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Reveling in the fickle nature of fangirlishness

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Not a Weakness
Because I need Ward to be redeemed.

Summary: Coulson finds Garrett's journals and learns of the psychological torture that he inflicted on Ward. He shares the information with Skye in the hopes she could save him.

Disclaimer: I don’t own Marvel Agents of SHIELD

Coulson had been disgusted at what he had read. After defeating Garrett and imprisoning Ward, they had confiscated everything they had found in Garrett's compound. It was clear to all of them that it was where he had indoctrinated his soldiers through fear and intimidation and in Ward’s case, through psychological torture. Coulson had sifted through papers and, with help from Skye, Garrett's computer files. One file had been all about Ward.

Coulson wanted, maybe even needed to understand what could have driven Ward to be so completely devoted to a madman, to go against the conscience he believed that Ward possessed, to become so stripped of his free will that he would try to kill people Coulson knew Ward had bonded with and had cared about. He also had to admit that he needed to know how he could have misread Ward so badly. He had been shocked to discover the psychological abuse Garrett had inflicted on Ward, from when Ward was a teenager: So many years of sadistic breakdown and rebuilding especially during Ward’s more formative years, to cultivate the Svengali control over Ward. It was clearly Stockholm’s Syndrome. The only breakthrough had been Skye. She had created a crack in the cruel conditioning and though in the end, Garrett's hold was too strong, Coulson knew that Ward's feelings for her were very real.

He knew he had to share the information with her so she'd know that she had made a difference. He had promised her and himself that he would never lie to her where she was involved so that she could make her own choices. He thought he had done that for Ward. He took the failure to reach him thereby endangering the others personally.

"He told me his feelings for me were real. I was sick that he could tell me that after all he had done, but I guess it was the one truth he told," Skye said, her voice sympathetic. "Still, it doesn't change all the terrible things he's done. He tried to kill Fitz and Simmons. Fitz is in a coma because of him."

"Maybe it doesn’t, but he was conditioned for years. He was abused all his life. Garrett rescued him from his torturous brother then did his own share of brainwashing. Maybe I'm trying to explain why I missed all the signs, but after reading Garrett's ‘chronicle of training’ as he called it, I realized that I didn't miss the signs. They were just veiled. Inside of Ward is the need to be a part of something, to be a good man, but he had nothing to fight for because he doesn't believe he's worth anything to any cause other than what Garrett told him to believe in, that he could give anything of himself to something greater."

"He did have something to fight for and people who cared about him, who fought beside him. How could he throw all that away?"

"Only he can answer that."

"Then I guess we'll never know."

Coulson bowed his head seemingly embarrassed.

"I think you need those answers," Coulson said.

Skye gave him a skeptical look.

"I don't care why Ward did what he did. He killed people."

"So did Mike and yet you were willing to see humanity in him."

"Mike was being blackmailed with his son."

"And Ward was subjected to a lifetime of psychological torture -"

"That he could have broken away from at anytime. He could have come to us, told us the truth, we could have helped him, but he chose to lie to us. Instead, he just stayed on mission and tried to kill Fitz and Simmons. I don't think anything he could say or anything he had gone through could make that choice excusable," Skye said.

Coulson nodded in understanding.

"I get that," he said.

"How can you forgive him?" She asked.

"I saw something in him; conflict. He really wants to be a better man just like Mike does and is trying to do that now. It doesn't excuse what he did, I know that, but I don't think it's as black and white as we'd like to believe it was. I think that he deserves the same chance we gave Mike. The control Garrett had over both of them isn't all that different really. We can forgive Mike because he was protecting his son, a nobler choice in our eyes, but Ward's identity was destroyed. Now that Garrett's dead, maybe he has a chance to redeem himself, but he needs help, better examples to emulate."

Skye listened and couldn't refute Coulson's logic. It was easy to blame Ward because they had all assumed he had the power to choose, even Simmons had confided that Fitz had tried to reach Ward, thought he could reason with him, break through to him then Ward jettisoned the pod, but maybe Ward was a prisoner of something equally or more powerful than simple blackmail.

"Maybe," she conceded. "But it's too late for Ward."

"I don't think it is. I'm not saying we should trust Ward or even forgive him without proof of his commitment, but I think we should try to understand him. I saw things in him. You can't tell me you didn't. Fitz did. Yes, maybe it's not enough to make things right and Ward will have to live with what he's done for the rest of his life, spend his days in prison trying to come to terms with what he did, that punishment is worse than anything we could give him, but I also think that he needs to believe that someone saw goodness in him, saw something in him worth saving."

"And you want me to do that?" Skye said shocked by the suggestion. "To see him and tell him that I understand why he did what he did?"

"You were the only one who made him question himself, question his allegiance to Garrett. When Quinn shot you, I saw a raw anger in him and now I understand why. He had realized that Garrett had ordered Quinn to shoot you and that he had felt true rage at Garrett. It weighed on him, Skye. It was all there. He truly cares about you."

"Coulson, I don't think I can do that. I can't pretend he didn't do all those awful things; that he didn't kill so many people. I can't pretend that I even understand him because I don't."

Coulson understood. He knew that asking Skye to forgive Ward was asking too much of her and he had to accept that there was only so much he could ask of any of them. Forcing them to do anything would make no better than Garrett.

"I'm sorry, Skye. Maybe I'm trying to justify my letting him get by all of our vetting processes, that I let him get close and put all of you in danger."

Coulson then walked away.

Skye watched him, noticed the slumped shoulders of defeat and could only feel sympathy. If she were to be honest, she was also mourning the loss of someone she had begun to trust and perhaps what made the pain even more aching was that she had begun to feel something more than comradeship for Ward. He was becoming more than her S.O. He had taught her how to defend herself. He had made her more confident and stronger, but he had also made her feel vulnerable. So when he had betrayed them all, she felt more than that betrayal. She felt, once again, that hoping for something that had eventually been denied her, like the family she had yearned for, had become worse than if she hadn't wished for anything from Ward. She had wanted to love again, to love Ward and for him to love her. Though he had declared that his feelings were real, after everything that had happened, how could she believe anything he had said to her? Yet despite everything, she so wanted to.

She had to move on just like she had done over and over again, foster home after foster home. Except this time, she did have a family and she just had to resign Ward as a "death" in that family. They all had to move past it, to let Ward go. There was too much to do to restore SHIELD and destroy Hydra and its members to allow Ward’s actions to weigh them down.

Weeks had past and Fitz had emerged from his coma, if disoriented and with a lot of physical therapy facing him, but Skye smiled at the newly declared love that Simmons and Fitz had expressed to each other. It was about time, to Skye's mind, and if anything good could be ascribed to Ward's heinous act of indifference, it was that.

Skye couldn't help but feel a twinge of envy and she hated that despite all of the work they were doing to defeat Hydra, Coulson's words had continued to nag at her. He had never brought up the subject again, but she hadn't been able to let it go. Why couldn't she get past Ward's actions when she had easily absolved Mike? Could it be because she had fallen for his lies and hated that she had been fooled and that it was that hate that had refused to let her see Ward's struggle for redemption? She didn't know and the guilt preyed on her.

Coulson then emerged out of his office on the bus, looking dejected, his posture projecting as if it was being weighed down with burden. He had received news that he knew would get mixed responses and was dreading to relay it to the others. He assembled everyone in the conference room; puzzled and concerned expressions stared back at him as he addressed them.

"What is it, Coulson?" May asked, worried about his demeanor.

Despite the clean bill of health Coulson had received both from medical and by Fury, she still felt protective and continued to watch him, more from concern than from being ordered to do it.

"First, I need to tell you that as the newly appointed Director of SHIELD, well, more like the mission to bring control back to SHIELD, I had to make some difficult decisions on how to ferret out additional information about Hydra's plans. In order to get that needed intel, I had to imbed someone to spy on the known members of Garrett's task force."

May immediately knew where Coulson was going and though she understood the rationale, had spied on Coulson using the same rationale she knew it would not go over well with the others, especially Skye and Simmons who had suffered losses because of Ward. All May had sacrificed was her pride.

"You recruited Ward," May declared, sparing Coulson from having to say it. Everyone was used to her bluntness. She also tried to imply a tone of support in her voice.

Coulson was grateful to May and wasn't surprised by the shocked expressions that met him upon her reveal.

"Yes," he confirmed.

"What? How can you trust him after everything he's done? What he did to Fitz?" Simmons asked her tone was one of disbelief.

"I understand how you feel and that's why I kept it from all of you. It wasn’t about keeping secrets, but I knew the pain it would cause all of you and I didn't want it to dissuade the healing that was finally happening. It was the logical decision to make. As for trust, only I had to trust him. Anything that came from my choice would be my responsibility and mine alone."

He let the statement sink in. Skye's expression then softened, recognition flitted across her features as she remembered their last conversation about forgiveness and Ward. She knew that Coulson had needed to give Ward a second chance to prove himself without Garrett’s influence. It had crossed her mind several times to do the same.

"You gave him another chance, didn't you?" She asked, knowing the answer.

Coulson bowed his head for a second then looked at her eye-to-eye.

"Yes," Coulson confirmed. “I needed to know whether Ward was a lost cause or that without Garrett, he would make the right choices.”

Skye couldn't be angry at Coulson. His belief in people and his principles about the work were just a couple of the reasons why she respected him. And she knew that Ward's fall had preyed on his conscience just as it had hers only he had decided to act where she had refused, unwilling to be disappointed again.

"And did he rise to the occasion or disappoint you again?" She asked, hoping for the former herself.

Coulson's reaction at that moment gave them all a chill but Skye, she felt as if a knife had just been plunged into her chest and the pain took her breath away. Something had gone horribly wrong.

"That’s why I wanted to gather you all here because I just learned that while Ward was continuing his deep cover operations, coordinating with Trip as his liaison to me, to determine who else was not only working to initiate Garrett’s plans, but also to ferret out any more Hydra loyals, he was forced into a hand-to-hand engagement by one of Garrett's soldiers who had, unbeknownst to Ward, discovered his cover. Other loyalists joined in the assault...Ward was seriously injured -"

"How seriously?" Skye asked, her voice cracking with anxiety.

"Multiple stab wounds,” Coulson said as he swallowed down the bile that rose into his throat.

Skye felt lightheaded.

"Med techs are reporting that Ward might not make it through the night."

Coulson let the shock of the news settle with everyone.

"I need to see him," Skye piped up, the need so urgent she thought she’d scream.

"I'll take you to him," Coulson said, not surprised by her reaction, as they both left to head to SHIELD's sickbay.

When they had arrived, Ward was being attended to. She could see the bandages wrapped tightly around his torso, IVs pumping pain medication and fluids into him and yet despite those life-sustaining attempts, she saw how blood loss had paled his normally flushed and chiseled features and how weak he looked. The doctors warned that Ward had been resisting treatment and that though he had control over the amount of IV pain medication administered to relieve his discomfort, he was choosing to only give himself the minimum. It was pushing his blood pressure higher, creating more damage and inhibiting healing. They had tried to intervene and had explained to him that his health was precarious enough, that without some kind of relief from the pain, he could be placing his body into a steeper decline, but Ward had refused the advice with the only explanation that it was his choice to make.

Skye didn’t understand what Ward was doing, but Coulson did.

“Why is he doing this to himself?” She asked Coulson.

“He’s punishing himself,” he explained.

“What? Why? I don’t understand.”

“He’s seeking redemption for everything’s he’s done and he’s doing it in the only way he understands. In the past, it had been his brother and Garrett exacting their own brand of pain and recrimination for their perception of his failures, with both of them gone, he only has himself and his conscience to answer to.”

“Why can’t he forgive himself?” She asked plaintively.

“He doesn’t know how to do that, Skye.”

When the doctors exited Ward’s room, they had given the both of them the approval to enter it, Coulson told her to go in first, but she was suddenly afraid. The last time she had seen him, she had spat words of hatred at him and she began to wonder if she should even be there, but her concern for him was so surprisingly overwhelming that she let it guide her, trying not to consider if maybe she was the last person Ward wanted to see.

Coulson knew that if one person could comfort Ward, could give him the will to live, it would be Skye.

She stepped tentatively towards the bed and as she hovered at the edge, Ward turned. His expression at seeing her was just as she had feared. It wasn’t happiness. It was partly the obvious pain from his self-torture coupled with the anxiety of her presence there. Suddenly she hated that she was making things worse.

"No, no, you shouldn't be here," Ward said, tears filling his eyes, his voice so low and his breathing so ragged with pain, it sounded so unlike his usual strong self.

"I'm so sorry, I'll leave-"

Ward then weakly gripped her arm, the strength behind it driven more by his discomfort than by his need at that moment.

"No, I mean, I don't deserve your concern after all I've done..." He said more than just physical anguish lining his face. "You shouldn't care."

He then let go of her so that she could leave.

"Ward, no, I was wrong to judge you. I know that now."

Ward turned his head back to stare at the ceiling and away from her gaze, his expression hardened.

"No, you were right about me...I deserve this...you need to go."

"Coulson believed in you. He knew there was good in you and you’ve proven that."

"And you didn't," he said as he couldn't resist looking at her again. "And you shouldn’t. There isn't anything good about me. This, this is selfishness...my attempt at doing one thing right, but it doesn't change a thing. It doesn’t change my true nature."

Skye saw Ward, for the first time in a long time, as the Ward she had met when Coulson had brought them all together to a common cause only he had never looked so vulnerable. Tears began to fill her eyes and she took his hand in hers.

"It does, Ward. I understand everything now. You went through hell. Garrett exploited you."

"Don't make excuses for me, Skye. I tried to kill Fitz and Simmons...Garrett told me emotions were weaknesses and I let him control me...I'm a coward."

Skye watched Ward admit to her how wrong he had been and for the first time taking responsibility for his actions, not defending them, not asking for forgiveness or even understanding. It was then she had seen the Ward she had found herself falling for and all she wanted to do was to help him.

"No, Grant, you're human. I just wished I had seen it sooner. You and I, we're the same -"

"No, no we're not...Don’t even make that comparison. You are beautiful, kind, hopeful," he said, the emphasis on hope not lost on her. "If I possessed anything human, it was given back to me by falling in love with you, but I...don't deserve you...This...pain...it’s all I deserve."

Skye found herself blushing at his compliments to her, bringing back to mind all of the heroic qualities that she had seen in Ward and suddenly the reality of what had rushed her over to him came back to her.

"No, you don't, don't give up, not now, now that I know the truth."

Ward groaned and writhed. Skye saw the pain medication delivery button. She reached for it, but he stopped her.

“Don’t…please,” he said, almost pleaded.

“You don’t deserve to be in so much pain. You’ve suffered enough.”

“No, I haven’t suffered...nearly enough, not for all the people I killed, not for Fitz and Simmons...It will never be enough...”

“I can’t let you do this to yourself,” she said as she tried to press the button.

“I know and that’s why you have to live...to show people...what good really looks like, acts like. Please, Skye, don’t waste your mercy on me...you did once...and it almost caused all of you to die...I’m not redeemable, Skye...I know this…”

He struggled to push her hand away from the button and she only weakened her hold from concentrating on his words to her. She had to find a way past his guilt, his self-flagellation.

“How can I convince you that it’s not -”

“My fault? No, Skye. It’s all my fault. You won’t ever convince me that it isn’t…” Ward said, obvious strain in his voice. “Would it make it easier to leave if I told you that I knew what I was doing...that I made the choice to jettison the pod? Because it’s all true.”

Ward’s breathing became erratic as the pain began to escalate. The monitors were beeping with the signs of distress. Skye then let her desperate need to save him overtake her and she quickly grabbed and pressed the button before Ward could stop her. His vitals began to stabilize, but Ward’s struggled grunts persisted. He then smiled.

“Good reflexes,” he said, impressed.

“I was taught by my S.O.” Skye said with a smile, which then softened. “A good man who was hurt by life and did the only thing he could to survive. Just like I did.”

“No, not just like you did. Please stop saying that…” Ward insisted.

“You know, Coulson asked me how I could forgive Mike for all the lives he took under Garrett’s orders -”

“He was protecting his son...it was noble…I was only protecting myself.”

“Really? He didn’t fight Garrett off any harder than you did, even used you against me.”

“You should have let me die…”

“No, I couldn’t because somewhere under Garrett’s control was someone I knew who had been good to me, good to everyone.”

Skye took his hand into hers and he saw the genuine affection for him in her eyes. It was something he had seen there before she had learned the traitorous truth about him. He never thought he’d ever see it again, never earn it again.

“I don’t think I could survive disappointing you again...It’s what I’m afraid of most...of what I’m incapable of preventing,” Ward said as he weakly squeezed her hand back.

“Then don’t disappoint me. Don’t let the doctors tell you, you won’t live, because I know you can if you have something to live for.”

Ward tried to find the lie in her eyes, but didn’t find any.

“Are you giving me that?” He asked.

“You tell me. For once, lead with your own mind and heart. Don’t live for me. Live for yourself. It’s not a weakness to love someone. I learned that from you.”

Ward took in another strained breath. She then felt him squeeze the pain medication button on his own. Skye held onto his hand even tighter. She gave him a bright smile, because for the first time, he was making a choice on his own; it would have been considered a weakness by Garrett, but Ward had never felt stronger.

“And I promise I’ll be here waiting for you. All I’m asking is that you try. For the both of us.”

Ward knew Skye was a woman true to her promises so he knew he had to be true to his commitment to try.

“Okay,” he said. “I’ll try.”

Skye smiled, placed her hand on his cheek, gazed into his eyes and sighed with hope again. This time she somehow knew that it wouldn’t be hope lost, but hope gained for the both of them.

She stood up to lean in to kiss him and he had never welcomed anything so much as he had that. Yes, they had kissed before and he had not lied to her in that kiss, but it was under false pretenses. This kiss was full of promise for a better future without limits and he returned it not feeling the guilt of the guise he had to maintain before. This time, it was Grant Ward, the man and nothing else, kissing her. He had never considered his feelings for her a weakness, but he had never allowed himself to hope that she could ever feel anything more than contempt for him. To realize otherwise was a sign to him that maybe he wasn’t a foregone conclusion in the war. He had a long way to go to win everyone else’s trust back, but as long as he had her trust, he was more than willing to work on gaining the others’. He would also accept that there was some that he would never regain true trust from, such as from Fitz and Simmons maybe even May and he would never expect it from them. He had violated them. He knew that. He understood it.

Hope was the riskiest thing he had ever engaged in, but it wasn’t a weakness anymore.

FIN. Thanks for reading. Hope you enjoyed it.