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Author's Notes

These will only be present in first Chapter if at all possible.

So I have read a lot of stories in AU written about the pairing of Fitz/Ward or Fitz/Mack which take into account Fitz injury but kind of play it down. After watching 2.3, where Fitz and Ward have their confrontation in the cell, I just had such strong feels I had to write something. Warning you now that the first half of this starts out as kind of a recap to that scene. Where will I go with this story? No idea! 2.3 is actually the last episode I've watched, another coming up shortly, and I'm sure my entire fic will be Joss'd to hell and back. However, I will deviate from canon, and keep this going, because I love the kicked puppy looks and sad face Ward gives Fitz and vice versa. So, this will go canon divergent or straight up near AU very fast, and we can all hold hands and jump in together. Also, I know I do not have the greatest track record of keeping up my fanfiction, but I am trying to practice setting schedules and writing due dates. So, we will see! Anyway, enjoy!

- Ward, Fitz, Couson, and other Agent of Shields are no property of mine.
- I do not have a beta reader to edit for me so forgive any typos you may see, please.


Containment 'D', dark and closed off, had made him nervous enough before without...this.

This - Ward - was too much for Fitz to handle and every breath felt like a fight. Fitz knew what a panic attack was, on an academic level he knew they were common for him now, but still, this. It did not help to close his eyes and busy his face in a palm. Ward would still be there, had been there, all along, and no one had told him. Perhaps that is what was rattling him? No. This room...

"You tried to kill us."

"No, I wanted to save you."

Ward, with his hospital scrubs and full beard that made him appear a whole new person, approached the glass as he explained. Fitz was not listening. He had given up on not looking. The panicked repetition of 'Stop moving please stop moving...' in his head would not allow it. Here was the man who had tried to kill Simmons and him, nearly had killed him, and he was calling it an attempt to save them. Something about Garrett. Explanations. Fitz heard them as if they were distant, not separated by glass, almost as if he were underwater again and fading into the black. That was ironic - the explanation of 'saving him' by dropping him into the ocean made it feel like he had returned there. This time there was no Simmons to swim him to the surface.

He would have to swim up himself.

"Do you know that...umm…" Words. Explanation. He had been good at explanations, why was this always so hard? Why was it so hard now. Unable to grasp the words Fitz felt his mouth open, close, and open again, all while Ward stared him down unblinking. He should not be here, Fitz that is, not Ward, he was exactly where he deserved to be. Except, he could breath. He was not damaged. It was not the words that sprang to mind first but the idea and that was how it should be. Fitz had ideas then he voiced them. He had ideas now and he could not voice them.

Visual demonstrations.

He was on his feet. Ward was still taller, had always been taller, and when he looked down at Fitz it was a literal thing. Fitz had always assumed that it was a little metaphorical too. Maybe the real explanation is Simmons and he were not worth a bullet? Though Ward had said he expected them to save themselves but Ward had said many things. Most of them were lies. The way Ward looked at him right now, frow furrowed and eyes in just that way that the rest of the team looked at him, he hoped was a lie. Fitz knew the rest of the team pitied him but his assailant too? Wait, could Ward even be considered his assailant or had it been the forces of submerged pressure? No, Agent, no, Ward had dropped them into that pressure. In a box. Fitz's thoughts spun out of control as he looked down at the datapad and desperately away from Ward. A thumping sound rang in his ears and distantly, analytically, Fitz surmised it to be his heart going wild in his chest. It likely also correlated with his blood pressure - that had to be astronomical.

Too many thoughts, he could not… "It's probably best that I show you."

"Show me what?"

He sounded…oh, the word!

"Hypoxia!"

Ward looked confused. Why should he? What else had the former Agent really expected when he dropped them into the ocean. No, Ward was not medically inclined, he likely expected simple drowning. Not that drowning was ever really simple though Fitz had read multiple...not now.

A slider displayed on the datapad and further ado Fitz tapped it down, deoxygenating the room. It made a sound. That surprised him, why would they need a sound to signify air being removed, and he looked up for a sound and instead got him, Ward, whose brown eyes were wide, his head tilted, and maybe...panicked? No, Ward did not panic. Agents of, no, traitors who had spent that long uncover as their friend were likely not capable of panic. They held eye contact and though he wanted to break it, Fitz found himself frozen, datapad clutched so tight his knuckles were turning white and it was a wonder the screen did not crack. Ward was the one losing oxygen rapidly; why was it then hard for Fitz himself to breath? In, out, in, out, the simply tricks he had learned in recovery to control his 'condition' seemed entirely ineffective as Ward backed away from the glass. Ward, whom in this tiny room that echoed everything, was already gasping.

"Fitz...what are you doing?"

"Showing you."

Show power over your fears to master them. Fitz had read that somewhere, once, long ago. He wasn't sure where. It seemed correct. Though, arguably, was Ward really a fear? Or an enemy? Enemy. Most likely. He even had the insane man beard now, he had not when he had tried to…

Fitz pressed the datapad against the glass so Ward could understand his own fate.

"What it's like when you're deprived," Why were the words so hard? His head pounded behind his skull as he grasp for them. Explaining Hypoxia should have been easy - a basical medical condition he had learned mostly through costudying with Simmons. Simmons, who had left him after his condition became apparent. Once again, an effect linked back to the cause before him, Ward, whom nearly stumbled back to his cot as more oxygen escaped the room. Talking should become difficult soon. Motor movements. A blackening of the vision. Slowly though, not all at once the way Fitz had experienced it when a surge of water pressure nearly crushed his lungs. From there it was, ah right, "The brain cells...they react first. Three minutes, damage is permanent." They were not his words. No, quoted straight from Jemma when she explained it.

...and all Ward had to say was, "Where's Skye?"

It felt like a switch had been flipped. Here he was, standing before Ward, and he asked about Skye - who was not the one he had hurt. Oh, wait, no, Ward had hurt her, but a breach of trust was entirely different from damaging someone mentally. From breaking someone like had been done to Fitz. Everything came out at once, a jumbled mess, as a dam broke in his head and it felt like he was screaming. Later, when the footage would be played back to him, Fitz really would be astounded at how calm he sounded. Now, in the moment, it felt as if every word roared out of his mouth without a filter as he raged at Ward about missing a mission, about Gil, about being damaged. No one had used the word with him but Fitz knew a product, even himself, for what it was. Damaged. Broken. There was no restore to factory settings in sight though everyone around him seemed convinced otherwise. No though, Ward wanted Skye to be here.

It was not enough of a struggle for Ward to speak, "Donnie...Donnie Gil? Thats why Skye was-"

Why did Fitz feel his own eyes watering the more Ward spoke of everyone else?

"No! No, I...I...I don't answer-"

"Fitz! Listen to me, you...they don't know what they're walking into!" Ward's voice strained and from across the glass, in oxygen that felt too thin with no intervention, Fitz could see the veins in his neck straining. That was the start. It was how it began. Except now the scientist froze in place and his mind went blank like Ward had dropped a nuclear strike. 'They don't know...what?' Did he even care? That was the worst part, Fitz wanted to know but could not tell his natural curiosity apart from the concern. Anything Ward said would be a lie - it always had been - meant to hurt them in a long con…

Yet his tone when he spoke next brought Fitz up short.

"Fitz...please. They are in danger. They don't...don't…" A coughing fit cut him off.

"Why are they in...in…" Oh god, Ward had just said the word, why did it seem so far away? If both of his hands were not in a death grip on the datapad Fitz would be snapping. Literally, physically, not mentally, which a part of him knew he already had as a tremor took his entire body. He was shaking - quaking really, a great word but not the one he had wanted - and his body was leaned forward towards the glass with his cheek almost pressed against it. Something was in his eyes. No, water, tears, he was…it was all just so frustrating! He blinked his eyes against it and crashed his forehead into the glass once, twice, and he went for a third before an impact from across the glass stopped him. There was Ward, standing on unstable looking legs, with his hands pressed to either side across the glass from Fitz's head. Leaning against the glass more than standing - not that Fitz was any different. A panel separated him from his attacker. The scientist knew, intellectually, he should have jumped away but that same damnable instinct that foiled him before had been there. Somehow, he never felt unsafe around the traitor. Even when Ward had chased them into the room before dropping them he felt…

"Fitz...listen to me, please."

'How are you even still talking...there should be no oxygen left to even…stop, please, just stop.'

It never even occurred to Fitz that he may have spoken out loud.

Ward's eyes blew wide, bloodshot now from lack of oxygen, "Fitz...I can help...please."

That did it. No, something did, maybe the inches that separated them as Ward's head sagged forward lamely against the paneling. They were practically pressed together, Fitz's cheek to Ward's forehead, were it not for the glass between them. Through his watery eyes Fitz could see the other in focus as his attempted (but ultimately fruitless) breathing became increasingly ragged and his eyes began to shutter close. That made it better, the not looking into each others eyes, the lack of acknowledgement of what it Fitz was doing as Ward sunk to his knees...

And just like that it occurred to Fitz exactly what he was doing.

It was a scramble as Fitz surged back from the glass and tapped the screen of the datapad quickly. Honestly, he had probably done it too fast, re-oxygenating the room, and it was a wonder when Ward did not pass out entirely as his ragged breathing turned to huge gulps. The formidable man's held a crouch on the floor though his large hands were still pressed to the glass, palm down, and when Fitz crouched down to be on level with him the scientist saw them. 'ScarSurgical style wounds going vertical up the artery. Depth, angle of trajectory, self inflicted.' The voice of analysis in Fitz's mind was Simmons, though no phantom of her lurked nearby, and he welcomed it. Simmons had a calm about her that he had never seemed to grasp. A calm that appeared to be impossible for him now, these days, that he was damaged. Jemma had not been damaged though and now Fitz clung to the life-line that was his mimicry of her 'diagnostic mode'.

"...You tried to kill yourself."

Ward's forehead was still pressed against the glass and he nodded once, twice, before tilting his head back to catch Fitz's eyes once more. Fitz expected the 'agent eyes' - that hardened killer thousand yard stare so many agents slipped into at times and that Ward and May were famous for - but this was a look that seemed surprisingly less...guarded? Hostile? Double-O seven designation levels of 'you are going to die'. No, Ward's eyes were still bloodshot and his pupils blown all out to hell but he looked … Fitz did not want to think about that and he looked away, at anything, the datapad in his hand first and then the floor in general as Ward opened his mouth.

"Yes. That's not important right now though Fitz. Please," He coughed, not even covering it with his hand, and Fitz took a moment to mentally calculate the time of oxygen deprivation as a counter-current to his entirely frozen thought process of 'I almost killed Ward.' Ward, whom recovered and kept going, "Please Fitz. I swear, I will never betray you again. I regret it. You don't know how much but...I regret it. Just please, Fitz, you have to warn Skye and the others. They will die if you don't. Do that then you can do whatever you want with me. I swear, you can kill…"

"I'm not a killer…" Fitz could barely hear his own voice in his head it came out so small and tired.

"I know you're not Fitz. In my case though - maybe you should be. Everyone will forgive you."

Ward paused, a breath that seemed to rattle Fitz and his eyes felt pathetically misty again.

Chances are Ward had not heard him either. He probably read his lips. Ward could do that. Supposedly all Field Operatives could but Fitz had never heard anyone but Ward say they could do it. Nor had those people spent ten minutes of their good time proving, much to Fitz's amusement, that they could. They had been...that was the past, and Fitz closed up the borders of his mind as best he could against the assault. Not that it was concentrated - the assault was coming from inside his own mind and seemed to consist of every feeling he had all at once.

The final nail in his coffin was Ward's quiet, nearly whispered, "Even me. Just Fitz, please."

A nod.

That was all the acknowledgement Fitz could give him as he flipped through screens on the datapad and brought up a quick notice to send Coulson. A call would have been better - Coulson would have appreciated it far more - but Fitz did not trust himself with thought much less words right now. Easier to just type it out and not bother with his brain rebelling against him.

"Donnie is a sleeper agent who has been conditioned by Hydra to…"

Ward talked, Fitz typed without ever raising his head to look at the other, and they were both still kneeled on the floor with thick, bulletproof glass between them when Fitz finished. Message sent.

Neither spoke nor moved for a moment, Fitz stared into the cell floor while Ward stared at him.

Fitz did not know how long they stayed like that. It was long enough for Coulson to receive the information and respond - a terse note of thanks and a stern notice that they would be talking when he returned to the Playground. It felt oddly like being chastised by a father figure and Fitz gave a quiet little laugh into the silence that made Ward tilt his head curiously. Simmons called it his 'labrador look'. Said it reminded her of a dog. Fitz saw it when she said it. Now it just looked sad...wait, when had they gone back to the eye contact? The scientist's teeth nibbled at his bottom lip as Ward kept up the unceasing eye contact, both of them looking a state, before the ex-agent nodded at nothing and climbed to his feet. Fitz just watched him go across the room to his bed, drop on it, and face away. It felt like a dismissal which was odd considering he was the captive...though also he was now technically an attempted murder victim of sorts, Fitz guessed.

"Ward."

The prisoner in question did not budge a muscle but Fitz knew his voice surprised them both.

"Please don't lie to me...us again. Ever. Please. Don't hurt Simmons, Sky, and the others again."

Ward did not make a single move in response, not a stiffening of the shoulders or anything, and Fitz mentally chastised himself for even saying such a thing. The man had fooled them for months upon months without any of them suspecting different. Nearly every word out of his mouth had been a lie carefully poised to harm them later. To expect him to be honest now, simply because he asked nicely, Fitz felt dumber than he had in days which was saying something considering he had forgotten what to call the damned toiletries the day before. No, it was time to get out of this room. Forever. Period. Never come back. They would all know what he had done, there was no avoiding that, but Fitz mentally assured himself he'd never have...

He almost missed the quiet response as he shuffled to the stairs.

"I promise I won't hurt you again, Fitz."

The scientist all but ran out of the cell block so strong was his effort to not stop and turn.

XXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXX

Ward knew that he would have a visitor when the team came back. What took him by surprise, though he schooled his face into impassivity, was that Coulson entered the prison and not Skye.

Coulson who had not been to see Ward without May or Skye in tow since he was locked up.

"Coulson. I must have done something to get a visit like this-"

"Ward, stop talking."

Despite himself, Ward's mouth snapped shut. Years of training instilled in him to be silent when a superior officer - though technically Coulson was not his superior anymore - spoke in that tone. It meant they had something important to say. A mission, a debrief, something of importance was happening and it was his job to stand there in his tiny glass box and listen with rapt attention. His comprehension of the situation worsened with that. Coulson never used the tone.

Coulson stood at attention, arms folded behind him into the small of his back in a military stance, and his face appeared the very image of stern authority. Clearly whatever role the man had these days mattered.

"I am only going to ask you questions and I want honest, quick answers. Are we clear?"

Ward, having expected this - from Skye notwithstanding - nodded, "Crystal."

"Why did you not tell Skye about the situation concerning Donnie Gil and other possible programmed units?"

Direct and to the point; this was an actual interrogation then. Ward instinctively mirrored Coulson's military posturing and held his chin up, back straight, for what amounted to a debrief, "Skye gave me no reason to believe the gifted was in fact Donnie Gill. There are very few people who had undergone such an in-depth programming routine. Had I know the asset was Gill, I would have been able to immediately warn her and the rest of you as to the danger." It was a half-answer and they both knew it, Ward since being allowed to talk to Skye was to volunteer all relevant information. This would be perceived as a breach of what nonexistent trust they had managed to establish and Grant knew it. Mentally, he schooled himself for a dressing down, though it never materialized as Coulson simply nodded.

"So you did not volunteer the information as you did not believe it relevant."

"Yes."

Coulson sighed, the first sign of the man behind the mask, "In the future, do feel free to elaborate."

Ward, short of what to say at the notice there even would be a 'next time', nodded.

"Next question, do you believe that Hydra has other assets programmed in such a way active?"

Ward nodded, "Absolutely. Though Coulson due to my containment I'm unaware of any active."

"Of course."

Ward had no way of knowing if that meant Coulson agreed or if it was a platitude. Coulson had been known to deal in those on many an occasion. Compared to Garrett, he was not a strong interrogator.

"Okay then, we will revisit that in full detail later, I have another matter to discuss with you."

Coulson's posture shifted a fraction, an impossibly small tightening of the shoulders, and Ward only saw it due to the depths of his training. Whatever the senior officer had to say, he was not eager to. That only served to put the imprisoned ex-agent on guard as he steeled himself for something rough. Perhaps concerning his personal history, an unsafe to discuss matter of secrets entrusted to him, depths of Garrett's conspiracy that he had yet to discuss with the SHIELD agents.

Instead what came out of Coulson's grim was, "I need to know right now. In your professional opinion do you believe Leopold Fitz will make another attempt upon your life. At the moment, until your usefulness expires, you are an asset to us in our fight against Hydra. I've already gotten the opinion of Agent May," It shook Ward somewhat, though he should not have been surprised, that Coulson took such a formal attitude as to refer to them by titles and full names, "on the matter. She believes I should deal with this matter now. However, as the 'injured'," It felt like Coulson, if he were acting as he used to, would have used air-quotes there. He didn't, "party, I would be interested in your opinion. I'll be honest Ward, there were segments of your conversation the video did not pick up. Fitz is not in a good place right now and I know you are a professional at interpersonal relations management." Coulson sighed, a tired sound enforced by the older agent rubbing his eyes, "In your opinion, is this an issue."

Ward...did not understand at all. He, the prisoner, a traitor, was being asked if his life was in danger. It made no sense, even for Coulson whose methods were not always the most straightforward, and it put him instantly on guard. It would have made more sense to simply amp up the security on his cell.

Unless…

"You want to know because you do not have the resources to ensure at all times Fitz will not succeed."

The look Coulson threw his way, equal parts stern authority and some measure of disgust, confirmed.

"Astute as ever, Ward. Now answer the damn question. Am I going to have an issue here."

Ward shook his head and dropped the military stance to cross his broad arms over his chest, "No, I do not believe you'll have an issue between myself and Fitz. His attempt to suffocate me, while sincere, was a moment of intense emotion and I doubt Fitz could bring himself to premeditate my murder. Me being here took him entirely by surprise and he reacted." A reaction that had nearly ended in him suffocating but it was not the first time Ward had nearly been killed in an interrogation room. He proceeded, "Fitz does not have it in him to kill in cold blood. So no, I do not believe you have reason for concern. Good luck ever convincing May of that though. Think she still wants you to, what was it she said, 'put the bastard down and lets move on'?" It was close enough to the words she used while a team of guards, Coulson, and May herself monitored a team repairing the nail damage to Ward's foot. Honestly Ward was surprised that it was not May who snuck into the room and offed him. She would have succeeded.

"Remains to be seen if her instincts are spot on. They usually are, you know."

Ward lip twitched, "We'll just have to see. Personally, I'd prefer to see her be wrong for once."

A moment passed after that as Coulson stared him down, Ward returning the look, before the older man nodded and turned to leave. Apparently the debrief session or whatever it had been was over.

Ward was content to settle back into his nap but something, a rush of emotion that nearly caught him off guard, let to the ex-agent calling out to the man's retreating back, "Coulson...what did I do to Fitz."

The suited man stopped but did not turn. His hand was on the railing leading up out of the containment facility and he looked ready to ignore it and leave. It would have made sense. Popular SHIELD protocol was pretty clear about what rights prisoners, especially traitors, had and did not have. Ward could practically feel the tumultuous storm inside of the man as he hesitated to answered. When Coulson finally did turn Ward had pressed a hand up against the glass, the same arm that held his scar, and could see the older man staring at it intensely. It probably looked staged, displaying his suicide attempt scar, but considering it was probably Coulson who sat behind the camera and let him get as far as he did, Ward knew it was an irrelevant gesture. The ex-Hydra was not even sure why he had moved.

"I told you before. They survived what you did to them. I believe my exact words were, 'Fitz may never be the same.' right?" Coulson took a step back towards the glass though his posture was looser than before, more tired, and what looked like months of stress showed in his face. It reminded Ward of times when they had been on the bus and Coulson had opened up to him, the few times May was not available, about some field troubles the old man dealt with. Things that Skye, Fitz, and Simmons were not really equipped to deal with. A bit of nostalgia chewed at Ward that he squashed down.

Those days were gone.

"I heard you with him. You said you wanted to 'save them' by allowing them to 'save themselves'. Well they did. If that is really what you thought, then good job, you were correct. They broke out of the box and managed to escape the ocean floor. Simmons escaped with little more than scraps and bruises."

Ward swallowed a lump in his throat, "...and Fitz?"

"When they blew the pressure and escaped the lock, the water pressure and sudden force of exit knocked him unconscious. From the reports I'm gathering he sacrificed himself for Simmons. Good kid. Unfortunately, doing so caused his brain to go for an extended amount of time without oxygen. He told you right, Hypoxia?" Ward nodded. He remembered, it was nearly to impossible to forget anything Fitz had said while so calmly pronouncing his death sentence. "Parts of his brain were damaged. Oh, he can function to extents, but certain things just do not seem to…" Coulson paused, grasping for a word much like Fitz had done before, but Ward knew this was more a calculated word choice than an absence. It was dancing around a serious issue through 'nice words', a tactic Ward knew well. Coulson sighed, "Certain things do not connect. As I'm sure you noticed - he has issues with language and motor skills to some extent. Nothing absolutely detrimental but then again who am I to define any man's detriment?"

Ward...did not know what he felt exactly. Something had lodged in his chest and while intellectually he knew it was guilt, he did not want to acknowledge it as such, and roughly shook his head at nothing. Coulson arched a brow, that look that said something caught his interest, and for once Ward did not really care what it could be. Instead Ward ground his teeth before, "Is it permanent?"

"Honestly, we have no idea. The damage you caused might be permanent."

That stung, Ward suppressed the flinch that almost escaped his control, at the acidity in Coulson's tone. It had probably been lurking there all along. Ward could only imagine what the rest of what had once been his team probably felt about the situation if Coulson reacted like that. Though, to his near surprise, Ward felt he might have enough animosity at himself over this situation to trump even May or Skye.

"You do not know for sure though. He could get better?"

"Anything is possible Ward. That does not mean it will necessarily…"

Ward shook his head and tightened his crossed arms, "No. Coulson, I know I'm in no position to ask favors, and you'd probably rather see me shot than help me...but please, find some way to help him."

There went that cocked brow again and it infuriated Ward, "Fitz is a valuable member of the team and I personally count him as a friend. Of course, we will do whatever can to fix him-"

Ward cut him off, "Don't let him hear you say it that way."

"What?"

Sighing, the ex-agent turned away from Coulson and leaned back against the glass, breaking their eye contact. Any doubts about the uncomfortable nature of the conversation were confirmed by that but Ward could not bring himself to care. It felt too bizarre, too strange, to be speaking up for the benefit of someone who he had hurt so deeply. This was especially true when Coulson had their intrigued look.

"Fitz would hate to hear it said that way. You know him, he might talk," He paused, a lapse of a moment, irritation seeping from his every pore at himself for even speaking, "He would talk a lot but he did not want to trouble anyone. So just, don't say 'fixing' around him. Just help him. Get him well." He turned his head just enough to see Coulson with one eye, the suited man had not moved an inch and still had that same look on his face. Ward didn't like it and he even kind of still liked Coulson.

"Got it?"

"Of course, I appreciate the correction. You are correct - he would hate to be described that way."

Ward nodded, approvingly, and pressed one more time, "So how is he dealing with my near murder-"

He lapsed off as Coulson shook his head and looked down, checking the golden watch at his wrist, and turned away, "Sorry, but we're done for the day. Know that we'll handle that situation on our end. You will continue to provide information to Skye - in detail this time - and we'll see where things go from there. If anything comes to mind that you might want to inform us please feel free to yell at the camera." A clear dismissal and no wasted time as Coulson stepped towards the stairs and started up without glancing back.

Ward was not sure what brought him to do it. This went against all of his training, hell, it went against the kind of person he'd always seen himself being. As Coulson almost slipped out of few Ward slammed a hand on the glass and yelled, "I want to talk to him again Coulson. I need to!"

The man never stopped, "Not gonna happen Ward," and he was gone.


Author Note

And that is the first chapter, hope you enjoyed the set-up.
Little heavy handed with the connection between the two but I need groundwork!
This story is going posted both here and on FF.net.

Chapter Text

Author Note

So it turns out I was wrong - this chapter gets a note too.
Newer content coming out in this one. Making it up as I go.


Three days later it happened. The only real surprise that it took that long.

The noise alerted Ward to his visitor. Skye had come, a few days prior, to talk with him after Fitz and Coulson. He knew then it was her because Skye was sneaky, her foot falls soft on the stairs, as she crept up on a person. It was of course different from Coulson who after years of training appeared like a ghost out of thin air. Not even Ward, with years of field operations training, felt he could be as quiet as the senior officer. Probably something about how SHIELD training functioned 'back in the day' as Garrett would often put it. Apparently training had been an entirely different matter then. The sound from the stairwell was a shuffle and too heavy footfalls.

"Welcome back, Fitz."

Briefly Ward considered staying on the cot, on his side, facing the wall and away from his visitor. It did not really seem fruitful to stare and give the apparently timid (timid now, but since when) scientist a reason to panic again. Self-preservation was an optimal concern - Fitz had tried to kill him last time he made the Scot uncomfortable enough. Ward only made the decision to roll off the bed to his feet and approach the glass when the viewing chair scraped across the floor. His suspicions were confirmed quickly as Fitz, red in the face and both hands curled vice tight around a bottle of Bud Lite, sat and faced him. The drinking was new. Ward fixed the bottle with a look that transitioned from it to Fitz's face and back to the alcohol. Since when did he drink? Not that the other has especially seem opposed to it, he did after all have a celebratory drink with the team once or twice, but never to excess. Fitz never reached a point where he looked well...drunk. Then again who knew how far Simmons influence went with her 'one-fruity-martini' cut-off policy.

"Since when do you drink?"

Fitz, already flushed to an incredible degree, went even redder as clutched the bottle even tighter. Ward, honestly, was surprised the thing had not shattered. "I'm drin...drinking to celebrate. We, no, I, I did something today." The scot raised the bottle towards his mouth but then looked at Ward's face, where the ex-agent could feel his own frown, and lowered it back into his lap, rolled it back and forth, then put it on the floor. "I should...I probably… Hunter does like to drink." His hands, now empty, were fidgeting; pushing at his pants, tugging on his sleeves, and it appeared to Ward as if it took real effort for the scientist to hook them under his arms and hold. That probably had something to do with the tremors. Fitz, probably unaware of his own state, nearly vibrated.

Ward sighed and took a step closer to the glass, still closer to his cot than the fore, and dropped indian-style on the floor with hands loose on his knees. Settling in as it were - he was surprised enough that Fitz made it down the stairs without falling much less would be going back up.

"So what are you celebrating?"

Fitz's opened his mouth and closed, open and closed, and a sound came out of what could be a word but never actually materialized as one. The vibration turned into a full tremor and Ward could see, plain as day, every emotion that crossed Fitz face. Not that they had eye contact. Fitz seemed dedicated staring at a corner of the room with his mouth slightly agape. How much had he drank?

"Fitz, it's fine if you tell me. I'm locked in a box and Coulson is probably watching us."

The Scot turned from the empty corner and shook his head sharply as Ward, "Coulson's not here right now. He...he's somewhere with May. Skye won't. She never looks." A simply stated fact that kind of stung at Ward, Skye not even bothering anymore, but he could not really blame her, he supposed. Instead he pushed the slight aside and leaned forward with more weight on his elbows and a slight hunch, head in his palm, watching at the inebriated scientist. Fitz kept looking back at the corner then at Ward, corner, Ward, corner, Ward, and try to see as he might there was absolutely nothing in that somewhat dusty corner that Ward himself could see of note.

"Do any of them know you're here?"

Another head shake, "No. I didn't tell anyone."

Ward nodded, accepting that, it did not surprise him. Coulson would never have allowed Fitz to come back down here if he were even near this complex. Then again Coulson had probably also changed the electronic door so for the other man to even be down here, "Fitz, did you break the security on my cell when you can barely even stand?" That flush deepened, a blatant admission of guilt, and Fitz was once again wringing a hand into the material of his sleeve. His condition - not meaning the drinking - made it a bit hard for Ward to actually read the other as easily as before actually. The fidgeting was not exactly new. All the self-comfort gestures? Difficult. Could have been guilt at breaking into the room or worry that he would get caught. Not that it made sense, really, since Fitz had to know someone would figure out what he had done by simply watching the camera footage. Coulson had admitted to watching their last interaction. This one would be no different and so Ward could expect another visit from a probably livid S.O. soon…

"Yes...Yeah...I yeah...I manipulated the security and the feed and the camera loops and Coulson got really mad last time so I need him to not...to not…" Fitz snapped at the air two to three times, Ward's brow went up, and the scientist went increasingly red faced as he...struggled?

"You need him to not find out."

A nod, "Right. That. He needs to not find out."

"So…" Ward was not sure what to say to that. Fitz's return surprised him somewhat enough without finding out his security detail had been disabled. Tentatively a part of his brain wondered if Fitz could disable the electronic locks on his cage but Ward, surprising himself, squashed that thought process down mercilessly. It was not as if he had anywhere to really be right now and SHIELD security detail was as good a place as any. At least in this position he was allowed to help to a highly limited capacity and kept himself busy. Escape attempts out of mind, Ward worked his face into a smile, a facial expression that he did not have to even really strive for.

He already had been to his surprise.

"So, you broke into my cell and turned off the camera. How are things then, Fitz?"

Fitz's feet pressed against the floor hard enough to slide the chair back an inch, "Just because I…" More snapping, an aggravated expression, Ward waited patiently. "Disabled. I disabled the camera and door. That's it. Nothing else. So you can't like...go anywhere. But I...I...I just…"

"Don't worry Fitz, I'm just going to sit here. You wanted to what? Talk?"

The seated scientist shook his head, looked back at his corner (Ward still could not figure out why. Had they installed a new camera there?) before apparently reconsidering and nodding. "Yes. Talk. I erm...I wanted to talk. About what you said last time. You said you were trying to save us. Do you really believe that? That...that's just an excuse you know. There was no way you could have known." It all came out quick, more an avalanche of words than actual sentences, and Ward had to take a moment to piece it all together even after he stopped. Fitz, after his mouth snapped shut, was breathing heavy and looking to his side, not the usual corner. The looking away should have annoyed him but instead the ex-agent started to wonder if maybe he should be concerned.

Ward sighed, "I meant it. No excuses for what I did Fitz but I had to work with what I had. If I had refused there is no telling what Garrett would have done." The 'to you and Simmons' went unspoken as did Ward's own personal 'to me'. A few particularly grim ideas of what exactly Garrett would have done played across his mind now as they did then. It had been a mercy, he believed it then and now, still, faced with the consequences of what that decision had wrought, Ward was still convinced he made the correct call, "All I had was the hope that when I dropped you two your combined genius would find a way out. Which...I see it did. Not how I hoped but-"

Fitz shook his head violently and Ward stopped speaking altogether.

"Don't… Please… Don't make excuses."

Ward resisted the urge to shake his own head and stayed stock still. "It's not an excuse."

"Yes, it is. You had no way of knowing if we really could find a way out."

Ward laughed, completely inappropriate and wrongly timed and Fitz looked up so sharply he probably got whiplash. Looked up, his face striken, as if the Scot could not believe he found any of this funny. Quickly, before the other ran away again, Ward raised both his hands in a pose of surrender and stopped, his chest still shaking slightly. It wasn't that funny but after so long spent by himself most things were starting to seem that way, "No, Fitz, I'm sorry. I'm not laughing at you or what happened, I swear. Just, have you never actually listened to yourself and Simmons go at it? Between you two I'm surprised cancer has not been cured and world hunger ended." The other was silent as Ward finished speaking, his face still scandalized, and Ward felt like he should have looked away but didn't. "I swear Fitz, nothing is funny about how it went. But you-"

"We cured it."

Fitz had not ran, good sign, "Cured what?"

"Cancer. We cured it. Well, Jemma did. I built the...the...machine that makes things go."

Ward moved about so his chin rested on his knuckles, elbow to his knee, and looked at the other with his trademark smirk. Apparently his episode had not ran the other off just yet, "An engine?"

"No. Not an engine. I know what an engine...it is...umm...that thing that takes. Mechanical."

"A delivery mechanism?"

Fitz snapped the air as Ward noted that his beard scratched at his knuckles; he needed a shave.

"Right. That, a delivery mechanism. Thank you. I built it but SHIELD acquisitioned our research."

"So you mean to tell me the two of you cured cancer and what, no one gets to know?" Fitz nodded quickly and pulled his legs up into the chair, curled up before him, getting comfortable. Something inside of Ward approved at that - most likely the part of him that had been locked up without any human contact for what seemed like ages. He was surprised no one had arrived to drag away the wayward scientist from the dangerous prisoner yet. How understaffed were they?

He continued, "So what, you two cure cancer and it gets classified to what, Level Seven and up?"

"Eight, actually. If I remember right. I...I wasn't supposed to talk about it."

"Ah," Ward could see that. It certainly seemed the MO of SHIELD to classify something like that. Not that Ward himself really cared much about the greater world impact. The only thing his mind went to was the uses of a cure like that. Political adversaries sick or with sick family members? Easily controlled. Allies? Cured. It made sense from a technical perspective to keep such information within the organization to allow it the most influencing power. That had to be the world of Hand or Fury himself, maybe Hill, the woman seemed politically minded enough to manage sleep at night with something like that hanging over her head. Ward was a bit surprised that Fitz did not seem more bothered by it. Simmons, wherever she was, likely took some issue with it. Then again after some of the redacted reports Ward himself had to work on while with the team, it hardly seemed surprising that the two scientists were used to their research being locked up.

A moment stretched between them as Fitz apparently battled with what he could-not-say and Ward just had-nothing-to-say. The scientist was back in his corner and Ward, his eyes locked on the side of the other's face, resisted the urge to move at all. As of late anytime he actually left the bed involved exercising or attempting to talk to a bitter and enraged Skye. Thoughts about the scientists perceived lack-of-a-relationship with his closest female friend aside, Ward did not suspect the other would appreciate talking while the prisoner did thousand push-ups to kill time.

When Fitz finally did speak it was to his corner and ghost quiet, "I don't want to."

"What?"

Fitz jumped, as if Ward had caught him in the act of breaking some rule, and flushed as both hands wrung together behind his drawn up knees. WIth how much he moved about Ward was a little surprised the chair had not tipped over yet. That would be great to explain; a concussed scientist in his cell. May would probably throw him in front of a firing squad or just do it herself.

"Fitz … why are you here?"

He didn't answer right away and looked down at his hands. When he did finally speak the scientist peeked up at Ward over his knees, barely making eye contact before they darted away again, and a hand ground through the crown of his hair nervously. Everything about it spoke of nerves, "I thought I already said. I'm here to talk. You know, a verbal exchange of...of…"

Ward waved a hand through the air dismissively, "Communication."

"Right, that. Communication. I wanted to communicate. With you. About things."

Things. That would have meant something if Ward had any idea what things the other could mean. WIth most people it was easy. Skye had things to discuss with him but it was always Hydra policy or to generalize a strategy in his direction she would later not trust simply because he had input. Coulson's things were always different but had the universal theme of protecting his team. The one time May had come down her entire thing was to stare at him silently for awhile before calling him trash and leaving. Fitz having things felt like it should have been another matter altogether and left Ward confused, his expression twisted to reflect it, and even though he'd received training to compartmentalize everything and control; this felt awkward suddenly.

"Fitz, you can't just come down here to chat." There it was, Ward knew it was coming as soon as he spoke, that kicked-puppy look that Fitz adopted whenever something brilliant was shot down. This was not brilliant though, this was stupid, and Ward felt the other needed to know that, "Think about it. Coulson will be furious with you for coming back down here. May will glare at you till you die. And Fitz, what do you want to talk about, we're not friends anymore. We can't just sit here and gossip about nothing." He knew that he was being a tad harsh, especially with someone his actions had injured so directly, but Ward needed Fitz to understand this was unacceptable…

"We were."

When had Fitz gotten so mousey with his voice? Ward missed the days he spoke too loud.

"What?"

And there it was, the look, kicked-puppy, the one that reminded Ward of Buddy the dog sometimes, and wasn't that just great to be reminded of the dog you killed by the person you nearly killed. Clearly his issues went a bit deeper than SHIELD had originally expected. Not that it was surprising, he had tried to kill himself shortly after they imprisoned him. Chances are Coulson combed enough of his and Garrett's history to discover just how fucked-up it all was. Probably did not know about the incident with the dog though. SHIELD interrogation had led Ward to believe that yes, there were tapes of his time in the cabin pre-academy, and yes, Coulson had watched them. Maybe Coulson did know. Not enough to make any kind of connection between the resident 'damaged' scientist and lesser known aspects of Ward's past.

Fitz chewed at a nail, a habit Ward had seem Simmons get onto him about, while speaking, "We were. Friends, that is. At one point. Not all that long ago. Well, I was a friend. You were a spy."

"Fitz…you really should not-"

"No, I want to. You were a spy. You betrayed us." The Scot spoke quickly, a rambling pace, and Ward slipped into silence as he was cut off. It...stung a bit to hear it directly from Fitz. It did not, however, prepare him for what came next, "You betrayed me. But, you...you...I know you. At least I think I do. I know the others now, somewhat, like Mack, he's really nice, or Hunter who is always flirting with Skye or playing and never does any work. Ever. Like, he is just here. Around…" Fitz stopped talking by actively placing a hand over his mouth to silence himself. His eyes were wide, locked on Ward, whom was not sure what was going on with his face but knew his expression was not pretty at the moment. The things Fitz were said threw him off. Apparently the scientist took the wrong message because he threw up both hands and waved them in the air, "No. No. Sorry. I should not have said the thing about Hunter and Skye. That was rude. I...I...I know you and her and she is always shooting him down." It was the hardest ramble to decipher Ward had heard yet and took him by surprise. One does not often spare the feelings of their attempted murderer, did they? Least not, sane people. Not that Fitz (or SImmons) for that matter had ever seemed too particularly key in that whole 'sanity' department with the stuper intellects.

"Fitz."

"I'm really sorry, I should not have-"

Ward raised his voice, "FItz! It's okay, stop worrying about it. You should not apologize to me."

"But you and Skye...Skye and you...you two were…"

He sighed and shook his head as Fitz started up again, silencing the scientist, "No, Fitz. Skye and I never. Well, in a way, but the Grant Ward she knew was imagined. She said it herself that she would not like the real me. Honestly, she spoke the truth, I do not think anyone would." Fitz was looking at him in a way that actually made Ward a little uncomfortable, he felt like a microscope had descended on him, and had to resist the urge to look away, "Fitz. See, you don't know me. I'm aware you want to think you did but don't forget how that went. You trusted me and I threw you out of a plane in a box and hurt you." He put emphasis on the word 'hurt' as if the situation were not apparent enough. It felt like his goal had become to get the scientist to leave, to end this personal conversation, to put an end to whatever was going on here. Not that it mattered - Ward was probably already going to regret this conversation in some way later. Maybe May would accidentally forget to deliver food to his lovely quarters or something; again.

"Look, you understand right, this is a bad idea for you."

"Ward."

"Nothing is going to come out of acting as if you know…"

"Ward!" Fitz practically yelled over him and that was enough to shut Ward up quickly, his jaw snapping shut as he leaned back, palms to the floor, adjusting him. "Ward, I know all of that. I know you were a spy. I know you acted with all of us. I know you betrayed us every step of the way. Okay. Fine. I know. But at least I know you already betrayed us and I don't have to worry about it happening again, okay? Stop...Stop talking, okay?" Audible, room volume, angry with him, and it sounded enough like the 'old' Fitz to bring Ward up short on anything else to say as the scientist continued, "Look. I know I should not be down here. I know Coulson will be mad. Skye too. May might kill me. But I...I...I want to come talk to you. I want to understand." And there it was, plain as day to Ward, that he was a project. Another of the 'investigations' that Fitz and Simmons went on both in the field and on the plane. A journey of discovery as she often called it though, in this instance, Ward had no idea what the wayward, strange scientist sought. No idea what he could expect to find by play-acting as if everything were alright between them. Ward knew now that even though he had asked Coulson to see Fitz again, to judge the degree of mental damage for himself, that this entire meeting was likely a mistake and should not have occurred in the first place. Especially not when Fitz sat there, rubbing at his eyes like he was…

Oh no, Fitz actually was crying and wasn't that just the strangest thing of all.

"Fitz, stop. You don't...Don't cry because of me. Please. I don't know what…"

"it's fine." It did not look like it with Fitz scrubbing at his face with the long flannel sleeves of his skirt, knees drawn even closer to his body, and he looked so small in the chair tear faced and probably still drunk that Ward felt...well...like a monster. Then again according to all technical definition and by how his old team felt about him - that definition was not the furthest thing from the truth. The ex-agent wanted to reach out and pat the teary eyed scientist on the shoulder, something, anything to calm him down, but with the glass between them all he could do was shuffle forward closer to the glass. It was strange - a position Ward had never expected to find himself - kneeled on his knees mere feet from Fitz. Apparently his intention went across because Fitz, watching him warily, nodded and smiled. It was the first sile Ward had seen since the scientist wandered into his cell the first time and it damn near managed to get Ward to smile back before he remembered his current mission of talking FItz out of this behaviour. It took a minute for Fitz to stop and during that time Ward did nothing but watch, a silent observer, thouh he was trying to figure out what to say and nothing was coming. A crying man shorted him out.

"Sorry," If Ward had not seen Fitz crying his voice would have been a dead give-away, "That happens sometimes. Not often. Just...sometimes. It feels like everything is just," More snapping, jabbing at the air really, as Fitz struggled and Ward did not help this time, "Bubbles. It all just bubbles up inside of me and I can't figure out what to do with it. You know I'd never cry over anything," Untrue, Ward was sure, as he figured Fitz seemed like an emotional enough guy that he probably cried at quite a few sad things really. Sad, like their lives probably, "but I just can't control it. One moment I'll be fine and the next I'll be mad, or crying, or throwing things. I'm so tired of apologizing for it but no one understands and they always get the wrong idea. Always."

"I'm not sure how. It seems pretty easy to understand to me." Ward flinched, how had those words gotten out of his mouth before he caught them? Agitated now he drummed his fingers on his own knee, a nervous habit Garrett would have berated him for, while speaking, "I mean, they are your team Fitz. Of course they are going to worry about you when those things happen." Well, that was not any better, and Ward knew he should just shut up and go back to the cot until the scientist left but his damn mouth seemed ahead of his mind, probably the guilt factor, "At least you can show your emotions. I, sometimes, am not even sure what mine really are. Too many cover stories and lies. To be honest it feels kind of good to actually not have a front for once." and wasn't that just the nail in the head. Ward sighed in defeat, mostly at himself, and let his face fall into an open and waiting palm. How, after weeks of captivity after being grilled by SHIELDs best remaining non-Garrett interrogators that was a skinny, drunk, depressed scientist crying in front of his cage managing to bring more words out of his mouth than even Skye did.

Clearly he was slipping.

"...Thank you."

Ward lifted his head and stared down Fitz who suddenly looked even more nervous, "What?"

"I...Thank you, Ward. I'm...glad...I'm glad you finally get to be yourself."

And if the tears before had been a wrench in his gears this was a cannon ball through the walls.

"Fitz, what are you…"

The scientist shook his head and moved to stand, head rolling on his shoulders as he worked out the kinks from his position. The shaking had abated at some point in their conversation and the Scot looked a lot steadier on his feet than he had entering the prison. He almost knocked over the beer bottle left forgotten at his feet but Ward pointed at it, Fitz looked down at it, then picked it up and smiled at Ward as if he had done the other some great favor by helping him not spill it.

Internal alarms were going off in Ward's mind at the highest possible decibel and he did not know what to do about it. The usual response was run-or-kill and he could not exactly run away from a closed off SHIELD cell. He could not kill Fitz either - not that he could imagine wanting to. If he had not managed to do it with direct orders from Garrett then it was highly unlikely he ever could.

"Fitz."

"I...I...I have to go. They'll be back soon. They might already be."

A pause, Fitz stared down and shuffled his feet like his legs had gone asleep in the chair.

"I'll try to come again."

Ward, now that Fitz was standing, had risen up to stand himself and took a step closer to the class. He did not reach out and touch it or anything like that. No, he stood there, arms straight at his sides, watching the very possibly truly mad scientist make promises he should not be.

"Don't come back Fitz."

"I want to...and not like you can really stop me."

"I could tell Coulson."

Fitz looked up at him like that and there, again, were the sad eyes. The ones that punched straight into Ward in a way that Coulson's disgust and Skye's hate did not ever see to. "You won't tell Coulson. At least...I hope you won't. Don't tell him Ward, please.", and it was such a simple word 'please'. asked of him by someone he had possibly damaged for life that had Ward nod. He nodded his consent for Fitz to come back and, realizing what he had done, slapped a hand to his face. His eyes were closed or he would have seen Fitz give him a tiny, sad smile.

"Bye, Ward."

Fitz, despite his previous state coming down, practically dashed up the stairs while Ward turned away and dropped face first down on his cot. Too much, all at once. The ex-agent's brain worked overtime to try and negotiate what had just happened - how he got steamrolled by a skinny awkward scientist who apparently wanted to be his friend. For whatever reason. Earlier in their conversation Ward had considered that maybe this entire affair was one convoluted plot by Coulson to elicit more information and compliance from him but no, it was not the man's style, and considering Fitz's condition the team would not have allowed him to be subjected to a plot of that nature. Verdict? One of his many victims, though one of the few survivors, wanted to … get to know him. As a person. Now that his cover was blown and the mask had been removed.

It was just the kind of nonsense he should have expected from any given member of this team.


Author Note

So I just watched more episodes of Season 2.
Yeah, this story is about to get really canon divergent real fast.
But let me watch more and cause 2.6 just curveballed me hard.

Chapter Text

Author Notes

Well. I watched more of the show. Yeah, that's not helping me case at all.
Strong canon divergence starting up right here and now kthx.


Fitz felt like a liar. Not that Ward probably minded - he said to 'not come back' after-all. Still, he had promised Ward he would return and now over two weeks later that promise had still not been delivered. Not that Fitz had not tried. It should have been easy. They were all accustomed to the scientist roaming around at all hours of the night in his lab. 'Oh, Fitz is still awake? He'll be fine.', and all that. Really it had been easy for him to go mostly unnoticed throughout the compound before but now things had changed. After his and Mack's 'valued work partnership' - Hunter's words, not Fitz's - had been commented on enough the two had been nigh inseparable if Mack were not needed in the garage. Not that he had complaints really considering Mack was nice, helpful, and despite his enormous physique managed delicate mechanical calibrations that Fitz's hands would not. Plus they played video games together and having a gamer on board was new. Mack claimed the games would help restore his hand-to-eye coordination and while Fitz had doubts, the suggestion was kind enough that he did not argue. Really though, Mack usually went to sleep at a peculiar early hour when possible, the man was not the issue blocking his way.

No, those honors belonged to two of the ladies in his life, Simmons and Agent May.

May's part in all of it was simple. The one time he tried to sneak across the Playground in the dead of night she had appeared out of nowhere. Near as Fitz could tell she literally emerged from a shadow to step right in his path, fix him with a knowing look, and send him back to the lab. No words, because of course May did not need words, and Fitz had been scared to try again with her anywhere currently within the facility because May seemed to know everything.

So he could not visit Ward when May was around.

Jemma...that was a whole other matter. Fitz was still getting accustomed to having her around again. And...he had no idea what he felt about having her back. Not what, exactly, or when those feelings had started, at what exact point he shifted from 'talking to a figment of Jemma' to snapping and yelling at the real edition. Oh yes, Fitz knew he was particularly hostile towards her presence - he had even before Mack had told him - but something about having her here made it...worse. Made everything worse. Which made no sense because Jemma was his best friend, had been for years, and at one point served as the biological-oriented part of his brain matter. Not anymore. Now Mack had to be his hands at least seventy percent of the time while Jemma at first stayed across the lab, slowly migrating over all the tools she would need, and then eventually quit coming to what was informally known as the 'mechanical' side. The 'mechanical' side and 'biological' side, Fitz didn't like it. He had not liked it back at the academy either. The two of them had bridged that gap and now when Jemma needed help she did not look to him who once had been her go-to, but to the clearly under trained assistant who had been kept in retainer after Coulson dismissed the rest. Fitz kind of hated that woman. No, Chelsea was nice. She asked if he wanted a cuppa whenever she made tea for herself. He didn't hate her. Okay, maybe he did, tea-brewing aside. At least Chelsea never got in his way when he decided to try and visit Ward.

Jemma on the other hand had either conspired with May to keep him away (unlikely, Jemma's response would have been loud and very yelly) or apparently all scientists of their IQ level kept the exact same minimalist sleep schedules. Midnight? He would be looking at plans, thinking of going to see Ward, and Jemma would be across the lab glued to a microscopic analyzer. Both working, neither talking, as was the state of things between them. Noon? Jemma and Chelsea would be working out a series of complex biochemical formulas that placed them at a lab table facing Fitz's work station. That meant he could not slip away. Not that either would really try and stop him but they would wonder and then, when Mack wandered in, they would have him wondering too until eventually Mack set out to find him and Jemma looked...frustrated.

Which she did a lot lately.

Two weeks was a lot of time to not visit someone trapped in a cell by themselves. Even a traitor. Even someone who had hurt him but claimed they did it for his benefit, however that worked really. After the second time he went Fitz had at least three breakdowns over the course of the week luckily in private, to himself, over things he had said the last time. He had sworn to himself that he would not ever go back - thus honoring Ward's request - but then realized he was never good at ultimatums with himself and given up on it. Much like a project Fitz sensed there had been progress last time, progress something he felt lacking in as of late, and so decided to go again...except he could not because the universe was apparently conspiring to keep him away.

Either the universe of May but in order of things he feared - May outranked the Universe.

"Turbo, you alive in there?"

A large hand waved in his face. Dark skin. Huge hand. Mack. Fitz blinked his eyes a few times before focusing them on Mack's smiling face. He had been watching Jemma and Chelsea work on some form of bio-metric testing glove but both of the ladies had vanished while his mind drifted and Fitz was alone in the lab. Well, he had been alone, Mack was here and leaned up on his work station with an elbow. Resting position. That meant something. Oh, right, Mack only did that when Fitz kept him waiting for awhile. Which meant...oh dear, "...I was staring off into space," and as Fitz spoke, Mack lifted an eyebrow and looked at him just incredulously enough to have Fitz worrying at his own sleeve. Unfortunately this was not the first time he had been caught staring at Jemma though, really, Fitz thought they may all have the wrong idea. It may have been the right idea at one point but with the way things had and were going...not anymore.

"Yea...Yes, Yes. I'm alive. Why wouldn't I be?"

Mack rose up to his full height, an accomplished towering, and patted Fitz on the shoulder.

"No idea there Turbo. Those thoughts probably spin too fast for me. Coulson asked for us all to sit in on this briefing though. Figured I'd let you sit it out, know you don't like going all that much, but Coulson sent me to come and get you." Mack's hand remained on his shoulder and the black man had stooped down, getting more on his level, and kept Fitz from going back to staring at Jemma's work station. Of course; she had gone undercover at Hydra for an amount of time he was still not entirely sure on, how could she not get called to a meeting while he had be fetched.

Fitz nodded, "Oh...Okay." and they went, though Mack had to remove his hand at the doorframe and walk behind Fitz the rest of the way. It almost felt like he had a bodyguard - something Fitz would share with no one ever. Mack tended to walk on his right side, a bit behind him and to the side, almost as if he were flanking him. At first it had made Fitz incredibly uncomfortable but the repetitive behavior had started to grow on him. Either that or he had no real choice on where people decided to walk and stand. Probably that one, it was not his place to decide those things.

Wait, "Mack, why did Coulson ask for me specifically at the meeting?" Fitz glanced back over his shoulder when Mack did not respond and got a glimpse of the other man shrugging. That was odd. "Does it...umm...is this something to do with the alien artifact thing. The umm…" The two of the swept past the kitchen and there was Chelsea, brewing tea, waving at them or more specifically waving at Mack who waved back. That made Fitz feel a tiny bit better. At least the hired help did not get to sit in on important meetings unless called either. Not that the lab-tech had ever been in a meeting period that Fitz had seen. Still; the point stood regardless.

They arrived at Coulson's office and as Mack knocked once, announcing them, he threw an evaluating glance Fitz's way and dropped the news, "No, it has something to do with that guy downstairs. Skye's old man or ex or whatever." It was only Mack's hand on the small of his back - when had that even gotten there? - that kept Fitz walking into Coulson's office uninterrupted. Well, physically his walk never stopped, mentally everything ground to a halt. A special meeting about Ward that Fitz had been fetched to attend? This was it. They had finally found out what he did. The whole team was even here, including their newest addition Bobby, the one who saved Jemma and who he meant to thank but could not work up the nerve to talk to. Everyone was looking his way. All of them had varied looks of shock, disgust, or anger, and Fitz was so sure they were all directed at him that he almost forgot to breath and started tugging at his cuff with enough force to nearly rip the sleeve off. The panic did not abate as one by one they looked away from him, back to Coulson, nor even as Mack whispered to him to, "Calm down, you didn't do anything. Everyone's just tense." because he was the reason they were tense. That would all become apparent when Coulson started into him for visiting Ward a second time and May probably just did that weird flippy kick move she liked so much to send him flying out a window.

May's spinny death kick had always been better than a firing squad in terms of execution.

Speaking of, the same two women who had kept him from visiting Ward for so long were the main ones noticing something wrong with him. Everyone else had returned their focus to Coulson who was mid-speech about some politician or other. Politics had been the entire topic of debate ever since the attack on the U.N. and while Fitz could still understand that he could not muster up interest. So he didn't listen and his freak out marched on until Mack dropped a heavy hand between his shoulders, right below his neck, and started rubbing tiny circles. That helped. Jemma's little wave and quick look away did not help. May cocking a single fine brow and looking at him with that cold-yet-so-complex frown did not help. Mack's little circles helped. Felt different but helped. Fitz was not sure what he preferred between Mack's rub-circles and what Ward used to do, a hand on his shoulder that would rhythmically clench and unclench. Supposedly it had been another technique taught to covert ops field operatives just like the lip reading. Once again, Fitz had never seen another agent use the same trick on someone to calm them down, but Ward had been a master of it. Specialist level comfort shoulder squeezer. Just like specialist level Spy. Now was probably not the time to be thinking about Ward as Coulson fixed Fitz with a look, different from the angry look Fitz completely expected, and continued talking about this politician.

"Oh, that guy looks like Ward." Suddenly everyone was looking at Fitz, who had been staring at the projection of the politician's face, and it occurred to him all too late that he had spoken aloud. Again. Without his brain's consent. Damn. Skye at least gave him a little smile and a nod while all the rest just looked his way and quickly back to Coulson. The little circles Mack pushed into his back a bit deeper and Fitz, despite how much he enjoyed it, leaned forward and away so he could actually focus on what was being said. The guy on screen really did resemble Ward. Same angular jaw structure, deep set eyes, though the dimensions of the nose seemed off and that was a suggestion of either physical irregularity between the two or a notice that Ward had likely had his broken and reset many, many, many times as a field agent, maybe even surgeries, oh.

"Right, Fitz, sorry, I should have started over when you and Mack got in." Coulson sounded apologetic but he hadn't started over so Fitz didn't listen. Instead he chewed on a nail and ignored the looks Jemma gave him when she noticed. Not so long ago, before the incident, she would have kicked him in the shin for doing it. Now she shook her head and looked back at the projector as if it had some hidden mystery more important than his bad habits. Oh, Coulson was still talking, "This is Senator Christian Ward of Massachusetts, Grant Ward's older brother. As some of you know," Fitz kind of felt as if it were everyone in the room but him, though Jemma did perk up a little as well - the two had been busy in the lab countering Hydra's new 'disintegrating throwing stars' as Mack put it - already knew all of this, "He has agreed to back us on the UN floor in exchange for a deal I offered him. It'll be a complete reversal of his position, something we need now, and so I jumped on it." Coulson paused and looked at Skye whom stared back, her face hard and set, gone the smile Fitz received earlier, as she nodded to whatever silent or pre-communication the two had. Of course she knew; Skye always seemed to know things.

Coulson looked at Fitz and Jemma next and while she nodded Fitz still did not know what was going on but nodded back anyway, as if he did, because it made the whole process easier to seem to know like everyone else. When Coulson finally did speak though, Fitz felt his mouth drop open in shock, "Later this afternoon we'll be transferring Grant Ward into the custody of his brother to face trial as a Hydra collaborator. Before that, Skye will make use of this time to press him for what information we can get in the deadline…" Fitz did not hear any more of it. He froze, hand locked on his own cuff, and stared at image of the man on screen. Ward's brother. It was the first Fitz had actually seen the man, true, but also the first he had heard of him beyond some files Fitz was fairly certain he was not supposed to read. Stuff about Ward's training in Hydra recovered from Garrett's collection. Things about an abusive home life, some written in Coulson's own hand. So if this were Ward's brother, the abusive one and not the victim one, then that would mean they were handing him over to someone dangerous. Then again, normal people did not barter other people for information or protection or whatever. Oh wait, no, they did, and he was…

"I'd like all field agents on hand when he is escorted out. If he tries anything, I need you ready."

A varied set of "Yes Sir"s and "Sure things"s responded and Fitz, despite not even being a field agent, nodded as if he understood the orders himself. They were to transfer Ward that afternoon after Skye finished with him. So soon, he had not even been able to go back and talk to the man anymore. Now he never would. That was regretful...no, it was terrible. No, Fitz really did not want this, and he especially did not want to face this in front of everyone as his eyes started to water in the middle of a meeting in Coulson's office and he had to wipe at them with his sleeve. People noticed, there was no way they couldn't, and Fitz had his head between his knees and breathing before anyone even knew a panic attack had started. It felt like he had been submerged in water again and distantly, past the ringing that was in his ears but not really in his ears, Fitz knew Mack and Coulson were ordering everyone out of the office while their resident broken scientist took in huge gulps of air and tried to get his breathing back under control with great effort. Before the door slammed, which definitely did not help, Fitz could hear Jemma's quiet voice talking to Coulson. He could not make out what she was saying but he knew, without hearing, that it was about him. Probably about how fragile he was. Jemma liked that word, fragile, and though she meant the best and really cared for him, and Fitz knew it, 'fragile' was close to 'broken'.

The situation was also not helped by them talking over his head.

"Fitz! Mack, what is wrong with him, what brought this one on?"

"Do I look like a damn therapist to you? He got worked up. Give him a moment, sir."

Coulson's voice was raised, Mack's was the same even beat that he always used, and all at once Fitz had the mechanic kneeled before him. With Fitz sitting and hunched the two were at equal height and Mack carefully, slowly, worked to push shoulders back and get him into a sitting position and not a hunched-over-crying position. Not that he helped. Fitz was quite content to hide his face away a bit longer until the spontaneous water stopped or they all left. Not to mention that if he had someone stare right into his face while he uncontrollably cried the scientist felt he would simply die of embarrassment. Ward was the only one who had seen that whole breakdown happen so far and Fitz damn well intended to keep his shame to one person, thanks.

"I knew I should not have brought him in on this considering how he responded before…"

Mack, still trying to pry Fitz's face from his hands, looked at Coulson, "Before, sir?"

'No. No. Coulson don't tell him. Mack is really nice please don't tell him-'

"I can't go into detail but Fitz did not respond well when he first found out we had Grant Ward contained here." Fitz breath a sigh of relief into his hands, pressing harder at his eyes to soak up the last of the moisture, as Coulson peered at his watch, "Mack, I have to be on phone with the senator in three minutes. I'm going to leave Fitz in your care. Would you make sure he is in his room when we transfer the prisoner?" Fitz finally had his eyes dry and peeked up through his hands to realize how close Mack's face was, how concerned he looked, and that he was staring over Fitz's shoulder at Coulson with a look that Fitz could not understand. He only nodded when Coulson added in a quick, "I'd have you stay with him but I'll need you there as well. Ward is highly trained, I'm taking no chances." and the Director slipped out of the room at that.

All of Mack's attention was back on him, red eyes, snotty nosed, utterly embarrassed Leopold Fitz, and try as he might to hide his face Mack pulled his hands away and stared him down.

The dark skinned man looked worried but it was different from the usual expressions. Some people's 'worried" (such as Jemma's) looked sad. Other's like Hunter looked uncomfortable mixed with worried. Mack's expression just looked concerned and try as he might Fitz could not find fault in it. It did not even look pitying and that, above all else, was a monumental thing. It was enough that Fitz went along with it when Mack's heavy arms closed over his shoulders and pulled him closer, his upper chest taut against the mechanics, and Fitz's face sunk into the natural cranny at the man's neck and broad shoulders. Hugging. Hug. Mack was hugging him, tightly, and the other man's face was pressed into Fitz's neck, he knew because Mack had forgotten to shave, and it was so unexpected as to be calming, an extended moment of comfort...until Fitz pressed both of his free hands into Mack's stomach and pushed against oh, rock hard, abs (quite nice really) until the larger man backed up enough to put space between.

Mack's brow furrowed and Fitz immediately felt bad for pushing the man away but...he couldn't, that much contact, it had almost...no, not right now. The analytical scientist struggled to not read into the gesture when right now his interpersonal skills seemed so bugged out anyway. Instead he forced himself to look Mack in the eye and ask directly, "Mack. Why did you hug me?"

"I thought it would help you relax."

The answer came instantly and honestly, Fitz could tell that much, and he nodded, slowly, affirmatively, "Oh. Okay. Well then umm...thank you. It helped." and Fitz tried to smile at the other thought it came out crooked. Mack only shrugged as if to say, 'was worth a try'.

Unfortunately he also had to speak, "What got you so freaked out anyway Turbo? Figured out of everyone except maybe Skye you'd be the most eager to see that bastard go off and fry?"

Fitz could not answer. No, he could, but he couldn't, and that was frustrating but despite the circles and the hugging and all the filling in his blanks, Fitz knew that Mack would not understand why he freaked out. They were moving Ward. Ward, whom Fitz had believed in some small way when the man claimed he was trying to save them, not kill them, when he did this to Fitz. Ward, whom was a good actor but Fitz did not understand how someone could act so flawlessly in a role on all the occasions he did without once breaking cover. On missions is one thing but did Ward really have to play a game of jenga with Fitz one night just because the scientist found the game in a grocery? No. Clearly that was not secret spy action. At least Fitz did not see how it could be. There were so many other examples that sprang to Fitz's mind during his week of freak-out that were front and center now. There was no way it could have all been an act - that was just not possible for any human being to deliver such a constant show. Now they were going to turn him over to his brother without so much as a 'by your leave' and according to what Fitz read this was the same brother who had tortured Ward as a kid. What happened to child torturers who grew up and became adult torturers, did they get worse?

"...Mack, we can't turn him over." He looked confused and Fitz couldn't blame him, especially when Fitz repeated himself, once again saying, "We can't. We can't give him to…" Mack would never understand any of this thought process, no matter how close they got, because he had not been there. Fitz knew this and so was not surprised when Mack's hands on his shoulders tightened and the mechanic shook his head, telling him no, dismissing the thought altogether.

"We have to Turbo. Coulson's orders."

"But…"

"No Turbo. Let the guy's brother deal with him and the justice system take him out. I know what you're thinking, he's not your responsibility. He deceived all of you guys and hurt you too. That doesn't mean you guys have to be the ones to handle his punishment, so long as he's punished."

'No. No. That's all wrong Mack. That's not what I want...that's like...like...the opposite.' For once Fitz's thoughts actually managed to stay in his head as he surrendered, nodding without looking Mack in the eye, and allowing the mechanic to help him up. Mack never would have understood but on some level, deep inside of Fitz, it still hurt to know he really couldn't. Mack, who filled in his words and served as his hands these days, could not help him with this one. Even if Fitz made him understand he knew the other man would not help. No, if anything, he would immediately tell Coulson. Fitz knew what they would all think of him if the thoughts got out. With them already thinking so little of his current condition how much further could he afford for them to go before Coulson was forced to make the hard decision concerning his further employment.

...Fitz was not even sure he could handle life as anything other than a SHIELD scientist.

Their conversation finished, Mack had at first tried to escort Fitz to his room but detoured when Fitz, quite insistently, demanded to be in the lab. The mechanic tried to fight it but he lost at, "Coulson does not understand, the lab will be in...in...greatly, massively," Mack had to fill in the 'infinitely' for him. "Right, infinitely more comfortable for me. Even if they walk him right by me I should be okay so long as I'm in cozy surroundings. Besides, it is not like he'll be able to do anything right? All of you will be there," Fitz felt himself rambling and worked to stop it, to cease talking and talking, because the Fitz that Mack knew did not go on and on and on like that. He couldn't, especially not now, especially not when he was telling lies right through his teeth to the person that had helped him the most in the past few weeks. No, not lies, he was absolutely plotting treason of the highest caliber and after this was done May probably really would kill him. If that was not enough Fitz suspected that Mack would never want anything to do with him again.

It was stupid, foolish, and Fitz knew that he was probably making a mistake...but he could not resist.

Fitz had already cooked up a plan to send Mack away when they reached the lab but there really was no need. An hour until Ward was moved and no assignments in the garage that Fitz knew of but the other man still, upon seeing Fitz to his usual seat, made an excuse to leave. Something about preparing the security detail for Ward's transfer. Fitz knew that was under May's supervision, so Mack was not needed, but he really had no intention of pressing when it accomplished the goal he had set out for all along. It got Mack out of the way and to Fitz's great fortune Jemma was not in the lab, he had no idea where she was, and Chelsea was tilted so far over a microscope that her readings would be entirely inaccurate but he could not bring himself to correct her. No, the lab technician would not be an issue. She scarcely looked up as Fitz spent his time working around the room and picking up options, looking them over, and either pocketing them or tossing them aside. In a way he was almost disappointed that no one showed up to stop him. Jemma would have known something was up when he palmed the micro-ADS they had been working on prior to the incident and dropped it in the often-useless breast pocket of today's red/white flannel shirt. She would definitely have questions about why he needed such a tool.

But Jemma was not here and when Fitz really, really thought about it, had she been for awhile?

The hour passed quick enough to be a blur and looking back later, he would likely realize how little planning had gone into his actions really. A lot of it had been working on instinct. That could be the only explanation as to why when he was finishing, midway through slipping a flash drive into his pocket, he turned to see Chelsea staring at him and panicked with such intensity.

"Mr. Fitz, you know we are not supposed to take any data storage devices out of the lab without-"

Okay, panicked was a bit of an understatement for freaking out, grabbing an ICER off his workstation, and shooting Jemma's assistant. Granted, it was an ICER, so she would be fine at the end of the day, but to be honest Fitz was nearly as surprised as she'd likely been. The nice asian woman collapsed on the floor in a heap and Fitz, eyes wide and breaths heavy, tossed the ICER on the floor as if it burned him. There was no going back now - he was so screwed.

This would definitely be worthy of an execution by May flip-kick, no doubt.

He did not have long to panic. No sooner had Fitz pulled Chelsea's unconscious body behind a desk than the call went out for everyone to assemble for the procession. Procession, funeral style, that was all Fitz could think about it as he stepped over to the only lab door he had not locked, the one facing the hallway, and waited. A troop of SHIELD soldiers, more than Fitz had seen in the playground in quite some time, swept past down the hall for retrieval. Across the way from him, at the door to the kitchen, Fitz finally laid eyes on Jemma and Skye. The two women stood in the door, Jemma's hand on Skye's upper arm, and were talking quietly. Too far away to make out what they were saying and too panicked to care, Fitz instead looked sharply away from them and thought back to the note he'd scribbled. Scribbled, quite literally, his hands were shaking and it took shoving them into his pockets to keep it subtle.

The note had been simple because of his condition and so all it read was...

Jemma,

Tell the others I'm sorry, I can't let you do this.
I'm not Hydra, I promise. I know what I'm doing.
Don't let May kill me please.

It wasn't enough, no manner of words would have been enough and Fitz knew it. Were it not for the unconscious lab assistant not far off, his determination might have been shaken. (Un)fortunately it was impossible for him to go back now. Jemma and Skye had not noticed him standing in the lab doorway but further down the hall, Trip, whose face was practically a storm in the midst of a scowl, did and nodded solemnly at him. Automatically, Fitz returned the guesture, though he knew that for once him and the rest of the team were at odds in their thoughts.

Fitz did not want to see Ward go back to his brother and likely get tortured, again. The why, which the Scot had only worked out vaguely in his head, was not the important part. He just felt, no, knew that he had to do this. Otherwise Ward would be gone forever, likely dead, and he would never be able to find out all the truths he wanted to know. Oh, perhaps he should have put that in the letter as well. Jemma would certainly understand the intense search for truth if nothing else. That was the creed they both lived by. It would have looked a lot better than a vague 'sorry'.

It was kind of scary how little thought the actual act really took.

Coulson went by first, leading the pack of soldiers and their captive, with a grim look on his face. He did not make eye contact with Fitz, instead looking to Skye, and the two shared another of those knowing looks between each other that Fitz knew he and the others (except maybe May who knew everything) would never truly be privy too. Both of them wanted this. That made them different and in about, Fitz actually mentally calculated to distract himself, 3.5 seconds, they would be on opposite sides of what they wanted. Drastically opposite sides. Not to mention May who brought up the rear behind the entire ensemble. Fitz had never dreamed of going against her.

Ward.

He was still in the prison scrubs, still unshaven, and in the strong overhead lighting of the playground outside of his cell block, incredibly pale. Despite his appearance the ex-agent walked tall, back straight, and looked at each of them in turn. He looked to Trip. He looked to Skye and Jemma who, to Fitz's great surprise and worry, said she would kill him if she ever saw him again. Oh, she would not take the note well at all then. It was only after that exchange in which Ward turned his eyes on Fitz and for a moment, a millisecond, his eyes softened that Fitz knew his decision had to be correct - it just had to. He would never risk everything just on a hunch.

That was what he was doing after-all; risking everything he knew.

None of them expected it, their attention solely focused on Ward and not the broken scientist in a doorway, not even Coulson saw it coming. May was the only one to react but it happened before she could even do some amazing martial arts flip and kill them both. Ward was in front of him and Fitz threw himself forward at the other man at the same time he pulled out the micro-ADS, pressed the side he had hastily applied an adhesive to onto Ward's neck, and hit the button hidden on the side that activated it. People were yelling, someone said he was trying to kill Ward, but the only voice that really stood out over all the rest was Jemma yelling, "Fitz, no!"

She was the only one who knew what it was.

Click.

Fitz, whose hand was on the wrong end of the device, was the first to feel it and he almost screamed. The pain was so intense, so real and all at once and all consuming. There was no sound to indicate what was happening. No time to protect himself at this distance. Ward was in his face yelling at him but Fitz could not hear it, the pain blotting out his hearing as his vision started to blacken at the edges. His whole body felt like it was on fire - literally burning to a crisp - as the riot control device went live. The Active Denial System, ADS for short, might have been micro-sized by Fitz and a bit of help from Jemma, but they had only improved on the design. Instead of a focused beam heating up the top surface water in the victims in a focused beam it pulsed a wave out, filling the hallway, and only through will and his knowledge of the device did Fitz stay conscious long enough to see Jemma and Skye hidden behind the glass door of the kitchen and generally freaking out, May attempting to drag herself back to her feet with a hardened grimace, and then there was Mack, collapsed at the far end of the hall towards the cells, already unconscious from the pain. Fitz, hurting and scared, felt like crying just from that but when the first tear rolled down his cheek it only intensify the feeling of his skin burning and brought on the darkness.

The last thing he felt was someone grabbing him tightly and pulling him up.

The last thing he heard was the sound of a gun going off.


Author Note

Don't kill me for what I've done here this day.
We are officially well and truly off the rails.
But in other news, chapters will likely grow longer after this.

Chapter Text

Author Note

Welcome to free writing, the fourth chapter of this fic.
Lots of building going on here.
And awkwardness.


To say Fitz's head 'hurt' would be quite possibly the understatement of the century. That did nothing to explain the pounding behind his eyes as the combination of air conditioning on one side and heat on the other, especially the right side of his face, made him feel like he was running a fever. Not that he was sick, that much was clear, but the sensations were making him nauseous enough to put a hand over his mouth and struggle down a groan. The dichotomy of sensations did not make any sense seeing as they kept the bus temperature controlled-

It came to him in flash that one, he was not on the bus, and two, he was strapped down. Fitz's eyes snapped open and he started to struggle until an arm flew across the narrow space and held him down against the seat. The scientist pushed forward and the bicep against him flexed, holding him, and for a moment Fitz considered biting before something else caught his attention.

"Damnit Fitz, calm down. You're safe. Stop before you make yourself feel even worse."

Ward.

He froze, his head lifting off the window it had pressed against so he could turn and look at the driver. Ward, sans scrubs and now wearing a pair of jeans and black tank that both looked on the side of too big, guided the wheel with one hand and his other arm still over Fitz. The ex-agent glanced from the road to Fitz and then quickly back as he navigated them through traffic with an effortless grace despite their...pick-up truck. Yes, definitely an older model pick-up, a cursory glance around himself on Fitz's end revealed that much. A sports team sticker on the dash even. Where had they even gotten this ride from, had Ward stolen it...oh god, what had Fitz done.

"I...I...Ward, you, I, the base...the others?"

Ward switched lanes before tilting his head and glancing at Fitz from the corner of his eye. The clothes might be different but the beard was still there making him look angry and older. "Don't worry about that right now." Ward's arm holding Fitz down released him and dug in the console between them for a moment, struggling with a janky looking clasp, only to present a white bottle, "Take two of these before we get into that. Last time you started to wake up you just ended up throwing up and going back to sleep immediately. These should help." Oh, that would explain the terrible taste in his mouth. Fitz accepted the bottle and, despite telling himself it was okay, habitually checked the bottle and the pills themselves before swallowing two. Ibuprofen, probably not exactly what he needed but the gesture was appreciated. Ward seemed pleased with the inspection, a nod and a small smile the only indicators, as Fitz returned the bottle.

"How long was I unconscious?"

"Six hours. As I said, you started to wake up once but that did not go too well."

Fitz nodded to himself and shuffled his feet around, trying to wake them from the pins and needles feeling, while he stewed. Six hours seemed an expected amount of time for contact with the device he'd used - especially being at the epicenter. Phantom pain here and there, common. The headache he suspected would abate in a few minutes now that he was awake. The tingling on his skin? That might take a few more hours...or a shower, that would definitely help too.

Ward shoved the bottle back into the console, "Any other residual effects I should worry about?" For some reason that phrasing made Fitz feel a little better about his apocalyptically life changing decision. Then again that brought on the realization that Ward actually had taken him as well. Fitz had hoped he would after the risk, thus the note, but to have his thoughts verified…

"No. No more re...reh...no, no more effects. Now that I'm awake the headache should go soon."

"Hopefully the pills help with that."

That was apparently the 'end' of their discussion. Fitz worried the cuff of his shirt, apparently he had not changed clothes when Ward had found time to, and dedicatedly avoided looking at the other man. The silence gave him time to progress what exactly he had done. First off, helping Ward escaped was sure to get him pegged in so many bad ways with SHIELD. Second, he'd used a riot control device on pretty much the entire team. Granted, Fitz knew none of them would suffer permanent damage from the device and he, himself had been at the epicenter and was fine. None of them had a heart condition he knew that the ADS could have interfered with. Well at least Fitz did not believe, Surely Jemma would have said something if Coulson ran around with a pacemaker after the hundreds of times she had examined the man during their time and…

Fitz froze, shirt twisted in his hand, and turned wholly in his seat to face Ward. This task was made a bit more difficult by the seat belt strapped across him, he wanted to take it off but considering how fast Ward had been changing lanes earlier, best to keep it on. Death by being hurled from a speeding old-man truck in a crash was not the way he wanted to go out.

"There was a...ah, a gunshot. Ward, please tell me you did not hurt-"

"I shot May."

Fitz felt all of the blood drain from his face and must have been a sight because Ward, with one glance, reached over and grabbed his free hand in a vice grip. "Fitz, I shot her in the leg. Simmons will be able to patch that up in no time and it bought me the time to get us out. If I hadn't then we would have never gotten away. Whatever that device was you used, it knocked everyone else out but her. She was still able to stand despite...whatever was happening." Fitz knew he should have been angry but instead he let out the breath he'd been holding. Not that he was okay with it. A gunshot still hurt, May did not deserve it for doing her job. Then again none of them had deserved Fitz's own hasty decision to use the micro-ADS either instead of say, knock-out gas, but he had been a little pressed for time. Plus, Jemma made the compounds. A leg wound, while still painful, was something that Jemma could handle in her sleep. Oh, sshe had dodged the effects, she would have been on scene immediately. Not that it made it really better but if May could resist the effects of the ADS in the first place...wow, Ward was still holding his hand. Fitz stared at their connected appendages until Ward looked down and took his away and put it back on the wheel, "What was that anyway? All I know is you stuck something on me and suddenly people were dropping everywhere. Why was I not effected?" Fitz may have not been a trained field agent but he knew a topic change when he saw one...and went with it.

After-all no one really wanted to think about the hellfire a wounded Agent May would rain down.

"It's, umm, I made it." Fitz stared at his now-free hand for a moment before shaking his head and looking back up at Ward. The other man seemed to have intense focus on the road despite them having moved out of the worst of the traffic. He kept looking in the rearview and Fitz was reminded, unfortunately, that they were only a few hours from the Playground. Maybe still in the same state even. No wonder Ward looked like that. "Micro-ADS. ADS meaning Active Denial System." He got a nod for his explanation though the other still did not spare him a look, so Fitz continued, "Well, I made this one. The U.S. Air Force made the original but theirs was huge and...umm...can't move. Stuck. Erm…" Fitz snapped at the air and Ward finally looked over at him, at his fingers more like, before looking back at the road. Clearly he was not a Mack and willing to step in and donate the correct word. A moment of struggle later Fitz gave up and went with a close comparative, "Immobile. The version is immobile which I found stupid so I made this tiny beauty. It emits a heat wave that heats up water on the...on the top layer. Top layer. Skin. Yeah, top layer of skin. It heats it up and causes a lot of pain but is in the end just riot control." Ward nodded again and that was a little aggravating because Fitz knew he had not made sense.

The heat in the truck was stifling and Fitz struggled out of his flannel overshirt. He tried to make it less of a struggle with his bad arm, not let Ward see, but a deal of flapping was involved that made him go a little red in the face. Then again, Ward had seen him in full break down mode so whatever, the man could get over any misgivings he had about it...not that Fitz felt better.

"Where are we going?"

Ward, the man who always acted like he had a plan, honest to goodness shrugged, "Not sure yet. Haven't figured out exactly what I want to do." Fitz thought that was probably a lie but the guy had promised not to lie to him again...and clearly he had believed him enough to break the ex-agent out so it should be good enough now. Driving, Ward drummed his thumbs on the steering wheel as he navigated them out of traffic and down an overpass into city-of-wherever the hell he had taken them. Nothing was said for a moment, as though Ward was figuring out how to say something, and Fitz waited with perhaps a little too rapt attention. The scientist had no idea what they were doing at this point either, he still partially questioned the original decision that brought them here. Okay, no, he did not question it, he wondered if there had been a better way. When at last Ward did deign fit to continue their conversation, "First off we are stopping at a hotel so you can make contact with Coulson, lie and say I forced you to do something so stupid, and go back." came out of Ward's mouth and the motors in Fitz's head ground to a solid halt.

"No. Ward, I chose to do this! Plus, they won't believe me, that's just stupid-"

Fitz shut up. Not because he was done, because he wasn't, but instead due to them suddenly being parked on the side of the road. Ward, calm and in-control Ward, had turned completely in his seat (oh, he didn't wear a seatbelt) to face down Fitz with a look that had only one definition, 'pissed off', "Fitz, what you did was completely insane. What made you think it was a good idea? We talk twice and you just possibly threw away your entire life to what, save me?" Fitz started to speak, his mouth opened at least, but no words were coming to mind and he stammered out an 'ahh' sound that Ward listened to for all of ten seconds, "I could have gotten myself out. There was no need for you to do that. We're going to find a hotel and you're going to tell them I made you do it, all of it. Is that clear?" It had been so long since Ward was actually mad with him that Fitz forgot how intense it could be, how sharp those eyes were and that half-snarl on the man's face. It was enough to get the scientist flinched back against his side of the cab with a wince on his face and eyes closed. It almost looked like he expected Ward to hit him and that, above all else, seemed to deflate the ex-Agent down to a loud sigh.

"Fitz, it is the only way, you have to know-"

"I left a note." It came out in a burst and Fitz, in the silence left in the wake of his admission, peeked an eye open to see Ward staring at him with a confused look. Fitz opened up and swallowed the lump in his throat as he cornered himself further in the seat, putting impossible distance between them as he tried to explain, "I knew I had to tell them something so I left a note. They'll know I made the decision all on my own. I...I didn't want them to think…"

Ward remained in that semi-shocked look, "DId not want them to think you were Hydra?" The scientist nodded, affirming, and Ward just shook his head in disbelief, "Fitz, you know I worked for Garrett right? Who worked for Hydra? The dead man the whole team thinks I'm loyal to? I bet you anything they are trying to say I took advantage of you and am taking you to Hydra now." The idea of Ward taking advantage of him threw Fitz off a bit, had that been what happened? He quickly dismissed the thought though with memories of their first and second cell meetings. No, even before that, back when they had all worked with a team. He could not remember an instance when Ward had directly used him to do anything. Coulson, May, and Skye sure but he could not remember ever being used himself for some purpose. At least not that he knew of? Then again, Fitz also knew he was scraping aside a lot of people who had been harmed by Ward.

"I'm not going back, Ward. I...I can't." Fitz was a bit ashamed of how meek he felt saying the words but he pressed on before Ward could get out an actual response, "Please. I can't...I can't go back and face them. I can't go back. Best case I get court martialed and fired but even then what am I supposed to do, what can I do?" As if to prove his point Fitz raised a hand and tapped the side of his own skull, clearly indicating the damage caused by the hypoxia, and Grant's look turned pained as he looked away from what Fitz was doing. Small things like that made Fitz feel better about his decision to trust the other when he said it was...was...something. It may have been unfair to use his injury in that way but it was the truth. Fitz had felt, for weeks now, that Coulson had been one freak-out from sending him away as a liability for 'treatment'.

Finally Ward made a noise, practically a snarl, as he threw the truck into drive and ripped them out of their parking spot. Fitz did not expect that and settled into his seat, as small as possible, riding out the storm that was his angry driver ducking between cars at near breakneck speed in the old blue pick-up. This 'angry' Ward seemed different from the old version. In fact, from what little Fitz had seen thus far, this 'new version' or rather 'original version' did have differences. Some were even fairly significant. He'd noticed it the second time he went to the cell. Before Garrett, the agent had been a lot quicker to smile. Now they were rarer, smaller, less teethy, and that for some reason did not surprise Fitz all that much. There were numerous subtle things that his keen mind picked up. Others were more obvious such as Ward had been right handed 'before' but now he definitely drove the truck with his left hand dominantly. It was fascinating, really, to see the 'real' side of a professionally trained double (or was it triple?) agent after living with what had apparently been an illusion for so long. Fitz had already begun the process of a mental mock-up then/now comparison chart in his head to keep track of changes he noticed.

After a few minutes driving Fitz reached over to tap Ward on the arm but stopped when he caught the others eye, still angry at being told 'No' then, "Ward...we do have to stop somewhere. They'll be tracking us. I have to...to…" Fitz waved his hand in the air a few times, looking like he was symbolizing a tornado, and had to snap twice before it came to him. Ward, once again, did not volunteer the words even if he knew them, "Disable. I have to disable your tracker. Assuming you didn't already?" Ward shook his head and Fitz leaned forward, forgetting himself, to press a finger against the man's neck right beneath his jaw. To his credit Ward managed to not move a muscle though he was definitely watching Fitz closely now as the shorter man leaned across to touch him, "They used to install them in the hands or leg but those are easy to remove If they adhere to the newer protocol than the tracker should be in this general area.." He moved his fingers, rubbing the spot, and Ward craned his head back a bit like the enormous dog Jemma had compared him to. That was not a connection Fitz would be making right now though as he searched out the tiny piece of metal indicating the tracker. After a moment he started to worry that they installed it deep below the epidermal to prevent removal. He would not have been surprised. In the end his exploratory fingers felt the faint bump of skin after exploring much of Ward's lower-face. They installed it on the left side of his neck below the chin bit to the side, and Fitz had to nearly climb across the whole seat to get his finger on it and had his other hand on Ward's closest shoulder to steady himself, "Here. They did not install it deep. Right below the skin I'd say…"

Fitz jumped just a bit when Ward pulled out a pocket knife, flicked it open, and offered him the handle, "Go ahead and dig it out. I don't know if I have time for us to make a stop."

He gagged a little and surged back across the seats, back to his refuge against the door, and completely disregarded all attempts to grab the knife, "That's not sterile and I'm...I'm not Simmons. I can't just dig in there and...Ward," Fitz raised his 'bad hand' and flailed it back and forth to show limited range of movement it had. The ex-agent might not see the issue but the Scot could already see himself attempting it and cutting the carotid artery or something. Ward still had the handle pointed in his direction and Fitz frantically shook his head, "Look. It doesn't have to be a hotel. Just find us somewhere I can get my hands on some tech. I can dis...di...turn it off without actually removing it." That was a far, far, far better suggestion in the scientists opinion. Definition of discrete, digging in another man's face with a knife while driving down the road from freeway to freeway in the South Dakota city. Oh, they were still rather close to the playground. No wonder Ward did not want to stop. Fitz's eyes followed the sign until he could not see it anymore and as he turned to look back at his driver paused, squinted at the displays on another sign, and pointed, "Turn in to this shopping center. Radio shack will work, I guess."

The dark haired escapee made a noise, frustrated and hopefully not too angry that Fitz simply refused to dice up his neck like a steak, and made the appropriate turns. He had started to rub at the tracker spot Fitz had pointed out, inspecting it. The longer he did it the more worried the scientist became that he'd attempt a removal himself with the knife. "If I have a tracker how has the bus not already tractor beamed us up yet, exactly? This truck is not exactly fast."

"The bus doesn't have a tractor beam."

Ward, the new serious-less-smiley Ward, rolled his eyes and Fitz was a bit offended, rude.

"You know what I mean. Did you do something?"

Fitz nodded, though the other may not have seen as Fitz inspected the scenery out his window, "Kind of. I knew you would have one but not where or what kind. Luck, I guess. The micro-ADS is just an...ah...a EMP. It's an EMP. Basically. So I'm assuming it knocked the tracker offline." He waved his hand without looking in Ward's direction, dismissing whatever thoughts the agent had, "Temporary at best. The tracker will reboot. I'll need a concentrated burst of...of...well, I'll need to directly disable it." His voice dropped low as Fitz added, "And then you can live with it because I am not carving up your neck to get it out." Unless Fitz's ears betrayed him, Ward snickered.

xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx

The employees of Radio Shack, though nice, were likely not equipped to handle, 'I need parts to build a directed EMP wave to disable a state of the art tracker in my friend's neck here.' when they asked if Fitz needed assistance, so he ignored them, and Ward had to be the one to politely decline. For his part the ex-agent hovered over the shorter man, staying in arm's length, as they perused the aisles. Fitz had demanded Ward leave his pistol in the truck, an argument that went on till the scientist made a comment about 'Where are you going to hide it? Your pants?' and for some reason he'd relented...so Ward was not exactly cheerful. That did not improve much as Fitz muttered mostly to himself, picking up items one by one with his good hand and either passing them to Ward to hold or putting them back where he found them. It only took four minutes tops, three too long for Ward, before he kind of wished they had grabbed one of the damn baskets at the door. He did not even know what some of these wires were called, much less what they were used for, and Fitz did not bother to explain as he grabbed things.

Which brought Ward back to his original question of how they were going to pay for all this. When they left the SHIELD facility he had literally had the scrubs on his back, a guard's pistol, and a Leopold Fitz slung over his shoulders. There had not exactly been time to stop and gather resources. Had the device Fitz tagged him with not effectively disabled everyone they came across, Ward was not sure they would have even made it out. It had merely been luck that he had not gotten lost in the base, had too much trouble with the garage exit, nor encountered any automated turrets like The unfortunate sap driving by who was probably still walking down the road in scrubs somewhere did not have any money on him either. Internally, Ward was already gearing up to take down the scrawny ginger and bleach blonde girl working the counter with the minimal of force so they could just walk out. Hell, the two would probably just let him leave.

...and then Fitz pulled out the black card.

"We can't use that. That's as good as activating the tracker."

Fitz looked at him, then the card, and seemed to catch on around the same time Ward seriously started reconsidering that whole 'dump him at a hotel to deal with Coulson' approach to things. While the guy may be brilliant he definitely did not have the training for evasive actions like the ones they may need to take. No, they were going to have to just steal the things and maybe deal with some police issues-

"Building something big, huh?"

"Yes, Ward, you can go ahead and put it down here, please."

Okay, no, Fitz was definitely going to a hotel first thing as he had Ward drop the items on the counter. He slipped the girl the black card after she finished ringing everything up, a hundred and seventy dollar transaction, and Ward resisted every impulse that said just leave now and deal with feeling like shit for abandoning the techie later. In the end he just stood there gritting his teeth and glaring daggers at the ginger employee who wilted under the gaze and vanished into the back of the store. Fitz ignored him, dealing with the girl, and laughing when she made a joke about some 'sparkle' effect he could achieve by mixing a spliced co-ax cable or something. Getting rung up seemed to take forever and when at last Fitz passed him the bag, Ward practically stormed off while Fitz followed after him fiddling with something.

They were not three steps out the door when Ward spun on his heel, all fire and brimstone, and threw his hand out, "Give me the damn card-"

Snap.

"...That will work."

Fitz, a half of the now tragically useless 'SHIELD black card' in each of his hands, had a smile that Ward did not quite trust to be real on his face, "Sorry, please don't be mad...but it was the only way that made sense and we're leaving anyway, right?" He nodded at the scientist whose smile brightened a tad as he guided them to the truck, "It will be okay. I can assemble most of this on the ride out of town and we can disable your tracker when we have time. Just...don't be mad, please?" And that was just not fair. Ward wanted to be but felt it evaporate as he settled back behind the wheel and Fitz went to work at something in the passenger seat one-handed. That was just another nail in the proverbial coffin of his guilt. If it had been a different member of the team, perhaps even Skye, Ward felt he could have ignored the knot in his chest. It would have still affected him - one did not travel the world even undercover and not form some attachment, it just was not possible - but no, he had seriously hurt the one who apparently refused to stop believing in him no matter how many reasons Ward gave to do just that. That brought up numerous questions about the scientists psyche but he fairly certain shaking the lab junkie and demanding answers to, 'Why are you so freakishly nice?' would probably break him.

"Fitz." The Scot in question did not even acknowledge him, "Why made you decide to-"

"Not now. Working. This would be so easy if I could only...if I had…"

Fitz's voice was snappish and Ward, surprisingly cowled, shut his mouth with a smirk. Okay, so do not talk to the lab rat while he's working, check. The entirety of Fitz's seat was a mess of wires and circuits as he worked one-handed to connect them all into some form of device. Not Ward's speciality and he had been effectively dismissed, so he just focused on driving and left the other to his work. Fitz seemed a lot more at ease working on something anyway though occasionally a curse slipped out of his mouth. It left time for Ward to think without worrying too much about the other. Instead he got to focus on things not related to his surprise-'rescue' like the tracker still in his neck, the SHIELD team likely chasing him with all their available resources, and the fact that Coulson fully intended to hand him over to Christian at the earliest convenience in exchange for...something. The terms of the agreement were not the important part. What mattered was Christian wanted him back under his thumb and that was the exact place Ward did not plan to let himself get. That situation would have to be handled moving forward. Not to mention, there was still his promise to Skye that Ward still fully intended to honor. At the very least he owed it to her to assist her in meeting her father, something she had always wanted, in much the same way he now owed it to Fitz to go along with whatever crazy ideas the scientist had. Oh, right, that issue too, Ward suspected that while the other man had wanted to help him escape getting dropped into his brother's custody, he may not have been the only one escaping. Not that Fitz had exactly been the most clear person during their little 'visits' but he had said some things, as did Coulson, that had Ward wondering exactly how the team treated their lead scientist now that he was a bit...different...than he had been before, harder to get a read on.

The ride went on in silence nearly an hour before Fitz threw his hands up and made a sound equal parts disgusted and frustrated. He nearly knocked the entire contraption from his lap had Ward's quick reflexes not kicked in and he grabbed it, holding it down in the other's lap.

"I...I can't do it. Mack always...I can't, my hands, this wire won't connect and-"

He was nearly yelling and Ward's first instinct, in face of irrational panic, was to slap him. Thankfully he refrained and instead, making sure Fitz would not throw the device or anything, grabbed the other's hand again. It had the intended effect of stopping the scientist mid-tirade as he looked at their connected appendages. Ward smiled to himself, some things never changed, Fitz remained an extremely tactile person even with his changes. Having to hold Fitz hand instead of his shoulder to calm him was a bit new but Ward liked to think he was adaptable.

"What do you need?"

"I need a new set of hands that actually function as intended!"

Okay, this could be more of a situation than he originally expected. The clock read close to 7PM, the light had already started to go down around them and while Ward had planned to drive through the night he was starting to see how unlikely that was. From what Fitz had said the tracker was temporarily deactivated - there was no telling when it would go active again assuming it already had not. No, if it had, Coulson would have already parked the bus on his head. The tracker needed to be deactivated and if Fitz could not manage it on his own then Ward would have to help. That was just not possible while driving at the same time and, though he'd never admit it to the other out loud, Ward absolutely did not trust the scientist behind the wheel.

Ward kept their hands locked as he searched and Fitz, to his surprise, fell into a complete silence looking out the window. Occasionally Ward felt the hand in his squeeze back, sometimes loose and sometimes tightly, but did not pay it mind. The gesture worked to keep the Scot's seemingly out-of-control emotions in check well enough that he did not mind it. While Ward had still not committed to the idea Fitz had, of him tagging along, it was useful information to catalogue away in that mental dossier specialist training taught him to keep of those around him.

There.

He parked the truck on the street two houses from the one he had chosen. It was simple, suburban, and most importantly had no car in the driveway or lights on. Hopefully that meant no one was home but he, under Fitz's worried gaze, tucked the pistol into the back of his jeans anyway. Better to be safe than sorry when breaking into a hopefully empty home.

"With my help how long do you think it will take to complete?"

Neither had opened their door yet and so they sat in the dark, not even the idling engine on to disturb them, and yet Ward stared straight ahead at the house. It helped to not actually look at the scientist as he internally debated their course of action. How long was too long to spare? Ward knew that, if he were alone, the tracker would already be out and he'd be nursing a gaping fissure in his own neck. Admittedly this approach was entirely for the benefit of Fitz and that was already a lapse in 'mission parameters' that made the once-agent highly uncomfortable.

"Twenty minutes."

"How long do you think we have till my tracker comes online again?"

Fitz did not speak right away as he poked at the empty air with his 'bad hand' as if miming a chalkboard to write on. Ward had never seen him do it before, "If it is the model I'm thinking of we should have twenty four hours from the time it was deactivated. Nine hours maybe? I...I can't say for sure without looking at the...umm...the…" He was stumbling again and Ward did not have time for it.

"Microchip?"

"No. We're not removing it so I can't look at it."

Ward was going to remove that thing eventually though he did not need Fitz to know that yet.

"Okay, come on." Ward grabbed the contraption, trusting himself more than Fitz to hold it, and at the same time noticed their hands had still been linked. How long now? Thirty minutes? That amount of contact was too extended, he'd have to watch it, it was unlike him to forget himself. Distance was not something either of them seemed to be allowing however as Fitz walked close enough to practically be Ward's shadow, radio shack bag clutched in both hands. Fence opened, they rounded the house to the back door and Ward broke the lock. No sounds from inside.

All of the lights were off and only silence greeted them as the two crept into the kitchen.

One way to know if they were alone. Without preamble Ward swept across the room and with one arm knocked everything on the table to the floor, papers scattering and a ceramic bowl bouncing across the kitchen. He heard his accomplice jump but that was not what the agent listened for as he lifted his gun, leveled on the entrance to the kitchen, and listened. One breath, two, and nothing answered him back. They were alone, luck was on their side then. Table now empty Ward lowered the triangle shaped box onto it and turned to grab the bag from Fitz. Really, he should not have been surprised to find the scientist had barely moved from the door. He looked uncomfortable about intruding and it took Ward waving him in for the Scot to step over the threshold and actually take part in breaking and entering. Bag in hand the agent settled one of the seats around the table and looked up expectantly to find...Fitz giving him a look.

"What?"

Fitz took a step closer, "Have you ever...you know...done this?" If it had not been for him waving a hand at the device Ward would have laughed. No, even still, he cracked a smile though he knew perfectly well what Fitz was talking about. Rather than respond Ward shook his head and picked up the tiny screwdriver they'd purchased with the rest and held it poised over the device.

"No, so I'm expecting you to guide me through it. Where do I start?"

It only took twenty minutes. It started out as Fitz standing several feet away coaching, connect the blue wire to the green wire, switch them at a ninety-degree angle, and so on. He eventually had to move closer after a near-disaster with two wires of equal length and Ward mistaking which was 'shorter' (nearly impossible to tell considering their were coiled but he only complained minimally). By the end Fitz practically leaned over Ward's right shoulder pointing to this and that, holding down a wire so it could be securely attached, and generally taking a more hands on approach. Someone might have questioned why he even needed the assistance if they were not as close as Ward himself who could see the tremors whenever Fitz went to use his other hand. It was strange really that only one side of his body seemed to show signs of damage. It reminded Ward of gunshot victims he'd seen. One arm, leg, or any body part really would be less functional while the rest seemed to work fine. Then again those people did not have to stop mid-conversation and pull simple words out of the air. Though, to be fair, their idea of 'simple words' and some of the ones Fitz had trouble with like 'electric conductivity' were likely different.

"Fitz, what kind of physical therapy did they have you doing?"

Ward was hunched over the table, tiny screwdriver twisting in his hand, when he said it. With Fitz behind him the agent was not privy to his expression but he felt the hand on his shoulder withdrawal. Damn, he just had to bring up the touchy topic…

Fitz dropped into the seat to his left, "I'm...not. Well, I did. Before. But lately...I just don't."

He was surprised to actually get an answer. Grant had been sure that Fitz would retreat away and not want to talk about it. Alternatively if they did discuss it he would have made light of it. An honest answer something else entirely. Taking into account that he had, to both Fitz and Skye, promised to never lie again, he pressed, "I get it. Well, no, I've never gone through it. But Fitz, you should. That hand is not going to get better by wishing for it." and that may have been construed as harsh but Ward meant it. Fitz spent the time Ward screwed on what was to be the back paneling staring at the member, thinking over what had been said most likely, and by the time Ward pronounced the work finished they had gone awhile in silence.

Fitz looked it over and, despite the topic he was dodging, smiled, "Yeah. It looks good. You did great, I barely even helped." and they both knew that was a lie, really, seeing as Ward was not sure what he even just built. He did not exactly disagree with the topic change though. Fitz leaned over the table and grabbed the device, a three pointed triangle shaped box with broken down speaker box as what Ward had taken to calling the 'eye'. Really the 'device' was a box full of wires and bits hastily screwed together tightly. Had it been anyone else inspecting it and telling him it could disable a SHIELD tracker, Ward would have pronounced them insane. Fitz though, this was his field, and Ward had a disturbing amount of trust in the make-shift EMP.

Fitz held it for a moment and hesitated, "Ward, this is going to hurt."

Shrug, "That's fine."

"No, like it may really hurt and I apol...yeah, I'm sorry. If I were in the lab I could have built a much better version and it would be completely painless-" Fitz went to pull the device back, as if reconsidering its use, but Ward caught his wrist and pulled it closer. There was no going back now unless Fitz planned to dig in his throat with a knife. Ward refrained from mentioning that part.

"Do it."

"But…"

"Fitz, just turn the damn thing on."

He did it. The only physical indication was Fitz pressing the device to where they had found the tracker and flicking the 'switch' installed on the side. No, it was barely a switch, it was literally a nail hanging out of the box. No light, no sparks, no bursts of energy appeared and anyone who did not feel like something just popped in the muscle of their neck would have pronounced it a dud. To his credit, Ward did not yell, scream, or make any sound what-so-ever. His teeth clenched together tightly and he squeezed Fitz's wrist so hard it probably hurt the scientist but to his credit Fitz did not complain and held the box in place for the full minute they had discussed.

Then he took it away, pronounced 'It's over', and threw the thing on the table like it burned him.

Ward rubbed at the burning area of his throat and fixed Fitz with a glare, "I may not be bleeding out but I'm not so convinced that was better than the knife. Why does it burn?"

Still seated, Fitz shuffled a bit in his chair, "Well...we just burned a microchip. In you. I literally overloaded it. So..umm...it'll hurt. I'm sorry."

Their lives were absurd sometimes. Here was a head SHIELD scientist apologizing to him, a traitor to SHIELD, for the pain of burning a microscopic tracker in his throat, after said scientist broke him out of the same organizations custody. Where they were going to send him to his brother. He still had to figure out what to do about that problem but the more immediate concern was sitting directly in front of him, worrying at the tablecloth, and generally uncomfortable.

"Need to leave soon, rather not alert SHIELD to our location with a breaking and entering charge."

Fitz nodded and started to stand before Ward pulled him back down.

"This is your last chance. I'm grateful for everything you've done Fitz, really, but you need to decide now. I know if you get in touch with Coulson and blame it all on me, they'll buy it. You can go back to your life and your lab. That is what you should do." For the most part, Ward hoped Fitz would do what he said and go back. If he were being honest with himself though, a small part as happy to see Fitz shaking his head, "Fitz, if you stay with me SHIELD will come after us. You may have to do things you are not comfortable with. There are things I have to do." The scientist was retreating back in on himself, arms crossed over his chest and head bowed, and Ward saw it coming clear as day, "I'm not going to make the decision for you but Leo, you should really…"

"I'm staying. I can't face them like this. And...you called me Leo."

So he had.

"Are you sure? Last chance. I can't guarantee your safety or that you'll stay happy with this."

Fitz looked up at him and for a moment Ward felt like he were talking to the Fitz that argued with him about a sandwich in a war zone, "I said I'm staying so, Grant, what are we doing now?"

It was decided then and Ward could not say he was entirely unhappy with it, "Fine, there are some things I need to tell you before we make any further plans then. First off, I made Skye a promise and I plan to keep it. We need to find her father..."


Author Note

Don't know how feel about own writing.
Regardless, we will be back on track next chapter.
Ground work laid and all that.
Also, I received a PM that the way I write Fitz is depressing. Sorry?

Chapter Text

Author Note

Apparently I do these for every chapter now.
I like writing Bobbi, apparently.


Forty-one hours with no contact and suddenly they show up on a traffic camera in Hill City? Specialist Bobbi Morse did not believe mistakes like this happened naturally. Her training was careful when it came to detection evasion and there was no reason to believe Grant Ward, an agent of the same rank as her, had any less skill at remaining hidden. Her suspicions were apparently shared by May as the two agreed during the incredible tense mission briefing. They had not 'found' them - Ward had intentionally given away his location for some purpose they were not aware of yet. Hell, it could have been just to taunt them, who knew with sociopaths. She would have preferred to go in hot on her own with a sniper rifle and deal with the situation but under the circumstances Coulson had shot her down quick and rough. Apparently their deal with the senator still held water if they got his brother to him quickly and alive. Really though, Coulson and the rest were not fooling anybody and Bobbi knew the real reason for a shadow op was about 5'9" and had a thing for cardigans, mechanical engineering, and apparently treasonous bastards.

Who really left a note to let their friends know, 'Hey, I'm betraying you, but I swear I'm not Hydra.'

"Trip, anything on your end yet?"

Bobbi's position was a bench across from the station with a dime store book of poetry in her lap. Going theory was that Ward had not made her. First Jemma and then Sky also assured the team that even if he saw her, Fitz would not give her up, and while Bobbi found their faith cute she'd still invested in a bottle of red dye, shades, and a clip in nose ring to put her on just the right side of 'hipster-chic' to get looked over. All of it was new except for the leather jacket - she had those.

"Nothing going on in here. I guess our boy will be coming in the front door after-all."

Bobbi looked up when a bus pulled in and used 'checking the number' as an excuse to check her surroundings. People were everywhere in various shades of dressed down with the heavy sun bathing down on them. If this has been leisure she'd have shrugged off the jacket but that made a shoulder holster a bit hard to hide. Nothing on her end yet, "Seems so. How nice of him." Just another sign that something was off about this op. From their intel Ward and 'captive' had stolen a truck about four miles from the playground to make their escape, why switch to a bus now? In broad daylight? Bobbi grew progressively less comfortable with the op and crossed her legs, leaned back, and tilted her head up to admire the sky. Good sight more entertaining than bad poetry. Nice, cloudy day, great for hiding a stealth jet miles and miles above their head from view.

"Anything on your end May?"

"Nothing yet. This is the their destination though. Trip, do you have eyes on his cache?"

Another part of this operation that Coulson had outlined and she disagreed with. For one thing, why had they left a cache this close to the playground anyway? Two, why were they going to allow the bastard to actually get his hands on the damn thing. Made more sense to rig up a bomb to it and just let matters take care of themselves. Even if Ward managed to avoid the blast it would take care of any assets he may have hidden in the locker. Weapons, money, these were all things you did not want to get into the hands of trained Hydra soldiers, right? No though, no bombs, collateral damage or something, Coulson had said, though once again Bobbi had her own concerns over that. Sometimes a commander had to make the hard decisions to handle threats. Fury would have dealt with the situation already when it concerned not once but two traitors.

Oh, speaking of, "Eyes on the prize. They're here. I've got positive ID on the targets. South quarter of the station, heading towards the terminal, Trip they'll be on you in three." Bobbi looked back down at her poetry while inspecting the two. They walked close together, eyes fixed ahead though Bobbi could see micro-movements from the more-recent traitor, he had clearly been told to ignore everything and struggled with it. Good, one trained operative was enough. Her concerns went up somewhat to see Ward, despite the dry heat, bundled up in a jacket suited to a temp at least forty below the current. Either he was packing or this cache had a lot more than they could carry in the duffle bag slung over his shoulder. Nothing she could do about it though considering the two were close enough to hear her talking to herself; it'd be up to Trip to figure it out himself.

'Oh, well that was not in the mission brief.'

The two had moved past her into the station without incident, Fitz apparently not recognizing her despite the close quarters, and were out of her field for now. Bobbi was just there to mark arrival and provide back-up to Trip if the occasion rose. Officially anyway, she knew her new director well enough to understand there was more to it than just that. One does not put a trained interrogator and reader on look-out duty just for the manpower, "May, correct me if I'm wrong here, but Skye and Ward here had a thing right? Like, a kidnapping, stalker thing, right?"

May's response held the expected lack of emotion but came slower than normal, "Yes. Why?"

Oh. Well, that added a bit of perspective. Bobbi's work-up of their targets recategorized itself as she snapped the poetry book shut and uncrossed her legs. On the off-chance Trip failed in his mission she had to be in position to board once of the busses pulling into the station. It was just a matter of guessing ahead to which one they would use. "Funny, I've had some guys chasing after me that were probably a little psycho." There was a hissed, 'Bitch.', over the open comm line that sounded like Hunter but they all knew to ignore that, "Never had to watch them hold hands with another guy though. That a common behaviour for these two pre-Hydra or something?"

Silence greeted her over the open comm line before four voices spoke all at once.

"Hot damn, you were not kidding. They are holding hands," Trip.

"No. As near as I can tell, their contact was minimal at best prior," May.

"See, I thought the labby might have had a bit of fruit in 'em," Hunter.

And the final one, the loudest one, was the voice of Jemma Simmons cry of, "Oh, Fitz, no!"

When had she been allowed back into Coulson's office?

"Everyone, keep your mind on the mission. We can worry over those things later on. For all we know it is a threat on Fitz's life or alternatively a means of control. Until we know the whole situation, ignore it." And there it was, Coulson taking charge as he did, putting them all on the path to once-again thinking of the lab-rat as a victim. During the extreme tense pre-mission brief, when Skye and Jemma had quickly gotten themselves dismissed from the mission through multiple levels of denial, everyone had made all the excuses. They had theories on everything from mind control to blackmail to, surprisingly Jemma's suggestion, that Ward had taken 'emotional advantage' of the scientist in the wake of his injury. Coulson seemed to like that one. He made enough of a show saying he should have 'dealt with the matter the first time Fitz found him', whatever that meant exactly, and what did it matter really? They even kept it up when the tracker installed in Ward went live only to be deactivated instantly, something that Skye and Jemma agreed could have only been done by the brilliant scientist. To Bobbi, whose cover had literally been sniffing out traitors, it seemed kind of sad that they all fell into the routine so easy. Granted, the Fitz kid had gotten his changing alliance over on her as well, but she at least could accept the facts as they were. The scientist betrayed them and helped a traitor, Victoria Hand's killer, escape from the justice that was owed him. That was all the rationalizing she needed.

"Target is in the cache. Another duffle, probably money and identification. Should I move in?" Bobbi could picture Trip hiding behind something, watching the traitors, and just as eager to take them out as she was. Actually no, maybe more so, according to the brief he had worked closely with the two for quite some time. Bobbi knew the powerful rage that went with being betrayed.

May, "Observation only for now. Ward's smart, don't take risks."

"Afraid he'll hurt the 'hostage' or something? Don't think that'll be an issue."

"You've made your point Bobbi. For now though we are working under the assumption of coercion. There is no background evidence to the contrary." Oh, Coulson sounded angry, and Bobbi let it go as she looked between two busses. One bound for Washington D.C., the other Idaho apparently, and who really wanted to head in that direction anyway? She boarded the one for Washington. Made sense if Ward was planning to act against his senator brother and all.

"They...just went into the restroom."

May's voice was quick, "Don't follow. No reason to risk the asset."

Oh, 'asset', apparently even the Cavalry was susceptible to letting her emotions get in this one.

Bobbi actually laughed when Trip responded quickly with, "I don't make a habit of following guys holding hands into the bathroom, you know." Everyone seemed to be stuck on that fact and and she could only assume this behaviour was extremely out of character. Then again, this was the guy who had fooled them all for ages, so it should not have surprised her that they had carefully controlled concepts of Ward. Just meant she had to be more on her toes and keep a fluid mind about the whole thing - least until they bagged the bastard and delivered him to his brother.

"Shit, we're made. No one intercept, Ward's strapped on a dead man switch good enough to level this whole place. Coulson, May, orders?" Trip sounded panic'd, probably eager to take the kill shot they were forbidden, but Bobbi was a bit...confused? That did not match the work-up for Grant Ward. He may have attempted suicidal early in captivity but the guy displayed a strong survival instinct otherwise. A dead-man switch was the last vestige of the desperate. It didn't match up with what she knew of him already, especially what little she had managed to find about the comradery between agent and scientist. Assuming her theory was correct and Ward had recruited Leopold Fitz during their two man mission near Russia, then botched a faked-murder-attempt and actually damaged the other, it would not fit in for Ward to kill them both. Mind made up she reached into her jacket and gripped the handle of her ICER.

"May, you're the head here, requesting to engage. I do not believe he will activate the explosives with his little friend around." A burst of voices answered her, not least of which Skye (who had apparently been allowed back in as well or bullied her way in) yelled, "Hell no! You don't know Ward, he's certifiable, he'll blow you all up." and Coulson who snipped a, "Stand down Agent Morse." but even though he may have been the director, Bobbi was in the field, and that meant decisions deferred to her current S.O, Melinda May, the Cavalry, one of the most feared woman in the industry right up there with the Black Widow, Natasha Romanova herself. Bobbi knew that she could trust the other woman to keep her emotions in check and do what needed to be done.

...Which is why it was so surprising.

"Negative. Do not engage. Keep your distance and observe for now."

What?

"Heard. I've taken up position on a bus, Hunter has another. Whichever they decide to get on we should be able to ride the whole way with them." Oh, wasn't this just her lucky day, "Cutting contact, they're boarding with me. Bus to Washington D.C." Just to be on the safe side she reached up, twirling one of the newly red locks of her hair, and slipped the transmitter from her ear. Her quarry was too trained for that. People favored one ear when listening to a transmitter and she would not let that kind of slip be what sold her out. It smoothly fell into her pocket as she adjusted, put on an air of general boredom, and started reading up on poetry. Luck remained on her side - or rather, careful planning - as the twosome came to a stop near her seat and Fitz looked around while the taller man worked to rack their bags. She noted, peeking up through her shades, that the scientist had yet to carry anything. He walked with his arms crossed tight over his chest and looked nervous, glancing around himself at all the people, and Bobbi revamped her previous detailing to include a serious case of social anxiety. Useful thing to know about.

The empty seat beside her was not a coincidence.

"Excuse me, is this seat taken?" It was Ward, not Fitz who spoke to her, the scientist had yet to even look her way. Hm, Ward was kind of handsome, just trim down the beard a bit. Despite her plans to shoot him at earliest convenience Bobbi could appreciate a handsome man. Plus, it helped her cover, and she gave him a cheeky, flirtatious smile and shook her head. Little hair toss, curve the smile just right, keep herself in check but display enough interest with the eyes...and none of it mattered because the traitor just nodded at her and turned to his partner, "Fitz, sit here. I'll be right behind you, okay?" Bobbi arc'd a brow, not even minding as it was the appropriate response to her cover, when Fitz nodded and reached out a hand, as if to grab Ward's, only to have the taller man shake his head and gently push the scientist into the seat. The scientist had still yet to speak and now, beside her, he would not look her away at all and just kept up a thousand yard stare at the seat before him. It was somewhat unnerving, maybe Jemma and Skye had a thing with the whole 'brainwashing' angle, or at least Bobbi started to think before she noticed one more very important detail...he was subtly leaning away from her.

Shit.

She felt something nudge the back of her seat and cursed up a storm internally as Ward's spoke from behind her, "Do anything rash and I'll put a bullet in you. And remember, anything happen me and we all go up in flames, got it? So what will it be, nice ride or not?" and damn, Bobbi regretted removing her communicator now. Not wanting to tempt the man she refrained from turning in her seat to face him, she nodded and felt the pressure at her back recede. May had warned her that Ward was good and now Bobbi felt pretty damn stupid for not taking her serious. Still, assuming he did not kill her later on, this offered certain opportunities.

The driver announced their departure and shut the door, pulling out of the station. May and the others had probably already figured out what happened, at least Bobbi hoped so. They were probably already tracking the bus from base and May personally. It'd not surprise her to have a jet land on top of the bus at any moment though it would at least take them to outer city for that.

"So, taking me as a second hostage, huh? Nice to see you only have one trick, Ward."

"Not a hostage." It was the first words Bobbi had ever actually heard come out of Fitz's mouth and when she looked at him, the techie met her eye before quickly looking away. So he could speak, granted it was mumbling. There went Jemma's theory as to him being an unwilling accomplice. She would definitely see him taking up Ward's old cell while the treacherous bastard behind her went on to his brother as planned. Hopefully the senator did not have anything pleasant in store for him. Assuming, after she was done with him, there was any left to ship.

"So if not a hostage then what, Hydra agent? How long have you been in the fold eh, Leo?"

Ward made a sound from behind them and the gun was on her again, jabbing sharper than before, though he did nothing to stop Fitz from talking to her, "I'm...I'm not. Not Hydra, that is. Not anything really anymore, I guess. I can't be SHIELD now right?" And it was pathetic, really, to hear all of this coming from the accomplice of a man with a bomb strapped to them but Bobbi kept her face the very image of cool as she nodded. No, it would be impossible for Leopold Fitz to return to SHIELD now and not at least face trial for aiding and abetting a traitor. Granted, he stood a remarkable chance considering the 'trial' would consist of the three highest ranking agents on hand and Coulson and May made up the other parts of the trio. Bobbi was fairly certain that the two had a bleeding heart for the odd little scientist that would outweigh her vote. Hell, throw Simmons into the mix and this guy was liable to walk free without a scratch. No, it would definitely be better for the team if she handled the situation in-field first chance she got. If that gun was not taken off her back soon she'd be handling both situations, Senator be damned.

Fitz wasn't looking at her anymore, instead watching himself worry the sleeve of his unbuttoned red and white flannel shirt. There were so many nervous habits that they all jumped out at her at once and somewhat confused her read. The toying with his clothes, leg bouncing, chewing on his bottom lip, and not to mention the wrecked fingernails. Someone needed a sedative in the worst way or maybe a stimulant to get him above a whisper, "Was anyone...umm...did I hurt anyone? I hope I didn't. I know Ward shot May and I'm really worried but Simmons was there so...she…?"

"May's alive. You," Bobbi finally looked back at Ward over her shoulder and he waved two fingers of his non-gun wielding hand at her, smile on his face, "probably won't be once she catches up to you. Don't know what history you two had before but shooting the Calvary is pretty damn stupid." The bastard's smile did not even flinch though beside her the bundle of nerves known as Fitz actually flinched. She couldn't blame him really. May was one of those people you did not want to piss off. What a shame she was still recovering from the leg wound - Bobbi would have paid to see Melinda May tear this guy apart with her bare hands. Apparently she'd done it once and Bobbi smirked at Ward, "Real stupid. What, was it revenge for the nail gun or something?"

Instead of rising to her bait Ward just shrugged half-heartedly, "Sometimes my foot hurts."

"Good."

She wasn't getting anything out of him. Bobbi instead turned her attention back to Fitz seeing as Ward had apparently not instructed him against talking. Stupid, Bobbi could already see the scientist's bleeding-heart mouth would have been a liability were she in the traitor's situation.

"Jemma seemed really worried about you." He flinched, a physical, near full body spasm, and Bobbi narrowed her eyes, "It's not too late. I know everyone says that, always, but in your case I doubt it is. I'm sure they would forgive you. Coulson already figures this guy," She pointed over her shoulder with a thumb, "took advantage of your condition to make you help him. See, I don't believe that though. I think you two had this planned out beforehand and are acting on a plot." Fitz was shaking his head, not answering her in words but in his actions, and she pressed expecting Ward to step in at any moment but he hadn't yet, "Just tell me this one thing, why work with the guy after he obviously fucked your little 'injury' plot and actually hurt you, eh?"

Fitz made a sound like he was choking and Bobbi noticed how hard he was breathing, in and out, gasping for air with his eyes closed tight against the world. She had seen people have them enough to know it, a panic attack. She'd pressed too hard. There was no reason for her to care but this was her one chance to get valuable information so she looked back at Ward, "He's having a panic attack. You want to deal with your boy here?" and the traitor's eyes were on Fitz but he did not rise, did not reach out, no more of that hand holding that they had seen at the station. Instead he pressed his knee against the back of the scientist's chair and pushed.

"Fitz, we talked about this, focus on your breathing. Think of something else."

The scientist nodded, breath still ragged, and closed his eyes so tight it looked almost painful as Ward turned his attentions back to Bobbi, "Say another word about that and I'll kill you."

Ah, that was informative.

She raised both her hands, nodding without speaking, and settled them back into her lap. With Fitz beside her in some meditative, brain-addled trance and Ward staring at the back of her head, Bobbi settled in for an intensely uncomfortable ride. All around them passengers were talking and the three sat in a circle of silence as Bobbi went over all of this in her head. Coulson had not indicated that Ward had protective feelings towards the scientist though, as she had surmised from his threat, they likely stemmed from the accident. Assuming the two had been working together then it would have been a grave breach of trust between them and it spoke leagues to their mission that, even after a coma, Fitz had held to it enough to help Ward escape. The alternative theory, which she thought less likely, was that Fitz had been collateral damage Ward had a preconceived fondness for from his cover. She knew the feeling if that were the case. Bobbi had been under cover in hostile territory enough to know that certain people just stuck on you. It was nearly impossible to not develop an emotional attachment to anyone during covert ops. Then again, from the dossiers she had read on Ward, it seemed less likely, especially considering his overtly infatuation displayed towards Skye, that the resident head-engineer would be that bond.

Bobbi had a lot of questions for Coulson when she got back about stuff not put in the file.

"So are we going to ride in silence the whole thirtysomething hour trip to Washington DC?" God, she hoped not. Staying awake after a day of no-sleep already for that extensive of a time was going to be hell but she refused to sleep with a Hydra agent standing guard on her.

Ward honest-to-goodness laughed and just for that, she liked him even less, "No. You won't be making the entire trip with us. I figure if I let you off at the next stop it'll do wonders towards giving them some faith in me again. You know, I still think of them as my team, even though Coulson made it clear that's not happening." There was an understood 'Yet, anyway.' attached to that which rang loud and clear to Bobbi. Another thing to add to the list of adjectives to describe the man behind her - deluded. "I'm thinking of letting you off in Omaha, sound good? I'd let you radio ahead and tell them for pick-up but I'm sure you understand why I can't do that, sorry." He wasn't really sorry, his voice said that much, and Bobbi bounced her curls around as she shrugged.

"No big deal. Strange men dropping me off in Nebraska sounds like an adventure."

Around twenty minutes of silence followed as the trio listened to a woman a few seats up complain about her cheating husband - Bobbi could understand that struggle. She'd taken the time to pull off the shades and drop the clip-on nose ring on the floor. A few times she'd considered making for the ear-bud in her pocket to give the team some warning of what was happening but she really did not doubt Ward's promise to shoot her. SHIELD chasing a person tended to make them desperate - the sociopathic traitor Hydra-agent thing did not help it.

They were out of the city now and a jet had still not descended on the bus to the rescue.

"Ward, can I…"

"Of course."

The whole thing took Bobbi by surprise. Fitz's voice, now that he was finally speaking again, seemed so plaintive and Ward's voice was the warmest she'd heard. The thin scientist moved quick when he needed to. He hoped to his feet and shuffled back a seat, sitting beside Ward and leaving her an aisle to herself. She attempted to turn in her seat to look right at them but the pressure in her lower back increased to keep her facing forward. Apparently she was allowed to listen but not really look, this really was going to be a boring ride. Instead she tilted her head to peer back at them out the corner of her eye. They were doing it again, the hand thing, except instead of just holding hands the scientist had one of Ward's larger hands in his lap, both of his hands wrapped around it, and seemed to be inspecting with his fingers. It would have all been real precious except the traitorous serial killer angle working against the whole situation.

"So you two…?"

Ward didn't answer or seem like he cared to, Fitz did instead with a faraway voice as he turned the other man's hand palm up and started pressing at it, "It helps me focus. My brain, it doesn't stop, and I can't make it stop sometimes, so I...umm...I…" he tuned off and looked to Ward, as if asking for sometime, and the Hydra agent shrugged with a small smile. It was not really an answer to Bobbi's question but she did not mind as much when the off scientist looked at her, eye to eye, and damn if the kid did not have 'kicked-puppy' down flat, "I'm not...well, I don't know, there's only been Jemma, but that's over and it's just it helps and Ward said I could so…" Bobbi turned her head, feeling as if she were auditioning for the exorcist since he would not let her actually turn, and looked at Ward. No confirmation there, no denial, the bastard just lifted a brow and looked at her questioning. For a moment, Bobbi felt bad for the scientist attaching himself to that...then she remembered that Ward was strapped down with C4 and Fitz probably did it. That kind of killed that emotion off along with her desire to worry over their state anymore.

Not a lot to do on the way to wherever they planned to dump her and if Ward said was true, which it likely wasn't but who really knew with crazy, she was safe enough She went ahead and got comfortable as possible with the knowledge a gun was literally aimed at her back at all times.

xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx

The entire day had been one long series of Fitz questioning everything they did and going along with it because Ward had promised him, multiple times, that no one would get hurt. Not just promised, he'd sworn to Fitz that no one would get hurt as long as they did it his way. So far, he had not lied. When Fitz told him about Bobbi sitting outside the station, Ward had done nothing to do her. Ward telling him to set up a kill-switch detonation system with an enormous amount of C4 pulled from a duffle bag? He'd done it, without question, because he trusted Ward after their time together to not actually activate the system. He assembled the explosives to his own personal higher standard, no one would be tampering with it, and apparently surprised Ward himself. Granted, Fitz nearly had a full fledged panic attack in that bathroom until Ward told him to disable it. It was enough that Fitz had built it so perfectly that no one would question the entire thing being a dud...unless they shot him, then it would explode because well, combustion physics and C4. That was the catch. Ward could not detonate it but it would go off if he got shot. That said nothing for stabbing, garrotting, arrows, or any other number of nasty ways Fitz could think of to die, even though the SHIELD team rarely employed any methods like those.

Who knew where the stops would end when it came to them though, mostly Ward?

Now they, well technically Ward but they were both involved, had Bobbi Morse, Jemma's savior, at gunpoint and Fitz felt terrible about the whole situation. Once again, he was trusting in Ward to handle it. He'd hoped to sincerely to not actually run into any members of the team - Jemma or Mack in particular - and though he and Bobbi were not close, she had been nice enough the few times they spoke, and he really did not want her to do anything stupid and make Ward shoot her.

He'd never admit it to anyone but the most she spoke to him, her questions piercing the micro-thin veil of his calm, the more Fitz kind of wished Ward would shoot her. Except, of course not actually shoot her, he just wanted her to stop talking. She had been ah...a...a questioner for SHIELD, he knew that much, and her speaking to him just made Fitz really uncomfortable.

Fitz put up with it until he couldn't anymore and hide from her in the seat behind her with Ward.

It had been awhile since the intimidating woman said anything and Ward had even lowered the gun, kept out of sight thus far by his legs. They had truly settled in for the ride. Bobbi actually looked to be sleeping though Fitz knew that was probably an act. He might not have had training like they did but he knew professional field operatives did not take naps in hostage situations.

He pressed at the base of Ward's index finger and the other man made a low sound, not words but just a noise, and Fitz felt his face heat up. He knew it wasn't normal for him to be so physically attached to Ward. No one could understand it because Fitz himself did not understand it. As he'd told Agent Morse, it was comforting. Well, it kept his mind off things by focusing them on something else. Same principal as what he did in the lab most days. Stare at an old device he'd made and think of ways to improve upon it. Ward was not a device though, he was a man, and Fitz knew that it had not just been Bobbi watching how close he was to the other. Ward either did not see or just ignored the civilians in the train station who gave two men walking hand in hand looks. Then you had Morse asking questions and...Fitz pushed the thoughts aside because they were personal and thinking about himself tended to not have the greatest consequences as of late. He already had enough of an internal freak-out when Ward sat at a kitchen table in the house they broke into and told Fitz he would help him. At first the scientist thought he meant in escaping SHIELD, which confused him since Ward had an even greater need to get away, but then the other had clarified that he meant help him with his situation.

...and apparently allowing Fitz free reign of his hands was part of that.

How Ward planned to 'help him', he did not know. He'd made a joke, dark as it was, that 'fixing him' would not be as easy as popping the hood on an engine. Ward seemed convinced it was very possible if they just found Skye's father. Apparently the man knew things no one else did, at least Raina had assured him of that, and Ward felt he might know something. Failing that there was the great and terrifying science of Hydra that Ward had offered to steal and Fitz shot that down quickly because anything relating to Hydra just had to be evil in some way. Despite having worked for them Ward laughed and agreed with him of that synopsis behind most Hydra science.

Apparently before that segment of their adventure began they had to deal with Ward's brother.

The other man, who was now reclining with in the seat with his head tilted to the side, watching Bobbi but relaxing at the same time, had been very blunt with Fitz in that kitchen. He'd explained about Skye's father, his promise to her, and told Fitz a few things about his brother Christian and his mother that the scientist wished he could unhear. It had actually gone further than Fitz expected as once he had the other sat down and answering things he just kept asking them, compulsively, knowing the other would keep telling him the truth. After all his worries about 'How much of the Ward I knew really was a lie?' it helped to find out that for the most part, with some great differences of character and discretion, their stories nearly matched up. There had been lines though they neither one of them had crossed. Fitz had asked something about training under Garrett and Ward, whom had answered everything else immediately, kind of froze and looked pained. Fitz quickly assured him it was fine, some things they did not need to talk about, and Ward said they would eventually, when he could figure out how to explain it. Later on Fitz had to assure him of the same thing when Ward asked about the coma and Fitz just…

He could not talk about it. How do you explain not being able to chew your own food or talk without drooling for a day after waking up to the person who did it to you? Without making them feel terrible? It had been easy to just repeat what Ward said about Garrett, he did not know how to explain it yet and they could discuss it later. Hopefully, in Fitz's mind, they never would. It had been bad enough that Coulson and Simmons have been there for most of his recovery trying to help and ultimately just frustrating him. Skye had cried when she asked and he, without thinking about it, told her. She cried just because they had not come in time to save them. Ward would not cry, that much Fitz knew for certain as Ward probably never had, but it was unnecessary to heep on top of the pile of guilt Fitz already surmised the ex-agent had about everything.

The fingers of Ward's hand curled in and closed over Fitz knuckles.

"Slow your thoughts down. Your breathing is getting erratic again."

He felt his face heating up and lowered it, trying to hide his flush, because even though he certainly found the touching calming it did not become any less embarrassing, "Sorry. Just...I know you said they would be there but I...I didn't think…" He looked up at the seat in front of them where Bobbi looked for all the world to be napping and Ward shook his head. No, he was not to say anything in front of the SHIELD agent about their plans. They needed to do something about her because Fitz knew the longer Ward held her at gunpoint the worse things would get.

Fitz jumped in his seat when breath tickled his ear and oh, there was Ward, whispering to him so low the scot had to really focus to even hear him, "The next stop is in about twenty minutes. We'll get off there and let her go. Don't worry, I don't plan to do anything to her. Just insurance that the team will not try and get us here." And Fitz nodded, head bowed, as the fingers closed over his tightened. It was meant to be reassuring and for possibly the first time that afternoon Fitz felt a smile on his own face. Ward mirrored the gesture and went back to his original position.

Their hands were still connected. It felt good. Fitz usually liked to know what he was doing.

He really had no clue anymore.


Author Note

HOW DOES ONE SLASH
WITHOUT COMING ACROSS HEAVY HANDED

Chapter Text

Author Note

I have taken a break from watching the show to work on this.
Show can resume once I catch up to the mid-season in this fic, haha.


"A single unit, please."

"Yes Sir, may I have an ID and your names please?"

There was no hesitation as Ward pulled out his super-fake (as Fitz claimed when he first saw it) driver's license and passed it over to the cherry lipped, blonde receptionist. She smiled at him and he reflexively smiled back - returning the gesture naturally made people more comfortable. Something there threw him off though, a little tilt, ah. Ward threw a glance over his shoulder to quickly check on Fitz before leaning closer to the girl, "Please don't stare, it'll be worse if he notices. Bad day, y'know?" and while that told her the better part of nothing she nodded, looking solely at Ward this time, and passed off the keycard.

"Right, sorry, that was rude of me, Mr. Striker."

He laughed, quietly, and leaned forward with his elbows on the counter, "Just call me Douglas. No worries." His accent went progressively deeper the more he talked, adjusting to something like along the lines of a southern guy but not enough to be ridiculous. One more detail he could adapt at need be, "We might be staying for up to a week while Logan over there visits with doctors." Ward looked back to 'point out what he meant' but really to check on Fitz again. It was definitely getting worse. Somewhere around the time they entered Boston proper the scientist had taken a turn. A few minutes after the initial shaking started, Fitz stopped communicating at all. He was mobile, he'd walked himself into the hotel lobby, but his eyes kept straight ahead and the shaking looked nearly seizing. Ward knew, with a tertiary glance, that if they did not get to the room soon he'd be carrying the scientist and that would call entirely too much attention, "Ah, not to be rude," He looked back and read her nametag, ", Jessie but can I go ahead and get that key? I think being stuck on a plane made it worse so if you could…?" Maybe this was good actually. Fitz was clearly too old to be Ward's kid and he did not have a fake ID yet - they had to fix that soon - and checking in would have been a hassle. Ward was not enough of an asshole to be thankful for the others condition though as Jessie rushed to hand him the key.

"It's really nice of you to take care of him. You two have a great evening."

"Appreciated."

He nearly sprinted back across the lobby to the chair Fitz had claimed by the door. The doorman, a college age guy in a black suit, had been staring at him. That pissed Ward off a bit though he did not let it show on his face and was moderately certain Fitz had stolen the guy's chair. He mumbled an apology to the guy while moving past and kneeled down in front of the scientist. It had been harder than normal to leave him. Fitz liked to stay close but Ward had to practically guide him into the hotel earlier, both hands on his shoulders, and Fitz had almost not let him walk away to the check-in without a sacrifice. In the short time it took Ward to get their key, Fitz had managed to run his arms through the sleeves of Ward's abandoned leather jacket but wore it backwards, face buried in the collar, and arms crossed tight across his chest in the too-big sleeves. It felt different than the hand holding which had seemed strange to Ward at first but had come easier as time went on, to see Fitz so utterly wound up in him. Carefully, so as to not make anything worse, Ward pushed on the scot's shoulders until his head came out of the collar and they could see each other. Something had definitely gone wrong. Fitz's eyes, even faced directly into Ward's own by a hand on his shoulder and one on his right cheek, were jumping. Left, right, horribly out of focus and then back in, focused on Ward for an instant before he lost them again. Without a choice, they had to get out of the lobby, he pulled Fitz up by his arms and slung the right over his shoulder, supporting almost the scientist's entire weight, and marched to the elevator. Ward could feel every eye in the lobby on them but there was nothing else to do. He was just happy that Fitz's legs seemed to work on instinct and the shorter man was walking, not having to be dragged. Holding one of Fitz's arm in place over his shoulder and another around the slim scot's waist, he had to wait while the doorman rushed over to push the elevator button for them. They were attracting too much attention no matter how he looked at it. No one had taken a picture - that's what mattered.

The elevator ride was a challenge, Fitz's dead weight versus personal movements seemed to be decreasing. At one point Ward shifted only to have the scientist's head loll into his shoulder. Externally, Ward kept his face carefully blank in case anyone saw what he was thinking, even Fitz as unlikely as it was. Internally? Ward was, as much as his extensive training allowed, panicking. The engineer had episodes of course, moments where he forgot words and went off somewhere else for a time, but nothing so bad as this. Were these commonplace? Fitz had been forthcoming about his condition that first day after some casual breaking-and-entering. Had he underplayed it? As Ward shuffled them down the hallway, considering on multiple occasions just picking the scientist up and dashing the rest of the way, the realization that he did not know how to handle this mounted. What was the correct play here? Obviously, if this were serious, he could not take Fitz to a hospital - too many security cameras and ways for him to be ID'd and SHIELD to descend. Ward had, though he'd never admit it to Fitz despite his promise to never lie to him again, considered calling Coulson and leaving Fitz while he slept multiple times over the course of the week. Now though? The more he thought about it; he knew he should.

This was not something that a bit of determination and passable first aid could handle.

The room was small, third floor in a building of twelve, with a tiny 'kitchen' area and single bedroom that got Ward a raised eyebrow when he requested it, every time so far. He never actually combated the idea though. Their notion worked for him as an alternative form of cover - it was the same reason Ward had done nothing to deny it with Bobbi. For the rest of the world it got them forcefully ignored on occasion and for SHIELD, Fitz's team, it just looked more like Grant was manipulating him. That was an acceptable smoke-screen. Everyone could just think what they wanted about the one bedroom situation while Ward slept on the couch and forced an overly-sacrificing Leopold Fitz to take the bedroom in each place they stayed. That was where the ex-agent took Fitz now, more dragging him for real than walking alongside him at this point, into the bedroom. Rather than just dump Fitz on the bed he lowered him slowly into a sit, his body immediately slumping forward until his forehead nearly bumped Ward's, and shook the other by his shoulders for attention, "Fitz. Can you hear me?" Nothing. Not even a blink. Wait, when had Fitz blinked last? Cursoring his memory Ward cursed to himself quietly when it became apparently he did not know. Far as he could recall FItz had stared unceasingly in the elevator. In his rush to put the scientist down Ward had not turned on the light so he leaned forward, using the light of the den-area through the door to see clearly. No, his eyes were not bloodshot, but they were flinching at the edges with strain. They had been open for awhile. Not for the first time, Ward considered going back on his no-hospital policy and calling an ambulance while he climbed out the window. He snapped in front of Fitz's face once, twice, three times, and received no response then either. Shake the shoulders? No response - Fitz was not here.

Ward sighed and pushed the shorter man back, one hand behind his neck and the other holding his arm, until he was actually laying horizontally across the bed. The temptation was there to push the scientist's eyes closed or take off his shoes but Ward did neither. Instead he stood there, looking down at the near comatose man, and weighed his options. A hospital was dangerous, even if he called paramedics, as Hydra likely had a system searching for any usage of their real names. Not to mention that without access to the medical files within 'new SHIELD' (as Ward had taken to calling it in his head) a doctor would have no way to effectively treat the other man. There was really only one group of people who could really handle the situation. Fitz would be angry, he might even hate him for it, but Ward knew what he had to do before this got any worse if it would.

It was his fault the scientist was like this and Ward, despite his training, could not let it get worse.

"Fitz," He leaned forward, one arm on the bed so he had eye contact with Fitz again, while speaking, "I don't know if you can hear me but I'll be right back, okay? I have to make a call. If you wake up I want you to stay right here, okay? Just wait for me to come back." It was the first lie he'd told the scientist since his escape actually. Ward would not be coming back. There had been numbers, mostly for emergencies, that Coulson had instituted for his team and had them monitored in case someone used them. Since his defection Ward knew they were not in use anymore but knowing Skye she would still watch them. Once they got his message the team would likely arrive in under an hour, hopefully before Fitz woke up and panicked, and they'd see about getting him the care he so obviously needed. It would be tight but Ward knew he could vanish within an hour. The fact that Fitz would probably never forgive him stung but was acceptable.

"Okay, I'm going now. I'll be back-"

Ward never got to push away from the bed. Before he could stand Fitz's right hand, the 'good one' as he called it, caught the material of his shirt and pulled. Caught off guard, luckily able to restrain himself from breaking the scientist's wrist automatically, Ward tumbled forward and landed at an angle over Fitz's body. They were not quite flush against each other, the ex-agent held himself up by a fist in the comforter and a knee pressed down between Fitz's, but closer than they had ever been with the shorter man's face pressed into the crook of Ward's arm. As uncomfortable as the position was Ward stayed stock-still, barely breathing, as he waited for...something. Nothing came, Fitz neither spoke nor moved further as Ward hovered above him. That changed when Ward attempted to move again after a few minutes of just listening to the other breath and remaining as quiet as possible. He attempted to push up from the bed only to feel the fist in his shirt tighten considerably, pulling him back, as Fitz's breathing deepened. Ward could not see his face - the scientist had pressed it into his ribs at an impossible angle.

"Fitz, you need to let me up. I have to get you help-"

"M'fine." It was mumbled, barely decipherable, but it was Fitz actually speaking for the first time in three hours and Ward grabbed onto it. He quit trying to move at all as he felt Fitz's face turn, his nose brushing across the ex-agent's shirt, as the scientist presumably got more comfortable.

"You don't...you don't have to call them." And there it was. Ward started to argue but refrained, dropping his head on the sheets, and waited for it. He prepared himself for Fitz to call him out on his lie, that he'd come back, and start to question if he had told any other lies. Ward knew it was stupid - he had made a promise to never lie, it was doomed to be broken - but the thought of actually breaking it to Fitz of all people stung, even if it had been a good reason. The accusation never came. Instead Fitz shuffled a bit, pulling his feet up onto the bed and Ward felt knees brush painfully against his side but did not even flinch. What had caused it? Before, Fitz had been unable to even move and now he seemed better, if still jerky in his movements judging by the knees, and nothing had changed really. Ward was confused, a feeling he hated, but he kept the frustrations inside as he felt a hand grab at the hem of his shirt and tug up weakly.

"Off."

What? It was a whisper, Ward responded with one, "Fitz, I'm not sure if…"

Ward shut up, feeling the other's head motion against his ribs and froze for a moment. The hand holding had been one thing, it was close and comforting and Ward could distance himself from the sensation as needed. It was for Fitz's benefit. This though was different and Ward's internal debate apparently went on too long as Fitz let out a breathy laugh that almost made Ward jump at how unexpected it was. Against his skin. Fitz had nearly worked Ward's shirt up to the point his arms blocked it going any further with such slowness the ex-agent barely noticed.

"Off. Grant. Please."

That was not fair, using his first name. Wait, why did Ward even care about fair? That was not a concept he'd learned in the cabin. He took orders well though, despite everything else, and Ward held himself up by the knee alone as he pulled the black tee over his head. It was cold, hotels always overcompensate in the summer, and Fitz's face felt like a brand as it pushed back into his side. Grant waited for something else, some new command to be issued. He still had jeans and a pair of boots while Fitz remained fully clothed in his layered shirt and cardigan, jeans, and cloth shoes with the leather jacket still layered over his front. It was easier this way - just follow direction and deal with whatever happens - though this situation was a bit different. This was Fitz; awkward, skinny Fitz who once argued with him over a sandwich in a warzone, and not Garrett. There was no punishment following him for disobeying these commands. Nothing would be taken away from him. It should have been easy to stand up and walk away, leave Coulson a message, and break Fitz's trust as he had others before. Yet no, Ward stayed, uncomfortable as hell as he waited to be told to remove something else. To do something else. That he'd do, without iron clad orders, and while he knew it had something to do with the scientist Ward was not exactly sure why. It felt fundamentally different from how things had been back then.

"Lay down already." More a mumble than words but Ward listened, easing himself down off his knee to lay on his side, facing Fitz, easily available for whatever. Apparently he'd done wrong when Fitz hand pressed against his chest, flush against his skin, and pushed him over until Ward was flat on his back with his arm thrown out. The ex-agent was ready for whatever may happen but it took him by surprise, just a tad, when instead of ask anything else of him Fitz shuffled his body over, clothed chest flush against Ward's side, an arm thrown over the front of his stomach, and head buried in the crook of his arm. Internally, Ward was confused...and laughing.

It was closer than anyone had gotten since...well, it'd been a long time since someone cuddled.

"Stay. Sleep." It was not the command he'd expected, it was mumbled into his arm at practically inaudible levels, and yet Ward nodded his assent. No, he went the extra mile and slowly, so as to not jostle the unaware Fitz, crooked his arm so that instead of being straight out it rested on the scientist's back. The touching thing was strange - especially in a manner that now that Ward understood it felt incredibly nonsexual and should have been awkward but honestly wasn't - but he could deal with it. No, it was definitely something he could do. There were not many debts Ward found important but the one he had to the skinny, finally stone still, scientist at his side was by far the most important. Fitz had not asked for more but Ward, with time to think now as he was not tired at all, knew he would have honored it. Which meant he cared, damn.

Caring about things is a weakness.

"Fuck you, Garrett."

Fitz must have already been asleep as he made no response to Ward talking to the ghost of his dead former master. Nor did he wake up an hour later when his human pillow, unable to sleep, pulled out the burner phone and stared it for awhile. At one point he'd even typed in the numbers for one of Coulson's emergency lines and hovered, finger twitching, over the call button. One press, one voice mail, and Fitz would be back with the team and Ward would be off to Christian. Oh, he could have escaped had he any motivation to move from his current spot. No, if he pressed the button they would find him still laying there, and Ward knew that. It was only one of the many reasons that he sighed and tossed the phone so that it slid off the bed to the floor. The arm wrapped around Fitz tugged him a bit closer as Ward attempted, for the first time in several days, to relax and actually get real sleep. No watch, no light nap, but the real thing just this once. If someone found them he could deal with it when it happened.

xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx

Fitz knew two things as he woke up: he was warm, very warm, almost uncomfortably so, and his shoes were still on. Disregarding the (many) times he fell asleep on the lab cot meant for Jemma's patients, too enraptured in a project to quit, Fitz did not sleep with shoes on. The pants he had on were definitely not pajamas either. He's fallen asleep in his clothes, delightful.

There was a sound, a pulse, below his ear and that sound, so distinctive, made Fitz aware of a third and possibly the most important of all factors: he was sleeping on a person. His pillow was a human being and there was only one particular person it could be right now. Eyes still closed, Fitz analyzed his current situation with Ward. His head clearly rested on the other man's chest if he were feeling hearing his heart. His shirtless chest considering how Fitz's cheek felt, not to mention his arm that wrapped over the other male's stomach. Did Ward have on…? The Scot peeked an eye open and then closed it again - Ward still had on pants. It was just his shirt missing. FItz had all of his clothes on and Ward still had his pants which meant, despite their current position, nothing had happened more than sleep. The scientist let out a sigh of relief and then froze as the arm he had not noticed earlier, curled around his body, shifted and pressed closer to him. Ward's hand was on his ass. No, this could not be a real thing, clearly it was a dream or he had lost the last vestiges of his sanity. If he just drifted off back to sleep it would…

Five minutes later Fitz was not only wide awake but had a much less comfortable issue.

Slow as he may have tried to subtly shift his hips away from Ward's he was still too fast. Ward tensed, the arm down Fitz's back coiling and ready, and Fitz squeezed his eyes shut and waited. He'd woken him up. Memories of last night were coming back and while Fitz knew fragments of how they'd ended up this way he still expected Ward to push him away. Letting him have the silly, yet comforting hand holding was one thing but this was a step up and the Scot, despite how pleased he apparently (if his body were any indicator) was with the situation Ward would probably not be. There was Skye. There was the fact that the tall, dark haired agent had never showed any inclination in the slightest. Oh there had been touching, on occasion, but most of it congratulatory and if he'd ever caught Fitz staring during medical or exercise, he'd never said…

"Calm down."

Ward's voice was thick with sleep and sounded more than a little annoyed.

"Erm, right. Sorry. Didn't mean to - that is - I mean, I…this wasn't..."

"Fitz."

"Sorry."

Ward groaned, a sound that went straight to already interested places on the scientist, and rolled on his side. The arm around Fitz pulled him closer and suddenly, instead of making distance, he found himself flush against Ward with his face burrowed into the taller man's neck. Oh, there was Ward's adam's apple pressed against Fitz temple and oh, wasn't he glad that Ward had gotten around to shaving a few days before. It had only taken a comment about him looking like a serial killer to get rid of it. Fitz mentally thanked himself for that serial killer jab as Ward's chin and lower face smushed into his hair. That was enough to get the scientist's eyes closed as he counted to try and control the panic attack, freak out, whatever he was about to have. Ward was literally spooning them chest to chest and that was so strange, that Ward initiated it, that Fitz almost lost it and ruined the entire thing. Plus, Ward sounded annoyed, so why do…

Ward sighed, loudly, into Fitz's hair, "You really can't turn it off."

Fitz felt as though his voice were embarrassingly high when he muttered, "No. S-Sorry."

He could not see it from the angle, face tilted down into Ward's chest, but Fitz felt when the other man pulled his head away. No, he could not handle eye contact right now, so the Scot burrowed deeper as Ward spoke (and not even to complain), "Stop apologizing." Was it terrible that just made him want to do it again? Ward continued, "Not something you can control apparently." He should have smarted at that, a part of him did, but others had complained that. Fitz never stopped thinking - it made him who it was. These days it was just a bit more potent. Ward's arm around him stretched out, the bicep beneath Fitz's head flexing with it, and curled back around him. It felt quite nice really.

"What was that last night Fitz? You went catatonic on me here."

And there it was, the thing, the 'elephant in the room' phrase that was mostly popular with Americans. If it had been anyone else who would let him get away with it the scientist would have feigned sleep. This was Ward though, the one who had promised to be nothing but honest with him, not to mention the one holding him on a bed and (blessedly) not commenting on Fitz's current state down below. When he did respond his voice was small, muffled by being spoken directly into the other's flesh, and maybe he did not really want to be heard, "I...it just...everything. All at once, everything was in my head. I couldn't…" What was the word? He knew there was one, a word to sum up all of them, and he started to snap but stopped. Ward never volunteered the words, he never would. The ex-Hydra was not Mack, he did not work like that. Fitz had to navigate language himself, "Just all of it and I could not lock any out." He felt Ward nod against his head. The other man had yet to speak though, expected more, and swallowing down his anxiety he continued, "It happened a few times after the...after I got hurt. Way more major. It hurt then. Just all these images, all these thoughts, and I could not…" 'I could not stop them, "Contain. That's the word. I could not contain them. I...I don't know why it happens." and that was the part that Fitz knew Ward cared about. Distantly, as if it happened weeks prior, he remembered the fear of knowing the other man was going to leave. He remembered watching Ward stare down at him, some hint of fear visible on the man's face, as the field specialist considered calling Coulson. Fitz was not sure how he knew what Ward was thinking then, the man was incredibly hard to read on Fitz's best day, but in that moment, he'd known. Now that he'd let the other know there was no controlling it as Fitz braced himself for the dismissal he knew was coming. They were on the run from SHIELD, senator, and presumably Hydra. He may not be a tactical specialist but Fitz knew that he was a liability.

A moment of silence passed between them as Ward seemed to consider it and Fitz tried not to think about it, two sides of the coin, and Ward's hand passed up and down his back slowly. The hand paused after a moment, resting at the base of Fitz's neck, pressed down nook there, "So you are telling me that your genius literally overwhelms you." and wasn't that just the perfect way to put it. Fitz started to laugh but stopped, realizing this was supposed to be a serious conversation, and nodded. Ward took that as affirmation and continued, "You got better when you got me on the bed," That statement may have caused Fitz to flush the darkest red achieved in his entire life, "or at least you seemed to. You started responding anyway. Care to explain what I should do cause I'm lost here, Fitz." There it was, the line as Fitz saw it, and part of him grew annoyed at being ask if he had an answer he'd not tried.

"Ward, if you want to call Coulson and get rid of me, like you planned to last night, please tell me now." The hand drifting up and down his back froze in place, hovering above his collar, as soon as the words left Fitz's mouth. He felt bad about them, wanted to take them back, but his mouth continued on without his assent, "I'll understand. I may not want to but I will, if it comes to that, but just not yet. It's just my brain...well...my thoughts. They get too much and I can't figure out how to focus them. If I could just push them out or organize them at least it would be better but…" 'I cant,' was the understood end there and Fitz, knowing it internally, could not voice it. Everyone around him; Skye, Coulson, Mack, and even sometimes Ward seemed to have faith in him getting 'better' but Fitz was a realist. If he improved at all it would be years, if he ever did, as his brain learned to work as one cohesive whole again. He'd dedicatedly tried to avoid crushing everyone's hopes but there came a point, apparently here in bed with Grant Ward, cuddled up together, that Fitz felt like being honest. The arm around him had gone slack with the accusation and Fitz used his freedom to put some distance between them. He did not roll away to his feet and run, that was too much, but he did shimmy his body back until they were not pressed together anymore. Ward was not looking at him, instead the ex-agent's angular face was turned to the ceiling, and Fitz took the time to check out what he had been sleeping up against. Fitz should have been ashamed when Ward finally looked over and caught him staring, following the thin dark treasure-trail down into the agent's jeans, but he did not notice right away. Skye would have called him 'thirsty' for sure. Ward, his face a blank look that Fitz knew well enough to call a mask, did not seem bothered by it. Then again with a body like Ward's, Fitz suspected you just got used to it.

"I'm sorry." That caught the scientist's attention and he went to open his mouth, make his own apology, but Ward shook his head, "No. I should not have been so ready to call them. For what it's worth, I'm glad you stopped me, even if your methods were a bit…" Ward waved a hand at the bed, his shirtlessness, the red mark on his arm where Fitz seemed to sleep the whole night away, and god did he just want a picture of the whole scene. "I can't guarantee I won't eventually have to Fitz. You had me worried. I'll tell you the truth next time though, give you a chance, I promise." Ward's face was still blank and he held eye contact, eyes steady, and anyone else would have thought he was lying but Fitz believed, nodding. It was more of an apology than he actually needed. If anything he should have…

"So you need a way to control your thoughts so they do not get overwhelming?"

Fitz did not expect it and nodded, dumbly, as he waited for Ward to elaborate. The ex-agent's face had turned thoughtful, a brow quirked, and he seemed to be analyzing Fitz in a way that made him a little uncomfortable. It was the same look May, Ward, and Trip had when Coulson was giving a briefing…

Oh, he'd become a mission?

"I might have an idea. Not sure how much it will help, you may not enjoy it, but I can teach you to control your thoughts and emotions. At least dampen them." His gaze was a touch on the intimidating side and Fitz, feeling a bit defensive, shifted up into a sit with his legs drawn up to his chest and back against the headboard. Ward had yet to move - he was still spread out like a men's health model, and it just distracting enough to be a training course in focus all on its own. Ward continued, "Think of it as an experiment if you need to. We see if we can control your…" He hesitated, uncharacteristically fumbling for a word not like Fitz did but for pleasantry, and Fitz shut that down by filling in, "Episodes." Ward did not argue with his choice of word - they both knew he meant it in the first place, "Right. Are you willing to try? I'll be honest, it's part of Operations training, or that 'brainwashing course' as you put it." He smiled, strained and tight at the corners and generally feeling forced, and Fitz did not return the gesture as he thought about the idea. Ward dropped the smile and waited, with more patience than 'true Ward' often seemed to show, while Fitz took his time thinking it over to his satisfaction.

Most of the things he had seen or heard of operations were simply bizarre. It was fairly common knowledge among the science division that field operatives took ballet classes. No one seemed to know why, Simmons had always tried to justify it with 'building flexibility', which may be true but then Fitz pictured Melinda May doing ballet and died inside. That was not even the worse of it. Supposedly SHIELD tortured it's field operation candidates, not only mentally but very much physically, and the scientist was not sure he could deal with Ward doing that to him. Not after...no, Ward would not have even suggested the idea if it involved anything like that, at least Fitz hoped not. On the alternative, what could a bit of field operations training hurt? They were on the run from at least one group of highly trained people, perhaps two, maybe even three, and he did often feel like a liability. Granted, that had been true even back when the team had all been together, with Fake-Ward, whenever Fitz had been mandated to go into the field. It was becoming less and less possible to 'science' his way out of every situation. When the thought crossed his mind of Ward getting hurt or killed trying to protect him, all because he could not do it himself or had an episode, Fitz knew he lost.

His words did not want to work, he opened his mouth and shut it again, then just nodded assent.

Ward's face softened at the edges and he returned the nod, looking pleased, before leaning up and standing from the bed. The ex-agent took a moment to stretch his arms above his head, popping his back probably, and Fitz got somewhat lost in the view once again. The serious conversation had settled his problem but it was starting to become an issue again, part the early hour and part damn, and Fitz hoped they were done talking. At least for now. He got worried when Ward looked back at him with a smirk, which would have been sexy if it were not so sharklike and had Fitz worried for his health (another New-Ward expression, Old-Ward never looked at anyone quite like that). They could not start now, he'd die, he would seriously die…

The ex-agent looked him over before moving away, "Go ahead and grab a shower, I'll see about something to eat and we can start after. Okay?" He paused at the doorframe, looking back at Fitz for assent, and the scientist started to just mutely nod again before changing his mind.

"Are we going to talk about…"

That smirk was definitely shark-like, "Only if and when you want to. No rush, I can wait."

Fitz gaped as Ward patted the doorframe and went on, apparently to find food. 'He can wait? When I want to? But, wait, what? What if I want...' Oh, Fitz wanted things. Like that shower, cold.


Author Note

I am the world's biggest sap and I'm sorry.

Chapter Text

Author Note

Shortest chapter as of yet.

 


 

The all consuming levels of awkward kept Fitz under the steadily less warm spray a nice, long time. It reached a point where he half expected Ward to knock on the door checking on him but it never came. When at last Fitz did emerge, skin pink and hair wild, it was somewhat disheartening to snake back into the same clothes he'd worn for three days. Disgusting really, he would have never done it out of this situation, but it was hard to look at Grant Ward and seriously say, 'Hey. I know we are running from so many people. But can we stop, I need new clothes.'. That just was not going to happen. Washing his clothes in the bathroom sink? More likely.

What little they did have was the product of gift shops and vendors at various stations. Fitz had no confirmation but he was starting to suspect that trips to Walmart, capitalist megalith it was, were at odds with the Basics of Espionage 101 class that field operatives all seemed to take.

Which brought the scientist right back to his current predicament, learning those skills.

Ward tended to, despite their need to be low profile, go for the best hotels in an area. They had only stayed at one simple one cubical style room with double beds. The older man seemed to like apartment style, kitchen included, and while they had not discussed it Fitz knew that Coulson and May had always preferred them as well. Probably another operations thing. 'Live fine while you live' or something similarly grim. Fitz expected to walk out of the bedroom to a selection of guns on the table, acquired in the time his shower took, and maybe a live grenade or two. Instead he got Ward, black tee back on and wasn't that a blessing for his dignity, sitting at the counter-top area going at breakfast. Two other things the scientist, overanalyzing, noticed in their time together; Real-Ward ate healthy. Salads, non-seasoned chicken, protein bars, and a complete absence of all things sugary or delicious. It explained the body at least and Fitz, self-conscious as he tended to be around the other man, had not complained about adapting to the same diet. He may have killed for a burger at some points but so long as Ward, in some bizarre internal schedule, picked their eating locations, he would not complain vocally, yet. The second thing he had noticed? Real-Ward, though Fitz suspected this was an operatives in general kind of thing, ate mechanically. Actual humans smile when they eat something delicious or at least comment on it. When Fitz took a seat at the stool beside Ward's, looked down at his room-service omelet, salad, and bottled water, he pronounced it, "Looks delicious." and Ward just kind of nodded at him while rhythmically chewing. Oh, right, he also did not talk while eating.

Fitz, on the other hand, knew he would never adopt that trait, "I just wanted...I mean…" He poked at the food with a fork while talking, playing with it more than he actually ate, "I need to apologize. It wasn't fair of me to get angry about you wanting to call them." Ward was looking at him now, his gaze level and but interested, and did not interrupt. That was a double-edged thing. Fitz liked the attention but on the other hand sometimes craved for Jemma or Skye to be around to either blatantly interrupt him or finish his sentences, take some of the attention away, and with just the two of them here it was all him, all the time. He'd stopped talking and focused on eating, waiting to see if Ward would respond, and the other man instead went back to his meal. It should have been awkward but the two had spent enough time in silence that Fitz went with it. They finished, Ward first considering food was not meant to be enjoyed, before the scientist continued, "I just...needed to say that. I understand. If you ever want to...I mean, have to, I suppose, you-"

Ward interrupted him, "You can stop worrying. I do not plan to." It was not rudely said, just factual, and the ex-agent acted like nothing happened as he grabbed the boxes and tossed them. Fitz's expression must have been impressive because when Ward turned back and looked at him, the man almost grinned. Almost. Not quite. Real-Ward did not do much grinning, he did a whole lot of smirking. Another observation Fitz had noticed. "You're surprised?" and there he was, leaning on the counter across from him, effectively trapping Fitz into looking at him as the scientist worried his sleeves, bounced his legs, and generally fidgeted.

"Well...yes, I suppose, I mean...there's no viable method of confirming that another episode…"

"There are ways to control. If it is just emotions and thoughts, you can repress them."

Speaking of control, Fitz apparently lost it over his mouth when he opened it and out came, "Is that how you managed to fool us for so long?" Ward's eyes widened, fractionally, but they were close enough to see it and Fitz wanted to just fade away. They had discussed the past before, in the house they broke into, but most of it had been about Fitz himself or what Ward had done while with Hydra. The topic of 'pre-treason' had been something mostly avoided. The dark haired man had not seemed inclined to discuss it really and Fitz, despite his apparently out-of-control curiosity, had not wanted to, until now apparently. Hastily he brought his hands up and looked for all the world to be surrendering, "No, no, I didn't mean...I was not going to say that. We don't have to discuss it. I mean, it is in the past, I suppose, and we already talked…" His words were going miles beyond normal speed, practically a ramble, and Fitz considered…

"It's fine. The answer is yes and no."

Fitz looked up at Ward. The man was frowning, a hard set to his face, but it did not seem directed at the scientist. Well, technically it was, but Fitz suspected it was not for him. It was the same expression the man had worn most of their previous major discussion. Part sad, part angry, and Fitz never knew exactly whom got the anger but was just glad - as he had to be reassured previously - it was not him, "Training for undercover work is intense in SHIELD but in Hydra even more so." Fitz had questions about said Hydra training but refrained, for now, as Ward ran a hand through his sleep tousled hair and continued, "Hydra has been undercover for years. Garrett, well, he made sure those of us in position were trained perfectly. In SHIELD academy agents learn how to control themselves and remain focused on the mission. The way I trained, well, you learn how to become a different person. Lock up everything that you were."

The concept made sense technically but, "From a psychological perspective it's not possible to-"

Ah, there was the Real-Ward smirk, "Ever met Natasha Romanova?" Fitz shook his head because really, who just pals around with Avengers, and most of the stories he'd heard back in academy had to be fake. Bit of a sore point really; Fitz was instantly a tad jealous. If Ward noticed, he didn't say, instead continuing with, "She is a master of infiltration, the best really, and Hydra based their training on her. It's not concealing your identity, it's creating a whole new one, believing in it. Some people are better at it than others. Apparently, I was one of the ones good at it. Some people could only craft identities based on themselves, I'm able to become a whole new person if an operation calls for it. Just had to be careful to not let anyone know how good." It was an awkward topic, hearing someone talk about lying with their whole identity, and Fitz must have shown it. He jumped a bit when Ward's hand, without his knowing, came across the counter and caught his wrist. When he went to pull away, not intentionally but instinctually, the other's grip tightened a bit and Ward pressed a thumb to his pulse, "This is making you uncomfortable."

Fitz sagged in on his stool. Ward not had asked a question, he made a statement, and there was no getting around it with just them. No one to hide behind as he panicked and felt his breathing quicken. It was not an attack, not an episode, but it could have turned to one and Fitz squeezed his eyes shut and focused on his breathing. The whole time he worked to control himself, Ward rhythmically pressed down on his pulse point and let up, over and over, and the scientist knew it was to help him. It was a point to focus on and he did, leaning his mind to the touch, elevating his breathing and coming back 'down'. It took a moment but he managed.

"It...yes, it makes me uncomfortable. You make it sound as if...how to put this, as if the Ward we knew never even existed. Which means, everything I did. How I felt…that would all be a..."

"A lie?"

Fitz nodded, slowly, tried to pull his hand back again but Ward's grip tightened. It almost reached a point where it started to hurt and Fitz just stared at that. Was it intentional? Ward did things for a reason, apparently everything, so maybe a bit of pain was something to stabilize-

"Fitz, what I'm about to say is the complete truth-"

"How will I know?" Fitz instantly felt terrible, both for interrupting and his question, but it surged out in a rush of his own honesty. He trusted Ward, he always had to some extent. Even when everyone had thought him a complete idiot for doing so - he had. Even now, despite asking the question, the scientist knew he would likely take whatever the other man said at face value.

"You'll know."

And there it was, plainly stated, and Fitz felt himself nod. He liked to think he would.

Ward did not speak right away. The blank-mask was back on but Fitz, if he guessed, would say 'troubled' or 'worried'. Not that Grant Ward ever seemed to worry much. At least not visibly. It took a special kind of man to calmly have a bomb strapped to him without a care in the world. When at last he did speak it was slow, careful even, "If you want to know how much of it was real, I can't tell you. My assignment from Garrett was just to 'stay-close and watch Coulson'. I did not report back. Full-dark operation. I was not even aware that Garrett was also the Clairvoyant until right before the sting. The reason Hydra keeps secrets so effectively is they do it from their own people." Fitz had wondered about that, quite often actually, but simply nodded mutely as Ward continued, "As long as Coulson did not find out about Hydra, I just had to blend in as a SHIELD operative. Same thing I did for years. Being recruited to the bus was...nice, though. Raina asked me several times how I could betray a man like Coulson, someone who really does simply want to do good, and I never quite had an answer for her. I'm not sure she even expected one. I hated that woman, she reminded me of everything I'd gained and lost, daily, for fun."

While speaking Ward moved, coming around the counter and taking up the same stool he had before. They were close, facing each other, and Fitz had nowhere to go or anything to distract himself from listening. He should have felt crowded, flinched away, and tried to run. It would have been his more-common reaction as of late. Instead, the scientist stayed put, and quietly reveled in some of his biggest questions being answered. Ward still had his wrist beside them on the counter, still pulsing his grip, though not as evenly as before. "It was strange at first. I had been briefed on Coulson and May, but the rest of you threw me off. Garrett would have put a bullet in Skye, not recruited her. Simmons was unlike any of the medical-biotechs I've run into in SHIELD. Not to mention putting you two together. You do not know how reassuring it is to know your on-board medical would move the earth to save a life. Most are a little too eager to give up." Fitz nodded, he agreed obviously, Simmons being his best friend at one point, and waited for it…

Ward went silent.

"And…?"

There was the smirk again as Ward let go of his hand and turned, leaning back against the counter, "You really want to hear me say it? Can't let me have some dignity left?" So calm, assured, and aggravating that Fitz just gave him a look. Ward actually laughed softly, "Fine Fitz, you made me feel...well...you reminded me of things, people, before Hydra. It was easy to forget that I was on a mission around you and just enjoy being the Grant Ward you all knew." Ward paused, no longer laughing, and ran a hand through his hair. He did not look uncomfortable, the man never seemed too, but Fitz felt like he should. If anything he looked somewhat pained, a wince frozen on his face, as he kept going, "I almost told you, in Russia, all of it. When I could not find a way to escape the situation in the bar. If you had not fixed their electricity I would have blurted it all out before we died. If I had gotten out but you hadn't, I know my cover would have been ruined. After that mission I had to keep my distance, I was too comfortable around you, but I just never ended up doing it. You just being you almost ruined my mission several times."

Fitz knew it should not but he felt the warmest sense of pride with that. Not Skye, not Coulson, he had nearly made Ward turn truly good. Or well, close to good. As close as one could get while working for Hydra. "What would you have done if I had died in Russia?" slipped out while he was unaware and for the first time in awhile, Fitz did not regret the slip. He wanted to know. They had been so close to death so many times on that mission, how many times had Ward nearly?

Ward's answer came immediately, "I would have gotten back to the Hub and shot Victoria Hand."

The scientist winced, "You...did. Shoot her I mean. According to reports, unless really Garrett-"

The ex-agent shook his head, face stone, and stood from the stool. He responded flippantly, an over the shoulder if anything, while digging in the one bag they brought, "I did. Several times. That mission had more to do with why than any order Garrett ever gave me though." Fitz felt that 'warmth' in him deflate instantly at the reminder that yes, Ward had killed Victoria hand, and by the tone he did not regret it. Fitz may not have liked the woman but few people really deserved…

Ward sorted out the duffle, mostly cash and papers, across the table while talking. This was better, Fitz did not have to look at his face while they spoke, "What do you want to know, Fitz?" There it was, the open door, the same way Ward approached it the first day post-escape and at the time the scientist had been too drained and flustered to ask much. After their time solely in each others company and without much to do but analyze the ex-agent, Fitz finally had material.

"You do not regret it...Hand, not at all?"

"No. Disregarding the fact that I hated her, I've killed a lot of people Fitz. That is something you need to realize. For Hydra, for SHIELD, neither one spared their enemies and I took care of them. I was trained to be a killer and that is what I do, well, did, but will probably end up doing again." It shocked Fitz to hear it said so frankly, so matter-of-fact, that even though he knew it was true the scientist had to reign in reaction to the callous attitude. Though they never talked about it the feelings were probably shared, sans-Hydra aspect, by Coulson and May. No one ever judged them for it. May had definitely killed people in the field, Fitz knew it from the stories told about her, and it felt...wrong to hold it against Ward. He could almost hear the internal voice of Skye telling him, as she often did, 'Get your head out of the clouds Fitz.' like he ignored reality.

"I...know. I know that. You, Coulson, May, and Trip I'm sure have all killed before. Many times."

Ward stopped whatever it was he was doing and nodded over his shoulder to Fitz.

He did not speak though and so Fitz pushed on, "Okay. I...I can understand that. I don't like it but I can and I'm sure I can't ask you to promise me to kill again because you might have to and-"

"You would be asking me for a lie and I said I'd never do that to you again."

Ward turned, catching Fitz mid-nod, and shortly after the scientist was pulled to his feet. Ward maneuvered them into the miniscule 'den' of the room. Fitz started to help with moving the couch but the other man shrugged him off. Seems they needed room for whatever 'training' the other man had in mind. Hopefully not torture. He could cope with the killing, apparently, but not torture.

Not of anyone, much less so himself, not even in the name of 'fixing' him or 'teaching him control'. Not that Fitz was sure how having an open space to practice something would help the fact that his brain routinely overloaded and refused to cooperate with the most basic of functions.

"So...you and May."

"Really?"

Ward returned to stand beside him and while Fitz, looking a bit up at him, saw the 'out' he felt just emboldened enough to nod. After-all, who knew when he would get another Q&A session.

The ex-agent may have rolled his eyes, "Everyone seems obsessed with that. Skye first, now you, I don't know why. It was just easy." He paused, Fitz must have pulled a face, because Ward's loosened into a smirk, "No, not May was easy. Trust me, nothing with that woman ever is. Just...neither of us could have what we wanted so we took what was available." There it was, a chasm opening inside of Fitz as he tried so hard to not open his mouth and let anything out.

Unfortunately, the rest of him wanted to know, "You mean Skye, right?" As much as he desperately did not want to sound jealous or petty some of it worked into his voice. The question had not even been worth asking, they both knew it, and when Ward fixed him with a raised eyebrow and nodded slowly Fitz just returned the gesture and looked off. The Scot was not even a hundred percent sure where he stood on the situation, his emotions towards Ward, Jemma, or hell even Mack half the time, but the nod still stung. Such petty jealousy was below him though-

"I'm sorry that she is not here with you."

Damnit.

Ward looked surprised for a moment before giving him that look, the analyzing field agent one, as if he were a puzzle to solve, and Fitz just wanted to curl in on himself and die. He braced for something, anything, probably scathing, Skye apparently being a touchy subject with the other. Instead, Fitz felt one of Ward's hands on either of his shoulders and a surprisingly gentle shake just to get his attention. The taller man had slouched, putting them at eye level, and when he spoke it was both finality and his 'calm voice', "Fitz. Skye is not here and even if she were, I think she would rather shoot me than talk to me. Considering that, I'm glad she is not here." Fitz almost laughed, he stopped himself, unsure if that was supposed to be funny. Ward's face was not giving much away, "Honestly, I'm glad you're here. Not how you put yourself here but I do appreciate having you with me. I…" Ward paused, not for dramatics but with a look on his face Fitz could not quite place, something he did not completely understand, before the ex-agent carried on with, "I would have no idea what to do otherwise and fuck everything up worse. With you here, I have a better chance of at least deciding the right thing to do for once."

The scientist must have gaped a moment too long before Ward cleared his throat. His hands moved down Fitz's shoulders to his upper arms, holding his biceps, as he spoke, "Okay. You've seen May do her routine right, the forms?" The topic change was sudden, abrupt, and Fitz did not want to say anything wrong so he just nodded. He let go of it for now though in his head everything Ward just said reverberated wall to wall and made it hard to focus. The scot followed along as the taller man guided one of his arms up in the air, forward from his body, and pushed the other back behind him. Everything about the position felt awkward but he held it through sheer force of will when Ward removed his hands. He felt like a helicopter, a ridiculous one.

"I know all of you thought that was her practicing martial arts; it's really not. The forms are a guided meditation. It is how she stays so focused in combat and ignores pain. All academy trained agents had to practice it but most never really tried." Fitz wanted to ask if Ward was one of those who never did, the other made it sound that way, but he was too busy being a ridiculous helicopter. Fitz did not exercise. He stayed healthy through field operations, forgetting meals while working, and at one point due to Jemma's monitoring his eating habits. Getting a body like Ward or Mack had a never been an aspiration - though he remained eternally jealous. Oh, right, Ward was still talking, "The concept is simply. Focus on repetitive body movements as a way to clear your mind." He did not stop talking when he reached down to push on Fitz's thigh to stop it from bouncing. Training for this exercise was making it hard for Fitz to think, actually. "May would be a better teacher than me but we'll start small with what I know. Okay?", and there was Ward, in the same stance as Fitz, though his arms were not shaking and his balance looked perfect. Not quite Melinda May 'I am a leaf in the wind' perfect but more Grant Ward, 'man of stone'.

Really, what did they do to these people in operations training?

Beyond Ward offering tips and correction, they did not talk during the exercise. The dark haired ex-agent did not seem to want to, maybe still feeling that revelation earlier, and Fitz was too busy trying to 'let his movements flow' to think, much less deal with any more serious issue. He stumbled through the motions with all the grace of a giraffe. At one point, while trying to lift a leg and tent his arms at the same time, the scientist almost went flat on his face. Ward caught him but quickly let go, not allowing for distraction as they continued. Fitz estimated five minutes had passed when he started wanting to die. A couple minutes later, he felt sweat on his brow and remembered why he did not exercise. Attempting to slow down or wipe it away got him chastised by his new 'trainer' and Fitz had to bite back a snappy retort as they continued.

It felt like eternity, during which his arms and legs burned, before Ward pronounced them done.

Fitz did not sit on the couch nearby. He took one step then fell on it, face smushed into the leather cushion, and breathing heavier than he felt he should. Ward wasn't, the man looked perfectly comfortable standing there watching him. That was irritating though unsurprising, and FItz shot him a sour look as the scientist rolled to his side and pulled his legs up on the couch. He had practically fetal positioned himself into a solid ball of exhaustion. Still watching him, Ward settled down the arm of the couch, leaned back with his arm thrown over the top of the furniture.

"If it helps, I swear I'm a nicer teacher than May would be."

Fitz rolled his eyes up at the man, "No, it doesn't, because clearly she is the devil then."

Ward laughed with ernest, "Well clearly. You should try fighting the woman." Fitz was going to say he hoped to never have the honor, continue the joke, but froze when he felt a large hand on his head. It was slow, barely a movement at all, but Ward's hand was on his head and moving. Petting him. There were any number of comments that came to mind about, 'Jemma decided you're the big dog, not me.' but none of them made it out of the scientist's mouth for once. Instead they sat in silence for a moment, Ward's hand still gently moving, and Fitz drew his legs up closer almost abandoning the second cushion entirely. It was...surprisingly comfortable.

So, of course it had to be ruined.

"What about you. Would you prefer Simmons be here?"

Fitz froze, eyes opened wide, and peered up at Ward out of the corner. The other man wasn't looking at him and instead had his eyes locked on the television. It wasn't even on. Outside of his condition Ward had not asked many questions of Fitz. Nothing in depth about the team, barely mentioned them usually, and absolutely zero questions about their operations. Not that this question had anything to do with their operations but it still gave Fitz enough pause to consider.

And Ward waited patiently while he did so.

"I...no. I mean, she is my best friend, even with...this." Fitz did not indicate anything physically, Ward could take it for their current situation or his condition, either worked, though Fitz meant the latter, "She left, you know, shortly after it happened. Assignment, for Coulson, something important. I understood that." He hadn't understood at the time. The first weeks had been rough, mostly him screaming, crying, and cursing at anyone in reach. Stages of grief, Fitz understood them but that had not allowed him to control it. The diagnosis of 'brain damage' had put him in the worst way and none of the team had seemed appropriately equipped to deal with it. Coulson had withdrawn into his work as Director, May with him. Skye hung around for a time after Simmons left but eventually she had to focus on her training with May and did not have time for him. Though, perhaps that had helped, as Fitz never wanted to be a burden. He sighed and Ward's hand slowed, "It didn't matter, understanding it. I just felt alone. Even after I got out of the hospital and back to work. They forced all these assistants in to help me but they just got in the way. Mack helped, he filled in words and ideas when I could not. He translated. But...it wasn't…"

Fitz did not know what else to say and joined Ward in admiring the inactive television.

"If I had not been so damned convinced it would float…"

"Stop." Fitz did not know where he found the ability to be forceful, "It doesn't matter now. I'm…" Fine was too heavy of a word. Better? Improved? Slightly less damaged? The scientist did not know which of those correctly applied to this situation and opted for none of them. Ward's hand started to draw back and Fitz reached up, gripped Ward by the thumb, and pulled it back down. Immediately the touching resumed and Fitz looked up again to realize they both lost interest in the silent, viewless non-show at the same time, and the scot held the other's eye contact.

"I don't blame you."

"You should."

He shrugged into the couch, "Well, I don't. I blame Garrett. I blame Hydra. Even if I should blame you, I don't, and that's it." The others would definitely have disagreed with him. After his injury there had been a week straight where the only topic discussed by his bed was killing Ward. Skye in particular had seemed particularly fond of dropping him in the ocean to suffer the same fate. At the time, Fitz had even agreed on the inside, and yet apparently they had changed now.

"I'm glad I got you out of there."

Ward gave him a look but Fitz, closing his eyes, completely ignored it. The hand didn't stop.

 


 

Author Note

Things nearly started happening here but I refrained.
I live in fear of progressing too fast.
Things start happening from here on out.

Chapter Text

Author Note

Sorry about how long this chapter took!


According to the clock it was 3:30PM, Christian would arrive in an hour if he did on time.

Ward was part surprised, part disappointed that it only took him a week to track down his brother's mistress and where she lived. There were three actually, mistresses that is, but Ward knew his brother's taste enough to pick out the favorite. Valerie King was a woman of some influence but not more than Christian, a blooming career as a political commentator, and had the right mix of no children, dark toffee skin, and attitude to loop his brother in. The most damning fact was that Christian gifted her the old family home near Lake Huron as a summer house. On paper it was all very legitimate, an official sell, but who really sold a home for one thousand without additional strings? All Ward had to do was wait till Christian contacted her, information easily mined by bugging her phone, and get there ahead of the two of them. Unfortunately for Valerie, she arrived first and was met with a rag soaked in chloroform and a dark closet in the hall. Christian had some taste; the woman put up a damn good fight and Ward had a scratch on his left cheek dangerously close to the eye. Inch or two higher and she might have blinded him.

That was not his major concern at the moment though. Other than Christian's imminent arrival, Ward's other issue wore a red flannel shirt, white gas station beanie, and currently sat on the couch, legs bouncing, and Valerie's phone in hand. The two texted a lot apparently and someone had to keep up the flow of communication. Ward suspected some of the texts with how Fitz would occasionally tug down his beanie, as if to hide his eyes, while rapidly typing back responses. There was a significant chance that his accomplice was sexting his brother and while he should stop it, Grant really preferred to not think about that, and instead focused on preparing himself for the confrontation about to happen. Six years. It had been six years since he last saw Christian and still, despite all the time, Ward found it difficult to face his brother. One would think SHIELD or Hydra training would have prepared him, Garrett was crueler than his brother would ever be, but it changed none of the ingrained feelings in him. He didn't fidget, that was Fitz's thing, but if Ward checked or cleaned his gun one more time he'd likely break the damn thing somehow. It was bad enough when the scientist caught him staring out the window.

Fitz made a sound and went as if to throw the phone but stopped, at the very last second, and instead placed it carefully on the glass coffee table, "Your brother is a total freak. He wants to-"

"Please don't tell me about Christian's sex life."

"Oh, right, sorry."

Fitz tugged on the beanie again and watched Ward, which made the dark haired man work even harder to control his nerves, and once again had the ex-agent questioning why Fitz was even here. It would have made more sense to leave the scientist behind in their room. This was Ward's personal matter to deal with, his alone, but still he had brought the other. They had not spoken much in the past few days - wake up, practice Fitz's new morning regime, eat, and then Ward took off to meet contacts and research the mistress - and yet here he was. Fitz, in the house that held so many terrible memories for Ward, sitting on Valerie King's furniture, looking as if he questioned his reason for being there as much as Ward himself did. They had barely talked during check-out or on the ride down in their newest stolen vehicle, a dark blue beamer parked far behind the house. Any questions the scientist may have had he kept to himself, either to be nice or out of respect for Ward's obvious desire not to talk, and no plans had been discussed. There were none to discuss really though, Ward knew what he planned to do today. Fitz would not have any part of it. The scot would sit by and wait for him while Ward got the confession he needed to prove, to everyone else and perhaps even to himself, that Christian helped form him into the creature he was today. What happened after that to his brother, Ward also had plans.

Plans that Fitz would never be comfortable with and would not take part in.

"I...I don't have any siblings so, I guess it would be really weird. I mean, to hear those things about them. Though I guess it is natural. I mean, sexual liaisons like this, but he's married so…"

Seemed Fitz really was not comfortable with being here either. Leveling a heavy sigh, a bit annoyed at the other for his nervous talking just this once, Ward moved from the easy window view to the chair across from the scientist. Another odd thing, all the furniture was glossy red leather, and Ward could imagine the fit his mother would have if she ever saw it. The woman would have walked in and pronounced the entire set-up trashy. There was not even a martini mixer in sight, this truly would be hell for her. That made Ward like this King woman a little bit.

"Be glad about that. Not a lot of good has come out of it for me."

Fitz nodded, either agreeing or letting the topic drop, as he leaned forward to check the phone. It lit up while Ward was speaking and the agent tensed as Fitz read the message. "Twenty minutes. He said to...oh, umm, nothing. He said nothing," and while telling that lie through his teeth Fitz flushed deep red, all the way down his neck, and hastily set the phone down like it burned. Normally that would have made him laugh but instead Ward just nodded and stood up, returning to the window just in case. Christian had never been good with time. Ward was not so absorbed in the outside world as to miss Fitz shuffling up to him, arms crossed and head down. The ex-agent knew he was making the scientist nervous, had been all day, and he should have tried to destress but it was too close - the confrontation he had waited most of his adult life for.

"Ward...what are you planning to...to do?"

Internally wincing, wishing the question had never been asked, Ward put a hand on Fitz's shoulder. It could have been comfort, it could have also been the two steps aside he took to move them out of the window. The scot was looking up at him all wide eyed and questioning, Ward knew he would want to help, that Fitz had not complained much about chloroforming a woman in what was technically her own home. (Okay, he had complained somewhat, but Ward had managed to convince him it was better than just gagging her and stuffing her in a closet.) There were limits though - certain distances Ward would let another person go for him. He debated lying, his default response, for a moment before giving it up and just going, "I'm going to ambush him, take out his guards, lead him to the well..." They had gone to find the well earlier, Ward knowing the exact spot by heart, to ensure it was not entirely gone. Fitz nodded he remembered it as Ward continued, "I need him to confess Fitz. I need the truth, for people to know it, and for me to hear it one more time. Then I'm…" It was hard to say. Should not have been, Ward had killed before, they both knew it, and they have even discussed it previously. Ward was going to kill Christian as the final close to that chapter in his life. Christian had ruined his childhood, as had his parents who Ward also had plans for, but now was attempting to ruin his adult life beyond what he had done himself. Coulson was convinced of the lies. The rest of the team likely was as well. If Christian confessed, at least that would be shown as the truth, if Christian died, Ward would never have to worry about him again. Both were perfect outcomes.

When Ward did not finish his statement, Fitz did, with his eyes narrowed and mouth slightly open. He looked disgusted, it was the same look he gave something nasty, and that stung something in Ward. He felt himself bristled and forced it down as best he could as Fitz blurted out, "You're going to kill him. You're planning to kill him. Grant," The use of first name was not lost on Ward. They seemed determined to stick to the old team way of using last names, a habit they had fallen into all at once, and now they were breaking it, making it more personal, "You don't have to kill him. You want him to confess right? Right? You ddd…" The sound rolled off Fitz's lip but he paused, hand coming up to snap, and before he could Ward caught it. His grip was too tight, he could tell from Fitz's face that it hurt, and that made Ward feel like shit but he didn't let go, instead holding the hand there in the air as Fitz floundered for something to say.

Nothing ever came out and so Ward spoke for him, "I do, but it doesn't matter. Leo," It felt strange returning the gesture. The two may have held hands in public, shared a bed twice now, and done more touching than was probably wise, but this felt new, ", I need to do this. I never lied to you about why we came here. I want his confession and I want him gone." Fitz shook his head, pulling on his captured hand, and Ward let go to press the keys to the car in his grip.

Fitz looked at them shocked for a moment before his eyes narrowed, "You know I can't drive." He sounded truly angry now, it was a sore point for the other, his condition had taken that luxury. Briefly, still angry with the judgement of what he wanted, Ward considered telling him to grab Valerie and make her drive - Ward had a second gun in the console. The words almost escaped, he was too on edge if he were slipping at the mouth, and the ex-agent took a moment to breath in-and-out to calm himself. He did not want Fitz to leave; he just did not him here apparently.

"I know," His voice was octaves lower, practically whispering to the shorter man, and Fitz looked confused with the change of tone as Ward continued, "I'm not telling you to leave. Just, go wait in the car. I have to do this." No, it was not going to work, Fitz's expression started to turn toward determination, the scot was going to argue. He released his hand and took a step back, putting distance between them, and any argument Fitz may have been preparing died when Ward looked him straight in the eye, fully aware it was manipulation, dropped a, "Please Leo." His voice was low, perfectly pitched, and to the great surprise of Ward himself he did not have to put too much effort into the sincerity. It was there, already, in abundance. That realization shocked him almost as much as Fitz giving in with a sad expression and clutching the car keys tightly as he walked by. He did not approve, he never would, and his face showed it in a way that struck at something in Ward. Some foundation shook ever so slightly and for the briefest of moments, a flicker, he had some measure of doubt before his 'accomplice' left through the kitchen.

Now by himself, sans a bleeding heart, Ward felt the usual calm descend. Not all at once, slower than the usual focus came on him, but this was effectively a mission and he planned to treat it as such. The entire exchange had taken mere minutes of time which meant, if his suspicions about Christian's timing were correct, the other man would be along shortly. Focused on the task at hand he did a final check on his gun, the knife sheathed to his back, and waited.

Never to be too on point, Christian arrived ten minutes late.

It was easy really, easier than he expected. The guards were prepared for nothing other than their charge's mistress. The two that entered the house were disabled quickly, one with a pistol butt to the base of his skull and the other a choke hold against a wall. That left three outside which were equally easy to deal with. The real challenge was not killing them. It was easy to attribute that to Fitz. Normally, easily, Ward knew he would have handled the situation differently. Instead of throwing his knife straight into one guard's throat, he instead threw it into his thigh and kicked to the jaw to take him down. Another who faced away when he appeared? Before the man even turned around Ward was on him with choke hold that with a twist to the left would have snapped the man's neck. Instead, Grant went to the right, and while the man may never walk the same again he lived. The final one, he stood close to Christian's car, and got his gun up in time for Ward to knock it aside. Once again, the easiest solution would have been to push the man's gun back and up, pointed at the jaw, and used the man's own finger to pull the trigger. The carnage of a close-range headshot would have made a mess and possibly even been effective at intimidating Christian further than the man already would be. Instead, Ward just knocked the final guard out with strike to the throat that'd partially collapse his trachea. Help would be along before the man actually suffocated. All in all, it was a lot more merciful than Ward had ever been known for being, and the whole thing happened quick enough for him to barely consider it. Garrett would have called it 'soft, bitch work' and Ward could practically hear the berate inside. At least three of the guards would be able to give a positive ID on him. It made more sense to kill…

Ward forgot all about the guards when he actually saw his brother.

XXXXX XXXXX XXXXX XXXXX XXXXX

There was a few times that he considered saying to hell with it and trying to drive. If he would not get pulled over and arrested quickly into it, he may have done it. No, actually, he wouldn't, and knowing that made Fitz angrier with the situation as he waited in the car like a child. His eyes kept watering up and the scientist rubbed at them, cursing himself, his condition, whatever made it keep happening. Perhaps the disappointment deserved the blame. Maybe he really was as naive as Skye and the others accused him of being when it came to Ward. This whole thing could have been a mistake, breaking him out, running away with him, fleeing from SHIELD and all the problems there. They always said Ward was nothing but a murderer and while Fitz wanted to disagree here he was, sitting in a stolen car, waiting for Ward to kill someone.

An accessory to the murder. Literally. He helped carry the unconscious mistress.

It felt like hours had passed when the driver side door finally opened and Ward slipped inside. He was filthy, a mixture of sweat and dirt streaked across his clothes like he rolled in it. While Fitz visually catalogued him for injuries, something that felt second nature when the 'team returned', Ward's hand fumbled at the ignition looking for a key. That was the first sign that something was wrong - it was unlike Ward to forget he handed over the keys. The second clue was even more visually obvious, his hand shook, and Fitz was startled to see how his usual state of being looked on another person, on Ward. Fitz leaned forward to check him closer for injury at the same time the man's head turned, fixing him with a look. Any questions he had about Ward's state of being were answered when a lightning fast hand caught the front of his shirt. The red button-down lost a few of said buttons when Fitz was jerked across the center console of the beamer, his knee slamming against it knocking the breath out of him. All at once he was half on the console, half in Ward's lap, and while the most uncomfortable position ever, Fitz did not mind this once, because Ward's arms were wrapped around him and the scientist's face was in the side of the man's neck. His back hurt, his nose curled somewhat, and a little scared, but Fitz stayed put.

"Wh…" Shocked, his mouth did not work. Fitz had to close his eyes and really focus on the words he wanted to say, "What happened? Ward, what…Did you kill-"

"He's alive." Grant's voice was low, muffled by his proximity to the scientist, and his grip lessened fractionally to allow Fitz opportunity to shuffle. There was no getting comfortable since Ward had to like designer cars and not full seat trucks or something but his back did not feel like breaking as the man continued, "Christian is alive. I...I didn't kill him. Any of them. Not even the guards. I should have. I got the confession and he deserved it. I could have shoved him into the well and covered it back up like I planned." Fitz went to pull away at that statement, for some reason shocked by the premeditated murder plan, but Ward held him tight, "I told him I'd kill him if I ever heard of him again. Christian's a coward, he'll worry every minute that I'll snipe him or…"

"Grant."

Ward stopped talking when Fitz spoke his name and froze, his arms loosening, and Fitz was able to grab him under the jaw and tilt his head back. There it was, the thing about Grant Ward, he should have been crying considering the situation but he wasn't. The ex-agent may have been a bit pale, his eyes widened fractionally, but he looked perfectly calm otherwise. Cool as could be; as if he had not just relented on murdering his own brother and several paid guards. As if he had not, for the first time in as far as the scientist could remember, sought him for comfort and not the other way around. There had never been an occasion in Fitz's life where he thought this moment would happen - him, Leopold Fitz, ecstatic that someone he cared for had not just committed multiple homicide. That he would even be around someone who could fathom the thought of doing so. Yet here he was in another man's lap, in the too-tiny seats of a sports car, internally dancing with joy that said man was not a mass murderer. That was an eye opening life experience there, and though Fitz dared not laugh he did smile, cheekily as he dared, while tapping his forehead against Ward's with eyes closed, "I'm glad you...I'm glad you didn't. I know he did horrible things, I don't know...I know you felt he deserved it...but...I'm glad. Really, I am."

"Would you have left if I had?"

There it was, the question, the one Fitz had not answered for himself yet. When Ward asked it the man sounded drained of everything, emptied, and it was an emotion Fitz felt he could identify with. The scientist had debated that very question while waiting and thinking the man was committing homicide. 'Would I have left?' Before now it had seemed like such a difficult question to answer - he had not been able to come up with an answer. Now, sitting with Ward, hearing the man ask it in such a tone, Fitz had no hesitation with his immediate answer of, "No, I think...I would have hated myself for letting you do it...for not stopping you...but I would have…" The ex-agent was often calm, controlled, and through his hands had shaken they froze now, as did the rest of him. He was stock still as Fitz shook his head, "...I would have stayed." It felt so easy to admit it now, especially knowing what Ward had not done it, had spared them for...why?

Fitz started to ask, he got the "What-" out, before something else took his words away.

As he said that he would have stayed Ward tilted his head and pushed the scientist's back up against the driver side door. At this point Fitz, all attempts at manliness aside, literally sat in Ward's lap in a position that neither of them would ever find comfortable and legs everywhere. Comfort was second to none in importance though as the dark haired man leaned in and pressed his lips against Fitz's, stopping the words as they came, and for a moment the scientist froze in place and let it happen. The exact opposite of one of his episodes, his brain shorted out and nothing came, instead of everything all at once. It went on just long enough for Ward to begin pulling away. Brain function restored, Fitz shifted his hand behind Ward's head and pulled the ex-agent closer, back into range, and returned the kiss greedily. Not to say it was something he'd wanted for a long time - he had - but the scientist put his all into it, messily. Contrary to jokes that Skye, Trip, and occasionally Ward himself had made before, it was not Fitz's first. Not even his first with a man. It did take an award for the most aggressive and the first one where his partner made a noise, almost a growl, as they pressed him deeper into car upholstery. It went on until Fitz's brain, summarily short circuited, kickstarted to remind him of his need for oxygen. The scot pulled back, gasping for breath, flushed brilliant red and feeling overly warm. Agents of SHIELD were apparently trained to not need oxygen, Ward looked fine, and his head tilted as he went for Fitz's neck, assaulting it with the same vigour as his lips, and didn't that feel amazing.

It should not have surprised Fitz at all that he opened his mouth to say how nice it felt and what came out instead was, a very plainly stated, "I'm not Skye."

Immediate effect. Fitz froze, eyes wide, and actually covered his mouth with a hand as if to force the words back in. Ward, also stalled by the announcement, backed away from the assault on the scot's neck to look at him. It ranked high among the most awkward moments of Fitz's life and while he desperately hoped the door would fall open, taking him with it, no such thing happened. He had to actually face Grant Ward looking at him, not even a bit reddened by the past few minutes, looking blank, analyzing him at close range. Quite simply; Fitz wanted to punch himself for ruining a moment that he had off-and-on thought of in the shower for nearly a whole year before Hydra revealed itself. Granted, the setting was different, but still…

"I'm aware you're not Skye, Leo."

There it was, his first name, and Fitz nodded as the waves of, 'I'm an idiot.' washed over him.

Ward wasn't done and while he spoke, a hand pressed to the center of Fitz's chest. The scientist was not sure if it was meant to be reassuring or keep him from running, "Skye's not here. You stayed, she left long ago." It felt like there should have been more. The scot waited for it, hoping for something, he wasn't sure what, and right as he was ready to give up on this mysterious something Ward leaned forward and spoke directly into his ear, "If it had been Skye here instead of you, I would have killed Christian and all his guards. I would not have thought twice about it." He sounded truthful and so Fitz believed him, internally questioning why a mass-murder confession made him internally ecstatic and contributed it to his bizarre time with SHIELD because Ward had not done it. That should have brought his own sanity up for question.

Though that truly made Fitz freeze and then pull away, pushing until Ward relented and allowed him freedom, was the dark haired man's continued words of, "I owe you that and more." It was honest, more than Fitz expected, and perhaps too much all at the same time. A confession of so much and though the scientist knew he was being a twit, all he could think was Ward's consideration towards his injury and it soured everything. A reminder that Ward still held guilt over damaging him, that some anger over it would always remain in Fitz, and while his brain overwhelmed into a terrible migraine all at once the scientist just wanted space. Back in his seat as fast as the car allowed him to scramble, Fitz briefly considered opening the door for even more. Ward, unsurprisingly, looked confused, and had his hands up to show the scot where they were as if he were pacifying a wild animal, appearing nonthreatening. He felt like a moron.

"Leo...are you-"

"Okay?" His voice may have been a bit high. Fitz knew now he was having an episode, as he had taken to calling them, and his head hurt and his eyes watered. How he went from happy to this in a matter of minutes was a mystery. If anything, he felt as if he should have hopped from the car and started exercising, doing what Ward taught him every morning, but that would have seemed completely insane. Instead the scientist wrapped his arms tight around himself and took short, shallow breaths, fighting his body's natural urge to gulp air like a drowning man. Another trick that Ward had taught him in order to control himself. Everything looped back to the man beside him, Grant Ward, the agent who had in an attempt to save him, injured him, and whom now was trying to help him 'get better' and apparently more. Fitz knew he hoped for the more. Now that it seemed to be here, confessions of making him a better person (though not in so many words) and all, not a murderer anymore, the scientist felt more and more as if he were not ready for it, not fixed enough. It felt wrong to get what he wanted and still feel like this.

"Fitz."

Ward's voice was soft, the smallest of sounds. He reached out but halted when the scientist flinched somewhat and instead of touching him, his hand landed open and palm up on the console between them. It was there if he wanted it. When Ward spoke, it held the same tone, "Sorry, I should not have done that like...well...that, I guess." That was not the problem. Fitz shook his head adamantly to tell Ward that but the agent seemed to get the wrong idea, his frown deepening, as he took his hand back, "I thought, even back on the bus, that you wanted to." It was strange to hear Ward sound unsure, backtracking even, as the man went on, his expression hardening, "No, I know how you feel towards me. If it is because of today then I-"

"N...Nn…" The words would not come out! Struggling, fighting what was happening to him, Fitz kicked the dash of the car. Once, twice, three times, and Ward never stopped him but the man did draw back and look, in a way only Grant Ward could, incredibly concerned. "No. I do. I want it. I want you. I always..." He sighed, a hand running through his hair, and Fitz had to look away from the other man to get it all out, look out the window at the deserted scenery around them. Something caught his eye, "Not like this. Not while I'm defective. You should...you should…"

It finally clicked in Fitz head, above his own troubles, what he was looking at.

"Ward, the hhh..."

"You are not defective. Leo, you are still a genius-"

Fitz shook his head frantically and pointed, "No! The house is on fire." Black plumes of smoke rose above the treeline and if he had not known the old Ward home was that way, the scientist might have assumed it to be a forest fire. There was no mistaking what it was though even at their distance from the house. It was on fire and to produce that much smoke the entire place must be ablaze. For a brief, paralyzing moment, he doubted everything, all the mercy that Ward had claimed to give, and suspected the other of setting the fire. It was brief, a passing thought, and one that he felt ashamed for when Ward threw open the car door and shot off into the trees.

He opened his own door to follow but stopped, one foot out of the vehicle, completely frozen as everything that just went on washed over him at once. Ward had made a move on him and he rejected it. It would have been an impossible thought not so long ago, before everything, and now that he'd done it Fitz felt like bashing his own head in on the dashboard. Like ripping at his hair and running screaming into the wilderness to find a nice cave to live in where no one would have to bother him. Both thoughts were insane but that seemed to be the way of his life these days.

XXXXX XXXXX XXXXX XXXXX XXXXX

"Earlier today Senator Christian Ward, recent outspoken critic of SHIELD, and Valerie King, an up and coming political activist, were found dead in King's summer home near Lake Huron. While the authorities are currently withholding details pending further investigation, our sources have confirmed that this is being treated as a murder investigation and a case of arson. The prime suspect in the investigation is currently Senator Ward's brother, who is believed to have escaped custody prior to his trial. We'll be updating the story as details emerge. King's family…"

The blonde, blue bloused woman on screen went silent as Ward muted the television. It had been the same report on three separate news station. 'Christian Ward and political activist colleague burned to death during a meeting.' No mention of an affair, no mention of the disabled guards who were likely in medical treatment, and every station had made mention of the 'deranged and likely escaped brother' as the number one possible suspect in the investigation. King's family had apparently offered a reward for any details leading to his capture. At one point even Glenn Talbot had appeared for a short interview over how he did not believe that this was a counter-attack by SHIELD for Senator Ward's activism against them, as it seemed 'sloppy' for the heinous criminal organization, but likely the work of the good senator's 'deranged brother'.

None of the stations had a picture to show of him yet but they would dig one up eventually.

Ward was alone in the living area of their newest hotel room. It was too close to the burned down husk that had once been his family home, Ward would have preferred to drive through the night, but it did not seem possible. Fitz state when they left the scene had been especially bad. At one point he had to pull over and help the scientist calm down. They had barely stepped foot in the place before he fled into the room and closed the door behind him. That was fine, Ward could understand that Fitz needed time. Three hours later, without a single sound from the bedroom, he had begun to grow a bit concerned. It was easy to imagine the scot gone back into catatonia.

He knocked at the door first, "Fitz, are you still awake?"

No response.

It was dark when Ward went in. Once his eyes adjusted to the dim light cast into the room by the television, seeing what happened was easy. The short engineer lay on his side, still fully dressed in his jeans and ruined shirt, shoes still on, practically fetal on the bed with his head tucked into a pillow. With his face turned away Ward could not make anything of that but still, sleep was good. It was better than the yelling or the dead, unnatural silence that Fitz fell into during some of his episodes. Small as he was, the scientist still took up most of the bed, it being only a single twin sized mattress in the first room available. That was fine, Ward had gotten accustomed to sleeping on couches half of the time, and planned to go about that quietly. The specialist had not planned on crossing the room to the bed, removing the scientist's shoes, his own, then settling on the mattress behind the scot. It was a bad idea considering how Fitz reacted to him earlier in the day but Ward still settled flush, front to Leo's back, and snaked an arm over the other man.

...He had already realized that Fitz was not as asleep as he seemed.

"Ward, we can't."

There it was again, a small voice, and instead of letting go Ward held tighter as the engineer shifted back against him. Getting this close probably was a bad idea, he knew it, but kept on.

"This is as far it will go if you want." He felt Fitz nod, the darkness heavier as something else played on the TV. It would have been easy to just lay there, taking the closeness and silence to do some thinking of his own, but Ward preferred to not consider his own problems. It was far easier to think about someone else, "Talk to me. We don't have to talk about us," Though that was exactly what the specialist really wanted to do. Whatever this was, constant touching but an apparent lack of going further entirely due to the engineer's desires, was precisely the sort of thing they needed to puzzle out before proceeding. Otherwise, it would be a distraction, but for now Ward allowed it to remain one, "I need to know what is going on with you though. I, well, I was trained to compartmentalize things like this." That was not exactly true. Neither SHIELD nor Hydra prepared a person for their older brother to, out of fear of reprisal, kill himself and his unfortunate mistress by burning a house down around them. Another issue to add to his growing repertoire. Ward had no way of knowing if Christian knew about Valerie or not when he did it.

The scientist shuffled, Ward thought to face him and so loosened his arms, but instead Fitz ended up on his back facing up at the ceiling, no eye contact as he kept them firmly closed. He didn't move the arm over him. "I...Grant I...maybe I was wrong." Ward raised a brow, confused, but Fitz gave him no opportunity but to wait as the man formulated whatever he was going to say. Though he did not dwell on it a part of the specialist suspected Fitz meant this entire situation - helping him escape on - and that was a revelation a bit late in coming. Ward would have been able to understand though. He was not quite as clear when instead of that, the obvious answer, Fitz quietly muttered into the dark, "I should not have stopped you."

"What do you-"

"I should have let you kill him." His voice was forceful, resolute, and before Grant could consider protest he went on, "I really am naive like everyone says. If I had not stopped you, that woman would still be alive, and even if he had not done it, who is to say he would not have come back and tried to kill you." A pause, Fitz raised a hand and rubbed at his eyes in what could only be frustration, "In the end you would have killed him anyway." There was nothing Ward could say to argue with that. It was true, he would have killed Christian if his brother had ever reappeared. The unfortunate loss of his mistress aside, something the specialist really was not too concerned over, the situation still remained an optimal outcome. It would do nothing to share that with the clearly distraught scientist though and so instead Ward just slid forward, bringing them closer, slotting his head into the crook of Fitz's neck. It had been strange at first to touch another male this much outside of an undercover mission but Ward, always on point, had adjusted. Even come to like it really. Enough to kiss the scientist, wanting to do it now even, but he refrained.

It hardly seemed a good time.

"You're right. I would have. I'm a killer."

He expected Fitz to protest, as he did every time this topic came up, but it never came. Instead of pushing him away or fighting it the scot slowly raised a hand and hovered it over Ward's head. A moment, two, and he lowered it, rubbing back and forth, practically petting his head. The position was incredibly intimate but it was too dark to see if Fitz was blushing, not that Ward really cared, he was okay with the closeness. The specialist waited for the other to respond, to argue, to say anything at all, but it never came. They sat in silence for several minutes that way.

"I'm glad you tried to stop me." Fitz shifted, probably to look at him, but from the angle Ward could not see. "I meant what I said before. On my own I tend to fuck things up. That's why I…" He paused a moment, ghosting his fingers to the hem of Fitz's shirt and up, beneath it, pads grazing skin. The scientist twitched against him but did not pull away or fight it. Ward took it as one quiet victory as testing the limits of what the bizarre scot would allow, "It's easier to listen to others. Christian, Garrett, Fury, even Coulson, following orders is easy. Easier to 'trust the system' than to make your own decisions and deal with the consequences." Being this honest felt bizarre, Ward inwardly cringed from it, and an interrogator would have been able to rip him apart with that information. Garrett had brought him low and even destroyed him with the knowledge that, end all - be all, Ward preferred to follow orders than setting his own agenda.

"I...I can't be…" After enough time around Fitz, Ward knew when the techie was uncomfortable with a topic. The stumbling got worse and basic words went out of reach. It also distracted him in his own head and while Fitz worked out what he wanted to say, the specialist creeped his fingers further up the other's chest and palmed down over his heart. Unsurprisingly, it was pounding in his chest, and Ward paid close mind to it while listening, "Can't be like Fury or Coulson, and I don't...don't want to be like Garrett. Ever. Not like him. I can't tttt-tell you what to do." A tremor went down his body and Ward considered drawing back, giving him room to panic, but Fitz's hand on his head had not let up. The scientist still 'held him in place' and so he stayed.

"Can't give your orders. I'm not trained, and I'm not...I'm...well, broke-"

"You're not broken."

Ward pushed back against Fitz's hand and sat up, hovering over the other man now. Face-to-face he got to drink in Fitz's incredible blush, wide eyes, and general shocked appearance. "You have trouble with words and moving this," he caught Fitz's left hand, the 'bad hand', and waved it while the scientist tried to pull it away, "Neither really effects your decision making or morality. As far as I'm aware you are still a genius." It should have been impossible for Fitz to get darker, his breathing more erratic, but it had. "If I need to rely on someone else to help me make the right decisions, I can not think of a better person, can you?" The man below him was going to argue - Ward knew it. He'd say Coulson would be a better choice, Skye, anyone to deflect it from himself. The scientist never wanted to be the one calling the shots either.

What Grant did not expect was for Fitz to grab hold of his shirt and pull him back down, the front of his body draped over the other's, and smash their lips together. It was the more aggressive cousin of what they shared in the car earlier though this time Fitz lead it, pushing his body up into Ward's, teeth connecting and tongues twisting. Ward held himself up with a hand to the mattress near Fitz's head while his other hand, the one still in the scientist's shirt, bore down and scraped not-too-roughly down the scot's chest. The sound Fitz made went through Ward like electricity and when the shorter man's mouth fell open, gasping, Ward attacked his neck.

There would be marks left behind.

"No...no further, we can't...I can't...not-"

Ward sighed, internally, and leaned back from his prize, "Whenever you want. Just say so."

Fitz's eyes were blown, wide, and his breathing ragged from arousal but he nodded. Ward returned it and went back to teasing himself. With the sounds Fitz made, he'd have to stop soon.

Maybe not; this was enjoyable in a fashion - everyone suspected him of masochism anyway.


Author Note

So a lot happened here.
I'm not 100% on board with how this chapter went.
But it accomplished the goal and even if I rewrite, content remains.
Hope no one minds I skipped the Ward/Christian scenes.
Tried writing it and just got so monologuing and messy.
Coming up next - What is a canon plot, complete divergence!

Chapter Text

Author Note

At over 50K words this is now the longest fanfic I've written.
...Kinda scared I might go full fledged novel size here.


"I...I'm not sure this will work."

"It will; just go with it and let me take point."

Fitz nodded but still dropped a, "Definitely not going to work." under his breath. Ward let it go only because the whole plan was a hail mary at the very best. Too many variables at play.

The two were coming up on the hour mark crammed into their newest ride, a red mitsubishi eclipse belonging to a nosey neighbor at their last hotel, waiting for go-time. One hour was the requirement to enter the run-down corner bar and not get a bullet in the face. It was enough time to make your presence known and let all the proper channels be checked. Considering its status as an undercover terrorist organization - Hydra required everything be by the book. 'Compliance will be rewarded' and all of that. The waiting should have gotten to him, it was nerve wracking, but Ward had a distraction that kept his attentions. While Ward had his usual black tee and jeans, Leopold Fitz, long-time fan of flannel button downs and sneakers, sat beside him decked to the nines in a dress suit, jet black, with a thin red tie looping down into his jacket. The pants were a bit too big, the sleeves too long, but despite the lack of a tailor Fitz looked professional for once. It was strange, really, and Ward somewhat preferred the flannel. This look did, at least, bring out the 'young Tony Stark' vibe the specialist wanted. Less suave but a suit could only do so much.

"This tie is going to kill me." Now if only Fitz would leave it all alone.

"You're tightening it. Stop tugging on the lip." Ward leaned over the console and took his time adjusting the neck of the tie, loosening it just enough for Fitz to breath. (During the earlier process of getting it on they discovered Fitz had trouble with things around his neck - that had been fun to work through on the fly.) Taking advantage of the moment, Ward leaned in and pressed his mouth against Fitz's. The reaction was nearly always the same. First the scientist froze, let it happen, then got aggressively into it. An enormous change from a little over a week ago when it first happened and he did not know what to do. Now Ward had a hand behind his head while Leo's other fisted in his shirt, pulling him closer, and the shorter man had his head tilted to the side and back. The scientist truly was a quick study, Ward gave him that.

He still had to work on his after conversation though. All at once Fitz pushed him back, a hand physically holding Ward at distance on either shoulder, until the engineer regained himself enough to speak, "They're watching. We can't do this out here. Nazis. Don't they...um...Hydra that is…something against." Red in the face, Fitz fought with whatever it was he planned to say - Ward let him, already having figured it out - while the specialist settled back into his seat. Across the street from them the open sign, previously flashing red, was now turned off.

That would be their queue.

"They do. It will actually help our cover though, you'll see." That was all the detail Ward gave out. Fitz gave him an incredulous look but seemed to buy it. As they crossed the street to the bar a handful of patrons came out and scattered in every direction like roaches. Fitz may have been confused by it but Ward knew he had just bought every one of them a free drink. The perks of drinking at a front - sometimes you had to get out immediately and had no time to pay the tab. None of the previous patrons looked their way, these drunks apparently well trained, as the two stepped in. Dark lit, a bit ragged at the edges, the bar looked like every other road-side dive Ward had encountered in his day. Almost comforting, really, were it not for the skin-head bartender in a leather vest and the fact Ward knew a giant hydra logo hid behind the reflective bar mirror. His previous contact here, Vanessa, had been much more pleasant, all red hair and laid back 'chill'. She at least had the class to not glare daggers at him and the obviously uncomfortable, overdressed scientist with him. Van also knew better than to palm her gun unlike this guy. He eyed them suspiciously, hand tucked under the counter in a position Ward made for a full blown shotgun in seconds. The specialist returned the greeting by showing off his lack of a piece while knocking a bar stool out for Fitz first. Every good so far, no one shot and Fitz looked only mildly, acceptably freaked out by the events around him.

"What'll you have today?" Skin-head bartender had an accent, sounded German, maybe western Czech, Ward had trouble differentiating them on occasion. The man also had perfect white teeth that did not fit with the rest of his image. The evaluation from 'cover man' to 'trained placement' went seamlessly though Ward's mind as he updated his plans. One thing worked in his favor - the man completely ignored Fitz to the point it was clearly intentional.

Good.

"A bullet to the head."

Fitz looked at him like he were a lunatic but the bartender, hand finally coming off the shotgun, laughed in his face. "Yes, my friend, you do." and while the word 'friend' may have been used the face did not reflect it. A brief moment passed that Ward suspected he used the wrong code, an old retired one, but the glass of double vodka was poured all the same. The bartender took one for himself as well but once again, continuing the trend of intention, ignored the shorter man at Ward's side. Where-before the scientist had not noticed now he seemed to and the scot looked annoyed. He didn't say anything which was good. Ward's knee hovered an inch from the scientist's. Fitz looked to need the reassurance when Ward and his new 'friend' slammed back the shots, shook hands, and spoke at the same time.

"Hail Hydra."

XXXXX XXXXX XXXXX

Fitz, this once, was glad to be excluded. He was not sure that he could have said that phrase even under pressure, not even once, knowing what Hydra stood for. Just seeing Ward shake the hand of a Hydra agent and say it, even as a ruse, made the scientist highly uncomfortable. Even knowing them being here was his idea did not stop the whole thing from feeling like a nightmare.

For the first time since they sat down the bartender actually looked at him, be it not with the most impressed face, before the skin-head resumed talking to Ward...in another language. The scientist could not place it, though he suspected something close to German, and was hardly surprised when Ward responded in the same language. He had been warned this might happen but it did not ease his nerves any. Fitz resisted the urge to get up and walk away, explore the bar, only under duress of Ward having told him not to. Instead he got to listen as the two men of Hydra swapped words back and forth until after a few minutes, with another handshake, the bartender moved off to the back room and left the two of them alone at the bar. Fitz waited while Ward looked around, ran a hand under the bar, and scoped out their surrounds before giving him a nod - apparently the room was clean as far as the specialist could tell. Still had to be careful.

'Playfully', he put some effort into it, Fitz slapped Ward's arm, "What the hell was all that?"

Ward did not see too hurt, "Czech. I told you. Actually, you not knowing helped."

"How?"

The specialist, for once, actually looked a bit nervous as he rubbed at the back of his neck. He also was not making eye contact. All in all, Fitz's curiosity surged and he pressed again, "What exactly was he saying then? I'm guessing nothing good, he didn't seem to like me very much." 'Very much' being an understatement. At one point the man had looked at him and Fitz somewhat expected to be spit on. Which was weird, people usually liked him, or at least they found him funny from first meeting. Not that he had said anything. Nor was he usually wearing a suit that turned his entire body into one giant itch. While waiting for Ward to answer Fitz drove a finger into the collar of his shirt and tugged, jostling the tie, and took a few shaky breaths. It was strange really, wearing a tie had never bothered him before, and Fitz was not sure exactly when he just stopped wearing them...or when he started feeling like they were choking him to death.

Ward reached over the bar and grabbed a glass and the bottle their first shot poured from. Apparently the conversation had been nothing good; Fitz was shocked by the liberal shot pushed his way. Actually, shot was 'light', it was at least a double, maybe a triple, and Ward poured himself one similiar. The specialist took a sip before finally answering and for once, Fitz somewhat regretted that whole 'total honesty clause', "First he asked if I had to turn you around and think of a woman while fucking you." Fitz had his glass at his mouth when Ward said it and sprayed vodka on the bar, coughing heavily, and the agent just patted his back sympathetically. As if he had not timed it with his drink. As if he were not a bastard. Fitz glared balefully at Ward's smirk and moved away from his hand as he went on, "He had a lot of questions about it. Even told me at one point I could leave you behind and meet his boss elsewhere. Think you got a fan."

Fitz rolled his eyes and took another, careful this time, sip of his overly rough drink. He didn't cough this time at all, hurrah for a scottish heritage, "That's a bad joke. He looked like he wanted to hit me." Ward's expression did not change, still a smirk, and Fitz stared at him just long enough for it to sink in. 'Oh, well that is uncomfortable.' and he reached out, grabbing Ward's wrist on the bar, almost making the other man spill his drink, "Is it too late for me to wait in the car? I mean, you have this, you can just come get me when your contact arrives right?" Despite saying it Fitz did not move away from his stool, his drink, or Ward's hand maneuvering to wrap around his own. The bartender gave their linked hands on his bar a hard look, lips curling, when he emerged from the back. He pointedly didn't stay up front with them, only taking the time to clip off something else in Czech to Ward before vanishing once more into the back room. Through the open door, looking this time, Fitz caught sight of a desktop and some other equipment. Most likely a communication room. Ward had said these places served as hubs. If it were at all possible Fitz would love to get his hands on that equipment. It had been weeks, since building and disarming a bomb on Ward, that he had any real hands-on tech work to do. Maybe it was a little addictive - he had already dismantled and upgraded his current burner phone in a multitude of ways. No, that equipment was definitely coming with them when they left.

Ward caught him and tilted his head, questioning, and Fitz just grinned. Following his look the specialist smirked and nodded, "Sure thing. Whatever you want, handler. On the way out."

Handler. The term still sounded strange to Fitz - making no more sense than when Ward originally explained it. Apparently, according to the ex-agent, 'handler' is what Coulson technically was. There were field agents, specialists like Ward or May, lab, like Simmons, himself, and Sky, and then handlers, people like Coulson who made decisions and led cells. In a roundabout way it answered a few of Fitz past questions about why Coulson never seemed as insane fighting as Ward or especially May. According to Ward, that was common, the current director of SHIELD was not the greatest of fighters but had 'damn good' leadership skills suited to being a handler. It sounded like a ton of responsibility and that made Fitz incredibly nervous, comparing himself to Coulson, though in his case the title felt more like a pleasant honor rather than a real job. He only had one 'agent'. One agent who technically could command himself just fine and wanted a moral compass. So less handler, more walking conscience, and while Fitz still did not understand the need he was more than happy to fill it if meant helping real-Ward become who he wanted to be.

It still smarted that Ward had not only failed to understand his Handler equals Pokemon trainer reference but had even made fun of him for it. For two days. Two unforgiving, nerd-joke days. Enough that Fitz issued his first 'field order' to never mention it again and so far; Ward had not.

Ward looked past him and broke their hands apart, rising from his stool, and when Fitz looked over his shoulder he saw why. Three men had entered the bar, one a smartly dressed dark haired man who was obviously their meet, the other two having all the looks of suited muscle. They also moved like Ward and if it were not far too late - Fitz would have called the mission off on that alone. He trusted Ward, really, he'd seen the man take down enough goons, but these two looked professional and the bartender came out of the back. Two to four, technically one to four with Fitz as a sideliner, and those odds seemed stacked. Fitz tried his best to hide his nerves as they relocated to one of the circle tables. It was not lost on anyone when Ward hooked a foot under a chair and dragged it closer, sitting in the one now closest to it, and Fitz sank into the one directly by his side.

The man did not comment on it, though he did quirk a brow, before offering his hand, "Sunil Bakshi. It is a pleasure to finally meet you Agent Ward." Grant shook his hand and once they finished, Bakshi offered it to Fitz who shook it after some hesitation. He did not seem to care about the delay - everyone present had their attentions fixed on his agent. Ward seemed comfortable with the attentions, he'd warned Fitz how Hydra saw him, and while that it was good, it was uncomfortable to see Ward given respect for the terrible things he had done under Garrett. Speaking of which, "Shame what happened to Garrett. I did not prefer the man but he was definitely a worthwhile asset. Forgive me for asking but is it true he went insane near the end?" This man, Bakshi, treated it like the most casual conversation, speaking while motioning the bartender to bring him over a drink. The bottle of red wine brought out of hiding seemed completely out of place with their surroundings. Late, Fitz noticed Ward had brought their bottle of liquor over and topped off their glass. No one offered Goon one or Goon two a drink.

Ward raised his glass and Bakshi followed suit, Fitz in a hurried awkward third, "To Garrett." All three of them took a drink, though Fitz felt like spitting it out also in memory of the man, as Ward continued, "Your reports are true. After taking the last sample of GH.325 we managed to salvage Garrett started...well, I'm sure you read all about it. Trust me when I say Garrett was never the most stable man I knew but he did not seem to get off on killing Generals and his own troops." Bakshi nodded, a frown set on his face, while Fitz looked down at his own lap and tried to hide his surprise. That was one thing they had never really talked about, Ward apparently avoiding the topic of exactly what happened with Garrett. Considering Fitz himself had been comatose at the time everything he knew about the after was second-hand: he knew about the general, about May and Ward fighting, about Mike Peterson being freed. No one ever mentioned the extent of Garrett's insanity beyond him shouting about being the 'center of the universe' or something.

Bakshi took another sip of his wine, "So we can assume that program is a failure then?"

Rather than answer Ward looked at Fitz and waved a hand, giving him the floor, and the undivided attention of a Hydra leader and his goons. The scientist started to panic until he felt Ward's leg press against his, thigh to thigh, and the reassurance got his mouth to cooperate, "The...that is, GH.325, the drug...it's flawed. Fundamentally. Our research showed the drug had a…" Dammit, what was the word. Ward clearly wanted to feed the idea of him being a genius and this was not helping. Especially not when the Hydra officer before him volunteered, "Retrograde?" and that was the wrong word but Fitz took it, "Right. Retrograde. Sorry. The drug had a retrograde period. Without proper upkeep the entire batch became defective. That's why Garrett went insane. The drug had terrible short-term side effects." It did not seem like enough.

Apparently it was, the man across from him nodded, looking pleased, "I see. That would fit in with the reports our lab department received as well. I do value the first hand research aspect though. All of our compiled data is, unfortunately, the product of that woman Raina who worked with Garrett. I believe you two have met her personally? Her research notes are quite...peculiar."

Fitz started to explain how most scientists first-hand notes actually look but Ward cut him off, pressing against his thigh again, "Raina was strange in general, not just her notes. Woman was chatty enough but makes the Black Widow look like an open book. I warned Garrett she would defect given half the chance but he seemed convinced he could control her. Obviously, he couldn't." Ward had never mentioned Raina before, not even once, and it seemed strange for him to get chatty about her now. Fitz felt like something was going on as the man at his side and Hydra-commander across from him shared a look, gauging, before Bakshi shook his head.

Ward smirked, "So she is still on the loose then?"

The man's smile slipped fractionally, "You do not have to fish Agent Ward."

Oh, so that is what was going on. At his side Ward shrugged nonchalantly and took another sip of his drink. Since the initial toast Fitz had not even touched his. "Guess not. Old habits.", as if that explained anything, and the scientist noticed Goon Two reaching around behind himself…

Bakshi waved a hand, without looking, and Goon Two stopped, "So why do you care about her?"

"Asset evaluation. Fitz here," At this Ward brazenly swung an arm over Fitz's shoulders and leaned back, looking comfortable, "was among the premier scientists in SHIELD and more importantly a seasoned expert in the study of 0-8-4s. If Raina were under your employ it would hurt the value of what we are offering though honestly, she barely holds a candle to him." Suddenly all attention was on Fitz and the scientist, despite trying to fight it, felt his face flush at the praise. It did not help when Ward threw out an off-handed, "He was lead scientist on Phil Coulson's asset management team and worked first hand with all their discoveries." Chances are it was against SHIELD protocol to look embarrassed before the enemy but Fitz could not resist, especially not when Bakshi fixed him with a curious look, clearly gauging him.

...and the man shrugged, plucking up his wine like they were discussing something less interesting, "I know Mr. Fitz here. We have comprehensive files on all SHIELD personnel. I also worked closely for a time with his lab partner, Jemma Simmons." Bakshi placed his wine back after a sip, nonchalant, uninterested, and Fitz would have panicked had they not discussed this very eventuality during their planning. Jemma's history with Hydra made this a nearly impossible selling point from most conventional angles, "She was a traitor you know. Well, I suppose technically she was never loyal at all. What is to convince me that Mr. Fitz here is not the same?

"I would not-"

Bakshi cut him off, "Not you, Agent Ward. Mr. Fitz, would you care to explain?"

Any questions Fitz had about Ward's skill manipulating people were dismissed at that question. Everything was prepared perfectly and Fitz even had the leave to look down, away, to help hide any indication of him lying. Not that it was, completely. From what he had learned in their planning the best lies held large segments of truth, "I...injured. I was...injured. By Ward, but under Garrett's orders. It...I was angry. Really angry. But the worst part was after my injury. SHIELD...well, this new SHIELD, they could not afford to dismiss me. Not enough scientists of my caliber." It felt strange to be telling someone this. Ward was one thing, Fitz had been able to practice it without a breakdown. Telling the Hydra commander though? It felt different, more invasive to share any of himself with someone other than Grant. The man at his side seemed to notice and passed him the glass. Liquor may not help the act but it did help Fitz keep talking despite his hesitation, "They might as well have...no, they did, lock me in the lab. I could not do my work, assistants did all of it. I just…" Fitz made a motion with his glass, a circle in the air, a nothingness, "Thought the ideas up." Bakshi was nodding across from him, following every word, and Fitz took a guiltily large drink. Too much apparently, Ward caught the glass and pulled it away to set it back down, and his hand landed on Fitz's thigh with a squeeze. The touch helped and Fitz ran a finger over the agent's hand as he said, "Grant and I were close before...things. I didn't know about everything, he never told me, but...we were. He got me out of there with him."

Bakshi took a moment, looking between the two of them, and for a moment Fitz was convinced the whole idea had been a flop. He started to lean forward, slouch in his seat, but Ward's hand tightened on his thigh and Fitz sat up straight again. When at last Bakshi replied the scientist was shocked to see him nod, "I see. I believe I understand then. The guiding beliefs of Hydra may not agree with this," He waved a hand at the two of them, his meaning clear. ", but I like to think of the value in something first. If your expertise is on par with or higher than Ms. Simmons, I could certainly have a use for you Mr. Fitz." It took everything Fitz had to not sigh in relief when Bakshi looked from him to Ward, apparently accepting his story, just as Ward said he would.

It was incredible and worrisome at the same time.

"What of you Agent Ward? Plan to return to us as well I take it?"

Ward nodded, drawing his arm back from Fitz to trail down the scientist's back, "Yes, though first I have something I want to do. Fitz told me Coulson was looking for some 0-8-4 that went missing during an op awhile back." The man across from them stilled, watching Ward with steady eyes, though the agent just shrugged as if he did not even notice, "I want to find it before they do. Figure anything Coulson wants will be more useful in our hands, right? Just have to find out the details of the op. Haven't been able to do so while keeping Leo here out of SHIELD hands. I think they want him back more than me to be honest with you." Half-truth again, though played up as Ward looked over and gave him eyes that Fitz knew the other man never formed. It felt strange to be playing up a relationship between them when the most they did was kiss and sleep together, most nights. The whole situation was an odd fasciminally of what could be if he would just…

This was not the time.

Bakshi nodded, something of a smirk on his face, "I see. Assuming we are talking the same artifact, we already have a team on it. I could see about having you assigned to it. At the same time I can see to the safety of your friend here." He plucked up his glass and laughed a bit, speaking as he coated the rim with a finger, "Ironic really, you get to chase down the very woman you claim to dislike. My employer would prefer her alive but if we do not need her, I suppose you can do as you like." The man's meaning was clear, his eyes on Fitz, as he gauged 'her' replaceable. Ward picked up on who he meant quicker than Fitz. His agent tensed up, a rigidity going down the arm patting his back, and the look Ward gave Bakshi fell heavily on the side of intense.

"Raina has it?"

Bakshi nodded, still smirking, "The very same. We have been tracking-"

Ward never gave him a chance to finish. The moment Bakshi confirmed it, Raina had the 0-8-4, Fitz felt a hand ghost up the jacket of his suit and back down, drawing with it Ward's gun. Apparently an HK45 tactical, whatever that meant, Fitz was just glad to have it gone and not digging into his back or his nerves anymore. Hearing it fire was a lot worse. As his agent swung and put a bullet into the bartender, Fitz shoved his chair away with a scrape and dove for the underside of the table. One shot, something exploded behind the bar and everyone started yelling. Crouching low, chest pressed to his knees and face almost on the floor, Fitz covered his ears and waited. Another shot, muffled by his hands, and a body crumbled just out of his field of view, probably Goon One. A few seconds later, two more gunshots, and a second body joined the first on the floor, likely Goon Two. The fact that there had been two shots worried him but Fitz remained where he was, safely out of the way, until a foot nudged his calf.

"Fitz, you can come out now."

"Gladly."

It was impossible to be dignified crawling on hands and knees out from under a table, having avoided the fire fight, but Fitz did so as best he could. He also avoided looking at the two bodies, a third presumably behind the bar, and instead focused on Bakshi's face. The man was definitely not looking smug with blood running down his face and the remnants of a nose. Judging by the blood dripping from the butt of Ward's pistol, which was now trained on the Hydra liaison, Fitz had a good idea of where the injury came from. Ward of course did not have a scratch on him.

If it were not for the bodies and blood, Fitz may have swooned a little. Maybe. He had issues.

When Ward spoke it was short, clipped even, as he jerked the Hydra officer up and began dragging him towards the computer room, "Do what you need to do and wait on me outside. If you see anyone suspicious lurking around or pulling up, leave. I'll catch up." Fitz nodded but chances are Ward never saw it. The man was not looking at him, focused instead on his captive, and a part of the scientist was okay with it. They had not agreed on this part of the plan. Not argued, per-say, but had definitely not agreed. Fitz had simply wanted to find out the current state of the Obelisk. Ward, well, the ex-Hydra apparently had a lot more questions he needed answered. Apparently a simple conversation was not the way to get the answers he wanted.

"Grant." Ward did not turn, keeping all his focus on the still-bleeding Bakshi, who probably did not appreciate being slammed into a wall with a gun shoved to his skull. The specialist did delay though, listening, and Fitz breathed a sigh of relief, "Don't kill him. Leave him alive for the team to collect. They may need information we don't know of." Not to mention, graces were few and far.

"Understood."

"Thank you."

"Don't mention it."

That settled Fitz took a seat, though not the one he had earlier which now faced two bodies he dedicatedly was trying to ignore, and pulled out his phone. His nerves were out of control, his bad hand shaking like a leaf, but with a deep breath Leo pushed through it. There was only one chance for him to get this 'right' - if there was any possible way of making things 'right' again.

XXXXX XXXXX XXXXX

The Playground may have had a full fledged meeting room but they still met in Coulson's office every time. Nine times out of ten they all took up the same spots even. Coulson, himself, would stand in front of the far wall they used for projections. May, his Second, worked the laptop for projections and stayed back out of the crowd. Skye would take the armchair with Simmons perched on the arm of it, constantly asking questions that Skye then bounced off to more daring and intense questions. Trip usually hovered behind the ladies leaned up against the wall. The other arm chair? It was a race; either Bobbi or Hunter would get it first though half-way through a meeting he would silently get up and forfeit it to her. Later on, Hunter would cite this as more evidence of her 'subtle emotional manipulation'. Mack was the off-one, he used to sit on the floor near the wall beside where Fitz would stand, out of the way, quietly listening, though considering recent events the man had changed his position to standing instead to the left of the projection screen. Still out of the way, still quiet, but now instead of interpreting Fitz, he said nothing.

"I did not exactly get to know the guy but really? At a shoot-out?", Hunter, in the chair for now.

"There is no way Fitz would have been there. People were killed right?", Simmons, who for once was chewing on a nail, worrying it really, waiting for answers. A combination of worry and long hours directing the entire SHIELD lab had her eyes more tired than normal. There was also the worrying fact that she wore the same blouse two days in a row, spill on the arm included, that was just enough out of character to have Coulson a bit concerned. He would definitely be dismissing her back to her room after the meeting to catch up on her sleep, lab be damned.

"Seriously, no way. What? We supposed to believe Ward taught him gunkata or something?" Skye, with her usual humor, though she didn't laugh or smile after saying it. Another side-effect of Fitz being gone; Skye and Mack pulling more hours in the lab to assist Simmons. The girl would never be able to build a stealth engine for the plane but she could at least wire together basic systems under Mack's direct supervision. Apparently the two had bonded over a mutual hatred of Grant Ward. The large man let out a grunt of agreement with her comment.

Bobbi, stepping forward, offered her piece. "It's possible. Not gun-kata of course, that is idiotic, but Ward could be teaching him how to shoot and martial arts. I've fielded assets in a few weeks before when the situation called for it. All you need is the proper motivation and people can learn quickly." The specialist paused, a manicured nail tapping at her lip for a moment, before shrugging, "I doubt it though. Considering how he was when I saw them, I'd be surprised he could manage to handle a gun and not shoot himself. Might even be doing us a fav-"

"Bobbi."

It was the first time May had spoken up since they piled in the office. The blonde woman looked over, checking with May, before realizing everyone was staring at her. She didn't back down, Bobbi never did, but the woman did shrug and fall silent. While Coulson, as Director, was forced to deal with her specialized 'take' on the situation, neither May or himself felt the rest had to.

"it's possible but unlikely. For now, Coulson, the video?" Melinda, always to the point, stared at Coulson until he sighed and relented. May and Trip had already watched it during their sting. Well, sting was the inappropriate term, during their 'retrieval' after an old SHIELD line had been contacted. It had definitely been Fitz's voice giving them the address of the Hydra hub. The video did not even need testing. Coulson knew it was legitimate as soon as May sent him the file. Now the rest of the team would get to see it. The Director nodded and with a frown, she started it.

Coulson moved aside as a close up, selfie phone camera video went up on the projection.

"Wait, is that a suit-"

"Skye."

"Right, sorry."

The suit had taken Coulson off guard as well. No, not the suit, it was a general sense of difference in how Fitz appeared. The suit was just the top layer. Beyond it was the short almost-military level haircut that Coulson could only assume Ward had done. The engineer also had the start of a tan - as much as he would ever get considering his heritage - mostly around his face and neck. Prior to leaving, Fitz had never gone outside, not even on his best days. Now the man looked to have seen a healthy amount of sunlight. All of that took second place to the fact that instead of unfocused eyes, a frown, or the worse yet crying, Fitz was smiling in the video. No, not quite smiling, he was grinning, and it would have been a wonderful sight if Coulson was not fully aware of three dead bodies in the room with him. That particular change seemed chilling - even though Phil was fully aware that it was hardly the scientists first brush with bodies. May had disagreed with his assessment of that as a negative and called it 'necessary'. Though he was forbidden to ever mention the event again - Phil could see how she and Ward got on.

"So...it's me. Hi again, everyone."

Simmons made a choked sound at his voice, looking away, and Skye patted her on the back while the hacker watched. Simmons was not the only one affected. Mack had not gotten up to watch the projection, instead simply standing beside it and listening, Hunter pulled a face but offered up no commentary, instead choosing to look disgruntled in silence.

Fitz was still speaking, "Umm...yeah, this is awkward. I would prefer to do this in person but for obvious reasons that is impossible so…" He paused, lifting a lowball glass to his mouth for a sip, before wiping with a hand and continuing, "Sorry. Nerves. Anyway, I want to start off by apologizing. I should have found a better way but I was pressed for time and…" He trailed off, stuck in a moment they all recognized though he did not snap. Instead he raised his arms over his head and lowered them, slowly, down behind his neck. Anyone else would have interpreted it for a stretch but May had already voiced her concerns to Coulson about it. Once the motion was complete, Fitz looked more serious, less grinny, "I'm sorry. I wish there had been a better way. I could not let you guys turn Ward over. I just...he...I couldn't. I know you don't understand but…" The scot looked away from the camera towards something in the background before turning back, his voice lower, "I need you to know, Grant did not kill the Senator. I stopped him, I swear, I stopped him. He killed himself. After Grant and him talked he set the fire, not Grant, and I know you probably don't believe me but it's true so…" Another sip from the glass and he pulled a face, presumably at the large amount he just drank, before continuing, "I should stop that. I can't do this drunk.", and he pushed the glass away off camera.

Jemma sat up, parting with the chair, "I can't do this. I'm sorry, I just can't watch this." Skye tried to catch her hand but the biochemist tugged it free and left the room, rubbing her face. The hacker started to follow her but Trip stopped her, a hand on the girl's shoulder, and shook his head before setting off himself to track Simmons down. Skye did not look pleased with it but she turned her attention back to the video, frown firmly in place as she chewed on her lower lip.

Fitz started again after a moment, "I can't tell you what I plan to do for obvious reasons, you'll come after us. It's not time for that yet…" The phrasing there worried Coulson when he first heard it and the feeling had yet to abate. Not what 'We' plan to do but what 'I' plan to do was an odd word choice. It was probably for the best Jemma left before that. "Just know that we are trying to help you guys. It may not seem like it...it may seem like we...no, like I'm a traitor, but I'm not. I'll nnn…" Fitz looked down, staring at something off camera, before returning his focus to the camera, "I'll never be Hydra...and disregarding the ADS, I'll never hurt you guys. Even that one time was an...I apologized about that already, didn't I? Sorry. I really am. Especially to you May. I wish Ward had not shot you. I know Jemma patched it up but...I'm sorry. When we eventually meet up again please don't kill me. I know you probably want to but please don't."

Melinda made a 'Hmph' sound and cracked her knuckles just so. For a moment, Coulson felt bad for their runaway scientist, and judging by the looks around him, he was not the only one.

"I told Ward to leave Bakshi alive. That's his name by the way, in case he doesn't tell you, Sunil Bakshi, I don't know how high up in Hydra he is but he must be important." Fitz reached forward, presumably checking the time on the phone, before continuing, "I don't have long. Just, look, I am still helping you guys out here. Ward is helping me do it. He wanted to just leave a note but I said a video would be better, tell more. Umm...I guess I really did not tell more than a note." Fitz reached forward, fingering hovering in the corner of the screen, and for a moment his face fell.

"If you are watching this Jemma, Mack, I'm really sorry. I just...I couldn't anymore."

He pressed a button and the video ended. The projection behind Coulson went black before May shut it off. For a moment no one spoke before, as was the norm with his SHIELD, all at once.

"What the fuck was that?", Skye.

"The kid really has gone bonkers ain't he?", Hunter.
"There goes that stockholm syndrome theory, eh?", Bobbi.

"His talking has gotten a lot better…", Mack.

It was that last one that everyone seemed to cut short and focus on. The large man had moved away from the wall, looking now at the wall as if the projection remained, before he grunted, "Guess all a person needs to start getting past brain damage is a psycho." Mack's tone was heavily sarcastic as he spoke, even for the usually 'say-it-all' man, and his arms were folded over his chest. It was enough of a display for Bobbi to take a step towards the mechanic but he waved her off and left the room. Actually, to Coulson it looked more like he stormed out.

That left only four agents in room with him and they all, save May who never looked away from Coulson, stared after Mack. Bobbi especially looked like she wanted to go after the man anyway, despite his brush off, but refrained. Eventually Hunter cleared his throat and spoke, "So your boy there clearly thinks he is still with the good guys. We buyin' that? His friend is a master liar right?"

"Ward is skilled at it but Fitz is terrible. We would have been able to tell." Coulson shook his head while speaking. The thing that would have made Fitz a terrible field agent worked in his favor now. No, the scientist truly believed himself to still be on the side of SHIELD. It was good to know, emotionally, though as Director he also had to face the strategic side of having a treacherous ex-operative and intellectual goldmind loose in the field trying to 'help' in some way. Nothing good could come of this and not for the first time, Coulson began to reconsider his earlier thoughts of shutting down the Playground and moving operations, compromised as they were. If the locations were not such a strategic jackpot, he would have already moved them.

At some point in the video Skye had drawn her legs up into the chair, crooked before her with arms wrapped around them, and she looked troubled now, "I'm...glad at least. That Fitz is still on our side. He is one of the good guys still? He did say he wanted to help us still, right?" She sounded so hopeful that Coulson actually wished, for a moment, that she was correct. He also hoped that no one would shoot her down and caught eyes with Melinda, cutting off what she was about to say, and for a moment Director and Second had an intense silent eye-conversation.

It was Bobbi though who broke the silence, "I believe him."

All eyes were on her now, though Coulson and May had not finished their 'argument', but it was Skye who actually spoke, "Really? You do? I mean, that's great, don't get me wrong, but you…"

"Yeah, I don't know him. And to be honest after that bus ride I kind of hate them both. In my experience though, the kid is not lying. Little hard to read, probably because of the brain damage, but I'm convinced he believes himself. That also means he believes in his partner. Not surprised at the trust he has in Ward though." Skye's face plummeted at the mention of anyone 'having trust in Ward' and she looked almost nauseous as Bobbi continued, "There is something going on with those two. None of you liked my theory last time," Coulson winced, as did Hunter, and Skye definitely looked disgruntled and nauseated now. Bobbi's announcement of 'They're fucking, I'm sure of it.' had been one of the greatest uproars to go through SHIELD since the announcements of Nick Fury's falsified death. Simmons had almost slapped her. Now, having seen the video, Coulson was starting to question it himself. Bobbi looked assured of her theory as she went on, "I believe it stands. That is the only thing that adds up. Putting that aside though, I am surprised at the fact that your boy ended up as the leader in that partnership."

Skye scoffed, "You're joking right? Ward was constantly bossing Fitz around!"

Bobbi dropped into the armchair, Hunter having silently vacated when she stepped closer, and shook her head. She and Skye were now on level right across from each other while everyone, Director of SHIELD included, observed the 'lesson', "Doesn't matter. Bossing someone around is different than letting someone else take lead, really. I'm guessing guilt over his injuries plus a bit of regret about betraying you guys, especially your boy Fitz if they were close before, was all the kid needed to wrap Ward around his finger." Skye nodded, though she did not look convinced, and Bobbi threw a look at Coulson, "I read up about what happened and all but how long did Ward stay in captivity before trying to kill himself? Longer than a week or less?"

Coulson shook his head, answering immediately, "Not even a week, three days."

Everyone ignored Hunter's quiet, 'Here she goes...' as Bobbi lips curled, looking pleased with herself, "That works then. If we were building a psyche profile I'd say your guy Ward is more comfortable taking orders than giving them. Matches up with his SHIELD history. Supposedly he turned down a few potential promotions. Everyone just thought he was a danger junkie like Romanova but considering the suicide attempt and how your reports say he was with Garrett, I'm thinking a follower. At the very least he likes having a basis to work with. If he really does regret betraying all of you, it completely makes sense. Fitz wants him, he wants to be wanted, it all slots up perfectly." She paused, tapping her lip, and Coulson was actually glad for the reprieve as he wrapped his mind around his expert interrogator's opinion. Unfortunately, that also meant thinking indepthly about Grant Ward, never a pleasant topic. Especially not as Bobbi made a 'hmm' noise, "That doesn't explain how they act though. They could be codependent without touching all the damn time. Did Fitz have feelings for him before Hydra or vice versa?"

Skye started to speak but of all people it was May who voiced her opinion first, "He spent a lot of time staring at Ward during medical. Far more than I did and we actually slept together." Bobbi laughed, probably more than was necessary, while Skye, Hunter, and even Coulson stared at May until the woman rolled her eyes, "What? Grow up. We slept together. Get over it." and everyone quickly looked away, quit laughing, and carried on as if nothing ever happened.

"Ward for Fitz...I don't know, he seemed really obsessed with me mostly." Skye spoke slowly, disgruntled look firmly in place with her arms wrapped around her knees. They had talked about it, Ward abducting her, but the girl never really seemed too comfortable with discussing it. "There were times. He would sit near Fitz over anyone else...talk to him...nothing serious though? Well, I mean, he would freak out if Fitz were in danger but that was all of us. There was that fucking horrible mission where they were both going to die but I don't think they were hooking up after-"

She pulled a face, "Ew, I actually said it."

Bobbi laughed again and Hunter, mostly forgotten at this point, threw his hands up and abandoned the room. That only left the three women and Coulson who, as this conversation went on, grew vaguely more uncomfortable. Not with the idea of two men of course, Coulson dealt with aliens after-all so he kept the most open of minds, but the idea of his lab tech and the agent who betrayed him...it was a tough pill to swallow. In fact, it was a nearly impossible pill.

He hated it that he had something to add, "For a long time after that suicide mission, Ward did keep close to Fitz. To be honest though, I think it started when they met up in the cells. I watched their reunion and it got more emotional than I expected." May gave him a look and he nodded, addressing Bobbi and Skye, "May also caught Fitz in that wing of the compound a few times at night. She suspected they were meeting but the cameras never picked up anything. Though I suppose even in his condition Fitz could have worked up something to counteract that…" All at once Coulson felt like an idiot for not noticing, not watching closer. Would Fury have seen it?

No, that was a dead-end path, he was the Director now and he missed it.

"So let's assume it started on that suicide mission and cumulated in the cells here." He got a nod from each of the three women, Skye the slowest and most hesitant, before Coulson continued on, "What do we plan to do with this knowledge though? Considering we do not even know-"

May, of all people, cut him off, in her newest trend of the day, "We do nothing with it." Three sets of eyes glued to the asian woman as she leaned back against the desk, arms crossed over her chest, and stared them down. Always one for few words, she would have likely said nothing else were it not for Skye's quiet, 'Come again?' that got the woman. Rolling her eyes, probably calling them all idiots internally, she explained, "I trust Bobbi's judgement as a reader so for now, presumably, Fitz is calling the shots. He's collared Ward. Coulson, we don't have the manpower right now to mount a full scale hunt for them while combatting Hydra. If we cut them free, Fitz will bring them right back to us eventually and we can settle the matter then. Even if we do not cross paths, their actions may benefit us in some ways, also helping our situation." It was a lot, easily more than she had said all day in one sentence to even him. Skye, completely overwhelmed, just stared while Bobbi nodded and Coulson, frown grim, did the same. May was rarely wrong.

Skye spoke slowly, "Sooo... we ignore it and just enjoy whatever gifts they drop off for us?"

It hardly surprised Coulson that Skye, of all of them, would not be okay with the decision. He stepped in front of the woman and dropped a hand on her shoulder, "For now. We'll do something about it as soon as we can, I promise. As bizarre as it sounds to say, we can at least trust Ward to keep Fitz safe if Bobbi is right about their situation." The young woman nodded, face still drawn, but assented when Bobbi chimed in with a, "I know my stuff, I'm right on the money." Granted, Bobbi being right was still an uncomfortable scenario. How does the man who killed Victoria Hand end up getting on with the techie who once begged for an X-BOX to be allowed onboard the bus? No, wait, hadn't Ward been the one to play it with him in the end?

Maybe there had been pieces they all just overlooked after-all.

He was already prepared for the inevitable confrontation. As usual May remained behind after Skye and Bobbi vacated the office, not moving from her spot leaned back on his desk. Also, as was the norm, she did not start it. Instead Coulson had a moment to sit down, shuffle around the papers on his desk, and sign a few documents that needed clearance. When at last she was ready, of her own volition, May threw a look over her shoulder and he caught it, smiling as ever, "I am not planning to send you out there with a sniper rifle gunning for Fitz, if you're concerned." She nodded slowly but said nothing as he hunched over to red another document, "You don't have to remind me it's exactly what Fury would do. I realize that at best Fitz is a renegade asset and Ward an uncontrollable one in this situation. I also understand that Hydra getting their hand on Fitz would be an unmitigated disaster with everything he knows. As much as I hate to say it," And he did, hate it that is, everything about it in fact, ", I am willing to bank on Bobbi's theory that Ward will protect him. If not, we'll deal with it and I'll deal with that bastard myself this time."

"Phil."

He looked up to find May facing him with a quirk to her lip.

"I'm not telling you to kill one of your kids."

Coulson laughed, "Once again, they are not my kids. I just care for my agents."

May in her usual droll tone just responded with, "Right." and never before had so much potential mockery been packed into one word. 'Never before' being the last time she had made the same joke. Often in fact though nine times out of ten it was directed at Skye above the rest. At least that was one habit that he and Fury shared - they played hard and fast to protect their favorites.

She did not have to speak her next question. Instead the specialist tilted her head just-so and the beginner-smirk slipped. It was enough. Coulson sighed and leaned back in his seat, giving up on the play act at doing paperwork now, and addressed her fully, "We can't allow them to go entirely unsupervised no matter what we tell the team. Better to contain the situation now than later."

A clipped nod, "Agreed."

Coulson reached across his desk and tapped open the box that would access Fury's files.

"Here is what we will do then."


Author Note

I never expected it but writing Coulson and May is entertaining.
Here we go though. The break has begun!

*thunderbolts*

Chapter Text

Author Note

This chapter does absolutely have a sex scene.
Was it necessary? Debatable. I had promised one to a friend.
So I deliver. I also marked a 'fade to black' region if you wish to skip it.
I regret nothing.

 


 

The latest hotel room was a bit nicer than the others. Actually no, hotel did it no justice in Fitz’s opinion, the place was a loft. Full carpeted living room in some beige color, expensive looking furniture, a huge dining area, complex kitchen, and that was not even going into the size of the bedroom. Ward said that he found a stash of funds at the Hydra Hub while they were cleaning the place out but Fitz never asked how much it was. Considering the lifestyle they were living in before had not been ‘squalor’ or anything, the Scot was starting to wonder. The ability to write down a list of parts he needed and have Ward go fetch them really did wonders for setting up what he wanted. That in this case being a lab to work with. It was a very good thing that roomservice in these places took a ‘Do Not Disturb’ sign seriously. Management would have some questions about the equipment taking up the greater part of a glossy wooden dining table. They might have especially questioned the half-built circuit boards haphazardly tossed around and soldering iron marks strewn into the countertop. A maid would assume he was building a bomb; not that he couldn’t with these parts.

All of that was on hold now though as Fitz sat at the counter and typed one-handed on his new, brutally expensive yet still-not-SHIELD-quality laptop, “This feels like putting a bat signal in the sky. Well, considering who it is, I guess a giant flower symbol in the sky would be better.” It was bizarre really to be typing words carefully backwards on a screen that displayed absolutely nothing. Several times Fitz checked the power light just to ensure the computer was even still on. Ward had assured him the program actually did work, the specialist doing the first few messages before passing it over to Leo, but as of yet no response. Three days, no reply, and he was getting tired of the exercise in frustration every two hours. Clearly, she was ignoring them. 

Fitz turned to look over his shoulder at Ward and my, this was a far more enjoyable.

The first two weeks they spent together the scientist found it completely inhuman. What sane person woke up at the crack of dawn, without an alarm, and immediately launched into a rigorous workout routine? The sun had not even risen outside the enormous windows of the living area and there was Ward, doing a handstand on one hand, lifting himself up and down rhythmically with his other arm and legs straight up. Completely unnatural, he barely even sweated while doing it, as if the exertion were not something that would kill Fitz. Granted waking up when the agent did had nearly killed him at first. Now that he was accustomed to the early hours - the sight of the workout almost did. Every morning, for his personal viewing pleasure, Fitz got thirty minutes of Ward in just a pair of boxers doing his whole routine. It was ideal, really.

After watching a moment Fitz, wetting his lips, spoke, “Are we really sure she is getting these?”

Ward did not break his rhythm. The man flowed from handstand into a push-up position, bouncing up and down as he switched arms between each motion, and still had the breath to reply, “She will check it. Raina thrives on information. She and I are the only ones left with access to the server.” Fitz nodded but Ward did not see, head in perfect posture facing the ground, and after an incredibly fast pace hundred (always exactly a hundred, Fitz counted), the agent bounced to his feet. The scientist did not bother hiding the fact he watched. At first he had, embarrassed to be caught, but at this point Fitz was over it. Hard to be embarrassed when he was absolutely wearing a pair of Ward’s sweat pants since they were ‘more comfortable than his’. Waking up when Ward moved his arm from over his waist and got out of bed helped too. SHIELD probably had protocol against the whole ‘handler sleeping with agent’ aspect going on here. Not that they were doing that, sleeping together, at least not in the carnal sense. Just in the literary sense. Something Ward did not pressure and Fitz berated himself mentally about at least twice a day. He felt stupid for it really. Dreams, or at least shower fantasies, come true and all that. His tall, dark haired agent would be up for it Fitz suspected. It was all on the scientist and his insecurities that maybe his condition would make it not quite as … workable … as expected.

“Fitz.”

Considering his thoughts Fitz’s undignified, “Hhhnhn…” was probably not the appropriate reply. He flushed, speaking still did the trick, before sputtering out, “Oh. Sorry. Lost in my head again. Umm. Yes?” and they both knew what he had been thinking about. Ward’s lip curled back into that confident smirk and not for the first time the Scot cursed his skin’s ability to go fully crimson.

Raising his hands palms up; Ward made a ‘come here’ motion. Fantasy fuel there. Unfortunately, Fitz knew it for what it was, and the scientist groaned internally as he put his laptop aside and moved to the specialist. Another part of their odd morning routine. Standing in front of Ward, looking up at him, Fitz automatically went into the position. One arm above his head, his good one, while the bad one he thrust out to the side and shakily head it in the air unsupported. Grant mirroring him, taking the exact same position as they both pushed their left leg out behind them and lowered closer to the floor, helped mitigate the awkward. The first few times had been incredibly frustrating to struggle holding the pose, arms and legs screaming at him while Ward stayed stock still, but it started to get better. Now after doing it for awhile, Fitz only wobbled marginally as he held the position and focused on his breathing. In, out, in, out, each inhale and exhale controlled on a rythme. Not once in his life had the scientist ever considered yoga as an acceptable part of his routine and yet here he was, doing it, somewhat enjoying it. At least until Ward changed the routine up by shifting, Fitz mirroring his movements as best he could, and suddenly Fitz found his left hand (the ‘bad one) hovering over Ward’s.

“Squeeze my hand and pull.”

Fitz automatically went to do it but halted, hand closed over Ward’s, as a spasm went through his fingers at the movement, “I don’t know if I...I mean, it doesn’t hurt yet, but…” He had the mental image of the agent pulling back and both of them toppling over onto the coffee table.

Ward shook his head and pushed his hand up further into the scientist’s palm, “Do it. You’ll be able to hold on and even if not, I can keep us both up.” That stung a little really, deep down inside Fitz’s floundering ego. He did it because while the scientist may not have trusted himself, he did trust Ward. His grip was better than he expected though not quite stable as Ward reached forward with the other hand and pushed on his chest. The position should have been impossible, good arm still straight above his head as he held onto Ward while the other man pushed him back further and further until Fitz was closer than he ever expected to be to doing a front-back split. Leo’s body definitely did not agree with the position as the burn in his legs increased tenfold and the arm connected to Ward trembled with strain. Keeping track of breathing (in, out, in, out) was all he could do as his hand desperately clung to the other man’s. He lost count of exactly how long they stayed like that until Ward’s hand shifted out of his grip and around his wrist. Without warning Fitz was pulled right again, nearly flush against the man, and his breathing control went out the window with huge gasps of air as his forehead bumped Ward’s chest.

“Hgg...How long?”

Ward patted him on the back, “Three minutes.”

“You’re ly...lying, that is not,”

But no, he was telling the truth, and Fitz gaped at the clock above the television as Ward chuckled. Three minutes, in that position? Fitz felt a surge of pride at himself before the follow up burst of panic. When the scientist went to apologize, hastily remembering that Ward did not lie to him, the specialist waved it off, “I’m honestly impressed. You are really taking to this for someone who claims to have ‘zero flexibility’. Partner positions are some of the most advanced movements.” A compliment from Ward meant more to Fitz then he felt it maybe should. No, actually, it was amazing, as Grant Ward was hardly the type of man to hand them out. Definitely amazing; almost as much as having his body pressed up against Grant’s even if being against that sometimes made Fitz feel as though he were built of play-doh and needed countable abs.

Really nice in fact 

“We should take a break and let your heart rate lower-”

Fitz cut the other man off by kissing him. Considering Grant had been mid-speech and Fitz had to stretch it was a tad awkward as first. The agent, ready for any situation, recovered quickly and put his own into it. It was greedy as Fitz surprised himself; deepening it with tongue and Grant met him step for step, letting the shorter man lead as he pushed them back. It took longer than it should have to cross three feet to the tan sofa. While Grant’s hands were around his lower back, one definitely splayed across his ass, Fitz’s roamed the other man in a very up close and personal game of ‘count the abs’. The game ended when the man’s knees hit the couch and Fitz reached up, planning to push him...only to find himself pushed instead in one lightning fast turn. Suddenly seated, Ward standing in front of him between his legs, it made him dizzy. Not enough to keep him from reaching out his hands, left on Ward’s hip while the right hooked itself in the waistline of Ward’s dark blue boxers. With them sharing a bed as they did Fitz had of course felt it before, spooning made it impossible not to, but despite the close quarters had never seen- 

Before the scientist could start to tug down the agent’s hand caught his and held it in place.

“How far?”

Fitz asked, “What?” without looking up, fingers tugging a bit and snapping the waistband, but when Ward did not let go he finally did look up. Oh, the man was not smiling nor smirking, his face was serious despite the situation. Fitz asked again, this time his fingers stilled and his own grin evaporated, “What do you mean how far? If you mean...oh, you do. I...I...I umm....” Of course his ability to communicate would short out now when the object of many a dream stood right in front of him waiting. This is why he...no, he wanted. Fitz fumbled to articulate his point as Ward watched him. The other man, as always, did not help and at last Leo came up with, “...This?”

Grant nodded, watching a moment longer, smirk gaining ground, “I could blow you if you prefer.”

Something inside of the scientist’s brain promptly exploded. Likely the area that contained every sexual fantasy in his life bundled into one package. For a moment he stared at Ward agape at what just left the other man’s mouth before. Eventually, with great struggle, Leo managed to restart his brain enough to snap his jaw shut...and shake his head, “Nnnn...No. Not me. I mean, that is, I would rather you. I’m not...I mean, that is...I’m not sure I…” Nothing was coming out and Fitz watched, before his very eyes, as Ward seemed to second guess what they were doing. That wasn’t happening and at once Fitz knuckled his finger back into the agent’s waistband, “Not me. Not...right now, I want to do this and you’re going to let me, agent. Oh...Okay?”

Fitz realized too late about the ‘Agent’ slipping out. Something inside of him promptly died and came back to life as Ward, very smirky now, clipped off a, “Yes Sir.” His heart could not handle it as it threatened to beat from his chest with that comment. When Ward put his arms up, tucking them behind his head, something inside of Fitz broke that he probably never needed to start with.

=== Sorry dear FF.net reads. This is the fade to black. Sexual content starts here. ===

He could have started anywhere. Fitz, never one to delay, went for the prize.

It was somewhat awkward working down boxer’s with just one hand. His left, sore from three minutes of grip, stayed where it was on the specialist’s hip. Fitz did all the work with his right instead; pulling back the waistband to hold with his wrist. Ward did not move a muscle, not even to help, and kept his arms up as Fitz wrapped a hand around him. Sleeping that close Fitz already had an idea of the other man’s size but it was different to have it in his palm, to wrap his fingers around and have his thumb and forefinger not touch. For some reason his size did not surprise the scientist at all, nor did him being circumcised. That in mind, Fitz resisted the urge to give a tug and instead ran his hand along it, fingers squeezing and releasing as Leo, ultimately a tactile person, committed the whole thing to memory by touch alone. The boxers were still up and hid it from view. Instead Fitz watched his own hand work over the steadily growing bulge. Once it fully tented out the boxers, his palm running back and forth loosely, Fitz leaned his head forward only to have Ward’s hands suddenly grip onto either side of his face and tilt it up.

“Leo, breath.”

And he did, on command, all at once and started coughing. His good hand froze while his other covered his mouth. Ward had released his face, instead holding his shoulders as Fitz took in enough air to make up for all he missed, and kept him still when Fitz started shaking. It was mortifying to know that for even a moment he had simply stopped breathing. This moment of all of them and face ashen the scientist went to pull back his hand only to have Ward grab his wrist.

“I...I can’t. Not...I want to. I don’t know what-”

“Leo, calm down, you’re okay.”

If it had been anyone else, FItz would have screamed at them. Hearing the phrase, ‘You’re okay’ got really old after enough time. Only the fact that Ward said it to him kept the scientist stable as he nodded slowly, careful to his breaths, and began to move his hand again. Slower, this time, less energetic about it than he had been before. Ward must have sensed it because he reached down and closed his hand around himself, over the Scot’s, and squeezed once before pulling both of their hands out. Fitz did not let go right away and flipped Ward’s dick up so that when he did release it poked above the waistband of the boxers. He stared at it, eyes wide, and Ward did not seem to mind as he made no move to adjust it. Once again, determined, Fitz tried to lean forward only to be stopped by Ward once again holding him at the shoulders. There was a joke somewhere in this whole situation about being restrained for being, as Skye would put it, thirsty.

Fitz looked up at Ward to say anything but the agent beat him instead, “You do still want this?” It did not sound like he was being pressured one way or the other. Instead Ward just looked neutral standing there with the head of his penis ridiculously poking out. Fitz did not hesitate long to nod. Ward, still looking serious, nodded, “Okay. Let’s try something else then.” and stepped back.

“Tell me what you want.”

Come again? Fitz stared at him, skin tone recovering enough to flush, and all that came out of his mouth was, “Wh...What do you mean, tell you? I mean, I know what I...I mean...you…”

Ward’s serious expression cracked as he chuckled, “I mean it. Tell me what you want and I’ll do it, handler.” Just like that Fitz felt his mouth go dry and he may have been wide eyed staring.

“You’re serious?”

“Yes, Sir.”

Fitz was clearly being rewarded for something in his life. The scientist felt awkward only momentarily as he sat there, shirtless and red faced on the couch, as the object of basically all his sexual desires showed off in front of him. Well, partially showed off, only the majority of him was on display with part still tucked away. That had to be fixed and so Fitz slowly, his voice breaking up as he spoke, made his first request, “Ta...Take them off.” His voice was small but Ward immediately did it, hooking the thumb of each hand under the waistband and shoving his last bit of clothing off in one swift tug. Rather than just let them hang about his feet Ward instead lifted a foot then flicked the other to send the boxers flying somewhere behind the couch. There was nothing else and freed from the waistband Ward flopped down into full view. The scientist took his time inspecting Ward’s firm chest, arms, legs, and of course the rest.

Grant gave him a moment before tilting his head a bit to the right, “Next?”

Fitz fell back against the couch and worked at thinking of something. He had multiple things in mind that could come ‘next’. Instead what he said was, “Have you ever been a stripper?”

The dark haired man’s serious face broke as he outright laughed, “Should I be?”

“You should. You absolutely should. Rich...I mean, you would be rich.”

Smirk fully enforced now, Ward did a twist of his hips that sent his dick back and forth. Fitz followed it like a pendulum for a moment, hands fisted in his own lap, as Ward said, “So, next?”

A variety of ridiculous and future exporable fetishes came to mind first but Fitz, too embarrassed to say most of them out loud, instead went with a hastily spoken, stumbling, “Touch yourself.”

Ward did it though not exactly how Fitz wanted. Instead the agent reached a hand up to pat himself on the cheek then the neck, shoulders, pectoral, and steadily moved it without going even remotely near what Fitz wanted. The scientist kept looking up at the agent’s amused face then back at the wandering hand, watching both in equal parts. When the man leaned forward to start rubbing at the front of his thighs, so close and yet so not where Fitz wanted his hands exactly, was the breaking point for the scientist. The, “Grant, pleaseee.” sounded more like a whine than he would ever, in this lifetime or the next, admit to himself. Right now he did not mind that it was absolutely going to come back and haunt him as the agent straightened up again.

“You are going to have to be more specific, Leo.” A pause, Ward eye’s narrowed, “Breath deep.”

Fitz did, not coughing this time, and far more careful about it than before. He should have been freaked out but it was an improvement on before. Though, even if it had been worse, Fitz was not sure he would have stopped what they were doing anyway until he passed out or something.

“Thanks.”

Ward nodded.

“Now please...umm....how do I…”

“Just say it, Leo.”

So he did, with a bit more force than he meant to, “Masturbate yourself.” Which when spoken aloud was simultaneously the least sexy and most awkward thing he could have said. Fitz wanted to walk to the bedroom balcony and leap from it, and hope no one else ever heard mention of him saying it. Skye, who honestly would hate this whole situation passionately, would especially never let him live it down if she ever knew. Judging by Ward’s out of control smirk the man had ammunition for the rest of Fitz’s natural life now. Then again, the agent did not seem too truly bothered by it. Instead he took Fitz’s mind off the horrible phrasing entirely by doing exactly what he said. Looking straight into the scientist’s eyes the specialist wet his hand and did one long, slow stroke down the length. He never looked down at himself or away, keeping eye contact when Fitz met it, as his strokes keep up the same calm rythme. Merciless really, he had no mind to how shorted out that sight rendered Fitz on every level. How hard it made it to focus. 

Ward opened his mouth suddenly but Fitz already knew. Inhale, exhale, short careful breaths, and it wasn’t as hard this time to get himself under control. Despite the concern the agent never stopped moving his hand, never changed pace, and it was entirely too slow for Fitz. The scientist shifted on the couch, wiggled more like, to get more comfortable and under Ward’s careful eye slipped a hand down the front of the grey sweats and his own light blue boxers. Leo did not take them off, just grabbed himself through them, and Ward’s eyes tracked his every move as the agent upped his pace just enough for Leo to notice it, appreciatively, but still not enough.

“Faster.”

He picked up the pace immediately, though still not quite as much as Fitz had hoped, and so the scientist repeated it once again, “Faster.” Then it was exactly what Leo wanted as Grant worked himself over in earnest. The ‘masturbation’ was wonderful, Fitz quite enjoyed it really, though his favorite part was watching as Ward’s expression began to shift. The agent’s eyes started to drift closed before he snapped them open, watching Fitz’s, watching him, and Ward’s mouth hung open just a fraction instead of pressing into his trademark smirk. That more than anything else did it for the scientist as he upped his own speed, palming himself heavier, in tune with his agent’s rhythm. It took awhile, far longer than Fitz himself would have lasted in that situation he was sure, before Ward’s rhythm fell off. First the agent would slow down slightly only to pick up speed again, slow down, speed up, and after a point he closed his eyes and tilted his head back.

“Sir, can I…?

Fitz was not sure who was more surprised, Ward or himself, when “Not yet.” came out.

Grant clearly did not expect it with how close he was. The man had to struggle to stop. His bicep flexed as he squeezed himself tight enough it looked nearly painful, head back, mouth open, and several times Fitz watched his hips buck forward. He managed to hold back though barely, and Fitz was so into watching he quit rubbing himself. It took a moment for Ward to get it together enough to reign in his panting though his face looked somewhat pained. The scientist momentarily felt bad but it was hard to hold to that when Grant slouched forward, held up by his free hand on the edge of the couch, and started again incredibly slowly. His member was reddened and Fitz was surprised he did not stop until, as their eyes met again, it occurred to Fitz that he had never said to stop. Ward was still listening to him and that power, voluntarily given, felt amazing. Without giving it any thought Fitz abandoned himself and leaned forward to capture Ward’s mouth while batting his hand away and grabbing hold. It was a rough contrast with their kiss being slow, especially for them, while Fitz worked Ward over with a quick hand. Their lips remained locked as Ward pushed forward, a hand on Fitz’s shoulder taking the scientist back into the couch while Ward hovered over him by a knee on the couch. Having the agent, his agent, draped over him like this seemed impossible for him over a year ago; their lips touching and parting, both breathing heavily. Ward’s fingers tightened into his shoulder to the point Fitz would surely have a bruise there later as he sped up, pushing Ward to the very edge.

Ward’s face pulled back, “Fitz, please. Please let me-”

“Go.”, and Fitz pressed their lips back together as Ward’s entire body shook on command, hand squeezing to the point it did hurt but Fitz ignored it. A groan went through the taller man’s body and straight into Fitz’s mouth, a sound he returned as his own hand worked himself, both of them pressing impossibly closer to each other as Grant let go. Normally Fitz would have been grossed out to be beneath another man when he did that but he barely noticed as Grant shuddered against him. Another groan from the man, nearly a growl, was enough to push Fitz over the edge as well. Ward half fell on him as Fitz pulled him down, sandwiching them together on the couch, as the scot shook through his own orgasm. He’d not had too many with another person present but as he squeezed his eyes shut and rode through it, it was definitely the best.

=== Sorry dear FF.net reads. This is the fade back. Sexual content end here. ===

Ward, after a bit, lifted his head from where it had landed on Fitz shoulder, “Move over so I …”

The man paused, head cocked back, and Fitz leaned up over the back of the couch right as the man above him muttered, “Her timing is terrible.” The scientist understood why when he looked. Across the room from them his laptop, half facing away from them, was flashing a myriad of colors as the previously blank screen lit up. Each color formed a shape; blue triangle, red square, purple triangle, and in some of the shapes a single white flower pulsed against the blackness. It looked like a screensaver had Fitz not disabled the feature to watch for this very occurrence. Both of them observed for a moment until the blank screen returned.

Ward sighed, “I was going to suggest we shower together but that message will start again in ten minutes.” The specialist leaned up, half on Fitz’s lap and half off the couch, before pausing. Despite what they’d just done his face was somewhat somber as he laid a hand on Fitz’s shoulder, “Everything is still good, right? You...wanted that?” It was bizarre to the scot to even be asked but he took a moment, actually thinking about the question, before nodding. Ward did not move off of him. Instead the man somewhat tilted his head as if waiting until Fitz finally leaned forward, wrapping his arms around the man’s torso, and spoke into Ward’s stomach.

“Absolutely. If I did not need a shower; I’d want it aa...again, now.”

That seemed to appease the agent as he stood, helping Fitz up with one strong armed tug, and nodded, “We can see about that later then. Go shower, I’ll see what Raina has to say.”

Fitz planned on a quick shower - he actually was very curious about what the ‘Flower Lady’ had to say. It turned into a longer one, steadily so, as he spent several minutes gloating to an imaginary world over what had just happened. Sex with Ward, even if no actual penetrative sex had occurred, was the new highlight of his achievements. Up there with creating the seven dwarves and disarming earthquaker devices for sure. It nearly beat out the time he dropped an awesome one-liner and nearly killed the head of a Hydra sect with an EMP. That of course brought on an immense and powerful freak out about what-if this were all an act, though he trusted it wasn’t, and it took Fitz a good ten minutes sitting on the shower floor to get himself under any semblance of control. A surprisingly long time; it was usually easier in private. Panic attack aside, the scientist still counted this as an overall marvelous day as he toweled off.

It was still hard to actually look at Ward without either a goofy grin or flushed as Fitz left the bedroom. The Agent, his Agent, had apparently found the boxers and put them back on for now. Which was good, really, Fitz was not sure he could have a coherent conversation with a nude Grant Ward in his lifetime. Especially not after...no, not really the time, and Fitz wasn’t sure exactly where they were so instead of wrapping his arms around Ward from behind he instead settled onto the counter stool beside him. The specialist waved with his fingers but did not look away from the screen as the colored shapes flashed on. Fitz, despite not knowing exactly what they meant, recognized patterns enough to know it was the same ‘message’ as before.  

When the screen flashed back Ward sighed and glanced over, “Your phone should be untrackable now right?” Fitz bristled a bit at that, it was his project, of course the burner was undetectable now if he said it was. The agent did not seem to notice as he stared at the blank screen, seemingly deep in thought, until the scientist handed over the burner. He flipped the phone open quick enough that Fitz actually worried for it before rapid fire dialing a number. Fitz immediately went on guard at whatever set Ward from a great mood to annoyed or even pissed.

The scientist poked the other man’s shoulder, “Grant, what is-”

“Hold on.” Short, clipped, and Fitz jerked his poking-finger back. Ward realized quickly and glanced over, the ‘sorry’ written in his look, before someone picked up. The clipped quality remained with the person on the other line; presumably Raina, “Where are you?” A moment later he mimed writing and Fitz rushed to the table and back with a sharpie. Ward, considering the soldering marks were already there, wrote it on the countertop, “Is it a confirmed safe location?” A pause, he circled the location ‘26 Talbot St’ a few times, “I did not ask if you were comfortable. I asked if it is safe. Are you being monitored?” A moment later Ward put a finger to his lips for quiet and wrote ‘Hydra + SHIELD’ on the counter while looking over. Fitz mouth “Both?” and the agent nodded, still not saying anything. Fitz chewed at his lip as he considered it. SHIELD monitoring worried him more than Hydra though technically; it shouldn't have. Coulson did not really have the manpower for a full detail but Hydra would be out in force if they were watching her. Actually, that was a question in itself, why had they not just grabbed her already if she really did have the 0-8-4 or access to it? Fitz ran a hand through his hair as he thought about it and Ward just sat there, waiting, watching him for his decision, and that should have been so nerve wracking but it kept Fitz from outright panicking as he thought it over. In the end the scientist-slash-handler sighed quietly and mouthed, “We have to do it.”

Ward nodded, “I’m close. Assume either a Hydra agent or Skye tapped your phone line. They will not be able to hear my side but they may have heard yours. Repeat after me, ‘Dinner sounds lovely.’ and then name a restaurant for,” Ward glanced at the clock on the wall for a moment before continuing, “, eight o’clock. Good, now say that you look forward to meeting me. If you’re still using nonprofits as a contact point, say something about it now.” The woman apparently did so seeing as Ward looked pleased, “I will see you then. And remember Raina, if you double-cross me I will kill you.” He said it nonchalantly, the same way one would say ‘Goodbye’, before hanging up the phone. The man seemed nonplussed at Fitz’s shocked expression, “Trust me on this one. If I had not threatened her there is a very real chance she would have sold us out. Raina is an opportunist. She might be afraid of me but if someone else scares her more…”

Fitz nodded though, honestly, he was not sure about the mechanics behind ‘fear tactics’ yet. As Ward stood to go shower the scientist reached out and snagged his bicep with a hand.

“Where am I going to meet her?”

The argument began immediately.

XXXXX XXXXX XXXXX

A convincing cover created over several days was an intricate process. One created over a handful of hours was a desperate race. Every minute spent in a moving vehicle had Fitz glued to his laptop hastily constructing a social media profile for his identity. It was not Skye quality work, this was not his forte, but Academy had stressed the efficiency of a versatile skill set. Thankfully the only caveat Raina set was mentioning a recently restored painting by some artist Fitz had, up until a Wikipedia search, never even heard of. A few times Ward had to hold him back from going too far. It seemed a convincing cover attested to spacious detail but a lack of absolutes so as to survive surface scrutinizing. Too detailed would draw attention and so, when Fitz suggested during another suit fitting that his new identity, Harold Finch, be involved in a scandal concerning adultery, Ward shot him down. Grant also shot down ‘Harold’ having a limp (too hard to act), being a retired IT developer (no technology, could lead to Fitz), and being a recluse (everyone suspected recluses of devious behaviour), and so in the end Fitz’s first real ‘cover identity’ was nothing more than a mild mannered, high ranking insurance agent of a Chicago based firm. His only interest in the ‘restored painting’ was for an insurance policy to be enacted.

The Scot would never admit it to Ward but he had hoped for more James Bond cover. Martinis and debonaire; not a tweed suit and coke bottle glasses. It helped aid the sting of boredom that in the end, at the very last second, Ward passed him a cane. ‘Just in case you need a weapon’ had been the reason but really, somewhere deep down inside, Fitz liked to think it due to wanting it.

Raina, as Ward briefed him on the ride upstate, had upscale taste. Fitz always kind of suspected that. What sane woman ran around in ridiculous flower dresses? The restaurant she chose was a korean place, G-something, on the top floor of a building in Manhattan. Ward had to drop him off a few blocks over and have Fitz cab the rest of the way so no one could possibly see them together. It was strange really, to be in public without Ward, and at least twice Fitz almost broke down in the cab. The driver just watched him in the rearview but did not say anything, did not interrupt, as Fitz checked his breathing and stretched his anxiety out as best he could. Moving was difficult, the suit hastily starched rather than dry cleaned, and every action he took found distinctly uncomfortable and stiff. In a way, it aided his ‘disguise’ as Fitz stepped out of the cab and leaned a bit on his new cane. No one stared, no one looked suspicious, and at the go ahead, Fitz walked into the high-rise, got in the elevator, and made his way to the restaurant. The ‘go ahead’ in this case was the tiny, somewhat statically voice of Ward in his ear from a bluetooth tethered to his phone. Hardly perfect, far below SHIELD standard, but workable.

“Remember, do not tell her anything you do not have to. She wants us to help her.”

Ward’s voice in his ear was a comfort as Fitz approached the hostess, “Excuse me. Harold Finch, party of two? I believe my friend should already be here?” He grinned at the dark haired girl working the stand as she checked a tablet. The expression was glued to his face. It persisted as the girl announced, “Ah yes, right this was Mr. Harold.”, as a server said, “Good Evening.” as they passed, and even managed to hold up under the cheerful way that Raina’s hair bounced as she turned in her seat, tonight in a high collared, eastern style red dress patterned after the flowers that served as her motif, and caught sight of him. Fitz was hardly a good judge of undercover work, despite his apparent new passion for it, but she was good. The woman’s eyes never widened, her face gave nothing away if she were shocked at all, and when Fitz took his seat the woman was all smiles and grace. Fitz, internally, was screaming now that he was actually faced with the bizarre woman, but managed to contain it as he ordered just a water ‘for now’. Raina, of course, overshot him by requesting a bottle of sake he never heard of. 

Things truly began when their server moved away. Raina leaned forward, elbows on the table with her fingers clasp, chin rested delicately on them, “It really is such an unexpected pleasure to hear from you again Harold. Honestly, I thought we said our last during the trying times between our companies.” Fitz kept grinning at her, forced as it may be, as internally he thought of throwing something at her for risking Jemma’s life. ‘Trying times’ did not seem the appropriate way of, ‘After I almost killed your friend’. Then again, they had not spoken either when Coulson met with the woman. Fitz was saved from answering by the server returning with their drinks. He took a sip of his water as Raina took two small cups from the tray and poured them both a drink.

Ward’s voice still hummed into his ear, “Don’t tell her anything about splitting from SHIELD.”

“I like to keep up with people.”, was what came out of Fitz’s mouth and even to him, it barely sounded like an answer. In fact, it made him sound like some sort of stalker. Raina seemed to get the idea as the woman’s lip quirked and she sipped her sake. Ward had warned him that their entire conversation would be in code and momentarily, Leo scrambled for the appropriate way to say what he was thinking. They left out those sort of difficulties in the movies, “Besides, our mutual friend did not come to any harm. She seemed to like the change of occupation really.” There was a sound in his ear from Grant, a grunt of displeasure it seemed like, but the man said nothing. His sour attitude was part the conversation and part Fitz convincing him that the scientist handle the meeting. Something real-Grant and fake-Grant shared, both hated losing.

Raina’s smile, as it had every time Fitz laid eyes on her in pictures or on video, always seemed so genuine. This was especially true as the woman put a hand to her chest as if to swear on her heart, eyes crested, “I’m glad to hear that. No one seemed to believe me but I had hopes that business meeting would go differently.” The Scot did not even need Ward’s quiet, “Truth.” in his ear to hear it for what it was. He started to thank her for her concern which would have been an appropriate response in their coded conversation but Raina beat him, her words issuing forth first, and brought him to a cold stop, “I’m also glad to see you recovered from the accident.” She waved at his cane with the loose hand not holding her tiny sake cup, “I had heard it was quite severe. He never said anything but my old partner seemed quite concerned. It must be so strange to be working with him again, no?” The phrase ‘working with’ she seemed to stress as almost a question and for a moment, Fitz had no answers. Instead he stared at her, eyes somewhat widened behind his coke bottle glasses, at something of a loss for words. 

“Fitz. She’s needling you. Just ask her about the painting-”

“He seemed concerned?”

It came out, unbidden, and Fitz regretted it both for being said to the woman and for Ward’s curse into his ear. On one hand the scientist had his agent telling him to ignore everything she said across the line. On the other, Raina had leaned forward once more with a blissful look as if she were sharing the latest gossip, “Absolutely. Hidden away of course. Your friend does seem to like hiding bits and pieces of himself. Though I suspect you know more about that than I?” Fitz was not sure what gave him away; maybe nothing at all had and she just stabbed blindly into the dark. The flush was impossible to stop and instead he tried to hide it, burying his attention into the menu before him, realizing too late that in itself was an answer. ‘Smug’ was not quite the word her for expression as the woman leaned back into her seat. ‘Cat and canary’ would be a better description; especially considering Ward’s earlier argument of, ‘She’ll eat you alive.’

“Damnit, I should have just been the one to meet with her.”

“I’m okay.” Fitz muttered it, both to Ward and to himself, though Raina looked on with a slightly lifted eyebrow as well. The scientist snapped his menu closed and pushed it aside, “We...we need to talk about the painting. My company will need-” Fitz stopped when the server appeared back at their table. Raina, quietly laughing at him, pushed aside her own menu as well.

Their tall, blonde haired server was clearly charmed with the flower woman, almost as if Raina had the girl under a spell, “Such a silly man, my Harold. He signalled you too early dear. Though, if I may?” She looked to Fitz and he nodded, blankly, confused by what was going on for the most part. His agent had warned him the woman threw people off course but the extent to which she did so honestly surprised him. Another surprise was the breadth of her order as the flowery woman named off a multitude of dishes, mostly small appetizer plates, all with flawless enunciation of the names. Not only the order, the chemist also dictated an order to how each dish should come out and two teas to be served alongside certain items. Even Ward must have been shocked into silence by the display as nothing came across Fitz’s earpiece. When she finally stopped, the server having written everything down hastily, Raina turned back to Fitz.

“Anything you would like to add, Harold?”

He showed all his social grace by stammering out, “Nn...No. I’m...I’m fine, thank you.” He probably deserved the judging look the girl gave him as she moved away. Apparently, he made for a piss-poor date for the flower woman. Anyone could see that though. Thankfully, he was taken, or at least liked to think of himself as such. Fitz shook his head to try and physically clear out the thoughts about earlier, about what it may have meant, and focus on the task at hand.

Part of him had started to suspect being around Raina this way truly was a mistake.

“So, about the painting-”

She cut him off, nonchalantly, a nail tapping on the table, “The same one everyone else wants?”

“Tell her to speak clearly or you’ll leav- No, wait, stay put for now.” Ward’s line went silent.

Now alone, seeing as Ward had just hung up their line, Fitz had no idea what to do. The flower woman surely knew it as well when she lifted her sake cup for a toast, “Join me, Harold? You need to release some of that tension. I’m harmless, really.”, and that was a lie, Fitz knew it was false, but he still clinked his cup to her’s and drank. The sake burned his mouth, throat, and any desire he ever had to drink it again, and Fitz coughed into his hand while Raina delicately sad the glass back down. She made not a peep over the drink. Instead she allowed him time to recover before, “Why do you want the painting, Harold? I know your former employer does but why you?”

“Why do you think I’m not with...the same company?” His spy skills needed work, Fitz came merely a second from saying SHIELD in public, and the scientist felt as though the patron at every table around them was staring at him. This had been a mistake. His logic had been sound before; Ward needed to be free to act, Raina would not expect him, and the scientist (though he had not told Ward this part) wanted to feel more useful. Perhaps the agent had already known. Now though, in the moment alone, his panic surged. A woman two tables over was definitely looking straight at him now and all Fitz could think was, ‘Hydra, Hydra, Hydra’ over and over. The red head looked away when he caught her staring but it did not matter. That just meant he caught her. They would probably storm the place any minute. For all he knew Ward-

Suddenly there was a small, feminine hand on top of his, and a nail dug into his hand. Raina practically clawed him back to sanity and casually, “You are still unwell. Why did he send you?”

Ward said to tell her nothing but Fitz could not stop himself, “I… I needed to.”

She stared at him a moment, an ‘Ah’ sound on her lips as she took in something. Fitz understood then why so many people found her discomforting. It was the same sensation Coulson claimed to have around the woman when she memory-played him. Something about Raina felt comfortable, accepting, and Fitz recoiled his hand back from her as it clicked in his head. She did not seem to mind that both of his hands were now in his lap, off the table, and the red-dressed woman mimic’d the gesture. The scientist in him recognized the look she had as analytical; he was a puzzle and she was determined to solve it. He...did not want her to.

“Do...Do you or do you not have-”

She cut him off, “It is tragic what has been done to you.” Stunned, Fitz tried to ask his question again but something in the way she looked at him gave pause. Her eyes were sad, “I studied a great deal of your work after Ward brought me that drive.” Apparently they were past the point of cover and the sudden transition threw him. Fitz removed the glasses, rubbing at his eyes, as she swept on to some unknown conclusion, “Truly inspirational. I confess that engineering has never been my forte but the things you aspire to achieve, your vision. I had hoped to, when you were brought before Garrett, have you under my employ. That of course did not work out as-”

“I can still do those things … I’m not broken.” Fitz spoke quietly, eyes down, not at her.

Raina’s expression never changed, “You can not said to be whole either, no?”

He could not face the woman’s praise and pronouncement - not her. Ward, surely, and possibly Mack or Jemma, but not Raina. Not the ‘Flower Woman’ who had a hand in the explosion that scarred Mike Peterson. The woman who turned men into unwilling centipede soldiers. The woman who had nearly caused Jemma’s murder in order to simply have Skye meet her father. The woman who...who...Fitz looked up at last, eyes tight, frown set, “You...you do not have any idea where it is do you? The Obelisk? Ba...Bakshi lied. You don’t have it.” Her expression may not have changed in the slightest but Fitz knew he was correct. This was a waste of time. It had been a gamble in the first place but now he knew they were wrong. He went for the burner in his pocket. Ward had to know this whole thing, operation, whatever, was a bust, now.

“I may not have it but I know who does.”

Fitz hit the speed-dial, hand still in his pocket, “That doesn’t…if you can’t tell us who…”

“Skye’s father.”

There was a click from the bluetooth in Fitz’s ear, “She doesn’t have it-”

Ward cut him off, his voice sounding a degree of anxious Fitz had not heard in ages, “Leo, I need you to listen to me. Calmly get up from your seat and leave the restaurant. Take Raina with you.” A sound in the background caught the scientist’s attention until he realized what it was - Grant was running. That more than anything made Fitz want to leap from his seat and full on sprint out of the restaurant and whatever situation they were in. Across from him, Raina had a look fixed on her face, calm and considering, as she waited for the verdict of what Ward said.

It was impressive that when Fitz looked at her and stated, in the closest mimicry of calm he could, “He said we have to go, now.” that her expression did not change. There was not a hint of the panic he felt as she waved a hand to summon their server, apologized, and offered up a card to pay for the meal they did not have time to enjoy. They even had a short banter back and forth about how boxing it up was not worth the trouble, there would be no time to eat it, and Fitz had to restrain himself from jumping up and pulling the woman from her seat. Apparently they had an ‘emergency’ and Raina would return for the card later. The server was incredibly understanding. Fitz wasn’t; the scientist was chewing at a nail as Raina grabbed her clutch and stood.

The redhead who worried him earlier definitely watched them leave, that sped up his pace.

 Raina caught his arm as the scot pressed the elevator call...and rolled her eyes at him, “Never take the elevator. Do not trust variables out of your control.” She did not pull him away so much as walked, Fitz following naturally, to the stairwell across the way.

“I...I wasn’t...they never trained me for, well, this.”

The woman gave him a look as he pushed open the stairwell for them.

“They never do.” As they trotted down the carpeted stairwell she kept her arm wrapped around Fitz’s, closely, and he wanted to push her away. As with everything else about the woman it seemed overly close, overly intimate. She whispered to him as they moved with the occasional person passing them between floors, “Most organizations like their scientists to stay out of the way. Our brains are assets too valuable to lose or risk damaging.” The latter part of that statement felt loaded enough that Fitz went to pull away but Raina clung harder. Her fingers wrapped around his forearm and squeezed lightly, “Do not look away from what is true. You were damaged, now you are repairing.” She had no scientific basis for that and Fitz knew it. Disgruntled, he accepted it, and let her remain close as they went down yet another floor. The further down they went the less people there were. With all the entertainment and restaurants higher up the middle floors allowed for businesses that closed at the late hour. It was more private, secluded, and opposed to making Fitz feel more comfortable it instead made him nervous. Whatever had spooked Ward could be waiting on them further down below or coming after them from above. Raina said nothing as he ducked into the alcove to the fourteenth floor.

“We...we’re out of the restaurant. Where do you want to....?”

He had not heard from Grant since the restaurant. Fitz fished the phone from his pocket and checked to see if they were still connected. His heart sank to realize the connection was still live.

“Gra...Ward, I need to...are you okay? Ppp....Please reply before I-”

“Leo.”

The relief must have been visible on his face. Raina looked curious as she moved in closer.

“Thank...I was worried, are you okay?”

Ward’s voice came through under a barrage of static, “I’m fine. Leo, I need you to listen to me carefully.” Fitz nodded, though the man was not there to see it. “Hydra is here. Just a retrieval squad but they usually run five man teams and I only got two. They must be after her. Ask Raina if she is armed.” Fitz followed the order and when Raina shook her head, he informed Ward of it, “Damn...I’m going to meet you on the second floor. There is a skyway to the building next door. Make your way there.” His agent paused as Fitz and Raina resumed their decent, though when the man did speak again his voice sounded strained, “Be careful. Something is not right here.”

Something about hearing Ward sound worried, even if it was his safety, almost made Fitz trip down the stairs. Thankfully the bizarre woman at his side righted his balance first, “Wha...What do you mean something’s not....right? None of this is right.” The Scot was never going into the field again. Then again, he somehow doubted Grant would let him again. His agent had been opposed to the idea enough in the first place that additional complications would only cement it.

Raina’s words about ‘valuable assets’ also rattled in his head uncomfortably.

It took time for Ward to answer and when he finally did, Fitz had convinced himself the man would not, “Assuming there are five, I took down two. I also found the body of one. It wasn’t an ICER.” A third party then. Someone not with Hydra. No ICER probably meant no SHIELD either. Then again, Fitz suspected that May did not always use the devices in field. It could be her. That would be the worst option actually. If she got to him before he got to Ward then...no, he’d die. Absolutely die. Even worse was if the Cavalry got to Ward first. Fitz pulled Raina along faster, a walking pace bordering on a sprint, and the woman kept up despite her dress and heels. Her breathing did not even seem hectic unlike Fitz whom drew each shuddering breath by thought alone after walking down way too many flights. He was practically panting when they reached the second floor he pointed at the door. Raina caught on quickly and stepped ahead of him to pull open the door and slip through, tugging him along with her without a moment to rest.

Ward wasn’t there to greet them. Just an empty hallway with dark glass windowed offices and plaques by every door. Raina, having been told nothing, rounded on him as he quietly closed the door behind them, “Is this where we are meeting your friend?” Something in the way she said ‘friend’ made Fitz wonder, not for the first time, if the woman had bizarre psychic powers. This was neither the time nor the place to go into depths exploring that concept though.

He nodded, breathing in and out carefully, suppressing his panic, “He should be here. There is a skywalk here to the next building. We should...we...he’ll meet us there.” His missing agent worried him and Fitz raged inside about the janky communications. He would have killed for a SHIELD issue comm device so they could stay in contact. The breaks in and out, Ward’s long silences, were racking his nerves. Having to go it alone with a woman he definitely did not trust did nothing to aid his calm. The lack of good lighting did not help his situation either. All at once Fitz paused, mid-step, as it clicked in his head that the only lights were from the glassed off offices, the overheads in the hallway off, which made no sense in a busy building like...

Raina tugged him along with their linked arms, “You are beginning to catch on.” She spoke quietly, more in his ear than the air around them, as they moved. “Hydra would be watching this exit. We can only hope your friend is there and not them.” It was not as reassuring as she may have hoped it to be. The overwhelming sense of dread he felt only intensified as they crossed the stretch of the floor, following signs as they appeared, expecting any moment to be set upon.

...and it all came crashing down as they turned one last corner and set foot into the skywalk.

Three things made themselves immediately apparent even in the low lighting of the windows on either side of the walkway. One, a bulky man in a black suit lay on the ground at an impossible angle. His face, angled away from Fitz and Raina, pressed heavily into a spider-webbed panel of glass. Likely, his skull had been what cracked it in the first place. Two, the red headed woman from the restaurant was there mere feet from the downed man. She still had on her smooth white dress, the dangling silver earrings, and everything that had made her stand out before in a crowded restaurant. Clearly she had taken the elevator down instead of the stairs. Something about her felt familiar but Fitz could not place it - just as he could not when he saw her earlier.

The third and most important thing, the fact that pushed Fitz’s heart into his throat and set him to full-on panic mode, was Grant Ward. His agent was not standing tall and ready to save them. The man was on the ground, one of the arms Fitz had been so acquainted with earlier clutched to his chest as if in pain, only a few feet from the redhead and the pistol (Ward’s gun) she trained on him. All it would take was one bullet and Fitz would lose an agent. Grant Ward, beaten to the floor, seemed impossible, and Fitz was only restrained from rushing to the man by Raina pulling him back. For the first in the short time he had come to know her, Fitz got to see the woman look worried...even if it was only a slight widening of her eyes and a bated breath.

“There should not be any reason...unless…”

In one smooth gesture the red headed woman ejected the clip from Ward’s gun. She tossed them individually to the floor while advancing on the scientists before dropping the gun as well. While Raina carefully slid her way behind Fitz, her human shield, the scot made no move to protect himself. Instead he just stared at Ward whom, noticing the red-head move away, tilted his head back on the floor and made eye contact with Fitz. There was surely a message in that look be it to run, fight, or just surrender peacefully. The choice was made for the scientist when the woman took one careful step into his field of vision, blocking Ward from his view, and extended her right hand. The left, Fitz noticed distantly, she raised palm up as if to say ‘empty’. 

“You must be Leopold Fitz.”

He nodded, perhaps dumbly, and shook her hand only after the woman stood there for a time. The handshake was entirely on her side. The scientist barely even flexed his hand.

“Natasha Romanova. Coulson asked me to ensure your safety.”

Fitz felt his jaw drop as he blinked at her once, twice, his brain struggling to catch up.

Behind him, in a voice even quieter than normal, he heard Raina mutter, “My...you are an asset.” 


 

Author Note

I had such struggle with this chapter.
I kept wanting to add things and build on.
And at one point entirely too much was happening all at once.
So I decided to pretty much break it down and see how it goes.
And yes, I did introduce Natasha Romanova. 
We'll see how this goes.

Chapter Text

AUTHOR NOTE

 

I apologize for any major OOC’ness on the part of Natasha.
Apparently her personality undergoes a big change in Avengers 2.

I have not seen it. Shock. Surprise.

 


 

There has been times since he first signed up for SHIELD academy, post earlier studies, that Fitz had faced impossible situations. Technology that no one expected to actually exist in the world. Creatures, some evolutionary and others artificially designed in labs that he could not even tell his mother about without her possible committing him. He had met literal, in your face, aliens from another dimension that the ancient Norse worshipped. Somehow all of that seemed secondary when faced with a real-life legend of SHIELD, Avenger, and someone whom Jemma talked about up to twice a day during their time in academy as her idol. This was the woman whom Fitz heard stories about and decided they had to be made up or exaggerated.

...and then she took down a trained Hydra agent and Grant while wearing a white dress.

“I…” His mouth for once worked to catch up to his brain as Fitz looked from Romanova, the Black Widow, to the presumably dead Hydra agent and Grant. His agent who worked to sit up while favoring one of his arms. At a glance Leo would have presumed his shoulder dislocated by how he carried it though it could have been a broken wrist. Jemma would know, she could deal with it better than he could. It would be a problem for them. Looking Natasha Romanova straight in the eye what came out of Fitz’s stupor was, “You did not have to injure him. He is my safety.” 

The woman did not miss a beat, “Then he should have run when he saw me.” 

That...well...Fitz struggled for a response when Raina spoke from behind him, “That would have been wise.” Up until she spoke Fitz had, in the moment, mostly forgotten the woman. He and Romanova both looked at her now. The redhead looked over the flower dress with an indecipherable stare while Leo turned wholly to the other scientist, “You worked with humans.” It was putting it lightly (badly even) and Raina’s eyes widened fractionally before the woman seemed to catch on as he explained, “Help Ward. Umm, reset his shoulder or...or…” It had been awhile since Fitz had to snap his fingers to get his attentions in line but now he did, once, twice, three times, and Romanova and Raina stared at him as he did so. It felt like everyone was waiting for him to tell them what to do and that helped absolutely nothing. When Fitz finally did get it out, everything came in an angry rush, “Sling it. If you have to. Just do...do something,” and he sounded so exasperated that Raina nodded and made her way over to Ward. The agent of course flinched away from her touch as if the devil himself had come down. Grant threw him an angry look for sending Raina but for now, faced with a bigger problem, Fitz ignored him as best he could. Quite difficult considering his senses seemed to be finely tuned to the other man lately.

Instead he had all his attention on the perfect agent in front of him, “By ‘ensure my safety’ do you mean...are you…” It wasn’t working. Nothing was actually, nothing had worked all evening, and that fact was driving him insane. The whole meet up with Raina had been a mistake - his mistake for suggesting it in the first place. Now Ward was injured and he had the flower lady treating him, at Fitz’s word. She did not have the obelisk. Most likely Hydra had it and that meant the 0-8-4 was basically beyond his reach. Now Coulson had to send someone to bail them out...and...and...

“Am I going back?”

“Only if you want to. No one asked me to bring you.”

“...Oh.” Fitz restrained himself from staring agape at her and worried the sleeve of his suit jacket instead. It was odd, having someone of her caliber sent to protect instead of retrieve him. That made no sense at all. He asked nothing else of the woman as she moved towards the presumably dead body while Fitz shuffled his way over to Ward. The agent was shirtless, Raina having helped him remove it, and the garment was a makeshift sling now.

Once Fitz was close Grant pushed Raina aside (the woman actually fell over which would have been hilarious in any other situation) to grab hold of Fitz’s arm. The specialist’s voice bordered on a quiet hiss, “Don’t trust her. No matter what you do, do not trust her. Coulson would not send an assassin to…” He stopped, his eyes looking past Fitz, and when the scientist turned to look over his own shoulder Natasha had returned. The woman rapidly thumbed through the dead man’s phone before dropping it and with one stomp, crushed it.

“We need to leave. Chances are good he called for backup.” Raina, back on her feet, stepped forward but when neither Ward or Fitz did the woman spoke again, “I have a car waiting in the parking garage, hurry up.” It was short, clipped, and the redhead turned and left them with Raina trailing behind her. The flower girl seemed to have invited herself along for the ride and so far, Romanova had said nothing to the contrary. It was all Ward’s hesitation as Fitz went to pull him along by the good arm.

“She is going to kill you.”

Fitz sighed and walked, Ward’s other arm slung over his shoulder. Nothing other than the arm seemed to be damaged but the man looked worse for the wear. The scientist waited till the two women were far enough ahead, neither speaking to the other as they walked with purpose, before responding, “Coulson would not send someone to..to…” It was too difficult to say, much less think of, and so Fitz didn’t, “...deal with me. There must be some reason he got…” The ‘her’ was implied, as Ward and Fitz both watched said person open the parking garage door, peer both ways, then wave them on. Real quick, still at a distance she hopefully would not hear, Fitz whispered to Ward, “I trust her. I know I shouldn't but...I trust Coulson. She didn’t kill you.”

That got him a look from the man at his side, face tight and frown heavy, but he nodded.

The two men said nothing else as they followed the woman across the garage. Fitz after a point realized he was the only member of the group who kept looking around suspiciously. The scientist, only having a taste of field work, expected for henchmen to lurk in every shadow. Any second a Hydra agent would leap from behind this or that car with a submachine gun and attempt to mow them down. It felt almost lackluster the way everyone else focused ahead, perhaps tuned into senses he simply did not have, as Romanova lead them to her vehicle.

Despite Fitz’s multiple degrees in engineering and general love of technology; it was Ward who brought them up short at the car and blurted out, “You drive around in a Lamborghini Aventador?” The man’s voice sounded almost reverent and Fitz could not blame him. It was a beautiful, sleek luxury vehicle, and while internally the engineer was more focused on its theoretical horsepower he could still appreciate the deep red paint job over the external plating and…

Raina ran a hand over the roof, “It is quite pretty. I should look into getting one.”

Natasha did not seem harried by the attention to her car. As the woman walked to the driver’s side and opened the door with a keyfob, she offhandedly threw out, “It was a gift. He insisted.”

The flower lady peered over the hood with a raised brow, “He?”

“Tony Stark.” Fitz marveled somewhat at how Natasha just said that name as if getting gifts from the head of Stark industries was a commonplace thing. Not the stuff people got magazines dedicated to them for. Considering how much the thing probably cost and the way Grant tilted his head to inspect the vehicle, arm still over Fitz’s shoulder, clearly the engineer needed to make friends with the CEO of Stark industries...as if that would happen. Then again considering he apparently deserved the personal protection of Natasha Romanova these days; perhaps it would happen. He could dream.

Something seemed to take Grant’s mind off the car. Fitz went to open the door but came up short as the arm over his shoulders tightened, almost around his neck, as Ward pulled him back from the vehicle. He may have yelped out the agent’s name at a relatively high pitch as Raina jerked back from the sudden movements, putting distance between them, and Natasha peered over the roof of at them. They had three or four steps back from the vehicle before Grant clipped out, “This is a two seater. How exactly were you planning for this to work?”

Smiling, hand still petting at the hood, Raina dropped a, “I’ll gladly ride with-”

Unfortunately for her, Romanova was quick to cut her off. “You won’t. Neither of you will. Coulson asked that I watch out for him.” She pointed at Fitz and suddenly, with Raina looking at him and Ward glaring at Romanova while she boredly looked back, the scientist felt like a commodity being traded. o one asked his opinion as they made decisions around him. Natasha ducked inside and came back up, tossing a long, slender stick to Raina that after a moment Fitz recognized as a slim jim used for breaking into cars. There was irony in that; having a tool to break into cars conveniently in your own, and Fitz almost started laughing at it. Actually; the mental exhaustion was likely the primary cause of him finding it funny. Too much happened in too short a time and Fitz closed his eyes, breathing, to concentrate 

No one seemed to be paying him any mind either as Ward pulled him closer, practically pressed against his side, “He is not getting in that car with you. If we’re leaving, he and I are stealing a car or you are handing over the keys.” The staring match between the two intensified and Fitz, despite himself, started laughing. He laughed so hard that he almost could not breath and the situation seemed to only get more comedic. Natasha looked at him, head straight, eyes narrowed, through a quirk of her lip looked almost amused. Raina, the woman who thrived on appearing comfortable and in control in any situation, appeared nervous as she clutched the tool in both hands and looked from Natasha to Ward and Fitz. Ward’s reaction was immediate and different as he turned, sweeping in to block his view of the woman, and leaned down to put them on level. His voice was quiet, reserved only for Fitz, as the taller man used his unslung arm to grasp the scot’s shoulder, “Fitz. I need you to calm down and talk to me-”

Through his laughter, “Gr...Grant.”

Ward leaned a bit closer, “Yes?”

Leo kissed him. It was quick, light, a peck more than anything else, and he pulled back before the agent even had time to register. Grant had clearly not expected it judging by his raised eyebrow and still slightly open mouth. Confusion was a funny look on him and that nearly drove Fitz into another fit. Instead he giggled, though the Scot would never admit to giggling, and peered around the broader man in front of him, “Erm...I’m right in that we won’t leave here unless I go with you?”

Raina peered at them with a look Fitz was not quite comfortable with (and Ward glared at her when the man looked over his shoulder), but Natasha held the same look of boredom. Apparently part of being a superhero avenger made it perfectly normal to see two men kiss. Then again, there was news footage of the woman fighting aliens, and who knew what agents of her caliber did in their spare time. Unphased by anything going on; she nodded at Fitz’s assessment of the situation, “While standing here arguing over it is fun; you will be getting in this car before we go.”

Ward stiffened in front of him and none of that drained out when Fitz put a hand to the center of the man’s chest, the same spot Ward had pushed on earlier in the day on him, and nodded around the man, “Okay. I’ll go with you. Just...if you leave them behind I’ll jump out...or bite my tongue off. I’ll kill myself,” Ward’s hand curled around the bicep of Fitz’s arm, the one the ladies could not see, and his grip was tight enough to likely leave marks. It was tougher than the scientist thought to hide the wince on his face, “I really will...and you’ll take me to our-my safe house. Not anywhere else. Not to Coulson or whoever. To my place. Is that...is that clear?” The most bizarre moment of his life had been achieved. Ward seemed shocked at the declaration, probably uncomfortable with Fitz casually talking about killing himself, and the Scot was no more comfortable with the things coming out of his mouth than the man.

The woman’s lip twitched, “Crystal."

“I hate this.” Ward’s voice was quiet as Fitz drew back, their foreheads almost touching.

“I know, I’m sorry all of this turned into such a mess.”

The specialist shook his head, “Not your fault. I was sloppy. I should have…”

He was cut off by the sound of a sports car. Natasha had a foot in the car pressing on the gas, revving the engine, to get their attention, “We have about two minutes until we are involved in a shootout with Hydra here.” Whatever pleasantries the two men had left to share went on hold as Ward pushed Fitz toward the car. Leo felt the man’s eyes as he got into the car with Natasha.

XXXXX XXXXX XXXXX

 

Watching Fitz get into Natasha Romanova’s car, out of his control, felt like a nightmare for Ward.

His appearance must have soured considerably as he turned to her because Raina, upon it just being the two of them, took half a step back. Her expressions were steadied but he could read the fear in the woman as she clutched the tool close to her chest. She wanted to run away. That fear only intensified as Ward, very mindful of it, took a step closer to the woman. In time with him, she moved further away.

Normally he would have found it humorous but she was costing them time.

“Give me that.”

Raina thrust the tool forward immediately, held in her open-up palms, like an offering. The reason became clear as she looked him dead in the eye and whispered, “...When are you going to kill me?”

Grant acted as if he were ignoring her while moving to the nearest vehicle, a tan colored jeep not even remotely in the price range of Romanova’s ride, and went about breaking in. It was impossible for him to actually ignore the flower girl. The people you do not trust are the ones to pay the most attention to. He watched the woman’s face in the driverside review while popping the lock. She may have seemed impassive facing him head on but now, with his back to her, Ward watched the woman chew at her bottom lip and pull her arms tightly around herself. The body language was clear - she wanted to run, hide, and hope he had to leave before finding her. Even without the body language he would know what she wanted. Raina, in her need to remained concealed, was somewhat easier to read when you knew her.

Unfortunately, he suspected himself one of the few people in the world to actually know her.

“He doesn’t know...Garrett and you, what you did, what that man had us do. How much did you tell?”

The accusation was all over her voice and Ward tensed, solely across the shoulders, at the reminder. Mindful that Fitz might still be looking at them the specialist’s face stayed blank as he turned to address the woman, quietly, so as that only they could hear, “And he will keep not knowing.” He jerked open the door to the jeep and held it, starring the wilting flower down, “Get in. You’re driving.”

She recoiled, “I will not-”

There were things Ward wanted to do to speed this up; methods that he adhered to before. Now, with Leo in range, the agent kept his hands to himself and gripped the door tighter, “Raina, get in the jeep.”

Raina wanted to argue, he could see it in her face, but the woman climbed into the vehicle. Ward slammed the door behind her harder than he needed to before rushing to the other side and climbing in. It would have been easier to bust open the panel and hotwire the jeep before she got in but this allowed them a great deal more privacy. Grant took full advantage of that by speaking as he leaned over into her personal space, “He doesn’t need to. Garrett had me do a lot of things. I told him the important ones.”

If she leaned any more into the corner of her seat, the woman could very well fall out, “Are you sure? He seems sweet. Too sweet for you, surely.” She may have been scared but her voice, as ever, held that smooth quality that lured people into trusting her. Ward, knowing the woman best, never would. “You should tell him. He loves you, as I’m sure you know, so he will probably forgive all of it…”

The engine rumbled to life seconds before Ward’s good hand closed around her throat and squeezed. Raina’s eyes went wide and her hands came up, fingers curled as if to claw at him, but she stopped at the last moment and just held the pose. Terrified, but knowing when she was outmatched in their current situation, and Ward relented quickly enough to barely bate her breath. When he spoke though it was in her face, eyes narrowed, “He might. He shouldn't, but he might. I will tell him about Garrett when the time is right. Raina, if you breath even a word about that to him, I will kill you. If you even survive tonight. I’m still not convinced you didn’t sell us out to Hydra.” Not speaking, the woman frantically shook her head ‘No’ until Ward nodded. He took one of her hands in his and pushed it to the steering wheel. He wasn’t convinced as he leaned back into his own seat but for now it would due. Raina did not require any more of his attention beyond the minimal. She pulled out quickly after Romanova did. 

That woman was his current concern. 

His shoulder throbbed, likely dislocated, and would need to be set when they reached the safe house.

He had not expected the woman. There was no reason for her to even be present as far as he knew. The Hydra surveillance team presumably assigned to Raina was one thing. A phone conversation, even with one end of the line untappable, could only hide so much. Grant had expected that level of interference which was why he relented to Fitz going in the first place. Actually, it had been the scientist’s idea, to put himself as bait while freeing up Ward to deal with the ‘outliers’ as he referred to them, as if this were all a complex equation. It had worked as far as the theoretical sense went. Save the part where the Hydra team was a bit better trained than expected and moved as a cohesive unit. Ward had actually been surprised at the fight put up by the one in the skyway before he got the upper hand. The surprise then had not held a candle to what came after. He heard a sound, thinking Fitz and Raina arrived early, to instead find Natasha Romanova running at him in a dress, heels, and a forward tumble with her foot crashing straight into his stomach at a seemingly impossible angle. Even as confident in his fighting skills as Ward was - he stood against Melinda May after-all - he was not delusional. Element of surprise aside the fight would not have lasted long. The fact she dislocated his shoulder less than ten seconds after initially hitting him, with a knee no less, was the surest proof of that. Technically; Ward probably owed it to the woman for saying he ‘fought’ at all considering how their ‘fight’ actually went.

“...May I say something?” Ward, pulled from his thoughts, threw the woman a look but said nothing. It was a long moment, two turns and a red light later, before she took it as consent, “I remember how you felt about Skye. Back then, I mean. How you wanted her by your side.” She spoke slowly, carefully, and never looked at him. Not once, even as her hands tightened on the steering wheel and she kept speaking things she knew he did not want to hear. He half suspected that Raina would be the one to make good on Fitz’s threat and hurl herself from a vehicle tonight. “You never acted like this towards her. After she found out, you never seem determined to hide it. Are you...no. You do feel the same.”

She twitched somewhat when Ward shifted in his seat to dig for the phone still in his back pocket, “Out with it Raina. Are you asking me if my feelings for Fitz are stronger than the ones I had for Skye?” It was a conversation that felt bizarre to have with her, of all people, but then again she also knew him.

The woman shot a quick, millisecond, look his way before nodding. The whole time she stayed perfectly on the tail of Romanova’s car, so close that if the windows were not tinted on the car Ward would be able to see the time on a dash clock. Each stop came dangerously close to a rear end collision.

Phone in hand, Ward paused with his finger on the number that would speed dial Fitz. They were right in front of them and Romanova had yet to pull anything. He could tell by the street signs they were heading towards the safe house he and Fitz had picked out earlier in the afternoon. It was hardly the caliber of place Ward had picked out for them thus far, four and five star hotels that were hardly his usual bunkers, but those places had never been for his benefit. This safe house - an abandoned house just outside of town - was far more suited to his needs. A part of him was glad for it. If things went wrong the isolation would do well to deal with bodies. Preferably not his or Fitz if things went sour.

For instance that of the woman with him whom nodded, “Do you love him?”

“Why do you care?”

They merged into traffic, Raina almost side swiping a taxi to stay right behind the other car. Ward appreciated her desire to do what he wanted. He did not appreciate, “I’m...pleased, I suppose. Garrett was a horrible man.” The fair skinned woman peeked at him quickly to ensure her words were taken well before resuming, “Some of the things he had me do, once Hydra went open, I confess to not being entirely comfortable with. My work felt tainted by his petty cruelty.” It was hard for Ward to imagine Raina caring about something other than science but he could almost believe her. The woman took a breath and for once in their whole conversation looked at him fully as a stop came up, “Everyone deserves to be happy. Even those of us who have sacrificed the happiness of so many others.” Had it been nearly anyone else Ward would have taken this as a roundabout way of begging for their lives. The fact that it was Raina alone turned his thoughts otherwise. She started again when he shifted, reclining further back into his seat and getting more comfortable, and even turned his head partially away.

“Do you really believe that?”

Her voice was more assured than it had been the entire ride, “We can only hope all of this is worth it.”

XXXXX XXXXX XXXXX

Fitz regretted getting into her car. Not because of the woman herself, the Avenger had yet to say anything at all since they left, but because of how low to the ground it was. Grant may have fallen in love with the sports car but the scot felt too low, off center with gravity, and the tight confines of the vehicle kept him bordering on what could at any moment become a panic attack. He had never been claustrophobic before a box on the ocean floor. No, even since then, he had functioned just fine on the Bus and in the Playground. Internally, he attempted to rapidly sort through all of the conflicting messages and feelings his brain generated. All of it was just neurochemistry; technically he should have been able to deal with it on that level. Except attempting to do that also gave him fits of giggle-laughter.

The first words the red headed woman spoke to him on the drive came after one such episode, “May told me you were strange.” She said it plain, as if this were a completely obvious observation that everyone should recognize.

Fitz started a bit, almost to anger, before letting go of it in a huge heaving sigh, “May talks about me?"

“Neither of us are the type to sit and gossip.” More frankness from Natasha Romanova almost threw Fitz into another fit of semi-crazed laughter. The thought of the women sitting together alone and actually conversing was enough for him. She seemed to catch on to his struggle and let some semblance of expression cross her face, the smallest of smiles, “May is the one who called me. She needed a favor and no matter who you are; the Calvary owing you a favor is worth the hassle.” There was something so fluid about how the woman existed, in how she drove the manual, spoke, even tilted her head just so to peer at him from the corner of her eyes. If he were not in too deep with his agent or some scaling level of affection for both his ex-lab partners, Fitz may have fallen in love with her on the spot.

 He shuffled a bit in his seat at that revelation, face flushed in fullest red, and looked steadily down into his lap, “Good...I mean...my life as a favor. I guess that’s good. So May still cares, good.” The woman’s only response was a ‘Hmm’ sound that told Fitz absolutely nothing. At the same time, it also made him feel pressed to fill the silence, “I mean, I was worried...no, not worried, terrified that she would want to kill me. I set him free you know, Grant. Though I guess he would have himself. No one died this way. May was shot but I’m sure Jemma fixed her up. I mean, I guess so, someone would have mentioned it. Unless they didn’t because she is actually hurt I-”

Natasha interrupted his ramble, “You caused Melinda May to get shot?”

Not liking her tone, Fitz wound his hands together and quietly, “...Yes.”

The woman, without missing a beat in her driving, glanced over with a look, “Safe bet she asked me to guard you so she could have you then. May is not known for being forgiving.”

Fearful of that, Leo nodded and said nothing. While he would have liked to assume her joking it was nearly impossible to tell. Though, perhaps for his benefit, the sincerity in her next words came across perfectly clear, “I will only ask this once and the decision is yours. If you wish to go back to Coulson, I will take you. I can lose these two and have you back by morning.” He jerked upright, staring at her, but his own words died on his tongue as the woman continued, “You are attached to the Hydra agent. If that will be an issue I can deal with him as well. You have until we reach your safe house to decide. I am leaving then if you feel safe with him still.” It was said so simply, so matter of fact, that for a moment Fitz waited for a follow up that never came. The exact meaning behind her words clicked in his head after a moment of staring at the woman.

She offered to kill Grant if he wanted her to.

“N...No, I...I don’t want…” Somewhere, in the back of his brain, Fitz just pictured the situation as he could only imagine it. Natasha standing over Grant with a pistol had been enough. All at once his hands came up, each covering one of his ears as if to block the woman out. She watched him but did not intervene as Fitz brought himself to a place where their conversation could actually occur. It didn’t happen, several minutes later he was still not quite there, but the scientist managed to filter out, “It’s...I don’t want him like that. Dead, I mean. Ever. I…” His hands were squeezing at his ears and Fitz only realized it when the pain pierced through his thoughts. Somehow, that helped him focus, a wholly unpleasant form of grounding himself, “And he’s...Grant’s not a Hydra agent. Not anymore. Even then...he wasn’t, not really? It was Garrett. Not Hydra. I know it’s dumb to believe it just because he told me so but...I do.” The situation was so bizarre - telling his personal feelings to an Avenger living legend. He expected her to to tell him to shut up or just ignore him. Lots of people found it easier to ignore him when he got like like.

Nothing prepared him to hear her actually reply, “Red in his ledger.”

A pause, Fitz looked over at the woman as she swooped them into another lane, out of traffic. They were close to the safe house now. The houses around them were beginning to thin out, more rustic older buildings popped up that were likely abandoned, and the levels of seclusion amped up to a point the occasional street light did not work. Fitz was still uncomfortable with it.

She elaborated, “You believe in him?”

It was such a simple question to ask yet when Fitz went to speak, his words did not cooperate. His mouth opened and closed several times before the scientist simply nodded, solemn.

She returned his nod as they pulled partially off road onto a gravel driveway leading towards the safe ‘house’. At night it was worse than when Fitz saw it last. According to Ward, when they had ‘shopped around for it’, actual houses did not actually make good safe houses. Abandoned factories with large, partially defaced ‘Coca-Cola’ labeling apparently did. Only the finest amenities awaited them and by that, Fitz meant nothing, as everything from the air-mattress to few supplies, his laptop included, remained in the car abandoned near the meeting site. Other than his laptop nothing had been left behind of note. Thankfully, or perhaps not depending on how you looked at it, his computer was completely safe. Well, at least in regards to having information about them taken off it. Ward had been insistent about rigging it to burn the harddrive should anyone except Fitz himself try to access it. A win for them, personal disaster for the Scot.

As the car died Fitz went to open the door but was stopped, quite jarringly, by an iron grip over his wrist. He jumped, surprised by the lightning fast movement, as Natasha turned fully.

“You realize he may never be exactly who you want him to be." 

Fitz, unsure of what to say, nodded slowly. The confusion likely appeared clear on his face. She released him slowly, their eyes held, before turning away and slipping out of the car with grace. The Scot, quite unlike her, nearly stumbled getting out of the low-set vehicle. It wasn’t just his brain or his words, Fitz entire body felt jerky and foreign to him. It felt like before he left SHIELD, back when he would hide in his lab until Mack came to find him and had to help with the most basic of tasks. Everything, all at once, felt impossible, and while the feeling did not recede it was immensely aided by laying eyes on Grant. He was still shirtless, arm still in a sling, and his face held a look that would have kept Fitz far away not so long ago, but the scientist delighted in seeing him now. Natasha was forgotten and Raina, the flower woman practically leaping from the jeep after parking, went entirely ignored. The Scot literally only had eyes for his agent as he quickly made his way over, the taller man meeting him halfway, and found himself in a tight hug.

The man speaking of his head sounded so distant, “What did you say to him? I will-”

From somewhere behind came, “Calm down-”

Fitz ignored the rest, his face buried in Ward’s chest, and shook his head into the other man. No, he would not allow the two to fight. Not after the candid offer made to him. It took more effort than it should have to get his mouth functioning, “Gggr…” The man looked down at him, recognizing the half-sound, half slur for what it was. “Nothing. Did nothing. Tired. Only tired.” He could have stopped there, Ward was nodding, the man got the message loud and clear. The follow-up whine of, “Fucked it all up. I’m not...I don’t know if I can do this. I fucked it…” His voice was quieter with each word until it culminated into a complete whisper. Ward probably never even heard the last word but the man’s one arm around him tightened considerably. Not for the first time in their strange companionship; Fitz felt pathetic, he felt useless, in the way, a hassle. 

“You didn’t…” Ward cut off when Leo shook his head and they were moving, walking, the taller man directing them into the building. The scientist may have forgotten the women but the specialist watched, over his shoulder, as he talked and they walked, “We will talk about it tomorrow. For now you need to sleep. Everything is okay. Just focus on your control.”

Fitz felt as if he did not have any left but the scientist nodded, letting his agent lead the way.

XXXXX XXXXX XXXXX

It took less than twenty minutes for Fitz to fall asleep. Not even the bumpy, highly questionable suede couch kept the scientist awake. Simmons would have likely wanted it burned for safety. A struggle came from extraditing himself from the death grip Leo had on his arm without waking him. The scientist had fallen asleep with his head in Ward’s lap, the agent’s good arm clutched in both of his, and the position had seemed to do the trick. The man had managed to calm down enough to pass out at least. Grant was sure to pack the engineer’s dress jacket under his head as a pillow in place of his thigh before sneaking away. There were things he had to deal with.

Namely the two women in the main room. Romanova held position beside office entrance, arms crossed over her chest, legs in a military rest, and had at some point switched the dress for a pair of jeans and a tank. Having her look fresh from a concert made it easier to deal with the woman than having her in a cocktail dress. Raina had unfortunately not changed from her ridiculous red flower dress before coming in. The woman sat behind a desk in the one good rolling chair left, a finger to her lip, and it felt strange even to Ward to watch the woman do something as normal as chew on a nail from nerves. At some point while he worked Fitz to sleep the biochemist had apparently given up her ruse of absolute calm. No, perhaps it had even been on the ride over, after the two had their conversation and lapsed into silence for a few miles. 

Both women looked up when he entered. He could not decide which was more of a hassle. Of all the people in the world Ward would not want sharing a space, it was the two of them. Two women who (in Raina’s case most of the time) showed no expression and hid all their intentions. Only having Agent May step through that door and join the dour faces watching him could have made the situation any worse. Actually, she would probably try to kill him, these two hadn’t...yet.

Natasha was the first to speak, “What do you plan to do now?”

Ward, from his position leading to Fitz, shot a glare her way, “Nothing you need to know.”

Raina, finger dropping from her lip, cut in, “I might need to know. You’ve successfully kidnapped me. Don’t I at least deserve to know why I was taken?” The two specialists shared a look that in some odd way was the closest to comradery they had come yet. All it took was the idea that Raina had done anything other than go along with her own ‘kidnapping’ quite eagerly. Unperturbed by the doubt she no saw before her, the woman continued, “I do not have what you seek.” She had used neither the phrase 0-8-4 or the word obelisk, her gaze never even going to Natasha, and Ward was thankful for that. At least in this the two were on the same page. If Natasha had any questions what they were discussing she did not ask. Either she already knew, did not care, or it was simply outside her professed mission parameters of ‘assure Fitz’s safety’. 

“That depends...why was a trained Hydra recon team there to check an art meeting?”

“They have been tracking me the same reason as you.”

It was too close to a real answer. She shared a look with him before Grant turned away, bringing all his attentions to the Black Widow, who remained still as a statue, “And how were you there?”

The woman’s poker face was excellent but something he could not see, hidden in the depths, just felt like smugness to Ward, “I’ve been tracking the two of you going on four days now. Based on the dossier I was given on you; I’m surprised you did not notice.” There was a taunt there and Ward ground his teeth as she went on, “I only intervened when I realized the risk you were taking. I needed to verify that your actions did not contradict with my mission.” It sounded pleasant enough but Ward knew the statement for what it truly was. She felt he had played fast and loose with Fitz’s life and put him in unnecessary danger. Once again, the dark haired man wished he knew what had been said in the car. Whatever it was had rattled Fitz and while the woman barely glanced at him before she had a look about her now. That combined with the rib at his countersurveillance it felt as if he were being taunted. It hardly fit what he knew of her.

Something had definitely been said in that car.

“Are you planning to stick around and guard Fitz then?”

Stepping away from the wall Natasha stood in front of him, arms crossed, face set, “Convince me that he will be safe if left solely in your care.” A pause and wave of the hand, “If you can’t even do that then I will be taking him back to Coulson tomorrow, his personal wishes aside.”

Never one to back down from a challenge Ward nodded, “Understood.”

Then he lunged.

The sound of a chair scraping the floor, Raina panicking no doubt, was the backdrop. Rather than throw a punch with his fully functional arm, the obvious course, Ward instead charged into a shoulder tackle with his slung arm up. He’d set it in the jeep and kept the sling for support. Now sling went forgotten, pain racing down from his abused shoulder, as he attempted to take Romanova down in a single hit. Optimistic, he knew it would not work even before the woman’s head swung back and down in nearly a full limbo. The first strike nearly went to him but after that it was a fully defensive fight. He threw his good arm up to block a chop at his neck from her right hand. A feint, one he saw coming but was not fast enough to dodge as her foot collided with the side of his knee. From there it was touch and go as Ward attempted to use his greater size to grab the woman only to have her dance away. It was like fighting May except, if such a thing were possible, a faster May who broadcasted even less of her moves. Natasha’s face was made of stone as she gripped his wrist and pulled it to her while twisting away, practically twirling around him. Ballerina moves did not stop her from delivering a vicious backhand to his jaw.

His follow up punch almost landed. She only had one foot on the ground, the other going for another takedown on his kneecap. Everything seemed perfect save the part where the woman pulled a leap back that should have been impossible on her center of gravity. When he swung she was right in his face and afterwards, as his fist passed through thin air, three quick moves took her across the room. Not enough to call an end to their fight but enough to let Ward breath.

“So they are not exaggerating when they talk about you.”

Unperturbed, she eyed him for a moment before dropping her stance, “Good attempt at catching me off guard. Why not go for the knife?” While speaking her eyes trailed down to his leg. It was impressive really considering the small size of the knife. Ward tugged up his pants leg to reveal the sheath strapped to his calf. The answer was obvious, even without him speaking, with two button straps holding the small blade in place. Natasha was the type who would understand.

“If I had you would have crippled me before I freed it.”

She flicked a bit of hair back from her face, “Not very helpful.” 

“Hadn’t planned on using it to take down an assassin.”

“Apparently I’m an Avenger these days. May I?”

Ward did not question it. In one movement slowed a bit by his hurt arm, the specialist drew, flicked, and underhand tossed the knife. He did start a bit however when Natasha caught it mid-spin and advanced on Raina. No one was more surprised than Raina herself who flew from the chair, knocking it over completely, and backed away. The desk separated the two women and soon Ward did as well though he stayed to the side, beside and not between the bizarre play acting itself out before him. Whatever point Natasha was aiming for, she made it.

“Is it the bracelet you are wearing?”

Ward, somewhat confused, started to ask what she meant but Raina spoke first, head shaking.

“They put something in my hand. It...hurt, when they did it?”

He understood now, “A tracker? If you had told me about that before I would have-" 

“Cut my hand off.” Raina spoke slowly, gravely as she cut him off, her eyes glued to Natasha instead of Ward. As always the woman was accessing threats and felt him lacking in this situation. Funny, really, as Ward felt like doing a great deal more than threatening her now. 

Natasha nodded, “Implant. I’ve seen it before. Has it been itching?” Her expression did not slip a fraction as the flower arched a brow and nodded. Things were peaceful and silent for a moment as the woman stared each other down and Ward simmered, on the verge of exploding, fueled by the thought of Fitz sleeping only a room away. He was ready to choke the woman when the situation exploded. Natasha with almost inhuman speed grabbed Raina’s wrist, slammed her hand to the desk as the other woman started, and drove the blade of the knife straight through the center of her hand. No slow preparation, no warning, just in and with a sharp tug straight up back out. It was nearly surgical and for a moment Raina stared wide eyed with Ward, who was equally surprised, before the red dressed woman started to scream in agony.

Ignoring the sound, Natasha wiped the mostly clean knife on the side of her pants before offering it back to Ward handle first, “That should take care of the tracker. We’re compromised.”

More for Fitz sake than his own ears, Ward pressed down on Raina’s wrist and held her hand to the table. With his other hand, he grabbed her by the jaw and held, “Shut up and I’ll handle it.” She didn’t, at first, though when Ward jerked her chin to face him the woman fell silent. Raina bit her bottom lip and clenched her free hand into a tight fist as Ward, giving up on his sling, used it as best he could to bandage up her hand. It felt like returning the favor for slinging his arm before. 

Though the real favor he offered was not just killing her on the spot. That was a favor.

“How long do you think we have?”

Natasha, the mighty avenger, shrugged from her place by a cracked window, “No way to know.”

Ward tied off the field dress on Raina’s hand tightly as he replied, “We’re leaving then. This location is not set up to hold off a Hydra strike team.” Raina ripped her hand away as soon as he let go, clutching it close to her chest, and Ward eyed her warily for a moment before turning his attentions back to the red headed woman, “Fitz is coming with me this time. Whatever you said to him set off his…” Ward paused, eyes going to the doorway, checking for Fitz. It was telling that Raina screaming had not woken him. Still, the man dropped his voice to practically a hiss, “I don’t know what you did but it screwed with him. So, he’ll be leaving with me, understood?” 

Romanova eyed him before tossing her head in Raina’s direction, “What about her?”

“What about her?”

Raina snapped off something in another language and both SHIELD ex-specialists looked her way. Natasha, apparently speaking the dialect of ‘Chinese’ that Raina did, looked almost impressed. The flower girl went on in English, “I’m going with him. That boy,” At Ward’s look she backtracked, “Fitz. That scientist is the only one who can ensure my safety.” Her injured hand still clutched close, Raina pointed at Natasha, “You are apathetic to what happens to me.” and then to Ward, “You have probably already planned my demise. No, if I leave, I leave with Fitz.” It was true, though Ward had not progressed past methods yet, and Natasha seemed to confirm her bit by walking away like the discussion was over. While Raina and him may have held a conversation of note on the way to the safe house, Ward still considered just getting rid of her. He suspected the Black Widow would not lift a finger to stop him. He could kill her, hide the body, and get Fitz out before the scientist even started asking questions about Raina’s disappearance. It was tempting really save the part where Fitz would likely not forgive him. Killing Hydra was apparently ‘one thing’ under his new ‘handlers’ ideals, killing someone Fitz knew even in a tertiary sense like Raina was likely overstepping the boundaries of their...thing. No, it would ruin things.

Grant was already working his best to not ruin this thing. 

“Fine. Deal with that,” Ward waved, indicating her hand, “and don’t let Fitz see it till he’s safe.”

Raina looked at him, aghast, “I do not even have a first aid kit.”

Ward shrugged, repeating himself, “Deal with it.”

He heard Natasha speaking to Raina as he left. Probably a med kit in her car. Ward did not care. The two women were forgotten as he left the room and returned to Fitz. At some point the scientist must have moved as his dress jacket hung half on the couch and half off, an arm thrown wildly over his head. Grant went to shake him and paused, hand hovering over Fitz’s shoulder, and took a moment. It was a tired thought. Natasha was just in the other room and Ward knew, if he gave the word, she would return Fitz to Coulson. The Team would see to the scientist’s safety. Were it anyone else they would be locked up in Ward’s old cell in the playground but Fitz, no, Skye and Jemma would never let it happen. The scientist could integrate directly back into his old life. The one he did not want, granted, but one that was far safer than… Ward shook his head sharply. The internal argument always ended the same way; he did not want to let Fitz go back. Not even if it meant keeping him safe. Not even if it meant that Ward apparently had to deal with Raina tagging along with them for now. Fitz was what mattered.

He owed him that much.

Ward gripped Fitz by the shoulder and shook him, “Leo. You need to get up.” The engineer made a noise and went to grab Ward’s arm. The specialist shook again, “Get up now. We’re in-”

“I’ve been awake.”

Ward froze, hand still on Fitz, as the engineer’s hand closed over Ward’s on his shoulder.

“I heard Raina screa...” He paused, taking in a deep breath, and the agent waited for it. For an accusation, some form of shot at his character. Instead what came at the end of Fitz hesitation was a quiet, “Tell me it was necessary?” as the engineer’s fingers wove themselves into Ward’s.

Necessary and collateral damaged sounded the exact same to Ward.

“It was.”

Fitz nodded, still looking away, “Then is she…?”

 Ward’s hand tightened over the engineers, “No, she is alive. We’re taking her with us.” The tension in Fitz’s shoulders melted but Ward still paused, considering if he should explain about the tracker, how it had been Natasha who injured the flower woman. The realization that if Natasha had not handled it, he would have, kept him from speaking on the subject further. Fitz did not need to know how he would have handled it, “We need to leave. Hydra is coming.” 

“How long?”

Ward shrugged and Fitz, understanding, used the agent’s hand to pull up from the couch.

 


 

Author Note

So I know some of you are probably like ‘What, thats it? wtf?”

This chapter was the struggle of the ages for some reason.

I just kind of wanted it over to start fresh.