Skye’s heart pounded hard enough she was afraid it would burst out of her chest. There were not many places that an agent could ever consider safe and Skye knew that, but she had always felt the Playground was untouchable. It had become home in a way. She really should know by now that nothing that felt like home was ever truly safe from destruction.
The image of the gas canisters and unconscious SHIELD agents being restrained by Hydra operatives sent fear coursing through Skye’s veins. Simmons, Fitz, May, Trip, Bobbi, Hunter, everyone had been taken out.
How did Hydra get in unnoticed? How did they even find the base?
“What did you do?” Coulson accused Grant.
“Me?” Grant scoffed. “Did you forget that I’ve been stuck here, tortured and imprisoned and drugged, for the last couple days? If I had a way to contact Garrett, I would’ve done that before you stuck me in the memory machine.”
“So Garrett finding our base after we captured you is a coincidence?” Coulson deadpanned.
Grant was turned on an angle and distinctly not meeting anyone’s eyes, which Skye found odd.
“Maybe your operatives aren’t as competent as you think and led them here,” Grant suggested mockingly. “John wouldn’t launch an assault for me anyway, not after I was weak enough to get captured.”
Grant seemed so sure of that, and Skye was filled with helpless rage all over again at how messed up his relationship with Garrett was. She could not help but note that this was not the first time she heard him use the word “weak” in a strange context. If they all lived through this, she promised herself she would ask him about that.
Coulson did not argue with Grant on that. Maybe he thought that Grant’s assessment of the efforts Garrett would be willing to go to help his closest subordinate was spot on.
“Then why do you think he’s here?” Skye asked Grant quickly. She was dividing her attention between the tablet’s screen and him. She wanted to have as much intel as she could before Hydra went looking for them. By the looks of it, they still had some time.
Coulson seemed content to let Skye ask the questions. He probably knew Grant was more likely to answer hers than his.
Grant was still not looking at either Coulson or Skye, and Skye finally realized he was facing away from the camera. He did not want to be seen associating with them should Hydra be watching the video monitors.
“The cameras are looped,” she told him. “I set them up that way before I came down. No one will see you talking to us.”
Both Grant and Coulson jerked their heads around to stare at her after that admission. She could only imagine what Coulson thought knowing that Skye had purposely taken surveillance off a SHIELD prisoner, so she could privately speak with him in the middle of the night while no one knew she was down there. Maybe he even gathered that she was thinking about freeing him.
Skye did not acknowledge their surprise. There was no time, and both of them should be focused on the more pressing matters.
“Well?” Skye prompted. She glanced at the screen. The Hydra agents were still restraining the others, but they would notice at least Coulson’s conspicuous absence soon. Not to mention they were going to search for Grant.
Grant was visibly hesitating, likely torn between his loyalty to Garrett and Skye.
Skye huffed out a frustrated breath. They did not have time for this. “It’s for the GH formula, right?”
Grant went still, and Skye knew she was right. Guess their hypothesis on Garrett’s health was confirmed. She was somewhat gratified when Grant actually answered though.
“Yes,” he said lowly. “He’ll want to take Coulson to be analyzed and maybe interrogated on the specifics of the drug.” Each word was forced out like it pained him.
And there was her proof that keeping her secret that she had the GH formula in her came at great personal cost to him. Garrett needed someone with the drug to experiment on, and the only way Garrett could get Coulson was attacking SHIELD’s home base. She would have been a much easier target, if only Garrett had known about her.
Was that why Grant had seemed so desperate for the information back in Russia? Had he been debating whether or not to finally give her up? Skye could not help but wonder how close she had come to serving as Garrett’s guinea pig to extend his own miserable life.
She did not have time to consider all that now though.
“Skye,” Grant called urgently.
She looked up to see he was almost pressed up against the barrier and looking more panicked than she had ever seen him.
Little rattled Grant, so Skye was put even more on edge. “What?”
“Don’t tell Garrett about us. In fact, don’t say anything to him at all,” Grant spoke hurriedly, no doubt realizing they were short on time.
Skye paused. Was he trying to protect himself by saying that or was he trying to protect her? Because it sounded like he was worried for her, which begged the question of why would Garrett knowing they slept together be dangerous for Skye. Skye had assumed that Garrett was more likely to punish him for that.
Of course, maybe hurting her would be punishment for Grant.
“What will he do if he knows?” Skye asked. She was not planning on telling Garrett a damn thing, but she would like to know the whys just in case that was useful.
Grant grimaced but said nothing. He turned to face Coulson, which told Skye he was serious. “Don’t let him find out.”
Skye briefly considered asking Grant for help, but she was miserably sure that would go nowhere. He could not even give up intel on Garrett, much less fight against him. It was so frustrating to not be able to trust him on something so important like this.
Skye decided that they spent enough time talking to Grant. If he was not going to tell them anything useful to deal with Garrett, then they needed to start preparing a counterattack on their own before Hydra found their way to the vaults.
“Coulson-“ she began but was cut off by a voice sounding over the speaker system.
“Phil, come out, come out, wherever you are,” the singsong, male voice intoned. “Better hurry or I’ll start picking off your team one by one. Maybe I’ll start with the Cavalry or perhaps one of those scientists you’re so fond of.”
On the screen, Skye could see a Hydra agent lightly tap the heads of the unconscious Fitzsimmons. The threat was clear.
Skye looked to Coulson horrified. Coulson’s face was grim, and Skye knew that he was going to surrender regardless of what that meant for him.
“He’s not bluffing,” Grant said emotionlessly. Skye was infuriated all over again because she knew he cared for Fitz and Simmons, and he was just standing there like it meant nothing.
“Bring the girl, too,” Garrett concluded before the speakers cut off.
Coulson did not let Grant utter another word. He did not even let Skye get a good look at his face before he pressed a button on the tablet and Vault D’s barrier turned opaque once more.
He set a brisk pace towards the exit of the vault while whispering to her. “Ward’s right about one thing: don’t say anything to Garrett. There’s no need to draw attention to yourself, especially if he’s after GH-325 information.”
“But what about you?” Skye wondered.
Clearly Grant thought whatever Garrett would do to the person with the drug in them was awful enough that he risked his loyalties to keep her secret.
“I’ll be fine,” Coulson reassured her quickly. “I don’t plan on letting him take me anywhere. We just need to buy time.”
“Garrett’s a narcissistic psychopath who loves the sound of his own voice,” Coulson muttered. “If we get him talking, he won’t stop.”
“How does buying time help?” Skye asked. They were walking down the hall towards the location of the Hydra agents and the team. Just a few more minutes, and Skye would be face to face with the monster himself. The thought sent terror through her veins.
“I know the gas he used to knock the team out,” Coulson explained. “It’s not long lasting. Soon enough, the others will wake up, and when they do, you can be damn sure May’s going to press any advantage to kick Garrett’s ass. They have us on numbers, but we beat them on skill. If we catch them off guard-“
“We can turn the tables on them,” Skye finished. It was a risky plan, but the best they were going to get considering. There was just one more thing she had to ask. “Coulson-“
“I know, Skye,” he cut her off, “I know you wanted me to give him a chance, but we’re no longer the ones in the position of giving chances. You need to prepare yourself for what could happen with Ward.”
Skye knew what he was saying. Should it become an all out firefight for their lives, Grant could be killed by one of her friends, maybe only after he killed one of the team. No one would hesitate, and Coulson wanted her to steel herself for that possibility.
Skye was not sure that was something she could do. If May or Bobbi or whoever killed Grant while she watched helplessly, could she ever forgive them, even knowing the circumstances? Or would she just remember that they were the ones who ended Grant’s life forever? Would she be able to forgive herself for not getting through to him until it was too late and standing by while he was killed?
She did not want to say anything that would make Coulson hesitate in a life or death moment, but she needed him to know. “I know it’s unfair,” Skye began, speaking quickly and quietly, “I know I have no right to ask given the circumstances- the last thing I want is to ask something that would get you killed- but if there’s any chance you don’t have to, please don’t.” Her voice was trembling a bit by the end.
Skye could not look at Coulson anymore. She stared straight ahead to the destination that filled her with dread. “I love him,” she admitted softly. She had never said it aloud, but she had known for a while, even if she could not admit it to herself.
“And it’s only been a day. I can get through to him if I have more time,” Skye said. She did not know if she really believed that or just wanted to believe it. “Garrett had him for fifteen years, it’s going to take more than a couple conversations to get him to realize what was done to him. And even if I can’t, even if I ten thousand conversations don’t work, I just need to know I tried everything first.”
Skye was grateful that was the moment she and Coulson walked into the room with their arms raised. She did not want to wait for Coulson’s response or dwell on the thoughts of people she loved killing each other.
John Garrett turned to stare at them with a teeth-bearing grin on his face. Skye wondered if people who did not know better found it charming because the smile made her skin crawl.
“Phil, long time no see,” Garrett greeted with superficial charm. “Search them,” he ordered one of the agents.
The Hydra agent approached them and roughly patted them down. Skye glared at the bastard because she thought her search was touchier than strictly necessary. She debated the pros and cons of punching him in his smug face before deciding that it would be counterproductive to her goal of staying off Garrett’s radar.
“Kaminsky, go find Ward,” Garrett commanded when the asshole was done.
Skye took a lot of pleasure in seeing Kaminsky noticeably falter at Garrett’s instruction. But apparently his obedience outweighed his reluctance because the man took another guard and left.
Skye took in the scene. Garrett was standing in tactical gear but without a weapon in hand in front of her. Skye could see at least one gun holstered, but she would bet the bulge on his thigh and in his boot concealed other weapons. Considering he was the man who taught Grant everything, Skye was unsurprised. She still remembered Grant disarming in the hotel before they slept together, and he had a full arsenal from knives to guns to a garrote even. No doubt Garrett would pack a lot to a raid of SHIELD’s headquarters.
Besides Garrett, there were eleven Hydra operatives armed and ready with automatic assault rifles as well as other fun toys tucked away in their belts. With Kaminsky and the guard he took with him, that made thirteen Hydra agents plus Garrett… and Grant.
Skye would not let herself be distracted as she continued to catalogue the situation. Okay, fifteen enemy combatants in the room with likely at least five more monitoring the video feeds and watching the less skilled SHIELD agents missing from Skye’s view.
Six of the Hydra agents were facing her unconscious team with their guns pointed waiting for the command to kill. The agents Garrett had selected to restrain and put on display before them were mostly unsurprising.
May, Fitz and Simmons were expected given Garrett’s threat. He likely planned to use them as leverage over Coulson again. Coulson’s close relationships with the three of them were well known before the fall of SHIELD, so Garrett would be aware of that. Trip, Bobbi and Hunter also made sense as they had been three of the agents that had troubled Hydra the most with base raids and mission interference. Skye did not see Mack, but he also ran a low profile with his lack of fieldwork. That might come back to haunt the Hydra agents guarding him if they expected him to be a passive prisoner.
It was the last person that gave Skye pause. Skye barely knew her. Rebecca was Simmons’ lab assistant and aided her on her research. She was very obviously out of place among the other captives. No field experience, not particularly close to or trusted by Coulson and not likely to have any special information.
Of course, Skye thought, Garrett was not overly concerned with SHIELD intel as long as he could find out the details of the GH formula. A scientist that was well versed in biochemistry and unlikely to resist under pressure and with the threat of torture might be just what Garrett was looking for.
“Nothing to say, Coulson?” Garrett smirked. “After all this time, I’m hurt, buddy.”
Skye could see what Coulson meant about Garrett loving his own voice.
“How did you get in here without raising the alarms?” Coulson asked calmly. “I could’ve sworn I had your clearance revoked.”
Coulson was wearing one of his pleasant smiles like he did not have a care in the world. Skye wished she had his cool. She barely knew Garrett and standing silently was nearly impossible for her when all she wanted to do was wipe that conceited smirk off his face.
This was the man who had her shot. This was the man who betrayed Trip, Coulson and all of SHIELD. This was the man who abused, brainwashed and manipulated Grant from the time he was a teenager. Skye did not think she had ever hated someone so much. The very sight of him wrecked her composure as she fought to stop her teeth from clenching or her hands from balling into fists.
Garrett’s smirk widened at the question, like he had been waiting for Coulson to ask. He reached into one of his pockets and retrieved something. He held it up proudly in front of him, so Coulson could clearly see the lanyard swinging on its string.
“You may have revoked my clearance, but Agent Raymond Young’s worked just fine,” Garrett boasted.
The name meant nothing to Skye, but she watched as Coulson’s smile faded away and assumed he recognized it.
“Come now, Coulson, you didn’t think I would miss the mole you planted,” Garrett chided Coulson with artificial amicableness. “All those Hydra missions you interfered with, the base in Philadelphia, following me to Havana? You tipped your hand.”
“And what happened to Agent Young?” Coulson asked. It was resigned as if he already knew the answer. Skye thought it was likely the only reason he was asking was to prolong Garrett’s bragging.
Garrett adopted an expression of regret. “He was brave until his last breath.”
This was the guy that had been Grant’s only human contact for five years. Skye had no idea how he survived that- it had only been ten minutes, and she already felt like she was going insane from listening to him.
“Was he the one who disclosed our location?” Coulson asked.
“No,” Garrett said. “I see you’re keeping the grand SHIELD tradition of compartmentalization of information alive. Young didn’t know anything of value and didn’t squeal quickly enough for me. Luckily, I had my own map to your base.”
Garrett did not elaborate, and Skye got the feeling like he was enjoying hanging his victory over Coulson’s head. That was helpful with regards to stalling for time but really annoying as well.
“And how’d you get this map?” Skye bit out when Coulson was silent for too long. She knew that Coulson and Grant would be mad she spoke up, but she had never been good at following orders. Or keeping quiet in the face of assholes.
Garrett turned those glinting eyes towards her. Skye jutted her chin out stubbornly in response. He was a dying coward using and killing other people to prolong his pitiful existence, she refused to be intimidated by him.
Suddenly, he began to laugh. It was a normal, unrestrained chuckle, and Skye could see why people had said Garrett was charismatic. “I like your spunk, girl.”
Skye could feel Coulson’s disapproval that she drew attention to herself and chose not to respond.
When his laughter died down, Garrett finally answered the question. He directed his reply towards Coulson rather than her though, and Skye was not going to complain about that.
“Why you led me right to you! If anyone drew me a map, it was you, Coulson.”
“I think I would remember if I invited a psychopath to my base,” Coulson said mildly.
“Psychopath?” Garrett questioned. “That hurts.” He mockingly touched a hand to his heart. “But it wasn’t me you invited.”
Skye’s stomach dropped. No.
“How did Ward get in contact with you?” Coulson asked without the barest hint of a change in expression, as if none of this bothered him. “We’ve had him under constant surveillance since he arrived.”
But Skye was very bothered. Grant had lied? That should not have been surprising given everything she knew, but Skye could admit that she had actually believed Grant when he told her that he had never lied to her.
“He didn’t need to contact me,” Garrett said. “I used the tracker in his leg to locate him when he disappeared after a routine mission.”
Coulson went rigid beside her, and Garrett must have seen the reaction because he gave a big-toothed smile.
“That was careless of you to miss it. You’re slipping, Phil.”
Skye suddenly felt a surge of rage at Coulson all over again. The reason they missed an implanted tracker was because it was usually Fitz and Simmons’ job to assess a prisoner to ensure they did not have anything like cyanide pills or subcutaneous trackers hidden. And the reason that Grant had not been examined was because Fitz and Simmons were kept in the dark about his capture when he was initially brought in.
So many of their recent problems could have been avoided if they had just talked to each other. She had a deep understanding of Hunter’s frustration over secrets now.
Skye stopped herself from biting her lip and tried to keep her expression empty as she wondered if Grant knew he had a tracker. He denied contacting Garrett but said nothing about whether Garrett had a way of finding him.
There were ways to avoid lying while still being deceptive, and Grant knew how to navigate those waters better than most.
Skye was paranoid enough that the thought that Grant let himself be captured to lead Garrett to them crossed her mind. She really hoped that was not the case, but she could see him doing that if he thought it was the only way to get information on the GH formula to save Garrett’s life.
It seemed Coulson was of the same mindset- or at least was trying to extend the conversation. Skye thought she saw May’s hand twitch before she stilled again and would bet anything her S.O. was waking up.
“So you had Ward captured to track him here?” Coulson said. “Or is it just you don’t trust your own right hand man?” That last part was a dig, Skye was sure of it. “He’s been all over our radar for months. What, losing control of your own lackey, Garrett?”
But Garrett just beamed obnoxiously once more. “I just like to be careful, and it looked like it paid off. My very own Trojan Horse. But I never doubt Ward’s loyalty. I can always count on him.”
Skye drowned in her impotent rage. All of them knew just why Garrett never had to doubt Grant’s loyalty and to hear the bastard brag about it sent Skye’s blood boiling.
“And you need to count on him, don’t you?” Coulson said with a bland smile. “Because who else is going to bend over backwards to get the GH formula for you while you’re dying?”
That wiped all traces of good humor off Garrett’s face. For the first time in the conversation, Skye saw the beginnings of rage peek through the friendly façade.
“No way Ward told you that,” Garrett said as he stared at them shrewdly.
Despite Garrett’s proclaimed confidence in Grant’s trustworthiness, Skye worried that he did not actually believe and would punish Grant for “betraying” him.
“He didn’t have to,” Coulson said. “You may as well have told us yourself with the way you sent him all over the world looking for information on the drug. You even had me tortured to learn more.” Coulson paused briefly before adding, “That was careless of you to miss. You’re slipping, John.”
Garrett just laughed with a shake of his head as if they were old friends catching up. Maybe in Garrett’s sick, twisted mind, they were. “Oh, Phil. I’ve missed your humor. But congratulations on figuring it out, even though it’s too late now to matter.”
Just then, Grant strode into the room with Kaminsky and the other guard trailing behind. Skye noted the careful distance between Grant and the other Hydra agents and wondered if that was due to their fear or Grant’s distaste. He certainly did not seem happy with them.
“There you are, son,” Garrett said as he approached Grant and grabbed him. He gave him a paternal pat on the back. “I was waiting on you to start the party.”
“If you wanted me here quicker, you shouldn’t have sent Kaminsky,” Grant said dryly. He scanned the room almost as if he were bored. His eyes passed over Skye without ever pausing.
Garrett shrugged. “Couldn’t resist. I know how well you two get along.”
Garrett chuckled again, but Grant seemed unamused. His face was perfectly blank and gave nothing away, but Skye thought there was more tension than usual in the way he held himself. Of course, Skye might be projecting.
“How did you find me?” Grant asked mildly curious. Skye felt her shoulders loosen at the proof that Grant did not know about the tracker.
“Never mind that,” Garrett said with a dismissive wave of his hand as if he were brushing the matter away.
Skye wanted to yell to Grant that Garrett had tagged him like dog, apparently while he was unaware, but Coulson nudged her subtly. She got the message of “not now” loud and clear.
She was not sure how long she could hold her tongue though. Things were bound to reach the boiling point soon.
For the first time in years, Grant was not sure how to proceed. His primary goals, to protect John and Skye, seemed incompatible. Before he was taken by SHIELD, Grant had thought to himself that he could no longer play both sides, and now he was truly seeing that was the case.
Grant wanted to secure the GH formula for John. He had to after all the time and effort and everything John had done for him. Grant was going to save John just as he had promised so long ago. To do that, he needed to take Phil Coulson to Raina to get the drug’s components analyzed.
But Grant also knew Skye would never let that happen. She would die before she allowed Coulson to be used as a lab rat and experimented on.
Fitz and Simmons probably would, too, and though he had enough conflicting desires, Grant could not help but want to protect them as well. If John wanted to get intel from Coulson first, he might use the two scientists to do so like he threatened earlier. In fact, he might order Grant himself to kill or torture them to get Coulson to cooperate.
Grant had been feeling nauseous since the memory machine, but he felt that the constricting sensation in the pit of his stomach at the thought was something new.
He tried to clear his mind and regain his focus, but he may as well have been trying to hold smoke for all his success. The memory machine had ripped his defenses wide open it seemed, and while he was sure he would eventually repair them, for the moment, it felt like an impossible feat.
It was unfortunate that he needed them most now as he entered the room and saw Fitz and Simmons feebly stirring and in handcuffs while Skye stared down multiple assault rifles waiting for the order to put her down.
John was joking about how much Grant hated working with Kaminsky, but Grant was having trouble concentrating on his words. His focus was on the situation and how he could possibly achieve all his goals. He noticed out of the corner of his eye that Fitz, Simmons and a scientist he did not recognize were visibly starting to wake up. He detected muted movement from Trip and the British agent as well, which meant all the field agents were already awake and faking. The gas would make them sluggish and uncoordinated for a while longer, but it was wearing off.
Grant hesitated for a moment. “The SHIELD agents are awake,” he told John tonelessly. He reminded himself that it was not a betrayal to do his job, but he could not bear to look at Skye as he spoke anyway.
Garrett lazily observed the captured SHIELD agents, who had now given up the pretense of unconsciousness, and nodded. “Guess so. Well, it’s time to wrap this up then. We’re pulling this big bombing tomorrow, and we’ve got to check over the explosives before or else that idiot Whitehall will try to take it over.”
Grant looked to him in confusion, but Garrett just said, “I’ll tell you later,” before returning his focus to the rest of the room.
He clapped his hands together and casually ordered, “Shoot all of them except Coulson- but only kneecap the scientists.”
Grant’s blood froze and ice trickled down his spine. He was not even sure he was breathing. He distantly heard the SHIELD scientist he did not know begin sobbing. Coulson was arguing for his people while Fitz called out to him specifically.
“John, wait,” Grant said before anyone could move to follow the order.
John held up his hand as an indication that the others should temporarily hold their fire and looked to him curiously.
“Can I talk to you?” He asked urgently.
John nodded. “Sure, kid,” he said agreeably.
Grant was not fooled by the show of amiableness. He could tell something had angered John. Now that he was looking for the signs, he could see the tension in his shoulders and jaw. Maybe something Coulson had said bothered him. Grant could personally attest to how annoying that man could be. That would explain why John went to the trouble of restraining the SHIELD agents only to immediately kill most of them.
“There’s no point in crossing them all off. Most of them aren’t even threats to us,” Grant said once they were a little away from the group. He kept shooting the Cavalry and Morse looks to make sure they did not think he had stopped paying attention to them and got any ideas.
John’s eyes narrowed. “You’re asking me to spare them.”
“We don’t have to kill them,” Grant started. He was walking a fine line here and did not want to tip John off to his investment in some of the SHIELD agents. But even if he did not care about Skye, Fitz and Simmons, he still thought it was a waste. There was no reason that they all had to die. “We just need Coulson.”
John scrutinized his expression, but Grant knew he gave nothing away. After a moment, John pulled back and returned to the SHIELD agents. Grant followed behind cautiously and watched as John appraised all of them.
He focused on Fitz. “How do you know him?” John asked Grant. “I heard him calling out to you.”
“I kidnapped and interrogated him for information a couple months ago on your orders,” Grant answered emotionlessly as he tried to figure out what was going on.
“Didn’t I tell you to kill them?” Garrett asked waving his hand towards Fitz and Simmons, who were thankfully silent for once. But their fellow scientist, the one he did not know, was still loudly sobbing.
John had not ordered him to kill them, Grant remembered, but the command had been implied once it was revealed they knew nothing. Still, Grant said, “SHIELD arrived before I could.”
John peered at him in a way that made him wonder if he had said the wrong thing. John just sighed. “It doesn’t take more than a second to shoot someone,” he lectured, and Grant knew what was about to happen before he drew his gun, clicked the safety off and shot the howling scientist in the forehead. “See?”
“Rebecca!” Simmons shrieked.
Grant kept his expression empty as Fitz and Simmons screamed and cried over their friend lying in a pool of her blood with a face still frozen in the fear she felt in her final moments.
“I thought you wanted to spare the scientists,” Grant found himself saying.
“With all that wailing, I’m not sure it’s worth the hassle,” John said.
“What’s this about?” Grant demanded. Some of his irritation bled through in his tone. John was enraged for some reason and was now making a show to prove or test something.
“Which one is it?” John asked instead.
“What?” Grant said, but he knew what John was asking.
“You’ve always been tender-hearted, but it’s not like you to let that interfere with a mission,” John said disgusted. “So which one is the one you’re trying to protect and the reason you’ve been so distracted for months?”
Grant gritted his teeth. “I haven’t been distracted.”
“Yes, you have. I thought it was Agent 33 you were fucking after all the time you spent together, I even found her file in your room, but it’s a SHIELD agent, isn’t it?” John scoffed in obvious revulsion at the thought. “I can’t believe you let one of them seduce you into failing your missions. I taught you better than that.” John raised his brows in impatience. “So which one is it? Or are you going to make me guess?”
“I don’t know what you’re talking about,” Grant said evenly.
“Well, unfortunately for you,” John sneered, “Your new friends aren’t as talented at hiding their feelings as you are.” He indicated towards Fitz and Simmons, “They both seem to know what I’m talking about.”
Grant did not need to look to see Simmons and Fitz’s guilty faces. He had no doubt that they had visibly reacted as soon as John started prying.
“We’re wasting time,” Grant said. “I thought you said we needed to get back to set up the explosives as soon as possible.”
“So you are going to make me guess then,” John concluded and ignored him as he scanned the faces of the captives.
Unbidden, Grant felt himself tense up. The nauseous feeling had not abated and his head was feeling light as well. He should have known John would figure it out, he always did. He was good at reading people and knew Grant better than anyone else. He could probably guess just on that. But Grant also knew if Skye did not give herself away, Fitz and Simmons would probably do so unintentionally.
Sure enough, John zeroed in on Skye after a minute. He approached her and asked, “And what’s your name, sweetheart?”
Now that everyone was focused on her, Grant allowed himself to look at Skye. She looked serious, dangerous, as she glared John down with a scowl. “You tried to have me killed and don’t even know my name?”
John laughed. “She’s a fierce thing. I can see why you like her, son,” John said to him.
Grant fought the urge to swallow convulsively and expose his panic. This was something out of his worst nightmares.
Still looking at Grant, John abruptly backhanded Skye and sent her crashing to the floor. Grant could not help the way he instinctively jerked forward. Whether it was to stop John or to help Skye, he did not even know, but he could not just stand there and watch someone hurt Skye, even if that someone was John.
He vaguely noted that Coulson tried to move and was knocked back by the butt of an assault rifle, but he was more concerned with how John had gripped his arm with bruising force to stop him from going to Skye.
Skye was glaring murderously at John from the floor, and Grant was worried she would forget that her friends and she were being held captive and attack anyway. Instead, she turned to him. “Can’t you see he’s evil? He’s not worth it!”
Grant was almost grateful when John threatened to kill one of her friends if she spoke again because he had no idea what to say to her.
His hands were curled into fists at his side and his entire body was rigid with tension. The rage that coursed through him was indescribable, as fierce as it had been with the Berserker Staff, but it was a helpless, useless fury that had no outlet. As angry as he was that Skye was mistreated right in front of him, he could hardly pummel John for it.
“Well, I guess that answers that question,” John said joyfully. He took in Grant’s expression and patted him on the shoulder. “Hey, we all have our weaknesses. The heart wants what it wants. Can't control everything. It’s okay.”
Grant was sure none of this was okay. More than that, John’s words sent tendrils of fear throughout his body. He knew John’s policy on weaknesses.
“But you know what that means,” John continued. He handed his gun over to Grant, who looked up at him uncomprehendingly. “Kill her,” he ordered.
Grant looked down at his hands, and it was like he had never seen a gun before. “What? No, John-“
“That’s not a weakness, is it?” John asked as he pulled Grant closer with a harsh grip on his shirt.
Grant’s protests dried up in his mouth. He sensed people were shouting and objecting and that John was saying that if anyone moved, they were to be shot immediately. It all happened around him, but Grant felt a million miles away. He could barely hear anything over the roaring in his ears.
“I asked is that a weakness?” John’s voice sounded disjointed, as if Grant were listening to him from underwater, but those words were echoing in his head anyway.
“No,” he said numbly. He felt nothing anymore. He could barely see the room at this point as his vision seemed to be tunneling. Skye was definitely screaming. Her mouth was moving as she stared at him pleadingly, but he could not make out the words. He could usually read lips but his ability to concentrate had fled him. It felt like nothing was connecting in his head. He blinked rapidly in the hopes of clearing his vision, but the problem persisted.
He did not allow himself a second to think. He blocked out everything and everyone because he knew somewhere in the back of his mind that if he allowed any thought to come in, he would falter. He had to do this. He knew what had to be done in this situation where there was nothing to be done.
John patted him on the back, but Grant did not feel it. His mentor stepped back, his mouth still moving like he was speaking. Grant raised the gun and fired three shots quickly before anyone could react.
The screaming he could not hear stopped as a stillness washed over the room.
He was completely detached, listening only to the pounding of his heart and the white noise in his ears, as he watched John’s body fall to the floor, but part of Grant died with him.
The room erupted in chaos all around him. Grant felt nothing.