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 eighth story in the ‘Redeeming Grant’ series, which is sent after the season one finale.
Disclaimer: We don't own anything from Marvel: Agents of SHIELD and we're not making any money from this fic
Summary: Set after the season one finale. Eighth in the Redeeming Grant series. Coulson, Ward, May and Fitz go undercover to flush out a sleeper HYDRA agent
Warning(s): Spoilers up to the season one finale; spanking; flashbacks to emotional abuse; implied brutal interrogation techniques
Co-Author’s Website: BlackFox12's page


The information about the potential HYDRA sleeper agent had been sent over a secure channel. Coulson studied the file, not that pleased about the lack of proper information... but he knew he was going to have to have someone infiltrate the centre and see what they found out.

The more Coulson thought about it, the more convinced he became that he should assign this mission to his own team. The centre named in the report was for family retreats and Coulson knew he would have no problem going undercover with at least one of his agents. He thought that Grant was the best one to take with him, since their relationship was so much like that of father and son... but he also felt at least one more member of his team should go with them.

Coulson called the team on his comm and waited until they were all assembled before he started speaking. "I've received intel about a possible HYDRA sleeper agent. According to the report, they're likely based at the Sunrise Lodge, which is a centre for families to go on retreat."

May and the younger members of the team remained quiet, knowing Coulson would explain further. Most of them did, anyway. Simmons' eyes widened and brightened in excitement. "Ooooh! Sir! Are we going undercover as father and daughter again?! Because I think, after the horrible way you treated Mother...." She quickly got into the 'role' that they had taken on the train, prattling on 'in character', oblivious to how ludicrous the story she was pretending actually was (or the fact that it was obviously an act).

Grant glanced at Coulson with a sympathetic wince.

Coulson tried very hard not to wince himself and kept his tone suitably diplomatic as he replied, "I think it would be better if I take Ward with me to go undercover." He didn't explain why, but he was certain he didn't need to. He did look at Ward, trying to gauge how the younger man might feel about that.

Simmons stopped her monologue with a slight look of disappointment. "Oh..." She then gave a sheepish and embarrassed little grin, glancing at Skye.... "I overdid it," she whispered not so quietly.

Ward slanted his head when Coulson mentioned going undercover with him. "What kind of family 'retreat' is this place?" he asked curiously, having no issues about going undercover.

"I mean, is it a ‘vacation’ retreat; or a 'my family is falling apart, help me put it back together' retreat; or a 'my family member is way out of control and this is actually an intervention' retreat? Cuz if you and I get there and it's actually a ‘couples’ retreat, we might have a problem." His tone of voice and expression were neutral, only the slight gleam in his eye indicating that he was teasing Coulson.

Coulson smiled a little, knowing Ward was teasing. "I can tell you that it definitely isn't a couples retreat, but it does appear to cater to all kinds of family types, whether they just want to spend some time together away from the noise of the world around, or if they want to reconnect with each other... or, yes, if there's a problem with one or more of them."

Ward grinned, then straightened up and listened closely as May spoke.

"So other than you and Ward going undercover, what's the plan...and what is your cover? What reason will you be giving if someone asks why it's just you and your..." She gave Ward a knowing glance. "...son at the retreat? And what will the rest of us be doing?"

"I think it would provide a better cover if we had a full family," Coulson replied. "For that reason, May, I'd like you to accompany us as Ward's stepmother." He cast his glance over the younger members of the team as he continued, "I think Fitz should come as well."

Fitz looked a bit startled. "You want me to go undercover with you?" Although he wasn't a stranger to missions, he hadn't done many where he'd had to be undercover.

Coulson nodded and then addressed May. "The cover is that you and I were recently married and we decided to go on this retreat to give the boys a chance to bond with you." He looked at the others. "The rest of you, I need you to stay close in case we need to make a quick getaway."

Skye gave a mock salute. "Whatever you say, A.C."

The rest quickly nodded their understanding of the instructions.

Ward glanced at Coulson to make certain that he was finished the briefing, for now, then wiggled his eyebrows at Fitz, who still looked startled at being on the undercover op. "Common, Squirt," he teased. "Let's go pack and plan...I remember this movie I watched once...."

A few seconds later, Simmons-who had followed the two down the hall- could be heard exclaiming, "YOU watched the Parent Trap...."

# # #

Checking into the retreat went about as well as it could have done. Fitz glanced around the main room of the cabin and then went to explore the rest of the rooms... and to decide which room was going to be his.

Coulson looked around the cabin and then at May and Ward. "Is there anything else we need to go through?"

Ward glanced around as well, noting that the cabin only had two rooms. He and May had already done a quick sweep to make sure there were no bugs- an unlikely possibility, but better safe than sorry.

"I'm not sleeping in the same room as Leo," he said, loudly enough to carry into the other room where Fitz was, as well as through the open window where a couple of college age girls were loitering in the hopes of getting a view of the newest guests. "I'll just sleep on the couch, Pop...." Ward gave Phil an impish grin, even as he immediately got into character.

May rolled her eyes, but got into character as well. "I'm going to take a shower, darling...join me?" She leaned over and gave Phil a lingering kiss, just as Fitz walked back out into the main room.

Although he'd been expecting some obvious displays of affection, Fitz was still a bit startled when he walked in to see May and Coulson. Fortunately, he was able to turn that into a fairly normal teenaged expression of disgust. "Take it into the bedroom. And I don't want to share with you, either," he added to Ward.

Coulson smiled at May, but pulled back slightly so that he could address the other two. "Neither of you is sleeping on the couch. I'm sure you can tolerate each other at nighttime," he half-joked.

Ward rolled his eyes and grunted, hoping that he wasn't overdoing it. His own childhood hadn't exactly been normal and he'd been too afraid to 'act out' or argue with his older brother, let alone his father. He glanced into the smaller bedroom where Fitz had put his bag...and while there were indeed two single beds in it, each bed took up a full wall and there was only enough space in between them to hold a small table under a window with the door (that opened outward, luckily) opposite. On the Bus, his small bunk area hadn't bothered him too much; partly because he slept with the door open, but mostly because the bus was familiar and mostly held good memories. Even just looking into the tiny room made him uncomfortable. He wrapped his arms around himself, but then, realizing what he was doing, quickly shifted them so it looked like he was crossing his arms over his chest.

"Yeah...right, Pop. Maybe for thirty minutes. I thought you two wanted to relax?" He hoped he sounded cocky enough to fool the girls who were still hanging around outside. He turned so they couldn't see his face- if they were still being nosy and staring into the window- and rolled his eyes slightly, hoping that he got the tone right.

Coulson was fairly observant when it came to his team and probably more so when it came to Grant. He didn't miss the way the younger man stood before quickly changing his stance. "I'm sure we can figure something out." Which was really Coulson-speak for, 'I'll fix it'.

"Why don't I sleep on the couch?" Fitz suggested, trying to be helpful. "I'm shorter than Grant... and then we won't end up kill-er... fighting with each other." The word Fitz had changed had very negative connotations for him and he'd managed to get over that time by now.

Ward winced when he heard how Fitz changed his words mid-thought and bit his lip, suddenly finding his feet interesting. Luckily, he was still facing away from the window- he had no clue if their nosy neighbors were still hanging around- but forced himself to look up and smile at Fitz. It was only natural the younger man might have some issues after what had been done to him and Ward wasn't going to make him feel worse by having to worry about Ward's own reactions.

"Ok, Pop..." he said softly, acting like a son that was trying to play nice in order to not make his father unhappy...but was really his way of saying, 'I trust you, so I'll do whatever you say'.

"" He was so used to calling her May it felt odd calling her by her given name. She was supposed to be his 'step-mother', however, so he supposed he would call her by her name. He sure as heck wasn't calling her mom.

May raised an eyebrow. "Yes, Grant?"

"Would you like me to go to the Lodge and arrange for dinner...while you and Pop....shower?" It was all he could do to keep a straight face.

May just raised her eyebrow higher and looked at Phil as if saying "handle your son."

Coulson stepped away from May to gently and affectionately cuff Ward on the shoulder. "I'm sure that's not all you want to do, but if you'd like to look around, take Leo with you." He'd noticed Ward's reactions to Fitz's words and squeezed his shoulder reassuringly.

Fitz, for his part, quickly ducked into the bedroom to remove his bag. Even if Coulson had a different idea in mind, Fitz could still leave his bag in the main room.

Ward nodded at Phil then grinned at Fitz. "Come on, Squirt, let's take a walk." He deliberately pretended he couldn't hear the two girls outside the window start giggling and when he glanced at them as he turned to head toward the door he noticed that they had their heads together, whispering. He whispered to Fitz, "We may end up with some tour guides...."

May watched the younger two members of the team head out, then turned to Phil and took his arm, tugging him into the bathroom where, hopefully, the window shade would be drawn down and they could discuss further plans without nosy neighbors watching.

Even though it was unlikely anyone would be close enough to hear their conversation, Coulson, after making sure the window shade was drawn down, reached out to turn the shower on, before addressing May. "Do you have any initial thoughts?" He wasn't just asking about the mission itself, though that was important. After seeing Grant's reaction to the small room, he was considering asking at the reception about moving to a cabin with an extra room.

"I think," May said seriously, "That when this mission is over, you need to get Ward in to talk to that therapist I know you've been considering that you don't think I know about." She gave him a crooked smile. "And it might not hurt to have Fitz talk to her either."

"As for the rooms themselves...I think if you let Ward sleep on the couch like he wanted, it will help his issues. You can use the excuse that he's the 'first line' of defense if our target figures out what we're doing so that Fitz doesn't feel bad and so that Ward doesn't have to be embarrassed." She waited to see what Coulson said before moving on to figuring out their next move regarding their target.

Coulson nodded. "It's taken me some time to find one I'm completely happy with... and who I'm certain won't break the confidentiality rule if Ward says something about specific things in the past. It might be better for Fitz to see a different therapist, though..."

After a pause, Coulson added, "I see your point about having Ward sleep on the couch, but I am concerned that it's a little short. Having any of us uncomfortable isn't going to help."

May slanted her head thoughtfully. " long as we draw the shades so that no one can see in at night...and leave our stuff in the rooms that we're 'supposed' to be staying in, in case we have visitors...when we're actually sleeping, I can take the smallest room with Fitz and Ward can stay in the other room with you. It might make him feel a bit childish, but if it keeps him from waking up because of a bad flashback, it might be worth it..."

"Besides...if anyone is in our cabin when we're asleep...and sees the odd arrangement, chances are they are up to no good and our cover is blown anyway..." She shrugged in a matter of fact way.

"That might be a good compromise," Coulson agreed. "I'll let them know the new arrangements when we're back here later on." Changing the subject, he began making plans for how they could get the intel they needed.

# # #

Ward had wrapped an arm around Fitz's shoulders in a companionable, 'big-brother' type of way the moment that they had left the cabin. He noted that the two girls who had been hanging around had moved over closer to the cabin that was next to theirs on the right. It was obvious the two were sisters. It was also just as obvious that they weren't college aged like he'd originally thought, but were more than likely still in high-school, if not younger. He'd have to be careful, then. He may be undercover and acting like someone about ten years younger, but he wasn't about to toy with an under-aged girl's affections just for a cover. It was bad enough when he had to fool adult women. Maybe he wouldn't have to worry about it, though. "They seem to be smitten with you, Leo..." he whispered to his 'brother' in a teasing tone.

Fitz glanced at the two girls, not really sure about how to respond to that. He didn't really know how to react around younger girls. While he'd been in high school, he'd been the typical nerd, but even now, he didn't want to act like he was interested in someone just for the sake of working an undercover mission.

"Dad wanted us to make arrangements for dinner." Fitz had been practising calling Coulson, 'Dad' in his head since he'd been asked to come on the mission. It still felt strange, though.

Grant glanced at Leo and, realizing that the younger man was uncomfortable, gave his shoulders a companionable squeeze. "Yeah, okay. Wouldn't want Pop mad at us...." He smiled and dragged his 'little brother' toward the lodge, where they needed to make the reservations. Then, loudly enough that the girls could hear him and hopefully be 'warned off', he complained, "I can't believe Pop dragged us out here to the middle of nowhere and wouldn't even let us bring our phones. How the heck am I supposed to call Skye if I don't have my phone.... ?" If any of the other guests at the resort heard his loudly carrying voice, he didn't really care. He figured if they were here for the 'family' to 'get to know' each other, chances were there would be disagreements and arguments a plenty.

"Yeah, but you know it's the whole 'back to nature' thing," Fitz said, playing along and relieved that Ward wasn't pushing him on the girls' front. "Don't you remember he threatened to take us camping? That would have been worse." Actually, for Fitz it probably would have been. He was much more confident with some kind of technology around.

Ward grimaced, although he actually was good at camping and didn't mind it so much. "Can you imagine? Instead of sharing a cabin with the happy newlyweds, we'd have to share tent-space? At least the cabins have thick walls to drown out the sounds...." He shut up, wondering if maybe he wasn't taking his role too far, but a quick glance around showed him various different guests with either tolerant and amused looks on their faces; or, if they were older, scandalized frowns. He had a feeling 'Pop' was going to be hearing about how his 'sons' needed a firmer hand, if the faces of some of the oldest guests was any indication. "Hey, we're here, Leo. What time did Pop want to eat again?"

"Er..." Fitz paused to think about it. "Seven, wasn't it?" He noticed the looks they were getting, but tried not to show how uncomfortable he was feeling about it. He knew Ward was just playing the role, after all... and it was important they stick to those roles.

"Right. Seven. Relax, Squirt! Why you acting so bashful?" Ward eyed Fitz and gave him a slight smile. He'd have to tell the younger man not to worry if his discomfort showed. They could play that off as him being young and shy. And maybe if he gave him the right opening, Fitz could begin an argument with him about how he treated their new 'mom' or something.

# # #

Having got changed, Coulson left the cabin with May, holding her hand. He headed in the same direction Ward and Fitz had taken, walking casually and looking around continually, just as if he was a tourist and trying to take in everything.

Out of the corner of his eye, Coulson noticed an older woman turn her steps towards him, a disapproving frown on her face. Since Grant had made it clear what role he intended to play, Coulson had been expecting someone to come and complain about 'his boys'. He hadn't expected it to occur so soon, but at least it meant Grant was doing his job.

The older woman, who appeared to be a fixture at the resort, planted herself in front of the 'happy couple' and put her hands on her hips.

"Normally, I don't like to stick my nose into other people's business- especially parents'..." May had to hide a tiny snort behind a cough; it was obvious the woman did what she 'normally didn't like' frequently.

The woman continued obliviously. "But your son...the older one- the younger one looked to be entirely ashamed of his brother's behavior, poor mite..." Fitz had made a good impression on her, somehow. "....your older boy needs to learn respect! Talking about his parents the way he spoke of you is disgraceful! Maybe you don't care that he was speaking of private matters that should only be spoken of between a married couple...I know some of those hippy types love to be unseemingly..." She started off on a tangent.

Coulson somehow managed to keep a straight face throughout the woman's rant. When she paused to take a breath, he quickly interjected with, "I'll talk to Grant. He doesn't always think through what he says and he's not too happy about being here."

The woman looked a bit disgruntled at having her monologue interrupted, but nodded emphatically. "You should! That a young man would speak about his father and..." She glanced at May suspiciously. "...and mother in such disrespectful tone...and talk about ... Boudoir activities- especially in front of impressionable, innocent young ladies! If my brothers had done such a thing when I was younger, Papa would have taken them out behind the barn! Or at least left them a taste of soap in their mouths. And then they would have stood in a corner to think about their shameful behavior!"

As she listed all the things that would have happened to her brothers, the woman was watching carefully to see if Coulson seemed interested in implementing any of her suggestions. She had plenty more where that came from.

May smiled sweetly as she carefully pulled Coulson away. "We'll take care of it, ma'am. Thank you for your concern..." She waited till they were out of earshot before ending her sentence. "...nosy old bat!" was muttered under her breath.

Coulson gave the woman an apologetic smile as he allowed himself to be pulled away. "I'll have a talk with Grant about appropriate subjects," he commented to May, just in case there was anyone listening in.

May rolled her eyes and snorted once they were far enough away. "You wanna go have words with him now or let things build up a bit?" she pressed her mouth to his ear and asked softly.

"I should probably have words with him now," Coulson replied, his voice just as soft. He was sure the woman wouldn't kick off too much if he left it, but if he was going to play the father role, at least more than he had been already, he should probably 'have words' with his son.

May smiled at him sweetly, but the smirk in her eyes was obvious. If it weren't for the fact that she might be overheard, she would have accused him of enjoying the situation. "I think the boys are still at the lodge, darling." She put her hand on his arm so he could lead her there.

Coulson nodded and started heading in that direction, still walking along as casually as if he was going for a stroll with his wife... which, for anyone watching, was exactly what he was doing.

# # #

Ward had arranged for dinner reservations at 7:00 in a relatively short time. He had then gone into the bar area, intending to scope out the occupants and see if anyone there was behaving oddly.

In his role, he wasn't supposed to be legal to drink yet, his 21st birthday 'officially' a month away. He went up to the bar anyway and tried to sweet talk the girl tending to get him a beer. He kept an eye unobtrusively on Fitz, but it was up to the younger man if his role was going to be 'rebellious' or not.

Fitz eyed Ward as he walked over to the bar, but decided not to try and get a drink himself. It probably wouldn't work anyway. Even if it did, Fitz was so much on edge that introducing alcohol into the mix would probably be a volatile combination.

Fitz noticed, with some relief, that Coulson and May had entered the area. Darting a quick glance towards Ward at the bar, he quickly figured that, as the younger brother, he would try and keep his sibling out of trouble... and he began signalling to Ward.

Coulson picked up on both Ward being at the bar and Fitz's signalling, but decided to wait and see how Ward would play it before 'confronting' him.

Ward had known the minute Coulson and May had entered the room, and even if he hadn't Fitz's 'not nearly as circumspect as he thought' warnings would have told him. He had two choices...acknowledge Fitz's warning and back off on his attempt to get a beer- or pretend to ignore 'little brother', somehow get the beer (and he might just have to grab it himself when the bartender wasn't looking- his charms weren't working on her) and give Coulson a chance to go all parental.

It was a quick choice...he wanted the reputation of trouble causer so that the element most likely to have contact with the sleeper agent would be willing to talk in front of him. When the bartender had turned from him to serve another customer- refusing to serve him- he'd waited till she wasn't looking, then quickly reached behind the bar and grabbed the nearest bottle in the mini-fridge before moving away from the bar. (A quick glance down revealed he'd somehow grabbed the fruitiest wine cooler they had. He barely held in his grimace.)

Coulson extricated himself from May with a quick kiss and a, "Just going to talk to Grant," comment. As he passed Fitz, he gently patted the young man's shoulder, knowing the scientist would be reassured of a good job with his role so far.

Coming up behind Ward, Coulson placed a hand on his shoulder. "I think you'd better give that to me." He spoke calmly but sternly, slipping easily into the 'Dad' role... perhaps a little too easily.

Even knowing that Coulson was there and having deliberately taken the drink to give the older man a reason to come after him....Ward was surprised at how his stomach sank to his feet and a tiny frisson of nervousness caused him to shiver. It had to be the 'tone'. Something about the way Coulson said the rather harmless words made Ward want to clench the muscles of his backside in anticipation of a well-aimed swat.

Gulping, he used his embarrassment at his reaction to fuel his 'rebellious' response. He made an attempt at hiding the bottle under his shirt as he turned to face his 'dad'. "Give what to you, Pop?" He grinned impishly and began to walk around Coulson, heading toward Fitz while looking at Melinda, deliberately ignoring his 'father'.

"Reservations are for seven...." he told his 'step-mother'.

May watched Coulson and the two boys closely, looking every bit the concerned but unsure of her position new wife.

Coulson's hand came down once more on Ward's shoulder. "You're in enough trouble already, son. I suggest you don't make it worse. And your shirt really isn't a good hiding place for a bottle," he added.

Fitz shifted uncomfortably, not used to Coulson acting so much like a dad, even if the older man had taken on something of a parental role for Ward. He hoped that anyone looking would just see him being uncomfortable as being upset about his brother being in trouble.

Ward couldn't help it...despite knowing that they had planned for him to be the 'rebellious' son and despite the fact that he knew he wasn't really in trouble (at least he hoped he wasn't), Ward reacted to Coulson's tone and words immediately. Pulling the bottle out from under his shirt, he handed it to his 'father' without even thinking about it.

Of course, then he was mentally kicking himself, because that had been the perfect opportunity to pick a fight with 'dear old dad' in front of a lot of people- and he hadn't taken it. Irritated at himself, he gave Coulson a glare and an eye-roll, before brushing by him rudely, the perfect picture of a sulking immature brat.

Taking the bottle, Coulson returned it to the bar with a brief apology to the woman serving there and then caught back up with Ward. Still keeping up with the stern father act, he grasped Ward's shoulder for the third time. "Do I need to take you back to the room for a 'discussion'?" Although his voice was low, he was still playing his role, so it was still possible for him to be overheard.

Ward flushed dark red, but this time kept enough control over his natural inclination to submit to Coulson and 'behave' that he was able to yank out of the older man's grasp with a disrespectful growl. "No, sir. Why don't you go back to Melinda? I'm sure she'd like you hanging all over her better than I like having you hang on me!" he said snidely, his face still a bit red.

May, who had been watching and listening closely, reacted to his words by acting embarrassed and hiding her face behind her hand (although that was more so she could get control over the grin that wanted to break out at seeing Phil in full-on 'Dad' mode and Grant responding to it as if he really was in trouble.)

This time, Coulson merely grabbed Ward's arm in a tight enough grip to make it more difficult for the younger man to break free. He turned to May and Fitz, giving them both a reassuring smile. "Why don't you take Leo through to dinner, Melinda? Grant and I won't be long."

Ward blinked rapidly, his eyes going wide and his mouth falling open slightly. "I'm hungry...I'd like to go eat now..." His voice wasn't quite as cocky or belligerent as it had been, though, and while he squirmed to get loose, he was more hesitant; as if unsure if his 'father' would take care of matters in front of people if he didn't cooperate. "Aaaw...c'mon, Pop! I'm twenty years old!" he finally whined.

"You can eat after," Coulson replied. "Unless you'd prefer we discussed it here?" He waited a bit, just to give the impression he was prepared to do that, and then started leading Ward out of the lobby. Although he gave the impression of dragging, he actually wasn't, knowing that despite his in-character protests, Ward would follow his lead.

Ward widened his eyes a fraction to indicate that he really didn't want to discuss it in front of people and was sure that his father would before muttering a semi-contrite sounding, "No, sir," and allowing Coulson to lead him out. He knew he wasn't really in trouble and that this was just to set the tone for the rest of the trip. He surreptitiously glanced around the room to see who seemed to be agreeing with his 'dad' and who seemed to be sympathizing with him...and who seemed to be doing their level best to ignore the situation and not be noticed themselves.

Coulson paid attention to the reactions of the people around as he led Ward down the path and headed back to their cabin. During the walk, he let his hand move to the nape of Ward's neck, squeezing gently. It was a comforting gesture he'd taken to using at other times as well as comforting after a punishment and he figured it wouldn't look unusual for him to have that kind of contact, even with a son who was rebellious.

When Phil placed his hand on his neck and squeezed, Grant relaxed noticeably. To anyone observing, it would have looked like a son that was reassured of his father's affection even if said father was upset with him. Ward looked at his feet, to give even more of an impression of a chastised child, but the fact was that until Coulson had shown him the affection, he'd actually been a bit nervous that he had upset the other man. He just didn't realize that he was nervous. Finding out the fact that just a tone from the older man affected him in such a way shouldn't have been a surprise, but it was.

Coulson kept silent until they reached the cabin and then he unlocked the door and guided Ward inside. He headed through to the bigger bedroom, bringing Ward along with him, and made sure the shades were drawn, in case anyone passing by happened to be curious.

Ward waited until the shades were drawn before finally sinking down onto the bed and leaning forward, his elbows on his knees and his face in his hands. "I almost screwed that one up badly..." he said in an apologetic tone.

Coulson sat down next to Ward and wrapped an arm around his shoulders, pulling him in gently. "You didn't screw it up," he said reassuringly. "And I don't think you were as close as you think. You're doing fine."

Ward leaned against the older man, hiding his face against his shoulder for a moment. "I didn't think it would be this difficult to be rebellious toward you. I mean, it isn't even real and I keep finding myself needing to listen." He looked up with a sheepish grin. "Do you think I need to...I worse?"

Coulson squeezed Ward as he considered his answer. "I know we talked about you being the more rebellious son, but if you act worse, you might find it more difficult. Perhaps you could act more as if you're going through a rebellious stage... that way, if you find yourself obeying me automatically, it won't seem as strange."

Ward nodded, "That makes, it will probably help Fitz out. He seems like he's uncertain of what I'm doing, so we can just play it off as he's not used to me being so...uncooperative." He wrapped his arms around Coulson and gave him a hug. "Is there anything else you wanted to tell me before we go back to eat?" he asked curiously, finally feeling back on track.

Coulson returned the hug automatically. "There were a couple of things. First of all... I already had someone complain to me about your behaviour." He smiled slightly. "I promised I'd talk to you about toning down the... inappropriate comments." He tightened his embrace, not actually scolding the younger man.

Ward grinned, leaning into the embrace. "Let me guess...the older lady in the cabin next to ours?" He gave Coulson an impish look. "Wonder if I should try and shock her more...."

Coulson smiled. "You could try... but she was already telling me about what her father would do to her brothers if they made comments like that. There was something about mouth soaping in there..."

Wards eyes widened noticeably and he pressed his lips together tightly. "Uhhh…." he finally said "…Is that an option that is really on the table?" He reached up and rubbed the back of his neck nervously, but he didn't pull away from Coulson.

"While we're here, it might be necessary at times to act like I've done that to you," Coulson answered. "Considering the character you're playing, after all. If I'm going completely strict dad, that seems a likely consequence."

Ward nodded. "Okay. I'll, uh... do my best to imagine it so I can act like I have? I've never actually had that done...usually when I got into trouble for my mouth, I got backhanded or something." He shrugged lightly, not overly bothered by the idea. "But I've got shampoo in my mouth before by accident, so I'll just think of that..." He grinned again.

"Well, I'm not going to backhand you, either here or anyone else," Coulson said firmly, squeezing him again. "But the shampoo wouldn't be a lot different. Just make sure you drink a lot to try and take the taste away."

"But...I'm not supposed to drink! You took the last drink I had away!" Ward teased lightly. Sighing, he leaned against Coulson and asked, "You think we've been out here long enough that they think I'm sufficiently admonished? I'm kinda hungry."

Coulson shook his head, amused. "Not alcohol, obviously. And we will head back. Just one more thing... I know you weren't too thrilled about the size of the room for you and Fitz. I don't think the couch is big enough for either of you to sleep on. May suggested that she take the smaller room with Fitz and you and I stay in here at nighttime." He paused, looking into Ward's eyes. "But if you'd feel better with a separate room, I can ask for us to be moved."

Ward blinked at that. Part of him was touched that May was willing to put herself out to try and make him more comfortable. Part of him was embarrassed that it had even become an issue. He bit his lip. "That's really nice of her to offer that...I don't want to make anyone else uncomfortable, though..." He glanced at the bed they were sitting on, noting that while it was plenty big enough for two people, there was only one bed in the room. If he had a nightmare, there was no way that it wouldn't wake Coulson up.

"If May wasn't willing to do that, she wouldn't offer it," Coulson pointed out. "And if I'm in here with you, I'll know if you have a bad dream and then I can be here for you."

Ward looked up into Coulson's eyes, noting the sincerity there. "I...yeah. I...I think I'd like May's solution," he finally whispered, still a bit ashamed that it even became an issue. "Thanks, dad...." He leaned over quickly and gave Coulson a hug, not realizing what he'd just called the other man.

Sitting up straight, he tried to focus on the mission again. "So...when we go I just a thoroughly scolded brat who can't look you in the eye... or am I a sorry and sore boy who can't sit still?" He gave Coulson a crooked grin.

Coulson was surprised by the name, but actually quite liked it. He returned the hug and then gently squeezed Ward's shoulder. "I think the latter. Though I'm sure you would have received a thorough scolding as well," he added. "So perhaps a combination of both."

"Oh...I can easily do both." Ward nodded sagely. "I've had plenty of practice." His smile was a combination of sheepish chagrin and cheeky teasing.

Reluctantly standing up- he enjoyed the easy affection that Phil was willing to bestow on him- he took a deep breath and then suddenly he was standing stiffly and glaring at the ground. He somehow even managed to get a few tears to form that he could blink out of his eyes. The overall affect was the appearance of a very sorry young adult who had learned not to cross his father.

Coulson stood up and squeezed his shoulder again. "That's a good job. Now... are you willing to walk back with your father's arm around your shoulders? Or are you feeling too sulky for that?" he teased gently.

Ward looked up at Coulson with a pout. "I think I'm willing...although I might act like I don't want to...." He had to fight back a laugh and then take a breath to get himself back into 'pout' mode.

Chuckling softly, Coulson wrapped his arm around Ward's shoulders. "I think Fitz feels quite nervous. It might be good to give him some pointers later. He looks up to you."

"Yeah...he's doing very good, though. I'll have to tell him that." Ward nodded and snuggled closer, even while trying to make it look like he wasn't snuggling. He had to put on a good show for the public after all.

Coulson rubbed Ward's shoulder gently. "I'm sure he'd appreciate that." He opened the door and gently steered Ward back into the main room of the cabin, before leaving the building and locking the door behind them. He then started heading along the path to the lobby, still hugging Ward close to his side.

On the way back, Ward kept his eyes downward and his shoulders hunched, although he didn't attempt to get away from Coulson's embrace. He'd made a point of rubbing his eyes hard a few times before they'd stepped outside, making it look like he might have been crying, but the scowl on his face would keep anyone from asking or saying anything. He hoped this act had the desired outcome.

Coulson headed back to the lobby, only releasing Ward when they were in the dining area. "Do you want to get some salad? Or go straight to the table?" he asked, noticing the salad bar a short way ahead of them.

Ward blinked and glanced at the salad bar. "I don't think I'd like salad tonight, thank you..." he said in a subdued tone, hoping to convey the air of someone who was trying really hard to behave. "May I sit down?" he glanced toward where Fitz and May were, then looked back at Coulson and waited for an answer...only letting a little impatience seep into his stance.

Coulson nodded, letting Ward precede him over to the table. He sat down next to May and smiled at both her and Fitz. "Decided what you're going to have yet?"

"Not yet." Fitz snuck a sideways glance at Ward, looking concerned - a concern that was only half-faked. Despite trying to be elsewhere on the Bus when Coulson punished Ward, Fitz was familiar with the other man's 'just been spanked' expression. He didn't think Coulson would have punished Ward... but he couldn't help worrying.

Ward gave Fitz a tiny grin, reaching over and patting his 'little brother' on the shoulder. He wanted the younger man to know everything was fine; and he could tell he must be convincing everyone that he'd been thoroughly spanked if Leo was confused about if he actually had or not. It was good to know he was keeping his cover up, but he didn't like the younger man needlessly worrying. He gave Leo a big, exaggerated wink. Anyone else seeing it would assume that he was just trying to act cocky and brave in front of the younger sibling. Hopefully, Leo would realize it meant that he was acting and hadn't actually done anything to get into trouble.

"I wanted to wait for you, darling..." May reached over and put her hand on top of Coulson's, giving a gentle squeeze. "You and Grant..." She glanced at the young specialist. Her gaze was a mix of sympathetic caring and 'justified'- as if she was thinking 'you got what you deserved'.

Grant swallowed down a snort and glanced back down at the two 'parents' hands before squirming visibly and then blushing darkly when his squirming caught Fitz's attention. It was easy to force a blush- he just thought of all the times Coulson had spanked him and the fact that everyone knew, even if they didn't say so. Clearing his throat, he took a quick glance at the menu and asked in a soft and slightly petulant tone (he wanted to seem like a disgruntled son who was trying not to get into trouble- not actually get into trouble again), "Can we order what we want, or are we doing the 'family style' meal?"

Fitz relaxed a bit, guessing that Ward was fine and really was just acting; even though it looked very much like he had really got into trouble. Maybe that was just further proof of how much better Ward was at being undercover.

"What would you boys like to do?" Coulson asked.

Fitz glanced at the menu and then said, "The family style meal looks good." He decided he wanted to act the part of the younger brother who was trying to keep the peace.

Ward glanced down at the family style actually did look good. He wrinkled his nose. It was the perfect opportunity to continue with his rebelliousness- disagreeing- but...Shrugging slightly, he closed the menu with a snap and put it on the table in front of him. "Whatever, Squirt. I'd eat an elephant right now if that's what was offered." He reached over and roughly rubbed the top of Fitz's head, before giving the younger man's shoulder a quick squeeze. He needed to find some way to let Fitz know he was doing a good job. Maybe they'd have time tonight before going to sleep. He squirmed again, then glanced at Coulson with a pout on his face, although he couldn't help the fond look that was in his eyes.

"I've got no problem with Leo's idea. If that's okay with you, sir..." he snarked.

Fitz glanced at Ward, wondering if he dared suggest that his 'brother' be careful about getting into more trouble. He settled for nudging the other man with his elbow; not hard, though he hoped it looked like that to anyone outside.

Coulson met Ward's gaze and raised his eyebrows. "I have no problem taking you back to the cabin for another discussion," he warned.

Taking that as his cue to stop 'harassing' his father, Ward looked down contritely. "Yes, sir," he said in a more respectful tone, fidgeting again just so it was obvious why he didn't want another discussion.

May raised one eyebrow and glanced at Coulson. By this point, she wasn't sure the older man hadn't actually spanked his 'son'. She knew Ward was second only in espionage to Natasha Romanov, so she'd assumed his part was all an act. But she hadn't realized how good at 'acting' Coulson was. "The family meal sounds lovely to me as well, dear. Unless you wanted the steak dinner?" she finally said softly, giving Coulson a smile.

"The family meal is fine with me," Coulson replied, closing his menu and glancing up as one of the waiters approached. He ordered the family meal, but left the others to order their own drinks, he himself ordering a non-alcoholic wine.

Ward debated ordering a beer, but decided since he was 'underage' and his 'father' was already irritated at him, he'd stick with soda. He glanced at Phil under his eyelashes as he did so though.

May ordered the same drink as Phil then pushed her chair closer to his. "So...I know we haven't really had a chance to get to know each other..." she started, glancing at Fitz and Ward "…But I love your father so much and I think it would be nice if we could at least be friends...."

"You're not my mother." Ward's voice wasn't disrespectful in the least, but his tone was cool and he tensed up as if uncomfortable with the conversation.

"Melinda isn't replacing your mother, Grant," Coulson said, the gentle note in his voice slipping in automatically. "I know it's hard on you, but if you could just try to get along..."

Fitz ducked his head, not sure what he could say to that, so decided to stay quiet for now and see how Ward intended to go.

Ward stared at his hands silently for what felt like minutes to him. He wasn't sure why, but when he'd told May she wasn't his mother...his thoughts had actually gone to his real mother. And then he'd had to think about how she wasn't really a 'real' mother either- at least not the type of mother that all the 'feel good' stories gave; the type that loved their children unconditionally and protected them from harm and did little things like make cookies to cheer them up. It was only a few seconds, though, and he managed to shake himself out of the memory before he could lose himself in it.

Shaking his head and blinking at the sudden unexpected tears in his eyes, he went the way that would require less work.... He gave Coulson a tiny smile. "Yeah...okay. I'll try..." he said forlornly.

Coulson didn't miss Ward's reaction and knowing the younger man as well as he did, he was also certain that something very real had affected him. Since he'd already established himself as a father who had no problem with being the 'touchy-feely' type, he stood and stepped round to Ward's side, dropping his hand to the younger man's shoulder and squeezing gently. "Thank you." There was a very real note of concern in his voice, so that it sounded more like he was asking if Ward was all right.

Ward found himself leaning toward Coulson, letting his head drop briefly against the other man's arm before he straightened up, then fidgeted again and gave a tiny smile. "No problem, Pop..." he said softly, reaching up and squeezing the hand that held his shoulder. He knew Coulson had noticed his distraction into 'real' and wanted the other man to know he had it under control.

He smiled at May slightly. "You're good for my I...I want to get to know you better, too." He glanced at Fitz and smiled at the younger man.

May had noticed the difference in Ward as well, but even though they'd had a 'relationship' prior to the whole HYDRA thing, it had been mainly physical and she hadn't really got to know the younger man. She was relieved that Coulson seemed to know him so well and was able to react to possible problems quickly. She gave the director a smile then nodded at Ward. "Thank you, Grant..." Her voice was soft, relieved, and grateful.

Coulson's hand moved to the back of Ward's neck and he squeezed gently before releasing his surrogate son. Patting Fitz lightly on the shoulder as he stepped past the scientist, he moved back to his seat.

Fitz hesitantly returned the smile, then glanced up with interest as the drinks were brought over. He was more thirsty than he'd realised and reached immediately for his own soda, relaxing as it seemed any crisis had been averted.

Though he wasn't sure how he should respond when Ward went back into 'rebellious' mode.

"I would as well," Fitz said softly to May, putting his glass down.

The dinner had been uneventful after that point. They'd eaten quietly, the conversation was pleasant, and Ward had behaved himself. Even if it had all been an act, rebelling constantly had been tiring. Part of him was hoping that 'Pop' would send him to bed early for the night because of his behavior, but he wasn't about to ask or say anything to give him the idea.

May had kept her eyes on the area surrounding them, making note of anything suspicious. As the waiter was removing the last of their dishes and asking if they wanted dessert, she turned to Phil. "I want to dance, sweetheart."

Coulson smiled at May. "Anything for you, dear." He then focused on the boys, hardly missing how tired Ward looked. "Grant... Leo... it's been a long day for you both. Why don't you head back to the cabin and take it easy for the evening?" He could have sent Ward back on his own, whether as punishment or simply because he looked tired, but Coulson guessed Fitz might be uncomfortable being left alone.

Fitz glanced at Ward, also noticing how tired the other man looked... but not sure if Ward would need to rebel and, if so, would he need to encourage his 'brother' to leave.

Ward wanted to carry on the rebellious attitude for his 'role' and he could tell Fitz was itching to do something. He glanced at Coulson and May then put on his act again. "Why can't I take it easy in the lounge? There's nothing to do back at the made certain of that when you made me leave my computer games at home...." he griped semi-loudly, waiting for Fitz to either make his move, or Coulson to step in as the stern-father again.

Fitz frowned. "But Grant..." he half-whined, getting into his role of 'younger brother'. "I'm tired. I don't want to go into the lounge... and I don't want to go back to the cabin on my own," he added.

Ward blinked at Fitz's tone and couldn't help the affectionate grin that crossed his face. Deciding that 'big brother' was 'protective' of 'little brother' - and really, Ward was protective of Fitz, so it wasn't a stretch - he sighed loudly, then shook his head and laughed. "Yeah, sure, Squirt. If you want to go back, I'll go with you. Not like there's much more to do out here anyway...." he grumbled, before standing up and tossing his napkin on the table.

Fitz pretty much beamed, which was only part of the act. Fitz really looked up to Ward, so the idea of spending time with him was a nice one. He stood up as well, after finishing the rest of his drink.

Coulson looked at May. "Shall we go back and make sure they get settled in all right? We can always come back afterwards."

May nodded her head in agreement. "Yes, let's! I can change my shoes so we can dance even longer!" Her smile was bright, but her eyes were teasing. She waited until Coulson stood, and pulled her chair out for her, to stand up.

Ward, meanwhile sighed loudly and muttered under his breath about not needed to be babied.

Coulson laughed softly and carefully pulled May's chair out so that she could stand up. Taking her hand, he smiled at the boys, but there was a slight hint of warning when he looked at Ward; a father reminding his son to behave.

Ward straightened his shoulders and smiled weakly at Coulson, but took that as his cue to tone back on the attitude. They were walking a fine line...belligerent and rebellious was fine and hopefully would gain the attention of the sleeper agent that they were trying to capture, but there was only so far he could go before Coulson might actually have to do something and neither of them wanted that. He'd figured out, shortly after the first time the older man had spanked him, that the experience was just as hard on Coulson as it was on Ward. He didn't want to make things difficult.

May walked out ahead of the other men, making sure to stay within reach of Coulson; newlyweds were seldom out of touching range, after all.

Coulson walked close to May, checking back on Ward and Fitz a couple of times. He was relieved that, so far, he'd been able to act like he'd responded to Ward's behaviour without having to cross the line to a more practical approach. He wasn't sure if that would be necessary, though he did hope it wouldn't be.

Fitz walked quietly next to Ward, glancing around a little as he did so.

Ward shoved his hands into his jeans pockets and walked quietly beside his 'family'. He was glancing around as well, though, trying to see if anyone was paying any closer attention than would be necessary. Other than the two young teen girls who had been giggling about him and Fitz early in the day, there really weren't that many people under the age of forty in this 'family' resort. It was a bit odd, really, but the oddness of the resort wasn't why they were here.

Finally, they reached the cabin. As soon as they were inside with the door closed, Grant immediately went to close any window blinds that were still open. Finishing lowering the blinds and doing another quick sweep to make certain no one had snuck in and placed bugs, Ward finally sank onto the living room couch and leaned back, rolling his head. "I didn't realize how tiring being a brat could be...." he mumbled.

Coulson settled on the couch next to Ward. "It's likely because it's so much out of character for you to act like a brat," he commented. "But you're doing fine... both of you are," he added, including Fitz in that.

"Thank you, sir," Fitz said quietly.

Ward glanced over at Fitz and grinned in appreciation. "Yeah, you're doing great, Leo. You've been the perfect foil for my horrible attitude. The quiet, uncertain glances and seeming eager to please really do make you seem like a little brother."

"Really?" Fitz looked hopeful. "I didn't think I was doing too well... all I really knew was not to be over the top." He shrugged, a bit awkwardly, as he remembered Simmons' attempts. "It's more nerve-wracking than I expected. I keep thinking people are just going to see right through my act."

Ward smiled at the younger man. "The best covers are ones that keep as much truth in them as possible. You really are like a younger brother to me, so it is easy for me to act like you are such. I chose to be rebellious for my cover, because we're hoping that the sleeper agent will see me and think I'm potential recruit material. He doesn't need to think the same about you, though, so just keep doing what you have been. If I'm behaving in a way that makes you uncomfortable, let yourself be uncomfortable. If I'm doing something that makes you worried for me and you think 'Pop' should know... go tattle on me. That's what a little brother would do, after all." He grinned again then looked toward Coulson and May. "You two need us to be awake and ready in case something happens?" he asked seriously.

Fitz nodded, relaxing further now that he'd been reassured he wasn't doing anything wrong. He wasn't sure he could make himself tell on Ward, even though he'd been given permission. He decided he'd deal with that when the time came.

"I think you can both get some sleep," Coulson replied. "It looks like today's taken a lot out of both of you." He then addressed Fitz. "You'll be taking the smaller room with May."

Fitz blinked, but nodded. "Okay, sir."

May smiled. "Coulson and I discussed it earlier, so don't be worried that there is anything wrong..." She elaborated on the decision, but not on the reason for the decision.

Ward blushed. Everyone knew the reason was him, but since no one else seemed inclined to question him, he was happy enough to not say anything. Although if Coulson wanted to discuss it with him later, he would answer any question the man asked. It was the least he could do, since Phil was going to have to put up with him sleeping next to him and his possible nightmares.

"In that case," he finally said. "I think I'd like a shower. Is there anything else we need to discuss before I hit the shower?"

Coulson shook his head. "I don't think there's anything else." He glanced at May and Fitz for clarification and then asked May, "How late do you want to leave it before we go back?"

May smiled and took him by the arm. "Let's go now...we can spend thirty minutes dancing and then come back after the kids are 'asleep' for a little 'alone time'."

Ward found himself blushing, despite knowing there wasn't anything going on between Coulson and May.

Coulson nodded with a smile. "Sounds good to me." He looked at both Ward and Fitz, checking to make sure they were both all right, before heading to the door again with May.

It didn't take Ward long to clean up and crawl into bed. He could only assume Fitz had done the same.

# # #

Thirty minutes later, exactly, May gave a delicate yawn. "I think I'm ready for bed, too, darling..." she whispered in a seductive tone, winking at Coulson.

Coulson smiled, squeezing her waist gently. "I think I have to agree with you." He moved away from the dancing, holding onto May's hand as he led her out of the lobby, along the path back to their cabin.

"Looks like the kids are already out like a light..." May teased quietly, having checked on Fitz and glanced into the room at Ward. "The cabin is secure, though. I'm going to go ahead and go to bed too. Good night, Phil." She leaned over and gave him a kiss on the cheek, but it wasn't entirely clear if it was chaste or not.

Going into the smaller room that she was sharing with Fitz, she closed the door with a gentle click.

"Good night," Coulson returned, before slipping inside the other room. Getting changed quickly, he got into bed, stretching out alongside his surrogate son, and closed his eyes.

# # #

It couldn't have been more than two hours after he'd fallen asleep before the dreams had started. He'd never really discussed his dreams with anyone before...not that he couldn't remember them- they were too vivid to truly forget. This was one of the most frequent in recurring dreams and although it wasn't as frightening as some of the others, it was disturbing in other ways.... It always began the same way. Garrett had brought him out to the middle of nowhere after 'rescuing' him from juvie. They'd gotten out of the truck and Grant had stood there waiting to find out what the other man's plan was, only to discover that the plan was for Garrett to leave him in the middle of the wilderness with nothing but a very young dog. He didn't even leave him a blanket or one meal. He hadn't been sure if he'd survive that first week. Only the fact that the dog slept on him kept him from freezing to death- and the dog had managed to catch a small rabbit that the two abandoned creatures had eaten raw.... Ward began to whimper softly, his body shivering slightly.

Coulson had always been a light sleeper, so he woke up immediately as soon as he heard the sound that shouldn't be there. Rolling to his side, he could see the way Ward shivered and reached out to stroke the younger man's hair, hoping to soothe him out of the nightmare even if he didn't wake up properly.

Ward instinctively moved toward where the comfort was coming from, even if he wasn't quite aware what form the comfort was taking; or who was providing it.

This was one of his more innocuous dreams, so he wasn't crying in his sleep or silently screaming... He had woken up many a morning with his throat feeling raw and harshly used, even if he hadn't made a sound in the night. Even so, it wasn't a good dream. He'd spent five years alone, except for the comfort of a dog and the rare occasion when Garret would visit him. Even for a child who was used to not being valued or cared about, it was a difficult situation to have no one. And he had only been fifteen. It had affected his ability to trust immensely (it always surprised him how easily and willingly he trusted Coulson, but then, the man had never proven himself untrustworthy). Currently, Ward had reached the part of his dream where it was winter and snowing. He'd stolen some blankets from nearby cabins and a few tools that allowed him to build a shelter, but it was still freezing outside and they hadn't been able to catch any food for the last three days. In his dream, he was rolling over and wrapping himself around his faithful friend's body.

In real life, Coulson found himself with a shivering young man, burrowing his face under his arm and wrapping himself around him like an octopus.

Coulson knew that Ward had been having nightmares. He was sure that even the word nightmares was too tame for what the younger man was going through. Though he was momentarily surprised to find Ward burrowing so close, Coulson quickly discarded that. He responded by wrapping his arms around the younger man, pulling him in tightly. He was sure that the shivering was in response to what was going in the dream and not because Ward was actually cold in reality... but even so, he couldn't help worrying.

Now cuddling Ward, probably more intensely than he had done before, Coulson resumed stroking Ward's hair. He didn't try to wake the younger man up, hoping that the nightmare would soon fade to normal sleep.

Though if Ward did wake up, Coulson was ready and prepared for it.

Ward's dream carried to its normal conclusion- Garrett shooting Buddy- and Ward jerked awake, tears streaming down his face. Buddy had been his first friend that had loved him unconditionally...and he had been killed because Garrett knew how weak he was and needed to toughen him up. There might have been considerably less 'toughening' if he'd pulled the trigger himself, but he hadn't been able to do that.

It wasn't until he'd got his breathing under control that he realized he wasn't as frantic as he usually was from waking up at that dream. It normally took a lot longer to calm, but he found himself calming fairly rapidly now, even if he still was crying...and it was likely because he was plastered, head to toe, as close to his father as he was able to get. He blushed darkly, but couldn't bring himself to shift away from the tight hold Coulson had, or the gentle stoking of his hair. He would give the other man a chance to get away if he wanted, though.

"I'm sorry," he finally said in a whisper, his voice still coated by his tears. "I shouldn't be such a weak baby...."

In response, Coulson's embrace tightened as he continued gently stroking Grant's hair. "You aren't weak. Or a baby," he said softly. "Having bad dreams doesn't make you either of those things. I don't know everything you've been through, but it doesn't surprise me that it still affects you this much." He carried on stroking his son's hair as he continued, "I wouldn't have wanted you to wake up alone to deal with this."

Grant took a hitched breath at the words, nuzzling into Phil's chest and attempting to stop the tears. Luckily, it wasn't full out sobbing, so he was at least able to breathe, even if he had to sniffle every so often. He didn't know how to put into words how much it meant to him that Phil cared about him so much. He'd realized on this assignment that the action of pretending to be Phil's son wasn't just pretending; he actually felt like the man was his father. He hadn't been able to admit that out loud, but right now - when it was just the two of them and he wasn't about to blow his cover - he felt like he could behave toward the older man the way he really felt. So he snuggled some more and relaxed in Phil's grip and let the gentle stroking of his hair calm him...and right before he fell asleep again, he admitted what he'd never be able to admit if he was fully awake and not so vulnerable. "Luvyoudad..."

The words weren't a surprise to Coulson. What was a surprise was the rush of protective love he himself felt towards Grant, made stronger by the words uttered by the younger man. Although Grant had fallen asleep right after saying that, Coulson still responded, hoping his words would follow him in his dreams. "I love you, Grant."

# # #

Ward's sleep was calm the rest of the night, either because Coulson was holding him tightly and he subconsciously knew it and it helped him sleep... or if he was just so worn out he couldn't even dream, he wasn't sure. All he knew was that when he finally woke up- at a much later time than he normally did- he felt more rested than he had in a long time. In fact, the only time he ever felt more rested was when he was sick and drugged up; and even then, only if Coulson was nearby, keeping watch on him.

When he awoke, he was embarrassed to discover he'd been drooling onto Coulson's shoulder. Biting his lip and attempting to slip out of the bed without disturbing the other man- he wasn't sure if he was asleep or not- Ward was slowly taking in the other sounds and smells in the cabin. Someone was up and cooking breakfast and someone else was in the shower. A shower sounded good right about now.

Coulson woke up as the warmth of Grant cuddled close to him disappeared. He moved into a sitting position and looked towards the younger man, glad to see that Grant looked well-rested. Even so, he still asked softly, "How are you feeling?" He wanted to give Grant an opening to talk about his dream, but wasn't sure if right now was a good time.

Ward looked down bashfully, a bit embarrassed at how 'snuggly' he'd apparently gotten with the older man. No matter how many times Coulson told him it was okay and that he wanted him to come to him with any problems he was having, Ward still couldn't help but feel like he was a failure and a disappointment every time he needed to do so. Years of being told not to be weak and having any needs he might have thrown back into his face as being failures or weaknesses made it difficult to accept help, no matter how willingly it was given. He blinked as he realized he hadn't yet answered the question.

"I...I slept better last night than I have in a long time, so I think I'm feeling good..." he finally admitted, uncertain how much information was too much and if Coulson really wanted to know more information, or if he was just making sure that he was well rested.

Coulson slipped off the bed so that he could move over to Ward and placed a hand on the younger man's shoulder, squeezing gently. "Would you feel comfortable telling me about your nightmare?" he asked softly.

Ward bit his lower lip, his eyes darting around the room before he was finally able to face Coulson. "It was just after Garrett found me...till he took me to SHIELD's academy...." he finally answered. "It's funny how five years can just go by in one night of dreaming...but..." He shrugged slightly. He looked down, then looked up at Coulson again. He'd already mentioned some of what had happened; just enough so that Coulson would have some idea of what he was dealing with, when he first came to see Ward in the prison.

But he'd been determined at that time not to make excuses for his behavior and telling all that had happened to him had seemed like making excuses. didn't seem so much like making excuses as helping his father-figure understand just how messed up he was and giving him a chance to back out. Swallowing hard, Ward began telling the story behind his nightmare.

Coulson listened without interrupting. Sometime during the telling, his other hand found its way to Ward's other shoulder as he held eye contact with the younger man. Sympathy for what Ward had gone through showed on his face and even before Ward had finished explaining, Coulson drew him in close and tight once more, embracing him. "It's no wonder you're having nightmares like that." Though something suggested to Coulson that there was still more to uncover.

Ward grimaced and wrapped his own arms around the other man, holding on. Once he felt more in control again, he stepped away, gave Coulson a shy smile and ran a hand through his hair. " I said. Last night was one of the better nights I've had for sleep." He left it unsaid that it was because of Coulson's presence and the feeling of safety the other man exuded.

Ward slanted his head. "I think whoever was in the shower is out now. Do you want to use it first?"

"You go ahead and take a shower first," Coulson replied. "I'll go and see what there is for breakfast. Is there anything in particular you'd like?"

"No...nothing in particular." Ward smiled. "I'm not sure what they were cooking out there, but it smells good..."

Ward quickly gathered some clean clothing and other items and went to clean up.

Coulson headed out of the bedroom and towards the kitchen area. He'd slept well, but he planned to get some coffee to help with a slight energy boost.

Fitz glanced up as Coulson entered the area. "Good morning," he said, just managing to avoid adding, 'sir' to that.

Coulson smiled. "Good morning, Leo."

May wandered out of the smaller room, combing out her wet hair. "Good morning, darling..." She smiled at Phil, then reached over and scratched Fitz's back fondly. "What did you decide to make for breakfast? It smells good. I might want to make the same thing..."

"Good morning, dear," Coulson replied with a warm smile.

"I just made scrambled eggs with bacon," Fitz answered. "I didn't know what you'd all like... I did leave enough for everyone." He shrugged, a little awkwardly, and gestured towards the pan.

"Mmmm..." May hummed in appreciation. "Thank you. It smells wonderful...."

Ward chose that moment to wander out, having taken as quick a shower as possible. He was barefoot, his shirt was a bit damp in spots from where he hadn't fully dried off, and he was finger combing his hair, which was still wet. Making sure that Fitz was far enough away from the food (and May and Coulson) not to upset anyone, he shook his head like a dog, spraying water all over Fitz. "Morning, Squirt." He grinned unrepentantly.

"Eww... Grant!" Fitz shoved him, but only lightly. "I'll have to take another shower now." He pouted. "For that, maybe I'll just eat your share of breakfast, too."

"Behave, boys," Coulson said with a trace of amusement, rather than scolding.

"'s clean water!" Ward protested, pouting and giving Fitz puppy-dog eyes. He did stop teasing the younger man, however, and went over to get some coffee.

Fitz rolled his eyes. "Want me to plate up some food for all of you?"

"Thanks." Coulson drank some of his own coffee, deciding to shower after he'd eaten.

"Thanks, bro. I do appreciate it." Ward smiled fondly at Fitz.

Fitz smiled and headed over to the pan, sharing the remaining food out onto a plate each for the rest of them.

Ward gave Fitz a thankful smile as he was handed a plate and quickly tucked into the food, surprised at how hungry he was. Especially given how much he had eaten the night before. He wasn't sure if it was the country air, or what, but he was a lot hungrier than normal; usually, he didn't eat a lot of breakfast. He found himself cleaning his plate and then wondering if there was anything else in the fridge he could eat. Wrinkling his nose and deciding unless he planned to run several miles to make up for overeating he needed to stop, he glanced at Fitz.

"Wanna take a walk with me after breakfast, bro?"

May took a sip of her water then remarked quietly, "Make certain that you tell your father or I which direction you are case something happens."

Ward blinked owlishly at her, not having expected a mother-hen comment like that to come from her mouth (especially given that he was a specialist and knew how to navigate wooded areas and protect people). He looked at Fitz to see what the younger man would say.

"Umm... sure," Fitz said, wondering if May and Coulson had spotted anything last night. Figuring that they couldn't tell them right now if they had, he finished his own drink. "A walk sounds good," he added.

Coulson finished his own plate of food and then carried the dishes over to the sink to wash up. After he'd done that, he headed through to the bathroom to get showered and dressed.

# # #

Ward decided that they would go the opposite direction of all the other times they'd gone before, heading toward where the full-time employees who worked at the resort lived. He'd not seen anything suspicious in any of the guests of the lodge and unless May and Coulson had something different to report, he was beginning to suspect that their target had got a job doing something inconspicuous. And it made sense, really.

"One of the best ways to blend in and not be found is to take on the persona of someone that no one ever pays attention to...." he muttered under his breath.

Fitz walked alongside Ward, glancing sideways at the older man. "Like an employee?" he asked, just as quietly.

"Exactly...." Ward replied, glancing around the area, taking in everything; even if it looked as if he was being casual and not looking. "It would be someone with access to every area of the resort, I would think- even if they are trying to remain hidden, they'd want easy access to information and other items...."

"Janitor?" Fitz suggested, glancing around... though he wasn't really sure what he was looking for. Still... "Janitors can go anywhere and no one would question it."

Ward grinned at Fitz with a proud look. "You're right," he said, "and guess whose housing we are currently headed toward."

Fitz looked a bit lost. Although he had been paying attention to where they were going, he wasn't sure what Ward had in mind. "The people in charge of the retreat?" he tried.

Ward shook his head, then slanted it. "No, but that's a good spot to check out, this where the staff- more importantly, janitorial staff- live."

"Oh." Fitz nodded. "That's a good place to check." He hesitated. "Should we be here without letting Coulson and May know?"

Ward blinked at the question then shrugged it off negligently. "We're just looking. It isn't like we're actually going to apprehend anyone. If someone sees us and gets suspicious, I'll just do my 'rebellious son looking for a bit of unapproved fun' can be appropriately nervous and argue with me...and everything should be fine." Although now that Fitz mentioned it, he thought maybe they should let Coulson and May know where they were. But that would require turning around and wasting time and he honestly didn't think anything bad could happen. It wasn't like they were leaving the resort...just going in the employees only section.

"Okay..." Fitz wasn't sure May and Coulson - and especially Coulson - would think that was a good excuse, but he decided not to point that out. He didn't want to drag Ward back and figured he'd be safe with the other man. Besides, Fitz actually quite liked the idea of going along with Ward to help gather information.

"Great!" Ward smiled at his 'brother' and then began nosing around the various small cottages where the employees lived. There weren't many employees around, given that it was daytime during normal working hours. Just glancing in the windows wasn't giving them much information, unfortunately. Sighing in frustration, Ward finally looked at Fitz and shrugged. It was 2:00.

"I think we missed lunch," he remarked and frowned. He wasn't certain what Coulson or May would have to say about them not eating. One of the rules of the Bus was to make certain you ate and slept regularly if you weren't on an op that kept you from doing so. It was one of the ways the agents stayed healthy, despite the different hazards they went through or put their bodies through.

He put an arm around Fitz and began walking back toward the guest lodgings, making certain to not go near any of the employee houses (they'd already glanced in all of them that they could do so, anyway). "Did you notice anything in any of those houses that might be worth looking at up close and personal?" he whispered to Fitz, keeping his face forward so that he wouldn't look suspicious. He had his own idea and wanted to see if Fitz felt the same way before voicing it.

Fitz walked quietly alongside Ward as he thought over what he'd seen. After a moment or two, he voiced his own suspicions, keeping his voice quiet as his eyes darted around to make sure there was no one who might overhear. "One of the windows... when I glanced inside, I thought I saw some technology that appeared quite advanced. I couldn't say for certain without examining it closer, but from what I could see, it seems far too complicated for a janitor."

Grant nodded and patted Fitz on the back. "That's exactly what I was thinking. Good eye!" He grinned.

"You up for coming out again tomorrow morning and taking a closer look? We have to make certain to do it when no one is around to see us..."

Fitz nodded, smiling at the praise. "I'd like to do that. I'd be able to tell for sure if I can take a better look."

"Great!" Ward enthused, then his grin faltered slightly as they got closer to their cabin. "Do you think we'll be lucky enough that Coulson and May didn't notice we missed lunch?" he asked softly, with a crooked smile.

"I doubt it," Fitz admitted. "We'll probably get a lecture on the importance of meals." As he spoke, his stomach made a growling sound and he looked down at it, a little sheepishly.

Ward's stomach did an answering growl and he gave his own sheepish look to the scientist. "Well...guess we better get inside and accept our lecture, then...since it will likely be accompanied by food and I am hungry..." he admitted with a chuckle. With that, he opened the door to the cabin and walked in.

Coulson, sitting at the table, glanced up as Ward stepped into the cabin, closely followed by Fitz. He stood up and walked over to the fridge, opening it to take out two plates of sandwiches. "I'm going to assume both of you were too busy to eat," he said mildly, though there was a serious undercurrent to his voice.

"Sorry," Fitz said quietly.

Ward considered what he could say, but decided that, even if he was busy, they hadn't been in a situation that warranted them not paying attention to the time and taking care of themselves as expected. He rubbed a hand through his hair and squirmed slightly before finally saying, "Sorry..." also.

"If it's going to happen again, you need to take food with you, at least." Coulson handed them each a plate. "I don't expect this to happen again." Softening, he patted Fitz's shoulder gently, then squeezed Ward's. "Where did you go for a walk?"

Ward nodded along wasn't as if Coulson was demanding something unreasonable. Of course, that would mean that he'd have to be careful to keep track of the time. Before Coulson had stepped in and decided to take a more active role in his life- before his betrayal had been exposed- he'd skipped meals before and while the man had never seemed quite happy about it, he'd never pressured Ward to do any differently.

Now that Coulson had taken charge of Ward's welfare and rehabilitation, he had every right to say something and expect to be listened to.

Ward had taken a big bite of the sandwich when Coulson asked where they had gone. His eyes widened as he waited to hear what Fitz said.

"Umm... we went for a walk." Fitz's eyes darted towards Ward, not wanting to go into any more detail without permission from the other man.

Coulson didn't miss Fitz's uncertainty. "Where did you go for a walk to?"

Ward slanted his head and gave a slight shrug. He wasn't about to ask Fitz to lie to Coulson. Especially not about something as innocuous as where they'd walked. At the same time, part of him was reluctant to tell Coulson where they'd gone on the off chance that the older man would tell them not to go in the morning, or wait for backup or something. And since they really didn't have any concrete information to go on, it felt like it would possibly give away their true identities without having a good reason to. Even so....

Swallowing quickly, he answered, "We walked to the employee housing. Took a look around to see if anything looked suspicious." He very carefully didn't lie- although he definitely didn't volunteer any information.

"Did you find anything?" Coulson looked at both of them, not actually very happy that he'd had to ask about what they'd done. It wasn't that he had a problem with them looking into things alone. After all, that was why they were there and he trusted Ward to protect Fitz. But he still needed to be kept in the loop.

"We didn't see anything outside the buildings that indicate anything at all."

Ward again didn't lie, but he immediately felt a small stab of guilt for not giving all the information...namely the fact that they'd seen something inside one of the buildings and planned to go back the next morning to check it out. No matter how many times he told himself that there wasn't really any information to tell- they didn't know for certain that the computer equipment actually had anything to do with their target- he knew deep down it was something Coulson would want to know and expected him to divulge. He wasn't even sure why he was avoiding telling the other man.

It was the use of the word 'outside' that did it. Coulson turned an even look on Ward. "What about inside the buildings?"

Fitz darted an uncertain look between them and then grabbed his plate of sandwiches. "I'm going... outside... to eat these." He definitely didn't want to be stuck here if Coulson ended up having a 'discussion' with Ward.

Ward just managed to avoid biting his lip (or gulping) at the question. He blinked and widened his eyes as, before he could even respond to Phil, Leo had excused himself and fled the cabin. He felt that was a bit unfair...since they had been searching together...but he couldn't really blame the younger man. Fitz obviously didn't want to tattle anything he was reluctant to divulge, but he wouldn't want to lie or participate in a lie, either. Ward didn't want to lie himself. The only problem was, he didn't exactly want to go into detail either.

The slamming of the cabin door reminded Ward that he still hadn't answered the question.

"There might be..." he hedged "…We didn't go inside, so I couldn't say positively...." Ward swallowed. Everything he said was completely true. So why was guilt still growing in his stomach?

Coulson looked at Ward and allowed his disappointment to show on his face. "You know how I feel about you keeping things from me. I'm not unhappy about the two of you looking around. That's what we're here for, after all, and I know you wouldn't allow anything to happen to Fitz. But when you find something, you need to tell me."

Ward closed his eyes briefly at the look of disappointment before allowing his gaze to drop to his feet. "Yes sir." He cleared his throat, then continued, "One of the employee residences had a lot of high-tech computer equipment...we saw it when snooping in the windows....Fitz thinks it a bit odd and expensive for someone on a janitor we want to go back tomorrow morning and check it out when everyone is at work." His voice was clear, if soft and hesitant. He wasn't able to hide his shame at what he'd just done.

Coulson sighed and stepped over to Ward, placing a hand on his shoulder. "You need to eat. Then we'll deal with this." As reluctant as Coulson was to punish Ward, he knew it was necessary to respond to this. Lying, even lying by omission, wasn't something he could allow the younger man to do.

Squeezing Ward's shoulder gently, Coulson walked over to the sink pour out a glass of water for him.

Ward's shoulders slumped, but he didn't argue. He knew exactly what he'd done wrong...and even if he'd finally told Coulson everything, it was only due to the older man's prodding. If Coulson hadn't pushed, he couldn't be sure he wouldn't have kept everything secret; which baffled him considerably. He didn't want to lie...didn't want to keep secrets from Phil...and yet this was the second time he'd failed to give his mentor all the facts when asked. And this time, he didn't even have the excuse of not wanting to burden the other man. What was wrong with him?

Slowly, he began to eat...but he may as well have been eating cardboard, his shame coloring everything around him in bleakness. He wanted to apologize...but what good were apologies if you didn't change your behavior? He somehow managed to finish the sandwich then sat staring at the empty plate as if waiting for his execution.

Coulson moved the plate away then lightly touched Ward's shoulder. "We'll take care of this in the bedroom." His hand moved to the nape of Ward's neck, squeezing gently, before he stepped away and walked to the other room, expecting the younger man to follow.

Ward took a steadying breath, closing his eyes in resignation, then stood and followed Coulson into the bedroom.

Coulson took a seat on the bed and made eye contact with Ward. "Do we need to go through anything else?"

"No, sir," Ward said sorrowfully. Biting his lower lip, he walked till he was stood by Coulson's knee. Taking a hitched breath, he quickly undid his jeans and shoved them down past his knees...then waited for his father to position him.

Coulson reached up and grasped Ward's wrist gently, using his other hand to push on Ward's back until his son was across his lap. Making sure the rest of Ward's body was well-supported, Coulson pulled his underwear down to join his jeans and then secured the younger man with an arm wrapped around his waist.

Ward hated that he was back in this position for something that he'd gotten into trouble with once before. As always, the position made him feel vulnerable and childish...but this time, it also felt like failure. The fact that he knew he'd disappointed his mentor...his guardian...his father...well, every feeing he normally had was intensified.

Laying bare over Coulson's lap and knowing that whatever happened now was entirely in the older man's hands was simultaneously scary and a relief. Ward found himself throwing a hand back over his bottom...not to attempt and stop the punishment. He knew he deserved what was coming...but in the hopes that if Coulson took his hand and pinned it to his lower back, it might help ease some of the fear.

Coulson moved Ward's hand out of the way, holding it against his lower back. "Trust is necessary to make every relationship work." He spoke quietly, but with an intense note to his voice. "I'm disappointed that we have to revisit this issue again." Despite his words, he gave a comforting rub to Ward's back, wanting to be sure his son knew he hadn't lost any of Coulson's care and love for him, before lifting his hand and bringing it down smartly on Ward's backside.

"I..." Ward wanted to apologize immediately. He was afraid that Coulson wouldn't believe him, though... How could he, when they'd gone over this issue so thoroughly once before and Ward had still hidden things?

The only thing that gave him any hope that he hadn't ruined everything was Coulson's firm grip on him and the fact the other man rubbed his back affectionately right before landing the first stinging swat.

Grant exhaled in a quick hiss then whimpered, unable to help himself.

Coulson landed a second and third swat, quickly settling into a pattern of smacks. Although he didn't use his full strength, he still used enough to make it clear that he would not permit lying, whether outright or through hiding things.

Ward knew Coulson wasn't using his full strength and was grateful; the amount of force he was currently using already had his eyes watering. Of course, Grant had to admit a lot of the tears were due to feeling guilty about hiding things again.

"I don't know why I did it..." he finally said in a wobbly tone… "I didn't even want to and I still did it...." He sniffled loudly. "I'm sorry...." he choked out, as one swat landed on a particularly sensitive area.

"I know." Coulson spoke in a gentle tone, though didn't slow or ease up on the force of the swats. "But it isn't acceptable. And each and every time it happens, we'll be right back here again." Although he spoke seriously, there was no cruelty or anger in his voice.

Ward would have thought those words would be more distressing; he thought they should be. Coulson was pretty much promising Grant that he'd be giving him a sore butt until he finally learned not to fall back into his age old habit of hoarding and hiding any information he could get away with hiding....because lying over Coulson's knee, Ward had finally realized that's what he was doing. He may not want to do it, and he might not understand why...but that was what he was doing.

"I'm never going to be able to sit right ever again," he wailed...convinced there was no way he'd learn to break a habit he'd had since he was a child. He slumped, his failure cutting deep; the guilt of disappointing his father cutting deeper. He didn't try to stop the tears streaming from his eyes, even though he managed to keep quiet.

Coulson's hand slowed and came to a stop. He didn't hesitate, bringing Ward into his arms and cuddling him tightly on his lap. He placed one hand on the back of his son's neck and gently stroked his hair.

Ward pressed closer, cries of, "I'm sorry, sir..." and other variations repeatedly leaving his lips. He no longer attempted to be quiet, more concerned with convincing Coulson that he meant what he said and wasn't lying. He wanted desperately to find some way to prove that he valued the older man...considered him his father, but felt he'd lost the right to call him any form of father- Sir was the closest he could get to voicing the respect and love he held for the older man. So he kept crying; he kept apologizing; and he pressed as close as his mentor would allow.

Coulson's embrace tightened around Ward as he stroked over his hair and back. "I know you are, son." He chose that form of address deliberately, to indicate he himself still viewed Ward as his son. "And I forgive you. It's finished and I don't care about you any less," he promised.

Ward didn't know how long he cried for. He did know that by the time he was able to stop, he was wrung out; his voice hoarse, his head achy and tiny shivers going through his body. He attempted a slight bit of humor, to let Coulson know he was okay. "If the rest of the resort didn't believe you kept a firm hand on me before...they're bound to believe it now..." He sighed softly, snuggling his father, and blushed faintly.

Coulson cuddled Ward tightly. "I imagine so. You know this changes nothing between us, don't you? You made a mistake, but that's it. You're still mine. Nothing could ever change that, I promise."

Ward relaxed into Coulson and nodded his head. "Uh huh..." he said softly, then smiled sheepishly at the inarticulate response. "S'long as I'm yours, I might actually have a chance at learning what I need to know..." he asserted with all the trust and confidence he didn't have in himself, but had in Coulson.

Coulson continued gently stroking his hair and back. "It doesn't matter how long it takes. I'm not going to give up on you, son."

"Thanks...Dad," he whispered, looking down; still uncertain that Coulson welcomed the term from him, but thinking he might not mind too much, since he was calling him his son.

Of course, looking down reminded him of his state of undress. Blushing and almost reluctantly...he felt safe and cared about while Coulson held him...he stood and pulled his pants back into place, with a tiny hiss of discomfort at the sting.

Coulson waited until Ward looked at him again and then simply held an arm out to him once more, indicating the comfort was there if Ward still wanted it.

Ward didn't need a verbal invitation. He quickly moved back under Coulson's arm and wrapped his own arms around the man, hiding his face against his chest.

# # #

May had been getting a massage- something that she and Coulson figured would be a newlywed type of thing to do at a resort. She hadn't planned to be gone so long and when she got back to the cabin, she was surprised to see Fitz sitting outside with an empty plate and an uncomfortable expression on his face.

She walked over and sat down next to him, a look of concern on her face. "Why are you out here alone, Leo? Did your brother get into trouble again?" she asked softly.

Fitz nodded. "Yeah." He bit his lip, wondering how much he could tell May without rousing anyone's suspicion. "Grant tried to hide something from... Dad."

May sighed softly, wrapping one arm around the younger man's shoulders. "Your brother...has a lot of issues he's working through. He wouldn't want you upset on his behalf, though; that I'm sure of. And he wouldn't want you going along with him if you believe he's wrong, either. He may not say it much, but he values your opinion and actually would welcome you disagreeing with him if he needs it." She smiled slightly, hoping to see the younger man smile.

"Maybe. I kind of left him in the lurch," Fitz admitted guiltily. "I should have backed him up." He leaned against May, needing the comfort as he tried to deal with the very real guilt of abandoning Ward... even if it was to the man who'd become his father.

May raised an eyebrow, glancing at him. "Did you try and mislead your father as well and then leave when it was obvious you were going to get caught? Or did you just stay quiet while your brother dug his own hole to fall into and then leave when it became too painful to watch?" Her tone was wry.

"It was... more the latter," Fitz said. "But I should have told the truth. Maybe then Grant wouldn't have got in trouble."

"You should have told the truth no matter what. Not just to keep your brother out of trouble. But he made his decision to hide things. He knows that is something that your father can't and won't accept. You can't hold yourself responsible for his decisions, even if the kind thing would have been to say something before he dug himself in too deep to get out." May watched the younger man, wondering if she would need to give him a light punishment just to help him not feel so bad that he let his big brother walk into trouble.

"I guess," Fitz said quietly, still feeling pretty miserable and guilty. "I don't know if they're done yet... I want to apologise to Grant."

May nodded, determining that she'd keep an eye on the younger man. She didn't feel like he'd done anything terribly wrong, but if apologizing didn't help, she'd have another talk with him. "I don't hear anything, so I think we can go inside to the living room. If I know your father, he talked with your brother in the bedroom."

Fitz nodded, slowly standing up, though it had been nice to be comforted. Taking a deep breath, he reached out to open the door, mentally bracing himself as he hoped that Coulson was finished with the actual punishing part.

May stood up and followed closely behind, close enough to show support but far enough back that she wasn't crowding him. Because she knew he likely wouldn't, she called out, "Phil, darling? Grant? Are you here?"

# # #

Coulson was still holding onto Grant and he looked down at his son. "Are you ready to go through? Or would you rather I called back to give us a few moments more?" he asked gently.

Grant huffed softly in amusement. "Right now, I can't see myself ever wanting to leave," he said softly and snuggled a little bit more. Reluctantly, he pulled away. "I should apologize to Fitz. I made him uncomfortable and made him feel like he had to choose between backing me up and doing what he knew you expected. That wasn't fair to him...."

Coulson nodded, squeezing Grant's shoulder gently. "That's the right thing to do, son. I'm proud of you. And you'll always be welcome to come to me for a hug or any kind of affection," he promised.

Ward blushed at the praise and smiled shyly. "Thank you, sir."

Just then, someone knocked softly on the door. "I don't know, Leo... Maybe they fell asleep...." May could be heard in the other room.

Ward glanced at Phil. "I...may I go wash my face? I'll meet you in the living room as soon as possible...."

"Of course." Coulson squeezed Ward's shoulder gently and waited to give his son a chance to head into the bathroom before he opened the door and slipped out of the room. "Grant will just be a few minutes."

May nodded. "Would you like to do dinner in the cabin tonight? I could call the lodge and have them bring by food..."

"I think that would be a good idea," Coulson agreed. "I think there are some things we need to talk about."

"Any preferences, or should I just order the family dinner?" She glanced at Leo to include him in the decision.

Ward exited the bedroom, noticeably subdued, but seemingly relaxed and smiling. "The family dinner was good last time...." he remarked casually.

"I liked the family dinner..." Fitz darted an uncertain glance towards Ward. "I'm sorry I ran out on you," he said, a bit worried about what Ward might say.

Ward blinked. "There's no need to apologize, Leo. I put you in an unfair position. You should never have had to feel like you had to choose between doing the right thing and telling the truth or backing me up in a really foolish decision. I'm sorry. Please forgive me?" He swallowed nervously.

A bit taken aback, Fitz nodded. "I'm still sorry you got into trouble. I should have just told the truth..."

Ward reached over and clasped Leo on the shoulder. "Maybe...but you didn't lie or omit anything. I chose all on my own to do that. And to be honest...I'm kinda glad you chose to go outside....I might have been foolish and kept up the nonsense if you'd been watching..." It was difficult to admit that, especially with May and Coulson watching, but Ward knew he wouldn't have wanted to admit wrong doing in front of Fitz. After it was pointed out and he'd been punished was one thing...but to admit it before; well, he knew it wouldn't have been the first thing to cross his mind.

Fitz relaxed somewhat. "All right," he said quietly, relieved that the other man didn't blame him. "You're okay, though?" He gave Ward a concerned look.

Coulson watched the two and then addressed May quietly. "I'll update you once we've started eating."

"More than okay." Ward smiled.

May nodded. She trusted Coulson to tell her whatever she needed to know, and she wasn't in a hurry. "I'll just order dinner then," she said and went to phone the lodge.

# # #

During the dinner, Ward and Fitz explained what they had seen and what they suspected. Coulson already knew about it, but he stayed quiet as the two of them took it in turns to explain things.

By the time they'd finished eating, it was agreed that Ward and Fitz would take a closer look and see if their suspicions could be confirmed or not. As they were finishing eating, though, Coulson reiterated the most important detail. "Even if you do learn something, don't take any further action until you've checked with us."

Fitz quickly nodded. "Yes, sir."

Ward looked reluctant, but he quickly agreed as well. "Yes, sir."

After business had been taken care of, Ward asked if they could play the card game Coulson had taught him. After all, if part of the reason for being here was so that the new wife and children could get to know each other, they actually needed to spend more time together than just dinners. Ward didn't say, but it was fairly obvious he wanted to spend more time with his 'family' that didn't involve snooping around. Losing track of time was was only Ward's badly hidden yawns, May's slightly creepy spaced out look and...well, Fitz was out cold on the table... that indicated maybe they should go to bed.

"I think it might be time to go to bed," Coulson said gently, noticing how tired the rest of them looked. Putting away the cards, he moved over to help first Fitz and then Ward to their feet.

Fitz swayed a little dangerously, but managed to keep to his feet long enough to slip through to the smaller bedroom.

May blinked, then stood and followed Fitz without a word; although she did give a brief hand wave to Coulson before shutting the door.

"K..." Ward yawned again then slowly trudged into the room he was sharing with Coulson. Grabbing his night clothes, he began to change; he only got as far as removing his t-shirt before he gave it up as a done deal and fell back onto his pillow, planning to sleep in his jeans. He'd done it before. It wasn't a big deal. He pushed one shoe off with the toe of the other shoe and let it drop to the floor, but then realized the remaining shoe was on too tightly to remove that way. Grunting in displeasure at his feet, he sat up to take the other shoe off. Well...he told himself to sit up. Maybe he'd be able to do it in a few minutes.....

Stepping into the bedroom, Coulson noticed that Ward had managed to take one shoe off, but the other one was still on. He moved over to the bed to remove the second shoe, not wanting Ward to be uncomfortable, and then drew the blankets up over the younger man before he got changed himself and got into bed, stretching out next to his son.

"Thanks..." Ward managed to mumble, before rolling over onto his stomach and pulling his pillow over his head. Whether it was because he'd had several relatively stress free days, or if it was the presence of his father being next to him, he didn't know... but Ward's sleep was untroubled by bad dreams.

Somehow, he still managed to work his way into Coulson's arms at some point during the night, snuggling close.

Coulson responded automatically, wrapping his arms around Ward and cuddling the younger man close without even properly waking up. It seemed to have very quickly become second nature for him to cuddle and hold his son.

# # #

When Ward awoke, face pressed to Coulson's chest and being held securely, it only took him a few moments to decide not to move, instead soaking up the affection. Closing his eyes, he lay still in a state between wakefulness and sleep...ready to move at a moment's notice, but not doing so until he absolutely had to.

Coulson woke, but he didn't loosen his hold on Ward, quite willing to hold the younger man for as long as he wanted. Subconsciously, he gently stroked over Ward's hair, deciding this was a really good feeling.

Ward snuggled and soaked up the affection until he heard movement in the other room and smelled breakfast. Even then, he might not have moved, but his stomach growled loudly. Blushing, he finally shifted. "Guess it's time to get up...." Reluctantly, he moved.

Coulson nodded, gently letting go of Ward. "After we've had breakfast, I'll make up some sandwiches for you and Fitz to take with you when you go out. I don't want either of you missing out on lunch again."

Ward grinned sheepishly. "Thanks, sir...we really didn't mean to be so late last time." He quickly found a clean pair of jeans and other clothing and changed, gathering up the soiled clothing into the tiny bag he'd been using. "I think I'll do some laundry have anything you want to throw in the wash?"

# # #

May had been up since five am. She wasn't used to all these 'late' mornings...even if they were supposed to be acting in the role of a family on vacation it was hard to turn off a habit that was so ingrained. She'd got up, done Tai Chi, taken a shower and now she'd finished making enough breakfast for their entire team (including Skye, Trip and Simmons if they'd been there). She hoped the boys had a big appetite....

Fitz came out of the shower, his hair still a bit damp from being washed. His eyes widened a bit at the sight of the amount of food, but then he smiled hesitantly at May. "It looks good," he said.

May found herself smiling back. She'd always liked Fitz, even if she wasn't the type to wear her feelings on her sleeve, but the last couple of days of pretending to be the younger man's step-mother had allowed her to loosen up a little...and she found herself being more friendly and 'motherly', even when not in sight of other people. She was sure Coulson found it amusing.

"I obviously made yourself," she said softly, before dishing up her own plate of food.

"Thank you." Fitz grabbed a plate and helped himself. Sitting down, he began eating. "It's good," he said between mouthfuls. "You should cook more often." He swallowed another mouthful before asking, "What are you going to be doing today?"

"Well, since you and Ward have plans on revisiting that house, I figured I'd stick by the cabin in case something comes up and you guys call me and Coulson in for back-up. You know. Just in case," she said with a shrug. "I also called Hill this morning and discovered that Steve Rogers is in the area hunting down a Hydra cell.... It seems like a big coincidence that a Hydra cell is in the area at the same time we find out about a sleeper I figure I need to be in close contact for them as well."

She looked up as Ward came into the room. He'd taken a quick shower and was drying his hair. She pointed at the food wordlessly and he smiled and nodded, going to pick up a plate for himself.

Fitz listened to May and then glanced up at Ward. "Morning," he said. "How did you sleep?"

Having passed his dirty clothes to Ward so he could do some laundry, Coulson had a shower just after his son and then came back out and into the kitchen, having got dressed in clean clothes.

"I'm going to hate having to go back to the Bus...I slept wonderfully..." Ward laughed then took a bite of the eggs he'd taken. "Why does everyone but me know how to cook good breakfasts?" he wondered out loud.

May raised an eyebrow, but didn't answer.

Coulson helped himself to some food as he replied, "You're capable of preparing food and most people aren't good at everything. Besides, if it's a skill you'd like to cultivate, I'm sure you'd manage." He squeezed Ward's shoulder gently and then sat down to eat.

Ward blinked then straightened up at his father's confidence in his ability. "Maybe...I'm not sure I'd want to risk poisoning myself or others trying to prove you right, though." His voice was teasing.

Turning to Fitz, he motioned with his hand. "I'm going to do some laundry...I figured, that would give us a chance to nose around the laundry area a little bit and give the janitorial staff time to definitely be gone before we go check out the house we were looking at yesterday."

Fitz nodded. "That sounds good. We have something in mind for if anyone challenges us, right? Like maybe you're looking for attention and I'm trying to stop you..." He smiled, a bit hesitantly, not sure if Ward would think that made sense or not.

Ward slanted his head and thought about what Fitz said, then blinked. "You mean, I'm testing Dad there to see how far I can go before he skins me alive?" He gave Coulson an innocent smile, then raised an eyebrow at Fitz. "I was thinking more along the lines of... we'd heard rumors about some stolen jewelry and decided to be the Hardy Boys instead of letting local law take care of it...although it's probably more believable that I'm testing Dad." Ward snorted at himself.

Coulson spoke up as he finished his breakfast. "You could take the route of both. You heard the rumours and decided to check it out, but an underlying reason is that you're looking for attention from your father."

"That would probably work the best...I do get into trouble so well..." Ward smiled crookedly, then finished his own breakfast and stood to take the plates of everyone who had finished to the sink. "I'll clean up, since you cooked, Melinda...." He was glad this op had her being a step-mom. He didn't think he could call her mom under any circumstances.

"I'll help you," Fitz offered, standing up. He knew it wouldn't be that long before the op had to come to an end and he liked doing things with the other man that he looked up to.

May smiled at the two younger men. "Thanks. I'll just contact Maria and see if she has any further information from Steve, then..." She smiled at Coulson and motioned for him to follow her, wanting to ask him something, but not wanting to do it in front of the other two men.

Coulson nodded and went with May, glancing briefly back to make sure Fitz and Ward were all right with the cleaning up.

May glanced over to make certain the two younger men were involved in the cleaning and wouldn't hear her, then turned to Coulson. "Steve Rogers is less than thirty minutes away, in the process of taking down a HYDRA cell. It is highly likely that the sleeper agent has been going to meet with them...and might even know that we are here. I'd like permission to follow the two boys and see if anyone else follows them. I didn't want them to know because Fitz, bless him, isn't terribly good at subterfuge and would likely give me away without meaning to...."

Coulson nodded. "I think that would be a good idea. Take a comm with you and contact me if anything does happen." He couldn't help his concern, even knowing that the three of them would be careful.

"I will." May nodded, and then impulsively gave him a hug. "They'll be okay. Ward is one of the best in fighting and he'll protect Fitz...and you know I'm good." She smiled crookedly, but she couldn't help the small worried look in her eyes.

# # #

May followed at a distance. She thought at first Ward had noticed her presence, but if he knew, he certainly didn't act like it. She watched as they stopped just outside a cottage in the employee section. She settled back into the shadows to keep an eye on things.

Ward stopped just outside the window and glanced in to make certain no one was at home. He saw the computer equipment was on and something was flashing on the screen. He motioned Fitz forward to the door and quickly picked the lock.

Fitz moved over to Ward, angling his body so that it would be more difficult for anyone to notice what Ward was doing. He wasn't very good at observing, but he still looked around in case anyone was giving them suspicious looks.

Luckily, it didn't take Ward long to pick the lock and they were shortly inside. Ward quickly did a search of the tiny dwelling before going to the computer equipment. "See anything helpful?"

Fitz quickly headed over to inspect the equipment. "This definitely isn't something that's likely to be affordable on a janitor's salary," he said. "It looks like the computer's password-protected, too." He frowned thoughtfully. "It would be nearly impossible to guess from scratch... but many people use very similar passwords. I can go through the most obvious ones."

Ward nodded. "Ok. Let's do it, then."

May received a text from Maria, saying that the raid on the Hydra cell was underway and that they should be prepared just in case the sleeper made a move.

Fitz quickly sat down in front of the computer and began typing. "Do you want to check the desk? Just in case there are any files or something else we can use." And in case he couldn't figure out the password... though he didn't say that out loud.

Ward quickly went to the desk, rifling through the drawers. When he came across a drawer that was locked, he had to jimmy it open. Inside was a file of photographs of various buildings. He frowned, uncertain what the significance of the buildings was...but there was a piece of paper with a series of numbers on it. "I don't think it could possibly be this easy, but try this..." He handed Fitz the paper.

"It's surprising just how many people write down their password," Fitz commented, before trying it. Nothing. He looked again at the numbers. "Maybe they're a code of some kind." He began trying different variations of letters that could correspond to the numbers.

"Watch it be something obvious like his address..." Ward muttered, as he continued going through pictures.

May kept a close eye on the tiny house. Unfortunately, she couldn't see the back. She hoped no one came from that direction.

"Got it," Fitz said with quiet satisfaction as he hit on the password. The series of numbers turned out to be a complicated Maths equation, with the answer being the password.

"Way to go, Leo!" Ward congratulated his accomplice with a pat on the back then leaned over to see what the password had been hiding.

Fitz began opening files, scanning the contents as he frowned. "It looks like he's in correspondence with someone..." He cut himself off as he noticed, in an e-mail, a direct reference to Raina... and about a possible shipment of a virus. "Do you think that might be the same one they infected you with?"

Ward frowned. "If it is, then things could be a lot more dangerous than we originally thought..." he said darkly. He wondered if now would be a good time to call Phil and give him a heads up about what was going on and find out what he wanted them to do; but he was afraid if he called, they would be told to put things back the way they'd found them and get out immediately...and he didn't want to leave until they had further information.

Fitz looked up at the other man. "We should pass this on to Coulson and May... shouldn't we?" He looked back at the screen. He didn't need to look any further for the incriminating evidence, but maybe he could get more information.

Ward frowned slightly, hearing Fitz echo his own thoughts. Shaking his head, he said, "Let's see if we can get just a bit more before calling them in."

Fitz nodded and began opening up more of the e-mails and checking the correspondence. As he worked, there was the sound of footsteps outside the cabin and he quickly glanced towards Ward, a little panicked.

"Crap..." Ward muttered then quickly moved to the side of the door where he wouldn't be seen immediately. He motioned Fitz to hide behind the desk.

Fitz quickly closed down the files and then shrank back behind the desk.

The back door was opened and the man staying in the cabin entered. He moved confidently, eyes scanning the room... as if he were used to assessing and evaluating threats.

Ward didn't even stop to think, quickly moving behind the man and using one of his more lethal moves- if the man fought him - to subdue him. He then glanced toward Fitz, hoping the younger man would be able to find some duct tape or something else to tie him with.

The man turned as he realized Ward came behind him, but was knocked out by an uppercut to his jaw.

Fitz cast a glance around and quickly found a roll of duct tape that he passed to Ward.

Ward quickly incapacitated the man then waited for him to regain consciousness.

May was surprised when, the next time Ward passed in front of the window, he was pulling on a prisoner. Frowning, she quickly called Coulson.

The man regained consciousness fairly quickly and stared at both Ward and Fitz. He didn't say anything, though.

Coulson responded immediately, listening as May updated him with the situation, and then leaving the cabin to meet her.

Ward didn't frown. His face was a blank mask and his voice was calm, even if inside he was feeling very anxious about what they had discovered. "You have several files on a virus that HYDRA has been experimenting with. I want the names of the scientists that have been working on it."

The man cocked his head slightly, his face an expressionless mask. "Who do you work for?" he asked in turn.

Fitz darted a glance at Ward, wondering if he should bring up calling Coulson and May... but could he really say anything in front of their prisoner?

"I'm working for the innocent people that are going to be hurt by that answer my question." Ward growled.

The man just looked at Ward, not saying a word.

In the meantime, Coulson caught up with May outside the cabin. "I received some updated information about the virus," he muttered. "Do you know what's going on in there?"

Ward was frustrated. If he did what his training had taught him, he'd be using different means to get information out of the man; but he really didn't want to employ those methods when Fitz was watching. "Fitz...could you go outside; make sure he doesn't have any friends coming by?" His tone had taken on a cold tone that Fitz hadn't heard since Garrett had convinced him to go against his conscience and jettison Simmons and him off the plane.

Fitz's eyes widened at the tone in Ward's voice and he swallowed, looking at the man and then at Ward. There was... no way he'd be able to run back to the other cabin for Coulson and May before Ward did whatever he planned. If he got him outside, maybe he could talk him into contacting their team leaders before he did anything he shouldn't. "Can I... talk to you? Outside?" He tried to inject a note of confidence into his voice, but all he sounded was scared.

Ward blinked at the tone in Fitz's voice and glanced at the younger man. He didn't like the way the younger man looked scared; of him, if his guess was correct. Straightening his shoulders, he double checked to make certain their prisoner couldn't escape, then nodded briefly at his friend. "Let's make it quick. I want answers..." The tone of his voice didn't sound promising for the man tied to the chair.

May looked at Coulson and gave him a brief report. "I've been watching them since they broke in," she said softly. "But someone must have come in through the back where I can't see, because the next thing I know, Ward has him subdued and they are tying him up. And I can't hear what's being said, but I don't like the look on Ward's face- and if the look on Fitz's face is anything to go by, then whatever Ward is saying is...not good."

Fitz started edging towards the door, keeping Ward in his sights... though whether it was because he wanted to make sure the other man did follow him, or because he thought he might have to make a break for it, he wasn't even sure himself. Ftiz realised that the effects from what had happened hadn't gone; they'd simply been buried, waiting to be triggered.

Coulson watched as Fitz all but backed out of the cabin and quickly addressed May. "I might need you to take Fitz back to the cabin." Concern laced his voice.

May nodded, seeing the look on the other man's face and realizing that whatever Ward was doing had triggered some rather painful memories. She quickly moved forward and as soon as Fitz was clear of the door, she took his arm and started pulling him back to their cabin, while keeping an eye on the tiny cabin they had just left. "Coulson has it, Fitz...everything will be okay now," she whispered to the younger man to calm and encourage him.

Ward kept his eye on the prisoner, even as he watched Fitz back away from him. It hurt, seeing that look on the younger man's face. But he had no one to blame but himself. Right now, there were bigger things to worry about, but he still needed to talk to the younger man. Satisfied that his prisoner wasn't going anywhere, he quickly headed for the same door Fitz had just exited.

Fitz turned towards May, looking lost and still somewhat scared, but nodded, letting himself be pulled away. Finally feeling safer, he glanced at Coulson, but didn't say anything, staring at the ground instead.

Coulson sighed and stepped over to the cabin, waiting for Ward to exit.

Ward moved quickly once he decided to talk to Fitz. He didn't want to spend to much time away from the prisoner, but he needed to make sure his little brother was okay and realized.... well, he wasn't entirely sure what he wanted Fitz to realize. He just knew he didn't like the scared look on the younger man's face, especially not when he knew it was him who put it there. He was moving so quickly, he didn't realize until he almost ran Coulson over that the director was there.

He threw himself backwards in an attempt not to knock the older man over and caught himself just in time to keep from landing on his butt. "Sir! I..." He glanced down the road to where he could see Fitz walking off with May. "Damnit..." he muttered softly.

Coulson automatically shot a hand out to help Ward keep his balance. "I've asked May to take Fitz back to the cabin. What happened?" He spoke calmly, but there was a serious tone to his voice as he held eye contact with Ward.

Ward couldn't help but glance back down the road toward where his 'brother' had gone with May and wince. Suddenly discouraged and not a little depressed, he sighed, then, putting on his stoic 'there's a job to do' face, he turned to face his father. "We got into the house and managed to find the passcode to the computer. There are all kinds of files on a virus as well as other Hydra activities. While looking through the files, the man who lives here came home. I subdued and incapacitated him. I had started to interrogate him when Fitz..." he couldn't help but glance down the road again, "asked if he could speak with me outside quickly...I...didn't think waiting would be a good idea," he admitted. "I came out here and Fitz had left and you were here and now I have to go back inside and question that agent. He hasn't talked yet, but that's mostly because I was holding back due to Fitz...." Although he apparently hadn't held back enough. He debated telling his father he wanted to question the man alone, but he knew that wouldn't fly with Coulson. On top of that, Coulson was a higher clearance level than him. He knew how he'd been trained and likely knew how he wanted to interrogate.

Coulson sighed, well aware of what Ward had in mind. Even if it might have to get to a more physical level, Coulson preferred not to use those kinds of methods for getting information. Still, when there were lives at stake, holding back would be a problem.

It took a moment or two for Coulson to decide what to do. "Follow me back inside," he directed, putting action to words as he moved past Ward, though not pushing him out of the way, to enter the cabin.

Ward wasn't surprised that Coulson was taking over. Even though it was obvious the man would have preferred using less physical means to gather intel, Coulson was a realist and he wouldn't put hundreds of innocent lives at stake if it could be avoided. Ward wasn't offended in the least when Coulson pushed past him and left him to follow, a small part of him relieved that he was no longer in charge of the interrogation and could let Coulson make the decision of what to do...especially since he wasn't convinced one hundred percent that he'd made the right call.

He probably should have called Coulson when they first got into the computer files, like Fitz wanted. Too late to worry about it now, though. Sighing himself, he turned and followed Coulson back into the house.

Coulson walked into the room, looking at the man tied up. He remained standing upright as he spoke calmly but firmly. "My name is Phil Coulson. I'm the director of SHIELD. My agent here tells me you have intel about a virus that HYDRA has created."

The man held eye contact with Coulson for several moments before he spoke, his voice low but holding no hint of fear. "If you are who you say you are, I've already given you my intel. I sent it yesterday."

Coulson didn't glance back over his shoulder at Ward, but his voice was calm when he spoke next. "You're the double agent Fury had put in place."

"Yes." The man's gaze flickered to Ward and then back to Coulson. "Fortunately for your boys, I have contingency plans, otherwise this could have set me back months of work."

Ward listened in rising disbelief at the knowledge that they had uncovered their own double agent; and then felt himself bristling at the man's words. Luckily, his extreme training under Garrett (and didn't it suck that the man's abusive training had actually worked) and his respect for Coulson enabled him to remain quiet and -at least visibly- unaffected. It rankled, though...he and Fitz had been very careful and he had been sure that they'd not been seen...and they hadn't destroyed how in the hell had he and Fitz possibly set anything back? It seemed more to Ward that the agent was attempting to pass the buck for having been caught by his own side.

He didn't say anything, though, wondering if Coulson viewed things in the same way. Arguing his innocence before any accusations had been made by his father would be foolish. And then Ward registered what the agent had called him and Fitz. He hadn't said your agents. He hadn't said your team, or even subordinates. He'd said 'your boys'. Either he'd heard enough to realize Coulson's relationship with his team was closer than usual....or he was attempting to show disdain and a lack of confidence in the abilities of Ward and Fitz, which....he felt himself bristling again and forced his face into the distrustful frown he normally used during interrogations. And bit his tongue to keep from reacting.

"We were in place to discover the identity of and apprehend the sleeper agent HYDRA had here." As he spoke, Coulson moved over to begin setting the man free. "My team members acted on the knowledge they gained from looking for information." Even if Ward, in particular, was Coulson's 'boy', Coulson wouldn't refer to him as such and potentially embarrass him in front of someone they didn't know.

"I'm sure they were doing their job, up until I came in," the man replied, holding still. "After that, it was fairly obvious there was some... conflict of interest." He hadn't missed Fitz's surprise and fear at what Ward said, after all.

Ward couldn't help but wince at the man's words...remembering the look in Fitz's eyes. Feeling that he owed Coulson an explanation and wanting to take full blame for Fitz's reaction, since it had been noticeable to a man they'd thought was a enemy agent, Ward explained.

"I take full responsibility for any lack of professionalism, sir." He spoke directly to Coulson, even though his eyes were staring holes into the double agent. "I failed to take into account the fact he has never seen the field before. Since there was no time to explain, I should have sent him to find you before I began questioning, so that he would not have to...witness it."

It was fairly obvious that the double agent had been lucky Fitz was present, as it had held Ward in check to some degree.

"We'll discuss it later," Coulson said calmly, before addressing the man. "I apologise for the inconvenience caused by this. If it has caused any problems, you know how to get in contact with me."

The man looked like he very much wanted to say more, but instead, he just nodded. "You'd better leave. In case anyone's watching."

Coulson gave a brief acknowledgement and, as he passed Ward, gently patted the younger man's shoulder, though he didn't speak for now.

Ward would have apologized, but he knew it would only come out sounding surly. Instead, he turned toward Phil and said, "Sir, if anyone is watching...if we leave using our own cover and act as if you are retrieving me..." He winced, knowing that it would be more embarrassing getting reprimanded by his 'father' knowing that this agent would be watching...but they needed to try and salvage the man's cover, if at all possible.

Coulson nodded, giving Ward a smile and proud look where the other man couldn't see him. Reaching out once more, he grasped Ward's arm, to make it look like he was dragging him, and allowed a stern, serious look to come over his face as he began leaving the cabin, appearing to be dragging Ward, but knowing he only had to make it look like that... he didn't need to actually drag his son.

Ward didn't fight the grip on his arm and actually followed along willingly... But within seconds of Coulson going into character, his demeanor changed from seasoned agent to young, slightly scared, young adult who was trying to act 'brave'.

"Pop! C'mon! I can walk on my own, dammit!" He groused loudly, swore deliberately and 'attempted' to 'get loose' from his 'father's' firm grip. He glanced at the other agent...and, since he was in character, didn't try to hide the petulant pout or glare that indicated he blamed the other man for his predicament. Never knew who was watching now, after all.

"I don't think I'll risk that," Coulson replied, deliberately putting on his 'dad' voice. Standing at the door, he voiced an apology to the agent, adding, "I can't understand what's got into him... but we will definitely be having an in-depth discussion about this."

"No harm done," the agent replied, keeping any other comments to himself.

Coulson nodded and headed out of the cabin, tugging Ward gently along with him. "I suggest, young man, you start thinking very hard about exactly why you broke into that poor man's cabin. I know you didn't think there was any 'buried treasure' there."

"Aaaaaaaw, Pop! Of course not! We were solving a mystery!" Ward's tone was earnest. He still walked along willingly, while pretending to try and get free.

"I won't run! Honest!"

Coulson shook his head, as if he'd heard that response too many times before. "No, you'll just dawdle until I have to threaten to spank you there and then if you don't hurry up." As before, his hand found its way to the nape of Ward's neck, squeezing gently.

Ward couldn't help the dark blush that stained his face. The sad fact was...if he truly had been in trouble and he wasn't putting on an act to keep the other agent's cover, he could very easily see himself doing just that. Luckily, he wasn't really in trouble. He didn't think. Not yet, anyway.

Oh, who was he kidding? He was in big trouble...he only had to confess everything to Phil before he could find out how much. He slumped, his pretense of fighting against his father ending as the very real feelings of guilt nagged his conscience. Luckily for the act they were trying to portray, it just looked as if the rebellious son had finally accepted that he was going to get one other than his father would know it was because he was sorry for how things had gone so wrong...again....

He wondered if this wasn't a sign he should get out of the spy business. He was making entirely too many rookie mistakes due to letting his emotions and temper dictate his actions.

He'd fallen so far into his introspection, he didn't notice they were back home in the cabin until Coulson had gently pushed him down onto the couch to talk.

Coulson had some idea of the thoughts going through Ward's mind and as he sat next to his son on the couch, he wrapped his arm around Ward's shoulders, drawing him in close against his side. "Do you want to tell me how you went from simply gathering intelligence to preparing to use interrogation techniques against someone?"

Ward winced, wishing he had a good answer to that question. The truth was, he'd just reacted without thinking, yet again. Finally, he answered, "It seemed like a good idea at the time...."

He winced again, realizing how it sounded like he wasn't taking the situation seriously.

"What did I tell you to do?" Coulson asked seriously. His arm was still around Ward's shoulders. Even though he knew he was going to end up spanking his son, he still didn't want Ward to doubt his affection for him.

Ward looked down, starting to feel shame for more than just upsetting Leo. "You told us to talk to you if we discovered something that needed attention and not go off doing our own thing...." He wasn't certain those were the words his father used, was fairly certain they weren't, but he was sure that had been the intent and meaning.

Coulson nodded, squeezing Ward gently. That was what he'd meant by it, after all. "Do you understand why there are certain things I tell you to wait for my authorisation to do?"

"So I don't make rash decisions that aren't necessary and could be harmful to innocent people...." he said softly.

"That's partly it," Coulson replied. "But the main reason is that if something does go wrong, or if an innocent person ends up hurt, the consequences for that is on me. Not you."

Ward looked up at that, confused. "But if something went would be my fault...just like now.... I'd deserve it to be on me." He had a hard time understanding why Coulson would want to take responsibility for his screw ups if things went wrong. Although, if he talked to Coulson before he made stupid mistakes, chances were the mistakes wouldn't be made....

"I'm responsible for you," Coulson pointed out. "Professionally as well as personally. If you check in with me, whether it's interrogating someone physically or heading up a mission where someone else gets hurt, it takes the burden of making that choice from you."

"But..." Ward frowned, not wanting to argue; because quite honestly, the thought of having someone else taking the burden of some of his choices from him sounded like heaven. He was trying...he really learn how to make responsible choices and not just follow orders like some trained monkey.

But he had to admit, when it came to some things, he much preferred when Coulson took charge and expected his obedience. And, he had to admit, had he listened to Coulson and called him with the information they'd found immediately, instead of postponing telling him on the off chance they'd find something else...he wouldn't have been faced with the prospect of interrogating what turned out to be an ally; and he wouldn't have scared Fitz so badly.

He sighed. "I have so much to learn..." he mumbled, leaning forward so his elbows were on his knees and he could drop his face into his hands… "I'm making more mistakes- worse mistakes- than a rookie. I don't know if it's because I needed to unlearn so much stuff that Garrett…taught me...or if I suddenly got dumb."

He frowned again then looked up at Coulson before leaning into the older man. "What I almost did was horrid. And it was something that Garrett would have told me to do, not you. As soon as I saw Fitz's face, I knew that it was the wrong thing. I was so glad when he insisted that we talk outside before I gave me just enough strength to back off...and then once you were there, I knew you'd stop me and I was so relieved...." he admitted.

Coulson pulled Ward in close. "I think it's going to take time for you to let go of Garrett's conditioning. It's time I'm willing to spend with you, for as long as is necessary." And beyond that, too. "Up until now, you haven't had the best of upbringings. There are going to be setbacks and there are going to be mistakes. I'm not going to expect blind obedience from you, but when it comes to moral decisions, it's better to let me take the burdens of those. Not only for the protection of other team members... but also for yours."

Ward swallowed. "So next time you give me a direct order, I need to obey it, cuz you're just trying to protect me..." he said softly…. "You're very patient with me...even when you have to punish me. I don't think I'll ever deserve you."

Coulson wrapped his arms around his son in a tight hug. "You have me... and as I've said before, I will never give up on you. You're my boy now, outside of this undercover op."

Ward hugged back as tightly as he could. "I love you, dad..." he said softly. This time, he wasn't half asleep; and he wasn't certain if Phil would believe him, but he felt it needed to be said when he was wide awake and aware of what he was saying. Because the man had taken an interest in him; had made promises to him that he was doing everything in his power to keep; and, in all ways but legal, adopted him and made him his.

He finally leaned back and looked up into his father's face. "I love you and respect you and... and I'm sorry I disappointed you again. Because I know you aren't giving up on me, but it can't feel good to have me just disregard everything you're trying so hard to teach me and I don't want to hurt you and I'm sorry...." He bit his lip and looked back down. "I can't believe I'm asking this, but...please punish me now? I don't want what I did hanging between us...even if it is only hanging between us in my imagination...." He swallowed and waited for his father's reaction.

Coulson placed his hand on Ward's shoulder and squeezed gently, looking into his eyes. "I love you, too, son," he said with sincerity. "We'll deal with this through in the bedroom." May had obviously taken Fitz somewhere else, but Coulson was sure none of them wanted the other two members to return at the wrong moment.

Nodding, Ward stood up, then, waiting for Coulson's nod of permission, walked into the bedroom. He was a little nervous. What he'd done was bad....what he'd almost done was horribly worse. He knew he didn't deserve leniency.

At the same time, this would be the second spanking he'd received in as many days.

Coulson stood and followed his son into the bedroom, knowing he couldn't be lenient with Ward... though he had no intention of using anything more than his hand. He took a seat on the bed and waited.

Straightening his shoulders, Ward walked to stand at Coulson's knee. He quickly undid his jeans and pushed them down past his knees, then bit his lip and waited for his father to position him.

Coulson reached up and gently grasped Ward's wrist, gently tugging his son across his lap and securing him with an arm wrapped around his waist. He tugged Ward's underwear down to join his jeans, then rubbed the younger man's back gently before bringing his hand down in a hard smack at the crest of Ward's butt. He wasn't quite using his full strength, but he kept the swats harder than usual as he delivered a second and third one.

Ward didn't attempt to be brave or stoic or any of the things he normally attempted. He figured he'd messed up badly this time and Coulson had kept him from doing something unforgiveable. If that didn't entitle the man to see honest emotion from him the moment the emotion was felt, instead of trying to hold it back, well he didn't know what would entitle him.

Folding his arms in front of him, on the bed, he hid his face against them. It helped stifle the gasps and whimpers somewhat, but they could still be heard.

Coulson never found it easy to punish his son, but when he knew it was necessary, he knew it wouldn't be fair on Ward to hold back on what was needed. He settled quickly into a rhythm, keeping the swats at the same force and covering Ward's entire backside in the stinging swats.

Ward did try to hold still...he deserved this, after all, and trying to squirm away from the punishment seemed wrong to him. Unfortunately, after enough swats, his body had other ideas. At first, he began moving in tiny little jerks after a particularly stinging swat landed...but soon, those tiny jerks turned into larger wriggles. As hard as he tried to stay still, he just couldn't keep from squirming.

And once he lost control of his ability to not move, he also lost his ability to not cry. Soon, muffled and choked sniffles and sobs could be heard. He never once begged for the spanking to stop, though. He knew he deserved it and he wasn't going to ask his father to go easy on him. Coulson had never once given him more than he could handle or more than he deserved and he trusted the older man to stop when he'd had enough.

When Ward began crying, Coulson shifted him forward slightly, delivering a final few swats to his son's sit spots, but then couldn't bring himself to keep on going, knowing that Ward had learned his lesson. Immediately, Coulson drew his son up and into his arms, hugging him tightly.

As soon as Coulson had wrapped him in his arms, Ward latched onto the older man like a lifeline and held on tight. Eventually, his crying slowed to a few sniffles now and then. Finally, he said in a tear roughened voice, "I am sorry. But I'm glad you're here me." He finally decided on a word that didn't make him sound like a child or like a masochist. "And I'm sorry I scared Fitz, but I don't know how I can ever apologize for that..." He sighed softly. Reluctantly, he stood and righted his clothing before quickly moving to sit next to Coulson and wrapping his arms around the man again in a tight hug, not even waiting for Coulson to invite him like he normally did.

Coulson immediately pulled Ward back into a tight embrace, stroking his hiar and back. "It's all right. I'll always be here to support and teach you." He smiled slightly as he used the same word his son had, before turning more serious. "I'd suggest you talk to Fitz. He's always believed in you."

"I know," Grant said forlornly. "The look in his eyes when he..." He shuddered and pressed as close as possible to his father. "It hurt, dad. Physically. It was like..." He shuddered again, never wanting to see that look on his brother's face- ever. "What if he doesn't want to talk to me?" he asked in a whisper, his voice trembling again.

Coulson tightened his embrace around Grant, wishing he could take that pain away from his son. "I think it's unlikely he won't talk to you. He'll know that, sometimes, it's necessary to make unpleasant choices to protect people." Coulson stroked over Grant's hair as he continued, "It probably brought back painful memories. He knows you're back with us, but often, logic has little place in emotions."

Ward swallowed and blinked back tears. He would never forgive himself for what he had put his family through and counted it a miracle every day that they had forgiven him. But he knew, despite their forgiveness, that there would always be scars from what he'd done. He supposed he should be grateful this was the first time some of those scars showed, but it hurt too much remembering how close he'd come to losing everything- and seeing his brother scared of him....

"I messed up bad...not just because I didn't listen...but...I ended up back in that headspace I was when I believed Garrett cared...." He sat up, his eyes falling to his lap. "I don't want to be thinking like he taught me. I really am sorry, sir. Please forgive me?" Ward knew he'd apologized already, but felt he should do so when he wasn't crying and being spanked. It felt more...genuine somehow; and he needed his father to know he was sincere.

Coulson ran his fingers gently through Ward's hair as he held his son close. "I've forgiven you already, son," he said gently. "I know it wasn't deliberate on your part, but we will work on it," he promised. "I'll be here every time you need me, son."

Ward turned his face toward Coulson's shoulder and inhaled deeply, breathing in the distinct scent of the older man (soap, a sort of woodsy, musky scent that must be cologne and...cinnamon?) It helped to calm him down. 'Aromatherapy,' Ward thought out of nowhere and couldn't help the giggle-snort that escaped, or the grin that formed on his face.

Coulson raised his eyebrows, but smiled at Ward's reactions. "What's funny?" he asked.

Ward blushed, not entirely certain how to explain his thought process without sounding like an idiot. "Just thinking...." He leaned back again so he could look in his father's face while talking. "I need to start carrying your smell with me, cuz it's very calming." He blushed again. "And that sounded very silly and vaguely creepy. Sorry." He gave a sheepish grin.

Coulson smiled, his hand moving to the nape of Ward's neck and squeezing gently. "Don't ever worry that anything you say to me will sound silly. I'm glad there's more about me that will help you."

It was Ward's turn to raise an eyebrow, even as he found himself gravitating toward the hand on his neck. "Okay...I'll try not to worry..." They both knew he would. Slowly, Grant stood up. "I need to find Fitz, apologize, and if he has questions.... Ward squared his shoulders and took another deep breath.

Coulson nodded, standing up as well and placing his hand gently on Ward's shoulder. "That's the right thing to do, but if you need to then talk to me afterwards... I'll be here," he promised.

Ward nodded. "Thanks, dad." He smiled before making his way to the living room. He debated washing his face first, to get rid of the evidence of crying, but decided that they already knew how he was punished, so it wasn't really necessary. Carefully, he stepped out into the living room, noting how upset Fitz looked and the fact that May was comforting him. Guilt slammed into him again. "Fitz?" he finally croaked out in a timid voice.

# # #

May carefully and quietly opened the door and led Fitz into the living room to sit on the couch. Currently, they could hear nothing except indistinct murmuring coming from the bedroom. She was relieved...that meant the punishment was over and Phil had moved onto comfort and talk.

She had kept Fitz outside for as long as possible; even if they could hear the smacks as they fell and Ward crying when he finally was still better than being in the cabin while it occurred. The outside walls weren't nearly as thin as the inside. And at least she'd been able to determine that speaking at a regular decibel could not be heard from the outside, so the quiet tones they'd taken care to use when discussing the mission had definitely not been heard.

Pulling Leo down onto the couch beside her, she wrapped one arm around him and hugged. If she was going to be team mom...well at least for the three youngest- she just couldn't see Ward or Trip as her kids...even if Phil had managed to adopt all five- then she needed to get used to offering comfort and support. She smiled at the younger man. It wasn't nearly as difficult as shed thought it would be.

Biting his lip, Fitz leaned against May, finally able to feel calmer... though he hoped Ward hadn't gone through with interrogating the man. It wasn't that Fitz wasn't aware of the more brutal interrogation techniques... but the tone of Ward's voice had been what scared him the most.

"I'm... sorry..." Fitz said after a moment. "I should have stayed calmer better." He hoped he hadn't messed up the mission.

"Why should you have stayed calm better? Your brother was suggesting something that was complete overkill for the situation." May was calm but firm. "And you weren't trained to handle what he was suggesting. I have to admit, I was a bit taken aback when I learned what he was thinking....and I was trained to handle such things. You slowed him down enough that he had to think about it...and Phil could stop him. That's the important thing."

"But what if I blew our cover?" Fitz asked quietly. "If someone had been watching... they would have known I wasn't just a little brother worried about his big brother." He swallowed, trying to forget the cold tone Ward had used... but it wouldn't surprise him if it featured in his dreams.

"Ward had already done that when he went from rebellious young adult to seasoned interrogator willing to use a matter of minutes. If anything, you came across as a worried younger brother who has never seen his big brother act that way and were scared. You likely saved the covers." May's tone was matter of fact, but it was obvious she believed what she was saying.

Fitz was silent for several long moments before he spoke quietly. "If... if I acted like that... that wasn''t the case." He swallowed. "The... only time I heard him... talk like that was right... before he dropped me and... S-Simmons into the ocean..."

May took in a sharp breath. "Oh, Fitz," she finally said sympathetically, before pulling him closer in a two armed hug. "You need to tell him that. He needs to remember that actions affect more than him and I know he wouldn't want to do things that remind you of being dumped in the ocean without good reason."

Fitz quickly grabbed onto May, needing the comfort even if he tried to act as strong as the older members of the team. "I know... he's not like that. I trust him. But it still scared me," he admitted quietly.

May knew the moment Ward had come into the room and gently began to extricate herself from Fitz, wanting to give them time to talk. "Do you want me to stay?" she asked softly, prepared to stay with him if he didn't want to face Ward alone; even if it might possibly hurt the other man.

Fitz moved back, glancing at Ward and then at May. "N-no." It didn't come out sounding very certain, so he cleared his throat and tried again. "You don't have to stay." Darting another glance at Ward's face, he could see that the cold mask that had frightened him so much before was gone.

May nodded, giving Fitz's arm a gentle squeeze. "Well, I'm sure both of you realize that your father and I will be close by if you need us..." she said softly to Fitz, but made certain Ward knew he was included in the statement. She stood up and went into the bedroom, where Coulson still was, so that he could update her on any information that wasn't supposed to be shared with the younger two team members.

Ward swallowed hard, then looked at his feet and slowly walked to the couch to sit down next to his brother. He didn't bother to hide the wince at the sting when he sat too quickly. "Fitz..." He blushed as his voice came out higher pitched and more nervous than he would have liked.

Fitz watched Ward, but although he looked nervous, he didn't actually flinch back. "I... know there are times even SHIELD needs to employ more brutal methods for interrogation. It wasn't what you said that scared me..." He hesitated, not sure he could bring himself to explain.

Ward blinked, a slightly baffled look on his face. "I...just because sometimes harsher methods are used doesn't excuse me. It's never done in front of individuals who have not been trained for that type of interrogation. But even if it were, I was wrong to suggest it. It wasn't my were right when you wanted me to contact dad before going any further..." He looked up, a sad expression in his eyes. "I'm sorry I didn't listen to you and you had to witness me behaving like that...and I can only ask for your forgiveness and hope you are able to give it, because I don't deserve it..." Grant's voice broke and he looked down.

"You looked terrified of me, Leo. I...I don't ever want to see that look again, so if it wasn't what I said that scared you, please tell me what it was. I want to avoid ever doing it again!" Ward sounded scared and on the verge of crying- something he had (up until that point) only experienced with Coulson.

Fitz didn't know what to do. In the end, he shifted closer to Ward. He knew the other man was emotionally vulnerable and damaged and he wasn't sure if he needed to call Coulson... if Ward needed the comfort from his father. He swallowed and spoke in a quiet voice. "The... the only time you sounded that... cold before... it was right before you dropped me and Simmons into the ocean."

Fitz's reply was like a punch to the gut, all of Ward's breath leaving him in one anguished gasp. Of course the younger man would have horrible memories of what had occurred...Ward had never thought of the possibility that going into his 'specialist zone' mindset would trigger one of those memories, though. He didn't know what to say to make it better...what could he say? It was his own evil actions that led to this current situation.

"I'm so, so sorry Leo..." he finally whispered. "I'll never be able to make it up to you and Jemma, what I did to the two of you. I'm just so...very sorry." He didn't start crying loudly (even though tears fell from his eyes) or beg for forgiveness; he didn't deserve Fitz's sympathy or forgiveness and he wanted to make the younger man feel better. It wasn't about his own comfort. Hesitantly, he put an arm around the younger man, prepared to pull away if Fitz seemed uncomfortable.

"I know you have no reason to trust what I'm saying, but I will never hurt you that way again...and if I ever have a look on my face that worries or scares you, I don't want you to hesitate to go to Coulson or May. Don't worry about hurting or upsetting me. Go to them and tell them so they can handle me...I...I don't want you afraid to be near me, Leo."

Fitz felt himself relax when Ward put his arm around him. He slowly leaned into the other man. After a moment or two, he started speaking. "When Coulson told us that HYDRA had taken you and he wanted to get you back, I...I didn't think of that. I just remembered... every time you protected one of us, or put yourself on the line to save one of us, even if you acted like you didn't feel anything most of the time."

Fitz paused to gather his thoughts before continuing, "I wanted to believe he was right and that you weren't a monster. Even after... everything. I wanted to believe that it wasn't all an act and when you did come back, it's felt like things are back the way they were." Fitz drew in an almost painful breath. "I trust you, but that... side of you scares me. I'm trying not to let it, because I know that's not who you really are. And I know that Coulson... has you."

Fitz glanced at Ward. "When you spoke... like that... it brought all that fear back."

Ward nodded, pulling Fitz in closer and hugging tightly. "I'm trying to be the man you thought I was before...." He spoke quietly so as not to upset his brother, but just loudly enough that Coulson and May could hear if they listened.

"Garrett trained me to be a monster, but I don't want that. It's hard though...he started training me when I was fifteen, Fitz...and before that, I was learning how to be a monster from my's hard to overcome a lifetime of bad learning." He swallowed hard. Firmly, he continued, "That's why, if you ever feel afraid of me, I want you to go to Phil and Melinda. They'll be able to help me...get me out of that training that comes like instinct to me...." He backed up slightly, ashamed that he couldn't always overcome it himself just because he wanted to.

Fitz nodded slowly. "I... I will tell them... if I get scared or worried again." He hesitated. "But... I know Coulson believes in you. I... I do as well. I don't think you're a monster." He spoke quietly, but with sincerity.

Ward looked into Fitz's eyes and could tell that he meant what he said. Giving the younger man a grateful smile, he nodded. "Good. I know he believes in me. If he didn't, I don't think I'd have the willpower to even try to overcome everything. I just wanted you to know. Because in the long run, it will help me be better." He cleared his throat, suddenly bashful at how much he had shared with the younger man. Next to Coulson, Fitz knew the most about what he was facing now. But maybe that wasn't a bad thing.

Fitz was silent for a moment or two and then said quietly, "Thank you for talking to me about it. I knew your past hadn't been good, but I... think I have a better understanding now." And Fitz knew it changed nothing about how he viewed the other man. He still looked up to him.

Ward nodded before saying bashfully, "Thank you...for believing in me. Even before you had reason to. You're a good friend." Although he knew he was more than just a good friend. He was family.

Fitz smiled at him. "I'm glad you proved me right."

"I hope I continue to prove you right." Grant smiled.

Fitz nodded and then glanced up as Coulson entered the room. "Has something happened, sir?"

"Steve Rogers just contacted us," Coulson explained. "It seems the sleeper agent was spooked and ran from here... he was apprehended by the team a short way outside the retreat."

Ward looked guiltily up at Coulson. "It was because of what I did, wasn't it?" The only consolation he had was that Steve Rogers had caught the man.

"It might not have been anything obvious," Coulson replied, stepping over and squeezing Ward's shoulder gently. "What's important is that he's been apprehended."

Ward nodded, only slightly mollified. "I suppose. Things could have turned out a lot worse..."

"We can rejoin the rest of the team now," Coulson said. "I'm sure they'll have been wondering how you've got on." He looked at them both. "Are you feeling any better?"

Fitz nodded. "I am."

Ward smiled a bit sadly, but nodded. "Yes, sir. I feel better. Gonna miss being here, though. Was...nice." Ward looked down, realizing that having a 'family', even if it was a role, had been good for him.

He hated the thought that he'd have to go back to being more reserved. He couldn't just keep calling Coulson dad if they weren't in those roles. He had finally admitted to himself that he viewed the man as dad, so he didn't really want to stop calling him that.

Coulson squeezed Ward's shoulder gently. "Our relationship here hasn't been just about playing a role and I'm sure you know that as well. Nothing will change between us when we return to the Bus, son."

Ward's smile brightened considerably at those words. "I'm glad of"

Coulson smiled, moving his hand to the nape of Ward's neck to squeeze gently. "I'll let the rest of the team know we'll be on our way soon, if you want to start gathering up your belongings."

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