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carpe hominem

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They'd been working together for a few weeks now and Ward still hadn't opened up about pretty much anything in his personal life. Of course Coulson knew everything that was on official record, and it was quite possible May did too, but Fitzsimmons and Skye were sort of at clearance level 6.999 (infinitely repeating).

It was telling, though, Fitz thought a little sadly as he packed Doc, Grumpy, Sneezy, and Dopey back in his satchel and exited the W.C, alerting Coulson that cleanup was done. Even during what had become a ritual of unwinding with takeout and drinks on the Bus after a successful mission, Ward had redirected any questions about his personal life and history. But this assignment had brought them to the fairly small town Ward had grown up in. And even Fitz could tell the man had been on the verge of some kind of meltdown from the moment their feet touched its turf.

Since it would have been suspicious for Ward to spend too much time in the single restroom, after he'd managed to get the vivid purple bloodstains off all parts of his body that wouldn't be covered by his suit he traded spots with Fitz. In turn, Fitz locked the door behind him and had Doc take relevant tissue samples of the surprisingly small but extremely hostile alien Ward had been forced to stab to death before it released toxic spores that would kill everyone within five blocks. Sneezy reassured Fitz that it was safe for humans to continue to use the room, post cleanup, Dopey identified a way to neutralize the corrosive compounds in its body, and Grumpy destroyed what evidence remained.

Whoever had sent the pint-sized extraterrestrial terrorist must have done some research about local customs. There was no other reason for such an attack to occur at a five-star restaurant on Valentine's Day. Fitz hoped his own suit would pass muster. Simmons had fussed over it, along with his hair and tie and even his socks, for two hours before sending them out. One of the reasons she didn't come along to this op was how impractical the dress code for women at such a place would be when it came to fighting interstellar conflict.

Ward had reserved a table to maintain cover and to keep an eye out for the human traitor whom Skye had discovered - thanks to monitoring the blogosphere - had agreed to help the alien escape afterwards in exchange for money, power, etc. May and Coulson were on his trail and hoped to nab him first, but it was best to have Ward there just in case. Simmons was alone on the Bus at the moment but she was probably listening to the Scissor Sisters at top volume while fiddling with her terrarium of Asgardian flora. Jane Foster gave it to her as a welcome-to-the-weird-world-fellow-scientist gift during a roundtable discussion.

Fitz was jealous of Simmons. Well, not about the terrarium, that would be petty. Especially when at that same roundtable Tony Stark had emailed him a number at which Fitz could talk to JARVIS (good heavens!) to discuss mechanical engineering and AI whenever he liked. But even with his "briefcase" and fancy-looking cufflinks that were actually crammed with James Bond levels of tech, Fitz felt like he'd be mistaken for a waiter any moment now. Or, more likely, a bus boy. He probably didn't have the right bearing to be a waiter somewhere like this.

Though dressed impeccably and perusing the menu like a mundane, if obscenely wealthy, restaurant patron, Ward was bouncing his leg under the table. Fitz idly wondered if it would wear a hole in the carpet if he did so long enough, and if so, at what rate and would it be consistent enough to predictively model? "I tidied after you. You've got to learn to be considerate of others, especially in public, mate."

Ward's leg continued to bounce, but with a statistically significant level of negative acceleration, more of a rhythm than a jitter. "Sorry about that. A man's gotta do what a man's gotta do."

"I never quite understood how that tautology was supposed to make sense." Fitz climbed into the seat across from Ward, praying he wouldn't knock anything over, and nudged his bag of goodies under the table. Ward was wearing cologne now. He hadn't been earlier that day. Maybe he was worried someone would smell blood and guts on him. It was a nice cologne, though, one of the ones Fitz imagined was advertised by wiry models who looked entirely too stoic and melancholy for someone lying in a grassy field under the stars or the like.

It occurred to Fitz that he'd been staring at Ward for several seconds and eye contact was nigh. To prevent this he quickly shifted his gaze to just over Ward's shoulder. And saw a woman headed straight towards them.

Without thinking, Fitz grabbed Ward's hand and jerked his chin in the woman's direction. Ward raised his eyebrows but looked anyway. And his face went from "mild tan" to "pastier than Fitz himself in the middle of January in Edinburgh".

The woman appeared to be in her early seventies but wore the years well, her long black dress modest without being dowdy, even with a bit of shirring over one shoulder and a white rose pinned to her lapel. "Grant, is that you?"

Now Fitz had genuine concerns that Ward was going to faint. "Grams-grandmother, um, hi, fancy meeting you like-"

It is such times like these that try a person's soul and test their true mettle. Fitz had no plan or backup. He did, as always, have his enthusiasm and lack of dignity. He clutched at Ward's hand tighter, rubbing his thumb along those knuckles that had slammed into in a snarling beaklike structure less than a half hour earlier. And with a voice so high-pitched and infused with giddiness that he wondered if he could replicate the effect later with helium inhalation, Fitz cried, "Grant, love, you didn't tell me your grandmother might have a date here too!"

No way out but in, Fitz babbled about how he worked in the R&D department of the international corporation Grant supposedly had been employed by all this time and how they'd managed to get away for a weekend and Grant wanted to show him his hometown and maybe introduce him to his grandmother, though the man was so shy about his family and childhood surely you must know some good stories and oh are you seeing that handsome older fellow over there yes I am from Scotland but I'm a naturalized dual citizen I'm an engineer by training but I do have a degree in physics as well and we'll definitely have to come by for tea tomorrow well you shouldn't keep your date waiting, no more than I should monopolize my date's time, yes, wonderful to meet you too and I look forward to a proper chat.

When she was safely out of earshot, Grant whispered, "Target acquired. Dinner is reimbursable but 'don't go wild'."

"I'm allergic to shellfish, anyway," Fitz replied, his voice back to normal. "You'll have to help me with ordering. It's all in French and wine gives me bad Eucharist flashbacks."

"The trick with the silverware is to start with the outside and go inwards, except for the ones on top. The salad fork is supposed to be cold. I'll, um, signal the waiter."

Fitz blushed so hard he could have perfectly averaged out Ward's earlier blanching. "Sorry, I didn't realize I was still - you can have your hand back, now."

Giving him a small smile, like the ones that greeted Fitz's playful smacks and pats during downtime, Ward said, "You can hang on to it for the moment. They're good with subtle gestures here."