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Know Your Enemy

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Coulson was going to be so mad. He told her not to be seen ten times before finally letting her go on the mission. Skye knew he was more cautious and worried recently. He had good reason to be to after everything that went down at the Triskelion. Don’t be seen, he told her. We can’t let the government trace any of this back to us.

 

Being a SHIELD agent nowadays meant a lot more stealth and lot less support after all the secrets poured onto the internet and revealed far more to the public than SHIELD had ever hoped. Once upon a time, Skye might have believed that it was a good thing for information to be spread and shared. Then again, that time had long past, and if Skye had learned anything in the last year since the Triskelion fell and Hydra was discovered within the ranks of SHIELD, it was that some people could not be trusted with information. Some people like say the US government because they sure as hell did not know how to interpret it.

 

The government had been on their ass ever since. SHIELD had enough problems what with the utter destruction of their system, the disbanding of many of their top agents, and, of course, Hydra being murderous assholes without the government stalking them. At first, Director Coulson had tried to appease them and prove that SHIELD and Hydra were not the same, that SHIELD was as much a victim of Hydra’s machinations as they were. It became obvious that the government did not care either way. The public reputation of SHIELD was so bad that there was nothing to be done to overcome it. All SHIELD interventions were viewed as vigilantes obstructing justice at best and terrorists out for blood at worst.

 

Skye had been adamant about going on the mission though. This was their chance to get the obelisk and ensure that Hydra could not use it as a weapon. After what happened last time one of the obelisks had been pursued by Hydra and SHIELD, well, Skye knew it had to be kept out of the wrong hands. Since her own powers awakened, Skye had kept an eye out for any mentions all over the internet of such a “weapon” that could turn people to dust in seconds with one touch. When she discovered that there was one being advertised for potential buyers, she knew she had to do something.

 

May had backed her, too. Coulson was worried that it was too risky. The obelisk was being sold on the black market in Seville, Spain of all places. That was not too bad, since it was far away from General Talbot and his cronies, but it was held in a crowded area. Lots of tourists, lots of chances to attract unwanted attention. It was smart of the sellers’ part because it was a huge turnoff for spies such as herself to intervene. Guaranteed gawking and panicking when this goes south, Coulson had said. She in return had cheerfully replied that it would not go south. She could handle it.

 

And she had to be the one to handle it. No one else in SHIELD could even touch the olbelisk. The problem was the manpower. Coulson could not spare anyone since SHIELD had such limited resources as is. Oftentimes agents dealt with no extraction plans and outnumbered teams nowadays. It was hard for people like Coulson and May to get used to, but for Skye, she had barely been a part of SHIELD before the fall. In some ways, this was all she had ever known. Living in the “shadows” as Coulson says was where she was born. At least now she had loved ones and people who protected her. The government looking down its nose at what she was doing hardly phased her after a life of illegal hacking and pickpocketing.

 

Skye had insisted she could handle it alone, and May backed her. What were a couple of thugs in over their heads with alien technology compared to a badass Inhuman trained personally by the Cavalry? Of course, she could not go around making quakes. For starters, she still had not gotten a handle on her powers. She stopped making the Earth tremble every time she got the least bit emotional, but that was about it on the progress front. There was also the small matter of hiding her powers. No one could know. She may as well paint a giant red target on her back for the government and Hydra if she advertised that she was gifted without a clue as to how to control her so-called gift. There was always the fear of brainwashing from Hydra and experimentation from the government.

 

The only people who even knew about her abilities were Coulson, May, Fitzsimmons, and a couple of other trusted agents. Maybe it was the Hydra reveal, but everyone was a lot more paranoid about leaks and traitors as of late. Skye had not known anyone who had turned out to be Hydra, but she also only knew a couple of agents before anyway.

 

May and Coulson had not been so lucky. To them, it was like the ground had been swept out from under them. Coulson’s supposed good friend and fellow student of Director Fury, John Garrett, turned out to Hydra. Jasper Sitwell, Alexander Pierce, Brock Rumlow, Jack Rollins, these names meant nothing to her, but Coulson especially had known all of them or at least heard of them. He had trusted them with his life before.

 

Skye could never understand. Sure, she had been betrayed before and abandoned by those meant to love her. Hell, her whole relationship with her biological father was a lesson in disappointment and pain. But everything was so personal for them. Skye still noticed the way Coulson’s face twitched in pain and rage after even a year at the mere mention of Garrett. Trip was not much better. Apparently Garrett had been a very paternal S.O. and easily won over the people who worked for him. All Skye knew was that anyone who could disgust Trip that much was someone Skye never wanted to meet- not unless she was taking him down.

 

Coulson had agreed to let her go. May had flown the Bus across the Atlantic and dropped her a little outside the city. She had spent the day getting a feel for the neighborhood and preparing to intercept the sale that night. As soon as she had it in her possession, she was to get the hell out of dodge before anyone noticed that a very not Spanish woman was running around with a glowy object of doom.

 

Everything was going according to plan. The deal was going down on the fifth floor in a cheap motel room, which made the whole thing seem even more cliché and pathetic to Skye but whatever. She had kept watch in the room next door by drilling a small hole into the wall in the hours leading up to the transaction. Given the repulsiveness of the rooms, Skye even thought a hole in the wall was not much of a change. So she had stood back, ready to make her move once the deal was over, while the skeezy man with a terrible receding hairline had tried to haggle with a much larger and creepier man. Skeezy Man made Vanchat look like Captain America. Skye almost felt bad because this was going to be even easier than she anticipated. She should have known better than to get cocky.

 

Everything was going smoothly before a third party came into play. A sniper had been set up next door and before Skye knew it everything had gone to chaos. Skeezy Man had gone down in an instant. Immediately following were his two useless bodyguards. Creepy Man spooked but could not seem to decide if he wanted to grab the obelisk and run or take off before he wound up with a bullet in his brain, too.

 

Skye wasted no time. Subtlety was gone, but she could still get to the obelisk and get out before anyone could connect SHIELD to this. The hallway was overrun with confused people screaming words she could not understand, but she managed to push her way into the room. During her blindness, it seemed Creepy Man had decided to take his chances. The obelisk and the thug were both gone.

 

Skye swore. He could not have gone far though. She spun around and looked into the crowd of people clamoring for the stairs. She could already hear sirens in the distance, and she still did not know who her mystery shooter was. He might be a cheap thug who wanted the obelisk for himself, or Hydra could have found out about the deal as well and made moves for it. Skye wanted to say it was another thug, but she knew she was not that lucky.

 

Finally Skye caught a glimpse of Creepy Man by the stairs as he attempted to shove a distressed woman out of his way. Since the obelisk was in a giant crate, he could not have been more conspicuous if he were on fire as he clutched the thing to his chest.

 

She wormed her way through the masses. It was a flashback to that one time Miles convinced her to go to a concert where they were stuck in the mosh pit. It was just as fun as she remembered getting almost elbowed in the face by screaming people a foot taller than she was.

 

Creepy Man had started down the stairs by the time she had worked her was through the mob. When he looked back and saw her coming after him, he ducked into the motel’s third level hallway. Skye was seconds behind as she crashed through the metal door.

 

The cops were definitely here by now. Skye could hear shouts of “policía!” among the various words of Spanish that escaped her. The sirens blared somehow even louder than the screaming. Even as Skye pursued Creepy Man, she knew she was in trouble. The police would probably be watching everyone carefully and questioning all the people trying to leave the motel. It would not be much of problem except Skye’s Spanish skills were nonexistent so she would be flagged as suspicious no matter what.

 

She put that out of her mind as she slammed into the Creepy Man. With her training, it took seconds to wrestle the obelisk out of his hands and knock him to the floor. The crate crashed to the floor and broke into pieces. Skye merely reached down and plucked it out with her bare hands. Creepy Man was staring at her with wide, confused eyes, probably thinking that he had been duped and the supposed unbeatable weapon that could destroy with a touch was bullshit. Better for him to think that. If he tried anything, Skye would be forced to use the obelisk on him. As creepy as he was, Skye preferred not to kill when she could help it.

 

Creepy Man scampered away while she considered him. He was not worth following, she did not have time for him. Instead Skye was forced to wonder how she was going to get out the motel without arousing suspicion. There was also the small matter of the obelisk being out in the open. If Skye just accidently brushed someone with it…

 

Before she could contemplate it any more, Skye found herself being thrown onto the ground by a hard tackle. The obelisk flew out of her hands while she froze briefly in shock. People did not sneak up on her, not since she started training under Melinda May. What the hell was going on?

 

Skye spun around and landed lightly on the balls of her feet to face her opponent. She found herself staring into the barrel of a gun instead.

 

“I wouldn’t try anything if I were you,” a deep voice intoned. The man in front of her held the gun with the type of certainty that only came from years of experience in one business. He was not one of hers, and since he was speaking unaccented English, she did not think he belonged to some Spanish intelligence agency. He did not look much older than she was, but she felt the professionalism in his assessment of her. That and he snuck up on her! He had to belong to somewhere good.

 

“I thought Hydra’s the type to shoot first, ask questions never. Guess there’s an exception to every rule,” Skye smiled cockily as she taunted him. Truth was, she could not be sure he even was Hydra. With his skill level, English, and interest in the obelisk, Skye was betting he was though.

 

The man in front of her gave no response to her mockery and assumption. He merely gazed at her in assessment as if deciding what his choice of action should be. There was intelligence in those eyes, Skye felt like he was looking straight through her. It was the danger he pretty much exuded that really put her on edge. Even without his probable association with Hydra, Skye was surprised that he did not just shoot her in the back and take the obelisk. He hardly seemed like the type to go easy on anyone.

 

Was it because she was a girl? Skye had met some agents all levels of experience who hesitated in fighting with women. That felt unlikely with this guy, but if it were true, it would come in handy. Skye had a feeling that he would not go down easily. Of course, it could be the more disgusting side of that mentality. This guy would not be the first who tried something with her in battle. She once had an opponent who tried to feel her up while they were fighting. She kicked the living crap out of him but ever since felt warier when dealing with some male opponents. She wondered if she should flirt with him to get him off his guard.

 

He did not look like the kind of guy who needed to force female company though. In fact, he might be the most attractive guy Skye had ever seen. His hair was cropped short and so dark Skye could not tell if it were black or brown. He stood well over six feet tall and was all muscle. He was leaner and firm in his build with a strong jawline and cheekbones that could cut you. It was a little unnerving to go down that path with her thoughts. It was easier to think of all Hydra agents being faceless, evil douchebags with no redeeming qualities. Even if it were just appearance, thinking of someone wanting to sleep with a Hydra agent humanized them in a way that Skye would prefer not happen.

 

As she contemplated that, he appeared to come to a decision without ever faltering his grip on the gun still pointed at her. “How’d you do it?”

 

“Umm do what? Take out the Creepy Man running around with a crate to his chest and no clue? It really wasn’t that hard.”

 

For a second, Skye could have sworn he smiled at her. However, it was gone in a flash, replaced by a look of annoyance. “No, how did you hold it?” He nodded his head towards the obelisk lying a couple feet away. “I saw you touch it without suffering the effects.”

 

“Oh,” Skye paused for a second, “It’s easy. You should try. In fact, tell all your Hydra friends to give it a go. Trust me, it’d be fun for all.”

 

Her opponent’s lips thinned in what was probably irritation. His narrowed eyes were assessing her again, searching for who knows what. All Skye knew was that this was a waste of time. The police were here, the mission had gone to hell, and it was about time for her to leave.

 

“So if that’s all you wanted, I’ll just be on my way,” Skye inched a step backwards and closer to the obelisk without looking away from man in front of her. She was starting to wonder if he actually was a Hydra agent. It was hard for her to believe that he would not have killed her yet. He must realize she was SHIELD. His knowledge of the obelisk though made that theory unlikely.

 

“Don’t move.” Mr. Tall, Dark, and Handsome Hydra Agent’s face had shut down. Not a single emotion could be seen, it was just… blankness. That set alarm bells off in Skye’s head. Nothing good ever came from expressions like that. Skye had known a few agents who closed off right before they killed. It was a way of keeping them detached. They claimed it allowed them some peace of mind despite all the horrors they had seen and done.

 

“I’m not, I’m totally not moving. No movement here at all. I’m just here, standing,” Skye trailed off a little uncertainly before unnecessarily and loudly adding, “But not moving.” There was some kind of emotion in the man’s eyes now. Skye wanted to call it warmth, but she could not be sure.

 

Stomping echoed in the hallway. The policemen had arrived and were searching the motel for suspects and witnesses. This was exactly what Skye had wanted to avoid. She was going to get caught, and if she got out of it, Coulson was never going to get over this massive fuck up.

 

“Grab it.”

 

“Huh?” Skye was lost, but the Hydra agent indicated towards the obelisk, and that was what she wanted anyway. She shuffled over and snatched the thing up.

 

“Don’t bring it closer to me or I’ll shoot. Now get in there.” He gestured towards the open door of one of the motel rooms. Skye wordlessly obeyed. The longer this went on, the more likely it was that he would drop his guard. The more she thought about it though, she doubted this guy ever dropped his guard around anyone. “Now, place it under the bed.”

 

The room was just as unfurnished and bare as the previous ones she had seen. Under the bed was actually the only place Skye could see that would hide the obelisk from curious glances. While she followed his instructions, she wondered what game he was playing. Mr. Tall, Dark, and Handsome Hydra Agent followed her inside and shut the door soundlessly.

 

Skye could hear the scuffling and shouting of the policemen outside the door. They had arrived at the third floor and were pretty much on top of them. Skye realized he wanted them out of the hallway, so the police did not see their exchange. That was stupid though because as soon as they checked the room they would notice something amiss. Even with the obelisk hidden, there were still two sketchy looking people and a gun involved. Maybe Skye had overestimated Mr. Tall, Dark and Handsome Hydra Agent’s intelligence.

 

Just as she thought that, he came at her faster than she would have thought possible and pushed her roughly onto the bed. He grabbed her wrists in his own hands and situated his legs between hers in seconds. What the hell? So this was some weird sexual thing?

 

Then suddenly she understood. He gave her a queer sort of smile as he read the realization on her face before he ducked down and slanted his lips across hers.

 

That was the moment the police burst in.

Chapter Text

For an evil murderer out to terrorize the world, the man was a surprisingly good kisser. That was not a thought Skye ever thought she would have, but it had been a weird day so far.

 

In the shock of her circumstances, Skye barely got her act together enough to close her eyes and return the kiss before the police were upon them. She felt confused and warm all over. Confused because how the hell did she wind up in this situation with a Hydra agent of all people. Warm because she liked the way he kissed her. It sent shivers up her spine that settled into the pit of her stomach. His lips were soft and sure as the slid over hers, and while she expected someone like him to be rough in everything, he was oddly gentle. He was controlling himself, she realized. His body was lined up with hers, his hips on top of her own, and yet there was no pressure behind his actions or their position.

 

With a start, she realized that he was purposely trying not to be forceful with her. Well, she definitely misjudged him earlier then. Most men she knew would enjoy taking advantage of this situation- and those were just the ones she worked with. Skye would have thought an enemy, especially a Hydra agent, would enjoy throwing her off her game and playing some dominance game or something.

 

Skye forced those thoughts out of her head. She got lucky, the guy was probably just not into women or something. Still, as Mr. Tall, Dark and Handsome Hydra Agent began to pull away, Skye found herself softly biting down on his bottom lip. Their eyes were locked as he drew away far enough that his lip was slowly released from her grasp. He was not smiling, but his eyes were heated as they stared into her own. It was somehow more intimate than the kiss. She did not think a lack of interest on his part was the reason he held back.

 

Her muddled thoughts were all over the place, but she forced herself to think of the mission and get her head in the game. If May saw her now, locking lips with Hydra agents in sketchy Spanish motels after a mission gone wrong? Her S.O. would put her back in remedial training after she lectured her for her carelessness.

 

There were three police officers dressed in dark uniforms glaring at her and her companion. Luckily the two of them had opted out of wearing tactical gear in order to blend in. With civilian clothes and all the firearms and dangerous alien artifacts out of sight, the clueless lovers act was more believable. More believable but still a hard sell. Guns were not drawn yet, so that was a plus, but that was about the only she had going for her. Of course, she was still lying down on the disgusting motel bed with her legs spread for a Hydra agent.

 

With that unwelcome thought, Skye pushed herself up and tucked her legs together. She scooted backwards until she was leaning against the headboard and surveyed the situation. She forced a look of humiliation at an unexpected invasion of privacy as she glared at the policemen. It was not that hard to pull off.

 

Her companion- if that was even what he should be called- stood up and stood in front of her defensively. She was completely dressed, but the gesture of protective boyfriend still worked well. Of the three policemen, only one managed to not sport a look of extreme discomfort. He immediately began yelling something in Spanish.

 

It turned out that pissed off, overworked law enforcement was understandable in every language because Skye could not interpret one word being shouted at her but some things need no translation.

 

While the Hydra agent’s plan had been decent and saved them from sure gunfire and confrontation, they were still going to be labeled as suspects the second the policemen realized they could not speak a word of Spanish beyond hola. Shots fired and several Spanish men dead with a couple of foreigners nearby? Yeah, Skye would bring them in, too, if she were a cop.

 

The Hydra agent just put his hands up as if in surrender. That was such bullshit though, Skye would bet anything that he could take all of them out in a heartbeat armed or unarmed. It did nothing to appease the policemen either.

 

The police leader was clearly asking a question now, but Skye had no idea what. Just when she decided to just get on with it, Mr. Tall, Dark and Handsome Hydra Agent began speaking fluent Spanish. Skye may not know what was being said, but he sounded just as unaccented as the policemen in his speech. She made sure none of her shock showed on her face despite the fact that Skye was a little thrown.

 

She had her companion pegged as dangerous muscle with an admittedly quick thinking, tactical mind. In her experience, seamless linguistic skill was a mark of someone seasoned in espionage. There was a difference between conversational skills and the ability to sound native.

 

As she watched him work, Skye realized that he was in his element now. The conversation was flowing effortlessly and already the cops were lowering their defenses. It was not hard to see why either. Fifteen minutes ago her companion looked like the type of person you would not want to meet in a dark alley. Now, however, he seemed the average Joe, flustered by circumstance but affable by nature. His shoulders were loosened, posture slouched and unassuming, with an easy grin on his face at something one of the policemen had said. In response, he waved a careless hand towards her and shook his head. He spoke a few more words in Spanish before turning to her with a look that could only be described as fondly affectionate as if they were longtime lovers. It was a complete transformation from the man she just met in the hallway.

 

The joking, love struck act was working, the policemen were no longer looking like they were two seconds from handcuffing them, but now Skye had gone cold. She had gathered that he was skilled, very few people get the drop on her. She had known he was smart and strategic with his quick thinking getting them out of what was sure to be a nasty confrontation. She had even picked up that he was good given that he appeared to have been the only operative Hydra bothered to send to secure the obelisk.

 

She had objectively pieced together the pieces to know she was dealing with someone good, but she was just now realized that she may have still underestimated him. Assuming he was the sniper that interrupted the deal- and there was no reason not to- she had witnessed a remarkable level and range of skills in just the half hour since they first interacted.

 

He was clearly an expert marksmen, multilingual, smart, highly ranked, extremely skilled in espionage and stealth, quick on his feet, and dangerously capable. Just who the hell was she dealing with?

 

Horror washed over he as she realized she might have just been making out with one of the faceless murderers that Coulson and May spit upon. She would like to think that John Garrett was neither that young nor that attractive, but she was not sure. Coulson and he trained together though, that must make him at least forty. Her companion looked only five years older than she was. That only made her more nervous though, to be that young and that good was unusual.

 

The conversation was winding down, and it gave Skye the advantage. While he was preoccupied with the policemen, she could prepare herself for the inevitable confrontation that would happen once they left. Under the guise of adjusting her untucked shirt, Skye slipped her hand to where her gun was nestled in the small of her back.

 

Her companion led the charmed policemen away from the bed and towards the door, but he snuck a look back at her while he was doing it. Skye was right, he was not the type to ever drop his guard. That was fine though, he was not the only one who was good.

 

The second the door clicked shut behind the cops, the two of them were armed. Skye had shot up off the bed and drawn her weapon in one seamless movement. For the second time that day, Skye found herself staring down Mr. Tall, Dark and Handsome Hydra Agent’s gun. This time, however, they were on even footing. Moreover, since she was still near the bed, she was by the obelisk.

 

“My little American girlfriend just doesn’t know when to quit, does she?” The friendly persona had bled away to reveal the same man she met before, but traces of the humor were still there. Skye was not sure whether this was another act or just his personality.

 

“Actually, I think you might be the one in over your head, baby.” If he wanted to do this, she could so hold her own. She had it on good authority (from Hunter) that she was the second most annoying person in the world when she wanted to be (with only Bobbi beating her.)

 

He smirked. “Can I at least get your name? I try to know that before I drag a girl into bed but you know how things are.”

 

Skye bit the inside of her cheek because she had the ridiculous urge to laugh. It was making it hard to concentrate. For all she knew, this was another ploy like the one he pulled on the cops to make her lower her guard. Her instinct told her otherwise, but her instinct had also made her seek out her father despite prior warnings. She could not just go on instinct.

 

Her companion shrugged his shoulders. The gun never wavered. “Fine, I’ll go first. My name is Zach.”

 

Skye’s eyes narrowed. “No, it’s not.”

 

“It could be.”

 

“Bullshit.”

 

Suddenly his face transformed. Whereas before he had been artificially overly friendly or seasoned assassin cold, he looked completely different now. He grinned at her, his eyes lit up like something amused him, but at the same time, it was awkward. His smile was crooked when compared to his charismatic one he favored the policemen earlier. It stretched across his face in such a way that Skye thought he probably did not smile often. He was clearly trying to rein in the emotion and then it suddenly was wiped off his face entirely. His face shut down as it had before in the hallway, and Skye was put even more on her guard.

 

She should shoot him, she realized. Whether he wanted to admit it or not, his weird display of enjoyment had thrown him for a loop, and now was the best chance she would have to take him down. If she shot him quickly, it would all be over.

 

That epiphany was immediately followed by another, scarier one: she did not want to shoot him. She had killed Hydra agents and others before. That was the job. But most of them had been just faceless goons, interchangeable and unknowable. Sometimes she could convince herself that they were not really people. They had no real personality or humanizing qualities, they were just evil murderers to be stopped. It made the hard call easier.

 

Skye could not convince herself of that here. Somehow, without meaning to, this nameless Hydra agent had become a person to her. In the span of less than an hour, she teamed up with him, joked with him, and spoke with him. She had kissed him. Skye did not want to kill him, but she really should though. He was clearly dangerous and definitely Hydra. To purposely let him live would be beyond careless and stupid.

 

Skye was starting to feel a little careless and stupid. It helped that as she watched, her companion seemed to come to a realization of his own- one that did not appear to involve shooting her.

 

“I’m Skye,” she found herself saying. She felt like a moron, she could have at least tried to lie. Instead, she blurted out her identity to a Hydra murderer. His eyes were sweeping over her now, no doubt trying to ascertain her truthfulness. It did not matter. It was her real name, and if he did not believe her, it hardly mattered to her. Some small part of her wanted him to believe her though. “You wanted to know my name. Now you know.”

 

Her arm was starting to tire. Her companion did not look like he felt any strain as his gun remained locked on her. They were at a stalemate. If neither of them were willing to budge and neither of them wanted to shoot, they were going to be standing there forever.

 

“It’s nice to meet you, Skye,” he spoke clearly and with only the barest hint of mockery, but Skye still stared at him incredulously. Really? That was what he was going with?

 

“It’s polite to introduce yourself when someone tells you their name, you know?” Irritation bled through her words, and Skye had the strangest desire to shake the man in front of her- if only they were not holding each other at gunpoint.

 

“I already told you. My name is Zach.”

 

It was like arguing with a toddler. Was this guy really an elite member of a dangerous terrorist organization? “It’s also impolite to lie. Didn’t your mother ever teach you any manners?”

 

He shifted and his gaze turned colder, but he did not answer. Skye was just going to have to call him Mr. Tall, Dark and Handsome Hydra Agent forever then.

 

Skye finally lost her patience. “Look, if you’re going to shoot me, go right ahead because I’m done with this.” She lowered her weapon to the relief of her aching arm and crouched beside the bed to retrieve the obelisk. All the while, her back was to “Zach”. Words from a lifetime ago whispered never turn your back on the enemy. It was her very first lesson from SHIELD. Her back was to him, and he could shoot her any moment now. Skye knew he would not though.

 

The obelisk lit up in her hands as she drew it out from under the bed. The symbols glowed under her touch in a way that would never stop being eerie. She stood to find that “Zach” had tucked his gun away somewhere and was staring at her intently.

 

“You never did answer how you were able to do that,” he said as he looked at the still shining obelisk.

 

“Well, you never did tell me your real name.” Skye placed her free hand on her hip and stared back defiantly. “So I’m leaving with this and will hopefully never see you again, but hey, we’ll always have this sketchy motel room.”

 

“Zach” did not reach for his gun, he made no moves to stop her, so Skye supposed she should just walk out. That felt too easy and weird, but if he had wanted to kill her, he would have by now.

 

She found herself not wanting to leave though. She probably would never see him again, and if she did, they would be trying to kill each other most likely. It was for the best that this weird truce end as soon as possible.

 

“I thought you were leaving,” he said when she made no move towards the door. Yeah, well she thought she was, too. This day was all about surprises. He was not even mocking her now. He looked just as unsettled as she felt about their circumstances. Clearly something was going on in his brain that mirrored her jumbled thoughts because he seemed content to let her walk out with what he was ordered to retrieve.

 

She felt like she was bubbling with questions and no answers. Why was he letting her go? Why was he letting her take the obelisk? Why had he not shot her? Why was a Hydra agent acting like a normal person with feelings? Why did she want to kiss him again? That last one was gone from her mind the moment she thought it. It would not do for her to focus on that now. She did not bother to ask any of them though, he would not even tell her his name. Spies were known for their trust issues.

 

After a moment where she did not respond, he suddenly snarled at her. “Run back to SHIELD before I change my mind and kill you.”

 

Skye did not need to be told twice. She was gone before he even finished his threat. She did take one glance back as she retreated though. He was standing in the center of the room staring blankly at the wall where she had just been standing.

  

Skye thought about what she would say in her mission debrief to Coulson the entire plane ride back to base. She did not want to tell him about her encounter with “Zach”.  It was partially out of embarrassment. She let herself be one-upped by a Hydra agent multiple times. What’s more, she kissed him on a sketchy motel bed and then failed to shoot him when his guard was down.  The worst bit though was that she liked kissing him. She liked talking to him. She did not regret not shooting him. Did that make her a bad person?

 

More than that, she wanted it to be a secret. She was sure that “Zach” would not tell the details of their encounter to anyone. He was obviously the distrusting, closed off type. Skye wanted it to be their little secret in a way. Maybe then she could pretend it did not actually happen and this was just a strange dream of hers. None of it felt real anyway.

 

Since her mission was a success, and she had avoided police detection, Coulson would not quiz her too hard. He would assume it was like any old mission, one of the thousands she had done in her year as a SHIELD agent. It made her wonder what “Zach” was going to tell his superiors. Skye would bet that an agent like him does not normally fail missions. They would expect some brilliant explanation like an army appeared out of nowhere to stop him. She wondered if he would get in trouble. Hydra was not exactly known for its lenience and understanding. Skye abruptly stopped wondering after that.

 

Skye peeked into Coulson’s office with a light knock on the doorframe. Coulson was leaning against the wall and staring out the window worriedly. Recently it felt like he aged years between every time Skye saw him. Sometimes she overplayed her informal hacker-from-the-streets antics in order to get him to smile. He rarely lost the stern Director look nowadays.

 

“Hey, AC. Is this a good time?” Even while she asked, Skye entered the office without waiting for the reply. She plopped down into the chair behind his desk and leaned back.

 

He gave her a wane smile as he turned away from the window. “And what if I had said this wasn’t a good time?”

 

Skye did not miss a beat. “Then I’d have to ask what was so important about the ugly brick building across the street that you’d turn away your favorite agent.”

 

Coulson just shook his head at her affectionately. “Directors don’t have favorites.”

 

“They do when they have agents as awesome as me,” Skye replied cheekily and watched with no small measure of satisfaction as the laugh she had been aiming for finally escaped him. It drained off his face slowly as if he wanted to hold onto his brief moment of happiness just a little longer.

 

“Alright, my favorite agent, report.” And just like that the friendly atmosphere disappeared. Skye enjoyed being both the teasing banterer and deadly agent. She did not like to pretend there were two different hers. There was only Skye. Coulson on the other hand had two modes: loving AC and no nonsense director. It was different before the fall, but Skye hoped with time that Coulson would lose the weight of the world burden he seemed to be carrying with him at all times. All they had to do was take down Hydra.

 

The thought of Hydra brought the thought of “Zach” to her mind again, but she was determined not to let it get to her.

 

Debrief came and went in a blur. Like she suspected, Coulson never asked any questions that she could not answer. She did not speak a word of “Zach” and their brief meeting. She turned in the obelisk to the SHIELD scientists to be secured and safely out of people’s reach.

 

Case closed. Mission done. It was seemingly all behind her now. Except Skye could not help but think it was a beginning rather than an ending.

 


 

Just outside of Seville, Grant Ward laid in the bed of one of John’s safehouses. He stared blankly at the ceiling while thinking about his failed mission. It was probably his first failed one actually, since it had never been his fault before when a mission had been unsuccessful.

 

This one was all him though. He let the girl and the device go. Whitehall would be angry, no doubt. He was always clamoring after the weird alien tech in the supposed name of scientific discovery. It was all the same to Ward though. He could not care less about Whitehall and his goals. His only attachment was to John, and John had no stake in whether or not SHIELD got their hands on the obelisk.

 

Maybe that was why he let the girl go. It did not seem worth it. He could have killed her, added her to the ranks of the countless number of lives he had stolen. He could have found a way to contain the device. Hydra would be happy. SHIELD would be down an agent. A victory by all accounts.

 

He did not want to though, and it was so rare that Grant wanted anything that he felt compelled to act on the unusual impulse. He could not remember the last time he genuinely wished for something to happen that was not related to John’s never ending quest for a miracle drug to save him.

 

This was not about John at all- or even Ward really. There was something about SHIELD agent Skye that made Ward want her to live. His initial hesitation was due to pure curiosity. He had been briefed about the dangers of the obelisk so to see her handling it without being harmed startled Ward. The more time that went on, the more Ward’s hesitation became less to do with curiosity regarding the device and more to do with intrigue of the girl. She was fiery and well trained, that much he could tell immediately. But it was the other qualities like the way she blatantly taunted him, the way she had a retort for everything, the way she had trusted him with her real name and her turned back despite displaying intelligence and experience in the seconds before. Full of contradictions, full of life.

 

It was the way she instinctually pushed up into him as he kissed her, and the way she captured his bottom lip between her teeth as he pulled away sparking something inside Ward that he no longer thought himself capable of feeling.

 

Ward banished the thoughts of his surprise encounter with SHIELD Agent Skye to the dark corners of his mind where he kept everything best left forgotten. It was best to put it out of his mind. He could not afford to be distracted when John was counting on him. He was getting worse every day, and Ward had a life debt to repay.

 

Ward hoisted himself off the bed and got ready to depart. It was time to leave Seville and all its chance meetings behind. He had to prepare to report back to John. He may not have cared one way or the other about the obelisk, but he was still going to be furious. John had less tolerance than Whitehall when it came to failure. 

 

Chapter Text

It had been a month since Seville and John was still looking at him strangely. Ward could tell that he was trying to be subtle in his observation, but Ward also knew John better than himself after all their years together. That was probably the problem. John knew Grant well, too.

 

As he leaned against a wall out the briefing room, Ward recalled when the scrutiny started. When he reported back his failure to Whitehall and John, both of them were displeased for entirely different reasons.

 

Grant walked through the corridors Hydra’s underground HQ without a hint of trepidation in his movements. The other agents balked when they saw him and kept out of his way. Most everyone did. It was no matter to Grant, he did not care what they thought or did not think of him as long as they did not bother him. When he was not with John, he spent most of his time alone anyway. It was the specialist’s life.

 

He strolled into the debrief room where both John and Whitehall were waiting. As he approached the door, he heard the beginnings of yet another argument between the two. With Strucker overseas, Whitehall and Garrett were the two highest ranked Hydra members, which made things tense. Both men preferred to think of themselves as the other’s superior while simultaneously not abiding by what the other wanted. It was a game of chicken and neither man was willing to blink first.

 

The only reason there was even a tentative peace at all was because John and Whitehall tended to operate in different areas. Whitehall chose to focus on brainwashing, alien technology, and so-called scientific experimentation. Garrett favored the Centipede projects, super soldiers, and, of course, his own personal mission. Garrett was an operations man through and through while Whitehall was more in line with the science. Garrett stuck to the field. Whitehall inhabited the lab. Whitehall was also the only one actually dedicated to Hydra’s goal, but Grant supposed no one really knew that.

 

“Agent Ward, how nice of you to join us,” Whitehall intoned with his usual pleasantry. Grant could almost feel Garrett’s scorn at the man’s sophisticated veneer. “Where is the obelisk?”

 

“I don’t have it,” Ward replied calmly. That got both men’s attention. He supposed he should have pretended to be regretful, but he really could not be bothered.

 

“What the hell, kid?” Garrett had not cared before whether Whitehall was getting his toy, but now he was certainly invested. “Was it a false tip?”

 

“SHIELD intercepted the package before I could get to it. They had an agent waiting next to the deal’s location. When I took out Guerra and his guards, they grabbed it and ran during the chaos.” It was a simple explanation, one that Grant had planned in his head before he reported back. It was a variation of the truth as the best lies were. Agent Skye was positioned in the room next door to take the obelisk, but that was hardly a complication that would throw Grant off his game.

 

Garrett knew that, too. Ward’s gaze did not falter as he evenly narrated his lie, and Whitehall was quick to turn his irritation towards SHIELD for stealing his prize. They had gotten their hands on the last obelisk as well, and it was clearly bothering the scientist.

 

Whitehall did not know Grant well enough to realize how unusual this was for him. Ward always considered all angles before every mission. He had taken the shots knowing that the commotion would cause any third parties to reveal themselves. As they scrambled in the chaos he created, Ward used the fire escape to climb up three levels into a window he had opened earlier that day. There he waited for the fleeing buyer with the device to come right to him.

 

It worked perfectly. The buyer and the third party had walked right into his trap. He allowed the SHIELD agent to take down the pathetic thug before approaching her. Seeing the girl touch the obelisk without being harmed was the only reason he even paused. After that, things became complicated for other reasons.

 

Garrett was giving his a searching look, but Ward pretended not to notice. There was no need to say anything because there were no problems to report. Grant Ward did not have weaknesses.   

 

Garrett never said a word about it, trusting that Ward would not let anything get in the way of the real mission. Whitehall’s schemes with the obelisk were nothing in their bigger picture.

 

Sometimes Grant wondered why John even cared about the power play with Whitehall. It was only a matter of time before their alliance with Hydra would end. As soon as they discovered the secrets of Coulson’s miracle drug, they would have no more need for Hydra. Ward supposed it was not in Garrett’s nature to listen to someone else’s orders though.

 

Garrett walked out of the briefing room and into the hallway where Ward was waiting. “Come on, kid. We’ve got an op.” Ward pushed himself off the wall and followed without question.

 


 

Skye had been trying to find the right way to ask for weeks. At first, she did not say anything for fear that someone would see through her and probe her for more details of Seville. After a couple days, Skye realized that she was being paranoid.

 

That bothered her because people were only paranoid when they had something to hide. Skye did not. Her chance encounter with “Zach” was hardly a betrayal. If anyone betrayed anything, it was “Zach” for Hydra since he let her and the obelisk go. Skye would have shot him, too, she just could not be sure he would not have shot her in response.

 

She was overthinking this.

 

With that in mind, she finally broached the conversation with Bobbi a month after the mission gone awry. Bobbi was sitting in the kitchen eating a sandwich when Skye found her. She looked when Skye entered and gave her a smile.

 

“Hey, Skye. Want some?” Bobbi asked as she gestured to her food.

 

“No, thanks,” Skye said as she slid into a chair next to Bobbi. “I was hoping to ask you something actually.”

 

“Sure, what’s on your mind?” Bobbi replied easily.

 

Skye hesitated unsure of how she wanted to phrase her question. “What was it like when you were undercover at Hydra?”

 

Bobbi looked confused, “Are you going undercover?” It was an absurd question. Her unstable powers made a long-term undercover assignment too risky. Coulson would never send her on one before she had a handle on them.

 

“No, that’s not it. I was just wondering,” Skye paused and organized her thoughts. “When you were undercover, did you meet any Hydra agents that were… sympathetic?” It was the wrong word to use, but Skye could not think of a better way to say it. “Likeable” was too strong and “human” was too weak, Skye could not think of the right way to express it.

 

Bobbi appeared even more lost now, but after a second, realization washed across her face.  “Oh, you’re talking about the brainwashed members.”

 

Skye was not, but she supposed Bobbi’s complete misunderstanding of her question was an answer in itself. The only vaguely sympathetic people Bobbi met while undercover were the ones forced to work for Hydra. No one who chose to serve Hydra could possibly be worth understanding.

 

Skye nodded anyway for lack of a better response. Bobbi continued obliviously, “It was hard to be sure. Any member of Hydra could be brainwashed theoretically, and it was hard to tell the victims from the murderers. There’s no way to tell most times,” Bobbi finished softly making Skye feel even worse.

 

What was wrong with her? Here she was humanizing one of the evil traitors that likely went around stripping people of their free will instead of feeling sorry for the people who actually deserved it. Still, Skye could not stop herself from wanting to know the actual identity of her mystery man.

 

“What about any of the higher ups? When you were pretending to by Hydra, did you meet any of them?” All Skye really knew was that “Zach” was probably highly ranked and have a reputation with his skillset. He was obviously not a Hydra leader. Besides the fact that he let her and the obelisk go, no Hydra leader would go gallivanting off to Seville to intercept a black market deal in the first place. They had lackeys for that- lackeys like “Zach”.

 

Bobbi shrugged. “I wasn’t high up or trusted enough to meet Whitehall or Garrett if that’s what you mean. I spent some time with Whitehall’s right hand man Bakshi and crossed paths with Agent 33.” Bobbi paused to take another bite of her sandwich. While she chewed, she seemed to consider the rest of her answer. “Bakshi was where I got most of my information actually. That was pretty much it though. Occasionally I’d see Ward, but like everyone else, I kept my distance. There was no point not to, Natasha Romanoff couldn’t seduce that block of ice.”

 

This was nothing Skye did not know already. She had heard all of those names before but had no face to place them with. “Zach” might not even be that high up, just because he was skilled did not mean he was trusted. Given that he let her go with the obelisk, Hydra would be right to not place too much faith in him. He likely was lower in the ranks than his skills made her believe. This was stupid, Skye was wasting her time with these thoughts. What would knowing his name change anyway?

 

“So what’s this really about?” Bobbi asked after she finished up her sandwich.

 

Before Skye could answer, Hunter ran into the room. He spoke quickly, “Come along now, ladies. Time is of the essence.” He ducked out of the room and sped towards the meeting room just as hastily.

 

Both Skye and Bobbi immediately stood up and followed him. Bobbi caught up to him first. “What’s happening?”

 

Coulson was waiting with the most of the team when they arrived in the meeting room. “Here’s what’s going on,” Coulson’s clear voice cut over all the chatter. “Hydra has attacked an outdoors, informal congressional meeting with some sort of chemical gas weapon. We don’t know its source. It could be alien like when they created weaponry from the obelisk or just something their scientists have cooked up using material more of this Earth. What we do know is that the congressmen are exhibiting some serious side effects from exposure, the government is in an uproar, and Hydra has once again caused the deaths of many innocent people.”

 

Fitzsimmons were muttering lowly together next to Skye. This was their area of expertise, so it made sense that they were so worked up. The blathering on about the potential chemical components that would cause such a reaction was giving Skye a headache so she quickly tuned them out.

 

“But why would they do that?” Bobbi cut in over Fitzsimmons’ now heated conversation. “What’s the point of all this unless they’re trying to frame us again?” Last time Hydra had made such a big move against world leaders, it had been their assault on the United Nations. They posed as SHIELD agents and wore their insignia as they killed a dozen people. This was one of the main reasons why SHIELD was still in the shadows, everyone still believed them to be the ones responsible.

 

“We don’t know,” Coulson replied coolly.

 

“Why are they using chemical warfare in the first place? I didn’t think that was their area.” Mack questioned from beside Bobbi.

 

“That,” Coulson began while nodding his head in agreement, “We also don’t know.”

 

“Hang on,” Hunter began, “Does that mean-“

 

Coulson interrupted him. “Just assume that any questions you have can’t be answered with the information I have.” Everyone shut up after that. “Look, I know how difficult it is to go in blind like this, but we have to do something. We have more knowledge on Hydra and their techniques than anyone else. We have a chance to save some lives here,” Coulson ended his speech passionately.

 

When no one raised any objections, the director began barking orders. “Bobbi, Skye, Hunter, I need you to lead Fitzsimmons to the site of the attack. Hydra may be long gone, but we can still get the necessary samples to find a way to help those still alive. If not, then at least we can better prepare ourselves for when Hydra tries to use this on us. Make sure no one identifies you as SHIELD, especially the government. If you can’t stay under the radar and get the samples safely, abort the mission and get back here as soon as possible. Hydra has left, but be on your guards. Something’s not right about this.”

 

Skye and the rest nodded in assent. Skye saw May frowning at Coulson, but she did not say anything.

 

Coulson clapped his hands together, “If that’s it, then go gear up.”

 


 

Skye sat behind the driver’s seat of the SHIELD van they were taking to the attack site. Bobbi was behind the wheel with Hunter beside her on the passenger side. They were arguing incessantly about something Skye could not be bothered to pay attention to. They were in one of their “off” stages of their perpetual on again, off again relationships. Hunter was ranting about Bobbi using a “tone”, so the sexual tension must be at its tipping point. Skye would give it a week before they broke and began sleeping together again.

 

Fitzsimmons were still chattering to the left of her about the apparently endless possibilities of analyzing a new form of chemical warfare. They sounded a little too excited to be discussing something that just cost many people their lives, but Skye was used to Fitzsimmons’ enthusiasm when it came to anything science-y.

 

Both couples were completely focused on what the other was saying. They were caught up in their own little worlds while Skye just sat staring out the window watching the other cars rushing past them. Suddenly Skye felt very alone. Sometimes it was as though there were pairs within the team. May and Coulson, Hunter and Bobbi, Fitz and Simmons, they were so tight that it made Skye envious. She did not doubt that the team cared for her and that she was a member. In some ways, she even got special treatment from May and Coulson as their mentee, but she was still left out.

 

She wanted to be some person’s number one. She wanted the fierce, unconditional devotion that she had witnessed in the little moments between May and Coulson. She wanted the near co-dependency, needy bond that Fitzsimmons had. She wanted the inescapable and maddening love that Bobbi and Hunter shared. She had no one like that, and it made her feel like an outsider sometimes. That was the problem with being a unwanted foster kid, you never got over be the unwanted foster kid no matter how many years passed.

 

The car rolled to a stop around the corner from a smoking patio blocked off with signs declaring CAUTION: DO NOT ENTER and WARNING: CHEMICAL HAZZARD in angry yellow and black. Skye did not like this. Something felt off about this whole mission. She shared Bobbi and Mack’s confusion, none of this made any sense even for crazy killers like Hydra.

 

“Is this even safe?” Hunter asked almost petulantly as he squinted his eyes at smoky patio across the street. Skye was siding with Hunter on this one. The courtyard certainly looked like it had been attacked with something even without the air quality giving it away. Tables and chairs were overturned, and what looked like the remains of a fancy meal were destroyed. Plates lay shattered on the ground, crushed next to clumps of unrecognizable food. There were dark splotches that were probably blood all over.

 

“Well, it depends on the nature of the chemical administered,” Simmons announced cheerfully as she gathered some supplies from the van. She handed Fitz a weird contraption that Skye had never seen before. “The smoky residue suggests it is something related to the-“

 

Simmons’ enlightening speech was abruptly cut off as shots began firing at them without warning.

 

“Get down!” Bobbi shouted as she pulled Simmons with her to duck for cover. Skye did the same with Fitz. Hunter was already crouching low and pointing his sidearm in the direction the shots came from. While the streets were relatively clear due to the earlier attack, there were still civilians everywhere. They promptly began screaming and panicking at the rain of bullets that appeared seemingly out of nowhere.

 

This must have been what Hydra was after. It was a trap somehow, they were luring SHIELD out into the open because of course SHIELD could not ignore such a blatant display of violence and death.

 

With all of the SHIELD agents covered, the bullets halted. Skye waited with bated breath on their next movements. Bobbi and Hunter exchanged a loaded glance.

 

“I think we failed to stay ‘under the radar’ as Coulson put it,” Hunter drawled. “Might be time to make our exit stage left.”

 

Bobbi and Skye nodded. Even if they wanted to stick it out, they were at a clear disadvantage not knowing where the Hydra shooters were or even what they were after beyond drawing them out. Before anyone could act on their decision, shots started being fired again. Only this time it was not towards the hidden SHIELD agents.

 

Skye watched with horror as a woman fell to the ground clutching her shoulder. Not a minute later, a man on the other side of the courtyard went down with a bullet to his thigh. They were targeting civilians on opposite ends of the place, and there were too many potential targets to protect. They must have a sniper perched somewhere high taking the shots, but Skye could not tell which building he was in.

 

“We have to do something,” Skye said even though she knew logically there was nothing they could do in these circumstances. She brushed that knowledge aside and rushed out from her cover towards the injured woman. It was a stupid move, but if Hydra wanted to draw them out, well here she was.

 

She heard her team shouting her name behind her as she reached the woman and put pressure on the wound. She was losing consciousness fast while still moaning in obvious pain. Skye knew from personal experience that being shot was agonizing as hell.

 

Skye half expected the sniper to take her out before she even reached the woman. No more shots were fired though, which Skye considered very fortunate if not even more suspicious. Even as she pressed down on the victim’s shoulder with one hand, she had her sidearm in her other and scanned the area for another potential attack.

 

Bobbi and Hunter were upon her in seconds. Skye did not even notice them follow her out. Bobbi told Hunter to go tend to the other victim. Everything was strangely quiet. Even though the shooting had stopped, Skye’s feelings of unease had only increased.

 

“We need to get these people to a hospital,” Bobbi said as she used the lady’s phone to call for an ambulance. There were sirens in the distance already, and they should probably leave soon if they wanted to avoid SHIELD being connected to this mess. They needed to get back to Fitzsimmons and the van.

 

Fitzsimmons.

 

The pieces of the puzzle suddenly clicked together to form a terrifying picture. Skye whirled around to look back at the van, completely forgetting about the injured woman she was helping. The van was there and untouched, but she could not see either scientist.

 

They should not even be there. Neither Fitz nor Simmons were combat cleared. They spent time in the field only because SHIELD lacked the resources to keep them out of it. But whenever they were out on a mission, they were always flanked by trained field agents who could protect them if things went south. Trained agents like Bobbi, Hunter, and herself.

 

The only reason they were out here was because Hydra for some inexplicable reason had used a chemical weapon in a flagrant display of death and violence that grabbed SHIELD’s attention immediately. A chemical weapon, which would require the scientists’ expertise on site, and a showy display of power to force SHIELD to react. When Fitzsimmons had been safely tucked away with three field agents protecting them, Hydra starting shooting up the civilian population to lure the guardians away.

 

They had been played.

 

“Simmons!” Skye screamed as she ran back towards the car, “Fitz!” Her heart was pounding uncontrollably, and she could feel her tenuous grip on her powers loosen as she was overwhelmed with emotion. Skye reached the van still yelling for her friends. She could not see them anywhere. They were gone.

 

Bobbi was right behind her a grabbed her arm when she made to run. She did not even know where she would go, she just knew she had to find them. She had to save them.

 

“Skye, calm down. The last thing this place needs is an earthquake to tear it up.”

 

Skye spun around to face Bobbi and yanked her arm out of her grasp. “We need to go after them.”

 

“And how do you suggest we do that?” Bobbi asked steadily. She was too calm, Skye wanted to shake her. How could she be so composed when Fitzsimmons had been kidnapped by Hydra for who knows what? “We have no idea where they were taken.”

 

“She’s right, love,” Hunter chimed in sounding far more serious than usual. “We need to return to base. Hydra may still be waiting. We have to get out of the open.”

 

That was how Skye found herself returning to the van backseat as Bobbi gunned it back towards HQ. She was the one who felt too calm now. The terror that had gripped her just moments before had vanished, replacing it was an odd sense of numbed determination.

 

Hydra was not going to get away with this. She was getting her best friends back, and then she was going to make those assholes pay.

Chapter Text

 

Grant wondered how SHIELD accomplished anything with such pitiful reaction times. He had been waiting on the response team for their little trap for almost an hour now. Perched six stories up in a building that allowed for a perfect view of the courtyard, Grant was ready for whenever they finally arrived. His sniper rifle had been carefully arranged and aimed.

 

Ward was a patient person. Years of training as a specialist did that to you. It did not hurt that he had spent five years of his life in the middle of nowhere Wyoming waiting for Garrett to tell him he was ready to leave. Grant could wait long periods of time without ever breaking his concentration. This op however was putting him on edge.

 

Maybe it was the knowledge that if everything went according to plan, John could be healed within days. To be so close to the goal they had been working towards for over a decade gave Ward a rush. After Garrett was cured, everything would change. They would not need Hydra anymore.

 

There was something else bothering Ward though. He had no reason to suspect anything would go wrong, but it was like a tickling sensation on the back of his neck. It was probably just because unlike the usual missions that Ward did for Hydra, this op actually mattered.   

 

A black SUV pulled up and parked at the corner between an alley and the main drag. It could not have been more obviously SHIELD if they had slapped their ugly eagle insignia on the side of the car. Ward peered through the lens of the rifle to get a view of the targets. There were five of them, three in tactical gear. That must make the other two the scientists.

 

Before he could determine anything more, the Hydra agents on the ground began shooting. Overeager idiots. Ward could have ended this in seconds if they had given him the chance. Three quick shots and the SHIELD agents would be dead before they realized what they just walked into. Now all of them were on their guard, hidden behind their vehicle and out of his range.

 

Ward activated his comm unit. “Stand down and wait for my instructions,” he ordered.  The firing stopped immediately. As keen as they were to earn Garrett’s favor, the men were more worried about angering him. It paid to have the reputation of a terrifying pariah sometimes.

 

The civilian population was in chaos down below, but there was no movement as far as he could tell from SHIELD. Ward scanned the crowd below to find his next targets. Traveling alone, far from SHIELD, frozen in panic, he selected two civilians on opposite ends of the courtyard. Two quick shots to non-lethal areas later, and Ward prepared himself for the inevitable.

 

SHIELD agents were stupidly noble. Even the ones that were hypocrites, and that was most of them, pretended to be serving some sort of higher power or something. Two injured civilians bleeding to death would be too much for at least one of the field agents to ignore. All he needed is one to take the bait, the rest would follow like dominoes in a row.

 

As he thought that, one of the agents ducked out from under their protection to make a run for the female civilian. Got you. He waited a couple more seconds for her teammates to follow her lead, and he was not disappointed when they sprinted after her almost instantly. 

 

He clicked his comm link on one more time. “Kaminsky, Hauer, the scientists are unprotected, move in,” Ward ordered. “Then retreat.”

 

Even as he spoke evenly, Ward lined up his shot on the SHIELD agent who first abandoned the SUV. The agent was putting pressure on female civilian’s wound and glancing around for threats. Looking through the scope, Ward was pressing down on the trigger for the perfect head shot when the agent turned her searching looks towards him and inadvertently revealed her face.

 

Ward recognized her at once. Despite trying to forget their strange encounter from last month, he had Agent Skye’s face memorized. She had the same stubbornly determined look on her face from before. It was as though she was daring anyone to try and stop her from doing what she wanted.

 

Ward had already begun pressing down on the trigger before recognizing her, but he somehow found his grip loosening. A quick glance back towards the van saw that Kaminsky and Hauer had successfully rendered the scientists unconscious. That made their mission a success.

 

Even as he considered that, Ward decided he could be honest with himself. He was justifying allowing Agent Skye to live yet again. That was not acceptable. He could not afford such weak sentimentality.  

 

Ward lined up his shot once more and stared down the scope in preparation. Minutes passed and he still had not pulled the trigger. It was unsettling. He found himself thinking back to when he stared down a gun at another clueless target. He let Buddy go then, this was his chance to prove he had overcome his weakness.

 

Still, he did not pull the trigger.

 

As he watched unable to end her life, the object of his uncertainty came to a realization of her own. She spun around to look at the SUV, and Ward knew she had put the pieces of their trap together. She seemed intelligent albeit prone to impulsive choices, so it was unsurprising.

 

SHIELD had figured it out. It was time to go. Ward packed up his equipment efficiently and was gone before anyone even noticed his presence. If he felt any relief at having an excuse to spare the SHIELD agents below, he buried it ruthlessly.

 


 

Ward had checked in with Garrett to assure him that the mission was a success. John was back at HQ while Ward had followed his team to a nearby base to interrogate the prisoners.

 

Garrett had grown more cautious as of late. Recently he opted to stay in HQ rather than go into the field more often than not. Most of the agents assumed that Garrett could not be bothered to leave anymore when he could just delegate to Ward. After all, Ward’s success rate spoke for itself. Why would Garrett have any need to get involved personally? Ward was the only one who knew the truth. John’s health was rapidly deteriorating, and John could not risk a firefight with an EMP. He was not up to his usual standard as well with the Centipede serum only barely making him functional.

 

He was relying on Ward now more than he ever had before, and Ward felt the deadline resting on his shoulder at all times. He could not let John down after everything the man had done for him. He was counting on Grant to do what he could no longer.

 

With those thoughts in mind, Grant entered into the base. As he walked down the hallway towards the interrogation room, he contemplated how he wanted to handle the matter. Before he had finished mapping out the details of his plan however, he started hearing the screams.

 

“Tell me about the drug,” a voice that sounded suspiciously like it belonged to that idiot Kaminsky ordered.

 

“Fitz! No, please! He doesn’t know! I told you he doesn’t know! We don’t know anything! Fitz! Fitz!” There was a woman’s voice yelling hysterically and a male one as well joining hers. Nothing was decipherable with his voice though, it was incomprehensible screams of pain.

 

Ward sped up and burst through the door of the occupied interrogation room. The sight he was met with was exactly what he was expecting and exactly what he had hoped was not happening.

 

The two scientists each had one hand handcuffed to the wall on opposite ends. They were far enough away from each other that they could not hope to stretch to the other. The female scientist was ignoring that in favor of rubbing her wrist raw in her attempts to reach her companion. One arm was outstretched, fingers flexing as though if she just tried hard enough the distance would be closed. Ward did not know what she thought she could accomplish even if she did reach him but the effort was admirable.

 

The male scientist’s free hand was currently in Kaminsky’s grip. Of his five fingers, only the thumb had been spared from Kaminsky’s machinations. The twisted angles of the other four had each finger pointing in different directions. The male scientist was silently crying in between his cries of pain. The look in his eyes though was not of hurt or even anger or hatred. The kid was staring resolutely at Kaminsky as if he were trying to prove he was strong enough to not look away. It was the kind of pointless show of determination that reminded Ward of Skye, which was the last thing he wanted to be thinking of at the moment.

 

Ward let the door bang against the wall when he threw it open. Kaminsky and the two others in the room turned to face him at once. Kaminsky dropped the kid’s hand roughly causing him to let out another repressed whimper before clutching his mangled hand to his chest.

 

“Sir!” Kaminsky said startled before he seemed to regain his composure. “Hail Hydra!” He performed that ridiculous little salute and paused with his hands still raised waiting for Ward’s response.

 

Grant said nothing. He glared at Kaminsky and allowed his expression to show just how murderous he felt at the moment. It must have worked, too, because Kaminsky’s face drained of its color and his saluting hands shook. When Ward made no move to answer, Kaminsky slowly lowered his hands with his eyes always on Grant as if going to fast would startle Ward into killing him.

 

“What the hell were you doing?” Ward demanded.

 

 “Sir?” Kaminsky stumbled. “We were-“ He looked to the two other Hydra agents in the hopes of support but found none. “I was trying to warm them up for you.”

 

Ward’s glare deepened. He knew what Kaminsky was trying to do. The idiot was so overeager running around enthusiastically trying to win his superiors’ favor. Maybe Kaminsky was trying to ingratiate himself to Ward, but he was betting that the real target of approval was Garrett. A subordinate eager to please might have been a good trait if Kaminsky was not such a moronic failure in everything he did.

 

Ward gave a dark, close-lipped smile. The expression only served to terrify all three agents more, but that was Ward’s goal anyway. He casually walked towards the table where the scientists’ files were placed. He picked them up and deliberately flipped through them. It was all for show though, Ward had them memorized before the op began.   

 

Besides the rustling of the papers and light sniffling from the male scientist, the room was silent. Finally, without looking up from the files, Ward spoke. “Kaminsky, can you read?”

 

From the corner of his eye, Ward could see Kamisky tense even more. He was shooting glances at the other operatives probably trying to get a clue as to how to respond.

 

“Sir?”

 

“It’s a simple question really.” Ward stopped flipping through the files. “I asked if you can read, Kaminsky?”

 

“Yes,” came the hesitant response.

 

“And you read the files on the prisoners?”

 

“Yes.”

 

“And you still chose to move quickly into physical incentives on scientists that aren’t even combat cleared?” Kaminsky stuttered a bit, but Ward kept going. “And you still chose to ask the engineer about the nature of a drug that supposedly has regenerative properties?”

 

“What?”

 

“You asked the engineer as opposed to the biochemist?” Ward continued incredulously. The sniffling behind him now sounded a little like repressed snickering, but Ward would deal with that later.

 

“They’re both scientists, I don’t understand.” Yes, Ward was getting just how little Kaminsky understood.

 

“They are, but one of them is actually a biochemist and far more capable of answering questions regarding the specifics of a drug like GH-325. The file specifies which one was which,” Ward flipped it around so it faced Kaminsky. “Look, it even has pictures to help you.”

 

Kaminsky looked a second away from having a heart attack. Ward did not feel an ounce of sympathy. He opened his mouth as if to say something in his pitiful defense, but Ward cut him off. He had made his point, Kaminsky would never try anything on one of his ops again. Now he just wanted the man gone. “Out.” Kaminsky was out the door quicker than Ward thought possible. He looked at the other two idiots. One of them started to say that he took no part as if standing around doing nothing was an accomplishment, but Ward interrupted him. “You, too.” They left and shut the door behind them.

 

With the room cleared of those nuisances, Ward turned his attention towards the silent scientists. The biochemist was still fumbling with her handcuffs in an attempt to loosen them.

 

“Don’t bother,” Ward said. “You can’t escape, so stop trying.”

 

The woman looked up at him caught. She glanced at her jiggling wrist as if surprised to see it was attached to her body. “What? Escape?” She laughed slightly hysterically. “I’m not trying to escape, why would you say that?” Her voice was squeaking by the end of it.

 

Ward narrowed his eyes. What kind of act was she pulling? Was she trying to lull him into a false sense of security by pretending to be incapable of lying? As he stared at her trying to figure out her intentions, she began squirming under the scrutiny. And then she opened her mouth.

 

“And why would I want to escape? The floor is so comfy and, wow, is that a nice vest!” She proclaimed looking at his tactical vest. “I really like your vest. It’s very… becoming on a man like you. I don’t mean especially on you but anyone really. Not that you don’t have nice taste or physique. No, wait that’s not it…” It was like watching a train wreck.

 

“Jemma, stop,” the engineer hissed to her. “You’re making it worse.”

 

“Oh, be quiet, Fitz!”

 

Unbelievable, the biochemist was the worst liar Ward had ever met. That made Kamisky’s actions even stupider, but it also made Ward’s job a lot easier.

 

The scientists had dissolved into some kind of argument that threw Ward a bit. The mood swings were hard to keep up with. Were all of Coulson’s team so emotional and easily riled up? The image of Skye came and went in Ward’s mind before he focused on his mission.

 

“Dr. Simmons, do you know what’s the composition of the drug GH-325?” Both of them abruptly stopped talking as if they had suddenly remembered the predicament they were in.

 

Reminded of the question that caused her friend so much pain, the biochemist suddenly grew angry. “No, I don’t. I told your Hydra friends, I don’t know what is in the drug. We used all of it on Skye, and I was never able to analyze it properly before you Hydra scum destroyed SHIELD.” She had sneered the name Hydra at him as if it were a curse. Contempt and rage dripped from her words.

 

Multiple thoughts hit Ward all at once. He believed her. Even without witnessing what he would always remember as the worst attempt at duplicity from any intelligence organization operative, he was good at reading people. She was telling the truth, she really did not know what was in the miracle drug. Following that realization came the disappointment of knowing that he still did not know how to save Garrett.

 

The final thing that struck Ward was Skye. Lately everything felt like it came back to her. She was the reason why he failed that mission in Seville. She was the reason Hydra did not have an obelisk. She was the reason Garrett was staring at him strangely. She was the reason why the SHIELD field agents from this morning lived to see another day. She was the reason that for the first time in fifteen years, Ward was having trouble concentrating on Garrett’s goal.

 

And now it seemed it all came together. The biochemist did not appear to realize what she had just given away, but she had revealed so much more than she thought. Coulson was not the only one to have been saved by the drug. There were probably trace amounts of it still in her bloodstream, too. They could never hope to capture Coulson because like Garrett he had taken to staying their base while his operatives went on missions. Skye on the other hand would be easy to grab, easier than the scientists were probably, with all the time she spent in the field. Ward could take her in and have Raina and her team examine her blood. They would not even need SHIELD’s research.

 

An image flashed in his mind of the girl who had laid beneath him teasing him with her lips and retorts transformed into the same girl strapped to bed while Raina, Whitehall and other Hydra scientists picked her apart until nothing was left. It was not a welcome thought, but that did not mean that Ward was not duty-bound to use this information for Garrett. To do otherwise would be a betrayal to the man who had practically raised him.

 

Maybe he could wait and see if any other options arose. If Garrett got worse, Ward could always retrieve Skye then. It did not have to be now. It was always possible that Raina would figure it out, too. It felt like he was justifying to himself again, but Grant already felt the strange feeling of dread in the pit of his stomach dissipate at his new plan. Besides, he had already gone out of his way to spare her multiple times now, so why stop now? He was just following through with his earlier decision.

 

“Um excuse me?” Ward startled out of his reverie to see the biochemist attempting to get his attention. Ward wondered what expression he had allowed to bleed onto his face while contemplating his options because both scientists were eyeing him oddly.

 

“What is it?” Ward attempted to sound angry but it rang hollow and tired even to his own ears. The disappointment and revelations of the day had drained him.

 

“If I could just have a look at Fitz’s fingers…” she began uncertainly.

 

“I’m not releasing you,” Ward said immediately. He may be acting weaker than usual, but he was not that far gone yet. He did not think the scientist posed a threat but that was not the point.

 

“Please, if I don’t set them correctly then his hand may never function properly again,” she persisted with that obnoxious determination that Ward was beginning to think was a shared trait among SHIELD agents.

 

“You say that like you think you’ll leave here alive,” Ward replied cruelly. He watched the horror on their faces and allowed it to wash over him. He needed to refocus himself. Feeling strange connections with more SHIELD agents was the last thing he wanted at the moment. He needed to remember who he was and what his purpose was.  

 

He had successfully shut the biochemist up. She was glaring at him with as much hatred as she had Kaminsky. That was for the best. It was the engineer that gave him pause. He looked Ward straight in the eyes with a jutted chin and no fear in his eyes. “I’m not afraid,” he said in a wobbly voice. After a second of meeting his gaze, the engineer turned towards his distressed partner.

 

“It’s okay, Jemma. It doesn’t even hurt really,” he spoke soothingly. His entire focus was on reassuring his companion with no thought to himself and what this would mean to him. Neither scientist seemed to care about their own wellbeing half as much as they cared about each other’s. Ward wondered what it would be like to have someone that cared about him that much. No person had ever valued Ward over themselves. He felt a twinge of longing that he repressed. That was why he was here and doing all of this, to save the only person who ever gave half a damn about Grant.

 

Ward decided that if he was going to be weak, he may as well indulge the impulse fully. Tomorrow he could lock all that pathetic sentimentality away in the corners of his mind, today he was not ready to.

 

Ward approached the engineer and sat down in front of him. Even with them both sitting, he was still considerably taller than the scientist. “Hand,” he demanded. When the man hesitated, Ward impatiently continued, “I mean I could always grab it but that would jar the broken fingers.”

 

The engineer extended his damaged hand with the kind of trust Ward knew he did not deserve. Ward examined them without putting any pressure on the fingers. While Grant was no medic, he did know how to fix this. If there was one thing he had experience with, it was being broken.

 

“On the count of three,” Ward told the engineer. While the man was nodding in reply, Ward set the first finger.

 

“Ow bloody hell, what is your-“ Ward set the next finger and got more cursing in response. He waited until the engineer had recovered and was looking at him suspiciously. The second Ward saw the tension lessen, he set the third finger. “Give a guy some-“ and finally the last finger.

 

The engineer was glaring at him fiercely. Ward let go of the hand of swollen fingers so the man could cradle it protectively to him.

 

“Why even bother telling me you were going to count first?”

 

“Someone once told me if you’re not expecting it, it hurts less.” That was true, but Ward was so accustomed to pain and he set his own fingers, so he had no experience there.

 

“Well they bloody lied to you!” The engineer declared, but he looked better already. The rigidity of his posture caused by pain had all but disappeared. He was still in pain, but now it was more comfortable allowing the engineer to better put on a show for the biochemist. “See, Simmons? Nothing to worry about.”

 

The biochemist’s brow was furrowed. “How do we even know he set them correctly?”

 

Strangely Ward found himself offended, how incompetent did they think he was? He said nothing and dedicated his thoughts to more important matters. The scientists clearly had no more knowledge of the drug than he did. This entire mission was a waste with nothing to show for it, and John was going to unhappy. He briefly toyed with the idea of telling him about Skye. If he did, John would not be disappointed because Ward would have found something worthwhile. He crushed the notion quickly. There was still time, he did not need to involve the mysterious SHIELD agent yet. He would deal with that when the time came.

 

Surveying the two scientists, Grant wondered what he should do with them. They did not have any useful information. They would never willingly work for Hydra, Ward read their loyalty to both their organization and each other easily enough. Turning them over to Whitehall for brainwashing would make sense if Ward cared even a little bit about Hydra and Whitehall. But he did not, and he knew Garrett would not want him handing anything Garrett had over to Whitehall anyway. John would see it as a show of weakness that made it seem like Garrett saw Whitehall as his superior. That left few options.

 

Garrett would expect him to tie up loose ends. The scientists did not really know much, but it was not in John’s nature to show mercy. It was not something Ward indulged in either. Sixteen years under John’s tutelage allowed Ward to break free of the weaknesses that had held him down his entire childhood.

 

As he considered the inevitable, Ward watched the biochemist fidget with her free hand in her jacket pocket. It was a nervous gesture if Ward had ever seen one. Wordlessly, Grant strode over and forced the biochemist’s hand open to reveal a tiny, blinking black device that Ward recognized instantly.

 

Ward felt like an idiot. He had stupidly assumed that Kaminsky and the others would have checked the prisoners, but he really should not have. They had already proved to be morons. This was why Ward never trusted anyone, people were not dependable. Intentionally or unintentionally, eventually they always let you down.

 

But it was more than just his assumptions with the Hydra agents. He underestimated his enemies. He looked at the two scientists, terrible liars and overly emotional, and forgot that they were SHIELD agents and geniuses. The guilty expressions on their faces at being found out were almost comical but the only one Ward felt like laughing at was himself.

 

He quickly searched the two scientists against their protests and found a matching device in the engineer’s pocket as well. Grant crushed the trackers underneath his boot, but the damage was done. If SHIELD was not already on top of them, they would be soon.

 

Ward drew his gun from his holster. The scientists tensed in response, but he paid them no mind. They were not his concern. Now that he was listening, Ward could hear muffled noises from outside the interrogation room. Silently and without another glance towards the prisoners, Grant left. He kept the door open a crack and moved into a blind corner. If anyone tried to come down this way, he would kill them before they knew what happened.

 

Only minutes later Ward heard the light pattering of footsteps someone was trying to keep silent. The second they moved into his sightline, he struck. A swift kick to the enemy’s hip knocked them sideways into the wall. Ward had them pinned face first with his gun pressed to their temple before they could recover. The woman began struggling instantly but Ward had a firm lock on her. That was not the problem.

 

The problem was the figure pushing back against him was familiar. For the second time in a month, Grant found himself pressed up against SHIELD Agent Skye, and she looked pissed.

Chapter Text

Skye should have known better than to doubt Fitzsimmons. Bobbi had called to inform Director Coulson about the abduction ahead of time. Upon arrival at headquarters, they were told that Fitzsimmons had activated personalized trackers to alert SHIELD to their location.

 

Coulson had hoped that the trackers would lead them to Hydra’s HQ, but they were not so lucky. One glance at the interior was enough to eliminate that possibility. Hydra had even more resources and manpower than SHIELD did. They would not be based out of a building with fewer than ten rooms and not even that many agents.

 

Skye had never felt the sense of drive before on a mission like that had taken over her now as she snuck into the base alongside of Hunter, Bobbi, and Trip. As a SHIELD agent, the stakes for every op were always high, but they had never before been this personal for her. Her relationship with the two scientists transcended colleagues and even friends. Fitz was like her brother and Simmons, in turn, her sister. They were as much family as Skye was ever going to have.

 

Not to mention Skye felt responsible for getting Fitzsimmons kidnapped in the first place. She had been the one to fall for Hydra’s trap. Bobbi and Hunter had only followed her out, which is why Fitzsimmons were unprotected when Hydra struck.

 

Skye was going to get them back. Her blood was basically humming in her veins as the adrenaline coursed through her. No more kidding around.

 

Her team cleared the entrance quickly and efficiently only to be faced with nine Hydra agents.

 

Bobbi wasted no time to engage, twirling with her batons like she was involved in some elaborate dance. Hunter and Trip followed her lead. But Skye made a different call.

 

“I’m going to find Fitzsimmons,” she shouted over the clamor of the battle. She had the upmost faith that Bobbi, Hunter, and Trip could kick nine Hydra agents’ asses. Already one of the enemies was down. They did not need her for this, not in the way Fitzsimmons probably needed her.

 

Skye did not wait for a response before taking off. She sped down the main hallway before coming to a stop when the way diverged. Trusting her gut, Skye opted to go left. Soon she was even able to see what looked like an interrogation room at the end. The door was even cracked a bit. As she rushed, she moved in a way that muffled the sounds of her footsteps. She wanted the element of surprise on her side.

 

Too bad someone beat her to it.

 

The kick came out of nowhere to knock her off balance. She flew into another hallway and lost sight of the interrogation room. Skye cursed to herself as she tried to process what had just happened. Was she losing her edge? How did her assailant get the drop on her?

 

Before she had time to recover from the first attack, she was thrown against a wall face first. She knocked her nose painfully into it, which only served to irritate her more. Her enemy pinned her to the wall quickly and efficiently. His body- because she could feel that her foe was a man now- dwarfed over her own and was firmly pressing her into the wall to restrict her movements. The cool metal of a gun pushed against her temple. Skye felt a strange sense of déjà vu for a reason that confused her until she managed to twist her head around to look at whose body was fitted so tightly against hers.

 

“Zach” was staring at her with a light look of shock in his expression- as if he should be the one surprised here. Incredibly, his grip loosened upon recognizing her. Skye was not one to overlook such a gift.

 

She threw her elbow back to his ribs. With the angle and close proximity, Skye doubted she even managed to crack one. That being said, the incredulous look Zach was sporting made it worth it anyway. Wasting no time, Skye took advantage of his lowered guard to slam her fist in his face.

 

She had successfully increased the distance between them to put them on even ground again. Skye went to push the advantage, but Zach had faster reflexes than she assumed. She lifted her right foot to return the hip kick favor he so generously bestowed on her earlier, but he intercepted her movement.

 

Zach caught her kick in midair before she could connect with her target. He was smirking as he used her own momentum against her to throw her off balance and pin her to the wall. Again. At least she was facing forward this time.

 

He leaned down with that infuriating smirk on his lips to speak. “You lead with your shoulder. It projects your movements.”

 

Skye was struck dumb at the wide range of emotions flowing through her. More than anything though, she was fuming. “Wow, thanks for your advice, but I already have a S.O,” she spat with as much sarcasm as possible.

 

His smirk softened into something that appeared more amused than mocking. “What a relief for me,” he replied carelessly, unaffected by her vitriol. “You’d be a terrible student.”

 

Offended, Skye gaped at him. “Well, you’d be a terrible S.O. I bet, impatient and,” she faltered trying to come up with a good insult, “And just not great.”

 

He nodded at her in a way that was anything but earnest. “Guess you dodged a bullet there. Though I would say I’m being plenty patient right now.”

 

Patient with her? What game was he playing? He was joking around as if she were not there on a mission to rescue two of the people she cared most about in the world.

 

“You think this is funny?” Skye began incredulously. “You abducted my best friends!”

 

Zach began scowling as if she was the one who was out of line here. “You know you could afford to be a little more gracious.”

 

“Gracious, what are you even talking about? You want me to say thank you?” Skye spluttered before collecting herself. “Okay, thank you, Zach,” she sneered the fake name in his face, “For kidnapping people I care about and being an all around Hydra douchebag! How was that for ‘gracious’?”

 

Zach was calmly assessing her throughout her rant, which was even more irritating than the smirking. “I was thinking more along the lines of ‘thank you for continuously sparing my life’, but I should have known you’d be more creative than that.”

 

Skye gawked at him. “Spare me? I don’t need your help.”

 

Zach was frowning now a little dubiously as if he could not believe she thought she could survive without his oh-so-great lessons and mercy. “Really? Because I’m losing track of how often I have saved you in just the last month since we met.”

 

Distantly, Skye was aware that she should return to her mission, that she was wasting time arguing with Zach. She could feel that Zach’s grip keeping her pinned was loose enough now to break free from.

 

The problem was she did not want to. As infuriating as he was, Skye had spent the last month wishing to know more about him. She had stayed up at night imagining if she would see him again. She had never anticipated she would after he abducted her friends, but Skye had still desired another chance encounter with her mystery man enough to take what she could get.

 

Then there was the other part of it. He was still invading her personal space. While his hold on her was less secure than it had been, Zach’s body was still pressed firmly against her. It reminded her of the last time they met. The feel of it made her want more, but more what exactly she could not say.

 

She toyed with the thought of pushing herself up against him if only to see how he would react. Would his eyes darken with desire the way they had when she teased his lip after their kiss? Recalling that only filled Skye with the nearly uncontrollable yearning to attach her lips to his.

 

Acknowledging those thoughts, however, could go nowhere good. Skye decided to ignore them altogether in favor of getting at least some answers.

 

“Really? You’re losing track? You may have let me go with the obelisk,” Skye hissed, feeling strangely paranoid about being overheard. “But don’t flatter yourself by suggesting that you ‘spared’ me more times than you can count.”

 

Skye was laying it on a little thick. If she had learned anything about Zach, it was that he was closed off and as unemotional as possible. Skye had figured the only way she could get him to actually explain what was going on in his head was if she managed to piss him off enough. She wanted to goad him into an explanation. As she observed the way Zach’s face twisted in frustration, Skye gave herself a mental pat on the back. Who was controlling their interactions now?

 

Zach huffed a little before speaking as lowly as she did, “I spared your life more than once in Seville, don’t even pretend otherwise. You didn’t even know I was there. And then I watched as you picked up the damn thing without a problem, something I’m still waiting on an explanation for by the way. Whitehall would just love to cut you open and discover what makes you tick, even more if he found out about the GH formula in your veins.” Skye must have let her surprise show on her face because he nodded condescendingly, “Yes, I know about that, too. But Whitehall doesn’t know about that because I didn’t tell him.” Annoyance had leaked into Zach’s tone, but his face barely betrayed the feeling. Skye could only tell by the tightness around his eyes and the way his lips curled down in a repressed frown.

 

Skye did not know what to say. She had not been taking Zach seriously as a threat because she felt confident that he would not kill her. Now Skye felt incredibly stupid for that. It seemed Zach knew more about her than was safe. Hydra discovering her powers was one of her biggest fears since her transformation. The idea of being experimented on or brainwashed by them had haunted her nightmares. Now a Hydra agent had all the clues to put the pieces of the puzzle together. With just a whim, Zach could put her on Hydra’s radar in a really bad way. Skye knew all too well what happened to people on the Index.

 

Zach read the realization on her face and continued mercilessly, “Whatever you’re imagining, it’s not even scratching the surface. You have no idea what Whitehall does to people who are… special in his opinion. He once experimented on a woman for a week taking her apart, removing her organs and parts until there was almost nothing left.”

 

Skye had lost her ability to speak. She had known vaguely Whitehall’s tendencies but to hear it described so bluntly by one of his subordinates did nothing to avail the fear of being discovered, being labeled as different.

 

It seemed that Zach’s anger had been spent though. He no longer appeared ready to throw all the terrifying details of her potential fate in her face. He just looked tired.

 

“And just earlier today, you ran right into the scope of my rifle. You just carelessly darted out into the open, in my range.” Zach was losing steam. His formerly restrictive grasp on Skye’s hands had slipped away. He was leaning against the wall over her as if it need of support. “I didn’t tell Whitehall though.”

 

Their faces were so close. What had once been a restraining position between enemies had transformed into something more intimate. It was something that Skye refused to name. The revelations his words brought about were rushing through her and filling her with even more questions.

 

Only one of them escaped her lips. Skye barely whispered her next words, but she knew he heard them. “So why didn’t you?”

 

Zach froze above her. He was completely rigid even as he swallowed convulsively. “I don’t know,” he replied unsurely.

 

Skye was at a loss at what to do. She could not trust a Hydra agent to keep her biggest secret from Hydra. That just made no sense. He may not have the full details about her powers, but he knew enough to be dangerous.

 

She took in his countenance. He appeared uncertain about why he even bothered to conceal her secrets in the first place. That did not make Skye feel any better. She had personally seen how easily he could transform his expression before. There was no reason to assume he was being genuine with her. She barely even knew him.

 

That made the fact that she wanted to trust him even harder. Skye knew what May would want her to do. Eliminate the threat. Zach had information that many SHIELD agents were not even trusted with, and he worked for Hydra. The responsible thing to do would be to cross him off like any other threat.

 

Skye could kill him right now. His guard was lowered- well, lower than she had ever seen it before, Skye knew this guy never fully let go. It was one of the few aspects of her mystery man that she was confident about. Skye had a knife tucked in her sleeve. If she drew it now with so little space between them, Skye was confident she could knick an artery before his superspy reflexes could stop her.

 

Skye bit her lip. But she really did not want to do that. Besides the strange connection she felt with Zach that was currently sending shivers up her spine, Skye could not justify killing him. He had spared her life, apparently multiple times. She wondered just hours ago why the Hydra sniper in the courtyard had not taken her out when she threw herself out in the open, and now she knew. He had let her live when there was really no reason to.

 

If she killed this man just because of the threat he might become for her, how would she be any different from Hydra?

 

That did not stop Skye from feeling like this was a betrayal to SHIELD though. Zach- or whoever he really was- was obviously a valuable asset to Hydra. Who even knew how many innocent people he killed, who even knew how many SHIELD agents he had taken out. With the knowledge that he was sniper from earlier, Skye was fully aware that Zach did not spare civilians. He critically injured two just to draw her team out.

 

The more Skye considered what she knew of Zach, the less she understood.   

 

Zach did not give her time to contemplate it further. He took a deep breath that made her chest push tightly against his own firm one. That successfully derailed her thoughts of complex morality and life choices.

 

Zach must have felt the sparks of electricity between them as well. His eyes darkened. Skye was so close she could even see his pupils widen in desire.

 

“Your scientist friends are down the hall in the interrogation room,” Zach spoke gruffly. He pushed off of her, and Skye felt the loss immediately. She was unable to stop the step she took towards him in response, as if she were chasing after him and the warmth that was rapidly leaving her without his body on hers. He gave no response, just walked down the hall and through a door that probably led to an exit. It was only after he departed that Skye realized she had forgotten to ask about his real name.

 

Skye stared after him completely frozen in place long after he was gone. Then the shouting from behind her startled her back into awareness.

 

“Found them!” Hunter called from inside the interrogation room. There were murmurs from within and the footsteps of Bobbi and Trip rushing to reunite with their kidnapped friends.

 

Skye reluctantly turned to join the group. She felt shaken up inside and could not tell if it was fear because a Hydra agent knew her secrets, relief at having saved her friends, or whatever that was that consumed her when Zach was around.

 

She jogged over with an excuse for her disappearance, but it died on her lips upon seeing Fitz. “Oh god, are you okay?” His fingers on one hand were swollen terribly. If Skye had to guess, they had been broken and reset. Fitz looked a little pale and pained but was valiantly trying to hide it.

 

He nodded. “Yeah, I’m fine. Nothing to worry about.”

 

Bobbi was releasing Simmons from her bonds while Hunter did the same with Fitz. Trip bent down by Fitz examining his hand carefully.

 

“They’ve already been set,” Trip observed. He glanced up at Fitz with more than a little surprise. “Did you do this?”

 

Both Fitz and Simmons looked at each other before speaking convoluted gibberish loudly. Skye could not understand a word as the two spoke over each other.

 

“Oh, bloody hell, stop already,” Hunter complained. He finally had broken the cuffs that restrained Fitz. A quick glance towards the other end of the room showed Skye that Simmons was now free as well. Seeing her friends mostly unharmed sent waves of relief through Skye. Tension she did not know was in her dissipated.

 

At the same time, she was even more on edge. Zach must have come out of the interrogation room. He was likely the one in charge of questioning Fitzsimmons. He must have been the one to break Fitz’s fingers. The idea of anyone hurting a helpless Fitz filled Skye with righteous rage and disgust.

 

The problem was she could not attach those feelings with Zach. It was not as if the Hydra agent had ever pretended to be on her side, but for some reason, Skye had been classifying him that way in her mind. She could not keep doing that though. Skye was unconsciously looking at Zach playing Hydra’s sniper and shooting up at courtyard full of civilians and thinking of him as her guardian angel, preventing her from being shot.

 

Nothing made sense, least of all Skye’s conflicted thoughts. She needed to accept that Zach was not a friend, an ally or anything benign. He was a trained Hydra killer who kidnapped and tortured her friends, who shot innocents just to make a play against SHIELD. It was wrong to think of him as anything else but an enemy.

 

But then his face flashed in her mind of his expression when she asked why he kept her secrets from his superiors, and she doubted. He looked... lost, as if he were as much at a loss as she was about what was going on between them. Because there was some strange connection between the two of them much as Skye did not want to concede it.

 

“Let’s get you guys out of here before anyone else comes around,” said Bobbi as she helped Simmons stand. Trip did the same with Fitz.

 

“Did we get all the guards?” Hunter questioned.

 

No, Skye thought. You missed the most dangerous one. Then she realized what she had just admitted to herself. She thought “you” rather than “we”. It was one thing to keep something ultimately unimportant from her team, like a chance encounter with a Hydra agent in Seville, and it was another entirely to think of herself as outside of them in regards to that agent. Disturbed by that epiphany, Skye shifted uncomfortably.  

 

“Did you get the mission leader?” asked Simmons. She was met by three curious gazes, one knowing one, and Skye’s. Skye kept her expression carefully blank, but her interest was piqued. It had to be Zach. He was way too skilled to be taking orders from the goons that Bobbi, Hunter, and Trip took down.

 

“Which one was he?” asked Tripplet. “We knocked out nine Hydra guards in the lobby.”

 

“No,” Fitz shook his head. “He was with us up until twenty minutes ago.”

 

“He was definitely the leader though,” Simmons added. “The other men were afraid of him.”

 

“Describe him,” Bobbi ordered.

 

Fitz gave the first attempt, “Umm white, male, American…”

 

Hunter snorted. “You just described eight of the nine guards we knocked out.”

 

“Tall, good physique, nice bone structure,” Simmons added helpfully. Fitz glanced at her petulantly when she listed the last two traits.

 

“White, attractive male Hydra agent,” Trip commented faux-thoughtfully, “That narrows it down.” The smile he gave Simmons following his comment took all the bite off of his words though.

 

“You had a head start in this direction, Skye,” Bobbi began, “Did you see anyone?”

 

Skye shook her head while keeping her unwavering gaze on Bobbi. “No, but I mostly just checked the nearby rooms,” Skye lied evenly. “Didn’t see anyone.”

 

Bobbi turned back towards Fitzsimmons with a light smile. “Guess we missed him.”

 

“Was he the one that did this to you, Fitz?” Trip wondered in a low voice that gave away his protective feelings towards the scientists.

 

Fitz looked down at his mangled hand as if he had forgotten about it for a moment. “Uhh, no. That wasn’t him.” He shot a look towards Simmons that conveyed some secret message but neither said anything more.

 

Skye felt her breath blow out of her. She had not even realized she had been holding her it in anticipation of his answer. So Zach was not the one who had tortured Fitz, that relieved Skye more than she would like to admit. It made her feel less guilty for still harboring these weird feelings of connection with him.

 

“Did you get his name?” Skye asked hoping her voice did not betray her eagerness. With his name, she could probably find all sorts of information on him. Maybe she could begin to get an answer for some of her questions.

 

Simmons shook her head. “They just called him ‘sir’.”

 

Disappointment rushed through Skye, immediately followed by self-condemnation. Did she not just admit to herself that she needed to get over this fixation? She needed to banish all thoughts of her mystery man away, not waste her time pointlessly wondering about him.

 

But Skye was honest enough to admit to herself that was going to be easier said than done.

 

“Well, I for one have had enough of this discussion. One of Hydra got away, we’ll kill him next time,” Hunter shrugged. “Can we get out of here now?”

 

Bobbi nodded, “Let’s go.”

 

As they fled the scene, Skye could not shake the feeling of unwarranted irritation at Hunter’s words. It was nothing new, SHIELD killed Hydra operatives all the time. Still the feeling did not leave Skye- and neither did the warmth she felt when thinking of Zach. 

 


 

Ward practically ran from the base- or more accurately he ran from Agent Skye as fast as he could. That encounter was even more off-putting than their first. She was getting under his skin, and Ward hated it. He did not have weaknesses and he did not do distractions. That was no even getting into his revelation that he had no idea why he was so compromised that he purposely hid the special nature of SHIELD Agent Skye from Whitehall- and John.

 

He knew he should probably have checked on the other Hydra agents that had been with him, but he did not particularly care about them. Still Garrett would expect that he would bring them back to HQ with him, so Ward found himself waiting around the area for SHIELD to leave. Then he could go back and gather whatever remained of the Hydra team. With any luck, Kaminsky would have died in the fight.  

 

If Grant had to credit himself with one skill that he excelled at, it would be blending in with his environment. Maria Hill once gave him an assessment that ranked his espionage abilities second only to Romanoff’s, and Garrett loved to brag about Grant’s seamless way of becoming whoever he needed to be for a mission. John had once gone so far as to proudly proclaim that Grant’s personality was malleable based on whatever job needed to done. Grant had smiled at the compliment, pleased that Garrett was happy with him, but the words rung hollowly in his mind for some reason.

 

But it was using that ability now that allowed Grant to observe the SHIELD agents as they made their escape. Grant briefly toyed with the idea of tracking them back to their HQ just so he would have something to show John for this useless mission. Ultimately he decided against it. Too many variables with too little potential benefit for John and him.

 

It was from a distance that Grant watched the SHIELD team pile into another black SUV. He recognized Trip, Morse, and the British agent who once followed him disguised as a cowboy along with Skye and the scientists. Skye had her arm thrown around the engineer mindful of his broken hand and was giving the biochemist an adoring look. They were obviously very close.

 

Grant’s chest tightened with an odd longing that Skye would look at him that way. That thought only managed to conjure the image of Skye as she had been only thirty minutes ago caged against the wall with him towering over her. Their bodies were so close together that when Grant breathed it sent shocks through him. She had unconsciously pressed up into him more than once during their reunion, which had tried his self-restraint.

 

Her eyes were almost hooded as she stared up at him. Grant had wondered what she would do if he leaned down and captured her lips with his own again. It had been those disturbing thoughts along with his epiphany that had sent him fleeing the scene.  

 

Before she disappeared into the van, Skye eyed the area one last time as if searching for something. Her gaze fell on him and his breath hitched. She did not see him of course and her stare passed over him obliviously, but his instinctive reaction just worried Grant all the more.

 

There was no way this would end well.

Chapter Text

Nothing?” John growled when Ward reported back to him about the mission’s success- or lack thereof.

 

They were hidden away in John’s bunk at one of John’s personal, secret safehouses. Garrett had wanted him to meet him there for debrief, and Grant was not in the habit of questioning John’s orders. If he asked to be met there, Grant was sure it was for a good reason.

 

Ward nodded calmly in response, his face a mask concealing any doubt that he had. Because Grant was doubtful that he really was doing the right thing. Covering for SHIELD Agent Skye seemed like a worse and worse decision by the second as Grant was faced with Garrett’s disappointment in person. He could not help but feel as though he were betraying his mentor who had given him so much. He should just tell John what he learned so they could begin preparation to capture the woman who apparently held the key to Garrett’s salvation.

 

The words did not leave Ward’s lips though. There was no logic behind his actions. John was the closest thing to real family that Grant had ever had. He was his purpose in life. John had saved Grant from himself when no one saw anything of worth in him. Garrett did though, he saw Ward’s value when Grant had already resigned himself to a short and pointless life.

 

There was no rationale that drove Ward to keep quiet on the many secrets that Skye had. They had met twice really, and both experiences were wrought with conflict and suspicion. It was the opposite of Ward’s effortless routine with John. Grant trusted John with every fiber of his being, and they had been a team for so long now that Ward could just sense what Garrett wanted him to do and get it done.

 

Ward cursed the weakness that he could not shake. It made him feel like the pathetic little boy who had helplessly stood by the well as his little brother drowned. Every time Grant thought he had freed himself from such pitifulness, the memories came back with a vengeance. Ward kept them so carefully repressed, but they were always lurking in the back of his mind waiting for an opportunity to claw themselves to the surface.

 

If anything, Grant should loathe the woman more for doing this to him. He could not remember the last time he was so indecisive. It was like anxiety bubbling in his veins, traveling under his skin, at all times. It did not show on the outside, but its presence was enough to drive Ward mad.

 

And whatever Grant would like to think, he knew he did not hate Skye. In fact, just thinking about her sent jolts of excitement through him. She made him feel alive in a way that Grant could not remember ever feeling. It was like he had been unknowingly sleeping through his whole life and just speaking with the woman was enough to finally wake him up. Grant wondered what would happen if they did more than just talk.

 

“Damnit, what the hell, kid?” John’s voice tore through Grant’s thoughts and filled him with guilt. He was forgetting himself again.

 

“Kaminsky and Hauer failed to search the prisoners after securing them,” Grant recited almost dully. “They had active trackers on their persons. It prevented me from getting to fully interrogate them before SHIELD arrived.”

 

Garrett scrutinized him. “What the fuck kind of bullshit is that?”

 

Ward’s surprise broke his carefully blank facade. “Sir?”

 

“’Kaminsky and Hauer failed to search the prisoners’,” John mockingly repeated. “Of course they did, they’re morons. How did you fail to check the prisoners yourself? Are you a moron, too?”

 

Ward faltered in the face of Garett’s derision. His shoulders hunched automatically in reaction. “I assumed they had already done so.” Even as he spoke, Ward felt himself sagging under the weight of Garrett’s disappointed glare. Grant should have checked himself. John was right to be angry.

 

“You never trust anyone to do the job for you, least of all idiots like Kaminsky and Hauer.” John scowled in revulsion at Grant’s stupidity. “I taught you better than that.”

 

Ward felt the full force of Garett’s disgust wash over him and said nothing. There was nothing to say, he knew he had messed up. He also knew why. Seeing Skye again had messed with his head in a way that Grant did not want to admit. As if he needed any more proof that their strange connection was disastrous.  

 

John looked him over, no doubt reading the self-recriminations flashing across his expression. “What’s the matter, son? It’s like your head’s not in the game. Don’t you remember how important this is to me?”

 

“I do,” Grant reassured. “It won’t happen again.”

 

Garrett narrowed his eyes and considered the promise. Grant felt his breath catch as he waited John’s response. All of the sudden, John brightened and slapped Ward’s arm. “That’s my boy, I know you won’t disappoint me again.” Grant smiled in reply.

 

But just as Grant’s breathing evened out, John’s grip on his arm tightened to the point of bruising. Ward knew a warning when he saw one.

 

“I need you to shake off whatever’s distracting you fast, kid,” Garett continued seriously. “I gotta know I can count on you, now more than ever.”

 

“Has something new happened?” Grant wondered more than a little alarmed. John’s health was unpredictable as of late. Ward knew that he had gone to Cybertech and Raina recently for an update. Had the results been worse than expected?

 

John ran a hand over his face and sat down on the foot of his bed. His elbows lay across his knees as he slumped forward. His absentminded gaze was leveled at the wall in front of him. “Flowers’ prognosis is bad.” Garrett raised his stare to meet Grant’s own. “She says I’ve got half a year left at most.”

 

Terror filled Grant. He had known that John was getting much worse, but the deadline felt all the more real now that Ward could count down the days his father figure had left. It only made him feel all the worse for letting John down- and hiding Skye’s secret.

 

“Has she made any progress with Stage Three?” Ward found himself asking numbly.

 

John shook his head with a haunted look in his eyes. “No, she’s hit a roadblock in her research. She says we need more info on Coulson’s miracle drug.”

 

More guilt pooled in Grant’s stomach. It was not too late, he could open his mouth and tell John what he knew about Skye and GH-325. But when he parted his lips, all that came out was a desperate, “What do you need me to do?”

 

John focused on that. “Your Hydra missions need to be sidelined for the moment. Your full attention has to be on the real mission. I can rely on you, right, son?”

 

Ward nodded immediately. “Of course, sir.”

 

“Good, good, because you’re the only one I trust with this, kid.” Shame and gratification surged through Grant at Garrett’s approval. “That prick Whitehall is breathing down my neck all the time now. I think he suspects something.” Garrett frowned. Grant realized that was why they were meeting in the safehouse, to stay out of Whitehall’s reach. “He can’t know about this. Do and say whatever to keep him off the scent, just make sure he doesn’t know anything he can take advantage of. When you’re not appeasing him, I’m sending you out for more GH-325 missions.”

 

“Copy that.” 

 


 

 

Strong and sure hands ran up and down Skye’s sides, tracing her curves and driving her wild. They just barely grazed her breasts each time. Skye let out a whine in protest and arched her back to push her bare chest into the body above her.

 

The lips that had been peppering kisses into her neck stopped. A dark chuckle sounded in her ear and sent more waves of desire flooding through her. He lightly bit her ear as ran one hand down her naked thigh.

 

Without warning, he gripped the back of her knee and yanked her leg up and around his waist. The resulting pressure of their locked hips had Skye moaning loudly. She was not even sure what was escaping her lips beyond a litany of pleas and begging for more.

 

Skye slid one of her hands up and down his unclothed back while she curled her free fingers into the hair of her lover. She used her grasp to pull his head back and meet his eyes.

 

The dark, unfathomable eyes of “Zach” gazed into her own. “Are you sure this is what you want?” He asked softly.

 

Skye could not be bothered to answer. Instead she moved her hand to his backside to grind against her more firmly. His reaction was breathtaking. His eyes fluttered in pleasure, and he released a groan that filled Skye with satisfaction.

 

“Please,” she whined, “I want this so bad.” She needed more fiction, she needed everything he could give her and more. Skye bit her lip hoping the pain would ground her, but she was far past the point of that.

 

“Just be sure, because you can never go back after.” Skye ignored his warning carelessly. She could not keep a coherent thought anymore. She did not care to. Nothing mattered but the way one of his hands was slowly trailing down her stomach to where she wanted it most.

 

He was almost there. Skye captured his lips in a fierce kiss and tightened her fingers in his sweat-soaked hair in anticipation.

 

“Skye?”

 

A loud bang reverberated. Someone was knocking on her bunk’s door. It startled Skye awake in a heartbeat. She sat up flushed and confused and turned to stare at the offending entrance.

 

“Skye? Are you awake?” Skye could recognize Simmons’ voice now. She sounded a little concerned. It usually did not take much to wake Skye up. She was hardly a heavy sleeper due to her training and the hazards of the job. On days like today where she did not have 5am training with May, Skye did enjoy sleeping in a little. But it was never past 8 anymore, and the lightest noise would wake her.

 

“I’m up, Simmons!” Skye called out but did not move. So many emotions were rushing through her as she stared at the tangled mess of her sheets. She must have been tossing and turning all night. Skye’s cheeks heated at the thought.

 

Oblivious to what was going on with her friend, Simmons continued, “Coulson wants us to meet for a debrief in fifteen. Is that enough time for you to get ready? Everyone else is already out of bed.”

 

Skye checked her clock. Of course they were, it was almost 10. Even when Skye first started training she rarely slept this late. She felt so out of sorts that she could not even begin to wade through her cluttered thoughts.

 

“Could I get a bit more time?” Skye called out as she pushed back her blankets. “I need to shower first.” There was no way she was going to face Coulson and May without a cold shower first. May especially would see through her in an instant.

 

“Are you alright?” Simmons wondered worriedly.

 

“Uh yeah, just feeling a bit under the weather,” Skye responded distractedly. That was a lie. If anything, Skye was filled with overflowing energy. Well, distinctly unsatisfied energy but still.

 

“Do you want me to tell them you’re sick?”

 

“No, no!” Skye shouted back. “I should be fine after I shower. Just tell them I’ll be there in a half hour.”

 

After hearing Simmons’ agreement, Skye flopped back down in bed. The sheets beneath her were wet with sweat. Skye felt so out of place and lost. Her entire body was on fire and aching with unfulfilled need. Skye wondered if she would feel better if Simmons had just waited a little longer before getting her…

 

A shiver wracked Skye’s body as she imagined. She was tempted to follow those thoughts and take care of the frustrated desire herself. She shook herself out of it quickly though. The team was waiting on her, and what if someone came to check on her supposed sickness and found her in medias res? The humiliation alone would have Skye locked up in her bunk for weeks.

 

Grumbling to herself, Skye hoisted her displeased body up and yanked off her sweaty pajamas. She padded into her bathroom and turned the shower knob. The water was set chillier than it normally was, but Skye needed a wakeup call after what had just happened. It was only once she was under the spray of water that Skye even allowed herself to fully consider the implications.

 

Skye had just had a wet dream. She never had dreams like that. Skye was a confident, beautiful woman. If she wanted sex, she went out and got it. She practically lived in seedy bars during her late teenage years. She had also never been one to scorn a potential one night stand if she was in the mood. It was a good way to release some pent up horniness.

 

Admittedly since joining SHIELD, Skye had not indulged her hormones all that much- but she had also not felt the need to. She ended things with Miles almost a year ago. After that, she had a fling or two in her spare time, but nothing serious or long lasting. She had not wanted that. She could probably find a colleague willing to have no-strings-attached sex with her though.

 

She thought through potential prospects as she washed her tangled hair. None of them sounded even remotely tempting. She could always go off base to a bar and find a willing partner to blow off steam with. That appealed to Skye even less than the first option.

 

Skye bit her lip as she realized what the problem was. It was the subject of her dream and not the topic that indicated her repressed longings. She was not craving sex, she was craving him. That was dangerous and impossible for more reasons than Skye could even begin to contemplate.

 

Skye had woken up from a wet dream about a Hydra agent. An agent whose real name she did not even know. What she did know was that he had abducted Fitzsimmons, opened fire on a civilian population, and lied as easily as he breathed. That was the man occupying her fantasies and steadily making her insane. What the hell was wrong with her?  

 

Skye leaned her forehead against the cool tiles as the freezing water rained down on her. She still felt flushed and unsettled. She shut off the spray and wrapped a towel around her torso. Skye used her hand to clear the mirror so she could stare at her reflection. She stood there gazing at her own appearance until her expression only showed what she wanted it to. It was time to join the team.

 

Skye strolled into the meeting room where everyone was waiting confident that she had sealed away any evidence of her inner turmoil.

 

May, Coulson, Fitzsimmons, and Trip were the only ones in the room. That immediately put Skye on edge. It was obvious that Coulson was purposely only calling the agents he trusted most to this meeting for some reason.

 

“Hey, what’s up?” She greeted casually belying her growing unease as she moved to stand next to Trip. He gave her an easy grin before returning his attention to Director Coulson.

 

Coulson looked at her with paternal concern. “Are you okay? Simmons mentioned you were feeling sick.”

 

The real reason for condition pushed at the edges of her consciousness, begging to be noticed, before Skye ruthlessly squashed those thoughts. “I’m good, no worries. I just needed a shower to wake me up.”

 

Coulson nodded without a hint of suspicion and switched into Director mode. “As you know, Agents Fitz and Simmons were taken recently by Hydra.” Fitzsimmons both awkwardly raised a hand in response as if anyone was unaware of who Coulson was referring to. “What you probably don’t know is why.”

 

Coulson took a deep breath before looking at everyone in the room one at a time. He paused when his gaze landed on Skye. “It seems Hydra is still looking for the GH formula.”

 

Skye froze. She thought that they had given up on that after their big reveal from the shadows or whatever. There was nothing really to be found. The team had blown the Guest House sky high once they secured a dose of the drug to save Skye’s life after Ian Quinn had shot her.

 

The point had been to lead the so-called Clairvoyant- read: that asshole John Garrett- to the GH formula when Coulson had been forced to break all the rules and find out how he was resurrected for her. Unfortunately for the jackass, Coulson had gone so off book that no one in SHIELD had known where he was. Garrett missed his window of opportunity to follow them. Coulson had not even allowed Fitzsimmons to upload their research on the drug to the SHIELD servers, so Hydra never found out anything.

 

Coulson had gone so far as to hide the fact that she even got shot from everyone. Only Fitzsimmons and May knew besides Coulson. He said he was afraid they would target her if they knew the drug was probably still in her system. Considering Fitzsimmons had been taken apparently for that reason, it was a good call on his part. May had killed Quinn in a rage, and Skye’s secret had been safe all this time. Or at least, it had been. Zach now knew as well.  

 

“The GH formula?” Trip repeated questioningly. He was the only one in the dark here. As Coulson explained briefly the nature of the drug and its usage on Skye and himself, Skye became lost in her own thoughts.

 

So Zach and his team had been looking for information on the drug. That was why he took Fitzsimmons. Skye stared at the pair of scientists as they spoke quickly to each other in hushed tones. That must mean that one of them had told Zach that the drug had been used on her as well. There was no other way he would know. Skye wanted to scream at them in frustration, but she also knew that there was no way either of them blabbed on purpose. They were not trained for enemy interrogation. And Skye knew from personal experience what a bad liar Simmons was under pressure.

 

She wanted to get the full story, if only to find out if any other Hydra agent had been present when they told, but she could not. She had claimed that she saw no one, and specifically did not run into Zach, at the Hydra base. As far as SHIELD knew, Skye had no way of knowing that he knew. To say anything would reveal her complicated encounters with the Mr. Tall, Dark and Handsome Hydra Agent haunting her dreams.

 

Skye stayed quiet.

 

With Trip successfully caught up to speed, Coulson returned his attention to the group. “The drug is far too dangerous for Hydra to get their hands on. Now that they know that Fitzsimmons are unaware of the drug’s composition, they are going to need to target someone more in the know. They can’t get to me, and they don’t know about Skye.” Not true, not true, not true. The words echoed inside of Skye making her feel even more jittery than when she woke up- and in a far less pleasant way.  

 

Coulson could not read her mind though, so he resumed speaking obliviously. “There are only a few other people in the world who know anything important. I don’t even think Fury knows the details.” Coulson shuddered to himself, no doubt remembering what he knew was in the stuff. Only he, Skye and May were fully aware of the alien biology that contributed to the making of the drug. To the rest of SHIELD, Coulson’s weird quest that led them to San Juan was just an odd quasi-mental breakdown. Hydra did not know about it, and only a few SHIELD agents understood what had happened there. That was when Skye’s life transformed, literally, so she would never forget it.

 

Coulson pressed on after only a moment though, “The obvious target would be Dr. Streitan but there are a couple of other possibilities like Dr. Goodman.” He turned to look at Skye and Trip. “I’m confined here as is May, and I think Fitzsimmons has seen enough field action for a good while. I need you two to retrieve the doctors before Hydra can get to them.” Trip and Skye agreed easily, the gravity of the situation not lost on either of them. “Skye, can you track them down?”

 

“On it,” Skye nodded.

 

“Good,” Coulson said with a grim smile. “After you find them, you and Trip will each need to immediately locate them and bring them in safely. Skye, you have Streitan. And Trip, you have Goodman. We can’t waste any time here, Hydra’s probably already on the move as we speak.”

 

“You got it, boss,” Trip replied. He gave a little, two-finger salute. “We’ll have them before you know it.”

 

“If you run into any opposition, don’t engage,” May ordered. “Especially if it’s Ward or Garrett himself.” Skye wanted to point out that she did not know what either man looked like, but she supposed the point was if she had to ask, she should not go after them. Avoid the evil assholes, it should not be too difficult.

 

“Aww but I have some things to say to those two that can only be expressed with an itchy trigger finger,” Trip responded with half-seriously.

 

May glared at him. Trip began to melt under her infamous stare. He raised his hands in surrender.

 

Coulson cut in, “The most important thing is that the two of you return unharmed. As much as I understand your desire to make Garrett pay, Trip, they aren’t worth your life.”

 

Fitz’s brow furrowed. “Are they that good? I mean surely Trip and Skye could take them in a fair fight.”

 

Skye was in agreement there. “Yeah, I can handle myself thank you very much.”

 

May looked at her sharply. “That kind of arrogance has gotten agents more experienced than you killed.”

 

Coulson placed a calming hand on May’s shoulder and focused on Skye. “May’s right. You don’t know what those two are capable of. Trip can tell you.” He nodded towards Trip.   

 

Trip shrugged, “They’re right. Garrett’s old enough to be past his prime physically, but he never goes anywhere without Golden Boy anyway.”

 

“Golden Boy?” Fitzsimmons asked simultaneously.

 

“It’s what I used to call Ward. Garrett would brag endlessly about how perfect his protégé was. I heard countless stories of Ward’s achievements. Anyone who worked under Garrett knew that Ward was the example, the standard to beat, for Garrett. No one ever measured up. Used to drive me crazy with jealousy,” Trip added almost bitterly. “The guy could supposedly shoot from two thousand yards away, had the best espionage scores since Romanoff, never felt pain or fear, and could take down fifteen, trained and armed men at once. He was a machine.”

 

Skye frowned skeptically. “If he were that good, he wouldn’t be taking orders from Garrett.”

 

“Don’t be so sure,” Coulson warned.

 

“Yeah,” Trip agreed. “I saw him in action enough to know that the rumors were true, but I also saw enough to know that Ward was not interested in power. He was never more than a Yes Man to Garrett.”

 

“He’s Garrett’s personal lapdog,” May added scornfully.

 

“If he’s not interested in power, then what is he after?” Fitz asked.

 

Trip shook his head. “Who knows why Ward does anything? He’s almost robotic. Smart enough from what I can tell and a damn good tactician, but he rarely offered any opinions of his own. And he does anything Garrett orders without question. Like I said, he’s a machine.”

 

“He’s a weapon,” May corrected before turning towards Skye. “Don’t engage Hydra alone under any circumstances.”

 

“Copy that,” Skye nodded. “Don’t take on any of the jackasses in suits, especially if they are mindless killing machines like Ward.”

 

“Go get going then,” Coulson ordered. “And remember to keep this under the radar.”

 

Everyone knew the dismissal and began to move out before Coulson held up a hand to stop them. “Hey, wait a second,” he turned to Trip, “Garrett’s no older than me. Are you saying I’m past my prime?”

 

Trip’s sheepish expression had Skye laughing as she went to work. With everything going on, Skye almost forgot all about Zach and her dream.

 

Almost. 

Chapter Text

Grant waited impatiently in Hydra’s HQ for his assignment. Per Garrett’s orders, he was taking a task from Whitehall as well as their personal mission. If Ward suddenly went MIA, people would notice. He could not simply disappear to act on a non-Hydra agenda. As much as he avoided everyone and everyone avoided him, Whitehall still expected to see him around working for Hydra. Anything else would be suspicious.

 

So there he was, waiting on a mission he did not care about and taking time away from what was actually important. He doubted that apprehending the good doctor Streiten was going to be a challenge, but that was not the point.

 

Grant sat at the table inside the briefing room with his face a perfect blank mask. To anyone looking, he was simply bored. That was the way he preferred it. If no one knew what he was feeling, they could not use it against him.

 

He was still glaring at the wall in front of him when the door finally opened. He looked up with casual disinterest before raising his brows in recognition at the attractive, dark-haired woman entering.

 

“Agent Ward,” Agent 33 drawled. She perched on the side of the table right in front of him and met his eyes fearlessly.

 

“Kara,” Ward greeted. She was actually the only person in Hydra he liked besides John. Maybe it was because she was smarter and better than the others. He did not trust anyone but John at his six, but she would be his next choice. Grant liked that she was not afraid of him, too. Bakshi could not even hold his stare.

 

But Grant also had the sneaking suspicion she was brainwashed. He had never seen any of the trigger words used on her, but he was fairly confident in his assumption. John had once mentioned she was fiercely loyal to SHIELD back before Hydra came out of the shadows. Not a month later, she was Whitehall’s most fervent supporter.

 

Ward briefly wondered what it said about him that the only Hydra colleague he could stand to be around was brainwashed into being there.  

 

Kara was tapping a folder against the side of her leg in some senseless rhythm looking the very picture of ease. She was teasing him, waiting for him to break and ask for his mission.

 

He said nothing.

 

Kara smirked. “Well, you’re even less fun than usual today.” But she handed him the folder anyway.

 

“Whitehall’s got you handing out assignments now?” Grant said while he opened the folder. “What, he can’t give Kaminsky a job he might actually be up to?”

 

Kara’s smirk widened into a real smile. “You think Kaminsky could handle talking to you one-on-one after your last mission?” Ward glanced up. “Yeah, I’ve already heard. Hauer told everyone.”

 

Ward fought the urge to do anything childish like roll his eyes. At least the others were less likely to do anything to irritate him now.

 

Kara stood up and walked to the door. “Try not to mess this one up this time.”  At Grant’s sharp stare, Kara nodded. “Yes, everyone heard about that, too. The perfect Grant Ward screwing up a mission? Unheard of.”

 

With that, she left him alone with the assignment and his thoughts. He did not care what any of them thought of him, their opinions meant less than nothing in his world. Still, he could not help but frown in annoyance. It was as if everyone could see he was distracted lately.

 

Ward reviewed the mission parameters meticulously despite how little it mattered. He had nothing to prove to them, but that did not mean he wanted anyone to know how unsettled he was feeling lately. He would make sure this one went without a hitch.

 


 

 

Skye weaved her way through the throngs of people heading home easily. Something about spending her life as the unnoticed, little orphan girl translated into fitting in with crowds. Skye blended in with everyone else because she had always just been one of many, unworthy of attention until she demanded it. As she grew older, Skye became more prone to demanding that attention from having a little too much fun at bars to purposely catching SHIELD’s attention with her Rising Tide hacks. Skye had spent many years being no one though, and it was easy to return to when she wanted to.

 

It was late, the sun was beginning to set casting the pavement in a orange and red glow. Most people had left work by now. The person Skye was waiting on, however, was still cooped up inside his workplace. He was probably the only one left.

 

She was standing a block away when Dr. Streiten opened his office building door. Finally. She jogged a bit to catch him before he could leave.

 

“Dr. Streiten!” Skye called. She witnessed the man freeze with his hand still holding the doorknob. Skye was not surprised. It had probably been over a year since he heard that name. Even before Hydra’s reveal, the doctor had run away. Simmons had told her that she had tried to reach him when Skye was shot only to be informed that he had “gone off the grid”.

 

It was mildly difficult for Skye to even find him and mildly difficult for Skye track down was pretty impressive. She supposed his experience with SHIELD made him properly paranoid.

 

Skye could sense Dr. Streiten’s panic as he looked prepared to bolt, so she was quick to reassure. Sidling up beside him, she leaned in. “Sorry, didn’t mean to startle you. I really need to speak with you though.” Before he could protest, Skye interrupted. “I’m not here to ask you questions about GH-325 or anything. I’m here to protect you.”

 

Dr. Streiten paused, his still hand lightly resting on the doorknob. “Protect me from what? And who are you?”

 

“My name is Skye. I’m an agent with SHIELD under Director Coulson. We have reason to believe Hydra may target you. They have been digging into Coulson’s revival. Some of our scientists were kidnapped to gain information on the drug.” Dr. Streiten hesitated. “Please, I want to help you.”

 

He appeared to come to a decision. “Why don’t you come inside to my office? We can discuss this further there in private.”

 

Skye smiled brightly hoping to relieve some of the tension still lining his shoulders. “Thank you. That’d be great.”

 

Skye followed Dr. Streiten inside. It was some kind of research center. With his talents, Dr. Streiten probably did not have any trouble securing the job. They stepped into an elevator, and he pressed the button for the tenth floor. The silence was awkward as the elevator slowly climbed upwards. Skye wanted to say something more, but it really was better to just wait until they were out of the open to talk. Plus, Dr. Streiten was sending very defensive vibes her way.

 

The office was just big enough to fit a desk and three chairs. After he let them in, Dr. Streiten strode straight forward to look out the big office window behind his desk. Skye trailed more unsurely behind him.

 

“You can have a seat,” he said as he gestured towards the chairs across from the desk. Skye sat down and watched as he opened the window. “I need some fresh air for this conversation.”

 

“Thanks.” Skye smiled reassuringly even though she wished he would turn back towards her. When he stayed quiet, she decided to get to the point. “I need to take you back to SHIELD with me,” Skye began infusing the command with confidence while still trying to take the bite out of the words. He was so nervous she did not want to upset him further.

 

Dr. Streiten leaned against the windowsill and did not turn around at her words.

 

“Dr. Streiten?” Skye stood up debating whether or not to approach him. He was so obviously uncomfortable that she did not want to crowd his space.

 

“It never ends,” Dr. Streiten spoke suddenly. He finally turned around and faced her though he did not leave his position leaning against the windowsill.

 

“What never ends?” Skye asked thrown for a loop. She was becoming increasingly uncomfortable herself. Coulson had warned her that Dr. Streiten had expressed a great deal of guilt and a tendency to run with regards to the GH formula. Coulson had worried that he would flee at the first mention of SHIELD.

 

Skye was an atypical SHIELD member though and lacked the hardcore agent vibe that almost all the specialists had. Coulson had believed if anyone could put him at ease, it would be Skye.

 

“This mistake,” Dr. Streiten replied passionately. The troubled expression was even more pronounced now. He was gripping the windowsill so tightly that his knuckles had turned white under the pressure. “It’s never going away. I have to live with what I’ve done, for the rest of my life.” He took a deep, shuddering breath. “Can’t people understand it was a mistake? The drug should have never been created! It’s wrong.”

 

Skye felt for the man. He was tearing himself up over his involvement. Skye had seen Coulson’s reaction to the memory machine forcing him to remember the operation, how he begged to die. Skye could only imagine how Dr. Streiten had felt as a healer to listen to those pleas. And did he know about the others and the side effects? Did he know about the writing?

 

“I know,” Skye soothed. She wanted to make him feel better, “I’m kind of glad you did though. Coulson found the GH formula and used it to save my life. He knew he could because of his experience.”

 

Skye was trying to lighten the man’s burden. Maybe her experience would make him see his past in a new way. Clearly the guilt was wearing him down. As she spoke though, Skye sensed she may have been wrong. He only seemed more agitated by her words. By the end of it, he was nearly shaking.

 

“No, it’s wrong.” Dr. Streiten was pushing back, drawing as far away from her as he could, so she began to step closer. Maybe she should just ICE him? It would be a pain to carry the man, and incredibly unsubtle, but talking him down was obviously not working. They needed to move soon, too. “I can’t go with you. I can’t give you more access to the information. It should never have been done, and it should never be done again.”

 

Skye frowned. “Dr. Streiten, I told you we don’t want your information. We’re trying to protect you-“ He did not believe her. She could tell, and he was shaking his head firmly now.

 

“I know how to protect the secrets,” Dr. Streiten said resigned. “There’s only one way.”

 

“Doctor,” Skye started confused and more than a little worried now.

 

“I’m sorry, for thinking I could run away from it. I’m sorry for all that I’ve done.”

 

Skye realized what he was doing a second too late. “Dr. Streiten, wait!” He ignored her as he threw himself over the windowsill gracelessly and fell ten stories to the ground.

 

“No!” Skye shouted in horror as she helplessly moved to the edge. Looking down, Skye could see the remains of the poor man on the streets below. People were screaming and crowding around his body.

 

Not a second after her scream, the office door burst open behind her. She spun around feeling cold and numb. He had just been speaking with her three seconds ago. He killed himself to avoid going with her.

 

For a second she thought she was imagining Zach breaking down the door and running straight at her. She wanted to react but found herself at a loss.

 

Fortunately- or unfortunately?- Zach barreled past her to stare down at the chaotic streets and Streiten’s body. Then he began cursing to himself and running frantic hands trough his hair.

 

“What are you doing here?” Skye asked dumbly. She was having trouble focusing her thoughts.

 

Zach stopped his assault on his hair and looked at her as if suddenly remembering she was right beside him. “The same thing you were doing.”

 

That filled Skye with righteous indignation. They were not the same, he was Hydra. She had come all this way to keep Dr. Streiten from his agency’s clutches. “I was trying to protect him!”

 

“You did a great job then,” he said sarcastically cocking his head towards the streets.

 

All the rage funneled out of her. She felt defeated. Dr. Streiten had been afraid of her. If she had just been better at reassuring Streiten, if she had not brought up her experience, if she had just knocked him out.

 

Something shifted in Zach’s eyes. She must look pathetic if a Hydra agent was staring at her this way.

 

Skye wanted to appear stronger before him. He was the enemy, and she could not afford to be vulnerable. Instead, she found herself speaking honestly, “It was my fault.”

 

Zach snorted. “Don’t be stupid. I was outside for the end of the conversation. You didn’t push him, he chose to jump.”

 

“Because of me!” Skye yelled out. It was like she was trying to convince him for some reason.

 

“He was standing on the edge the whole conversation,” Skye wondered how he knew that, “He was always planning on jumping. It didn’t matter what you said or did.” Skye looked at him. He was speaking so casually, as if they were not discussing the abrupt end of a man’s life. Zach shrugged, “Besides, if he hadn’t, then I would have gotten him. A few days in Hydra’s hands, he’d be wishing he were dead if he were even still alive.”

 

Skye gaped at him. “Solid organization you work for. Must make you proud to be a part of.”

 

Zach just leveled her with a look, “At least I’m honest about who I’m working for. All you SHIELD agents act like you’re a gift to mankind and not vigilantes running from international governments and law enforcement.”

 

“We’re trying to help people,” Skye defended. His remark hit a little too close to home for her. Skye knew logically that SHIELD members were criminals, but sometimes it was hard to face. Most agents did not acknowledge their outlaw status, preferring instead to act as if it were just a temporary condition. Skye knew however that as long as assholes like Senator Ward were in power, nothing would change.

 

“Then join the CIA,” Zach countered nonchalantly.

 

Skye just glared at him. It was because of Hydra agents like Zach that SHIELD was living in the shadows in the first place. “Well, at least I’m not a member of a Nazi death cult!”

 

Skye was happy to see she had broken through the blank mask he usually wore. An expression of utter bewilderment took over his face as he stared back at her.

 

“Nazi death cult?” It was both a repetition and a question somehow. Skye was a little disappointed to see he appeared more confused than enraged. She really wanted to see him lose his cool. Instead, he let out a little laugh of incredulity, which irritated her. “That’s how you would describe Hydra?”

 

Skye stubbornly lifted her chin and gazed at him in defiance even though his hilarity bothered her, “Yeah.”

 

“Must pain you to be constantly losing to a Nazi death cult,” Zach retorted.

 

Skye opened her mouth to insist that SHIELD was not losing to Hydra, but Zach just turned around and started walking away.

 

“Where are you going?” Skye asked in disbelief at his rudeness. “Don’t walk away in the middle of a conversation!”

 

Zach did not respond. He did not move towards the door either. He was riffling through papers and folders and opening the poor doctor’s desk drawers.

 

“Don’t go through Dr. Streiten’s stuff,” Skye protested. “Respect the man’s privacy.”

 

“He’s dead,” Zac deadpanned. “What does he care for privacy?” He did not even look up as he answered her. Most of his attention was absorbed with what he was reading.

 

Skye strode over to him. “It’s called basic decency.” But he was still not looking at her. She tried to snatch the folder away from him in frustration. In response, Zach simply raised the documents up over his head. He smirked down at her confidently. He was tall enough that the only way Skye was going to reach them was if she jumped up and down on her tip toes.

 

Skye decided that she would rather not look like an idiot in front of him.

 

After a moment of teasing her, he proceeded to continue his search of the office. She flopped down on the desk chair as she watched him ruffle through everything.

 

Skye knew that she was definitely not following protocol here. She was sitting, observing a Hydra agent work after watching her target kill himself. There were so many better things she should be doing. She should leave the office if nothing else. If she was not going to kill the enemy or stop him, she could at least go. But she did not move from her position.

 

She had time. At some point the police would probably arrive to check the office building, but it would take them a while to even realize who had jumped. Skye could still hear the chaos from outside. What she did not hear were sirens or anything to indicate the cops had shown up. SHIELD would not expect her back for a day. She would need to report Streiten’s death, but it could wait.

 

Skye felt unsettled though. She was still a little shaken up from watching Dr. Streiten’s die. He had done it to protect the secrets of the GH formula and Project TAHITI. Dr. Streiten gave his life for that.

 

Maybe Zach was right. Maybe it was not even about what she had said or done. The second Dr. Streiten knew people were after his information, he wanted to ensure that no one could ever get to him. Skye vowed that she would keep the secrets of it out of Hydra’s hands, if only for Dr. Streiten. That way maybe she could tell herself his death was not in vain.

 

Skye closed her eyes and focused on her breathing. She channeled May’s training and allowed all the feelings involving Dr. Streiten to float away. She had to keep focus. More importantly, Skye could never allow any strong emotions to overwhelm here nowadays. If she did, her tenuous control on her powers would slip away.

 

“Are you meditating in a dead guy’s office?” A sardonic voice asked. Her eyes shot open to see Zach staring at her with yet another unfathomable expression. He was far closer than Skye realized he had gotten as well. What was with this guy, did he levitate or something? Skye never heard his footsteps, and it was starting to get really annoying.

 

“No, you’re just so boring that you were putting me to sleep,” Skye shot back as she stood. He already towered over her, so she figured she should at least not make it worse by sitting down when talking to him. She crossed her arms across her chest in a way that she hoped seemed confident and not defensive.  

 

He just raised an eyebrow. “Didn’t realize it was my job to entertain you.”

 

Skye faltered. Without meaning to he had just reminded her of dream from the night before, the one where she imagined just how well he could entertain her that it drove her to wake up sweaty and in need of a cold shower. Her eyes drifted down to take in the strong arms exposed by his short sleeve shirt and the long, nimble fingers.

 

Zach shifted in front of her and broke her out of her daze. She jerked her gaze up to meet his own. His eyes were narrowed, but he looked more guarded than angry. Skye bit her lip- and then abruptly remembered biting his lip a month ago. Great, now she was staring at his lips.

 

“Stop,” he growled.

 

Skye looked up, completely embarrassed that he caught her blatantly checking him out, but then paused once she caught his expression. He did not look irritated or even smug, his eyes were heated and his posture restrained all at once.

 

Skye realized that this doomed attraction went both ways. While she was kicking herself over undressing him with her eyes, he was actively holding himself back from doing the same with her. Clearly though he had better control than she did. But she was testing that perfected self-restraint apparently, which only made her want to push harder and see how much she could get under his skin.

 

It was only fair considering that he was so thoroughly under hers.

 

“Stop what?” Skye asked innocently as she stepped forward closer and closed the distance between them.

 

Zach tensed. Skye could read the indecision on his face on whether to move away, and let her win, or hold his ground, and put himself at risk of losing his cool. He did not say anything, but his eyes were more intense than she had ever seen them.

 

“You didn’t answer my question,” Skye whispered as raised her head upwards. They were not touching but their bodies were so close that the electricity that sparked every time they were near was fizzling. Skye stood taller so that her lips were less than an inch away from his.

 

Every breath he let out puffed across her face. His eyes were hooded and dark, glazed over with the same desire Skye knew was mirrored in hers. Without ever breaking their eye contact, Skye opened her mouth and licked the seam between his lips as if daring him to open his mouth and let her in.

 

Instead he lurched back quickly as if she had attacked him, much to Skye’s disappointment and surprise. He was breathing heavily and defensive as he glared at her from five feet away.

 

“What the hell kind of game are you playing?” Zach snarled.

 

Skye wavered. “I wasn’t- I’m not-“ she stuttered before lamely finishing, “I don’t know.” She was not sure what she was doing. A half hour ago she was watching horrified as her target killed himself. Fifteen minutes ago she was in an argument over Hydra and SHIELD with the man. And now she was, what? Trying to seduce him? What was wrong with her, why was she acting like this?

 

Her confusion did not seem to reassure the man, if anything he now looked even more wary. Abruptly he turned and marched out of the office.   

 

“Hey, wait!” Skye called as she followed him. She felt guilty for some reason and did not want to leave things on such a tense and awkward note. He was fast though and sped away down the stairs just as she cleared the office entrance. Forgoing stealth in her desperation, she ran after him. She managed to catch him on the street. They ducked around the corner and away from the growing crime scene.

 

That reminder of Dr. Streiten only put her more on edge. She forcefully pushed away all the thoughts, she could deal with that later when she was back at HQ.

 

“Will you stop already?” Skye hissed as she grabbed Zach’s arm. She did not want to draw attention to herself and chasing after him was bound to get a look or two. Apparently Zach reached the same conclusion. He darted into an alleyway out of sight.

 

Skye followed a little unsurely. “Pretty sure they warn people about meeting guys like you in dark alleys.”

 

Zach let out a bark of laughter before reining it in. “Will you stop that?” He was scowling now. Skye was starting to get the feeling that Zach rarely had cause to laugh. He certainly did not seem to know what to do when he did.

 

“What am I doing now?” Skye asked a little annoyed. Okay, so she was definitely goading him back in the office. But now? It almost appeared as though he was annoyed at her for making him laugh. “What are you trying to say you are the type of person who people are okay to meet in a dark alley? Or are you just allergic to fun?”

 

Zach answered her questions with some of his own. “What are trying to pull with that little stunt back there?” He glared at her suspiciously, “Are you trying to get me off my guard to kill me?”

 

Skye gawked at the conclusion he came to. “Wow, no. Talk about paranoid. I don’t usually kiss people when I want to kill them.”

 

Zach looked skeptical, and Skye wondered if he did lock lips with people he wanted to cross off. Then she remembered she was one of the people he kissed upon meeting and became uncomfortable. It did not help that she could not answer his question because she did not have a clue as to why she wanted to kiss him in the first place.

 

It also reminded her that this meeting neither Zach nor she made any attempt at even pretending to fight. No guns were pointed, no fists were raised, no kicks thrown. They had spoken about being SHIELD and Hydra with conflicting missions and yet there was not even a pretense of acting like enemies. She even closed her eyes while alone with him back in the office. That was even more disconcerting than wanting to kiss him. Lust was one thing, trust was another entirely.

 

Zach pulled himself together and smirked arrogantly. It felt like a front to Skye. “I would hardly call what just happened a kiss,” he sneered. “If you want to throw me off my game, you’re going to have to try a lot harder.”

 

Skye kind of wanted to “try a lot harder”, but Zach did not give her a chance. He was stalking out of the alley.

 

“Hang on,” Skye started to say with an outreached hand before he cut her off.    

 

“No. We’re done here.” Zach had stopped but was facing away from her towards the now empty streets. Without looking at her, he mumbled so lowly Skye barely heard him. “And stay away from me. It’s better for both of us.”

 

He disappeared into the night and left Skye shivering in the cold air alone.  

Chapter Text

 

Seventeen days. Skye was definitely not counting how long it had been, but if she were, she would say it had been around seventeen days since her most recent strange encounter with “Zach”. She had replayed the moments over and over in her head. She mulled over her choices and kicked herself over them. She was going crazy.

 

It did not help that the dreams had not stopped. She did not get them every night, but enough that it was starting to bother her. She had dragged Simmons out to a bar a week ago with the sole mission of finding a nice, stress-relieving one night stand. They had spent three hours nursing stale beers without any success. Skye cringed as she remembered how that went.

 

“Oh, how about him?” Simmons said excitedly. Skye turned to see a handsome blond leaning up against the bar.

 

Skye scrunched up her face in disapproval. “Looks like an douchebag.”

 

“What about the man over there, by the corner?” Simmons indicated with less subtlety than Skye would have liked. Skye glanced over and saw an attractive, well-dressed guy laughing uproariously among friends.

 

“Not worth approaching with his little gang.”

 

Abruptly Simmons slammed her hand down on the table and caught Skye’s attention. “Are you going to tell me what’s this about?”

 

Surprised, Skye blurted out confusedly, “I told you, I just want to find someone to let off some steam with. I thought you were okay with helping me.”

 

“Yes,” Simmons nodded empathetically, “I understood. It’s completely healthy for a woman of our age to indulge in such impulses. But that still doesn’t explain why you’ve disregarded all twenty-nine of my suggestions and made none of your own. You just gave superficial explanations for why you were uninterested in all my candidates. You did not even bother to speak to one of them.”

 

Skye blinked. She knew she was being choosy, but she had not realized it was that bad. Skye grimaced as she looked down at her glass, “I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to waste your time.”

 

“That’s not it at all, Skye.” Simmons voice had taken on a strangely sympathetic quality that made Skye return her focus to her friend. “It’s just… Is there someone else you might already have in mind?”

 

“What?” Skye questioned. Images of her dreams came back to her in a rush, and she flushed. “Why would you say that?”

 

Simmons’ lips turned down slightly. “It just appears to me as though you don’t want any of the options I proposed because you have someone specific that you would prefer.”

 

Skye shook her head and ignored the doubt in the pit of her stomach. “No, there’s no one else.”

 

They paid their tab and left. Simmons never said another word on the subject.

 

Skye trusted Simmons implicitly and knew she would never say anything about the trip- except maybe to Fitz. Skye frowned to herself. They did share everything, and Simmons was terrible at keeping secrets.

 

That being said, Skye wondered if Simmons had forgotten the conversation. It had never come up again, and Skye thought maybe Simmons had just assumed she was wrong. That was probably wishful thinking on her part. Simmons did not do wrong. Skye drummed the steering wheel in her hands with her fingers as she thought it over.

 

Skye and Fitzsimmons were returning to base after a routine check on what was believed to be dangerous alien weaponry being sold on the black market. In reality, it was just a really desperate thug who wanted to pull one over on someone gullible and make some fast cash.

 

Coulson had sent Skye and Fitzsimmons out to check it out anyway. Fitzsimmons had not been in the field since they were kidnapped, but SHIELD really could not afford to keep them out of it completely with their limited manpower. Besides, they had been training ever since. Not like Skye’s training or anything hardcore, but they were learning how to handle a sidearm. Fitz was shaky, but Simmons was picking it up pretty quickly.

 

The two of them were giggling amongst themselves about something so science-y that Skye knew she did not have a hope of following. She was driving the car to the extraction point, but they still had hours to go. It was not a big deal though, Skye used to live in a van. She knew how to do long car rides. 

 

Fitzsimmons’ preoccupation also allowed her mind to wander back to where all her thoughts seemed to lead recently.

 

All her meetings with Zach so far had been completely random. He had been the agent to track the obelisk, but he had also been involved in the search for information on GH-325. That made it unpredictable when it came to getting a feel for who he was or where he would turn up next. Skye had to admit she had looked into both.

 

SHIELD did possess an image-scanning program that could search files for an identification match just with a description of the person, but Skye did not run it. She could access it if she wanted, but then she would have to explain why she had committed this face into her memory in the first place.  

 

There was another part of her that was starting to not want to get the answer to that question either. If she had his name, she could research him. Someone that skilled working for Hydra probably had a serious past and criminal history. If Skye were being honest, she was afraid to know the truth. Skye highly doubted that he was that bad compared to the Hydra usual, his interactions with her gave her a sense of his character that was hardly on par with people like John Garrett, Grant Ward, Daniel Whitehall, or any of higher-ups she had been warned about.

 

Still, it was easy to forget he was Hydra at all. Skye did not want to see the undeniable proof of that he was.

 

Skye briefly wondered if he were a mercenary like Hunter hired by Hydra. That would explain a few things like why he let her go with the obelisk during their first encounter and why he was so at odds with the usual Hydra goon. But Fitzsimmons made it seem like he was a leader to some of the lower level Hydra agents when they were kidnapped. Skye really wished she could find a way to ask them about it. All her attempts at prying had led her nowhere with him. They never mentioned him.

 

A call broke her out of her daze. She flipped the phone on speaker and passed it one-handedly back to Fitz to hold while she drove.

 

“Skye, Fitzsimmons, do you copy?” It was Coulson’s voice.

 

“Yes, sir. We’re here,” Simmons answered for the group. Skye glanced back at them in her rearview mirror to see the two huddled around the phone. They sat forward enough that she could turn and speak into the outstretched phone as well.

 

“We just got a report of a Hydra sighting in your area. Not fifteen minutes out. It appears that they’re trying to get their hands on a real piece of alien technology that was being housed in a warehouse owned by a company called Futurepharm Corporation. Skye, you know anything on it?”

 

“No, but normally I hear of it first and then pick it apart to find all the dirty secrets,” Skye teased despite the situation.

 

“We have to assume that they’re civilians then,” Coulson concluded grimly. “We did a brief search and found nothing indicating otherwise, and we don’t have anymore time.”  

 

“I’m sending coordinates to you now,” May spoke up.

 

“Futurepharm is biotechnical research institution that probably just naively got ahold of alien tech. I always say nothing good comes of anything alien in human hands,” Coulson continued. “Reports indicate it’s just a two-man team infiltrating the facility. Fitzsimmons, Skye, you’re in a good position to stop them. They likely won’t be expecting any resistance.”

 

Skye made eye contact with Fitz and then Simmons in her mirror as she altered her course to follow the coordinates they had been given. Coulson was right. It was so close that they probably could easily get the jump on Hydra. She sped up.

 

“It’s a good chance to contain the alien technology ourselves. It seems to be a Chitauri gun leftover from New York. All of them were supposed to have been recollected,” Coulson said wryly, “But Jasper Sitwell had been in charge of that mission. It’s probably why Hydra knows about it to begin with.” He paused. “Where are you now?”

 

“Five minutes out,” Skye replied as she executed a turn that was not quite as safe as a complaining Fitz would have liked.

 

“We can’t let Hydra take control of it. Chitauri weaponry is powerful and dangerous even in the right hands.” Coulson hesitated before adding, “But remember that your safety is the priority. Don’t take the risk if it’s too much. I wouldn’t send you three if I had any other options and backup is already on the way. Just do reconnaissance if you must. Don’t engage if you judge the threat level to be above your abilities.”

 

“Got it,” Skye confirmed, but she was planning on going to go in regardless. Like Coulson said, they could not let Hydra get their hands on it.

 


 

“Are you done yet?” The impatient voice was just loud enough for Grant to hear over the heavy gunfire. Kara took a moment to throw him a look over her shoulder that was meant to convey just how tired she was on being on the defensive.

 

“Almost,” he replied while fiddling with a couple of wires.

 

“For an explosives expert, you’re taking a while to finish.” The gunfire had died down. Kara had eliminated all of the guards, but they both knew more would be coming soon. “Whitehall said he needed this as soon as possible.”

 

Whitehall could go to hell as far as Ward was concerned, but he held his tongue. It made no difference if he received his precious alien technology within the next fifteen minutes or hour. It hardly mattered anyway since he was probably just going to tear the whole thing apart in the name of supposed scientific experimentation anyway. Seemed like a waste to Ward, but he did not care enough to say so.

 

“You can leave now,” Grant suggested to reassure her. She always became frantic at the thought of disappointing Whitehall. It was yet another reason why he was almost certain she was brainwashed.

 

“And leave you?” Kara asked slightly skeptically. He supposed to her their easy camaraderie extended to disapproval of leaving him on his own. It was a bit surprising to know that. Ward could not recall a single other time that someone refused to abandon him. John’s policy was always those who fall behind, get left behind. It was up to the person, and no one else, to ensure their own survival. Reliance on others was how someone got killed.

 

Ward snorted and hid any indications of his surprise. “I can handle myself. It will only be another two minutes for me. You can take the package and report back to Whitehall.”

 

Kara would stop worrying. Whitehall would be appeased. It was the best option tactically. Ward considered the possibility that he came up with the new plan to ease Kara and roughly shook off those thoughts. Emotions were always complications, but emotions on missions were weaknesses he could never afford- not while John still needed him.

 

“I’ll meet you at the rendezvous position in 0100 hours,” Kara said without any hint of the previous hesitation.

 

Ward just nodded and listened to her fading footsteps as she made her escape with the alien tech. He was almost done anyway. It would take a few moments for the next round of guards to come. By then, he would be finished, and they would be no match for him.

 

Sure enough, he completed his task and was running out of the facility before any resistance was mobilized. He shot three guards that were in his path but was for the most part left alone.

 

He turned the corner and into the hallway that led to the exit when he stopped abruptly.

 

Blocking his path out were three SHIELD agents that he hoped for his sanity he would never see again. In his shock, he just stared incomprehensibly for a moment. There was a rustle of movement from behind him, but before he could turn around and face the threat, Agent Skye executed a perfect shot over his shoulder. The blast glowed blue and did not appear to be standard gun. Ward remembered vaguely hearing about the weapon SHIELD used. It utilized some form of chemical compound to render enemies unconscious. It had some stupid name, too, like Dum Dum Gun or something that Grant had forgotten.

 

His would-be assailant fell to the ground in an ungraceful heap. “Watch your six,” Skye said cheekily.

 

There was a brief pause where no one, including Skye, seemed to know how to respond to what just happened. It appeared she remembered belatedly that he was her enemy, and she just protected him in front of her colleagues. Both of her scientist friends were staring at her strangely. Since they had been just looking at him that way, he was glad for their distraction.

 

“Where’s the Chitauri weapon?” Skye asked, suddenly all business as if to compensate for her mistake.

 

She still had her weapon out, and it was vaguely pointed at him, but Grant was unconcerned. Neither scientist had bothered to draw a weapon yet. He was confident that he could neutralize them should the situation escalate.

 

“I don’t have it,” Ward told them honestly. None of them looked like they believed him. “It’s pretty big. If I had it, you’d know.” Ward decided it was best to put on an arrogant act. It usually irritated Skye. With a careless shrug, he continued, “Sorry kids, you’re too late. My partner already escaped with the package. I’m just the cleanup crew.”

 

That reminded him. He risked a glance at his watch. He needed to leave soon or he was not going to clear the minimum safe distance radius. Grant did not plan on dying anytime soon, but if he did, there was no way it was going to be because he accidentally blew himself up.

 

All three of them reacted predictably to being referred to as a “kid”. “You hardly look any older than us,” Skye protested. Then she looked at the engineer, “Okay, maybe you have a point with Fitz.” The man in question complained loudly about how they would soon be jealous of that.

 

Ward decided he had wasted enough time. He started walking towards the exit, which led him straight past the three of them. The scientists finally drew their weapons and pointed at him. Grant was completely unconcerned. He was confident he would be able to read the intention to shoot on their face and react accordingly if need be. Somehow he doubted any of them would shoot him. The scientists were not field agents, they did not have the same training that would tell them to attack and shoot first in these situations. As for Skye, well, she was a different matter entirely.

 

The three of them seemed to have decided to let him go without fighting since he made no moves to engage any of them. He passed them without any issue, which would have been ideal. He could make his escape easily now and be out of range when the blast went off. It should have been perfect, but there was one problem.

 

“Where are you going?” Ward found himself asking without meaning to. “I told you the weapon is gone.” All three of them had started walking forward and into the building. It was none of his concern. Ward decided if they ignored him, he would just walk out. It really was not any of his business. Of course, he knew they would not.

 

Skye and the others turned to face him. He had one hand on the door ready, but his attention was facing them.

 

“Not to be rude, Zach,” Skye sneered the fake name at him. He was a little surprised she had not learned his real one yet. Maybe she was just trying to goad him. “But we don’t trust your word. We’re going to look for ourselves and help the innocent people you attacked.”

 

Innocent was not the word Ward would use to describe AIM, but SHIELD agents could act very superior when they wanted to. “You need to leave,” Grant told them firmly.

 

“We don’t take orders from you,” the biochemist spoke up. She was the one out of the three with the least friendly look on her face.

 

They were not going to listen to him, Ward realized. If only because Skye would not want to act strangely in front of her friends again, and the biochemist’s well-founded distrust, there was no way they were going to follow his advice. That left one option.

 

“The building is set to explode in,” Ward glanced at his watch, “Three minutes,” Grant concluded bluntly.

 

All three of them froze for a split second before reacting. It was hard to tell what they were saying as they all spoke over one another, but Ward gathered that they were now even more insistent that they needed to go into the building. To try and save the AIM employees. He should have known better than to assume a SHIELD agent would make a rational, survival choice.

 

“There’s no time. You have to leave,” Ward all but growled at them irritably.

 

“If we can find the bomb, we can stop before it goes off,” Skye suggested, ignoring him. “Right, Fitz?”

 

The engineer- Fitz, he should probably just start referring to them by their names- looked hesitant. “Explosives aren’t my specialty-”

 

“And the types and models vary so much-“ The biochemist, Dr. Simmons he reminded himself, continued.

 

“That we have no way of predicting the capability-“

 

“Not to mention the amount of time to locate the explosive-“

 

“Guys, stop!” Skye cut in finally. She looked at him, “Do you know anything about bombs?”

 

Grant glared at her disbelievingly, “Yes, I’m a expert. That’s why I was put in charge of rigging the building to blow in two minutes.” He put as much emphasis on the time constraint as possible.

 

“You were the one who set them up?” Skye asked in muted shock. Like the idea that he did his job was some huge surprise.

 

“You know what else I know about bombs?” Grant continued without acknowledging her question, “They blow people stupid enough to be near them up. We have to go.”

 

He should just walk out and leave them to their idiocy. But he knew if he did, they would definitely die. His indecision kept him in place.

 

“He’s right,” Dr. Simmons chimed in practically albeit reluctantly. “We don’t have time and the variables are too great.”

 

“We can’t leave these people to die!” Skye countered. “Who knows how many are in the building?”

 

“Are a bunch of AIM employees really worth your life?” Ward finally exclaimed incredulously.

 

“AIM? Advanced Idea Mechanics?” Fitz asked surprised. “This is their building?” The two scientists were looking at each other and nodding decisively in some form of unspoken conversation. Skye still looked lost as if she somehow had never heard of AIM even as a SHIELD agent.

 

Ward glared at them all. “You came in here so completely uninformed that you didn’t even know whose building you were infiltrating?”

 

It seemed like the biochemist was going to defend that absurd level of unpreparedness, but Ward was done. Wordlessly, he grabbed Skye’s arm and dragged her to the entrance. In her surprise and confusion, she did not fight him at all. He was running, confident that the scientists at least would have enough self-preservation to follow now that they knew the facility was AIM’s.

 

Skye was sprinting alongside him now, but he did not let go of her arm. Part of him wanted reassurance that she did not turn around the first chance she had to martyr herself for AIM. That was stupid though, so Grant ignored those thoughts.

 

How many times was he going to stick his neck out to help her? His actions were irrational, and he needed to stop. He needed to push her away or kill her or at least stop keeping her secrets. It had gone too far already, and Grant knew it could still go a lot farther if he did not stop it now. But he was not sure he knew how. He tightened his grip on her arm.

 

They were not going to avoid the blast, Ward realized with sudden clarity. The timer said that only a minute remained. He waited too long like an idiot, and now all that he was going to accomplish was getting himself killed along with them.

 

Kara was going to laugh when she heard that he managed to mess up so badly that he got caught in the radius of his own bomb. Or maybe she would not laugh at all, that would be worse. John was going to be so disappointed. Grant would have let him down. He needed him, and Ward was abandoning him because he was just so weak.

 

Skye twisted in his grasp, and he felt her pull backwards in the direction of the building. With a glance behind him, he saw why. Grant was in great shape, and Skye was, too. With him propelling her even more, they covered enough distance to be on the border of the safe distance. Unfortunately, Sci-Tech did not emphasize the importance of physical fitness. The scientists were far better than most, but they were not field agent fast.

 

“Don’t you dare,” Grant growled at her as she tried to go back for them. She ignored him and yanked herself out of his grasp and raced back into the danger zone again. Ward remembered the image of the three of them after he kidnapped the scientists, he recalled thinking that they were clearly close…

 

Ward swore and followed her back. He could not think of another moment in recent history where he had been this stupid. She had gotten to where the scientists were and reached the same conclusion that he had made when she first turned back. There was no way she alone could add enough force to get all three of them out quickly enough. She pulled on the biochemist and managed to move them forward again.

 

Ward grabbed the engineer’s arm as he had done with Skye. Between the two of them, they were moving as rapidly as they could. He was fast on his feet, and only a second behind her. This was a situation where a second made all the difference though.

 

Weak.

 

His watch’s timer went off with an innocuous little beeping noise. “Get down!” Ward yelled. He moved without thought.

 

The building exploded behind him and the world erupted in fire.

 


 

Skye woke up slowly. It felt like she was fighting against a current trying to fight off her unconsciousness. She was confused, everything ached. Something had happened. She knew there was something she was forgetting. It was on the edge of her grasp, just out of her mind’s reach

 

She kept her eyes closed to assess her surroundings while appearing still asleep as May taught her whenever she woke up in a strange place.

 

She could hear cars in the distance. Faint shouting. There was a heavy pressure on her back. She was lying on her front on something gravelly and cold. Her cheek was pressed harshly into what felt like a rock.

 

She was reasonably sure there were no enemies nearby, so she opened her eyes. She could see a feebly groaning Simmons and Fitz on the ground. There was debris on their back. That was right, they got caught in the explosion with Zach.

 

Skye realized what was the weight on her back and why she was the only one awake.

 

Zach’s body was like a dead weight, which made it hard for her to move. She could not help but idly think that when she fantasized about him on top of her, it was very different from this reality.

 

Joking aside, she tried to focus. Zach had grabbed her at the last second and threw her to the ground. His back had taken the brunt of the detonation as a result. She shifted as much as she could and frantically felt for a pulse. It was there. It did not feel weak to her either, but Skye was not a medic by any stretch of the imagination.

 

His face was right by hers looking impossibly peaceful for what she knew of him. She wriggled a hand out from under him and softly touched his face. To check for a reaction, of course. He was usually so harsh and abrupt that seeing his expression smoothed over was startlingly in itself. So was the fact that he had covered her, but she could not afford to think on that now.

 

“Zach,” she hissed trying to get a response. She shook him and slapped his cheek lightly but he was dead to the world. It was better than being dead dead though, so Skye let that go. She twisted towards Fitzsimmons.

 

“Simmons! Fitz!” Her voice sounded hoarse and was not all that loud. Neither of them reacted to her either. Simmons was still moaning softly though, and Skye could tell Fitz’s chest was rising and falling with his breaths.  

 

She needed to get up. She had never heard of AIM, but the way Fitzsimmons reacted, it appeared that the “innocent civilians” were not so innocent and not so civilian-y either. Even without that knowledge, the blast must have alerted people. She had to get them out of there.

 

Even as she thought that, she realized that there was nothing to be done. The cars she heard pulled up around them, and she found herself surrounded by assault rifles pointing directly at her.

 

 

Chapter Text

Allowing AIM to take her had been one of the hardest things Skye had ever had to do. Skye considered herself a fighter by nature. She tried to combat injustices every day of her life. With the Rising Tide and then SHIELD, Skye wanted to do something, to change things. She never let people tell her she could not do something. Oh, she could play the hapless victim, but Skye had never before just surrendered without a fight or a contingency plan.

 

And yet here she was.

 

Staring down the barrel of ten different guns, Skye was at a loss. She liked to think she could have taken them anyway, but there was one thing holding her back. Well, three things actually. Fitz, Simmons, and “Zach” were unconscious and vulnerable. If Skye had started a fight and one of them had gotten a stray bullet… Skye was not going to let that happen.

 

Skye had looked at the smoothed over faces of her blissfully unaware companions and knew she had no choice. Fitz and Simmons had stayed strewn on the ground like a couple of ragdolls. She had cradled Zach’s head in her lap while she stared up at her captors with a look of promise. She may be helpless now, but Skye was not one to roll over and play dead.

 

She had watched motionless anyway while the AIM agents secured the four of them. The only time she let any distress show was when one of the AIM agents carelessly jarred Zach’s obviously broken fingers. They must have twisted in his haste to push her down. That only made her angrier at seeing them knocked pointlessly. He was unconscious and unaffected, but it pissed Skye off anyway.

 

Part of her knew that the fierce protectiveness she felt for Zach was ridiculous. She barely knew the guy, and whatever else he was, he was working for the enemy. Really, he was the enemy. Rationally, all of that made sense, but it did not feel real to her. When she saw him, her instincts were to assume he was on her side, which she knew was not true.

 

But maybe it was a little more complicated than that. He did save the Fitzsimmons and her from walking into their deaths unknowingly. And he had protected her from the blast- well, the explosion he caused but still!

 

Skye could not get a good read on him, and she considered herself to be very good at reading people. It was a necessary life skill for orphans in her opinion, one she picked up quickly. But it felt like the more she saw of Zach, the more confused she became. She would avoid thinking about him at all because of how much it drove her crazy, except it was becoming increasingly obvious that there was no avoiding him. He was everywhere it seemed. On her missions, in her thoughts, in her dreams, he was inescapable.

 

She had been able to push those thoughts away in the face of danger though. Not that it mattered though. Seconds after they were all secured, a man dressed in all black approached her with a needle and robbed her of her hard earned consciousness.

 

When she woke up, she was handcuffed to the wall of a creepy interrogation room. The door appeared to be mechanical, and there was a control panel next to it. The place vibrated in a strange way making Skye believe they might actually be on a plane. The room was bare except for a metal table and two chairs in front of her. Zach was shackled to the left of her and Fitzsimmons were in similar conditions on her right. The fact that none of them had woken up yet was worrying her. They must be more injured from the blast than she thought.

 

Three fingers on Zach’s left hand were twisted from the fall and it looked like some debris had imbedded itself into his shoulder because Skye could see dried blood. There was a large cut marring his face, right along his cheekbone. His lip was split as well. Fitzsimmons had fared better, probably because they were not covering anyone else. Skye ignored the guilt that rose in her stomach in response to that thought. Overall, they just seemed bruised and battered but otherwise okay. But they were not waking up, and Skye was freaking out.  

 

Soon enough, Skye’s wrists began to ache from the position. Skye considered trying to break her wrists and slip out of the handcuffs, but she chose not to. Besides the fact that she would still be trapped in the room without a clue how to drag three unconscious people out, she had also never pulled that trick before. She had seen May do it, but Skye personally had not tried to replicate the move. If she just managed to injury herself trying, it would be more humiliating than just waiting around. So Skye just tested her range of motion upwards of twenty times just to take her mind off the growing worry over her friends.

 

Just when she was on the edge of panicking, Simmons stirred. The biochemist let out a pained moan and blinked furiously in confusion. “Skye?”

 

“Oh, thank god, Simmons! I was so worried! Are you okay?”

 

Skye’s energy appeared to startle Simmons who was still fighting off the last vestiges of unconsciousness. Simmons straightened and suddenly realized that she was trapped. She straightened in alarm and looked around in panic. “Skye! Where are we? What happened?”

 

“Coulson sent us to check out Futurepharm because Hydra had attacked looking for the Chitauri weapon,” Skye told her. “But the building exploded and knocked you out, remember?”

 

Simmons nodded absentmindedly. “Yes, Hydra attacked, I remember.” As she spoke, her gaze landed on the still knocked out Zach. Skye bit her lip to keep from defending him from the unspoken accusation. It was not like Simmons was wrong, Zach even admitted he rigged the bombs. It felt wrong to blame him when he saved their lives though. “Where are we now?”

 

“I think we’re on a plane,” Skye said unsurely, because really why would they be on a plane? And why were they not just dead?

 

“Yes,” Simmons agreed primly and patiently, “But whose plane?”

 

“Must be AIM’s,” came a tired voice from Simmons’ other side. Skye felt a wave of relief rush through her. Fitzsimmons were fine. She found herself still consumed with pent up worry though because the fourth captive remained dead to the world. 

 

“Fitz!” Simmons exclaimed. “Yes, that’s right. Futurepharm was supposedly an AIM base.”

 

“Well, we’re obviously not with Hydra,” Fitz said as he craned his head forward and indicated towards the restrained Zach.

 

Simmons bobbed her head in agreement. “Yes. And if this is Director Coulson’s idea of a warm welcome, I might consider giving my resignation.” 

 

Skye smiled despite herself. “Coulson? Never, he’d be more likely to wrap you up in a Captain America blanket and tell you a bad joke. Now, May? Well, she was a pretty creative S.O., so I wouldn’t put anything past her.”

 

Fitz shuddered comically, but Simmons did not appear to be listening. Her observant gaze was on Zach. She pursed her lips in contemplation. “Skye, what was that earlier, before the explosion?”

 

Skye feigned ignorance in the vain hope that Simmons would just let it go. “What was what?”

 

Fitz looked at the sleeping Zach, and his eyes widened. “Yeah, how do you know him?”

 

“I don’t really,” Skye found herself saying for a lack of a better response. Did she even know Zach? It felt like she did, it felt like she had known him for a while actually, but she knew next to nothing about him.

 

Simmons opened her mouth, probably to call Skye out on her blatant lying, but she was interrupted. The door banged loudly as it hit the wall. Four men entered, one dressed in a white lab coat, two in tactical gear, and one in a business suit. None of them looked particularly friendly.

 

“Doctors,” Business Suit greeted Fitzsimmons without smiling- and without looking in Skye’s direction. Rude. He inclined his head to Fitzsimmons and Tactical Gear 1 and 2 walked forward and unshackled the two.

 

They rubbed their wrists and both simultaneously glanced back to Skye. Skye knew they would not leave her behind, just as she did not earlier when they were the ones incapacitated. They made no move to resist as Tactical Gear 1 pushed them forward. That did not stop them from protesting verbally though.

 

“Who are you? What do you want? Why have you taken us?” Simmons let out a continuous stream of questions without giving their captors any time to answer.

 

“Don’t bloody touch me,” was all Fitz said.

 

As they attracted all of the enemies’ attention, Skye focused on learning as much as possible. Business Suit was obviously the leader, looked wealthy and full of himself. He reminded Skye of Ian Quinn, which just made her hate him more. Lab Coat was fidgety and nervous but otherwise stable. He appeared uninterested in the interactions, just awaiting direction. Tactical Gear 1 and 2 seemed to just be muscle. Both were at least a foot taller than Skye and three times as big, so she figured they packed a good punch. But neither appeared to have the fluidity of a fighter, so they likely relied on brute strength. They really looked to be more in line with mob enforcement than secret agent.

 

Skye was unimpressed overall. More than that though, she was embarrassed. How did they let themselves get captured by these guys in the first place? Oh yeah, they walked into a building set to explode. When they got out of this, Skye was going to personally ensure that Fitzsimmons take up speed improvement drills.

 

“Hey!” Skye finally called out and drew Business Suit’s eyes. He gave her a bored look for her trouble. “How about letting me out, too? My wrists are cramping.” Skye jiggled her hands for emphasis.

 

Unfortunately, Business Suit was unmoved. “When I need you, I’ll get you.” He ushered Fitzsimmons out of the room with Tactical Gear 1 and 2 and Lab Coat. He pressed a code into the keyboard of the wall panel, but Skye could not see which numbers he used. The door clicked open.

 

“Hang on-“ Skye started before the door was slammed shut once more. Skye glowered before yelling at it just for the hell of it, “Asshole!”

 

“You sure told him,” came a sarcastic voice to her left.

 


 

Grant opened his eyes as soon as he heard the door close and saw Skye jump when he finally spoke. She whirled to face him as much as she could given their bonds with an impressive scowl.

 

“I don’t see you doing anything worthwhile,” she retorted stubbornly. “You’ve just been useless dead weight.”

 

Since he liked needling her, Ward decided not to let that one go without commenting. “Color me disappointed, I’d really expect more from the pupil of the Cavalry.”

 

Skye’s brow furrowed in confusion before realization washed over her expression. “You were awake the whole time. Eavesdropping.”

 

“You say that like it’s a bad thing,” Ward said nonchalantly. “You are a spy, aren’t you?”

 

Skye just frowned back at him. She was practically pouting at him, and he almost smiled at the distinctly fed up expression. It was so Skye. That was a disturbing line of thought though, so Ward forced his lips into a thin line that he knew people interpreted as annoyance.

 

“So what’s your plan then, Superspy?” Skye asked grumpily. “Because you have all the answers, right?”

 

“I usually do,” Grant agreed arrogantly and was rewarded with an overdramatic eye roll from his fellow prisoner.

 

He did actually have a good idea how to get out of his current predicament. While Ward rarely found himself vulnerable enough to get captured, he was excellent at escaping. Back when he was living in the Wyoming woods, John used to tie Ward up in elaborate bonds when he visited and time how long it took Grant to escape. At first they felt impossible and Grant complained. John did not allow for such weakness and nothing could convince him to release Grant. It was up to him to find a way out of the ties.

 

Grant remembered one of the first times John did this. He had bound his hands and arms behind Ward’s back as well as his feet. John left after a couple of hours of Grant squirming without any success at freeing himself. In the dark of the crisp autumn night, it had been even harder to try and break the binds. Soon Grant realized John was never going to help him and may not even come back. Eventually Grant managed to wiggle his way to a rock. With a combination of rubbing the ropes to weaken them and actually banging his wrist against the rock, Grant finally was able to free himself.

 

John had come back not long after to find him nursing his injured wrist and a little starved from the day without food. John had said he was proud of him though, and Grant had barely felt the pain.

 

Ward blinked slowly as he wished away that reminiscing. It had been so long since he had thought of that memory. There was no point in thinking of it now, the past belonged in the past.

 

“Hello? Earth to Mr. Hydra Agent, are you daydreaming?” Skye’s voice successfully broke through his trip down memory lane. She was staring at him with some measure of worry. “Do you have a concussion?”

 

Grant leveled her a look in lieu of answering. She got the message quickly.

 

“Well, excuse me for being concerned,” she muttered while glaring at him.

 

Grant’s chest tightened in some emotion. Skye did not seem to realize what she had just said, but he did. She was worried about him, his wellbeing. People did not worry about him ever. Grant was not sure how to react, so he pretended not to have heard.

 

He returned to his planning. The question was not how he was going to escape but when. If he waited for the opportune moment, everything should go without a hitch. He just had to be patient.

 

“So who are these guys anyway?” Skye asked him, apparently fed up with his silence.

 

“AIM?” Grant wondered incredulously. “You don’t know who AIM is?”

 

Skye frowned defensively, “No.”

 

“What, did you sleep through Operations?” Grant questioned harshly. He did not mean to sound so acerbic but all the emotions were bottled up inside of him looking for an outlet. Skye was a convenient one.

 

“Operations? As in SHIELD academy?”

 

“As opposed to what?” Grant said with more than a little mockery, “Operation the board game?”

 

Skye flushed. It was actually strangely appealing, she was always so heated and passionate. “I didn’t go to the Academy,” she said a little petulantly. “And if I had, it wouldn’t have been Operations.”

 

Grant sent her a confused glance. She had not gone to the Academy? She was a SHIELD agent. She was a SHIELD field agent, so where would she have gone if not Operations?

 

“Comms,” Skye answered his unasked question with an awkward shrug, her arms still tied up.

 

“Comms,” Grant repeated. “You’re a hacker?”

 

Skye smiled proudly as she blew a stray piece of hair out of her face. The expression transformed her face. She really was beautiful.

 

Unaware of the odd turn his thoughts had taken, Skye replied, “Yeah. I used to call myself a ‘hacktivist’ though.”

 

“Why?” Grant asked curiously. His lips turned up in the smallest smile he could manage. Of course Skye called herself a ‘hacktivist’.

 

“I was trying to make the world a better place. A hacker and an activist, you know. Hacktivist. That was back when I was with the Rising Tide for the most part,” Skye concluded thoughtfully.

 

“The Rising Tide? You were one of the pseudo-anarchists trying to stir everything up?” Ward blurted out before laughing lightly, “And here I thought you were actually going to tell me you were doing real activism.”

 

“The Rising Tide wasn’t that bad,” Skye defended mildly offended.

 

The room became silent again. Grant thought over all he just learned about Skye. She was not just a field agent, she was a hacker. Considering that what he had seen from her marked her as a capable operative, that was impressive. Grant tried to imagine Kaminsky attempting that over-the-shoulder shot of hers back at Futurepharm. He would have ended up unconscious at best or dead at worst.

 

More than that, she worked for the Rising Tide and never went to the Academy. Just where had SHIELD found her? It was rare for operatives to join after the Academy. SHIELD liked their agents homegrown, used to say it was the best way to ensure loyalty and confidentiality. That definitely blew up in their faces.

 

Skye was not even a normal agent either, the Cavalry trained her apparently. Grant had run into her on several solo missions as well. She was an outsider who had somehow become a huge player for SHIELD. Grant stopped himself from asking, but he really wished he knew how that had happened.

 

“Wait a minute,” Skye spoke up, her voice tinged with alarm. “Did you go to Operations?”

 

Grant raised a brow and deadpanned, “Well, I didn’t go to Sci-Tech.”

 

“But that would make you an embedded Hydra agent. You used to work for SHIELD,” Skye accused, looking weirdly betrayed for some reason.

 

“Once upon a time,” Grant agreed. He was about to be given a front row seat to SHIELD’s self-righteousness, he just knew it. There was nowhere to run either.

 

“You betrayed SHIELD,” Skye threw the words at him as if she were trying to attack him.

 

“I didn’t betray anyone. That implies that my loyalties changed. My loyalty has remained the same for over fifteen years,” Grant disagreed mildly.

 

“But you pretended to be loyal to SHIELD,” Skye argued without pause. “And then turned on us when we needed you most!”

 

“I pretend to be a lot of things,” Ward told her bluntly. “That’s the job.”

                                                                                

Skye appeared a little shocked at his words. For a spy, she was really opposed to lying. She regained her poise quickly though. “But you turned your back on your friends, left them for the enemy.”

 

Grant scoffed. “What friends? I had no friends at SHIELD even when I worked for them.”

 

Skye tilted her head to the side and analyzed him openly as if he were a puzzle she wanted to solve. “So your friends were all Hydra?”

 

Grant thought about Kara, but they were not friends. She was just the closest thing he had to an easy working relationship with anyone who was not John. John was not a friend either. He was his mentor, his father figure, the closest thing he would ever have to real family, but John was not a friend.

 

“No,” Grant replied honestly. “I don’t have any friends in Hydra either.”

 

Skye gaped as if she wanted to respond but did not have the words. Grant supposed as he replayed his answers in his head that it sounded sad to someone like Skye who clearly had close friends in SHIELD. But Grant did not need fake friends to pretend to care and then run away when he needed him. He did not need anyone anymore. Friends were just attachments dragging you down. They were weaknesses.

 

John had done more for Grant than any friend ever could anyway.

 

Skye was still confused. “But-“

 

“AIM stands for Advanced Idea Mechanics,” Ward smoothly spoke over her. He had no desire to hash out his personal life- or lack thereof- with a SHIELD agent, or anyone really. “They are an elite group of scientists who more or less became terrorists.”

 

“Terrorists?” Skye barked out a laugh. “You work for Hydra. Isn’t that a case of the pot calling the kettle black?”

 

Ward ignored her. “Their previous leader was a man named Aldrich Killian. He was killed in a fight with Iron Man after setting up that whole Mandarin façade. I’m sure you heard about that.” Grant gave her a pointed look.

 

Skye nodded. “Yeah, I remember that. It was really an actor in all those terrorist propaganda messages.”

 

“Trevor Slattery. He was hired by Killian and used as a front to conceal AIM’s true activities. They needed an excuse of terrorism to explain away a series of seemingly random public explosions. The supposed bombers were actually the bombs.”

 

Comprehension lit up Skye’s face immediately. “Extremis.”

 

Grant nodded. He watched as she bit her lip. Thoughts flashed across her expression too quickly for Grant to get a good read on.

 

“Hang on, wasn’t that what Hydra was doing?”

 

Grant raised his brow. She could not be serious. “I’m not telling you any Hydra intel.”

 

Skye just rolled her eyes. “You guys were. Centipede was experimenting in it. It’s how Mike got his abilities before… everything else happened.”

 

Grant narrowed his eyes. He knew who she was talking about. He spent next to no time with Deathlock, but Garrett had told him the guy had escaped with his son after SHIELD broke up the incentives program. Garrett had bigger things to worry about than hunting the guy down, so that was the last Grant heard of it.

 

But Skye calling Deathlock by his first name, citing Centipede and connecting the project with Extremis, was she one of the SHIELD agents involved in the dissolving of Cybertek? Add that to the fact that apparently she was a hacker and newly trained by the Cavalry, and Ward was starting to feel like he sorely underestimated Skye’s competence- and importance within SHIELD.

 

“What do you know about Project Centipede?” Grant asked just to see her reaction.

 

She just rolled her eyes. “At this point, probably more than you do.”

 

Grant scoffed. “Unlikely.” He did not explain his skepticism further. “Extremis is just another attempt at recreating the Super Soldier serum. Hydra, AIM, Bruce Banner, many groups and people have attempted to do that.”

 

He let the silence return. He wanted to fill it with asking Skye countless questions until he finally understood her- and this strange attachment that he had to her.  

 

“So…” Skye dragged the word out while she stared at him. “You said AIM’s leader died, why are we here then?”

 

“After Killian’s death, it seemed that AIM had fallen apart. In reality, they were just licking their wounds after such a brutal defeat.” And because he really could not resist, he added, “Like SHIELD.” Skye huffed and went to speak before he continued without acknowledging her attempt. “Clearly they have new leadership. My guess is that they took your scientist friends to try and recruit them. They are just the type of agents AIM would look for.”

 

“Minus the whole being evil thing,” Skye grumped. “Fitz and Simmons are good people. They’d never join an organization hell bent on terrorizing people.” She threw him a very pointed look at that.

 

“Yes,” Ward nodded as if in agreement. “Instead they opted to join an organization that sends them into a terrorist organization’s facility unprepared and clueless.” Grant faced her fully so he could appreciate her reaction.

 

Skye’s face reddened slightly in anger as she scowled. “Well, at least they- umm, you know…” She faltered before regained her composure. “Hey, you’re acting pretty cocky for a guy who blew himself up!”

 

Now it was Ward’s turn to scowl. “If I hadn’t been trying to drag someone with no self-preservation skills whatsoever out, that would never have happened.”

 

Curiously, Skye looked away. He assumed she would meet him retort for retort as she always did, but instead she appeared almost chagrined. That was unusual for her. She had never before been cowed by his comments on her self-righteousness or SHIELD superiority.

 

Then she turned around and her eyes took in his face with an oddly sad expression. He could not for the life of him figure out what was going on in her head. Her eyes scanned his cheek and then dropped to his lips, but there was nothing heated in her gaze like it was back in Dr. Streiten’s office.

 

Under the weight of her scrutiny, Grant unconsciously licked his lips, which succeeded in achieving two completely different things. First, he figured out why she was staring at him that way. He had forgotten that his face was beat up from the explosion. His split lip reminded him of that fact. He had pushed that pain as well as his broken fingers’ aside as he always did and forgotten entirely. At the same time, licking his lips had transformed Skye’s slightly guilty look into something far less innocent. He found himself wanting to do it again.

 

Or maybe lean forward and close the distance between them. He knew what her mouth tasted like, he could just imagine her response if he were to capture hers once more with his own. He could tease her lips the way she had with his in the two times they had kissed before. He could almost see how she would try to repress a shiver as she pressed fully into him.

 

Without meaning to, he had started to inch forward to act on his own fantasies. Skye did not seem opposed. In fact, she was leaning towards him, too.

 

The door opened again, and Grant quickly pulled back and affected an expression of perfect blankness. He pretended not to hear the soft noise of protest Skye gave when he retreated. It was not worth dwelling on.

 

Besides, it looked like his opportune moment was about to come.

 

Chapter Text

If Skye did not hate Business Suit before, she sure as hell did now. Zach had retreated into his aloof façade immediately upon his arrival. It was so convincing that Skye almost questioned whether their electric connection and almost kiss a second ago had been in her imagination. But no, Skye was certain that he was just as drawn to her as she was him, he just happened to be a better actor. Maybe it was he had better focus as well, she should really be following his lead and concentrating on current situation.

 

Business Suit strolled into the room with a smug smirk oblivious to the scene he nearly walked into. Lab Coat was no longer with him, but his muscle followed him through the door dutifully. Tactical Gear 1 dragged a squirming Simmons in his wake while Tactical Gear 2 appeared to have more difficulty with an uncooperative, protesting Fitz. Fitz was hardly a big guy, but his bigger body mass and height compared to Simmons’ was helping him make his guard’s job a nightmare.

 

“Shut up already,” Tactical Gear 2 growled as he shook poor Fitz violently. When Fitz raised his voice against such treatment, the asshole merely backhanded him.

 

“Leave him be!” Skye shouted. Sure, Fitz was not seriously hurt, but Skye could not wait to hand this guy’s ass to him for picking on her friend. She thrashed in her shackles angrily.

 

Tactical Gear 2 turned to give her a taunting look. “What are you going to do about it, little girl?”

 

Skye fumed. She wanted to show him just how much this little girl could kick his ass six ways to Sunday. If they were not on a plane, she would have given into using her powers already. She could feel them beneath the surface, conjured by her rage, just waiting for an opening to release. Skye clamped down on them hard.

 

Her control was getting better. She was able to channel the powers throughout her body when they beckoned instead of directing them inward, so she no longer broke her own bones in an attempt to rein them in. It was like she could picture the bubbling energy flowing along her veins to the constant rhythm of her heart.

 

That was only a temporary solution though. It worked for short periods of time, but eventually a point came where she could not contain them any longer. When that time came, May flew her out to a chosen location and waited on standby for hours while Skye did her thing. She was dropped on fault lines in the middle of the wilderness and just let loose. It was still just as terrifying as it was the first time she discovered her so-called gift as she watched the destruction she caused all around her, but no other solution had been found yet.

 

Skye was working on focusing her gift onto weapons. After inadvertently destroying her own gun, Skye realized how useful it would be if she could force the vibrations into her enemy’s weapons. It was the only moment so far she had any sort of excitement about her transformation. But success had been painfully limited, to the point of labeling any of her attempts “successful” was a stretch at best, a misnomer at worst.

 

Her lack of control was not why she held back now though. Mostly she did not want to try anything while they were presumably thousands of feet in the air in a metal contraption. If Skye accidentally made the plane fall apart and sent them all careening towards the ground, well, it was better that she did not test that. The other reason for her caution was standing next to her blank-faced and impossibly handsome.

 

Skye did not trust Zach for all that she was attracted to him. She could not afford to. Skye did not even let most people at SHIELD know about her abilities. She did not like the way some people treated her, even now, knowing that she was not fully human- to this day, Mack avoided her like she was some disease waiting to infect him. But more than that, Skye remembered Zach’s words to her about what people like Whitehall would do if they knew she was special- and he did not even know the half of it. Zach knew she had the GH formula in her system, he knew she could touch the obelisk without suffering the deadly side effects, but he did not know she could bring a building down with her mind if she was in a mood.

 

He was a Hydra agent, apparently had been for years as he pretended to be loyal to SHIELD. Skye could not rely on him to keep such a secret. Sure, he hid her other ones, but maybe that would change if he discovered she was more abomination than human. Even just the thought of the disgust she faced in the wake of her transformation coloring his expression made Skye depressed. It was stupid, and Skye knew she should not care so much about his opinion of her, but she did. She could not depend on him not to go running to his superiors if he discovered the truth.

 

So Skye focused on imagining the current of the vibrations in her bloodstream. She was rewarded with the tension of her body uncoiling. It was okay, these guys were not that tough. Skye did not need an earthquake to take them down.

 

During her musings, their captors had locked Fitzsimmons into their bonds again. Her friends were quieter now, and Skye thought it had a lot to do with Fitz’s bruised cheek. Just the sight of it made Skye want to destroy the guys, but that was for later.

 

Business Suit pompously approached his captives with his hands clasped behind his back. The motion allowed for his suit jacket to gape open enough to display the sidearm he had in his inside pocket.

 

“I couldn’t believe my luck earlier when we happened upon you in the wake of Hydra’s attack, but I suppose SHIELD is always forcing themselves into everyone else’s business. It’s to be expected.” Business Suit sighed put upon. Skye understood the feeling. His self-importance was tiring just to look at, so she could not imagine how exhausting it was for him to be that narcissistic all the time.

 

But something of his speech made her wary. “What makes you think we’re SHIELD?” Skye threw at him while purposely not looking to her left where Mr. Tall, Dark, and Handsome Hydra Agent was probably internally scoffing.

 

In response, Business Suit pulled out two objects out of his suit and held them up for Skye and the rest to see. For a moment, Skye did not know what to say. The Koenigs were going to kill Fitzsimmons.

 

“You brought your lanyards on a mission?” Skye asked incredulously. “Why would you keep any SHIELD ID on you?”

 

Simmons appeared slightly sheepish, but Fitz offered a justification. “In our defense, we left them back at base once for a mission, and Eric wouldn’t let us back in for hours. He insisted we undergo another orientation to prove we weren’t imposters with a photostatic veil.” Well, Skye could admit that did sound like Eric Koenig.

 

“We haven’t gone anywhere without them since,” Simmons added helpfully.   

 

Before Skye could say anything more, like questioning how the two smartest people she knew could carry a hallmark of their loyalty to a vigilante organization that also granted enemy access to every SHIELD base everywhere, Business Suit interrupted.

 

“It was fortunate that two of the scientists that could help us with the next stage of our Extremis project stumbled into my grasp. Sadly, Doctors Fitz and Simmons have been… stubborn so far.”

 

Simmons scoffed, and Fitz muttered something to her that sounded suspiciously like he was mocking AIM’s scientific efforts. Simmons made a joke that likened the project to “a five-year-old playing with rocks and calling it Palaeomagnetism”, which had Fitz in hysterics but meant nothing to Skye.

 

Business Suit reddened in anger, “Enough! You will cooperate or we’ll make you.” He gestured to his muscle to step forward, though they still hung behind him. “Tell me what I want to know, and your SHIELD friends won’t get hurt.”

 

So that was his plan, torture them until Fitzsimmons helped? Kind of lacked creativity in Skye’s opinion. It seemed that they had not realized that they managed to snag one of their Hydra infiltrators along with the SHIELD agents. Skye supposed with how AIM found them, Skye cradling an unconscious Zach in her lap, that made sense.

 

Zach. Skye did not turn to look at him, but she realized what had been missing from the conversation. He had not spoken a word, content it appeared to just watch for now. He said nothing when Business Suit first assumed he was SHIELD either. From her peripheral vision, Skye could see he was not faking unconsciousness anymore, but she was willing to bet he had some sort of plan.

 

“Now,” Business Suit gave a Cheshire cat smile, “Which one of you SHIELD agents wants to be our first volunteer? The little girl,” Skye bristled. She was twenty-six thank you very much! “-or the toy soldier?” Business Suit finally gave his attention to the fourth captive.   

 

Given that the focus was already on him, Skye turned her head to get a better look at her companion. Zach’s head was slightly bent, and he was lightly playing with the handcuffs that forced his arms above his head. Then he started laughing, a dark chuckle that sent shivers down Skye’s spine.

 

“I always knew AIM was pathetic, but it’s hard to believe they could find a leader even more incompetent than Killian,” Zach raised his gaze to look straight at Business Suit. “Then again, you’re living proof anything is possible.”

 

Business Suit stomped over to him. “Big words for a SHIELD agent,” the man growled from less than a foot away.

 

Zach smirked. “You are so far in over your head,” he spoke slowly as if talking to a child.

 

Business Suit turned slightly to face his guards, no doubt eager to inform them that Zach had volunteered for the promised torture, but he never got a chance to even open his mouth. That moment of distraction was all Zach had been waiting for.

 

The man in question raised himself up using his bonds and wrapped his legs around Business Suit’s neck. One of his hands darted down into the terrified, gasping Suit’s jacket seemingly free of their shackles as he yanked his hips to the side. The resounding crack as the man’s neck broke had Fitzsimmons and Skye cringing. Skye watched as his free hand reappeared holding his victim’s gun and pointed it Tactical Gear 1. Without hesitation, Zach imbedded a bullet in each of guard’s foreheads. They fell to the ground dead before they even had the time to draw their own weapons.

 

Zach one-handedly flipped the safety on the gun and tucked it into his pants. He then used his freed hand to search Business Suit’s jacket once more. Quickly he pulled out what appeared to be the key for the handcuffs and proceeded to unlock his other hand. At the same time, he dropped the dead weight of the Suit at his feet.

 

The whole thing took less than thirty seconds.

 

“What the hell was that?” Fitz asked recoiling against the wall. He stared at Zach like someone would upon discovering the cute, little puppy you were playing with was actually a man-eating wolf.

 

Zach paid him no mind. He was quickly and efficiently setting each of his broken fingers on the hand he had not used for his escape. Each one made a sickening snapping sound that had Fitz flinching again.

 

“I take back what I said earlier about how you set my fingers. I much prefer that way to whatever you’re bloody doing now.” Fitz waved his bound hands towards Zach with a grimace. Then Skye realized what Fitz just said. Zach had been the one to set his fingers when Fitzsimmons were captured?

 

That thought was shoved to the back of her mind as she considered all she just witnessed. All three of their former captors were lying motionlessly on the floor, sprawled less than dignifiedly in their deaths. Zach had just eliminated all three AIM agents effortlessly. It was methodical and cold.

 

It occurred to Skye that the reason she felt so unsettled was that she had never seen him actually acting like a Hydra agent. His fights with her were half-hearted at most- though to be fair, they were on her side as well. They never really tried to hurt each other, even that day in Seville where it all began. Skye had never once seen him do anything like this. Shooting civilians to draw SHIELD out, sniping the dealer in Seville, rigging a bomb at Futurepharm, Skye had known he had done all those things, but a part of her had not connected those actions with the man she kissed and teased and dreamed about so often it was starting to hurt.

 

It was like staring at a different person. How could the guy who kept her secrets and took an explosion for her be the same one as the one detachedly searching the dead bodies he put on the floor?

                                                                                                                 

There was no emotion whatsoever on his face. He meticulously collected the weapons of Tactical Gears with all the expression of a robot. Everything was mechanical, it felt as though he was not even in the room with Skye at all.

 

Besides that unnerving sight, other thoughts were flying in and out of Skye’s head as she tried to grasp the changed situation. Skye had always known that Zach was good, it was obvious upon meeting him. Fitzsimmons’ account of their interrogation had also indicated that even his peers were afraid of him. It was easy to see why now.

 

Skye thought over what she had just witnessed. All of Zach’s taunts to the AIM leader had been purposeful goading. He had lured him closer, so he could take his weapon with mockery and maneuvering. He read the conceitedness in the man and used it against him. Once close enough, he pushed the clueless man to the point of losing his temper and allowing himself to be distracted.

 

Skye realized Zach must have broken his wrist earlier when everyone was consumed with their own arguments and schemes. When he had been silently playing with his bonds, he was preparing to slip free of his shackles when the moment presented itself. He had twisted his own wrist without letting even the smallest sound of pain escape. It was all scarily impressive from the high pain tolerance and the perfect planning to the unbelievably fast reaction time and easy manipulations.

 

It made Skye wonder how the hell he planned on explaining to his boss that he blew himself up and then got captured. If Skye were his S.O. and knew all of his tricks and skills, there would be no way she would buy any story that involved him screwing up that much.


 

Grant breathed calmly as he stripped the corpses of anything of value. His hands were both throbbing persistently, but Grant ignored them. Even with his twisted fingers set, they still stung. His other hand was worse considering he had just broken his wrist, reset it, and then used it to hold a gun steadily. His shoulder was beginning to ache terribly from the strain he put it under when he used his arm to hold up the rest of his body. It felt like there may still be something stuck there, some piece of debris from the blast. His shirt stuck to his body in the area because of all the dried blood. At least it had stopped bleeding.

 

The engineer Dr. Fitz was commenting on his escape, but Grant tuned him out. He was listening carefully for any suspicious sounds. He wondered if anyone would come running after he fired the gun. Instead, it seemed that anyone else on the plane had just assumed it was their boss shooting the captives as opposed to the other way around. Idiots.

 

Unfortunately, Grant’s plan had relied on people checking out the ruckus he caused. The door was locked shut with a wall panel that required a code or algorithm of some sort. Grant could not say since this was so far outside his area of expertise. He had hoped that some clueless moron would open the door for him when they went to see if their boss was okay, but it appeared Grant’s luck had run out. He then thought that there might be some sort of key or card on the dead men’s persons, but that similarly proved to be useless.  

 

He might have been hasty in killing them. With them alive, they could have informed him what the key was. But only aiming to incapacitate them while he was attached to the wall and injured was risky. Had he failed to do so, and they shot on him, it would not matter if they were alive to give the code or not, Grant would be dead. He had assessed the risk and decided it was not worth it. But now he was stuck in the room for the time being.

 

Ward avoided looking at the SHIELD agents. He did not want to see their expressions because he was sure they would be full of the condemning superiority he always saw on SHIELD. Even Skye, she probably would have tried harder to use nonlethal force on their captors. He did not want to watch her face distorted with scorn and disgust. It should not matter what she thought, but it bothered him all the same. This was who he was, a killer and a bad person. It was her fault for not seeing what was right in front of her this whole time. That did not alleviate any of tension that wound up his body though.

 

“Umm, hello?” Skye’s voice disturbed his reverie, but he welcomed the distraction. Anything to save him from his own thoughts. “Aren’t you forgetting something?”

 

Grant finally turned to face the still handcuffed agents. Strangely Dr. Fitz and Skye were not looking at him with any of the expected disdain, instead they appeared almost impatient. The biochemist Dr. Simmons seemed wary and repulsed but otherwise nonjudgmental. It surprised Grant more than he wanted to admit.

 

“What?” Ward bit out more than a little unnerved by their responses.

 

Skye just shook her hands and caused the cuffs to rattle obnoxiously. “What are you waiting for? Let us out.”

 

Grant stared at them for a moment in disbelief. “Did you people forget we’re not on the same side or are you just stupid?”

 

Fitz and Skye appeared to be slightly embarrassed as if they really did forget that he worked for Hydra and they were SHIELD. Dr. Simmons just looked at him more offended that anyone would dare insinuate her intelligence was lacking.

 

Fitz recovered quickly though. “If you’re not planning on freeing us, then what are planning to do about the wall panel you were just staring at stupidly?”

 

Grant fought the urge to laugh at the man’s boldness. The engineer had a point, and the way he was staring back fearlessly after what he just seen Grant do was more impressive than anything he had seen most of his Hydra colleagues do.

 

Still, Grant did not want to let him know that just yet. He raised a brow and deadpanned, “Wait for someone to open the door and then take down anyone who gets in my way.”

 

Fitz was taken aback, probably not expecting Grant to have an answer for him.

 

Dr. Simmons cut in, “That’s an awful plan.”

 

Grant pointedly looked at the dead men littering the interrogation room floor. “It’s worked well for me so far.”

 

Skye rolled her eyes. “Cut the crap. We both know that you’re going to let us out, so just do it already. My arms are cramping.”

 

While it was true Grant planned to let them go now that Fitz highlighted the benefits of doing so, he was irritated by her assumption. “I don’t need any of you.”

 

Skye scoffed. “Okay, are you really turning down an expert hacker-“

 

“-And a genius engineer,” Fitz added quickly.

 

“-Who can help you get out of the door you can’t open in seconds because you’re that arrogant or just that much of an ass?”

 

Grant glared at them all and made no move to free them out of simple spite. He was wasting time though. He did not know how long he had been unaccounted for, but the sooner he got back to base the better. He could only imagine John’s reaction to his disappearance. He turned to face Simmons, “Are you going to tell me why you’re so valuable that I just have to release you, too?”

 

Simmons stared back with just as much arrogance. “I don’t need to prove my worth to you. But if I were going to note what an imbecile you would be to overlook my potential as an asset, I’d say that I’m an accomplished medic and you’re looking a little worse for wear.”

 

Considering the way his body protested his every moment, Grant had no argument for that. He was tempted to just leave them, so they would not think they won. He would not stoop to their level of childishness though.

 

Ward contemplated the possibility that they were pretending to help him and planned to stab him in the back first chance they got. After his earlier display, it would be smart of them. They must recognize the threat he posed to SHIELD. He dismissed it quickly. It would be out of character for them. There were no signs of deception on Simmons’ face, too, and while Grant was fairly certain that Skye could lie well if the situation called for it, he was even surer that the biochemist could not.

 

Wordlessly, he strode to Skye and unlocked her shackles. The movement put him close enough to her that he was reminded of the temptation he almost gave into not long ago. Even now, he wanted to press against her and duck his head down to meet her lips. The desire that consumed him when it came to Skye was starting to worry him. It did not appear to be going anywhere.

 

“Glad you came to your senses,” she smiled cheekily as her breath puffed against his cheek. Grant repressed a shiver. “Not that your other plan wasn’t brilliant, Lone Ranger.”

 

Grant handed her the key without comment on her sarcasm. Their fingers brushed and just that simple touch was enough to reignite the craving for more contact. He wondered what she would do if he pushed her up against the wall and kissed her in front of her SHIELD comrades. He was not sure, but the way her eyes widened made him think she read the thought on his face. He needed to lock down his emotions again.

 

“Thank you,” she said softly with none of her previous bravado. He nodded without breaking their eye contact. After a second, Skye turned away and began to help her friends.

 

Simmons was the closer of the two, so Skye started with her. There was a strange expression on the biochemist’s face. It was pained and knowing all at once as she stared at Skye. Skye for her part refused to meet her gaze as she worked on the cuffs. Simmons turned her gaze on Grant himself. He could not tell what she was thinking. Her eyes swept over him appraisingly as if she wanted to check his worthiness. For what, Grant had no idea, and he refused to meet her regard head on.

 

Instead, he observed Skye as she finished up with Simmons and moved onto Fitz. Simmons rubbed her wrists as she continued to stare at him. Skye made quick work of Fitz’s bonds. Soon enough the engineer was massaging his own wrists in time with the biochemist. They were perfectly in sync in their motions.

 

“Are you done yet?” Grant asked impatiently. Simmons’ staring, his attraction to Skye, and his body’s aching were starting to get to him. He felt irritated and eager to get the hell off of this plane.

 

“You can’t rush genius,” Fitz spoke as he brushed past Ward to get a good look at the wall panel. Fitz snorted to himself, “I won’t even need you for this Skye. Cracking the code would take longer than just reconfiguring it.”  

 

“Not the way I do it,” Skye called back confidently.

 

Fitz pulled up his shirt, and Ward saw that he had some tools strapped to his chest. Just a few, tiny ones, but there were enough that Fitz seemed sure of his ability rework the wall panel. He selected a small screwdriver and another tool and got to work. Grant was somewhat surprised that the engineer had not managed to free himself with all those tools on hand, but he supposed that a scientist would not view those with the same potential as a field agent. He probably had never even picked a lock with his own hands, preferring instead to create gadgets for field agents to use that served that purpose.

 

“This is painfully simple,” Fitz mumbled. “A monkey could do it. Especially a Capuchin. In addition to their adorable, little hands, they are quite intelligent.”

 

Grant leveled him with a look, mildly offended. “Are you trying to tell me that I’m dumber than a monkey?” He spoke bluntly so the question was really more of a statement.

 

Fitz fumbled with his tools. “Um, there’s nothing wrong with that. Like I was saying, monkeys’ brilliance is underestimated. They are capable of far more than you could possibly imagine!”

 

Grant just stared. “Because I’m that stupid.” He should have kept to his other plan of just fighting anyone who crossed his path. Nothing could be worth having freed this guy, so he could compare Grant’s intelligence with that of a monkey- with the monkey coming out on top. He wanted to throttle the man. He wanted to laugh.

 

Fitz for his part appeared to sense Grant’s irritation and wished to backtrack but did not know how. “Uhh…” was the gist of his attempt. Simmons grimaced, and Skye bit her lip looking like she was on the verge of laughter.

 

Skye decided to help her friend out. She sidled up at Grant and gave him a playful punch to his arm, which he just stared at unsure of how he was supposed to respond. “Don’t mind Fitz. Nothing compares to monkeys in his mind.” She paused before muttering so lowly that Grant was sure he was the only one to hear, “Except maybe Simmons.”

 

“I’m regretting freeing any of you,” Grant told her blandly.

 

Skye smiled unperturbed. “No, you’re not.” She was right and that bothered Grant even more. “So can I have one of those?” Skye pointed to the three guns he had collected from the AIM men tucked into his holsters and pants.

 

Grant smirked. “Now why would I give you a gun?”

 

Skye narrowed her eyes. “Maybe because we’re about to go out there to meet who knows how many men, and I’m a hell of a shot?”

 

“How do I know you won’t just wait until my back is turned and shoot me?” Ward wondered, mostly serious. He could not discount the possibility that this was a scheme to get him to lower his guard.

 

Skye gaped. “Are you really that paranoid?”

 

Grant opened his mouth to defend himself, but someone interrupted and switched his focus.

 

“Guys,” Fitz called. “I’m done.” 

Chapter Text

Grant moved to the engineer’s side, noting that the biochemist and Skye did the same. He noticed Fitz was about to press a button that presumably opened the door. Ward’s hand shot out so quickly that Fitz jumped. His grip was not painful, but he saw Skye and Simmons tense out of the corner of his eye as if preparing for a fight.

 

“Not yet,” was all Grant said.

 

Fitz nodded immediately, and Grant released his wrist. It occurred to Ward that the engineer was oddly trusting of his judgment. He did not even ask why. Something compelled Grant to explain anyway.

 

“We don’t know what’s waiting for us outside.” Grant supposed that was not entirely true. The scientists had seen outside their little cage and probably had a better grasp on the situation. “When you were taken earlier, what did you see?”

 

Fitz shrugged a bit as if confused by the question. “The plane is not an impressive model. Their technology could use an upgrade, which I found strange because AIM was founded as a group of scientists pushing towards new experimental frontiers.”

 

Grant slowly blinked. What?

 

Luckily, Skye was far more accustomed to the scientists’ mannerisms and possessed the kind of patience to deal with that response that Ward lacked. “No, Fitz. Forget the tech, we need to know specifics involving the guards. How many agents did you see? Were they armed? What types of weapons?”

 

“Oh,” Fitz said, “That makes more sense.”

 

“Perhaps twenty men,” Simmons spoke up. “I’m not sure. A couple of them were scientists and did not seem to have any guns at all, but several more were carrying multiple weapons.”

 

“Sidearms like these guys?” Skye gestured vaguely to the dead men on the floor.

 

“Yes, that’s what appeared to be the case.”

 

Skye’s face scrunched up as she considered the facts. It was fascinating to watch her transform once more into a serious, dedicated operative right before his eyes. She switched gears easily from flirty and spontaneous to sarcastic and carefree to this, the SHIELD agent the Cavalry trained. He had a feeling many enemies underestimated her based on their first impression, but she seamlessly could become mission-focused at the drop of a hat. Unlike many spies Grant had observed with similar dispositions, the multiple sides of her did not appear to be a farce designed to lower her opponents’ guards. She just genuinely seemed to be all those things simultaneously.  

 

Skye turned to him. “Are you really going to make me go out there without a gun?”

 

Grant decided he was not, but he was bothered about why. As he handed her one of his stolen sidearms, he considered the implications of fearing for her safety. She smiled radiantly albeit smugly as she accepted the gun and checked it for rounds. Grant wished he could say the expression did nothing to him, but he felt his breath catch over such a simple, pleased response to something he did for her. He was becoming truly pathetic.

 

He turned back towards the scientists to see that Dr. Simmons was staring at him again. He met her gaze this time and held it until she dropped her eyes.

 

“Are we ready now?” Fitz asked, his finger once again poised to open the door. He looked to his three companions, but he lingered on Grant as if awaiting his approval. Ward bit back the instinctive criticism that he trusted too easily. He wanted them to follow his lead anyway, anything else would just impede his own escape.

 

So Ward just inclined his head. “Open it slightly so we can assess the potential threats outside first.”

 

Fitz inched the door open and let Grant glance outside. There were only seven AIM employees outside, one of which was a scientist judging by his white lab coat. Grant beckoned Skye closer, so she could see for herself. She met his eyes silently afterwards and raised three fingers, pointed at him and then herself.

 

She wanted to split them evenly between the two of them, but Ward shook his head. Grant briefly contemplated whether or not he could allow for three SHIELD agents to be at his back, especially now that he had armed one, before finally signifying to Fitz that he should close the door once more. Fitz did so but not without sending him a bewildered look.

 

As soon as the door clicked shut, Skye turned on him. “What’s wrong?”

 

“Your aim is excellent, right?” Grant asked.

 

Skye nodded slowly. “Yeah, I would think my shot back at Futurepharm would show that.”

 

Grant ignored that. “There’s no reason to divide them between the two of us then. It’ll just increase the variables.”

 

“What do you mean?” Skye wondered, but she did not sound like she was disagreeing, just curious.

 

“We already have the element of surprise, there’s no reason to waste it by showing them both of our combatants,” Grant began. “And what if one of them decides to go after your scientist friends instead or signal for help?” Fitz and Simmons seemed irritated that Ward was treating them like they were not even there and said as much, but Grant ignored them.

 

“So what do you want to do instead?” Skye questioned.

 

“I’ll go out alone and engage the six of them. If any of them attempt to run or come at me from behind, you shoot them.” Grant spoke calmly and confidently when in reality he was anything but. It was an act of trust to let someone be at his six as his backup, and Grant did not trust anyone but John. Even if he were less suspicious, putting this kind of faith in an enemy was a level of idiocy Ward never imagined he would sink to. Part of him just instinctively believed in Skye though. These types of feelings were going to be the death of him.

 

Skye could easily choose to shoot him after he dealt with his opponents. Grant did not like to put himself at anyone’s mercy, he spent far too much time during childhood at his brother’s and mother’s and never wanted to feel that way again. But Ward could not help but trust Skye- or really he could not help but want to trust Skye, which was just as dangerous.

 

When he got out of this, Grant vowed that he would make every effort to avoid this particular SHIELD agent. The thought filled him with dread that he refused to acknowledge.    

 

Skye for her part appeared alarmed by his plan. “You really want to take all six on yourself? You’re already hurt.” She waved her hand towards his body to emphasize her point.

 

Ward glared. He could not remember the last time someone underestimated him so much. Six AIM guards would not even be a real challenge even with his injuries. As if summoned by his thoughts, the aching in his shoulder and hands increased. Grant ruthlessly squashed the pain. It was irrelevant.

 

“I’ll be fine,” Ward allowed for a pause as if he were considering, “Unless of course, you’re worried your marksmanship isn’t up to the task.”

 

His blatant attempt to irritate her into agreeing with him worked. For all of her complexities, she really was predictable in some ways.

 

Skye snorted. “My marksmanship is awesome. It’s going to come in handy when I’m saving your pathetic ass.”

 

Grant smirked cockily. “We’ll see who saves who.” He turned his attention to the scientists and noticed that now both of them were staring Skye and him. What the hell was their problem? Fitz actually opened his mouth, probably to tell him just that, but Simmons elbowed him and gave an obviously fake and strained smile.

 

“Well, are we ready now?” Her chipper tone eerily reminded him of her attempts to distract him when he kidnapped her by praising his tactical vest. Grant narrowed his eyes, but now she was looking at Skye, who refused to meet her gaze. He was missing something, and by the looks of it, he was not the only one. Fitz rubbed his arm furiously where Simmons had knocked it and sent confused looks to both women without getting a response.  

 

Fitz huffed, “Yeah, let’s go.”

 

“Skye, go-“ Grant began before Skye brushed past him.

 

“Way ahead of you, Superspy.” She moved to position herself right behind the door. She grabbed the handle and readied herself for Fitz’s signal that he was unlocking the door again. Grant wondered how she knew what he was going to say. It was almost disturbing how easy it was for him to work with them. He raised his two sidearms and nodded to Fitz, who pointed to Skye and mouthed “go”. In one fluid motion, Skye drew the door back and let Grant stride through already shooting.

 

Considering he was surrendering subtlety by using firearms, Grant had to make his shots count. Shooting nonlethal areas only would be too risky. He could not afford to waste a shot. Seven rounds in his left gun and nine in his right. He assessed the situation. All six operatives turned to him when the door opened, and the scientist fled to the corner of the room. Two of them drew their weapons and rushed him, so Grant targeted them first.

 

One, two shots to the abdomen and they were both down before they could fire a shot. One of them stirred feebly from the ground as he reached for his dropped weapon. Ward kneed him in the face as he passed rendering him unconscious. Four left.

 

Less hasty than their companions, the remaining enemies had drawn back when they saw his approach. All of them were now armed, but Grant was too fast for them. Before their fingers could touch a trigger, he was upon them. He disarmed one quickly and threw away the gun. One assailant jumped on his back, so he flipped him down to the ground and sent a powerful kick to his face. The AIM agent’s attack jarred his injured shoulder more, and Grant was certain that it was bleeding again.

 

The gun-less agent threw a punch that Ward easily dodged. Unfortunately, that move placed him in another AIM operative’s line of fire. Before the man could do anything with that, he fell to the ground clutching his leg. A second later his shoulder was also met with a bullet. Skye was going for nonlethal areas it seemed, but that meant she was wasting precious ammo to keep them down. Her gun only had six rounds, now four. At least she was proving valuable as backup.

 

With only three more attackers, only two of which were even armed, Ward made quick work of those remaining. Grant grabbed the agent he disarmed by the back on the head and slammed his forehead into the wall, knocking him out. He twisted another agent’s arm behind his back and stole his gun before treating him to the same fate as his companion. The last enemy was shot by Skye twice in the shoulder and thigh again.

 

To be safe, he kicked the two that Skye had taken care of to ensure they lost consciousness. He glanced around and did not see any new threat, but that meant nothing. Multiple shots fired should have alerted other enemies- unless sound did not carry room to room on the plane. AIM was comprised of many elite scientists, perhaps they designed the plane to have soundproof walls. An assessing glance at the strange walls backed up that theory. That would explain why no one had come running after all the gunfire. He waited a couple of minutes without hearing anything suspicious and decided that was likely the case.

 

Grant divested the incapacitated operatives of all their weapons as quickly as he could. He had only used two of his rounds, preferring to conserve ammo just in case, but Skye had just two shots left.

 

The scientists and Skye approached him with slight hesitance. As soon as they were close, Grant handed Skye two of the guns he had collected. He had plenty for himself already. If he carried any more weapons, they would only be a hindrance. She accepted them wordlessly while she stared at the two agents he shot.

 

“You aimed for their stomachs,” Skye whispered. He voice was tight and higher than usual as if strained, but Ward could hardly see why.

 

He felt the need to explain himself anyway. “Stomach shots guarantee incapacitation but can also be nonfatal if treated. It depends on whether the bullet hits any organs and which ones as well.” Grant explained as if reciting from a textbook, it was cool and calm. He had nothing to be ashamed of. “Given the situation, it’s doubtful that either of them will receive that care, but that’s not really my problem.“

 

Skye’s expression twisted at his words. She almost looked sick. “Stomach shots also ensure the person is in agony and suffers. They’re a way to slowly and painfully die.”

 

Grant looked up at her. He felt irritated for some reason. He was not trying to draw out anyone’s deaths, he was just doing his job and making sure he survived. No one else was going to, least of all the AIM agents on the ground. “I assessed the threat and made a call. Abdomen GSWs can lead to painful deaths, but bullets in the head or heart always kill. They have a chance now to live because I didn’t take those shots.”

 

Grant was starting to feel nauseous himself though he could not say why. It was probably the wounds he received and the subsequent blood loss. Maybe it was just because he was coming down from an adrenaline high. He refused to believe it was due to the fact that Skye was staring at him as if he committed some unspeakable evil. For all the times he had earned her wrath before, she had never looked at him like she was disgusted. Grant could not meet her gaze. Instead, he opted to scan the room.

 

“You could have just shot their legs or shoulders then.”

 

“That would be a risk,” Grant replied as he strode forward and away from the ragtag group. The scientists were disconcertingly silent throughout his argument with Skye. In fact, they were giving her pitying looks for some reason. Just more behavior from them that made no sense to Ward. “They could have recovered or held up well enough to take a shot while my back was turned. Or they could have called for help.”

 

“My two guys had only shoulder and thigh wounds and you managed to knock them out,” Skye’s voice was raising steadily. She was taking this oddly personally, but Ward could not be sure if it was because of some story or just because she was on a SHIELD self-righteous tirade.

 

“But if I hadn’t guaranteed the first two enemies’ incapacitation by targeting their stomachs, I might not have been able to.” Grant spoke without looking towards Skye at all. He had something else to deal with.

 

The scientist was cowering in the corner of the room. When he saw Ward approaching, his sniffling became louder.

 

“Please, please don’t hurt me,” he mumbled pleas that turned even more fevered when Grant did not stop.

 

“Shut up,” Ward commanded as he hoisted the man up by his lab coat. “If you answer all of my questions, I won’t hurt you.”

 

He could hear Skye as well as Fitz and Simmons questioning him from behind, but he tuned them out.

 

The sniveling scientist chanted agreement over and over again. Grant’s lips twisted in revulsion. Coward.

 

“I want any important information on this plane. Alien tech, weapon schematics, scientific research, all of it.” For good measure, he gave the man a rough shake.

 

To the scientist’s credit, he appeared slightly hesitant- at least he had some level of loyalty, pathetic as it was- before caving. He handed Ward a flash drive as well as some blueprints that appeared to be related to the alien weaponry Kara and he had been sent to retrieve in the first place.

 

“What else?” Grant demanded as he lifted the coward higher. His shoulder protested the choice, but Ward studiously pushed all his pain aside. “Where will I find more on this plane?”

 

The stuttered response assured him that he would find what he wanted in the side room by the cockpit. Grant assessed the man’s expression for any hints of deception. When he found none, he punched the scientist hard enough in the head to render him unconscious.

 

Grant spun around to face the disbelieving and disturbed looks of his reluctant companions.

 

“What the hell was that?” Skye asked.

 

Grant brushed past them intent on going to the room the pitiful scientist told him about. Before he could pass them though, Skye reached out and yanked his arm back to force him to face her. The move sent shockwaves of pain up his arm. She just had to grab his injured shoulder arm. In fact, Ward could see rivulets of blood trailing down his arm from his shoulder. Grant glared down at Skye furiously, an expression she matched.

 

“Don’t turn your back on me,” she snarled looking angrier than he had ever seen her. “What are you doing? We should be trying to escape, not running around terrorizing helpless scientists.”

 

Grant leaned down so their faces were nearly touching. If she wanted rage, he could give her that. He had a lot bottled up. “We should not be doing anything because there is no we. You three can do whatever the hell you want, but I’m going to make sure I have something to show for the mess. So when my S.O. wonders why the hell I went MIA for hours on a mission that should have been simple for me, I can at least have something to give back.”

 

Skye’s fury faltered at his explanation. “Won’t he just be happy you’re okay?”

 

Grant froze for a second before laughing incredulously. “I know you SHIELD agents love to gather around and sing Kumbaya after a failed mission or whatever, but my S.O. is not going to be glad about anything when I come back a day late looking like someone blew me up. Best case scenario, I stumble across something useful here that distracts him from my weakness.”

 

“Your what? What weakness?” All the rage had drained away as Skye grew horrified. “What are you talking about?” Fitz and Simmons seemed even more troubled now after he said his piece.

 

Grant was done playing with the SHIELD agents though. “Do whatever you want, I’m going to try to salvage this mess.” With that, he stalked towards the cockpit.

 

He needed distance from them anyway. They were distracting him, being around the SHIELD agents was bad for him. The nauseous feeling returned with a vengeance, but Grant did his best to ignore it.

 


 

 

Stunned silence filled the room in the wake of Zach’s departure. The normally bubbly and talkative Fitzsimmons’ looked as sick as she felt. The way he spoke, it was like he was expecting punishment for getting captured and hurt. That could not be true though.

 

Maybe Skye should not have pushed so much. Watching the AIM agents take a bullet to the stomach gave her terrible flashbacks to Ian Quinn shooting her. It had been a year, and she still could not think of it without being reminded of the pain and powerlessness of that moment. Still, that had nothing to do with Zach. Ian Quinn and John Garrett and his cronies were the ones responsible.

 

Skye needed to focus. She breathed in deeply and concentrated on calming herself. It was time to escape, and Fitzsimmons were counting on her. She could not let Zach distract her.

 

But it was just so confusing. Everything he did led to more unanswered questions. He saved their lives from the explosion and released them only to run off so soon afterwards. That was not even getting into the ruthlessness and calculating coldness she just witnessed from him. Nothing made sense when it came to him.

 

Right, focus.

 

“We need to get off the plane and back to base as soon as possible,” Skye spoke hollowly.

 

“We should go after him,” Fitz suggested immediately. “He helped us and now is injured and alone.”

 

“By choice, Fitz,” Simmons countered. “And he can handle himself as we just saw.”

 

“Simmons is right,” Skye said. Even to her own ears her voice sounded dull and unconvincing. All she wanted to do was chase down Zach, demand answers, and maybe get naked. God, why was it so hard to put him out of her mind? This was so not the time for this.

 

“You don’t believe that,” Fitz accused. “It’s not right to abandon him. The only reason he got captured was because he wanted to save us.”

 

He abandoned us,” Simmons said. “If he wanted our help, he’d still be here.”

 

Fitz clearly disagreed, but Skye could not listen any longer. She had a feeling if she did, Fitz would be able to convince her. So she took control. “We need a plan of escape. Everything else is secondary.”

 

“Fine,” Fitz reluctantly agreed. He walked over towards a window and turned back. “We’re tens of thousands of feet in the air though. How are we going to escape?”

 

“None of us can fly any aircraft, much less one this large,” Simmons pointed out rather unnecessarily in Skye’s opinion. She never liked hearing what she could not do. That being said, Simmons was right. None of them knew anything about piloting. When they got back to base, Skye vowed she would get a flying lesson from May to change that.

 

Skye sighed. “We’re going to have to jump.”

 

Fitzsimmons’ horrified expressions at her suggestion were not something she was likely to ever forget.

 

“You cannot be serious,” Simmons said.

 

“No, absolutely not,” Fitz shook his head.

 

“We don’t know the proper technique involved with jumping-“

 

“And even if we did, executing that technique while we’re hurtling to the ground at an alarming rate is not something I’d like to try.”

 

“Not to mention we don’t even know if there’s any parachutes!”

 

“Guys,” Skye cut them off. “It’s a secret agent, terrorist organization plane. I’m sure there are parachutes. We just need to find them. Let’s find the cargo-hold ramp, they should be around there.”

 

Resignedly, the two of them followed her as they went in the opposite direction from where Zach took off. It was not all that hard to find the cargo-hold ramp, and it was even easier to locate the parachute compartment. Fitz had to tweak the controls a bit to give them access, but they managed to do so.

 

That still left them staring at a pile of parachutes with no clue how to properly use them. Skye wished she had done a jump before, faking confidence for Fitzsimmons could only go so far. The more she thought, the more she began to doubt her plan. Would it be worth the risk or should they just take their chances when they landed wherever it was they were going?

 

“I can open the cargo-hold, but I still don’t think I should,” Fitz said as if reading her mind.

 

“But if we wait until we’re on the ground, we might find ourselves surrounded by AIM agents,” Skye told him trying to imbue as much surety as she did not have in her voice. The skeptical looks she received made her think she did not do a very good job of that.

 

Before anyone else could say anything, Zach came barreling down the stairs and into the cargo-hold. He stopped when he saw them just standing around. “You’re still here?” He was slightly winded and even bloodier than before, but Skye was not sure how much was actually his.

 

He did not wait for them to answer him. He strode self-assuredly towards the pile of parachutes. He strapped himself in quickly and efficiently in a way that indicated experience. Of course Seal Team Six had probably done many jumps in his service of SHIELD and Hydra. Skye was starting to wonder rather petulantly what he could not do. She supposed that it worked in her favor this time.

 

Skye copied his movements, but she must have done something wrong because he was now staring at her.

 

“What are you doing?” Without letting her answer, he moved well into her personal space and adjusted her straps. His fingers were practical and professional, but they still left a trail of heat everywhere they brushed her body. She knew she should be paying attention for future reference at least, but she found herself staring into his eyes. They were gorgeous, an amber-y brown.

 

“There,” he spoke almost softly before blinking. He raised his voice and looked at Fitzsimmons as well, but Skye noted he did not move away. “What are you doing?”

 

“Have you ever done this?” Skye gestured wildly to the parachutes and cargo-hold.

 

“A jump?” Zach asked disbelievingly. He snorted. “Only about every other month for the last decade.” It seemed to occur to him belatedly why she would ask. “Why, haven’t you done one?”

 

“Uhh, no. Rookie, remember?”

 

He turned to Fitzsimmons. “I don’t suppose either of you geniuses have ever been skydiving.” At their head shakes, Zach turned back to her giving her the captivating stare he was so good at. Skye wondered if he realized he was absentmindedly stroking her shoulder along the straps of her parachute. She did not think so. “Well, it’s pretty straightforward. Considering how new you are, you should pull the chute around four thousand feet to be safe.” He flicked the ripcord. “That’s where you pull.”  

 

“See guys,” Skye spoke cheerily, “Nothing to worry about.”

 

Fitz scoffed. “Sure, only a forty thousand foot drop with only a folded up cloth to prevent certain death. No problem at all.”

 

Just then footsteps and gunfire sounded from the cargo-ramp entrance. Skye and Zach turned on their enemies with guns drawn, but there were ten of them and little cover in their area.

 

“Fitz!” Skye called, “Open it!”

 

But Fitz had already begun to do so. The cargo-hold ramp opened. Zach managed to shoot two of their opponents before his gun ran out of rounds. Skye could hear him muttering cruses over the firefight and the wind blowing. Fitz and Simmons scrambled towards the parachute pile.

 

The plane shifted and knocked everyone over. Skye grabbed the side of the ramp to steady herself and saw Zach doing the same.

 

“JEMMA!”

 

The agonized cry was the only sign she got. Skye turned towards the screaming Fitz, but she could not spy Simmons anywhere. Her eyes darted everywhere, but her friend had vanished. No, no, no…

 

Fitz’s screaming echoed her despairing thoughts. He was struggling into his parachute, fingers frantically stumbling over the straps.

 

Zach turned around as well with that terrible blank expression. He returned his gaze to the enemy before propelling himself out of the plane. Then he disappeared from sight, too.

 

Zach had abandoned them again, and Simmons was gone. She was just gone. Skye’s thoughts flew in every direction. She felt tear tracks trailing down her cheeks as her heart recognized what her head refused to. Fitz was even worse off sobbing beside her.

 

The AIM agents were recovering from the shock and would soon begin firing again. “Fitz,” Skye grabbed his arm harshly. “We have to go. We have to go now.”

 

“Jemma-“

 

“Fitz, we don’t have anymore time!” Skye screeched. She checked that he was strapped in before yanking him along with her. She pulled him with her and together they jumped into the air.

 

And then they were free falling.

Chapter Text

When Grant threw himself from the AIM plane, he gave himself a moment to think on how familiar yet foreign the experience was. He had made many jumps and the disorientation, fear, and surprise of it all had faded long ago. He was completely focused and unmoved as he hurtled to the ground. It was just like any other time- except it was not at all.

 

Grant’s eyes narrowed against the wind and scanned the air below. With his arms tucked into his sides and his legs pressed together to drive him faster, he had successfully ensured that he could cover the distance between Dr. Simmons and himself. But none of that would matter if he could not locate the agent.

 

Ward supposed if he could not save her that would mean little. This whole stunt playing with the SHIELD agents had been stupid enough to begin with. If the biochemist died, it was nothing to him. He should have let her and the others die back in Futurepharm and spared himself this whole mess.

 

Grant wondered how bad things must be that he could not even convince himself that he believed that. Some master manipulator he was.

 

Maybe he should look at it differently. He was just following through with his initial choice to save the woman. Now that he had already gone to so much trouble, even getting himself captured, it just made sense to prevent her from falling to her death. It was easy for him, natural as breathing, to do this. It was not like he was really going out of his way to protect her by getting her now.

 

But he had already gone out of his way for her, Skye, and Fitz. And this was not even a straightforward jump. If he delayed pulling his ripcord for too long, Simmons would not be the only one dying. He forcibly stopped his thoughts, they were pointless.

 

Ward had no way of calculating his distance to the ground, but experience gave him rough estimates in his mind. He was halfway down already and every second propelled him further.

 

The ground below indicated that they would not have a water landing, which was a mixed blessing depending on how late Grant deployed his chute. He could only hope there were no trees.

 

Grant spotted her just as hit ten thousand foot mark. Her limbs were all over the place, and she was flipping around in the air. Considering she fell out accidentally and had no previous experience, it was unsurprising. She was at the mercy of gravity and panic was driving her to lash out in uncontrollable motions. That also made his job of securing her harder. Eight thousand feet.

 

Finally catching up with Simmons, Grant widened his stance to match the resistance of her fall. The alignment was not perfect, but their speeds were roughly even now and Ward accepted that as good as it was going to get. He reached his arms out for her. Five thousand feet.

 

Simmons’ expression was twisted with terror and despair before she noticed him approaching him. Grant witnessed the exact moment she realized that certain death had become less certain. She became focused and determined right before his eyes. There was no hesitation of anxiety in her movements as she stretched to grab his arms. It was a strange kind of bravery to be able to cast aside hysteria in the face of hope. Unfortunately, one of their hands brushed but fell short of securing a grip. Two thousand feet.

 

Grant knew they were running out of time. If he was unable to pull his chute soon, there would not be enough time before impact for the parachute to save them. Canopy chutes like this one required hundreds of feet just to deploy. Given that there would be two people held up by the one chute, they were twice as likely to need more time. The latest deployment of these types of chutes that did not end in a fatality that Ward had ever heard of was three hundred feet, and that guy broke most of his bones and wound up paralyzed. It was not a fate Grant wished to share. Not to mention he was only one person.

 

An insidious thought wormed its way into Grant’s mind. He could just pull his ripcord now. The biochemist would die, of course, but did that really matter to him? It was not his job to save her from her own weakness.

 

Her skin was cold to the touch and her grasp nearly painful, but Grant welcomed it. Once his grip was secure, he yanked her to him. He grabbed one of her thighs to pull up to his waist, and she caught on immediately. She wove her legs tightly around him and encircled his neck with her arms as well. She clutched him firmly, nails digging into his skin and heels jabbing his sides. He just hoped it would be enough.

 

He pulled the ripcord under nine hundred feet. They were still careening towards the ground alarmingly fast with the chute beginning to slow their fall not quite quickly enough. Simmons’ mouth was open in a silent scream drowned out by the wind. The force of the hard opening when the chute finally deployed rocked them, but Simmons proved stronger than she looked and held tight.

 

In seconds, the ground came up to meet them. Grant’s ankle crumpled under the force of the fall as he fell to his knees. His hands reached out to brace for the impact as he toppled forward, which only resulted in his recently reset wrist breaking again. All of his formerly twisted fingers jarred painfully as well.

 

On all fours with the SHIELD agent still attached to his chest and his body wracked with pain, Ward was just glad in that moment to be alive.

 

His ears were ringing from the change in altitudes and the abrupt stop. He panted in both relief and exhaustion as it finally sunk in that the threat of falling to death had passed. His voice was hoarse when he spoke. “Dr. Simmons, you can let go now.”

 

She was shaking against him, not that he could blame her. While his mind worked faster under pressure, the reality was that Simmons had fallen out of the plane less than five minutes ago. In that time she had realized that she was definitely going to die, agonized over it, discovered he may be able to save her, wondered if he actually could, feared it was too late, and finally found that they had made it. It was a lot of emotions to process in such a short period of time.

 

He sympathized, but her clinging to him needed to stop. Her fingers were digging into his shoulder wound that was still full of debris from the explosion. His arms trembled from supporting both their weights. Grant began to feel dizzy. If he were not afraid they would collapse upon moving, Ward would have forcibly removed her grasp already.

 

Simmons untangled herself haltingly, movements disjointed and clumsy. She plopped to the ground in front of him. Her hair was a wild mess and her face unnaturally white. She stared at him with a wide-eyed expression of disbelief- whether it was due to surprise that they lived or shock that he saved her, he could not say.

 

It was then he noticed the shaking had not stopped when she let go. That recognition led to a new one: he was the one who was shuddering, not Simmons. He needed to get ahold of himself. He could not believe he was acting so pathetically, and in front of an enemy as well.

 

Before his eyes, he observed Simmons raise the hand that had been aggravating his shoulder injury not too long ago. It was painted red with fresh blood.

 


 

 

Jumping out of a plane was in the running for simultaneously being the most exhilarating and terrifying experience of Skye’s life. Considering she could uproot the ground with her mind, that was saying something.

 

Her fingers were curled around Fitz’s wrist while Fitz kept a firm hold on her own. Whatever else happened, they were in this together.

 

Fitz looked awful. His cheeks were wet with tears, and Skye could not tell if he was still crying or not. His face was distorted in anguish. Skye was slightly concerned that he might not pull his own chute if she should let go. He was clearly unable to think past his despair at the moment.

 

Skye was not faring much better. She supposed the only reason she could even focus currently was because part of her refused to believe it. Simmons was her best friend, Skye could not imagine a world where she was not running around all nerdy and logical and alive. Simmons was her sister in every way that counted.

 

Fearing the agony would consume her if she did not focus on something else, Skye peered downwards in the hopes of catching a glimpse of Zach. The sting of betrayal that came with the thought of him abandoning them was a welcome distraction from her distress. He just jumped without even a word, leaving them frozen in their grief and in danger of being shot. Skye knew she should not have expected any kind of loyalty from him, he made his opinion on that very clear. He stressed multiple times that they were not a team, but Skye had foolishly believed he was just posturing. Deep down she always assumed that he was dependable. That was her fault though, he had been nothing but honest about his intention to leave them as soon as he could. They were just burdens to him.

 

Skye was an idiot. A absurdly naïve idiot who let her attraction to a Nazi terrorist see things that were not there.

 

On second thought, maybe this distraction was more pain than it was worth.

 

Still, Skye needed to focus on Zach because she wanted to time their deployment right. Zach told her to pull around four thousand feet. Assuming he was not lying about the safe altitude, she needed to get a feel for how far they were from the ground. Following his lead felt like the safest course of action.

 

Skye found that plan was full of faults immediately. First, she could not be sure the black blob she was staring at was actually him. Second, if it were, then Zach was propelling towards the ground faster than Fitz and Skye for some reason, which increased the distance between the two of them and made it even harder to get a lock on him. The next thing Skye noted was that the ground was coming up fast, and he still had not activated his chute. Skye and Fitz were further up and had more time, but he really should have pulled his ripcord by now. Even an inexperienced jumper like Skye could tell that.

 

There was likely something wrong with his parachute. Unbidden worries came to her at that realization. Despite just reprimanding herself for believing there was anything in good in him, Skye really could not bear the thought of him dying now, not after Si- Skye cut her thoughts off.

 

Her throat tightened, and Skye was afraid she was going to start crying. Everything was her fault, she did this when she suggested that they jump. It was a terrible idea, and her terrible idea probably led to the deaths of two people she cared about.

 

Fitz pulled her attention away from her self-condemnations by scratching her skin with his nails. Skye turned to look at him and saw him gesturing towards his ripcord one-handedly. He wanted them to pull their chutes now. Skye agreed with him, they were clearly approaching the four thousand foot mark. He still looked like the walking dead, but apparently Fitz had his act together more than she did.

 

Skye held up her free hand and began to count down from five. Both of them poised their hands over their ripcord and as one yanked the cords. The parachutes fell open faultlessly. The jerk as they activated threatened to tear her from Fitz, but they managed to keep ahold of each other.

 

Soon enough the two of them were floating thousands of feet above a clearing as safe as anyone could be considering. They dropped steadily down, and Skye thought in any other circumstances, she would have enjoyed the escapade.

 

“What the bloody hell is he doing?” Fitz’s voice barely carried to her ears though Skye could tell he was shouting. Skye faced Fitz and saw his focus was directed downward.

 

It took Skye a second to realize that he was looking at the direction where Zach should be. It was hard to see anything concrete from so high, but it was clear that he had not activated his chute despite being well below four thousand feet. Suddenly, she saw the canopy expand, but he had waited too long. It was too fast and did not have time to fully deploy. Skye held her breath as she wondered if she were going to watch him die right before her eyes.

At the last second, the chute caught. Skye could not tell from so far away if it had been in time though. She and Fitz were drifting with the wind east of his location, and she could barely make out what appeared to be his figure. If it was sprawled in a lifeless heap or standing completely unharmed, Skye could not say.

 

They floated into a nearby forest, which sucked for so many reasons. Fitz knocked his head on a branch and Skye’s chute got stuck in a tree. It took them ten minutes just to extrapolate themselves from the mess.

 

After finally touching ground, Skye peered around trying to pull herself together. They were in the middle of who knows where, outside of civilization for sure. And Simmons.

 

As if reading her thoughts, Fitz fell to his knees and starting sobbing in earnest. Skye supposed that now that the threat to their lives had passed, the reality of Simmons’ fate was catching up with him. Skye would not let it do the same with her though. If she admitted it, it would become real, and it simply could not be real.

 

Fitz’s sniffling died down but did not stop entirely. He stood up and stared at her determinedly. “We need to go.”

 

Skye nodded silently. She did not feel like speaking.

 

“We should get uhh… Zach I think you called him?” Fitz faltered uncertainly at the end. It seemed it had not occurred to him earlier that he did not even know their fellow escapee’s name.

 

Skye would have corrected him, but she had something more important to say. “No, Fitz. He abandoned us.” The words seemed inadequate for all that had just happened and inaccurate in some ways, but Skye was having trouble focusing her thoughts.

 

“No, we need to go back for him,” Fitz insisted stubbornly. “He’s probably even more hurt after that fall.” If he were not dead was the unspoken conclusion of that sentence. “He saved us from the explosion and then freed us from AIM. We owe it to him.”

 

Skye wondered if Fitz was trying to compensate for failing Simmons. Maybe losing her compelled him to find others he felt a connection with and protect them. She was not sure what exactly it was, but Skye could tell Fitz was determined and would not be talked out of his stance. And after everything, Skye did not have the heart to argue with him. Hopefully having a purpose would distract him for the time being.

 

Skye reluctantly followed him as he led her in the direction Zach had landed. She dodged low hanging branches mindlessly as she forced a sense of numbness to take over. It was not just Simmons- though even the thought of her name sent an indescribable ache to her heart- but Skye was also not looking forward to seeing how Zach fared. A sense of dread curled in her stomach, and Skye feared they were walking to meet his corpse.

 

Skye ducked under a leafy limb and strode into the clearing like every step was painful- because they were. She trudged along with her eyes on the ground. That was probably why she did not notice Fitz had abruptly stopped until she ran right into his back.

 

“Fitz?” Skye called. He showed no response to her voice though. In fact, Skye was not sure he was even breathing. She grew concerned. Skye moved in front of him and looked at his frozen face. He was not even looking at her. “What’s wrong?”

 

He brushed her aside as if he were in a dream and took off running. Skye’s eyes followed his back before turning ahead to try and see what had caught his attention. There were two figures sitting on the ground not three hundred yards away. A deflated parachute lay next to them.

 

The moment Skye processed what she was seeing was the same time that Fitz shouted, “JEMMA!” with just as much joy as he had despair before. Before she consciously chose to, Skye was sprinting as well, eager to reach her friend.

 

Fitz slid to his knees in front of his partner and threw his arms around the startled scientist. She exclaimed his name and returned the embrace with equal enthusiasm. Simmons drew back and began kissing Fitz’s face all over.  

 

Skye slowed down. Suddenly she felt like an intruder in their private moment. Both of them looked at each other as if just the realization that the other was alive ensured that their world would keep turning. Unwanted feelings of jealousy emerged at that thought. Fitzsimmons would not react that way for her, no one would. She was many people’s loved one, friend, colleague, but she was no one’s world.

 

Skye felt guilty for thinking that, she should just be ecstatic that Simmons was alive. She was alive! Skye could not ask for more. She ruthlessly squashed the loneliness that refused to leave her.

 

“So you’re still alive,” the weary voice surprised Skye so badly she was ashamed to admit she flinched.

 

She spun around to face a considerably beaten down Zach. His face was strangely pale and one of his arms was actually dripping blood. There was actually a lot of blood everywhere, splattered across his neck, arms and hand. Skye could only imagine what his shirt would look like if it were not black. As it were, she could see it was soaked through. Upon further assessment, Skye noticed that his left hand was puffed up and entirely black and blue while his right one was swollen. The way he was sprawled out implied one of his legs was hurt as well.

 

“God, you look like hell,” Skye blurted out.

 

He scowled but even that lacked his usual energy and composure. “Sorry,” he said not sounding at all sorry, “But my landing was a little rough.”

 

As if his words were the key, Skye suddenly understood. He had not abandoned them like she assumed, he left so quickly because he knew that every second counted if he wanted to reach Simmons in time. He did not pull his chute until the last second because he was prioritizing saving Simmons over his own safety.

 

Simmons was alive because Zach dove after her and managed to catch her before she dropped to her death.

 

The tears Skye had been fighting since Simmons first fell filled her eyes. Zach grew alarmed at her reaction and turned towards Fitzsimmons as if prepared to call them for help. But Skye did not need it.

 

Skye stumbled gracelessly to the ground beside Zach and wrapped her arms tightly around him. He went rigid at once. Oh, she had forgotten about his wounds. That was careless of her. Skye could already feel the blood seeping into her shirt. Just when she was about to pull away, Zach surprised her by winding his arms around her as well. His grip was hesitant, almost as if he were testing her response, so Skye just nestled her head into the crook of his neck and pulled him even closer. After a moment, he rested his cheek on the top of her head and let out a little sigh.

 

Somehow embracing him felt like finding a peace she had not known she was missing. The strain of the day bled away in his arms. Skye welcomed the warmth and comfort of it, she did not know how much she had needed this until she had it. She breathed in deeply. She would have thought he would smell bad given the blood and grime he was covered with, but it was the opposite. His scent was musk and smoke and every bit as intoxicating as he was.

 

All too soon, he pulled away. Skye imagined she could have stayed in his arms for a while more, but she noticed Fitzsimmons had ceased their embracing. Skye and Zach must have been holding each other for longer than she thought. Both of her friends were staring at her. They obviously wanted to say something but were curbing their desire to for some reason.

 

Skye would bet anything that the words they were not saying had a lot to do with the hug she had just shared with a Hydra agent. Skye wondered what they must have looked like in Fitzsimmons’ eyes clutching each other as they were. If it appeared half as intimate as it felt, then Skye was surprised that Fitzsimmons could hold their tongues at all.  

 

Zach unsteadily stood up and shook Skye out of her thoughts. He was very obviously favoring his right leg. Tension lined his body likely from his wounds, but none of it showed on his face. If Skye had not seen the blood and bruises herself, she would have believed he was fine. But he clearly was not, he was just a good actor.

 

“What are you doing?” Simmons shouted. “You shouldn’t be standing on that leg, and you’re going to bleed out if you don’t let me look at your shoulder.”

 

“I told you, I don’t need any help. I’m getting out of here.” Zach moved like he planned to do just that. Despite his bravado, he faltered once he put weight on his bad leg. Skye thought for a second that he would give up then, but he proved infinitely more stubborn- and stupid.

 

“You should really let Simmons take a look,” Fitz said. “She’s a miracle worker.”

 

“No.”

 

“You’re being unreasonable!” Simmons cried. “Skye tell him.”

 

“You’re being unreasonable,” Skye told him in her closest imitation of Simmons’ accent, trying to mimic the tone word for word.

 

Everyone was silent as they stared at her for a second before the laughter began. Zach fought a smile while Fitzsimmons looked like they were about to keel over from the force of their giggles.

 

“That’s the worst English accent I’ve ever heard,” Zach told her completely straight-faced.

 

“Oh, Skye,” Simmons said. “It hasn’t gotten better at all.”

 

“No, I’ve definitely improved,” Skye insisted. “Fitz, tell her.” The traitor just shook his head.

 

But Skye had accomplished what she wanted. She could see the softening of Zach’s sharp edges happen right before her eyes. While she still had more questions than answers when it came to the man, she was beginning to realize that he was extremely defensive. For whatever reason, he kept his guard up all the time. He even told her that he had no friends in Hydra or SHIELD. He wanted everyone to think him unshakable and cold.

 

But no one who was truly detached would have saved Simmons the way he did. He almost died in his efforts, and still he did not give up even when it seemed hopeless. No one would have blamed him if he had not, Skye certainly did not think she could have been rescued.

 

It was a front, though parts of it definitely were not. The way he dispatched of all the AIM enemies and the utter ruthlessness he displayed proved that. Even with the helpless scientist, Zach illustrated that he was more than willing to be cruel to get what he was after.

 

But a lot of his demeanor was affected. The rage when he let loose at her on the plane painted him as more emotional than he appeared. When she thought about it, Skye figured that was probably why he pretended to be so apathetic all the time, to cover all of the feelings he bottled up. Not only that, but his decisions to help and save Fitzsimmons and her implied that he cared for others more than he would like. Or just cared more about them? It was hard to say since she had never seen him interact with anyone else. Were all his relationships like this, alternating between insincere detachment and risky heroics?

 

It made Skye wonder who he really was under all those layers of harsh veneers and trust issues- and how he came to be this way.  

Chapter Text

After the amusement over Skye’s impression died down, Simmons tried to reason with Zach again.

 

“Will you just let me take a look?” Simmons asked. This time Zach nodded. Simmons smiled relieved before easily switching into doctor mode. “Good, now sit down. You shouldn’t be putting weight on that ankle to begin with.”

 

Zach’s lips twitched, but he sat down wordlessly. Without being asked, he rolled up his pant leg and took off his shoe to expose his injured ankle. Simmons knelt down beside him to take a look. Before she finished positioning herself though, Zach reached down and pulled out one of the guns he took from AIM and placed it in his lap.

 

“Are you serious right now?” Skye demanded.

 

He ignored her of course. Skye thought it must be exhausting to be that paranoid all the time. He just nearly got himself killed saving Simmons, but did not trust her not to attack him while he was wounded. Did he honestly think that this could be an elaborate ruse to lower his guard and kill him or was this just so second nature to him at this point that it did not matter? Skye realized he might not trust anyone at all. That thought made her chest ache for reasons she did not want to think about.

 

Simmons gently felt around his swollen ankle. “It’s definitely sprained. You should avoid walking on it for at least a week and treat it with ice, compression, and elevation.” He raised his eyebrows at that advice. Skye was sure he would not be taking it. “Your wrist and fingers should receive the same care, but of course you’re probably going ignore that, too. Now, let me see your shoulder,” Simmons demanded bossily. 

 

Zach became more hesitant. He stared down Simmons, but she met his gaze fearlessly. Slowly Zach grabbed the bottom of his shirt before inching it upwards. Skye saw the cause for his cautiousness, the shirt was plastered to his body from his blood and sweat. A small squelching sound resonated with every inch of skin that was revealed. About halfway off, he paused.

 

Skye could not read his expression but his jaw clenched in a way that indicated he was in pain. The awkward angle the process forced his arm into jarred his shoulder injury. Skye read the determination to power through it on his face and rolled her eyes. He was stupidly stubborn.

 

She knelt by him and nudged his hands out of the way. He allowed her without comment but looked at her strangely. Skye met his eyes and mindful of his wounds, dragged the clothing up no faster than he had been. The only time their charged eye contact broke was when the shirt obscured her view of his face.

 

Skye sat back with his shirt clutched in her hands resting on her lap. She found herself unable to break his gaze. Skye swallowed convulsively and saw his eyes darken. But then he blinked slowly and ruined it. He turned to Simmons, whose previous odd looks had nothing on the incredulous gawking she sported now.

 

Skye had no idea what she was going to tell her when Simmons inevitably confronted her. Skye did not even know what was wrong with her.

 

Luckily, Simmons’ focus was on Zach’s wounds. She darted around to scrutinize Zach’s injured shoulder. “You have a piece of shrapnel wedged into the infraspinatus muscle. It doesn’t appear to have hit bone, which is fortunate.”

 

Skye’s eyes drifted downwards to Zach’s exposed chest. The blood kind of killed the effect, but he was clearly in possession of a very nice chest. Skye could see the outline of his abs, which were thankfully untouched by the blood marring his back and pecs.  

 

“Less fortunate is the fact that the metal could easily have hit either the suprascapular or the circumflex scapular arteries,” Simmons continued. Skye tried to pay attention, but all she really understood was that Zach may have hit an artery and Skye knew was always bad. “If that’s the case, attempting to treat it here without the proper bandages or equipment would be foolish. Removing the metal could result in you bleeding out.”

 

“Great,” Zach said blandly. He was already reaching for his shirt. Skye started forward to help him put in on but then realized how weird that would be. Helping someone dress or undress was an intimate act, and she did not want a repeat of earlier while Simmons was there. So Skye just watched as he painstakingly covered himself again.

 

Before the shirt fully settled on him, Skye caught a glimpse of a couple flash drives and some papers tucked into his pants. Skye should have been surprised that he managed to free fall forty thousand feet with the intel secured, but she was beginning to feel like nothing would shock her when it came to her mystery man anymore. She thought about saying something about it, but she did not want to spook him. 

 

Now fully clothed, Zach narrowed his eyes and scrutinized the surrounding forest. Suddenly, he let out a breathless laugh.

 

“What’s so funny?” Fitz asked.

 

“It looks like we’re in Wyoming,” Zach said, which did nothing to answer Fitz’s question.

 

Skye threw him a look. “You got all that from a couple of trees?”

 

Zach’s amusement only grew at that for some reason. He shook his head but did not explain.

 

Simmons dusted off her pants and stood, leaving only Skye and Zach on the ground. “If that’s the case, then at least it should not be too difficult to contact headquarters and arrange for transport.”

 

Zach stiffened next to her. “You have fun calling in the Boy Scouts, I’m getting myself out of here.” He lifted himself to his feet in a graceful movement that belied his injuries.  

 

“You’re not going to leave now, are you?” Fitz asked confused.

 

Zach leveled him with an incredulous stare. “I’m not going to wait around for you to call reinforcements to take me.”

 

“You’re hurt-“ Fitz began.

 

“If you think this will slow me down if you try something, you’re wrong,” Zach responded coldly. He backed up to increase the distance between them. “I could kill all three of you easily.”

 

Fitz looked wounded, whether it was from the threat to his life or the assumption that he would try to take advantage of a vulnerable Zach, Skye was not sure.

 

Skye’s heart plummeted at the dramatic change in mood, but she was unsurprised. Everything was always one step forward, two steps back with this guy. At least no one had drawn a weapon yet.

 

“Calm down, Tin Man,” Skye began trying to defuse the tension. “Let’s just get out of here. You need some help to walk on that ankle, I can lend a shoulder.”

 

“I don’t need anyone’s help. Stop pretending to care,” he snarled, more furious than Skye had ever seen him.

 

He backed up even more before turning around and sprinting away in a way that Skye knew was bad for his ankle. Skye watched him disappear while trying to find her voice.

 

“Wait!” Skye finally called as she moved to follow, but a hand on her wrist stopped her in her tracks. Skye looked down at Simmons’ fingers. “What are you doing? Let go.”

 

Simmons shook her head. “No, Skye. He’s right.”

 

“What? You can’t possibly think that we shouldn’t help him. He just saved your life!”

 

“He did,” Simmons conceded, but her voice had taken on the no nonsense tone she used when she was about to lecture Skye on something she found painfully obvious. “But that still doesn’t change the facts. Given what we know about his skills and his loyalties, it’d be nothing short of a betrayal to aid him.”

 

“You don’t believe that, Jemma,” Fitz said when Skye could not find the words to reply herself. “He saved all of us.”

 

“It’s not about what I believe,” Simmons said, “He’s a Hydra agent who clearly poses a threat to SHIELD. We can’t just go gallivanting with him across the countryside and bring him back to base to be treated. We compromised our own loyalties by not attempting to capture or kill him. He retrieved valuable intel for Hydra right in front of us, and we allowed him to do so.”

 

Skye did not know what to say. Nothing Simmons was pointing out was new to her. She had tortured herself over this knowledge countless times. If Simmons considered just letting him leave treason, what would she think if she knew about Skye’s other encounters with the mysterious Hydra agent?

 

“He nearly died saving your life, and you’re talking about how we should have killed him while he was wounded?” Fitz said incredulously.

 

“Fitz, be reasonable about this. He was the one to cause the explosion back at Futurepharm, right after he secured a dangerous alien weapon for Hydra. We witnessed him killing several other people.” Simmons hesitated, breaking the flow of her rational reprimand. Skye was almost afraid to hear what she had to say. “In all likelihood, he is responsible for the deaths of multiple SHIELD agents, even ones we may have known personally.”

 

“You don’t know that,” Fitz exclaimed. “Maybe he’s actually responsible for saving multiple agents’ lives, like he did with us. He was the one who stopped my torture when we were kidnapped.”

 

“Yes, after he abducted us in the first place,” Simmons spoke logically. “I don’t know anything conclusive but assuming otherwise is foolish,” Simmons said wearily. She did not seem to like what she was saying any more than Fitz did. “He works for Hydra, how many people have we lost since they attacked?”  

 

When Fitz opened his mouth in another attempt to argue, Skye placed her hand on his shoulder to stop him. She did not want to hear anymore. Simmons’ calm logic echoed her fears about Zach- just as Fitz’s passionate defense reflected her secret hopes. “Fitz, just let it go. He’s gone anyway, it doesn’t matter anymore.”

 

Fitz stared at her skeptically. “That’s interesting coming from you. You never did tell us how you knew him.”

 

“Actually, I told you that I don’t really know him and that’s the truth.” Or a version of it at least. “What Simmons thinks is probably right anyway.”

 

Simmons frowned. “If you really didn’t know him, why did you save him back at Futurepharm?”

 

“That was a mistake,” Skye insisted, and it was but only because it let her friends see that she instinctually protected an enemy.

 

“Yes, but an impulse like that originates from some sort of history,” Simmons said. “You recognized him.”

 

Skye sighed. She did not want to lie to Fitzsimmons, it would just make her feel worse about harboring these conflicting feelings towards a Hydra agent. Simmons’ accusations of betrayal resonated in her head.

 

“Okay, I have met him, but I really don’t know him at all. I don’t even know his name,” Skye told them. “I ran into him on a solo mission in Spain a couple months ago. We formed a short truce to avoid police detection. That’s it,” Skye lied evenly. Her heart rate never rose as she misled her closest friends. Why was she so afraid to tell them the truth?

 

“Well, I suppose it’s fortunate that your temporary alliance extended to Futurepharm, otherwise we might have died,” Simmons said, believing her completely. It only made Skye feel worse.

 

Desperate to change the subject, Skye spoke quickly, “Can we now get back to the real issue here, like getting back to base before Coulson freaks out any more than he probably has been?”

 

With that, Skye was able to get them trekking across the forest so clumsily that she had no doubt that she was not the only who had never been a camper as a kid.

 


 

As it turned out, they were in Wyoming. Go figure. If Skye ever saw Zach again, she was going to have to ask how he knew that.

 

Skye and Fitzsimmons walked miles before finally reaching a gas station where they could borrow a phone. They did not have any money, but apparently the store owner found them pathetic looking enough to let them call anyway. The sob story about their fake car crash probably helped, too. They certainly looked like they had some kind of accident.

 

Before she made the call, Skye paused. She wanted to get her story straight with the others first. “I think we should leave the parts with Zach out.”

 

“We can’t do that!” Simmons exclaimed, horrified at the suggestion of lying to the head of SHIELD.

 

“No, Simmons, I mean it. If we tell Coulson, he’ll want to check it out. That may cause problems for Zach. What if his superiors find out he helped us? It’s not worth involving anyone else with this. It’s better to just put it in the past.” Too bad Skye had been unsuccessfully trying to do that since Seville.

 

“Skye’s right, Simmons,” Fitz agreed. “We don’t even know anything to report. It won’t help SHIELD if we tell them.”

 

Simmons appeared torn but ultimately nodded in resignation. Skye was pretty sure it was because despite her logic telling her otherwise, Simmons felt a debt towards the mystery man, too.

 

“We’ve been gone at least a day,” Simmons said suddenly as if just now realizing this fact. “Oh no, they must think we died in the explosion.”

 

Skye had not considered that, but it made sense. “You’re right. I’ll just call now.” She paused before turning to Simmons again. “Leave the talking to me, okay?”

 

“I’m getting better at lying,” Simmons insisted, but Skye just turned her focus to the phone. She would believe that when she saw it.

 

Skye dialed Coulson’s cell phone number from memory while Fitzsimmons hovered behind her. Luckily, they would have some privacy as the owner was dealing with some customers.

 

It rang twice before he picked up, but he did not say anything. Coulson was too cautious for that.

 

“A.C.?” Skye said excitedly. She had not called him that since he became the director, but Skye was so happy to just to be talking to him again.

 

“Skye,” Coulson breathed a sigh of relief. “We thought that you had died. Are Fitzsimmons okay?”

 

“Yeah, they’re right beside me. We’re all fine,” Skye reassured. “It’s actually a funny story.”

 

“We got kidnapped by AIM and then jumped out of a plane,” Fitz yelled into the phone from over her shoulder.

 

“Sounds hilarious,” Coulson said dryly. “We’ve tracked the call and have your location. I’ll arrange for May to come and get you within the next two hours.”

 

“Thanks, Coulson. I can’t wait to get out of here,” Skye said.

 

“We’ll talk more when you’re not using an unsecured line,” Coulson told her all business. He paused. “I’m glad you’re all safe.” Then he hung up.

 


 

Grant hated feeling like he was running away, but he supposed that was what he was doing.

 

When Simmons and Fitz began talking about contacting SHIELD, Grant knew he had lingered too long. Maybe Skye and the others would not try to trap him, but Ward could not expect such treatment from the Cavalry, Trip or anyone else from SHIELD.

 

Part of Grant thought that maybe Skye and the scientists were going to try to take him back to base. It would not be the first time someone pretended to care before turning on him. That was not the reason he took off though.

 

Grant could not stand another moment with the SHIELD agents. It was too easy being around them, too easy working with them. They were not allies, and Grant almost forgot that for a moment.

 

It flooded Ward with guilt and shame. He was acting pathetic, running around playing SHIELD again. Worse, he was allowing an attraction to distract him from his purpose. John would be so disappointed. Grant was letting him down. What if he had died trying to save Simmons? Garrett was counting on him, and Grant almost abandoned him for the life of a SHIELD agent.

 

Grant arrived back at HQ as quickly as he could. He had still been missing for nearly twenty-two hours. When he strode through the hallways to reach the briefing room where he knew John would be, people stopped and stared. Grant guessed word had already gotten around about his disappearance. It did not matter, they always followed him with their eyes anyway.

 

“Ward,” someone called with far more relief than he expected to hear from anyone. Grant would have kept walking anyway, intent as he was to get to John, but he recognized the voice. Turning around, he faced Kara.

 

She looked like a mess. He was the one who had been blown up and kidnapped, and yet Kara was wide-eyed, pale and shaking.

 

“What happened?” Grant demanded, fearing the worst. Was it John? His health was so volatile. What if he had an attack while Ward was distracted and weak? Grant grimaced and berated himself again.

 

Kara did not answer his question. “You were MIA for so long, I shouldn’t have left you there.”

 

“You didn’t leave me, I told you to go,” Grant replied slowly, not following but content that there had been no threat to John in his absence. “Whitehall wanted the Chitauri gun immediately.”

 

Kara shook her head. “Dr. Whitehall was so disappointed. I failed him.” Ward finally recognized why she looked so different to him. Grant had been on many missions with her, but she had never shown fear on any of them. Right now though, she was terrified.

 

Grant glanced around quickly. They were attracting attention, and he did not want that. “Come on,” he said as he placed a guiding hand on the small of her back. He should be going straight to John, but he could not bring himself to leave her like this. He still did not know what had rattled her so much, too.

 

He pulled her into his room and shut the door. Since the eyes were still on him, he knew that people were probably going to talk. Grant was not bothered. If the others wanted to think he was sleeping with Kara, it did not affect him.

 

After the door closed behind him, Ward leaned against it and gave his attention to the woman in front of him. “Now,” he said, “Explain.”

 

Kara hastened to speak, talking about Whitehall more often than not and how John and he had argued after Grant’s disappearance. When he failed to show up to the rendezvous spot, Kara had reported back to HQ. After hours of no contact on what should have been a simple mission for two skilled agents like Kara and himself, everyone just assumed that something had gone wrong and he was captured, if not dead. Garrett became irritated that Whitehall had sent him on the mission that he deemed useless, and both Hydra leaders were furious that Kara left him. No one wanted to lose an asset such as himself apparently.

 

“It was all my fault- I failed- I failed Dr. Whitehall and-“ The words that tumbled out of her mouth were disjointed, but Grant understood perfectly. In a sudden moment of clarity, everything made sense, and he felt like an idiot for not realizing it earlier.

 

“Kara, stop,” he said. “I’ll tell them it was my fault.”

 

She looked at him equal parts hopeful and appreciative, but Grant just felt sickened.

 

He had always assumed that she was brainwashed, it made sense given what he knew, yet he never fully considered what that meant. Grant was aware that many Hydra members were brainwashed and coerced into service. It was a fact that he accepted long ago. He was not loyal to Hydra, his work for Hydra never placed him in a position where he needed to brainwash or use trigger phrases on victims, so Grant had thought it had nothing to do with him. He never gave it a second thought. Bakshi, Whitehall, that was their area and not his. If they wanted to abduct assets and convert them to Team Hydra, it did not concern him. People were taken advantage of every day all over the world. Watching the panic and dread painting Kara’s expression made Grant wonder how he never thought about any of it before.  

 

He found himself awkwardly wanting to comfort her but unable to do so. She would not calm down as long as Whitehall was disappointed with her, and the only thing that would likely make her would be if someone used one of those “take a deep breath” phrases on her. Grant thought he should probably try it just to alleviate her worry, but it felt wrong to. So he just did not do anything.

 

“I’m going to report back to Garrett and Whitehall,” he said instead. He did not invite her to join him. Maybe it was cowardly, but Grant did not want to personally witness the effect of her supposed failure. If Whitehall remained dissatisfied with her even after his debrief, Grant did not want to see how she would react. After a moment of hesitation, he added, “Feel free to stay here. I’ll tell you what happens afterwards.”

 

She nodded gratefully and sat down on his bed. Grant left her there and walked straight to the briefing room.

 

He acted confident in front of her, but it was mostly for show. This was not a report he was looking forward to. He probably could appease Whitehall with what he stole from AIM, which in turn would go better for Kara, but John would never buy it. Any story Grant tried to sell was doomed to fail if John were listening.

 

It was not a matter of lying well. After weeks of mistakes and distractions, John had been watching him closely. If this were a standalone screw up, Garrett might be convinced that it was nothing. As it were, John had been waiting to see if Grant was fully committed. He was, but he also knew that John was unlikely to believe him.

 

Part of him wanted to just blame the whole thing on Kara. Her relieved face from when he told her he would talk to Whitehall flashed in his mind, and Grant found he could not. Besides, it was his mess anyway. He was the one who acted so stupidly, not her.

 

His hands, shoulder, and ankle throbbed with every step, reminding him of his weakness. Still, he entered the room without ever showing any indications of his pain. Both men looked up from the middle of their argument when he opened the door. He probably should have knocked, but he did not care to.

 

Whitehall leaned back in his chair. “Agent Ward, you’ve returned to us. We thought you might be dead.”

 

“Not dead,” Grant deadpanned. It was not Whitehall’s reaction that he was concerned with. He slid his eyes over to face John directly.

 

“Good to have you back, kid,” Garrett grinned. It sent shivers down Grant’s spine. He knew that smile, it was the smile that claimed he brought tacos and then turned around and pointed a gun at him. “Seems you got lost along the way though.”

 

Grant focused on ignoring his own unease. “Minor inconvenience.”

 

“What kind of inconvenience was that?” Whitehall asked, taking Grant’s attention away from John’s narrow-eyed scrutiny.

 

“SHIELD arrived before I could clear the safe radius of the blast,” Grant told them. It was true, but let them think it was the Cavalry and ten specialists rather than a rookie and two scientists. “It was lucky that Kara had already secured the package, otherwise they would have gotten their hands on it.” That was just a lie. Kara and he would have no problem dispatching Skye, Fitz, and Simmons in a fight.

 

Whitehall hummed as if considering his words. “Still you were supposed to collaborate, and she left you.”  

 

“I told her to,” Grant said bluntly. Whitehall raised his eyebrows, it seemed that Kara did not tell them this in her report. “The priority was the package, and the configuration of the explosives was taking longer than anticipated. I was concerned with AIM reinforcements arriving before I finished. It was tactical,” Ward finished succinctly and confidently.

 

“How good of you to place Hydra’s needs above your own,” Whitehall spoke. Grant could not tell what he was implying, but he knew Whitehall’s words had more meaning than they appeared to. The man in question looked towards John before returning to face Ward, and Grant understood.

 

John for his part never missed a beat. He gave a charismatic smirk and chimed in, “Hail Hydra.”

 

Grant decided to ignore the tension and just continue. “The SHIELD agents held me back long enough that I got caught in the blast on my way out. AIM reinforcements arrived and took me while I was knocked out.” Grant paused to give a cocky smirk of his own, “They had no idea what they were getting into. Once I woke up, I made quick work of the operatives and escaped, but not before making sure it was not a complete waste of time.”

 

Grant pulled out the flash drives and the rest of the intel. “It seems AIM has been busy since Killian’s death. They have a stash of Adamantium that they have been hoarding, the location of which is on this flash drive and the base holding it’s blueprints are here,” he pointed to one of the pieces of paper he just placed on the table. “We can relieve them of it easily.”

 

Whitehall perked up just like Ward knew he would. Adamantium was damn expensive and extremely useful. It was a big prize, even John looked interested now. Grant had gotten lucky when he found that out.

 

“The flash drive even has the formula for how to create it,” Ward added casually. Hydra had not managed to find a metallurgist who knew the composition, but now they could train one to be able to make the element. Grant pretended to be unaware of how monumental this was, “The drives also contain weapon schematics and details on other alien tech.”

 

“Well done, Agent Ward,” Whitehall complimented. “Perhaps it was fortunate that SHIELD intervened for once.”

 

“If Kara hadn’t listened to me and left, we wouldn’t have the intel or the Chitauri gun,” Grant found himself saying.

 

Whitehall gave him a close-lipped smile that could mean anything, but Grant thought it was amusement. “Yes, a fine job by both of you.”

 

“Yeah, nice work, son.” John slapped him on the back good-naturedly. Grant flinched before he could stop himself. While John had not directly hit his shoulder wound, it still sent pulse waves of pain to the area. “Looks like the intel wasn’t all you got.”

 

“I’m fine,” Grant told him robotically. He hesitated before conceding, “There’s some shrapnel from the explosion still embedded in my back.”

 

“I’ll take you to medical,” Garrett said without missing a beat- or waiting for Whitehall to say whether the meeting was done. John guided him out with his hands on Ward’s shoulders. That jarred his wound again, but Grant knew better than to complain. No need to make John any angrier than he already was.

Chapter Text

Skye strolled into Coulson’s office and leaned against the side of his desk. There was more warmth in the director’s expression than Skye had seen recently. She supposed he was relieved enough that she and Fitzsimmons were alive that he dropped his ‘all work, no play’ exterior.

 

Coulson leaned back in his chair with a light smile. “Where are Fitzsimmons?”

 

“What, no ‘Welcome back, Skye! So glad you’re not dead, I don’t know what I would have done without my favorite agent?’” Skye grinned. The lightheartedness almost made Skye feel like it was like old times again, back before Hydra attacked.

 

“I told you, directors don’t have favorites,” Coulson replied.

 

Skye waved her hand in the air as if brushing aside his protest. “Sure you don’t.” Her smile widened, “Fitzsimmons are going through orientation with Billy. They lost their lanyards.”

 

“I’ll get their debriefs later then,” Coulson said.

 

“We were together for most of the time, and they told me what happened when we were separated. I can fill you in,” Skye said. If she gave a thorough account now, chances were Coulson would not press the scientists too much later. That made it less likely that they would give away anything about Zach.

 

Skye felt a twinge of unease trying to manipulate Coulson, but it was for the best. She was loyal to SHIELD and Coulson. This was not a big deal, she told herself.

 

“Where’s Eric?” Skye asked to distract herself. “I would’ve thought he would be the one walking Fitzsimmons through orientation.”

 

“I sent him off on a mission,” Coulson said. Skye waited, hoping that he would tell her more. Just when she assumed that was going to pull an “it’s classified” on her, Coulson continued, “I have him tracking Garrett.”

 

Skye started. “You found him?” John Garrett had been Public Enemy No. 1 for over a year, and Coulson had been desperately trying to locate him. He had Skye tirelessly try to find him, but Garrett was a seasoned agent and knew how to avoid detection.

 

“Not exactly. He’s likely been holed up in a Hydra base because we haven’t been able to get a lock on him. Recently though I’ve found some evidence that points to him being in Havana.”

 

“Cuba? Do you think it’s Hydra’s headquarters?”

 

“No, I think that Garrett’s been traveling there for some reason. Maybe it’s a Hydra base or lab or just their next target. Whatever it is, it’s important we figure it out soon. Garrett being this quiet is a bad sign.”

 

“So you think he’s planning something?” Skye guessed.

 

“That or there’s some other reason why he’s gone off the grid,” Coulson said. “It’s unlike him. Garrett, he’s showy and full of himself. To just disappear like this, run away from the field and hide out for months? It means something.”

 

“If you think it’s a big deal, why would you send Eric in alone?” Skye questioned, careful to keep her tone mild. Skye trusted Coulson more than she trusted anyone, more than she had ever trusted anyone, but something felt wrong here.

 

As she watched, Coulson’s face slipped back into the polite mask of Director Mode, and Skye knew that share time was over.  

 

Knowing that, Skye pressed on with her report. She was honest with Coulson on everything but Zach and his involvement. It was easy to lie to the man who was more a father to her than her biological one. If Skye gave herself time to think on it, she would have wondered what that meant that misleading her loved ones was so simple to her. But Skye just walked out after debrief, confident that Coulson was none the wiser about the mystery man complicating Skye’s life.

 

Hours later as she browsed the web on the laptop she sorely missed while kidnapped, Skye heard a light knock on her bunk door. “Come in!” she called without looking up from her screen.

 

Simmons slipped into the room and closed the door behind her. “Hey, can we talk?”

 

Skye moved over to give her friend room to sit beside her on the bed. “Uh sure, but nothing good ever follows an opening like that,” Skye joked. She had a feeling she knew what this was about and wished she had an excuse to give. Before Simmons could say anything, Skye spoke again. “So how was orientation round three?”

 

Simmons huffed. “At this point, I think the Agents Koenig enjoy putting Fitz and me through it. It wasn’t even that hard to deactivate our old lanyards, I don’t understand why Billy was so upset.”

 

Skye smiled. “Hey, those things are like his baby, and you left them in evil AIM’s clutches.”

 

Simmons sobered a bit at Skye’s reminder of their mission gone wrong. “Speaking of which, I just came from my debrief with Director Coulson. He didn’t ask a lot of questions, seems you covered most everything in your report.”

 

Skye sighed and leaned back against the wall. “Just say it.”

 

“I didn’t tell him anything about our fellow captive if that’s what you’re wondering.” Skye was, she had considered the possibility that Simmons would lose her nerve. She should have known better than to doubt her. “I’ll keep this secret as long as it’s not adversely affecting SHIELD.”

 

It sounded slightly like an accusation. “As if I would hide something that could harm SHIELD,” Skye said.

 

“Maybe not intentionally, but Skye…” Simmons trailed off as she tried to find the words. Giving up, she changed tactics. “I want you to remember I’m here if you want to talk.”

 

“I know that, it’s just there’s nothing to say,” Skye insisted.

 

Simmons scoffed. “Now who’s the bad liar?” She turned serious quickly after. “I’ve never seen you look at anyone like that, not even Miles.”

 

“Like what?” Skye asked, both afraid and eager for the answer.

 

Simmons considered for a moment. “Like it was a gravitational pull compelling you to stare at him. Honestly, Skye, I was surprised you refrained from jumping him when you were undressing him.”

 

“You make it sound so dirty,” Skye complained. “I was just trying to help. You saw how beat up he was.”

 

“And was it really necessary to hug him for so long?” Simmons’ slight smile while she spoke let Skye know she was teasing. The amusement drained away soon after though. “I assume this was the man you were so preoccupied with that night at the pub.”

 

Skye considered lying, but she had done so much of it to her friends lately. “Yeah, he was.”

 

“So you haven’t been intimate?”

 

Skye rolled her eyes. “’Been intimate’? No, Simmons, we haven’t had sex. Obviously.”

 

“Yes, obviously,” Simmons agreed primly, “No satisfied couple would interact the way you two did. Your unresolved sexual tension was enough to make any observer uncomfortable.”

 

Determined not to look at her, Skye played with the Hula girl doll that she had since she was living in her van instead of answering.

 

Simmons placed a hand on Skye’s to recapture her attention. ”I just want to know if you know what you’re doing.”

 

“I’m not doing anything. Like I said, we haven’t had sex. We’re not going to. I don’t even know his name.”

 

Simmons pursed her lips. “That’s not the way it looked.”

 

“Well, appearances can be deceiving. Can we end this conversation already?” Skye pleaded. Part of her wanted to just tell Simmons everything, every little detail of each of her encounters with her mystery man. But then Skye realized that the reason she wanted that was so maybe Simmons could reassure her, tell her it was okay to feel this way. Tell her she was not a bad person for harboring these emotions for a Hydra killer.

 

As if reading her thoughts, Simmons spoke up. “You know nothing can happen, right? I don’t need to inform you of how disastrous it would be to engage in any kind of relationship with a Hydra operative, do I?”

 

“Jemma,” Skye said seriously, “There’s nothing you can say that I haven’t thought about before. Believe me, if I could stop this,” Skye fumbled for the words and gestured wildly, “Attraction-thing-whatever, I would have already.”

 

It was true. Mostly Skye wanted to get rid of her complex feelings for “Zach”, but there was also a secret part of her that found the experiences with Zach to be such an exhilarating thrill that she would not give them up for anything. The issue was it was not just an attraction. That was how it started, but she did not know what it was now. Skye was attracted to a lot of people that she did not have wet dreams about. She did not have them on the brain all the time either.

 

Lust was there for sure, but there were other things. Curiosity, chemistry, belief all combined dangerously.

 

She did not trust him, could not possibly trust him, but she wanted to trust him, which amounted to the same thing in the end. Skye liked talking to him, too. Most of what he said prompted a fiery disagreement from her, but she wanted to know more. He interested her.

 

Skye could not understand him, but that just made her want to get to know him even more. She wanted to wrestle his secrets from him and unfold all the mysterious contradictions. She wanted that just as much as she wanted to run her tongue over his abs and drag him to bed.

 

That was what Skye was so afraid of though. Desire was fleeting, feelings were messy.

 

“I didn’t mean to pry,” Simmons said. “I’m just worried about you.”

 

“Don’t be,” Skye said while flashing a fake smile, “Everything’s fine.”

 

“Lovely,” Simmons replied as she stood to leave. “Maybe we should go to another pub soon, see if we can’t get you sorted.”

 

“Sounds great,” Skye lied.

 

Simmons shut the door behind her and left Skye to her increasingly troubled thoughts.

 


 

 John’s hand never left Grant’s back the entire walk to medical. It did not move even when Garrett abruptly changed their path away from medical and towards the corridor leading to John’s bunk. The hand was still there when Garrett pushed him into his room and out of reach from inquisitive eyes and eager ears.

 

Grant stumbled slightly because of his poor ankle and immediately cursed himself for his clumsy show in front of John. He turned around to face his mentor and stood still as a statue.

 

“Relax, son,” John said with disarming charm and an easy smile. “You look like you’re about to face a firing squad.”

 

“Am I?” Grant asked. His body was coiled tight, holding more tension than it did when he fought multiple assailants or defused a nuclear bomb.

 

Garrett scoffed. “Don’t be stupid, kid. I only just got you back,” John told him blithely. “Good thing, too. I wouldn’t know what I’d do without you.”

 

Grant relaxed, but the guilt at almost abandoning John returned. “I’m sorry, sir.”

 

John appraised him. “Are you sorry for taking your goddamn time returning, embarrassing yourself by letting yourself get beaten up by the likes of SHIELD and AIM, failing repeatedly over the past couple months or a combination of all three?”

 

Grant forgot how to breathe for a second. He knew that John had noticed that he was distracted, and he guessed John was done turning a blind eye.

 

“Because I’d say all three are worth a ‘sorry’,” John finished with the same cheery tone he began with.

 

Grant said nothing. There was nothing to say. Apologies were meaningless, and John knew that better than most.

 

“Out with it, kid. You’ve been off your game since that mission to get the obelisk. What is it?”

 

“There’s nothing,” Grant said. There was nothing. Skye was nothing, he had to make himself believe that.

 

John did not buy it. He growled, “Don’t lie to me. Your excuses may fly with that idiot Whitehall, but not with me.”

 

Grant was rigid before him, unable to come up with anything to appease him. Countless successful deep cover missions and lies, but John always seemed to see right through him. There was no lie that would explain to John why he had been such a disappointment recently because John knew him well enough to know Grant would not let any excuse he came up with affect him.

 

John narrowed his eyes at his silence. “See, I’ve been thinking on this for a while, and it seems like you’ve forgotten how important the mission is. We’re running out of time, or do you not care anyone? Is that what this is about?”

 

“No, of course not,” Grant blurted horrified.

 

“Then what is it? Why are you acting so weak-“

 

John’s questioning abruptly stopped, sparing Grant in the worst possible way. John clutched his chest and stumbled. Ward caught him before he had a chance to fall and directed him to the bed. He clutched his mentor tightly in panic.

 

“John? What’s wrong?” Grant did not wait for a response. He already knew what had happened. He darted towards the cabinet and rifled through Garrett’s personal effects. He found the device he was looking for quickly and returned to John’s side. “Hold on. I’ll get you stabilized.”

 

His fingers nimbly moved in the practiced movements. He removed John’s shirt to access the cybernetics hidden under it. Swiftly and efficiently he relieved the attack by rebooting the biomechanics. When he was done, the two sat in silence, all previous traces of their argument gone.

 

“It’s been happening more,” John told him. “My organs are failing. I’m running out of time.”

 

“What are we going to do?” Grant asked dumbly.

 

“We’re going back to the Havana base to visit Flowers,” John told him staring straight ahead. “Stop in medical and get your things. We leave in the next hour. Think you can handle that?”

 

Grant nodded.

 

“Then go,” Garrett ordered.

 


 

Grant was in and out of the med bay in ten minutes. The doctor had fearfully told him that even though his shoulder was patched up and all his breaks set that he should take it easy, just as Simmons had said. Under Grant’s glare, the man had shrunk and let him go with some painkillers that Grant was probably not going to use. The throbbing of his ankle was already starting to fade with his focus so thoroughly on other things.

 

When Grant stepped into his bunk to pack, he stopped short. He had forgotten all about Kara. She was still waiting on his bed, nervously playing with her hair.

 

Grant could not decide if he were feeling guilty for forgetting about her while she waited in fear or irritated that he had to deal with her when there were more important things to deal with. Just what he needed, more worthless indecision.

 

“Kara,” he greeted as he began to pack.

 

“How’d it go?” she asked anxiously.

 

The guilt beat out the irritation. Grant smiled reassuringly. “Fine. I don’t think Whitehall is upset anymore.”

 

“Really?” Kara asked hopefully.

 

“If anything, he’s pleased. I found some solid intel because of the complications to go along with his Chitauri gun.” Grant folded his clothes into his duffle bag. “There’s going to be a mission shortly to capitalize on it. You should run point.”

 

Kara gave a shy smile. “What about you? You’re the one who found the intel.”

 

“It was a joint effort, partner,” Grant said because he wanted her to relax and return to normal. Just looking at her when she was like this made him uncomfortable.

 

It worked, she loosened up. The worry and terror drained from her body, and she transformed into the confident agent he knew. Grant wondered if it was always like this, a twisted cycle of fear and shame between bouts of regularity. Was this standard for all brainwashed agents or just her?

 

“Where are you going?” Kara asked. She leaned against the wall as she watched him gather his weapons.

 

“Mission with Garrett,” Grant said shortly. Kara knew better than to press for mission details, too, so they lapsed into silence.

 

“Thank you,” she spoke softly.

 

Grant glanced over at her. She was playing with her hair again, a nervous habit that someone as experienced and skilled as Kara should not have. “Don’t thank me. I didn’t do anything.”

 

“You did more than anyone else,” Kara said.        

 

Grant snorted. That was nothing to be proud of, but Kara did not seem to see it that way.

 

Skye’s words from weeks ago when they were at Dr. Streiten’s office came back to him then. Solid organization you work for. Must make you proud to be a part of.

 

Grant scowled. He could not afford to think of her now. John was dying, and Ward needed his full attention to be on saving him.

 

“You should go,” he said tersely. “I need to get ready.”

 

Kara nodded and left without comment on his abrupt change of mood. She looked hurt though, and that just made Grant more agitated.

 

He should not worry about her feelings. He owed her nothing, and he owed Skye even less. It was John he owed everything to. These attachments, to Skye, Kara, Simmons and Fitz, were pointless and distracting. They were weaknesses he needed to get rid of.

 

That night, he touched down in Cuba with John. His face was a blank mask, and he had almost succeeded in squashing any thoughts of his weaknesses.

 

He walked beside Garrett as they turned the corner towards the barbershop that served as a cover for the lab.

 

“We have a tail,” Grant casually told John.

 

“I noticed.” He turned to look at Grant expectantly. “Take care of it.”

 

Wordlessly, Grant left John’s side to eliminate the threat. The short, round-faced enemy never saw him coming.

 


 

“What’s going on?” Skye asked Bobbi as they entered the meeting room, but Bobbi just shrugged.

 

Coulson had gathered many of his top agents for some reason, and Skye was on edge. The feeling only increased when she saw the director enter with a grim look on his face.  

 

Without preamble, he began speaking. “Hydra infiltrated an AIM facility earlier today. They stole a stash of Adamantium that AIM had been collecting.”

 

“Adamantium?” Skye whispered to Fitz beside her in confusion.

 

“It’s an extremely rare manmade alloy,” Fitz replied softly. “Virtually indestructible, harder and denser than even than Vibranium, which is what Captain America’s shield is made out of. Not quite as malleable though. It can pierce through almost anything, it’s very dangerous when used to create weapons.”

 

“Oh,” Skye said. Her throat constricted. What were the chances that Hydra would raid an AIM base a couple days after Zach escaped with the unknown intel if the two were not connected? Skye saw Simmons shoot her a look across the room and knew she was not the only one thinking that.

 

“Who led the raid?” Skye asked. She had to know if she had allowed this to happen.

 

Coulson did not let any of his confusion show, but Skye was sure he was wondering why she asked. “Agent 33 was the mission leader based on reports.”

 

Skye frowned. Well, she knew that her mystery man was not the female Agent 33. Did that mean that Zach was not high enough ranked to lead the mission or had it not had anything to do with him in the first place? Maybe Skye was just feeling guilty for lying earlier.

 

Coulson continued to speak to them about how bad this was for everyone, but Skye knew him well enough to see he was holding something back.

 

“That’s not the only piece of bad news,” Coulson said finally. “Eric Koenig was found dead earlier.”

 

Skye’s heart dropped. She would be lying if she said she was close with the man, but he was loyal, and it was always a reality check to lose anyone. There were so few SHIELD agents left anyway. Skye looked around but could not see Sam or Billy. Coulson must have told them already.

 

“Do we know who did it?” Bobbi spoke up beside her. Skye thought she knew the answer. After all, Eric was following John Garrett.

 

“We think it was Grant Ward,” May said surprising her. Of course that made sense, May had said he was Garrett’s personal lapdog.

 

Trip and Bobbi both scowled at the name but said nothing.

 

“By the time we arrived, Garrett and Ward had already left the area. We don’t know where they are now,” Coulson spoke somberly. “But we do have the location of a probable Hydra base. I’m sending in a team there immediately to launch an attack.”

 

“Is that a good idea?” Bobbi wondered. “Maybe we should wait until we have more information instead of acting on emotion.”

 

Skye frowned. Bobbi had a point, but she shared Coulson’s need to get revenge. She was sick of playing defense with Hydra.

 

“Your comment is on record, Agent Morse,” Coulson said coolly, “But we’re going to proceed with the plan of attack. If you’d like to sit this one out, you can.”

 

Bobbi stared him down resolutely. “No, I’m good to go.”

 

“Good,” Coulson said. “Because I want you, Hunter, and Trip to go. Skye, are you up for it so soon after your kidnapping?” He looked at her concerned, but Skye was feeling more energized than she had in a while.

 

“I can be ready in a couple minutes,” Skye said.

 

The next hour passed by in a blur as May piloted them to the Hydra base. Skye’s thoughts were all over the place as she struggled to find her calm as her S.O. had taught her.

 

Bobbi, Hunter, and Trip were speaking in low tones next to her.

 

“I’m just saying we shouldn’t be rushing into this,” Bobbi was saying. “There’s no reason to run in without gathering intel first. This could be a trap, but even if it’s not, we might be unprepared enough that it won’t make a difference.”

 

“Can you blame Coulson for wanting to move in?” Trip said. “Hydra killed Eric.”

 

“I’ve lost just as many friends to Hydra as Coulson has,” Bobbi insisted. “But we can’t afford to be careless when their numbers and resources are so much greater than ours. Skye, Simmons, and Fitz got kidnapped and could have died because Coulson sent them into a building without even knowing it was AIM’s. Right, Skye?”

 

Skye frowned. “We weren’t captured because of AIM. Hydra blew the place up, and we got caught in the blast.” That was technically true, though Zach’s actions made the whole situation more complicated than she was making it out to be.

 

“I’m more interested in how Koenig ended up in Ward’s line of fire,” Hunter said, likely trying to keep an argument from breaking out.

 

“He was trailing John Garrett,” Skye told him.

 

Hunter shook his head. “Well, that explains it. It’s hard to keep your cover when Ward’s around, right Bobbi?”

 

Bobbi bristled. “I didn’t blow my cover.”

 

Skye threw a look to Trip in the hopes he would explain. He told her quickly about a mission where Ward noticed the three of them following him easily and even approached Bobbi outright to tell her so.

 

“Then how’d he find you then?” Hunter baited her. Skye nearly rolled her eyes in exasperation. Fights like this were like foreplay for the on and off again couple.

 

“He saw I was still on the same page of the book I was pretending to read.”

 

“What?” Skye blurted.

 

“Yeah,” Bobbi huffed as she turned to her. “I hadn’t flipped the pages while acting like I was reading, and he noticed.” Hunter started laughing, but Bobbi gave him a glare to stop him in his tracks. “I don’t know why you find this funny. He must have seen you, too. You were dressed like a cowboy.”

 

Skye leaned back and tuned the bickering out. Why would Coulson send Eric off alone to trail after a guy whose right hand man was so skilled? She did not want to question Coulson, but Bobbi was right about a few things.

 

Skye had tried to curb her rebelliousness with Coulson recently. He had enough to worry about without her bothering him. She had found herself holding her tongue more often than not in a desire to make things easier on him. She knew how much everything was weighing on him. But if she pushed earlier, maybe Coulson would have listened, and Eric would still be alive.

 

She stopped her thoughts. Hydra was to blame. Them and Grant Ward specifically, it was not her fault nor was it Coulson’s. Coulson was a good man and had the best intentions. Bobbi was wrong to doubt him.

 

The team found the base easily enough and in the camouflage of the night moved in.

 

Bobbi and Hunter led the way and immediately engaged with several combatants. There were more coming out, and an alarm had started blaring. Well, it seemed that subtlety was a lost cause.

 

Skye and Trip ran down the hallway together taking down opponents left and right. Suddenly an attractive woman with dark hair and slightly lighter skin entered and raised a gun.

 

Trip and Skye took cover on opposite ends of the hallway.

 

“Go see if there’s anyone else,” Trip called over the gunfire. “I’ve got this.”    

 

Skye did not hesitate. She took off down the hallway while Trip distracted the female Hydra agent. Her footsteps fell in time with the alarm.

 

After a few moments where she had gone far enough away that she could no longer see or hear her team, three men appeared. She wasted no time in wiping the floor with them.

 

She shot the first two before they could respond and threw the third into the wall, twisting his arm behind his back. She knocked his head into the wall, and he fell unconscious.  

 

Before she could move away, a hand reached out and dragged her into a room. “What the hell?” Skye asked out loud in surprise. The room was dark and the noise from the alarms subdued. The door had shut behind them before Skye could tell who grabbed her.

 

Somehow she knew who she was going to see when she spun around to face her assailant.

 

He had already released her arm after shoving her inside. The light of a lamp turned on, and she could make out the furious features of “Zach”.  

Chapter Text

“What are you doing here?” Grant almost vibrated with the rage coursing through him. This was the last thing he needed with John’s life hanging by a thread. Skye always robbed him of his ability to focus.

 

She looked startled but recovered quickly enough, “I could ask you the same question.”

 

“No, you really couldn’t considering this is a Hydra base and I work for Hyrda,” Grant replied dryly. “The question is what’s a SHIELD agent doing here?”

 

He really should not have pulled her into the closet with him. When he saw her coming, he should have shot her there and ended this distraction. Since he was apparently too weak to even consider it, Grant should have done the next best thing and avoid her. Instead, he had dragged her from the hallway and out of sight.

 

Being alone with her was a bad idea. Grant knew that, but he could not stop the thrill that shot through him when he saw her. He had not thought he would run into her for a while, if ever, after he ran away, but he supposed something kept drawing him back to her, like magnets.

 

“Well, Hydra killed one of our own yesterday, so we decided to pay you a visit,” Skye said. She was tense with barely concealed anger.  

 

That meant that there was probably a whole SHIELD team on site. Grant should really go help them. Should, should, should.

 

Grant frowned when the rest of her words caught up to him. The short agent he killed yesterday was probably SHIELD. It was unlikely that it was a coincidence, but why would she act so calm if that were the case. Maybe SHIELD just did not know who exactly it was that killed him.

 

He felt the strange need to defend himself. “One agent’s death triggered this response?” Grant waved a hand to indicate the muted alarms and sounds of fighting. “Guess you’re lucky that Hydra doesn’t react as out of proportion every time you kill one of theirs.”

 

“Out of- out of proportion?” Skye spluttered. “A man is dead. He had brothers and a nephew. He was a good friend and a loyal man. There’s no such thing as blowing it out of proportion!”

 

She could not possibly be this naïve. “Agents die every day on every side. In fact, I think Rodriguez had a young daughter. I know he had a wife.”

 

“Rodriguez, who?” Skye seemed taken aback at the change of conversation.

 

“Danny Rodriguez, the man who you shot two minutes ago,” Grant tilted his head towards the hallway and the two agents that Skye had gunned down. “He’s not getting up again. Neither is his partner. But I don’t think James had any family, so I suppose he doesn’t count according to you.”

 

Skye gaped with righteous indignation and shock.

 

“Come to think of it, what happened to your policy about aiming for nonlethal areas only?”

 

“They’re Hydra,” she said as if that explained it.

 

“So they’re lives are worth nothing,” Grant tone turned cold.

 

“They’re trying to take over the world through the slaughter of everyone in their way and some not even,” Skye snarled. “Yeah, I think that makes the protection of their lives not worth much.”

 

“I’ll keep that in mind,” Grant said.

 

Skye licked her lips as realization that she was telling this to a Hydra member flashed in her eyes. But she did not back down, and Grant could at least appreciate that kind of stubborn adherence to her principles.

 

“If I could make sure I never had to kill anyone to protect people, I would,” Skye spoke lowly. It was the most serious he had ever seen her. “But I won’t let myself die because I hesitated in front of people who won’t. People who would then go on to kill a hundred more.”

 

She stared deeply in his eyes and did not fidget. She was in his personal space since there was little room in the closet anyway. The lamplight cast her features in a mysterious and appealing way.

 

“Maybe,” Grant conceded. “But everyone has their reasons.”

 

Skye snorted. “That’s a weak excuse.” Grant wanted to reply to that, but she did not give him a chance. “But let’s hear it.”

 

“Hear what?”

 

“Your reasons,” Skye said, gazing at him intently. “Why are you part of the Nazi Death Cult?”

 

Grant faltered. No one had asked him that before. Maybe it was that surprise that made him answer honestly. “There’s someone owe everything to. I need to help him.”

 

As soon as he finished speaking, he cursed himself. He should not have given her any information that she could potentially use against him or worse, use against John. No doubt she could connect the dots and figure out John was the one he was referring to. SHIELD would know he was the only one Grant spent any time with anyway.

 

But he did not want to lie to her. All he ever did was lie.

 

“I hardly think there’s anything that someone can do to make you ‘owe them everything’,” Skye said skeptically.

 

“You don’t forget the person who valued you when no one else even saw you,” Grant told her.

 

Skye appeared at a loss for words. Her eyes had softened and the look she gave him made his heartbeat quicken. He knew that he had to end the conversation quickly or he would likely find himself doing something he would regret.

 

So before she could respond, Grant spoke gruffly, “You should go. Your team is probably missing you.”

 

“Not likely.” Skye pointed to her ear. “My comms unit is quiet.”

 

“Then I’ll go,” Grant said. He could not think of anything he wanted less. The close quarters was driving him mad though. It made the moment feel more intimate than it had any right to.

 

Grant turned to leave. He grasped the doorknob firmly with the full intention of walking away from the dangerous attraction to the captivating SHIELD agent, but soft fingers gripped his upper arm and turned him back towards disaster.

 

Skye pulled him in by his shirt and their lips met. It was soft and hesitant at first. Skye was obviously unsure of how he would respond and that made the experience different from all the other times they had kissed. In Seville, it was curiosity. In Streiten’s office, it was teasing. But here and now, all Grant felt from her was the warmth and openness. It was the chastest kiss he had received- but it was the first one he could ever recall that quickened his pulse and made him gasp.

 

Her lips lingered on his own for several excruciating seconds before she drew away again. She stared up at him as he stood frozen in the position she left him in. She shifted uncertainly and let go of his shirt. But when she began to step away, he gave in to the desire he had been fighting so long.

 

He moved forward and framed her face in his hands. He swiftly lowered his mouth to hers and captured her in a far less innocent kiss. Whatever tentativeness had existed in her before was swept away by the sheer force of his lips on hers.

 

He backed her up to the wall as he wove one of his hands through her hair. It was pulled back for the mission, and he yanked the tie out of it while never breaking the kiss. He ran his fingers through her now loose strands and used them to angle her head further back and make it easier to keep their mouths connected.

 

Skye’s hands were even busier. She could not seem to decide where she wanted to put them, and they ran over his body determinedly. She tugged at the bottom of his shirt to pull it out of his pants and snuck her searching hands underneath. She felt her way across the contours of his chest and fingered the muscles in a way that made him shiver. She slid her arms around him and her hands danced along his back with the same intent attention.  

 

Grant tore his mouth away from hers and listened with no small amount of satisfaction as she whined from the loss. He mouthed down her jaw and to her neck, licking and kissing her to the point that her nails dug into his back as she moaned uninhibitedly.

 

He had only enough conscious thought to stop himself from leaving marks. Her team could not see her leave with mouth-shaped bruises along her neck. A large part of him wanted to ignore that logic and leave some proof that he had driven her wild under his tongue.

 

Grant’s hands dropped from her hair and gripped her underneath her backside. He hoisted her up, and Skye quickly followed his lead. She wrapped her legs tightly around his waist and aligned their hips. Grant groaned loudly as he slapped a hand on the wall to steady himself.

 

When he regained some semblance of composure, he returned his focus to her lips. As he kissed her, she began to grind her hips frantically against him. He knew she could feel the evidence of his arousal given their position, but she just kept going. If she continued, he was going to lose it in a supply closet while the rest of the Hydra base was under attack.

 

It was that thought that finally pushed through his consciousness and demanded his notice. Forcibly he ripped his mouth from hers.

 

She grabbed at his face to pull him back, her eyes darkened by desire. Her stare was hazy and her attention seemed to solely be on fastening her mouth to his once more.

 

“Stop,” Grant growled as if it pained him. Because it did. Not many things tested his excellent self-control, but Skye seemed to be an exception.

 

Her eyes began to clear as she struggled to refocus her thoughts. As she did, her expression colored with confusion. No doubt she was wondering why he was drawing away when his erection pressing against her showed he wanted this as much as she did.

 

As if testing his resolve, Skye rolled her hips against his. He moaned despite himself and dropped his shoulder to the neck he had been kissing just minutes ago. He mumbled into her neck, “We have to stop.”

 

“No, we really don’t,” Skye said with some manner of coherency. She clutched his head to her collarbone and tightened her grasp on his waist.   

 

Grant knew if he let her, she would convince him to ignore reason and surrender to her. With that thought, he gently pulled her legs to release himself and stepped back.

 

He stared at the captivating woman in front of him momentarily at a loss for words. She leaned back against the wall with her chest heaving. Her eyes were lidded with lust as she gazed back at him. Her neck marred with red marks despite his attempts to retrain himself. Her lips were swollen. He stared at them for a longer time than he should have as he fought the urge to capture them once more. Skye’s hair was a mess, and her clothes were rumpled from his aborted attempts to loosen them. It was unfortunate, or fortunate he supposed, that tactical gear was not easy to remove.  Grant was sure he looked just as debauched.

 

They caught their breaths for a moment before Grant regained the ability to speak. “You need to return to your team before they realize you’re missing.” His voice was low and husky, and Ward watched as she shuddered before him at the sound.

 

Skye closed her eyes for a moment to regain her composure before fixing him with a resolute stare. “Right.” Neither of them said or did anything for a beat before Skye activated her earpiece. “Anyone copy?” Grant could not hear the responses she got, but they had her nodding along.

 

Her eyes were locked on his the whole time, and that almost distracted him from the fact that Skye appearing relieved probably was a bad sign for his colleagues. Normally that would not bother him, but Kara was around. Maybe SHIELD would take her and be able to do something for her brainwashing. Maybe SHIELD did not know she was brainwashed and would torture and kill her instead. Maybe SHIELD really could not be bothered to help even if they knew the truth.

 

Skye’s voice interrupted his thoughts. “I’ll meet you at the extraction point shortly.” Her voice sounded breathy still, but Grant assumed she could pass it off as having just ended an intense fight as opposed to having almost fucked an enemy in the closet of the base she was supposed to be raiding. 

 

Just the thought of how disastrous their situation had become made Grant want to hit himself. Why was it so hard to just stay away from this one woman who was so completely off limits in every way?

 

Skye deactivated her comms unit and gave him a look of resignation. She had to leave. She was going to walk out that door and abandon him to his tortuous thoughts. That should have been what concerned him, but he instead found himself wanting to smooth over the creases of her brow. She seemed so reluctant and unsure, and all Grant needed in that moment was to reassure her.

 

The power she had over him was frightening. Ward knew if he let her in completely, he would never be able to go back. The knowledge was as terrifying as it was tempting.

 

“I’ve got to go,” Skye said. She ran a hand through her hair in an attempt to make it look presentable, but it only appeared more disheveled.

 

Grant approached her slowly, almost afraid that moving too suddenly would result in them losing their resolves and send them into a tangle of limbs and lips again. Skye watched him advance without a word of protest. Grant suspected she would not fight if he kissed her again. That sent a shockwave of desire through him.

 

But instead of capturing her mouth once more, Grant simply ran his fingers through her hair and erased the evidence of their earlier activities. He tugged the collar of her shirt to obscure the marks on her neck. He righted her clothing and tucked a strand of hair behind her ear. Skye looked up at him wide-eyed the whole time.

 

When his attention was drawn to her swollen lips, Grant lightly brushed a finger across them in spite of his better judgment warning him against it. He ran his thumb over her bottom lip and her mouth parted invitingly. Grant stepped back before he could do anything that he would not be able to stop.

 

“Thank you,” Skye said softly.

 

Grant just nodded and waited for her to leave. Sure enough, she took a deep breath and started towards the door. Grant’s jaw clenched as he fought the urge to say or do something stupid, anything to make her stay.

 

As if reading his thoughts, Skye paused at the door and glanced back. She licked her lips as she contemplated something. Grant impatiently stood in anticipation as she worked up the nerve to speak.

 

“Meet me,” Skye said.

 

“What?” Grant blurted. It was a terrible idea. It was one thing to have these strange and dangerous encounters by accident and another entirely to intentionally plan out a meeting. Things were spiraling out of Grant’s hard-earned control, and he was torn between fighting and embracing it.

 

She told him the address of a hotel outside D.C. “Eleven tomorrow night.” She did not give him a chance to respond before darting out of the room.  


 Skye’s adrenalin was pumping as she left him in the closet they had just made out in. Even the thought of it made Skye smile to herself.  

 

In the back of her mind, she could clearly hear Simmons’ warnings and her own insistent concerns. She was well aware of how bad of an idea it was to kiss a Hydra agent in the midst of an infiltration mission, and it was even worse to plan to meet up with him. There was nothing that would stop him from staging a trap for her if he wanted to.

 

But Skye could not find it in her to care. Her blood was still singing as her heart pumped overtime, and she had the strangest urge to giggle as she ran to reunite with the others. Even with all the anticipation of kissing him, Skye had still never imagined it would be so exhilarating.

 

She could not call it satisfying though. It was like the tiniest sip of water that made you realize how dehydrated you were but unable to get anymore to quench the thirst. Skye had not known what she was missing before, but now that she did, she could not wait to experience it all.

 

His moves were feverish and intoxicating as he finally gave in. When she ground into his erection right before he pulled away, Skye had watched as his eyelids fluttered and his mouth opened. She had just known that she could tear off his clothes and push him to the floor, and he would not be able to resist. Skye had recognized he wanted her, too, for a while, but he had resisted. The feeling of knowing that she had finally and completely wrecked his ironclad self-restraint was empowering.

 

Tomorrow night she would make sure nothing would stop her from testing her theory that she could make him fall apart under her.

 

Skye left the base and let the cool night air wash over her in the hopes that it would do something for the heat still thrumming in her veins. Skye breathed in deeply and calmed her mind. She could not let Bobbi, Hunter, or Trip read what had just happened on her face. Luckily for her, Skye was getting very good at controlling her expressions.

 

Skye found her team waiting for her at the extraction point. She assessed them for injuries immediately and was dismayed when she realized that she was the only one to come out unscathed.

 

“What happened?” Skye asked Trip as she approached him. In the darkness, the little light she got from the moon made it hard to tell the severity of their wounds, but she could discern that Trip was holding himself awkwardly.

 

“Agent 33 is a fighter,” Trip replied.

 

“Agent 33? Was that the woman I left you with?”

 

“Yeah. She grazed me with a couple of bullets and got a couple of good hits in, but I’ll be fine.”

 

“I shouldn’t have left you,” Skye said. Guilt welled up inside her. While her friends were fighting for their lives, she was fraternizing with the enemy. She only felt more ashamed when she realized that she still did not regret it.

 

“Nah, it’s all good, girl,” Trip said with a smile that looked more like a wince.

 

“We’re lucky it wasn’t worse,” Bobbi cut in. She sounded tired, but Skye could not see her face clearly to judge her expression. “Did you get any intel, Skye?”

 

“No.” Truthfully, even if she had tried, Zach probably would have stopped her. Skye did not see anything of value in her search anyway.

 

“Then we wasted our time,” Bobbi said. “We’re all banged up and don’t have anything to show for it.”

 

“We dismantled that base. That’s not nothing,” Trip pointed out.

 

“33 escaped you and no one Hunter or I saw was a valuable member of Hydra. This wasn’t worth the risk.”

 

“We wanted justice for Eric, that’s not worthless,” Skye said.

 

Bobbi snorted. “Justice for Eric? Were you able to find Grant Ward then?”

 

“No,” Skye said before she paused. “I don’t even know what he looks like.”

 

“What?” Hunter exclaimed. “What if you had actually run into him?”

 

“Ward wouldn’t be away from Garrett or in a base so out in the open,” Trip said.

 

“I was kidding, Hunter,” Bobbi said exasperated. “If there was even a chance that we’d run into him, Coulson would’ve sent more than just us. Ward’s the key to finding Garrett and you know how badly Coulson wants him.”

 

“You don’t think it’s weird that she doesn’t even know what he looks like?” Hunter said incredulously. “Where were you when we were tracking Garrett and him down?”

 

Skye raised an eyebrow. “I wasn’t cleared for combat back then. You know, I was kind of a walking earthquake machine.” Skye could not help the bitterness that crept into her tone. She had been grounded for months, living in terror and solitude for the most part. It had only hurt more that her friends were out risking their lives while she was stuck in a cage trying to focus on not tearing HQ down.

 

Hunter lacked tact, but even he knew better than to touch upon that. “I’m just saying that’s probably something you should know if you’re going to be running after Hydra in the field.”

 

“Well, it’s hardly the first time Coulson failed to keep his agents informed,” Bobbi said quietly.

 

Skye ignored her. “Okay, so I haven’t had any missions relating to Grant Ward or John Garrett, but it’s not like I’m ignorant when it comes to Hydra.” Skye bristled. Hunter was a mercenary up until recently, and he had the gall to act like she was this stupid rookie or something. “As if you know all the Hydra agents on sight.”

 

“I know a couple,” Hunter said defensively.

 

“Stop, guys,” Trip interrupted. “There was never a possibility that we’d see Ward, but we’ll get him for Eric eventually.”

 

They lapsed into silence as they waited for May’s arrival. Skye stewed to herself, her earlier giddiness gone. She hated feeling like the odd one out, and no matter how much time had passed since she transformed, it still happened all the time. Little things like this would come up and remind her that she had been locked up and reevaluated as a SHIELD agent. Sometimes she still felt the need to prove herself- and the fear that one day her badge would be taken away, and she would be imprisoned permanently.

 

Coulson and her friends had come around, for the most part. There were some people in the know on base that still gave her a wide berth, and Mack had never gotten over it. Skye told herself it did not matter because those closest to her did not seem to care. Sometimes she wondered though if they were as unbothered as they tried to act around her. No one ever wanted to hear about the way she felt the vibrations flowing through her, the way she could sense them in everything. It seemed like most everyone wanted to pretend nothing had changed.

 

Occasionally Skye worried that she would lose control one day and everything would come crashing down around her. 

 

As if conjured by her contemplations, Skye felt the distinct vibrations of the trees around her, the grass on the ground, Bobbi, Hunter, Trip, and the Quinjet approaching all demanding her attention. Skye fought it down and felt the answering pains in her body. She would have to tell May to take her out soon to release the repressed energy. The thought depressed her, and she filed onto the plane quietly behind the others.

 

As they flew back to HQ, Bobbi, Hunter, and Trip spoke amongst themselves with all traces of any earlier tension gone. They let her sit in silence, maybe realizing that she needed space or maybe because they did not know how to talk to her around the elephant in the room that was her freakishness.

 

This was why Skye needed to meet with Zach so badly. Her friends were great and she was fiercely loyal to SHIELD, but they could not take the weight off her chest that dragged her down lately. He did though. When Skye was with him, she felt excited and carefree. When she was with him, she felt human. That was just as intoxicating as the pressure of his lips on hers.

 

He did not know about her “abomination” status, and that helped, but it was not everything. In the end, Skye just craved the electric connection she felt with the man and the way it reminded her that she was desirable, that she was made for more than destruction.

 

Being with him allowed Skye to remember that she was more than just some alien’s creation and weapon.

Chapter Text

Darling, we found wonderland. You and I got lost in it, and we pretended it could last forever.

I reached for you but you were gone, I knew I had to go back home. You search the world for something else to make you feel like what we had, and in the end in wonderland we both went mad.

-Taylor Swift, "Wonderland"


 

Grant waited several moments after Skye left to regain his composure. He steadied his breathing and fixed his clothes in the silence. Even after he was ready, he wasted more time alone in the closet just to be safe. If someone had been watching the door after Skye’s departure, chances were they had abandoned their post.

 

The alarms were still blaring when he emerged. The hallways were a mess littered with prone bodies, none of which were sporting the SHIELD eagle logo, Grant noted. He stopped and checked a few for a pulse, but they were all dead. The survivors must have fled.

 

He did a sweep of the building but did not see Kara. That was good, she was likely fine then. He did not know why he had doubted, she was a very competent agent. Still, if she had gotten killed while he had been kissing an enemy and could have helped her- Grant cut his thoughts off. Kara Lynn Palamas was not his responsibility.

 

He took one of the fallen Hydra members’ earpiece to test the frequencies. The voices poured over the line immediately. He quickly gathered where the forces were regrouping and set off.

 

He was fortunate that he had arrived after the conflict began because now he had the perfect excuse for why he was not around to help. John and he had touched down in HQ after a disappointing meeting with Raina only to face more power plays from Whitehall.

 

It seemed that Kara and her team had managed to secure the Adamantium, but now Whitehall wanted her for some other assignment. He had the equipment and intel needed for her mission at headquarters and rather than delegate to someone whose services would not be missed, he ordered Ward to bring it to her.

 

It was an obvious challenge, commanding Garrett’s right hand report to him and giving him a menial task. Grant suspected Whitehall was trying to test loyalties. He recognized that Ward’s focus was more on John than Hydra and wanted to see how Grant would react.

 

But Ward was not so easily baited. He saw through Whitehall’s transparent attempts to get a response from him, so all Grant had said to him was that he was happy to serve Hydra. He had to stop himself from saying “happy to comply” instead. That would be too heavy handed, and John told him to ensure Whitehall would not become suspicious at such a crucial time for them. 

 

It could work to his advantage now. It would be easy for Grant to play off this posturing from Whitehall as the reason why he would not be back for another day to John. It gave him time to meet with Skye.

 

Unbidden, a thrill shot through Grant. He belatedly realized he was smiling to himself and quickly forced his face into a mask of emotionlessness.

 

Grant wondered if it was a problem that he was so far gone that he did not even consider standing Skye up.


 

Skye woke up the following day feeling lighter than she had in months. Five a.m. training with May did not even make a dent in her mood.

 

“You have a lot of energy this morning,” May remarked after they finished up. The sun had not risen yet, and while Skye was far more diligent and ready to train nowadays, it was still strange for her to be bubbly so early. Especially since her transformation.

 

“Just have a good feeling about the day,” Skye said. That was true, she did have a good feeling about the day because today was the day she was finally giving into what she wanted.

 

May gave her one of her rare soft smiles but said nothing more on the subject.

 

Skye swallowed a gulp of water as she broached the next topic as casually as she could. She did not look at May as she gathered her things and said, “I need to go on one of my trips soon.”

 

“Is it urgent?” May asked seriously, wary of the possibility that Skye would bring the base down on them while everyone slept.

 

Skye shrugged while still avoiding May’s gaze. “Not really. It can wait a day or two.”

 

“I’ll talk to Coulson,” May promised.

 

Skye just nodded and let them regress into silence. Her S.O. left the room without another word. Skye refused to let that reminder of her weirdness get her down though.

 

As soon as Simmons woke up, Skye was quick to track her down and lay the groundwork for her plan.

 

“Morning Jemma,” Skye said by way of greeting as she entered the kitchen.

 

Simmons looked up with a smile. “Hey Skye. You look happy,” she observed.

 

Skye took a seat by Simmons. “Yeah, I guess I am.” She snagged a bit of Simmons’ omelet before the other woman could protest. Skye groaned and found herself not for the first time wishing that she could cook. It just was not the type of skill that someone picked up living in a van for most of their adult life though. “So I have to ask for a favor.”

 

Simmons frowned slightly, “Beyond stealing my breakfast you mean?”

 

“Uh yeah,” Skye said without a hint of guilt. “I wanted to take you up on your offer from the other day.”

 

Simmons gasped in pleased surprise. “For me to educate you on thermodynamics as it relates to-“

 

“Not that one,” Skye interrupted. She had almost forgotten Simmons was trying to get her to understand all this science mumbo jumbo that she missed as a high school dropout. Skye was sure most eighteen year olds never learned that stuff anyway. “I was talking about going out to a bar again. You know, to get me laid,” she said with an eye roll.

 

“Oh.” Some of Simmons excitement had dampened, but she recovered quickly with even more enthusiasm. “Yes, of course, but does this mean your previous vexation is no longer a concern?” Simmons voice dropped making it extremely clear for any potential eavesdropper that there was something up.

 

Skye nearly sighed in frustration. “Yes,” she lied. “I’ve moved past it.”

 

Simmons let out a relieved breath. “Thank goodness, I was so worried. I knew you would see the potential repercussions there though.” Skye wanted to cringe, but she kept her face blank and refused to let doubt creep in.

 

“Yeah, so tonight?” Skye prompted, eager to stop that train of thought.

 

“Wonderful. I have just the pub in mind,” Simmons said. “Their clientele have very symmetrical features and well formed physiques if you know what I mean.”

 

Skye laughed. She felt giddy, everything felt normal for once. “Great.”

 

At nine that night, Skye and Simmons went to Simmons’ bar, which did have many hot people Skye could admit, and drank a couple beers. Skye let Simmons pick out a guy for her and then pretended to flirt with him for several minutes. She told Simmons she was going home with him, and the biochemist left. Not long afterwards, Skye lost her admirer by sneaking out the back door after pretending to go to the bathroom. Everything went off without a hitch.

 

Skye arrived outside of the hotel ten minutes to eleven. She considered going inside and securing a room for them, but she wanted to wait. Part of her was worried that he might not show. She had not allowed herself to dwell on the possibility, so consumed with the feeling of actually being hopeful for once.

 

Now that she was there and waiting, the thoughts crept back in. It was not as though she even waited for him to agree before leaving the night before.

 

As she contemplated that, she sensed a presence from behind her. The sidewalk was quiet at this time of night, so it was suspicious. When the person moved closer, Skye’s hand drifted inconspicuously to her sidearm.

 

“If you shoot me now, it’s going to put a damper on the whole evening,” an arrogant voice spoke from just behind her.

 

Skye relaxed at once when she recognized it. Her hand dropped and her lips quirked up in a restrained smile. “Maybe that’s my idea of fun,” she teased.

 

“I certainly hope not because I had a very different idea of fun for this night,” he said, leaning down to speak into her ear. His breath was hot and sent shivers down Skye’s spine. He stood behind her close enough that their clothes just barely brushed each other. He trailed a finger down her arm. “Trust me, my way is better.”

 

Skye turned to face him and canted her head to the side in consideration. “I’d be willing to test that.” She turned and walked away without waiting for his response. “Well, are you coming or what?” Skye called over her shoulder.

 

He was behind her in an instant and wrapped an arm around her shoulder, shielding her from view. “There’s a camera at our two o’clock,” he spoke softly with his head turned away from the device.

 

“I knew that,” Skye told him testily. It grated her that he seemed to still be underestimating her. “Which is why I took care of it.”

 

He raised an eyebrow. “Took care of it how?” He opened the front door for her and held it to let her walk through. There was no mockery in the gesture like Skye usually saw from people. It seemed to be a habit of his, an ingrained action. That was strange because the type of people who usually have those instincts were rich kids raised to be gentlemen of society or some such nonsense. Just another mystery and contradiction for her to analyze Skye supposed.   

 

“I looped the surveillance footage for the next ten hours,” Skye said casually. “So the elevator camera, front entrance, even the ATM video feed across the street? Not a problem.”

 

His lips twitched like he was repressing a smile. She smirked back, knowing he was impressed even if he would not say anything.

 

His arm was still around her, guiding her towards the front desk. The concierge looked up as they approached with a polite smile. “Good evening, how may I help you?”

 

Skye felt a little stupid all of the sudden. Maybe she should have called ahead, but she had not had an opportunity to back at the base. It was probably strange to show up without warning, made it obvious what they were at the hotel for. May as well get it over with, Skye thought. She plastered a friendly smile on her lips, but before Skye could ask for a room, the arm around her tightened to stop her.

 

“Hello. We have a reservation for one night.” Zach grinned charmingly in a way that reminded Skye of Seville. She had almost forgotten that he was so good at this stuff. But did he really call in a reservation?

 

“Of course, sir. What name is the reservation under?”

 

“Dan Filch,” he answered easily, as if that were actually his real name. He even produced an ID that said as much.

 

“Do you need any help with your bags?” The concierge asked as he retrieved a key card for their room.

 

“Nah, we’re only in the area for the night, so the big ones are staying in the car. Need an early start if we wanna get to Niagara Falls before nightfall. Right, honey?”

 

He had an answer for everything. Skye’s smile was genuine as she looked back at him. He stared at her adoringly. “With the way you drive, we’ll be lucky to make it by next week,” she said.

 

A flash of real amusement peeked through his lovey dovey façade. The concierge handed them their key card while informing them of the way to their room.  Skye could not stop grinning the whole way to the elevator.

 

When the doors closed and the two of them were alone, Skye turned towards her companion. “Please tell me some poor sap named Dan isn’t going to be out a place to stay tonight because we stole his room.”

 

He smirked down at her in response. His hand was absentmindedly stroking her shoulder from where his arm encircled her. After a second, he let go of her. Skye wanted to say something, missing the heat of him already, but then he put a hand on both of her shoulders and gently pushed her backwards.

 

Her back hit the wall lightly, and his hands rose to cradle her face. He lowered his mouth to hers, and Skye’s eyelids fluttered closed. She ran her fingers through his hair and yanked him even closer.

 

Just when things began to get heated, the elevator dinged to let them know the reached their floor. Skye intertwined their fingers and led them to Room 480. She glanced back at him and almost stopped in shock.

 

His hair was mussed and his lips reddened from their kissing, but that was not what caught her attention. It was his expression. It was not the fake adoring look he had sported earlier, but it was soft and cherishing all the same. He smiled tenderly at her, but Skye was willing to bet he did not know he was. His eyes were warm, more amber than brown, and followed her every movement.

 

Skye’s breath caught because no one had ever looked at her that way, like she was something to be treasured. As if she was the center of his world. 

 

“We’re here,” she said softly, as though speaking loudly would ruin the atmosphere.

 

He nodded and inserted the key card. The light flashed green, and he opened the door for her again.

 

Skye flicked on the lights, barely taking in the interior, her focus entirely on her companion as he shut the door behind them. Suddenly, she felt a little nervous. She was not worried about any of the legitimate concerns there were, like the amount of trust she was giving a Hydra member, but she was anxious over something else entirely.

 

He showed up, he kissed her, so Skye knew that her attraction was not just one-sided. Still, she felt like she was opening herself up for rejection. She had never been so insecure when it came to one night stands, but even if that was all this amounted to, Skye could not consider this the same.

 

And then there was the other concern that Skye could not block out to just enjoy the moment the way she was with everything else. What was this and what did it mean? Skye was not an idiot, she knew there was no way that they could meet up and continue sleeping together. The idea of any sort of relationship was out of the question, it just was not possible. To Skye, this was one night of her giving in and getting what she had been denying herself. While she would admit that her feelings were not limited to pure physical attraction, Skye was going to pretend that was the case. There could be no emotions. There was always the chance that they would end up fighting each other the next day. But Skye was not sure if they were even on the same page and could not decide how to broach the subject.

 

Maybe her thoughts showed on her face because he was staring at her knowingly. He leaned back against the door and shrugged his shoulders. “Okay, out with it.”

 

“We should probably discuss some things first,” Skye said.

 

“Well, I didn’t really come here to discuss anything.” He pushed off the wall and moved across the room. He shucked his jacket off and removed what looked like a whole arsenal that he had apparently been hiding on his person.

 

Skye’s skill at hiding her facial expressions was the only thing that prevented the blush that his tone and meaning brought on as well as the eye roll at the sheer number of weapons he brought to a hook up. “You really have nothing that you want to say?”

 

He sighed.“This is a one time thing,” he said.

 

“Agreed.”

 

“After we split up tomorrow morning, this never comes up again.”

 

Skye adopted a fake southern belle accent. “You’re not going to throw little old me out after we finished, I’m touched.” She was getting better at reading him because when his face twitched at her comment, she knew it was from trying to hide his amusement. “Okay, got it. What happens in a hotel outside of D.C., stays here and all.”

 

He let himself smile this time before returning to his serious expression. “I can’t have any attachments. This isn’t emotional.” Skye got the feeling that he was trying to convince himself of that one but just nodded.

 

“I have one more rule: no work talk,” Skye stipulated. While she would love to get the upper hand on Hydra, she did not trust that he would not figure something out from her if they talked about their jobs. She would have no way to explain how she got the intel or trust that it was accurate anyway.

 

“Shouldn’t be a problem with what I have planned,” he said huskily, and Skye was done with talking.

 

She grabbed his shirt and pulled him to her in another passionate kiss. She dragged him back as she blindly walked towards the bed. When she hit the edge of the mattress, she stumbled. He quickly steadied her as their lips broke apart and gave her an intense look as they both breathed heavily.

 

Skye turned them around and pushed him down to the bed. He sat without a protest and never took his eyes off her as she straddled him. His hands traced the sides of her body up and down before grasping the hemline of her shirt. He tugged at it, his intention clear. Skye pulled back to let him remove the shirt and then gasped when he immediately began kissing her chest.

 

He peppered light kisses on the curve of her breasts not concealed. His fingers trailed up her back as unclipped her bra. Skye decided that he was far too clothed.

 

“Off,” she demanded harshly as she jerked his shirt up as much as she could. He stopped his ministrations long enough to throw the garment away. While he was doing that, Skye removed her unhooked bra from her arms and tossed it aside.

 

He took in her shirtless appearance in awe and returned to kissing her breasts, taking one of them in his mouth as his hand covered the other. Skye gasped and threw her head back.

 

Skye rolled her hips against his own and was rewarded with a groan he could not stifle in time. She felt him hardening under her as she pushed for more friction.

 

He switched his attention to her other breast as his unoccupied hand roamed around touching every part of her unclothed top. She noticed that he had not reached where she wanted him most. The thought had her grinding down shamelessly in the hopes of alleviating some of the growing pressure that had begun in her lower stomach. His hips jerked in response causing Skye’s breath to hitch. It was not enough though, and it was driving her crazy.

 

She focused on getting her fumbling fingers to unbutton his pants. He was distracting her with his wandering hands, and she whined in frustration as she failed to get it open.

 

He pulled back then and gripped her under her backside to yank her to him. He spun them around so now she was lying on the bed beneath him. From this position, Skye could clearly see the effect she had on him. His pants did nothing to conceal the prominent bulge that had formed.

 

Instead of removing his pants like she wanted, he dipped to press his mouth to her stomach and down to her naval. At the same time, he worked her underwear and pants off much more efficiently than her attempts towards his own. He slid them down at the same as his mouth trailed towards the juncture between her thighs.

 

Skye had to grab the sheets in an attempt to ground herself as his mouth lowered upon her. He worked her open with his tongue and fingers until Skye fell apart.

 

As she tried to recover, he raised himself up over her. For a moment, the two of them just stared at each other before Skye grabbed his head to pull him down for a searing kiss that tasted of her. He hurriedly rid himself of the rest of his clothing as she bit down on his bottom lip. She spread her legs open and let him nestle in between them. Slowly, he guided himself into her.

 

Skye gasped and clutched at his back. She began kissing and biting his neck as he let her grow accustomed to the feeling of having him inside her before moving.

 

The rhythm was steady at first. Long, powerful thrusts that reflected his amazing self-control, but Skye observed him hazily as he came apart at the seams. His expression tightened and his breathing quickened. One of his hands trailed down between them to touch her and send her over the edge with him.

 

Afterwards, she rolled over on the bed. Skye breathed in deeply, calming the rapid pounding of her heart. She was covered in sweat and the sheets were a tangled mess that had been pushed aside in their haste to get rid of any potential boundaries between them.

 

Skye glanced over at her partner, slightly surprised to see he was already looking at her. His stare was softer than she had ever seen it, reminiscent of when he was unconscious at Futurepharm. There was an emotion in his eyes that Skye did not want to consider. He reached out a hand to stroke her face gently, and Skye warmed under his touch. She felt precious and protected under the weight of his gaze.

 

Skye could not help the grin that spread across her face. She flipped over to straddle him, enjoying the light shock and excitement that colored his expression.

 

“This time I’m on top,” she told him.

 

In response, he raised his head and gave her a light kiss on the lips that echoed the sentiments that neither of them would give a voice to.

 


 

Skye stirred awake at exactly five thirty in the morning. She wanted to cling to sleep after having gotten so little rest the night before, but someone was making that impossible.

 

She was wrapped up in his arms, so when he woke up, he had to detangle himself from her. Skye could not decide which was more irritating, the fact that he ruined her rest or the sudden coldness that spread through her when he ended their embrace. There was a note of finality in the movement.

 

“How can you already be up?” Skye mumbled as he left the bed. She thought she heard him chuckle, but she was too sleepy to be sure. The bathroom door opened and closed, and she heard the shower turn on.

 

She briefly considered joining him, knowing there was no way she could go back to bed now, but something stopped her. It was a new day, their stolen night had come and gone. It felt like it would be breaking the established rules to share the shower with him. That was oddly domestic and couple-y. Skye sighed to herself as she turned over, that did not stop her from wanting to though.

 

Skye wondered if she should take this as her cue to leave. It might be easier to skip the awkward goodbye and just get on with her life. She ran her fingers over his side of the bed that was still warm. She decided she could wait a little longer. After all, she may as well enjoy the time she had left before returning to the reality where she was an unstable abomination with zero romantic prospects.

 

Skye sat up, resigned to the knowledge that she would not be able to go back to sleep. She darted across the room and grabbed his discarded shirt to cover herself. She always loved wearing her boyfriends’ shirts. Not that he was her boyfriend or that they had something that even resembled a real relationship. Skye sighed and chose not to dwell on those thoughts.

 

Instead, she plopped back on the edge of the bed and turned on the television to occupy herself. Checking her phone would probably lead to messages from Simmons or someone else, so TV it was.

 

She flipped through the channels before stopping on a news station. They were interviewing that asshole, SHIELD-hating senator. She figured she should probably see what Senator Ward was up to. The douchebag said a lot of platitudes and even managed to bring up the “terrorist organization SHIELD” making Skye roll her eyes.

 

“Turn it off.”

 

Skye nearly jumped at the sound of his voice. She had not even noticed that the shower had turned off, but there he was behind her clad in only a towel. Normally the water droplets emphasizing his impressive chest would be distracting, but Skye was completely focused on his face.

 

She had never seen him look so dangerous, even when he was taking down the AIM agents. His face was set in a deadly expression now, jaw clenched and teeth gritted, while he stared at the television screen.

 

“I was just checking the news,” Skye said hesitantly, unsure of what to make of this abrupt change in mood.

 

“I said turn it off,” he snarled. He violently grabbed the remote out of her hands and pressed the power button. Even after the TV went dark, he glared at it. Skye was worried he might actually grab his gun and shoot it.

 

“Okay, wow. That was totally unnecessary,” Skye said. She was not afraid of him, though she wondered if she should be, but she was growing concerned. He was shaking in rage and had yet to even look at her. When he did not respond to her, she added, “It’s off now, all right? Calm down.”

 

He ran a hand through his wet hair and took deep breaths as though he had just finished running a marathon. After a couple of torturous moments, he relaxed. “I see you’re wearing my shirt,” he observed in a normal tone.

 

Skye just gaped. “Uh are your really going to ignore the fact that you just acted like a crazy person over me watching the news?”

 

“Drop it,” he said lowly.

 

Skye did not want to, but he clearly did not want to talk about it. Besides, it was obviously an emotional reaction for him, and they did agree to no feelings.

 

So instead of asking one of the hundreds of questions she had, Skye just gestured to his shirt and said, “Well, it looks better on me.”

 

He gave a smirk. “I will concede that’s true. Still going to need it back though.”

 

Skye tapped her chin in contemplation. “Hmm, no, I don’t think so. What you’re wearing now suits you much better.”

 

He laughed a little and shook his head. “It’d be too much of a hassle to deal with people if I went back to HQ dressed like this.”

 

That gave Skye the strange image of him walking through Hydra headquarters in nothing but a towel, which she had to admit was a pretty amusing thought.

 

“Fine,” she said as she slowly lifted it off of her body to reveal her naked body underneath. She dropped it lightly at his feet with a smile. “All yours.”

 

His eyes darkened with lust just like she knew they would. One of his hands tightened into a fist while he stared at her.

 

She leaned backwards on the bed, arms supporting her in such a way that made her chest stick out. His eyes seemed glued to her breasts, so Skye knew she had him. She looked up at him seductively and challengingly.

 

She watched as his self-control lost the battle, and she found herself in his arms again for the next hour.

 

When seven o’clock rolled around, Skye knew that she had to get back to base. Reluctantly, she pulled away from him and gathered her clothes.

 

She noticed him staring at her as she did. “I’ve got to get back,” she explained. “My S.O. is not going to be happy with me for staying out so long.”

 

He snorted. “I’d take the Cavalry’s reaction over my S.O.’s.”

 

Skye looked back at him as she dragged her pants up her legs. “Really? Who’s your S.O.?” That was not something she normally heard from anyone who even knew Melinda May’s reputation.

 

He narrowed his eyes at her and sat up. “I would think that would be common knowledge at SHIELD.”

 

Skye paused in the process of re-hooking her bra. There were several things that set off alarm bells for Skye in that statement. The fact that he seemed to think she and the rest of SHEILD should know him and his S.O. by repute indicated that he at least thought he was a big enough deal to warrant that attention. That meant he was either more arrogant than she thought or that the nagging and frequently ignored worries she had that he was highly ranked and important to Hydra had merit.

 

Her heart started to pound as she realized that she could no longer pretend his identity did not matter. She was afraid to know, as she had been since she first began developing feelings for a Hydra agent, but Skye forced herself to ask the next question anyway.

 

“What’s your name?” Her voice shook slightly, but she made sure her tone was serious enough that he would not try to joke or lie.

 

She succeeded in putting him on alert. His body was tense as he stared back at her bewildered. “What? Don’t you-”

 

“What’s your name?” Skye interrupted firmly.  

 

“Grant Ward.”                                                         

Chapter Text

"The truth is rarely pure and never simple."

Oscar Wilde


Skye’s mouth opened, but she did not utter a sound. Her gaze left him and darted around as if the carpet floor or shuddering shades could offer her some explanation for the million questions flashing in her eyes. Her hands trembled and came up to her face. She brushed her own cheeks and jaw as if testing that she was still in reality before dropping her arms again.

 

The look on Skye’s face of abject disbelief would have been almost amusing in any other circumstances, but Grant was too busy trying to play catch up to enjoy it. Considering Grant prided himself on his ability to read people and situations, it bothered him that he felt so completely out of his depth all of the sudden.

 

“Is this a joke?” Skye’s voice was quiet and put him on edge.

 

“Is what a joke?” Grant asked with just a tinge of frustration. He forced himself to release his death grip on the sheets. “My name?”

 

“Your name is Grant Ward,” Skye said in a deadened voice. It was both a question and a statement. “And your supervising officer is John Garrett.”

 

Grant was not sure if she was even talking to him at this point or if he should respond. Turns out, she was not waiting on a reaction from him at all.

 

“Oh my god,” she whispered to herself. She grabbed her shirt and threw it on over her head. She was in such a hurry that she did not seem to realize it was inside out.

 

For some inexplicable reason, it was all he could focus on as everything shifted around him, leaving him stunned and confused. He felt the need to point that out to her. “Skye, your shirt-“

 

“Don’t talk to me,” she hissed as she spun around to glare at him, chest heaving wildly. “Don’t say anything to me ever again.”

 

“What?” Grant blurted before deciding to just approach the matter head on. “What are you saying? What’s wrong?”

 

“What’s wrong?” Skye repeated mockingly. “What’s wrong is I just slept with a psychotic serial killer!”

 

Grant did not know what to say to that. Her mouth was hard and twisted in scorn. It made him feel small to be under such a glower, like the days his mother was particularly disgusted with him as child.

 

She was not looking at him any longer, grabbing her jacket and the rest of her belongings as quickly as she could. Grant saw she was trembling. In fact, it felt like the whole room was shaking to him.

 

Staying there, naked on the bed feeling stupid and weak, was not going to help his peace of mind, so Grant seized his pants off the floor and hurriedly yanked them up. He moved to block the exit before Skye could take off. She stared up at him betrayed and repelled as if he were the one who just lost it for no reason.

 

“Skye,” he said, softly and desperately, feeling as though everything was slipping out of his grasp. He did not know when she started to mean so much to him, all he knew was if she walked out now he would break.

 

He gently cupped her face with his hands to force her to meet his eyes, but she jerked back at once. She recoiled, her face painted in revulsion and her eyes welled up with tears. Skye turned away slightly but her head faced him, searing him with that despairing gaze.

 

He was frozen, hands stupidly raised touching nothing but air. Grant could not breathe. It felt like something was lodged in his throat. Whatever she saw in his expression just caused her to break his stare.  

 

Skye took several deep breaths to regain her composure. The room was terribly silent. Finally, she jutted her chin out and stubbornly approached the door once more.

 

“Get out of my way,” Skye said, but she could not even look at him. Her eyes were focused over his shoulder at the door.

 

“Will you just stop for a second?” Grant yelled. Anger rushing into him as it always did when hurt and confusion tried to take over. “You can’t seriously expect me to believe that you didn’t who I was before now.”

 

“Why? It’s not like you ever told me your name,” she muttered viciously. “Probably because this was some sick game to you. Or a bid for intel.” He could feel the accusation wash over him.

 

“Don’t act like I hid anything from you,” Grant snarled. “Every time I’ve seen you since Seville and we talked, you never asked. And why didn’t you just look me up? You’re supposed to be the computer expert. My identity is hardly a secret at SHIELD. Why are you acting like this?”

 

“You killed Eric Koenig!” Skye screamed at him, but he did not know what to say. He did not even know who that was. She must have read the thoughts on his face though because she laughed bitterly. “You have no idea who I’m talking about, right? Must be hard to keep track of everyone you murdered when you’ve killed as many people as you have.”

 

Shame twisted in his gut. It was not the words, cruel and true as they were, but the fact that it was Skye saying them. It was Skye looking at him like he disgusted her.

 

He covered up any pain and fired back, “Yeah, like you know the names of every person you’ve crossed off. Because you didn’t know Rodriguez’s.”

 

Skye laughed slightly hysterically. “You’re trying to make me feel bad for killing a Nazi murderer. Don’t pretend we’re the same, you’re John Garrett’s pet monster.” Grant’s chest tightened painfully as she hurled the insults at him. “Now get the hell out of my way.”

 

Grant should let her leave. Nothing he said was going to fix anything. He was still trying to grasp how quickly the situation had changed. He had been kissing her, watching her head thrown back in pleasure, inside of her just an hour ago.

 

She appeared so distraught and all he wanted to do was comfort her, but he was the reason why she was distressed in the first place. He could not even decide which was worse, seeing her this way or knowing he was the cause of it.

 

But he was seized by some absurd desperation to make her understand. “Skye…”

 

He did not know what he had planned to say after that, but it did not matter. The windows shattered without warning. Glass flew everywhere and littered his hands and face with cuts. He instinctively moved to cover Skye, but she lurched backwards and shrieked, “Don’t touch me! Don’t come anywhere near me!” Her hands covered her mouth in horror and fear.

 

Realizing that they were likely under attack, Grant focused instead on grabbing his gun and assessing the threat. But there was nothing he could see amiss.

 

When he turned back around bewildered, he saw that Skye had used his distraction to escape. She could not have gone far, he could chase her down, but Grant just slumped down to the bed and tried to organize his thoughts.

 

The images of Skye sneering at him and shouting at him not to talk to her, not to touch her, tormented him. It was not the first time someone had reacted that way to him nor would it be the last. In fact, revulsion was a pretty standard response he got from SHIELD agents. In their superiority, they deemed him the scum of the earth. They never thought there was anything good or worthy in him.

 

But Skye had never been like that, even the day they first met. She had always treated him like she expected better of him, that she saw him as more than an enemy killer. Grant foolishly let her warmth wash over him and inadvertently became hopeful. He did not even know what he had longed for with her except that he clearly had let himself believe in something. He allowed himself to get attached and be weak without even meaning to. Now it was all gone anyway, and Grant just felt empty.

 

Unbidden, Grant remembered words John told him long ago when he scared little kid.

 

“Let me give you a little advice, kid,” John had begun in his first visit after the six longest months of Grant’s life. Grant had hung on every word, filled with a strange excitement at just hearing someone else speak. His voice and Buddy’s barks had been his only companions for so long. “Stop caring about people because they’re never going to care about you.” Grant had wanted to say something in disagreement, but John was so experienced and wiser. He had the answers to everything. “When you care, they use it against you and you always end up let down eventually. I learned that the hard way.”

 

John had been right. That was not surprising since he usually was, but the fact that Grant forgot that, forgot himself, because some SHIELD agent waltzed into his life was. Ward had allowed Skye to make him believe in things he long since accepted he would never have and could never be.

 

But she had only acted that way because she did not even know who he was. No one who knew anything about him could think otherwise.

 

Grant stood motionless in the room for longer than he could afford. The noise from the glass breaking would have alerted someone. He needed to go. On autopilot, he finished dressing and rearming himself. He cleared the room of any evidence that he had been there and ignored the way it burned to do so. He snuck out right before the hotel staff arrived.  

 

Grant arrived back at base feeling numb. There was no other way to describe it, a coldness had seeped into his bones, and there was just nothing.

 

He had tried to be something he was not, but now he knew that. John was the only one who cared, the only one who had ever cared. Grant’s judgment had been clouded and he let himself forget, but now he was going to make up for lost time.

 

No more distractions.


 

Skye stumbled out of the room as fast as she could. She was so unsteady. She could not breathe.

 

Was the world shaking or was she just imagining that?

 

Skye tried to meditate, she tried to get it under control, but it was too much. She had waited too long and her powers were fighting their way out under the sudden emotional strain.

 

Oh god, why could she not breathe?

 

She was torn between running out of the hotel immediately or hiding out and making sure Grant left first. Grant. Hah, Grant Ward. She finally knew his name.

 

If she waited and lost control though, she could bring the whole building down around everyone and kill hundreds of people. And Grant, she would kill him, too.

 

Her thoughts swirled in her head making less and less sense by the minute. She had never felt so overwhelmed before. All her thoughts were vying for attention, contradicting one another.

 

He was Grant Ward, John Garrett’s right hand man. He was the guy that Trip scoffed at and May called Garrett’s personal lapdog.

 

That was the man whose arms she had spent last night and this morning in. He had held her tightly to him, brushed the hair out of her face and gently kissed her.

 

He was right about how she should have known. Of course, she should have known. It was obvious. She had witnessed enough from him to see how skilled he was. Why had she believed him to be anything but a highly ranked, infamous Hydra killer?

 

She knew why though. She had been kidding herself the whole time, purposely ignoring any evidence that indicated he was really one of them. How many theories had she considered of him being just a mercenary or not loyal to Hydra or not an embedded agent? She had wanted so badly to believe that the connection she had unwillingly formed was not with a murderer. She had wanted a reason to explain away her attraction to a Hydra agent.

 

But he kept giving her reasons to know better, and she kept ignoring them as much as she could. She made up excuses of why she could not look him up in the databases, why she should not tell Coulson or the others about him, why she should not ask his name. She had known that if she had done any of those things and seen the undeniable proof before her, she could not have continued her encounters with him.

 

That made her wonder, had she known in some part of her the whole time? When she yelled at him about Eric in the closet, was she subconsciously trying to test his reaction?

 

That was almost worse. She had lied to herself for weeks all the while fraternizing with not just an enemy but one of the worst enemies SHEILD had.  

 

She could not stop replaying everything over and over again in her head. She could see him in her mind caressing her face and kissing her chest just as clearly as she could picture the expression of hurt as she yelled anything she could think of to get him away from her. It was doing nothing to calm her down.

 

The second the name left his lips, Skye had frozen. It had taken a while for the full implications to catch up with her. As soon as they did, she knew she had to leave as soon as possible.

 

It was not just a desire to have some space to break down or even a need to get away from the reminder of what just happened, but she was terrified of losing it. Her powers had been begging her for release for days, but she had pushed them aside in an attempt to feel normal. With the onslaught of confusion, pain, and misery at the revelation that she had slept with Eric’s killer not even two days after he died, they began acting up.

 

He had not seemed to realize that the room had begun to tremble, probably distracted by her screaming, but she knew it was only going to get more obvious if she did not leave soon.

 

When he blocked her exit, Skye almost lost it then and there. The conversation just escalated and then the window had exploded.

 

He had tried to shield her from the shards, but Skye became even more desperate for space. She had done that. She was the cause of the destruction. If he touched her, would she break him, too?

 

After all the accusations and insults, Skye found herself more concerned for him than anything. It just made her feel worse. She should have been afraid that Hydra would abduct and brainwash her if they discovered her powers, not that Grant would realize she was an abomination and run away. She should have tried to rain destruction on him, not cringe away at just the thought of hurting him.

 

Skye’s arms were starting to hurt, she could feel her body attacking itself. In a stairwell in the hotel where she slept with Grant Ward, Skye let the tears finally fall.

 

She hugged her knees to her chest and sobbed. She cried for her lost humanity, her pathetic judgment, her decision to have sex with a Hydra agent, and her inability to fully regret her choice anyway.

 

Her arms hurt. Skye looked them over and could see the faint beginnings of bruising. It did not hurt enough to be full on fractures, but she knew that it would get worse if she did nothing.

 

Skye had clamped down on her powers also because she knew a massive earthquake would attract SHIELD’s attention. The last thing she wanted was for them to realize that she snuck off. If they found out that she spent the night with Grant Ward…

 

Skye’s heart rate eventually slowed, and she was able to think again. With some of her calm restored, her powers also let up enough that it stopped hurting. Skye guessed that was the best an abomination could hope for.

 

Skye recalled how Grant had tried to justify not having a clue who Skye was talking about when she spoke of Eric’s death. That was probably how Skye had missed the fact that he was arguably Hydra’s biggest killer. He did not think of it or even care. It was like when she tried to point of his needless killings of the AIM agents, he seemed shocked that she had any issue with it. Of course he saw nothing wrong with all that he had done.

 

That was not the most painful part of the fight though. Skye liked when he acted cold, that made it easier to attack and spurn him. No, it was when he was acting like the person she thought he was that Skye could not even bear to look at him.

 

The face he made when she pulled away as he tried to cradle her face again. He looked lost and confused, like gravity had abruptly flipped and left him standing on the ceiling without a way down. His eyes were wide and devastated, his hands curled pointlessly in the air. It was pathetic. It was heartbreaking.  

 

Skye rose from the ground and scrubbed her cheeks to erase any evidence of her tears away. She had given herself a moment to let everything out, but now she had push past her self-pity. Grant was gone, her powers were subdued, all that was left was to move on.

 

She cleaned herself up and ensured that when she returned to the base that no one would be able to tell that she was miserable. She smiled at all the right moments walking down the hall and if anyone noticed she was quieter than usual, no one spoke up.

 

Skye self-consciously tugged her sleeves down to hide the marks on her arms. She did not want to see the reactions from the others. All of her friends were well aware of what the bruises meant. They would be concerned and wonder what had happened. Why did Skye lose control and hurt herself? What made her so upset?

 

Worse still, fear they could not entirely hide would bleed into their eyes, and Skye would hear the questions no one dared to voice. Why have you not yet learned to control it? Are you going to bring the roof down on us while we sleep? Are we going to regret allowing you to live among us like you’re still normal when you’re not?

 

Skye was drowning in her own thoughts. She had to get away from it all.

 

“May,” she called out to her S.O. when she caught a glimpse of her. “Can we go on that trip now?”

 

May frowned slightly. “I was going to Coulson’s office to-“

 

Skye cut her off. “Please.” She did not even have it in her to be ashamed and afraid of May’s reaction to her obvious desperation.

 

But May just nodded and said, “Sure. Be ready in five. Wheels are up in ten.” Then she walked into Coulson’s office anyway, likely to tell the director.

 

Skye was glad for it. She did not want to see Coulson’s expression at the knowledge that Skye felt like a ticking time bomb. More than that, Skye was not sure she could face Coulson knowing that hours ago she was fucking his worst enemy’s prodigy.

 

Skye strode towards her room to change into something that she would not mind getting ruined by mountains of mud and dirt. She barely acknowledged anyone as the passed her. One of the people she saw was Mack, who did not meet her eyes, but Skye wondered could he tell? Could he see her freakishness as it tried to force its way out of her.

 

“Skye!” A friendly voice called.

 

Skye shut her eyes in frustration. Of all the people to run into at this time, it had to be Simmons. She briefly considered pretending she did not hear, but that would be pathetic. Simmons did not deserve it anyway.

 

“Simmons, I can’t talk,” Skye said hurriedly as she stopped and faced her friend.

 

“Oh,” Simmons’ expression dropped at Skye’s obvious dismissal. “Do you have a mission?”

 

Skye shrugged noncommittally. “Sort of.”

 

“I just wanted to enquire after last night. He was quite handsome-“

 

“Simmons, not now, okay?” Skye interrupted. She could not think about the night before without collapsing. The reminder that she had misled Simmons only made it more painful to think about.

 

“Right, of course,” Simmons said, now visibly upset but trying not to show it. Skye felt like she just kicked a puppy.

 

“I’ve got to go,” Skye mumbled. She left her friend there, all alone and despondent with her brush off the way Grant was.

 

May flew the quinjet to a Californian wilderness that happened to be on a large fault line. They checked the area for any stray hikers, but it was clear. As usual, May dropped her off and told her to call her when she was finished.

 

Skye watched the quinjet disappear into the sky and wondered where May even went during these trips.

 

Skye took a deep breath and cleared her mind of May and SHIELD and everything else. The bees in her stomach were acting up, and she was finally going to give them the release they asked for. Nothing else mattered for the next couple hours.

 

Skye let go.

 

The ground beneath her immediately began to rumble. The shaking’s intensity increased until trees were uprooted and cracks appeared on the ground. Everything around her was in chaos, but Skye was unscathed. When she did not try to control her powers, they never hurt. If anything, she felt fire race through her veins and ignite an energy she did not know existed. In those moments, Skye was untouchable. It was only the aftermath she dreaded.

 

It still was not enough though. Skye threw her arms out and let the last bit of hesitation she had go. This time the earth was not the only thing affected, she felt the vibrations of everything around her and just pushed.

 

In a mixture of shock and horror, Skye watched as the trees around her toppled over, shoved far away by the invisible force of Skye’s powers. As far as Skye could see, all the objects crumbled under her control. The forest fell apart for her.

 

Skye sank to her knees, partially from exhaustion but also in hopelessness. How was she ever going to deal with being this destructive monster?

 

Without meaning to, Skye let her eyes drift shut and remembered something from the night before.

 

Skye lay on her side, staring at her companion with a soft smile. She was surprised either of them were even awake at this point. After a few rounds, her partners usually tired out and fell asleep on her. Sometimes it was before she had even finished.

 

Skye almost wanted to make a joke about secret agents’ stamina. She held her tongue though because his eyes were filled with something like awe as he looked back at her, and Skye wanted to bask in it.

 

His arm was lightly curled around her waist, their legs tangled up under the sheets, and he was stroking her hip absentmindedly. She wondered if he knew that he did that, caressed her whenever his fingers rested on her body. It did not seem like a conscious action.

 

“I’ve never done this,” he confessed in the darkness, almost to himself.

 

“Had sex?” Skye asked, vaguely alarmed and incredibly skeptical. No one was that good without practice.

 

He chucked lightly. Their faces were so close together that his breath rustled her hair. “No, but should I be offended that you think this was my first time?”

 

“I have high standards, what can I say?” Skye teased.

 

His face softened in amusement. He shook his head lightly. “I’ve never done this. Meet up with someone specific for sex, go out of my way to be with them.”

 

“What do you mean?” Skye questioned. “Who do you sleep with then?”

 

He shrugged and averted his gaze. “Other agents who approach me for something casual, targets on missions, whatever’s convenient.”

 

“So you’ve never had a relationship?” Skye found herself wondering.

 

He did not answer, but Skye did not need him to. This was the same guy who said he did not have any friends at SHIELD or Hydra. It did not seem like close interpersonal relationships were his forte.

 

It was not like she had a lot of worthwhile, long-term relationships, but it made her sad to think that he had never had any at all.

 

Maybe that was normal for the agents who had not been picked up out of the streets a year ago. It was hard to balance a relationship with the life of a spy. Even as she thought that, Skye realized that it was not true. Coulson and May were the most dedicated agents she had ever met, and both of them had serious relationships in the past. Melinda married to the job May had an ex-husband.

 

She was not sure what she should say to his admission, so instead she leaned in and captured his lips again. His hand tightened on her waist and pulled her closer. Their hips aligned again. Skye felt his arousal growing as he rolled on top of her.

 

Okay, now she really wanted to make that joke about his stamina.

 

Skye smiled into his lips and wrapped her legs around him. He pulled back and tucked a strand of hair behind her ear. She curled her fingers tightly in his hair, clutching him to her, as he ducked his head down to kiss her neck before entering her again.  

 

Skye wanted nothing more than to return to that moment, cradled in his arms, even knowing all she did now. It felt like a betrayal to SHIELD and Coulson just to wish for that.

 

Skye robotically retrieved her phone and called May. She had no idea what she was going to say, there was no way anyone would believe that the destruction around her was caused by an earthquake. After informing her S.O. that she was ready to be picked up, Skye slumped to the ground defeated.

Chapter Text

Grant threw a punch straight at his opponent’s face. When she deflected it and used his momentum to spin him around, he jabbed his elbow backwards. There was a thud when it connected, but the force was subdued enough that nothing broke. Still, the pain momentarily distracted her, and Grant took advantage of that to throw her to the ground. Breathing heavily, he pinned her down face-first to the floor.

 

She slapped the side of his thigh lightly. “Okay, okay. I give. Now can you stop squishing my face?” Grant did not move as he panted on top of Kara. “Ward?”

                                                      

Grant was embarrassed to realize that he had become distracted. He hurriedly backed off and offered a hand to help her up.

 

She took it gratefully and hoisted herself up. “Are you okay? You’ve been acting strange lately.”

 

Grant snorted as he cleared off the training mat where they just sparred. There were a couple of Hydra agents milling around waiting for them to finish. Grant had shown up and stood menacingly by the side until the previous users of the mat had decided they would rather train later. Kara had just given him a look before joining him on the padded floor.

 

“It’s strange to successfully complete my missions?” Ward asked sardonically.

 

“It is when you’ve had over fifteen in just three weeks. It’s also definitely strange to be constantly requesting more missions. This is the first time I’ve seen you since SHIELD infiltrated our base in Philadelphia, and you’re acting intense.”

 

“Intense?” Grant repeated while he stared her down in the hopes that she would back off.

 

“Yeah, intense,” Kara threw back at him without fear. “You pretty much dragged me out of my bunk to spar even though you never spar with anyone and glared your way into getting us the mat.” Kara looked unimpressed. “And some of those hits I took from you were rougher than they should have been for friendly training.”

 

Grant grimaced and felt his gut twist in shame. He had tried to hold back, but he kept forgetting where he was. His mind wandered to Skye and their disastrous last encounter. It made him enraged and unsure all over again.

 

As if she read his thoughts, Kara spoke up, “You’re taking out your frustration on me. Whatever’s gotten to you lately is making you run after missions and when that fails, try to punch your way to distraction. What happened? Did Garrett ground you?”

 

Grant frowned. “He needs me on base for now, that’s all.”

 

Kara rolled her eyes. “You’re not sleeping, taking on all this solo work, and just now you were sloppily attacking me.”

 

“I beat you,” Grant pointed out.

 

“Yeah,” Kara conceded, “But with all the finesse of a steamroller. I know how you fight, you use brute force but also strategy. You normally like to detachedly assess the situation. This,” Kara indicated towards the mat, “It’s like you’re trying to not use your mind at all.”

 

“Why do you care?” Grant whispered harshly, mindful of potential eavesdroppers. Kara was staring at him with the same kind of concern that Skye used to have in her eyes. But that was a lie. Skye never cared about him, she just thought she did before realizing he was not worth it.

 

Kara’s brow furrowed. “Because I’m worried about you.”

 

That was a lie, too. Kara was probably put up to this interrogation by Whitehall. He was always trying to get a reaction from Ward. Whatever Kara felt was determined by Whitehall anyway thanks to her brainwashing.

 

Grant averted his gaze from her. He had just admitted that she was so thoroughly under Whitehall’s control that her feelings were not her own and yet he was doing nothing about that. Grant looked back at Kara’s earnest, waiting face and felt sick. She should be worrying about herself. She was the one who needed help, not him.

 

Grant wondered what would happen if took her by the shoulders and tried to snap her out of it. Maybe reminding her that she was acting in a way she would otherwise hate would trigger some kind of awareness. Could you do that with brainwashing? How did it work? Grant did not know.

 

Then Grant clenched his hands into fists at the realization that he was considering risking himself for yet another person who would not give a crap about him if they were in their right mind with all the information. The only reason Kara and he had any kind of relationship was because she had been brainwashed into thinking Hydra was what she wanted.

 

If Kara were herself, she would be just as disgusted by him as Skye was.

 

Grant cleared all those thoughts out of his mind and gave Kara a fake but reassuring smile. “I’m fine,” Grant said.

 

“Really?” Kara questioned skeptically.

 

Grant smirked. “Never better.”

 

With that, he left Kara to seek out John. She was right in her assumption that John had halted his missions, but she was wrong about why. Grant needed to be on hand because John and he were planning their next moves regarding the real mission.

 

Hydra did not matter. The only reason Grant had been obsessively pursuing so many of those missions was because he wanted a distraction. A part of Grant also wanted to give Whitehall and the rest no reason to suspect he had been off his game given his recent weaknesses. It served to keep Whitehall from any suspicions about what Garrett was up to as well. Truth was, Grant had been gathering intel for John on these missions, too. It was a great excuse to get away from prying eyes as Grant investigated.

 

Grant had kept himself so busy the past few weeks, he could almost forget the night he had shared with Skye and the terrible morning afterwards. Every night, however, Grant was consumed with thoughts of her.

 

Sometimes when his mind was feeling generous, he would remember how she looked lying beneath him. It was the moment after their first round where Grant had just been overwhelmed by everything. Her hair was splayed out on the pillow, and she smiled contently at him.

 

Mostly though Grant was caught up in recalling the way she sneered and screamed and ran. That was the important part anyway. He should only think about Skye’s reaction to who he really was, not what she thought he was. 

 

After several nights of sleeplessness where Grant tormented himself with either the tainted memories of their stolen night together or the aftermath of that delusion, Grant sought out a different type of distraction.

 

But following his attempts to lose himself with three women who bore superficial similarities to Skye without even making it to bed with any, and Grant was ready to punch himself unconscious just to escape it all.

 

The only good thing to happen recently was that John was happy with him. That was all that really mattered anyway.

 

With that in mind, Grant secretly slipped out of base to rendezvous with John at one of his nearby secret safehouses.

 


 

Skye waited in the meeting room for the others to arrive. She was the first besides Coulson and May but then again she had a lot of free time lately. 

 

Skye stared resolutely at the floor while the others filtered in. She could sense the weight of May’s gaze and wanted to avoid making eye contact. She knew the others had noticed her recent poor mood, but no one had said anything to her yet. That was probably because Skye had not given them a chance.

 

They were worried because she was no longer socializing or speaking, but truth be told, she just did not have the energy for it anymore.

 

Her bruises had healed for the most part though and her powers were back under control. Skye was not lying to her loved ones anymore and all their missions were successful. By all accounts, things were going well- except Skye was not happy. Everything was the same as it was a few months ago, before she met Grant Ward on that fateful mission in Seville. Skye really had no reason to feel so depressed. Nothing had changed really.

 

So why did Skye feel so lonely?

 

Everyone gathered around, from a chattering Fitzsimmons to a bickering Hunter and Bobbi. A quick glance around the room told Skye that Coulson had gathered his top agents only. Whatever the mission was must be important.

 

“SHIELD’s conducting a manhunt,” Coulson announced without preamble. “This is a priority, and I want all of you to devote time to this.”

 

Everyone reacted with predictable confusion. There were very few people worth devoting such manpower to. If SHIELD wanted someone, they would send a few agents to apprehend them or cross them off. May, Bobbi, Skye, Hunter, Trip, most of the agents in the room were enough to take anyone out singlehandedly.

 

The exceptions were powerful gifteds or Hydra leaders. But Skye would know if there were any developments with gifteds because she made it her business to know given her status and her father’s history of associating with them. As for Garrett or Whitehall, Skye assumed she would have heard if either of them had stopped hiding.

 

“Hydra activity has picked up in the last couple weeks,” Coulson continued as he fiddled with his electronic tablet. “Assassinations, thefts, kidnappings, all that fun stuff.”

 

Bobbi frowned. “That’s pretty standard for Hydra. Why the extreme reaction?”

 

“Yeah,” Hunter chimed in, “I’d be more concerned if they suddenly stopped being murderous psychopaths.”

 

Coulson gave one of his secretive, benign smiles as he nodded in agreement. “Except all these missions were performed by the same agent who is uncharacteristically showing up on our radar.” Coulson shared a look with May. “It looks like John Garrett might be finally making a move.”

 

Skye’s stomach dropped. This could not be happening.

 

“Garrett’s the one running around?” Trip asked seriously. His body was tense as it always was when Garrett was mentioned. “Or is it Ward?”

 

“It’s Ward,” May confirmed, crushing Skye’s last hope that she was misinterpreting this.

 

Skye could feel her heart rate increase as she realized what was about to happen. Fitz and Simmons were huddled slightly together as they listened to Coulson, but Skye could barely hear anything beyond the ringing in her ears. Any second now and everything was going to fall apart.

 

“Grant Ward,” Coulson declared as he pressed a button on the tablet. Instantly, a standard SHIELD file photo was projected before the gathered agents. He was clean-shaven and sporting a sour look, but it was undeniably the same man that Fitz and Simmons met at Futurepharm. The same man that Skye slept with.

 

The reaction was instantaneous. Simmons loudly gasped and covered her mouth. Fitz just cocked his head to the side in clear confusion and disbelief. Skye shut her eyes tightly and tried to steady her breathing, but when she looked again, the image was still there.

 

“What?” Simmons said with widened eyes. “Well, I suppose that makes some sense, but…”

 

“No, this is wrong,” Fitz asserted as he shook his head. “There’s no way.” He kept shaking his head while Simmons just glanced around bewildered.

 

May appeared concerned. “You know Ward?”

 

The entire room was staring at the two scientists now. There was no chance that Skye could avoid questions. Already Fitzsimmons were turning to look to her for some kind of confirmation or denial.

 

Skye clenched her fists to stop the trembling before it could manifest into a full-blown earthquake.

 

Coulson redirected her friends’ attention as he indicated towards the picture. “You’ve met this man?”

 

Fitzsimmons started babbling as they argued with each other. Simmons was rationalizing the truth because they had seen his skills, and he was Hydra. But Fitz did not believe it, how could Simmons say that given their experiences with him? It was not possible that he was Eric’s killer and worked for John Garrett of all people.

 

“No, no, it doesn’t make sense-” Fitz said.

 

“We knew he worked for Hydra-“ Simmons argued.

 

“He saved us, he saved you. How can you act like nothing-“

 

“He also killed all those AIM agents and-“

 

“-And got us out of the building before it exploded-“

 

“He was the one to set it to explode!”

 

“But he nearly died jumping after you-“

 

“He also killed Eric Koenig!”

 

“Enough!” Coulson interrupted firmly. He seemed worried, and Skye could easily understand why. The not even combat cleared Fitzsimmons had unreported contact with one of Hydra’s most dangerous members and John Garrett’s right hand man. “Explain, now.”

 

Fitz and Simmons turned towards Coulson in a daze, as if only now remembering they had an audience. Skye could hardly blame them for their reaction since she did not handle the knowledge that “Zach” was Grant Ward particularly well.

 

Fitz spluttered a bit but ultimately could not think of anything he could say to clarify. After a second, both scientists glanced at each other and spoke simultaneously.

 

“Skye’s actually the one who knows him,” Fitz offered.

 

“Maybe Skye could explain better,” Simmons suggested.

 

Just like that and all eyes in the room were on her. Skye wanted to shrink into the ground, she wanted to run, but she supposed the time for hiding was over. She should never have lied to her friends in the first place, and now she was going to have to face that mistake.

 

“Skye?” Coulson prompted apprehensively.

 

Skye straightened up and faced everyone with as much confidence as she could muster. “Can we speak privately, sir?” This was not a conversation she wanted to have in front of so many people.

 

Maybe it was Coulson’s fondness for her, or maybe it was her unusual usage of the title “sir” for Coulson, but he ordered everyone except Fitz and Simmons to clear out anyway. Coulson nodded at May when she raised an eyebrow. She left after a moment’s hesitation. Skye could not meet her eyes as she did.

 

The second the door closed, Coulson leveled them with the sternest glare Skye had ever seen. She was reminded of the confrontation they had when he discovered she was hiding Miles and her Rising Tide secrets from him, but even then Coulson had never looked so intimidating to Skye. “You have one chance to tell me why the three of you have a secret connection to a high ranking Hydra member or you’ll no longer be agents of SHIELD.”

 

Simmons squirmed slightly at the threat and turned to Skye for guidance. Skye could not help but feel guilty, she was the one who convinced the others to keep quiet after all.

 

“It’s because of me,” she confessed. “Simmons and Fitz didn’t do anything wrong.”

 

Coulson’s glare did not lighten up. “Lying to the director of SHIELD about one of our biggest enemies and fraternizing with him is not wrong?”

 

“It wasn’t like that!” Simmons blurted out as she wrung her hands.

 

“Tell me what is was like then,” Coulson said. “Because from what I can tell, you’ve betrayed SHIELD.”

 

“We would never,” Skye said. “We’re not Hydra, we’re not traitors.”

 

Coulson stared at her for a moment as if testing her words. “When did you first meet Grant Ward?” he asked instead.

 

“When we were kidnapped,” Simmons supplied, eager to clear the air. “Fitz and I were interrogated about the GH formula, and he was one of the operatives to do so.”

 

“So he was the person who tortured you,” Coulson said with a little confusion tinting his voice, ruining his otherwise emotionless mask.

 

“No, that’s just it,” Simmons said, “He was the one who stopped it.”

 

“And then he reset my fingers,” Fitz mumbled. He had been quiet since his outburst at Simmons. His entire posture was subdued, and Skye wondered what he was thinking.

 

“Yes,” Simmons agreed with a nod.

 

Coulson frowned slightly but said nothing on that. “But that wasn’t the only time you met him. You mentioned AIM in your argument earlier.”

 

“This is where it becomes confusing,” Simmons began delicately. She shot Skye a look, probably hoping that she would jump in, but Skye wanted to delay speaking as long as possible. “He’s the reason we escaped AIM.” Simmons briefly detailed the events from how Grant had stopped them from walking to their deaths at Futurepharm to his sudden departure once they fled AIM.

 

Coulson’s frown only became more pronounced as Simmons spoke, especially when she explained how Grant had jumped out of the plane and saved her from falling to her death. He remained quiet as he processed it all.

 

“That’s why it can’t be true,” Fitz said suddenly. “Why would he save us if he was this guy?”

 

“I don’t know, Fitz,” Coulson replied. “But Ward’s extremely dangerous and manipulative.”

 

“No,” Fitz said. “May, Trip, and everyone said he was a mindless killer. He wasn’t like that at all.”

 

“He was the best in espionage SHIELD had since Romanoff,” Coulson said. “Just because he seemed to have good intentions or do good things doesn’t mean he wasn’t just trying to work an angle. We don’t know what Garrett’s game is, but you can bet whatever Ward’s doing is for him.”

 

“You think he was manipulating us as part of some plot by John Garrett?” Simmons asked skeptically. It was the first time Skye noticed any uncertainty from her since the start of the conversation.

 

“Maybe,” Coulson told her. “I do know that you can’t trust him.”

 

Skye felt sick. It was everything she feared. Did Grant have sex with her to further some psychopathic scheme of Garrett’s? Did he manipulate her into proposing their meet up in the first place?

 

Except that did not make sense. Skye may not know too much about who Grant Ward really was or next to anything about John Garrett, but she was pretty certain he was hiding the secret of her special abilities. If Hydra was so focused on getting the GH formula, why would Grant conceal that she had it in her? It had been months since he kidnapped Fitzsimmons and yet no one had tried to take her. Nothing had happened. He even chased after Dr. Streiten to take him in for that information instead of organizing her abduction. What kind of plot would make him do all of that?

 

Skye did not say anything, worried that she was projecting her hopes rather than acting rationally. The last thing she wanted to do was sound like she was defending Grant to Coulson now. But that did not change the fact that things did not add up to her.

 

“Why didn’t you tell me?” Coulson asked Fitzsimmons, ending Skye’s contemplations.

 

“Because I asked them not to,” Skye admitted. “I was worried…” She trailed off as she considered her logic. At the time, fearing that her mystery man would be punished after the insinuations that his S.O. would react poorly to his failure seemed rational. After all, Hydra was not exactly famous for its mercy. But now that Skye knew that “Zach” was Grant Ward and that his supervising officer was John Garrett, it seemed silly.

 

Trip had even said that Garrett bragged endlessly about his protégé. Garrett would not hurt Grant. In fact, this whole thing may have been a scheme by Garrett and now the two of them were laughing it up because the stupid SHIELD agents fell for it.

 

“Skye?”

 

Skye returned her focus to Coulson. “It’s stupid, I was stupid. I’m so sorry.” Skye bit her lip as she became emotional. What if this really was the final straw and Coulson sent her away?

 

But Coulson did not become angry, he softened slightly while still not losing his Director Mode seriousness. It was only a brief moment before he hardened again. “How do you know Ward? Simmons just said you recognized him at Futurepharm.”

 

For a second, Skye considered the possibility that she could hide the truth. Maybe she could give Coulson a shortened version like the one she initially gave Fitzsimmons. But she could not, she had already betrayed Coulson enough by keeping this from him and deliberately meeting with a Hydra agent in secret. If she did lie again, Coulson would probably make good on his promise to fire her.

 

“It’s a long story,” Skye hedged. When Coulson’s frown deepened and Fitzsimmons looked at her bemused, Skye just began to blurt it out. She told them most everything. She did not elaborate on any of the more intimate details of her relationship with Grant, but she did mention them. Skye confessed to everything from Grant letting her go with the obelisk to running into him after he kidnapped Fitzsimmons to their encounter at Dr. Streiten’s office to their night at the hotel. It all tumbled out of Skye’s mouth before she could consider the consequences of being honest.

 

When she was finished, the room was silent. Skye stared resolutely over Coulson’s shoulder and did not meet any of their gazes.  

 

“You lied to me,” came the hurt voice beside her.

 

“Simmons-“ Skye began before being interrupted.

 

“No, you used me and misled me,” Simmons was on the verge of tears now. “I asked you if you were over him and you told me you were- after you said you’d never let anything happen between the two of you! You manipulated me to spend time with him in secret.”

 

Skye became defensive. “Well, you sold me out,” she spoke angrily. Her eyes darted between Fitz and Simmons, “One of you told Grant that I was injected with the GH formula when you were kidnapped.”

 

Truthfully, Skye could not know for certain, but she saw the dawning realization on Simmons’ face and knew she was right.

 

“It slipped out by accident, but I never intentionally betrayed you!” Simmons yelled.

 

“And I never meant to betray you!” Skye screamed in retaliation. She looked at the shocked faces of Coulson and Fitz and continued more quietly, “I never meant to betray any of you, I just…” Skye lost the momentum and found that she had nothing to say. The fact was that she lied to her loved ones and went behind their backs because she felt connected to this man. In some ways, she chose him over them and that was unacceptable. He was a murderer and a Hydra agent.

 

Coulson seemed to understand what she would not give voice to. His face tightened, but Skye could not tell if it was from realization, disgust, anger, disappointment or some combination.

 

“This is serious, Skye,” he said. “Did you give him any SHIELD intel?”

 

“What? No, of course not,” Skye declared indignantly.

 

“Think carefully,” Coulson said unperturbed by her outburst. “Grant Ward’s very capable of deceiving experienced agents, he may have manipulated you into revealing something.”

 

“He didn’t,” Skye said. “We never talked about anything specific when it came to SHIELD or Hydra.”

 

Coulson’s lips thinned, but he did not argue with her. “No one breathe a word of this to anyone. If anyone asks what we spoke of, send them to me.” He looked to Fitzsimmons, “You’re dismissed.” Skye turned to go, but Coulson stopped her. “Skye, wait a moment.”

 

They left wordlessly, but Simmons sent Skye one last pained glance before disappearing out the door.

 

Coulson took a seat behind the desk and stared at her pointedly. After a moment of the torturous silence, he spoke, “I never thought you’d betray me.”

 

Skye’s chest tightened. “Coulson, I-“

 

“I gave you a second chance after you lied about your boyfriend and the Rising Tide. I trusted you, more than almost anyone. How could you go behind my back like that?”

 

“It wasn’t like that,” Skye tried desperately. “It wasn’t about you or SHIELD. It was about me!” Skye’s chest heaved as she tried to contain the frustration. “None of you treat me the same anymore. Mack won’t even look at me and the rest of you tiptoe around me because I’m a monster!”

 

Skye’s eyes welled up with tears as she said what she had been afraid to admit for so long. Coulson was startled out of his rage at her words, but Skye did not give him a second to respond.

 

“I just wanted to feel normal again. I know I was wrong, I know he was probably using me, but I felt like I was human when I was with him, okay? I’m stupid and pathetic, but I never betrayed you.” Skye could feel the tears falling down her cheeks at the end of her rant.

 

Coulson stood up wordlessly. As she stared at his unreadable expression, Skye worried briefly that he was going to start yelling again. But she sobbed harder when he just wrapped his arms around her and said, “You’re not a monster, Skye. Don’t ever think that.”

 

Her cries were muffled as she buried her head into his shoulder. It did not bring her the same feelings that Grant’s embrace did, but it held the promise of acceptance that Skye never thought she would have from someone who knew the truth.

 

Skye let herself bask in the hug for a while before drawing back. “So what happens now?”

 

“Now I’m going to look into some things regarding Grant Ward. Something isn’t what it seems here. If anything, I need to find out why he saved you and whether it’s part of some larger scheme by Garrett.”

 

“I don’t think it is,” Skye muttered as she wiped her eyes. “I know I shouldn’t believe anything he said to me, but, Coulson, it just doesn’t make sense.”

 

Coulson regarded her. “I know you want to believe that he wasn’t using you, but you have to understand that Ward’s manipulative.” He paused before continuing, “But there are few people whose judgment I trust more than yours. Don’t worry, we’ll figure it out. I promise.”

 

Skye nodded. Maybe she was just trying to hold out hope that a Hydra killer had not seduced her for intel or something. She should know better than to be so foolishly idealistic about Hydra.      

 

“As for you,” Coulson said seriously, “No more lies. I’m going to give you the benefit of the doubt for coming clean, but this is serious. If you ever see him again, if anything ever comes up, you tell me.”

 

“Am I going to be punished?” Skye asked. It was not really Coulson’s style, but she was not sure. He did have her wear that awful anti-technology bracelet for months after the Miles incident.

 

Coulson smiled wryly. “Can’t really afford to lose you, so no. But this is your last chance, if it ever happens again-“

 

“It won’t,” Skye reassured. “I promise.”

 

“Good,” Coulson said. “You’re dismissed then.”

 

Skye turned to leave before hesitating. Coulson said he was going to look into Grant, which was exactly why she hid Grant’s actions at Futurepharm from him in the first place. She had feared Hydra would find out what he did and punish him.

 

She should not worry about him though, it was wrong. He was a killer. Anyway, she was overthinking things. Why would Garrett punish his prized pupil? Skye shook off the concern and left without another word.

 


 

 

When Grant entered into the safehouse and saw John, he knew immediately something was wrong. John’s posture was rigid with what looked like restrained fury as he sat hunched over in a chair.

 

When Garrett turned his baleful glare and sneer towards Grant, Ward knew what had happened before John even spoke.

 

“SHIELD’s been snooping around recently, did you know that?” Johh began as he slowly stood. “Funny story really, because they weren’t looking into me or Hydra secrets, they were looking into you. Want to tell me why that is?”

 

Grant faltered. That was not what he expected. He told John honestly, “I don’t know why they’d be researching me unless it has to do with the recent missions I’ve been taking. It’s attracted some notice.”

 

John smiled dangerously. “Oh, no, it’s not about your Hydra missions, it’s about your weakness again.”

 

Grant froze as he contemplated what exactly Garrett could know.

 

“Are you working behind my back?” John demanded.

 

“No, never,” Grant breathed.

 

“Then want to tell me again how AIM caught you?” John continued almost cheerily. “Because I heard an interesting rumor about that.”

 

“It wasn’t-“

 

“I don’t want to hear your excuses,” John interrupted with disgust. “Sometimes I wonder why I even bother with you.”

 

Grant’s heart dropped. He knew he had let John down but witnessing the full weight of his disappointment was even worse.

 

“I think you’ve forgotten your purpose,” John said. His narrowed eyes assessed Grant as he nudged a long, black case with his foot. “I’m going to remind you of it.” When Grant hesitated, John added, “Do you want to prove your loyalty to me?”

 

“Yes,” he said at once. Whatever it was, Grant could handle it. It would be well worth it if it reassured John.

 

John grinned widely, showcasing his teeth menacingly. “Good. Then I got a present for you, son.”

Chapter Text

"I have love in me the likes of which you can scarcely imagine and rage the likes of which you would not believe. If I cannot satisfy the one, I will indulge the other."

-Mary Shelly, Frankenstein


 

To say things were tense would be a massive understatement, yet Skye still felt better than she had for weeks. She had Coulson’s support and was not hiding anymore secrets, which was lifted such a weight off her back that she could almost consider herself content. She did not feel as good as she did before she discovered her mystery man was Grant Ward, but she would take what she could get.

 

Simmons was stiff when they interacted, and she avoided Skye as much as she could otherwise. She was not lashing out or anything. Skye sensed that she was more hurt than infuriated. Still, it pained Skye because she missed having her friend, and it was even worse because Skye knew their newfound distance was not because of her powers or something she could not control. No, the reason Simmons ran away from her at every opportunity was all Skye’s fault.

 

Another issue with her strained relationship with Simmons was that poor Fitz was stuck in the middle of it all. His loyalty to and longstanding friendship with Simmons clashed with his bond with Skye. The funny thing was that Fitz did not feel betrayed at all by what Skye had done. In fact, he had a very different outlook on the situation.

 

A day after the briefing where all was revealed, Skye walked through the base after training in desperate need of a drink of water. She headed towards the kitchen as she wiped the sweat off her forehead with her shirt.

 

She passed Trip on her way. He was as friendly as always, but Skye could tell he was biting his tongue to stop from asking about what went down after the briefing. It warmed Skye’s heart that he seemed more anxious for her than angered at the secrecy. Considering his connection with John Garrett, Skye supposed that made sense.

 

So far she had been able to put off all the questions by directing the others to Coulson. Skye was not sure what he was telling them, but nobody was treating her like a traitor. Skye could live with that, and her gratefulness towards Coulson increased. When Skye entered the kitchen though, she stopped short.

 

Fitz and Simmons were sitting down laughing about something and both froze upon seeing her.

 

“Hey guys,” Skye said cheerfully in an attempt to diffuse the awkwardness. Simmons frowned slightly and said nothing.

 

Fitz cast a worried look at Simmons before speaking. “Hey Skye.”

 

Simmons abruptly stood and spoke tightly to Fitz, “I need to check the test results on the molecular composition of the samples.” With that, she left quickly. Skye thought Simmons glanced at her before disappearing, but she was not sure.

 

Skye gritted her teeth, frustrated and guilty all at once. “Well, I guess I’ll be going then.” She spun on her heels to make a hasty retreat and save herself from more rejection.

 

Fitz caught her before she could reach the door. He stumbled out of his chair gracelessly and said, “Wait, Skye! I have to talk to you.”

 

“What is it, Fitz?” She asked grumpily. It was not fair to take her irritation out on Fitz, but it was bubbling to the surface uncontrollably.

 

Fitz faltered slightly in the face of her impatience but then pressed on. “About umm you know, I think Coulson’s wrong. There’s got to be something else going on-“

 

“Fitz,” Skye hurriedly interrupted. She looked around feeling a little paranoid. “We can’t talk about it.”

 

“I know, I know, but you don’t believe that he was just using us, right? There has to be some other explanation.”

 

“I don’t know,” Skye hedged. She was afraid to say anything else, especially while out in the open. “I mean this is what he’s supposed to be good at, manipulating people and lying. What do we really know about him anyway?”

 

“We know enough,” Fitz said stubbornly.

 

Skye did not agree with him, they definitely did not know enough about Grant Ward to decide anything. But as she thought about it, she did wonder. There were some things he had said that she had not paid attention to at the time and now kept reverberating in her head. It was getting hard to ignore all the thoughts of Grant.

 

Skye wanted to tell him that knew how he felt. She had the same burning need to have her faith justified, to have everything that had become so muddled explained away. She was on thin ice though after her actions, so she said nothing like that. “We can’t talk about this,” was all that came out instead as she turned and left.

 

Fitz had not brought it up again, and Skye was glad. It was easier to deal with Coulson who did not seem to think there was anything more than Grant working an angle for Garrett than it was to listen to Fitz think otherwise.

 

Skye had been trying to avoid all reminders of Grant. Several times over the past couple weeks she had booted up her laptop and accessed Grant’s SHIELD files only to stop short of reading them. She just did not want to see the list of his crimes, the lies he told. Considering that trying to play the ignorance is bliss card was what caused the massive misunderstandings and her current predicament, Skye could admit to herself that it was a bad idea not to at least do her research this time.

 

Of course, everything that could have gone wrong had already, so what was the harm really?

 

Skye was content to put all thoughts of Grant Ward out of her mind for the time being. Her association with him had strained her relationship with Simmons, nearly got her fired and gave Coulson a reason to doubt her loyalty. Clearly this was not something she should think on. That did little to stop her wandering thoughts though, especially when Fitz gave her a meaningful look, and she just knew what he wanted to say.

 

When Skye slipped into the meeting room, she noticed that this time she was the last one to arrive.

 

Coulson jumped right into the mission details. “We’ve just received word that Hydra is going to attack a facility believed to be related to the Guest House. Both were secret research facilities affiliated with the SSR and then SHIELD but are strictly off the books.” Coulson played a bit on his tablet and produced images of the facility. “My sources indicate that similar research is being conducting in the Side Door as was done in the Guest House. Which is to say it’s pretty messy stuff.”

 

He paused for a moment to give significant looks to those in the know about just what that implied. So Hydra was still after the GH formula and looking for it by pursuing obscure leads like this one. Skye could not help but think that there was no way Grant had told anyone about the fact that she had the formula in her then. This was proof of that. Why else would they be running around in circles for the slightest chance of finding a connection to the Guest House?

 

“Hang on a second,” Hunter spoke up. “Is this place seriously called ‘Side Door’ and the other was the ‘Guest House’?” Everyone turned to stare at him. “I’m not the only who finds this hilarious, right?” No one answered him, though Coulson sent Hunter an amused look.

 

“What can you tell us about the Guest House?” Bobbi asked. “You encountered it on a previous mission, right?”

 

“Those mission details are classified,” Coulson said smoothly. Bobbi’s face tightened at the response even as she remained silent. “But suffice to say the contents of the facility were incredibly dangerous and would not be safe in Hydra’s hands. Luckily, the Guest House was blown up and buried its secrets with it. Less luckily, it appears that Hydra has discovered Side Door and opened the possibility of similar research falling into the wrong hands.”

 

Hunter snickered slightly at the name again, but Skye did not find any of this funny. Coulson was right, if this place was anything like the Guest House, then Hydra could not be allowed to take control of its resources. Skye suddenly remembered her silent promise to Dr. Streiten to ensure that the GH formula was kept safe and straightened up. “So are we going to intercept them or what?”     

 

Coulson smiled slightly at her enthusiasm. “Might not be that simple. The attack is too soon to cut them off, but we may be able to destroy the facility before they can access it.” Coulson tucked his tablet to his chest and turned his gaze to the right of Skye. “Trip, you trained under Garrett. How confident are you in setting up explosives on site?”

 

Trip shrugged a little. “I didn’t get the full training in explosives that Ward did.” Skye forced herself not to tense at the name. “It’s not my specialty.”

 

“I can do it,” Hunter cut in. “Between the two of us and Fitz, it shouldn’t be a problem.”

 

Coulson looked to the engineer. “Are you comfortable going into the field again?” Fitz nodded seriously. “Okay, now we need another field agent to cover you.”

 

“I’ll go,” Bobbi volunteered.

 

“I would prefer someone with more knowledge of the Guest House for this one.” Bobbi bristled slightly, probably because Coulson was the one keeping her in the dark about the Guest House to begin with. But Skye understood at once, Coulson wanted someone else in the know about the GH formula on the team. “I have another mission for you, Agent Morse.”

 

“I can go,” Skye said. She felt a personal stock in keeping the GH formula from Hydra anyway.

 

Coulson hesitated. “There’s a slight chance that Hydra may send one of its higher ranking agents. If you fail to blow the facility up in time, you may need to engage.”

 

Hunter raised an eyebrow, “Since when has that stopped us?”

 

Realization dawned on Skye. Coulson thought that since Grant interrogated Fitzsimmons about the drug, he might be on this mission. He would not say anything since doing so would reveal Skye’s connection to Grant, but he was worried about sending her in for it.

 

“I can handle anything Hydra sends our way,” Skye told him confidently. It was just needless worry, she probably would not see Grant anyway. Even as she thought that, Skye could not help but hope that she would see him. It had not even been a full month since they slept together, but she missed him. She knew she should not but knowing that changed nothing.

 

Besides, Skye had something to prove. She could not let Coulson think she was any less of an agent because of her past with Grant. It was over, whatever she thought they had. It would not affect her missions.

 

Coulson inclined his head. “Okay then, you leave in ten minutes.”

 


 

When they arrived at the Side Door, it seemed like they were able to beat Hydra to it. There were no sounds of gunfire or screaming or douchebags in black suits- or any of the other typical signs that Hydra was around.

 

Fitz was able to open the door quickly enough. “When we were at the Guest House, a voice asked us for a password,” he told them. There had been no response when they attempted to reach the people inside. The implication hung heavy over their heads, Hydra may have already come and gone and killed anyone inside.

 

The place seemed deserted when they walked in. It was an eerie underground facility that Fitz confirmed was much like the Guest House. The lights flickered ominously and added to the effect.

 

Skye took point, her gun up as she scanned the room. Fitz was right behind her, followed by Hunter and with Trip bringing up the rear.

 

“Clear,” Skye announced to the others as she finished assessing the room. She remained alert with her sidearm poised. She had a bad feeling about all this. Maybe it was the gloomy lighting or the fact that they had not encountered anyone yet, but Skye felt the hairs on the back of her neck rise.

 

They reached a room with an open rectangular space as if there should be a door. On either side, there were hallways. The group paused for a second to consider their options.

 

“Want to start with the main room or the hallways?” Skye asked everyone.

 

“The main room,” Trip said. “It’s likely to contain the research, and we can see if Hydra beat us here.”

 

“We’ll need to set up the halls with the explosives afterwards,” Hunter said.

 

Decided, Skye moved forward to enter the room with Fitz so close behind her that he brushed her back. The second she crossed into the room, however, a whirling noise sounded. Skye had just enough time to grab Fitz and fall forward into the room before a thick wall of glass cut them off from Hunter and Trip. Her knees bore the brunt of the impact as she crashed to the ground.

 

“What the hell…” Fitz was mumbled. He was sprawled clumsily on the floor, but Skye shook off the throbbing in her knees and was already up and looking around for threats. The noise was not loud, but it could have alerted someone- if there was anyone around to alert. She was now slightly more concerned that the room might attack her though.

 

When she did not sense anything, Skye turned to Trip and Hunter. Hunter was sporting a rather unattractive expression of shock while Trip was prodding at the glass. The way their mouths were moving told Skye that the glass was dense enough to be soundproof. It was probably bulletproof, too.

 

The good news was that Skye and Fitz were the best suited to get them out of a technological trap like this one. The bad news was they ended up divided. She had faith in Trip and Hunter on their own though, both were skilled and smart. Well, at least Trip was smart. Skye looked down at Fitz and worried for them. If someone skilled from Hydra was here or they faced a whole team, it would be up to Skye alone to protect him.

 

Fitz stood and approached the glass. He squinted at it and observed their teammates lips’ movements before turning to Skye. “I think they want to go set up the bombs now.”

 

Skye nodded to the others and mouthed exaggeratedly back to the two, “We’ll get the research. You do the bombs.”

 

Slightly reluctantly, the two of them turned away and took the left passageway. Skye gave her focus to Fitz, “Look for the research first or a way to open this stupid thing?” Skye said the last bit with a light knock on the glass.

 

“Shouldn’t be too hard to recalibrate any system between the two of us, and we don’t want to deactivate the door before we search the room,” Fitz said thoughtfully.

 

Skye faced the room fully and decided “room” was really a misnomer. There appeared to be multiple back rooms and connected corridors. Basically, there were plenty of places to hide life or death research. “Needle in a haystack first. Got it,” she said with a sigh. “Let’s get to work.”

 

“I’ll focus on this area if you want to do a sweep of the back area,” Fitz suggested.

 

Skye directed him to call out if he saw any trouble and forced down any concern over leaving Fitz alone. She would return quickly. Besides, he had an absurdly tough glass door and her to stand between him and any potential threats.

 

Skye began to comb the narrow corridors taking care to silence her footsteps just in case. Given they triggered some kind of booby trap meant to trap intruders, Skye did not think anyone else was around, but experience made her cautious anyway.

 

She was glad for her caution a moment later as she heard voices and rustling sounds coming from one of the rooms. The door was slightly ajar, and Skye approached silently with her gun raised. She paused to listen and get a feel of what she was dealing with.      

 

“Let me handle this,” a woman’s voice was saying. Her tone was torn between frustration and concern, as if it was an old argument but one that worried her still. “I can’t believe he even sent you out. You’re in no condition to be on a mission.”

 

Likely Hydra. Two enemies, one either injured or somehow otherwise incapacitated. Skye breathed a soundless huff of relief. She could handle this. 

 

“I’m fine,” a man growled in return. Skye froze for several reasons. She thought the voice sounded familiar, but it was difficult to say with just two words distorted so heavily by rage. But it sounded deadly and infuriated in a way that reminded Skye of her father when he lost control. That was not an auspicious thought.

 

It sent shivers up Skye’s spine, and she suddenly realized his partner might have been referring to mental instability as the reason why he was considered incapable of being on a mission. That was really bad. Crazy people were always dangerous, but crazy Hydra people topped Skye’s list of people to avoid at all costs. Skye would just have to ambush them without hesitation when she made her move so as not to give them a chance to react.

 

She contemplated striking immediately but decided she would rather wait and see if they gave up any intel in their conversations first.

 

“You’re not fine,” the woman seemed more exasperated now. “I don’t know what’s been going on with you, but you’re definitely not fine. First you start messing up easy missions, then you suddenly became so obsessed with making up for lost time that you run several assignments per day. I know something put you off your game. Is that why Garrett did… whatever this is to you?”

 

Garrett, as in John Garrett? Skye turned rigid because she was pretty sure she realized where she had heard the man’s voice before.

 

“You don’t know what you’re talking about!” Grant screamed at the woman.

 

Skye’s heart pounded. She could not move. Grant was here. It seemed like forever since she last saw him and all she wanted to do was peek around the corner and catch a glimpse of him.

 

But there was something off with him apparently as well. Something maybe Garrett did to him. Skye was having a hard time following the conversation.

 

He sounded terrifying though. Unstable, even. Skye had thought his anger on the plane when they were escaping AIM was jarring, but it was nothing compared to what she was hearing now.

 

Skye could not be sure whether this was actually his real personality, which he had hidden to get close to her as part of some scheme for Garrett, or if it was a reaction to whatever had maybe happened to him. She was leaning more towards the latter. The one thing people could all agree on when it came to Grant was that he was a competent spy. It was hard to believe anyone who sounded so irrational could be as cool-headed and tactical as Grant would need to be to gain that reputation.

 

Skye needed to go. She did not think she could face him, especially not outnumbered while she needed to protect Fitz. She wanted to hear more though and could not bring herself to walk away just yet.

 

“I don’t know what I’m talking about?” The woman was speaking again before Skye could make a decision. “You disappear after sparring several days ago and no one hears from you. Garrett tells everyone you’re doing some sort of training exercise as if the idea of you needing training isn’t laughable. Then you return just before today’s mission acting like an entirely different person!” The woman was getting upset now. “I’m seriously starting to wonder if you’re on drugs at this point.”

 

“Shut up, Kara,” Grant snarled. Kara as in Kara Lynn Palamas, Skye wondered with dread. She and Fitz could not take on Grant and Agent 33 alone. Even with Hunter and Trip it was not a match she was certain of.

 

“I needed this. I had forgotten my purpose, and John was helping me,” Grant continued. He sounded no less furious than before, but there also seemed to be some desperation bleeding into his tone. To convince himself? To get Agent 33 to let it go? “I deserved it for forgetting myself.”

 

“Deserved what? Are you listening to yourself right now?” Agent 33 demanded, echoing Skye’s thoughts. What the hell was going on? Something about Grant’s words was twisting her stomach into knots.

 

Footsteps sounded behind Skye, and she turned horrified to see Fitz heading her way.

 

“Skye,” he called. “I think someone’s here.” It was not overly loud, but Skye cringed all the same. She barely turned back around in time to get punched in the face.

 

At the same time, she heard Grant speak irately, “You’ve got to be kidding me.”

 

Skye did not have any time to consider Grant’s reaction though. Her gun went flying as her opponent disarmed her. She fell backwards and hurried towards a shocked Fitz without ever letting her gaze leave Agent 33. She needed to prioritize guarding Fitz. She was unarmed now though, but worst case scenario she could use her powers to stop any incoming bullets.

 

Though they were underground in a facility liable to fall on them and she had a shaky grasp on her so called gift… Skye was really hoping worst case scenario did not happen.

 

Agent 33 pointed a gun towards Skye and ruined any optimistic thoughts she harbored. Skye did not even have a chance to draw her second sidearm. She raised a hand in preparation of the bullet in an attempt to ward off the other woman’s shots. But before Agent 33 could fire, a hand grasped her wrist in a bruising grip.

 

“Drop it,” Grant barked. His focus was entirely on his partner, and Skye could not help but be disappointed. He was avoiding looking at her.

 

Forcibly calm, Agent 33 told him quietly and firmly, “Ward, you’re hurting me.”

 

Grant ripped his hand off of her and backed away while mumbling curses. He began running his fingers through his hair jerkily as he turned away from everyone. He was nightmarishly incensed and slightly disgusted for some reason. The skin of Agent 33’s wrist was a furious red from his grip. Suddenly, he punched the wall rather pointlessly.

 

Skye took in Grant’s appearance more than a little concerned. Mostly she was worried for Fitz and her, he seemed unstable and looking for an excuse to fight. She could see why Agent 33 thought he was not fit to be on a mission. He was nothing like his usual collected self.

 

There was a small part of her that she squashed ruthlessly that said her anxiety was also because something was clearly very wrong with Grant.  

 

His hair was sticking up in odds directions, and he had more facial hair than she had ever seen him sport. The bags under his red-rimmed eyes added to the disheveled, unbalanced look.

 

Agent 33 shared her unease it seemed. Grant’s outburst just made the other woman more wary- and more concerned. Fitz shifted uncomfortably behind her mirroring their restlessness.

 

In all the ways Skye imagined reuniting with Grant again, she never expected anything like this. Just what had Garrett done to him?

Chapter Text

“Those who hate most fervently must have once loved deeply; those who want to deny the world must have once embraced what they now set on fire.”

Kurt Tucholsky


 

Agent 33 had yet to lower her weapon, so Skye was hesitant to make a move for her own. The woman did not attempt to pull the trigger even though she looked as lost as Skye felt. Skye sympathized, she did not know what to make of any of this either.

 

“Why?” Agent 33 wondered incredulously to her partner. Apparently Grant had not mentioned his recent encounters with SHIELD agents, and 33 was confused as to what was going on and why he would stop her from killing them. Her eyes darted towards the hunched over Grant as he braced himself on the wall.

 

“Can’t you just do what I say?” Grant said darkly to the wall.

 

“Not when you’re acting like this,” Agent 33 retorted.

 

Grant visibly took a deep breath as if to calm himself and find his focus. At least, that was what Skye hoped he was doing because she was really wary of this new, angry Ward.

 

“If they’re here, that means they activated the security measures,” Grant spoke through gritted teeth. Skye wondered if that meant that the two of them had been better prepared and able to avoid the glass door of doom locking them in. “So they trapped us inside with them,” Grant continued as he threw an accusatory glare at Fitz. He was still purposely not looking at Skye.

 

“I’m waiting for the part where you explain why I shouldn’t shoot them now,” Agent 33 said dryly.

 

Grant pushed himself off the wall and faced them again. His hands clenched and unclenched rhythmically belying the emotionless façade he was affecting. “He’s an engineer, and she’s a hacker. They can override the system easily.”

 

Agent 33 opened her mouth likely to question him again, but Skye blurted out before the other woman could speak, “What the hell is wrong with you?”

 

Grant turned rigid and bit out lowly, “Don’t talk to me.” He finally met her gaze, but now Skye wished he had not. There was a sneer turning down his lips as he glared at her furiously. Skye’s chest tightened painfully at being on the receiving end of such a look from him.

 

He hated her, Skye realized. Even as she watched him, his face contorted in a mask of rage all over again, and he kicked the door all the while swearing to himself.

 

A light hand touched her arm, and Skye was startled to remember that there were other people in the room beside Grant and her. Fitz gave her a sympathetic glance before turning his attention to Grant. He observed the outburst with the intelligent light that always accompanied his scientific experiments and creations.

 

Fitz’s expression tightened. “I didn’t know Hydra had gotten their hands on the Berserker Staff.”

 

“The what?” Agent 33 asked the group. Grant worked his jaw but made no move to deny Fitz’s implied claim or answer the other Hydra agent’s question. Skye took a step back in shock, but now that Fitz had pointed it out, she could see the signs. Hydra must have gotten ahold of the staff when they raided the Fridge.

 

Skye ran her eyes over her former lover, took in the rage that lined his body, the taut muscles, the inability to focus past the fury. What was it that Professor Randolph said, that the Berserker Staff  “shines a light into your dark places”? Skye could imagine Grant had plenty of dark places. He was anti-social, paranoid and prone to violence. Actually, Skye could think of few people that would be worse candidates to hold the staff. Grant appeared worse off than May after she held it.

 

“What’s the Berserker Staff?” Agent 33 repeated when no one spoke, narrowing her eyes at Fitz expectantly. She had yet to lower her gun but was clearly preoccupied with the change of events and volatility of her partner. Still, Skye surreptitiously reached for her sidearm, just in case. With the staff making Grant irrational, Skye was even less sure they would all walk away from this without a deadly confrontation. She wanted to be prepared.  

 

Grant whirled on her. “Are you trying to make things worse?” He hissed. “Stop reaching for your weapon.” Skye froze with all the eyes on her now. “And Kara lower your goddamn gun now.”

 

Agent 33’s face pinched as she debated whether or not to listen. In the end, she put her gun away, but Skye noticed a hand lingered on the grip. She raised the other hand as if to show Grant that she was harmless. Skye could not tell if she did not consider Fitz or her to be significant enough threats or if she wanted to appease Grant, who was growing more frightening by the second.

 

“The Berserker Staff is an ancient Asguardian weapon that gives the wielder superhuman strength and an adrenaline rush but also fills them with uncontrollable hatred and rage, hence the name: Berserker,” Fitz explained for the sake of peace. “It’s known to cause flashbacks of unpleasant events as well.” He paused to take a breath, “So what did you see?”

 

“Do you ever shut up?” Grant sneered at Fitz in lieu of answering.

 

“Whoa, you need to calm down,” Skye said defensively.

 

Fitz seemed hurt by Grant’s attitude, but Skye was moving away from her instinctive mirrored rage and into an entirely different emotion. She was not pissed or upset, she merely felt pity. She could see that Grant was in pain and trying to hide it.

 

Skye’s mind raced as she considered everything. The danger she and Fitz were in. Hunter and Trip outside the room. Being trapped with two Hydra agents. One of whom was dangerously unstable thanks to an alien weapon. And also someone she slept with and parted on not so great terms, to put it mildly.

 

She tried to sort through the information to plan a course of action, but her thoughts kept circling back to Grant.

 

Why had Grant even held the staff? If it were for the extra strength, he would still have it with him. Agent 33 said that Garrett took him away as some form of training for days and he returned like this, but that just made no sense. What would be the purpose of making Grant suffer the side effects?

 

What was it that Grant had said to explain it, that he needed it to focus and that Garrett was helping him? It sounded like Grant may actually view being forced to hold the staff as a form of training. If that were the case, then Garrett was a sick son of bitch- and Grant was not all that much better mentally. Unless this was a way of manipulating Skye.

 

But no, she was sure Grant and Agent 33 had not realized she was listening in. So what the hell was going on?

 


 

Garrett’s gift looked innocent enough. It was a simple staff that stretched several feet long. Etched into it were markings that Grant did not recognize despite his talent for languages.

 

John crouched beside the open, black case that contained the staff with an excited grin. Grant noticed with some trepidation that John made no move to touch the thing.

 

“Pick it up,” his mentor ordered with a nod towards it.

 

Grant did not let himself hesitate despite his growing unease. He reached down and grabbed the staff firmly. The engravings lit up a fiery orange under his fingers.

 

Immediately visions and feelings swarmed into him and consumed him. Distantly he noted his breath caught in a weak gasp as he fell.

 

“Grant!”

 

Water was everywhere but not touching him at all. The cool stones of the well dug into his palms as he rubbed his hands raw. The indecision was overwhelming. He needed to help, but he needed to stay. Thomas clawed at the water, desperately and pathetically.

 

“Grant, help me!”

 

He was going to drown. He had never been a good swimmer. Christian had sneered that Thomas liked to stay away from the pools in their country club or house because he was secretly pitifully terrified of drowning.

 

“Please, help me!”

 

Grant could not breathe. Thomas was going to die. Christian was going to kill him. His mother was going to punish him. Thomas was going to die.

 

The world tilted on its axis, and Grant just stood there watching it all crumble around him. Weak, so weak.

 

Ward came back to himself after he dropped the cursed thing. He jerked back towards the wall unable to catch his breath. He was on the ground, sprawled ungainly, at a loss as to what just happened.

 

“You say you’re not that kid anymore, but just the memory of back then reduces you to this.”

 

Grant peered up to see John staring at him with contempt. The awful staff was stopped underneath the toe of Garrett’s boot.

 

Grant wanted to pull himself together so that John would not see how weak he was, but he did not even know where to begin. The flashes of the well were still coming and the images burned into his skull. He had tried to forget for so long, wanted to block it out, but now it was back and it was everywhere.

 

There was also a mounting rage building up from the pit of his stomach. He hated, he hated everything.

 

“I want you to remember where you came from, what you were when I found you,” John continued. “What you would still be if not for me.”

 

The sound of Grant’s panting served as his response. He looked at John uncomprehendingly, the words rang disjointedly in his ears as Grant struggled to make sense of them.

 

“You’re going to stay here and get reacquainted with your past. I’ll come back to let you know when to stop. And if you can’t do that…” John trailed off with a shrug. “Well, then maybe I shouldn’t have bothered with you back then. You’re still the same kid, always playing the victim.”

 

John left then without another word or glance. He would know if Grant backed down, too. He would just be able to look at him and see the truth.

 

Grant’s eyes fell on the staff. Determined not to feel anything, he watched as if from afar as his own arm extended towards it and his fingers curled around it.

 

The fury and loathing returned full force anyway as Grant drowned in his memories.

 

He could not remember how much time passed before John came back and knocked it out of his shaking hands. He gave him a proud smile and some encouraging words but everything felt hollow and sickening to Grant.

 

He was able to better focus when Garrett told him that Whitehall had discovered a facility connected to one that created Coulson’s miracle drug. Whitehall was sending Kara in to get some information about alien technology and research, but John needed Grant to go along to secretly search for any intel pertaining to the GH formula.

 

The thought of a breakthrough for John usually excited Grant but not at that moment. He was empty and lifeless as John ecstatically patted him on the back and directed him towards the door.

 

When John turned to leave, Grant followed robotically, grateful at least to leave the staff behind. He held up his hands before his face and stared at them as if they belonged to someone else. His knuckles were bruised and bloody. His head throbbed so much that Grant gingerly raised his fingertips to the area. They came away red as well.

 

Grant vaguely recalled repeatedly punching the floor and running into the walls. Just the scant seconds of physical pain distracted him from the real agony and made the illogical actions worth it.   

 

The staff lay useless on the ground of the safehouse, but Grant was no less furious than when he was touching it.

 

Grant had found what he thought looked like promising intel even with Kara’s unnecessary hovering, but that was about the only good thing that had happened on this awful mission.

 

Kara kept asking obnoxious, probing questions. SHIELD had shown up and managed to activate the trap that he and Kara had gone out of their way to avoid. Fitz ranted on and on about that fucking staff. And Skye was there.

 

She was there. She was staring. She was going to drive him insane.

 

He refused to meet her gaze more than necessary. If he did, he was afraid that he would let loose all the fury and hatred he was attempting to contain on her. Worse still, he might beg her for attention or deliverance or some such nonsense because he missed her despite everything,

 

Either possibility was terrifying in different ways, so Grant avoided looking at her.

 

“Fiz, why don’t you make yourself useful and undo the trap you two idiots set off,” Grant growled without acknowledging Skye at all.

 

“Don’t talk to him that way,” Skye protested. Grant ignored her, but she did not take kindly to that. Of course, she had to meddle as always. “Hey, listen to me.”

 

She made the mistake of grabbing his arm to get him to face her. Grant tensed at once, assaulted by images of their night together interspersed with flashbacks of how his mother used to grip him there to hold him in place as she shouted that he was a repulsive disappointment.

 

Grant flinched and reacted without thinking. He ripped his arm free, which pushed Skye back. The force knocked her into the wall with a light thud. Grant was in her face before either of them could process what had just happened. He slammed his palm into the wall inches from her head and started shouting.

 

“What part of ‘don’t talk to me’ is too hard for you to understand, huh? Don’t talk to me, don’t touch me, don’t even look at me. You care so much about Fitz and his feelings? Why don’t you watch him as he fixes your screw up and leave me the fuck alone?!”

 

He was breathing heavily by the end, crouched menacingly over her. Skye’s eyes were widened and her expression was one of shocked horror. There may have been some fear as well. Grant could not tell because the second he was in control of himself again, he wrenched himself away.

 

He carded his fingers through his hair and refused to look at any of them. When they started talking, he wanted to tune them out, but it felt like his senses were all working on overdrive, heightened to the point of putting him on edge.

 

“This staff you said is affecting him, how long do the effects last?” Kara asked quietly. “How long is he going to be like this? He’s not touching it now.”

 

“Technically the emotional impact of the Berserker Staff lasts decades in humans, but every second without contact only serves to mitigate the symptoms,” Fitz explained in a subdued tone. “It’s hugely dependent on the state of mind of whoever wields it and their own capability to conqueror their rage and hatred.”

 

“Do you know why Garrett had him hold it?” Skye questioned.

 

“Punishing him I thi-“ Kara began before Grant decided he had had enough.

 

He whirled on all of them. They froze staring at him as if expecting another outburst. Grant took a deep breath to try and calm himself before hissing, “If you’re all done gossiping about me like children, then maybe you can do something productive like get us out of here already.”

 

Fitz leveled him with a hard stare that Grant could not interpret before moving to recalibrate the system. He got to work on the wall panel quickly. Skye hesitated before following him, presumably to protect him from the oh-so-terrible “Nazi serial killers”.

 

“Grant, what’s going on?” Kara asked softly as soon as the SHIELD agents had put some distance between them.

 

“I already told you, we need them to get us out of here,” Grant said. It was a good excuse to not kill them because it was true. Maybe they really only needed Fitz alive, but Grant was not planning on informing Kara of that.

 

“Not that,” Kara shook her head. “What’s going on with you and Garrett and this alien staff?”

 

Grant crossed his arms. “It’s none of your business.”

 

“Yes, it is. You’re my partner, and you’re acting like a lunatic right now.” Grant clenched his jaw at the description. “And you’ve been acting strangely for a lot longer than just today.”

 

“Drop it,” Grant muttered. If he kept his voice low enough, maybe Skye and Fitz would not be able to listen in.

 

“No, I’m worried about you,” Kara insisted stubbornly. “Why did Garrett put you through this?”

 

“He’s helping me,” Grant bit out hoping to end the conversation.

 

“This isn’t help. How can you defend him treating you like this?”

 

There was something so ironic about the clueless brainwashing victim trying to act like Garrett mistreated him that made Grant give a harsh laugh.

 

“You have no idea what he’s done for me,” Grant said to redirect the conversation.

 

“You mean what he’s done to you,” Kara corrected. When Grant glared at her, she raised her hands in surrender. “Look, I get it. Garrett gave you purpose, you’re loyal to him. I understand what that’s like.”

 

She was referring to her relationship with Whitehall. Grant had heard her say those exact words before, that he had given her a “purpose”. She was suggesting that her forced bond with Whitehall was just like his with John. It was a disturbing idea that made Grant’s hackles rise.

 

“We’re nothing alike,” Grant snarled. “Your relationship with Whitehall, it’s-“ He cut himself off unsure of how to vocalize the messed up nature of Whitehall’s control over her. He could not reveal what had happened to her. It could set off Kara or maybe Fitz or Skye would take advantage of that information. He did not think they would, but they could still tell someone who would. It was too risky. “John and I go way back,” he said instead.

 

“You go way back?” Kara said disbelievingly. He had a feeling he offended her with his reaction to her comparison. “He was your S.O. after the academy.”

 

The rage coursing through him and her insistence prevented him from thinking before blurting, “No, that was just an act. I’ve known John since I was a teenager.” The second the words left his mouth, he froze and glanced towards the SHIELD agents.

 

Kara did not seem overly concerned that Skye and Fitz were blatantly eavesdropping, but that was probably because she planned to kill them as soon as they were no longer useful. Since Grant was not of the same mindset, what they overheard mattered to him.

 

There was no reason really that Skye, Kara or Fitz could not know that his relationship with Garrett went on longer than his files indicated. It gave them no tactical advantage, but Grant liked to keep everything about his past close to his chest. He did not want to give anyone an excuse to look into it.

 

Kara seemed thrown. She clearly intended to ask a follow up question, but Grant would not allow it. He could not trust himself right now to stay levelheaded enough not to reveal something he wished to hide.  

 

“Don’t act like you know anything about my relationship with John,” Grant bit out. He turned towards Fitz who was not even pretending that he was still working. “Are you done yet?”

 

“Done? Uh, yeah, I have been for a while now, but I didn’t want to interrupt…” Fitz trailed off under the weight on Grant’s furious look. “Right, I’ll just open the door now.”

 

After the glass wall came down, Grant assessed the scene quickly. If he were right, then there were other SHIELD agents around. Maybe Skye and Fitz had tripped up the trap and separated them, but he had a hard time believing that only one rookie field agent and a scientist were sent on this mission. As he expected, he heard the footsteps coming in response to sound of the trap falling at once.

 

Kara did, too, because she grabbed the unprepared Fitz and had him pressed up against her front facing forward with a knife to his neck before British guy and Trip even turned the corner. Fitz choked protests that Kara studiously ignored. Following her lead, Grant pulled out his sidearm and pointed it at the shocked Skye.

 

“What the hell? Are you serious right now?” Skye seemed more angry than afraid. Typical.

 

Maybe it was pointless because he would not kill Skye and she probably knew that, but it would give their teammates pause and probably save Fitz and Skye from being associated with known Hydra members by SHIELD.

 

Trip and the British agent stopped short when they caught sight of the four of them. They began to draw their weapons, but Grant clicked his tongue at them. It was their fault really for being caught off their guard.

 

“Not so fast,” Grant said steadily with only the barest sliver of his inner turmoil bleeding through. It was easier to keep his cool with these guys than Fitz and especially Skye. “Unless of course you want to watch them bleed out before you.”

 

“If you kill them, you lose your leverage,” Trip said in the dangerous tone he only took on in his rare serious moments.

 

“We don’t need leverage to get out of here,” Kara said while tightening her grasp on Fitz. He let out a squeaking sound as she cut off his ability to breathe. Grant shifted imperceptibly and refused to let his own discomfort at Fitz’s pain show. “The two of you against the two of us? I like our odds,” she grinned with her face pressed against the rapidly turning blue scientist’s cheek.

 

“Let him go,” Trip demanded.

 

“Let us go free and we’ll let him go after we clear the building,” Grant negotiated. “We’ll even give you back Skye as a sign of goodwill.” It was a useless threat because Grant could still not bring himself to cross her off, so he may as well leave her behind. Besides, it hurt to look at her.

 

“As if you won’t kill him as soon as we’re out of sight,” Trip said shaking his head. “No way.”

 

Grant gritted his teeth already exasperated from the pointless standoff. “You have my word that we’ll leave him unharmed once we’re clear.”

 

“Your word?” The British agent spluttered incredulously, “Your word means nothing to us.”

 

“You can’t be serious,” Trip deadpanned.

 

Grant inhaled deeply through his nose as he attempted to remain calm. Despite how it was the last thing he wanted to do, he turned his gaze to Skye. As they locked eyes, Grant’s chest tightened at the reminder of all he had and all he had lost once more. He forced those thoughts aside and addressed her directly in a low voice, “If you let us go, I promise you Fitz will be returned to you unhurt.”

 

Skye deliberated, the internal conflict coloring her expression and dancing in her dark eyes. She unflinchingly met his stare before turning towards her friend.

 

“Fitz,” she called softly as they communicated without words. The scientist seemed to jerk his head in a stilted motion that Grant guessed was supposed to be a nod. Skye returned her focus to him. “Don’t make me regret this.”

 

He heard her other companions voice complaints and fears, but Skye regarded him without acknowledging it. Her faith in him after everything thrilled him. It was such an overreaction to a truly small gesture, but it meant the world to Grant because it was Skye who trusted him. That tiny bit of joy after weeks of walking around dead inside tore through the anger.

 

“Are you sure about this?” Kara wondered lowly, her eyes darted to him before returning to face their enemies.

 

Grant inclined his head. “We got what we came for.”

 

“We can’t let you leave with important intel,” Trip said.

 

“What’s more important, that we don’t get what we want or the life of your teammate?” Grant threw back at him impatiently.


Trip was silent, but the British agent was not. “Get on with it then.”

 

Kara and Grant backed steadily from the room and into the elevator. Kara’s grip on Fitz never faltered even as he stumbled from the awkwardness of their retreat and her hold. Grant never broke eye contact with Skye until the elevator doors closed and cut her off from his view.      

 

“You can let up now,” Fitz pointed out with a gasp. “I’m not going anywhere.”

 

Kara frowned. “Shut up.” But Grant did note that her grip loosened anyway.

 

Within minutes they reached their quinjet, and Kara finally let Fitz go. Grant scanned the area, but there were no signs of any other SHIELD operatives or evidence that Fitz’s team had followed them.

 

“What the hell?” Fitz’s surprised voice made Grant turn around to see that Kara was pointing a gun at his head. “You said you’d let me go.”

 

“I didn’t,” Kara told him unconcernedly. “He did, and you were stupid to believe him anyway.”

 

“Kara,” Grant began, “Let’s go.”

 

“We can’t just let him live,” Kara reasoned. “Whitehall wouldn’t want us to.”

 

That was bad. If Kara believed Whitehall wanted her to do something, like kill Fitz despite promises otherwise, she would. Her brainwashing would not allow for anything else.

 

“What Whitehall wants is the intel,” Grant hissed. “He doesn’t care about some SHIELD scientist who isn’t even cleared for combat.“

 

“If he’s a skilled scientist, then Whitehall would want us to bring him in,” Kara contended.

 

“You’re wasting time with this,” Grant said.

 

“It’d take only a second for me to pull the trigger. Want to tell me why you’re really arguing with me on this?”

 

Saying that he promised Skye he would not hurt her friend was not an excuse. Telling Kara that he liked Fitz and did not particularly want him to die was an even weaker one. “Just listen to me,” was all he came up with.

 

Kara stared at him out of the corner of her eye before slowly lowering her weapon. “You’re going to explain to me what the hell is going on after we get out of here.”

 

Without any better options, Grant nodded in agreement to her demand. “Fire up the jet. I’ll watch him.” She could still change her mind and kill Fitz the second he turned around. She probably knew that was the reason he told her to go because her lips pinched, and Grant could see she was upset. She did as he said anyway.

 

“I knew you wouldn’t hurt me,” Fitz said suddenly once she was gone.

 

“You’re an idiot who trusts too easily,” Grant berated, allowing some of his bottled rage out at the convenient target. “Do you not get that we’re enemies? We’re not on the same side. We’re not allies.”

 

“Yeah, but we’re friends, right?” Fitz replied with so much certainty that it stole Grant’s breath.

 

“I don’t have friends, Fitz,” Grant said after a moment. “And I’m not the type of friend you’d want anyway.” Grant paused remembering the memories the staff reminded him of. “I hurt the people I love.”

 

With that, Grant left Fitz and joined Kara in the cockpit. She said nothing as he put them in the air. He caught a glimpse of Fitz standing alone in the field before he turned the plane around and headed back to base.

Chapter Text

The elevator doors had not been shut for even a second before Trip and Hunter were on her.

 

“What the hell was that?” Hunter wondered with his usual level of restraint.

 

“What was what?” Skye retorted. “Me trying to make sure all of us get out of this alive?”

 

“We need to go after Fitz,” Trip said.

 

“If they see us coming, they’ll kill him,” Skye said with as much patience as she could manage. Her nerves were frayed and their questioning was only adding to it. She could not handle them doubting her when she was doubting herself so much.

 

“They’re going to kill him anyway,” Trip replied. “If we surprise them, we may have a chance at saving him and taking them out.”

 

“They’ll notice us before we can get anywhere near them,” Skye said exasperated. “And they’re not going to kill him. Fitz will be fine.”

 

“Why? Because Ward said he would be?” Hunter’s tone verging on hysterical.

 

“Just trust me,” Skye insisted. Truthfully, she was not entirely sure that she made the right call. Putting her faith in Grant on this was colossally stupid, and she knew that. If she were wrong, one of her best friends would die. This was not something she should leave up to chance.

 

Skye wanted to believe Grant when he said Fitz would return unharmed, but she still did not know if he had been working some angle in all their previous encounters. She really did not know him, and this was her friend’s life on the line.

 

And even if Grant wanted to save Fitz, he was not the only Hydra operative there. Agent 33 was the one directly threatening Fitz, and who knew if there were other agents they were meeting up with outside. Maybe Grant would like to spare Fitz but not enough to fight 33 over it. Maybe 33 would move before Grant could do anything anyway.

 

Skye drew in a shaky breath as she imagined the very real possibility that Fitz was bleeding out at the moment.

 

“Did you set up the explosives?” Skye asked to distract herself.

 

Trip frowned grimly. “Yeah, but it’s not like it matters much now. Hydra got what they were after.”

 

“Because we let them!” Hunter cut in. His gaze darted between the two of them, “We let them take the research and Fitz and just go!”

 

The mechanical whir of the elevator echoed loudly disrupting their argument. All three SHIELD agents turned to face the noise expectantly. Hunter and Trip leveled their guns at the doors and Skye belatedly followed suit just in case. Judging by their expressions, they seemed to be expecting an assault from Hydra instead of the triumphant return of Fitz. But already Skye could feel the pressure lightening in her chest.

 

She was rewarded for her optimism when the doors opened to reveal Fitz. His neck was a little red but otherwise there were no noticeable issues. Hunter gave a comically loud breath of relief while Trip shook his head with a grin.

 

“I thought you were a goner for sure,” Trip said.

 

“I’m fine,” Fitz said dismissively. “But Skye,” he turned to face her fully as he approached them. His face was open and cheerful, contradicting the very real danger his life was in not too long ago. He stared at her confidently. “I was right.”

 


 

The plane was dead silent. Kara sat beside him in the cockpit as he flew back to base. The persistent glances she was throwing his way ensured he would not forget he promised her an explanation.

 

Playing dumb would make her suspicious, but if Grant were too eager to clear the air, it would also set off alarm bells. So he slouched his posture minutely and relaxed his features. He was certain that he looked the very picture of ease when Kara finally broke the peace.

 

“You were going to explain what that was about back there.” Kara started playing with her hair.

 

“What do you want to know?” Grant began patiently. He turned fully towards her with an open expression. Not too much, because she knew he was closed off by nature, but enough that Kara could not sense his own anxiety.

 

He had plenty of cause for concern. If Kara reported back to Whitehall that Grant showed sympathy and hesitation with SHIELD, the Hydra leader may decide that he was not happy enough to comply with Hydra’s wishes. Even if he did not resort to brainwashing, Whitehall would probably use the information in his power plays with John.

 

The last thing Grant wanted was to cause more friction in his relationship with his mentor and that was all but certain if Whitehall told Garrett that he was attached to SHIELD operatives. It would reflect poorly on John, but it would also allow him to figure out just why Grant had been so distracted lately.

 

Grant really did not want to know what Garrett would do if he were to find out about Skye.

 

“Why don’t you start with why you seemed to know those SHIELD agents so well,” Kara stated.

 

Grant sighed. “Kara, I know a lot of SHIELD agents. I spent a decade working with them.”

 

Kara shifted in her seat. “Did you used to work with those two?”

 

“Not much,” Grant lied without missing a beat. “Their skills kept them out of the field for the most part.”

 

She nodded. “You said the woman was a hacker and the man was a scientist.”

 

“They are. Sometimes I would be put on missions where I would need to protect non-field agents when they needed to be on site to utilize their abilities.” Grant leaned back slightly as he pretended to consider his own words. “I suppose she’s started some field training. SHIELD must be scrambling for any agents given how outnumbered they are.”

 

“All the more reason we should have crossed them off back there,” Kara insisted.

 

Grant breathed deeply past the rage still bubbling inside him. He did not want to think about Skye or Fitz dead while he was so irrationally emotional. But this was the part where he really had to sell it.

 

Kara wanted to believe him, he could tell. She liked him and felt some level of loyalty to him. She was looking for a reason to not get him in trouble. It was one of the greatest gifts in manipulation, playing off of what people want to hear. What Kara wanted to hear was that she had no reason to report him to Whitehall. Her brainwashing dictated that she had to make sure he was not going against Whitehall’s wishes, but otherwise she was willing to cut him some slack.

 

All he had to do was spin a story that was believable enough to convince her he was not working against Whitehall.     

 

“They aren’t threats, they’re not even on our radar.” Grant gave her a smirk. “And it was well worth it to get out of there without a fight.”

 

“We could have taken them,” Kara insisted.

 

“Maybe, but it was still a risk.”

 

“A small risk.”

 

“A small risk is still a risk. My survival, our survival, and the intel are more important than some weak SHIELD agents.”

 

Kara contemplated that while fussing with her hair. The fact that she was still nervous meant that he had failed to convince her. “But why did you spare the engineer? We were already free.”

 

“It wasn’t worth it,” Grant said. “SHIELD takes these things so personally and the scientist doesn’t pose a threat to Hydra. The death of one non-combatant isn’t worth having SHIELD on my ass for the next couple months.”

 

Kara nodded slowly as she weighed his words. His logic was sound, he knew that, but he also knew that if she examined his reasoning too closely she would see the inconsistencies.

 

“You attacked me when I went to shoot the female agent,” Kara accused.

 

“I reacted overemotionally due to outside factors,” Grant said after a moment hoping that would both appease and distract her.

 

That was the truth at least, and Kara witnessed that much herself. She tugged on her hair in concern. “Why is Garrett punishing you?” She asked softly. “I mean, Ward, I’m worried. You were acting like a completely different person.”

 

Grant tightened his grip on the controls of the plane at the reminder of his crazed fury. Even now, it was simmering beneath the surface of his skin waiting to break free. Fitz was right though, every second he spent without touching the staff helped.

 

“Garrett thinks I’m distracted,” Grant told her honestly. “He’s wrong. I had a couple of bad missions, and he’s reading into it too much. He doesn’t believe that and thinks this must be some sort of rebellion.” Grant huffed in frustration. “I’ve been running all those recent missions to try to make up for the failures.”

 

Kara drummed her fingertips on her thighs as the silence enveloped the two of them. “You should talk to Dr. Whitehall,” she suggested suddenly.

 

“What?” Grant did not like the sound of that.

 

“You should tell Dr. Whitehall about your problems with Garrett. He could help,” Kara said obliviously. “If you’re distracted, he can help with that, too. He helped me find my focus.”

 

Grant went cold, squeezing the metal punishingly to keep from releasing the rage that he had bottled up, “Whitehall didn’t help you find your focus, Kara,” he said stiffly. “You didn’t need changing.”

 

He sensed her stare but did not meet it. It probably sounded stupid to her as he did not even know what she was like before Whitehall got ahold of her, but it was true. Kara had not needed someone messing around with her head.

 

“I don’t understand,” Kara said.

 

Grant gritted his teeth. That answered his question of how she would take any insinuation regarding her brainwashing. “Forget it. I don’t know what I’m saying, alien staff fucking with my mind and all.” After taking a calming breath, Grant continued, “I’ve been out of it this whole mission thanks to that thing.”

 

He shot a look to his silent partner who appeared concerned again. Grant felt a stab of guilt for manipulating her like this. He was purposely playing on her worry to get her to keep his secrets from Whitehall. If she thought that the staff was the reason he protected Skye and Fitz, then she would see no need to report it.

 

“You should never have gone out in the field,” Kara said as she rubbed her wrist. It drew Grant’s gaze to the bruises he left when he grabbed her earlier.

 

Not for the first time, Ward reflected that he was truly a terrible person.

 

Pushing all that aside, he gave Kara a tight smile. “I’m feeling better already.” He was, but he supposed that had more to do with the trust Skye placed in him putting him in a strangely hopeful mood than anything else. “I just want to forget this day ever happened.”

 

“At least we got the intel,” Kara said.

 

Grant hummed in agreement thinking on the research he managed to steal when Kara was occupied. It seemed promising to him, but he would have to let Raina decide if it was worth that mess of a mission. Garrett would likely be pleased though.

 

Unbidden, a surprising flash of fury shot through him at the thought of John. He was the one who gave him that staff that screwed with his head. It was stupid to blame John though, Grant chose to hold it. Besides, if he had not been distracted and foolish, Garrett would never have asked him to grasp it in the first place. He had needed the reminder of his past to truly appreciate what John had done for him.

 

The memory of the powerlessness that used to consume Grant came back full force. It was only thanks to John that he had any control over his life, that he was able to make something of himself. People feared and respected him now. No one looked at him and saw the weak kid at the well. John had done that, John had found him when no one cared. Grant would owe him forever for that.

 

Even as he thought that, the rage boiled in his blood at just the thought of John.

 

They arrived at base and reported back to Whitehall without issue. Grant had his secondary mission’s intel tucked away securely and walked out of the briefing room confident that Whitehall was none the wiser.

 

Still, Grant felt a twinge of uncertainty as he left Kara and Whitehall alone. Part of it was the slight worry that Kara would reveal something to Whitehall. But he reasoned if anything, she would mention his recent clashes with Garrett, and that would work in their favor. Whitehall had been testing his loyalty for some time now. If he thought that he and John had a falling out, it might make him more overt in his attempts to sway him. That could benefit John and him considerably.

 

But Grant also did not want to leave Kara alone with Whitehall regardless. It was getting harder and harder to do nothing about her mistreatment.

 

It was not his problem, and he could not afford to make her his responsibility. What could he possibly do for her anyway, how he could help her? It was pointless to concern himself with her situation. So Grant went and did not look back.

 

He found John at their nearby safehouse to deliver the research. “Got something,” he told him with a smirk.

 

John looked up sporting an answering grin. “You never let me down, son.” He turned over the papers with interest before folding them up. “We need to get this to Flowers.”

 

Grant nodded, he had expected that. “If we leave now, we can be in Havana by nightfall.”

 

“We moved base,” John said irritably. “SHIELD was poking around the area, and I didn’t want to risk it.”

 

Grant grimaced. “They seem to be everywhere recently.” At John’s raised eyebrows, Grant continued, “They showed up at the Side Door before Kara and I could leave. I think we might have a leak.”

 

Garrett scoffed, “That idiot Whitehall probably talked to the wrong person. It’s not on my end. It took them ages to discover Havana.”

 

Ward nodded. If they did have a breach of security, it was low enough that it did not matter. It hardly concerned their true mission. “So where are we headed?”

 

“Mexico City,” John declared cheerfully. “Love that place. I went on a mission there once where I ended up crashing through a fruit stand with two dozen angry locales on my tail…” Garrett launched into a story that Grant had heard several times before.

 

They touched down in Mexico a couple hours later. The fury was almost gone, but Grant still could not put the experience out of his mind. The memories, the hate, and the look Skye gave him as he disappeared into the elevator, it refused to be shoved away and compartmentalized.

 


 

Things were tense when the team returned to headquarters. Fitz’s safe return had not lessened the unspoken accusations or the prevailing confusion emanating from Trip and Hunter. Skye could not even begin to consider Fitz’s renewed confidence in Grant because she was too busy dreading the impending confrontation.

 

Hunter and Trip had watched her place her trust in Grant Ward and were not likely to forget it anytime soon.

 

Sure enough, the second the team entered Coulson’s office, Hunter was already demanding explanations with his standard measure of calm. Coulson, May, and Bobbi had been in the middle of a meeting it seemed because all three of them gave equally unimpressed looks in response to the interruption- none of which swayed Hunter in the slightest.

 

To Coulson’s everlasting credit, he listened to the frenzied line of questions with a straight face. May and Bobbi exchanged a glance but otherwise seemed unmoved by Hunter’s blustering. It was only when Trip started backing Hunter up that the two women’s curiosity was piqued.

 

Coulson raised his hands in a halting gesture. “Time out, what’s the problem?” When Hunter opened his mouth to begin his incoherent ranting anew, Coulson shook his head. “Trip, what happened?”

 

“Hydra beat us to the facility.” Coulson’s frown deepened at that, but Trip pressed on, “Agent 33 and Grant Ward were there when we arrived.”

 

Comprehension washed over Coulson, but he did not look at Skye, which she appreciated a lot. “I take it that’s not all that happened.”

 

Trip explained the mission from his perspective. His tone was carefully neutral the whole time, and Skye realized that this must be more disconcerting for him than she first thought. He used to have that weird rivalry with Grant, and anything involving Garrett was personal to him.

 

When he finished, silence engulfed the room. Skye noticed that May did not appear as surprised at the implication that Fitz and Skye had connections to Grant Ward. She wondered if Coulson had told May anything. Probably, but not everything as Skye was sure her S.O. would have given her some indication if she knew Skye had sex with a Hydra operative.

 

Fitz hesitated momentarily before passionately asserting, “Coulson, I was right.” The older man’s brow furrowed in response.

 

“You said that before, but right about what?” Trip asked.

 

Fitz stared earnestly at Coulson oblivious to Trip and the rest’s confusion. His gaze darted to Skye more than once but was otherwise steadily focused on the director.

 

“Agent Morse,” Coulson said turning to the blonde, “Could you get Simmons for this conversation?” Bobbi nodded and left. Once she was gone, Coulson sighed before addressing the room. “There has been some unusual activity reported from Grant Ward recently. We’re trying to get to the bottom of this. The prevailing theory is that he has been trying to gain intel or some other advantage through certain SHIELD agents.”

 

That was an extremely vague and misleading explanation. Skye wondered how often she was favored similarly tailored answers from Coulson.

 

“That’s not what’s happening,” Fitz said.

 

He looked to Skye for support, but she was too unsure of her own thoughts to debate. Nothing about that run in made sense. Skye was inclined to agree that Fitz was right about one thing though: something was up with Grant Ward.

 

Hunter redirected the conversation. “That doesn’t explain why Skye just let him go with Fitz!”

 

“I wanted to avoid a confrontation with Agent 33 and Grant,” Skye reasoned. “It didn’t look like one we’d all make it out of. Grant was…” She fumbled at bit there before ending unsurely, “Out of his mind.”

 

“What’s that supposed to mean?” Coulson asked before Hunter could pursue his line of questioning.

 

Skye did not want to tell a room full of people who could not care about Grant that he had supposedly been locked in a room with the Berserker Staff for days for some weird form of punishment. It was so messed up and personal. She knew instinctively that Grant would not want anyone to know all that she overheard and learned.

 

As Skye deliberated, Bobbi silently slipped into the room with Simmons on her heels. Skye made eye contact with the biochemist before the other woman turned her attention elsewhere. The reminder of what keeping secrets about Grant had gotten her compelled Skye to speak honestly albeit hesitantly.

 

“Grant had recently been in contact with the Berseker Staff. He was acting irrationally and violently,” Skye said.

 

“That’s an understatement,” Fitz muttered.

 

The creases on Coulson’s forehead only deepened. “Is Hydra experimenting with the enhanced strength of the staff?”

 

“Doesn’t seem like it,” Skye said haltingly. “I was able to listen in on 33 and Grant’s conversation for a while before they noticed. 33 said that Garrett was punishing him for something.”

 

“What do you mean?” Coulson asked bewildered.

 

Skye shifted uncomfortably as she tried to find the right words. “It was hard to follow, but it seemed like Garrett made Grant hold the staff for days because Grant had done something to piss him off.” Knowing how that sounded, Skye threw up her hands in frustration. “I don’t know exactly. All I know was that 33 was worried, said he shouldn’t have even been sent out on a mission and Garrett made him hold the staff for punishment. But then Grant also said he deserved it because he forgot himself or his purpose or I don’t know. All I know for sure is that Garrett definitely made him hold the staff.” Skye looked up at a loss.

 

Coulson seemed a bit thrown. His usual unflappable expression colored with confusion. He shook his head a bit before pressing on, “What else did you overhear?”

 

Skye wracked her brain trying to remember what exactly was said. “Agent 33 said that Grant had been acting strange for weeks, something about messing up easy missions- which may have been the ones I was involved in come to think of it- but then recently became obsessive in taking more assignments.” Skye’s tone grew more unsure as she spoke because repeating it aloud just highlighted how much she did not understand. “And Grant also said something about knowing Garrett since he was a teenager, before he even went to the academy.”

 

“Hydra had plants in the academy,” May spoke sharply. She and Coulson exchanged a look. Even though it hardly mattered now that Hydra was revealed, the depths of the corruption in the old SHIELD must be disturbing for them Skye thought.

 

Quickly her brain turned back to Grant because she was starting to make sense of all his cryptic little statements. He had said so many things that did not really register with her back before she knew who he was, but it was obvious now to her. “Which makes sense because he once told me that he had held the same loyalties for over fifteen years and that the reason he was Hydra was because there was someone he owed everything to and needed to help. He must have been talking about Garrett.”

 

Skye’s face twisted in disgust. The sentiment had seemed much nicer back when she thought he was referring to someone actually worth following. Grant’s words from that day came back to her suddenly. You don’t forget the person who valued you when no one else even saw you. Skye wondered what the full story was and why Grant thought he owed everything to John Garrett of all people.

 

When she returned her attention to the group, Skye observed the reactions with dull surprise. No one really cared. Coulson, May, Bobbi, Trip, everyone was focusing on the implications of Hydra plants in the academy or what Grant’s mission track record meant in terms of Garrett’s plans. Grant’s motivations and reasons meant nothing to them.

 

“I told you something more was going on,” Fitz spoke up beside her. Skye turned towards him and felt less alone knowing someone else was curious at least.

 

“Sir,” Simmons called towards Coulson stiffly. “I’d like to request that I speak with you, Skye, and Fitz alone on this matter.” Her face was set in a determined mask but otherwise hard to read.

 

Coulson and May’s hushed conversation stopped as Coulson turned towards the other woman. He agreed though and ordered everyone else out. Bobbi threw a look over her shoulder and Hunter continued grumbling about the lack of answers he got, but the room cleared out.  Soon enough only May was left.

 

Coulson turned towards her. “Any chance you would…?” He left that suggestion hanging as he waved a hand towards the door. May just raised an eyebrow and said nothing. Coulson sighed. “Yeah, didn’t think so.”

 

Simmons seemed a bit uncomfortable at the inclusion of someone not fully in the know, which worried Skye. Because if Simmons was planning on talking about the fact that Skye had carnal knowledge of John Garrett’s protégé, she did not really want May around to hear it.

 

“I’ve been considering the information,” Simmons began hesitantly, “And I think we may be looking at this the wrong way.”

 

“Looking at what?” May demanded.

 

“We’re trying to determine why Garrett would want Ward ingratiating himself to us and why Garrett would be sending him out on so many missions suddenly,” Simmons explained briefly.

 

“What do you think the right way to look at it is then?” Coulson asked.

 

“We’re analyzing this by looking at Ward only as a Hydra operative instead of Ward the person,” Simmons said.

 

“And that means…?” Coulson prompted.

 

Simmons cast a glance at Skye. It was not pained or accusatory and that gave Skye hope that her friend had been distracted from their fight by recent developments. It was, however, a look of uncertainty and made Skye dread what she was about to hear.

 

“When exactly did the irregularity regarding the missions begin?” Simmons questioned.

 

“Almost four weeks ago,” Coulson answered. “Why?”

 

Simmons nodded to herself as if his response confirmed her theory. “It’s just that…” Simmons faltered a little and looked again to both Skye and May before focusing on Coulson once more. “Skye’s um encounter with Ward was almost four weeks ago.”

 

May’s eyes narrowed at the inferred meaning of the word “encounter”, but Skye was focused on the rest of the implications. She stepped back a little unsure as everyone stared at her.

 

Finally Coulson spoke again in a blunt, emotionless tone, “You think that Ward is busying himself with missions to deal with Skye rejecting him.”

 

“Essentially, yes,” Simmons said awkwardly. “I mean when I’ve had painful breakups in the past, distractions were key. I threw myself into my work and new experiments to take my mind off it,” she rambled.

 

“Breakups?” May cut in. “What kind of relationship did Skye have with him?”

 

“It’s not just this timing that makes sense,” Simmons rushed to say, effectively speaking over May. It was strange to see Simmons asserting herself over the older woman. “It’s also Skye said that Agent 33 believed Ward was being punished by Garrett and that it began several days ago. That coincides with when we told you about Ward’s actions at Futurepharm and you began looking into them.”

 

“You think Garrett punished Grant because of us?” Skye blurted out before she could remember she was trying to keep the attention off of her.

 

“Well, yes. Isn’t that why we hid his involvement in the first place?” Simmons said. “You said yourself Skye that he implied his S.O. was going to punish him for getting caught and that if it got out what he did for us, Hydra would likely penalize him.”

 

Skye stood there wordlessly as the others continued to discuss the possibilities. She felt disconnected from the entire room. Her ears were ringing and she could no longer make out the words flowing around her. All she could think about was Grant’s instability and pain and how it was all because he saved her and Fitzsimmons. That her relationship with Grant was not some ploy for Garrett. That he spent weeks trying to distract himself from her. That his despairing looks as she rejected him and threw insults in his face that morning at the hotel may have been entirely genuine.

 

Skye realized that a part of her had wanted it to all be a ruse. That way she could tell herself that their relationship had never existed and was all this fabrication designed to trap her. After all, she could not miss what never existed.

 

That way she could reassure herself that she did not need to feel guilty over her reaction to his identity.

 

That way Skye could make a clean break and never want something that she could not have. It would even put the blame on him for misleading her.

 

If it were all real, then Skye was going to start having to ask herself the questions she had been avoiding.

 

Was she morally obligated to use this to stop Grant and Garrett from whatever terrible things they were planning? Was it her job as a SHIELD agent to turn this on him for intel? What did it mean that Grant was capable of forming such an attachment to her? Did that make him less of a monster? Or did that just mean she was one? What did it say about her to care so much and still want him so badly even knowing who he was?

 

What was she going to do?

 

She tuned in just in time to hear Fitz saying that Simmons was right.

 

“Why do you say that?” Coulson asked tiredly. Skye could see the strain of the conversation written on his face. She wondered what he was making of all this.

 

“Because when we got outside, Agent 33 immediately tried to kill me,” Fitz said. “Ward stopped her. He waited with me while she started the quinjet, too, and then…” Fitz’s face scrunched up as he trailed off.

 

“Then what?” Skye demanded.

 

“Well, I told him I knew he wouldn’t hurt me because we were friends,” Fitz said.

 

“Oh, Fitz,” Simmons said. She seemed concerned over his reckless trust in a known Hydra killer.  

 

“Grant doesn’t have friends,” Skye said immediately remembering their conversation on the AIM plane forever ago.

 

“Yeah, he said that,” Fitz said. “But it was why that surprised me. He said that he wasn’t the type of friend I would want anyway and that he hurts the people he loves.”

 


 

Grant leaned against the wall with his arms crossed. He watched the scientists and Hydra soldiers milling about dispassionately. John was somewhere getting his cybernetics checked out before they could leave.

 

Grant had dropped off the intel with Raina hours ago and had yet to hear any news. It was irritating him more than he wanted to admit, and he wondered whether that was the staff still fucking with him or not.

 

He spotted Raina strutting into the room in a red and black flower dress. Her eyes darted around before landing on him. She danced across the room and away from the rest of the people to Grant’s corner.

 

He pushed himself off the wall and gave her his attention. Her eyes peered at him shrewdly, unnerving him as they always did.

 

“Well?” Grant demanded when she did not immediately speak.

 

“I don’t have the knowledge to solve the complications with Phase 3,” she told him with a little pout.

 

“What about the intel I just brought you?” Grant growled. After all of that, it was all pointless.

 

“It helped smooth over some potential kinks,” she responded silkily without reacting to his rage. “But we’re still missing the main ingredient in the formula.”

 

“What are you talking about?” Grant said. “Can’t you fix him?”

 

“The formula relies on a component that isn’t in any of the research we have,” Raina said. “I can’t replicate it without that knowledge. If you can’t bring me the ingredient, I need someone who has the formula injected in them to analyze.”

 

Grant froze because he knew two people with the formula in them. There was no way he could capture Phil Coulson. He had no chance of finding this ingredient, they had exhausted all their leads and were almost out of time.

 

But could he really do it? Could he really abduct Skye and subject her to the miserable experimentations she would undergo as Raina’s lab rat? They would pick her apart and then when they were done, she would be killed and thrown away like trash.

 

Grant clenched his fists so hard that the knuckles turned white. He should not even be asking could he do it, he had to do it. Really, he should be asking himself why he had not done so already. Grant could only imagine John’s reaction if he knew that Grant had been hiding this from him.

 

Even as he rationalized the need to take Skye, Grant realized with horror that it did not matter knowing he had to do it. He could not imagine doing that to her. Someone else, anyone else, but even the thought of doing that to Skye made Grant want to throw up.

 

“Otherwise,” Raina continued obliviously. “There’s nothing we can do. Garrett will be dead soon, even with my centipede serum.” 

Chapter Text

Grant looked up at her adoringly. His hands lightly cradled her face as he ran his thumbs soothingly back and forth over her cheeks.

 

“Skye,” he whispered softly as if any louder and he would disturb the perfection of the moment.

 

Skye ran a hand through his already messy hair and trailed a finger down to his lips. His tousled hair made him look younger, more boyish.

 

She shifted from her position above him but said nothing in response. She dipped down to kiss him again. The searing kiss had him leaning in for more, chasing after her lips when she pulled back a little.

 

“I need you to do something for me,” Skye said against his mouth. Her hands wandered lightly, searchingly, as she spoke.

 

He favored her that same soft smile from their stolen night in the hotel. But before he could answer her, his face abruptly twisted in pain and betrayal as he attempted to choke out words that would not come. Blood bubbled from his lips as he gasped her name hatefully. The hands that had been caressing her skin clawed weakly at her.

 

“You’re a monster.” Skye glared down coldly from above. “What else could I want from you but to tell me your secrets and then die?”

 

She twisted the knife in her hand for emphasis.

 

 

Skye jolted awake so suddenly that she fell off the bed in her confused panic. Her eyes scanned the room for any evidence of Grant, the knife or anything to indicate that it had been real.

 

When she found nothing, she sat on the floor panting in terror. Skye shivered, her sweat-soaked body felt so cold. Her breathing and heartbeat were so loud she thought the pounding would wake someone else up.  

 

She raised her hands in front of her face to check them for blood. They were clean, but Skye could still feel the way Grant had jerked beneath her when she stabbed him. She could still see his betrayed face. Even the taste of his lips lingered disturbingly as she tucked her legs into her chest and wrapped her arms around her knees.

 

The dream may have only happened in her mind, but the cause of it was rooted in reality. It had only been a few days since the revelation that Grant may have been genuine in his interactions with her, but she was no closer to deciding what she wanted to do when she saw him next.

 

It did not take her very long to decide that if she could get intel from Grant, it was her job as a SHIELD agent to do so. Maybe Grant was more complicated than he seemed, but Garrett was still a bastard that had to be stopped. The two of them had left a long trail of bodies in their wake- and maybe she could stop them if she used Grant’s feelings for her against him.

 

The problem was that Skye did not think she could do it. The idea of seducing Grant for information or leading him into a trap to capture him so someone could torture him for it was sickening. Skye could feel the horror her dream caused wracking her body with uncontrollable tremors still. Skye longed for the nights when she imagined getting intimate with Grant instead.

 

Skye knew sleep was a lost cause, but she could not stay in the room. The images were plaguing her mind, and Skye needed a distraction.

 

She padded out of her bunk as quietly as she could knowing it was late and her friends were sleeping. As soon as she left, she realized she had no idea where to go. She did not want to do anything violent like training. In fact, what she wanted more than anything was the comfort of another person’s embrace and the assurance that everything was going to be fine.

 

Unbidden, Skye remembered the warmth of Grant’s arms after they escaped from AIM and wanted to cry. He was Eric’s killer and Garrett’s right hand, none of this was okay.

 

Skye came to a sudden stop when she registered that her feet had led her to a door. She hesitated unsure of how her late night appearance would be received before opening the door silently. Despite unconsciously doing so, Skye knew she was where she wanted to be.

 

She approached the bed and reached out to lightly wake her friend. “Jemma,” she called.

 

When Simmons awoke and saw Skye, she visibly started before taking in Skye’s expression.

 

“Please, I…” Skye trailed off uncertainly feeling like an idiot. Simmons had been mad at her for days, why had she thought this was a good idea?

 

But Simmons just scooted over and pulled back the covers to let Skye lay down next to her. The bed was tiny but with both women laying on their sides with their faces inches apart, they were able to fit.

 

When Skye was much younger and in her fourth foster home, there was a girl, Allison, who had already been adopted and a little older than Skye herself. Her presence had given Skye some hope that this home would be the one, but more than that, Skye had liked having a sister. She used to crawl into the Allison’s bed at night and the two would whisper to each other secrets, giggling and joking hours past their bedtime. When the family finally told Skye it had not been a good fit, she found she missed Allison as much as the parents if not more.

 

Simmons and Allison could not be more different, but nowadays Simmons was the one Skye came to mind when Skye thought of sisters.

 

“Skye,” Simmons murmured a little sleepily. “What is it?”

 

“After we got back from AIM, you said that you were here if I wanted to talk.” Skye paused,  “Is it too late to take you up on that offer?”

 

“I’m always here if you need me,” Simmons promised.

 

So Skye breathed the thoughts that had been tormenting her for days regarding the implications of Grant’s potentially real feelings. She began with her nightmare and ended with her worry over what it meant that a Hydra killer was attracted to her of all people.

 

“You’re not a monster,” Simmons said at once. “It’s just chemistry. Your attraction to him and his to you, it’s out of your control.” Simmons smiled, “And personality and moral failings aside, he is quite handsome.”

 

Simmons’ tone and the light smile that Skye could barely make out in the darkness meant that she was trying to lift Skye’s spirits with the levity, but Skye felt her chest tighten at the words.

 

“And what if it’s not just physical attraction?” Skye asked quietly.

 

“It’s going to be fine,” Simmons said immediately. “You’ve come clean to Coulson and done all you can do.”

 

As sweet as Simmons was being, Skye could not help but notice she did not answer her question. Instead, she changed the conversation and the two spent the next couple hours catching up before exhaustion caught up with them.

 

Skye did not have any more dreams.

 


 

Grant scanned the pages of the file before him with narrowed eyes. He paused when he reached the section he was looking for and read it carefully and quickly. All the while, he could sense the discomfort of the woman before him.

 

His eyes landed on a sentence that left him confused enough that he reread it over twice before raising his glare.

 

“This can’t be right,” Grant finally spoke.

 

“Sir?” The Hydra henchwoman wondered nervously. She kept shifting her weight back and forth. Her gaze would not even meet his, preferring instead to focus on the file cabinet to the left of him.

 

“It says that Agent 33 was found in a SHIELD safehouse that Hydra did not have the coordinates for,” Grant spoke slowly, carefully pronouncing each word in an attempt to control his agitation. “So how did we find her?”

 

“A SHIELD agent gave us the intel,” she replied. When his glare grew more pronounced at the lack of explanation, she squeaked, “The SHIELD agent had infiltrated us and this was a test of her loyalty.”

 

“What happened to the SHIELD agent?” Grant demanded even as his mind was assaulted with the implications of the information.

 

“She went back to SHIELD several months later after causing as much damage as she could,” the woman said.

 

“Tell no one of this,” Grant barked, certain that her obvious fear of him would keep her mouth shut. He was ranked highly enough that she would probably assume that the secrecy was for some greater Hydra purpose, too.

 

The woman scurried off at once leaving Grant with the file and his thoughts. He had hoped for a distraction after the news Raina gave him. Since leaving Mexico City, he was more indecisive than ever, which put him on edge.

 

He decided that it was a problem to deal with when he saw Skye next. He was not even entertaining the possibility that he would not run into her again, she was everywhere nowadays after all. The only other alternative would be to come clean to John and organize a unit to capture her.

 

Even ignoring the nausea that idea caused, Grant did not want to admit to Garrett that he had misled him so much and for so long. Telling him now would lead to questions of how he knew and when he found out. Grant was not sure he could handle his reaction. He gave him the fucking staff after just thinking he was giving into his weakness in a way that did not impact John, Grant did not know what his response would be should he find out just how deep the deception went.

 

He had toyed with several ideas involving taking Skye’s blood somehow but just felt foolish. An analysis of her blood would reveal she was not Phil Coulson, which would certainly lead to an interrogation and beg the question of why he did not just take the subject as opposed to a sample of her blood.

 

Once again, the image of Skye as someone’s subject made him grimace.

 

He was no scientist either, he did not know how much blood would be necessary anyway. He could give Raina some and have it still be useless. He was out of his depth here with no way to get clarification on it without the risk of revealing the situation and placing Skye in danger.  

 

Raina said that John’s future was uncertain, but he could still live another month or so. Of course, he could also drop dead tomorrow. Grant kicked the wall in frustration.

 

He stormed out of the room with Kara’s file still clutched tightly in his hand. By the time he reached his bunk, he had gained some measure of perspective by forcing the thoughts to the side to consider his other dilemma.

 

He had thought that researching Kara and her condition would take his mind off of the problem he could not solve by focusing on one that he might be able to. As Kara’s state continued to bother him, he decided that he could see if he could get the answers to some of the questions he had about it.

 

He had thought maybe he could find a way to leave her with Skye, Fitz, or Simmons after informing them of her state. SHIELD could have some way of dealing with brainwashing that he did not know about. He did not have the time or ability to deal with her.

 

Now he just felt like an idiot for bothering. SHIELD had known all along and never tried to do anything. Skye and the rest probably knew, too, and just did not care because she had been tainted by the “Nazi Death Cult” or whatever.

 

After SHIELD had given her to Hydra in the first place.

 

The pages of the file crumpled in his grasp. He used to know that SHIELD were nothing but self-righteous hypocrites, they were the reason John was dying to begin with. Why had he forgotten that?

 

Grant hid the file even though there was no point in keeping it now that he knew there was nothing to be done. It was pointless to try and act like he could save Kara. He would have no one to take care of her even if he could pull off some plan. Maybe it was for the best she was brainwashed, no one at SHIELD apparently had cared about her even before. At least here he could try to watch out for her.

 

Grant laughed harshly to himself at the pathetic justification. Nothing about Whitehall’s control over her was good, and he was no one’s hero.    

 

A light knock sounded on his door, which had him tensing suspiciously. No one but John would dare go to his bunk, and his mentor certainly would not knock or wait for a response to enter.

 

Grant opened the door to be faced with Kara herself. He said nothing, just opened the it wider and walked back towards the bed.

 

She followed him inside. “Well, hello to you, too.” The door shut behind her, and she leaned back against it facing him.

 

“What is it?” Grant could not muster up the energy for small talk, just looking at her exhausted him. She was smiling now, as though she did not have a care in the world, but Grant could still remember the inconsolable trembling and terror after he returned from the disastrous Futurepharm mission.

 

“We’ve got an op,” she announced suddenly all business.

 

Grant crossed his arms. He was torn between welcoming a new distraction and being irritated that he was being forced to do Whitehall’s bidding once more. “What is it?”

 

“Word is Russian oligarch Andrei Rodchenko has managed to find himself an Asguardian weapon capable of considerable damage,” Kara explained handing him a file on Rodchenko and the weapon.

 

“And Whitehall wants it,” Grant finished. “So are we going to infiltrate his mansion?”

 

“Better,” Kara said with a strange smile, like she was holding back laughter. “Rodchenko’s security is top notch so stealing it on a normal occasion would attract attention, and Dr. Whitehall would rather not deal with the Russians. But Rodchenko is throwing a fancy ball with all the works to celebrate his purchase. Hundreds of guests will be there.” She looked at him pointedly, “Guess who’s attending.”

 

Grant sighed. The mission would hardly be a distraction. He would cozy up to some drunk partygoers and then steal a weapon likely without anyone even noticing. He forced a smirk anyways. “So Kara, you’ve never told me, are you a good dancer?”


 

Skye smoothed her ridiculously long evening gown down for what had to be the fifth time in as many minutes. She and Hunter had only just arrived and already Skye was ready to leave.

 

After her late night, Skye was not in the festive mood. Even if she were, this was not her type of party. Everywhere she looked she saw another ostentatious show of wealth that made her have to stop her lips from curling.

 

This used to be the type of mission she enjoyed because it felt fun to play a part and laugh at the activities of the people around her. Now these sort of events reminded her of Ian Quinn and getting shot. Each man seemed to resemble him in some way or the other and it made her jittery.

 

The plan was to wait until the host and guests drank a little too much before moving in, but Skye was already counting down the minutes. She huffed to herself.

 

“You okay there, love?” Hunter asked beside her as they stood off to the side of the dance floor.

 

Skye looked at him and paused. “Are you drinking right now?”

 

He halted with the glass inches from his lips. “I’m getting into character.” He took a big gulp of his drink.

 

Skye shook her head fondly. Once upon a time, Hunter and his antics had driven her crazy, but now it was the type of lightheartedness she craved.

 

He downed the rest of the drink staring at the twirling partiers. “Should we dance to blend in?” he asked lowly.

 

“You can dance?” Skye blurted out more than a little surprised. Maybe it was because he always seemed so tactless and inelegant, but Skye would never have guessed that of him.

 

“Of course,” he said clearly offended. After a brief moment, he added, “Bobbi made me learn for the wedding.”

 

Skye laughed loudly, she would have paid to see that. Bobbi was actually supposed to be the one accompanying him on this mission, but Coulson said he had her working on something else. When she asked for more information, Coulson had told her it was classified. Skye had wondered if the director trusted her less after recent events or if it was just another SHIELD secret and compartmentalization of information.

 

“Well, it doesn’t matter because I can’t,” Skye told Hunter blandly. “Why don’t you scout the room instead?”

 

Hunter put down his empty glass on a nearby table. “Brilliant, I’ll pick up another drink on the way.”

 

Skye ignored that, partially hoping he was kidding. “Is your earpiece on?”

 

He nodded absentmindedly as he walked away. Skye was a little relieved that she did not have anyone to put a show on for. She was so tired of pretending she was okay when she was not. Hunter did not even know the half of it either.

 

A waiter passed with a hors d'oeuvre that Skye took to blend in even though she was not sure what it was. She smiled at guests as they passed by but did not engage. Most of the people were Russian, and Skye could not even begin to understand what they said.

 

Skye had wrangled an invite by hacking into the system and pretending to be a young, American entrepreneur abroad with her husband. She would rather no one had cause to look too closely at their backstory.

 

She saw Hunter across the room where it looked like he actually was getting another drink. When he glanced up and met her eyes, she noticed an expression of sheer panic colored his face. At first, Skye thought it was because he was upset she caught him and worried that she had failed to hide her disapproval at his actions. Then she saw him inconspicuously activate his earpiece and whisper into it while pretending to fix his drink.

 

“Incoming,” he hissed.

 

Skye did not have a second to consider what his warning meant before a hand grasped her upper arm. She gazed up in horror that she hoped was not obvious to the potential onlookers all around them.

 

“Care to dance?” Grant asked her, but he did not wait for a response before pulling her into the middle of the dance floor. When she hesitated, he tsked her. “You don’t want to make a scene, do you?”

 

Skye realized he had trapped her. If she tried to pull away, it would attract notice. With no other option, she followed him to the crowd of dancers.  

 

Despite the many other issues she should be worried about, Skye suddenly felt self-conscious. She was not lying earlier when she said she could not dance. Tripping over herself while surrounded by a bunch of rich people who seemed to float effortlessly made her uncomfortable. She did not like to feel like an outsider.

 

Worse still, she did not want to look like an idiot in front of Grant. She could admit it was an absurd thought. Skye should not care about his impression of her, especially about her dancing skills, but knowing that did not make her any more at ease.

 

When they came to a stop, Grant immediately put his hand on her shoulder blade and moved into a position that seemed to mirror the other guests, but Skye was no expert.

 

“My shoulder,” he said. When she looked up surprised, he elaborated, “You put her hand on my shoulder and your other,” he reached out and smoothly grasped it, “Goes in mine.” The warmth of his touch sent shivers down her spine.

 

Skye followed his directions quickly, not grateful enough to forget that he was the reason she was in this mess to begin with.

 

“You don’t know how to dance?” Grant asked as they waited for the next song to start. It may have been her imagination, but he seemed stiffer than usual. There was rigidity in his posture that he could not completely hide and his jaw clenched in a way that looked painful.

 

“No,” Skye hissed, “Which is why I was standing off to the side until someone so rudely pulled me away.” Skye let out of frustrated breath. “Did they teach you how to at Operations or is it actually a Nazi thing?”

 

Skye felt his muscles beneath her fingers tense at her words. “No,” he said with a darkly mocking smile, “My parents expected perfection from their children, so I was enrolled in dance lessons. Could not have me embarrassing the family.”

 

His bitterness made her falter. She was ready to jump down his throat at the admission that implied he was raised by a wealthy family, but something made her hold her tongue. She had never heard him speak so acerbically. Maybe his reaction was to the Nazi reference though, she was not sure.

 

“The nuns at the orphanage didn’t stress the importance of ballroom dancing,” Skye told him honestly.

 

That seemed to take his mind off of whatever was bothering him. “You’re an orphan,” he deduced. His eyes softened, the hard lines disappearing minutely.  

 

“In all the ways that mattered,” she said. Explaining the complex situation with her father was not something she wanted to get into in public. Or in general. And even though she knew it was a bad idea, she wanted to see his reaction so she said, “Unlike you, I didn’t have a fancy, rich family to make a lady of society out of me.”

 

Because she was looking for it, she could see the way his lips thinned and his eyes creased. It was the family thing that bothered him then.

 

“That’s not always a bad thing,” he said shortly. The new song started playing before she could comment, “Just follow my lead.”

 

In a whirl, he threw them into motion to the beat of the music. Skye stared at the ground as she attempted to keep up. She was always a second behind on all the steps.

 

“Don’t look down,” Grant instructed. “Only novices do that.”

 

“I am a novice,” she told him petulantly.

 

“And it actually harms more than it helps,” he continued as though she had not spoken. “Just trust me.”

 

“That’s interesting coming from a man so untrustworthy,” Skye muttered, but she took his advice anyway. It was easier when she was not focusing on their feet. But now she could not stop staring into his eyes as he held her in his usual intense regard.

 

Grant’s hand was rhythmically stroking her waist. It made her chest tighten as it reminded her of all the other times he had absentmindedly caressed her. She stared at him wondering what thoughts he hid behind that handsome, blank face.

 

He misinterpreted her look. “Would you prefer to stand on my feet as we dance?” Grant teased.

 

“Is that a serious option?” Skye asked solemnly. She was rewarded when his face lit up in amusement as she had known it would.

 

It occurred to her that she could actually pull off a successful manipulation and seduction of Grant Ward. Assuming he was being genuine with her now, Skye knew ways to make his loosen up. But she had not said that to work him, she had just wanted to chase the dark shadows lingering behind his eyes. Every second he held her in his arms, the tension in his body drained away more and more, but she could still see traces of it in the lines of his face.

 

The song ended quicker than Skye would have liked, a thought which disturbed her greatly. They came to a stop, but neither of them removed their hands.

 

Skye felt uncertainty settle in the pit of her stomach. Hunter was around probably watching them suspiciously. Grant may very well have some Hydra teammates wandering around also staring. She felt like she was on display.

 

While they were dancing, she had momentarily forgotten about the mission because she was just pleased to see him again when she had an excuse not to fight him. Hunter would expect her to go along with it because otherwise they would cause a scene. Now that the dance was over, real life came rushing back with a vengeance.

 

Hydra had to be there for the Asguardian weapon. As complicated as Skye’s relationship with Grant was, she knew could not allow them to have it. Coulson had told them that it was supposedly powerful enough to level a stadium. That was not the sort of thing Skye trusted the U.S. government with, much less Hydra.    

 

She did not get time to make a decision on how to react to that knowledge. A beautiful woman in a stunning dress sidled up beside Grant. She locked an arm into the crook of his arm and peered at Skye.

 

It took a second for Skye to recognize Agent 33. She cursed herself internally for her distraction.

 

“Who’s this, baby?” Agent 33 asked sweetly in a voice louder than the ones Skye and Grant had been using. Skye realized that they were probably posing as husband and wife, which made sense since that was what Skye and Hunter were doing as well. It grated her a little anyway. Besides, Agent 33’s show forced all of them to get into character.

 

“Daisy Johnson,” Skye introduced as she held out her hand. She had figured her birth name was unknown enough to get away with. Daisy felt like a different identity to her anyway.

 

Agent 33 shook it. “Carolyn Parrish, a pleasure.” She turned to Grant who now appeared a little uncomfortable to Skye’s eyes though his expression was pleasant and betrayed nothing. “Hope you don’t mind if I steal him back. He’s such a great dancer,” she added with an affectionate pat to his chest.

 

Grant gave her his patented fake love struck look that Skye had seen directed at her before. “I’m sorry to have wandered off, baby,” he said.  

 

Skye rubbed her arm. It was like ants were crawling all over her skin, she felt itchy and awkward watching them.

 

“It’s fine,” Agent 33 replied unconcernedly. She stretched upwards and pressed her lips against his. Grant went unnaturally still for a second before returning the kiss. 33 lingered for several torturous seconds before pulling back and looking at Skye shrewdly.

 

Skye’s throat tightened, and she could not bring herself to look at Grant. Agent 33’s dark eyes bored holes into her making her feel small.

 

Out of the corner of her eye, Skye could see Hunter steadily making his way towards them as fast as he could without attracting attention. She was not the only one who noticed.

 

“I think it’s time we get back to our previous engagement, sweetheart,” Grant said stiffly and drew the other Hydra agent away.

 

Skye jerked out of her stupor. She could not let them get the weapon. Hunter finally made it to her side and the two of them weaved through the crowd after the retreating Grant and Agent 33.

 

They were only a couple of steps behind when Grant subtly tripped a passing waiter who was carrying a tray of champagne flutes. The waiter stumbled at once, the tray flying from his grasp.

 

Skye tried to swerve out of the way but could not manage to get far enough away with the crowd around her. The glasses shattered and the drinks spilled all over her and Hunter.

 

Immediately everyone turned to stare at them and several waiters and waitresses flocked to them to clean up the mess. Skye and Hunter were stuck at the center of it all as they lost sight of Grant and Agent 33. With all the eyes in the room on them, there was nothing else to be done.

 

“Bastard,” Hunter cursed as he wiped down his wet suit with the napkins the apologetic waiter gave him.

 

“Damn right he is,” Skye said heatedly.

Chapter Text

“What was that about?” Grant hissed to his partner as they made their way from the chaos behind them. A quick glance over his shoulder reassured him that his plan had trapped the SHIELD agents.

 

“I don’t know what you’re talking about,” Kara said stiffly. Her lips were pressed together into a thin line, and she was not looking at him.

 

“Yes, you do,” Grant replied exasperated but also unwilling to voice exactly what was bothering him. He had done more than kiss to maintain his cover before. He had no reason to feel so agitated, but all he could think about was what thoughts were running through Skye’s mind as she watched the display.

 

“I stuck to my cover and was just doing my job.” It felt like an accusation. Of course, to Kara’s eyes, it would make no sense to engage SHIELD the way that he had. It was not like he could explain it to her either.

 

Seeing Skye enter the ballroom, looking somehow even more beautiful than he remembered, had filled him with a need to approach her. He had to know what she thought after their last encounter. At the hotel, she sneered at and insulted him, which had made Grant hopeless about any sort of reconciliation. But at Side Door, she had trusted him with Fitz and appeared concerned about his wellbeing.

 

Or maybe she thought it was for the best to appease the psycho while he was irrational and under the influence of the alien staff.

 

He had taken two steps forward to meet her before forcing himself to stop. He was on a mission and could not allow himself to be seen associating with her again by Kara. She had accepted his excuses before, but it would be a bad idea to let himself get in the habit of relying on the brainwashed agent’s desire to keep his secrets.

 

Only he did not care about Whitehall and his obsession with collecting alien weaponry. That was not the mission that mattered. John’s was, and Skye held the key to solving that mystery.

 

Grant had decided that he needed to at least attempt to get the information on the GH formula from Skye before making any choices. If those thoughts felt to him like a justification to delay his course of action, Grant ignored it.

 

Grant could neither tell Kara he approached Skye in an attempt to gauge how she would receive his demand for answers nor could he let Kara believe he was distracted by Skye enough to mess up a mission. Unfortunately for him, he did not have a lot of options.  

 

“Let’s just finish this,” Grant said to end the conversation. Kara huffed to herself and Grant wondered if he was in for it later.

 

They had successfully left the crowd of people and were approaching the back door that would lead them to the weapon. The two muscled men guarding it never stood a chance. Kara and Grant dragged their unconscious bodies inside the dark stairwell and closed the door behind them. They made their way down in silence.

 

After that, it was only a matter of minutes before they approached the safe containing the weapon. Grant used a laser cutter disguised as a pen to reach the device. It was all painfully simple.

 

The side of the safe fell off. Grant caught it before it could crash to the ground and lowered it soundlessly. Inside was a strange looking metal thing with engravings all over. It could not have been larger than a tennis ball.

 

“That’s it?” Kara asked skeptically.

 

Grant, however, was more cautious. The markings on the side were eerily reminiscent of those on that damn staff. The memories conjured by that thought had Grant tensing.

 

Kara noticed his unease. “I can handle it if you want,” she offered.

 

Grant shook his head. “Don’t touch it with you bare hands.” He retrieved a pair of white gloves from his pocket that the Hydra scientists assured him would not affect the weapon. He used them to pick up the device and place it in the containment carrier masquerading as Kara’s purse.

 

Wordlessly, they made their way upstairs to rejoin the party. They stepped over the knocked out guards and reentered the ballroom.

 

They had not taken two steps before alarms started blaring. The guests were shrieking as guards swarmed to block the exits.

 

Kara froze and looked to him with widened eyes. “The intel said only the side rooms had any extra security measures.”

 

Grant scowled. “It wasn’t us.” He grabbed Kara’s arm in a way that mimicked a concerned husband comforting his startled wife as he led them towards the exit. “SHIELD,” he whispered.

 

Kara followed his lead and soon they had blended in with the chaotic crowd pushing at the guards.

 

Grant remained alert. Skye was smart. There was no way that her plan was simply to set off the alarms. She would know that no common muscle was a match for them. There was something more going on.

 

“Play along,” he whispered to Kara as they approached the guards.

 

When the guards saw him, the head of security held his hands up and immediately began telling him to step away in Russian.

 

“My wife,” Grant spoke frightfully in Russian. “She needs to get outside. The crowds and noises scare her.” He pinched Kara lightly all the while giving her a panicked look.

 

Kara caught on quickly and began hysterically screaming and crying as she clutched him.

 

The men before them exchanged glances as Kara sobbed all the harder.

 

“Please, she needs fresh air,” Grant begged the guards.

 

The head guard nodded and allowed them through but stopped the others who attempted to follow them.

 

The crisp night air washed over them as they cleared the party. Once out of sight, Kara dropped the act. She straightened up as the two of them hurried to leave the mansion in the distance.

 

“I don’t like this,” Grant said as they reached the streets. “Where did the SHIELD agents go?”

 

Kara shivered a bit in the cold. “They’re probably trapped in the party. I doubt either of them can speak Russian.”

 

Grant frowned as his eyes darted around searching for any suspicious signs. “They set off the alarms. They wouldn’t let themselves get caught in their own trap.”

 

“Probably thought they would confine us as well,” Kara suggested. She did not seem to share his concern.

 

That was too amateur and moronic for Skye though. Grant could not imagine that was the full extent of her plan.

 

He sensed the movement seconds before the first flew at his face. Grant jerked back in time but was not quite quick enough to dodge the follow up kick. Skye’s foot got him in the hip as he tried to swerve away.

 

He heard Kara let out a gasp and the sounds of her engaging the British agent before he turned his full attention to his own opponent.

 

Skye’s jaw was clenched as she pushed her advantage and had him playing defense to avoid her blows. Grant realized that she was probably a bit angry about the stunt he pulled earlier. Even now, he could see the champagne stains on her dress.

 

She had ditched her heels but was still fighting with the handicap of her outfit. Like Grant and Kara, Skye seemed to have figured that she would not face any opposition skilled enough to require a reasonable ensemble to defeat. The gown was long enough that Skye had to concentrate on her legs not getting tangled up in it.

 

Grant used that to gain the upper hand. The more Skye was forced to follow after him, the more her movements were hindered by the dress. It made her usually graceful actions clumsy and awkward.

 

Grant almost faltered when he realized that Kara probably had the same issue, and the British agent likely noticed. Grant had no intention of killing Skye, but as he had just learned, SHIELD did not have the same concern for Kara.

 

He wavered for a moment, torn between going to help Kara and following through with his plan. Grant ducked out of the way of another punch before coming to a decision.

 

Ward gritted his teeth as he drew Skye further and further away from the other fight. He would just have to trust Kara to take care of herself. John’s mission came first. Kara needed to be able to ensure her own survival because he could not afford to make her his responsibility.

 

Kara and the other SHIELD agent disappeared after several minutes of Grant directing his fight with Skye away. Once he was sure they were far enough away, Grant made his move.

 

The next time Skye swung a punch his way, he used the momentum to pull her into an alleyway and out of sight of any potential passersby.

 

“Ow, asshole,” she cursed as he pushed her into the wall and pinned her there. He frowned at her unimpressed. Their fight was far more painful than that move. He had gone out of his way to be gentle.

 

He kept both hands on her upper arms to secure her as he invaded her personal space. She was not struggling to get away though, and Grant knew that unless the conversation went poorly, she would not try to escape.

 

“I need to talk to you,” he said seriously.

 

She scowled at him. “Maybe you should have tried that before pouring drinks on me.”

 

Grant would not let her distract him when it came to this though. “Do you know what’s inside the GH-325 formula?”

 

Skye went rigid in his grasp. “What?”

 

“Do you know what the secret ingredient in the GH formula is?” Grant spoke again unemotionally. His gaze pierced her as he attempted to read her reaction in her expression.

 

Her eyes widened slightly and her breath caught. She knew. Grant was sure of it. Grant’s pulse raced as he tightened his grip on her.

 

“Did you just ask for SHIELD intel?” Skye wondered a bit confusedly. Grant supposed he had never tried to get anything from her before, and it must seem strange to her. Of course, this was the only intel he really cared about.

 

“So you do know what’s in it,” Grant confirmed.

 

Skye was not paying attention to his words though. “Is that what this was all about?”

 

“What are you talking about?” Grant growled frustrated. He just needed her to tell him this and then most of his problems would be solved. John would be saved. Skye would be safe. Grant could probably even leave Hydra because John would no longer need their resources.

 

“Was that why you,” Skye faltered a little, “Befriended me?”

 

Despite himself, Grant could not help but let out a humorless laugh. “Befriended you?” He made sure his tone was as mocking as possible. He supposed she did not want to admit aloud she fucked a “Nazi”.

 

Skye pursed her lips. “Would you rather I say seduced me? Is that what you want to hear, that you seduced me apparently to try and find out about the GH formula?”

 

Grant’s lips curled. “Is that what you want to believe?” He shook his head. “No, Skye. My feelings have always been real, and I’ve never pretended with you. You’re the one who was lying.”

 

“I didn’t lie to you!” Skye protested at once.

 

“Oh, not to me,” Grant said harshly. “You lied to yourself. How else could you have spent all those months without ever figuring out who I am?” Skye looked down, and Grant knew he was right. “Didn’t want to admit you were fraternizing with the ‘psychotic serial killer’, was that it?” Grant tried to keep the bitterness out of his tone when he repeated the words she said to him the morning in the hotel but knew he had failed.

 

Skye met his gaze refusing to be intimidated. “If you didn’t seduce me for intel, then what’s this all about?”

 

Grant flexed his hands on her arms as he considered how to answer her. “I need you to tell me this,” he said lowly.

 

“For your precious Centipede soldiers?” Skye mocked. Grant had forgotten how well-informed she was of Cybertek and their operations.

 

“No, I don’t care about that,” Grant said dismissively.

 

“Then why ask?” Skye retorted.

 

“I need to know how to make it,” Grant said hoarsely unable to contain his desperation.

 

Skye searched his face and grew alarmed. “Do you need it for you?” Grant did not react quickly enough, and she continued breathlessly, “Grant, if you’re sick, there’s a better way. You don’t want to use the formula.”

 

“Why not?” Grant blurted in surprise at the shift in conversation.

 

“It’s not worth it,” Skye said heatedly. “It’s… it’s not this magical cure you think it is.”

 

Grant’s heart was pounding. If Skye were speaking the truth, Grant did not know what that would mean. “I don’t understand.” He thought for a second and found the glaring issue in her claim. “You used the GH formula,” he accused.

 

Skye shifted and bit her lip. She dropped her gaze. “I’m different.”

 

“Different? What the hell is that supposed to mean?’

 

Skye took a deep breath and faced him again. “You just need to trust me on this, the GH formula won’t solve your problems.”

 

Grant did not believe that, he could not believe that. He had spent more than fifteen years looking for a cure for John. He refused to think that it could all have been pointless.

 

“Grant,” Skye called as she leaned towards him and reached out to clutch his shirt. Her eyes were wide as she spoke, “Are you dying?”

 

Grant could not lie to her. “No,” he said. “I’m not dying.” John is, he thought wretchedly, and I cannot seem to do anything about it.  

 

Skye let out a shuddering breath at his words. Grant noted she appeared unconvinced, but he could not explain why he needed to know without revealing John’s poor health. He could not allow SHIELD to find out about that.

 

She was obviously not going to tell him just because he told her to, especially now that he admitted it was not for him. He ignored her warnings knowing that he had no other options but to find the formula if he wanted to save the man who had given him everything.

 

Desperation seized him. If he did not learn the ingredient now, then he would be forced to bring Skye in to Raina. Grant bared his teeth as he decided to try a new tactic. “You haven’t seen me at my worst, Skye. Don’t test me, just tell me what’s in it.”

 

Skye stiffened in his grasp as she let out a dark laugh. The sound sent shivers down his spine. It was not the sort of reaction he expected. Anger, irritation, maybe even fear, but Skye’s expression turned cynical and derisive. “Oh, I know all about the lengths you’ll go to for the GH formula,” Skye bit out acerbically.

 

Grant had been leaning into her in order to intimidate her, but her response threw him enough that he recoiled. “What’s that supposed to mean?”

 

Skye yanked her arms free from his grip and gave his chest a push to get him to back away. It was not painful, and she did not make a run for it, but it made Grant defensive anyway. He crossed his arms as he tried to stare her down.

 

“Oh, come on. You can’t seriously expect me to believe you weren’t involved,” Skye scoffed. “You probably planned it out with Garrett.”

 

“What are you talking about?” Grant was growing more frustrated by the second. He was getting nowhere with her, and he had no idea how long Kara and Skye’s partner would be occupied.

 

“Didn’t you ever wonder why I was given the GH formula in the first place?” Skye said.

 

Grant admittedly had not. It hardly mattered to him why she had it in her when all that concerned him was that she had it in the first place. He knew logically that Skye would have likely been on death’s door if she were even still alive to be given the formula, but it had happened before he met her and had not seemed important.

 

Skye read the confusion on his face and continued, “Your precious S.O. had his lackey Ian Quinn shoot me twice in the stomach and leave me bleeding on the floor for Coulson to find.” Skye’s expression tightened, and Grant saw her eyes well up with angry tears. “Garrett wanted to force Coulson to show him the way to the formula, and he used me for it.”

 

Grant tried to swallow past the choking feeling in his throat. Now that Skye said it, he could remember vaguely one of the many plans to wrestle the secret from Coulson was to have someone close to him almost killed. John had told him he had the perfect person in mind as Coulson had apparently picked up a girl off the street a few months earlier. She had almost no training but was often out in the field anyway.

 

She was like a daughter to Coulson, John had claimed with a smirk. The perfect target.

 

“Do you want to see the scars?” Skye mocked. “I mean you already have. You ran your hands over them and never said a word.”

 

Grant knew the scars she was talking about. There were two bullet wounds that stuck out in sharp contrast with her mostly unblemished, smooth skin. Grant had seen them and not commented. Agents often had strange scars, and he would not want Skye asking about his.

 

“I didn’t know,” Grant said dully.

 

“Even if you weren’t involved, you expect me to believe that Garrett didn’t at least tell his protégé about his plan?” Skye threw at him incredulously.

 

“I didn’t know it was you,” Grant tried again. “I heard a little then, but I just...” Grant trailed off as he realized what he was about to say. He had not cared. John had told him, and he had not given a thought towards the girl who would be caught in the crossfire. It had not registered to him. His focus was entirely on the possibility that John could be healed.

 

“It could have easily been you instead of Quinn,” Skye accused. She was right, too. Grant had not known her then. If John had told him he needed to shoot her back then when she was a stranger who may hold the key to his mentor’s salvation, he would not have hesitated.  

 

“Skye,” he breathed as he moved towards her. She did not push him away again as he cupped her face. “I would never do that to you,” he promised.

 

Skye straightened and looked up at him with watery eyes. “How am I supposed to believe that when you work for the man who had me shot?”

 

“I would never hurt you,” Grant vowed. His worries and the choices that tormented him the past couple weeks fled to the back of his mind. All that mattered in that moment was reassuring Skye.

 

Something flashed in Skye’s eyes as she stared at him. The tension drained from her body as her expression softened. She had not looked at him that way since before she learned his name.

 

Before he could register what he was doing, Grant was kissing her. She gasped into his lips as he pushed her even more firmly into the wall. One of his hands cradled her head to keep the cold stone from hurting her and the other snuck around her waist to pull her closer. She matched his enthusiasm as she yanked him closer with a tight grip on his hair.

 

Grant could not breathe. He could not think. All his thoughts, all his desires were consumed by the woman in his arms. He had missed her so much. It was all he had never thought he could have again.

 

Grant wedged one of his legs in between hers so that she straddled his thigh. She wriggled against him driving him wild, and it was still not enough.

 

“Grant,” she panted. He ignored her as he kissed her jaw. “We can’t.”

 

“Tell me you don’t want this, and I’ll stop,” Grant mumbled into her neck where he was mouthing at her pulse point. He moved his hand away from her waist and ran it all over her body. He traced her curves and squeezed her backside. She moaned as she pushed herself further into his thigh.

 

Grant’s hands continued to wander as he let desperation guide his movements. He clutched at her as though he would never get another opportunity to have her in his arms because somewhere in the back of his mind he knew that to be true.

 

Much too soon, he felt Skye begin to draw back. “No, Grant,” Skye said as she pulled away as much as she could. “We can’t.”

 

He wanted to tell her that they could. Nothing was stopping them but Skye’s hesitance. As the distance between them increased, Grant realized how foolish he was being. There were a million reasons why they could not go there again.

 

Grant let her detach herself from him and said nothing. She began to smooth down her dress in an attempt to conceal their actions. He stood there, colder and emptier for her loss. When she turned back towards him, she froze upon seeing whatever expression displayed on his face. He could not muster the energy to hide his emotions. It felt like he was losing everything all over again because he finally understood that it did not matter what Skye felt for him. Maybe she was attracted to him, maybe her feelings even ran deeper than simple lust, but none of that mattered because she would still reject him for her loyalty in the end.

 

Because she was the director of SHIELD’s surrogate daughter and he was John Garrett’s pet monster.

 

Grant spun around and stalked out of the alleyway without a backwards glance. And though he expected it, it still stung that she did not try to stop him.

 


  

Grant found Kara at the rendezvous point by the quinjet. He was in such a terrible mood that he almost missed the signs.

 

Kara was fidgeting and obsessively playing with her hair. She looked pale and shaken as well. When she spotted him approaching, she darted forward and clutched his dress shirt in her hands. “Did you get it?” Kara asked urgently. There was no hope in her eyes as she spoke though, and Grant knew she was already aware of his answer.

 

“The weapon?” Grant questioned numbly. Distracted as he was, it took him a second to realize what she was implying. “You had it, didn’t you?”

 

Kara shook her head. “The SHIELD agent, he stole it from me.” Grant noticed her fake purse was missing. “I thought when you took so long- I thought maybe you had gotten it back.”

 

Grant did not want to think about what he had just been doing. “No, the agent I fought put up a struggle,” he explained shortly.

 

At the reference to Skye, Kara’s expression transformed. The panic bled away as her eyes narrowed. While that would worry him normally, Grant was just glad not be faced with Kara’s brainwashing-induced terror.

 

“I thought you said she wasn’t much of a threat,” Kara said.

 

“She’s not,” Grant replied. “But she was also extra pissed that I got her covered in champagne earlier.” Kara was going to say more, but Grant just shook his head. “We have to go in case SHIELD called for reinforcements.”

 

Kara reluctantly climbed into the quinjet after him. She stared as he fired up the engine and put the plane in the air. The second he was able to put it on autopilot, Kara pounced.

 

“What was that with you and the SHIELD agent at Rodechenko’s party?” Kara demanded.

 

Grant glanced at her. She had watched him dance with Skye. Skye. Just thinking the name made his chest tighten. 

 

“I recognized her and engaged to draw her and her partner out,” Grant told Kara robotically.

 

“Really?” Kara was skeptical, but Grant had expected that.

 

Yes,” he said emphatically. “It worked, too. I put her on the spot and managed to trap both SHIELD agents in the spotlight as we stole the weapon.”

 

“We could have just moved to take the weapon without alerting them to our presence,” Kara retorted.

 

“No, we couldn’t,” Grant said even though he thought they might have been able to pull it off. “Both of those agents would recognize us on sight and likely would have seen us before we had a chance to escape. I pressed the advantage of engaging them first to maneuver them into a position that benefited us.”

 

“That’s a lie,” Kara accused as her chin jutted up stubbornly. “Maybe all that’s true, but that’s not why you danced with her.”

 

“Oh, yeah?” Grant mocked.

 

“Yeah,” Kara insisted. “I saw the way you looked at her.”

 

Grant faltered at that. “How did I look at her?” Genuine confusion leaked into his tone as he considered the possibilities. He supposed Kara might be able to tell Grant desired Skye, but that should not cause this sort of reaction.

 

Kara did not answer him. She scoffed and turned to stare resolutely out the windscreen. “In the end, we lost the weapon to SHIELD.”

 

“And whose fault is that?” Grant accused more than a little irritated. The talk of Skye so soon after his encounter with her and epiphany was grating him. Now that he had a chance to think, he was forced to deal with the fact that he had nothing to show for the conversation anyway. He was no closer to learning the secrets of the GH formula.

 

“It’s mine,” Kara said tightly.

 

Grant looked towards her and wanted to hit himself. How could he be so stupid as to forget what the reminder of her failure would do to her? It felt like he could nothing right lately.

 

“It’s just one mission,” Grant awkwardly tried to comfort her as all of his previous annoyance fled at her despair.

 

Kara’s breathing quickened as she tugged at her hair again. “No, no, I failed Dr. Whitehall. He’s going to be so-“ Kara grasped the seat tightly as if to anchor herself.

 

“It wasn’t your fault,” Grant attempted. “SHIELD’s to blame.”

 

Kara did not appear to hear him, but her death grip on the chair only grew more pronounced. Grant abandoned his station and moved closer. He detached her hand and held it in his own. She finally turned to stare at him, but Grant was not sure she could even see him. The haunted, dazed look she gave made him uncomfortable.

 

“It’s okay,” Grant said as he gave her a tight-lipped smile.

 

Kara focused on him and clutched at his hand like a lifeline. Gradually she relaxed and her breathing evened out again. As Grant watched, she seemed to grow confused as she stared at their clasped hands almost as if she forgot why she was holding onto him in the first place.

 

Grant drew back without comment and returned to his seat. He was not entirely lying to her. Despite the mission’s failure, it was just as okay for Kara as it had always been. Whitehall would not kill her over one lost weapon and really what more could he do to her? Grant scowled to himself.

 

“Grant,” Kara spoke softly regaining his attention. “Thank you.”

 

“Don’t thank me,” Grant spat. “I didn’t do anything.”

 

And was that not the truth? Grant could not seem to do anything lately. His indecision froze him and none of his problems were any closer to being solved than they had been weeks ago.

 

Silence enveloped the cockpit. There was nothing to say.

Chapter Text

The cockpit had been silent for hours, which suited Grant just fine. But fifteen minutes before they were set to land, Kara unexpectedly broke it.

 

“Garrett asked me if we’re sleeping together,” she said suddenly.

 

Grant froze in confusion and surprise. He was not sure how to take that news. He catalogued the various reasons and consequences of that knowledge in his mind before asking the obvious question. “What did you say?”

 

Kara threw him an exasperated look. “The truth, obviously.” She paused briefly before continuing, “Did you want me to say otherwise?”

 

Grant furrowed his brow. “No.” It was better for Kara that no one thought they were having sex. He did not know how Whitehall would take that information. He may view it as an indication her brainwashing was malfunctioning and put Kara through the torturous process all over again. Of course, maybe the brainwashing allowed for the victim to care for someone else or want intimacy as long as they still put their controller’s needs first. “Why would he think that?” Grant could not help himself from asking.

 

Kara’s shoulders hunched in a defensive way, and Grant wondered if he managed to offend her with his question. “It’s not that strange of a conclusion. You steer clear of everyone you’re not forced to interact with, but people talk. We spend a lot of time together, and you did pull me into your room in front of a crowd of onlookers.”

 

Grant knew what she was referring to, but he had forgotten that the others might take his actions that way. He had assumed at the time that the other agents might speculate, but he never imagined that John would pay attention to the gossip.

 

“You told me that Garrett thinks you’ve been distracted recently,” Kara went on. “My guess is that he thought it was because you have a lover.”

 

Grant forced himself to remain outwardly calm as he realized what was going on. John had linked his distraction to a woman. He confronted Kara about him. Kara, his partner who had witnessed him interacting with Skye just hours ago. 

 

“Did he believe you when you told him we weren’t?” Grant demanded. “Did he… threaten you?” Grant was not sure what John would do if he thought his weakness was holding him back again, and Kara had enough problems without getting caught in his crossfire.

 

Unbidden, a surge of anger rushed through Grant at the thought. Thinking of Garrett attacking Kara for a conflict she was not involved in reminded Grant of his newfound knowledge of the scars that marred Skye’s stomach.

 

It was terrible to realize that Skye might have died before he had a chance to meet her. That Skye could have been erased from the world as a causality of a war that she held no part in. SHIELD was full of hypocritical bastards, but Skye was not one of them. John targeting her was wrong, especially when Grant recalled she had still been an untrained civilian at the time.

 

She did not deserve to bleed out, alone and afraid. Skye should live a long and full life that would end from age with those who loved her gathered by her side.

 

And Grant hated anyone who would try to steal that from her. The problem was the people he loathed were John- and himself. He knew about it back then and said nothing. Despising himself was nothing knew but getting angry with his mentor was unfamiliar territory for Grant. The last time he had been furious with John, or even passionately disagreed with him, was back when he was just a stupid, little kid. It was nauseating to even think that way about the man who practically raised him.

 

Grant shook himself out of those thoughts and turned to Kara with the intention of interrogating her further, but he noticed she was not looking at him. Or, more accurately, she was not looking at his face. He followed her gaze to see he was rubbing his thigh agitatedly. He immediately stopped the movements but was more than a little disturbed that he had not realized he had been doing so.

 

“You’ve been doing that a lot lately,” Kara noted worriedly.

 

“I have been?” Grant said.        

 

Kara nodded. “Ever since Side Door,” she said.

 

Grant clenched his jaw. Competent spies did not have nervous habits, and Grant was nothing if not a competent spy. Yet he unknowingly had picked one up like Kara’s obsessive playing with her hair. What the hell was wrong with him lately? He was falling apart.

 

“Does it hurt?” Kara asked. When he just stared at her, she elaborated, “That’s how I would get rid of muscle cramps back when I first started training.”

 

Grant did not want to connect anything he did with a habit Kara had from her amateur years, but now that she had mentioned it, Grant could feel a light aching in the area. He was so used to ignoring pain that he supposed he had not even given it any thought. He must have injured himself without realizing it. Kara said he had been doing so since the Side Door mission. That was around the time when he was taking multiple missions per day, so it would have been easy to do so.

 

“It’s fine,” Grant said dismissively. He faced forward and concentrated on landing the quinjet. He endeavored to put all thoughts of the day out of his mind.

 


 

After searing her with an intense, agonized look, Grant turned around to leave without another word.

 

If Skye called out, she was sure he would come back. A word from her, and she could be swept up in his arms once more. She could picture it in her head, how he would clutch her to him as he slanted his lips against hers again. The taste of kiss had not yet faded, and Skye could ensure that their mouths would be sealed together before it had a chance to fade away.

 

Skye kept her lips stubbornly shut.

 

She waited until she could no longer hear Grant’s footsteps before releasing the breath she had been holding. She used the wall to steady herself as she tried to calm her pounding heart.

 

Far sooner than she would like, Skye pushed herself to move. It felt like it took all of her concentration to just put one foot in front of the other, but she knew she could not keep Hunter waiting any longer. As if in a daze, Skye stumbled out of the alley and towards the meeting point, lost in thoughts of what just happened.

 

It was strange to realize that Grant’s feelings for her were ultimately irrelevant. She had spent so much time torturing herself over whether their interactions were all part of a sick game to him and if he could kill her without hesitation. Grant told her he would never hurt her, and the scary thing was that Skye believed him.

 

But then again, so what?

 

Grant promising not to hurt her did not change anything. He did not say he would turn on Garrett or switch sides. He did not reassure her that he would never take another one of her friends’ lives.

 

Skye could not be with Grant in any capacity. The idea of dating him was ludicrous, not that she was sure that would be something Grant would even want. She could just imagine it now- over dinner, they could discuss the pros and cons of being vigilantes versus terrorists, and in between dates, they could kill each other’s colleagues. Better yet, instead of disclosing the number of people they had previously been intimate with like many normal couples did, they could compare body counts. That sounded so romantic.

 

Oh, god, Skye cringed at the disturbing thoughts.

 

She was joking, but the truly terrifying fact was that Skye really could imagine dating Grant. And she wanted it badly enough that not even sarcasm, her preferred method of self-defense, could protect her from the impossible but tempting image that invaded Skye’s mind. Instead of their disastrous morning after in the hotel filled with shrieked insults and broken glass, they would have a shared breakfast and lingering kisses.

 

That terrified her because she wanted it enough that she was in serious danger of hoping for something more. And hoping for something and losing it hurts more than never hoping for anything.

 

But even the notion of sporadic hook ups was laughable given the circumstances. What would they be, enemies with benefits? She could not just pretend as though they were not supposed to literally kill each other on sight. It was not like they had lives that came with real days off. It was not like they could pause being SHIELD or Hydra for a couple hours.

 

Skye did not want to condone what Grant had done and would do for Hydra either. Kissing him and enjoying these stolen moments made Skye feel like she was doing just that. She could delude herself into acting that she did not know who he was, what he had done and who he worked for. Allowing anything to happen with him felt like such a betrayal.

 

But Skye would not lie to herself and pretend that knowing that Grant felt so strongly about her, of all the people in the world, did not send a thrill of excitement through her. What had Bobbi said forever ago, that not even the Black Widow could seduce him because he was so cold? Well, Skye now knew that she was the exception, and that knowledge was intoxicating.

 

Forgetting how the fact that a notorious Hydra killer seemed to care only for her made her question her own morality, Skye could not help but revel in the fact that he cared only for her. All her life, Skye had never been good enough, never been anyone’s number one, so knowing the power she had over one of the most controlled men she had ever met did make Skye grin.

 

The smile quickly died when she remembered that was not entirely true. Grant obviously would not pick her over Garrett, and the idea of being less appealing than John Garrett was enough to sour Skye’s mood again.

 

Skye could not understand what Garrett had done to inspire such loyalty in Grant. Grant had hinted that he owed him a huge debt. Skye wondered what the story there was.

 

When Skye arrived at the rendezvous spot, Hunter was predictably freaking out.

 

“There you are!” He shouted almost accusingly. “I was about to call Coulson and tell him you were kidnapped!”

 

“Glad to know you have such faith in me,” Skye said dryly. She had not been gone that long. Hunter was overreacting as per usual. “Did you get the weapon?” Skye asked before he could reply. “Grant didn’t have it on him, so I figured Agent 33 was carrying it.”

 

Skye kept a straight face, but she could not help but recall exactly why she knew that Grant did not have the weapon anywhere on his person. Technically, she had searched him. Thoroughly.  

 

“No, I just carry this because I think it really compliments my suit,” Hunter retorted as he held up a woman’s purse. As Skye watched, he opened the clutch and revealed a compartment that contained the alien weapon.

 

“Awesome,” Skye said more than a little relieved. She could not have handled the thought that she was kissing a Hydra agent as his partner got away with a device that could level a city block. She had faith in Hunter and knew that Grant did not have it, but she had still been concerned. “So the mission’s a success. Have you called for our ride yet?”

 

“No,” Hunter said. He closed the purse again and shook it at her to emphasize his words. “I was a bit preoccupied by the fact that you disappeared with Grant Ward after I watched you, I don’t even know,” Hunter threw his hands up, “Flirting with him.”

 

“I wasn’t flirting with him,” Skye lied. “He forced me out in front of everyone. I was trying to keep my cover.” Hunter scoffed in disbelief, so Skye decided a distraction was in order. “And where were you during all of this? We almost lost the weapon because you let Agent 33 beat you to us.”

 

“There were a lot of people to weave through. That takes time,” Hunter defended.

 

“Especially when you’re drunk,” Skye muttered.

 

“I had two drinks,” Hunter said. “You’re acting awfully smug considering I was the one who stole back the weapon.”

 

“Only because I was able to hack Rodchenko’s security and set off the alarms from outside.” Skye put a hand on her hip as she grinned cockily. “It was my trap that got them. You would’ve been lost without me.”

 

Hunter shook his head as he pulled out a phone. “Let’s just call for an extraction before your head gets any bigger.”

 

Skye smiled to herself as they waited for transport. She got Hunter off her case easily enough. Skye could not help but think it was all just delaying the inevitable though. As much as she joked, Hunter was not actually stupid, and he definitely knew something was up by now. He probably just did not care enough to argue in circles with her about it.

 

When they arrived back at base, Skye and Hunter went to Coulson’s office immediately. May and Bobbi were just leaving, and Skye made eye contact with her S.O. as they did. She looked away first, feeling a bit awkward when she remembered that May now knew a little about Grant and her. She had not said anything to Skye, and Skye was not about to be one to bring it up, but the knowledge made her uncomfortable anyway. It was as though she let May down somehow.

 

The debrief was easy. Hunter did not say anything incriminating about Grant and Skye. Skye stayed after to give Coulson the bare minimum about her interactions with Grant. She had promised not to keep secrets about it anymore- but she did leave out many details because it was deeply personal to her. Not to mention there was a lot of weirdness in talking about Grant with someone she thought of as a father.

 

There were no probing questions or disapproving lectures, but Skye left the room feeling ill at ease. She could not shake the feeling that she was balancing on the edge of a precipice. No matter which direction she leaned, she was bound to fall eventually.

 


 

In the days following the Rodchenko mission, Grant tried not to think. He wished he could just shut his brain off and do as he had always done: follow John’s orders. Unfortunately, the events of the past couple months could not be avoided and weighed heavily on him.

 

The mission’s failure had not really impacted Grant because John did not care, and Whitehall viewed Kara as the reason they lost the device. Kara had been a mess in the wake of Whitehall’s disappointment, and Grant had thought about stashing her away in his bunk again just so he could feel like he was doing something. The memory of Kara’s words before they touched down had stopped him though. He did not want to encourage the rumors and make John target her.

 

So Grant had done nothing, which seemed to be the theme for him as of late.

 

At least Kara’s preoccupation made it unlikely that she had reported anything amiss with him to Whitehall. No one had approached him about harboring SHIELD sympathies, and Grant allowed himself to relax a little.

 

But now he had a new mission, and Grant decided to focus on that instead. It would be a simple but welcome distraction. His job was to break into a tech company and steal the designs to their new, specialized weaponry. According to the intel, the company had been rapidly developing a bomb that was based on alien technology. However, the company’s businessmen got cold feet about engineering such dangerous weaponry and how it would be perceived by the public, so they halted production.

 

Given his knowledge of explosives, it was unsurprising that Whitehall was sending him out for this mission. It was the choice of Grant’s partner that left him disconcerted.

 

He had become accustomed to working with Kara. He enjoyed her company for the most part, and that was more than he could say about any of his other Hydra colleagues. But Whitehall was not even sending him out with another Hydra operative, electing instead to hire a mercenary that Hydra had used in the past.

 

Grant had no feelings on Marcus Scarlotti, but he did not like working with anyone other than John or Kara. It irritated him that Whitehall was forcing him to partner with Scarlotti. He had heard that Scarlotti was busy capturing gifteds for Hydra experimentation on that project Strucker, List and Whitehall were so interested in anyway.

 

Grant wondered why Whitehall was bringing him out to work with him now and figured it might be some other test. Or maybe Kara was being punished and reprogrammed after her failure, so Whitehall was sending a replacement for the time being.

 

Grant knew better than to say anything though, so he just gritted his teeth and nodded.

 

Entering the facility was simple as they had waited until the employees left. Scarlotti idiotically wanted to charge in during daylight. He argued that a bunch of techs and office workers would be no match for them, which he was right about. There was no point though. What would killing a bunch of civilians accomplish? It was pointless and senseless and just the type of thing Grant had come to expect of mercenaries. They had no loyalty to anyone but themselves and that often translated to no focus either.

 

Grant had been able to convince him that a trail of bodies would be counterproductive as they were hoping to steal the designs without SHIELD knowing they had.

 

When they entered the building, the two of them had split up to search for the designs. Grant started at the bottom and worked his way up while Scarlotti did the same from the top.

 

Grant moved soundlessly through the darkened hallways. A clinking noise echoed and caught his attention. He stepped towards a room with the door slightly ajar and light peeking out from it. He could hear the rustling of someone inside. Slowly, he readied his weapon and then lunged.

 

“What?” The startled, Scottish-accented voice shouted as Grant pressed his sidearm to his victim’s temple. He stopped short of pulling the trigger upon recognizing who he was holding in a death grip.

 

“Fitz,” Grant growled. Frustration had him tightening his grasp on Fitz’s shirt.

 

“Ward,” Fitz said as he relaxed from his previous shock. “You scared me. Now would you mind letting go?”

 

Grant frowned. Fitz was far too trusting and easygoing considering they were enemies. He let him go anyway but refused to put away his gun on principle.

 

“What are you doing here?” Fitz asked bewildered, as if it were not obvious that once again SHIELD and Hydra had gotten the same intel and were locked in a race to see who could capitalize on it first.

 

“Never mind that,” Grant said quickly. “They wouldn’t send you into the field alone. Who else is here with you?”

 

Fitz scoffed. “You make it sound like I need a babysitter. I’m perfectly capable of handling myself. In fact, I’ve been training for the field.” He gestured to his gun proudly- the same gun he had yet to draw despite being confronted by an enemy. “See? Armed and everything.”

 

“Fitz, focus,” Grant said urgently. Even brainwashed, Kara was far more merciful than Scarlotti. If Simmons were here and she crossed his path, if Skye were…

 

“Oh, Skye’s upstairs. I’m just tinkering with- hey, where are you going?!” Fitz raised his voice as Grant darted out the door.

 

Grant heard Fitz clamoring after him and was forced to stop to face him. “Shut up and do what I say,” Grant ordered as he grabbed Fitz’s arm to drag him along. The engineer was so loud that he would alert Scarlotti as he chased after Grant anyway, so Grant may as well take him along.

 

Cold tendrils of fear spread throughout Grant’s body. He knew Skye was talented and skilled, but whatever else Scarlotti was, he was dangerous. More than that, he was cruel, and if Skye hesitated to make the kill shot or something...

 

The possibilities were maddening. Grant took the stairs two at a time as he raced to reach them. Fitz grumbled at his breakneck pace, but Grant did not dare slow down.   

 

He heard the sounds of a fight before he saw them. Grant turned to Fitz and whispered harshly, “Stay outside. Do not come in, do you hear me?” He shook the shorter man for good measure.

 

Fitz looked like he wanted to object to the rough treatment, but he seemed to have picked up on Grant’s serious mood. He nodded without comment instead.

 

Grant turned and sprinted towards the room Skye was in. He was not sure what he would say when he entered, but all words died on his lips at the sight he was greeted with.

 

He made it just in time to see a winded Scarlotti fire his gun straight at Skye. The shot was true, and Grant lost his breath at the thought of watching Skye die while he was helpless to do anything about it.

 

Skye threw her hands up as if she could ward off the bullet with the action- which, as Grant watched disbelievingly, was exactly what happened. From Skye’s outstretched arms, a pulse wave emanated that sent the bullet flying away. The entire room shook with the force of it as the wave traveled back towards Scarlotti and Grant behind him. Scarlotti stumbled backwards while Grant lost his footing. He used the wall to steady himself as he stared at the scene aghast.

 

Skye’s eyes were wide and horrified as she noticed him, but Grant noted she did not seem surprised by what she had done. Scarlotti righted himself as he glanced at towards Grant as well, but he did not allow himself to be distracted. Scarlotti grabbed the pulse grenade that Hydra used to capture gifteds while Skye was preoccupied with Grant’s sudden appearance.

 

Panic clawed at Grant’s throat as he realized what was about to happen.

 


 

Skye’s heart pounded from exertion as she fought with the Hydra agent. She tried to recover from his kick quickly, but she saw from the corner of her eye that he had used that moment to make a grab for his gun. She had disarmed him when they first engaged, but now he had his weapon again and took aim.

 

It felt like the whole world slowed down as he fired. Her heartbeat decelerated, and Skye could not hear anything beyond her own steady breathing. She instinctually raised her arms to protect herself and her powers did the rest, as Skye had intuitively known they would.

 

She concentrated and just pushed out like that day in the woods and watched as the pulse propelled the Hydra agent and the bullet away. She had planned to kill the enemy while he was forced off balance but found herself sidetracked.

 

Grant had chosen that moment to burst into the room and was now staring at her with an expression that could only be interpreted as disturbed and horrorstruck.

 

Skye dropped arms that felt too heavy to lift all of the sudden as her face twisted painfully. It was her worst nightmare come true. Grant had finally seen her for the monster she was.

 

“It’s my lucky day,” the other Hydra agent boasted, capturing Skye’s attention again. He gave a smirk as he held up a strange metallic ball. “A gifted-“

 

A shot resonated in the suddenly quiet room and sent Skye’s heart thundering all over again. The Hydra agent's body dropped to the floor with a thud. He had not even had time to react before he died from the bullet in his head. The metal ball fell from his fingers and rolled harmlessly across the floor.

 

“What the bloody hell?” Fitz exclaimed as he appeared behind a stone-faced Grant. “Skye, are you okay?”

 

Skye could not concentrate enough on the words to answer. Her ears were ringing, and she could not tell what was going on in Grant’s head. He glared at the dead man he put on the floor without a hint of remorse. Skye did not understand. They were teammates. How could he kill him?

 

“Skye?” Fitz called again as he sidestepped Grant to make a beeline for her.

 

That broke Grant out of his reverie, and he strode towards her before Fitz could. He roughly grabbed her arm to force her to stare up at him.

 

His amber eyes were wild and intense as he spoke, “You can’t do that again.”

 

“What?” Skye whispered. She was lost. He was infuriated and aghast it seemed, but he had also just killed his partner to protect her. “I don’t exactly control it,” she said weakly.

 

That only served to make him more agitated. He dropped her arm and ran his hands through his hair while heatedly cursing to himself.

 

Skye wrapped her arms around her stomach defensively. “Sorry that my freakishness bothers you so much,” she bit out.

 

That halted his movements. “What are you talking about?”

 

Skye sensed she might have misinterpreted his reaction. “If you’re not disgusted, then why are you so intent I don’t use my powers again?”

 

Grant pinched the bridge of his nose. “You can’t let Hydra know that you’re a gifted.”

 

Skye almost protested that was funny coming from the Hydra agent. Instead, she brushed off his concerns. “I know, I know. Hydra might target me for brainwashing if they know what I can do.”

 

Grant was already shaking his head before she had finished. “No, you don’t understand.” He opened his mouth before snapping it shut again. Grant grimaced to himself.

 

Skye could tell he wanted to say something but was holding back. She watched as he came to a decision. He approached her again in a far gentler manner and gripped both of her arms to draw her attention. He stared at her seriously in a way that filled Skye with dread.

 

“If Hydra finds out you’re a gifted, brainwashing will be the least of your worries. Hydra is tracking down gifteds for experimentation. The leaders have labeled the research a priority and already dozens have been captured and analyzed. None of them survive longer than a week.”

 

Skye was not sure what expression she was making in response to his words, but it caused Grant’s face to tighten.

 

“No, that’s not possible,” Fitz said. “We would know if Hydra were doing that. Right, Skye? You keep track of gifteds.”

 

Skye was having trouble remembering to breathe. “I watch for problematic gifteds, yes, but if a bunch went missing, it would be hard to tell. Many powered people are reclusive and alone. Their disappearances would be less likely to be reported.”

 

And it was not like SHIELD was periodically checking in on people on the Index either. They were stretched so thin in terms of resources and agents that Coulson would not send someone out unless there was a known issue.  

 

“Scarlotti,” Grant cut in as he indicated towards the dead Hydra agent, “Was one of people tasked with capturing the subjects.” He kicked the metal ball that had rolled towards their feet. “This pulse grenade is used to incapacitate them.”

 

“Subjects?” Skye blurted out, ignoring the rest of his explanation. “Those are people you’re hunting down like animals!”

 

Grant tensed. “I have nothing to do with that.”

 

“Just because you don’t personally experiment on them doesn’t mean you’re not responsible. You’re Hydra,” Skye protested angrily. “You’ve known all this time and never done anything!”

 

“Oh, and what was I supposed to do? Ask them nicely to stop?” Grant scoffed in disgust. “Don’t be so naïve.”

 

Skye clenched her fists as she geared up for a fight. “Don’t pretend to be powerless. I bet you know where the experimentations are taking place.”

 

Grant’s silence was answer enough.

 

“Well, if you’re not going to do anything, we will. Where is it?” Skye demanded.

 

Grant backed away. His face closed off, and Skye could see him distancing himself emotionally from the conversation and her. “I’m not telling you any Hydra intel.”

 

“You just did when you told us about the experiments in the first place,” Skye pointed out. “Tell me where the base is.”

 

Grant shook his head. “You can’t do anything, Skye. SHIELD doesn’t have the manpower to dismantle it by force, even with the coordinates. You’d need an inside man to compensate for the resources you don’t have.” Grant looked to the ceiling as if searching for patience, “It’s hopeless, don’t you get that?”

 

“You could be our inside man-“ Skye tried.

 

Grant barked out a harsh laugh. “You can’t be serious. I don’t work for SHIELD, and I take matters of my loyalty seriously.”

 

“You just killed a Hydra agent!” Skye exclaimed as she pointed towards the body.

 

Grant did not even look. “Technically, he was a hired mercenary.”

 

Skye switched tactics. “You said you would never hurt me,” she reminded him as she approached him. She let the fear she had been trying to repress color her expression as she stared at him with watery eyes. “But you just admitted what they would do if they got ahold of me and won’t do anything.” Skye reached for him, but he pulled away.

 

“Stop trying to manipulate me,” he snarled. “I’ve done you more than enough favors.”

 

With that, Grant spun around and stalked out of the room. Skye let him go hopelessly while she wordlessly watched with Fitz.

 

With the weapon designs tucked away in her pocket, Skye knew the mission was a success. Still, she stood there in the silence feeling defeated.

 


 

Grant had put miles of distance between Skye and him before he allowed himself to slump against an alley wall.

 

He supposed that explained the mystery of the shattered hotel room window. Skye had broken it with her mind apparently. Because she was a gifted. Gifted. The word sent his thoughts in a new direction.

 

Skye had been trying to manipulate him using his feelings for her, he knew that, but that did not mean she was wrong. As long as Strucker was collecting gifteds, she would always be in danger. Her secret could be outed at any time. Hydra might even already know about her and be preparing to capture her as he thought about it.

 

Grant painfully knocked his head back against the wall. He could not keep trying to play both sides. He had thought that he could maintain his loyalties because John was Hydra in name only and Skye was just one SHIELD agent. He had stupidly believed he could protect them both without any conflict, but that delusion was rapidly disappearing.

 

He sensed the attack seconds before the fist hit his cheek. Grant reeled back as he inwardly cursed himself for dropping his guard. When he faced his opponent, he started cursing for a different reason.

 

Grant had only crossed paths with the Cavalry once or twice, but he knew she was not someone he wanted to fight even when he was on top of his game. He blocked her next punch and tried to clear his mind as he engaged her.

 

The questions came anyway. Had Skye called her S.O. after he left? Had she and Fitz set him up? The sting of betrayal was foolish, but Grant felt it anyway.

 

Grant dodged the older woman’s attacks as well as he could but still managed to get hit with a couple of well-aimed kicks. In return, he knocked her head into the wall and grabbed her in a chokehold. They seemed pretty evenly matched.

 

Grant realized with a shock that she was trying to take him in rather than take him out. The knowledge had Grant clenching his jaw. He did not intend to be trapped in some SHIELD cell for interrogation on John.

 

Grant sent a kick that knocked Melinda May back a few feet and decided to make a run for it. All he had to do was get somewhere public, and she would back down. SHIELD was obsessed with staying under the radar since the UN incident.

 

But Grant never got the chance.

 

He sensed the oncoming attack but did not have time to dodge. Someone kicked out his legs from under him. By then, May had recovered enough to capitalize on his distraction.

 

He recognized Agent Morse as she smirked down at him. She had a phone raised to her ear. “We got him,” Grant heard her say before Agent May’s roundhouse kick robbed him of his consciousness.

Chapter Text

“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…

 

Nothing.

Chapter Text

Skye burst into the room the screams were coming from seconds ahead of the others. But the sight that greeted her was so startling that she stopped short in the doorway.

 

At the center of the chaos was Grant. He was howling as he thrashed in restraints that secured him to the memory machine. May and Bobbi had their guns raised and pointed at him while a white-faced Coulson and frantic Trip were at Grant’s side trying to hold him still.

 

Everyone was shouting. Nothing was comprehensible.

 

Fitz pushed by her to get inside the room and shocked Skye out of her stupor. Heart pounding, she immediately ran to the distraught Grant.  

 

“Not this thing again,” Skye heard Mack yell over the madness. “Turn it off!”

 

“It already is,” Bobbi replied loudly. “It didn-“ Bobbi’s voice was lost as Grant shrieks increased.

 

Grant writhed in the constraints and rubbed his skin raw. Skye saw rivulets of blood trail down his arms from the force of his attempts to escape. Skye swallowed convulsively, he was hurting himself.

 

“Grant,” she called uncertainly as she shoved her way to him and helped contain his spasms. Coulson gave her a glance from her right, but Skye’s priority was not on him. “It’s Skye. Can you hear me?”

 

His flailing did not stop. Her words did nothing to calm him, and Skye was at a loss. Now that she was closer, Skye could tell that he was muttering words in between his incoherent shouting.

 

“So cold… Buddy… don’t want to die alone… the woods…”

 

“Chistian, stop… the well… he’s going to drown… please…”

 

“Mom, please… don’t… I’m scared… dark…”

 

Skye wet her dry lips as she listened to his frantic pleas and admissions of fear. She had no idea what he was seeing, but it was confirmation on something that she had suspected for a while: Grant has some serious demons in his past. She figured as much given his sensitivity talking about his family and just the fact that he wound up working for Garrett in the first place. The temper that he repressed so carefully but flared up every now and then also told Skye he had some unresolved issues that he was ignoring.

 

Looking at him now, Skye thought she might have significantly underestimated how extreme they were though.

 

Distantly, Skye heard Hunter enter the room with a joking, “Are we torturing someone in here-“ He paused for a moment before exclaiming loudly, “I was joking! I didn’t think we actually did that!” No one acknowledged him.

 

Grant was still mumbling and pleading about his mother, someone named Christian, woods, a well and the dark. He hysterically begged to not be hurt, that he would do anything, only to abruptly start shouting that he “didn’t want to!” or “didn’t mean to!”

 

“Grant, calm down,” Skye tried again urgently. She felt helpless and stupid, but she had to do something. It was just so unnerving watching Grant fall apart this way. He was always so collected and strong, it felt wrong to see him so vulnerable.

 

Skye noticed Simmons sidled up to Trip with a syringe in her hand. “Move,” she commanded in her doctor’s voice.

 

But before she could inject Grant with anything, Trip panicked. He knocked the needle out of her hand while still trying to keep his grip on the thrashing Grant. “No!” He shouted. “He’s been drugged already. You’ll kill him.”

 

Simmons paused in shock, but this time, surprise did not hold Skye’s tongue. “You drugged him before putting in this thing?” She exclaimed in disbelief. Coulson did not meet her eyes when she looked at him.

 

Simmons quickly recovered from her incredulity. She retrieved a small flashlight from her coat. “Skye, hold his face still,” she ordered.

 

Awkwardly, Skye moved to obey. She grabbed his face in her hands tightly to prevent his head from jerking about. Skye watched as Simmons held open Grant’s eyelids and flashed the light into both eyes. Whatever she saw there must have satisfied her because she turned to face Trip in a much calmer manner. “What’d you give him?”

 

As Trip rattled off some medical terminology that meant nothing to her, Skye returned her focus to Grant. Her hands were still gripping his face to prevent him from further injuring himself. She loosened up but kept a lighter grasp as she leaned down to speak to him.

 

“Grant, hey,” Skye whispered from inches away. “It’s Skye. You need to calm down. The machine’s off, and whatever you’re seeing isn’t rea-happening,” Skye said reassuringly. She almost tried to comfort him by saying it was not real, but it was, was it not? When Coulson was in the memory machine, he saw the events following his “death”. The machine played with its victims’ mind, but its ammunition was usually memories that haunted them.

 

Skye’s chest constricted as she considered the implications of what that meant here with Grant.

 

“Skye,” Grant murmured.

 

Skye jerked her gaze back towards his face in surprise. She had not seriously expected her attempts to work. “Yeah, Grant, it’s me.”

 

Grant’s unfocused eyes searched for her, and Skye moved closer into his line of sight. She stroked his cheek gently with her thumbs and gave him a tight smile. She thought it might have succeeded in soothing him slightly.

 

“Skye,” he said again. Skye sensed he was still unaware of his surroundings.  

 

“Just relax,” Skye said uselessly. She ran a comforting hand through his hair as she looked up to see that Simmons was readying another syringe by the doorway.

 

Grant’s fingertips brushed her thigh as he tried to reach out to her despite his restraints. Trip and Coulson tensed and appeared ready to attack, but Skye ignored them. She merely clutched the searching hand with one of her own. Whatever else she was unsure of, Skye knew Grant would not hurt her.

 

“You need to know,” he gasped out as he stared at her blearily. “I didn’t- I didn’t want to. He made me. Christian… but I didn’t want to. No one believed, but you believe me, right?”

 

It felt like something was lodged in Skye’s throat. “Yeah,” Skye said assuredly despite having no clue what he was talking about. Simmons had returned and was carefully injecting something into Grant’s arm. “I believe you.”

 

Skye was not sure he heard her because he relaxed into unconsciousness before she had finished speaking. His taut muscles loosened, and his whole body went limp.

 

In the background, Skye saw Coulson turn to Mack and instruct him to prevent anyone else from coming to check on the screams.

 

“Anything to get away from this freak show,” Mack replied. “Just what did I sign myself up for,” he muttered as he left.

 

Skye heard the words, but they barely registered. Skye’s focus was on Grant, she worried that he would begin screaming anew if she tore her gaze away. Skye stared at his peaceful expression for a moment longer before raising her eyes to meet Simmons’. Simmons’ face was pinched in anger, but Skye was sure it was nothing close to the fury brewing inside of her. During the chaos, Skye had prioritized calming Grant rather than focusing on why he was in such a state in the first place, but now that he was dead to the world, the rage swirled inside her like a maelstrom.

   

Skye opened her mouth to let loose, but someone beat her to it.

 

“What the hell was that?” Fitz demanded angrily. It was startling to hear Fitz so furious. Skye turned and saw he was back by the door still, probably did want to get in anyone’s way.

 

“We know damn well what it was, Fitz,” Skye said with equal outrage. “The real question is why the hell were you using this fucking machine in the first place!”

 

“Calm down-“ Coulson tried. Skye did not let him finish.

 

“Don’t tell me to calm down!” Skye shrieked.

 

The room began to tremble in response to her inner turmoil. She saw a few of the others look to her warily as things started falling off the shelves, so Skye took a deep breath and forcibly unfurled the ire knotting up the pit of her stomach. The room quieted without even a twinge of pain to her, and if she were less upset, Skye would have taken a moment to appreciate that she felt like she was finally getting a hang of her powers.

 

When she felt like she had her abilities locked down, Skye turned to Coulson and pointed her finger at him accusingly, “I found you after Garrett had the machine used on you. I saw what it did to you. How could you of all people use that thing on someone else?”

 

May answered before Coulson could. “Using the same machine Garrett used on Coulson to get intel on Garrett himself, seems poetic to me,” she said.

 

“No, it’s not!” Fitz exclaimed at once. “Ward’s not Garrett, and even if he were, we have to better than him. We can’t sink to his level.”

 

“It’s unethical,” Simmons added quietly, but her words still pierced the room.

 

“Wake up!” May shouted. “Ward manipulated you. He’s a liar and a murderer, it’s what he does. He’s not your friend, he’s using you.”

 

“And what do you know about it?” Skye threw back to May. “You don’t know Grant or how he feels, and you certainly don’t know our relationships with him.”

 

May’s face tightened in anger, but Skye whirled on Coulson instead of waiting for a response. “But you, I told you. How could you go behind my back like this? Don’t you trust me?”

 

“It’s not you I don’t trust,” Coulson said immediately.

 

“No, it’s just my judgment,” Skye retorted.

 

Coulson sighed. “You don’t understand. Ward manipu-“

 

Skye thought if she heard the word “manipulate” one more time, she was going to shatter every window in the base. Luckily, Fitz interrupted Coulson.

 

“To what end? Ward killed his Hydra partner not even thirty-six hours ago to save Skye, but I suppose that’s just part of his tricks, right? All part of his evil plan, of course,” Fitz threw his hands up in air in frustration that Skye felt acutely.

 

There was a beat of shocked silence while the others processed the news, but Skye found herself staring down at Grant’s tranquil face instead of watching the reactions. She felt tired all of the sudden, like the weight of the last couple days finally sank in. She absentmindedly reached out and brushed a few strands of his hair back from his sweaty forehead. Skye felted defeated as she stared at the blood and bruises marring his body. His desperate escape attempts caused his restraints to rub him raw.

 

Despite his calm exterior, the evidence of what was done to him was still present- and that was just the physical parts. Skye could only imagine what the effects the machine would have on his mind. The days following Coulson’s experiences had the man locking himself away from the world and closed off from everyone. Grant’s reaction to the machine was even worse than Coulson’s, too.

 

Distantly, Skye heard Fitz briefly explain the events of the mission, focusing on Grant finding Fitz and walking in on Skye using her powers, to elaborate on why Grant killed his partner.

 

“Ward killed Agent 33?” Skye heard Bobbi ask tightly. Skye glanced up to see Bobbi’s expression was unreadable except for her pursed lips giving away her displeasure. That struck Skye as odd because why would Bobbi care if Ward had killed 33?

 

“No, it was a man. I didn’t recognize him,” Fitz said.

 

“Grant said he was a mercenary hired by Hydra,” Skye said as she reluctantly rejoined the conversation. “He called him ‘Scarlotti’ I think.”

 

Bobbi’s lost any remaining tension and raised her eyebrows. “Scarlotti, as in Marcus Scarlotti?”

 

Skye shrugged noncommittally. She was so exhausted. She had lashed out and expressed her anger, but she did not feel any relief or that she accomplished anything. She just felt worse. Looking at the others now focusing on other things, Skye could not forget. Her stomach was tied up in knots, filling her with a nauseous feeling that would not abate.

 

May grabbed an electronic tablet from a nearby table and fiddled with it. After a moment, she turned it to face Skye. “Was this the man?” Skye stared straight ahead but did not say anything. “Skye?” May prompted.

 

Fitz moved towards them and took the tablet from May. “Yeah, that’s him.”

 

“And you’re sure he’s dead?” Coulson asked. “You’re positive that Ward didn’t fake his death?”

 

Fitz scoffed. “He shot him in the head from a meter away. I’m sure. Why, who is he?”

 

“He’s the one who led the attack on the U.N. while posing as us,” Bobbi explained. “May almost had him, but the government intervened, and he was able to escape in the chaos. We’ve been looking for him ever since.”

 

“I don’t understand why Ward would kill him,” Trip said.

 

Skye distinctly heard Hunter mutter something about crazy people doing crazy things, but she was starting to have trouble focusing past the sensation that her head was swimming. The lightheadedness was unlike that which affected her after she repressed her powers. In fact, Skye felt fine in that way. But there was something off, a growing sense of numbness taking over and making it hard to concentrate. It was as though she was watching the interactions around her as an outside party not even in the room at all.

 

“I already told you,” Fitz sounded exasperated now. “He did it to protect Skye. The guy was in charge of capturing gifteds for experimentation. Skye, tell them.”

 

All eyes were on her now, and Skye knew she had to get herself together. But she was so sick of pretending to be fine when she was not. Every time she told herself that if she just got past the hurdle, if she just powered through, it would get better. Every time was the final time, but truthfully it was never ending. Would she pretend forever?

 

Skye gritted her teeth as she tore he gaze away from Grant to face the room.

 

“Yeah,” she said simply in a deadened tone. “Hydra’s experimenting on powered people. Grant said dozens have already been captured and died while being analyzed. Apparently Scarlotti or whoever was responsible for tracking them. Scarlotti saw me use my powers, went to use some fancy gifted-capturing-weapon thing on me, so Grant shot him before he could.”

 

Skye read the confusion and disbelief on several of her colleagues’ faces and felt irritation crawl up her spine and tighten her muscles as if she were preparing for a fight.

 

Coulson barely reacted. “Did Ward say why Hydra’s experimenting on them?”

 

“No,” Skye said testily. “He just said it was a priority from the leaders, which I took to mean it was not John Garrett, especially since Grant also said he wasn’t personally involved.”

 

“Was there anything else?” Bobbi prodded.

 

“Just that SHIELD doesn’t have the resources or manpower to take down the base, and that he wouldn’t give me the location. Grant says the base can’t be dismantled without an inside man, but he refused when I asked him.”

 

“Ah,” Bobbi said with a smile as something like comprehension washed over her.

 

It felt so out of place for anyone to find the situation amusing that Skye pounced. “Is something funny to you about Hydra hunting people like me down or Grant getting tortured?”

 

Bobbi immediately wiped the smile off her face. “No, Skye, of course not. I was just thinking that something Ward said now makes sense. He must have thought us capturing him was a backup plan after your attempts to sway him failed.”

 

So not only was Grant tortured, but he thought that Skye herself was in on it, Skye thought miserably.

 

“Okay, timeout,” Hunter cut in. “I’ve had enough of being kept in the dark. I’m not part of the mates with Grant Ward crowd,” he said as he gestured to Skye and Fitzsimmons, “And I wasn’t included in the torture-kidnapping plot,” he added indicating towards May, Coulson, Bobbi and Trip. “Someone better start explaining what’s going on now.”

 

“I think some of it is pretty self-explanatory,” May said dryly with a pointed look towards Grant’s unconscious body strapped to the memory machine. The casual reference to the torture sent Skye’s blood boiling even more.

 

“Fine, then what about you three?” Hunter asked fed up as he faced Fitzsimmons and Skye.

 

“We met Ward on a couple missions,” Simmons explained briefly. She gave the bare minimum facts of their experiences with Grant, but since that included him saving Simmons from falling to death, Skye still noticed the expressions of the group twist in disbelief.

 

Except Bobbi’s. All Skye saw from her face was the light in her eyes that indicated she was considering Simmons’ words carefully. Skye supposed people were like puzzles to Bobbi that she enjoyed figuring out.

 

Skye still felt lightheaded, and her arms were dead weights at her sides. There was a bone-deep weariness setting in. Even though she knew she was expected to be paying attention to the conversation around her, her thoughts kept drifting back to Grant and what he had said under the influence of the memory machine.

 

And what Skye was going to do, that was weighing on her, too. She had not pointed out that Grant was still restrained on the memory machine in the room because she did not want to draw attention to him before she decided what her course of action should be.

 

She knew Coulson and the others would want to lock Grant up again. She also knew that Fitz and likely Simmons would back her if she protested, but it would not matter. Coulson would overrule her. Skye could not bear the thought of keeping Grant a prisoner, especially after what he just endured at Coulson’s hands, but could she just let him go?

 

Besides the massive betrayal it would be to SHIELD, one that could get her fired and send her off alone again, it had other risks not just to her. If Grant were angry enough about what happened that he went after her loved ones for revenge, it would be her fault if he were successful. She trusted Grant with her life and Fitzsimmons’ as well, but that did not extend to Coulson, May, Trip or anyone else. As infuriated as she was with them right now, she could not let them get hurt, but she would not be surprised if Grant wanted that after getting tortured.

 

But if she did nothing, then Skye was allowing Grant to potentially be tortured some more. It was so wrong. Skye had never anticipated Coulson would do something like this.

 

It felt like there was no choice Skye could make that was not a betrayal to someone she cared about.

 

“And how do you know him, Skye?” Hunter said. It almost sounded like an accusation, as if he were daring her to try to lie to him. Maybe if she were in a better mood, Skye would have sympathized with how much had been kept from Hunter recently, which was fueling his annoyance. As it were though, she was too irritated herself to be bothered.

 

Maybe that was why she answered shortly, “Biblically.”

 

It was worth it for Hunter’s comically shocked reaction. Hunter spluttered at her nonchalant and deadpanned response before turning to the others, “Does that mean something different in America?”

 

Skye did not meet any of their eyes as they processed her admission, but it was not out of embarrassment. Why should she feel ashamed of sleeping with Grant when they were the ones who just tortured someone?

 

“Okay, let’s focus on what matters here,” Coulson said to redirect the attention. Despite her fury, Skye could admit it was nice that he cared enough about her to try to keep the limelight off her sex life. Too bad he did not value her judgment enough to keep her in the loop or trust her instincts.

 

Bobbi did not miss a beat. “Sir,” she said to Coulson. “I don’t know what happened. I didn’t even get a full sentence out before he started reacting like that.”

 

“Oh, Bobbi talking to him triggered this mess,” Hunter said knowingly. “That explains it. I feel like screaming when she speaks, too.”

 

Bobbi sent Hunter a glare, but when she went to explain further to Coulson, he just raised his hand to stop her.

 

“It’s okay, Agent Morse,” he said tiredly. “It’s not your fault.” He appeared like he had aged years, the lines on his face were more pronounced than Skye had ever seen.

 

“So what happened then?” Trip asked wearily. “I mean you sound like you know.”

 

Coulson dragged a hand over his face in exhaustion as if he were dreading responding. “Ward was abused as a child.”

 

It should not have been so surprising. Skye had suspected something along those lines since witnessing Grant’s bitterness towards his family during Rodchenko’s party and his words in the memory machine had more or less confirmed the hunch, but Skye still felt the stinging behind her eyes like the beginnings of tears as the pit in her stomach tightened.

 

“So when Bobbi told him to concentrate on his darkest secrets…” Trip trailed off with a grimace and left the meaning hanging.

 

“How could you not tell me?” Bobbi suddenly demanded. Skye was taken aback a bit at her fury. “I never would have said something so open-ended had I known.”

 

“Stand down, Agent Morse,” May cut in icily. “Are you really going to start something over Ward?”

 

“Don’t make this about him,” Bobbi insisted. “This is about Coulson keeping secrets that keep me from being able to do my job. This was completely avoidable had he told me!”

 

“I didn’t think it was true,” Coulson admitted as he massaged his temples.

 

“Why?” Fitz said. Skye looked at him and was relieved at least one other person seemed upset on behalf of Grant rather than just at Coulson, like Bobbi.

 

“Because Garrett told him obviously,” May said. “It seemed like just another lie he told to manipulate people.”

 

“Why would Garrett lie about that?” Simmons finally voiced bewildered.

 

“It wasn’t in his old SHIELD file,” Coulson said. “But yes, it was known among some people that Ward was abused. You have to go through an elaborate medical exam after graduating the Academy,” Coulson addressed that last part to Skye and Hunter. “Ward’s exam revealed multiple old injuries consistent with abuse like several odd fractures and burns as well as indications of previous malnourishment. It raised red flags, and Garrett, who had already been chosen to be Ward’s S.O. and gotten to know him by then, claimed that it was because his family abused him.”

 

Trip shook his head. “His family abused him? If Ward’s family abused him, shouldn’t we do something about that?”

 

“What do you mean?” Fitz asked.

 

“Ward’s family is like the cable version of the Kennedys,” Trip explained. “They’re a political powerhouse in the U.S. I always wondered what made a rich kid destined for politics become a spy, but I guess this explains it.”

 

“Wait- politics,” Skye blurted out. “Ward as in Senator Ward?” That would explain Grant’s extreme reaction to seeing him on the television that morning in the hotel.

 

“Senator Christian Ward,” Trip corrected. “Judging on Ward’s near incomprehensible rambles, he and the dear old senator must have gotten along wonderfully,” he added sarcastically.

 

“We couldn’t touch the Wards even before SHIELD fell,” Coulson said shortly. “Abuse can be hard to prove in court, especially when you have the political sway and money that the Wards do.”

 

“What about the injuries?” Skye pointed out frustrated. “You said they were consistent with abuse.”

 

“They could play it off as a violent kid getting into fights,” Bobbi said. “Abused children often exhibit behavioral issues, and it’s much easier to believe in one Black Sheep than the idea that one of the most beloved families in America are child abusers. Not that it matters at this point anyway.” Bobbi changed the subject before anyone could comment, “None of this explains why you thought it was so obviously untrue that it wasn’t worth mentioning,” she said to Coulson.

 

“Ward did exhibit some suspicious behavioral patterns at the Academy and while he worked for SHIELD,” Coulson continued. “He was anti-social. In the Academy especially, he illustrated poor interpersonal and communication skills. He rarely talked at first and made no friends. As time went on, he got much better. By the time he graduated, the communication issues were gone entirely, and he was more prickly than reclusive. He never made friends or worked in a team in all his years at SHIELD, but that wasn’t all that uncommon for specialists.

 

“I almost recruited him once as I thought it was bad for a specialist to spend all that time without working with anyone else, but Garrett turned me off it.” Coulson paused for a moment before he shook his head and resumed speaking, “But a lot of those things are also consistent with a Hydra plant in the Academy having trouble concealing their lack of loyalty to or interest in SHIELD. When Skye mentioned that Ward said he knew Garrett prior to the Academy, I thought the abuse was an excuse to justify Ward’s standoffishness and that the injuries were sustained through some training program Garrett put him through.”

 

“Might be both,” Bobbi said. “But you should have at least mentioned the possibility to me before you had me invoke his memories in this thing.”

 

Skye did not care if Coulson had a response to that because she had had enough. The rage still sparked beneath the surface of her skin, and she was rapidly losing the ability to hold her tongue. It was such a strange sensation to be so furious and yet so numb at the same time.

 

“Are you seriously arguing about the better ways you could have tortured him?” Skye said incredulously. “You just tortured someone. How can you act like that’s not a big deal?!”

 

Skye looked around the room, why did it feel like she was the only one who cared so much? It was not true, and in the back of her mind, Skye noted that most of the room’s occupants appeared uncomfortable at the reminder. Fitzsimmons were also pissed, and everyone had been visibly disturbed when Skye had come in.

 

“Skye-“ Coulson began.

 

“No,” Skye interrupted. “You just made someone relive their childhood abuse with a torture device used by Hydra! This can’t be what SHIELD’s about, this can’t be what we do!” A terrifying thought hit her then, and she could not help but blurt out breathlessly, “Have you done this before? Is SHIELD regularly using the memory machine on people and torturing intel out of them?”

 

“No, of course not,” Coulson said quickly. “Skye, you don’t understand what Garrett’s like. He’s up to something, and the only way we can stop him from doubtlessly killing more innocents is if we get information on his plans. The only one who can tell us that is Ward.”

 

“And how did that work out for you?” Skye asked sarcastically. “I mean it looked like it was going spectacularly well when I came in, but please do tell me all about the crucial intel you received from making Grant relive his abuse.”

 

Coulson seemed uncomfortable now, and usually that would be enough to stop Skye, but she was still so furious. She also worried that if she stopped being angry, the prickling behind her eyelids would turn into real tears. How did everything get so messed up?

 

“We did actually did learn some things,” Bobbi said carefully, as if she were trying to defuse the tension. Skye thought that was unfair since she was pissed at Coulson, too. “Ward wasn’t just talking about his family under the influence of the machine. I mean unless he had traumatic camping experiences.”

 

Trip nodded. “I noticed that, too. He was ranting about dying alone in the woods.”

 

“I’d like to look into it,” Bobbi said. “I have a theory I’d like to test.”

 

“And this research is relevant and useful?” May asked.

 

“If I’m right, yes, I think it would be,” Bobbi said.

 

“Go,” Coulson uttered, his attention focused on Skye. Bobbi left the room, and Hunter followed her, likely looking for an excuse to leave.

 

“You said you were looking into him weeks ago,” Skye reminded him. She felt hollow and helpless because what use was it to call Coulson out? Grant was still going to be a mess from the torture, and Skye still had no idea how to fix anything.

 

“We need to put him back in Vault D before he wakes up,” May said.

 

“You’re going to lock him up?” Fitz challenged at once. “This is so wrong!”

 

“It’s wrong to treat him like an enemy? He is one, Fitz,” May retorted.

 

If he was not before, he sure as hell was now, Skye thought to herself almost vindictively.

 

But that was the root of the problem really: Grant was SHIELD’s enemy and was treated as such. They were SHIELD, so Coulson and the rest expected her and Fitzsimmons to act as though Grant was just another Hydra agent. He was not though, and Skye could not possibly ever think of Grant as an enemy now.  

 

More than that, she was with Fitz- they had to be better than Hydra, which meant not stooping to their level and unnecessarily causing pain or death.

 

Fitz made an incoherent noise of frustration that echoed Skye’s own powerlessness. The others would not budge, and there was not much they could do to force them for the moment.

 

“Fine,” Fitz spat. “I’ll bring him down then. Skye?” He prompted.

 

As if Fitz’s call reminded her, Skye was able to focus past the emotions bubbling inside her. She made herself to calm down and think like an agent.

 

She needed to follow Fitz’s lead for now. Skye did not want to get into a physical fight with Coulson or May, especially since it was unlikely she would win. If they could not be persuaded otherwise, she would rather just go behind their backs and save Grant. It was only fair since they did the same with her to capture and torture him.

 

There was no point in risking an altercation she would lose and letting the others know how emotionally compromised she was by Grant. If that happened, they would be on their guards and not give her a chance to help him.

 

Skye would wait and see how Grant was faring when he woke up and what Bobbi’s “theory” revealed. If there was any sign of torture, she would get him out inconspicuously, but for now she was caught. No way could she get out of SHIELD with an unconscious prisoner and only two, non-combatant allies.

 

Skye moved to help Fitz take off the restraints and did not look at Coulson or May again. She was worried she might throw up if she did- or cry. Skye gritted her teeth as she tugged at the bonds while trying to avoid aggravating his raw skin.

 

Once he was free, Skye carefully reached around to force Grant into a sitting position with Fitz. His head lolled to the side and fell into the crook of her neck. Recalling when he had done so affectionately and consciously to kiss her pulse point or whisper in her ear only served to fuel her misery. 

 

“Here, let me help,” Trip said when they unsteadily went to lift Grant.

 

Skye bristled. “You’ve done enough,” she muttered. Don’t pretend to care, she almost added, but it brought back the memories of Grant saying as much to her. She always rolled her eyes at his paranoia, but suddenly she felt it herself. She was so confident that Coulson would do the right thing, she had never even thought to doubt him. But he did not share that faith in her or her judgment. Skye was unsure of where her place was or whom she could truly trust at this point.

 

Trip ignored her, and when Skye and Fitz faltered under the weight and height of the unconscious Grant, he stepped in to aid them. As he took Grant’s arm from Skye and hooked it around his neck, Trip gave Skye a comforting pat on the back and strained smile.

 

It made Skye bite back tears because it was a reminder that these people were her friends, her loved ones. She could accept her enemies’ awfulness, but this cut deeper. That was what made it all so terrible. Because her loved ones could do this to someone. Because who they did it to was one of her loved ones, too.

 

At that thought, Skye faltered a bit as she watched Trip and Fitz balance Grant’s body between them and begin the trek to Vault D. The shock was not because of the recognition that Grant was one of the people she cared about most, it was to realize that it felt so inadequate to group him with the rest.

 

Somewhere along the way, Grant had come to mean more to Skye than she ever thought possible.

Chapter Text

Skye stared resolutely at the monitors showing Grant still unconscious on Vault D’s cot. Trip, Fitz and she had taken him down there several hours ago, and Simmons hadadministered medical care to his cut and battered body before all four of them had left.

 

Skye had wanted to stay with him, if only so he was not alone when he woke up, but she had decided that would be suspicious to the others. If she wanted to help him escape later, it was best not to draw attention now. Not to mention that if she were in the vault with him, she could not keep at eye on what was going on with Coulson, Bobbi and the rest. So Skye had taken to watching the motionless prisoner in the director’s office instead.

 

Skye slumped in the chair and tried not to let her exhaustion distract her from her vigilance. The day would have taken a toll regardless, but with the back-to-back missions and lack of sleep, Skye felt drained. She refused to go though.

 

A part of Skye was worried that if she just left for even an hour to take a nap, she would return to find Grant grievously injured from another round of torture. There was also the concern that Skye would miss whatever Bobbi was going to report. Skye wanted to trust that Coulson would not purposely leave her out again, but she knew she could not after what happened.

 

Two hours ago, Bobbi had approached her in Coulson’s office and asked her to hack into the video logs of a juvenile prison in Plymouth, Massachusetts for a specific day sixteen years ago and then just left the room again, leaving Skye to think on the implications of that request. Skye would have offered to help Bobbi if not for the fact that she would have to leave her post to do so.

 

So Skye was stuck in Coulson’s office avoiding conversation with the man himself while people milled in and out of the room, and she wondered what information Bobbi was finding- and why Bobbi was bothering at all. As far as Skye could tell, the only people who actually cared about Grant were Fitzsimmons and Skye herself, so she assumed any information Bobbi was looking up was so SHIELD could use it against Grant.

 

Skye tried to calm herself, to focus beyond the bitterness that threatened to consume her, but it was impossible. Maybe it was her fault. She knew that Grant was an enemy of SHIELD from their first interaction and that nothing good could come from getting closer to him.

 

Skye had thought she learned her lesson years ago about becoming attached to things she could never have, but Grant had waltzed into her life and caused Skye to forget all the reasons why she kept a careful distance.

 

When Bobbi finally reentered the room with a folder tucked into her side, Skye was not the only one who perked up. Hunter, Trip, Simmons, Coulson and May were all in the room and looked up attentively with the new arrival. Fitz had passed out while waiting in his uncomfortable position leaning against Skye’s chair, so Skye nudged him with her foot and startled him out of his sleep. Skye could hardly blame him, they had been up for well over a day at this point.

 

Bobbi took in the audience without betraying any emotion and faced Coulson. “Sir, maybe it would be better if we cleared out the room first.”

 

“What the hell?” Hunter demanded before Coulson could consider the proposal. “Did you people learn nothing about keeping secrets?”

 

“You’re a secret agent now,” Bobbi hissed. “Secrets are part of the job.”

 

Rather than allow them to get distracted by an ex-marital spat, Skye cut in defiantly, “I’m not leaving.”

 

Coulson’s eyes met hers before he tiredly nodded his head without argument. It pained Skye to see him seemingly so defeated, but the rage still bubbling within her prevented her from doing anything to fix it. Looking at him now, knowing what he had done behind her back, it felt like Skye was staring at a stranger with familiar features.

 

“I’m not either,” Fitz said.

 

“And you’d be foolish to send us away,” Simmons added sternly. “We have information that could supplement any report on Ward.”

 

“I thought you already told us everything,” May said with a light frown.

 

“We told you the basics,” Fitz confirmed. “But the details that we considered unimportant-“

 

“-Could perhaps have relevance here,” Simmons continued.

 

“We won’t know if you make us leave,” Fitz concluded.

 

Coulson rubbed his temples and blinked heavily. “Fine. You three can stay.”

 

When the director turned his attention to Hunter and Trip, Hunter made a show of getting comfortable in his seat while Trip leaned back against the wall with raised brows.

 

“Hey,” Trip said while raising his hands in a helpless gesture of what-can-you-do, “Hunter’s got a point. It’s best to just get this all out in the open.”

 

Coulson did not even bother to try with May. He sighed to himself and faced forward. “Go ahead, Agent Morse.”

 

Bobbi pursed her lips. “Sir, the intel I’ve collected is,” she searched for the word, “Delicate, and I don’t want to be interrupted every other sentence.”

 

“Anyone speaks, and they’re gone,” Coulson ordered the room before turning back to Bobbi. “There you go. Proceed.” He waved a hand towards her to indicate she should begin.

 

Bobbi shed any apprehension and became the consummate professional Skye knew her to be. “Grant Douglas Ward was born in Massachusetts to a well-known political family with two brothers- one older and one younger- and a sister. His early life seems relatively uneventful. The only notable occurrence was a teacher in his elementary school, a Ms. Sarah Warner, who claimed that she saw unusual bruising and evidence of abuse on him. Not long afterwards, she was fired from her job and moved out of state.

 

“Ward’s early teachers describe him as ‘quiet’, ‘skittish’, ‘shy’ but overall bright and enjoyable. Reports take a sharp turn when he turned twelve.” Bobbi played with the electronic tablet and a news report appears. “Coincidentally, that’s the same time a tragic death hit the Ward family. The youngest brother, Thomas Ward, drowned in the family’s summer home well.”

 

At the word “well”, Bobbi glanced significantly at Coulson, and Skye flashed back to just hours ago as Grant muttered about a well under the influence of the memory machine. She took a deep steadying breath.

 

“The circumstances involving Thomas’ death were unusual,” Bobbi resumed her report. “Grant Ward was found hysterically trying to extend a rope to his drowning brother to no avail, but there were questions of why he did not try to get outside help. His older brother, Senator Christian Ward, was the one to retrieve the parents and call for help in the end.

 

“After that, Grant Ward’s teachers reported that he was ‘unmanageable’, ‘filled with rage’ and ‘rude’. He also repeatedly got into fights and caused all sorts of trouble. The only reasons he wasn’t expelled was his family’s reputation and the fact that he picked the fights with people who tended to be far bigger and older than him and ended up the more injured party. It was viewed as a cry for attention and mental problems rather than a desire to hurt other people.

 

“Nonetheless, at age fourteen, he was sent to military school in Tennessee, presumably because the Wards did not know how to deal with his behavior. He was there for about a year. His social interactions improved minutely, and he no longer initiated conflicts. The teaching staff made note of his considerable anger issues but otherwise praised his performance. While not a model student by any means, Ward had undeniable natural talent in many areas.

 

“One night, a fifteen year old Ward snuck out of the facility, stole a car and drove home without warning. Upon arriving, he set fire to his childhood house, and the entire building burned down. At the time, Christian Ward was the only one inside, but he was able to escape without injury.”

 

Bobbi stopped to take a breath, and Skye took a moment to ingest all the information. Skye supposed that explained how Grant ended up in juvie.

 

A quick glance of the room told Skye that the only people seemingly unaffected by the story were Coulson and May, it almost seemed like the two of them had suspected at least part of it.

 

“But this is where it actually gets interesting- for us at least,” Bobbi said. “Grant Ward was arrested and taken to a juvenile facility in Plymouth, Mass. But he was only there for five days. During that time, the only notable events were the reoccurring fights that Ward got into. Once again, they were usually stronger and older opponents, but this time it appeared that Ward wasn’t the one instigating the conflicts.

 

“On the fifth day of his incarceration, Ward got his only visitor,” Bobbi said. She pressed a few buttons and the video that Bobbi had asked Skye for appeared on screen. “They attempted to cover it up, but luckily Skye was able to find the video feed of that day. We don’t have much from Ward because he rarely faces the camera, but the lip reading program picks up the important information.”

 

Bobbi played the video depicting a older man with a coffee cup watching predatorily as a teenage boy was led inside in full red, prison jumpsuit attire. Trip, Hunter, Coulson and May tensed at the scene, and Skye quickly learned why when the older man introduced himself.

 

Numbly, Skye watched John Garrett insert himself into Grant’s life by playing on his fears and wants and blatantly manipulating him. All she wanted was for the young Grant to tell the man to fuck off, but she knew how it would all play out. It was all in the past.

 

After Garrett dragged the visibly scared Grant from the prison with a companionable arm draped around his shoulders, Bobbi turned off the feed. “They disappeared after that. Garrett returned to SHIELD two weeks later, and the next time Grant Ward’s image appeared in front of a camera or monitoring device was over five years later, just days before he entered the academy.”

 

“Where was he?” Coulson asked. “Some secret Hydra facility?”

 

“I think it was much simpler than that,” Bobbi said. “For the next five years that Ward is unaccounted for, Garrett routinely leaves SHIELD for weeks or even months at a time on an ongoing mission entitled ‘Project Janus’.”

 

“I remember that,” Coulson said thoughtfully. “I didn’t have the clearance to hear about the details, but Garrett was often working on it when not on missions with me.”

 

“Further investigation indicates that no such mission existed,” Bobbi said, “Which of course begs the question as to where Garrett was during those periods of time. By tracking his movements, it seems that he was visiting Wyoming during those absences, but like Ward, he doesn’t appear on any radar during his disappearances.”

 

“Wyoming?” Skye blurted out before she could stop herself. She looked to Fitz and Simmons to see if they made the connection she had. Simmons appeared deeply uncomfortable at all the information, and Fitz was sporting the same dumbstruck look Skye was sure she had on her face. It was ages ago, but Skye could still remember the confusion at Grant’s dark humor and ability to recognize the state they were in by looking at a couple of trees after escaping AIM.

 

Bobbi did not give them a chance to say anything else. “Given the information collected from Ward by the memory machine, his early issues regarding communication in the academy as well as obvious conclusions like the fact that he must have been away from any kind of technology that could track or monitor him, it seems that Ward was living alone in the wilderness of Wyoming all those years.”

 

“What?” Fitz demanded, disbelief coloring his expression. “Why?”

 

“Isolation is a common method of brainwashing, conditioning and abusing susceptible targets for cults,” Bobbi answered emotionlessly. “If you want to remold someone into a specific image, cutting them off from the rest of the world is the best way to do so. That way they don’t notice the radical changes they’re undergoing. It leaves them vulnerable for manipulation as well. It’s also extremely psychologically damaging, particularly in adolescents. And what better way to isolate someone than to take them to the middle of nowhere without any contact with another human besides the manipulator himself?”

 

“That’s insane!” Simmons exclaimed.

 

“It’s not as uncommon as you’d assume,” Hunter said seriously. “When I was with the SAS, I’d occasionally come across people who had been recruited at a young age to be shaped into soldiers. That way their morality and loyalty and even personality had not been cemented yet, leaving them open to outside influences.”

 

“Targets of such manipulation are also usually child abuse victims whose views of acceptable, normal treatment of others have been warped due to the trauma,” Bobbi said. “It stunts emotional growth significantly in many victims.

 

“Garrett had obviously done his research on Ward before meeting him as evidenced by the video,” she continued. “He already knew of the abuse and the indications that Ward would make a good agent from his military school’s reports. Garrett probably knew that no one would be bothered if he disappeared either. Ward’s family and the police never even reported him missing. He was the perfect target.”

 

May scowled. “He never should have left with Garrett.”

 

“He was a teenager, alone and terrified!” Fitz protested.

 

“The choices people make when they’re younger can impact their entire life, to pretend otherwise is naïve,” May retorted. “And Ward was hardly an innocent. He ran away from prison for a crime he committed.”

 

Skye balled her hands into fists. May could be unforgiving, and she very clearly did not like Ward anyway. “The circumstances were not normal-“

 

“Enough!” Coulson interrupted as he stood up.

 

Skye was not planning on letting that go, but Fitz tapped Skye’s leg to grab her attention. “Look,” he said as he pointed to the screens showing the inside of Vault D.

 

The room was distracted from the argument by the image of Ward waking up from his drug-induced sleep on the monitors.

 

Skye leaned forward and watched as Ward opened his eyes and stared blankly at the ceiling. Slowly, he rose into a sitting position and scanned the room. When his eyes fell on the sandwich Simmons made him, they stopped. He made no move to go to the tray though Skye knew he must have been starving.

 

Simmons made a disheartened noise beside Skye at Grant’s obvious disinterest.

 

Instead, Grant tore his eyes away to stare impassively down at his injured body. There was a lifelessness in his movements now that pained her.

 

As Skye looked on, he visibly cringed at nothing at all and just stared into space. Several moments passed without him doing anything at all. Skye wanted to shake him out of it. She wanted to yell at him. She wanted to kiss him. She wanted to cry. She wanted things to return to the way they were before she knew his name, before SHIELD had taken him.

 

Skye wondered if she would ever get another perfect night with him. She longed for the simplicity of their stolen moments in the hotel.

 

Grant must have forced himself to press on because his glazed eyes focused again, and he stood up. Determinedly, Grant stripped off his shirt and began to do exercises in the small space he had to work with.

 

It felt weird to watch him with the whole team, like they were intruding on his privacy.

 

The discomfort only increased when Hunter leaned in to remark to Skye after Grant was topless, “So that’s why you slept with him, huh?”

 

Skye whirled around to glare at the other agent and heard Coulson audibly sigh in exasperation.

 

“Hunter, try to keep your comments to yourself,” Coulson said. “Agent Morse, what are your conclusions of your report?”

 

Bobbi turned her gaze away from the screens and commanded the room’s attention once more. She handed Coulson the folder she had been holding.

 

“Given not just what we know now about his history but also Skye, Fitz and Simmons’ experiences with Ward, it’s apparent that his loyalties are conditioned due to his unusual past with Garrett, which is useful for us in terms of interrogating him,” Bobbi said.

 

There it was. Skye had been waiting to see why Bobbi and the rest cared. Part of her had secretly hoped that she was wrong though and the others would stop trying to play an angle with Grant.

 

The day felt like a dream, she could not believe that everything had come to this.

 

“How so?” May asked.

 

“Ward’s obviously unstable, between growing up in an abusive household and complete social isolation as a teenager. That’s an easy way to get under his skin to work him, but I was also thinking about how this means his loyalties aren’t even to Hydra.”

 

“Why do you say that?” Coulson said.

 

“Garrett conditioned his loyalty to him, so Ward likely feels little to no attachment to Hydra itself, which is why he turned on Scarlotti for Skye and risked Hydra agendas for her and Fitzsimmons,” Bobbi said. “But more importantly, all this raises a bigger question about Garrett.”

 

“What kind of sick person does this to a kid?” Trip muttered.

 

Skye looked at him almost surprised to see someone besides Fitzsimmons reflecting her thoughts.

 

“No,” Simmons said. Her eyes lit up like they did when she solved a problem. “The question is why did Garrett do all of this?”

 

“Because he’s evil?” Hunter guessed sarcastically.

 

“Well, yes, I suppose so,” Simmons conceded, “But what I mean is why did Garrett go to so much trouble. It’s a lot of work. He meticulously researched Ward beforehand, fabricated a fake mission that risked his cover as a double agent and dedicated years to training Ward.”

 

Something was nagging the back of Skye’s mind, but it was hard to focus when so much was going on.

 

“He probably saw it as worth the effort,” Trip said. “I mean look at Ward now, the guy’s a machine.”

 

Skye could not help but think of when Trip had said that before, back when Skye was about to go after Dr. Streiten. May had disagreed and said that Ward was a weapon, not a machine. Given all that she knew now, the memory made Skye’s heart constrict.

 

“Yes, but Garrett would not have known that at the time,” Bobbi argued.

 

“Ward could have been driven mad from the isolation and even taken his life. He could failed to become the operative Garrett envisioned,” Simmons said. “Garrett went to all that effort to find a susceptible target, break down his mental defenses to make him perfectly loyal and train him extensively for half a decade all because he wanted a mindless, obedient soldier?”

 

“Someone who prioritized Garrett and not Hydra or any other organization,” Bobbi agreed. “Someone who would devote their entire life to him.”

 

Their words reminded Skye of all the conversations she had with Grant where he professed his dedication to Garrett, the person he “owed everything” to. Skye bit her lip so hard it bled. She had never met John Garrett, but she loathed him so much that she tasted bile in the back of her throat.

 

“Sounds just like the narcissist,” Coulson said.

 

“Yes, but why? What purpose was so important to do so?” Simmons said.

 

“Because he needed Grant,” Skye thought aloud. The answer was just out of her reach, like something she forgot, knew she forgot but was struggling to remember what exactly it was. “He needed someone to do his dirty work for him.”

 

“Garrett’s always been competent,” Trip said. “He’s many things, but the guy isn’t lazy. He wouldn’t do all this just so he could kick back while someone did his job for him.”

 

“Now he is,” Coulson disagreed. “He hasn’t been out in the field in months, preferring to send Ward out for him instead.”

 

“Which is strange for him-” May began.

 

Skye did not let her finish. Coulson’s words unlocked the epiphany that had been teasing her. “That’s it,” she said breathlessly. Abruptly, the nagging thought in the back of her mind became concrete, and everything fit together perfectly. She knew she was right the moment she thought it.

 

She spun around to face Coulson for the first time in hours, “Did anything weird happen to Garrett before Grant was taken? Anything on Garrett’s file?”

 

Skye did not wait for Coulson or anyone else to answer. She grabbed the tablet right out of Bobbi’s hand. Her fingers flew as she searched for the confirmation.

 

“1990,” Skye read to herself, “John Garrett injured on a mission in Sarajevo… Injury severe… MedEvac could not assist…” Skye looked up to Coulson and repeated, “That’s it.”

 

“What’s it?” Coulson asked.

 

“In all the time I’ve known Grant, he never tried to ask for intel - except once,” Skye said with more energy than she had all day, almost giddy at putting the pieces together. “After the Rodchenko mission, Grant begged me to tell him what was in the GH formula, said he ‘needed it’. He was so insistent that I worried that he was asking for himself, but he denied it when I asked.”

 

“That was the only question that Ward asked when we were kidnapped,” Fitz added. “All he wanted to know was what was in GH-325.”

 

“Grant was there at Dr. Streiten’s office, and he was there at the Side Door,” Skye said seriously. “He told me he doesn’t want the information for Hydra or the Centipede soldiers, but that he needs it anyway. There’s one reason why someone would need the GH formula.”

 

Coulson’s stricken face told Skye that he had figured it out, too. It all made sense from Garrett’s need to train his own personal weapon from a young age to his suspicious absence from the field.

 

“But Grant’s not the one that’s dying-“ Skye said slowly.

 

“Garrett is,” Coulson finished. He leaned back in his chair heavily seemingly taken aback at the discovery.

 

There was muttering of confusion and surprise all around them, but Skye barely noticed as she reeled from her realization.

 

“If Garrett is dying,” Bobbi began, “Then it would make sense that he would program a loyal right hand man the way he did. That way he has someone who would move heaven and earth to keep him alive when Garrett’s health deteriorated too much for him to be in the field himself.”

 

“Skye’s right,” Simmons said. “It fits perfectly with Garrett’s actions and Ward’s choices.”

 

Skye could not help but think of much it fit perfectly with everything she knew of Grant, too. He dedicated most of his life, worked for multiple organizations that he did not care for, because he wanted to save someone who he felt he indebted to. Not just that, Skye could tell that Grant genuinely cared for Garrett, which made the whole thing even more upsetting.

 

If Garrett were someone actually worth protecting and if Grant had not done so many terrible things in service of him, it could actually be considered noble in a strange way. It made Skye wonder what Coulson thought when he threw away all the rules and even got the two Guest House guards killed to get the GH formula to save her when she was shot. Did Coulson see it as all worth it as long as Skye lived? Was that how Grant saw his actions for Garrett, necessary to save the life of someone he loved?

 

Grant had no one in his life besides Garrett before he met her. He admitted to having no friends and his family were obviously awful. Skye could not decide if it was horrifically selfish of Grant or remarkably selfless. She supposed it was both in some ways because everything he did was for someone else but who was he to decide all these people deserved to die or suffer to save one, very evil man that mattered to him?

 

Between Garrett’s abusive manipulations and Grant’s complicated past, had Grant just become someone who thought that any cost was acceptable as long as he could save the person he cared about most?

 

Not any cost, Skye realized. Grant had been visibly disturbed at the idea of sacrificing Skye, which was why he had not told anyone she had the GH formula in her she supposed. With what she knew of why he wanted the formula, Skye was shocked by the implications of him protecting her this way.

 

The conversation had turned its focus to how SHIELD could use this to get intel from Grant and what the course of action against Garrett should be in light of the discovery.

 

Skye did not wait. She strode out of the room without paying any attention to the people calling after her.

 


 

When Grant awoke, he did not even bother pretending to still be unconscious. He lethargically opened his eyes and stared blankly up at the ceiling uncaring of the SHIELD agents undoubtedly watching him.

 

He had a splitting headache that almost succeeded in distracting him from the dark thoughts swirling around his battered brain. His body ached all over, and it especially burned where the restraints had held him to the memory machine. Grant mentally took stock of his injuries and decided that they were inconsequential.

 

When he finally hefted himself up off the cell’s cot, he examined his raw skin directly and found that someone had actually taken the time to put ointment on it to soothe the wounds. How nice of them, Grant thought bitterly.

 

His eyes scanned the cell and found it to be just like it was before he was drugged and hauled into the memory machine to experience the worst times of his life over and over again. The only thing that had changed was that there was a tray of food placed on the ground by the energy barrier. So he could eat like a dog begging for scraps on the floor, of course.

 

A part of Grant knew that he was seeing everything through the lens of his resentment. The food on the tray looked far better than anything he would imagine for a prisoner’s fare. It was a sandwich of what appeared to be fresh ingredients, meat and even some condiments, but Grant turned away. If he had the energy to scowl, he might have.

 

What, did they decide that stick option in the “carrot and stick” approach failed and now were resorting to the carrot? Maybe SHIELD expected he would be so disoriented from the memory machine that he would just forget they were the assholes who put him in it in the first place.

 

Even without his loyalty to John, he could not imagine helping them in any way. If John were to die, Grant would rather live and die in the cell than tell them anything just out of spite.

 

Grant stared down at his legs stretched out before him and realized with a start that he was absentmindedly rubbing his thigh again. He ripped his hand away at once and bit back a snarl. He had thought that Kara was mistaken, but it seemed he really had picked up a nervous habit. Fantastic.

 

“Grant, please help me!”

 

Grant flinched before he could stop himself. Thomas’ voice seemed to echo in the room to remind him of his weaknesses.

 

Grant almost laughed, it was true now more than ever. It was his weaknesses that had gotten him into this mess. Everything had changed since the day he met Skye, even if he had not truly realized how much then. Morse and the Cavalry had gotten him off his guard and alone because he allowed Skye to get so far under his skin. As much as he had not cared for Scarlotti, Grant knew his combat skills could have helped get him out of the fight. Of course, Grant would never have been banging his head against a wall with no sense of self-preservation had he not been reeling from his revelations about Skye.

 

Grant mustered a tiny, bitter smile. He always knew she would be the death of him.

 

The thought served to startle Grant out of his defeatist thoughts. Grant was a survivor, and John needed him. None of that had changed since he met Skye, and he had to focus on what mattered: getting out of the cell, so he could get back to John.

 

Grant breathed in and out deeply and concentrated on rhythmically rotating the joint in one of his thumbs to keep it loose. After a few minutes of that, he yanked off his shirt and began doing exercises in the cell. He ignored his body’s aching and soon enough, he was able to push all the pain to the back of his mind.

 

When he finished his last pushup and donned his shirt again, Grant contemplated eating the sandwich. He stared at it for a second but made no move towards it. The thought of food caused nausea to crawl up the back of his throat. He left it untouched.

 

Unfortunately, there was nothing to keep him occupied but his thoughts in the cell. Bu it was not an unfamiliar situation for Grant given that he had spent five years mostly alone in the wilderness. For the first time in a while, Grant thought of Buddy, and his chest felt tight before he focused his thoughts elsewhere.

 

Unbidden, his mind returned to the memory machine. He tried to remember what exactly had happened and what he had said, but it was like trying to hold sand, every time he thought he recalled something, it slipped out of his grip just as quickly.

 

Had Skye been there or had his drowning mind just conjured the image of her to comfort him? He hoped that was just his imagination because the humiliation of Coulson and his underlings witnessing his breakdown stung enough already, but if Skye had seen him so pitiful and helpless…

 

Grant redirected his contemplations to the important parts. He knew that SHIELD did not get any intel from him on John and his health, which was what really mattered. Grant hoped that none of his memories had been vocalized, but he could not be certain. The idea of SHIELD wrestling his worst memories and his past from him left a bad taste in Grant’s mouth, but he tried to remind himself that it did not matter. The past was over, and he was not that scared kid anymore.

 

And why should it even bother him if Skye saw him while under the influence of the memory machine? He needed to stop putting so much weight into what she thought of him because the fact was she had proven time and time again that she was firmly loyal to SHIELD and Phil Coulson- the people who had imprisoned him and sent him on a much unwanted trip down memory lane.

 

To Grant, the lines of allegiance that separated them had never been clearer. Skye was likely somewhere in the base walking free and chatting with the people who had tortured and abducted him while Grant was sitting in the dark of his cell nursing his wounds alone.

 

She was probably just a floor or two above him, but the distance between them was insurmountable in more ways than one.

 

Grant looked up cautiously as the cell’s energy barrier turned transparent once more only to be faced with the object of his thoughts. His chest tightened as he stared at Skye, her hair falling out of a loose ponytail and framing her striking eyes.

Chapter Text

He was struck by how beautiful she was, which was an absurd thought given the circumstances. He was technically her prisoner and that was the last thing he should be thinking. But despite knowing that, it felt like the world came to a halt as he stared at her. Had it only been two days since he saw last her?

 

Unconsciously, he approached the barrier to get closer to her. Concerned he might say something stupid if he opened his mouth, Grant decided to wait for her to break the silence.

 

It was almost anticlimactic when she did. “You didn’t eat your sandwich,” Skye observed.

 

“Well, I couldn’t be sure it wasn’t drugged.” Grant tried to sound flippant, but it fell flat.

 

“It’s not drugged,” Skye said tiredly. There were bags under her eyes and her slouched posture gave away her exhaustion. “Simmons made it for you. She’ll be upset that you didn’t even try it.”

 

 “Sorry,” he bit out acerbically. “Torture really kills my appetite.”

 

Skye’s lips thinned in displeasure, but she did not comment on that. “I didn’t have anything to do with your capture,” she said instead. “I want you to know that.”

 

Grant had figured that out already, but he was not feeling all that charitable at the moment. “Really? SHIELD just happened to capture me right after I ran into you and Fitz and crossed off my own partner for you.”

 

“Yeah,” she said simply.

 

There was no bite in Skye’s reply, and Grant was almost disappointed that she did not take the bait. He wanted to hold onto his anger rather than risk giving into the despair lurking in the back of his mind with all the memories that machine had conjured. He could feel the pressure of those recollections, waiting for a chance to devour him if he let them.

 

“Coulson sent me off base as soon as I got back from my mission,” she continued. “I only found out you were here when I heard your screams.”

 

Grant could not help the instinctive flinch. He immediately cursed himself for giving away his vulnerability, but the confirmation that Skye saw him like that was too much. Grant tried to disguise it as a brush off as he turned away from her to walk back to the cot.

 

“Oh, yeah? And what are you going to do now that you know?” Grant wondered challengingly over his shoulder. He did not think she would actually do anything, she was too loyal to SHIELD for that and had proven before that she would choose them over him any day.

 

When Skye did not say anything for a couple moments, he turned back around and stopped short upon seeing her expression.

 

She looked heartbroken. She clutched her stomach like she was adrift and was trying to anchor herself. Skye’s gaze was hazy as if lost in her thoughts. Her face was scrunched up tightly like she was trying not to cry, and Grant stupidly wished the barrier between them was gone, so he could give into the instinctive urge to hold her.

 

But it was there, so Grant did nothing.

 

Skye took a shuddering breath and opened her mouth as if to speak but did not utter a word. Grant waited patiently for what she wanted to say, but in the end, she just shook her head.

 

Whatever she had been planning to say, Grant was sure it was not what actually escaped her lips.

 

“Garrett doesn’t deserve your loyalty,” she said harshly. Her words dripped with barely concealed rage and contempt. She trembled a bit as she ripped her hands away from her stomach to ball them into fists but did not elaborate- or give any indication on whether she was angry with him or John or both.

 

“What do you know about why I’m loyal to John?” Grant countered. She was loyal to a man that just had him tortured, drugged and locked up. What right did she have to judge his loyalties at the moment?

 

“I know enough,” Skye said dismissively. She did not let him question that before she kept going. “He’s like Bond Villain level evil.”

 

That insult was so Skye that Grant almost allowed himself to be distracted by her amusing antics. But the fury was still there when he snapped, “You’ve never even met John.”

 

Skye’s eyes widened with incredulity. “He had me shot,” she cried indignantly.

 

Grant had no argument for that. In fact, the thought of Skye on the brink of death still made his blood boil, so he redirected the conversation.

 

“So what, you want me to betray John and join Team Self-Righteous?” Grant asked sarcastically. “Because that’s never going to happen.” He made a show of looking around the cell contemplatively, “But this is an interesting recruitment tactic. Tell me, has the memory machine torture ever successfully won anyone over. I’m curious.”

 

“Be serious,” Skye said with a frown. Grant was just glad that the conversation had chased away that miserable expression she had been sporting.

 

“Oh, I am,” Grant insisted. “Why the hell would I tell SHIELD anything? Why would I help them at all?”

 

“You don’t even give a crap about Hydra,” Skye accused.

 

Grant was too caught up in the argument to notice what he gave away when he retorted immediately, “I don’t give a crap about SHIELD either, especially now.”

 

Skye looked away and pursed her lips but did not argue that he should care about SHIELD.

 

Grant narrowed his eyes suspiciously. There was something off about this whole conversation. Skye was not an idiot, there was no reason she should push for him to help SHIELD after what just happened. He was missing something, or maybe this was about more than earning intel for SHIELD.

 

“You can’t possibly expect me to help the people who just drugged me and forced me to relive my worst memories,” Grant said slowly trying to gauge her reaction to his words. “What’s this about? Did they put you up to this?” He said as he indicated to the camera in the cell.

 

“No,” she said at once. Grant did not think she was lying. “No one sent me here. This is all me because I’m just so,” she made a noise of frustration as she searched for the word, “Sick of this!”

 

“Sick of what?” Grant asked.

 

“Sick of a lot of things actually,” Skye muttered. “But right now I’m sick of you just being so goddamn apathetic about everything!”

 

Grant scoffed. “Not wanting to help people who tortured me is apathetic?”

 

“No,” Skye said. “You having the power to help people and doing nothing with it is what’s frustrating me!” Skye got closer to the barrier. “You have all this information and all these abilities to help put a stop to Hydra, and you just do nothing! You said yourself that the base housing the gifteds could be shut down with an inside man. I mean, do you agree with what Hydra does?”

 

Grant said nothing. He did not actually support Hydra’s goals of world domination or whatever, that was never why he joined, but to say this to SHIELD was something he could not do. Luckily, Skye was not waiting for an answer.

 

“You’re in a position to save a lot of lives and do some good if you just did something about it,” Skye concluded emotionally.

 

“Why do you care what I do?” Grant demanded. She was asking him to betray John, and he could not do that. Not even for Skye.

 

“Because I think you’re capable of being better, because I want you to be better,” Skye spoke heatedly.

 

Grant did not want to hear more. It hurt to have Skye beg him like this for so many reasons. He could not remember the last time someone believed that he could be “better”. It reminded him of the little kid he once was, the one who desperately wanted to be a hero.

 

But Grant Ward was not a hero, and if he could have become one once upon a time, he supposed he would never know.

 

“What do you want from me, Skye?” Grant questioned tiredly. “To forget that SHIELD and your precious Coulson had me tortured and betray the only person who has ever given a damn about me?” She had to know how ridiculous all this was.

 

But Skye just scowled at his response. “You’re wrong. Garrett doesn’t give a damn about anyone but himself, but I-“ She hesitated so briefly that Grant wondered if he imagined her fumbling for words. “I care about you!” Skye declared passionately. Her voice had steadily rose in volume until she was shouting the words at him almost accusingly.

 

Grant forgot how to breathe momentarily. He watched her deflate and collect herself after her outburst for several torturous seconds where he could not think of what to say.

 

Skye took a calming breath before asking quietly, “Is that worth nothing?”

 

Grant could not find the words to answer her. It was worth so much more than she could possibly imagine. He had known that she was attracted to him and had some kind of feelings for him, yes, but this felt greater than what he assumed. Grant could not help but think of how she was saying all of this while her fellow SHIELD agents likely looked on.

 

She waited for him to respond, but Grant could not. He wanted to just agree to anything she asked, he wanted to devote himself to her and be the type of person she deserved. He wanted that more than anything.

 

But John… Some debts were greater than personal desires. His mentor needed him, and Grant could not turn his back on him.

 

When he said nothing, he worried Skye would just walk away while he was powerless to stop her. Instead, her eyes lit up with the stubborn fire he knew so well. She straightened up and stared him down.

 

“I want you to do the right thing,” Skye said firmly. “I know you’re capable of caring for people and doing good. You could make a difference if you can recognize what Garrett did to you and stop throwing your life away for him.”

 

With the topic of her feelings for him put aside for the time being, Grant found himself able to speak again.

 

“The right thing, making a difference,” he mused with a sardonic smile. “You can’t save everyone, Skye. People are abused and killed everyday, and a dozen vigilantes in a basement can’t stop that.”

 

“Just because you can’t save everyone doesn’t mean you shouldn’t even try to save anyone,” Skye argued. “That’s the apathy I’m talking about. Or maybe it’s just cynicism you use to convince yourself not to do anything.”

 

Grant ignored that. “And SHIELD does the ‘right thing’, really? Coulson just had me tortured, I’ve seen you kill people. SHIELD, Hydra, it’s all the same in the end.”

 

“No, it’s not,” Skye said aghast. “I don’t even think you believe that.”

 

Grant thought about it and wondered what he really believed. Months ago, the answer would be simple: Grant would have insisted there was no difference. Now, he was not so sure.

 

Skye, Fitz, Simmons, they all genuinely wanted to help people and do the “right thing” as Skye put it. He had shot those civilians back before he captured Fitz and Simmons because he had known that at least one SHIELD agent would risk themselves to save them. That was why he had thought to place Kara in their protection weeks ago. He had known that Kara would continue to be abused in Hydra but that Skye, Fitz and Simmons would want to help her.

 

The thought of Kara had him clenching his hands into fists. Noble goals did not change the fact that SHIELD were a bunch of self-righteous hypocrites who did not even care about one of their own that they betrayed. SHIELD was why John was dying, too. SHIELD played favorites, and if you were not one of the director’s, then your life was worth nothing.

 

That was why Skye could not see what he was trying to tell her. She was Director Coulson’s surrogate daughter and could not fathom what SHIELD was capable of. Maybe she did not even know about what Coulson did to Kara just like she had been kept in the dark about his capture and torture.

 

“So selling out your fellow SHIELD agents, leaving them to a fate worse than death, is that the right thing?” Grant snarled. He let the bottled fury wash over him and drown out the memories still in the back of his mind.

 

Skye shifted uncomfortably sensing the change in him, but her eyes were blazing when she confidently answered, “No, that’s what Hydra did. You guys were the ones who pretended to be on our side and then planted a knife in the back of every SHIELD agent you could.”

 

Grant was sure that the smile on his face was a terrible thing to behold. “But SHIELD is above that, right? You would never betray one of your own for intel or something else and then abandon them to torture and brainwashing.”

 

Skye swallowed. “You know we wouldn’t. What are you getting at, Grant?”

 

Grant gave a slightly hysterical laugh as he crossed his arms and leaned against the wall. “You’re wrong. SHIELD did sell out one of its agents, to Hydra no less, for brainwashing.”

 

“What?” Skye jerked back. “No, maybe the old SHIELD-“

 

“No, Coulson’s SHIELD,” Grant insisted without giving her a chance to argue. “SHIELD sold out Kara only a year ago after the Triskelion fell.”

 

Skye’s brow furrowed skeptically, but Grant noticed that her breathing had increased. “Agent 33? She’s brainwashed.”

 

“Her name is Kara,” Grant corrected. He did not know why he did, most everyone besides him called her by her codename. Of course that would be how Skye would know her.

 

“You’re a liar,” Skye accused heatedly. Grant watched as she backed away from him and her posture turned defensive. She did not believe him, and that stung more than he wanted to admit. Still, he held onto his anger and used it to say all that he had wanted to say for so long, ever since he learned what SHIELD did to Kara. There was a camera in the ceiling corner, and Grant hoped that there was an audience for this.

 

“I am,” he agreed readily. “But not about this and never to you.” He stepped closer to the barrier to the point where it lit up, and he was forced to stop. “You see that, don’t you? That I never lie to you?”

 

“Then you’ve been lied to,” Skye said at once. “No one at SHIELD even knew that Agen- Kara was brainwashed.”

 

Grant shook his head. “Hydra has loyalty tests to ensure that the people who join are committed. They’re designed to be something that a person can’t come back from, something that would destroy their previous loyalty.” At least, that was what Grant thought they were.

 

“Such great people you work for,” she muttered sarcastically. “And what was your test?”

 

“I didn’t have one. John vouched for me, and he was trusted in Hydra by the time I was recruited by him.”

 

“Well then what was Garrett’s test for you?” She wanted him to go off topic, Grant could tell. Maybe it was fear of what he would say.

 

At her words, the image of Buddy came and went from his mind, but Grant refused to pause his explanation, unsure of how much time he had until Coulson or the Cavalry interrupted him. They would not want him poisoning Skye’s head with the truth now would they?

 

“A SHIELD agent infiltrated Hydra almost a year ago.” Grant saw Skye’s lips thin and was sure she knew who he was talking about, even though Grant himself did not know which operative it was. “One of their loyalty tests was to give the location of a SHIELD safehouse that Hydra did not know of. After the Triskelion fell, Kara had no one and did not know who to trust and took refuge there. Your agent led Bakshi and some of Whitehall’s men there and abducted her.”

 

Skye’s face had grown considerably paler during his story, and despite everything, Grant wanted to comfort her. He was trapped in a cell though, and maybe she would not even want his comfort.

 

“Kara had always been very loyal. The report said it took Whitehall days of the Faustus Method to break her down,” Grant’s voice had turned bitter as he fought a scowl. “Apparently she said that she would rather die than work for Hydra at the start of the process, but she found that ‘compliance will be rewarded’ in the end,” Grant sneered. “The SHIELD agent was around for several more months before they took off. Without Kara, of course, who still gets tortured and has her mind messed with regularly. But SHIELD would never betray one of their own, right?”

 

Grant became lost in his own dark thoughts. With him stuck at SHIELD, what would become of Kara? The second he thought that, Grant wanted to curse himself. It was not like he had ever been much of a help to her anyway.

 

Skye was apparently thinking the same thing. “If that’s true, why didn’t you do anything for her?”

 

Grant knew she was deflecting, maybe still in denial about her organization’s involvement, but Skye had always been able to get under his skin, and she had struck a nerve this time.

 

“And what could I do?” Grant wondered incredulously. “Whisk her away and right all the wrongs? I don’t know anything about brainwashing, and I can’t even bring it up to Kara without her getting confused.”

 

“So you just let it happen,” Skye confirmed.

 

Grant clenched his jaw but found he had nothing to say in his defense. He had been letting it happen for the entire time he knew Kara, finding it easier to ignore her mistreatment than get involved and risk worsening relations between John and Whitehall.

 

“This is what I’m talking about,” Skye said when he did not immediately respond. “I want you to be better because I know you’re capable of it, but you don’t even try. I mean you obviously are upset about what happened to Kara, but you talk yourself out of doing anything about it!”

 

“I think you’re missing the point with SHIELD-” Grant began before the energy barrier turned opaque again and cut him off from Skye.

 

He stood frozen for a moment hoping that Skye would return before giving up. Mindlessly, he returned to the cot and slumped onto it. Grant looked down at his arms, and all he could see were the cuts and bruises marring the skin.

 

He was alone in the dark with the voices of the past haunting him again.

 


 

“What the hell?” Skye exclaimed. She spun around to see Coulson standing in the doorway with the electronic controller.

 

Coulson’s face was hard as he beckoned her to come with him. When Skye hesitated, he barked, “Now, Skye!”

 

Skye hesitated for a moment before choosing to follow him out of the vault. It was not like Grant was going anywhere, and she had to know something first.

 

She sidled up to Coulson as they walked hurriedly towards his office. “Did you know?” Skye demanded at once. He must have watched her conversation with Grant. She knew he would understand what she was asking.

 

He looked over at her solemnly and shook his head. Despite the recent betrayal of trust, Skye believed him. She let out a shuddering sigh of relief. She had not meant to doubt him, but she had. She had believed- if only for a second- that Coulson would sell out a SHIELD agent to gain an edge over Hydra. Skye felt guilty for even considering the possibility.

 

As they rounded the last corner before entering Coulson’s office, Skye whispered the other question she had but was almost too afraid to ask. “Is it true?”

 

Coulson’s tight and pained expression was all the answer she needed.

 

Skye stopped short in horror as they entered the office, which had erupted in chaos since she left.

 

At the center were Bobbi, Trip, Fitz and May arguing. Trip and Fitz were condemning Bobbi’s choice while she justified herself and May defended Bobbi.

 

Simmons stood to the side watching the altercation. She looked to Skye when she arrived but did nothing but bite her lip and return her focus to the others. Simmons was closer to Bobbi than Skye was, so she must be especially disturbed by the revelation of what the other woman had done.

 

“I made a hard call,” Bobbi declared.

 

“You betrayed one of us! Left her for Hydra!” Fitz yelled.

 

“You think I don’t know that? I didn’t know anyone would be in the safehouse when I told Bakshi-“ Bobbi began.

 

“But you knew afterwards,” Trip said angrily. “And if you had just told us, we could’ve helped her! When we raided that base in Pennsylvania, I fought Agent 33 and won. I could’ve rescued her then if I had known.”

 

Trip’s face was torn between disappointment and guilt. Skye could not imagine how he must feel. Trip was very compassionate so to know that he inadvertently left a brainwashed SHIELD agent for Hydra to torture some more must have devastated him.

 

Skye could at least know that she had never had a chance to save Agent 33- Kara, she corrected to herself- even if she had known her condition. That reminded Skye though, Trip was not the only one to recently have a chance to help the woman.

 

She scanned the room for Hunter and found him standing quietly on his own. Skye was surprised, Hunter usually jumped at the chance to call Bobbi out on her secrets.

 

With a shock, Skye realized that she misjudged Hunter. Everyone always laughed about Hunter’s comical accusations towards Bobbi, but now Skye wondered if this was what he meant by them. He was not joining the debate because Hunter did not enjoy being right in the end. Maybe he had been secretly hoping he was wrong all along.

 

Skye knew the feeling of caring so much for someone that even when you knew their obvious flaws, you still wanted so badly to be proven wrong. You could not ignore what was right in front of your face, but still you hoped more than anything that they would give you a reason to overlook them or explain them away.

 

Skye remembered finding out that Grant had killed Eric Koenig. She had been distressed in no small part because even though she had known all along that he was Hydra, she wanted it to all be justified somehow, and Eric’s murder seemed to kill that naive wish.

 

Except it did not. Skye still cared for Grant even after she knew, and she kept falling into the trap of hoping Grant would do the right thing as though that would reassure her that her feelings for him were okay. But more importantly, she hoped Grant would change so that they could actually have a shot at being together.

 

It was silly. Skye did not even know if Grant wanted to have a relationship with her, it was not like he had ever had one before, but Skye still hoped- and felt like an idiot every time Grant turned down her pleas to do something.

 

Skye figured that was how Hunter must feel about Bobbi selling out Kara. It was the confirmation of his fears he so desperately did not want to have. But Hunter still loved Bobbi and continued to hope she would change, and Bobbi still loved Hunter despite her never ending secrets.

 

What a terrible realization, to know that you can love someone unconditionally, and it did not change a damn thing.

 

Skye bit back a scream of frustration. She felt so hopeless and powerless. If Bobbi and Hunter could not work out their differences, then Skye did not know how the hell she and Grant ever could. At least Bobbi worked for SHIELD and by and large did good things, Grant was pathologically loyal to a man who almost had her killed and was actively abusing and manipulating him to keep control.

 

Skye had some satisfaction in knowing that she could understand Grant better now. It did not change everything, but it had sparked some faint hope in her.

 

Grant did not care about Hydra, which made her feel better because she did not want to be so attached to someone trying to take over the world. But it also meant that if Garrett died, which was looking more probable given her discovery, Grant would have no ties to Hydra anymore and no reason to do such terrible things.

 

Grant’s history also helped her reconcile some of what he did. There was no excuse, but it was nice to know he did not serve Hydra or Garrett because he liked hurting people or was just this evil asshole.

 

Given all she knew about his past, Skye could see how he had come to be the person he was. She wondered what she would have done in his position, what choices she would have made.

 

Skye almost laughed to herself. Fitz was right in the end, not only had something happened, but Grant’s choices were a form of brainwashing- albeit probably not what Fitz had in mind when he suggested that.

 

Maybe Skye could still change things. Garrett had forced Grant to hold the Berserker Staff as punishment for helping Skye and Fitzsimmons at Futurepharm, and Grant still protected not just Skye but Fitz, even in front of and to the detriment of Hydra agents.

 

Grant let her in, cared for her more than he would admit. Garrett did not control all of him even if both Grant and Garrett thought so. If Skye could get through to Grant…

 

She would still have to convince her other loved ones to give him a shot. Well, Skye had never been one to back down from a challenge. What was it that Coulson always said? You can save someone from themselves if you get to them early enough. She would just have to remind Coulson of that.

 

And then she could try to muddle through the mess of SHIELD’s recent decisions. Coulson and most everyone had not known about Bobbi’s choice, and Skye knew that at least Fitzsimmons had been aghast at the use of the memory machine. Coulson had not defended the choice after the fact either.

 

Maybe it was naïve to hope that she could change things, but Skye was not ready to give up on the home she found and the potential they still had to do good.

 

And she was not ready to give up the man she loved either, messed up as he may be.

 


 

Grant tried to be patient, but that ability was rapidly slipping out of his reach. He had been claustrophobic as a kid when his mother used to lock him in closets, but he had long since gotten over that. Or so he thought. Skye had been gone maybe a couple hours, and he was starting to feel like the walls were closing in on him.

 

It was ridiculous. Grant had spent much longer periods of time in solitude before. There was no reason this should be affecting him so much. It was likely a side effect of the memory machine and just the fact that his recollections of the past had been pushing at his mind since he woke up.

 

At least Grant knew none of his inner turmoil showed in his expression. He did not want to give the SHIELD agents watching anything.

 

But the cell was bare and with nothing to distract him, Grant’s thoughts were reduced to his past memories, his present confinement or his battered body, none of which were appealing.

 

When the barrier turned transparent again, Grant looked to it hopefully but was bitterly disappointed at the sight of his visitor.

 

Grant scowled at Phil Coulson but said nothing. Talking would gain him nothing, and he would not give the man the satisfaction of thinking he achieved something by using that damned machine.

 

Coulson sat in the chair that faced the cell and observed him soundlessly for several moments. When he broke the silence, Grant was more than a little surprised.

 

“I’m sorry,” he said.

 

Grant froze for a beat and then scoffed. “You’re sorry for torturing me? Because it’s a little late for apologies,” he said scathingly.

 

“No, not for that,” the director replied simply, which made Grant furrow his brows in confusion.

 

Coulson’s face was a mask, but Grant thought his eyes looked sad. They looked that way when he was putting him in the memory machine though, and Grant was not fooled for a second by the fake display of regret.

 

“Sixteen years ago, Garrett and I were working together more often than not,” Coulson continued. “Everything he did then was right under my nose. I could have stopped him, I should have stopped him, but I didn’t see what was happening.”

 

Coulson’s gaze was searing into Grant. It was discomforting, made him feel like he was on display and being judged by the sanctimonious bastard.

 

“I’m sorry I missed the signs and let it all happen,” Coulson spoke heavily. “I wish I could have saved you.”

 

Grant was struck speechless for a second in his bewilderment. He was not even sure what Coulson was talking about or what he knew, but it had to be some kind of play. Grant reminded himself of his earlier conclusion that SHIELD was trying the “carrot” approach after the “stick” had failed.

 

“I didn’t need you to save me. John did.” Grant made sure his tone left no room for argument even as he felt the beginnings of doubt. He wished Coulson would just stop looking at him like that.

 

Coulson sighed at his response, and if possible, his posture slumped even more in the chair. And his eyes… Grant realized why the look was bothering him so much. It was pity, the man pitied him.

 

Grant wished he could say that the first thought that occurred to him when he recognized the look was that he could exploit that to escape. That was what his first thought should have been, but it was actually his third. First, Grant felt his breathing quicken at the knowledge that whatever he had said while in the memory machine made the SHIELD director pity him. Second, Grant was consumed by blind panic because Skye had been there and heard everything, so if Coulson found him pathetic after witnessing his reaction to the memories, Skye probably did, too.

 

He recalled the brokenhearted way she stared at him hours ago, was that pity, too?

 

The nausea Grant had been fighting all day came back with a vengeance, and he was very glad that he did not touch that sandwich when he tasted bile in his mouth.

 

He had to pull himself together. He had too much pride to fall apart and show his weakness to Phil Coulson, especially after what the man had done to him.

 

“Well, you’ve said your apology. You can leave now,” Grant said stiffly, falling short of reaching the unaffected tone he was aiming for.

 

“I wanted to say I’m sorry, but that’s not why I came down here,” Coulson said.

 

“I’m not telling you anything,” Grant growled. “So you can stop wasting your time.”

 

“That’s not why I’m here either,” Coulson said as he stood up from the chair. “I’d rather leave the interrogations to the professionals.” He gave a benign smile, “Agent Morse would be disappointed if got a head start without her.”

 

“Then why are you here?” Grant demanded impatiently. He was sick of the older man’s games.

 

Coulson still had that bland smile on his face as he blatantly assessed Grant. “I want to know why three of my most trusted agents have been defending you to me.”

 

Grant did not know what to say to that. To confirm any sort of relationship with Skye, Fitz and Simmons could go badly for them considering who he was, but it sounded like Coulson may already know more than Grant assumed, and Skye was hardly subtle earlier.

 

But Coulson was not waiting on an answer from Grant. “Most of my team thinks that whatever may have happened to you in the past and whatever motivates you now is unchangeable. They think you are the person Garrett made you to be, and it’s too late for you to leave the path you’re on. That nothing will get through to you at this point.”

 

Grant did not understand what Coulson was saying. It was obviously some strange manipulation tactic by a man desperate for intel, but Grant’s chest felt tighter listening to the words. Obviously he said something about his family while he was in the memory machine. He gritted his teeth past the discomfort at that thought.

 

“I don’t know what drugged up confession you think you got from that machine,” Grant growled. “But you don’t know a damn thing about me.”

 

Coulson did not comment on that. “But Skye and Fitzsimmons disagree,” he continued as if Grant had not spoken. “Skye in particular implored me to offer you a chance to change.”

 

“I’m not telling you anything,” Grant said for what felt like the tenth time. “So you can give up this pathetic attempt to trick me.”

 

“This isn’t a trick, Ward, though I understand why you might think that given your experiences,” Coulson said steadily, which only annoyed Grant more. He wished he could rattle the older man. “I know you’ve been taught to never trust anybody.”

 

Grant thought that was an odd thing to say. Spies rarely trusted anyone, but it felt like a pointed comment. Strangely, it made him think of John’s words the day he broke him out of juvie.

 

“But Skye’s pleas reminded me of a promise I made when I became director. SHIELD was founded on the principle of protection. Whether it’s one man or all of mankind, the belief that drives us is that they’re all worth saving.”

 

“Really, everyone’s worth saving?” Grant scoffed. “You’d risk your agents over some nobody?”

 

“Nobody’s nobody, Ward,” Coulson said with absolute conviction.

 

“If you actually believed that, you’d never have abandoned Kara,” Grant argued bitterly. He wanted the man to shut up already. He was a hypocrite and a liar who was just trying to get to Grant to hurt John. “She was one of you.”

 

“I didn’t know about Agent 33,” Coulson said calmly. “But now that I do, I plan to help her in any way I can.”

 

What an obvious attempt to save face. Did Coulson honestly expect Grant to believe he had been clueless? He probably sold the same lie to Skye, and she likely believed him, too.

 

Grant was about to call him out, but the sound of the metal door opening stopped Grant from responding.

 

Skye made it two steps down the stairs before she drew to a halt. “Coulson, what are you doing here?”

 

“What are you doing here?” Coulson said. “I told you not to come down here without permission again.”  

 

“I need permission to walk around the base now?” Skye fired back. “Am I an agent or a prisoner?”

 

Coulson gave her a look. “It’s just the vaults that you temporarily don’t have access to, and you know why. Besides, you should be sleeping. You’ve barely gotten any rest in the last couple days.” Coulson looked her over concernedly.

 

“Maybe you shouldn’t have sent me on a wild goose chase of a mission if you’re so concerned about my sleep schedule,” Skye mumbled petulantly as she crossed her arms.

 

They were arguing, and Grant could clearly read the strain in their words and body language, but mostly what he saw was two people who cared about each other. The paternal way Coulson chastised her was obvious, as was Skye’s almost rebellious daughter act.

 

It might have been amusing to watch if it were not just another confirmation of how Skye was clearly loyal to the man who had him tortured and was his mentor’s enemy.

 

Skye would never betray Coulson, no more than Grant would John. They were family.

 

Likely the only reason Coulson reached out to Grant at all was because Skye said something that made Coulson want to see what it was that Skye saw in Grant- assuming it was not a trick. Well, Grant could not help Coulson with that one, he did not know what the hell Skye saw in him either. All he knew was that it was not enough to betray SHIELD for.

 

They continued to bicker. Coulson wanted Skye to return to bed and insisted they could talk about her visiting the “prisoner” in the morning. Skye argued that she could not sleep anyway and was Coulson going to try to dictate her sleeping habits now, too?

 

The two of them were so caught up in their fight that the missed the suspicious noises that Grant caught. He brushed off the sound of booted feet above the cell at first, but then he realized there were too many of them to be SHIELD members that happened to be awake.

 

Carefully angling his face and body away from the camera just in case, Grant called out to Skye.

 

“Don’t look at me,” he instructed when he saw her about to turn towards him. “Just answer, how many SHIELD agents are there here on base?”

 

“Don’t answer that,” Coulson said at the same time Skye replied, “About twenty.”

 

That was what Grant thought. “Listen. Do you hear that?” The sound of stomping had grown louder and was at least twenty people as far as Grant could tell.

 

Skye looked alarmed as she grabbed the electronic tablet. She pressed a few buttons and gasped at the screen. “Hydra.”

 

Coulson took the tablet from Skye and stared at it with a grim expression. His grip tightened at what he saw.

 

“Garrett.”

Chapter Text

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.”

 

“How?”

 

“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.

Chapter Text

It felt like the room shook with the force of Skye’s pounding heart. Maybe it actually was trembling.-Skye could never be sure given her abilities. No one was commenting on an impending earthquake, so she assumed it was just in her mind.

 

She wondered if she should stop holding herself back. Coulson gave no indication that she should let loose, but May and the others were already awake, so they should be making their move already, right?

 

But Skye knew why no one was doing anything. She could fault John Garrett a great many things, but she could not find a flaw in his current setup.

 

Skye was certain that if they fought back that SHIELD would come out on top. She could take on multiple guards by herself even without using her powers, and May and Bobbi were here with the rest of the team. SHIELD would wipe the floor with Hydra should it come to a fight.

 

But at what cost?

 

Skye played out all the scenarios in her head over and over and did not come up with one that did not end with one of her loved ones shot to hell. Even if she did not count Grant, someone she cared about would surely die. There were too many guards with too many automatic rifles and too many hostages to aim at. Most of the team were restrained with shackles made for specialists- and that was not even taking into account the other SHIELD agents held prisoner elsewhere.

 

If Skye used her powers, she had to be positive that she was going to eliminate every threat in the room or else she would just end up witnessing many deaths and then be targeted for experimentation.

 

The problem was, Skye did not think that was possible. The way the Hydra agents were spread out throughout the room ensured that she could not blast them all without hitting her team. There was also the added concern of how much force to use. Skye had not tested her powers enough to know whether she would blow them away or if she would merely make them lose their balance should she try.

 

Skye peeked at Coulson out of the corner of her eyes. Once she made eye contact, she purposely looked to her hands and flexed them the tiniest bit. She knew he would understand. Sure enough, he minutely shook his head in response.

 

He wanted her to wait. He probably trusted May would stage an uprising soon or maybe he did not trust that she could do it. Skye supposed she had spent more time running away from her abilities than she had learning how to control them. But she knew they needed to do something soon. Skye had a terrible feeling that any second now the world was going to come crashing down on them if it had not already.

 

Skye’s eyes drifted towards Grant again in spite of her attempts to keep her focus off him. His back was ramrod straight, and to her, he looked wound so tight that he was liable to break any moment now.

 

But then she stopped thinking about Grant when Garrett clapped his hands loudly and grinned like the psychopath he was as he commanded the Hydra agents, “Shoot all of them except Coulson- but only kneecap the scientists.”

 

And just like that, Skye’s heart stuttered to a stop. For some reason, the danger had not felt so real until that moment when she realized just how heartless John Garrett was. He ordered their deaths like an afterthought.

 

“Garrett, stop! I’m the one you want. There’s no need to do this,” Coulson shouted. Skye could hear the strain in his voice as the Hydra agents lined up their shots. Garrett did not even turn to face him.

 

Rebecca was loudly bawling, and the noise drowned out most of the voices screaming.

 

“Ward!” Fitz yelled. “You don’t have to take orders from him! Don’t let this happen! Ward, look at me!”

 

Skye wanted to add her voice, but it had deserted her. She could not breathe, much less talk. All that was running through her mind was that she had to do something and save everyone.

 

Grant did not look at anyone or acknowledge Fitz, but he did move quickly to Garrett’s side.

 

Skye had no faith that Grant would talk Garrett down- assuming that was even what he was trying to do- so while they went to talk in low tones away from the group, Skye looked to Coulson again. She did not care what he thought at this point. If Garrett wanted to kill everyone, they had nothing to lose by mounting an attack first. Anything was better than just allowing the asshole to commence their executions.

 

From there, everything moved quickly. Garrett started berated Grant, and Rebecca was callously shot without warning. Before she knew it, Skye was getting slapped down by Garrett and listening to him talk about her like she was not even there.

 

That she could handle. Skye doubted her heart rate even rose. It was what came next that left her disturbed and horrified.

 

Garrett patted Grant on the shoulder. “Hey, we all have our weaknesses. The heart wants what it wants. Can't control everything. It’s okay.”

 

Despite the words and the cheerful tone they were delivered in, Grant noticeably paled. If anything, he appeared even more terrified than he was a minute ago when Garrett was backhanding her.

 

Skye wondered what experiences had made Grant fear Garrett discovering that he cared about others so much.

 

“But you know what that means,” Garrett went on, and it looked like Grant did know what it meant that he had been caught caring for someone else if his expression was anything to go by.  

 

When Garrett ordered Grant to kill her, Skye understood. Had Grant known this would happen when he told her to make sure Garrett did not find out about them? Had Garrett done this before?

 

Skye forgot that Garrett had threatened to kill the others if she spoke again and began yelling. “Grant! GRANT! Listen to me! He doesn’t care about you! Don’t do this!”

 

One of the Hydra guards pushed her back down when she tried to get off the ground. Skye did not let that distract her from trying to reach Grant.

 

“I know you think you do, but you don’t have to do this! Don’t! Please, please, Grant!”

 

Grant stared at her uncomprehendingly, as if all her words passed right through him. She might as well have been shouting at a wall for all the impact she was having. Grant had come to a decision and nothing anyone did was going to change his mind.

 

Skye’s blood felt like ice in her veins as she went cold. She had known the control Garrett had over Grant but this was- it was-

 

Skye’s brain could not seem to focus on one train of thought as everything hit her all at once.

 

Skye wondered if he had enough presence of mind to remember that she could deflect bullets with the wave of her hand. She would guess no. His face was unnaturally pale and empty of all expression, as if he had just shut down completely.

 

Skye contemplated the chance that she could raise her hands in time to repel the bullet without getting shot by the guards ordered to kill her should she make a move.

 

Then she doubted she should even repel the bullet. If she did, it was likely that all she would accomplish was revealing her abilities to the Hydra agents in the room and maybe even killing Grant. If the shot went right back the way it came…

 

Grant was going to shoot her because a madman told him to, and she was still concerned that she would kill him if she tried to defend herself? It was just ridiculous, and yet Skye could not wrap her head around the idea that she could kill him. Maybe that was what Grant was feeling right now. She wished she could shut down the way he had, then maybe she would be able to protect herself from the inescapable despair of whatever outcome occurred.

 

Forced onto her knees like a sacrifice waiting for her executioner, Skye wondered if this had all been leading up to this moment. She had invited all this hardship and conflict by getting involved with an enemy, and it seemed the inevitable had finally happened. Maybe it had always been a foregone conclusion that she had kidded herself into believing she could change. It felt like she was being punished for arrogantly assumed she had a shot of being happy for once.

 

She ran out of time to consider it all.

 

Garrett backed away from Grant with a smile after he patted him on the back. Grant had his deadened stare focused on Skye, but she was sure her pleas were not reaching him.

 

“I knew you would-“ Garrett was saying when three shots were fired in rapid succession before anyone could process that Grant had moved.

 

Skye stopped breathing. Even after her brain processed that Garrett was bleeding and had fallen, she could not understand why she was not in any pain. Grant was not looking at her anymore. Instead, his unfocused eyes were on his motionless S.O. and the pool of blood collecting around him.

 

The last remnants of John Garrett's eerie cheer painted his face even in death. His eyes were open and his mouth was ajar, but nothing that had made Garrett the looming threat for the last year remained. In an instant, it ended.

 

In an instant, Garrett had lost the life he had sacrificed so many to preserve. 

 

“What the hell?!” Cries rang out from people on both sides after the initial incredulity and surprise that had frozen the room wore off.

 

“Now!” Skye heard May shout distantly as the field agents on their side moved quickly to capitalize on the dumfounded Hydra agents who had lowered their guards in shock. Restrained by the specialty handcuffs and hindered by the lingering effects of the gas, the team worked their way through the enemies slower and with less grace than usual, but it was clear that the distraction had given SHIELD the upper hand.

 

Skye threw herself forward and wrestled the rifle out of the guard who had pushed her down’s hands before slamming the weapon into his head to render him unconscious. Coulson was doing the same besides her, but Skye dropped the bulky rifle and sprinted towards Grant instead of staying to help with the others.

 

Grant was just standing there in the middle of the firefight with his gun pointed at the ground. He looked limp and lifeless like a broken toy soldier.

 

But even though he had checked out of the conflict, the people around him had not. Skye doubted that anyone on her side would kill him purposely after what he had just done- something that she still could not believe and did not have time to process- but that did not mean that a stray bullet would not hit him. Not to mention the Hydra agents that were unlikely to be pleased he just killed their boss and helped SHIELD.

 

Sure enough, Skye watched as Kaminsky seemed to realize that Grant was incapable of defending himself and turned to take aim. Kaminsky was closer, so Skye slammed her fist into his head and kicked his rifle out of his hands. She grappled with him for a moment before flipping him over her shoulder and slamming him into the ground with a satisfying thump. For good measure and a little personal revenge, Skye’s foot connected with a powerful blow to Kaminsky’s head to ensure he was knocked out.

 

Skye wanted a sidearm and not a rifle, so she left unarmed and went to Grant. Grant was standing stock still in the middle of the room, which Skye found more than a little concerning. His eyes were glazed over as they stared at Garrett’s body.

 

“Grant!” Skye shouted as she moved in front of his line of vision. She waved a hand in front of his face and even grabbed his shoulder to shake him lightly. “Grant, hey! Snap out of it!”

 

He did not react. Skye was beginning to freak out as she grabbed him by the arm and led him to cover. Grant resisted at first, and she put more force in pulling him away. Out of the corner of her eye, she noticed Fitz and Simmons awkwardly moving with their restrained hands to Rebecca, and Skye wanted to tell them to get to safety instead.

 

Skye managed to maneuver Grant to the side and onto the ground. Grant flopped to the floor bonelessly and sat on his heels. Skye crouched down in front of him on her knees and leaned forward.

 

“Grant,” she tried again. She cupped his face in her hands. His eyes were still unfocused, and Skye wondered what she should do. He was probably in shock, which was such a strange thought for her to have. Logically, Skye knew of Grant’s past and his conditioned loyalty to Garrett, but it was hard to see Grant fall apart this way. He always seemed so untouchable.

 

“Please, you’re worrying me.” She instilled as much panic into her voice as she could in the hopes that it would reach him somehow. “I need you to come back to me now. Okay? It’s all going to work out. I just need you to wake up.” Skye was rambling. Reassurance after reassurance tumbled from her lips in a desperate attempt to shake him out of his lifeless state.

 

She rubbed his cheeks with her thumbs absentmindedly as she glanced around the room. SHIELD was definitely winning, but they could use her help. Hunter was limping slightly, and Trip’s arm was bleeding from what appeared to be a bullet graze. With the specialty handcuffs, none of them could hold a gun, which really hindered them. Skye should go to them as she was neither affected by the gas nor restrained at all, but she could not leave Grant as he was.

 

“Skye,” Grant croaked.

 

Skye whipped her head back around to face him. “Oh, thank god,” she whispered as she wrapped her arms around his neck and clutched him to her. Her eyes welled up in tears.

 

For a brief moment, she was overcome with gratitude. She had thought she was dead or that Grant would die or that everyone she cared about was going to die. One of her hands snaked up his neck and into his hair as she pressed him as close as possible to her. It was still not enough.

 

She wanted to thank him. She wanted to articulate the sheer relief she was feeling that Garrett was dead, that Grant was free of him and that Grant had been the one to kill him for her, but she knew he would not want to hear that. Maybe later she would be able to convince him that it was a good thing but not now.

 

“He’s dead,” he mumbled into her shoulder. “I killed him.”

 

Skye squeezed him even tighter in the hopes of reassuring him. She could not share his grief over such a terrible person and he did not want to hear the reasons why he should be celebrating instead, so Skye settled for speaking softly in his ear. “I know. It’s going to be okay. I’m here, Grant. I promise I’m not going anywhere.”

 

Reluctantly, she pulled back and framed his face with her hands instead. His expression was still empty and lifeless, but now his eyes were dark and miserable. Skye thought that he might have cried if he had been someone who remembered how to.

 

“Grant, I need to help the others,” she said urgently. She threw a glance back at the fight just in time to see Trip get knocked to the ground. Fear clawed its way up her throat. “Hand me your gun-“ she began as she turned back towards Grant.

 

Four shots fired in quick succession, much like the bullets that had ended Garrett’s life, so close to Skye that it made her ears ring. She watched as the Hydra agent that had been advancing on Trip and three others fell to the ground dead. After that, it was easy for Trip, May and the others to take the rest down even unarmed and disoriented as they were.

 

Click. Click. Click. Skye turned back around and saw Grant was still pulling the trigger even though the gun was clearly out of rounds. It was as though he had mindlessly aimed and shot and could not comprehend why it was no longer working. It was… disconcerting.

 

Skye swallowed. “It’s okay,” she said in the most soothing voice she could muster. She covered his gun hand with one of her own and gently removed it from his grasp.

 

Skye met his eyes and felt her heart constrict painfully. His expression was drawn and his skin looked almost pallid, which made his numerous cuts and bruises stand out even more sharply. His vacant stare worried Skye, and she was not sure how aware he really was at the moment.

 

The sounds of the fight died down behind her, and Skye was at a loss as to what to do. So much had changed in the last hour- the last day really- that Skye was barely keeping up. Her heart had not yet processed that the immediate danger had passed and was still beating wildly in her chest.

 

Tentative fingers gripped her chin and gently eased her face to the side. It took Skye a second to realize Grant was focusing on the cheek Garrett had hit. In the chaos, she had almost forgotten the stinging, but it was definitely going to leave a bruise.

 

“He hurt you,” Grant said dumbly. He lightly brushed her cheek with his thumb as his free hand balled into a fist in his lap. “I should have-“ Grant cut himself off and left Skye wondering what he was going to say.

 

Skye hardly cared about a bruised face given everything else going on. She had been hurt far worse before. “I’m fine,” she said as she grabbed his hands and held them in both of her own. She smiled at him in an attempt to chase away the shadows in his eyes. He still looked so empty.

 

“Where the hell are those keys?!”

 

Skye reluctantly turned away from Grant to see Hunter awkwardly rummaging through a dead Hydra agent’s pockets with his hands still restrained. He did not seem to have noticed that Coulson had already retrieved them and was unlocking May’s handcuffs at the other end of the room.

 

“Hunter,” Coulson called with a teasing lilt to his voice and he passed the keys to the unsuspecting man.

 

Hunter barely got his cuffed hands up in time to keep the keys from smacking him in the face. “Thanks, boss,” he said sarcastically.

 

As Hunter and the others freed their hands, Skye scanned the room. The floor was littered with Hydra corpses, even Kaminsky’s who Skye had not dealt a lethal blow to. Maybe he woke up and got taken out or maybe a stray bullet had hit him, but Skye could not bring herself to care. As awful as the picture of death and violence was, her heart was already too heavy with everything that had happened in the last few days to have room for more pain.

 

Despite the misery engulfing the room, Skye could not help but let the gratitude and relief of knowing Grant killed Garrett for her wash over her once more. It was too surreal, and she almost worried she was about to wake up from a dream.

 

But Skye started to notice how the others’ attention had drifted to her. Most of the team were staring at her- or Grant, it was hard to tell. She realized she was huddled with the unresponsive Grant and still holding both of his hands in her lap.

 

“Bobbi, Hunter, Trip” Coulson said, “Go help Mack and the others. They’re being held outside the bunks.”

 

Hunter and Bobbi moved at once, likely eager to check on Mack, but Trip lingered. He glanced at Skye and gave her a strained smile before leaving with the other two.

 

Coulson and May were watching Grant warily as if they expected him to attack someone any minute. Skye wondered briefly if their blatant observation bothered Grant, but he was still staring off into space. No, Skye realized he was actually looking at Garrett’s dead body, which was concerning.

 

“Hey,” Skye said as she pitched her voice as low as she could. She did not want an audience at the moment. Fitzsimmons were still off by Rebecca’s body, but Coulson and May were only twenty feet away.

 

Skye untangled their hands and reached up to cup Grant’s face again to forcibly maneuver his gaze away from Garrett. It worked in that Grant was now staring at her instead, but the distant, unfocused look was hardly reassuring.

 

“I don’t know what you’re feeling right now-” Skye began hesitantly before Grant cut her off.

 

“I’m not,” he said shortly.

 

Skye waited a moment to see if he would elaborate. “You’re not what?”

 

“I’m not feeling anything,” Grant said emotionlessly. “I feel nothing at all.”

 

Well, that was frightening and unhealthy.

 

Impulsively, Skye leaned forward and chastely kissed him. She lingered on his lips until she felt him return the pressure before pulling back. She drew back just far enough to gauge his expression and rest her forehead against his.

 

Grant’s brow was furrowed in confusion, but it was more emotion and coherency than she had seen from him since he had killed Garrett, so she decided that was a good thing. After all, she had kissed him in the hopes that it would wake him up from his self-induced numbness. She wanted him to feel and to feel her.

 

Grant’s arms unexpectedly wrapped around her tightly and dragged her until she was pretty much sitting him in his lap. With their temples still touching and the charged eye contact from inches away, it was somehow more intimate than anything Skye had ever experienced. Skye’s breath got stuck somewhere in her chest, and she swore the world disappeared for a moment as he enveloped her in his embrace.

 

But it came crashing back after only a few wonderful minutes, and Skye could not help but feel Coulson and May’s observation of them acutely. Grant had more or less checked out of reality, but Skye did not have that luxury. She forced herself to separate from him, which was the last thing she wanted to do. The only reassurance she had was that she was confident for once that they would be back in each other’s arms soon.

 

Grant went rigid beneath her when she detached herself and increased the distance between them. She interlaced the fingers of one hand with him, so he would not take it as a rejection. But he remained stiff, and she thought he misinterpreted her actions.

 

Deciding to deal with that later, Skye looked over at Coulson and May. They did not even pretend they had not been watching. That was more than a little awkward.

 

May tore her stern gaze off Grant first as she turned to speak with Coulson in hushed tones that still carried in the silent room.

 

“We need to evacuate,” May said urgently. “Hydra knows the location of the Playground, and it’s only a matter of time before they send reinforcements.”

 

Coulson nodded. “Right. We don’t have much time, and we need to wipe the systems as well-“

 

“They don’t know,” Grant hoarsely interrupted them.

 

Skye started. After how quiet he had been, it sounded like he was shouting in her ears when he spoke up.

 

Coulson stopped talking and turned to stare at Grant contemplatively. “What do you mean?”

 

“Whitehall and the rest of Hydra don’t know the location of this base. They aren’t coming,” Grant replied monotonously.

 

“Why do you say that?” Coulson asked. His tone and expression betrayed nothing, but May immediately tensed up.

 

“Phil,” May hissed. “You can’t seriously be listening to him.”

 

May and Coulson exchanged glances, which ended with May’s lips pinching in obvious irritation but also reluctant surrender.

 

“Why do you say that, Ward?” Coulson repeated patiently, as if he had all the time in the world to discuss the possibility of Hydra infiltrating their base again.

 

The power struggle seemed to be lost on Grant, but Skye thought he might be refocusing his attention. He sat there dazedly but by butting into Coulson and May’s conversation, he had revealed he was aware of his surroundings.

 

“Because John would never willingly give Whitehall such promising intel, and Whitehall would never sit a raid like this out if he knew,” Grant explained sounding almost bored now. He gestured carelessly to the dead Hydra agents- but not in Garrett’s direction Skye noticed. “All the operatives here are John’s. If Whitehall had known, Kara would be here, at the very least. Part of the reason Kara and I were partnered for so many missions was because both Whitehall and John wanted to ensure their interests were represented on them.”

 

Coulson blinked. “You make it sound like the Hydra heads didn’t work together.”

 

Grant had to know he was fishing for information, but he still answered. “Whitehall and John hate each other,” he said bluntly. “John would enjoy nothing more than to destroy SHIELD and rub it in Whitehall’s face after he was done. He’d see it as the perfect way to show him who was really in charge.”

 

Coulson appeared thoughtful now while May glared suspiciously. She was probably wondering why Grant was telling them all this because Skye definitely was.

 

What he was saying fit in with what she observed with Garrett’s personality and even that offhand mention about Whitehall trying to take over an attack Garrett was planning. Skye hardly saw the point of Grant lying now about this, but that did not mean he was offering up the information just to be magnanimous.

 

“Of course,” Grant said, “I don’t know how John found your base anyway. But if Whitehall knew, he’d be here.”

 

Right, the tracker. “Grant,” she started to say.

 

“Garrett implanted a tracker in your leg,” May said brusquely.

 

Grant did not visibly react, but there was something about his stillness that let Skye know that he had heard. She wondered what he thought. Was it normal for Garrett to do something like that to him? After witnessing their interactions both when Garrett initially “recruited” Grant and just now, Skye would be surprised.

 

Gracefully, Grant let go of her hand and rose to his feet, which caused both Coulson and May to tense. May’s finger was on the trigger of a gun that Skye only now noticed she was holding. Grant paid them no mind as he walked to the closest Hydra agent’s body and robotically retrieved a knife from a hidden holster.

 

Skye watched as Grant pushed up one of the legs of his pants to reveal his thigh and felt around the area with his fingers. Skye had a sinking feeling that she knew what he was doing.

 

Luckily, Simmons appeared as if out of nowhere before Grant could do something terrifying- like stabbing himself to carve the tracker out himself with a knife Skye highly doubted was hygienic.

 

“Don’t be an idiot,” Simmons reprimanded. She wiped at her red-rimmed eyes to clear away the lingering tears and glared. “You’ll probably hit your femoral artery and bleed out before you find the tracker.”

 

“I already know where it is,” Grant argued. He sounded like himself again, but Skye could still see the hollowness in his eyes. “I can feel it.”

 

Simmons huffed and put her hands on her hips. “Can you feel the arteries and veins in your leg, too?”

 

Grant half-heartedly scowled in response.

 

Fitz sidled up alongside Simmons and nodded in agreement. “I could deactivate the tracker without removing it, but you’d run the risk of someone reactivating it at any time.”

 

“Or I could just take it out right now before anyone can activate it again,” Grant said shortly as he held the knife up.

 

“It’d take me a few moments in the med bay to remove it safely,” Simmons retorted tiredly. Her voice was firm and unyielding, but the strain of the day had rendered her usually perfect posture slumped like she was defeated.

 

Strangely, the scene reminded Skye of after they had escaped AIM. Grant had run away without truly accepting Simmons’ help then, but Skye realized he had nowhere to go now.

 

As she stared at him, Skye reflected that Grant had given up everything for her. SHIELD was the closest thing Skye had ever had to a family, and in some ways, Garrett was the same for Grant. It was like a twisted father/son relationship. Even the way they had spoken before, Garrett had called Grant “kid” and “son”.

 

But Grant had killed him anyway to save Skye’s life, and now the entire life he had built for himself had come crashing down. It was a terrible life and a worse father figure, so Skye was not upset. But she knew Grant was miserable and lost, and that made her chest tighten sympathetically.

 

Skye threw a glance to Coulson and May silently watching Fitzsimmons with Grant. There was no mistaking the suspicious way they observed him. May had yet to put the gun away, and neither of them took their eyes off him for a second.

 

No one had attacked yet or suggested that Grant be put back in Vault D, but Skye knew it was only a matter of time. Coulson was probably waiting for Bobbi and the others to return before broaching the topic. It was not a truce or a team up. They did not trust Grant, and Skye could not really blame them for that. She was sure Grant did not trust them either.

 

But Garrett was dead, and things had changed whether the others wanted to admit it or not. Coulson also knew Skye was in love with Grant, and Skye could admit she was not above using his favoritism to keep Grant out of a cell.

 

Skye’s relationship with Grant still had more problems than she knew how to address, but for the first time, she thought that maybe they really could find a way to be together.

 

Grant was still a traitor to SHIELD, he had still been tortured by her loved ones just a day ago and killing Garrett had hardly solved all their problems or overwritten Grant’s choices. But the tiny spark of hope that things could work out ignited in her chest, and Skye knew that was something that refused to be put out once lit.

Chapter Text

Grant was not entirely sure how he found himself seated in the medical lab with Simmons tsking at him, but he attributed it to her bossy nature. Grant did not have the energy to argue with her. He was sleep-deprived, starving and beat up.

 

Every now and then, he had to repress a wince as some unwanted flashback wormed its way into the front of his mind. He hoped that was not a permanent side effect of the memory machine, but Grant could not say for sure and would rather not know than ask one of the sanctimonious bastards who had put him in the machine.

 

Fitz hovered behind Simmons looking strangely concerned for reasons unfathomable to Grant. Simmons paid him no mind, and Grant did the same.

 

Truthfully, Grant did not care why Fitz appeared worried. He did not care that the Cavalry was glaring at him from her position blocking the doorway. He did not care about Coulson’s never-ending questions and orders directed at the room. He did not care that Simmons was explaining what she was doing in a forcibly cheery tone.

 

The only thing he cared about was the warmth of Skye’s hand in his. She stood beside him and had grabbed his hand again shortly after Simmons dragged him here. She seemed to have forgotten that their fingers were interlaced as she spoke to the others and occasionally him.

 

Grant brushed his thumb over her knuckles and watched her expression carefully for a reaction. She threw a soft smile his way and squeezed his hand as she answered the question Coulson asked her about retrieving files that Hydra had destroyed when they infiltrated the base.

 

Despite how nice it felt and how he longed to never let go, Grant felt uncomfortable displaying his weakness so openly to multiple enemies. John would-

 

Grant focused on the slightly calloused knuckles his thumb brushed and the weight of her hand in his. He let her grip anchor him to the room and calm the rage in the pit of his stomach and the despair lurking in the depths of his mind. She had not let go yet, and that was all he cared about.

 

Well, that and his new goal.

 

It had taken him embarrassingly long to adapt to the change of events. He had to remind himself that this was manageable, that he was a survivor and had gone through hell before. This was nothing. He could handle this, he could handle anything.

 

What he could not do was fall apart in front of Phil Coulson and SHIELD. They were going to try to lock him up again, and he needed to prepare for the inevitable confrontation.

 

Grant wondered if the reason he was unable to think of another solution- a better one for surely he should have been able to think of something, anything- earlier was because of the effects of the memory machine. He could feel he was more emotional and more on edge because of that thing, so what if that made him impulsive? What if that was the reason why he had not been able to find another way?

 

One more reason to hate Coulson and SHIELD he supposed.

 

“I’m going to inject a painkiller into the area,” Simmons narrated without pausing to check his reaction, “Before making a small incision-“

 

“Don’t,” Grant cut in sharply.

 

Skye froze. Her affected normalcy wavered as her eyes darted around the room to gauge the reactions. Fitz conspicuously began fidgeting.

 

He noticed out of the corner of his eyes that Coulson and May grew tenser at his voice. May’s hand had not strayed from her sidearm, and she may very well have been waiting for a chance to use it on him.

 

Simmons faltered as she readied a syringe. “Pardon? I have to cut into the skin to remove the tracker.”

 

“Then do that, but don’t inject me with anything,” Grant said.

 

Simmons’ brow furrowed. “The incision won’t be deep, but it’ll still be painful. You need a painkiller, and I’m more than happy to give you one.”

 

Grant scoffed. “I’m sure you are, but I’ve been drugged enough by SHIELD recently, so I’ll pass. I can handle the pain.” In fact, he would welcome it at this point if it could distract him from the thoughts tightening his chest and making it hard to breathe.

 

“It’s just an anesthetic,” Simmons argued.

 

So you say. Grant did not voice his skepticism, but he did not try to hide it on his face either.

 

Sure enough, Simmons’ spine straightened in response to his clear disbelief. “I’m a doctor, not a torturer,” Simmons said heatedly.

 

“I’ve read you file. You have multiple PhDs, not a MD,” Grant said. “You’re not a medical doctor. I highly doubt you took the Hippocratic oath.”

 

“You should let her help you,” Fitz said as he wrung his hands and stared at the two of them. So far, May and Coulson had been quiet, but May was inconspicuously readying her gun.

 

“Look,” Simmons said patiently, “I understand that you’re experiencing great emotional turmoil over traumatic experiences-“

 

“And now you’re pretending to be a fucking psychologist,” Grant was quick to interrupt her. Whatever she had to say on that front, he did not want to hear. “Just take out the tracker.”

 

“Fine!” Simmons snapped. She grabbed a surgical knife and held it up almost menacingly, but Skye cut her off before she could take the two steps towards him to close the distance.

 

“Okay, calm down,” Skye said as she held out her free hand to stop Simmons’ approach. “Grant, let Simmons give you the painkiller.” When he said nothing, she gave him an easy smile. “Trust me, she’s telling you the truth.”

 

Grant did not want to. He did trust Skye, which was probably stupid but true anyway, and wanted to show to her that he did. At the same time, he did not want to back down in front of Coulson and May and give them an angle they could exploit with him. They were observing him closely just waiting for an opportunity to pounce.

 

But he was fairly sure everyone in the room already knew how compromised he was when it came to Skye, so he supposed it did not matter.

 

Wordlessly, he relaxed his posture and nodded to Simmons. The tension drained out of Skye, Fitz and Simmons, but he noted that Coulson and May remained on edge. Once the tracker was removed, those two would probably try something. Grant assumed that the other three would let it happen like the good, little SHIELD agents they were, but then he thought of Skye coming into his cell with the cameras looped and wondered.

 

Simmons efficiently and professionally administered the anesthetic. To her credit, it did seem to be exactly what she claimed, but Grant remained on guard waiting for the other shoe to drop. When nothing happened, Grant only grew warier. Why would SHIELD care if he were in pain? There must be some kind of catch.

 

The tracker was removed quickly. Simmons held it up with her forceps to examine briefly before dropping it into a metallic bowl Fitz offered to her.

 

“This model looks similar to those we saw from Centipede,” Fitz announced as he stared at it. “I can examine it more closely later and see if there’s anything of value to be gained from it. But I would say the ones Simmons and I designed are the superior versions. Cybertek probably made this one before it fell, and we already incorporated all their research and technology.”

 

Fitz ranted more to himself and Simmons than the room at large. As he did, he walked towards the shelves and grabbed a device with his free hand. He positioned the thing over the tracker, pressed a button and a tiny pulse wave was released. “There, it’s deactivated. No one will be able to use the tracker to locate the Playground now.”

 

“Unless they already gleaned the coordinates earlier,” May said.

 

Grant did not reply to the unspoken accusation that he had deceived them when he said that Whitehall and the rest of Hydra did not know about the tracker. He was telling the truth then, and if they did not believe him, they would soon when no one came.

 

“If they did know where we are, reinforcements would have arrived by now,” Skye said. She squeezed his hand again as she looked at May.

 

Warmth rushed through Grant and made his breath hitch in his chest. He wanted to use their clasped hands to pull her closer until he could hold her again. He needed her in his arms more than he had ever needed anything.

 

Only years of training denying himself what he wanted prevented Grant from doing so. He had to stay focused and collected. Besides, she had detached herself from him earlier when they had embraced and probably did not want him to touch her like that again. She said she cared about him when they spoke the first time in his cell, but how much did she care?

 

A terrible thought occurred to him and sent ice through his veins. Coulson had pitied him after what he heard about Grant’s past through the memory machine. Maybe Skye felt the same. Maybe she was just holding his hand and allowing him to be close to her because she felt sorry for him.

 

His stomach rolled painfully. The room felt too small all of the sudden, and Grant needed space from everyone and everything. Instead, he knew all he was likely to get would be a one-way trip back to his cage and a few self-righteous SHIELD lectures.

 

Grant subtly tried to control his breathing. He needed to remain calm. He had a new goal that he should be concentrating on, and Skye must care at least a little to prioritize him during the earlier fight. He had to stop being so weak. John would-

 

May let Skye’s comment go without one of her own, but Coulson nodded.

 

“That’s likely true,” Coulson said. “Still, everyone should remain on alert for the time being.”

 

“Sir,” Trip’s voice came from behind May, who was still blocking the doorway. The Cavalry moved aside to let Trip, the British agent and Morse inside. “All the Hydra agents are apprehended or dead. Mack had gotten a head start before we even got there.”

 

Morse cast a look at him before turning to face Coulson. There was an obvious unspoken question there, and Grant was surprised when Coulson just said, “Go ahead,” to her.

 

“None of them knew anything of value,” she said. “I interrogated the two surviving members, but they weren’t even aware of the bombing that Garrett spoke of.”

 

Grant blinked slowly and did not let anything show on his expression at the mention of the name.

 

“So what’s the plan, boss man?” The British agent asked Coulson as he pulled out a chair and straddled it backwards.

 

Skye also got comfortable. She leaned her hip against the side of the table Grant was sitting on and let their joined hands rest on his thigh. She was so close that it was distracting, but Grant welcomed it. He wished nothing more than to get lost in her.

 

“There are too many potential target locations to just guess,” Morse said. “We need to know where the attack is planned for or stop it before it’s set up.”

 

Coulson grimaced. “My contact inside Hydra is gone, so guessing may be the only option.”

 

The Cavalry frowned. “Agent Young?”

 

“Dead,” Coulson confirmed. “They found him out.”

 

Grant had suspected SHIELD had a mole in Hydra for a while. He and John- They had discussed the possibility after multiple missions and bases were compromised due to SHIELD inexplicitly having knowledge of Hydra’s movements.

 

But the name Young… Grant knew it. It took him a second to realize who was being referred to, and then his fists clenched at the realization.

 

“Raymond Young was a SHIELD mole?” Grant asked to be sure.

 

May’s smirk was all the answer he needed. Her satisfied expression made him grit his teeth in rage knowing what he did.

 

But this new information only confirmed what he already knew: he had to go back to Hydra.

 

Skye shifted besides him and spoke lowly by his ear. “Why are you so upset about the mole?”

 

Grant wanted to answer her, but he could not in front of all of the smug faces. If he gave her the real reason and not the assumed one that he just was pissed he missed a leak in Hydra, then the rest of the room would hear as well.

 

“Grant?” Skye called softly

 

Grant turned to look at her and only her. He did not want to see the indifferent or judgmental expressions of the others when he spoke. He trusted that Skye cared though, and somehow staring at her beautiful features twisted up in concern for him calmed him.

 

“Scarlotti was not my usual partner. I teamed up with Kara on most of my missions that required a second operative. When Whitehall put me with Scarlotti instead of Kara, I assumed something was wrong, especially since Scarlotti usually focused on hunting gifteds,” Grant explained.

 

“Young was under Kara’s command, which means she would be seen as the person responsible for missing the mole. Whitehall’s probably been torturing her for her failure,” Grant concluded angrily. He did not realize how tightly he was gripping Skye’s hand until she put her other one soothingly on his.

 

Skye’s mouth parted in horror before turning to Coulson. “We have to do something,” she declared.

 

“We will,” Coulson assured.

 

“He could be making this up to manipulate us,” the Cavalry pointed out.

 

Grant barked out a dark laugh. “Why would I do that? None of you care about Kara. She’s been tortured and abused for almost a year because of you, and no one has tried to stop it before.”

 

“Have you tried?” Morse asked.

 

Grant’s jaw clenched, but Skye spoke before he could say anything. “Shut up, Bobbi,” she said venomously.

 

Trip and Fitz glared at Morse, too, and Grant wondered if they were defending him or just angry with her.

 

“This is not helping,” the British agent said. “Unless you think arguing is going to help 33.” He raised his hands helplessly.

 

“Hunter as the voice of reason,” Trip muttered. “Never thought I’d see the day.”

 

Silence washed over the room as no one seemed to know what to say after that before May gave Coulson a significant look, and Coulson straightened up. Grant tensed knowing that they were finally going to act.

 

“Skye, go see if you can retrieve those files,” Coulson ordered. Grant was both pleased and irritated by the notion that Coulson believed Skye needed to be removed before they could lock him up again.

 

Unconsciously, Grant’s grip on Skye’s hand tightened. He did not want her to leave him. She was the only thing holding him together at the moment.

 

“No,” Skye said bluntly surprising Grant.

 

Coulson stopped short and threw her an incredulous look. “That wasn’t a request, Agent Skye.”

 

“I don’t care, Director Coulson,” Skye replied mockingly. “Just because things have been crazy the last day doesn’t mean I’ve forgotten what you did. I’m still furious with you.”

 

Coulson’s face was blank. “I haven’t forgotten what you did either. You disobeyed a direct order to sneak into Vault D to visit a prisoner after disabling the video feed in the middle of the night.”

 

“I know what you’re doing,” Skye raged. “But you’re not sending me off on another pointless task just so you can imprison and torture Grant again. Do Simmons and Fitz have other sudden missions? Maybe conveniently on the other side of the country?”

 

“He won’t be tortured,” Coulson reassured.

 

His attempt at calming Skye was undermined when May added, “Depending on how cooperative he is this time around.”

 

The Cavalry saying that made him sure that he did not want to tell them anything just out of spite. Unfortunately, he needed them on his side if he was going to get back to Hydra and save Kara.

 

The British agent, Hunter, looked perturbed as his eyes darted around the room. Morse frowned resignedly. Fitz was wringing his hands again, but this time he seemed more furious than nervous. Simmons’ lips pinched in displeasure at his side.

 

“Hang on,” Trip interrupted before Skye could retort. “We’re not torturing him. Didn’t we decide that was an awful idea that we shouldn’t have gone through with just yesterday?”

 

“Thank you!” Hunter exclaimed. “At least one of you is paying attention! How many times are we going to go through this? Bob, you’re not okay with this, are you?”

 

Hunter looked expectantly at Morse, who for her part seemed uncomfortable. She stood with her arms crossed near Hunter but did not answer him.

 

It was weird to sit there while they just talked about him as if he were not in the room. Grant kept quiet anyway because he wanted to hear what they had to say. This was his first opportunity to observe the interactions among SHIELD’s top agents. While it was clear that they were more of a cohesive unit than Hydra, there were still noticeable lines drawn in the sand.

 

Hunter wanted Morse’s opinion, and they seemed to be partners or lovers, even though there was some tension there. Similarly, Fitz and Simmons were a twosome that appeared to draw strength from each other. They presented a united front more than the first pair though.

 

May and Coulson also stood side by side and formed their own smaller team. From what Jo- from what Grant had heard, May and Coulson had a long history, and she was endlessly devoted to him. Grant doubted they had ever slept together, but they were intimate in other, more important ways.

 

Trip had drifted towards Fitz and Simmons but still close to Hunter. That placed him farther from Coulson and the Cavalry in what appeared to be a deliberate choice on his part.

 

Physically, Skye was aligning herself with him, which made Grant’s heart beat a little faster to realize. Within the team, she seemed closest with Fitz and Simmons but also allowed to get away with more in her exchanges with Coulson and the Cavalry.

 

Grant was not sure whether it was because of him or if something else had been brewing for a while, but it was evident that the SHIELD team was breaking at the seams. People were taking sides and arguing, which only increased the division forming.

 

That was not conducive for what Grant wanted to accomplish though. He probably could not exploit it because trying to would likely cause them to close ranks over a common enemy. A divided SHIELD was little help to him now as he needed them to fulfill his goal. He did not want to stage a one-man mission into Hydra to get Kara.

 

His plans relied on SHIELD distracting and even killing Whitehall, Bakshi and the others. If Grant himself killed Whitehall, Kara would lose it and not allow him to talk sense into her because of her brainwashing. But if Whitehall were still alive, Kara would never willingly leave Hydra.

 

Grant mulled over his options as he analyzed the dynamic presented to him. His thoughts were abruptly derailed by the next voice that chimed in.

 

“I’m not letting anyone torture Ward,” Fitz declared firmly as he stared down Coulson.

 

Grant had not expected that. If anyone, he thought Skye might protest, but even she, he assumed, would eventually back down when pressed. Fitz would be his last choice for backup in a physical altercation, but Grant was strangely moved by his determination to defend him, even if he would be of little help if a fight broke out.

 

Skye moved slightly so she was between Coulson and Grant. “I can’t believe we’re even discussing this, but obviously I’m not letting anyone torture him,” she spoke with the same dangerous expression on her face that she had when she glared at Jo-

 

“I won’t stand by and let SHIELD do such an unethical thing again- to Ward or anyone else,” Simmons added.

 

“Enough,” Coulson massaged his temples. “No one is being tortured.” He threw a pointed look at May before returning his gaze to Skye. “But we can’t just let him leave either. He’s going back into Vault D-“

 

Fitz and Skye protested the loudest, but Grant noticed that everyone was speaking up now. It was impossible to fully separate the voices, but it sounded like most people were against that decision. The reasons varied as Fitz, Simmons, Skye and even Trip appeared to think that was pointless after what he did while Morse and Hunter thought that was ridiculous as they already had too many Hydra prisoners to deal with. May spoke lowly to Coulson with her lips hidden, so Grant could not make out what she was saying.

 

Grant took some pleasure in seeing how Coulson’s unflappable expression slipped slightly with every objection, but he could not help but remember this division would hurt his goal.

 

“Sir,” Morse raised her voice until it cut over the rest. “We can’t hold so many Hydra agents. We don’t have the resources or a place to put them all.”

 

“We could give the others to Talbot,” Trip suggested. “Might get him off our back.”

 

Grant snorted loudly, which drew the room’s attention to him as he wanted. “Unlikely.”

 

Coulson sighed and cut to the chase, “What do you know?”

 

Trying hard not to think about what he was saying, Grant answered, “Talbot’s in the pocket of my brother.” He needed to build credibility for telling them the truth before he made his proposal. Even knowing that, Grant felt nauseas at the thought of Christian. The memories of the well were seared into his brain, something that had been exacerbated by the fucking memory machine. Even now, he could hear Thomas’ voice begging him…

 

“Talbot did say he had a rich senator friend,” Hunter said.

 

The lines on Coulson’s forehead grew more pronounced. “We’ll give the other Hydra agents to him anyway. At the very least, it’ll distract him from us.” Coulson paused and turned to Grant, “What do you want, Ward?”

 

Grant raised his eyebrows.

 

“You didn’t say anything when we were discussing what to do with you,” Coulson said.

 

“I’m sorry,” Grant said without an ounce of apology, “I thought you were smart enough to realize I’d be against all options that leave me tortured and imprisoned again.”

 

Coulson did not rise to the bait. “But you telling us the information about Talbot and Garrett and Whitehall’s feud means you’re up to something.”

 

Grant forced himself to smirk because he wanted to put Coulson on edge and irritate the Cavalry. Let them read into that however they wanted.

 

When Grant stayed quiet, Coulson pressed, “So what do you want?”

 

Grant resisted the urge to look at Skye. “What about what you want, Director Coulson?”

 

Grant allowed his smirk to widen when Coulson gave him one of those bland secretive smiles. “I’m listening,” Coulson said.

 

“You want to prevent the bombing from happening, but you don’t have any intel to go off of,” Grant said and let the implication hang in the room.

 

“We’re not making deals with you,” May interrupted. She glared at Coulson, “Coulson, don’t.”

 

“Wait, Grant,” Skye said. She laid her free hand on his shoulder to catch his attention, which was funny to him because she already had it. She always had his attention. “What are you suggesting?”

 

“I can stop the bombing. Without Joh-“ Grant embarrassingly faltered before continuing as smoothly as he could, “I’m the explosives expert for Hydra. I can easily walk into base and dismantle the devices. In all likelihood, Whitehall will personally ask me to set them up.”

 

Morse cocked her head to the side. “You want to be released, so you can go back to Hydra, and we’re supposed to just trust you’ll do as you say? What’s to stop you from crawling back to Whitehall in search of a new master?”

 

Skye bristled beside him, but Grant was unmoved by Morse’s taunts. She was trying to get a reaction from him just as she had while interrogating him. SHIELD had said worse to him before and would again. It was only the memories that would not leave him alone that bothered him.

 

“We can’t let you go on your word that you’ll disarm the bombs,” Coulson said bluntly.

 

“That’s not what I’m proposing,” Grant said as he leaned forward. “You don’t have to take my word the bombs are disarmed, you can have Trip check for himself after I let you in Hydra’s headquarters.”

 

The room reacted predictably. At this point, Grant could guess how each of them would respond to his suggestion. There were happy reactions from those that seemed to trust him and skeptical ones from everyone else. In between, a few managed to mostly hide their opinions, but even Coulson’s benign, affected expression could not hide his interest.

 

The one who surprised him slightly was actually Skye. Her face lit up in a blinding smile that stole his breath and heart all over again. He would do anything and everything to earn that smile again and again forever.

 

For a moment, Grant imagined wrapping his free arm around her waist and lifting her into his lap, so he could kiss that smile.

 

“Ward,” Coulson called impatiently.

 

Grant wrenched his gaze away from Skye’s look of flushed joy to regard the stern face of the director of SHIELD.

 

“Enough bravado,” Coulson said. “What exactly are you proposing?”

 

“I go back to Hydra’s headquarters and sneak you and your team in to help you dismantle the base,” Grant propositioned.

 

Coulson narrowed his eyes. “And what are your conditions?”

 

Grant made a show of shrugging his shoulders. “Whitehall dies and Hydra falls. I assume that’s okay with you,” Grant said. “And no one touches Kara,” he added after a second.

 

“No one is going to hurt Agent 33,” Coulson promised, which was such an absurd thing to say after all they had done to her that Grant just scoffed loudly.

 

“Why do you want Hydra destroyed?” Morse asked.

 

“I’d rather not deal with them following me after I betrayed them, Whitehall’s a prick, I hate most of them- pick any reason,” Grant said flippantly.

 

“I have conditions, too,” Coulson said. “You have a tracker implanted in you-“

 

“No,” Grant said simply.

 

“This isn’t a negotiation,” Coulson said.

 

“You’re right,” Grant agreed readily. “This isn’t a negotiation because you have no leverage to negotiate with.”

 

“Your life is in our hands,” the Cavalry said. “Is that leverage enough?”

 

“You won’t kill me. I’m the best chance you have at destroying Hydra,” Grant boasted. “You’ll never get another opportunity like this, and you know it. I know the location of dozens of bases, the names of all the leaders you don’t even know you need to learn, the missions that haven’t begun yet, the access codes, ways of communicating- I know more information than you could learn in years.”

 

“We could lock you up and interrogate you again,” Coulson said.

 

Grant got off the medical table and let go of Skye’s hand in order to give Coulson his full, menacing look.

 

“You throw me in a cage again, and I promise you I won’t say a single word. I’ve spent months without interacting with another person before. You won’t convince me to speak if you do that,” Grant said lowly, even though he was not entirely sure how well he would hold up if forced into that place again. His emotions and weakness were already threatening to overwhelm. All that mattered was that Coulson believed him though, and Grant knew he could sell it. It was almost easier than Grant thought it would be. Coulson did not even appear doubtful at his claim that he had gone months without human contact.“I will never tell you anything,” Grant promised.

 

“And if we put you in the memory machine again?” May wondered with a cruel sneer. “That got you talking before. In fact, we were having trouble getting you to stop.”

 

The thought of that thing and how apparently they all stood around laughing at him while he relived his past sent Grant’s blood boiling. His fists clenched, and his lips turned down in an ugly sneer.

 

“Enough, Melinda,” Coulson ordered her before his eyes cut towards Grant. “Ward, stand down.”

 

Grant had not realized he had begun to advance on her until Coulson drew attention to it. He was shaking slightly in fury and balling his fists tighter did little to conceal that fact. He tried to slow his breathing, but the rage remained, a pounding force that made him want to hit something.

 

Skye inserted herself in between May and him. She peered up at him with soft brown eyes and gently placed a hand on his chest over his hammering heart. “No one’s putting you in the memory machine again. I promise you.”

 

Grant stared at her until he felt the tension leak out of him. He wanted her so much it hurt.

 

“I have something that would allow us to monitor Ward without a tracker,” Fitz said. When everyone turned to look at him, he hastened to explain. “I’ve been working on something since the mission with Akela Amador. The glasses were too noticeable, but a removable way to track someone through their eyes was useful. Well, I had some time on my hands, and I love a challenge. I tinkered a little-“

 

“Fitz, get to the point, mate,” Hunter interrupted. “I want to get some sleep.”

 

“Contacts that would give us a video feed of Ward’s movements and have audio as well, so we could follow his movements without actually tracking him,” Fitz blurted out.

 

Grant frowned skeptically. Contacts that he could remove would likely be the best deal he could get. At the same time… “And these things won’t mold to my eyes or something equally awful?”

 

“No, of course not!” Fitz said at once.

 

“So you’ve tested them?” Grant tried to clarify and watched Fitz visibly falter.

 

“I may need more time to get them ready,” Fitz said with a sheepish look.

 

Coulson nodded. “You’ll have it. It’s almost two o’clock now, and we need to get some rest tonight. Seven hours of sleep and then we can plan while you prepare the contacts, Fitz.”

 

Grant felt everyone’s eyes on him again and knew they were wondering how to proceed. “I’m not sleeping in a cell,” Grant declared bluntly. If they put him in one, there was no guarantee they would not change their minds and leave him there to rot.

 

“We can’t just let you roam the base,” Coulson argued.

 

“You can bunk with me,” Skye offered cheekily.

 

Multiple people in the room appeared visibly disgusted, but Grant only had eyes for Skye. The prospect of spending the night alone with her away from prying eyes and ears made Grant’s lips tug up in a genuine smile.

 

“Ugh gross,” Fitz loudly proclaimed. Grant looked over at him a little offended before Fitz continued obliviously, “Ward, she’s a huge slob. Last time I was in her room, there were lots of ladies things everywhere.” He shuddered comically.

 

Grant stared at him for a moment unsure of what to say before turning to Skye. Her affronted face as she put her hands on her hips like she was going to let Fitz have it made Grant grin despite himself. When she saw that, she turned her gaze towards him.

 

“I’m not that bad,” she rushed to explain. She bit her lip and added, “But maybe give me a minute to clean up first.”

 

Unbidden laughter left his lips. There was a tinge of hysteria in it, but it was the first time in a while he could remember sincerely laughing in amusement.

 

“It’s not funny,” Skye said, but a smile tugged the corners of her mouth. She shook her head and grabbed his hand again. “Come on, let’s go.”

 

As she dragged him out of the room, she called back to the others that she would see them in the morning and left no room for argument. Grant half expected Coulson or the Cavalry to stop them, but everyone was silent behind them.

 

Or maybe Grant was too caught up in the promising glint of Skye’s eyes as she threw a look over her shoulder to care what was being said.

Chapter Text

 

Skye made her way back to her bunk without ever letting go of Grant’s hand. It was strange how nice it felt to simply interlace their fingers together and have the reassuring pressure of his hand in hers. She remembered the awkwardness of holding hands with Miles where her palm was sweaty and his grip too tight, but she was too afraid to let go lest he get upset at her “emotional distance” again.

 

How many times had Skye cupped Miles or another guy’s face or reached out to grab his hand not because she needed the comforting warmth but because she knew that was what couples were supposed to do. In all her relationships, it was like she acted out an elaborate part that Skye did not even realize was make believe until she felt the real thing.

 

Maybe that was love was- no longer going through the motions because of what you expect you should do, but being so enamored by someone else that instinct took over whenever you were with them. You could not witness it or describe it, only experience it in all its terrifyingly explosive pleasure.

 

Those thoughts sent a thrill of excitement through her, even as they caused nervous jitters to settle in her stomach. The onslaught of emotions of the last couple days was almost overwhelming, but Skye decided to allow the giddiness to take over for now and to focus on one thing at a time.

 

With that thought, Skye threw open the door to her room and abruptly felt more embarrassed than anything else. She almost wished she had really made Grant wait outside while she cleaned up when she took in the rumbled sheets and clothes strewn across the room. Skye threw a quick glance to Grant. He did not look like he minded, but he also did not seem to be fully back in reality either.

 

Whatever. He had personally unhooked her bra before, so Skye was not going to get self-conscious about him seeing her “ladies things” everywhere as Fitz had put it. Still, she felt compelled to justify the state of her room.

 

“I’ve had a lot on my mind the last-“ Skye began to explain before Grant ensured her mouth was otherwise occupied.

 

He used their joined hands to pull her into his chest and gripped the back of her hand with his free hand to deepen the kiss she had unexpectedly been swept up in. He spun them around so that she was pressed up against the door. His fingers combed determinedly through her hair while his free hand released hers to grasp her thigh. Grant hiked it up to wrap her leg around his hip and press even closer to her.

 

Grant’s larger frame engulfed her own and sent fire through her veins. She snuck her hands underneath his shirt to trace the muscles in his back and abs with a determination to memorize every inch of him.

 

There was a hunger in the kiss that surpassed all their other ones. Grant’s lips moved with a desperation that was not unlike a suffocating man searching for air, and his hands clutched at her as though he believed she was liable to disappear at any moment.

 

“Skye,” he gasped into her mouth.

 

Skye opened her eyes and took him in. The disheveled hair and wild eyes, the wrinkled prison garb and pallid skin, the blood stains and myriad of bruises, Skye focused her attention and fought the urge to allow him to erase everything miserable about the last couple days from her memory.

 

“Wait,” Skye whispered reluctantly when Grant’s lips sucked at her pulse point. “Stop.”

 

Grant went rigid in her arms and detached himself so quickly that by the time Skye blinked, he was already stiffly standing several feet away. His expression had shut down again. It was a mixture of the blank face he had perfected to hide his emotions and the utter hollowness that had taken over since he killed Garrett.

 

That was the last thing Skye had wanted, but she knew there were things that had to be done first and so much to discuss. That was the only reason she stopped herself from beckoning him closer once more.

 

Skye watched him retreating into himself and his eyes drain of all emotion once more and rushed to speak up.

 

“You should probably clean up and get something to eat before we let ourselves get distracted,” Skye explained. She had hoped he would work up a smile or at least stop looking as expressive as a marble statue at that last part, but there was nothing amused in his eyes.

 

Grant muscles were coiled with tension and his eyes observed her cautiously, like an abused dog waiting to be kicked.

 

“When was the last time you ate?” Skye asked.

 

Grant appeared to think about it for a second, which was not a particularly good sign. “The morning before my mission with Scarlotti.”

 

That was two days ago. Had Coulson not given him any food before the memory machine? That was so mind-boggling to Skye. Had they held him for a day without feeding him or had Grant just refused the way he had with Simmons’ untouched sandwich?

 

“You need to eat something,” Skye said.

 

Grant’s face tightened minutely. “I can’t.”

 

Skye’s brows furrowed as she watched Grant shift his stare to focus over her shoulder as opposed to looking at her in the eye. “You can’t?”

 

“I’ll throw up anything I try to eat,” Grant explained shortly, still not quite meeting her gaze. “The memories-“ Grant’s lips pressed into a thin line as he cut himself off before he made eye contact again and tonelessly spoke, “The flashbacks from the machine are making me nauseous.”

 

“You’re having flashbacks,” Skye said aghast. Was that typical for the memory machine? That reminded her of a conversation she had with Fitz long ago about why Grant seemed far more affected by the Berserker Staff than May. Fitz had speculated that the emotional impact of the staff was greatly dependent on how much of a handle the victim on their emotions and how fully they had dealt with the instances that caused the rage and hatred. If the memory machine worked the same way, it was likely a response to the fact that Grant repressed the memories of his past instead of working through them in an emotionally healthy way.

 

Overcome with sympathy, Skye took a step forward to embrace him, but Grant retreated before she could get close.

 

“I don’t need your pity,” he snarled.

 

Skye did not let his rage bother her. She had seen enough from Grant to know he latched onto anger when confronted with despair, fear or any other emotion he did not want to handle. It was not a particularly good coping mechanism, but Skye had met shrinks who said the same about her use of sarcasm, so she was not going to judge him for that.

 

“I’m not pitying you,” Skye responded calmly. “I just want to comfort you.”

 

Should she tell him?

 

“I don’t need comfort,” Grant said, but he did not move when she approached again.

 

Skye begged to differ. Comfort was just the tip of the iceberg on things Skye thought Grant needed. Healthy relationships, a functioning moral compass and extensive therapy all came to mind… But comfort would have to suffice for now.

 

Skye encircled his waist with her arms and leaned her ear over his beating heart. “Everyone needs comfort, Grant,” she whispered into his chest. “You need it as well, and I want to give it to you because I care about you.”

 

Should she tell him now?                    

 

Grant’s arms wrapped around her with just the barest hint of hesitation, and he tucked her head into his neck as he leaned down to hug her more fully. 

 

Skye breathed in deeply to lose herself in his intoxicating scent. She nuzzled into his neck a little and tightened her grip on him.

 

If she told him she loved him, would that freak him out or reassure him?

 

“Come on,” Skye said. “You need a shower. You’re starting to smell,” she teased with a smile as she leaned back just far enough to stare up at him. “Does that sound good to you?”

 

“Depends,” he said lightly. “Will you be joining me?”

 

“Duh,” Skye said with an exaggerated roll of her eyes to ease the tension she still felt in his muscles. “You think I’m going to let you steal all the hot water?”

 

She could not tell him yet.

 

Skye drew back but kept both of his hands in each of hers. Slowly, she gave him a mischievous grin and pulled him with her as she backed into the bathroom.

 

Skye let go of his hands to take off her shoes and socks before peeling off her shirt under his intense stare. She held his gaze as she unclipped her bra and threw it at his feet. Her pants and panties were quick to follow. She leaned back against the counter and cocked her head to the side with a smirk of her own.

 

His eyes were glued to her every movement the whole time with a stare that became more heated with every article of clothing she tossed at him.

 

“Are you just going to stand there or are you going to lose that ugly, blood-stained outfit?”

 

The corners of his lips quirked up, and Grant shook his head. He tugged off his clothing with the kind of grace someone as tall as he was standing barefoot in a bathroom should not have.

 

Skye grabbed the prison outfit and threw it in the trash.

 

“Hey,” Grant said mildly. “I know you want me naked, but I will need something to wear later.”

 

Skye threw him a look. “You’re not wearing that again.”

 

“Well, I don’t exactly have a change of clothes. They probably burned mine when I was captured,” Grant said.

 

“Oh, no,” Skye mockingly gasped. “Wherever will you find another black, tac outfit?”

 

His deeply unimpressed look did nothing to dissuade her grin.

 

Skye did not wait for a response. She turned on the water and pulled Grant in with her. The shower managed to fit the two of them, but it was probably a good thing that Skye did not mind getting close with Grant.

 

Skye insisted on washing him, and Grant was oddly accepting of that. Maybe he was just not opposed to Skye running her hands all over his wet body. Skye sure was not. She was surprised when he stole the soap and shampoo to do the same with her. As much as his hands left trails of heat all over her, Skye also found the way he was so meticulously washing her to be a bit endearing in other ways.

 

There was a bit of shampoo in his hair still, so Skye stood on her tip toes and used a washcloth to rub it away. His hair was strangely soft for such a hard, calloused person. Skye ran her hands through it a couple times to ensure there were no more bubbles before trailing her hands down his face, neck and shoulders to rest on his pecs. Skye looked up at Grant for a moment and saw that same adoring look he sported their night in the hotel.

 

Leaning back against the tiles of the shower, Skye was hit with a memory that made her suddenly start laughing. It was the kind of carefree giggle that came from being so happy that the joy demanded an outlet.

 

“What is it?” Grant asked.

 

Skye wiped the smile off her face before she answered.

 

“I was just thinking about a dream I had several months ago,” Skye confessed in an overly solemn tone. She watched as Grant’s brows furrowed while he analyzed her. Skye nonchalantly continued, “I woke up sweaty and hot and bothered. It was so hot that I had to go shower to cool down after I woke up, but I was still so unsatisfied.”

 

Grant blinked slowly, as he took in her expectant look and contemplated her words.

 

Skye took pity on him. “You see, there was this guy I had met, and I just couldn’t get him out of my head no matter how much I tried. I dreamed about the two of us getting down and dirty, but when I woke up, he wasn’t there.” Laughter bled into her words despite Skye trying to remain serious as she spoke.

 

“That must have been terrible,” Grant faux-sympathetically.

 

“Yes,” Skye exclaimed as she leaned against Grant’s chest dramatically. “The worst. Unbearable!”

 

Skye dragged her fingers down Grant’s abs and thoughtfully traced the contours. When she peeked up to gauge his expression, she was unsurprised to see his heated gaze fixed on her. His mouth was parted slightly and droplets of water trickled down and outlined the hard lines of his body.

 

All in all, it was the hottest sight Skye had ever seen.

 

“I think we’re clean enough,” he said huskily.

 

“I agree,” Skye said, in a soft, breathless voice that barely carried over the sound of the shower. Somehow just staring at him had robbed her of her ability to continue the teasing atmosphere she had created.

 

Grant reached around to grab the faucet and let his hand brush her shoulder as he did. Skye shivered despite herself.

 

Grant stepped out of the shower first and grabbed two towels from the shelf. He held one up, and Skye made to take it from him before he gently grabbed her hand and lowered it instead. He squeezed the hand once and let go.

 

Slowly, Grant began to dry her off by patting her down everywhere. The motions were almost reverent, and Skye found herself mesmerized. No one had ever treated her this way, like she was the most incredible thing the world had to offer.

 

When he was done, he wrapped the towel around her and raised his hands to her face. She watched wide-eyed as he gently lifted one hand and used his thumb to brush back the wet strands of hair plastered to her cheeks. He tucked them behind her ears and then ran both hands through her hair to untangle it. After he finished, his hands remained framing her head as he just stared at her.

 

Skye leaned up to kiss him lightly on the lips just because she could. 

 

She pulled away gazing at him with half-lidded eyes and then squeaked in surprise when he grabbed her underneath her backside to pull her up flush against him. Their faces were aligned now, and Grant wasted no time in blindly leading them to her bed while his mouth demanded all his attention. His towel was left forgotten on the counter.

 

Skye laughed again when he pretty much threw her on the bed and crawled on top of her. He tugged at the towel that he had so tenderly wrapped her in and threw it aside without a look to see where it fell. She parted her legs and let him situate himself in between.

 

Gazing up at him now, Skye could not see any of the shadows and wildness in his eyes. Gone was the hollow emptiness and the obsessive fixation. She had worried before when he had madly kissed her that he was subconsciously using her as a distraction, giving himself something to focus on beyond the past he ran from and the death of his lunatic S.O, but Skye felt none of that when he held her now.

 

In that moment, all she felt was wanted.

 

The kisses were heated but almost languid, as if he was savoring every second their mouths were sealed together the way she was. His hands roamed all over her body like he did not want to leave one part of her untouched.

 

Skye arched her back and pressed her naked chest against his own as she gripped the back of his head to anchor his lips to hers.

 

As the touches grew more heated and the friction of their hips deliciously stronger, Skye ripped her mouth away from his to gasp, “I want to be on top.”

 

Grant pulled back slightly and did not protest. He spun them around, so that Skye was now straddling his hips while he looked up at her. Skye thought maybe he wanted to ask why she insisted on this position all of the sudden, but he did not say anything.

 

Skye was glad. She did not think he would understand her reasoning- or even appreciate it. But she just wanted to make him feel loved. She wanted to be the one doing the work and letting him just get lost in the feeling of it because there was nothing that she wanted more in that moment than for him to feel cared for and protected.

 

It was a good thing he did not ask because Skye did not have the words to explain it to him. The feelings were knew to her as well.

 

Skye braced herself on his chest and focused on his face while she lowered herself onto him. She watched as his eyes fluttered uncontrollably and his head fell back.

 

She kept the rhythm as long as she could until Grant surged upwards and supported her. He leaned against the wall and rested his forehead against hers while she sat in encased in his arms.

 

His lips started murmuring words that Skye tried to focus on as she fell apart. He told her she was the most beautiful woman he had ever seen. That she was first thing he had ever wanted in years. That he would never hurt her. That he wished that he could just stay forever in this moment and pretend the world outside did not exist.

 

Skye held onto those words as tightly as she held onto him while she came apart in his embrace.

 

Later that night, Skye lay tucked into his body with her back to him while he traced soothing circles into her hip. His breath rustled her hair, and he was so close that she felt every rise and fall of his chest.

 

After the tiring last few days and their earlier activities, it was a wonder they were still awake. Both of them seemed hesitant to close their eyes, as if they would wake up and find it was all a dream if they did. On some level, Skye was so exhausted that she could not believe she was still functioning, but she was also wide awake considering everything. Her mind was too preoccupied to let her sleep.

 

They would have to wake up soon and needed to rest before the raid of Hydra’s headquarters, but Skye wanted to hold onto the moment. Still, there were things they had to discuss first.

 

Reluctantly, Skye turned around to face Grant. His expression was so peaceful for once that Skye dreaded the effect her next words were sure to have.

 

“We need to talk,” Skye began hesitantly.

 

He sensed her change of mood and frowned. She could already feel him distancing himself from her, putting up walls to protect himself.

 

“About what?” Grant asked lightly anyway.

 

“About Garrett and what you saw in the memory machine.”

 

The reaction was instantaneous. Grant seized up and pulled back. For half a second, Skye could have sworn she saw blind panic in his eyes before he masked it.

 

“There’s nothing to talk about,” Grant said in a voice devoid of emotion, but he faltered slightly as he continued, “Garrett’s dead and the past is in the past.”

 

“But it’s still affecting you,” Skye argued gently. “And I don’t think you realize just how much, especially with what Garrett did to you.”

 

“John didn’t-“ Grant’s composure slipped. “You don’t know anything about my relationship with him.”

 

Skye strongly disagreed with that. Just witnessing their creepy interactions gave her an idea, but she also had gotten a full rundown of his history with the psycho from Bobbi and the juvie video. Still, she thought he would become more closed off if she let him know that.

 

“Then explain it to me,” she said. “I want to understand. You once told me you owed him everything. Why was that?”

 

Grant was rigid now, and Skye figured this was the last thing he wanted to talk about.

 

He was quiet for so long that Skye had already assumed he would refuse to answer when he finally opened his mouth.

 

“John found me at a time when I had nothing, when I was nothing,” Grant began hesitantly. His eyes were hazy and unfocused, like he was in a different time. “He saved me from myself and taught me how to make something of myself. Without him, I wouldn’t… I was weak and helpless before I met him, and the only reason anyone gives a damn about me now is because of him and what he made of me. Hydra, SHIELD, John transformed me into someone who was worth noticing, who had control of his life.” 

 

Skye did not know what to say to that. She would hardly describe what she had seen of Garrett and Grant’s dynamic as a relationship that gave Grant “control”.

 

“He didn’t care about you, Grant. You have to know that on some level,” Skye said quietly. “No one would punish someone they cared about for caring about someone else. They wouldn’t torture them with something like the Berserker Staff-“

 

“Stop,” he said as he squeezed his eyes shut. “I can’t talk about him now.”

 

Skye decided that he would probably need time to process her words anyway. She allowed the subject of Garrett to drop for now, but that was not all she had to bring up.

 

“What about your family?” Skye asked. “In the memory machine, you were talking about your mother and brother a lot. You mentioned a well a lot.”

 

Grant grew visibly paler as she spoke, but Skye would not let him run away from this conversation. She suspected that he had never spoken of it to someone who cared about him before. He needed to if he were to ever move past it.

 

Skye allowed her eyes to fill up with all the love, comfort and protectiveness she wanted him to feel. “You can trust me,” she said when he hesitated.

 

Something in his expression softened. The hard lines on his face smoothed over, and the tension bled out of him. Maybe he did not believe he could truly trust her, but he wanted to and would anyway.

 

Haltingly, Grant spoke of growing up in his family and the way his mother had tortured her children, except for the youngest brother. She could not help but connect what she was hearing now to what Bobbi had uncovered. More than that, every mention of the twistedly cruel way his older brother forced him to hurt his younger one just reminded her of how Grant cried out that he did not mean to, had not wanted to but would do anything not to be hurt…

 

As he detailed the messed up dynamics, Skye felt an overwhelming sense of helplessness. It seemed so unfair that these people held so much power and sway given how they used it behind closed doors.

 

It struck Skye then how she and Grant’s childhoods were opposites in some way. She grew up desperately hoping for her family to appear and whisk away from St. Agnes and the foster system while Grant wished for nothing more than for his family to vanish. Skye had wanted a family more than anything while Grant had probably longed to be an orphan.

 

When he got to the well, Skye thought Grant seemed like he was about to be sick even as he delivered the information in a clipped, almost clinical voice. She could hardly blame him as she was starting to feel ill, too, from just listening.

 

“Christian said that I had wanted to push Thomas in. Mother said the same, and no one ever believed me when I said otherwise. Eventually, I started to feel like they must be right because why else would no one see what I saw? It felt so obvious to me, but if no one else agreed, then I had to be wrong. I felt crazy and didn’t trust my own memories,” his voice wavered. “But every time I’m forced to remember, with that damn staff or the machine, all I can see is Christian stopping me from throwing the rope saying, ‘Not yet, Grant.’”

 

Remembering the way he had desperately clung to her while lost in the memory machine’s flashbacks, Skye immediately grabbed his hand in hers and said without prompting, “I believe you, Grant.”

 

The way he stared at her, the expression that filled his face, it was of pure awe. He looked at her more adoringly in that moment than he had when they were intimate.

 

Skye smiled tightly and said, “And I want to tell you my story, too, even the parts I run from.”

 

Grant sat at attention and hung on every word as it all poured out of her. Once she started, she could not stop or censor the words tumbling from her lips. She had planned to only tell him the facts of her powers and childhood, but she found herself speaking of things that she had not quite recognized bothered her so much. The freakishness, the loneliness, the crushing disappointment of meeting her dad and the overwhelming sense that she was an outsider, a monster, even now at SHIELD, all of it was confessed softly in the quiet night. Skye instinctively knew she could trust him with the words that she had never given voice to.

 

Grant’s grip tightened on her as she spoke. He was absentmindedly caressing her hip again, but when she brought up how she felt like a monster, he stopped.

 

“I know monsters, Skye,” Grant said. “I’ve lived with them, worked with them, fought them. Skye, I am one.”

 

Skye wanted to argue, but he gave her no opportunity.

 

“The only monsters in your story are the ones who turned their back on you because of what they thought you could do rather than what you would actually do. My family… you could crush them in a fight, but it’s not the power someone has that makes them a monster, it’s how they use it.”

 

“But I destroyed so much,” Skye protested. “That’s all I can do. I shatter windows, knock down trees, uproot the Earth, all I do is destroy, and I can’t control it.”

 

“You’ll learn,” Grant promised, “But that’s not even true. You protected yourself from Scarlotti with your powers and will discover how to protect others, too, with time. You’ll be able to help people and will because you’re good, Skye. Don’t ever think otherwise.”

 

Skye gave him a watery smile as she felt like a weight was lifted from her shoulders. She was not sure how much she believed him- and Grant was hardly the authority on morality- but the unquestioning acceptance he conveyed with every look and every word meant more than she could say. Skye felt a surety that she had never experienced before that Grant wanted her, cared for her and would never tire of her. It was an exhilarating feeling.

 

His next words ruined her elation.

 

“We can leave it all behind,” he said with a glint to his gaze that only grew more pronounced as he continued, “SHIELD, Hydra, all of it could be out of our lives forever. I can make us disappear and you could cover our tracks, so they’d never find us. We can escape.”

 

The silence stretched awkwardly when Skye could only stare at him alarmed and dismayed.

 

“I don’t want to leave SHIELD,” Skye said finally. “This is my home. I love Coulson, Simmons, Fitz, May, Trip, everyone. They’re my family.” The excited light in his eyes faded as she spoke, so Skye was quick to reassure him. “We can talk about it after the mission. We have time now. We’re not going anywhere.”

 

But Grant’s eyes shuttered to conceal whatever he thought. Skye worried for a second before the anxiety left him, and he leaned forward to press a lingering kiss to her forehead.

 

“We’ll talk afterwards,” he whispered into her skin as he held her tight to his bare chest. “Let’s just sleep now.”

 

His soothing voice and the warmth of his embrace was enough to remind her of how tired she was. Skye felt his heartbeat pounding against her ear as she finally allowed herself to succumb to exhaustion.

Chapter Text

Morning came too soon as all mornings do after the perfect night. Skye woke up gradually and spent the first twenty minutes after she did snuggling even closer to the warm body whose embrace she found herself in. Without opening her eyes, she smiled into Grant’s shoulder.

 

“Good morning,” his voice was soft as he breathed the words into Skye’s temple and rustled a couple strands of hair.

 

Skye blinked blearily and peeked up at him. “’Morning.” She absentmindedly started tracing the muscles on his bare chest. “What time is it?”

 

“Almost seven,” he replied.

 

Skye halted her hand’s movements and stared up at him aghast. “And why are we up so early when we don’t have to meet the others until nine?”

 

“I can’t sleep late,” he said. “I tried not to wake you.”

 

Skye snorted. She was a highly trained secret agent and had sensed his gaze on her before she was fully awake.

 

As if he read her thoughts on his face, Grant grinned. “Well, I thought I might have worn you out last night.”

 

Skye patted his chest with a smile of her own. “I’m a hard woman to keep up with, I know, but you’re going to have to try a lot harder to get there. Don’t worry, there’ll be plenty of time for you to try after this is all over.”

 

In response to her last comment, Grant’s grin did not falter, but his eyes tightened slightly, which worried Skye. Did he think that she would let the others lock him up after the mission?

 

Uneasiness unfurled inside her stomach. Skye reached out a hand to gently cup his cheek, “Hey…”

 

Grant did not let her say anything as he ducked his head down to press a soft kiss on her forehead. “We can talk after the mission,” he mumbled into her skin.

 

Skye did not like hearing her own words from last night used against her, but it was probably time to prepare for the day anyway. “Right,” she agreed as she pulled back to stare into his amber eyes. They were clear of any shadows, and Skye allowed herself to relax once more.

 

Grant stared at her with the same adoring look he favored her at the hotel, the one that made her think that she was the center of his world.

 

He leaned down and captured her lips fully in a searing kiss that left her breathless. But it done sweetly and unhurried, almost innocent if that word could ever be used to describe something Grant Ward did. He shifted until he was hovering over her while she looked up at him expectantly. She was not disappointed.

 

He peppered kisses to her cheeks and nose and the corner of her mouth down to neck and shoulder. He kept a light grip on her hip the whole time as he entangled his other hand in her hair.

 

For a brief second, Skye was sad because the happiness she felt in that moment was something so wonderful that she instinctively did not trust it could last. There was something dreadful that lurked behind perfect moments because it was hard to believe that you could ever be that happy again.

 

Skye banished those thoughts as she gripped Grant’s face to pull his mouth back to hers. He returned her enthusiasm at once, and soon Skye forgot all about her worries.

 

All too soon, Grant withdrew and gave her a look that was annoyingly serious to let Skye know that relaxation time was over.

 

“Why are you stopping? We still have hours,” Skye whined anyway.

 

“There’s something I want to do before we meet your team,” Grant said.

 

“Fine,” Skye agreed with a put upon sigh. She threw off the bed sheets and grabbed her mission clothes to put on. “Where are we headed?” She asked when she was done and turned to stare at him.

 

“The gym,” Grant said. There was a strange tone to his voice, as if he were holding in laughter.

 

“What is it? You got me up, now what are you waiting for?”

 

“Clothes, for starters,” Grant said with a smirk as he crossed his arms behind his head as if to emphasize his nakedness. “You threw out my prison outfit, remember?”

 

Right. Skye tore her gaze away from his body with great reluctance. “I can go ask Fitz for some,” she offered.

 

“Somehow I doubt we’re the same size,” Grant said dryly.

 

Yeah, but that was part of the appeal. Grant in Fitz’s dorky sweaters and plaid shirts stretching too tightly across his muscles would be something Skye would pay to see.

 

“I’ll figure something out,” she said as she went to the door, but when she opened it, Skye nearly tripped over the carefully folded clothes that lay before her. She reached down to examine them and found it was an all-black set of pants, shirt, boots and socks typically donned by specialists underneath armor. Skye held it up and saw they were about Grant’s size.

 

These were Trip’s clothes, Skye realized. He must have left them outside her door for Grant earlier, maybe even when they were showering last night. Skye returned to the room with a rush of unexpected warmth because even if Grant did not agree, Skye knew she had great friends.

 

“Here you go,” Skye declared cheerily as she threw the clothes sans boots to Grant.

 

He caught them easily. His brow furrowed while he stared down at the clothes before dressing himself quickly.

 

After the two of them were ready, Skye led him to the Playground’s- thankfully empty- gym. Grant surveyed the room with a detached professionalism. Skye watched as he took in all the details from the padded mats on the floor to the cameras perched in two of the ceiling’s corners.

 

Skye bounced lightly on the balls of her feet and jokingly raised her fists. “All right, are we going to spar? Because I think I might feel bad about kicking your ass before such an important mission. Might wreck your confidence.”

 

“My ego is fine, thank you,” he teased back, but he had now turned his contemplative gaze towards her. “I have a different type of sparring in mind though.”

 

Grant approached her and halted Skye’s bouncing with careful hands on both of her shoulders. He swiveled her around, so she was now facing Grant and the middle of the mat, Skye’s curiosity was piqued.

 

Skye cocked her head to the side, “Oh, yeah? What’s that?”

 

“I want you to use your powers on me,” he said.

 

That effectively ruined all of Skye’s lightheartedness.

 

“What?” Skye blurted out. Was he crazy? Well, Skye could actually think of a few people who would probably say yes to that…

 

“Come on, you’re not going to hurt me,” Grant said as he backed away. He held his hands up and beckoned her closer as if to dare Skye to give him her best shot.

 

Still, she hesitated. Uncertainty had slivered up her spine and taken root there, freezing any moves she could make.

 

“Did you forget what I did to Scarlotti’s bullet?” Skye said incredulously.

 

“That’s exactly what I want you to do here,” Grant replied. “Only try to manage the force of the blow. I’m going to attack you while you try to knock me off my feet, preferably into the air as well.”

 

“Um excuse me, but you haven’t really seen me in action,” Skye tried to sound confident and casual. “This is a terrible idea. I can cause 10.0 earthquakes and you saw what I did to the glass in our hotel room!”

 

He smirked cockily, which was an unfairly attractive and distracting expression, but it was actually his words that stole her breath.

 

“I didn’t say you couldn’t hurt me, just that you’re not going to,” Grant corrected. “I trust you won’t.”

 

Skye looked down at her hands before raising her eyes to him again. “I don’t know, Grant,” she tried again.

 

He did not give her another moment. She had not finished speaking before he was attacking her with enough force to knock the wind out of her when she failed to block a well-aimed kick to her chest.

 

“Asshole,” she wheezed as she darted back. “I’m trying not to hurt you.”

 

“Stop trying,” he said as he knocked her back again.

 

Well, now he was pissing her off. She threw a punch in retaliation that he easily dodged and even grabbed her arm to twist it behind her back and push her to the ground.

 

She glared up at him. “What the hell is your problem?”

 

“You’re still leading with your left shoulder,” Grant taunted with a tsk and tossed an arrogant smirk in her direction.

 

Skye was on her feet attacking him before he could continue being an obnoxious jackass. Strangely, this was the most intense fight they had ever engaged in. Skye could not help but reflect on just how much he had been holding back the couple times they fought before. It was almost frightening the viciousness of his attacks all while his expression remained empty, bored even.

 

Skye was on the defensive the entire fight. Fighting Grant seriously was very different than sparring with May or Bobbi. He had the experience and skill that they had but also a completely different approach and his height and weight were so unlike May especially.

 

Skye barely blocked a kick only to be faced with what was sure to be a brutal punch to the face. Unthinkingly, she threw up her hands to stop the fist and felt the familiar surge of power flow into her fingers.

 

Grant flew back fifteen feet through the air and landed with a heavy thud onto his back.

 

“Oh my god,” Skye screamed as she scrambled towards him. When she noticed he was awake and laughing roughly, Skye’s panic dwindled, which was replaced by rage. “What the hell were you thinking?” She demanded as she knelt by him.

 

Her heartbeat was pounding like crazy from the rush of emotions coupled with the fading adrenaline from the fight.

 

“That was good,” he said in lieu of answering her question. “Only took you seven minutes.”

 

“Are you serious right now? I could have killed you!”

 

“You didn’t,” Grant said unconcernedly. “You attacked me with just the amount of force I told you to.”

 

“By accident,” Skye protested. “None of that was intentional.”

 

“No, none of it was conscious,” Grant corrected as he raised himself into a sitting position. “You need to stop thinking of your powers as this separate entity. You don’t consciously fill your air with lungs, but you trust that you’ll breathe anyway. It’s natural.”

 

“None of this is natural,” Skye disagreed as she sat back on her heels.

 

“It is for you,” Grant said without missing a beat. “Think of it like muscle memory. Civilians can’t dissemble a rifle without thinking or instructions in under a minute, but I bet you can. Abilities that become second-nature to spies may seem unnatural to others, but they are fundamental tools of survival nonetheless, and survival is very natural.”

 

Grant stared at her seriously, but when he realized that she was not buying his comparison, he let out a frustrated sigh.

 

“Skye,” he spoke earnestly, “This is a part of you now. You should think of it like an untrained muscle that needs to be flexed in order to be useful. Once you train it, you can control it instead of letting it control you. You won’t even need to think about it first.

 

“There’s a lot that has become natural to me that isn’t natural by other people’s standards,” he continued. “I can’t sleep past 5:30 because of years of conditioning. I can control my ability to feel,” he paused and threw her a very pointed look, “Usually. I can become anyone or anything I want at the drop of a hat. This is all second nature to me now, and it’s a part of me whether or not I want it to be. It’s not something I ever would have thought to get, but I have the abilities now and it’s up to me to decide how to use it- now that I can control it.”

 

“That isn’t even remotely the same thing,” Skye argued.

 

Grant huffed. “It is if you stop telling yourself it isn’t. Your abilities are only so different and unnatural to you because you think of them that way and because the people around you treat them as such. Potential capabilities vary person to person and what’s normal to one person isn’t to another.”

 

Skye remained dubious but was willing to let him believe she agreed with him because truthfully the fact that Grant even thought they were comparable in this way made her feel better. Grant was a talented actor, yes, but she was fairly certain that he genuinely believed what he was saying.

 

So instead of protesting, Skye leaned forward and captured Grant’s lips with her own in a lingering, toe-curling kiss. She could not help but smile into his mouth. When she drew back, she leaned her forehead against his.

 

Her smile never faltered while she cheerfully told him, “But don’t ever pull that crap again.”

 

“It wouldn’t have been necessary if you just tried from the start,” Grant said. Skye was willing to let that go, but the idiot decided to add, “Now try to do it again, consciously this time.”

 

Skye somehow found herself repeating the exercise several more times before Grant was satisfied. And by satisfied, she meant crumpled on the floor after sailing through the air.

 

“You’re kind of crazy, do you know that?” Skye said flippantly as she straddled him on the mat.

 

Grant’s eyes were still closed, but he smirked up at her anyway.

 

Skye swooped down to kiss him because as dumb as it all was, he had somehow made her feel much better. Her supposed training had removed a huge burden from her shoulders because she felt something she had not felt in almost a year- she felt in control.

 

The curtain of her hair framed his face when she pulled back, and for a moment, she just stared at him with all the warmth in her. He had let her throw him around the room for the last hour because of what she had confessed to him last night. “Thank you.”

 

She helped him stand and turned away, but when she did, he immediately grabbed her around the waist and yanked her off her feet and into his chest. She let out a delighted gasp as he ducked his head to kiss her cheek.

 

Skye could not help but smile stupidly as he set her back on the ground. She felt like she was walking on air.

 

“Skye, Ward,” Coulson called clearly and shattered the moment.

 

Skye stumbled slightly when Grant abruptly released her and stepped back. She turned to stare at the entrance and saw Coulson, May and Fitz standing there observing them.

 

May’s disapproving stare required no words of translation, but Skye was struggling to read Coulson’s blank expression. How long had they been watching? The two of them did not look happy, but they also looked like they had a million other places in mind where they would rather be at the moment. Skye shifted uncomfortably. Grant’s fact may as well have been made of marble for all the emotion it showed.

 

On the other hand, Fitz possessed no such unease. He seemed rather immune to the sheer awkwardness that had enveloped the room.

 

“Ward!” He called good-naturedly as he stepped onto the mats to approach them.

 

Despite his cheeriness, Skye got the feeling that he was not as relaxed as he acted. The creases around his eyes were more pronounced, and there was a tightness in his face. The bags under his eyes made Skye wonder if he had slept at all the night before.

 

With a start, Skye realized he was probably mourning his friend, Simmons’ lab assistant. Had she only died yesterday? So much had happened so quickly.

 

“Fitz,” Grant greeted with a subdued nod while his eyes stayed fixed on Coulson. Gone was the lighthearted mood he had when he awoke, now Grant was taking in everyone and everything suspiciously. The tension in his shoulders made Skye wonder expecting an attack.

 

“Skye, we need to begin preparations in my office,” Coulson said. “Fitz is going to accompany Ward to the lab to finalize the monitoring contacts.” Coulson gave Grant a flat look, “Agent Tripplet will be there, too.”

 

Grant just scoffed, but the way his eyes cut to Skye hesitantly left her with the impression that he was uncertain about splitting up. Remembering the way he had clung to her since Garrett’s death. Skye worried he was not as composed as he wanted everyone to believe.

  


 

 

Grant reluctantly watched Skye disappear with the Cavalry and Phil Coulson. She likely did not realize that it marked he beginning of the end, but Grant was very aware and that knowledge threatened to wreck him.

 

Grant forced all of those thoughts away as he cleared his mind. He had a mission to concentrate on, and nothing else mattered.

 

So he just told Fitz, “Lead the way,” and followed the shorter man to his lab.

 

Trip had arrived a minute ago and scrutinized Grant as Fitz bustled around the room. There was a strange look on the other specialist’s face, and not for the first time, Grant noted that his hostility had decreased the most of the SHIELD agents other than Skye, Fitz and Simmons.

 

Fitz was proudly detailing his achievements with the contacts. It was now supposedly safe, which was a relief but hardly Grant’s biggest concern.

 

“Will it be detectable?” Grant demanded when Fitz paused to breathe.

 

“The purpose is to monitor you, so I ensured there was a potential tracking method,” Fitz began apologetically.

 

Grant could care less about that. As long as they were easily removed, it mattered little if SHIELD could track them.

 

“No, Fitz,” Grant cut in when Fitz opened his mouth. “Will Whitehall be able to tell I have them in?”

 

“Oh,” Fitz said. “No, definitely not. They’ll appear invisible to the human eye.”

 

“You’re sure?” Grant pushed. “Because if you’re wrong, Whitehall will have me tortured and brainwashed for weeks until I’m ‘happy to comply’.”

 

Grant had no intention of allowing Whitehall to do anything of the kind, but he wanted Fitz to realize how serious he was. It would also ruin his plans to be caught so soon. Grant did not like relying on others or unknown variables in missions, but he did not have much of a choice at the moment.

 

Fitz blinked bewildered before giving him a flat look. “I said it’ll be undetectable, and it will be.”

 

Grant nodded, accepting the answer. Fitz obviously believed what he was saying, and he was the smartest man Grant knew. If Grant was going to trust anyone’s judgment besides Skye and Jo-

 

Grant took an inconspicuous, deep breath and focused again.

 

“So here they are,” Fitz spoke as he proudly opened a case to reveal what appeared to be average contact lenses.

 

Fitz’s enthusiasm at his invention did little to conceal his obvious strain weighing on him. His smiles were shaky and his posture hunched. Given the events of the last few days and the stress Fitz had been under, Grant was unsurprised. He was a bit thrown by how it bothered him to see the scientist so weary though.

 

“Put them in now to get accustomed to them first, and I’ll activate them later at the meeting. I attempted to try them myself and researched online the best technique. After numerous attempts, I found that holding your eyelid while staring straight ahead to insert the lens,” he said while he mimed his instructions. “Now you’ll need a mirror-“

 

Grant ignored him and easily put the contacts in. He blinked twice to clear his vision and returned his gaze to Fitz, who appeared a little disappointed to see Grant disregard his advice.

 

“You’ve worn contacts before?” Fitz asked.

 

“No,” Grant said, and because he wanted to distract Fitz, he added teasingly, “How many times did you say you tried to put them in?”

 

Fitz spluttered, and Grant was pleased to see he had distracted Fitz from his worries at least momentarily.

 

Trip barked out a laugh at Fitz’s comically dismayed expression. Grant had forgotten he was there, and it unsettled him to realize how open he had been in front of Trip. He shut down his expression quickly.

 

“It’s a lot more difficult than it looks,” Fitz muttered before raising his voice to ask, “How do they feel? Are they impairing your vision in any way?”

 

“All good,” Grant said with a close-lipped smile.

 

“Let’s join the others then,” Fitz said. “It’s almost nine.”

 

Grant followed Fitz out of the lab with Trip trailing behind them. As they walked, Fitz was quiet, which reaffirmed Grant’s suspicions that something was wrong with him. Grant might have said something to take Fitz’s mind off of it or learn what was bothering him, but he did not want to do so in Trip’s presence.

 

Instead, he occupied himself by cataloguing the facility. He wanted to know the ins and outs of SHIELD HQ by the time he left, so he counted his footsteps, analyzed the rooms and memorized the security cameras’ whereabouts.

 

When they passed an empty room that did not seem to have much in the way of monitoring devices, Grant stopped abruptly.

 

Trip followed his lead but tensed minutely as his dark eyes keenly studied him.

 

“Ward?” Fitz called confusedly.

 

Grant’s attention was on Trip though. “Give us a moment, Fitz.”

 

Despite all the absurd trust Fitz had placed in him in the past, the engineer hesitated. He threw a questioning look to Trip as if to double check it was okay for him to leave.

 

Trip’s brow furrowed as he regarded Ward, but he nodded to Fitz. “We’ll meet you in briefing room.”

 

Fitz glanced between the two of them before giving a quick smile. “Just don’t take too long.”

 

When Fitz rounded the corner and disappeared down another hallway, Grant indicated with his head towards the room he saw. He walked into it without waiting for a response. Giving the other agent his back would likely alleviate the suspicions Trip had, and Grant wanted them in the position of his choice- one that did not have any cameras focused on the area. He suspected that SHIELD might be watching his movements, and he did not want this on camera just in case those watching jumped to the wrong conclusions.

 

“What is it, Ward?” Trip asked once they stopped.

 

“I need a favor,” Grant said bluntly. Trip was a good guy, so making this out to be something he was doing for Grant would probably go a long way in getting him to do what Grant was about to ask. Still, Grant was unsure of how to phrase what he was about to say.

 

“I hope you don’t expect me to agree before you tell me what it is you want,” Trip said when the silence stretched for a moment. There were traces of humor in the words as well, which was a good sign. Trip’s lack of hostility seemed genuine. Maybe his anger and disgust with Grant had faded slightly when he had killed J-

 

“I need you to hit me.”

 

Trip froze for a split second before balking. “Hang on, now- what?”

 

“When I go back to Hydra, it needs to look like I’ve been hurt significantly. Over a dozen Hydra agents are dead in addition to Garrett and Scarlotti. If I walk in with only a couple of visible injuries, it’s going to rouse Whitehall’s suspicions,” Grant explained shortly.

 

“So you want me to what? Beat the shit out of you?” Trip asked incredulously. He was staring at Grant like he was insane.

 

“You were fine drugging and torturing me two days ago,” Grant snapped.

 

Trip held up his hands defensively as if to claim innocence despite being the one to inject Grant with whatever drugs SHIELD gave him. “I did what I did because I thought it could save lives and do good. There’s nothing good about hurting someone for the sake of hurting someone.”

 

“Is preventing an explosive attack on a civilian population good enough for you?” Grant said coldly. “I won’t be able to infiltrate Hydra if Whitehall’s doubting me before I even open my mouth.”

 

“Why me?” Trip tried instead. “Why did you single me out for this?”

 

Because Skye would never do it, she had avoided hurting him even while they sparred earlier despite Grant’s attempts to provoke her. Because the Cavalry and Morse would probably take pleasure in hurting him given the chance. Because Hunter was an unknown element. Because Grant would never willingly put himself at Phil Coulson’s mercy after the memory machine.

 

“Because I need a specialist who knows how to punch,” Grant said simply. “And you’ll do it, but you won’t want to.”

 

Trip crossed his arm considering and was silent for several seconds before muttering, “This is messed up.”

 

Grant relaxed slightly, content that Trip would do it and that he had not miscalculated his choices.

 

Trip drew back his arm and sent a powerful right hook across Grant’s face. He could already feel the bruise forming. Grant spat out a little blood. “Again,” he ordered.

 

“Skye’s going to kill me,” Trip mumbled, but he hit Grant two more times before stopping.

 

Trip surveyed the damage he inflicted with a grimace as Grant wiped some blood off his mouth and rubbed his sore jaw.

 

“That’s it, man,” Trip declared. “You still have the bruises and cuts on your body from the restraints. It’s enough, if it was ever even necessary.”

 

Weirdly enough, Trip pulled his punches despite the fact that Grant asked him to hit him. Grant knew the other man hated him, but Trip did not look smug as he stared at him, only pained and uncomfortable.

 

Abruptly, Grant remembered when Hydra came out of the shadows over a year ago, and he and John had been planning their next moves. John had ordered him to infiltrate SHIELD in the chaos after they dismantled the Fridge. To sell the cover, John had beckoned him closer and rained blow after blow on him. His mentor had not pulled his punches then, Grant recalled, and he had smiled when he looked over the Grant’s bloody face.

 

Grant tasted bile in the back of his throat as he stared at the smudged blood on his hand from where he had wiped his mouth.

 

“Ward, are you okay?” Trip asked worriedly. “I didn’t think I hit you that hard.”

 

Grant blinked slowly. “It’s not that,” he said mindlessly. “You didn’t hit me hard at all. I was just thinking of a memory.”

 

That only made Trip more wary and concerned, likely reminded of the memory machine, but Grant hardly cared. He should never have said anything at all.

 

“Ward, about Garrett-“ Trip began.

 

“It’s past nine,” Grant spoke over him. This was not a conversation he would have with Skye, much less someone like Trip who had no idea what he was talking about. “The others are waiting for us.”

 

Trip sighed, “Fine, we don’t have to talk about Garrett, but you will listen to me about one thing.” Trip stepped closer to Grant and leveled him with a piercing gaze, “Skye and Fitzsimmons believe in you. They believe you aren’t leading us into a trap and that you’re not this irredeemable murderer. They’re good people, and if you’re manipulating them or if you let them down, I will take you out.”

 

 Grant felt unsteady on his feet all of the sudden, but he forced a smirk onto his face. “You could try,” Grant said cockily as walked towards the exit. Without turning around, he added, “But that won’t be necessary.”

 

Grant waited for Trip to respond, but he never did. The other man simply brushed past him and down the hallway Fitz had taken. Grant quietly followed, trying to ignore the nauseous feeling that had taken root in the pit of his stomach.

 

Grant knew that he