Once again, everyone was sitting in a circle but, at least to Kat, the atmosphere seemed more relaxed than last time. But then Grant walked in, sat down between Kat and Trip, and the tension became so thick you could almost cut it with a knife. Kat wondered to herself if there were psychologists who loved this kind of group meeting because she sure didn’t. Still, if healing were going to occur, she knew it was necessary.
Phil smiled at the group. “I know this isn’t going to be easy but Dr. Sevda and I think it is important that we talk over some concerns, hash everything out.” He nodded at Kat.
“Some of the missions coming up are going to be tough ones, missions where success may depend on how well we work together as a team, so we need to learn to trust each other. Right now, that isn’t the case. I realize that there are some hard truths that we have to face as a team, so I want to give everyone an opportunity to talk about them.” Kat slowly looked around the room and made eye contact with each person. “I know that SHIELD is not big on talking but I always disagreed with that attitude and, as a former SHIELD agent, I can now say that out loud. If we’re going to trust each other and work together seamlessly, then we need to get on with things. Are we all agreed?”
Everyone nodded, some more slowly and reluctantly than others. “Ok, good. Grant, why don’t you start?”
Grant took a deep breath and sat forward on his chair, looking at no one in particular. He and Kat had talked over this moment endlessly but now that it was here, he just wanted to run. However, he knew that if he ever wanted to be with the team as a full-fledged member, he needed to do this. “I know that you all hate me and don’t know whether you can or should trust me again. I understand that and I know I deserve it because of what I’ve done. But I also want you to know that I’m sorry. I never wanted any of you to get hurt and I did my best to make sure that didn’t happen but my best wasn’t good enough. You may never like or trust me again but, no matter what, I’m still going to do everything I can to try and atone for what I did. Nothing can make up for my actions, especially for you Fitz, but I’m still going to try.” He sat back, looking exhausted.
Skye leaned forward, her eyes stormy. “I get that you’re sorry, Ward. But how do we know that you’re not just sorry because your team lost? You say that you never wanted to hurt us but you still did. We don’t even know why.”
Grant turned to her. “I never cared about Hydra; I only cared about Garrett. All I was trying to do was make sure that he got what he needed in order to survive,” Grant answered. He looked down. “I thought that I owed him everything but I was wrong. Now that he’s dead, I’m learning how to make my own decisions.” He looked back up. “I don’t know much right now but what I do know is that I was wrong to have betrayed my team, my true team. You are my family and I am willing to spend the rest of my life proving how much I care about you.”
Jemma’s eyes were full of tears as she burst out, “You did your best to try to make certain we didn’t get hurt? Then why did you push our medpod into the ocean? How was that helping us?”
Grant turned to look at her directly. “Jemma, it was supposed to float,” he said gently. “Garrett gave the order to kill you and I knew that if I didn’t get you off the plane, he’d find someone else to do it. You have no idea how thankful I was when you both got into the medpod because you gave me a way to help you. We were flying low enough that I knew the fall wouldn’t kill you and the medpod was supposed to float. I thought that the two of you would find a way to get back to the team and I was right. You did. I just didn’t know the price you would pay for that,” he finished in an anguished tone.
Jemma didn’t say anything, apparently mulling his answer over. Fitz replied instead, “I don’t hate you, Ward. I always knew you had reasons for what you did.”
Grant looked at Fitz with tears in his eyes. Kat surreptitiously put her hand on his knee. “But I deserve your hatred, Fitz! I’m not a good man! I barely can live with myself because of how you’ve suffered because I was weak. All I ever wanted to do was protect people and I just end up hurting them instead. If I could, I would trade places with you but I can’t. I don’t know what to do to make it better.”
Kat opened her mouth to say something but closed it in surprise when Fitz spoke up. “Ward, I knew that you were trying to help us. Don’t you think that I figured that out? When I was down at the bottom of the ocean, when Jemma was still unconscious, I had a lot of time to think and I made my peace with what happened. I remembered all that you did for us. You jumped out of a plane to save Jemma. You saved me too because if you hadn’t jumped, I would have and it probably wouldn’t have ended well. You tried to keep me safe on our mission together and even were willing to die to let me get away. You used the Berserker Staff to save people even though it hurt you! The man who did all those things is not someone who was trying to hurt us because he wanted to. That’s why I tried to kill Garrett, Ward! I did it so you could be free!”
Grant’s mouth dropped open and he looked at Fitz in disbelief. Everyone was looking shocked. “You….did that…..for me?” Grant asked in an unsteady voice. His whole body was shaking.
Fitz smiled. “You’re my friend, Ward. And what you can do to make it better is to treat me like I’m your friend too. Talking to me would be a good start.” Kat hid her smile at this. Hadn’t she told Grant to talk to them?
Skye still looked angry. “I don’t understand. What made Garrett so special? Why did you think you owed him anything?”
Grant took a deep breath and Kat wondered how much of his history he would feel comfortable sharing. She knew that Phil and probably May had already read his file but guessed they hadn’t shared it with the rest of the team. She longed to tell them all of it but knew that the decision about what information he shared belonged to Grant, so she kept her silence.
“You know that my family was really messed up, that my older brother was abusive.” Skye nodded. “When I was 15, I was about to be in really big trouble for trying to do something about him when Garrett stepped in and pulled me out of a hell. He dropped me off in the woods for years with only Buddy, his dog, for company. He would visit and teach me things. If I did well, I was rewarded. If I didn’t, I was punished. At the time, I thought I had no other options and that he was only doing it because he truly cared for me.” Grant’s voice turned bitter, “Now I realize that he was really just turning me into his weapon.”
Kat nodded. “John Garrett was a master manipulator and he brainwashed Grant. That’s what my colleagues and I have been working all this time to undo. Most people don’t understand how brainwashing works but all the elements were there in Grant’s case: youth, isolation, fear, physical misery, lowered self-esteem, fact manipulation, and total dependency, so much so that Grant lost the ability to even want to think for himself. His brainwashing was so thorough that even his time with SHIELD wasn’t enough to undo it. The closest Grant came to becoming his own person was when he was here with you. I think Garrett realized that and it was why he spent so much time working with the team. I also believe that’s why he let it slip that he was The Clairvoyant to you, Phil. He knew that he needed to get Grant away from you before the damage was done and he was no longer his to control.”
Again, Kat looked around and saw stunned faces, even Grant’s. They had talked around the subject several times but never so directly. It made sense that he hadn’t fully processed what brainwashing meant to him. The only person who didn’t look shocked was Trip. He was nodding.
“Yeah, that makes a lot of sense. My training with Garrett was a lot different than what other agents did. He made us go through a lot of physically rigorous things and there were days when we weren’t allowed to sleep. And we all knew that what Garrett wanted, Garrett got. If you let him down, there was hell to pay. But if you got him what he wanted, there was no one more charming,” Trip said. “He was so smooth that I never wondered about the things we were doing until after I knew he was The Clairvoyant. Then I started questioning everything.” Trip turned to face Grant. “Man, I can get how much you believed in him. I did too for a while and I was only with him for a few months.” He shook his head and looked at Grant with sympathy. “I can’t imagine what it would have been like to be with him alone, for years.”
The silence that followed Trip’s statement was deep. Grant almost physically withdrew into himself, reaching blindly for Kat’s hand and she grasped it quickly. She saw Skye’s eyes narrow when their hands met. Kat was about to call a halt to the meeting when May spoke up for the first time since the meeting began.
“The one thing I want to know, Dr. Sevda, is why you left SHIELD. Did you quit or were you asked to leave?” May asked grimly.
Kat squeezed Grant’s hand and smiled. “Oh, I was pretty much asked to leave.” She had wondered when this was going to come up.
“What happened? I never heard anything about that,” Phil said with concern lacing his tone.
“I left because Maria Hill asked me to after I gave her a report suggesting that Hydra had infiltrated SHIELD,” Kat said. She looked around at everyone’s stunned expressions and smiled even wider. She was going to enjoy this!
“You knew that Hydra had infiltrated SHIELD months before they revealed themselves?” Phil asked hesitatingly.
“Yes, I did,” Kat replied calmly.
“How did you figure it out?” May asked.
“It wasn’t easy. After I was hurt, I started looking into SHIELD operations that had gone wrong and I discovered a pattern. It was subtle but, once I knew what I was looking for, the clues just kept adding up to Hydra. I wrote a report, submitted it to Maria and she was less than enthused.”
“But….I don’t understand!” Jemma said in a bewildered voice. “Why would she fire you over that? If we’d known about Hydra ahead of time, perhaps all of this unpleasantness could have been avoided!”
Kat nodded. “That’s what I thought but not only did Maria not believe me, she was deeply offended by the idea that SHIELD could have double agents in it, especially since some of the agents I suggested might be Hydra were very well-regarded.”
“Who did you suggest?” Fitz asked.
“Agent Grant Ward for one,” Kat started, once again squeezing Grant’s hand. She thought it prudent to leave out her suspicion of Agent May for now. There would be time for that later.
Grant looked at her in confusion and withdrew his hand. “How did you know that I was Hydra?”
“I didn’t; it was an educated guess. I only thought you might be because of your relationship with John Garrett. Oddly enough, it was my naming him as a potential Hydra agent that really sent Maria through the roof.” Kat said with satisfaction. Her next talk with Maria was going to be sweet. “But to be fair, I wasn’t in the best mindset at the time, so Maria thought that I was seeing ghosts and causing trouble where there was none. And she wasn’t the only one. Steve and Natasha didn’t believe me either.” She shrugged, “At least everyone was nice about it.”
“Steve?” Phil asked incredulously. “You mean Captain America? And the Black Widow?”
Kat nodded, “Don’t hold it against them, Phil. Like I said, I wasn’t in the best place and it seemed like a far-fetched theory at best. Even I wasn’t 100% certain. But, the next time I run into Maria Hill, I will have some choice words to say!”
That got a few laughs and the tension that had been present the entire meeting seemed to dissipate. Trip got up and said, “We’re done here, right? I’m starving!” Both Kat and Phil nodded and everyone else got up. Trip patted Grant on the back and said, “Come on! You can make me a sandwich,” as they both walked toward the kitchen. Kat noticed that Grant seemed a bit lighter and she had faith that Trip would be helpful to him. Fitz and Simmons left together. May left on her own while Kat and Phil both stood up together.
“I think that went well,” Phil started but Kat noticed that Skye was still seated, looking at her expectantly.
“I’ll come up to your office in a bit,” Kat said to Phil. He looked over at Skye, nodded, and took off. Kat turned to Skye. “Yes?”