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 ninth 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. Ninth in the Redeeming Grant series. Ward’s *demons* start waking up.
Warning(s): Spoilers up to the season one finale; spanking; suggestions of past abuse; potential triggery material.
Co-Author’s Website: BlackFox12's page


Coulson was finally satisfied that, if Grant was going to talk to any therapist, he had one who he trusted and who wouldn't turn the younger man over to any authorities. The woman came highly recommended and had been used by SHIELD before, so she at least understood confidentiality.

Having no intention of making an appointment without his son's permission, Coulson headed to the rec room, guessing Grant might be there working out. He approached the younger man and waited to be noticed.

Ward finished doing his last set of pull-ups. He still wasn't completely up to the level of fitness he had been at before he'd become ill, but he was almost there. Only his knowledge that Coulson would not be happy with him if he pushed himself too hard and became injured from it kept him from attempting to continue beyond what he knew was a safe limit. Dropping down onto the floor and grabbing a towel, he acknowledged his father figure with a smile.

"Sir..." His tone was fond.

He'd continued to call the older man 'dad' when it was just the two of them (and sometimes May or Fitz), but he usually refrained from doing so in areas of the ship where anyone else might overhear and get the wrong idea....not because he was worried Coulson would mind. He knew Coulson wouldn't mind. But Ward knew that if the wrong person heard and found out about the shift in relationship between the director and a reformed Hydra spy, it would cause problems for Coulson. It was better to not get into that habit of calling him dad whenever he felt like, lest he slip up in front of the wrong people.

Coulson smiled, stepping over to Ward. "I'm glad to see you're not pushing yourself too hard." He squeezed his son's shoulder gently. "Are you free to talk now?" He kept his tone calm, not wanting Ward to think that something might be wrong.

Ward straightened up, Coulson's praise giving him an encouragement he hadn't been aware of needing. He slanted his head toward the older man's hand, leaning toward him at the affectionate gesture. Grinning crookedly, he looked at the other man curiously. "I just finished, so if you don't mind waiting a few minutes for me to shower and clean up, I can meet you in your office?" Of course, he was prepared to talk immediately if Coulson needed him to.

Coulson nodded. "It isn't urgent, so it can certainly wait for you to shower and clean up," he replied, squeezing Ward's shoulder again before gently releasing him. "I'll meet you in my office when you're ready."

# # #

It hadn't taken long for Ward to clean up and put on some clean clothes. Within fifteen minutes, he was knocking gently on Coulson's office door. Waiting a few seconds for acknowledgement and an invitation to enter, he carefully pushed the door open and stuck his head in. "You wanted to speak with me, sir?"

Coulson nodded. "Come in and close the door. Sit down," he invited. He had a file on his desk, having printed off all the relevant information about the therapist in case there was anything Ward might want to look over.

Ward quickly entered then gently closed the door, walking to the chair in front of Coulson's desk. He took note of the file. While he had a small idea what Coulson might want to speak with him about, he decided to wait until Coulson actually told him, in case he was wrong. Leaning back in the chair in a relaxed stance, he smiled at his mentor and father-figure. "What did you need to tell me?" he asked curiously.

"Do you remember we discussed you talking to a therapist not that long ago?" Coulson asked. "It's taken me a little while, but I've found one who I can trust and who I'd be happy with you seeing. I won't force you to see a therapist, but I truly think it could help you." He nodded to the file on the desk. "The information about her is in there."

Ward nodded, having expected that. "I remember..." He reached out and took the file, quickly glancing through it before handing it back.

"If you trust her and think it would be good for me, then I'll do it..." he said softly. "I don't need to look at the file. I trust you..." He looked up and smiled crookedly. "Besides, the only reason I can think of to look through that is to find reasons not to go....I'm not entirely sure I trust myself to make the best decision if it was left entirely up to me." He shrugged slightly. " and Fitz have been the only two I felt comfortable admitting some things to."

"I can't speak for Fitz, but I can tell you that you can talk to me about anything you need to," Coulson said seriously. "But it will probably help you to have someone neutral to talk to. Other SHIELD agents have seen her, so you don't need to worry about censoring yourself."

Ward nodded. "Ok. I'll...I'll go to her. See if I feel comfortable with her...see if it helps." He bit his lower lip and looked down, suddenly nervous about the prospect of telling a stranger about everything that he'd done...that had been done to him. But if Coulson trusted her and if he felt it was a good idea then he'd give it a chance. He looked up again. "When do I see her?" he asked softly.

"I haven't made an appointment yet. I wanted to talk to you first." Coulson stood and walked round the side of the desk, hand moving to the nape of Ward's neck and squeezing gently. He hadn't failed to notice the look on his son's face.

"Ok..." Ward leaned into Coulson's hand and sighed. "Could you make it as soon as possible? So I don't...chicken out?" he asked with a little embarrassment.

Coulson nodded. "I'll call her and see when the earliest appointment is. If you don't think it's helpful, you don't have to go back," he promised. "Don't feel like you have to agree to something you don't want because of me."

"I won't...I mean...I want to make you happy, so I want to give this a chance...and you think it will work. It isn't that I don't want to...I'm just...scared is all. There's no reason to be and I don't know why I am, I just am." He shrugged slightly then gave Coulson a weak smile. "The fact it scares me probably means I need to do it though, huh?"

"I think I can understand your fear." Coulson gently brought him in for a hug. "You're considering opening up about what happened to you... more than you have done with me. That has to be a scary thing to think about doing."

Ward closed his eyes and wrapped his arms around Coulson, letting his head fall onto his shoulder. "If I want to really do better...then I have to face my past. I... I'll do my best. I'll just keep telling myself that you trust her and maybe that will help." He hugged Coulson tightly, before withdrawing and giving a faint smile. "Just let me know when, sir."

Coulson nodded. "I'll find out when the best time is," he said. "But don't worry about coming to me or talking to me if you ever need to."

Ward nodded, surprised at how relieved the older man's comment made him feel. He hadn't even been aware that he was nervous Phil wouldn't want him to come talk to him. "I will, sir." His voice reflected all the relief he suddenly felt and all the affection he held for his mentor. "Was there anything else? If not, I need to go fix dinner. It's my turn...."

Coulson shook his head. "I have a bit of paperwork to get finished, but I'll be through once I'm done," he promised. "Unless you'd like to wait a few minutes and then I can give you some help."

Ward smiled brightly. "I think I have it, sir," he answered. "But if you want to join me when you are through, I won't complain." He smiled again before leaving and going to the kitchen.

# # #

Several weeks went by uneventfully. Coulson hadn't wasted any time setting up an appointment for Ward to speak with Phil's chosen therapist. Grant had liked her immediately, her calm, no-nonsense approach making it easy for him to cooperate for the most part. Of course, they'd only covered 'easy' topics up until that afternoon. Ward had known it couldn't last.

The first really difficult session of their meetings had occurred that afternoon and emotionally, Ward felt like he'd run a gauntlet and then been beaten. He was barely holding himself together. As soon as he'd returned to the bus, he'd slunk off to hide in his cabin and 'lick his wounds'.

Coulson hadn't pushed Ward to tell him what he'd talked about with the therapist, hoping the younger man would be able to come to him when he needed to talk, though Coulson had still made a point of spending time with his son and more so after the sessions.

Ward was back on the Bus. Coulson had spied the younger man quickly heading to his bunk when he'd left his office to use the comm-link. After talking with Agent Hill about one of Stark's latest projects, Coulson left the room and then headed to Ward's bunk.

It wasn't healthy for Ward to retreat and Coulson wanted to make sure he was all right. He knocked on the door then waited for a response.

Ward had plastered a smile on his face that was obviously fake. Had his visitor been anyone else, he would have taken care of their issue as quickly as possible before sending them on their way. When he saw it was Coulson, however....

"Dad..." He spoke in a voice so soft, it would have been impossible to hear, had Coulson not been listening closely. He sounded hurt and very close to tears. Unable to say any more, he backed away from the door so Coulson could enter.

A look of concern immediately came over Coulson's face. Stepping in through the door, he closed it behind him, to stop any embarrassment on his son's side than because it bothered him then simply reached out to hug Grant.

That was all the invitation Ward needed. He quickly moved into Coulson's arms, tightly gripping the front of his mentor's shirt before hiding his face against Phil's shoulder. "He was my best friend and I let him die...." he finally whispered out the decade long hurt.

"I should have stopped him...." Ward's voice choked. "I should have stopped them.... Why was I such a coward? They were younger and helpless and I let him ...." Ward's words came out in bursts of frantic speed, as if his mouth couldn't keep up with his thoughts. At first, it was clear he had been talking about Buddy, but by the end, his focus had changed.

Coulson tightened his embrace around Ward, stroking over his hair and back. Not loosening his hold on his son, he gently guided Ward over to the bed and sat down, tugging Grant gently down and into his arms. "You've been deeply hurt by the actions of those who should have protected you," he said softly. "You are not responsible for what he did."

Ward's therapist had asked him to tell her about his 'first best friend' and where they were now. He didn't doubt that the woman had some small clue what she was asking...but he doubted she'd expected the reaction she'd got. Talking about Buddy to someone where he wasn't explaining it like it had just been in a dream had shifted something. He'd gone from talking about Buddy and what had occurred to him, to his younger siblings and what had been done to them- through him. He hadn't broken down in the therapists office, just barely keeping hold of his emotions.

Having Coulson check in on him and show such concern- having the other man try and absolve him of the guilt he felt- caused him to release the last tenuous grip on himself that he'd had. Ward shook his head, unable to let go the guilt he'd felt and held onto for so long. "No...not responsible for what he did...responsible for what I didn't do..." he finally sobbed.

Coulson had cuddled and held Ward many times by now, though he only tended to hold Ward actually on his lap after a spanking. Quickly deciding that his son needed more than just a hug, Coulson gently tugged him into his lap, wrapping his arms around him as if they were a protective shield. He stroked Grant's hair and looked into his eyes. "Tell me," he said softly.

Ward curled into Coulson, trying to hide against the older man as much as possible.

When he'd told the therapist what had occurred, he'd gone into more detail than he ever had when telling snippets of his past to Skye after the Berserker Staff had affected him. He'd gone into more detail than he had when telling Coulson of the nightmares he still had. The theory was that talking about it would help him get over it.

The horrible fact was that he had only felt worse. Not only had he had to relive the worst moments of his life, but the person he was telling only cared in as much as he was no longer burying the events and letting them fester. He wanted to be told he was wrong and bad for doing what he'd done. He wanted to be punished; to be hurt, just like he'd hurt them-because he certainly didn't deserve mercy or forgiveness.

At the same time, he was afraid when the truth was known, he'd lose his father figure....How could the man ever want to have anything to do with him if he knew how truly monstrous he'd been, even as a child?

"All the bad things that Maynard my little brother and sister...." he finally whispered. "He didn't do them himself...he made me do it...and I was too much a coward to tell him no. I didn't stop o..or stand up to him. I hurt them...." His voice broke on a high pitched cry.

Coulson's arms tightened around Ward. Leaning forward, he let his lips brush against his son's forehead gently, comfortingly. "You're a victim as much as them, Grant. History is full of people forced to do awful things to others to survive. I know it doesn't help you feel any less guilty, but it doesn't make you a monster. If you were that, it wouldn't affect you now. You've done what you had to in order to survive. Whatever you tell me... it won't make me love you any less. Or make me angry with you."

Ward shook his head faintly, even as he pressed closer to his father. "Don't deserve love...deserve anger..." he protested weakly, his voice clogged up by the tears he'd been crying. "Don't deserve you..." He choked again.

"You have me," Coulson said, simply but firmly. "And I have you. You're mine. There is nothing that can change that. I know there's a lot that's hurt you, but you're safe here. With me. I promise I'll protect you and keep you safe. And I promise that my feelings for you have never and could never change."

Ward tensed up and pulled away slightly, not able to look Coulson in the eye.

The older man didn't understand. How could he? He thought Ward was afraid he'd leave him and would hate him...and to be honest, a very, very small part of him was afraid of that...but what Ward was truly afraid of was that Coulson wouldn't hate him for what he'd done and he wouldn't leave. Because as warped as it likely made him, that's really what worried him. Coulson would stay by his side, no matter what...and the older man would pay for it with blood and tears. Because anyone who had ever truly cared about Grant Douglas Ward had been hurt badly or died due to that caring. It was only a matter of time....

"I don't DESERVE your protection or care. I don't DESERVE you!" His growl would have had more impact and not sounded so pathetic, had he not been on the verge of breaking down again.

Coulson slid his hand behind Ward's head to rest on the nape of his neck, squeezing gently. "Tell me what really scares you," he directed, his voice soft but no less firm. "Tell me why you don't think you deserve me. When I look at you, I see how much you need someone to care about you unconditionally... someone who won't ultimately abandon you, whether through choice or not. And I'm that for you."

"Because...because you'll be hurt...because of me...I'll c...cause you to be hurt and...and..." His voice trailed off and he started crying again, looking away and not able to face his father. "I can't face that happening...I can't...." he finally said softly, through the tears.

Coulson wrapped his arms around Ward, pulling him in close and tight. "You won't cause me to get hurt. I can't promise nothing will happen, but you know how well-trained I am. And the whole team is here... we protect each other."

Ward wanted to believe that. He wanted to. Past experience had taught him to always be ready for the worst. He didn't say that, though, just holding on to Coulson and letting himself be held, even as he silently cried.

Coulson tightened his embrace around Ward, rocking him gently as he stroked his hair and back.

Grant slowly relaxed into his father's embracing grip, his crying slowly drying up as he tired himself out. He hadn't meant to, but he fell asleep in Coulson's arms.

# # #

This past week had been difficult. Grant hadn't been 'bad', as such, but Coulson was continually finding himself needing to use his disappointed 'dad' voice with Grant, which was normally enough to bring the younger man up short. Coulson knew he was pushing, but things like missing meals and sleep, as well as being late with assignments, weren't really enough to warrant a spanking... though if it continued, Coulson figured he might have to employ sterner measures.

Grant's behavior wasn't just affecting himself and Coulson, unfortunately. The younger man was short with the rest of the team, giving as little information as possible when answering questions and with a bite to his tone that made the youngest members wary of him. Trip had dealt with the attitude by grabbing Ward by the arm and dragging him to the rec room to 'work out the frustration'. May envied him, really. She'd been designated spokesperson to go ask Coulson what the hell was going on. She really didn't want to have to deal with this crap.

Knocking on the door to his office, she waited for him to invite her in.

Trying to take care of his paperwork while his son was behaving like this was difficult, so much so that, by the time the knock came on his door, Coulson was about ready to release his own frustration. Taking a deep breath, he called, "Come in."

May came in, spine stiff and neutral look firmly in place. Her eyes, however, were flashing in irritation and, despite her efforts to not be confrontational with her boss, her question sounded very confrontational. "What the hell is wrong with your boy?! " Her exasperation was clear. "If Trip hadn't taken him to spar, I might have been tempted to tie him to his chair and gag him...just to give the other kids a break."

Of course, she really wouldn't have...maybe.

Coulson sighed and stood from his chair. "He's dealing with a big emotional upheaval right now... I was hoping he might be all right." Coulson didn't have a problem with stepping in, but he didn't want to make things worse for his son. "I'll come and get him..." His face was set with determination now. If Ward was struggling so much on his own, he clearly needed help... more so if it was affecting the rest of the team as well.

May nodded in relief. If anyone was able to get the young specialist to calm down and stop antagonizing everyone else, his father would be the one to do it.

Coulson thanked May and left his office, heading quickly to the rec area.

May headed back to the cockpit. Now that Coulson was taking care of things, she didn't particularly want to watch him handle it.

# # #

Ward and Trip had started out small...just general sparring. Ward hadn't been in the mood for that, though. If he was honest with himself, he'd deliberately goaded Trip into a no-holds-barred match that Coulson likely would have frowned on if he found out. One thing Ward could be sure of, though, was that Trip wouldn't tell unless there was danger of someone getting hurt...and since Trip insisted on pulling his punches-which was really frustrating Ward- he didn't think there was danger of Coulson discovering their rougher than recommended tussle.

Coulson headed into the rec room without bothering to knock. He took maybe a moment or two to notice that Ward and Trip were sparring more dangerously than they should have been and he quickly strode over to break them up.

It said something about Ward's current headspace that Trip realized Coulson was in the room before he did...and Trip had his back to the door, while Ward was facing it. Trip started attempting to pull away the moment he realized Coulson was there...but Ward followed, not wanting to 'play nice'.

Trip finally grunted in frustration as he fended off another 'attack'. "Hey, man! Back off! Boss-man's here!"

Coulson reached the two of them and his hand landed heavily on Ward's shoulder - not painfully, but strong enough to get his attention. "Break it off," he said, calmly but firmly, injecting the 'dad' tone into his voice that Ward had responded to before.

Ward shrugged off Phil's hand, almost petulantly, before glaring at the wall over Coulson's shoulder.

Trip's eyes widened and he backed up a couple of steps. "No problem, sir." His voice was calm and respectful, even as he continued backing toward the door. "I have a report to write and will be in my bunk if you need me..." He waited just long enough for Phil to stop him if he wanted, before quickly leaving the room and closing the door with a firm click.

Ward continued to stare at the wall.

Coulson nodded to show Trip he understood and then turned to look at his son. He placed his hand once more on Ward's shoulder and squeezed it gently. "I think we both know this isn't as simple as you feeling petulant or testing." He used his hand on Ward's shoulder to steer him over to the corner. "Stand here and think about this past week for a few minutes," he suggested, moving his hand to the nape of Ward's neck and squeezing gently.

Ward closed his eyes and slumped. He didn't think anything could have made him feel as vulnerable and childish as being spanked...but this was turning out to be a very close second. He could feel his father standing behind him, patient and concerned. The hand at his neck was calming and reassuring...and frustrated him further. He didn't want to admit why, though.

It was already apparent to everyone on the bus, particularly his father, that he was a horribly broken individual. He didn't want them to see how shattered he truly was. He wasn't even sure he could tell his therapist...and she was oath bound not to tell anyone else and likely wouldn't care; at least not as much as his 'family'.

What could he tell Phil that wasn't a lie, but would allow him to not divulge what was really bothering him?

Coulson waited behind Ward, his hand still on his son's neck and squeezing gently as he waited for a sign that Grant would finally be honest with him. After a moment or two, he spoke, quietly but no less sincerely. "I love you, Grant. Your safety and wellbeing are extremely important, not just because of the team, but mainly because I care about you as your father."

After waiting for Grant to absorb the impact of those words, Coulson contiinued, "If you lie to me, or keep what's truly bothering you from me, I will know and it won't make a difference. I'm not going to leave you alone with this pain. I can do this for as long as it takes."

Ward closed his eyes even more tightly at Coulson's words. How something could make him feel so safe and loved and still scare the devil out of him, he didn't know...but Coulson's love, affection and loyalty did it.

He didn't know what to say...he just knew he didn't want to hurt his father. The only way to do that was to protect him from the mess that was his mind.

"I've just been frustrated..." he finally said softly. "All the memories and such...that's all." Well, it was the truth…and technically, that was all. If he didn't admit to what he was actually trying to do because of the frustration.

Coulson sighed and gently stroked the back of Grant's neck. "I just walked in on you sparring with Trip. Not the safe kind of sparring that you know I'd be fine with, but the kind where you weren't holding back. Were you trying to goad Trip into hurting you?" he asked softly, wrapping his other arm around Grant's chest and tugging his son back and into his arms, almost protectively.

Ward stiffened as he simultaneously felt himself being drawn backwards and heard Phil's question. He didn't want to answer and it made him nervous. At the same time, feeling Coulson behind him, the older man's arms holding him made him want to relax into the embrace. The two warring emotions caused him to freeze in place and when he finally blurted out, "Of course not. That's ridiculous!" he knew he'd waited too long to answer.

Coulson's arms tightened around Grant. "Is it that ridiculous?" he asked directly. "You feel like you should be punished because of what you did in your past. You wouldn't expect anyone here to do that, so sparring is the closest you can get to feeling some form of punishment."

"Of course it is," he scoffed, so weakly that it seemed he wasn't sure himself.

Coulson pressed a gentle kiss to the back of Grant's head. "I understand you better than you think, son."

Finally giving in, Ward slumped back into his father. "I'll stop antagonizing wasn't fair of me." He stared into the corner and flushed, although with Coulson holding him and being so affectionate, it didn't feel like he was being corrected for his behavior. He still felt a bit childish, though. "I'm sorry..."he finally said.

"I know," Coulson replied softly. "But at the same time, you know how I feel about going too far in sparring. This is an issue we need to address."

"Yes, sir." Ward looked down, shame at having been 'caught out' in the reason for his actions, as well as the fact that he'd disappointed his father and had to be put in a corner to realize he was going too far, finally catching up to him.

Coulson held his son tightly a few more moments and then led him over to one of the chairs, knowing he needed to be consistent with Grant when it came to the rules that needed to be followed.

Ward couldn't look up, his gaze never leaving his feet. He didn't understand the tiny frisson of dread that pooled in his stomach...he'd wanted to be punished, after all.

Of course, he wasn't being punished for what he'd done in the past, but his most recent actions; so he didn't feel quite as welcoming towards it. Not to mention that while this punishment might bring the pain he was looking for (even if Coulson was always careful not to harm him), it would also bring admonishment, scolding and declarations of forgiveness and love. Ward truly didn't feel up to the emotional flood that he knew was about to hit.

It wasn't like he had a choice, though...his only options were to accept the correction or fight it...and while he'd been perfectly willing to fight and argue with every other member on the team...he couldn't do that to his father. And so he let Coulson lead him to the chair and he waited for whatever the older man decided to do.

Coulson sat down on the chair and gently pulled Grant around to his side before guiding him across his knees. Wrapping his arm around his son's waist, he pulled Grant tight against his stomach before tugging down his pants and underwear. "I know you've been hurt badly by your past, but the people who caused you that pain didn't care about you or love you. And no matter how badly damaged you think you are... you're mine. That is always going to be true."

Ward closed his eyes tightly at the affirmation of his 'dad's' love. He didn't argue, or question, or try and wriggle away, even when the cool air crossed his bared backside. Instead, he gripped Coulson's leg with both hands and held tightly, before whimpering softly and tensing up in anticipation.

Coulson rubbed Ward's lower back gently before he lifted his hand, bringing it down in a firm swat, though he was careful not to use anything like his full strength.

Ward knew the swat wasn't nearly as hard as Coulson could make it, but the sharp sting was still enough to make him catch his breath. Between that and the fact that Coulson had yet again promised that Grant would always belong to him, no matter what... one swat was all it took for Ward's eyes to tear up. He whimpered again, the whimper turning to a soft whine as he realized he was already crying and they'd barely begun.

Coulson brought his hand down in another hard swat, then a second and third. He didn't go too fast, instead choosing a slower, more methodical approach. This spanking was as much about reaffirming Ward's place as Coulson's son as about punishment.

Ward lay over his father's lap, each slap taking him slowly, smack by smack, to the edge of his control. He tightened his grip on Coulson's leg, another tiny whine escaping him.

He'd all but asked for this, but it wasn't what he'd expected. He wasn't sure how, but it didn't seem as punishing as he thought it would. It was confusing, because it definitely hurt.

He shook his head and tensed up more, trying not to think about it.

Coulson spread the swats out evenly, increasing the force behind them by a fraction. His other arm stayed firm around Ward's waist, holding his son tightly against his stomach. As Coulson started another circuit of swats, he spoke quietly but firmly. "I'm here, Grant, for you to lean on and take strength from. I know you're worried and scared about a lot of things right now and it's okay to be scared... but you're not alone. And you're never going to be alone."

Never alone...Ward shook his head slightly as he heard the promise, the tears that were already falling coming faster at the words. He'd pretty much always felt alone. Even when Garrett had supposedly saved him, he'd still felt alone; so much of what he'd done to help the other man had been an attempt to not be alone. And then there was Coulson...forgiving him when anyone else would have left him to rot in a jail cell and suffer the consequences of his actions...taking him back into his life and doing everything possible to protect him from the outside world and from himself...teaching him what a father really was...and making promises to never leave him alone.

This wasn't why he'd tried to pick a fight with Trip! He wanted to suffer and be in pain, to pay at least a little for what he'd done in his past...he hadn't wanted to have to 'feel', though. Feeling hurt worse than...than...than pretty much anything. Only, with Coulson, all he could do was feel and when the emotions became too much, the older man wanted...expected him to lean on him and... and... and his father would actually be there to be the strong one, if he let him. Ward let out a choked sob, trying not to lose control, but knowing he was pretty much already a goner.

"I love you, son." It didn't matter how many times Coulson said it to Grant, it remained true. As he shifted his son forward to begin swatting his sit spots and the tops of his thighs, Coulson continued, "I have you. I won't let you down. I won't hurt you. You're mine. Even before I came to see you in the jail cell, you were mine the moment you joined the team. I came for you then and again when HYDRA took you. And I'm here for you now."

"B...but I d...don't deserve c...can w...want me?" Ward forced the words out, his voice shaky. The attention to his sit spots and thighs was making it impossible to pull into himself and try to retain what little control he had. Just when he thought he might be able to focus enough to ignore the words tugging on his heart, a sharp smack would cause him to lose that focus and he was right back to wanting...needing...his, "Daddy..." he sobbed out, finally going limp across his father's lap.

Coulson stopped. Without any kind of hesitation, he tugged Grant onto his lap and into his arms. Wrapping his son in a tight embrace, he cradled Grant and rocked him, hand finding its way to the nape of his son's neck as it continually did now.

Grant curled into his father, gripping the front of his shirt tightly in both hands and sobbing into the older man's shoulder. There were so many things he didn't understand...didn't think he would ever understand...about how Coulson had adopted him in every way but legal; but at this moment, understanding it was the last thing on his mind. The only thing he could think about was that his daddy had him and wasn't letting him go, no matter what he did wrong, and that he was loved and cared about in a way that he'd never before dreamed he'd ever be loved or cared about. Well... that and the fact that his backside felt like it was on fire and he didn't want to move too much because moving reignited the flames. Slowly, the sobbing ebbed to a gentle sniffling and occasional crying.

"Ow..." he muttered against Coulson's chest in a childish bid for sympathy.

Coulson dropped a light kiss to the top of Grant's head, his arms tightening around his son. "I know it hurts physically... but I suspect you feel better inside," he said gently, squeezing the nape of Grant's neck. "I know you've been hurting a lot there this past week."

Grant shivered and sniffed once, pressing closer to his father and snuggling, as he so often did after being punished. "Yes, sir..." he admitted softly. "I'm... confused. A lot," he admitted reluctantly. "I guess I was being a complete and utter brat to everyone because..." He trailed off, embarrassed.

Coulson stroked gently over his hair and back. "You were mixed-up and hurting inside. I imagine there'll be other emotional upheavals to deal with... but I'll be here for you each and every time. That will never change."

"I know you will..." Ward said softly then glanced up with a tiny, trusting smile. His eyes were puffy and red and he looked every inch a punished child. "I'm sorry that my head and my actions don't seem to want to cooperate sometimes..." He sighed. "I know I'm yours now and that you'll always have my back..." ...and my backside, he thought with a tiny bit of humor. "…Sometimes I guess I just get overwhelmed by it and need to push...." he admitted, ashamed at the fact.

Coulson cuddled his son tighter. "Needing to push is normal and not something you should feel ashamed about. It doesn't matter how many times you need to push me. Nothing will ever drive me away," he promised.

Ward relaxed, enjoying the closeness and the safety he felt in his father's arms. He couldn't help a humorous retort, though. "Nothing will ever drive you away or hold your hand still if you think I need a dose of 'tough love', you mean?" He wiggled slightly and winced at the faint sting he could still feel.

"Exactly," Coulson agreed, with a faint smile to show that he was teasing. Turning a little more serious, he added, "There's been a thought in my mind since you told me about your nightmares. I was wondering if you might think it would help to have a dog... to help you make some new, better memories." He watched Ward carefully to see what he thought.

Ward blinked, then, in a bid to think about it, carefully untangled himself from his father's arms and stood, pulling his pants back into place. When he finally looked back up at Coulson, he had a hopeful yet tentative smile on his face. "I didn't think we could have pets on the Bus? Or on any of the bases for that matter...."

Coulson reached out, placing a hand gently on his son's shoulder. "I'm sure we can manage a dog on here. If they knew an animal was likely to help you, the rest of the team would understand... though I think a service dog would be better," he added. "A puppy would likely be a bit too... chaotic." He didn't say it, but technically, Grant wasn't supposed to be on the Bus, either.

Ward slanted his head. "The kind that helps with post-traumatic stress?" he asked curiously. "The therapist mentioned that as maybe something to look into..." he admitted shyly. "…I didn't think it would be allowed, so I didn't bother bringing it up...."

"Grant..." Coulson brought him back into his arms for another hug. "If it's something that might help you... there is nothing I wouldn't consider as a possibility."

Letting out a tiny sigh of contentment, Grant wrapped his arms around his father and hugged him. "I know, dad. It might take me a while to act like I do...but I know." Leaning back to smile at the older man, he leaned in close again, putting his head on his father's shoulder and just holding on tightly, happy in his current position.

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