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Happy Birthday, Baby!

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Happy Birthday, Baby!

Grant jolted awake at the soft touch to his shoulder, hands flailing out in defense as he struggled to come completely aware. Vincent, one of his two best friends - one of his two only friends - smiled at him gently, hands up in a nonthreatening manner as he soothed, “It’s okay, man. It’s just me.” Nodding his head in the direction of the windshield, he explained, “We’re here.”

Blinking, he turned to forward and sagged. The house in front of him was a familiar one and he couldn’t help the grimace as he announced, “Shit . . . I fell asleep.”

“Understandable. Bridget said you were pushing yourself way too hard today at PT.”

“I need to get back to work.”

“I get that . . . but you should know better. You push yourself too hard, you’re gonna set yourself back faster than you’re going to move forward.”

“Which means, you’re not gonna let me walk to the door by myself, are you?” he asked ruefully, a twist to his mouth that indicated he already knew the answer to that.

“Hell no. I’ll give you a choice though; the chair or your cane. Take it or leave it.”

The Specialist grumbled, as he slouched, an actual pout on his lips and his arms folded over his chest petulantly. “Cane . . . I hate that thing.”

“I know, but if you use it, at least you can get around by yourself instead of having someone roll you all over the place,” Vincent reminded him with an amused smile, stretching behind him and pulling the cane from the back seat. “Come on . . . we’re late. I’ll bet even Sam is already here.”

Grant brightened instantly. “Sam’s here?”

“It’s his little sisters’ first birthday . . . of course he’s here,” Vincent laughed with a fond roll of his eyes, as he pushed open the door and climbed from the car.

As for his passenger, Grant was moving a little slower, but still managed to hop out of the car and lean on his cane by himself by the time Vincent had rounded the car to join him. The medic nodded in approval, clasping his shoulder gently as he applauded him verbally, “You’re getting better at that. I remember when it took three people to wrestle you out of the car, right after you were released.”

“Ugh . . . I hate being so dependent on people. I’ve been on my own, my whole life. I don’t know how to be anything else,” he insisted, limping forward with a small grunt as he moved towards the front door of the house.

They were almost to the porch stairs, when the door opened and the Colonel’s tiny Viper appeared, one of the birthday girls sitting on her hip. “Prizrak . . . Roslyy, you made it!”

“Yeah, are we the last to arrive?” Vincent joked, springing up the steps and bending to kiss her cheek, followed much more slowly by his companion.

“No, actually, Sam and Julianna’s flight was delayed by an hour or so. They’re in New York, but stuck in traffic. They should be here within the hour, though.”

“Awesome! More time to monopolize the midgets,” Vincent snarked, a wicked grin appearing on his face as he plucked the little girl from her mother’s arms. He tossed her carefully into the air, chuckling at the delighted squeals. “Hello, little Valentina. Are you having a good birthday?”

“Vinnie!” she giggled, squealing as he tossed her upwards again. “Again!”

Marina moved forward to loop one arm around Grant’s waist, letting him lean against her a little as they watched the two play together. “How are you feeling, Prizrak?”

“I’ll be happier when I can get rid of this cane, and get back to my life.”

“Just remember . . . listen to what your body is telling you. You were seriously injured; it’s going to take a little bit to bounce back from that, okay? Be patient. You’ll be back to field work in no time.” Squeezing him gently around the waist, she promised, “I have total faith in you.”

He cocked his head as he asked, “I have a question though.”

“What’s that, sweetheart?”

IS that Valya?”

Marina chuckled as she nodded, “Yes. I don’t know how he knew, but yes.”

Vincent tucked her close and bounced the girl as he followed after them, “Because you always have Valya, and Will always had Katenka. It’s just a matter of deduction at that point.”

“Uh-huh,” she agreed with a small smirk and a roll of her eyes. “Whatever you say, Roslyy. Come on inside, the both of you.” Wrinkling her nose at Vincent, she insisted, “I’m pretty sure there’s an exceptionally impatient detective inside, waiting for you to show up.”

The medic beamed at the information, eyes brightened at the information as he all but bolted into the house, Valya still in his arms. Catherine Chandler looked up at the sight of her boyfriend, her grin widening as she teased, “I trusted you to be here on time, you know.”

“Blame Grant,” he insisted, moving over and bending to kiss her sweetly. “It’s all Grant’s fault.”

“Sure, blame the injured party. You’re a real pal,” Grant snarked, though his face was content as he came in with Marina, one hand on his cane and the other around the handler’s shoulders.

“Oh, don’t worry Grant; I know who’s fault it was,” she promised with a grin. Her face lengthened and she mimicked her boyfriend as she intoned, “‘Just one more patient, Miranda.’ Or ‘I just need to do this one quick surgery, Anna.’ Or . . .”

Grant watched the rest of the room burst into laughter as the family medic bent to cut off his girlfriend’s mimicry with a kiss. A rough chuckle brought Grant’s head around, a sound the Specialist almost recognized. The family’s ranking officer had just come into the room, his younger daughter sitting in the crook of his arm as he asked, “What’s going on?”

“Cat’s giving Vincent grief for being late,” Inari chirped in answer. Her sister picked up in the next second, “Apparently, she knows him better than he’d like to admit, because she was teasing him and his only argument was to kiss her.”

“Then again,” Marina broke in, her smile fond as Vincent moved to trade babies with the older man, “he wouldn’t be our Tselitel if he wasn’t devoted to the health and wellbeing of his patients.”

Grant shrugged lightly, as he agreed, “I’m not sure I’m in a position to complain either. Without that devotion, I‘m pretty sure I’d be dead.”

Marina’s arm tightened around his waist as the rest of the family considered that statement. The silence lasted for so long, Grant was almost regretting his decision to speak up, before the front door creaked open and a jovial voice rang through the house, “Allo the house!”

Marina brightened in an instant, a warm smile on her face as her eldest son came into the room, his four month old daughter cradled against his chest and his wife carrying the diaper bag behind him. “Sammichka!” she cheered, releasing Grant carefully and bolting to hug the blond. The two hugged for a long moment, before Marina deftly plucked her granddaughter free and danced away, cooing at the baby.

Sam chuckled, rolling his eyes as he set the carseat in his other hand out of the way. “Gee Ma . . . now I know what your priority is.”

“Once you have grandchildren, you’ll understand,” she replied primly, before turning her entire attention onto the baby in her arms. “Hello my little Bug. Baba is so happy to see you!” Giving her partner a glare, she continued in the same chipper voice, “And just in case Deda was curious, he can’t have you yet.”

Will chuckled, shaking his head in amusement as he moved to embrace his son. “Hello Sam. How was the trip?”

“Ugh, I hate commercial flights,” he grunted with a roll of his eyes. “We got stuck, in the plane . . . on the tarmac . . . for an hour. For no freaking reason. Apparently, the pilot got trigger happy, and pulled out of the gate too soon. So by the time he was able to actually get into the lineup, we were dealing with a very unhappy Sadie-Bug.”

“However it happened, we’re glad you were able to make it home in time.”

“No way I was going to miss it,” he replied with a grin, reaching out to accept his sister as Valya leaned away from their father and towards her brother with a frustrated grunt. “Hello, Trouble. What have you been up to lately?”

“Sammy!” she accused, managing to put a lot of disappointment into the nickname and earning a meek look in response. As a result, her brother cuddled her close and pressed a warm kiss to her forehead, as he promised, “I missed you too, Trouble.”

In the meantime, the Colonel turned to greet his daughter-in-law with a warm smile. “Hello, Julianna. Welcome back. Thank you for coming.”

“The girls are sweet; neither Sam nor I would have missed their birthday for the world,” she insisted, accepting the handshake warmly.

“Sam!” announced the other twin insistently, clearly determined to get down as she attempted to wiggle free of Vincent’s embrace. “Sam! Now! Go!”

Grant chuckled as Vincent set her down, obviously unwilling to get between the infant and her brother. “Whatever you want little one.”

Standing, he reached out and plucked Sadie free from Marina’s arms, earning an indignant squeak from the woman. “Roslyy!”

Clint’s tone was awed from where he and Darcy were cuddling their boyfriend, insisting, “That was either very brave, or very stupid.”

“How ‘bout both?” Aaron agreed with a snigger. “Both sounds about right.”

Brian chuckled as he leaned his chin on his partner's shoulder, eyes roaming back and forth as he took in the room. “I'm surprised she hasn't rip his head off yet. I mean, godfather or not . . . he stole the grandbaby. That has to be a sin, right?”

“Only to Marina,” Doyle agreed with a chuckle as he watched the tiny Russian scold the medic in her native language.

Grant felt a gentle touch to his elbow and looked down to see the young blonde who had declared him her project. “Hey Wildcat.”

Dacia made a face, still protesting the nickname, even as she hugged him carefully. “You seem to be moving better.”

“Kind of,” he agreed, giving the cane he held an evil eye. “I'll be happy when I get rid of this thing.”

“At least you get to do all the reading you want, right?” Here her tone turned teasing as she joked, “That should make your Robonerd heart happy, yeah?”

“I'm unfortunately behind on my paperwork, so not much reading for fun at the moment,” he replied with a chuckle. “Seriously, Marina’s gonna make you write book reports for her, if you keep teasing me about that.”

“She has to catch me first.”

He chuckled, startled at the sudden shout coming from the direction of his best friend. “Whoa!” Sam blurted, arms closing around the dark haired one of Vincent's daughters, as Inari rocketed into his arms. After a moment, his features smoothed and he closed his arms around her. “Hey Inari.”

“Hi Sam,” she greeted in a quiet whisper, tone warm and adoring as she cuddled close. “I'm glad you were able to come.”

“Me too,” he chuckled, guiding her over to the couch by Grant and Dacia. The blonde got up from her seat to share a quick hug with the older man, before returning to her spot next to Grant. Inari cuddled up with Sam, content to be next to him, as the constable leaned back into the couch. “So, you two seem to be settling in all right.”

“It's been awesome,” Dacia agreed, tempered by Inari’s more honest, “Mostly anyway. It was touch and go at the beginning.”

Her sister grumbled as she muttered, “Spoilsport.”

Sam chuckled, as he shook his head. “Every new adventure has its share of missteps. I have faith you girls can handle it.”

Inari beamed up at him, cuddling closer as she demanded, “So what have you been up to in Toronto? Tell me everything!”

“I’m pretty sure that would bore the hell out of you, Nari. It’s been work related and Sadie for the last few weeks; not much else.”

Dacia had been watching their guardian love on the blond’s daughter since he’d stolen the baby from Marina. “I don’t get it?” she hedged carefully.

“Get what?” Grant asked, letting his eyes slip closed in quiet exhaustion as he settled back against the couch.

“Why Vincent is so affectionate with Sadie . . .” she paused, her mouth twisting as she continued, “. . . her name is Sadie, right? I still have trouble remembering everyone’s names.”

“Yes, her name is Sadie,” Sam replied with a chuckle, even as his friend continued, “And Vincent is Sadie’s godfather.”

The girl blinked, surprised by the information. “Her godfather?” she echoed with obvious uncertainty.

“Yeah; if something happened to Jules and me, Cat and Vincent would be her guardians,” Sam explained with a small smile. “Considering the job we do, we wanted to make sure that we had all of that planned out, just in case.”

“Why not Robonerd?”

Grant’s eyes flashed wide in startled horror at the question. “Wait! What!? No!”

Inari giggled as the older man burst into guffawing laughter. “You mean, besides that reaction right there?”

“But, he’s your friend!”

“Agreed . . . but he’s also a Specialist, which means he’s gone a lot more often than he’s home. Sadie adores her Uncle Grant, completely and utterly. Not to mention, he likes her a great deal more than he’s usually willing to admit. But a medic who tends to be stationary, was deemed to be more stable than a globe-trotting Specialist.”

“So,” the girl trailed off, his tone concerned as she considered that. After a moment, she asked, “Does that mean she’s my sister?”

A single eyebrow rose, before he shrugged, “In a roundabout way, I guess so?”

The girl straightened, brightening at the information. However, what she’d been about to say was interrupted by the arrival of the Colonel. Leaning over the back of the couch, the man folded one hand over his son’s shoulder. “We’re doing dinner first, then presents. So if you’re hungry, grub’s up.”

“Thanks, Dad,” Sam agreed, tilting his head back to look up at the older blond. After a moment, he smirked, tone teasing as he joked, “You wearing contacts today, Dad?”

A gentle cuff up the back of the younger man’s head, did little more than ruffle the strands, as the officer snarked, “Hardy har har . . . move your ass before the boys eat everything.”

“You got it, Dad.” Standing, Sam looked back at Grant, ice blue eyes assessing as they swept him from head to toe. “Want me to bring you back a plate, man?”

Forced to take stock, the younger agent nodded lightly. “If you wouldn’t mind?”

“No problem at all,” the sniper promised, before trucking toward the kitchen.

Grant watched his friend go, before turning back as the Colonel spoke up again, this time addressing him. “How are you feeling, kid? It’s good to see you outside of Medical.”

“It’s good to be seen,” he chuckled with a shy grin, ducking his head under the rough affection the older man offered. His hand was strong but gentle as it ruffled through Grant’s hair. Looking up into the man’s face, he blinked in surprise; he didn’t remember a time he’d ever seen those eyes quite so . . . blue . . . before. “Sir, your eyes?”

That evidently needed no explanation as the man only smiled ruefully. “It’s a good day,” was all he said in response.

Grant could feel in his own smile growing in concert with other man’s own, as he agreed, “Yes, it is.”

“Let people wait on you today, okay?” he asked with a quirk of his lips. “I know you don’t like it, but samaya malen’kaya is a little high strung today. Everything has to go perfectly, or she may give herself heart failure.”

Blushing, he nodded. “I can do that, but just this once.”

“Good kid,” he chuckled, turning back as he heard his partner call his name. “And that’s my cue. If I don’t go get a plate, she’ll come bolting out here on a rant.”

“You should go then,” was the mock-serious response, the two men exchanging a fond - and amused - look between them. Marina Petrovka’s fussing was one of the traits they loved the most about her, even if she did tend to turn that fussing on them more often than anyone else.

Ruffling the Specialist’s hair once more, the Colonel called, “I’m coming, zhemchuzhina!”

Settling back into the cushions, Grant took the opportunity to look around the house. There were banners in blue and green hanging around the house, each one proclaiming cheerfully, “Happy Birthday, Yekaterina and Valentina!”

There were streamers and balloons, as well as three huge sheet cakes. Next to them were two much smaller circle cakes, one decorated in blue and the other in green to match the banners. Everywhere he looked, there were members of the family, mingling and talking and enjoying each other’s company. He didn’t even mind sitting on the couch alone; it gave him the chance to look around and observe.

Gus Maitland had arrived earlier that morning, and Marina fluttered about him like a butterfly in a meadow. Beside him was his exuberant young friend, Malee Chung, who lit up the small group around her as she bounced in place, hardly able to contain her excitement. Currently, she was monopolizing both Gus and Sam’s complete attention, telling them some story that earned their smiling adoration and amusement. Beside them, Inari cuddled into Sam’s side contentedly, quiet and watchful as she listened.

Smiling, he tore his eyes away and continued to perusal of the room. After a moment, he frowned at the sight of Herr Kuhn embracing a rough-looking man in a sleeveless denim shirt, dark hair shaggy around his face and ragged scruff on his cheeks. A young girl bounced next to the man, her hands clasped around his elbow as she bounced, while a grey-haired woman stood beside them. Once he released Hansel, the man’s arm found its way around her waist, drawing her close to him.

Clearly, these three were well known to the family, as more than a couple of people came up to say hello and hug the girl. However, he could honestly say he didn’t recall ever seeing these three before.

A situation Herr Kuhn seemed intent to remedy, as he led the trio to join Grant by the couch. “Hello Agent Ward. It is good to have hyu here with us. How do hyu feel?”

“Still broken, but improving,” he replied honestly, a small and fractured smile on his lips.

Gut,” he insisted, a warm hand coming to rest on his shoulder, “I am glad to hear it. Brian will be happy to hear it too. Mein Arger had hoped that hyu would come.”

Grant blushed lightly, head ducking as he considered that. Brian had come to see him everyday, usually between the classes he taught with the Black Widow. Though the visits weren’t very long, they had brightened Grant’s days nevertheless, almost as much as Marina’s own visits. The two Specialists had formed a rapport in that Latverian cell, and the younger man was not shy about the fact that the elder had saved his life. Even once they were rescued, that bond had remained. Of the people Grant felt comfortable exchanging casual physical contact with, Brian was the fifth to add to that list.

After a moment, he amended that number to six. She was utterly certifiable, and Grant was terrified for her since she didn’t seem to be scared at all, but Dacia seemed to be slipping past every wall he tried to throw up in her way. The Trinity of Trouble was what Vincent had nicknamed the three of them - Grant, Marina and Dacia - and despite every fear Grant clung to, the title seemed to be sticking.

Even as the very idea scared him, he loved knowing that he belonged to something like this, too. It was nice . . . having people who cared about him, and people he cared for in return.

Hansel’s smile was warm and amused as he watched the younger man, taking note of the shy smile and the sheepish blush. “Hyu are good for each other. Arger needs more friends.”

That blush deepened as Grant ducked his head further. It was the arrival of Sam Grimm, Inari and Malee Chung that ended up rescuing him from spontaneous combustion. “Granddad, you’re gonna make him explode if he gets much rosier in the cheeks,” the sniper teased, offering his friend his own plate before taking a seat between the two girls on the other couch. “You okay, man?”

“Mhmm,” Grant hummed in agreement, as he looked down at his plate.

As for the German witch hunter, he was giving his grandson an arch look. “You are an old mother hen, ja?”

Sam’s eyes sparkled like icebergs in sunshine as he laughed, joking in return, “Who do you think I learned that from?”

The man gave a very Gallic noise of agreement, before gesturing to the visibly amused trio with him. “I would like to introduce to hyu some people. Grant, this is Daryl Dixon, his girlfriend Carol Peletier and Carol’s daughter, Sophia.”

“Pleased to meet you!” the little girl cheered with a brilliant grin. “Are you part of our family, too?”

The Specialist blinked at her, visibly caught off guard by the question. Surprisingly, it was Malee who spoke up in reply. “Oh yeah; he’s Sam’s little brother.”

Grant’s head snapped around to stare at her, wide-eyed, at the statement. Inari and Malee exchanged a conspiratorial look between them, before Inari continued, “Can’t you see the resemblance?”

Sophia giggled at Grant’s reply to that, his tone breathless as he announced, “Geez . . . you’re all completely mental.”

Sam burst into laughter at the statement, his near giggles filling the small area as he collapsed in on himself. As for his mother, there was a bemused smile on her lips as she approached the group, fondness in her eyes as she scanned everyone. “What’s happening here, then?” she asked, arms open to catch Malee as the sixteen year old lunged for a hug. They embraced tightly, Marina’s fingers coming up to smooth through the girl’s hair as she greeted her warmly, “Hello, Malee.”

“Hi Marina!” she replied with a wide grin. “Sam’s being a dork. So nothing terribly out of the ordinary.”

“Hey!” the blond protested through laughter. Marina herself laughed along, delighted by the explanation. “Oh, is that all? Good to know it’s nothing serious then.”

Scanning over the group, the Russian announced, “We’re about ten minutes from presents. Is everyone okay with doing that in here? It’s the biggest room in the house . . .”

“And Grant doesn’t have to move,” her son chimed in, leveling a stern eye onto his best friend.

The woman nodded, matching his look as she hummed. “Exactly. So, is that all right?”

“That sounds perfect, Tochter,” Hansel agreed, smiling to see the assessing look on her face as she looked over Grant. “Go do what you need to do . . . we will look after der Geist for you.”

“Thank you, Vati.” Leaning forward, she pressed a warm kiss to Malee’s forehead before proceeding to share hugs and kisses with the rest of the group in the room. Leveling her son a firm look, she ordered, “Be good, Sammichka . . . and make sure moy Prizrak behaves himself, da?”

“I’m on it, Ma,” the sniper promised, with a bright smile. His mother’s fingers trailed through his hair in thanks, before moments later she disappeared.

Grant sulked at his friend, insisting, “You know I can look after myself, right?”

“Technically, yes I do. But you’re kind of a bonehead when you’re healing. So suck it up and enjoy the attention,” Sam snarked in a mockingly sweet tone.

Overcome with a sudden childish urge, the younger man stuck his tongue out petulantly and earned the action back in response.

Less than a minute later, one of the twins came bolting unsteadily into the room. Unsteady on her feet, she careened perfectly into the Specialist’s knees with an excited squeal. “Gwant! Up!”

The little girl wore a beautiful blue dress, identical in style to the one Valya was wearing, except for the color. Smiling, he bent and lifted her into his lap with a pleased grin. “Hello Katenka. Are you having a good birthday?”

“Presents!” she giggled with a grin, tiny button nose wrinkling with the width of it.

“Excited, huh?” he teased, accepting her cuddle with only a moment’s hesitation. Bending his head over hers, he pecked a quick kiss into her hair as he continued, “I am too. I can’t wait to see what you get!”

Bouncing a little on his knees, the little girl clapped her hands excitedly. Grant watched, entranced, as she proceeded to chatter to herself in a language only she - and he’d bet her sister - knew. Enchanted by her pure joy, he reached to hold on to her hips so as to hold her steady and keep her from falling in her excitement.

Vincent joined the group next, little Sadie still tucked in the crook of his elbow and Valya holding his free hand. The eldest twin caught sight of her unencumbered brother and bolted, shouting, “Sammy! Sammy! Sammy!”

“Heya, Trouble,” Sam chuckled, leaning forward to catch the barrelling little girl before she knocked herself over, catching midair only moments after she lunged. “You ready for presents?”

“Yay!” she cheered; after a moment, her sister echoed her, the two causing a cacophony of sound that filled the room with love and happiness.

Considering how excited the girls were about their presents, it was no great surprise when they went by fast. Each new toy was met with wide eyes and delighted squeals, while clothes and other necessities were summarily tossed over their shoulders in favor of the next gift. The two were absolutely spoiled, each of their uncles doting on the littles to their heart’s content. Everyone had known the likelihood of Will and Marina getting pregnant, then everything that had happened during that same pregnancy.

The Twins were miracles - to their parents, and to the rest of their family. To say that they were spoiled, was more than a little bit of an understatement. The family was sprawled out around the room, eager to enjoy the party and the celebration of the twins turning one. Each member of the family was determined to make sure they were a part of it.

No matter what they received though, each of the girls were determined to keep Grant and Sam in the loop. Each box was brought immediately to be opened, Katenka to Grant and Valya to Sam. It was easy just to follow suit, the younger man awed by the little girl who seemed so determined to keep him a part of what was happening.

If he hadn’t already adored these girls, he did now.

Before long, the presents were completed and the twins sat on the floor with Yasha Coulson and Minna Kuhn, enjoying their new toys and laughing together. The rest of the family had moved to get things ready for the cake, while Marina was clearing away the shreds of paper. Moved to help, Grant shifted forward to get up and assist.

The woman didn’t even look up, ordering firmly, “Don’t even think about it.”

“But I want to help!”

“You can help,” she promised, gathering the paper into a giant ball. “By healing and getting better.”

“I feel so useless,” he grunted miserably.

Standing, she reached to cup his chin in her palm and force him to meet her eyes. “Prizrak, you are worth more to us than your use to us.” A slow wink was full of fondness as she teased, “You’ll be ‘of use’ to us soon enough, love. Enjoy the break while you get one.”

He slumped back into his seat with a huff, giving her a small, miserable nod. There was a genuine smile on her lips as she bent to kiss his forehead, thumb gentle and caressing as it smoothed across his cheek. “We care about you, Prizrak; you’re part of our family now and as I’m sure you’ve seen, we take care of our own.”

“Yeah, I’ve noticed,” he replied with an awed smile. It still left him speechless the way they took care of each other.

“Good; then let us take care of you. Da?”

The kid swallowed hard and he could feel the way his heart lodged there. He nodded briskly, feeling tears prick at the corners of his eyes and earning a rush of futile frustration. A gentle thumb - already so familiar - smoothed across his cheeks once more, clearing away the evidence before Marina straightened. “We’ll be back to get you for cake, okay?”

He nodded again, desperate for a little solitude . . . at least as much as he could get with the children in the room. Those fingernails scritched fondly through the longish hairs at the nape of his neck, before she pulled away and disappeared.

To be honest, Grant wasn’t entirely sure he understood now how he got here. Safe and loved, surrounded by this family. A family he had personally witnessed stop at nothing to protect their own. It was overwhelming, and exhilarating.

His family wasn’t like the Grimms - his family wasn’t really a family at all. He loved his sister and his younger brother, but even they’d been leery of him after the first time he called flame to his hands without the use of matches or a lighter. Neither Will nor Marina had even flinched. Vincent’s only concern for his powers, was about its effect on his fever while he’d been ill. And Sam - dear Sam, who was really a terrible liar, when attempting to lie to someone he loved - could deny knowing all he wanted; however the uptick in teasing jokes about Grant’s “hot head” and his “hot bod” were clear indications that he knew and gave exactly zero fucks.

It was liberating.

It was terrifying.

He loved it.

After a bit, Sam and Vincent arrived back in the living room, as though Grant’s thoughts had called them to him. Sam’s eyes were glittering like sunlight off an iceberg, as he joked nonchalantly, “So I don’t know about you, Vinnie, but I could eat Valya’s entire cake. Mmm, it’s so blue and delicious looking.”

His sister’s resulting screech was ear-splitting as she leaped to her feet. “No! Bad Sammy! Mine!”

The blond’s laughter lit up his whole face as he caught his sister in the middle of her lunge, flinging her over his shoulder like a sack of flour. The girl squealed, little body wriggling with the force of her giggles as she struggled to avoid his tickling fingers. Her protests, of which there were many, were for the most part obscured by her squeals and laughter.

Katenka giggled at her twin’s plight, content to stay with Grant as Sam tossed Valya into Vincent’s arms. The medic caught her easily, tossing her into the air to the accompaniment of delighted screams. “Keep ‘way!” Valya demanded through her giggles. “Play!”

“Maybe in a little bit, little Troublemaker. Cake time first,” he laughed, settling her on his hip with a kiss pressed into her hair.

The elder brother chuckled, bending to lift Katenka as the quieter sister lifted her hands up to be carried. Settling her on his hip, he smoothed his hand gently over her curls, pressing a kiss to her temple as she stuck her thumb into her mouth and cuddled closer. Looking over at Grant, he asked, “You need some help up, man?”

A frowned dragged on the corners of his hips as he considered the question, before he shook his head with a shrug. “No, I don’t think so. At least not right now anyway. I’ll let you know.”

His hand stretched out to grab his cane where it leaned against the couch beside him, clutching it tightly and maneuvering himself to the edge of the couch. Using the cane and the armrest, he pushed himself to his feet, wobbling there for a moment to regain his balance. Vincent looked pleased at the action, insisting, “Twice in one day. That’s good. Mean’s you’re getting to being able to actually do some PT.”

Grant felt horror shoot through him and apparently the emotion reflected in his face, because both of his best friends burst into laughter. “You look like you just saw a ghost,” Sam insisted, earning a fond glare from the younger agent.

“Shut up, Grimm,” he growled with a grumble.

“Make me, Ward,” he taunted in reply, step-siding the jab Grant took at him with the end of his cane.

Grumbling petulantly under his breath, the Specialist hobbled along towards the kitchen. Vincent chuckled, “Bridget is already kicking your ass, Grant. How much worse can it be?”

“That’s the terrifying part,” he groaned, a full body shudder wracking through him. “The woman’s already a demon.”

“Only because you push yourself harder than you should,” Vincent reminded him, tone a quiet scold.

“I want to get back to work!” he grunted bitterly, moving slowly towards the dining room.

The sniper’s tone was warm if concerned as he promised, “Believe me, man, I get it. But you went through something traumatic. Take the time to heal, and be ready to go back to work.” There was weighted significance in his eyes as he insisted, “It’s gonna be a new world, Grant; you’re gonna need all your walls up. Playing double isn’t exactly gonna be a walk in the park. You have to know that.”

Something in Grant snapped - some small rebellion he hadn’t realized he’d still been clinging to. Sagging a little, he nodded in agreement, “Yeah, I know. I just . . . I don’t like being useless.”

“You’re hardly useless,” the medic scoffed as he bounced Valya in an effort to distract her. “You’re family, Grant. I hope one day you understand we mean it differently than the Wards did.”

“You’re met Christian, Vincent. I think we both know that’s going to take awhile.”

“Asshole,” Vincent grunted in tacit agreement, “Either way. You get my point.”

“Yeah; I get it.”

“Good,” Sam replied emphatically, before relinquishing his little sister to their father as Will reached to take her. “Enjoy your cake, princesa.”

“Tank, Sammy!” Katenka giggled, as she was placed in her high chair, her sister beside her only a second later. The Twins were chattering excitedly to each other, as Will and Vincent slid the trays into place. When Marina came into the room, though, with a round cake plate in each hand, carrying their miniature circle cakes with a single candle lit on top of each, their eyes went wide with delight.

Will Grimm looked as happy as Grant had ever seen him, eyes vibrant blue as he lead the family in a chorus of the “Happy Birthday!” song. Not for the first time, Grant felt a surge of low grade jealousy. What he wouldn’t give to grow up in a family like this’ where the traits that set you apart, drew you even tighter into the whole.

The song came to a close and Valya blew as hard as she could into her candle, her sister following suit. Camera shutters clicked and camera flashes blinked, capturing the moment in perfect recall to pull out and remember over the incoming years. Once their mother had removed the candle, Valya let out a delighted squeal and smashed her hands into her cake, crushing it into sugary crumbs in her fists. Her sister giggled, and reached out to take a small handful of the cake and lift it to her mouth. Before long, the two were covered in cake, with Valya offering some to Yasha from her seat in her chair.

Will came over and laid a hand on Grant’s shoulder, insisting, “Hey, you gonna be sticking around for awhile?”

“I hadn’t planned on being anywhere else tonight.” Glancing at his friends, he asked, “Should I be?”

“No. Marina and I have something for you, so I want to make sure you don’t disappear before we can give it to you.”

“Sir, I don’t . . . you don’t have to give me anything.”

“We want to. We’ve wanted to for awhile. So please, just hang out for awhile? Until we have a second to show you.”

He frowned, eyebrows furrowed in curiosity, even as he nodded, “Of course. I can do that.”

“Thank you.”

Grant nodded in acknowledgment, blushing as the Colonel moved that hand into his hair to ruffle it fondly. He could feel it burning in his ears, awed once again by the man’s easy affection. Everyone knew the rumors about Will Grimm’s stone-heart - if only they could see him this way, people would see how much more there was to the man than his ice cold reputation.

Leaning back against the wall, he smiled sheepishly when his friends took places on either side of him. “You don’t have to babysit me, you know.”

Sam chuckled with a roll of his eyes as Jules approached with Sadie in her arms. The blond lit up as he accepted the infant with a delighted coo, “Hello little Bug. Who’s Daddy’s best girl?”

Sadie giggled at her father, making happy noises as Sam leaned over to exchange a lingering kiss with his wife. Jules looked both fond and exasperated, fingers gentle on the curve of his jaw. “Softie,” she accused with a roll of her eyes.

For his part, Sam didn’t seem to particularly care about the accusation, shrugging carelessly as he nosed against his wife’s cheek tenderly. “Eh . . . I mean, have you met my dad?”


“Yeah; he’s terrifying,” she snarked, earning a curious look from Grant and a soft huff from her husband. Her eyes narrowed as she insisted, “Don’t start.”

“I didn’t say anything,” he protested carefully, hooking one arm around her shoulders and drawing her against him.

The SRU profiler watched him for another moment before subsiding against him easily. Whatever they each were thinking, both seemed content to leave their thoughts unspoken for the time being. Another moment later, Catherine came over to join them, with Inari and Dacia behind her. The detective smiled at Grant, pulling him down a little bit for a kiss to his cheek, then finding her place in Vincent’s arms. Both wore brilliant grins as they took their time engaging in a kiss.

As for Dacia, she lunged at him as though she was a cat and he, her favorite treat. Unable to resist teasing her, he joked, “No biting, Wildcat.”

She pouted, poking him carefully. “Not funny.”

Vincent chuckled, correcting mildly, “A little funny.”

As for Inari, her amusement was clear on her face a she stood next to Sam, playing with Sadie’s toes. “No, that was freaking hilarious.”

“Shut up, Inari,” Dacia snarked, before the older sister mocked with a grin, “No, Dacia.”

Dacia stuck her tongue out at the older sister in frustration, earning a chuckle from Sam. “Come here, pretty girl,” the blond insisted, shifting over to make room. “Pull up a piece of wall and stay awhile.”

Together, the group enjoyed the wind down from the party. The kids had started to pass out where they played, crashing after an afternoon full of sugar and excitement. Adults were settling into groups, chatting and enjoying company. Grant was relieved, knowing without a shadow of a doubt that, for once, he belonged somewhere.

After awhile, Jules yawned, insisting, “Okay; bed for me and the Bug, I think. It’s late.”

Sam chuckled cuddling their slumbering daughter for another second before handing her over. “I’ll be up in a bit, okay?” he murmured, fingers gentle as he brushed a lock of hair behind her ear.

“Mhm, we’ll be waiting,” she agreed with a sleepy smile. “Don’t be too long.”

“I won’t,” he agreed, kissing her quickly before letting her go.

Grant nudged him lightly, teasing, “Don’t hang around on my account.”

“You’re not pretty enough to be the reason I ‘hang around’,” Sam snarked with a wink. “No, Ma asked for my help with your gift . . . and I totally want to see the look on your face.”

Grant blinked, before rolling his eyes. “Well I wasn’t worried about it until just now, so thanks for that.”

“It’s going to be awesome, I promise,” the sniper vowed, one hand coming up to clasp his friend’s shoulder warmly. “Ma worked really hard on it . . . Ma and Dad both did.”

“They didn’t have to do that. At least not for me.”

Vincent snorted even as Sam threw up his hands in practiced exasperation. The medic’s tone was dark as he all but snarled, “I’ve never been particularly violent or so keen to pound someone into the dirt, Grant, but your family - they’re touching on a bunch of firsts for me.”

“They’re very talented that way,” Grant snarked with a twist of his lips.

“Everyone ready?” came the cheerful inquiry from the door.

“If you can’t right now,” Grant hedged sheepishly, “I’m good to hang out for awhile longer.”

“No, Prizrak, we’re ready for you,” the Russian promised with a fond smile. “Because of the cane, we’re gonna go through the kitchen entrance, but you have an exterior entrance too.”

“Entrance to what?” he asked, tone wary as he watched her.

Marina beamed happily as she bounced on her toes, insisting, “Come with me and find out.”

Gentle fingers curved around her wrist, causing the Specialist to blink at Catherine in startled surprise. The detective smiled kindly as she slipped the cane free. “You won’t need this for a bit,” she assured him with a gentle smile.

Vincent bent to kiss his girlfriend, then turned to Grant. “Lean on Sam - we’ll see how you handle the stairs before we sweep you up like a damsel in distress.”

“Like hell you will!” he protested vehemently, even as he accepted his best friend’s help in hobbling after Marina. “Wait . . . what stairs?”

The handler giggled as she flicked a switch just inside the door to her pantry. The young man stared in awe as a panel of shelving swung open to reveal a yawning space, lit bit a single bulb over the stairs Grant could see descending into the space. “That was much easier,” the Russian hummed in a pleased tone. “Remind me to thank Jason and Frank for fixing it for me, please, Mishka.”

Her lover snickered, even as he teased, “Of course, samaya malen’kaya. I think your Ghost is getting worried though.”

“Not worried,” Grant protested instantly, looking visibly unsettled by the idea Marina could think he didn’t trust her. “Just . . .”

Marina smirked as she teased, “Apprehensive and worried mean almost the same thing, Prizrak.”

“Ha ha,” he joked, with a fond smile in her direction. “It’s just; is this your basement?”

She seemed to understand the source of the question perfectly, smiling gently as she nodded. “Lights everywhere and no monsters in the dark to be afraid of. I promise.”

Grant couldn’t respond to the statement, due to his full focus being on the stairs as Sam urged him slowly down the steps. He leaned more heavily on the offered forearm than he was willing to admit, other hand clutching the banister to help support some of his weight. A firm squeeze came from behind, as the Colonel offered his encouragement, earning a rush of warmth. By now he should be used to the devotion this family showed to each other, but he had a feeling such nonchalance would come slowly, if ever. He knew without a shadow of a doubt though, he’d never stop marveling at the fact they included him among their number.

Coming to a stop at the base of the stairs, Cat offered him back his cane with a grin. “I’ve heard all about your tendency to be self-sufficient . . . so do us all a favor, and at least be careful.”

He blushed a little, even as he nodded his thanks. Turning a glare on Vincent, he accused, “Tattletale.”

“Hey! At this point, you should be upset at Dacia. She’s the one who can’t stop talking about you!” the medic protested with a huff. “I’d be worried about it, except I know you don’t see her that way. And vice versa.”

Grant shook his head, able to believe that about the teenager. When it came to him, Dacia really was a giant cat, loving on its favorite person. It still cracked him up, every time she’d get huffy over the nickname “Wildcat” . . . which explained a lot about why he used it as often as he did.

It was the little pleasures in life.

After a moment, he heard a soft sound, rotating slightly to look at Marina. The Russian stood in front of the door, hands folded in front of her and a small smile on her lips. Something in her eyes made him curious and he frowned, asking, “What?”

Her smile gentled and she shook her head, reaching for the latch beside her. “Nothing, sweetheart, I just . . . I hope you like it.”

It was as she pushed open the door that he realized what he was seeing; she was nervous. Though catching sight of the room behind the door, he couldn’t imagine why. He had to have looked shellshocked, stumbling forward with his cane to enter the space. It was everything he could have ever dreamed of.

The “room” - if it could even be a called a room - was huge, and easily four times the size of his S.H.I.E.L.D. quarters. It almost looked like a complete apartment, albeit a smaller one, with a fairly large ensuite to the right of the door and a tiny space with a mini-fridge and microwave to the left. A couple cabinets were over the space, one of their doors open to reveal the electric skillet and countertop stove inside. The microwave made him smirk; the thought was a appreciated, but he knew better than anyone how likely it was that he’d actually use it.

Across from the doors were two half-walls, standing about hip-high, clearly marking out a space separate from the front room he stood in at that moment. The main room was populated by an armchair and small end table to his left, as well as a corner bookshelf on the opposite side of the room. A tall lamp shone onto the chair, providing Grant a quiet reading space if he chose to use it. The walls were a very pale blue, highlighted by a few frames containing pictures of Grant with members of the Brothers Grimm and their family.

There was a picture of Sam, Grant and Vincent from Sam’s wedding day, the three smiling into the camera, Sam and Vincent with their their arms slung over his shoulders while he leaned on those damned crutches. Katty corner to that, was a shot of Marina up on tiptoes, pulling Grant down to her height and pressing a kiss to his cheek. He could feel a mirror of the blush in the picture heating the back of his neck as he remembered the picture being taken. There was a picture of Brian and Grant, Brian perched on the end of Grant’s bed as they tossed a small ball between them, during one of Brian’s visits after Grant had begun to significantly improve. Another of Dacia and Grant, curled up and watching a movie. There were two pictures of the trio Vincent called the “Trinity of Trouble,” one in Grant’s room and the other out in Medical’s courtyard. The last of the pictures was of Grant asleep, with Katenka and Valya curled on each side of him like little tadpoles - it never failed to make his heart rise into his throat at the reminder that these two girls adored him.

Glancing over at Marina with bright eyes, he was relieved to see her shoulders loosen at his expression. She smiled at him, gesturing with one hand towards the room past the two dividers. “That’s your bedroom back there,” she informed him, her teeth biting into the corner of her lip. His chin dipped in silent, leaning onto his cane and limping towards it.

He faltered once the light came on, eyes going wide as he tried to take in everything at all once. There was a small walk-in closet to the right of the mock-entrance, his clothes already hanging up inside. Moving towards it, he heard Marina’s voice behind him, “The entrance from the outside comes into the closet, behind your clothes. Gives you an exit - or an entrance - besides this one, if you need it. The keypad is a biometric scanner; Jason can help you program it later. You can add yourself and up to five people, so if you want to give other people the ‘key’, you have that option.”

He nodded, awed by the thought and concern she’d put into the room, before turning back to face the room itself. The mural was amazing, but he forced himself to look around at the rest of the room, before he got too curious about it. The headboard of his bed was dark mahogany, mounted against the wall and extending past the edges of the mattress on both sides into matching nightstands. One held a reading lamp and the other a small stack of his favorite books. Two squat baskets sat on the floor under the nightstands, for whatever odds and ends he wanted close by.

The mattress itself was his requested California King, dressed in a plain black spread. The sheets were also black, and where they folded up over the edge of the comforter, a pile of pillows making a cozy looking nest at the head. Opposite from where he stood, against the one full wall that wasn’t occupied by the bed, was a huge bookshelf, small seam at the top. He frowned, head cocking in silent question. “Why . . .”

Sam moved past him and reached up to the top of the bookshelf. His fingers brushed something there, and bookshelf split in two, swinging outwards to reveal a full armory inset into the wall. “We figured you’d want it close, if you needed it,” Sam insisted. “There’s an entrance lock at the bottom too, if you need to be low to open it . . . just in case.”

“That’s awesome,” he breathed, eyes taking in the space. Several of his preferred weapons were already located inside, lovingly cared for and deliberately displayed. “Thank you.

“It was Dad’s idea,” Sam promised with a chuckle, hand coming up to squeeze his shoulder before using that same hand to turn him to face the wall over the bed.

And there it was . . . the single best part of the entire room. A veritable menagerie of beautifully painted animals.

Scattered across the wall, frozen in flight were stylized renderings of birds. As he scanned over each of them, he began to identify the different species, as well as the few animals that weren’t birds - osprey, hawk, black widow, panther, eagle, lynx, falcon, raven, tigress, cardinal, merlin, owl, even a fox-like kitsune. Except it wasn’t until he found the tribal design of a wolf practically prowling off the wall with a motionless sparrow at its shoulder, that he understood the significance of the animals depicted there.

It was the Grimms. It was their entire family, offering him their protection as they watched over the place where he would be the most vulnerable.

A osprey in full attack above a black widow within its delicate, but deadly, web - Brian and Natasha. A silver branch, that he’d only just identified as the Soldier’s arm, with its distinct red star, offering perch to a brilliantly blue mockingbird - Darcy - and a beautifully stylized hawk - Clint. A red cardinal looking up at a diving merlin - Casey and Jason. A murder of ravens, sheltered from predators by a sharp-eyed falcon - Marta and Aaron. The wolf and sparrow could be no one other than Hansel and his wife, Maria Hill, who Marina called “Vorobey.”

The panther could be none other than his Wildcat, Dacia in full prowl as her doppelganger appeared to all but jump from the wall. The kitsune must have been Inari, the two as close to each other in the mural as they were in life. He knew the lynx to be Vika Coulson, and could only guess the tigress to be Marina’s third sister, Nika Belinkskaya.

An eagle, fierce and terrifying in full dive, claws outstretched towards those belonging to a stylized depiction of an owl, its wings back as it reached out in reply - the Colonel and Marina.

Stumbling to the bed, he sat hard, staring in awe at the work that must have gone into the mural. “How?”

Marina’s tone was soft and gentle as she leaned on the wall separating the bedroom from the front room. “Steve painted it. He asked me what I want here, and this is what he came up with. Here, look . . .” The Specialist turned to face her, watching her fingers stroke over a section of wall next to the opening. There, small and faded, was a crossbow . . . and a depiction of a very distinctive shield. “He painted this at every entrance, so you would remember . . . this is not the home of the enemy . . . it’s the home of an ally - our ally.”

He could feel his mouth go dry, eyes trailing from the design and back to the mural. His gaze never made it all the way. It stalled at the sight of a trio of symbols, painted at where they would be eye level if he was lying down. A black domino mask, not unlike the one the Phantom wore in the famous musical. A black and white target with a red spider at the center of the bull’s eye. A stylized caduceus, black and stark but still clearly recognizable. He knew instantly who these three were.

Vincent smiled as he and Sam joined Marina at the wall, leaning against the plaster and watching him. “You didn’t think your best friends would go unrepresented, did you? The Three Musketeers,” the medic insisted. That earned a snort from the sniper as he joked in reply, “The Three Stooges, you mean.”

“I don’t care what people call us . . . I’m glad you’re still here.”

“Brothers don’t let each other walk alone,” Sam replied with a firm nod, Vincent’s features lightening in silent agreement.

Noticing movement out of the corner of his eye, Grant turned to look and found the Colonel leaned back against the half-wall opposite his partner, son, and the family’s medic. “Sir . . .” Grant started, unsure of what he intended to say.

Clearly, he didn’t need to say anything for the officer to understand. Those eyes were very blue as he promised, “Welcome home.”