Author’s Note: This was written as a RPG (roll playing game) between co-authors Hope1iz and BlackFox12. Set after the season one finale. Twentieth 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: Guess who’s back? And guess who doesn’t handle it very well.
Warning(s): Spoilers up to the season one finale and for the Avengers movie; spanking
Co-Author’s Website: BlackFox12's fanfiction.net page
Loki sat on the throne, listening to yet another appeal from one of the poorer members of Asgard, and tried not to let his boredom and irritation with his boredom show through on his face. He had developed more respect for Odin in the time that he'd taken over the throne, using his father's face and form, than he'd ever thought he'd be able to develop for the older man. Had he known how much drudgery was involved with the 'power' of being ruler of the land, he might have had second thoughts about wanting to take the position.
Of course, part of the problem was, he had to behave and make decisions in a way that Odin would have. He didn't want uncomfortable questions being asked, or Thor to be sent for, after all. Not that the decisions he would have made would have been that different from what Odin would do- despite what some people might think of him, he truly did want what was best for the people he was ruling- but he still would have handled things in a slightly different way that might have been more comfortable for him.
He shifted slightly then nodded at the one making the appeal. "I will allow one more month for your crops to ripen, you to gather them, sell them, and attempt to come up with the money that is owed your landlord. If you are not able to pay your debts, then the law is on his side and you will lose your farm." He ignored the farmer's profuse thanks as he nodded at the guards that he was through for the afternoon and all other appeals would need to be brought to him the next day. He stood and left the throne room by the back exit.
He'd been feeling oddly as of late and it had finally occurred to him what must be happening. Odin was wakening from Odin-sleep. Soon, his adopted father would be in position to retake the throne...and he would learn that, unlike what he had planned, Thor had not been the one sitting on it in his absence. Odin viewed him as a betrayer and would not react well to the news that Loki had been ruling in his sleep...especially not when the entire realm had been under the impression that it was Odin ruling them.
Sighing, Loki made his decision. Calling the Lady Sif and the Warriors Three to the private throne room, he stood at the window overlooking the kingdom. When they arrived, he turned to face them. "I find myself needing to make a small trip. While I am gone, I would prefer that the Lady Sif handle any small matters that might crop up. Do you have questions?"
"No, liege...." Sif answered, clearly and firmly, bowing to who she thought was the All-father. Loki smiled. "I leave tonight. Everything should be in order. I trust you four to protect the kingdom for the short while I am absent." He turned back to the window; a clear dismissal.
Once they had left the throne room, Loki quickly changed his clothing into clothes more suitable for travel and for hiding, packed one bag, grabbed his staff and let the glamor of his father fall, taking on the form of the farmer that he had helped out not more than an hour before. He was soon quickly, and efficiently, on his way, heading to one of the back gateways between the worlds that only he knew about. Maybe he'd pay Midgard a visit. Check up on his brother and see how he was doing. Not that he'd ever let Thor know, of course.
# # #
Three days later, Odin had awoken...and the truth about who had been ruling in his sleep was exposed; to him, Sif, the Warriors and Heimdall, at least. Luckily, no one else had suspected anything and the six of them were able to keep it a secret, preventing the panic that would have overtaken the kingdom had it become common knowledge. Odin sent the Lady Sif with a message to Thor, to tell him what had occurred- since his son still believed his brother to be dead- and then proceeded to go over every decision and edict Loki had made while Odin was asleep...trying to make certain there wasn't anything that would come back to cause problems in the future.
# # #
Thor's face was unusually unreadable as he listened in silence to Sif. He didn't need to ask for details from her. As soon as Sif had mentioned his father waking, Thor had known that it was Loki who had taken the throne... Loki who he had taken his leave of.
As much as Thor felt relieved that his brother still lived, he had mourned Loki's loss twice now... and with his father now awake, Loki was gone... and no one knew where. Without a word, Thor stood and left the room, feeling the need to be alone. He left Jane to finish speaking with Sif as he tried to decide what to do... how to handle this.
The rest of the Avengers needed to know about Loki's survival and the fact that he was now loose. Thor couldn't take the chance that Loki would go to one of the other of the nine Realms. Midgard was large enough that Loki would be easily able to hide himself until he was ready to act.
Using his hammer, Thor flew to Stark's Tower, careful to make sure he wasn't seen... at least not by anyone who could cause him problems later.
# # #
Tony was on his own floor with Pepper, enjoying a rare night where one or the both of them didn't have to take care of work or rush off for some reason, when JARVIS interrupted. "Sorry for interrupting, sir, but Mr. Odinson has just landed on the roof and is making his way to the common floor. He has asked that all the Avengers meet with him. I've also taken the liberty of contacting Director Coulson's team so they can be there as well..." The AI managed to sound apologetic and worried at the same time.
Sighing, Tony hugged Pepper closer before reluctantly stepping away. "I guess we'll need another rain check on that candlelight dinner, Peps..." he said with real regret. Thor usually announced when he would be coming to visit and brought Jane with him nine times out of ten. For him to be flying in unannounced at this time of night, it likely wasn't good news.
Pepper frowned in worry. "I want to come with you. If Thor doesn't want me to hear, then he can ask me to leave...." she stated her intentions firmly and didn't give Tony a chance to argue, heading straight for the elevator.
Tony widened his eyes slightly, but didn't even bother arguing. He didn't mind her being there; he tended to tell her anything that wasn't considered top-secret. She was right. If Thor didn't want her there, he could ask her to leave. "Are the others on their way, J?" he asked the AI.
"Everyone except for the Director, sir. He is still away on SHIELD business and is not due back to the tower until next Friday" the AI responded.
Tony smiled. "Ok, then. Let's go welcome our teammate and find out what's going on...." He stepped into the elevator with Pepper, putting an arm around her shoulder. The doors closed and began the slow trek toward the common floor; slow because it kept stopping at every floor to pick up one or more members of the Avengers or Coulson's team.
Tony sighed. "Should have taken the stairs...."
# # #
Under normal circumstances, Thor would have taken the time to sit down and have a drink. At the moment, though, he was pacing up and down, feeling torn in several different directions. He was relieved that Loki still lived, of course... but he also knew that his brother had done many terrible, awful things. He had to tell the others what he'd learned, but if they decided to try to take Loki prisoner...
Well, Thor didn't know if he could bring himself to hurt his brother. And to him, that was what Loki was. It didn't matter that they weren't brothers by blood. Thor had seen enough with the Avengers and Coulson's team to know that blood didn't have to play a part when you chose your family.
By the time the elevator made it to the common floor with all its occupants, anyone not on the elevator had plenty of time to reach the floor via the stairs.
As second in command of Coulson's team, May moved to stand next to the leader of the Avengers. The combination of her petite stature next to Steve's tall, muscled form caused Tony to grin and snort, attracting confused looks from around the room.
Pepper- who knew what Tony was amused by- elbowed her fiancé in the ribs before walking to Thor and giving him a hug. "It's so good to see you again, Thor. Please, sit down." Ever the gracious hostess, Pepper maneuvered their visitor to a comfortable chair in the midst of all other comfortable chairs and sofas. He was the center of attention and now everyone would be able to hear and see him.
"You heard my beautiful betrothed." Tony grinned as he walked to Pepper’s side and waited for her to sit before joining her on the sofa she'd chosen. "Sit down."
Thor slowly sat down, even though he didn't really feel like relaxing enough to sit. He glanced at all of them, before finally settling his gaze on Steve, not sure where to start.
"What is it?" Steve asked gently, encouraging Thor to start in the same way he would any of the others.
Taking a deep breath, Thor began, his usually loud voice much more subdued. "I was visited by the Lady Sif. It... appears my brother did not die in battle as I had originally thought. When my father fell into the OdinSleep, Loki took on his appearance and form. He has since left Asgard, presumably because he knew our father was close to awakening."
Tony blinked at the news. "Huh...oddly enough, that doesn't really shock me as much as it probably should...." he muttered. Pepper reached for his hand unconsciously, worry clear on her face.
Clint, who had been sitting next to Grant in a rather relaxed way, tensed up noticeably and leaned forward. "Let me guess. You don't know where he has run off to." His voice was calm, but everyone could hear the tension and knew that it was taking an extreme effort for him to stay that way. Grant reached over and put a hand on his brother's shoulder in a show of support.
Simmons bit her lip and glanced around the room. She'd never had to deal with the trickster directly, but she'd heard stories. And she knew that he was the one who had 'killed' Coulson. She blushed a little when Bruce Banner glanced at her and quirked an eyebrow; she'd shifted closer to him, almost to the point of hiding under his arm, and hadn't noticed.
Bruce didn't say anything to the young woman, instead putting his arm around her shoulders, drawing her closer in an effort to calm her down. He looked back to Thor. "Do you need our help to see if your brother is on earth.... Midgard? I'm not sure what I could do, since he no longer has the Tesseract and that is what we were tracking the last time...but I can run some scans and see if any weird energy anomalies have occurred in the last week....And keep an eye out in the future."
Trip, who hadn't sat down, moved behind the sofa where Fitz and Skye were, placing a hand on each of their shoulders to let them know he was there.
Bucky moved closer to Steve and May, all coiled energy and ready to take off and hunt for Thor's brother at the first given order.
Skye hadn't been a part of the team when Loki had killed Coulson, but she knew a lot of what had happened in New York and a worried look came over her face... though she relaxed gratefully when Trip placed a hand on her shoulder, almost shifting towards him a little.
Fitz focused his attention on the other team members, though some of his tension sapped away with the show of support. He didn't say anything, finally glancing at Thor and waiting.
"He left three days ago, in Odin's form," Thor answered. "I would suspect he would choose to return here, rather than one of the nine realms... but he is skilled at keeping himself disguised. It's unlikely we'd find any sign of him unless he wanted to be found."
"That doesn't mean we can't do what we can to find him," Steve said. "No matter how skilled he is... there's always the chance he might make a mistake."
Bucky raised an eyebrow. "And if he does make a mistake and we find him? What then?"
"You don't think he'd be gathering another army of alien soldiers, do you?" Tony did his best to keep his tone calm, collected and perhaps a bit snarky, hoping that no one could hear the underlying tremor in his voice. The last time they'd faced alien soldiers, he'd almost got stuck on the wrong side of a portal into empty space. He still had nightmares about that, although he would never admit it to anyone. Pepper assumed the nightmares were remnants from the Mandarin...and for the most part, they were...but the thought of another alien invasion made his blood go cold.
Bruce's gaze shot to his friend then he looked at Steve, slanting his head toward the billionaire, question and worry clear in his eyes.
Meanwhile, Clint had gone still at the question, his own thoughts going to the time when he had no control over his actions and he was part of Loki's invasion for the wrong side. It was only Grant squeezing his shoulder a bit more tightly that kept him from losing himself in the memories.
Pepper bit her lip and glanced at Tony, noticing his agitation. "If he does, you guys will stop him. There's more of you now...." She looked toward Nat and nodded at her friend. "Maybe a few more people need to be told, though? Like Phil? Or Fury? I can handle that, if you would like...."
"Loki has made a lot of bad choices and done many evil things in the past, that is true," Thor said. "But I do not believe he is inherently evil. I've told you of how we fought alongside each other against the Dark Elves. Even though he was clearly not as injured as I believed - if at all - he didn't have to do that." Thor knew he would likely have died if it weren't for Loki.
"You say that he's run," Steve said quietly, shifting closer to Clint as he noticed the look on the archer's face and clasping the other man's shoulder. "If he's not planning something, why would he disappear?"
"I can't say," Thor replied. "I believe he should be captured... but I don't believe he's beyond hope."
Grant straightened at Thor's words, letting his gaze fall toward the floor and pressing his lips together. He hadn't been anywhere near the fighting when Loki had come the first time. Garrett had sent him on a mission in Russia at the time and he'd been so deep under cover that any news he'd got had been through the television news channels like all the rest of the regular citizens of earth. He felt torn, though, moving closer to his own brother's side so that Clint would feel his presence and it would hopefully help him.
Grant knew what it was like to completely do the wrong thing and feel like your life was over and that the only options left were to run. His own father had captured him...but then given him a second chance. He couldn't really begrudge Thor his own belief. Not when his own salvation had occurred because his father had believed in and had hope in him.
Bucky had moved to the other side of Tony and placed a hand on his shoulder noting that the billionaire was holding it together better than Clint, but only by a thin margin.
Tony looked up at Bucky with a grateful smile then took a deep breath. "Thor, buddy. I'm the last person to say that someone is beyond hope or being saved.... Lord knows I've been given my own share of second and even third chances." He squeezed Pepper's hand gently. "Tell me what you need from me and you've got it. I can't promise I'll be all that friendly to him, if we find and capture him, but I'll do my best to help you." Tony gave Thor a crooked smile. Even if no one else agreed, he'd do it on his own. But he didn't think anyone else would disagree.
"Thank you." A tiny quirk of the lips was all Thor could really manage, rather than a full smile. It was something, at least. "Loki will still cause mischief. He won't be able to stay quiet for long."
"I can keep checking security cameras," Skye offered. "And internet forums. They tend to be good places to look if something strange happens."
Steve was a little torn between Tony and Clint. If Coulson had been there, he knew the director would immediately take charge of his sons and Steve could focus his full attention on Tony. As it was, he hovered between the two men, giving each of them a reassuring, supportive look.
Tony smiled back at Steve, then leaned over and chastely kissed Pepper on the cheek. "Tell you what, big guy. How about I order in Chinese for everyone and we can all brainstorm on who is going to do what and how and formulate a plan? That sound good to everyone?"
"Works for me..." Bucky rumbled, clasping Tony's shoulder a little more firmly before releasing him so that he could stand.
Bruce nodded. "I like that idea as well. We'll all think more clearly on a full stomach and it will let us all get used to the news that your brother might make an appearance." He smiled at Thor before giving Jemma one last squeeze and then standing up and stretching, his back cracking in several places.
Jemma winced at the cracking noises. "Yes...and maybe Fitz and I can come up with some sort of tracking device...." She glanced toward Fitz as if asking if he agreed with her.
Pepper stood up and smiled at the room. "I've got a better idea." She nudged Tony in the direction of the dining room. "You get everyone settled and I'll order the take-out. I know everyone's favorite order....."
Tony gave her one last quick kiss, then started walking in the direction of the dining room and waving everyone to follow him. "You're the best, Hot-Pepper!"
# # #
It was Friday night and despite all the efforts of all the Avengers and his father's team, there had been no sign of Loki. Clint was more than ready for his father to be home.
Things had been tense, to say the least. Everyone had been a bit out of sorts at Thor's news, but Clint and Tony had been the most affected. The results would have been comical if they hadn't been so frustrating.
Grant had been hovering around him like a mother-hen, afraid to let him out of his sight. Tony hadn't fared much better with Pepper. And Steve and Bruce had apparently decided to tag-team both of them. When Steve was with Clint, Bruce stuck by Tony...and vice-versa. Luckily, Nat and Bucky had got an assignment, or he had no doubt they would have been involved in operation 'drive Clint and Tony crazy'.
Today had been the worst, although that could have been due to his anxiously waiting for his father and not through any extra effort on Steve and Bruce's part. He'd finally retreated to his dad's floor to wait for his return.
Grant had come with him, but he didn't mind his little brother hovering so much. Grant's hovering had an element of neediness to it that allowed Clint to still be the protector, even as he was being fussed over. Case in point, they were stretched out on their father's bed. Clint was reading a briefing for an upcoming Op. Grant had fallen asleep with his head on his brother's lap, his fist twisted up in Clint's t-shirt, as if he was afraid his brother was going to leave him alone. Clint gently carded his fingers through the younger man's hair as he read.
# # #
It was the middle of the night and Coulson was... exhausted, both physically and mentally. It wasn't even just the sheer amount of work he had to do, though that was tiring enough. Being away from his family, even for almost two weeks, was more emotionally draining than Coulson had anticipated. The fact that it was the middle of the night was the only reason he didn't immediately go to seek out his sons.
As Coulson left the elevator on his floor and headed to his bedroom, he was pleasantly surprised to see his sons on his bed. Noticing that Grant was asleep, he stepped over quietly to his sons. "You have no idea how glad I am to see you," he whispered.
Clint had glanced up the minute he'd heard the elevator, but had remained still so as not to wake his younger brother. When Coulson entered the room, he gave his father a relieved smile.
His smile grew at his father's words. "The feeling is mutual, believe me," he whispered back. He searched his father's face, taking in the dark circles and the lines caused by stress and tiredness. "Why don't you go get ready for bed while I straighten baby brother out so he isn't hogging the entire bed...?" He smiled fondly down at the younger man, even as he carefully began to extricate himself from the tight grip his brother had on his shirt. "You want the middle, or do you want Grant in the middle?" he asked in an off-hand manner, knowing that Grant was likely going to end up wrapped around their father either way; Clint had been a substitute for most of the week once he'd realized the younger man was having nightmares again.
Coulson nodded. "I can go in the middle," he whispered, before reaching out and gently clasping Clint's shoulder. "I heard about what happened... you can lean on me as much as Grant does." He leaned in to gently kiss his oldest's forehead, before brushing a softer kiss over Grant's hair, not wanting to risk waking him up.
Clint smiled, leaning toward his father slightly. "I know, dad..." he said softly. "I will." He waited until his father had disappeared into the bathroom to get ready then carefully shifted Grant so he was on one side of the bed, leaving plenty of room for his father. He closed the file gently and set it on the bedside table, then waited for his father to return.
It was nice to have a shower and get properly cleaned, but Coulson didn't take too long in the bathroom. He changed into his pajamas and brushed his teeth, then headed back through to the bedroom.
Coulson felt even better as he slid into the middle of the bed. That was partly because it was nice to sleep in a proper bed, but the main reason was just being able to be with his sons again. Wrapping an arm carefully around Grant, he held his other arm out to Clint.
Clint carefully moved so that his father's arm was around him, his head on the older man's shoulder. He couldn't help the small chuckle that escaped when his 'baby' brother rolled even closer to their father, nuzzled against Coulson's chest with an inhaled sigh, then muttered, "Love you, daddy," without waking up.
"Kinda scary how he can do that," he whispered in amusement.
Coulson smiled, kissing each of their heads fondly. "I think it's a subconscious realisation," he whispered. "And I love you both. It was hard to be away from you. I'm going to try not to go for that long again."
Clint smiled back, leaning up to kiss his father's cheek. "I love you too, dad. Welcome home." He settled down so that his arm was wrapped around both his father and his brother and then closed his eyes. For the first time in days, he fell asleep immediately.
Coulson fell asleep fairly quickly himself, relaxed and happy now that he was back with his sons.
# # #
Clint had awoken fairly early, amused when he glanced over to see that Grant had done exactly as predicted; wrapped himself around their father in a grip that promised to be very difficult to get out of. The younger man hadn't acted like their father's absence had bothered him that much, but the nightmares and clinginess testified to the fact that it had. Smiling, Clint slid out of bed, careful not to wake the other two sleeping men, and went back to his own floor to change before going to the rec room to work out.
An hour later, he was done working out, had showered, changed and was in the common area cooking enough breakfast for anyone who might show up. He wanted a few moments alone with his family, but he also knew it was important that they all meet about what to do about Loki.
Grant came wandering in a few moments after the first batch of pancakes was done, freshly showered but still rubbing sleep from his eyes. "Dad'll be down soon," he mumbled while pouring himself some coffee.
"Great! Sleep well?" Clint smiled at the younger man, placing a plate of pancakes in front of him and grinning when the boy began eating with no complaints.
Grant mumbled something that seemed affirmative, so Clint let him get back to his meal and plated more pancakes for his father and himself.
# # #
Coulson had slept well with both his sons next to him and had woken up when Grant began to extricate himself. Giving his youngest a quick kiss to the forehead, Coulson let him get ready first and then headed into the bathroom as Grant left to head to the common area.
Getting dressed quickly, Coulson took the elevator to the common area and, as he walked along the hallway, could smell breakfast. He walked into the room and smiled when he saw both his sons there. "It smells good," he commented, walking over to drop a kiss to the top of Grant's head and then kissing Clint's forehead.
"There are berries to go with them, if you want..." Clint said, pushing a bowl in his father and brother's direction before reaching for the syrup. "How was your trip? Get what you needed?" Clint sounded hopeful; not only because the asset his father had gone to obtain would be a boon for SHIELD- and they really needed more assets- but also because it would mean that he wouldn't have to go away for quite so long again...at least not for a while.
Grant smiled at his dad, reaching over and squeezing his arm before reaching over and putting some berries on his plate. "Anyone want any juice?" he asked, getting up and heading to the fridge to see what kind of juice they had.
Coulson took a seat and spooned some berries onto his own plate. "Please," he answered to Grant, before speaking to Clint. "I did, yes. But even if I hadn't, I meant what I said.last night. I'll do my best to make sure I'm not away for so long next time. I knew it would be hard, but I didn't realise just how bad it would feel to be away from my family."
Grant came back carrying three glasses of orange juice and passed them around. "I didn't realize it would be that hard and I wasn't the one who had to go." He smiled crookedly. "Makes me wonder how I'm going to take it when I'm actually allowed to go out on solo ops again...." He glanced between his father and brother, curious as to what their response to his remark would be. No one had actually talked about him going on solo ops, even though the first part of his career was mostly solo...it wasn't until he joined Coulson's team that having a partner became the routine.
Clint grinned in amusement at the way his little brother was fishing for information. "Yeah, somehow I don't see that happening any time soon...if ever." He took a bite of pancake. "Even I don't do solo ops as often as I used to; and when I do, there is always someone else close enough that I may as well have a partner. It's safer that way, for everyone. Especially now that HYDRA is growing so quickly." He took a sip of juice.
"I wouldn't call your capability into question, Grant, but Clint's right," Coulson said. "We already know that HYDRA will do their best to get their hands on you. It's safer to have a team go, rather than just one person. And I'm saying that as both the director and your father," he added.
Grant shrugged and gave his father a grin. "I figured as much, but thought I'd ask anyway." He wasn't terribly upset at the news. He found that he actually enjoyed working as a team or having a partner...and he knew that he wasn't the only one feeling the restrictions. He wasn't being singled out...and so it was a lot easier to accept the fact that his days of a solo operator were, for the most part, over. "It's been interesting teaming up with Bucky...and I always like teaming up with either of you. Maybe I can go out with sis one of these days...." He grinned impishly, taking another bite.
"Huh...I don't know if I should be scared at the thought of you ant Nat teaming up or terrified...." Clint teased, glancing at his father and winking.
Coulson chuckled, eating a couple of mouthfuls of pancake before responding. "You both have a similar skill set and are both very good at what you do. I think having you and Natasha on a team together would be a good idea. And I enjoy working with either of you," he added.
Grant grinned again, even as he was finishing off his breakfast.
Clint took a sip of juice, just watching his father and brother thoughtfully. He knew that eventually, they would have to have the discussion about Loki...the rest of the team would be arriving in bits and drabbles at any moment... but he was happy for a moment to relax and not have to think about the trickster and what his 'disappearance' might mean for earth.
Coulson's attention turned to his oldest son. "While we're alone at the moment... is there anything you'd like to say?" he asked gently, trying to give Clint an opening to talk about what he was certain was bothering him.
Clint looked down at his plate...finishing the last bite before standing to take the plate to the sink. He thought for a moment then turned to face his father. "I'm not sure what there is to say, really. Loki disappeared from Asgard and Thor thinks he may be back here...on earth. But beyond that, there isn't any information." He sighed softly then ran a hand through his hair.
"I know what I did, I did under Loki's control...it's taken a long time for me to think about what happened and not feel helpless and guilty...and realizing he may be back...it just. It brought it all back again." He gave his father an unhappy and uncertain smile. "Thor still believes there is good in him...wants to save him. Given our own family situation and how I feel about my brother, I can understand his worry about Loki. Still...."
Coulson stood, without any hesitation, and walked over to Clint, pulling his son into his arms. "You're allowed to feel upset," he whispered in Clint's ear, before kissing his cheek. "You were forced to do things you would never have done if you were in your own control. Don't feel guilty that this bothers you. That's perfectly understandable. But I'm here. So is Grant and Nat... all of the rest of our family. You don't have to deal with this alone, because you're not alone. And you won't ever be," he promised.
Clint wrapped his arms around his father and held on tightly. "Thanks, dad. I know I'm not alone. It helps a lot..." he whispered against his father's neck, hugging him tightly before just relaxing into the other man's embrace.
Grant watched quietly, finishing his own breakfast and taking his dishes to the sink before leaning back against the counter. He felt badly for his brother, knowing how it felt to be under the control of someone else and doing things that you wouldn't have done otherwise. He'd gone through the same thing himself not that long ago.
At the same time, he felt a sort of connection towards Loki. From everything Thor said, the younger demi-god hadn't always been the way he was now; and Thor believed Loki was salvageable. Grant wanted to believe Thor was right, if only because of his own bloody history and the fact that his own father - and the rest of the family- were willing to give him the chance to change. If he couldn't believe Loki (who had once been good from Thor's accounts), if he couldn't believe Loki could be saved, how could he believe himself able to be saved when he'd done nothing good his entire life until Coulson took him in? He didn't say anything however...his brother was feeling burdened enough. He didn't need Grant's insecurities and uncertainty on top of it all.
Coulson tightened his embrace, kissing Clint's head. He wasn't ignoring Grant, though, and when he looked at his youngest, he could tell that Grant was feeling torn. Keeping one arm around Clint to cuddle him close, he held the other one out to Grant, privately reiterating his vow not to let being the director take him from them for that long again. His family was far more important.
As soon as he saw his father's arm held out to him, Grant moved to his father and brother's side, snuggling close to the older man even as he reached over and squeezed his brother's shoulder in a show of support. It really didn't matter how he felt about Loki...what was important was Clint and how he felt about the situation.
This was how Bucky found them when he walked into the kitchen a minute later. Blinking, he looked over his shoulder, wondering if he shouldn't leave and come back at another time. But then the smell of pancakes reached him- he realized there was enough made to feed an army- and he figured if they didn't expect to have other people coming in and interrupting, they would have eaten in their private kitchen. Grinning toothily at the three men, he walked over to the counter where the platter of pancakes and bowl of berries was and made himself a plate. "Just a heads-up. Tony has been arguing with Steve about some idea he had to go find Loki. He may try and convince you to get on his side..." he muttered in an aside to Coulson as he walked to the table and sat down, beginning to eat.
Grant raised an eyebrow at that and looked at his brother and father, but didn't pull away from Coulson's embrace. Everyone had pretty much got used to how hands-on Coulson was when it came to his family...if they couldn't handle a bit of family affection then they were in the wrong building.
Clint stared at the back of Bucky's head, finally saying, "You drop news like that and can't even tell us what the idea is?"
Bucky blinked, looking at the archer in amusement. "Tony'll be here in five minutes. I'm sure he'll go into it in detail."
For his part, Coulson didn't release his hold on his sons. He had no problem showing his affection in front of other people; and this wasn't the first time he'd held them when there were others around. "I'm sure Steve wouldn't be against it for no reason," he commented, a look of concern coming over his face.
Tony chose that moment to stride into the room, a very disgruntled look on his face. "Steve's just against it cuz he doesn't want me out of his sight...but as I keep reminding him..." Tony had turned toward the door and was walking backward by this point, apparently assuming that Steve wasn't far behind him. "...I'm a big boy with a heck of a lot of armor to back me up and I'm just going to check out one little anomaly. It isn't like I wouldn't call you all in for backup if I discovered it actually was Loki!"
"Yeah. I can really see that happening..." Bucky scoffed, also looking at the door.
Steve had been sticking fairly close to Tony, so he followed the younger man into the common area and frowned. "Given that you've gone without backup before, I think I'm right to say it's not a good idea for you to go on your own." Even though he'd been saying this repeatedly, he showed no sign of backing down.
Tony, frustrated at what he viewed as 'coddling' and being treated like a child, reacted predictably; like a child. Throwing up his hands, he snorted. "Fine. Your opinion has been noted. Repeatedly. Good thing I'm the one that gets to decide what I do and don't do and you can't stop me." His tone was a little too in-your-face and snide for his liking... he didn't want to sound disrespectful of the other man, even if he was planning to ignore what he was saying. Unfortunately, the words and tone were already out in the air before he thought about the fact he should keep quiet. The familiar twinge of guilt shaded his eyes. Wrinkling his nose, he turned and grabbed a cup of coffee and turned to leave the kitchen again without eating anything, planning to hide out in his workshop until he stopped feeling guilty.
Grant's eyes widened at the tone and his eyes darted toward his father, thoughts going to what the older man would do if he ever spoke to him in that manner.
Clint just whistled and pointedly didn't look at Tony or Steve. Giving his father one last quick hug, he whispered, "I'm going to go out into the living room. When everyone is done eating, they'll probably have the meeting in there."
Bucky had finished his food by this point and had gone to put his dishes in the sink. On his way past Tony, he swatted the other man on the backside with a loud smack. "Behave," was all he said, as he followed Clint out.
Tony couldn't help but yelp at the swat, then turned wide-eyes onto the soldier, before turning hesitant and guilt filled eyes toward Steve.
Coulson nodded to Clint and then, glancing sympathetically towards Steve, gently steered Grant from the kitchen. "Do you want to go straight to the living room, or go somewhere else first?" he asked gently.
Grant gave his father a nervous smile then shrugged. "I guess the living room? We can play cards until everyone shows up?" He pulled a deck of cards out of his back pocket.
"I'm sure that can be arranged." Noticing the nervous look, Coulson kissed Grant's forehead. "Want to tell me what's bothering you?"
Grant gave a sheepish smile. "Just Tony...I can't imagine speaking to you that way...I mean...I know Steve isn't his father, but he's still...." Grant shrugged.
"I think Tony's very used to his independence," Coulson said, moving his hand to the nape of Grant's neck and squeezing gently. "Until Steve came along, he didn't really have to answer to anyone."
Grant leaned toward his father and nodded slightly, not wanting to dislodge his hand. "I guess...still. As independent as he is, you can tell he has a lot of respect for the captain- but the way he was acting just now was anything but. It was almost like he was testing or something." Grant frowned, not certain he was making any sense...and really not sure it was any of his business anyway; it had just made him feel weird to see it.
"It's not unusual for someone to test a person who's in authority over them. You've done that and so has Clint, after all," Coulson commented. "I imagine Steve has him in hand." Just like Coulson had his sons in hand.
"Yeah. I guess I kinda hoped it would be something I'd outgrow, though..." Grant admitted sheepishly.
"As you get more confident, you probably won't need to test me as much," Coulson said. "But you've had a long time with people who don't care about you. You're actually doing really well." He gently squeezed Grant's neck.
Grant couldn't help but smile at his father's praise. "Really? I'm glad...I mean, I know I can do a lot better, but..." He looked down sheepishly.
Coulson kissed his forehead. "You've been through a lot before I was able to bring you back. You're doing really well. I love you, son," he said with quiet sincerity.
Grant smiled. "I love you too, dad." His voice was equally sincere.
Pressing another kiss to Grant's head, Coulson guided him gently into the living room.
Grant smiled at the affection that he could never seem to get enough of then looked around the living room- noting Clint and Bucky were there. "I guess everyone else is sleeping in..." he said in amusement.
Coulson smiled, sitting down next to Clint and pulling Grant down onto the other side of him. "Did you want to play cards?" he asked his youngest.
"Yes! I did...would you both like to play?" Grant asked Clint and Bucky.
Clint shrugged. "Sure, Squirt. I'll play."
"Yeah. I'll play too, kid." Bucky smiled.
Coulson smiled, kissing Grant's head. "Why don't you deal?" he suggested.
"Great!" Grant grinned and shifted so that he could do just that. Clint shifted as well, so that everyone was forming a sort of circle around the coffee table.
Coulson stayed close to his sons, joining in with the game and enjoying just being with them.
# # #
Steve directed a stern look towards Tony, but filled a plate with food and handed it to the other man. "Eat. And then we'll talk."
Tony swallowed hard, his eyes going a little more wide and looking even more guilt filled, if that was possible. "Look, Steve... I...I..." Swallowing again, Tony's shoulders slumped and he sat down at the table and began to eat. After a few moments of eating and not saying anything, he finally had to ask, in a somewhat tremulous voice, "When you say we'll talk....?"
Steve filled his own plate and sat down next to Tony to start eating. He replied to Tony between mouthfuls. "Those kinds of comments are unnecessary, Tony. You've accepted me being in charge. That doesn't mean you get to pick and choose which orders to follow." Steve looked at Tony, raising his eyebrows. "Would you accept it if one of the others wanted to do the same thing?"
Tony fidgeted and stared at his plate. He felt bad about the attitude he had pulled with Steve and the guilt had made his appetite disappear. Finally, he looked up at Steve, his guilt clear on his face. "No sir. I wouldn't accept it from the others." His voice was quiet for the first time since they'd been arguing that morning. Pushing his plate away, Tony put his elbows on the table and put his head in his hands. "Not really hungry, Cap."
Steve squeezed Tony's shoulder gently. "You need to eat." His voice was gentle, no longer filled with frustration. "You know why I'm so against this? It's dangerous. I care about you. I care about what happens to you."
Tony winced at Steve's words, feeling even more guilty and like a heel for how he'd acted. "I know..." he finally admitted softly. "I know you care and I know it's dangerous; and I know I should obey you, because it really isn't necessary that I go off on my own to do this...." He sighed. "I...I think part of me just feels like pushing, as stupid as that is. Maybe I should stay next to you for the next couple of days until a plan is formed...because the way I'm feeling right now, I don't doubt I'll be going off and disobeying you despite everything you've said, or the fact that I feel guilty arguing about it."
He blushed, finally sitting up so Steve could see his face again and lowering his hands to his lap. "And that was really hard to admit..." He wrinkled his nose and ran a hand through his hair in agitation, before staring at the plate of food that Steve wanted him to eat. He still wasn't hungry, even if he needed to eat. He still felt too guilty about how obnoxious he'd been toward Steve.
Keeping his hand on Tony's shoulder, Steve quickly came to a decision. "Let's put the plate to one side for now and go to my floor... you can eat afterwards." Tony hadn't technically done anything wrong, but Steve had the feeling the guilt might eat Tony up if he didn't handle it with a token punishment.
Besides... Steve was fairly certain that Tony was testing. It was best to stand firm now, rather than push and have to deal with a worse act later.
"Ok..." Tony said softly, only wincing slightly; more relieved that Steve understood what he was saying and hadn't got angry about it. Standing up, he moved the plate back to the counter so that it was out of the way, then quietly waited for Steve to lead him out.
Steve stood up as well and wrapped his arm around Tony's shoulders. He guided the other man from the kitchen and to the elevator so they could go to his floor.
Tony hunched in on himself, trying to make himself smaller; why, he didn't know. If he was attempting to 'hide' from the man, he was negating the effects by also moving into Steve's space so he could be closer to him. Sometimes, his relationship with the Captain confused the hell out of him. They had almost reached Steve's floor when Tony whispered, "I'm sorry I've been such a brat...."
Steve squeezed Tony's shoulders gently. "I know this has been a difficult time for you, but it doesn't matter how you act. I'm not going to stop caring about you. And I'm not going to stand back and watch you risk yourself."
"It shouldn't be so difficult. Clint's not having any issues and he has more reason to want to get Loki than I do..." Tony muttered unhappily. "I...I don't know how to act sometimes with so many people that actually care what happens to me...especially when one of them actually has the ability to step in and stop me. I mean... I was used to Rhodey caring, but he's gone so much because of his job that I never had him caring to the point of telling me what I could or couldn't do. Pepper and Happy care, but they worked for me before they became friends, so they got used to doing what I said, not the other way around. You're the first person who ever cared and bossed me around." He smiled crookedly.
Steve nodded. "It's not surprising that you'll push when you're not used to someone stepping in." He guided Tony off onto his floor, heading to his living room. "I'd rather step in now, than have you put yourself in danger."
Tony swallowed hard, but nodded. "Yes, sir.... I...after the way I acted...I mean, I pretty much promised that I was going to disobey you, so I'm not surprised...and I was completely rude and disrespectful and I..." He winced, suddenly finding his shoes interesting. "I feel really guilty about how I treated you..." he finally admitted. "But I wasn't lying...I don't think I'd be able to keep from doing what I said I wanted to do if I was left on my own. I would have gone last night when we first found out everything if Pepper hadn't been with me. But she's gone on another business trip and won't be back for another two weeks and...I... I don't want to worry everyone or do anything stupid, but..." He shrugged.
Steve just nodded, guiding Tony over to the couch and taking a seat, gently tugging the other man down next to him. "I think you should be staying on my floor for the next few days, where I can be sure you're safe."
Tony leaned into Steve without even realizing he was doing so, giving the impression of an affection starved puppy. "Yeah...I...uh...that probably would be for the best," he admitted hesitantly.
Steve squeezed him gently. "Am I right in thinking you've been having nightmares?" he asked.
Tony tensed up at the question and debated lying, but he had a feeling Steve would see right through the lie and he'd already given the man so much grief for the morning that he decided adding to it was more than unfair. "You'd be thinking right..." he finally said in a whisper. "I've only been getting a few hours of sleep every night before I wake up. If I'm lucky, I don't wake Pepper and I'm able to slip out of bed and go to my workshop without disturbing her. If I'm unlucky, I wake her up and have to pretend that she's calmed me down enough to sleep and then pretend to sleep so that she won't stay up awake with me. She needs her rest, being responsible for the company and everything. And she already worries so much...." He swallowed again, feeling even more guilt added onto what he already felt from his actions with Steve; this time because of what he knew Pepper went through because of him. "I'm lucky to have her..." he finally finished softly.
Steve nodded, still with his arm around Tony's shoulders. "While Pepper's away, why don't you sleep in the bedroom with me?" he suggested. "It might help you if you know I know how bad it is." After all, it wasn't a secret that Grant (and probably Clint as well) shared the bed with his father and that helped with his nightmares.
Tony blinked and couldn't help look into Steve's face with surprised eyes; although perhaps he shouldn't be surprised that the man would make such an offer. They were friends. Steve had proven time and again that he cared about Tony and would do whatever was necessary to keep him healthy...and dare he believe, happy. "I...I know I act like a spoiled child most of the time, Cap...but I'm not really a little kid...." His protest was hesitant, however, making it obvious he didn't really want to say no.
"It doesn't make you a child, Tony," Steve said. "We're friends. Besides, remember the time I was from. It wasn't too strange for two grown men to sleep together as friends. And both Clint and Grant lean on Coulson in that way."
Tony nodded, not entirely convinced, but wanting to be. "Yeah...but Coulson's their dad...and who's going to tell him he can't take care of his kids when they need him?" He looked back down at his hands that he'd clenched around his own knees and couldn't help but blush. "And if it doesn't make me a child, why do I always feel so childish ne..." He swallowed then reluctantly finished the sentence. " ...needing you?"
"Because you think you shouldn't need anyone," Steve said. "You're used to being independent." He didn't say it, but he couldn't help thinking that part of the problem was Howard. The man might have been his friend, but he didn't like how he'd treated his son. "Needing someone and letting them support you doesn't mean you're childish."
"I guess..." Tony didn't disagree...he didn't really want to get into another argument with the man he was coming to look at as family...or maybe better than family, since he'd never really got along with his real family. "I would like to stay with you, if you really don't mind..." he admitted, almost abashedly. "Although how you could want me to when I've behaved so badly to you, I couldn't fathom. I really am sorry..." He forced himself to look Steve in the eyes, so the man could see his guilt, shame and genuine apology.
"I know." Steve squeezed him gently. "And we're going to deal with that now. But even behaving badly, I would still want to spend the time with you." He paused, briefly, before moving Tony across his lap.
Tony closed his eyes tightly, but didn't fight Steve at all, instead quietly allowing himself to be positioned. As was usual when he found himself over Steve's knee, he felt embarrassed, ashamed, childish and vulnerable. Unlike the other times, this time he also felt relief. "What does it say about me that I actually want this?" he whispered to himself, confused at his own feelings, uncaring if Steve heard him.
Steve wrapped an arm comfortingly around Tony's waist before gently tugging down the other man's pants and underwear. "That you feel guilty right now, but know this will help." He rubbed Tony's back a moment before bringing his hand down in the first firm swat.
Tony swallowed at Steve's words, knowing they were true, and tensed up as he was bared, relaxing slightly when Steve rubbed his back instead of immediately swatting him. Tony hadn't made any promises to himself this time; no promises to be brave and adult, no promises not to cry, no promises not to beg for it to end. He'd decided he'd take what he was given and react however he needed to react in that moment and if it was embarrassing and made him more ashamed...well, maybe he would remember that next time he was tempted to treat his friend and leader like he was less than the ground he walked on. Because Steve hadn't deserved that kind of treatment; especially not several days of that kind of treatment.
Having not made any decisions except to just 'go with it', when the first swat fell, he was surprised when he didn't yell out at the sting...in fact only grunting softly to acknowledge that yes, it did hurt...just not as much as he had originally expected.
Steve settled quickly into a rhythm, bringing his hand down repeatedly all the way to Tony's thighs. It was as he began the second circuit that he spoke. "Disagreeing with me is not a problem, Tony. But you need to trust that I can make the final decision... and that decision will take everyone's safety into account, but especially yours. Because I know you don't care as much about your safety as you should. But I do. And something that will endanger you is something I will not allow."
Tony winced at the words, knowing them to be just as true as anything else Steve had said to him recently. He really didn't care as much about his own safety as much as those who cared about him wished he would. When he was growing up, the only one who had ever seemed to care was Jarvis...and then after his parents and the older butler who had practically raised him had died...he hadn't believed anyone cared. If no one else cared, why should he? Oh...he'd learned through the years that he was wrong about others not caring...but a lifetime of believing otherwise and acting otherwise was hard to overcome. And of those who did care about him, none of them were in a position to make him change his behavior. Steve was.
"I...I know?" He winced again, not having meant his response to come out as a question; evidence of the fact that Steve caring so much about him...while seemingly not caring about the fact that Tony had been an utter brat...was really confusing him.
Steve kept up a steady amount of swats, wanting to keep Tony's attention focused. "I don't think you do know." And his voice wasn't accusing or angry... it was gentle and understanding. "You've been on a self-destructive path long before I showed up. I know changing what you've been doing your whole life is hard. It doesn't matter how difficult it is, though. I'm here. I'm not going anywhere."
Tony swallowed hard and couldn't help but start to squirm...his bottom was warming up uncomfortably. It was Steve's words that hurt the most, though. "Sometimes you can't help when you have to go, Cap..." His voice was hoarse and sad and a little afraid; as if just saying something like that was inviting trouble. A few tears leaked from the corner of his eyes and slid down his face and he tightly clenched his fingers into the hem of Steve's jeans.
Steve tightened his arm around Tony's waist. "You don't have to go on your own. Not anymore. Not ever again. And it isn't just me. This place is filled with people who would have your back in any situation. You have a family."
"I...I'll try and remember that..." Tony finally gasped out, before a tiny whine escaped his throat, which turned into a full throated whine, which turned into a scared and broken half-sob. It wasn't that he was trying to avoid crying, but everything was just so jumbled up in his head and in his heart and he was confused. He would never understand how he had managed to gather himself a family together when he was, in the eyes of most of the world, an egotistical bastard who didn't care about anyone and only wanted the next thrill. Of course, he knew most of the world was wrong- and apparently his family did as well- but it still baffled him how they had allowed themselves to care enough to get close enough to him to realize who he really was. He choked out another tiny, quiet sob, closing his eyes as more tears streamed down his face.
Steve could tell that Tony was crying and he stopped the spanking. Normally, he would help Tony up and hug him while the other man was standing. On this occasion, Steve wanted to give his friend further proof that they were family and instead, he gently tugged Tony into his arms on his lap.
At first, Tony didn't realize that his position had changed, too far into his head and wondering why Steve cared. When he realized that he was sat on his friend's lap and that Steve was holding him, he stiffened for only a second before sinking against the other man and wrapping his arms around him. He wasn't too proud to admit he needed the comfort...although the need was more due to his confusion than because of the guilt he'd felt. Most of that had been taken care of through the punishment. "I don't understand how you can still like me after the way I treated you..." he finally admitted softly "...but I'm so thankful you do."
"Because you're worth liking," Steve replied, tightening his embrace around Tony. "An occasional bout of bad temper couldn't change that feeling." Even if it was more than just occasional. "I'm not going to stop liking you or caring about what happens to you just because you give me a hard time."
"I...it's..." Tony sighed and just hugged Steve tightly. How could he say that it was hard to believe because there had been so few people that would stand by him through his bad temperament? His own father didn't even put up with him that much. But Steve believed it and he was through arguing with Steve. He'd reached his quota of arguing with Steve for the week; for the month, even. He'd let what the man said stand...maybe he would even turn out to be right and Tony would be able to believe it.
Sighing softly, Tony finally stood and fixed his clothing...less because he was embarrassed about being half naked (being in the tabloids in various compromising positions through his life had left his modesty a thing of the past), but the air was a bit chilly, especially against a well-heated backside. Biting his lip, he looked at Steve through lowered lashes. "I...Can I follow you around today? As much as I'd like to say I'll be able to keep myself in line and will obey you...I know me and I'm in one of my moods and just don't trust myself." He gave his leader a chagrined smile.
Steve stood up, placing a hand on Tony's shoulder and squeezing gently. "I would have insisted even if you hadn't asked. Not because of what you might do, even though that is a concern, but because I like spending the time with you." He kept his hand on Tony's shoulder as he added, "Right now, though, we need to go back for breakfast."
Tony gave a cheeky grin at Steve's words, using his usual bravado to cover the fact that he felt so pleased at the fact his friend wanted to spend time with him. "'You like me! You really like me!'" He preened, an amused glint in his eye. He doubted Steve had ever read anything that would tell him the origins of the quote or understand the joke... but he should understand the teasing tone. "And yeah...my appetite seems to have returned with a vengeance...." His grin took on a sheepish slant as his stomach growled loudly.
Steve shook his head, not knowing exactly what Tony was referencing... but he knew enough to know that the other man was teasing and that he also liked spending time together. "Breakfast first and then we'll start the meeting," he said firmly, steering Tony from the room.
"Yes, sir! Captain, sir!" Tony smiled and let himself be led back to the elevator, where they could head back to their breakfast. "Thanks, Steve," he finally said softly. He didn't reiterate what for; he meant for everything.... Surreptitiously, he reached back and rubbed his backside, before giving Steve an innocent smile.
# # #
The meeting had been fairly good-natured. Coulson had noticed that the attitude Tony had had with Steve was gone and that the two stuck close together. But when the anomaly was brought up, it was fairly obvious that Tony wanted to go and check it out... and it didn't feel right to Coulson to send in another team when Tony had been the one to discover the anomaly.
Steve seemed to understand something of what Coulson was feeling, because he finally interjected with, "I could take Tony and someone else with me to check it out. If we make sure to have the comms on and the rest of the team standing by, if it does turn out to be Loki, it shouldn't take long for backup to arrive."
Tony smiled at Steve, grateful that he would suggest him as a partner to go check things out, especially after the hard time he'd been given by Tony. Tony took it as further proof that Steve cared and paid attention to Tony. He gave Coulson a hopeful look, knowing if the older man objected, it would be for good reasons and Steve might be persuaded to change his mind.
Clint waited to hear his father's verdict before putting in his own request to go...although he could tell by Grant's glancing at him that his brother was worried about him possibly going.
Coulson nodded. "I think that's a good idea. I also think maybe I should be the third person to go." He'd given it a bit of thought and felt that having the director of SHIELD would be good in case of negotiations. At the same time, he knew his sons were likely to protest and although he looked at everyone to see what they thought, his main focus was on Clint and Grant.
"No! Dad....he killed you! If Fury hadn't had his back-up plan, you wouldn't even be here! Let me go...or Nat!" Clint protested.
Grant glanced between his father and brother in agitation. "Why do either of you have to go?" he asked plaintively. "Why not let someone he hasn't screwed over go instead? Like Trip or May?" He didn't bother mentioning himself, realizing that neither man would allow that. Not with as protective as they had been recently.
Trip straightened up. He was perfectly willing to go and, if asked, would say so... But this appeared to be more of a family disagreement; and even if he was 'family', he wasn't family.
Coulson immediately moved closer to his sons, placing a hand on each of their shoulders. "Loki was attacking the helicarrier at the time," he pointed out gently. "So far, he's been here without making any attempt to attack anyone." He looked at Thor. "You know him probably better than anyone else here. Do you believe he's a danger?"
"He fought alongside me," Thor replied. "I don't know why he deceived me, but the madness that had taken him seemed to have passed at that time."
Grant bit his lip. He didn't want to contradict Thor; having made his own horrible mistakes, but not being given up on, had given him the perspective that if there was even a slight chance of someone being salvageable, it should be taken...even so. "Could it have been a trick so that you'd let him out of prison?" he asked quietly, his voice curious and not accusatory. He hadn't faced the crazy demi-god, after all, and had no way of knowing if his actions were honest or a show.
Clint frowned, not entirely happy, but having to admit his father had a point. He kept quiet and waited for Thor's response.
Tony glanced at Steve then at Coulson, before looking at Thor and sighing softly. "You've said before that Loki went off the deep end when he found out the truth about what and who he really was...." He narrowed his eyes slightly. "But when he fought along beside you, he did so to avenge your mother...he obviously got over his antipathy towards her at least..." He swallowed. "Maybe he got over finding out he wasn't your family by blood and finally realized there was more to the meaning of the word." He shrugged slightly. "And maybe his realizing that has enabled him to regain enough control over himself that he isn't an immediate danger, even if he is dangerous." He said the last to Clint and Grant.
"We have been raised as brothers and to me, that's what we still are," Thor said honestly. "He might have been acting to gain his freedom... but he still saved my life when he didn't have to."
"I don't plan to do anything dangerous," Coulson said to his sons. "But as director of SHIELD, I think it's important for me to be there to handle anything like negotiations. But if you're really not happy with this, I won't go." To him, his family was more important... and if he could give his sons peace of mind by staying out of danger, he'd figure out another way.
Grant straightened his shoulders, then gave his father a tiny smile. It wasn't overly enthusiastic or agreeable, but it was firm. "No...you're right. You need to be there, as much as I don't like it. I know you'll be cautious. Just..." He shrugged, not sure how to express himself further; the desire that his father be careful and come home to them.
Clint frowned, but in the face of his baby brother's agreement, he didn't know how he could easily argue with his father without making it seem like he was calling his father's competence into question. Coulson was more than capable of defending himself, after all; and if anything happened to him, it would just as easily happen to any of the rest of them. It was one of the reasons he wanted to go himself. He could handle if something happened to him. Something happening to his dad, or Tony, or Steve, or even Thor? That was unacceptable. "Ok. Fine. But there will be comms, so that we can all hear what is occurring. And we will all be within minutes of being able to reach the three of you if something happens." His voice left no room for negotiation. He glanced at Thor. "I hope you're right...."
Bucky suddenly clapped his hands together loudly, amused as various members of the group startled and jumped. "Ok. Now that that decision has been made, we should probably gear up and head to where Tony saw the anomaly."
"I'll be as safe as I can possibly be," Coulson promised. "And the comms would be non-negotiable anyway." He stood up after patting his sons' shoulders gently. "I won't do anything that would risk taking myself away from you," he promised quietly.
"Do you have backup in case one of your suits is made to lose power?" Steve quietly asked Tony.
Tony grimaced, not liking to be reminded that something had actually been able to knock his suits offline, several times, but then smiled at Steve, letting the other man know that he wasn't taking the question as a personal attack (like he might have done in the past) and understood the reason for being asked the question. "I modified my most recent suit so that the EMPs that Hydra was using shouldn't work. However, on the off chance that there is something else out there that can take my armor down, I've got a gun and a knife that will both fit snugly against me so that I can wear them in the armor. Plus, I've been practicing fighting with you- I should be golden."
Clint nodded briskly. "Skye will man the comms. Jemma and Fitz, I want you to stay back here so you can research any information that is sent back immediately. The rest of us will be close by in case we're needed." He started to walk toward the elevator to head down to the armory...then stopped and blushed, looking at Steve and Coulson. "If that's ok with the both of you, that is?" His voice was sheepish as he realized he'd just given orders to everyone, when Cap and his father were in charge.
Steve nodded. "Good. I'm proud of you for thinking up a backup," he said to Tony, before smiling at Clint, not unhappy with him giving those instructions. "I think you just said what we would have done anyway."
Coulson placed a hand on Clint's shoulder, squeezing gently, but knew he didn't need to voice his agreement with Steve. If giving those orders made his oldest feel better, he wouldn't go against them.
Bucky fidgeted, watching the interaction between the four men then glanced around at everyone else. "Well...are we ready to go now then?" he finally asked.
"Yeah, man....I'm getting antsy to have some action." Trip grinned impishly, bumping shoulders with Simmons.
Simmons looked partly disgruntled at being left behind and partly relieved. "Are you sure you don't need Fitz and I closer as well? Just in case you find something that needs researching that can't be sent back electronically?"
Coulson paused a moment to think about that. "I don't think it's necessary for you and Fitz to come closer," he answered. "There'll be enough backup that anything that needs to be brought back physically can be by one of the others." He continued on his way to the elevator.
"And we can always have one or both of you drive over if it's necessary," Steve added, before following Coulson.
Natasha headed silently after her father and brother, already mentally ticking off the extra gear she needed to pick up.
"Ok..." Simmons watched as everyone headed for the elevator to go get their gear and head to whatever vehicle they were going to use to go to the site. Sighing, she moved over to Fitz's side. "Feel kinda left out..." she admitted to him softly, but didn't argue with Coulson or Steve's decision.
# # #
Loki hadn't moved far from where he'd originally 'arrived' on Midgard. There hadn't been any reason to, really...the 'gateway' he'd used to arrive on this realm was out in the middle of a densely wooded area...but close to a tiny town that appeared to cater toward tourists. He'd not bothered to change his appearance, except for his clothing, and conjured up some currency so that he could buy himself some food and a few provisions before heading back into the wooded area and 'moving' into an abandoned cabin that he'd found (abandoned being a relative term, as it appeared to be lodging that was only used during the warmer parts of the seasons and left empty during the colder parts).
He'd made himself comfortable fairly quickly, setting up a few 'alarms' to warn him if anyone from Asgard came close to his location. He wouldn't stay here indefinitely, but did feel it was better to stay in one place long enough for him to learn a bit more about the situation on Midgard and what he might need to do to remain safe, comfortable and, most importantly, hidden.
To that end, he was walking down the path toward the small town again so that he could pick up a few newspapers and other items that he hadn't realized he would need the first time he'd gone into town.
# # #
Coulson and Steve were approaching the area of the anomaly on foot, while Tony was in the air, keeping them updated on what he was seeing.
Looking around, Coulson paused as he spotted a familiar figure. He couldn't mistake the person who had killed him for anyone else, after all. Steve had moved ahead and Coulson began to activate his comm so that he could report back to the others that Loki was there... if looking rather innocuous.
Loki had been heading back to the cabin, his arms full of his 'purchases', when he'd felt himself being watched. Keeping his face forward, he began to glance around, attempting to see who might be looking at him without alerting them to the fact that he knew they were there. It didn't take much to notice Steve's tall figure. It was the shorter figure following not too far behind the Captain that stopped Loki in his tracks, however.
"How...?" Loki whispered to himself. The shock of seeing a man that he knew he had killed caused Loki to act without thinking. Before Coulson had a chance to realize that Loki had spotted him, the trickster had teleported himself next to what he thought might be a ghost, grabbed his arm and then teleported back out again- to the cabin- Coulson tightly in his grip.
# # #
"What the....Steve!? Coulson?!" Tony frantically called over the comms. "There was another anomaly in the town...very near to both of you! Did you see anything? Are you both ok?!"
Steve turned immediately, quickly scanning the surrounding area. It took him a second to realise that Coulson was gone... and half a second to realise the director wouldn't have just taken off without a word. "Coulson's gone." He switched over to the private frequency he had with Tony, not wanting to cause panic in the rest of the team... and particularly with Coulson's kids.
Tony frowned, doing his own search. "J? Do you see anything?"
"No, sir...and the anomaly that was left behind in Director Coulson's absence covers this entire town and much of the surrounding forest...it will be very difficult to determine if anything happened through investigating that," the AI said in almost an apologetic tone.
Tony frowned again. "Cap... J isn't able to make heads or tails of the anomaly he says just sprang up over the town and surrounding forest, but it is blocking his ability to be able to search for Coulson."
"It's impossible to know where Coulson is... but I think there's very little doubt that Loki is the one responsible for taking him," Steve said, before switching to the normal frequency and addressing the rest of the team. "We need to meet and talk." He didn't tell them what had happened, feeling it wasn't the sort of thing he could tell Coulson's kids over the comm.
Tony didn't say anything in response. What could he say? It was rather obvious. Instead, he flew down to where Steve was and landed quietly next to him. Quickly 'removing' the armor and locking it up safely in its suitcase, he walked next to Steve, heading back toward the car so that they could go meet the others. "It has to be a good sign, doesn't it? That he didn't just...you know...kill him?" he asked hesitantly.
Steve nodded. "Loki took Coulson, so he must want something from him. That means we have time to try and get him back." He sighed. "I'm not sure how to explain to Clint and Grant that we lost their dad, though." He walked next to Tony towards the car.
Tony grimaced. "When it comes to something like that, I think just telling them straight out without beating around the bush is best. Drawing it out only allows them to imagine the worst before they finally know the truth." He shrugged. "But that's just me...."
Steve nodded. "I know. I just also know how they're likely to react." He sighed as he got into the car, not wanting to mention to Tony his fears about what Loki might do to Coulson. Thor had said there was good in his brother... but someone who was good wouldn't just take another person.
Tony swallowed hard, getting into the passenger seat of the car. "Yeah. Not good. Do you want me to tell them?" he asked softly.
"I'll tell them," Steve replied, glancing at Tony as he drove. "Just keep watch to see if anything changes."
"Sure, Cap. I've got Jarvis watching even now..." Tony said softly then turned to watch outside the car as Steve drove them to the others.
"Thank you." Steve gave him a grateful smile as he parked and then got out of the car. Despite being bothered by what had happened, he strode quickly and with purpose towards the rest of the team.
Tony nodded briefly, then quickly hopped out of the car and followed Steve.
Clint quickly came up to the two men. "Where's Coulson?" His voice was worried as he looked toward the car, then back toward Tony and Steve.
Grant swallowed hard, not seeing his father anywhere near the car. He looked at Tony and Steve. "He's disappeared, then?" His voice was soft.
"We believe Loki took him," Steve replied. "But he took your dad. That means he's still alive. We'll find him," he promised.
Grant closed his eyes tightly, but didn't say anything. He had to believe Steve was right and that they'd find his father.
Clint growled. "I'll kill him...if he touches one hair on Coulson's head, I will rip him to pieces!"
Grant winced at the words, moving closer to Clint and wrapping an arm around his brother. "We'll get him back and he'll be fine..."
"We will get him back," Steve reiterated. "You know your father. He won't do anything that'll risk himself, because he has you to come back to. JARVIS will keep scanning for anything we can use to find him. And you know none of us will rest until we get him back."
Grant nodded, pulling his brother even closer. "I know we will. What can we do to help that happen?" His voice was strong...stronger than he thought it would be under the circumstances. Steve was right, though- his father would do whatever he could to stay safe and come back to them, because he knew how much they needed him.
"We need to figure out where Loki will be likely to take him." Steve frowned. "I don't think he set up a trap... and to the best of my knowledge, Loki wouldn't know that Coulson had been brought back to life." He glanced at Tony, in case his friend had a different idea, before continuing, "Therefore, I wouldn't be surprised if he didn't go too far away."
"I'm inclined to agree with you," Tony said. "If he had gone further away, the anomaly would have popped up somewhere else on the globe JARVIS has been monitoring. The fact that it hasn't indicates that he went somewhere already within the vicinity of the first anomaly...thereby masking exactly where he ended up. There was no way this was planned either. He had no way of knowing that Coulson would be on the team that was searching out information...." Tony remarked.
Steve nodded. "He's also unlikely to be staying in the town. I think we should look at cabins or trailers that are close by."
Tony slanted his head. "J? Are there any cabins within the circumference of the anomaly that show as being abandoned for the season? And if so, are there any of those that appear to have someone actually living in them?"
"Three meet that criteria, sir. I am forwarding their coordinates to you right now," JARVIS stated calmly.
As JARVIS forwarded the coordinates to Tony, Steve used his comm to update the rest of them on the situation, asking them to come and meet him and the others.
Grant had immediately moved to go with Steve and Tony, knowing that Thor, May, Trip, Bucky and Natasha would not be far behind. He had thought Clint was with him as well.
Clint, however, had let his anger take over the situation and, taking the first set of coordinates that had been sent, went and hopped on a nearby motorbike, taking off to go search the cabin on his own.
Grant blinked at the actions of his brother then tried to speak to him through the comms. "Clint...you don't want to do this. Come back with the rest of us so we can form a plan...or at least tell us where you are going! Dad is not going to be happy about this and you know it!"
Clint had turned his comm off and didn't hear.
Grant turned toward Steve and Tony, a helpless look on his face. It was bad enough for his father to just disappear due to Loki grabbing him, but for his brother to run off without a word...Grant's tension and worry increased tenfold.
Steve sighed, a slightly frustrated look on his face that he tried to push away. He turned to Tony. "You go in the direction Clint went in. I'll ask Bucky to come with you." He spoke into the comm to ask his best friend to do just that.
"Got it, Cap!" Tony quickly reactivated his suit and took off after Clint, making a short stop to pick Bucky up on the way.
Bucky rolled his eyes as he heard Steve's request over the comm. "Lord save me from angry children..." he muttered, before Tony landed in front of him. "All right, Tin-can. Let's go get Robin-Hood before he does something irrevocably stupid...." he muttered, wrapping one arm around Tony in a tight grip ad motioning him to take off after their mutual friend.
# # #
Coulson hadn't had a chance to speak into the comm before he was grabbed. He had a fairly strong stomach, but being so suddenly teleported was enough to make him just a bit queasy. He recovered fairly quickly, though, and watched Loki warily. For now, he didn't say anything, waiting to see what the demigod would do.
Loki paced around Coulson like a wary panther, his eyes disbelieving and curious all at once. Reaching out a tentative finger, he poked Coulson on the shoulder, before quickly withdrawing his hand, wary of Coulson doing something to him. Finally, he spoke, his voice worried and a slight bit scared; with a tiny hint of remorse. "What sorcery is this? I know I killed you!" Loki swallowed. The only one he knew with power over death was...well...death. And seeing as how death was a consort of Thanos...and Thanos wanted Loki in his clutches to pay him back for failing to take Midgard...and being in Thanos's clutches would mean a lifetime of worse than torture... Loki didn't think he could be blamed for the fact that he was shivering slightly.
"It isn't sorcery," Coulson replied, watching Loki as warily as the demigod was watching him. "I was brought back by the medical advances of this world. And capturing me wasn't really the best way to keep off the radar here... if that's what you were trying to do," he added.
Loki slanted his head, curiosity overcoming his fear. "You Midgardians are more advanced than the All-father has given you credit for, if you are able to cheat death in such a manner. Are you certain Thanos had nothing to do with your revival?" The trickster's voice was suspicious; and yet hopeful at the same time.
"As for 'staying off the radar', I must admit to having acted without thought...your presence startled me. But I do not think I have to fear from your little friends any time soon. I did not take you so far from your original spot that it would allow them to see more than one spot where my energy is traceable...and they would attribute that to my leaving, not to my also arriving in the same location." He shrugged slightly, stepping away from Coulson and putting the bags he forgot he was carrying down. "Have a seat, why don't you? I'm not about to let you leave now and give my location away." Loki's smile held little warmth.
There was little point in antagonising Loki... and besides, there was no harm in taking a seat. Coulson did so, even as his eyes scanned the interior of the cabin. The more he could learn of Loki, the better chance he had of escaping. "What were you intending, then?" He spoke quietly, in many ways the same tone of voice he'd adopted with Grant when he'd first visited his youngest in prison and had determined he wasn't going to let himself be pushed away.
"I wasn't inten...." Loki's voice stopped suddenly and he gave Coulson a suspicious look. "Why do you want to know? Shouldn't you be more worried about what I am intending? Especially in regards to yourself?" There was something in Coulson's tone that made Loki want to automatically answer without his normal obfuscations. Much the same as his first inclination was to answer Frigga without any of his usual lies. Although why this mortal man would garner the same reaction from him as his late mother, he couldn't fathom. The mortal ought to be glad he didn't cause the same feelings in Loki that Odin caused...he might find himself with an argument he couldn't win if that were the case.
"I assume you'll tell me what you intend in regards to me," Coulson replied. "We were looking for you, as you've probably guessed... but that was at the request of your brother."
Loki forced a scowl onto his face, figuring that a scowl would be expected, given the way his relationship with his brother had gone the last time he was on Midgard. He wasn't certain exactly what Thor had told his friends- if anything- regarding Loki's part in the battle against the Dark Elves. Try as he might, the scowl wouldn't reach his eyes. Huffing in resignation, Loki flopped down into the chair across from Coulson, looking very much like a bad tempered teenager. "Truthfully, I had no intentions toward you whatsoever. Your presence startled me and I reacted before thinking. It was a foolish mistake." He growled, but it was obvious his irritation was with himself and not the other man.
Coulson nodded. "It's an understandable reaction, since you did kill me." And maybe he didn't sound angry because he'd seen how easy it was for someone to make bad, horrible choices... and now, facing Loki, he didn't seem as bad as before. "From my understanding, there were a number of different worlds you could have gone to. Did you come here because of Thor?"
Loki glanced at Coulson, suspicious again. The man seemed awfully understanding, considering he'd just been kidnapped by his killer with no warning. "I..." He stopped to think, partly because he wasn't sure he should say anything and partly because he hadn't really given much thought to why he'd come to Midgard. He supposed Thor did play a part in his choice. "I came here because of all the worlds I could have gone, this one was the most hospitable with the most opportunity for me to be able to 'get lost'. But the fact Thor is fond of it may have played some small part." He shrugged. He decided that it didn't matter if he told Coulson whatever the other man wanted to know. If he let secrets slip that he didn't want out, all he had to do was kill the man again. That's what he told himself, at any rate.
Coulson nodded slowly. "Why didn't you go and see your brother?" he asked. "I know Thor believed you were dead." And even if Thor had tried to hide his grief, out of respect for what his friends and Earth had suffered at the hands of his brother, it had been obvious how affected he'd been.
Loki actually visibly winced at the words then shot Coulson a glare, as if it were the other man's fault for making him feel guilty about not telling his brother anything. "I couldn't let him know. He would have never returned to Midgard if he'd known the All Father was in Odin-sleep. And he deserved some happiness with his mortal woman. Plus..." And here Loki shrugged, unashamed to admit his own personal stake in his presumed death. "... if he'd known I still lived, he would have been duty bound to return me to Asgard and the prison there. The only thing that made it bearable the first time was mother visiting...I couldn't return knowing that I'd not see her ever again. Especially when I knew that no one else would visit me either. It's a weakness, but I've found my desire to be alone waned after the first month of not speaking with anyone." He shrugged faintly, his eyes taking on a faraway look as he thought about Frigga and how it was his fault she'd died; after all...the monster that killed her would have never reached her had Loki not told him how to find a less guarded way out of the jails.
"I don't believe Thor had any intention of returning you to Asgard... then or now," Coulson said. "I had the opportunity to return one of my sons to prison. No one would have blamed me if I had done. But I wasn't prepared to do that."
Loki scoffed. "Thor may not have had any intention of doing so, but if that was what the All-father demanded, he would do it." He gave Coulson a sidelong glance. "And as for you not returning your son to prison...I'm not sure what he did, but I doubt it was anywhere near as bad as killing or wounding numerous people and trying to take over the world...." He attempted to sound scoffing through that comment as well, but he actually felt guilt about his actions on Midgard and the guilt bled through in his tone. (After all, while he still thought he would make an excellent ruler over the Midgardians, he never would have gone after them in the manner he had if he hadn't been forced to it by Thanos).
Just as he had with Grant, Coulson didn't only listen to Loki's words... he paid attention to the other's tone and appearance. "Grant made a lot of bad decisions and they did involve killing a lot of people... and attempting to kill others, including two who looked up to him. But making bad choices doesn't mean that you're bad. You're on your own and you're not imprisoned. That means you can make the right choices." He couldn't help it. He was talking to Loki in a very similar way to how he'd talked to Grant.
Loki's eyes shot to Coulson in surprise. "Your son killed and attempted to kill? Even those who were close to him? And you forgave him of those acts and keep him from jail?" His voice sounded skeptical. "I find that hard to believe. Although, I could see Odin forgiving Thor in that manner; if your son were only yours by adoption and not by blood, I doubt you'd be as forgiving." Loki's tone this time was brooding, with a slight underpinning of hurt.
"While it's true that Grant is my son biologically, that was something we found out only recently," Coulson replied. "Even before then... I'd already adopted him. I can't speak for Odin, but from everything Thor has said in reference to you, I believe he cares about you unconditionally in that same way."
"So you're saying you forgave him his monstrous actions before you knew he was your get?" Loki sneered, but his eyes looked almost jealous. Shaking his head, the trickster stood back up from the chair he was sat in and began to pace. "Odin has never viewed me as anything but second best...I could never make him proud. I never knew why until I learned the truth." His voice was silky soft, but there was a steel in it that spoke of deep hurt. "I was meant to bring peace between two worlds...or I assume that is what I had been meant to do. I doubt he meant me to do it in the way that I did...patricide is generally frowned upon, after all." Loki's voice was hollow as he callously threw out the fact that he had killed Laufey.
"Thor...is sentimental." Loki refrained from calling his brother a fool; he'd learned first hand that what had seemed foolishness to him was in fact a different sort of wisdom. "But even he cannot forgive a true monster...." Loki's smile was brittle and he allowed some of his true Jotun heritage to show through, his skin turning pale blue and the floor under his feet forming patches of ice. "Could you forgive one such as I, Coulson? I think not...." Loki shook his head, hiding the blue skin and reigning in the cold, turning his back to the mortal so that he couldn't see how distraught Loki was becoming.
Despite being aware of Loki's true heritage, Coulson was a bit taken aback by Loki reverting to at least part of his mortal form. He wasn't disgusted or scared, though. "Your appearance doesn't make you a monster. Your actions can be monstrous, but you're only a monster when you feel no remorse." And he could tell that wasn't the case with Loki. "Thor knows what you've done and he still calls you his brother."
"As I said, Thor is sentimental. That doesn't mean he would forgive me, though. Even if he did forgive me, that wouldn't help me in the least, because I'd still end up locked away in a cell on Asgard with no one but myself for company." Loki shrugged, turning to look out the window.
"It is unthinkable and unbearable. No matter if I deserve it." Loki's voice wavered, though he tried to keep it steady. He sounded much like a child, afraid for the moment when 'father' returned home to take care of some bit of naughtiness.
"Thor didn't mention taking you back to Asgard," Coulson said. "I think he hopes to keep you by his side." He didn't mention that Loki could, in theory, trade himself for safe passage. If it was something Loki would be willing to do, Coulson knew he would have thought about it already.
"If only I could believe that...." Loki said softly, his shoulders slumping and a hopeless look crossing his face. "Did Thor mention how I'd impersonated the All-father and ruled Asgard when it should have been Thor ruling? I admit the thought of taking the throne, despite Odin's proclamations of my unworthiness, fed my ego. But I also wanted him to be happy...he would never have been happy on the throne. Not when his love was on Midgard and it had been made clear that she had to return back to Midgard...not welcome to remain on Asgard." The trickster's voice was soft. "I will be lucky if I'm thrown into prison and not executed for that action alone."
Coulson nodded. "I think Thor was more relieved to learn that you were still alive. He said he would rather not mourn you a third time. I don't think he'd take you back to Asgard. Not when most of the people there probably wouldn't welcome you."
Loki looked down, wanting to believe Coulson. "If you are right, then...then I would be better off not testing my brother's patience further. If you are wrong, though...." He hesitated, clearly wanting to believe Coulson, but having a hard time doing so. "It is hard for me to trust...." he finally admitted in a soft voice.
"I know," Coulson replied, knowing how long it took Grant to trust him. "But has Thor done anything to indicate he wants to cause you harm?"
"You mean other than threatening to kill me if I betrayed him again?" Loki smirked then looked down at the floor. "No. The words he said to me...when he thought I was his father...if I hadn't been pretending to be Odin, I would have embraced him as my brother then and there, immediately. He said everything that I needed to hear. I'm not certain he would have told me if he'd known it was me, though." Loki shrugged slightly.
Swallowing hard, Loki turned questioning eyes up to the mortal. "I find myself wishing to find out if you speak true. But I cannot just go to him...especially not after I have grabbed you from off the street out from under your family."
"I think teleporting affected my comm, but if you let me talk to them first, I can explain the situation," Coulson said. "I can't guarantee they won't be angry... you controlled my other son and he hasn't long got over what he was forced to do. But you haven't hurt me and that will help."
"Why would you help me in that way?" Loki gave Coulson a surprised and suspicious look.
"Because Thor believes you're still a good person," Coulson replied. "And I understand the fear of facing up to bad choices. Talking to you now... I don't see you as a monster." He spoke honestly... as honestly as he addressed his sons. Or any of the other family members.
Loki looked into Coulson's eyes and could see no deceit there. Swallowing, he glanced away before finally looking at Coulson again. "I will take you back to them...but they need to know I mean no harm." Loki paced for a few seconds before getting onto his knees and placing his hands on his head. "I believe this is how your law force controls those they have captured?" He smiled crookedly. "If you hold onto me, I will teleport us back to my brother."
Coulson nodded. "I'm sure they'll pause long enough for me to explain the situation." He stepped over to Loki, placing a hand on the other's shoulder as he stood behind him.
"I certainly hope so," Loki said with a hint of amusement, before teleporting them into the midst of the group who hadn't rushed off toward an empty cabin.
Grant noticed immediately. "Dad!"
Coulson smiled reassuringly at Grant. "I'm here. I'm unhurt," he said, before addressing Steve. "Loki came back with me of his own free will. We talked. Nothing else happened." Well, apart from being teleported when he wasn't expecting it.
"Are you sure?" Steve eyed Coulson carefully, but although he hadn't seen the trickster's influences on Clint, he thought that Coulson appeared unhurt.
Thor, for his part, stared at Loki... as if searching him for wounds. Knowing his brother was alive was one thing... seeing it with his own eyes was something entirely different.
"I'm so glad to see you!" Grant hugged his father tightly. "I've got to let Clint know...he'll be so relieved!"
Loki could feel Thor's eyes on him, but found himself unable to face his brother. He lowered his arms, but stayed on his knees, his eyes on the ground.
Coulson hugged Grant just as tightly in return, pressing an affectionate kiss to his head, before frowning slightly. "Where is Clint?"
"He took off to investigate one of the other cabins." Steve glanced again at Loki, but as the trickster seemed subdued and he trusted Thor to take care of his brother, he used the comm to address Tony and Bucky. "We have Coulson and Loki here. Can you bring Clint back?"
Thor rarely felt uncertain in his life, but seeing his brother like this was difficult. He couldn't help but blame himself for some of the wrong choices Loki had made. If he had had a better control of his temper, he wouldn't have been banished to Midgard while Loki was left to deal with the knowledge of his heritage alone.
Approaching Loki carefully, Thor crouched down in front of him and placed a hand on his shoulder. "Loki... Are you well?" His last image of his brother had had Loki impaled and dying, after all. It was an image Thor couldn't forget.
Tony heard Steve at about the same time Clint had slowed down to quietly go up the cabin's private road. He sped up enough to land in front of Clint and block him.
Bucky stepped away from Tony so that Clint wouldn't attempt to go around them.
"What are you doing, Tony?" Clint groused in agitation.
"Your dad is back. He's with Steve and the others." Tony gave the information quickly, hoping to get Clint to calm down.
Clint quickly turned the bike around. "What are you waiting for? Let's go!"
Loki finally looked up at Thor, eyes worried and uncertain. "I am well, for the moment. I do not know how I shall be when you hand me over to father, though." His eyes dropped again.
Thor frowned. "I have no intention of taking you back to Asgard." He squeezed his brother's shoulder gently. "I will not allow you to be imprisoned. Or worse."
Coulson moved off a short distance, arm wrapped around Grant's shoulders, so he could talk to Clint when his oldest arrived... and hopefully calm him down if he was still struggling.
Loki looked up at Thor's words, eyes wide. "You are not taking me back?" He flushed at the hopeful tone in his own voice. "Coulson said he did not think you would, but I must admit I did not believe him to be correct in his declaration."
Clint broke every speed limit posted to reach his father quickly. Tony made certain he and Bucky kept him in sight at all times, just in case he crashed.
"You are still my brother," Thor said. "And I know you are not a bad person. You don't deserve to be imprisoned." Or executed, but he didn't voice that out loud. "But I think we need to have a private discussion." He might not spend nearly as much time at Tony's tower as the other Avengers, but how the family dealt with certain things wasn't a secret to him either.
Loki licked his lips then swallowed, watching Thor with wide eyes. "Will your team allow you to make that decision?" he asked hesitantly, staying on his knees until he was certain it would be safe to stand...namely when Thor told him to. He thought it odd that Thor would tell him that they needed to have a private discussion, rather than just pull him aside and start talking, but didn't feel comfortable enough yet to comment.
At that moment, Clint skidded to a stop just outside where the group stood. He jumped off his bike and looked torn between wanting to run to his father and giving him a hug...and tearing into Loki with his fists.
Tony landed carefully seconds later, Bucky stepping away from him as soon as they were safe and stable on the ground.
Aware of Clint arriving, Thor shifted so that he was almost protectively in front of Loki. "I have spoken to them about you."
Coulson didn't waste any time in stepping forward and drawing Clint tightly into his arms. "I'm unhurt," he said softly into his oldest's ear. "We only talked. Nothing more. Loki chose to turn himself in."
Clint had hugged his father back tightly before his words sunk in. "Huh? What? He turned himself in?" His voice was skeptical. "Why?"
Loki noticed his brother shifting into a protective stance and relaxed. Perhaps he would be ok after all...if Thor would protect him. Quietly, he asked Thor, "May I stand, brother?"
Coulson continued to hold Clint, partly to offer comfort and partly to make sure his son didn't try to take a swing at Loki. "He didn't know I was alive. When he grabbed me, he did it without thinking. I don't see him as an evil person."
Thor nodded, standing up himself and offering Loki a hand to help him up. He cast a glance towards the others, trying to see if he could ask to bring Loki back to the tower... or if he should take his brother back to where he was staying with Jane.
Tony, realizing what the problem was nearly immediately (let no one say he was unobservant), immediately offered, "Bring him with you to the Tower, Thor. If he can be trusted like you and Agent think, there will be no problem. If he can't, there is more security there to stop him."
Clint wasn't happy at his father's words, but didn't argue.
"So did you reach the abandoned cabin before or after Tony and Bucky caught up to you?" Grant asked innocently.
Bucky answered for him, not so innocently. "Before. Tony flew like a bat out of hell and we still couldn't catch him until he reached the private road to the cabin."
Thor smiled gratefully at Tony. "Thank you," he said simply, standing next to Loki... if just a little in front of him, still protective.
Coulson didn't miss either of those comments and looked into Clint's eyes. "I think we'll be having our own discussion back at the tower, son."
Tony looked at Thor and Loki, then at Coulson and Clint, then at all the other gathered Avengers. "Well...let's head home, people!" He finally clapped his hands together and moved to stand next to his anchor. Sidling up to Steve, he whispered, "Should I fly back in my armor? It might be a bit crowded in the quinjet otherwise."
May just calmly started heading back toward their transport. "Wheels up in five..." she said, warning everyone that they needed to start heading back to the jet.
Coulson nodded and gently released Clint, though he wrapped an arm around each of his sons' shoulders to begin steering them to the transport. He wasn't gone for that long... but being physically taken from them was really difficult to deal with.
Steve rested a hand on Tony's shoulder. "Why don't I fly back with you?" he suggested, not wanting Tony to be on his own.
Thor nodded and then glanced at Loki, to make sure his brother would follow, before heading to the transport himself.
Grant allowed himself to be steered. It wasn't that he couldn't walk on his own. Now that they had his father back safely, he felt fine...but then, he supposed he hadn't gone through anything with Loki the way Clint had, so even though he was very worried, it was different to Clint's worry. Even so, he never tired of feeling loved and cared for and Coulson 'leading' him had a way of making him feel that way. Soon, they were to the jet and everyone was scrambling for seats. He sat down next to Bucky, knowing that Clint needed to be next to their father. His brother still looked a bit defensive and protective, even though Coulson was obviously safe.
Clint let himself be led as well, his shoulders tense. He wasn't able to relax, even with his father next to him. He didn't say anything; Thor wanted to believe so badly that Loki had good in him and could be 'saved' and his father seemed to hold the same belief, but Clint wouldn't be able to believe it until he'd seen it for himself. So he allowed himself to be led onto the jet and sat next to his father and remained on his guard.
Loki followed Thor meekly, keeping his gaze on the ground in a non-confrontational manner. He had to admit, he felt as if he was placing himself into a den of hungry Asgardian wolves. Luckily for him, everyone seemed to respect Coulson and with the other man vouching for him, as well as Thor's staunch defense, they seemed to be willing to let him alone, even if they couldn't accept him just yet. He swallowed. He knew it wasn't going to be easy, but since his only other option was returning to Asgard to face his father, he'd rather face his brother's friends. At least he knew Thor cared enough about him to keep him alive.
May sat down in the pilot's seat, unsurprised when Natasha joined as her co-pilot and Trip sat directly behind them. "Trip, if you could call Skye and let her know we are on our way back with Coulson...and ask her to tell Fitz, Simmons, and Banner?"
"Sure thing...." Trip quickly began to communicate with the hacker.
Tony watched everyone load the jet, then, reactivating his armor, he stepped closer to the Captain and wrapped an arm around the other man. "Hold on tight, Cap. Don't want to lose you half-way home...." he teased, waiting just long enough for Steve to get a good grip before taking off and flying back to the tower.
# # #
The journey back to the tower was made more or less in silence. When they arrived, Coulson drew Grant to one side to suggest that he go with the others and watch a movie or play a game, while he talked with Clint. After hugging Grant, he wrapped an arm around Clint to head to his floor.
Everyone else filtered off to leave Thor with Loki. Thor took a deep breath and then focused on his brother. Placing a hand gently on Loki's shoulder, he spoke quietly. "We'll go and talk on my floor."
Loki watched everyone disappear, surprised at how quickly they did so, then swallowed and looked at Thor curiously. "You have a floor on this building? I thought you lived with your love, Jane?" He did not shake Thor's hand off his shoulder, which he might have done before his 'death'. He found he quite enjoyed feeling the weight of his brother's hand almost guiding him...as it had done in the past, before Loki had made so many awful, horrible mistakes and had learned what a monster he truly was.
"I do normally stay with her, but Tony has also given me a place to stay while I am here." Thor spoke quietly as he walked with Loki to the elevator. He kept his hand on his brother's shoulder, feeling the need to continually touch Loki... to reassure himself that his brother lived.
"You have made for yourself a new family...." Loki observed, knowing that Thor cared for these Midgardians as much as he ever cared for his family and friends on Asgard. He suddenly found himself blinking back tears as he realized that he could have been a part of what his brother had cared for if he had not allowed his rage to control him. Maybe the fact his brother had not released him was a sign that he could still be a part of his brother's life. The only question was, what would he need to do to secure his brother's forgiveness and regain his love? Loki was willing to try anything if it meant he did not have to be alone any longer.
Thor stood in the elevator and looked down at his brother. "You are still a part of my family, Loki," he said sincerely. "You have never stopped being my brother. I wish things hadn't gone as badly as they did, but it is not too late."
"Even after I pushed you away so many times and screamed that you were not my brother, you still claim me...." Loki's voice was soft and grateful. "I do not see how it cannot be too late, but I am tired of fighting...I do not wish to be alone, Thor...even if you cannot protect me from the consequences of my own folly, I would prefer to...to die knowing that I have at least made things right with you. You have been nothing but honorable in your dealings with me since I started on my wayward path." Loki swallowed hard, looking at the floor of the elevator. When they reached Thor's floor, he did not move, waiting instead for direction from his brother.
It was hard to see Loki like this... almost broken. Thor felt more protective of him than he had in the past and when the elevator reached his floor, he wrapped his arm around Loki's shoulders, guiding him off the elevator. "You are not going to be executed, brother." He spoke firmly and sincerely. "Punished, yes... but even that will be a family punishment and nothing more severe."
"Do you believe Odin will allow you to determine my fate?" Loki tried not to be too hopeful, but his brother seemed so assured of his words that he could not help but be hopeful. He heard, of course, Thor's proclamations that he would receive a family punishment, but as he did not know what form that would take, he decided to focus on the most important; that his brother would keep him from being executed. He would accept any punishment from Thor if his brother was able to procure leniency for him in that regard. He would owe Thor his life, after all- it would be his brother's right to decide his punishment.
"I will speak with the AllFather, but so long as you aren't a threat, I don't think he will insist on you being brought back to Asgard," Thor said. "I'm sure he will see the advantages in you staying here on Midgard with me. You can do good here." He guided Loki into his living room. "I will make sure you aren't imprisoned. Or executed."
"I will try and have hope, then..." Loki said weakly, still finding it hard to believe his brother would be so forgiving after all the times he had pushed him away and all the times he had hurt him. "I still do not understand how you can want to...after all I have done. I do not even know where to begin to make things right again. I know I want to...but it is hard for me to admit everything that I know I have done wrong. And to make it right, I need to admit it first, I think." He frowned slightly, his shoulders slumping. The problem with admitting all he had done wrong was that if Thor did not know of certain things, he would quickly learn of them; and then what would Loki do if Thor decided to wash his hands of him?
Walking over to the couch, Thor took a seat and gently tugged Loki down to sit next to him. "I'm sure there are some things I don't know about. But you're right that you should admit everything first." He tugged Loki in close. "No matter what you tell me... it's not going to change how I feel about you."
Swallowing hard, Loki nodded and then began his hesitant, at first, confession. He began from the beginning of when everything began to go wrong; when he had first hatched his plan to get Odin to see Thor was not yet ready for the throne and then every wrong thing and mis-step he had taken from that moment out. When possible, he explained his thinking at the time and how that was wrong (if it was).
At first, he had not expected to feel any guilt over many of his actions. He knew they were wrong, but he did not feel that they were wrong and had justified his actions so many times to himself that he had begun to believe his own lies. Confessing as he was to his brother, however, he was forced to rethink everything. He had to look at his actions through his brother's eyes as well...and realized just how wrong headed and stubborn he had been, in many cases for no good reason. And he was forced to see how his justifications did not make what he had done right. And he began to feel guilt.
By the time he was done his confession, ending with his impersonating Odin and then running when he realized the AllFather was wakening, he had tears streaming down his face and could barely get the words out, his guilt had grown to such a degree.
"I...I have wronged so many and done horrible things. I do deserve to die...." he finally admitted tearfully.
Thor shook his head, having not so much as loosened his hold on Loki and now drawing his brother tightly into his arms. "I would never agree with that," he said quietly. "You deserve a second chance as much as anyone else. You were gone for a year... I'm sure those feelings built up until you completely lost control." He tightened his embrace as he added, "You saved my life."
"I have been out of control for a long time..." Loki said softly, pressing closer to his brother and accepting the comfort, still not entirely certain that it would not be gone at the end of the day and needing it to keep his spirit up. "Saving you was one of the few right things I have done."
"I thought you'd died," Thor said softly. "I mourned you again. I wish you would have told me you lived." Even if he could understand why Loki had hidden his survival.
"I was not certain that I would not go straight back to the jails if it was known I was alive. I did not believe at the time that you had forgiven me or would miss me. It was not until you came to tell father of what I had done, not realizing it was me, that I knew you had forgiven me enough to miss me. But by then, I had already started my impersonation and the Odin-sleep had begun...and I knew you wished to be with Jane, but would not go if you felt the responsibility to stay because of that. Even so...I can see that I should have told you...." Loki admitted hesitantly, not able to look his brother in the eyes.
"I would have been happy to know you survived," Thor said quietly. "I told my friends here of what you did. I believe that knowledge is why they haven't protested you being here. However, it will be a long road to prove to them that you are different to the way you appeared. They have only ever seen you when the rage had taken control."
"Sometimes...the rage still appears. But I want to be who you told your friends about...." Loki finally whispered.
"You are that," Thor replied. "Even if you did lose your way for a while." He held Loki for a few more moments and then spoke quietly. "I don't think we need to talk about anything else... at least not right now."
"No...there isn't," Loki agreed quietly. "I have admitted as much as I can remember." Loki leaned against his brother, needing the closeness.
Thor didn't let go of Loki, but he spoke quietly. "When you're ready... we'll deal with the issue of punishment." His voice was gentle, but still firm.
Loki stiffened slightly and leaned back to look into Thor's eyes, before leaning against him again and giving him a hug. "I would rather get it over with sooner than later," he said softly.
Thor nodded, hugging Loki tightly a few more moments before he began to move his brother over his lap. He knew how Loki felt... and besides, he knew this form of punishment was used for family. It would further prove their relationship to his brother.
"Thor?" Loki could not keep the confusion out of his voice as he questioned his brother, although he did not fight the position. Thor had said he would punish him as family...Loki had not expected the form of punishment to be that of a child though.
Thor placed his hand on Loki's back, rubbing gently a moment, before he bared his brother. "This form of punishment seems quite effective among my family here. Since that is still what you are, I believe it will be just as effective here."
Loki swallowed hard as he was bared, reaching down uncertainly to hold his brother's ankle. "I do not know if I can keep myself in place, brother...it is a humbling position and I have never been overly humble...." Loki let out a nervous laugh then closed his mouth. He supposed if he admitted he felt weak, childish, ashamed, and out of his depth, it would not make a difference. He suspected the whole point was to show him that Thor was in charge and would take care of him, but he really did not trust himself to hold still and submit.
Thor just nodded as he wrapped an arm around Loki's waist, drawing his brother in close against his stomach. "It is not up to you, brother," he said, not unkindly, before bringing his hand down in the first firm swat.
And there was his unasked question answered. Thor was in charge, Thor would decide how and when he would be punished, Thor would decide when he had had enough and end the punishment. The only choice Loki had was to submit and learn, or fight it and tear a further rift between himself and his long suffering brother.
Loki let out a hiss at the first swat, surprised at how much it stung. "If...if I can not hold myself in place...I am not trying to defy you...." He felt the need to explain ahead of time, ashamed that his voice was already quivering from nerves.
"I know. I understand, brother." Thor took another moment to reassuringly rub Loki's back, before he settled quickly into a rhythm of swats, bringing his hand down all over his brother's backside, down to Loki's thighs, before starting over from the top.
"Aaah....Thor...." Loki finally gasped out in between holding his breath. It hurt! More than Loki had ever expected such a punishment to hurt and, to his utter dismay, his eyes were watering before Thor had even finished the first circuit. The only thing holding him in place was the knowledge that he deserved so much worse than his brother making his backside hurt...and the fact that he truly did want to heal his relationship with his brother and this was a first step in doing so.
When Thor began over again, Loki let out a choked cry and began wriggling futily, before trying to push himself back off of his brother's lap. "I can't..." His voice came out in more of a whine than he would have liked. It was not the pain he was having a problem with, though; it was laying there and accepting the pain without a fight that he was having difficulty with.
Thor kept his arm around Loki's waist, holding his brother securely in place. He never ceased the hard swats, but he spoke quietly... even if it was still loud enough for his brother to hear. "This isn't about being punished for what you've done, brother. This is about showing you that, no matter your attempts to insist otherwise, we are brothers. You are my family. That means I love you... no matter what. And that is unconditional."
Loki fought for a little bit more, realized there was no way he was breaking free of his brother's firm hold, and collapsed back over Thor's lap with a whimper. "Can you not show me you love me in a less painful manner?"
Alright....that time the whine was deliberate. He was only slightly ashamed of it, however. His eyes were watering so badly, he could no longer see right and he was having a difficult time catching his breath and....he let out a tiny sob. "I will not be able to sit for the next month without thinking about how you love me..." He meant it to sound more of a complaint than it did...instead of the hopeful and almost grateful tone that came out. "You mean to show me that you are in charge and I better obey you! That's what this is!" he accused without any heat. He slumped even further over his brother's knee.
"No," Thor replied, even though he knew that Loki didn't really mean that. "You know I don't just expect you to obey me. I never have. This is about starting the healing of our relationship... about being brothers again. Proper brothers, like when we were younger."
At that, Loki went boneless over his brother's lap, tears streaming down his face and gulping in air through what were rather soft cries, considering how hard he was crying. "That scares me..." he finally admitted. "I do not think I...could take being your brother again... and then... have it all fall so spectacularly apart... as it has in the last several years.... And since it was my fault in the first place, I... cannot guarantee that is not what will happen! I could not...I would go mad if..." He gulped in a shaky breath, then said through a sob, "...I need you, brother...please do not let me go again...." His voice trailed off into pathetic silence except for his tears.
Thor may not expect his obedience, but Loki was under no delusions; he needed his brother's guidance to get back to where he had been before he had lost his mind with the grief of finding out the truth about himself...needed his brother's help not to ruin their relationship again. It should have bothered him, but instead, he felt relief. Thor had been so persistent in drawing him back to him that Loki had no doubt he would be just as persistent in keeping him now that he had finally returned. So Loki lay still, and cried, and focused on his brother's hand landing with unerring precision...and, for the first time in years, felt at peace.
Thor stopped and, without any hesitation, drew Loki up and into his arms, wrapping them tightly around his brother. "I won't let you go again," he said softly into Loki's ear. "Not now that I finally have you back."
Loki pressed tightly against Thor, slowly calming, his breathing evening out and the tears slowly abating. If anyone had told him even a month before that he would be in Thor's embrace, ready to rebuild what had been broken through his own actions; that he would accept responsibility for what he had done without further excuse; that he would submit to his brother's correction willingly and would ask for Thor's help not to err again...he would have called them delusional. He would have thought that even a few days ago.
Now...now he realized just how lost and broken he truly had been and was grateful that not only had Thor found him again, he had done so at a time when Loki could not use other matters to distract and derail his efforts. "I am my own worst enemy...." Loki admitted softly as he hugged Thor tightly.
Thor didn't so much as loosen his hold on Loki, almost absently stroking his hair and back. "You can be at times," he admitted. "In much the same way I was before my banishment. But we are brothers again and we will work on rebuilding our relationship. I love you, brother," he said, quietly but sincerely.
"And I you, brother..." Loki responded firmly, if a bit subdued. Reluctantly, he stood and righted his clothing, wincing as the material chafed, but otherwise showing no evidence that he'd been punished. Looking down for a few seconds, he finally forced himself to look back into Thor's eyes. "Do you need to contact Father and tell him you have retrieved me?" he asked in almost a whisper, still worried and a bit afraid that Odin would not listen to Thor and he would soon meet his end at Odin's hand.
"I will have to do that eventually, but I think maybe we should spend some time together for a while first," Thor said. "But you don't have to worry. I will protect you."
Loki nodded briefly before throwing his arms around Thor and holding on tightly. "Thank you," he finally whispered, but did not release his grip, not realizing until he was holding onto his brother how much he had missed him.
Thor hugged Loki tightly. "I'm glad I have you back," he said softly in his brother's ear. "And that we have another chance to be brothers again."
"I am sorry that it too me so long to come to my senses. I am glad to be back with you..." Loki admitted.
Thor smiled and just hugged his brother close, feeling much better than he had done in months. There was still a lot to deal with... but at least he knew the rest of his family were prepared to give his brother a chance.
# # #
Clint stayed by his father all the way to his father's floor, giving his brother a tiny smile when Grant got off at the common floor with Natasha and Bucky. Once he stepped out onto his dad's floor and it was just him and Coulson, he finally turned to look at his father. "You’re not happy with my actions..." he said hesitantly.
Coulson wrapped an arm around Clint's shoulders and guided him into the living room. "You shouldn't have gone tearing off on your own, no matter how you felt," he said gently. "You should have had backup."
"I let my worry and anger dictate my actions." Clint leaned against his father. "I know what I did wrong...can we just get the hard part over with so I can enjoy spending the rest of tonight with you?" he asked with a pout.
Coulson nodded, pressing an affectionate kiss to his son's head before guiding him over to the couch. He took a seat and gently guided Clint across his lap. "Even captured, I would do everything within my power to come back to you and your brother," he promised.
Clint gripped his father's leg, allowing himself to go limp. "I know, dad. I do. I just didn't allow myself to think of that, because sometimes you can't control the outcome."
"I know, but if you'd been taken as a hostage - or worse - that would have made things that much harder." Coulson rubbed Clint's back gently a moment or two before he tugged down his son's jeans and underwear.
Clint swallowed hard. Even though he knew he deserved this for running off and acting recklessly, it wasn't easy. It never was easy to be laid bare over his father's knee, about to receive a spanking; mostly due to the high emotion. Pain, he could handle. The shame and embarrassment, the vulnerability and lack of control over the situation, the guilt over disappointing his father, was not as easy to handle. When his father bared him, he took a deep breath and held his father's leg even tighter. "I didn't think of that possibility," he finally admitted reluctantly.
"I can tell." Coulson spoke quietly, but no less honestly. "It's a possibility I have to consider every time you do something dangerous." Rubbing Clint's back a moment or two more, he then brought his hand down in the first sharp swat, before repeating it.
"Dad..." Clint's protest was weak at best. He knew there was a difference between doing something dangerous on a planned operation and doing something dangerous by just rushing in without a plan. He knew his father worried during both, but the last wasn't necessary; and the fact that he caused unnecessary worry made him cringe with guilt. He was about to say something else, when the first smack landed, taking his breath away. When the second landed, he let his breath out in a hiss then whimpered.
Coulson wrapped his arm around Clint's waist, to draw his son close to himself, and settled into a pattern of swats, working his way from the crest of his son's backside down to Clint's thighs. He was swatting a little harder than normal, considering how many times they'd had to deal with this issue.
"You can't just go rushing headlong into a dangerous situation," Coulson said, as he began a second circuit of swats. "Doing that is more likely to get you captured or injured... and I'm not alone in saying that would be devastating."
"I know, dad..." Clint admitted through clenched teeth, trying to keep control over his emotions...something that was becoming more and more difficult the longer the spanking continued. Especially when his father reiterated everything that Clint knew, but conveniently ignored when he let himself react, instead of thinking then acting. It was difficult not to give in and cry when he knew he was wrong and felt guilty for worrying his father.
"You don't act as if you know." Coulson kept his tone gentle, even though the weight behind his words was heavy. "You act as if your own safety is something to be discarded without a moment's thought." He paused momentarily to shift Clint forward then began swatting his sit spots.
Clint winced, both at the words and the spanking. This wasn't the first time his father had accused him of acting like he didn't know it was wrong to rush headlong into a situation after Clint had said he did know. Clint found himself suddenly angry and frustrated, speaking without thinking. "Well I only risk myself for those who are much more important than me! If it kept you from dying again, I'd rush in every time!" His tone was belligerent and defiant... And then he realized just what he'd said and to whom. Groaning in resignation, Clint slumped. He suspected things were about to get a lot more painful; he just had to wait to see if it was in a physical sense or an emotional one...or maybe both.
Coulson was silent for a moment or two, but when he spoke, his voice was calm... though deadly serious. "Your safety is not less important than anyone else's. I would never condone you rushing in to save my life at the cost of your own. You are my son and it would devastate me if anything happened to you. I wouldn't want to live at the cost of you. Do you understand? I love you, more than I could ever truly put into words."
"And I would be devastated if something happened to you...that's why I try to do everything I can think of to prevent it!" Clint's voice cracked and he shuddered slightly.
"Clint... son... I don't take the kind of chances I used to, before you were mine, because I know how much you need me," Coulson said gently. "But it scares me when you put yourself in danger like this, because I can't lose you. As much as you need me... I need you as well." His hand didn't slow the swats, but they were more of an emphasis for what he was saying.
At his father's words, the guilt over causing his father to fear for him clashed with his own anxiety and fear for his father. He couldn't feel justified in his actions when he knew what it had done to the older man. At the same time, he knew he'd have a hard time keeping from doing the same in future.
"I love you. There is nothing that could ever change that... and I can't imagine my life without you," Coulson continued. "But it isn't just me. You have a whole family that cares about you... including your little brother. You are important to everyone here."
Clint couldn't help the frustrated whimper that escaped his lips and he tensed up, trying to hold still. It was too difficult, however; this spanking had gone on longer and been harder than any he'd had, at least in recent memory, and soon he was squirming and kicking his legs in a futile effort to ease the sting.
Wriggling around wasn't doing much to help his guilt either, unfortunately. As much as he had originally felt justified in his actions - despite knowing that he was in the wrong and should have handled things differently- the guilt over the distress he'd caused his father was equal to the justification and mentioning his brother (and all the others who cared and were affected by his actions) finally overwhelmed the justification until he finally had to let it go. As scared as he had been for his father, there was no excuse to put himself into immediate risk with no plan,
He let out another frustrated whimper, a longer one that turned into a guilty sounding, pained whine. Going limp over his father's knee, he finally let go of the stubbornness, quit squirming and accepted the punishment mentally as well as physically.
"I get it...." he finally choked out, tears streaming down his face. "I get it and I'm sorry...but I don't think I'll ever be able to react in a different way when you are involved. I wish I could, because I know my actions hurt you, but I just don't see it happening...." he admitted, his voice strained. As soon as he finished talking, he choked out a sob and began crying vocally.
Coulson stopped, as the spanking had done what it was supposed to, and quickly gathered Clint up and into his arms, hugging his son tightly. "I love you, Clint. It would kill me if anything were to happen to you." He paused then added, "That's why this will happen again... each and every time it needs to." Although serious, his voice was also filled with loving affection and he stroked Clint's hair and kissed his head.
Clint buried his face against his father's chest, managing to calm enough that he was able to breathe and speak, but was still crying, his tears soaking his father's shirt. "I love you, dad....all I could think of when I found out Loki had you was how much I missed and needed you when you were gone and the fact that if he killed you again, it might not be able to be undone...." he admitted brokenly.
Coulson kissed his son's head again and held Clint close and tight. "I understand you were scared," he said softly. "I know my dying still affects you. I promise you that I'll do everything in my power to stay with you."
Clint nodded weakly, snuggling as close as he was able, uncaring if it made him seem a child. "That's all any of us can do, I guess..." he said softly. "I guess I should really try and keep up my end of the deal by doing the same...." His voice was quiet and almost sheepish sounding and he fidgeted as he suddenly realized that's all his father expected of him; to try and make sure he always came home to his family. He let out a tiny pained hiss and forced himself to remain still. "It hurts, dad..." he said with a tiny pout.
"I know." Coulson kissed his forehead gently. "The pain will fade. But I hope you'll try and remember this next time. I love you." He paused before adding, "I think maybe you should stay with me for the next few days."
"Ok..." Clint said in a tiny voice and snuggled closer. "I love you..." he whispered, kissing his father on the cheek. He sat that way for a while, losing track of time as he just held onto his dad and thought about everything that had happened. Finally, he stood up and pulled his underwear into place, kicking his shoes and jeans off; pretty certain the denim would make his eyes start watering again.
Wanting to indicate to his oldest that the comfort was still there if he wanted it, Coulson held his arm out to Clint. "I love you, son. I'm very glad that nothing did happen to you."
Clint readily moved into his father's embrace and snuggled close again. "I'm sorry to be such a worry," he said quietly. "...Although I think I probably worried Grant worse this time, since you didn't even know immediately...."
Coulson kissed his head yet again, cuddling his son tight. "I worry about you because of how much I love you. I'm sure it's the same with Grant. When you're feeling up to it, it might be good for all of us to spend the evening together."
"I'd like that," Clint said quietly. "I know he's with Nat right now, but as soon as he's ready to come up, I'm ready. I owe him and Nat...everyone really...an apology." Clint sighed softly, cuddling some more.
Coulson nodded. "They'll be more relieved that you're safe," he promised, hugging Clint tightly. "Just like I am."
"I'm relieved you're safe, too..." Clint admitted, kissing his father on the cheek before putting his head against his dad's chest. He couldn't help but close his eyes wearily when the adrenaline, fear and general high emotion went down. He wondered briefly if he shouldn't put pajama pants on. Falling asleep in his underwear when Nat and Grant were likely to show up might embarrass his younger brother.
Coulson gently stroked Clint's hair. "Why don't you take a short nap?" he suggested. "It's been quite a draining day."
"Ok, dad..." Clint snuggled a little more, before standing again and walking slowly into the bedroom, laying down on his stomach. He was quickly asleep.
# # #
Thirty minutes into Clint's nap, Grant and Natasha made their way to their father's floor. Grant quickly made his way to the older man and threw his arms around him in a tight hug.
Coulson smiled, hugging Grant tightly to himself. "How are you feeling?" he asked softly, stroking his son's hair. He made eye contact with and smiled at Natasha when his daughter looked him over quickly before settling herself in one of the chairs.
"I'm doing fine, dad..." Grant smiled, examining his father in a not so subtle way. "I think it helped that I'd never dealt with Loki before..." he admitted with a tiny smile. "I was worried, but Thor was so positive you would be ok, I didn't freak out like I probably could have...."
He finally moved to sit next to his father on the couch. "I wanted to help Clint, but I'm afraid I wasn't able to do much...." he admitted quietly. "Is he ok now?"
Coulson wrapped his arm around Grant's shoulders and drew him in close. "Clint's having a nap right now," he said. "He's going to be staying on my floor for the next few days." He didn't tell Grant that he was still welcome to stay on his floor... Coulson hoped that Grant knew he was welcome here all the time.
"Clint's much better at acting rationally when his family isn't involved," Natasha commented quietly.
Coulson nodded. "I've noticed that."
Grant grinned sheepishly. "I can relate. I think some of the others were afraid I'd join him." He smiled at Natasha, pretty certain she had been keeping an eye on him for that reason. He didn't say anything about staying on his father's floor with them. He knew he was always welcome, but he suspected Clint was going to have some bad memories reappearing and might need their father's one-on-one attention. Unless his own nightmares started reoccurring, he felt he'd be fine staying on his own floor.
"Oh...before I forget. Director Fury called. He plans to stop by later and see how everyone is doing, but I think he mostly wants to check on you." Grant sounded amused.
Coulson smiled. "That's not all that surprising. I'm glad you stayed safe with the others," he added to Grant. He did have some concerns about how Fury might react to Loki, but he was fairly confident the others would let Thor handle his brother.
"Yeah, well...I think seeing Clint and Tony so upset...I didn't want to make it worse, so I was able to keep myself in check." Grant frowned thoughtfully... "Do you think I might actually be learning?" He grinned impishly.
Coulson kissed his head. "If you are, that can only be a good thing. If both of you rush headlong into danger, you'll probably turn my hair grey," he teased.
"So I take it Nat and Clint used to rush headlong into danger together frequently?" Grant slanted his head and gave his father an entirely too innocent smile, his eyes sparkling impishly.
Shaking his head, Coulson laughed and squeezed Grant gently. "Impertinent," he said, amused then glanced at Natasha with a smile before replying to his youngest. "Nat's always been a bit more... level-headed."
"Someone had to be," Natasha commented, smiling slightly.
Grant grinned then ducked his head. "Yeah...that's what they used to say about me," he said sheepishly. "Apparently, my levelheadedness was an act." He couldn't help but laugh at himself.
Coulson kissed his head gently. "Well, you're acting more natural and letting yourself be who you truly are," he commented. He remembered still how Grant had earned himself the nickname of, 'Robot'.
Grant nodded, still looking a bit bashfully at his father. "Yeah. I...I guess I am. I never really knew who I truly was before...my whole life until now was an act just so I could get by." He shrugged slightly then smiled at Natasha. "How would you like to help me make dad dinner?" he asked brightly. "A sort of, I'm glad you weren't kidnapped by a crazy demi-god and are back home, celebration dinner?"
Natasha smiled and stood up. "Want me to wake Clint up to help?"
Grant shrugged slightly, glancing at Coulson for his opinion. "If he's tired, then I think we can handle it without him..." he said uncertainly, not wanting to leave his brother out of the fun, but also not wanting to make him feel uncomfortable if there was a reason for him hiding out in the bedroom, other than being tired.
"He did go for a nap, but he would probably want to make the decision whether to join in or not himself." Coulson stood up. "I'll go and see how he's doing." He squeezed Grant's shoulder and smiled at Natasha, before moving through to the bedroom.
Grant nodded at his father, then stood up and stretched, allowing his back to crack slightly. "I was thinking we could make a stir-fry..." he said off-handedly. "Or a curry. What do you think?"
"Either of those sound good," Natasha replied. "Is there one you're particularly in the mood for?"
"Maybe a curried stir-fry?" Grant slanted his head and gave her a grin.
Natasha smiled. "I'm sure we can do that."
# # #
Coulson slipped into the bedroom and moved over to Clint on the bed. He was careful to make just enough noise so that he wasn't sneaking up on his oldest as he moved over and placed a hand on Clint's shoulder.
Clint was immediately awake when he heard his father come into the room, but he'd held still until his father touched him. "Hey, dad..." he said softly, his voice slightly hoarse. He carefully rolled over and sat up, not bothering to hide the wince of discomfort; there was no point in attempting to hide the effect of the punishment that he'd earned himself...and it wasn't like it was unbearable. "Did you need me?"
"Grant and Natasha are here and they're going to make dinner," Coulson replied, squeezing Clint's shoulder gently. "I didn't want you to miss out." He pressed an affectionate kiss to his son's forehead. "But if you're still tired, you can go back to sleep."
"No..." Clint leaned against his father, snuggling a bit before straightening up. "I'd like to spend time with all of you. Just let me go wash my face so I can at least pretend I wasn't crying my eyes out earlier and I'll join you all..." He smiled, leaning over and kissing his father on the cheek, before standing. "Well, wash my face and put on a pair of pants..." He snorted at himself.
Coulson smiled and kissed Clint's forehead again. "I'll go and wait for you. Did you want a beer?"
"Yes. Please..." He smiled again then headed into the bathroom to wash his face. He grabbed a pair of jogging pants from his father's dresser before disappearing, not paying attention to whose they actually were. He and his brother spent so much time on their father's floor that their clothing frequently got mixed up with their dad's and each other's.
Coulson headed through to the kitchen, joining his other two children, and began making drinks for them all.
Clint joined them five minutes later. "What do you need me to do?" he asked with a grin.
Grant glanced over at him from where he was chopping peppers. "If you would like to chop some onions, I think Nat's taking care of the spices...."
Coulson watched his kids a moment or two and then passed each of them a drink before he joined in to help.
"Thanks, dad..." Grant smiled taking the drink and continuing to chop vegetables.
"Yeah...thanks dad." Clint smiled too, his eyes crinkling at the corners as he watched his family. As far as he was concerned, things couldn't get any better.