Title: Bonding Time
Disclaimer: We don't own anything that belongs to MARVEL and we're not making any money from this fic
Summary: 42nd in the Redeeming Grant series. One of the smaller families has a chance for bonding time. Trouble ensues.
Authors: Hope1iz and BlackFox12
Warning(s): Spanking; spoilers for Agents of SHIELD; Avengers movies to date; DareDevil; and Spider-man; some violence; physical abuse.
Finally having come through security, Peter nudged Harry as they headed outside. "So... once we're settled, we can look at what there is to do," he suggested. "Anything in particular you want to do? I'd quite like to try some of the food here..."
Leo snorted softly at his brother's enthusiasm. "I think I'll be resting up this evening, but if you want to do something tomorrow, I'll be up to it," he said.
Jemma looked at her watch and piped up, "The best way to fight jet lag is to attempt to get on the schedule of the country where you are. Even though our flight was faster than normal, due to being on a personal jet, it still took us twelve hours to get here. It is approximately two in the morning back home...four in the afternoon here. So I suggest we all eat something light for supper and then retire for the evening. Get a good night's rest and hopefully, we'll be wide awake to sight-see tomorrow!"
Tony nodded. "Sounds good, kiddo. I called Pepper and she is available to eat with us. Then she has one more meeting, which I am thinking about joining her at; if she doesn't think it will undermine or cause problems for her." He glanced at his father. "If the meeting goes well, she said she might be able to join us sightseeing in the morning."
Steve smiled, wrapping an arm around Tony's shoulders and squeezing gently, then smiling at his grandchildren. "That's a good idea," he agreed with his granddaughter, before adding to Tony, "If you'd like me to be along for support during the meeting, or just to be on standby, you know I'll willingly do that."
Harry gave a slight smile, but he yawned, looking like he really just wanted to take a nap. As they headed towards the hotel, Peter started drawing him into conversation... suggesting things they could look at.
Tony nodded, smiling gratefully at Steve. "I'll ask Pep, but I think that's a good idea." He turned toward his son, nephews and niece. "Your dad should be arriving in another five hours; Veronica let me know he was able to come join us after all...so if you really can't sleep, you can join me in retrieving him..." He smiled as Jemma squealed.
Leo gave a wide smile. "That's good!" Although he'd been looking forward to coming to Tokyo, he'd been disappointed that their father couldn't make it... he was happy that they would get to have a holiday with him.
Tony reached over and gave Harry's shoulder a squeeze. "I'm glad I was able to bring you..." he said to his son softly, before glancing around at the gathered group. "I'm glad I was able to bring all of you. Some time away just us will be good...and I know Pepper is looking forward to it. She's been working really hard lately...even with the enforced breaks and reminders to get rest..." He gave his own father a sheepish look, knowing he was just as bad when it came to doing his own experiments and inventions.
Steve nodded, givng his son a knowing smile. "While we're here, we'll make sure she doesn't work too hard," he promised. At least this way, he could physically take Pepper to her room if he needed to.
Harry smiled. "It's nice to be able to have a family holiday," he said quietly.
Noticing the slightly sad look on his cousin's face, Peter nudged him and pointed towards some of the things they were passing... trying to distract him.
Tony couldn't help but notice the sad smile his own son was sporting and gave Harry a concerned look. "Everything okay, kiddo?" he asked softly, so as to try and not draw too much attention to Harry.
Harry nodded quickly. "I've just... never done anything like this before," he admitted quietly.
Tony paused, not believing for a moment that Harry had never travelled to a foreign country before (and in fact was pretty certain the boarding school he'd attended had been in a country other than the U.S.), so that meant Harry had never taken a family trip before. Giving his son a sad smile of his own (as aloof as Howard was, he'd still managed to take family vacations and spend some time with Tony), Tony drew Harry into a side-hug. "Well. then we'll have to make certain that you get the whole package. Crowded tourist trap spots, lots of cheesy souvenirs, pictures where you try to look like you're holding a famous landmark on the palm of your hand..."
Surprised, Harry looked up at Tony, though he didn't actually pull away... almost nestling against his father. "You've done that?" He couldn't imagine relaxing that much... even though he felt more relaxed with his father... with his cousins and grandfather... than he thought he had a right to be.
"What? Me?! Of course not...I'm way too refined and dignified to pretend to hold the Eifel Tower in the palm of my hand, or that I'm holding up the Tower of Pisa..." Tony gave Harry a sideways shifty look, comically making it clear that he had indeed done both of those things.
Harry laughed... then looked a bit embarrassed that the sound had come out of his mouth. "I guess you've been to a lot of different countries?" he asked, wanting to know more about what his father had done... but a bit hesitant, in case Tony didn't like the questions.
"I've been to my fair share..." Tony admitted. "Some more pleasant experiences than others." He grimaced as he remembered his trip to Afghanistan and the pain and anguish that had come from that trip. Of course, if it hadn't been for what happened in Afghanistan, he never would have woken up and realized how sadly off course and pathetic his life had become. He wouldn't have seen Pepper for the brilliant, wonderful woman she was instead of just his brilliant, wonderful assistant. He wouldn't have made Iron Man, let alone taken an interest in helping the world. Without Iron Man, he'd never have joined the Avengers and might not have ever met Steve and become close enough to him that the other man would even want to be a friend, let alone his father. As unpleasant as Afghanistan had been...he couldn't regret it. Shaking his head to refocus on the present, he smiled at Harry. "You should laugh more often. It makes me happy," he said out of nowhere, before pointing out the window of the car they'd rented. "There's where we are staying. The company has a suite of rooms that we always use when we come here. We'll have to share, but there are enough bedrooms in the suite that no one will need to sleep on a chair or couch. As much as it pains me to do so, Jemma...you can stay with Pepper. Then the rest of us guys, including Brucie, can figure out who is bunking with who."
"I'm sure we can figure out comfortable sleeping arrangements for all of us," Steve commented. "To the best of my knowledge, none of us have a problem sharing with each other." A slightly teasing note slipped into his voice.
Peter nudged Harry. "Why don't you bunk with me?" he suggested.
Harry had been looking a little surprised by Tony's comment, but when Peter nudged him, he nodded slowly. "I don't mind..."
"Good! Then if Leo wants to stay with Brucie, I'll bunk with dad..." Tony easily arranged. "Do you all want to order in room service for tonight, or go to an actual restaurant? Because we have time, so we don't have to rush to do everything at once." His grin was evidently infectious, as he saw Jemma beam at him.
"I think room service sounds lovely! We can make plans for what we want to see and when we want to see it- as well as leaving time free to rest or just wander aimlessly..." She began rooting around in her carry-on for the guidebook she'd bought in the airport.
"Yeah, I don't want to be falling asleep in a restaurant," Peter agreed. "Maybe we can eat out tomorrow?" he suggested.
"Sounds good. That way, we can all eat in a restaurant together," Steve commented.
"I'll just make the order now, then. Pepper should be here in about five minutes and we can have a family meal before she goes back for that meeting. Will you be ok if I go to the meeting with her?" He glanced at Harry in concern.
Harry nodded. "I think so."
Leo grinned. "I'm sure we could find plenty to occupy ourselves with."
"And I'm more than sure I could keep the other three in line while you and Grandpa take care of business..." Jemma teased.
Peter nudged his sister. "Bet I can get you to join in with our mischief," he teased her right back.
"Nope! Not gonna happen. I don't want daddy's first act when he gets here to have to be to scold me!" She grinned impishly and stuck her tongue out at her brothers.
"Sounds like a sage plan..." Tony nodded in defense of his niece; a stern look on his face was belied by the twinkle in his eye.
Leo snorted. "I actually think we're pretty well-behaved. You know. In comparison to some members of our family." He very deliberately avoided looking at his uncle.
Tony's eyebrow climbed up into his hairline. "Hey now! I've been behaving a lot better the last few months!" He was laughing, though. He glanced at Steve. "Tell them, dad!"
Steve chuckled, but wrapped an arm around Tony's shoulders, drawing him in close. "I think having more responsibility has helped," he teased his son... but there was still a more serious note in his voice. He knew Tony was doing well... and he was proud of him.
"See. Told ya you were good for me..." Tony smiled at Harry fondly.
Harry gave his father a hesitant smile in return, still not sure about making jokes and teasing... but at least making the effort.
The car had been parked for a little while and now Steve got out, heading round the back to grab their bags so they could start heading inside and settling in.
Peter slipped out of the car, stretching, and then moved to help his grandfather with the bags.
Tony got out as well, grabbing his own bag, then heading inside the lobby to let the concierge know they had arrived. A bellhop followed him out with a cart carrier as he began to hand out card keys to the room. He glanced over as a taxi pulled up as they were loading the carrier with their bags.
"Tony! Dad! Harry!" Pepper almost threw herself into her fiancé's arms as soon as she exited the taxi. After giving him a long kiss and then giving her father and son a hug, she quickly moved on to her niece and nephews, hugging them each in turn. "I'm so glad you all came!"
Steve smiled and returned his daughter's hug, then stood back so she could hug the others. "How have the meetings been going so far?" he asked her.
Although still not sure what to make of the easy physical affection, Harry still nevertheless responded to it... then stood by, not sure if they were going straight to the room or not.
Pepper, sensing Harry's discomfort, didn't hold the hug for long, though she made sure to keep it long enough that he knew it was sincere. Taking Harry's hand, she began to lead everyone into the hotel and to the elevator to the suite where they would be staying. "It depends..." she answered her father as they walked. "...They're going well except for one person." She grimaced.
Steve frowned, the look on his face obviously concerned. "Who's causing you problems?" he asked gently.
"One of the newer board members. I don't even know how he got elected on to the board, to be honest. I've asked my assistant to look into it and have been digging around a bit myself to see who recommended it and when the vote was held, because I'm having a hard time figuring out who dislikes me so much they wanted to burden me with that pain in the arse..." she muttered, before turning bright red and apologizing. "...Sorry..."
Steve placed a hand on her shoulder and squeezed gently. "You don't have to apologise for being frustrated, but try to relax," he suggested, as they all piled into the elevator.
Harry leaned against his mother, wanting to help her feel better... but unsure of how to.
"Now that you all are here, I think I can..." Pepper sighed softly, tugging Harry in closer and letting her head drop onto his shoulder as she hugged him again while she reached out a hand for her father...Tony too far away to hold hands with. She gave her fiancé a grateful look and mouthed 'thank you'. If he'd listened to her when she'd said she was fine and he didn't need to come rescue her, instead of arranging for a family 'get away', she'd not have any of her family with her right now and probably wouldn't be relaxing again until she was finally home.
Steve took his daughter's hand, giving it a gentle squeeze, and smiling when he saw Harry nestle in close to his mother... even though he knew his grandson was a bit hesitant and unsure about how to deal with hugs.
The elevator stopped and Steve paused to allow everyone else to exit, as well as to let Tony come and join Pepper.
Tony smiled as he led everyone off the elevator. As soon as Pepper was off and close enough, he moved over to Harry's other side, wrapping an arm around both his son and his fiancé, rubbing Pepper's back gently. "We should all settle into the suite. I can order room service..."
"I already ordered it!" Pepper interjected. "...I hope everyone is ok with it, but I ordered a selection of sushi; and we will have local fruits for dessert..."
Steve smiled. "I think we're all okay with that."
"I'm looking forward to trying sushi here," Leo commented with a grin. He liked it well enough back home... but it would probably be vastly different in Japan.
Pepper grinned brightly. "I thought it might be nice to have something that is a specialty here instead of our usual fare..." she admitted.
"And you wouldn't be wrong!" Tony agreed whole-heartedly, leaning over and kissing Pepper soundly and causing her to blush.
"Aaaaw...I'm not sure if I should go all girly and squeal at the romance, or act like a typical kid when they catch their older family members making out!" Jemma teased.
"You can act all girly, while I act the part of a normal kid," Peter suggested, reaching their suite. Since everyone else had their bags, he unlocked the door with his key card, deliberately turning round so he wasn't looking at his aunt and uncle.
"Kids today!" Tony rolled his eyes good-naturedly, then laughed. "Just you wait. First girl you bring to family dinner is going to get to see all the embarrassing photos!"
Pepper shook her head and laughed herself before waltzing into the suite. "Pick your rooms, fellas. Our room is this way, Jem..." Pepper took her niece by the arm and led her to the room that had an attached bath, picking up Jemma's bag on the way so they could put it in the room with Pepper's things. After showing Jemma where everything was, she left the younger girl to change for dinner while she went back out into the main part of the suite, just in time to answer the door for room-service. Tipping the delivery boy, she pushed the cart full of food further into the room. "Dinner's served!" she called out.
Peter had grabbed Harry's arm immediately, tugging his cousin into one of the other rooms so that they could get changed.
Noticing that Leo was waiting, Steve smiled at his grandson. "Why don't you pick out the room for you and your Dad? Tony and I'll be fine with whatever's left."
"Okay." Leo went to pick one of the remaining rooms.
Tony, seeing which room Leo had picked, gathered his and Steve's bags and took them to the only room left. He couldn't help but shake his head and chuckle at the fact that somehow, he and his father had ended up with the room that had only one full size bed in it. "Gonna be a bit crowded, pop!" he said with an extra emphasis on the 'p'. "That alright with you?"
Steve smiled and wrapped an arm around Tony's shoulders, squeezing gently. "You know I have no problems sharing a bed with you," he said, affection lacing every word.
"I know..." Tony's smile was bashful, but affectionate in his own way. "...Just making sure." At that moment, he heard Pepper announcing dinner and his stomach rumbled loudly in response. "Guess we should go eat!" He clapped his hands together, but allowed Steve to walk ahead of him.
Steve gave his son one final squeeze and then headed through to the main area of the suite, to join all of the others.
Jemma had begun passing plates around while Pepper unwrapped the platters of food. She had ordered enough for twice the amount of people they were actually feeding, even taking into account Steve's high metabolism and two teenagers with hollow legs to fill.
Tony blinked. "Expecting to be hungry, Pep?" he asked in amusement.
Pepper blushed. "I just wanted to make sure there was enough for everyone...plus, I haven't eaten yet today, so I'm really hungry!" She avoided looking at Steve when she admitted having skipped breakfast and lunch.
Steve frowned at hearing that, but his voice was mild when he spoke. "You're not going to be skipping any meals while we're here."
Leo sat down next to Jemma, leaving space on the other side for Peter to sit down and pull Harry to sit next to him.
"After we've eaten, we can take a look at the guidebooks before bed... figure out what we might like to see," Peter said to everyone.
"Of course not, daddy." Pepper gave her father a sheepish smile. She hadn't exactly meant to skip meals today in the first place. She'd intended to grab something to eat on her way to her first meeting, but had got pulled into a discussion before she'd been able to do so; and then was running late, so had to go straight to the meeting. When the meeting had let out for lunch, she'd intended to eat something healthy, but Zeke Stanislav had gone out of his way to waylay her and then insisted she find information for the meeting that he insisted the board needed copies of. By the time she'd got it together, it was time for the afternoon's meetings. Of course, they hadn't needed the information he'd insisted upon after all. He'd only requested it to be difficult. It was all she could do to keep herself from throwing the copied information at his head, but she'd managed to refrain. She found herself scooting closer to Steve and leaning against him by way of apology, though. If it was one thing the entire family had learned early on- none of the fathers tolerated skipping meals unless there was no way to avoid it.
Tony gave Pepper a sympathetic look; he'd been in her position enough times to feel empathy for her. Although his reasons for skipping were usually experiment related and not board related. He glanced at Peter. "Figuring out what we want to see is a good idea. Especially as we may need to take the bullet to get to some of them," he remarked.
Steve wrapped his arm around Pepper's shoulders, drawing his daughter in close and pressing a kiss to the side of her head. "If you're having that much trouble, maybe you should look into whether you can get him fired," he said quietly, guessing it might have had something to do with the problematic board member.
Peter gave a quick grin. "If we're having trouble deciding what to see first, we can always put all of the suggestions into a hat and see what we draw out first," he joked.
Pepper slightly nodded her head, not wanting to dislodge her father, and snuggled a little bit more before reluctantly pulling back so they both could eat. "I'm working on finding out everything I can about him and if I'm lucky, there will be something in what I find that will let me have him removed from the board," she whispered.
Jemma nodded at Peter's suggestion. "That's actually a good idea for tie breakers; although we may not have that problem, as we also have to take into account travel time, operation hours and our own schedules. We may only be able to go to some things at very specific times...we need to make sure we know which places have those limits."
Steve began eating... though he kept an eye on his children and grandchildren; mostly out of habit, as both Harry and Peter had fairly big appetites and ate... and he knew Tony and Pepper would eat if he was there.
Peter nodded, but didn't reply with words, as he was too busy eating.
The supper time had gone by entirely too fast for Pepper's liking. Soon, she was gathering her purse and briefcase again, readying herself for another evening of arguments and thinly veiled insults by the man who seemed determined to undermine her position with the board. "Have fun and get some rest...tomorrow is a big day for you..." she whispered in Harry's ear, before hugging him tight and kissing him on the cheek. Stepping away slowly, she turned toward Tony and Steve. "Are you both certain you want to put yourself through a boring meeting like this?" She tried to give them an out, although she couldn't hide the fact that the thought of having them there was giving her a boost of confidence and relief she sorely needed.
Steve moved over and kissed Pepper's cheek. "One of the reasons we're here is to help lessen the burden on you," he said softly. "We're both coming to the meeting with you." He knew Tony wouldn't mind him speaking for him.
"You couldn't keep me away..." Tony said in affirmation of their father's words, kissing her gently on the cheek, before patting Harry on the back. "Keep your cousins out of trouble, kid..." He grinned at his son, winking at the others, before he wrapped an arm around Pepper's waist and led her out of the suite.
"If I'd known you liked meetings this much, I would have had you scheduled to go to a lot more of them!" Pepper couldn't help but tease and then grin at the others as Tony pulled her out the door.
Steve gave his grandchildren a hug each. "Be good. Call one of us if you need anything." He followed his children from the room.
"So... let's look at the guidebooks," Peter said enthusiastically.
"I think we should do close by stuff when Aunt Pepper is in meetings, so that she can join us on the longer trips when she isn't in meetings..." Jemma piped up.
The meetings weren't far, so it didn't take long for Pepper, Tony and Steve to reach the building where the meeting was to be held. It took less time to reach the floor the board room was on. A grim look crossed Pepper's face as her assistant rushed over. "Ms. Potts, I was just about to call you...! Stanislav called all the board members back early to discuss 'concerning information' and after everything, I was fairly certain he hadn't called you. I only found out because Penny was complaining that Mr. Marcus had to send her out for a sandwich and drink because the 'emergency meeting' kept him from eating supper..." Pepper's assistant was apologetic that she hadn't found out sooner to warn Pepper and furious on Pepper's behalf.
"I guess it is good I planned to be here thirty minutes early." Pepper sighed, but spared her assistant a small smile. "Thank you, Crista. When did they start?" She calmly took the papers Crista handed her to familiarize herself with them, before wordlessly handing them to Tony to peruse.
"Just five minutes ago, ma'am..." Crista responded.
Pepper straightened her back, rearranging her suit jacket. Nodding at Crista, then at Tony and Steve, Pepper confidently pushed open the board room door and strode in, interrupting Zeke Stanislav mid-sentence. "I apologize, gentleman...ladies...Mr. Stanislav seems to be under the misconception that the project in Wakanda is over budget and in danger of bankrupting Stark Industries. Not only is that grossly incorrect, but it has nothing to do with why we are in Tokyo; I would prefer if we focus on the legitimate problems that tonight's board meeting was meant to cover, but I have asked my assistant to gather all information on the Wakanda project into a compact file which she will copy and hand out to you for your perusal after tonight's meeting. I am happy to answer any questions you have regarding that project and if you still feel a meeting is necessary after reading the information, I will arrange for one after our Tokyo meetings are concluded."
Tony had followed Pepper into the room, but had taken a seat to her right and remained silent. His gaze was full of pride every time he looked at her, but he was also watching the other board members. All but two seemed to accept Pepper's words without any irritation or distrust. Zeke Stanislav was a given, as he had hoped to cause problems for Pepper and had been thwarted. The second was a bit of a surprise, though. Evetta Gorani also appeared a bit anxious. Considering she had always been friendly with Pepper in the past, it didn't make any sense that she would have wanted Stanislav's machinations to work. He glanced at Steve, wondering if he saw the same things he did, or something else...
Although he was there as support for Pepper, Steve sat on the other side of Tony... there in case his daughter needed him, but not crowding her and allowing her to stand on her own feet.
Steve could tell immediately who the problem was and although he kept his face carefully neutral, he held eye contact with Tony for a second or two... indicating to his son that he'd likely seen the same thing he had.
It had been a long and tiring meeting; but very productive, because Stanislav seemed reluctant to rock the boat with both Tony and Steve in attendance. The other board members and Pepper had taken advantage of the rare reprieve to get as much accomplished as possible...knowing he would be his usual divisive, difficult self as soon as Captain America wasn't watching him. At the end, while Crista was handing out the copied information about Wakanda, Pepper commented, "We actually managed to cover everything on our agenda for tomorrow morning's meeting. We aren't due to tour the factory until tomorrow afternoon. I suggest we leave the morning free to take care of any items that have been waiting for our meetings to conclude."
"Actually, I think..." Stanislav began in a chiding tone.
"...That sounds like a wonderful idea!" The older board member to his right talked right over him. "I have several items I need to take care of and the extra time will be most useful and appreciated. Thank you for this information, Ms. Potts. I will look over it and let you know if I have questions. I will see the rest of you when we meet up for the tour." He immediately stood and left. The other board members quickly followed.
Stanislav looked as if he'd bitten into a sandwich filled with sewage. Gorani had given him a nervous look and followed the other board members, then he had slowly stood and given Pepper, and Tony, an indecipherable look with barely hidden malice. He swept out of the room without saying anything.
Pepper shivered slightly. "He's up to something..." she muttered softly, before shaking her head. "Take tomorrow off, Crista. You deserve it after all you've done to help keep me one step ahead of him..."
"Thank you, Ms. Potts," her assistant answered. "I will keep my phone on, if you need me..." Crista smiled crookedly before leaving.
Pepper turned toward Tony and Steve. "It's been like that since the meetings started..." she admitted wearily.
Steve wrapped his arm around Pepper's shoulders, drawing her into a tight hug. "We're here now," he said softly. "You don't have to go through this alone. We're all here for you," he promised.
Pepper sunk into her father's embrace, snuggling for a moment before straightening her shoulders and smiling grimly. "Thank you...knowing that has been the only thing enabling me to keep control and not go off on him..." She blushed slightly at the admission, moving so that Tony could join in on the hug as well.
"I'm sorry you're being put through this Peps...I can't help but feel it is my fault," Tony admitted quietly.
"It isn't anyone's fault." Steve wrapped his arms around his son and his daughter. "We'll be here for you for any of the meetings, Pepper. And while you're not in meetings, we can spend time relaxing together with the others."
"That sounds wonderful..." Pepper sighed. "How bout we head back to the suite so we can begin doing that now?" She smiled sweetly.
"The car should be waiting for us downstairs. I called it to meet us when you started wrapping things up." Tony grinned.
Steve smiled. "We can sit and relax for a few minutes when we get back to the suite," he suggested.
Pepper grinned. "Thanks, daddy. I'm looking forward to it."
Tony smiled at his father. "I think we all are." He leaned over and kissed Pepper on the cheek.
Steve hugged them both a few more moments before gently releasing them. "Shall we go? Do either of you want to stop off anywhere on the way?" he asked... in case they wanted to pick something up.
"I just want to get back to everyone else. Bruce should be here by now as well, so we can maybe do something as a family; go out for a dessert or something..." Pepper gave a tired smile.
Tony nodded. "We can do that...or have room service deliver dessert and stay in the suite playing games and making plans for the rest of our stay here. I know the kids want to involve you as much as possible, so we'll need your schedule..."
"Maybe we should stay in the suite tonight," Steve suggested. "That way, the rest of us will be able to relax and have early nights... and then be wide awake for anything we do tomorrow."
Pepper just nodded, the last several days of stress catching up with her. She sniffled slightly, rubbing at her nose, then cleared her throat. "An early night does sound good..." she admitted and cleared her throat again, pulling a handkerchief out of her handbag and suddenly sneezing into it. "Damn it..." she muttered. "...Can't afford to get sick right now..."
Tony glanced at his father, a knowing and worried look in his eye. He gently began to lead his fiance to the elevator, so they could head back to the hotel. "You haven't been sleeping much, have you?" His tone wasn't really questioning, though.
Pepper knew lying and saying she had been sleeping fine not only wouldn't be believed, but would likely get her into trouble with Steve. "Not really, no..." She sighed. She didn't say the reason was that she'd been spending what little time she wasn't in meetings trying to gather information on Stanislav to try and figure out why he had it in for her.
Steve moved automatically to Pepper's other side, wrapping his arm around her waist. "I think we'll all have an early night," he said firmly. "If you're still feeling ill tomorrow, Pepper, I want you to take the day off. I'm here and so is Tony. We can take care of anything that's needed."
Pepper didn't argue, just nodded. "Ok...an early night does sound good. And since I have tomorrow morning off as well, I should be able to relax a bit. I should be fine..." She didn't say that she didn't want Tony or Steve to handle things. She knew they were more than willing and capable; Tony had handled things before, after all, and Steve was a very quick study. She didn't want to give Zeke Stanislav even one more bit of ammunition to use against her in whatever plan he had, though. She wasn't going to be sick tomorrow, because she just wouldn't acknowledge it if she was.
Steve was fairly certain he was reading correctly between the lines and that Pepper wouldn't actually tell him if she was ill. He didn't say anything, though. His senses were advanced enough that he knew he'd be able to tell if Pepper was sick. He stepped into the elevator with his son and daughter, sticking close to them both.
It hadn't taken them long at all to get back to the hotel. When they finally walked into the suite, Bruce looked up, took one glance at Pepper and motioned her to sit down while he went to his bag and retrieved a couple of bottles, a jar and a spoon. He then poured a cup of tea from the pot he'd already made and spooned honey out of the jar and then added a spoonful from each bottle. "Honey to soothe your throat; gensing, echinacea, and vitamin c to boost your immune system. Non-caffeinated herbal tea to help you sleep, because I'm fairly certain you've been living off caffeine since you arrived." He handed her the cup and watched expectantly.
Pepper gave Bruce a shocked look. "How?" She glanced at Tony and Steve, but other than amusement, she couldn't see any indication that they'd called him. Did she look that bad that the first thing her brother did, upon seeing her, was to try and get her better?
Steve smiled at Bruce, happy to see that his brother had what was needed to help Pepper. He looked at his grandchildren. "Have you looked at what you want to visit during our time here?"
Leo nodded. "We made notes." He began listing off the things he, Jemma, Peter, Harry and his dad had wanted to see, getting a bit excited in the explanation.
"That's quite a list..." Tony smiled. "We may need to spend a few days after Pepper's meetings end to make certain we can do it all. It will make a nice family vacation."
"Do you all have any solo treks planned?" Pepper asked curiously. "I figure if you do the individual things you want to do while I'm in meetings, I can join you in most of the group outings." She didn't promise full group outings; as difficult as Stanislav had been, she wouldn't put it past him to do something that interrupted her plans, but she'd try to go to as many as possible. It was important. She gave Harry a small smile.
Harry returned his mother's smile, moving over so that he could sit next to her and lean lightly against her side, watching her worriedly.
"Most of the things could probably be done as either," Leo said. "If there's anything you don't want to see, or have already, we can do those when you've got your meetings on."
Pepper sipped her tea and slowly relaxed, wrapping her arm around Harry in a bid to let him know she was alright and also show how much she missed him the short time they were apart. "That's true, I've gone to the following places..." She began to mark the ones she'd already seen.
Harry leaned against his mother. "What's your schedule?" he asked softly, once she was finished marking off the places she'd been already.
"I have tomorrow morning free." Pepper smiled, but then sighed. "In the afternoon, though, I have to tour the plant with the other board members. I have another meeting at ten am the day after tomorrow, but I can have breakfast with you all. Then I'll be working in the office for a few hours until my two pm meeting. And then the day after that, I have meetings all day long; but as long as nothing goes wrong, I'll be completely free after that and I've already asked Crista to arrange for me to have the remainder of the week off plus a few days next week so that we can do stuff together." She snuggled Harry, kissing him on the top of the head, then looked at Tony and smiled.
Steve nodded. "So depending on how everyone's feeling, we could look at doing something in the morning... maybe taking breakfast together?" he suggested. "And there are a couple of things close by that you haven't been to..."
"I'd like that..." Pepper smiled at her father, then glanced at Bruce. "The tea is very good, by the way. Thank you."
Bruce nodded sagely. "I suggest we all get to bed early tonight. Exhaustion leads to compromised immune systems, which leads to sickness..." He was mainly talking to Pepper, Leo, Jemma and Harry... since his father, Peter, himself and Tony had protections of one sort or another that helped bolster their immunity.
"We've sorted out the rooms," Steve commented, standing. "And I agree with Bruce. It's been a long day and we should all get some rest."
Harry sat up, then stood... waiting for his cousin to head into their room first.
Leo walked to the bathroom so he could clean his teeth and wash his face.
Jemma grinned. "You're with me, Aunt Pepper!"
Pepper chuckled. "In that case, let me say goodnight to my fellas and I'll be in shortly..." She quickly stood and gave Harry a quick hug and kiss on the cheek, ruffling Peter's hair. She then hugged Bruce, then her father tightly, before hugging Tony and kissing him. "Love you..." she whispered into his ear, before stepping away and calling, "...Night, Leo. See you in the morning." It didn't take long for her to disappear into her and Jemma's room and get ready for bed. She was soon sound asleep, able to relax for the first time since arriving and not needing any help to get lost in dreams.
Tony gave his good-nights and went into the room he and his father were sharing, getting ready and crawling into the bed. He didn't lay down immediately, though, waiting for his father, a thoughtful frown on his face.
Steve changed quickly for bed and then walked into the room to join his son. He sat down next to Tony and reached out to wrap his arms around his son, pulling him into a tight hug. "You're worried about Pepper." It wasn't a question.
"I am. I don't think she'll tell us if she's not feeling good tomorrow. She'll just make herself push ahead as if she isn't sick. Plus... I get the strange feeling she's doing something that neither one of us would like. But I don't know how to ask to find out what it is, because that is just so unlike Pepper to sneak around and do stuff..." He sighed, a slightly confused tone in his voice.
"I'm going to keep an eye on her tomorow," Steve promised. "If she is sick, I'll make sure she stays here. And one of us with her." He sighed. "That man is clearly causing problems for her. Maybe you should see if any of the board members are unhappy enough to vote him off."
"None of them looked overly thrilled with him...I don't even know how he got on the board in the first place..." Tony muttered unhappily. "Something about him seems familiar, though and I'm sure I've never met him before."
"Maybe you saw him a number of years ago," Steve suggested, aware that Tony might have forgotten some faces and names of people he'd met briefly before he became Iron Man.
"Maybe..." Tony said uncertainly. "I can't help but feel I'm to blame for what Pepper is going through- or at least I'm a big reason for it. If I could remember him...maybe it would help..."
"Don't force it," Steve suggested. "If you try and make the memory come, you'll just end up frustrated. Let it come to you."
"Yeah...you're right. Guess I'll just try and sleep and see what happens. Night, dad..." Tony had kept his voice low and soft so as not to disturb the others. Without a second thought, he shifted closer to his dad and hugged him, before closing his eyes to sleep.
Steve wrapped his arms around Tony, drawing his son in close, and closed his own eyes. He was worried about Pepper, but knew he needed to set a good example.
The next day has gone exactly as planned. Pepper had spent the morning with her family and they had toured a nearby attraction. She'd managed to keep from sniffling and sneezing in front of anyone, thanks to Bruce's immunity booster, although she was fairly certain she was going to come down sick at some point in the next two weeks and not be able to hide it.
After lunch, she had left them all to go on the tour of the facility owned by Stark Industries. It had been as miserable as predicted; not because of the facility itself, but because of Stanislav and surprisingly Gorani (although after the board meeting the night before, she wasn't as surprised at Gorani as she might have been in the past). The tour had taken the entire afternoon and would have taken longer because of the two difficult members, but Marcus - the oldest member of the board and not someone anyone wanted to cross- had finally put his foot down, said they'd seen enough and it was time to leave, in a tone of voice usually reserved for a recalcitrant toddler. The look on Stanislav's face hadn't been worth all the headache, but it had at least provided a small amount of amusement.
She'd got back too late to eat dinner with everyone, but under the eyes of her watchful family, she ate, got ready for bed and then curled up next to Tony to watch them play games. By the time they were all ready to go to bed, Pepper was already asleep.
Steve's worry about his daughter was obvious as he made sure she ate. When they were all ready, he moved over to lift her into his arms. "I think maybe we should insist she take tomorrow off," he suggested.
"Believe me, dad. I'd like nothing better than to insist that. But you heard the schedule she gave us. Tomorrow is actually one of her lighter days and she's planning to get paperwork done that she hasn't been able to focus on because of all the meetings. She won't thank us if we insist it stay on her desk for her to have to take care of later when she is swamped with other stuff again..." Tony frowned. "I'd offer to do the paperwork for her, if I didn't know she'd feel like I was coddling her or, worse, feel like our stepping in was because we didn't think she could handle it." He sighed softly, reaching over and brushing her hair off her face gently as Steve carried her into bed. "I think she's very strong and capable, but she's so worried about no one else believing that...that everyone will think she just got the position because she's sleeping with me..."
Steve sighed, knowing that Tony was right, and carefully carried Pepper into the bedroom, tucking her into the bed. "Maybe we could pick up the paperwork and bring it here, so she doesn't have to leave the suite," he suggested.
"That might work..." Tony perked up at the idea. "I could ask Crista to bring it by...that way, it would look like Pepper requested it, instead of us just doing it for her. And even she can't argue that she'd get more done if she wasn't in an office where she can be interrupted for other non-important items."
Steve nodded. "And I can make it an order if necessary," he added, pressing a kiss to Pepper's forehead before standing up to let Tony move to her side.
Tony leaned over, giving her a chaste kiss on the lips before straightening. A clearing throat caused him to look toward the door.
Jemma fidgeted slightly in the doorway, a tiny blush on her face. "If you want to stay with Aunt Pepper, Uncle Tony, I could stay with Grandpa tonight..." she offered quietly, so as not to wake her aunt.
Tony glanced at Steve quickly, to see how he felt about the offer.
"I'm fine with that," Steve replied gently, knowing how worried Tony was about Pepper and hoping to ease his son's worry.
Tony nodded, giving his father and niece a grateful smile. "Thank you, Jemma...I think I'll take you up on that offer. I'll just wait out in the main room until you've got everything you need..." He walked to the door, giving Jemma a quick if strong hug and a kiss on the side of her head before walking out.
Jemma's smile was bright, knowing she'd made her uncle happy. She turned and smiled at Steve. "I'll be in, in about five minutes, Grandpa..." she said softly, as she quickly disappeared into the attached bath she shared with Pepper and began to get ready.
Steve nodded and smiled to Jemma as she left, lingering a second or two longer to watch Pepper before he left the bedroom, giving Tony a tight hug once he was outside the room. "Good night. If you need anything at all, wake me."
"I will, dad." Tony held onto his father tightly. "Thank you..."
Jemma walked out of the room, a bashful look on her face. While she wasn't unaware at how all the family members shared beds (and had done it herself at least once), it wasn't something she normally did. Sharing a room with Pepper had been easy; even if the woman was her aunt, it had been more like a 'sleepover' with a friend. Her grandfather, though? She had to admit to feeling some amount of awe whenever she was in his presence and she was nervous that she'd do something really embarrassing like snore...or drape herself over him like a clingy octopus. Giving Tony a quick hug, she darted into the room she'd be sleeping for that night.
Tony blinked as his niece was there one minute and gone the next. He chuckled, shook his head, then looked at Steve. "You know...if you need me..." He left it unsaid, knowing his father would know what he meant.
Steve nodded and pressed a kiss to his son's forehead. "I know. Good night. I love you." He moved through to say goodnight to and hug his other son and his grandsons, before walking into his own bedroom, smiling reassuringly at Jemma.
"G'night, dad. Love you too..." Tony said quietly, before going back into the room with Pepper, shutting the door softly behind him. It didn't take him long to crawl into the bed and pull her into his arms, holding her securely.
Jemma grinned at Steve. "Which side do you want?" she asked curiously, waiting to get into the bed until her grandfather was ready.
"I'll go here." Steve didn't want to make Jemma feel uncomfortable and he settled down on one side of the bed, holding his arm out to his granddaughter to encourage her to come and cuddle up with him.
Jemma crawled into the bed next to Steve and, at his encouragement, quickly moved over so that she was curled up tight against him, her head on his shoulder, snuggling. "I'm going to apologize ahead of time for if I do anything horribly embarrassing like snore or drool on you..." she muttered with a self-abashed laugh.
Steve pressed a kiss to Jemma's forehead. "Don't worry about it," he said reassuringly. "It's nice to be close to you."
"I like being with you too, grandpa..." she said softly, cuddling closer still. She hadn't expected to fall asleep right away. Despite the fact that they'd attempted to get onto Tokyo's time right away and had enjoyed a very busy day, she'd been wide awake when she came into the room. Laying with her head on her grandfather's chest and listening to his heartbeat while feeling safe and snug and warm... it didn't take long at all for her to drift off.
Steve held Jemma close, gently stroking her hair, as he closed his eyes and allowed himself to relax... despite his worry and concern about his daughter.
The next morning dawned bright and entirely too early for Pepper. She groaned slightly as she woke up; her head hurt slightly and her throat was scratchy again, but she couldn't afford to miss the ten am meeting. She might be able to miss the two pm meeting, but definitely not the ten am one. Crawling out of bed and heading into the bath to take a shower, she was soon clean, teeth brushed, hair combed, and dressed in a comfortable but very businesslike suit. She glanced toward the bed, expecting Tony to still be sleeping- he never got up early if he could avoid it- but he wasn't there. Blinking, she wandered out into the main area. Tony was hanging up the phone when she arrived.
"I've ordered room service, so everyone can have breakfast together before you go to your meeting this morning." He smiled. "And I took the liberty of calling Crista and asking her if it would cause problems if I went to your two pm meeting this afternoon and gave you a break from the board members. She said since it was a meeting on what the company plans to do with the Tokyo plant- and I'm the owner- there shouldn't be any question about my being there. Especially as it would give you a bit more time to finish up the proposal and paperwork for the plans. So...if you're willing...I'm willing to go to the meeting in your place..."
Pepper blinked owlishly. "You hate meetings..." she said, uncertainly, in semi-shock.
"I hate meetings. I love you," Tony responded, his smile crooked, his stance sheepish and his eyes filled with love.
"Aaaaw..." Jemma couldn't help but coo from where she was sat on the sofa, watching her aunt and uncle avidly.
Steve had got up and showered very early and he smiled warmly at his son and daughter. "How are you feeling?" he asked Pepper gently, watching her closely.
Harry woke up before Peter and left his cousin still asleep, heading through to the bathroom to get showered and brush his teeth.
"I'm on the edge of getting a cold..." Pepper admitted, knowing that hiding that information from her father was tantamount to a lie. "...But I figure if I take a bit more of Brucie's wonder vitamins and make sure to take it easy whenever I'm not in meetings, I can hold it off long enough to get through the next few days. And since Tony so magnanimously offered to take my afternoon meeting off my hands..." She grinned at her fiancé, then at her father, an impish but happy look on her face.
"Uncle Tony got all mushy on her..." Jemma teased gently, grinning when Tony blushed darker.
Steve smiled, wrapping his arm around Pepper's shoulders and squeezing gently. "Make sure you take it easy," he said. "We're always only a phone call away to be there for help and support."
"I know." Pepper snuggled close to her father. "It's the one thing that's helped me not go completely mental the last few days of meetings."
Bruce walked out of his room, having taken an early shower and brushed his teeth before anyone else was up. He'd been meditating, waiting to hear the others moving around before he went to join them. He moved closer to Pepper, gently putting his thumb and index finger under her chin. "Say ah..." he ordered, glancing into her throat when she complied. "There's a little bit of swelling. I'll give you more tea, but you may want to gargle some salt-water as well..." he said off-handedly, as he went to put water in the pot.
Tony went to answer the door when room-service knocked.
Steve moved back to allow Bruce to inspect Pepper, glancing over as Harry exited from the bathroom, dressed with his hair a little damp.
Leo had been awake for a while, but he'd waited for the others to use the bathroom before he gathered his towel and headed inside.
Peter finally emerged from the bedroom, yawning and rubbing his eyes.
"Good morning, Sunshines!" Tony crowed, as he began to lay out the food with Jemma's help. "You're just in time to eat!"
Harry smiled at his parents and walked over to join them.
Peter yawned, raking his fingers through his hair, as he moved over to sit down next to his cousin.
Pepper smiled back at Harry, ruffling a hand through his hair, before she went to take the cup of tea from Bruce and sipping from it.
Leo had finished washing and dressing fairly quickly and came out of the bathroom, sitting next to his father when Bruce took a seat.
Steve still eyed Pepper worriedly, but he took his own seat, glad that Tony had been able to take on the meeting with no problems.
"So...what are you all going to do today?" she asked the younger members of the family.
Jemma smiled. "I thought I'd try and go to one of the gardens..."
"This morning, I figured I'd go wherever Harry wanted to go. We'll of course meet up again for lunch and then I'll go to the afternoon meeting so you can get more of your paperwork done," Tony added.
Surprised, Harry looked up at his dad. "I don't really mind where I go," he admitted. "It's just... nice to spend some time with you."
"I'd like to have a look round and see about getting souvenirs for the rest of the family," Leo admitted.
"We can just walk around and stop whenever something catches our eye, then. And look for souvenirs," Tony added to Leo, so the younger man would know he was welcome to join them.
Bruce nodded. "Walking around and souvenirs sounds fine to me."
Leo smiled. "I'd like that." He looked at his brother. "You coming, Pete?"
"Uh-uh." Peter still didn't look very awake, but he nodded anyway. He didn't get very many chances to relax and he'd had a bit of a restless night.
Bruce noted that Peter still looked very tired. "Did you not sleep well last night?" he asked his son softly, taking note of the way he was moving.
"Just felt a bit restless," Peter admitted. "Some weird dreams keeping me awake." He yawned and reached out for some coffee, hoping the caffeine fix would keep him awake.
Bruce nodded. "Well, if you start feeling bad, let me know and I'll give you something for it."
"I don't think I'm coming down with something, but I'll let you know if I do feel bad," Peter promised.
"Good." Bruce didn't say anything else, believing that his son would keep his word.
Soon, breakfast had been eaten and everyone was heading out for their sightseeing; or, in Pepper's case, her meeting.
Peter had felt better after having some coffee and breakfast, though he was still a bit quieter than usual as they left. Harry cast worried looks at him.
Pepper was never more grateful that Tony had decided to go to her afternoon meeting so that she could rest and finish up paperwork. Stanislav had been in rare form, making things difficult to the point where Marcus had felt the need to step in and tell the younger man to sit down, shut up and back off. Needless to say, the meeting had ended rather quickly after that. It had left a sour taste in her mouth and Pepper had finally determined that Stanislav couldn't be allowed to derail things the way he had been. Crista had gotten her all kinds of files to peruse on the adversarial man. She'd study those while Tony was at the meeting and find the quickest way to remove him from the board; and from any other position of influence in Stark Industries. She glanced at her watch. The family had decided to meet at a restaurant for lunch and if she didn't hit traffic, she'd be right on time.
Having spent most of the morning looking around shops and spending time together, Peter was looking forward to lunch... even if he still kept getting the feeling something was going to happen. He'd learned to pay attention to his spidey-sense, as he termed it... but until he knew what was causing it, there was little he could do.
Pepper was actually the first to arrive and so she'd arranged for a table for eight and sat down to wait for the rest of her family, sipping at a glass of cola that she'd ordered, the carbonation helping soothe her sore throat. The minute she saw her first family member walk through the door, she waved to catch their attention so they could come join her.
Steve was the first one through the door and he smiled as he walked over to join his daughter. "How did the meeting go?" he asked softly, looking her over to check for any signs of stress... or if the cold was worse.
Pepper smile briefly turned into a grimace. "Ugh, let's not talk about it right now? I'm looking forward to a stress-free, family filled, relaxing lunch..." she said, grinning again as she took her father's hand and squeezed. She didn't attempt to hide the fact that her throat was sore, as evidenced by her voice sounding hoarse.
Steve squeezed Pepper's hand gently as he slid into one of the seats next to her. "I know you want to get your paperwork done, but I'd like you to get as much rest as possible when we're back at the suite," he said gently.
Pepper nodded. "I'll take it easy, dad. The paper work is probably the easiest part of my job this week..." She chuckled mirthlessly. "And now that I don't have that meeting to attend this afternoon, if I go a little slower on the paper work, it won't be as big a deal."
Steve nodded. "Still, I don't want you to push yourself even with the paperwork."
"Yes, sir..." Pepper agreed meekly. There was no reason to argue about it, after all...and she actually thought taking it easy sounded good. She'd just do some paperwork...look over the information that she'd gathered on Stanislav...everything would be just fine.
Tony sat down next to his fiancé and grinned around the table. "The kids had fun, Pep. And I think Brucie did, too!" He couldn't have looked more pleased with himself.
"Bruce does look relaxed and happy..." Pepper agreed. "It's a good look on him."
Steve smiled as he saw his sons and grandchildren come and join them, looking happy to see all of them having had a good day.
Harry took the seat on the other side of his father, with Peter claiming the seat next to him. Leo sat down on the other side of his brother, leaving his father free to sit in between him and Jemma.
"And dad is surrounded by the pretty girls again," Tony teased, as he noted Steve was in between Pepper and Jemma.
Steve's smile grew wider at his son's teasing, but all he said was, "Ready to think about ordering?"
"I'm not sure what to get..." Pepper admitted. "The tempura could be nice, but I'm not sure my throat would like that..."
"Maybe you should get something that'll be soft and easy on your throat," Steve suggested. "We can always come back here another day when you're feeling better."
Peter looked through the menu and then poked Harry in the side. "What are you thinking of getting? I'm torn between a couple of dishes... maybe we could share half each of them?" he suggested.
"Which ones?" Harry leaned over to look at where his cousin was pointing.
Pepper nodded. "Soup it is..." she said, with a wry grin.
Soon, all the orders were placed and everyone was chatting about their day. It had gone all too fast for Pepper's liking. Glancing at her watch, she sighed. "Well...we have thirty minutes to get back to the hotel so you can get cleaned up and changed for the meeting and I begin working on all the paperwork that's been piling up. Thanks again for going for me..." Pepper said softly to Tony, leaning over and kissing him on the cheek, before standing up so they could head back to the hotel.
Tony wrapped an arm around her waist, pulling her in for a hug and kissing her back. "I'm happy to do it. Just listen to dad and don't work too hard..." He smiled at her, before glancing at Steve and smiling at him as well.
As everyone left the table and began walking out of the restaurant to either catch a ride back to the hotel or figure out where they were going to go, Jemma looked between her family members. "So, Aunt Pepper is going to be working back at our suite and Uncle Tony is going to a meeting. What is everyone else doing?" she asked curiously, figuring she'd tag along with someone.
"Well, since you opted to come with all of us this morning to sight-see and souvenir shop, maybe we can go to that garden you were mentioning?" Bruce smiled at his daughter, glancing at Leo, Peter and Harry to see if they were interested in going to a garden as well.
Leo smiled. "I like the sound of that."
Peter's 'spidey-sense' had been growing steadily worse the longer lunch went on... and without knowing what was causing it, he'd been growing fretful and anxious. He figured that staying at the hotel would allow him to watch the news and see what was causing his spidey-sense to tingle. "I thought I might stay at the hotel... catch up with some schoolwork."
Harry glanced at Peter. Like him, his cousin tended to get homework out of the way as soon as possible... but Harry didn't want to drop his cousin in it. "Want some company?" was all he asked instead.
Jemma smiled at Leo and looked slightly disappointed in Peter's decision, but didn't argue with him. She understood the need to finish homework and keep good grades; she'd been straight A's in nearly every subject she took because she'd been just as serious about her studies. "Well, if you change your mind and want to meet us there, you can always call so that we can wait for you..." she said with a hopeful smile.
Bruce smiled at his son. "What Jemma said is true..." he said calmly. "...When you are done, I'd like you to come join us. You need to relax just as much as the rest of us do."
Tony slanted his head, giving Peter and Harry a tiny grin. "Maybe when you're done your homework, you can convince Pepper to take a break for something fun. I know she says she'll take it easy and try to relax, but if she gets involved with paperwork, she might lose track of the time..." he teased his fiancé gently, while giving her an excuse to take off a bit of time for fun; if Harry was involved, she'd take off just to make certain he was able to do fun things.
Peter nodded and smiled. "I'll definitely do that." He felt a pang of guilt for lying, but wasn't sure the adults would understand if he tried to explain... and he didn't want his dad, uncle and grandfather on edge in the same way he was.
For his part, Harry was almost sure that Peter was hiding something... but decided he'd wait and confront his cousin about it later.
Pepper smiled, but didn't comment on Tony's teasing. She figured, after all the paperwork and going over the information she'd gathered on Stanislav, she'd be ready for a break and she'd love to spend more time with her son and nephew. Her mothering instinct was in overdrive lately; probably because she'd had to drag herself away from her family so soon after adopting Harry.
Bruce slanted his head, some sense of his own telling him that Peter was hiding something, but even if Peter had done all his homework prior to their trip - which he suspected was the case- that didn't mean his son didn't have future homework with him that he could work on ahead of time. He wasn't certain why Peter would choose to do so instead of going to see things with his family, but he couldn't force the boy to confide in him either. As long as Peter and Harry were staying at the hotel, they weren't likely to get into any trouble and they were going to be with Pepper anyway...she'd let him know if something were going on he needed to be aware of. He'd let Peter get away with whatever he was keeping secret, as long as it didn't cause any problems; and hopefully, Peter would confide in him about it later.
Steve gave Tony a smile. "If you need anything at all, you know how to get hold of me," he said, before arranging them into the cars and hugging the ones who were going to see places on their own.
"I'll definitely call if I need you," Tony promised, before getting into his cab to head to the meeting. He'd decided that, with Tokyo traffic, he didn't want to risk going back to the hotel to change like originally planned. He'd dressed in a suit before going to eat (despite normally preferring jeans and t-shirts when he wasn't meeting important people or doing business), because he'd wanted to be ready just in case, so it wasn't like he needed to change anyway.
Bruce nodded. "I'll call if I need you too, dad..." he said knowing that Steve had meant the comment for all his children, not just Tony; just that Tony tended to need reminding more often than the others. While Bruce didn't tend to get into trouble or need as frequent reminders to take care of himself, he was aware that his father still worried. Having children of his own, he understood and it was easy to reassure Steve when he knew he'd want his own children to do the same if they needed him. He herded Jemma and Leo into the waiting car before getting into the front and giving the driver the directions for where they wanted to go.
Steve smiled at Bruce's reassurance he would call, even though he knew his other son tended to be more confident in that than Tony, before he wrapped an arm around Pepper's shoulders and squeezed his two remaining grandsons gently, and then headed to the car with them so that they could go back to the hotel.
Tony had only been in the meeting for thirty minutes and he was already wanting to bang his head on the table in front of him repeatedly. Stanislav was acting up again; granted, not as bad as when Pepper was the one in attendance, but still bad enough to be noticeable. Tony figured he only got a reprieve because, for whatever reason, the irritating man seemed nervous around him. It wasn't entirely clear if the nerves were because Tony genuinely scared him or if it was because he was hiding something, though. He frowned and rubbed at his temple. "We can't do that because it would break any number of laws in the United States, let alone laws here in Japan," he finally forced between gritted teeth. "...As I'm sure you're aware, because Ms. Potts has pointed the exact thing out to you on numerous occasions before now. Just because you found a loop-hole that would allow the company to pretend it had done nothing wrong, should someone complain, doesn't mean it is ok to do. My company will not be run in that manner. Next item on the agenda..." He didn't even bother asking for questions on the item he'd just shot down, deliberately ignoring Stanislav and looking at the other board members. He'd probably end up regretting his brusqueness later, when the man decided to take out his irritation and offended feelings on Pepper, but at the moment, that was as polite as he was able to be...considering what he wanted to do. He not so surreptitiously looked at his watch. This was going to be a long meeting.
Back at the hotel room, Peter had settled down in front of the television with paperwork, claiming the news helped him to concentrate. While Steve could tell his grandson was actually working... he couldn't help feeling more than a little suspicious, though he wasn't going to press Peter for details.
Harry had settled on the couch next to his cousin, looking through one of his books that he was supposed to be reading.
Pepper had waited long enough for her son and nephew to settle on the couch before she'd gone to the desk the suite had provided and spread out the items she was working on. Just as she'd expected, it hadn't taken her long at all to finish the paperwork that had piled up, once she was able to concentrate and not be interrupted for new meetings or phone calls. A little over an hour after she'd begun her paperwork, she was searching through all the information she'd gathered on Stanislav, looking for some clue as to why the man might have it in for her and why she felt so uneasy around him.
Steve found himself seated on the chair next to his grandsons, idly watching the news, but also checking the messages he'd received from the family members back home... keeping himself involved with their lives as much as possible.
The more Pepper read over the notes she had on Stanislav, the more confused she became. Nothing suggested any reason why he would have it in for her. It just didn't make sense.
Peter paused, staring at what he'd just written... a stream of nonsense that might have a small relation to elements of the periodic table. He was distracted and worried.
Pepper rubbed at her eyes and decided to get up and move around a little. Get a drink of water. Take come more vitamin C and relax, like she'd told her father she would. Maybe after a half-hour of not thinking on it and looking at it with fresh eyes, she'd be able to figure it out. Sighing softly, she stood and stretched, heading into the tiny kitchenette. "What are you guys working on?" she asked curiously, walking over to stand behind the couch, her eyes going to the television screen to see what they were watching.
"I'm catching up on some of the reading for school." Harry tilted his head back so that he could see his mother. He'd caught a glimpse of what Peter had scribbled, but didn't mention it bore little resemblance to anything scientific.
"I'm just checking through notes for one of my experiments," Peter said.
"Mmmhmmm...well, don't work too hard. You're meant to be having a vacation of sorts." She smiled at them both, leaning over and kissing Harry on top of the head, while squeezing Peter's shoulder. She then headed back into the kitchenette, having heard the teapot begin to whistle, letting her know that the water was heated enough for her tea.
Steve smiled at his grandsons and stood up, walking through to the kitchen. "Everyone else sends their love," he commented.
Pepper grinned. "Anything exciting happening? Although after the last couple of months, Uncle Nick and Uncle Phil are probably hoping nothing exciting happens for a while..." Her grin slipped into a rueful smile.
"I think they're all behaving themselves right now," Steve replied. "Bucky's making some headway with Bakshi... Raina is reacting well to Phil. There's work there, of course, but it sounds like things are quite calm right now."
Pepper nodded. "And all the kids are alright with the new family additions?" she asked softly, knowing that there had been bad blood between at least two or three of the 'kids' in question.
"I think Phil is having to play mediator a bit," Steve said. "But it sounds like things aren't as bad as they could be."
"That's good..." Pepper took a sip of her tea and closed her eyes for a moment to let them rest. Just at that moment, Steve's phone rang. She glanced at him, a hint of worried amusement on her face. Amusement because Tony had managed to change his father's ring-tone to 'Star Spangled Man With a Plan'... worry because she couldn't imagine any reason that was good for anyone of the family to call Steve at this time of day.
Steve shook his head, but a worried look came over his face anyway as he took his phone back out and answered it. "Steve here." He couldn't quite stop his worry coming through his voice.
"Um...grandpa? First of all...DON'T WORRY! Everyone is ok. I just forgot my passport in the room safe and I kinda need it to be able to get into this exhibit we'd like to see? And I thought if you could grab it and meet us here, it would save us an extra twenty minutes that it would take for me to get to the hotel, get it, and then come back to where we are? And you might like the exhibit too, so it wouldn't be a wasted trip for you! and..." Jemma's voice finally slowed so she could take a breath- at which point she realized that she'd been rambling and hadn't even introduced herself. "Oh. This is Jemma, grandpa. Sorry..."
Steve relaxed, a trace of amusement entering his voice. "I guessed who it was, don't worry." He looked at Pepper. "Everyone's all right... Jemma just left her passport here. Will you be all right with Harry and Peter while I take it back to her?"
"But of course!" Pepper smiled at her father, relief clear on her face.
Steve spoke into the phone. "I'll be there in a few minutes." After waiting for Jemma's response, he disconnected the call and then placed a hand on Pepper's shoulder. "I'd like you to try and rest... maybe later, you could watch a movie with Harry and Peter."
"Yeah...ok. As soon as I finish the last project I was working on, I'll take a longer break," Pepper promised. "Have fun!"
"Call me if you need me." Steve hugged her and then went to pick up Jemma's passport, then said a quick goodbye to his grandsons before leaving the suite.
Pepper waited for her father to leave, giving him a small wave, before going back to reading the notes she had on Stanislav. It must have helped, the short break she'd taken. Not more than five minutes into rereading her notes, she realized something; something rather important and, if she were honest with herself, more than worrisome. But it needed to be confirmed; she couldn't base her assumptions just on one sentence in a magazine that had been printed ten years ago. Frowning, she glanced at her son and nephew, then quickly made up her mind. Quickly writing down her assumption and what was needed to confirm it, just in case, she stood up and grabbed her handbag, heading for the door. "I have to run out for a little bit, fellas. I should be back within the hour, if anyone calls and asks!" She quickly gave each of them a kiss on the cheek and then was out the door.
Surprised, Harry glanced towards the door, where his mother had disappeared, and then at his cousin. "Where's she going?"
"I don't know." Peter stood up and walked over to the desk, where his aunt's papers were. He picked them up and began looking through them, ignoring Harry when his cousin tried to point out he shouldn't be looking through the papers.
Pepper had deliberately picked a hotel not the same as Zeke Stanislav's, not wanting to risk running into him when they weren't in a meeting. Even so, they were close enough she could walk to his hotel.
Going up to the front desk, she smiled at the receptionist. "Mr. Zeke Stanislav's room, please." She slyly glanced at the computer screen while the woman looked up the room number and then rang the phone. Several rings later, she was told that he wasn't in.
"Thank you." She smiled and acted as if she was leaving, then double backed to the elevators, going up to his floor. All she needed was a used toothbrush. As egotistical as Stanislav was, she had no doubt he had one. She just had to figure out how to get into the room.
"I think this was what she was just reading... see?" Peter indicated a line in the magazine.
Harry angled his head so he could read it, then shot his cousin a worried look. "Where do you think she's gone?"
"To his hotel, maybe." Peter grabbed his laptop and opened it, quickly searching for hotels near where they were staying for people involved in business meetings.
Pepper thought her luck was very good when she'd gotten onto Stanislav's floor and the maid was still there. A few 'water-works' and a very inventive story about a cheating, no good scoundrel who wouldn't admit the baby was his and the maid had got her the toothbrush wrapped carefully in a latex glove.
She hadn't counted on running into Stanislav exiting his car with his bodyguards and seeing her leave the building. He was supposed to be in a meeting. She especially hadn't counted on him noticing the toothbrush in her bag and recognizing it, of all things. (In what world did things like this happen? she thought morosely).
Needless to say, she wasn't surprised when she found herself bundled into his car between his two bodyguards, with the threat of innocent civilians being hurt if she fought or screamed.
It hadn't taken long for Peter to find the information about the hotel and then he was leaving... along with Harry, who was worried about his mother.
The two teenagers had reached the hotel in time to see Pepper bundled into the car. Peter wasted no time in grabbing his cousin and surreptitiously climbing the side of the building, before using his webbing to follow the car.
Harry didn't mind heights so much... but clinging onto his friend's back really didn't make him feel very safe.
"You aren't going to get away with this..." Pepper said calmly; even though, on the inside, she was worried. "I made sure to leave all my notes in a place where my family can find them. As soon as they realize I'm missing, they'll come straight for you."
Zeke laughed meanly. "Like they wouldn't have come for me as soon as you did your little test? So what clued you in? What caused you to want to check my DNA? I'm assuming that's why you took my toothbrush and didn't care that my name was on the handle..."
Pepper didn't answer his question, instead smirking. "It takes a whole other level of ego to monogram a toothbrush. Bathrobe? Sure. Luggage? Definitely. But a toothbrush? Trying to make yourself feel important? Less like the impotent little rat you are? I suppose you must be stupid, since you clearly didn't learn from your father's grandiose failure."
The slap wasn't unexpected, although a bit harder than she'd been able to prepare for. She swallowed and gingerly moved her jaw, running her tongue over her teeth to make certain none had been loosened. There'd be a bruise later.
The meeting hadn't taken that long, once Stanislav had stormed out of it in a snit because his back-handed insults and attempts to stall progress had been ignored or outright overruled. Tony was happy that he'd be able to go back and spend more time with Pepper; and to inform her that the board members and he had managed to finish all the business that had been scheduled for the other meetings as well. They'd only scheduled so many meetings because they'd been anticipating Stanislav causing problems and dragging things out. Maybe he'd offer to come to the next meeting of the board. Pepper would run it as usual, but since Tony's presence and participation seemed to aggravate Stanislav to the point that he'd leave in the middle of the meeting- it might prove useful to her.
Whistling jauntily, he walked into the suite, expecting to see Pepper, even if the rest of the family was out sightseeing. He stopped when he realized he was all alone. Frowning in disappointment, he went into the back room to change and then called his fiancé. She didn't answer her phone. The frown was slowly changing from disappointment to worry. Maybe she'd gone out with Harry. Walking over to the table where her papers were spread out, he began to read her notes as he called his son, his eyes widening as he realized what he was looking at.
Harry heard the ringing of his phone... but he was too busy clinging onto Peter as his cousin swung over the rooftops. Since Harry was clinging on for dear life, he was worried that freeing one hand to answer his phone would cause one or both of them to lose their balance.
For his part, Peter kept his eyes firmly on the car, following every turn it took. He tried to cling to the positives... even if the man was going to hurt Pepper, he'd be more likely to do so once the car had stopped. He couldn't spare a breath to reassure Harry, though, and his cousin's tight grip demonstrated just how worried and scared he really was.
Tony's worry only grew as Harry's phone went unanswered. Pepper was too responsible to go after Stanislav on her own, wasn't she? That was something Tony would do, not both-feet-on-the-ground, level-headed fiancé! But she wasn't in the suite and she wasn't answering her phone and her notes indicated exactly what she wanted to do. So chances were high that she had gone after Stanislav; or at least after the information needed to oust him from the board. And all that didn't tell him where Harry was. Had she taken their son with her? He somehow doubted it. Even if she thought she was in no danger, she wouldn't have taken Harry someplace that would have brought him to Stanislav's attention if things went wrong. So why wasn't Harry answering his phone? The scattered books and papers near the couch obviously belonged to the boys. Had they just got tired of doing schoolwork and gone sight-seeing? Or had they followed Pepper?
Swallowing hard to push down his growing panic, Tony decided to call one more person. "Please pick up, dad...please pick up..." he muttered under his breath, as the phone rang.
Steve answered immediately, having his phone on and within easy reach. "Tony?" His voice was concerned. He couldn't think of any good reason for his son to be calling right now... especially as Pepper or his grandsons should have told Tony where he was.
"Dad...please tell me Pepper and the boys are with you..." Tony began, the worry clear in his voice.
"I left them at the hotel." Steve immediately sounded worried himself. "They didn't leave a note?"
"Stanislav left the meeting in a snit, which allowed us to finish earlier than expected...which enabled us to cover a lot of the business that the other meetings were to cover. So the board decided that the other meetings weren't necessary. I came back ready to tell Pepper the good news, but she wasn't here. The guys weren't here either; and their books and papers were scattered near the couch, as if they left in a big hurry. Pepper didn't leave a note, exactly- she left a bunch of research notes detailing what she'd been working on, as well as a list of what she needed to do to prove her theory. Dad...if what I'm looking at is right and she went to try and prove it, she's in danger. And if the boys followed her..." Tony's throat felt like it was going to close up and he had to swallow hard.
"Do you know where he's staying?" Steve asked immediately, forcing his voice to stay as calm and reassuring as possible. On the other end of the phone, he quickly explained the situation to Bruce, Jemma and Leo... knowing they needed to know what was up.
Tony wasn't surprised in the least that Steve had been able to put together Tony's quickly rambled explanation and come up with the right conclusion about where Pepper had gone. The fact that his father was on top of things helped him focus considerably. Taking a deep breath, he answered, "He's staying at a hotel two blocks from here. But my guess is that he wouldn't keep her there. We'll have to have Veronica track her and hope she has her phone on her and it hasn't been discarded. I'm hoping the boys are out on their own and just not answering their phone and not actually with her. The thought of more than one of them being in danger..." He swallowed again, before giving Steve the name of the hotel Stanislav had been staying. "I'll meet you there, unless you think it would be better to meet here first."
"We'll meet at Stainslav's hotel," Steve said. "If she was there, it might have been captured on the security cameras. Get Veronica to hack into any feed in or outside the hotel. And as well as Pepper's phone, you might want to get her to track the boys'. If Peter's travelling his normal route with Harry, they might not be able to answer their phones."
"Oh! Right. I should have thought of that..." Tony said distractedly, in regards to the boys not answering their phones. "I'll wait for you in the lobby of the hotel..." It said something to his level of worry that he didn't even say good-bye and just hung up the phone. "Veronica, I need you to hack into the security feed of the hotel on this street, as well as the street cameras outside the hotel. Also, see if you can get a signal from Pepper's phone and from Peter and Harry's phones and send me their location," Tony commanded, even as he grabbed the bracelets that would enable him to call his Iron Man suit to him when he needed it. He then took off, heading toward Stanislav's hotel.
Steve turned immediately to his other son and grandchildren. "We're going to meet Tony at the hotel Stainslav's been staying at," he said. "Veronica should be checking the security feed... there's a very good chance Peter and Harry went after Pepper."
Bruce nodded brusquely, his worry for his son under control only because they didn't have all the information yet and he didn't want to jump to conclusions. Leo and Jemma needed him to be strong and not lose it, after all. "I doubt Pepper would have knowingly, or willingly, put Harry and Peter in danger, so is it possible that they are all okay and just went out for ice cream?" Even as he asked the question, he knew the answer. Still, it was so unlike Pepper to do something without having plans and contingencies and back-up. She was very responsible in that way.
"I think it's unlikely," Steve said gently. "I suspect Pepper left the boys in the hotel... they realised where she was going and went after her." As he was talking, he was walking towards the parking lot.
"Yeah. I think you're right..." Bruce sighed, following his father, an arm around Jemma and Leo as he led them to the car as well.
Jemma was busy fiddling with her phone. "Uncle Tony already has Veronica scanning for their phones, but there is also some footage from security cameras. Veronica forwarded it to Uncle Tony and me, so that we can look at it on the way to the hotel..." She showed the device to her father and grandfather. "It seems as if Aunt Pepper was in the hotel, but she wasn't confronted until she was outside the hotel, so no one in the hotel will have seen anything; and anyone on the street has likely already disappeared. We're going to need to depend on the phones and Veronica's ability to do a search on the plates of the car she was put in..."
Bruce winced at the proof that Pepper had indeed been taken by Stanislav. "We better hurry. Tony will be beside himself, seeing this footage," he said to his father.
Steve got in the driver's side and waited for his family to get settled before he began driving towards Stainlav's hotel. "If the boys aren't captured, then once it's safe to stop, they should see the missed calls and call one of us back," he said, driving as fast as he dared.
"Hopefully. That would be the safe thing to do and I know they both realize that..." Bruce was talking calmly, but the hint of green in his eyes showed just how worried he was.
"If they saw what happened, they'll be following the car... and you know Peter will take the best route for him over the rooftops," Steve said. "Even with Harry... there'd be no reason he couldn't take him as well."
"Oh, I'm sure they saw and are following; it's the only understandable reason for them not to answer their phones. But when the car stops and they have the opportunity to call..." Bruce left unsaid that he fully expected his son to call him before doing anything that might put himself in danger. Even if only to inform everyone that there wasn't a choice and no time to wait and they had to act now, before everyone else got there.
Steve nodded once to acknowledge Bruce's words, but fell silent as he pulled into the parking lot outside the hotel. As soon as he parked, he got out of the car, searching for Tony.
Tony quickly made his way to his father. "Dad...You saw the footage?" he asked quickly, before continuing without waiting for an answer. "Veronica got a lock on Harry's phone. It's moving this direction; although they'll be running out of buildings soon, so I don't know how they plan to continue following if the car leaves the city. She also got a lock on Pepper's phone, but since it was thrown out of the car window into that bush over there, it wasn't terribly helpful..." Tony swallowed. "I want to put on the suit...if I catch up to the guys and get a lock on the car, then I can follow it, hopefully without being seen, and give you the location of where they stop."
Steve hesitated, but he didn't want to tell Tony not to go after Pepper and Harry. "If you take the suit, I want you to stay in contact with us at all times. Don't go in alone. We'll be in the car, following the directions you give. I know you want Pepper back, but getting yourself hurt isn't the answer."
This time, Tony hesitated, but then he thought about Harry and how he would feel if his son went charging in to save his mother without waiting for proper back-up and nodded. "Yes, sir. I'll keep in contact and I'll wait for your arrival to do anything." Calling his suit to him, he shot up into the air to go follow the car.
Pepper had been positive they would leave the city. Because of this, she was genuinely surprised when the car pulled into the parking lot of an abandoned warehouse and Stanislav got out, dragging her with him into the building. The car then left again, attempting to be a decoy to keep anyone looking away from Stanislav's true location.
Peter had stayed in constant sight of the car, still holding onto his cousin. By the time he released Harry, Harry was a little dizzy... but he had enough presence to take out his phone and stop Peter when his cousin would have charged headlong into the warehouse. "Wait. We should call the others."
A sort of sheepish look came over Peter's face and he pulled his own phone out, looking at the display and gulping. "Yeah..."
Harry wasn't sure how he was going to explain things to his father... but he dialed the number anyway, eyes fixed on the warehouse.
The call was patched through to Tony's suit almost immediately and he answered a second after that. "Harry!" The worry in his voice was palatable. "Stay where you are! We're on our way!"
"They brought Mom to an abandoned warehouse," Harry said, peering over the top of the roof. "But the car's taken off again... I think to provide a false lead to follow."
Tony couldn't help the tiny curse that escaped. "Good job, kid; that car was the only way I had to follow your mom, since they threw her phone out on the side of the road. I would have followed it without your information...Veronica has a lock on your phone, though and we're all headed your direction, so find a safe place to hide and we'll be there soon!" Tony's voice was earnest and still very worried. It also was quite clear his request was an order.
"Okay, I..." Harry paused as he realised Peter was climbing down the side of the building. He quickly went to follow his cousin, after saying a quick goodbye to his father. "What are you doing?"
"I've got to go in... just in case something's happening." Peter continued to climb down.
Harry hesitated... but worry for his mother overrode his common sense and he followed his cousin down the side of the building.
"Okay, I? Okay, I what?" Tony's stomach plummeted as Harry hung up on him very quickly. "Harry?!" He arrived at the location the tracking led him to, just in time to see his son and nephew disappear into the building.
His fear skyrocketed as he called Steve back. "I told them to hide, dad! And instead, they've gone into the building where Stanislav and his goons are! Please tell me you're almost here. It doesn't feel right sitting outside when I know the three of them are in danger..."
"We're nearly there," Steve replied... speeding up enough so that he could get to the warehouse seconds later. He parked and was out of the car within moments.
Tony quickly went over to meet his father. "Thank God...I was about to go in myself, my arse be damned, if you didn't get here soon..." Tony's voice was stressed and it was obvious he wasn't joking.
"Is there any feed from inside the warehouse?" Steve asked, fighting to hide his own sense of worry.
"No...Evidently, this place has been abandoned long enough that any cameras it might have had have all broken or been stolen..." Tony's voice was tight, as he tried to keep his worry and fear for his family in check.
Steve nodded and turned to Bruce and his grandchildren. "Leo... Jemma... I'd like you to wait outside here. Bruce..." He paused, waiting to see if his other son thought the Other Guy should make an appearance.
"While I don't think the big guy would hurt Pepper or the boys, I can't rule out that they might get hurt through secondary means if he goes in there and starts destroying stuff...I should probably wait out here as well, unless there is no way for you to get her back without Hulk..." Bruce admitted reluctantly. His son was in there, too; and the thought that he couldn't go in and help was hard.
"We'll bring them out," Steve promised, before heading into the warehouse.
"You'll never get away with this," Pepper said coolly. "Just what were you hoping to accomplish, anyway? You had to have known you'd be found out!"
"I was counting on it." Stanislav sneered as he shoved her onto a table and strapped her down. It was eerily reminiscent of Killian's lab...
Peter had sneaked inside the warehouse, Harry following his cousin a little slower. But when he glimpsed Stainslav with his mother, his own worry skyrocketed. Both teenagers quickly moved out of sight and looked around for any sign of what the man was planning to do.
"What are you doing?" Pepper asked, trying to keep her fear hidden from him. It didn't succeed, if the pleased but nasty look on his face was any indication.
"I'm finishing what my father began, of course. With a few extra touches of my own. Did you honestly think you could take away and destroy my inheritance? My father's legacy? Without any repercussions?" Zeke's voice was cutting and his eyes had a gleam in them that worried Pepper. If he was as insane as his eyes seemed to indicate, he wouldn't be reasoned with.
"Your father...Obadiah..." She tried to keep her voice firm, but it quivered and was barely above the level of a whisper.
Zeke slapped her hard. "You don't get to speak his name, after what you did to him!" he snarled.
Peter sneaked close enough so that he could hear... without drawing attention to himself. Harry was with him, but much less confident.
Using his webbing, Peter clambered up the side of the wall and onto the ceiling, so he was above Pepper and Stainslav.
"I didn't do anything to him!" Pepper spat back, ignoring the blood that was now dripping down her chin from a cut lip. "He tried to kill Tony! He stole the suit Tony had to make to escape the terrorist brutes he had hired to kill him. He stole the reactor out of his chest and left him to die slowly and agonizingly! And even after all that, Tony tried to reason with him... and instead of letting go of his hatred and greed, he tried to crush him! Anything that happened was his own fault!"
"You overloaded the main reactor and then he fell into it and was electrocuted! And blew up! I saw the security footage! DON'T try and tell me you did NOTHING!" Stanislav roared, this time raising a fist, preparing to do more than slap.
Peter fired a string of webbing, wrapping it around Stainslav's wrist to jerk his hand back.
Pepper had cringed back as far as her restraints enabled her in preparation for the punch that never came. Her eyes widened when she realized her kidnapper had been stopped, by webbing. Her nephew and son were here! Fear for herself was quickly replaced with fear for her 'kids'. "No...no...no..." she muttered in worry, eyes darting around as she tried to figure out where Harry and Peter were, as well as figure out where Zeke Stanislav's goons were. "You've got to get out! He has help!" she yelled out into the room, hoping that Harry and Peter would heed her warning.
Tony had followed his father into the warehouse, just in time to hear Pepper's yelled warning. He quickly began moving down the hall toward where he heard the yell coming from, sending guards flying as they began to swarm him and Steve. He wasn't gentle and more than one armed thug ended up sliding down a wall, unconscious from where he'd been thrown into hard brick.
Steve reacted immediately, taking out anyone who came at him. Even without having grabbed his shield, he was still a formidable opponent and he worked his way towards the table, where his daughter was strapped down... even as he looked around for his grandsons as well.
Peter wasted no time in pinning Stainslav to the wall, quickly trussing him up with his webbing, before going to help his uncle and grandfather, moving across the walls and shooting webbing at the goons.
Harry watched until there was a clear path to his mother. Even though he knew she (and his father, too) wanted him and Peter out of there, he couldn't bring himself to just leave... especially not when his cousin wasn't, either. So even as he kept looking around, Harry kept well out of sight as he slid round the side of the table to start unstrapping his mother.
Pepper was terrified for her son and nephew, but had enough control over herself that she managed not to make any sounds or draw any other attention toward her and what Harry was doing. Even though she would have preferred Harry and Peter leaving as soon as possible, since they had decided to stay back and help, the only thing she could do was make sure none of Stanislav's goons noticed Harry or what he was up to. As soon as she was free, however, she grabbed Harry by the arm, one of the weapons from an unconscious goon in the other hand, and began to drag Harry toward Tony and Steve. Her eyes were darting in every direction to make certain she wasn't going to get them surrounded by the bad guys; and when she was close enough to Peter, she indicated that he should follow.
Harry didn't fight being pulled along by his mother... and as soon as Peter noticed his cousin and aunt, he hit one more goon and joined them.'
Steve noticed his daughter and grandsons and quickly moved so he could cover and protect them.
Tony had noticed as well, moving to protect them from the other side, his father and him forming a protective barrier against those still fighting against them. He did ask, "Do we take Stanislav with us, or leave him for the police?"
"I think we should take him," Steve replied. "I don't want to take the risk of him slipping out of protective custody."
"Agreed...shall I take him, then? If I call Loki, perhaps he can come pick him up and take him back to SHIELD custody?" Tony was reluctant to cut the family vacation short; not only did they not often get a chance to be together in this way, but Leo and Jemma hadn't done anything wrong and it seemed unfair to drag them back home immediately.
Steve nodded. "I think that would be a good idea. If he needs to look through someone's eyes, he can look through mine."
Tony nodded brusquely, quickly having Veronica place a call to the tower. After speaking with the remaining family members on speaker phone so that he could update them on what had occurred as far as Pepper being kidnapped and why they were taking Stanislav into custody, he'd asked the Asgardian to please come collect the prisoner. A minute later, Loki was standing next to him.
"Cousin." Loki nodded at Tony regally, then at Bruce and the rest of the family. "Where is this cretinous slime that would dare lay hands on our fair lady Pepper?" The look in his eyes promised vengeance. If it weren't for the fact that Tony felt like getting a bit of vengeance himself, he would have warned Loki off of doing anything to hurt the prisoner. He felt like he should.
"We're going to need to interrogate him," Steve said mildly to Loki. "As much as I understand and share how you feel, I'm going to have to ask you not to take any form of vengeance." There were times he strongly disliked being the responsible one.
"I left him tied to the wall with webbing," Peter spoke up.
"Of course, uncle..." Loki's grin was respectful and agreeable, but it was obvious if he could figure out a way to impose a little bit of pain on the prisoner without endangering their chances of getting information, he'd do it.
Tony's chuckle wasn't happy. "Thanks, Lok's. I appreciate you helping."
"That is what family is for, is it not?" Loki sniffed slightly, but his own smile turned fond. "I owe so much of what my life has become to all of you...I do not think I could ever repay it. This is but a small dent in a very great debt," he said softly, nodding at Peter to let the boy know he had heard him, then walked into the warehouse to get Stanislav. He walked out five minutes later, the man slung over his shoulder in what had to be a very uncomfortable position. "I will take him back now. Uncle Phil and Uncle Nick are waiting in the detention area. Father has reinforced all the locks and security features to make certain he will not go anywhere." He spoke and looked to Steve, to make certain there were no further instructions before he took off.
Steve nodded to acknowledge Loki's words. "I don't believe there's anything else... but if any of you can get out of him what sort of hold he might have over some of the board members, we'd appreciate it." He remembered that at least one of them had appeared to be on Stainslav's side... and he was fully aware of how manipulative people could be.
"If we learn anything, we will definitely let you know," Loki agreed, before gripping Stanislav tightly and then disappearing.
Pepper stood looking at the spot her cousin had been moments before, then cleared her throat. "We'll need to give statements to the police, as well as explaining why we took their main suspect..."
"Let us handle it, Pep. I want you to let Bruce check you out and make certain you weren't hurt worse. That's a huge bruise you've got on your face," Tony said softly, before hugging her. Bruce was already walking to them, his bag in his hand.
He then turned and hugged Harry tightly as well. "You scared me, kid..." he admitted in a hoarse voice.
Surprised at being hugged... having thought more that he would have been ignored... Harry hugged his father tightly in return. "I'm sorry..."
Peter cleared his throat. "Um... if I hadn't gone into the warehouse, I don't think Harry would have followed..."
"Both of you are responsible for your own decisions," Steve said mildly.
Leo clapped Peter gently on the shoulder. "You really shouldn't have gone in... but I'm glad you're safe." He didn't say unhurt. He knew that either his father or sister would be checking his brother over to make sure of that.
"I know you are, kiddo..." Tony said knowingly. He'd been in Harry's position enough times to understand. "We'll talk about it at the hotel..." he said firmly.
"As will we..." Bruce promised his youngest son, before giving him a tight hug. "Let your sister check you out while I take care of Pepper," he said quietly.
"It shouldn't take too long," Jemma promised, as she moved closer to check over her brother and make certain he wasn't wounded.
Bruce quickly ran the scanner over Pepper, then gave her some ice for her cheek. "Looks like you're alright, except for the big bruise on your cheek," he told her kindly, before gently pushing her towards their father so he could check out Harry.
Tony was torn between needing to hold onto his son and needing to hold onto his fiancé. When he realized Steve would have Pepper, he relaxed enough to put his arm around Harry and offer his full support while Bruce examined his son.
"I'm sorry, too..." Pepper whispered, once she was within reach of her father, wanting a hug, but suddenly feeling guilty and undeserving of one.
Peter nodded and held still while Jemma looked him over. He was beginning to feel guilty... which wasn't an emotion that sat right with him. He'd been able to hear Harry's conversation with Tony and had known the two of them were expected to wait... but he was so used to doing things on his own, he'd dragged Harry with him... and while Peter accepted that he might be in trouble, but he was still cared about... he wasn't certain his cousin understood.
Harry remained quiet and subdued during the examination, his body tense, as if waiting for either an explosion or a withdrawal.
Steve simply moved to his daughter and wrapped his arms around her in a tight hug, needing to assure himself she was safe. "I love you." There was a whole wealth of emotion in those three words.
Jemma smiled. "You're okay." She pulled her little brother into a hug, knowing that until Bruce was done checking out Harry, he wouldn't be able to comfort Peter. "You're okay and everything will be okay," she whispered into his ear, hugging him close.
Tony, sensing Harry's uncertainty, shifted closer and held onto him tighter. "I love you, son..." He kissed the side of Harry's face.
Bruce finally stepped back. "I wasn't able to find any wounds. It looks like the only one roughed up was Pepper..." He smiled at his nephew, before glancing toward his sister. "I think the rest of the day needs to be work free and everyone resting."
Pepper nodded at Bruce, knowing that Tony would want that to happen and her father would probably insist on it occurring. She moved closer to Steve, snuggling close. "Iloveyoudaddy..." she whispered."...andI'msorry..."
Peter responded to the hug, wrapping his arms around his sister. Even if he didn't need as much reassurance, it still helped him to feel better.
Harry slowly leaned into his father, trying to trust Tony's words... even though it was hard to believe he was loved.
Steve kissed Pepper's head and held her tight. "I know. And we'll talk about it back at the hotel," he promised, stroking her hair.
Pepper winced, knowing how talks tended to happen in the family. She'd only been over her father's knee once...but it had been enough to know she never wanted to be over it again. She wasn't used to feeling so vulnerable and dependent on another person and that's how she'd felt when he'd punished her the first time. "Any chance our talking will just be talking?" she asked, with a very small hint of hope, since she was pretty sure she already knew the answer.
Tony didn't say anything else, just continuing to hold onto Harry and showing him the affection he'd always wanted to be shown to him when he was Harry's age. The affection he always craved from Steve when he'd done something he knew was questionable and was positive he deserved to be thrown to the curb.
Jemma smiled at Peter's response to her. "I quite like having a little brother..." she admitted with a smile, snuggling him. "Better than a plush!" she teased him gently.
Bruce chuckled and wrapped his arms around both his son and daughter, hugging them tightly, even as he motioned with his head for Leo to come join them. "And I quite like have three cuddly children... definitely much better than my old stuffed bear..."
"I'm afraid not." Steve didn't let go of his daughter, instead tightening his embrace. "But it won't change anything between us," he promised, gently leading her over to Tony and Harry with his arms still around her.
Although still a bit tense, Harry nevertheless clung onto Tony... trying to absorb as much affection as his father was willing to give him, even though he was aware of how he must look... at least on some level.
Leo went to join in the hug. "You never said you had a stuffed bear," he teased his father.
Pepper sighed softly. "Didn't think so...kinda glad, too. Would rather be treated the same as everyone else anyway..." she admitted in a whisper that only Steve could hear.
She easily went with her father, stopping in front of Harry and Tony and pulling Harry into her arms, holding him tightly. "Part of me feels like I should scold you for putting yourself in such danger, but the other part wants to say thank you for trying to rescue me and for making sure your dad and grandpa could find me..." she admitted. "I'm sorry I managed to get you dragged into this mess..." Her hold on him tightened and she kissed his ear, tears starting to fall down her face as it finally sunk in the danger that she'd gotten not only herself into but her son.
Tony gave his father a knowing glance. He could tell Pepper felt guilty about what had happened; and he was fairly certain that Harry and Peter did, too. It was going to be a long, emotional night.
Bruce chuckled. "You never asked. Betty gave it to me when we first started dating. Before Hulk. It was one of the few things that has survived my treks around the globe and Hulk's random showings. Not sure how exactly..."
Harry hugged his mother tightly, his body trembling a little. He had no idea what to do about having one parent who cared so much... let alone two.
Steve paused by Tony and placed a hand on his son's shoulder, squeezing gently, though he didn't actually say anything.
Leo grinned. "You'll have to show us." He nudged his brother. "Right, Pete?"
Peter could tell that Leo was trying to lighten the mood, but he nodded anyway... even if he was quiet.
Tony was actually a little relieved when the police finally arrived to take their statements. It meant that everyone could back away for a little bit and get their emotions under control. It also meant they'd be able to go back to the suite sooner and get everything taken care of and just bond as a family. And it didn't take long for the police to take their statements and send them on their way. Once they realized that Captain America was there and that they had taken the main culprit into custody for SHIELD, the officers had quickly rounded up the ruffians that were left, taken the number where they could reach those involved if there were any other questions and let them go. Soon, everyone was jammed into the tiny rental car and heading back to the hotel.
When the group finally stood in the common area of the suite, Tony glanced at Jemma and Leo. "Why don't you two go out and pick up dinner for everyone? Give us an hour?" he said quietly. He didn't want to embarrass Pepper, Harry or Peter...but he had a feeling they'd be more embarrassed if Jemma and Leo were around for the 'discussion' that was going to occur. Even if the two were in another room.
Jemma glanced at her father and at his nod, she smiled crookedly and took Leo's arm. "Yeah. Ok, Uncle Tony. We'll be back in an hour with supper..."
Leo nodded. "Yeah. If you need us to come back sooner or whatever, you can always call." He gave each of his family members a hug and then headed to the door of the suite, waiting for Jemma to join him.
Once Jemma and Leo were gone, Pepper took a deep breath. "Do you want my explanation of what I was looking for now or later? Because I already know I shouldn't have gone looking for my proof without letting anyone know..." She sighed.
"I looked through your notes," Peter said quietly. "We were both worried when you disappeared... but I was the only one who actually looked," he added, not wanting to get Harry in more trouble.
Pepper blinked. "I...I didn't mean to worry you both. I'm sorry..." She closed her eyes and felt more guilty. "You know I've been researching Stanislav to try and find out why he had it in for me. I wasn't sure if maybe he was from a rival business that we'd taken over, if he was someone who'd been turned down for a position in the company and now had it in for us, if he was the husband of one of Tony's ex-flings..." She gave her fiance an apologetic look, but he shrugged as if to say, 'What can you do?" He had had a very colorful past, after all.
"And then I found an article dated ten years ago, about how his father was second in command of the top weapons manufacturing companies in the world and he was being groomed to take over." Pepper swallowed hard, giving Tony a concerned look. "The top weapons manufacturer ten years ago was Stark Industries. The second in command was Obi..." She bit her lip, glancing around at the others. "I wanted proof that he was Obi's son before I made any accusations...so I went to his hotel to get his toothbrush for a DNA analysis. I figured he wouldn't miss a toothbrush, so he'd never know I was there...and he was in a meeting, so he wouldn't catch me!"
Sighing again, she slumped. "I ran into him outside the hotel and he likely wouldn't have suspected anything, except he caught sight of the toothbrush; and wouldn't you know, he has his monogram on everything, so he recognized it and realized what I was doing."
Steve listened to Pepper's explanation without saying anything. "When you finished researching, you should have contacted one of us," he stated once she was finished. "I know you know that isn't acceptable behaviour for any members of the family." While Peter and Harry were responsible for their own actions, they probably wouldn't have done anything if Pepper had stayed put.
"I do know..." Pepper agreed quietly. "I didn't think of it, but I do know...and when he grabbed me off the street, you don't know how much I was wishing I'd thought of it." She glanced at her son and nephew, a rueful look in her eyes. Smiling crookedly, she looked at Harry. "This is why you should always think twice about a decision to do something on your own; if I'd stopped to rethink things, I would have called your dad and grandfather."
Harry nodded, but it was Peter who spoke up. "Going into the warehouse... that was my fault. If I hadn't gone in, Harry wouldn't have followed..." The look he directed towards his cousin was filled with guilt.
"I didn't exactly try to stop you..." Harry admitted.
Bruce nodded at that. "At the end of the day, all three of you made your own decision for what you yourself would do. No one forced anyone else to do anything."
"No matter how much your own decision might have influenced everyone else, it was still their decision to do what they did." Tony was talking to Peter, but no one would argue that Pepper didn't need to hear it as well. It was obvious she felt guilty about her son putting himself in harm's way because of trying to help her.
Steve didn't bother to add anything to that, knowing his sons had already said everything they needed to cover. He spoke in a mild voice. "Pepper... why don't we continue this in your room?" His voice was mild and gentle... but still serious.
Pepper winced slightly, knowing what was coming, but didn't argue at all. She knew Tony was going to discipline Harry for what he'd done and Bruce would Peter. It wouldn't be right for them to get into trouble and her to be allowed to walk away without any admonishment. Still...it was highly embarrassing to be going in with her father to be punished at her age; and in front of her son, no less. If she ever considered doing something so foolish again in the future, she hoped she'd remember this moment. Her face bright red, she nodded and walked to her room. "Alright, daddy..."
Tony gave what he hoped was an encouraging grin to his fiance; he'd been in her place often enough not to feel anything but empathy for her. He turned toward Harry. "We'll go to your room, son."
"And I will speak with you in my room..." Bruce added to Peter, so that the younger man wouldn't think he and Harry needed to be in the room with each other while 'talking things through'.
Harry nodded slowly, but he looked nervous... almost scared... about what he was going to face, still convinced that his father would withdraw. No matter that how things were dealt with in the family wasn't a secret, he'd not been in that position... and the uncertainty was terrifying.
Tony could tell Harry was frightened and it tore at him. He had to steel himself, force himself, to lead Harry into the other room, instead of letting it go and saying he wouldn't have to be punished. Instead, he took a deep breath and pulled Harry closer. "I won't lie and say it won't hurt. It will. But I won't harm you. And I'm not going to leave you. I hope you can believe that..."
Harry stepped closer to Tony, needing the comfort even though he was scared. "What... should I do?" He knew what spanking was, but only in the sense that it had been a punishment experienced by others... and even then, there wasn't much in the way of how to actually go about it.
Tony smiled crookedly and not happily, but more to give encouragement. "I'm going to go over and sit on your bed...and put you over my knee," he said gently. "Once you are in place, I will bare you and the spanking will begin." He waited just long enough for Harry to realize he didn't need to do anything except cooperate, before he led his son to the bed and gently tugged him over his knee.
Harry didn't fight being led over to his bed, or being tugged over his father's knee... though he did hold himself quite stiff. His hands clutched at the sheets on the bed as he tried to brace himself.
Tony didn't begin right away. Instead, he gently began rubbing Harry's back and talking. "When I got back to the hotel room after my meeting, I'd been really excited. I hadn't expected to finish so quickly and it was extra time to spend with you. But then you weren't there. And there weren't any notes. And it was obvious everyone had left in a big hurry. All I could think was that you were in danger...that my son was about to get taken away from me and I hadn't had nearly enough time with you. We hadn't even celebrated a birthday together..." Tony swallowed. "When you didn't answer the phone, dad...your grandpa...managed to keep me from focusing on the worst case scenario, but it wasn't easy not to..." Throughout talking, Tony gently rubbed Harry's back.
Harry whimpered softly, feeling the tears beginning to form... and the spanking hadn't even started. "I'm sorry..."
"I know and we'll be taking care of that soon. I just really need you to understand, Harry..." Tony paused, wondering yet again if this was how Steve had felt so many times when he himself had barged ahead without thinking. "...I need you to understand how much you mean to me and the rest of your family. I need you to understand how devastated we'd be if you were killed... especially doing something alone that you could have, should have, got backup for. I need you to understand that, no matter how urgent the situation, you need to take a moment to think through all the options; and unless it is impossible to do so...you always need to let the rest of the family know what is going on and what you want to do before acting. If only so we can get to your side as quickly as possible to help." Tony continued to gently rub Harry's back, waiting till he knew Harry understood why he was in trouble before punishing his son.
"I... I know..." Harry's breath shuddered as he drew it in. "I shouldn't have... followed Pete into the warehouse. But I don't think we would have had time to check in... before we got to the hotel..."
"Even as you were following her to the hotel? Even if you'd called while walking and briefly told someone what was going on before hanging up, it would have been better than nothing..." Tony's disagreement was mild; it was possible that they really couldn't call. But having been in the same situation himself often enough, he was pretty certain that neither of them had called before reaching the hotel because Peter didn't want to be told to stop and Harry didn't want to get his friend in trouble. Plus, with Pepper acting oddly... It was obvious why they hadn't called afterwards, until reaching the warehouse.
He sighed. "You do understand why we were upset? And you realize that we weren't angry at you? Just very worried?"
"Yes?" Harry cleared his throat, realising he didn't sound very sure. "I... do understand. I know that you're... different." He didn't say who Tony was different to, but thought it was probably obvious.
Tony hesitated, not sure Harry did understand, but decided he would need to accept his son's words at face value and trust he wasn't hiding the truth. "Very well. This spanking isn't because you tried to rescue your mother. It is because you put your own life at risk to do so, when it wasn't necessary. You should have waited for all of us to arrive."
Without further discussion, Tony bared his son, wrapping an arm tightly around Harry's waist to hold him in place, then raised his hand and let it fall firmly on the center of his son's backside. Raising his hand again, he began covering Harry with firm, painful but not overly harsh, swats from the top of his bottom to just above upper thigh.
Harry jumped, letting out a tiny, whimpering whine. Having no idea what a spanking felt like, he was startled... not only by how much it hurt, but how much it affected him emotionally. He gripped the bedsheet tighter, since his first instinct was to throw his hand back to protect his backside... and he didn't know what kind of response that would get.
Tony didn't stop the relentless smacking, but he did gently rub Harry's back in a comforting manner. "Respond however you need to, son. The only thing that would ever get you into worse trouble would be attacking me...and even then, you couldn't push me away..." His voice was soft.
Harry couldn't stop the tears from falling at Tony's words. This was completely new to him and he was unprepared for the physical pain... but moreso the emotions. A quiet sob escaped him.
Tony swallowed hard and had to force himself to continue. Until he was certain Harry understood exactly what he'd done wrong and would think twice before doing it again in the future, he couldn't stop. The risk of his son doing something and being killed because he didn't stop to think was too great and Tony wasn't about to lose his child when he could take preventative measures. It wasn't easy, though. All he wanted to do was stop and pull the boy into his arms and hold him tightly.
Harry pressed his face into his arms, beginning to cry audibly... though it wasn't very loud. "I'm sorry..." he managed to get out.
Tony couldn't continue. If Harry's first experience of family discipline was hard on him, it was arguably just as difficult for his father. Tony didn't know how Steve managed, especially all the times Tony had screwed up. Needless to say, as soon as he heard his son crying- apologizing- Tony was pulling Harry up and into his arms, holding him tightly and kissing the side of his head, barely keeping his own tears in check. "It's alright. I've got you...and I'm never letting you go."
Harry immediately wrapped his arms around his father and hugged on tight, needing the comfort and to know that his father wasn't going to pull away from him.
Tony continued to hold Harry tightly. As long as his son didn't want to pull away and get loose, Tony was going to hold onto him. He didn't say much, only enough to let Harry know what he'd done was behind them now and forgiven. And, more importantly, how much he loved him.
Finally, Harry calmed down... though it took a little while, due to how emotional he'd been. He didn't let go of his father, though. Having been starved of physical affection most of his life, he latched onto it now.
Tony smiled slightly, continuing to hold Harry tightly. "By my calculations, we have forty-five minutes before Jemma and Leo return with food. We can just stay here for the next thirty minutes or so and then spend the last fifteen cleaning up, if you'd like?"
Harry nodded... well, more made an up and down movement against his father's shoulder. "I would," he replied softly.
"Me too, kid. Me too..." Tony murmured, kissing Harry on the cheek again, then leaned back just to hold and be with his son.
Bruce gently led Peter into his room, going over to sit on the bed and pulling Peter down next to him. "I'm fairly certain you know what you did wrong..." he said quietly. "But just in case, why don't you tell me what you were thinking and why you think you are in trouble...?"
Peter went along obediently with his father, sitting down on the bed. "I know I shouldn't have gone into the warehouse... and I should probably have called you, or Uncle Tony, or Grandfather en route to the hotel..." he admitted.
"You're right on both counts." Bruce agreed, his voice serious. "So why didn't you call? Or stay outside the warehouse until the rest of us arrived and could back you up?" He wanted to know his son's reasons for putting his life in danger before he acted on it.
"I..." Peter wasn't really sure he had a good reason. "I did think Aunt Pepper might be in danger," he admitted. "When I saw Stainslav taking her into the warehouse... I know Harry was on the phone to Uncle Tony, but I was worried you all might not get back in time."
"I can understand the fear." Bruce nodded slightly. "But you had to know your Uncle Tony was on the way in his suit as well. He was almost to you when you went in. He called to let us know what was happening and we were there within minutes of his arrival. Was there any reason that you thought your aunt didn't have time for you to wait for help? Because unless it was clear that she didn't have time...putting yourself at risk when there is no need or other options is never acceptable. We've talked about that before. Do you think your Aunt Pepper would have been alright with you risking your life for her if you were hurt and she hadn't been in immediate danger? Or do you think she'd blame herself, as well as feeling as horrible as the rest of us, if you were hurt or killed? I know if you had been hurt...I wouldn't have been able to keep control. Hulk would have come out, along with all his destructive tendencies." Bruce had to admit it, if only so his son could realize how seriously scared he'd been.
Peter flinched visibly at his father's words. "I... I know... I just..." His voice trailed off. "I'm used to doing things on my own and... well... I already knew something was going to happen," he admitted quietly. "I would have said something... but it's more like a sixth sense. Not scientific and harder to prove."
Bruce blinked at that admission. "You sensed something was going to happen? Like...before Pepper even left?" He wanted to be certain he understood his son clearly.
Peter nodded. "I call it my spidey-sense... sometimes I get a general idea of where... I didn't this time. I didn't want to mention it in case you didn't believe me... but I know personally it works," he added.
"I can understand you not wanting to mention it specifically...you could have called and said Pepper was acting strangely and you thought something was wrong, but you weren't sure what to do about it. Steve would have returned, if no one else; and we probably all would have come- and then it would have never been an issue. But from now on, if your senses go off...say something. Even if you can't figure out why they are going." Bruce's voice was firm and very believing.
"But... I didn't even know that it was Aunt Pepper," Peter admitted. "It just kept getting stronger... I thought there might be something on the news about it, but I obviously didn't get a sense of where because I was already there..."
Bruce nodded. "That is problematic. In the future, maybe just say you have an misgiving about something unidentifiable. At least that way, we can all be on our guard. You aren't in trouble for not saying anything about that. You didn't know that we want you to share your sixth sense with us."
Bruce paused, then continued, "You're in trouble for going into that warehouse when you had no idea what you'd be facing and you had to know you were outnumbered; even if you only counted the men that were with Pepper in the car you followed...we saw video." Bruce frowned, his voice stern and firm. "I can believe you might not have been able to contact anyone while on the way to the warehouse, although I feel you should have called on your way to the hotel itself. Having said that, you did have time to call before going into the warehouse. And while I understand your fear for your aunt...she wasn't in such immediate danger that you needed to rush in without waiting for the rest of us to arrive and back you up."
Peter nodded. "I know... and I know it was wrong. At the very least, I should have waited when Harry clearly didn't think we should go in." He sighed. "I'm sorry. It isn't easy to be used to calling for help... but I know it's something I need to get used to. So I know why you're going to punish me. And I know I deserve it. I'll do better next time," he promised.
"I'm sure you will, son, and I'll do my best to help you. I don't want to lose you, after all..." Bruce smiled briefly. "Let's get this over and done with, then..." he said softly, before gently taking Peter's arm and pulling him over his lap. Securing him close to his stomach with an arm tightened around his waist, Bruce bared the younger man. Only giving him enough time to realize the position he was in, Bruce raised his hand and began spanking, the smacks firm and deliberate as he began to cover Peter's backside.
Peter winced as he found himself over his father's knee... and then he jerked at the first smack, letting out a soft gasp with each subsequent one. Although he'd been in plenty of fights and been injured before... there was something completely different about this.
Bruce didn't like having to discipline his son...but he knew it was important that Peter get out of his very bad habit of going in solo to take care of situations that he shouldn't be going into alone. So he took a deep breath and continued to spank, grateful that it seemed to at least be making an impact on the boy. Maybe Peter would learn what he needed to learn quickly and he wouldn't need to drag this out.
Peter's guilt had stemmed more from dragging Harry along with him and putting his best friend in the position of being scared of what his parents might say or do... but as the spanking went on, he was forced to remember that he had gone in without thinking... again... and if things had gone wrong, he would have devastated all of the people here who cared about him and Harry... all of the people back at the tower who cared about them.
"I don't like doing this, Peter, but I will, every time, if it means you think before acting. Think before going into dangerous situations without adequate back-up. Think before putting your life in unnecessary danger. Because I can't lose you, kid. You're too important to me..." Bruce's voice caught as he thought about the possibility of losing his son.
Peter swallowed, feeling the tears beginning to trickle down his cheeks. While the spanking was painful enough, it was what his father was saying that hit more. "I'm sorry..." he whispered, unable to help squirming in response to the swats.
As soon as he saw Peter give in and accept the punishment, Bruce immediately stopped and pulled his son up and into his arms, holding him tight. "I can't lose you Peter. You are too important and I love you too much to take it."
Peter wrapped his arms around his father and clung on tight, trying to slow his tears. "I'm sorry..." he whispered.
"I know. You've been punished and we can put this behind us...you'll learn to think first and one day, your first inclination will be to get backup instead of going solo. A slight set back is understandable; you never had anyone else you could call for assistance before. Now you do. Just think about how much everyone cares about you and how devastated we'd be if you died and it will help you remember. I really don't want to have to go to Aunt May and tell her you're gone, anymore than I want to face you being gone myself. You need to try hard. Got it?" Bruce was calm and his words gentle, as serious as they were. He never let go of Peter the entire time he was talking.
Peter nodded. "I know..." He wiped at his eyes and took a deep breath. "I'll try to do better," he promised.
"I'm sure you will," Bruce acknowledged, squeezing just that small bit tighter before loosening his hold enough that Peter could pull away when he was ready; but still receive comfort for as long as he needed.
Peter stayed in the embrace for a little while longer, but then pulled back and carefully pulled his clothing back into place, not even wincing. It was a bit sore, but his healing factor was fast, so he doubted the pain would last much past a few hours.
Bruce carefully looked away, giving Peter some privacy, before asking, "Do you want to stay in here until Jemma and Leo come back?" He slanted his head questioningly. "We could just talk a bit..."
Peter nodded. "That would be nice," he admitted. He didn't get very many chances to be with his father on his own.
"Great..." Bruce smiled. "So...how's school going?" He started the conversation with what he figured was an easy topic. They had at least forty-five minutes just one on one, after all. And after the afternoon they'd had, easy seemed like a nice thing.
Pepper had quietly walked into her room. The way she couldn't look Steve in the face or even make excuses to her father showed how guilty she felt about what had happened.
Steve led his daughter over to the bed and sat down, gently tugging her down to sit next to him and wrapping an arm around her shoulders. "Do you have anything to add?"
"No, daddy...I screwed up. I know I should have told what I had discovered. At the very least, I should have told you what I wanted to do to confirm my suspicions. There is no good reason for my actions. The fact that...that Harry and Peter followed me...that..." Pepper began crying. "...That they could...could have been hurt or worse...I..." She slumped and couldn't continue, her tears preventing speech.
Steve wrapped his arms around his daughter immediately, drawing her in close, unable to do anything other than comfort her. "None of you were hurt seriously," he whispered to her. "Harry and Peter are both safe... so are you..."
Pepper held onto her father tightly, crying so hard, no sound escaped. All she could do was burrow close and let Steve hold her together, the fact that she'd been kidnapped again because of her own actions and the fact her son and nephew had put themselves in danger because of her bringing her down in a way no punishment ever could. She was filled with guilt.
Steve hugged his daughter close and tight, kissing the top of her head and stroking her hair. He murmured softly to her, reiterating that her son and nephew were safe... they hadn't been hurt.
"I'm so sorry, daddy..." Pepper whispered. "I don't know what came over me...I normally would never do something like that..." Pepper admitted in a tear choked voice.
Steve continued stroking her hair. "People make mistakes," he said gently. "I know you've been under a tremendous amount of pressure lately."
"My mistake could have led to me dying; but worse, to Harry and Peter dying. What kind of mother does that?" She sniffled, then shivered slightly.
"You didn't deliberately put them in danger," Steve pointed out. "You are responsible for your own actions... and Peter and Harry are responsible for their actions."
"I...I didn't act very responsible..." she admitted in an embarrassed and highly guilty tone. "I'm sorry for being so bad..." she finally ended in a whisper, ashamed at her actions and what had occurred because of them.
"You aren't bad." Steve kissed her head. "You made a mistake. We'll deal with it. You'll be punished and then it'll be over... and you'll be forgiven."
Pepper nodded, pressing against Steve and hugging him tightly before reluctantly pulling away. Standing up, she stood next to his knee then shoved her jeans down- leaving her panties in place, unable to take that extra step in making things easier for her father, no matter how guilty she felt. "I'm sorry, daddy..." she whispered.
"I know." Steve took her hand, squeezing gently, before tugging his daughter across his lap. He secured her with an arm wrapped around her waist and then pulled her underwear down before lifting his hand and bringing it down in the first sharp smack that he then repeated.
Pepper knew she deserved this. Was positive she deserved worse, but definitely knew she deserved this. Even expecting it didn't help her not to react when the first swat fell though. She let out a tiny squeak and jerked in place, despite her attempts to hold still and 'take what she had coming.'
Steve settled quickly into a rhythm of swats, going down to Pepper's thighs before starting from the top. It was as he was halfway through the second circuit that he began speaking. "I know you're intelligent enough to know what's dangerous and what isn't. This was dangerous... as much because you risked taking yourself away from us as anything else."
Pepper whimpered, but she didn't argue. She knew her father was right. It had been dangerous; and she was intelligent enough to know it was going to be dangerous before she even attempted it. If she hadn't realized it would be dangerous, she wouldn't have felt so guilty about the results. She squirmed uncomfortably, blinking back tears of contrition.
Finishing the second circuit, Steve began a third, going a bit harder and faster. "I love you," he said. "Losing you would devastate me... everyone here. And all our family back at the tower."
Pepper had wanted to be brave and accept what she knew she deserved without making things more difficult for her father. She had wanted to...but she felt so guilty about what she'd done that Steve's words, added onto what was actually a very painful admonishment (she never wanted to deserve a full strength spanking from Steve, that was certain!), made it impossible for her to keep her response inside. Shortly after he began the third, harder circuit, she'd begun squirming uncontrollably. Halfway through his words, she'd begun huffing her breaths in and out in an effort not to begin sobbing. By the time he'd finished speaking, she couldn't see for the tears. "I'm sorry, daddy! I'm sorry..." she choked out, before going limp and sobbing silently for the second time since entering the room.
Steve delivered two final swats and then stopped, gently tugging his daughter into his arms. He hugged her close and tight, stroking her hair and kissing the top of her head. "I love you," he repeated.
"I love you too..." Pepper snuggled as close as possible, hiding her head under his chin. She couldn't help but feel like a little girl in this situation; which wasn't a normal feeling for her. She was usually so much more in control. Maybe that was the problem, though. She'd been trying so hard to stay in control and mature and responsible when it came to the way the board was viewing her and relating to her, specifically Stanislav, that she forgot a key component of being an adult was knowing when to let people know you needed help...and accepting that help. She sniffled before leaning back to look up into Steve's face with teary eyes. "I...I shoulda let you all help me a long time ago..." she admitted softly, before slumping against her father again, her head on his shoulder. "It's hard to let go and not try and keep control over everything..."
"I know." Steve gently stroked her hair and back. "But we're all here to help you... if you'll let us. You don't have to do this alone," he promised. "You aren't alone... and you can lean on us when you need to. Any one of us."
"I know, daddy... I just..." She shivered slightly, sniffed again, then swallowed hard. "...Everyone...you...Tony...Bruce...you all have these amazing abilities or powers and all I have is being able to keep things running smoothly. It just felt like, if I had to ask for help with that...what good am I if I can't even handle a nasty board member? I don't have any other abilities..." Her voice was lost and forlorn. "...I'm not special like everyone else..." she whispered. "If I can't even do the one thing I am good at, then..." She gave a tiny shrug; then, suddenly embarrassed at how much she had admitted, she hopped off of Steve's lap and fixed her clothing, unable to look at him.
Steve reached out and wrapped his arms around Pepper, hugging her tightly. "You are special," he said, his voice filled with sincerity. "And there's still plenty you can do. Needing help doesn't mean you're a failure. Or that you can't do what you're used to doing."
Pepper sniffled again, turning and holding onto her father tightly. "I know that in my head...it's the rest of me that's having a hard time accepting it..." she admitted quietly. "I'm sorry...don't mean to be a baby about it..." she sighed softly.
"You aren't a baby," Steve replied reassuringly. "Everyone needs reassurance at times... and to push the boundaries. It isn't a problem," he promised.
Pepper nodded, willing to accept his words at face value. "Guess I should wash my face...get cleaned up and face everyone. Hafta admit it's nice just...you know...being held and cuddled..." she blushed faintly.
"We can just as easily sit here and talk... just spend some time together... until just before Jemma and Leo come back," Steve suggested.
"I'd like that..." Pepper smiled brightly at her father, snuggling close again.
Steve smiled and hugged his daughter close once more, enjoying the time he could spend with her.
About an hour later, Leo was holding the bags of food while he waited for Jemma to unlock the door to the suite. His stomach growled, but he ignored that as he spoke worriedly to Jemma. "Do you think they're all right now?"
"They're back safe with the family. I'm sure they're okay now." Jemma smiled as the door opened. She carried several bags of food in with her, leaving Leo to follow and close the door behind them. "Food's here!" she called out.
Soon, everyone had joined her and Leo, sat around the table, eating and enjoying each other's company.