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Defining Moment (Part 5)
Defining Moment

Disclaimer: I don't own Marvel Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D

"He's here," Ward said.

Chapter 5

"He's here," Ward said.

Skye comforted Ward until the pain eased and he was able to relax, if only a little. She helped him back up to a standing position, where he then leaned against the lab table for balance, still feeling weak from the pain.

“What you do mean he’s here?” Coulson asked.

Ward took a cleansing breath and worked through recovering from the dissipating pain.

“There’s no more time left. Not for me to prepare against him. I know what I have to do. I have to get the Berserker staff. It will give me the strength and power I need by tapping back into the darkness of hate I felt against Maynard. It’ll have to be enough.”

May, her expression one of concern because she had experienced the full force of all three pieces of the staff connected together, piped in.

“You can’t be serious, Ward. It’s too much. You had just two of them and it almost killed you.”

Ward smiled.

“You had all three and it didn’t kill you,” he proclaimed.

If May could have blushed, she would have because Ward was giving her way more credit than she felt she deserved. Her damaged psyche and soul was just as tenuous as Ward’s if not more so.

“Then let me take it and help you,” she offered.

It was the same offer she had made the first time; it was now more about wanting to be a part of defeating another common enemy with someone, who for better and for worse, she understood all too well.

“I appreciate that, May, but I can’t let you fight this battle; it solely belongs to me. I can’t let anyone else die fighting it.”

“That’s not your call to make alone, Ward. You’re part of a team and we all belong to every battle whether it’s an enemy against the world or against one of our own. In this case, it’s both,” Coulson stated with the authority of a leader.

Ward was heartened by Coulson’s supportive words.

“I appreciate that, sir and with all due respect to all of you, it’s not about refusing everyone’s help. It’s not even about being the whole solution...not anymore,” Ward said as he stole a glance towards Skye, as he owed his newfound understanding of sharing one percent of a solution to her. “It’s not even arrogance. This is about my brother. I haven’t seen him since I was a kid, but I know him better than anyone and I just can’t risk any of you getting hurt or worse by him. The best thing that you can do for me is to cover my back as you always have, but at a distance. If I can’t defeat him, I’ll need all of you, the world will need you. Your combined efforts will defeat him.”

“But the madness, the rage the staff brings out, it could damage you permanently,” May pointed out, her concern genuine.

“I know and if I’m worried about anything, it’s that madness. Randolph told me that the effects linger for decades and I know that if it tapped into the hate that I had felt in my past, it just might magnify it when I’m face-to-face with the source of that hate. I could lose control completely, but I have to risk it. All the more reason for all of you to keep your distance. I barely had control over it before, but it’s the best weapon we have. At least it will give me some of the super human strength I’ll need to fight off my brother.”

Mike Peterson straightened. Hearing Ward’s words, he looked over at his left arm; at the last piece of arsenal that Garrett had given him; the one he had used against Ward. He flipped open a lid at the top of it, revealing lights and switches beneath.

“At least let one Deathlok give you a fighting chance against another,” he said as he pressed some lighted buttons.

Everyone watched in awe as the device released itself from Mike’s arm, severing muscles, tendons, and nerves, damaging everything it had attached to in its wake. Mike groaned and hissed as he awaited it to fully detach. Once it did, he handed it to Ward with his right arm as his left one dangled limply at his side.

“Mike, I don’t know what to say I-” Ward said in awe and admiration.

“Don’t say anything. Just take it. You know what it can do. Use it. I won’t need it anymore. I can help in other ways.”

Ward nodded in gratitude and without hesitation placed it on his own left arm. Everyone watched it grab onto him like a parasitic creature, attaching to it like it had on Mike, becoming one with sinew and bone. He groaned and hissed with pain as well, but it was done in seconds.

Skye wanted to protest, but it wouldn’t have done any good. She had to accept that Ward would refuse such protestations. He was gearing up for the battle of his life and, though it frightened her to her core, she knew that Ward wouldn’t change his mind about facing his brother alone, not even for her.

“I’ll get the staff,” May said, respect in her voice.

Ward nodded in gratitude. He had regretted that he had used May for sexual release and though he had no control, he also regretted that Lorelei had callously revealed to her that his heart had belonged to Skye. Even he hadn't been completely convinced that his feelings for Skye were real when he had begun to see her as more than just simply as a friend or a trainee. He had always denied his feelings; had never trusted them because expressing them had betrayed him too many times. It was probably why Garrett’s mantra about emotions being weaknesses had been such an attractive rationale. Still, the fact that Lorelei had felt that from him said volumes about how much he loved Skye and how much it had grown since. He also felt that he had been unfaithful to both May and Skye in more ways than one.

Ward then gently put a hand on May’s arm to stop her from leaving.

“I’m sorry for all I’ve done and how I’ve hurt you. You have every right to think the worst of me, but I want you to know that you’re better than you give yourself credit for. Whatever happened in the past, truth or legend, you’re more than that. I know I don’t need to say it because I know you’d do it instinctually, but promise me that if anything happens to me, you’ll get everyone to safety first, protect them first. Then kill my brother with everything you have in you.”

May was moved by Ward’s compassion towards her, but even more important to her was his implicit trust of her ability to protect the others. It was not why she had joined the team, but if she were to be honest, those initial reasons were all just excuses. Yes, she was tasked by Fury to watch over Coulson, but reluctantly, her steely impartiality had been easily broken as she bonded, however distantly at first, to everyone on the team. Though Ward had been just another distraction, an escape from her own failures, her own ghosts, watching him face his greatest fear head on gave her courage that she could do that too when the time was right.

“I don’t think the worst of you, Ward. You know that I’m hardly in the position to judge you. My darkness is still always with me. From the sounds of it, you were able to purge yours.”

“No. I haven’t. I haven’t even come close to that. Don’t elevate me above your own pain. My darkness is still with me too. It will always be with me, but it’s all about choices. I understand that now. I made terrible decisions because I was trying to escape my darkness. I told Coulson that I tried to never recall my past, to keep it and me on lockdown. I know now that it takes more courage to live with the pain and darkness like you have, to face it every single day. I’ve been a coward all my life. You’re a warrior, May, the best kind of warrior. You channel your pain to do the right things. I learned that from you and I can only hope that I can do that as effectively as you have to defeat my brother.”

May found her eyes welling with tears from Ward’s words. She had also been stoic and hard when it came to emotions, but Ward’s sincere declarations about her had cut through her stone facade and for the first time, she felt as if she, too, could make peace with her past, not just co-exist with it.

“You were always a good man, Ward. You just needed something to fight for. We both did,” May said as she gave him a small smile. “Now we both do. And of course, I’ll protect the others, but I’m counting on you to make it through this. For Skye.”

May then left to retrieve the staff. Ward was touched by her acceptance and understanding of his affections towards Skye. It was a kind of approval given their past together and if he did survive, it would be good to know that they could work together without emotional barriers.

Antoine Triplett had stepped into the shadows after not only learning of Garrett’s duplicity, but realizing that Ward, too, had been compromised. His trust was not so easily regained. He had taken Garrett’s betrayal hard, disbelieving that he could have misjudged the man he had worked with so closely. He had believed in the cause of defeating Hydra and had grown to believe in the people who had seemed to be the only ones left who could be trusted to conquer the threat, except, that is, for Grant Ward.

It’s not like they were buddies. They had just met when he and Garrett had come on board to join forces with Coulson’s team in the hopes of capturing Deathlok and the Clairvoyant. They had even come to blows to gain custody of Mike Peterson. It was ironic that Peterson was among them now, fighting on their side, but Trip couldn’t join in on everyone’s support of Ward’s “transformation”. He had done his research on Ward, even teased him about his familial origins, but he had no clue of the extent of the dysfunction of Ward’s childhood and that one of the barriers to restoring S.H.I.E.L.D was Ward’s brother.

Trip also had to admit that he was being hypocritical. He had so much as declared to Ward to not stand in his way, as he was going to kill the Clairvoyant himself for killing his partner. Finding out that Garrett had been at the heart of everything; that he had been responsible, in some way, for his partner’s death; that Trip had worked with his friend’s murderer just made things more difficult for him to comprehend.

The shock of the betrayal was hard to shake off despite his own hypocrisy.

Ward noticed and walked over to him as the others began to work on strategies to fight off his brother. He needed to alleviate Trip’s confusion and anxiety over who and what to believe in. He wanted him on the team, knowing that he would be an important asset.

“I’m sorry for what Garrett did. You deserved a better commander than he was.”

Trip nodded, but said nothing.

“Look, I want you to know that just like the others, you can walk away from this. No one will hold you to staying, but if you do decide to fight and I hope you do, do it for them,” Grant said as he tipped his head in their direction for emphasis. “They need someone as principled as you. May will need back up. Even though she doesn’t think she needs it and to be honest, she doesn’t act like she needs it, all of them need someone to protect them, including her.”

Trip softened his stance as he listened to Ward plead his team’s case.

“Was it all a lie to you? Just another mission?” He asked, a touch of bitterness in his voice.

Ward took in a breath. Trip’s inquiry and doubt was valid. Ward understood that Trip needed to know that his betrayal hadn’t tainted the rest of them. Trust in combat was the very essence of determining whether people survived or not. Ward also knew that he wouldn’t lie to Trip. He deserved the truth like everyone else. That meant not painting a picture of heroism when it had all been derived from deceit; no matter how life threatening his actions had been and no matter how meaningful the acts became later on for him.

“At first, yes. It was just all about the mission...” Ward said as he paused to remember his first encounter with everyone. ”Then I met these people.”

His tone of voice was coated with sincere sentimentality then he laughed.

“And we couldn’t stop disagreeing about everything. We were all defensive about what we could bring to the table. We were like oil and water…” he paused again his smile mellowing, his expression transforming into pride. ”But then we had to fight as a team to take down a common enemy and it was like we had worked together for years. It wasn't about the differences we didn’t share or couldn't understand anymore, but it was how those differences, the skills that we had, could contribute to a solution. Coulson knew that we could do it. He had the faith that we lacked.”

Trip listened with growing respect. He didn’t detect any insincerity or of any feigned cover story in Ward’s words or his posture.

“I told Garrett that I wasn’t the guy for the job; that I wouldn’t be able to pull off working with a team, but he gave me no choice. Like he’s done all my life,” Ward said, disdain in his voice at that moment. “I’m not proud about the fact that I never questioned Garrett’s orders. I practically begged him to give me orders, but all the bad choices I made, they're on me and only me. I can't blame Garrett for them."

Trip was surprised at how easy it was to not only believe Ward’s sincerity, but to reserve any further judgment of him as he continued to hear him out.

“Nothing Garrett told me had prepared me for meeting the committed and idealistic people who make up this team. He gave me all the intel, hell, he and Coulson fought side-by-side together so he’d given me intimate knowledge of Coulson’s command style and there was honest respect in Garrett’s voice. The only time I ever heard that in his voice. So when I served with Coulson, expecting to find a chink in his own idealistic armor, I couldn’t find any. He was exactly as Garrett had told me he was and instead of feeling that my mission was on point, the more time I spent with Coulson the more I began to doubt what Garrett had wanted me to accomplish. I wasn’t in this for Hydra. I was just following orders, like I said, but everything I experienced with each member of this team made me question who I was, whose orders I should be following…”

Ward looked over at Skye as she worked with Fitz and Simmons to prepare for the confrontation ahead. His body relaxed just gazing at her.

“And then there’s Skye...She saw the world so drastically different than I did. She believed that everyone working together towards achieving a common goal was beautiful. Pieces solving a puzzle…” he said, dreamily recalling her words. “She believed in humanity; Mike’s humanity. My humanity. My only regret in all this is that I didn’t let that belief, all of their convictions toward good conquering evil, take hold. Instead, I stayed with a maniac who became more villain than a commander...and I became evil myself."

Ward paused again. His expression fell; his posture along with his shoulders curled ever so slightly inward; his eyes clouded and filled with tears as he recalled his past and everything he had done; everyone he had killed.

"No, no...I was already evil. I can’t blame Garrett for that either. He just took something that he knew was already in me and just cultivated it."

Trip stiffened with Ward's confession. He actually felt like he should protest Ward's conclusion, but didn’t when he detected Ward giving him a look; an expression that said that he wouldn’t accept any defense of his actions, that nothing he could say would convince or justify what Ward had done.

It hadn’t been about advancing the Hydra ideal for Ward. It had been about a need for acceptance and a misplaced loyalty to a man he had believed had rescued him from a violent family life only to turn him, he now realized, into a cold-blooded killer.

It only made his choices all the more pathetic and heinous; following a maniac because he hadn’t had the will or common sense to think for himself or doing things in the name of an organization he didn’t believe in, so in need of acceptance and so locked into a misguided loyalty.

"Garrett saved me from an abusive family life...and I actually believed I owed him unconditional and unquestioned loyalty for that," Ward said derisively. "Working with these people, watching Coulson's true conviction showed me how wrong my alliance was, but it was all too late. Facing my brother is the right last act to make everything up to them even though I know it doesn't even come close to being enough."

Ward's soft declaration wasn't lost on Trip and his respect only grew.

Skye had been right. In the end, Hydra had its roots with the Nazis. Ward was a lot of things, but he wasn’t a believer in that, still, doing what he did to further it via a madman didn’t absolve him.

“Trip, Coulson’s team, they are the real deal. They believe in the ideal that S.H.I.E.L.D stood for and will stand for again because of them. They need help from people like you; people they can trust to rebuild it back, people who won't betray the cause or them."

Trip listened and his doubts about joining the team were dissipating and Ward sensed the tension leave his body.

“When you researched my family, there was a lot omitted from all the PR. My family is made up of sociopaths. My brother is a psychopath. There is nothing about them to aspire towards. I’m proof of that. Your partner? Dan Monroe? The one you wanted to avenge? He was the type of man who deserves to be avenged and I’ll do my best to exact that for you.”

Trip was moved by Ward acknowledging that conversation they had shared. Could Trip really fault Ward for his actions given his own need for revenge? Ward had killed the Clairvoyant, the very person Trip had sworn to kill and who he had believed was the killer of his partner. Instead, it had been Garrett who had been behind it all along and now he was dead. All that was left was to defeat another Deathlok and rebuild S.H.I.E.L.D. He would have no problem in doing that with these people and now with Grant Ward as well.

"All I ask is that you protect these people for me," Ward continued.

Trip extended his hand to Ward, he took it gladly and shook it with gratitude.

“I’ll be proud to be a part of this team,” Trip said. “Your team.”

Ward nodded in appreciation as he gave him another firm grip of assurance and reaffirmation.

“No, they’re your team now.”

May appeared with the staff in hand; the others were behind her, knowing that once Ward took it, he would be irrevocably recruited to the battle against his brother. She was remarkably calm, accepting the dark energy in the staff. Ward continued to be impressed by the power she wielded in her mind, body and spirit.

Ward, for what he felt would likely be the last time, faced all of his friends and supporters, his expression a mix of gratitude and determination.

“Before I face my brother, I need to tell you that it has been an honor and a privilege to be a part of this team; to work with you, to protect you...to learn from you…” Ward said, his throat catching as his gaze fell on both Coulson and Skye with those words and the ones to follow. “Most of all to be forgiven by you.”

Ward felt the strain of pain creep into his body and the unwelcome intrusion of his brother’s voice in his head.

“Come and get me, Grant. Let’s see if Garrett’s hardened you or if you are still the mewling, bleeding heart coward you were as a kid.”

Ward pushed the pain back, realizing that if he buckled under it, his brother would know. More importantly, the others would know. He had revealed too much of his vulnerabilities against Maynard. He couldn’t let them see any more breaks in his concentration.

“I want you to know that whatever happens to me today, I’m at peace with it and all I ask of you is that none of you place yourself in harm’s way for me. I meant it when I said that nothing would be worse for me than to know that any of you were lost because of me, because of my brother's actions against me. I want you to fight for a greater good, each be one percent of a worthy cause and solution," he said, taking another glance toward Skye. "S.H.I.E.L.D has to rise up again with all of you leading the way. I can’t think of a better reason to live (and die -- he thought to himself) than to be the first soldier in that line of defense.”

Skye ran into Ward’s arms and held him tightly against her. He felt her sobs and tried to soothe by enveloping her with his arms, rubbing her back and shoulders, resting his head against hers, as he felt her tears on his chest.

“Grant, I know I can’t change your mind because you’ve always had that annoying hero-streak in you, but you have to promise me that you won’t just give in without a fight and I don’t mean for just the cause or for the team, I mean for us. I want you to believe that there’s a future waiting for you, a future with me, okay?”

Ward pulled away from Skye, cupped her face and looked into her eyes; to see into her soul hoping that she would see into his, open as it has never been to anyone; begging to become one with hers so that he could protect her forever, but also so that he could carry her soul-saving voice and grace in his mind and spirit when he fought his brother.

“I have everything to live for right in front me. A future with you. I promise you that’s exactly what I’ll be fighting for. I’m a survivor, remember? You are my will to live."

Skye smiled even though it trembled to stay solid on her face. He then drew her in, finding no resistance from her as she practically rushed in to meet his lips. When they touched, there was more than just passion there, there was life-sustaining hope. Grant had to reluctantly break away because the longer he lingered, the greater the risk that his brother would enter the sphere of his friends and he couldn't let that happen. He had to maintain as much distance between him and the bus. It was bad enough that his brother was on the same ground as they were. He stole another fleeting gaze into her eyes; smiling with the joy of the love that he felt for her and that he saw in them for him; a love he thought was lost to him because of his cruel actions, regained again by Skye's forgiveness and an emotion that he thought he was incapable of feeling. It filled him with strength. It was not a weakness. It had never been a weakness.

“I love you. You are my one, true constant in a world of chaos and pain. Never forget that.”

Fresh tears filled her eyes and cascaded down her cheeks, leaving a glittering trail. Ward was so moved that he kissed each cheek before he wiped them away. Skye sighed with his generosity.

“I love you too, so much. Don’t doubt that. Ever," she said, her voice choked with emotion that her words came out in a squeak.

"I have never doubted you," Ward said as he stroked Skye’s cheek one last time and smiled.

He then walked over to May. He nodded, no words were needed as he grasped the staff. At first May resisted and held on, the exchange of emotions and images bonded them both for a quick moment, but with one gentle jerk, Ward took possession and had it fully in his right hand. The power was still immense as it quickly engulfed him. Unlike before where it dredged up the darkest memory of his childhood; the very first time that he had felt hate; he saw something completely unexpected. It was his brother as a teenager, a gloating smile on his face.

“You should have listened to me, Grant. Now it’s your turn to die.”

The image then disappeared. The roar of rage began coursing through his veins and his arteries, quickly pouring in this heart, making it beat rapidly. He knew he had only a few minutes of coherency left to him so he turned and rushed out of the bus, never slowing or stopping to look back even though he wanted to badly. The warmth and love that was behind him was being overcome by the hate and determination to finally make the root cause of his anger and his rage pay for turning him into the monster he knew he was.

All the others could do was watch him disappear into the inky darkness of the night.

Coulson then confronted May.

"Is it done?"

She nodded.

"The GPS tracker is on the staff."

Coulson turned to Fitz.

"Will it work?"

"I've shielded it-"

"Pun intended?" Coulson teased to try to ease the anxiety they were all feeling.

Fitz looked at him quizzically, at first, missing the joke. When it slowly dawned, he nervously smiled.

"Oh, oh, yes, I mean, no, not intended, but yes, very amusing," Fitz prattled.

"I'm sorry, Fitz. Finish what you were saying."

"Yes, as I was saying, it's being protected from the energy that the staff generates once it bonds with the host. It should hold up until we catch up to Ward."

“All right, everyone. Time to mobilize. We have a war to wage,” Coulson said, his determination absolute.

Skye gave Coulson a look of gratitude, wiped her tears and fixed her sights on doing her part to save Ward. He couldn't die now that he had something to fight for, to live for. They both did.

TBC - Thanks for reading. Hope you're enjoying it. More to come!