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Whispers and Truths

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 Trip's still awake, but if he hears Fitz go by, he doesn't give any indication. Fitz wonders why they aren't all watching him like hawks right now. He'd certainly proved that he might need to be kept on a shorter leash. He wasn't proud of it, and not just because of the scolding that Coulson gave him. He hadn't been proud of himself long before they all came back to the base.

Still, he thinks, if he had to do it over again, he's not sure what he'd do. Words were so frustrating now, they took so much more time to find, to share. It had already been so hard being down there. From the second that wall had disappeared, and Ward had been there, so close, almost touchable, things had been hard. Harder than he'd anticipated. Then again, he had never presumed to see Grant Ward again.

Fitz had never made a plan of action for his personal image and behaviour were he to come face to face with the man again. He'd like to think if he had, he wouldn't have gone to pieces.

He couldn't have helped that. Fitz keeps telling himself that, but it doesn't sound any better, any time that he does.

Jemma's gone. The hallucination he'd dreamt up of her, anyway. She hasn't come back since he said she wasn't real, that she wasn't there, earlier. In some ways, Fitz is happy for that. It wasn't right for him to hold on to her like that, when she'd left. It didn't mean that part of him didn't ache for her presence again, even if it was nothing more than a coping method.

It was certainly more productive than anger.

Coulson doesn't have someone watching the door to Vault D. The hallway leading to it is devoid of any other person, and the door is still unlocked. Fitz knows Skye went down earlier, but he doesn't know if anyone else knows that.

Anyone besides Ward, that is.

In any case, that might explain why the door was unguarded, unlocked. It opens easily under Fitz's touch, just as it had hours before. That all feels like a day ago, now. Walking down the stairs, his hands feel less sure on the tablet. Almost numb. The wall is up again. He wonders if that was just programmed into the prison. Go a certain amount of time without a visitor, and Ward got blocked in, closed off.

It made it easier for Fitz to get close, though. The spread of white served well to calm his nerves. Knowing who was in there didn't make things any easier. He couldn't be surprised, again, but, in ways, he doesn't know what to expect.

When the wall rolls away this time, the picture he's faced with is much different.

When the wall rolls away this time, his heart still stops, but for an entirely different reason.

For a second, eyes closed and body still, Grant Ward looks dead, on the bed they'd given him in the corner of the cell. For a second, Leo Fitz sees the image of what he could have wrought before.

“You're sleeping,” he breathes, when his heart finds its rhythm again.

He supposes that this is one of the few things Ward has to do in his prison. Looking around, now that he has the chance to, Fitz becomes acutely aware of just how little makes up the other's cell that isn't walls and the floor. The bed is basically the only furnishing. How doesn't he go stir-crazy in there?

Maybe that was helped by the fact that he clearly was, on some level, cracked.

Still, watching Ward sleep, Fitz finds that he's hardly as terrifying as he was the first time Fitz saw him behind that wall. Now, he's much less intimidating.

The barrier between them hums, louder when Fitz leans in, watching Ward's face. He's asleep, and, with a few taps on the tablet, Fitz could put the wall back, and he wouldn't have to see this image.

He surprises himself when he doesn't put the wall back, and, instead, sinks down to sit on the floor, right at the edge of the barrier, watching Ward. The minutes pass, and the vault stays quiet. There's nothing but the sound of Ward's even breaths, and the rush of Fitz's calming ones. It's relaxing, in some twisted way, Fitz thinks. Ward isn't talking, he isn't trying to explain, he's just there, and Fitz can take his time with that.

And, Christ, he needs time.

So much passes in silence between them, Ward not even aware that he's there, before Fitz chances sound. The quiet tap of the tablet on the concrete floor, and the rough slide as he pushes it away, leaning until it's out of reach.

He won't need it, this time.

“I don't sleep anymore,” he starts, voice barely above a whisper. He's not looking at Ward now, but he thinks he'd know if the former agent woke up. “I mean...” His fingers drum over his knee, and he takes his time, finding his words. “I don't dream anymore,” he says, more conviction in his whisper. “Are you dreaming?”

Looking up, Fitz can see that Ward hasn't moved. If he's awake, he isn't giving any indication. He's good. He'd be able to feign sleep, if he wanted. “I thi- I thi-... Hm. I guess,” Fitz tries. “You might not be dreaming. Now. Maybe you're...” Another pause while he hunts for the words. “Not asleep.”

Ward doesn't do so much as to miss a beat in his breathing.

“I don't dream anymore.” Fitz repeats, eyes leaving Ward's shoulder to drift along the wall behind the man's bed. “I only have nightmares.” He smiles, tight and frustrated, at that, huffs out a laugh. “You did that to me, too.”

Ward had said earlier he didn't mean to hurt him. He had been trying to save them, he couldn't have hurt them if he tried. The irony in all that was that he had hurt Fitz.

“They're always short, I think,” he continues, index fingernail trailing the dip of the seam of his jeans, down the length of his leg from knee to ankle. “Just... her screaming. And the water. And then I... I... I, um.” The engineer's fingers curl under the hem of his jeans, gripping tight, eyes squeezed tight while he tries to call up the words.

“Remember!” the word leaves his mouth, loud enough to bounce back off the walls, and he looks up sharply, aware of the fact that Ward should have woken up. The even breaths continue, though, and not one flicker on his face gives away that he might be awake. Fitz watches him for a while, the way his eyes move beneath closed lids, and how, aside from that, the only movement his body makes is the slow rise and fall as he breathes.

So much slower than earlier when he'd been trying to tell Fitz that the team was in danger.

“I remember,” Fitz tries again, licking his lips. “I shouldn't, but I do. I think I made it up.” He shakes his head. “The point is... I don't sleep much anymore. Because of the nightmares. Because of you.”

There's heat on his cheeks, and he rubs at them angrily, willing them away. He held it together earlier – mostly – and didn't let anything fall. Just because Ward isn't awake doesn't mean he should lose that control.

His voice is at a normal pitch, and he isn't trying to hush himself.

“I didn't think you could, y'know. I thought I could get... through. And I didn't. You wouldn't even look at me, Ward. I begged you to. You didn't have to listen to...” he can see the name in his mind, but he can't get his mouth to wrap around the name, and that's an entirely different issue. “Him. You... You're Grant Ward.” The laughs he huffs this time is shaky, and broken. “You could have listened. You could have let us out, we could have all gotten...”

Fitz trails off, unsure why he's bothering. In his mind, he imagines a different scenario, where Ward agrees to help them. Where he and Jemma leave the pod, and Ward gets them off the Bus. Where they take Ward with them, and he and Fitz...

For a time, Fitz had hoped they could have a long talk. That Ward would explain things to him, that he would understand, and he could help the others understand.

“That was stupid.” He mutters. Garrett had always been more important, more pivotal, to Ward. He sees that now. No matter how hard he would have tried, he wouldn't have been able to help Ward.

No. That was just something he was telling himself.

Angry, and hurt, and scared, and he was telling himself that no one could help Ward. All the while, that voice in the back of his mind quietly commented that he didn't believe that. He'd always believed, he still believed, that there was more to the story. No matter how much he tried, no matter how angry he got, he wouldn't be able to get rid of that belief.

“I miss you,” Fitz whispers, ignoring the hot trails on his cheeks now, blurry gaze fixed on his twisting fingers. “I miss the man I thought... you are that man, somewhere. I miss you. And I don't want to, Ward.”

He gets to his feet, retrieving the tablet from where he'd pushed it, and hugging it to his chest. Ward's still sleeping. He hasn't moved an inch since Fitz removed the wall.

“But, I can't help it... I hate you, you know.” He shrugs. “But not for...” Another shrug, this one with a gesture to his temple. “For making me miss you.”

Ward doesn't reply.

That's okay.

Fitz lingers a few minutes longer, watching him breathe, matching those breaths with his own, until he feels calm, and back in control. At least, as much as he does, these days. The tears dried on his cheeks, and left stiff trails, but he doesn't bother to rub at them. He turns to the stairs, and makes the climb back up.

Fitz doesn't turn around when he opens the door to Vault D. He's going to try to sleep. Maybe tonight he won't have nightmares.

And maybe next time he visits, Ward won't wait until he's gone to open his eyes and mutter, “I miss you, too.”