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Reveling in the fickle nature of fangirlishness

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Defining Moment (Part 2)
Disclaimer: I don't own Marvel Agents of SHIELD

Thank you for all of your great and enthusiastic reviews. Hope this chapter measures up to expectations.

Chapter 2:

Skye and Coulson were both riding emotional roller coasters; first, suffering immeasurable grief from seemingly losing Ward one minute only for Skye to be whipped into hysterical hope as she detected a faint heartbeat.

As Ward slipped away, uttering what she had thought were his last words, she had placed her head on his chest her arm wrapped around his stomach, yearning to feel him hold her, her grief astounding in its raw impact. She had never expected to feel such loss and it had taken every bit of strength of will she possessed not to wail. The startling reality of discovering how much she had cared for Ward, that it had taken his sacrifice to fully realize how deeply she had buried it; not when she had heard about his treachery, but long before that, when she had shared more than just that drink with him after the attack in Peru, her first mission with them.

She had wanted to know him, even disagreeing with him, seeing the world differently, as he had admitted to her, she had been drawn to him. She had watched him save them all, one way or another; Simmons in mid-air, her at Quinn's estate, even if all of that was a cover, it was still heroic. He had acted on an instinct to help people, save them at the risk of his own life. She couldn't believe everything had been just an act. He could have died doing any of those rescues. His reveal of his troubled past with a sadistic older brother and admitting that it had been his defining moment to join SHIELD touched her. It had allowed her to open up to him about her past going from foster home to foster home. His rescue at Quinn's estate had become her defining moment. It was then that she had wanted to become a contributing member of the team. Bad.

Watching Ward die from a merciless serum injected by Raina, hearing his confession and apology for all he had done against them, refusing to accept forgiveness from any of them, had brought all that protected emotion out in the open. His admission that his love for her had been the only real and honest thing he had felt had given her the courage to return his affections, but unfortunately, he had believed it was all a lie. When she had thought he had taken his last breath, all she had wanted was to have him back so that she could convince him that her feelings weren't a lie either.

"Hoping for something and losing it, hurts more than never hoping for anything."

Once again, she thought that her hope was being ripped from her, losing someone else she had grown to love.

It was in that moment when all she had wanted was to hold him and hoped that he would embrace her in return, that she had heard his heart still beating into the ear that she had pressed against his chest.

"He's still alive!" She cried out. "Can a doctor help us, PLEASE? Please help him!"

The flurry of medical personnel rushed in upon hearing her and began examining and working to save Ward. Skye and Coulson backed away as Jemma joined them, her expression of concern authentic.

"What's happening? She asked.

Skye tried to regain control to answer her coherently. She took in a few deep breaths.

"I heard his heart beating...I thought he had...but then I heard it..." Skye said as her resolve broke again.

Jemma reached out a hand and touched Skye on the arm then slowly drew her into an embrace. Skye rushed into it with a neediness that Jemma understood. Coulson could only smile at the familial gesture. Despite all the pain and suffering that he squarely placed onto Garrett's influence over Ward, the team had truly bonded and that gave him comfort.

He spied Melinda May walk in and then up to him. She surveyed all the activity in the sickbay and even her rage against Ward had softened in light of his confessions. He had even apologized to her before going undercover.

"What's going on?" She asked.

"Ward, the doctors are trying to determine his condition. Skye and I thought he'd died, but…” He said, catching his own emotions trying to leak through his defenses. “She heard a heartbeat."

May reacted in her usual nonchalant manner as if learning that Ward was still alive didn’t come as a surprise, instead, as she watched the doctors work to keep him alive, she became pensive.

"Ward actually apologized to me just before he went undercover to root out Raina."

It was Coulson’s turn not to act surprised at that moment. Ward had volunteered to maintain his deep cover after Garrett had been killed. Though May’s beating had been appropriately severe from a personal level, it had inadvertently created the perfect ruse to convince Garrett’s other soldiers that Ward was still considered a traitor, a member of Hydra.

"He told me that he deserved the pummeling I gave him, that he wouldn’t blame me for never trusting him again and that he was sorry for thinking the worst of me when he had done the most heinous things to all of us. He also told me that the two of you were initiating a covert ops to capture Raina. He trusted me with that information even though all I wanted to do then was hurt him even more. Something in his voice, the way he said things made me listen to him. It was like he was..."

"Owning up to his mistakes," Coulson said almost dreamily. "Maybe in case something happened to him."

"Clearing his conscience," May added, continuing the thought, relating to it in many ways.

"More to come to terms with what he did, I think and to let people know that he felt guilty about what he’d done," Coulson added as well. "The only people he couldn't own up to were -"

"Fitz and Simmons," May said, finishing Coulson's thought, her expression revealed her own regret. "Sometimes, you just have to live with things you can't ever change no matter how much you want to take it back."

Coulson glanced at May and knew full well she understood all about lost opportunities. They both did. The longer you did the work, the likelihood of someone dying or something going horribly south on your watch became inevitable. Ward's situation was unique; his guilt would be harder to overcome because he had inflicted the suffering by his own hand though Coulson would defend the fact that in many ways, it wasn’t of Ward’s free will. Still, no matter how repentant Ward tried to be, his actions on Fitz and Simmons would be a constant reminder if he remained on the team, especially if Fitz never recovered. It was why Coulson believed Ward volunteered to go undercover. He was seeking redemption and maybe accepted that dying was a small price to pay for all he had done.

"We both can relate to that,” Coulson said thinking of how Ward was suffering the consequences at that moment.

May nodded.

The doctors dispersed from around Ward. They had placed monitoring leads on his chest to observe his heart rate and depressingly for the others a ventilator had been inserted to help Ward breathe. The reveal as the doctors parted made Skye feel weak and she thought she was going to pass out, but Jemma braced her, having already experienced her own shock when they had performed the same procedure on Fitz. The almost identical state of both men was daunting to everyone gathered.

The reunion was bittersweet at best.

Coulson, feeling the responsibility of being the commander of this ragtag team, approached the doctor.

"So what's the prognosis, doctor?"

"I'm afraid it's not good. Though Agent Ward's heart is beating and for now, it's a stable and strong sinus rhythm, his lungs are becoming slowly compromised with fluid. We’re going to do all we can to make him comfortable, but it's only a matter of time. Frankly, we're amazed he's managed to survive this long."

Jemma and Skye clung to each other as women who shared a common sadness.

Coulson and May shared a glance of common experience; understanding the weight of the responsibility of having other lives in their care all too well.

Ward and Fitz were silent partners in an unpredictable future. Tragically, one man had caused the other's situation, but cruel fate had responded in kind and had equalized the universe by punishing Ward with the same bleak imprisonment.

No one was celebrating the cosmic revenge.

But then, a few hours later something happened to Ward that could only be ascribed to a miraculous intervention or to a sinister side effect of the serum. He began healing.

Ward's condition started to improve inexplicably and drastically. Nothing medical could be attributed to his recovery and yet it was occurring at an accelerated rate. His lungs drained their fluid, allowing the doctors to remove the ventilator; his organs were repairing; his heart was beating stronger and then one night, as Skye slept next to Ward as she had done ever since he had been taken to the sickbay; her head resting on his bed, her hand ever grasping his hand, she felt that same hand suddenly envelope hers. She didn't notice at first, but his hand then twitched again and squeezed hers with even more vigor. She awoke groggily in the beginning, looking up, lifting her head up from the bed and the shock of what she saw wiped all sleep from her eyes.

Ward was awake looking back at her.

"Grant!" She said as she darted up from the chair she was sitting in to take a closer look, fearing she had imagined everything.

"Skye...what happened? I thought I died," he rasped.

Everyone had gathered back to the sickbay. It had become a grim routine with two of their own fighting to stay alive. The only one who wasn't joining in was Jemma. Fitz was the same, no worse, but unlike Ward, he hadn't come out of his coma and wasn't any closer to doing that. Everyone understood that Jemma couldn't celebrate Ward's accelerated recovery at Fitz’s expense.

Ward's progression was both hailed as miraculous, but was also greeted with the proper suspicion, Ward being the chief skeptic, remembering what Raina had threatened. Coulson was not far behind, but he was able to temper his suspicion, needing to allow for some hope to filter in.

Ward was improving so rapidly that in the few hours that had passed as doctors took blood samples to test as well as poking and prodding him, he was able to sit up and felt ready to walk. Skye had caught his furtive glance at Fitz and Jemma's dutiful watch over him, knowing that she had wished the same recovery for him, knowing it would probably not come. Perhaps she was cursing that someone evil like Ward had been given a second chance at life and someone as good as Fitz, who had believed in Ward and who had been put into the darkness he was in by Ward, was probably lost forever. Ward couldn’t blame her. He didn’t think it was fair either, but he also knew that what was happening to him wasn’t necessarily a good thing.

"You know what this is, don't you? Raina's version of the serum is doing this. I can't be trusted. You don't know what's happening to me or going to happen to me. I don't know what's happening to me. Protocol says that I have to be contained. I’m as good as a 0-8-4. I can't put all of you in danger," Ward said as he glanced at Fitz one more time. “Not again.”

"I don't care. You're not dead," Skye declared.

Watching the relief on her face, Ward let himself fleetingly enjoy the moment of seeing Skye free from worry and tears which was his last memory of her, that and telling her that he loved her, hearing her declare the same, but he knew it was just her compassionate nature giving him what he needed to hear on his death bed. She would deny it now and he wouldn't hold her to it.

"Well, I do care. All of you can't let your humanity blind you to the fact that nothing good can come from my resurrection, if you can call it that. I'm more like Frankenstein's monster..." Ward insisted. "I saw what it did to Garrett. With whatever Raina did to it, it can't be good."

Suddenly, Ward felt a wave of some kind of energy he couldn’t identify envelope him. It was an overwhelming sensation of being blanketed by warmth, love. How he knew that, he didn’t know, but it was like his body was “translating” what was coming through it. It wasn’t unpleasant, but it was both disorienting as well as welcoming. As if by some kind of instinct, the sensation seemed to be governing his actions and he felt it directing him towards Fitz. He looked over at him and instead of seeing the comatose Fitz, he saw a transparent, ghostly visage of Fitz, looking at Jemma and smiling. He then turned to look at Ward and Ward understood what he had wanted. It was as if they were communicating telepathically, words being superfluous.

Ward felt the compulsion to walk over to Fitz. It was an uncontrollable pull and one he knew wasn't completely of his own volition, but unlike his statement fearing that he would be turned into some kind of monster by the serum, the need to go to Fitz didn't feel filled with malevolent purpose. Coulson and the others watched with caution as Ward approached Fitz and Jemma. She bolted from her chair and stepped in front of Fitz protectively. Ward understood and raised his hands to placate her.

"Simmons, I know you have no reason to trust me and I don’t blame you, but I promise you I won't hurt Fitz, in fact, I'm telling May right now that if I do anything that she feels is putting Fitz’s life at risk, she should subdue me. I’m even giving her permission to end me. I trust her to know which will be necessary,” Ward said as he gave May a nod that communicated his implicit trust and permission. “As crazy as it sounds and don’t ask me how I know, I feel like I can help him."

Jemma saw the sincerity in Ward's eyes and relaxed a little.

"You once told me that you'd catch me if I fell. I didn't say so then but I trusted that you would. You gave me the confidence I needed in that moment. It made your treachery all the more painful for me and to watch Fitz plead with you with his belief in your inherent goodness only to have you destroy it just made what you did all the more heinous."

"I know and I meant what I said, I would never ask for your forgiveness for what I did. I've done too much harm, but something with the serum in my blood is drawing me to connect with Fitz. It's almost like a force I can't resist. If you can find it in you to trust me this one time, this last time if you want, I think I can help him."

Jemma nodded, hesitantly moved away, but stayed close enough to step in if needed. It was her responsibility to protect Fitz now.

Ward nodded his thanks for her trust however momentary. He walked up to Fitz’s body, his apparition beside him, encouraging Ward as he felt energy from within him that he knew he had to expend into Fitz’s body. Ward laid his hands on Fitz's chest, closed his eyes and a burst of pain hit him as he let the powerful wave leave him and towards Fitz. Immediately, there was a force field emanating from his hands that covered Fitz. It changed colors as it was absorbed slowly into Fitz’s body. Fitz then jerked awake and started choking on his ventilator. The doctors, at first stunned by what they were witnessing, composed themselves and rushed over to help him.

Once the force field was gone, Ward collapsed to his knees, weakened and drained, breathing heavily. Skye ran over to him and felt an eerie sense of déjà vu and she didn't like it. She couldn't lose Ward again. She didn’t think she could survive it.

“Grant!” She yelled as she held him again. “Oh God, please don’t leave me again. I can’t go through it again.”

Ward felt his strength regaining and he looked over to see the doctors removing Fitz’s ventilator. He was breathing on his own. Jemma was overjoyed and held his hand to reassure him. It gave Ward renewed energy to watch them become reunited after he had almost destroyed them with his callous act. Jemma then turned around to look at Ward, gratitude beaming on her face, along with tears. Skye helped Ward up to his feet as they both stood by Fitz's bedside.

“How did you do that?” Jemma asked.

“I don’t know,” Ward answered. “There was a powerful force compelling me as if knowing what needed to be done and I was just a conduit. I let it use me.”

The doctors had removed the ventilator and were amazed that despite being in a coma for days, Fitz had acted as if nothing had happened to him. He sat up slightly and instead of the feeling of betrayal and disillusionment he had felt about Ward in the pod, he felt astonishment and gratitude.

Ward saw the surprise on Fitz's face and returned it with one of his own. Still, he had unfinished business with Fitz that he had to accomplish.

"Fitz, I need you to know how sorry I am for what I did to you and Jemma. I offer no excuses to defend what I did and don't expect forgiveness. I'm sorry I took your trust and belief away in the brutal way that I did to both of you."

Fitz felt the sincerity of Ward's confession but what had shocked him was what he had discovered in the moment they had connected in what he had thought was a dream, but it hadn’t been a dream at all. He was a scientist and the metaphysical had no place in his work or his life, but there was no other explanation he had for how he had emerged from his comatose state.

"I saw you, saw what you did in what I thought was a dream, but it wasn't a dream, was it? I was standing next to you and saw you lay your hands on me. I saw it all. You healed me. I don't know how, but I believe sitting here I'm proof of what I saw."

Ward nodded.

"I saw it too, but I take no credit for it. Something else was controlling me, but I won't refuse what it offered to me because it brought you back."

"No, Grant, whatever you did, didn't come from something else. I believe in what I saw and more importantly what I felt even though I have no empirical evidence to offer for how I know it, but it was your soul. I felt it heal me."

"I can't believe that, Fitz. I'm not a good man. I have no soul."

It hurt Skye to hear Ward belittle himself but she understood why it was there, not just because of all he had done under Garrett's Svengali influence, but for all the years he had been bullied by his sadistic brother, fighting to survive. He had finally come to the revelation of all he had done and all he had wanted to do was redeem himself. And despite Ward's certainty that the serum would eventually transform him into the monster he believed he was, that Raina had threatened was his true nature, Skye had seen and believed in something else. She believed the serum was amplifying Ward's redemptive soul just as it had amplified Garrett's corruptive one. What Fitz was relating wasn't all that far fetched to her.

"Ward, I'm not one given to senseless hyperbole. I know you saw it too. Now, I know I need some catching up to do here, but this much I know, you saved my life and I'm grateful to you."

Ward shook his head unable to accept the gesture even though he was glad that whatever it was that overpowered him did bring Fitz out of his coma. The joy on both their faces was worth it.

"Grant, I believe Fitz is right. It makes sense. Why would a serum that you believe will turn you into a monster drive you to heal and save Fitz? Yes, maybe that's what Raina wants you to believe that you’re a monster, but what if it's because we only have Garrett as an example? What if the serum isn't about creating monsters, but about evolving from the true nature of a person? Garrett was a megalomaniac so it made HIM a monster, but Grant, you were trying to redeem yourself before Raina gave you the serum. Why not believe that it took that and made you a healer?" Skye hypothesized.

"I love how you see the world, Skye, but that's not my true nature. It never has been. I'm a killer and when I wasn't that, I was a soldier who blindly took orders without questioning who he was hurting. I don't know how to heal. I just know how to cause pain. Whatever is in me will undo me eventually as it should, but I don't want to undo the rest of you in my wake like I almost did before," he said as he cupped her cheek.

"Why can't you forgive yourself? We all have."

Ward's eyes began to well with tears.

"Because I saw something else when I healed Fitz. I saw a replay of everything and everyone I let down or let die. The first among them, my little brother," Ward said choking back his emotions, but failing. "I didn't save him, Skye. That was my true defining moment and I can never forgive myself for that. Never. I've suppressed it all these years, but it haunts me and it will always haunt me."

Ward turned his attention back to Fitz and Jemma, his posture riddled with guilt and remorse.

"And I will never forgive myself for what I did to you, but bringing Fitz back at least undoes one wrong of many and I'm glad of that."

Ward then walked away.

"Grant!" Skye called out to him, but Coulson stopped her from going after him.

"Let me talk to him. I think that as someone who died and was brought back to life too can probably relate a little."

She nodded and let Coulson go after Ward instead. Jemma then came up to her and hugged her.

"Ward will be fine. We'll all make sure he knows he isn't alone."

"I hope it's enough for him."

Ward sat in the waiting room of sickbay, needing to collect his thoughts on everything that had just happened. Coulson came in and sat next to him.

"Look, I know you don't need to hear a pep talk so I'll spare you, but I can't let you take the blame for your past when you've been given a gift. Life. I did the same thing, you know. I got so tangled up in the why I lived, why Fury put me through what he did to save me. I asked him why, why did he do it. I told him the drug was for the Avengers not me and do you know what he said?"

Ward shook his head.

"That I deserved to be saved as much as an Avenger and I’m now telling you the same thing. I believe you do too, whether you think you do or not and whether you want to believe it or not."

Ward was humbled by Coulson's revelation and credit.

"I know you think that whatever Raina did to it will turn you into a monster, but I believe that if that was the case, you'd already be that monster, instead you channeled whatever power it gave you into saving Fitz and before you tell me that it was out of guilt and obligation, making both those things sound less worthy than doing it from some other noble gesture, I'm here to tell you, Ward, that those are noble reasons and if they drive you to change your future then that's all any one of us can hope for. I’ve seen your intentions and that’s good enough for me."

Ward straightened, his face reflecting humility. Coulson then lifted the hand that had the very same restraining bracelet that Skye had worn and that he had put on Ward when he had embedded him back into Garrett’s enclave of soldiers including Raina.

“Disengage bracelet,” he said and like with Skye, it opened easily and Coulson took possession of it and pocketed it.

Ward watched with grateful awe at the trust that doing that implied to him and inwardly he vowed that he would never violate that trust again. He found his moral compass shifting and it was pointing him to the only direction that meant anything to him, that he should have never have questioned.

"Raina told me you know about Skye's parents, but clearly, that doesn't matter to you and frankly, to me, that's your noble gesture. You, Skye and I are bonded by the drug and let me tell you, seeing what you were able to overcome, I have hope that Skye and I have a chance at not becoming a victim of it as well, that we'll have a different outcome too, but Grant, she needs you, present and fighting, not wallowing in a past you can never change. Forgive yourself. In my opinion, this is your defining moment. Think about it."

Coulson then walked away to give Ward time to think. He spotted Skye hovering to the side, her desire to help and be with Ward irresistible. Coulson nodded as he passed her.

Skye sat next to Ward, grasped his hand in hers and she felt it squeeze back.

“Thanks,” Ward said.

“For what?”

“For forgiving me,” he said. “For having faith in me.”

“Grant, you have to stop -”

“It’s not just about forgiving myself, Skye. It’s about having the courage, the faith to believe that there are people who believe in me.”

“You have that, Grant. From all of us.”

Grant looked into her eyes, tears welling up again in his seeing the love in hers; love that was given to him, love that he never thought he could ever find and it wasn’t just about her love. It was also about the power of the friendships that had been bestowed upon on him by the others and which he had destroyed with his misguidedly horrific acts of betrayal. Those friendships were being entrusted to him again and rising like a phoenix from the ashes. He would make everything up to them. He would work even harder to make sure they never questioned his commitment ever again.

“It’s not easy for me to accept, Skye. All my life has been about keeping my distance, not to become attached...that emotion was a weakness. I understood how much you wanted your foster family to like you...I wanted that too from my own family," Ward confessed.

"I'm sorry I didn't see that we shared something in common back then."

"Don't be, I didn't tell you to make you feel sorry for me. It was the first defining moment of my life and it just hardened me to any relationships."

Skye wrapped her other hand around his to reassure him that he had reached her.

"My defining moment was when you saved me from Quinn."

He flinched.

"Not when it mattered."

"Grant, I put myself in that dangerous situation. I was foolish. You had no way of knowing Garrett was going to make Quinn shoot me. You didn’t shoot me. That is not on you," she said, trying to convince him that she didn't blame him. "No, it was when I thought I was going to die and I saw you fight off all those men. I knew in that moment that I wanted to be a field agent.

"When Coulson told me that SHIELD agents had died protecting me, I knew for the first time that SHIELD was the family I had always wanted and it still is protecting me," she said with a smile directed at him. "I belong here. You do too. We belong together."

Ward had never thought he could feel such belonging, such love. The revelations continued to humble him. Maybe it wasn't too late for him, as he pondered a possibility that he had never dared to hope for. He would happily die for every one of them; in many ways that hadn’t changed. When he had jumped out of the bus to save Jemma, he knew he could die, but he didn’t care. He was truly trying to save her for no other agenda than she needed saving.

"Just like I told you that I was trained to be the whole solution, expendable because the mission always came first, I had to find a way to break that way of thinking, to be a part of something bigger, something better, that 1% you talked about. I’m also not used to being cared about, let alone relied upon for anything other than as a weapon. I let Garrett control me because he treated me the way I believed I deserved to be treated; the only way that I had been treated all my life."

Skye’s empathy was only growing stronger hearing Ward make his admissions.

"Well, you are cared about. You deserve more than what Garrett gave you. I saw your compassion so many times, Grant. You called them strategic, but you cared and I care about you."

"I don't understand how you can after all I've done, the people I killed. I can't trust it, not because I don’t trust you or believe you, but because it doesn't make sense to me. I'd die for you, but..."

"Grant, I don't want you to die for me. I want you to live for me."

Ward looked over at Skye and marveled at how lucky he was to have been given a second chance with Skye, at making things right with everyone he had betrayed. He leaned in towards Skye, cupped her cheek, let his gaze wander lovingly across her face before they settled comfortably upon the glistening pools that projected back love; love for him. It astonished him at how much he loved her. There was no holding it back. He had suppressed his then growing affection for her; Garrett even belittled it out of him long enough for him to follow his orders, but no matter how hard he tried, every time he looked at her, the feelings would come rushing back in a wave.

Now as he leaned in closer and closer to kiss her, he was doing it as Grant Ward, the man, not the conditioned soldier on a mission. Their lips touched, sweetly tentative, at first, something he was doing purposely, giving Skye time to retract. When she didn't and began pressing back with her own affection, Ward allowed himself to feel desire that wasn't fueled by stress relieving, non-committal sex as it had been with May. They had been wounded people who understood each other's pain. Skye renewed and healed his pain by her generosity. When they parted, she smiled.

"I really do love you, Grant. That's not an act."

Ward sighed and smiled.

“I know you’re not lying to me, I can see it in your eyes. I would never expect you to believe me. I’ve told so many lies, but what I said was true, my feelings for you were always real and honest. I doubted how I felt. I didn’t think I was capable of feeling anything or had suppressed them so long that I wouldn’t know how to feel anything anymore, but hearing your hopeful view of the world, of people, it made me change the way I thought about things. You’ve given me hope, Skye, hope that I never really had in my entire life.”

Just as Ward was leaning in to kiss her again, alarms began to blare and they both heard running feet heading towards them. Coulson stopped in front of them as Fitz, Simmons and May ran past.

“What is it? What’s happened?” Ward asked, the honed operative training in him kicking in.

Then before Coulson could answer, Ward dropped to his knees in pain, placing his hands on his head, clenching his eyes closed and moaning.

“Grant! What’s wrong?” Skye said as she joined him on her own knees, stroking his back in what she knew was vain comfort, but needing to try to give some measure of it.

Grant then lifted his head up, shock on his face.

“I see it...the Gravitonium...it’s alive…”

TBC. Thanks for reading. I hope you’re enjoying the story. Thanks for reading. I appreciate it. More action to come. Hint, perhaps Garrett wasn’t the only one who could see the universe.