Author’s Note: This story was written as an RPG (roll playing game) between co-author’s Hope1iz and BlackFox12 (aka Cat). This is the fifth story in the “Redeeming Grant” series.
Summary: After a mission goes wrong, Ward struggles to cope
Disclaimer: We don't own anything from the television series Marvel: Agents of SHIELD and we're not making any money from this fic.
Warning: Spanking; spoilers for the entire first season of Marvel: Agents of SHIELD; some mentions of beating
Co-Authors website: BlackFox12's page


"Well...this is just great..." Ward muttered under his breath as he walked the length of where the entrance to the cave used to be. He turned to look at his partner for this particular mission. "You okay over there, Rookie?" he asked with a teasing smile, although the concern could easily be heard in his voice.

He had planned for a lot of contingencies; most involving HYDRA. He had not planned for this. Every scan of the area had indicated seismic activity was minimal. There hadn't been rain in the area for several days. There really shouldn't have been any reason for the side of the mountain to just slide down and cover the entrance to the cave they were exploring. No reason at all. The only silver lining he could see in this dark cloud was the fact that they hadn't been anywhere near the entrance when it had occurred and so neither of them had been covered by the falling mud and debris.

This wasn't the first time Skye had been in a small, dark place, but it was perhaps the only time she'd found herself trapped somewhere due to nature. She took a deep breath and then focused on Ward, trying not to allow her slight feelings of panic to show. "Is your comm working?"

Ward frowned unhappily. "Unfortunately, whatever caused the mountain to slide down over our escape is hindering my signal with the comm. I've tried to send out a distress signal, but I'm not entirely sure if it went through and now I can't get any reception. How about yours?"

Skye shook her head, biting her lip worriedly. "Nothing. It's dead." She drew in a deep breath, trying to stay strong. At least she wasn't stuck here alone... though there were others she'd feel far more comfortable with than Ward. This was, after all, the first time since Ward's betrayal they'd ended up working together just the two of them. "What do we do now? Wait here and be rescued, or find another way out?"

Ward took a deep breath and straightened his shoulders. "Given that I'm not sure if my distress signal made it out or not, I don't think we can rely on being rescued any time soon. So we should see if we can find another way out. However...we need to mark our path, so that if someone does come to rescue us, they can follow it to where we are."

Skye nodded. "So... a knife, maybe?" She had a gun, but that probably wouldn't help so much with marking a path. She shuddered, trying to ignore the feelings that the walls were pressing in on her. Logically, she knew they weren't moving; but feeling trapped was hard to deal with.

"Got one right here." Ward smiled slightly, pulling a fairly large knife from a sheath on his back that was hidden under his flack vest. He piled a small pile of rocks in the center of the cave, where it would be hard to miss it, then made another small pile to indicate which direction they were headed. Holding his knife at the ready he chipped a small mark at the entrance of the tunnel they would take. "Okay. Let's go," he said beginning the trek further into the cave.

Skye followed a bit more slowly, glancing from side to side as she kept hearing noises that were probably natural... but in the dark, enclosed space, her imagination kept providing much scarier reasons for those sounds.

"We will be okay, you know. It isn't ideal, but I lived off the land for six months and I've done it several times for shorter periods of time since then, so I know how to take care of myself in these situations..." Ward remarked off-hand.

"It's not so much living off the land that's the problem," Skye replied. "I don't really like being trapped inside places." She'd never been fond of caves, but at least the previous times they'd been there, she knew how to get out again.

"I know...I just meant that...well, that I knew how to get around and I'm sure we'll find a way out. That's all..." Ward said softly. He hated that his attempt to calm Skye down hadn't really helped...but then again, he'd not got the nickname of 'Robot' for no reason. He really wasn't all that good at comforting. Solving problems and getting out of tough situations was what he was good at. Keeping that in mind, he slowed down his stride, focusing on air currents in the cave, hoping that he might feel a slight breeze that would indicate an opening to the outside.

Surprised, Skye darted a glance at Ward's back, before peering into the shadows. Had something been moving? She didn't care about insects generally, but who knew what might be lurking in the dark? "I know," she said, as much to break the silence as talk to Ward. "I appreciate it."

Ward glanced over his shoulder, noticing how Skye seemed to be overly focused on the dark crevices of the cave. "Did you hear or see something?" he asked softly, wondering if somehow he'd missed something.

Skye snorted softly. "No. It's my imagination running wild. I keep picturing completely abnormal reasons for the sounds I'm sure are completely normal."

Ward had to smile at that; although he wasn't positive it was entirely her imagination, he didn't want to say anything until he was sure where the noises he was hearing were coming from. No sense in panicking her unnecessarily, or until he could actually do something about it. He focused even harder on listening and trying to feel changes in the air, marking the wall clearly every few yards. If they didn't find something soon, he'd take her back to the cave entrance and attempt to dig their way out, even with the danger of having the mountain bury them alive without the benefit of a cave protecting them.

Skye tried to ignore the noises she kept hearing, speaking up after a moment or two. "I'm glad I'm not stuck in here on my own." She might feel very hesitant around Ward still, but Coulson trusted him and she trusted Coulson...

Ward blinked, then looked back at her again, giving her a hesitant smile. "I'm glad you aren't, either...Coulson would have my hide if I'd left you in the cave by yourself and you got stuck in here." He kept his tone matter of fact, although it was hard not to chuckle a little as he teased her.

He sighed as they reached a fork in the tunnel. Both of them appeared to go downward...and the air was a bit stale and not circulating at all. "I think we'll need to go back to the entrance," he finally said with reluctance. "I don't believe these tunnels head to the surface and we don't want to go too deep into the ground. We'll have a better chance waiting for the team to realize we're late to our check-in and come look for us...."

He turned back to follow the trail he'd marked, giving Skye what he hoped was an encouraging smile, although her nerves and the fact that he hadn't been able to find an alternate exit was starting to wear on his own nerves.

Skye nodded slowly, trying to hide her ever-increasing worry. She couldn't keep her eyes from darting around, trying to find the source of any of the sounds that she thought might not be just her imagination. "They will come for us..." The words came out much more hesitant than she'd intended and she frowned, realising she was looking for reassurance.

Just like a child.

Ward heard the hesitation and was grateful that he could give her the reassurance she needed. If there was one thing he was certain of, it was that Coulson wouldn't stop looking until he'd found them. "They'll come," he stated firmly.

They finally reached the entrance to the cave- he recognized the small pile of stones he'd made- and he led her far enough away from where the cave-in had occurred that she would be safe if stuff started falling again. "I'm going to see if I can dig us out...or at least dig out enough that we can get a signal through...."

"I can help," Skye offered. She didn't want to admit it out loud, but standing around on her own sounded very unappealing. Even if she could see where Ward was and what he was doing, the sounds were enough to keep her just on this side of panic attack.

Ward hesitated briefly. If something happened and Skye was hurt, it would be his fault. At the same time, if he made her stay back and something happened to him, she'd panic even more. Plus, any help she could give might mean they got out of this mess sooner. It had already been several hours; he glanced at his watch and was surprised to discover it was now late afternoon and they had been trapped in the middle of the morning. Her nervousness wasn't helping his worry any and maybe if she helped, she'd be able to stay calm. "Alright," he finally agreed. "But if I say run away from the it?"

Skye nodded. "Got it. You're my superior, after all." She hesitated, wondering if this should feel stranger than it actually did. It was odd how easily they'd all slipped back into their usual roles... with the only exception being that no one outside of their team actually knew that Ward was back with them.

Ward nodded and then turned to the entrance, carefully beginning to move rock and larger pieces of earth out of the way. In cases where there were no large chunks to be moved, he scooped the dirt and rubble out. He wished he had some clue as to how deep they were buried. After digging for about thirty minutes, he attempted to make contact using his comm. Eventually, they'd have to get a connection...he had to keep believing that.

# # #

Skye's nerves felt completely shot by the time the cave entrance was clear enough for her and Ward to get out. Ward went first and Skye followed as close behind as she could without getting in his way.

The cold night air was something of a relief as Skye finally scrambled out onto the mountainside. She might have said something to Ward, but at that moment, their comms crackled, making Skye jump.

"Ward? Skye?" Even over the commlink, Coulson's concern was obvious. "Can you hear me? Are you there?"

"Finally..." Ward muttered in relief as the comms began working. He quickly brought his up and replied, "We're here. There was a cave in and we were stuck inside where we couldn't get a signal. We're both very ready to come home, sir..." Ward kept his voice calm and reassuring for Skye's benefit, but there was a slight tremor in it. He wrapped his arm around Skye, giving her a smile.

"You did good, rookie..." he praised gently, even as he led her to a fallen tree trunk far enough away from the cave entrance that, if it decided to cave in again, they wouldn't be caught.

"Hang tight; we're on our way," Coulson promised, passing the coordinates on to May so she could turn the Bus round to pick the remaining team members up.

Skye followed along with Ward, relaxing now they were out of the cave. "I'm glad we're out of there. I think I was just this side of a panic attack." She was still a little affected by being trapped for so long, but gradually felt better.

"You did really good for being close to panic." Ward smiled in relief. "Although I can't say I'm not happier out in the fresh air as well. "

Now that they were free and he didn't need to worry about Skye's state of mind, Ward was able to admit (at least to himself) that being imprisoned in the cave was more nerve wracking than he'd admitted.

After being in jail and feeling so hopeless before Coulson had forgiven him, he'd not been able to easily tolerate enclosed spaces that had no escape. If Skye hadn't been with him, he might have panicked himself.

Skye nodded, then glanced up with some relief as the Bus was brought in for a landing, close to them and far enough away from the cave so that any more falling debris wouldn't hit it.

Coulson exited the Bus and headed over to them, giving them a quick once-over. "Are either of you hurt?" He knew they would have said over the comms if so, but he still felt the need to check.

Ward shook his head and gently pushed Skye forward so that Coulson could be convinced of her health. "Neither of us were injured beyond a few scrapes and bruises when the cave-in initially occurred," he reported, forcing his voice to remain calm. Oddly enough, now that they were safe and out in the open, he felt a lot more anxious and...unsettled...than he had while trapped in the cave.

He'd been so focused on keeping Skye calm and doing his job; and normally, he wasn't affected by his missions or other ops, even when surprising mishaps and danger occurred. He felt a slight bit of frustration that this situation was making him feel so anxious. It wasn't even like they were in that much danger. He pushed the frustration down and smiled briefly at Simmons as she pushed her way forward and began examining Skye and himself with a lot more thoroughness than Coulson did.

He cleared his throat in amusement. "Um... could we wait till we are back on the bus for you to check us over, Jemma? I'm kind of hungry...not to mention we are out in the open..." He smiled brightly as Simmons blushed and backed off, but the smile didn't reach his eyes. He was too busy trying to force down the increasing anxiety.

Coulson didn't miss that Ward perhaps wasn't as fine emotionally as he tried to make out, but he didn't mention that observation in front of the others. However, he waited for the rest of the team to enter onto the Bus and brought up the rear, stepping over to Ward once the whole team was safely back on board.

"You did well, Grant," Coulson said softly to him, placing a hand on his shoulder and squeezing reassuringly.

Ward wouldn't try and pretend that Coulson's encouragement didn't help him... it did and he relaxed fractionally, leaning toward the older man.

Unfortunately, it didn't help as much as Coulson likely meant it to. And since Ward didn't understand why he was feeling the way he was, there was little he could do to fight it. So he just pushed it down and hoped that a good meal and a night's rest might help him sort himself out and stop feeling like he was heading into a battle without weapons or armor.

# # #

It was three days later and Ward still didn't feel completely normal. At first he thought he might be getting sick, but physically, he was as healthy as he had been before the cave-in. Mentally, maybe not so much. He hadn't been sleeping well; waking up to weird dreams that made no sense at all, but still managed to unnerve him enough that, once awake, going back to sleep was impossible. The lack of sleep was starting to become noticeable, too.

Not in his abilities- he'd learned long ago how to function on little to no sleep- but in his attitude. All the other times he'd functioned without sleep, he'd been on solo missions and hadn't had to 'play nice' with people who he didn't want to hurt or offend. Now...he was surrounded by people he didn't want to hurt or offend and he'd had to bite his tongue on more than one occasion to avoid doing just that.

He also found himself avoiding Coulson, aware that the man was more than capable of figuring something was up; and since he had no clue what to tell the director, he didn't even want to be asked.

Once again, it took Coulson a very short time to notice that Ward wasn't coping too well. He left it a short while to see if it was something Ward could handle alone... but it very quickly became clear that the younger man wasn't handling it. At all.

Having tracked Ward down to the training area, Coulson stood watching the other man for a few moments before speaking. "I don't think this is helping you very much." He kept his voice low, but allowed his concern through on his face and in his voice.

Ward flinched, then blushed as Coulson managed to come into the room without him even realizing it. He must be off his game when he didn't even notice someone- who wasn't trying to be sneaky- coming into a room. He debated denying anything was wrong, but that would have been a lie and he didn't want to lie to Coulson. He debated not answering, but that seemed a bit immature and disrespectful; Coulson deserved better. Finally, realizing he had to respond and he didn't want to lie, he turned to face the older man and let his shoulders droop in weariness.

"That obvious?" He didn't admit anything, but he wasn't denying it either.

"It probably wouldn't have been before," Coulson said. "But since I know you're not as much of a robot as you made out before, reverting to that mask is a sure sign something's wrong." He smiled, allowing a trace of amusement as he used the nickname the younger team members had called Ward, but quickly turned serious again.

"You've been like this since the cave-in. Do you want to tell me how you've been feeling, during the cave-in and since you escaped?"

Ward knew Coulson was concerned about him. He knew telling the other man what was going on could only help him. But the fact that he couldn't figure out what was wrong made him feel like an idiot. And the fact that he couldn't control his irrational emotions made him feel like a failure. The combination of the two feelings joined with his already volatile emotions and infuriated him.

He began punching the bag he'd been hitting for the last thirty minutes even harder, ignoring the fact that the skin of his knuckles had split and he was bleeding. The pain was the only thing helping him keep control of himself at the moment.

"No. I don't want to talk about it," he finally ground out, when he was convinced he wouldn't start screaming at his mentor like a tantrumming two year-old.

Coulson raised his eyebrows, somewhat taken aback by Ward's reaction; but only for a moment. Noticing the other man's bleeding knuckles, he stepped over and placed one hand on the punching bag and the other on Ward's wrists. "I'm sure you don't want to talk about it, but I think you need to talk about it."

Ward couldn't say what came over him (if he didn't know better, he would have thought the Beserker staff was somewhere in the room with him), but he yanked away from Coulson with a snarl and actually took a swing at the man, yelling, "No, I don't need to!"

Of course, immediately afterwards, he realized what he'd done. A lost, horrified look replaced the furious face he'd been making.

Coulson's reflexes were fast enough that he avoided the swing, managing not to lose his own temper with Ward... though that quickly became easier when he saw the look on the other man's face.

With a sigh, Coulson gently placed a hand on Ward's shoulder. "We're going to talk in my office." Although he didn't raise his voice, it was no longer a suggestion and now an order.

Ward swallowed thickly and looked at the ground, unable to meet Coulson's eyes. He couldn't believe he'd actually swung at the other man. Guilt weighed him down, adding onto all the other myriad confusing emotions that he'd been feeling since the cave in.

He managed to avoid sounding like a tantrumming two-year-old. Unfortunately, he still sounded all of two when he said in a soft, almost whiny tone, "I don't wanna...."

"Grant... you aren't dealing with this," Coulson said gently. "Punching the bag until your fists are bloodied and trying to take a swing at me are not healthy coping mechanisms. I understand you're feeling lost and confused right now, but closing yourself off isn't going to help. I'll take a look at your knuckles and then we'll talk."

Grant swallowed again, shoulders slumping. He didn't argue anymore, choosing instead not to say anything. He was afraid that he'd say or do something he didn't mean and couldn't take back. Coulson was right; he wasn't handling whatever was happening and ignoring it wasn't helping either. Biting his lip, he gave his mentor a quick, brief nod. He couldn't make his feet move though.

Coulson moved his hand so that he could wrap his arm around Grant's shoulders. Normally, he'd just guide the other man using his hand, but he noticed the struggle Grant had to force himself to move. Guiding Grant from the training room, he stopped off at the medical bay to pick up some bandages and antiseptic wipes, before heading to his office.

Ward found himself relaxing as soon as Coulson wrapped his arm around him and 'took charge'. Then he got angry at himself for feeling so relieved at the fact and tensed up. Then he glanced at Coulson, a worried look on his face, when he realized the other man could probably feel him tensing up and he tried to relax again. By the time they reached the office, Ward's control was again hanging by a thread and his emotions were all over the place. "Did we check that cave for alien technology?" he blurted out unexpectedly. He couldn't imagine any reason why he would be losing it like he was.

"There weren't any traces of alien technology," Coulson answered as he guided Ward inside the office, closing the door behind them. Helping Ward onto the chair opposite the desk, he began to treat first one hand and then the other, bandaging the torn knuckles.

Ward closed his eyes, muttering, "That's what I was afraid of. I'm just losing it for no reason, then...." He spoke softly enough that, if Coulson wasn't listening closely, he wouldn't hear.

Ward knew his mentor well enough to know the man was probably listening very closely and heard every word. He didn't care, though. Coulson was right. Pushing things down hadn't helped him at all. He'd taken a swing at the man; the man who had done nothing but 'save' him from himself and others from the moment he'd decided to give Ward a second chance. "I'm sorry, sir...about trying to hit you. I don't..." He had been going to say, 'I don't know what came over me', but instead, he sighed. "I don't have any excuse," he finally finished.

He opened his eyes and watched forlornly as Coulson bandaged his hands.

"There could be a reason for it," Coulson said after a moment or two, as he finished bandaging Ward's wounds. "Maybe it isn't to do with aliens or anything based in mythology, though. It could be a normal human response." He looked into Ward's eyes. "Like PTSD."

Ward wrinkled his nose. He didn't dismiss Coulson's suggestion, though. He desperately wanted something to latch onto that would explain his irrational emotional state, even if he thought it was a long shot. "If that's what it is, then..." He sighed, his head falling forward again. "That's not something easily, if ever, cured...."

Just discussing a possible cause for his out of control emotions was helping to calm those emotions down. They weren't completely gone, by any means...but at least he didn't feel like hitting someone. "Shoulda known you'd be right..." he muttered, but he couldn't help but smile crookedly.

Coulson leaned lightly against the edge of the desk. "This isn't the first time I've wondered if therapy might help you," he commented. "I've been looking at potential people I can trust, but I didn't want to approach anyone without your say-so. Even if it isn't PTSD, talking to a neutral person could still help you."

Placing a hand gently on Ward's shoulder, Coulson squeezed. "You've been through a lot, Grant. You wouldn't be human if you weren't affected."

"But I'm not human...I'm a robot." He smiled because he was teasing, but deep inside, there was still some small part of him that felt he really wasn't. His family had certainly never treated him like he was human. He'd spent pretty much all his adult years following Garrett out of some misguided sense of loyalty, when Garrett had finally shown that he didn't really view Ward as human either. He was just a tool or a pawn to the megalomaniac. Coulson and the team were the only ones who had ever really treated him as if he had any worth beyond what he could do for them; and treated him like he was human.

Once more, Coulson allowed his arm to slip around Ward's shoulders; this time to offer comfort, rather than take control. "You can fall back on that nickname as much as you want, but Skye told me how you kept her calm in the cave. You are a person with feelings, Grant, no matter how deeply those feelings might be buried at times. No matter how people have treated you in the past, it remains true that you have a family here."

Ward bit his lip, guilt weighing him down again. "Even when I blow up for no good reason and try and hit you, you still...." He shook his head, unable to finish the thought. "If...if you think I should talk to someone...I'll go to whoever you pick. I..I can't promise I'll actually talk- at least not immediately- I'm trying really hard not to say that talking to someone is being weak, because I know that's really Garrett's words... but..." He shrugged lightly, shifting closer to his mentor.

Coulson's arm tightened automatically around Ward's shoulders as the younger man shifted closer. "I don't expect you to be perfect. It's something we can try and then you can tell me if you think it's working or not after a period of time, even without going into details. I know you didn't exactly intend to blow up at me," he added. "I'm more concerned with you hurting yourself." Though if that guilt Coulson could see under the surface still hurt the younger man, Coulson wondered if he would need to help Ward with a token punishment.

Ward shrugged enough to indicate that he felt his knuckles were negligible, but not enough to get out of Coulson's embrace. "It's just minor cuts. Maybe a little bruising. I didn't really hurt myself bad...." He frowned unhappily. "I don't like losing control that way. If you hadn't moved as fast as you did..." He winced, thinking about the damage he could have done to his mentor. He reached up and ran a hand through his hair, feeling his emotions begin to boil again. At least the anger was still internal and directed at himself.

"I know you don't like it," Coulson replied mildly. "And I know you didn't lash out at me intentionally. You might have just hurt your knuckles this time, but next time could be much worse." He stayed quiet for another moment or two and then nodded, to himself more than Ward. "I believe we should arrest those emotions, at least temporarily, before you lash out again... either at someone else or yourself."

Ward gave Coulson a slightly confused look. "I tried to stop them, but I just couldn't...." Biting his lip again, he looked into Coulson's eyes and realized what the man intended. "I don't want to lash out again...I don't want to hurt anyone...." he said in a small voice. Even if he wasn't saying it in actual words, he was clearly agreeing to go along with whatever Coulson felt needed to be done.

Coulson nodded and gently pulled his arm away from Ward, standing up. He briefly considered taking the man to his bunk, but decided they could deal just as well with it here in the office. He trusted the other team members not to disturb them unless it was truly necessary. "Come round to my side of the desk," he directed softly, moving to sit in his chair as he spoke.

Ward felt a small flash of agitation at what was about to occur; but it wasn't anger and he had to admit he felt relief that something was going to be done. He really did feel guilty about taking a swing at Coulson, even if the man understood why he had done it and wasn't holding it against him. Swallowing, he quickly obeyed and walked around until he was standing at his mentor's knee.

Just as he had the first time he'd spanked Ward, Coulson took the younger man's wrist with one hand and braced his other hand against Ward's back, gently encouraging Ward to bend forward across his lap.

Ward let himself be moved into position, blushing slightly. As embarrassing as it was to have his backside smacked by his mentor, he couldn't help but feel a sense of security at the consistency Coulson was giving him. "What does it say about me, that just being in this position is already helping me feel better...?" he muttered softly, chagrined.

"That it's something you know will help you," Coulson pointed out gently. He considered leaving Ward's pants up, but so far, every time he'd spanked Ward, it had been on his bare butt. He suspected the consistency was one of the important things for the other man and with that thought in mind, he tugged Ward's trousers and underwear down.

Ward blushed even more darkly as he was bared- he'd slightly hoped that he'd be allowed to keep his pants this time- but it didn't overly bother him. Letting his head fall forward, he wrapped one hand around Coulson's leg and braced the other on the floor. "It's just really hard to hide anything from you when you' know..." Help him or not, Ward couldn't actually bring himself to use any variation of the word 'spank' in regards to himself and how his mentor corrected his behavior.

"I think that's one of those things that makes it effective." Coulson rubbed Ward's back gently a moment before circling his arm around the man's waist, pulling him in close. He then raised his hand and brought it down in a firm, stinging swat in the centre of Ward's butt.

Ward exhaled in a rapid hiss as he felt the sting. It hurt. And he wasn't entirely sure how to respond...His emotions were still all over the place and while he thought he understood why he was being spanked, he was having a hard time believing that it wasn't because he'd attempted to hit Coulson. Feeling the guilt from his actions weighing on him again, he attempted to apologize. "I'm so sorry I tried to hit you...I don't...I never..." He swallowed hard and closed his eyes.

"Grant..." Coulson landed another stinging swat, still not using too much force. "This isn't about you trying to hit me. It's about giving you a safe way to release your emotions." Rubbing Ward's back gently, he began to settle into a rhythm, keeping the swats at the same force and letting them fall randomly.

"I...." Ward swallowed and gripped Coulson's leg tighter. "I really don't know what to say to that..." he finally admitted, a tiny gasp a the end.

Ward thought he really shouldn't be surprised by how quickly and easily Coulson could bring him to where he wanted him to be by a few carefully placed smacks. After the other times he'd been corrected in this manner, he should have expected it. Usually, though, he would submit and start crying and repent of his actions because he felt guilty about whatever had made Coulson decide he needed to be punished. This time, Coulson wasn't punishing him and in fact made a point of telling him he wasn't being spanked for the one thing he had felt guilt for (although the guilt had lessened considerably when Coulson told him he understood why he'd done it and wasn't mad).

Ward didn't have guilt to focus on...he was having a difficult time focusing on the myriad of inexplicable he focused on the one thing that was constant and understandable. He focused on each smack as it fell and the sting that was rapidly growing into a non-ending heat on his backside; and he tried to focus on why Coulson said he was spanking him.

Coulson didn't think it was necessary to make a response to that. Tightening his hold on Ward's waist a fraction, he began swatting a bit harder and faster, shifting Ward forward slightly to begin targeting his sit spots.

Ward couldn't help the whimper that slipped out when Coulson began smacking harder. His eyes began watering as his backside began to feel like it was burning slowly. Coulson had said he was spanking him so that he could release the emotions that were causing him such problems. To release them, he had to know what they were, though, right? Before, he hadn't been able to focus long enough to figure out what or why he was feeling, but he knew Coulson wouldn't stop until he'd achieved his desired result and Grant really didn't want to be sitting on a pillow for the next week.

He attempted to focus again, beginning to speak his thoughts aloud without thinking about it. "I...I just feel so angry and I have no reason to feel that way. Had no reason to feel that way...." He sniffled softly. "...but being angry is better than being scared, which is what I was before. Being angry was the only thing that kept me from panicking..." He whimpered again, swallowing hard. "I was panicking in the cave and I shouldn't have been...we were safe, I knew we'd be found...I knew how to keep us safe...and I needed to stay brave for Skye...if I'd been afraid in front of her, it would have made her even more afraid and there was no real reason to be afraid...I had to stay strong, so being angry was a lot better than being afraid..." His voice was tight as he tried to keep control, but he was finding control harder and harder to maintain.

Coulson didn't pause in delivering the swats, but his voice was gentle when he spoke. "I know you tried to stay strong for Skye, but that doesn't mean you had to be unaffected. Being afraid in that kind of situation is completely natural. You did everything right, but even if you'd only been trapped there for a short time, it would affect you. There's no shame in being afraid, or even letting your fear show. Bravery doesn't mean you don't fear. It means you're afraid, but you can still do what you need to."

"Bu...but showing you're afraid is weak..." Ward stuttered out one of the many things Garrett had taught him, suddenly uncertain if that was one of the things he should stop believing.

"I..." His whimper turned into a choked sob as the constant swats finally broke his control. "I was afr...afraid and I couldn't let Skye know because she needed me not afraid...but...but then when you found us, it wouldn't go away. I was st..still afraid and close to panicking...and there wasn't any reason at all for that!" He let out another tiny sob. "And that just made me angrier and angrier and...and..." He finally gave up trying to explain, since he had no words that would make sense, even to himself.

"And without a healthy way to release that anger, it eventually built to a level that caused you to snap," Coulson said gently. "Showing your fear doesn't make you weak. It's letting it control you that's the problem. You kept yourself together to be strong for Skye, but if you let me see how you truly feel, I won't belittle you or think of you as weak. I'm here for you, Grant."

At those words, Grant allowed himself to go limp, gripping Coulson's leg tighter and focusing on the spanking. Tears streamed down his face and his breathing was hitched and gasping- it was obvious he was crying- but he'd long ago given up feeling any type of embarrassment or shame when it came to being vulnerable with his mentor. He'd feel embarrassment or shame when he'd disappointed the man, yes, but not for being vulnerable.

He wondered that he wasn't feeling even more anger or panic now that he was getting his butt blistered, but he realized that he actually felt calmer than he had since before the cave. The panic was ebbing; Coulson had him. He had every confidence in the older man's ability to protect and ground him and just the act of admitting his fear to his protector had made the fear lessen. And as the panic lessened, his anger disappeared with it, the fear and panic being his only reason for being angry.

Soon, he was calm. Sobbing over his mentor's knee with a very sore bottom, but still calm. For the first time since the spanking began, he actually paid attention to how much it hurt. Whimpering again, he let out a tiny whine, but didn't ask for the spanking to stop. He trusted his mentor to know when he'd had enough.

Coulson could tell immediately when Grant reached the point he needed to be. Stopping the spanking instantly, he didn't hesitate in drawing the younger man up and into his arms. Hugging Grant close, he settled one hand at the back of the other man's neck, squeezing gently as he drew Grant in close with the other arm.

Grant snuggled close to Coulson, the older man's hand at his neck and the arm wrapped around him giving him a sense of security that he only felt when Coulson was holding onto him. He hid his face against Phil's shoulder, taking deep breaths in an effort to at least control his crying, even if he didn't stop. It felt like, sometimes, the only thing he did was soak the older man's shirts with his tears. Soon, he was breathing quietly, the choked sobbing done; tears still streamed down his face, but they were slowing as well.

Grant didn't know what to say. It would seem odd for him to say 'thank you for spanking me' to his least it felt like it would be odd to him...but he was thankful. He thought it was self-explanatory that Coulson's methods had worked. He was no longer angry or afraid. So saying 'you were right' would be redundant. Maybe he didn't need to say anything...Phil was smart and had often known just what Grant was thinking or feeling by looking at him.

Grant snuggled closer yet, allowing himself to relax so that he was leaning into the older man. Coulson had said many times that they were family...had indicated that he viewed Grant as one of his 'children' despite his age...and Grant couldn't help but wonder for what had to be the thousandth time what his life would have been like if it had been Coulson to find him when he was fifteen, instead of Garrett. "I wish..." He sighed softly, then reluctantly pulled away from the hug and stood.

Wishes about the past didn't do anything but make you unhappy with what you had in the present. And despite the fact that he knew he'd be standing for dinner and sleeping on his stomach...Ward was happy with how his present was going, thank you very much. He gave Coulson a tiny smile, then glanced away as he carefully pulled his pants back up into place. He rubbed the back of his hand against his eyes, wiping away the remainder of the tears, then finally looked back up into Coulson's eyes; itching to move back into the older man's embrace, but trying really hard not to be such a child.

Coulson could tell that, despite his attempts to act grown up, there was still a part of Ward that wanted the comfort. Not trying to force the younger man or make him feel uncomfortable, Coulson simply held an arm out to Ward, indicating that the comfort was still there if he needed or wanted it.

That was the only encouragement Ward needed. If he'd realized exactly how fast he'd rushed back into Coulson's hug, he might have been embarrassed at being so needy. He was only focused on the fact that the man he looked up to most actually didn't mind offering his support. The differences between Coulson and Garrett at times like this were glaring.

Coulson gently pulled Ward in close once more, settling him comfortably in his arms. "Accepting comfort doesn't make you weak, either," he said gently.

Ward hugged Coulson tightly. "Even if it did...I don't mind being weak in front of you..." he admitted with a blush. "Maybe everyone else I mind,'ve seen me at my worst...." He blushed again. He'd almost said, 'but you're my dad', but had stopped himself in time before he could completely humiliate himself. Finally, he pulled out of the hug.

Coulson released him when Ward pulled back. "You haven't been getting much sleep, have you? I'd like you to try and rest for a while. There's nothing that needs to be done right now, so you should take a couple of hours to sleep."

Ward nodded. "Yes, sir. Thank you..." he said softly and gave a tiny smile before turning to head to his own quarters. Coulson wasn't wrong. He was asleep within minutes of laying down.

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