Author’s Note: This was written as an RPG (role playing game) between co-authors Hopeliz and BlackFox12 (aka Cat). This is the fourth chapter in the ‘Redeeming Grant’ series.
Disclaimer: We don't own anything from the television series Marvel: Agents of SHIELD and we're not making any money from this fic
Summary: Ward learns he isn’t expendable.
Warning: Spanking; spoilers for the entire first season of Marvel: Agents of SHIELD
Co-author’s Website: BlackFox12's fanfiction.net page


REDEEMING GRANT
PROTECTING LITTLE BROTHER


May piloted the Bus toward a flat if rocky clearing about 15 miles from the cave system they were meant to be exploring. If there truly was a HYDRA base there, then they didn't want to land on their doorstep. It was a matter of minutes for her to safely land the plane, cloak it from prying eyes, and then make her way to the back where everyone else was gathering. Coulson was giving last minute directions to the others, so she quietly stood to the side and waited for him to address her.

Coulson turned to May. "I need you, Trip and Ward to run interference in case there are still members of HYDRA, even if it's not a base. Getting the readings is important, but the safety of the team is more important. If anything compromises that, I need the three of you to get Fitz and Simmons out as quickly as possible."

May nodded briskly, knowing nothing needed to be said at the orders. She noted that Trip and Ward did the same.

"Yes, sir," Ward answered seriously. May couldn't help a tiny smile at the way the other man straightened up and looked every bit the professional when given his orders. She'd noticed that the last few months- after he'd completely healed to Banner's satisfaction and then rested another week so that he was healed to Coulson's satisfaction - that he was very careful to make certain he obeyed orders to the letter, particularly if it involved his safety or the safety of the team. Not that he hadn't obeyed orders prior to that, but it just seemed more...noticeable...now. She turned her attention back to Coulson to make certain he wasn't giving further instruction.

Coulson smiled. "Good, so you all know what your jobs are..." He started to say more, but then broke off as the com sounded. Frowning, he walked over and activated the link. "Coulson here."

"Director, we need you to come in," an agent's voice said. "One of the teams has brought back some particularly sensitive information that urgently needs to be looked over by you."

May raised an eyebrow at the interruption, but kept quiet. If Coulson wanted to change his orders due to his not being able to be present, he would say. Otherwise, they would follow the plan as indicated.

Ward and Trip listened intently to the conversation as well.

"I'll be there," Coulson said, before disconnecting the call and turning back to the team. "This might take a little while, but I don't see any reason why the rest of you can't proceed with the plan." He knew he could trust them to carry out his orders.

"Of course." May nodded calmly, her face expressionless to most who didn't know her well- those who did know her well could tell she was curious about what might have called Coulson away.

Ward nodded as well and turned to head toward the weapons lockers. "I'll just start getting ready, then..."

"I'll just join you.," Trip followed quickly.

Simmons wrinkled her nose. "They've been getting ready for the past week....they just didn't know what for..." she muttered, shaking her head.

"They just want to make sure they have everything they need," Coulson said. "If anything happens, call me immediately. I'll come straight back," he promised.

May looked amused. "Of course." She took Simmons by the arm and motioned to Skye and Fitz that they should follow and left Coulson's office. "We leave in ten minutes. You better make certain you have everything you need...." May said seriously, before heading toward where her own gear was stored.

Fitz looked at Simmons. "Do you think we need to include anything else?" he asked, mentally running through the list of what he did have in his mind.

Coulson left quickly, saying goodbye to the others as he passed them. He didn't bother to reiterate his orders, knowing that he didn't have to.

"I don't think so...?" Simmons bit her lip, then grabbed Fitz's arm and dragged him toward the lab. "Better safe than sorry, I guess..."

# # #

It hadn't taken long for frustration to set in. Fitz had his equipment set up, but was about ready to report he'd found nothing when the readings suddenly went crazy.

Fitz thought about telling the others where he was going. He really did. But Simmons and Skye were busy and the others were focused on what sounded like people entering the area of the cave they were in. And if they were going to have to leave, Fitz needed to get these readings as quickly as possible.

Following the quiet beeping of his scanner, Fitz found himself in a winding passageway. It grew so narrow, squeezing through began to become more and more difficult. Fitz was about to give up and go back when the passage abruptly widened.

The scanner went crazy as Fitz aimed it at a gap between two large rocks. He could make out something laying on the ground and when he went over to investigate, he could see what appeared to be a broken staff.

# # #

Ward, Trip and May had been watching the situation closely. Ward had to admit he was bored. Nothing seemed to be going on; although Simmons and Skye seemed to be happy enough with what they were finding, Fitz seemed to be getting more and more frustrated as their search progressed. Ward had started watching the younger man more closely- his 'sixth' sense telling him to be wary.

Of course, the quiet search couldn't stay quiet for long. Guards, or HYDRA scientists, or maybe just regular goons decided to show up and May, Trip and Ward soon found themselves fighting off the enemy. It quickly became obvious that they would need to evacuate and make their escape to the Bus. As good as the SHIELD specialists were, they were outnumbered five-to-one... and the HYDRA operatives didn't have two scientists and a trainee to protect and worry about.

May quickly made the decision to retreat. While unhappy with the fact that she couldn't finish getting all the information she'd hoped to get, Simmons quickly obeyed, following Trip to their exit point. It was at that moment Ward realized Fitz had wandered off.

Frowning, he turned toward May. "You get Skye out... I'll go grab Fitz and meet you at the extraction point..." He hadn't meant to give May orders. His concern over Fitz's absence over-rode all other concerns. He didn't even wait for a response or reaction before he was taking off down the passageway Fitz had been closest to before disappearing.

A worried look passed over Skye's face when she realised that Fitz was no longer close by, but she didn't question the orders to get out and despite a worried glance in the direction Ward had gone in, she followed May without protest - but another glance back over her shoulder showed more of HYDRA's people going down the passageway Ward had taken and she quickly relayed that to May.

# # #

The sound of fighting reached Fitz's ears and he worked quickly, bagging up the remains of the staff and taking what readings he could from the area between the two rocks. Entirely focused on his work, he disregarded the sounds he could hear.

Ward wasn't happy when he saw Fitz gathering his readings without a care to what was going on around him. He was about to go grab the younger man and drag him to the extraction point, but two HYDRA agents entering from a different area of the passage seemed to have the same idea- with more sinister intent- and he barely managed to knock their weapons from their hands. Of course, it wouldn't be that easy and he found himself in a brutal fight with them. He wasn't even certain if Fitz had noticed what was occurring.

"Fitz! Head out! NOW!" he ordered, grunting as one particularly vicious kick caught him in the chest. He felt a rib crack, but didn't react beyond the grunt- hoping that it wasn't actually broken and wouldn't cause a problem for him later.

Not so out of it that he didn't realize when the fighting reached him, Fitz grabbed his instruments and turned just as Ward yelled at him. He hesitated a moment, but following orders was still ingrained in him and he quickly headed back the way he'd come, hoping one of the others would come and help Ward.

Ward was relieved when he saw Fitz moving to make his escape...but relief only went so far to help you when you were in a life or death fight and he knew the fight he was currently embroiled in was exactly that. He'd no sooner rendered the two he was fighting unconscious, when three more showed up to take their place. He had a choice. Run to catch up with Fitz, while shooting over his shoulder and hoping the HYDRA agents weren't able to get in a good shot during their pursuit... or stay back, give Fitz the opportunity to reach May and Trip, and then try and escape on his own.

This was assuming, of course, that HYDRA hadn't entered into the passageway from the opposite direction. He had to hope that wasn't the case, though- if they had done that, both Fitz and he were blocked off from any escape. Deciding that he'd believe Fitz was heading toward freedom and that they hadn't been blocked off, Grant moved toward the exit of the passage, blocking the three agents from going around him and following Fitz. He quickly knocked one of the three out, but the other two were Centipede enhanced. When he was kicked in the chest a second time, he didn't just feel the crack; he heard it. The sharp pain nearly caused him to black out, before he regained control over his senses and proceeded to ignore all his injuries as he continued to fight.

# # #

Fitz quickly made his way to the extraction point, speaking as soon as he was close enough to Trip and May. "Ward... fighting HYDRA agents." He knew the other man wasn't following him... but he didn't know if that meant Ward was injured or not.

May glanced at Trip. "You get these three back to the Bus. If I'm not back with Ward within fifteen minutes of you reaching there, leave us and tell Coulson."

Trip rapidly agreed. Simmons wanted to argue, but she could see the wisdom in not having all of them stay behind.

Fitz glanced worriedly back over his shoulder, but merely nodded, feeling guilty. He really hadn't wanted to get anyone hurt...

"Be careful," Skye said - unnecessarily so, but she was still worried.

# # #

Ward had gotten a lucky shot in- he really hated when things went in his favor due to chance- but there was only one Hydra goon left. Unfortunately, Ward had lost what little advantage he'd had taking out his other opponents. He was staring down the barrel of one of Hydra's new-tech weapons when the last remaining agent got a strange look in his eyes...before his head fell off with a thump. May stood behind him with a bloody sword.

Ward's eyes widened fractionally, before he gave a brisk nod in her direction and began heading toward their extraction point. He deliberately neglected to mention his injuries. He just wanted to get home.

# # #

While he'd been involved in the meeting, Coulson - while not worried exactly about the team - was still concerned about their safety. He made sure his com link was on throughout the meeting and as soon as he could, he made his way back to the Bus.

It was good to be back with the team, but Coulson stayed all business as he asked the team to assemble so that he could hear their report. When he looked at them, he could see that Fitz in particular looked especially guilty.

Grant had managed to keep the information of his possibly broken ribs to himself, despite May and Trip's concerned questioning. He'd had broken ribs before and there was little that could be done beyond wrapping them and taking things easy. He'd asked Fitz to help him wrap up and then informed the other man that he hadn't told anyone he'd been hurt because he didn't want Fitz to get into trouble.

He should have known Fitz would have difficulty hiding the truth from the rest of the team.

Coulson listened to the report, but his attention switched between Fitz and Grant. Fitz because the young scientist managed to look so guilty... and Grant because Coulson noticed he looked like something pained him.

It didn't take much for Coulson to realize that certain things were being left out... and he quickly realized it involved both Fitz and Grant. Guessing the scientist would break easier than Grant, Coulson focused his attention on Fitz. "And what happened when you were collecting your samples?"

Fitz hesitated, trying hard not to look to Ward for help. "Nothing important." His voice came out a squeak.

Ward would have winced if it wouldn't have signaled guilt. Not that the truth wasn't about to come out anyway. Fitz couldn't have been any more obvious that he was hiding something.

Ward debated just admitting things before they dug themselves in deeper, but he couldn't catch Fitz's eye to indicate the change of plan- and he didn't want to change the plan without warning the younger man...he didn't want Fitz to feel like Ward had bailed on him and left him holding the basket, so to speak.

"And when you say not important... exactly what does that mean?" Coulson continued to press.

This time, Fitz gave in to temptation and darted a quick glance towards Ward, hoping to get some clue about how to proceed from him.

Ward was waiting for Fitz to look at him and when the other man finally did, he took his chance. He nodded in an encouraging manner- hoping the other man took it as a clue to just come clean. It was increasingly obvious that he wouldn't be able to effectively hide anything from his team. And the more Ward thought about it, the more he realized he shouldn't hide anything from his team...even if he was capable of doing so.

Fitz relaxed a fraction when he received permission to admit the truth. "I... didn't realize there were HYDRA agents coming. Ward came after me." He didn't say 'on his own', but Coulson heard it in his voice anyway.

Coulson nodded, looking at both of them. "Were both of you hurt? Or just you, Grant?" He could see the stiff way the other man held himself.

At the question Ward didn't bother to hide his wince this time. He looked at Fitz to make certain his information was correct before stepping in and answering the question.

"Just me...as far as I'm aware." He avoided Trip and May's twin glares...they didn't appreciate him having lied to them about being hurt. He didn't volunteer any further information, not wanting to admit just how badly he'd been hurt.

"How bad?" Coulson asked directly. "What treatment have you received?" He hadn't missed the glares May and Trip had directed towards Ward and he guessed the other man had kept his injuries a secret.

Ward's mouth dropped open to answer when he suddenly realized that keeping his injuries hidden from May and Trip was likely going to get him grief from the two. He didn't even think about the grief that he'd be getting from Coulson for not having it taken care of immediately. He glanced at May and Trip, noting their glares, and swallowed, suddenly not wanting to say anything else. "Uh..." He blushed as he looked back at Coulson, trying to gauge how much he could avoid saying without causing the director to begin glaring as well.

Coulson sighed and, when he spoke, continued to use Ward's first name; mostly to indicate that nothing had changed when it came to them being a family. "Grant... I need to know how badly you're injured so I can make sure you have the medical aid and supplies you need." And so that he knew how long he needed to keep the other man off missions. No matter how important their missions were, the wellbeing of his team was far more important.

Grant wrinkled his nose in reluctance, but then sighed. He knew Coulson wasn't asking for the information because of a lack of trust, although it was possible that the man thought that Ward thought he was asking due to a lack of trust...and he also knew that a good leader would want to know the health of his team, if only so that they could be certain not to ask a team member to do something that they might not be capable of handling.

Ironically, that was his main reason for not wanting to say anything- because he really should have told May immediately how he was wounded so that she could take that into account when planning their escape. They'd been lucky not to run into any other HYDRA agents on their way to the evacuation point. If they had run into someone, she didn't know of his wound or the fact that one well-placed kick could send one of his ribs into a lung and cause him to choke to death on his own blood in a matter of minutes. She'd be furious when he finally admitted it to Coulson- and she'd have every right to be furious.

"I.... I know I cracked some ribs....but I think one of them may even be broken. I've had broken ribs before and it kind of feels like that..." he finally admitted. He refused to look at May or Trip, so he didn't see the exasperated irritation on their faces. He couldn't bring himself to look Coulson in the eye either, finding his director's shoes very interesting.

Coulson resisted the urge to start scolding Ward there and then. Although he had every intention of talking (and not just talking) to the other man, he intended to at least keep the illusion of privacy. Besides, Coulson wanted to check on Ward's ribs and make sure they'd been properly bound up. Fitz was a scientist, but not necessarily that good with broken ribs.

"Is there anything else to report?" Coulson waited long enough for the rest of them to reply in the negative and then turned back to Ward. "I want you to wait for me in my office. I'll be there in a few minutes." As soon as he picked up the medical supplies.

"Yes sir...." To Ward's credit, he didn't attempt to try and justify his actions or argue that he'd already taken care of his ribs. He quickly obeyed the order and went to Coulson's office. If he looked like a properly scolded child who had got caught coloring on the walls...well, no one seemed to have the heart to comment on it.

May frowned as she watched the younger man go then turned toward Coulson. "He shouldn't have had to fight like that...we had enough warning that HYDRA was on their way that I had expected him to grab Fitz and be right behind us- no more than a few minutes at most. I would have heard if the rest of the Hydra agents had been close enough to catch up to him in that amount of time...." She eyed Fitz, hoping for some sort of explanation as to what went down to cause Ward to have to fight a group of HYDRA agents by himself.

Trip nodded. "He should have found Fitz more quickly, AC." He used Skye's favorite nickname for Coulson. "Instead, he was gone a lot longer and when Fitz finally showed up, it was to tell May that Ward needed assistance fighting off Hydra..."

Fitz carefully avoided looking at the others. "I may have got too involved in the samples I was taking..." he admitted quietly. "I figured we were safe enough that I could take the readings and get out of there." He shrugged, knowing he should have paid attention to his surroundings... and at least told them where he was going.

Coulson shook his head. "During the next mission, I think you need to have one of the others with you at all times." He knew Fitz wouldn't like that idea, but he didn't want a repeat of this.

May looked at the young scientist sternly. "Oh, he will, Coulson. He'll be staying next to me and if I am not on the mission, then he'll be next to Trip at all times." She quickly gathered the few remaining medical supplies that Coulson couldn't reach- due to her standing in his way- and handed them to the older man before looking at Fitz again.

"Go get cleaned up and then meet me in the rec area. I think we need to have our own discussion regarding wandering off without letting the team-lead know about it." Her face was as stoic as it normally was, but everyone present could hear the underlying disappointment and frustration in her tone.

Coulson took the medical supplies with a nod of thanks and then left the room, heading to his office. With a quiet sigh, he opened the door and stepped inside, turning his attention to Ward. "Take your shirt off," he directed.

Ward bit his lip at the order, knowing it wasn't going to be pleasant. He'd had a difficult time removing his shirt the first time when Fitz had helped wrap him up; and unfortunately, while a brilliant scientist, Fitz wasn't terribly good at playing doctor. As a result, not only were the bandages he'd tried to wrap around his ribs looser than they needed to be, but because his ribs hadn't received the support they needed since he'd been injured, he was a lot more sore than he had been when first returning to the bus. On top of that, the bruising had been given time to settle and his muscles had been given time to stiffen up. End result? Ward wasn't sure he could remove his shirt. Swallowing, he admitted as much: "I'm not sure I can...not without a lot of help...or a pair of scissors to cut it off..." he said softly, still unable to face Coulson.

Coulson nodded, not all that surprised, and put the medical supplies down on his desk before picking up a pair of scissors. "When we're finished here, I'll find you a new shirt to wear." He approached Ward, beginning to help remove the shirt without a second thought, careful not to tug too much and risk hurting the other man more.

Ward finally looked up and gave Coulson a tiny smile. "When we're finished, I think I'd just like to go to bed..." he admitted sheepishly. "Preferably after taking a horse tranquilizer..." he joked. He held as still as possible while Coulson began cutting the material and managed to keep his wincing to a minimum, not wanting the other man to feel badly about any pain he was in. It was his own fault, after all.

"I would insist on that anyway," Coulson replied, cutting the shirt off rather than pulling it free. He knew the latter would cause more pain and he wasn't prepared to hurt Ward any more than he could possibly help it.

It took a while, but Coulson finally pulled the rest of the material free, dropping the remains on his desk to be disposed of later. As he began to carefully remove the poorly-wrapped bandages from Ward's torso, he spoke. "Do you understand why your actions in the cave were unacceptable?"

Ward bit his lip and thought about Coulson's question, knowing the older man deserved a well thought out response and not a quick answer. "I'm not sure what was unacceptable in my actions in the cave..." he said. "Fitz had wandered off and we needed to evacuate and we had Skye and Jemma to worry about and I thought May and Trip could protect both of them and I could protect Fitz..." His voice trailed off and he thought some more.

"I wouldn't do anything in the cave differently," he finally admitted. "But I handled things after we escaped badly. I should have told May I had been injured immediately. If we had run into anymore HYDRA agents, she needed to know I wasn't operating at full health. That was a foolish error of judgment...."

"I shouldn't have attempted to hide the injury." He winced, but not from any pain- although he did hurt. He just hated when he messed up so badly that he had to be reminded of the correct way to act. He glanced at Coulson hesitantly, afraid to see disappointment in his eyes.

Coulson nodded, squeezing Ward's shoulder gently after he'd removed the last of the bandages. "All of that is true, but you should have taken a com with you. Knowing that the mission had been compromised, you had no way of knowing if your escape route would be cut off. My understanding is that Fitz was the one who informed May and Trip that you were being attacked. As bad as your injuries are, you could have been killed. I can speak for us all when I say none of us would want that to happen."

He looked steadily at Ward. "You also shouldn't have told Fitz to hide your injuries."

Ward blinked, his mouth dropping open slightly at Coulson's words. "I...." He found himself blushing and got very irritated at himself. "I didn't even realize I hadn't taken one....Until you told me just now....That...was unfortunate and a rookie mistake that I can't believe I made..." he admitted. "Fitz did send May back for me..." He looked down at the ground before meeting Coulson's eyes again. "And I know I shouldn't have told Fitz to hide my injuries. That was wrong of me on so many levels and right now, I have no excuse, because I can't even remember why I thought it was a good idea. I didn't want him to get into trouble...but even that..." He sighed softly and rubbed at his temple wearily.

"I know you can't officially punish me..." he whispered. He bit his lip and looked at the ground, knowing he deserved to be punished, but not certain how Coulson would be able to punish him in the usual manner, because he knew he wouldn't be able to get into position without a lot of help.

"I don't expect you to hide your injuries," Coulson said seriously. "Going after Fitz was the right thing to do and I'm glad you made that call. What is not acceptable is putting yourself in danger to do so." He picked up the clean set of bandages, after probing lightly at the ribs to make sure he knew which ones were damaged in what way, and began to strap them up, tightly but careful not to cause the other man too much pain.

"We'll take care of the punishment in your room." Coulson could have decided to wait until Ward was healed, but he didn't think it was fair to leave it hanging over the man's head. At least in his room, he could have the support of a pillow under his chest as well as the bed.

"I know you don't..." Ward admitted, holding himself as still as possible and breathing carefully in an attempt to control any pain. "It was foolish of me to attempt to hide them...especially when I know how you feel about it and when I know that you'd find out anyway. Again...I have no excuse and really can't remember why I thought it would be a good idea. If I didn't know better, I'd think I wanted to get into trouble..." He wrinkled his nose in consternation.

Ward was glad that Coulson planned to take care of his punishment immediately. He was feeling more and more guilt the more he thought about his actions and he knew he wouldn't be able to sleep if he didn't pay for his misdeeds or make things right.

Coulson considered that as he finished wrapping up Ward's ribs. "It's not unheard of for a person to start testing - pushing at the limits - when a relationship changes. And you could say that our relationship has gone through a big change."

Ward considered that for a moment as he began to move in small increments to see how he felt now that he was properly bandaged. He let out a tiny sigh of relief. "Yeah...I shouldn't have hidden my injury....it feels so much better with bandages that are correctly done..." He rolled his head around on his neck slowly then smiled crookedly at Coulson.

"I can't disagree with you...our relationship has changed a lot." He smiled. He didn't say it out loud, but he hoped Coulson realized how much it meant to him that he had decided he was worth saving...that he was taking an active part in working to save him. Even if his methods were sometimes painful.

He gave a somewhat shy smile. "I...I think I'm ready..." He waited for Coulson to either lead him out or give him further directions.

Coulson nodded, placing a hand gently on Ward's shoulder. "After we've dealt with this, I want you to rest," he said, gently but firmly, as he guided the younger man out of the office and towards his room. "That means no exercising for a few days," he added, squeezing Ward's shoulder.

Ward nodded, leaning into Coulson like an affection starved puppy. He didn't realize he was doing so, or he would have been ashamed at the neediness. "I understand, sir," he agreed softly. "I won't exercise until you say I am allowed," he promised...still eager to please with obedience.

They soon found themselves at his bunk. Simmons peered out of her own bunk and got a worried look on her face. Everyone knew what occurred when Coulson disciplined Ward and usually made an effort to be on opposite ends of the plane when it happened. "Sir," she addressed Coulson. "May told us to stay away from the rec area and stay in our bunks, but...." Her eyes darted to Ward. "May Skye, Trip and I go to the lab and work on a few of the items we found?" Trip and Skye hopefully looked out of their bunks.

"Of course," Coulson replied, his hand still on Ward's shoulder. He knew the rest of the team was aware of what happened between him and Ward, but he wouldn't order them to stay close and have to listen. "Just make sure you don't go to the rec room," he added.

"Oh, believe me. We won't be anywhere near the rec room!" Simmons grinned in relief at the director then gave Ward a sympathetic smile, before grabbing whatever she thought she might need and heading to the lab. Trip and Skye quickly followed.

Ward watched them disappear, a faint blush starting on his face and making its way down his neck. The contrast between white bandages and red blushed skin was stark... but then, so was the contrast between glaring bruises and white bandages. Ward cleared his throat before walking into his bunk area and turning to wait for Coulson to enter. "I guess it isn't much of a secret, huh?" he asked quietly- referring to the way Coulson disciplined him.

Coulson stepped into the room, closing the door before he turned to Ward. "It's not easy to keep something like that a secret. The best thing to do is make sure they're not in the same area when we're dealing with something." Walking over to the bed, he moved one of the pillows to make sure Ward had plenty of support for his ribs. "I couldn't say for certain, but it wouldn't surprise me if May is having a similar time with Fitz."

Ward quietly watched as Coulson began arranging things, then blinked as the other man's words sank in. "May is..." He made vague motions with his hand, "...to Fitz?" he finally finished, the tone of his voice indicating he was having a hard time believing it. "But why? She can discipline him officially..." He frowned in confusion. While he watched Coulson and asked his question, he had already kicked off his shoes under his bed and had undone his jeans in an unconscious effort to prepare himself.

"But an official punishment is much more impersonal," Coulson pointed out. He stepped over to Ward and took his arm gently, knowing that bending over without help would be hard for the other man, and walked back over to the bed. "Putting yourself in danger isn't tolerated - and I'm sure May will be explaining that to Fitz."

Ward slanted his head, thinking about that for a moment, even as he followed Coulson's guidance to the bed. "So...she's treating him like family..." he finally said. "Like you treat me...." His eyes widened slightly, wondering if he'd said too much.

Coulson nodded, smiling gently at Ward. "That's exactly right. We're a family here. All of us. You aren't the only one who can get into trouble." He squeezed Ward's arm reassuringly and then sat down on the bed, helping the other man across his lap without putting strain on his ribs.

Ward cooperated as much as he was able, noting how careful Coulson was being of his injuries. He couldn't help but tease a little bit. "So....you're like our dad?" He quickly shut up when what he said and his current position fully registered and he no longer felt like teasing. He could have done a lot worse- had actually- than to have a father like Coulson. He squirmed slightly before he found a comfortable position; his upper body resting on the bed, the pillow giving him extra support. As in all the other times, his position caused him to feel vulnerable. He pushed down his impulse to try and argue his way out of what he knew he deserved.

Coulson gently wrapped one arm around Ward's waist, securing him so that the other man couldn't squirm so much, and tugged his underwear down as he replied. "I'm sure you could say that's what I am like. I'm just as sure a father figure is one of the things you need," he added.

It said something about the trust he had in Coulson- he was sure- that instead of being nervous about the butt roasting he was about to get, he felt calm, relaxed and able to accept it without protest.

He was actually relieved, in a way. He'd felt guilty about how his actions had showed a lack of respect to May's position...not to mention the fact that Coulson's consistency made him feel more secure in his position on the team. When he felt his underwear being lowered, it was just one more act of consistency and he didn't question it. Instead, he allowed himself to grasp the pillow beneath him tightly.

He closed his eyes; not because he was afraid. He wasn't. Coulson's words just reminded him of how much he was missing in his life- had been missing- and the fact that Coulson would try and supply even a little of what he needed...it was hard to understand. Instead, he tried to focus on what was about to happen.

Coulson rubbed Ward's back gently a moment, before moving his hand lower. Lifting his hand, he brought it down in a sharp swat at the crest of the younger man's backside, before swatting again below the first. He didn't use any more force than he had the previous times, knowing that being particularly harsh was unnecessary.

Ward couldn't help the tiny gasp at the sharp sting Coulson's swat produced. He knew Coulson wasn't being overly harsh. He never was harsh. But Ward's day had not gone very well from the moment HYDRA showed up. He was tired; his ribs hurt; the bruises on his arms, legs, and abdomen hurt; but above all else, his conscience hurt. He should never have tried to hide his injuries from his team or convince Fitz to help him do so. He'd promised himself he'd never lie or do anything to make them distrust him and hiding things was doing the exact opposite!

When the second swat landed, he whimpered. If Coulson was willing to be a father-figure for him, maybe the other man wouldn't mind if he didn't try and be all strong through the punishment. It took more effort to try and keep himself under control than he had the energy for.

Coulson squeezed Ward's waist gently, before settling into a rhythm with the swats. As he had before, he let the swats fall randomly over Ward's bottom and thighs, keeping them at a bearable level, but using enough force to make it clear to Ward that endangering himself and keeping his injuries a secret was not acceptable.

Despite his plans not to try and be brave and "ride through" the punishment, Ward was still surprised at how quickly his eyes began to water. He sniffled and gripped the pillow more tightly as he began to cry quietly, letting out a tiny whimper or gasp every so often when Coulson smacked a particularly sensitive area of skin. It was confusing to him how he could feel so safe and secure in this man's grip, while said man was heating his backside to a level he knew would make sitting very difficult.

"I'm sorry, sir..." he whispered between clearing his throat and swallowing back a sob.

"I know you are," Coulson replied, his hand never ceasing the swats, even as he kept his tone gentle and calm. "But if it happens again, we'll be right back in this position. You are too important to risk yourself like you did. You aren't an expendable part of the team. You're one of mine and that means you consider your own personal safety as well as the rest of the team's. Even when I'm not there to remind you."

What he wanted to say- ask, really- was if he really was one of Coulson's and what exactly did that mean...because even though Coulson had pretty much taken him back and become mentor and protector to him, it was still difficult for Ward to grasp that anyone might care enough about him to want to claim him as theirs. He didn't say or ask that though, finally settling on a whispered, "I...I understand...."

He wondered if Coulson realized how confusing his words were to him and how...hopeful...they made him feel.

Coulson landed one last complete round of swats and then stopped. Unwilling not to offer the comfort - though still mindful of the other man's ribs - Coulson carefully helped him up so that he could hug him close, offering the comfort in exactly the same way he had before. He let one hand rest on Ward's back, rubbing gently.

Ward couldn't help it. Of course, he'd deny it if anyone ever suggested he would do such a thing...but he snuggled closer to Coulson, sniffling a little more and whimpering when he landed on one particularly sensitive patch of skin. "I don't think I'll ever stop getting into trouble..." he mumbled, irritated at himself. He snorted faintly then chuckled, hiding his face against Coulson's shoulder, thinking that if Coulson was the group's father, then he may as well officially apply for the position of family brat- as often as he was getting his backside blistered for doing the wrong things.

Coulson tightened his embrace, gently tugging Ward in close as he continued rubbing his back. "It doesn't matter how many times you 'get into trouble'. I won't give up on you. I'll keep stepping in every time it becomes necessary. I told you when I came to see you in prison that I care about you. That's still true. It will always be true."

Ward slowly leaned back so he could look into Coulson's face. He would have been embarrassed by the pout he gave the older man, if he wasn't truly confused by the whole situation. "But why?" he asked plaintively. "Why do you care about me? I've not done anything to deserve you caring about me...I've done a lot of things to deserve you being angry and hating me, but not for you to care... I don't understand..." He slumped into Coulson's embrace, weariness warring with his confusion.

Coulson just continued to hold Ward close, not so much as loosening his hold on him. "You've made a lot of mistakes, but I've seen other things in you as well. This mission, for instance. You didn't have to go after Fitz and you did anyway. You shouldn't have gone without a com, but you did it without thinking of how it might benefit you. You're a good man, Grant. You've had a lot of negative influence, but now that Garrett isn't in the picture, I think you can continue to make the right choices."

Ward swallowed. He still didn't fully understand it...but he didn't think Coulson would lie. Not about this, anyway. "Okay..." he finally said softly, fighting back a yawn. He was tired, but he didn't want to move from his position. The comfort Coulson offered helped him to believe Coulson's words, even if he didn't fully understand how such acceptance was possible for him (his experience had always been the opposite of such acceptance).

"You can sleep if you need to," Coulson offered. "I don't have to do anything right now. I can stay here with you." He could tell that Ward was tired, but at the same time, he didn't want to withdraw the comfort, guessing the other man had received very little comfort before.

Ward smiled crookedly. He felt like such a needy child, holding onto Coulson like he was afraid that the man would disappear. But the man had noticed how tired he was...and Ward really did need to sleep. With a tiny grimace as his injuries made themselves known, he attempted to fix his clothing. "Yeah..." he whispered as he tried to decide if it was easier to just kick his jeans and underwear off and sleep nude, or if he wanted to brave leaning over to pull his pants up. Sometimes he wished he could wear a nightshirt like they used to do in Victorian times- or like in Harry Potter. That would make things so much easier.

"Do you need help?" Coulson asked after a moment, aware that trying to dress might jostle Ward's ribs. "You don't have to feel ashamed to ask," he added.

Ward bit his lip, embarrassed that he did in fact need help. Nothing like having to be dressed by your mentor to make one feel like a competent adult. Then again, he'd been over said mentor's knee, butt bared, more times than he'd ever thought would occur; and the man had nursed him back from death, taking care of him in ways that would mortify him if he allowed himself to dwell on it. Did he really have any room to be embarrassed any longer? Not if it caused him to injure himself further, he decided. "I...I do need help, sir. Thank you..." he said softly.

Coulson squeezed his shoulder gently. "Everyone needs help sometimes. It's nothing to feel embarrassed about." He began helping Ward to dress himself, careful to avoid putting pressure on the man's ribs.

With Coulson's help, it didn't take long at all and Ward was able to carefully sit back down on his bed with only a small amount of discomfort; mostly from the spanking, not from his ribs, to his amusement. He yawned again then smiled sheepishly at the director. "Thank you again, sir...are...I know you don't want me exercising and you want me to rest...is there...?" He frowned, uncertain how to phrase the question. He didn't want to just flat out ask 'am I grounded?' because he didn't want to give the other man ideas that he might not have been thinking originally. At the same time, if Coulson wanted him to go to bed early or get up later for the unforeseeable future, he should know about it.

"I want you to rest those ribs as much as possible," Coulson said seriously. "And if you are doing something - that isn't exercising - and they start hurting, you need to rest immediately. Other than that... I'll trust you to take it easy. I won't make you stay in here. I don't think you'd be able to cope with that for long."

Ward nodded his head in agreement, carefully crawling into his bed and pulling the sheet up while watching his mentor. "Ok, sir. I'll do my best."

"I know you will," Coulson replied simply, sitting down next to the bed, deciding to make sure he was there in case Ward needed him. And it would help Coulson to know the other man was still safe.

# # #

Fitz wanted to protest, but he heard the disappointment and couldn't bring himself to argue. Shoulders slumping, he obeyed the instructions.

May went directly to the rec room after telling Trip, Simmons and Skye to go to their bunks and not go anywhere near the rec room. If working as Coulson's second had taught her anything, it was that you should avoid embarrassing a subordinate if disciplining them- if at all possible. While she waited for Fitz to join her, she thought about what she planned to say and do.

Fitz wanted to put off going to the rec room, but he didn't want to tick May off more than she already was. In some ways, it would be easier if she lost her temper and yelled. Calm was that much harder to deal with.

Having got changed, Fitz headed quickly to the rec room, head down.

May was leaning against the rec room wall, her arms crossed over her chest, when Fitz walked in. She could tell the younger man felt badly about upsetting her. The question she had was if he felt badly about what had occurred on their mission. She waited until he was fully in the room and the door was closed before speaking.

"Do you know why I'm so upset, Leo?" She kept her voice soft and calm with an underlying steel. She was in complete control of her emotions; Fitz had to realize she was in complete control. She knew she tended to intimidate and sometimes scare the younger agents. Her reputation might be an asset when facing the enemy, but when dealing with subordinates, it often caused more problems than it solved.

Fitz darted a quick glance to May's face before looking away again, swallowing. "I shouldn't have left without saying anything. I... put the team in danger." He winced, remembering the way Ward had fought... and how obvious it had been that the other man was hurt. Once again, guilt stabbed - very real and very painful.

May nodded, relieved that the younger man knew at least part of what he'd done wrong. "You did. Had I known where you were going and what you were doing, I would have sent Ward with you. Then, when it became apparent HYDRA was on its way back, I could have informed him via the coms that we needed to leave and he would have been able to get you out immediately. Instead, he had to waste valuable time looking for you...."

She waited for that to sink in before continuing. "However, that wasn't the only thing you did wrong...even after he found you, he had to wait for you to stop what you were doing because you felt your readings were too important to leave. Any readings you found would not be worth your life, Fitz. I hope you realize that." May frowned at the thought of the younger man possibly dying because he didn't listen to the man charged to protect him.

Fitz winced, staring at the floor rather than meeting May's gaze. "I... I know I was far too caught up in the readings. I didn't want to lose my work, but I know that was wrong."

May nodded, relieved that she wouldn't have to convince the younger man that he had been wrong and could go straight to the discipline for doing wrong. She looked at Fitz, considering her options.

To be fair, she should really just treat him the same as Coulson was treating Ward...they all knew how Coulson disciplined Ward. She hadn't asked Coulson his reasons for using such a discipline, but she'd overheard him telling Ward it was because things couldn't be made official with him...and plus, it was a more family type punishment and Coulson considered Ward family. She suspected it was the last reason that held the most weight. Ward was an adult physically, mentally and in almost all other ways; but in his emotions, he was all over the board; mostly at the level of a needy child, though. His need to please whoever he had decided was in charge of him was as sad as it was endearing.

Fitz wasn't like that. For all his 'innocence' and almost childlike belief in people...emotionally, he was very much an adult. She wondered if he'd be able to accept the same discipline from her that Ward was getting from Coulson.

Clearing her throat, May looked at Fitz and stood straighter. "I can't let you go without addressing what you did wrong. That wouldn't be fair to Ward...he's being punished because of what he did wrong in his attempts to help you. So...I plan to punish you the same way Coulson is punishing him."

Fitz's eyes widened at that. He hadn't missed how Coulson punished Ward and although he felt bad for the other man and tried to be out of the way when that became necessary, it also seemed to him that Ward needed someone willing to take a more... firmer hand with him.

The idea of he himself being punished the same way should have been abhorrent; and yet... if he insisted on a different punishment, even an official one, it would draw the line even more firmly between Ward and the rest of them. And Fitz didn't actually think that was fair. Even if Ward didn't care so much about being treated differently, to Fitz, he was still a part of their team. And, yeah, he'd been dropped into the ocean along with Simmons... but Fitz had still held an unwavering belief that there was good in Ward; that he wasn't just a traitor.

And this last mission had only cemented that belief.

"I... suppose that's fair," Fitz said finally.

May barely stopped the smile that wanted to form on her lips at Fritz's hesitant acceptance of what she'd decided. Her mouth quirked slightly and she couldn't help but give the scientist a proud look. She didn't know if he understood her reasoning for choosing this method (although she suspected he did), but the fact that he wasn't questioning her why...well, he rose another notch in her already high estimation.

Glancing around the room, she nodded once then motioned toward the wall. "If you would please lean against the wall, Fitz...as if you were being searched for weapons." She knew she could sit on the bench and put him over her knee...but she didn't think that would add anything to the punishment except to make him more uncomfortable. He didn't have the same issues (or needs?) with authority that Ward had and bringing him down to the emotional state of a child wouldn't be productive. Without looking to see if he was obeying her order- she had confidence he was- she went to the trunk at the side of the room where the various equipment was stored. She vaguely remembered there being a... yes. There it was. Pulling out the ping pong paddle, she turned to head back toward her younger team mate.

"I'll give you a choice, Leo. I realize this is unorthodox and if you had been disciplined by yourself, you would be receiving a more 'official' punishment. So I'll let you choose...do you want me to use my hand or this paddle?" Her eyebrow quirked up as she waited for an answer.

Fitz took a deep breath and stepped over to the wall. Feeling a blush play over his cheeks, he braced his hands on the wall and leaned forward, feet slightly set apart. He hadn't been spanked before, but he figured this might help prevent any involuntary movements.

Surprised, Fitz glanced back over his shoulder, taking in the paddle before letting his eyes dart to May's face. "I don't know," he said honestly. "Which would you choose?" He decided he'd rather let May make the choice, having no frame of reference for this.

May blinked at that and frowned slightly. "Have you ever been spanked before, Fitz?" she asked softly. If he hadn't, she might need to rethink her original thought of not putting him over her knee...the personal contact might help him deal with the situation better.

Fitz shook his head. "No... I mean... I know what it is, but..." His voice trailed off and he shrugged. "My parents never used it."

May nodded. "Knowing what it is, is different than actually experiencing it..." She sighed softly. "In that case, I will be using my hand." She quickly decided against putting him over her knee...the size difference between them would make it very difficult and she wanted him focusing on what he did wrong and how he should avoid it in the future- not focusing on if he was about to fall on the floor or not. Instead, she moved into his personal space, standing close to his side, and put her left hand on his shoulder, giving it a gentle squeeze.

"From now on, you will stay aware of your surroundings. You will pay attention when the order to evacuate is given. You will not place finding information above your own life. Am I clear?" she asked sternly.

Fitz tensed up a little, but then focused on the wall in front of him once more, not actually wanting to watch what May was doing. "You're clear," he replied quietly. "I'll pay attention next time. I won't wander off on my own."

Satisfied that he understood, she lifted her right hand and quickly brought it down on his backside with a sharp smack. She waited a second to see how he reacted, then raised her hand and brought down again next to the first spot. She quickly began moving from one side of Fitz's backside, from top to bottom, keeping her smacks firm and even- just enough pressure to sting, even with his trousers protecting him somewhat, but not hard enough to bruise.

Fitz jerked, caught by surprise by the first smack. He sucked in a sharp breath, but kept himself still, bracing his hands on the wall so that he didn't shift forward out of the way. Even with the protection of his trousers, it hurt... and, of course, the embarrassment didn't help, either.

May squeezed Fitz's shoulder gently again as she began a second circuit of smacks. "You're doing good, Leo...we're almost done," she said softly, to offer encouragement.

Fitz just nodded, a little embarrassed by how much better that encouragement made him feel. He was even more embarrassed to realize that tears were welling up in his eyes... though those were more a response to his feelings of guilt than the spanking itself.

May could see the tears forming in her younger colleague's eyes and knew that the lesson was sinking in. Squeezing his shoulder one more time, she aimed her swats lower to cover his as yet untouched sit-spots and upper thighs. She kept the level of force the same, but she knew the more sensitive areas would feel the sting more rapidly.

Fitz jerked, biting his lip as his breath hitched on a quiet sob. He leaned his head forward, allowing his face to drop gently against his arms, muffling the sound somewhat as he began crying in earnest.

Seeing Fitz succumb and begin crying, May immediately stopped spanking. She squeezed the shoulder her hand was on again, moving her other hand up to his back, where she began rubbing gentle circles. "It's over, Leo," she quietly told him. "You did well. You've paid for your mistake and it will be forgotten." She hesitated, uncertain if Leo would welcome any further sign of care from her- or if it would upset him, since it would be out of character for her to be so 'touchy feely'. If he indicated he wanted or needed it, though, she'd pull him into her arms. At this point, his needs outweighed any discomfort she might feel from being affectionate.

Fitz relaxed, almost involuntarily, at the comfort. Almost subconsciously, he leaned a bit into the touch, trying hard to quiet down his crying... though he felt more open emotionally than he was truly comfortable with.

As soon as Fitz leaned into her touch, she wrapped her arm around him, pulling him into a hug. In a joking manner, she gently teased, trying to help the younger man calm down, "No one hears about this. I'm supposed to be scary...." She smiled at him, squeezing a little more tightly.

Fitz half-snorted, leaning into the embrace, letting it calm his raw emotions. "No one would believe me even if I did say anything..."

"Remember that and we'll be just fine..." she said in an amused tone. "You okay?" she asked quietly, giving one last squeeze, before stepping back slightly to look into his face. If Fitz needed more comfort, she was prepared to pull him in close again.

Fitz nodded, taking a deep breath. "Yeah, I think so. I guess now I understand why Ward minds Coulson so much..." Though, of course, he knew it went much deeper than that.

May smiled at that. "It probably helps a little," she agreed, knowing Fitz understood it wasn't just that reason Ward tried so hard to listen to the director. Stepping back fully, she patted him on the shoulder. "Why don't you go find Simmons and the others...? Show them I didn't maim you...." She gave him a small smile, before remarking offhand, "I'm proud of you, Leo...."

Fitz smiled a little at that. "It wouldn't be fair if I was unwilling to accept the consequences." He then nodded. "I'll make sure they know I'm in one piece." He didn't say it out loud, but he also thought he should talk to Ward... apologize to the other man, at least, and definitely thank him for saving his life.

May smiled again. "No, I guess it wouldn't. Go on then...find the others. I think I'll just stay here and meditate for a while." She watched him as he left, waiting until he was gone before sinking into her favorite position.

# # #

After he went to show Simmons and Skye, especially, that he was all right, Fitz figured he could just leave it until he and Ward next ran into each other. He rather quickly changed his mind, though, wanting to assure himself that Ward was recovering... and apologize for getting him hurt and into trouble.

Ward winced slightly as he rolled over onto his back; although it didn't really hurt, just a tiny sting as his backside made contact with the mattress. Of course, that was when his ribs reminded him of their condition and he couldn't help but moan. He glanced over to see if Coulson was still there...not sure if he wanted the older man to hear him in pain or not.

The reasons for both were valid, at least to him. He didn't want Coulson to worry any more than he already was, but if Coulson knew, Ward could ask for stronger pain killers.

Reaching Ward's bunk, Fitz saw Coulson just leaving, the other man explaining that he was going to get some painkillers for when Ward woke up. "You can put your head round the door," Coulson offered. "He's awake. You can talk to him, but try not to disturb him too much."

Fitz nodded. "I won't." He waited for Coulson to leave and then knocked lightly on the door.

Ward had noted Coulson leaving, but the older man had indicated he was going for medication, so he'd relaxed. When he heard the knock, he didn't hesitate to call out, "Come in."

Fitz pushed the door open, putting his head round. "Hi... I wanted to see how you were. I'm sorry I got you hurt," he said guiltily.

Ward blinked in surprise, motioning Fitz in further. "I'm doing alright, just resting... and you didn't get me hurt." He frowned in confusion at the younger man.

Relieved that he wasn't being sent away, Fitz slipped into the room, closing the door behind him. "If I hadn't wandered off, you wouldn't have come after me and had to fight off those HYDRA agents. So... I'm sorry. I'll try not to let that happen again."

Ward blinked, then nodded in understanding. "I know you won't..." He smiled at the younger agent. "But it wasn't entirely your fault. There were several things I should have done and didn't...which led to my being hurt worse than I would have been otherwise. I guess we'll both be more careful in the future." He started to shrug, then thought better of it and leaned back into his pillows. "I'm not going to be able to do any missions until Coulson clears me for duty again...maybe you can teach me a little bit more about what it is you do.... So I don't feel like such an idiot when I watch you and Simmons have your conversations." He smiled to show he was teasing.

Fitz returned the smile, feeling much less hesitant now. "It's not all that difficult, though maybe I think that because I've spent so much time around those kinds of readings." He shrugged. "But you probably understand more than you think. I mean, no one needed to tell you what to do when you saved Simmons."

Ward gave a chagrined look. "There really wasn't much to understand. You made the serum. All I did was jump out of the plane to give it to her. Not a lot of brain power involved on my part..." Ward grinned crookedly. "But maybe I might be able to learn enough to be able to help you next time you're looking for readings or information. If I know what it is you are looking for, I can help you find it faster; and then we won't need to worry so much if HYDRA comes back earlier than expected."

Fitz nodded. "I can always show you how to work some of the instruments," he offered. "When you feel up to it, you could come by the lab." Of course, 'when you feel up to it' really meant, 'when Coulson gives you the okay to get up'.

"Great..." Ward gave Fitz another smile then glanced toward the door. He heard Coulson returning. "I'll let you know as soon as I'm able to...." he finished with a sudden yawn then gave the scientist a sheepish look.

"I'll let you get some rest," Fitz said. "I'm glad you weren't hurt worse."

Coulson opened the door then, stepping into the room with a tray with a small amount of food, water and meds on.

"Thanks, Fitz." Ward smiled at the other man then looked at what Coulson was bringing in and blinked. He'd expected the meds, but the food was a bit of a surprise.

"Is that for me, sir?" he asked, nodding at the food curiously.

Fitz quietly excused himself after nodding to Coulson.

Coulson stepped over to the bed, carefully placing the tray down. "You'll need to rest up. You don't need to be going back and forth to the kitchen to get food. You've been asleep for a while, so I thought you might be hungry."

Ward nodded, although he was slightly disappointed that he wouldn't be eating with the rest of the group. He understood Coulson's concerns and, considering he had brought a lot of it on himself by neglecting proper medical care until several hours after the fact...well, he wasn't going to argue, however much he might want to go to the kitchen. Besides, he didn't know of too many other superior officers who would take on the role of nursemaid to an injured subordinate. It only emphasized Coulson's repeated claims of considering him family; it felt nice.

"I am a little hungry," he finally said with a smile and very carefully pushed himself up into a more stable sitting position. He'd be glad when a few days had passed and given his ribs a chance to start healing, so the stiffness and constant pain would dissipate and let him move more easily. Finally satisfied that he'd be able to actually get the food into his mouth and not all over himself, he reached for the plate.

"Thank you, sir..." His smile grew a little more happy.

Coulson returned the smile, sitting on the edge of the bed. "When your ribs have healed a bit more, you can start taking meals with the team again. For now, though, I think the unnecessary movements will just cause you more pain."

"Can't argue with that..." Ward sighed, but it was obvious he was amused, not upset. Finishing the light meal Coulson had brought him, he quickly took the meds that were also sitting on the tray, swallowing them down with a bottle of water. "You don't have to babysit me, you know," he remarked casually, feeling guilty that he had monopolized so much of the older man's time already. "I'm likely going to be out like a light in a matter of minutes...." He couldn't stop a yawn from escaping and snorted softly at proving his own words.

"I'll stay here until you fall asleep," Coulson replied. "Just to satisfy myself you're getting what you need." He probably didn't have to stay with Ward so much, but having already invested so much physically and emotionally in the younger man, Coulson didn't feel able to pull back anymore.

Ward smiled sleepily. "Okay, sir..." he murmured. Maybe later, when he was feeling a lot better, he'd feel more uncomfortable about the fact that Coulson was treating him so much like a son. Right now, he was too tired and in pain to think about it- or make unwelcome comparisons- and he just allowed himself to enjoy it. It didn't take long before he was snoring softly.

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