Chapter 1: Thanksgiving Traditions
Ward wasn't a huge TV guy; Skye had discovered this when she'd tried repeatedly to get him to sit and watch shows with the rest of the team. His snoring had drowned out most of the season premiere of Doctor Who, much to Fitz and Simmons horror. When she'd asked why, he'd given many reasons- being stuck in the woods for five years, his mother who wouldn't let him as a child, and his repeated visits out of the country for SHIELD. He just didn't do TV. Trip and Mack had managed to get him to watch sports a few times, but he generally wasn't interested. Period.
The first clue that he wasn't completely anti-TV came at Thanksgiving of all things.
The team was spending the normal family holiday together for a slew of varying, personal reasons: Skye had never had a place to go, Coulson's parents were long dead, May refused to leave Coulson alone, Fitz refused to go home in his condition, Simmons refused to leave Fitz, and Ward....well, it was complicated to say the least. Skye wasn't even sure he knew where his normal siblings were. Bobbi, Lance, and Mack had all stuck around as well, though none offered a reason. Neither had Trip.
Regardless of the reasons though, everyone had spent the day cooking together in preparation for that evening. Or trying to cook in some cases. Ward's idea to roast the bird on a spit over the burners had been nixed by Coulson quickly while Simmons and Fitz were barred from testing their new solution that would 'instantly cook' the bird. Coulson had ended up having them bake a pie while Ward supervised to make sure nothing strange ended up in the batter (though Skye suspected Ward wouldn't know what was supposed to go in a pie to begin with).
After one or two small (read- not small) fires and a few run-ins with the smoke alarms, the meal had been ready (albeit, a bit crispy in places) and everyone had settled in to eat. Skye was pretty sure she'd had less tense interrogations. Still, they all made it out without anyone killing Ward or Lance (though Lance at least deserved the one head slap that nearly sent him face-first into a piece of pie) and everyone had proceeded to begin the clean up.
Which was when Skye noticed Ward became twitchy. His eyes kept flicking up to the door out into the hall like he really wanted to escape and his focus seemed far less keen than normal. About the fourth time he nearly tripped in his rush to help clear the dishes, Skye finally stopped him outside the kitchen with three dirty platters and a bowl balanced in his arms. Mostly because if they dumped cranberry sauce on the floor, Coulson would make them mop the whole thing.
“Ward, what's up?” asked Skye curiously, raising her eyebrow as she squeezed his upper arm gently with one hand and swiped the cranberry bowl with the other.
Ward's eyes flicked to the doors again, like they did every time he passed them, before he shook his head and offered Skye a faint smile. It was tense though, not reassuring like she was pretty sure it was supposed to be. “Nothing's up, Skye.”
“Really?” challenged Skye in disbelief. “Because you keep looking at the door every time you pass and you've almost tripped four times in the last seven minutes.”
Taking a deep breath, Ward nodded once and turned back towards the kitchen. It was a quick motion though, his attempt to escape the conversation. Seriously, what was going on? “I promise, nothing's wrong Skye.”
She let it go at that point, not really wanting to turn this into a thing in front of the others. Ward appreciated his privacy and whatever was getting to him had to be personal. Maybe he was expecting a call from his brother or sister. It would explain why he seemed so anxious. It was almost like he needed to be done with the dishes by a certain time.
Her theory about the time limit was further confirmed when his anxiety seemed to spike once they'd cleared the table. Still, he didn't bolt from the room either. Instead, he stood there waiting to be dismissed once he'd dropped his last armful of dishes onto the counter beside the sink.
Bobbi and Jemma had volunteered to wash the dishes, Skye suspected so they could have some gossip time. When the fact that Bobbi had PhD in biology had come out, Simmons nearly swooned. The two had struck up quite a friendship. Skye would have suspected more, but she'd seen the security footage of Bobbi with Lance in the car bay the one time and knew for a fact Bobbi was in contact with some guy named Clint who she seemed more than a little friendly with now.
Regardless of the reasoning though, the two women absolved everyone else of any dish duties, though May silently took up a towel and began drying dishes beside Simmons all the same. No one argued with the stone-faced woman; they just let her do what she wanted to. That was usually safest.
Skye turned towards Ward to ask what he wanted to do, but the other agent was already gone. Apparently, he'd given in to whatever was making him so edgy. She was honestly surprised he hadn't bolted before then.
Shrugging, she followed Fitz, Trip, Lance, and Mack from the room, Coulson trailing behind them. “So what should we do now?”
“Football?” suggested Mack, glancing back at Trip and Skye. “I know there's a game on.”
“Ugh, sports?” asked Skye with a bit of a whine. Sports were only fun when she had her tablet. That way she could play on it while the boys watched and she still got to laugh at Mack and Trip's bad dance moves (they always did that when someone got a touch down).
“You could always find something else to do,” pointed out Lance as they approached the lounge.
“Right, because there's something funnier in this base than watching Trip and Mack attempt end-zone dances that make them look like flailing birds,” countered Skye, shaking her head. “I just don't like the actual game part, it's so boring.”
“Hey guys, did one of you leave the TV on?” asked Trip curiously, slowing a bit as they approached the lounge. Sure enough, the TV was flickering in the lounge- she could see the light under the closed door. Huh, well that was weird. She'd turned it off herself when she'd left the room and the only other person still around who wasn't with the group was Ward.
“You think Ward is watching something?” wondered Mack, slowing with Trip. The rest of them followed suit, except for Lance who just didn't seem to care. It had proven to be a repeated problem. Ward wasn't exactly the most mentally normal of the group and every once in a while he'd still react in some way they weren't expecting. Usually triggered by Lance. And usually landing either Ward or Lance in medical.
“Don't care, I want to see the game,” stated Lance, as he reached for the door. The flickering light disappeared seconds before Lance threw the door open and Skye could hear someone scrambling inside the room.
Sure enough, when she glanced in around Lance, Ward was sitting on the couch and trying to act nonchalant. There was a book in his hand, but it didn't take a genius to realize the book was a cover. For one thing, it was upside down and, for another, it was the bad romance novel Skye had been laughing at earlier in the day. Definitely not Ward's choice in reading material.
“Hello mate, mind if we steal the telly?” asked Lance without really asking, snatching up the remote as he did. Before Ward could respond, the Brit had flipped the TV on.
“And coming out now is Alex, the St Bernard,” announced someone through the speakers, causing everyone to look towards the TV, save Ward who looked like he might be trying to hide behind his stolen book.
Skye felt her jaw drop open as a St Bernard pranced across the stage, being carefully led by its owner. She would have thought the event might have just come on or even that it had replaced another show, except the TV had been on ESPN when they'd all left for dinner. Ward couldn't seem to avoid looking at the screen either, regardless of whatever embarrassment being caught watching a dog show might cause him.
For a moment, everyone was silent. Even Lance shut his mouth for a minute in absolute shock. No one had expected Ward, of all people, to be into watching dog shows.
“Have they started the small breeds yet?” asked Coulson curiously, breaking the silence as he stepped into the room and walked over to the couch. Skye blinked hard. Well, Coulson was less surprising than Ward, actually. Still, the idea that her boss was into dog shows too (maybe) wasn't easy to swallow.
“Not yet,” stated Ward, giving up all pretenses of innocence as he tossed the book aside in defeat and sat up fully on the couch. “They're about halfway through the large dogs. There's a Nova Scotia retriever, a Irish setter, and a somoyed at least that haven't been shown yet.”
“Good, the little dogs are always the most fun to watch,” stated Coulson simply, settling back into the couch. “They have distinctive personalities.”
“All dogs have personalities,” argued Ward lightly. “There was a Great Dane earlier that tried to sit down while it was being examined and almost sat on its owner.”
Coulson laughed at that, settling further into the couch. “Wish I'd had the chance to see that.”
“I'm DVRing it,” admitted Ward, the embarrassment coming back again as he leaned forward and laced his fingers together. “You can always catch it on there.”
“Why are you DVRing a dog show?” asked Lance at last, breaking through his shock apparently to begin what was bound to be a lot of mockery. Though he wouldn't exactly be able to say much in front of Coulson without insulting the director as well. “What is the honest point of that? These things are absolutely dull.”
“Just like you,” remarked Skye as she maneuvered passed Lance. She swiped the remote from him as she went, settling down between Coulson and Ward on the couch. “Besides, dogs are cute.”
“She does have a point,” remarked Mack as he ambled into the room after Skye with Fitz. He dropped wordlessly into a chair beside the couch, reaching out and tugging the engineer down into another chair beside the first. Fitz didn't stay though, opting instead to perch on the arm of the chair where Mack was sitting. Skye swore she would lock them in a closet if one of them didn't make a move soon. “Dogs are cute. I vote we watch the dog show.”
“There's no voting involved if AC wants to watch it,” pointed out Skye with a shrug. “Besides, you guys can catch the highlights of the game tomorrow.”
“Good point,” admitted Trip as he finally entered the room, leaning on the back of the couch just behind Skye. “So, Ward, how many breeds are there in this thing?”
“A little over two hundred,” replied Ward, his voice distant. His attention was completely back on the show now, clearly not caring that everyone else was even there.
Carefully, Skye shifted around so she was sitting closer to Ward. It gave Trip a chance to hop over the back of the couch and settle between her and Coulson. Not that he wouldn't move when May came in- he would if only so they could sit together. Skye tried not to laugh too hard at the fact they thought they were being so subtle. Well, okay, she admittedly probably wouldn't know if it weren't for the security feeds. Then again, that was what security feeds were for.
A sound from Ward drew Skye out of her thoughts. It had sounded almost like a whimper, except deeper. A grunt maybe? Except she couldn't see any reason why Ward might have made the noise. Well, until she looked at the TV screen.
A chocolate lab was being led across the stage, head held high and executing every command perfectly. It didn't take a genius to realize the dog reminded Ward of Buddy.
Ward had told her about the dog he'd been left alone in the woods with one night, after she'd found him pacing the halls. It had been way too late for anyone to reasonably be up and Ward hadn't argued that fact. The story had nearly broken Skye's heart and had shed a lot of light on Ward's sometimes odd behavior. Particularly the POD incident. He probably hadn't even recognized the psychological connection between the two or realized that his rash attempt to save Simmons and Fitz was probably born out of the memory of what happened to Buddy. That he'd probably reacted in the first way he could come up with because he remembered so clearly what happened when he tried to save Buddy.
Without thinking about it, Skye moved closer to Ward. When his arm dropped around her shoulders and he tugged her the rest of the way against his side, she didn't protest. Physical comfort was a hard thing for him to accept at times, but he was getting better about it, particularly when it was on his terms. It had become her personal rule to just go with it when Ward did seek out physical comfort.
“All of you are really going to watch this then?” asked Lance, clear betrayal hovering in his voice. Skye glanced over at the British man, but when everyone else ignored him, he just threw his arms up into the air and headed out of the room, mumbling about whiskey.
Shaking her head, Skye settled back against Ward's side and watched as the dogs were paraded across the screen. She had to admit, they really were adorable. That didn't stop her from falling asleep halfway through the small breeds though.
When she half awoke in the empty room a few hours later, under a blanket and with Ward peacefully asleep on the couch behind her, she decided dog shows were possibly the best thing ever.
Suspicious was the only way to describe Ward's behavior- and it was making Skye nervous. She could understand his discomfort with being benched. Still wasn't exactly a word she could ever ascribe to Ward, or any specialist for that matter. May was the only one of them who seemed to be comfortable with long periods of inactivity, which was probably a side effect from working a desk job for so many years.
It wasn't surprising that Ward didn't want to hold still, even though his ribs were busted up in multiple places and his shoulder was in a sling. He never liked to be told to sit things out, like his own health and well being didn't matter. What he'd told her about his life as a kid probably had something to do with that.
Regardless of the reason though, the fact that Ward kept sneaking out of the base was suspicious. He'd done it every day now since Coulson told Simmons that she wasn't allowed to hold Ward hostage in medical. And every time he came back, he offered no explanation for his disappearance. He claimed to be going out for a walk, but he always disappeared from sight a block from the base and it was making Skye uneasy. She didn't think he'd betray them again, but she hadn't seen the first betrayal coming either.
Her attempts at patience finally wore out when he disappeared for a third day in a row and came back limping slightly. Whatever he was doing, it obviously didn't qualify as 'resting'. The look Simmons shot her when Skye practically forced him into medical to get his ankle checked confirmed Skye's suspicion whatever Ward was doing wasn't 'just a walk'. And she was going to figure out what it was.
“Couldn't you just ask him, Skye?” asked Trip from the other seat in the van, shifting slightly in what was probably impatience. Again, clearly specialists weren't meant to hold still.
“Tried that, he won't tell me,” replied Skye, her eyes locked on the doors to the base. Ward had left every day for the last three days at this time and she doubted a sprained ankle would stop him. Simmons had been forced to let him go against her objections, so Skye knew there was no one holding him in place. “It's suspicious, Trip. Last time he came back with a sprained ankle. There's no way he's 'just going for a walk'.”
“Not arguing,” agreed Trip calmly, thumping his head against the back head rest. “But do we really have to do this old school? I thought they invented tracers for a reason.”
“The man was a specialist and a damn good one,” countered Skye, shooting Trip a look. “He'll know if I tag him.”
Sighing unhappily, Trip leaned his seat back and settled in, closing his eyes. “Well, then wake me when he shows up. Until then, I'm gonna nap like I was planning to, today.”
“You mean until May woke you,” teased Skye, smirking a bit.
One of Trip's eyes popped open to glare at Skye. “First, that's none of your business. Second, how did you know?”
“You guys aren't subtle,” replied Skye simply. “Though you can cool down, AC doesn't know.”
“If you know, he knows,” countered Trip with a groan, rubbing his eyes. “Pretty sure Coulson's been an agent for longer than you have.”
Skye shrugged a bit, straightening at the sight of the front door to the base opening. “Except when he doesn't want to see something, like evidence you and May are sleeping together.” Nodding towards the entrance, she leaned forward and wrapped her fingers around the ignition keys for the van. “There's Ward.”
Sure enough, Ward stepped out into the street, limping slightly as he exited. He wasn't using the crutch Simmons had nearly thrown at his head when he left, but Skye couldn't say she was surprised. Ward made it pretty clear he didn't think he needed any help. For a second, he glanced up and down the street before heading towards the corner at the end of the block.
The key beneath Skye's fingers turned slightly, but she hesitated to actually turn the vehicle on. Ward disappeared around the corner and out of sight of the external cameras every day, but that didn't mean he wasn't traveling on foot wherever he was going. She'd only pulled out the van on the off-chance he hopped into a cab or some other vehicle. Sure enough, at the end of the street, he hailed a cab and climbed inside.
Skye brought the engine roaring to life as soon as he was inside the cab, making note of it's number painted across the side. She couldn't move the car until Ward was en route, not without risking his notice. If he spotted them, he might change his route and then they'd never figure out where he was going. He was a former agent after all- shaking a tail wouldn't be hard for him and Skye wasn't good enough to keep tailing him if he caught her.
“Hey, easy on the engine Skye,” chastised Trip wearily. “I don't want Mack coming down on us for wrecking one of the car's engines.”
“Yeah, yeah,” dismissed Skye as she quickly pulled the car onto the street, eyes scanning for signs of the taxi. “I'll ease up on the gas once I find Ward's taxi.”
“You mean the one right in front of us?” asked Trip, pointing to a yellow cab maybe fifteen feet in front of them and bearing the same number as the cab Ward had jumped into. “You might want to back off. He is a trained operative who's probably more than capable of spotting when he's being followed.”
“Right,” sighed Skye, easing up on the gas and allowing the taxi to pull ahead until they were maybe thirty feet in front of them. She could still see the cab, but it was far enough back for the car to blend in with the rest of traffic. Well, as well as any car from the SHIELD garage could blend in. It wasn't like Ward didn't know what all the car's looked like. Then again, if Skye seriously thought Ward was doing something wrong, she would have rented a car. She was suspicious of him, but not convinced he was going to hang them out to dry again. Well, not yet anyway.
Ahead, the cab switched lanes, jumping into a right turn lane. Skye followed suit a moment later, turning right seconds after the cab did. The cab pulled onto the freeway after that, heading towards the edge of the city.
“Where the hell are they going?” asked Trip aloud as Skye turned onto the freeway to follow them. They were heading away from the main city and into the surrounding suburban areas. Even Skye had to admit it was weird, but then again, what better place for a clandestine meeting than the suburbs? It was kind of cliché, but not unheard of.
“No clue, but I'm following them,” stated Skye firmly as she carefully remained far enough back to not draw attention. Wouldn't do them any good if they were spotted following him.
It was maybe ten minutes later that the taxi pulled off the freeway and onto the main streets again. It also put them just on the edge of the suburbs rather than in them, which confused Skye even more. What would Ward have to do out here? They were edging into the wooded and undeveloped areas around the city; there wasn't exactly a lot out there.
When the Taxi turned onto a narrow road heading into a wooded area, Skye was even more confused. Seriously, where were they going? There was literally nothing out this way.
“Where the hell is he going?” wondered Trip, leaning forward in his seat as Skye slowed down and turned onto the road. She could see the taillights of the cab disappearing around a turn in the road as it sloped upward slightly. “Seriously, what could be out here?”
“No clue,” stated Skye, brow furrowing as she started down the road. They needed a bit of distance now, just to make sure Ward didn't spot them. There wasn't exactly anywhere to hide at this point. “Did you see a sign or anything when we turned up the road? I was watching the cab, not road signs.”
“I was watching the cab too,” admitted Trip, glancing sideways at her. “Maybe there's a sign ahead?”
“I seriously am starting to feel like this is a trap,” muttered Skye as the turns in the road became sharper. She could see hints of chain-link fencing through the trees now, but still nothing to tell her what this place was. “I mean, what would Ward come all the way out here for unless he was meeting someone in secret?”
“No clue,” muttered Trip, shaking his head a bit. “It's Ward though, so who knows. Remember the dog show at Thanksgiving?”
“True,” admitted Skye with a sigh. Ahead, a building began to peek out through the woods, immediately catching her attention. The cab, which had disappeared from sight almost seven minutes earlier when they turned onto the road, appeared suddenly heading straight for them. Skye carefully pulled aside as the taxi passed, noting the back seat was now empty. “Whatever this place is though, it's where Ward was heading. He's not in the taxi anymore.”
“Can't be too far ahead,” muttered Trip, as Skye pulled back onto the road and made one more turn.
Then the road ahead of them opened up suddenly, breaking through the trees into a dirt turn around. A large building sat in the middle of the space, single story and with a very large, fenced off area to either side. There was no sign indicating what the building was used for though and no one walking around that might tell them precisely what the facility was used for.
“What do you think this place is?” wondered Trip aloud as Skye pulled the car around to where several other vehicles were parked.
She parked in a sheltered spot, just in case there was some kind of weird meeting going on, flipped off the engine. “No clue, but we can't find out in here.”
“You think we're going to run into trouble?” asked Trip even as he checked his belt where he had a knife tucked away.
“No clue,” muttered Skye as she removed her gun from her hip. May had taught her enough at this point that she was confident she could disarm someone and take their gun if there was trouble. Something about this place wasn't screaming 'evil headquarters' though. “You going in armed?”
“With a knife,” confirmed Trip. “Don't want to scare any civilians if this isn't some bad guy get-together.”
“Probably smart,” agreed Skye, pushing open her door. Immediately, the sound of barking met her ears. Dog barking. A lot of dog barking at that.
“Are those dogs?” asked Trip in disbelief as he came around the front of the van to stand beside Skye.
“Yeah,” confirmed Skye, shaking her head a little. “I don't think you're gonna need that knife.”
“You're telling me,” muttered Trip, tossing the blade back into the van and shutting the door. Skye locked it without a second thought and they made their way towards the closest door.
Of course, they skittered around the edge of the area, just to make sure they weren't seen. Not that Skye really thought this was some kind of clandestine meeting at this point- now she was just curious. Curious about what Ward could be doing in the middle of nowhere that involved dogs.
Pushing open the closest door slowly, Skye stuck her head inside the building cautiously. They still weren't sure what to expect and, until she knew for sure this wasn't some kind of evil base, she was going to take precautions. Not that she really thought any place that involved dogs and Grant Ward was likely to be an evil base. That just wasn't how Ward was. He loved dogs too much to put them in any kind of danger.
“Can I help you?”
A voice startled Skye, causing her to jump in the air and crash the rest of the way through the door. Trip half fell in behind her, jumping forward to grab the door so it didn't pop back and hit her. There was shuffling for a second before a pair of comfortable looking black shoes came into view.
Skye followed the shoes up, finding herself blinking up at a red-headed woman in what looked like scrubs. “Um, hey?”
Chuckling slightly, scrubs-woman offered her hand to Skye. “The front door is down the other street.”
“Sorry,” apologized Trip, giving the woman a brilliant smile as Skye climbed to her feet. “We were following our friend here. He forgot his wallet at our house and, well, he wasn't answering his phone. I think it might be dead. Anyway, he came up this way, so...”
“Oh, are you friends of Grant's?” asked the woman, immediately perking up. “Sorry for that. Ever since we moved our entrance, a lot of people still end up coming up this way. I don't think the shelter owner remembered to move the sign.” Tilting her head a bit, she offered her hand. “I'm Kayla, by the way.”
“Skye,” introduced Skye as she brushed at the fur that had ended up on the clothes when she fell through the door.
“Antoine,” greeted Trip with a grin, reaching out to shake Kayla's hand. “Good to meet you.”
“You guys too,” confirmed Kayla, eying Skye with a smile. “Grant told us about you guys.” She paused for a second then, her smile turning knowing. “Well, he mostly told us about Skye. Though I think that was to stop some of the other volunteers from hitting on him. Poor guy gets so flustered sometimes.”
“Yeah, that happens sometimes,” confirmed Skye, a blush creeping over her cheeks. “Um, so where is he exactly?”
“Outside with a gaggle of dogs, where else?” asked Kayla with a chuckle. “I swear, he can be so awkward with people, but throw him in with a bunch of dogs and he's right at home.”
Motioning for Skye and Trip to follow her, she started down the hallway. “Come on, I'll show you to our play area. Grant probably wants to introduce you to everyone.”
“Introduce us?” asked Skye, glancing nervously at Trip as the other agent began to nudge her down the hallway. “How many other volunteers are out there?”
“None,” replied Kayla with a shrug. “When Grant's around, there's not much need for the other volunteers to help. He manages to play with any dogs we put out there without leaving anyone out. Though, he didn't seem like he was walking great today, so I may need to rectify that.”
“Yeah, that's probably his sprained ankle,” confirmed Trip. “J- er, his doctor Jemma told him to stay off it.”
Snorting slightly, Kayla pulled open a door halfway down the hall and motioned them both inside the small mud room. “I thought he was lying when he said he was alright yesterday.”
“What happened anyway?” asked Skye curiously as she stepped over a pair of muddy boots. “He wouldn't tell us.”
“Bruno happened,” replied Kayla with a sigh as she pulled open another door and stepped outside. The sound of barking intensified as Skye followed her outside. Almost immediately, Skye was struck by the sight of Ward sitting on the ground surrounded by dogs. Literally, there had to be seven dogs out there and they were all gathered around Ward. “See the big hound out there with the black splotches and tan fur?” Sure enough, there was a big hound that was leaning over Ward's shoulder and licking his face intermittently. Of course, Ward laughed and reached back to pet the dog each time in happened, which only encouraged the large animal.
“Yeah,” confirmed Skye as Trip stepped out behind her, leaning around her to look at the aforementioned dog.
“That's Bruno,” explained Kayla, gesturing to the dog calmly. “Well, he decided to jump on Grant yesterday when he wasn't looking and that little lab,” she pointed to a small golden lab pup that was currently curled into Grant's lap and enjoying a great deal of attention from the former specialist, “Goldie was under foot. Well, Grant, being the dog lover he is, twisted his body around so he hit the ground next to where Goldie was when he started falling.”
“And in the process he twisted his ankle,” finished Trip with a nod. “That would explain it.”
“Mhm,” hummed Kayla with a shake of her head. “I swear that man would do anything for a dog. We asked him to come out for our adoption day just to help with the dogs and we had a record number of adoptions. He couldn't talk to the people at all, but he kept the dogs so happy and optimistic that most of them were adopted that day.”
“That sounds like Grant,” confirmed Skye with a soft smile, watching as one of the smaller dogs jumped into his lap and began licking his face happily. “Is it alright if we go out there?”
“Go ahead,” assured Kayla, gesturing for them to step into the play area. “Just don't be surprised if some of the dogs jump on you. They're all friendly but some are a little more enthusiastic than others.”
“We'll keep it in mind,” assured Trip as Skye stepped out into the play area and headed for Ward. He was completely absorbed in the dogs surrounding him and didn't seem to noticed her presence at first. Not that that lasted long- she wasn't even halfway across the play area when his head snapped up towards her.
His eyes went wide and immediately he tried to scramble to his feet. Unfortunately, his sprained ankle chose that moment to give out, causing him to pitch forward. He crashed to the ground with an oomph, dogs scattering momentarily in the confusion.
Skye was across the rest of the yard in seconds, kneeling beside Ward as the dogs quickly moved back in to poke and paw at the down man in concern. “W-Grant? You alright?”
“Yeah,” confirmed Ward, pushing himself up into a sitting position quickly. Red colored his cheeks, making Skye smile a bit. She would never tell him (ever) but it was adorable when he blushed. “Um, so what are you doing here?”
“Checking on you,” replied Skye, shaking her head a bit as she shifted to sit on the ground across from him. “You've been acting weird the last few days and when you came back with a sprained ankle yesterday, I thought you might be in trouble.”
Ward winced a bit, looking sheepish. “Sorry about that.”
“It's okay,” assured Skye gently. “But, you know, you could have just said you were coming up to an animal shelter to volunteer. I mean, no one is gonna judge you for that.”
“I thought you'd think it was stupid,” muttered Ward, turning his head towards one of the larger dogs who'd been licking at him and nudging his shoulder insistently. It legit looked kinda like a mop to Skye, but Ward appeared completely unphased. “I'm alright, Annie. Take it easy.”
Shaking her head, Skye nearly jumped when a little body suddenly crashed into her lap with a happy yip. Glancing down, she found herself face to face with a small tan colored puppy with the curliest fur she'd ever seen. Said puppy blinked up at her momentarily, expectantly, before it suddenly leaned its head up and licked at her chin.
Across from Skye, Grant let out a chuckle. “That's Mabel. She's a sweetheart.”
“I can tell,” giggled Skye, reaching out carefully to pet the small dog. Her fur was the softest Skye had ever felt. “How old is she?”
“Almost a year we think,” replied Ward with a shrug, scooting around so he was sitting beside Skye. Mabel yipped happily as he did, licking Ward's hand as soon as he'd settled beside them. “She loves being pet.”
“Aw, you have a girlfriend,” teased Skye gently, leaning a little towards him so Mabel could reach him better.
Ward countered by gently knocking her shoulder with his. “I already have a girlfriend. She's a beautiful former hacker who I happen to be completely in love with.”
“Mm, I'm sure she shares your sentiment,” assured Skye as Mabel decided to split herself between their laps. Ward didn't even think about it as he reached out and began petting Mabel, leaning his head against Skye's. “So how long have you been doing this?”
“Months,” replied Ward with a bit of a shrug. “I sneak up here whenever I get a chance.”
“And Coulson hasn't called you on it,” countered Skye with a shake of her head. “That's impressive.”
“Coulson knows,” explained Ward, glancing over at Skye with a furrowed brow. “He helped me find this place.”
“He did?” asked Skye in surprise, turning her head to stare at Ward with a puzzled frown. “Why?”
Ward blushed a bit, his head dropping somewhat in an attempt to hide his eyes. She knew the move- he only did that when he was embarrassed. “He thought I could use something to do, so he called me into his office and after discussing it for a bit, he helped me find this place.”
“So it's like a community service thing,” stated Skye with a slow nod. She could see that; Ward's track record wasn't exactly clean.
“No really,” admitted Ward with a wince. “It helps with the anxiety.”
Oh, well that made more sense. Ward's anxiety had started escalating around the time he returned to the team. Skye'd tried to talk with him about it a few times and had been assured multiple times that nothing was wrong. It had taken Coulson to explain to her that social anxiety was a disorder originally noted in Ward's file. It was part of why he'd slated Ward for the team originally beyond the man's skills. He had wanted Ward to get over his issues with people. This wasn't people, but Skye could see how it would help. Dogs were like a safety blanket for Ward and having them around when he was dealing with people would, in theory, make dealing with people less unnerving for him.
Nodding slowly, Skye turned her eyes down to Mabel again as her fingers traced over the puppy's soft fur. “Have you ever thought about adopting one of the dogs like Mabel?”
“The Playground isn't exactly a good place for a dog,” countered Ward with a sigh, shaking his head. “Plus we go out of town a lot and I can't leave a dog alone in the base with no one to take care of it.”
“Do you really think Mack would refuse to care for a puppy?” asked Skye in disbelief. “Or Coulson? They're almost always on base. And I know Simmons would agree- she likes dogs.”
“I can't ask them to do that, Skye,” objected Ward with a shake of his head. “Having a dog is a lot of responsibility.”
Sighing, Skye dropped the argument and lent her head against Ward's shoulder. Across the park, she spotted Trip distracting some of the bigger dogs with tennis balls while the smaller ones seemed content to form a pile around her and Ward. It was therapeutic in a way: being surrounded by dogs who just wanted a bit of love and attention. They were content to just lay near them and sleep- no demands and no orders. Just balls of fluff who wanted love. It made Skye want one for herself.
And hell, maybe she'd get one. Ward was afraid to adopt a dog and become attached; after what Garrett did, that was beyond understandable. But that didn't mean Skye couldn't get a dog. And if that dog just so happened to become Ward's dog too, well, Skye doubted the man would really object. After all, she knew for a fact that he couldn't resist a dog.
(Image source: Twitter: https://pbs.twimg.com/media/B3vm7Z6IgAIbLRP.jpg , https://twitter.com/BabyAnimalPics/status/539278488692617216/photo/1)
Skye nearly grinned with glee as her order confirmation appeared in her inbox. It had taken a lot of work to stealthily set up the PO Box and hours of searching online before she'd finally found the perfect image. But it would be all worth it when she was able to give Ward this gift. He'd love it.
“Skye? You in here?” called Ward, prompting Skye to quickly close her browser and e-mail.
She pulled up some files so she could at least appear busy, settling back in her desk chair before calling out to him. “Yeah, just finishing some work up.”
A minute later, Ward's body appeared at her left side, leaning over the back of her chair to press a kiss to her cheek. “Hey.”
“Hey,” returned Skye, tilting her head back to smile up at him. “What's up?”
“Just wanted to see what you were doing,” replied Ward with a shrug, shifting around so he was leaning on her desk. “Trip got sick of me beating him and quit for the day.”
“Probably to go have May lick his wounds,” remarked Skye, snapping her computer closed and setting it aside. Beside her, Ward winced visibly. She knew that the knowledge Trip was now sleeping with May probably bothered him some, but she couldn't resist teasing him all the same.
“Can we not discuss May and Trip?” requested Ward predictably, looking down at her with puppy eyes.
Standing, Skye slid her body up along Ward's and dropped a quick kiss on his lips. “I'm sure we can think of other things to do.”
“Doesn't Coulson need those files?” asked Ward, brow furrowing in a marked look of concern. Regardless, his hands slid to the base of her back, then down behind her legs in preparation picking her up.
“Nothing that can't wait until tomorrow,” assured Skye as she slid her hands into his hair. Leaning close, she caught a whiff of his skin and noted he still smelled like sweat and gunpowder. It wasn't her favorite scent, but she'd grown fond of it on Ward. “C'mon, let's go take a shower. You need one.”
“Are you suggesting I smell?” teased Ward as he hoisted her up.
Automatically, her legs wrapped around his waist, arms sliding around his neck. “Damn right. Let's get you clean.”
The package arrived almost a week later in a discrete cardboard box with no external markings to indicate what it might be. It was a relief, honestly. Ward wasn't big on celebrating things; she'd had to hack multiple hospital archives to find his birth certificate alone. Now at least she knew his birthday though.
Entering the Playground, Skye cut directly through the base to the room that was supposed to be Ward's. Most often than not, he ended up I her room at night but he still stayed in his room during the day if he wasn't busy. And given the time, he should be in his room, probably fresh out of the shower.
It was her favorite way to find Ward most days. Today though, even the thought of her sexy boyfriend dripping wet and fresh from the shower couldn't distract her. She was too excited to give him the package in her arms.
Opening the door to his room without knocking (there was nothing she hadn't seen before), Skye was shocked when she realized Ward wasn't inside. The light in his bathroom was off as well, indicating he was clearly not in the room. Huh. He was always in his room by now.
“Looking for someone?” Ward's voice right beside her ear nearly made her jump out of her skin. Spinning with the box pressed to her chest, Skye found Ward standing behind her, sweaty and clearly just in from the gym. His towel was still flung over his shoulders and his breath was still slightly unsteady.
Relaxing, Skye leaned up and quickly kissed Ward, leaning back with a smirk. “I was, but as always he showed up at exactly the right time.”
Ward winced a little, shifting the trowel across his shoulders. “I can think of a time or two that I was late.”
Skye carefully chose not to answer that verbally. It had taken her a very long time to get over the whole 'Quinn shooting her' thing. It really hadn't happened until Ward had come back. There was more than one night where his screams had woken everyone in the base and usually her name was among them. The first five times were completely embarrassing and made her want to sink into the ground. After Bobbi finally got Lance to apologize and stop mocking her though, her attention turned to helping him. And it was during one of the nights when he'd fallen asleep while watching a movie with her that she'd finally learned his line about not knowing Garrett was going to have her shot was true. Namely, the way he'd started muttering and shouting in his sleep, repeatedly calling Garrett a bastard for shooting her, had confirmed it.
Kissing him quickly, Skye dragged Ward fully into his room and shut the door behind her. Ignoring his previous statement, she half shoved the box into his hands and offered him the biggest grin she could. “Open it.”
“Um, what?” asked Ward, blinking down at the package he just avoided dropping like it was some kind of foreign creature.
“It's for you,” stated Skye shrug, nodding towards the package. “Open it.”
“Why...?” started Ward, trailing off as he looked up at her in complete confusion.
Skye sighed in mild irritation, grabbing his knife from his desk and holding it out to him. “It's a birthday present, and don't try to tell me today isn't your birthday- I hacked the hospital records and found your birth certificate.”
She can't tell if he's bothered by the fact she hacked his birth certificate or not, namely because he aborts whatever look was about to cross his face and focuses on his package instead. His fingers brush the edges of the plain brown box, the addresses on which have been scribbled out.
After a moment of examination, he blinked back up at her with curious eyes. “What is it?”
“Open it and find out,” insisted Skye with a grin, nearly bouncing on the balls of her feet in excitement.
The look Ward sent her clearly displayed his disbelief, but he opened the package all the same, carefully cutting away the tape with his knife. He set the tool aside then, pushing away the paper packed inside and pulling out a sealed clear plastic bag. Skye half snatched the box from him so he could open the bag, watching a grin slowly spread across his face as he unfolded the shirt to hold it up.
The front was decorated with the image of a golden lab, staring at the camera with it's tongue poking out and eyes half closed in what could be considered a childish look. What really brought the image together though was the wording around the outside. 'If you don't like dogs' was printed across the top of the image with the other half, 'I don't like you' printed across the bottom. Based on the way Ward looked like he wanted to crack up laughing, Skye had made a good call on the design.
“Where did you find this?” asked Ward with a faint chuckle, examining the shirt with clear glee.
“I had it made online,” explained Skye with a grin. “You can just about get anything printed on a shirt these days.”
“That's amazing,” murmured Ward, dropping the shirt with one hand so he could reach out and tug Skye into a quick kiss. “I'm wearing this to the next adoption day at the shelter.”
“I thought you might,” teased Skye, tucking her head against his chest. “When is that anyway?”
“Next Saturday,” replied Ward, dropping a kiss to her head. “Why, thinking about coming out to help?”
“Maybe,” hummed Skye, pulling away from Ward and snatching his shirt to toss it on his bed. “We'll see. Right now though, I'm gonna help you get clean.”
And if she showed up to support the shelter during the next adoption day just so she'd get to see Ward wearing his new shirt all day? No one would blame her. Besides, there was a certain little puppy that she knew needed a good home and she was determined to give her one.