The HQ fell straight after the victory over Hydra. The cardboard walls collapsed with creaks, the illusory buildings outside the HQ vanished as the devices that powered the illusions got their power cut off, of the hangar only bare walls and two highly advanced planes (of different sizes) were left behind.
The corpses, largely, weren't gone – but they weren't real corpses yet LMDs of various models and designs, nowhere near the high-quality ones used by Hill and Fury throughout the years (and especially the Civil War between Stark's and Rogers' forces that was currently unleashed upon the world), with just a few truly deceased people mixed in among them. That was for the best, that was probably for the best, and Malick, the last true head of Hydra (for now) was truly dead. A sniper's shot had gone through his belly; the other three through his head were probably overkill. Daisy Johnson, followed by Lance Hunter of all people, looked down at his destroyed cranium, before burning it down, lest some secret Hydra back-up plan would bring him back to life.
There was no sign of the supposed alien monster that Hydra had brought back from the Monolith's planet in Ward's corpse. There was no sign of Grant Ward himself. This was interesting.
Lance, Daisy, Mack and a few other people were talking among each other, wondering what the Hell was going on now, when 4 trucks with the logos of the Damage Control™ arrived on the scene. Behaving none-too-gently or politely they demanded that the agents moved aside and left while they repaired the set and cleaned it up.
The entire S.H.I.E.L.D. HQ was able to fit onto just 4 trucks, leaving behind a much smaller building, which had been previously incorporated into the fake walls: well-maintained, fully-functional, but nothing grand. Daisy found her room, complete with bed and belongings, quickly enough: they were real, unlike the wing of the HQ in which the female agents used to sleep and live between missions.
The other agents, incidentally, were real too, but it seemed that they were reacting to the developments different: Coulson, Bobbi, May, several other senior agents were completely unruffled; Mack and the FitzSimmons seemed to have some idea of what was going on; and Daisy herself, her people, and Lance were completely lost.
"I think," Coulson spoke in his better director mode, "that some revelations are in order."
Daisy opened her mouth to say something like "You think? What sort of a stupid circus is this?" when she sensed (with her vibrations) some people in the distance, listening in to Coulson's speech via some sophisticated spy equipment (cough). Normally, Daisy would tell Coulson about something like this, but she had a certain feeling about this briefing, so she kept quiet.
And listened herself.
/ / /
Lincoln and a few others had already gone back, planning to rebuild Li Shi, somehow. Apparently, one of them (perhaps Lincoln himself) had an idea as to how to rebuild it. For some reason Daisy (or Skye) thought that a certain redhead with multiple bodies was involved – she had never bought into Daisy's Coulson speech, and now Daisy felt that this was because she knew, Ms. Multiple Woman knew that S.H.I.E.L.D. was not what it was, just as her father, Cal, had. Skye (or Daisy) had let her father down, she let Lincoln and Joey and the rest of the Caterpillars down, she even...let Grant Ward down: the man had been an arrogant ass, with a troublesome moral compass but at least he decided to be an honest villain and did not pretend to be a hero, as Bobbi Morse had. Daisy could respect this. Skye – even more so.
"I have to disagree, Daisy," Jemma Simmons speaks from the behind, and Daisy immediately turns to give the Englishwoman a look: she does not know if she trusts her with her sixes at the moment. "We're a part of something great, a secret order dedicated to maintenance of order and protection of the universe! Your sulk is...understandable, childish but understandable, but you will be back, right?"
The InHuman agent looked at the British-born one, right in the eye. She remembered the 'original' Jemma Simmons, perky, naive, inventive, and creative. This new, current, 'updated' version of Jemma is none of those things; she is just an agent, who is loyal, dedicated, resilient, and tough – a typical agent of S.H.I.E.L.D., in other words. The young woman, who was Mary-Sue, Daisy, Skye, looked at her friend, and remembered, how Jemma jumped out of a plane – and Grant jumped to save her; how the two of them bonded over the big man being shot; how neither of them killed each other in the Arctic base of Hydra. The young InHuman woman looked at the British-born one and wondered what would have happened to her if she did not prove to be a potentially perfect Mary Sue and more like Miles. Would Coulson and the others keep her around then? Or would they let her go, as they had with Miles? The young woman remembers Miles also, how quick she was to let him go once he proved to be less than ideal in her eyes and she cannot help but wonder: in this surrealistic theater of S.H.I.E.L.D., if Skye/Daisy hadn't been able to make it work, would Jemma get her original role back? Considering that Fitz is something of a drama queen/stage hog with his heroics it could have been better for her. She also remembers how Jemma was the only one who cared WTF was wrong with her after the Obelisk incident, while the rest of the agency would rather have her be in some cabin deep in the woods – or perhaps in a containment cell.
"Jemma," Daisy/Skye/Mary-Sue speaks through her lips, while feeling detached, like a puppet, as if she's the one infected with an alien parasite and it is speaking from her gut. "If I allow you to poke me, and to experiment on me...within reason, will you come with me? I cannot promise you anything that Phil and Mel do, but once, once you were actually a person with your own opinions and not toeing the party line. Do you want to be that person? I cannot promise you perfect success, I do not know what I can promise you, but you can experiment on me and see what makes me tick. This I can promise."
Two stripes of color come onto Jemma's cheeks, and the younger woman's eyes widened in shock and her painted mouth (Daisy/Skye/MS never noticed it, but Jemma was vain, in a pretty sort of way) opened in reply and Jemma Simmons said:
/ / /
"Do tell," Daisy snorted despite the grimness and uncertainty of their situation: when they met-up with Mack, she would feel better, plus she could not shake the feeling that Lance Hunter would be sticking awhile just yet. She was not sure why, maybe it were the looks that he was giving/exchanging with her and Jemma, but she did. "We're listening."
"It's his ability to choose which lord to serve," Lance speaks, for once, completely seriously, without any humour in his voice. "Japan had samurai, warriors, very orderly. Well, guess what – if their lord sucked, they could, and did, go ronin – independent warriors, contractors. It was not an easy life, but it was their life, you know? In Europe, the knights, they had something like that – back in the times of king Arthur and his round table. Then they stopped being so, became just an estate, a social rank or something as that, and the Saracens began to kick their butts. Still do, just look as ISIS and all the shite it has been dumping on Europe and the States."
"Lance, please stop with the daily political commentaries," Jemma is clutched her case – it is a simple, travelling, well-worn briefcase. Skye/Daisy thinks that she has seen it before, on the Bus, but she is not going to Jemma call out – not yet. Not when their new relationship is so uncertain and fresh. "Besides, I knew a man who styled himself a knight, or even a paladin, and it ended rather badly for him – he lost the girl."
"Oh? Anyone we know?" Lance asked, sarcastically.
"Yeah, Leo. He wanted so desperately to be a hero, the way that Grant seemed to be, that he became neither the hero that he presumed Grant to be nor the man that Grant was nor the man that I had fallen in love with, sort of, in the beginning. With Leo, appearances were important...with S.H.I.E.L.D., appearances were important...but for Leo, appearances became the goal."
"Grant," Skye (or Daisy?) decides to speak as the expert, cough. "Was never about appearances. He just did what he thought was right, and did it, appearances and approval be damned. He was an idiot, but his heart was in the right place."
"I know," Jemma nods morosely. "I tried to kill him in the Arctic. He never tried to kill me back. He...he had problems with his values but fundamentally? He knew what was right."
"And then the Cavalry tricked him into killing his girlfriend, ha-ha," Lance said flatly. "Oh, how we laughed, especially Bobbi! And then he went after Garner, sort of, and killed Coulson's own bit on the side, and the jokes stopped. Coulson proved to be just as bad as Grant was, even more so. I do not know why Bob wants to be with him, she warned me herself that she does not want us going after Grant-"
"Um, elaborate please," Jemma says quietly.
"She was worried that Grant brings the worst in us," Lance says, in an uncertain tone of voice. "Beyond that, I don't know."
"Grant was real – a real assassin, a real blackguard," Daisy/Skye shakes her head. "The problem is, the real always beats the pretend. Pity that we were the pretend here. Bobbi once claimed that Grant saw himself as a hero. As someone who knew him much better? He never did. I do not know much about John Garrett, but I seriously doubt that he would allow Grant to even consider himself a hero, you know?"
"Yeah, we do," Jemma nods simply, even as she looks out of the windows of their new van (it is a lot similar to the one used on the Bus). "Hey, we're here! Lance, do you want to stick around or you are going to leave?"
"Oh, I'm – going to stick around," Lance speaks in a supposedly reluctant tone (it is not very convincing). "We're in the American south, you know, and it won't be fair to leave Mack with the two of you just by yourselves. After stopping Malick, it won't be fair, or right, if some real-life racist imbeciles went after you or something."
"Malick was real-life," Jemma says quietly. Lance blushes in embarrassment.
"And he was from the south, himself, so maybe he has left some fellow-minded compatriots behind," he tries to correct himself. "No offence, but killing people is easy, you don't need fancy-ass tech or alien overlords to do that. We, us, we got too used in dealing exactly with that, so if we just meet some low-key assholes-"
"Hey, I hope you aren't talking about me," Mack comments, as he arrives in a very sophisticated, Stark-sophisticated, trailer - or perhaps it is a small motor home, complete with attachments for vans and/or smaller cars.
"No, we're not," Jemma flashes an exaggeratingly winsome smile at the big man. "Where'd you get this and why and how?"
"Oh," Melinda 'the Cavalry' May speaks from behind Mack. "Technically, it is mine. I've retired."
/ / /
"Daisy," Melinda says with a small smile that is very unlike her usual look, "I actually was retired since Bahrain and until the Bus, but that would've been insufficiently heroic for S.H.I.E.L.D.'s tastes so I was supposedly working in the administration instead. Cookie?" she offers a small plate of biscuits to the younger trio.
"Thank you," Skye puts one onto her own plate, "but Bahrain was real?"
"Yes, and it is something that will haunt me for the rest of my life," Melinda nods with genuine sadness in her voice. "I was recognized as unfit for combat duty and retired. This is when I got this motor home and a few other benefits. Then Coulson came back from the dead, it was decided that a familiar face would be helpful for him to be integrated back into the agency, and I was persuaded to come back. I underwent lipo and some surgery, and well, you saw me back on the Bus – it was as if those last 7 years were never there."
"I'm sorry, but are you acting OOC – out of character?" Daisy blinks. "Of course, after the previous big revelation it shouldn't be a surprise, but-"
"But if I don't do Tai Chi, watch what I eat and put myself through Hell, I tend to gain weight," Melinda shrugs, as she pulls a bunch of photos out of a drawer. "Here's what I looked like during my retirement, you know?"
Skye and Jemma just stare, Lance is more active. "Whoa mama!" he says, and it is not exactly a compliment.
"Well, Mack seems to like me like this," May says with a sniff.
"Good for him, them – he's a good guy, and I got a feeling that he was feeling lonely lately," Lance nods, doing some damage control. He succeeds.
"He is and he does," May nods. "The Iliad is gone, just as Li Shi is-"
"Lincoln planned on helping them rebuild and all," Daisy shakes her head. "He isn't sure if he'll be staying, and I'm not sure that I'll be staying with him either. Thanks to S.H.I.E.L.D.'s nature and Coulson's way of killing Grant Lincoln and I are not lovers any more. I once told Coulson that I understood how a father figure had caused Grant's undoing. I was wrong – I had to experience it hands-on face-first. It sucks, and it cannot be fixed in a hurry."
"Can I help?" May asks simply. "It was nice to do nothing and to get fat the first time around, but this time you entered my life and made it better and I want to repay you."
Lance blinks. "When I met you at your old man's you were going stir-crazy-"
"I was going parent-crazy, as opposed to Andrew, who just went batshit," Melinda says brightly. "Besides, Mack is coming with you, and I really like staying with him."She pauses and adds, looking askance at Daisy. "Can I tell you something? I was jealous of you. You got amazing metabolism, you seem to master everything perfectly, you got-"
"Stop," Daisy says simply. "Let's be honest – I paid for this. S.H.I.E.L.D. ensured that I did not have any chances to grow roots and attachments before I met you, and that included any chance of having a normal childhood and life. I was told about the S.H.I.E.L.D. island kindergarten and school, remember? S.H.I.E.L.D. children live and learn there. Potentially useful and helpful 0-8-4s and the rest get the orphanage treatment, and the odds of me being dropped back into the alley if I had stuck my neck for Miles or something like that were pretty good. Sorry, I'm rumbling-"
"No, it makes sense – sort of," Melinda admits. "What are you planning on doing now?"
"I'm not sure," Daisy confesses. "I sort of planned on doing the Rising Tide shtick – but then Jemma decided to come along, and so did Lance, and Mackenzie-"
"Hey, call me Mack!" the aforementioned Mackenzie yelled from the front of the motor house.
"Fair enough, so I got people counting on me, and I made a promise to Jemma-"
"Daisy, we both know that it is just an excuse-"
"-which I intent on keeping, somehow or another," Daisy (or Skye?) gave the younger woman a look, "so it's going to be tricky-"
A phone rang. "Your motor home has a listed phone?" Jemma could not help but to ask.
"Part of the perks of being a senior agent when you retire," Melinda shrugged as she picked it up. "Hello?" she blinked and passed it over to Daisy, looking rather nervous, even for her. "It's for you."
"Yes?" Daisy spoke cautiously into the receiver: the people who knew Melinda's current phone number probably knew both her and Melinda, which narrowed the list of potential suspects a lot.
"Commander Johnson?" the voice was raspy and familiar, painfully so. "Permission to come aboard?"
/ / /
"Yes. Coulson did a very good effort, but he is an amateur, not a specialist. He should have crushed my head. Instead he went for the heart. If I didn't have more tricks than he had expected, I would've died."
"You're gifted," Daisy said simply. "It still cost you."
"Yes. The alien symbiote made it easier. Malick and the other Hydra idiots got it backwards. The planet was not a host to an alien evil; it worshiped something of an alien evil, some sort of a Lovecraftian horror, until it destroyed them, leaving behind some impressive decorations. The descendants of the faithful came to Earth via the Monolith-powered wormholes, but over the centuries and generations the stories got confused, plus the association with S.H.I.E.L.D. and proto-S.H.I.E.L.D. ...well, the values got muddled. S.H.I.E.L.D. is a good thing, a good place, Johnson, you should go back-"
"Stop," Daisy said slowly. "Firstly, why are you here?"
"Well, after you people tricked me into shooting Kara Lynn, I was running on limited time. I mean, yes, due to John I knew how to keep people alive, especially with cyber-tech, but I still had a limited amount of time to work with if I was to save her. Then, Raina and some of her new friends contacted me – they were planning to rebuild Li Shi now that S.H.I.E.L.D. was done with it, but they needed someone to deal with Lash. We made a deal – I deal with Lash, and they save Kara. And so it began." Grant paused, dealing with his own past. "The plans grew muddled – I still needed to have revenge against Coulson, Lash turned out to be Melinda's husband-"
"We divorced and no, Lash wasn't Andrew, though I can understand the confusion," Melinda's facial expression and voice were carefully controlled. "Jiaying's powder killed Andrew, creating a brand new person – and that person was an ogre of some sort."
"I hear you," Grant nodded mildly. "Raina had revived John's body with her potion, but it wasn't John. It was some sort of a thing that took over him, you know?"
"Yet you still remained loyal to him," Daisy said quietly.
"I had to," Grant's voice was quiet too. "I owed him everything. I was probably wrong, John was not a good man, but it was not just about him. In Hydra, yes, everything and everyone is bought and sold, as Werner had found out, but I was not Hydra. I still screwed up. John was a fraud and made me into one, but you know?"
"Stop. I think we figured it out. You continued to try to be a good man – just on your terms, not on S.H.I.E.L.D.'s terms," Lance spoke up. "The way of the warrior, of the ronin samurai."
"Um," Grant carefully gave the others a look. "Does he mean it?"
"Yes," Daisy nodded quietly. "You were there, for the big revelation after the victory over Malick. You used equipment to listen-in from a distance, didn't you?"
"I'm not sure what to make of Werner, his girlfriend, his grandmother," Grant nodded. "They have sort of grown-in on me, I suppose. They also needed to know what they would be dealing with in person of S.H.I.E.L.D., and I decided to help. I have helped them deal with Lash, and they saved Kara, but still. I'll probably hang around their place." He paused and gave the ex-hacker a sharp glance. "They would also rather deal with you than Coulson or the rest of the old guard. Are you up for it?"
"Yes," Daisy took a deep breath. "Let's talk about you. I am not sure how things will go with S.H.I.E.L.D., and what you have done is very bad. But what we have done to you is just as bad, and, I suspect, DC, for one, didn't really have any idea as to how to handle a Hydra agent, genuine or otherwise, in the first place. Therefore, I am making you an offer – you get to work with us, one final second chance. If you are in, you are in – no more double-crossing, because now you know exactly what we are and what we stand for. But if you're out," Daisy shook her head and exhaled, "we won't blame you either. If you say that agent 33 is alive-"
"You'll talk to her personally once we get to Li Shi," Grant shrugged.
"And how do we do that?" Lance could not help but ask. Grant just pointed to one of the windows. Lance looked there. "Oh. We have been picked up by a plane. Why were we picked up by a plane?"
"Because the Li Shi's council of elders would want to talk to Skye personally," Grant shrugged, "and remember, Commander – you're the live lion in this meeting, they're just dogs."
"As opposed to your mother, who's the dead lion of the proverb," Grant shrugged. "You're special, even by InHuman standards."
"How's that?" Daisy asked.
"You can create," Grant sounded dead serious. "Your powers are run by your will directly. Very few, and I mean very, few of the InHumans can do that. There are more even of the healers than of the creators among the InHumans, you know?"
"Go on," Skye (or Daisy?) continued, after exchanging curious looks with Jemma. "My- Jiaying told something to that purpose, but not much."
"Once, your mother used her powers to heal than to kill," Grant shrugged, "but then Whitehall cut her to pieces, and Cal tried to make her better and made a nightmare instead. You learned some of it, I heard."
"Yes," Daisy said, her gaze intent: her biological parents were a sore point. "I did."
"Other InHumans can do something different to what Jiaying had done, once. It's different; it can be done with lightning, electricity, or – with fire."
"How's that?" Jemma asked, curious despite her dislike of Grant.
Instead of replying, Grant shot a stream of fire from his finger. Lance immediately reached for his weapon, but Jemma was unhurt. "This actually tickles," she spoke, almost giggling. "How that works?"
"You'll have to talk to Lincoln instead," Grant said with a slight grimace, as his flames dissipated. "My point is that Skye cannot do that, not really. But she can create-"
"Because after Puerto Rico I got a differently shaped brain," Daisy nodded. "I remember her telling me that before Coulson caused her to quit."
"Coulson once was a creative man himself, and a man of integrity," Grant shook his head. "Perhaps he is still – who am I to judge?"
"You've seen what S.H.I.E.L.D. is, and can you honestly tell me that this isn't why you stuck with Garrett until the end?" Daisy's gaze was hard now. "You're flawed, true, but so's Coulson, so's the rest of us. But maybe, together, our flaws can become a mutual strength? Are you in, Grant Ward?"
"Yes," Grant nodded. "But there's a lot that you should know-"
"And I will learn – we will learn, once we land," Skye (or Daisy?) told him firmly. "But for now – let's enjoy the ride."
And they did.