Saying everything was now a mess was really understating the situation they were in. Steve was all too aware of how they'd got to this point... with Tony avoiding him; Bucky hardly around... and the rest of their family trying to pick up the pieces.
It wasn't even really about the Accords. A family meeting had allowed everyone to express they felt the same way. Even though some horrible things had happened, they had too many family members who needed to be protected. Allowing themselves to be policed by those outside of the family would mean that the members like Wanda would be taken advantage of... and that was the best case scenario.
They'd been a united front... and then Tony had received the tapes. He'd discovered Bucky's responsibility for his parents' deaths... and then (understandably), he'd lost it. Lost control, forcing Steve to physically fight him to try and get him to calm down.
But... now... Tony was avoiding him. Pepper wasn't even in the same state... and every member of the family was miserable and hurting. Steve knew that, but he couldn't see past the guilt he felt for his part in everything.
Bruce swallowed hard before walking into the living room where his father sat, supposedly reading, but in actuality staring at the page in front of him with an almost lost look on his face. "Dad? I just talked to Pepper...she's finally cleaned up all the issues she needed to fix in Malibu and will be heading back home tomorrow. She...she's worried, dad. Just like the rest of us."
Of course, she was more than worried; the fact that she'd called Bruce to pass on the information instead of Tony or Steve was telling. She may have been trying to put out fires at SI's west coast branch when everything had gone south, but she still knew what was going on. Part of her had wanted to stay in Malibu, not wanting to see her family suffering in such a way, but Harry needed her. Tony and Steve were too emotionally caught up and were missing the clues that the younger man was leaving. So she was coming home to take care of her child; and maybe knock some sense into her fiancé. She'd been grateful that Bruce had stepped into the gap, being there for Harry while Tony and Steve weren't capable and told him so.
Bruce bit his lip and refocused on his father. "She said the conversion of storage facility into a family compound is nearly complete. All that needs finishing is the living quarters. As soon as we decide how we want the bedrooms arranged." He sighed, not certain his father was even hearing him. "We're calling a family meeting as soon as Pepper gets back to finalize. Where's Bucky? I'll tell him...."
Steve blinked, focusing on Bruce... or trying to, anyway. It was hard when he was in so much emotional turmoil... but his other son needed an acknowledgement; a response. "I don't know where Bucky is," he admitted, his voice very quiet, as he tried hard not to let anything of how he felt come through in tone or voice.
Bruce nodded, not surprised, but a little disappointed all the same. "Yeah. Ok. I'll find Lance and see if he knows...." He turned to go hunt for his cousin, stopping at the door and turning slightly to face his father again. "You're going to be at dinner tonight, right? Bobbi, Grant, Nat and Clint all decided to make a big Russian meal...."
Steve nodded in return. "Yes. I... I'll be there," he said, his voice still at the same level. "If Tony isn't..." He hesitated. "Can you make sure he eats something? Please?" Ordinarily, he would have no trouble persuading his other son to come and eat... but this wasn't an ordinary situation.
"Sure thing, dad..." Bruce answered, with a crooked if sad smile. Waiting a few seconds more to make sure his father didn't have anything else to request, he sighed and went to search for Lance.
Tony was in his lab, making upgrades to his suit. Or, at least, that's what he had meant to be doing. Shaking his head, he looked down at his progress and realized he'd spaced out again and hadn't accomplished much, if anything, in the last two hours. He straightened up and stretched, his back sounding like popping corn, then winced. He had been in his lab for... blinking, he asked, "Veronica? How long have I been working?"
"You have been in the laboratory working on your suit for 56 hours, 37 minutes and 22 seconds, sir," the AI promptly answered. "In that time, you have not eaten anything, nor have you slept. Your son came looking for you, but turned around before entering the lab; I believe he spoke with Dr. Banner, so whatever he needed was taken care of...."
Tony blinked at the fact that Harry had come down but not actually come in to see him, a spear of guilt stabbing him as he realized he hadn't seen his son in nearly three days. "Right...uh...guess the first order of business is a shower to wake up...then eating something...then sleep. Can you inform Harry that I'm leaving the lab and will be in the kitchen making a sandwich in about twenty minutes if he'd like to join me for lunch? Or a snack if he's already eaten?" Just because he was feeling adrift, hurt and uncertain didn't mean he could neglect his boy. He wasn't sure what he could tell his son, or how to tell him, but maybe just spending time with him, so that he'd know Tony wasn't avoiding him, would be enough.
"Okay, so this is how it works..." Peter was fully in 'distract Harry from feeling unhappy mode', showing his cousin his latest (safe to do alone) experiment. He waved Harry over to take a look.
"You know, you don't have to try and 'amuse' me."
Peter blinked. "I'm really not. I actually like spending time with you."
"But..." Whatever else Harry was about to say was cut off by Veronica informing him about his father wanting to meet him in the kitchen. A hesitant, nearly hurt look came over Harry's face. Logically, he knew the real tension was between his father and grandfather... but the thought of not being wanted was still there.
"Come on... I'll go with you. Could use a snack anyway." Peter wrapped his arm around Harry's shoulders, talking to distract him as he headed to the elevator.
Tony took a very quick shower, not wanting his son to be alone in the kitchen for too long, so by the time his son and nephew made their way into the kitchen, he was already there, hair still wet, eyes bloodshot and bleary, as he attempted to put a sandwich together.
"Would you like me to do that, Uncle Tony?" Peter asked, noticing that his uncle looked tired... though the way the sandwich kept falling apart was probably a good indication that he was unfocused too.
"Wha....Oh!" Tony blinked and gave his nephew and son a sheepish look. "I meant to ask if you wanted a sandwich too. Or have you already had lunch?" he asked, the weariness in his voice obvious. It was also obvious that the fight between he and Steve and the resulting distance between them was affecting him; his eyes were shadowed, sad and miserable. He blinked again as his sandwich fell apart for the umpteenth time and then sighed. "Maybe, if you don't mind?" he asked helplessly, stepping away from the counter and barely catching himself as he stumbled over his own feet.
Peter nodded. "Sure." He stepped over to start making the sandwich, automatically getting some fruit and a bottle of water for his uncle as well.
Swallowing a bit, Harry stepped closer to his father, darting an uncertain look at his cousin. "What... were you working on?" he asked, trying to find a 'safe' topic of conversation. He could tell his father was tired, but wasn't sure it was appropriate for him to mention going to bed. Maybe if one of the other family members was there...
"I was working on the suit...trying to fix a few things that had gotten broken..." His voice trailed off as he thought of how the suit had got broken in those places and swallowed. "Well, I was trying to work on it anyway. I don't really remember much of what I accomplished...if I accomplished anything..." He frowned slightly in bafflement. "I...I probably shouldn't stay up so long without sleep. I haven't done it in so long I'm not used to it anymore..." he said, with a touch of embarrassment. "And I shouldn't be setting bad examples for you two...." He chuckled slightly, but it wasn't really a happy sound. "...Don't be like me. Really. It's not a good way to be..." he said softly, sitting down at the table.
"I'm sorry I've been hiding away, Harry..." he finally said, his voice sad. "I wasn't hiding from you...I just...got lost in thinking and...well...next time, just come into the lab. Even if it looks like I'm in the middle of something, come in. I'll always want to see you..." Tony said his voice earnest as he looked at his son.
Harry hesitantly sat at the table with his father, glancing up as Peter brought over plates for the two of them. "I'm going to take mine to the lab... check the progress of my experiment," he said, not-so-subtly giving his cousin and uncle space.
Glancing after Peter as his cousin left, Harry's response was a bit quiet. "I... don't know how to do that," he admitted.
Tony had taken a bite of the sandwich when Peter had made his exit, so all he could do was give the younger man a thumb's up and a wave. He turned toward Harry when his son answered him, though. Swallowing the bite of food in his mouth, he asked in confusion, "Don't know how to do what? Come into my lab and let me know you need me?" Tony's voice was worried. Tony was worried. Had he given his son the impression that he couldn't come to him when he needed him? That he had to wait until Tony indicated it was alright to come to him? "Harry? You do know that I want you to come get me, no matter when, where, or what I'm doing, if you need me for something? Even if it's just for a hug.... Don't you?" Tony reached over and put his hand on Harry's arm, giving it a slight squeeze.
"I..." Harry didn't know how to put into words how unsettling he was finding this situation... that he could see how unhappy his father and grandfather were. He relaxed a little when his father squeezed his arm, but it was hard to do so completely. "I figured... maybe you needed space." His voice dropped even lower, as he wanted to tell his father that he could see his grandfather was just as miserable... but didn't want to risk that bringing up Steve would make his father withdraw.
Tony sighed again, shifting his chair closer so he could put his arm around Harry and kiss him on the side of the head. "I'm not gonna lie, kid. I'm not in a good place mentally or emotionally. What happened...it...it's hard for me to accept- to process- and I feel so angry right now. I don't even know that I'm angry at your grandfather, though I am upset with him, but I'm angry and don't know what to do with that anger and...." He swallowed. "Look. I know you feel uncomfortable and it's hard for you; I know you love me and I know you love your granddad and seeing us not talk is hard for you. And I wish I could be more adult about things and face him and not avoid him, but I can't. I tried and every time I attempt to make myself face this head-on, I start hyperventilating and and..." He had to stop, because just thinking about it was causing him to become anxious and breathe funny. "....Just know that I'm not upset with you at all. I love you and I always will. But until I get my head screwed on straight again, maybe you'll need to lean more on your mom...I don't know how much good I'm going to be to anyone right now." Tony slumped, depression and exhaustion finally catching up to him. He looked at the half-eaten sandwich, knowing he should finish it- he hadn't eaten nearly enough to make up for all the missed meals- but unable to face doing anymore.
Harry leaned into his father, worry and concern taking precedent over how he was feeling emotionally. Swallowing, he spoke in a soft voice. "I know Mom isn't here... maybe I could nap in your room with you?" The question was honestly meant... but Harry still wasn't sure if his father would like the suggestion.
Tony looked up at Harry's suggestion, the look of gratitude and relief on his face palpable. "Yeah...I...I'd like that. Thanks, kid..." He didn't want to admit part of the reason he'd been in his lab and skipping sleep was because Pepper had needed to go to the west coast for business and everything that had occurred had caused his nightmares to return. Normally, he would have gone to Steve, but...he didn't feel that was a viable option anymore.
Harry nodded, obviously relieved he could do something to help his father. "Are you going to eat anymore?" The question wasn't pushy... but being the only one there, Harry couldn't help but channel his grandfather, having heard (and experienced) Steve's encouragement for himself.
Tony's lips quirked up in amusement. "Yeah. I'll finish the sandwich then we can head up to my room..." He reached up and ruffled Harry's hair, before quickly eating the remainder of the sandwich. Once he was done, he carefully stood and cleaned up the dish. "C'mon, kid. I probably won't be much company for you; I feel like I'm about to fall asleep right this second. But it will be nice to cuddle for a bit, if you aren't too old to cuddle with your old man..." he teased gently.
Harry smiled and moved a bit closer to his father... partly for contact; partly to make sure he could help his father keep his balance, knowing how tired he was. "I don't think age comes into cuddling..."
Tony grinned, leaning on his son, welcoming the support, and kissing the top of Harry's head. "Good to know that. I'd miss it..."
Soon, they were upstairs, Tony sound asleep, holding Harry to him as snugly as he could get away with.
Pepper had been reluctant to go to Malibu, not wanting to leave her family in what she viewed as a crisis. Unfortunately, as CEO, she needed to be there to put out the metaphorical fires when several of the projects being handled in the west coast branch of Stark Industries had suddenly gone pear-shaped. She'd done what she could and was only waiting to attend one more meeting to assure the board members that the situation was handled, before she got on a plane to head home.
Pym had been contacted by Pepper Potts' secretary and asked to come in for a meeting. He arrived early, a big part of him concerned about Tony. He hadn't seen his adopted nephew in quite a while, but he was aware of some of what had happened... and hoped Pepper would be able to set his mind at rest.
Pepper glanced up as Hank entered her office, standing quickly to go meet him at the door with a handshake, before firmly closing the door for privacy. Then, she couldn't help herself; she wrapped her arms around the older man and held on in a tight hug. "Thank you for coming..." she finally said, as she attempted to regain control over her emotions so she could tell him what was being done in regards to the employee trying to claim research that didn't belong to him.
Better with the contact, Hank wrapped his arms around Pepper and hugged her in return. "How are you holding up?" His voice was soft, as he dealt with the most important thing first.
"I don't know..." Pepper gave him a wobbly smile. "I need to go home...make sure they're ok...but I don't know what to do...." She paused before giving Hank a sheepish look. "How much do you know of what's occurred?" she asked with a crooked smile, motioning him to sit in one of the chairs in front of her desk and then sitting in the one right next to it so they could talk like friends instead of like business associates. She knew she hadn't told him of the recordings Tony had been sent; and they had done their best to keep it out of the press, because they didn't want Bucky prosecuted for something he'd had no control over (Tony hadn't protested the decision, even if he hadn't said anything about it), so she wasn't certain if Hank had heard about them or not.
Hank took the indicated seat, turning to face Pepper and give her his full attention. "There are all sorts of speculation and rumours flying around. I know tensions are high, in particular between Tony, Steve and Bucky. But no one knows why for sure."
Pepper bit her lip uncertainly. It would help her immensely to be able to talk about the situation to someone who wasn't as emotionally involved as the rest of the family, but it felt like it could be a betrayal of sorts if she told him what had happened and he didn't already know. She phrased her answer as carefully as possible; not to give out specific information, but so that he'd get the gist of her problem. "T...Tony found out some information that wasn't good, related to Bucky when Bucky was still brainwashed... Tony didn't handle it well and...." She winced. "Well, he's withdrawn himself from Steve and Bucky and Steve and Bucky aren't handling it much better, because they've let him withdraw from them. It scares me, though. Steve was a large part of the reason Tony's been stable the last few years...you know how he was before Steve showed up in his life." She wiped at her eyes, frustrated that she was crying. "I tried to keep things together as much as I was able, but then I had to come out here because we discovered two of our scientists were stealing research and claiming it as their own, so I've been here for the last week trying to figure out what was done, when it was done and how to take care of it..." She let out a tiny laugh. "That's actually why I'd called for you to come meet with me today; your research was among the stolen research we discovered and I needed to discuss how you wanted to handle things. I didn't mean to start crying on you...." She wiped her eyes again.
Hank reached out and placed his hand on Pepper's shoulder, squeezing gently. "The stolen research isn't a priority," he said. "We can discuss how to handle it later. But I think I should go back with you. Tony needs to stop avoiding me in any case... and hopefully, having someone else who cares about him will help, too."
"It only took you what, twenty-eight years to decide he'd been avoiding you long enough?" Pepper's voice was wry, slightly amused, but grateful. "I...I think you are right, though. It would help him to have you there." She swallowed, reaching up and grasping Hank's hand and squeezing back just as gently. "Thank you, sir...."
Hank nodded. "You're welcome. Now... are your meetings finished for now? Is there time to get something to eat before flying back?" He had a fairly good idea Pepper wouldn't have eaten well... but he didn't voice that.
"You were my last meeting. My next stop was to contact the board chairman and inform him of what had happened and what had been agreed upon between those stolen from and Stark Industries...but we haven't actually set any agreements, so..." Pepper looked uncertainly at Pym.
Given the history between him and Howard Stark, she'd thought he would be a lot more angry; and less concerned about her eating habits. And then her stomach decided to remind her that she'd been skipping meals and living off of the vending machine since arriving, all her time taken with trying to fix the mess the two thieving scientists had caused, as well as making sure they hadn't stolen any SI secrets before firing them and calling the police. She blushed as her stomach decided to tell on her to Hank as well.
Hank raised his eyebrows at the sound of Pepper's stomach growling, but didn't outright comment on it. Instead, he said, "Then I think the first order is a proper meal. There are some good restaurants close by." He stood and paused expectantly, waiting for her to stand as well.
Pepper's eyes widened and she quickly stood. "Yes, sir," she found herself saying, Hank having the same aura about him that commanded obedience and respect...like her father and uncles. "I'll just let my assistant know..." she said, grabbing her purse and opening the office door to do just that.
Stepping out of the office, Hank paused to wait for Pepper to inform her assistant. When she returned, he asked, "Is there anything in particular you'd like to have?"
Pepper smiled and shook her head. "Nothing in particular. There's a little mom and pop diner about three blocks from here though...they make a really good fried chicken. If that sounds good to you."
Hank nodded. "That sounds fine to me." He walked next to Pepper, heading out of the building. "When is your flight booked for?" he asked.
Pepper sighed. "One of the advantages of being engaged to Tony Stark...private plane that will leave whenever I'm ready, as long as the flight plan is filed. As soon as I report to the board chair...I can go. I just need to know what I need to report as far as what was stolen from you..." She glanced at him from the side of her eye, still confused that he didn't seem worried about the theft at all.
"It's not the first time someone's stolen and claimed my work as their own," Hank replied. "If the person who stole it has been dealt with, that's good enough for me... and if the company does want to use any of my work, we can come to some kind of arrangement. As long as there were no profits going to the wrong person or company... I understand you've dealt with it."
Pepper slumped in relief. "Thank you so much...this particular project was actually for a children's hospital...I hated that we might need to disappoint the kids, but if you allow us to use it...we will of course make sure all proper credit is given. We had planned that any profit go to helping the families be able to stay near their children."
"Then that is an acceptable course of action," Hank said. "We can draw up a contract and you can advise the board of the decision. And then we'll get on the plane."
Pepper noticeably relaxed when she realized that the last bit of what needed to be decided had been worked out. It enabled her to actually eat her lunch, instead of picking at it (although Hank was watching her closely enough to make sure she ate).
Once done, they'd returned to the office and drawn up the contract and then Pepper had gone to the hotel to pick up her luggage, while Hank had gone home to pack a bag for himself. The limo picked Pepper up, then Hank, and they were on their way back to New York a lot sooner than Pepper had anticipated. She didn't tell Tony who was coming with her, though. She figured, in this situation, a surprise was better.
As people began filtering into the dining room to eat, Coulson couldn't help but notice that some of the members were missing. Sighing quietly, he headed through to the kitchen, where four of his children were. "Would you like me to carry anything through?" he asked... automatically checking them over, to see how they were handling this.
"Thanks, Boba." Raina smiled. "If you would please take the bowls...I'll carry the plates."
Bobbi had a tray full of glasses with ice that she was ready to carry out. She couldn't help but glance around and notice who was there and who wasn't. She frowned, worry in her eyes.
Coulson smiled and took the bowls, carrying them through to the dining area. Returning to the kitchen, he saw the look on Bobbi's face and gently squeezed her shoulder. "How are you feeling?" he asked softly.
"I'm worried..." Bobbi admitted. "I just don't know what to do about it. I'd hoped Lance would be here with Uncle Bucky."
"He might be trying to support his father." Though Coulson suspected Bucky wasn't likely to be feeling any better. "I can check on them... take some food with me," he offered.
"Would you please?" Bobbi gave her father a grateful smile. "I can set aside a plate for both of them to take after we all eat...."
Coulson smiled and kissed his daughter's cheek. "Of course," he said softly. "I noticed Tony didn't come... I suspect Harry is with him, but if you can plate up food for them, I imagine Bruce or one of his kids will take it."
Bobbi quickly nodded. "Is Uncle Steve here now, or does he need a plate also?" Her voice was sad and a bit nervous. Seeing part of their family fall part like this had shaken her; and she knew she wasn't the only one. If Steve and Tony could pull apart so horribly...were any of their families as secure as they'd thought?
"He's here," Coulson replied, his voice gentle, as he knew how much this was affecting her... all of them. Kissing her forehead, he gently took the tray from her. "Go sit down."
Leaning into the kiss, Bobbi took a deep breath and forced herself to smile. "Ok, daddy..." She relinquished the tray and went into the dining room, sitting next to Ben, since he only had Blake next to him currently.
Coulson walked in to join the others, but the meal was subdued. Although there were some conversations being carried on, there were very few that involved everyone... and even though Steve was there, he was picking at his food and forcing himself to eat, an act that was obvious to Coulson and, he suspected, everyone else.
When the meal was finished, Coulson quickly let the rest of his children and grandchildren know where he was going and then retrieved the plates for Lance, Bucky and Bakshi. After checking with Veronica, he made his way to the elevator to go to his brother's and nephews' floor.
Bobbi took the plates to Tony and Harry quickly, leaving them in their kitchen and asking Veronica to let them know the food was there when they woke from their nap.
Bucky was sat between his two sons, his arms wrapped tightly around his middle. Everyone knew what he'd done now and he found it difficult to face anyone. Even though he knew they understood and had forgiven him (all but Tony), because he'd been brainwashed when he'd killed Tony's parents, he still found it impossible to face them. He couldn't go to the family meal knowing that either Steve, or Tony, or both might be missing and it was his fault that everything had fallen apart. He'd told Lance and Bakshi to go eat, but they'd refused to leave his side; and given his own reluctance to face everyone, even though he knew he should, he couldn't force the issue.
Coulson quietly asked Veronica to let Bucky and his sons know he was there and then stepped into the living area. "I brought food," he said... unnecessarily, but at least it was a conversation starter.
Stirring, Lance exchanged a worried look with his brother, but he stood to help Coulson with the plates. "Thanks..."
Bucky hunched in on himself further, too ashamed and guilty to face any other family. If it wouldn't have hurt Bakshi and Lance, he would have avoided them, too...but he wasn't so far gone into his own mind that he didn't realize the harm that could do, so he did stay with his sons. Facing Phil? That was an entirely different matter.
Coulson didn't leave after Lance took the plates from him. Instead, he sat down on one of the armchairs, as Bakshi left to go and get each of them some drink. He came back with four bottles of water, wordlessly handing one to Coulson before he took his seat next to his father once more.
"Thank you." Coulson's face was worried as he looked at Bucky. "You'll need to eat something." His voice was mild, but the concern was obvious.
Bucky wasn't sure he was going to answer until he did, the whisper barely heard. "It wouldn't stay down...."
"I know." Coulson didn't know exactly how Bucky felt... but he knew enough about guilt and despair to have some idea. He looked at Lance and Bakshi. "Do you mind letting me talk to your Dad for a bit?"
Lance's glance at his father was hesitant, even though it was second nature.
Bucky did look up at that. Swallowing hard he nodded at both of his sons. "It's ok. Go on and eat- put mine away for later. Maybe I'll be hungrier then...." He didn't sound like he truly believed that, but he was trying.
"Call if you need us... or, you know, get Veronica to." Lance pressed close to his father and then stood with his plate and Bucky's, waiting for his brother to join him.
Bakshi gave Bucky a quick hug and then left the room with Lance.
Waiting until they were gone and out of earshot, Coulson spoke in a soft voice. "I can't say I know exactly how you're feeling... but I know what it's like to be overwhelmed by guilt. It doesn't help you. I know how it can progress. I don't want you to feel so guilty, you do something to punish yourself."
Bucky's smile was unhappy. "I know Lance and Bakshi need me. I wouldn't do anything to take me away from them...still..." He bit his lip as if debating then shoved his sleeve up so Coulson could see the tiny burns on the inside of his arm just above the elbow. "I deserve to hurt...." His voice was bleak.
Coulson stood and walked over to sit next to Bucky, placing a hand on his brother's arm. "It's hurting you enough already," he said, his voice still gentle. If he was shocked, he didn't show it. "That's not healthy. And if it was one of the kids... or anyone else... doing that, I know you wouldn't accept that."
Bucky swallowed and then gave a faint nod. "You're right. I wouldn't accept it. That's why I hid it...." He pulled the sleeve back down to cover the evidence.
Coulson wrapped his arm around Bucky's shoulders. "There are better ways to deal with that guilt," he pointed out.
"Maybe...I...I couldn't ask Steve to help, though; he's hurting as bad, if not worse...has his own guilt..." Bucky mumbled, before glancing at Coulson uncertainly with an almost begging look in his eye.
Coulson's smile was gentle, sympathetic and caring. "You're my brother as much as Steve is. Steve might not be in a good enough place to help you right now... but I can. If you trust me."
"I do trust you..." Bucky said. "Please help me...?" He couldn't hide the guilt or the despair in his voice. If Phil couldn't help, he wasn't certain what could.
Coulson gave Bucky one last squeeze and then gently tugged his brother across his lap, unable to help but respond to the obvious pain Bucky was in. Rubbing his brother's back gently a moment or two, he then bared him.
Bucky didn't fight even a little as Phil arranged him. He didn't even flinch. Instead, he left himself pliant and, as soon as he was in position, went limp, his hand fisted into the fabric of Phil's pants leg. Tears were already streaming down his face and it was all he could do to keep from sobbing.
Wrapping his arm around Bucky's waist to draw him tight against his stomach, Coulson lifted his hand and brought it down in a firm swat that he then repeated, careful not to be too harsh... but making sure the swats would be felt.
Bucky couldn't help but jerk minutely at the swats and let out tiny whimpers. At the same time, he felt himself relaxing, as he realized that he might finally pay, at least a little, for what he'd done to his nephew. The fact he hadn't been in control of himself didn't matter, as far as he was concerned, in regard to his guilt.
Coulson settled quickly into a rhythm of swats, going down to Bucky's thighs before he started over from the top. He watched his brother's reactions carefully, trying to gauge if Bucky needed him to talk, or needed to process his feelings in silence.
Bucky kept quiet at first, whimpers and tiny grunts not withstanding. But he couldn't help but think of what had led to him being in this position and when Phil started over, he felt like he had to say something. Of course, what he said wasn't what he had intended to say.
"Howard was my friend...." He swallowed at the rough sound of his voice. "The recordings...he recognized me. He knew his friend was killing him...." He choked on the words. "Tony...I left him an orphan...I hurt my nephew terribly, even if we didn't know it at the time...if Tony had been in the car...." He choked again on a sob and tried to catch his breath.
"I know the guilt has been tearing you up." Coulson's voice was soft, in direct contrast to the hard swats he was delivering. "It feels like it was your responsibility... but it wasn't. You were being controlled and used. Howard recognised your face, but it wasn't your own will driving you. They had decades to perfect that control; to break your will. But the man you are now is your own. The man you were then was being used."
"Th...that doesn't change the...the fact I killed him. I killed his wife...Tony's mother...." Bucky sobbed, squirming now, despite his belief he deserved the pain of the spanking (if not worse). "Tony...he...you didn't see his face...I....I can't make it better!"
Coulson tightened his grip on Bucky, though it was for comfort as much as restraint, and increased the force and speed of the swats a fraction. "Healing is going to take time," he said gently. "Tony is hurting, the same way you and Steve are. But I continue to believe our family is strong enough to weather even this. Even if it might take time. And you do have family to lean on."
"I don't ...I don't ...I can't... What do I do?" Bucky gave one last, rather weak, jerk of his legs then went limp over Phil's knee and just cried heartbroken over actions he hadn't had a choice in.
Stopping the spanking, Coulson helped Bucky up and into a tight embrace, knowing he needed to be able to safely release his emotions.
Bucky sunk against Phil, crying so hard his voice had stopped working. Only the fact his brother held him so tightly kept him from slumping to the floor. He didn't know how long he cried, but eventually, the tears ebbed till he was just quivering weakly. Blindly, he reached down to fix his clothing and attempted to straighten, but it was obvious he was worn and might have difficulty walking.
Coulson helped Bucky with his clothing and then wrapped an arm around his shoulders. "I'd like you to try and eat something," he directed. "And then, maybe you should take a nap with your kids... but I'd like the three of you to join me and my kids on our floor this evening, for some family time."
Bucky leaned against Phil and took a shaky breath before answering. "Ok." He glanced up from under wet lashes. The guilt wasn't completely gone, but there was a small measure of peace in his eyes that wasn't there before, if only because he knew he had someone to lean on that he wasn't responsible for. "Thank you...."
Coulson squeezed his brother gently. "You're welcome. If you can, the next time you feel like doing this," he touched Bucky's arm, "come and talk to me. I'll always have time," he promised, in much the same way he would promise and be there for any of his children and grandchildren.
"I will," Bucky whispered and nodded, the tone of his voice making it a promise as much as anything. Turning to give Phil one last hug, he gave a crooked smile and turned to go to the kitchen. "Guess it's time to eat." For the first time in days, he actually felt able to.
Coulson smiled and stood up, planning to join his brother in the kitchen and stay until he was certain Bucky was able to rest.
Bucky walked in and smiled at seeing his sons eat. "Let me reheat my dinner...then, after I eat, I'm going to take a nap..." he said softly, reaching over and ruffling Bakshi's hair. "Would you like a drink, Phil?"
Bakshi smiled and shuffled over so that their father could sit between him and Lance, looking relieved that Bucky seemed to be feeling better.
"I've still got my water, thank you." Phil smiled and took the remaining seat.
It didn't take long until the three were eating, Lance and Bakshi having more of an appetite now that they could tell their father was feeling better.
Matt may not have been able to see the sad faces and tense, uncertain looks in the family, but that didn't mean he couldn't sense the turmoil. He stuck close to Sam throughout dinner.
So did Karen.
Able to tell his children weren't feeling good, Sam stuck close to the two of them and once dinner was finished, he wrapped an arm around each of them and spoke softly. "Shall we go to our floor?"
Karen smiled. "Yes, daddy. Foggy is supposed to come over a little later...he found information on that girl Matt was telling the story about...."
Sam nodded. "I remember." Having cleaned up their dishes, he guided his children to the elevator. "Do you know what sort of time? Perhaps we could do something together before he arrives," he suggested.
"He had some things to take care of and was coming after...he said he'd call once he was on his way," Matt said, shifting closer to his father.
Sam squeezed them both gently, pressing a kiss to the top of each of his children's heads as they took the elevator to their floor. "What would you like to do before Foggy gets here?" he asked.
Karen answered, "There probably isn't time to watch a movie. But we could play a game."
"That sounds good to me." When the elevator stopped, Sam guided his children onto their floor.
Matt sat down as Karen got the game out. "Dad..." he began hesitantly. "...Will Uncle Steve, Uncle Bucky and Tony be ok?"
Sam moved to help Karen set up the game, even as he answered Matt's question. "I think they're all hurting a lot," he said seriously. "But I've also seen how deeply and strongly they care for each other. I think it will take time... but all three of them are still here and I think, with time, they'll come back to each other."
"Yeah..." Matt sighed.
"...I'm sure Tony will realize Bucky never would have done it willingly and will forgive him..." Karen said.
Matt frowned a little. "Seems like Tony's more upset with his dad than Bucky, though...."
Karen didn't have anything to say about that, just giving her own father a sad, worried look.
They managed to get through two games before Foggy was able to come to the tower. Veronica let him in. "Hey, Karen? Matt? Sam?" he called out, as way of greeting and determining which room they were in.
Sam had stuck close to his children while playing the game and called out to Foggy when he heard him. "We're in the sitting room."
Foggy came in and set his briefcase to the side, loosening his tie. "You want to keep relaxing for a bit, or hear my news?" he asked, with a crooked grin.
Sam gestured for him to sit down. "We can hear your news... but do you want a drink or snack before you tell us?"
"A drink would be good, thanks." Foggy smiled as Karen quickly retrieved a soda for him. Once she was sat down, he began. "I checked into that girl we talked to before you went on your vacation. Turns out she was there for murdering her parents. Her defense was that she was under the control of some guy named Kilgrave."
Sam frowned. "Control? Like hypnosis? Or more a case of being brainwashed?" He'd seen the effects of both, so knew better than to dismiss someone's claim of being controlled out of hand.
Foggy looked uncertainly at Sam and fidgeted. "From the way it was described...more like control in that… one moment, she has complete control of herself and the next, he's giving her very specific instructions and she's obeying him; even though she doesn't want to, like she's a puppet and he's got the strings. She knew exactly what she was doing, when she was doing it, but was helpless to stop herself." He looked like he wanted to say more, but was reluctant.
"What else?" Sam prodded gently, noticing that Foggy wanted to ask more.
"She wasn't the only one reporting such things..." Foggy said soberly. "An entire police precinct can remember this Kilgrave coming in and ordering them to hold their guns on each other. The only way they were allowed to drop them and not kill their partners and teammates was if a certain Jessica Jones walked out of the precinct a free woman. She was attempting to confess to a murder and apparently, this Kilgrave didn't like it. I tried to access the police video feeds, but everything had been erased. And that wasn't all of the reports. Just the one that made me think it wasn't a hoax or an elaborate story to get this girl off of the charges of killing her parents. The police in this case wouldn't want to be viewed as collectively having lost their minds; they'd lose their jobs. So maybe there was something to the story...."
Sam frowned. "We've seen instances of brainwashing before. Is this Kilgrave still around? If he's capable of doing that... we want to make sure no one else gets hurt." And he knew that all of them didn't want to see someone innocent punished for something out of her control.
"That's where my information gets fuzzy...the only thing consistent in what I was being told was the name of Jessica Jones. I'm not certain if this Kilgrave is still around or not, but if he is, I wouldn't want to be anywhere near him unless I had a fool-proof way of making certain he couldn't control me. This isn't normal brainwashing, Sam... I mean; Bucky, Bakshi, Brock, Kara- they could all vaguely remember what they did while brainwashed, but it was more like a fuzzy bad dream. And it wasn't like Grant's or Raina's conditioning, where they truly believed they wanted to do what they were doing, until they were shown a better way. From what I'm hearing, this is like you are literally living in a nightmare. Everything is completely clear when you are doing it. It's like you're a passenger in your own body, because you don't want to, but your body is acting against your will. Out of all the family that's undergone brainwashing and conditioning? I'd say Clint's experience with Loki and the staff is probably closest to what is going on right now.... but I'm not even certain his experience was exactly the same." Foggy was serious and obviously a bit weirded out by what he'd discovered.
"Is there anything in the news?" Sam glanced at Matt and Karen, but included Foggy in his words. "We could ask Veronica to search it out... but perhaps it might be worth speaking to either Hope or this Jessica Jones." Pausing, he added, "Maybe we could take Steve." It would give his brother something else to focus on.
"The news has been rather quiet, considering what's been going on. I think this Kilgrave managed to get to someone in charge of the press and convinced them to sit on the story." Foggy frowned. "Although maybe it's for the best. Not sure the public wouldn't panic if they realized there was a psychopath who was able to control them running around. Talking to Hope and this Jessica would probably be best. And taking Steve probably would be a very good idea...in case this Kilgrave has obtained himself some muscle...."
"I can't imagine what Hope, the poor girl, must be going through; knowing exactly what she did, not being able to stop herself...knowing who is responsible." Matt shook his head.
"We're people who have seen this kind of thing. Having us believe her... might help," Sam said. "Foggy, did you get Hope's last name? I'll ask Veronica to check if she's been transferred."
"Here is all the information I have on both Hope and this Jessica person..." Foggy handed it over to Sam.
Sam scanned through the files. "Veronica?" he addressed the AI. "Can you do a search on Hope Shlottman, please? Has she been moved from the prison she was in before?"
"Certainly, sir." The AI was silent for several moments before speaking. "There is a Hope Shlottman in the hospital, who was broken out of the prison."
"In the hospital?" Matt's voice rose in worry.
"Broke out of prison?" Karen said, at nearly the same time.
Foggy shook his head. "Either the police are covering it up, or this is one of those things that he managed to get 'erased' from the system, so that no one would bother him...."
"Why is she in the hospital?" Sam asked.
"Her throat was cut by glass." The AI paused before adding, "The angle of the wound and the medical files suggest the wound was self-inflicted."
"Or forced to do it to herself," Sam muttered. "If she's still in danger, maybe we should take a look after visiting hours... Veronica, did anything strange happen before or just after she was broken out of the prison?"
"One of the prison guards took his own life," Veronica replied.
Matt stiffened at that news. "The guard that was acting funny..." he said uncertainly, but suspecting he was right. "If...if we'd known...maybe..." He couldn't stop the hint of guilt from showing in his voice.
"Don't do this, Matty... you didn't know he was being controlled, so there's nothing you could have done to stop him.... It isn't your fault!" Foggy interrupted his friend's guilty comments.
Sam nodded his agreement. "You did the best you could with the information you had," he said. "It's probable the man was marked for death anyway, no matter what you did. This guy Kilgrave probably cleans up after himself."
Karen swallowed hard. "If the spate of murder/suicides being reported in the last few weeks is any indication, you're right." Her voice was somber. "They all occurred within the same area, for the most part; and the one person they all seem to have in common is a private investigator by the name of Jessica Jones. Maybe we shouldn't put off contacting her...if you can ask Uncle Steve tonight, maybe you can talk with her or Hope, or both of them, tomorrow morning?"
Sam nodded. "I'll go and find Steve." He would have invited his brother to his floor... but he didn't want to hurt Steve more by making it obvious that his own family was still whole and unbroken.
"Ok dad. Do you want one of us to go with you?" Matt asked somberly.
"Why don't you come with me, Matt?" Sam suggested. "Karen... Foggy... you two can stay here and relax. But behave," he added, clearly teasing them... and trying to lighten his son's mood even a little.
"I'll do my level best to behave, sir..." Foggy said, so seriously that Matt and Karen couldn't help but laugh.
Matt stood up. "Coming, sir...."
Sam gave his daughter and Foggy a warm smile, gently squeezing Karen's shoulder before wrapping his arm around Matt's shoulders and guiding him to the elevator. "Veronica, can you please confirm where Steve is?"
"Captain Rogers is on the recreation floor, sir," the AI replied.
Matt followed his father onto the elevator and to the recreational floor, not saying anything, but obviously anxious.
Sam kept his son close as the elevator stopped. Just before getting out, he pressed a kiss to Matt's head. "I love you," he said softly, before guiding him from the elevator.
"I love you too, dad," he answered, then followed Sam into the rec room.
Sam kept his arm around Matt's shoulders as he guided his son to where Steve was taking his frustrations out on one of the punching bags. Sam was honestly surprised the bag hadn't broken free yet. Or burst. He cleared his throat. "Hey, Cap."
Steve paused and turned to his brother and nephew. "What is it?" While he was trying to sound normal... he was pale and clearly hadn't been sleeping even the small amount he needed.
Matt winced at the tone of Steve's voice, able to tell by the way he was breathing, and other minute details, that he was worn out and desperately needed to rest. "We were hoping we could get your help with something..." he began, but then stopped, uncertainly.
"Of course. Whatever you need." Steve's response was automatic and only slightly due to his tremendous feelings of guilt. Before everything had come out, he always tried to be there for his family... and that wasn't any different. In fact, there was a relieved, almost hopeful tone to his voice... as he desperately needed some sign that they didn't all hate or resent him.
"You remember the story I told at the island?" Matt began. "Well, Foggy did a bit of research and- it looks like there was a lot more to it than I first suspected. Some guy named Kilgrave, pretty much controlling people and making them do things they don't want to do; I mean literally. I'd say they were brainwashed, but they do these things and they know exactly what they're doing and all of the ones who have spoken of it said they didn't want to do those things, but they had no control over themselves...they had to do what he said to do. Exactly as he said to do it....almost like they were his puppets or something...." His voice trailed off uncertainly. He wasn't sure his explanation made sense.
It took longer than Steve would have liked to make the connection. "More like... the kind of brainwashing Clint went through when Loki got hold of him?" he asked. "This connects with the woman you saw at the prison? Do we know where Kilgrave is? Or what he looks like?"
"All of the information we have is in this file." Sam held it up. "But I'd be happier letting you have it in the morning."
"We want to go out in the morning...talk to Hope again. Maybe locate the woman who was talking with her at the prison; we know her name now... Jessica Jones. Somehow, she's connected to everything," Matt added. He wondered if he shouldn't ask his uncle to spend the night with his dad, sister and him...but wasn't sure it was his place to do so.
Sam nodded. "I was going to ask if Foggy would like to spend the night on my floor... if you did as well, we can all make sure we leave at the same time. I know you're Captain America... but even you get tired." And he'd noticed that Steve's knuckles were turning red from the force he was using on the punching bag.
Steve hesitated. "I can go to my floor... meet you in the garage in the morning."
"If you come to our floor, we can finalize details before going to bed..." Matt tried to coerce his uncle into joining them.
"Matt's got a point," Sam said.
Steve didn't really protest that hard. To be honest, he couldn't deal with Tony's silences... Tony avoiding him... knowing Harry probably felt caught in the middle. "Just let me go shower and I'll come and meet you."
Matt grinned, relieved that, for one night at least, his uncle would maybe possibly get some sleep. "See you in a bit, then..." he said.
Steve nodded. "I'll see you in a while." Picking up his towel, he headed to the showers on the floor.
Sam squeezed his son gently. "Do you want to wait for him to finish?"
"I hate to think he'd change his mind and skip out on us...but...yeah. Let's wait for him..." Matt said softly, so that his voice wouldn't carry to his uncle's sensitive ears.
Sam nodded, keeping his arm wrapped around Matt. "He's not in a good place right now, so I'd rather he stayed with us... maybe for a little while." His own voice was soft. He sighed.
"Yeah...I get that..." Matt easily agreed. "Pepper should be home soon, so Tony won't be alone- not that he would be anyway, since Harry is there. And Bruce and his kids."
"Yeah... I know Phil took food to Bucky and his sons, so I guess he's probably been talking to them." Sam wondered if it was more than just talking... but he didn't really dwell on it. After all, they tried to keep things private within the family groupings.
"I...I hope they get things worked out soon. I hate seeing them all so upset and...hurting." Matt sighed.
"I know. I do too." Sam straightened as Steve reappeared, though he kept his arm around Matt's shoulders.
Having had the shower, Steve appeared even more tired... though he wasn't really relaxed. Sam noticed and looked worried, hoping his brother would be able to sleep on his floor. He reached out and squeezed Steve's arm gently, even though he didn't comment on what he was thinking. "If you're ready... we'll go and figure out our plan of action." Waiting for Steve's nod of acknowledgement, he walked next to his son and brother, heading back to the elevator.
The plane ride had been interesting, to say the least. Pepper was not sure how much Pym really knew. She suspected Hank knew everything, since he'd been more worried about the family than the work that had been stolen from him. Still, she wasn't sure it was her place to tell him what Bucky had done while brainwashed, Steve's unusual decision to hide the truth and Tony's understandable but colossally bad reaction to both. Still, he'd needed to know what he was walking into...so she'd warned him; giving just enough bare bones detail that he wouldn't be caught unawares, but leaving it to those involved to provide detail if they chose. He'd taken it really well. Of course, taking it well before you actually saw the fallout was different than seeing it.
They'd landed at the private airstrip forty minutes before and were now pulling into the garage of the tower. She blinked and gave Hank a suddenly nervous look. "I didn't tell Tony you were coming with me...."
"That only means he can't run very far or fast." Hank hadn't mentioned his former identity as Ant Man, so he didn't say he could easily go after Tony if necessary. "I'm sure you can be forgiven for it having slipped your mind," he added, with a smile that didn't really contain any humour... even though it was meant to be reassuring.
Pepper gave one last nervous smile before saying, "Thank you for understanding...because Tony and our son Harry are waiting for me at the elevator...." She swallowed as Happy parked the car; then, taking a deep breath, got out, opening her arms for a hug.
Harry had been standing next to his father, waiting for his mother to come. Once she got out of the car, he quickly went over and hugged her... only paying a bit of attention to the other person getting out of the car.
Tony smiled in relief when he saw Pepper get out of the car safely...and Harry heading toward her. His smile faltered and his eyes grew wide, nervous and slightly hurt as he realized the guest Pepper had brought without warning him. "Damn it, Pep..." he muttered, before turning and running for the stairs.
"Tony! Wait...!" Pepper called out, shoulders slumping as he ignored her.
Hank, not very surprised, patted Pepper on the shoulder and smiled at Harry. "Stay with your son," he said. "I'll go and talk to him." He waited just long enough for an acknowledgement before he headed in the same direction Pepper had taken.
"Veronica..." Pepper said softly, "...Tony can't hide anymore. Let Dr. Pam know where he is and let him in, even if Tony's locked the door and said not to. PIAR234..." She rattled off the override code she'd been given to use if Tony wasn't in the right frame of mind to do what was healthiest for him.
"Yes, ma'am." Veronica did just that.
Tony had been running without paying attention to where he was going, the short feelings of betrayal that Pepper hadn't warned him about Pym and the attack of nerves at the knowledge the man was in the same building as Tony causing him to move without thinking. By the time he slowed, he had reached the guest apartments....and to say he was winded and his legs felt like limp noodles was an understatement. While it was true he was in the best shape of his life, due to training, healthier eating habits, and healthier sleeping habits, he'd been neglecting all three since finding out about his parents. He couldn't go any further. Sneaking into the nearest guest apartment, Tony collapsed face first on the couch.
The disembodied voice threw Hank off only briefly, before he remembered Pepper explaining about the AI to him. He stepped into the elevator and took it to the floor where the guest apartments were.
Tony had locked the apartment behind him when entering. Of course, he hadn't counted on Pepper overriding any commands he gave Veronica to hide him from Hank. He didn't notice the lock quietly unlatch, or the door swing silently open.
Hank wasn't surprised to find Tony on the couch, face-down... clearly not in a good emotional state. He hadn't needed Pepper to tell him what he was going to find. The rumour mill was rife with speculation about the conflicts and tensions between Captain America and Iron Man, but one look at the younger man was all it took for him to see just how badly Tony had taken the hit.
Stepping forward into the apartment and closing the door behind him (though he blocked the way out), Hank cleared his throat and spoke quietly. "I think you've been running from me for long enough."
Tony jerked and quickly rolled over so his backside was out of reach without even thinking. He then slumped, his eyes falling to the floor, unable to face the older man. "I succeeded for over twenty-five years...kinda thought you were allowing me to...." His voice wasn't sullen, exactly. It was clear he was confused about Hank not letting him run this time, since he'd never attempted to chase after him the other times Tony avoided him.
Hank walked over and sat down on a chair opposite Tony, giving the other man some space while making it clear he wasn't going to back away. "I thought it might eventually stop being so strong... that urge to keep running away. And then, when it did keep happening... I thought maybe you were more affected than I thought and trying to get you to face me would do more harm than good." Pausing, he added, "Don't blame Pepper for not warning you. I think I caught her by surprise when I insisted on coming with her... and while I don't know exactly what happened here, I know enough that if it's affected her as badly as I can see... you're suffering much more." His voice was calm and even though his tone was gruff... the care and concern were obvious.
Tony was listening closely, even if he didn't say anything. He'd blushed at the comments about how he'd never stopped running, fidgeting when it became obvious the reason Hank had never pursued him was due to concern for his well being. Before he could address those comments, however, Hank was explaining why he'd come...and the reminder of what he'd lost overwhelmed him. He closed his eyes tightly and began hyperventilating in an attempt to not begin crying again. He regretted not bringing Shadow with him...the dog normally could help him focus, if nothing else. While hyperventilating, he attempted to explain, "It all feels...I thought...I don't know..." Nothing he said made sense.
It took a second for Hank to move, sitting next to Tony on the couch and automatically wrapping his arms around the other man. "Breathe," he said. "Don't try to talk. Don't try to explain. Just breathe."
Tony didn't understand...but it was so easy to relax into Pym's hold and obey him...regulate his breathing to match the older scientist's. Once he'd been breathing normally for a few minutes, he was able to focus on his position; and the fact that he was holding onto Hank tightly, as if afraid he would leave. Loosening his grip, he slowly pulled away, a look of shame on his face. "Thanks," he whispered. He paused uncertainly, not sure if he should explain his running or not.
The barest hint of a smile touched Hank's lips. "I still care about you. Even though I let you avoid me... I kept up to date with what you were doing. I made sure I knew you were safe."
Tony looked up sharply at that in surprise then bit his lip regretfully. "I ran cuz that's what I do when...when I know I've done something I shouldn't and know I'm in trouble. It's...very childish... and I've never quite understood myself for doing it, specially when, once I'm caught, I'm relieved...." He blushed and looked at the floor again figuring Hank would realize that meant he was relieved Hank had chased him this time.
Hank gently squeezed his shoulder. "Well, it might be twenty-five years late... but I've caught up to you now." There was a faint trace of amusement in his voice... but it didn't mask how concerned he was.
Tony winced, but couldn't help teasing faintly, "Great. Twenty-five years of misbehavior needing addressed. I’ll never be able to sit again..." Sniffling slightly, he finally looked back up at Hank. "You really are worried about me..." His tone was a mixture of curious surprise. While he'd finally accepted that his father loved and had concern for him...and the family did by extension, he still had a hard time believing when people genuinely cared about him. The whole recent upheaval had pushed him back into having a hard time believing anyone other than Harry and Pepper cared, even though mentally, he knew that wasn't the case.
"I do." Hank wrapped his arm around Tony's shoulders. "Very much so. And I can see how much you're hurting, so I'm going to suggest you stay here in this apartment with me for the next few days. You don't have to see anyone you don't want to... though I'm sure Pepper and your son will be on the list of people you do want to see."
Tony blinked, face crumpling as he realized he was being offered the chance to hide away and lick his wounds in a way that wouldn't worry everyone else. "You'd do that for me?" His voice quivered.
Hank squeezed him gently. "I'm not going to ask you to share anything you can't right now... I can and am offering to be with you during this time. And if there comes a point you can talk about it... I'll be right here to listen."
Tony couldn't help himself, twisting so he could hold onto Hank tightly again. He didn't say anything, just quivered as everything caught up to him again, the nap and small amount he'd eaten earlier not enough to make up for days of neglect.
Veronica's voice interrupted softly. "Dr. Pym, your bags have been set outside the apartment door. Ms. Potts has also left a small bag for sir."
"Thank you." Despite responding to the AI, Hank kept his arms tight around Tony, unwilling to let go of him while he was in such emotional turmoil. "I want you to eat something and then I want you to get some sleep," he said seriously to the man he already considered a nephew.
Tony couldn't stop the tiny chuckle that escaped and he sniffled as he finally pulled away. "Yessir..." His voice was subdued and submissive. He was through...tired of running from his uncle...and now that Hank was there, he couldn't help but respond in agreement. He didn't even bother telling Hank he'd just woke up from a nap not more than an hour before and had eaten before then. He bit his lip nervously, as he realized this time, he'd be alone. "I...I apologize in advance if I wake up screaming..." he said hesitantly.
Hank nodded. "I'll be staying in the room with you in any case. I'm not planning to leave you alone. Is there food in the kitchen here? Or should I ask someone to bring some up?"
"We'll need to have someone bring up perishables...but I know Pepper always tries to have stored staples like pasta in the pantry..." Tony sniffed again and wiped his eyes. "Thank you...for coming. After running so long, I thought you'd forgotten about me; I woulda deserved it...." His whisper carried clearly.
Hank squeezed his shoulder gently. "I never forgot about you, kid. That's why I made sure to keep track of you wherever I could. Why don't we go through to the kitchen and I can make some pasta and sauce?" he suggested.
Tony couldn't help but smile at the words, but he got a sheepish look on his face as he realized what that might mean. "So...you know everything I've done? No matter how...reckless?" His voice was timid. It didn't stop him from following Hank into the kitchen, though.
"I know that there's a lot that's happened in the past twenty-five years that shouldn't have happened." In the kitchen, Hank found some pasta and a jar of pasta sauce and began to heat it up. "I know that a lot of your reckless behaviour has been curbed, though."
"It has..." Tony's voice saddened as he thought of the one responsible for the change in his behavior, but swallowed. "You told me once that if I behaved recklessly that...that you'd..." Tony stopped, not certain how to continue and not certain he wanted to. If Hank didn't remember, did Tony really want to remind him?
"I said I'd spank you," Hank replied. "And I don't think you need a broken promise. But for the time being, eating and sleeping is more important than dealing with that kind of behaviour."
Tony just nodded, relieved; although he wasn't sure if the relief was because Hank planned to keep his promise, or if it was because he was going to wait to keep it. "I can't argue against it, really..." he said softly. Some part of him knew that his actions would get a response some day. If he hadn't, he wouldn't have avoided Hank for entirely too long. "I'm sorry I was such a cowardly brat...running and hiding for so long. You didn't deserve that..." Tony looked at his hands, unable to face Pym.
Hank looked at Tony, though part of his attention was still on the pasta. "I know it shocked you when I spanked you," he said mildly. "But I never had a problem with you."
"I...I think I knew that. Deep down. Even if I didn't seem to...." Tony gave Hank a crooked smile. "When I wasn't listening to Obi..." His smile turned down. "I listened to that man entirely too long about things and people I shouldn't have listened to him about."
"You can't always know when someone isn't to be trusted," Hank pointed out. "And you were very young at the time. You shouldn't blame yourself for putting your trust in someone you believed in."
"I hadn't, for a long time. Right now, I just..." He didn't know how to explain how he was feeling. Instead, he shrugged. Standing, he got out two glasses and put ice in them. "Water?" He glanced toward Hank.
Hank nodded. "Water is fine." He retrieved two plates from the cupboard and began sharing the pasta out, though he gave Tony the larger portion, as he himself had eaten some food on the plane.
Tony looked at the food, wide eyed. "I don't know if I can eat that much..." he said hesitantly.
"Eat as much as you can," Hank encouraged. "Pepper mentioned she was worried you weren't eating or sleeping... and I can tell you haven't been sleeping."
"I haven't been..." Tony reluctantly admitted. If the situation was normal, his father would have stepped on by now. The fact Steve hadn't done anything only pressed home how much in disarray their family was. "My son and nephew made me a sandwich earlier today...it was the first thing I'd eaten since things went south. And they got me to take a short nap, but...." Tony didn't have to mention that an hour of sleep in a period of nearly four days wasn't anywhere close to enough.
"It wasn't enough," Hank finished. "That's why, as soon as you've eaten, we'll head straight through to the bedroom... after retrieving the bags," he added.
"Yessir..." Tony agreed, too tired and emotionally worn to think of arguing. He slowly worked his way through the pasta and was honestly surprised when he ate all of it. "Thank you...." He smiled crookedly carefully standing and washing his plate and glass.
Hank had finished his own food, making sure Tony was eating, and washed his own utensils. Retrieving the bags from outside, he wrapped his arm around Tony's shoulders. "Bed now. When you wake up, we'll talk more."
"Ok..." Tony couldn't help but feel like the seventeen year old he had been when Hank had first stepped in. He reacted much like that seventeen year old would have, leaning into Hank, seeking affection.
Inside the bedroom, Hank squeezed Tony and then passed him his bag. "I'm sure there are more comfortable clothes to change into. I won't leave the room, but I will turn round to give you privacy."
Tony blinked then nodded...quickly taking out the pajamas that had been packed for him, then changing. He didn't ask why Hank chose to stay in the room with him. Either it was because Hank didn't want to leave him alone or it was because Hank didn't want to give him opportunity to run away again. Either reason made him feel ashamed that he was so messed up; ashamed but grateful that he had someone willing and able to be strong for him when he was feeling so fragile.
As promised, Hank kept his back turned while Tony changed only turning back once he was certain his nephew was fully clothed in the pajamas. Resting a hand on Tony's shoulder, he gently guided him to the bed.
Tony stumbled a few times, betraying exactly how tired he was, but with Hank's help, managed to make it into bed without mishap. Tony thought for a moment, how this man who had known him as a child and cared about him despite the fight he'd had with Howard, was stepping in to help despite so many years of no contact. Just like family. He was as much family as those who lived in the tower. Letting out a tiny sigh, he said, with as much respect as he could put into his voice, "Good night...uncle Hank...."
Hank drew the blankets up over Tony and gently stroked his nephew's hair. "Good night," he said, affection lacing his voice.
Tony was out within seconds.
"I missed you, pumpkin..." Pepper said to her son, wrapping an arm around his waist as she grabbed her bag and started heading toward the elevator. "Your dad is going to be staying with Hank for a bit, so it will just be you and me at home, I guess. Well, us and your Uncle Bruce, Jemma, Leo and Peter." She smiled faintly, attempting to be strong for her son; even if everything being in upheaval had her nearly as upset as Tony.
Harry leaned into his mother. "Everyone's so upset..." he said softly. "I hope Dad can feel better..." He hesitated, wanting to mention his grandfather... but unsure of how his mother felt about Steve.
"Your dad feels betrayed...and your granddad feels guilty and doesn't know how to make it right. I have no doubt that they'll find their way back to each other eventually, but..." She paused. "...I'm afraid both of them will be hurting for a bit longer before it happens. Your dad is stubborn. Once he finally decides that he doesn't blame Uncle Bucky, since he was brainwashed, and once he decides that your grandpa is only human and it was an honest mistake meant to protect your dad.... Well, there will likely be at least another week before your dad stops hiding from your granddad and actually lets Steve talk to him. At least another week." Pepper sighed. "Just know that you are loved. No one wants to avoid you. And the family will survive this. It will hurt. But we'll survive it."
Harry nodded and sighed. "It just... I never saw anything have this kind of effect before," he admitted quietly. "I didn't think it was possible for the family to be torn apart like this... even if it is temporary." And his tone implied he didn't think it was.
"I never did either..." Pepper admitted softly. "We won't let it tear us apart. Your dad and grandpa and uncle Bucky aren't the only glue holding this family together. There's you and me and Bruce and Jemma, Leo and Peter. There's Lance and Bakshi. There are all the other aunts and uncles who consider themselves siblings to your grandpa and all their kids. We're just as much glue as your dad and grandpa, so if they can't hold themselves in the family right now because they're hurting, then we hold them in until they are able to work through their problems. It's that simple. We don't let them go and we don't let our family go. And we'll survive this."
Harry nodded, pressing a bit closer to his mother... as he needed the comfort, even if there was still a small part of him that expected him to be seen as weak for needing it. "Okay," he said softly, deciding to try and trust his mother knew what she was talking about.
Pepper pulled Harry in closer for a very tight hug, kissing the top of his head. "Help me get a bag together for your dad and I'll leave it and Dr. Pym's bag outside the guest apartment for them. And we can have Veronica ask them what groceries they'd like delivered to them. We may not see your dad for a few days, but Hank will be with him, so I'm not worried...much." She smiled crookedly.
"It'll be good... if Doctor Pym can help," Harry said. "Dad hasn't really eaten or slept at all... but he had a sandwich earlier."
"If the man has any amount of influence like your dad's story suggested, I'm thinking he may be our best shot at getting your dad to at least let go of the hurt long enough to think..." Pepper nodded. "Speaking of eating...I'm starved. Let's go get those bags taken care of so we can eat."
It hadn't taken long for Pepper to pack a bag for Tony and then take his bag and Pym's bags and leave them outside the guest apartment door. When she returned, Harry was waiting for her in the kitchen. "You know what you want to eat yet?" she asked curiously.
At that moment, Bruce strolled in, Jemma on his heels. "Hello, Pepper. Am I wrong, or did you bring Hank Pym back with you?" He began to pull out ingredients to make one of his special curries that the entire family enjoyed.
"You aren't wrong. He's in the guest apartment. He and Tony will be staying there for the next few days..." Pepper tried to sound optimistic. After the pep talk she'd given Harry, she didn't want to undo it by sounding nervous or sad about the fact she and Harry would be alone on their floor, since Steve was apparently staying with Sam and his family.
Jemma looked up at that. "Oh! Maybe you and Harry would like to join us tonight, then! We're having a 'camp out' in the living room. We thought we'd watch movies, eat popcorn and fall asleep on the floor in a big pile!" she said, before giving her father an impish smile.
Harry darted a glance at his mother, trying to read her expression, even as he said, a little cautiously, "That sounds like it might be fun..." He wasn't sure anything would distract him from worrying about his father, but having something else to concentrate on for a while sounded good.
Peter wandered in and caught the tail end of Harry's comment. Grinning, he nudged his cousin. "If you're joining us, want to help me carry drinks through?"
"That does sound fun," Pepper agreed with a smile. "If you don't mind us crashing the party, I'd like to join."
Bruce gave Pepper a look that showed his opinion of that question; namely that he thought her crazy for even questioning if they were wanted. Pepper held up her hands defensively. "Ok. I know. Foolish question...." She laughed as she began to gather plates and cutlery to put around the table.
"As long as you realize it's a foolish question," Bruce chided, before taste testing what he was preparing.
"Oh, can I try it?" Although he was always enthusiastic about trying his father's food (after all, he was still a teenager), Peter used a little bit more enthusiasm than normal... trying to put a smile on his aunt's and cousin's faces.
Leo headed in to collect glasses and drinks. "Did you make enough food for Pete to have thirds and even fourths?" he teased, ducking out of the way of a playful swipe from his brother.
Bruce handed Peter a clean spoon. "Be my guest...and yes, Leo. I made enough for everyone to have seconds if they wanted and then two extra helpings. If it isn't all eaten, I'm sure someone in the family can make use of it...." He left unsaid that he wanted food that was already prepared for Tony and Hank if they needed and for Steve, if he got hungry later.
Peter gave a quick grin and dipped the spoon into the pot, stepping away as he blew on it before tasting. "It's good... like always." Taking a few of the glasses from Leo, he linked his arm through Harry's and headed into the dining room with his cousin, talking about a couple of potential colleges that were in commuting distance.
Pepper waited till the children were in the other room. "Thanks, Bruce. It helps a lot...keeping things as normal as possible. I appreciate it."
"You're my sister. What else would I do?" Bruce was matter of fact. "Hand me that platter, would you? It's ready."
Sam woke up fairly early and headed through to the kitchen, not too surprised to see Steve already in there, making breakfast for them all. "Did you get any sleep at all?" he asked, walking over to pour some coffee.
"I got some sleep," Steve replied, trying not to cause any more worry for his family... even though he still didn't believe he deserved it.
Matt came down dressed in his suit, hoping that it would encourage the hospital to let them talk to Hope. Of course, having Captain America there would likely help too.
"Good morning." Sam walked over to give his son a hug. "Did you hear Karen and Foggy moving around at all?" he asked, guessing they'd probably set an alarm, but not sure if they were getting dressed first as well.
Steve uttered a soft, "Good morning," as he began plating up the food.
"Karen was in the shower and I heard Foggy snoring...but he'll likely be up soon." Matt grinned. "Morning, Uncle Steve..." He smiled in the direction he sensed his uncle standing.
"Is there anything you don't want to eat?" Steve asked his nephew. "I've done bacon and eggs... toast... mushrooms... beans..." He tried to sound normal... but was fairly sure Sam and Matt wouldn't be fooled.
Matt blinked at the large amount of choices, but figured his uncle was trying to keep himself busy so he'd feel better. "No thanks, that sounds like plenty," he said.
"Right..." Steve took a deep breath and placed the plates on the table.
"Thanks." Sam patted his brother's shoulder, then wrapped his arm around his son's shoulder to guide him over.
"It smells wonderful..." Matt said, in an attempt to cheer his uncle up.
At that moment, Karen came bouncing into the kitchen. She was dressed professionally as well and looked eager to begin the day...although if the look in her eyes was anything to go by, it was more so that she could feel like she was doing something useful amidst all the chaos and sadness.
Foggy strolled in not long after, tie hanging loosely around his shoulders. "I realize we want the hospital to give us easy access, hence dressing like lawyers, but I refuse to put the noose around my neck until after I've eaten!" he teased.
Sam smiled and wrapped an arm around Karen's shoulders, squeezing gently. "Your uncle made breakfast," he said and glanced at Foggy. "You could always leave off the tie," he teased him. "I'm sure you can look just as professional without it."
It didn't take long for the group of them to finish breakfast and then they were piling into a car and driving to the hospital.
"So...she's talked to me and Foggy, briefly, but maybe we should let Karen take lead...at least until she's not nervous around us?" Matt suggested hesitantly, as they walked into the hospital and to the receptionist to find out Hope's room number.
Sam nodded. "That might be for the best," he agreed. "They're unlikely to let all of us in to see her, so whoever's left can see what else they can find out."
Going up to the desk, Matt conversed with the nurse on duty before turning back to the rest of the group. "They'll only allow two people at a time in the room; she already has one visitor, so Karen can go in, but the rest of us will have to wait in the hallway...."
Sam looked at Karen. "If anything happens... we'll be close enough to hear if you call," he promised his daughter. While he didn't think someone would try anything here in the hospital... he didn't want to assume anything.
"Ok...thanks, daddy..." Karen said softly, wrapping her arms around Sam in a quick hug before heading into the room.
Matt settled back against the wall; seemingly bored, but in actuality focusing his hearing on what was being said on the other side of the door.
Foggy just rolled his eyes and smirked, looking for a chair to sit in until either more people were allowed in or it was time to go.
Sam stepped over to stand next to Matt, while Steve stood, holding himself tense, prepared for anything that might happen.
Hope glanced towards the door as a woman she didn't recognise entered. Confusion showed on her face as she looked at Jessica, wondering if the other woman had called someone in. A look of panic came over her face as she realised the other possibility... that Kilgrave was targeting them once more.
Karen, seeing the look of panic on Hope's face, stopped just inside the door. "Hello, I'm Karen Page. You met my brother, Matthew Murdock, and my boyfriend Foggy Nelson a little over a week ago.... They found out you were in the hospital and are worried...." She didn't move, wanting to make certain Hope was ok with her coming in before moving further.
Jessica glanced at Hope. "You didn't mention talking to two lawyers that weren't Harper...." she said in worry.
Hope's eyes darted between Karen and Jessica, not sure where to look. "They were there with another client," she said to Jessica, her voice raspy due to her still-healing throat. "The guard I told you about... I think they realised something was up with him..." She was very careful not to say too much; partly out of fear, but also because talking wasn't easy. She was lucky she hadn't cut her voice box, the doctor had said.
"So they protected you?" Jessica asked skeptically.
Karen looked a bit worried herself. "When they mentioned meeting you the first time, they weren't certain they'd helped or not. But they were worried and wanted to make sure you didn't need help now.... They're outside waiting to talk to you if you feel up to it, or are willing...."
Hope hesitated. "I know... the guard had been got to. They only asked to talk to me and kept doing that until there was a guard change..." Hesitantly, she asked Karen, "Is there anyone else here?"
"Matt and Foggy; Matt's and my dad, Sam Wilson; our uncle, Steve Rogers..." Karen responded.
Jessica blinked. "Wait a minute...your dad and uncle are Avengers?!"
Karen turned toward Jessica, slightly amused at the reaction. "Yes?"
"They really could protect you!" Jessica turned toward Hope. "If they let you go to that tower they have...it's one of the safest spots in New York..."
Hope cast a panicked look at Jessica. "What about you? I mean... I know..." She changed what she'd been about to say, instead saying, "He can still hurt you in other ways..."
"If she's in danger, I'm pretty sure she'd be welcome at the tower as well. And anyone else that is being threatened..." Karen said, although if there were more than a few people, Tony might be a tad upset at her offering.
"If you'd like to come out in the hall and speak with dad and uncle Steve, I could send Matt and Foggy in to keep Hope company." Karen smiled at the younger girl.
Hope still seemed on edge, but she breathed in and then glanced at Jessica. "I think... they're safe," she said, her voice quiet... and more than a little hopeful. If the Avengers were here, maybe no one else would have to get hurt.
Jessica wasn't nearly as optimistic as Hope was about the Avengers' ability to ignore Kilgrave's abilities; the tower, yes, but the Avengers were people too. She didn't say anything, though; this was the first Hope had shown any hope since the whole mess had started. Turning to Karen, she said, "I want to talk to your dad."
Karen nodded before turning to Hope. "I'll send Matt and Foggy in," she promised, before turning to the door and leading Jessica out. She smiled as she noted Matt was already prepared to go in. She waited until he and Foggy were in the room with Hope before turning to her father. "Dad, Uncle Steve...this is Jessica Jones. Jessica- Sam Wilson and Steve Rogers...."
Jessica barely waited for introductions before blurting out, "Can you take Hope to your tower? She'd be safe there...."
Steve nodded. "That wouldn't be an issue." No matter the personal rift between him and Tony... he was confident his son would insist if Tony was thinking clearly. Steve wasn't sure he was... but he'd still protect those who needed it. "I need to send any of her medical information over to my other son... in case there's any medication or specific instructions she needs." Pausing, he asked, "Where are you living? Are you safe? Is there anyone else who needs to be protected?"
"It's better if I'm in a different location." Jessica didn't elaborate. "But there is at least one more person that should probably stay with you...she was already targeted because she was trying to help me...."
Steve nodded. "If there's another person in danger as well, then of course she's welcome to stay... but I'd disagree that it's better for you to be in a different location. I understand the dangers from this Kilgrave, but I would assume he can't control computers or AIs."
Jessica shook her head. "He can't...but if he realized I was there, he might target someone that works in the building; use them to get to the rest of you...I don't want to risk it."
Karen frowned. "He could do that anyway just because he knows it would bother you..." she pointed out reasonably.
"Maybe...but that's not quite as likely to happen." Jessica turned back to Steve. "Patsy Walker is the other one that needs a safe spot to stay."
Karen blinked. "Patsy Walker, as in the radio talk-show host?"
"One and the same..." Jessica grinned.
"Is it possible she's being watched?" Sam asked. "If you can call her... maybe one of us could go with you to collect her." Considering the danger, he didn't think Jessica's friend would trust even an Avenger without being reassured first.
"Even if you choose not to stay in the tower, I'd like you to come back with us so we can find out everything you know." Steve wasn't bending... had no intention of bending. But he had no interest in causing a scene if he didn't have to. He'd talk to Jessica and get her to come round in private.
"She could be...he has eyes everywhere..." Jessica admitted nervously, glancing around at all the hospital personnel that worked quietly in the background. She sighed, looking at Steve, then nodded. "Ok. I'll go with you long enough to explain and get Hope and Patsy settled in."
At that moment, Matt came back outside. "I've called Bruce and asked him to get things ready for Hope. Foggy thinks she should be able to sign herself out into our custody with no issues, given the lack of police presence in front of her door. On the off chance that somehow Kilgrave's being told we are here now, we should probably go sooner than later." His voice was matter-of-fact, not trying to hide that he'd been eavesdropping on the conversation from inside the room.
"You're right." Sam agreed with his son and then looked at Steve. "Are you going to go with Jessica to collect Patsy?"
Steve nodded. "I'll stay in contact with you." He looked at Jessica. "Where are we going?"
"Her apartment..." Jessica said quietly, walking quickly once she'd made up her mind, figuring that Steve would keep up with her. "We'll get a cab there."
Steve kept up with Jessica easily. "What can you tell me about Kilgrave so I can make sure he hasn't targeted her already?" he asked, his voice low.
Jessica gave Steve a rather detailed description of what Kilgrave looked like, before adding bleakly, "If you see him before he sees you....run the other way as fast as possible before you get within range of his voice. If he can talk to you, you're done for."
Steve nodded. "Understood. I'll pass the description on to Veronica when we get to the tower and see if she can't track him somehow. He might be able to remove most traces of his presence... but I doubt he could remove everything." He hailed a cab and opened the door for Jessica to get in before he got in himself, waiting for her to tell the driver where to go.
Jessica quickly gave the address, sitting back against the seat, quiet until they reached the apartment. In the lobby, she buzzed the intercom to her friend's apartment.
Patsy responded immediately. "Who's there?"
Steve could hear the underlying nerves beneath the woman's put-on confidence and it triggered his already-protective instincts to go into overdrive. He didn't stop scanning the area around them, not relaxing even for a second as he prepared for the possibility of grabbing Jessica and getting to Patsy's apartment at a moment's notice.
"It's me, Patsy...Jessica..." Jessica quickly answered. "I'm here with a friend...can we come up?"
"Yeah..." The note of relief was almost tangible.
Steve waited for Jessica to indicate which direction, but stayed close to her as they took the elevator to Patsy's apartment.
As soon as they'd reached Patsy's floor, Jessica stepped off the elevator and looked around suspiciously. Seeing nothing untoward, she quickly went to the door and buzzed again. "We're here...."
Patsy opened the door with the chain on... then, seeing Jessica, she removed the chain and opened the door... her eyes going to Steve and opening wide. "Why are you with Captain America...?" She shook her head. "Never mind. Come in."
"Actually, we're here to pick you up," Steve said gently. "There's a good chance you might be in danger and the tower is probably the safest place."
"He got to Hope..." Jessica said without preamble, pushing past Patsy and going into her bedroom and beginning to just grab clothing to stuff into a bag. "He got to four other people that I didn't think he'd go after...I don't trust that he can't get to you again. We gotta pack you a bag...."
"Hope? Is she...?" Swallowing, Patsy moved to grab the essentials she needed.
"She's being moved into the tower as well," Steve said gently. "The important thing is to get you to safety. If something can be replaced, leave it. We'll either retrieve it when it's safe or replace it."
"This has to be the first good surprise we've had since this mess started..." Jessica mumbled, afraid to tempt fate. If she knew of a way to do it, she'd get all the others away from her as well.
Steve held out his hands to take the bags both Jessica and Patsy had packed. "We'll take a cab to the tower and then we'll talk," he said.
Jessica couldn't help but take lead again, even though the captain was more than capable of protecting himself and others, because she wasn't able to trust that Kilgrave wouldn't be waiting to take control over them. Her nerves were frayed and she hadn't truly been able to sleep in the last several days for worry. The ride back to the tower was silent.
Meanwhile, Foggy, Matt and the rest of the family were also on their way back to the tower, having checked Hope out with the understanding that she was going into Dr. Banner's care and the 'custody' of the Avengers. The police seemed rather relieved to no longer be responsible for her.
Jemma looked at her father sideways as they prepared a bed in medical for their upcoming visitor. "Do you think what they've said is true? That he can take over your free will and force you to do things you'd never want to do?"
"I think, until we know exactly what he is capable of, I'd feel better if you stayed in the tower and didn't go anywhere alone without someone who is less likely to be mind-controlled...like your cousin Clint. Or Uncle Odin," Bruce said calmly, though it still sounded like an order. "That goes for all of you..." He glanced around at his other children and nephew, then at Pepper. "We'll probably get told the same thing...."
"Yeah..." Peter looked quite serious, for a change. "Bad enough to be fighting someone who's normal..." His voice trailed off, as he'd been about to comment on potentially having to fight someone who was part of the family. And then he'd remembered everything that had happened.
"Yeah...." Jemma's voice was subdued.
"They have arrived and are on their way to you, Dr. Banner," Veronica's voice suddenly interrupted. "I have done a quick scan of the newcomers, so that if they start acting oddly, I can do another scan and see if there are changes in brain patterns or chemicals in their bodies. I've gone a scan of everyone in the tower as well. Just in case."
Bruce blinked. "Thank you, Veronica. That's a good idea."
"It's kind of scary how she's evolving," Peter commented, trying to lighten the mood. He nudged his cousin. "At least we've passed puberty... that could have been confusing when it came to scans."
Leo snorted softly. "Of course, you weren't here for when several of us actually became children..."
"Oh?" Peter looked immediately interested. "Do share."
"It was the best of times...it was the worst of times..." Jemma said drolly, grinning when Bruce snorted then coughed to hide his laughter.
"How did it happen?" Harry asked, curious in spite of his worry.
Leo shrugged. "It was an incident with an artifact that seemed to come from Asgard. Tony tried to burn it... and then it reacted. But I think it was a good thing," he added. "Many of our relationships grew closer because of that."
"Most of them did, really..." Jemma said with a smile.
At that moment, the elevator dinged and Bruce was on his way to meet the newcomers with a wheelchair. Just because Hope was able to walk short distances didn't mean she should; if they hadn't already been in the elevator when Veronica informed him of their arrival, he would have met them with a wheelchair at the cars.
Sam walked with Hope, just in case she needed the support... but he still made sure he could see his son and daughter and Foggy. Even though they were safe, he hadn't really relaxed until they reached the tower.
"I've set you a room up, if you'll follow me." Bruce motioned toward them to bring Hope with them, noting when Jessica, Steve and Patsy came in shortly after.
Sam helped Hope into the wheelchair, glancing over as Steve arrived with the other two women.
"Veronica... can you announce there's going to be a family meeting for everyone who's able to attend?" Steve asked the AI quietly.
A few seconds passed and then Veronica answered, "I have informed everyone on the family floors. They will all be on the common floor in five minutes. Mr. Stark is on the guest floor with Dr. Pym. Shall I inform them as well?"
Steve hesitated. "Maybe it's better not to... I'm sure Pepper or Harry can let them know..."
Bruce looked at his father askance. "Are you sure that's a good idea, dad?" he asked softly. "He'll be the only family member not present, with several non- family members there."
Steve paused, torn about what was best for his son... and knowing he likely wasn't in the best frame of mind to figure that out. Nodding to Bruce to acknowledge what his son had said, he addressed Veronica once more. "Inform both Tony and Hank of the meeting and what it's regarding..." He hoped Hank would have a better understanding of Tony's frame of mind right now.
"Very well, Captain. I have requested both to join the others," Veronica answered a few seconds later.
"Well, I suggest we convene on the common floor and then we can return here with Hope so she can rest," Bruce said with a strained smile, the tension between his father and brother affecting him even if he wouldn't admit it.
Steve nodded, making his way into the elevator with the others. He stood quietly, trying hard not to show the amount of strain he was under.
"You go...I'll just stay here...." Tony said, right after Veronica's request. It was hard to tell if he was afraid to face everyone else, or just angry; but it came out sounding more like a petulant teenager than he would have liked or was comfortable with.
"I'm staying with you." Hank's response didn't leave much room for argument as he added, "We can always be filled in later."
Tony winced, feeling inexplicably guilty about hiding; he was mad at his father, not the rest of the family...and truth be told, he wasn't truly mad at his father anymore...having had time to think and realize he likely would have done the same thing in Steve's position. He was hurt and didn't feel like facing anyone. Still...Harry didn't deserve him hiding. Pepper and Bruce and the rest didn't, either. Swallowing hard, he shook his head. "I'll go. Just. I can't... " He left unsaid what he couldn't do. Hank was smart. He'd figure it out.
"Are you sure?" Hank's voice was laced with concern. He knew this was hard on Tony, even though he was fairly sure his nephew missed his father. Hank hadn't seen Steve since his arrival... but judging from the small amount Pepper had told him and what he knew of their relationship, he had no doubt Steve was missing Tony just as much.
"I don't want Pepper and Harry to be hurt or upset more," Tony admitted sadly.
"I know," Hank replied, squeezing his shoulder gently. "But they don't want you hurt or upset either. Why don't we ask Veronica to request they come here after the meeting finishes?" he suggested.
"Do you think that would be ok?" Tiny asked hesitantly. He didn't know why the meeting had been called, after all, and if he was needed....
"If either of us are needed, I'm sure we'll be told," Hank said reassuringly.
Tony nodded and let out a tiny sigh, before glancing at Hank underneath his lashes. "Thanks...for being here..." His voice was sincere, if quiet.
"I'm here for you, kid." Hank wrapped his arm around Tony's shoulders. "I wasn't going to let you keep running from me forever." He left unsaid that he thought Tony needed someone right now.
"I shouldn't have run as long as I did..." Tony admitted quietly. "Sorry I was such a...a....a brat." Tony couldn't think of an adequate word for his actions and finally settled on that one, though he didn't feel it was strong enough.
"A lot of things have happened," Hank said mildly. "You're not running now and that's what's important."
Tony snorted softly, giving Hank a chagrined look. "I somehow doubt you'd let me now, even if I tried..." he muttered, shifting closer to Hank.
Hank tightened his arm around his nephew's shoulders. "Not a chance."
Tony leaned even more on his uncle, the lack of his father's presence making him feel more needy and adrift than he wanted to admit, even to himself. Swallowing, he glanced at Hank. "When....when are you going to...um...when are we going to talk about...uh..." Tony blushed as his normal ability to talk his way out of anything, or about anything really, fled.
"We can start taking care of it now," Hank replied, without any preamble. "There seems little point in dragging this out much longer."
Tony winced at the word 'start', but didn't argue. He had over twenty-five years of bad choices and misdeeds to be addressed; Hank had promised, after all. It wasn't Hank's fault Tony had avoided and run from him instead of facing the music. "Yes, sir..." he answered softly, no argument in his voice at all. He'd grown up enough in the interim that arguing against what he knew he deserved wasn't in the cards.
Hank held Tony close for a few more seconds and then gently moved his nephew over his lap, wrapping his arm around the younger to draw him in tight against his stomach before baring him.
"Do...do I need to tell you all the things I did wrong to deserve this? Or are we just agreeing that I know what I did wrong?" Tony tried for a joking tone, but the position and lack of clothing had him feeling vulnerable enough, it ended up sounding completely serious and a slight bit scared.
"I think we both probably know enough... but if you feel the need to discuss them first, we can do that," Hank replied, his own tone just as serious.
"I...I'm sure you saw enough of the news to know what I was doing..." Tony sounded regretful. "I went off the rails...I know it. Can't become a functioning alcoholic without doing that at some point..." Closing his eyes, he reached down and gently held onto Hank's leg. "Until..." He didn't finish the sentence with his father's name, the hurt still too strong. He didn't finish the sentence at all, shaking his head and moving on. "Anyway...Pepper said I had a death wish. Maybe she wasn't so wrong...I knew enough about what I was doing being wrong that I didn't want to face you..." he admitted, before going silent.
"That kind of behaviour isn't acceptable," Hank said seriously. Though he'd been tempted to let it go, he couldn't do that... not seeing how clearly Tony needed someone to step in. He patted Tony's back gently, then lifted his hand and brought it down in a sharp swat that he then repeated.
"No, sir...I know it isn't..." Tony gasped out, before clenching his teeth so that he could keep any sounds of distress from escaping.
Hank settled quickly into a rhythm of swats, going down to Tony's thighs before he started over from the top again. He held his nephew close and tight against him... not because he expected Tony to try to escape, but because he was trying to keep it as a source of comfort.
Tony tried to keep himself under control, he did...but as emotionally fragile as he was from all the other events, he had little reserves to draw on to prevent him from reacting to the spanking quickly. Hank's secure grip helped calm him as far as his fear, but it did nothing to keep the feelings of deep guilt from overwhelming him. By the time the second circuit was begun, Tony was squirming frantically, tiny guttural moans and whimpers escaping despite his best efforts.
Hank merely tightened his grip, using a bit more force and speed behind the swats as he finished the second circuit and began a third. "You shouldn't have run from me, Tony." Though calm, he allowed a little bit of disappointment to come through in his voice.
"I know, Uncle Hank...I knew it all along..." Tony's voice was high and tight with unshed tears and the guilt he felt over having run from his uncle for so long (along with undefined guilt that had cropped up during his estrangement from his father) was clear in his tone. He let out a tiny huff of pained distress, still attempting to keep control over his reactions, but that one tiny huff became two, then three...and the huffs soon became tiny sobs. Once the sobbing had started, it was a lost cause. Tony finally went limp over his uncle's knee, choking out apologies and promises to be good and never run again.
Hank brought the spanking to a stop and then gently helped Tony up and into his arms, hugging him close and tight.
"I'm sorry..." Tony said again, his emotions making it difficult to come up with another word that fit how he was feeling: guilt about running and avoiding his uncle for so long, just to avoid a punishment he deserved, warred with a feeling of profound loss. He'd wasted so much time and he was grateful Pym had finally stepped in and forced the issue, because if the older man had died without Tony ever seeing him again, Tony wasn't sure what he would have done.
A stray thought that, with their line of work, he could apply the same situation to his father was quickly pushed down with an attempt not to think of it, the mere thought filling him with anxiety that he couldn't quite mask.
"I'm so sorry..." he repeated through his sobs, shifting in an attempt to find a position that didn't put pressure on his very, very sore bottom. Hank hadn't held back….not that he deserved any leniency. He wasn't sure he could be brave for any future spankings he knew were coming, though.
"I know." Hank gently tugged Tony in closer, running a hand through his hair. "And I've forgiven you." His voice was very gentle and very sincere. "I kept up with what you were doing... not just the bad things. And I am proud of you," he promised.
"Y...you f..forgive me? Y...you're p...proud?" Tony sniffled, feeling a bit more secure at the words combined with the hair petting. He winced at how needy he sounded, but pressed closer, snuggling.
Hank nodded, tightening his hold on Tony. "You've done a lot of good things, even though there have been mistakes along the way."
"Thank you..." Tony finally whispered. "For not forgetting me...and for helping me when I make mistakes...."
"I would never have forgotten you," Hank promised. "And making mistakes isn't the end of the world... they just mean there are lessons still to be learned."
Tony just snuggled closer, unable to keep the tiny whimpers from escaping when he shifted onto his bottom, but not wanting to give up the comfort either. "I forgot how hard you spank..." His voice was amused and a bit chagrined.
"I'm not sure you did exactly." Hank's own voice was amused. "I'm sure that was one of the factors in you running for so long."
"I dunno; my memory was kinda fuzzy for the longest time- didn't really remember much, except that you wouldn't be happy with what I was doing and would have something to say about it if you caught me....I just ran cuz I'm a baby and I tend to run when I know I'm gonna end up over someone's knee..." Tony admitted, his face going red. "Just ask da..." Tony winced and trailed off, clearing his throat and gripping Hank just that tiny bit tighter.
Hank didn't so much as loosen his hold on Tony, changing the subject because he could tell mentioning his father was hurting his nephew. "Shall I ask Veronica to request Pepper and Harry come here once the meeting's finished?" he asked.
"Yes, please..." Tony mumbled into his uncle's chest. "I want them to meet you..." He looked up long enough to give Hank a tiny smile, before putting his head back on his uncle's shoulder. "Sorry I'm acting so clingy...thought I'd gotten over being that way." He sighed softly, but didn't make any efforts to get up.
Hank rubbed his back gently. "It isn't a problem," he promised, before quietly making the request to Veronica.
"Yes, sir, I've let them know...I'll inform you when they are on their way," the AI responded.
Tony sniffled again, still feeling off-kilter and vulnerable- although he knew it was because of the strain in the relationship with his father, he didn't want to admit it. He didn't feel up to facing Steve at the moment, still angry enough that he wasn't certain he wouldn't begin another fight with the other man, but feeling guilty about the one he'd already had with him. Shifting again with a tiny wince and soft whimper, he forced himself to stop thinking about Steve and focus on another item he wasn't certain about. "H...how many spankings do I have coming to me?" he asked in a tiny voice.
"Two more," Hank replied, his voice serious... in that he wasn't going to budge on his decision... but also caring and affectionate.
Tony couldn't help the tiny whine he let out, but he quickly stifled it and hid his face against Hank's chest again for a few moments before taking a deep breath. "Yes, sir..." He sounded resigned, but not argumentative. "S'only what I deserve..." he added quietly. "Still...can I maybe put some lotion on my butt?" He looked up when he asked the question, a slightly impish grin on his face. He was a long way from feeling secure- the upheaval in his relationship to his father wouldn't allow him to feel secure- but he felt completely safe with his uncle and could at least try to be normal with him. At least when it was just the two of them.
Hank's smile was amused and fond. "I doubt it's going to have much of a positive effect, but you're welcome to try it out." The teasing note in his voice was gentle.
Tony's answering smile was just as amused, with a touch of grateful acceptance. Carefully, he stood up, twisting to try and get a look at his backside before giving it up and pulling his pants back into place with a pained hiss. "Remind me again why I thought it wise to run for so long?" he huffed with a sheepish smile, moving back to Hank's side for one more 'cuddle'.
Reaching out, Hank gathered Tony in close again. "Maybe because fear of the unknown is worse than knowing what's going to happen," he commented.
"Yeah..." Tony sighed. "You don't mind me..." He indicated his sitting on Hank's lap and snuggling. "...You know?" He bit his lip. "I can get up...dunno how long that meeting will take place...."
"It isn't a problem and I don't mind. At all," Hank said firmly. "It doesn't matter to me if I'm seen giving you affection."
Tony blushed faintly, but couldn't stop the happy, relieved smile he gave Hank. Steve was really the only one who was very affectionate with him until recently, although he figured his other uncles would be if they realized he needed it. He was so busy trying to stay brave and in control for Harry and Pepper that he'd refused to let himself go to any of his uncles. Until Hank showed up and he found himself feeling and acting like the scared seventeen year old kid he'd been when Hank had first stepped in. "Last time you took care of me, I'd just lost my father...now you're taking care of me again...after I've just lost my father...." His voice caught and he hid his face against Hank again, reluctant to let the older man see what he was certain had to be a 'little lost boy' look on his face.
Hank had avoided referring to what had happened between Tony and Steve, not wanting to hurt his nephew... but hearing Tony's voice catch and catching a glimpse of his face, he couldn't stay silent. "I don't think you've lost him," he said. "I don't know all of the details... but what I do know, I expect both of you are hurting without any idea of how to fix it."
"I don't know how to fix it..." Tony admitted. "...I want to tell him I'm not mad anymore, but that would be a lie. Problem is, I'm not sure what exactly I'm mad about now...so neither of us can do anything to help me not be mad..." he admitted reluctantly. "And I'm afraid to face him. After everything I said and did to both him and uncle Bucky... they both have every right to be mad at me too." Tony cleared his throat, embarrassed that he was starting to cry again. "It's a mess, uncle Hank and I can't help thinking it's my fault."
"I don't imagine it's anyone's fault... There were bad decisions made on both sides, from what Pepper did tell me." Pausing, Hank continued, "But she didn't tell me everything... if you feel up to telling me, I'll listen. I won't judge. But don't force yourself to talk if you're not ready."
Tony swallowed, trying to decide if he wanted to talk. He hadn't talked to anyone really since it had happened...not wanting to split the family any more than it already was split. Especially since part of him felt like he was being unreasonable and he didn't want anyone else to agree with that part of himself. Still.... "You remember when Howard and Maria died, right?" he finally began hesitantly.
Hank nodded, keeping his arms tight around Tony. "It wasn't that long after it happened that you came to see me," he reminded his nephew.
"I...I always blamed Howard for them dying, you know? Cuz he was drinking and I figured he got behind the wheel when he shouldn't have and the crash killed not only him, but killed momma too..." Tony said in a whisper.
Hank's embrace tightened. "It was something else?" he probed gently, his voice devoid of any blame or anger.
"It was HYDRA..." Tony said softly. "They sent an assassin after him...made it look like an accident. Momma was killed because she was with him..." he paused, his body going tense. "They sent the Winter Soldier. They sent Bucky to kill him...Bucky killed my parents...."
The news was a shock, but Hank didn't allow himself to dwell on it. "I can understand why you're so upset and angry." It wasn't a leading comment. There was no 'but' coming. Hank was keeping his promise and not judging. And he knew Tony was smart enough that anything Hank could have said... his nephew knew already.
"I...I keep telling myself I shouldn't be, though...upset and angry...Bucky wasn't himself when he did it. He was brainwashed and they were controlling him. He had no more control over what he was doing than Clint or Loki did because of that damn scepter. Or Brock or Kara did. It wasn't really his fault; it was HYDRA's fault. But I was so mad that I...I yelled at Bucky and blamed him anyway." Tony swallowed, shame clear on his face. "When dad stepped in to try and calm me down, keep me from doing something I'd regret, I yelled at him and accused him of knowing all along; and lying to me because he cared more about Bucky than me...." By this point, tears were running down Tony's face again.
Hank tightened his arms around Tony. "Learning something like that is devastating and even though, looking back on it, you might feel that you overreacted... you were deeply hurt. Getting angry is understandable, even if you know logically that he'd been brainwashed."
"I attacked him, uncle Hank...physically..." Tony swallowed hard, burrowing against his uncle, grateful that Hank hadn't let go of him and was holding so tight. He wasn't certain he could hold himself in place at the moment. "I attacked him, wearing my suit...and when dad tried to stop me, I attacked him too." He let out a tiny sob. "I was just so mad...and now...now I'm still mad, but I don't know why...I don't think I'm angry at uncle Bucky. And even if I'm a little mad at dad for hiding the fact it was HYDRA, I know that he was just as surprised that it was Bucky who had been the assassin. He didn't keep it from me to protect Bucky; he kept it from me to protect me...but I'm still angry and I can't stop being angry, even though I know....."
"You need to give yourself time," Hank said gently. "You can't expect to recover from something like this straight away. That's partly why I'm here... to give you a chance to heal. So you have someone else you know who cares about you and considers you a priority."
Tony couldn't speak anymore, just turning in his uncle's arms and holding on tight as he cried. It took several minutes before he was able to calm down, but when he finally did, he reluctantly sat back and wiped at his eyes. "Head hurts..." He sighed then sniffled before giving Hank a crooked smile. "Thanks for letting me be...." He paused, not sure what to say, then shrugged helplessly. "...For letting me be." He rubbed his eyes again, then his forehead.
Hank rubbed his back gently. "Do you want to try drinking some water?" he asked. "Perhaps we should have a snack, too."
"Yeah....ok." Tony gingerly stood up, swaying in place for a second before he was able to balance. "Yes, please...." He let his uncle take charge, letting him lead him to wherever they needed to go.
Standing up, Hank wrapped his arm around Tony's shoulders and guided him into the kitchen. He settled Tony carefully at the table and then retrieved two bottles of water from the fridge before he started making both of them a sandwich.
Grant walked into the family common room and glanced around to see who was there and who wasn't. He knew there was a guest visiting Pepper and Tony, but he didn't know if he'd be coming to a family meeting. Given the situation, he wasn't entirely certain who would be attending. He looked for his father.
Coulson had gone to check in with Bucky and his sons, suggesting that his brother and nephews attend the family meeting as well. He now exited the elevator with the three of them and stepped over to join Grant and the rest of his children as he looked around to check who else was there.
Pepper had retrieved Harry...and Peter, since the two cousins were with each other like always... and come to the meeting, a forced smile on her face. Harry needed her to be strong. Tony and Steve needed her to be strong. Bucky likely needed her to be strong as well, though he had his two sons to help support him. Damn it all, she was going to be strong if it killed her. When she walked in and glanced around, she noted that Phil and his brood were all accounted for; so were Nick, Sam, Melinda, Ben, Odin and their broods. She turned around as the elevator opened to discharge Bucky, Lance and Bakshi. The only ones not here yet were Bruce and his children, with the exception of Peter, and Steve, Tony and Hank Pym. She sighed, wondering which of the two between Steve and Tony would find some excuse not to come.
Steve stepped off the elevator a few moments later. Even though he was still unhappy and would have preferred to hide away in his room, his protective instincts had been awoken by the three women... and he was determined to make sure they were safe from Kilgrave.
Bruce stepped off not too far behind his father, his arms around Jemma and Leo. He glanced toward Peter, noting how his youngest was next to his aunt and cousin, and smiled. His smile only faltered a little bit when he realized Tony wasn't in the room. Gently pushing his children to the nearest available couch, he turned and motioned Jessica, Patsy and Hope forward. "Come in and let's introduce you to everyone. Veronica? Is Tony going to be coming?" he asked softly, not wanting to upset his father or uncle, but not wanting to start until they knew for certain.
"I'm sorry, doctor. He has elected to stay in the guest apartment with Dr. Pym. He has asked that anything he needs to know be relayed to him by Pepper and Harry when the meeting is over, as he'd like to spend some time with them." The AI's voice was quiet.
With his enhanced hearing, Steve had no trouble overhearing the conversation between Bruce and Veronica. He couldn't help flinching, but didn't make any comment. He turned to the girls, trying hard to seem like he was normal.
Patsy took hold of Jessica's arm and guided her over to one of the couches, then walked back over to Hope, guiding her in the wheelchair over to the same couch.
Bruce noticed the flinch, but didn't say anything, wanting to allow his father some measure of privacy. The less attention he drew to the estrangement between his father and brother, the better off everyone would be. Or, at least, he hoped so. Turning toward Steve, he cleared his throat. "Dad...if you could let everyone know why we are here and what is going on...." He supposed he could have asked Sam to do it, but he thought maybe doing something would help Steve.
Steve nodded and explained quietly, "This is Jessica, Patsy and Hope. They've had experience with a man named Kilgrave... a man who can control people; force them to do what he wants." He didn't say many of them had been in similar situations... but he knew they would link it.
Jessica glanced furtively around the room, nervous to have so many people around who might possibly be used by Kilgrave in his attempts to get to her. If she'd had any clue so many people were going to be involved, she might have reconsidered joining Patsy and Hope when Steve insisted she come too.
Bucky slanted his head as his brother talked. He asked, "How does he control them? I'm assuming this isn't like the brainwashing some of us went through or the conditioning others went through...."
"I... didn't go anywhere in my mind," Hope said quietly. "I could see it... I knew what I was doing. But I couldn't stop myself. It... I..."
"It feels like your own idea," Patsy supplied. "It isn't until you're free... that you feel the horror of what you were about to do. Or did," she added.
Clint swallowed hard. While not exactly like what he'd gone through due to the scepter, it was close. The only difference was he'd felt like a spectator and it wasn't his own idea. Still, he knew what he was doing and he couldn't stop himself. "Does....does he use something to accomplish the end result? Like a staff or something...?" he asked quietly.
"No. Just his voice...I'm not sure yet how it works, but...It's...I'd say it's chemical in some way, but I have no proof. That's just a theory..." Jessica grimaced.
"Is there a reason why he's fixated on you?" Coulson's question was addressed to all of them, really, but primarily to Jessica... as she seemed to be the connecting factor with the other two.
"I think I was just a convenient target," Hope said quietly.
Jessica swallowed and couldn't look anyone in the eye. "It's me he's trying to get to...everyone else is just being used as a means to an end..." she finally said, looking at a non-existent spot on a wall, her expression bleak.
Steve stepped closer to Jessica, unable to help but respond to how she was obviously feeling, and placed his hand on her shoulder, squeezing gently. "Do you know why?" he probed, though he kept his voice calm and level.
"Because he thinks we belong together...his mental powers...my strength...he honestly thinks that what happened between us was love, instead of him...." Jessica swallowed again, cringing and wrapping her arms around herself. "Hope's not the only one he used like that..." she said softly. "...Not the only one who killed because of him...."
Steve couldn't help but squeeze Jessica's shoulder. He wanted to wrap an arm around her, but didn't want to embarrass or confuse her, even though he did feel a connection to her. "I won't say he can't get to any of us... but here in the tower, you'd be safe," he said seriously. "Veronica, the AI, is one of the first lines of defense."
"Assuming he doesn't get to one of us through the phones or something..." Jessica couldn't help but mutter.
Grant glanced at his father, uncertain if he should ask his question, but figuring it needed to be answered. "If he thinks you belong together so strongly that he'd go through other people to get to you...how did you get away?"
Wincing again, Jessica straightened up, bracing herself. "When...when I killed the woman...I didn't mean to. He...he didn't actually say kill her...he..." She swallowed. "...If anyone normal had hit her like I did, she wouldn't have died...but I'm...I'm different...and under his control, I didn't have full control over myself...I used too much strength...and with just one punch to the chest, I killed her..." She took a quivery breath and reached up, rubbing at her eyes. "The...the shock of that broke his hold on me and I ran.... He followed and was hit by a bus. I...I thought he'd died, but then he showed up controlling Hope and...and we found a lot of other people who he's hurt and..." She shook her head, not sure how to continue.
Steve stepped a bit closer to Jessica, even though he didn't do anything more than squeeze her shoulder. "It wasn't your fault." His voice was low... at a volume that no one else would hear clearly, with the exception of Bucky. A little louder, he continued, "It's not the same, but there have been instances of controlling or brainwashing among the family here."
Pepper was looking highly agitated. Finally unable to not say anything, she said, "What he did to you..." She broke off hesitantly, realizing that pointing out that at least two of the three younger women were raped would not be a good idea with the amount of people in the room. Privately, perhaps, but not with the whole family. Standing up straighter, she said more firmly, "It was against your will. You can't blame yourself."
"Can't I?" Jessica looked at Pepper, then at Steve. "I'm immune to him now. If I'd been a little stronger...maybe he wouldn't have got me the first time and wouldn't have fixated on me...wouldn't be hurting people to get to me. Or maybe if I'd been stronger and made sure he'd actually died...."
"Or maybe breaking free of his control then wouldn't have lasted," Coulson said. "Building resistance can take time... it's possible he would have forced you back under his thrall and would have then continued hurting people."
"It's very easy to look back on a situation and see what you could have done." Steve's voice was soft. He'd been doing that continually when it came to Tony... though he didn't mention that.
Jessica took a deep breath and nodded, relief finally causing her to let go of the stiff way she'd been standing and slump, leaning toward Steve without even realizing it. The fact that these people, heroes, believed her and didn't blame her helped ease fear that she hadn't realized she'd been holding on to. It didn't ease her guilt, only stopping Kilgrave would enable her to begin to let go of that, but she didn't feel so alone. Like it was her (and Patsy and Hope) against the world. "Yeah...ok...I've got some leads...I might have a way to stop him.... Until then, though, I appreciate you letting Patsy and Hope stay with you...keeping them safe." She said nothing about staying herself. She had no intention of staying; not when Kilgrave was still out there and the only way to stop him was her.
"We're not just including Patsy and Hope in the invitation," Steve said seriously, keeping his hand on Jessica's shoulder. "You're in as much danger as they are. There might be more of us here if Kilgrave is somehow able to get past the security... but you wouldn't be on your own."
"And I don't think I could relax if I knew you were still out there." Patsy had seen that Jessica seemed to relax around the Avengers... and she didn't want her to continue on the way she had been; the way that would burn her out faster.
Jessica opened her mouth to argue; but, seeing the look on Patsy's face, stopped. "Alright..." she said hesitantly. "I'll stay here." It was easier to agree than she'd like. She told herself it really didn't matter where she stayed; she'd leave to take care of whatever needed doing, when she needed to do it.
Steve nodded. "Good. After we've all eaten, Jessica, perhaps you and I can work on getting an image uploaded so that Veronica can be alerted if he approaches."
"I can run the image through security feeds and parking lot cameras," Skye offered.
"Uh, yeah...ok." Jessica blinked, but easily agreed. It would be better if everyone had an idea who to look for.
"Do you think it would be a good idea to maybe have one of us stay with each of them as added security? I know he couldn't get into the building, but if he's capable of what he seems to be...if he sent someone else...." May's voice was calm and matter of fact. She didn't want to scare the girls.
Steve nodded. "I think that would be a good idea." He thought for a second, but then looked at Jessica. "If you're okay with it, I think it might be a good idea for you to stay on my floor. If Kilgrave does manage to get to me somehow, you probably have a fairly good chance of holding me off with your enhanced strength."
May didn't give Jessica a chance to respond, although anyone looking at her could tell Steve's suggestion had caught her off guard. "I'll stay with Hope in the medical wing until she's ready to move and then she'll stay with Skye and I."
Steve nodded to acknowledge May's words. Hope looked a bit surprised, but didn't say anything, as Steve waited a brief moment to see which one of the other family members might offer to take Patsy.
Bucky cleared his throat before looking at Patsy. "I know you haven't met me yet, but I can keep you safe. And since my head was scrambled by the regular machine type of brainwashing, maybe I'll have a better chance of not being affected by him...not that I plan to test that theory, but past experience of others suggests it might be a possibility. So if you'd like to stay on my floor with my family...."
Patsy nodded. While she was nervous... and still a bit scared... she trusted the Avengers were willing to do anything in their power to help.
Coulson cleared his throat. "I suggest perhaps we order in some food... but a few of us should meet the delivery driver outside." Pausing, he then added, "I would also suggest we look into setting up an alert system on our phones or comms that we can activate should we spot Kilgrave or he spots us. Even if it's only a split second to send out a warning one of us might return compromised."
Pepper nodded at her uncle. "Veronica, make a note of those suggestions so I can let Tony know when Harry and I go to see him, please?" Her voice was soft and her eyes were apologetic as she looked at her father.
"I have done so," Veronica responded.
Even though Steve tried to hide it, he knew it was likely fairly obvious how much the estrangement between him and Tony hurt. Taking a deep breath, he spoke in a softer voice. "Is everyone all right with pizza?"
"Pizza sounds wonderful, grandpa!" Jemma blurted, not liking the sad look on his face and not knowing how to help.
Jessica could tell something was up in regards to Tony Stark and Steve Rogers, but wasn't certain what it was. It was a fairly well known 'secret' that Captain America had adopted Iron Man...but the fact Tony wasn't around for the meeting and Steve seemed distraught, no matter how well he tried to hide it, indicated all was not well in paradise. It made her uncomfortable. "I really don't need to stay here..." she said in an aside to Steve, not wanting to argue in front of everyone else, but feeling she should at least make an effort to get out of staying without sneaking out. "He can't control me...and there are things I need to do in order to try and stop him...."
"You don't have to be alone anymore." Steve's voice was firm as he looked at Jessica. "You don't have to take on this weight all by yourself. Let us help you."
"Maybe not..." Jessica's grin was subdued. "But I'm used to it. I don't really work well with others. I'm not a team player."
Overhearing, Sam snorted. "A lot of the kids weren't either, to begin with."
Jessica blinked at those words, turning her face toward Sam. "So the rumors aren't really rumors, then? You all have become one great big family...."
Sam smiled. "We are a family here, yes. But we can also protect the three of you... put fail-safes in place if necessary."
"Thanks for protecting Patsy and Hope...but I'm really ok..." Jessica shrugged.
"It isn't open for discussion right now." Steve's voice was mild... but still didn't allow much room for argument. "Even if you did leave... we'd still have people trailing you to make sure you were safe."
Jessica's eyes widened. She would have argued...wanted to argue...but a glance at Patsy and then Hope helped her hold her tongue. She wanted them to feel safe and not worry about anything, including her. As much as she disliked being restricted she would need to go along with it- at least for the moment, until she could sneak out.
Steve waited just long enough to be assured the battle was over (at least for the moment) and then addressed the AI. "Veronica, could you place an order for pizza to be delivered just outside the tower?"
"Of course, captain," the AI answered.
Pepper wrinkled her nose. "So, uh...who will be collecting the pizza? Since I'm assuming we won't be going solo jaunts."
"I'll go... with any of my children or grandchildren who'd like to accompany me," Coulson offered.
"I'll go with you, dad." Grant smiled at his father.
Bobbi nodded quickly. "I'll go too, daddy."
"May as well make it a family endeavor," Raina shrugged. "So I'll go too, Baba."
"Yep...what she said..." Clint moved a thumb in Raina's direction, before tugging Wanda and Pietro to him in a side hug. "Right kids? Nat?"
"We'll probably need all of us to carry the pizzas." Smiling, Natasha walked over to join her father, siblings, niece and nephew.
As soon as he knew they were ready, Coulson headed towards the elevator in the crowd of his children and grandchildren.
Kara watched that portion of the family leave before turning to her father. "Are we certain he can't take over our minds some other way?" Her voice was timid.
Jessica, not realizing what the problem was, snorted. "As long as he doesn't find a way to talk to one of you and keep you from warning the others, you'll be fine."
Kara still moved closer to her father.
Fury wrapped his arm around Kara's shoulders, drawing her in closer. "It's safe here in the tower," he reassured her, his voice soft.
"I don't want to hurt anyone...not again..." Kara hid her face against her father and gripped his shirt tightly in her hands.
May frowned, glancing at Hope and then at her daughter. "Bruce...is it necessary for Hope to stay in the medical wing? If what she needs is to rest and limit her movement, she could do that just as easily in my apartment...and the apartment is more comfortable." She left unsaid that it would also allow her to protect Skye while protecting Hope.
Bruce, not oblivious to the heavy current of nervousness that was affecting some of the kids, gave May's question some serious thought before answering. "She can recover in your apartment if she'd rather. You're right about it being more comfortable." He glanced toward Hope for her opinion.
Fury hugged Kara tightly, gently stroking her hair, and glanced at his sons. "Maybe we should take our pizza to our apartment," he suggested, in a voice low enough to carry just to his children.
"I can go wherever is easier," Hope said quietly. Even hospital had been more comfortable than prison, after all.
Trip nodded. "Yeah...I think you're right." His voice was just as quiet and he noted that Brock was nodding along to his words.
"You'll come to the apartment, then." May smiled at the younger girl. "Might as well move into where you'll be living, instead of having to move again in a few days."
Pepper cleared her throat. "Sooo...any other rules? Beyond staying in groups and having a way to warn everyone else if we run into or see this creep Kilgrave?"
"Really just the same ones we already have." Steve included Jessica, Hope and Patsy as he continued, "No acting on your own without backup... always make sure other people know where you are." Pausing, he then said, "And I think Veronica should screen all of our calls... not just from unknown numbers."
"I will begin doing so immediately, Captain." Veronica was quick to agree.
Jessica wasn't certain she liked this development; all those rules would be impossible to follow when she started implementing her plans and she could tell the AI would be the sort to tell on her the minute she snuck out. This was not going to be easy.
Loki slanted his head thoughtfully. "If we could but discover if his powers held sway over me...I could render him mute...before showing him why his actions were a very bad idea." The growl in his voice and the look in his eye didn't bode well for Kilgrave. The look was reminiscent of when he was so angry at his father that he'd lost control over himself.
Mack gave Loki a worried look then glanced toward Thor and Odin.
Thor stepped over to Loki and placed a hand on his brother's arm. "It would not be something we could easily put to the test."
Odin moved to Loki's other side. "There is no sense in anyone risking themselves." His voice was low... filled with concern and worry for Loki.
"I regret what I did...what I forced others to do..." Loki gave Clint an apologetic look. "...Even if I was being controlled myself. He is not being controlled and his actions serve no purpose except to be cruel." He leaned into his brother's hand. "It angers me...."
Thor wrapped his arm around Loki's shoulders, squeezing him gently. "I understand, brother." His voice was low... at least for him. "It angers all of us."
"I will refrain from going after him myself...as I do not wish to worry you or father...but should the opportunity arise, I will not go easy on him," Loki declared.
Jessica couldn't help but chuckle at those words. "You'll have to wait in line, Merlin...."
"Merlin was a tiny mortal..." Loki smirked.
Odin patted Loki's shoulder gently. "Perhaps we would benefit from retiring to our dwelling-place," he suggested to his sons.
Thor was quick to voice his agreement, wanting to spend the time with his brothers and father.
"I think the pizza has arrived, so if you all want to wait for a few minutes while we go pick it up and bring it here..." Clint said calmly, moving toward the elevator and not surprised at all when his family began to follow him.
It didn't take long before the pizza had been collected and handed out to each of the families... and then everyone was retiring to their floors... or, in Pepper and Harry's case, headed to the floor where Tony was staying with Hank.
May carried the pizza for her family, motioning Skye and Hope ahead of her. "I figure we can eat and then get to know each other. I'm sure you have questions."
Skye walked with Hope in the wheelchair, glancing at her mother and then the other woman. "It's okay if you find it a little overwhelming at first... it kind of can be, with so many of us."
"It's nice," Hope admitted.
May smiled. "It takes some getting used to, but I can't imagine going back to when there weren't so many of us."
Reaching their apartment, Skye made sure Hope was settled and comfortable before helping her mother put out pizza and drinks.
"So, when this is all over and Kilgrave has finally been stopped...what do you think you want to do?" May asked curiously.
"I haven't really given it much thought," Hope admitted. "I was expecting to spend the rest of my life in prison... and that was the best case scenario."
"I'm pretty sure we'll be able to get enough evidence that you won't have to worry about that, at least..." May smiled.
"Only if he can't get to anyone..." Hope was worried having seen firsthand exactly what Kilgrave was capable of.
"He'll have to work overtime to get to anyone here...so if we get evidence, he'll go down. And if he has managed to get to someone who would keep him out of jail? Well, it wouldn't be the first time a world threat 'disappeared'..." May admitted, with a slight grimace.
Hope looked down at her pizza, forcing herself to take a bite... though she didn't have much of an appetite. At least her throat had healed enough that swallowing didn't hurt, though. "I don't think he could be rehabilitated. Maybe once... but not after seeing everything he's done," she admitted in a quiet voice.
"You're probably right...but we'll cross that bridge when we come to it. Would you like a ginger ale?" May watched closely to make certain Hope didn't have problems eating.
Hope nodded, chewing each mouthful carefully before swallowing. "Yes please."
May smiled and nodded, quickly standing to go get the drink for the younger girl. "Would you like some as well, Skye?"
Skye nodded and moved over to help her mother pour out the drinks.
Lance sidled closer to his father, dropping his voice... even though he knew Steve would still be able to hear him if he tried hard enough. "Do you think we should invite ourselves to join Uncle Steve for dinner?"
Bucky glanced at his brother, then at the younger woman who he had been charged with protecting. She seemed like she wanted to stay with her friend a bit longer. "Yeah," he finally answered. "I think we should."
Even though he could see his father was feeling better, Lance was still worried and he pressed a bit closer to Bucky for a second. "I'll grab the pizzas," he offered, his voice loud enough to carry to the remaining family members.
"I can help..." Patsy quickly headed over to join Lance, as he figured out which pizzas he needed to take from the pile.
Bucky nodded at his son and the newest addition to the household before turning toward Steve. "You doing ok?" he asked his brother quietly.
Steve took a deep breath. "I've been better," he admitted, his voice low.
"Yeah..." Bucky sighed. "...You know it isn't like you not to face your problems head on. I'm just worried..."
"I can't force him to talk to me... I'm not even sure what the right thing to do is." Steve sighed. "At least... there is someone taking care of him right now." Even if that person couldn't be Steve.
Bucky nodded. "Maybe you need to find someone not directly involved to talk to. I talked to Phil...it helped me put some things into perspective. Now if Tony ever feels able to talk to me again, I can talk to him without my own issues getting in the way." He shrugged, before giving his brother a smile. "Something to think about...."
"I will... think about it," Steve promised. "Right now, I think Tony needs space... I hope he'll let me know when he's ready."
"Ok. Maybe he does need space. Just don't let it go too long..." Bucky gave a crooked smile. "...You don't want to end up like Hank Pym, with him still running twenty-five years later."
In spite of the situation, Steve smiled. "I'm definitely not going to be letting it go that long."
"Good." Bucky glanced toward Jessica and Patsy, noting the two were standing together. Jessica was glancing furtively around, as if planning something she didn't want anyone else to notice. He nudged Steve, glancing in their direction again.
Steve followed the direction of Bucky's gaze and dropped his voice even lower. "I'm completely expecting her to try and sneak out." He hadn't instructed Veronica to tell him if Jessica did... knowing the AI would anyway.
"Yeah, that's not something I'll bet on." Bucky was amused. "You'll have your hands full with that one...."
"Good job I've had a lot of practice." There was a small note of humour in Steve's voice... even though he was still quite unhappy.
"Lord help you if they ever decide to work together," Bucky mumbled, before walking over to 'get to know' Patsy better.
Steve stepped over to Jessica. "We're going to eat with my brother and his children... so you and Patsy don't have to say good night yet," he said.
Jessica blinked. "That's great...thanks." She was genuinely happy to spend more time with Patsy, even if she was anxious to get away so she could go after Kilgrave.
Steve began to lead the way to the elevator, pausing to wait for the rest of the family to join him.
Bruce nodded at Bucky then motioned his children forward. Soon, everyone was heading up to the apartment, pizzas in hand.
The evening had gone by fairly well and Hank was happy to see Tony had perked up a bit with Pepper and Harry there. Once the two of them had gone, he looked at his nephew, checking over how Tony looked... if he needed to talk or eat any more before they got the second spanking out of the way. "How are you feeling?" he asked, watching for Tony's reaction.
Tony glanced at his uncle before looking down with a slight blush. He'd eaten all he could stomach and seeing Pepper and Harry had made him feel slightly better about moving in with Hank, instead of staying in his own apartment. "I feel...ok. I'm still a little sore, but...if you think it's time for more discipline...." He didn't want to ask to be punished. That was too difficult. But he wouldn't fight Hank if his uncle thought it was time. Or, at least, he'd try not to fight. He hadn't looked in a mirror, but he wasn't exaggerating about being sore still. He'd rather get all punishments out of the way if possible, no matter how painful, even if he didn't want to be punished. It was confusing.
Hank hadn't officially decided either way, but he figured he could see if there were any marks left from their earlier session... and he had the feeling that Tony would feel better if they could get all of the punishments out of the way as fast as possible. "Come here," he directed his nephew, holding his hand out to Tony.
Swallowing, Tony put his wrist into his uncle's hand and stepped closer. "I...I'm sorry I made this necessary," he said, not entirely certain what he could say in this situation. "...Feel like a little boy..." he admitted, with an abashed whisper.
"I know." Hank's voice was calm and sympathetic. He clasped Tony's wrist and gently tugged his nephew across his lap, securing him with an arm wrapped around his waist.
To Tony's shame and embarrassment, just going over his uncle's knee caused him to tear up. It didn't bode well for him not completely losing it when the actual spanking started. He took a quivery breath and managed to stop his whimper before it was much more than a squeak...barely.
Hank took a moment or two to rub Tony's back gently before he bared him. He could see that Tony was still slightly pink from the earlier spanking... and although he suspected his nephew was still sore, he knew he could temper the swats to have them be effective without needing to be as severe as the earlier spanking. "I don't think we need to discuss this any further," he said seriously.
"No sir." Tony sniffled and reached to hold onto his uncle's ankle, taking a couple of hitched breaths to prepare himself.
Patting Tony's back gently, Hank waited a beat and then lifted his hand, bringing it down in a swat that wasn't anything like full force. The second swat was exactly the same as the first.
Tony could tell immediately the swats weren't as hard as they had been the first spanking...and he was grateful. He knew he wouldn't have been able to handle a spanking as harsh as his uncle could deliver. The more tempered swats were difficult enough to take. And he hadn't been wrong. By the second swat he was already crying- albeit softly.
Still keeping the swats to the same force and speed, Hank went down to Tony's thighs and then began again from the top, tightening his hold on his nephew's waist as he did so.
When Hank started over again, Tony's quiet crying turned into soft sobs as the left-over sting from the first punishment was reignited and reinforced by the second. He was afraid to say anything, because he knew one word and he'd begin begging for it to be over. He didn't really need to say anything, however, as he couldn't help but begin to squirm helplessly; and throw his hands back to try and protect his bottom.
Hank barely paused as he caught both of Tony's hands in his, shifting them against his nephew's back and adjusting Tony's position so he wouldn't fall. "You aren't alone, Tony." He pitched his voice so it could be heard above the sound of the swats. "I'm here to take care of you... and to keep my promises to you," he added, reinforcing one of the main reasons behind the punishments.
And that was all it took; hearing Hank reiterate that he was there and he would always do what he promised...and knowing that's why he was in this position. Going limp, he just sobbed out the only words he could form. "Sorry...uncle...love you...sorry...."
Hank brought the spanking to a close and wasted no time in quickly gathering Tony into his arms, hugging him close as he rubbed his nephew's back, letting Tony calm down in his own time.
"I...I know I've said it already..." Tony sniffed sadly, before pressing as close to Hank as possible, "...but I'm so sorry I ran from you...."
"I know and I forgive you." Hank's voice was gentle as he pulled Tony in closer. "I never stopped checking up on you," he added, his voice affectionate.
"Thank you..." Tony whispered. "I'd not be in a very good place if you hadn't come and taken care of me." It was hard to admit, but he knew it was the truth. His estrangement from Steve had crushed his self-confidence. Hank was helping keep him stable, even if the pain of separation from his father still tormented him.
"I'm here... and I have no plans to leave you," Hank promised.
Tony sniffed again, shifting slightly with a tiny whimper and holding more tightly to his uncle. "Can I stay with you tonight?" he asked, in a tiny voice.
"Of course," Hank replied, immediately and without hesitation.
Tony snuggled a bit more before finally standing and fixing his clothing enough that he could walk. "I'll just take a shower and get ready for bed, then." He gave his uncle a teary smile, gingerly walking to the bath.
Hank gave Tony a reassuring smile and pat on his shoulder, before he moved to begin getting ready for bed as well.
Thirty minutes later, Tony was standing by the bed in comfortable sleep clothes, teeth brushed, hair combed, freshly scrubbed to the point his skin was pink and almost glowing. He fidgeted from foot to foot and somehow looked younger than the seventeen year old Hank had met years before. "Are you sure I won't bother you?" he asked hesitantly, knowing bad dreams were a possibility. As much as he didn't want to be alone for one of them, he wanted to disturb his uncle's rest even less. "If I have a nightmare....this is a bad idea..." He shook his head and backed away from the bed, intending to go to the other room to sleep. He'd been lucky the night before; too wrung out and exhausted to dream. If he had a nightmare and hurt his uncle because of it, he'd never forgive himself.
"Sir, if I may...Pepper is standing outside the apartment door with Shadow. She said the dog misses you..." Veronica said calmly into the room.
Tony blinked in surprise, glancing at Hank uncertainly. What if his uncle didn't like dogs? Although if he didn't mind them, Shadow would be welcome; the dog had a sixth sense when it came to Tony needing him and would often lick Tony awake before the dreams became dangerous, as long as he was in the room.
"Veronica, tell Pepper to bring Shadow into the apartment." Hank stepped over to Tony and placed a hand on his shoulder, squeezing gently. "You staying with me tonight isn't a problem. If you have a bad dream, I'll wake up."
Tony was too worn emotionally to argue. The fact Hank had punished him so thoroughly, twice, and would again, also affected his ability to argue. At the moment, he felt entirely too submissive toward the older man to argue. And if he was honest, he was more than happy for Hank to be in charge and not have to think, so if Hank said it was ok...he wanted to believe him and wouldn't try and change his uncle's mind.
He walked out into the living room, where Pepper was walking in with Shadow. "Good night, Uncle Hank..." Pepper had quickly fallen into looking on Hank as a family member and responding as such. She walked over and hugged the older man, kissing him on the cheek. She then turned to Tony. "Good night, love..." She hugged Tony as well, but her kiss to him was decidedly less innocent. Only Hank's presence kept it chaste.
"Take care of my fellas, Shadow." She patted the dog on the head in response to his bark.
"Good night." Hank's smile to Pepper was warm. He stepped over to Tony and wrapped his arm around his nephew's shoulders, preparing to steer Tony back to the bedroom once Pepper had retired.
Tony watched his fiancé leave, a guilt filled look in his eye. "This has been hard on her...hard on my son...I want to be better for them...strong for them...but I feel broken inside..." he admitted with a sigh, shoulders slumping. Quietly, he head back into the bedroom, not dislodging his uncle's arm, Shadow running ahead.
"It's going to take time." Hank guided Tony to the bed, pulling the blankets back and helping his nephew to settle before settling himself.
Tony managed to keep from flipping onto his stomach immediately after getting into the bed, waiting for Hank to get in before carefully shifting so he was in his uncle's arms and not on his back. "It hurts..." Tony said, meaning the separation more so than his bottom, but didn't elaborate.
Hank wrapped his arms around his nephew and tugged him in close. "I know," he said, well aware of what Tony really meant. "It's going to get better."
"Promise?" Tony snuggled closer, not caring that he sounded and was acting like a scared child.
"I promise." Hank tightened his embrace. "Things are difficult between you right now, but I guarantee your father hasn't stopped caring about you."
"I...I know you're right. It just doesn't feel like it..." Tony's broken whisper barely left his lips, but the room was quiet enough he could still be heard. "I don't want to be mad..." he admitted, even more softly.
"You can't help how you feel and don't force yourself," Hank said gently. "You're hurting a great deal... but you have me here and when you're ready, you and your father can talk."
Tony just snuggled closer in response, feeling very grateful that his uncle had come when he needed him most, despite the fact Tony had made a bad habit of running from him. He didn't know how he'd be able to sleep, as much in turmoil as he was, but Hank being there helped ease at last part of his anxiety. His exhaustion took care of the rest. Not more than ten minutes later Tony was asleep in his uncle's arms.
Hank held Tony close, but didn't relax until he was certain his nephew was asleep. As soon as Tony's breathing was deep and even, he closed his own eyes and allowed sleep to overtake him.
May had led Skye and Hope to the apartment and they'd had an enjoyable evening eating pizza and later watching a movie, sharing insignificant little tidbits of information about their lives. Getting to know each other. Now both girls were asleep in their rooms, May had been finishing up a tiny bit of paperwork and was checking in on them now. She smiled as she looked in on her daughter. Skye was sound asleep, a peaceful look on her face. May then moved to look in on Hope, the younger girl causing a feeling in her much like the one she'd had for Skye when she first began to care for her daughter. She smiled crookedly, realizing that she was allowing herself to quickly become attached. Carefully and quietly glancing into Hope's room, she watched the younger girl for a few moments, to make certain she was sleeping and didn't need pain medication or anything else.
Hope's sleep had started out peaceful... but it had quickly changed. She saw again her parents' dead bodies as she held the gun aimed at them... experienced again the horror of taking their lives, along with the sense that no one would believe she hadn't chosen to do it herself... but there was always that sense of guilt, lurking beneath the surface. The feeling she should have been strong enough to fight back.
In her sleep, Hope began whimpering and shifting about.
May frowned as she caught the soft whimpering and saw the shifting. Quietly, she walked into the room. She wanted to sit on the girl's bed and wake her, drawing her in for a comforting hug; but past experience with her own nightmares, as well as other people's nightmares, kept her back far enough that she was not within attacking range. Instead, she softly called out to the girl, "Hope...it's a dream, Hope, you are safe and we won't let anyone hurt you...wake up, sweetie...it's a dream...."
The voice... a comforting contrast to the horrors of the dream... served to draw Hope slowly out of the darkness in her own mind... but as she woke up, she flinched. It took her a few moments to relax enough to remember where she was... about as long as it took her eyes to adjust to the dark.
"It's alright, sweetie...you're safe. He can't get to you here. I've got your back..." May continued the soothing words, even after she noted Hope waking, watching for the moment Hope became aware and might possibly need more than gentle speech to calm her.
Hope squeezed her eyes shut, unable to relax fully and feeling tense. "I don't feel safe," she whispered, her voice barely audible.
May moved in at that, wrapping her arms around the younger girl and pulling her in close, holding her tightly. "I know...it will take time...but Veronica will alert us if there is any cause for concern and I won't let anyone hurt you. You will be alright. I know it doesn't feel like it right now, but you will be."
Hope stiffened, but only for a moment, before she nestled in close to May. Slowly... almost hesitantly... she brought her own arms up to wrap carefully around the woman.
"If you ever need to talk about it..." May hesitated, "...I may not have gone through exactly what you've gone through, but I've done things that have haunted me, no matter how much I tell myself I didn't have a choice." While speaking, she was gently rocking Hope back and forth.
In spite of herself, Hope found herself relaxing with the gentle rocking and she pressed closer to May, needing the comfort... even if she thought she shouldn't. "I can't stop thinking about them..." she whispered.
May hummed slightly in response to the younger girl's words, thinking carefully before she spoke. "Instead of not thinking of them...try to think of them during one of the good times you had together. Anytime your mind wants to take you to the horror, deliberately think of one of the best times you had with them. Remember the good. It...it might not stop the pain of loss, or help you feel less guilt, but I think it might help a little and I'm certain that's what they would want for you; to remember the best of them...."
Hope sniffled, actually quite close to tears. "Is that what you do?" she asked quietly.
"My situation is slightly different in that I didn't know the...the person I killed...well enough to have any good memories of them. So I have to think of good memories about everyone else I care about; to remind myself of why life is worth living and who I need to be strong for. Who I need to forgive myself for, if only so I can be what they need..." May's smile was sad and crooked, but genuine all the same. She was close to tears herself. It was never easy remembering the child she'd killed; even if the girl was controlling other people and hurting them and, in some cases, killing them, it hadn't been something she'd wanted to do. Her marriage had fallen apart and she'd hidden in the ranks of SHIELD administration because she couldn't face what she'd done. Only since rejoining Coulson, and eventually joining the family, had she begun to heal from the actions she'd taken years ago.
Hope felt herself calming down and she snuggled in closer to May without really realising it. Since having been arrested, she hadn't had any chances to properly grieve... or receive any kind of comfort. "What if he realises we're here?" she whispered.
May didn't try and offer promises she didn't know she could absolutely keep. As unlikely as it was, there was a small possibility Kilgrave would figure out where his prey had gone and would attempt to do something about it. Still... "If he realizes you're here, then he'll probably try something. But we've set up every precaution to prepare for that possibility. Not only will he have to go through Veronica, but there are several of us that we believe he can't affect using his voice, on account of them having formed an immunity from other things that happened to them; or the fact that they aren't Midgardian. You are in the safest place you could possibly be right now."
Hope nodded, trying to let herself be reassured... and at least the people here knew and believed in Kilgrave's ability. Still... "He was able to just walk into the prison and take me. No one could stop him..."
"The prison didn't have an AI controlling every aspect of the security; they had mortal people who had to go home at night...leaving them vulnerable." May's voice was matter-of-fact. If there was one thing she was certain about, it was that Veronica would be the first and best defense they had. The risk they faced was someone they trusted getting caught by Kilgrave alone and being made to do something; since they all knew to be on the lookout and Veronica knew the possibility was there, she didn't think the sociopath would be able to get very far in his plans, even if he did manage to get hold of one of them.
Hope nodded, trying to believe she was safe here... at least safer than anywhere else she could be. "Okay," she said quietly. "I... just as long as no one underestimates him... or what he's capable of."
"No...we know that he is very dangerous...we'll do everything possible to make certain that he doesn't corner any one of us alone- and we've given Veronica every parameter we can think of to be watching for; in case he somehow does get to one of us, she'll hopefully pick up on the odd behavior. But not underestimating him doesn't mean being so afraid that we can't function. If you let fear of him control you, then he's won." May gave Hope another tiny smile, before tugging her in closer and tighter. "Want me to stay with you?" she asked quietly. She could tell the girl was still tired. Maybe having another person close by would help her sleep better.
Hope wondered if she should try and be strong... to not need anyone. But she was nodding before she could even decide to. "Yes..." Her voice came out a hoarse whisper and she cleared her throat, grimacing when it strained her throat. "Please."
"Scooch down..." May didn't make any knowing faces, or say anything to make Hope feel badly about needing her. She just scooted so that she was more comfortable and so that Hope was held more comfortably in her arms, then kissed the top of the younger girl's head. "Sleep...I've got you."
Releasing a quiet sigh, Hope closed her eyes and nestled in close to May. It didn't take long for her breathing to even out and deepen into true sleep.
May waited until she knew Hope was asleep before allowing her own eyes to close. Soon, she was asleep as well.
It must have been close to an hour before Patsy finally decided just laying in bed wasn't going to do any good. She got up with a quiet sigh, planning to get a glass of water... and hope moving a little would help to clear her head.
Bucky hadn't been able to sleep more than a few hours at night since the war. He'd already done his typical 'check on the kids and make sure they're breathing' routine thirty minutes earlier, so he wasn't terribly surprised when his sharp hearing picked up the sounds of Patsy getting out of bed and leaving her room. She'd still been awake when he'd checked, after all. Carefully getting up himself, he quietly walked to the kitchen, following her. He stayed as quiet as possible, so as not to wake Bakshi and Lance... but didn't walk as stealthily as he could have, since he didn't want to startle Patsy. He stepped into the kitchen not too much after Patsy had.
In the act of pouring a glass of water, Patsy looked up... a little guiltily, as she'd thought she'd been quiet enough not to wake anyone. "Did I wake you? I'm sorry..."
"No...don't be sorry...I was already awake," Bucky said; a bit gruffly, but with a smile. "I don't think I'll ever really get into a regular sleep pattern...been a soldier too long."
"Like Captain Steve Rogers?" Patsy knew the rumours, like everyone else... but now she was here at the tower, she couldn't help being curious enough to ask questions.
Bucky chuckled. "Heard the rumors, have you? Steve and I were soldiers together...yes. Best friends. Brothers in all but blood...."
Patsy nodded. "You still seem to have that relationship." Although it had been obvious that the Captain, at least, had been unhappy about something.
"We do," Bucky agreed. "And the family has extended by quite a bit. I have many more brothers and a sister added to the mix. Not to mention all my nieces and nephews and my own kids...."
"That must be nice," Patsy said. "I really only have Jessica... Hope, too, now." She couldn't count the woman who'd given birth to her. Jessica had always been a better part of her family than her.
Bucky chuckled as he thought about the fact that he had a feeling she'd have more than just Jessica and Hope if things followed the normal pattern. "It is nice. Funnily enough- a lot of the family I have now joined in situations much like you currently find yourself," he couldn't help but say.
"You mean in a situation where they're threatened?" Patsy asked.
"Where they were threatened, where they were trying to take down evil men or organizations on their own, where they thought they were alone and things were hopeless..." Bucky got his own glass of water then motioned to a kitchen chair before pulling out one for himself and sitting.
Patsy took one of the other seats at the table, sipping her water. "Does it sometimes get crowded? I know the tower's big and you're all like one big family... you never get in each other's way?"
"Well, each small family has their own apartment and we don't usually mind being so close...but the few times we feel crowded, Tony made sure that there were a couple of places to retreat to." Bucky shrugged with a grin.
Patsy nodded. "It's important to have some space occasionally... or maybe that's just me." She shrugged, thinking about her mother and needing to be away from her. Of course, she didn't really feel the need to escape from Jessica... but that was different.
"Sometimes it's needed," Bucky agreed, thinking of Tony and Steve with a sad smile. His smile brightened a little when he thought of his own children. "Usually, we prefer there not to be too much space, though. Most of us were alone for so long, the novelty of having people around who love us and want to watch our backs still hasn't worn off." He chuckled.
"It seems to be quite obvious how close all of you are..." Patsy said. "People outside the tower have noticed."
"Yeah...we are close. Dunno if it's because we need each other so much that it works, or if it's because it works that we need each other...either way, I can't imagine any of this group not being family...not anymore." Bucky snorted.
"Who did it all start with?" Patsy asked curiously.
"The looking at someone as family or the actually adopting people into the family?" Bucky asked, for clarification.
"Both," Patsy answered.
Bucky slanted his head thoughtfully before answering. "Well, Steve and I always considered ourselves brothers...and since we were from the early twenties, I think you could look at us as beginning that. But adopting? That was actually Phil's doing. He adopted Grant when Grant was an adult and the rest of us parental types liked the idea of making our relationships with 'our kids' official too and so we started following suit."
"How did you first meet your sons?" Not only was Patsy curious about the relationships in the tower, asking questions helped stop her thinking about Kilgrave and the fact he was still out there... and Jessica was still in danger.
"I actually met Lance when the team he was working with paired up with me and some other family members, when we went to take down a HYDRA cell that was holding children prisoner in an attempt to brainwash and condition then to be HYDRA. We just clicked and I knew immediately he would be mine if he chose to stay with us and not go off as soon as the op was over. Bakshi was brainwashed and we managed to get hold of him after another op. We worked on breaking the brainwashing. I had the same feeling from him as I did Lance, though. He was mine if he wanted to stay." Bucky eyed her silently for a moment, before seeming to come to a decision. "I have the same feeling about you."
Surprised, Patsy looked at Bucky... trying to see if he was telling the truth. "Really?" Her voice should have sounded suspicious. Instead, she sounded hopeful... even though her only experience in being wanted by a parental figure had been her mother wanting a famous daughter.
Bucky grinned, hearing the tone in her voice and feeling encouraged by it. "Really...and my gut hasn't been wrong yet!"
"I like it here." Patsy smiled, her voice genuine. "I... think I'd like to see if your gut is right," she admitted softly.
Bucky's grin grew. "Good. That's real good..." her decision obviously made him happy.
"But... I don't think Jessica is going to want to stay so easily," Patsy admitted. "She doesn't want anyone else to get hurt by Kilgrave... but she doesn't care if she gets hurt stopping him."
Bucky nodded, humming softly. "Steve...he's normally good at figuring things out like that and handling it. He'll do what he can to help and protect her." He managed to sound confident of that fact, even if part of him wasn't sure about Steve's frame of mind.
"He doesn't really seem in a good place right now," Patsy said softly, not sure she should be commenting on anyone's state of mind.
"I'm not sure how much to divulge. I did something against my will years ago and he made a choice in an attempt to protect me and Tony that ended up causing problems between him and Tony." He gave a troubled sigh. "I feel for both of them and if I could figure out a way to help, I would. Still…. If Jessica needs him, he'll be there, no matter how he's feeling."
Patsy nodded slowly. "I believe you... I'm sure you're the person who knows him the best..." She sighed. "If you think he can stop her from getting herself killed... I'll trust him."
"He'll do everything in his power to do so...she may not always like his methods, but that won't stop him." Bucky grinned crookedly. "Just like I'll take care of and protect you."
Patsy smiled, but then thought of something. "What if... your sons don't like that idea?"
"My sons are looking forward to having a sister and will most likely help me protect you." Bucky chuckled.
"Is there anything I need to know?" Patsy asked. "Like... any expectations?" She was a bit cautious, knowing what her biological mother had expected of her.
"There are a few...the biggest of which is not to take unnecessary chances with your life," Bucky responded.
"That's not something I'd usually do..." Of course, she'd tried to call Kilgrave out; but that hadn't been a normal thing for her to do.
"Make sure you don't and we won't need to have a discussion." Bucky nodded.
"That sounds ominous," Patsy said.
Bucky chuckled. "I guess it depends on how you feel about discussions." He then proceeded to tell her the family rules and consequences for breaking the rules.
For a brief moment, Patsy wondered if Bucky was joking... but she couldn't really figure out what he'd have to gain from that. "That... really happens here?"
"It really happens." Bucky nodded. "If you don't do risky stuff and behave, though, you're safe...assuming you agree to let me protect you and be in charge that is...."
"I would like that..." Patsy admitted, knowing there was no point in hiding how she felt. Not from someone she knew didn't want anything from her.
"I would too, kiddo..." Bucky grinned happily. "Maybe after you've had time to get to know all of us better...we might decide to make it legal."
"You might have to fight my biological mother on that... not that she actually wants to keep me..." And Patsy tried not to sound bitter, but she couldn't help it.
"Well, there are other things we can do that don't involve actual adoption, if you don't think she'd cooperate and don't want a fight. Something like what Jemma and Bruce have; and we'd only need your agreement for that." Bucky didn't want her to feel pressured either way, but he noted the bitter tone and made a decision to keep an eye on Patsy's mother, in case she caused problems.
"Maybe we should wait and see how things develop." It was kind of scary how fast she wanted this... and Patsy wondered if she should step back a little.
"Whatever is best for you sweetheart," Bucky nodded with a smile. "Whatever you decide, I still plan to be in your corner protecting you."
"Thank you," Patsy said softly, shooting him a grateful look.
"No thanks necessary." Bucky smiled, unable to stop himself from pulling her into a hug.
Patsy immediately relaxed into the hug, wrapping her arms around him, surprised at how much she needed the comfort.
"C'mon." Bucky smiled. "Let's go join the boys."
Jessica wasn't sure what to think of the situation she found herself in currently. She was following Captain 'freakin' America back to his apartment...and it wasn't for a night of banging super boots. It was surreal. Why would the man care so much about a total stranger? She was startled when they finally reached their destination, having been thinking too hard to pay attention to where she was.
Steve exited the elevator, pausing to wait for Jessica to join him before he spoke. "There's an empty room next to mine... if you need to collect any items from your apartment, we can do that tomorrow." His full attention was on Jessica. No matter how he was feeling personally... he couldn't help but view her in the same way he'd come to view Tony and Bruce. Pepper, too. Fairly certain that telling her that would spook her, he didn't voice those thoughts, instead saying, "If you want to stay up for a bit, I imagine Bruce and his children are still awake... we can join them for a game, perhaps."
"What? You mean family game night wasn't just a rumor?" Jessica tried for sarcastic, but her amusement and glee at the idea of super-heroes playing Uno defeated her attempt.
"Neither is family movie night," Steve replied, a trace of amusement slipping into his voice.
"Do you watch anything or stick to Disney?" Jessica teased, following Steve the rest of the way into the apartment and glancing around to see who was there.
Leo was just exiting the kitchen with Peter, the two of them eat carrying a tray of mugs with hot chocolate. "Are we talking about movie night?" Leo asked curiously.
"We're often sitting through the older movies... so Grandpa and Uncle Bucky can feel more at home," Peter teased.
Jessica giggle snorted at Peter's comment, then covered her mouth with her hand, surprised at her own reaction.
Steve smiled at Jessica's reaction, but didn't comment to draw attention to it, instead saying to his grandchildren (and including Jessica in the comment), "I thought maybe we could play a game before retiring for the night."
"We made cocoa already... I think Dad was just finishing up something," Leo said. He offered the tray to Jessica. "Help yourself."
"Thank you." Jessica smiled, taking a cup. "Where will everyone be meeting?" she asked, in an effort to participate in the conversation.
"We have a family room." Leo offered the tray to Steve, who took one of the mugs.
"It's just this way," Steve said to Jessica, preparing to walk there with her.
Jessica smiled crookedly, nodding at Leo before following Steve. She wasn't sure how she felt about being drawn into the family group. It worried her how comfortable she felt with this family and that she was starting to want to be with them.
"Are there any games you particularly like?" Steve asked, heading towards the cupboard after putting his cup down. "We probably have just about any you could think of..."
"I haven't played games since...well… it's been a really long time..." Jessica admitted, not sure what to say and nervous at the attention everyone gave her as they waited for her answer.
"That's not a problem." Leo was quick to jump in. "We can pick one and if you don't know it, you can pick up the rules."
"Or we can play twenty questions," Peter suggested.
Jessica raised an eyebrow. "You sure you want to play twenty questions with a P.I.?" She grinned.
"I bet I can beat you in a round," Peter declared confidently.
"We'll see..." Jessica grinned more widely. "Let's do it, then!"
It didn't take long for the family to settle in, taking turns playing twenty questions and taking advantage of one of the few opportunities to relax.
Kara sighed, pushing her plate away from herself. "That was good...but I can't eat another bite." She grinned at her family.
Fury began collecting the plates. "Is there anything you'd like to do this evening?" he asked his children.
"I don't have any big ideas..." Kara said with a shrug.
"I don't either," Brock agreed.
Trip slanted his head. "Cards?" he asked quietly.
"Cards sound good." It didn't take long for cleanup to be finished and then Fury was dealing. "How are you all feeling?" he asked gently.
"Won't lie; seeing Tony and Steve like this is hard...but only because I care about them..." Trip said quietly.
Kara and Brock didn't say anything, but if the way they both shifted closer to Fury was any indication, they were a bit more than worried about Tony and Steve. They just didn't want to say anything.
Fury wrapped an arm around each of his youngest's shoulders, making eye contact with Trip so his oldest knew he understood. "It is hard," he agreed. "There's no shame in worrying about them... I think the best thing we can do is make it clear we're here for them if either need us."
Kara snuggled closer. "I wish I could help...it's scary...seeing them like that..." she whispered.
"They've both been deeply hurt," Fury said. "It isn't anyone's fault, but those wounds are going to take time to heal."
"If I ever I did something really wrong that hurt you..." Kara said hesitantly, afraid to actually voice her question.
Fury tightened his arm around his daughter. "There is no chance I would allow it to reach that point," he promised. Not seeing the effects on Steve and Tony... though at least Bucky seemed to be handling things better now.
Kara relaxed into her father's hug and nodded. It was hard to watch, but she believed him when he said he wouldn't let things reach that point, should something ever happen.
"Uncle Steve wouldn't let it reach this point, either, now that he knows what the result is..." Brock said quietly to his sister, positive he was correct in his assumption.
Fury nodded in agreement with his youngest son. "Tony has someone to take care of him right now... but I can't imagine it'll be long before he lets Steve back in. Not with everything they've weathered."
"If he didn't, Steve wouldn't give him so much space; he knows he's safe, so Steve is backing off," Trip added, giving his father a smile.
"Exactly," Fury said. "But they'll get past this... and I think the rest of us have learned from that."
"Ok," Kara agreed quietly. "I love you, daddy...."
"I love you too... all of you," Fury added, looking at each of them in turn.
"Love you too, dad..." Trip and Brock said in unison.
Fury squeezed Kara gently and then waited for Trip to deal the cards.
Even sleeping beside his uncle, Tony had a hard time falling asleep. It had been a while since he'd had dreams; but the situation with his father had completely knocked his legs out from under him. Having Hank in his corner helped a bit; but at night, lying in bed, he had too much time to think. He shifted slightly, trying not to wake his uncle.
Hank wasn't a deep sleeper and it didn't take much for him to begin to stir... especially because he could feel even the faint shifting with his arm wrapped around his nephew.
Tony froze in place, holding his breath, waiting to see if his uncle woke or drifted back into sleep and feeling guilty that he might have woken the older man.
Hank opened his eyes, gently tightening his arm around his nephew's shoulders. "Bad dreams?" he asked softly.
Tony swallowed, relaxing into Hank's hold. "Yeah...from Afghanistan..." he admitted with a shiver. It was the last time he'd been truly 'alone', save for Yinsen...who'd died to help Tony live. It wasn't exactly comforting.
Hank wrapped his other arm around Tony in response. "Do you need to talk about it?" he asked softly, concern obvious in his voice.
"I...I just felt so lost there...alone except for Yinsen. And he was in the same dire situation as I was. So...even though I wasn't really alone...I felt like I was on my own..." Tony said hesitantly. "At the time, it didn't bother me so much...I'd made a lifestyle out of being 'alone' and depending on no one. Now, though...after realizing I'm not alone and after learning to depend on family..." he deliberately didn't say Steve's name. "...that feeling of being alone in my dream was so much more frightening. Worse than the torture...."
Hank listened without interruption, not shifting his hold even a little. "I know bad dreams can hurt a lot," he said. "You've been through a lot in the way of emotional upheavals... it's not surprising those have triggered memories of that time."
"The only time I ever felt this hopeless was when I had flown the nuke through the portal," Tony whispered. "No one could help me and I was unable to help myself...." He reached up, rubbing his eyes, snuggling closer to his uncle.
"I attacked them...." he admitted, in an even more quiet tone. "Dad couldn't stop me until he put the shield through the arc reactor powering my suit. I couldn't move after that...the suit held me immobile while he and uncle Bucky dragged me back to safety." Tony swallowed. "He didn't leave me behind...didn't fight me any longer once I was immobile...didn't leave me vulnerable or at risk...and all I could think was if I'd not had the surgery and removed the shrapnel- still had the reactor in my chest- that I would have been dead and it would have been dad that killed me. And it didn't happen like that and I know he wouldn't have hit the reactor with his shield if my life depended on it, but part of me couldn't help but think of it and it's just one more thing to be angry about that...that I think maybe I shouldn't be...." Tony sighed. "I'm just so confused, uncle Hank..." he said, in a very confused voice.
Hank rubbed Tony's back while he listened to his nephew. "You can't help how you feel," he said. "And trying to force yourself to feel a different way, whether you think it's logical or not, will only make you feel worse. You don't need me to reiterate what you already know... that even though he made a mistake, your father would never have put you at risk. But emotions don't tend to respond well to logic."
"I don't like feeling this way," Tony admitted mournfully, cuddling closer.
"I know. But when you start feeling better, it'll be a sign you're healing," Hank said gently.
"Yeah...I hope it's soon. Harry needs me. I'm failing him." Tony sniffed, his eyes growing heavy.
"When you're ready, you'll be there for him... but for right now, he has his mother and the rest of the family," Hank said. "You need to take care of yourself first." He continued to gently stroke his nephew's hair and back.
"Thank you..." Tony whispered. "...For coming for me. You haven't gotten to meet anyone else because I'm such a mess."
"You need me," Hank replied frankly. "And you're my priority. Anything else can wait," he promised.
Tony didn't say anymore, his emotions still all over the place. Instead, he put his head on his uncle's chest and closed his eyes, sleep finally catching him.
Hank just cuddled his nephew close, gently stroking Tony's hair, as he allowed his own eyes to close.
It wasn't long after dawn that Hank woke, an innate sense of time allowing him to wake up early without needing an alarm clock. He might not be Ant-Man any longer... but he still carried some of the effects of that time.
Tony, a light sleeper due to all the events in his life, woke very shortly after his uncle. Blinking sleep from his eyes, he slowly sat up and ran a hand through his hair. "You want the shower first?" His voice was quiet and still tired sounding.
"I'm good with going either first or second," Hank replied.
"I'll let you go first then...I'll get coffee going..." Tony gave a tiny smile, sitting up and moving to stand.
Hank nodded and stood. "I'll get breakfast started while you're in the shower, then," he said, before heading through to beginning getting ready.
Tony nodded, heading through to the kitchen and putting the coffee on. As soon as Hank had joined him in the kitchen, he'd handed a cup of the strong brew to the older man and gone to take his own shower. He tried not to think of the last spanking he still had coming...even avoided looking in the mirror. He hissed as the first stream of water hit his backside, but soon, the water began to soothe him. He'd kept it cold enough to numb his extremities, so it was a perfect way to wake up the rest of the way.
Hank very quickly began making breakfast, making sure to have plenty of bacon and pancakes along with eggs. It didn't take long before he was preparing to plate up the food.
Quickly showering, then dressing in comfortable sweat pants and an old muscle shirt, Tony wandered back into the kitchen, curling the toes of his bare feet against the linoleum and running fingers through still slightly damp hair.
"Do you want to sit down?" Hank asked, not saying or doing anything to draw attention to the fact he'd placed a cushion on one of the kitchen chairs.
Tony was about to decline when he noticed the cushion. Giving his uncle a look that was part grateful, part bashful shame, he carefully sat down. "Thank you, sir..." he said quietly, before taking a sip of his second cup of coffee of the day.
Hank smiled warmly at his nephew as he placed a plate in front of Tony and then sat down with his own. "You're welcome."
At first, Tony was worried about what he could possibly say...but the first bite of food and he was soon eating as if he were starving, his attention almost solely on the food. "This is really good..." he said, after swallowing one of the bites.
"I've had a lot of practice with my cooking skills." There was a trace of amusement in Hank's voice as he spoke... but there was also a hint of worry, as he considered how little his nephew had probably been eating.
"Doesn't seem to matter how hard I practice, I always burn what I start out making..." Tony admitted sheepishly. "...I once burned a pot of boiling water...."
"Your genius lies in other areas... many other areas," Hank added. "You don't have to be a good cook too." His voice was filled with gentle amusement.
"Says the man who figured out how to shrink and enlarge people without it killing them..." Tony's was just as amused.
"It was easy once I figured out how to do it," Hank replied. "Of course, I'm personally too old to go around shrinking and re-growing anymore..." he joked.
Tony got a wistful look on his face, but then shook his head and chuckled. "I'm probably too old to ask to try it...I think Pepper worries enough about me flying in a big metal death-box...."
"And you get into more than enough trouble when you're full-sized," Hank replied... though the tone of his voice was teasing.
"I can't argue that..." Tony chuckled. "...I'd be in even more trouble if I didn't have so many people watching over me," he admitted, with a blush.
"Well, you have people to watch your back... but also family," Hank commented seriously.
"I do have that. I felt like I was alone for so long; my fault- if I'd kept in contact with you, I wouldn't have- and now I am lucky to have numerous people in my life," Tony agreed.
"Even so, it's not too late." Noticing his nephew was finished, Hank stood to collect and wash their plates and utensils.
Tony stood up and followed Hank into the kitchen, grabbing a towel to help dry. "I'm thankful it isn't...."
"How did you sleep?" Hank was reasonably sure Tony hadn't had another nightmare, but it couldn't hurt to check.
"After we talked...I slept ok. No more nightmares, at least..." Tony blushed. "I didn't mean to wake you up, but you helped me a lot...."
"Don't ever worry about waking me," Hank said seriously. "I don't want you to have to deal with those nightmares alone."
"Yes, sir..." Tony smiled crookedly, before glancing down at the now washed and dried dishes. Taking a deep breath and blushing slightly, he said, "Today is the last spanking...do...do I need to move back to my apartment after?"
"No," Hank replied, immediately and without hesitation. "You can stay with me for as long as you need and want to."
Tony just nodded in response but the way his shoulders slumped in relief said more than words could have. "I don't know what I would have done if you hadn't come after me uncle Hank..." he admitted quietly. "Knowing the way I handled things before d…dad," he swallowed, "I would have self-destructed."
Hank placed a hand on Tony's shoulder and squeezed gently. "I am here. For you." His voice was quiet, but sincere and reassuring nevertheless.
Tony nodded. "I know..." he admitted, before smiling crookedly. "Can we...can we get it out of the way? Then maybe we can talk some more and... maybe I can invite Hope out for the weekend or something, if she'd like to come meet the rest of the family? I mean, she is my cousin...and we always got along as kids...and I'm sure she misses you..." Tony didn't mention all the trouble he and Hope had got into as kids. He also didn't mention the period of time when Hope was estranged from her father. For as much running as he'd done, he'd kept himself informed on the Pym family and he knew they were finally back together again. He debated teasing Hank about Hope's ex-con boyfriend, but given the fact he was about to be over the man's knee again, he decided self-preservation dictated he not bring that up just yet.
Hank draped his arm around Tony's shoulders, drawing him in for a side-hug, and nodded. "You might want to do the same with Scott." Even though he hadn't (yet) officially adopted the other man, Scott was still his. Keeping his arm around his nephew, he guided Tony through to the sitting room.
Tony shot a startled glance toward his uncle then grinned a toothy grin. "So it's like that, is it? Congrats?" Tony tried not to think about why they were heading toward the sitting room, pressing closer to his uncle nervously and tensing up with his effort not to turn tail and run like a coward again. Like he almost always did (or, at least, almost always used to do) when faced with an upcoming spanking.
Aware of Tony's probable mindset, Hank tightened his arm around Tony's shoulders. "Yes. Exactly like that," he agreed, as he guided his nephew towards the couch.
Tony swallowed hard the closer they got to the couch. "I..." He swallowed again. "Do you need to spank me again?" His voice came out more childish than he would have wanted and he blushed, but forged ahead. "I won't ever run from you again...I promise! And I know better than to do all the stupid stuff I did before...really!" He stopped and swallowed again, just barely managing not to beg not to be spanked.
"Tony. I'm not going to be breaking any promises to you," Hank said seriously. Reaching the couch, he took a seat and gently tugged his nephew across his lap.
Tony quieted at his uncle's words, the answer calming him more than he had expected. "And...and you promised to spank me for every wrong thing I did the next time you saw me. And it was my own foolish decision to run instead of face the music, so I have no one to blame but myself that the consequences for my misbehavior added up..." he whispered, in a tiny, sad and resigned tone. "I'm still really sorry, sir...I know you don't really like doing this...." He didn't struggle once he was over Hank's knee, instead becoming very pliant. He didn't want to make it more difficult than it already was going to be, given how sore he still was. He wondered briefly if the fact his bottom had a few spots from the previous two spankings still visible would alter anything; but he didn't ask for the spanking not to occur again.
Hank rubbed his back gently. "Once this is over, we don't have to deal with it again." He bared Tony, taking a moment to choose to adjust how hard he'd make the spanking, due to there still being marks, and then lifted his hand, bringing it down in the first tempered swat.
Tony bit back a whimper, knowing that he deserved what he was getting (over 25 years of misdeeds and running to atone for). Plus, he could tell Hank wasn't spanking nearly as hard as he had the first two times. He knew the older man was being careful of him and the fact that Hank was making certain not to harm him had him attempting to keep his reactions back so that he didn't cause the man any unnecessary worry. He had no illusions he'd be able to keep quiet long; but at least when he began vocalizing, it would be because he'd reached a point where not vocalizing was just plain stubbornness and foolish.
Hank kept the swats at a steady pace, going down to Tony's thighs before starting over from the top again. "We're past the time I'll allow you to run again," he said seriously. "Because if need be, I'll come after you. Each and every time."
"I...I believe you!" Tony said tensely, trying to keep from crying. It was difficult. He'd wanted to cry since before the spanking even began. He didn't bother promising never to run again. He knew himself and he knew if he got deep enough into his own head that he stopped thinking clearly, he could very easily just take off running. And if Steve didn't come after him, he'd need someone to do so. Of course, he had a feeling that all it would take was a phone call from Hank with a stern admonishment to come back and he'd return like a misbehaving puppy.
"Good." Hank's voice was calm and firm, as he began swatting a little harder and faster. Not much, but enough to hopefully push his nephew to the point Tony needed to be.
Tony noticed immediately when the strength and timing of the smacks increased and he wasn't able to keep from responding any longer. Letting out a tiny wail, he began to squirm and threw both hands back. "I'm sorryyyyy! PleaseUnglAnk! I'll be good! I'll be so good, I'm sorry! No more...please!" he sobbed, even as he tried to get away from his uncle's firm grip.
Hank paused long enough to move Tony's hands out of the way, then finished up with a final few swats before he stopped, quickly gathering his nephew into a tight embrace.
Oddly, his uncle holding his hands out of the way calmed Tony enough that he stopped squirming and instead went limp over Hank's lap. He was grateful that the spanking didn't continue much beyond the point where he'd lost control, though. Pressing as close to his uncle as he was physically able to get, burrowing against the older man with his ear pressed against Hank's chest and his head snuggled under his uncle's chin, the sobbing stopped fairly quickly, but tears were still streaming from his eyes and he couldn't stop quivering. "I'm sorry..." he said, in a very small, contrite voice. "...Didn't mean to lose it like that. Not when I know I had it coming..." He sighed softly, but didn't pull away. He realized he needed the comfort too much. He also realized he was calming down much more quickly after this spanking than he had the other two, the guilt that had been plaguing him for so long in relation to his treatment of Hank finally addressed enough that it didn't hurt him anymore. "Thank you..." he finally said softly, hoping that Hank realized it was because he no longer felt guilty, as well as Hank's not giving up on him after so long.
Hank tightened his embrace around his nephew. "Do you feel better inside?" he asked, his voice gentle.
"Uhhuh..." Tony's voice was still very soft, small; not like his usual confident self. He sniffed, letting out a tiny snort of a laugh at hearing his own voice, realizing how childishly young he was acting. He didn't care enough to stop, though.
"Good." Hank was clearly not troubled by Tony acting more childish and not like his usual self. He just held his nephew close, gently stroking over Tony's hair.
"Love you, uncle Hank..." Tony murmured, squeezing just a bit tighter.
"I love you too," Hank replied sincerely.
Tony snuggled for a bit more before finally standing and fixing his clothes. He couldn't help the whimper of pain as his pants chafed his sore bottom, but he didn't comment otherwise and gave Hank a teary smile. He still felt a bit emotional, but he felt a lot better than he had before Hank took care of him. "How about I call Hope and invite her and Scott out to visit now? No better time than the present, right?"
Hank nodded. "I appreciate that," he replied seriously. He thought it would probably help Tony to focus on that... and perhaps picking up an old friendship would go a short way towards helping him heal.
Tony's smile grew at the thought of doing something for his uncle to make him happy. Pulling out his phone, he said, "Please dial the number for Hope van Dyne, Veronica?"
"Of course, Mr. Stark..." the AI intoned. Soon, Tony's phone was ringing.
Hope answered after only a couple of rings, her voice crisp and professional. "This is Hope van Dyne."
"Hey, Hop-scotch! How ya doin?" Tony grinned as he heard his childhood friend and honorary cousin's voice.
"Tony... I haven't heard your voice in a long time," Hope said dryly, though there was an undercurrent that suggested she was happy to hear from him. "Are you calling because you need something? Or just to chat?" Although aware her father was (probably) with Tony, she assumed she'd hear if there were any problems.
"Well, I'd love to chat, Hopesie....but I actually called for a specific reason." Tony's grin grew and he knew she could hear it in his voice. "I would like for you and your new beau, Scott, to come visit me and the rest of the family at the tower. I figure it's about time I introduce Harry to his other cousins...second cousins...first cousins once removed? I always get it mixed up..." Tony rambled for a bit, before shaking his head and trying to refocus on Hope's answer; though he glanced at Hank to see what the older man was doing.
Hank was smiling, amused at Tony's rambling... and at the fact his nephew seemed to be feeling better.
"That would certainly be doable... and Scott's been a bit down the past few days, on account of his daughter moving with her mother," Hope said. "It would do him some good to stop moping around." There was a note of fond exasperation in her voice.
Tony blinked. He'd only met the other man for a very short period of time before everything had imploded in his life, but he vaguely remembered him mentioning his daughter. "Cassie moved? Where to?" He couldn't help but feel sympathy for Scott. He knew if Harry ever had to move away, he'd miss his son terribly.
"Your city, actually," Hope replied. "So I think he'd be happy to have the chance to see her." She knew how much Scott missed Cassie... and knowing this would make him happy helped her feel not so helpless.
"Well, then by all means...both of you come. There is plenty of space..." Tony's voice was welcoming and fond.
"It'll take me a couple of days to get everything in order here, but we'll come as soon as it's feasible," Hope said.
"Just let me know when you're ready and I can send the jet out to get you. Keep you from having to go through the security of a regular airport...." Tony quickly said.
"I'll keep you informed," Hope promised.
"Ok...Do you want to talk to your dad?" he finally asked, giving Hank a questioning glance. It was only polite to allow them to use the phone, since he'd called her when Hank was present.
"Sure," Hope replied. "There are probably a couple of things I should tell him." Her voice was mild... and held none of the exasperation of having to deal with Scott acting out because he was unhappy.
"Ok, hold on a second..." He held the phone out to Hank. "She'd like to talk to you...."
Hank nodded, uttering a quiet word of thanks, before he took the phone. While his face didn't give much away, he was obviously doing more listening than talking.
Tony smiled and moved back to the couch, sitting down gingerly, to give his uncle a bit of privacy.
Bobbi was stretched out on one of the numerous couches in the entertainment room on the common family floor, her head on Lance's lap. She glanced toward around to see who all was in the room with her other than her not-so-ex-husband. Bucky was there, as were Leo, Jemma, Peter and Harry. The four younger members of the family were playing a board game. A throat clearing had her glancing toward Mack.
"I found him," the tall, gentle giant said with a tiny smile for his two cousins. "He's actually teaching in a school up north, but I can call and have him bring the certificate down with him."
Lance grinned. "That's awesome." His smile faded somewhat, as he thought about whether or not he really did want to get a divorce... but considering how badly their real marriage had turned out, not getting a divorce would probably be for all the wrong reasons.
Bobbi blinked. "Yeah...that's good, Mack. Thanks..." Her voice was soft and not quite as exuberant as Lance's, causing both Bucky and Mack to give her a suspicious, probing look. She blushed and deliberately ignored the looks, instead saying helpfully, "Peter...you can spell MUZJIKS and it falls on a triple word square…."
"Wha...?! No fair!" Jemma protested, though she was quickly looking through the scrabble word dictionary to see if the word could actually be spelled the way Bobbi said.
Bucky, meanwhile, was giving his son a stern look. "You want Logan to bring the certificate, you call him and ask yourself. Don't expect Mack to clean up after you."
Mack didn't even try and argue against Bucky, wordlessly handing Lance the piece of paper with Logan's information on it.
Not surprised by his father's response, Lance didn't try to argue. He took the piece of paper and sat up enough to take out his cell phone and start dialing.
Bobbi protested half-heartedly at Lance's shifting, but didn't get up...moving just enough to get comfortable again and plopping her head back onto his lap. She was drowsy (and a lot more unsettled by events of the past few weeks than she was willing to admit to anyone, even herself.) Lance was familiar safety and comfort and she wasn't moving unless he specifically asked. She could hear the ringing of the phones from her position and, when he answered, Logan's voice.
"Yeah?" a gruff voice that she recognized, even if she'd been drunk off her feet when meeting him, finally answered.
Lance recognised the voice, too, and didn't bother asking for confirmation of the speaker's identity. "This is Lance Hunter. You probably remember me and my partners, Mack and Bobbi, from the op where me and Bobbi somehow got married. We... kinda need the marriage certificate and we think you might still have it."
Logan blinked. Yeah, he remembered that operation, if only because he'd thought the two so unlike normal government agents, secret or otherwise, and he'd been amused at the situation. He'd actually expected this call to occur a few weeks after he'd exchanged information with their partner. "...That was nearly four years ago...." he said blandly. "Did you just now discover it was legal and binding?" he asked dryly.
"...Kind of," Lance admitted. "If you're busy, we can swing by and grab it," he offered.
Logan snorted, his voice clearly amused. "Nah, I actually have a few weeks mandated leave. I can swing down your way and bring it by. You're in that tower, right?"
"Yeah, Stark Tower," Lance replied. "You just have to let Veronica... she's Tony's AI... veto you first."
"I should be there in about four hours then. Soon as I take care of a few more things here," Logan acknowledged, before hanging up the phone.
Lance hung up. "He said he's going to be here in about four hours," he announced, for everyone apart from Bobbi, who he knew heard every word.
"Well, then..." Mack looked at his watch. "That will be around lunch-time. Maybe we can order a large amount of pizza and introduce him to everyone."
Bucky shrugged. "Why not? Might be good to have everyone together. We've all been separating into groups a lot lately...."
Bobbi bit her lip. "Maybe if I asked Tony, he'd come out for a bit and let everyone see that he's alright. Even though Veronica, and Pepper, and Harry have all assured us he is...."
"Yeah... I think Uncle Steve could do with checking on him," Lance mumbled, only loud enough for Bobbi (and his father) to hear. He knew his uncle was still affected by what had happened... even if there was the strong sense that Steve was going to get another daughter. (And Lance couldn't help a slight grin at the thought he was going to get a sister...)
Bucky nodded at his son's words, but didn't comment. He was feeling much more secure since his talk with Coulson and he was fairly certain that Tony wasn't angry at him or blaming him for his part in what had occurred. Even if he was, Bucky felt able to handle it. He didn't agree with Steve giving Tony so much space; and if it weren't for the fact that Hank Pym had showed up and stepped in to help his nephew, he would have had words with his brother over the fact that he was allowing Tony to avoid him, if not actively trying to avoid Tony himself. It wasn't healthy, it wasn't helping either of them deal with their problems, and it certainly wasn't going to help bring them back together. Hank had shown up, however, so he wasn't as worried about Tony as he would have needed to be; it was Steve who needed help. Maybe he'd have to step in himself to take care of his brother, although it didn't really feel right for him to do so in this instance. If no one else stepped in, though and Steve continued on the path he was on.... "Order the pizza, Mack," he finally determined. "Veronica, please let everyone know we have a guest coming for lunch that they might just want to meet so no one is allowed to skip out for any reason?" he said to the AI, hoping that curiosity, if nothing else, would bring Tony out of hiding long enough for Steve to do something about his relationship with his son. "And if they want any specific toppings for their pizza, they need to tell you now, because Mack is ordering."
"Very well, Sergeant. I am doing so now...." Veronica answered quickly, before doing as requested.
Bobbi bit her lip. She hoped her cousin and uncle made up soon. This whole situation was just much too much.