Authorís Note: This was written as an RPG (roll playing game) between co-authorís Hope1iz and BlackFox12 (aka Cat). Set after the season one finale. Sixteenth in the Redeeming Grant series.
Disclaimer:†We don't own anything from Marvel: Agents of SHIELD or The Avengers and we're not making any money from this fic.
Summary:† Grant panics and runs.
Warning(s):†Spoilers up to the season one finale and for the Avengers movie; spanking
Co-Authorís Website:†BlackFox12's fanfiction.net page
Fitz frowned as he checked over the details and then glanced at Simmons with concern. "At least we've still got those samples from when Ward was infected with the virus," he said. "If we can compare them to the healthy samples from the rest of the team, maybe we can figure out how to test for the virus faster if there is an outbreak?" They couldn't be sure, but HYDRA wasn't going to give up on using the virus... and there were a lot of similarities with this potential outbreak.
It could be a new strain of a tropical disease, but they couldn't take those kind of chances.
Simmons nodded. "When was the last time we drew samples from the rest of the team? Fresh samples may be better...as well as a fresh sample from Ward now and from before he got sick so we can see if he built any antibodies to fight the virus," she said rapidly, already thinking ahead to possible conditions and variants they needed to allow for.
"We should call them into the lab... make it easier," Fitz suggested. Turning on his comm, he sent the request to the other team members, getting an immediate acknowledgement from Coulson and a slower one from Skye.
May responded directly after Coulson, since she had been in a meeting with him. Trip and Ward wandered in together as they had been sparring with each other.
Coulson and Skye came in shortly after Trip and Ward.
Explaining what they were going to do, Fitz got the team to take seats so he and Simmons could start taking the blood samples.
May came in last, sitting next to Phil.
No one was overly thrilled to be having blood drawn, but they knew it was necessary.
"I better have ice-cream tonight to make up for this," Trip teased.
Simmons rolled her eyes, but grinned.
"With fudge sauce," Grant added his two cents.
"And a cherry on top," May finished, her face completely serious, even though there was a twinkle in her eye.
Fitz shook his head as he took the samples as quickly and carefully as possible. "I'm sure you can have whatever you want."
Skye winced as her blood was drawn, then hopped off her chair. "Do you want me to help you two check the samples?" She might not know as much as them, but she figured she could look for differences in the samples.
Simmons slanted her head. "Sure. More eyes to look, the better off well be, I think. Dr. Banner will be assisting us to look as well...."
May gave her sample without comment then stood. "If you need me, I'm going to be with Natasha and Pepper."
Trip and Ward were next. They just waved goodbye as soon as they were done and went to get the ice cream they'd mentioned. Coulson was the last one Simmons went to.
"And what are your plans, if I may ask, sir?" She gave him a cheery grin.
Coulson held still as his blood was taken. "I planned to go and see if Clint was back yet," he answered. If so, he intended to see if his sons wanted to do something together, just the three of them.
Skye took the samples Fitz handed her and began looking at them.
"Well, considering the fact that I believe I heard him and Tony arguing about some prank that Mr. Stark had played on him last night in the common area this morning when I met up with Fitz and Skye for breakfast, I believe he may be back." Her smile changed from cheery to fond. She really was happy for the Director. A bit jealous that her own family was too far away to see as often as she'd like, but happy for him. And the fact that she'd been included as 'extended' family made it a little more bearable.
Finishing up, and putting a bandage on his arm, she squeezed his shoulder. "Go find Clint before he and Tony do something that makes Cap go all gruff and stern," she grinned cheekily this time.
Coulson smiled. "I'll see you all later. Don't hesitate to ask if you need anything else." He slipped out of the lab.
"Do you want me to compare Coulson's sample against the infected one from Ward first?" Fitz asked.
"May as well, since we've got it out right now..." Jemma agreed. "Then we can compare Ward's samples...."
Fitz held his hand out for Coulson's sample and then began comparing both of them... except then he wasn't comparing; he was staring at them. "Umm..."
"What is it?" Skye asked immediately.
Fitz glanced at her and then at Simmons. "Jemma... do you want to come look at this and tell me I'm seeing things?"
Jemma frowned slightly. Fitz didn't seem worried...just confused...so she didn't think anything was wrong. "Sure," she said lightly, walking over and peering into the microscope at the slides. "We didn't somehow mix the blood, did we?" she finally asked faintly, even though she knew this wouldn't be the result even if they had done so.
Fitz shook his head. "No. I mean... it's not like this would be the result if so. Do you want to give me the latest sample from Ward? Just to be sure?"
"What are you talking about?" Skye asked.
Simmons quickly nodded and went to retrieve the most current sample of Ward's blood. "What if it shows the same thing?" she asked hesitantly. It wasn't necessarily a bad thing- what they saw- but it would cause a great deal of upheaval and if it was one thing they'd figured out early on since Coulson had brought Ward back to the 'family', he didn't generally deal with upheaval in positive ways. Sometimes his methods were useful. But they were seldom positive. She glanced at Skye distractedly. "Take a look at the slides yourself and tell us what you see..." She gave a crooked smile as she opened the refrigerator where she'd stored the current samples of blood.
Fitz stepped back so that Skye could take a look at the slides herself. She spoke without looking up. "They look the same..."
"Not the same... but similar." Fitz cleared his throat. "The sort of similarity two people who were closely related might share."
Simmons came back and handed the fresh sample of Ward's blood to Fitz. "The sort of similarity two people who were parent and child might share..." she elaborated.
Fitz checked the slides and looked up to catch Simmons' eye. "It's the same thing."
Skye's eyes widened. "Grant's his son? Is that even possible?"
Fitz shrugged. "The age is right."
"Director Coulson would have been around twenty-one years old...it is possible, but it would have been when he was a rookie agent or in the academy...." Jemma muttered, trying to wrap her head around the fact that Coulson's adopted son was actually his son. She looked up and frowned. "But if it is true, why wouldn't he have mentioned having a family? And why wouldn't he have realized? Unless he was never told...in which case, I'm not sure I want to be the one to tell him..."
Ward had left his book in the lab and, deciding he wanted to read, had come to retrieve it. He hadn't been there for the entire conversation, but he caught what Simmons said. His vision began to swim before he realized that he'd stopped breathing. Forgetting his book, he took off down the hall and to the elevator, Copper following happily behind him. He was still grounded, so he went to his father's floor and, quickly glancing around to make sure no one else was around, he grabbed a small bag and threw some clothes into it; then, grabbing his wallet, he headed back to the elevator. "No, Copper. You need to stay here. Dad will take care of you...and he's going to need you, I think." He quickly hugged the dog, rubbing his cheek against its ear, before standing and heading down to the garage. Grabbing a set of keys from the rack where the keys were stored, he took one of Tony's more subdued cars and left the tower.
Skye had half-turned while Jemma was speaking, long enough to glimpse someone leaving. She hadn't seen the details, but she was pretty sure she knew who had just disappeared. "I... I think Grant heard you."
Fitz looked worried as he quickly headed out of the lab, all but running to the elevator to Coulson's floor. When he found Copper there, but no sign of Ward, he accessed his comm unit. "Coulson? I think Grant took off."
# # #
Coulson had tracked Clint down and was just talking to his eldest about lunch plans when his comm went off. Frowning, he spoke into it. "Why did he take off?"
"I... think you'd better come down to the lab sir..." Fitz answered.
Clint glanced at Coulson, a worried look on his face. He followed his father to the elevator to head to the lab. "Didn't you say you all had blood drawn this morning so that the 'Whiz Kids' could compare the samples with Ward's blood from when he was sick? That they were trying to see if they could figure out how that virus worked so they could make a vaccine or something?"
Coulson nodded. "I'm not sure why Grant would have taken off..." He ran through the possibilities in his mind as he stepped into the lab. "What happened?" he asked.
Fitz, who had come back to the lab with Copper, gestured to the slides. "These are... the blood samples. From you and Ward..."
Coulson glanced at the three youngest members of his team and then stepped over to take a look. It only took a glance to tell him what they'd discovered... and what Grant had probably overheard. Pushing his own turmoil of emotions aside to deal with later, Coulson took his phone out and dialed, not surprised when it went to answerphone.
"Grant, son. Call me when you get this. I want to talk to you. I love you." He disconnected the call and then sighed.
"How did you lose him?" Skye asked. Because she knew Coulson would never have given up his son. Therefore, there must have been other factors involved.
Clint walked over to the look at the slides as soon as Coulson stepped back to make his call. It only took seconds for him to notice what everyone else had. "Damn..." he muttered under his breath. With the way his younger brother tended to internalize things and his easily damaged self-worth, he could only imagine what the younger man must be thinking. He frowned when his father couldn't reach the boy.
Tony came waltzing into the lab with Bruce following him. "Hey, Agent Agent..." He smiled at Phil, but had a confused look on his face. "Not that I mind people borrowing stuff from me, but I kinda thought Mini-Clintasha was grounded by you...so why did he take one of my cars and leave the tower without asking first?"
Coulson sighed, raking a hand through his hair. "He just found out he's my biological son." He continued using his phone, sending Grant a text that was to the same effect as the message he'd just left. "I assume he panicked and reacted without thinking anything through..."
Tony raised an eyebrow. "Didn't see that one coming..." he muttered, then shrugged. "He must not have been thinking anything through. You all know I have JARVIS installed in all my vehicles and have tracking devices on top of that. No way he's getting anywhere without us knowing exactly where he's going.... JARVIS? Can you find the kid?" Tony asked briskly.
"Already done, sir. He's at Port Authority bus terminal..." JARVIS intoned.
Banner, meanwhile, had gone over and looked at the slides, before straightening up. "How about I work on the slides and the potential vaccine while the rest of you go find the prodigal son? I'd help you look, but I don't think the Other Guy would be terribly helpful and well...."
Simmons nodded at Bruce and moved to stand beside Coulson. "We'll get him back, sir," she answered assuredly. She was truly curious as to why neither Grant nor Coulson had known Grant was his son, but that was a question to be answered when it wasn't imperative they find Grant.
Clint nodded at Tony. "I'll get Tasha, Steve, and Bucky..." he said softly to his father, before squeezing the older man's shoulder and quickly leaving the lab to go find the other three.
Coulson sighed, putting his phone away after trying Grant's yet again. He nodded, but he knew, better than anyone, how easy it was to lose someone who didn't want to be found. After a brief hesitation, he took his phone out once more and sent a message to Fury.
After he'd lost his wife and baby son, the former director had been Coulson's support system. He would want to know about this.
# # #
Ward had kept just enough within the speed limit not to draw the attention of the police. He'd gone to a bus station not too far from the tower, but far enough away that they couldn't just walk to it, and parked the car. Then, grabbing his bag and getting out, he looked around for one of the many homeless people who hung around the area. Finally, he saw one that looked similar enough to him that his idea might work. He quickly walked up to the man. "Want to make an easy fifty bucks?" he asked with more confidence than he felt.
The man eyed Ward warily. "What do I have to do?"
Ward gave a crooked smile that wasn't really a smile. "All you need to do is buy me a bus ticket to Reno. Bring the ticket back to me and I give you the fifty."
"You gonna give me the money for the ticket straight up?" The man looked at Ward with obvious suspicion.
"Got it right here..." Grant held up the exact amount for the fare; he'd looked up the information on his smart phone before asking the other man. He held the money out, but a serious expression filled his eyes. "Don't think of taking this and disappearing on me. I'd find you and you wouldn't like what happened if you tried to steal this...." He allowed the 'cold, calculating specialist' part of him to shine through his eyes. He hadn't let that part of his personality out in a long while- he had been trying so hard to separate himself from what he had become under Garrett's tutelage that he had avoided it- but that didn't mean he wasn't able to be frightening if needed.
The man swallowed, but nodded. "I'll come straight back with the ticket," he promised, before taking the money and heading into the bus station. Within moments, he was back with the ticket, handing it over to Ward.
Ward's smile was a bit more friendly as he took the ticket and then gave the man the fifty he'd promised. "It was a pleasure doing business with you..." he said softly, before disappearing into the crowd.
The next person he found didn't look anything like him. He'd overheard a small group of young men talking about where they wanted to head next and where they should buy tickets for. Stopping next to them, he asked, "Ever thought of going to Reno? If so, I'll give one of you this ticket I just bought here, if you'll buy me a ticket to Atlanta. AND to make it worth all of your while, I'll give each of you fifty dollars to make Reno your destination."
One of the men eyed Ward suspiciously. "Are you on the run or something? What's the catch?"
Ward smirked. "No catch. One of you buys me the ticket; you'll get your ticket to Reno paid for and fifty in cash. The rest of you will get fifty in cash to go to Reno. You don't want to go to Reno, I walk away from you and find someone else who does. If I was on the run, do you think I'd be buying other people tickets? Making it so that a lot of people would see me and be able to tell anyone looking where I was going? If anyone asks, you can tell them you bought me a ticket to Atlanta. I don't care. I'm not keeping my destination a secret. I'm just trying to spend as much of my old man's money as I can before I leave. He kinda pissed me off." Grant smirked again. "So what is it? You want to go to Reno, or should I find someone else?"
The group exchanged glances and then the one who'd spoken nodded. "All right. We'll do it."
"Great." Ward smiled and handed the ticket to Reno to one of the group. "You'll all need to get tickets to match this one. If you'll be so kind as to get me a ticket on the first open bus to Atlanta, I would appreciate it. As soon as I have the ticket to Atlanta, I'll give all of you the fifty dollars." He watched as they headed to the ticket agent to do as asked. He couldn't help but glance around the bus terminal, not sure if his family had discovered him missing yet or not.
Coming back, the 'spokesperson' of the group handed Ward his ticket to Atlanta.
Ward handed each member of the group the fifty dollars he'd promised. "Pleasure doing business with you." He smirked again before blending into the crowd.
Walking back outside the bus terminal, he stopped by an older man who had a sign. 'Need to get to Atlanta to see my sick daughter. Please help.' "Here, sir." He handed him the ticket. "The bus leaves in thirty minutes. You can use the change you've gathered to get yourself something to eat when you're down there." He smiled weakly at the man's exuberant thanks then walked away. He kept walking until he found a motorcycle that had a full tank of gas. He easily hotwired it, pulling carefully out of Port Authority and jumping on the interstate heading north. He had an abusive past to confront.
# # #
It didn't take Clint long to get Natasha, Steve and Bucky to follow him back to the lab. Bucky looked around the room then sighed. "Well, maybe we should move this conversation to the common area? At least then we can all sit down while we plan."
Coulson nodded, stepping out of the lab. As he passed Clint, he squeezed his shoulder gently, silently thanking him for his support.
Natasha fell into step next to Coulson, offering her own support with her silent presence. Steve grasped Coulson's forearm, then followed them out.
Once they'd all reached the common room, Clint sat down. He wasn't surprised when Copper came and lay down at Coulson's feet. The dog was supposed to be for Grant- to help him out when he was having difficulty with PTSD and other issues- but whenever Grant wasn't around, the dog would follow his father around, 'taking care' of him.
Tony sighed. "Are we waiting for anyone else to get here before we start to plan? Because while I know exactly where the car ended up, it IS at a bus station...." He leaned back, letting the implications of that sink in.
"Unless Grant's not thinking clearly at all, his destination from there isn't likely to be the place he heads to," Coulson said quietly. "He's had a lot of practice trying to put people off his trail." He sighed, a troubled look coming over his face, and resisted the urge to try calling Grant again. He just hoped his son would take the time to look at his messages...
"No. He'd lay false trails. The problem is, we'd have to check each trail to make certain it is a false trail before we can discount the possibility that he actually went that direction," Clint said with a sigh.
"So there's what...at least ten of us that can follow each trail he leaves. When we figure out which trail is the right trail, we follow it..." Bucky said.
Coulson nodded. "The bus station should be our first stop, then..."
"If we take separate vehicles, there's more of a chance of sneaking up on him," Natasha said. She looked at Clint. "We should take our bikes." They were the best at sneaking around, after all.
"Yeah. We'll take our bikes. Dad...maybe you should go with Tony or Steve. Jemma, Skye and Leo...I know you want to go look for him too, but I think you'd actually do more help here. You can let us know if he returns on his own, but if he doesn't, you can monitor police and hospital communications as well as other things and keep us updated through JARVIS." Clint didn't mean to just take over, but it was his father and brother who were directly involved and he couldn't seem to help himself.
"I'll take my bike. Tony... why don't you take Coulson?" Steve suggested.
Skye looked a bit disappointed, but she nodded. "I'll get my laptop and see what I can come up with." She glanced at Copper and then at Fitz. "You should take care of Copper, Leo..."
Fitz nodded. He guessed Ward's dog would be affected by this and he actually quite liked looking after Copper.
Simmons nodded. "I'll return to the lab and help Dr. Banner. No sense in postponing our research if I'm not able to be of help." She sounded a bit disappointed and lost, realizing that her skills were useless in trying to help her family. At least Leo could take care of Copper and Skye could monitor communications. What was she able to do? Zilch.
Clint watched as the young scientist left then sighed. He'd worry about her later. Right now, he needed to find his brother. "Let's head out, then..." Soon the common room was empty, save for Fitz, Skye and the dog.
# # #
Ward was making good time, but he was on a stolen motorcycle. He only allowed himself to go for about an hour before he abandoned the bike along the side of the road, hiding it in the bushes then started walking with his thumb out. Hitchhiking may not be the safest or wisest course of action, but it would get him where he was going without him having to steal anymore vehicles.
Fury had been driving along the interstate when he got the message from Coulson. A while after that, he slowed down as he noticed his friend's wayward son hitchhiking along the road. Shaking his head, he parked next to Ward and reached over to open the door. "You know hitchhiking's dangerous?"
Normally, Ward would have been able to school his features and hide what he was feeling...but the odds of running into Nick Fury on this interstate, heading in the opposite direction of where he'd attempted to send everyone to look? He couldn't help the gob-smacked look that covered his face. He blinked several times then glanced behind him at the wooded area next to the roadway, as if trying to decide if running was a viable option
Fury leaned forward slightly to make eye contact with Ward. "I wouldn't advise running. I might be older than you, but I've got a lot more in terms of experience. Get in," he said, though his voice wasn't harsh... maybe more exasperated than anything else.
Ward swallowed hard as he looked into the older man's eyes and heard his words. Even though the words weren't threatening and his voice and tone weren't harsh, he could still sense that the man wouldn't put up with much from him at the moment. Since he wasn't sure what that exasperation might result in, he decided he better obey. Tossing his small bag over into the back seat, he slowly got into the passenger side of the car, closed the door and fastened his safety belt. It wasn't until everything was in place and there was nothing else to focus his attention on that he finally asked, "Did my dad call you?" He winced as his voice came out sounding young, lost, alone, and a bit frightened, instead of confident and angry like he'd been going for.
"He let me know that the kid he'd thought he'd lost as a baby was alive and in the form of the man he'd adopted as his son anyway," Fury answered, beginning to drive. "He didn't tell me why finding that out made you bolt like a frightened animal and run away from the man who took you in and gave you a second chance."
"I...." Ward started out growling, feeling defensive, but then when he actually thought about what Fury had just said, he slumped back into the seat and his anger drained out of him. "I don't know why I ran..." he finally admitted, sounding like a lost child again. "I just ran without really thinking about it." He swallowed and looked at his lap, suddenly ashamed of his actions. Finally, what Fury had said first caught up with him. "Wait a minute...lost as a baby? He didn't give me away, then?" He looked up at the older man, somehow knowing that Fury knew what was going on.
Fury glanced at Ward. "You've seen how he is with you and your brother... do you think he would have given you away? He spent years trying desperately to find you and never really gave up, no matter how much time passed."
Ward blinked at that then turned a dark red as he realized how foolish he'd been. When he'd over-heard Simmons and Fitz in the lab and realized that he was really Coulson's son- by blood, not just by adoption- the first question he'd had was why hadn't he been able to grow up with Coulson, instead of with the monsters who had raised him? The first thing that had popped into his head was that Coulson hadn't wanted him and had given him away. He hadn't allowed himself to think beyond that first self-loathing filled thought. If he had stopped to think, he would never have run.
He forced himself to look at Fury and swallowed hard. "As soon as the thought that he'd given me away crossed my mind, I didn't think any further," he admitted in shame. "I know better, but I didn't let myself think enough to remember what I know.... I... I messed up bad, didn't I?" And his voice was back to the lost little boy tone.
Fury glanced at Ward as he drove. "If you haven't looked at the messages on your phone, I would suggest you look at them now." He didn't have to ask Coulson to know that his friend would have been leaving messages for his son.
Ward blinked owlishly for a second before a stricken look crossed his face. "I'm so screwed...I turned my phone off and threw it into my bag..." He unbuckled his seatbelt and turned around onto his knees so he could reach behind the seat and grab his bag. When he finally turned back around and sat down and buckled himself back into his seat, he had his phone in his hand. He stared at it for several moments then said in a tiny voice, "There are almost twenty messages on here... and that's not counting the texts...." His tone was a mix of shame, incredulous disbelief, and hope. He listened to the first three messages before he had to stop, the worry, fear and heartache in his father's voice making it impossible for him to listen anymore without breaking down.
Turning toward Fury, fighting tears, he said uncertainly, "I've got to call him back...what do I say?"
"The first thing you need to do is apologise," Fury said. "He's not going to shout at you. He's just going to want you back." Though Fury was pretty certain that taking off and then switching his phone off would probably end with him eventually getting punished.
Ward bit his lip and finally had to admit he was a coward...not because he was afraid of his father's anger, but because he was afraid of his love. He'd grown up being yelled at, ridiculed, any number of things that Coulson could do and had a right to do because Ward had run away. But Coulson never did any of those things and he never quite knew how to handle the unconditional love that his father always gave him, even when he'd messed up so badly and hurt the other man.
Not able to look Fury in the face when he made his request, he toyed with his phone nervously before asking, so softly it was almost a whisper, "Would you call him for me?"
"He's going to want to talk to you." But Fury took his phone out. Dialing, he put it to his ear and, after a moment or two, spoke, "I have your runaway here." He listened a moment, then simply held the phone out to Grant.
Ward knew that his father would want to talk to him, but at least with Fury calling him first, Ward wouldn't be able to keep coming up with excuses to avoid it. He slumped further down in his seat as he heard Fury speak to his father. He swallowed hard, his mouth and throat suddenly dry.
"You gonna take it, or do I have to hold the phone to your ear?" Fury asked, raising his eyebrows.
# # #
Bucky looked around the common room, where everyone had gathered. They were disappointed, dejected and, while not quite defeated, feeling a bit hopeless at the moment. Every lead they'd found at the bus stop had ended up a dead end. And it was hitting Ward's family hard, especially Coulson and Clint. But it was hitting them all hard. He wondered if the younger man realized how much the entire team cared about him.
Coulson was getting more and more upset and worried, but he continued the messages, trying to get through to his son.
When his phone rang, Coulson answered immediately, his shoulders slumping in relief. "Can I talk to him?"
Clint and the rest of the room straightened up when the phone rang and Coulson answered. When his father slumped, the sense of relief permeated the room. Coulson's question confirmed what his relief suggested. Everyone let out breaths they hadn't realized they'd been holding and then, one by one, different Avengers 'remembered' different items they had to take care of, taking a member of Coulson's team with them- until eventually it was just Clint and Coulson in the room. They wanted to give the man some privacy to talk to his son.
Hearing Fury's question and hoping his friend was actually holding the phone out to Grant, Coulson said softly, "Grant? Son?"
Grant blushed and shot Fury a dirty look, but took the phone and held it to his ear. "H...hi, daddy..." He blushed again, glancing at Fury. He normally didn't use the childish term of address in front of other people that weren't 'immediate family'; and even then, it was usually only Coulson and Clint that got to hear him being so childish. "I...." He swallowed hard, knowing he needed to say the words. "I'm sorry I ran away.... M...Mister Fury is bringing me home..." he finally said softly.
"I'm glad you're coming home, son. I love you," Coulson said. "Would you like me to stay on the phone with you until you get here?" What he really wanted was to wrap Grant up protectively in his arms, but since he couldn't do that yet, he hoped he could help his son feel better emotionally by talking to him.
Ward blinked at the question, having figured he'd be sitting in silence next to the ex-director and hoping the man didn't decide to skin him for hurting his best friend. (Fury was a bit intimidating on the best of days, let alone when Grant was in emotional upheaval). He stopped to think about the question and realized that hearing his father's voice had actually calmed and grounded him somewhat. He hadn't acknowledged half of what he'd been feeling since running, but to realize he'd felt so out of control and just hearing Coulson's voice was enough to help him regain a small bit of that control...told him he'd probably made the biggest mistake of his life in running. He was lucky Fury had seen him and given him no choice but to come back. He swallowed then nodded at the phone before remembering he had to actually speak the words. "I...yes please?" he said softly.
Coulson began gently engaging Grant in conversation, avoiding bringing up any of the day's events (they'd have to talk about that face to face) and instead talking about what some of the extended family members had been up to. He did tell Grant that the others were all happy he was coming back safely, though.
Grant listened quietly, only interjecting a question every now and then. Most of the time, he just made non-committal noises that indicated he was still awake and listening. They had been about an hour away from the city when Fury found him, but somehow, the man had managed to shave about fifteen minutes off of the time it would have normally taken to get back. The closer they got to the Tower, the more nervous Ward became. He could feel Fury's gaze on him every so often and if it weren't for the fact that he was sure the older man could catch him and drag him back in the most embarrassing manner possible, Ward was actually considering jumping out of the car and running again. How could he face his father after what he'd thought? And done? And.... Ward swallowed hard as he saw the Tower come into view. It was only a block away. He glanced at Fury again, then at the door of the car.
Coulson knew his son well and he could hear that Grant was becoming more and more nervous. He gentled his tone even further as he spoke. "Grant... I know you're going through quite an emotional upheaval right now, but I still love you. Nothing has or could change that. I'm just glad you're coming home." He allowed his love and affection to come through in his voice.
Grant closed his eyes tightly and forced himself to take slow, even breaths. He was torn between two very intense desires; the desire to run and hide and lick his wounds where no one else could watch him and the desire to run to his father and hide in his protection. The only reason his father was winning between the two was he also had the need not to hurt his father anymore...and he knew running away would do exactly that.
He kept his eyes closed and breathed deeply and listened to his father's calm words of love and acceptance. He knew the minute they entered the garage under the tower. He still kept his eyes closed...until Fury had parked the car. Slowly, he opened his eyes and glanced around before swallowing hard. "I'm home..." he finally whispered into the phone, before hanging it up and handing it back to Fury.
Slowly, he climbed out of the car and grabbed his bag, then licked his lips nervously and tried to make himself walk forward. Despite all his father's assurances, he was certain he'd be seeing a disappointed look in the man's eyes and he was dreading it.
While talking on the phone to his son, Coulson had headed down to the garage. The moment he saw Grant, he didn't hesitate. Stepping forward, he wrapped his arms around Grant and hugged him as tight as he could. He was relieved to have his son safe back, but there was also a kind of desperate fear as he'd once again had to live through the possibility of losing the son he now knew was his by blood.
Pressing a kiss to Grant's head, Coulson spoke quietly but intensely. "I love you, Grant. So much."
When he felt his father's arms around him holding him tightly, and all he had seen on the man's face was relief mixed with fear, Grant's hesitancy in returning home disappeared. He dropped his bag on the ground and quickly wrapped his arms around the older man, hiding his face against Coulson's chest. He did feel guilt that he'd caused his father fear, worry and hurt... again... but he pushed that down in order to comfort the man who he had scared so badly. His own guilty feelings were secondary to making sure his father didn't have to be afraid. He straightened up just enough to kiss Coulson on the cheek and whisper in his ear, "I love you, daddy..." before hiding his face against his father's chest again like a child.
Coulson hugged Grant tightly, only looking up long enough to make eye contact with Fury and give his oldest and greatest friend a grateful smile. Words didn't need to be said between them.
Turning his attention back to his son, Coulson kissed Grant's head again. "Let's go and talk," he said quietly, stroking his hair and just generally allowing himself to feel his son safely in his arms. There were the beginnings of tears in his own eyes and he blinked them away, unwilling to deal with his own strong emotions when he had his son to take care of.
Grant nodded his head weakly, unable to stop his own tears. He just felt so guilty for what he'd just done to his father, but mixed up with the guilt was confusion and hurt; confusion about what had happened that had led to what they'd discovered and hurt that he shouldn't have had to grow up the way he did...that he should have grown up under Coulson's care and protection and guidance. He knew if he'd been with his father growing up, he would never had made the poor choices he had made. "Ok, sir," he answered, his voice thick with tears. Blindly, he reached down and picked his bag up to follow his father.
Coulson wrapped his arm around Grant's shoulders, guiding him up from the garage and into the elevator to head to his floor. He kept his son close, wrapping his arms around him as they stood in the elevator and only letting go with one arm as he guided Grant out and into the living room on his floor.
Sitting on the couch, Coulson gently pulled Grant down to sit on his lap, wrapping his arms around his son once more. "I was married shortly before I left the academy," he began, not sure where to start, but knowing Grant needed answers.
Grant sniffled slightly and snuggled against his father, looking up at him as he began his story. Coulson had never talked much about his past and while curious, Grant had never pushed, figuring that a lot of it was either classified or Phil would bring it up when he felt the time was right. Now that he knew Phil's past was so tightly connected to his own, he was anxious to find out everything he could. "My mom?" he asked softly.
Coulson nodded, stroking Grant's hair almost unconsciously. "I have a picture. Of her; and you as a baby. Would you like to see it?"
"Yes, sir..." Ward couldn't keep the excited curiosity out of his voice.
Coulson didn't have to move Grant to find the photo. There were others, but he took his wallet out of his pocket, opening it up to show his son a picture of a young woman holding a baby. Although a bit pale and tired-looking, she was smiling serenely down at the baby in her arms.
Ward swallowed hard. It was easy to tell by the look in the woman's eyes that she loved the baby she was holding with every fiber of her being. He couldn't remember the woman who had raised him ever looking at him like that and the thought that at one period of his life- however short- he'd had a mother who cared eased a hurt that he hadn't even realized he was carrying. He found himself wiping at his eyes furiously. "She...she loved me?"
"She did," Coulson replied, tightening his embrace around Grant as he kissed his forehead. "You were our world. I'm not sure I ever really knew what true happiness was until I held you for the first time." There was an underlying note of regret in Coulson's voice. He'd tried desperately, expended every resource he had, to find his son... and he'd failed.
Ward could hear the regret and wasn't entirely sure what had caused that tone in his father's voice. "What happened, daddy?" He looked up from the picture into his father's eyes.
Coulson resumed the unconscious stroking of Grant's hair, needing the close contact with his son. He took a moment or two to reply. The pain from that time had dulled, but never gone. "I was working on a case and getting too close to it. One day... I'd been held up, so I got back later than I would have normally." He hesitated even more before resuming in a much quieter voice. "When I came back home... your mother had been killed and you were gone."
Grant closed his eyes tightly. He had suspected that something had happened to his mother, although he'd hoped that she'd just divorced his father and now that Phil knew who Grant really was, she could be contacted. "Did you catch who...who...hurt her?" He couldn't bring himself to say the word murder. He already knew that his father hadn't found him.
Coulson shook his head. "It's more than likely the person was a professional... hired to do a job." He tried to keep the grief out of his voice, knowing how much his son needed him right now, and kissed Grant's head again. "I tried to find you, son." Even when everyone had tried to convince him that his baby had probably been killed as well... except for Fury, who had been right there along with Coulson, supporting him and tracking down any potential leads.
Grant nodded and held his father as tightly as he could, kissing him on the cheek before laying his head on his shoulder. "I know you would have, daddy. You've been looking for me ever since you forgave me and gave me a second chance, even when you didn't know who I was...." he said softly, admitting what he'd known to be true from the very beginning but had allowed his confusion and hurt to push to the back of his mind.
Coulson hugged Grant tightly, kissing his forehead. "I love you. I'm glad you came home," he whispered. "I was so worried something might happen... and I knew finding this out had to affect you."
Grant winced at the words, the guilt he felt at having caused his father such turmoil growing. "You can thank Mr....Director..." He faltered, uncertain how he should refer to the other man, since he was officially 'dead' and no longer director of SHIELD. "...Fury." Ward sighed softly, snuggling close even as he confessed, "He reminded me of what I should have remembered from the very beginning...." he admitted, his shame at his actions clear through his tone.
Coulson held Grant close. "What was that?" he asked gently, stroking his hair.
"That you would have never given me away...because everything you've done since making me yours has been to keep me close to you and not lose me and that was before you knew I was yours by blood...you never would have given me away. I should have thought of that...remembered that...but I didn't stop and let myself think. I just ran," he whispered, unable to look his father in the eye.
"You grew up with people you should never have had to be with," Coulson said quietly. "You've been hurt, physically and emotionally, for most of your life, until I got you back. It's going to take time for those wounds to heal. You should have come to me instead of running, but I understand why you panicked. As soon as I found out, I knew it had triggered a reaction rather than thinking. That's why the first thing I did was call you and leave a message. I hoped you'd get it."
"I should have answered my phone..." Ward admitted. "The first time you called, I deliberately ignored it, but then I threw it into my bag and forgot all about it until Director Fury scolded me for not answering...." Ward finally met his father's eyes, guilt, shame and embarrassment in his eyes. "I think if he hadn't been driving, he would have boxed my ears," he joked slightly, but it was obvious he wasn't entirely certain the gruff man wouldn't have done something.
"Well, I did make him your godfather," Coulson commented, threading his fingers through Grant's hair. "And he was my support system after I lost both you and your mom." He held eye contact with his son, looking serious. "You shouldn't have turned your phone off. Something could have happened." Not to mention that being ignored like that had hurt...
Grant's eyes widened at that news...but he didn't have long to reflect on it when his father gently admonished him about the phone. He swallowed, looking down toward his feet before forcing himself to meet his father's eyes again. "I know, daddy. I did a lot of things I shouldn't have done..." He swallowed again. "...Things I know you wouldn't have approved of. And even worse, I know I hurt you. I could hear it in your voice when I finally got my head out of my butt and called you...." He looked down again. "I'm sorry," he said softly. "I'm sorry and... and I know I deserve whatever punishment you decide to give to me...." With those words, he slumped against his father, putting his head on his shoulder and snuggling again.
Coulson pressed another kiss to Grant's head. "I love you. It hurt that I couldn't be there for you. I'm not going to punish you for hurting me, son. I have you back now and that's what I needed to help. But you shouldn't have run away without a word. And you definitely shouldn't have turned your phone off." He paused before adding, "Or threatened that man."
Ward blinked. "Threatened....?" He swallowed hard, suddenly remembering that he had deliberately intimidated the one man to buy the ticket for him, threatening him if he took the money and ran. It was true that he had paid the man exactly what he had promised, but threatening him had not been fair, especially since he had sought the man out, not the other way around. "He told you about that?" he asked, although he already knew the answer.
Sighing softly, he closed his eyes before looking down. "I told you I'd done things you wouldn't approve of..." he muttered softly. "I also stole a motorcycle and then, after I ditched it along the side of the road, I started trying to hitchhike..." he admitted in a tiny voice, figuring he should at least attempt to make a clean slate of it; and he didn't want his father finding out about his crimes later on and thinking he had tried to hide them from him.
Coulson sighed. "Stealing that motorcycle isn't only wrong, but if you'd been caught by the authorities, you could have been arrested... particularly given the fact that you're supposed to be within a certain distance from me." His voice turned much more serious as he added, "And hitchhiking is dangerous at the best of times; more so when you've got an entire organisation that would be happy to capture you again."
"Yes, sir," Grant said, shame-faced. "I did say I wasn't letting myself think, right?" He knew what he had done wasn't the smartest thing to do and he hated that he made himself look so stupid to his father. He was sure he had disappointed the man and he hated that fact even more than looking stupid.
Coulson kissed his forehead. "You were panicking and upset. I doubt you were thinking clearly at all. You just reacted. And I can understand why. It was a shock to me when I realised you were my biological son... but a good shock. I just wish that we'd found each other sooner."
Grant nodded, pressing closer and taking a deep breath, his father's scent comforting him. "I do too, daddy. I don't think I'd be as much of a screw-up if you'd found me sooner..." He smiled a bit crookedly. "Although you may not have any hair at all, if you had...considering what I put you through now; and I'm an adult. Mostly," he teased lightly.
Coulson stroked his hair and back gently. "I wouldn't say you're a screw-up. I know there have been setbacks, but those are to be expected." He smiled slightly at the teasing, before continuing, "I'm not going to give up on you, son. No matter what. I love you very much."
"I love you too, daddy. I'm so sorry for worrying you and running. Even though I know you understand...I'm just sorry," he finally said, holding onto his father tightly again.
"I know and I forgive you," Coulson said gently. "I'm just glad I have you back now. And the others were all worried about you, too. You're important to more than just me, you know. You're a valued person to everyone here."
"Sometimes it's hard for me to believe, but I know you're right..." Grant admitted shyly. "I guess I owe all of them an apology...."
"I think they'll just be happy to know you're back safely. They know why you panicked," Coulson said.
"Still..." Grant sighed softly, snuggling for a few moments more before asking a question he wasn't entirely sure he wanted an answer to. "I...I left the tower even though I'm still grounded...plus all the other stuff... am...am I going to be spanked?" He winced, hearing how child like his voice came out. He was attempting to be an adult and face up to his actions and accept the consequences like a man, but he couldn't even get his voice to cooperate. He sighed again and snuggled closer to his father. He'd missed entirely too many years of being his father's son... including all the years when he could be a child. Maybe letting himself be child like (which was entirely different to being childish) wasn't such a bad thing.
Coulson nodded. "I think we both know those kinds of actions aren't appropriate," he said gently. "But once it's over, I think we should make a point of spending more time together. We do have a lot of time to catch up on."
Grant nodded. "I'd like that..." he said softly.
Swallowing, he reluctantly withdrew from his father's arms and stood up next to his knee. He then undid his jeans and pushed them down to his knees before carefully bending over his father's lap. He sighed forlornly. "As often as I end up needing to go over your knee, I'm beginning to think I should just pencil in a day and time..." he huffed in slight amusement, trying to make himself feel better, since he still felt so ashamed of himself.
Coulson rubbed Grant's back gently. "There are going to be setbacks, but they aren't the end of the world. We'll deal with this and then it will be over... and we can start making up for lost time." He tugged Grant's underwear down and then brought his hand down in the first firm swat.
Grant winced and let out a tiny hiss. It didn't matter how often this happened and it didn't matter that he was expecting it the first swat always caught him by surprise. His eyes started watering almost immediately and to his chagrin, he realized that it wouldn't take long at all before he was sobbing over his father's knee; not because the spanking was that painful (his father was always very careful to regulate the strength he used), but because he just felt so much guilt for having hurt his father...and there was something about being completely helpless, vulnerable and subject to his father's will that left him feeling like a little boy. Which made it difficult to control his emotions. Which meant all the guilt he felt caused him to break sooner than his pride liked. Swallowing hard, he tried to control his breathing. He deserved this...he needed to be adult about it.
Coulson settled quickly into a rhythm, landing the firm, hard swats down to Grant's thighs before starting over from the top. It was always hard to punish his son like this. No matter that Coulson knew Grant needed the consistency and needed to have consequences to his actions that proved he was loved and cared for, Coulson always found himself strongly affected by his son's tears. He began speaking, his voice quiet as he didn't scold or lecture... but told Grant exactly what he meant to him. "I love you, son. I don't ever want to risk losing you. You are so incredibly important... to me... to the team... the Avengers..."
And that was all it took. His father's calm, quiet words of love that didn't hold any hint of the disappointment Grant knew he must have felt; and didn't contain any of the censure Grant knew he deserved. He took one deep breath, held it and held himself stiffly for about ten seconds, then exhaled in a rush of air and tears, going limp over his father's knee. His sobs were so hard, no sound was coming out; the only way his father could tell that he was crying was the deep shuddering of his body as he lost all control of himself. He couldn't even speak to apologize or beg forgiveness (which he had a hard time believing he deserved, even if his father had already freely and lovingly given it). He lost the ability to focus...the one point in his life that he could hold onto and not feel completely adrift was the feel of his father's thighs beneath him, keeping him from falling, and his father's hands; one delivering more than deserved punishment and the other holding him gently in place so he would stay safe and not hurt himself. Finally, he was able to release one heartbroken sob before his throat closed up again.
"Daddy...." His tone was begging, but just what he was begging for wasn't clear.
Coulson stopped, his own heart breaking at the reaction the spanking had drawn from his son. Without any hesitation, he had Grant up and in his arms once more, one hand at the nape of his son's neck while the other arm circled Grant protectively and held him as tight as he possibly could.
It took Ward longer than he would have liked to admit, if he had been lucid, to realize he was no longer being spanked, but was upright and being held tightly in his father's arms. But once he did realize it, he wriggled around until he could wrap himself - arms and legs- around his father like an octopus, holding on as tightly as he was able and burrowing against the older man's chest, his head tucked under his father's chin. His sobbing lessened just enough that sound could actually make it out of his throat- deep, sorrowful sounds that indicated more than anything how much turmoil he was in. In between the cries, repentant apologies and declarations of love were whispered.
Coulson rocked Grant as gently and soothingly as if he were still the baby Coulson had lost, as well as the man he'd adopted before even knowing that Grant was his. He kissed Grant's head repeatedly, reassuring his son of his love and how important Grant was to him. He held him close and protectively, stroking his hair and back.
Grant didn't know how long he sat on his father's lap, soaking up the love and affection his father always so willingly gave to him. It could have been minutes, it could have been close to an hour; his sense of time was completely skewed and if it hadn't been for his father's firm and sure grip, he would have been floundering in confusion. When he was finally able to stop sobbing and his crying had ebbed to an occasional hitching of breath and a sniffle, he was finally able to realize just how he was sitting. He would have been embarrassed, except that he wasn't. He felt safe and he didn't want to give that up.
He was exhausted from the emotional release, lethargic, unable to move if he wanted to and since he didn't want to move, he stayed where he was, nuzzling against his father's chest; holding onto the other man as tightly as his weariness would allow; and ignored the fact that he was half-naked on his father's lap and his legs had fallen asleep. He wasn't even sure he could stand back up and fix his clothing; he'd probably fall over if he tried to stand and he wasn't sure where he'd kicked his pants to anyway.
"Irvu.." he grunted against Coulson's chest, his attempt to say 'I love you' foiled by his mouth not wanting to work.
Coulson pressed yet another kiss to Grant's head, understanding what his son was trying to say even if it was a bit garbled. "I love you, son, very much. I'm glad Fury found you and brought you back home to me, but I wouldn't have given up. You understand? I would have found you. You're mine. That's never going to change. It was true even before we discovered you're my baby boy, it's true now and it will always be true."
Ward nodded slightly to acknowledge his father's words, his throat hurting too much to say anything. Instead of talking, he just pressed closer and gripped his father more tightly. There was so much to say and so much time to make up for, but for now, the only thing he wanted was to be in his father's arms. Although if he didn't make himself let go of his father soon, he might end up falling asleep in his father's arms. He tried to make himself let go and move, but he just couldn't do it, so instead, he fought to keep his eyes open.
Coulson just pulled Grant in closer, kissing the top of his head. "You need to sleep," he said softly. "I'll be right here, son. I'm not going anywhere. You're safe here. We'll have plenty of time to talk and do things together." For right now, he was just happy to cuddle and hold his son. He just wanted to be with Grant, even if it was just holding his son while he slept.
Grant hugged against his father one last time, sinking against the other man. His father's loving 'suggestion' was enough to break what little resistance he had and he allowed his eyes to close. Within seconds, he was sound asleep in his father's arms, peaceful, with a tiny smile on his face.