“So what are we going to tell Coulson?” Fitz asked as they made their way back to base. He was fidgeting in his seat as he played with some electronics in his lap. It seemed like something he was doing to occupy his hands rather than a task he had to get done.
Skye shrugged as she best she could while driving. “What do you mean? I’m done lying to Coulson, and he has to know about the gifted experiments Hydra is doing, so we can make a plan of action.”
“I meant about Ward,” Fitz said.
“What about him? Coulson already told us he was looking into him,” Skye said distractedly. Her mind was still stuck on everything she had learned and Grant’s discovery of her powers. Despite everything, his complete lack of fear and disgust warmed Skye.
“At this point, I think it’s clear that Ward wasn’t manipulating us or working us for Garrett,” Fitz said. “You don’t still believe that’s possible, do you?”
“No,” Skye responded at once. She had not considered that a possibility for a while. Truthfully, she never really believed Grant was using her but had been too afraid to hope that she buried those thoughts ruthlessly. “Unfortunately, Coulson still seems to be convinced that’s the case.
Fitz nodded. “It’s strange because Coulson is such a big proponent of second chances and the goodness of people.”
Skye had also noted the uncharacteristic cynicism in Coulson’s view of Grant. At first, she had attributed it to Coulson’s Director Mode decision making but soon felt it extended beyond that.
“I don’t think he can separate Grant from Garrett and that’s clouding his judgment,” Skye theorized. “Everyone talks about Grant as if he’s just an extension of Garrett. Coulson hates Garrett, so it’s natural that he would be reluctant to admit that Garrett’s right hand man is anything other than a psychopath.” Skye sighed before adding bitterly, “Because who else could follow John Garrett of all people. Seriously, I don’t understand why Grant’s so insistent on being loyal to him.” Garrett clearly did not treat Grant well either considering he made him hold the Berserker Staff as some twisted form of punishment.
Fitz paused his tinkering. “Well, Trip did say he was very charming and paternal with his men.”
“Yes, but Trip also woke up to his psychopathic narcissism the second Garrett revealed his true colors. Grant was entirely aware of who he really was even before Hydra revealed itself,” Skye said. She could not help but think how true that was. Grant had known of the plan to have Ian Quinn shoot her. He had not been blindsided by Garrett’s faults like Trip.
In fact, Grant’s entire concept of morality could use some work. He seemed genuinely upset at the idea that Skye had been shot by Quinn and even regretful of his quasi-involvement in it, but he also appeared to view Garrett as some kind of savior. The more Skye thought about it, the more she realized the truth in her contemplations. Grant clearly had some kind of code of loyalty and protection, but it was hard to follow at times.
Killing Eric and AIM agents in his way? Shooting civilians to draw SHIELD out? Working for John Garrett and Hydra? Not a problem. But this was also the same man who let her escape with the Diviner in Seville before he even knew her rather than try to take her out , the same man who set Fitz’s broken fingers when he was a captive. That was not even getting into the actions he took that endangered himself like saving Skye and Fitzsimmons at Futurepharm and diving after Simmons when she fell without a parachute. Just a couple hours ago, Grant killed his teammate to protect her.
Sometimes it felt like Grant did not care at all about Hydra and their plans for word domination or whatever. It was not just protecting Skye and Fitzsimmons and killing his teammate, Grant was also willing to let Skye walk off with the Diviner. More than that, Skye and Grant had argued about SHIELD and Hydra multiple times. But while Grant mocked SHIELD endlessly and tried to make it out like the two organizations were equally awful, he never tried to sell Skye on any of that “chaos and order” or “Hail Hydra” crap. Talking about the Hydra gifted experiments earlier, Grant had not even tried to hide his displeasure at being connected with that. He sometimes seemed as disgusted by Hydra as Skye was, while still being derisive about SHIELD.
Skye would be inclined to say he was not actually loyal to them except he was adamant that he would not be SHIELD’s inside man or make any effort to break away from Hydra.
“Skye,” Fitz said as he leveled her a serious stare, “You don’t think he could be brainwashed or something?”
“What?” Skye asked.
“Maybe he even has one of those eye camera things that Akela Amador had, Garrett was the one behind that after all.” Fitz was becoming more excited as he spoke.
“I don’t think that’s possible, Fitz,” Skye said gently. She did not want to let him down, and she would be lying if she said she had not considered it, but it was like how she had wanted to believe that he was just a hired mercenary and not an embedded agent before learning his identity. She was not going to lie to herself anymore.
“Why not?” Fitz demanded. “It would explain a few things.”
“If Grant were brainwashed, he wouldn’t have been able to help us to begin with. These acts of rebellion, the ones where he saved and protected us, a brainwashed agent or one being controlled couldn’t do,” Skye reasoned. “It speaks of someone with freewill.”
“Control in some aspects could be compatible with a type of brainwashing we’re not considering,” Fitz argued. “And brainwashing can be faulty anyway. Donnie Gill struggled to overcome his.”
Skye tensed at the mention of the brainwashed, teenage gifted. She did not like to think about him. Her first kill was not something she took pleasure in, and it was worse to realize it was someone so young and so out of control of his own actions. The guilt only became more pronounced when she gained powers and had nightmares where she was in Donnie’s place.
Maybe it was the unwanted reminder that made her answer Fitz more harshly than intended. “Or maybe he’s just evil and likes working for Hydra and Garrett because evil people flock together,” Skye bit out.
“You don’t mean that,” Fitz said calmly. Maybe he realized why she was so defensive. “And I don’t believe people are born evil. Something must have happened.”
Skye was not sure she agreed with Fitz. She had met plenty of people in her lifetime that were needlessly cruel or malicious for no purpose. But she did believe that Fitz might be right about Grant. She stood by her statements, Grant being brainwashed did not make sense considering some of his actions, but the mystery of Grant Ward had a lot of pieces that did not add up. Maybe something had happened.
Skye was forced to admit that for a long time she thought that the world was black and white in many respects. SHIELD was good and Hydra was bad, so obviously SHIELD agents were good people and Hydra agents were bad people. The idea that SHIELD could have some bad seeds and Hydra had decent people in their ranks was an unwelcome one, but Skye was starting to think that perhaps it was not as cut and dried as she once believed.
Upon arriving at the base, Skye and Fitz walked towards Coulson’s office for debriefing. But when they approached, Skye saw Coulson was just leaving.
“Coulson,” Skye called with a smile. “I-“
“Not now,” Coulson interrupted looking a bit harried. “Something’s come up and your report will have to wait. Did you get the designs?”
“Yes,” Skye said, “But there’s something impo-“
“It can wait,” Coulson assured her. “I don’t have time right now.”
“Do you need our help with anything?” Fitz asked.
Coulson started to shake his head before stopping. “Actually, I need you to run out and check on something.”
“Now?” Skye asked. “We just got back.”
“Yes, I’m sorry, but Bechard claims to have an Asguardian tool,” Coulson explained. “I want you to make sure that isn’t the case.”
“Bechard? As in Louis Bechard?” Skye said. “Wasn’t that the guy who claimed to have a Chitauri gun a few months ago but was completely full of shit?” She recalled that waste of a mission. It had only been memorable because it was the reason that Skye and Fitzsimmons were so close to Futurepharm at the time of Hydra’s infiltration and ran into Grant. “I thought we said we wouldn’t waste our time with his false tips anymore.”
“Alien tech is dangerous, so we can’t afford to ignore the possibility of it falling into the wrong hands,” Coulson replied. “I need you two to go now and take Simmons with you.” With that, he left them to go…. wherever it was he was going.
“Well, I guess we’ll tell him about the gifted experiments later then,” Fitz said as he turned to go get Simmons. Skye followed uncertainly. “But maybe he knows about it already. Coulson’s always two steps ahead.”
“If gifteds were being hunted down and Coulson knew, he’d tell me,” Skye argued.
“Not if he didn’t want to worry you,” Fitz countered. “Let’s just get Simmons. It’s a long drive to Bechard, and I’d like to be back before sunrise to sleep off the back-to-back missions.”
Skye gave him a tight smile as she threw a glance over her shoulder to where Coulson disappeared. She could not shake the feeling that something was wrong.
Grant returned to consciousness with a massive headache and a lot of bitterness. He made no move to open his eyes though. In fact, he made no moves at all as he tried to get a feel for his surroundings.
“Stop faking,” a cold female voice cut through the silence of the room. “We know you’re awake and won’t fall for your tricks.”
Grant shifted. The cold metal of the chair he was attached to and the hard bite of the handcuffs made for a rude awakening, but it was hardly the worst Grant had ever had.
He took his sweet time opening his eyes. “You confuse boredom for manipulation,” he replied carelessly. He lazily turned his gaze towards the two women staring him down. Agent Morse sat directly across from him at the interrogation table while the Cavalry leaned against the wall behind her.
It was the older woman who had spoke. Her glare pierced him from across the room. “And you know a lot about manipulation, don’t you?”
Grant made sure he did not outwardly react to her tone. The comment was pointed and seemed to indicate that he had manipulated someone she knew, but Grant could not be sure whom. There were a lot of potential candidates.
He gave nothing away as he met her eyes. “So they tell me.”
Agent May’s frown deepened, but Agent Morse smiled. It was a predatory one designed to throw him off his guard and establish her control. She laid her hands out on the table before him and leaned forwards. “Let’s talk about John Garrett.”
“Let’s not,” Grant replied unemotionally.
“You’ll talk soon enough,” she promised.
“No, I won’t,” Grant spoke with even more confidence. “No one here is creative or sadistic enough to break me.”
“We’ll see about that,” Agent May said lowly.
Agent Morse’s grin widened slightly, but she was not able to speak before the door opened up behind her and stole the attention of everyone in the room. Three men entered the room. Grant had not met one of them before, though he was fairly confident that it was Phil Coulson. Grant had seen his picture before, and the shifts in the other agents’ posture gave it away. It was always easy to tell who was the authority in a room when you knew body language.
But it was the two men accompanying him that threw him for a loop. They were identical to each other- and to the SHIELD agent he killed that had been tailing John and him in Havana. Both of the short men glared at him.
“How many of you are there?” Grant asked flippantly. He was rewarded with the obvious loathing of the others. Grant did not care. His rage at being captured and bitterness over Skye’s betrayal were simmering below the surface, and he wanted nothing more than to make them suffer with him. They would not kill him given what he knew and the lengths they went to capture him so pissing them off was fair game.
“One less now thanks to you,” one of them spat.
“Looks like you had some to spare though,” Grant retorted.
Agent May pushed herself off the wall and punched him hard enough that it knocked his chair over. Tied to the chair as he was, he had no way to prevent the fall. Grant’s head banged against the floor and added to his headache. The pain did not bother him, but Grant hated feeling helpless. Knowing that they could do whatever they wanted to him while he was unable to defend himself agonized him more than he would like to admit.
Rather than face the memories being powerless conjured, Grant forced himself to laugh as he looked up at the furious May. “Ouch,” he said sarcastically.
May reached down and yanked him up by his shirt. Her lips were curled in disgust, and Grant wondered who exactly he had used to earn this kind of personal reaction.
In his peripheral vision, Grant noticed Coulson dismiss the identical agents after taking some files out of their hands. He supposed the director wanted to spare them his taunts. It was a shame since he had a few more in mind that he could have used.
“May, release him,” Director Coulson ordered.
Begrudgingly, May did as she was told, but she did not seem particularly happy about it. She stalked back to where the director stood and crossed her arms.
“May’s not your biggest fan,” Director Coulson explained blandly. “She savors her grudges, and you managed to earn her anger when you manipulated her student.”
“Skye,” Grant confusedly blurted out before he could think better of it. He clenched his jaw, infuriated all over again. He thought Skye believed him when he told her that he had not used her. How could she possibly think otherwise after everything?
Grant felt like a fool. Skye had not only sold him out to get captured, but she apparently had written him off entirely, and to her S.O. and the director of SHIELD no less.
He was fuming when he bit out, “Did she tell you that?” He was embarrassed to admit that the words came out more emotionally than he wanted. He saw Agent Morse tilt her head to the side in contemplation but did not waste time considering what she was reading into his response. “A bit hypocritical after what she just pulled. Were her pleas even real or was she just pretending to ask for my help as you waited in the wings to get me?” Her teary eyes as she implored him to help her dismantle Strucker and List’s arctic base came to him again vividly, and he balled his hands into fists.
Skye had used his feelings to get him abducted after letting him betray Hydra for her. From where Ward standing, she was the master manipulator between the two of them.
Grant was watching Director Coulson’s face while he spoke, which is the only reason he caught the subtle shifting in his expression. His brows furrowed slightly and his lips turned down. Grant did not know how it was possible, but it seemed Coulson had no idea what he was talking about. That meant one of two things, either he was a lot slower than Grant anticipated or he was wrong about Skye’s involvement in his capture.
Something loosened inside of Grant as he reflected on his realization. Skye had not set him up, and now that Grant thought that, it seemed rather obvious. If Skye and Fitz had set him up, why had May and Morse gotten him so far away and without Skye’s presence? And why would Skye not be the one interrogating him now if they were aware of the power she held over him, and she was willing to use it?
Grant deliberately relaxed his body and face. He needed to stop allowing Skye to distract him.
“You seem bitter over Skye’s apparent manipulation of you,” Morse observed. Grant could not help but think it was to cover for her lack of knowledge. “Is it because you were beat at your own game or because you feel Garrett’s going to be angry with you for it?”
She was fishing, and it was painfully obvious. He had no doubt she was good, but in some ways, he and Morse were cut from the same cloth. Her baiting would not work on him because he had used the same tricks before and could see through them.
He tuned her out and did not respond. Morse’s opinion meant nothing to him, and now that he knew Skye was not involved, the tension had drained away from his muscles. Eventually they would lower their guards, and he would escape. Keeping quiet ensured he gave nothing away before then and would frustrate his captors enough that it increased the likelihood they would give him an opening.
Not long after, they grew sick of his silence. Morse’s smiles and words had taken a harder edge when she noted how unaffected he was. May appeared seconds away from attacking him again, but it was Director Coulson who put an end to the interrogation.
“Take him down to Vault D,” he commanded while looking at Agent May. She nodded and raised a gun. Grant had just enough time to recognize it was one of their strange, altered pistols before the bluish blast rendered him unconscious.
By Grant’s estimates, it had been about a day before the director came to him with a grim expression. They had placed him in a sparse, windowless cell that was separated from the outside world by an energy field with controllable transparency.
So far, they had not let him sleep after he awoke the second time. Usually it was Morse speaking to him, but he had seen May and Coulson a few more times. Their incessant questioning revolved around John and his plans. They had noticed he did not go out in the field anymore and were trying to get Grant to elaborate on why.
Grant did not say a word. It was the only way to retain control of the conversation and keep them grasping at straws.
But when the director arrived flanked by Morse, May and Trip, Grant wondered if his silence had just made them desperate.
“We don’t have time to indulge your lack of cooperation,” Director Coulson spoke heavily. “We know Garrett’s planning something.”
Grant said nothing. He leaned against the wall and stared at them apathetically. Their attempts at intimidating him fell flat. He took in May’s hatred, Morse’s focus, Trip’s distaste and Coulson’s blank face and found it funny that they misinterpreted John’s low profile so much. They thought he was gearing up for a big attack. It was better they believed that than know the truth of John’s precarious health.
Coulson’s lips tightened as he stared at Grant. After a moment, he nodded towards the others. May and Morse spread out and pointed their guns at him while Director Coulson deactivated the energy barrier.
“If you try anything,” May promised, “I’ll enjoy shooting you.”
Grant raised his arms mockingly as he gave her a smirk, but he felt the beginnings of unease spread through him. Trip was holding a syringe and making his way towards Grant.
“Hold out one arm palm up and place the other behind your back,” Director Coulson ordered.
Grant hesitated. Letting them drug him was far from ideal but getting riddled with bullets was worse still. He had a feeling May would not kill him either, just make it as painful as possible as she tried to extract intel from him.
Grant decided that as long as they wanted his information, he could be sure that whatever they gave him would not wreck his mind. Fighting now when he had no chance of winning was not worth it when he could play dead and strike when they became complacent. He just did not understand why they would knock him out this way rather than use their specialized pistol. Maybe it was to ensure easier transportation as they moved him again.
Trip watched him warily as he approached but did not speak a word. He positioned himself so that Morse and May still had a clean shot as he injected Grant with whatever substance was in the syringe. A quick pinprick of pain, and it was over.
Nothing happened at first, but then Grant felt lightheadedness rush over him. He locked his legs to keep from falling as he glared at all of them. The edges of his vision blurred, and Grant’s breathing turned labored. He was awake though and, more importantly, aware enough to remember where he was and that he could not speak. Were they planning on interrogating him like this, is that why they did not knock him out?
The room spun as Grant stumbled forward slightly. Trip reached out and grabbed him by the arm to keep him upright, but Grant could barely feel the touch. Morse seized his other arm as they half-led, half-dragged him out of the cell. Grant cursed his powerlessness with every step.
They were speaking, but their words came to him as if he were underwater. He had to concentrate to catch them but did not want to extend the effort to do so.
When they came to a stop, Grant narrowed his eyes to try and discern where they had taken him. It was then that he finally fought back as panic crept up his throat. Upon recognizing the machine, Grant instinctively lashed out to put distance between him and it, but the movements were stilted and slow without any force behind them. Morse and Trip held him easily.
His thoughts were sluggish, but he still managed to put two and two together. They drugged him to lower his mental defenses because the memory machine did not work if the victim fought against it.
Grant’s heart pounded. He did not care what pain they inflicted on his body, but his mind was off limits. He scowled pathetically at the SHIELD director.
“You recognize it,” he said solemnly. “Having experienced it myself, it’s not something I ever intended to use on someone else.”
Grant distantly heard Agent May comment about how it was “poetic” to use it on the right hand man of the person who put Director Coulson through it, but Grant’s focus was on the man in charge.
“No one’s forcing you to,” Grant slurred as he glared up at the director.
“We wouldn’t have to resort to this if you would just talk,” Director Coulson said.
Grant could admit the man seemed genuinely upset at the prospect of putting someone through the machine. Maybe it was because it brought back memories of his own experiences or maybe it was because he considered himself above such torture, but Grant sensed that there was real regret. That just made him angrier.
“No, this is all on you,” Grant took care to speak slowly so the words were clear despite the drugs. “Don’t put this on me. It’s your choice.”
Director Coulson stared at him sadly for a moment before gesturing for Morse and Trip to strap him in. Despite knowing it was pointless, Grant fought back anyway. It made no difference, they subdued him easily. They bound his arms, legs and torso onto the machine’s table carefully until Grant could barely move even without the drug-induced lethargy.
Grant clenched his fists at his sides and glared resolutely up at the machine surrounding his head. He tried to regulate his breathing and relax, but his pulse was pounding and the world continued to spin.
Grant knew the second the machine had been activated. There was an intrusive force hammering against his mind that made his head feel like it was going to explode. Unbidden, he let out a low groan of agony and shut his eyes tightly.
“Ward,” Morse’s voice called over the drumming in his skull. “Concentrate. I want you to think about the secrets that you hide the most, think…”
There was something more she was going to say. If Ward had been more aware, he would have realized that was just the beginning of her questioning, but the words triggered an onslaught of memories that took the wind out of him and robbed him of his ability to focus on anything beyond his own torturous recollections.
Skye was not in a good mood. She was sleep-deprived, starving and more than a little pissed at Coulson. She slumped into a chair at the kitchen table while Simmons slid into the one across from her. Fitz, unsurprisingly, was more concerned with raiding the cabinets for food before joining them.
“Well, that was a huge waste of time,” Skye complained.
To no one’s shock, Bechard was not in possession of any alien weaponry. They had spent hours in a car for yet another false tip. Skye struggled to understand why Coulson would send them out on such an obviously useless endeavor.
“Do you think perhaps Coulson is punishing us?” Simmons asked as Fitz and his bag of pretzels fell into the chair next to her. She appeared distraught over the possibility, but Skye was only going to be more irritated if this was Coulson’s idea of disciplining them.
Mack entered the kitchen and interrupted their conversation. “Hey guys,” he said when he saw them.
Fitz greeted his friend enthusiastically as did Simmons, but Skye’s hello was a bit more reserved. She never knew how to act around Mack since her transformation given his clear distaste for anything alien.
To her surprise, Mack took the seat next to her with a nod of recognition and a smile. Skye’s lips quirked up in response to the unexpected display of friendliness. She peeked at Fitzsimmons to gauge their reactions, but neither of them seemed to see anything strange. That threw Skye because she could read their expressions and could tell that the scientists really did not notice anything unusual.
Maybe it was not as strange as she thought. Skye tried to remember the last time she had heard Mack make a comment about her dangerous abomination status and came up empty.
“What’s wrong?” Mack asked as he observed their obvious exhaustion and frustration.
“Coulson’s punishing us,” Simmons replied. “He just sent us out on an overnight mission that was completely useless. And now he’s avoiding us.”
“Punishing you three?” Mack raised a brow. “No way, you’re like his children. He’s probably too busy to check in with you.”
“He’s always busy,” Skye grumped. It was true, Coulson had not had time for them since becoming the director.
“No, I mean dealing with the prisoner,” Mack explained as he stood to go rummaging through the refrigerator. He grimaced to himself as he stared at the contents. “Ew quinoa.”
“Prisoner?” Simmons asked. “Who did we capture?”
Mack looked back at them. “Oh, I guess you missed it because you were on a mission. Bobbi and May brought back a Hydra agent last night and have been interrogating him nonstop since.”
Skye went rigid. There were few Hydra agents that were worth Bobbi and May’s full attention. She exchanged glances with Fitzsimmons and saw they were thinking the same.
“Who is it?” Skye demanded as she grasped the table’s edge tightly to anchor herself.
“I don’t know any Hydra agents on sight,” Mack said. He appeared a bit taken aback by Skye’s reaction, and she tried to loosen her death grip. “I don’t spend a lot of time in the field.”
“Well then, what did he look like?” Skye interrogated impatiently.
Mack sent a questioning look to Fitz before describing the captive. “Tall, white male. Dark hair. He was in black tac gear, so not one of the suits.”
Skye stood so quickly her chair flipped over. Her body jerked as she fought the instinctive drive to go confront Coulson. She forced herself to stay in the kitchen. Her heart pounded as she glared at the table countertop, lost in her thoughts.
No, Coulson would never. He said he was looking into Grant, and he had called off the manhunt, had he not? Even if that were not the case, Coulson definitely would not hide that SHIELD had captured Grant from her. He would not send her on a pointless mission as a distraction, right? It had to be someone else. Mack’s description probably applied to half of Hydra, right?
“Are you oka-“ Mack began to ask before he was cut off.
Screams pierced the air. The voice was hauntingly familiar. Skye was out the door before she even realized she was running.
The biting cold of the Wyoming night had the boy huddling for warmth with Buddy.
His mother’s screams and the pounding of his useless fists against the closet door as she locked him away resonated in the dark.
The sting of starvation had his stomach contracting painfully accompanying the surety that he was going to die out there in the middle of the woods completely alone.
The splashes of water at the well echoed hollowly like Thomas’ pleas for help.
And then Skye. Her voice came to him, a sliver of light in a sea of darkness. Grant latched onto it like a man desperate not to drown.
He needed her to know the truth. If everyone else saw him as a monster, Grant did not care, but Skye was different.
He had kept the secrets of the well and all that Christian made him do to himself all these years. Ever since his mother scoffed and Chrsitian pointed his finger, Grant had learned not to reveal the truth to anyone. People were not to be trusted, and maybe his parents and Christian were right after all. All of Grant’s efforts to prove to others, to prove to himself, that he was not crazy just left him feeling more unsure.
But Skye needed to know. He needed to tell her because he wanted at least one person to understand- and he wanted that person to be Skye. He wanted to wrap her in his arms after he spilled his secrets feeling at peace for once because he knew someone believed him, someone cared for him anyway…
He was wretched. The screaming faded as words tumbled out of his lips maddeningly. He was frenzied. He needed her to believe him and was so terrified that she would turn away.
Grant’s thoughts muddled up in a jumble of words and feelings that slipped out of his grasp every time he tried to focus on them.
He wanted… He needed…