Ever since the confrontation with the group, Grant felt like things were better with almost everyone. He and Skye were having fun with their daily training. Although they hadn’t touched on any serious topics since their heart-to-heart, their banter had returned. It almost felt like old times and Grant was more than grateful. He didn’t know where things with Skye could go but at least they had a beginning.
He and May seemed to have grown a bit closer as well. While they still didn’t talk much, their daily sparring practice seemed more uninhibited and less tense. May had even given him a few compliments and Grant found himself laughing at a few good moves she tried on him. He thought he’d even detected a smile or two from her since their conversation. Grant smiled to himself as he thought about that. Who would have ever thought that the Robot would have not one but two such serious, emotionally-laden conversations with people who weren’t psychologists?
Things were better with Fitz too. He and Grant regularly ate lunch together and even played poker. After Fitz confessed his plan to cheat by having Skye use the glasses to see Ward’s cards, Grant offered to teach him everything he knew about poker so he’d never have to cheat again. Despite his superior IQ, Fitz didn’t pick up the game easily, so the two of them were somewhat evenly matched and they enjoyed playing whenever they could. Both men felt like they were regaining the comradery they’d shared before. As a result, Fitz’s health seemed to improve.
On his way back to his bunk one afternoon (although he still had to wear the bracelet, Phil had lifted the supervision restriction after the confrontation), Grant stopped when he saw Trip in the lounge reading. He went and took a seat across from him.
Trip looked up, surprised. “Hey.”
Grant took a deep breath. “I wanted to thank you.”
“Thank me? For what?”
“For having my back at the meeting and,” his voice caught a little, “for taking care of the team when I didn’t.”
“Not a problem, man.”
Grant waited for Trip to say more and, when he didn’t, felt a surge of anger, one that he realized he’d felt quite often around the other man, even though Trip had always been respectful to him. Where was that coming from? He hesitated a moment more and then started to get up.
“You know,” Trip said slowly, “I used to be jealous of you.”
“Of me?” Grant asked incredulously. Trip nodded. “Why?”
“Garrett always used to talk about you, telling the rest of us all about your accomplishments and how we just didn’t measure up to the great Grant Ward. After a while, it started being a joke. Whenever we’d do something good, like take out two agents at once, we’d tell each other, ‘Well, Grant Ward can take out three’ or if someone made a long distance shot, we’d say, ‘Grant Ward can shoot even further.’ I used to think Garrett was making up all that you could do just to egg us on until I looked up your record and saw how good you really were. And that’s when I got jealous because here I was, the grandson of a Howling Commando, and you had me beat in every category.”
Grant flushed and looked down. “Yeah, well, it came with a high price.”
Trip nodded. “I know.”
There was silence between them until Grant finally looked up. “Why don’t you hate me? Everyone else does, or they used to, but you never seemed to. Why not?”
“After I found out that Garrett was the Clairvoyant, I started questioning everything. I realized how convincing he was, how a lot of us on the team were willing to do almost anything he asked just because he wanted us to. He was a charmer, man, and I think that’s part of the problem for some around here. We were all just as fooled by him as you were but some of them don’t want to admit it. It’s easier to be mad at you than wondering just how far they would have gone.”
Grant shook his head. “I wasn’t fooled by Garrett. I always knew he was Hydra.”
“You may have known who he was working for but you didn’t know the man. He fooled you into thinking that you owed him loyalty and that what you were doing was for the greater good instead of realizing that the only person he ever cared about was himself.”
Grant looked dangerous for a moment, then relaxed and slowly nodded. “You’re right. I was fooled. I wish to God I hadn’t been!” he said bitterly.
“But it’s more than that for me. Like I said, I was jealous of you, kind of like you were that older brother who is better at everything. For a while, I wanted to be you. And then, when I heard more about your story, I truly got it.”
“My grandfather used to tell me stories about how it was back when they were fighting Nazis. He said that people now like to think everything we did to win was moral and good, the ‘Greatest Generation’ and all that. But he said that when you’re fighting an enemy who doesn’t play by the rules, you have to cut a few corners too. Once you do, what’s right and wrong gets a bit blurred and that’s when you can get into trouble. He said that you need people to keep you on the right path. And that’s the thing, Ward. Without my family, I could have been, probably would have been, you. That’s why I can’t hate you.”
Grant was surprised to find that he was near tears and he suddenly understood why he had been so angry at Trip. “Without my family, without Garrett, I could have been you.” He looked directly at Trip. “I would have liked that.”
Trip smiled easily but Grant got a far-away look in his eyes. “When I was younger, one of my teachers told me that the name Ward literally meant guard. That’s when I knew what I wanted to do with my life; I wanted to protect people. But then I discovered I couldn’t protect anyone, not my little brother, not Buddy or FitzSimmons, not even Garrett. Every time I tried, they got hurt anyway. Maybe my name is a big joke, the universe’s way of having a laugh at my expense.”
Trip shook his head. “Your expectations are too high. Another thing my grandfather taught me and one I learned myself working at SHIELD is that there is no way that you can protect everyone. Even Captain America can’t do that! So maybe just trying is worth something.”
Grant reflected on that thought for a moment. “Maybe so,” he said and got up to leave.
“Hey! One more thing.”
Grant looked wary. “What?”
“I want in on your poker games with Fitz. I could destroy you two!”
Grant smiled. “You could try,” he said as he walked away.