“Hello, Agent Ward,” Raina said smoothly with a mocking smile on her face. “Imagine seeing you here.”
“Can’t say I expected to run into you either, Raina. Quinn said you left after disagreeing on what should be done with the gravitonium,” Grant replied calmly.
“Oh, I did. My partnership with Quinn wasn’t going the way I’d hoped, so I returned with reinforcements. This time I’m working with the real Hydra, the one that is interested in evolution versus the one that is solely focused on money.” Raina said money like other people might say cockroach. She took a step closer and smiled up at him. “What about you, Agent Ward? Are you still the monster Garrett created? Or have you decided that you no longer like the person he made you to be?”
Grant smiled back at her rather viciously. “Why don’t you wait and see?” he asked. Turning his head to face Kaminsky, he barked, “What’s the situation?”
Kaminsky looked a bit startled. “We tried to get in touch with you once we heard you’d broken out of prison. We didn’t know…” he trailed off as Grant gave him a hard look.
“I asked,” Grant said firmly, “what is the situation? I’m here for the gravitonium. You can either work with me or I can get it the hard way. The choice is yours.”
“Agent Ward,” Raina said silkily. “Look at you no longer following. Leadership sits well on your shoulders.”
Kaminsky nodded. “We got rid of all of the security guards. I have agents searching for Quinn and Cordis but so far, they’re nowhere to be found. When we got to the gravitonium, we ran into SHIELD agents. I didn’t even know there were any still around but we’ve got them secured. My orders are to stabilize the gravitonium and take it to Headquarters.”
Grant nodded shortly. “After you,” he said gesturing to the room.
Raina entered first, then Kaminsky, followed by Grant who took a quick look around the room. Coulson and Trip were sitting tethered to each other and were guarded by several Hydra operatives. Both looked rather the worse for wear with their blood-stained clothing and faces. There were several bodies lying on the ground near them, so they clearly had not been subdued easily. The two men looked up at Grant with blank expressions. Fitz was examining the control board while two Hydra agents watched him.
“Fitz, what are you doing?” Grant asked.
Fitz immediately looked up, his expression changing from relieved to confused. Raina answered for him. “Agent Fitz has been asked to try and control the gravitonium. So far he has resisted but he will soon change his mind. After all, Hydra is very skilled at providing…incentives.”
In hearing the word incentives, Grant was transported back to when he and Garrett were at CyberTek. That damn incentives program; he’d hated it. He remembered Garrett’s taunt to Skye about FitzSimmons being “brave to their last breath” and how he’d flinched when he thought about what he had done to the pair. He heard Skye’s voice telling him he was weak and she hoped Garrett ordered him to walk into traffic. His mind seemed to get stuck remembering how he’d answered Skye, telling her how she’d woken a weakness in him. He knew what he’d said had sounded like a threat when, in reality, he was desperately trying to determine if she would be willing to be a monster with him. His stomach clenched.
Grant brought himself back to the present with an effort when he realized Fitz was talking. “Like I told you before, Dr. Hall’s presence in the gravitonium is only stabilizing it temporarily. That was never supposed to be a permanent solution. It is getting increasingly unstable by the minute, so you need to let me figure out what to do about it or we’re all going to get hurt or worse,” he said to Raina.
“I agree that Dr. Hall was a short-term solution. In fact, he will be extracted right now. If we are going to use the gravitonium, we’ll need his help,” Raina said as she nodded to Kaminsky. He stepped toward the gravitonium and pulled on a large pair of gloves. Grant could see a hand waving around in the black material. He had no idea what was happening until Kaminsky grabbed the hand and started pulling it free of the gravitonium. Slowly, the shape of Dr. Hall started to appear.
“NO! You can’t bloody do that without another stabilizing influence!” Fitz almost howled.
“You’re right, we do need another stabilizer,” she said looking slowly around the room. “I would use Agent Coulson but we still need what he has in his blood. Agent Fitz will be useful once he agrees to help us. Agent Ward, of course, is going to return to Hydra, so…that just leaves Agent Triplett. Untie him!” she said to the Hydra operatives guarding him.
Grant stepped forward, “No! You are not going to toss him into the gravitonium.”
Kaminsky put his hand on Grant’s arm and Grant immediately whirled to face him. “Garrett thought you might need some help in figuring out what to do. He told me to tell you not to let the weakness consume you because you can have what you’ve always wanted. We have your brother, Maynard, in custody and you are free to do with him what you will. All you need to do is help us get the gravitonium safely back to Hydra Headquarters.”
Garrett. He seemed to be everywhere today. Grant had felt him earlier in the self-assurance of Quinn and the arrogance of Blake. He had seen Garrett’s hand in the elimination (not the wounding) of Quinn’s security guards. He was certain that the plan for Hydra’s use of the gravitonium came from Garrett, probably something he and Raina cooked up between them. And now Garrett’s words were being used to tempt him. Incentives. He could finally take care of Maynard, make him pay for the torture of their younger brother and the difficulty of Grant’s whole life. All he had to do was let Trip be thrown into the gravitonium. Grant stepped back, away from Trip.
“No!” Fitz yelled. “Ward, fight this! You’re free of Garrett! You don’t have to do this!” He turned suddenly to Raina. “If you’re going to throw anyone in there, it should be me.”
Raina tilted her head and examined him. She looked sad but nodded, “You could have been useful but maybe you just want to evolve. Very well. Use him instead!”
Before the guards could grab him, Fitz swung around and faced Grant. “I know you care about us!”
Once again, Grant was taken back in time to when FitzSimmons were in the medpod begging him not to hurt them. It had been one of the worst moments of his life, realizing that no matter what he did, it would never be good enough. It had been a repeat of the decisions he made for his younger brother and Buddy. Now he was facing the same crisis all over again. He wondered briefly if his life was like Groundhog Day, a movie Skye forced him to watch back on the Bus so long ago. Was he, like Bill Murray’s character, fated to relive the same situation until he finally got it right?
Behind Fitz, Kaminsky finished pulling Dr. Hall out of the gravitonium and pulled off his gloves. The room started shaking. Grant realized that he didn’t have much time before something needed to stabilize the new element but he still hadn’t decided. Garrett or Coulson? Hydra or SHIELD?
Watching Fitz plead mutely for his life, Grant knew that this was, once again, a defining moment. (“There will come a time when you will have to fully commit…”) Maybe life was full of them. This time, he wasn’t choosing whether to survive but how he was going to live. He could choose Hydra and go back to a life of having the structure that he craved, the satisfaction of vengeance, and living as Ward full-time. Or he could choose SHIELD and work hard to atone for his sins, face the uncertainty of making decisions on his own, and possibly experience the love and loyalty that Grant could inspire in the people he loved. In short, Hydra would be easy while SHIELD would be hard.
However, Grant knew almost immediately that he wanted to choose SHIELD, that, in fact, he had already chosen them. He wanted to be with Skye and the rest of his family. But even more than that, he realized that he wanted to be Grant; he had worked too hard at accepting and appreciating Grant to go back to being only Ward. And though it would be hard, he also wanted the joy that came with the difficulty and complexity of experiencing love and friendship. Grant didn’t ever want to go back to being the Robot, the man who rarely laughed or smiled and always ended up alone.
In that moment, Grant let Ward take over to do what he did best. Ward spun and ran toward the gravitonium. He yanked Dr. Hall away with one hand while grabbing Kaminsky’s weapon with his other. He kicked Kaminsky into the gravitonium, then turned to take out the remaining Hydra agents with five successive shots. Ward left Raina alone since she had no weapon and therefore posed no immediate threat. His whole series of actions had taken less than a minute.
The room stopped shaking as the gravitonium absorbed Kaminsky. Once it completely stilled, the silence in the room seemed deafening. Finally, Fitz walked over to Ward. “I knew you cared about us! I knew you would make the right decision this time!” he crowed triumphantly as he hugged Grant. Without waiting for a response, he went to help Dr. Hall from where he had fallen and then untied Coulson and Trip, who were struggling to get up off the floor. Raina backed herself into the corner and stared helplessly at the gravitonium.
Once he was untied, Trip walked over to Grant and slapped him on the back. “Thanks, brother!” he said. Then he started checking on the downed Hydra agents to see how badly they were wounded.
Coulson also made his way over to Grant. “It’s okay, Grant,” he said gently. Grant slowly became aware that tears were coursing down his face. What was happening to him? He couldn’t even remember the last time he had cried like this. Had it been back when he was a teenager, when he was in the woods and afraid of what was going to become of him? What must Coulson think of him? Did he believe that he was weak?
He focused on Coulson’s face as Phil touched his arm. “Good job. I’m proud of you.”