Redeeming Grant

A New Home: Double Trouble

Title: Double Trouble

Disclaimer: We don't own anything belonging to MARVEL and we're not making any money from this fic

Summary: 50th in the Redeeming Grant series.

Authors: Hope1iz and BlackFox12

Warning(s): Spanking


Stephen hadn't realized how exhausted he was; even if he had gone to bed when he should have, it didn't correlate with how tired he was. He slept for three hours before stirring and when he opened his eyes, it was obvious that not only did he need more sleep, but that the sleep he'd got hadn't been all that restful. He hadn't been ill once since he'd become Sorcerer Supreme, but he wondered if maybe that streak of good health was about to run out.

Wong and Mordo were sitting quietly by the bed, talking. When Stephen woke, they both realised immediately and turned their full attention to him.

"I think you need to go back to sleep," Mordo said, his voice soft but still obviously worried.

"I...I think I'm hungry..." Stephen said, baffled, as he yawned and tried to focus. He rubbed at his eyes like a little boy, then rubbed his head with a faint grimace. "Prolly need to drink something too. Head hurts..."

Wong picked up the third tray of food that had been brought, moving closer to Stephen so he could help his brother to sit up.

Mordo frowned with concern and reached out to place his hand against Stephen's forehead, checking for a fever.

Stephen carefully sat up, though it was with some effort. He gave his brothers a very sheepish and chagrined look. "I supposed this is where I must admit that you were right, and I have overworked myself enough to become ill..." he said quietly, not wanting to admit any such thing, but knowing it was the truth and they needed to know.

"Rest, food and water are what's important right now," Mordo said, as Wong nodded his agreement. "You won't be working in the lab again until we are both certain you are fully recovered," he added.

Stephen grimaced. "They need my help..." His voice wasn't terribly confident, though. He was feeling keenly his lack of progress and was beginning to doubt they needed him at all...and the self-doubt was clear in his voice. At one point, he might have tried to prove to himself that they did need him, but the impending illness drained his will to fight his brothers' orders.

Wong rested his hand on Stephen's shoulder. "They need you to take care of yourself first," he said seriously.

"If I'm not able to help anyone, what good am I?" Stephen slumped.

"Plenty." Mordo squeezed Stephen's arm. "Having you around isn't due to how much help you are."

"Or how useful you might feel," Wong added.

Stephen looked up. "You mean that..." He swallowed hard. "I...I'm sorry...I should have listened to you..." he said, their support and belief in him causing the guilt he felt at disobeying flare up.

"It would have meant you didn't become ill," Mordo commented. He uncapped the bottle of water and gave it to Stephen.

"I'm less worried about that than the fact I upset you..." Stephen admitted quietly, before taking the water and drinking it obediently.

"And we worry more about your health and you looking after yourself," Mordo pointed out gently.

"I really messed up then, didn't I?" Stephen sighed softly, looking down, unable to meet his brothers' eyes.

"You put yourself at risk and that is not acceptable," Wong stated firmly. "It won't ever be acceptable."

"No, sir..." Stephen whispered, hunching in on himself. In public and with pretty much anyone else, he was egotistical, boisterous, proud and confident. Alone with his brothers, he couldn't help but let his uncertainties and insecurities show and he was anything but proud. Especially when he had disappointed them. It was obvious in his demeanor.

Mordo and Wong exchanged a glance and then Mordo reached out, gently squeezing Stephen's shoulder. "I know it's difficult for you to understand why we worry..."

"I..." Stephen looked up hesitantly and blinked. "...I think I understand. I would worry if either of you became ill. If it was your own actions that caused it, I would be upset. I understand..." He paused. "...It is just hard to remember. And until you, no one else really cared about me enough to...to say anything if they were worried. Or they were too afraid of my temper to say anything..." He grimaced at remembering who he had been before the accident had ruined his hands and changed his life so completely.

"Well, we both care enough to act and to stop you when you're on a self-destructive path," Wong stated.

"Even if the ways might not be comfortable or pleasant," Mordo said.

Stephen nodded before swallowing hard. "Wouldn't be much of a deterrent if it was pleasant..." he said, in an attempt to lighten the mood, although it was obvious he was nervous. "Are...are you really both going to...?" He paused, not able to finish the question. If they both decided to spank him, it would only be what he deserved. He'd deliberately ignored what he knew he should do, after all. It was just difficult to think he'd get two spankings instead of just one. Would they both occur in the same time-frame? Would one be today and the other tomorrow? Neither option was appealing to him, but he knew he had no right to protest. He'd asked for it when he'd disobeyed their wishes yet again.

"Yes," Mordo said. "Wong believes, and I agree, that it will be more of a deterrent if the correction comes from both of us. But before we consider dealing with this, you do need to eat something."

"I'll try..." Stephen agreed hesitantly; he wasn't certain he'd be able to eat much, considering how tired he was and the fact he just felt 'off'. Add to that his nerves about what he knew he had coming to him and his appetite was non-existent.

"It'll make you feel better," Mordo pointed out gently.

"I guess it will help my stomach..." Stephen said quietly. He didn't think anything would make his conscience feel better.

"Try and eat at least a little and then do your best to sleep," Wong requested. "We won't be discussing any consequences until you feel better."

Stephen couldn't help but slump and whimper a little at the news that the consequences of his disobedience would be hanging over his head for an undetermined amount of time, but he didn't argue. He'd already upset his brothers enough. He didn't want to upset them further, even if his appetite died even more at knowing he wouldn't be able to make things right immediately. As far as he could see, the only way things could be right again with his brothers was if he was punished. How could they forgive him otherwise?

Swallowing, he picked up one of the plates that had been delivered while he slept and took a timid bite out of the piece of toast. He waited to be certain it would stay down before continuing to slowly eat. He couldn't look up and face his brothers, though and the dejected set of his shoulders gave them more than enough proof that he regretted his actions.

Neither Mordo or Wong could fail to notice the dejected look their young charge carried. Mordo gently squeezed his shoulder. "Once you are recovered, we will take care of the consequences of your actions. But nothing has changed in how we feel about you," he promised his brother quietly.

"I...I know. I shouldn't worry so much. Everything just feels wrong and it's all my fault..." Stephen admitted sadly.

"You made a mistake," Wong said gently. "One that will be dealt with. That is all."

"Why do I keep repeating my mistakes?" Stephen ran his hands through his hair wearily, then rubbed his eyes. "I'm past the point of being able to claim I didn't know better." His voice caught. "I'm sorry..." Swallowing again, he took a bite of the eggs on his plate, then had to swallow hard and sit very still to make certain they stayed down, his nerves and impending illness making him suddenly queasy.

Mordo shuffled nearer to Stephen on the bed, reaching out to wrap his arm around his brother's shoulders. Wong did the same, both hoping their closeness would help their brother feel at least better enough emotionally to eat.

Stephen found himself relaxing considerably when his brothers moved closer to him. To his embarrassment, he couldn't stop himself from first leaning into Wong then leaning into Mordo and letting his head fall onto the other man's shoulder. He'd prided himself on being in full control of everything in his life and he felt so out of control lately that he just couldn't cope with it. He was Sorcerer Supreme...but he had never really wanted that title. He'd just wanted to learn enough to heal his hands...to be able to practice medicine again. Now he held more responsibility than he'd ever sought out even when he was top in his field. He missed the Ancient One; she knew what she was doing. If it weren't for Wong and Mordo, he would have screwed the whole world over by now.

Mordo gently stroked Stephen's hair, his voice soft as he said, "You don't have any responsibilities right now. All you need to worry about is obeying the directions your brothers give you and recovering your strength back."

"I'm not really good at obeying orders..." Stephen said, with a self-mocking sigh. Giving both men a chagrined look, he added, "Thank you for helping me not destroy the universe. I don't think I could do any of this without the two of you..."

"You will always have us," Wong promised. "And you will never cease to be a priority."

Mordo dropped his hand to Stephen's shoulder, squeezing gently. "Even if there might come another time I have to calm myself...it won't mean that anything has changed." He voiced his own promise.

"That is a relief..." Stephen said softly. "...Since I'm fairly certain I will test your patience again. I won't be able to help myself." His voice was teasing, for all that he believed it to be completely true.

"I am certain there are times you will." Mordo's smile was fond. "But it still will not change anything between us."

By this point, Stephen had managed to finish half the plate of food. Sighing softly, he put the fork down. "I can't eat anymore..." he admitted reluctantly. His appetite was normally better, but between guilt and what he suspected might be one of the worst colds he'd ever had (he likely shouldn't have spent so much time playing with the ill children if he didn't plan to take care of himself), he just wasn't hungry enough to eat as much as he usually would. And he knew it was noticeable.

Wong and Mordo exchanged a glance and then Wong said, "I will go and see if there is some medication that might help and then you should try to sleep a bit more."

"I'm the doctor... Shouldn't I be doing that?" Stephen smiled to show that he really wasn't arguing with Wong. He'd already upset his family with arguing once today. He didn't want to do so again by accident.

"You are," Mordo agreed, with a smile. "But while you're sick, it's time to let someone else take care of you."

"I...alright..." Stephen found himself agreeing without any hint of the irritation he might have felt even a few months before. He'd become use to his brothers taking care of him when he didn't need it. Now that he did, he couldn't find it in himself to fight.

Wong gently squeezed Stephen's shoulder and then stood, heading out of the room to find some medication for their charge.

Stephen leaned more firmly into Mordo and forced himself not to yawn. He needed to stay awake long enough to take the medicine Wong would bring. "I...I left my notes...I can't remember...Did Friday save them?" he suddenly asked in worry.

"I did indeed save them, doctor. If it is acceptable to you, I will forward them on to Doctor Banner, Doctor Cho and Healer Bryce..." the AI responded.

"There was something...I couldn't... it wasn't coming together for me, but I felt like there was something..." Stephen said fretfully.

Mordo wrapped his arm around his brother. "Don't force it. It'll come to you eventually."

Stephen sighed and slumped against Mordo despondently, his weariness catching up with him again. "Maybe Bruce or one of the others will see it in my notes...will be able to figure out what was bothering me..."

"Or it will come to you once you've recovered," Mordo replied, holding Stephen close, even as he looked up as Wong returned, carrying a bottle of medicine.

"It's the same medication the children had before they were aged down so far," Wong explained.

"I'll have to make certain I don't eat any of that pie then, won't I?" Stephen teased impishly, even as he let Wong measure out the needed dose for him and took it.

Wong just shook his head, a smile playing about his lips, as he took his seat on the bed close to his brother once more.

Stephen wiggled down into the bed again, smiling at his brothers. "Thanks..." he whispered, before his eyes closed and he fell asleep.


It wasn't long before the signing of the paperwork was finished and people began to filter away. Steve and Fury lingered behind to talk to Tony.

Tony had hugged Werner and Harry and sent them both off in the company of their mother, grandparents, great grandfather, great great grandfather, great great uncle, as well as their young cousin. He then turned to his own father and uncle. "So...I'm not in trouble?" he asked nervously.

"No." Steve wrapped his arms around Tony in a tight hug. "Your uncle told me how well you handled things going in after Werner. I am so proud of you, son."

"I am too," Fury added, lightly squeezing Tony's shoulder. "I can only apologise that I didn't get a chance to let you know earlier."

Tony blinked in surprise before an almost bashful, pleased look crossed his face. "I...wow. Two of the people I look up to most in the world are proud of me...I. Just... wow." He didn't seem to know what to say, though his smile was wide and bright enough to make it obvious that he was happy. "I like this feeling..." He chuckled. "I need to make you all proud more often..."

Steve kissed his cheek. "I'm proud of you a lot, Tony," he said softly. "I'm sorry if I don't tell you often enough."

Tony bit his lip, an almost hesitant look on his face. "Really? I mean...I mess up more often than I do things right...least it feels that way...I like making you happy, though; my family happy..." He glanced at his Uncle Nick, including him in the confession.

Steve tightened his embrace. "You don't mess up," he disagreed. "It took a long time before you were able to start seeing your worth. Before I came into the picture, you had years of bad habits to break."

Fury smiled at his nephew, his hand still resting on Tony's shoulder. "If you weren't in my life, it would be a lot darker," he said honestly.

Tony reached up and put his hand on Nick's, squeezing gently, even as he wrapped his other arm around his father and hugged tightly. "Well...I'm glad I'm doing better at not following my old bad habits, then. I'd much rather make you both proud than disappointed..."

"I'm proud of you a lot, son," Steve said, kissing Tony's forehead. "Along with how well you've handled the situation as a whole. Even if we did deal with a similar situation before, this time was unique enough that things could have been handled a lot worse."

"Well...all of us were affected. I just wanted to do my part not to make things worse..." Tony said with a blush.

"And you've done that very well," Steve commented. "You're doing everything right, son. You did everything right last night, even though I know how much stress you were under."

"Thanks, dad... Uncle Nick..." He turned to include Nick in his words. "I...I've had really good examples of how to do things. I'm just happy I was able to succeed..."

"And our family's grown and becoming stronger," Steve commented. "Moving here was the right decision."

Fury nodded. "It's cozier than at the tower, but I don't think anyone has a problem with that."

"I think everyone likes cozy better. I know I do..." Tony admitted.

"I do as well," Steve said honestly, nodding in agreement with his son.

"Robbie suggested a picnic and I think Kara jumped on that idea as well," Fury said. "I'm sure it wouldn't be a problem if more of the family wanted to join."

"Hmmm, maybe a bunch of small groupings. Together but not?" Tony smiled. "Give you some time to get the newest family acclimated."

"That sounds like a good idea," Steve agreed, though he suspected they might have to keep an eye on the young ones.

"Friday? Can you spread word around? Find out what everyone wants so we can ask the chefs to get everything together?" Tony requested.

"Of course, sir," was the quick reply.

Fury smiled. "Once Doctor Strange has recovered, we could perhaps have another picnic, especially if we hope to encourage him and his companions to stay."

Tony nodded. "He's...he's changed a lot. I don't think it would take much to convince them."

"Perhaps in much the same way you have," Steve commented. "He and the others didn't seem too surprised or shocked when Wade accidentally let slip how the family deals with things."

"Not too many were shocked or surprised, to be honest. Even those who had no clue before..." Tony grinned crookedly. "I thought for sure Maria would have been more surprised, but no...took it all in stride. Is that because she's SHIELD?" He grinned impishly at Nick.

Fury smiled at his nephew. "More than likely. I'm certain she must have suspected, considering how much your behaviour has changed."

"Yeah...I can see that." Tony smiled.

"Shall we go and join the others?" Steve asked. "Maybe we can watch a movie." He thought he might have to talk Bruce out of the labs.

"Yeah. I like that idea." Tony smiled again and made to move toward the common area and the rest of the family.

Steve hugged Tony and then let him and Fury go on ahead, while he headed towards the labs, intending to ask Bruce to take a break.

Bruce had been doing better than Stephen as far as stopping to rest and eat and relax; he had Peter to set a good example for, after all- so he'd only been in the lab a little over three hours when his father showed up. He was examining Stephen's notes with a strange look on his face.

Steve requested that Friday let Bruce know he was coming, just in case his son was handling anything delicate, and then entered the lab, noticing the look on Bruce's face. "Everything all right, son?"

"Didn't they say Stephen was operating under no sleep last night?" He sounded suspicious and incredulous. "Because...I think he found what we need to solve our problem..."

Steve immediately moved to his son's side. "Where?" He was careful to stay calm and not get his hopes up...just in case.

"See here? It's in between two things that make absolutely no sense at all- he must have been very tired- but this here. I think if we tweak it just a bit, it will not only stop the reaction that occurred, but may reverse it!" Bruce was hesitantly excited.

Steve looked immediately. "Do you want me to ask Friday to call the parents here now?" he asked, content to defer to his son's scientific expertise.

Bruce hesitated. "Not yet..." he finally decided. "I want to have Bryce and Helen look at it for a second opinion...and Stephen should be there too. So he knows that he helped..." Bruce smiled. "Until then, we spend time with our families."

Steve smiled and nodded. "We're planning on a picnic outside. In small family groupings, but also all together. Do you want to have them take a look before or after?"

"Oh...picnic most definitely first. Otherwise Stephen will be tempted to continue working instead of joining the family and while his brothers have it under control, may as well make it easier for them..." Bruce grinned crookedly. "Wanna go find the kids?" He gave Steve an impish grin.

"Of course." Steve wrapped his arm around his son's shoulders, hugging him close. "We were thinking of watching a movie first..." He began to lead Bruce out of the labs and towards the common area.


Kara was excited about the picnic. As soon as her father had mentioned it to his children, she'd begun running around chattering non-stop about the 'icnic' and showing 'ard' and 'oki' her favorite 'twee'.

"Should we be worried about this tree" Brock asked hesitantly when she was on one of her runs further across the room. He remembered her foray into climbing the outside of the stairs.

"It's a good height for her and I'll make sure she doesn't hurt herself," Fury said, suspecting that many of the other family members would also be keeping watch over the 'youngest'.

"Shoulda known you'd know her favorite tree already..." Brock grinned sheepishly. "The picnic won't be for another couple of hours. We watching movies too?"

"We can. Or we can play a couple of board games," Fury commented. "Do you have any preferences?"

"I think Kara might prefer board games." Trip smiled.

"I'm okay with that." Ward nodded.

Kara just clapped her hands in excitement.

"I'm good with board games," Robbie agreed, glancing towards Gabe for confirmation.

"Sounds good to me." Gabe smiled at everyone else. "Lady of the family chooses the game?" he teased lightly, giving the one and only sister of Fury's group a fond grin.

Kara grinned back. "Fishy," she chirped.

There were various nods of agreement and it didn't take them all long to have the game set up and to begin playing.


Wade was sprawled out on his brother's bed, mumbling to himself. Vanessa and Soni were in the family room watching a movie with numerous other family members and he didn't feel like watching it. He didn't feel like being alone either, though...so he'd followed Colossus in after breakfast and hadn't left. He figured if the other man wanted peace and quiet, he'd tell him to go.

"Is there something you would like us to do together, Wade?" Colossus let his attention focus completely on his brother, wondering if Wade was going to need him to step in today, but uncertain of how to ask that question and hoping his brother would let him know in some way.

Wade rolled over (he was lying on Colossus' bed) and stared up at the ceiling, wiggling a little bit. Wrinkling his nose thoughtfully, he got a perplexed look on his face. "I think...I think..." He paused, then grinned impishly. "Yeah. I don't feel that itch today. Kinda surprising, really. But it worked. I feel calmer than I have in a long time..." He didn't say what had worked, or why it had worked, assuming his brother would know exactly what he meant. "Now, though? Not sure what to do. I don't even feel like talking to my peeps that no one else can see..." He sighed melodramatically.

Colossus lumbered over and sat down on the bed next to his brother. "You have a lot on your mind, Wade. Have you perhaps considered looking at another outlet to allow you to release some of it?"

"You mean besides talking to my peeps or bothering you until you need to spank me?" Wade asked, in what was entirely too innocent a voice, considering how much of a pain in the butt he was most of the time.

Colossus squeezed his shoulder gently, always careful to hold back on his strength when it came to his brother. "You know I will do everything I can for you, Wade. But perhaps there are other ways, especially when those you talk to do not actively respond to you."

Wade wrinkled his nose. "Are you suggesting this because I make you uncomfortable when I talk to you about stuff? Or just because you're the only one I talk to about stuff and you can't always be with me?" He thought he knew the answer, but the part deep inside him that was very insecure (and he'd never admit it to anyone willingly) was afraid it was because he'd managed to drive Colossus away with his constant chatter about embarrassing topics. "I've been told I need a brain to mouth filter on more than one occasion," he added, with a sigh.

"I would like to be with you all the time, Wade, but it is not always possible," Colossus said. "I would never feel uncomfortable with you saying anything to me. Or wish that you would stop talking to me about what's on your mind. You are my brother and I would do everything within my power to help you."

Wade nodded. "Got it. So...you think I need to find some way to...to work things out when you can't be with me..." It said something about his trust in Colossus that he accepted what he said and didn't assume the other man was trying to pull away. He knew he was a handful, but he also knew Colossus was honest. If he said that Wade talking to him didn't bother him, Wade believed him. Still... "I don't like talking to anyone else..." he whined slightly. "You understand. No one else does..."

He didn't mention Vanessa or Soni. They might understand, but he couldn't see himself talking to Soni the way he talked to Colossus. As messed up as the kid was, she wasn't Wade's brand of messed up and he wasn't going to be the one to introduce her to his type of messed up. And Vanessa...well, he could talk to her, but he had a feeling that he'd never get to complete any conversations he started with her if they were about the things he talked to Colossus about. He couldn't help but think hormones would get in the way...

"And if you need to talk to me, you can," Colossus said. "If you need to call me, even in the middle of the night, I will make time for you. But as a temporary solution..." He considered. "Have you considered writing a blog?"

Wade blinked. "No. Never thought of it." His voice was blunt and honest, but he didn't sound adverse to the idea. "Why a blog...as opposed to, say, a journal or diary that no one else will ever see?" He was curious to hear his brother's reasoning.

"You address what cannot respond to you," Colossus pointed out. "A blog would allow people to respond to you. If that is what you want."

"Yeah...responses are nice..." Wade slanted his head. He didn't say that part of why he'd gravitated toward Colossus and admitted things to him that he'd never admitted to anyone else was because Colossus would respond without completely writing him off. "Maybe I could help someone else while helping myself. That'd be a good thing, right? Cuz you're always saying I should help people and that you know I'm good and all...so maybe I can maybe prove you right instead of wrong for once...at least a little bit..." If someone could shuffle their feet while lying on their back, Wade would have done it.

Colossus wrapped an arm around his brother so he could hug him. "You prove me right a lot of the time, Wade. You do not have to stick to writing the blog if you find it is not helpful."

"True..." Wade found himself snuggling like a puppy. "...And it might be fun. Especially if it shocks some people..." He grinned maniacally.

Colossus smiled. "Only you, Wade, would get that much enjoyment out of shocking people."

"I can't be the only one that finds that fun!" Wade protested goodnaturedly.

"I am certain you might be the only one out of those here." A slight teasing note slipped into Colossus' voice.

"Huh...you might be right..." Wade agreed. "...I think perhaps a few might be convinced it is fun if given the right topic, though..."

"I do not think I can easily use a computer, but I am still willing to help you with the blog if you wish," Colossus offered.

"That would be great..." Wade smiled. "It can give both sides of...whatever we're doing..." His hands waved haphazardly around. "I don't even know what to call it, honestly."

"Fulfilling your needs," Colossus suggested.

Wade wrinkled his nose. "Come on...you know what I meant, Big Guy..." He huffed in amusement. "Unless there isn't really a name to call it, in which case..."

"Does it need to have a name?" Colossus asked.

Wade blinked. "I guess not...just I'm gonna sound like an ass if every time I mention it I call it 'taking care of my needs'. Then again, I am an ass a lot of the time, so I guess that's not a biggie."

"What would you prefer to call it?" Colossus asked his brother.

"Dunno..." Wade shrugged. "...Guess maybe I can not call it anything and if anyone enters into the conversation and they call it something, we can see if it fits. Not like I'm easily labeled anyway..." He giggle-snorted.

"I would not even attempt to label you," Colossus stated seriously. "You are simply my brother Wade."

Wade stopped giggling, but the smile on his face was happy and content. "That's a label I don't mind having..." he said quietly, reaching over and affectionately punching Colossus on the arm.

Colossus simply wrapped his arms around his brother, hugging Wade close.

Wade snuggled for a few moments before somberly saying, "Thanks, man...for you know...being my family...helping me..." He glanced up. "...Taking care of me... Life would suck if I didn't have you in my corner..."

"It is a relief and makes me happy that you allow me in your family, Wade," Colossus said honestly.

Wade smiled again. "I love you, Big Guy..." he said, just as honestly and more seriously than he normally said anything. Allowing the moment to stay serious and poignant for a few more moments, his smile turned into an impish grin. "Wanna go get Soni and Nessa and see if they wanna watch that movie before the picnic? And maybe later, after the picnic, you can help me start that blog?"

Colossus' own smile was open and honest. "I would very much enjoy doing those things with you, brother," he said, his voice serious.

"Great..." Wade smiled again before rolling off the bed to his feet and making 'come on' motions with his hands. "Thanks again, bro..." he said softly, before heading out toward the family room.

Colossus was quick to move after his brother, walking as close to Wade as it was possible to. Even the wider corridors of the compound made it hard for them to walk side by side.

Wade, deciding he didn't want his brother to have to walk behind him and realizing the walls were too narrow for the larger man to fit beside him, let himself fall back long enough to get behind Colossus and then jumped up. "Piggy-back!" He laughed, behaving as immaturely as he often did, but amazingly enough keeping control over his language. He knew the toddler was somewhere around and even if she was only a toddler in body, he didn't want her father giving him dirty looks for talking like a dock-hand in front of her.

Colossus' smile could be heard in his voice. "You sound like one of the children, brother." He placed one hand on Wade's foot, holding his brother carefully in place so Wade wouldn't fall.

"I like the children!" Wade replied. He held tight to his brother as they met up with the others.

Vanessa couldn't help smiling as Colossus walked into the family room, Wade clinging onto his back like a baby monkey.

As Colossus moved over to Vanessa and Soni, Danny entered the room behind the giant. He was quick to walk over to his best friend, sitting next to him. "What are you playing?"

Ward smiled at his friend. "Princess Kara has decreed we will play Go Fish. What are you doing?" he asked curiously.

"I was looking for you," Danny replied honestly.

Ward's grin went crooked and sheepish. "Yeah?" He glanced away, then looked back again, his glance soft and embarrassed. "I guess I haven't really been spending a lot of time with you lately. Is everything alright?"

"I wanted to check in with you." Danny didn't touch Ward, not sure how his friend would take it, but he leaned in close enough that the decision for any physical contact was up to his friend. "Are you doing okay?" he asked softly.

Ward slanted his head and reached over, rubbing Danny's shoulder. "Yeah...I'm great! How could I not be?" He grinned, glancing toward his new family before giving Danny a worried look. "You don't need to worry about me...you know that, right?" For a long time, he'd not talked to Danny about what his father had been like; what he had done to Ward. When he finally did talk, he'd kept the details as scarce as possible and still be able to let Danny see what he'd gone through. He wondered now if that was a mistake. If he shouldn't have given more detail- or less- so that Danny wouldn't be imagining things that weren't true but were horrific all the same. Having had a few hallucinations when he was withdrawing from the prescription drugs, he knew imagination could often be worse than reality. Although...he was discovering that wasn't as true as he'd originally thought. Clearing his throat, he motioned toward the rest of his family. "If you aren't doing things with your mom and sisters, you could play cards with us..." He left unsaid that they could talk while playing cards. That he could answer questions if Danny had them.

Danny nodded and smiled at his friend, even though there was still a hint of concern on his face. "Yeah, that would be good," he agreed. "Mom, Skye and Hope went to the pool with Gran'ma..." His smile grew a little at being able to claim so many family relationships. All he needed was to know his best friend was thriving.

"How's it feel to be the only male in a family of women?" He grinned as he pulled a chair for Danny and made sure he was included in the deal.

Danny shifted his chair closer to Ward's. "Everyone's here family, so it's not like I'm the only guy full stop."

Fury smiled at Danny as his nephew joined in with the game. "Besides, yours isn't the only smaller family unit with an unequal amount of genders," he commented, considering he only had one daughter.

"True..." Ward smiled and reached over to ruffle his kid sister's hair. "I imagine having siblings is taking some getting used to."

"Not really...I always thought of you as my brother," Danny said, openly and without hesitation. He didn't say that it had been a while before Ward felt the same. At the time, it had hurt that he was always being pushed away. It was easier to understand after Ward had confided in him.

"Yeah...you were always accepting like that..." Ward's smile was a bit regretful when he remembered how difficult he'd made things for the younger man.

"I'm just glad you eventually believed in me," Danny replied.

"Sounds like there's a bit of history there." Robbie smiled at his brother and cousin.

"Yeah...Danny and I have known each other almost from the day he was born. At least when were both still children..." Ward's smile was crooked. "I wasn't a terribly good friend to him, though. Too jealous..." He snorted softly and glanced away from Danny and his siblings. He couldn't stop his gaze from falling onto Nick though. Fury would know the why's of it all, since Ward had confessed so much to him.

Danny gently nudged shoulders with Ward. He didn't say he understood why now. He didn't say anything, really. But he tried to catch Ward's eye and smile at him.

Fury did understand the story behind Ward's comment, but he didn't put voice to that. Instead, he said, "Most people carry things they're ashamed of with them."

Ward nodded at Fury's words before glancing back at Danny and smiling again. "Some more than others." He sighed, but didn't elaborate. He let himself slump slightly, relaxing and showing to everyone how at ease he felt with the family. He'd never been that relaxed around his biological father.

"You have anything you want to share?" Robbie's voice was light, almost conversational...but the question was still meant seriously.

Ward glanced around at his family, his gaze falling on Kara. "Maybe when Kar-bear's back to her normal self. I don't want her to be scared of me..."

Kara had an entirely too serious and mature look in her eyes when she leaned over and patted Ward on the face. "No scawed of 'ew. Nevew scawed of 'ew!"

Ward blushed when he found himself blinking back tears.

Fury gently squeezed his shoulder. "She's only a child in body and what she says. Not emotionally." He didn't press his son to share, though, knowing Ward would if he felt comfortable enough to do so.

"I guess most of you have guessed that Harold Meechum was not a good man..." He quietly began to explain what he'd gone through and done the last several years. If something from his past came back to haunt them, he wanted them forewarned.

Even though he already knew everything, Fury listened without interrupting. Danny sidled nearer to his best friend, pressing his arm against Ward's in silent encouragement.

"So...yeah. Anyway. I...I don't think he'll be coming back since we made certain to cremate him this time, but whatever it was that brought him back is still out there and for-warned is for-armed and all..." Ward ended on a hesitant and almost embarrassed note. He hadn't meant to explain everything as deeply as he had and now he felt open, raw and vulnerable.

Kara just reached out to her brother, waiting for her father to transfer her into Ward's arms for a hug.

"That's just creepy, man..." Brock couldn't help but mutter. "You handled it a hell of a lot better than I would have..." he added, so that Ward would realize that Brock supported him fully and didn't view him badly because of what he'd done to survive.

Fury didn't hesitate to settle his daughter on Ward's lap, taking a moment to gently squeeze his son's knee. "Don't feel badly about sharing this with us," he said quietly.

"With everyone here who's familiar with technology, if it does happen again, we should be among the first to know," Danny commented, still pressed against Ward's side.

Kara wrapped her arms around Ward tightly, grinning when he automatically tightened his own arms around her and kissed the top of her head.

Trip nodded. "We'll make sure that Veronica knows to keep things like that under watch. If anything weird happens, she can warn us."

Robbie smiled at Ward. "I have the feeling we can compare notes on how weird our lives were before we came here," he commented.

"We probably aren't the only ones, either..." Ward smiled back. "So...let's get this game of fishy under way!"

"Fishy!" Kara agreed.

Before long, the game was fully underway. Danny still kept his chair close to Ward's, but was relaxed more now that he knew his friend was happy and comfortable.


Stephen wasn't sure when it had been arranged, although he suspected why, but the picnic had been postponed one day, with everyone planning to go on their outing at lunch. The end result was that he'd slept through the entire day and following night, only waking up long enough to eat whatever Mordo or Wong decided he needed to eat and take whatever medicine they spoon fed him. The rest had done wonders for him, his body's natural ability to heal working quickly with the imposed stillness. He felt better than he had in what felt like weeks (which only underscored his brothers' concerns of him overworking being correct).

Looking at the bedside clock, he knew that he had an hour to get ready before breakfast began. Swallowing, he glanced toward his sleeping brothers. They were finally resting after caring for him through the day and night and he hated to wake them. "Veronica, if Mordo or Wong awaken, please let them know I am taking a shower and will return to this room as soon as I finish?" he whispered, not wanting to wake them, but not wanting them to worry or assume the worst when they awoke. In the past, he may have snuck back to work as soon as he felt better and they knew that; but after how upset he had made them yesterday, he had no intentions of returning to work until they had personally cleared him.

"Of course, Doctor Strange," the AI responded immediately, leaving unsaid that she would let his brothers know if Stephen didn't come straight back to the room and attempted to return to the lab.

He hadn't taken long at all to clean up, although he did stand under the water for a few moments longer than necessary just because it felt good. He had quickly dried and dressed and walked back to the room barefoot, planning to find a comb so he could tame his hair, which had grown a lot longer than he had realized and was a riot of unruly waves.

"Why is it that men always have such gorgeous hair without having to do anything to achieve it? It's so unfair!" came a whine, then a sigh, from behind and to the left of him. He turned and saw Raina standing there with an impish gleam in her eyes. "Maybe that's what I should have done my experiment on; how to get naturally wavy or curly hair without having to use chemicals or a curling iron." Her smile turned less impish and more curiously friendly. "You going to be at breakfast today?

"I believe so..." Stephen paused. "I need to return to my brothers and make certain, though..."

"Got you grounded, do they? They must really care about you. Dad only grounds me when I've worried him senseless..." She smiled again.

Stephen snorted faintly. "That's one way of putting it. I don't want them to worry, though. I will see you later?"

"If I'm allowed into the labs with you, you will. Or if you're allowed into the labs. Or...if we're both forbidden to go into the labs, we may see each other outside the labs doing something else..." Raina's grin turned impish again.

Stephen smiled again and nodded. "Till then..." he said, before turning and walking back to the room where his brothers waited. He couldn't help but wonder if Raina's personality was normally one to make people wonder what mischief she was up to, or if that was just a result of the deaging. Maybe he should ask the parents if their children's personalities changed or amplified at all. Or maybe Bruce had already done so. He should ask Bruce first... He was so busy pondering the new questions that he looked like his mind was a million miles away when he reentered the room; and forgot entirely that he needed to comb out his wet hair before it dried the way it was.

Both Mordo and Wong were awake, but Veronica had informed them that their brother was only showering and intended to return, so neither were worried. They both turned as Stephen walked into the room.

"What's on your mind?" Wong asked.

"Are you going to let your hair dry like that?" was Mordo's gently teasing question.

Stephen blinked, and ran a hand through his still damp hair, causing it to stick up like a porcupine. "Oh...I was going to find a comb..." he said, with a slight blush at having gotten distracted enough to forget that fact. "I was wondering if Raina Coulson was always as...mischievous as she currently seems. Or if that is a result of the deaging. I was thinking it might be good to find out from the parents if personalities have changed or become more pronounced...but then I was thinking perhaps Bruce already has that information and it would be better to ask him first..." Stephen spun around in a distracted circle as he tried to figure out where he might find a comb. "She wondered if I would see her in a lab later; if neither of us was grounded from working in them, that is..." He didn't sound overly worried that he would be, but whether that was because he didn't care if he was or if it was because he didn't actually believe he would be, wasn't clear.

Mordo's look was fond as he stood up and retrieved his own comb, bringing it over to his brother. "Here, Stephen." He glanced at Wong and the two of them exchanged a nod before he added, "You won't be working in the lab for the rest of the day. We want to make sure you're completely recovered before you return to work."

"Oh!" Stephen blinked before smiling bashfully. "I didn't mean today. I didn't think you would want me to work for at least another day...and I get the idea that she isn't meant to be working right now either. Even though she didn't say anything." He took the offered comb with a thankful smile and began to comb his hair. "If I let this go much longer, I'll need to start tying it back..." he remarked.

"Do you want to let it go?" Wong asked. "Or would you rather make an appointment to get it cut?"

Stephen slanted his head thoughtfully. "I don't know..." He shrugged. "I suppose I should cut it before I start to resemble Gandalf." His smile was impish. "Maybe one of the others could cut it and I won't need to get an appointment anywhere..."

Mordo smiled. "You can always ask." He gently squeezed his brother's shoulder.

"I will at the picnic, then," Stephen agreed, as he finished his grooming and carefully handed the comb back to his brother. Biting his lip, he gave first Wong then Mordo a hesitant look. "I...I feel much better than I did. You were right...I was overworking myself. I should have heeded your counsel..."

"We don't tell you to do things, or not to do them, as a form of control, but for your own good," Wong said seriously.

"I...I know...in my head anyway. It's hard not to fight, though; to not be in control of everything myself. Even though I know you only tell me when you see I'm endangering myself, it still is hard not to fight when it feels like I'm losing control over myself to someone else..." Stephen swallowed after making the admittance. He wasn't proud of fighting his brothers when he knew they only stepped in when they were worried (and for good reason). He didn't know if his reluctance to let them take charge in those situations was due to pride or some other issue of giving up power, but he didn't like that he ignored good advice, or that he made it necessary for them to step in and take control because of his lack of self-protection.

"We understand it's hard," Mordo said gently. "And that you can't always set and adjust the limits yourself. That's why, I'm afraid, you are going to get a spanking. You chose to disobey us. You acted in a way you knew wasn't acceptable and wouldn't ever be acceptable."

Stephen swallowed hard and nodded, his gaze falling toward the ground. "I understand..." he whispered, his reluctance to accept what he knew was going to happen clear. He didn't argue, though. He might be reluctant to accept it, but he had accepted it and in fact just wanted to get it out of the way so that things could be right again. "...When?" he finally asked, his gaze darting up briefly to look in Mordo and Wong's eyes.

"There's little point in postponing it any longer," Wong said, standing and walking over to the two of them.

Stephen looked up again, his eyes nervous. He'd remembered that they both planned to address his behavior, since he'd disrespected both of them. He was afraid that meant twice the punishment. He wasn't terribly good at being brave or even remotely stoic when being punished under the best of circumstances. He was positive if he had two punishments to accept, he'd embarrass himself utterly. "H...how?" He finally put voice to his worry.

Mordo gently squeezed his shoulder. "You won't be getting two separate spankings." He used his grip on his brother to guide Stephen towards two chairs that had already been set facing each other.

Wong followed silently.

Stephen relaxed slightly at the words, following his brother's direction without protest. He couldn't help the confused expression on his face as he saw the way the chairs were sat, however.

Mordo gave his brother's arm a gentle, reassuring squeeze as Wong sat on one of the chairs. Mordo sat on the other, gently tugging Stephen forward so he would lay down across both of their laps.

Stephen whimpered softly, swallowing the protest he wanted to make. It was hard enough going over his brothers' knees when they were separate. Feeling both of them under him, supporting him, holding him in place...many conflicting sensations assaulted him: lack of control, shame, nervousness and uncertainty; but the most prevalent sensation was that of being protected. The way they had sat themselves he was in no danger of falling or getting away, no matter how much he might squirm. And he had to admit it was fitting. He'd disobeyed both of them. He'd worried both of them. He'd shown disrespect to both of them. That they were being merciful and only punishing him once proved their care for him; but by punishing him together, they made it clear that they were in agreement about his actions and the consequences and both of them would handle him when necessary- the burden would not only fall to Mordo. So he swallowed his protest, but he did let out a tiny, shamed, "I'm sorry..."

"We know." Wong answered for both of them, resting his hand gently on Stephen's lower back and rubbing gently. It was Wong who, this time, saw to the lowering of Stephen's pants and then his underwear, but it was both of them who raised their hands and both of them who began swatting.

Stephen was mortified when, instead of being able to handle the discipline like the adult he was, yelped so loudly it could likely be heard outside of the room and then began to squirm frantically, even if there was nowhere for him to squirm to where his brothers' unerring aim couldn't reach. If he'd thought being spanked by one of his brothers was difficult, it was nothing compared to when the two of them spanked in tandem. It wasn't as if his brothers ever spanked him in predictable patterns or time...but because there was two of them, sometimes one swat came immediately after another, sometimes two swats occurred at the same exact time in two different locations, sometimes they both seemed to feel a pause was in order and no swat occurred at all, giving his poor backside enough time for the sting and tenderness to register before they'd begin again (and he never understood how even a second's reprieve made the swatting hurt that much more noticeably, but it did). He didn't want to argue with them or protest and he certainly didn't want to beg for the punishment to stop this soon after it had begun. But the only way to prevent himself from doing exactly that was to bite his lip and hold his breath while squeezing his eyes tightly shut. So that's what he did.

Both Mordo and Wong noticed when Stephen began to hold his breath. Without speaking, they stopped the spanking and Mordo leaned forward, close to their brother's ear. "Don't hold back," he whispered to Stephen.

"You are not in control and you should stop trying to wrest that control from us," Wong stated.

Stephen whimpered again at the idea that they thought he was fighting them on this. He wasn't trying to fight them. He was trying not to fight them. He tried to tell them that, but to do so, he had to let the breath he was holding out; he didn't release it in a gentle sigh or even a harsh huff...it came out in a pain filled whine that made him sound all of five-years old and when he spoke, it was in the broken tones of someone seconds away from sobbing. "I...I'm no...not trying to t..take control! I'm trying not to fight..." he choked out, as tears began to slide down his face.

Mordo gently ran his fingers through Stephen's hair. "You are forcing yourself not to react. You will make yourself sick," he said, the worry in his voice obvious.

Stephen found himself relaxing slightly at the gentle caress. "I... if I let myself react, I'll fight..." he admitted, shame coating his voice.

"Do you think we are unable to keep you from hurting yourself or us?" Wong asked, his hand gently rubbing Stephen's back.

"N... no..." Stephen blinked out more tears, his voice sounding hesitant and confused. "I know you can do that..." he admitted. "I just didn't want to be bad...make things worse..." he whispered.

"You wouldn't make things worse," Mordo said firmly. "And reacting doesn't make you bad." He continued to gently stroke his brother's hair.

Stephen took a quivering breath, then let it out slowly and slumped slightly, accepting what he was being told. "Ok..." He cleared his throat and ran a hand quickly over his eyes to remove the tears that were still falling.

Wong gently stroked his hair. "Don't worry about forcing that control even over yourself." His hand lingered on his brother's head for a moment and then both he and Mordo began to spank Stephen once more.

Stephen had allowed himself to relax with the gentle stroking of his hair. He hadn't been prepared for the spanking to start again in earnest and the pained yelp he let out when his brothers began again made the first loud yelp when they'd begun the punishment seem like normal room voice. There was no way that the rest of the family wouldn't know what was occurring. Stephen found he didn't care. He couldn't think about that when the pain had reignited, his backside heating quickly like it was in an inferno. He didn't hold his breath this time; he whimpered, whined and quickly began to let out various loud sounds of distress, even as he wriggled and writhed in an attempt to move his bottom out of the way of the punishing swats. He even threw his hands back in an attempt to block the stinging swats.

Mordo and Wong didn't stop or even pause, instead moving Stephen's hands out of the way and continuing to spank. The position of the chairs meant they could keep more control, too, and stop him from throwing himself out of swatting range.

It didn't take much longer before Stephen was kicking his legs out in an effort to ease the sting and began to make frantic promises of future obedience and cooperation if only they'd stop. "Please! No more...I'll be good!" He sobbed softly, all his efforts to wriggle and squirm having tired him enough that his voice wasn't loud enough for anyone but his brothers to hear. He was wearing himself down.

"Working yourself to the bone might have been acceptable in your old life, Stephen, but it is not anymore," Mordo stated. "We love you."

"And hurting yourself will get you spanked every time," Wong added.

"I understand! I'll listen and t... take care of myself. I love you too..." Stephen kicked and wriggled one last time before he just gave up, going limp and sobbing softly. The feeling of his brothers' laps underneath him, supporting him, gave him comfort and he found himself pressing his face against their legs in apology for his actions. "I'm sorry..." He whimpered.

The spanking came to a stop and Mordo and Wong didn't waste any time in helping their brother up so they could hug and comfort him.

Stephen whimpered again, the sting still lingering. He quickly pressed close to both of his brothers, wanting to be held.

The two only shifted enough so they could both wrap their arms around Stephen, hugging him close. Just as Mordo and Wong had both punished their brother, now they both comforted him.

Stephen shivered slightly, snuggling close. He finally managed to stop crying, but he didn't pull away, although he did pause long enough to pull his pants up with a hiss.

Mordo and Wong tightened their arms around Stephen, hugging him close once more as soon as he was comfortably dressed.

Stephen just nuzzled into his brothers and soaked up their affection like a plant drinking up rain. He was relieved it was all over, but he couldn't deny that he felt lighter and more like himself now that his guilt had been addressed. "Is that how I am to be handled from now on?" he asked curiously. After all, most of his transgressions were against both of his brothers.

"It seems fitting that, when you disobey both of us, it is both of us who respond," Wong commented.

Stephen nodded, making a murmuring agreement since he was still snuggled up against both men and they might not see the movement. "It...it hurt worse..." he admitted hesitantly, the 'but' obvious even if it was unsaid.

"But...?" Mordo prompted gently.

"...It still felt right..." Stephen admitted with a blush. "...It would have felt unfinished if you both hadn't punished me..." He looked toward the ground and ran a hand through his still damp, if mostly dry, hair.

Wong gently squeezed his shoulder. "It is finished now," he stated. "You are forgiven."

Stephen felt a tenseness he didn't even realize he was holding drain from him and he looked up again, a bashful smile on his face. "Thank you..." he whispered. He wasn't sure what to do. He wasn't the cuddly type. He definitely wasn't the submissive or even reserved type that would hang back and just do what he was told. When being punished, he tended to wrestle for control, even when it was control over himself and his response (although he'd been spanked enough times to know that the punishment was never concluded until he had given up that control and admitted that - at least in matters pertaining to his health and how he took care of himself- Mordo and Wong were in charge). Something about having both of them handle him at the same time had confused him enough that all he wanted to do was be held by at least one of his brothers and cuddle. And try as he might, he felt completely adrift, unable to regain control over his emotions, let alone make decisions for himself like he normally would. It was a bit frightening, to be honest, his inability to think clearly enough to take charge of himself. If he didn't trust Mordo and Wong so deeply, he'd be acting out in an attempt to be in charge and normalize things.

Mordo threaded his fingers through Stephen's hair, attempting to read his brother's expression. "Why don't the three of us sit on the bed for a bit?" He didn't actually say the words 'and cuddle', but the implication was there.

Stephen nodded quickly. "Okay..." he responded quietly, relaxing a bit further when he realized he had a bit more time before he had to 'be on', as it were.

Wong and Mordo gently led him over to the bed, situating the three of them comfortably.

Stephen relaxed a little more as he sat, finding himself between his two brothers. "I...I don't know how to deal with not being in control..." he admitted. "...Part of why I came to learn after my accident was because it had left me helpless and out of control and I didn't like it. At least this...being accountable to you...isn't as scary as then."

Both held onto Stephen, one on either side of him. Mordo gently stroked his hair. "Being in control all the time isn't necessarily good for you. You overwork yourself. You might be aware of your limits, but you don't respect them."

Wong gently squeezed his shoulder. "You don't always know what's good for you."

Stephen let out a tiny, chagrined snort. "I can't say you're wrong," he admitted, with a hint of self-recrimination. "Either of you..."

"It's about taking care of you more than taking control of you," Mordo said.

"I don't make a very good patient...I don't really make a very good anything when it comes to taking care of myself..." Stephen wrinkled his nose. "...Having you take care of me is probably a good idea...although I really don't see how you'd be able to without taking control of me, at least in that. I don't really listen that well. I know this. Anyone who's known me for any length of time knows this. Ask Tony. He'd say I'm too arrogant to listen." He sighed and conveniently ignored the fact that both he and Tony had changed a great deal since their days of disliking each other on sight. He didn't think Tony was as arrogant as he used to think him and Tony likely didn't view him the same either.

"When we told you that you were wanted here, you didn't think Tony would want you here; and yet both of you have got on well since you've come here," Wong pointed out.

"It seems you've both changed," Mordo commented.

"Maybe a little..." Stephen agreed hesitantly. "...I still find it difficult to listen when it comes to taking care of myself, though..." He sighed.

Mordo squeezed Stephen against his side. "It's something to work on. Even if it takes a long time for you to learn how to take care of yourself, we won't give up on you," he promised.

Stephen smiled at that, letting himself lean against the other man. "I believe that..." he finally said. They sat in companionable silence for a short while before Stephen shifted. "My butt's still sore..." He snorted again. "...I better make damn sure I don't do anything to get into trouble with either of you again, any time soon..." His grin was infectious.

Wong gave a soft snort. "We know you too well to believe that, but you are still our brother and nothing will change how we feel about you," he promised.

Stephen winced. "Yeah. Can't even argue that you're wrong. Knowing me, I'll be face down over both your laps again within two weeks if not less..." His tone was resigned. "Thanks for not giving up on me..." he added softly.

"We won't," Mordo promised. Looking around the room, he added, "Maybe it would be worth staying here, with a family that has ways of dealing with things the same as we do. It isn't like we can't open portals to go back and forth when it's needed."

"So you have help keeping me in check?" Stephen grinned crookedly. "It's not a bad idea, really. I can easily travel to the various Sanctums via portal when needed. And it will be less tiring for both of you if you have help keeping me 'honest' with my work hours..."

"We don't need 'help' with you, Stephen," Wong said seriously.

"But this is a good place for family," Mordo said. "If you feel comfortable staying, we can discuss it with the other family members at the picnic."

"I..I think I can be comfortable here as long as I'm able to travel to the other places," Stephen hesitantly agreed. It would be a lot easier to hide if he overworked or did things his brothers wouldn't like if he wasn't surrounded by family. And he thought, maybe he shouldn't be in a position where hiding things was easy. He had done too much of that.

"If we can open a portal for you or us to use, it might be that there are other people here who find a portal helpful," Mordo said.

Stephen thought about that. "Yeah. You're right. There probably are several members of the family that would find it useful... That could be brought up at the picnic as well..."

Wong wrapped his arm around Stephen's shoulders. "When you're ready, we can start heading outside," he commented.

"If my eyes aren't too red and my face too blotchy, I'm ready now..." Stephen sniffled faintly and wiped his hand over his eyes one last time to remove any trace of the fact he'd been sobbing not too long before.

"You could always wash your face," Mordo suggested.

"It's obvious I was crying?" Stephen sighed. "In that case, I will wash my face. Should I meet you back here or in the hallway?"

"We can meet in the hallway," Wong said, squeezing his brother's shoulders once more before releasing him so he could get up.

Mordo hugged Stephen a moment more before also letting go.

Stephen clasped his hand to Wong's, then held tightly onto Mordo for a moment before carefully standing up and heading out to wash his face.

Mordo and Wong headed out of the bedroom so they could meet their brother out in the hallway.


Kara stuck close to her father once they left the building and were outside. She wished she could tell him what she was thinking and feeling. She didn't understand why she couldn't. What about her deaging had caused her to not be able to speak? It was worse when the trickle of memories started to come in. Usually, if she started remembering parts of her past that she hadn't previously remembered, she'd share it with her father. If they were happy memories, he'd be happy with and for her. If they were sad memories, he'd comfort her and remind her that she wasn't alone. Luckily, most of the memories she'd recalled were from her original childhood and they'd been happy memories for the most part. She did get some small explanation for why she couldn't talk; or at least she'd remembered that she'd had the exact same problem when she was originally a child and she'd had to undergo speech therapy for several years to overcome the difficulty. She hadn't remembered why she had the difficulty. Not that it would have mattered if she did remember, since she couldn't tell her father. She wriggled a little bit in his arms, testing his grip on her, and wrapped her arms more tightly around his neck, almost in a strangle-hold.

Fury merely tightened his hold on his daughter, gently stroking her hair. "Why don't we work on some of that sign language after we've eaten?" he suggested to her, knowing she could understand him, even if she couldn't verbally respond.

Kara grinned at her father and eagerly nodded. It had been a big help to her emotionally when the fact that she could use sign language to talk had been pointed out to everyone and they'd started teaching it to her. She may not have been able to convey big thoughts and ideas, but at least she could tell her father about the everyday small things... or the things that were necessary; such as when she needed to go to the bathroom. While her father still kept her in a pull-up 'just in case', he hadn't needed to clean her up and change her so frequently since she'd learned the word for toilet, since she'd had fewer accidents. The few accidents she did have were a result of her attention being so focused on a specific thing that she didn't even realize she needed to go until it was too late.

That was really embarrassing to her adult mind. She couldn't seem to help herself, though. She found herself falling into childish patterns of behavior more and more often, the longer she was a toddler. She wanted to believe that she was still thinking like an adult, but the longer she remained a child, the more child-like her behavior and thinking seemed to become. It was almost as if something was trying to correct itself so body, mind and soul matched. She was afraid if she stayed a little girl much longer, that's exactly what she would become and growing up again wouldn't be an option. That fear only occurred when she was fully in her adult mind, however; and lately, being in her adult mind was the rarer occurrence. If she learned enough words to tell her father that, she'd admit it to him.

Fury gently stroked her hair. "I know you want to show your brothers and cousins your tree. Would you like to do that before the picnic?" It was hard, but he kept his tone light and free of worry, not wanting his daughter to pick up on how concerned he was due to her inability to talk. All he could really do was keep talking to her like she was an adult and hope she wouldn't be too traumatised when (not if, when) they found a cure.

Kara nodded again, even more eagerly, to the point where she would have been in danger of throwing herself out of his arms if he hadn't had such a strong grip on her. "Es! Twee!"

Trip swallowed and gave his little sister a big smile, somehow managing to hide his own worry. "So... which direction, Kar-bear? Point the way and I'll lead!" He grinned when she immediately pointed straight at a sturdy oak on the edges of the woods; a tree perfect for climbing, for a tire swing, or even for a tree-house.

Robbie grinned at his little sister. "You know, there are plenty of us here who I'm sure could build a tree house. Or a swing," he suggested, having taken note of the uses. Even when everyone was at their usual ages, he figured it would still be fun to add something.

Kara's eyes widened in excitement and she squealed, clapping her hands and then throwing herself towards Robbie with the intention of hugging him, trusting that her father wouldn't let her fall and that her brother would catch her.

Fury shifted his weight immediately, transferring Kara to Robbie, who wrapped his arms securely around his sister.

"Obbie sween!" Kara chirped happily, completely forgetting what she'd been thinking on before they'd come outside and letting her child-side free.

Brock grinned crookedly. "I guess I know what we'll be doing the next few days..." he said in amusement.

"Should I hunt up some blueprints?" Ward asked with his own smile.

Robbie gave his brothers a quick grin. "Probably. I mean, I can't do it alone, so..." He shrugged, his grin turning sheepish. "I guess I roped you all into it with me. Sorry."

"Don't be silly...we want to be roped in..." Trip grinned. "I always wanted a tree house..." he said, in an off-hand manner.

Fury raised his eyebrows. "Well, there are plenty of trees. We don't have to limit ourselves to just one," he commented.

"We could make a tree mansion..." Ward teased impishly, as he took note of another group of trees close enough together that they could form the pillars for a larger 'house'.

Fury followed the direction of Ward's gaze and nodded, clasping his son's shoulder. "That would be a good idea. And family members can still make use of it even when they're back to their usual ages." And, of course, they had children who were going to be living there, or at least visiting, in any case.

Brock chuckled. "Admit it, dad...you want to sleep in the tree-house too!"

"I have to admit, it would be fun," Fury did admit.

"What would be fun, Uncle Nick?" Grant had been walking by, going toward where his father and siblings were setting up their own picnic lunch when he'd overheard his uncle. "And why are all of you looking at those trees like that?" He blinked and stared toward the group of Oaks his uncle and all his cousins seemed to be staring at.

Fury smiled at his nephew. "We were just talking about building tree houses. Or even mansions."

Grant's eyes widened, and he looked excited at the idea. "Really? Can I help?" he asked animatedly. He'd been having more difficulty keeping himself from acting like a fifteen-year-old, but at the idea of a tree house, he acted even younger still.

"I don't see why not," Fury replied.

"I think we'll need a lot of help if we want to build a mansion-sized tree house," Robbie added.

Grant's eyes widened even further if that was possible. "Really?!" He literally jumped in place, causing Kara to giggle.

It caught his sisters' attention and Bobbi wandered over, Raina in tow. "What's got you so excited?" she asked, with a hint of amusement in her tone.

"Tree mansions!" Grant waved his hands excitedly.

"Do you want to help?" Robbie grinned at Bobbi and Raina. "We can make it a lot bigger if more of us are involved."

Raina's smile was small, but extremely pleased. "I'd love to help..." she said quietly.

"Me too!" Bobbi's grin was almost as big as Grant's.

"Great! We can start making plans after the picnic," Robbi suggested.

"You wanna invite everyone else too?" Trip asked curiously, thinking that if Grant, Bobbi and Raina were interested, then Matt, Jessica, Skye and all the other deaged kids would be too.

Robbie nodded. "I think it would be nice to try and include as many people as possible." He smiled at Gabe, resting his hand on his shoulder. "Do you think you might want to try out a tire swing?"

"I could help with planning, maybe..." Gabe nodded. "Matt and I could partner up. I can tell him what to do and he can actually do it..."

"Sounds good to me." Robbie smiled, happy they'd found a way to involve Gabe. "So... picnic first and then sit around planning?"

Brock nodded before looking around. "Um...who brought the food?" he asked curiously.

"Right here." Fury turned slightly, revealing the pack on his back that was filled with the food for their smaller family unit.

"We'll see you later!" Grant smiled, grabbing his two sisters by the hand and going to join their father and older brother, sister and niece and nephews.

Fury acknowledged his nephew and nieces and then turned to his children. "Do you want us to sit under the trees?"

Kara clapped her hands and started bouncing in Robbie's arms. "Twees!" she squealed.

"I guess that's our answer!" Ward chuckled.

Laughing, Robbie began carrying his sister in that direction, making sure he held her securely and walking slow enough that he could walk with his siblings and father in a group.

Grant had reached his father by this point, but looked back toward his uncle and cousins at the very loud childish squeal. He grinned and chuckled softly. "I think Kara has found a way to get up in the trees like she likes to do that won't give Uncle Nick an ulcer..."

Coulson smiled at his son. "Were you talking about building tree houses?" He hadn't been close enough to hear the conversation, but he had heard his son's and niece's excitement.

Grant grinned. "Tree mansions, daddy!" he enthused. "Big enough for sleepovers and a tire swing and maybe we can put a slide or something..." He was motioning wildly, his excitement catching him again.

"It's gonna be soooo cool!" Bobbi agreed, bouncing in place on her toes.

Raina nodded. "Do you think we could start it right away? Do you think Uncle Nick would mind? I know Kara would love to start right away..."

Coulson chuckled, his children's excitement infectious. "Why don't we get eating out of the way and then we can sit and discuss with your cousins about getting started? We can see if any of the other family members would like to join in too."

"Okay, daddy!" Bobbi grinned brightly and began to unpack the bag that held their lunch. "You want to help too, don't you, Lincoln?" She attempted to include their newest family member.

"I wouldn't miss it!" Lincoln grinned brightly at his aunt before looking toward Pietro and Wanda. "You'll both be helping too, right?" he asked his cousins.

"I've never had a tree house before, but it sounds like fun!" Pietro enthused.

Laughing, Coulson turned to his father and brother and sister. "What do you think? Would you like to join in?"

"I'm not as spry as I once was, but I'll certainly do what I can to help." Ben smiled.

Paul grinned at his family, looking first from Phil, then toward where Nick was sitting, then all around the clearing where all the families were gathered in smaller groups unpacking lunch bags, pails and baskets. "It will be fun to build something instead of just repairing it..." He nodded. "There's enough acreage in this compound of yours that we could probably build a few other things as well..." he stated cryptically.

Cathy smiled at her husband. "I'm sure there are lots of things we could help out with."

"We don't want to make it too nice, though...we want them to still want to come visit us at the farm..." Paul teased.

Coulson laughed. "I don't think there's any chance of that happening," he commented, a fond look in his eyes as he watched his children and grandchildren.

"There's no way you could keep us from visiting!" Bobbi declared emphatically and threw her arms around Ben in a tight hug. She'd forever be grateful for her grandfather helping her and Kara out when they were so uncertain about if they'd ruined everything with their family. She knew if it hadn't been for her grandfather and aunt and uncle, she and Kara might have kept running and that would have been the worst possible thing they could have ever done.

Ben smiled and hugged Bobbi just as tight in return. "That's very good to hear, as your horse will miss you if you don't come and visit," he said.

Bobbi grinned and just snuggled with her grandfather. "I'd miss her too...would miss you more, though..." she admitted shyly.

Grant grinned as he looked around at all of his family. Despite all the difficulties caused by their deaging, he couldn't say he was entirely upset at it. The opportunity to just do normal things with his family was something he wouldn't give up.

Ben kissed the top of her head. "We'd miss you too."

Coulson began setting out the blankets and food they'd brought, a peaceful, happy smile on his face.

Matt had stayed as close to Sam as possible. Since moving to the compound, he really hadn't had much opportunity to explore the grounds and with his frustrating age reversal, he found it more difficult to navigate in 'new' places. One thing that hadn't been affected, however, was his hearing. "Why do I keep hearing treehouses being mentioned?" he asked his father curiously, not realizing that the rest of the family may not have heard the same things he did, since they didn't have his level of audio capability.

Sam, responding to his son staying close to him, hadn't strayed too far from Matt's side. He cocked his head curiously. "I'm not sure, son. Maybe it has to do with your uncle Nick, as he and his children have gone to eat under the trees. I'm sure we can ask." He looked at his other children, to check if they wanted to go and join their uncle and cousins.

Karen smiled, but didn't seem inclined to move from the spot they'd chosen. "I'm sure if they're doing something fun, they'll ask us to join."

"Or we can check in with them after lunch." Sam glanced at Matt, just in case he did want to go and find out what the others had been talking about.

Matt nodded. "That sounds good. I'm hungry!"

Yo-Yo laughed gently but nodded. "Yes. We all are, I think."

Sam smiled and helped Matt to take a seat on the blanket before he began giving the food out to his children.

Luke helped his father hand out the items, even as he was glancing around to see if Jessica and her family had come out.

Jessica caught his eye and waved, but didn't get up. She still felt odd hanging out with her boyfriend when she looked like jail-bait. Instead, she snuggled closer to Steve...something about being 'younger' physically and emotionally had let her loosen up her typical reserved control over herself and she'd been clamoring for her father's affection every chance she got. Pepper might have done the same, but she was too busy mother-henning Harry (despite her own age-regression). Tony couldn't help but smile in amusement at the two, giving his father a grin while they weren't looking at him.

Bruce grinned as well, turning toward his own children. "So, after we eat, what would you all like to do?" he asked curiously, then glanced around so that Laura and Harry knew he was including them in the question.

Logan smiled at Laura and nudged her gently to let her know it was okay to voice an opinion if she had one.

Laura shrugged, but her eyes moved almost wistfully towards the trees. Being outside had rarely been allowed in the labs, and then only to force her and the others to fight. Being in wide open spaces was still something of a novelty. To be honest, having the chance to be a child was a novelty.

Bruce was observant. He was proud that his children were too. He smiled when Jemma jumped in.

"We should help with whatever tree thing they've got going on, of course!" She smiled. "They're so excited, it must be fun!"

Steve smiled at his little sister. "I think they're talking about building tree houses and things like that. We can go and have a look at what they're doing after we've eaten," he suggested, gently squeezing Jessica in close to him.

Harry was snuggled against his mother, but was listening to Peter, who had a slight gleam in his eyes and was talking animatedly to his cousin about swinging them both through the trees like Tarzan.

"And I'll just be 'Tarzan's' adoptive 'ape father' and make certain there aren't any swinging accidents..." Bruce said drolly, not wanting to forbid the fun, but wanting to be certain nothing dangerous was done accidentally.

"Okay, dad!" Peter replied amiably and entirely too innocently.

Leo glanced at Jemma, wondering if their baby brother amused her as much as him.

"If you boys are Tarzan and Dad is 'Ape Father', can I be Jane?" Jemma asked, just as innocently, an impish gleam in her eye.

"Where does that leave me?" Leo asked teasingly.

"Ape big brother?" Peter suggested with a grin.

Jessica giggle-snorted at that. "Who's gonna be Cheetah?"

Peter cocked his head at that and then turned his grin on Laura. "What about you?"

Laura looked, confused, between her father and the other members of the family. She'd had something of an opportunity to watch many of the family films, but had yet to learn who Tarzan was.

"Wasn't Cheetah Tarzan's best friend?" Pepper asked curiously.

"We need to find roles for everyone," Peter said, waving his arms enthusiastically in such a way that he could have really meant everyone.

Logan slanted his head thoughtfully. "I can be a giraffe." His voice was as serious as he could make it, even if he was having trouble keeping his face under control. As short as he was, he thought the choice would be amusing to the youngest.

Peter started to giggle and Harry, despite being a little more reserved than his cousin, did too. Laura tilted her head slightly, as if not quite understanding the joke but responding to the giggles.

Logan didn't explain the joke...if she didn't ask, he wouldn't embarrass her by assuming she didn't understand. Instead, he just smiled at her and put a hand on her shoulder. He knew that one day, she'd relax around the rest of the family and begin to chatter at them the same way she did Charles.

"Maybe Tarzan should be the next family movie we watch?" Steve suggested.

Peter was shifting about a bit impatiently, wanting to hurry up and eat so they could go play. Even if he didn't actually say that.

Harry, in the meantime, seemed content sitting with his parents and brother. While Peter seemed to have an almost endless amount of energy, Harry had been finding his body needing to take naps more and more. It worried him, but he tried not to voice that worry.

Tony was watching both his sons to see how they were handling things. As a result, he'd noticed Harry's slight withdrawal. Putting an arm around the boy's shoulders, he leaned in close and whispered, "You okay, kiddo?"

Harry didn't hesitate in leaning into his father. He might have been confused and unsure, but he welcomed the comfort. But he didn't know how to voice his feelings and a frustrated look came over his face as the adult part of him struggled with the child.

Werner noticed the look on his brother's face and bit his lip, wondering if his suspicion was correct and if he should voice it if so.

Tony saw the look as well and although he thought he might understand what the look meant, he wasn't able to read minds or even get glimpses of a person's thoughts. He wasn't like his great grandfather, after all. "You know I'll do anything for you, son. If you even give me a small idea what you need..." he said softly.

"It's not about 'need'..." Harry's voice was very low, but the frustration came through clearly.

Peter, while he might not have been 'fighting' the feelings in the same way as his cousin, could still tell what Harry meant. He reached out and held onto his cousin's hand. "Like...needing to sleep when you don't want to..." He voiced what he knew had bothered him and it was easy to assume it was the same for his best friend.

Tony nodded. "Yeah. I guess it is hard for you...not really being a kid, but having to be protected like one... Having all these childish things thrown at you and thinking you shouldn't be enjoying them as much as you are. I've been accused of being an overgrown child so many times...I still want to build a tree house, though," he said wistfully, with a tiny pout. "The thing is...just because its considered something for children doesn't mean it should be..." He glanced meaningfully around at all the 'still adults'.

Bruce snorted. "If more adults let themselves do children's activities, maybe there wouldn't be so many unhappy adults in the world," he agreed with Tony.

"Feels..." Harry hesitated. "Wrong. Alien." He frowned in frustration.

"Like you don't know if the feelings are really yours, or are part of the deaging?" Werner guessed.

Harry nodded quickly.

Steve gently placed a hand on his grandson's shoulder. "It might be difficult to figure that out, but don't worry about forcing yourself to react any other way you need to. As your dad said...all of us like the idea of building tree houses. They don't have to just be for children. Sometimes people might need space and not want to or feel able to go to the mansion."

Pepper wrinkled her nose, then hesitantly said, "I think the deaging has made it more difficult to say no to impulses that you might have normally but would say no to...the impulse is still yours; it wasn't given to you because you got made younger. I mean, as an adult there were many times I wanted to just let loose, get drunk, not worry about anyone or anything; but I was able to ignore that impulse because I knew it wasn't the best thing for me. Didn't do so well ignoring it last night. The difficulty not giving in to my impulse was the hormones, I know, but the impulse was still mine." She smiled crookedly. "I think what you want to do might be something you always wanted to do and just couldn't admit it for one reason or another. Only now it's harder to say no to yourself. But if it isn't dangerous to you and everyone in charge thinks it's a good idea...why should you say no to yourself?"

"Okay." Harry's response was quiet, but he looked much happier. After all, it was true that he hadn't really had much of a childhood. He figured his mother was right and maybe he didn't need to worry.

Tony smiled. "Okay! Does this mean I get to build a tree-house?" He looked between his sons hopefully. It wasn't that he couldn't build one if he wanted (and he had admittedly done many childish things when an adult and had no problem doing so again, as long as no one was hurt by his actions), but he wanted to be able to do something with his sons that fathers typically did; and this might be his only opportunity, since his sons were normally less inclined for children's activities.

Harry nodded, giving a smile in response to his father's smile. Werner's nod was a little bit more hesitant...but more because he was still feeling his way through the dynamics than because he was reluctant to do childish things.

"Great! We can make plans after we eat!" Tony clapped his hands together and then began to pass around the plates so everyone could begin serving themselves.

Blake had been giving the food out to his father, brother and son and was situated close enough that he'd overheard the plans being made. "What do you think?" he asked Deacon and Pyro, motioning towards the trees.

Deacon blinked and glanced toward the trees. "If you want to... Remember when dad helped us build a clubhouse in that tiny, spindly tree in our backyard? By the time we finished, he'd had to add posts underneath to support it because the tree was in danger of bending sideways...it ended up being a clubhouse on stilts with a tree growing in the middle of it..." He laughed.

Pyro slanted his head. "You mean building tree houses and club houses is an actual thing fathers do with their kids?" He sounded surprised.

Ben glanced at his grandson. "If they have a place to build it, it's not uncommon. Not everyone does it, of course. But it isn't uncommon."

Blake smiled at Pyro. "There are all sorts of things parents do with their children. All sorts of things we could do. That I'd like to do with you. And there are certainly plenty of trees we can use."

"That'd be great..." Pyro said hesitantly. He was still getting used to the idea that he was even wanted, let alone that his new father wanted to spend time with him.

Blake wrapped his arm around his son's shoulders. "You know, if there's anything you'd like to do with me...I want you to tell me. Don't ever feel like there's something you can't tell me."

"I'll try to remember..." Pyro agreed quietly. Leaning into Blake, he gave Deacon a crooked smile. "So...you've had a treehouse before?"

"Clubhouse..." Deacon corrected good-naturedly. "With a tree growing in the middle of it. I wouldn't be against trying to make another..."

Pyro looked up at Blake. "Is there enough tree to build so many treehouses? Or is everyone going to get together and collaborate in making one house that's big enough to hold lots of us?"

Blake gently threaded his fingers through Pyro's hair. "There seems to be a lot of trees around...what would you prefer to do?" he asked.

Pyro couldn't help but snort in amusement, even as he leaned further into Blake. "Well...we're well on our way to making a tree village. Maybe we can put it in a section not too close to the compound, but still within range of security- and invite at-risk kids to an 'Avengers' camp a few times a year. Maybe having the good guys take notice of them will keep some of the ones close to becoming delinquent from stepping over the edge. Keep them from making the same mistakes I made..." he finished, in a regretful voice.

Blake smiled, tightening his arm around Pyro's shoulders. "Is that something you'd like to be involved with, as someone who's worked to turn your life around?" he asked, his voice gentle and curious rather than accusing.

Pyro blinked, startled at the question; although he thought he shouldn't be, once he'd given the question a bit more attention. "Maybe...if you think I could help them before they messed up their lives like I did..." he said hesitantly.

"I think you would do very well at drawing on your own experiences and perhaps recognising people in a similar position to what you've been in," Blake said seriously.

Pyro smiled crookedly. "I'd be happy to help out, if you think I'd be useful..."

"Blake is right...With your experiences, a lot of the kids would relate to you in a way they might not to anyone else..." Deacon agreed with his brother.

Ben nodded. "The idea of a camp is a good idea as far as I can see, but we'll bring it up to the rest of the family and see what they think."

Blake smiled. "If you have any other ideas, they'd be good to hear. When we've figured out this deaging problem, I'd promised to help Matt and Foggy spread the word about their firm. We could do with some advertising ideas. And if you have any more thoughts about what else you'd like to do in terms of a career, you know I'll do everything within my power to make that happen for you."

Deacon grinned at his brother, but he outright laughed at Pyro's stunned expression. "What? You thought all Blake would do is adopt you and then leave you to your own devices? Not the way he is..." he teased.

"You're mine," Blake said in all seriousness. "I'm your dad, along with everything that entails. I'm not going to pick and choose how or when I act. I'm all in. For good."

"Yeah...okay..." Pyro nodded, still slightly in shock but warming to the idea that Blake was completely in his corner, good or bad. "I...I never thought much beyond the present, though; I don't know what I want to do with my life..."

"You don't have to make any concrete decisions now," Blake replied. "But you have the opportunity to think about it. About what you really want to do, especially if you consider there are no obstacles like money to worry about."

"Anything at all?" Pyro asked. "I never finished high school," he admitted, with a hint of embarrassment.

"Is that something you'd like to do?" Blake asked, not judging or with any kind of tone to his voice.

"I never thought about it. Doing any kind of college or technical school, though...wouldn't I need to get my diploma, or at least G.E.D.?" Pyro asked.

"That would probably help," Blake agreed. "We can look into schools close by...or even home study, if you'd prefer."

Pyro bit his lip. "I think maybe home study...I'm older than most the kids in school now and a lot of them know my reputation; I don't want to be a distraction, or cause problems for the schools..."

"I don't think you'd cause problems for the schools," Ben interjected, "but you may feel more comfortable finishing your secondary schooling at home because you are older than the others. If you are more comfortable, you're more likely to do well and finish."

"I don't want to make the decision for you," Blake said. "But I'll happily support you in whatever decision you make." With a smile, he added, "Even though I would prefer to keep you close."

Pyro smiled, relaxing against Blake. "I...I want to stay close to home too..."

Blake tightened his arm around his son and kissed the side of Pyro's head. "Good...that's good," he said.

Deacon grinned at his brother and 'nephew'. "I can help you work towards your GED... then maybe you'll have had a little time to think about what you want to do...possibly go to the same university as me and everyone else..."

Pyro chuckled. "Yeah. That'd be good. Thanks, Deak..."

"And other members of the family will be willing to help, too," Blake promised.

Pyro nodded. He'd already experienced how accepting and helpful the rest of the family was. Still...it was Blake he felt pulled toward...that he needed the help of. "Won't worry about it until everyone is back to normal, though..." he said with a sigh.

"There's nothing to stop us from looking into it now, even if you don't make any decisions just yet," Blake said. "You're the priority to me."

"Oh...Okay..." Pyro blinked. "...You're right. I can start looking now. Maybe you can look with me...?" He glanced around at the rest of the family.

"I'm game." Deacon shrugged.

"I think you'll have plenty of help from your dad and Deacon, but I'll do whatever I can." Ben smiled.

"And you know I'll help you." Though Blake figured his son needed the verbal assurance as well as the proof in his actions.

Pyro smiled. "So...what's for lunch?" he asked happily, grinning sheepishly when his stomach growled loudly.

Smiling affectionately, Blake finished handing out the rest of the food, sitting close enough to his son so he was in contact with him.

Deacon smiled at his brother and Pyro. He could tell they would be good for each other...and now that Blake had someone who needed him to be a mother-hen, teacher and disciplinarian all rolled into one...maybe Deacon would be able to return to school and not feel guilty, as if he were abandoning Blake.

With the whole family around, Blake was able to push aside his own worry about the deaging and the slight concern he had that he might not ever return to his natural age. He knew some of the others had it much worse.

Ben smiled at his son. "Eat up. I suspect we'll have a busy day today." He followed his own advice and took a bite.

Stephen squirmed a little more as he watched the others. His brothers had warmed his backside thoroughly; he was still feeling the effects and he wasn't used to that. Normally, within moments of being punished, the sting had disappeared completely and all that was left was embarrassment and a desire to do better. Now? He not only had a desire to do better, but any desire he'd had to do anything at all without his brothers' permission was completely absent. He squirmed again, blushing when he caught Kara's eye and the tiny girl had given him a curious and somewhat knowing smile. They'd been sat close enough to Fury and his group to have heard the conversation about tree houses. He looked at Mordo and Wong. "Perhaps if we were to build a tree-portal room... it would allow us a constant point where we can travel to all our other portals as well as being able to use it to go anywhere else we need, but it would be far enough away from the main compound area that should something happen to compromise it, it won't weaken the building security..." he said softly.

Mordo gave Stephen an encouraging smile. "That's a good idea," he replied.

"Perhaps there could be more than one," Wong suggested. "Spaced far enough apart that there is at least one other in case of an emergency."

"An escape for the family if something goes wrong with Friday and Veronica?" Stephen asked quietly, not wanting to alarm the 'children' nearby.

Wong nodded. "It's always better to have a contingency plan."

Mordo rested his hand on Stephen's shoulder. "After we've eaten, why don't we have a look at where the portals can be set?" he suggested.

"That will be good..." Stephen agreed quietly, before taking a bite of food.

Loki bit his lip and glanced around. He'd changed back into his preferred form at some point after breakfast. It had been a novelty being in his female form where the entire family could get used to it, but he'd finally grown tired of being shorter and physically weaker (even if he was still stronger than many of the Midgardian men in his female form, he wasn't as strong as he normally would be). He was now curled up next to his older brother, snuggling unabashedly while he watched Lorelei and Darcy snuggling up to Odin. Mack's attention was split between his family and his girlfriend, who'd elected to stay within her own (new) family group.

Thor didn't have any hesitation in wrapping his arms around Loki, cuddling his brother close enough that Loki could have almost been on his lap. Not wanting his other brother to feel left out, he reached out and wrapped his other arm around Mack.

Mack just gave Thor a cheeky grin of appreciation. He hadn't been deaged (at least not as far down as Loki), so he wasn't feeling as vulnerable and needy. Still, it was nice that his brother thought of him. "Why do I think our lives are going to be filled with construction for the next few days to weeks?" he asked drolly.

"Perhaps because you have overheard the other family members talking about building tree houses," Thor said, a slightly perplexed look on his face. "This is a normal thing to do for fun?" he asked his brother.

Mack laughed before grinning brightly at his brother. "It's not typical, no. But it isn't an unheard of or unusual activity, either. If a family has children of the right age- usually Harry and Peter's ages- and if they have a sturdy and large enough tree, and if they own the land they are on...often they will make a tree house. I have never heard of a tree village being made, but then we are an unusual family."

"That is putting it mildly," Odin commented, with a fond smile to his children. "It would likely be an enjoyable bonding experience too."

"I think I would like to contribute to this tree village..." Loki said, voice partly muffled because he'd snuggled so close to his brother that his face was buried in Thor's side.

"I wanna build a tree house!" Darcy chimed in. Even though she hadn't been de-aged as far down as some others, she was going along with all the childish activities with a fervor that might have made people wonder if she hadn't actually been de-aged to fifteen as well. Some Midgardians did look older than their years, after all...

"I am certain we could all help," Thor commented, glancing at his other sister. "Would you like to join in, Lorelei?" he asked.

Lorelei sniffed. "I suppose I could direct where the decorations are to go..." she said, the idea of manual labor not appealing to her that strongly.

Odin gently squeezed her. "I'm sure there are still things you can do to help," he commented.

Lorelei smiled and nodded at those words. "I'm certain you are right, daddy..." she said, with a tiny giggle, as she snuggled closer.

Danny sat a short distance away with his mother, grandmother and sisters. "You know, after you all get to the right ages, we'll have to arrange some more training sessions to adjust for the body shapes," he commented.

"Just not by getting up early," Skye stated. "But I think you've made training easier for most of the family who didn't start out as SHIELD or part of the Avengers."

Melinda nodded. "It's a good idea," she remarked to Danny's idea. "It's helped a great deal."

"And why not getting up early? Surely 7:00 a.m. is not too early?" Lian said with a disapproving frown, although the twinkle in her eye showed she was teasing.

Skye pulled a face. "It's fine for the people who are used to it..."

"And how do you get used to it, if you never do it?" Lian asked reasonably.

"I don't think there's any need for me to do it and therefore get used to it," Skye responded.

"No need? So... I suppose it isn't helpful if you've gotten used to it and say... an emergency occurs at four in the morning, that needs you up, moving and functioning in top form? I guess just relying on fear and adrenaline to keep you going- and hoping that your muscle memory is enough not to make a mistake- would be good enough..." Lian pondered. She hadn't really meant to have a discussion like this with her granddaughter, but some attitudes needed to have their problems pointed out...even if it didn't change behavior, at least it made the person with the attitude aware of possible problems that might occur.

Melinda wrinkled her nose. She'd had this exact same conversation with her mother when she was fifteen years old. Part of her wanted to step in for Skye...but the other part of her had actually been through what Lian described and she knew it was only her training that had enabled her to get through unscathed. That part of her kept the sympathetic part of her quiet.

Skye frowned, actually giving the comments some serious thought. "I've reacted in an emergency before. Maybe not so early in the morning, but I've had enough training that I think I could act when it does become necessary."

"Adrenaline can only carry you so far," Danny said. "There's a reason people practice fire drills."

"I...suppose it makes sense," Hope said hesitantly. "To prepare for any eventuality."

"It does make things easier if you practice for every possibility you are able..." Melinda said quietly. "Early morning emergencies are never fun... but I wouldn't have gotten out of mine nearly as unscathed if I hadn't had practice doing so..."

Skye sighed, looking very reluctant about the idea, but she didn't argue any further and instead began eating, figuring she'd deal with it when it happened.

Melinda just smiled, reached over and rubbed Skye's back briefly, then returned to eating herself.

Peter sat between his two fathers and stared at his older brother. "It's kiwi. It's good!" he said when he saw Kraglin's skeptical look.

"I thought, when eating Terran food, that green was something to be avoided..." Kraglin muttered suspiciously.

Yondu sniffed suspiciously at the fruit and then gave it an experimental lick. "Too bitter," he grunted.

"It is good for you and tastes good, too," Drax stated.

Peter took his piece, turning the skin inside out so that the juicy meat of the fruit was easily reached, then took a huge bite, grinning like a mad-man with juice dribbling down his chin. "See...is good!" he said, with his mouth full.

"If you say so, kid." Copying his youngest's actions, Yondu bit out of the fruit instead of the skin and chewed. "Bit bitter still, but I like it," he decided.

Kraglin, noting Peter's obvious enjoyment of the fruit and his father's reluctant endorsement, followed Peter's example also and took a bite from the fruit. "...I guess it won't poison me..." he finally muttered in agreement.

"There are many foods here on Terran that are good for you," Drax commented, remembering how long it had taken to 'train' Peter to stop eating so unhealthily.

Peter gave Yondu a wide-eyed look. "Yeah...Pop is an expert on healthy Terran foods. He wouldn't let me eat Twinkies! Can you believe it?!" The look on his face indicated a lack of Twinkies was akin starving him.

There was a slight trace of amusement on Yondu's face, but his voice was entirely serious as he said, "He done a good job of taking care of you."

Peter paused, then gave both his fathers a sheepish look. "Yeah...he did...does... I'd a been eating Twinkies and drinking Mountain Dew for breakfast if he hadn't stopped me..."

"I didn't always feed ya right, but I did what I could for ya," Yondu said with some regret, remembering that Peter hadn't been certain of his place in Yondu's life.

"Are you kiddin, Dad?" Peter's mouth dropped open. "I may not've always realized what I meant to you... but I always knew you took care of me... Making me eat all those weird things that I guess were vegetables and stuff I didn't recognize...not letting me eat nothing but Peanut M&M's when we found them at that far off trading post..." Peter's grin was crooked. "Kinda feel stupid I didn't realize then that you...cared in all. The way you protected me, should've realized it..."

"I shoulda realised you didn't," Yondu said. "But it's not always been easy ta give voice to how I feel. It's easier ta do tha' now...here...where I know how I feel about you isn't a weakness. How I feel about either of you," he added, including Kraglin.

"We understand, Da..." Kraglin smiled gently. "If'n the Ravagers had known, they woulda used it 'gainst ya."

Peter frowned unhappily, his teen self, unable to hide his feelings; not that his adult self was much better at it. "I don't like that I was a weakness for ya. That you coulda been hurt cuz of caring bout me..."

"No, Petey, ya weren't a weakness to me," Yondu said seriously, reaching out to stroke his youngest son's cheek. He wrapped his other arm around Kraglin's shoulders. "I wouldn'a stopped caring about either of you. Or given ya up. I couldn' allow you to be hurt."

Peter bit his lip, then impulsively crawled onto Yondu's lap and burrowed close, acting even younger than the fifteen years he'd deaged to. "Love you, daddy..." he whispered. "You too, Poppa..." He glanced toward Drax.

Mantis had been listening quietly the entire time. At Peter's actions, she shifted closer to Drax and Kraglin. "Why does he feel sad? Shouldn't knowing he is cared about make him happy?" she asked in a whisper. She might be socially awkward, but she'd learned a few things about not embarrassing people; one of them being that if you were going to talk about them instead of to them, you should whisper.

Yondu didn't hesitate, pulling Peter in closer and hugging him tight, gently stroking the nape of his neck while also gently squeezing Kraglin's shoulders.

"There was a lot that was missed out on in the past." Drax made an effort to lower his voice, an unusual occurance for him. "Peter didn't realise how Yondu felt about him and Yondu couldn't tell him and risk putting him in danger."

"Aaah...so now that he is young again, they are allowing themselves to do what they could not before..." Mantis commented.

"I do not believe it is just that he is young but that this is a safe place. Home," Drax stated.

Mantis slanted her head. "Home. It is a nice home..." She glanced around. "It is nice not to have...to have..." She frowned slightly, not sure how to say what she was thinking; or even if she should. She was very happy to not have to 'work' for Ego any longer. But the giant planet was Peter's blood father. Just because he'd accepted Yondu and everyone else's assessment that the Celestial wasn't to be trusted and was murderous, didn't mean the boy wanted to hear it.

"Say what you need to," Drax encouraged, not wanting her to feel like she had to hold back.

"I am just glad I am no longer with Ego. Where he was...was not safe. Was not home..." Mantis smiled crookedly.

"You are safe here," Drax said. "You are home here."

Mantis smiled serenely. "Thank you! It is a most interesting home. I have been getting very new and unusual feelings from the individuals here." She couldn't help but glance toward where Wade and Colossus were sitting. "Should I tell everyone I am sensing them? I have been trying not to 'feel' them, but some of them are impossible to block out..." She looked at Drax expectantly, almost child-like in her trust that he would know what was the best thing to do in this situation.

"You should not tell everyone what you feel," Drax said. "They cannot control their feelings to stop you sensing them. Does it make you feel uncomfortable?" he asked directly.

Mantis got a thoughtful look on her face. "Only sometimes...when they are feeling lonely or confused or scared. If they do not say anything, that means they do not want anyone to know, correct? So I should not say anything that would let others know if they do not want that. But it makes me feel bad that I can't help them..."

"You should tell them as a whole what you can do and how you can help them. Then, if they need help, they will ask you," Drax stated.

"That makes sense..." Mantis nodded. "I suppose the next time the family gathers in the family room, I will make this announcement...no?"

Drax nodded. "I believe that would be best."

Mantis smiled. "Thank you for your help." She leaned over and kissed Drax on the cheek. "You are very kind to me..."

"You are my family as well," Drax said.

"You did not adopt me..." Mantis said coyly, almost shyly. She wasn't certain if what she thought she was feeling of Drax's emotions was accurate, or if she was misreading him. Unlike most of the others, he was more reserved in his feelings and it was not as easy to read him. She supposed that was why she enjoyed being with him, though; she wasn't constantly being swamped with all his feelings and emotions.

Drax took her hand in his. "You are still a part of my family. As important to me as if you were my sister. That's how I think of you."

Mantis's smile grew. "I never had a sibling. I think I will like it..." she said, before squeezing his hand. She blinked, turning her head toward the trees. "What is Groot doing?"

"I do not know." Drax turned to watch the tiny tree creature.

Groot was followed by Rocket, who was concerned about his friend. The tiny tree creature only pulled himself up onto one of the tree trunks. "I am Groot," he said.

Kara had noted the tiny alien moving toward the trees also; and since she'd been wanting to go to the trees since the moment they'd arrived at the picnic area, she didn't waste any time running after him as fast as her diminished stature would allow. "Twees!" she said with a grin and threw her arms around the one that Groot was apparently talking to.

Fury hadn't failed to notice his daughter heading towards the trees and he didn't waste any time getting up and following her, making sure she was okay.

"I am Groot." The tree creature looked at her.

"Yeah." Rocket also glanced at the toddler. "She probably is the only one who's even close to you in size."

"Tawking twee!" Kara grinned and reached over from hugging the tree and hugged Groot instead.

"I am Groot." The little tree sounded resigned.

"She's Terran," Rocket said. "Never seen one of your kind before. Probably," he added.

Kara may have been in a toddler body and had been pretty much reacting like a two-year-old to everything the last several days (it was much easier just going with it than fighting when her mind and her body/emotions wouldn't mesh), but she realized by Groot's reaction and Rocket's response that she'd messed up somehow. Stepping back with a look that was entirely too worried and embarrassed looking to fit on a toddler's face, she bit her lip and hesitantly asked, "...Nod twee?"

"I am Groot."

"He looks like a tree," Rocket said. "But he's from a different planet."

"I am Groot."

Rocket gave his friend a slightly surprised look and then said to Kara, "But he says you can still hug him."

Kara slanted her head, as if waiting for other information, but when Rocket didn't elaborate on what species Groot was, she smiled again and wrapped her arms around Groot and hugged again. "Be fwiends?" she asked softly.

"I am Groot." The little tree returned the tiny girl's hug.

"Of course you're friends," Rocket translated.

"Good!" Kara stepped back with a grin, then looked at the trees and bit her lip. "Twee house?" she asked hesitantly. The way Groot had been talking to the trees, she wasn't entirely certain they might not be his species and would not like having houses built on them. She had no clue how something like that would be known if they were 'hiding'.

"I am Groot."

"It's okay, so long as the trees don't get hurt," Rocket said. "No fire. Only cut what they won't miss or that won't damage them." He continued translating.

"Of course." Fury came up beside his daughter. "We'll treat the trees with respect."

"I am Groot."

"He says 'good'," Rocket added.

"We be nice to twees." Kara nodded enthusiastically before holding her arms out to her father to be picked up.

Fury reached down and picked up his daughter, settling her comfortably in his arms.

Kara snuggled close. Between a full tummy, the warm, fresh air and the morning's excitement, it didn't take long at all for her to fall into a dozy, half-awake state.


While the other members of the family had begun their plans for a 'treehouse village', Bruce had quickly cornered Stephen and began to question him about the research he had been doing the night before. Stephen had luckily had Friday recording everything, because he'd been operating on little to no sleep, and he had been ill when doing the research, so he really couldn't tell Bruce much of anything about why he'd done what he did or how. It took the AI explaining her observations to Bruce for him to figure out a method to the madness, but it had been enough to get his own knowledge going down a path he wouldn't have let it go prior. Soon, he, Stephen (with Mordo and Wong's agreement), Helen Cho and Bryce were holed up in the lab, going over all the notes that had been taken and brainstorming.

Steve, involved in the building of the tree house, did pull himself away so he could check on his son's and the other scientists' progress. While he trusted Bruce to know when to take a break, he didn't want to ignore just one part of the family.

"I think you really found the problem..." Bruce said, in slight wonder at what they were all looking at. "I don't know how many times we looked at this particular sequence and didn't see it..."

Stephen smiled crookedly. "I'd like to claim it is because I'm 'just that good', but I suspect that I found it because I was so tired, I was looking at things crosseyed and it jumped out at me then..."

Helen huffed in amusement. "Whatever caused you to be able to see it, the important thing is it was seen..."

Steve had tried not to make too much noise going into the lab, not wanting to disturb his son and the others, but he overheard their conversation even so. "What have you found?" he asked them.

"A sequence of proteins in the blood that weren't there originally..." Bruce said with a crooked smile. "I really don't know how we missed them before, but they are there in every sample of blood taken; and they weren't there in any of the blood samples we have from before we ate the pie. So..."

"There's a way to reverse it?" Steve was careful not to get his hopes up. Just in case they were wrong, or things didn't go how they were supposed to.

"We don't know yet. But we plan to find out, with Bryce's help. I suspect we're going to need his help..." Helen murmured the last.

Steve nodded. "Do you need anything more from the other members of the family?" he asked, in case they needed to take more blood or do some more scans.

"Not right now..." Bruce told his father with a smile. "...But I'll make sure Friday or Veronica contacts you immediately if that changes."

"Do you want me to pass the message on to any of the others?" Steve asked.

"I will defer to the rest of your judgement, but I cannot see it would help to say much until we are certain we have something," Bryce stated.

"Bryce is right. We should wait until we have something more concrete. No sense in getting hopes up..." Stephen said softly.

Steve nodded. "I might suggest updating Phil and Nick, though, even if there is nothing else."

"Of course." Helen nodded. "I will do so now."

"Would you like me to go and ask them to come here?" Steve looked at each of the scientists in turn.

Bruce gave his father an amused look, but before he could say anything, Friday chimed in. "I have already informed them, Captain."

"I should have thought about that," Steve said wryly. "Thank you, Friday." He looked back at his son. "Do you need me to stick around?"

"I think we're okay. I'll see you at dinner...if you wouldn't mind keeping an eye on Peter until then?" Bruce smiled.

"Of course." Steve chuckled. "He's already got plans to swing 'like Tarzan through the trees'."

"Yes...it almost makes me green thinking of it..." Bruce snorted.

"I know it's worrying, but your brother is looking after him and Harry," Steve said. "I don't think Peter will be able to get away with doing anything dangerous." He glanced towards the door as Friday announced that Phil and Nick had arrived.

"Oh...I know..." Bruce smiled again. "I've asked Jemma and Leo to stick close by too, just in case. It's harder to get into trouble when you've got a lot of attention on you..." He glanced toward the door when his uncles walked through. "Hey, Uncle Nick...Uncle Phil. We think we found something that will be able to help with a cure...hopefully...Just wanted to give you a heads up."

Coulson smiled at his nephew, managing to hide most of his strain and worry. "That's good news, or at least the start of some. How soon until we know for sure, do you think?"

"I... I really can't say..." Bruce said softly, glancing toward Bryce. "Since there is the 'magical' component to it all, we want Bryce to make sure our conclusions aren't erroneous..."

"But I will be certain that information is passed along to both of you once the conclusions are confirmed," Bryce promised.

Bruce smiled at his father again. "I'll see you for dinner, then...?"

"Why don't you come outside for a bit during one of your breaks?" Steve suggested. "Your children and the rest of the family would like to see you."

"I suppose I can do that when Mordo comes to collect Stephen for a break," Bruce said calmly, ignoring Stephen's disgruntled look.

"I'm sure you could all come outside for a break," Fury commented, in a tone that didn't really invite argument.

Helen's eyebrows went up at Fury's tone. Since she knew Bruce had already agreed to go when Stephen did; and she knew Stephen's brothers would be retrieving him, so he would be going at some point- the only two Fury's order could be meant for was her and Bryce. "Sure thing, boss. A break would be nice," she said dryly.

Bryce looked a bit surprised, but nodded slowly. "Maybe. It might be nice to see outside for a bit," he commented, his own voice a little bit dry.

Bruce stifled his laughter with a snort that couldn't be mistaken for anything but amused.

"Yes, well I am certain we will see you in a few hours. Maybe we'll have more information to share by that time..." Stephen said, even as he began focusing on the task in front of him.

"You know how to get hold of us if you need anything," Steve said.

"We do, dad, thanks." Bruce smiled. "And Friday will keep you informed too."

"Of course, I will, Doctor," the AI quickly agreed.

"Thank you." Steve reached out to gently squeeze his son's shoulder. "I have complete faith in you...in all of you...that you can solve this." He gave each of them an encouraging look.

Coulson and Fury were quick to voice their agreement with their brother.

Bruce smiled again, returning to his work.

Stephen smiled too, still getting used to the fact that more than just his brothers cared.

"We'll see you later," Steve said, before he and the others left the labs, heading back outside to keep the youngsters amused.


It had been several days of working and Stephen was fairly certain they'd found the cause of the deaging...and hence had a way to produce a cure. Helen Cho, Bryce and Bruce all agreed. While they had been isolating their findings to produce a cure, the rest of the family had built tree-houses in between going on several retrieval missions, where they had returned with numerous files: electronic and paper.

Now, various family members were combing through the information looking for leads. It was break time again and he'd decided to go look for his brothers before they came to retrieve him. He wanted to see about placing the portal to the various sanctums...assuming they had obtained the permission needed from the rest of the family.

Mordo and Wong had both been helping look through the files, but as they too needed to take a break and return to those files with fresh eyes, they'd left the room and therefore were already on their way to retrieve Stephen, meaning they met in the middle.

"Have you eaten yet?" Mordo asked.

"Not yet...I was looking for both of you before heading toward the dining area." He smiled as he turned to walk the same direction as them. "I am not certain Luis has started the chefs to begin the meal for those residing in the compound, so it wouldn't take much to let him know not to include the family in meal prep plans...we could go into town and bring back food for everyone..." he suggested.

"That would likely be a good idea," Wong commented.

"Is there something you'd like to do or get in town?" Mordo's question was curious, not suspicious or demanding.

"Not really. I just have been here for a while and have yet to visit the nearby areas. Since we're thinking of moving here..." Stephen shrugged.

Mordo smiled and gently squeezed Stephen's shoulder. "That sounds good. We've dropped some hints about opening a portal in at least one of the tree houses, but I didn't want either of us to ask outright, as it was your idea."

Stephen blinked. "Oh! Okay...who should we ask about it, though?"

"Perhaps we should call a meeting with all of the parents and raise it?" Wong suggested.

"They'll probably all end up being involved in the decision anyway, so that's probably best..." Stephen huffed in amusement. He knew Tony funded much of the compound and the family; but unlike what his past self would have done, he hadn't attempted to assert control over anything and almost always deferred to his father and uncles. If he hadn't seen it with his own eyes, he wouldn't have believed it. If he hadn't changed so drastically himself, he might have been suspicious at the change in the Stark heir. He had changed drastically, though, so he couldn't ignore that Tony likely had undergone enough life-altering events that he'd changed too.

"I suspect you didn't expect to consider making our home here when we first arrived," Mordo commented, his voice tinged with curiosity. While Stephen had indicated he and Tony hadn't really got on in the past, neither he nor Wong knew much more than that.

"To be honest, I never expected to be invited here in the first place..." Stephen acknowledged. "Tony and I... the best that could be said about us in the past was that we were frenemies. I wasn't in business, so we couldn't rightly be called rivals as far as that went; there was no chance of my attempting a hostile takeover of his company, or vice-versa. But he does have several doctorates and we clashed on several items that revolved around medical issues. And our personalities were too similar for us to get along well, both of us convinced that we were right and the other wrong. When I was asked to come here and consult on the problem, I honestly thought the invite had been issued behind his back, because I couldn't ever foresee that he would willingly agree to my coming." Stephen shrugged. "We both changed a great deal."

Wong grunted. "I cannot speak for Tony and how he has changed or not...but I can say without doubt that you have changed from who and what you were the first time we met."

Stephen gave his brothers a sheepish smile. "Yes...well...It wasn't without discomfort and a lot of help. But then I suppose most life-changing moments aren't terribly comfortable..." He sighed.

Mordo smiled at him. "At least you are now aware that you're not the only one to experience our brand of 'help'." He didn't comment that certain members of the family had likely guessed about Stephen, even though that thought was there.

"Considering how loud I was last time, I'm fairly certain everyone knows you help me the same way they get help...so yeah. That makes it a little easier..." Stephen blushed but was smiling, so it was obvious he wasn't as bothered about everyone knowing as he might have been.

"It at least means you don't need to worry about hiding the consequences," Wong commented.

"And since it's used in this family, it allows a chance to bond closer," Mordo added.

"Bonding through shared experience?" Stephen's tone was wry.

"Exactly." Mordo smiled, mostly teasing. Having asked Friday to pass on to Luis that they would be getting food for everyone, he guided Stephen towards the garage, hand resting on his brother's shoulder.

"Van or sedan?" Stephen asked curiously. Once upon a time- before his accident- he would have insisted on driving the fastest, sleekest car. His need for speed had been tempered by the loss of his hand function and near loss of his life. He wouldn't even ask to drive unless Mordo indicated he should.

"Do you have a preference?" Mordo figured there was no reason not to let their brother choose which vehicle they took. He also studied Stephen, trying to decide if it would help him to drive this time.

"Not really...although there is more room in the van to hold all the food...and crates to put it in so it doesn't slide all over the place." Stephen smiled cheekily. He didn't seem all that eager to drive, as he was holding back from the wall where all the keys were hanging.

"The van would probably be better," Wong agreed.

Mordo nodded, paying attention to the fact Stephen didn't seem eager to drive, and retrieved the set of keys they needed. "We'll take the van."

Stephen shifted so he could follow his brothers to the vehicle, climbing into the middle section so Mordo and Wong could have the front. "I think I heard a few of the younger family saying they were in the mood for Indian. Is that all right?" he asked quietly.

"That's fine," Mordo agreed, beginning to drive the van from the garage.

Stephen was quiet as he watched the landscape move by them, taking it all in. "It really is a beautiful location..." he finally remarked. "Quiet."

"It's one that fits the family," Mordo commented. "It's a good place. Safe."

"A good home." Wong voiced his own opinion.

"It reminds me of the monastery, in a way. Very busy with its work but when not working- almost separate from the world..." Strange murmured.

"The family probably likes it that way," Mordo commented.

"I could see why..." Stephen sighed softly, before smiling in his brothers' direction. "Would you mind bringing up the portal idea at lunch? I think it would be good to form a permanent connection here, even if we decide to return to one of the Sanctums."

"I don't see a problem with that," Mordo replied.

"Nor do I." Wong put his own opinion in.

Stephen didn't say anything else, but the grateful smile he gave to his brothers was full of affection.

Soon, they had reached town and placed their order. Since it was such a large order, they had a bit of time to look around while the restaurant prepared the meal.

Mordo and Wong walked one on either side of their brother as the three of them moved through the town.

"Perhaps we could look at purchasing some furnishings for the tree house village?" Mordo suggested softly.

Stephen blinked, then grinned. "I think that would be a wonderful idea. I'm sure the children would appreciate it as well...even when they grow up again..." He pointed down the street. "There is a shop there that appears to sale myriad items. Let's check it out..."

A few days later, not only had the tree-house village begun (with some houses already complete and ready to furnish), but Bruce had isolated the protein Stephen had discovered and guided Bruce and Helen as they came up with the enzyme needed to reverse the effects of the first experiment. They'd tested it on Ben first (he'd insisted that if something went wrong again, they'd be better able to cope without his help than if one of the more active field agents or scientists was immobilized) before giving it to everyone else once he'd shown no bad responses to it. Now it was a game of waiting.

The End