The first time she sees him after, he still can't talk. That's fine. She has some talking she wants to do and she doesn’t need his input.
He keeps looking at her, eyes huge and dark. So then she yells.
It doesn't exactly make her feel better.
Skye tells Coulson, because she guesses he knows already, and she’s not hiding anything. She won’t. “I went to see Ward.”
“Twice, so far. I’m going again.”
“I’m not- I’m not endangering the team, or anything. I’m not going to let him talk me into breaking him out or switching sides or-”
“I know, Skye.” He walks around the desk to sit on the edge of it. “Can I ask- why are you going?”
“Because I still have questions I need him to answer.”
He gives her a long look. “I realise I’ve said this before but you might not-”
“I know,” she interrupts. “But I have to try.” He is an open wound and she needs closure. But she might leave it a little longer next time. Right now he still hurts just to look at.
Fitz is awake, sometimes, and Simmons says he understands some of what’s going on around him. Skye guesses that Simmons is the person best placed to know how that works. Skye can just tell that he is often in pain, and mostly confused, but he’s breathing and his eyes are open. Coulson stands in the doorway and looks conflicted. She wonders what he would do now if he had more of the GH 325.
Skye sits by the bed and holds Fitz’s hand. She hasn’t ever done that before. “Hey, Fitz.”
His eyes move but she can’t tell if they’re focussing on her or not.
She chooses faith. “Yeah, it’s me. Skye. I’m glad you’re awake. Simmons was missing you.”
There’s wetness around his eyes and she wipes it gently away with her fingers.
“It’s okay. We’re all just waiting for you. You don’t need to worry. We’re here.”
Simmons reappears; she never leaves for long. She leans her shoulder against Skye’s, smiling for Fitz’s sake. She hasn’t cried in the room with him, not since he opened his eyes. She says, “Skye’s right. We’re all right here. We’re going to get through this.”
Ward talks, the third time. This is worse.
“Don’t- don’t say my name like that.”
“I’m glad you came.”
“Don’t say that either. I’m here because I need to be.” That part is true. They all know that there is more information Ward could be giving them. And he is more likely to talk to her than anyone else. “I’m here to ask you about HYDRA.”
He shrugs. “I don’t know what I can tell you.”
“We could start with how you got involved with them.”
“I wasn’t involved with them, they were always just a means to an end. John had- he needed something they could help him get, he never actually believed- I didn’t think he believed. I didn’t.”
“So you're not a Nazi, you were just Nazi-adjacent, that's so much better.”
She glares at him. “What did I tell you about saying my name?”
Skye goes looking for Coulson when she gets back. Trip says they’re flying out in a few hours. She forces a bright smile. “Where to, AC?”
Coulson holds out a tablet. “Idaho. We got a tip about one of the escapees, something about the ground opening up and swallowing a whole herd of cows.”
“I don’t think we want to wait until it starts swallowing towns.”
“Wasn’t arguing. Where’s the tip from?”
He looks back to the screen. “Maria. Stark, in the middle of that maybe, but Maria was the one who got in touch.”
Skye laughs. “You're not even pretending to be in charge, are you?” she asks.
“I'm in charge,” he says. “Of, you know, this.” He gestures around them at the Playground, and the bus, and the toys they’re starting to build for themselves. “But when Maria calls and asks me to go and have a look at something...”
“You'll claim that she was actually asking and go do it anyway?”
He grins at her. “Exactly.”
“Then I guess we’re going to Idaho.”
They don’t travel about so much anymore. It’s not safe the way it used to be, now that they can’t just identify themselves as SHIELD in the airspace and fly right on through. They spend most of the interim time in the Playground. Skye doesn’t mind, though it’s the longest she’s stayed in one place since she was a little kid. Maybe it’s not bad for them to have a bit of stability.
The lab is quiet with just Simmons. Skye keeps trying to fill the silences, but she knows it’s not the same. Fitz is Simmons’s best friend in the world, and without him it’s off-balance. Skye is just hoping that her company is better than no company at all. She does have another motive, but she would be here anyway.
Simmons is checking through the readings from their last fieldtrip and Skye tries to work up the courage to stop talking around it and just say what she needs to.
“I want to ask you a question,” Skye says.
“But if you don’t- if you don’t want to think about it right now that’s cool, okay? No pressure.”
Simmons folds her hands on the console. “This is about Ward.”
“Yeah. Kind of. Yeah.”
“I mean, it’s not about Ward, it’s just that he’s the one who-” Ward is the reason Fitz isn’t here in the lab with them, and if Simmons doesn’t want to hear his name then Skye is fine with that.
But Simmons interrupts her. “Skye.”
“He said something. When he was, you know, being a taunting evil jackass right before May laid him out. He said he’d learned something about me.”
She frowns. “What sort of something?”
“He didn’t get that far. Taunting. History, he said. My parents, maybe? I mean, he was going for something that would- and that’s it, for me. Which is why I don’t know if I should even trust that he does know something, or they do, or maybe it’s just...”
“Him saying something he knew you would react to.”
Simmons sighs. “It could be that. Or... Skye, they had all of the data we collected on your blood-work, and the effects of the drugs and it was... odd. Garrett had access inside SHIELD and we still can’t be sure who else he was talking to.”
“And Raina,” Simmons agrees. “Maybe they did manage to find something out. I’m not saying they did, of course, but perhaps. What would you like to do about that?”
Skye says, “Find out what they know.” She nods. “Find out everything they know.”
“Tell me when you met John Garrett,” Skye says.
And Ward starts talking. She wasn’t actually expecting him to, or at least she wasn’t expecting him to answer the question she asked. But then, he’d said it before: John saved me. He starts talking and it sounds like some survivalist nightmare and he sounds so grateful. And then lost. Like his strings are cut.
He trails off when they get to SHIELD and she prompts him, “He was your SO.”
“Until he got you transferred to Coulson’s team.”
“Did you know why?” she asks.
“You already know this, S- It wasn’t complicated. We wanted to know how Coulson did it.”
“There had to have been easier ways.” Skye still can’t understand how the easiest way for a SHIELD agent to get that information was to run a long con on the team.
“SHIELD is a spy organisation,” Ward says. “We ran the kind of operation they would run.”
“Up until your cover got blown and you had to move into the kidnap and extortion part of the plan.”
“That wouldn’t have happened if HYDRA hadn’t been so-”
“Are you seriously trying to argue right now that HYDRA taking down SHIELD had nothing to do with you?”
That’s the part where he stops talking.
Skye hadn’t liked Ward when she met him. He was everything she didn’t like in the type of organisation she thought SHIELD was. And then, so so slowly, he wasn’t that any more. He could be funny, sometimes, and he kept her safe, he kept them all safe. He let her have little pieces of himself and she could see the real person underneath the hardass government agent schtick.
And that was all lies. That was him recalibrating, working out what shades of his cover would work best with her. She had thought he was so bad at the secret agent thing. And he was playing her the whole time, unfolding out into a facsimile of a person she would care for.
He gave her exactly what she wanted, and she should have known that trick because she’s grifted before. He read her too easily and he made himself into a person she could draw out. A person she could be there for, help mend.
She throws up again, wipes off her mouth and rinses it out.
Skye curls up in the co-pilot seat in the bus. It’s a night flight; she likes that. For the first hour, it’s just the hum of the engines and the occasional click of switches and buzz of radio.
“Are you doing this to punish yourself?” May asks without preamble.
Skye doesn’t pretend not to understand the question. “No. Maybe. I don’t know.”
“I just feel like I should have- I’m supposed to be so good at people. That’s what Coulson says I’m... and now I look at Ward and I just don’t... I don’t get it. I didn’t see it before and now, I still don’t get it.”
“He followed bad orders.”
“Yeah, but that’s not-”
“You need to get back to training.”
Skye startles at the non sequitur. “What?”
“It’s just us now. We all need to be field-ready. You need to stay sharp.”
She had trained with Ward. Everything she knows about hand-to-hand, how to handle weapons, how to let her breath out slowly and pull the trigger - that came from him. She wonders if he programmed in a Trojan Horse for her, a weakness only he would know, or if he didn’t think he would need one. She says, “I don’t want to-”
“Tomorrow morning,” May says. “We’ll go slow.”
Skye comes at it straight this time, standing up instead of sitting, and meeting Ward’s eyes. “You didn’t ever ask him why?”
He’s a little more animated now, hands moving where they’re cuffed to the table. “I knew why. He was dying, he needed-”
“Other people died. Innocent people, in numbers I can’t even begin to get my head around and you thought that was-? I don’t understand how you wouldn’t question that. Even if you didn’t right at the start, I don’t know how you wouldn’t see what was happening around you and start asking-”
He says, “I had orders.”
“Following orders is not an excuse, you asshole, it's not-” She slaps him and then steps back, horrified. “Sorry, I'm sorry.”
He's looking back at her, unblinking. “It's okay.”
“No, it's not, and you probably don't even get that but no- you're a prisoner, I don't get to hit you.”
“It doesn’t matter.”
“Yes, it does, because this isn’t- you’re a prisoner, I’m an agent of SHIELD, and this isn’t about me.”
He rolls his head back. “And what would you be doing to me, if this was personal?”
“Don’t you dare ask me that.” She forces her hands flat on the table.
“You couldn’t kill me before.”
“I couldn’t let you die. Maybe I wanted to do it myself, you ever think of that?”
“No,” he says. “You’re not like that.”
“But you are.”
“No. I’m done here.” She bangs the door of the cell. “I’m done, open up please.”
She walks down the long hallway and thinks: please, let me be done.
This is the part where they learn about fighting without fighting. Skye exhales slowly and follows May through the movements. This early in the morning, she can almost find that calm inside her head.
“Good,” May says quietly. “That’s good.”
“You planning on punching me any time soon?”
“Not soon,” she says. “This comes first.”
“You need to find a way to work through the anger, Skye.”
“Did hitting him help?”
May smiles, just the corner of her mouth turning up. “It didn’t make it worse.”
“I just... I don't want him dead. I should, I know, but I don’t. Is that-?”
“I don't even really want to- if I had your badassery, I still don't think I could have- you nailed his foot to the floor. And that's cool. But I still- I wish I wanted to hurt him that much. I wish I wanted to hurt him the way he hurt me. But I just- What I really wish is for it not to be true. Just- rewind.”
“And there's no explanation he's going to give me that'll make it okay. Garrett wasn't controlling him or threatening him or- something broke in him, way before I met him and there's nothing- there's no way of making this okay. So there's just me. Wishing it wasn't true.”
May watches her, not pitying, just steady. She starts into a set of stretches, and Skye copies her movement. She will train herself to do this. She will.
Rebuilding SHIELD is hard. For one thing, recruiting is problematic when the people you want are really good at hiding, as kind of a requirement of being the types of people you want to recruit. For another, no one is supposed to know they’re recruiting. And even if they manage to get around both of those problems, there is still the matter of neither side of the recruitment knowing if the other is HYDRA.
Also, in between that there are the actual missions they need to take themselves.
Skye sighs. “We do not get the fun jobs.” She flags another file as a potential, probably trustworthy, but gone seriously underground. She starts on the next.
Coulson is doing something similar across the room from her.
She says, “Sorry. I know this can’t be great for you either. Not how you pictured the second half of your SHIELD career, I guess.” She pauses. “Or did you always want the big job? Less the circumstances.”
He gives her an odd look. “Do you know why Fury asked me to be Director?”
“Because he trusts you,” she replies immediately.
Coulson blinks. “Well, yes, I suppose that was a prerequisite. But beyond that, it should have been Agent Hill. Or, it should have been Victoria Hand if- but after that, Maria. Except Maria's talking to Congress and being trailed by three different agencies and I'm-”
“Funny how that turned into a positive, isn't it?”
“And the five of us are ghosts too, because I wiped-”
“Exactly. We're the perfect team to resurrect a spy agency that's not supposed to exist anymore. Because neither do we.”
“So there were circumstances,” she says, “doesn’t mean we’re doing a bad job.”
“No,” he agrees. “And it’s an honour. But it’s not what I wanted.”
“So one day-” she begins.
“Either Fury comes back and tells me we're clear to go public, and he takes it back, or we do that ourselves, and Maria takes it.” He shakes his head. “She's so much better at politics.”
“How’s Fitz?” Ward asks, and she wants to make him choke on it.
“Alive,” she says.
“I’m glad. I didn’t want-”
“You still did it.”
Fitz is well enough that they can all be around his bed, though he’s not talking. They don’t know if that’s- they don’t know what it is, exactly. He is definitely looking at them now. Glaring, to be precise. Simmons considers this a good sign.
And they talk to him, because that’s what you do. That’s what everyone says helps. What they don’t tell you is that you run out of things to say. They’re all going hoarse, talking through the missions and what they’re planning next, memories from childhood, movies they saw years before all this happened.
Trip gets out a pack of cards. “Anyone play?”
Skye gives him an innocent smile. “I bet you could teach us.”
He stares at her. “Oh. Oh, you are a hustler, aren’t you? I can see you using those eyes on some rich city boys all eager to show you what they got. I bet you talked yourself into so many high stakes games that way.”
“I have some skills,” she admits.
Simmons adds, “And I do all right,” she turns, “don’t I Fitz?”
Skye thinks he might roll his eyes. She elbows him (gently). “Simmons is a hustler too, isn’t she, Fitz? And don’t even get me started on May.”
Trip laughs. “So I’ve got to take Coulson’s money, is that what you’re saying?”
Coulson holds up his hands. “I’m saying nothing.”
“Oh that’s what we’re doing, is it? Play the new guy? Okay then.” He shuffles the pack deftly and starts dealing hands on the bed. “Is anybody actually carrying any money?”
Skye goes to the side of the room and picks up a jar. “Are these dangerous?”
Simmons looks up. “What? Oh, no. In a high enough concentration, maybe, but those ones are so small.”
They look like rocks. Skye tests, “So okay for an ante?” Simmons nods, so Skye doles them out in approximately equal amounts.
Simmons picks her cards up and slides closer to Fitz to show him. “What do you-? Yes, I think so too.”
Trip raises an eyebrow at May.
“Call,” she says. “Please.”
He turns to Simmons. “And you two?”
“We’re going to raise.”
“Risk takers, I get it.”
“We’re fairly good at playing the odds.”
To no one’s surprise, the first word Fitz says when he starts to get his speech back is ‘Jemma’. The next five are cursing, which Skye wouldn’t have bet, but totally doesn’t blame him for. The effort seems to take it out of him, because he falls asleep and stays that way for the next four hours.
“He’s recovering,” Simmons points out. “His body just needs time.”
Trip clasps her shoulder. “What did I tell you, first day we met? You’re the girl I’d want in my corner.” He nods at Skye and heads out towards ops.
“Trip likes you,” Skye points out, in case Simmons hasn't noticed.
“I think so,” Simmons agrees. Then: “Fitz told me he loved me. Just before we-”
That is new information. “Oh,” Skye says, keeping her voice even. “And do you...? Did you say it back?”
Jemma tugs at her ponytail. “I...It was a longer conversation than we had the time for. I'm not- but I can't, not while he's- I would need to tell him first and right now, well, I can't have that conversation with him now. So. Later. We can talk later.”
If she had a conversation with Fitz now, there’s no guarantee he would remember it later. And if he did, it wouldn’t necessarily help.
Skye nods. “You’ll have time.” There may be no good time, but there will be more of it, and that’s one more hopeful thing.
Skye would have thought Ward could hold up better than this. All she did was ask a question and then let him talk, without saying another word herself. Maybe he’s not uncomfortable at all, maybe she should be discounting everything he says. But it’s interesting, the way he winds his way to this, like it's something he’s been working over himself when she’s not here.
“I didn't talk about you,” Ward says. “With John. He said he wouldn't have got you shot if I had.” He admits, “But I don't know.”
“The mission,” Skye says, rolling her eyes. “He had big plans.”
“No, he just- he knew the ways I'm weak. He didn't want attachments and you were... dangerous.”
Skye wants to be dangerous in other ways than that. “So you didn't tell him.”
“I wanted to have something of my own, I guess.”
“Except you don't have people. That's not how it works.” She fights her body’s desire to shiver at that memory.
He shrugs. “I wouldn’t know.”
Skye hadn’t known either, is the thing. Miles, a little, but it had never been like that: a port in a storm, mutual admiration, but nothing more. Now she has a room in a bunker and a cause she would die for. They’re still working on the rest but Skye knows that she’s a part of something bigger now. All Ward had was his twisted-up devotion to Garrett and now Garrett’s dead. And now he’s looking at her like she might have some answers for him. She could almost laugh.
She’s starting to see the bigger picture now - the one they’re all a part of, SHIELD and HYDRA both, one way or another. She keeps looking at it because she needs to find the diverging path, the way not to code the old bugs into the new system.
Because this is how it goes. There are some true believers, there have to be. It sounds like Pierce was one of those. There are opportunists, like Garrett. But she thinks that more than a few of them are probably like Ward, brought in when they were confused, miserable kids and turned into the truest zealots because guys like Garrett found them young. It scares her.
Coulson is watching her. “What’s wrong?”
“What if- what if I'd been-?”
“I already know what you would do, Skye. I was there. You made a different call.”
“Yeah, because I had you guys.”
“So did Ward,” Coulson reminds her gently. “If he had wanted to do the right thing, he could have done it any time.”
They have to be careful, testing any new tech, since the only safeguards now are the seven of them. Billy takes some convincing when they come up with anything even mildly dangerous looking, but she guesses he’s starting to realise the straits they’re in, since he lets Trip and Skye take the new guns down to the range with minimal sighing.
Skye tests the heft of it in her hands, feeling it out before firing. It zaps a hole in the target on the far end.
Trip looks at the smoke. “Was that supposed to happen?”
She coughs. “I think that was a little more aggressive than Simmons promised. Here, let me dial it down and then you can try.”
He laughs and takes it from her when she offers it. “Okay then. Let’s aim for knocked back but not on fire.” He does the same as she did, testing how it feels in his hand. This time, the target is blown away, but there are no flames. “Cool.”
They reset the targets, Trip easily running through the necessary steps to get them going again.
“Did you always want this?” Skye asks. She still doesn’t know him very well.
Trip tilts his head to look at her. “This what?”
“This. SHIELD. I mean, was it, family business, right? Did you always want that?”
“You mean, did I have any teenage rebellion where I decided I wanted to go off and raise sheep or something?”
“Well, I wasn’t going to go with raise sheep but sure.”
He grins. “Sorry to say, but not so much. I guess I always knew this was it for me. Not just because they did it but because they- they lived it, you know? The mission, the greater good, all of that. I grew up on that, guess I always felt like it was going to be mine in the end. You can bet I got asked. All of them checking I was really sure, wanting to know I wasn’t just choosing it for them.”
“They were worried?”
“They didn’t go through all of that to have me grow up with no choices. But I knew what I wanted to do.”
“Must be nice.”
His gaze is perceptive. “Mostly I figure it doesn’t matter so much how you get there, it’s what you do when you arrive.” He bumps her shoulder. “Do you want to tell Jemma this thing has too much boom, or will I?”
“I’ll tell her. Though I don’t know.” She shrugs. “Some days I really do want to set things on fire.”
She’s tired. She doesn’t know why she’s here, and she’s tired.
Ward wasn’t a great conversationalist even before he stopped having a reason to offer her lies disguised as personal truths. He’s staring at the table, at his hands where the knuckles are scraped raw. His skin has paled even further; he’s been in here a while now. He coughs.
She asks, not thinking too much about it, “Do you care, that I show up here? Does it make a difference to you?”
He turns his head up to look over her face, searching for a tell to figure out something she doesn’t know. “It makes a difference.”
“But you’re not gonna tell me what, huh?”
His smile twists, what she would have called wry. “I don’t know what you would do with that information.”
She’s not sure herself.
He leans his head on his hands, like he’s tired of this too.
She asks the question she hadn’t yet. “Would you do it differently?”
“It doesn’t matter, I guess. I think it’s what you do the first time that matters, when you don’t know how it’s going to play out. But maybe I’m curious. Would you change it? You know that it doesn’t work: Garrett dies anyway, and with everything else that happened... would you at least have made a different choice the second time around?”
“I don’t know what another choice would have looked like.” His hands twist. “I don’t know how to-”
“Oh, Ward.” Skye runs her hand over her hair and pushes her chair back. She touches him for only the second time since they started this, tapping the back of his hand with her fingertips. “That one, if nothing else, I think I believe.”
They should have been paying more attention. They’ve got Fitz set up in a chair in the lab, where he’s fiddling with some pieces that have been left there. Trip had tried to interrupt him earlier, but Fitz was having one of his bad days and they had all backed off to leave him to it. Simmons had thought it was good for him to do something with his hands, and Skye had assumed that nothing too bad would just be left sitting out in the open. Apparently she had counted against Fitz.
He makes something with wheels, roughly the size of a turtle. When he sets it going for the first time, its wheels aren’t lined up right, and Fitz growls at it before haltingly attacking it with a screwdriver.
He pushes it off again. It trundles along the bench, pauses, and then explodes.
It’s a small explosion, so far as these things go, but an explosion all the same.
Skye turns to Fitz, who gives one “Ha!” looking slightly surprised but also unrepentant.
May calls down from the cockpit. “I have a fire warning down there. Anyone care to explain?”
There is a silence and then... Fitz laughs, batting awkwardly at the smoke. Simmons stares at him and covers her mouth with her hand, a noise that might be laughter. And then the rest of them can’t help but join in. Trip calls back, “My man here was just testing something out. A few teething difficulties, nothing big.” He turns to Skye. “You like things that have a bit of firepower, right?
Fitz turns his head to stare at her and Skye can’t help but agree. “Sometimes I like things to go boom, what can I say?”
He sits back in his chair, looking exhausted but apparently satisfied with that answer. Simmons drags her chair over beside him and leans against his shoulder. She shows him the screen of her tablet and, when he wrinkles his brow, starts to read from it. “Here’s where I think we might need to make a few adjustments.”
Fancy government-issue gadgets are nice and all, but Skye got by without them before. She can do more damage with her laptop than most people could do with the whole SHIELD mainframe. They can build what they need. The team is what’s important.
And she loves Coulson, but lately even he needs to be reminded of that sometimes.
He says, “You went completely off-book, you ignored the plan, and you were nearly killed today.”
“I’ve been nearly killed a lot of days.” Her hand brushes her stomach.
“Not helping,” he grits out.
She says, “Wasn’t trying to. You know, you’re the only one of us here who’s actually died – really died – in the line of duty. I can spell hypocrite, can you?”
“I knew that was a possibility coming in. I signed up.”
“So did I.”
She interrupts, “No, I knew that too. It was worth it, for what I was getting.”
“And what was that?” he asks.
“I came here because I wanted answers.”
“And I told you that you might not like what you found.”
“Yeah, and I told you- maybe I wish some of the answers had been different. But I’m not sorry I have them.” She shakes her head. “Not sorry I asked. Not sorry about the near-deaths or the change in living situation or that things went to crap around us and we’re still here. I’ve ended up with a lot more questions.”
“I can’t promise we’ll get answers for all of them.”
“Not asking you to. But let’s try, at least.” She went off-plan today because the situation changed. She’s adaptable, that’s one of the reasons he recruited her. “That’s what we’re about too, right? Protection first but SHIELD- it grew out of people not being scared to ask big questions.”
He is quiet for a moment and then says, “Yes.”
“So let’s do that. We’re rebuilding, right? Let’s do that. No point if it’s just going to have everything the same as it was before. Let’s honour what it was but let’s- let’s make something new as well. Make the kind of shield we need for right now.”
He spins the little cube in his hand.
Out in the Playground she can hear footsteps, chatter, the always-present humming of their small base around them.
She nudges his side. “C’mon, you have free rein here. And it’s just us. Let’s build... let’s make it the kind of protector that we wanted it to be all those times we needed one. And let’s ask all of the awkward questions, because we can do that too, even if we don’t get answers. Asking them matters.”
“And after that?” he asks.
“And after,” she says, “when we’ve done all that, let’s see what kind of shape this thing turns into. Because this is all the home I’ve got, and I want to be here to- I want to see what happens next.”