"Hey, AC! I need to talk to you," said Skye. "I'm glad I managed to catch you before you left for Portland."
"What is it?" said Coulson, suppressing his impatience to leave. "Skye, I'm sorry, but can't it wait?"
Fitz, Simmons, and Triplett were standing at the end of the hallway, ready to enter the hangar. Skye thought again about what she had realized, and shook her head, pulling Coulson into an empty meeting room to their left. She locked the door behind them, and double-checked to make sure it was secure.
"There's something wrong with Grant," said Skye urgently. "His story doesn't add up."
"Listen. He was taking Garrett to the Fridge with Agent Hand. He gets there to find HYDRA there looting the place and fights his way out. Then he went on the run, until I called him telling him where to go. When did he find the time to shave his chest?"
"He's got stubble all over his chin like he hasn't shaved in a while. But you were there when Jemma was patching him up, you saw him with his shirt off. I only wish my legs were that smooth. If he hasn't had the chance to shave, when would he have had the chance to shave his chest? I mean, it's a nice chest, but there's something wrong.”
This was more than Coulson had ever wanted, or cared, to know about Ward's depilatory practices. Speculation about body hair had not been in Maria's profile of Ward back when he was recruiting. Nor was it in his level 7 contract. (But that's what you get when the one who wrote that contract is bald, thought some treacherous part of Coulson's mind. I wonder if Fury — )
“Why would he decide to shave his chest and not his face? Before today, I don't think I've ever seen him with stubble. He'd never admit it, but honestly, he's kind of vain, you've never had to fight him for the bathroom in the morning.”
Coulson decided, for the sake of his own sanity, to call in reinforcements. He wasn't paid enough for this. Time for the Cavalry.
Unfortunately for Coulson's sanity, May failed to immediately shoot down the idea.
“That's a good point, Skye,” she said slowly. “I hadn't noticed that.”
Coulson wondered if this was May's revenge for his not letting her join their mission to Portland. If so, it was working.
“I don't blame you. He does have a nice chest, doesn't he?” said Skye companionably, before remembering that a) until recently, May had been sleeping with Ward, b) their relationship had not ended well, and c) May was still fucking terrifying. She had chosen to imitate May when intimidating Rathman for a reason. May was probably the scariest woman she knew, and that included Sister Agatha back at the orphanage. She coughed. “I mean, Agent May, as the one who's gotten closest to that chest” — not that she was jealous at all, no — “what do you think?”
“It was a big point of pride with Ward that he shaved and moisturized every day. He never waxed, he hates waxing. Shaving better displays his muscles, or something. He even asked me to help a few times.” The tone of May's voice left no doubt as to what she thought about that proposal. “He shaved his chest before coming here, I'm absolutely sure of it. If I had to judge, it couldn't have happened more than four hours ago, at the latest.”
Coulson realized with a wash of horror just how May had gotten this information, and immediately tried to tune it out by remembering his proudest moment, when Nick Fury had accepted his oath swearing loyalty to SHIELD. Unfortunately, the thought of Fury only made a bad situation worse. I wonder what he would look like with a toupée—
“According to Ward — and that's a big according — he was on the run from the HYDRA forces at the Fridge,” said Skye. “The first time I called, he said Agent Hand had decided to take the long way around to the Fridge. Speaking of which, sir, have you heard from her confirming that?”
The pointed question mercifully pulled Coulson out of his horrified musings about Fury's personal hygiene routine. He fumbled in his pockets to pull out the encrypted communicator – fine, it was a glorified pager – that Hand had given him before they parted ways at the Hub the last time. There were no new messages, and when he checked the network (he still had reception, which was quite impressive considering they were in the middle of the forest in Canada), Hand's device had gone permanently offline. This was not promising.
“The second time I called, he was on the run after somehow managing to steal a plane, which he flew here after I gave him our coordinates. So unless he, I don't know, decided to put the plane on autopilot and shave his chest en route — if there were even supplies on that plane — where did he find the time and space to do it? He couldn't have checked into a hotel, none of his accounts would have worked after I wiped his identity.”
“It is odd he decided to shave his chest, but not his face. With his shirt on, he does look like he's been lying low for the last few days. But with his shirt off...” Coulson noted that May had, quite impressively, managed to say this without sounding like she was a middle-school girl at a sleepover playing Truth or Dare. (His mental image of Fury, eyepatch, toupée, and all, sat down next to the mental image of May in pigtails. Coulson really wasn't paid enough for this.)
“Assuming he wasn't on the run,” said Skye. “Then what? Wherever he was, he obviously had enough time to shave his chest to his specifications like the robot he is. Hm, can robots feel vanity? Isn't that an emotion? I'll have to think about that later. But anyway, he doesn't shave his face, to make his whole story more believable to us, but he had to take his shirt off, and here we are now.”
“There's only one way to find out,” said Coulson. “Eric is taking him through Orientation now. Romanov beat Fury's lie detector, sure, but I saw Ward's scores, he's not that good. We can ask him a few extra questions while he's hooked up to the machine.”
The three of them headed back out of the hangar into the central base, picking up Simmons, Fitz, and Triplett (who Coulson noted had miraculously managed to avoid coming to blows) for backup. They burst into the examination room like the hounds of hell coming after one of Fitz's prosciutto and buffalo mozzarella sandwiches with just a hint of pesto aïoli.
The tableau inside brought them all up short.
“Can't this wait?” said Koenig, unknowingly echoing Coulson's earlier complaint. “Now I'm going to have to calibrate his readings again, and I just got to the good part.” He cleared his throat. “Agent Ward, are you associated with HYDRA?”
“Yes —” Ward began. Skye and May exchanged looks. Coulson frowned.
“I'll take it from here, Eric, thank you,” he said. “Agent Ward, I have just one more question for you. Did you shave your chest before coming here?”
Ward sent a look at the rest of the team, now filling up the doorway. He swallowed. “No, sir. I, uh, waxed my chest last week and haven't had to shave since.”
All ninety-six alarms on the lie detector started going off. Koenig cocked his gun ominously.
Coulson wished he had never left Tahiti.