The Return of SHIELD
The clean-up had been easy. The Lorelei soldiers were given the anti-serum and the rest of the Hydra agents in the compound had been rounded up. Additional SHIELD reinforcements arrived to take care of the details, allowing the Bus to head to the Hub. Somehow Maria Hill had managed to get that facility transferred back into SHIELD hands.
The whole team assembled in FitzSimmons’ lab to make sure they were all going to be fine. Phil watched while Kat, May, Trip and Akela were being treated by Jemma, then turned to Grant who was holding Skye’s hand. Or perhaps it was the other way around, Phil mused. Skye sure looked possessive.
“Agent Ward, can I speak with you in my office?” he asked.
Grant noted the use of the official title but merely nodded. He squeezed Skye’s hand before turning to follow Coulson to his sanctuary.
“Sir?” Grant said once they were both sitting. His face was expressionless.
Phil held up the tracking bracelet he had removed prior to the beginning of the Malta operation. He felt rather than saw Grant tense, so he smiled. “I don’t think we’ll be needing this any longer. You made some tough decisions back there. You could have been free of all our restrictions and anger and taken over the leadership of Hydra but you chose to stay and fight with us.”
“Why?” Phil thought he already knew why but wanted to hear Grant say it.
“Because you’re my team and my loyalty is to you. Sir, after Garrett was killed, you asked me to find out who I was without him. It’s taken me a long time but I did. What I discovered is that, for better or worse, who I am is a member of this family.” An expression of anxiety passed over his face as he realized that “Dad” could make him leave, that just because Grant felt like a part of them didn’t mean that he was welcome.
Phil smiled and nodded, putting away the bracelet. “Yes, you are. I finally get that.”
“Did you ever wonder why I agreed to let you back on the Bus?”
“I thought it was because you needed my skills.”
“That was part of it. But the main reason was that your absence hurt us. I was so angry at you that I couldn’t see it but Kat made me realize that we were never going to be whole until we all faced what happened. Every one of us made mistakes and we needed to deal with them before we could move forward. You are a part of this family, Grant, and we need you.”
Grant was overwhelmed. He tried to say something but couldn’t get words around the lump in his throat. He looked down, trying to regain control of his emotions.
“We completed an impossible mission largely because of you. Your willingness to sacrifice yourself was noted but hopefully that will not be a recurring theme.”
Grant nodded, finally finding his voice. He looked directly into Phil’s eyes as he said, “I am willing to give my life for any of you. I hope you know that, Sir. But I also hope that it won’t be necessary because, for the first time, I want things for myself too.”
“I would expect nothing less,” Phil laughed. He paused and then turned serious again, “The question of how long you will remain on the Bus was never settled.”
Grant looked stricken. He didn’t move a muscle as the fear washed over him. Was he going to be returned to prison? Kicked off the Bus and left to fend for himself? What would he do?
“As far as I’m concerned, you can stay provided you are willing to return to active SHIELD status. You’ve been given amnesty for your crimes and SHIELD, such as it is, is willing to welcome you back. However, I thought it would be fair to ask you what you would like to do. You do have a choice.”
Once again, Grant was overwhelmed and said nothing.
“You don’t have to decide now. Take your time and think about it.” He stood up, indicating that the meeting was over.
Grant quickly stood up and hesitantly leaned over to shake Phil’s hand. “I appreciate your confidence in me, Sir. I’ll give you an answer soon.”
Grant left Phil’s office and wandered aimlessly around the Bus for a while. He knew that the team was having dinner together but he didn’t feel like talking to them yet. He needed to figure out some things first. His steps took him toward the medical bay where he knew Kat was staying for the night. Her injuries had been worse than the others.
Kat was sitting up in bed, just staring at the ceiling. Grant knocked on the doorframe and then poked his head in, “Feel up to some company?”
Kat looked at him and smiled, beckoning him forward. “Come on in! You’re saving me from boredom.” She examined him closely. “What’s up?”
Grant told her about the parts of the mission she had missed and about his conversation with Phil. Then he stopped talking and looked at her. “That’s a lot to throw at a person in one day,” she said.
He nodded. “What should I do?”
Kat shook her head. “I can’t tell you what to do anymore, Grant. No one can. That’s the challenge and the beauty of it. You get to decide for yourself.”
“What if I make the wrong decision?”
“Then I’d say: welcome to the human race. We all make mistakes. You more than anyone should know that.”
“I do. It’s just scary to think that I could make another colossal mess again.”
“You could. But for what it’s worth, I doubt you will. Your big mistake was letting others do your thinking for you.”
He nodded and looked down, thinking it over.
Kat continued, “Grant, this may not be my place to say, but I am incredibly proud of you.” He jerked his head up to look directly at her. Hearing those words would never get old. “When we first met, you were an emotional wreck. You had no idea of what your future would hold or even if you should wish for one. But you turned that all around and now your future is incredibly bright, filled with whatever you want for it.” She paused, and then finished softly, “Congratulations.”
The two of them talked a bit longer, then Grant went in search of dinner. He found FitzSimmons finishing up the dishes by themselves. He crossed his arms and leaned back against the counter. “Did you all draw the short straw?”
“No,” Fitz replied. “Everyone else was hurt in some way, so it seemed only fair. Well, Skye wasn’t hurt but we took pity on her anyway.”
Grant nodded. “I’m thinking about staying on the Bus
and returning to active field status for SHIELD.”
FitzSimmons both whirled to face him.
“But before I do, I wanted to check with the two of you to see what you thought about that.”
Fitz immediately banged him on the back (Grant frowned), a wide smile on his face. “That’s great, mate! We’ve missed you!”
“What about you, Jemma?” Grant asked. He was anxious to hear her response but tried to keep it from showing.
Jemma smiled as her eyes filled with tears. “I think I would like that, Grant, just as long as you stop trying to kill us.”
Grant laughed a bit. “I’ll try. But you two have to stop putting yourselves into danger.”
“We don’t do that! Well, at least I don’t. Danger is really not my area,” Fitz protested.
“Right. Well, I’m just going to make myself a sandwich before turning in for the night.”
Wordlessly, Jemma handed him one already made. “It’s Jemma’s specialty,” Fitz said in response to Grant’s raised eyebrows. “Prosciutto and buffalo mozzarella with a bit of homemade pesto aioli. Try not to get it on the ground,” he said as both of them walked out of the kitchen.
After Grant finished the sandwich (he finally understood Fitz’s obsession with it), he went back to his bunk. Skye was lying on his bed, her laptop open but she closed it and set it on the floor when he entered.
“Finally!” she said. “I thought you were going to spend all night roaming around the plane.”
He sat down next to her, leaned his back against the wall and smiled slightly. “I’m sorry. Was I supposed to know that you were here waiting for me?”
“Well, no but you could have guessed,” she said with a bit of exasperation. Skye settled into a cross-legged position directly facing Grant. “What did AC have to say?”
“He told me that I could come back to SHIELD and remain on the Bus if I wanted but that the choice is up to me. I guess I’m forgiven,” Grant tried to sound casual but his voice broke a little on the word forgiven.
“Yeah, I worked that out when he called you Agent Ward.” She paused. “What are you going to do?” She too tried to keep her voice steady but wasn’t completely successful.
“I’m not sure yet.”
“What do you need to figure out?” Skye tried to keep her vulnerability from showing but Grant noticed.
He took a deep breath. It was time to start that whole get what I want thing, only this time in a healthy way. “I need to know what’s going on with us.” He ignored her look of surprise and continued on, “I want to be with you, Skye, but if you don’t want that too, then I don’t know if I can stay. It would be too difficult to be around you and not be together.”
When she didn’t say anything, he said, “Not that I would blame you, of cour….” Skye leaned forward and started kissing him passionately. Grant responded eagerly, then drew back to catch his breath.
“I take it that means you want to be together?” he asked with a smile on his face.
“Yes, Turbo,” she said smiling back at him, her eyes full of tears. “I’ve wanted that more than anything ever since you came back on the Bus.” She kissed him tenderly. “Does this mean you’ll be staying?”
“Wild horses couldn’t drag me away,” he said as he gently lowered her onto the bed.
Five days later…
The cargo door was lowered and the cooler full of beer was ready. There was a blanket spread out across the floor, just waiting for the team to sit down to watch the takeoff. They had all been given three days off to go do civilian stuff but everyone was planning to meet back right before the designated hour.
The team had spent two days at the Hub offloading material and taking on supplies. They also had to endure the usual debrief and paperwork that everyone so enjoyed after a mission. Grant had to undergo additional debriefing and paperwork in order to rejoin SHIELD. Kat, Trip and Akela had said goodbye to the team there.
Kat was heading the newly refurbished PsyOps division but made promises to stay in close touch with the team. She mentioned her excitement about finally managing a meeting with Maria Hill. Both Trip and Akela had been given their own teams to manage. They were in the process of getting to know their new teams and preparing for the missions the improved SHIELD would be doing. The team was sorry to see them all go but everyone knew that new beginnings also meant endings.
About fifteen minutes before Zero Hour, the team started arriving. Phil pulled up in Lola with May. FitzSimmons were dropped off by a town car. Skye and Grant arrived in her van which she left on the tarmac after once again issuing dire warnings to the ground personnel in charge of it. No one was wearing black. Phil wasn’t even wearing a suit. They all settled down on the blanket with Jemma passing around the beer.
Grant leaned against the wall with Skye nestled firmly between his legs, resting her back against his chest. The two had decided to be honest with the others about their relationship from the start. There had been enough lies. Phil agreed that they could continue their relationship as long as it didn’t negatively impact team effectiveness.
“Umm…maybe this is a bad question but how do we know that the Slingshot Program is definitely going to happen this time?” Fitz asked nervously as the rocket started its lift-off countdown.
“Because SHIELD is turning over a new leaf,” Phil replied. “Some things like the gravitonium are just too dangerous to keep no matter how useful they could be in the right circumstances.”
“Not to mention that we don’t have the personnel to keep doing the same missions over and over again,” Skye said wryly. “If I never see gravitonium again, it will be too soon!”
Everyone got quiet as the rocket lifted off. Then May lifted her beer and said, “To new beginnings!”
“To new beginnings!” everyone chorused. Grant and Skye smiled at each other. The team watched the rocket until it could no longer be seen.
Phil got to his feet. “Well, I hope you all got enough rest because we have a new mission. Meet me in the lounge in 15 minutes!”
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