The echo of traffic from below was too noisy, too much. But he needed the air right then- needed to be outside. The only time he could remember finding peace was in the woods, away from everything and everyone except the natural world. No one had bothered him and no one had shaken his world to it's core like this. Out there, he'd know who and what he was. Nothing had mattered except where he'd find food that day and keeping Buddy alive and safe. It was a blessing compared to this.
It was a blessing to rely only on himself and no one else. Out there, there was no one to disappoint. No one to shame. Not like here.
“Grant.” The calm, steely voice nearly made him shiver. God, to think she'd let this man down without even knowing it. That he'd managed to screw up so badly. “I really wish you'd step back a little. You're making everyone nervous standing so close to the edge of the Tower.”
Blinking, Grant looked down, taking in the three inches separating him from the long drop to the street below. Huh, when had he stepped so close to the edge?
“Your girl is about to run out here and pull you back,” added that same voice, though he could hear the tension in the other man's words. “She's really worried about you.”
“Skye isn't my girl,” corrected Grant, even as he took a few steps back and turned to face his visitor. “I'm a monster. Monsters don't get girls.”
The look of utter confusion that crossed Steve Rogers' face would have been funny if he weren't a literal national treasure. As it was, Grant felt worse than he had before for confusing the man. “Why do you think you're a monster?”
“You heard what Simmons said,” muttered Grant, eyes focusing on the Stark Tower logo printed on the helipad. “I'm a science experiment gone wrong. They were trying to make another of you and got me instead.”
“You aren't a monster,” stated Steve, his footsteps growing nearer and his voice firmer. “Schmidt? He was a monster. You aren't.”
“I betrayed S.H.I.E.L.D,” reminded Grant with a derisive snort. “I destroy everything, disappoint every family I'm a part of. I couldn't even save John. Instead, I got distracted and destroyed him instead.”
There was a faint sigh from the man in front of him before Grant felt a heavy hand land on his shoulder. “The serum makes the good, great and the bad, worse. That was what Dr. Erskine told me the night before I was exposed to the serum. I was chosen because I was a good man. But you weren't good or bad when you were exposed, you were too young to be either. Based on what Skye told me about your family, I'd say it's a miracle you can care at all.”
Grant didn't know what to say to that. He knew on some level he cared, but it was hard to figure out if he really cared or was only taking orders. The only exceptions to that were Skye, Fitz, and Simmons. He knew he cared about them. Skye was his light in the darkness and Fitz and Simmons reminded him of Thomas and Emma. They were young and couldn't protect themselves. It was why he'd jettisoned the pod: so they could survive. At least that had worked. At least they'd gotten away from Garrett unscathed. But none of them would have been in danger if he hadn't exposed them to Garrett either. God, he missed taking orders- it was so much easier.
“Grant,” prompted Steve, drawing Grant's attention back to the man, “why don't we go inside.”
“Why?” asked Grant, shaking his head slightly as his eyes slide back to the city. “So they can lock me up again? I'm a bigger threat now than I was before. All going inside means is that everyone will be scared of me.”
“The knowledge doesn't make you a bigger threat,” corrected Steve, laying a hand on Grant's shoulder. “It just means you know who you are now and why you're stronger or faster than other people. That. doesn't make you a monster.” Sighing, Steve squeezed his shoulder slightly. “Look, I can't say I'm happy about what you did before, but, after talking with Skye, I'm not sure it's as simple as 'you betrayed everyone'. Were you actually Hydra, Grant? Did you believe in their goals?”
“No,” stated Grant without a second thought, shaking his head firmly. “Hydra is a bunch of lunatics. Crazies who want to take over the world. I never believed a word of what they spewed. But they swore they could save John and, after he went through the trouble of saving my life, I needed to try to save his. I owed him.”
“So it was this John that you were following and not Hydra,” stated Steve with a nod. “And you were following him because you felt like you owed him.”
“He told me I owed him and he was right,” corrected Grant with a shake of his head. “He taught me to survive, fight, shoot, everything. I wouldn't have even been S.H.I.E.L.D if he hadn't saved me. I would probably have ended up in jail for the rest of my life or something, knowing my family. They could get to me anywhere. They had all the power.”
“They don't have any power over you anymore Grant,” assured Steve, the hand shifting so the other man's arm was around his shoulders. “The others are worried about you. Let's go back in with them and you can figure out what you want to do next.”
“What?” asked Grant, even as he let Steve lead him back towards the doors into Stark Tower. He'd have to face the music eventually unless he wanted to take a running leap off the Tower and that didn't really sound like a nice way to die. Even super-soldier's probably had some kind of limit. “What do you mean?”
“What you want to do next,” repeated Steve with a shake of his head. “We aren't locking you back up, Grant. There's no point. If you weren't really Hydra, which both Skye and I believe, and you didn't betray S.H.I.E.L.D of your own free will, which I believe based on what you just said, then there's no reason to lock you up again. What you have to decide is what you want to do now.”
“What I want?” whispered Grant, his stomach dropping out. He'd have to decide what he wanted to do next? Couldn't someone just tell him what to do? He'd never even imagined a life away from John or outside of S.H.I.E.L.D. What the hell was he going to do?
-31 years ago, Coron Island, Philippines-
There was a man in a heavy jacket waiting at the airstrip as Sims descended the plane, stepping onto the wet soil of the remote island. As he approached the man who was hovering in the shadows of a sheet metal shed beside the strip, he watched the bright cherry of a cigarette break through the rapidly growing dusk shadows. He made a bit of a face in response, shaking his head at the man.
“Those things will kill you, Arthur,” admonished Thaddeus as he approached Arthur Ward, shaking his head a bit at the younger man's clear recklessness. Had Cyrus not taught him better? “You shouldn't smoke. Particularly with your experiments.”
Arthur just shook his head and dropped the butt, stomping on it to ensure it was extinguished before moving into step with Thaddeus. “If you had been on time, I wouldn't have lit one. It was an act of boredom.”
“A very reckless one,” stated Thaddeus with a sigh. “Tell me, how are things progressing?”
“Well,” assured Arthur as he pulled a notepad from his pocket. “We have managed to secure a small island isolated enough that our presence will hardly be noticed. The next step is to find a way to get the materials we required shipped to the island under cover of night and hire a building crew.”
“Speak with Dr. Earnic,” dismissed Thaddeus with a shake of his head. “She has designed robots capable of disassembling a building at a rapid pace. I have no doubts she will be more than capable of assembling some capable of constructing our establishment.”
“Dr. Earnic,” repeated Arthur, scribbling something in the notebook. “I don't suppose you'd have some contact information for her.”
“She is currently being held in a secure facility inside the USSR, constructing automatons for Leviathan,” remarked Thaddeus in a bored tone. “If you bribe the right people, they will smuggle her from the facility.”
“And the right people would be....?” questioned Arthur, raising an eyebrow. “I'm a geneticist, not a black market arms dealer.”
“A man in the government named Alexkander Orlov who heads the prisons has the power to release her,” explained Thaddeus, pulling a piece of paper from his coat and passing it to Arthur. “We need to get this underway. If we are to establish this community, we need to get a move on.”
“What about your experiment?” asked Arthur as he tucked the note into the book. “Did you find a safe place to hide him?”
“Yes, I placed him with your brother,” stated Thaddeus as he stopped by the truck, pulling the door open. “It will be a suitable place for him until we have the facility up and running. Once we have established the community, I will send you to retrieve him.”
“I'm not sure my brother is the best person to care for a science experiment,” remarked Arthur with a bit of a scowl. “He really isn't a good person.”
“He isn't bright,” agreed Thaddeus as he slipped into the truck. “But he will suffice. I have convinced him to hold on to the child. We will retrieve him when we have the labs established and have a proper place to house him. Your brother cannot possibly do further damage to him than Hydra would have.”
“What did you end up naming him?” asked Arthur as he climbed in the other side of the truck and turned the engine over. “Not Philip, I hope.”
“Grant, actually,” replied Thaddeus, tapping his fingers slightly against the closed door. “Grant Douglass.”
“You used Captain America's middle name?” questioned Arthur in clear surprise. “Isn't that a bit of a give away?”
“Hardly,” dismissed Thaddeus casually. “Many people are named Grant. It will hardly be connected.”
“But he's with the Wards,” pointed out Arthur as he gave the truck some gas and turned them onto the barely present dirt road. “We are known associates of yours.”
“You and your father are,” corrected Sims, glancing over at Arthur. “It's also believed your father is dead and you likely are as well. By extension, your brother had done everything in his power to bury his connection to you or your father. I am far from concerned. Now, let us return to the discussion of constructing our compound.”
“Right,” sighed Arthur, shaking his head a little. “Well, so far....”