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(caught between) the thorns and the roses

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Grant’s always had pretty spectacular situational awareness (it’s a literal lifesaver in his line of work), but being trapped in a cell for weeks, subjected to the same four walls 24/7, has taken it to a whole new level. He knows the second something changes—some days, it even feels like he knows the second before.

So, yeah. Tiny and (relatively) far away as it might be, there’s no way he misses it when the light on the security camera in the corner of the ceiling blinks off.

He doesn’t let on, though, just goes right on with his push-ups like nothing’s changed. The physical exertion is second nature—mindless, repetitive action—and makes a good cover for his racing thoughts.

Someone stopped the camera from recording. That can mean one of two things: someone coming down here to do something they don’t want Coulson to know anything about, or Coulson coming down to do something he doesn’t want any of the others to know about.

If it’s the latter, it probably means torture—which is good. To torture him, Coulson’ll have to either take him out or put someone in; either way, it’ll be an opening to act, to escape. Or—depending on what kind of torture it is, whether it’s something he’s willing to tolerate—to really sell this ‘redeemed’ shtick and convince Coulson of his sincerity.

(Life as a captive 101: sometimes ignoring an opening is even better than making use of it.)

And if it’s the former? If one of the others is sneaking down here without Coulson’s knowledge? Well. That could mean a lot of things. (He briefly lets himself imagine that it’ll be Skye, coming to let him out—to say she understands and she’s sorry for rejecting him and that she wants to run away together—but only briefly. He’ll get her there someday, but it’s a long way off; all fantasizing will do is make the wait harder.)

But no matter who’s coming down for what, he can’t do anything until they get here. So he goes on with his work-out, forces himself to be patient and stick to his routine.

He’s just finishing up his tricep dips when the door opens, and—it’s not Coulson. (It’s also not Skye. Bummer.)

It’s Simmons.

Huh.

Grant studies her from the corner of his eye as she makes herself comfortable in the little chair on the other side of the barrier, evaluating her in the hopes it’ll give him a clue as to why she’s here.

She looks good—better than the last time he saw her, not that that’s hard. Her hair’s shorter. It suits her, even if he kind of misses the ponytail. (It was just so…bouncy. Watching it swish back and forth could get mesmerizing when a mission briefing ran long.)

She also, to his displeasure, looks bored. It used to be that his morning work-out was the highlight of her day; she’d find any excuse to linger in the lab, darting glances at him every chance she got as he worked up a sweat. The first time he took off his shirt before hitting the punching bag, he swears she actually sighed.

But there are no lingering glances this morning. Just a flat face and her fingers drumming impatiently on the tablet in her lap.

He’s not gonna lie, it pisses him off. That’s probably why he gets straight to the point, rather than using this—the first real opportunity he’s gotten—to try and mitigate some of the damage the uprising did.

“If you’re here to question me, you’re wasting your time,” he says, in a tone just soft enough to keep the words apologetic instead of harsh. “I’ve already told Coulson—I’m only going to talk to Skye.”

“You’re talking to me right now,” Simmons points out—probably just couldn’t help herself, judging by the face she makes right after. “But it’s irrelevant anyway; I’m not here to question you.”

“No?” He’s done with the tricep dips and with that, his work-out’s over. He pushes himself back up to sit on the edge of his bed, forgoing the part where he’d usually put his shirt back on first. Just because. “Time for my yearly physical, then?”

“No,” she says, and crosses her legs. “I’m here to offer you a chance, Ward.”

…Now why does that strike him as ominous? “What kind of chance?”

“A chance to prove your intentions,” she says, folding her hands on top of the tablet. “You claim that you were never really Hydra, merely working with them for Garrett’s sake, and that our friendship wasn’t a lie? Well, this is your opportunity to live up to those claims.” She pauses deliberately. “Or not.”

“I’m already trying,” he points out. “If Skye would—”

“No,” Simmons interrupts sharply. “What you’re doing is holding your intel over Skye’s head like a hostage. If—and I do mean if—Coulson is ever desperate enough to order her down here, she won’t be grateful. She’ll be terrified. All you’re accomplishing right now is reinforcing all of our worst thoughts about you.”

She’s not wrong. Of course, she has no way of knowing that he’s still only on the first move in a very long game. Once he starts trying to kill himself—or so it’ll appear—his insistence on only speaking to Skye will read less like leverage and more like desperation. It won’t be fast and it won’t be easy, but eventually he’ll convince them that he’s just that broken, that he’s clinging to the idea of Skye because he’s got nothing else.

After that, it’s just a hop to Skye pitying him, a skip to forgiveness, and then a jump to the two of them together and him back on the team.

It might take years, but he’ll get there. And playing along with Simmons now will only make the long game longer.

“Simmons—”

“You have your excuses, I’m sure,” she says over him. “But the fact remains that as things stand, we’re a long way from desperate enough to sacrifice Skye’s well-being for the sake of information.” She tips her head, considering him carefully. “Which isn’t to say we aren’t desperate at all.”

Grant’s getting that feeling in his gut—a tingling kind of warning that says there’s a trap about to close around him. Whatever she’s getting at, he is definitely not gonna like it.

“What kind of chance are you offering?” he asks again.

Simmons smiles pleasantly. “I’m glad you asked. You see, I am about to do something very stupid and very dangerous. Realistically speaking, it will probably get me killed within the week…unless you help me.”

…He wants to say that doesn’t sound like her, but honestly, this is the woman who threw herself out of a plane at forty thousand feet without a parachute. If she thinks it’ll save the team and/or innocent people, she’ll throw herself on a grenade without a second thought.

“What kind of stupid are we talking here?” he asks.

“Undercover work,” she says, which is absurd enough even before she adds, “In Hydra.”

“No!” He doesn’t even realize he’s on his feet until he’s running into the barrier, which is a nearly unforgiveable lapse in self-control. But he’s just gonna let it slide this time because, “Simmons, you can’t lie.”

“I couldn’t lie,” she corrects. “I’ve had reason to get much better lately…but you’re right, I’m probably not good enough to fool Hydra.” She shrugs carelessly. “Without help, I’m doomed.”

“Is this a joke?” he demands—almost hopes, really. Because if it’s not…

“No,” Simmons says flatly. She sets her tablet—no, he realizes, it’s the tablet, the one that controls his cell—in its place and stands. “I am deadly serious. We need intel, information on Hydra’s movements…and even if you were cooperating, everything you know is weeks out of date. Our only choice is to send someone undercover, and with you in here, I’m all we’ve got.”

Grant wants desperately to argue that, but—yeah. She’s not wrong. Trip’s a SHIELD legacy, Coulson’s Coulson, and May is too Coulson-loyal; Hydra’d never buy any of them switching sides. And while Hydra has no reason to think Skye wouldn’t turn—she was only a SHIELD agent for a single day, after all—they also have no particular reason to want another hacker.

A scientist of Simmons’ caliber, on the other hand, would be an irresistible draw. She really is Coulson’s best option.

But she’s also Grant’s friend. Maybe he hurt her, maybe she almost died in Cuba, but he was never happy about it—and dropping her out of the Bus, as wrong as it apparently went, was about trying to save her, not kill her. With John so pissed, she’d have been dead for sure if he didn’t get her out of there. He was giving her the best chance he could. He had to give her the best chance he could, because he doesn’t want her dead.

Maybe his control’s actually slipped enough that he actually says some of that aloud, or maybe they’re just thinking along the same lines. Either way, it gives him a hell of a jolt when Simmons says, “Coulson told me you’ve been claiming that you dropped us out of the Bus in an attempt to save us.”

“I did,” he says forcefully. “If you’d stayed—”

She cuts him off with a raised hand. “Well, you have another chance to try and save me.”

“Simmons—”

“The plan is simple,” she says. “On my own, I’ll be made in no time at all. But if I come in as the recruit of a loyal agent, one they’ve no reason to suspect, Hydra won’t be looking nearly so closely at me. And even if I do slip up, you’re good enough to cover for the both of us.”

“True,” he admits. But something’s not adding up here. Everything about Simmons’ behavior—her body language, her word choice, the way she keeps cutting him off—suggests she’s still pissed as hell at him. So why turn to him for help? “Question is, why would you trust me to?”

Simmons sighs and turns away. “In all honesty, I don’t.” She circles around the chair so she can grip the back of it. “When someone shows you who they are, believe them. I saw that on a t-shirt once. And what you’ve shown me is that you’re an immoral, heartless traitor who will kill absolutely anyone if it suits his purposes. I could throw you further than I trust you.”

Ouch. “You’re taking advice from t-shirts now?”

“Well, my mentor turned out to be a traitor herself,” she says with a humorless smile. “So why not?”

“Your—wait, seriously? Weaver is Hydra?” It’s so far from where he had the woman pegged that it actually worries him a little. If he’s that off his game—

To his relief, Simmons shakes her head.

“Worse,” she says. “She spearheaded a splinter group—a little organization that considered themselves the real SHIELD. They didn’t trust Coulson’s leadership and therefore decided not to join us here. Which would be fine, if they hadn’t instead opted to utilize their far superior resources to spy on us.”

She really is a better liar than she used to be. Her face is calm, her voice perfectly even, her shoulders loose. If Grant couldn’t see the way her knuckles are going white on that chair, he’d never know how angry she is.

“They sent in agents undercover with us,” she continues. “They planted bugs all over the base. They even planned an invasion.” She pauses to take in a nice, deep breath. “And all the while, Hydra continued to kill and terrorize innocent people, utterly unopposed.”

“Wow,” Grant says. “That’s…something.”

“It’s awful,” Simmons says—and this time, a little bit of emotion slips through. It sounds, just for a second, like she’s about to cry. “But…it got me thinking.”

“Thinking that I’d be good back-up?” he asks, hoping to pull things back on track.

“Thinking that if I had never joined the team—if I didn’t know Coulson—and Anne came to me in the wake of the uprising and said she suspected that the man who’d taken up SHIELD’s mantle was evil, mightn’t I have believed her? Wouldn’t I have gone along with what she suggested and ignored Hydra, judging the potential wolf in our herd the greater threat?”

“…Okay, you’ve lost me,” Grant has to admit. Part of it’s that she’s still got that mask of calm on, denying him the chance to read her usually expressive face, but honestly, he mostly just can’t follow her train of thought.

Not that that’s anything new. Geniuses. What’re you gonna do?

Simmons actually smiles a little—sincerely, this time. “My point was…Garrett was your mentor.”

“Yeah, and?”

“And he obviously led you far, far astray,” she says, more than a little insultingly. Grant makes his own choices; he’s always owned that. (To himself, at least.) “So while I think I know who you are, maybe I’m wrong. Maybe I’ve just seen where Garrett led you.” She shrugs. “Or maybe not. Either way, I’ll never know unless I give you the chance to show me.”

“So this is you giving me a chance,” he concludes. It’s more than a little surprising, really; Simmons seemed set against him from the start. Unlike Fitz, who was trying to appeal to his better nature all the way through their encounter in Cuba, Simmons never even bothered speaking to him until desperation took over when he was about to drop the medpod.

To go from that to be willing to offer him a second chance, without him putting any effort at all into it? Weaver’s other SHIELD must’ve done a real number on her.

“It is,” she agrees. “So come with me, Ward. You can finally put that skill in deception to good use, help me help the team, and save me from a very unpleasant fate.”

“But what if you’re not wrong?” he asks, mostly just to hear what she’ll say. “What if I’m exactly who you think I am? What if the first thing I do when we get to Hydra is expose you as a mole?”

“Then I suffer that unpleasant fate after all,” she says simply. “But at least you’re far away from the people I love—and Skye will know, once and for all, that you’ll never be capable of all those things you’ve promised her.”

Huh. “You’ve really thought this out.”

“Obviously,” she says—with a level of disdain that he probably deserves. She’s a fucking genius, of course she’s thought this out. “So, what will it be? Will you continue to haunt this basement cell like a particularly persistent bad dream? Or will you help me survive Hydra?”

Whether she believes it or not, Simmons is his friend. He doesn’t want her dead—and he’s not happy about how casually she was able to reference the torture and brainwashing that awaits her if she gets caught. He thinks she’s a little too ready to give her life for SHIELD, and that’s no attitude to take undercover.

So no, there’s no way in hell that he’d ever let her go without him.

Getting out of this cell months ahead of schedule is a hell of bonus, though.

“Lead the way,” he says, and pokes the barrier separating them just hard enough to make it sizzle. “You’re gonna have to do something about this, though.”

In response, Simmons picks up the tablet and…drops the barrier.

Just like that.

Freedom is right there. After weeks in this tiny box—weeks he spent psyching himself up for anticipated months, if not years—it’s a heady, heady thing to have the barrier down. Grant’s gonna need a second.

Not that Simmons seems to notice; she’s already halfway to the stairs.

“Don’t make me regret this,” she warns over her shoulder.

“I won’t,” he promises, and barely remembers to pull his shirt on before he hurries after her. (Whatever happens next, at least he’s out of the fucking cell.) Then, because sometimes he just can’t help himself, he asks, “But what’s to stop me from, say, knocking you out and kidnapping Skye again?”

“Oh, please.” Simmons pauses on the landing to roll her eyes at him. “Do you honestly think I’m stupid enough to let you out while Skye’s on base? She’s thousands of miles away right now.”

Of course she is. “Doing what?”

“Picking up dinner,” she says dryly. “Now, if you’ve no more hypotheticals to offer?”

Now that he’s brought up kidnapping, it’s occurring to him that the best way to keep Simmons safe from Hydra is to make sure she never gets there. He could always knock her out, take her to one of his safehouses, and keep her there until she got over the idea.

But Simmons is stubborn. It could take months. And kidnapping her best friend is no way to win Skye’s forgiveness.

Better to stick with the plan, he guesses.

“Nope,” he says. “I’m good.”

“Good,” she says, and pushes the door open. “Be quiet then, would you?”

“Why?” he asks. The hallway they exit into is short, made of bare brick and fairly dirty-looking concrete, but after weeks in the same room, it ranks pretty high on the list of best things Grant’s ever seen. “Are we sneaking out?”

That’d explain why she turned the camera off before coming down.

“No,” she says. “I just don’t want to have to hear your voice. Shush.”

Rude—but Grant decides to let it go. He needs this time to plan, anyway, figure out the most effective angle to approach Hydra from and the best way to convince them that Simmons is legit.

And if he ends up deciding on a plan she doesn’t like, well, then she shouldn’t have told him to shush, should she?

 

 

 

 

(Sixteen hours later, he kisses her to sell the slimy little Hydra drone questioning them the lie that Simmons is following him into Hydra because she loves him just that much. An hour after that, the very first second they’re left alone, Simmons slaps him.

“If you hadn’t shushed me, I could’ve warned you this was our best play,” he tells her innocently.

She slaps him again, apparently too furious to even speak. It’s kind of adorable.)