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American Assassin
Part 3 – Learning Curve Part One

by Cat2000

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Copyright on this story text belongs at all times to the original author only, whether stated explicitly in the text or not. The original date of posting to the MMSA was: 09 Feb 2018

Learning Curve

Title: Learning Curve
Disclaimer: We own nothing from American Assassin and are making nothing from this story.
Summary: Follows The Way Things Will Be. Spywork, Wetwork, and Derailed Missions.
Warning(s): Spanking; encouraged immature behavior; non-descriptive murder/killing; AU
Authors: Cat2000 and Hope1iz
Author’s Note: Author’s Note: If you enjoy roleplaying, I’ve started up a Maze Runner rpg that can be found here: Original characters are accepted, so you don’t have to be necessarily that familiar with the fandom to join. Check it out!


It was a few days into the grounding and Hurley was just finishing off some e-mails when he heard the post arrive. He met the man at the door and took the packages, always on guard for anything suspicious, and smiled when he saw one package in particular. He headed to his youngest son’s room and knocked lightly on the door.

Mitch had been sitting in bed, reading, when he heard the knock. Getting up, he quickly went to answer it, opening the door and smiling at his father. Yes, daddy? He stepped back so that Hurley could come into the room.

Smiling affectionately at his son, Hurley stepped into the room, closing the door and handing Mitch the package. The pajamas we ordered came today.

Already? Mitch took the package and ripped open the container, pulling out the garment. It was solid black and made out of a flannel type material. It would be nice and warm. Wonderful for the current weather conditions; probably not so great for summer, but by that time, Mitch figured he’d have had time to figure something out. Grinning, he stripped out of what he was currently wearing, not an ounce of modesty to be found, and then put the pajamas on. They fit perfectly... He smiled, finally looking up at his father. What do you think? He slowly turned around, modeling the pajamas for Hurley. Is it obvious there’s a flap in the back? He tried to peer over his shoulder to see if he could tell.

Hurley smiled. They suit you. He reached out, gently squeezing his son’s shoulder, and looked at the back. It’s not immediately obvious...but then again, you’re only likely to be wearing them here at home.

True... Mitch nodded. ...And everyone already knows I get spanked here, so if it’s obvious, it won’t really matter....

What do you think, baby boy? Hurley asked gently.

I...they’re really comfortable. Least right now when it’s cold outside. I think I’ll like wearing them even without the added benefits... Mitch acknowledged. ...But I wouldn’t mind testing out the benefits...if you don’t mind... He glanced at his father, almost shyly.

Hurley kissed his forehead. In here? Or do you want to test them out in the living room, as we got them for use in there?

The living room... Mitch nodded. ...See if they work the way we intended... He blushed faintly. If they didn’t work as intended, Annika would end up with an eyeful that she probably wouldn’t really care about (but he would). Alastor had already seen enough of his backside that the pajamas really weren’t needed for him anyway.

Hurley wrapped his arm tighter around his son and nodded. Okay. He guided Mitch through to the living room.

Annika was sitting in one of the armchairs, reading a book. Alastor was on one end of the couch, watching the news. Both of them glanced up briefly as the two men entered. I like those pajamas... Annika commented. They look warm and comfy! She glanced out the window to where leaves were lying on the ground, the wind blowing them around in little puffs and making the already cold temperature colder.

Alastor glanced up and grinned. You may just need to order a few more pairs of those, dad. Before someone gets jealous... he teased his baby sister.

Mitch grinned crookedly at his siblings and waited for his father to sit so that he could either lay over the older man’s lap or sit curled up beside him; whichever way Hurley decided was best to test the clothing.

Hurley smiled at his other two children and sat down. I’ll order you both pairs of pajamas like them if you want, he commented. But you might want to check out the information first. He gently guided Mitch over his lap.

Information? Annika asked curiously, not phased in the least when her brother was pulled over their father’s knee.

Mitch settled over Hurley’s lap, the older man having positioned himself in such a way that his upper torso was supported on the couch instead of hanging awkwardly over the floor. They have a couple of unique features... he said quietly.

Hurley adjusted his son’s position to make sure they were both comfortable and then let his hand slide under the flap, gently rubbing Mitch’s bottom.

MItch just let himself relax over his father’s lap, half-closing his eyes as he focused on the feeling of his father caressing him. He allowed himself a momentary glance toward Alastor and Annika to see if they’d noticed, but Alastor was still watching the news and while Annika’s nose wrinkled thoughtfully, she didn’t seem uneasy about the situation. He could tell immediately when she realized that there was a flap there, though, as her eyes widened, and she got a tiny little grin on her face.

I think those would be very useful. I will definitely want a pair! she announced, before going back to reading her book.

Alastor snorted.

Hurley smiled. I can order you a pair too, he commented, expecting Alastor would let him know if he wanted a pair. He continued to gently stroke and rub Mitch’s bottom, moving his hand around under the fabric so he could also stroke his back and thighs.

Alastor just grinned at his two baby siblings. News is over, Dad.... Can I watch the game? he asked Hurley deferentially. Since he was grounded, anything he wanted to do needed to be given approval by his father.

MItch let out a tiny, almost inaudible sigh as Hurley continued to stroke and rub. It felt really good. It was a bit odd having his siblings be in the same room while he was getting the attention, but he wasn’t embarrassed like he thought he might be, the pajamas giving just enough covering that he felt safe and only felt vulnerable to his father’s hand.

Annika rubbed at the area where she’d been wounded, absent-mindedly, continuing to read; not bothered in the least that her brother was having his bottom rubbed in front of her. (And she wouldn’t admit she was a tiny bit jealous that he was getting attention; not jealous at all!)

Hurley nodded. That’s fine. Do either of you want to cuddle? he asked his other two children, figuring they could sit on the couch next to him while he continued to give his youngest son attention. He gently patted Mitch’s backside.

Okay, Papa! Annika smiled, standing up agilely and walking over, helping Mitch sit up just long enough that she could slide under his head and lean into their father. Her fingers played with her ’twin’s’ hair while she opened the book again and began reading; not phased at all by her brother’s backside being patted right next to her.

Mitch glanced up at her, a perplexed look on his face before he glanced up into his father’s face and gave a faint shrug. If she wasn’t bothered, he certainly wasn’t. He blinked as he felt his legs being lifted and then he found himself draped over all three family members; his sister playing with his hair, his older brother gently massaging his calves and his father rubbing and patting his bum, back and thighs. It was enough to send him into cuddle Nirvana.

Alastor glanced at the flap on the pajamas, then gave his father a well, are you, or aren’t you? daring look, an impish smile on his face, before he went back to watching the game on tv.

Hurley wrapped his other arm around Annika, gathering her in close, then carefully lifted the flap, baring Mitch’s bottom and beginning a firmer patting of his youngest son’s backside.

MItch tensed up slightly, not sure how his siblings would react to what his father was doing, but Alastor just squeezed his calf more firmly before resuming the more gentle massage and Annika gave him a few extra scratches behind his ears before resuming the gentle tugging and playing with his hair. They weren’t bothered in the least, so he relaxed, whimpered faintly and wiggled his bottom just a little bit to encourage his father to continue.

Hurley continued to firmly pat his baby boy’s bottom, pausing periodically to stroke and rub, interspersing a few harder pats, nearly light swats, every so often.

Alastor continued to rub and massage his baby brother’s calves and feet while he watched the game. He looked over and smiled at his father, a contented look on his face. He couldn’t help but glance down at Mitch’s backside every so often, noting as it took on a rosy hue. But he never said anything. It made him feel good that his baby brother felt comfortable enough around him that he’d let him be in the room while their father took care of him.

Annika was snuggled as close to Hurley as she could get, every so often looking up at him with a happy smile, even giving him a kiss on the cheek a few of the times. She kept her fingers tangled up in Mitch’s hair, only letting go when she needed to turn a page in her book.

For his part, Mitch just closed his eyes and let the sensation of all three of his family members’ affections wash over him. His father was the focus, though. He couldn’t help but express himself with tiny whimpers and moans, wriggling every so often to encourage his father to continue.

Hurley pressed a kiss to each of his other children’s heads, rubbing or squeezing Mitch’s bottom while also going a bit firmer still, until he was now gently smacking his son’s bottom.

Alastor blinked when the game ended two hours later, and his baby brother was still lying over their father’s lap receiving attention. The kid’s bottom was a bright rosy red by now and Alastor genuinely didn’t know how the boy could be comfortable or like it any more. But he didn’t say anything, because at that moment, Mitch said something. It couldn’t be understood by anyone speaking the English language, but something was said.

Annika leaned down closer to her brother’s head. You need to speak up, dādāsh jān. We could not hear you. Mitch repeated himself and although it was still too quiet for Alastor or Hurley to hear, Annika’s ear was right next to his mouth this time, so she did hear. She sat up and gave her father an amused look. He asks that you spank harder, daddy; until I feel it all night, she reported dutifully, before gently scratching her fingernails over Mitch’s shoulders and upper back.

Sounds about right... Alastor snorted faintly and continued to rub his baby brother’s feet.

Hurley, not too surprised, let the force increase a bit more, so the gentle smacks became firmer ones, addressing quite a few to Mitch’s sit spots and thighs so his baby boy would feel it when he sat down.

By this time, Annika had given up reading her book and Alastor had turned off the TV. Both of them watched their father’s hand rising and falling, their brother’s backside turning a darker and darker shade of pink the longer it went on. Alastor was watching mainly to help his father out if Mitch showed any sign of distress and Hurley didn’t catch it.

Annika was... well, the look on her face couldn’t be called anything other than jealous. It wasn’t that she wanted a spanking; but to be able to feel comfortable enough in her own skin that she could ask for something like that if she needed? She wished she felt comfortable enough to do that.

Mitch was letting out tiny moans and whimpers, shifting his bottom every so often; but soon, he was wriggling. Not to get away, but because he just couldn’t help it. He knew that between the heightened sensitivity from being handled for two hours straight and from the spanking he was now receiving, he’d be feeling the sting all the rest of the night and possibly till the morning, if his daddy rubbed his bottom during the night to reignite it.

Hurley was very careful to watch his youngest son’s reactions, even though he knew that Alastor was watching, too, and if he missed something, his oldest would catch it. He continued the firm smacks for several more moments, until his son’s bottom was shaded to dark pink and hot to the touch and then he stopped, his hand resting gently on Mitch’s lower back, to begin rubbing slow, soothing circles.

MItch shivered as the swats stopped, the cool air on his heated bottom chilling him slightly. Th...thank you, daddy... he managed to get out, even though his breathing was slightly ragged. He didn’t move from Hurley’s lap, waiting for his father to put the flap back in place and indicate he needed to get up. He was perfectly happy where he was, even if it kept his brother and sister trapped under him.

Alastor smiled at the words, giving his father a fond and loving look.

Annika smiled crookedly as well; the jealousy was still there, but she was happy for her brother. Their father’s attention had obviously helped calm something in him that needed calming. What would you all like for supper? she asked out of nowhere.

Hurley carefully replaced the flap and then helped his youngest son to stand up, giving his daughter a considering look. Why don’t we let your brothers take care of supper, angel, and I’ll take a look at your wound? he suggested.

Mitch was in a good mood and nodded vigorously. I know just what to fix!

Annika blinked, then smiled shyly. Okay, has been bothering me a little, she admitted.

Hurley gave his sons a hug each and then wrapped his arm around Annika’s shoulders, guiding her through to the bathroom. I noticed you were rubbing it. Has it only just started bothering you? he asked, concerned.

Yeah...I was a little uncomfortable this morning, but it didn’t really hurt until now... Annika said.

Are you comfortable taking off your top so I can see? Hurley asked gently, not wanting to do anything his daughter would feel uncomfortable with.

Annika nodded. I’m okay with it, Papa... she said softly. Do you need me to take everything off? She gave her father a questioning look. She knew it would be easier for him to help her if there was nothing blocking his access. Plus, after watching him with Mitch, she found herself wanting that same trust with him where she wasn’t ashamed and didn’t hide anything. She just didn’t know how to say so.

It would make it easier for me to take care of you, Hurley answered. If it won’t cause you any distress, angel.

Annika nodded. It won’t bother me, Papa. I...I want to trust you like Mitch does... she said cautiously, hoping he would understand what she wasn’t saying. She began to disrobe until soon, she was completely bare and vulnerable to his examination.

Hurley gently kissed her forehead. That would make me very happy, angel, he murmured, before he began to carefully examine the wound, also checking to make sure there were no other wounds he might have missed before. It looks a bit inflamed...I’m going to try washing it. It could be some dirt got in when I last changed the bandage.

Annika winced. I won’t have to take medicine, will I, Papa? It always makes me so tired... She held still as he took care of her wounds.

I’ll see how it does, Hurley answered. If it doesn’t clear up or get better, taking medicine might be necessary. He stroked her arm soothingly and then began to carefully wash the wound, being as gentle as possible.

Okay, Papa... Annika gave him a tiny smile, managing to hold still even when the wound stung, though she couldn’t help the tiny hiss she expelled. I wanted to take a shower, so maybe I should do that before you put a bandage back on it? She bit her lip and glanced up. You don’t think that’s why it got worse instead of better, do you? I tried to keep the bandages dry, but.... She frowned. The thought of not bathing wasn’t pleasant....

I don’t think it would have helped, Hurley answered. I think letting the wound stay uncovered while you shower or bath would be better for it. He kissed her forehead. Would you like me to leave while you shower, angel?

Annika swallowed. No, can stay... She smiled crookedly. She wasn’t sure how Mitch did it, giving himself completely over to their father’s control without any hesitation at all. She wanted that too, so badly; to feel that close and safe that she didn’t care if he had control or saw her at her most vulnerable. It wasn’t easy, though; years of being taught that she needed to hide herself was hard to overcome. And her father was worried about doing something she didn’t want or feel comfortable with, so he was leaving it entirely to her and sadly, that was making her more nervous than if he’d just tell her ’I’m staying’ or ’I’ll wait outside’. ’I don’t know how Mitch does it... she muttered despondently.

Hurley couldn’t help but respond to that statement, wrapping his arms around his daughter and hugging her. He didn’t try to pretend he didn’t know what she was talking about. Sometimes it’s easier for some people to voice or otherwise not hide their needs than others, he said gently. I’ve already made it clear to Mitch that it doesn’t matter what he needs...whether he thinks it’s wrong or it embarrasses him, it doesn’t make a difference to me...I’ll tell you the same thing. I’m your father. You don’t need to hide.

Annika sunk into her father’s embrace, snuggling close. I love you, Papa...I want to with you...about everything. I’m trying not to let myself be afraid or ashamed, but... what I want goes against what I’ve done my entire life.... She sighed. It’s scary... she admitted quietly, somehow forgetting that she was going against what she’d done her entire life just standing in his arms at that moment, since she was completely naked.

Hurley gently stroked her hair. You’re letting me hold onto you right now when you’re naked and vulnerable, angel, he said softly. Perhaps it’s easier when you don’t try to overthink it.

I can’t help but overthink it... Annika sniffled. The only way I won’t overthink is if I let you make all decisions for me and just obey without thinking at all.... She snuggled closer, not sure how to say that she wanted to try that. To see if it helped her let go the rest of the way so she could build her trust...strengthen her relationship with her father.

Is that what you’d like? Hurley asked. He kissed the top of her head. Would that make you feel better? More comfortable with your own needs?

Annika bit her lip and thought. It was what she wanted. At the same time, giving up all control and just blindly obeying? It was frightening. Hurley would have complete control over her and her life. She’d have to trust him completely, or she’d be terrified. Yes, Papa, she finally whispered, stepping off the ledge and into the unknown with two words. She shivered and tightened her grip, scared and uncertain and needing to feel like she hadn’t made a mistake.

Hurley kissed his daughter’s cheek. I’ve got you, angel, he murmured, his voice soft and reassuring. I know you planned to have a shower, but I think a bath would be better. It was a test, as much as anything else, but it would give him a chance to take care of her.

Annika relaxed slightly at her father’s reassurance. Okay, Papa, she responded quietly. She gave a trembling smile, knowing that this was the first step in many that would help her learn to rely on her father.

Hurley tightened his embrace and kissed her cheek, then began to run the bath, carefully checking the temperature to make sure it wasn’t too hot or too cold.

Annika waited patiently and tried not to fidget or show how nervous she was. I love you, Papa....

I love you too, angel. Hurley helped her into the bath, making sure she wouldn’t slip, and picked up the washcloth, beginning to clean her with absolutely no embarrassment or awkwardness.

As her father bathed her, like a young child that couldn’t be left alone, Annika found herself relaxing. The feeling of fear and trepidation at the unknown was replaced with a sense of belonging and security. Hurley was her father and was taking care of her in whatever way she needed. Was this how Mitch had felt when he’d decided to fully commit to being their father’s? Feels better... she whispered...the warm water and gentle touch was soothing.

I’m glad, Hurley murmured, letting his fingers stroke through his daughter’s hair, even as he continued to gently wash her. I love you, angel. I’m glad you’re mine.

I don’t want to be anyone else’s. Annika smiled crookedly, her eyes crinkling in the corner. Thank you, Papa....

You’re welcome, angel. Hurley washed carefully and gently, tilting his daughter’s head back enough to wash her hair without the risk of getting any soap in her eyes. Thank you for trusting me enough to do this, he whispered.

Thank you for loving me enough to help me trust you... Annika whispered, her eyes filling with tears. I need you, Papa... she admitted softly. She’d relaxed further as he cared for her, the intimacy of the moment easing her fears. She was right to trust the older man.

I need you too. Just because Hurley hadn’t realised he needed his daughter before he adopted her, it didn’t mean he hadn’t realised the need he had for her once he had her. Pressing a kiss to her forehead, he finished washing her and then retrieved a towel so he could help her out of the bath and carefully dry her off.

Annika waited till her father was able to help her get out and wrap her in a towel. Was the wound bad enough to need medicine? she asked hesitantly; not really wanting to take it, but fully willing to trust her father’s judgement.

Hurley carefully dried his daughter off as he said, I’d prefer it if you take some medicine anyway. It doesn’t look bad, but I want to head off any problems before they start.

Okay, Papa, Annika easily agreed, giving her father a tiny smile and agreeing to obey him.

Smiling encouragingly at his daughter, Hurley retrieved the medicine and a spoon, reflecting it was just as well he’d stocked his retirement home under the assumption that he or his son might need wounds treated. Not sure if Annika needed him to take that extra step or not, he decided to go with his gut as he poured the medicine onto the spoon. Open up, angel.

Annika’s eyes brightened; not only at the term of affection, but that her father understood. She opened her mouth– obediently– so he could put the spoon in her mouth, closed her mouth to take in the medicine and swallow, and promptly made a horrified eeeeww face and had to force her throat to work to get the vile tasting elixir to move past her tongue and down her throat. Finally, it was all down, and she looked up at her father pathetically, wanting to ask if the medicine allowed her to rinse after, but too busy trying to keep the medicine down by swallowing convulsively.

Good girl. Hurley kissed her forehead and then filled a cup with water, passing it to her so she could rinse and take the taste away.

Thank you, Papa! she said fervently and took the cup to rinse. That must be to encourage people not to get wounded... she joked faintly.

Hurley smiled. I’m not sure medicine does its job if it tastes good, he joked in return, picking up his daughter’s clothes with the full intention of dressing her.

Annika grinned. That must be it, because all important medicines taste horrible or have to be given in shot form! Annika cringed playfully. She shifted close enough to her father that he could clothe her.

Hurley began to dress his daughter, kissing her forehead or cheek or stroking her hair while doing so. Out of all the recruits he had trained before, Alastor had been the only one to see this affectionate side of him. And now he had three kids to show affection to.

Annika nuzzled against her father’s hand or arm anytime it was close enough for her to do so when he dressed her. As soon as he had her dressed, she moved into his arms and snuggled close. I love you, Papa... she said softly.

Hurley wrapped his arms tightly around her, kissing her head. I love you, angel. Thank you for letting me bring you home, he whispered.

Thank you for wanting me, Annika whispered back. I never expected to be happy again after everything. You’ve helped me more than you could ever know....

Hurley held her tightly for several more moments, just feeling his daughter close, and then asked softly, Are you ready to join your brothers now?

Yes, Papa. She smiled and leaned up to kiss him on the cheek. You take such good care of us...who takes care of you? she asked softly.

Hurley kissed her head. I have you and your brothers...that’s what I need, he whispered back, holding her a bit longer before he gently guided her through to the other room. It was beginning to occur to him that his two youngest had needs he could fulfil for them...but so far, Alastor hadn’t shown any sign of needing more from him. He couldn’t help but worry that his oldest had needs he was holding back on expressing.

Alastor and Mitch looked up from where they were playing cards. Hey. Everything okay? Alastor asked, with a hint of worry. He’d seen how Annika was favoring the area she’d been wounded.

It is now... Annika looked sheepish. Papa had to clean and redress the wound. And give me medicine....

Mitch nodded. I’m sorry...I’ve been helping you and I didn’t see it getting worse....

This wasn’t a wound you were looking at. It was one I thought was little more than a deep scratch. I should have known better.... Annika gave her family an apologetic look.

I think we’ve caught it before it became a real issue, but I’ll continue to keep an eye on it and make sure it doesn’t get worse, Hurley promised, before glancing at Alastor. Can I talk to you a moment, kiddo?

Alastor blinked. Sure, dad...can you play my hand for me, Annie? He handed his cards to his baby sister, who slid into his chair as he stood and made his way to stand next to Hurley.

Mitch began to explain the game they were playing.

Everything okay, dad? Alastor whispered, as he made to follow his father into another room.

Hurley headed into his bedroom, simply because it felt like one of the safest places to be with his kids, and wrapped his arm around Alastor’s shoulders, guiding his oldest over and sitting down, encouraging his son to sit next to him. Nothing’s wrong, kiddo...but I wanted to talk to you. Ask if there’s anything you need...something you might feel embarrassed about asking for...but that would help you in any kind of way. He looked into his son’s eyes as he added, You’ve seen what your brother needs...that I don’t have any issues with being that for him.

Alastor blinked. already are doing everything I need... he admitted. you know, he has a problem with authority and trusting. He needs what he needs because he wants to trust and obey you and that helps him do so.... I’m assuming Annika needs you differently, but still it leads to her trusting and relying on you more fully. He paused. Thing is, daddy...I already trust you with everything I am. I couldn’t possibly trust or rely on you whole life is in your hands.... He bit his lip and blinked back tears. You saved me from myself.... you’re already doing everything right....

Hurley couldn’t help but wrap his arms tightly around his son, kissing the top of his head. I want to be certain, he whispered, cuddling Alastor even more tightly to himself. I love much, son. It tore me apart when I lost you. He didn’t mention the nightmares...the images of the pain he was sure his son had gone through. But he held on tighter, almost as if he was afraid he’d lose his son if he let go again.

Alastor relaxed into his father’s embrace; the tighter Hurley held him, the more relaxed he became. I... I guess if you want to know something that helps calm me down, he whispered, it helps a lot when you just hold me like this...the tighter, the better. Kinda makes it feel like nothing could get me as long as you have me.... He blushed.

Hurley stroked his son’s hair. That helps me, too, kiddo, he whispered, kissing Alastor’s head again. I lost out on a long time with you. If I could, I wouldn’t let go of you ever again. He still couldn’t help but blame himself. He should have dug deeper. He shouldn’t have stopped. He’d only let one person see just how devastated he’d become...and now he couldn’t help but question if she’d known and kept the truth from him. Unlikely, he knew, but now he was questioning everything. Except his kids. He tightened his arms around Alastor, just cuddling.

Alastor held on tightly, nuzzling his father. It wasn’t your fault, daddy. They lied to you. It hurts, really...I thought a few more of them found me valuable, if not actually cared. I know you at least did everything you could. If I’d been in a better frame of mind, I would have realized and come home to you immediately. He swallowed. I’m so sorry for what I put you through.

Hurley didn’t so much as loosen his hold on Alastor, needing the physical contact with his son. It hurt so much worse that I’d lost you, he whispered. That I hadn’t been able to bring you home with felt like my whole reason for pushing on was gone. He’d done everything but outright attempt to kill himself before he’d thrown away all personal feelings and dove back into training.

I’m so thankful you found the strength to continue pushing anyway. No one else would have been able to bring me back to myself. I would have taken out Mitch and Annika on my way to hell. Possibly even cousin Irene, if I could get to her. Does she know about me? Alastor asked curiously.

No. Stroking Alastor’s hair, Hurley continued, If I tell her about you...I have to be sure it won’t put you in danger. You three are my priority. He didn’t confide his worry that his niece had known about the offered trade. If she’d known...and not told him...he wasn’t sure he’d be able to forgive her.

I trust your judgement, daddy... Alastor said. I... I’m not sure I want to find out if she knew the truth or not.

Hurley had pretty much, by this point, pulled his son close enough that Alastor was on his lap. He’d missed this terribly...even if he’d never shown the affection where the other recruits would see, not wanting to make Alastor get singled out, or have it be assumed he was getting special treatment. I’m going to keep you safe, son, he said softly. No matter what it that I have you back, I’m not going to lose you again.

See? That right there is why you are already doing everything I need. I love you, daddy. Just hold me tight and close and I’m good... Alastor smiled and cuddled closer.

Hurley smiled and kissed his head. I love you, kiddo. He’d already made up his mind he’d set aside a bit of time each day where he could just sit and cuddle his oldest son. In fact, he’d also planned to spend time each day fulfilling all of his kids’ needs.

Alastor smiled and nuzzled his father’s shoulder. I’d be happy never to leave home and just stay here with you and baby brother and baby sister.

And I’d be perfectly happy with you staying here, with me. Hurley stroked his hair and back, letting his hand rub under Alastor’s shirt for the skin-on-skin contact.

Would Irene let you get away with you not leaving? Especially if she doesn’t know why? Alastor chuckled. You know if you stay away too long, she’ll come looking for you.

Hurley nodded, knowing his son was right. I’ll make contact with her. She knows you resurfaced and she knows what losing you put me through. I figure she decided to give me time to heal and space to grieve...possibly also looking for where Mitch disappeared to, he added. At least when he’d let slip about his kids to his contacts, he hadn’t actually revealed who they were. Which was likely why the CIA hadn’t come calling.

Yeah. You don’t think she knew, do you? Alastor asked, worry in his tone.

I don’t know, kiddo, Hurley admitted. Finding out about the trade’s thrown me for a loop. I’d never have expected it to be kept from me, so I really can’t say who was in the know.

Alastor nodded. With her position in the company...I don’t see how she couldn’t have known, even if it was after the fact. I hope it was after the fact, though....

So do I. Stroking his son’s head, Hurley added, Especially as she knew exactly how much you meant to me even before I lost you.

She was my family... Alastor added. I thought we all meant a lot to each other....

Hurley tightened his arms around his son. You mean everything to me, he whispered. I love you so much. I’m never going to let you go again.

I believe you. Alastor smiled. I’m not worried. I can handle anything with you beside me....

Exactly where I’ll stay, Hurley promised. And you’ve got Mitch and Annika, too. A whole family....

Yeah... it’s just so hard to believe sometimes... Alastor shook his head. He was about to say more, but all of a sudden, Mitch was yelling down the hall.

Daddy! Car coming up the drive! We’re about to have company! the younger man yelled.

A few seconds later, Annika was running into the room, a worried look in her eyes. Had their enemies figured something out?

Alastor quickly moved to his sister’s side. I’ll stay with the kids... he told his father. Be careful, dad.

Hurley stood, immediately wary and on his guard. Stay inside, he directed his kids, leaving the bedroom and grabbing his gun on the way, tucking it into his pants. Better to have it and not need it than not have it and realise he needed it.

As soon as he got outside, Hurley recognised the car and the plates...but even if it was his niece putting in an appearance, he couldn’t relax. Instead, he began worrying about whether Irene was alone...and what he was going to do if his fears were accurate.

Irene saw her uncle Stan coming out of the house and could tell immediately he was in defensive mode. She swallowed. She hadn’t wanted to believe anything was suspicious when she’d been told of his calls to various contacts. But the way he was acting now, she wasn’t as optimistic. Her uncle was hiding something. She just hoped it wasn’t something she’d have to report.

She parked the car and slowly got out, keeping her hands where they could be seen. Hi, Uncle Stan. It’s just me. I came to ask you about some rumors I’ve heard.

Hurley stopped at what could be considered a safe distance from his niece. He’d been completely honest when he’d told Alastor his kids were his priority. He wouldn’t hurt his niece...but he’d protect them. What rumours? he asked, his stance almost casual; his voice conversational.

That you were calling around asking about two young of whom’s description bore a striking resemblance to Mitch Rapp... Irene paused. Since we thought he’d been blown up in that blast.... She turned a hurt and frustrated gaze onto her uncle. Was that a lie, Uncle Stan?

Mitch had stayed in the house as ordered, but he was close to the door and also held a gun. If the director looked like she was going after his father....

Hurley didn’t look back at the house. He didn’t check to make sure his children weren’t in view, trusting that they would stay out of sight. He did, however, frown at the question and look at his niece more closely. The CIA thinks Mitch was blown up? Then who had called his son to go on an op?

Yes...the report I was given stated that he and Ronnie... She winced and swallowed. ...Ghost...were caught in that blast. That Rapp had saved hundreds of lives at the cost of his had your signature! Her look of frustration was becoming confused.

Hurley couldn’t hide his flinch at the mention of his oldest son’s birth name. It was a stark reminder of how close he’d come to losing Alastor again. I brought Mitch here. To heal. Where he was contacted by the CIA about taking on a job, he said. So either someone’s lying to you...or you’re lying to me. And considering his suspicions about her knowing about the trade offered for Ghost...he could come down on either side.

Irene stepped back as if she’d been physically hit. Uncle Stan... she started to speak faintly. I wouldn’t... She didn’t get much more out, though, because Mitch was stepping out into the porch, face mistrustful and angry.

Are you honestly trying to claim someone is running ops behind your back? That you’ve been given bad information? That you’ve lost control of your agency? He spat the words out derisively.

Instead of getting angry and arguing back like he’d expected, Irene turned frightened eyes toward him. What’s going on...? Her voice was firm, but her uncle had known her all her life; he’d be able to tell she was more than a little worried and frightened at what was beginning to look like an attempt to get her out of the way. If the methods so far seemed benign, she knew if they didn’t work, a more permanent solution would be attempted. Hell...if they were calling Mitch with jobs, she might be on one of his lists of targets very soon.

Hurley didn’t show any reaction to the fact that Mitch had just disobeyed his orders, his mind very firmly on these revelations. He believed his niece. Which meant that she was most probably in danger. The curse he muttered was under his breath and he quickly began to take charge of the situation. Does anyone else know you were coming here? He was going to have to move the conversation inside and hope he could pick up the pieces when all hell broke loose.

Irene blinked. I didn’t tell anyone, and I took the usual precautions to make sure I wasn’t followed, but... She shook her head. Given their line of work and what was starting to come to light, she couldn’t be certain she hadn’t been tagged with bugs or trackers. I’ll leave... She glanced toward Mitch. They might figure out I came by here, but if I don’t stay long, they won’t know for sure...ditch my a new wardrobe...make sure I haven’t been chipped. She barely stopped herself from shivering. I’m sorry, Uncle Stan.... She backed up toward her car.

Wait. Mitch frowned, glancing toward his father. He still wasn’t certain she wasn’t putting on a good act, but if she wasn’t... I can search the car to see if it was tagged with a tracker while Dad searches you. Whoever is lying to you already knows I’m alive, since they called me. You’re the one in the biggest danger right now. May as well make sure they can’t follow you to wherever you go next before leaving.... Not that he expected her to leave. Hurley was her uncle. He wouldn’t abandon her unless she gave him no choice (or made him choose between her and his kids).

No. You’re not leaving, Hurley said. I’ll check you over before I take you inside. Mitch, after you’ve searched the car, I want you to go inside. He didn’t outright tell his son to warn Alastor and Annika...but he assumed his youngest son would pick up that much. Not wasting any time, he stepped over to his niece to begin searching her.

Yessir... Mitch quickly moved to check the car. He was quick and efficient and as soon as he was done, he went inside as ordered and warned his brother and sister of Irene’s arrival and the possible problems accompanying her.

Irene watched as Mitch obeyed without argument, her eyebrows rising. Okay...he actually listens to you now... she whispered, moving to stand next to her uncle so he could check her over.

Hurley quickly and carefully checked his niece over. We’ve been working on some things, he answered, not commenting that his youngest son still had some things to learn...and that he’d been disobeyed when he told his kids to stay in the house. He knew he was going to have to address that.

You’re good, Hurley said, finishing the check over. He glanced at the door and held back a sigh. He didn’t feel good about what was coming. Let’s go inside. He placed his hand on Irene’s shoulder, gently guiding his niece into the house.

Irene felt almost like she was being led into an interrogation. There was no doubt in her mind that had he not felt she was in danger because of the odd events going on, her uncle would have preferred she move on. She didn’t know why she felt that way... until she walked into the living room and saw Annika and Ghost sitting there. The weakness in her knees at seeing how completely she’d been lied to, fooled, or left out of the loop was impossible to hide, since only her uncle’s grip on her shoulder kept her upright. She also couldn’t keep tears of hurt anger from pooling in her eyes. You distrust me that much now? she asked Hurley, her voice catching at the end.

Hurley kept his hand on her shoulder, unable to help but squeeze gently. He could tell she was close to tears. I found out that a trade was offered for Ghost. I was allowed to believe he was dead while he was imprisoned and tortured. He paused and then asked, in a soft but firm voice, Did you know?

Irene turned pale and she straightened almost imperceptibly. If her uncle hadn’t had a grip on her shoulder, it might have escaped his notice. She quickly thought over her options, but the thought of outright lying to her uncle was never a serious consideration. Hiding things was bad enough. I found out shortly after I was promoted. By then, it was too late to argue in favor of the offer; he was believed dead. When he showed up again as Ghost, I didn’t think knowing what had happened would help you at all and would hurt. So I kept quiet about what I’d learned. Her voice was steady if quiet, but she couldn’t face her uncle. She knew he viewed withholding information the same as lying when it came to him and her.

Hurley let his breath out in a slow sigh. He hadn’t truly believed that Irene had known about the deal when it had first been offered...but he’d also thought the same about other people in the CIA. You know my views on hiding information from me. If you’d told me the truth earlier, I would have been better prepared.

I made the call that seemed best at the time... Irene argued. You would have blamed yourself for what had happened, and we needed you focused on catching and stopping him, not guilt. Her words and voice weren’t even convincing to her own ears. She did know his feelings on hiding things from him. That she was trying to protect him wouldn’t matter in his eyes. I was trying to protect you... she said anyway, pathetically.

So, you didn’t think him knowing the truth would do any good? Alastor asked in disbelief. Because if he’d known the truth, he may have tried to get through to me and bring me back and everyone knew that wasn’t possible!

No! Irene turned horrified eyes toward her cousin. That’s not why...!

We’re just supposed to believe that? When you’ve all but admitted lying to dad for so many years? Mitch was acerbic.

I... Irene looked around at the other occupants; from her uncle, who looked very disappointed in her; to Alastor, who looked hurt; to Annika and Mitch, who were distrusting and angry. I... I was wrong. She slumped wearily. I really should leave. They obviously know about the four of you being together. My knowing puts a target on me...and if I’m here, the target expands to you. You’ve assured me I’m free of trackers...I’ll go to one of my hiding spots no one knows of. Try and figure out what the hell is going on... Forcing herself to stand straight again, Irene shifted away from her uncle, expecting that he’d let her go.

Hurley not only followed the movement, he wrapped his arm around Irene’s shoulders and pulled her in closer to himself. I didn’t bring you in here for you just to leave again. You made a mistake...and I’m going to handle that mistake exactly the same way I have done in the past. But you aren’t the only one to make a mistake. He looked at his children. I know you’re hurt...angry...but we’re all still a family here, he said gently. The look in his eyes was loving and affectionate as he let his gaze linger on each of them, gently rubbing Irene’s shoulder so she’d know she was included.

Irene felt herself weakening...wanting to give in and obey the man who had always been there for her, even when her own father wasn’t able. Uncle Stan.... Her voice caught, and she had to bring her hand up to wipe at the tears suddenly drenching her face. I’ve put you in enough danger. Someone obviously wants me out of the way. If they come after me....

If they come after you, they learn why they shouldn’t mess with Stan Hurley’s family. Alastor spoke so calmly and assuredly that a little of Irene’s worry about being a danger for them cleared up.

She glanced around the room. Three of the deadliest individuals in the world and the man who had trained two of them (and who could arguably be considered even more deadly) were here; offering to protect her, if she was reading the body language right. After everything I did... she whispered, unable to keep her voice steady this time.

You made a mistake, Hurley said. I’m not going to leave you to fend for yourself. You’re still my niece. He smiled slightly. And you’ve got three cousins here now. Officially. Mitch, Annika, Alastor. He informed his niece of his oldest child’s name change.

Alastor... Irene blinked and gave a trembling smile to her older cousin. It fits you... She smiled hesitantly.

So... she stays with us? Mitch asked, even though he knew the answer; or thought he did, anyway.

There’s one more room left...not that rooms matter much, Annika said quietly, thinking of how they all piled into one bed. She wasn’t sure adding one more person to the pile was possible.

Uncle Stan? Irene asked hesitantly, needing to hear him say it clearly before she’d believe he wanted her to stay. Especially when she knew he’d have a few things to say about her hiding stuff.

You’re staying, Hurley replied. He looked at his children, checking to make sure none of them were worried or bothered by this. It might be my retirement home, but at least it’s safe and easily defensible.

Irene nodded, the sense of relief she had that he wasn’t pushing her away to handle this on her own, after she’d lied for so long (she could admit she’d done that now that the truth was out), her relief was dizzying. She’d be surprised if her uncle couldn’t feel it through his grip on her. Your retirement home would rival Fort Knox, she teased. Okay.... Now he’d hear the relief. Some big bad agent she was, being so completely rattled at finding out someone was out to get her.

She pulled her phone out; it was highly encrypted and shouldn’t be possible to trace, but it was her own people burning her. She’d turned it off. Now it was time to get rid of it entirely. Her memory was good enough to remember what she needed off of it. Pulling the SIM card out, she dropped both items to the floor and ground them under foot.

So, I know you’ll want to question me. She sighed wearily and waited for her uncle to make his next move.

Hurley nodded and glanced at his children. Do you want to start fixing supper while I chat to your cousin? He knew that they...and she...would know what he really meant by chat; but even if his children chose to make themselves vulnerable to him and in front of each other, he wasn’t going to force them to show that vulnerability in front of anyone else.

Irene swallowed as her feelings were suddenly transferred back many years to the last time her uncle had needed to chat with her. It had been pretty serious. She’d been doing things she shouldn’t have and been caught by the local Sheriff, who happened to be friends with her uncle. She was still legally considered a minor (even if she felt she was old enough to run her own life), or she would have been in a lot deeper trouble. Her uncle knew it, even if she was too headstrong to admit it. She’d admitted it by the end of the chat, though. She’d admitted a lot of things by the end of that chat. It was the worst chat she’d ever had with her uncle. His voice sounded the same now as it did then. I can help with dinner...we really don’t need to chat... she whimpered.

I think we do, sweetheart. It might have been quite a while since Hurley had last had to take his niece in hand, but considering how well spanking worked with his children, he knew it would be an effective punishment. Not only that, but it would allow him to draw her closer to himself...and hopefully let his kids at least start to forgive her, if they knew he was punishing her in the same way he punished them.

It was the sweetheart that broke her resistance. Her uncle hadn’t called her that since she entered the training for being an agent; she’d wanted to keep their relationship unknown to everyone else. She thought she’d be respected more. Hearing it now after years of being aloof and hiding things...she couldn’t defy her uncle. She may have been in charge of her teams in the CIA, but Hurley? He’d always been in charge of her...when they were at home. She was now home. The sweetheart made that clear.

Alastor heard the term of endearment and immediately relaxed, smiling. If Hurley was calling her sweetheart, he trusted her. And was going to forgive and bring her home.

Annika took her cue from Alastor and relaxed. Mitch just looked like he’d sucked on a lemon, but he was marginally more relaxed.

Irene swallowed again. Okay, uncle Stan... She relaxed enough he could lead her.

Hurley gently squeezed his niece’s shoulder, but before he led her into the other room, he moved over to give each of his children a tight, reassuring hug. He could tell Mitch seemed to be having the most trouble and he held onto his youngest son for just a fraction longer. It’s going to be okay, baby boy. He whispered the words quietly enough so that only Mitch would hear them, not wanting to embarrass his baby boy.

Okay, daddy...I believe you... Mitch said softly, hugging his father back tightly.

Irene bit her lip at the show of family. Once upon a time, she’d been that close to her uncle. She hadn’t realized how much she missed it until seeing it in action with the others. She slumped slightly, depression and dejection weighing her down.

Since they were positioned in such a way that Irene wouldn’t be able to see, Hurley gave his youngest son’s backside a firm pat, reaffirming his son’s place in his life, and kissed his forehead before he moved back over to his niece’s side. Wrapping his arm around her shoulders, he guided her through to the bedroom.

Mitch relaxed more noticeably when his father swatted him. He managed a civil nod toward his cousin, giving her a knowing smirk as she was led away.

Irene swallowed hard as her uncle led her. She didn’t know what to say, though. Too many secrets were between them at the moment.

Hurley guided his niece into his bedroom, closing the door before he turned to face her, still keeping his arm around her shoulders. I don’t think I need to tell you what hiding this from me could have done...what it did do. Nearly made him lose his oldest son. If Mitch hadn’t chosen to knock Alastor out....

Irene nodded mutely, her eyes filling with guilt as she thought of everything that had happened. If she had just told him...trying to protect him hadn’t really worked and her actions had just ensured her cousin didn’t get the help he needed. She’d just written him off as a lost cause, even if that hadn’t been her intention. Yes, sir... she finally managed to whisper.

Hurley didn’t waste any time, leading his niece over to the bed and taking a seat, guiding her across his lap. You don’t lie to me, sweetheart. You don’t hide things from me. Whether or not you thought you were trying to protect me, your actions didn’t just hurt me. Alastor was written off by everyone...and I nearly lost him completely.

I never meant that to happen...I never even realized that’s what I was doing... Irene’s voice wobbled, and she tried to keep control over herself, but it was difficult. She’d made a horrible mistake and her cousin paid the price.

Hurley settled his niece in place, wrapping an arm around her waist before he bared her. He brought his hand down in the first firm swat that he then repeated, settling quickly into a pattern of swats down to her thighs.

Irene let out a quick breath, the shock of being in this position again after so many years sending her plummeting emotionally. She couldn’t do anything but respond as his niece, something she hadn’t admitted to being for far too long. I’m sorry, Tio... she whispered sadly, tears already streaming down her face.

I know. Hurley started a second circuit of swats. I know you’re sorry, sweetheart. I forgive you. I love you. But you can’t hide things from me. That’s never okay...and certainly not when it involves one of my children.

No, Tio...I was awfully wrong...I can’t take it back or make it right...I wish I could...I’m so sorry! Irene’s tears became vocal. She’d lost so much time with her uncle; the only family she had left, really, pulling away from him. It didn’t help that the main reason she’d pulled away was because of the secret she’d been keeping for so long. Now the secret was out, and it was a relief. She felt so guilty.

It was hard, but Hurley began a third circuit of swats, going a bit harder and faster. If you’d told me the truth earlier, I could have been better prepared. I might have been able to tell him that I didn’t choose to leave him behind. Instead of goading his son into hurting him worse because the guilt had been so much more painful than the physical pain.

I know... Irene said brokenly. She’d made the wrong choice and her uncle and cousin had paid the price. She deserved so much worse than a spanking. She couldn’t apologize enough. She couldn’t do anything...except to accept whatever her uncle decided to do to her.

Quivering from sobs that couldn’t escape, even if she wasn’t fighting, Irene closed her eyes tightly, held onto her uncle’s leg and forced herself to breathe, her breaths choked and thin. I know, Tio. She moaned softly.

Hurley gentled his tone, hearing the tears, though he didn’t stop the spanking, instead focusing more swats to her sit spots and thighs. But I have him back now...and thanks to you, I have another son now. A daughter. Three kids who I think the world of. You know what losing Alastor did to me. I don’t have to go through that any more.

I didn’t do anything but assign him to you for training... Irene said in a trembling voice, still unable to let go the way she desperately needed to, something making it impossible for her to do so, even though she wanted to. And she knew from experience the spanking wouldn’t end until she’d let go and submitted to her uncle’s authority over her.

Maybe that’s all you knew you were doing, Hurley agreed, one hand gently rubbing and stroking over his niece’s back, even while his other continued to spank, keeping a careful control over his strength, even though he’d been swatting for a while. But you saw something in him that made you bring him to me. Something I needed to push through that darkness. I know you were trying to protect me by not telling me about the trade. You’re right. If I’d learned about it before, I don’t know if I’d have been able to survive. He’d barely managed as it was. More than one night, he’d got completely blackout drunk...and then had wicked hangovers that had had him putting the recruits through hell and back. Alastor asked me if you knew about his survival. He still called you his cousin. You’re still my niece. I’m pulling my kids to me...I want to do the same to you. This isn’t just about protecting you physically, but taking care of you emotionally, too.

After everything...he called me his cousin? Irene’s breath caught in her throat. You want me back with you? She choked, taking in deep gulps of breath, her body stiff and locked in place. You want me? she said, in a high pitched, hopeless, almost little girl voice.

I want you. Hurley spoke with the exact same intensity that he addressed his children. If he had to choose, his kids would win out...but he’d rather have them all. I want you to come back to me, sweetheart, he continued. I’m sorry I wasn’t in a good place before emotionally. But I’m fully back now.

I pulled didn’t leave me...I left can you want me after everything I’ve done? And suddenly, it was as if a string had been cut. Suddenly, Irene wasn’t unable to cry or react any longer. She went limp over her uncle’s knee and began to sob– loudly. There was no way the rest of the house wouldn’t hear and know exactly what was occurring...and Irene didn’t care. I’m sorry, Tio! I’m so sorry! She sobbed brokenly. For everything... ...Hiding the news about Ghost, for pulling away and acting like they weren’t family and didn’t mean everything in the world to each other, for not trying harder to do right by her cousin when she first found out the truth. Everything she’d done wrong was meant by those two words. She continued to sob as if she’d never be all right again, not even squirming as her uncle finished punishing her.

Hurley brought the spanking to a stop, relieved she’d given in as it meant he could move onto the comfort. He carefully reclothed her and then moved her onto his lap instead of over it, wrapping his arms tightly around her. I want you because I love you, he whispered. Because you’re my family. My niece. And you never stopped being that.

But I took myself away from you... Irene sobbed and clung to her uncle, as if afraid he’d disappear, and she’d be left alone. I shouldn’t have...I should never have...but I did. I took myself away from you, her voice was lost and confused and childlike. I’m so sorry, so sorry....

I forgive you. Hurley kissed her head. I love you. I’m going to look after you...make sure you’re safe. Protected. Nothing’s going to happen to you. He held her tightly against him, just as if his arms could provide the protection he was promising.

Irene believed him. If her Tio said he’d do something, then it was as good as done. She felt fear she hadn’t even had time to acknowledge seep out of her, leaving her limp, weak and tired. Can... can I stay with you? Until I figure out what’s going on? Until I can fix it? Or find a way out? She felt like she was asking for something enormous. Her staying put the rest in danger. She would understand if he said no.

My kids already asked if you were staying here, Hurley commented. That decision’s already been made...but I’m glad I don’t have to persuade you to stay.

I can’t...can’t believe you still want me...after everything... She began to cry again; not the sobs of before, but still hard enough to show she still carried deep guilt about what she’d done.

Hurley tightened his embrace. I have three kids now who I think the world of...who I love with all of my being, he said softly. Some good things came out of the bad.

Irene shivered, still clinging to her uncle. She was happy for him. Happy that he’d been able to find some peace and happiness in all the mess. Find family. I wish I’d never left you. Wish I’d been honest. I missed you... she admitted softly. I’ve been so lonely...and it’s my own fault....

You’re not alone any more, Hurley promised, kissing her forehead. I love you, sweetheart. I’m happy you’re here.

Irene cried softly and burrowed against her uncle... her Tio.... I never want to leave you again...please don’t let me be so stupid as to leave you again....

I’m not going to, Hurley promised. I’ve got you back now, sweetheart. I’m not going to let you go.

Okay...that’s good... that’s real good... The relief in her voice was palpable.

Are you ready to go through and join your cousins? Hurley asked.

Irene sniffled. Are you sure they want me here? she couldn’t help asking, sounding more like the insecure teen she had been than the confident adult she normally was.

Hurley kissed her forehead. You’re their family too. Their cousin. Alastor already knows you...but Mitch and Annika are happy to have you here as well.

Irene couldn’t help but grin ruefully. Mitch didn’t seem all that happy for me to be here... she mumbled but didn’t argue further. She owed Ronnie... Alastor... an apology and needed to ask his forgiveness for what she’d done. She couldn’t do that hiding out in her Tio’s bedroom. I’m ready to face them, Tio... she finally said quietly. ...And ready to answer any questions you have for me.

Helping his niece up, Hurley kissed her cheek. He’ll come round. He knew Mitch had become very protective of the family as well. He wrapped his arm around Irene’s shoulders so he could guide her out of the bedroom and to his children.

Irene pressed close to her uncle, nervously holding onto him as he led her into the living room where the others were. She could tell by the sympathetic look on Annika’s face, the understanding one on Alastor’s and the more accepting one on Mitch’s that they had heard her wailing from the spanking. She blushed, but didn’t try and stop her uncle from leading her the rest of the way in.

Hurley smiled at his children as he led their cousin further into the room. He didn’t force his niece to sit down, as he wasn’t sure she’d feel too comfortable doing so, but he moved over to his children so he could hug them again and remind himself he had them.

Irene bit her lip and moved closer to Alastor. Ro... She swallowed hard and closed her eyes. ...Alastor. I’m so sorry...I can’t...I’ll never be able to... She took a quivery breath and faltered, not sure how to apologize and even more uncertain how to ask for forgiveness, though she knew she needed to do both.

Alastor seemed to understand, though, as he moved closer to his cousin and wrapped her into a hug. It’s ok, Short-stuff... He resorted to a nick name that he’d called her before she began her training and before the whole sorry mess where he’d disappeared had occurred. ...I understand, he continued. I know you’re sorry and I forgive you. Just...never hide anything from dad again, yeah?

No! Never! Irene said fervently, her tone a promise.

Mitch snorted softly, noting how she was very carefully walking and looked at his father. So... everything’s all good now? he asked, by way of asking if his cousin was staying and if Hurley felt she could be trusted.

Hurley nodded to his youngest son. We’ve dealt with things and everything’s okay between us now, he said. He gently squeezed Mitch’s shoulder. We’ll have a conversation after we’ve eaten, baby boy, he added, in a much quieter voice, figuring it was better to let his son know what to expect rather than having to experience uncertainty.

Because I left the house...? Mitch asked softly, though he was pretty sure that was the reason.

Hurley wrapped his youngest son into a tight hug. After I told you to stay put, he confirmed, gently patting Mitch’s backside.

Can’t argue that I don’t deserve it... Mitch sighed, giving his father an apologetic look. ...I’ve got a long way to go before obeying is my first instinct, I guess.... His tone was apologetic.

We’ll work on it, Hurley promised, hugging his son a bit tighter. I love you, he added.

I love you too, Daddy, Mitch said, loudly enough for Irene to hear. It was obvious she’d been spanked rather thoroughly, so he felt safe in letting himself react to his father the way he normally did in front of family. She wouldn’t have been spanked if she wasn’t family.

Irene swallowed at the almost possessive tone in Mitch’s voice and looked at the ground, realizing again just what she’d almost thrown away by leaving her uncle. It hurt, but she had no one to blame but herself.

It hurt worse knowing that it was all for nothing. Her attempts to not seem connected to the older man so people would judge her on her own merits weren’t doing anything to help her keep her position; and in fact might have meant her death, if her uncle wasn’t so forgiving. She had no doubts some of those calls to Mitch, wanting to hire him, were calls to put a hit on her.

Annika cleared her throat. So why are you here? It is obvious it wasn’t because of the three of us, she nodded towards her siblings, since you were surprised we were here.

I was following up some rumors I was hearing about Tio looking for men I believed to be dead... Irene said quietly.

Alastor frowned, knowing why those rumors had started.

Mitch looked guiltily at his father.

Hurley merely gave his sons a gentle squeeze to the shoulder each. It could have been a lot worse than just rumours...still might be; but at least they knew what had come from him trying to find his sons. I signed off on Ghost being caught in the blast...someone else added Mitch to that report. He moved to his daughter, gently squeezing her shoulder, and asked Irene, What do the reports you have say about Annika?

Irene winced and have Annika an apologetic look. I may have arranged it to look like the Iranians came and retrieved her. When I started hearing rumors about you and your boys and knowing what had been done to Alastor, I thought to check into it on my own time and keep others from finding out till I knew the truth and could decide what to do with it....

They’re out. If they want to be, Hurley added, knowing Mitch was still unsure and on the fence...but that he didn’t plan to let Alastor out of his sight, at least any time soon, and that Annika had already mentioned going to college. I’d prefer it if you left the reports as they are.

I will. I’m not sure I’d even have a choice in the matter, even if I disagree with you... Her tone was mirthless. Given the fact that I’ve obviously been kept out of the loop and lied to and have no clue who is pulling the strings.... She rubbed a hand wearily over her eyes. I’ve got to call some people that I’m sure are on my side...warn them...You wouldn’t happen to have a burner phone, would you? I’ll need to leave the house at least long enough to make the calls, in case they are traced despite all our precautions. I don’t want them knowing I’ve come running to you... She gave her uncle a rueful smile. This is probably the only thing good to come out of my avoiding you for so long. They won’t automatically assume I’d come to you for help... She sighed.

Hurley nodded, heading over to his desk in the far corner of the room. He slid out the top drawer and retrieved one of the several burner phones that he kept there. Just in case. I’d like the names of the people who you’re certain you can trust...who you might think will be in danger. He then looked at Mitch. The next time they call you, I need all of the details straight away. I’m going to set it up so I can listen to your calls.

Irene nodded and walked over to the desk to stand next to him. I can write them down for you if you want... she offered.

Yes, sir, Mitch quickly agreed. Things were beginning to look dicey; and while he was worried for his family (including his annoying cousin), he couldn’t help but feel a bit excited, the adrenalin spiking in his body.

Alastor frowned. The rumors you heard... was it you assuming it was Mitch and I dad was asking about, or did they specifically wonder if we were still alive?

No names were mentioned, and the rumors only actually gave vague descriptions. I was wondering if it was both of you because the descriptions fit what I know of it isn’t unlikely that someone else may have thought the same things as I did. Then again, I know how close Tio was to both of you and not many other people did. So, it is just as likely that I’m the only one to make the connection and everyone else is buying the official report... with the exception of whoever lied in their report and seems to know Mitch is alive.... Irene glanced at her cousins, then looked at her Tio, worried. I’m sorry I don’t know more about that....

Hurley nodded to his niece and held his hand out to Mitch, wanting his youngest son to give him the phone so he could set up the listening device. I’ve got security cameras set up outside. Some more obvious than others. We’d better operate on the assumption that more people have put together who my kids are. Of course, my injuries were on record, too, he added. Anyone who knows my policy of not coming after agents might assume that, even if Ghost is alive, he wouldn’t be here.

Mitch quickly walked over and handed his father his phone. With Irene having disappeared, he was certain he’d be getting another call from the person wanting him to take on missions fairly soon.

Irene blinked, a hesitant look in her eyes. She had a feeling her Tio wasn’t going to like what she said next. I was actually planning to slip into town, maybe the part so that if they did somehow trace me, it didn’t come directly back to the house... she said quietly, but firmly; or as firmly as she could make it when she had a feeling she was about to have an argument with her very protective uncle.

Annika bit her lip. Since, apparently, they are not aware of me yet, I should likely be very careful not to go into town any time soon... she remarked.

Me either. Alastor sighed. At least until we figure out exactly what is going on and why.

Hurley wasted no time taking apart his son’s phone, setting up a small disk that looked like nothing more than a SIM card. No one’s going into town. That includes you, sweetheart, he added to his niece. That phone’s not traceable.

I’d feel better if I was nowhere near here in case they somehow found a way... Irene disagreed. If I led them back here somehow... The thought of it caused the guilt she still felt to wash over her again and it carried easily in her tone.

Mitch looked at her askance, knowing that arguing wouldn’t accomplish anything once his father had made up his mind and might encourage another trip over the knee if the one arguing wasn’t careful. But he didn’t say anything. His cousin apparently grew up with his father. She should know what was expected and how to behave. He couldn’t help but wonder if she wasn’t like him and pushed because she needed to literally feel that Hurley was in complete control; but he had never got that vibe from her before. Then again, he hadn’t known that about himself until Hurley had stepped in, so maybe it was just his father and the effect he had on certain strong willed, danger-seeking people.

I’m officially retired, but that doesn’t mean I’m out of the game, Hurley replied. When it comes to your safety, you’ll follow my directions. I guarantee you won’t like the consequences if you don’t. He paused, realising the warning was almost exactly what he’d told Mitch when he’d dragged his sons away from the boat. He nodded, almost to himself, and looked at the members of his family. All of you know how I deal with things, so I’m giving each one of you a warning. Arguing with me...disregarding your only going to earn you a trip over my knee. He didn’t say he had no problem disregarding even the illusion of privacy if it became necessary to take one of them in hand and he couldn’t move into the bedroom to do that.

Mitch nodded quickly. Yes, sir. He’d been in Hurley’s care just long enough to know his father meant business and he wasn’t going to push his luck. Asking for reminders that his father was in control was a far sight different than earning himself punishment and he already had enough of that coming his way without making it worse.

Irene had been out of her uncle’s care and control for too long and while she remembered how he handled things (and had even got a serious reminder not more than thirty minutes before), it hadn’t quite sunk in yet that he had taken her back into the family completely and fully. Plus, she’d been in charge of numerous teams for the agency, Hurley being on one of them. She was used to being in charge, even of her uncle. The fact that she was no longer in charge hadn’t sunk in yet either. Excuse me... but I’m attempting to keep all four of you safe. And, last time I looked, I was still an agent in charge, even if I seem to be getting shoved out... she huffed. Her worry, uncertainty, fear and all the stress of the last few days was catching up with her and it was obvious she was holding on to what little control she had over her life with all ten fingers and fingernails. Not because she didn’t trust her uncle, but because giving him over that last bit of control that she had was terrifying her.

Hurley wasn’t going to waste time verbally arguing. He’d let Mitch’s attitude slide the first time he’d brought the kid to him, but he wasn’t going to give any more warnings. He stepped over to his niece and firmly swatted her once. Here, in my home? I’m the one in charge. I’m the one working to keep my kids and my So I won’t accept being argued with. I let that slide too much before and nearly lost everything.

Irene let out a tiny yelp, reaching back and rubbing despite herself. She was still a little sore from the spanking she’d got, and the swat reignited the burn immediately. Lower lip wobbling– and pouting– Irene blinked back tears but nodded. Yes,’re in charge... It broke her to say it, giving her uncle that last bit of control over her own life that she had. She visibly deflated.

She was no longer the super confident, in-your-face controller that Mitch remembered from his recruitment. Nothing about her was confident. In fact, at the moment, she looked like a scared little girl who didn’t know which way to turn. He felt sorry for her. Clearing his throat, he offered... I can go with you. Make the calls from various areas on the very edge of the property. That way, if the person who keeps calling me says something, I can make them think you are attempting to spy on us. They won’t think you’re with us then....

Is that alright, Tio? Irene turned glassy, wide-eyes onto her uncle. All the fight had seeped out of her; she was too tired at the moment for it to build up again and all she wanted was her uncle’s approval.

Hurley nodded, passing the phone back to Mitch. It’s set up so I can listen to any calls you get. Picking up an earpiece, he set up his youngest son with it. Just in case I need to tell you to say anything. He pulled his son into a very tight hug. Be careful. Giving Mitch’s bottom a firm pat, just to make it clear what would happen if his son wasn’t careful, he then hugged Irene. You too. Don’t take any chances.

I’ll be careful, daddy...and I’ll keep care of Reny too... He winked at his cousin playfully, hoping to coerce her out of her depressed and hopeless state.

Irene just nodded against her uncle’s shoulder. I won’t, Tio... she whispered, holding onto him tightly and trying not to cry. She gave a trembling smile toward Mitch and motioned for him to lead the way. He was more familiar with the grounds, after all.

Alastor watched his baby brother and cousin heading outside before turning toward his father. You think she’s going to be okay? She doesn’t...seem like herself at all.

Annika snorted. She just found out the agency she devoted her entire life to, and even alienated her family for, is trying to get rid of her permanently. Or at least some segment of it is. Would you be okay?

Hurley looked at his other two children and moved over to give them tight hugs, too, remembering Alastor’s comments that being held helped him so much. Maybe not straight away, but I think she’ll pull through. Pressing a kiss to each of their foreheads, he then grabbed his laptop so he could bring up the security feed.

Alastor nodded. We’ll make sure she does... he muttered, remembering how much his cousin had meant to his father when he first met the two of them...and how she’d played a part in him becoming close enough to Hurley that the older man adopted him in every way but legally. He was sad to learn that she’d pulled away from Hurley so completely when she’d been promoted. Although maybe that was a good thing. They didn’t immediately come looking for his dad in an effort to get her.

Annika stood over Hurley’s shoulder, watching the security feed as well. She figured two pairs of eyes were better than one. She might notice something he missed. On the screen, Mitch could be seen leading Irene to an area at the edge of the property. It took a good fifteen minutes to get there; Hurley had a lot of land. More than Annika had been aware of. You bought a lot of land to retire on. Was it so you could protect yourself better? Did you expect trouble? she asked curiously.

I knew there was a strong likelihood of enemies tracking me down, Hurley answered. And since I initially planned to retire here with your brother...I wanted to be sure he’d be well-protected. He looked at Alastor with a fond, loving smile, before adding, I only came here to keep it in a good enough condition that it wouldn’t be overrun after what happened. It had hurt too much to come here more often after he’d lost his son.

So not many, if any people, know this is where you’re likely to be? Alastor asked hopefully. Maybe remaining hidden and keeping baby cousin safe wouldn’t be as difficult as he feared.

Everyone who knew about this place is here, Hurley replied. Which was actually only Irene. He hadn’t told Alastor becuse he’d wanted to keep it a surprise...even if he had asked his son some leading questions to find out what he liked.

So basically, Irene. And she wouldn’t have told anyone because she had no reason to... Annika nodded. ...So unless they somehow track her here, this is the safest place in the world for us.

She frowned as she noticed Irene had dialed the phone several times by now without saying anything and was obviously becoming more agitated each time she dialed.

Hurley noticed the agitation on his niece’s face and leaned forward slightly, his eyes shifting to Mitch’s face to read what his son might be thinking. No one’s picking up, baby boy? he asked through the earpiece.

No, sir... all the numbers she’s calling have been going straight to voice mail... Mitch responded, his own tone worried. Wait...I think she finally got hold of someone... he said softly and indistinct murmuring could be heard through the com.

Annika stiffened up as on the monitor, Irene visibly sagged and would have fallen if Mitch hadn’t been beside her to grab her and offer his support. She watched as her twin helped Irene to sit on the ground and then quickly took the phone from her and dismantled it so that, even if someone was tracking the other person’s phone, they wouldn’t be able to trace it back to Irene. Then he dug a hole and buried it for good measure. That taken care of, he lifted his cousin into his arms and began to carry her back to the house.

It’s not good, dad... was all he would say, not wanting to explain any more until he had Irene where she could be taken care of.

Hurley didn’t press his son for details, instead leaving the room and heading to the door so he could open it and immediately take his niece.

Annika figured Mitch must have been speed walking or running at least part of the way, because he made it back to the house in under the fifteen minutes they’d originally needed to get to the outside edge of the property. She cringed as she could hear Irene crying. In a way, it was a good sign; the other woman obviously felt safe enough in the presence of the family to not try and hide her feelings. On the other hand, the openness she was displaying by breaking down as she had in Mitch’s arms? Could also be an indication that she’d reached the end of her rope as far as the stress she’d been under and what she could realistically handle. She knew mental stress was a lot different than physical stress; and while Irene may have been able to handle torture...whatever had occurred had been a hard blow mentally.

Alastor quickly moved forward and took his cousin from Mitch to carry her the rest of the way into the house, giving his baby brother a chance to catch his breath so that he could explain what had happened.

Mitch leaned forward, breathing in deeply before standing and giving his father a look filled with worry. I hope you’re right about no one knowing about this place... he said softly. Because I get the feeling if we don’t keep her here under watch and she somehow leaves, she won’t be alive twenty-four hours later....

It wasn’t so much of a surprise that his niece was in that kind of danger and Hurley didn’t waste any time in asking, Do you know how many have been taken out? Is anyone left alive?

Out of seven people she called, only the last one answered the phone. They said the other six, and their families, were all in accidents within the last two days and he was getting out while he could. That he was going dark and she should too, Mitch reported quickly and as unemotionally as he could. Which wasn’t easy. He’d seen how hearing that had affected his cousin and he knew what she was worried about. She’s going to try and leave so that she doesn’t put us in danger. I just know it... he muttered softly, so only his father could hear. It’s what I would do, and she’s an awful lot like me....

Alastor was holding Irene on his lap in the living room, rocking her gently as he tried to calm her down enough to talk.

Annika had gone into the kitchen for the bottle of Bourbon she knew Hurley had stashed on the top shelf. She didn’t think he’d object to Irene having a shot of it, if it calmed her down a bit.

Hurley could see that his youngest son was affected and he took hold of Mitch’s hand, squeezing it and pulling his son into a tight hug. You know there is no way I would let you leave, so you also know I won’t let your cousin leave, he stated firmly. Wrapping his arm tightly around Mitch’s shoulders, he led his son into the house. I didn’t come here very much before she brought you to me. No one else knows about this house. Before guiding his son into the living room, he delivered a light smack to Mitch’s backside. I know you want to pretend you’re unaffected by this, but I don’t need you hiding and trying to bottle up your reactions, cause that’s just gonna hurt you and turn you into a powder keg ready to explode. And if I need to, I’ll turn you over my knee and provide some incentive for you to let go. Okay, baby boy?

MItch jumped minutely at the swat and gave his father a chagrined but thankful nod. Yes, daddy...I’ll try not to become a powder keg. I may need your help with that later, though, once we’ve made sure Reny isn’t going to sneak out....

Annika was holding a shot glass full of the Bourbon but looked toward Hurley to make certain he was okay with giving it to his niece before handing it to Irene.

Alastor looked up at his father, a questioning look in his eye. Did he want to take over comforting Irene? Alastor was doing okay– she’d already calmed quite a lot– but he also knew that when she was truly upset, only his uncle had ever been able to get her to fully calm down.

Irene was crying softly; luckily not so hard that she couldn’t breathe, but she was also shivering hard, the news having hit her harder than she’d expected it to (even if she’d been expecting bad news).

Hurley gently stroked his son’s cheek and nodded to Annika, wordlessly giving her permission, before he moved over to sit next to Alastor. Wrapping his arms around Irene, he carefully transferred her from his son’s lap to his own, hugging her tightly. I’ve got you, sweetheart, he whispered in her ear. I know you’re hurting, but you’re safe here.

Between the shot of Bourbon and the fact that her uncle was now holding her tightly, Irene was finally able to stop crying, though the shivering didn’t stop. All six of them...their of them had a b..b... She couldn’t finish the comment and started crying again.

Annika winced. One accident was tragic. Six was a conspiracy. They needed to be careful, or Irene and them might become number seven on the accident list. The fact those carrying out the assignment didn’t care who was caught in the crossfire and weren’t even attempting to get the operatives alone, instead taking out other people with them, was troubling. Just who was behind this mess?

Alastor winced for a different reason. He remembered some of Irene’s closer friends from when she was in training, before he’d been caught. He had a feeling some of the victims were those people she’d got close to years before and if he was right, he knew their families as well. He couldn’t help but feel a bit gutted himself at hearing the news.

Hurley tightened his arms around his niece, kissing her head and rocking her gently. I know it hurts, sweetheart, he whispered. But we need to make sure you don’t become their seventh hit. That means you need to stay here, with me...with my we can make sure you’re protected. No one else knows about this place apart from us here.

No... they never... never found out. I never said anything to anyone and no one has ever mentioned it in my presence... Irene, wasn’t sure why she was telling her uncle that, unless she just needed him to hear that she’d kept his secret even when he and she were estranged, for all intents and purposes. And to indirectly agree that she’d obey him and stay put, at least for the moment; as long as she didn’t think she was putting them in danger.

Hurley stroked her hair. I’ll take care of you, he promised. No one’s going to get hold of you. Not on my watch. He hugged her a bit tighter.

Irene shivered and then just snuggled close, her uncle’s words calming her down. What’s happening, Tio? Why are they...why would they...we’re supposed to be on the same side! She sniffled and swallowed hard. Her confusion was clear in her voice. So was her indignation that her own people would target her and those most closely aligned to her.

Can’t say I’m surprised... Alastor said quietly, thinking about how their side had lied to his father and made it so that he wasn’t rescued.

Irene winced, knowing that even if she hadn’t been responsible for the decision not to make the trade– and Alastor had already been gone by the time she found out the truth– she’d still kept information from her uncle that he should have been told.

We’ll find out, Hurley promised, rocking her gently, kissing her head. But you’re all here. Where I can keep an eye on you. Where I can be certain you’re all safe.

Thank you, Tio... Irene whispered. I’m going to need that... she finished, with a tiny yawn, and nuzzled against his chest.

Alastor gave his father a fond look that he transferred onto his cousin and then his siblings. Unless you know of a way to make your bed bigger, I’m thinking I should sleep in my room tonight. She needs to be with you, he said softly to his father, so Irene wouldn’t be disturbed. She’d fallen asleep.

Hurley nodded to his oldest. We’ll have our conversation after supper and before bed. That way, he could make sure Alastor had more than enough cuddles to last him. He stood, careful not to wake Irene, and carried her through to the bedroom to tuck her into bed.

Alastor nodded. When their father had disappeared into the bedroom with his cousin, he glanced at his baby brother and baby sister. Come on, kiddies. Let’s go start dinner. I’m thinking comfort foods...

Mac and cheese and mashed potatoes? That’s a lot of carbs... Mitch teased.

I think I could roast up some chicken breasts... Annika smiled and shook her head at her twin

That works, Alastor nodded at both of them. I’ll get a salad together for the vegetable.

Soon, the three of them were cooking, the smells permeating the house.

Irene didn’t wake when her uncle tucked her in, but she did roll in his direction; as if seeking reassurance that he hadn’t left her.

Hurley kissed his niece’s head and stroked her hair. I love you, sweetheart, he whispered, lingering a moment or two longer before he left her side and went to help his children with the cooking.

Mitch glanced up when Hurley entered the room and smiled sadly. So...we have mashed potatoes, macaroni with cheese, roasted chicken breast and a salad. Anything else you think might be good? he asked quietly. Anything Reny likes that would make her feel better? Since you’ve known her a lot longer than the rest of us....

Alastor smiled at his father too. The only thing I remembered from when I first got to know her was that she was found of Rum... in everything. But I somehow don’t think you’ll want me getting her drunk at dinner, so....

Annika just looked toward Hurley to see what he’d say.

I think what you’re cooking up is best, Hurley answered, before adding, There’s not much alcohol here, aside from the Bourbon. I didn’t want it to become a problem again. He didn’t go into details as he moved over to help his children.

Alastor’s smile turned sad as he realized why it might have become a problem in the past.

Annika nodded If she has any favorites, we can find out from her. Now that she’ll be living here... She looked toward Hurley again, as if seeking confirmation of her words.

Hurley nodded. I’ll make a list of her favourites...all of yours, too, so I make sure we have plenty of each. He gently squeezed Alastor’s shoulder, noticing the sadness. I never got over losing you, he whispered. The alcohol didn’t dull the pain like I’d hoped...only brought back even more reminders when I sobered up. I kicked my own ass for that, he added, with a trace of humour.

Alastor smiled faintly at the the comment. Only fair, he said softly. You’d do more than kick one of ours if we did that.... His tone was teasing, even if he knew the words were true.

Mitch just snorted. Does this mean I’m not allowed to get drunk and rowdy any more? he asked, with an impish grin.

Hurley kissed his oldest’s forehead and then wrapped an arm around Mitch’s shoulders, hugging him close. I’d better not catch you doing that. He kissed his youngest son’s forehead, gave him a light swat for that comment, and then pulled Annika into an embrace as well.

Mitch grinned. Okay, daddy. You won’t catch me doing that.... he teased.

Annika shook her head at Mitch’s antics, but smiled and hugged her father tightly.

Hurley kissed his daughter’s forehead and then commented, Speaking of catching that your cousin’s here as well, I think it would be a good idea for all of us to have trackers on us.

Mitch quickly sobered up at that and nodded. He’d wondered when his father would bring that up again, since he’d seemed to be in favor of the idea when they’d discussed it. I agree. With everything going on...I’d feel better if there was a way to quickly locate each of you if something were to happen.

Me too, Alastor agreed. Do you have a particular type in mind? Are you thinking something that sticks to our clothing, or something subcutaneous? The clothing it might be too easy to have it get lost or left behind if the wrong people find it....

If I’m going to bother with one, I’d rather it not be easy to remove... Annika stated firmly.

I’m thinking about the ones to go under your skin, Hurley answered. Make sure I do it right this time. I have some people I can trust...I can have them forwarded to a PO Box in town. Along with anything else, he added. I know you wanted a pair of those pajamas, angel...what about you, kiddo? He looked at Alastor. I’ll get both things ordered at the same time.

Sure. Why not? Alastor smiled. They looked comfortable enough. You’ll get a tracker for yourself as well, right? He glanced at his father.

Mitch blinked innocently. You don’t want to know if daddy plans to get pajamas for himself?

Papa likely feels like he has to stay fully dressed at all times to be able to keep up with the whirlwind that is you two! Annika teased. Do you want me to go get Irene, Papa? The food is nearly ready....

Of course, Hurley replied to his oldest. I wouldn’t expect the rest of you to wear trackers and me not to. And yes, he added. We’ll lay the table if you want to go and wake her up. He began to do just that.

Annika nodded and quickly disappeared into the bedroom. Reny...Supper is ready... she used Mitch’s nickname for their cousin, hoping that it would enable the other woman to realize she was in a safe place when she woke, instead of waking disoriented and frightened.

It seemed to work. Irene blinked her eyes and glanced toward Annika with a crooked smile. She sat up with a wince and a slight hiss, but otherwise didn’t indicate that she felt the remnants of her punishment at all. Is that name a thing now? Remind me to give Mitch a Noogie in payment for it... she muttered, with a hint of amusement. Standing, she walked over to Annika and smiled. Lead the way, Anni... she teased gently.

Rolling her eyes, Annika took hold of her cousin’s arm and led her out to the dining room, where the table had been set and Mitch and Alastor were bringing the platters of food out. Papa...I found your other little bird safe in the nest. But she’ll be chirping for worms soon if you do not feed her! She let go of Irene’s arm and quickly moved to the other side of the table to sit, giving her cousin a devilish grin.

Wha...? Irene spluttered uncertainly, before glancing at Hurley to see what he thought about the teasing. He seemed to be amused, so she relaxed slightly and looked back at Annika haughtily. I have you know I don’t chirp for worms. I screech for them very loudly!

Mitch snorted at that; which, since he’d just taken a drink of water, probably wasn’t the best thing he could have done. Alastor patted his brother on the back to help him with his coughing, even as he used a napkin to wipe his face off from where he’d got an impromptu bath.

Hurley smiled at the teasing and actually outright laughed at both Irene’s words and Mitch’s reaction; a reaction that he himself would have said was impossible before. I hope you’re hungry, he commented to Irene. Your cousins decided on comfort food. As he sat down, he added, I’m going to be ordering trackers for all of us. And pajamas like the ones Mitch has, if you want a pair to wear here.

Irene blinked at both comments. Trackers is a good idea, Tio... She nodded, before glancing at Mitch’s pajamas. They look comfortable. Are they?

Mitch nodded as he began to serve portions of food onto his plate. Very comfortable. But there’s a bit of an addition you may want to know about before you agree... He paused, eyeing her.

An addition? Irene wrinkled her nose in confusion, as she began to plate some food for herself as well.

Annika leaned over and whispered loudly, They’ve got a flap in the back. So you don’t have to take them off to use the bathroom! She grinned impishly. She knew that wasn’t the real reason for them, but figured Irene would rather not hear it made easier access for Hurley if the kids were naughty. Not if the way the other young woman was shifting in her seat was any indication. Do you need me to get you a pillow? She did whisper this time, so only Irene could hear.

Irene shook her head. No thank you... She smiled crookedly. It’s part of making up for the lie I told. The longer it stings, the longer I’ll remember and hopefully never do something so...bad...again. She didn’t even bother trying to whisper. She wanted her Tio to know she’d taken the lesson to heart.

Hurley let his kids and niece help themselves before he began putting some food on his own plate. You won’t be able to. If even one of my kids is so much as later than I expect, I’ll be making full use of those trackers. Even if his comment could be considered a was also fairly serious. He knew he wouldn’t survive another loss.

Irene smiled weakly, hating her part in Hurley feeling like he’d lost Alastor forever. I’m sure we’ll be doing the same if you aren’t home when we expect you to be... She said what everyone else was thinking. ...And if everyone else is getting pajamas, I guess I should for the times I am here... She deliberately worded things to make it sound like she wouldn’t always be there. To give her uncle an out in case he discovered he didn’t want her living with them all.

Hurley nodded. I wouldn’t expect any different. He didn’t comemnt on his niece’s words about while she was there; he’d convince her that he wanted her there as much as he did his kids.

Hurley couldn’t stop himself looking around the table at his family. He ate, but he watched them too; just enjoying having them all close. When they’d finished eating, he stood to help clear up and then gently grasped Mitch’s shoulder. Are you ready for our talk, baby boy?

Irene was helping to clear and heard the affectionate nickname. She managed not to react beyond a tiny smile in their direction, though. Oddly enough, her uncle calling Mitch that felt right.

Mitch saw the smile and smirked, before turning to face his father with a more serious and regretful face. Yes, sir....

Hurley kissed his son’s forehead and led him through to the bedroom, arm draped around Mitch’s shoulders. You want to keep your pajamas on? Or strip? he asked, considering they were alone and he knew neither of them had hangups over modesty.

Which do you think will help me learn faster? Mitch whispered regretfully.

Hurley stroked his cheek and kissed his forehead. You’re too used to going off the tracks, baby boy. If I hadn’t been so busy fighting what I knew in my heart, I would have turned you over my knee the first time you disobeyed me. As he spoke, he made the decision for his kid and began to remove the pajamas.

That was when Reny introduced us and told me you’d be training me... Mitch said in surprise, not fighting as his father undressed him and even helping when needed. He huffed. I hate to admit it, but if you’d spanked me the first time I mouthed off and sassed you, I’m not sure I’d be much better now. Although since I woulda been yours longer, maybe I would be.... He sounded uncertain. I know me and authority. I’ve been called bad often enough to know there must be some truth to it. He looked down once he finished talking and waited. He was completely naked now.

Hurley kissed his forehead again. You’re not bad, baby boy. And, yeah, I felt drawn to you from the start. I felt the same way with your brother. It terrified me that I couldn’t keep that distance from you. He moved over to the bed and gently guided his son over his knees after sitting down. Since this spanking was as much about settling and helping his baby boy to let go, along with giving him consequences for disobedience, he didn’t start with the spanking straight away. His son’s bottom was still a bit pink from the earlier attention and Hurley began to gently rub it.

Mitch shivered faintly. You don’t think I’m would be in the minority. He reached down and grasped his father’s ankle. When Hurley started rubbing, he whimpered softly, but relaxed at the same time. I’m sorry, daddy... he whispered.

Not bad at all, Hurley confirmed, continuing to gently rub his son’s bottom and thighs. Like you told needed your alpha dad wolf to catch and scruff you. He rubbed for a bit more and then began to gently pat Mitch’s bottom. I love you, baby boy.

Mitch huffed in amusement at having his words echoed back to him. That’s still true... he admitted. I need my alpha dad wolf to scruff me...keep me close...teach me.... He whimpered as the patting began. I love you, daddy. I just hope I learn sooner than later.

It doesn’t matter how slow or fast you learn, baby boy. Hurley covered Mitch’s entire backside in the gentle pats and then began swatting a bit more firmly. When we need to deal with something, we will. I won’t give up on you. I won’t let you go. You’re my baby boy.

Thank you, daddy...that means everything, Mitch swallowed hard. His breathing hitched as the sting began to build and he couldn’t help but begin to wiggle.

You mean the world to me, baby boy. Hurley tightened his grip on his son, increasing the force behind the pats so they became light swats. And even if you have been disobeying me...some good came from it. You brought your brother back to me.

I’m thankful that good came from it...I just hope I learn so I don’t keep disappointing you. I may not be so lucky next time and have something good come from it. Mitch began to cry softly.

Hurley let his other hand stroke gently over Mitch’s back, his hand moving up to his son’s neck to gently squeeze; just like the alpha dad wolf scruffing his pup. I’ll keep working with you, baby boy. He began delivering some firmer smacks.

And with just that show of affectionate dominance, Hurley broke what little resistance his son may have put up, though there was very little. Mitch went boneless over his father’s knee and stopped squirming, whimpering and sometimes letting out tiny sobs with each swat, but not attempting to escape what he’d earned himself. I’m sorry I don’t listen good, daddy...I want to do better for you! He sniffled before letting out another tiny sob. He was very sore by now, but he would rather stay sore if it would help him obey.

Hurley brought the spanking to a stop with a final few smacks and then quickly gathered his baby boy into his arms, hugging Mitch tightly to himself and kissing the top of his head. I love you, baby boy.

Mitch wrapped his arms tightly around his father and held on, snuggling close. I love you much. I want to do better for you.’re the first person I actually want to obey. Just too used to ignoring’s harder than I thought it’d be not to. He sounded dejected.

Kissing Mitch’s head, Hurley gently scruffed his pup once more. And we talked about the fact there would be setbacks. That’s why we’re working on it now. Better to deal with the issue now, rather than in the field where disobeying coould get you taken from me.

Mitch nodded, slowly relaxing in his father’s arms and at his words. Yes, daddy...just wish it could happen quick without Mitch was really too impulsive and impatient to handle anything requiring a long wait gracefully. It had amazed him really that he’d stayed laser focused on his goal of going after the terrorists that killed Katrina, since a lot of that had required patience and waiting.

I know, baby boy. Hurley continued the gentle, loving affection as he said, But if this is something you want to keep on doing...and there’s still the option to bow out if you want to do something else in your life, now that you have a family to live for...then we need to keep on training. Working through setbacks. Even though it disappoints you if something goes wrong, I’d rather put you over my knee...give you a warm butt...than risk losing you.

Okay, daddy...I do want to keep doing this, as long as you’re my handler. I don’t trust anyone else in the company... Mitch cuddled a bit more.

Hurley tightened his embrace. I wouldn’t trust anyone else with your safety, baby boy. Me being your handler is one of the conditions of you sticking with this. He’d trusted his oldest son’s safety to someone else and look where that had got him.

Mitch nodded, just cuddling close. Maybe I should just change careers entirely. We could go into business for ourselves. Become private bodyguards or retrievalists or something. Then you’d be completely in charge of even what jobs we take....

Hurley kissed the top of his head. That sounds like a better idea, baby boy, he agreed. Then if something feels wrong, I’ll be able to get you out. He tightened his arms around Mitch, stroking his son’s hair. I’m never going to let any of you get taken from me again. I know that would destroy me.

Mitch smiled faintly. I know conventional wisdom says I should be upset at how you are treating me like a child instead of an adult...but...I never got to be a kid when I was a child. I kinda like it... He shook his head ruefully. I’m happy you’re being so protective.... He didn’t use the word controlling, although some might say Hurley was being that way as well.

Are you happy I’m being controlling as well? Hurley gently pressed. He knew he himself would use that word without hesitation; but controlling Mitch was vastly different to controlling the rest of his recruits. It was different when you came to me. He voiced his thought out loud.

I...I am... Mitch said hesitantly. ...I don’t know if that’s good or not. You know me and authority figures never got along well, especially those who tried to control me... and yet with you, it doesn’t feel stifling. It doesn’t feel like you’re trying to force me to be something I’m not... He wrinkled his nose. I don’t know if I’m making any sense....

Well, baby boy, I’m not trying to force you to do what you don’t want to, Hurley said. When controlling you, it’s about teaching and training you...being your father, not just your handler. And if our relationship hadn’t developed to this adopting you...I’m gonna go out on a limb and say I’d still be dealing with that attitude and sass. And you wouldn’t be wanting to change, because I’d just be the old teacher too stuck in his ways. He spoke with a small amount of humour, even though he was certain what he was saying was the truth. I’ve made you feel wanted and valued, he added.

...I do want to change for you. You’re right I never wanted to do that for anyone else.’re my daddy. I want to make you happy and I know keeping myself safe and listening to you when you’re trying to keep me safe makes you happy.... Mitch swallowed. ...So I guess I do want you to control me, if it helps me learn and do better so you’re happier.... He smirked. You’re right. If I wasn’t your baby boy, I’d be giving you a lot more attitude and sass....

Hurley stroked his son’s cheek. It’s just as well I stopped fighting what I knew in my heart...though I’ve got to admit, you brought your brother back to me. It took Ghost telling me what he saw to make me realise. Admittedly, that whole time had been spent with both of them suffering...emotionally and physically. But it had ended with Hurley not able to deny how he felt about either of them.

Yeah. He saw immediately, calling me little brother on that boat. That’s why I couldn’t kill him, though. He called me little brother and I realized that he must have seen how much you cared about me. And then I realized for me to be his little brother, then he was big brother; which meant you cared about him. And...And it was all going through my head really quick because there really wasn’t much time to think, but I’m pretty sure that’s why I knocked him out instead of ending him... Mitch huffed slightly. And then you were bossing me around again in the helicopter and I didn’t want to believe you’d do what you said....

Which part? Hurley asked, amused. That I’d spank you? Or that I wanted you and was claiming you as my son? He tightened his arms around Mitch. I knew I didn’t have the right to ask you not to kill him...but I can’t tell you how happy I am that you didn’t.

Both! Mitch laughed softly. I couldn’t believe after all the time I’d spent defying you that you wanted me to stay around longer. And the spanking...well... Like I told you then. I’d never been spanked before. I didn’t want to believe you would do that, because in my head, it was horrible... He looked up at his father with an embarrassed grin. The fact that now I’m asking for you to do it so I can remember how to behave the rest of the day? That’s just....I dunno. I think you broke me. Or at least broke the part of me that wanted to be obstinate and not let you have any say over me. I just wish the part of me that did my own thing without thinking about what you’ve told me to do would be broken. He pouted.

I don’t think I broke you, baby boy. Hurley stroked Mitch’s cheek. You can let yourself relax and need and there’s nothing wrong with that. And, yeah, you defied me and disobeyed the point I should have turned you over my knee long before I actually did. But I knew you were mine before I told you. But like I said...I was terrified. Of caring again. Of losing you. He kissed his son’s head. It’s on me for not acting.

Still don’t know how you knew I was yours and wanted me like that when I was completely unloveable...but I’m glad you did, Mitch murmured.

You weren’t unlovable, Hurley commented. You just needed your alpha wolf dad. You needed me.

I needed someone stronger and more stubborn than me who could step in and make me see reason... Mitch smiled crookedly. I did need you. I do need you... Alpha-Wolf.... Mitch’s smile turned impish.

Hurley gently scruffed the back of his baby boy’s neck. I need you too, pup, he responded. I need you and I love you.

Mitch just wrapped his arms more tightly around his father and held on. I love you too, daddy... He paused. ...When we’ve gotten cousin Reny out of this mess she’s in, I want to make a complete break with the CIA. I’ll work under you and follow your orders, no one else’s. So...yeah.

Hurley nodded. I think that’s the best decision. It means I can make sure you come home to me. That you know I will never leave you behind. It still made him feel sick that his oldest son had thought his father didn’t want to come after him. That Ghost had been tortured with no hope of rescue. He didn’t want Alastor out in the field...he hoped with every fibre in his being that his oldest would stay home and safe. But if Alastor made that decision...Hurley would make sure he knew the same thing.

I know you don’t want Al in the field any more, after what happened. And quite honestly, I’m surprised you aren’t making more of a fuss about me wanting to be... Mitch said slowly. ...But maybe if he does want to be, he’d be willing to be eyes and Since we won’t have an agency behind us any more, we’ll need someone who can do that who knows the ropes and can help you keep an eye on everything, especially if you go out in the field too....

I’ll talk to him about it...see what he wants to do, Hurley answered. As for making a fuss about you going back out there...if I stopped you doing what you felt you needed to, I know I’d have a very unhappy baby boy on my hands. Best thing I can do is make sure I can get to you if anything happens.

It means a lot...that you care about me being happy and feeling useful so much that you’ll allow me to do something that worries you... Mitch whispered. If I needed any further proof that being yours was the right decision...that would be plenty.

Hurley stroked his hair and kissed his forehead. I’m always going to worry about you, baby boy. But I know this is important to you. So I’ll do everything to make sure you’re safe. That you don’t get lost. That you come home to me.

I love you, daddy. I know whatever I do, I’ll be okay with you in my corner. Mitch smiled and kissed his father on the cheek.

I’ll always be there, Hurley promised. Good and bad. No matter what happens.

Mitch nodded, falling into silence and just snuggling close. He’d wait for his father to indicate they should rejoin the others before he got up and redressed.

Let’s go and join the rest of the family, Hurley said gently. He carefully helped Mitch to stand and then began to dress his son in the pajamas once more.

Okay, daddy. Mitch helped as much as he was able, since his father was pretty much taking over. As soon as he was dressed again, he followed his father out of the bedroom in search of the rest of the family.

Irene glanced up when they returned. What now? she asked hesitantly.

Well, it’s almost eight, Hurley said; although he didn’t specify exactly what was happening. His children would know...and if Alastor wanted his cousin to be aware of it, he could tell her. I figure it’s about time to start getting ready for bed. I’ll put in an order for the trackers and those pajamas, too.

Alastor nodded quickly at that. I’ll wait in my room... he said softly.

Mitch looked down with a wince and an unhappy pout, but didn’t say anything.

Come, Reny, you can borrow some of my clothes till we get yours... Anika offered, holding out her hand. We’ll be in my room, daddy, until you’re ready for us.

Irene just looked thoroughly confused, but she took her cousin’s hand and let herself be led.

Mitch watched his siblings and cousin leave, then sighed. I’ll wait in your room, daddy. No sense in you retrieving me too....

Hurley nodded and kissed Mitch’s head. I’ll be there soon. He moved over to his laptop to put in the orders. After confirmation, he grabbed one of the radios and headed to his oldest son’s room, knocking lightly on the door before opening it and walking in.

Alastor looked over from where he was standing by the bed, having just changed into pajamas. He noted the radio. Something going on? he asked hesitantly. He was ready to change back into street clothes if his father needed him to guard the house or something. Who knew what the agency would do in its efforts to get to Irene?

Hurley shook his head and held the radio out to his son. I’ve got the match here. He tapped his pocket. In case you wake up during the night...from a bad dream or something else...if you need to talk.

Alastor relaxed and smiled. So...just keeping me with you even when I’m not...? He took the radio and put it on the bedside table next to the side he’d be sleeping on. I appreciate that, Dad.... I’m hoping it won’t be needed. But given that I haven’t left your side since you rescued me, I might... He sounded sheepish.

It’s for me as well, Hurley replied honestly. Why do you think I haven’t let you out of my sight? He stepped over to the bed and sat, holding his hand out to his son. I’ve ordered a bigger bed...I don’t want one of you pushed out every night.

Alastor smiled. You sure Reny is going to be on board with sleeping with all four of us? She seems a bit shell-shocked, to be honest.... He reached out and took his father’s hand, moving to stand next to Hurley’s knee.

With the bigger bed, the option is there...and hopefully, by now, all of you are used to taking it in turns to be trapped by me overnight. Hurley’s comment was spoken with a small amount of humour as he gently guided Alastor over his knees, adjusting his son’s position so they were both comfortable. This really wasn’t easy at all and he gently rubbed Alastor’s back. I love you, kiddo. Pushing up the pajama he could stroke and rub and provide some comfort...he lowered the pants with his other hand and then delivered the first firm swat that he then repeated.

I think we all... Alastor yelped as the first swat landed, despite himself, and blushed. ...Uh...I think we all look forward to being trapped by you now. Cousin Reny will too once she realizes what it’s really doing... he finished, in a slightly strained voice, as he attempted to finish speaking without doing so in a whimper. I love you too, daddy... he added, this time letting himself whimper as he forced himself to relax and accept the punishment. Hurley’s hand on his back was helping a lot, enabling him to slump boneless and not fight his reactions; he could feel his father’s love and he knew that his father hated punishing him, so he didn’t want to make it worse for the older man.

Hurley kept his one hand gently stroking his son’s back as his other began to settle into a pattern of swats, going down to Alastor’s thighs before starting over from the top again. In earlier spankings, he’d talked about the agents his son had killed in his vendetta. This time, he picked another one who’d been affected...Mitch. Your brother didn’t know you’d been mine before you were captured and taken from me. When he saw you, all he saw was an agent who’d gone rogue...who was dangerous to everything he believed in and stood for. When he chased after you, I couldn’t ask him to save you. It would have been an impossible choice. By the time I got to the boat, I was convinced I’d have to bury one of my sons.

Alastor closed his eyes tightly, tears beginning to fall from his eyes. He...he went through so much and he never let it change him. Never let it turn him against what he knew to be right...He was so much stronger than me... I deserved to die on that boat. After everything I did, but he saved me...because of two words that I hadn’t even planned to utter. Because on some level, he knew what it would do to you and he saw something in me that he thought was worth saving... He choked on the tears. ...I want to be the big brother he deserves and needs. Want to make his taking a chance on me worth it.... Want to be the son you deserved and be there for my family. Not make you worry about losing us again... He wiped at his face futilely.

Hurley began a third circuit of swats, going a fraction harder and faster. He wasn’t tortured...broken...left to believe his dad had abandoned him and wasn’t coming for him. That’s what you went through, kiddo. You did bad things, it’s true...but you didn’t go beyond hope. The fact that you’re here, with me, now, is proof of that. Proof that no matter what happened in the past...I have my son back and that hole losing you left me with is filled.

You’ve got me now, daddy... Alastor whispered, before giving up and just crying, lying limp over his father’s knee. He’d done horrible things, but he’d do better. He’d be better. And he wasn’t in that place in his head any more; thanks to his family, he was healing. For the first time since being rescued, he thought maybe he could be a good person again. You’ve got me now and I won’t ever be that person again... He continued to cry.

Hurley wasted no time in gathering his son into his arms, hugging Alastor tightly on his lap and kissing his head. You’re my whole world, kiddo, he whispered, gently rocking him. I wish I could take away that pain...that feeling of abandonment. He almost wished torturing him would have made his son feel better; because then at least some good would have come from it. It hadn’t made him feel better...only hurt worse for what Ghost had gone through.

Alastor pressed close to his father and held tightly, his crying easing enough that he could talk, although he didn’t stop crying. I’m so grateful you have me now...after everything I did...after everything I did to you...that you still want me after all that... He swallowed hard and nuzzled against his father.

Continuing to rock his son, Hurley stroked his hair, kissing his head again. I told you, kiddo, he whispered. I pushed all of your buttons. I goaded you into most of what you did. That’s not on you. It’s on me. It was the only way I felt it could stop hurting so much inside...if it hurt on the outside.

It didn’t take much to push me, daddy... Alastor continued to cry. I thought getting even with you, hurting you like I had been hurt, would make me feel better. But it made me feel worse... he finally admitted. That’s why I couldn’t kill you in the end, even though I know you thought I would....

Hurley tightened his embrace. He’d wanted to die at that point, faced with the crippling pain of seeing how much his son had much the guilt of not being there hurt. But if Alastor had taken that step, he wouldn’t have been able to come back. And so many more people would have died. You see, kiddo? he whispered. That’s why you never went beyond hope. You let me I could pull you back to me. So that I could come for you.

Alastor slumped against his father and just continued to cry, letting out the remaining pain and guilt that had been lingering since his father had caught him. Oh, there was still plenty of regret and an intention to never make the same mistakes again. There was the intention to do good to try and offset some of the bad he had done. But the crippling guilt was draining from him. His father had him and wasn’t letting him go; and his father wouldn’t let him fall to the darkness again. He could focus on being a better man instead of the past and what he had done.

Hurley held onto his son, kissing Alastor’s head and stroking over his hair and back. I’ve got you, he whispered. I’m not going to let you go.

Alastor continued to cry, but slowly, it eased until he was just sniffling softly and cuddling close. Clearing his throat, he asked hesitantly, I know you’re going in with the others– they need you to be with them– but...can you sit with me until I fall asleep?

That was my plan anyway, son, Hurley whispered. I don’t want to leave you alone. Not again. He shifted Alastor enough so he could move his son’s clothing back in place and continued to cuddle him. Mitch and I were talking...he wants to keep targeting the terrorists, but working with me as freelance. Annika was talking about going back to college...what do you want to do?

I don’t think going back to school is for me... Alastor smiled, letting his head fall onto Hurley’s shoulder. ...I’d like to help you and Mitch...but since I have to be careful not to be seen by the wrong people, maybe I can be your eyes and ears from home base or something....

That was your brother’s idea as well, actually, Hurley replied, stroking his son’s hair. He knows I don’t want you going back out into the field...but this time, if anything does go wrong, I’ve made it completely clear to him that there’ll be no leaving...if anything does ever happen to go wrong and you got caught in the crossfire? I won’t rest. I won’t stop, he said seriously. No one is going to take any of my children from me.

Alastor nodded. I know, dad...I know and I believe you. It wasn’t your fault before. We’ll all look out for each other... he finished, with a promise, before hugging Hurley tightly and kissing him on the cheek.

Holding onto his son a fraction was going to be hard to settle him down when Alastor fell asleep...Hurley said softly, I gave some thought to codenames...actually, it was your brother again who made me think of them, he admitted. He referred to himself as a wolf as Alpha wolf.

Alastor chuckled. It fits. He’s very much like a pup...and you are completely Alpha....

I figured you’d be Beta, Hurley said with a smile. As my oldest kid...and the one I’d trust to be in charge if I couldn’t be, for whatever reason.

Alastor looked up at that and grinned. That fits too...and you know if you needed me to step in for whatever reason, I’d keep all three of your young pups in line....

I know, kiddo. I trust you. Completely. Hurley’s voice was entirely serious as he gently stroked his son’s cheek. And I love you. And I don’t expect you need to be warned the same way as Mitch does, but if we’re going back into the field, any kind of disobedience or endangering yourself will be handled only by your dad.

Alastor nodded. Yeah...I’d expect nothing less... He smiled crookedly, hugging his father one more time before standing with a sigh. I should get into bed so that you can get some sleep too... He smiled. I love you, dad... he added, before carefully crawling into his bed and under the sheets.

Hurley shifted enough so that Alastor could get into bed, but settled on the edge so he could stroke his son’s hair and back. I want you to make sure to use the radio if you need to. Don’t worry about waking me. I don’t want you to suffer through anything alone.

I will, dad. I promise... Alastor whispered before closing his eyes. His father’s presence and the gentle stroking of his hair and back soon lulled him to sleep.


In Annika’s room, Annika was having difficulty in calming down her cousin. Irene could hear Alastor being punished, even if it was muffled, and had quickly come to the conclusion that everyone got bedtime spankings every night (since Mitch had got one not long before Alastor). She hadn’t stated as such specifically, though, so Annika couldn’t figure out why the other woman was pacing back and forth and then staring at the window as if she wanted to crawl out and run. Annika had moved to stand in front of the window, just in case. He’ll be alright...Papa never harms them...only punishes enough for it to be memorable and then all’s forgiven.... she said softly. She didn’t understand how Irene couldn’t know this already. Her cousin had experienced Hurley’s discipline herself...she hadn’t been scared then!

I still feel the last one... Irene whispered under her breath. ...Another one is too much....

What? Annika frowned in confusion. ...I didn’t hear that...

Nothing! Irene said quickly, not wanting to admit she’d already been spanked, even if everyone knew. How can you be so calm? she asked instead, not understanding how Annika could not be nervous when they were both about to have their butts smacked (in her case again).

Why wouldn’t I be? Annika frowned further, then shook her head and hoped Hurley could figure out what the heck her cousin was on about. She was too tired to decipher it.


Hurley lingered long enough to be certain Alastor was sleeping and pressed a kiss to his son’s head before he quietly left the room. Going to his daughter’s room, he knocked lightly on the door and waited to be told he could enter. There wasn’t any modesty between him and his sons, but he didn’t want to embarrass either his daughter or his niece.

Irene looked at the door, wide-eyed and squeaked before doing something she never would have believed she’d do in a hundred years; she went and hid in the closet.

Annika watched her cousin, her eyebrows shooting up into her hairline and her mouth dropping open as she witnessed the event, not fully believing what she was seeing. Come in... she finally managed to call out, even as she stared at the now closed closet door as if it held an unfathomable secret.

Hurley stepped into the room, his own eyebrows raising when he saw Annika staring at the closet door and Irene nowhere to be seen. Is she in the closet? he signed to his daughter.

Annika nodded at her father, then quietly walked over to stand next to him and hug him tightly. I’ll just go to your room with Mitch and wait... she whispered into his ear, before kissing him on the cheek and leaving to do just that.

Hurley hugged his daughter and then stepped over to the closet, gently knocking on the door. You gonna tell me why you’re hiding from me, sweetheart?

I’m obviously not hiding well enough if you know where I am, Tio! Irene spouted out before she could stop herself and then squeaked again, distressed that she’d gotten mouthy with her uncle when she would be going over his knee soon.

Hurley pulled open the door and held his hand out to his niece. You’re safe here, he said reassuringly.

Irene bit her lip and stared at her uncle’s hand nervously– the hand that she was sure would be smacking her bare backside within the next fifteen minutes, if not sooner– and couldn’t help but back up a step, causing a pile of sheets that had been precariously stored on the shelf above the hanging clothes to fall down on her head. Ooooh! Ow! she mumbled from under the sheet that had draped itself over her face.

Hurley couldn’t help but frown in worry, but he quickly moved into the closet and began to detangle his niece from the sheets that had fallen down.

When she’d finally been unburied and was able to step out of the closet and into the room, Irene was as embarrassed and sheepish as she was nervous. S...sorry, Tio. Th..thank you for helping me out....

Why are you scared, sweetheart? Hurley asked outright.

Irene bit her lip and looked at the floor, ashamed that she had gotten so worked up over it and that she was so nervous. Still... she looked up, her eyes filling with tears. I don’t want another spanking, Tio! she blurted out fretfully. bottom’s still sore from before... Her voice fell to a whisper and it was hard for her to continue, but she still admitted what he needed to hear. ...I don’t think I can be ha..handle with...without fi..fighting.... She sniffled.

It took Hurley a few moments to realise what his niece meant...and when he did, he winced. I’m sorry, sweetheart. I try not to draw attention to it, but it isn’t like the rooms are soundproofed. Mitch and Alastor got spanked for very specific reasons and I wouldn’t be spanking you...or any of them...unless there was a real need.

Irene took a quivering breath and swallowed, sniffling again. w..we d..don’t g..get sp...spank...spankings eve..every ni..night? she forced out, in a shaky voice.

Of course not, Hurley replied, keeping his voice gentle. Only when it’s actually deserved. Or wanted, in Mitch’s case, but he chose not to go into that.

I...I was so b..bad...I th...thought I de...deserved to be.... Irene admitted, her eyes lowering to stare at the floor.

Hurley wrapped his arms around her in a tight embrace. You made a mistake. A mistake I’ve forgiven you for. I won’t be punishing you for it again. I love you, he whispered.

IloveyoutooTio! Irene said in a tiny voice, throwing her arms around her uncle and holding on as if her life depended on it. She hid her face against his chest and did her best to calm down. I’m sorry I was such a baby... she finally whispered, her embarrassment clear in her voice.

Hurley hugged her tightly. It’s understandable. You were worried about the unknown, he said softly.

I was worried about my butt... Irene sniffled, reaching back and rubbing her bottom. It’s embarrassing... She sniffled again.

You shouldn’t be, Hurley answered. After all, it wouldn’t be much of a deterrent otherwise.

I guess... Irene snuggled some more. I shoulda trusted you wouldn’t spank me without giving me a reason or warning...

You know now, Hurley said. If I have to spank you again, it won’t just be sprung on you. My kids already know I don’t like doing it, so I much prefer when it isn’t necessary.

Okay, Tio. Irene snuggled. I’ll do my best to make sure it isn’t necessary again... she whispered.

It doesn’t matter if it is. It won’t change anything, Hurley promised. You ready for bed now, sweetheart?

Yes, sir... I even changed... Irene cuddled close.

Hurley smiled. Good. He wrapped his arm around her shoulders and guided her from Annika’s bedroom into his own.

Irene bit her lip as she looked at her two cousins. Each of them had taken a position on the side of the bed, leaving the middle free. She glanced toward her uncle uncertainly. There isn’t room...I should stay in the room you have for me...

Hurley gently led her over to the bed. Every night, one of them takes a turn cuddling up in my arms on top of me. Alastor realised you needed that tonight, which is why he’s taken his room.

Irene blinked. I took Alastor’s spot? She looked worriedly toward the door. I can stay in my room so he can be with you.... she said reluctantly. Part of her wanted to be with her uncle; so much had happened...was happening.

He knew you needed me, Hurley answered gently. I’ve ordered a bigger bed, so from tomorrow night, all of us will be in here. He guided Irene towards the bed and settled on it, gently pulling her on as well, though he was careful not to jostle Mitch or Annika too much.

Irene hesitantly crawled into the bed, giving Hurley a wide-eyed look of hesitation when she realized the only place for her was on him. He didn’t seem surprised or phased by it, though. She finished crawling up, hesitantly lying down on her stomach, her head tucked under his chin. And found herself relaxing immediately. She didn’t know how he could be comfortable– she wasn’t that light– but she was very comfortable. Good night, Tio... she whispered, nuzzling his chest like a baby.

Good night, sweetheart, Hurley answered. He gave his children and niece each an affectionate kiss to their heads and then placed the radio where he could be certain he’d hear it if necessary. Taking advantage of the flap in Mitch’s pajamas, he slid his hand beneath it so he could gently rub his baby boy’s backside.

Irene snuggled closer, blinking when she noticed what Hurley was doing, but didn’t even stiffen up. For some reason, it didn’t shock her after everything else that had happened to her in the last week. Her gaze darted up to Mitch’s face and he winked at her. She just let out a tiny sigh, nuzzled against her uncle, pushed down the inexplicable stab of jealousy she felt, closed her eyes and went to sleep.

Mitch smiled at Irene’s lacking response, but waited until she was asleep before mouthing the words, She saw, to his father. He figured the older man should get a heads up in case darling cousin started acting oddly.

Hurley gave his son a reassuring smile, looking carefully at Mitch’s face to make sure it didn’t bother him. He didn’t pull back, knowing Mitch tended to feel better when he was in control; and that today had been a long and emotional one. If Mitch didn’t need his father to do that, he figured his baby boy would find a way of letting him know.

Mitch smiled again and settled down, wiggling his backside just enough that Hurley would know he didn’t want him to stop and it didn’t bother him. He figured Irene was family and if he was reading things right, she may end up living with them (whether she really wanted to or not), so best that she find out sooner how things were than try and hide things and everyone be miserable.

Almost as if knowing they were talking about her (even if silently), Irene whimpered and tightened her grip on her uncle, almost possessively. She was happy that her Tio had found children to fill out his family. She’d been happy when he had got Alastor and now that he also had Mitch and Annika and had got Alastor back, she was very happy for him. But even if they had never made it official and she was only his niece (because she’d loved her father completely and Hurley had loved his brother just as much and neither of them wanted him to be replaced), he’d still been hers first, damn it!

Hurley wrapped his other arm around Irene, even as he continued to gently stroke and rub Mitch’s bottom under the flap. I love you, baby boy, he mouthed to his pup

Mitch smiled. Love you too, daddy, he mouthed back, before finally closing his eyes and falling asleep to his father’s gentle affection.

Hurley continued to hold onto his children, finally falling asleep himself...though it was a light one, as he wanted to be sure he’d wake up if Alastor called to him.


Next morning, Alastor was the first awake. Despite not being able to be with his family as he’d got used to, he’d slept well; knowing his father had a radio and could be reached easily within seconds if needed had eased him enough that he hadn’t had any difficulty sleeping. He quickly got up and dressed, then went in to make breakfast for everyone.

Annika was the next to wake and she’d quickly headed into her room to change and then go help Alastor.

Irene was normally a very light sleeper, but she hadn’t woken once during the night. She’d felt when Annika got up, though. She was debating getting up herself when Mitch woke and carefully got up, heading into his room to change. Sighing softly to herself, she made to get up and go change herself.

Hurley sat up carefully and smiled at his niece. How did you sleep, sweetheart? he asked gently.

A lot better than I thought I would, Tio... Irene smiled shyly. I didn’t keep you awake, did I? she asked quietly.

Not at all, Hurley answered. He didn’t say he actually felt better with one of them draped on him, even if that was the truth.

Irene’s smile broadened. Good...I’ll just...go get dressed.... She impulsively wrapped her arms around him in a tight hug. ...Love you, Tio.... she whispered, kissing him on the cheek.

Hurley hugged her as tight in return. I love you too, sweetheart. He kissed the top of her head.

Irene held on for a few moments longer, needing to feel her uncle hold her, before reluctantly pulling away and climbing off the bed. She smiled one last time before heading in to change her clothes so she could help with breakfast.

Hurley started to get dressed, doing so quickly so he could join his family as fast as possible for breakfast.

Mitch had taken a quick shower and then exchanged his black pajamas for forest green pajamas of the same style. They really were very comfortable; and unless they had to leave the house, he saw no reason to be uncomfortable.

Annika grinned in amusement. Can’t wait for mine to get here...if they feel that good that you don’t want to wear normal clothes... she teased.

Irene had come in in time to catch the comment and laughed softly. They do look comfortable.... she admitted.

Alastor just grunted in amusement as he carried a platter of eggs and bacon to the dining table. Will one of you grab the pancakes and the other two grab glasses and the juice? he asked, smiling when all three of them hopped to obey his request. Being the big brother had some perks, he supposed.

Hurley walked into the room, smiling at the sight of his three children and niece. He waited until Alastor had put the platter down and then pulled his oldest into a tight hug. Did you sleep all right? he asked, unable to help worrying, as his oldest had been out of his sight all night.

I slept just fine, Dad, Alastor responded, hugging and holding onto the older man tightly. The radio being there helped.

Hurley tightened his hold. Good...though the new bed should arrive today, so you won’t be sleeping out of my sight again.

That will be good... Alastor smiled against his father’s neck before kissing him on the cheek and pulling away so he could motion toward the table. Food’s all ready. Have a seat!

Irene bit her lip and looked down at the announcement Hurley had made about the bed. She figured she wouldn’t be here much longer, so they’d each have their own space instead of someone having to lay on top of Hurley. She wasn’t very happy at the thought of leaving, oddly enough, considering how long she’d kept away from her uncle in an attempt to seem like they didn’t mean anything to each other.

Hurley sat down, smiling at each one of his kids as he did so. He didn’t have anyone who wasn’t his family there, so he didn’t need to worry about showing affection and having to be the hard-ass trainer Mitch had originally met.

This is really good... Irene blinked in astonishment, glancing at Alastor. When the hell did you learn to cook?! she blurted, before blushing; not only at the impertinence of the question, but because she’d cussed in front of her uncle and that was something she still avoided doing, even though she wasn’t a kid any more.

Alastor laughed. I had to learn after you went into training, kid. Dad was too busy to cook and we’d be living on take-out or starve if I hadn’t....

It is good... Annika agreed, though she wasn’t as shocked as her cousin, since she hadn’t known Alastor during a time when he couldn’t cook.

Mitch nodded, as he stuffed another bite into his mouth.

Hurley couldn’t help but grin at his oldest across the table as he ate. You made sure I ate it, too, even if I thought I was too busy to grab more than a bite.... His voice was filled with fond affection. He was more than happy to have a house full of his kids...but it didn’t stop the time he’d had with just him and Alastor being special. Memories he’d buried away, under his hard exterior, because not having Alastor around had left jagged wounds that were only healing with his kids close.

Like you did for me when I was too busy. Alastor nodded at Hurley with a fond look.

Sounds like I missed a lot when I went away to train, Irene said quietly, unable to keep the wistfulness and regret out of her tone. She’d given up so much to become an agent and get to the position she’d gotten; only to discover that not only was she likely losing everything she’d built up, but it hadn’t really been worth losing her family over. She was going to have nothing.

Annika frowned at the tone, but didn’t say anything, just darting her cousin a worried look.

Well, we’ll just have to make sure you have a lot more memories now, daddy... Mitch said, in lieu of attempting to cheer his cousin up. He wasn’t certain if her wistfulness and melancholy were a result of her regretting what she’d missed, or just a by product of all the stress and uncertainty. He’d let his father deal with her.

Hurley smiled at Mitch, but spoke to Irene. Maybe you did. Maybe there are still some changes you haven’t seen or experienced yet. But you’re still a part of my family. I might have three children now instead of just one, but it doesn’t mean how I feel about any of you is diminished even slightly. That was addressed to all of them, even though he was fairly certain his kids were secure.

Of course, Papa. Annika smiled. You have a big heart; big enough for all of us to fit inside!

Irene smiled faintly at Annika’s words. She wanted to believe that. But she wasn’t one of his kids, even if she had been a favorite niece at one time. She’d taken herself away from him and even though he said he forgave her for what she’d done as far as keeping the secret about Alastor... she had a hard time believing that she hadn’t irreparably torn herself from him. Even if he acted like he still wanted her.

Hurley smiled at that and simply reached across the table to grasp and squeeze his niece’s hand. He knew it would take time...but fortunately, he was up for the challenge.

Soon, the meal was eaten and they were sat around the table, looking at the dirty dishes.

Mitch huffed. Well...table isn’t clearing itself. I guess I don’t have magic after all... he teased, before standing and beginning to pick up everyone’s empty plates and dirty silver-ware.

Well...damn. I wanted to Evanesco it! Irene teased back without thinking and stood to get the platters.

I am obviously missing something... Annika shook her head. Do we want to watch a movie or television? she asked the room at large.

Alastor was still leaning back in his chair, feeling very lazy. Nothing on this time of morning except talk shows and children’s cartoons. I suggest a movie, unless you really, really want to watch Dora the Explorer....

I’m sure there’s at least one movie we can all agree on, Hurley commented, standing to help with the cleanup.

I vote Harry Potter... so Annika will know what Irene was talking about... Alastor teased, then laughed as his baby sister stuck her tongue out at him.

Chuckling, Hurley helped Mitch and Irene to clear up and then they all headed into the living room to set up the movie, Hurley taking a seat on the couch in case any of his kids wanted or needed to cuddle.

Annika had immediately sat on one side of her father, curled up against his side like a cat with her head on his shoulder.

Alastor, seeing how his sister was sitting and deciding he wanted to be close as well, since he hadn’t slept in the same room as his family, sat on the other side of his father; not laying on him like Annika was, but sitting close enough that they were touching from hip to shoulder.

Irene sat in a nearby lounge chair, curling her legs under her.

Mitch started the movie. Then, without any indication of what he planned to do, or even bothering to ask, he walked over and draped himself over his family, his head on Annika’s lap, his legs over Alastor and his bottom over Hurley’s lap.

Snorting, Annika immediately began to play with his hair and massage his head, even as she watched the movie.

Alastor didn’t even snort, just beginning to massage his calves and feet while he watched.

Mitch wiggled his butt and looked over his shoulder at Hurley with an impish grin.

Hurley couldn’t help but smile, sliding his hand under the flap covering Mitch’s backside to begin gently stroking and rubbing his bottom, doing that for a few moments before he raised the flap.

Irene had been watching the movie, even though out of the corner of her eye she could see that Mitch had crawled over his family like an overgrown puppy. When Hurley had slid his hand under the flap to begin rubbing, she hadn’t thought much of it; it was the same thing he had done the night before, so it wasn’t a very big surprise. When he raised the flap and exposed Mitch’s backside, though? That caught her by surprise and it took a real effort not to turn and stare with her mouth open at the fact that it was occurring; and Mitch seemed to be happy about it. Biting her lip, she kept her face forward and on the television screen, trying not to be rude and stare. Annika and Alastor seemed unphased, so maybe this was something that was common when they all watched TV? She didn’t know. It was just a surprise. What was more of a surprise, though? Was that she was feeling stabs of jealousy again. What in the heck was wrong with her?

Mitch had kept a close eye on his cousin as his father bared him. He didn’t care if everyone saw his bare backside. But he didn’t want her uncomfortable. She didn’t seem uncomfortable, though; a bit surprised, yes. Maybe a little unsure about what was going on. But not uncomfortable. If he didn’t know any better, he’d think the look he saw in her eye when she allowed herself a quick peek was envy. He couldn’t help but smile at that thought. Irene was very prim and proper. He’d loosen her up before the week was out. He wiggled his bottom again, to encourage his father not to stop.

Hurley delivered a couple of light smacks to Mitch’s bottom before he resumed rubbing, sliding his hand under the pajamas to also rub and stroke his baby boy’s back and thighs.

Despite being uncertain about the fact Mitch’s butt was in plain view for everyone and the fact that her uncle was rubbing it and smacking it alternately until it was a nice rosy color, Irene found she didn’t feel uncomfortable or like she needed to leave. Sighing to herself, she slumped down into the overstuffed lounge chair and focused on the movie, what was going on a few feet away from her shifting to the back of her awareness as she became engrossed in the story on the television.

Annika continued to play with Mitch’s hair and massage his scalp. Alastor continued to massage his lower legs and feet. And Mitch was so completely relaxed and blissed out at all the attention that even when the light smacks began to feel more like hard swats and the sting was lingering, he didn’t want it to stop and didn’t show any signs of distress that would encourage Hurley to stop. He blinked when, over two hours later, the movie credits were rolling and every one began to shift. Swallowing, he wiggled his bottom one last time and looked over his shoulder at Hurley to see if he had permission to get up.

You want to get up? Hurley asked his baby boy, figuring Mitch would let him know somehow if he wanted or needed the attention to continue.

Yes, daddy... Mitch said quietly, giving his father a smile. I can get everyone drinks and them maybe we can do some investigating before lunch....

Hurley replaced the flap and helped his son to his feet. I’ll check in with the contacts I can...see if there are any leads to follow. He looked around at his children and niece. We talked already about eyes and ears here.... he said, indicating to Mitch that he’d spoken to Alastor about his youngest son’s idea.

Mitch shifted to the side so the rest of his family could stand and nodded, understanding what his father was referring to. Do you want me to check in with my contacts? I don’t have as many as you, but I do have some....

Alastor smiled and got up. I’ll do a quick security sweep of the property. Maybe, if you think it’s a good idea, I can take Annika and Irene around the perimeter and let them become more familiar with everything so they can help me be the eyes and ears.... He knew Annika planned to do something other than spy work. He didn’t know what Irene would do. Especially if it turned out as he suspected it would and she couldn’t go back to the CIA. Maybe she’d work with him, Mitch and their dad?

Annika stood and stretched. I’d like a walk outside if we can, Papa...I need some fresh air.

Irene stood and adjusted her t-shirt and jeans and just waited for Hurley to make a decision. She wouldn’t mind some fresh air herself; to figure out why she was feeling so envious of her cousins being so physically affectionate and close to their father. She was even jealous of Mitch’s unusual brand of affection. She was pretty certain she didn’t want her uncle to affectionately spank her!

Hurley nodded to both his sons. Yes, Mitch, if you can check in with any of your contacts, I would be grateful...and Alastor, it would help if you did that with your sister and cousin. I want all of you to take a radio and an earpiece. I’ll go into town later and pick up the trackers that will have arrived.... Along with the bed and pajamas.

Great! We all have our orders, then! Alastor glanced around at his younger family members and clapped, his nod encouraging them all to begin the assignments that Hurley had given them...behaving as if he was Hurley’s second-in-command. His Beta wolf.

Hurley smiled at the quick way his oldest son responded and gently clapped Alastor’s shoulder. Thanks, kiddo...Beta, he added, quickly settling in to that codename. He glanced at Mitch. I figured we could use the wolf analogy for our code names...Pup, he said.

Mitch wrinkled his nose, then laughed. Great. I can’t say they don’t fit... What about the girls, though? He glanced at Annika and Irene teasingly. Even if Anni decides to go into a completely different line of work, we should probably have a code name for her, just in case. Same with Reny.

Hurley looked at his daughter and niece. What do you both think? he asked. The wolf names worked for him and his sons, but he thought something a bit different would be better for the girls.

Annika smiled brightly. I feel more like a cat than a wolf! she said mischievously.

Irene laughed. So what? You want to be called Tabby? she teased.

And you could be Princess Tuna! Annika teased back, then laughed at the look on Irene’s face.

What about Lioness, angel? Hurley suggested, before looking at Irene. Swan? He remembered Annika referring to her cousin as a baby bird.

Oh yes! Reny can be Swan! Annika bounced in place. And I can be Grackle!

Alastor blinked. Isn’t a Grackle one of those screechy blackbirds?

If that’s the name you want to choose, then I’m happy for you to use that, Hurley said.

Annika nodded. I would. Grackle’s are very intelligent and don’t screech. Well...not as often as you imply, anyway... she said to Alastor with a sniff. She was smiling, though, so she wasn’t really upset.

Only when they’re hungry? Hurley teased gently, remembering Annika’s comments about his baby bird niece.

Exactly! Annika grinned mischievously.

Irene just looked befuddled. So...I’m Swan? she finally asked in confusion, wondering how and why she’d got a name like that. She wasn’t quiet in the least and didn’t consider herself overly graceful or beautiful. Are you sure I shouldn’t be Chicken or something like that? she tried to joke.

Hurley smiled gently at his niece. I think it suits you. But if you’d prefer to have a different codename, that’s fine with me too.

Irene blinked, then smiled almost bashfully.’s okay. Annika likes it and you think it works, so...that’s what I’ll be....

That’s settled, then. With a slight smile, Hurley added, And my codename is Alpha. Now that that’s settled, you three check the perimeter, while me and Mitch check in with our contacts.

Yes ... Dad, Papa, Daddy and Tio blended in a cacophony of affectionate names all referring to Hurley as his children rushed to do as ordered.

Once everyone who was going to check perimeter was out of the house, Mitch turned toward his father. Reny didn’t seem phased by my actions this morning... he stated. ...If I didn’t know better, I’d think she was jealous.

It might be because you and your siblings don’t have any problems reacting to me, Hurley answered. You all know that when you need something, I won’t react negatively. And it’s allowed us to grow that much closer that much faster.

You think she wants that same thing? To be able to react however she needs, or ask for what she needs and not be afraid to do it? I thought you and she were close...didn’t she have that with you before? Mitch asked curiously, knowing that if it wasn’t any of his business, or he was being too nosy, his father would let him know.

Hurley’s smile was a little sad. I know she understood and realised that in the past, but a lot’s changed. We don’t have any soundproofing here. She heard me spanking you and Alastor and was worried about what that meant for all of the kids here.

Mitch blinked at that. thought you’d be spanking all of us every night? Just because? He wrinkled his nose. If she thought that, dad, she’s forgotten a lot of what she ever knew about you, if she ever really knew you.... he muttered. Even I knew you’d only spank me if I deserved it. Or asked for it. And I’ve only been yours for a little while. He frowned, a sad look crossing his own face. What caused you both to drift apart anyway?

She wanted to get through the CIA on her own merits and not based on her relationship to me, Hurley replied. After I lost Alastor, it was harder to reach out to her...and I wasn’t in a good place at that time anyway.

Mitch nodded. If it makes you feel better, I get the idea she doesn’t know how to reach out to you either. And now...she’s really not in a good place, so... He shrugged slightly. ...I could try and talk to her. If you think it’d help. But I get the idea just doing like we did this morning, acting like it’s normal and that we don’t mind her witnessing it, probably helps a lot. Not only lets her see that she can approach you but lets her see that we think of her as family just as much as each other. I dunno... He bit his lip. ...You think you’ll have to go after her like you had to go after me? he asked. For his cousin’s sake, he hoped not. Running had ended up with him butt over his father’s knee and receiving the first spanking of his life. Of course, now he liked being in that position (as long as it wasn’t to be punished), so maybe it wasn’t such a bad thing.

I think you’re right, Hurley said. As long as you’re comfortable letting her see when you need me in that way. You know I don’t have any problems doing what you need, baby boy. He reached out and stroked Mitch’s cheek. If I have to go after her, I will. Just like I went after you.

Mitch nodded, leaning his face into his father’s hand, then smiling. Good. She belongs with us now. I hate the idea of her running away again because she thinks she doesn’t.... He pulled out one of the burner phones from the desk. We may want to get a few more of these after we make our calls... he noticed.

Yeah, I ordered some of those along with the trackers. I’ll head into town after lunch. Hurley took out one of the other phones, pressing a quick kiss to his son’s forehead before he moved to what could be considered a safe distance to start making the calls.

Mitch moved to his own safe distance to make his own calls. The more he heard, the happier he was that he was getting out of the agency. And if Irene wasn’t planning on leaving before (after everything had been cleared up), then he was pretty sure his father would have something to say about it.


Alastor glanced at his baby sister and cousin. We’ve checked everything, and it appears everything is in working order and there are no blind spots. We can head back to the house now and report in, he said, with a smile. He’d been watching Irene and seeing this strangely homesick look on her face. He’d noticed how she didn’t seem upset by Mitch’s actions from the morning. Maybe she just needed a nudge to get back into his father’s grip. A nudge showing her that she could go to the older man. He made his plans as they began the trek back.


Hurley put the phone down and sighed, glancing over towards his son as he wondered if Mitch had heard the same thing he had. He at least had a couple of names that they could check into.

Mitch saw his father had finished and walked over so they could compare notes. It looks like there is one individual that might have put a hit on her, but all the others have decided to keep quiet and stay out of it because they want her gone too...they just don’t want their hands dirty. He was angry. These people were supposed to be on her side. The good guys. They were little better than the terrorists, in Mitch’s opinion.

Hurley nodded. There aren’t many people left on her side, he commented. But I can’t find any dirt to dig least not from here. I think we’ll need to head to his offices.

Mitch nodded. I can sneak in and get incriminating evidence...give it to the right people and he’ll be brought down. The others will be afraid to act against her, because they won’t know where or how the information was leaked and if they’d be next....

We can take the car tomorrow; for tonight, we can work on implanting the trackers and setting up comms and radios, Hurley said.

Okay, daddy... Mitch quickly agreed. He glanced toward the door as it opened, and his siblings and cousin walked back into the house.

Alastor grinned. Everything is in working order and the perimeter is safe and free from blind spots, he stated confidently. No one will be sneaking in to our home any time soon.

Irene looked a little more at ease at having determined that.

And we’ve got a plan for tomorrow and a lead on who to go after, Hurley added. I’ll be picking up trackers and extra burner phones later.

Want me to go with you, Papa? Annika asked. She knew Alastor and Irene had to stay close to home, but she was pretty sure she was safe to go out. If her father agreed, anyway.

Hurley nodded. That’s fine. We’ll pick up the new bed as well.

You need me to come help with that? Mitch asked curiously.

Hurley smiled. I can take both of you. He glanced at Alastor and Irene. If either of you want anything, we can pick stuff up...Sweetheart, if you give me your size and let me know what clothes you like, I’ll pick those up too.

Irene nodded. Okay, Tio... she said quietly, not even bothering to ask to go, since she knew it would be impossible at this juncture. Grabbing a piece of paper, she quickly wrote down her sizes for every type of clothing she’d need. She then listed some personal items that she’d need. She almost wrote down some frivolous items that she thought might make it easier for her, since she couldn’t leave the property, but didn’t feel right asking for them. She wasn’t even sure she’d feel right writing them down if Hurley told her to.

Annika took the list from her and smiled. I’ll make sure to get things you’d like... She grinned. She’d noticed what items in her own closet Irene gravitated toward, so thought she had a small idea of what the other woman preferred in terms of materials and styles.

Thank you, Hurley said. If there’s anything else either of you think of, you can always call or text to let me know. I figured we’d head out after lunch.

And on that note...I think I will begin lunch. Irene smiled. Everyone else had taken a turn at cooking a meal. She figured she needed to start pulling her weight. Quickly heading into the kitchen, she started working on something that had been one of her uncle’s favorite meals when she was a young teenager, first learning to cook.

Hurley moved to start laying the table for lunch, moving so he could keep the members of his family in sight.

It didn’t take long before the meal was ready, and they were all sat around the dining table again. Irene was surprised at how hungry she was, although she supposed she shouldn’t be. They’d done a lot of walking while checking the perimeter. She glanced toward her uncle, hoping he liked what she’d made. It had been a long time since she’d made it; it brought back memories of a simpler time: when she hadn’t avoided him for so many years and the biggest worry on her mind was if she’d be asked to the homecoming dance. Hurley had been her rock and she regretted ever leaving him but didn’t know how to tell him. She wondered if he’d think about what they’d had before she so foolishly left; if the meal would make him think about it.

Alastor watched his cousin unobtrusively and then looked toward his father, a thoughtful look on his face.

Hurley smiled at his niece. This is good, he said. Thank you for making it. He was happy to have his family so close to him but couldn’t help but worry a bit about the mission the next day. This would be the first one he was taking on with so much that he could potentially lose...but he had no intention of taking any chances. Or letting any of his family do the same.

Irene’s smile grew at the knowledge that her uncle was enjoying it. You’re welcome, she said shyly, showing down her own worry. So much could go wrong the next day. She could lose her uncle again after just regaining him. She could lose her new cousin. She prayed that neither of those options would happen, but if they did? Whoever was behind burning her out of the agency and hurting her family? Would pay. She’d make sure of it.

Alastor’s eyebrows went up as he saw the peaceful, serene expression on his cousin’s face turn dark, brooding and dangerous. If he didn’t know better, he’d think she was plotting someone’s death. He looked toward his father curiously.

Hurley had a fairly good idea of what was going through Irene’s mind and when he stood to help clear the table, he moved over to gently squeeze his niece’s shoulder. Nothing bad will happen tomorrow, he promised.

Irene took a deep breath and nodded. Okay. You’re the best at’ll be okay... she agreed quietly.

Alastor helped clear the table as well. He shifted over to Hurley’s side as they were washing the dishes. Before you go into town to get the supplies...could we just sit together a bit? He didn’t say, And have you hold me, but the tone of his voice indicated that was what he wanted.

Hurley smiled at his oldest and kissed his head. Of course, kiddo, he answered, without any hesitation. Living room? Or the bedroom?

Not wanting to monopolize his father when he knew his brother, sister and cousin would want to spend as much time with him as possible before the op the next day, he smiled and answered, The living room is fine....

Okay, kiddo. Hurley stroked his cheek after finishing the cleaning up and then moved into the living room. Deciding that holding his oldest meant cuddling Alastor on his lap, he chose one of the Alastor would have to sit on him.

Alastor smiled in amusement as he saw where his father had sat, but didn’t say anything, instead walking over and carefully sitting on the older man’s lap and wrapping his arms around his father’s neck in a very loose hug. You probably would have been more comfortable on the couch with me beside you... he said softly. Out of the corner of his eye, he could see Mitch and Annika come in and plop down onto the sofa; Mitch sitting in the middle so that Irene could sit on the other side of him. He noticed when Irene came in a few moments later and hesitantly sat down next to Mitch, after staring at Alastor and Hurley just long enough that she was almost staring before she glanced away.

Mitch was having none of her playing shy, though. Before she could do more than squeak– and definitely not enough time for her to protest– he had his arms around both Irene and Annika and pulled them both in close and tight to him in a three person bear-hug. He then promptly kissed each one on top of their head. Now this is my favorite kind of sandwich... he teased.

Hurley smiled at his youngest son’s actions and wrapped his arms around Alastor in a tight hug, pulling his oldest in closer and stroking the back of his head. No, kiddo. This way is more comfortable for me, he replied, just as softly.

Alastor’s grin softened and became more...childlike, if that were possible. I like it too, dad... he whispered, before letting himself relax completely and put his head on his father’s shoulder and just cuddle.

MItch was grinning like a loon at the sight of his father and brother.

Annika was snuggling close to Mitch, enjoying being cuddled herself, even if it was her twin doing the cuddling.

Irene had an odd look on her face, but it wasn’t negative. It was the same wistful look that had crossed her face a couple of times when watching Mitch with his father that morning, along with a dash of hope. She let herself relax in Mitch’s hold so he could snuggle her as well.

Hurley kissed Alastor’s head and held him close, one hand rubbing gently over his son’s head and back. I love you, he whispered...then raised his voice enough so that the others could hear him as well. I love all of you.

I love you too, Daddy... Mitch said loudly.

Annika’s voice was a bit softer, but she was just as quick to answer. I love you, Papa...

Alastor just hugged his father tight and kissed him on the cheek to say he loved his father.

Irene smiled crookedly. I love you, Tio... she whispered, just loud enough to be heard. She was beginning to feel guilty. Her uncle and cousin would be going into danger the next day, because she needed help. Because she had made too many enemies and wasn’t able to help herself. She hated that they were going into danger. Part of her wondered if she shouldn’t just leave a note telling them to stay safe and run away before they could do anything that would put them in danger on her behalf.

Hurley smiled at each of them, his face soft and loving. He hugged Alastor a bit tighter, remembering what his oldest had said about the tighter the better. Holding on helped him too. He could push away the painful memories.

Alastor relaxed even further the tighter his father held him. Could stay like this the rest of the afternoon, if you didn’t need to go into town, he admitted sheepishly.

I could do that as well, no problem, Hurley replied softly. It would make up for how long I spent without you in my arms...all the time I lost with you while you were hurting.

Maybe after the mission. When everyone is back home safe... Alastor said quietly, smiling.

Irene bit her lip and closed her eyes. It was her fault they had to go on this mission. If it weren’t for her, they could stay home safe and just be with each other.

No brooding, Reny... Mitch whispered in her ear, tugging her more tightly to him and nuzzling the top of her head.

Hurley kissed Alastor’s head. If you’re giving me permission to cuddle you after the mission, I think you should know you’ll be letting yourself in for a long cuddling session, he said softly.

I’m not just giving permission, daddy... Alastor resorted to the name he only used when feeling extremely needy. ...I’m admitting I want and need you to... he whispered, before kissing his father on the cheek.

And I need to hold onto you, kiddo, Hurley whispered, kissing Alastor’s head. I can’t let you go. I love you and need you so much.

Alastor didn’t say anything else to that, just cuddling as close as possible, drawing comfort from the fact he was with his father and his brother, sister and cousin were all three safe in the room with them. Tomorrow might be difficult, but they’d be as careful as possible and then? Then there could be more of this. He looked forward to that.

Irene hid her face against Mitch’s shoulder. She couldn’t do this...cause her uncle’s family to be in danger of losing each other. Not when it was her own fault she’d got stuck in this situation in the first place. She’d leave tonight. It was safer to travel at night; less likely for people who might be watching to notice her leaving and therefore safer for her uncle and the others. She’d leave and go to one of the few safe-houses she had that absolutely no one knew about.

Hurley held on tightly, taking comfort from his son’s warm weight, stroking Alastor’s hair and back. He kissed his boy’s head. I’m so happy I’ve got you here and safe with me, kiddo, he whispered. So happy I have you back and you forgave me for not being there...for not coming. It didn’t matter to him that he hadn’t been aware. His son had been suffering and Hurley hadn’t been there for him. Forgiving himself would take a lot of work.

You forgave me for so much more... Alastor continued to hold onto Hurley, snuggling. Eventually, though, someone had to make the call and he knew his father wouldn’t do it if he believed Alastor still needed to be held. I guess I should let you go get the supplies and the bed, Dad... he said, with a chagrined smile. Maybe it can be my turn being ’imprisoned’ by you tonight... he teased lightly.

Sounds good to me. Hurley kissed Alastor’s cheek, giving him one final squeeze before he released his son.

Alastor stood before walking over and pulling Irene to her feet. Come on, Cuz! You and I can make sure that our coms and other surveillance equipment is in working order for tomorrow.

Yeah...alright... Irene agreed quietly. She wouldn’t be here and they wouldn’t need to do surveillance once she left, but it wouldn’t hurt to check it out anyway.

Mitch stood and tugged Annika to her feet before wrapping an arm around her shoulders. Ready to go, daddy....

Hurley gave Irene a hug and kissed her forehead. I’ll see you in a little while, sweetheart. I’ve got my phone...if either of you think of anything you need while we’re out. He then turned to his twins. Okay, all set.

Irene hugged back tightly and hid her face against his neck for a few seconds before pulling back. Okay...we will... she whispered, hoping that she wasn’t giving off suspicious vibes. Suddenly, her idea of running away to keep them safe felt like the worst possible decision she could make; because she didn’t want to leave them.

Hurley kissed her cheek, then Alastor’s, then reached out to grab Mitch’s and Annika’s hands. Come on. He began to lead them out of the house.

Alastor waited until he’d heard the car driving away, then put an arm around his cousin’s shoulder and drew her over to where the equipment was. this is what we need to check out... he began.

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