Grant is twelve when his older brother pushes his younger in the well. It isn’t the first time and it isn’t the last.
Ward is twenty when he enters the academy. When John tells him he’s going to be a specialist, he doesn’t argue. He never asks. He only obeys. Being a specialist can be fun. After living for five years with only a dog for company, you get used to the solitude.
At Operations you wear a uniform and a fun Friday night is doing the rope course.
He loses his virginity to a level two with dark hair. He doesn’t remember her face but Garrett finds the whole thing hilarious.
“It’s about damn time,” he says.
Ward doesn’t say what he’s really thinking. There was no time for any of that while living in the wilderness. Alone. He never breaks the habit.
He learns to not speak those dark underlying doubts. And when John graces him with jokes and more stories about the countless fire fights he’s been in, Ward takes the gift he’s been given and laughs along with him.
With John as his SO, Ward doesn’t need to really interact with anyone. He’s been made comfortable with this after five years. He’s soon likened to Romanoff but that seems odd to him.
He’s just some guy. Not a super spy. Not anything, really.
The academy isn’t easier than the woods. But everyone around him seems like they’re having the time of their lives. He learns to resent SciTech and wades through faceless Communications cadets. John takes him on his first mission. He shouldn’t have even been let out of the SHIELD standard vehicle he has such a low clearance.
But he’s passed his field assessment with flying colors and John goes off book on this one. (On all of them, really.)
“I probably would have shot you if you hadn’t,” John said. “Not passing your field exam would have been an embarrassing disappointment.”
Embarrassing John is something you don’t do. Along with not questioning him.
Ward knows this. He never questions anymore.
He’s almost certain that the Op hasn’t been approved at HQ.
To which John laughs and says, “if it was easy, it wouldn’t be any fun.”
Ward internalizes this. It isn’t the last time he’ll hear it.
Soon, he likes saying it.
And then he becomes Agent Ward.
He never looks back.
Grant is fifteen when he’s almost tried as an adult.
A part of him thinks he deserves it.
The other part of him knows that he does.
His first night inside he’s accosted by three kids in for grand theft auto. Considering he’s an arsonist as well as an attempted murderer, they think he should put up a fight.
He’s had training. Fifteen years of it, to be exact. It’s on that night that Grant realizes he is not a good person. When you’re borne to monsters, can you ever really be?
He supposes in comparison, he’s alright. He never coerced anyone into pushing someone down a well. But he still just stood idly by and let it happen.
He gets a bloody cheekbone for his troubles.
The next night he’s ready. He’s put in solitary and knows for sure this doesn’t happen to good people. He thought for a long time that little Grant Ward was just dealt a bad hand. He was a victim and could persevere.
John taught him better.
He lives in the woods for five years with only a dog for company.
Ward is thirty when he’s pulled out of France. This is where it starts, he tells himself. He will keep everything locked in. Coulson will recruit him and they are just that much closer to reaching their goal.
It’s almost too easy.
Easy to pretend that he doesn’t want in on this elite unit. Easy to pretend that he works better alone. Easy to pretend that these Rising Tide punks are a nuisance and have as much finesse as a nuclear bomb.
He can dismantle nuclear bombs.
That was before today.
Today, Coulson opens the sliding door to a van parked in LA.
(Ward used to be able to take on anything.)
The girl behind it has wavy hair and a shining smile.
Grant is thirteen when his brother beats him up for eating a piece of his birthday cake. He then is ordered to beat up his younger brother.
He does so with compliance and only thinks about it when he’s thirty.
He doesn’t cry in front of his older brother. That would earn him a worse punishment. He lets himself be blinded by rage. This is how he has conditioned himself. This is how he survives.
Grant decides that he hates him name and no one should ever say it again. Especially not like that. Not devastated. Not destructive. Not worried.
No one would ever worry about him anyway.
His older brother eats his cake with a smirk on his face. His little brother curls up in the corner, his usual domain.
His mother looks away and his father doesn’t even look up from his paper.
Grant tells Skye this is his defining moment.
Ward doesn’t even remember what a defining moment is.
Ward kills Victoria Hand.
He can’t look at John as he does it. Each moment between the clicking of the clip is excruciating and long. If he looked at John, maybe it would be easier.
Maybe it would be harder.
He can never really know for sure.
If he waits long enough, maybe this can all be a dream. Maybe his reality can be where he finally knows who he is and what he’s supposed to do. Not shutting out conscience and only listening to orders.
Is that harder?
Is it easier?
In his reality would he be able to choose her? Would he be able to know who he really is at all?
The rounds fire off, sound ricocheting off the walls of the plane. He realizes they’re dead when they hit the floor.
Hand’s eyes are full of shock.
And then they’re just nothing.
Her blood matches her hair and he stares at it drips through the grate.
John tells a story from the cockpit, but Ward’s fairly certain that he’s heard it before.
Grant kills Nash. He knows the man didn’t really shoot Skye, but he didn’t know that Skye was a target at all.
For one moment, he doesn’t follow orders.
He isn’t that frightened kid beaten into submission by his brother. He isn’t doing this for anyone.
He’s doing it for himself. He imagines for a moment that this invalid was the one that gave the order. It is the only vengeance he is able to have and it almost does the trick.
He can almost be righteous.
He can almost be good.
John wanted Nash dead, but he doesn’t know Grant’s reasons for doing it so quickly.
Ward pauses for the first time in his life. Fitz and Simmons yell at him from behind the glass.
Grant is weak.
Ward is the one that has to push the button.
“Grant, are you okay?”
For a minute, he’s confused. She’s looking at him – big eyes full of fear – but she can’t be talking to him. For a minute, he forgets who Grant is.
He wants to shove her away. The rage is about to tear him apart and he can’t stand feeling like he’s twelve again.
Is this his defining moment? Where is he in all of this?
Skye pulls his arm over her shoulder. Her hand supports his chest.
He thinks of every thing he isn’t able to do. John’s voice reverberates at the back of his brain. Letting her support him is weak. The smell of her hair is weak. Smiling when she smiles at him first is weak.
And in that second, he doesn’t care.
He wants to be Grant for a moment. He wants to be weak in her arms.
When she takes his hand, it’s as though everything can be different. He never thought that it could be. He never thought that there was a door number two that he could just walk through and have a completely different life.
He wants this. He wants it so much.
Ward leaves the bar in Dublin that night and follows May into her hotel room.
“Grant Ward, Agent of Shield.”
It’s so easy, he almost believes it.
The hairline fracture helps the sell. He lets himself forget sometimes. More and more frequently whenever he sees her he fades into Grant. She helps him peel off his pack and the very real condition of his ribs spasm.
She offers him a drink and it almost seems like everything is going to be okay.
Until the lie detector test. He pushes a razor into his finger. It barely works.
“Skye. I came back for her.”
It isn’t a lie. John ordered him to get her for her information. Grant can’t remember what he told him about her anymore. He can’t remember if he’s supposed to view her as a mark anymore.
Or the burning sensation within him whenever he sees her. That can’t be fabricated. He feels as though he didn’t tell John about that, however.
I came back for her.
"I wanted to spend time with her.”
When he leaves the interrogation he realizes that isn’t false. He knows deep within his bones that he needs her and cares for her more than he ever should have let her.
He was weak.
He’s past the point of it mattering it anymore. Interrogation or no.
When Ward kills Eric Koenig later that night, he realizes the only reason he passed it at all is because of Skye.
Ward points his gun at her head. He can appreciate her expression. Unarmed, she takes confident steps towards him.
They both know that he never intends on shooting her.
Just like she was unable to let him perish. He thinks about this a lot. The more he thinks about it, the more emotional her reaction to his heart attack seems to him. He can live with that.
He doesn’t know what’s real anymore anyway.
“I hope Garrett orders you to walk into traffic.”
She isn’t afraid. No matter how hard he tries to scare her.
He needs her to be afraid of him. He needs to do at least that. John is all he has left. If he isn’t a part of Hydra, what does he have, really? He’ll be nothing.
He can’t have her. He’ll never have her again.
As much as he relives their moments together, it’s all gone. As much as he pretended not to fall in love with Coulson’s team and everything they did, he knows that’s just not the truth.
That is the one thing he does know.
Not that they will ever believe it.
So he just points the gun at her and says what he has to.
She’s never afraid.
Grant. Ward. Grant. Ward. Grant. Ward. Grant. Ward.
He dreams of blood.
And he dreams that she cries. The blood on his face sears like a poker and when he looks into a mirror, the flesh is melting off his face.
He wakes up with a start.
“Skye. Let me explain.”
“Bring him back.”
“There are things about me you wouldn’t like. If you knew.”
“I’m not a good man, Skye.”
“Look, I know I’m not that guy. I'm too locked down. Too boring.”
“All I want is to be here with you. And imagine the world outside doesn’t exist.”
He kisses her. When he looks at her, she smiles back at him like there is nothing wrong in the world. Grant lets himself believe it. How her beauty and optimism can give him a light where his dark places where.
He closes his eyes, kisses her, and he’s Grant. With her, he can be Grant forever.
Ward points a gun at her and tells her hideous things to scare her into submission. Ward has a fractured larynx and a nail in his foot.
Some day, he’ll be Grant with her again.
Some day, he’ll let it.