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Reveling in the fickle nature of fangirlishness

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Defining Moment (Part 3)
Disclaimer: I don't own Marvel Agents of SHIELD

“And the world will be better for this, that one man, scorned and covered with scars, still strove with his last ounce of courage, to fight the unbeatable foe, to reach the unreachable star.” - Impossible Dream from The Man from LaMancha

Chapter 3:

Alarms began to blare and Skye and Ward had heard running feet heading towards them. Coulson stopped in front of them as Fitz, Simmons and May ran past.

Suddenly, 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…”

“What?” Coulson asked, his expression one of grave concern, remembering how close they had come to destruction by Dr. Franklin Hall only for Coulson to destroy him instead, a decision that still haunted him. Ward wasn’t alone when it came to seeking redemption for hard decisions that cost people’s lives. Coulson had his fair share of regrets and they were piling up.

“I need to go there,” Ward said, his voice strained.

“No, no, you don’t,” Skye said. “ Let Fitz and Simmons figure out what to do. It’s more their thing anyway -”

“No, it’s not...not this time...I know what to do. Help me up,” Ward said trying to stand, having difficulty, but Coulson helping him up.

“How can you possibly know what to do with the Gravitonium?” Skye asked, her concern rising, feeling Ward's determination deep into her own body.

She knew that he wouldn't be dissuaded from his mission; that was in Ward's DNA long before he had arrived as a member of their team. His training to be the whole solution was kicking back in, but this time it wasn't from pride or arrogance, it was from necessity.

“I just do. I feel it. We have to hurry or it’s going to destroy all of us,” Ward insisted as he began to run towards where Garrett had been storing it; fighting back the pain that was threading through his body. He was trying to employ the mental controls that he had been trained to initiate so that he could withstand it under combat situations. This new “power” was taxing and testing his limits.

Ward had remembered how Garrett and Raina had coveted the Gravitonium as if it held the answers to the Universe’s secrets. He didn’t know if by being in close proximity to it if he would be similarly affected; that he would suddenly see the same vision; experience the same rapture that Garrett had, but he hoped that whatever did happen it wouldn’t hold sway over what he knew he needed to do. He worried about this newfound “power” from Raina’s adulterated serum because it wasn't predictable in any way where he could apply anything from his training to take charge of the situations it was leading him towards.

Everything in his life had been about control, though now he realized that he hadn't controlled anything in his life. His parents, his older brother, and Garrett, they had all manipulated him and in similar ways especially his need for belonging; holding love and acceptance hostage until he measured up to their expectations. The serum was doing the same thing, pulling him toward situations as if he was a trained animal. He didn't feel in any more control at that moment than he had in his whole life. He was back to following orders, this time from an unknown source. The only difference was the feelings he was experiencing. In the past, he had always felt insecurity or uncertainty when not directed by someone. Now, he felt empowered with a profound empathy, a certainty that what he was doing was helping not hurting anyone, and most important, he wasn’t afraid to die and this time for the right reasons.

He had known that death was possible when he was deployed on any mission, but he was almost oblivious to that fact when in the midst of a mission; completing each mission he had been sent on, what he was doing by virtue of following orders from Garrett was more important than his own life. In examining it now, he was shocked at how ridiculously compliant he was, that he had valued his life so cheaply. He had actually thanked Garrett for ordering him to get Skye. It was as if the serum was now making him see how pathetic he had been.

As a soldier and covert operative, he was trained to be suspicious of anything unknown that couldn’t be explained rationally and yet there he was chasing after the threat of the Gravitonium based on nothing more than a driving force he couldn’t explain.

Garrett’s recommendation of Ward for recruitment into Coulson’s team, having Coulson’s implicit trust from years of battle together, had made Ward’s embedding seamless if a bit incongruous for him especially after he had learned that Melinda May was also a member; her moniker as the Cavalry saying more than anything her “resume” would have revealed. He questioned both Garrett’s and Coulson’s intentions with him even though Garrett’s darker intent of having him placed there was a lot clearer by virtue of simpler command decisions.

Ward had never intended to become close to any of Coulson's team. He thought he was just doing a job, but interacting with all of them; witnessing Coulson’s commitment to good, having died saving the world from evil, to Skye’s wide-eyed hopeful view of the world; that every member of the human race could play an important part in improving the world had chipped away at his hardened facade as well as his well-constructed cover. Skye had completely melted his ice-cold practicality and when she was dying by Quinn’s hand, decreed by Garrett’s orders, he felt a fissure of doubt develop about his allegiance to Garrett that he had never thought he would question.

Now, as he ran towards the Gravitonium, his determination was all about saving not only the lives of the people he had bonded with as a team, but the world as well.

When they had caught up to the Gravitonium, everyone looked at the undulating mass in front of them and none of them was spared the feeling of the sheer gravity of the situation. Coulson, Skye and Ward experienced a bit of deja-vu as the last time they saw it, Dr. Franklin Hall had been dropped into the core by Coulson as a catalyst to stabilize it. Coulson had regretted the decision because he hadn't disagreed with Hall’s logic, but he had to save his team and sometimes those were the hard calls that he had understood had to be made even though it would haunt him. He chose to sacrifice one man’s life for the lives of the many, both his team and the millions that Hall was trying to justify saving.

Fitz and Simmons both gazed at it with scientific awe at the growth it had achieved from the smaller version they had discovered on the road where it had flipped the semi. Fitz had his hand-held device recording all of the data emanating from the element and the fear and shock on his face told everyone of how critical the situation was becoming.

“Fitz, so what do we need to do?” Coulson asked.

Before Fitz could answer, Ward already knew what needed to be done. His conclusion had nothing to do with any kind of scientific analysis, it had come from within him.

“We have to do exactly what we did at Quinn’s estate. We have to introduce another catalyst. Dr. Hill can no longer control the Gravitonium to keep it stable. He’s growing weaker. I feel him struggling.”

All of them listened to Ward’s words and took in his declaration with a different kind of awe.

“I know what I have to do,” he said calmly resigned to the task ahead.

Skye was the first to come to the realization of what Ward was suggesting and she felt her hysteria blossom.

“No, no, you can’t do what I know you’re thinking of doing. Look what it did to Dr. Hill! And you just said it yourself, it’s killing him!”

“We have no other choice. I can release him from it and stabilize it.”

“No, no, I can’t lose you again,” Skye said, renewed tears streamed from her eyes.

Ward cupped her cheek and wiped her tears away. He smiled lovingly at her.

“I don’t want to leave you either, but if I don’t do this, all of you will die and I just can’t let that happen; not after everything you’ve forgiven me for, not after knowing that you believed me when I told you that I loved you. I can’t do nothing and let it kill us all.”

“Fitz and Simmons -”

“Don’t have time to find a solution, not at the rate the Gravitonium is accelerating. Now, I have to hurry,” he said as he smiled softly. "This is one time when I have to be the whole solution."

Ward then held her face gently in both of his hands and brought her lips to his. He savored the soft surrender she offered him and vowed to himself that he would never forget it; that he would carry the love he felt for her to whatever awaited him as he became one with the Gravitonium.

When they parted, he let her go slowly to linger in that moment because it would be his last with her. He let his left hand graze along her shoulder, down her arm, then her palm and lastly her fingers, taking one last grasp before letting go completely.

“Please don't do this,” she uttered, clinging to him in desperation as she felt Ward pull away and Coulson gently hold her back from following him.

Ward could only smile wordlessly as he continued walking away from her, at first. backwards to drink in one more last look at her. He knew that if he stopped, even for a second, he might lose his resolve and he couldn't do that. He had to remind himself that staying would be selfish; putting his needs before their lives. He wasn't that man anymore.

Skye knew that no amount of pleading would change Ward's mind. He was the proverbial man on a mission and wouldn't be convinced to abandon it, not even for her. Other lives were at stake including hers and he wouldn't shy away from the responsibility of preventing the Gravitonium from exploding.

Coulson watched Ward first nod in gratitude for restraining Skye then turn to face the metallic mass in front of him. Coulson had been stoically silent, letting Ward guide his own destiny without his intervention. This wasn't the time to be giving orders. Coulson knew the implications. He had been through this before and his command decision that day had cost a life. This time, as much as it pained him to let Ward sacrifice himself, to be helpless to convince him otherwise, he knew that Ward had accepted the consequences and seeing the courage that he had always known Ward had possessed in abundance made him proud.

Ward felt no fear of death. He felt a peace wash over his body as he stepped closer and closer to the element. He placed his hand into it, stiffened and hissed briefly at the shock of the searing burn of the metallic molecules on his skin, but he didn't let it slow his progress. He reached further into it, felt Dr. Hill grab his hand from within and he let himself get pulled in deeper. There was no malice in Dr. Hill’s grasp, no attempt at wanting to harm Ward. It was desperation, a need to be rescued and Ward was willing and able to do that for him. More and more of him became enveloped by the element as he strode further and further into it. He heard Skye's sobs and the anguish in her tears and he felt his heart cleave in two with the one regret he had because of his choice; leaving her in such pain. He had to keep on reminding himself that he was doing this for her as well as for the others.

When his body finally disappeared into the abyss, he was face-to-face with Dr. Hill and in that moment, they shared the same space within the Gravitonium.

"Why are you doing this?" Hill asked with as much gratitude as questioning Ward's decision. "You'll die."

"I know," Ward said, a small smile of gratification curled at his lips. "And you'll live. You've done enough for the world."

Hill stood shocked at the calm acceptance he felt from Ward.

"The only thing I want from you is for you to promise me that when you leave, you won't hold a grudge against Coulson for his choice. He made a hard call," Ward said. "It haunts him."

Hills nodded in understanding.

"I know that. He and I weren't in disagreement. I had accepted my death, but couldn't overcome my selfish need to destroy Quinn along with stopping the Gravitonium. To my mind, taking other lives, your lives, was necessary collateral damage."

It was Ward's turn to nod.

"Coulson is a good man; the best of men, in my view, but I'm not and in retrospect, I wished that you had taken Quinn that day. Still, it would have also taken the woman I love. Quinn nearly killed Skye again later based on the orders of a megalomaniac and I couldn't stop it. I blame myself for that mistake in judgement, but also I can't regret it because she survived. She taught me what real courage of conviction is about. She is the strongest person I have ever met. I'm doing this so she can still live, along with people I respect. I learned too late that love is everything. Finding her, finding love is my one true defining moment."

Hill listened with apt respect, hearing Ward's tribute to the woman he loved. They were then jarred from within the element. Time was running out yet Hill took a moment to marvel in the selflessness he had seen in Ward's eyes.

"You have to go now," Ward said with serene assertion. "The element can't stabilize with both of us in it."

"How can you know that?" Hill asked. "Are you a scientist?"

"No, just a man." Ward said. "A flawed man seeking redemption for the pain I've caused."

Ward felt his body tremble with excruciating pain as it began to conjoin with the element.

"Tell Skye I'll always love her."

Ward mustered all the strength he had left and shoved Hill out of the element.

The oozing fluid began to swiftly enter into his body, coating and filling his cells, becoming one with his blood and flowing freely within him. The pain was white hot, but he knew he had to relax and let it take him over. It was the only way to stop it from exploding. He breathed in the fluid like air into his lungs, but it didn't drown him. Instead, he felt something else. He wasn't a scientist, but he knew it was osmosis. Not only was Ward absorbing the element into him, into the components of his body but without any logical way to explain how he knew it, he knew that his soul; the essence of who Grant Ward was; was becoming one with the Gravitonium as well. A hint of fear grappled him as he wondered if the evil he had done would fuel the Gravitonium as opposed to diffusing it. A shock of pain riveted into his brain and down into his chest, forcing him to drop to his knees. Images played out like a rapidly moving slide show. Was this the cliched "life flashing before his eyes"? He wondered. If it was, he was convinved that he would only see a life to be ashamed of and disappointed by. Instead, though, something much more shocking appeared as an apparition in front of him.

His baby brother. The brother he had let get tortured; that he had tortured to escape the wrath of his older brother; the innocent brother whose only misfortune was to be born into a family of psychopaths; the brother he had let die.

"Tommy?" Ward cried out, his emotions no longer dammed up behind years of carefully crafted controls. They were gone, all inhibitions released.

Ward found it appropriate that he had been driven to his knees in front of Tommy. He needed to beg for his forgiveness even though it wasn't really Tommy. That opportunity had passed years ago.

"I'm sorry, Tommy. I'm so sorry. I failed you. I let you die because I wasn't strong enough to fight for you, to save you."

Ward was sobbing, purging the aching loss and failure of choosing his own survival over his little brother's.

Suddenly he saw two little knees bend down in front of his downcast eyes; small hands touched his face and lifted his chin up. Ward had never been so afraid of facing his little brother; to see the betrayal in his uncorrupted eyes boring into his with recrimination. Instead, as he faced Tommy, when their eyes met, Ward saw forgiveness there, felt it hit his chest full-on.

"It wasn't your fault, Grant. You were little too."

"No, it was, I didn't stop him. I just stood there, and I..." Ward insisted. "I hurt you too...I let you die and I can never make that up to you."

"You didn't let me die. You tried. You tried really, really hard, Grant. I know that you did. I know you loved me too. I just was too weak and tired. You protected me for as long as you could. You saved me too and Maynard hurt you worse for that. That wasn't fair. Maynard was too strong for both of us. It's okay though. I'm okay and safe now. He can't hurt me anymore. Don't be sad, okay?"

Ward couldn't stop sobbing as he saw the glow of childlike joy on Tommy's face and even though he was seeing him, hearing him forgiving him, he thought it was all a lovely illusion. He didn't believe in an afterlife, but he did hope that Tommy was resting in peace. This wasn't really Tommy. It was a hallucination his mind, poisoned by the Gravitonium, was creating.

As if reading his mind, Tommy's expression changed to a crinkle of confusion.

"You think this is all pretend, don't you?"

Ward remained silent. He just wanted to revel in the fantasy of being with his little brother again, maybe staying in it as the Gravitonium slowly destroyed him.

"Grant, this is real. I'm real. I'm here because you needed me to be here. Not because you're pretending me here. You're a part of everything like I am. I can't explain it too good, but you know this is real because you can feel it here," Tommy said as he placed his small hand gently onto Ward's chest.

The warmth from Tommy's touch radiated into Ward's heart as it coursed through his veins and arteries pumping a purity of love through him that he had never felt before. It fought against the effects of the Gravitonium in his system. He truly believed Tommy was endowing it to him to heal the scars left by years of guilt at not saving him.

"I know you feel bad about what happened to me, but don't feel bad anymore, okay? I'm safe here. "

Ward let Tommy's forgiveness convince him that his little brother was finally safe, that he didn't need his protection anymore, that Tommy knew Ward had done his best for him when they were both kids.

Ward continued to sob lightly. He had nothing left to construct his walls up again to stop his emotions. Tommy had taken them away so that he could see the truth of Tommy's reality. He rushed in to hold Tommy in a tight embrace, not one from desperation, but from the love that he had blamed himself for denying to his little brother throughout their turbulent childhood, fearing the retribution of expressing it. He felt no such fear in that moment.

"I love you, Tommy."

"I know you do. I love you too, Grant."

Ward kept holding his little brother, forever young and free from evil's touch. The relief was intoxicating.

"You have to go back," Tommy said, suddenly becoming concerned. "They need you."

Ward released him and gazed into his eyes.

"No, I can't. The Gravitonium. I have to stabilize it."

"You already have. You saved everyone," Tommy said with a grin.

Ward let regret slip into him again.

"I didn't save you."

"Yeh, you did, Grant. Just now. You can let me go now and save the world," Tommy said, his voice the sweet sound of a child filled with implicit confidence and forgiveness. Ward could feel his heart almost burst with both pride and love for his little brother, but it was still tempered by nagging doubt.

"I don't know if I can, Tommy," Ward said, "I'm scared to go back."

"Don't be scared. You have great buddies who love you too. Especially Skye. She's hurting bad, Grant. Only you can make her feel better again."

Ward was in shock at Tommy's familiarity with his present and Skye.

"You can feel the danger coming, right?" Tommy said, for the first time, his expression losing its boyish innocence.

Ward nodded, the true fear of going back revealed.

"I don't know if I can defeat him. I don't think I'm strong enough."

"You are, Grant. I know it. Your friends know it. Skye knows it. You're the only one who can. I'm here to tell you that because you need to know I'm safe so you can fight him."

Ward embraced his little brother again only this time with the gentleness and the sorrow that comes from saying goodbye for the last time.

"Go, Grant. Save the world for your friends, for Skye and for me too okay?"

Tommy slipped from Ward's embrace as he faded into the oblivion that was the conscience of the Gravitonium. Although Ward felt the loss deep into his soul, he was also filled with a peace he had never known. He wouldn't let the skepticism override what he had felt from Tommy. He didn't know how he knew, but he now believed it had been real, not a hallucination. Tommy's forgiveness had set him free from his guilt and had given him much needed confidence. Disbelieving it would diminish Tommy's spirit and Ward wouldn't do that.

He had to hope it would be enough to fight likely the greatest enemy he would ever face.


Dr. Franklin Hill emerged from the Gravitonium disoriented. When he looked around, he saw expectant faces, both familar and unfamiliar. What caught his eye was Skye's tear-stained face. He knew she was Ward's love. He walked up to her and at first, she retracted, her resentment involuntary. She knew it was uncalled for, but she couldn't help it. Hill was alive because Ward took his place. The reaction wasn't lost on Hill.

"You must be Skye," he said, his voice tinged with regret.

Skye couldn't say anything. All she wanted to do was run; run away from him, away from everything that would remind her that Ward was gone and probably dying slowly.

"He told me about you, how much he loves you."

"Please. Don't," she begged, her grief unbearably raw and raggedly stinging.

"He wanted me to tell you that he would always love you. I've never met a man with such courage."

Skye couldn't hold her emotions back anymore and ran out. Jemma followed close behind.

Hill turned to face Coulson.

"He spoke highly of you. He told me to absolve you of what you had done to me, but he didn't have to. I understood. You were protecting your team as well as the world. In the end, you did what I was trying to do without killing anyone else in the process."

Coulson was humbled and appreciated Hall's gesture.

"It wasn't an easy choice," Coulson admitted.

"Choices about saving the world usually are difficult. They should be. I hope you know that I had the best of intentions."

"I do," Coulson said with his expression changing into solemnity "Ward. Was he..."

Coulson couldn't bring himself to accept that Ward was gone and unreachable to them, but he needed to know how Hill left him. He hoped that seeing Hill standing, unharmed would mean that Ward would survive it too.

"He was resolute. I admired his courage."

Coulson nodded. "We all do."

He was willing himself not to use the past tense.

"We hope to find a way to stabilize the Gravitonium and pull him out. If you survived, I know there's a chance he will. Can you help us?"

This time Hill nodded.

Suddenly, they heard a noise from within the Gravitonium. They both turned, along with Fitz. All the men were worried that perhaps Ward's sacrifice had been for naught, that maybe it wouldn't be enough to stop it from exploding. They watched transfixed, feeling helpless to do anything other than just stand there waiting for what would transpire next.

The mass continued to swirl and undulate when Coulson began to notice what looked to him like a hand and arm reaching through as if seeking something to hold on to. It didn't take long for Coulson to react and reached back. He plunged his hand into the metallic goo and though he felt the energy and heat singe the hairs on his arm, the burning sensation was tolerable so he tightened his grip on what he instinctively knew was Ward's hand and arm.

Hill and Fitz saw what he was doing and joined their own hands and arms into the element, grabbing onto the arm and hand trying to break through. As they pulled, more of the figure emerged through and finally, the arm and hand they had in their collective grips broke through. They pulled harder and harder until the suction-like hold of the Gravitorium released and Ward came tumbling out with the momentum.

All four of the men had been splayed onto the floor, breathing hard, but the relief was also palpable. Coulson was the first to get up to check on Ward. Ward turned as his breathing settled. He then sat up along with Hill and Fitz.

Ward gazed at the men who had risked injury to pull him out of the Gravitorium and his gratitude was heartfelt.

"Thanks," Ward said with due humility.

The others just nodded.

"Is the Gravitorium stable?" Hill asked.

"Yes, it is. I don't know how I know, but it's safe now. I...uh...I also connected with the Universe that Garrett talked about and there's a threat coming..."

Coulson felt a cold shiver hit his spine.

"What kind of threat?"

"Another Deathlok," Ward said.

Coulson detected a tone in Ward's declaration that revealed to him there was more to his words than just a simple statement that there was another mechanized man awaiting resurrection.

"What? Mike was -"

"Not Mike," Ward said. "Remember those files at Cybertek when you learned Garrett was the first Deathlok?"

Coulson stiffened.

"Well, there was another version before Mike."

"What version is that, then?" Fitz piped in, his scientific curiosity overriding his innate suspicion and fear.

Ward stalled. It was a discovery shared with him by not only being in the Gravitorium, experiencing and becoming one with a universal conscience, but also from his reunion with his little brother, Tommy. It was the Universe communicating it to Ward from a messenger who could absolve him of his guilt in order to make him stronger to face this particular enemy.

"Ward?" Coulson coaxed him.

"It's my brother."

TBC. Thanks for reading. Hope you're enjoying the read. More to come.