's eyes widened as she realized what Thor intended to do. She had not been over her brother's knee for a spanking in such a long time, she had forgotten that he was often willing and able to step in and correct her if he felt she had crossed a line. "No, Thor! Please! I will be good! I will not prank anymore! Please do not do this!"

Loki was not self-delusional. She knew her pleas to her brother sounded more like a scared child than an adult forcefully making their disagreement of proceedings known. Unfortunately, this position had always made Loki feel childish...and she was a little scared. She had not pushed her brother to deal with her in this way in so long her memory made all past instances seem ten times as bad as they really had been.

And then her skirts and petticoats were over her head and not only could she not see through the light blocking material, but she could not speak, either- the ruffles and lace covering and in some cases filling her mouth, so she was too occupied trying not to eat her clothing than to argue Thor giving her a sore bottom.

Thor wasn't angry with Loki... but he was serious about his sister thinking twice before letting her mischief get out of hand. He rubbed her back gently and then lifted his hand, bringing it down in a swat that wasn't nearly as hard as he could deliver... in fact, it was more stinging than hard.

Loki was too indignant and distraught being in the position she was to realize the swat was not as hard as it could be and normally would be. She immediately began wailing and thrashing around, trying to escape. Her skirts twisting around her arms and head immobilized her better than even Thor's strength.

Tightening his hold on his sister, Thor continued swatting, going from the crest of her backside down to her thighs. He kept the swats at the same force and speed.

Loki felt extremely sorry for herself, fat tears rolling down her cheeks. The worst of it was, her whimpers and moans of distress were muffled by her skirts and her brother couldn't see the tears...so the only benefit she received from them was the release of anxiety that had built up when she realized Thor's intentions. She still struggled to get free, but it was half-hearted at best, since she realized Thor was stronger than her and would hold her over his lap as long as he felt necessary. And she had realized her brother was correct in his assessment of events. She had goaded the dwarves into their actions through her thoughtless teasing. She attempted to shove her clothing off her face again, fruitlessly then huffed in exasperation, before a tiny giggle escaped her despite her efforts. It was just all so ridiculous and she didn't know whether to laugh or sob...and so she did both, choking on her tears even as she giggled and tried to break free from her clothing.

Thor raised his eyebrows at the giggles he could hear mixed in with the tears. He didn't swat harder or faster, though. "You were fortunate neither of us were hurt worse," he scolded.

Loki stilled at those words, realizing Thor was right. She was lucky they had not been hurt worse. Thor had been hurt...and it was her fault. "I am sorry, brother," she said softly, a pitiful waver in her voice as she finally stopped giggling and managed to stop sobbing long enough to get the words out. She was very frustrated, but knew she had brought this on herself. If Thor had been hurt worse.... Drunken dwarves were not beings one wanted to antagonize and if they had separated her and Thor, a lot worse might have happened...since she would never abandon her brother and staying could have meant rather vile things being done to her. Feeling true remorse, she lay across her brother's knee and focused on the swats, rather than trying to escape.

Thor brought the spanking to a stop and quickly gathered Loki into his arms, hugging her close and tight to himself. "I love you, Loki," he said.

Loki was relieved that, when Thor brought her back up, her skirts had all settled around her waist. She took in deep breaths of air, quivering as she tried to regain control of her emotions, all while snuggling as close to her brother as he would allow. It wasn't difficult. As disconcerting as the position had been and as anxious as she had felt being 'blinded' by her own clothing, Thor hadn't spanked very hard. In fact, while it had stung horribly while he was swatting, the sting was already settling into a mild itchy sensation.

She sniffled and began to reach back to rub the remaining sting away when she paused. "Am I allowed to rub my bottom, or do I need to let it stop on its own?" she asked, in a tiny, conciliatory whisper. Her brother had felt the need to punish her. She was ashamed enough at that fact that she wouldn't do anything without his permission. At least not the rest of today.

Thor stroked his sister's hair and kissed her head. "The punishment is over. You may rub... or not. Whichever you wish." While he would prefer that Loki curb her mischief a little, he had no desire to force her to stop. Or control her outside of stepping in to curtail dangerous, reckless behaviour.

Loki sniffled and immediately began to rub her backside...or what she could reach while sitting on Thor's lap. She had no inclination to stand up at the moment. Instead, she leaned on her brother even more, letting her head fall onto his shoulder as she continued to snuggle.

"I am sorry, brother, that I did not think...." Loki said softly. "I do not normally have to worry about my words being taken as an invitation to behave badly towards me...." She bit her lip, wondering if it would not be better to change back onto her normal form...but she knew, if she did, the cuddles would have to stop. Even if Thor would allow his little brother to sit on his lap and beg comfort, Loki would not feel comfortable letting himself do such. He was already looked down on as not strong enough or masculine enough because of his tendency to focus on magic instead of physical might. As his female self, she could relax and let herself accept it, because not many knew her female form, so if they saw, they would not automatically think it was Loki being weak.

Thor frowned, tightening his embrace around her. "You should not have to worry about that, no matter what form you wear," he said. "But when I am here, I will protect you. No matter what."

"I am happy to be with you..." Loki admitted. "I am sorry that I am so weak it is necessary for you to protect me. I know I'm a disappointment..." She sighed softly, still snuggling close.

Thor frowned further and touched her chin to encourage her to look at him. "I do not protect you because you are weak, Loki," he said seriously. "I protect you because you are my family... brother or sister... no matter what form you wear."

Loki had already begun developing quite the reputation for fooling people with lies and half-truths (though she always attempted to be honest with her family). This tended to give her the ability to know when she was being lied to as well.

She looked into her brother's eyes when urged to do so and she could tell...Thor was not lying to her. The knowledge that her brother did not think her weak and that his protection was solely due to his care of her as his sibling eased something Loki had not even realized was hurting.

She gave him the sweetest smile she could muster before leaning forward and kissing him on the cheek. "I find my desire to prank diminished and it is getting late...perhaps we can return to where our clothing dries and change before returning home for the evening meal? And I will be the best younger sibling I can be and do whatever you tell me to do...just please do not tell mother and father you needed to correct me?" She blushed, still ashamed that her brother had felt it necessary to spank her for her careless actions.

Thor nodded... though at that moment, the weakness that had only been at the edge of his subconscious came full force. When he went to place Loki on the ground, he didn't drop her... but he came close to losing his grip, as his arms suddenly went slack.

Many would claim- had claimed in the past- that Loki was too self-absorbed, narcissistic, selfish...to notice when others were in some type of distress. That wasn't exactly true. She noticed. She just never knew exactly what to do to help and had never seen the point in fawning over anyone if she couldn't actually do anything to help. She noticed Thor's sudden weakening. Of course she did.

"Thor!" She quickly stood on her own two feet, her focus narrowed onto her older brother. Looking over him carefully, there was only one thing that could have contributed to his sudden weakness. "The wound..." she breathed out in a near whisper, "…you did not bleed so much that you should be so weak...the blade must have been poisoned..." Her voice sounded calm, but the look in her eyes was frantic with worry. "I could help you if we were at home, where my supplies are....I...I can hunt for herbs here, but I do not want to leave you alone; if the dwarves return, you would be helpless....I...I can try and get you to where Heimdall can call us back. Using teleportation...We can return straight to where the gate is." All thoughts of returning for their clothing so that Thor and she could get out of the dresses and she could transform back into her male form fled at the thought that Thor would not get help as soon as possible.

Thor nodded... but once the weakness had made itself known, it seemed to be progressing quickly. He was able to stand... but he knew he wouldn't be doing much running. Or fighting, even. "If you can keep us hidden with your magic, Loki... I do not believe I have the strength to protect us..." he admitted, his breathing heavy.

Thor's admitting to the weakness terrified Loki more than anything had in a very long time. "I can try. brother, but I am not certain that would be a good idea to do unless I hear the dwarves following...I do not know that I can help you...and I would prefer Heimdall be able to see us and send mother or father...." She moved closer to her brother to wrap an arm around him, but soon realized she was unable to support Thor in her current form. Quickly, she transformed.

Pulling Thor's unwounded arm around his shoulder, Loki held tightly to his brother, afraid that if Thor lost his own grip on Loki, he could wind up anywhere on the planet, helpless and in danger. "I am transporting us back to the sight of our clothes first, as it is a shorter distance and I do not wish to lose you by attempting further travel. While there, I will make a paste out of some plants I noticed by the creek...it will not cure what is already in your blood, but it will hopefully draw out the remaining poison from your wound and prevent infection." His voice was as calm as he could make it, but he knew it was not calm enough to hide his fear from Thor. "After that, I should have my strength built up enough that I can transport us the remaining distance to the gate...."

Thor wrapped his arm around Loki's shoulders, careful not to lean his full weight on his brother. Even in his male form, Loki's build was much smaller than Thor's own... and he was worried about harming his brother in his weakened state. "I understand." His voice was becoming a pale imitation of his normal booming tones.

Loki saw no reason to wait any longer and within seconds, he and Thor were hurtling through space and arriving back at the creek, where their own clothing still hung on a branch, drying. Loki quickly put Thor out of sight of the house, in a safe location then set about gathering as much of the herb that was nearby as he could. Returning to Thor's side, he began grinding the herb up with a little water and a little clay. Once the mixture was ready, he ripped a piece of cloth from the underskirt he still wore, as it was cleaner than any of the outer garments he wore or that he had worn before changing, and wet it down so he could carefully begin cleaning the wound.

***

Heimdall had been watching events as they unfolded and as soon as it became noticeable that the two young princes were in trouble, he had sent for the young men's mother. Frigga did not waste any time arriving to the gate with her own medicines and bandages. "Send me as close to them as you are able. Once I have taken care of Thor's wounds, bring all three of us back.... Thank you, Heimdall." Her voice was calm and regal, even if it held a mother's worry.

Heimdall acknowledged Frigga's words with a nod and activated the Bifrost to send her towards the creek, so she could land beside it.

***

Thor was barely conscious by now. The poison was working fast through his blood and he was feverish... very close to delirium.

Loki was beyond worried by this point. He'd put the herbed clay in the wound, but while it had drawn some of the poison out, too much had already entered Thor's body. "I am going to attempt to call Heimdall from here, brother...if I am unsuccessful, I will transport us back to where we arrived...." Loki wished that he was further along in his magical abilities. He was feeling his young age and inexperience keenly.

By this point, Frigga had arrived and quickly moved to her sons. "That will be unnecessary, Loki. Heimdall knows we are here and awaits my call to bring us back. But first..." She quickly opened the bag she held and pulled out a flask of a pungent liquid, which she opened and poured into Thor's mouth. "You must swallow, my son...it will fight the poison."

Thor was barely conscious of his mother's return, but when the liquid was poured into his mouth, he obediently swallowed... though his eyes were impossible to open.

"Will he be ok, momma?" Loki asked in a worried whisper, suddenly seeming as young as he truly was. He liked to act like he was millennia old...but when something happened that he could not control, he always reverted back to acting the few centuries he truly was.

Frigga spared one second to assure her youngest. "The antidote will keep him from getting worse. Now we just need to get him home and into bed, so I can properly treat the wound. You did well with the herb and clay, Loki. I am proud of you for remembering." She attempted to calm him down. She needed to focus on Thor and if Loki was very worried and upset, he might do something foolish.

Once Thor had drank the entire flask, she ordered, "Gather everything that needs to return with us. Then hold your brother's hand. I will call Heimdall as soon as you are ready."

Loki did as ordered and soon, he was holding his brother's hand. He did not let go of Thor's hand once...even after Heimdall brought them back, helped his mother into a cart with his brother and him, or when they'd reached the palace under his mother's protective shielding. He only finally released him when his mother told him to go bathe and dress in appropriate clothing and then go rest. It was the hardest thing he'd ever done in his young life till that point.

Thor was in and out of his delirious state, though he was aware enough to grip his brother's hand with the strength he had left... which was precious little. And even though he hated being helpless, he knew he didn't have the strength to do anything other than attempt to hold at least some of his weight in an attempt to help.

Loki had bathed and changed back into his own clothing...burning the 'borrowed' clothing. He did not want any reminders of the foolishness that had led to his brother being poisoned. He'd only eaten enough to ensure that his mother would not be upset with him for not eating. Then he was back beside his brother's bed, sitting as close as he was allowed and doing whatever he was told by the healers in an attempt to help his brother.

Frigga smiled serenely at her youngest. "He will be fine Loki...the poison has been neutralized. He might feel ill for a few days and tired and weak, but he is no longer in any danger." She hoped her words would help her son relax and not worry so much. She worried herself that if Loki was not convinced that Thor would regain health, he might do something foolish that caused harm to himself. She could tell he felt guilty, but she wasn't certain why he would feel guilty. It wasn't as if he had poisoned his own brother. Sadly, while Heimdall had known that the two young men had been attacked by drunken dwarves, he could shed no light on why the dwarves had attacked. Thor was still sleeping and she did not want to wake him to find out the answer to that question...and Loki was not speaking. She could only hope he would come to her...or go to his father...before things got too much for him to handle.

Loki felt his mother watching him, but did not speak. His attention was solely on Thor and either holding his brother's hand, or keeping his own hand on his brother's shoulder, needing reassurance that Thor was still warm with life and not cold in death.

***

It took a few days for Thor to be close to full strength. He was getting impatient long before that... but was able to curtail his temper for the most part, especially since he'd been able to see how troubled Loki was by the situation.

Still, it was a big relief when Thor was able to get up and begin moving around... even though he was careful not to do too much too quickly.

Frigga was relieved when Thor began to move around; she knew that he struggled not to become impatient with his situation and was just as anxious as he that he quickly recover so he could return to his normal activities. She also was anxious that he continue to hold his temper and not lose patience with his younger brother. Loki was trying so hard to be helpful and care for his brother that he was hovering and giving Thor little to no room at all where Loki was not underfoot, trying to take care of something for Thor that Thor wanted to do for himself. She did not know whether to laugh at the confusion this caused Thor, or cry at the fact her youngest obviously felt so badly about what happened that he was willing to play the part of a slave to his brother in an effort to make Thor feel better.

Loki, for his part, did not notice his mother's watching him or her worry about his emotional state. He was determined to help his brother in every way possible. "Oh! You want an orange? Let me peel it for you, brother!" He snatched the fruit from out of his brother's hand and began to pull the skin from around it, not noticing his mother leaving the room quickly, shoulders stiff in an attempt to keep them from shaking as she held in her amusement.

Maybe Thor wasn't as observant as his brother... but he certainly noticed when Loki, yet again, insisted on doing something Thor was capable of doing himself.

"Brother." Thor placed his hand on Loki's to still the movement, holding eye contact with him. "I enjoy your presence, but you no longer need to try to do everything for me. I would not have you become like a slave to me," he said seriously.

"But I..." Loki faltered, unsure what to say, but knowing he wanted to do things for his brother. After the problem he had caused that led to his brother being wounded...poisoned...Loki felt like it was the only way he could make up for his actions. "...I owe you a great debt...." he finally settled on, because there really was no other way to say it. It was his fault Thor had been wounded and he hadn't been able to do anything to help his brother get well. It was their mother who had helped save his brother. He'd felt so helpless and afraid as Thor became so weakened by the poison and he felt such guilt that it had happened, because he knew if he had held his tongue and not deliberately teased the dwarves, they likely would not have done anything and Thor would have been alright.

Thor frowned, gently squeezing Loki's hand. "No, brother. This was not your doing or your fault. Even if you had curtailed your tongue, there is no guarantee that one or both of us would not have been injured. You protected me and stayed by my side. I trusted you there then... and I still trust you there now."

But..." Loki looked down, ashamed to realize he was crying. "...I did not curtail my tongue and...and maybe we would have been injured anyway... but it is even more likely that we would not have been. You...you are always telling me I should temper my teasing nature and consider what may occur from a prank before I play it; and I did not heed you and you...you..." He gulped, quickly handing the now peeled orange to his brother and wrapping his arms around himself in an attempt to stop the tears that were falling rapidly down his face.

Thor wasted no time in placing the orange down and wrapping his arms around Loki. "You meant no harm," he said softly. "I do not blame you for this, brother. It changes nothing of how I feel about you."

"I blame myself..." Loki said in a tiny, pathetic voice, unable to look Thor in the eye. "I love you, brother..." he admitted softly. It was not something he admitted to often, the sibling rivalry that was always there usually getting in the way of the more fond emotions, but he needed to say it now. "I love you....and I am so sorry..." he choked out.

Thor tightened his embrace around his brother. "I love you, Loki. I do not blame you for anything... but neither do I wish you to suffer from this guilt."

"Suffering from guilt is the least I deserve." Loki sighed softly, leaning into his brother. "You suffered from the poison....I deserve to suffer, too...." He couldn't help but snuggle into his brother's embrace, though; even if he felt he didn't deserve it, he craved Thor's attention and affection.

"No, you don't," Thor disagreed, stroking his brother's hair. "And if you cannot release the guilt on your own... I will help you."

Loki slumped against Thor, giving up on stopping his tears and only hoping that Thor did not notice how he was crying...or at least that Thor could ignore his crying, since Thor did not tend to miss much, even if he liked to act like he was not observing so closely. "I do not know how to release the guilt..." he admitted. "...I do not think I deserve to until I find a way to pay for my mistake...." He swallowed and closed his eyes, letting his head fall onto his brother's shoulder, the gentle petting of his hair calming him, even if it didn't ease the guilt.

Thor cuddled Loki tight and pressed a kiss to his head. "This guilt is not good for you, brother. I will help you." He held Loki for a moment or two longer and then carefully moved his brother across his lap.

It said something about the deep guilt plaguing Loki, and how ashamed he felt for his actions, that he didn't fight Thor, or protest even a little. Unlike when Thor pulled him over his knee directly after they had fled the dwarves...Loki knew exactly how dangerous and precarious their situation had been and how lucky he was to not have lost his brother. He did not need to be convinced of the folly of his actions. He needed to pay for his actions and he thought it fitting that it be Thor that helped make him pay, since it was Thor who had been hurt. Letting himself lie over his brother's lap and forcing himself not to tense up or do anything that might lessen the impact of what was about to occur, Loki sniffled and gripped Thor's ankle with one hand, while bracing himself against the floor with the other. "I am sorry, Thor..." he said in a tiny, very apologetic voice.

Pausing, Thor gently rubbed his brother's back. "I love you, Loki... brother... and I forgive you," he promised. "But you need to forgive yourself. You don't need to hold onto this guilt." He wrapped his arm around Loki's waist, drawing him in tight against his stomach, and then bared his brother before lifting his hand and bringing it down in the first sharp swat.

Loki did not argue with Thor; he was not convinced that he did not deserve to suffer with his guilt, since he was positive he was very guilty. But he did not want to argue with Thor about it. Thor forgiving him helped him immensely. He believed his brother and knowing that Thor would not let Loki's guilt come between them was a huge relief to the younger brother. He was so relieved that he sagged over his brother's lap and let out a long sigh, before giving a quivery whimper. "I...I do not know if I can forgive myself, brother..." he admitted, even as his voice caught in his throat as Thor's hand connected to his backside. The spanking he had received before had felt hard at the time, but it was nothing compared to now, when he had no protection from clothing. He was grateful for the fact, believing if Thor was harsh enough, then maybe...maybe...he could pay for what he had caused to happen to his brother.

"I know you did not intend this to happen. There is no malice in you, brother." Thor took a tighter grip on his brother, though it was intended as comfort rather than restraint, and settled into a pattern of swats, going from the crest of Loki's backside down to his thighs.

"No! No, Thor, I did not intend it! I would never intend harm to you!" Loki sobbed out, giving up on any pretense that he wasn't already crying and highly distraught. Despite his intention to accept the punishment that he believed he deserved, his body had other ideas and began to squirm and wriggle as his brother swatted, more in response to the pain than due to any desire to escape.

"I know. I trust you, Loki. I always have. I always will. This was an accident... something that might have happened no matter what either of us had done." Thor began another circuit of swats, holding back on using his full strength.

"But...but...it...it was my trick and teasing that...that led to them behaving boorishly...and you...you needing to...to protect me...." Loki gulped, still squirming at each swat, though he held onto Thor's ankle tightly. His legs were kicking out slightly with each swat as well. Even though Thor wasn't being as harsh as he could be- as harsh as Loki thought he deserved- Loki's emotions were so fraught that any small amount of pain caused by his brother felt much, much, worse. "...If...if I had behaved, you would not have needed to defend me and you would not have been cut!" Loki's cries grew louder and more pronounced. At any other point in the past, now would be the time that the spanking would end- but Loki still was not convinced that he did not deserve to suffer for what had happened and he gripped Thor's ankle tighter, afraid that his brother would 'give up on him' and stop. He was not thinking clearly at all.

"I would have and will defend you in any circumstances, Loki," Thor said seriously. "You talk of behaving, brother... but I know you. Mischief is a part of you and is not something you should ever be forced to give up. Just like your magic. They are but two elements of what make you so important to me, my brother."

Loki took a quivery, tear-filled breath, his grip loosening somewhat as he listened to his brother and actually focused on the words. "You...you do not wish me to stop my teasing or trickery?" He sounded genuinely confused. "You...you do not think me bad when I behave that way?"

"It is your nature," Thor replied. "And a big part of who you are. A big part of my brother. I do not believe you are bad... or that you should cease your tricks. If I did, then I would respond in a similar way each time... but if you stopped, you would be unhappy. And then I would feel the same for taking away your joy."

It was hard to maintain composure in the face of such total acceptance and love for who he was. Thor and he had not spent much time together lately; Thor's friends did not like Loki, and Loki felt the dislike and so avoided them...and as a result, did not see his brother as much as he would have liked. He had convinced himself that Thor only tolerated his presence and that he would prefer Loki change into someone who did not behave so mischievously. But here Thor was, saying the complete opposite of what Loki had convinced himself. And Loki believed him, because Thor did not lie. Hearing his brother telling him that he did not want him to change... it did not take away the guilt he felt for what had happened to Thor (he was fully aware that he needed to pick more appropriate times for his 'humor' to be shown), but it eased something else inside of him that he could not name exactly and made him feel more accepted and at ease with his brother. This made him more willing to concede that maybe his feelings were affecting him in a way that he should not allow and maybe he should stop his attempt to punish himself and let go of dwelling on his guilt, even if he could not fully erase the fact he felt guilty. Of course the newer feelings of acceptance overwhelmed him. Going limp over Thor's lap, he began to sob.

Thor brought the spanking to a close immediately and gathered his brother into a tight embrace, holding Loki close to him. "I love you," he said. "Every part of you."

"I love you too, Thor..." Loki managed to whisper through choked sobs. "I love you so much and I was so scared and I thought you would die and I hated myself for it...." he admitted brokenly. "I am sorry I was not more careful. I...I will try har...harder to thi...think bef...before I pr...prank in in the fu...future..." he said, in a quivery voice, as he attempted to get his crying under control. He snuggled as close as his brother would allow. It was not often he felt the difference in their ages so keenly, but in moments like this, when it was so difficult for him to get a handle on his emotions and feelings while his brother was so calm and strong and protective, he felt every year of difference...and was grateful for it, because Thor made him feel safe. "You are the best older brother in existence..." he finally whispered, as his tears finally stopped and he slumped against his brother wearily.

Thor gently stroked his brother's hair, kissing the top of his head. "You are the best little brother in existence," he whispered, his voice warmed through with affection. "And I am not dead... I am here. And you will never be rid of me." A slight teasing note slipped into his voice... even though his words were very serious.

"Promise?" Loki's tone was slightly teasing as well; one could never promise such a thing, really, but if it could be achieved, he hoped to never lose his brother for any reason. Wrapping his arms around Thor's middle, he held on tightly, finally able to relax somewhat because his brother was okay.

"Promise." Thor hugged Loki tighter, enjoying just being able to hold onto his brother. His voice was even more teasing as he added, "After all... who else will prevent drunken dwarves attempting to steal you as their bride?"

Loki couldn't help it. He began to laugh. Reaching up and wiping at his eyes, he smiled at Thor. "No one else. Anyone beyond mother and father would likely let them have me..." he said, with a touch of wistful chagrin. He was fully aware of how most of Asgard looked on him.

Frigga had gone to her private libraries to give her two sons a chance to talk, but it was time for her to check on Thor's wound and make certain there was still no sign of infection. Knocking gently on the door, she stepped in and closed the door quickly behind her before averting her face to the wall. "It is time to redo your bandages, son..." she said to Thor, deliberately not commenting on the fact that Loki had obviously been spanked. She was glad to see the affection between the two. She knew more than anyone how lonely Loki became when his brother was away with his friends.

Loki blushed faintly and stood up, fixing his clothing before promptly sitting back on Thor's lap and hugging onto him again. "May I help with the bandaging, mother?" he asked quietly.

Taking Loki's question as a sign that she could turn around, Frigga turned to face her children. "Of course, but it will be easier to do if you are not sitting on his lap..." she teased gently.

Thor grinned and hugged his brother a moment or two longer, before gently releasing Loki so he could get up if he wished. He smiled at both his mother and his brother... though said nothing to draw attention to what he had just done. Instead, he looked at Loki. "When I am fully recovered... we will go on a less dangerous adventure," he promised.

Loki stood up to help his mother, giving Thor a huge grin. "I look forward to that, brother."

Frigga just smiled gently as she began to clean and redress Thor's wound, humming a happy song quietly as she worked. Seeing her sons getting along and so happy made her happy.

***

Grant smiled crookedly at the end of the tale. It was obvious, in the way she was spoken of, that Frigga had been much loved. He slanted his head curiously, something having been bothering him. "How can you laugh? I mean, the thought of Thor wearing a dress and not being able to speak because it would give the gig away was amusing...but Loki, what they intended to do to you was not funny at all...and neither was Thor being wounded...I guess I'm just not understanding how the first thing you think about with that story is the funny part, while forgetting the less funny dangerous parts...." He looked between his two cousins curiously.

Loki wrinkled his nose. "I have not thought about why.... I suppose the fact that I wasn't...forced...and that Thor lived and that I remembered that he loved me was enough for me to think on the good and the funny part of the story first...." He glanced at his brother to see if he agreed.

Thor smiled. "The danger was only a small part of that... and the memories of the adventures Loki and I share are ones I hold dear. I remember the good instead of the bad." He shrugged. "It is true there were lessons learned... but the time was not traumatic, as far as I am concerned."

"Exactly. The..." Loki began, only to be interrupted as a tiny brunette blur launched herself at him, throwing her arms around him in a very tight hug.

"Thor was right..." Kara said into the hollow of Loki's neck. "Do not change who you are...we love you for all of you...."

Loki swallowed and cleared his throat, suddenly having to blink back tears. He tightened his arms around the younger woman and shifted her so she was sitting on his lap, before kissing her above her ear. "I will heed your advice, Kitten." He squeezed gently, giving a self-conscious smile to the rest of the group. "I love you, too..." He kissed the top of her head this time, before giving Thor and his father a slightly confused and uncertain look, not sure if he was handling her right, then looked at Fury to see if he was doing alright. The last thing he wanted was to hurt one of his family...but especially not one of the more fragile ones.

Thor just grinned at Loki. "You see, brother? You have a family here... a true family." He placed a hand on Loki's shoulder and squeezed gently.

Odin shook his head, a slight look of amusement passing across his face. "Your mother didn't tell me about all of that."

Loki blinked and looked at his father, even as he shifted Kara again so she would be more comfortable, since she didn't appear in any hurry to get off of his lap. "She did not? I had thought she told you everything....Although I suppose I should have realized when you never mentioned it to me...." He gave Odin a sheepish smile.

Kara's smile was huge. She hadn't expected that her cousin would allow her to cuddle with him like this; of all the family, Loki tended to be more aloof and hesitant with his shows of affection. Of course, of all the family, Kara tended to be the most physically affectionate. She was happiest when one of her family was holding onto her. She snuggled a bit more, before saying, too casually, "I did not know you could become a woman...you should change sometime and go out clubbing with me and Bobbi...."

Loki managed to avoid any outward sign of surprise at her words, but he did raise an eyebrow at her; and then transferred the raised eyebrow look to Clint, when the archer started coughing spastically. "I cannot go clubbing with you as a male?" he asked in befuddlement.

"Boys won't talk to me if they think you're my brother or boyfriend..." Kara shrugged innocently.

"Ah...I see....I think..." Loki said, still sounding a bit confused, but willing to go along with it. He turned back toward his father. "I'm surprised you did not receive any complaints from Nidavellir, Father..." he said to Odin hesitantly. Just because the event had happened over two hundred years before did not mean his father might not be a bit upset at hearing what happened.

Odin's own smile was amused. "I suspect they were too embarrassed by having assumed you were women to draw attention to the two of you arriving there."

"It was a long time ago, too." Thor smiled and added, "But the memory is a fond one."

Loki's smile turned a bit sad. "At the time...I felt so guilty about having caused you, however indirectly, to be harmed. I could not imagine ever hurting you deliberately. And then, nearly 300 years later, I did more than try to hurt you and it was more than deliberate. I am certain there is a lesson in there somewhere, though all I can think is that I am so very lucky you are forgiving and have...have worked to bring me back to my right mind. To where I would never willingly hurt you...." he said softly to his brother, not caring if the rest of the family heard.

It was a simple matter for Thor to reach out and wrap his arm around his brother's shoulders, squeezing him gently. "You are my brother," he said, as if it were the most simple thing in the world. The smile he gave Loki was affectionate and filled with all the love he held for his brother.

"It's good...that you could remember how you felt and know that you feel that way again. That whatever had hold of your mind to change you didn't keep hold or make you forget forever..." Kara said hesitantly, giving Thor a tiny smile from her position of being snuggled up to his younger brother.

"Remembering the love of family is always good..." Bucky interjected, glancing at Steve as he did so. "Sometimes, that's the only thing that can bring you back to yourself."

Steve glanced at his brother... and smiled. "When are you thinking of?" he asked, eyes bright in the light of the campfire.


Agreements and Popcorn

Bucky glanced around at the gathered family members all expectantly looking at him. "After Thor and Loki's story, I'm not sure my story will hold everyone's attention..." he teased. "But I was just remembering that one spring day when we decided to skip school...."

***

Steve hadn't had the best of nights, but he wasn't coughing as much the next day, which meant there was no reason for him not to go to school. No reason except... he wasn't sure he could stand the teasing. He was smaller and sicker than many of the other children... including his best friend... which many of them thought made him appear weak. He'd seriously considered pretending he'd become worse... but then everyone would worry and, well, it wasn't really in Steve to lie.

Bucky had come by early to pick his friend up to walk to school with him. He had to admit, he was worried. Spring had only been here for a few weeks and already, Stevie was having dangerous problems with his breathing. When the flowers and trees began to bloom in full...he could only hope, somehow, his friend could avoid the worst of it. He knocked on the door, smiling at the tired woman who answered. "Hello, Mrs. Rogers. Is Stevie ready?"

Steve's mother smiled at Bucky, even through her tiredness. "Yes, he is." She turned to call back into the house... but Steve had heard the knock and reached the door seconds later. He gave her a quick smile and hug. "Goodbye, Mama."

"Make sure you stay warm." Mrs. Rogers' voice was filled with concern as she adjusted his coat, listening carefully in case his breathing had become worse.

"I'll look out for him, ma'am..." Bucky grinned at her, taking hold of Steve's arm and pulling him out to stand by him. As soon as she had gone inside, Bucky began to lead Steve down the road, away from school. "I got somethin' to show ya, squirt!"

Steve went willingly with his best friend. "Where are we going?" he asked... more that he thought he should than that he was worried Bucky would take him somewhere they shouldn't be.

"I saw the train going by yesterday..." Bucky's voice was excited. "The circus is here and they're setting up at the fairgrounds!" He continued to quickly but gently pull his friend along with him, making sure to listen to his breathing as they went. Attacks could hit Steve at the worse times.

Steve grinned, doing his best to keep his breathing under control... not that he really could control it. "Think anyone will tell our parents?" he asked, allowing himself to be led.

"You were out yesterday because of your breathing..." Bucky shrugged. "Miss Jackson will prolly think you're out again for the same reason...and I kinda fibbed a little yesterday and acted like I wasn't feelin' too good myself, so she'd think I was out sick..." Bucky admitted sheepishly, knowing that Steve didn't like lying for any reason and would probably chide him for it.

Surprised, Steve glanced at his brother in everything but blood. "Lying isn't good, Buck..." Though he was a bit torn, considering he'd been thinking about not wanting to go to school anyway.

Bucky bit his lip and gave his brother a somewhat guilty look. "I didn't 'xactly lie, Stevie...I just...pretended and then let her think what she wanted to think...." He tried to justify his actions. "And it wasn't a lie about you being sick yesterday. If she thinks you're still sick, even if you didn't tell her you were...that's not your fault...." He looked down at the ground and shuffled his feet. "Don't be mad....if'n you want to go to school instead, I'll go with ya...."

Steve sighed, but bumped shoulders with him. "I'm not mad. Kind of wish you hadn't done it, but I know why... and... truth? I wasn't really wanting to go today anyway," he admitted.

Bucky cheered up considerably upon hearing that Steve wasn't mad at him. "I'll try really hard not to do it again, Stevie... but today is going to be so exciting!" Bucky nearly bounced in place. "I heard they have a sharp-shooter! Maybe we can talk to him after and he can tell us some of his secrets for being so good!" He wrapped an arm around his brother's shoulders as they neared the railroad tracks, just to make sure Steve didn't trip, but trying to make it seem like it was casual, so his brother wouldn't be embarrassed. "We're almost there! We can watch 'em set up and then go see stuff!"

Steve didn't fight Bucky wrapping his arm around his shoulders... even though he knew why his brother had done so. Today was a good day so far, but that didn't mean it would stay as one. "Did ya hear anything else?" he asked.

"Yeah... They got a giant and a dwarf and a bearded lady... but I'm not really all that interested in seeing them. Momma says they're just regular people with problems and staring at them isn't nice...even if they're getting money for it..." Bucky slanted his head. "But they also got the lion tamers and the elephants and acrobats! And I been saving up and I have enough pennies that we can maybe get a popcorn!"

Steve smiled, his eyes bright with excitement. "I got some too... maybe we can put them together?" he suggested.

Bucky's grin widened. "Yeah! We could get a popcorn and a soda!" They'd come up to the fairgrounds by this point. It was bustling with workers setting up booths and tents and other things that Bucky could only imagine.

Steve watched as the circus set up, his eyes wide with excitement... though he did have to turn his head to the side and cough a few times. Although the weather was warm, it didn't mean he wasn't going to be affected... just that he was less likely to.

The boys got a few raised eyebrows as they wandered through the area watching everyone work, but no one said anything about them skipping school. And in fact, one of the men who was wearing a suit came up to them with some flyers in his hand and gave them both a smile. "Hey, kids...How bout you go hand out these flyers? You do that and then come find me and I can get you ring side seats- no cost."

Bucky's eyes widened. "Really, mister? Both of us, free tickets?"

"Sure...if you hand out all these flyers. Need to advertise the show, after all..." The man nodded, waiting for Bucky's eager nod to hand him half of the flyers. He glanced at Steve and held the other half out to him, a questioning smile on his face.

Steve's own smile was eager. "Thanks, mister! We'll get them all handed out!" he promised, taking the other half of the flyers and already figuring out how to get them to as many people as possible.

"C'mon, Stevie! If we go this way, all the shops and offices are this way and we can get them to lots of people!" Bucky grinned, beginning to move quickly toward the business part of town, though he still moved slowly enough that Steve could keep up without having his breathing cause him difficulties.

Steve immediately went along with his brother, though he was careful not to move too enthusiastically, not wanting to aggravate his breathing enough to make it necessary for him to go home.

It didn't take the two children long at all to pass out the flyers...the fact that it was two kids handing them out encouraging the adults to take them, even if they might have turned them down from another adult. Even so, it took long enough for Bucky to feel a bit nervous that they had taken too long. "I hope we aren't too late..." he said to his friend, as they made their way back to the circus.

"Even if we miss some of it, we'll see most of it," Steve replied, nudging Bucky's shoulder affectionately. His breathing was a little strained... but not to the point he had to start worrying.

Bucky noticed Steve's breathing, though. He always did. "You ok, Stevie? If you need to, we can rest a bit..." He slowed down, worry for his friend overriding any worry he felt at missing the action of the circus.

Steve shook his head quickly, not wanting to spoil their day... or make Bucky miss the circus, no matter that he knew his friend wouldn't care. "I'm all right," he replied. "I can rest when we get there."

"If you're sure..." Bucky said uncertainly. "If you need to stop, though, let me know...." Luckily, they weren't as far away from the fairgrounds as Bucky feared. They made it and Bucky began searching for the man who had promised tickets.

Steve went with Bucky... but he couldn't swallow back all of his coughs, even though he tried to muffle them as best he could. He hoped that, once they'd stopped moving, it would calm down a bit.

"Do you think he lied?" Bucky finally asked, a hint of disappointment in his voice, when they couldn't find the guy who had given them the brochures. He glanced at Steve, stopping suddenly. "Maybe we should go home...you aren't looking so good..." The disappointment changed to worry.

Steve quickly shook his head, not wanting to ruin the day... or make Bucky even more worried. "I'm just coughing a bit... it's not serious."

"Yeah, but...I'm not seeing the guy and it's too late to get tickets now...we'd have to sneak in..." Bucky sighed. "We can still buy a popcorn..." He bit his lip, torn between wanting to see the show, even if they had to sneak in, and wanting to keep his brother safe.

"Let's sneak in," Steve said, not wanting the trip cut short.

Bucky blinked, surprised his straight laced brother would want to do something less than up front, but it didn't take much to convince him. They'd been promised tickets for the front row, after all, and then couldn't collect. They shouldn't have to miss the show entirely...not after working so hard. "Yeah...ok." He grinned at Steve. "It will be like a mission! You're better at strategy than me, though, Stevie. Where do you think the best place to go in at is?"

Steve looked at the tent. "Maybe we should go in from the side," he suggested. "Less likely to get discovered than if we go in from the back... or maybe we can sneak in with a larger crowd." Though he sounded less doubtful that would work.

"I think the crowd is being directed into narrower lines to show their tickets...we'd be caught if we went with a group. I think you're right. We should go from the side..." Bucky whispered. Now that they had a plan, he didn't want the wrong person to overhear. Taking hold of Steve's arm, he tugged him out of the way of a group of people that were about to 'carry' them along to the main entrance and then began working his way toward the side of the tent.

Steve went willingly with his brother, keeping an eye out just in case the wrong person spotted them. While he wouldn't normally be dishonest, Bucky was right. They had been promised free tickets.

Bucky found just the perfect area to sneak in and it looked like no one was around to stop them. "Here, Stevie..." he whispered, holding up the bottom of the tent so Steve could crawl under.

Just then, a heavy hand landed on Bucky and Steve's shoulders. "You two young men wouldn't be thinking of sneaking in, would you?"

Bucky was bigger (and stronger, though Steve would never admit that out loud) than him, but nevertheless, Steve edged just slightly in front of his brother as he turned round. "We ain't sneaking in," he replied, a slightly defensive note to his voice.

Bucky blinked at the protective stance his brother had taken, a wave of fondness rushing over him. He straightened and turned to face the man, swallowing hard and trying to look innocent. Before he could say anything, the man was speaking, a serious look on his face and a twinkle in his eye.

"Well, that's good, because I was told that two upstanding young men had worked really hard for tickets to sit ringside...but I'm pretty sure hardworking, upstanding blokes wouldn't sneak in...are you the two young men who worked so hard for tickets?" Logan had overheard when the circus shill had offered the tickets to the boys in exchange for work. He'd also noted how said man conveniently had to go elsewhere before they returned...without telling anyone else of the offer. Unable to make the man keep his promise, Logan had done the next best thing and bought three tickets himself, planning to make certain the kids were given what they were promised.

Surprised, Steve quickly nodded. "We couldn't find the circus worker again..." And his own sense of fairness wouldn't allow him to let Bucky miss out on going to the circus, even though he himself probably wouldn't have minded. Turning his head to the side, Steve coughed.

Logan nodded, his sharp eyes taking in the way the other kid reacted to the blond one's coughing. "Well, luckily I have the tickets and was able to find you. Come with me, boys." Putting an arm around each of their shoulders, he began to lead them to the entrance, buffering them from the crowd. "You got anything for that cough?" he asked casually, not wanting to make the boys nervous...but he'd want to keep an eye on the kid, if he didn't have anything.

"No, sir," Bucky quickly answered for his friend. "We just try to make sure he stays still when needed..." He shot Steve another worried look, a slight hint of fond exasperation in his eyes because Steve kept trying to pretend he didn't need to slow down.

"Ah...well that's ok, I guess. We'll be sitting for at least an hour..." Logan smiled. Afterwards, he'd have to find a way to get the kids home that wouldn't stress out the one who was sick.

"I'll be all right once we're sitting down," Steve insisted, trying hard not to worry his brother and the other man even more... though he knew Bucky's worry wasn't unfounded. Still, he gave his brother what he hoped was a reassuring smile.

Logan nodded, leading the two kids to the very front of the audience. "I think I'm in the mood for popcorn, how bout you?" he asked casually, raising up a hand to buy a large bag of it. "You two aren't gonna make me eat this all by myself, are you?"

"No, sir..." Bucky grinned, taking a bit of the popcorn and shoving it into his mouth happily.

Steve echoed his brother's response, adding a quick, "Thank you," though he waited for Logan to also take some popcorn before he took a bit.

Logan just smiled at the boys, making sure the popcorn was within reach, and settled back to watch the show. He'd seen this act many times, though. He was having more fun watching the kids.

Bucky was soon lost in the magic of the show; first clowns, then the lion tamers, and then acrobats...and it wasn't even half over. He kept glancing at Steve, as if to ask if they were really seeing the show.

Steve was absolutely transfixed by the show, sitting close to his brother and helping himself to popcorn along with Bucky. Even his coughing couldn't take away his enjoyment.

It was all too soon that the circus was over, but Logan put an arm around each of the kids to make sure they stayed in place. "Let's wait for everyone else to clear out...it will be easier to get out. Then I can walk you both home, if that's ok with you?" It wasn't really a question, though.

Bucky knew it wasn't a question. Glancing at Steve, he became worried about his friend again. It would be good to have an adult there to help if needed. He nodded. "Ok, mister. Thanks for letting us see the show...and the popcorn..." He blushed, suddenly remembering his manners.

Logan smiled. "You can call me Logan..."

"Yeah... thank you," Steve echoed. He'd enjoyed the circus, but the air inside had aggravated his cough... and he knew it would likely be cold outside. The air would probably cause him to start coughing again. Since he knew Bucky would worry about him, he was relieved Logan was going to take them home.

"Thank you! I was happy I didn't have to sit by myself. And besides...hard work should be rewarded...." Logan smiled. Seeing a break in the crowd, he gently began to lead the youngsters out of the tent and toward the exit of the circus. "Where to, gentlemen?"

Steve looked at Bucky, allowing himself to be led. "Wanna stay at mine tonight?" he asked, a hopeful note in his voice. They didn't have a lot, but he always enjoyed any time he could spend with his brother.

"Sure thing, Stevie...you wanna tell Logan where we're headed?" Bucky grinned.

Steve nodded and let Logan know the address, adding, "I'm sure Mama would invite you in for some cocoa... if you don't have anywhere else to be," he added.

Logan smiled. "I wouldn't want to impose, but if she asks, I don't have anywhere to be."

Bucky grinned. Logan had been very nice to them. It would be nice to do something for him...or at least help someone else do something nice for him.

Steve gave a quick grin. "It wouldn't be imposing." Even though they didn't have a lot, Steve knew his mother would be quick to extend hospitality towards Logan.

"We'll see." Logan smiled. He was making certain that they walked in less congested areas and walked at a speed less likely to aggravate Steve's lungs.

Bucky was thankful to the older man for being so observant and careful of his friend. Eventually, they made it to Steve's apartment.

On reaching the apartment, Steve grinned when his mother, though clearly surprised to see an adult she didn't know with her son and Bucky, quickly invited Logan for some cocoa, not that surprised when Steve asked if Bucky could stay the night... since the two of them were often at one house or the other.

****

Tony was grinning from ear to ear at the end of the story. "My dad was going to sneak into the circus! I can't believe it!" He chortled gleefully.

Pepper thwapped him on the shoulder chidingly. "Like you wouldn't have done the same thing in his position!"

"Ow! I didn't say I wouldn't, Pep! I just never thought of dad doing it!" Tony defended himself.

Steve smiled at his son and daughter, laughing along with Tony. "I was an honest child most of the time... but then again, not trying to sneak in might have meant we missed the circus after we'd been promised seats. I wouldn't have cared if it had just been me." He grinned at his brother, adding, "I didn't want Bucky to miss out."

"Yeah...me sneaking in wasn't so unusual. Stevie here was my conscience most of the time and with us having been promised and Steve not objecting, it would have been a done deal if Logan hadn't stepped in...." Bucky grinned in amusement.

"Did you keep in touch with this Logan guy?" Grant asked curiously. "It sounds like he became a friend of sorts...."

Steve nodded. "He stuck around for a few years... but then he had to leave. I'm not sure what happened to him." There was a hint of nostalgia in his voice... for the other friends he'd lost as well, even though he was beyond thankful to have his family surrounding him.

There was a small hint of sympathetic sadness in Loki's eyes at Steve's words. He couldn't help but think that someday, he would be looking back on all of them with fond nostalgia and missing them...regretting the fact that they 'had to go'. "He sounds like a wonderful man...and seems to have influenced the man you became, considering your own willingness to step in and father those who need it...."

"Loki's right..." Tony smiled crookedly, holding up his bottle of water. "Here's to ‘Grandpa’ Logan and his taking care of Dad and Uncle Bucky...." His smile turned into more of a grin when both Pepper and Bruce quickly raised their water bottles and were soon followed by the younger members of the family.

Steve's smile was fond as he too responded to the toast, looking around at all of them. "I wouldn't have any of you any other way," he said honestly.

Bucky grinned at his brother, then at all his nieces, nephews and his own children. "Maybe when we get back home, we can see if there are any circuses in town..." he teased gently.

Wanda, leaning against her father, had been listening intently to the story. "I've never been to a circus..." she said, a bit wistfully.

Coulson's smile was fond as he looked at his grandchildren and children. "It might not be quite the same as your uncles' experience... but I'm sure we could find one."

Clint smiled at his daughter. "I'm certain we could find one..." He paused for a moment, giving his father an impish grin. "I was actually in a circus for a very short period of time. Before your grandpa caught me...."

Coulson laughed. "Yes. That's how you managed to perform several feats that should have turned my hair white..."

"I knew that couldn't have been all my doing!" Grant crowed teasingly.

Natasha nudged her younger brother. "No, just mostly," she teased him.

"Ha ha!" Grant stuck his tongue out at Natasha, but he was grinning still and obviously amused.

"Did you get into a lot of trouble, Papa?" Wanda asked, watching her father curiously.

"Did I get into a lot of trouble?" Clint got a sheepish look on his face. "Maybe the right question should be when did I not get into trouble...."



Target Practice


Clint had been living with Coulson for six months now and while he trusted his guardian, his father, completely, he still couldn't help but feel like it would all end in some rapidly permanent way. He was sure the older man would decide he was too much trouble and leave, just like Barney had.

Maybe that was why he'd been progressively working his way through all the school rules...and breaking them. This was the third time in as many days he'd been called into the principal's office and Coulson been called.

Coulson hadn't been very surprised to get yet another call from his son's school. Somehow, it seemed like Clint was working his way down the list of school rules, breaking them in various different ways.

Parking outside the school, Coulson entered the building and walked to the office, reflecting that he'd probably know this route by heart by the end of the current school year.

Clint sat on the hard, wooden bench outside the principal's door, waiting for his father to arrive. A sullen look was pasted on his face, but anyone who knew him well would have been able to see the worry, fear and shame in his eyes. He really didn't want to cause his dad problems...he just couldn't seem to help himself. This last time? He was sure it was going to be the last; Coulson wouldn't keep him when he'd heard what he'd done this time. He looked up and swallowed when Coulson stepped into the office to let the assistant know he'd arrived.

After talking to the assistant, Coulson stepped over to Clint. While he didn't sit down, he did give his son a gentle, encouraging smile while he waited for the principal to finish his meeting.

Clint could only look his father in the eye for a few seconds before looking down again, unable to face him. He couldn't help but flinch when the principal opened his door, suddenly speaking into the silence. "Mr. Coulson, Clint, I can speak with you now."

Coulson turned to the principal and nodded politely. "Of course." He wrapped an arm around Clint's shoulders... mostly so that his son would understand he didn't need to be scared. When he'd chosen to adopt Clint, Coulson had known it wouldn't necessarily be easy. He was fully prepared to deal with anything that came their way.

The principal, Mr. Stohler, motioned for them to sit before firmly closing the door against eavesdroppers and then pulling Clint's file to himself. "I'm afraid your son took actions today that are very serious, Mr. Coulson..." he began solemnly.

"What happened?" Coulson asked, his voice calm.

"Clint skipped class again...but this time, instead of being caught in the restroom smoking, he was caught outside the school building. He'd climbed up to the top of a nearby electric pole and was shooting BB's at the STOP sign half a block away. I can only assume he refrained from shooting when any cars were driving by, or people or animals were walking, as we didn't get any complaints- and luckily, no one was hurt- but the evidence of what he was doing to the sign were abundant...and he was only two feet away from one of the live wires on the pole. I'm concerned for your son, Mr. Coulson...his actions have become increasingly more reckless and today's dangerous stunt is one step further than we are able or willing to deal with. I'm sorry, but I'm afraid Clint is to be expelled, effective immediately. You'll need to enroll him in another school." Principal Stohler's voice wasn't angry, just concerned; but it was obvious the decision couldn't be appealed, at least not through him.

Clint sank down into the chair he'd been assigned, hunching in on himself and not looking either adult in the face. Hearing his actions explained to his father through another adult...he hadn't thought about the dangers of what he was doing. Only that it might be fun; might let him test his abilities that he hadn't used since Coulson took him in (Coulson wouldn't allow him a gun of any sort unless he was with Clint to supervise; and his job had been very busy lately, so the opportunity to go to a range and practice shooting hadn't been an option); might let him prove to his father that he was able to take care of himself without having to go to a boring classroom to learn. It hadn't been hard at all to steal the BB gun or BBs from the back porch of one of the houses he'd been walking by on one of the other days of skipping school. Now that he thought about his actions, though? None of what he had done seemed like a good idea anymore; and he felt ashamed.

Coulson's face was carefully expressionless throughout the principal's explanation, though he did glance at his son, reading Clint's face to see what he felt about his actions. "I apologize for my son's behaviour," he said, his tone as calm as he could make it. "I understand it was dangerous and I'm sure Clint is beginning to understand the same," he added. He didn't say that he would be discussing it with his son back at home, just as he didn't say his thoughts on why Clint was acting more and more recklessly and dangerously. While he planned to talk to Clint about both things, he wouldn't embarrass his son in front of someone not in their family.

Principal Stohler nodded. "I appreciate that. I...I hope you are able to get to the bottom of whatever is troubling Clint. He's a good boy at heart, I can tell. If his actions hadn't have been so serious...Perhaps he can enroll here again next year. But my hands are tied this year. He's broken too many rules.... I truly am sorry about that."

The principal's voice did sound regretful and Clint couldn't help but glance up in surprise, not having expected to have anyone other than his father on his side. The knowledge that another adult cared and that he'd let them down too, not just his dad, hurt and he had to swallow back a whimper.

"I appreciate the position you're in," Coulson replied. He placed his hand on Clint's shoulder and squeezed gently, speaking as much to his son as Principal Stohler. "We will figure this out." As serious as his voice was, it was also gentle.

Principal Stohler nodded. "Thank you. I'll send my assistant with you to clean out Clint's locker. Any books that need to be returned to the school for a refund can be handled by her...." He stood and held out his hand to shake hands with Coulson. Clearly, he considered the meeting over.

Clint bit his lip and swallowed, waiting for his father to indicate he should stand up before moving. What he had done and what had occurred because of his actions had finally sunk in and he realized that he had miscalculated badly. He wasn't certain what to expect, but fear that he would be sent away was strong, even if he tried not to be afraid of that.

Coulson shook hands with the other man and then wrapped his arm around Clint's shoulders, gently drawing his son to his feet. "Come on, son. Let's go home," he said, his voice gentle and affectionate.

Clint couldn't bring himself to say anything, but Coulson's arm, warm and gentle around his shoulders and the fact he still called him son, did a lot to calm him down. The principal's assistant had gone with them to empty out his locker and had taken any items that needed to be returned to the school and soon they were leaving the building and walking to Coulson's car. Clearing his throat awkwardly, Clint finally spoke. "Did...did I interrupt a mission?" he asked hesitantly.

Coulson hugged his son tight against his side. "The mission was over, but it wouldn't have mattered even if I got called during one. You will always be more important."

"Aren't you mad at me? I...I did a lot of bad things...." Clint continued in the same hesitant voice. He was starting to believe that maybe Coulson wouldn't send him away...but he wasn't naive enough to think there would be no consequences at all. If Coulson was very mad....

Coulson reached the car and released Clint just long enough so they could both get in... though as soon as they were settled, he gently squeezed his son's knee as he began driving back home. The pause gave him long enough to work out his response. "I'm not mad at you, Clint. I'm disappointed that you did something so reckless and dangerous... but I think I have a fairly good understanding of why you did that."

"You do?" Clint glanced up his own eyes filled with a bit of confusion. He wasn't certain he understood his reasons himself. How could his dad understand them? Biting his lip again, he looked down at his lap, his eyes falling on his father's hand where it still gripped his knee. "I...you don't have to pretend you know. I deserve for you to be mad at me...if you wanna yell or something..." he said softly, his voice ashamed. He didn't like disappointing Coulson. He would rather be yelled at than know he disappointed the older man.

"I'm not pretending." Coulson squeezed his knee gently. "And I'm not going to yell at you. I love you. There is nothing that can change that."

"Even when I disappoint you?" Clint asked in a tiny voice, the words catching in his throat.

"That never lasts for long," Coulson promised. "And I'm only disappointed because I know you can do so much better."

Clint swallowed hard. He hadn't really been thinking of why he was behaving badly, beyond wanting to see what Coulson did in response. He hadn't thought about possible results or repercussions. Disappointing the older man hadn't factored into his thoughts at all. Now? He felt very, very guilty about what he'd done, because he knew it had disappointed his father and his father would only be disappointed if it was something really wrong. "I'm sorry..." he sniffled, ashamed to find himself beginning to cry. "I didn't...didn't think...."

Coulson couldn't pull his son into his arms while he was driving, but he did wrap his arm around Clint's shoulders. "I know. We'll talk about it at home," he promised. "But I love you and I'm not going to give up on you. No matter what."

"I love you too, Daddy..." Clint said in a whisper. He was regretting his actions keenly and couldn't help but begin to fret about what might be coming. He believed his father wouldn't give up on him, if that's what was promised, though...so that meant he wouldn't be sent away. At least, he thought that was what it meant.

Coulson kept his arm around Clint's shoulders all the way back home. When he parked outside their house, he got out of the car and then wrapped his arm around Clint's shoulders once more to guide him inside.

Clint had been thinking about possible outcomes of his actions all the way home...if he wasn't being given up on and sent away, what would happen? Unfortunately, he suspected he knew...but his guilty conscience and vivid imagination had him thinking of things that, if he'd calmed down, he would have realized would never happen just because of the type of man his father was. He wasn't calm, though, despite the warm and loving arm around his shoulders. Once they were safely in the living room, Clint opened his mouth as if to say something, but the words wouldn't come.

So...instead...he bolted for his room, intending to dive under his bed.

Coulson wasn't surprised by his son's bolting, though he was worried that Clint felt like he needed to. He quickly went after him, wrapping his arms around his son in a tight hug almost before Clint even got out of the living room.

Clint only cringed away for a moment, just long enough for Coulson to pick up on it, before he realized he was being held tightly in a hug and not being hit. Letting out a tiny sob, he threw his own arms around his father, burrowing against him as if seeking physical reassurance of not being given up on or abandoned...reassurance that he was still loved and that (even if he was going to be punished) he wasn't going to be harmed.

Coulson hugged Clint tightly to himself, pressing a kiss to the top of his head. "It's all right," he said, his voice soft. "This isn't the end of the world. I'm not going to give up on you. I'm not going to pull away. And I'm not going to hurt you. I love you." He didn't loosen his hold even a fraction.

"But I was really, really bad..." Clint said in a tiny whisper. He wanted to believe what Coulson said, but this was really the first situation since being adopted where the man had needed to see what Clint was capable of. "The only one who ever loved me that much before was momma...and she left..." he said sadly. "I don't think she wanted to, but..." He swallowed back tears. Barney had eventually left him, too, so maybe there was something wrong with him. How could Coulson not want to leave?

Coulson half-carried Clint to the couch, so he could sit down and cuddle his son on his lap. "I'm not going to leave you," he promised. "It doesn't matter what happens. Nothing is ever going to change that." Even his missions were considerably less dangerous, now that Coulson had his son who needed him to come back.

Burying his face against Coulson's chest, Clint snuggled like a very young child instead of the young teen he was. "I...I believe you..." he finally said softly. "...But I'm still scared. Why am I still scared?" He was so confused and didn't know what to think. All he knew was that he'd messed up, deliberately messed up, and now he wasn't even sure why he'd done it. "I'm sorry, daddy...so sorry...I...I can't even say it was an accident or that I didn't mean to..." Shame coated his words and he couldn't look his father in the eyes, although he didn't loosen his grip or pull away either, having finally realized Coulson wasn't going to let him go and he didn't really want to be anywhere else at the moment anyway.

Coulson tightened his hold, gently stroking Clint's hair. "This isn't the first time you've broken one of the school rules, even if this was the most dangerous," he said gently. "You've only recently become my son. I suspect you're pushing me to find out exactly how much I'm going to give... and because you think there's a point where I'll walk away. There isn't one... but it takes more than just words to believe that," he said, his voice gentle and compassionate.

"O...ok?" Clint said uncertainly. While he believed what Coulson was telling him- that his father wasn't going to walk away- he wasn't sure what that meant in terms of his pushing and how much Coulson would give. "I...you...I pushed hard this time..." he admitted weakly, his voice almost a question. He wasn't sure if he wanted to ask what his father planned to do about his pushing because if he asked then that meant it would happen.

"You did," Coulson agreed. "And when you're ready, we'll deal with it. I will spank you and then we will move past it," he promised.

Clint couldn't help the tiny whimper that escaped or the sniffles as he burrowed closer to his father. Snuggling for a few moments more, he finally sighed, though. "I...I'm ready to be dealt with, daddy..." he finally whispered. "I'm really, really, REALLY sorry...." He didn't say that he felt so guilty that he wanted to be punished...he hadn't thought about it in those terms, really. His tone conveyed it easily enough for him.

Coulson kissed Clint's head, holding him tightly for a few more moments. "I love you," he said, his voice quiet but no less sincere, before he gently turned his son over his lap, securing him with an arm wrapped around his waist.

Clint wrapped both his arms around his father's leg, holding on tightly and closing his eyes. "I love you too, daddy...."

Coulson rubbed his back gently and then tugged his pants and underwear down. Taking a tighter grip on his son, he brought his hand down in the first firm swat.

Clint expelled his breath with a tiny yelp, but managed to hold still. It hurt. Not as much as the knowledge he'd disappointed his father, but still. "Ow..." He whimpered.

Coulson hardened himself against the whimper, repeating the swat and then two more just below the first. He went down to Clint's thighs before starting over from the top. "What you did was very dangerous. Someone could have been hurt if you hadn't seen anyone passing in time."

Clint clenched his eyes tightly at the words. "I didn't wanna hurt anyone!" he cried out softly, wriggling slightly as his father covered his backside. He clenched the muscles of his bottom, unable to help himself. Even if he felt like he deserved to be spanked, he wasn't able to hold still and just accept it.

"I know," Coulson replied gently. "I know you didn't intend to cause any harm... but it was dangerous. And you know you shouldn't have done it. You know I expect better from you."

"I...I know..." Clint whimpered again, tears seeping out from under his eyelids. His father had high expectations for him, he knew this, and he had disappointed his father. It hurt.

Coulson completed the second circuit and began a third, swatting a bit harder and faster, though he was careful to hold back his full strength.

The guilt he felt at his actions had become more and more difficult to contain. Combined with the pain of his parent's admonishment and Clint couldn't keep quiet or hold still. With each new swat, he squirmed more and more, until he was wriggling like a worm over his father's lap. His whimpers grew into full out whines and then into cries.

It was hard... harder than anything Coulson had ever done... but he forced himself to finish with a final flurry of swats to Clint's sit spots and thighs. He then quickly gathered his son into a tight embrace.

It took a few seconds for Clint to realize the spanking had stopped and he was in his father's arms, but as soon as he did realize, he slumped against the older man boneless and sobbing. "I'm sorry, daddy! So so sorry!"

Coulson hugged his son tightly and kissed the top of his head. "I know. I love you and it's over with. I forgive you," he said gently.

Clint cried for several more minutes, but finally, he was too tired to cry anymore. All he could do was snuggle against his father, as close as allowed. "I love you, daddy..." he whispered, his voice hoarse and his eyes slipping closed from weariness.

****

"And that wasn't the last time I fell asleep in your grandpa's arms..." Clint gave his children a crooked and sheepish smile.

Bobbi stared at her older brother, eyes wide. "You actually tried to run from daddy?" she asked curiously.

Clint shook his head. "What? Did you think you and Grant held a patent on trying to escape what you know you've got coming? Besides. I was fifteen!" He didn't sound upset, more amused than anything.

Coulson's smile was fond. "It's not any different to the kind of testing I've seen later on." He didn't add, 'And the kind of testing in the rest of the family', even though that was heavily implied in his tone.

"When did you decide to follow in your dad's footsteps?" Sam asked curiously, trying to imagine Clint as a fifteen-year-old... which actually wasn't that difficult.

Clint glanced at Sam and grinned. "Shortly after that, really. Dad decided that abilities like I had displayed in my...misadventure...shouldn't be wasted. But he wanted me supervised when using them, to make sure I wasn't acting recklessly, so he made arrangements with Uncle Nick for me to come to his SHIELD base after school every day, where I would train with different agents in how to safely do my acrobats and hone my marksmanship. At first, I thought it was because he wanted to make sure I was behaving, but when I realized I'd not only be doing something fun, but I'd be closer to dad? Pretty soon, I was doing my best not to test him, because I didn't want to be grounded and lose even a day of the training...." He laughed gently.

"How did you get that kind of training?" Wanda asked her father. "I know you were in the circus... but how did you come to join that in the first place?" She was curious, almost wanting to know as much as she could about her father.

"After our mother died, Barney found a job in the circus for a few months. I went with him and discovered I was a natural when it came to marksmanship and being able to get into high difficult spots..." Clint shrugged sheepishly.

"So there was really only one 'honest' job you could go into," Natasha teased her older brother.

Fury, sitting with his children, abruptly chuckled and looked at Coulson. "I seem to recall an attempt at an 'honest' job that didn't exactly go according to plan..."

With his own laugh, Coulson defended himself. "I was only fourteen at the time..."

Clint was about to make a smart comment back to Natasha when he heard his uncle's comment. Raising an eyebrow, he looked at his father expectantly.

Grant didn't bother with non-verbal cues. "What did he do, Uncle Nick?" He grinned.

"Yeah! What did he do?" Bobbi asked in eager curiosity.

"Maybe I'd better tell the story," Coulson said wryly. "There's less chance of it being exaggerated that way."

Job Search


Phil yawned and burrowed deeper under his blanket. His eyes were gritty and felt like they had sand in them. He knew he had to get up... but he'd been running errands late with his best friend and had wound up sneaking back into his bedroom.

Paul had got up at the normal time, feeding the animals and mucking the stalls. He'd fully expected his younger brother to show up and help as normal...but he hadn't. It was getting close to time for breakfast and then school...and Phil still hadn't done the chores that he was personally responsible for. Paul really didn't want to get stuck doing them himself, although if his brother was sick, he'd do so without complaint. Walking upstairs, he banged on Phil's bedroom door. "Hey, runt! What happened? Your alarm not go off?" he shouted through the closed door.

Dragging his blanket over his head didn't actually succeed in blocking out his brother's voice. "Go away!" Phil meant it to come out an order... it actually came out as little more than a mumble. Maybe he could pretend to be sick? That would guarantee him time off school... but then he wouldn't be able to do any jobs to earn money.

Paul frowned. "I will not go way. You've still gotta feed the chickens before breakfast and school. I already did my chores and the chores you're s'posed to help me with! I'm not doing the ones you're s'posed to do on your own!" He wondered if he needed to call their mother or father up. If his kid brother was sick....but if he wasn't sick, Paul didn't want to get him in trouble.

"I'll do them in a while!" Phil retorted, trying to close his eyes and go back to sleep. Even if it was only for a few minutes... maybe he should ask Nick how he was dealing with it.

"You don't have a few minutes! You literally have thirty minutes to get up, get dressed, take care of your chores and eat breakfast before you miss your school bus!" Paul pushed the door open and glanced in. "Are you sick?" He moved closer, as if to feel his brother's forehead for fever.

Phil cringed away. "Yes. I'm sick," he said emphatically... and coughed to give proof to that. With his eyes red from so little sleep, he didn't look like he was at full health... and his face was pale along with that.

Paul sighed, reaching over and feeling his brother's forehead. "Well, at least you aren't hot, so you aren't running a fever. I'll let Mama know you're not feeling well. She'll bring you up some juice, I imagine. I'll take care of the rest of your chores...." He gave his little brother a sympathetic smile. "Go back to sleep, runt...." Tucking the covers around his little brother a little more securely, Paul backed out of the room and closed the door gently, then went downstairs to let their parents know Phil wasn't feeling good; and to go finish the remainder of chores that Phil hadn't done.

Phil couldn't help feeling guilty for lying to his brother, but he was really too tired for the guilt to take full hold. He allowed his eyes to close, resolving to talk to Nick later about taking on less extra hours... no matter how much extra money they got.

***

Paul had just finished the last of Phil's chores and had gone back into the house to clean up, grab something quick to eat and head into town for his one and only class of the day when his mom stopped him at the door.

"Sweetie...I just received a call from your great Aunt Althea. She fell and broke her hip and needs me to come and take care of her for a few weeks. Your dad is going to drive me there. He won't be back until tomorrow night, though, so that means you are in charge. I know you have your class, but do you think you could skip it today so that you can stay with your brother? Normally, I wouldn't worry about him being alone for a few hours, but since he is sick...."

"Sure thing, mom. I can get notes from one of my classmates the next class..." Paul quickly agreed, wanting to ease his mother's worry. "Give Aunt Ally my love...."

Thirty minutes later, he was standing on the porch, watching his parents drive away.

***

After a couple of hours extra sleep, Phil woke up feeling more refreshed... although he figured he couldn't just have a 'miraculous' recovery and knew he was going to have to stay in bed... no matter how bored he got.

A few minutes later, Phil heard the sound of stones hitting the wall next to his window. By the time he slipped out of bed and crept over to it, his friend had climbed up and Phil was able to open the window so that Nick could climb in. "What are you doing here?" he whispered.

"You weren't in school." Nick shrugged and sat on the bed, making himself at home. "Thought something might be wrong."

***

Paul had let his brother rest, catching up on a few of the chores that he typically got out of because he was in class and his father had more urgent items to take care of. He thought it would be a nice surprise for his father, since he needed to stick close to home anyway. He'd checked on his brother at least once an hour, not wanting to disturb his sleep. He looked at his watch. He'd give Phil another thirty minutes and then he'd wake him up to eat some chicken soup and drink orange juice. Whistling softly, he worked on finishing the latest project he'd started.

***

"I'm not sick," Phil admitted quietly. "But I couldn't get up. I was too tired. So... I said I was sick."

Nick's eyes widened. "You lied...?"

"I..." Phil couldn't finish his sentence. He knew lying was wrong. He felt guilty enough.

***

It had taken Paul a bit longer than the thirty minutes he'd counted on, closer to an hour, but he'd finally finished the project. Going back into the house, he began to heat the soup for his brother.

***

Phil heard the unmistakable sound of his brother downstairs in the kitchen. "You need to leave before my brother comes up to check on me." He quickly began ushering Nick back towards the window.

It didn't take long for the soup to heat and Paul was shortly bringing a tray of it up, along with orange juice. "Wake up, sleepyhead. You need to get..." he announced, even as he opened the door to go in.

Phil froze, his best friend halfway out of the window. His eyes darted around, as he didn't know whether to close the door on his brother, or push Nick out the window.

Paul froze only momentarily, before continuing, "...Get Nick back inside the house before he falls and breaks his neck," he finished, as sternly as their father ever would have.

Nick was already climbing back in, a bit sheepishly... but Phil responded to his brother in the same way he would their father and quickly went to help his friend back in through the window.

Paul shook his head as he carefully set the tray of food on the nearby dresser. "So can someone please explain why Nick is coming in through a second story bedroom window, instead of through the front door like our parents expect?" His voice was firm and it was clear he expected an answer.

"Phil wasn't in school," Nick said. "I was worried about him." And he hadn't wanted to alert them to the fact he'd skipped school.

"So again I ask, why were you coming in through the window instead of the front door?" Paul asked, an eyebrow rising. He likely wouldn't have suspected anything if his brother and his brother by choice weren't acting so oddly; climbing in through the window was a large red flag.

"Because I'm meant to be in school?" Nick replied, a little sheepishly.

Phil swallowed, knowing that he probably didn't look ill at all. He didn't say anything, but suspected strongly it wouldn't take long for his big brother's questions to turn to him.

"You're right," Paul said. "But you're here now and adding taking reckless chances to skipping school isn't terribly wise, I'd think. Besides which, you could have called and I would have let you know how he was doing."

He glanced at Phil, noting that he looked perfectly healthy now. Crossing the room, he held a hand against his brother's head again. "Still no fever...and now you look perfectly normal and sound perfectly normal...you're lucky to have such a quick recovery...." His voice was conversational, but he was watching his brother closely.

Phil was tempted to continue lying... but now that he was completely wide awake, he couldn't bring himself to. He felt bad enough as it was. "I... got in late last night." The words came out a barely decipherable mumble.

"Ah...so you weren't really sick at all...." Paul said, again conversationally, but a tiny hint of disappointed irritation was underneath his tone. He'd skipped his own class to stay home and take care of his brother. A class that he was very interested in and wanted to do well in; wanted to get as much from as possible. Even though he could easily get the notes from his classmates and wouldn't suffer in his grade (as long as the teacher hadn't sprung a surprise test), actually going to the class would have given him the most benefit. He suspected his little brother was still a bit young to feel that way about his own schooling and wouldn't understand the frustration.

Phil cringed, able to hear the disappointment in his brother's voice. "I'm sorry," he said quietly. It wasn't often that he disappointed or upset his family... when he did, it always hit him hard.

"Yeah...so am, I kid." Paul sighed. "Just...you said you got in late last night. I know for a fact that mom and dad have a curfew for school nights...and I'm fairly certain you were in when mom checked on you...so how is that even possible? And where were you if you weren't in?" Paul didn't want to make accusations without proof...but he had suspicions. He turned toward Nick. "Do you want to call your parents and let them know where you are? Or do I need to do so?" He didn't give the younger boy any other choices. Not only had Nick skipped half a day of school, but he'd climbed into the house through the second story window...something Paul knew his parents wouldn't have been happy about.

"I'll call them," Nick replied, shooting his best friend a sympathetic look. "Just..." He hesitated. "It wasn't just Phil." While he didn't want to get into trouble with his own parents, he couldn't just let Phil be the only one Paul was upset with.

Phil looked at the floor, scuffing his foot. "I... might have placed one of the blankets strategically..."

"So you weren't really here, but made it so mom would think you were..." Paul's voice was softly disapproving. He remembered well doing the same thing when he was Phil's age; and his parents' reactions and words. Now he understood more where they were coming from. Swallowing, he turned toward Nick. "You knew what he was doing? He was with you?"

"We were..." Nick's voice trailed off and he looked uncertainly at Phil.

"We stayed out late, doing a job," Phil admitted, unable to look at his brother.

Paul sighed. "Phil..." his voice was sympathetic if a little frustrated. He didn't like being lied to. Especially not when the lie had caused worry in the family for no good reason. Even so, he could understand where his brother was coming from only too well. "...you know that you are only allowed to work a certain amount of hours per week- including your chores. It's important that you have time to study and rest and be a kid in general...mom and dad are adamant about that. I know the job they approved you to do doesn't need to be done at night, let alone late at night. Just what type of job are you doing exactly?" This time a hint of worry crept in. He couldn't imagine any job requiring late night hours- that wasn't questionable at any rate- being offered to a 14 year old kid. Other than babysitting perhaps- but most responsible parents wouldn't leave their child in the care of a fourteen year old late at night without making sure it was ok with the fourteen year-olds parents. At least he didn't think so.... And if Phil had gotten permission from their mom and dad to be doing a job like that, he wouldn't have felt the need to pretend he was at home in bed when he wasn't.

"It was... we were delivering something." Phil was quick to add, "But not anything that would get us into legal trouble... I made sure of that. But the person was coming from a long way away and they wanted to drive back the same night..." His voice trailed off. He knew he could have said no... should have said no.

"Phil..." Paul could only look at his brother incredulously. "Did you know the person you were delivering the item for? That you were meeting so late at night? Because quite honestly, I can't imagine anyone that knows you or the family making such a request from you. And if you were meeting up with strangers late at night to deliver a package to another stranger....I think we have a lot more to talk about than just you sneaking out last night and lying this morning!" He looked at Nick. "And you were with him? You know darn well your parents would have never allowed you to do something like that either! Call them now, please."

Nick nodded quickly, shooting Phil a part-sympathetic, part-guilty look, before he quickly left the room to get the phone so he could call his parents.

Phil opened his mouth... but then closed it again. If he said anything else, he imagined he'd just be digging himself in deeper.

Pinching the bridge of his nose, and feeling chagrined to realize he was acting just like their father, Paul took a deep breath, then motioned Phil to follow him out of the room. "C'mon, kid. Let's go wait downstairs with Nick for his parents to arrive. And maybe you can explain to me, so I'll be able to understand, just how what you did wasn't a horribly bad idea."

Phil wasn't sure he could explain... at least not to his brother's satisfaction; maybe not even his own. His shoulders slumping, he followed his brother from the room, heading downstairs.

Paul was so tempted to call their parents and let them deal with the situation. The only problem was, they weren't due to arrive to his aunt's house for another four hours. And then, even if his father left immediately instead of waiting till the next day and getting some rest, it would still be half a day of waiting before he'd get home. Paul didn't want this hanging over Phil's head for that long; he knew he wouldn't want it hanging over his own head, so he didn't want to do that to his brother. His parents had given him permission to handle any situation that came up. Granted, they likely hadn't thought about this type of situation- Phil was normally not the type to get into trouble like this- but he didn't think they would be upset with him for taking care of matters if he chose to. The only question was, how would Phil react to him handling things? Maybe his brother would prefer to wait for their father's return. He was so deep in thought before he realized it they were already in the living room and he was motioning Phil to sit on the couch, even as he stood at the door to wait for Nick to finish on the phone.

Nick finished on the phone and took a seat next to his friend. "They're coming here," he said quietly.

Phil was looking anxious, wondering if his brother was going to call their parents... and also feeling guilty for having lied.

"When they get here, you can both explain to all of us what you did, where you did it...and why. I'm sure your parents will want to be certain that the people you both did business with aren't going to be a threat to you in the future, Nick....Since I feel that way about making sure the same thing for Phil." He glanced at his brother. "I can't call mom or dad yet; they are still driving to Aunt Ally's...we'll have to call them after dinner tonight, since that's the soonest we'd be able to reach them." He didn't say if he planned to handle it himself or wait for them; he wanted to talk with Phil first and find out how his brother felt before making such a decision- and he also didn't want to discuss it in front of Nick. Even though he suspected Nick was in almost as big trouble as Phil, he wouldn't discuss any of the punishment in front of him unless Phil himself brought it up.

Phil nodded, looking down at his hands in his lap. He wanted to apologize again... but even if his parents and Nick's had very similar ways of dealing with things, he didn't exactly want to discuss it with him. Or in front of him.

Nick voiced a quiet acknowledgement, mirroring his best friend's posture.

It took all of Paul's will power not to fidget as they waited for Nick's parents to arrive. Luckily, Nick's family didn't live that far from Phil's. Paul couldn't imagine they were happy, though; since Mr. Fury would have been at work and since they only had the one car, he would have had to take off of work in order to come get his son. When their car pulled into the driveway, Paul stood so that he could go let them in the house. "Wait here..." he said quietly, not expecting to be disobeyed on such a simple order.

Both Nick and Phil nodded, neither planning to disobey... since both thought they'd be in even bigger trouble if they did anything other than cooperate.

Paul met Nick's parents on the front porch. "Mr. and Mrs. Fury...the boys are in the living room...please come in..." He opened the door and stepped back to let the older couple in. "Would you like some water?" he asked quietly, feeling a bit uncertain about things now that actual parents were in the house. Would they think the situation was as bad as he thought it was? Maybe he was over-reacting.

Nick's parents stepped into the house, his father looking somewhat irritated as he shook his head.

Nick's mother smiled briefly at Paul. "We're fine... but Nick wasn't very clear about what had happened on the phone. Perhaps you can give us some more details about what happened... apart from him skipping school?" she asked.

Paul winced at the question. "They haven't given me a lot of detail, but it appears they both decided to do a 'job' last night that involved delivering something after their regular curfew. Phil assured me that they made sure it wasn't illegal... but considering they were taking the package from a total stranger and delivering it to another total stranger..." He swallowed, feeling slightly like he was about to get into trouble himself and he hadn't even done anything. "I thought it would be better to wait for further explanation until you arrived...in case you had questions I wouldn't think to ask..." he finished lamely, waiting for Nick's parents to either precede him into the living room, or tell him he was handling things all wrong. He didn't think he'd handled things wrong, but this was the first time he'd had to deal with his brother doing anything so major when his parents weren't around to step in.

Nick's father nodded. "Thank you for making sure Nick called us... I'm not sure there's anything else we need to know." He walked into the living room, where his son and Phil were sitting, looking like naughty children.

Nick's mother waited for Paul to precede her and followed him and her husband into the living room.

Paul swallowed in relief once Nick's parents' attention was no longer on him and followed them into the living room. "I've told your parents what you both told me. Is there anything you haven't told me yet that we should all know? Like how you actually got to the area where you picked up the package and then how you got to where you dropped it off? Other than you crawling out of your bedroom window, much like I caught Nick crawling in this afternoon..." He glanced at Nick, pretty certain the boy had left that bit of information out of what he'd told his parents.

"Nick..." His mother shot him a disappointed look.

"We took our bikes," Phil said, adding, in a much quieter voice, "After climbing out the window..."

"Ok. Is there anything else we should know?" Paul finally asked. As far as he could tell, his brother and Nick had confessed to everything, but there was no way for him to know for certain, unless they confessed to something he had no way of finding out unless they wanted to be honest.

Phil shook his head.

"That's everything..." Nick said.

His father sighed. "Then let's go home. Thank you again," he added to Paul, reaching out and drawing his son to his feet with a hand on his shoulder.

After a brief farewell, Nick and his parents left the house.

Paul waited until he heard their car pulling down the drive before he turned toward Phil. "Do I need to tell you how dangerous your actions were?" he asked quietly.

Phil shook his head, looking down. "No... I'm sorry," he said, his voice just as quiet and filled with shame.

Paul nodded, relieved he wouldn't have an argument with his brother about the danger he'd been in. At least Phil understood that much. "I can't call mom or dad for another four hours. And dad won't be home until tomorrow morning at the earliest, even if he left to come home immediately after dropping mom off. Do you want to wait for dad to handle things, or...or will you accept me taking charge?" he finally asked, even softer than before. It wasn't like he hadn't 'been in charge' before. But the most he'd ever had to do to correct his brother was to take away a privilege or two. He'd never had something so serious to handle. If it made him nervous and uncertain, he was positive Phil would feel anxious at the thought of him handling matters. He did his best to keep his own nerves under control, though, not wanting his brother to feel more anxiety than necessary.

Trying to imagine waiting for their father to come back to deal with it made Phil feel even worse than imagining his brother stepping in... even though Paul had never had to do this before. He swallowed, glancing at his brother's face and then away again. "I... don't like the idea of having to wait," he admitted quietly. It wasn't just his nerves... he felt too guilty and knew it would affect him worse than having his brother step in.

Paul nodded, not surprised at the answer. "Ok, runt. We'll take care of it between the two of us. We still are going to call mom and dad tonight and you are going to tell them what happened. But I'll tell them I've taken care of it, so they won't need to worry...and you won't have to have it hanging over your head for the next two days." He gave his little brother a gentle smile before carefully taking Phil by the arm and tugging him over his lap. Wrapping an arm around his waist and pulling him in close and tight, once he was certain Phil was secure and wouldn't fall, he quickly bared the younger man. "I want you to know...this spanking isn't because you lied to me, although that wasn't a good thing to do and I know you know it, this is because you put yourself into danger...twice... and that is never acceptable. Do you understand?" His words were soft and sincere.

Even though it was quite a surreal feeling to be taken over his big brother's lap, Phil didn't fight... though he couldn't stop the slight whimper when he was bared. "Yes... but... I'm still sorry I lied to you..." he said quietly.

"I know," Paul responded quietly. "I already forgave you. Just don't do it again, yeah?" With that, he raised his hand and let it fall with what he thought was a hard swat. He then paused to gauge Phil's reaction, afraid he might have been too hard. He'd never spanked anyone before and didn't want to be too harsh. How in the world did his parents know how hard to smack? Was there some secret manual that parents and guardians were given when they became responsible for another person, or something?

Phil jumped, but for all his worry and nerves, his brother hadn't swatted any harder than their father would have. The distress he was feeling came more from the guilt and knowing what he'd done was wrong. So he tried his best to hold still and accept what he knew he deserved... what he knew was mild compared to what could have happened to him.

Paul, assured that he wasn't being too harsh, swatted a second time, then continued to swat in a random pattern, covering his little brother's backside from top to bottom. On the second circuit, he began to talk. "You know crawling out your second story bedroom window is dangerous. There are no trees nearby and the old trellis, I'm sure you used, is rusty and unstable. You and Nick both could have fallen and broken your necks! Meeting up with complete strangers and takings package you don't know the origins of? It goes without saying that was a bad idea!" He spoke softly but firmly, wanting his brother to understand his worry. He continued swatting as he spoke, to emphasize his words.

Phil whimpered as his brother began scolding him, unable to help but squirm... even though he tried to keep still. "I... know..." he managed to get out, in a broken tone. "I'm sorry..."

"I know. I want you to remember this next time you decide a job is more important than your safety!" Paul tilted his brother forward and began to target his sit spots.

Phil began to sob as his brother targeted his sit spots, going limp, not even squirming to escape the swats.

Paul couldn't continue. He'd been his little brother's protector from the moment his parents brought him home from the hospital, and while he believed it was necessary to take action and correct his brother he couldn't keep spanking him once he saw that he'd started crying and wasn't fighting or defending his actions. He could only believe Phil had got the lesson he was trying to teach. He quickly tugged Phil up into his arms, where he held onto him tightly. "It's ok...I've got you. You're forgiven...."

Phil immediately latched onto his brother, choking a bit on his sobs as he tried to calm down. Being held, it didn't take long and he shifted closer in the comforting embrace, sniffling softly.

Paul latched on just as tightly, the experience of having to be responsible for his brother having affected him more than he'd thought would be possible.

"Sorry..." Phil said, his voice very quiet. "I know it was wrong... I was wrong..."

Paul smiled sadly, kissing the top of his brother's head. "I'm glad you realize that...and I'm very glad nothing terrible happened." His voice grew thick at the thought of what could have happened. "C'mon, runt. I want you to eat. Then, depending on how you feel, you can either take a short nap, or you and I can go over all the jobs and responsibilities you have and try and schedule things in a way that doesn't destroy your health. If you need extra money that badly, we can come up with a safe and healthy way of you earning it and I'll be with you when you ask mom and dad about it. We'll call mom and dad after dinner tonight and you can tell them what you did...but since I've already handled it, I doubt you'll get much more than a scolding." He squeezed his brother a little more tightly, before loosening his grip so his brother could step away if he was ready. Of course, if he wasn't ready, Paul was prepared to hold on to him for as long as he needed.

Phil carefully slid off his brother's lap, replacing his clothing as he nodded. "I don't think I need a nap..." he said, a little guiltily, since he knew he'd taken the opportunity to sleep in.

Paul smiled. "That's good, then. We'll go over your schedule. See what can be moved around or changed. And you can tell me what jobs you were doing extra to earn money. Some of them, you may be allowed to keep, so it will be helpful to have a list for mom and dad to look at before they make their decision." Hugging his brother one last time, he began to lead him to the kitchen. "First, though, you eat lunch. Since you aren't really sick, how would you like me to whip up a couple of hamburgers?"

Phil nodded, following his brother. "I like the sound of hamburgers," he admitted. "Want me to help? I can cut up the salad."

"Sure thing! Gotta have our veggies with the meat..." Paul grinned, walking into the kitchen and beginning to get out ingredients. They were soon busy preparing their lunch.

***

"Uncle Paul actually...?" Bobbi blinked. Even though her uncle and father had hinted at the fact that they'd got into trouble when kids, she'd figured it was just with her grandfather and grandmother. Not that her father had got into trouble with her uncle. It wasn't exactly a secret that siblings 'took care' of each other in the family, when necessary. Still, she couldn't imagine Clint, Natasha, or Grant spanking her...so the idea of Uncle Paul spanking her father, even if he was still a kid at the time, was hard to wrap her head around. But then again, she had to admit it wasn't so much that Paul spanked her dad and more the fact that... "You actually got in trouble badly enough to be spanked?" She threw a hand over her mouth, her eyes wide, as she realized belatedly that maybe the question was impertinent. She gave her father an apologetic wince.

Coulson laughed and wrapped his arm around Bobbi's shoulders, squeezing her gently. "I wasn't born responsible. I had plenty of misadventures growing up. But your grandparents and Uncle Paul helped me become able to form my own family... with all of you." Even in the dim light from the fire, his fondness for all of them was obvious.

"Sounds like daddy wasn't born responsible, either..." Kara eyed her father impishly, even as she finally let go of Loki and scuttled back over to her father's side and snuggled up to him.

Fury wrapped his arm around his daughter, drawing her in close. "Of course, we'd both learned our lessons by the end of that day," he commented.

"At least well enough to teach the rest of us our own lessons..." Trip grinned affectionately toward his father and sister.

Bobbi slanted her head then gave her own impish grin. "I didn't even consider crawling out of the bedroom window...."

"Well, now that I know where your mind's gone, I'll make sure to have your bedroom window bolted," Coulson teased her.

Tony gave his cousin a wide-eyed and entirely too innocent look. "Considering all the family floors are seventy floors or more above the ground, bolting the window sounds like a good idea, Uncle Phil...." he said in all seriousness, though the twitching of his lip gave him away.

"What...I..." Bobbi blinked then threw her empty water bottle at her cousin’s head.

Tony easily ducked the empty missile.

"Maybe we should do the same for all the other family floors as well," Steve suggested, pretending to be serious. "I don't think Phil's children have a monopoly on running away." He nudged Tony gently.

Tony smiled sheepishly, not arguing his father's point.

"I wasn't even aware the windows of the tower could be opened. That is slightly...worrying..." Bucky smirked.

"Idothingthearbl..." Kara was yawning so widely, that her words couldn't have been translated by the most adept of linguists... or her father.

Fury hugged Kara against his side. "I think it might be time to start looking at going to bed," he commented, seeing his daughter wasn't the only one beginning to flag.

Tony, seeing that Harry looked weary...and so did several of the other younger members of the family… quickly began to gather all the trash closest to him. "Right you are, Uncle Nick...if everyone wants to gather their own trash to take back up and if Brucie can grab the cooler, I'll put out the fire..." He wasn't surprised when everyone quickly jumped in for cleanup and soon, they were back in the villa, everything put in its correct spot.

Pepper glanced around as they all stood in front of the doors to their suites. "Goodnight...see you all in the morning," she said with a smile, before heading into bed.

There were echoes of the sentiment from everyone else as they all went to brush teeth and wash faces before settling down in the family rooms.

Interlude

Everyone had got a good night’s rest and, amazingly enough everyone had slept in until the sun was rising before getting up. Grant wasn't used to not getting up at 5 a.m. and getting in a workout. Helping to make breakfast for the entire family didn't really expend any energy. Neither did the clean-up. Now everyone was wandering off to do their own thing, be it reading on the back veranda, swimming down at the beach, or playing games in the family room. "I think I'm going to take a walk," he announced, to everyone and no-one at the same time.

"Mind if I join you?" Raina asked quietly. She was becoming a bit more sociable with the family, but she felt it could only help if she spent a little one-on-one time with various family members.

Grant blinked, but then smiled gently at her. "Sure. We can walk together if you really want to."

"Ooooh! Can Loki and I come?" Kara grinned, dragging her Asgardian cousin forward with her as she asked the question.

"If Loki wants to come, both you and he are welcome to join us as well..." Grant laughed at the slightly confused look on Loki's face. Kara had latched onto him the night before and now seemed determined to 'hang out' with her cousin for the day. It wasn't unusual for Kara to get ideas in her head and act on them, but they normally didn't involve Loki. The younger Asgardian was handling it with patience, though, Grant was glad to see.

"Don't forget to take a bag with water and snacks...never know if you might need them later..." Clint suggested off-handedly, as he shuffled the cards and prepared to deal for the game he was playing with other family members.

Coulson smiled, seeing that Grant and Raina were spending some one-on-one time together. "If you think of it, on your way back, you could always bring some fruit with you," he suggested.

Lance had dipped in long enough to grab some breakfast, but he'd grabbed his trunks to swim down at the beach and tapped his brother on the shoulder. "Fancy a swim? Maybe we'll see some dolphins." He grinned.

Bakshi and Blake had hit it off well, in part due to their shared history at the police academy. Bakshi wavered, glancing at Blake, who shrugged. "Hey, I can come with. It'll be nice to get some exercise in. Gotta work off those s'mores somehow." He grinned.

"I might go for a swim, too...if you don't mind me joining you." Bobbi smiled at Lance.

Bucky smiled at his son. "If you feel up to it later, maybe you can catch some fish for dinner...."

Trip took a look at the hand he'd been dealt then threw a handful of M&Ms into the 'pool' in the middle of the table. "I'll bet five..."

Brock grinned. "I'll see your five and raise you five more."

Lance grinned at Bobbi. "Not at all. Do you need to grab your suit?" he asked, willing to wait for her. Looking at his father, he added, "I'll come back here, unless you need me before then, to grab a couple of rods..."

Shrugging, Fury matched his sons' bet. He smiled at his daughter as she went with the others, but didn't tell her to be careful. While Raina was still something of a wild card, he trusted Grant and Loki to be responsible... for the most part.

"Already wearing it!" Bobbi grinned.

Matt tilted his head. "I think I am going to read. On the veranda. If anyone needs me."

Karen glanced around. "I'll just go to the beach, too."

Sam looked at his son and daughter. "Either of you want company?"

Skye finished off the last of her juice and then looked at her mother. "What are you planning to do?"

"I wouldn't mind company..." Matt said softly to his father.

"I was thinking of seeing if I couldn't befriend one of the monkeys I've seen outside. Not tame, necessarily, since we can't take it back with us, but still..." May grinned, knowing that would catch Fitz's interest.

Jemma glanced toward her father. "Can we work on some more of that research we were doing last time we were here? Since we can't do it anywhere else?"

"I'd like to do that..." Bruce nodded.

"Well, Pepper and I are going to be wandering around, making plans for the villa and surrounding area... If anyone wants to join us."

Mack glanced toward his cousin and smiled. "Maybe after I've won a hand..." He eyed the center of the table, where all the bet M&Ms were, pushing ten of his own into it.

Ben chuckled slightly. "I'll go sit on the beach with Karen. There's something I wanted to ask, anyway." He grinned at the younger woman.

Sam smiled and wrapped his arm around Matt's shoulders. "Great," he said warmly then looked at his daughter. "Maybe we'll join you later," he suggested.

Fitz hesitated, torn between joining his father and sister and wanting to go along with May. He glanced at his younger brother and cousin. "What are you two going to do?"

Peter shrugged. "I figured we'd head down to the beach as well." While he didn't really speak for Harry, the two of them did often do things together... and Harry didn't seem inclined to argue with him.

Jemma laughed softly. "We have all day, Leo...you can help with the monkey first and then come do research...and then we can go to the beach..." She made the suggestion with a big smile.

"Okay, that sounds good." Fitz nodded.

Steve had joined the others in a game, but he smiled at Tony and Pepper. "I'll come and join you both later."

Tony nodded briefly, then wrapped his arm around Pepper's waist and led her off to 'make plans'.

Grant watched as everyone else continued their game and began to go do whatever they had planned, then glanced at his sister and cousins. "Let's go, then..."

There were various calls of goodbye from those staying and those going, as everyone wandered off to do various things.

***

Grant and his tiny group hadn't walked quickly- they weren't doing this to break any records after all. Grant, personally, wanted to get some idea of what was on the island. As secure as Tony likely made it- it never hurt to be prepared in case someone found a way to break that security. By the time they had covered half of the island- making note of various plant and wildlife as well as areas where someone might possibly try to sneak in (there weren't many-Tony was thorough) it was already close to lunch time. "If we walk fast we can be back at the villa in about thirty minutes- eat a decent lunch instead of these snacks- and then we can walk again going on the other side of the island. We'd end up here again and will have explored all of the perimeter at least..."

"Sounds good to me," Raina agreed. She was eyeing some fungus growing on the root of one tree, obviously interested in examining it more closely.

Loki chuckled. "I could just pop us back to the villa as well if you do not mind. It is not a great distance..."

"What if you need to teleport someone later? Won't it make you tired?" Kara slanted her head, having remembered Loki's need to rest between teleporting from the story told the night before.

"I was slightly younger then...I am a bit stronger in my power...but you are right. It is likely better to keep that in reserve in case of emergency." Loki agreed.

"Then we are agreed. Walk back for lunch and continue exploring after..." Grant grinned and turned to do just that, setting a brisk pace.

***

Most everyone else had returned for lunch, Lance having organised some fishing with his brother and cousin. The three of them were preparing the fish, having picked various fresh greens to make a salad, and were chatting amicably.

Bobbi grinned as she watched her cousins prepare the fish. "Looks good, fellas...need me to get anything to go with it?" She glanced over as her brother, sister and cousins traipsed into the villa's kitchen.

"We picked some fruit, if you'd like a fruit dish..." Kara grinned.

"I'm thinking I'm going to take a shower and clean up a bit..." Grant grimaced as sweat dripped into his eyes. "It's hotter than I was expecting...."

Lance caught Bobbi's eye and grinned. "Maybe you and Kara can work on the fruit dish?" he suggested.

Various other members of the family dipped into and out of the kitchen, taking drinks and utensils to the dining area.

Bobbi nodded and motioned Kara toward her. Soon, they were both washing and preparing the fruit. By the time Grant returned, freshly showered and dressed, everyone else had returned and were heading into the dining area.

"It really looks good...you all outdid yourselves," he said to his cousins as he saw the fish.

Lance gave him a quick grin. "Fishing was easy... I think we should make the most of it." Glancing at his brother, he added, "We didn't see any dolphins this time..."

Bakshi shrugged, even as he added a small amount of lemon juice to the salad. "It was still good."

"We were checking around to see if there were any possible places where our security could be breached. There were two places you might want to double check Tony. Otherwise, everything is as secure as Fort Knox..." He grinned at his cousin.

"I found some interesting Fungi too..." Raina added quietly.

Leo had come in, planning to see if he could help, and was in time to hear Raina's comment. "Did you collect any samples?" he asked her curiously.

"No..." Raina smiled slightly. "I didn't bring any supplies to gather items. But I know where they are and plan to go back later...."

"If you bring some samples back, I can help you run some tests," Leo offered, wanting to make an effort with his cousin.

Blake put the finishing touches to his dish and he, Lance and Bakshi began carrying the food through to the dining area and letting the others, who weren't there already, know that it was ready.

"I'll do that...a second opinion on results is good..." Raina's smile grew bigger.

Kara picked up the fruit salad she and Bobbi had made, carrying it to the table.

Leo waited for Raina to sit and then took a seat on one side of her, so he could engage her in conversation about the mushrooms.

It didn't take long for everyone to be settled and begin eating.

"Does anyone have any plans for after lunch?" Steve asked, looking around at his family members.

Grant swallowed the bite of food in his mouth and answered, "We were going to explore the other side of the island and see if there were any safety concerns there, like we did with the first side...."

"It was fun..." Kara nodded.

Raina grinned. "I can't say she was wrong. Maybe I'll see some other flowers or fungi to examine...."

Loki shrugged. "It was enjoyable. I would like to continue."

Coulson smiled at his son and daughter. "We were talking about heading to the beach... after you've explored the other side of the island, perhaps you'd like to join us?" he suggested.

Lance glanced at Bobbi. "Want to go exploring with me?" he asked.

Grant grinned. "Sure, dad. As soon as we reach the other end, we can come back. I'll wear my swim trunks on my walk, so I won't have to change...."

Kara perked up. "I'm finished eating now.... May I be excused to go change?"

Raina didn't bother asking or telling what she planned to do, just waited to see if they would be excused before she could go change herself.

"Yeah, exploring sounds fun!" Bobbi grinned at Lance.

Fury nodded to his daughter with a smile and then began organising clean-up with those who hadn't been involved with the food preparation.

***

It hadn't taken long for everyone to clean up, change and grab whatever items they were planning to use for the afternoon. They'd broken off into small groups again, some different than before, some the same. Grant smiled at the other three members of his family that were accompanying him on yet another walk. They'd accomplished a lot that morning, he felt; they'd been able to locate a few spots that had questionable security and inform Tony. Now, as they explored the other side of the island, walking to the far opposite point from the villa, he was happy to see that there were no areas that might need security bolstering. As a result, they had reached the far side of the island much quicker than they had that morning. "Well, looks like we have a few hours before dinner..." he said with a grin. "Want to see what's on this beach? After we check out the fungi that Raina was interested in?"

"That is agreeable to me. I do believe I see those dolphins our cousin was hoping to see. I will let him know and perhaps he will come out tomorrow to see them..." Loki said softly, his eyes scanning the horizon of the ocean. It was obvious he was just as enamored of seeing the dolphins as he expected their cousin to be.

Kara sidled up next to him, watching the mammals as well. "They're so playful..." She grinned. "...Makes me want to jump into the ocean to join them."

Raina was busy examining the fungus, but as she didn't bring any scientific supplies with her, she wasn't touching it. Grant was halfway between her and his cousins, unable to make up his mind what he wanted to do.

***

Coulson was taking advantage of the time to spend a bit of one-to-one with Natasha, who was always content to share him with her siblings, but he always tried to put aside a bit of time to spend with each one of them personally.

Right now, the two of them were quietly playing one of the board games involving strategy. Coulson, less concerned with the game and more so with his oldest daughter, was taking advantage of Natasha's divided attention to draw her into deeper conversation than she might normally allow.

And for all that Natasha knew what he was doing... she allowed herself to be drawn out in a way very few members from outside her family could.

***

Bobbi nudged Lance with her shoulder, giving him a glowing smile that came from the inside. She felt so relaxed and Lance truly was one of her favorite people; even if they argued a lot, when push came to shove he would always be one of the first, if not the first, people she would want in her corner. "Look up there..." she whispered, nodding her head toward a tree where a monkey sat holding her baby- and watching them suspiciously.

Lance was relaxed and happy walking with Bobbi, watching her as much as the scenery around them... though he followed the direction she indicated. "Did you bring a camera?" he whispered back to her, considering if he could take a picture on his phone for her.

"No..." Bobbi sounded regretful at the fact. "I didn't think I'd be seeing monkeys...."

***

Raina had observed all the fungi and various plants that were close by while Kara waded in the shallow part of the surf. Loki stood next to Grant, having a quiet conversation. Biting her lip, she looked toward the plants that were following a very faint trail toward the ocean; then, straightening up, she began to follow the trail of plants, right to the entrance of a cave that went down into the ground. Was this the cave that Tony had warned against...and that all the parental figures had forbidden? She suspected maybe it was; at the same time...there were no signs up and they hadn't really given a very good description of the cave…only that it was on the other side of the island. "Hey, Kara? Want to go exploring with me?" she called out to her cousin.

Kara quickly walked over to Raina, slipping her shoes back on as she did so. "Are you going in there?" she asked curiously, not even thinking about the fact that they'd been warned against going into the cave. To be honest, she'd not really paid all that much attention to the rules and warnings given out when they arrived, figuring that if she was about to do something she wasn't supposed to, someone would stop her.

Grant had come over by this point as well. "Do we really want to go in there? I'm pretty certain this is the cave we're supposed to stay out of."

"It's only dangerous at high tide..." Raina shrugged. "We'll be out of there before then. I only want to go in for a few minutes to see how far back these plants go..."

"If it's only for a few minutes and we leave immediately after we find out, I guess it can't hurt..." Grant's voice was hesitant, but he was just as curious as the girls were.

Loki didn't say anything. He didn't particularly want to go into the cave, but when all three of his cousins began to walk down into it, he followed. He liked the idea of being left alone on the beach even less; and if they needed his help with something, it would be easier if he was already there and not outside where they'd have to yell for him.

***

Steve had joined his sons, daughter and grandchildren at the beach, though he was currently sitting with Tony (who'd come a long way, but the water still wasn't his favourite place to be) and Pepper and watching the rest of his family members who were in the water.

Wanda had retreated to a spot by herself, while her brother regulated his speed in the water, and was going through some of the exercises her father had taught her. She'd been feeling a bit off the previous night and was hoping to avoid forcing any of her family to have bad dreams again.

Tony stretched, catlike then glanced at the sky. "T'will soon be time for dinner...shall we head back up and begin preparations, Pepper-mine?" He grinned at his fiancé impishly.

"I believe we were going to have chicken for the main course...I have an idea for using the fruits and vegetables we've picked, along with some spices I saw in the pantry..." Pepper easily agreed, standing up and brushing the sand off. "Should we tell everyone else so they can help?"

"Let them keep playing..." Tony shrugged, standing up himself and brushing off. "They'll make their way in eventually and can help then. Too many people in the kitchen and it will make things difficult instead of helping." He laughed.

***

They really had intended to just go in long enough to see where the plants ended and then turn around and leave the cave. The problem was, none of them had really been paying attention to the fact that the cave had more than one tunnel and it was easy to get turned around and lost. The fact they only had the tiny pen-flashlight that was attached to Grant's key-ring, didn't help. Before they knew it, they had been in the cave for an hour and couldn't figure out which way to go. "I can't believe we're lost..." Grant muttered to himself.

"Um...I don't think that's our only problem..." Kara said nervously.

Raina frowned moving closer to Grant since he had the light. "What do you mean...?" she began, only to stop with quick inhalation of breath. Water was pooling around her feet and from the feel of things, it was rising rapidly.

Loki had been standing stock still, focusing. Opening his eyes, he quickly grabbed Kara by the arm then moved close to Grant and Raina. "I believe we need to go this way...we should likely run..." He pointed in the direction he thought they should go.

No one argued, beginning to jog toward where he'd indicated. It was quickly obvious they weren't going to make it, though.

"Stop!" Loki finally yelled to Grant and Raina, who were ahead of Kara and him by several feet. "I will need to teleport us out. You must hold onto me tightly...." He moved closer, not saying anything as Grant and Raina quickly turned and swam back to him, grabbing onto his other arm tightly.

"You are able to teleport yourself and all three of us?" Grant couldn't hide the worry in his tone.

"I can," Loki said. "I may be weak and unable to access my power for a day or so after; it takes more energy to safely teleport others and the energy needed is increased greatly with each added person... but we no longer have a choice." He glanced around. "Are you all holding tightly?" The water was over the women's heads by now and was to the men's chins, the waves of it rolling over their heads enough times to make talking difficult. Loki waited only long enough to hear from each cousin that they were holding tightly before he drew every bit of his power and focused on getting them out of the cave.

***

By that time, Coulson and Natasha had finished their game and Coulson had headed through to the kitchen to help with food preparation, his daughter trailing him. Along the way, he was joined by Fury... and Thor, who planned to show his father the Midgardian way of cooking.

The three fathers were deep in relaxed conversation as they stepped into the kitchen to join the others.

Tony grinned at Steve, then turned and waved at Fury, Coulson, and Odin. "Hey…Thor. We've left a spot for you over there to make whatever you'd planned..." He motioned toward an empty counter as he began to rinse the chicken he was holding and then began to spice it.

***

Just as Loki was about to disappear with his cousins, the current ripped Kara away from him and he had to quickly stop, lest he leave her behind. At that same moment, the water covered his and Grant's heads. It was only a matter of seconds, though it felt like minutes, that he quickly grabbed his youngest cousin's hand again in a death grip. He could feel both Raina and Grant still grasping him tightly. Afraid that if he waited to concentrate on a direction, he'd lose one of them again, he just teleported...and hoped that they ended up somewhere safe.

Since the current of incoming ocean water was exceedingly strong, it managed to knock all of their feet out from under them just as he teleported.

When he opened his eyes, Loki was at the bottom of a pile of tangled limbs; Kara on his chest, Raina draped over both of them with an arm trapped underneath of him somehow and a knee pressing against his ear, while Grant was on top of them all...his arm trapped underneath Kara. They were all four coughing too hard to try and untangle themselves, seaweed caught in their hair and muddy water dripping onto the kitchen floor.

Coulson and Fury quickly headed to their children's side, with Odin only a few seconds behind them.

"I'll go and get towels... and Bruce." Steve hurriedly left the kitchen, returning with the promised towels, which he handed to each father so they could get their respective children dry, before he headed back out and to the beach to get his other son.

Grant winced and attempted to get his arm out from under his cousin so that he could stand up and get off the top of all of them. "Damn...I'm caught on something..." he muttered, wincing again. "...Sorry..." He tried to figure out a way that he could get off of them when his arm was trapped under them, without hurting anyone in the process.

"Why didn't anyone warn me we'd be playing twister?" Kara muttered into Loki's chest. "...And such a painful version of it at that?"

Raina snorted at the question and sighed. "Yeah...this isn't working...."

"I do not have enough energy to teleport myself out from under you all, so as soon as you figure something out, let me know. I will just lie here resting..." Loki sighed and closed his eyes wearily.

Bruce came into the kitchen just as Loki spoke those words, Steve and Bucky on his heels; the rest of the family not too far behind them. "Dad, Uncle Bucky, Thor and Uncle Odin; if you four would assist in the untangling- you may have to lift Grant and Raina up just high enough for Kara to slide out from underneath, which will then free Grant and should allow Loki to sit up, which will free Raina..." he said clinically. "Theoretically, anyway. If Uncle Phil and Uncle Nick want to stand by with the towels... Jemma, sweetheart, go get my medical bag, please?"

Jemma quickly disappeared to get her father's bag.

Thor, Steve and Odin quickly moved, Thor and his father taking hold of Grant to lift him and Steve doing the same to Raina alongside Bucky. Careful not to cause any pain to their family members, Thor glanced worriedly at his father. He couldn't think of any reason for his brother and cousins to teleport here wet and was worried they were more hurt, along with Loki's obvious exhaustion.

Fury and Coulson were both very worried, standing by with the towels so they could dry their children off as fast as possible.

As soon as Grant and Raina were lifted off of her, Kara carefully slid out, freeing Grant's arm. She gingerly stood, testing out her ability to stand, grimacing as her shoes squelched out muddy cave water.

As soon as his arm was freed, Grant let out a sigh of relief. "I'm loose, you can put me down, thank you..." His voice was subdued.

As soon as Kara and Grant were out of the way, Loki carefully sat up, enabling Raina to get her arm back. He sat on the ground for a bit longer, though. Transporting himself and three other people under a high stress situation as quickly as he had, for the distance he had, truly made him tired. He didn't want to stand up and then fall flat on his face, especially not with all the family watching.

Raina waited until she was carefully set on her feet before saying anything. "Thank you for helping me..." she said to her two uncles, before looking back at Loki. "Are you alright?" she asked worriedly, before coughing again.

"I will be fine after eating and resting. I do not think I will be exploring anymore for a while, though..." He didn't comment on the fact that he somehow doubted if they'd be allowed to. He wasn't sure what to say or how much to admit, although he knew they would have to say something.

Coulson was quick to hand off a towel to Thor, who crouched down next to his brother and began drying him off without a second thought... though he did shift so their father could check Loki for any obvious injuries, even though he knew Bruce would be better placed to spot anything.

Fury wrapped a towel around Kara, drying her off to get her warm as quickly as possible. "Once Bruce has checked you over, we'll find some dry clothes for you to change into," he said.

Coulson hadn't thought to ask any of the family members for help, instead draping a towel each over Grant and Raina and helping each to dry off in turn. "The same goes for both of you... though while Bruce is checking you all over, one of you can explain what happened."

Bruce began with Loki, as the Asgardian Prince seemed the worse off of all of them. After listening to his lungs and checking for obvious injuries, he was mostly convinced that what Loki needed was to dry off, warm up and rest. After quickly checking the others, he determined that none of them were obviously hurt, although he wanted to keep an eye on them, due to the fact they obviously had inhaled water. "I believe you all will be alright with rest; however, you will remain in the company of your father or another family member for the next twenty-four hours, in case something happens that I was unable to diagnose. Inhaling water is not safe and sometimes the effects of it do not occur until hours after the fact...."

"Yes, sir..." Kara mumbled, the only one of the four to answer verbally. The others all nodded in agreement, though, knowing that even if they didn't want to follow the directions, their fathers and siblings would insure they did.

Loki glanced around at all the others, waiting for one of them to begin their explanations. Noticeably, none of them did. Clearing his throat, he glanced toward his father and tried to keep things as non-comital as possible without lying. "I had to transport us all back rather quickly, which is why I am...weary..." he said hesitantly. A sure sign that he felt guilty about something.

Coulson nodded to his nephew, indicating he had heard and understood Bruce... and he had already determined that he, at least, was not going to let either Raina or Grant out of his sight.

Odin's relationship with his youngest son might have suffered in the past, but now, he tended to be able to read both sons well... and he was fairly certain he knew Loki was hiding something. "Why did you have to transport all of you so quickly?" he asked outright.

Steve watched, wondering if his suspicions were correct... that the four of them had entered the cave they'd been forbidden from going into. It was, after all, the most dangerous place on the island.

Kara bit her lip. "We were exploring..." she added hesitantly. Since she'd not been paying attention during the point where they'd been told not to go in the cave, she wasn't sure if she was in trouble or not.

Grant looked at the ground and ran a hand through wet hair. He knew eventually the truth would come out. "We lost track of where we were..." He began only to be interrupted by Raina.

"We went into the cave. It was my idea..." she started.

"But we all chose to join you..." Loki finished, finally standing up and swaying in place.

Thor stood with his brother and quickly wrapped an arm around his shoulders, while their father moved to Loki's other side to support him. "We will take you to the bedroom," Thor said, his concern obvious.

Coulson sighed and looked at his son and daughter. "Do either of you want to wash off before putting on dry clothes?" he asked them.

Fury didn't ask. He just began leading Kara from the kitchen.

Loki just nodded, allowing himself to be led to the room he shared with his brothers and father. He didn't say anything.

"Would you like to have a shower or bath before resting?" Odin asked, his voice concerned. Right now, his focus was on taking care of Loki and making sure he recovered... they could talk about what had happened later.

"I would like a shower, I believe," Loki said quietly, before beginning to undress the minute he was safely in their suite. He was too tired to care about modesty; not that he'd been overly shy or bashful to begin with.

Odin nodded. "Would you like me or your brother to be in the bathroom with you? Or just wait outside with the door unlocked, in case there are any problems?" he asked.

Loki blinked and looked up in surprise at the offer, but then slanted his head to give the question serious thought. "I do not believe I was injured in any way...I did not inhale water as my cousins did. I am just...exhausted..." he admitted. Frowning, he glanced at his father. "I do not wish to worry either of you. If you feel it is better for someone to remain with me, then...I would not object to you being there," he said to his father quietly. "I will be able to confess while cleaning and you will have no need to wait for your answers."

Odin wrapped an arm around Loki's shoulders, to offer him both support and comfort. "Very well."

"I will remain here... so I will not be far if either of you need me." Thor gave his brother a reassuring smile.

Odin gently led Loki through to the bathroom, retrieving his towel.

Loki nodded at Thor with a grateful smile. He could hear Mack coming into the suite, likely wanting to check and make sure he was alright.

Once Thor had gone into the other room, Loki quickly ran water into the tub, stepping in and sliding down till his shoulders were covered by the water. He washed his hair first, then the rest of himself. Finally, he lay back wearily, letting himself soak for a tiny bit longer before getting out.

He looked at his father, a chagrined and guilty look in his eye. "We disobeyed. We went into the cave we were told not to...and got turned around and unable to find our way out. We had hoped to get out without my having to teleport, but then the tide came in and suddenly, it was urgent and we had no choice but for me to get us all out. Even so, I was almost too late; we were all under water...." His voice was calm but regretful. He really couldn't say why he'd thought it a good idea to disobey. That his cousins could have drowned made it worse.

"I know you were told not to go into the cave." Odin's voice was mild as he handed Loki his towel, pausing to see if he needed any help drying off. "There is never a good reason to put yourself in that kind of danger."

Loki only dried off haphazardly, too weary to bother drying thoroughly. "You are right, sir..." His voice was sad and guilty. "I know we were wrong...I was wrong. I deserve to be punished..." His voice was little more than a whisper at the end. He stopped drying and glanced around for clothing he'd forgotten to bring in the bath. His hair was still dripping.

Odin stepped closer to his son, reaching out to briskly dry him off. "I'll ask one of your brothers to bring in some clean clothes," he said, toweling off Loki's hair.

"Yes, sir." Loki stood still, grateful for his father's help. "Will you...would you..?" He hesitated, his face turning red. He knew he would be spanked...they'd all acted dangerously...but he didn't want to wait until he'd rested for it to occur. Not when he suspected it would be several days before his energy returned fully.

Odin left Loki's side just long enough to retrieve the clothes from Thor. He returned to his other son and began helping him dress without asking. "What is it?" he asked, his voice calm and gentle.

Loki couldn't face his father and ask his question. He felt ashamed at himself. "I know what I did wrong... I know why it was wrong... I'm...I'm sorry and ashamed and... Please punish me?" He winced, his face feeling hot. If his father hadn't been dressing him, he would have hid.

Odin frowned, though he didn't pause in dressing his son. "I am not entirely comfortable punishing you when you are this weak," he said seriously.

"I do not like having my poor choices stand between us," Loki said, in a tiny voice.

Odin finished helping Loki with his clothes and looked into his son's eyes. "How are you feeling?" he asked seriously.

Loki swallowed. "Beyond like a foolish, disobedient child?" he asked, in an almost childlike tone, but an obviously rhetorical manner. "I am sorely tired. But that tiredness will take time to abate, at least a day...possibly two. And I am not hurting in any other manner...."

"If you feel you are unable to wait, then we will deal with it now... but I would prefer not to harm you any further," Odin said honestly.

Loki bit his lower lip and looked close to crying, his exhaustion making it hard to control his emotions. "I do not know about harming me; I do not feel any pain...except here...." He put his fist to his heart. "I do not wish you to be angry, or upset or disappointed in me and...and..." He roughly ran the back of his hand over his eyes. "I am sorry.... And I...I think I need for you to decide what I need. I am very confused..." he admitted.

Odin responded by wrapping his arms around his son in a tight hug. "Then we will deal with it and it will be over with," he promised. "But there is nothing that could make me love you any less."

Loki only nodded against his father's chest. "I love you too, daddy..." He shivered, calming down considerably when he realized his father wasn't going to leave him to suffer in his guilt.

"I'll ask your brothers to give us some privacy." Odin carefully led Loki into the bedroom, quietly suggesting to Thor and Mack they might want to join the others for food.

"Of course, dad," Mack agreed quickly, leaving the suite and heading back downstairs to eat with the others.

"We'll bring some food up for you," Thor promised, before following his younger brother.

Once the two of them were gone, Odin drew Loki over to the bed and took a seat, gently tugging his son across his lap.

Loki willingly went, wrapping his arms around his father's leg in a tight hug and holding on.

Rubbing Loki's back gently a moment or two, Odin then bared him before lifting his hand and bringing it down in the first hard swat that he then repeated.

Loki barely grunted, but his grip did tighten considerably. The fact he was already crying was also very obvious.

Taking a tighter grip on Loki, Odin continued landing the swats down to his thighs and then started over from the top. It was during the second circuit he began speaking. "You shouldn't have been in the cave. Not only because you were disobeying clear orders... but you could have gone through a lot worse than exhaustion."

"Ye...yes, daddy..." Loki choked out. He'd realized that immediately when the water had started pouring in. What hurt the worst was that he knew if he had protested his cousins' plans, they would likely have listened. If any of them had died, he would not have forgiven himself.

"If anything had happened to you, all of us would have been devastated," Odin said seriously, as he completed the second circuit and began a third, increasing the force and speed a bit.

Loki couldn't stop his tears from becoming louder. "I'm sorry, daddy...I'm sorry..." He sobbed, fully repentant, but having no idea how to convey the fact. Finally, he just gave up and went completely limp over his father's knee. "I'm sorry, daddy..." he whispered, as he grasped forlornly at his father's leg.

Odin finished with a final two swats and then stopped, quickly gathering his son into a close, tight embrace.

Loki threw his arms around his father and burrowed close, sobbing. "I almost lost her, daddy....the water just ripped her away from me...if I hadn't got her hand...."

Odin held his son tight, gently stroking his hair. "You were able to grab her," he said reassuringly. "You saved her... you saved all of them." He didn't point out they wouldn't have needed saving if they hadn't entered the cave, not wanting to make Loki feel worse.

"I...I shouldn't have needed to save her..." Loki sounded broken. Maybe if he weren't as tired as he was, he could have dealt with his guilt and fear better; but he was that tired. And if he couldn't admit he knew how wrong he was to his father, who could he admit it to?

"You shouldn't have needed to," Odin agreed. "But after you got trapped, you were able to save her." He kissed the top of his son's head.

"Why do I keep doing things you tell me not to do?" Loki sniffled, snuggling closer to his father. "I used to be better at following orders...it was Thor who'd rush off and do the opposite of what was expected...but Thor grew up and I..." He winced and sniffled again, pressing as close to Odin as he could. He left unsaid that he felt like he'd regressed in maturity.

Odin gently stroked his hair. "Your brother is older than you," he pointed out. "And you are one of the younger members of the family, in terms of your maturity, despite your experiences. There are going to be mistakes. They aren't the end of the world and when they need to be, they will be dealt with."

"Ok..." Loki snuggled closer still, his crying finally ceasing; just in time for him to fall asleep in his father's arms.

Odin stood, careful not to wake his son, and carefully carried Loki towards the bed. Settling his son in under the blankets, he sat on the edge of the bed, so he'd be there for when Loki woke up.

***

Mack was downstairs, helping finish up dinner. "I think I will eat upstairs with my father; he's staying with Loki, to make certain all that is wrong with him is exhaustion. It looks and smells great...." He smiled at everyone as he made two plates and drinks and put them on a tray...then waited for Thor to do the same, since he suspected his older brother would be joining them too.

Thor put his own food on his tray, placing some on for Loki... since, although he suspected his brother would be resting, he wanted there to be some food for when Loki woke up. "I am ready," he told his brother.

"Later!" Mack grinned at the rest if the family, before heading upstairs to feed his father and brother, Thor following.

***

"Yes, sir, I'd like a shower, if that's okay..." Grant answered.

"Me too..." Raina sounded more confident than she had a right to, Grant thought, but then again, she hadn't been in trouble with their father yet either. She'd figure it out soon enough.

Coulson nodded as he led them towards their room. "I won't insist on staying in the bathroom while you both shower... however, I do expect you to do so with the door not actually locked. If something happens, I'm going to need to get in to you."

***

Kara had gone with her father to their own suite, snuggling close the whole time. She snuggled closer to her father, oblivious to the trail of dirty water she left in her wake, or the fact she was getting her father wet.

Fury led Kara immediately to the bathroom. "Would you rather have a shower or a bath?" he asked her, his voice gentle.

“Bath?” Kara answered quietly.

Collecting his daughter's towel and pajamas from the room, Fury led her into the bathroom and began running the water for a bath.

Kara put the lid on the toilet down and sat, not moving to remove her clothing. She seemed lost in thought, a pensive little pout on her face. She felt guilty. She may not have heard any of the 'rules' that they'd been given when first arriving, but she knew that wasn't an excuse to break them. She should have been listening and not depending on other people to warn her away from trouble. And it was obvious by the way everyone else acted that going into the cave had been a rule they weren't meant to break. She sniffled, then coughed lightly, suddenly unable to look at her father. "Was it terribly naughty of me to go in the cave?" she asked hesitantly, figuring the fact that they'd almost drowned meant it was a lot more than just 'naughty', but not sure she wanted it confirmed.

As much as she liked her father being in charge, freeing her up to concentrate on remembering her past and relearning things, instead of on making decisions for things that she sometimes got conflicting ideas about, she didn't like the results when she ignored what he told her. Especially when she knew the results were a full-fledged spanking. Reminder spankings were one thing; they didn't really hurt and made her feel safe. Real spankings? Well, she couldn't argue that they made her feel unsafe- they didn't...they made her feel safe too, for different reasons, but they hurt! And she always ended up crying like a baby. And because he never spanked for anything less than risking her life, her father always had an undertone, if not full blown tone, of worry in his voice as he scolded...so she could never be upset about the fact that he was making her bottom sore, only feel guilty that she'd worried him so deeply he felt a need to make her bottom sore. About the only good thing about getting a full-fledged spanking was the cuddles and forgiveness after. Those she liked. She sighed forlornly. "I'm not going to be able to sit right for the rest of the evening, am I?"

Fury's face was serious when he looked at his daughter. "From what it looks like, Loki was only just able to teleport all of you here in time. Things could have been a lot worse. Endangering yourself for any reason is not acceptable." He didn't raise his voice, but there was a heavy weight behind his words.

Kara bit her lip, remembering that brief moment when she'd lost her grip on Loki, right before he'd grabbed her hand. She was completely engulfed by the rushing water. She'd known in that brief few seconds that she was going to die; and then Loki had thankfully grabbed her and then they were on the kitchen floor. It had all happened so fast, she hadn't really processed the fact.

"I almost drowned..." she admitted in a whisper; not wanting to worry or upset her father more, but not wanting to hide anything from him, either. "I lost hold of him...but he somehow grabbed my hand at the last second...."

Fury's eyes narrowed in worry and he reached out to gently squeeze his daughter's hand. "You're safe now," he said... as if trying to convince himself as much as her. The bath had finished running and he stood to help her undress.

Kara nodded mutely, standing up and holding still so her father could undress her; even if it made her a baby, she didn't do anything to help herself. She was finally realizing that one second too late and she would still be back in the cave underwater...dead. It caused her to shiver uncontrollably as her close call finally registered; her fingers were unable to grasp anything long enough to do any good and it was easier to let her father take care of her.

Fury helped his daughter into the bath, kissing the top of her head. He paused to see if she needed him to wash her hair or back, but still stayed in contact with her.

Kara washed everywhere she could reach easily. She couldn't reach her back...as for her hair, she'd have to lower herself down into the water to do that and she found she didn't particularly want to do that. Even though her father was right beside her and she knew he wouldn't let her drown, it was too hard to sink down into the water to get her hair ready to wash, let alone rinse, suds out. She hunched forward so that her back was exposed, then bit her lip and gave her father a wide-eyed, hesitant look, silently asking for either help or permission to just leave her hair dirty.

Fury immediately moved to start washing his daughter's hair, careful not to get soap in her eyes even while rinsing.

Kara couldn't help but shiver when the water went over her head. She didn't scare easily. She wasn't sure why she would have been so bothered about the water going over her head when they actually got out- she hadn't drowned- but it did bother her. Only the fact that her father was there and she knew he would never let her drown allowed her to keep from panicking. Even if she didn't panic, her breathing still increased in speed. But she held still as her father finished washing her hair for her and held still so he could wash her back...and she thought about what she could say to him, what explanation she could give, because she knew, 'I wasn't paying attention when you were giving out the rules and so didn't know I wasn't supposed to' would make him more unhappy. Sighing softly, she whispered, "I'm sorry...."

"I know." Fury finished, each movement gentle, and then helped his daughter out of the bath. Wrapping the towel around her, he began carefully drying her off.

Kara held still as her father dried her then carefully pulled on the pajamas he'd brought in for her. As soon as she was dressed, she threw her arms around him tightly. "I love you, daddy, and I'm ready to answer questions and I'm sorry I disappointed you..." she mumbled into his chest.

Fury hugged her tight, kissing the top of her head. "We'll go and talk in our room," he said, knowing his sons knew he had Kara in hand and would give the two of them the space they needed.

"Ok, daddy..." Kara snuggled closer and allowed her father to lead her into their room.

Fury led Kara into the bedroom and walked over to sit on the bed, drawing his daughter down to sit next to him. "Can you explain to me, in your own words, what happened?"

"Well, we were walking and looking at stuff...and Raina was interested in those mushrooms she told everyone about...and they went into the cave and she wanted to see if there was any variation or something to those in the cave from those outside...and at first, Grant and Loki seemed reluctant, but then they agreed...and I thought it might be fun to go explore a cave and since all the others weren't talking each other out of it, I figured it would be ok...and we went in and somehow got turned around and lost and before we could find our way out, the water was going really quick and Loki decided the only way out was him teleporting us...and he had us all hold onto him, but I lost my grip, but somehow, he grabbed me again and then we were in the kitchen...." She rushed through the explanation with one breath, before gulping in air and giving her father a nervous look.

Fury kept his arm around Kara's shoulders throughout the explanation and when she finished, he sighed and looked at her seriously. "You were all told not to enter that cave in particular even before we'd all settled in," he pointed out, then waited to see what his daughter would say to that.

Kara bit her lip and turned red with shame. "I wasn't really listening when the rules were being given out," she admitted, with a wince. "I figured, if I wasn't 'sposed to, someone would stop me...."

Fury sighed. "You can't always rely on someone else to keep you out of trouble," he said, his voice gentle but still serious. "You need to listen to rules when they're explained. They're for your own safety."

Kara bit her lip and swallowed, looking down at her hands. "I...I know. I knew...I..." Slumping, she finally looked up into her father's eyes again. "I should have listened," she admitted softly. "Everything I did was the wrong thing..." she admitted even more softly. "I...I need to be more responsible...I know this...I can't imagine that I was ever so irresponsible before; I'd never have lasted as a SHIELD agent if I was...so..." She blinked back tears that were suddenly sliding down her face. "I'm sorry, daddy...." Sniffling once more, she stood and shifted so that she was closer to her father's knee, but found her bravery and willingness to accept consequences for her actions fled when it came to actually bending over and placing herself on her father's knee. Even if she wanted to be more responsible...it was too difficult. Especially when she hadn't been deliberately pushing for her father to take her in hand. It truly had been accidental; or, at least, as accidental as not paying attention and listening allowed it to be.

Fury took a gentle hold of his daughter's wrist and drew her across his lap. Securing her with an arm wrapped around her waist, he bared her and then brought his hand down in the first hard swat that he then repeated.

"Ow..." Kara couldn't help the tiny whimper that escaped as her father began to punish her. Between feeling so guilty about completely ignoring his attempts to protect her- she knew she should have paid attention and listened- and the fear she'd felt for those moments before Loki had gotten them all to safety...she really wasn't in a strong place emotionally. Being brave and accepting the punishment without reacting immediately was beyond her. Even if she had been able to be brave and accept it without reacting immediately with someone else, it would have required her to pretend she wasn't affected and that was something she couldn't do with her father. When it came to Fury, Kara was an open book; she just wasn't able to pretend with him, so didn't see any point in trying. Within seconds of the second swat landing, tears were streaming from her eyes and she reached up miserably to wipe them away, even as she grasped onto her father's leg tightly with the other hand.

Fury completed the first circuit of swats, pausing briefly to rub his daughter's back, before he started the second circuit. It was then he began speaking. "Putting yourself in danger... in any kind of danger... is not acceptable. If Loki hadn't grabbed you in time and something had happened, it would have devastated the whole family."

"I know, daddy!" Kara wailed softly, trying to at least keep her voice down, even if she couldn't prevent any of her other reactions. "I'm soooorrry!" she hiccoughed, before starting to sob and squirm over Fury's lap. Even if he wasn't swatting as hard as he could have- and for all she knew, he wasn't swatting as hard as he normally did- Kara just wasn't able to keep it together emotionally and it made it hurt worse than it normally did (at least, it seemed to).

It was hard, but Fury forced himself to continue, swatting a bit harder and faster. "You need to listen when you're told not to do something or not to go somewhere," he scolded.

"Y..y..yes, daddy!" Kara agreed easily enough...She had regretted not listening before her father ever found out she'd not paid attention. Sobbing louder and squirming even more frantically at the harder, faster swats, she finally threw both hands back to try and cover her bottom, nearly sending herself face-first onto the floor in the process.

Fury tightened his hold on his daughter, moving her hands out of the way and against her back as he delivered a final few swats to her sit spots and thighs and then stopped, gathering Kara into a close, tight embrace.

"Ow...ow...ow...Daaaaddy!" Kara somehow managed to whine pathetically in a sob, while curling up into her father's arms as tightly as she could get. She wasn't ashamed to admit she needed him to hold her...tightly. Once assured that he wasn't going to let go, she just continued to cry, though it was more to release the final remnants of her fear and guilt than because of pain. As much as it had hurt during the spanking, it hadn't lasted much beyond the final swat. She shifted gingerly. Ok...maybe it hurt a little bit beyond the final swat, the swatted area sensitive and tender.

Fury hugged his daughter tight and kissed the top of her head. "I love you," he said to her, his voice soft. "I don't ever want to risk losing you."

"Wish your love didn't sting so much..." she mumbled impishly, snuggling just that tiny bit closer. She continued, more seriously, "I love you too, daddy. I'm sorry I worry you...."

"I worry about you because I love you," Fury said. "It's a part of being your father." He kissed her forehead.

Kara hummed slightly under her breath and continued to snuggle for a few moments more before she reluctantly stood and fixed her clothing. "Will we be eating downstairs with everyone else?" she asked softly, even as she sat back on her father's lap so she could snuggle some more, only a slight wince betraying the fact that she could still feel her father's admonishment. She put her head on Fury's shoulder, her eyes partly closing.

"What would you prefer to do?" Fury asked gently.

"I...I think maybe I want to just be with you and Trip and Brock tonight..." she admitted, almost shyly. "I...I'm not really hungry, even though I know you expect me to eat...and what I really want is to just cuddle...."

"I do expect you to eat, but we can ask your brothers to bring some food up for you both," Fury suggested.

"Thank you, daddy..." Kara's voice was childlike as she continued to snuggle. "I...I feel afraid to leave you...as long as you're holding me, I feel safe, but as soon as I move away, I feel anxious...but it'd be hard for you to eat with me sitting on your lap..." She sounded a little sad.

"You can sit next to me," Fury suggested, after tapping out a quick message to his sons, asking them to bring food for him and Kara.

Kara smiled happily. "Ok..." She leaned against her father, continuing to snuggle, even as he sent the message to her brothers. She'd just follow her father wherever he took her.

Ten minutes later, Trip was knocking on door to Fury's room. "We've got the food out here in the sitting area, dad..." he called in gently, not wanting to walk in and disturb his father and sister unless invited. He glanced over at Brock, who was placing the plates of food around the coffee table.

"I hope everyone wanted juice...that's what I brought up," Brock said quietly, as his father and sister came out of the bedroom and walked toward the couches.

Fury smiled in thanks at his sons and settled on the couch, drawing his daughter down next to him. "Everything you've brought up is fine," he said.

Kara smiled at both her brothers, then began eating, staying as close to her father as she could without hindering his own ability to eat.

***

Bobbi had watched as Loki and Kara had both gone up to their individual suites with their fathers, noting that the siblings had gathered food for all their immediate family so they could go up as well when the coast was clear. Without any thought at all, she began to prepare plates for Grant, Raina and their father. She wasn't certain if everyone in her family would be joining her father, brother and sister once Coulson had taken care of matters, but she wanted to be sure they at least had a meal ready.

Clint smiled at his baby sister, then at Nat, Wanda and Pietro. "I'm thinking when dad is ready for them to eat, we can all join them. We have one of the larger suites and there is enough seating and the coffee table is large enough to hold all the plates..." He glanced toward the rest of the family, whose family members didn't get into any trouble. "Is that all right with the rest of you?" he asked the remaining parental figures.

Steve nodded. "I'm sure you can always leave the food on a lower heat," he suggested. "When your father's ready, let me know... I'll help you all carry the food up to your room."

"Thanks, Uncle Steve." Bobbi smiled.

****

Grant had followed his father to their suite, Raina between them. He was quiet, thinking about what he'd done...and he knew there was no good reason for it. He felt guilty and ashamed of his actions and the slump in his shoulders gave that fact away easily.

Raina wasn't sure what to expect...although she suspected what she should expect. To her surprise, she felt as guilty and ashamed as Grant looked. She hadn't expected to feel guilt or shame. She swallowed hard as they trailed their father into the sitting area.

Coulson kept in contact with his son and daughter, guiding them over to one of the longer couches and taking a seat with one on either side of him. "I'd like both of you to explain to me, in your own words, what happened." His voice was firm, but still held a gentle undercurrent. He made no attempt to hide how worried he was about what had happened.

Raina glanced at Grant, then took a deep breath and began. "I was examining different fungi and noticed it went back into the cave. I wanted to see if there was any variation between what was outside the cave and what was in it...."

"I went with her because I didn't want her going in alone," Grant said quietly. "I knew it was wrong...I should have tried harder to convince her not to go, instead of letting her convince me to go."

"Was there any confusion about the cave?" Coulson asked them directly. "I assume you recognised it as being the one everyone was warned against entering... my understanding is it's more like a hole than a cave, which was why the warning was given. You were very lucky that Loki was able to teleport all of you out."

"No, sir...." Twin answers filled with shame and regret responded to Coulson.

Grant continued, "We knew exactly what cave it was. We wanted to see it and thought, since high tide was at least two hours away and we were going to be there five minutes at most, we'd be alright."

"We were very lucky Loki was able to get us out. We got turned around inside the cave and couldn't find the opening...." Raina whispered.

Coulson nodded. "If something had happened to either of you... to any of you... it would have been devastating. Not just to me, but everyone else here." He squeezed them both gently, even as he addressed his daughter. "I know you haven't personally experienced how we handle things in the family yet, Raina... I think we should have our discussion first."

Raina swallowed and tried not to get even more nervous as she noticed her brother wincing. "Ok..." she whispered uncertainly, not entirely sure what she would need to do; and if her brother would be present for it.

Grant took a tiny breath and let it out in an unhappy sigh before asking, "Do you want me to go wait in my bedroom?"

Coulson nodded to his son. "That would probably be best." While they had both got into trouble together, he didn't think either would cope with being in the same room, even if he stood one of them in the corner.

Grateful that he was being allowed to go to the other room, Grant quickly stood and walked into his bedroom and shut the door softly behind him. He went and sat on his bed, shoulders slumped and head bowed so he was staring at the floor.

Raina finally looked up into Coulson's face. "I shouldn't have encouraged disobedience in anyone, let alone think of it myself. I knew the reason the cave was off limits. It was hubris to think that I would be able to do it safely and didn't need to listen to the warnings..." she admitted in a whisper. "I...I am not used to feeling this...this sense of guilt and remorse...nothing bad happened to any of us, even if it could have, so I do not need to feel guilt over anyone being hurt. My guilt is completely because I...I disappointed you and failed to meet your expectations for me. That I worried you with what could have happened. I've never cared about anyone's expectations or if they'd be disappointed before..." She sounded confused and a little put out about the fact.

Coulson wrapped both of his arms around Raina in a tight hug. "You have a family who cares about your safety and well-being," he pointed out, his voice gentle. "Even if you aren't used to having that... I think you know and believe that I love you and you are as much my daughter as your siblings are my sons and daughters."

"So...because I know I am yours now, it matters when I disregard your opinion and feelings...it matters when I disappoint you..." The confusion was gone from her voice this time, even if she did sound a little irritated by the realization. "I don't like feeling guilty this way....if it is tied to how we are now tied together, I won't be able to behave the way I did before, or I'll always feel guilty..." She huffed slightly, but sounded resigned to the fact. It was telling that, instead of pulling away from the hug, she snuggled closer.

Coulson gently stroked her hair. "Doing something to make you feel this way isn't the end of the world. We'll deal with what happened, which will be a punishment... but after that, it will be over with. I don't hold grudges. We won't keep having to talk about this... and although it is painful and emotional, it will be over fast and you will be forgiven."

"I believe you...and I trust you...doesn't make it easier. And I...I'd rather not do things to disappoint or upset you anyway; it's just going to be hard. I've always done what I wanted when I wanted without...boundary. Even when I had boundaries, I found ways around them...but I can't do that now if it will upset you, because I'll feel guilty. And...I don't like pain." She frowned faintly, not realizing how much like a pout it looked.

"I know." Coulson threaded his fingers through her hair. "That's one of the reasons it's effective. But even though it'll hurt... it won't harm you."

"No...just make me feel like a naughty child who can't control herself to the point Daddy needs to step in..." She sighed, her face turning pink. "Another way it's effective...." Biting her lip, she glanced up into her father's face. "What do I need to do?" she finally asked quietly, resolved to accept the consequences of her actions like an adult, even if she felt anything but at the moment.

"You don't need to do anything," Coulson said gently. "I'm going to take you over my lap and bare you... and then the spanking will begin." He waited long enough to let that sink in and then added action to words.

Raina turned even brighter red. It was bad enough to be in a position where Coulson felt the need to correct her...but it was in such a personal way that she couldn't even hope to pretend it meant nothing. She felt guilty and ashamed...and now she also felt completely out of her depth and out of control. It was unsettling. She didn't fight the position, though, instead quietly reaching down and holding onto her father's leg. "I will never be in this position again if there is anything at all I can do to avoid it...I'll do my best to listen from now on..." she promised herself, almost as much as she was promising Coulson.

"Even if you make a mistake, it isn't the end of the world," Coulson promised. "And it won't change how I feel about you." Taking a tighter grip on his daughter, he bared her before gently rubbing her back a few moments and then bringing his hand down in the first sharp swat.

She let out a tiny hiss at the first swat, surprised at how much it stung. She knew he wasn't using nearly as much force as he could, so the fact that it still hurt made quite an impression. "M...maybe not," she finally forced out, between clenched teeth as she tensed up and tried to 'prepare' herself for the swats to come. "..But I...I don't like this. I'm a big girl...I should know how to be good...and not get into trouble...and upset you so you have to spank me...." If she'd realized that the vulnerability she felt had caused her to fall into using somewhat childish phrasing for her explanations, she would have been even more embarrassed, but she didn't realize.

"You aren't alone in this." Coulson's gentle voice was in stark contrast to the swats he was delivering. "Being part of a family doesn't mean you're perfect or that you don't make mistakes. It means you're loved, unconditionally, no matter what."

"Even when I deliberately disobey orders?" Raina managed to squeak out, finding it difficult to hold still and not react to the swats.

"Even then," Coulson promised. "You're mine. You're always going to be, no matter what happens."

"I'm sorry I disobeyed..." Raina finally said, in a quivery voice, before a distressed whine escaped and she couldn't hide how the punishment was affecting her any longer. Giving a tear filled sob, she threw a hand back and tried to squirm off her father's lap.

Coulson caught Raina's hand and held it against her back, swatting a bit harder and faster. "You shouldn't have put yourself in danger," he said. "If anything had happened... if Loki hadn't been able to get you out in time... I would have been devastated."

"I'm sorry...I didn't think of that...I didn't think of anyone else...I was se...se...selfish and I'm sorry!" Raina was crying too hard to talk anymore...everything after that point was incoherent, as she tried to breathe through tears and through attempting to squirm out of reach. She eventually gave up any attempt at escape, though; she knew she was going nowhere and the effort had only worn her out. She finally just slumped boneless over her father's lap and sobbed. "...Sorry...so sorry, Baba!"

Coulson stopped immediately, drawing Raina up and into his arms, settling her on his lap and hugging her tight. He kissed her head and stroked her hair, not loosening his tight hold even a little.

Raina didn't know how long she cried before she calmed down enough to realize she was being held and not spanked. As soon as she did realize, she wrapped her arms around Coulson and held tight. "I'm sorry, Baba..." she repeated in a whisper.

Coulson kissed her head and hugged her tight. "I know. I love you." His voice was soft, but no less sincere.

Raina snuggled a bit more before softly replying, "I love you too." Clearing her throat, she reluctantly stood and fixed her clothing. "Should I go wait in my bedroom now?" she asked hesitantly.

"You can... or you can go and join the other family members downstairs," Coulson replied. "I expect they'll be bringing food up for us all in any case."

"I...I want to stay near you..." Raina admitted in a tiny voice. Swallowing, she began to walk gingerly to her room, rubbing her bottom as she went. It didn't hurt anymore- a mild sting, really- but she was still having a hard time wrapping her head around the fact that her father had spanked her...even if he had been clear that would be the result should she ever deliberately put herself in danger for no good reason. Stopping at her door, she glanced back at Coulson and smiled. "Thank you for telling me the truth…and following through," she whispered, before going into her room and closing the door softly.

Coulson returned Raina's smile, warmly, before he stood and walked to Grant's room, knocking once to announce his presence before he entered.

Grant looked up from where he was sitting on the edge of his bed. His shoulders were slumped in guilty, shamed dejection. He was already freely crying and not attempting to hide the evidence; he'd heard every swat Raina had received and he'd heard her reaction and he couldn't help feel some responsibility for the fact they'd all got into trouble. "I should've stopped them all, insisted we obey, not joined them wholeheartedly in disobeying..." he whispered.

Coulson walked over to sit down next to his son, wrapping an arm around Grant's shoulders. "Do you have anything else to add?" he asked seriously.

"No, sir," Grant said soberly. "I deliberately disobeyed for no good reason...I can't justify my actions. I don't even have a good excuse. " He swallowed hard. "I feel so ashamed and guilty and I'm sorry... I don't know what to do to make it right, though...."

"We'll deal with what happened," Coulson promised. "Making a mistake isn't the end of the world, son." He squeezed Grant gently and kissed the side of his head.

Grant nodded sadly. "Ok...thanks, daddy. I deserve you to be upset and angry; I don't understand how you can be so calm...." He sighed softly, pressing toward the kiss.

"Because I love you," Coulson replied simply. He held his son close for a few seconds more before speaking quietly. "Are you ready to get this over with?"

Grant snuggled close, holding onto his father tightly. At the question, he took a tiny breath then nodded. "Yes, daddy..." His voice was soft and guilt filled, but sure.

Coulson pressed another kiss to Grant's head and then gently drew his son across his lap, securing him with an arm wrapped around his waist before he bared him.

Grant shivered a little, but it was almost entirely due to his effort to keep his tears from becoming vocal. His father may have seen them streaming down his face, but Grant didn't think it was fair to make him listen to them before the punishment had even begun. It was already hard for his father, he knew; he'd brought this on himself. He wasn't going to make things harder. Even so, he had to grasp blindly for his father's leg, the tears so thick, he couldn't see.

Coulson rubbed Grant's back gently and then raised his hand, bringing it down in the first sharp swat that he then repeated.

Grant inhaled quickly, then again, with each swat administered. He attempted to lie loosely over his father's knee- to not tense up or do anything else to lessen the impact of what was occurring. Knowing he'd brought this on himself...knowing what could have happened because of his poor decision...he deserved whatever pain accompanied the punishment. At the same time, not reacting at all was beyond him and he couldn't help but let out tiny huffs of air or gasp in tiny gulps of air with each swat.

Coulson settled quickly into a pattern of swats, going down to Grant's thighs before starting over from the top. Partway through the second circuit, he began speaking. "Putting yourself in danger is not acceptable... will never be acceptable. And when you know something is dangerous and have been warned against it... I don't expect you to immediately rush straight into danger."

"Y...yessir....I know, sir..." Grant managed to get out between gulps of air and clenched teeth. His voice was shaky and heavy with tears, though and he was finding it more and more difficult not to just begin sobbing the further along in the punishment they advanced. "I...it was wrong and I...I knew it...and...it..it was a foolish...stupid...thing to do...and I'm sorry, daddy..." His voice wavered and got very quiet and small at the end, as if he was uncertain if Coulson would or could accept the apology. It was one thing to put your life in danger in the heat of the moment without thinking things through, or to disobey because you were worried and thought it was the only option without giving yourself time to think of other options...it was quite another to calmly decide to put your life in danger by disobeying a direct order, just because you didn't want to listen. Grant knew that. He was quite honestly surprised that his father wasn't being harsher with him, given the circumstances. Grant wished he would be.

"I know." Coulson's voice was calm and soft... in stark contrast to the force behind the swats. "But losing you would be devastating. Losing you again would be more pain than I could handle. Than any of us could bear."

Grant closed his eyes tightly at those words. Hearing how his actions could have hurt the rest of his family so badly hurt worse than the spanking did; and by this point, his backside felt like it was on fire, so there wasn't a lack of pain there. He squeezed his father's leg more tightly and forced himself to hold still, but couldn't stop the tiny sob from escaping. "Please, daddy..." Grant finally whimpered...begging; not for his father to stop spanking him (he was positive he deserved every swat), but for his father not to remind him how selfish his actions had been...how devastated the family would have been if things had turned out differently. Thinking about that hurt so much he wasn't certain how to deal with it.

Coulson wasn't prepared to be severe with his son... at least not physically. But he knew this kind of reckless behaviour had to stop. And he had to make Grant understand. So even though he heard his son's plea, he forced himself to ignore it. "You have a family who cares about you. Who loves you. Taking yourself away from me is not allowed."

"N..no, sir. S'not allowed..." Grant agreed quickly, his voice sad and repentant...and closer to losing control. His guilt over what he had put his father and family through- what he could have put them through if things had gone differently- had grown, despite the spanking he was receiving. Normally, he could let the guilt go when he'd been punished for his actions; but this time, he wasn't able to do so and each word from his father reminding him of what losing him would do to the rest of them was twisting that guilt deeper, until he physically hurt from the knowledge and felt like he would....

"I'm going to be sick..." he gasped out, holding a hand over his mouth and suddenly fighting for all he was worth to get off of his father, not wanting to be sick on the older man.

Coulson stopped and moved to help his son, grasping the wastepaper basket so Grant could be sick in that. He still kept an arm around Grant's shoulders, his worry obvious.

There wasn't much to throw up - luckily or unluckily, depending on viewpoint - but Grant couldn't say dry heaving was any better. Finally, he was able to regain control over his stomach, miserably wiping his mouth with the tissue his father handed him. "Sorry..." he whispered forlornly, his shame at allowing himself to become so distraught over a deserved punishment and lecture that he would get sick piling onto the shame and guilt he already felt for his actions.”...I'm...I'm so sorry for everything..." he choked out, too tired and wrung out to fight his reactions any longer. He began to cry, softly at first, but once the dam burst, he couldn't hold the tears back and soon, he was sobbing so hard, no sound could make it out. "I'm sorry, daddy..." he repeated brokenly, while attempting to put himself back over his father's knee; not exactly an easy thing to do when Coulson had followed him down to the floor to help take care of him.

Coulson simply responded by wrapping his arms around Grant and hugging him tightly to himself. "You don't need to apologize for your reactions," he whispered in his son's ear, stroking his hair.

Grant uncertainly wrapped his arms around his father and held tight; uncertain not because he didn't trust in his father's love and forgiveness, but because he wasn't sure if the punishment was over...normally, he didn't feel quite as guilty once his father had finished, even if there was a little residual guilt. This time...he felt just as guilty, if not more guilty. It was confusing. Of course, all the other times he'd gotten into trouble for risking his life, he hadn't also been risking family member's lives....

Sniffling and snuggling closer, he whispered, "It didn't make things better this time, daddy...." He sounded like a confused and lost child, but he was already too upset at everything else to be embarrassed at wearing his emotions where his father could read him like a book.

Coulson threaded his fingers through Grant's hair and kissed his forehead. "Sometimes the guilt isn't so easy to get rid of," he said softly.

Grant sniffled again, but didn't say anything else...he knew his father was right and knew the fact Kara, Raina and Loki could have died, too; and for no good reason at all- they weren't even trying to stop bad guys- made things worse and even if they made their own choices, he still felt responsible.

"Will you ground me?" Grant winced at the fact he sounded like he wanted to be grounded. But he knew as guilty as he felt, if his dad didn't do something, he'd probably end up doing something stupid to try and fix things himself.

"Yes." It had already been in Coulson's mind anyway, but more so knowing how much the guilt had affected his son. "You're going to be staying close to me." He pressed another kiss to his son's forehead. "But I've never stopped loving you," he whispered to him.

Grant looked up and gave his father a bleary tear filled smile. "I know, daddy. I never doubt your love. Or your patience, even though I test it immensely..." He looked down and blushed, before standing and fixing his clothes. "Let me go get cleaned up and get rid of my mess...I'll meet you in the sitting room?" he asked cautiously.

Coulson nodded and stood, gently squeezing Grant's shoulder. "I'll send a message to the rest of the family to come up with some food while you're doing that."

Grant nodded, heading to the bath and carrying the waste paper basket with him.

***

Bobbi had got all the food together and was now looking anxiously toward the steps, worry for her two siblings preventing her from focusing on anything else.

Natasha heard her phone and checked the screen. "Dad says it's safe for us to head up now."

Clint's eyes widened as his baby sister blurred past him with several plates of food. "Ok, then, let me help you with the rest..." He chuckled slightly, giving Natasha, his own two children and the remaining family members a shrug and a grin before picking up the remaining plates. "Pietro, Wanda, help your Aunt Nat with the drinks, please?" he asked softly, as he gathered the remaining plated food and began to follow Bobbi.

Steve, as promised, moved to help his nieces and nephews with the drinks. Pietro looked like he might zoom up the stairs... but due to his other family members heading up, he curbed his speed and stayed next to his sister.

Despite having been told it was safe to come up, Bobbi still paused outside the suite door and knocked, waiting for permission to enter.

Clint stood behind his sisters and children, next to his uncle. "Thanks for the help, uncle Steve. I get the feeling we may be staying in the suite the rest of tonight, but if that changes and dad says we can go down to the beach and have another bonfire, one of us will let you know. Not that you can't have one on your own, of course...." Clint grinned impishly.

Steve smiled at Clint in return. "I don't know yet what we're doing, but whatever is going on... I'm sure we can let you know in case it's something we think you'd like to join in with."

Coulson opened the door and smiled at his brother, children and grandchildren. "Come in." He took what Steve was carrying, expecting his brother to join the other members of the family, and moved back so that everyone else could go inside.

"See you later, uncle Steve," Bobbi called out, before disappearing into the room.

Grant had cleaned up and was heading back into the sitting room. The only evidence that something had been wrong was the redness in his eyes and the careful way he walked. He smiled at his siblings and niece and nephew. "Hi..." His voice was soft and embarrassed.

Natasha walked over to her youngest brother and brushed shoulders with him. "What do you want to drink? We brought quite a wide selection."

Steve said a quick goodbye as he walked back down to join the others.

Coulson placed the items he was carrying on the table and then walked to Raina's bedroom and knocked on her door.

Raina came out looking a bit more herself than Grant did, the only evidence she'd got in trouble the way she was more reserved.

"Cola, please..." Grant answered Natasha with a crooked grin.

Bobbi began passing out the plates of food and soon, they were all eating.

***

Tony looked up as his father returned back downstairs. "Everyone ok?" he asked, with a hint of worry. "I swear...I think I need to just block off that cave; if I didn't think it would mess with the island's ecosystem...."

"They're fine." Steve walked over to join them, sitting and smiling at his children and grandchildren. "And if it wasn't the cave... it probably would have been something else." He was fairly certain the deliberate disobedience had been about pushing.

"Yeah." Tony sighed, realizing his father was more than likely right. "Luckily, I don't think there are any other things quite as dangerous..."

"Don't jinx us, sweetie," Pepper teased, with a tiny grin.

Steve squeezed Tony's shoulder gently. "Hopefully, nothing else will happen on this vacation and we can just concentrate on family bonding time."

"Hopefully..." Tony have his father a smile.


Unexpected Ally

Another night and day had gone by since the 'cave incident 2', as Tony had begun referring to it.

The rest of the family had begun to refer to it the same way, to Pepper's amusement. "I am so glad you have decided to use your powers of persuasion for the good!" she teased her fiancé.

"Like dad would let me get away with anything else..." he teased back, giving Steve a grateful look. Tony knew, more than anyone, how off the rails he could go without his father's checks and balances to redirect him when necessary. He hoisted up the cooler holding the drinks up a little higher, as they began the trek down to where Bucky was building the night's bonfire.

Pepper adjusted her grip on the bedding she carried. Everyone had changed into pajamas already and either had an armful of food and drink that they planned to use for the evening and breakfast the next day, or bedding that everyone would be using to sleep in when they couldn't keep their eyes open any longer. When Kara had requested to 'sleep under the stars', everyone else had loved the idea.

Steve grinned at Tony and nudged him gently. "You've got that right." His voice was gentle, filled with loving affection and amusement.

It didn't take long before everyone was gathered around the bonfire, blankets placed out to give people something to sit on as well as to sleep on.

Satisfied that everyone had a blanket to sit on and one to wrap up in if they got cold...and noting with some bit of amusement who was cuddling up close to who (this was the first time Tony thought he'd ever seen Raina sitting as close to her father as she could get; but if she moved any closer, she'd be on Uncle Phil's lap- and Grant, Loki and Kara weren't all that subtle about sticking close to their fathers, either), Tony began to pass around skewers for everyone to grill whatever food they wanted to over the open fire.

Bobbi, feeling that her brother and sister needed a bit more quality 'dad cuddle' time, had sat down next to Lance and was cooking two hotdogs over the flame, just the way she knew he liked them. "Do you remember the last time we grilled hotdogs over an open fire?" she asked Lance, with a grin and a giggle.

Lance looked surprised for a moment... and then laughed, as Bobbi's question sparked his memory. "That was our last... 'disaster', wasn't it?" he asked, using his fingers to make the air quotes.

"Oh, yeah!" Bobbi laughed.

Bucky raised an eyebrow at his son. "And what 'disaster'..." he used the same form of air quotes as Lance, "...would this be?" he asked, his own grin growing.

Bobbi gave Lance a sideways glance. "I think maybe I'd rather hear some other stories. I'm sure you all won't find it as amusing as we did..." she hedged, uncertain about sharing the story for more than one reason.

Bakshi had been sitting quietly, listening, but a curious look came over his face as he looked at his brother and cousin. "You can't say something like that and then back out of telling the story!" he mock protested.

"It would be fair to share your tale... after all, some of us have shared tales already," Thor spoke up.

"Perhaps...but surely Lance and I aren't the only ones to have grilled over an open flame?" Bobbi said hopefully. It wasn't that she didn't want to share, but she had no clue how to begin the story...and it was a bit embarrassing, even if it was a good memory.

"I don't know about grilling..." Pietro spoke up, from his position on the other side of his sister. "But we had some... moments around a fire." He glanced sideways at Wanda.

Wanda nodded, partly thoughtful... but the look on her face was calm and content. "There were some moments of peace... some happy times... before we joined you all."

Tony looked relieved at that comment. He never mentioned it, but he knew it was a bomb made by his company that had killed the twins' parents. The fact they had some moments that were good was a very slight balm to the guilt he always felt when he thought of it. "What did you do?" he asked quickly, genuinely wanting to hear their story.

"Well, it was just after we left the lab where we were enhanced..." Pietro began.

***

"I think we should have found a wider area." Wanda looked around the very small clearing, worried that a fire could easily get out of control... and not confident she could contain it if so. She turned to look at her brother, who was crouched in front of a pile of twigs he'd just collected at super speed. "You're showing off."

"I believe it's called 'utilising my skills'." Pietro produced a lighter and flicked it to get the flame.

"Where did you get that from?"

Pietro grinned. "It's amazing what people miss when they just feel a gust of wind."

In the distance, something was walking through the wooded area, making a lot of noise. And muttering.

("Now, you know and I know, that gusts of wind might pick up objects and carry them away, but you and I also know that the objects carried aren't usually out of your pockets when everything else outside of said pocket isn't touched by the wind. Which means there is another enhanced individual somewhere near. I think.")

"Oh, yoo-hoo! Person who runs like the wind and stole my favorite 'stripper' cigarette lighter..." a glance at the lighter Pietro had taken would have indeed shown it to have a picture of a scantily clad girl on it that when the lighter was turned a certain way would suddenly become a naked girl. "...that is my most favorite lighter, you Cad and if you wanted to compare abilities, I'm perfectly happy pulling it out anywhere and everywhere! And putting it in again, in some cases...." The words floated to the twins in a sing-song voice, right before a body clad in a skin-tight red and black suit, complete with mask, stepped into view.

"Oh! The thief has a sexy companion! Am I standing at attention? Awkward!" The suit chortled like a frat boy.

Surprised, Wanda shot a glance at her brother, as if to ask him how he'd got the lighter from this guy. All she said was, "Pietro? Give the lighter back." Her voice was calm, her hands loose at her sides... but she was still tense, hoping that this (admittedly rather strange) person wasn't going to attack due to Pietro's impulsiveness.

Pietro, for his part, immediately bristled at the way the man... or suit... was referring to his sister. He stood, his own body more obviously tense.

Glancing around, 'suit' ("I'm not giving my name unless they ask politely") took note of the kindling. "Oh! Baby, c'mon...light that fire!" He moved closer, his head slanting sideways.

"Seriously. What the fuck are you two infants doing out in the deep dark woods without your momma or daddy? Did the sexy wicked witch lure you with a candy cottage? And if so, I have a candy cane you can lick...." It wasn't clear if he was talking to Wanda or Pietro at this point.

Pietro became more tense, positioning himself between his sister and the person he suspected wasn't all there. "We're not infants." Everything about the man was putting him on edge... even more so considering the guy was masked and suited, but pretty far from a caped crusader.

Wanda placed a hand on Pietro's arm. While she wouldn't use her powers unless strictly necessary (getting vengeance notwithstanding), she was prepared to act to protect her brother. If it became necessary. "Who are you?" she asked, taking note of his muttered aside to someone... or someones... she and her brother couldn't see.

("Oh! Oh! They asked!") The suit turned towards Wanda and struck a pose, one hand at the hip and the other pointing toward his chest. "Moi? You want to know who moi is? Well, let me tell you, honey chile...." At this point, suit affected a southern drawl dripping with sugared tones. He suddenly twisted to look at Pietro. "I have been told I look like an avocado had sex with an older, more disgusting avocado... which means you will never see my face unless you wish to throw up and I am older than you, so I can call you infant if I want..." He turned to look back at Wanda. "You may call me Deadpool. No, really. That is what I shall be called from here until infinity, because it is such a badass name and I need something badass to make up for the way those motherfuckers ruined my good looks. Truly. I am a disgusting sight to see. Be glad I wear a suit. I would cry if I thought it would get me laid. Would either of you give me a pity lay? For looking like Freddy Kreuger? Yes? No?...."

"No." Though Pietro's automatic (and slightly insulted) response was probably more due to the crude language directed at his sister.

"But..." Wanda was quick to insert herself back into the conversation. "We were about to make a campfire. We have food. Pietro will return your lighter... and as an apology, we can share what we have." The look she gave her brother was pointed.

"Shame. I may look like a monster, but I move like Jagger..." Deadpool made a really crude move with his hips, in Pietro's direction, then suddenly straightened and looked at Wanda. "If you really need the lighter, you can keep it. I bought in bulk. And something to eat does found lovely. You may want me to wait until you've eaten, though. Once I've taken off the mask, you may lose your appetite."

"We've seen bad things before." The twins tried to be strong for each other. They had no one else left, after all. For just an instant, the pain of those memories was obvious... and then Wanda was turning to her brother. "Why don't you give me the pack and then light the fire?" she suggested.

Pietro nodded, handing her the pack before he crouched by the pile of sticks once more. "She's right," he tossed at Deadpool. "Not much is going to shock us."

"Huh..." Deadpool slanted his head at not getting a rise from either of them and shrugged. "Suit yourself..." He pulled the mask off, but made sure to keep it tucked into the suit so he could easily replace it if 'the wrong' people started to show up. "So what's your view on extreme bodily harm done to individuals who fucked with you and left you for dead? Just, you know...in case such a person shows up and I have to take care of business earlier than expected?" He plopped down in front of the fire and held a hotdog over the flames.

Wanda joined her brother and Deadpool at the fire, as Pietro began cooking his own hotdog and Wanda picked up one to cook herself.

"We understand vengeance," Pietro commented, sliding the lighter back to Deadpool. "If you're after that... we'll just assume your target's done something to deserve it."

"Name was Wade...before..." Deadpool said offhandedly, before taking a bite of the hotdog. While eating, he was also obviously keeping an eye and ear open for anyone else sneaking up on them.

"I'm Wanda. My brother is Pietro," Wanda said, before taking a bite from her own hotdog.

Pietro nodded, his mouth already full. His head cocked to one side and he touched his sister's shoulder as he heard faint voices... nowhere near as loud as Deadpool's had been.

Deadpool had been listening to Wanda while eating, but he'd picked up on the voices at the same time as Pietro. Putting down the food, he pulled his mask back into place and slipped into the shadows, not wanting to make his presence known until he knew if the voices belonged to friend or foe.

Pietro and Wanda stood immediately, Pietro edging a bit in front of his sister.

A group of heavily armed men came into the clearing. They carried dart guns and kept their distance... especially from Wanda... who used her ability to jerk one of the guns right as one of the soldiers was about to fire.

("Oh, looksie! Target practice!") Deadpool chortled, dropping down out of a tree and on top of the head of one of the armed men, grabbing the gun from him as he collapsed under the weight and quickly shooting him. "That's one..." he called out, taking aim at another armed man.

Pietro didn't hesitate, using his speed to barrel into one of the soldiers and then a second.

Red light swirled around Wanda's hands and it wrapped around a second soldier's gun, pulling it from his hands and causing it to drop to the ground.

The mercenary was in a zone. "...Five...six....seven...eight...Schlemiel! Schlemazel! Hasenpfeffer Incorporated! We're gonna do it!" And then the man was singing as he gunned down bad guys.

"Ow! Fucking unoriginal assholes don't have to shoot up Main Street every time!" a pissed off complaint could be heard, before something exploded and sounds of pain and mayhem from the attackers made it to Pietro and Wanda.

Pietro aimed a shrug at his sister, in a temporary lull before he went for another one and Wanda pushed a soldier back who was about to fire at where her brother would have been.

"Aaaaarg! T-Rex is coming for you! Rowwwr!" Deadpool fell out of a tree (and how he got up the tree again when he'd been on the ground not too many minutes before was anyone's guess) and onto another soldier, nonchalantly breaking the man's neck. "Do either of you recognize these creeps? I'm just trying to figure out if it is me they are really after, or you....Naw. It has to be me. I'm just cool like that..." he muttered, continuing to slaughter their attackers. Suddenly, one of the men shot a rocket launcher toward Pietro's back when the younger man was facing the other direction. "INCOMING!" Deadpool took a swan dive toward the blond and shoved him out of the way, catching the rocket in the gut. "Aw, man! That's gonna hurt for days!" he complained, as one half of his body went one way and his upper torso went the other.

Wanda's face showed her concern, but she quickly tugged a gun from one of the soldiers' hands, slamming it into his nose... but the men were looking around at their dead, and the cut-in-half guy who wasn't dying, and calculating their loss.

"We don't get paid enough for this," one of the soldiers muttered, before the group melted away.

Pietro stepped nearer to Deadpool's body. "Thanks... you need any help?" he asked.

Deadpool looked up at Pietro, then giggled and pointed to where the lower half of his body had landed: 12 feet away. "Yeah. Could you bring me legs back to me? I could grow them back, but it will take less time if I can just put myself back together and sew me up...most of me should reattach correctly...I think. Maybe." He sighed softly. "Maybe I better just let everything grow back. I'd hate for my kidney to attach to a testicle and it will take too long to sew every individual item into the correct spot..." he finally mumbled to himself. "Course, I really don't want anyone getting hold of my old legs, so I guess I'll have to burn them...." And he was off on a rambling monologue involving goats, ice cream and horny mercenaries that was near impossible to understand...not that anyone would want to understand it.

Pietro paused, but when it seemed that Deadpool's rant wasn't going to end any time soon, he interrupted. "Do you want me to bring them over? Or not?"

Wanda stepped over to Deadpool and helped the upper half of his body to sit up against the closest tree. While she avoided stepping in any blood, it didn't really bother her.

"Yes, yes...bring them over. We wouldn't want anyone doing anything nefarious with them; and if they're doing 'fun fucktastic stuff' with them, I want to enjoy it too!" the merc with a mouth rambled.

Pietro headed over to the legs, carefully picking them up. He made a slight face, but carried them back over to his sister and Deadpool.

"Thank you. I...uh...hate to impose...but do you think you could get me back to my hotel room? So I can hide out till my lower half re-grows? Then I can take care of incinerating the spare...." Deadpool tried to give Pietro puppy eyes...not an easy feat while wearing a mask.

"I'll be able to move you... at least to our van." Red light swirled around Wanda's hands and around both halves of Deadpool's body as she glanced at her brother and then at Deadpool. "Though maybe we should sew, or at least wrap, something around you..." She had no idea what blood loss would do to him (being cut in half wasn't having any effect), but thought it might not be as easy to grow back missing blood. Then again... he should have been dead already.

"Yeah...wrapping something around me would be good for your van at least..." Wade agreed easily. "Yeah...you're very nice and helpful. Thanks for that...and for..you know...not leaving me here to wait it out. I had to wait it out once and it's no fun chasing the wild animals away while you wait for body parts to grow back...."

"Seems like that would be in very poor form after you helped us." Pietro shrugged out of his jacket and, with his sister's help, wrapped it around his severed legs... then used one of the blankets they'd brought to wrap around his torso.

"Where are you staying?" Wanda asked.

"You know that really nice hotel just off the highway that advertises free Wi-fi and a continental breakfast?" Wade asked brightly then waited for a few seconds. "Yeah...I'm in the dump four blocks down the road from that."

Pietro gave a soft snort and then reached down to scoop up Wade's severed legs, after removing the traces of their campfire and packing everything away again.

Wanda took the pack from her brother and then her face was set in concentration as she focused on lifting the rest of Wade's body.

For his part, Wade kept up a running monologue that would drive most people to distraction. He did, however, manage to refrain from dropping F-bombs every other word or being crude. Those who knew him would know that took a lot of effort. By the time they'd reached his motel, he could feel legs beginning the slow process of growing back. ("I should be good as new by the end of the week. So I really just need to figure out where to dump the extra pair....")

Pietro parked in the hotel's parking lot and glanced around, then at his sister. "Can you cloak us?"

"There's not many people... but I can change the environment, rather than their perception of it," Wanda answered.

"How does that work?" Deadpool was genuinely interested.

"I can change reality... make people see what I want them to," Wanda answered. "Along with moving things with my mind."

"That is a nifty ability." Wade nodded. "Have you ever used it to make a boyfriend think he was a god in bed while you got sleep?" If it weren't for the mask, he would have been grinning and batting his eyelashes at her.

"I don't date." Wanda didn't say that most people didn't trust her... but then again, they didn't have a lot of room for those kind of relationships. Not with their quest for vengeance.

"Well, that's no fun. What good are mind powers if you can't manipulate a boyfriend?" Wade snarked.

"They're helpful to you right now," Pietro pointed out.

"Well, fine...be all logical and reasonable!" Wade dished dramatically. He didn't say anything else until the two twins got him into his room, however. With another sigh, he said, almost in the tone of a teen who needed to call their parents after wrecking the family car, "Guess I need to call 'ole 'Rock Balls' to have him pick me up...." He glanced around the room. "Or I could stay here for the next week and hope I don't give the maids a heart attack...."

"Who do you need to call?" Wanda asked, trying to imagine who 'Rock Balls' could be... and failing completely.

"Rock Balls...Heavy Metal Junk...Screw Head...Shit...I never call him by his real name!" Wade complained. "Colosseum? Colostomy? Colossus?" His eyes widened. "That's it! Colossus!"

"Would you like one of us to call?" Wanda asked.

Pietro wasn't as eager as his sister. "How dangerous is your friend?"

"Aw...he's always trying to convince me to do good and be a hero..." Wade shrugged. "Beyond that, he's like fifteen feet tall and solid something...." He looked at Wanda. "Unless you want his recruitment speech, I should prolly wait till you’re not here to call him...."

"We really don't need that," Pietro stated.

"Do you need anything else?" Wanda asked.

"Anything not adult in nature," Pietro put in.

Wade opened his mouth then got a stymied look on his face. "Why would you say that?" he asked plaintively. Sighing, he turned toward Wanda. "No thank you...I'm good."

Wanda nodded. "We should leave...in case any more soldiers put in an appearance."

Pietro just walked towards the door, his concern obvious.

"Yeah...do that...maybe we'll catch each other again when you're a little older. And soldiers aren't in the picture..." Somehow, the fairly innocuous words still managed to sound entirely suggestive.

Pietro glanced at Wade. "Well, you won't be 'catching' her alone... I'll be right there along with her." His voice was casual as he waved his sister to his side. He opened the door a crack, just to make sure, and then nodded to Wanda that it was safe.

"Even better!" Wade's voice sounded happily pleased and friendly- and still managed to sound suggestive. ("It's a damned gift, I tell you!") His face turned sober and his voice was serious as he continued, "Watch your backs. Take care of each other. Don't let the ones with a god complex win...."

Wanda glanced at him, a bit reluctant to leave while he was more or less defenseless... even if she did trust he would call his friend once they were gone. "You take care... try not to get yourself cut in half again."

"At least not where you can't easily get away," Pietro muttered.

"I'll do my best!" Wade cheerfully waved. "I'll just call the giant and the moody teenager now. I'll be fine. See ya under better circumstances next time. Hopefully. Now shoo!" ("Really. Shoo! This scene is over....")

***

"We haven't seen him again since then... but I'm certain he's still around," Pietro commented. "Especially since getting cut in half didn't stop him..."

Clint had an odd look in his eye. "You see him again, send him my direction. Sounds like he needs a few lessons on how to talk to people's kids...." It hadn't escaped his notice that the merc had flirted outrageously with both Pietro and Wanda.

"Why does his name and description found so familiar to me?" Tony frowned. "And why were soldiers trying to kill you? I thought you were on HYDRA's side, until you discovered the truth and joined us?"

"They were employed by the lab," Pietro replied. "And they were carrying dart guns to begin with... I think their orders were to try to capture us, but they weren't expecting us to have help."

"Guess it was good he showed up, then..."Clint smiled crookedly.

"I still think the name is familiar..." Tony shook his head.

"He might not have been polite, but he fought alongside us when he didn't have to," Wanda said. "Maybe we could have been friends." She leaned against her father.

Steve looked at his son. "A suit like that is probably hard to miss... and it sounds like he was experimented on. It might be worth looking up when we get home," he suggested.

"Yeah, it's always good to know who possible allies or enemies are...or at least who won't stab you in the back..." Tony nodded. "I knew someone like that once. He didn't trust my dad...I tried reaching out to him when dad died, but I think he thought I was too much like dad...and I was still building weapons at the time, so..." Tony shrugged in resignation.

"Who was that?" Steve asked his son gently, wrapping an arm around Tony's shoulders and squeezing gently. While Howard and Tony had never been close... he knew how much the deaths of his parents had hurt Tony. Once again, he weighed the choice of telling Tony the truth about them or not... but the last thing he wanted was to hurt his son even more, especially when nothing would change what had happened.

Memory Recall

"His name was Hank Pym. The one we've discussed the virus with? It was about three months after my parent’s accident. I was still adjusting to being in charge of Stark Industries and Obie was pushing me to form some type of agreement with Pym regarding some technology he'd worked on. Obie thought I might succeed where he had failed…only Obie miscalculated how much Pym distrusted my father and, by extension, me. It probably didn't help that I flirted with his daughter...."

***

Tony fidgeted on the front stoop of the house, tugging at his tie and wishing for the hundredth time he was back in school, instead of trying to coerce a scientist into agreeing to work with Stark Industries. Especially when he knew said scientist couldn't stand Tony's father and was just as likely to shove Tony out the second story window as talk to him about a contract. Obie had been insistent, though and managed to pull on the underlying guilt Tony always felt at being such a disappointment to his father. He didn't want to disappoint Obie as well. Sighing, he rang the doorbell a second time.

After the second time the doorbell was rung, the door was opened and Hank stood there, looking Tony over. "You must be Tony Stark." His voice was dry. His recognition of the other man wasn't a good thing... or, at least, that wasn't what he thought. "What are you doing here?" Although his voice wasn't overtly hostile, it certainly wasn't welcoming.

Tony swallowed hard; Pym's obvious disapproval affecting him much like his own father's disapproval had always affected him. He stiffened and forced a smile to his face, even as he felt himself sharpening his mental knives to do verbal battle with the older man, preparing for dismissal and an obvious disregard and lack of respect for his abilities. His father had never valued anything he did unless it made him look good; and even then, the man hadn't really appreciated Tony or his efforts. Tony wanted nothing more than to be a smart ass and show the same disdain toward Hank Pym as he was certain Pym was going to show to him; after all...why should Pym be any different than his father? He swallowed again, reigning in his impulse to react childishly and attempted to be a responsible adult the way Obie expected. He didn't want to disappoint his father figure, even if it might feel good in the short term to pull Pym down a notch or two. "Hello, Dr. Pym. Yes...I am Tony Stark. I'm here on behalf of Stark Industries...I'd like to discuss with you the possibilities of my company working with you to develop items that would protect our nation's soldiers...." he said soberly, giving himself a mental high-five when his voice didn't wobble or change pitch and make him sound like a nervous teenager, even if he was only seventeen.

Pym frowned. "I think you must be misinformed. I don't have anything that will be of use to you. Or your company." His voice was curt, although still not outright hostile. The suspicious look on his face was obvious.

Tony smiled enigmatically. He'd done his research into what Pym had done for SHIELD before the scientist had quit. And he remembered being in Pym's lab when a child, when Howard and Hank were still friendly, if not friends. "I think you do...maybe not in equipment or actual plans...but your knowledge? Could go a very long way to helping us perfect our weapons and armor, resulting in protection of our troops...." He watched Pym carefully...he had told Obie it was a bad idea to contact Pym and a spectacularly bad idea to send him to do it. Tony remembered Howard sulking to Maria after the fight they'd had. It was one of the few times Tony remembered anyone saying no to his father, let alone putting the billionaire in his place.

"I very much doubt that you would put that to any better use than your father would have." Pym might have gone on... if he hadn't been distracted by a car pulling up just outside.

"I'm not my father..." Tony said brightly, though his eyes had taken on a shadowed look and his teeth were clenched slightly. The comment had obviously touched a nerve somewhere.

"That's a risk I don't think I'm willing to take." Pym focused on Tony once more, though he could see his daughter get out of her car out of the corner of his eye. Old habits were hard to break.

"At least let me show you the plan we've come up with? For old time's sake?" He glanced toward the girl getting out of her car- she looked to be around his age, maybe a little younger. His smile grew and his body shifted into a stance meant to make him look 'better' to her, almost of its own accord.

Pym's eyes narrowed a little at the way Tony looked at his daughter, but he kept hold of his temper, reminding himself that Howard's son was still just a kid... barely older than Hope. "I suppose you should come inside."

Hope locked the car door and approached the house, a curious look coming over her face as she looked at Tony and her father. She didn't ask, though, knowing her father wasn't likely to tell her much.

"Thank you, sir..." Tony may have been accused of a lot in his young age (no one could say he hadn't been thorough in his attempts to prove he wasn't Howard, especially when it allowed him to annoy the older man), but not having manners was not one of them. He waited until both Pym and Hope had preceded him into the house before going in himself. He also very carefully stayed in one spot, quietly awaiting Pym's directions, rather than immediately heading into what was obviously the office. He couldn't help but glance around in curiosity, though. Manners only went so far when you were seventeen and eager to learn everything you could about everything.

"Do you have homework to do?" Pym's comment to his daughter was probably intended as a dismissal... even though he was trying to actually talk to her. His attempts were often quite stilted... and he was uncomfortably aware that Tony, if he was even half as intelligent as his father (and by all accounts, he was a genius), would probably see that.

Tony, hearing the stiff tone in Pym's voice and not understanding anything about the man or about his relationship with his daughter, straightened up imperceptibly at the older man's words; words that were very similar in nature and tone to words that Howard had spoken to him (when he was actually focused on Tony enough to actually talk to him) various times through Tony's growing up. He couldn't help but glance into Hope's eyes to see her reaction to the words.

Hope's own face was cool... almost more of a mask. She gave a barely perceptible nod to her father. "I have a little. I'll take care of it in my room." She glanced once at Tony then headed towards the stairs.

Tony, recognizing someone hiding their true feelings- because he had done it so often himself- couldn't help but try and catch Hope's attention before she left. "Hey! I remember you now! Last time I saw you, you pushed me out of that tree in the backyard..." He was grinning widely at the memory.

Hope paused, looking slightly taken aback before the cool mask descended... though there was the very faint glimmer of a smile. "I told you it was my tree."

"Oh...I know. I made a good offer to rent it for a few minutes, though!" Tony's grin grew, his eyes twinkling. "I don't offer to give my favorite jelly beans for just any reason, you know!" It was second nature to be flirtatious...even if his words were innocent and he wasn't doing anything untoward, there was still that undercurrent of 'I think you're cute, I hope you think I'm cute too' that was permeating the air.

Pym cleared his throat. "I'm sure you aren't here to flirt with my daughter, Mr. Stark," he said seriously.

Tony blinked, darting a glance toward Pym, and felt his hackles rising. "I was just being friendly..." he protested. "Seemed like she might like someone smiling at seeing her...." He almost winced as those words came out of his mouth, almost. If Pym took his words as a slight or criticism of his behavior towards his own daughter; well, Tony hadn't really expected to get a contract from the man anyway. He'd told Obie it was a long shot. A very long shot.

Pym's face went a fraction colder. "Hope is not here for your scrutiny, Mr. Stark," he said. "I'm giving you a chance to prove you weren't lying when you said you aren't your father. I suggest you don't jeopardize it."

"What?!" Tony blinked. "I wasn't...Hope was a friend...I wouldn't..." Tony tried to keep his face calm, but at the end of the day, he was still just a seventeen year old boy; and having a father - a man he actually had admired at one time, even if the other man hadn't really noticed him- accuse him of trying something with his daughter flustered and embarrassed him. Especially since he really did view Hope as a friend and wouldn't risk that. Feeling unfairly judged because of his father, by a man who reminded him entirely too much of his father, was too much. "If anyone is like my father, it's you. Do you find fault with everything she does too?" His tone was snide...snarky...but underneath was the hurt he constantly pushed down and tried to ignore.

Pym wasn't as good at reading people as he should be... his wife had always been better at that than him. But he was fairly certain an attempt to work with Tony Stark would fail... and he could admit, to himself, that it would be his fault as much, if not more, than the boy's. "I think it's clear a partnership between us is just going to be wrought with conflict," he said, making sure he didn't lay the blame solely on Tony's shoulders. "It would be best if you left now."

Tony slumped. "Told Obie this was pointless..." he muttered. Sighing, he turned toward the door, not willing to try and change Pym's mind. The man was right, after all. He wasn't looking forward to Obie’s disappointment, though.

Pym felt a little bad for the obvious disappointment, but he felt this was the best option and walked over to see Tony out, while his daughter headed upstairs.

Tony allowed himself to be led outside, not arguing or even talking. Before he knew it, he was standing by his car. It was a shame he couldn't have talked to Hope a bit, but he wasn't surprised. Hank and Howard hadn't had a good relationship at the end.

Pym closed the door, after hesitating over what to say. He didn't expect it would change Tony's disappointment, no matter what he said, though. And after collecting some files from his office, he headed to his bedroom to take care of some work.

Tony got into his car, but sat for a few moments, going over everything, and finally came to one conclusion. He didn't want to leave without saying goodbye to Hope and maybe getting her permission to keep in touch. Getting out of his car, he walked around to the back of the house and stared at the old oak that he and Hope had climbed that she had pushed him out of. It had been shorter then, but still tall enough to reach Hope's bedroom window. Since it was taller, he would be able to easily climb it up to the bedroom window and talk to her.

With that in mind, he began to climb.

Although his room now was smaller than the one he'd shared with his wife, it was still big enough to allow Pym to work at a desk... which he was doing when he heard a noise outside his window. Standing, he walked over to see what it was.

Tony carefully made his way out on the edge of a rather thin limb. He kept his balance, barely, and soon was gripping the edge of the windowsill and tapping on the glass. "Hope! You in there?" He tried to modulate his voice low enough not to attract anyone outside of the room's occupant; it wouldn't do for Hank to hear and come investigate. He shifted his feet slightly and grasped the ledge more tightly, the precariousness of his position making him nervous.

Pym reached the window in time to hear the tapping and Tony calling through the glass. Annoyance warring with worry (even though he hadn't got along with Howard, he didn't want the kid to fall and hurt himself), he quickly moved to open the window and pull Tony inside, very careful not to risk the kid falling.

Tony was unpleasantly surprised when the window opened and it was Hank Pym frowning at him instead of Hope. He jerked without thinking and the only thing that kept him from plummeting to the ground was the sudden grip Hank had on his arms. Face pale as a ghost and shaking from the realization that he could have been badly hurt, if not killed had he fallen, Tony scrambled into the bedroom through the window, falling onto the floor at Pym's feet. Swallowing several times and taking a deep breath, he finally looked up at the older man...biting his tongue because his first impulse was to make a smart ass comment and the look on Pym's face indicated that would be a very bad idea. "I just wanted to say bye to Hope," he finally said in a shaky voice. "Ask her if I could write to her...."

Pym frowned, but reached down to help Tony up. "You decided to do that by trying to climb in through the window? You could have fallen... broken a bone, or worse!"

"I wasn't going to fall! You just surprised me...I thought Hope would be here!" Tony tried to sound brave, defiant and in control, he really did, but as good as he was at fooling the public, he wasn't that good at fooling fathers. Not yet, anyway. As a result, he just sounded like a nervous kid...a kid that wasn't sure what the angry adult in front of him was going to do.

Pym could have allowed himself to be drawn into an argument with Tony... but he was more concerned about the kid's apparent disregard of his own safety. He was still holding onto Tony and he used that grip to tug the kid over to the bed.

"What...what are you doing?" Tony asked nervously, his face going bright red when his voice went up an octave and cracked.

"I'm going to spank you." Pym thought about asking if Howard had ever done that... but at the same time, it was clear Tony's relationship with his father hadn't been a good one. So he said something different. "Your actions just now were dangerous. I don't think we can work together... that doesn't mean I'm going to turn a blind eye to something like this."

"What? You're going to...What??! But you can't!" Tony looked a mixture of baffled and horrified, finding it difficult to process the information. "If I do something foolish, you yell at me....make me see how stupid I am...at worse, ignore me for a few months.... Not spank me!" Tony was confused. This wasn't the reaction he got from adults and he didn't know how to deal with the information.

If that was how Howard dealt with things, Pym couldn't help thinking that it explained a lot. "I'm certain you're not stupid, Tony." He paused, a little surprised at how natural it felt to address the kid by his first name, but continued, "If you'd been seriously hurt... if you'd been killed falling out of that tree... it would be a great loss." Reaching the bed, he sat down and tugged Tony across his lap.

Tony blinked as his perspective suddenly changed. "You...you'd miss me?" He cringed at the hopeful tone in his voice. Pym didn't like him...didn't want anything to do with him, really. Just because the man felt the need to address what had been dangerous behavior didn't mean he cared. And it didn't mean Tony should just accept what he had planned without a fight. Except Tony couldn't bring himself to fight. It had been dangerous...only Pym's strong grip on him had kept him from falling. He owed the man. The least he could do would be to take whatever he dished out without being difficult. "I...I've never..." he finally began, his tone embarrassed.

"I don't agree with the work your father did... or the way you're carrying on with it. But I liked you when I knew you as a kid... and I'm sure you have a lot of potential to do good." Pym settled Tony in place and then bared him.

"No! Wait!" Tony blurted out belatedly, before turning bright red in humiliation. He didn't understand what was happening, but it was hard not to be scared when he was completely vulnerable to a man he'd thought hated him and who he was now being taken in hand by, as if he were a small child and not the near adult he was.

Pym tightened his hold on Tony, but didn't immediately start swatting, figuring maybe the kid needed some kind of reassurance. He wasn't quite sure why he was stepping in like this... only that he didn't want Tony to get himself killed. "If you'd asked to talk to Hope, I probably wouldn't have let you go into her bedroom... but I wouldn't have stopped you talking to her. You shouldn't have put yourself in danger. For any reason. I know you're more intelligent than that."

"I...I didn't think about it until I was already outside...and I'd already irritated you enough, I thought you'd just ignore me if I knocked on your door again...." Tony admitted in a tiny voice, still obviously scared, but not quite as anxious now that it was obvious Pym was actually paying attention and wouldn't just start whaling on him. "I'm sorry I climbed your tree...I shouldn't have done that...I didn't think of how dangerous it was..." Which was a lie that he hoped Pym didn't hear in his voice. He'd known it was dangerous. He just didn't think anyone would care about that; no one ever seemed to care about the dangerous stuff he did practically every day, any other time, after all- driving way too fast, drinking till he was incoherent or passed out, bringing strangers home? The only ones who'd ever cared about things like that were Jarvis and Rhodey; Rhodey had joined the military and Jarvis was dead, but all either of them had done was scold him...so.... Jarvis was dead. Tony blinked and bit his lip hard, finding himself suddenly close to tears. He didn't want to cry, damnit. Pym would lose what very little respect he had left for him.

"I'm certain you did know how dangerous it was... you just didn't think it mattered." Pym's voice was blunt and straightforward. "This isn't going to happen on my watch, kid." Rather than take Tony by surprise, he added, "I'm going to start now," and brought his hand down in the first sharp swat that he then repeated.

"No! You're right! I knew...I just didn't think it'd matter to you!" he quickly agreed, voice quavering, hoping that being honest might convince the older man to stop. If the first two swats were any indication, he was going to be very sore in a few minutes. He wasn't sure if he could keep it together and not completely humiliate himself in front of Pym if the other man continued. He wasn't even certain he'd be able to keep from humiliating himself in front of Hope and she wasn't even in the room. His eyes were already watering due to thinking of Jarvis and being scared of the unfamiliar situation.

"I've never been very good at talking to people. Too much slowing down so everyone else can understand," Pym said. "I do know that you're worth something. You're worth a lot. And you aren't going to throw your life away if I can do something to stop it." He settled quickly into a pattern of swats, working his way over Tony's backside, down to his thighs.

"But...but....you don't even like me! Why would you care when my own father didn't?!" Tony cringed when his question came out as a tiny, confused, hurt whimper.

"I can't speak for your father. I don't know what he was thinking. All I can do is tell you that you are worth a lot to me... especially since I can still see you as the little boy who used to play with Hope and ask questions about my work." Throughout the speech, Pym continued the spanking, though the swats weren't as hard as he could make them, as he was aware this was unsettling enough for the kid.

Tony didn't know what to say to that. He really hadn't thought Hank cared about him; actually had thought the other man had despised him, due to the fight he and Howard had. Everything Tony had thought he knew was being turned on its head. On top of that, his backside was beginning to sting even when Hank's hand wasn't landing and it was obvious that the older man wasn't going to stop until he felt like he'd gotten his message across, whatever that message was. Tony whimpered again when he realized he wasn't entirely certain what message he was supposed to be getting from the punishment. That Hank actually cared, even though Tony had thought he hadn't? That Tony mattered? That Tony shouldn't pull stupid dangerous stunts (especially when Hank Pym was around to see?) "What do you want me to say?" he finally asked, his question coming out in a tear-filled shaky voice as he tried his hardest not to squirm like he really, really wanted to.

"It's not about words... it's about actions," Hank replied. "You shouldn't be acting dangerously. You can't act like you don't matter... because you do. You matter a great deal. So if you do something dangerous again? The next time I see you... this will be right where you'll end up. Because even if you think no one cares when you do something dangerous... I do."

Tony's eyes widened at the words. "E...even if I do something and you don't see me until ten years later?" he squeaked out; at the same time, he lost his ability not to move. He began to squirm over Hank's lap, trying to find some angle or position where the man's hand didn't land on sore skin; it was impossible, though. Hank's aim was too good and the target too well positioned.

"Even then." Hank tightened his grip on Tony, speeding up the swats and adding a fraction more force behind them, focusing more to his sit spots and thighs. "Your safety is important. You are important."

Tony had reached the end of his tether by this point. Having a man that he'd thought hated him telling him things that he'd wanted...needed...to hear from his own father and hadn't, was difficult. Knowing that he'd never get a chance to hear those things from his father, because the man was gone...forever... and the last conversation he'd had with Howard had been an argument over Tony's 'bad habits'? That was impossible. Stretching out his legs in one last futile attempt to ease the burning sensation he now felt all over his bottom, Tony finally went limp over Hank's lap and began to sob softly. "I’msorry..i’msorry..i’llbegood..iwill..i’msorry..." he said in a tiny, contrite voice, repeating the same words over and over.

Hank brought the spanking to a stop and then gently rubbed Tony's back, not willing to withhold comfort, but not sure if Tony would accept it from him at this point.

Realizing the spanking was finally over, Tony was able to regain control over his sobbing, although he continued crying softly for minutes after. He didn't move from Hank's lap...after having the older man take charge of him so thoroughly, Tony wasn't sure he had permission to get up and wasn't about to do anything without permission. Plus, the comfort, however slight it was, felt good. If he moved, he'd have to pretend he didn't need the affection and if he was honest with himself, that affection was the only thing keeping him from beginning to sob out all the other 'hurts' he'd been feeling since his parents died. Taking a shivering breath, he said again, in a tiny, contrite voice, "I'm sorry. I'll be good...."

"I'll settle for you not doing something to endanger yourself again," Hank said, his voice serious, but not cruel or unkind. "I'm serious about this happening again if it needs to."

"Yes, sir..." Tony whispered, as he finally stood and fixed his clothing. He wasn't able to face Hank, ashamed that the older man had felt the need to step in the way he had; and ashamed at his own reaction to it. He didn't doubt for a minute that if he did something dangerous to his life and Hank found out, that the man would follow through and put him right back over his knee the first thing when he next saw him. He didn't want to think on that too closely; having someone care if he was being reckless, be in a position to do something about it and actually caring enough to do something about it was a novelty. "I...I should head back to my hotel room. Obie is waiting for news from me..." He cleared his throat and ran the back of his hand over his eyes again, embarrassed to find that he was still crying, even if it wasn't vocally. This whole visit was completely unsettling and he didn't know how to deal with it. Getting back to the hotel where he could refocus and settle himself was a very good idea, as far as he could see.

Hank reached out and placed a hand on Tony's shoulder. "You okay to drive, kid?" he asked, worried about him.

"Yessir..." Tony quickly nodded, afraid that Hank wouldn't believe him and would insist he stay a bit longer until he was calm enough to drive; and he knew, if he stayed longer, he'd start crying again because...he wasn't certain why now, to be honest. He just knew there was an ache inside that wasn't going away and he'd already embarrassed himself enough and caused enough problems for the older scientist. "I'm sorry to have been such a bother..." he said softly, clearing his throat and wiping his eyes again. He glanced toward the window longingly, the thought of having to walk back through the house and possibly running into Hope embarrassing him further. He knew Hank would put him back over his knee if he even hinted about wanting to leave the way he'd come in, though, so he took a deep breath, straightened his shoulders and put on his patent 'Tony Stark facing the world and nothing can touch him' smiles. "Thank you...for not letting me fall and break my neck..." he said hesitantly, not exactly sure what etiquette you were supposed to use when you'd just been spanked for the first time in your life. "I..uh...prolly should go. Obie's waiting..." he finally said again, but didn't move, because he didn't want to do anything until Hank said it was ok.

"I'll see you out." Hank squeezed his shoulder again and then stood up. "And if you need anything from me... not to do with those weapons contracts... I'm sure you have my number still if you have my address."

Tony blinked at the offer of help for non-weapon related things and nodded. "Yessir...I do...thank you," he whispered, as he let Hank lead him out of the room and back downstairs to the front door. Luckily, Hope didn't come out, so it was just Tony and Pym. Tony didn't say anything when the older man not only led him back to the front door but actually walked him to his car and made sure he got into it. He supposed he couldn't really blame the man, considering the last time he'd trusted Tony to leave, Tony had ended up climbing a tree to get back into his house. Tony gave a brief wave as he pulled out of the drive. Pym didn't move from his position in the driveway at all and then Tony was heading down the road to the hotel, trying to figure out what he'd tell Obadiah.

***

"Needless to say, Obie was very unhappy at the fact I hadn't gotten a contract and let me know it in every imaginable way possible over a phone," Tony said, a crooked but sad smile on his face. "After I hung up with him, I went out and got so spectacularly drunk that it was two days later before I crawled out of some stranger's bed...and couldn't remember a damn thing that had occurred for four days prior, except for hazy patches of memories that made absolutely no sense to me whatsoever..." Tony shook his head, chagrined.

Steve looked at his son with some surprise, arm wrapped automatically around Tony's shoulders. "That must explain why you haven't mentioned anything about this before," he commented wryly.

"Yeah..." Tony blushed, snuggling closer to his father without thought. "...I mean...I vaguely remembered visiting his home and vaguely remembered a few other things...but it was all hazy and honestly felt like I had dreamed it. So I convinced myself that it was a dream conjured up by my mind because I'd failed to get the contract..."

Pepper pursed her lips and slanted her head. "Is this why, whenever Hank Pym was in town to attend a conference...you always had somewhere else you had to be several countries away? Even if it was a conference you'd originally wanted to attend?"

Tony's blush darkened. "Yeah...I...I remembered what he'd promised and even though I thought it was a dream, it was unsettling enough that I didn't want to take any chances of it becoming reality...so..." He glanced at the twins and shook his head, chuckling. "I have no clue what about your story jogged my memory enough that I could put all the pieces of the 'dreams' together and actually figure out that I hadn't made it all up in my mind...but now that I'm remembering everything...I better hope he never gets hold of me..." He shivered, giving Steve a sideways look. "I did a lot of stupid shit before you took charge...."

Steve squeezed Tony gently to himself. "It sounds like he's something of an honorary uncle," he commented. "While I'm not saying you should contact him straight away... I don't think you can avoid him forever." Especially not since knowing that Hank had had a hand in creating a new Ant-Man.

"Yeah...I...I should call him. And actually talk to him instead of leaving messages and emails that are only about business..." Tony admitted. "Given what I remember now...his being a bit stand-offish when he was helping with ideas for the virus makes sense now. I thought I was being clever and he likely knew all along I was avoiding him..." Tony sighed.

Steve nodded. "Maybe after we come back from vacation."

Coulson, sitting close to his children and grandchildren, spoke in a slightly self-deprecating voice. "I know what it's like to have a family member step in after having done something... or more than one thing... recklessly dangerous," he commented.



Giving Grief

Grant smiled at his father. "It's hard to imagine you behaving in any way that isn't responsible..." he admitted.

Coulson smiled at his youngest son. "Even as an adult, I wasn't always this responsible..."

***

It was late in the evening when Coulson returned from the mission. His body was bruised, but he was fairly sure there was nothing broken... even though he was limping a bit. He turned the lights on in his home and headed to his bedroom and the adjoining shower.

"Welcome home," said a quiet voice from the dark, in the general direction of the living room. "Did you get what you were after?"

Coulson froze on the stairs, his hand automatically going to the gun in its holster... before he recognized the voice and dropped his hand to his side. "You're early." He stepped in the direction of the voice, peering into the darkness even as he reached to turn the light on.

"Yeah...given the circumstances, I didn't want to leave my baby brother alone any longer than I had to..." Paul smiled crookedly, even as his eyes raked over his brother, taking in everything he could about his appearance.

Coulson was tired... though not just because of the mission. Losing his wife and son had been a devastating blow he couldn't recover from. Still, he tried not to show that. "Are you hungry? I could order in a pizza," he suggested.

"I already ordered one...it's in the kitchen and needs to be heated up again...I'll go get it ready while you change and shower..." Paul said, in the tone only older brothers could carry off, making it clear Coulson was expected to eat and let Paul take care of things.

Coulson didn't really have it in him to argue... even though he thought he probably should. Instead, he nodded and, with a quiet sigh, went to do as instructed.

By the time his brother had returned to the kitchen, Paul had reheated the pizza and poured drinks. He'd also added a small salad onto the table. "Are you able to talk about your mission?" he asked curiously. What he really wanted to talk about was his sister-in-law and nephew...but while he believed Phil needed to talk about them, he also knew his brother might not feel ready to do so. It would be better if Phil was the one to bring them up.

"It was straightforward intel gathering." Coulson had managed to treat some of the bruises, but he couldn't hide the stiffness as he walked over to the table to sit down.

Paul frowned as he put a plate with pizza and salad in front of Phil. "Does intel gathering normally result in being bruised and sore?" he asked, with a hint of worry.

"I ran into some grunts." Coulson knew he should eat... knew his brother would expect that from him. But his appetite had been low and he hadn't been eating well since... before. If he let himself relax, the grief would overtake him... and he wasn't ready for that amount of pain.

Paul sat down with his own plate and began to eat slowly, watching his brother to make sure he was eating as well. When it didn't appear Phil was going to touch his food, he gently nudged the plate closer to his brother and gave him a pointed look. "Grunts that automatically decided to attack?" he asked, as a way of maybe distracting his brother enough that he would eat despite not wanting to.

Coulson shrugged. "I guess they figured someone sneaking in wasn't someone they could trust..." He picked up a slice of pizza and began eating... but it tasted like ash in his mouth.

"Huh...I forget sometimes your intel gathering goes beyond going to a library for information... Don't you usually have a partner or backup, though? What if they'd decided to shoot?" Paul's worry was obvious.

"I'm trained well. It was a simple in and out. I didn't need backup." Of course, if Paul asked Fury, Coulson's best friend would say something entirely different...

Paul frowned. "Even simple in-and-outs can go wrong and I find it hard to believe that Nick wouldn't give you someone to back you up, even if they sat in the car and only came in if you were made...." He shook his head. "Is he as reckless with his own safety? Maybe I need to have a talk with our brother...." He frowned again.

"He isn't reckless." Coulson stopped chewing, staring at his plate, unwilling to admit he was reckless. While he still had his family... there was a black cloud that he couldn't shift. A hole in his life he couldn't imagine being filled. Over-powering guilt that he'd failed them...

"Oh...so he's only reckless with you? I somehow find that even more difficult to believe." Paul eyed Phil sternly and with a hint of suspicion, suspecting that Nick had no clue his brother had gone after intel alone. "Did he even sanction this op for intel? Did he know you were out there tonight?"

"I left a message for him..." Which was a weak argument. Coulson knew that and was certain his brother did, too.

Paul's eyebrows rose up. "And what is the likelihood he'd get that message before the week is over? Given how busy he is and leaving a message and not calling anyone else would indicate that it was something that could wait...?"

Paul managed...somehow...to keep his tone neutral and even took another bite of pizza, hoping to encourage Phil to keep eating.

It was hard to force himself to eat, but Coulson managed to take a few more bites... though he had to take a few mouthfuls of drink to get the food to go down. "Nothing did happen... and I got the intel that was needed," he defended himself.

Paul sighed. He didn't want to argue with Phil, although he had every intention of finishing the conversation once he was satisfied with the amount of food Phil had eaten. He decided to change the subject in the meantime. "So will I be seeing our other brother at all while I'm visiting? I tried to get his assistant to pencil me into his schedule, but she was a bit prickly about it. Not sure it actually got done...." His smile was crooked.

"I did tell Nick you'd be visiting," Coulson answered. "He was planning to come by here when he knew you'd definitely be at the house." He gave a half-smile, forcing himself to eat a couple more mouthfuls. "His assistant is a bit... abrupt."

"I guess I'll need to call and let him know I'm actually here, then..." Paul smiled, happy that Phil was at least trying to eat. "I've arranged with Cath and dad to be here for at least a week....Possibly longer, if I'm not in the way."

"You couldn't be in the way," Coulson said, immediately and empathically. No matter how depressed he felt... he loved his family and enjoyed having them close.

"I was hoping you'd say that..." Paul said, with a crooked grin. He finished his meal and sat quietly sipping his drink while Phil finished his own meal. "Do you have to go on any more missions?" he asked curiously.

"Not for a little while," Coulson answered. "I made sure not to have any missions planned for while you were here."

"Great..." Paul paused. "Would you like some more pizza, or should we clean up and move the conversation into the other room?" he asked quietly.

"I'm not very hungry," Coulson admitted, standing to clear the plates.

"I figured...you look like you've lost weight." Paul gave his brother a smile to show he wasn't going to lecture; not yet, at least, but he intended to get his brother eat more healthy amounts before he went home again. "You know she'd want you to take care of yourself better...." Ok. Maybe he would lecture a little bit. Phil had lost a lot of weight.

Coulson stiffened slightly, but all he responded with was, "I'm still at a healthy weight."

Paul just raised his eyebrow again, not voicing his thought of 'barely'. Finishing up clearing and putting away leftover food, Paul walked over and draped an arm around his little brother's shoulders, pulling him closer for a side-hug. "I'm worried about you, Phil...we all are..." he admitted softly, as he gently tugged his brother down the hall toward his bedroom. "But I know you are tired and we can have this conversation tomorrow." He kissed Phil on the side of the head, stopping just outside Phil's bedroom door. He was planning to stay in the guest room he'd always used in the past, but if Phil indicated he wanted him closer, he'd move into his brother's room with him in a heartbeat.

Coulson hesitated, thinking he should argue... protest that he was fine and that he could stay up to talk to his brother. But it was difficult not to relax against his brother... hard not to let Paul take care of him.

Paul hesitated a moment longer, but when Phil didn't argue or agree, or say anything really, he decided to take a chance that his brother wanted him to stay close and walked into the room with him. "Why don't you get ready for bed? I'll go get ready myself and then come back; if it won't bother you, I can stay in your room tonight and we can talk until we fall asleep," he suggested, a slight question in his tone.

Coulson nodded. "I'd like that," he admitted, his voice quiet. While part of him thought it might make him weak... the rest of him just wanted his brother to stay close. Maybe Paul's presence would keep the nightmares away.

"I would too. I've missed you, kid..." Paul admitted with a tiny smile. It didn't take him long to go back to the guestroom where he'd stashed his bag and change into sleeping clothes. Soon, he was back at Phil's room, knocking gently on the door to warn his brother he was there.

"Come in." Dressed, with his teeth cleaned and face washed, Coulson was seated on the edge of his bed, waiting for his brother to join him.

Paul quickly entered into the room, closing the door gently behind him, before moving and sitting on the bed next to his brother. "You look beat...the op must have been very stressful..." he said, trying to give Phil an opening to start talking if he wanted. If he didn't want, they could easily go to sleep.

"It was... necessary." Phil yawned, tiredness making him admit something he wouldn't have admitted if he'd been in full control. "Even if Nick didn't think so."

"So Nick didn't want you doing this op?" Paul managed, barely, to keep his voice neutral and non-confrontational. The fact that Phil had gone against what Nick had decided, when Nick was his boss, couldn't have sat well with Nick, though. It wasn't sitting well with Paul either.

"It needed to be done," Coulson defended himself... though the uncertainty in his voice was obvious.

"Was Nick against the op in general, or was he against you going in without a partner or backup? Or was it the timing of the op? It isn't like you to go against your boss, Phil...especially not after Nick became your boss...." Paul's voice was still calm, although there was a hint of worry and disappointed disapproval.

Phil could hear the emotions underlying his brother's voice and hunched in on himself. "He didn't think the benefits outweighed the danger," he admitted quietly.

"I see...." Paul paused. "Was he right?" Paul knew his brother was nothing if not honest if no one else's life depended on a lie.

"Maybe..." Phil admitted, his voice very quiet.

"So..." Paul paused to try and make sure he took the proper tone and used the right words to express himself. "You disobeyed an order, did something that could have led to your being hurt or worse...and it wasn't for anything important enough to do either of those things?" He was surprised he kept his voice calm, the thought of what could have happened making his worry spike.

Phil closed his eyes. He was tired... emotionally wrecked... and admitted, without any kind of conscious thought, "It was easier than being on my own."

Paul winced at the words, feeling like they were cutting into him. "Oh, baby brother...you are so wrong..." he whispered. Glancing quickly around the room and realizing there wasn’t a phone nearby, he reached over and took Phil by the arm, tugging him with him into the living room and to the couch. Sitting, he pulled Phil down next to him. "Putting your life at risk when you've been told by your brother, your boss, not to do something is unacceptable. I know you miss them. I know you miss them horribly...but you aren't alone. You aren't allowed to take yourself away from your family because you miss them.... You just can't!"

Phil didn't fight... couldn't fight... and went where his brother led him. "I... know," he whispered. "But it's harder to remember when my family isn't around..."

"Then...I'll move here. I'll stay until it isn't as hard..." Paul said softly.

Phil wanted to tell his brother that he didn't need to do that... to put his life on hold for him. But the thought of not being alone was one he desperately needed. He still woke up from the nightmares... still blamed himself, no matter what anyone else said. "I think I shouldn't need that... but I do," he admitted in a whisper.

"You should never not need your family..." Paul said gruffly, pulling Phil closer to him and holding tightly. "We loved them too...all of us. The thought of losing you after everything...I can't go through that, baby brother. I'll call Cath and dad later and let them know. You aren't going to be able to get rid of me...."

Phil immediately responded, wrapping his arms around his brother and hugging tightly. "I'm sorry..." he said, softly and guilt-filled.

"I know..." Paul continued to hug tightly. "Does Nick know you made it back ok? Or did you avoid talking to him?" His voice was wry.

"...I haven't spoken to him..." Phil admitted quietly.

"I think we need to call him. He's probably worried sick by now, if no one has told him you've returned..." Paul's voice was gentle, if a bit admonishing.

Phil nodded. "I know." He sighed quietly, not looking forward to having to admit his actions to his other brother.

"Do you want me to dial?" Paul asked softly, reaching over and pulling the phone on the side table to him. "I'd want to know immediately if I was in his position...."

"Please." Phil took a deep breath and sat back just enough so his brother could have his hands free.

It didn't take long for Paul to dial their other brother. He had made it a point over the years to keep in touch with both younger men and could dial by memory without even looking at the phone by this point. He put the phone on speaker so that Phil could talk also, then waited as they listened to it ring and waited for Nick to pick up.

Nick answered almost immediately. "Paul. I would have called you, but I thought it might be too late." There was a slight hint of strain in his voice... something only noticeable to his brothers.

"Hello, Nick. And I understand completely. I would have waited to call in the morning myself, but felt it was important that you know Phil is back home. He's with me and he's safe..." Paul began, giving Phil a look that indicated he should say something as well.

Phil cleared his throat. "Paul's right..."

"You didn't check in with me." Nick's tone was sharper. "I know you went on this mission alone... against my express instructions. You should have taken backup if you were going to completely disregard what I said."

Phil cringed. "I'm sorry..." His voice trailed off, as a helpless look came over his face.

Paul gave Phil a stern look, his own unhappiness at what Phil had done clear, but he didn't say anything. Nick was the one Phil had disobeyed the orders of. While he knew what he felt needed to happen, he felt Nick should be the one to make the first decision on what to do. When it became clear Phil wasn't going to say anything more, however, he sighed. "Nick? It's late at night and I can tell that you are worn out; likely from worry, but knowing you, probably also overwork. Go home. Get some rest. Come by here first thing in the morning and we can work whatever needs to be worked out, out." His voice was firm and it was obvious he expected Nick to listen to him. "I'm going to make sure Phil gets some sleep as well, so that when we meet to have our discussion, everyone is rested enough that we can keep calm."

"You're right," Nick agreed with a sigh. "Phil... I'm glad you're back safe. Listen to our brother, okay?"

"Okay," Phil agreed, his voice soft.

"Get some sleep, Nick..." Paul repeated, more a reminder that he cared about the other man than because he didn't trust Nick to do what he'd requested. "We'll see you in the morning." He waited until their brother had made his own good-byes and hung up the phone before turning to Phil. "I think right now, emotions are still high and you are most definitely in need of a good night's sleep...so we'll talk about what you did tomorrow when Nick gets here. Right now, it's bedtime." His voice didn't leave room for argument, not that he expected Phil to argue, and he stood up before helping his younger brother to his feet and putting an arm around his shoulders. "I'm glad you made it back safe too. I love you, kid..." he said fondly, as he began to lead his brother back down the hall to where they'd be sleeping.

Phil allowed himself to be led along, too tired and worn down to worry about needing to lean on his brother. "I love you too..." he said, or tried to; a yawn that he couldn't hold back muffled most of his response.

It didn't take Paul long at all to get his brother into bed, since they'd changed before calling Nick. As soon as he was satisfied that Phil was safe and comfortable, he crawled in next to him so that he could be close by if needed. It didn't take long after Phil fell asleep for Paul to follow.

***

Phil's sleep had been fitful, as he'd suffered a few nightmares... but hadn't woken properly, due to his brother's comforting presence. He woke up slowly, having slept later than he had in a long time... even though it wasn't late in the morning.

Paul came out of the shower, already dressed in jeans and a t-shirt and toweling his hair dry. "Good morning...Nick called. He'll be here in about twenty minutes to join us for breakfast if you want to get a quick shower in first...."

Phil nodded, slowly sitting up. "I will," he said softly, before heading through to the bathroom to take a quick shower and dress.

Paul headed into the kitchen and began to prepare breakfast, keeping an ear open for when Nick arrived. As worried and upset as the other man had been, he didn't expect him to take long getting to the house.

While Phil was still in the shower, Nick pulled up outside and let himself into the house. Hearing noises from the kitchen, he immediately walked to that room.

Paul glanced up as Nick walked into the room. "Hey, kid..." He smiled at the younger man. "Coffee's brewed and waiting for you. The bacon is almost done. What would you like in your omelet?" he asked conversationally. It was almost if it hadn't been nearly a year since they'd last seen each other and Nick wasn't visiting under less than ideal circumstances.

Nick shrugged, walking over to collect his coffee and sipping from the mug. "Mushrooms and tomatoes... though I'm not fussy," he said mildly.

"You never have been, bro..." Paul smiled again, quickly making up the omelet, then plating it along with bacon and toast and handing it to Nick. Hearing the shower stop, he began to make an omelet for Phil as well, remembering how his little brother always liked them made. "It's good to see you again, Nick..." he said, while he made the second omelet. "I wish there were better circumstances...."

Nick nodded, taking a seat at the kitchen table and beginning to eat. "I do as well," he said between mouthfuls. "But I'm glad you're here."

Plating Phil's food and covering it so it would remain warm- he expected his brother to walk in at any moment- Paul began making his own omelet. "I'm sure we'll be discussing Phil's actions when he gets here to defend or explain himself... but until then... how are you doing? You've only been leading your own team of agents for a few weeks now. Is it what you expected? Is the director treating you right? Who else is on your team? Am I asking too many questions?" He grinned impishly.

Nick grinned at his brother in return. "You couldn't ask too many questions. And I was expecting it to be stressful... I didn't realize just how much paperwork there is. Or just how many agents like to go off the reservation without warning." His tone was wry.

Phil stepped into the kitchen, a sheepish look coming over his face as he caught the tail-end of Nick's comment.

"Really? So you honestly believed you and Phil were the only two that routinely did that?" Paul's question sounded innocent. He was well aware of a few times before Nick had been promoted when he and Phil had both 'gone off' the reservation. Usually by the time Paul and their father had heard about it, the two men's superior officers had already taken care of the matter and neither Paul nor Ben had felt inclined to step in and take further action. This time was different, though. Not only had Phil gone off the reservation alone...but he'd disobeyed family, even if it was related to work and not a family situation. The only thing holding him back now was he wanted to see how Nick wanted to handle the matter before he did anything. Since it was Nick Phil had disobeyed.

"Of course not," Nick replied. "But it's different being on the other end of it." He looked towards Phil. "Are you going to come in and have breakfast?" His voice was gruff, but still affectionate.

Phil nodded, stepping slowly into the room and collecting his food with a murmured, "Thank you," to his brother.

"You're always welcome..." Paul smiled, finishing making his own omelet and plating it, then going to sit next to his two brothers at the table. "I can make more toast if either of you need more to eat..." he said, wanting to make certain his family was well fed.

Nick shook his head. "This is plenty... much better food than I normally manage to grab while working."

Phil didn't say his appetite was low... even though he was doing his best to force himself to eat, knowing how much his brothers would worry if he didn't try.

"I hope you're taking care of yourself adequately, Nick..." Paul couldn't help but give the younger man a worried frown. He knew how easy it was to subside on junk food and take-out when working in a high-stress, high activity job. He turned his concern onto Phil, noting how slowly- and how little- his other brother was actually eating. "You too...."

"It's taking a little while to adjust, but I know it's important to take care of myself as well as everyone else," Nick commented, his own gaze turning towards Phil.

Phil swallowed his mouthful. "I'm trying," he said softly.

Paul nodded, deciding that anymore work related questions, especially in regards to how his brothers were taking care of themselves, should wait until after the meal. Instead, he started a non-serious discussion. "Cath got two kittens a few months ago. They were supposedly two 'fixed' males. Turns out one of them was a female who liked to wander and now we're expecting more kittens..." he groused good-naturedly.

Phil's smile was small, but still visible. "I'm sure Cath likes that," he commented, forcing himself to eat and then take a sip of coffee.

"I'd offer to take one, but I don't think it would fit in at HQ," Nick commented.

"Cath is ecstatic...I'm not sure she'd let me give any of them away, even if you could take one..." Paul chuckled. "Still, if you find you change your mind...."

"You'll be the first to know," Nick promised. He finished his food and then carried the plate and utensils to the sink to wash them.

Paul finished soon after and began cleaning up his own dishes. "If you'd like to get another cup of coffee, I figure we can talk in the living room..." he said to Nick, while checking to see if Phil was still eating.

Nick nodded. "Sounds good to me." He walked over to pour himself some more coffee.

"I don't have much of an appetite..." Phil said apologetically to his brother, struggling to eat what he knew he should.

Paul nodded at Phil. "I gave you more than you needed, really. If you can get through half of it, I won't be offended if you don't eat it all...." Meaning he wouldn't give Phil concerned, stern looks about eating enough.

Phil nodded, forcing himself to eat just over half before he finished his coffee and stood to wash his own plate and utensils.

Paul waited for his brother so they could join Nick in the living room. As soon as Phil was ready, he wrapped his arm around the other man's shoulders and led him into the other room. "Phil explained what he did from his point of view, Nick. I'd like to hear your side of the situation..." he said to his other brother, concern in his tone.

Nick sat down on the armchair opposite the couch, allowing Paul to have Phil next to him. "When Phil asked about the mission, I told him it wasn't urgent and that he needed to wait until I could arrange for backup."

"From what Phil indicated, he went anyway...by himself." Paul glanced at Phil before looking back at Nick. "I'm assuming that you didn't know until after he'd left?"

Nick shook his head. "I only found the note after you called..." He looked at Phil.

Phil lowered his head, unable to look either of his brothers in the eye.

Paul gave Phil a disappointed look before looking at Nick again. "So, basically you wouldn't have known if anything had gone wrong until at least a day later if not longer, meaning Phil could have been dead before you even knew you needed to find him."

"That sums it up." Only those people who knew Nick Fury very well would be able to tell how frustrated he was... and two of said people were sitting directly opposite him.

"If one of your other agents that you are responsible for had done what Phil did, what would your response have been?" Paul asked calmly.

"I would have suspended them, at least..." Nick replied, his voice just as calm.

Paul nodded, having suspected as much. Turning toward Phil, he asked, "Is that you want? To have your brother be forced to suspend you or worse? On top of knowing how horrible having to do so would make him feel? Assuming something wouldn't have happened to you and both of us would be worried sick about you or mourning your loss?" His voice was calm, but underneath was a steely tone showing how upset he was by the blatant disobedience and risking of life for no good reason.

Phil couldn't hold eye contact with either of his brothers. "No..." he said, his voice very quiet. "I know it was wrong... I was wrong... I'm sorry..."

Paul sighed and ran a hand through his hair before looking back at Fury. "I know how I'm inclined to handle the situation, but it wasn't me he blatantly disobeyed. How do you need to handle it?" he asked Fury quietly. If it was out of his hands and Nick had to handle it a certain way, then he would temper his own response to go with that, so that the punishment wasn't overly harsh.

"To be honest... I doubt anything official will be effective," Nick replied honestly, though he didn't mention the personal reasons as to why. "I'm content to let you deal with our brother... off the record."

"Very well. Do you have to leave for work immediately?" Paul asked with a tiny smile. While he planned to take care of Phil as soon as possible, knowing the other man would not be able to relax or let go of the guilt he was obviously feeling until he had been, Paul also wanted to spend time with Nick. "If so, I'd like you to come by tonight as soon as you get free. I'll fix dinner and we can catch up."

"I should probably take care of my paperwork then... so I can have dinner without worrying or stressing." Nick stood and stepped closer to Phil, clapping him gently on the shoulder. "I'm going to leave you in our brother's capable hands... but do this again and you'll get to learn firsthand why I got promoted."

"Okay," Phil said, his voice very quiet... barely a whisper.

"You be careful, Nick. Lead agent or not...if I find out you aren't being careful or taking care of yourself, I'll have no qualms about coming and taking care of you, too..." Paul smiled, but he was obviously serious.

"Yeah, I know..." Nick's voice was serious, even though he smiled at Paul. "I'll see you both later." He gave both his brothers a quick hug and then left the house.

Once he was certain that Nick was safely on his way, Paul turned toward Phil. "Is there anything else you want to say or talk about before we take care of things?" His voice was caring.

"...I don't think there is anything else I can add..." Phil admitted, his voice barely a whisper.

"In that case, I don't believe there is anything more I can add that hasn't already been said. Except one thing. I love you, little brother. I loved your family. I can't imagine the pain you've gone through losing them; as much as it hurt me for them to be lost, I know it was only a fraction of the hurt you felt. So I sympathize...I really do. But my sympathy does not extend to allowing you to do things that could take you away from me for no good reason. That will never be acceptable. Do you understand?" Paul swallowed hard, blinking back his own tears at what the family had already lost and what they could have lost with Phil's actions.

"I... know," Phil said quietly, flinching at the mention of his family. "I know I shouldn't have put myself in that kind of danger... and I understand why you're going to punish me," he admitted, his voice quiet.

Nodding slightly at Phil's admission, Paul took a deep breath. "Good. I'm glad you understand." Gently, taking his brother by the arm, Paul tugged Phil over his lap, pulling him in close and secure then quickly bared him. Feeling that nothing more needed to be said, he raised his hand and let it fall with a firm smack, following with a second and then a third beginning the process of covering his brother's backside with the stinging swats.

Phil jumped, letting out a slight gasp, and reached down to grasp his brother's ankle, bracing his other hand on the couch... so he wouldn't try to reach back.

Paul continued swatting, keeping the smacks firm and just hard enough to be felt but not harm his brother. Finishing the first circuit, he began a second, picking up the tempo slightly as he also spoke. "I don't want to lose you, Phil. Not because you let your grief control you and caused you to take unnecessary chances. I know you're hurting. Nick knows you're hurting. Because you are hurting, you need to obey Nick when he gives you an order. Not just because he is your boss, but because he is your brother and loves you and will do whatever he can to keep you safe, even if your job isn't always safe. You especially need to listen and obey when you aren't thinking clearly because of the grief...."

Phil swallowed, the tears threatening to fall. His vision went blurry and he felt an ache deep inside... an ache that had nothing to do with the spanking and everything to do with the sharp, piercing grief and guilt that had been plaguing him. When the first sob was torn from his throat, it was that, along with his brother's words that made him begin to lose control of his tears.

Paul had just begun a third circuit when he heard the sob. He immediately stopped swatting, placing a hand on his brother's back and beginning to rub gently before carefully righting Phil and holding onto him tightly. "I know. I've got you, baby brother. I've got you and I'm not letting go..." he whispered, kissing the side of Phil's head and hugging him close.

Phil didn't hesitate, wrapping his arms around his brother and hugging on tight. The tears were falling down his cheeks, enough that he had to close his eyes. He pressed into Paul, hiding his face against his brother's shirt as he cried.

Paul could do nothing but hold onto Phil as tightly as possible and promise to be there. He could only imagine the pain his brother was going through, having lost his family in such a brutal manner. He continued to whisper into Phil's ear that he would be there, reminding Phil that their father Ben was there for him, as was Nick...and Cathy was ready to come out to be with him as well if Paul told her she was needed. He did everything in his power to make certain Phil knew he wasn't alone, that he didn't have to deal with the pain alone. Rocking his brother gently, he continued to hug him.

It took a long time for Phil's tears to die down, as he cried out the indescribable feelings of loss and grief... but eventually, the storm did pass, leaving him limp and drained against his brother, even though he didn't so much as loosen the near death grip he had on Paul.

Paul just continued to hold his brother tightly, although he did manage to fix Phil's clothing so that the younger man wouldn't get cold (or become embarrassed, once he calmed enough to pay attention to such details). "I think maybe a nap would be a good idea...Would you rather lie down in here, or go back to your room? I'll stay with you..." Paul said softly, hoping that the question and having to make a choice would keep Phil from withdrawing into his head and dwelling on the bad memories.

Phil fought to keep back a yawn, but managed to focus enough to whisper, "Maybe... my room?" He wasn't sure his legs would fully support him, though. He felt like the storm of crying had weakened him.

Paul didn't say anything else, just stood up with his brother in his arms. It was a bit worrying to him how easy it was to pick Phil up from a sitting position; the younger man had obviously lost a lot of weight. Paul determined that he would call their father and Cath as soon as the nap was over to let them know he was staying with Phil until his brother was on a more even keel emotionally and could be trusted to take care of himself adequately. Until then, though.... He carried Phil back into the bedroom and carefully put him onto the bed, before going to the hall closet and getting a blanket to put over the both of them. Returning to the bedroom, he got onto the bed next to Phil, covering them both with the blanket, then pulled his brother into his arms. "Sleep..." he said softly, kissing the top of Phil's head.

Phil curled up in Paul's arms, closing his eyes obediently. It didn't take long for him to fall asleep, finally at peace... at least for the moment with his brother close and knowing he still had part of his family.

***

"I'm glad Uncle Paul was able to be there for you..." Grant said softly. "...I'd hate if you'd gotten hurt or worse because of how bad you felt about what happened to Mom and me...."

Clint nodded. "It explains a lot, really...why you were always so careful not to do unnecessarily dangerous stuff around Uncle Nick. I always figured you wanted to set a good example for me, but knowing that he'd have handed you your butt if you'd taken unnecessary chances...." He glanced at Nick and grinned. "....Not that I can blame you. I've never had any inclination to test Uncle Nick's patience when it came to my health, either." He laughed.

Coulson smiled, reaching out to gently touch the shoulders of each of his children and grandchildren. "When you came into my life, Clint... I knew I couldn't take any chances with my safety, because I knew I wasn't going to do anything to risk taking myself away from you." Glancing at his best friend, he smiled and added, "Of course... I knew your uncle would have had some very choice words anyway."

Bobbi grinned at her father and at her uncle. "Uncle Nick has a way of getting through to people, even if they aren't family, just by looking at them a certain way." She continued, admitting with a bit of a laugh, "I mean, I never wanted to do anything to get him irritated at me even years ago, before you'd ever even thought of adopting me. Not that it kept me from being on the wrong end of a few choice words occasionally...."

Fury shrugged. "I expect most of you agents have memories of being on that end," he commented. He knew he wasn't known for his patience... even though he was doing much better now that he had his children.

Bobbi grinned sheepishly. "I suspect most of us do...although to be fair a lot of my reluctance to be on that end had more to do with my disappointment in myself for having earned your disapproval...Since I respected you so much. Now that we're actually family.... I'd like it even less, than the last time it happened...." She blushed, fairly certain her uncle wouldn't remember that time, even if it was etched into her memory permanently.

Fury looked faintly surprised... but then nodded as Bobbi's words triggered his memory. "I can safely say that, after that time, you haven't done anything since then to earn my disapproval."

"Not that you caught me at, anyway..." she muttered under her breath, looking down at her lap with a blushing, bashful look.

Grant, wanting to get that embarrassed look off of his baby sister's face, grinned crookedly. "Clint's never had to look out for me the same way Uncle Paul apparently had to look out for dad..."

"Not to say I wouldn't! Because I so would, if you needed it!" Clint broke in.

Grant winced, but was still smiling. "I'm sure if it came to her being hurt or my stepping in, I'd be the same way with Bobbi..." He refrained from laughing at the horrified look on his sister's face. "...I'm pretty sure any of us 'older siblings' would, if the parental unit was unable to do so...."


House Party

Having been listening with a slight, almost thoughtful smile on his face, Blake spoke up. "As an older brother who had to take on a parental responsibility... there have been times I've had to step in with Deacon, no matter that he is a good kid... even if he does make mistakes at times."

Bakshi, seated next to his cousin, snorted softly. "Don't we all..." he muttered.

"How long have you been responsible for your brother?" Clint asked curiously. "My brother Barney was responsible for me for about five years, until he got into some trouble with some bad characters and thought I'd be safer without him. Luckily, dad found me soon after he left..." He smiled at Coulson gratefully.

Coulson gave his oldest son a warm smile and placed his hand on Clint's shoulder, squeezing gently. "I've never regretted it," he promised, even as he looked at Blake, waiting for the other man's response.

"Since I was eighteen," Blake replied. "As soon as I could... I didn't want him to continue having to go through the system. Not that everything was sunshine and roses," he added.

***

Deacon finished making his brother's favorite dinner, checking to make certain the table was set just so and a cold beer was waiting for Blake's return. He needed all the help he could get to convince his brother to let him stay out late the upcoming Friday night...especially given his grades on his report card that had just arrived in the mail. He glanced toward the door as he heard the car door slam.

Blake let himself into the house, carrying a stack of paperwork and a burden that was much less visible. He was starting to get pressure put on him and subtle threats made not just against him... but also against Deacon.

Closing the door behind him, Blake headed through to the kitchen. "Hey, kiddo... thanks for making dinner," he said warmly, trying not to indicate just how much stress he was under.

"No problem!" Deacon bit his lip as he saw the paperwork and the stress lines on his brother's face (even if Blake attempted to hide the stress). Should he wait to ask? Should he ask immediately before Blake saw the report? The mail was on the counter where Blake could see it and the report from the school was on top.... Deacon tried not to fidget and instead finished bringing dinner out to the table. "I got you a beer, but if you want something else....?" he sort of asked his brother, wanting to make certain Blake was as comfortable as possible before asking his question.

"A beer is fine." Blake put the paperwork down and hesitated, seeing the mail... but he always tried not to carry his work to the table when he and his brother were about to eat. "How was school today?" he asked instead.

"It was good! I got invited over to one of the guys' house for this weekend..." he said casually, trying not to make a big deal about it, because he didn't want specific questions asked.

"Whose house?" Blake asked mildly. While he wasn't against the idea of Deacon spending time with his friends... the threats against his brother still lingered in his mind. A big part of him wanted to keep Deacon locked away safe in the house and he had to remind himself that Deacon needed some space.

"St. John.....St. John Allerdyce..." Deacon said, trying to make it sound like it wasn't a big deal in the least and hoping his brother had never heard of his friend.

Blake frowned. "He's been arrested a few times. Not someone who's a good influence." While Blake wouldn't go into details, the kid's arrests were common knowledge.

"He's a bit rough around the edges; he hasn't had it easy and isn't as lucky as I've been to have someone looking out for him... but we'll be at his house. Not a lot of trouble he can get up to there and I won't be doing anything wrong...." Deacon tried to spin things in a more positive way for what he wanted to do.

"Deacon..." Blake leaned forward, placing a hand on his brother's arm. "There's still trouble you can get into at someone's house. Do you even know how many people are going to be there? Or who's going to be there?" His biggest concern came from the knowledge that the kid had started getting into hard drugs. Not that his parents had seemed worried, the last time they'd come to bail him out.

"S'far as I know, there will only be him, me and maybe one other guy that I don't know. It isn't going to be a house party or anything like that!" Deacon protested, even though he really wasn't certain about any of what he'd just told his brother and for all he knew, there would be a lot more people there.

"I'm sorry, Deacon," Blake said. "If it was someone else, then it wouldn't be a problem... but he's not someone you want to get mixed up with. He's in a downward spiral I don't want you getting pulled into."

"Aw...c'mon! He isn't that bad! He just..." Deacon struggled with words, trying to come up with something that would make Blake sympathetic toward St.John...but not be something that would make St.John feel like he was being looked down on if he ever found out. "He's had it rough, but he's stuck up for me in school a couple of times against bullies and he wants to be my friend. And even if you don't trust him, I've never gotten into trouble. How can you not trust me?"

"I do trust you, kid... but I've seen too many good kids get pulled into a downward spiral because they've become friends with someone who can't help themselves," Blake said gently. "Peer pressure is very powerful." And he couldn't quite hide his worry. Someone like St. John was someone he could imagine easily got to... and he knew he and Deacon were already in danger.

Deacon sighed, but didn't say anything, instead sullenly stabbing his fork into some vegetable and stuffing it in his mouth. He didn't want to argue with Blake; his brother had so much on his plate just trying to keep their small family afloat and make sure that Deacon was able to stay with him instead of being in a foster home...but it was still difficult. Once upon a time, he was pretty sure his brother would have been right there with him going to a party. Now, Blake was more of a father than an older brother and the change in their relationship was sometimes hard to adjust to. "Can you sign the back of this envelope, please? I have to return it to my homeroom teacher tomorrow..." he mumbled, thrusting the report envelope toward Blake and hoping that his brother would just sign without bothering to look at the grades inside.

Blake took a couple of mouthfuls of food before he paused to open the envelope and look properly at the grades. He paused, taking them in, and then looked across the table at his brother. "I know you can do better than this," he said softly.

Deacon bit his lip and swallowed, his eyes dropping to his plate as he fidgeted. "I didn't do that bad..." he defended himself weakly. Of course, the problem wasn't that he wasn't doing well. The assignments he turned in, he did very well on. The problem was he'd not bothered to do or turn in so many assignments, his grades were falling.

"According to the comments made by your teachers, you haven't been turning in that many assignments," Blake said. "Are you finding them difficult? Or too easy that they're not a challenge?" he asked.

"They aren't hard..." Deacon fidgeted some more. "...I just don't feel like doing them sometimes and then I forget or lose track of time and it's too late...." He didn't say that, a lot of the time, he was hanging out with St.John instead of coming home to do his work like he was supposed to.

"Is part of that because you've been out when you know you shouldn't be?" Blake asked, wondering if Deacon was already being influenced by St. John.

"Why would I go out when you've told me explicitly that I'm to come straight home after school?" Deacon asked rhetorically, instead of answering. He put just the right amount of offended hurt pride into his tone to indicate he hadn't done anything and couldn't believe his brother would ask such a thing.

"Because I know sometimes wanting to have fun with friends trumps schoolwork," Blake replied. "I might not act it, but I was your age too once."

"I'm not doing anything I'm not supposed to..." Deacon muttered, not wanting to outright lie but not wanting to admit his brother had figured him out either.

Blake sighed, eating a mouthful of food before he spoke. "There are reasons for me asking you to come home straight from school." He was ashamed that he was considering giving into the threats... but he couldn't endanger Deacon, no matter what.

"Cuz you're a worry-wart?" Deacon mumbled, only somewhat teasing. He knew his brother worried...they were all each of them had in the world and Blake had worked hard to be able to get to a position where he could bring his brother back home instead of leaving Deacon stuck in the foster system. Deacon knew this and was grateful. That's why it made it so difficult, though. His brother worried and as a result, Deacon felt like he had little say in what happened in his own life (though he had to admit, he had a lot more freedom than some of the kids his age who had both parents around to keep track) and it made him irritable. Then he felt guilty for feeling irritable and that made him more irritable and it was just a nasty, circular smorgasbord of negativity. Maybe if he admitted everything to Blake and told his brother how he was feeling....

No. That would just make Blake worry more and Blake worried too much as it was. Deacon forced himself to smile and gave his brother an apologetic wince. "Sorry...that's not fair..." he finally admitted softly.

Blake's smile was soft, if a little sad due to the path he knew he was going to have to go down. "You're right. I worry too much. And I'll try to let up a bit... but that doesn't mean you can go to St. John's house," he added.

Deacon sighed, but didn't argue. If he was honest, he figured he was lucky that the only thing Blake said was that he wasn't allowed to go; considering how badly his grades had fallen, he could have easily grounded him and made him check in everywhere he went, or something else equally embarrassing.

"But I want to see an improvement in these grades," Blake added. "Even if I'm not always here to encourage you... you don't want to finish school with less marks than you're capable of getting. And I know you can do far better than this."

At those words, Deacon couldn't help but blush and squirm. He knew he was capable of getting way better marks. His brother was right about that. School just never seemed to matter as much when he was hanging out with St.John, though. "Ok...." he finally said softly. If he got up earlier in the morning, he could finish some of the work. Staying up a little later would help him do a lot of it. He should be able to improve his grades enough that Blake wouldn't worry or be upset.

"Thank you." Blake finished what was on his plate and then signed the report card while he waited for Deacon to finish. He then collected their plates and utensils and walked to clean them up.

It was a subdued Deacon that followed Blake into the kitchen to help clean up. He really wanted to go to St.John's house... but Blake had said he couldn't. The thought of going against what his brother said didn't even occur to him, at that moment.

Blake began running water. "How much work do you have to do this evening?" he asked his brother.

"I have a chapter to read in history...with some questions I need to answer about the chapter. I have a few Algebra problems. I'm supposed to write a report on Othello....And I have a test in Biology tomorrow...." Deacon was honest regarding the homework. Listing it out to his brother, he winced; he hadn't realized how much he was leaving undone when he'd put it off to go out with St.John earlier that afternoon. Chances were, he wouldn't have even cared if it hadn't been for the fact his brother had just seen his grades and told him to do better. Now? He suspected it was going to be a long night.

Blake raised his eyebrows. "Okay, so why don't you make a start on what needs to be done first while I take care of cleanup? Then, in about half an hour or so, you can have a break and we can eat some ice cream."

"Yessir..." Deacon's tone was subdued and slightly shamed as he obeyed his brother, quickly going to retrieve his book bag and pulling out what he thought would be the easiest subject first. If he got hung up on something, at least he'd have the other items completed and wouldn't risk leaving it all unfinished if he couldn't complete a harder subject. Soon, he was focused on reading and answering questions.

Blake finished clearing up and then retrieved his own paperwork, trying to push the threats against his brother out of his mind. If it was just himself in the firing line, there'd be no question of doing the right thing... but he couldn't endanger Deacon.

After nearly an hour had passed, Blake put the paperwork away with a barely audible sigh. "Ready for that ice cream, kiddo?"

Deacon glanced up and blinked owlishly, then looked at what he'd completed, neatly set to the side to be placed in his book bag again. "I finished everything but studying for my Biology test..." he said, with some small bit of surprise. He'd thought it would take him longer to finish. "Ice cream sounds great!" He grinned, the sense of accomplishment and the thought that maybe he might have given his brother a small reason to be a little happier buoying his own mental attitude.

Blake smiled and wrapped an arm around Deacon's shoulders, squeezing gently. "Great work!" he praised. "I'll get that ice cream."

It didn't take long for Blake to have two bowls set on the table and for him and his brother to be sat down eating.

***

It was the weekend and Blake had ended up having to work late at the precinct. His new partner, Hoffman, had been in Fisk's pocket for a long time... and although Blake wasn't happy with having to become a dirty cop, he was allowing Hoffman to believe he was okay with it... if only because willingly playing along meant he was more likely to get what he needed to bring Fisk down.

As one of the more rookie officers, Blake hadn't been called into the disturbance at the house. It wasn't even until one of the more senior officers approached him that he took notice. "Heads up. One of the kids we arrested is your little brother."

"Deacon?" Blake stood immediately, worry and concern churning within him. "Where is he?"

***

Deacon sat in the holding cell, knees drawn up under his chin and his arms wrapped around his legs. Chris was going to kill him, he was positive. After all, he'd told him he couldn't go to St.John's house and Deacon had allowed him to believe that he would obey. In his own defense, Deacon hadn't expected St.John to invite twenty other kids...or to have the alcohol there...or the firearms...or the drugs....

Closing his eyes tightly, he hid his face against his knees. If he'd realized that his 'friend' was going to be throwing an all-out rave, he would have listened to Christian. St.John had lied to him about the actual plans, though. To say Deacon felt disillusioned was a bit of a mild understatement. He wasn't certain he could really call St.John a friend anymore, considering how the other teen had bugged out the minute the police had shown up, leaving Deacon to answer questions and bear the brunt of fall-out because St.John had told everyone else that it was Deacon's party.

Blake didn't really have a lot of clout in the precinct, but Hoffman had quickly stepped in... and as much as it made him sick to his stomach to have to rely even more on Fisk's underlings to help him, Blake knew he couldn't show that. When he was let into the holding cell, he walked over to Deacon and sat next to him. "Do I need to ask if you went to St. John's?"

"No..." Deacon mumbled into his legs, barely loud enough to be heard. He couldn't bring himself to look at his brother. After everything Christian had done for him...after all the warnings and admonishments to not hang out with St.John...after being told straight out NOT to go to St.John's house.... Deacon was positive his brother would be furious. Would he be furious enough to decide he couldn't take care of Deacon any longer? Would he send him back into foster care? He didn't want to leave his brother...didn't want to be anywhere but with Blake...but his actions certainly hadn't proven it. He tensed up in an effort not to cry. Had he broken enough laws to be put into jail? Had he ruined any chance his brother had for being a policeman? What was going to happen? He couldn't stop his body from shaking once the uncertainty and fear became too much.

With a quiet sigh, Blake wrapped his arms around Deacon in a tight hug. "It's all right... this isn't going to go on your permanent record," he whispered to his brother, though he didn't mention it was putting him in Fisk's debt to pull that off. He could only imagine what he'd be forced to do by Fisk... but at least he could do one good thing and make sure Deacon wouldn't go to jail or have a criminal record.

"I'm sorry, Chris..." Deacon said in a very tiny, subdued voice, sounding much more like the scared child that had snuck into big brother's room to sleep after having a nightmare, than the aloof, trying-to-be-independent teen he'd been acting like since Blake had brought him back home.

"I know." Blake stroked his hair gently. "Is there anything you can tell me about the party... who was selling the drugs... before we take care of the paperwork?"

"That's just it...I didn't know anybody...it was all St.John. He invited people; I didn't know they'd be there...I shoulda listened to you- he just told everyone it was my party and then when the police showed up, he ran and everyone pointed the finger at me...but I didn't know anyone or how the drugs were brought in or nothing..." Deacon sniffled, trying really hard not to cry. "I don't do drugs...you gotta believe me, Chris...I don't. I know I lied bout everything else, but I'm not lying bout that..." He turned anguished eyes toward his brother, afraid that, after all the other lies he'd told, he wouldn't be believed about this very important thing.

"I know you don't, kiddo," Blake said gently. "I don't need a scan to tell you that. But if you can, I'd like you to think about all of the people you did see... if there was anyone with distinguishing marks. There are some known drug dealers on file and if you can identify any of them, there'd be enough cause to bring them in."

"Yeah...ok...I think I remember some of them; they had tattoos. Some had scars. I...I think they were from a gang..." Deacon bit his lip, forcing himself to look up at his brother instead of hiding his face again. This information wasn't likely to make his brother any happier- and was proof of exactly why he'd been told not to go there in the first place.

Blake nodded and stood, keeping his arm around Deacon's shoulders and helping his brother up. "We'll go take a look at some of those files... then take care of the paperwork." Knowing he was working the system, even if it was for his brother, cut deep... but he already had some information on Hoffman. With luck, he could bring Fisk down... even if he might end up paying the ultimate price.

***

Deacon had done everything asked of him as far as identifying people who had been there and answering questions. While he hadn't known anyone that had been at the party, except St.John, he had a fairly good memory and was able to identify enough people that the police had something to work with. Turned out St.John had broken into the house to throw his party- it didn't actually belong to him or a family member- so police had a lot of fingerprints of the attendees. Deacon's testimony would aid in taking those who were 'adult' offenders off the street. It was scary to Deacon to find out how many of those at the party were actually considered adult; and how nearly all of them were in the most dangerous gang in the city. They'd finally finished questioning him and now he was sitting on a bench outside an office, waiting for Blake to come retrieve him and take him home.

By the time Blake finished with the paperwork, he was drained... at least emotionally. Agreeing to an illicit meeting with Fisk (Hoffman's price for helping Deacon), Blake stepped over to Deacon on the bench and held his hand out to his brother. "Come on, kiddo. Let's go home."

Deacon wasn't ashamed to take his brother's hand, even if it did mean being led out of the precinct like a five-year-old. Considering what he'd done and what his brother had just rescued him from, being humbled a bit and letting his brother be in control without arguing seemed the least that he deserved.

Blake only let go of his brother when they reached the car. Opening the passenger door, he waited for Deacon to get in, before walking round to the driver's side to get in as well. He put his seatbelt on and began driving. As he did, he spoke in a soft voice. "I'm going to need you not to mention this to any of your friends, Deacon. What happened in there isn't exactly legal." While he didn't plan to tell his brother the danger they were in, he knew being honest with Deacon was going to be better in the long run... and he needed Deacon to know the stakes, in case there came a time Blake couldn't protect him.

Deacon turned stricken eyes toward his brother and said, in a tiny voice, "You broke the law to keep me out of trouble?" He swallowed hard, unable to keep from crying as he suddenly realized the lengths his brother would go to protect him...the depth of his love. "I'm so sorry, Chris...I...I'm so so sorry...." His voice was quivery. "I won't tell anyone...and I won't go near St.John anymore. I'll make new friends...I'll be good and you'll be proud of me! You'll see!" he promised through tears.

Blake freed one hand from the steering wheel to place it on Deacon's leg, squeezing gently. "You're a good kid, Deacon... and I believe you just made a mistake tonight. We'll handle it at home between us, but I'm not going to let it affect your future. And it wasn't your fault that I broke the law... because I was going to have to do it sooner or later." He pulled up outside their house, turning to his brother with a serious expression on his face. "Have you heard of Fisk?"

"The business guy? St.John mentioned him once...said he was one you didn't want to get on the bad side of...Beyond that, which was a bit unusual, cause St.John never backed down from anyone, I don't know much...." Deacon sniffled again, trying to calm down, his brother's words that he would have had to at some point anyway confusing him.

"Well, St. John's probably right about that," Blake said. "He's someone who should be brought down... but he's got at least one officer in his pocket: my partner, who you met today. A lot more, more than likely. And he's been putting pressure on me."

"I...I gave them the perfect weapon to use against you...." Deacon whispered agitatedly. "If I'd just obeyed you, I wouldn't have gotten in trouble and they wouldn't have stepped in and... I...." Deacon gave Blake a guilt filled, heartbroken glance. "Ever since I was little, all you talked of was being a policeman and helping people and putting bad guys behind bars and now, cuz of me, you have to do what the bad guys say?"

Blake shook his head and wrapped his arm around Deacon's shoulders, hugging him close. "This wasn't your fault, kiddo. They were trying to get to me before tonight... but it was only today that I thought of bringing them down from the inside. I don't know who's in his pocket, but if I get enough evidence, I can bring him down..." He didn't add 'and protect you in the meantime', even though Deacon was his main driving force.

"But...Chris? If there are other cops in his pocket, how do you prove to the others that you were trying to take him down? You don't know who to trust...won't you end up on trouble too if you have to do it alone and can't tell anyone else? What if he finds out and...and..." Deacon swallowed hard. He may have been chafing under his big brother's rules, but he'd rather live under those rules forever than lose his brother. He whimpered, letting out a tiny sob.

Blake wrapped his other arm around Deacon, hugging him close. "I don't have much of a choice, kiddo," he said gently. "Fisk wants me in his pocket for whatever reason... if I don't pretend to go along with it, he'll come after me hard... and you'll get caught up in it." Sighing, he added, "As for him finding out... once I've got enough evidence, it isn't going to be just the police I'll be releasing it to. I'll make sure there's no way it can be swept under the rug."

"Please don't die..." Deacon huddled against his brother, acting more like the little kid he'd been when their parents died and he was about to be taken by the social worker, than the together teen he'd been before the night happened.

Blake tightened his embrace around his brother, pressing a kiss to the top of his head. "I have you to stay alive for," he whispered in Deacon's ear. "I'm not going to do anything to separate us."

"I love you..." Deacon whispered, still obviously upset, worried and feeling very guilty now that he was aware of what his brother was facing and that he'd contributed more problems and difficulties to the situation.

"I love you too." Blake tightened his embrace. "While you shouldn't have gone to that party, you are not responsible for the choices I've made and for how I'm keeping you safe," he said, gently stroking his brother's hair.

"Maybe not." Deacon sniffled. "I certainly haven't made it any easier for you, though...." He swallowed hard, shivering and holding more tightly to his brother.

Blake kissed his head. "Let's go inside, kiddo," he said gently.

"Ok..." Deacon answered meekly, getting out of the car before waiting for Blake to lead him inside.

Blake got out of the car as well and locked up before he moved over to Deacon, wrapping his arm around his brother and leading him inside the house.

Deacon sighed and looked around their tiny apartment with guilt filled eyes.

Blake closed and locked the door, then guided his brother through to the living room and sat down, gently settling Deacon next to him on the couch. "Is there anything else I need to know?" he asked gently.

"No. I didn't hide anything at the station..." Deacon said sadly. "I disobeyed you and now everything is a mess...."

"It isn't a mess." Blake hugged Deacon close. "I'll deal with it, kiddo. I'll work to bring Fisk down... make our home that much safer."

"What can I do? To help?" Deacon asked softly.

"Stay out of trouble. Don't hang out with the wrong crowd." Blake lightly tapped his chin. "Basically what you already know I expect from you. I know you made a mistake. We will deal with it, but I'm not going to hold it against you. I do trust you, kiddo."

Biting his lip, Deacon nodded. "Yessir...I know what you expect. I'm sorry I didn't listen....I was a brat." He looked down again. "I...I guess it was hard to admit I need to obey you now, cuz you're taking care of me like mom or dad woulda. I just keep thinking bout when we were just brothers and could have fun together and you didn't have to worry bout me so much..." He sighed and wiped a hand at his eyes.

Blake tightened his arms around Deacon. "I always worried about you, kiddo... I just got more responsible about not doing anything to endanger myself. You're smart enough not to have to worry about where you're going to end up, but getting into this kind of trouble could easily leave a permanent mark on your record. You disobeyed me and put your own future in jeopardy... and those reasons are why I'm going to spank you," he said seriously.

Deacon looked up at that. "You always worried bout me?" He had a small note of surprise in his voice. Slowly rising, he stood by his brother's knee before undoing his jeans, wincing when they and his underwear fell to the floor. He'd taken to wearing the oversized baggy pants like St.John and his friends wore. The kind that his brother had always said weren't really safe. Now he could see why.

"Maybe have a change in pants, too." Blake rubbed his brother's hand reassuringly and then gently guided Deacon across his lap, securing him with an arm wrapped around his waist.

"Yessir..." Deacon was bright red at his clothing malfunction; why, he wasn't sure...it wasn't like he wasn't going over his brother's knee, bare bottom visible, anyway. Still. He easily went where Blake guided him, shifting close enough that his brother could hold him tightly. He knew himself and he knew that when it began to sting, he wasn't going to be able to hold still and he didn't want to end up on the floor.

Blake rubbed his back gently. "I love you, kiddo. No matter what, that isn't going to change." Not wanting to drag this out any more and make it harder on both of them, he lifted his hand and brought it down in a firm swat that he then repeated.

"I love you too, Chris..." Deacon said quietly, his voice sad and guilty. And then the first swat hit and his breath caught in his throat, only to escape with a whimper at the second swat. Deacon shifted slightly, trying hard to hold still; he didn't want to begin squirming immediately. Surely he could hold still long enough for him to actually have a reason to want to squirm? Except...even if his brother wasn't harsh, the swats still hurt. And his emotions were already so close to the surface that keeping control over anything, even his body's inclination to squirm, was proving to be difficult.

Aware of Deacon's natural responses, Blake tugged his brother closer to his stomach and settled into a rhythm of swats, going down to Deacon's thighs and then starting over from the top. It was during the second circuit he began speaking. "You're a good kid, Deacon. You made a mistake, but it isn't the end of the world... not if you learn from it and let me help you."

"Ooooooooow!" Deacon couldn't stop the whine that escaped as the spanking continued, indeed beginning to squirm shortly before his brother started the second circuit. "I'm soooorry! I'm sorry, Chris! I...I w..want to be good! I do!" He started to cry softly, still squirming hard, even if it wasn't removing the target from his brother's aim. He wanted to ask what he needed to do to learn and let his brother help, but it was too hard to form the words around the tears.

"You are good." Blake's voice was firm, the swats acting as much of an emphasis to what he was saying as punishment. "But you need to trust me when I tell you something that's for your own good."

Deacon's squirms were weakening by this point, as he was tiring himself with the movement and the crying. Letting out another tiny little sob, he whimpered. "I...I trust you. I just didn't want to listen..." he admitted forlornly. "I'm sorry..." he repeated. "I behaved bad...I...I de...des...deserve th..this..." he said, before he finally stopped squirming and just let the swats land while he quivered and tried not to be too loud with his crying. And then he couldn't even do that and he went limp over Blake's knee and just cried brokenly. "...Sorry....so sorry...."

Blake stopped when his brother went limp and quickly gathered Deacon into a tight embrace, hugging him tight and kissing Deacon's head. "I love you... and I forgive you," he said gently. "I'm just glad it didn't go worse."

Deacon could only continue to cry brokenly and snuggle as close to his brother as physically possible. "I'll listen from now on...I'll be good and won't dis'bey anymore...and...and...I love you, Chris...I don't wanna be taken way from you...I don't wanna hafta leave you or be sent away and I'm sorry!"

Blake just tightened his embrace. "You're not going to have to leave or be sent away," he said softly. "I know you're sorry, but we've dealt with that and we can move past it. I'm not angry or disappointed," he promised.

"I love you..." Deacon repeated softly, his tears finally slowing enough that he could be understood clearly again. He didn't try and get up, though, continuing to hold onto his brother as tightly as he could. "...I'll make you proud of me...I'll do really good in school and get into university and I'll be someone you can be proud of..." he finally said softly. "...And if you don't want me to hang out with someone, I'll listen...you have to like my friends..." he finished, making it a promise in his head, even if he didn't state it was a promise out loud.

"I am proud of you, kiddo," Blake said, not so much as loosening his hold on his brother. He pressed a kiss to the top of Deacon's head. "I love you. There's nothing that could ever stop that being true."

***

"When we met the kid...he seemed very responsible and heading for great things....he must have kept his word to you..." Tony said softly, a tiny smile on his face.

Blake nodded. "To be honest, apart from that short time... Deacon's always been a good kid. He never got mixed up with the wrong people after that."

"He just needed to know his place with you..." Bobbi said softly. "...So much had changed, he needed you to help him adjust...probably..." She blushed faintly, as everyone glanced in her direction.

"Haven't we all needed that at some point or other?" Bucky smiled at his niece, pulling both his sons closer and kissing them on top of their heads.

Steve smiled. "I think that's a normal thing for family members to experience."

Blake nodded to Bobbi. "You're probably right. He's much happier now, at least." He glanced around at the others, noticing it wasn't quite late enough to be turning in for the night. "So who's next?"


Tipsy Transaction

"Well, just be glad he's not an agent then, I guess..." Mack said offhandedly to Blake, ignoring the question, but obviously having a story in mind. "It's hard enough adjusting to family changes when they are real, without having to adjust for fake or temporary ones as well...." He had a funny look on his face.

"What are you thinking of?" Leo asked curiously, his head tilted to one side, trying to imagine what 'fake' or 'temporary' ones there could be. Somehow, he didn't think it was something like when he'd gone undercover and had to pretend to be part of a family with Coulson, Grant and May... especially considering they all now were a family unit.

"I'm just remembering a particular op..." Mack began.

***

"Tell me again why we needed to bring him along?" Bobbi rolled her eyes as her ex found yet one more thing to complain about regarding the remote Canadian village they were waiting to meet their contact in.

"Because you told him where we were going and it was easier than having him beg Hartly?" Mack chuckled.

"They don't even have the right beer..." Lance groused, staring at the pint he'd been nursing... though for all his complaints, it was nearly a quarter of the way gone. "How long are we going to be waiting here for?" he asked, yet again.

"Until our contact shows..." Bobbi said, with as much patience as she could muster. She would have gone off to talk to some of the locals...but most of them were working. Sighing, she gave up fighting Lance's hints and ordered her own drink...only catching bits and pieces of the yarn he was spinning for the bored bartender.

Lance muttered something that might have been, 'Should have cased the joint,' but continued to sip his beer... giving off every impression of being relaxed and enjoying himself. Only the people who knew him well would know he was watching everything.

"I'm fairly certain Logan said he'd be at this tavern, today...I hope nothing happened...." Mack muttered, shaking his head when the bartender asked if he wanted a beer. He noticed that Lance was on his second...and Bobbi wasn't far behind. He frowned at the lack of professionalism… drinking on the job...but he supposed there wasn't much trouble they could get into in a town of this size.

"Any other way to get in touch with him?" Lance asked, finishing the rest of his beer... though he didn't immediately ask for a third, even though he was beginning to get restless.

"No. He said he'd be incommunicado until he actually got into town." Bobbi sighed, not reacting when the bartender automatically put a fresh pint in front of Lance and herself. It wasn't like they would get drunk off the weak brew.

Even though he hadn't ordered a third pint, Lance still took a sip, beginning to get the pleasant buzz he associated with being slightly tipsy and not necessarily giving much thought to what he was saying. Noticing a couple of people glancing towards them and not certain if they were getting suspicious or not, he shuffled closer to Bobbi and put his arm around her. "Certainly picked an interesting place to celebrate our engagement, darling." He pitched his voice loud enough to be heard by anyone close by... anyone who might not be as innocent as they appeared.

Mack widened his eyes, fully expecting Bobbi to verbally eviscerate the other man, if not do bodily harm. To his surprise, the woman snuggled up to the mercenary, kissing him sloppily on the lips and giving him an adoring grin…. Ooookay…. Maybe she'd decided to go along with the weak attempt at a cover story? …Would have been nice if they'd warned him first, but whatever... It wasn't like he was their partner or anything. He saw Logan come in at that moment and nodded at the man as he came and sat down next to him.

Bobbi hadn't really given much thought to the fact that she'd been drinking when she decided that Lance's idea for a cover was the best thing since sliced bread and began to snuggle to him. And then the attraction they'd always felt for each other, even when they fought constantly, took over. If she'd been a little less inebriated, she would have never done it...but she began trying to make out with him at the bar, shifting so she was sitting on his lap and facing him, kissing him with everything she had.

Even in his close to drunkenness state, Lance hadn't really expected Bobbi to go along with it... had expected her to tear him a new one. But when she planted herself on his lap and began kissing him... then any kind of control Lance had fled out of the window and he was kissing her back with enthusiasm, temporarily forgetting where he was.

"Oh, God..." Mack ran a hand over his face then shook his head as he glanced toward Logan. "What?" He'd noticed a strange look on Logan's face.

"They didn't let Rosie talk them into the local brew, did they?!" The man's face was a mix of worried amusement.

"I think so, why?" Mack asked, looking at his own pint that hadn't been drunk much, if at all. "It tasted rather weak..."

"Yeah...its taste can be deceiving..." Logan chuckled. "They probably thought it safe to drink and keep their cover, because they figured it would be too weak to affect them...but ten bucks says they aren't acting drunk."

"Aaaaw...hell, no!" Mack groaned under his breath.

Oblivious to what her other partner was doing, or the fact their contact had arrived, Bobbi pressed even closer to Lance, deepening the kiss and rubbing against him with a tiny whimper, before taking his hand and decisively sliding it up under her shirt.

Lance, heedless of them being in a public place (and forgetting they were on a mission), shifted closer to Bobbi, letting her slide his hand under her shirt as his kisses grew in intensity and his other hand pressed her closer to him.

Bobbi literally purred as Lance began to draw reactions from her that only he had ever been able to cause. The happy, satisfied, obviously aroused sound drew the bartender’s attention.

"Can't wait for the wedding, huh?" She laughed, as she commented on Lance's cover story.

Bobbi leaned back long enough to catch her breath and decided to add to Lance's story. "No...I can't...if we could get married right this second, I would..." She gave the bartender a 'shy virgin' look to sell the story, before snuggling closer to Lance again, nuzzling and nipping gently at his neck.

Completely caught up, Lance chimed in with his own comments, as his hands roamed. "If there was a way to get married here and now, we'd take it. Don't need a big wedding, after all..." His grin was slightly dopey, as he seemed to have forgotten entirely what he and Bobbi were really there for.

"I can arrange that!" The bartender got her own dopey, excited look as she realized there might be a chance for a celebration. "My grandpa is justice of the peace here! He can get everything together!" She was already picking up a phone and dialing.

"Really?!" Bobbi's eyes widened, but she was too into the moment to stop the woman and then Lance rubbed a particularly sensitive spot and she was curled up against him, moaning against his neck.

Some very small part of Lance was trying to disengage from the situation... take stock of what was going on. The rest of him was busy responding to Bobbi... something that they always did and escalated with each other, whether it was when they fought or for other reasons.

Meanwhile, Mack had been exchanging information with Logan, only paying enough attention to his partners as was necessary to make sure they didn't get into trouble or do something so obvious, they could be arrested for public indecency- one time doing that was enough, thanks - so didn't realize what was brewing until an older man with a briefcase walked in, set the case on the bar, pulled out some legal papers and then asked, "Do they have witnesses?"

"What the...?" Mack muttered, as he stood and walked to the bar.

"Him!" Bobbi squealed. "He can be best man and our new friend can be my bridesmaid! Bridesman... I'm not sure what to call you, but you can be it!" She grabbed Logan's arm and tugged him to her side, even as she extricated Lance's hand from her shirt and motioned Mack to stand next to him.

Lance stood just a bit closer to Bobbi than strictly necessary, at the point of drunk enough that he wasn't thinking through consequences... but not drunk enough to be slurring his words. "Where do we need to sign?" he asked, trying to remember what names they'd come up with for this cover story... had they come up with cover names?

Bobbi didn't often get drunk; she was meticulously careful on ops about not getting drunk, but the town brew had caught her by surprise. When the judge handed her a pen, she scribbled a name without much thought, then handed Lance the pen....

***

"As soon as they had both signed and Logan and I had signed...and the judge signed...I kid you not. The entire town came out for the celebration. Somehow, the bartender got a cake. There were pictures. Dancing..." Mack laughed. "Logan snuck out about the same time a group of big guys carried Lance and Bobbi to the local bed and breakfast on their shoulders, delivering them to the honeymoon suite. We didn't get out of that damned town for three days. Of course, the hangover the two of them had incapacitated them for at least one of the days..."

Bobbi was staring at Mack, her face so red it looked painful and could be seen, despite it being dark. "You didn't have to remember everything!" she spluttered in an embarrassed laugh.

Coulson chuckled softly and reached over to rest a hand on Bobbi's knee. "I'm not sure anyone else can top that for how missions went..." he commented.

"Just as well we didn't use our real names." Though, in actual fact, Lance wasn't certain what names they had used.

Mack glanced at Lance, his eyebrow shooting up. "You're kidding, right?" he asked.

"What do you mean?" Bobbi asked nervously.

Mack looked back at Bobbi before looking at Lance again. "I made a point of reading the names you used, when I signed as witness...so I could be sure to use the right name in front of the judge. You didn't use an alias. Both of you used your real names. I figured you would have noticed that when you went to get your quick divorce...."

Lance winced and glanced at Bobbi.

Coulson noticed the look and raised his eyebrows. "You didn't get a divorce, did you?" He was looking at his daughter... but the question was probably addressed to both of them.

Bobbi swallowed, giving Lance a nervous look before turning and looking at her father with wide eyes. "N...no… We thought about going, but we had so many ops going at that time and we both thought we'd used an alias, but couldn't remember which one and thought it'd just be easier to leave the aliases married. I mean, it wasn't our real identity and it wouldn't be fraud if we weren't trying to get anything from the government or use it to swindle someone else; at least, we didn't think, so....." She hated that she sounded like a guilty child trying to convince her father that she hadn't done anything wrong. She hadn't. Had she? She glanced at Lance again, wondering if her face looked as guilty as she suddenly felt. Was Lance mad at her? It'd been her idea to just leave it.

Lance caught Bobbi's gaze and shrugged. "I guess it was as much my idea as yours..." he said, his tone apologetic.

"Apart from the fact that we probably need to track down that paperwork... whether or not the two of you still want to be married... I'm sure you both know you shouldn't have used your real names on the op," Coulson commented mildly.

Bobbi glanced at her father and gave a very sheepish and apologetic look; she knew using your real name on an op was a no-no. "Yes sir. Saying I only did it because I was too drunk to realize likely isn't a very good excuse either." She sighed before getting a nervous look. "I hope you have that paperwork, Lance. I haven't seen it any of the times I've packed up and moved and I know it isn't in any of my safe deposit boxes that I've stashed around...."

Mack frowned. "You know...I remember the judge giving Logan the papers because he was the last witness to sign and you two were already on your way to...well..." He paused uncomfortably. "I had thought he'd given them to you the next day...did he give them to you, Lance?"

Lance was already shaking his head. "I'm completely certain I never touched the paperwork after signing..." His own expression was sheepish, but he had learned not to get so drunk on an op after the hangover they'd both woken up with... so that was something.

"So I guess we'll be contacting this Logan to see if he still has the papers. If not, we need to contact the town where you were married and get copies made." Bucky's voice was droll. "I'm certain both of you know where you went wrong..." he said then couldn't help but chuckle. "Either of you ever put yourself in that type of situation again on an op and I'm sure you know what my and Phil's response will be." He glanced at Phil for confirmation, even though he didn't really need it.

"Yeah... I don't think there's any confusion on that score," Lance commented dryly. "At least now I know not to trust a beer that tastes weak."

"Should have known there was a reason it was popular despite the taste..." Bobbi's response was just as droll. She couldn't help but uncertainly snuggle closer to her father, her embarrassment as well as the rather unsettling information Mack had divulged in the story making her crave reassurance. She glanced at Lance and gave him a shy smile. They needed to talk and figure out how they wanted to handle their newfound status as husband and wife.

Bucky put his arm around his oldest son and pulled him in closer. "It'll work out..." he whispered.

Kara cleared her throat and put her head on Nick's shoulder. "Does this mean Lance and Bobbi have two dads each now?" she asked curiously, through a yawn.

Coulson wrapped his arm around Bobbi, drawing her in close and pressing a kiss to her head. He looked round, noticing that many of the others... at least the kids... looked like they were starting to get quite tired. "Maybe it's time we start settling down?" he suggested.

Lance immediately settled in close to his father, glancing at Kara. "I think all of our uncles are parental anyway," he commented, fighting his own yawn.

Kara glanced around, noting that everyone was settling down to sleep then glanced at her cousin. "That's true...but I've never gotten in trouble with my uncles..." She frowned thoughtfully, then snuggled closer to her dad and asked..."If I got into trouble with them and you weren't there, would they do what you'd do?"

"I imagine it would depend on how you felt," Fury replied, knowing that he'd dealt with some of the younger family members in the past... but also that some weren't comfortable with anyone outside their parent taking care of them.

Kara just nodded, snuggling closer. "I think...I think I'd rather not get in trouble...." She grinned impishly then closed her eyes. It didn't take long till she was asleep.

"Leave it to Kara to ask the question we all wonder at one time or another..." Raina said quietly, a tiny smirk on her face.

Coulson placed a hand gently on Raina's shoulder. "It's something that can be dealt with when it needs to," he said, glancing around at the rest of his family. "But for now... I think sleep is best."

"Yes sir." Raina smiled, leaning over and kissing her father on the cheek. "Good night...." Soon, she was asleep as well.

It didn't take long for most of the family to sleep. Soon, Bobbi was one of the few awake. She glanced toward Lance, wondering if he was having as hard a time sleeping as she was.

Despite being stretched out next to his father and brother, it was taking a while for Lance to be able to sleep. Rolling over, he spotted Bobbi glancing towards him. "Can't sleep either?" he whispered.

Bobbi shook her head gently, trying not to jostle her father as she believed he'd fallen asleep. "No...too...anxious about what we did," she mouthed.

Lance shifted just enough so he could talk to Bobbi without talking too loudly. "I guess at least we can try and contact Logan to get the paperwork back," he murmured.

"Yeah...do we know how to contact him, though?" she whispered back.

"If he's been involved in other ops, someone should have contact details for him," Lance whispered.

"Yeah. I hope he kept it..." Bobbi sighed and shifted closer to her father.

Half asleep, Coulson responded automatically by wrapping his arm around Bobbi, gathering her closer without opening his eyes.

Bobbi gave Lance a sheepish smile and snuggled closer to her father, closing her eyes.

"Worry about it in the morning, son," Bucky whispered in Lance's ear, while tugging him closer. "Sleep now...."

"Yes, sir," Lance murmured, closing his eyes and nestling in close to his father.


Interlude 2

The next morning came more quickly than expected; at least, it felt that way. Jemma opened her eyes and all the parents were already awake and cooking breakfast. She glanced toward Leo and Peter. "What do you think everyone will want to do today?" she asked.

"I guess we'll probably split up into groups again," Leo commented, moving over to sit next to his sister and looking at his siblings and his father. "Did any of you have any ideas about what to do today?" he asked curiously.

"Not really," Bruce admitted with a small grin. "I thought we could just relax and talk. Maybe play cards. If you want to sit on the beach so you can take a dip in the water every now and again, I thought I'd set up an umbrella to sit under."

Leo smiled. "Sounds good to me."

"Yeah... I like that idea," Peter agreed.

Jemma grinned. "I'll help get some drinks together while you find an umbrella."

"Wonderful. I'll meet you all back on the front veranda in fifteen minutes. Wear your swim suits."

Leo quickly went to do as their father directed, though he paused long enough to make sure his siblings were going with him.

It didn't take long for Bruce to get changed and find the umbrellas. He met his kids down in front of the villa and they began walking to the beach. "So...what plans do you all have once we have to return to regular life?" he asked teasingly, glancing at Peter when he asked the question. His youngest would be graduating high school soon, but while Peter had applied to several colleges and been accepted, the boy hadn't indicated where he wanted to go or what he wanted to do. Bruce had asked several times, but from the sounds of it, Peter wasn't sure what he wanted. Maybe Bruce would be able to help him figure out something, even if it was only that he wanted to take a year off before going back to university.

"I want to run some more tests on the plants we've found here," Leo commented, before glancing at his younger brother. "Did you figure out what you want to specialize in yet?"

"I'm still not sure," Peter admitted. "I might visit some of the campuses when we get back home... see where I might fit in..."

"If you want to do a tour of some of them, I'm sure we could make arrangements. Depending on where you wanted to go, you might even know some of the students that are there already." Bruce smiled at his youngest, thinking of Deacon and the fact that everyone in the family now knew Blake's younger brother.

"I was thinking...maybe I could take an adult class or two...I went straight from secondary into SHIELD Academy and specialized training. It might be nice to learn about something completely different...." Jemma said hesitantly, not wanting to admit part of her reason for wanting to go 'back to school' would be so she could keep an eye on her youngest brother.

Bruce nodded. "If you are interested in doing something like that, I'm sure it could be arranged...."

Leo glanced curiously at his sister. "What classes are you thinking of taking?" he asked her.

"I was thinking, perhaps an art class. A literature class wouldn't be a complete waste of time and History is always helpful, especially with some of what we have to deal with...." Jemma grinned brightly.

"What sort of art?" Peter asked. "Painting? Ink? Pencil?" He wasn't sure what he wanted to specialize in... but he did think that perhaps it would be good to go to the same university as his sister.

"I hadn't thought that far ahead, honestly." Jemma chuckled. "Drawing or pencil would likely be fun and useful... photography would also be useful and fun. I'll have to think on it more, I suppose." She glanced at her little brother. "You do photography, don't you?"

Peter nodded. "That's more of a hobby, though... I might like to do a photography course alongside whatever I choose, so I'll have to see what universities offer that as an option."

"Oh...we could be classmates together!" Jemma grinned widely. "That would be so much fun!"

Bruce chuckled. "Sounds like we need to get out all the pamphlets and information from the universities that you've gathered and read through them all. We'll need to take into account classes offered...but also how far away they are from the family, how easy it is to defend yourself if needed...and a few other items."

Peter nodded. "I wanted to see what Harry wants to do, too." He had mentioned that he'd want to attend university with Harry, if it was possible... but Harry was also undecided about what he wanted to do.

Bruce nodded. "Of course. It would be useful if you all attended the same university. You could commute together, or find a place to rent together if it's too far away to commute...."

"We can probably find something for all of us..." Peter mused. "Maybe the three of us could look around some of the campuses together."

"I think I'd like that..." Jemma smiled. She wasn't too sure about moving away from the rest of the family- she'd got quite used to having the support easily and readily available- but if the best university ended up being across the country, she'd do it; if only to be near her youngest brother and cousin and to give her father a sense of security that there was someone able and willing to help take care of Peter and Harry.

Peter nodded. "When we get back, I'll talk to Harry. Find out if he's figured out what he wants to do... and, of course, you and Uncle Tony will need to check any universities as well." He grinned at his father.

"Oh...I think you'll find your Uncle Tony and I have been checking out universities and their acceptability from pretty much the day we adopted you and Harry." Bruce smiled. "We knew you'd want to go eventually, maybe even as soon as you'd graduated, and we wanted to make certain they were defensible. That you could be protected there, even if you weren't living with the family while attending." Bruce chuckled. "Of course, I have to admit both of us are hoping you really, really like the university close to home so that you don't actually have to leave us...." He reached over and ruffled Peter's hair gently. "Now that your sister is considering going as well, I have to admit I'm hoping it even more."

"I can't speak for Harry... but ideally, I'd prefer the university closer to home," Peter admitted. "I'm fairly sure he would as well." He knew his cousin had applied to similar universities as he had.

"Well, the college near home is good...." Jemma contributed. "Maybe we can talk to Harry about it later."

"Sounds good to me..." Bruce said. "Now...how would the three of you like to play some catch in the waves?"

Leo grinned. "Sounds like fun!" He placed his towel near to where they'd put the drinks and quickly headed down to the water.

Peter quickly followed suit.

"Last one in is it!" Jemma grinned then ran to join her brothers.

Bruce just shook his head and followed his kids down to the water.

***

Raina was sitting at the kitchen table, trying to decide what to do with herself. Ever since the 'cave incident', she'd not gone far from the villa, or her father, something inside of her having become nervous, though she couldn't say why exactly. It was a bit frustrating.

Coulson had retrieved a bottle of water each from the cooler and sat down next to Raina, placing one of the bottles in front of her. "Is there anything you'd like to do today?" he asked gently.

"I can't think of anything particular," she said with a crooked smile. "I can't seem to work up enough energy to go exploring...at least by myself..." She couldn't bring herself to admit being reluctant to go far from where her father was. She wouldn't have thought nearly dying would have made her clingy...it wasn't the first time she'd nearly died, after all. Of course, it was the first time someone had actually cared about her almost dying.

Coulson placed a hand on Raina's shoulder, squeezing gently. "If you'd like to go exploring, I would be quite happy to go with you... or we can stay here and perhaps play a game of cards," he suggested. "And maybe have a picnic lunch."

"What would you rather do, Boba?" Raina asked. She had an almost shy look on her face. She really didn't care what she did. The fact her father wanted to do something with her was enough.

"I would be happy doing anything with you," Coulson replied with a warm smile, squeezing her hand gently. "Perhaps we could play some cards... and go for a walk after lunch?" he suggested.

"I would like that, Boba..." Raina squeezed his hand back and gave another bashful smile. "I might need to be taught the game, though..."

"That isn't a problem. Everyone learns somehow." Coulson retrieved one of the decks of cards, beginning to explain the rules to his daughter as he started dealing.

Raina paid close attention to the rules, listening closely. "I never got to play games much...when I was younger..." she admitted softly. "At first, I was too busy trying to survive, but when the doctor found me..." She shrugged.

Coulson moved closer to his daughter, placing a hand on her arm. "Would you like to talk about any of what happened?" he asked, his voice gentle and caring.

"I'm not sure what to say..." Raina admitted. "I thought he had rescued me...given me a reason for existence. It feels disloyal talking about him now, but I know what he taught me wasn't...right...good...."

Coulson squeezed her hand gently. "He did take care of you." No matter what he knew of Raina's history... just like with him and Grant, it had enabled them to eventually find each other.

"He did," Raina agreed. "And he wasn't abusive; not physically, anyway. I wouldn't have lived without him..." She quieted a bit. "Still...."

"Still...?" Coulson prompted gently, wanting her to feel comfortable enough to confide in him.

"I never really felt like...like he wanted me...just for me..." She hesitated. "For all his talk of my becoming something more and being special, I always got the feeling that it was the something more and specialness he was after...that if I failed to deliver, he'd be happy dumping me back on the streets where he'd found me..." she admitted reluctantly, having never voiced those thoughts out loud before and feeling guilty for doing so.

Coulson laced his fingers through hers, continuing to hold her hand. "I can imagine that was a hard expectation to live up to," he said softly, seeing no need to voice again that he had no expectations of that sort. He didn't want to change her... change any of them, with the exception of making them more aware of their own safety and being able to express themselves in healthy ways.

Raina didn't answer that, instead standing and quickly moving to wrap her arms around Coulson and hugging him tightly. "He wouldn't have cared that I put myself in danger to unnecessarily discover more...to him, discovering more was the most important thing no matter what...." She swallowed, leaving it unsaid that she knew Coulson didn't feel that way and the way she tightened her arms around him and snuggled closer showed that she was grateful that Coulson wasn't like that.

Coulson wrapped his arms around Raina just as tightly, pressing a kiss to the top of her head and pulling her in close enough she might as well have been sitting on his lap. "That's never going to be true... with any of us," he promised her, his voice soft, but no less sincere.

Raina settled on her father's lap and just snuggled. She'd been aloof for a while, even after being adopted. She found it difficult to be affectionate, or let others show her affection. Her way of showing affection was the biting little comments she made to tease and her flirtatiousness that everyone knew wasn't an invitation. But here on the island? She'd finally started relaxing enough and hearing and seeing enough and feeling enough (her father spanking her and making it perfectly clear that her life was important to him); she was feeling needy and affectionate and, for the first time, wasn't afraid to show it. "You rescued me, Boba..." she said.

Coulson hugged her close, relieved she was letting him hold her and not pulling away, as he stroked her hair. "I love you," he said in response... a simple answer that held a wealth of emotion. "And you belong with me... with my family," he whispered to her.

"I....I do belong with you. With our family." Raina's agreement was firm and confident, even if she'd taken a moment of consideration before admitting it. "I love you, Boba...."

Coulson gently threaded his fingers through her hair. "I love you... and I'm happy we found each other," he said honestly.

"I wish you'd found me sooner; I might not have caused you so many problems..." Raina grinned, leaning into her father's hand before giving him a kiss on the cheek.

Coulson smiled and pressed a kiss to her forehead. "It might have been a long journey, but it ended well," he said honestly.

"It did." Raina snuggled a bit more, before laughing softly. "We aren't getting much card playing accomplished. Does that bother you?" She didn't seem overly upset about it herself, the cuddling making her contented and happy.

"Not in the slightest," Coulson replied sincerely. "The point is to spend time together. It doesn't matter how we do that."

Raina just smiled again and kissed her father's cheek. "Is there anything else you'd like to know?"

"Anything you'd like to tell me." Coulson continued the gentle affection, while she didn't seem inclined to pull away.

"I'm not even certain where to start..." Raina admitted. "I originally went to school to be a nurse, but then he said he needed a scientist...so...."

"Is nursing something you think you might be interested in?" Coulson asked, figuring they could arrange for Raina to take some classes if it was something she wanted to do.

"I wanted to help...I suppose I can do that as a scientist too...but I wouldn't mind taking a few classes. I think working with Bruce to help the family when they are hurt or ill would be good." Raina smiled.

Coulson nodded. "If there's anything else you'd like to study, we can look into other classes as well," he promised. "If there's anything you want to do... it doesn't matter how small it seems to you... I'd like you to tell me."

"You really mean that..." Raina sounded mystified but happy. "I'll be sure to tell you...."

"I want you to be happy." Coulson's voice held nothing but sincerity.

"I am, Boba. I'm very happy...and at peace. It has been a long time since I could honestly say that. Thank you." Raina leaned up and kissed her father's cheek once again before putting her head on his shoulder, not inclined to move from his lap or do anything else.

***

Harry sat quietly on the grass, watching the monkey with its baby. There was a look of fascination on his face... he didn't want to move and disturb the animals' peace, as they either hadn't noticed him or he'd stayed still enough not to cause them any stress. At the same time, he'd wandered a little distance from the campsite and wasn't sure he was immediately visible to his parents or the rest of his family.

Tony knew exactly where his son was at the moment, the excitement of nearly losing his cousins to the cave having pushed his over-protective streak into high gear. He was doing a good job of hiding it, or so he thought. If he was sat on the back veranda within shouting and running distance of his son, he didn't think Harry noticed. Pepper might have, if the look she was giving him was any indication...but since she was more visibly being a mother-hen, he didn't think she'd say anything.

"Do you think letting him get that close to the baby monkeys is a good idea?" she asked softly. "What if one of the mothers decides he's a threat and attacks?"

"The monkeys are used to us...as long as he doesn't make any sudden or threatening moves in their direction, he'll be ok. And I don't think he'd do either..." Tony said. "We could join him. Or wait for him to come back here."

"I guess we could wait. Where's dad?" Pepper glanced around.

"I don't know..." Tony had a distracted look on his face and shifted closer to his fiancé, kissing her neck.

"Tony! Not outside! Anyone could walk up and catch us!" Pepper whispered and glanced around with a blush.

Tony sighed and flopped back into his chair. "I really need to whisk you off on a romantic vacation. Where you aren't worried about being caught all the time..." He pouted with a smile. It didn't really bother him. He thought it cute.

There was a sound carrying through the trees.

Having gone to gather some fruit, Steve bypassed where Harry was (apparently by chance, but in reality, he was checking on his grandson) and headed towards his son and daughter on the back veranda. "I picked some fruit, if either of you want a snack," he said, noticing but not commenting on Pepper's blush.

"Mango?" Pepper sat up with a grin, even as she shifted closer to Tony so her father could sit down next to her.

"That does sound good...." Tony agreed.

Steve sat down on the other side of Pepper and passed both of them some fruit each. "I'll keep some back in case Harry decides he wants any," he commented.

"He's enamored of the monkeys." Tony smiled. "I think he has been hanging out with his cousin Leo. I'm surprised Leo isn't with him, to be honest."

"I think Leo's with Jemma, Peter and Bruce," Steve commented. "Otherwise, I'm sure he'd be talking Harry into exploring more of their habitat with him."

While Harry hadn't actually done anything to startle the monkeys, the mothers had begun taking their babies into the trees. Figuring they were likely to be going to find food, Harry began making his way back to his parents and grandfather.

"Oh...if Leo knew he had a fellow primate lover, I'm definitely sure he would be," Tony agreed. "Speaking of which.... Hey, kid. Want some mango? Your granddad found a really nice piece of fruit..." Tony smiled at Harry as he walked into the clearing.

Harry smiled and walked over to them, taking the fruit Steve held out to him. "Thanks... what are you doing?" he asked curiously.

"I'm trying to talk your mother into making out with me..." Tony said nonchalantly face dead serious, although there was an impish gleam in his eye.

"Tony!" Pepper smacked her fiancé on the shoulder, her face going bright red again. "We were talking about the monkeys and how friendly they were..." Pepper said her voice a mix of disapproving embarrassment and exasperated amusement. "...Did you enjoy watching them?" She turned toward her son and smiled brightly.

Harry looked like he wasn't quite sure how to respond to his father... or, perhaps more accurately, how he was expected to respond. But at his mother's question, he quickly nodded. "They're fascinating to watch."

"Do you think you might want to study them... or other animals?" Steve asked casually, knowing both Peter and Harry were at the age they probably wanted to consider further education.

"I know Shadow adores you, so if you were interested in that, you'd prolly be a natural, given that the monkeys liked you too..." Tony said seriously.

"I've been thinking about it," Harry admitted... a bit hesitantly, since none of the family worked with animals, even though he knew Leo was interested in the monkeys as well.

"Were you thinking of maybe being a vet? Or a trainer of some kind?" Pepper was very interested.

"I'd... been thinking about maybe a vet," Harry admitted, still a bit hesitant. "But maybe specializing in a few different types of animals."

"That's awesome..." was all Tony said, but he obviously liked the news.

"It really is, Harry," Pepper agreed.

"I wasn't sure if I should maybe look at something else," Harry admitted... though his parents' responses made him look much happier.

Pepper looked confused. "But why? If you are interested in working with animals and have the ability to work with them, I don't see why you shouldn't pursue it...."

"Yeah. What your mom said..." Tony added, though he didn't look quite as confused, since he suspected he knew the reason why Harry hadn't been sure about it.

Harry gave an awkward half-shrug. "I thought... maybe I should do something that would be more useful."

Hearing voiced what he knew Tony had felt so many times in the past (and probably occasionally did still feel), Steve placed a hand on Harry's arm. "We all want you to be happy," he said simply.

"Exactly." Tony nodded. "On top of that, I know that working with animals, in any capacity, is extremely useful. Shadow would agree with me..." He grinned as Shadow, hearing his name, crawled out from under the table he'd been lying under for shade. The dog wagged his tail and padded over to Harry, nuzzling at the boy's hand for petting.

Smiling, Harry began petting Shadow, relaxing further as the dog seemed to do more than his 'duties' in much the same way as Copper did.

"When we get back home, we can look at the universities you've already checked out," Steve commented to Tony with a smile, knowing his sons had both been doing that already.

Tony nodded in agreement.

"Well, I don't know about you all, but I'm thirsty. I think I'm going to go inside for a bit and make some iced tea. Anyone else want something to drink?" Pepper asked, as she carefully extricated herself from Tony and Steve, leaning over and kissing both of them on the cheek before she turned to head inside.

"Iced tea does sound good," Steve commented, then glanced over at Shadow's water bowl and stood. "It looks like Shadow's water is running low, so I'll refill it."

Harry shook his head to his mother's question, but he was a bit quiet as he crouched down next to Shadow to hug the dog.

"I'm fine, sweetie, thanks..." Tony answered his eyes on his son. "You ok, Har?" he finally asked, noting how quiet the teen was being.

Pepper paused as she also noted Harry's quietness, but then decided that he'd be more likely to talk if it was one on one with Tony, instead of with all three adults present. She waited for Steve to get Shadow's water bowl and then took his arm so they could go in and get the drinks together.

Surprised, Harry looked up at his father, swallowing slightly. "I was just... thinking... about the universities." He hesitated then asked quietly, "Which one did you want me to go to?" He glanced down, expecting to be told he needed to stay in the dorms on campus.

"That really depends on you, son. You don't want to go where you won't feel comfortable. I was thinking we could take a couple of weekends and visit campuses for those universities you were most interested in...so you could see what the campus is like and if you thought you'd like to attend there." Tony smiled, continuing, "I have to admit, if you chose a university close to home so that you could remain with the family instead of moving into a dorm, I wouldn't be upset. I'd kind of like it, actually. But you need to pick the school that best meets your needs and if that means moving into a dorm, your mother and I will have to live with that...."

"Oh." Harry's response was very quiet. He looked down at the dog, gathering his thoughts a moment... though he didn't make eye contact with his father when he spoke. "I'm not... used to being wanted... sorry," he said quietly.

"There's nothing to apologize for. I suspected that you might be thinking along those lines. It was one of the reasons I chose to go to school where I did when I went to university." Tony shrugged, not commenting on the fact that he'd actually chosen to go further away from home so he'd be able to stay in the dorm. He'd got tired of living in a big mansion mostly by himself; and JARVIS had needed to spend time with his ailing wife and shouldn't have needed to be live-in company for a teenager, so he'd chosen a place to go that the older man wouldn't feel guilty for not being around as much. He smiled faintly and continued, "But we do, you know. Want you. So if you don't want to leave the rest of the family and go live in a dorm...don't feel like you have to. Because you don't."

"I... know it depends on what the university has to offer, but I do want to go somewhere closer to home," Harry admitted quietly. "If... you really do want me around." He looked at his father, hope obvious on his face.

"Oh, I do. And your mom will be ecstatic that you'd like to stay closer to home instead of moving out." Tony grinned. "I think your cousins are also looking into going to school close to home. We'll check out the programs and you can decide. The program isn't the only thing that makes a school the best fit though- just keep that in mind. If it was the most important factor, every single doctor or vet or engineer or chemist would have to go to the exact same school."

Harry nodded. "I know. I think Peter wants us to go to the same university... if it's possible. If we can commute together, I think that would be preferable."

"That sounds like a good plan. If it's the university I'm thinking of- it's in a good central location that's easy to commute to." Tony agreed. "We can set up a day to tour as soon as we get home. That good for you?"

"I'd like that," Harry admitted, looking much more at peace.

"Good. I'd like that, too." Tony smiled again, before glancing toward the back door where Pepper was coming through, carrying a tray with tea and lemonade and four large glasses filled with ice.

Putting the tray down, Pepper smiled, settling down beside her fiancé again. "I thought maybe you all would have changed your minds. Your dad will be out with water for Shadow shortly."

Harry moved over to take one of the glasses, settling down on the ground, looking much happier as he poured some of the liquid into his glass to drink.

Steve walked out to join them, carrying the water bowl for Shadow.

The dog wagged his tail, licking the captain's hand then joined the rest of his family in enjoying a drink.

***

A few days had gone by, the family relaxing, playing games, and resting in general. It was the last night before they were to head home and they'd decided that they wanted to sleep out on the beach one more time. To that end everyone had loaded up their arms either with blankets and pillows or with coolers full of snacks and drinks. Excitement was high, but so was a sort of melancholy because they all realized they'd be returning to work, schedules, and responsibilities that would take their time. It had been nice not having to be anywhere or do anything except be together.

"I'm going to miss the nightly stories..." Pepper said with a quiet sigh, once they had all settled down around the fire.

Steve smiled, placing his hand on Pepper's shoulder and squeezing gently. "There's nothing to stop us from having times like this back home," he commented. "And we can always come back here for more holidays."

Pepper smiled at Steve, shifting closer to him because Tony was busy teasing Harry, trying to tickle the younger man, and she wanted to avoid getting caught up in that, as well as snuggle with her father. "That's true. Still, hearing everyone talk about different things that have happened in their lives...I feel so much closer to everyone than I did before. For all the people I'm friendly with and work with and know in general, I've always been more shy than not and didn't have a lot of close friends. Being an only child...well, it's just nice to have attachments, is all..." She wrinkled her nose, not sure she was explaining herself well.

Harry was squirming away from his father, though he was laughing... even if he was paying a bit of attention to his mother. "You didn't have any friends before Dad?" he asked.

Pepper's smile was a bit sad. "Before your dad broke through the walls I had built up, I had...acquaintances. People that I had fun with and I liked, but I would never have trusted them at my back. Even during one of the most scary moments of my life, I trusted a stranger to help me more than the people I normally hung out with..." she admitted with a wince.

Steve, still with his arm around his daughter, looked at her in surprise. "When was this?" he asked, wondering what could have happened to Pepper.

Momma Told Me Not to Come

Pepper got an almost embarrassed look on her face, but she answered anyway. "I was a freshman in university. I'd not ever been away from home for a long length of time, so the first few months in the dorm, I didn't really do anything except study and go to class or work. I'd gotten a bit of a reputation as a shy bookworm and my roommate was determined she was going to change that. So when she got the invitation to a party from one of her older boyfriend's housemates, she accepted and then somehow convinced me to go."

***

Pepper couldn't believe she'd let Bitsy talk her into going to this party. She knew for a fact her roommate was no older than she was, just turned 18, but it was obvious that a large portion of party attendees were over 21...and most of them were drunk. Bitsy was well on her way to being drunk, having grabbed a red cup of something the moment they'd arrived. Pepper wasn't entirely certain she wasn't drunk. She'd attempted to stick to plain soda, but one of the sodas she'd had, had tasted a bit odd and now she was feeling dizzy and was having a hard time focusing. Maybe it was because she had low blood sugar; she'd skipped both lunch and dinner to finish a report that was due the next morning, after all. She probably just needed something with sugar in it to tide her over till she could find some actual food. She grabbed another red cup of punch from the student playing bartender and took two big swallows. It didn't help...and in fact made things worse.

"Oooh, stop spinning the room..." she complained, not expecting anyone to hear her or respond, since most of them were either dancing like lunatics or passed out on any nearby furniture they could find.

Remy gathered up the last of his winnings and grinned around at the rest of the students. "Nice doing business with you." He planned to clear out and head back to the place he was staying... at least he now had the rent... but out of the corner of his eye, he noticed one student who looked drunk. Or drugged.

It wasn't technically his business... but no one else around her seemed to be paying any attention. And she looked like she was too young to be at the party.

Noticing one of the older guys making his way towards the student, Remy quickly swooped in, wrapping an arm around her shoulders and pulling her safely away. "There you are! I've been looking all over for you." As he spoke, he was steering her through the crowd of people... towards the door and fresh air.

Pepper blinked owlishly at the boy- no, he was definitely not a boy- who had her securely in hand and tried not to throw up on him, even as she also tried to get her mouth to form the words to the question running through her head. "Wh...wh...whoa..." she finally settled on, letting herself lean on him more fully as her legs suddenly felt like jelly and her vision swam again. "I don't feel so good..." she whispered, suddenly a bit scared as she realized she was in a stranger's house, surrounded by strangers and she couldn't keep her eyes open. Her parents had made certain to sit her down and explain in detail the dangers of something like that happening (well, they'd explained the dangers of drinking to excess and going to parties that weren't chaperoned...but all she could remember were the horror stories they'd detailed). "Wh...where are we going?" she asked in a tiny voice, making a tentative move to get away from him, since she didn't know who he was or what his intentions were. Then she saw the look on the face of the guy who'd originally been making a move toward her and decided the one currently holding her up was much less scary, burrowing closer to him like a baby rabbit hiding from a hound dog.

"Outside." Remy kept his body as a protective shield between the girl and any other guys who might have tried to prey on a clearly vulnerable youngster. He waited until they were outside, in the cold night air, and shrugged off his coat, placing it around her shoulders. "How much have you had to drink?"

"I didn't! I had...I had a coke... and then I had...I thought it was coke, but it tasted funny, so I don't know... and then I had that red punch stuff, but..." She huffed out a whimper and snuggled as close to Remy as she could. "Promised momma I wouldna drink 'fore I was 'egal...." She whimpered again. "Why is the air howling?" In the distance, sirens could be heard, but they were rapidly getting closer to the house where the party was at.

"Someone called the cops on the party... come on." Remy began walking quickly, his arm wrapped around Pepper... partly to look like a casual couple; partly to hold her up. "Where are you staying?"

"Cops?!" Pepper squeaked and plastered herself to Remy. "I didn't do anything..." She gulped. "Why do I feel so sick? I'm never drinking Coke or fruit punch again!" she moaned. She didn't pull away from Remy, though some instinct telling her she could trust him.

"Apart from drinking something that you didn't know could have been spiked," Remy muttered. "How close is your campus? Is it within walking distance?" he asked, keeping his steps casual and avoiding looking in the direction of the sirens.

"I don't know..." Pepper said mournfully. "I came with my roommate and her boyfriend and he drove. I don't even know which direction I live....I feel so sleepy...."

Remy shook his head, not very surprised. "I'll take you back to my place... but if whatever you're on doesn't wear off, I'll take you to the hospital." It would wipe out his rent money... but he couldn't in good conscience leave her to fend for herself.

"I'm sorry...I don't know your name...I'm not sposed to go home with strangers...even really nice ones who saved me..." Peppers voice was clear, if a bit confused and tired sounding. It was obvious whatever she had been slipped, it wasn't alcohol. "Sorry I'm a problem..." She winced, blinking back tears and tried to stay awake.

"My name's Remy." His voice was more patient than a situation like this would usually warrant from him. He could understand her reluctance to go to his place, so he changed his plans. "I know there's a twenty-four hour cafe close by... we can go there and wait it out."

"I'm Virginia. Everyone calls me Ginny..." Yawning, she snuggled closer to Remy. "Maybe the cafe isn't a good idea," she admitted, worried that someone would say something if she fell asleep there. "Don't wanna hospital, though...." A hospital would contact her parents. She didn't want them worried.

"We can't stay on the streets," Remy replied. "So I think cafe, my apartment or hospital are the only options."

Pepper bit her lip, but then nodded emphatically...or at least as emphatically as she was able in her drugged state. "Your apartment..." she finally said, reasoning to herself that if Remy had wanted to hurt her or use her in any way, he wouldn't have gone out of his way to help her the way he was doing, or would have immediately taken her to his apartment instead of giving her the choice. And she just felt like she could trust him.

Remy nodded and began guiding her in the direction of his apartment. "But if you get worse, I'm taking you to the hospital," he warned.

"Ok..." Pepper didn't argue further. She was still feeling very dizzy and tired and wasn't sure what might cause it. Yes- she'd apparently had two drinks without meaning to- but alcohol normally didn't affect people that way, did it? "What did I drink?" she asked in a near whisper, a bit frightened that she'd been given some drug she didn't know about.

"Whatever it was... it'll probably work its way out of your system. And if it doesn't, I'll take you to the hospital." Reaching his apartment, Remy kept an arm around Pepper as he unlocked the door and guided her inside.

"Thank you...you don't even know me and you're helping..." Pepper sniffed and couldn't help but hug Remy as he led her inside.

Remy shrugged, hugging her and then locking the door. "I couldn't leave you to fend for yourself." He led her through to the kitchen and retrieved a bottle of water from the fridge that he handed to her.

"But why? It was my own fault I was even there. I should never have agreed to go..." Pepper opened the bottle and began to drink. Her shoulders were slumped and she seemed dejected and sad.

"You made a mistake. You learn from it. Doesn't mean you should be arrested, or have to look after yourself when you've potentially been drugged," Remy said.

Pepper gave him a tiny smile. "You're nice...I'm lucky you found me..." she admitted, with a tiny hitch in her voice, as she came to realize exactly how much danger she could have been in if Remy hadn't stepped in.

"You could have been in a worse fix," Remy agreed. "I know you're reluctant to go to the hospital... do you need me to call anyone?"

Pepper finished the water he'd given her and yawned, before giving him an almost guilty but worried look. "No...." she hedged. She figured she probably should call her parents, or at least the dormitory dean, but she didn't want anyone to know that she'd been foolish enough to drink something without knowing who had given it to her, or what was in it. Even if she had no way of knowing someone would drug it.

Remy raised his eyebrows. "You sure about that?" he asked, noticing she was hedging.

"No...I...I don't want anyone to know what happened..." she said in an almost whisper, her face turning pink with embarrassment.

"Okay. You need some more water?" Remy asked, looking her over carefully in case she was about to collapse or had the munchies.

"Yes please...and...and maybe your couch?" she asked hesitantly, not sure if he'd insist she go to the hospital if she fell asleep, but feeling like she would at any moment.

"Of course." Retrieving a second bottle of water from the fridge, Remy guided Pepper through to the living room, helping her sit on the couch and passing her the bottle of water.

"You're a lifesaver..." Pepper smiled then winced slightly as she realized how literally that might be true. "Thank you...." She finished the second bottle of water then leaned sideways onto the couch's arm. It didn't take long at all for her to fall asleep.

Remy placed a blanket over her and then settled onto one of the armchairs, putting on the television quietly to kill some time while he waited to make sure nothing worse was going to happen to Pepper.

****

"You were drugged..." Jemma's worried voice broke the stunned silence.

Pepper swallowed then admitted, "Yeah. Not sure what with, but I was...."

"That's... hard to believe," Peter commented. "I mean, you're one of the most responsible people here."

"I take it the drug didn't have any lasting effects," Steve said, his eyes narrowed with worry.

Pepper blushed at Peter's comment. "Usually, I was. I made a really bad decision to go to a party where I didn't know anyone, where they were doing things I didn't really feel comfortable doing...and wasn't careful enough with my own safety. But I didn't take the drug deliberately; that was all on the creep who thought...."

She swallowed uncomfortably, before facing Steve. "No sir. Remy made certain I didn't leave until I felt normal and not in danger of passing out. And he made me promise to go to the hospital if I suddenly started having unusual problems. But I didn't."

"Did you ever tell your parents about what happened?" Leo asked, also finding it hard to imagine Pepper doing something that irresponsible... even though it was a little while ago.

Pepper bit her lip and glanced at Harry, then at Peter. "I in no way condone keeping such a secret..." She turned her gaze to Leo. "...Now. At the time, though, I couldn't imagine anything more horrible than admitting to them I had gone to a party like that and almost got...was nearly..." She shook her head and swallowed again. "I should have told them. As worried and upset as they would have been, they needed to know so that they could help me. If anything had happened because of the drugs, they wouldn't have known they needed to inform doctors, or anything, really. And they knew something had happened. They didn't know what, but they knew. They worried about me, but because they didn't know what was wrong, they felt helpless to do anything; and that hurt them almost as much, if not more than me."

"It's easy to know when a close family member is hiding something that hurts them." Steve tightened his arm around Pepper's shoulders. "But it sounds like you did learn from that. Since I can't imagine you would keep that kind of thing secret now." His voice was calm, but also very serious.

"No...I wouldn't," Pepper quickly agreed. She left unsaid that she was fairly certain Steve wouldn't let things go like her parents had originally...unlike her mom and dad, who hadn't had to deal with anything more dire than crushed feelings when Pepper's first boyfriend broke up with her to date a cheerleader, Steve had dealt with enough bad in the world that he knew exactly what questions to ask to get her to confess. Hiding things from him would be difficult to impossible. "I still feel guilty I never told them....but telling them now would...I don't know how it would do anything good and would hurt them again." She sighed.

"I learned more than not to hide things," she continued. "When I woke the next day, on top of getting my promise to go to the doctor if I had problems, Remy gave me a lecture on taking care of myself in social situations where I was surrounded by strangers. Namely, not to accept anything to eat or drink that I didn't watch be poured directly, never let my drink out of my sight; and if I did, not to drink it...make sure I was with a group of people I trusted and get a promise that we stick together and not leave each other alone...not go home with complete strangers, no matter how nice they seemed...." She blushed darkly.

Pepper bit her lip. "He also made sure I knew that being drugged wasn't my fault, despite the risks I'd taken...that was all on the guy who'd drugged me. That was easier to believe once I found out the reason the cops had shown up at that party was because an informant had told them he was there. He was a suspect in several other cases of drugging and....assault. When they got there, he was with another freshman girl. She hadn't been as lucky as me...." Pepper looked down. "Bastard only got five years...."

Steve frowned, seriously tempted to track the guy down and make sure he couldn't hurt anyone ever again. "It sounds like he made sure you'd think twice before doing something potentially irresponsible again," he commented, not giving voice to his feelings about hunting the guy down... though he suspected certain other members of the family had similar thoughts.

Thor wasn't nearly as willing to stew on it. "Perhaps we should track down this Midgardian who hurts those who are vulnerable."

Pepper blinked. "I pushed him to the back of my mind...just wanted to forget about it. I don't know what he did after he got out after his five years were up...if he reformed and never hurt anyone again, or if he went on to worse acts...."

She looked at Steve. "And yes. Remy made certain I learned how to be responsible for myself...not to trust in people's goodness to not take advantage if I didn't know them. I never did figure out why he chose to help me in that way. He certainly didn't have to. I never saw him after that, so it wasn't because he wanted anything from me...."

"Well, I'm grateful to him for doing that," Steve said seriously. "I'm glad he was there to help you and make sure you were safe."

"Did Remy give you a last name?" Tony asked. "I'd like to thank him myself."

Pepper smiled. "I'm afraid not. He liked to play cards. That's the only other bit of info I got from him."

"Maybe we'll run into him at some time in the future," Steve commented.

"Maybe..." Pepper agreed, though she sounded skeptical.

Matt cleared his throat quietly. "I'm glad you were alright, Pepper. Some of the people I've represented, or seen that needed representation...aren't alright and it just makes me do angry that they'd be hurt and used that way!" His voice was vehement.

Sam placed his hand on Matt's arm. "It sounds like something's resonated with you personally," he said quietly.

Unsettled

"Just a situation I overheard while waiting for a client at the jail a few weeks ago," Matt said. "That girl that is on trial for shooting her parents...the PI who had just found her and brought her back home to them was trying to get information to help her," the young lawyer added.

***

Matt didn't react over-much as the door to the visitor’s area opened and someone entered, going to sit across from the girl a few tables away. Another woman...young from her walk...not a lawyer, if the way her clothes sounded was any indication...he refocused on his own client as the woman began to tell him and Foggy everything they'd asked about, hoping they would represent her. Matt still kept part of his attention on the other table, though. The heartbeat of the visitor was faster than a normal visit should warrant. Either she was scared of jails or she was possibly up to something.

Jessica carefully sat across from Hope and swallowed. "I'm going to find a way to get you out of here..." she said softly.

Hope met Jessica's gaze for a second and then looked down. "Even if you can... what's to stop him from making me do something else?" she whispered, not able to bring herself to say his name, as if that would summon him. Although, given what he could do, the outside wasn't safe... and at least here, in the prison, she knew what the rules were. She could keep her head down and survive, without having to worry about being forced into doing something against her nature.

"I'm going to stop him...and I'll find a way to get him to admit what he did...how he forced you to do everything you did...how he forced all the others..." Jessica whispered back, knowing that her nemesis had eyes and ears everywhere, even if it wasn't of their own volition.

Hope's eyes darted round, paranoid in a way she hadn't been before everything that had happened. "How can you stop him?" There was a hopeless note in her voice. Jessica was the only one who was immune to him, after all. No matter how strong a person was... Hope had firsthand experience of how a strong will could crumble.

"I...I'm immune. But we think we have a way to neutralize his ability...and if we can somehow get him in place with a proper filter...he can't influence other people either. All we need is him to confess that it was him that made you do what you did; that you had no choice because he pretty much brainwashed you...drugged you. He's done it to enough people, including cops, that if we can get a confession from him...." Jessica bit her lip. She knew it could be done, but explaining how she planned to do it in this place was dangerous. "I know it doesn't make sense, but I need you not to give up. I need you to fight your innocence, or it won't matter what I do."

"But even if I get out of here..." Hope shook her head, close to giving up. "He can't influence you... but he can influence everyone around you. How do you know he doesn't have someone here?" She knew people could act normal until they were triggered. She still had nightmares about going through that herself.

At this point, Matt could tell both women were nervous, if not terrified (in the case of Hope). It was obvious, whoever this person was they had an unreasonable amount of control over people. Just what did he have to hold over their heads that would make them obey him, though? He had a hard time believing he could brainwash anyone he wanted, even if Hope had been.

"I don't know," Jessica reluctantly admitted. "But if we don't take a stand and try and stop him, how many more innocent people will be hurt?"

"I don't know if I can." Hope's voice was barely a whisper, as she stared down at her hands. "I don't know what else he'll make me do... if he finds out... Who else is going to die?" Her voice trailed off into hopeless silence.

"It's up to you," Jessica sighed. "It will be easier for me if I have your help, but I'm going to do something even without it. I can't not do anything. He same back because of me. Everything he's doing is to teach me a lesson for defying him. If I ignore him, he'll keep hurting people to get my attention...and I can't give him what he wants, so..."

"I don't know... how I can help you. But if you figure out a way, I do want to try," Hope said softly.

"Right now...just keep your chin up. Cooperate with your lawyer. Be ready and when I need you, I'll let you know..." Jessica's voice was soft. "He won't get away with it..."

Soon after those words, Matt could hear a chair sliding away from the table and the woman was leaving. He would have followed her, except his meeting with their own client wasn't moving as smoothly. The woman didn't want to take the plea bargain he and Foggy had worked so hard to obtain for her...wanted to plead not guilty, even though she had been caught in the act by not only the police, but several other eye witnesses. It was frustrating, but he let Foggy handle it, sure he would say the wrong thing if he tried to convince her.

That... was easier said than done. Hope was almost certain she was just suffering from paranoia. Almost. The eyes she could feel on her were likely in her imagination... but it didn't stop her being afraid.

She co-operated with the guard, walking to the door in front of the man, convincing herself it was all in her head. And then the guard's hand ran down her arm... in a way all too familiar; a way reminiscent of him...

Matt had almost put the other prisoner out of his mind...almost. When her heart rate suddenly spiked, his attention was fully on her again. He couldn't help but turn in their direction, hoping that nothing was wrong, but not certain, considering what he'd heard earlier.

Foggy noticed his sudden preoccupation with the departing prisoner and guard. "Everything all right?" he asked, loudly enough to let the guard know he had an audience.

There was a slight pressure against Hope's arm... fingers pressing with enough force to be a warning, even if it didn't actually hurt. The guard's response, however, sounded normal enough. "Just escorting this one back to her cell," he stated.

Matt could tell that Hope was upset, maybe even scared. "Officer...?" He left the name an unstated question. "I'd actually like to talk to her as soon as we're finished here, so if you could please arrange for that..." He hoped that the knowledge someone might be talking with her soon, if not immediately, would keep the guard from misbehaving, or doing anything harmful. In normal people, it would.

A faint look of surprise came over the guard's face and he paused... just long enough to potentially look suspicious, but almost as if he didn't quite know what to do with that information. "Certainly." The response was flat as the guard all but pulled Hope back to her seat.

Foggy could tell something was odd about the guard's actions by the look on his face, even if Matt only had heartbeat and voice to go by. "Thank you, officer," he interjected clearly, not questioning Matt's actions. He turned back to his own client. "My recommendation is to take the plea bargain. There is no way, given the amount of witnesses and the video, that a judge or jury will buy your innocence."

"I'll think about it and let you know in the morning..." the woman finally said.

Matt nodded. "Good. You do that." He stood, motioning over the guard. If he seemed in a bit of a hurry, it was because he was anxious about what he'd sensed and was hoping the girl- Hope- or Foggy might shed some light on what he couldn't see.

Having seated Hope, the guard had a lost look on his face, turning towards the door as his colleague entered and walked over to him. After a brief exchange of words, the first guard walked towards the door... the lost look not going away.

Flinching, Hope hunched in on herself, before glancing at the two lawyers. It was impossible to tell if Kilgrave had got to anyone else... but she hoped that the man speaking up meant that he had his own mind. Of course, it could be Kilgrave playing more mind games...

Waiting until their first client had been taken back to her cell and he was sure that no one was close enough to listen Foggy hissed at Matt, "What was that all about?"

Matt was listening to heart-beats, so it took a while for him to answer, but he finally did. "She was nervous, almost afraid of that guard. I couldn't think of any other way to keep her from having to go with him."

Hope eyed the two men. She couldn't hear what they were saying... but she decided to trust them. She was fairly certain that Kilgrave had got to that guard... and whatever he'd had planned for her couldn't be good. "Thank you." Her voice was soft, barely enough to carry to Matt.

"You're welcome..." Foggy said when it became obvious Matt wasn't going to answer. "Are you able to tell us why you're afraid of that guard?" He wasn't really expecting an answer. If the guard had been bought off by someone, like those that Fisk had bought off, she might feel it safer not to say anything. Still....

Hope shook her head quickly. "It's... not safe." She hoped they wouldn't press her... hoped that she wouldn't have to explain what, to most people, would be the unexplainable.

"Yeah. Ok." Foggy's voice was gentle.

Matt looked a bit frustrated that she wouldn't answer, but he understood. "The other guard. Do you feel safe with him?" He kept his voice low.

Without making it too obvious, Hope glanced at the other guard. "Yes... I think so." She forced herself to sound certain. She couldn't suspect everyone... even if Kilgrave could get to anyone.

Matt could hear the uncertainty, but wasn't sure what more could be done for her that he hadn't already done. "We'll stay here and watch. That may be enough to keep him honest..." he finally said.

Foggy, still not knowing exactly what was going on, but knowing Matt never did anything without reason, nodded. "We'll contact you tomorrow," he said, loudly enough for the guard to hear, before motioning the guard over to take her back. Whatever she was afraid of, he could only hope that the knowledge someone planned to make contact with her again would help ease her worry, if nothing else.

"Thank you." Although a little confused, Hope didn't fight being taken by the guard. While she was still on edge... she did at least feel a bit better, knowing the first guard was gone.

Foggy waited until the girl had been taken away before he stood and took his friend's arm to lead him out. Once they were safely out of the correctional facility and there wasn't any risk of being overheard, he asked, "What was that about?"

"Something weird is going on with that young woman. I'm not certain what exactly; what little I overheard, it seemed as if she believes she was under some sort of mind controlling substance when she did whatever she did to be arrested. The one thing that was clear is that she was scared of the guard who was originally going to take her back; and no one should be that scared. Even if they did something wrong and are being punished, they shouldn't be that scared...not when they are unable to defend themselves." Matt's voice was soft, but almost defiant in his words.

"No...you're right. No one should be that scared. And it was obvious she was scared. I'll see if I can't get a bit of information on her..." Foggy responded, helping his friend into the cab then getting in beside him.

***

"I'll have to ask Foggy if he found out anything when we return," Matt said, with a crooked smile. "We came on this vacation the day after that encounter, so I don't know anything else about it."

Sam nodded. "When we're home, we can check in with him," he said; unnecessarily, since both his son and daughter would be doing that anyway.

"Goes to show, I guess..." Pepper began then winced, not sure if she should continue.

Tony blinked at his fiancé. "Goes to show what, Pep?"

Pepper sighed. "That we all need to be really careful who we trust...or at least we all need to be careful not to be alone in places where the bad guys like to hang out..." She swallowed. "...It's entirely too easy for ill-willed people to do things to unsuspecting targets..." She swallowed again, thinking about how lucky she was that she'd been found by a decent, respectable guy and didn't end up doing things that she regretted, or worse.

Steve squeezed Pepper gently. "I'm grateful to Remy for helping you... and I'm sure you learned from that time." He looked around at the other members of the family, implying he hoped they paid attention to the lesson as well.

"Yes sir..." Pepper answered softly. She'd definitely learned not to blindly follow people that she didn't trust implicitly, especially not into situations where she would be more at risk. She wasn't surprised when several other family members nodded, or answered along with her. She was glad her story was able to provide a cautionary lesson to the younger members of the family; she knew many of them didn't tend to think of themselves as being vulnerable when they weren't on actual missions. She knew you could be hurt or taken advantage of at pretty much any time, if you let your guard down.


Back to Reality

It hadn't taken long for everyone to retire to their sleeping bags for the final night of the vacation. The next morning, the majority of the family was up early, checking that everything was packed and ready to go... and that everything that needed to be was disposed of properly.

Karen was helping wash and put the linens away when Skye walked by with cleaning supplies. Even though Tony had people that came weekly to check on the villa, that could have cleaned, the family had decided that they should clean up after themselves. "The linens are almost finished...how much of the cleaning is left?" she asked her cousin.

"There are only a few more things to do," Skye answered, wiping down the surfaces. "There's not a lot of mess, considering just how many of us there are."

"Well, we were pretty careful to clean up after ourselves as we went along." Karen smiled as she began to fold dry sheets. "I'm going to miss this place," she said wistfully.

"I'm sure our parents are already thinking about when we can come back here," Skye said. "It's nice to all be together, without something happening."

"You can say that again..." Karen agreed. She glanced over as Jemma popped her head into the room.

"We're having one last big breakfast before taking off; the kitchen is the last place we'll need to clean," the biochemist said. "Apparently, Uncle Tony didn't like the idea of everyone subsisting on prepackaged pastries and juice-boxes 'just so we can keep the kitchen clean!'" she mimicked her uncle's voice playfully.

Skye smiled and finished wiping down the last of the surfaces. "Sounds good to me! If everyone cleans up after themselves..." she said playfully.

"That would be perfect! That will give this last load in the drier time to finish drying. Everything else has been folded and put away..." Karen smiled. She walked toward the kitchen and took her seat, glancing around at the rest of the family. She laughed softly at Kara, who had somehow got hold of a bottle of blue nail polish and was painting her father's fingernails, glancing up at Fury to see how he was responding...she was a bit surprised he was allowing it. She glanced at Kara again, wondering if the woman was going through one of her 'immature' phases as a result of having to head back to the 'real world'. Kara didn't look anxious, though...maybe she was just teasing Nick.

Fury, used to his daughter, didn't try to stop her painting his fingernails. He talked quietly to the rest of the family, even though he kept some of his attention on Kara... just in case there were feelings below the surface.

On the off chance that Kara wasn't having an episode and was just teasing her father, Karen decided to 'help' tease her uncle. Sidling up to Kara, she asked conspiratorially, "Would you like a glitter overcoat? I have some in my bag...."

Kara's eyes widened and she whispered back, "That would be awesome! Thanks, Karen!" She gave her father an impish grin. She'd been feeling out of sorts since waking up that morning, the idea of leaving their little idyllic hideaway and going back to the 'real world' where everyone had to work and couldn't spend every waking moment together upsetting her more than she wanted to admit. The nail-painting was less about feeling immature and more about wanting to keep her father still in one spot, with her, for a few moments before that became more difficult.

"You've got it, girl!" Karen grinned and went to get the polish from her bag.

Coulson couldn't help but chuckle at the look on his brother's face... slightly exasperated, but full of fondness nevertheless. "I wonder how many agents wouldn't find you as scary if they had a picture of this moment..." he mused out loud.

Fury fixed his best friend with a glare that had no heat behind it. "Don't you dare. I have all sorts of material I can blackmail you with in return."

Grant, walking by at that moment, blinked and gave his uncle an interested look. "Really? What type of material, Uncle Nick?" He gave his own father his own version of an imp.

"Oh! Are we doing mani-pedis?" Bobbi chirped, as she walked into the kitchen from where she'd been finishing cleaning-up her own section. "What fun! I'll make sure to keep my polish at the top of my bag, so we can do more while boating back to the main island...or when we're on the plane..." She gave her father and brother a considering look. "I've got clear varnish..." she suggested coyly.

Matt sat down next to his uncle, not able to see what was being done, but curious all the same. "What color is it?" he asked curiously.

"Blue...and Karen is getting me a sparkle for the top coat..." Kara's grin could be heard in her voice.

Grant, not one to let up when he found out about possible information on his dad he didn't know, asked again. "What type of material?" He glanced between his father and Nick.

"I'll tell you later." Fury's grin was positively devious.

Coulson reached out and wrapped his arm around Grant's shoulders. "Just as long as you promise not to repeat any of the stunts I did," he teased.

Grant gave his father a suspicious look. "If I did repeat any of them...what might happen?" he asked cautiously.

"That would very much depend on which one you repeated," Coulson replied. "But generally speaking? The majority would end with us having a discussion." While their way of handling things wasn't a secret... he didn't see the need to outright say how he would deal with it, knowing Grant would read between the lines. He moved his hand to the back of his son's neck, squeezing gently.

"Wow...So who caught you? Uncle Paul or Grandpa?" Grant grinned, not upset in the least that his father was warning him off from doing things he himself had done. It was further proof that his father had changed into someone more responsible because his children needed him and made Grant feel safe and cared about.

"Both of them did, at one time or another," Coulson replied, keeping the contact with his son. "The stories I shared weren't the only times your uncle had to help me... and it wasn't the only time I did something reckless. But that was quite a long time ago," he added, not outright saying that he kept himself safe for his children... even though that was implied.

"Well...yeah. It had to be eons ago- decades and decades ago- you never get into trouble now..." Bobbi teased gently over her shoulder, as she bent over the table to get a better look at the 'work' Kara was doing on Nick's nails.

I didn't say it! Grant mouthed to his father, wide-eyed...although it was more joking than seriously worried or nervous.

By that time, Karen had returned with the glitter polish and was sitting on the other side of Fury, watching Kara carefully apply it. "You think dad would let me...?" she asked Matt in a lilting tone.

Coulson reached across and gently tickled his daughter's ribs. "No, now it's left to my children to do that."

Natasha wandered in, talking to her niece, and glanced towards her cousin as she heard Karen's question. "Give him the 'daddy's little girl' look," she suggested.

Bobbi squealed and managed to trip herself in the effort to get away from the tickling, sliding onto the floor in an undignified heap.

Karen blinked at her cousin's sudden 'disappearance' then looked at Natasha curiously. "'Daddy's little girl' look?" she grinned slightly. "Is that the look I always see Kara using on Uncle Nick?"

With a trace of amusement... although he was checking to make sure Bobbi wasn't hurt... Coulson leaned down to help his daughter up... then gently pulled her onto his lap.

Natasha nodded sagely. "I guarantee he won't resist."

Bobbi couldn't help but laugh at herself, even as she snuggled close to her father. "Nat's right...It's a very effective look..." she remarked, leaning up long enough to give her father a saucy grin, before putting her head back on his shoulder.

Grant sighed. "And sadly, it does not work quite as well if you are male..." He winked at his sister and grinned at his father.

"You going to try it on dad, then?" Matt asked his sister in amusement. "What are you going to try and get him to do?"

"Paint his nails, of course!" Karen responded as seriously as she could, given the subject.

At that moment, Clint hollered from the kitchen area, "Breakfast is almost ready! Head to the dining table!" It was loud enough to carry through most of the house and to the outside.

Coulson gently squeezed his daughter's waist. "Then maybe I shouldn't tell you it's very hard to say no to any of you." Pressing a kiss to the top of her head, he waited for Bobbi to be ready before he got up.

At that point, Pietro zoomed through to the dining area, only just avoiding knocking into anything.

Bobbi snuggled close for a few more seconds before standing up and moving into a chair next to her father.

Grant didn't remark on his father's words, leaning over and kissing the older man on the cheek before finding his own chair.

"There! Finished!" Kara exclaimed brightly, before quickly cleaning up her items...just in time for the rest of the family to trickle in.

Clint walked into the dining room, several platters of eggs, bacon, sausages, potatoes and cinnamon rolls balanced precariously in his arms. Raina came in behind him, loaded up with bowls of fruit and pitchers of juice and water. Jemma followed Raina with plates and cutlery.

Bucky had just walked in from outside and took some of the burden from his nephew and niece. Placing the items on the table he paused. "Is that some new fashion statement, Nick?" His voice was amused.

"I believe we were discussing that it's hard to say no to the children," Fury replied blandly.

"Not saying no, ends with you getting blue, glittery fingernails?" Sam stepped over to help with the food and drink, placing them on the table before he sat between his son and daughter.

Lance sat in the chair on the other side of Bobbi, poking her gently in the side. "I hope this isn't going to turn into a thing..." he joked.

Bobbi gave her not-so-ex-husband a coy look and batted her eyelashes. "It could...." she purred. "...Would you wear polish for me?" The whole seductive scene was ruined when she giggled.

May had come in by this point and sat down next to her daughter, one eyebrow going up at the comments she was hearing. "I don't know why you have such a hard time putting your foot down, Nick. I think you must secretly like wearing blue glittery nails." Her face was perfectly serious. Her eyes were gleaming.

"I wanna paint your nails, daddy!" Karen put on her most innocent, pleading expression.

Clint blinked when he finally finished bringing in food and sat down, not having heard all the conversation before. "Say what now?"

Ben turned and looked at Blake. "You are not painting my nails. Let's make that clear now." His voice was gruff and it sounded Ike he was choking on something. Matt figured it was probably laughter.

"There are plenty of things I'd do for you." Lance paused before adding, "Wearing nail polish is not one of them. Or anything else like that."

Fitz, like Clint, had wandered in partway through the conversation and as he sat next to Jemma, looked a bit confused. "Why are we talking about nail polish?"

Fury very determinedly did not make any comments... though he couldn't help but grin at Karen's pleading look to her father.

Sam paused in the act of reaching to pour himself a drink and looked at his daughter. "I think I should leave wearing the nail polish to you girls. And Nick," he added, grinning as he teased his brother.

Blake snorted softly. "I think you should worry if I ever did want to paint your nails..." he commented.

Bobbi pouted, but didn't say anything else. She noticed Kara beginning to fidget and was worried that the other woman might think they were making fun of her if she pressed.

Jemma sighed. "I'm going to miss being so close to everyone. I mean, we live in the same building and do things together, but...this was different somehow and I'll miss it."

"It was nice," Pepper agreed.

Fury, also noticing Kara fidgeting, wrapped an arm around his daughter's shoulders, squeezing gently.

"There's more freedom," Pietro commented. "I can run here, without worrying about being seen. Or knocking over people." He shrugged and helped himself to some more food. "It's nice."

"The closeness is good," Wanda agreed softly.

Kara smiled at her father and settled down as he hugged her. "It has been nice...having the ability to move around without worrying about disturbing someone's work, or running into strangers who don't understand...."

Tony was listening to the comments quietly, a thoughtful look on his face. "You enjoyed the extra space to move around outside?"

"I think the extra space has been really helpful," Steve commented. "What's on your mind, son?"

Tony frowned thoughtfully before answering. "It's just...there's no place in the city safer than the tower," he began. "But even so, I can't help feeling it isn't as safe as I'd like. Part of the problem is we live above the company offices and labs...the bottom half is public. There is only so much security I could add before it affects the company and the employees' ability to work in a negative way. So..." He paused uncertainly.

"What are you thinking about?" Fury prompted. "Maybe it's time we considered another option anyway."

"There's an old storage facility about an hour outside the city. It's on a large amount of acreage, surrounded by woods on three sides and mountain on the fourth..." Tony paused, once again uncertainly, but then continued. "With a little remodeling, we could turn it into a family dormitory on one floor and use the remaining floors for a command center, training facilities, laboratories for items we don't want even Stark Industries to be tied to. It would mean Pepper would have to commute again, but I was thinking of making her a suit to protect her when she wasn't with us, so she could use it to fly in to the office and miss traffic..." He grinned at his fiancé. "Point is... we could remodel the family floor however we wanted. One huge room with enough beds for everyone and no privacy...one big bedroom per family...one bedroom a person, but all close to each other. All we'd need beyond that is a big kitchen/dining room and a big family room, since the command center would take the place of offices and libraries. That is, if you all are serious about not wanting even one floor to separate the family from each other."

Steve squeezed his son's shoulder gently. "I think that's a good idea," he said. "It isn't like we need to be that separate from each other... but I think the only real thing we'd have to consider would be if someone needed a bit of alone time, for whatever reason."

"The mansion could always act as that," Coulson suggested. "As long as we know if someone's there... I can't see it being a problem."

"The mansion is actually closer to the storage facility than it is to the tower, so anyone needing alone time could easily go there and still be close enough that it wouldn't take long to get to them or them to us if needed." Tony nodded in agreement. "So everyone wants to do that?" He looked around the assembled group, but focused mainly on the parents since he knew the 'kids' would go along with whatever their parent wanted to do.

"I can't see any reason not to," Fury said honestly.

There were various murmurs of agreement from the other parents at the table.

"So...um...would we all be sleeping in one huge room with a lot of beds, like a barracks? Or would we have small rooms to ourselves, like a dormitory?" Jemma asked curiously.

"It's not necessarily something we have to decide now," Steve said. "We can figure out what we all think would work best for the family... even have some kind of combination when it comes to the bedrooms."

"We can all take stock of our particular family groupings...maybe have a meeting about it a week from now. There's no hurry, I'm assuming?" May added.

Tony nodded. "No...No hurry. The storage facility needs to be emptied of all the items that are still there, though there shouldn't be many, and then I'll have to have inspectors come out and make certain that it is structurally sound. After that, then we can get blueprints drawn up and hire contractors and such."

Coulson nodded. "That sounds good to me. We can discuss it in our smaller family units first." The look on his face was fond as he looked at his children and grandchildren.

Pepper glanced around and sighed softly. "I guess we need to clean up our dishes...then head down to the dock."

Karen quickly jumped up and began helping to do just that.

The other family members began clearing their own plates and cutlery as well and it didn't take long before they were all heading to the dock... though there were a few disappointed expressions, as the vacation was over.

Thirty minutes later, the island was shrinking into the horizon. "We'll come back..." Tony promised everyone. "Count on it."



Back to Hope1iz's Stories