Sometimes he wondered if his luck was bad, or if he’d missed some vital lesson on avoiding getting into too perilous situations, or if he'd simply underestimated how many times they happened in the field. But it seemed every other week he was in the last room in the house that wasn’t on fire with no windows to jump out of and the air so hard to breathe he was about to pass out, or in a pit lined at the rim with a dozen hostiles holding guns, or scrambling up a wheelchair ramp with a toxic substance at the bottom, or some other situation that he took to describing as “hanging off that rope course,” except this time there was no rescue system in place. Although at least he kept surviving them.
The really crazy thing was the number of times, especially later that first year, that somehow Garrett wasn’t there with him, or apparently not in a position to easily offer help. “I’m not used to a green agent anymore,” he said apologetically at one point. “I’m afraid I keep jumping and expecting you to just be able to jump with me, and I only remember once I’ve landed on the other side you need more practice doing that.” Still, that didn’t explain every incident.
He got a little more clarity the first time he met Grant Ward. “You wouldn’t believe what he put me through the first six months after we first met,” he told him. “It means he has faith you can survive it. And you have so far. He probably heard about that incident on the rope course; it might have even played a part in him deciding to take you on.”
The three of them were doing an assignment together in Northwestern China, and that mission ended up being a doozy. At once point all three nearly got buried in a landslide, and Garrett was knocked out and the two of them together had to carry him uphill for nearly half a mile. It was only when they reached safe ground Trip saw the blood on Ward’s back, and insisted on treating him. When he saw the scars he had on his back already, he exclaimed without thinking, “That must have been a crazy mission, to leave those scars.”
In a voice devoid of emotion(even more than was usual for him), Ward replied, “Those weren’t from a mission. Those were from my father. I’m not going to talk about it.”
That mission ended with Trip in the hospital(he was lucky his leg hadn’t been blown off), and Garrett and Ward finishing the assignment without him, though at least it went smoothly, or so they told him. He told Garrett about the scars, to which he only said, “His childhood was rough. But it’s made him into a tough man. Most of the details he’s never talked about even to me.”
After the first year, though, Trip became more alert, more experienced at detecting when something might spell trouble, and better at avoiding getting into situations where his death seemed imminent. Still, they sometimes happened. There was even one where he actually got angry, the only time he really got upset at Garrett during their first three years together. It was when he had been in the field for about eighteen months. It started with just a few local guerrillas in their company who might or might not try to kill them, and then suddenly they all turned their guns on Trip when Garrett was safely concealed in the barn less than a hundred feet away, and he should’ve grabbed his gun and started shooting, and instead he popped his face out of the slats for only a split second, and then disappeared and did nothing.
He managed to talk his way out of that one, which Garrett praised him for. “Not many agents would’ve had that ability,” he said. “But I knew I wouldn’t have to shoot.” But even taking that into consideration, he should’ve still kept watching, and Trip only narrowly kept himself from yelling that. And he never got any further explanation.
There were the good days too. There was the week they spent in Siberia, when their mission was done quickly but a blizzard hit and getting out got more complicated, helping get the elderly and infirm to safer places, sitting around fires with people(making them sometimes), practicing their Russian listening skills while hearing tales of the local lore. There was the time they saved the lives of an entire village by warning them about an impending flood, and Trip spent several days after with one child or another continually on his back, where they always seemed to be laughing. There was the afternoon on the phone with one of S.H.I.E.L.D.'s best medical experts, describing to him what he'd seen of the mysterious disease ravaging Nunavut, and the two of them together had identified it, and from there the lab had devised a cure. There was the month he spent on his own in Brazil, posing as a foreign businessman, where it seemed so easy to form friendships, including with one man he even managed to keep in contact with sporadically for as long as he could, even if he had to always talk and write around what he really was doing with his life.
And much as Trip normally didn’t like killing people, the day he crossed off the serial killer who had been terrorizing a small heavily-minority Texas town was a very satisfying one indeed. He did regret not being able to turn him into the police, but he’d gone so mad killing him had almost been an act of mercy anyway. He went around to the families of the victims afterwards to tell them, and there were tears, and thanks, and he felt their relief along with them.
But then he visited the girl who had survived, and who had been pivotal in first identifying the high-tech device and the serum that had brought S.H.I.E.L.D.’s interest in the case and resulted in him and Garrett getting sent to deal with it, then in identifying the man himself. And she looked much more sad, and said, “I’m sorry you had to do that. I mean, I hope you didn’t enjoy it; I was hoping you were a better man than that.”
Garrett laughed when Trip repeated that comment to him. “You get a reputation pretty easy,” he said. “People like you. It’s a good ability to have, of course.” Indeed, people did like Trip. And it had been an asset to them more than once.
But more than that, Trip thought, it was what really made him enjoy the job, and be happy he’d joined S.H.I.E.L.D. Mr. Dugan had warned him, very long ago, that working for S.H.I.E.L.D. could be thankless, that people would often be afraid of them, and he had to deal with that. And he had always been prepared, and still was, to be glad of the good he had done even if it went unappreciated. But that he did get to connect with so many of the people he helped out, and that they did appreciate it, that was easily the best thing about his life.