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Imagining the world outside does not exist

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The battle was unequal: with a bullet in the shoulder, a shot in the arm, blood spilling everywhere, hands tied, several days sleep deprived and tired, tired of a life of troubles, he fought more out of habit than for real conviction... 

It was all so strange... he was almost detached from what was happening. And almost amused by the irony of the situation: the last time he was involved in a reckoning hand to hand fight, it was against this man’s most loyal warrior.

Melinda May…

The ice queen…

He slept with her and, at that time, undercover or not, he couldn’t deny he enjoyed it: her body was strong, agile, tonic, flexible… and soft… The sensation he had touching her was of velvet-covered steel.

He was slowly falling for her; otherwise, he wouldn’t have felt that burning embarrassment when he discovered Coulson knew; nor would he have had any problem in saying the word “sex” to him; nor would he have felt sheer jealousy when he found the two of them so intimate, after Russo tortured her. He snapped, that time: he couldn’t avoid it. And it wasn’t to keep straight his parsonage: it was real.

Like Garrett usually said, he had always been a tender heart.

When May broke definitively up after Lorelei, he was unable to elaborate on that.

Lorelei called her “the beautiful warrior with the heart of ice”… but he hadn’t yet understood if May was only extremely well trained in hiding her feelings or if it was really correct to define her an “ice queen”… At the time it was beyond his comprehension how she could be so “next level”, how she could manage to be so cold and unaffected, so detached from anyone and anything… even from himself, who for sure warmed her a lot, who so many times made her lose control, taking away her breath, making her moan and whine and whimper… and scream!

It seemed to him she cared only about her orders.

When Coulson needed information about Tahiti and when Skye’s life was in peril and Coulson desperately needed to talk to Fury, May didn’t do anything to help him get in touch with the Director. She would have had Coulson go mad and Skye die, rather than disobey Fury’s orders or blowing her cover.

But, during the fight, he was awestruck by her sheer determination, by her red-hot anger, by how much it all seemed personal… It wasn’t normal…

It was different from the time she beat up Ian Quinn… strangely different…

“If what Lorelei said was true… you were more honest with her than you are with yourself.”

May said that to him so many months ago…

And then it clicked!

May had been in love with him, otherwise she wouldn’t have broken up after Lorelei!

If their relationship was really merely physical, she would have put a lid on the past and would have continued it!

Instead it was not only sex.

At the beginning he appealed her because he was so damaged, but then, during their nights together, she had fallen for him exactly like he almost did for her. After Lorelei, May broke up with him, because she discovered that he desired Skye, instead!

“Oh, he told me who he desired before me. But, my dear… it wasn’t you”

 

And there, at Cybertech, she had been able to totally exploit the power of her feelings, further fuelled by his double betrayal.

 

He was so shocked by this discovery that he even dared to provoke her: “You said our thing was no strings attached. Looks to me like the ice queen had her feelings hurt”.

At that, she became furious, because now he knew her secret: he managed to penetrate her soul, too.

On the other hand, the realization made him internally softer, less determined, even if the battle was hard and the adrenaline was pumping furiously in him…

He was almost flattered that the great Cavalry fell for him!

And amused!

That made three out of three: all the female components of Coulson’s team have been in love with him.

Of course he knew that: one of the basic skills in being a spy was to understand clearly others’ feelings.

So he continued teasing her: “Reminds me of the old days…”

When the battle was turning in his favour, the Cavalry lying on the floor, he was considering how to make her pass out without harming her too much, like on that train in Italy, when he chose to punch the blond in the guts instead of in the face. But his indecision was fatal: she exploited it and nailed him on the ground, broke his larynx and knocked him down.

During that fight with May he had the same sensation of the present moment, on this God forsaken planet: he wasn’t fighting with whole conviction. His heart wasn’t there. 

And now it was even worse than then: now his heart was fighting against him!

Instead, that time at the Hub, when he had to fight to save HER against a sea of soldiers allowed to use lethal force… that time had been a completely different story! There he really battled with all his might, throwing his heart beyond the pain, beyond the beats, beyond the impossibility of victory! 

For her…

He would have willingly given his life to save hers. 

And he would have welcomed death, too...

He felt he deserved it, because for the first time he killed an innocent man, Thomas Nash, in cold blood, out of his own free will and disobeying precise orders.

While Ward was undercover, he and Garrett couldn’t exactly chat in the open, and even Garrett’s secrets had secrets. So yeah, Garrett kept him in the dark, making him believe that Thomas Nash was the real Clairvoyant! Ward really believed Nash to be the instigator of Skye’s murder, and couldn’t bear to do nothing when he heard those terrible words: “A force beyond your comprehension is coming for her. She has something we want. And she will die giving it to us.

His shot finished Nash’s miserable life.

Ward killed him because he felt too much.

He couldn’t keep his emotions in check… these were too strong to be kept at bay.

 

At that time Ward’s hands weren’t so blood stained: like he said to Skye during the truth-serum interrogation (yes, it was a real and functioning Shield truth-serum!), when she asked if he ever killed anyone, he answered the truth:

“Yes, a few.

High-risk targets.

But they were terrible people… who were trying to murder nice people.

And I didn’t feel good afterwards.”

 

Nevertheless, in that closet he desired death, and not only for the guilt he felt.

He wanted to avoid facing everything else that soon would arise: the betrayal, the shame, all the murders that he knew were unavoidable, and her stare, her judgment and, for sure, her condemnation.

He would soon lose her, and the team, forever, and the thought was unbearable.

They, in a few months, had transformed from a bunch of extraneous to the thing nearest to a real family he ever experienced.

And Skye…

 

He knew that: if Skye treated that way Miles, without an ounce of mercy or understanding (she didn’t care that the guy was in love with her and did everything to give her a better future), then what would she do with him?

She was bound to hate him… a lot. Forever.

And he didn’t want that!

He wanted her to see him as a hero!

He wanted her to look at him with the same relief and pride she had when he rescued her in Malta from Ian Quinn’s bodyguards, with the same fondness she had that night in Dublin, when he had to tear his soul apart to dismiss her and walk away! Oh, how strong were his feelings then! How powerful was the need to embrace her, and kiss the breath out of her, and loose himself in her, and spill all his fears and secrets and weaknesses … stripping his soul naked (and not only that) in front of her! 

But then his training… came in and he shut down…

There was only one other time he felt so strongly the need to talk, to confess everything: when he saw her in that cellar, in Italy, covered in blood with two in the gut, dying. The all-consuming rage and the disturbing suspect gnawing in the pit of his stomach that Garrett could be behind all that threatened to break the banks then, to make him betray HIM... oh, he was only inches apart from spilling everything to Coulson…

But then again his training (…brainwashing…) came in handy: numbness overwhelmed him, everything went blank and he felt nothing, nothing anymore…

That same numbness wrapped his mind when he was forced to kill Victoria Hand and her soldiers to save HIM…

 

He OWED him; he owed him everything, everything he was and everything he had! He HAD to do everything he did! How was possible that nobody could understand that???

John saved him from hell, from himself, from the Beast within himself, believed in him when nobody ever did, made him feel worthy, wanted, important, proud, capable of earning his place in life, capable to become THE BEST; he forged him through fire and pain, he made him become a man…

Himself, piece of shit kid, worthless, pathetic, weak, useless, unnecessary, unwanted, born by mistake not out of an act of love, but to fulfil the lust of a drunken, angry man who used to rape his wife!

He was born from two parents that hated one another with special passion: what better beginning, for a criminal?

 

The truth was that he loved John, like a child loves his strong and powerful father; like a soldier looks to his commander, with respect, esteem, trust, confidence, awe…

 

The truth was that he was trapped: he was caught between the anvil and the hammer.

 

So death was an easy escape route, really! Simply go out of the closet, fake a fight, and let all those soldiers beat the crap out of him… kill him.

"And if I die... maybe I deserve to..."

And death would follow, finally, to put an end to everything… to set him free…

 

How would that feel?

Silence, oblivion, and darkness... nothingness… no more being torn between two different needs, between two different persons pulling him in opposite directions.

 

The idea was dangerously attractive. 

 

It was the whole solution.

 

And then... SHE HAD TO KISS HIM!

He was nursing peacefully his last instants, welcoming the idea of death… and SHE KISSED HIM, pushing life back with force inside of him, out of the blue, unexpectedly!

And he wanted to LIVE, then!

He felt such a surge of self-preserving instinct he felt invincible.

And he became invincible!

 

 

Again… why the hell was he here, on this God forsaken planet?

 

Malick’s words resounded in his skull: “I want you to lead our men on the other side. … You are the only one that CAN do this! And if you cross over to the other side, you will finally see that your faith in Hydra was never misplaced. It’s real! You will look IT in the eye…”

“And then?”

“And then? We’ll be able to do whatever the hell we want!”

 

Skye’s face popped in his mind.

 

He still desired her above anything else. And he unconsciously knew, from the first time he saw her on that van, that she would be the death of him… so beautiful, so fierce, with that heavenly smile, that voice, that mischievous glint in her eyes…

 

And a fathom of hope made him take the worst decision of his life.

 

- I came here because of you, Skye. I knew that I went too far, that nothing was anymore possible between us… because of me, because of my awful actions.

I wanted you, Skye.

You are the only one I ever wanted.

I wanted you back, I wanted back my rookie, my girl, whole, with all her problems, and pains, and fears, and solitude, and beauty, and grace, and love, and innocence, and goodness, and purity, and… childlike wonderment!

 

And my greatest regret is that I contributed in ruining you, more than anyone else, more than Coulson, more than May...

 

But I hoped that coming here, with the help of that creature… maybe I could make everything right again.

 

This is the reason I’m here: not for vengeance, not for revenge, not for power, not for control...

For you.

 

But you know what they say:

“The Devil promises one hundred, but gives one.

And at the end, as a payback, it eats your soul.” -

Chapter Text

 

“How many people???”

And he felt a kick square on his face.

“All the lives you have taken...”

And then a punch knocked him down.

“It’s over, Ward.”

 

- Now the man that loves you like a daughter is crushing me like a bug.

All I see is his face, and that look in his eyes…

Oh, I recognize that turmoil! I saw it so many times, watching myself in the mirror.

And I pity him, because I know how it feels like, to want to kill someone driven by nothing more than hatred! 

He hates me, so he kills me: as simple as that.

He wants to drain my life with his own hands.

He wants to feel life go out inside of me.

 

He knows that he will be haunted by this act for the rest of his life, but nevertheless he wants to do this, with all his might.

 

Hate can be a great motivation. 

 

I hated him in the same way.

I considered him responsible for transforming you in a murderer, Skye.

I considered him responsible for Kara’s death: May, his loyal warrior, framed us and I killed Kara by mistake.

I always thought May reputed herself unworthy of happiness… now I believe she’s right…

On the other hand, only now I understand that Kara didn’t want closure: she neither wanted Bobbi to apologize to her, nor wanted her tortured. She tried to resist me. She wanted only to rebuild a normal life, with me. I pushed her, out of my own convictions. I dragged her along my own downward spiral.

She deserved better.

She deserved better than me. -

- It’s strange.

I don’t hate Coulson, or May, anymore. Even given the possibility, I would leave them be, without harming them.

It’s like the homicide Beast that spurred me continuously during all my life, and especially this last year, is placated. -

- I’m starting to think... maybe it is better this way: I deserve all of this.

I have been doomed, condemned from the first minute of my life, when the hands that should have been caring and caressing were instead cold and distant and hurting. When instead of love I received indifference, like I was a piece of furniture.

Oh, I tried so hard to make them love me, to make them notice me, but instead I received violence and beatings and torture… indifference... and abandon.

I loved them, but evidently I was not good enough.

I was not a good fit.

Like you, Skye, thought about yourself.

Have you any idea how deeply I understood you, when you told me about the Broody? About the time you called her “Mum”, and then they rejected you? And threw you away? And abandoned you?

I felt so strongly the need to hug you, that time, and warm you with my body, to tear my chest apart and make you enter in it... But the world outside existed and I had to push away all these weaknesses that were starting to compromise my judgment and my detachment… 

Do you have any idea how hard it was??? To be torn between love for a father and love for a family, love for you?

Loyalty won, over everything else, but this doesn’t mean it didn’t hurt like hell.

Coulson loves you like a daughter, and I think he didn’t give me a second chance because he knew how I felt about you...

... and how you felt about me…

He knew I wasn’t a good fit for you and he felt instinctively repulsion for me. 

He knew there’s really something very wrong about me… and didn’t want me to ruin you.

But, let’s be honest: what did he to you during these two years, if not ruining you? He transformed you in a soldier, in an agent, in a killer, in a weapon; he did to you what Garrett did to me… but, in his haughtiness, he thinks he did good, giving in return the family you always wanted.

 

Coulson was unconsciously worried of the damage I could inflict on you if I was allowed too near... that I could wake up the darkness inside of you. 

Because I saw it, that darkness in you, beneath the surface, sneaking around unnoticed by everyone but me. 

Any person that grew like we did and survived has it: it’s something that helps you resist against everything, it’s some dark being living inside of you that doesn’t want to be destroyed and so pushes you to fight and fight and fight against anyone and anything menacing your and its survival!

 

But it’s strange: I feel it dying inside of me.

 

Maybe because I am dying, too?

 

I don’t want to fight anymore. I’m done with war and blood and hate and vengeance.

And yeah, Coulson, go on… crush me like a bug, so I will not reach and ruin her!

 

People like me must be killed to kill the monster they have inside.

 

Thank you, Coulson, for freeing me from this burden…

Thank you for freeing me from myself, from my darkness… finally… -

 

And, when Coulson put on him his artificial hand, he felt a strange vibration crossing his chest, like a shockwave, then something like a heavy pound squeezing him, like an elephant on his chest.

That hand had to be robotic or cybernetic… good work, Fitz!

He instinctively tried to resist it, but in vain. The crushing noise reached his ears while a stabbing pain in his lungs was making breathing almost impossible…

His heart was pierced, too, holed, and a warm sensation spread in his chest, like of hot blood dispersing in it.

He couldn’t scream.

He couldn’t speak.

He couldn’t breath.

His brain became numb, he couldn’t think anymore…

He was only feeling that familiar sense of suffocation he felt so many times when his parents or Christian tortured him with drowning, when his lungs filled with water…

Maybe Kara felt the same…

 

It was different from the other time, when Deathlock stopped his heart: there it happened so suddenly he felt like the time froze, and then all went dark...

Then everything got back to life…

 

But that time she was present. And she saved him.

 

Now she is far away, on Earth, fainting on the other side of the portal, like she is feeling what’s happening…

 

Now she cannot save him.

 

Now… now he feels it’s the end.

 

 

Chapter Text

Now, seriously, he would never have expected something like this!

Someone was kidding him!

He couldn’t believe to his eyes!

It couldn’t be possible!

 

He was standing beside his own body, looking at it, from outside!

 

He saw his own handsome face, with a surprisingly serene expression… his half open eyes looking into the void… his designed lips slightly parted… his tied beautiful hands resting on his belly, unmoving… his long legs, relaxed on the ground… his wide chest, motionless… his broad shoulders slightly curved… his own body laying down in that bluish light. That body… it felt strangely three-dimensional…

And then he saw Coulson running towards Fitz, and both sprinting to the portal and jumping in it…

while he remained there…

on the sand of a distant planet…

on an alien world…

far, far away from Earth…

from home…

 

And in that unbearable solitude, in that unnatural silence, he felt lonely, abandoned by everyone and everything…

 

He was alone.

 

 

He didn’t want to be alone.

The longing, the nostalgia of contact with another human being, of another face to look at, another hand to hold, another voice, another pair of eyes looking into his own pierced in his heart more than his broken ribs… more than during those five years in the woods… more than during the forced isolation all those months in Shield captivity…

 

He was alone, completely, utterly alone in the middle of the Universe…

 

And he felt desperation clawing his soul.

 

But after a few moments he saw an otherworldly light coming from the sky, like sun’s rays peeking from a cloud.

It was strange, because, on that forsaken planet, the sun never showed up…

And he walked towards it, feeling the unconnected roughness of the terrain under his feet, the warmth of the desert wind on his face, but most than that a pull towards that light, like it was calling for him. And at the end he ran and threw himself into the light, without a second glance to his body lying on the ground.

 

It felt like being swallowed into an opal tunnel, that compressed him more and more, like a second birth… but for the first time ever, he felt what felicity was.

He never felt so embraced, so loved, and cared for, and peaceful, and happy, and enthusiast, and whole… ever!

He felt so grand that he could embrace the entire Universe!

It was like falling in an ocean of immense love and infinite comprehension… like he finally was freed from all bounds and boundaries and limits, like he was his true self for the first time, so wonderful and precious!

Incredibly, immensely precious!

All of that felt so incredibly real, much, much more real than anything he had ever experienced.

He would have stayed there forever!

Chapter Text

It was in that blissful moment that he started to see, like in a movie, his life, right from the very beginning.

 

The first image was of a baby, a newborn, put in a beautiful cradle, in a dark nursery full of old toys. It was the middle of the night: the baby was crying desperately, at the top of his voice, which was becoming hoarse. For sure he has been crying for hours. But nobody was coming for him. He was hungry and needed a diaper change and, most of all, he was scared and needed human contact: he needed his mother to take him, and calm him, and whisper sweet nothings to him, and rock back and forth him back to sleep. But he was left alone, in the dark, and nobody seemed to hear him, to care for him. And he cried and cried and cried, until finally, exhausted, he fell asleep. The same pattern repeated night after night, until he stopped crying. In the morning a nana always came to take care of him, but she didn’t smell right: she didn’t smell like his mother…

 

The second image… wasn’t an image, but sounds He was hearing people shouting: a man and a woman. The man was furious and terribly angry and was shouting to the woman, who was crying and pleading. Then there was the sound of slaps, a lot of them, and of furniture been moved roughly, and then the woman began screaming and crying even harder. He was terrified, crying in the bed, wrapped in the blankets, head under the cushion, hands on ears, but the shouts continued. At a certain point the woman started asking for help and he couldn’t take it anymore: he had to run for her, to help her! He was around two. And he run in the room where his father was beating his mother and tried to stop him, because his mother was bleeding all over her face and her chest, tears mixing with blood and a terrified expression in her eyes. He tried to stop his father grabbing one of his legs, but he was too tall and strong and he threw him away, against the wall.

Then all became black.

 

The third image was of his mother, watching the TV and nursing herself a drink, alone in the living room. He was so proud and excited: he did a beautiful portrait of her, all painted with colours! He put in it all his diligence and it took a lot of time to finish it. He wanted to show it to her, he wanted her to be proud of him! And he ran to her with his masterpiece and a wide innocent smile on his face: “Mum, mum! I painted you! Look!” But she didn’t shift her attention from the TV. She neither looked at him. She was too drunk. He started tugging her sleeve, but in doing so he made the drink fall and the glass shatter on the ground. At that, she sprang up with a hate stare in her eyes and grabbed the sheet from his little hands and tore it apart, and then seized his arm and started beating him mercilessly on the face, on the back, on the tights, shouting horrible things: “I warned you, little bastard! Stay away from me! I don’t want you or your horrible scrawls! I wish you never were born. Why don’t you die??? Go away and leave me alone!!!”

He remained petrified under that rain of blows.

He felt something bleeding, but it wasn’t his broken lip, or his swollen eye.

It was his heart.

He ran away crying, hiding under his bed.

 

After some time, a little girl reached him:

“It didn’t go well, uh?”

“No. She tore my painting. And she said she wants me to die!!!”

“Grant, stop crying. Come here. I will hug you!”

And he, finally, sneaked to his sister and hugged her, while she continued caressing and lulling him.

“Thank you Cate. You are my angel!”

“And you are my hero, my little brave heart!”

“Don’t ever go away, please!”

“Of course not, little brother! How could I? I’m here. I will not go away from you, ever! I love you!”

“I love you too.”

 

The next image was of a hot afternoon. The big manor was quiet and empty. His father was away, busy in some political affair, as always. But Grant preferred when father wasn’t here, because life was better: he didn’t beat his mother or them and she was more relaxed and, consequently, didn’t beat them so often…

Grant was supposed to be by the lake with his siblings, but he got bored and returned home earlier. He was going to his room when strange noises captured his attention: they were coming from his parents’ room. He approached it and startled when the door opened suddenly and his mother and another young man he never saw ran from it.

How strange: they were naked, and laughing!

He never saw his mother laughing!

He felt a bust of joy at the sight, but it lasted shortly, because she swooped down on him shouting and started pulling him by the hair, slapping him and then throwing him in his room. She was menacing him that, if he ever said a word about what he just witnessed, she would kill him.

And he promised, promised several times, through tears, he would never say anything!

 

The next image was about a baby: his little brother Thomas. He was in his mother’s arms and she was smiling at him, sweetly. Anytime he cried she was there to cuddle and rock and sing for him.

The two were inseparable.

And he felt himself even more invisible.

Jealousy and envy arose from him towards Thomas: who was this little bastard, and how did he dare to steal his mother (or even her breadcrumbs) from him???

 

The next image was of him by his grandmother Ada: she was a sweet and noble woman, always elegant and charming. She was a pianist and when she played he remained awestruck by amazement. She knew so much: music, languages… she travelled a lot, read a lot…

For Grant and Cate passing time with her was the most wonderful gift.

She was particularly fond of Grant.

She told him that his name, Grant Douglas Ward, meant Grand Dark Protector… and that he would be equal to that name, one day.

During time she taught him a lot of things: languages (starting with German, Spanish and French, then going on with Italian and Russian), music (starting from the theory and going on with singing and playing the piano), and good manners.

He was extremely clever, had good memory and intelligence, so he learned quickly and his grandmother was very pleased with him.

She also taught him how to pray and he did it willingly.

It was strange, but hearing her talking about God made him feel a strange longing in his heart that left him uneasy, nostalgic of something indefinable…

 

She was his mother’s mother. And a bad day he heard the two arguing:

“You cannot treat Grant in this way! He is special! He is extremely sensitive and has a great heart, great sentiments! I am almost scared with how deeply he can feel! You have to direct him towards the good, because if he happens to turn towards the evil…”

“I hate him!”

“What??? How can a mother say such a thing of her son??? What had he done to you???”

“He is HIS son! And I hate him for this exact reason! I hate all the three of them because of my husband!

Oh, why had I the disgrace to meet him and marry him???”

“I warned you, before! I knew what kind of man he was, but you didn’t want to hear me. His beauty, his charm, his money, and his career fascinated you.

But these things are of secondary importance! I taught you that! But you had to be headstrong and superb as always! And now it is too late! You have to face your responsibilities and take good care of your sons and your daughter!”

“Never! I hate them! Especially Grant, because… because he is the result of a rape!”

And Grant felt something in him dying at that word. He didn’t understand it, but felt that it was something dreadful. Suddenly he understood why she never caressed or hugged or kissed or hold him, why she always was so careful not to be touched by him, why she always prevented or restrained or rejected all his tenderness bursts, why she was always so rigid, so harsh towards him, like he was a little outsider, a dangerous stranger to her.

Instead, with Thomas she was the opposite: she hugged and held and kissed him, all in front of Grant. And then she expected Grant to play with him!

But, from that moment on, Grant changed: any time she arrived, he ran to hide himself. If she wanted him to help her with something, he had temper tantrums: he stamped his feet, he gave himself slaps on his arms and head, he rolled on the floor, he hit the wall with his fists, or threw things at people or to the ground... Then, when his mother left, he calmed down and became docile and obedient. Then again, when his mother resurfaced, he returned to be violent and aggressive.

She had always rejected him… now it was his turn to reject her.

 

The next image was about his older brother: Christian. He was a lot older, and he was beating his younger brother. Thomas was crying and asking for help and Grant felt pity pushing away all his jealousy and envy, so he started beating Christian instead, with all his strength.

Christian remained surprised at the beginning, but then the two started a fight, and Grant got the worst of it. Christian was bigger and stronger, so no surprise in that, but Grant was a fighter and fought with his tooth and nails. At the end his little brother was safe and that was what counted… and as far as he was concerned, a beating more or a beating less made no difference at all.

From that moment on, he became his brother’s best friend!

 

The next image was of himself at one of his schoolmates’ home: they met for some homework and then things went on and nobody could recover him in time, so he remained for the dinner. The house was little, the food simple, but he was awestruck by the harmony that reigned in that house. Father and mother helped each other to dress the table and to prepare the meal, talking amiably, not screaming, but instead smiling and even kissing sometimes; happy children were around, playing, watching TV, or reading some comic book. Sometimes one of them ran to their parents and always received attention, care and love.

It was so calm, so serene, and so right!

And in that soothing limbo it clicked: this was what family had to be. This was what family was supposed to be, not the hell in which he was growing!

And maybe, someday, this was what his own family would be, if he would ever have one.

This family could be less rich and important than his, but they had something money couldn’t buy.

During all the dinner he kept quiet, observing every detail, soaking in every movement, drinking everything that talked of love.

Yes, he got it: love was the key.

 

The next image was one of the worse ever. Christian was particularly awful in that period and kept capturing him trying to drawn him in an old bathtub full of water. He menaced him to kill him if he didn’t do what he wanted: he wanted him to throw Thomas down an old well. Grant tried to endure the torture, but his resistance was dropping, he was terrified of water and at the end he did what his brother wanted, regretting his action immediately after. He felt Thomas’ fear when he was falling, when he was trying to float, swallowing the freezing water, imploring for help, for a rope; but Christian wouldn’t allow him to throw the rope!

Thomas was drowning down there when Christian finally fled, probably not having the courage to see his brother die.

So Grant could send down the rope and Thomas grabbed it. But Grant wasn’t strong enough to pull him up, so he yelled to Thomas to hold on and ran to find help on the road nearby. He managed to stop a passer-by that helped him to the rescue. Thanks to God Thomas was still alive!

But the fact leaked to the press and his father became involved in a horrible mess.

Of course Christian blamed Grant for all that and that was the end for Grant.

He was terrified when he heard his father coming home and approaching his room, where he was left alone “to think”, and all blood drained from him when he saw his father’s face when he entered his room: he was almost crazy with anger.

He started to scream at him horrible words:

“Monster! Your mother was right: you have a daemon inside! You tried to kill your brother! But I will kill you now, instead, to clean up this place from your presence!”

Then he started beating him in every possible way: slaps, fists, kicks, belt hits... without mercy, without compassion, without humanity, again and again and again.

Grant tried to explain:

“It wasn’t me! Christian made me do that! I didn’t want! Please believe me! Please forgive me, father!”

“Liar! You are a liar! Always blaming someone else for your faults!

You are a coward, just like your mother! You are a coward who always has an excuse or someone else to blame!

You will never become a man!”

 

When Grant was thrown against the wall he had at least two broken bones, an arm and a leg, and several cracked ribs, plus all the other damages.

He was more dead than alive, but he managed still to scream for help.

He seriously thought these were his last instants.

 

But in that moment his grandmother burst in the room and protected him with her body, shielding him from the mad man’s blows.

 

After a while all became quiet and he managed to open his eyes, only to see his grandmother’s face near to his, watching him with tears in her half open eyes.

 

“Gramsy! You are crying! Why are you crying?” he asked with a trembling voice.

 

But no answer came from her.

He tried to shake her:

 

“Gramsy! Don’t cry! I am receiving what I deserve! I am a bad boy…

Gramsy! Answer to me!

Why don’t you talk to me?”

 

But the old woman was dead, broken by a heart attack, near to her beloved nephew.

 

She sacrificed her life for him.

 

When the realization of what happened hit him, he remained shocked.

 

He stopped talking. It was too much for him and his mind became blank.

 

But nonetheless, he felt something, different than anything he ever experienced, was born in him, in his heart.

 

It was hate.

 

It was like a huge black Beast roaring in him and taking posses of his will, dictating him what to do and how. It commanded him to stay put and quiet, until the waters calmed down.

 

He didn’t talk for the following three months.

His mind defended itself erecting amnesia walls: he erased that night from his memory leaving him foggy and confused.

 

He didn’t say anything: not a lament when the compliant doctors fixed his arm, leg, ribs and bruises, nor when the psychologist attempted to talk to him, nor when Christian came to bully him during the two months he was forced to stay in bed and Cate shooed him away menacing to call the police.

 

Not a word: only an assassin’s stare in his eyes.

Chapter Text

The next image was about the Beast taking full control of his life. Grant totally changed after the well: gone was the sweet sad boy; gone were his chats and plays with Cate and Thomas, while he kept obsessively promising Thomas to never let anyone hurt him again, unnerving him; gone were the carefree hours in the nearby fields; gone was his infancy and his childhood.

He had been forced to become an adult before time, and he did.

School became a real problem: he always picked fights with older and bigger boys, even more than one at a time, and fought against them with a fury that made him look really like a demon. And he often won, too.

When his parents or the teachers asked him why, he always blamed others: sometimes it was like he felt guilty, but couldn’t admit what really happened; it was like he hurt people and lied to himself about that.

Also his father tried to talk to him, but Grant felt that the man was not involved, that he was not touched; he felt his indifference stretching in the middle of his own stomach, like a white ball, then grey, then black, like an anxiety that showed him that his father refused him.

Oh, he hated the man!

Beatings and punishments and torture continued from his parents and Christian all the way long, but nothing could break his sheer determination in hurting the ones stronger than him and in being involved in dangerous situations.

It was like he desired to destroy himself so that he could dissolve and lose any hope.

For Grant it had always been almost impossible to be recognized and loved.

For him there were only perverse forms of communication, badly adapted misunderstandings, until, from trauma to trauma, from threat to threat, from fear to fear, from confusion to confusion, from violence to violence, he implemented the extreme defence: hatred gave a response to the anguish of being overwhelmed, subdued, humiliated, defeated.

He found himself, from the beginning of his life, in an environment that had stifled his hopes and his needs, that had judged and condemned his difficulties, that had feared his predispositions and ridiculed his inabilities, that had fuelled his shortcomings, that had mocked his efforts, that inhibited his creativity, that turned off his trust, that emasculated his ability to establish alliances and friendships, subtracting afterwards even the knowledge and investigation tools indispensable for his development.

And if it is true that life is a “destiny of meetings”, he certainly made meetings that helped him to structure and give consistency to the interior Beast of his discomfort, up to encourage him to get lost through violence, and then in criminal acts.

He had to change school after school and the thing became embarrassing, until his parents were forced to isolate him, keeping him alone in his room and calling a private teacher to carry forward his education.

They often “forgot” him, leaving him without food or water, for days.

 

They tried in this way to punish him, to tame him, but the Beast commanded him to resist, to exploit the situation and study hard, because the sooner he became independent, the sooner he would be able to leave that house and be free.

And his results were excellent: he graduated with the highest marks and his father was almost proud of him.

Almost.

But the killer stare never left Grant Ward.

And his father feared him.

 

The next image was of his sister crying in her room. She has become a wonderful girl, so beautiful that everybody at school turned around when she passed by. She had long sleek shining black hair, two wonderful honey brown eyes and a smile that made you melt, all put together with a tall slender body, sinuous and flexible like the branch of a weeping willow.

She was an authentic beauty, reminding of a blossoming flower, full of grace.

And she was serene, caring, sweet, and she always had a smile for everyone, especially for Grant: she loved him enormously and he reciprocated wholeheartedly and called her his angel.

 

That late afternoon, after she returned home from a trip with father, she didn’t want to talk to anybody, she didn’t want to eat, and she didn’t want to come out of her room…

After a lot of pleading Grant was allowed inside her room and sat by her side circling her shoulders with one arm, asking worriedly what happened.

She was behind her bed, sitting on the floor, with dark circles under her reddened eyes. She curled in his arms and said these terrible words:

“Dad got me out, he took me in a motel and there… he did things to me…

And now I’m stained with his kisses and his licks and his bites and…

Oh, it hurt so much, Grant!”

He felt his blood freezing in his veins and the Beast roared inside of him with a newfound fury.

“I tried to shower, to bath even, to try to cleanse all the filth, but it did nothing to purify me.”

He said:

“Don’t worry, Cate.

It will never happen again.”

That night his father woke up from a deep drunken sleep in the middle of the night with an uneasy sensation: he felt something cold and sharp cutting his neck and a suffocating sensation all over him.

When he opened his sleepy eyes he remained petrified. Grant was above him like a predator on his prey, with a long sharp knife pressed on his neck and his eyes, full of cold fury, fixed on him only an inch away.

Grant spoke with a low, deadly voice:

“If I find out that you put your filthy fingers on Cate again, if I find out that you hurt her again in any way, I will kill you, slowly, horribly, enjoying every drop of blood spilling from your scum-filled body. Understood?”

And his father nodded without a word, his eyes out of the orbits.

 

The next image wasn’t an image, but a telephone call. After the night he threatened his father of death, he was sent away from home, in a military school. He did well there, he liked the discipline, the orders, the physical training that absorbed him so thoroughfully, burned all his extra energy and gave vent to his ever-present rage.

But that night he received a call, from home.

It was Cate:

“He did it again, with Christian…” sobbing overwhelming her.

“I can’t stand this life anymore, Grant!

I called you only to say goodbye.

I love you, my sweet brother!”

“Cate, Cate, wait, await for me, I’m coming to you!

Don’t do anything stupid! Await for me, I’m coming!” he shouted, but the hang on signal greeted him on the other end of the communication.

He thought fast: he run away from the military school, stole a car and drove like a mad man back home.

There he found that his sister tried suicide, without succeeding, and was taken to a private hospital for mental diseases.

Oh, how much he hated that house, those people, and everything they did to them! At the end, they managed to ruin her definitively, his precious unique angel!

So he took a box of matches and set fire to everything: fire would be the purifier, burning everything down, destroying that house of horrors once and for all!

 

The last thing he saw, when he stood tall and black against the light of the arson that night, was the firemen and the police approaching, handcuffing him and taking him away.

 

He didn’t care.

Chapter Text

The next image was about John Garret in the juvenile visiting room.

“Grant Ward?

My name is John Garrett.

The quartermaster at your military school is an old buddy of mine. He told me about a pissed-off young cadet with off-the-chart eye-hand coordination who went AWOL, stole a car, and drove over a thousand miles home only to burn the place down.

I must say, I find a young man like that intriguing.”

Grant didn’t say anything.

“I’m curious: did you know your brother was in the house, when you set it on fire?”

And the Beast inside spoke “If only he died! And father, too!”

But he didn’t know.

And Garrett went on with his proposal to join him in a secret organization, instead of passing several years in prison:

“Going with me will be the hardest thing you’ve ever done.

But, on the other hand, no one will ever screw with you again.

Say yes.”

And the Beast roared:

“Yes”.

 

The next image was of him in the woods, under the rain, scared, soaked, hungry, chilled to the bones and trying to warm himself hugging Buddy.

But the Beast within was strong and made his mind tunnel focus on survival.

He organized himself: he started raiding cabins, stealing tools and supplies and weapons, constructing a camp; he learned to kill animals in the woods, cutting and cooking and skin them to eat and obtain rugs; he found fresh water to drink and wash himself; he experimented on different herbs and berries and other vegetables to eat; he even constructed a cabin himself, out of his mere arms strength, with an axe and a pulley. He found then very useful all those hours he spent observing the masons build and fix things at his house, when he was little.

His body became very strong and resilient to exertion, all adverse weathers and diseases.

 

But in the night, when his mind could wander, not concentrated on all the activities, he always felt a so heavy loneliness, a so grand isolation, a so terribly longing for human contact that he felt like drowning.

 

He hadn’t anyone to talk to, anyone to see, and anyone to smile at…

But he resisted, through sheer willpower.

 

And sometimes, also, he prayed and life suddenly appeared to be more bearable.

 

When, every now and then, Garrett returned to him, with something different to eat, like bread and other carbohydrates, books, news, lessons about strategy and tactics… there was not even once that his heart didn’t swell with happiness and pleasure and a sense of comfort and belonging!

He loved the man, even if his return meant hard work, combat training, humiliations, scoldings, and even torture.

Really being with him was the toughest thing he ever did!

 

The training about resisting torture was in absolute the toughest of all and seldom Garrett needed help for that: he kept bringing with him another guy, always the same, that took turns in torturing Grant in all the cases the procedure itself needed a lot of time to fulfil.

 

It wasn’t for nothing that Grant didn’t like anybody touching him!

 

Garrett’s repertoire spaced on a huge amount of methodics, although he was always careful not to cause permanent damage: isolation (and that was always in place), physical aggression, beating including repeated slapping and flogging, burning, sleep deprivation to the point of hallucination, sensory deprivation, waterboarding, limb contortions, prolonged binding in stress positions, hooding, psychological terror induced by drugs or scaring animals or mock executions, humiliations and exposure in nudity conditions, starvation, electroshock, exposure to extreme temperatures inducing hyper or hypothermia, prolonged confinement in a small coffin-like box, bombardment with agonizing sounds at extremely high decibel levels, interrogations lasting up to 20 hours straight…

After one of those, during which Garrett managed to extort a lot of personal and familiar details from Grant, he exclaimed:

“Your family, son, really royally messed up with you!”

Now Grant had no secrets for Garrett, except for the memories covered by amnesia.

Garrett knew him better than himself!

 

At the end of each session, Garrett always played the part of the saviour, comforting and cheering up Grant, with the sole objective to make him completely loyal.

The lighter torture was the one that implied sticking pins under his fingernails, while probably the worst was sleep deprivation. During those days in which Garrett managed to keep him awake, with strong noises or lights or yelling, beatings, slaps, electricity… his mind was more and more obfuscated, fogged. His spirit was deadly tired, his legs were instable and he had one only desire: sleep! But he couldn’t and he would be gone mad or dead if Garrett didn’t stop.

Even waterboarding was terrible. He wouldn’t say that, because apparently it was nothing: Garrett immobilized him on a declined table, feet raised and head slightly below the feet, then wrapped his face with a cloth, then simply started pouring water on the cloth for little more than ten seconds. But that was enough to make Grant experience the sensation of asphyxiating and drowning and that was terrifying! His mind told him he was dying! He struggled so fiercely against the restraints that he almost broke his wrists and couldn’t take a bath for weeks, not to mention the nightmares!

The techniques to resist torture varied with the torture methodology, but resistance depended most on Grant’s ability to concentrate and to make his mind go blank like a puppet, to reach such an auto-induced hypnotic state that, sort of, he almost wasn’t in his body anymore.

It was called “mental dissociation”.

And that was how Garrett brainwashed him.

The Beast was tamed.

 

The next image was about Buddy yelping and wriggling on the ground. One day Garrett told him that Shield Operations Division accepted him, effect immediate.

“What you have been through and endured during these five years is way further than anyone there will experience in a lifetime.

You are worlds apart from anyone of them.

You will be the best” Garret said proudly to him.

“Thank you, sir, for everything.” Ward thanked back.

“Don’t do that. You don’t owe me or anybody else a thing. You earned it by yourself.

It’s gonna be hard when you get there. If you’re gonna work within Shield for Hydra, you can’t ever get attached to anyone or anything.

You have to fight that weakness in you.”

“Yes, sir.”

“Good. Now take care of Buddy, and we’ll get out of here.

That’s not a weakness, is it?”

“No, sir.”

Garrett wanted him to KILL Buddy!!! He couldn’t believe that!

“Good. I’ll be at the truck.”

But Grant couldn’t, he hadn’t the heart to kill his loyal and trustworthy companion, his beloved dog!

He simply couldn’t!

The brainwashing could have wiped his brains but it didn’t manage to transform his heart in a stone. And he shot in the air with his pistol, knowing that Buddy would run away to rescue an inexistent prey.

What Grant wasn’t aware of was that Garrett was watching him like a vulture and was extremely pissed off by his disobedience.

He failed in Grant’s training: his protégé had a huge Achilles’ heel. It was his own heart and Garrett knew only a way to make the lesson sink down.

He took aim with a sniper rifle and shot Buddy, but not with a mortal blow. He only wounded it and then dragged Grant in front of a whimpering Buddy to show him the yearning spectacle.

Grant wanted to finish Buddy off, to stop its pain, but Garrett prevented him from breaking its neck.

A silent speech came from Garrett’s severe stare:

“Kid, don’t ever disobey me. Otherwise I will torture your loved ones to death right in front of you.”

So they left, while Buddy remained there, bleeding out on the ground alone, unable to move, but still wagging its tail to its master…

Grant felt his heart tore in two, one half remaining with Buddy and the other remaining in his chest, aching at every beat, but swallowed the tears, put on the mask and left.

 

He learned his lesson.

Chapter Text

The next image was of him at Shield Operations Division: he was standing, battered, bleeding and panting in the middle of the big gym, beside a guy laying down, more dead than alive and much bigger than himself, at the end of the Operations Combat Tournament finale.

The OCT was a yearly competition, open to all Operation’s students, no matter their age, and he had just won, after an incredible fight that had kept everybody with bated breath.

It never happened before that a first year recruit achieved such an exploit!

All was quiet around him, so quiet that he could hear a pin drop, but immediately after he was greeted by an explosion of enthusiasm and shouts and a crowd reached him and lifted him on their shoulders!

In that moment he felt like a god!

He defeated the one that won the last four editions of the OTC: that guy was insufferable, bully, violent, quarrelsome and was feared and hated by many of his schoolmates.

So Grant became their hero; just him: the lone wolf, the sad silent man, the tall, dark and handsome of the first class…

He could write a laundry list with all the nicknames they gave him, some good, some bad…

The ones coming from the girls were always good!

He would not have a stable girl for all those five years… only one night stands, to cool down some steam… by the way, also in that field he happened to become a legend!

The problem was that he never found someone that really intrigued him: all the girls at Operations had strong, toned, wonderful bodies, all were extremely physically attractive, but they were stonehearted, cold, emotionless, especially the ones training to be Specialists, nicknamed “the women-men”.

All of them reminded him of his mother, and he kept his heart away from them like from the plague.

And, moreover, he had precise orders from Garrett not to get attached. And he knew what payback he would receive for disobedience…

 

The next image was of him pinning down Skye: they were training in the cargo hold, sparring.

He was teaching her techniques to free herself from catch positions, so their bodies where entangled.

She was beneath him on the mattresses, struggling to free herself, but couldn’t, because she had her wrists strongly blocked in his hands, her legs intertwined with his and his body covering hers… oh, wonderful weight!

He was holding her hands above her head, so their faces were only inches apart, and her movements where evidently eliciting something in him.

Suddenly she stopped wriggling and stared in his eyes: why has her SO to be so damn handsome, she wondered? Oh, his eyes were beautiful, with that indefinable honey-brown colour that changed so much depending on the light and his own mood… and his smell so manly and… exiting!

She didn’t realize it, but she was blushing.

She was also turned on, badly.

Apparently her emotions weren’t the sole, because she could see from this vicinity his pupils dilate and transform his eyes in deep pools of black.

They were breathing each other’s air, openmouthedly, and it would take only a spark to burst the fire…

“Landing in ten!” came May’s voice from the speakers.

And the moment was gone, forever.

 

The next image was one of the best of his life: May was on the sticks; he was playing Scrabble with Skye, Simmons and Coulson and Jemma had just won, with the very British word “Aisle”.

At that point they where joined by a sleepy and pissed off Fitz, that had some foam on his face, searching for the prank’s culprit. Everybody started laughing, himself too (and that was rare!), and in that moment he felt a wonderful and deep sense of family and friendship.

But, immediately after, he remembered this was only a mission and a pang reached his stomach, taking painfully away his happiness in an instant. It was almost impossible to shake off fifteen years of conditioning and abusive reinforcement…

It was always like this: anytime he managed to grab something valuable and really important in his life, it kept slipping away like sand between his fingers.

Sometimes, during those months with the team, he allowed himself to imagine his life just like that, just as the world outside didn’t exist, and it was like a dream come true.

But the world outside did exist and he knew how much all that meant to John: his very life was on the plate and he had to try anything to save him!

But he knew also that he was doomed, because, whatever he would choose to do, betray the team or betray John, soon he would become a traitor to the purest and holiest relationships there were in the world: family and friendship.

Chapter Text

The next images were all wrapped in numbness: the killings he made under Shield orders; the mortal wounds he inflicted on the soldier that guarded the Guest House, under Coulson orders; the bullet in Thomas Nash, out of his own impulse; Victoria Hand and her soldiers’ incredulity when he ruthlessly shot them to save Garrett; Koenig’s suffering and chocking when he was strangling him; Skye’s harsh words that expressed her tremendous sense of betrayal as an enamoured girl and as a friend; Fitz-Simmons’ pleadings before he threw them into the ocean (to save them in a pod that was supposed to float); May’s and Coulson’s fury…

“He’s having trouble speaking. I think I fractured his larynx.”

“Oh, good! … Your attempt to cross off Fitz and Simmons failed, but Fitz may never be the same again. So I’m going to invent new ways to ruin the rest of your life. And we’ll do whatever’s necessary to get Hydra intel from you.

But your torture… That’s gonna be internal.”

“And a little bit external.”

“Sure, some of that. But you devoted your entire life to a deranged narcissist who never gave a damn about anyone, and now he’s dead.”

The words crashed into him with absurdly terrifying finality, worse than anything else he had ever experienced.

“You’ve got the rest of your life to wrestle with the question: who are you without him?”

And he answered silently in his mind: “Nobody… Nothing.”

The Beast in him was defeated, leaving him weak, pathetic, helpless … worthless.

 

The next image was about him in front of the entrance to the US Military Maximum Security Prison: when its walls closed around him he felt a grey despair swallowing him whole. In that moment only one thought sustained him, allowing him to still push one step after the other: if life there would become unbearable, the torture too much, if he needed a way out, he for sure knew how to die.

Why not? It was fitting: the killer killing himself… nothing returning to nothing…

They made him strip down completely, taking away all his personal belongings, then checked him thoroughfully for hidden nails or other similar tools. They didn’t take care of his wounded foot, other than disinfecting it. They made him take a cold shower, gave him a prison overalls, walked him down a maze of corridors to the wing destined to the terrorists and put him in a small dark cell with dirty walls, no windows and an iron door with only a peephole and a passage for food.

His first impression was that down there, for sure, nobody could hear the prisoners’ screams…

There they chained him with his wrists above his head and the ankles down by the wall, in a standing position, and left.

 

He was forced to stay there for two days, with no food or drink or bathroom breaks.

 

He remained there silent, alone with his dark thoughts, his deaf fear, his grief, his sorrow, and his longing, his mind painfully racing…

 

Whenever he thought of Garrett, he wanted to scream: he had lost the one that gave his life a meaning, the one who tamed the Beast inside of him, the one who made him become a man, the one who had always an answer to all his questions, his guide, his saviour, his friend … his father.

 

But he didn’t lose him when Shield put him down, no.

 

He lost him when they injected him with the GH formula, when he finally managed to accomplish his mission after fifteen years.

 

He wanted to save his life, and he did, so the debt was paid back, but then Garrett became utterly insane.

 

How ironic… maddened by the same drug that saved his body…

If up above there was a God, he for sure mocked them and all their machinations!

At the end, anyway, the result for him was that he lost forever any chance for a normal, decent life. He wondered also if he ever really had a chance to that… He doubted. He was doomed from his very first day: this was the truth. So why struggle to carry on a life like that? Soon the “interrogators” would be here, and then they would drag him through hell.

He knew that with total clarity: they would slaughter him, no matter how much trained he was.

There were limits to human resistance.

 

At the end of those two days he was destroyed: all his body ached, especially his legs and his nailed left foot (thanks, May!); his head was unfocused and foggy; his wrists were bruised and his hands had almost totally lost sensibility, because they were the only thing that sustained his weight when he fell asleep; his overall suite was dirty with his pissing and he was terribly thirsty.

“John, like old times with you!” he thought.

 

Then the guards arrived and grabbed him for the interrogation.

The interrogators weren’t from Shield, but from Talbot’s intelligence network, and it meant they were merciless.

They did not receive their answers but only silence, even after several hours of applying “coercive” methods.

This happened not only because he couldn’t speak, but also because he didn’t know: Hydra was second to no one, as in compartmentalizing information.

So they decided to push past any pain level he had ever experienced. It would have been impossible not to scream under pain of that intensity, so he screamed, feeling his body splitting in two down the crack in his larynx, but it was the last day he parted his lips to make any sound at all.

And then, finally, he was engulfed in the mercy of unconsciousness that swallowed him.

 

He was kept mainly in isolation, in that little dark cell that he could pace three steps by two steps, but at least he was no more shackled to the wall and could lay down on the floor to sleep.

Meals were delivered randomly: he hadn’t access to the outside, so he couldn’t grab the time passing by, but for sure he was becoming thinner and was always hungry and thirsty. And cold.

He shivered almost all the time, because he had to stay barefoot, his suit was thin and in the cell the air was humid and freezing like in a cellar.

Two or three times he was allowed to join the common room, where the other prisoners passed some hours together.

In one of those occasions, an old man spoke to him:

“You are a special convict, here, you know? I have seen others treated like you. Be careful: they give this free time to you to make you lower your guard. But you are going to be destroyed, both psychologically and physically; they will not leave you any way out. And nothing you can say them, no intel you will give them… nothing will make you avoid death.”

 

He was right, Grant soon discovered.

The isolation became regular and torture continued on a daily basis, getting worse and worse: they also used drugs that prevented him from fainting, instead sharpening his senses, so he couldn’t even hope to escape in swoon!

He felt he was quickly losing his mind… he couldn’t afford to live like that for long… He tried all the techniques Garrett taught him about mental dissociation and torture enduring, but the drugs made his efforts almost useless.

Often the tortures were applied directly in the prisoners’ cells, so he could hear the torturers approaching, through the other prisoners’ screams getting nearer and nearer.

They were smart, he had to admit that: they knew how to build anticipation and make the terror and the panic grow minute by minute…

Other times the torture took place in a room full of mirrors, so that he could see himself tormented from every angle, wherever he looked.

 

It was true: they were trying to destroy him both psychologically and physically.

In the hours in which they left him in peace, he was haunted by his own mind, by his memories, by his grief… and thinking of his time on the Bus, and all the friendship and love he got there, was particularly painful, for the striking contrast with his current situation.

He tried to wrap himself in the illusion to be still there, with Simmons, Skye, Fitz… “He will never be the same again” and a pang always hit him in the stomach.

He tried to save them!

He tried to avoid Garrett horribly killing them!

But he knew that: nobody would ever believe him.

 

So many times he emerged from those thoughts finding himself crying.

 

Oh, he wanted to die!

He wanted to end all that!

He himself was a rotten apple, he was a danger for humanity; he didn’t have any right to be alive!

So why couldn’t he die?

Why couldn’t they let him die?

One day, at the beginning of his third month there, they gave him a clean prison cloth with a thick shirt and a pair of pants: they had a button on the back… And he almost exulted in seeing that: he could finally die! He could avoid the next torture session, which was approaching!

He removed the button and started rubbing it on the rough floor. In ten minutes it became a perfectly sharp blade and he, taking a deep breath, cut deeply both his wrists, letting the blood spill out of them; he kept himself in motion, so that his quickened heartbeat made the blood pour faster.

When the torturers arrived in his cell, he was fainted on the floor, in a pool of blood.

 

Next time he woke up, he was still in his cell, on the floor, near all his own dried blood, its smell filling his nostrils; his wrists were mended up and he was dressed with a clean cloth, without any button, this time.

The isolation and torture continued, seamless, and despair was dragging him lower and lower, until he found a piece of paper. He folded it in the right way and once again cut his wrists.

This time they arrived quickly: probably he was monitored, and they avoided greater damage.

But when he was in the infirmary he started running at the walls, trying to smash his skull.

They had to sedate him, because he was furious and nobody could restrain him.

 

The next image was about when he woke up, after what felt like an eternity, surprisingly clearheaded.

He wasn’t dead, apparently… and he wasn’t anymore in that cell, too.

He was in a larger space, lying on a makeshift bed obtained on a table with a thin mattress on it… a mattress! He felt almost uncomfortable: he wasn’t used anymore to such a comfy arrangement!

He looked at his wrists: they were carefully sewed and he had patches in his inner elbows. Probably two IVs had just been removed from his arms.

Three walls where covered with soft square pads, probably to prevent him to cause himself any more damage if he kept running against them, while the third wall was white.

He approached it and discovered it was a laser grid: he couldn’t touch it without receiving an electric discharge.

He immediately averted from it: he had had enough of electricity flushing and burning his body, in the recent past!

 

He found on the floor a tray with a sandwich and a glass of milk. He couldn’t believe his eyes! He threw himself over the food with animal voracity and finished everything in one minute, gobbling the sandwich and gulping down the milk. Then he felt the need to pee and was embarrassed about that, because someone for sure was watching him.

And he or she wasn’t of the same kind like the ones he rubbed shoulders with, lately.

 

Something had radically changed, but he couldn’t still understand were he was.

He explored more carefully this new cell and discovered a small bathroom behind a curtain. Thanks God for that! There were a toilet, a sink and a shower, so he could finally take care of his personal hygiene.

He had always had an inclination in being clean, tidy, it was almost natural to him, and those months in that inhuman captivity forced him to reach so a low level of dirtiness that he felt nauseated!

 

But when he saw himself reflected in the mirror… oh, God!!! He was the shadow of himself! He was emaciated, with a long beard, long hair, pale as death, and in his eyes such pain, such suffering that he himself was impressed. When he stripped down the spectacle he saw was even more tragic: all over his body there were wounds, bruises, burning marks, signs of blows and lashes. He hadn’t bothered surveying the damage before, but now he had the possibility and could count all his ribs from how much he lost weight.

 

In that moment he heard a swishing noise and suddenly he was facing May!

“On your knees and hands behind you back!”

He obeyed immediately and she handcuffed tightly his wrists and his ankles. Then she made him stand and then sit down in a metal chair and took a razor and a pair of scissors.

At that sight Ward bolted up and jumped in the farer corner of the room, a haunted, terrified look in his eyes, and didn’t stop staring at the blades.

May remained dumbfounded, but then, with less venom, said:

“Don’t worry and stay calm. I just have to shave you and cut your hair. Coulson’s orders.”

 

He didn’t move, so she reached for him, took one of his arms and led him back to the chair. He sat obediently with his head down, his shoulders bowed and his elbows on his knees, eyes looking at the ground. He was still shirtless and she noticed the geographical map that his chest and back had become.

“You had a bad time, huh? Good. You deserved all of it.”

At those words, he raised slowly his head and glared at her with such a painful stare that she was forced to avert her eyes.

Was that shame, what he saw there?

She made him sit straight and started cutting his hair with the scissors. Black soft locks started to fall on his shoulders, on his chest, on the ground, and he felt her hands grabbing them, caressing his scalp, while she was concentrated in equalizing the length everywhere.

He closed his eyes lost in that sensation and sighed deeply: he hadn’t been touched gently for so long!

 

When she was done with his hair, she started to cut his beard as short as she could with the scissors. Then she sprinkled his face with shaving cream and started working carefully with the razor: at that he languidly opened his eyes.

She had to stay very close in front of him and his eyes remained fixed on her face all the time, observing her nose, her eyebrows, her eyelashes, her eyes… her lips. It seamed to him like an eternity he didn’t see a woman and suddenly he desired her.

She tried not to catch his burning look, because she felt uneasy, but once their stares met: yes, he was battered, destroyed, but his eyes were still beautiful, with a sorrow and an intensity he didn’t ever show before.

She didn’t speak anymore until she was finished.

“Now take a shower and rest. You need to regain some strength, because we need your intel.”

She removed the handcuffs and moved to left, but then stopped:

“They said you never talked, during all your imprisonment, even under torture.

Is your larynx healed?”

He nodded.

 

“Then why didn’t you talk? It could have spared you a lot of pain…”

- May, I couldn’t speak because there is something else fractured in me, beside my larynx.

Can’t you see that? -

“I admit that you are really a tough guy to have endured all that, but I cannot understand: what can have Hydra given to you to make you so loyal?”

- Oh, May! How can you be so blind?

How cannot you understand what I have been through?

Why doesn’t anybody understand??? -

 

“We discovered only three days ago what they were doing to you, and that it didn’t achieve any result.

So we decided to stop it.

Even if you deserved all of that, we are not the kind of people who believe in torture and we don’t want to become accomplices in that.”

 

Again… What did Shield stand for? Protection? Even for a single man?

Didn’t Coulson say: “Nobody is nobody”?

Didn’t he say: “You can save someone from himself if you get there early enough”?

Didn’t he say that anybody deserved a second chance???

 

And in that precise moment all their hypocrisy leapt before his eyes in all its rawness. And his lips remained sealed and his mouth shut.

 

After May, Coulson regularly went down to see him. He kept coming down for three and a half weeks straight, sitting some minutes on the metal chair behind the laser grid, talking and trying to make him say something, but always with that odious air of arrogance and superiority, that spite of those who feel righteous and upright while they look at you like you are a disgusting worm.

Ward was nauseated.

And he was becoming apathetic, detached from life itself.

He didn’t care about anything anymore.

What the US Army and three months of torture couldn’t obtain, Coulson accomplished in three weeks: destroying him psychologically.

 

It was like he wasn’t anymore interested in living, until one day Coulson said him this:

“We are running very dangerous missions in these days.

And Skye has developed a lot under May’s wing, so she is actively participating to all of them, on the field.

Any intel you may have could just save her life…”

 

At that he felt a forgotten longing burning in him…

 

Skye… the only that maybe could understand him… his only light in the darkness… the only one he ever wanted…

 

He couldn’t allow her to be harmed! He had to protect her! He had to tell her what he discovered about her past, about her father!

And he felt the glue that kept sealed his lips for so long progressively melting:

“Skye…” he said with a harsh voice.

 

Coulson remained interdicted, but pricked up his ears, because Ward was barely intelligible.

“What? What have you just said?”

 

Ward tried to clear his voice, hoarse for not being used for so long, then again:

“Skye… I’ll talk to Skye and her alone”

 

The next image was of Coulson commanding to raise his hands, while his brother’s soldiers shackled him to bring him out for a public trial that would lead for sure to his death sentence and execution.

It was fitting: after all, he was only a bargain chip for Coulson to achieve a favourable treatment for Shield from the government.

After all, he was kept there while he was of use.

Now his brother was of more use. Weren’t exactly those Coulson’s words?

He called him a deluded son of a bitch.

And now that righteous man was handing him over to his abuser. Congratulations, great hypocrite!

But he was sure: he would keep his promise to Skye!

Chapter Text

The next image was of him going to see his sister to the hospital for mental diseases their parents put her in, after he escaped from his brother’s soldiers: he went up there, in the past, to the third floor where her room was located, as many times he could, to see her.

She developed a strange kind of autism, which left her some rare windows of lucidity in which it was possible to talk to her. But the most of the time she remained facing the wall, rocking back and forth and muttering a monotone song.

In spite of that, during the years he kept coming to see her anytime he could, in between missions: he talked to her about everything, about the people he met, about Simmons, Coulson, May, Fitz, … and Skye.

He told her he loved Skye.

And even now, after he fought his way out to freedom, he was here to see her. In fact, one of the most terrible things when he was kept prisoner was not being able to come to see her; and one of the few things that made him cling to life was the thought of her.

He was now in front of her and she was in one of her rare moments of clarity: she approached him and hugged him.

“Grant!”

And he, hugging her back:

“I’m here for you, finally, Cate! Sorry for all these months of delay, but I was stuck in a tough mission…”

They remained hugged in this way for some time, she with her ear on his heart, soothing in that calming beat, he caressing her long black hair and slightly lulling her, when she said a strange sentence:

“I’m happy you came to see me!

I was wondering if I would see you one last time…

I thank God for sending you here!

I wanted to say you this: I remember all the words you said to me during all these years…

… but I was so far away I couldn’t answer you.”

“Don’t worry…

I’m familiar with the impossibility to talk…”

“You didn’t waste your time, I assure you: I heard all of that and I felt all your love, Grant.

Tell me, now: how’s Skye?”

He remained shocked at this and stuttered:

“She’s in trouble.

They are transforming her in a killer.

She is allowing them to mold her up, because she desperately needs to belong to someone.

She’s an orphan and she had been rejected and abandoned all her life. Shield has become her family, but they aren’t honest with her: they exploit her weaknesses to transform her in what they need.

And I hate what she has become: she is a miniature copy of the Cavalry.”

“I see.

But I’m glad to see that they couldn’t change your heart, that big heart of yours, my beloved brother.

They couldn’t, because you are too good.”

“I’m not a good man, Cate”

“Yes, you are. And never let yourself believe otherwise, do you understand me?

I know you since infancy.

I heard your screams and your cries for help when you were little and mother and father tortured you: I could hear them even several rooms away! And this went on for years!

I saw what you did to protect Thomas, to protect me, all at your own expenses; and those were the actions of a hero!

This is the reason I always called you “my little brave heart”!

I’m sure of this: you will find freedom and happiness, one day, because you deserve them.”

“You think too high of me, Cate, but I appreciate that.”

“Of course I do.

I love you!

I will always love you!”

He didn’t understand why she was so passionate, so fervent in her speech. She seemed to belong to another world, like her body was stuck down on Earth, but her soul was flying high, oh so high! She had a fire in her eyes so that they were almost blazing.

Then she asked him to go out and please bring her a cup of tea, because she fancied it.

 

He went outside and started to prepare. A nurse came to him and asked him if he was here to bring her home.

“What? No, I don’t think she is ready to come home, is she?”

“It’s because her parents came yesterday and said to prepare her, because they found an arrangement for her at home.”

“What?!?

That’s not possible!

They are the reason she lost her mind!

She cannot return back home with them!”

And then a bad, bad feeling gripped his soul and he started running towards her room, but he was too late.

He heard the sound of smashed bones down the building; saw the open window and the chair near it.

She was gone, forever.

 

He heard a feral scream fill the room and only after several moments he realized it was his own.

 

He ran down the stairs four steps at a time and, grasping all the courage he could muster, he went where her body lied lifeless on her back.

Her hair was all spread on the ground and framed her head and her body.

He kneeled near her and took her hand in his, so little and white compared to his, then looked to her face, seeing her vitreous eyes half open filled with tears.

 

And in that exact moment, destroyed by the sorrow, an incredible similitude stroke in his mind, reminding him something that was erased years ago…

 

His sister’s face resembled his grandmother’s face the night she died! And all came rushing back to his memory and he remembered everything!

 

He almost drowned! His head was spinning like in a vortex!

He had to keep breathing forcibly for a while to capture the enormity of the events: his father and Christian provoked both his grandmother and his sister’s deaths; and his mother never did anything about all of that, her sin of omission maybe worse than theirs.

And in that precise moment, a chilling familiar voice resounded in his skull, making him shiver:

“I told you: you cannot afford to be forgiving.

You should have followed my suggestions all those years ago and all of this would never have happened: you should have killed all of them when you had the chance.

I hope you will not waste your opportunity, now!”

The Beast was back, and Grant welcomed it wholeheartedly for the first time:

“No. I will not waste this opportunity. I will do what I have to do.”

 

The next image was about his parents’ and Christian’s end.

His sister died a month ago and the family organized a quick and hasty funeral for her, just to preserve appearances: he stayed hidden in a dark corner of the church during all the ceremony and then watched them bury her and go away shortly after.

There were only his father and his mother.

No traces of Christian or Thomas…

What a tight family!

 

He remained there for hours, after they were gone, kneeled on her tomb, kissing her picture on the gravestone, tears rolling down his cheeks…

 

When darkness filled the graveyard, he stood up and greeted her, vowing that he would avenge her.

The Beast was arisen and nothing and nobody could stop it.

 

He went in search of his brother, extorted a confession from him (which, by the way, confirmed finally his innocence in the well affair) and then the two of them walked home.

When his father saw him, he paled visibly. He had to use a walker to move around, while his mother was too drunk to even recognize him.

He was visibly terrified, but said, mocking confidence:

“You are not welcome in my house, so please leave.

You are not my son anymore!”

“Sorry, but I’m here to keep my promise”, answered the Beast.

 

He made them listen the recording in which Christian confessed the truth about the well.

 

“You freak will regret this, I swear!” said again his father, his ancient rage coming out.

Evidently the leopard couldn’t change its spots…

 

But the Beast said, deadpanned:

“Maybe… But my only regret, now, is to be fifteen years late.”

Then he forced them to sit on three chairs, tied them there and watched them while he was preparing for the arson.

 

He wanted to seize in their eyes the same fear, the same pain whose terrible consistency he tried to tame, unsuccessfully, for all these years.

 

He wanted to see in their eyes the fear of death that is stronger than life, the fear of death that dominates and destroys.

 

He was reconnecting with the pain, the anger, the anguish of death and the fear of being destroyed that now he was reproducing specularly through the dramatic destruction of his once-upon-a-time-executioners.

 

He had assumed the role to judge and execute other human beings that he considered, rightly, guilty and wicked.

 

He was returning the outrage suffered with a restorative revenge, expressions of a cruel, defensive need to eliminate enemies - which from external had become internal - that otherwise would have been un-suppressible.

 

When the house was all on fire, the only things he heard leaving them were their fits of coughing due to the smoke, and their hellish curses.

 

Done.

 

All done.

 

Closure achieved.

 

The Beast was satisfied… Grant wasn’t.

 

The next image was of Skye aiming and putting four bullets in him:

“Never turn your back on the enemy. You told me that”.

And while he was sliding down the wall with two bullets stopped by his Kevlar vest and two that reached his body doing thankfully only minor damage, the Beast said to him:

“She hates you! I told you that!

Why are you so stubborn? Leave any hope and go on!

She is not different from all of them and she, also, deserves to be punished, to be killed!”

“Shut up!

She can hate me, but I will never hate her! Never!

I can’t blame her for what she did: she’s right in hating me!

And you hate her because she has a hold on me comparable only to yours.

No, I cannot hate her, and, if I will ever be given the possibility, I will protect her, instead!”

 

The next image was about the Beast, again.

It was insatiable and Grant let it take complete control of his life, a life made worthless by Skye clear rejection.

It suggested killing the doctor that adjusted Kara’s mask; it made Grant kill Talbot’s men when they rescued Bakshi and it suggested brainwashing him; but when they discovered who was the culprit for Kara capture, the Beast become irrepressible!

“Bobbi is exactly like your mother!

She sacrificed Kara for her own goals and then did nothing to rescue her!

She didn’t say anything to anyone at Shield to try to save Kara afterwards.

She is why Kara had to suffer months of torture!

She is exactly like your mother, that let your father and Christian beat the crap out of you and rape your sister! Without saying a word! Without asking external help! For fear, for negligence, for indifference, for a quiet life.

Often the sin of omission that covers the evil is graver than the evil itself.

And Bobbi didn’t say anything because she didn’t want to ruin her flawless façade.”

The Beast was furious with Bobbi and wanted to make her experience the same tortures Kara went through. But Grant decided to apply one of the lightest ones he ever experienced: needles under fingernails. He used that method on himself when he had to pass the lie detector’s test, about a year before.

But when Bobbi managed to escape and accused him to be a coward deep inside, he couldn’t restrain himself: how dared that woman-man judge him???

And the Beast suggested the worse punishment ever for her: see her love killed in front of her, to destroy her heart of stone.

But Someone up there made its plans backfire and at the end of the day it was Ward that had to see his love bleeding out in his arms and dying for his own fault.

 

He felt like the world had stopped turning.

 

And his life’s pattern repeated itself once again: anytime he managed to grab something valuable and really important to him, it kept slipping away like sand between his fingers… And he started to be really pissed off about that!

 

The Beast inside was the only one that could keep him upright:

“This is all Shield’s fault!

This is May’s fault: she framed you!

And this is Coulson’s fault: if he kept out of your lives, you two would be together and happy, now! But he had to force you in joining him for his own egoistic needs, and this is the result!

Shield killed Kara!

And Shield ruined Skye, too!”

 

And that was the decisive moment: Grant’s heart petrified.

And from that moment on it melted only to hate.

Hatred flowed through him like a river, and it was red, and hot; a warmth that enveloped him like a hug, like a wool garment.

Hatred made him feel good: it protected him from the cold of solitude, of abandonment, of rejection, of despair, of anger, of frustration, of envy, of resentment, of fear.

Now the truth was crystal clear in front of his eyes: he was born for the needs of others, the conscious or unconscious need of his father to have someone to subjugate, to dominate, to use, to exploit, to sacrifice, to destroy, SOMEONE TO RETURN THE OFFENSE TO.

He was stuck in the same devilish gear and he would continue the family tradition!

Hatred made him feel whole.

Indeed he felt to be himself only when he hated.

And hate meant to imagine and to plan to kill the ones that caused him so much pain.

 

So he finally chose the power to hurt and kill, to give space to the narcissism of death belonging to the worst part of him, a part of him ignored for too long, that now was prevailing and was expressing the monster inside.

The Beast decided to leave indelible trace of its passage through pain, lies, violence, fear, and death.

The Beast decided not to be afraid and not to suffer, ever, more evil as a victim, but it was willing to inflict on others the suffering endured, in the role of executioner.

“You’re right. And I will take my revenge, even if this will be the last thing I’ll do in my life!”

From then on, all was a never ending flow of dreadful events: he taking charge of Hydra, with the cleaning up of all its unworthy members; the attempted murder of Dr. Garner; the Von Strucker’s boy torture; the suffering of the fight clubs’ attendants that followed his “protocol”; the terrible death of Rosalind Price and the attempted murder of Coulson; the torturing and killing of Malick’s lackeys; Simmons’s torture; Fitz’s chilling shiver when he heard Ward offering himself to It as a gift…

 

Finally the flashback of his life was over.

And finally he would be facing the truth.

Chapter Text

After seeing all that, he was overcome with horror, destroyed, feeling shattered in a million pieces, and unworthy and ashamed to be there in that light.

He fell on his knees and cried, cried for what it felt like hours, regret and remorse tearing him apart: he obeyed to the Beast because it made him survive, and let it take complete control of his life.

Shield was right to try to put him down…

Skye was right to hate him… “Backstabbing traitor … Rot in hell … Son of a bitch … A Nazi, that’s exactly what you are! … I wanna throw up … You should have run faster … I’m so glad I shot you …”

It would have been much better if she let Deathlock kill him!

It would have been much better if May had killed him, or if he had succeeded in his suicide attempts… Skye was right: he should have tried harder!

 

Garrett’s words resounded in him: “All these years and you are still playing the victim”.

 

And the Beast:

“Stop with this tearjerker show, you poor weak man!

I have supported you all these years!

If I had not been there, you would have been dead for a long time!”

“And it would have been better!

You made me become a monster, but it is my own fault, because I fed you.

I needed you!

I nursed you for years and years, I made you grow and you got a tight grip on my life, you became the master!

I wanted to fight you, but I had to face simultaneously the external world and I wasn’t strong enough for both. It was too much and I succumbed to you.

Now I’m done with you!

Get away from me!”

 

But then he felt under himself the ground opening wide and sucking him down, down, far from the light into a darker and darker place.

It seemed the fall was never-ending, and everything around him become unbelievably obscure.

He saw under him a huge, enormous hole, terrifying at the sight and greater than anything he had ever seen, and he realized with horror that he was falling right into it.

 

When he entered it, he was flood by such a totalizing despair, by a so overwhelming hopelessness, that he started screaming like he never did before, terrified, asking for help, for forgiveness, for mercy! He was greeted by howls and screams during the fall and he started to see like an enormous valley, with some huge mountains around, all dark and lit by a dark, greenish, fat, almost metallic fire.

 

The heat was unbearable.

 

Everything that could hurt any of his senses was there: a nauseating and disgusting stink, like from rotting flesh burning with pitch and sulfur; a greenish smoke coming from all the fire that raged around; horrible visions of monsters and tortures and people suffering terribly; ear tearing screams, and curses, and blasphemies; squeaks, screeches, and shrieks; noises like from chains and clanking and wheels; thuds and rattles and bangs so strong that it seemed all world was going to collapse… and every now and then, there was the noise of the new inhabitants of that place, that trespassed the huge hole above in a litany of screams and howls and curses, falling down like a dense storm of hailstones.

All of them had written on their foreheads their sins.

He knew what was written on his: “Murderer”.

 

But the worse happened when his fall ended and he felt he was pushed, all bend on himself, inside a tight space carved into the mountain, something like an oven.

There the pain become excruciating.

He felt like the walls of the oven pressed him on all sides, compressing, suffocating, crushing him; he felt his tongue pulled roughly outside of his mouth to the limit of being ripped off; his eyes burned like someone was piercing them with red hot iron drills, but he couldn’t see who was doing that; his skull felt like exploding from the pain inside; and he couldn’t move, nor change position, nor sit, nor lay down, nor stand, nor alleviate the pain in any way.

And all this was nothing, nothing compared to the soul’s agony.

It was an oppression, an anguish, a sadness so deep, a so vivid and desperate sorrow that there aren’t words to describe it. It was like a fire penetrating his soul, without annihilating it. It couldn’t either be described as continuous death’s agonies, because in death it seems that life is ripped away by somebody else, while here it was the very soul that tore itself in shreds!

He had in front of him all his sins and he was aware that he deserved all that pain. He knew, with sparkling clearness, it was entirely his fault.

A thunderous voice repeated continuously, rumbling around all the huge space:

“This is forever.

This will never change.

This will never become more bearable.

You lost God once and for all, for your own fault; and your sins, that conducted you here, will always be in front of you, and remorse will never fade.

You damned yourselves, and you will remain here, receiving the just wave for your actions, forever and ever.”

But he hadn’t still seen everything: a huge grindstone was coming his way with the din of thunder, making the ground tremble, and then he was pulled out of the oven just in time to be mashed by it.

He thought he had reached the top of pain some instants before, in the oven, but he had to change his mind: the remorse and the desperation he felt then was a thousand times worse. In that moment he felt the sins and the guilt of all the murderers that ever walked on the Earth, all at once.

That grindstone was the particular punishment for murderers, added to all the rest. Something was carved on it: “Murderers! This is your eternal torment for having stolen lives! You crushed others, so you will be crushed! Forever! God gives life, only God can take it away!”

And then, with horror, he saw his father and Garrett near him… but they weren’t like before… they were monstrous! And they were saying, together but each speaking for himself:

“Grant, you are here, too!

You are here because of me!

And I will have you in front of my eyes for all eternity to remind me what I did.

Shame on me! What have I done! I killed your soul!

Shame on me!”

And then, changing mood and showing sadistic-masochistic smiles:

“But I hate you, so I’m glad you’re here to suffer these atrocious pains for all eternity with me and because of me, even if your presence worsens my pain!”

 

But there was never end to the worse.

Somehow, like he was attracted by a magnetic force, he looked down and could see the bottom of the abyss, huge, immense, and pitch black.

Dimensions weren’t like they were percept on Earth (probably due to the limitation of the eyes-brains system); here he could see like miles and miles afar. And the bottom of the abyss was really distant, but he could see it nonetheless, like he could prolong his eyes out of his skull till there.

And there… there was a throne, made by terrifying monsters.

 

Sitting on it there was the biggest and scarier of them in all his indescribable horror, watching all the tortured persons.

 

Watching him.

 

And he felt like fainting for the terror.

Nothing could ever be worse than that, in a billion years: Ward felt himself naked in front of Him, His stare burning into him, piercing him, reading all the most hidden secrets of his soul, and He… He smiled at him, a cruel, sadistic smile showing rotten sharp teeth.

His ugliness was indescribable.

 

He spoke to him:

“Good, son! I’m very pleased with you. You served me well.

But, you know, I’m not acquainted with gratitude, so I will not give you any prize for your obedience to the Beast I sent you all those years ago to become your loyal and lifetime companion.

Yes, that was Me: did you like my little gift?

Nevertheless, I promised you vengeance as a payback, and I’m willing to give you that. You deserve it: after all, you gifted me with your soul!

I promise you that soon Coulson will come here to keep you company!

Isn’t it wonderful?”

 

In that moment he had an instant of clearness in all the mess of his head and it clicked: he suddenly became aware of where he was. He couldn’t deny it to himself anymore, even if he wanted it desperately.

 

That monster was Satan.

 

This was Hell.

 

And he was damned.

 

Forever.

Chapter Text

While Ward was there, desperate by the realization of where he ended at last, hopelessly sitting in a bloody stinking mud swarming with all kind of disgusting insects, worms, spiders and scorpions, a light coming from above captured his attention.

He raised his head and fixed his stare on a beautiful creature, all surrounded with light. It was neither male nor female, but nonetheless it was incredibly graceful and beautiful.

He somehow understood immediately who it was: his guardian angel.

It reached him in a blink of an eye and it posed its hand on his shoulder, detaching from him a black creature that was clinging to his back and had tentacles that penetrated his heart and his brains.

Immediately after Grant experienced an incredible feeling of freedom and lightness, as if a boulder had been lifted off him. He felt like he finally could breath again!

It also struck him how that delicate hands could possibly feel so strong. It reminded him so much of Simmons…

And he felt a leap of sudden, pure joy in being gently touched once more, in having a friendly face to see and loving eyes to loose his in, in not being alone anymore!

The angel said with a delicate, harmonious voice and a gentle, mild smile:

“Don’t be afraid.

Come with me.

Your pleadings have not remained unheard.”

 

And then it took his hand in its and they flied up and up and up, leaving the Beast and that place of horrors and despair once and for all.

 

He hadn’t words to express the relief that filled his soul in that moment…

He felt tears weeping down his cheeks and his heart light like a feather!

 

They reached a place that reminded him of the beautiful garden his grandmother had around her house when she was still alive. He was so happy, as a kid, when he could go and visit her! Those were the only moments of happiness in his infancy: he preserved those memories in his heart like a precious gift, and brought them back to mind when his hopes dwindled away and life in his parents’ house became too hard.

 

The angel made him spin on his heels and he saw two doors.

 

On the left door there was written the word “Justice” and it was a very tall, impressive, dark wooden heavy door, absolutely scaring.

The other door, on the right, had carved on itself the word “Mercy” and was the opposite: it was welcoming, clean, inviting and pleasant, but short and humble. Someone of Ward’s height should for sure bow head and shoulders to trespass it.

The angel explained the meaning of the two doors: “You see, when a man dies he is put in front of these two doors: Justice and Mercy. It is up to him to choose the one over the other.”

“Who could possibly choose the door of Justice? It screams “danger” all over it!”

“You see, my dearest, it is tall. Everybody could walk erect, straight through it, while to enter in the door of Mercy anybody, excluding little child, would have to bow, to kneel down, even.

And a lot of men don’t want to bow and kneel down in front of God, due to their pride, haughtiness and conceit.

Your father didn’t want, John neither.

 

When you were falling in Hell, instead, you asked for mercy, you implored forgiveness.

And, early on, when you were presented with all your terrible sins, you regretted them and cried and felt such a great contrition and repentance that His heart was deeply touched.

You sent unconsciously to Him a request of forgiveness so pure, so true, so powerful to make the Heavens tremble.

 

And He forgave you.”

 

“… He? …”

 

“Me”.

 

A voice light like sea breeze, but oozing incredible power and authority, resounded in the garden and the light became warmer and brighter: it was like the entire place was suddenly flooded by the Sun and by the sound of a magnificent organ and a choir with thousands of voices singing a breathtakingly beautiful music.

 

It was astounding.

 

The angel fell on its knees and Ward followed immediately after, resting his forehead on the arm he laid on the upper knee.

 

Several moments passed by, while the music faded away, and so did the garden, and the angel.

 

And Ward remained alone.

 

With Him.

Chapter Text

Ward didn’t dare to change position or to raise his head and peep around.

But, like a rising tide, he felt progressively permeated with such a wonderful sensation of belonging, of care, of love that he remained at a loss of words, only enjoying that wonder and wishing it could last forever.

 

He had the sensation of being like a drop of honey that melted into the ocean: he felt God, the One and the Only, the Perfect, the Whole, the Eternal, the Infinite, the Omnipotent, the Omniscient, the Beginning and End of all things, the uncaused Cause of everything, the Source of every Good as an infinite ocean of Love and Light.

 

And he felt it also the other way round, in a sort of interpenetration: the One, Who the Heavens of Heavens cannot contain, could be encompassed in his soul! His soul was capable of Him! That was incredible!

 

Grant felt God loved him immensely, and he couldn’t prevent himself from reciprocating.

Love summons love.

 

“Grant!”

“Here I am!”

 

“You decided at last.”

“I… decided?”

 

“You finally decided to come back to Me!” God’s voice was so joyful!

“It has been my angel to bring me here…”

 

“… because you asked for mercy and forgiveness!

I couldn’t give you those, if you didn’t want them, even if I had them in store for you.

And I would never refuse them, either, having you asked them with pure intentions.”

 

“…Yes…

… I asked…

But it was in a moment of panic! (even if I thought I couldn’t panic, ever…)

I was falling in Hell!

Does it count all the same?” he asked timidly.

 

“Have you heard the other souls’ words when they were falling?”

 

“Yes… Blasphemies and curses.”

 

“So?

Does it count?

Yes, it counts.

Your heart counts, because you were sincere. You intended what you said.

And out of the abundance of heart the mouth speaks.”

 

Then, after a little while, God continued:

“I love you, Grant.

I always loved you. Immensely.

And I desired this encounter for a long time.

Only a few men have had to go through the tribulations you have endured.

But now you are here, finally!”

 

Ward felt as if God was relieved.

But then all his pain resurfaced with a pang and he asked, mournful:

“Why?

Why did you allow all of that?!?

If you knew, if you loved me, why didn’t you protect me?!?”

Grant was almost crying.

 

“I protected you, you have no idea how much!

I protected you heart.

I protected your hope.

I protected your faith.

I protected your life.

I protected your capability to love.

 

You wouldn’t be here, if I didn’t protect you!

 

But I needed to prepare, to temper you, too.”

 

“Temper?”

 

“Yes. For what’s to come.”

Grant frowned at that.

 

“But let’s proceed with order.

Do you know why you are here?”

 

“Because you forgave me.”

 

“Yes, that’s true.

And do you know why I forgave you?”

“Because I deeply regretted what I’ve done and asked humbly for mercy.”

 

“Yes, that’s right, too. But it’s only a part of the reason.

I forgave you because you forgave others.

Moreover, a lot is forgiven to the ones who intensely love.

You are capable of great feelings, and you loved intensely some key figures of your life: John, Skye, Kara, your grandmother Ada, Cate, Thomas… even if your little brother never really understood you: he was too young and he was never remotely as love deprived as you.

You have always been a thirsty soul… thirsty of love.”

 

“Yes. I loved them. Some of them more than myself…

But I don’t understand: who did I forgive?”

 

“You forgave Simmons and didn’t retaliate against her, when she tried to kill you in cold blood, forgetting that, if you didn’t jump out that plane to save her, she wouldn’t be there to try to pulverize you. And don’t lie to yourself: you didn’t jump to follow Deep Cover Tactics 101! You jumped because you cared about her, a lot: this is the truth!

I can see straight through your hearts, men, and nothing, nothing can be hidden from Me.

And you forgave her, also, for intruding in your farewell to Skye, when you were walking down that corridor, before being handed over in your brother’s custody. That could be the last chance to greet her, but Simmons prevented that. But you forgave her all the same, because you knew her intention was to protect Skye: Simmons was her confidant, almost a sister to her, and she knew how much Skye had suffered because of you.

 

You forgave Fitz, too, when he tried to asphyxiate you, down in Vault D, and, more, for not wanting to believe that you tried actually to save them, dropping that pod in the ocean. Fitz, too, was convinced that the pod would float! He should have remembered, also, that you were willing to sacrifice your own life for him, in Ossetia. And that, too, wasn’t a cover…

 

… I know that you wanted to save them, even if nobody believed you…

 

And you actually saved them, with My help.

 

When you were watching the pod falling, I heard your silent prayer:

- God, please, save them: you know I have no other choice!

I don’t care if they will hate me for this forever: let only them be safe!

I don’t ask you to make them forgive me: but please, please! Save them! -

So I gave Fitz the stroke of genius that allowed them escape and I guided Fury to the rescue.”

 

“You heard me???” asked Grant, in awe.

 

“Of course!

There are certain prayers coming out from the deepest of your hearts, men, that make the Heavens shake!

 

Another example is Skye shooting at you, even if she hadn’t the heart to kill you.

You forgave her almost immediately, because you truly love her.

 

Coulson handed you over to your abuser, tried several times to kill you and at the end he succeeded in that.

But you felt you deserved it, and you forgave him almost immediately, pitying him, too.

 

You forgave Garrett… and this is truly a miracle.”

 

Ward couldn’t deny all of that and remained silent.

He was feeling the self-hatred he always had towards himself progressively melting…

At those words, he was starting to forgive himself.

And this, too, was truly a miracle.

 

“Besides, I expect much from the ones that received a lot, while I expect much less from the ones that received a little: it would be unfair of Me to judge in the same way all men, ignoring where they came from.

You received mainly bad things, bad examples and bad guidance in your life: it isn’t surprising you applied on others the same criteria that were used on you.

 

You rarely had been treated like a person, with intrinsic value for the sole reason to exist and to be a man. And mind that every one of you is for Me more precious than the entire Universe! You are not aware of the treasure buried deep inside every one of you! You are My sons: you should be proud of this, and live respecting this lofty dignity of yours!

 

Nevertheless, everyone used you like a tool, like a thing, like a soldier, like a weapon, like a bargain chip, like a scapegoat, like a hell monster rescuer. But the worst of all, because he should have to be the best, given his history, the intelligence, sensitivity, charisma and all the other gifts I gave him in abundance, was Coulson.

You needed experienced psychologists who could help you rebuild your future on the pile of rubble that your life had become. Instead, the only thing he managed to do, after months of torture and three suicide attempts, was to sit in front of you, with his subtle arrogance, his spite and his contempt, waiting for the sick to cure himself.”

 

At that, God said, almost to himself:

“But for Skye he was able to find a good psychologist, instead…”

 

Then continued:

“He used you as a commodity exchange.

Then he searched for you when he needed you. And you accepted to help him and the team, trying to make amends, receiving only insults and death threats.

Do you remember the scene around the holotable, when you wanted to “address the elephant on the plane”? When May said you were a psychopath? (I didn’t know she got a degree in psychology or psychiatry, between a punch and a kick!) And when Skye said she was glad to have shot you? And the others encouraged her, saying that she should have shot you in the head, instead? You had only given her what she had desired her entire life: her father. I daresay she had a curious way to show her gratitude!

 

There are several ways to kill a man, and words can be sharper than blades.

Words can kill.

In that moment, lost all your hopes, you decided definitely to kidnap Bobbi.

 

But let Me focus on the real point of no return, for you: it was when you killed your parents.

I said: “Honour your father and your mother” and “Don’t kill” and you disobeyed two direct orders, orders I gave for a reason; killing per se, and in particular killing the people that gave you flesh and blood is a mortal sin and every mortal sin rots the soul to the core.

A rotten soul is unable to see and looses the light of My guide.

From that moment on, your mind became utterly confused and you began to see the good as evil and evil as good.

The perfect example is your relationship with Kara: you loved her, yes, but in a twisted way.

She had been brainwashed, then she lost her master: you saw yourself in her and tried to help her like nobody did with you, in overcoming the loss, in finding her true self, in fighting the brainwashing, in defeating the internal pain that she could not bring out and that did not let her find peace.

But it occurred to you what My Son told you in the parable of the blinds: if a blind leads another blind, both end up in the ditch.

You wanted to cure Kara like you thought you cured yourself killing your parents and Christian, by exteriorizing her interior pain in seeing Bobbi’s torture, in receiving her apologies and finally in destroying her.

Bobbi was a symbol of the pain Kara had endured, and destroying Bobbi meant, in your mind, destroying Kara’ pain.

This is exactly what you did with your parents: seeing the fear of death in their eyes helped you extirpate the same fear from you, the fear they pumped in you. In your mind you were just returning the favour… This is the only way you found to overcome the tangle of pain, bitterness, heartache, and anguish that was suffocating you.

At the end, you found you couldn’t destroy Bobbi by killing her, because she didn’t care to die, so you excogitated the ploy to make her see her husband die in front of her, to crush her heart of stone.

But I couldn’t let you succeed in that: I had to put an end to that craziness.

So your plan backfired: instead of Bobbi, it was you who had to see your love die in your arms, that day.

 

I know what happened, then. You let the Beast take complete control of your life, because you lost all hopes.

Hate was the only thing that could keep you upright, but you forgot that, when you hate and especially when you nourish that sentiment for a lot of time, you play Satan's game.

Once again, you wanted to make the culprit to suffer what you suffered: in your mind, Coulson and May were the culprits, and their beloved ones were Doctor Garner and Rosalind Price. But you had to be strong to make them pay, so you walked on Garrett’s walk and used Hydra for your personal, petty, selfish goals; then your encountered Gideon Malick and, dulcis in fundo, you decided to go to the forbidden planet to bring back a hell monster!

You realize, now, this one wasn’t a brilliant idea, do you?

You realize that you have to face the consequences of such a decision?”

 

“Yeah, I do.

And I regret that and everything else.

Satan gave me the Beast as a gift, and I followed it: it made me strong, and I understood it ruined me only when it was too late.

And then I hoped in that other Maveth demon to solve my problems, as if it was a god.”

 

I am the only God!

Men cannot avoid having faith in something or someone, because I created them this way.

But the Only One worthy of their faith is Me.

When you start adoring something else as a god, like yourselves, or another person, or money, or power, or sex, or ideologies, or organizations, or whatever other idol, you lose the way.

This is why I recommended you to remain vigilant!”

God voice was heartfelt.

 

He paused for some instants, then continued:

“Do you realize that the creature on that alien planet is sent directly by Satan?

You saw Him, there, in the bottom of Hell, didn’t you?”

 

“Yes, I did see him… I’ve never been so terrified. Ever.”

 

“Well, that planet’s creature will be the worst danger that Earth had ever faced.”

“But Fitz killed it, and he and Coulson had already gone back through the portal!”

 

“We will deal with that later.

Things are going to become worse, awful, on Earth, you know that?

That’s what you men want: to be the gods of your own lives, and to get rid of My disturbing presence.

You are tempting Me to leave you alone.

 

But whenever I leave, the Other comes.

 

And He becomes your god.”

Chapter Text

 

 

 

God continued, changing his mood in a very serious one.

“I always had great plans on you.

You have already suffered and inflicted enough injustices.

I’m sick of all that!

Enough is enough!

Now I take everything in My hands.

The Enemy wants to use you to destroy the Earth and all its inhabitants, but I will transform you from destroyer to defender, from curse to blessing, from a killing machine to a bulwark for humanity.”

 

Ward remained silent, not comprehending.

 

“I’m offering you a once-in-a-lifetime possibility of redemption.

I’m offering you the thing nobody gave you: the chance to do good and balance the scales somehow.

So listen up.”

At those words Ward became all ears.

 

“I’m sending you on the deepest undercover mission you’ve ever been in.

You will need to bury your soul deep, really deep inside - and you are already familiar with that - but now you will need to fake you are really dead.

But you will not… be dead, I intend.

It will be extremely painful, especially after some time; it will hurt like hell, but the pain will purify you and will make you purge all your sins.

Moreover, differently from what you experienced in the true Hell, you will not be burdened with that terrible desperation, that unbearable interior ache; instead, you will feel Me inside of you, comforting you and giving you My strength. Last but not least: that pain will not be eternal. It will cease and, at a certain point, it will end, even if you will remember it for all your life, as a lesson not to be forgotten.

Don’t worry: I will help you endure everything.

I will not abandon you.

I will not betray you.”

 

Ward remained silent, pensive.

 

“Now I need to explain your mission.

I created mankind giving to each of its members a lot of precious gifts, both physical and spiritual: life, time, means to survive, will, intelligence, reason, grace, hope, faith, love, freedom, and many, many others…

In particular, freedom represents your greatest dignity, but also your greatest weakness, because you can use it against yourselves and become slaves.

Ask yourself this: who’s in charge in your life?

Are you really free or are you a slave to your body, to sex, vices, money, work, ambition, power, pride, envy, jealousy, hate, sloth, avarice, wrath, or even organizations or ideologies?

Do you know if it is no longer you to be in command, but something other than you, to which you cannot resist?”

It wasn’t an easy question to answer… it implied insight capacity.

 

“Choosing the evil, you become slaves to it, loosing said freedom.

Not for nothing My Son taught you that, when you commit a sin, you become a slave to that sin.”

Ward had to recognize that he had been a slave to his hate and his desire of vengeance for almost a year, sacrificing on its altar his life, literally.

 

“I, instead, greatly respect the gift of freedom I gave you.

My greatest desire is to be loved by every one of you, but I created you free nevertheless.

I don’t force anyone to love me.

In fact, what would be the point, for Me, to have hundreds of billions of puppets adoring Me only because they can’t do otherwise? I even avoid manifesting Myself in too glaring ways, not to force you to believe in My own existence!

 

No.

 

Love must be given freely, otherwise it is not love.

 

You are free to love, or hate, or ignore Me.

 

You are free to choose your paths in life, to choose between Good and Evil, between Me and Satan.

 

Besides, My mercy is so grand that, even if your entire life is a mess, in your last instant I give you the freedom to choose between salvation and damnation: in that crucial moment your last choice is made definitive.

And mind that: it is your choice.

 

And you saw and felt what it means to make the wrong choice.”

 

Ward felt a shiver at those words.

 

“The only problem with that is that the human being is an creature of habit, so in the majority of cases he continues to do what he is used to do. This is why it is important to have good habits…”

God made a little pause, like he was pensive.

 

Then resumed His speech:

“But let’s not digress from the main topic.

Mankind is now in great danger of loosing said freedom: the creature on Maveth has the power to steal freedom and to transform all human beings into puppets adoring itself in spite of Me.

Its and Satan’s final goal is to destroy your planet, transforming the Earth in an Hell offshoot, and overcome all mankind with desperation, to steal all your souls from Me and bring them in Hell.

What they want is cause the Apocalypse a few thousand years in advance…”

That sounded bad, really, really bad!

 

 

“That creature, thousands of years ago, has been given the name Alveus.

It means Hive.

Its destructive power is immense, and given directly by Satan.

It has power on the weather and nature phenomenons, but Its most dangerous power is telepathy: It can insinuate Itself between the folds of men’s thoughts to control them, instill said thoughts even, manipulate dreams and minds within a certain distance, control emotions and make man feel what It wants them to feel.

It has the power to connect with another mind in such a thoroughly way that the victims are forced to think that those thoughts and feelings really are their own.”

Involuntarily Ward’s mind wandered to his brother…

 

“It then pushes Its victims to do awful things, and they love It even more for that, because, in exchange, It gives them an enormous pleasure.

It’s like a bond, a sense of strong belonging, a connection to something bigger, the sensation of being part of something bigger, to have all a common goal and of working together to achieve it.

 

But it isn’t a common goal.

 

It is Satan’s goal, to conquer what He thinks the real power is: your adoration and, then, your destruction.

 

Of course: He is devoured by hate! He hates principally Me, because He wanted to be Me; instead He is only a creature, and He cannot accept that… Then He hates you, men, because I love you and He wants to hurt Me through you.

How superbly naïve He is!

He has not yet understood, after thousands and thousands of years, that the real power is the power to love and, consequently, create.”

 

God paused for a few instants, then continued:

“Hive is also very good at lying: at the beginning It will convince the most that Its plan is good, that It will free the Earth from war and men from slavery and poverty. It will convince men that It will give them emancipation. But it is only a temporary cover: Its real goal is, first, to be adored like a god, and then to achieve the total destruction, like on Maveth, to bring slaves to Its Master.

The difference, between a simple temptation and Its sway, is that men have no defence against it. They will not be able to oppose themselves, because they will be deprived of their own free will. That will render them irresponsible for their actions, but the overall effect on mankind will be devastating.

Now, unlike a century ago, you have an enormous destructive potential.

This is why this is the right time, in Satan’s mind, for Hive to be freed.”

It wasn’t a bright perspective, for sure.

 

“But you were right, when you said to Coulson that you are part of a Grand Plan.

You were only wrong in understanding whose plan it is.

You are part of My Grand Plan, not Hive’s, like It made you believe…”

 

At those words something clicked, in Ward’s mind.

 

“Yes, you were already under Its influence, on that planet, from the moment you put your eyes on that monstrous altar.

Hive made you feel that incredible sense of satisfaction.

The same was for Coulson: It made him daydream Rosalind to push him to kill you, so your body would have been at Its disposal.”

 

Wait!

 

What???

 

 

 

Chapter Text

But God continued, deadpanned:

“Can’t you see the irony in all this?

Hydra’s golden boy, that’s you, will carry the Hydra in himself (or the other way round, it depends on the points of view); but he will be also the One that finally will destroy Hydra once and for all, both the organization and the centuries-old monster!”

 

Ward blinked incredulous.

God continued.

“Yes, you have understood right.

Your mission is to return that creature to the hellfire it belongs to, saving mankind and the Earth from it… about time!

Your second mission is similar to the first: saving all mankind and saving one single soul have the same importance, to Me. As I have already said, every single soul of yours means more that the entire Universe, to Me, because your soul is eternal, infinite, created in My image and likeness, and through it you are capable of Me.

I try everything in My power, respecting your freedom, to save any and every soul of yours. But sometimes you don’t allow me that.

Your souls are enormously precious.

This is why Satan wants to steal them so badly.

 

Skye saved your life making your heart beat again, once: it seems only fitting for you to do the same for her.”

 

And now, hearing her name, Ward remained completely astonished.

 

“Yes, Grant.

I created her for you, and you for her.

So be sure that finally the two of you will end together.

And your sons and daughters will be My delight.”

 

At those words he felt a surge of joy he never thought he would experience in a lifetime!

 

“I’ve prepared you all your life to endure what is waiting for you out there.

You know what it means to be controlled against your will, you know that sense of impotence and burden, you know the rage it provokes the friction of control, and now you will learn how to resist it.

You are going to experiment on yourself a control so powerful, so deep like anything you ever experienced.

But you will have the strength to resist it.

Now you will be finally given the strength to get rid of it once and for all, to become free, resisting and fighting and defeating the greater danger Earth had ever encountered!”

 

Ward was starting to be really concerned about all that, feeling that he may not rise to the occasion and, sensing that he was on the verge of dismissing, he spoke:

“But I don’t think I can accomplish such a mission! It’s too big for me!

Moreover, I would like to remain here! With You!

You are everything I ever desired!

You are unbelievable!

There aren’t words to describe what You are.

I only want to stay here with You, forever!

Please, don’t send me away!”

 

“No.

You don’t deserve to stay with Me, yet.

Paradise is for the souls that have reached absolute perfection: nobody less than perfect can enter in it, otherwise Paradise would be progressively ruined. And Earth is enough, in terms of imperfection and ruins.

If I hadn’t intervened, you should have stayed several centuries in Purgatory to be purified and to atone for your sins. And Purgatory’s fire is exactly what you are feeling now: the longing, the homesickness, the nostalgia, the desire of Me after having understood what I am, but a desire that can’t be fulfilled yet, because of your unworthiness.

And it burns, a lot.

What I am offering to you now is the possibility to discount your Purgatory on Earth, saving it; and saving Skye.

This is your second chance, the second chance nobody was willing to give to you.

Full disclosure: this is your last chance.

I am your last chance.

But you are free to choose.

Do you want redemption? Do you want to make everything right?

SAY YES!”

 

Ward remained silent for an instant, those words reminding him of his mentor’s same words when he was 17 years old, at the juvenile.

But this time everything was different: he had complete faith in the counterpart and he felt he was doing the right thing.

He felt this as his real defining moment.

He would have to follow orders, but good ones, orders that would increase his freedom instead of reducing it.

And he decided, finally, to do the best choice of his life: working for the Greater Good.

 

“YES!

I’ll do it.

For her.

For mankind, that I damaged so thoroughfully.

And for You.”

 

“Right answer!”

Chapter Text

God continued:

“You will see that realizing My Will is the best way, and the only, to transform your life in a masterpiece.

And remember: I will always be with you!

So do not be afraid of not being up to the task!”

 

“But I have been so evil… I am a murderer!”

“The majority of the killings you committed were under Garrett or Shield or Malick’s orders, so they are to blame the most. The ones who command are the ones who take the bigger part of the responsibility.

Men always forget this and try to become powerful and important, not keeping in mind that, when they will be facing Me, they will be made accountable to Me for all the people that were posed under their control.

It would have been better for most of them if they minded their own souls, instead of seizing power!

Moreover, anytime you had the possibility to spare a life, you did that, trying to avoid spilling unnecessary blood or inflict unnecessary pain.

For the rest, yes, you were a murderer.

But this is going to change, because I will be with you.

To be true, I have always been with you, but now you are aware of the fact.”

 

At that point God’s voice became sweet:

“I was with you in those woods, under that rain and those thunders, in that solitude that detached you from so many bad things, that purified you from the rage and the aggressiveness and the violence that have been your constant companions for years.

I gave you Buddy as an alternative companion, instead of the Beast: it was loyal, trustworthy and it loved you. 

 

Seldom I can achieve this with you, men: to transform the bad in good, the misfortune in fortune, the cruelty in blessing...

 

That isolation, that profound contact with the perfection of nature, was like a cure for you. It made you more meditative, calm, serene, almost at peace. 

Do you remember the silence, the quiet, and the serenity, there? The birds singing, the sun peeking through the tree leaves, the gentle breeze perfumed of flowers and musk?

I loved you there, and you felt it, didn’t you?”

 

“Yes, I felt it. I remember it, now, and the memory is sweet in me. Thank you so much!”

 

“I was with you on the Bus when you were driving towards L.A. alone with Skye, over a sea of clouds, and the sun was shining directly on you.

I was with you after you were defeated by May, put in shackles in front of Coulson, with you larynx broken, unable to speak; I was with you when Coulson told you that Garrett was dead and you ferociously wished to die, too; I was with you when he told you that Fitz and Simmons were safe - and you silently thanked Me - but Fitz would never be the same, and remorse bit your heart.

I was with you when, after weeks of tortures at Talbot’s base, you cut your wrist with that button; when you did the same with that piece of paper, feeling the sharpness of it penetrating your flesh and then the blood warming your arm, reddening the white paper, filling your nostrils of its smell; I was with you when you where hurling yourself against the walls… and I always tried to make you feel wanted, loved!

I always said: - Stop! Stop! Don’t do that! You are precious to Me! Don’t throw away this life I gave you! Your heart remained soft despite everything you went through, because there’s still so much good in you! Don’t waste it! You are not doomed! –

But you couldn’t hear me. You were too furious, too desperate.

But then, after sedation, I managed to clear up your mind, making you accept what you were, what you did, and why.”

 

Ward felt recognition light his mind.

So that had been the origin of his strength, in that horrible moment of his life!

“I was with you when you held Kara’s dying body in your arms and you felt so terribly in fault, so lost for having dragged her in such madness! There you felt My words:

- You were so cruel you wanted to kill a husband in front of her wife only to punish her. Doing so, you bound yourself to the same destiny! Leave this wrong way! It will only drag you lower and lower! -

And for an instant you thought this would be the right thing to do.

But then the Beast in you bit back:

- No! It isn’t your fault. It is May’s, that framed you! It is Shield’s, as it always has been! It is Coulson’s! They destroyed each and every occasion fate presented you to be happy. They deserve to be punished for this! - and you let the Beast take possess of your heart, you nourished it, pushing Me away.

And that was the beginning of the end, for you: when you decided to push Me away, because whenever a man dislodges Me, the Other finds a free field… and He is much stronger than any of you.

You cannot beat Him without My help.”

 

Ward understood perfectly.

But then he found the courage to formulate a question that was gnawing him for some time.

“Can I ask You something?”

“Of course.”

“Don’t you think Hell is a too heavy punishment? Especially its eternity?”

“Hell’s eternity is bond to the eternity of the sinner’s will to sin.

If I have let them, all Hell’s inhabitants would have continued to kill and rob and rape and brutalize others for all eternity. In the same way, for all eternity their punishment will stick with them.

Besides… you interpret eternity in the wrong way, but it is normal: after all, you are three-dimensional creatures.

 

Time simply IS. It is the fourth dimension, but you cannot see it in its entirety, so you interpret it like a flow of instants.

 

Moreover, the concepts of time and space have sense only if there is materiality, so when you are detached from your body, loosing you material half, time and space cease to exist. In the moment of death, all your choices are made definitive; they freeze in that precise instant. And eternity is not really an infinite amount of time, like a never-ending flowing of instants, but the absence of time altogether.

 

About what happens there… what do you expect from Satan? To be sweet and delicate?

He is the inspirer of all the wars and hate and tortures and every evil on Earth! And mind that on Earth I put strong limits and barriers to His action!

Hell is His reign, instead!”

 

“And what about all those monsters? Why humans were turned in so horrible creatures?”

“Humans became monsters, because in Hell what’s inside is revealed outside, and monstrosity is the real appearance of sin. Like in that story of yours “The picture of Dorian Gray”, where the picture becomes uglier and uglier as the protagonist falls in a downward spiral of horrible sins, leaving his appearance handsome and young. But at the end, when the protagonist dies, his body inherits the picture’s monstrosity, returning to the picture its primeval beauty.

The Hell’s inhabitants’ basic sin is pride, which make them believe to be gods and prevent them to ask help to Me.

They live their lives worshipping themselves or their idols, filling the time I gave them with horrible sins and scandals, but they, deep down, are ashamed of them.

During all their lives they try in every way to silence their conscience, but in vain.

When they die and finally face Me, all their horrors, that they tried to hide in darkness, are revealed by My light, because there is nothing covered, that shall not be revealed, and hid, that shall not be known. Every man should bear in mind this simple concept and act in such a way that any of his action could be watched by anyone without shame.

In that crucial moment they see themselves for what they really have become and, instead of asking Me to heal them, they hate Me because My light reveals their lowness. And they flee from Me and throw themselves into the fiery furnace, filling the air with their hate, insults and blasphemies. 

They condemn themselves.

They choose Hell for themselves.

And when somebody chooses against Me, I simply respect his freedom and walk away.

 

Once I am gone, all that remains is Satan…”

 

“But a lot of men choose evil!”

“Yes, because it is more appealing.

But it is necessary, for every man, to hone the ability to see beyond appearances and to live in the perspective of eternity.”

 

Ward was feeling his time there was winding down.

 

God continued:

“One last thing, before you go: Garrett tried to beat this lesson into you: that care and love and attachments are weaknesses, and you had to fight those weaknesses in you.

On the contrary, I say that these exact things will be your greatest strengths; so be as much caring and loving and attached as you can!

You have been in the darkness; I’ll make you bring light!

You have been enslaved; I’ll make you bring freedom!”

 

“Yes, sir!”

Ward was never so happy to follow an order!

 

“Now, concentrate on your task.

Be sure that I will always be with you.

Don’t you worry! I’m greater and much more powerful than your sins, than Hive, than Satan! And I see farer.

Steel yourself and be strong, stronger than ever, because what you’ll face is terrifying.

Now go.”

 

“Yes, Sir!

Thy Will be done, not mine!”

Chapter Text

At that point all faded away and he found himself standing by his dead body once more.

He kneeled and entered it.

He was surprised: that body was still warm, and tough, and strong, and harmonious, but so, so heavy! He felt like he entered in a soft armour that was pressing him on all sides. It wasn’t unpleasant, because he felt a strong sense of familiarity, but the speed, the immediacy, the lightness, the instantaneity of his previous state was something else!

He was still adjusting to the familiar sensation, tuning on his senses to the outside world, his hearing to the silence, his touch to the feeling of sand and rocks under his body, his sight to the bluish light on the planet… when he saw it: a tentacle, right in front of his nose!

A tentacle was approaching his face, menacing, ugly, slimy… and it was getting nearer and nearer… what the hell was it doing???

And then he felt the tentacle insinuating and entering in his mouth and pushing, pushing inside, entering his throat, forcing his epiglottitis, and going down both in his stomach and in his lungs, and from there down in his intestines.

He felt violated, ashamed of that thorough intrusion, then he started choking, his lungs filled by thousands of mini-tentacles that prevented him from breathing.

And then with his eyes he saw a lot of other tentacles approaching: but this time an entire body was coming. It was a monster, horrible, with semi-human features: It had legs and arms and a head, and a torso, but it was like Its grey skin was swarming, as it was composed of millions of particles.

It was cold like ice, like a snake far from any source of heat. And then It grabbed his head in an iron grip with both of Its pseudo-hands and penetrated his skull, his eyes, and his neck, like melting in them.

The pain he suffered then was excruciating, but his screams were mute: it was like his brain was exploding, pierced by a million of white hot long pins, and his head in the meantime was filled by an huge amount of memories, starting thousands of years ago, when the world was primitive, and then on and on, during the flow of history.

He felt like all Its particles were melting his body, fusing with it, legs, and arms, and everything else.

The creature overwhelmed him completely: It took everything from him and placed firmly Itself inside, leaving almost no space for him.

He ended up feeling like an intruder in his own body!

 

Then he felt his body moving potently, standing up and sprinting towards the portal, that was still open: he realized that everything he experienced before (the flow of life, the falling, Hell, Satan, the angel, the doors, God), happened in no time. So it was true: time didn’t exist without materiality.

Running at a neck breaking speed he managed to arrive to the portal an instant before it closed, and he hurled into it.

He found himself on the castle floor, with all the walls shaking and falling down in debris, dust and smoke filling the air: Shield was bombarding the facility and he felt the creature inside him panicking and struggling to find an exit before it was too late.

He found it and sprinted towards it, finding quickly the outside field, and then he ran and ran and ran, till he reached the near wood to hide in it. His body was trembling, shaking for the superhuman effort. They were safe by the skin of his teeth!

And It managed to come back to Earth, after thousand of years!!! They managed to come back to Earth!!! Ward couldn’t distinguish his own happiness from Its. But Ward’s was tainted by a deep anxiety… This creature was the most dangerous threat Earth ever faced!

Then something happened: he felt a strange sensation, like himself expanding, magnifying, beyond his body boundaries. He was swallowing all the surroundings, growing wider and wider, spreading around… and up. He felt up above the presence of a huge plane and inside it a crowd of people. Yes: they were them!

Hive knew them through Ward’s memories… most of them, at least: Jemma, May, Fitz, Coulson, Skye… and she was embraced and kissed by that blond guy he saw once…

Ward felt a jolt of jealousy… what the hell was him??? And why did she cut her hair? He liked her long hair, a lot… it was so feminine… how many times he had imagined to put his fingers in her hair and comb it! Definitely this tomboy cut didn’t suit her.

In all of that, the strangest thing was that he could feel their thoughts. He could feel Jemma’s sorrow for some loss he couldn’t individuate, May’s fondness for Coulson, Fitz’s both regret and relief, Skye relaxing in the blonde’s arms, but not completely, keeping a little detached…

But the strongest feeling was Coulson’s: he was broken.

He could see what he was thinking and all he saw was the image of himself while he was crushing him. He could feel that hate and that want to kill and that powerful sensation in squeezing life outside a body and then fear, terror:

“What have I done??? What have I become? I’m not better than him! I became a monster! A monster!”

Ward felt himself thinking all of it, but in parallel it was like he could perceive Hive’s thoughts: he felt how It was cataloguing all the people, pinning down their names and their emotions, for future use.

Then he felt Hive’s disinterest: It was descending from above on the ground, searching something around. It was like It was swarming nearby to find something else. That plane and its people were useless, now, for surviving. Instead It felt the presence of so many soldiers in the vicinity, and among them there was him: Malick.

It accessed to Ward’s memories and immediately knew It had to reach him. It knew Malick entire life’s goal was to bring Itself back, so he was the right choice.

It felt Malick’s disappointment, and rage, and his sense of loss: he was thinking he would never reach his objective and that he lost any possibility to open another portal.

“No, Gideon, you’re wrong. I’m here. I’ve returned.

And now it is time to show you what true power really is.”

Chapter Text

Ward found useful some reminiscences of his literary studies during high school, for interpreting what was happening to him. In particular an ancient Italian poet, called Dante Alighieri, fascinated him, at that time: Dante wrote an extraordinary epic poem, considered one of the greatest works of world literature: the Divine Comedy, divided in three canticas (Hell, Purgatory and Paradise), with 14233 rhymed lines, all in hendecasyllables.

In Hell and Purgatory there was the so-called Counterpoise Law (or retaliation law), which meant a process of punishment either resembling or contrasting with the sin itself: e.g., in Hell the lustful, that let themselves be overwhelmed by amorous passion, now were overwhelmed by a continuous storm, while the cowards, that never took sides and never let themselves be tormented by the struggle of what side to pick, now were tormented by bees, flies and worms, that referred also to their moral lowness.

The counterpoise law, in Ward’s case, belonged mainly to the first case, a punishment resembling the sin itself.

At the beginning, when Hive was so feeble It couldn’t speak and It could barely stand, he felt himself like he has been thrown in a very deep well, at the bottom of it, covered up to the shoulders in a chill water, that froze his body to the very bones, making him shiver continuously.

All was so cold… cold like a grave.

And dark.

And quiet.

Only the lapping of water could be heard.

Looking up he could only see the round stonewalls - oh, so, so tall - and a feeble light at the entrance of the well. He wondered if his brother, too, felt those walls as impending and imminent as he felt them there.

He could feel Hive’s thoughts, which now were aimed straight to survival and nothing else. He, in a certain way, understood the creature: he too was a survivor and knew what it meant to clear up the mind of everything but the thought to remain alive, at any cost!

 

He also didn’t know that he would soon receive so many bullets in him as many as he shot in others, and so many stabs as many he gave, and hits, too, for all the people he beat, without the possibility of actually dying but suffering all the agony, because of Simmons, because of the Kree Reaper, because of Shield’s soldiers under May’s command, because of Skye…

 

Hive was hungry. Ward was hungry. So hungry he would have eaten even bugs or worms, if he was given the possibility. But he was powerless, passive: he could only lie down and witness to what was happening outside, prisoner in his own body.

Then came the food and he so welcomed it! He felt Hive eating it with his own mouth, hungrily, and it was so good, so good!

But soon, as Hive was regaining strength, Grant started thinking that this wasn’t a good development for him: in fact, his body was becoming more and more sore, then aching, then truly painful to the point he felt panic growing: hell, if this pain was going to increase at this rate, soon he would be in such a distress that he feared for his mental health (at that, he could see May rolling her eyes: she already believed him a psychopath)!

He suspected that Hive was using this mechanism to spike adrenalin in the body It inhabited, to make the body itself stronger, resilient, and ready to run and fight.

In fact his body couldn’t be defined as dead: Hive was keeping it alive in a strange way, having extracted from his lungs and heart the ribs that pierced them, enlarging the ribcage to its normal size, making his heart beat, making him breath, making his brain work and his blood nourish every cell of his body. But nonetheless he was suffering a lot, and the pain continued incessantly, day and night, so he could never rest. It became worse after Hive ate those poor five humans to heal the body: if he could, he would have screamed for hours and hours, but not even a moan could escape from his mouth.

He was mute.

And he suffered.

In silence.

For months.

 

The only thought that comforted him was that he knew the pain would not last forever. And he also felt that the pain could abstract him, could purify him from his self-loathing, from his guilt, from his innumerable sins, like rain on a dirty surface.

And a mysterious force he couldn’t clearly identify sustained his soul, preventing despair overcoming him.

“I will always be with you”

Ward could nonetheless follow what happened around him and he could spy on Hive’s characteristics and powers. It could read Malick’s mind like an open book, for example. By now It knew everything about him: his faith, his health, his money, all his banking accounts, all Hydra secrets, his power, his connections, his family composed only by a beloved daughter, his sins… and all remaining in a single room several meters underground!

He felt Hive’s satisfaction in seeing Malick’s sins: all the people he made murder, all his plots to gain influence all over the world, all the lies he told… Among all of them, especially one brought satisfaction to Hive: the one he told himself about the tragic end of his brother. Gideon told himself he loved his brother and he did everything in his power to save him… but this wasn’t true. And Hive was planning to exploit this weakness soon.

During Its days underground Hive could catch up with thousands of years of history: Ward was really impressed by Its intelligence, Its memory, Its capacity to find interactions and correlations between facts, and in Its understanding of men’s behaviours and drivers. He understood that Hive was also graced by the experiences of a lot of men that gave It their lives and their memories, when they were chosen during the ceremonies that took place during the centuries and then sent through the portal on Maveth.

But Ward could feel that Hive was in search of something, or, rather, someone.

It saw once a documentary about a firm that studied all forms of parasites and the means to resist them, but in particular there was a doctor, that caught Hive’s attention: doctor Holden Radcliffe. He was the man Hive needed to fulfill Its plan.

Then all the mess with Charles and Transia happened. Seeing how Hive made Malick crush that man’s head made Ward’s insides writhe with disgust. Really Hive cared nothing for men, and It made Malick do that to enslave him even more, through another horrible sin.

But the worse happened with Malick’s daughter, a beautiful girl that was grown up in the Hydra god’s faith.

Ward had to admit that she was really fascinating, so refined and sophisticated, and he would not disdain to know her better, but then Skye’s face popped up and he immediately pushed those thoughts away. Through Hive, Ward could feel Malick’s fear when It approached his daughter, her disappointment in her father and her determination to sacrifice him to balance the scales with his brother.

But Hive didn’t want to sacrifice Gideon: It wanted to punish him for his cowardice and to teach him a lesson on sacrifice. And when Hive made Ward’s lips approach Stephanie’s, he knew it was to kill her: he didn’t want to kiss her and then make her open her mouth, but he couldn’t avoid it in any way!

And, when he saw her lifeless burned body on the floor, he felt, as a reopened wound, the disgust and the guilt for having chosen to adhere to Malick’s request and being the mean that allowed Hive to reach Earth.

He was sure that Gideon was feeling the same, but much, much worse, and he didn’t need Hive’s telepathic power to know that.

He had absolutely to find a way to destroy that hellish creature!

Absolutely!

But how???

Chapter Text

Hive reached Daisy on the lonely hill overlooking the city skyline.

It was a place full of peace, of silence: even the pain Ward usually suffered was strangely low and he could concentrate better…

Hive was looking far away: “You came here often. I see why.”

Daisy approached: “I was a different person the last time I was here.”

 

Grant felt his heart melting at seeing her… his woman… after so much time, so close, in such a quiet situation…

He knew she was very different, now, from the girl he fell in love with, but he also knew that that girl was still there, buried deep inside. And he wanted her back. Badly!

Her forehead and cheeks were still injured from her face to face with Malick and, in seeing that, he wished so much to be able to take her visage in his hands, caress her, kiss her… but he couldn’t!

He couldn’t stand this longing, and he ate her with his eyes anytime Hive looked at her!

Hive, instead, was detached, cold. It saw her as a powerful cute tool, nothing more. It didn’t care for her, nor It was attracted to her. While Ward wouldn’t have detached ever his eyes from her, Hive had no problem in roaming his stare around, contemplating the surroundings as one who considered them already of Its own property.

 

Her hair was a lot shorter than the last time he saw her, during their last mission together in Alaska, when they talked about Puerto Rico.

That was their last encounter, and it didn’t go so bad. After all, the last words they exchanged left some hope:

“So that’s what happened in Puerto Rico! The least you can do is thank me.” Grant said in that occasion, impressed, after she had manifested her powers.

“How about I just don’t try to kill you again?” she answered.

Oh, he desired so much right now to be able to enter in her mind to read it, to see if she still hated him, if she wanted him dead like the others or not, if she really despised him so much… or instead… if she understood him, a little bit…

Oh, he needed so much to be understood by someone! Especially by her!

Actually, he himself was the reason she received her powers: without him she never would have become the powerful inhuman she was now! So, in a certain sense, he had been for her the man of destiny.

“That’s how you know about this place, right? ‘Cause I told my S.O.?” Daisy continued.

He remembered perfectly the moment she was referring to. It was after a small reconnaissance mission they took together before the Hydra reveal. It was only the two of them: they had to closely monitor the movements of a target, ready to warn the team of any suspicious movement. They had been forced to stay in the car for several hours, not far from here, and Skye, tired and also embarrassed for that prolonged time together, that had done nothing but highlight the tremendous emotional and sexual tension that was building between them, started to recount to Ward of her past years in the van, the dangers she had run into, the risks she had taken, like all the times that she had been surprised in the middle of the night by some ill-intentioned trying to enter inside, perhaps to rob or rape her…

She had been always able to escape in time, thank goodness!

Ward listened carefully:

“Why didn’t you find a more secure accommodation? If I had been with you, surely I would have yelled at you and I’d convinced you to live in an apartment, rather than alone in the night with just a piece of sheet metal to protect you!”

“Of course you would! But I’m sure: if you had been with me, no attacker would have dared to approach! You would have protected me!”

“Yes…” – With my life – he added silently.

And the two stared at each other, their feeling overflowing from their stares. But neither could say a word: he was undercover and had to keep everything compartmentalized, while she was scared not to be reciprocated. He was such a difficult man to understand! He was so bottled up!

So she continued, to dissolve the tension:

“But just up here, up that hill, I found a place where I was never bothered by anyone.”

“Still I think you should have been more careful.” Grant was feeling sick, thinking of all the risks and perils she went through.

He was aware he was already compromised, with her. He cared too much…

“Yes, sir!” she made fun of him.

And he smiled.

 

Hive said: “You used to drive your van up here to sleep.”

And Daisy: “You don’t just have his face. You have his memories.”

Ward was thinking: “Oh, Skye! If you only could feel that I’m here, just in front of you!”

Hive, almost sensing something: “He was fond of you, Grant Ward.”

And Grant: “Fond??? I was madly in love with her! I still am!”

And Skye: “And I’m glad he’s dead.”

 

At those words Grant remained shocked, his jaw dropping on the ground, feeling his heart break into a million tiny little pieces.

So was it really true?

Did she hate him to the point she enjoyed his death?!?

He imagined the situation could be really bad, but imagining and facing the reality were two different things.

Those words really risked fading away all his faith!

Until he recalled in his mind God’s words:

“I created her for you, and you for her. So be sure that finally the two of you will end together.”

 

“Ok, there must be another explanation” he thought, and decided to have faith and kick away all his doubts.

 

Hive continued: “He is, too, in a way.”

In that moment Ward sweated cold. Hive used the present tense!

Maybe, with his outbursts and his strong emotions, he had made it clear to Hive that he was not really dead?

But then Hive continued, with the past tense: “Grant was a thirsty soul. And he suffered for it.”

Ward breathed a sigh of relief. He had to be more careful not to be discovered; otherwise the whole mission could be compromised.

Besides: “Thirsty soul”, what an understatement!

 

Daisy continued: “You’re so different from him. Just being around you, I can feel it. It’s like this emptiness I’ve always had is gone.”

And then Ward felt the strength of the bond Hive had interlaced with her, and started to doubt about himself, again. When all this would be over, will he be able to give her that sense of fullness, of belonging, of completeness that Hive was giving her at the moment? He didn’t know…

But the fact that Hive was physically detached from her, that it didn’t desire her, consoled him. He could not have resisted attending an intimate relationship between the two of them from so close distance, knowing what kind of monster Hive was! Only thinking of its filthy tentacles on her smooth skin was an unbearable thought!

 

Ward didn’t realize that Daisy’s harsh words were the words of a drug-addicted person, that she wouldn’t say that, if only she was in her right mind.

 

In fact, she still cared about him, even after all he did.

 

She was sincere when she said that she wouldn’t try to kill him again.

She understood a lot of things, after she met her parents: she too betrayed Shield; she too hurt some of her friends; she saw first hand that life could transform decent persons in monsters; she felt the fascination her mother had on her and could only imagine what Garrett could have been for a teenager Ward.

She felt really sorry for him, when she discovered, talking with a very pleased and smug May, that he killed Kara by mistake, framed by May herself.

She felt sick to be near her S.O., in that moment.

She could only imagine the devastation this fact could have provoked in him and she wasn’t surprised that he decided to take over Hydra. She never saw the pair together, but she understood that Ward needed someone that could care for him and that could understand him.

She was almost glad that Ward wasn’t alone anymore, for his own good.

Almost.

She felt her insides writhe when she heard Coulson order Hunter to go, hunt and kill Ward and prayed whatever God was up above to protect him!

When the terrible murder of Rosalind took place, she was sorry for Coulson, but at the same time she wasn’t surprised: of course Ward would retaliate against them, after they attempted to kill him so many times! And of course he would attempt to hit the head of Shield, because said head was sending his better agents to kill him! About the modality, it was understandable that Ward would try to make Coulson suffer in the same way he suffered for Kara. All of that made perfectly sense: Ward didn’t kill because he did feel nothing. On the contrary, he killed because he felt too much. She knew that, and she confessed that to Coulson.

Then all the mess with the portal and Maveth happened and she found herself hugged and kissed by Lincoln on the Zephyr One, unaware of what happened to Ward.

 

She didn’t dare to ask, but in the briefing that followed the mission she discovered that Ward died on that distant planet.

 

She felt like a pang, like a part of herself dying with him... and she had to keep all that pain hidden from everybody else, because she was an Agent of Shield and she couldn’t dare to pine over the death of one of the most dangerous Hydra heads!

 

So in the daylight she carried on, wearing the mask of the stonehearted agent that May so well wrapped on her, in such a way that everybody thought everything was fine.

She never talked about him, to anybody.

She was ashamed of her feelings.

She was ashamed to still being pining on a killer, on a torturer, on an enemy…

But she couldn’t help herself… she couldn’t make her heart stop bleeding… and during the night… oh, so many nights… when nobody could hear her, she cried, and cried, and cried for what it could have been and didn’t, for all her own mistakes towards him, for her terrible words, that she regretted so much, now: “Backstabbing traitor … Rot in hell … Son of a bitch … A Nazi, that’s exactly what you are! … I wanna throw up … You should have run faster … I’m so glad I shot you …”.

 

What if she would have tried to help him?

 

What if she would have tried to talk to him?

 

What if she would have asked him to talk about his life?

 

What if she didn’t condemn him without reflecting?

 

But now it was too late… it was all over… and she would bring with her this remorse till the end of her life.

 

She wasn’t given any detail about Ward’s death: she didn’t know how it happened, nor when, nor if that was an accident or the result of an intentional action… but then she decided that this was the right moment to move on and forget him.

 

So she tried to make things work with Lincoln.

He was a decent guy, moderately handsome, but nothing comparable to Ward.

Lincoln, to be really honest… well… electric boy was too vanilla for her.

 

Ward, on the other hand, had always had in himself something, a sort of combination, of hybrid between energy, heat, and fire, but also vulnerability, pleasantness, and softness (especially for her), all mixed with roughness and cockiness, that fascinated and attracted her irresistibly, from the first moment.

She was constantly at daggers drawn with him; she always tried to put him on edge, to provoke him, to try to find out the real self of this extremely complex and mysterious man.

 

And she felt a common terrain with him, too: a messed up childhood, parental issues, a darkness inside… that thing that made her survive alone all those years.

 

Oh, the glances they exchanged sometimes! She seldom found herself out of breath, all warmed up by his stare that pierced in her soul, her head foggy, and her knees flabby like jelly… When she was given the Shield badge and everybody congratulated with her, she kept an eye on him. He remained tactfully aside, trying not to disturb her, but he couldn’t take his eyes away from her, peeping continuously but trying not to be noticed… And then she gave her whole attention to him: nobody, nobody ever looked at her with that adoration, that sweetness, that … love.

 

Yes, she knew that. He was in love with her.

 

But nevertheless he decided to betray her. For Garrett! And she was furious about that! Mainly with Garrett, but also with Ward: she felt hurt and humiliated. How was it possible that he loved him more than her???

But time and experience fully explained that to her, afterwards… And moreover... it was not only love that drove Ward: it was loyalty. Nothing would convince him to betray the only person that believed in him: he wasn’t a traitor!

When they had to decide about the mission with Talbot and Carl Cree, and Coulson, for the hundredth time gave his lecture about second chances… she almost felt sick. It was only some hours before that she discovered from Fitz how Ward died. Fitz didn’t want to say anything, but she was an expert in talking her way inside other’s minds and she managed to make Fitz all fuzzy and the truth simply slept out. And she felt horror-struck. How could a man like Coulson be such a hypocrite???

And again: she for the hundredth time wondered why Coulson was so willingly giving second chances to everyone except Ward!

If only she had known that the main reason Ward was never given a second chance was herself, she would have become furious!

Coulson didn’t have any right to behave in such a way!

He wasn’t her real father!

And he didn’t have the right to discard a man only because he was fatherly jealous of her!!!

Chapter Text

The destruction of Hydra, due to the revelations made by Malick on his deathbed, should have been greeted with cheers and celebrations; instead Skye’s loss eclipsed that huge success.

Everyone was concerned about her - especially Coulson, May, Mack and Lincoln - wondering what Hive could have done to her.

Everyone was struggling trying to imagine what plan could It have in store for them, and for Earth.

For sure they knew that, on Maveth, Hive made an entire – advanced – civilization adore Itself like a god, making them build monstrous altars; then It provoked a civil war that ended in the destruction of the entire population.

They knew It could drive anybody mad.

They knew It could sway inhumans and transform them in Its slaves.

But they would have soon discovered that the reality was beyond any worst scenario they could ever have imagined.

 

In Hive’s new secret place

After Shield found them in the polluted town, they had to move away. Hive was pissed about that, and communicated that to Skye, who was becoming paler and weaker, due to the blood Doctor Radcliffe was draining from her to try to reproduce the Kree experiment.

But her sacrifices would soon be rewarded with a brilliant result.

 

In the meanwhile, Giyera entrapped twelve Watchdogs in an alley and captured them, bringing them back to their secret place.

Hive chose their bandmaster, a tall man with curled red hairs and blue eyes, and closed him in a container, while the others were bound in shackles and forced to watch. At that point Doctor Radcliffe released in the container a gaseous compound, made out of the little amount of Kree blood they could save, Skye’s blood and the Terrigenesis crystals, through a pipe. They could hear for a few instants the Watchdog’s bandmaster struggle, but soon everything was silent and they could only wait.

Giyera approached quietly Hive, whispering in Its ear that he found an interesting tool in one of the ATCU’s facilities: a nuclear warhead.

“Why don’t we use it to spread the compound around the world?”

Hive turned its face to Giyera, looking at him like he had grown another head, and said:

“Don’t be ridiculous!

Have you any idea of how much energy is released by a nuclear reaction, of how high the temperature can go?

How do you think a gallon or so of compound could resist to such an explosion???

It is biological! It would be burned up in a nanosecond!

And even if it wasn’t biological, nothing can resist such a blast in a radius of several miles!!!”

 

Giyera bowed his head.

“No” continued Hive.

“We have to be subtle, sneaky.

To achieve the goal, the transformed people must appear absolutely normal, unchanged: the only change will be in their mind. They will obey me, and only me, thoroughly. I will mentally control any one of them.

In such a way, we will quietly spread the disease and nobody will realize what’s happening, until it is too late.”

At hearing this, Ward felt his skin coming out in goose bumps. He focused his attention, trying to push away the continuous pain he was immersed in, to try concentrating.

“The scattering of the infection must follow the same modality as a virus, through direct contagion.”

“But in this way it will be extremely slow!” exclaimed Giyera.

“Don’t underestimate the power of exponential growth!

Think: if each of our swayed new inhumans will be able to infect a thousand of humans, in about three passages we will be able to infect a billion people.”

“Ok. But somebody will notice this. Shield, for example.”

“It is absolutely realistic that some people will realize what is happening. I am keeping a close eye on Shield for this reason. But, if the infection is subtle, they will arrive too late, or at least we will have enough time to infect powerful people, that will cover us. We have to exploit their social infrastructure! Mind that, when a body is infected, I take over it, controlling it completely: they will be all appendices of me. Moreover, it’s almost impossible to detach the parasites, once they take possession of a body.”

“I see. But the spreading of the disease, as you described it, will only infect big cities, densely populated areas, places with a great concentration of people, while it will leave almost clean little towns and isolated places, in which the resistance could start.”

“You’re right. But when I will be connected with all those people, I will have a very clear map of the world and I will easily individuate such “clean” places, as you define them. Then, having so many infectors at my disposal, and having I the power on atmospheric phenomenons, I will spread such a huge amount of parasites in the wind, in the waters, in the aqueducts, in the rain and on the ground, that nobody will remain untouched!

By the way, don’t worry for my mental health: each time a mind connects to the hive, my power increases, like adding a server to a computer network.

Earth will be ours in a month, two tops.

Earth will be a kingdom of peace, of harmony, where everybody will share a common goal and a unique thinking, for the greater good. My greater good!

This is true power.”

 

Giyera remained pensive for a moment, then exclaimed:

“Impressive!”

 

In that moment Doctor Radcliffe attracted their attention: noises could be heard from the container. The transformation had taken place. It remained only to verify it.

Giyera opened the container and the Watchdog bandmaster exited, without whatsoever sign of change. Inside there weren’t traces of cocoons or other fragments at all, but the bandmaster fixed immediately and directly his stare on Hive, without flinching. Hive mentally gave him the order to infect the remaining eleven Watchdogs and he turned towards them, raised his hands and a flow of parasites left the tips of his hands, reaching the eleven and engulfing them. They froze for a few seconds, and then regained focus. Their eyes had become vitreous, inexpressive, but other than that no change could be detected.

They turned immediately their stares on Hive.

And It, slowly, said them these words:

“Go out to the whole world; proclaim the Good News to all creation. Diffuse my cure to every creature. Whoever accepts it and is baptized will be saved, but whoever refuses it will be condemned.”

Giyera said them: “Come with me. I will deliver you to metropolises, airports, train and subway stations, stadiums, big malls…”

Hive nodded, contemplating the group leaving the base, but in the meanwhile it was inspecting Doctor Radcliffe thoughts. In fact, the doctor was having a flash of inspiration and Hive was curious to know what it was.

Radcliffe felt that Hive’s words where disturbingly similar to the ones Jesus said to his twelve apostles, at the end of the Gospel.

And Its emissaries were exactly twelve…

Then another though crossed Radcliffe’s mind: “Satan always tries to ape, to imitate God like a monkey.”

And then it clicked in the doctor’s mind what Hive’s true origin was, and, consequently, what Its intentions really were, but he hadn’t time to dwell upon his discovery much, because Hive made him pass out an instant later.

Chapter Text

Hive didn’t expect to see that creature, when the Quinjet’s cargo hold opened.

Hive felt that something wasn’t right also before the Quinjet landed, because, when It tried to penetrate Lincoln’s mind, It couldn’t find him inside the plane. It was like the plane was empty.

But the plane wasn’t empty, unfortunately for Hive.

When the two saw each other, it was like a spark in a explosives storage: they immediately started a fierce fight.

Hive couldn’t penetrate Lash’s mind: it was like he was impervious to Its telepathic power.

Hive could neither infect Lash with Its parasites: Lash had an energy field that protected him from them and that he could throw as a weapon. Hive avoided any blast of said energy with a speed and a grace worthy of a dancer, but, in doing so, It was impelled only to defend Itself. It hadn’t any possibility to attack.

Hive calculated that, to beat Lash, Its only hope would have been to use the forces of nature, so Lash had to be brought outside, in the open.

In that moment Daisy come out, so weak and pale, to try to defend her master: “Stay away from him!” and Hive took advantage of that moment to run outside, while Lash freed Daisy from the parasites, scooped her up and brought her into the Quinjet. Daisy begged him to remain with her and return safely to the base, that Hive was too powerful for him, but Lash was unshakable:

“My mission is to put down Hive. And I will accomplish that.”

 

While the Quinjet flied away, Lash went outside, in search of Hive.

And Hive was there, waiting for him.

In the meanwhile Ward was thinking of Skye: he knew she had been freed and was glad about that, even if he already felt the loss… having her so close for so many weeks has been comforting for him: it helped him endure the pain more easily…

But now Lash was in front of them: would be this creature to defeat Hive, in the end?

 

The battle was formidable: the two of them fought strenuously, running and hiding into the woods, until Hive managed to attract Lash in an open clearing full of sand. There It summoned a fierce wind, that generated a sand storm and made it almost impossible to see. Lash remained there, blinded and deafened for a little while, and couldn’t see the black clouds approaching, nor the powerful bolt of lighting that reached him.

It burned Lash to the core.

And then everything was over.

 

Lash was dead.

But he died as a hero.

After that, after Daisy was stolen from her supposed home, Hive grinded its teeth against Shield.

It decided that enough was enough and that Shield would soon see its rage.

As predicted, as the disease spread around quickly, Hive’s mental powers increased significantly. It could scan whole territories through the eyes, ears, activities, habits and knowledge of their inhabitants.

It was like that the Earth was enwrapped in big spider net with Hive in the centre, and all the human brains were transforming in a one whole unique brain: Its.

It sent its infectors where It knew there was more need for them.

But of Shield no trace. And It had to find their base!

While Daisy was with It, Hive didn’t mind to investigate on the location of Shield’s base, because it wasn’t important from Its point of view. But now Hive was interested, and It was cursing Itself for its so limited thinking.

Shield was still in the shadows, until Hive noticed, through the eyes and ears of Its net of people, a strange behaviour in a man not already infected, but on the right way for that, that Hive knew from Daisy was in contact with Coulson: General Talbot. It mentally followed him to the path towards an isolated town, with nothing more than a little mall, a bar and few houses, in the middle of nothing. And, for good measure, It managed to have a little special heart to heart encounter with him…

And surprise, surprise! That was just the location for one of the most protected Shield bases! Daisy had to be there! And Hive wanted her back: she was too powerful, too intelligent, too good, and too precious to let her go.

Ward, instead, was torn between the desire to see her again without hate in their eyes, but awe and love (even if not directed to him), and the urge to drive her away as far and quickly as possible.

Chapter Text

As it took possession of human minds, Hive became more and more powerful and euphoric. It was a drug in both directions: from Hive to humanity and from humanity to Hive.

But Hive had a score to settle with Shield: they stole Daisy from It, so It was planning to assault Shield base, and talked about it with Giyera.

“Before I go there, they need some… preparation.” Hive said.

“What kind of preparation?”

“I need to settle myself near them, within a mile radius, to have the possibility to penetrate their minds. After a week of my ‘treatment’, be sure their thoughts will be so messed up that it will be a piece of cake entering in the base and destroying everybody and everything there.

 

They took Daisy away from me and I want her back.

 

I also believe that they should be ‘educated’.

I respect very much the one who gave me this body.

Grant Ward was strong, resilient, a perfect host.

I have access to all his memories and I know how he desperately tried to do better, meeting only hatred and hostility from those who proclaim themselves defenders, shields both for humanity and for every individual man. If they had helped him, we wouldn’t be here, right now.

 

I really have to thank them. They have provided me not only the way to return, but also the mean!

The cliché is once more confirmed: the greatest Hydra’s ally is Shield!

 

This has been possible thanks to their hypocrisy, which has led them to consider themselves superior to others, more worthy, more pure, more valuable. They continue to keep all weapons they find, instead of destroying them: they are men of war, not peace.

Grant Ward, alone and lost in the maze of his sick mind, believed to be worthless: for this reason he threw his life away.

He was subjected during all his life to the worst kind of brainwashing: the one that leads you to think you don’t worth anything and that nothing is worth anything, accordingly.

 

Now I will make them try a little brain-messing and we will see if they are better than him!”

 

So it disguised Itself and took up residence in one of the few houses in the remote village where the secret base of Shield was located.

 

Ward was inside, dreading what would happen soon enough…

 

That night was the beginning of hell for the base’s inhabitants.

Hive’s objectives were mainly the human commanders and scientists of the base: Coulson, May, Mack, Fitz, Simmons and Lincoln, but It didn’t spare the other humans.

It hit also Skye, to punish her for her betrayal, even if she couldn’t have done anything about that.

It didn’t care: she had to know who was in charge!

 

It knew all the bonds that tied them: for example he knew the trust Coulson had for May, the devotion May had for Coulson, the adoration Fitz and Simmons had for each other, the loyalty Mack had for everybody, the love Lincoln had for Daisy, and her affection towards him…

 

So it started working right on those bonds, to destroy them.

 

Fitz and Simmons were conducting an analysis on a strange and diffused meningitis outbreak: at the beginning of the disease, all the media advertised regularly on it, trying to help in isolating it. But, with the passing by of time... nothing more was heard, because the contagion had spread to the authorities, the police, the local governments, and all said authorities became progressively controlled by Hive, that made them cover everything up.

 

But then Shield was involved by more pressing matters: Hive began infesting their sleep with nightmares so terrible to leave them horrified and deadly scared of the possibility of falling back asleep.

 

May dreamed more and more of the little girl in Bahrain, that she was her and Ward’s daughter, with long black hair and a pair of eyes exactly equal to his: she killed her shooting at her and then Ward discovered the fact and then he became mad at her, accusing her to be a monster, to be a degenerate mother, an unworthy woman, and beating the crap out of her… Then the little girl returned as a zombie and killed her…

Other nightmares involved Coulson and him giving her the order to suicide, because she had became a burden to the team… and she was torn between obedience and self-preservation…

And again… she dreamed about killing him…

 

Coulson dreamed more and more about his act of killing Ward hollowing his chest, but Ward only the first time was integer; the second time he was already decomposing, and Coulson was forced to squeeze an already putrefied chest, teeming with worms, that climbed up his hand, his arm, his neck and then up his face and into his eyes ... and there he always woke up screaming!

Other times he dreamed of Rosalind, that he himself was aiming at her neck pulling the trigger and she once more was bleeding in his arms, for his own fault, this time.

Other times he dreamed of Skye embracing Ward, kissing him, making love with him, and then raising and saying: “You always tried to separate us, but we were destined together! You didn’t help him when he needed it, you didn’t give him a second chance. You killed him. So you deserve to die!” and sending against him a shockwave that destroyed him like she did with Malick…

 

Fitz dreamed of Simmons in Will’s arms, alone in their bunker on Maveth, making love and laughing at him. Then Will progressively transformed in a monstrous tentacled Hive, and Simmons was at first horrified, but then Hive transformed again in Ward, in so an astonishingly handsome Ward so that Simmons couldn’t resist him, and embraced him and kissed him… but then again he transformed in Hive and engulfed her with its tentacles and its parasites and killed her. The only thing remaining of her was her own skeleton.

Other dreams implied Fitz captured by Hive and sacrificed on one of its horrible altars.

 

Simmons dreamed of Fitz, of him swayed by Hive, becoming crazy and trying to kill her, and so she was forced to defend herself with extreme means. She also dreamed about the spreading of the meningitis to a worldwide diffusion, mankind transformed to a mass of puppets obeying only to Hive, cold, distant from one another, the relationships between people almost non-existent: parents indifferent to their kids and vice versa, couples divided, voluntary associations and social assistance dissolved, friendships untied… like a mass of robots, like a mass of de-cerebrated.

 

Mack dreams were probably the worst of all. He dreamed of Armageddon, of Apocalypse: all the nations of the world battling one against the other, the tension increasing day by day, the governments taking desperate measures in desperate times, and then using all the weapons at their disposal to defeat the enemies, bringing the Earth to self-destruction through chemical, biological and nuclear warfare.

 

Lincoln dreamed of Daisy betraying him with Hive: he saw the two of them having sex in front of him, and he was becoming crazy with jealousy. Then Hive made Daisy hit him, and she enjoyed that. Hive was also torturing him saying that Itself was the only one who could give Daisy what she really wanted, that bond, that sense of belonging, that happiness that he wouldn’t ever be able to give her. And Lincoln saw himself starting drinking again, and then going out for a car drive with Daisy, and then being involved in a terrible car crash in which Daisy died. He saw himself with her lifeless and bloody body in his arms, calling her name and crying.

 

Daisy, or Skye, probably was having the worse nightmares ever. She saw herself hurting all the people she loved: Coulson, killed with a sniper rifle like the one she used against Donnie Gill; May, beaten to death with the same techniques she taught her; Fitz strangled against the wall; Simmons stabbed with syringes and scalpels; Lincoln destroyed with a shockwave; Mack, with his heart ripped away from his own chest…

She dreamed also about Ward: he was accusing her to be the responsible for all his evil actions. He reproached her that, if she didn’t shoot him, he never would have met Kara and, in a chain of events, he wouldn’t ever have gone to Maveth and brought back Hive. Also, she saw herself saying to him that he didn’t try suicide hard enough, only to see himself grabbing a pistol and shooting himself in the head, then getting up only to cut deeply his wrists, and then running against the walls… and so on, in a horrible succession of suicide attempts… She always woke up screaming!

 

This situation led to an awful period of sleep deprivation for all of them: their thoughts became foggy, their bodies weak and their wills feeble. But Coulson wasn’t stupid, and he suspected what was going on, even if he hadn’t any idea of what to do about that assault. After several hours of brainstorming he had indeed a good idea: Hive’s mind was the result of thousands of minds fused together, so if they could stir all those memories and bring them out of place with the memory machine, for sure Hive would fall in a great confusion, weakening him.

 

The idea was good, but to work it implied Hive to be reachable, and It, instead, remained hidden in the shadows.

Moreover, Hive had access to all their thoughts and became aware of this plan, making it useless.

 

Hive was becoming impatient: Shield was dangerous, always struggling to find a flaw to exploit, and it had to be finished quickly.

So It started with the second part of the plan, which consisted in putting everyone against the other.

 

It made May starting to suspect Coulson to be infected and to face him in the open, while Coulson thought the same about May: they ended up fighting against each other and Coulson, in spite of his cybernetic hand and of the fact he was heavily armed, was getting the worse of it. May was beating him to death, without any remorse in the world. She even appeared to enjoy that!

 

The same was happening between Fitz and Simmons: Hive infiltrated their mind and Simmons poisoned Fitz, while Fitz took a more physical approach, simply slapping and beating her until he fell unconscious on the ground due to the poison.

 

Mack had been segregated in a room, because he was trying to kill everybody with his axe!

 

Skye was already in a containment unit, and Lincoln quickly was thrown in another, because he was messing up with all the electric systems.

 

All the other agents were fighting against each other or trying suicide and in all this mess Hive had the possibility to enter the base without being noticed.

 

Ward, inside of It, was horrified by the overall spectacle, but hadn’t any idea how to stop it.

So he tried the unthinkable: the only one remained lucid was Simmons, because she already accomplished Hive’s mission to defeat Fitz. So Ward concentrated deeply, over all the pain he continuously was suffering, and fused his mind with hers. Evidently, he could use some of Hive’s powers!

The sensation she felt was to be catapulted from the mess of the base to a very quiet place, like an empty church, with solar rays pouring through the coloured windows at sunset.

There she found herself face to face with Ward, but a Ward chained to the wall, with his chest bared, suffering, heavy breathing, battered and barely able to raise his head and watch her in the eyes.

It seemed every word he spoke required a huge will’s effort to be pronounced.

 

“Jemma…”

“Ward?!? What the hell are you doing here???”

 

“Jemma… listen to me… we are running out of time… You have to destroy my body… Please…. Please… Jemma…”

“Destroy you body? And how I am supposed to do that???

I am out of my mind! I have just poisoned Fitz!!!

And I cannot understand why I’m here and not finishing him like Hive commanded me to do!

How much I love it!

Why can I think of my own, by the way?” she seemed almost hysteric.

 

“I know… I know, Jemma… I am protecting you against It…”

“Ha! Trying to confound me like you have always done?

Ward?

Ward???”

But he was fainting in front of her, only the shackles keeping him upright.

 

She approached him and shacked him and gave him light slaps on the cheeks.

“Ward! Ward! Wake up!”

 

And he with great effort managed to reopen his eyes.

“Jemma… Isn’t there… any Terrigenesis Crystal… around…?

I know Skye… stole everyone of them… but maybe…

Oh, you should have seen… how carefully… Hive… stayed away… from them!”

 

That appeared to puzzle her mind but then she answered:

“Yeah, I have one of them in the lab, to experiment on it…”

 

Ward perked up at this:

“Good… good!

Go… and grab it… then throw it at me…

It should… pulverize my body… forcing… Hive… to manifest… Itself…

In that moment… you have to… to burn It… with… with whatever weapon… you have…

Attract It… to the containment unit… fill it with inflammable gas… close the door… and set the fire…

Hive has… to be returned… to the hellfire… It belongs to…”

 

“But so you will die!

You want to sacrifice yourself???

I cannot believe that.

You must have some angle…”

 

“You think… I wanna… live like this?”

 

“I don’t believe you.

Ward?

Ward???”

 

But he definitely had lost consciousness and she found herself back in the base.

 

Had she to believe him? He was her enemy, he tortured her… but he didn’t give the impression he was lying.

Moreover, she had to do something about Hive: she was the only one that could do something. She was the only one that seemed… free. How could that be possible???

 

In that moment she saw, in the monitors, Hive entering the base.

It was now or never.

She ran to the lab, grabbed the Terrigenesis Crystal and returned to see that Hive was directed towards the area that held the containment modules. Daisy was kept prisoner there and Hive knew it.

Simmons kept approaching and assisted to a chilling scene between the two of them: Hive freed Daisy and she was humbly kneeling in front of It, begging It desperately to take her back!

But Simmons wasn’t surprised: she had just experimented what mental control meant, how much trust, reliance, confidence, belonging it implied… so it wasn’t surprising that Daisy wanted to rejoin all of that… it was too good!

Hive reached for a panting Daisy, caressing languidly and openhandedly her cheek, but then withdrew with a jerk and a shocked expression on its face:

“I can’t.”

“Why? Why not?”

“That creature… it made you… impervious!”

“Please… Just…”

“I’m sorry, Daisy.”

After that Daisy was seized by such a deep rage, such a unbearable anger that she screamed like she never screamed in all her life, overwhelmed by pure wrath, her eyes filled with hatred and only one goal in her mind: make Hive suffer like she was suffering, inflicting on It the same pain she was enduring.

And then Simmons assisted to one of the fiercer fights she ever saw: Daisy used all her powers to destroy Hive in a furious battle made of hurls against the wall, heavy objects thrown, kicks, punches, blocking and pinning, until Daisy took a knife and stabbed Hive multiple times!

But Hive remained indifferent, as if she was hitting someone else, as if It did not feel any pain!

Daisy was shocked, so she began receding and started throwing at It several shockwaves that broke all Its bones, but Hive, unblinking, regenerated Itself continuously.

At the end, taking advantage of a moment of distraction, It hit her head making her faint and throwing her in a free containment unit, closing her up.

"Never turn your back on the enemy." It commented.

 

Simmons knew she had to react fast, so she ran towards Hive while It was still distracted, threw the Crystal at Its feet and retreated immediately, to take shelter from the mist.

 

Hive remained dumbstruck for an instant, unable to react fast, but had enough time to say:

 

“Woman… what are you doing???

What have you done???

Why couldn’t I see you coming???”

 

Then It screamed in pain, while the cocoon progressively covered Ward’s body, starting from the feet up the legs, the torso, the arms and finally the head.

 

In that moment all felt quiet and all the humans mentally controlled found themselves free.

 

May stopped herself from beating Coulson just in time not to kill him, Mack stopped trying to use the axe, and all the other agents stopped to be suicide or homicide maniacs.

 

Has been Hive defeated so easily???

Chapter Text

Jemma froze in seeing the scene, but after a moment of loss she awakened from slumber and ran to find a weapon to burn down Hive once It would emerge from the cocoon.

 

Coulson and May, all battered, joined her and they managed together to find grenades and some flamethrowers.

 

In the meanwhile, something was happening in the cocoon: they could see it cracking, and from the fissures they could see a strange red light emerging, something like… fire…

 

Yes, it was just fire…

But Hive couldn’t have anything to do with that, for sure…

Hive feared fire!

The only mean Fitz could find to dislodge Hive from Will was fire…

So… where the hell did fire come from?

 

Unless…

 

No!

No way!

It wasn’t possible!

 

Someone must be royally kidding them!

 

 

The cocoon exploded in a blast some instants later and there remained Ward, standing naked, screaming, and covered in fire, like a human torch!!!

 

 

The unbelievable happened!

 

Grant Douglas Ward: top agent of Shield, Hydra mole, Shield prisoner, kidnapper, independent contractor, torturer, second head of Hydra and finally Hive’s carrier…  that same Grant Douglas Ward... was an INHUMAN, too!!!

 

Incredible!

 

 

 

But unfortunately for him the transformation had not yet finished…

 

While the fire slowly extinguished and he fell kneeling on the ground, exhausted, battered, completely wore out... something started gushing out of his skin, like a mist, like a cloud...

 

They were the parasites!

 

 

After some instants he began to twitch horribly on the floor, screaming in pain, and something started exiting from his belly, progressively ripping it.

 

At the beginning they were only little thin tentacles, but after a while they begun thickening and multiplying, and at the end an entire monstrous body exited from poor Grant, while he cried and howled, mangled by that terrible pain!

 

 

Finally Hive managed to come out completely: it was a grey slimy humanoid form composed of tentacles, and muttering again and again, like a litany:

“I cannot inhabit inhumans… we cannot feed on our own kind”.

 

It rose from the floor and started insecurely walking on sketchy legs, in search of a dead body as a new host.

 

Simmons, Coulson and May were having the occasion of a lifetime to kill It! But their thoughts started once again to be captured by Hive’s telepathic powers, so they couldn’t do anything more than remain still, merely observing the scene.

 

Coulson, nevertheless, tried concentrating to break free from Hive's mind control… but every time he started to plot something to kill It, numbness engulfed his mind and he found himself clouded, fogged.

 

It was really frightening not to be in charge of his own mind!

In that moment, who knows why, he wondered if brainwashing resembled what he was experiencing right now…

He wondered if also Ward experienced that torpor, that stupefaction…

 

May and Simmons were trying to react, too, but none of them could break free from Hive’s control: it was like not being in charge of their own willpower anymore, like they lived and breathed only to serve Hive.

 

They loved Hive and would have sacrificed anything to It: each other, Coulson, all their friends, their colleagues, Shield itself!

 

They felt in themselves one single desire: save Hive.

 

It was Hive, of course, that was injecting in their minds all those thoughts.

But soon enough It started with more destructive ones.

It convinced them that they were all doomed, draining any hope and any fighting spirit that could have remained in them.

 

"Why fight the inevitable?

 

Why still trying to defeat a god?

 

It is pointless!

 

It is humanly impossible!

 

Instead, surrendering is so easy…

 

Surrendering to me is so easy...

 

Surrender...

 

Surrender to me..."

 

 

At the end they gave up definitely.

 

They bowed and kneeled in front of It.

 

There wasn’t anybody else around that could help them.

 

Hive was dominating the scene.

 

Every hope was definitively lost.

 

They were defeated.

 

Shield was checkmated.

 

Earth was sentenced to death.

 

Coulson, now completely broken and humiliated, turned slowly his gaze on Ward, who lied gutted on the floor, in a sea of blood, eyes glassy, mouth half open, a still shocked expression on his face, his chest immobile…

And he sincerely pitied him... his once upon a time mortal enemy... for all the pain he had to endure during his life... for the forced brainwashing he had to endure all his life, that he was now able to understand... for the death he himself inflicted on him... for the months of forced cohabitation with a monster he had to bear... and for the second horrible death Hive made him suffer shortly before…

 

Having experimented what mind control meant made Coulson sympathetic with Ward for the first time ever...

Walking for a while in another man's shoes made him comprehend.

Finally!

 

 

It was all so wrong!

Fate had been so unfair to Ward! 

And he himself never really tried to help him, too concerned about the wounds inflicted on his own pride, his wounded pride for never realising he had harboured a wolf in the chicken fence for months...

 

 

And then happened something Coulson would have never thought it could occur, in a million years: he felt towards Ward, in that extreme moment of complete loss, a strong feeling of brotherhood, of fraternity…

 

While a lump was tightening his throat, he pleaded, in a whisper:

 

“Please, forgive me.”

 

 

 

Chapter Text

While Hive, in all his awful appearance, was wandering around in search of a body to inhabit, Ward’s spoils captured Simmons’ attention.

 

She was bowed and kneeled on the ground, in an adoring position, but was attracted by a series of small… movements… in Ward’s belly.

Wait…

Movements?

Movements in a dead body???

How peculiar!

 

She realized that the gash was healing itself, quickly… very quickly indeed… until it completely disappeared, returning Ward’s body to its primeval integrity!

 

Bloody hell!

It wasn’t possible!

 

She couldn’t believe her eyes and tried to convince herself that she must be having hallucinations…

 

… until, at a certain point, a deep breath made Ward's chest rise!

 

His chest continued moving imperceptibly up and down, filling and emptying with air…

 

He was breathing, indeed!

 

Simmons almost started laughing at the absurdity of the situation!

Was there something in the whole world that could defeat that filthy bastard?

 

How many times should they have to kill him… to actually kill him???

 

Ward pulled slowly himself up on his elbows, blinked two or three times and shook his head as to clear his mind.

His eyes finally focused and he started passing his hands on his belly, caressing slowly and carefully it, like in search of something… he went up and down, examining, touching, inspecting… but he couldn’t find anything. There wasn't any trace of the wound Hive inflicted him so far...

 

Then, suddenly, he jerked his head up, like he had been stroke by an unexpected illumination, and whispered softly:

“Thank you…”

Then stronger and stronger and stronger, using his own voice, after so many months:

“Thank you.

Thank you!

Thank you!!

You broke me free!!!”

He was almost shouting, and his lips were curved in a wonderful, beatific smile.

His eyes were shining and Simmons never, ever before saw him so happy!

 

He continued looking up, like contemplating something beautiful, probably the source of that unexpected help…

 

After some instants he shacked himself out from that bliss, rolling on one side, and looked to one of his hands... that instantaneously caught fire! He jolted and looked at it in awe, approaching it to his face, as if to get a better look... turning it front and back, as if he could not believe his eyes...

The flames lit up his face softening his features.

("Surely all those months of possession had not reduced his beauty! Damn him!" Simmons mentally slapped herself just for having been able to make such a thought! But it was useless: she had always had a weakness for male beauty, and Ward, despite all his dark sides, certainly was a fine specimen of a male...)

 

He leveraged on the other hand to stand and looked around, while Simmons, in the meanwhile, couldn't do anything else than glossing her eyes at the sight... Luckily, Fitz was passed out somewhere else and therefore could not see her!

 

 

Ward’s piercing stare found Hive bowed near a corpse, evaluating it, and It, as feeling to be observed, straightened Itself and stared back.

 

The two looked at each other, silently.

Hive was attempting to penetrate Ward’s mind... but It was finding some difficulty in doing that...

Like with Lash...

 

But here it was different: in Lash’s case, his mind was actually impenetrable, like a stone.

Instead, with Ward, it was like Hive could, yes, penetrate his mind, but only to be grabbed, crushed, mashed and thrown out weak and battered immediately after...

 

It was like a battle of minds... a battle Hive was losing.

 

Tired of the stalemate, Hive spoke first:

“How can you do that?

How can you resist me??

How is it even possible???

I never found anybody that could resist me so thoroughly, in thousands of years!”

 

Ward finally answered:

 

“I was tempered all my life for this exact moment.

I find the strength to resist you from years and years of pain and exertion.

I learnt the horror of letting others control me and make me do things I didn’t wanna do, convinced that I was bound to do them.

 

Not anymore. 

 

You will not transform me in a puppet of yours. 

 

I’m done being controlled!

 

I’m finally free, and what I want is to serve the Greater Good.

 

To do that, I will send you back to the Hell you belong to, after thousand of years of you sneaking around.

Down there Satan expects you to bring Him the whole humanity, but you will go there alone.

And He will not be pleased!”

Ward was deadly serious.

 

Hive started arguing back, flaunting a self confidence It didn't really feel:

“You are a poor deluded son of a bitch!

My powers are immense and I’ll destroy you!

I get now that you already managed to escape from Hell, but it won’t happen again!

You will be a wonderful gift for my Master and while you will be rotting down there, I will get a free pass on Earth.

I’ve got total control over three billion people already!

I’m holding tightly in my fist most of the rulers and leaders of the world, too.

Soon I will unleash wars, and with all the nuclear, bacteriological and chemical weapons scattered around after the end of the Cold War, the time left to humanity is quickly running out!”

 

Ward smiled menacing:

“Oh, yeah.

But first you have to defeat me.

And I guarantee you that I am a tough son of a bitch!”

 

Without a hold on Ward’s mind, Hive had no other choice but to start a hand to hand fight with him.

 

And the fight was ferocious, but spectacular to see!

 

Hive revealed to be extremely strong and agile, despite all Its tentacles which should have hindered Its movements: instead they allowed It to sprint and jump extremely high, to catch firmly whatever thing It reached and to throw it potently.

Ward was having serious troubles in dodging and escaping the monster's blows and was at a loss of ideas about how to defeat It…

 

Hive was trying also to use Its parasites to sway him, but they seemed not to work: they reached Ward, but then they were somehow rejected…

Extremely worrying to Hive was also Ward’s incredible speed, in general, and in foreseeing all Its movements and tactics, in particular: it was like he could read Its mind!

And Hive couldn’t do the same thing the other way round!

It was worse even than before!

It was like Ward had managed to construct a shield around his own mind that prevented Hive accessing it!

 

And... whatever wound Hive managed to inflict on Ward, this healed itself at the speed of light!

 

What the hell had him become???

 

It seemed to have inherited some of Hive’s characteristics: speed, strength, but also healing powers and telepathy!

He had become, undoubtedly, a fearsome enemy!

 

On the other hand, Ward was extremely tired, due to the possession lasted for months and all the pain endured during it, so he stumbled against the step that led to an open containment module, falling down inside the module itself.

Hive, of course, grasped the opportunity on the fly and threw Itself on him holding him in a death grip with all Its tentacles wrapping his naked body.

 

But apparently Ward was just waiting for this and, with a superhuman effort, he managed to close the door of the containment module!

 

“And now, to the two us!” he shouted, grinning widely and almost shooting sparks from his eyes.

 

“Ha! I will crush you like a bag of chips!” the monster replied.

 

“Really?

What a cute little tentacled monster!

How can I reciprocate such a kind threat?

Let me think!

Oh, yeah!

I will carbonize you like an eel over a charcoal!” he smiled amiably.

 

“What???”

 

“Now it is time for you to experience the one thing that eluded you for thousand of years”

Ward’s voice was now terribly low and menacing, his smile vanishing.

 

“And what is it?” Hive spitted out.

 

“Death.”

 

Ward strengthened his grip around the monster with his arms and legs and started bursting fire over his whole body.

 

Coulson, May and Simmons could hear Hive’s cries of pain from outside, even if the containment module was soundproof!

 

But Hive was a tough cookie and started struggling violently to get free, so Ward forced himself to increase the temperature, passing from a red to a blue and finally a white – unbearable – heat!

 

He didn’t know how he managed to do that: it was all purely instinctual.

He didn’t know how his body could survive something like that, but it was like he had become fire itself!

 

From the outside it wasn’t possible to look at the windows of the module, because the light unleashed from inside was comparable to the light of the sun!

 

After a few moments also the module’s walls, ceiling and floor started melting down: they first became soft like jelly; then started folding on themselves; then they became properly liquid, falling down in pieces and forming little rivers of white hot metal spreading on the floor.

 

If Ward hadn’t stopped soon, the whole base would have melted down, due to that terrifying otherwordly heat!

 

Coulson and May started shouting:

“Ward, stop!

Stop!

You are burning down everything!

Stop, please!” from a safety distance, because otherwise all of them would have been incinerated on the spot.

 

Their pleadings seemed not to have fallen on deaf ears, because, immediately after, the heat started to cease and dispersing in the great hangar, the light softening and progressively fading down, leaving only a sea of melted metal and a one human form laying on it, apparently dead.

 

It was Ward’s.

 

His body was lying down, finally resting after that tremendous effort.

 

(He was of an astounding beauty: he overall resembled nothing less than a Greek God statue.)

 

No traces could be found of Hive.

 

It was because It was dead, burned to ashes, returned to the hellfire which It belonged to.

 

It had been destroyed by Ward, the most unexpected help!

 

Finally.

 

 

 

Chapter Text

When Ward managed to open his eyes, the first thing he saw was a piece of clothing that someone was handing him.

He couldn't understand where he was...

He couldn't remember what happened...

Was he dreaming?

Was this a nasty prank?

 

Then all the memories of some time ago rushed back in his mind: the Terrigenesis, the heat, the terrible pain when Hive slipped out of him, the fight, and the fire… a sea, an ocean of purifying white hot fire…

 

And an incredible, unbelievable, unthinkable thought suddenly flashed through his mind.

 

He was free.

He couldn’t believe that!

For the first time in his whole life he was really, completely free!!!

 

And he said it, because without hearing it he couldn’t grasp the immensity of the fact:

“I’m finally free…”

 

“Yes, you are”

 

He raised his head to see Coulson above him…

The circumstance reminded him something he would have preferred to forget…

 

They looked to each other in the eyes: Ward’s beautiful honey brown eyes into Coulson’s wrinkly blue eyes…

There wasn’t hate in the older man.

There wasn’t anger in the younger man.

There was peace, and reciprocal forgiveness.

 

Coulson spoke first:

“Don’t’ worry.

I will not crush you… again…”

 

Then, giving him the cloth:

“Take this and cover yourself.

You’re naked and here there are two ladies who might remain scandalized…”

 

May scoffed and said:

“It’s nothing I have not already seen!”

 

And Simmons:

“Talk for yourself! I don’t mind the sight!”

 

And, blushing slightly after realizing what she had just said, she added immediately after, like trying to change the subject:

“Ward…

I mean…

I intend…

I don’t believe I’m saying this…

You’re… a god!”

 

Ward answered almost annoyed:

“I’m seriously starting to think that you can’t understand what the word ‘God’ stands for!

You applied it to Thor, to Hive… and now to me?!?

There are only two possibilities: either you have a very low concept of Divinity, or a very high concept of creatures!

I’m not a god, for heaven’s sake!

Not in the slightest!”

 

Ward was blushing due to his nudity, noticing the stares the two women were shamelessly reserving to him, and took the piece of cloth, fixating carefully it around his hips.

Then grabbed the hand that Coulson was still extending to him, straightening himself in a standing position in all his glorious height.

 

His expression became hard.

He was in front of people that hated him…

He was in front of people that tried to kill him more than once…

He didn’t hate them any more.

He just saved the life of all of them, of everybody in the base… and of everybody on Earth, to be true.

 

But he wanted to understand their positions, and he asked for it, showing a confidence and flaunting a cockiness he didn’t really feel.

 

He first asked to Coulson:

“So, Coulson? Why don't you kill me… again?”

“I think once was enough.” Coulson answered.

  

Then, turning to May:

“What about you, May?

You hoped to have a chance to kill me, too, didn’t you?

Wasn’t that the ‘plus side’?

Or, maybe, you could be satisfied in simply punching me…

Isn’t that what you wanted to do every time you saw my face?

Go on with that!

Punch me!

Get all of that baggage out!

You will feel better, afterwards!”

 

May scoffed and remained silent and still, folding her arms and averting her gaze.

 

Ward turned his stare on Simmons:

“What about you, Jemma?

Have you had enough of shooting at me?

Or do you want to use me like a target a little bit more?”

 

She diverted her stare away, directing it to the floor, and dismissed herself saying:

“I better go check on Fitz.

The poison I gave him is not lethal, but it can bring several… nuisances.

Excuse me.”

 

Coulson, now sincerely curious, stated:

“You have changed.

And I’m talking about a radical, epochal change.

How did you manage to do that?

And, how the hell could you manage to survive and endure all of that?”

 

And Ward answered:

“I’m a survivor.

It’s my nature; you should know that by now.

 

But, above all, Someone gave me a second chance.

He saved me from everything, he redeemed me, intervening just an instant before it was too late.”

 

“And who was that?”

 

Ward said that with bitterness, looking Coulson straight in the eyes:

“It wasn’t you, old man.”

 

Coulson replied, resigned:

“No, I’m afraid I’m not.”

 

Then, as an afterthought, Ward added:

“You, Coulson, asked me, two years ago:

- Who are you, without him? -

I never had the possibility to answer.

But I can answer you now.

I’m a man that has been left alone all his life to face troubles too big for him, for any person.

I’m a man that had been convinced all his life to be weak and worthless.

I had been convinced that anything I said or did was meaningless.

 

But Somebody chose me, prepared me, trusted me and helped me fulfill a grand plan.

I really am part of His Grand Plan!

I see that now with an incredible clarity.

 

Who am I?

I'm a human being, and I point out this, because it seems you never noticed the fact.

And I have been chosen to be the one to save the Earth from the greatest threat of all times.

 

And, until now, I did this alone, without any human help.

I’ve been the whole solution.

And I got it done.”

Chapter Text

Coulson could not do anything else but agree with him:

“Yeah, you achieved a big goal.

Incredibly big, I’m impressed.”

 

And, after a while:

“What do you plan to do, now?”

 

Ward remained pensive for some instants, then answered:

“You once said to me that nobody is nobody.”

“True”

 

“I plan to save Skye.”

“What?!?”

 

“She’s a mess.

I damaged her.

Shield damaged her, you and May more than anybody else.

You transformed her into an assassin, into a pitiless killer.

And she let you mold her, because she wanted a connection, a bond…

She wanted to belong to something greater, to a family, and she would have done anything to get that.

She hoped to get that with her parents, all her life, but it didn't go well.

 

She even tried with Lincoln… but without any big success.

 

You used her weakness to exploit her, and this is exactly what Garret did to me.

You are not so different, after all.

And at the end, Hive definitely ruined her, altering her head, changing the chemistry of her brain like a drug.

She is now experimenting the aftereffects and going through withdrawal.

 

But she isn’t simply dope sick.

 

She hates Shield.

 

She hates you.

 

She hates me for everything, and in particular for what I had just done.

 

And, more than anything, she hates herself, for all the evil she committed, that you ordered her to commit.

 

I’ve been where she is now, and I can understand her, deeply.

She wants to suffer, now, like she feels she deserves it, in a wicked attempt to make amends for all her sins.

She also wants revenge, against me, because she knows that I killed Hive, although she doesn’t know how.

And her greater desire, now, would be to return under Hive’s sway.

She craves that feeling!

But it is not possible, not anymore.

Hive was the only one that gave her true happiness.

And she somehow loved It, even if she tried to destroy It when she understood she couldn’t have It anymore.

It was the only one that made her feel whole, even if that was all an illusion.

I felt all of that, when It possessed me… and I was envious, because I wanted to be the one to give her all that, all she ever wanted, but for true!

But I couldn’t.

 

And I pity poor Lincoln, too.

He’s in love with her, but nobody is comparable to Hive, in her heart and in her mind.

Lincoln has been definitely rejected.”

 

Lincoln heard that speech from his containment unit…

He agreed…

He was already aware of everything…

And he had already resigned.

 

Ward continued:

“Skye needs time, now, and distance.

Please, let her be.

Leave her alone!”

 

And Coulson:

“But… how can you say all those things?

She had fainted and she was thrown in a containment module!

How could she know what happened?”

 

“Because she is awake, right now, and she is feeling the loss.

And she knows also who is the culprit for said loss.

I can read her mind.

And she is coming, for me, to punish me.”

 

In that precise moment an earthquake shook the floor and everybody knew that Daisy was approaching.

Chapter Text

She was there in a moment, her stare on Ward.

The two looked intently, but her gaze was hard, hateful: it was evident that she was suffering.

 

“I can’t feel It anymore! What have you done to It?!?”

 

No answer came.

 

“You killed it, you damned!”

 

Then she threw herself against Ward, slapping and punching him, shouting with an incredible rage:

“Why did you do that?!?

I needed Hive!

And you killed It!

You destroyed It, like you did with your parents and so many others!

Killer!

Monster!

You are a monster!”

 

And Ward, managing to grab her and holding her hands on her belly firmly from behind, not permitting her any movement, yelled:

“Stop!

Stop!

It’s over!

It’s all over!”

 

But she continued struggling, and he gripped her even more strongly, almost painfully, continuing:

“Skye, you don’t understand!

You were addicted to it!

It wasn’t real!”

 

But she screamed back:

“Yes! It was!

It was absolutely, totally, the reality!

I loved Hive! Like nobody before in all my life!

It made me whole and gave me true happiness!

And now it’s over!

You snatched it from me!

Oh, I hate you!

I hate you so much I would kill you if I could!!!”

And she bursts into tears, in a desperate cry, while he was still holding her in his arms.

 

Then continued:

“Let me go, please!

Let me go!

And I promise you will never see me again.”

 

“This is not what I want, Skye.”

 

“But this is exactly what you’ll get!

And stop calling me Skye!

I’m Daisy!”

 

After a moment, keeping always her blocked, he added tenderly:

“It’s true: you loved It.

But It didn’t love you back!

It would have used you to help destroying the Earth!

And then he would have dragged you to Hell with him and the rest of humanity!”

 

It wanted peace for the world, not war!

How can you say something so false?

You’re a liar!”

 

“No, I’m not lying.

I promised that I wouldn’t lie to you for the rest of my life, and I never failed that promise.

I’m sure of what I say, because the One that sent me on this mission is extremely trustworthy.”

 

“Oh, please!

I’m sick of this story!

You always have some mission as an excuse!”

 

“It’s true! And this time it was personal.

I had to return Hive to the hellfire it belongs to, to save the Earth!

And to save you!”

 

She scoffed:

“Of course!

There’s always someone who needs to save poor Daisy!”

 

After a few moments, her voice dropped and she quietly pleaded:

“Let me go.

Please let me go.

I wanna go… go away… far away…”

 

At those supplicant, pleading words, he felt such a deep, tender, heated love for her that he wanted to hug her, and kiss her, and warm her, and protect her from the cruelty of the world.

 

But he knew she didn’t want that.

 

So he obeyed and slowly and unwillingly let her go.

 

She kneeled down and covered her face with her hands, crying silently, while he, eyes closed, stood behind her, arms abandoned along his sides, hands relaxed, breathing deeply and slowly, forcing himself to stay aside with all his might.

 

“Please, do not follow me.

Please, get out of my life.

I never want to see you again.

I hate you.

Oh, I am so, so tired of everything!”

 

After a few instants, she bolted up and ran away, out of the base, out of their lives, out of their world, far, far away.

 

And he let her.

Everybody let her.

 

Ward asked for some clothes and a pair of boots, which were given.

 

Then he turned to Coulson:

“We both love her, although in different ways.

So I ask you this: protect her from the Sokovia Accords.”

 

“Absolutely. Never passed through the antechamber of my brains to adhere to those!”

 

“Thanks.

On my behalf, I guarantee you that I will do everything in my power to help, to protect, and to save her.

Even from herself.”

 

Back to a more businesslike speech:

“Regarding the infected men, without Hive they are harmless, they can’t diffuse the infection anymore, but they will definitely be plagued by a bad meningitis.

If you go in our old base, of which I give you the coordinates”, and he scribbled something on a piece of paper, “you will find the records of all Dr. Radcliffe’s experiments, and the Doctor in person.

Fitz and Simmons should be able to work with him and find a cure for the meningitis.”

 

Coulson took the piece of paper.

 

Then Ward showed signs that he was about to leave.

 

But May, almost shocked, said:

“Coulson, are you going to let him go just like that???

He cannot be free!

He’s a criminal!

He has to be incarcerated for the rest of his life!

Executed!”

 

Ward immediately snapped, glaring with venom at her, and shouted:

“I have already been executed!”

 

Then, more calmly:

“And, in US law, you cannot be punished twice for the same crimes…

And I have already been incarcerated, all my life!

I get that you can’t understand me: your life had been so easy, compared to mine, with your loving parents that protected and guided you during all your infancy and childhood…

You will never understand the traumas I’ve been through!

 

But this is not my problem.

Remain in your ice tower where you belong, with your superiority and your coldness and your grasp on your feelings that is really something next level!

Now I’m finally free from the evil and I will let my feelings overflow.

I’ll let them burst out, to try to melt the ice you put around Skye’s heart and to try to fix the damage all of us inflicted on her.

I love her, enormously, and I’m going to prove that!”

He said all of that with extreme seriousness and convincement.

 

Then, some instants later, as an afterthought, he added calmly and almost uneasily, first looking at the floor, then raising slowly his eyes to look at all of them:

“One last thing…

Perhaps this is my only opportunity to say this.

I want to tell you that I’m sorry for all the bad things I did and that, if I could go back in time, I would have been a very different person.

I ask you all humbly to forgive me.

Please say this also to Fitz, Bobbi, Hunter and the Koenig brothers.”

 

And then, decidedly:

“But I cannot change the past.

My only chance to demonstrate my sincerity is to change the future.”

 

And with that he left.

 

Nobody tried to stop him anymore.

Chapter Text

Skye had only the clearness of mind to grab some money and a backpack with some personal effects before leaving the Shield base.

It was late afternoon and the sun was setting down.

She was dressed in a pair of black pants, a grey sweater and a pair of boots, and took with her also a leather jacket.

When she exited the base she didn’t turn to look back: she only walked through the gates, out of the village and went along the road, her backpack on her shoulder.

She felt the grey cloud of depression enveloping her.

She didn’t know where to go, and didn’t care about that.

She desired only to feel what she felt before, with Hive.

She was craving someone - or something - that could take her that high!

 

And then a rush of memories came back…

Memories from the past…

Memories about the first period she was by herself, after she eloped from the nuns, when she was absolutely free to do whatever she wanted and anybody could no more control her… when she was a stupid, carefree, daring teenager that wanted to play with fire…

 

... memories about the darker and most dangerous period of her life, when she was screwed… a lot

 

She, once upon a time, found a way to experience sensations similar to Hive’s addiction: she already experienced that hypersensitivity, that supremacy, that euphoria, and pleasure, and energy, and happiness… in short: that ecstasy… She remembered how she could perceive those extremely vivid colors and those intense sounds; how she felt the entire world outside in slow motion and the reality altered, so much so she thought seriously she was living an out of body experience!

But, most of all, she craved that sensation of security, of safety, where all her worries became nothing and pain didn’t exist anymore!

 

And she knew all that was false!

That it was all a lie!

That it was only an artificial covering to the biggest horrors imaginable!

There was only one word to call that: a devilish trap! Like those carnivorous plants that attract insects with their dazzling colors, with their intoxicant perfumes, only to devour the poor unsuspecting gullible preys that so willingly were throwing themselves headlong into those false paradises!

And she knew that!

She knew all that, perfectly well!

But she didn’t care!

She wanted all that!

Thanks to God, at that time she met Miles, who dragged her away from that deathly peril early enough for her not to become addicted and suffer all the terrible consequences of drugs usage. He had already suffered the loss of several friends because of drugs and would not allow her ending the same way!

Miles had a grudge against drug addiction and especially against drug dealers and drug lords: he seldom affirmed they were the greatest criminals that walked on Earth.

 

She had to admit that on that occasion she did a very narrow escape!

 

But now she desired that, again, irresistibly; and the possibility to have it was the only though that kept her together.

The objective was painful clear in her mind, and she would have achieved it at any cost, also at the cost of her own health…

and life…

 

 

She must have walked a lot after midnight, but she hadn't any idea what time was it, now.

At last she was so exhausted that she could walk no longer.

She was hungry, tired, and she was drained of all energies.

 

She couldn’t remember the last time she ate.

 

Just about the time when she reached extreme exhaustion, she came upon a portion of a street where she found a covered bus stop shelter. She waited till she was sure that no passers-by could see her, and then she entered it and lied down on the bench.

There she fell asleep.

The next morning (three hours later) she found herself somewhat refreshed, although her body was numb, all her bones aching…

A passing by bus had woken her up…

It was slowing down and she raised and gestured to the driver to stop.

She entered in it, paid the ticket and welcomed the pleasant warmth inside and the softness of the seat, after so many hours passed in the chill of the night on a hard surface.

She fell asleep again, until the bus reached the terminal, in a little city, around noon.

She explored the place and ended up in a diner where she could have lunch, finally.

She asked the innkeeper where she could find a place to sleep that night, but he started to be too much talkative, asking her where she came from, where she wanted to go, if she worked or studied…

That was very odd, indeed…

Thankfully, another guest, an old truck driver, saved her from that avalanche of questions, offering to give her a passage to the metropolis.

She accepted willingly and they left soon after.

 

 

By night she had reached her destination.

She descended from the truck and greeted the driver with a smile.

He gave her recommendations to be very attentive, because he had a daughter just her age and he would be terrified knowing her in that city alone.

She thanked that old man with an uncomfortable sense of longing… he had been so kind with her, a perfect stranger… but she assured him she could take care of herself!

 

What the man didn’t know was that the main danger for her was herself…

 

It was almost dark and she managed to get a room to rest in a motel nearby, where she could at least take a shower.

She was running out of money and she had to find a solution quickly.

The following day, after having paid for the motel and the breakfast, she was left completely dry.

 

She wandered around in that city all day, aimless, confused, starting from the humble blocks, where the houses where little and disheveled, and progressively reaching very rich and elegant quarters, where everyone looked her bad, because of her messy and dirty look.

Finally she arrived in the financial quarter, where all was shining: tall glassy palaces, taxies zooming on the streets, elegant men and women in suits, talking animatedly and continuously on their phones and almost running…

They hadn’t problems in finding money to eat… and she felt so weak and alone…

 

Of course, she had the power to crash down all the surroundings in a pile of ashes, but it was like her powers were useless, counterproductive, even...

In fact, she couldn’t afford to be found and discovered for what she really was: a walking earthquake!

The Sokovia Accords where extremely dangerous: she knew that.

If they managed to capture her, she would become a lab rat, and she probably would end exactly like her mother… dissected alive and then thrown in the trash.

 

She had absolutely to keep a low profile.

 

Thinking about that, she realized she committed a mistake, going there, where every corner had a camera!

How sloppy she had been!

She had to fly immediately and reach some hidden place!

 

But she didn’t know that somebody didn’t need camera feeds to find her…

 

 

That night she hadn’t enough money to pay for a meal, nor for a shelter to sleep in.

She could only drink some water in a public bathroom…

 

In the middle of the night, when she didn’t know what to do nor where to go, she ended up under a bridge, curling up on a cardboard and covering herself with a large newspaper, resting her head on her backpack as on a pillow.

She was exposed to any passers-by and she knew that.

The thought made her a little uneasy, so she thought it would be hard to fall asleep, given also her uncomfortable makeshift bed and her rumbling stomach (she had even considered going in a soup kitchen, but she felt too ashamed for it, preferring the hunger instead).

But, after all, she had still the strength to joke: ‘At least this forced diet will be beneficial to keep my figure!’

 

At the end she was so exhausted that she almost fainted down: she didn’t have time to linger and mourn any more about how humiliating the whole situation was…

 

The only thing that mattered now was surviving

 

... like old times…

 

... like him

 

 

 

 

The following morning she felt strangely warm and comfortable.

She slowly woke up and found that she had a soft blanket around her shoulders.

What the…

Then she smelled in the air a familiar perfume…

 

Coffee!!!

 

And bread!!!

 

And donuts!!!

 

She opened wide her eyes to find in front of her a large paper cup of coffee and a bag containing a beautiful, fragrant, healthy stuffed sandwich and a unhealthy donut full of cream!

She threw herself on the food and ate everything, not dropping a single crumb or a single drop of cream!

 

How good, how good all that was!!!

 

An the coffee? That was divine!

 

That was exactly how she liked it: hot, the just right amount of sugar, and colored with a hint of cream…

 

Absolutely perfect!

 

Yeah... absolutely perfect...

 

... wait…

 

She was still in a wakening dizziness, so she ate and drank almost gobbling everything, but only now she wondered where all those things could come from…

The particular of the coffee, perfectly coinciding with her preferences, was like a signature…

 

Only one person in the world ever bothered to notice and remember how she liked coffee.

 

Ward...

 

It was him!

 

It had to be him!!!

 

He found her.

 

No surprise about that: probably he followed her all the way out of the base and on and on… and she didn’t notice anything!

But he was good.

She knew he was good.

 

And she felt suddenly, for the first time after many months, that sweet, sweet sensation that somebody cared for her really, for free, selflessly... somebody who watched her back, who kept an eye on her to protect her, somebody like a guardian angel…

And she felt somehow the first layer of the ice that was covering her heart melting…

 

But she drove those thoughts away, because she had a precise goal, now.

 

She noticed that the zip of her backpack was slightly open: she inspected the hole and found a wrap of money!

They where all small denomination: five, ten, fifty dollars, but altogether they where about two thousand!

She had to admit Ward had been generous, whereas she had just tried to kill him and had declared to hate him, too!

 

One thing certainly did not lack him: stubbornness!

Why couldn’t he grab the simple concept she wanted to be left alone???

 

But she didn’t want to admit to herself that this situation destabilized her certainties and also amused her… that this game of cat and mouse was intriguing her!

 

“Ok, Ward!

Do you want to play rough?

I’m ready to give you that!

I don’t want you, with all your gallant white knight renewed gleaming armor, to put a spoke in my wheels….

 

Meanwhile, tonight, with this money you so generously gave me, I’m going to enjoy myself!

A lot!!!”

 

 

 

Chapter Text

The first thing she decided to do was to find a good hotel, not too expensive, but also not too cheap like the last she had been in. There she laid down the backpack, undressed and finally was able to take a shower! Feeling the hot water on her body after so much chill and dirt was so wonderful!

Afterwards she changed in some clean clothes and went out… shopping!!!

 

She didn’t remember the last time she went out simply to shop!

It probably happened some months before, some time after Simmons had been rescued from Maveth…

She went with her and Bobbi… one of their rare girl time together… a therapeutic time for all of them!

They went for dresses, gowns, shirts, shoes… and underwear!

Bobbi was all excited and almost emptied the store, while Simmons was quieter, but took something nice nevertheless.

She instead… she simply was not interested… and she didn’t want anything.

She knew Lincoln was attracted to her, and she was to him, too, and she could buy something intriguing to make him happy, if maybe something more intimate would have happened between them, one time or another… but… she simply wasn’t in the right mood…

She was already planning to seduce him, but she didn’t think she needed so much fuss to accomplish the task.

 

At the end, the other two managed to convince her to buy something, a bra-slips combo red as fire…

When she looked herself in the mirror, she couldn’t restrain a pang of proud for the perfection of her body in that slim tissue that so well underlined her forms! And she blushed at the idea that Ward would certainly go into raptures…

When she became aware of what though had just flashed in her head… well… she wasn’t even surprised anymore: she simply once again had confirmation of what her feelings really were.

That man managed to get under her skin even if she didn’t want to admit it.

And she hated herself for it!

She was an Agent of Shield!

And he was their enemy number one! Coulson’s enemy number one!

She couldn’t allow herself to be attracted to such a dangerous guy!

But…

 

But now was now.

And she had decided that she was going to have fun, that night! She needed it!

So she tried different underwear combos and chose two of them, one black and one red, and admired herself in them.

Then she went to choose a dress for the night, something elegant but sexy, and her choice fell on a black tight dress with a short skirt and a plunging neckline, which she coupled with a pair of shiny 5 inches heels black shoes.

The overall effect was astounding!

 

Then she went to a hairdresser to prepare her hair, too: she made cut it a little, she made it straightened and finally she decided for a black color. After all, she had to disguise herself!

The final touch was given by a professional makeup that made her resemble an actress on the red carpet!

She was a vision!

 

 

That evening, in the classy nightclub, the elegant playgoers were sitting quietly at the bar sipping their sophisticated drinks, while their women began to gather on the dance floor. Although it was not Saturday night, there were enough people, the music was beautiful and the company pleasant. It envisaged an evening like many others, but not to be sneezed at.

When, suddenly, all eyes turned to look at her…

Skye had just entered and had already caught the attention of all the men of the room, and also the stares, envy and jealousy of all women…

She nonchalantly reached for the bar and asked a Negroni, that, for sure, was not sophisticated, nor up to the place, but, with its 3 cl Gin, 3 cl Campari and 3 cl Sweet Red Vermouth, was one of her favorites. It had a really good taste, so sweet and fresh, and she knew it would bang directly in her blood.

After a short while she was really flying on her heels, happy, smiling and enjoying the evening!

She joined the dancing floor and started languidly to dance alone, closing her eyes, letting her body move to the beat of the music.

She stole literally the scene to all the other women.

 

Some minutes after Skye left her empty glass to go dancing, he emerged from the shadows of a lone table in a dark corner in which he was concealing himself, and approached cautiously the bar.

“A bullet in the head… on the rocks” he ordered (evidently neither of them had the decency to order something adequate to the place!)

He continued gazing at Skye from a safety distance, without taking off his eyes from her for even a second.

He was drinking her every move, her every glance and wink, her every smile and giggle, her every waddle…

He wanted to see with his eyes what she really wanted to do.

In fact, he was trying not to invade other’s privacy, and he would have liked to avoid reading her mind, for a sort of decency he had inserted in his new honor code.

With great power comes great responsibility!

 

Needless to say, he, too, didn’t pass unnoticed.

He was wearing a white shirt opened on the chest for at least three buttons, with his sleeves rolled up to the elbow and black pants with black shoes.

One could guess the strength of his powerful body from his posture and the slow pace and precision of his movements, as his great sureness might be inferred by the full confidence in his eyes, which didn’t miss a single detail of all the people present.

He knew exactly the number and the positions of the security guards, he studied each man and woman, he knew who was armed and who could be a threat even unarmed.

Several women tried to strike up a conversation with him.

It was natural: he was a looker!

... he always had been...

And he also had that dark dangerous aura around him, that piercing enticing stare, that tempting designed lips, that attractive visage that all in all made him so incredibly seductive!

He behaved gently with all the women that tried to converse with him and started discretely gathering information on the place, the owner, the clients, and the habits of the passers-by. And, in particular, he wanted to know if there he could find a drug lord called Raoul, who seemed to manage the entire drug market in the surroundings.

“And why do you want to meet him, sweetheart?” asked a beautiful red haired, blue eyed girl.

“I’m used to talk to people knowing at least their name…” he said with a sensual look.

“Uhm… it is impolite to ask a woman’s name before a regular presentation…”

He smirked and said:

“You’re right.

Nice to meet you: I'm Zack” and he reached out for her hand.

“Zack how?”

“Only Zack.”

“Ok, ‘Only Zack’! I’m Jenny” she giggled and gave him a languid handshake.

 

“So, Zack, why do you need Raoul?”

“Because I just transferred here yesterday, for work, and I want the better dealer I can find.

And I heard he’s the best.”

“You heard well.

He is.

If you want, I can manage a meeting, but… I think he is a little busy, at the moment…”

Her mood had changed drastically, when she saw a tall handsome blonde man approaching Skye in the middle of the dancing floor and starting dancing with her.

“He’s the man?” Ward asked.

“Yeah…”

“And who’s the woman that is dancing with him?”

“I never saw her before… and I hope I will not see her ever again!”

Ward understood that Jenny was jealous: probably he had just met Raoul’s favorite.

 

“You, instead, know her very well, don't you?

Throughout the evening you’ve never averted your eyes off her!”

 

That made him flinch.

Has him been so obvious?

 

But that didn’t matter anymore: he didn’t like squat the way Raoul was dancing with Skye and couldn’t stand the view anymore.

He felt his blood boiling.

He had to leave immediately, otherwise he wouldn’t have been able to restrain himself.

And that would have been too dangerous.

 

“What about you, Zack? Where do you come from?” asked Jenny.

“Hey!” she added after a second, receiving no answer and looking around.

 

Ward was evaporated.

 

There was no trace of him left.

 

He disappeared like a ghost in the thin air.

 

 

In the meanwhile, Skye was really enjoying the evening: that guy was really handsome.

After so much dancing she felt very thirsty and he offered to buy her a drink.

The two approached the bar and sit down on two high stools.

He was clearly attracted to her and was showing off all his charm.

He ordered a Cosmopolitan for the both of them.

“Make her the special one”, he said quietly to the bartender, who nodded.

 

They begun drinking and, after a while, Skye started feeling strange, euphoric, and incredibly turned on.

She started caressing provocatively Raoul, who seized the day and proposed her to continue their conversation in a more ‘private’ place.

“Yeah, I’d love that” she answered breathless.

 

She was wondering what the hell was happening to her, but, at the same time, she didn’t care, because it felt all so good!

She was feeling so relaxed and happy, so high, like she had not felt since Hive’s death... from what it seemed a helluva amount of time!

And she liked it, a lot!

She craved it for so long!

No more problems, no more pain, no more remorse, no more Shield, no more Coulson and May and all the others that pitied her! She was there all by herself, in the middle of shining colorful lights, powerful and careless, and she was going to get a gorgeous laid, also!

It was fantastic!

 

The two of them went out in the chilling air of the night and he conduced her to his car, a Maserati, opening the door on her behalf like a real gentleman. She was really high, euphoric, and her desire was increasing from minute to minute. When he climbed on the driver’s seat she could barely keep her hands to herself!

 

“Where are we going?” she asked.

“My place” he answered dryly, knowing he had her.

And he ignited the engine.

It was starting raining heavily, while the two of them were quickly whizzing in a maze of streets, increasingly isolated… and increasingly disturbing.

 

They had to stop at a semaphore and she started being a little concerned, the drug ebbing from her system quicker that usual (yeah, she had been drugged!), probably due to the Kree blood in her veins.

“Your place… it is really far from town…”

“Yeah, it is.”

“It is too far.

Please, turn around.

Let’s go back” she begged, worriedly.

“No way, baby.

You stick with me and we will have a lot of fun, this night!

I promise you…” he looked at her menacingly.

“No!

Now you turn around and we will continue having fun in town!” she started getting angrier.

“Shut up, little bitch!” he shouted and gave her a backstroke that left her head ringing.

 

The semaphore became green and he tried to leave...

But the car did not move...

 

He tried again, but there was no way of un-nailing the car from that position!

 

He went out to see what the hell happened and realized that all four wheels were fused, glued to the asphalt!

Meanwhile, also Skye went out and, in front of that scene and his face, started laughing loud!

And she continued laughing, laughing and laughing, without being able to restrain herself!

He could not bear to be so ridiculed and approached her to continue beating her, but she put him down to the ground, knocking him unconscious in a split second, without any effort.

May, after all, had been an exceptional teacher!

 

Watching his curled up figure laying down, she commented:

“This wasn’t my idea of a good laid, this evening, but I’ll have to settle this way…”

Then, looking at the city lights glaring in the distance, she sighed, resignedly:

“And now I have to walk all my way back to the city.”

 

So she started walking, letting the torrential rain soak her to the bones, her makeup melting down, her dress clinging to her body more than ever and her hair becoming a mess.

After a while one of her heels broke and she couldn’t walk anymore, due mainly to the after effect of the drug and her drunkenness, too.

So she lied down in the entrance hall of a building and fell asleep there in a disastrous state.

 

But a pair of strong arms scooped her up to bring her to a better shelter...

 

 

 

Chapter Text

The next morning Skye woke up to…

 

… a warm tongue…

 

… licking her…

 

… insistently!

 

… It was so soft and… agreeable…

 

But it had to stop, for heaven’s sake!

 

Now she had her whole face wet with saliva!!!

 

“Stop, stop!!!” she grunted, grimacing and trying to avert her face and to defend herself from that unexpected tender aggression, only to find in her hands a long snout, a wet cold nose and a couple of soft hairy ears!

 

“Hey, Daisy!

Stop fussing with our girl!

Let our guest wake up in peace! She had a rough night and needs some recovering!

You do not want to frighten her and make her flee even before we can have breakfast together, don’t you agree?”

 

… Daisy?

How the hell could they know her name?

 

But that male voice, coming from another room… it was familiar…

And he called the name as if… as if it was the dog’s name!

 

The man entered cautiously in her room and presented himself politely:

“Hi!

I’m Cal.

I’m your savior!”

She felt her heart losing a beat.

 

He was laughing, mostly to himself.

He seemed quite happy!

“And this is Daisy, the sweetest, dearest, most affectionate brown Labrador puppy in the world!

But I think you two have already made the acquaintances…”

He was smiling amiably, stroking the dog’s head.

 

He had aged, during the last year.

He was weaker, paler… like… ten years older…

 

Skye remained speechless…

 

She was in her father’s house, the one over his vet ambulatory!

How the hell did she end there?

The memories of the previous day were all fuzzy…

She remembered something… she was under a bridge… then she went shopping… then she was dancing with a guy, Raoul… then it was raining and she was all soaked… but nothing more emerged from her clouded mind.

She didn’t know that the drug Raoul made the bartender put in her drink the previous night was one of the most dangerous.

It was called the “Devil’s breath”, or Scopolamine, and was an odorless and tasteless powerful drug, whose characteristic was, besides giving intoxication and causing strong hallucinations, to turn the victim in a sort of zombie deprived of its own free will and inclined to obey to whatever order was given, blocking memories from forming and messing with the short term ones, so that, even after the drug wore off, the victim had no recollection as to what happened before.

 

She was lucky to be still alive! But she didn’t know that…

 

“Hi.

My name is Da… my name is Skye!

And I have no idea how I ended up here!”

 

“Hi, Skye!

Nice to meet you!

I’ll tell you all about last night, but you’d better get washed and dressed!

I’ve gotten some clean clothes for you.

And afterwards we can have breakfast together and talk a little!”

 

Then he added, slightly embarrassed:

“After I heard the door bell and I found you unconscious and feverish on my doorstep, I had to undress you, because you were completely soaked…

And if I left you wearing those… clothes… you would definitely get a bad flu.”

 

She glanced at the dress that was leaning on the chair, and it stroke her how sexy it was!

- Perfect - she mentally slapped herself!

- I had just been pinched up by my father, while trying to become the wet dream of an entire nightclub! -

 

He couldn’t look her in the eyes anymore:

“Oh, do not worry!

I’m harmless!

I am a doctor, a veterinarian to tell the whole truth, but I have a certain familiarity with the treatment of human beings, too, so I take it all as a professional matter!”

 

“Ok, I will be ready in no time!” she smiled back, trying to dispel the embarrassment, both hers and his.

 

 

The breakfast was so good!

Cal had bought at the nearby bakery, early in the morning, a number of absolutely delicious pastries, then he had set the table with great care, showing its best table cloth and his beautiful tea service, a jug with milk, one with coffee and one with freshly squeezed orange juice.

In short, the table was so laden as to a wedding!

 

- Why is he fussing so much on me? - Skye was wondering.

- He should not remember anything!

He should not remember that I am the daughter that had been stolen from him when I was only some days old!

He should not remember that that day, the worst day of his life, his entire world fell apart!

He should not remember all the pain he suffered because of me!

He should not remember that I exists, that he never stopped searching me, all around the world, for 26 years!

Is the Tahiti Protocol wearing off? –

Skye started to be concerned.

 

She observed him better.

No, the Tahiti protocol was firmly in place.

The fact was that it could have erased his brains, but not his heart!

His heart still loved her, and it remembered her during the whole last year!

And it recognized her now!

He was still her father.

And she was still his daughter.

 

One thing suddenly struck Skye more than any other: a vase of flowers in the center of the table.

They were daisies, fresh and fragrant, as just picked up…

Cal noticed her quizzical look on the flowers and wanted to give her an explanation:

“These are my favorite flowers.

Every time I look at them, my heart fills with so much sweetness, and nostalgia, and longing… like for something important… the most valuable thing of my life… that I have someway lost… that someway slipped away from me…”

He was absentmindedly caressing gently a few petals, like if he was far, far away.

“I love daisies… they keep me company in my solitary life…

They are so beautiful…

They are so precious to me…”

 

At those words Skye felt a lump in her throat and was suddenly unable to breath.

Then she began weeping so harshly, so bitterly that Cal got up alarmed, thinking of having hurt or offended her in some way.

“Please, please, excuse me!

Did I say something that bothered you?

If I was so clumsy, please forgive me!

I always talk too much!

I can never keep my big mouth shut!

Oh, stupid old man!”

 

Skye said quickly through tears:

“No, no, it’s not your fault!

It’s just… it’s just… it’s all too much!

Oh, if you knew all that happened to me!

And I cannot even tell you anything!”

 

And she sobbed even louder.

 

“No, no, my dear! Don’t cry!

There’s no need for you to tell us anything, if you can’t!

You’ll see that we will not give you any trouble, here!”

 

And, to her questioning look, Cal said:

“I wanted to tell you this more calmly, but… well…

If you want to stay here with us… if you do not have another place to go… here you’re welcome!

My home is your home!

I do not know why, but… having you here with me… well… it makes me incredibly happy!”

 

At that Skye hugged him strongly and answered:

“Yes… yes… I think I will stay here with you… for some time…”

 

And he, hugging her back:

“Oh, wonderful! You couldn’t say anything to make me happier!”

 

And, at those words, another layer of ice melted, in Skye’s heart…

 

 

Ward was inside his convertible car, that same day, when he saw Skye and Cal going out together for lunch, in a pizza house near there.

His heart rejoiced seeing them together, father and daughter: they seemed so happy!

“And now that you finally managed to put your woman in loving arms, Grant” he said to himself, sighing “it is time to address one of the thorniest ghosts of your past.”

And with that he ignited the engine and roared away.

 

 

Some time later, around seven p.m., the door of the jewelry opened to let the last but one employee get out.

She was a young cute blond woman.

“See you tomorrow!” she greeted.

“Bye, Ann! Have a nice evening!” answered a young male voice from inside.

But the woman did not notice, because of the darkness that enveloped the entrance and because of a far sudden noise that distracted her, that a man, tall, dark and handsome, had taken quickly advantage of the slightly opened door to slip inside…

 

The young man was alone in the back shop.

He was sitting at his desk, finishing to perfect the cut of a diamond, with the light of a table lamp illuminating only his work, the rest of the room enfolded in darkness.

Minutes were ticking away.

After a while he felt something disturbing, a strange sensation, like a human presence in front of him…

Oh, God! Someone was there, watching him intently!

He looked up raising the lamp and…

 

“Grant!” he breathed.

 

“Thomas…” Ward whispered, heart beating hard, eyes glassy.

 

For a few moments neither of them dared to move a muscle, nor even speak.

It resembled that time Fitz found Ward in Vault D…

 

Ward was the first to break the silence, with his voice trembling:

“You do not know… my beloved brother… how much I desired to see you… in all these years!

I’ve been looking for you… I tried in every way to find you… but you were like vanished into thin air!”

Ward was struggling to breathe.

 

“Of course! I was hiding from you!

And now that you’ve found me, what do you wanna do?

Do you wanna kill me, too, like Mom, and Dad, and Christian?” Thomas spat.

 

“I love you, Thomas!

I would never hurt you… again!”

 

“So this is why you just did come to see me?

Don’t you have anything else to do, in your miserable life, than to bother me?”

 

“You’re the only family I have left on Earth!”

 

“Because you killed all its members… except Cate and me!

Go to Cate!

You have her left!

You were so tight, you two, weren’t you?"

 

“I can’t!” he shouted.

“They killed her!”

 

And from then on, he was no longer able to hold back the tears:

“Those damned… they killed her!

Our little sister!

First they ruined her and then they killed her!”

 

Thomas had paled visibly.

 

Those words seemed to have broken through and to have captured his attention.

 

“I did not know…

When did this happen?”

 

“Just before I killed them…”

 

 

That night was one of the longer in Ward’s life.

He recounted, everything, for hours, and Thomas listened.

 

Finally Ward said:

“I know that this whole story about Maveth, Hive, the possession, the infection, the risked Apocalypse may seem absurd, incredible!

I know it can seem like I’m completely crazy!

But it’s true!

Everything I told you… it’s true.”

 

And Thomas answered:

“I believe you.”

 

Ward remained shocked:

“You… believe me?”

 

“Yes.

What you told me gives a logical explanation about a series of strange changes I noticed in the people around me for about a month and a half now.

At that time I was sick and I was forced to stay home because of the flu.

Probably that was a fluke, because that isolation prevented me from being infected.

When I returned to work I immediately noticed that all my friends, my colleagues, and even the shop assistants or other casual acquaintances, were different.

Not physically, but psychologically.

It was very disturbing.

The media talked about something… a strange form of meningitis… but then they stopped abruptly, acting as if nothing had happened… although I still see that people are strange.

They, now, seem divorced from the reality, detached, arid, and apathetic.

They work very well and quickly, but from an emotional point of view are like… dried up.

All that was really starting to upset me, because I could not find any logical explanation… until you told me what happened.

The bad thing is that I also noticed this strange behavior in other people, friends with whom I am in contact with, who live far away from here!

It is like if the plague had spread across America, and even in Europe!”

 

Those words sank deeply in Ward, leaving him extremely perplexed, worried and brooding.

He knew the vastness of the infection, but he hadn’t idea about the effects…

 

The ghost of the past was fading. About time…

 

But a new scaring one was gliding towards him.

 

 

 

Chapter Text

 

 

Skye was having some relax at a park nearby.

There were several kids playing together: they found some insects on the ground and turned their attention to them.

That simple fact made memories rush back in her mind.

 

One time, when she was at the orphanage, she had started a cruel game: “Crush the ant!” It consisted in a competition among kids: the one that had crushed most ants would have been the winner!

A nun came to them and prevented them to play anymore that game, explaining:

“Kids, do you know what is the easiest thing in the world?”

“No, sister Bertha” some kid answered.

“It is crushing an ant.

And you know what is the most difficult thing?”

“We don’t know”

“Rebuild it.”

The kids remained silent as she went on explaining:

“The ants, as well as all other creatures, are alive: you cannot play mash!

They are God’s creatures: He made them, with great wisdom, with immense knowledge, with the incredible genius that is only His!

Try to picture the perfection of an ant: its small antennas that receive all odors, its little eyes that see the world, its powerful jaws that break the food to take it to the nest, its body so strong that if it was a man it could lift a truck! And an ant is formed by millions of tiny parts called cells, that work all together, and every cell is incredibly complex, too!

A simple ant is such a masterpiece that mankind, with all its technology and its science, will never succeed in reproducing from scratch!

It’s the same with everything else: from the inanimate to the animate, from what men consider trivial to what they admire, from the infinitely small to the infinitely large!

The world has been placed under men’s custody. But no man is the master of it!

If you have respect for God, you must also have respect for each of His creatures.

And you know what His most valuable creatures are?”

They shook their little heads.

“Humans.

So the greatest respect and the utmost care should be bestowed to humans, any of them, because they are the beloved sons of God and they have a soul, that will not die with the body, but will continue to exist forever.”

 

Oh, great! She just needed this reminiscence to make her feel worse!

“All rubbish!” she immediately erased the thought.

But then she considered with a pang in her heart that she had probably killed more men than ants…

 

 

Skye really enjoyed living with Cal.

She discovered in him several qualities and resemblances with the pre-Shield herself: his care for every creature, animal or human; his attention for details; his tendency to poetry; his attraction to beauty…

He was a man that loved and gave value to life.

He was always smiling, always condescending, always comprehending…

He never got angry, he always tried to find solutions instead of underscoring the problems…

… of course, that was possible because he forgot his terrible past and all the horrible things he did, all the lives he stole, all the human beings he murdered…

 

Yeah, he became a monster… after being subjected to terrible trials, to real tragedies: his wife dissected alive and then thrown away… his daughter snatched away from him while he was otherwise occupied… in assembling his wife back together…

Skye tried to imagine what it could have felt like, for him, to wonder, every second of every minute of every hour of every day of every year, for 26 years, if his daughter was alive, how was she treated, if she was tortured, raped, or beaten, if she was well nourished or starved, educated or left by herself on the streets… 26 years of continuous torture!

It was enough to go crazy!

So Skye started to wonder if she was really better than Cal. She always thought she was, but now she was not sure anymore. She realized she had also judged Ward labeling him as a murderer, as a Nazi, as a traitor… but if she had his life, would she have been better than him, or would she end up exactly making his very choices?

It is always difficult, not to say impossible, to judge fairly someone else, because nobody can have a full comprehension of another person.

Often we do not even know who we are: what would we do in this or that situation? How would we react? Are we conscious of what lives we live? Are we aware of our moral and spiritual condition? Do we ask questions to ourselves?

 

The Tahiti Protocol allowed Cal to forget all the evil he committed, all the people he murdered, the monster he became, so that he could conduct an almost normal life.

 

For Skye it was another story.

She remembered.

She remembered everything.

She remembered all the lives she stole, all the blood she spilled.

Only now, in her new almost normal life, she was starting to realize in what kind of downward spiral she had been involved.

Oh, yeah! It started very light: first she was a hacker, a criminal that stole secret information spreading them around the world.

Then she was kidnapped by Shield, who declared to be the protector of the world. And she went with them, starting training, shooting with ICERS, participating in field missions and taking two in the guts, risking her life. That time they managed to save her, and to save one life they took two: the lives of the two soldiers that guarded the Guest House. She should have understood from there that something smelled, that Coulson had two weights and two measures, one for his people, the ones HE judged worthy, and one for the rest of the population, that wasn’t bestowed with his paternal glance!

Ward had the misfortune to fall from the first set to the second.

 

After the Hydra reveal the situation worsened.

During one of his interrogations, Ward said that Hydra would have taken care of quickly of threats, represented, in that occasion, by gifted that refused Hydra itself. And she said, proudly: ‘That’s the difference between Shield and Hydra’, intending that Shield wouldn’t behave in that way.

And then?

Then she was ordered to do exactly that: taking care of quickly of a threat, killing a kid, Donnie Gill, whose only sin was to have been brainwashed and to be dangerous due to his powers.

And she did it, without a flinch, without an emotion or a change in her heartbeat: one precise shot between his eyes and Donnie was sinking into the sea…

She should have understood that something wasn’t right, there!

She had just killed a kid!

Emotionlessly!

Coldly!

How the hell could have May changed her on such a fundamental level???

For Heavens’ sake! She had just killed another human being!!! A person! A boy, to whom was once given birth, who had been nursed by a mother, fed with baby food, who had cried at night, who was afraid of the dark, that one day began to walk on his own little feet, who had learned to speak, who had rejoiced kisses and embraces, who had gone to school and learned to read and write, who had friends, who had laughed and cried, who had fallen in love, who had hopes for the future!

A future she had stolen!

 

He was not yet 18 years old!

And she killed him!

Without batting an eyelid!!!

Being complimented about that!!!

And from there she didn’t even know the number of the people she killed!

For her it had become like a videogame: 100 points for each target eliminated.

 

Oh, it was so easy to call them “targets”, or “enemies”, instead of “persons”.

 

Also Ward was an enemy.

And also him was a soldier.

And soldier’s duty is to kill.

 

She was not different from him.

 

He was a killer.

She was a killer.

 

He was a traitor.

She was a traitor: yes, a traitor to life!

 

What a wonderful couple!

 

Maybe this was the reason she was still so attracted to him… because she saw their resemblance.

 

She felt so nauseous of herself!

She felt for herself so much hate, so much self-contempt she wanted to scream and rip away her hair!

But there was no way to escape from remorse.

There was no way to mend the consequences of her sins.

The dead were dead and nobody could resurrect them.

 

 

She was still alone in the park, while she was gloomily pondering these thoughts, remorse biting harshly at her, even if she tried to ignore it.

And you know: sadness is for the devil like honey to the bear…

 

At a certain point, a woman, a beautiful red-haired woman with blue eyes, sat by her side.

“Hello, Skye!”

Skye looked at her with wide eyes.

“You don’t know who I am, but I know who you are”, she smiled with a tight grin that did not reach her eyes.

“You are the one that made Raoul to go on a rampage.

And it is not hygienic to make Raoul go on a rampage!”

That name ringed something in Skye’s head.

It must have had something to do with that night she did not remember anything about.

 

“But Raoul is also merciful and has forgiven you.”

At those words Skye felt a chill go down her back.

 

“He wants to meet you. He wants to give you what you want.”

“And what do I want?”

“You want ecstasy!”

 

Skye remained speechless and a thrill of desire shocked her.

 

He could be the key to oblivion.

He could give her the means to forget herself, to bury all her horrendous crimes… to become nothing.

Finally nothing.

 

And she was taken by the enthusiasm for nihilism: that would have canceled everything!

Yes! She had found the escape route!

Once she had become nothing, all remorse, all the guilt, all the trouble of living would disappear!

If everything would become nothing, there would be no more difference between evil and good, between life and death, between vice and virtue, between licit and illicit, between fullness and emptiness!

 

Nothingness would have taken place of everything!

 

Nothingness would have leveled everything.

 

 

And she took the worse decision of her life:

“I want that!”

 

And in that way, instead of fighting against the dragon of nihilism, she started to bring for it an absurd respect, like to a god. She joined in prayer million of people, and instead of overcoming old values she started simply destroying them without bothering to replace them with new ones.

Nothingness became her god, fed by her pain, remorse, irresponsibility, myopia, and ignorance.

She believed to have discovered the ultimate truth: that nothingness lies behind every thing. Therefore all was vain, useless, aimless, and purposeless.

So, why don’t live life playing? Having fun?

 

Fun became the ultimate rule!

 

She in an instant adhered to the essence of modern thought, to the vision of the nullity of things, to nihilism without realizing that it stinks of death, of rottenness, of boredom, of despair, of loneliness…

But she didn’t care.

 

Life had no value anymore.

Chapter Text

 

“I want that!”

 

“Right answer, my dear!” Jenny agreed with a mellifluous grin, which remembered Skye of Raina, then continued:

“You’ll see: ecstasy is beyond anything you have ever felt!

Reading about such experiences is useful, but no words can communicate the very experience; words are inadequate and irrelevant, only pitiful attempts to convey the essence of this transcendental principle.

You are going to be surprised, startled and delighted.”

 

“I already experienced that, some years ago… and some days ago, too… until all that was ripped off me…

I know perfectly well that ecstasy and bliss, that joy and happiness, that pleasure and delight, that euphoria, that rapture… and I miss all that… bad…

This is why I wanna feel that again, even if I know the risks.”

 

Jenny remained dumbfounded.

Evidently she thought she had to do with a novice, whereas it was not so.

“Ah, ok…

Let me say, however, that the question is not whether gaining ecstasy is risky (it is), but whether the expected gains outweigh the risks.

This is a matter that each individual must decide for himself.”

 

“I’ve already decided. So, please, let’s go.” Skye concluded matter-of-factly.

 

The two stood up and started walking.

 

But Jenny seemed very talkative:

“There is a fathomless meaning, an intensity of delight in all our surroundings, which our eyes must be unsealed to see.

We have lost the art of playing with our life, so the joy has gone out of it: existence has become a deadly serious affair.

The use of drugs is a way of stirring deeply buried sources of the religious life and perceptions, which create feelings of awe, joy, wonder, peace and love…”

Skye interrupted her:

“I would rather prefer to leave religion out of all this…

The reason I want this is not religious.

I know I’m throwing my life to the winds.

I know I’m going down a slippery slope, made of illness and insanity…

But it is all that I deserve.”

 

Jenny retorted:

“The psychedelic drug doesn’t mean doctor disease, dope fiend crime or instant insanity, but ecstasy, sensual unfolding, revelation, illumination, contact with nature!

Ecstasy is a legitimate human need!

Ecstasy is something higher or further out than ordinary pleasure, beyond pleasure!

Ecstasy means to break out of the verbal prisons, suspend your imprints, see things anew, perceive directly. With freshened perception goes the feeling of liberation, insight, the exultant sense of having escaped the lifeless net of symbols!

We all want a passionate life lived in a state of ecstasy, a life of intensity and deep emotions; an existential life in which every moment counts; a real life!

But we’re not allowed to have that, because if we did…we would be free.

Only drugs can open up those glorious and pleasurable chambers in the mind.

The ultimate pleasure organ is the brain, an enormous 30 billion-cell hedonic gland waiting to be activated!”

 

Skye remained pensive:

“Yes, I know it is possible to activate that 30 billion-cell hedonic gland… at the price of frying it!

But I don’t care.

What I want is to feel again that bond, that sensation of unity I lost.”

Skye’s words were full of pain.

 

Jenny agreed:

“Yeah… you miss that feeling of oneness with humanity and nature, those states of cosmic unity, that loss of boundaries between yourself and the objective world…

You miss that moment when duality seems to merge into bliss; when you see the universe as supreme light, undifferentiated from yourself, and you remain unshakable in this awareness; when you feel that your self is part of a much larger pattern, and the sense of cleansing, release, and joy makes old woes seem trivial.

You know, many leading humanistic psychologists exhibited lately a growing interest in a variety of previously neglected areas and topics of psychology, such as mystical experiences, transcendence, ecstasy, cosmic consciousness, theory and practice of meditation, or inter-individual and inter-species synergy…

But it is still a marginal phenomenon.”

 

“You seem very prepared on this matter!”

 

“Yeah… before meeting Raoul I was a very proficient psychology student…

Then, one day he came to our class and started to talk to some of us…

He convinced some of us to experience drugs…

At first I kept myself at a security distance, but then things started changing.

The fact that most aroused my interest was the tone and contents of what my classmates, who had taken the drugs, were saying. They talked to each other in stunned, excited voices about love, sharing, identity, unity, death, ecstasy, topics not generally discussed by psychology students except with cynical flippancy or heavy academic seriousness, but certainly never from experienced confrontation, as was happening now.

Then I tried it myself through Raoul… and I must admit that never before anybody made me experience romance, splendor, optimism, idealism, individual courage, high aspirations, aesthetic innovation, spiritual wonder, exploration, and desire to search with such intensity!

I’ve never been happier and more optimistic than during the high Raoul made me experience!

Previously, I had forgotten the childish joy of simply being alive.

Tripping, instead, made me feel the way an infant must feel, in the absence of discomfort, simply being: energetic, open, interested.

Tripping lent to my life the grace of fairy tales, where everything is right and appropriate and satisfying.

The effect of ecstasy is to create motivation, the longing to continue the ecstasy and fulfill it.”

 

Jenny made a pause in her incredible flow of words, then continued:

“Critics of the drug users complain that they retreat from life’s realities, become passive and inert.

The curious thing about psychiatric language is that it’s almost completely negative, a pompous, gloomy lexicon of troubles, symptoms, abnormalities, eccentricities. But I think this claim to realism, facing factuality and flat earthism is, at root, resentment against quality, genius, imagination, poetry, fantasy, inventiveness and gaiety.

We cannot interpret ecstasy as mania, or calm serenity as catatonia; we cannot diagnose drug users as detached schizoids or exhibitionist masochists; or the mystic experience as a symptom; or the visionary state as a psychosis.

The entire range of pleasurable experiences has gone unstudied, unlabeled, undefined. You will not find the word ‘fun’ in the index of most psychology texts.

Words such as joy, ecstasy, grace, beauty, just don’t exist in the psychiatric vocabulary.

The poor psychiatrist has been given the sad task of looking for pathology and is usually bewildered when he comes face to face with the more meaningful experiences of life.

As prime conditioner of his fellow man, the psychologist must be an exemplar: calm, serious, controlled, sensibly cynical, smugly pessimistic and above all, rational.

Studying the unconditioned state, producing pleasure in his subjects and acting in a natural, hedonic manner would lead to his excommunication.

I have been excommunicated.”

 

“I’m sorry.” Skye said.

 

“Oh, don’t worry! Millions already know that beyond the fears of the state sanctioned psychiatry and governmental policy, psychedelics, under the right set and setting, can lead to joy, mystery, rebirth and realization beyond belief.

One traumatic event can shape a life, one therapeutic event can reshape it.

Having a good time and experiencing beauty is therapeutic.”

 

They arrived to Raoul, and Jenny looked at him eating him with her eyes:

“And I am experiencing beauty!” she added.

 

He was entertaining himself with a girl.

 

“He has a gorgeous stamina. He cannot live without women…” Jenny said, bitterly.

“And you can’t stand that, right?”

Jenny looked Skye with pain in her eyes…

 

“Welcome, our dear girl, seeker of a clearer, purer realm, a realm of unbounded joy, the realm of enlightenment, the pure land!” Raoul exclaimed at seeing Skye.

 

“Sorry to have interrupted you… in your favorite… activity…” said Skye, embarrassed.

 

Instead, Raoul seemed not embarrassed at all, even if he has been caught in such a compromising condition.

He, instead, seemed rather at ease and went straight to the point:

“You’ll see: compared with sex under drugs, the way you’ve been making love, no matter how ecstatic the pleasure you think you got from it, is like making love to a department store dummy.

The grasping approach to sexuality destroys its gaiety before anything else, blocking up its deepest and most secret fountain, for there is no other reason for creation than pure joy.

The height of sexual love is one of the most total experiences of relationship to the other of which we are capable, but prejudice and insensitivity have prevented us from calling that ‘mystical ecstasy’.

Before taking drugs, I never stayed in a state of sexual ecstasy for hours on end.

Instead, drugs heighten all of your senses, while awareness enhances the pleasurable aspects and allow you to live the sexual experience totally.

Each caress or kiss is timeless…

Now, that you are going to follow the line of least resistance, you will discover that all the vibrations of nature are ecstatic, blissful, or… erotic.

Existence is orgasm!”

 

Then he added, quietly, so only Skye could hear him:

“As the sexual activity continues and the drug takes greater hold on you, the sensations intensify.

In my case, the penis feels bigger, stiffer and strangely “rubbery” and sensations of pleasure expand to more areas of the body than usual.”

 

At that so raw, harsh statement Skye looked away and grimaced.

 

“Oh, oh, our lady is playing hard to get!

You didn’t seem so choosy and fussy the first night I met you!

But you will change, I assure you!

All sexual ecstasy has a quality of self-abandonment, of surrender to a force greater than the ego… and you will change, when visions of every kind of sexual encounter one can imagine will reach you and tremendous waves of lust and rapture will engulf you. Then unmotivated laughter, exuberant joy, deep feelings of peace, serenity and relaxation, orgiastic ecstasy of cosmic proportions, hedonic pleasure, feelings of voluptuousness and sensuality will exhilarate you!

You will experience the joyous unity with what exists beyond!”

 

With that he reached in his pocket and extracted a tiny transparent envelope with white powder inside and tossed that to her.

“This is the best on the market. Make good use of that.”

 

Skye took that without a second thought.

 

 

 

Chapter Text

 

Jenny led Skye in a private room.

 

“So? Are you sure?” she asked.

 

And Skye, looking hungrily to the transparent envelope, answered:

“I’m sure.

I desire ecstasy more than the air I breathe!

I don’t care about anything else… not even my life.

I need it!

I’m craving it!!!

I can resist no more to its summons!!!

 

I know I’m a slave and nobody can break me free… I’m perfectly aware of that…

But I accept that.

I bow in front of that…”

 

And then she added, sadly chuckling at herself:

“Otherwise, how could any reasonable being subject himself to such a yoke of misery?

How could anybody in his right mind voluntarily incur into so a servile captivity?

How could anybody knowingly fetter himself with such a sevenfold chain?”

 

She paused, then added:

“There is no such thing as forgetting possible to my mind.

A thousand accidents had continuously interposed a veil between my present consciousness and the secret wonderful memories I have… memories from my past… memories from the Hive…

But, just as the stars seem to withdraw before the common light of day, while they are only waiting to be revealed again by the obscurity, in the same way I’m willingly bringing back the darkness from deep inside of me, to reveal again in front of my inner self those starry sensations.

Oh, goodness… I cannot even restrain myself from trembling in anticipation!”

 

It was the only confirmation Jenny needed.

 

The two sat down and prepared everything, then sniffed the white powder and waited.

 

After some time Skye spoke the first, breathing deeply, eyes half open, smiling:

“Ooohhh… yeah…

My sensitivity is finally increasing… a delicious warmth is suffusing my whole body… it’s hot… blissful…

Colors start having such a glowing, fascinating, delightful intensity…

Yeah… seeing ecstatic kaleidoscopes of colors… waves of colors whirling up… bouncing jolly… immensely bright… like enormously intensifying masses of light!

But it isn’t only colors, now…

There are sights… sounds… music… forms… smells… tastes… tactile sensations… all so unimaginably intense, vivid and pleasurable… so rich of nuances!

Everything is beautiful, so bathed in this intense light!

I feel like I’m seeing the world for the first time in my life!

I’m feeling such an empathy with that plant, that painting, that bird… with you!”

Skye was talking to Jenny, looking languidly at her, panting and smiling.

 

Jenny answered, with a dreamy voice:

“Yeah… me too…

I feel light… ecstatic… reborn…

Exuberant life energy is pulsing within me…

All my senses are like… cleansed and wide open…

You are so beautiful!

Beautiful like the sky!

Your features show a mixture of… infantile bliss and mystical rapture…”

 

Skye continued:

“It’s like multiple layers of thick, dirty cobwebs… have been magically torn away and dissolved… or a poor quality movie projection has been focused and… rectified by an invisible cosmic technician…

I can feel each muscle in my shoulders and legs swelling and relaxing, pulsing with power…

Oh, the unspeakable delight of movement!

Every move I do is bringing pleasure to me!

It’s like the refreshing breath of some angel of wisdom is being gently blown against the surface of my brain… so delicate… so crisp… so exhilarating!

Life is so simple… and exciting… and rich… and joyous!”

 

Then she looked bewildered to all the furniture in the room:

“The lights reflecting off the mirror are sparkling… with a kind of moist luminescence…

The little green strands of this shag rug are like… undulating!

This is an enchanted carpet!

I can fly away on it!!!

The furniture, the walls, the floor are all pulsing in slow waves… as if the whole room is… breathing!

It seems to follow my breathing!!!

Jenny, sweetheart, let’s go outside!”

 

They reached, scrambling and wavering, a vantage point of the park among trees, while Skye continued in her ramblings:

“I can feel the ground becoming alive under my feet… connecting me with the earth and the trees and the sky!

I can see the forest shining with the most beautiful radiance… speaking to my heart… as though it wants to encompass me in its majesty!

Oh, what a peace!

Oh, what a rapture!

What an intense… immeasurable… superhuman joy!

 

This is what it means to see the world in a grain of sand!

 

Oh, what a beauty!

My every fear is banished!

Mystery is enwrapping me, like I am waking in Paradise!

It seems I’m becoming one with my whole surroundings!

This experience is liberation!”

 

Jenny spoke:

“Look, look at this leaf! Isn’t it beautiful?

Plants are so pure beings, don’t you think? Not exploiting and hurting other organisms, they serve themselves as a source of food… bringing also beauty and joy into the life of others! Each new bursting of growth repeats and amplifies the basic design… finally exulting in a flower!

Oh, flowers… they are so beautiful!

They are beauties in which the soul might wrap itself as in a garment of delight!

Oh, it seems ages since the world had looked so beautiful, innocent and undismayed!”

 

Skye, after a while, spoke again:

“Do you feel how much the sense of space and time are powerfully affected?

Buildings, landscapes, the city itself have proportions so vast as my eyes are not fitted to conceive!

It all seems the work of an unearthly builder… and my soul stands before it in a trance of ecstasy!

Space is swelling, amplifying to an extent… of unutterable infinity!”

 

And Jenny answered:

“Yeah… but it is nothing compared to the vast expansion of time…

Can you feel it?

This timelessness is unbelievable!

It seems to me to have lived for a millennium… or anyway a duration far beyond the limits of any human experience!”

 

Skye was beyond happiness:

“Oh, mighty, volcanic ecstasy, healing the wounds that will never heal… and bringing a balm for the pangs that made my spirit suffer so much!

Oh, eloquent elixir of pleasure, stealing away all the purposes of wrath…

You give me back hope, and wash my hands pure of all the blood!

Jenny!

I feel I’m leaving my past behind…

I’m capable of starting an entirely new life!

I’m finally free from anxiety, depression and guilt: it’s exhilarating!

I’m floating through the universe…

My body is both swimming and flying!

I’ve been turned on to life!

I’m so happy!

I finally see!

This is utopia!

This is heaven!

This is ineffable ecstasy!

Oceanic ecstasy!

Cosmic union!

Totalizing oneness!

I want to tell everyone this wonderful thing I know, this secret that explains everything and will bring such rejoicing and happiness!”

Skye casted off all her restraint, breaking into a full joyous laughter, and with convulsive gaiety leapt into the air, clapping her hands, hugging and kissing Jenny, and finally crying for joy.

 

A little crowd started to gather near them, curious at seeing two such beautiful girls in that strange attitude, disturbing them: in that ecstatic state, crowds became an oppression to them. They were naturally seeking solitude and silence as indispensable conditions for them, now, so they returned inside.

 

Jenny abandoned herself on a couch nearby, with an ecstatic smile on her face and her eyes closed, laying on her back stunned, amazed and euphoric, following the phantasmagoria of her dreams.

Skye, too, was suspended in the buoyancy of her triumphant journey, exulting in her ecstatic state of non-ego, aware she was no more herself, but a selfless, egoless, joyous representative of all humanity, loving, searching and soaring into the infinite…

 

She continued muttering almost to herself:

“Every human being has the right to achieve this titanic euphoria…

We all have the right to get so high… to experience these sensations… to expand and change our consciousness, in this immense elation and freedom, as the outlines of confining selfhood melt down…”

 

Then she calmed down.

 

She almost fell asleep.

 

After a little while, a sense of drama, like a bad surprise, started growing in her.

It was peculiar… she started feeling as though rats were gnawing and abrading the coats of her stomach…

She grasped her belly, which was starting to ache more and more.

Strange! The pleasure of drugs, when once generated, should have been stationary for eight or ten hours… at least at the beginning of the administration… and never should they give pain… in the immediate, at least…

What the hell was happening to her?

Instantaneously the cloud of the profoundest melancholy rested upon her brain, like some black vapors rolling away from the summits of a mountain.

It wasn’t possible that all that had already finished!

Jenny was still there, with a wide smile and a dreamy look!

 

Skye started panicking.

She needed more!

It couldn’t stop now!

Why was the ecstasy stopping so abruptly, leaving her almost desperate? Has it something to do with the Kree blood running in her veins?

Maybe she took too little…

So she grabbed the remnants of the white powder and inhaled it all.

And then waited… again…

And then again she started seeing things…

The splendors of her dreams changed, becoming chiefly architectural; she started seeing such pomp of cities and palaces never seen by waking eye, buildings of indescribable magnificence… The appearance, instantaneously disclosed, was of mighty cities, a wilderness of building, sinking far into a wondrous depth, into splendor, without end… They seemed fabricated of diamond, and of gold, with alabaster domes, and silver spires, and terrace upon terrace, high uplifted; serene pavilions in large avenues illuminated of all gems; towers with battlements that bore stars…

 

Then, to her architecture visions, succeeded dreams of lakes, seas, oceans and silvery expanses of water.

These started haunting her so much that she feared that they could become real and she could drown in them…

And then she suddenly felt like drowning!

She felt like suffocating!

 

So she ran outside to go to Raoul, asking him, begging him for more.

At the beginning he was surprised, because he didn’t expect such a sudden dependency.

Then he seized the moment and, with a devilish grin, said her:

“You wanted fun?

I gave it to you, for free.

But now the party is over.

If you want it, you pay for it.”

 

Skye asked:

“Pay? How? How much?”

“It depends on what you want…”

“I want something strong, something that will kick me out for hours, days even…

I want oblivion!

I want to forget everything!

I want to escape, to run away from this life!”

“It sounds to me that what you really want is… committing suicide…

But this is not my concern.

I don’t care anything about you.

I’ll get you what you want.

Whatever you want.

But the price will be high.

You can pay it in nature…” Skye grimaced at that “… or, if you prefer, in money.”

He said the price and she almost felt dizzy at hearing it, but she steeled herself and said:

“I’ll get the money and then I’ll be back. Prepare everything.”

“Good girl!”

 

After she left he commented:

“I knew I just stumbled on a chicken.

What I was not aware of was that she is the chicken of the golden eggs!”

 

 

 

Chapter Text

Thomas and Grant met that morning in a Starbucks bar.

Things were going on pretty well between them, and Grant couldn’t still believe that! He was really happy, like he hasn’t been for a long time! He loved Thomas so much that every time he looked at him his expression changed, becoming tender and mild like with nobody else, except Skye.

“So, you told me you brought back Skye to her father, to keep her safe…

But why do you still care so much about her?

Didn’t she put four bullets in you?”

“Only two reached me, and didn’t provoke any serious injuries.

I assure you that if she wanted me dead I would have been!”

“Ok, so you think that if she didn’t kill but only wound you she deep inside still loves you???

This is insanity!

I’ll tell you what I think: you are still in love with her and you cannot let her go!”

“Probably.”

“No, brother! Not probably. It is sure, 100% sure!”

 

Grant remained silent, then answered:

“You’re right: the problem here is not what I feel, but what she feels.

The problem is that she hates me.

In her eyes I betrayed her and her friends, I tried to kill her team, and I lied to her…

I chose John over her: I sacrificed all my life to save him.”

 

“Ok. We already pinpointed all that.

But that is the past.

And the past is in the past!”

 

“Yeah… but it still hurts…”

 

“In my humble opinion, you can choose: you can linger on the past, letting it ruin your present and your future, or… you can learn from it, and move forward.

Yes, you damaged her… but now she needs your help and you can give that to her… to prove the truth about your feelings, to prove that it wasn’t all a lie…”

 

“But she doesn’t want me near!

She despises me!

She detests me!

On top of what I already did to her, now I’ve taken away what she considered the best thing she achieved in life: Hive!

How can I make her understand?”

 

“If I were you, I wouldn’t believe all she says…

You know how women are… saying something and then saying the exact opposite half an hour later…”

 

But Ward was hearing him no more.

He was staring at a newspaper lingering on a nearby table.

He stood up, grabbed it… and paled.

 

In the front page there was the photograph of a building in debris.

The title said “Quake Takes Down Bank” and the subtitle “Downtown Branch left in Ruins from Earthquake”.

The article continued: “Authorities remain tightlipped as to what is being described as a ‘terrifying ordeal’. At 9:03 pm last night, a 911-call was placed by a neighbor of the Los Angeles branch, reporting gunfire and shouting from inside the closed bank. Details are murky, but according to numerous eye-witnesses, first responders arrived on the scene ten minutes later and were preparing to enter the building when a mysterious shaking began. Following a period of intense but seemingly localized quaking, the bank collapsed to the ground. Miraculously none of the bystanders were injured by the debris…”

Ward muttered: “… intense but seemingly localized quaking…”

 

Thomas was looking at his brother, concerned:

“Hey, what’s the matter with you? It seems like you just saw a ghost!”

 

Ward turned towards Thomas, looking intensely in his eyes and said:

“It’s her!”.

“It’s her… what? What are you talking about?”

“Look at this” and he deployed the newspaper in front of his eyes.

 

Thomas grinned:

“Quake… it could be a nice codename!

Hellfire and Quake! The couple of the year!

Sounds good!”

 

“Stop with that! This is serious!

Why did she need to rob a bank???

I left her some money… they weren’t much, ok, but staying with her father, she shouldn’t have needed more, especially in such a short period of time!”

“Maybe she simply wanted to make her life have a quantum leap!”

“Yeah… it could be.

The only thing I am sure about now is that she is in danger!

The Sokovia Accords are not to be trifled with, and she is aware of that!

Why the hell had she been so reckless?

She seems to have lost her mind!”

 

“And you have lost yours for her.

You wanna save her!”

 

“Yes!”

 

Thomas sighed, rolling his eyes:

“Good luck, then. Call me if you’ll need something!”

“Count on that, brother!”

And the two parted from one another with a hug.

 

 

“I cannot accept them!”

“Why… why not???”

“Because the provenance of these money has been traced back to a bank robbery, that’s why!!!

If somebody catches me with those, I’m screwed!

 

Look… I will not ask you how you got them, but I will not accept them as a payment!

And, moreover, I’m not going to sell anything to you anymore, my dear.

You are hiding something, something dangerous, I can smell it, and I don’t want to get myself in trouble.

I spent years corrupting people, oiling gears and building a very advantageous net of relationships to have a free pass for drug market in this neighborhood and I’m not ruining all that for a silly spoiled girl who wants to play with fire!

And this is the end of the conversation!”

Raoul used a tone that didn’t admit reply, hitting the table with a fist for good measure, too.

Skye didn’t argue further.

Oh, if he only knew that she wasn’t at all a silly spoiled girl, but a walking bomb!

 

She got out without a word, but she was going to teach that son of a bitch a lesson he would never forget!

After a few minutes a strong localized earthquake destroyed the building in which Raoul was staying, killing on the spot him and his henchmen.

“Oh, Raoul! It seems your very advantageous net of relationships couldn’t save you, this time…

I’m so sorry!” Skye mocked with false regret.

She felt no remorse for what she had just done: they were the dregs of society, people who exploited the weaknesses of others to enormously enrich themselves. The only thing, of which she had ascertained before launching the attack, was that Jenny was not there.

She was a victim and didn’t deserve to die like that.

 

Ok.

And now?

What would she do from now on?

The only thing she knew was that she was terribly suffering for withdrawal and needed to find quickly a solution!

 

 

After Raoul’s death it seemed that the city was invaded by hundreds of new dealers who, driven by a fierce competition for market shares, were selling drugs of all types and dubious origin at bargain prices. The police, and the security forces in general, where on high alert and surely some of them regretted the good old times when Raoul was in charge to keep calm the waters and supply the city of drugs, yes, but quality drugs, tested and “harmless”. Overdose deaths and infections of various types had multiplied dramatically in recent times and the situation was slipping dangerously towards the emergency.

On the other hand, the police was so busy with the dealers in war that it had neither the time nor the man power to quell petty crime, so Skye was free to sneak and rob around, especially in supermarkets, getting enough money to buy herself some dose on the black market.

But she had no idea with what she was injecting herself! The dealers said that it was a fashion drug in Russia these days and that anyone could manufacture it at home…

Maybe that was why it was so cheap!

 

Soon her little robberies became insufficient to provide her with the money she needed.

And it was really ironic: she possessed a little fortune and she couldn’t use it for fear of being caught!

She had also left the house of her father, because he surely would have realized what was going on (he was a doctor, after all) and would have prevented her to go down that descent.

This fact had worsened her financial situation, as she had not only to think about the money for drugs and for food, but also for night accommodation.

 

On the other hand, she barely slept.

She barely ate.

But she loved that situation nevertheless, because the drugs numbed all her feelings.

She was always high as a kite!

She felt alive again, but her weight dropped and seldom she was getting arrested for her violent behavior.

Life went on… on the streets.

It had to.

There was never a spare moment, never a time that wasn’t occupied with finding a place where she wouldn’t be hassled by the cops, finding a place to sleep, finding money to feed her hunger.

She was always hungry: hungry for something to fill her stomach, hungry for her next dose.

Life on the streets happened in fast motion: if something took her off guard, she barely had time to get her bearings before her situation changed again. She learned to function while disoriented, learned to walk while the world was top down, while everything around her moved faster than the time it took her to steady herself.

But the amount of drug that once produced euphoria didn’t work any more, and Skye come to a point in which she needed a shot or a snort just to feel normal; without it, she became depressed and, often, physically ill.

She began to use drugs compulsively.

At this point, she was definitely addicted, losing control over drug use and suffering powerful cravings.

Being a drug addict was having her dealers give her some dope, warning her that this batch had caused numerous people to overdose and she being excited, because that meant it was good!

Being a drug addict turned into her snorting a line of dope because she had to, not because she wanted to.

Being a drug addict had she on her hands and knees searching a car for chunks of dope that she may or may not have dropped. It was licking little gray pebbles to see if they tasted like dope. It was crushing up anything that could be broken down and snorting it hoping it would stop the withdrawals.

Being a drug addict was having her own bag for her spoon, her needles, the mixer, tie, lighter and cottons.

Being a drug addict was getting her something small to keep fresh water in, so she wouldn’t have to use puddle water or Gatorade when she shot up.

Being a drug addict was never leaving without that bag.

Being a drug addict became her first priority. She wouldn’t go anywhere unless she had dope to get her through it. She was completely useless when she was dope sick, anyway.

Being a drug addict was constantly shooting different drugs together, hoping her body would give out. It never did.

Being a drug addict became sleeping in abandoned caravans or on a bench in the park. It became eating a pack of peanut butter crackers every other day so she wouldn’t starve. But more than anything, being a drug addict had become she having the money for food and a motel room but choosing to spend every cent on dope.

By the end of the month, a drug addict was all that she was.

Drugs had her soul and weren’t planning ever giving it back.

 

 

“Skye, you asked my help and I’m willing to give you that, but you cannot be so choosy and squeamish!

You are left without a cent and I can give you that cheap drug you want, but cheap doesn’t mean free of any charge!”

Jenny was trying to convince Skye to go down a route she didn’t like at all, a route she herself has been forced to follow after Raoul’s death. Raoul protected her, in a way, when he was still alive. But now he couldn’t anymore…

 

It was evening.

The sun was setting.

Skye was with Jenny on the sidewalk, dressed, or rather undressed, in a very enticing way, with a red dress that covered her arms till the elbows, but leaving well-exposed breasts and legs.

Jenny knew that this was Skye’s first time and was studying her carefully.

 

“This place is good!

It’s frequented by enormously rich people!

You will see what dream cars will soon start to arrive!

Pick up just one of them, play nice and you will have the money you need for a whole week!

You are beautiful: you can seduce any one of them!”

 

Two or three cars stopped by them, but they were all driven by old disgusting and greedy men and Skye sent them all to hell.

Jenny scolded her and told her that those were the wealthier ones and she couldn't afford to let them escape!

“If I let them put their filthy hands on me, I’m sure I will throw up!”

Jenny took her in a dark corner and gave her a coca shoot, to make her softer.

When they went back on the sidewalk, a convertible black Ferrari was arriving: the driver was the most fascinating and gorgeous young guy of the neighborhood! Mirrored aviator sunglasses, well built and muscular structure, dark soft hair, apparently very tall, amazing cheekbones, designed lips, tanned skin, white shirt, blacks pants… a dream come true!

Jenny was almost drooling and tried to get to him, but he took away his sunglasses and Jenny recognized him immediately.

 

“Zack!”

 

“Yeah… And I think you know what I want, don’t you?”

“Of course.”

 

She turned 180 degrees towards Skye and said:

“You didn’t want old disgusting and greedy men?

Ok, you are damn lucky, this evening!

There’s just a young Adonis waiting for you, over there!”

Skye approached and startled.

“What are you doing, here???”

“Having some fun… Do you wanna join me?”

His eyes were extremely serious, drilling in hers.

She felt extremely uncomfortable.

“You’re not my type!”

 

He chuckled and then tried to smile to ease the tension:

“I’m everyone’s type…”

 

Skye didn’t have much of a choice there and, given the situation and the fact that behind Ward’s car there was a horrible guy, and giving also the fact that Ward was really astonishing and she was beginning to feel extremely turned on, she agreed to get in the car with him, although she knew she was going to get a lecture…

 

 

 

 

Chapter Text

The car was really a dream: from the white leather interior to the rampant horse on the steering wheel and the satellite navigator; from the metal pedals to the cockpit, that looked like a spaceship… and all of that characterized by a breathtaking elegance; not to mention the engine: its roar, its power, its ability to crush you against the seat… and then the air that reached her without bothering her, the feeling of being almost lying on the ground, immersed in the roads, with the lights of the city and restaurants and bistro all around her.

Skye would have never thought to feel, in a strange situation like that, so deeply comfortable.

 

Ward was the first to break the ice:

“So? What would you like to do?

If I can make a suggestion, I would like to take you out to dinner.

I’m starving!

I know a place where the Chef enhances her Californian Mediterranean cuisine with European and Asian flare, creating fantastic Japanese Pumpkin Ravioli, dreamy Red Caviar Spaghetti, a fanciful Lobster Saffron Risotto, and a marvelous Berkshire Pork Chop.

Do you want to go there?”

Much to her embarrassment, her stomach growled painfully loud, and she felt heat reaching her cheeks.

But she tried to remain indifferent.

“I’ll take that as a yes” and he laughed, really cheerfully!

 

She felt his warm laugh penetrating inside of her and soothing her like a balm…

She never realized, before now, that she had missed his voice, the same voice that in the past had so patiently explained her how to defend herself, how to dispose her body in the fight, how to hold a gun, how to plan an attack… the same voice that asked for a chance to confide his secrets, that had begged her to understand, that had told her that she knew how he felt about her and that he would never lie to her again, till the end of his life…

She felt a lump in her throat and she had to struggle to hold back the tears.

She couldn’t stutter a word.

She couldn’t!

It was like her tongue was glued to her palate!

She never had problems in talking, even too much, but now it was all too much.

They both have been through too much…

 

Luckily, Jenny had given her a coca shot before, so Skye could avoid falling into the usual fierce depression that in recent days made her spend hours crying desperately on her shoulder… It would not be a pretty show to be staged in front of Ward!

 

Her mood brightened a little when they arrived in the parking lot of a great and very chic restaurant, hearing in the distance the clink of forks and knives on plates, the sound of sweet music and the laughter and chatter of people.

Out of the car, though, she realized that perhaps her clothes would not fit the tone of the restaurant…

“Don’t you think that, perhaps, my clothing is… not… adequate?”

Oh, finally she was able to say something!

He answered, studying her from head to toe:

“Maybe not…

But, believe me: despite everything, in that restaurant there is nothing that compares to you!

So don’t worry!” and he smiled at her.

 

Perfect!

With those words, the lump in her throat had become almost painful!

She tried to hide her glassy eyes looking away.

 

He held out his arm to help her climb the few steps at the restaurant entrance and she was grateful for this, because she, for some time now, found walking on her heels more and more difficult… She didn’t need to sprain one of her ankles!

She had also the possibility to notice, through the fine tissue of his white shirt, that he didn’t loose his muscular tone: she had the impression to grab a hot rock!

That, his stunning appearance and his gallantry in general, were really starting to turn her on…

When they entered the restaurant, they were welcomed by a quintuplet of dazzling crystal chandeliers looming majestically overhead in a large, yet intimate two-tiered dining space. The semi-private booths downstairs and the dining alcoves upstairs, that sported an even more intimate look, along with the opulent ruby-red décor glimmering softly under the glow of two huge open fireplaces, made this seductive bistro an extremely romantic place!

The high walls were certainly made for low-decibel dining, which was another plus that enhanced the intimate ambiance.

 

There were not so many people as she expected.

A waiter came to them and asked gently if they preferred to remain down or go up.

Ward chose to go upstairs: his Specialist instinct suggested it, because from there he could dominate all the surroundings, and also afford a marvelous panorama of the dining area below.

 

When they seated upstairs, one in front of the other, Ward said:

“Every time I come here, I receive a warm welcome, an excellent service, and an unrivaled cuisine.

Be prepared to have all of your senses stimulated!”

He didn’t add anything that could make her suspect a double meaning… all he had done and said so far was worthy of a perfect gentleman.

He took a sip from his glass of white wine.

She did the same and the sweet-sour savor of it and its freshness made her taste buds sing!

It was really good!

“Another characteristic I appreciate here is that pomposity and pretention are absent, even if here they are able to prepare exquisitely sophisticated dishes and the location is extremely elegant. The entire staff is down-to-earth, knowledgeable, and accommodating. In a nutshell, here there’s a team of professionals that cheerfully conveys a sense of joy in their work, as well as a refreshing sense of accountability” Ward was considering.

“The wine list is also considerable: a couple dozen wines come from California, and almost 90 different kind are imports from Italy, France and Australia.”

He paused and then dared to ask her, almost shyly, a direct question:

“Do you like your wine?”

She raised her eyes up to him and felt her heart loosing a beat at his look… it was a mixture of desire, timidity, restlessness, longing, fondness… and maybe something more… but she didn’t want to think about that… she couldn’t afford to think about that… not now… not here… never…

 

“It’s very good, thanks. But…” she paused, not knowing how to formulate her thoughts.

He visibly tensed.

“There’s no need for you to fuss about me so much… this was not how I expected the evening would go…

I didn’t expect you to show up, either… not in a thousand years…

I thought I would end with some horrible guy…” and a shiver passed through all her body.

He noticed it and felt such a surge of compassion for her that felt his heart swollen.

It wasn’t pity: it was compassion, in its Latin meaning of “cum patior”, which means: “suffer with”.

He suffered for her and with her…

 

He didn’t want to broach the subject, but he had to! So he asked her, heavily embarrassed:

“Was it your first time with… you know…”

“Yes!” she immediately interrupted him, blushing violently.

The two remained in silence for a while. He was struggling to find something to say to spare her more embarrassment, but was always lacking in people skills… He couldn’t deny, nevertheless, he was very much relieved that she didn’t start already with that horrible “profession”!

“So… you were saying… that the evening is turning out better than you expected?”

“Absolutely!”

“I’m glad for that.” he relaxed.

“And this evening is still about having fun and enjoying ourselves, so I suggest to take a look at the menu!” he added cheerfully, smiling tenderly at her.

He opened the menu and shared it with her, and together they decided what to pick up.

She was confused by that intimacy: their foreheads near, almost touching; his low voice that only she could hear; his long fingers indicating the menu items, and sometimes brushing her hands; his honey brown eyes so near she could see every detail of his irises, in the flickering candlelight…

 

When the waiter arrived and they placed their orders, Ward asked him about another person, probably a colleague.

The waiter’s face saddened:

“He’s dead.”

Ward remained shocked.

“Dead??? How? What happened?”

“He threw himself out of a window…”

Ward remained speechless for a minute.

 

“But the last time I came here he seemed so happy, so serene…”

“Yes. It was before…”

“Before what?”

“Before the disease.

About a couple of months ago people started to change, all at once.

You can see it yourself: tonight we are half empty, but wasn’t never this way, before…

A lot of our habitual customers ceased to come; people on the streets started behaving in strange ways; the number of suicides is reaching a peak; all the recreational activities stopped.

It’s like people have become a bunch of zombies, soulless, without interests, apathetic, emotionless…

There have been even several cases of mothers that stopped taking care of their babies, provoking serious damages to them, or even death!

It was like they didn’t care anymore, like they forgot them…”

 

“This is terrible…” Ward was pale as a sheet.

“Yes, it is. The only explanation I can give to myself is that mysterious meningitis plague the television talked about recently.

But now everything is covered up.

Nobody talks about it anymore…”

 

“And you? You seem perfectly normal!”

“In that period I was on holidays, so I was far from here. There are others here that weren’t affected, and all of them have a reason: one was ill and forced in bed; another had to study for an exam so stayed at home; and so on…”

 

The waiter took a deep breath and tried a tight smile:

“But let’s not linger on these bad thoughts! I’m going to place your orders!”

“Thank you.”

 

Ward mood had darkened visibly, as if he had been loaded with too great a burden, Skye could see that.

“It’s all my fault” he said bitterly.

“What do you mean?” she asked.

“If I didn’t go on that damn planet, Hive wouldn’t have been able to come back.”

“This is not true.”

Ward looked at Skye puzzled.

 

She continued:

“First, if Coulson didn’t kill you Hive wouldn’t have been able to use your body.

Moreover, if it weren’t you, it would have been for sure somebody else.

Hydra would have never ceased to try to bring Hive back, especially now that they knew how to do it, thanks to Fitz and Simmons!”

She continued, her voice dropping:

“And, even if you robbed me of the only one that gave me true happiness, I realize it was better this way.

Not for me, but for everyone else.

Killing Hive was the right thing to do.

Indeed, it would have been better to kill It before It could go this far!

Now the world is in big troubles…”

 

“Yeah… and I have no idea how to fix it…”

 

“Nobody has.

But this is not my concern.

And it shouldn’t be yours.

After all, nothing counts.

Nobody counts.

Everything is going to be nullified, so why bother so much?

The only thing that counts is to have as much fun as possible, until it is possible.”

 

Ward’s eyes could burn holes in hers, for how much his stare was intense.

He asked, in a deadly deep voice:

“Since when that girl so full of ideals, so full of life and enthusiasm has become a champion of nihilism?”

 

She answered, looking straight in his eyes, not flinching a bit:

“Since I found out how the world actually functions.”

 

“And who told you that?”

“I discovered from my own experience.”

 

“And do you think your limited experience can cover all the possibilities?”

“Yes, for me.”

 

Ward remained silent, in a deep, heavy silence.

 

He knew things were bad, but not so alarmingly bad!

 

Skye was one inch from desperation.

There was no desire to fight left in her…

There was no desire to live left in her…

No hope

No faith

No love

Only pain… hate… remorse… self-disdain.

 

He knew pretty well what that meant.

Her situation was comparable to his, when he tried to commit suicide…

She saw death like the solution, like the escape route.

 

She was one inch from destroying herself.

And, judging from her appearance, she already started.

 

When he saw her, before, on the sidewalk, he almost didn’t recognize her.

He even hoped she wasn’t her!

He felt his heart painful swelling at that sight.

She reminded him of himself, after three months of tortures in the US Military Maximum Security Prison, when he saw his image in the mirror for the first time…

Like him, she was the shadow of herself!

 

How the hell could she change so much is such a short period of time???

 

Now that he could observe her better, he was noticing a lot of very alarming symptoms: she obviously suffered an extreme weight loss; she had bloodshot, red, glassy and fluttering eyes, sometimes having trouble in keeping them open; she had dilated pupils and her teeth were seldom clenching; her nose was runny and her speech slurred, due also to her dry mouth; her skin had paled conspicuously; she was unusually sweating and shaking, almost trembling; she displayed nervousness and anxiety and she for sure lost in coordination… she never had been so clumsy or had such delayed motor skills!

During their ride he noticed also she was a little dizzy, disorientated, sometimes completely numb, and had the impression her perceptions were somehow impaired.

When she grabbed his arm before, he also felt she was unusually warm, like she was running a fever…

 

It didn’t take a genius to figure out what was going on with her, and he was extremely alarmed and concerned.

 

He, anyway, tried to behave as if he hadn’t noticed anything out of the ordinary: he didn’t want to upset her or to put her on edge. His immediate goal, for now, was to make her eat something. Her body resembled almost a skeleton and he had to do something about it!

Oh, how much he loved her, now more than ever!

And, despite everything, she looked in his eyes always the same beautiful girl.

 

When their food arrived, they started eating some crispy fried calamari with aioli sauce; then went on with coquille-shaped chicken and mushroom dumplings, followed by crab cakes. Then they indulged on a divine risotto, and finally on pork chops so tender that they seemed to melt in the mouth.

Skye almost crammed herself: she was so hungry! She never experienced such a hunger in all her life! And everything was so good! The food, the wine, the place, the company!

Ward was a pleasurable companion, after all.

Yes, for sure she didn’t expect the evening could go so well!

 

Then a pang hit her: what would happen when they would finish eating?

She stopped dead and watched Ward intently.

Oh, goodness… he was so handsome! So masculine!

 

He smiled at her and she couldn’t not reciprocate.

After all, he had been for more than a year her secret wet dream… so, she decided, she would enjoy whatever will happen between them.

Wasn’t all about fun, now?

So, she would have had fun, that night.

With Ward!

 

He spoke:

“And now let’s have a look at the desserts.

I recommend the Crème Brûlée or the Chocolate Cake.

You know? The Chef tried more than once to strike these two items from the menu, but she had always to retrace her steps, by the large number of complaints she received! That’s a true accomplishment in restaurant circles!”

“Ok. So let’s order both of them! Then we will exchange some bite, deal?”

“Deal.”

Ward looked at her: she seemed more relaxed. She seemed almost happy. She was smiling at him like the old times, when they had some spare time on the bus, like, for example, when he was preparing himself a sandwich with military precision and asked her to pass him the lettuce… They were talking about the Cavalry, and Skye commented that she needed a good laid…

 

While they were waiting for the desserts to come, she said:

“Can I ask you something… something personal?”

“It depends… Ask, then I’ll decide whether to answer or not.”

“When you slept with May… how was it?

You know… I asked her sometimes, but she never answered.”

“Wow… It’s a pretty personal question…

What you wanna know is from a… physical or from an… emotional point of view?”

“Emotional.

I guess I will have soon all my answers, about the physical point of view…” and she looked seductively at him.

He almost chocked. Then quickly recovered.

“We didn’t do talkative.

It was all very physical, sometimes violent.

We both had to exorcize the ghosts of our past and furious sex was a good way to do that.”

“So… no romance… no sweetness… no feelings?”

“Almost none of them.”

 

“Then why did you break up after Lorelei?”

 

Damn! This girl was too sensitive, for his likings! She had just hit the mark!

But then he decided she deserved the truth.

“Lorelei possessed me completely. She could ask whatever she wanted and I would do it, even if I had to damn my soul.”

“I know something about that…” she interjected.

“She asked me if I had some… love interest, and I answered. Then, when Lorelei and May met, she told May that it wasn’t her whom I desired…

This is the reason why May broke up.”

“She was falling for you, but you loved someone else and she couldn’t tolerate that” she summarized.

“Yes.”

The two remained in silence, looking deeply in each other’s eyes, the meaning of those words heavy between them.

Skye didn’t suspect he fell for her on so an early stage... and for sure he couldn’t lie to Lorelei!

So, maybe, after all, it wasn’t all a lie...

He loved her then.

And he loved her now. She could clearly see that.

He loved her despite everything, unconditionally!

 

He had always been hungry of love.

 

Just like her.

 

They were so similar, after all!

 

And she felt another layer of ice melting in her heart.

 

 

 

Chapter Text

The waiter brought Ward the Crème Brûlée and Skye the Chocolate Cake, together with a red strong wine, a Porto, in large shining crystal glasses.

 

“Let’s make a toast!” Ward said.

“To what?”

“To hope, life, and love” he said, resolutely.

 

Skye smiled sadly and whispered:

“Ok. As you prefer. I don’t care…”

 

But, when their glasses collided, she added:

“I think these are only the dreams of a bunch of deluded people…”

 

“So you think I am only a deluded dreamer?

Ok! I pick up the challenge!

Let’s make a bet!

I bet that, exactly one year from now, the two of us will come back to this restaurant, alive and happy as we had never been before!

And, if I win, you’ll pay the dinner!”

His eyes were sparkling.

 

“Ok, I’m in!” she answered, infected by his enthusiasm.

“And if you loose?”

 

“Sincerely… I do not want to think about it”

His mood darkened immediately and Skye didn’t dare to ask further.

 

When she took a spoonful of her cake and put it in her mouth, she let out a moan of pleasure that was almost embarrassing.

“Ward, this cake is divine! You must absolutely try it!” and she took his spoon from his hand and with it handed him a generous portion of her cake, inviting him to open his mouth.

He slowly opened his mouth and did take the spoon in, without averting his eyes from her for even a second.

The whole operation was very sensual, and neither she nor he escaped the other’s glances, or the silence that followed.

“You are right… this is indeed very good…” he said looking deeply her in the eyes with a husky voice, and not giving the impression of talking about the cake…

He reciprocated with his crème and she took it from him, moaning in pleasure again.

This was all obviously beyond subtlety.

“This is very good, too” she said looking him under her eyelashes.

After that they finished languidly the desserts and the wine, looking furtively at each other from time to time.

 

“Before we go, I would like to show you something.” Ward interjected.

He stood up and gave her his hand to help her stand, too, reminding her of that time in the Providence Base when they escaped taking the Bus. This time, however, the feelings involved were completely reversed... That time he was the traitor, unaware that she knew... this time she felt like a traitor, unaware that he knew... That time she was devoured by pain, fear and hate... this time he was devoured by pain, fear and love...

She took his hand and in that moment she felt something warm enfolding her whole… like the feeling of being finally home… even if she did never feel what it meant... 

And another layer of ice melted in her heart...

He led her out on the garden patio, the restaurant’s own al fresco paradise, where they could walk in the moonlight along the walkways and sit on the benches or on the edge of a large fountain illuminated by a pale blue light and framed by roses and greenery. A sweet music could be heard, broadcasted by a series of hidden speakers here and there. All the outdoor patio area was sexily illuminated and enticing, and framed with ubiquitous flowers. The perfumes were giving her a sense of dizziness… 

They were still holding hands and Ward, after a while, changed his grip entwining his fingers with hers, trying to do it in the most natural and indifferent way possible...

His hand was so cozy, comfortable and warm… Skye though.

She was indeed upset by the fact that simply being hand in hand with him was much more exciting than kissing or even making love with any other man in her life… Lincoln included! Her heart was pounding, her breathing was labored and her head was no longer able to think. She felt completely at the mercy of emotions.

What the hell was happening to her???

 

While they were walking, they saw in the distance a little cloud of floating lights, so they approached, driven by curiosity.

The lights were fireflies!

No wonder: after all it was summer…

 

So they found themselves almost in the dark, but surrounded by fireflies wherever they could look: the sensation was to float in the space, in the midst of millions of stars!

Skye spoke:

“You know? This reminds me so much when I was little, at the Orphanage! Even there, sometimes, the sisters took us to a nearby field, at night, to see the fireflies! It was so beautiful!”

“This is the first time you talk to me of your time at the Convent of St. Agnes in an almost enthusiastic tone!”

“Yeah, I know. And it wasn’t fair, of me.

All taken in consideration, that place was not so bad.

The sisters were persons of true faith: they tried to give to each of us a deeply Christian formation.

Just think that they made us confess every week!

Often I didn’t even know what to say…

Of course, sometimes I had to confess maybe stealing a jar of jam, or a fight, or a grudge… some disobedience… but it was nothing, compared to now…

 

Oh, I miss that innocence, that purity!

 

If I had to confess now, I fear that I would give a heart attack to the Father!

Now I have lost faith completely...

I have become a cyber criminal, a traitor, a liar, and a murderer… I don’t even know how many people I killed!

And the cherry on the cake is that I’m starting with prostitution!

Wonderful, don’t you think?”

Skye’s voice was extremely bitter.

 

“You don’t have to, if you don’t want.”

“No, that is exactly what I have to do! It is what I deserve!

But I cannot explain you why.

There are things about me... that you wouldn't like... if you knew...”

 

- Oh, Skye!

I know!

I know perfectly well!

You are like an open book for me! – Ward thought.

- And the thing that worries me most is not that you’ve become an addict, but that you’ve lost hope and the will to live!

You've surrendered!

It’s not just your body to be sick, but your soul!

And from your sick soul come down cascading all other evils!

The body may heal, but the soul… who can cure it?

It is beyond my possibilities!

How can I help you??? –

 

And suddenly he had a flash of inspiration!

 

“Maybe this could be a good idea, to confess yourself!

God gives us all the means to save ourselves, but it is us who have to decide to use them.”

 

At that she brutally disentangled her hand from his and faced him, with one of that hard stares of hers:

“Ward!

Open your eyes!

God does not exist!

If He existed, if He loved me, He would be doing anything to save me!

But what is He doing?

Nothing!"

And she threw her hands in the air.

"Do you see Him, right now?

Where the hell is He?"

And she shook her head:

"No, He does not exist… or, if He exists, He cares nothing about us and we are only one of his experiments, and He’s just a sadist, to let us suffer in this atrocious way!”

 

He allowed her to outburst, to let out some anger. After all, her words resembled his own, just some time before...

Then he spoke:

“If I were you, I would not be so sure of what you are saying…”

 

“Why do you say that?”

“Because maybe He is not visible, but He sends someone on his behalf to accomplish His missions…”

 

“And who is this ‘someone’? You, perhaps?”

And she laughed bitterly.

 

“You, a murderer like me?

Ok, you, by chance. saved the world from the biggest threat of all!

But then what? 

This doesn't mean you are in charge of saving the woman you love!

Everybody wants to save poor Daisy!

I don't need to be saved!

I'm sick of that!!!”

 

She realized, from his expression, that she had just hit the mark.

But he was hurt by her derisive tone, too.

He remained mute.

 

After some embarrassing moments of silence she added, in a resigned tone:

"Sorry, Grant. I'm sorry...

I didn't want to say what I said...

I always talk too much...

Please forgive me..."

 

He looked sharply at her and said: 

"It wasn't by chance... by the way"

 

She sighed and approached him, her head down.

Then she raised it suddenly and asked out of the blue, looking him straight in the eyes, smiling mischiefully:

“Wanna dance?”

He looked surprised at her:

“What???”

Then she, putting timidly the tip of her fingers on his belly, confirmed:

“Come on, Ward!

I’m trying to make amends!

Don’t make me beg!”

And with that she climbed his torso with her hands, putting them on his chest and resting her head on his shoulder, while he hesitantly embraced her on her waist.

“You are comfy, you know?”

She then raised her hands to his neck and started caressing his hair and massaging his scalp, swaying at the sound of music and humming the tune.

After a while she felt him relax.

 

Then, without changing position, she asked him, as if a doubt had just crossed her mind:

“What about you?

How did you manage to face remorse?

How did you get the peace you seem enwrapped in?”

“I guess I can say that I confessed myself and I was forgiven.”

"Really? And what happened to the Father that confessed you? Did he have a heart attack?" she chuckled.

"The heart of the Father that confessed me was extremely loving and the biggest present I could give him was asking forgiveness. And He gave it to me."

She could hear the sound of his steady heartbeat under his firm chest. It was so soothing! Hypnotic, almost... 

“I didn’t know you attended the churches.”

“I didn’t go into a church.”

“Then what did you do?”

“I died.”

“Oh… And then?”

“I resurrected.”

“And what happened in the meanwhile?”

“A lot of things…

Maybe one day I will tell you.

But what you must know is that it is not true that everything is nullified by death.

On the contrary, everything reaches a state of fullness and completeness, for better or for worse. Therefore it is important to act well during life. Our every smallest action is only seemingly insignificant: instead it actually brings enormous consequences in eternity, like when you throw a stone into a pond and the concentric circles always widen more.”

“I don’t believe you. I think your brain tried to defend itself from a too big pain, and made you hallucinate.”

 

“One day… one day you’ll understand.” Ward smiled tenderly at her.

 

“I don’t like when you predict the future!”

“Why?”

“Because you tend to guess!”

“I’m not clairvoyant!”

“But when you say something about the future, what you foresee is what duly happens!”

Ward chuckled.

Thankfully the atmosphere had calmed down again.

They continued dancing, slowly, enjoying their closeness.

 

“Do you miss them?” he asked after a while.

“Who?”

“The nuns.”

“Sometimes…

All the sisters where good persons; some of them were also affectionate.

My only consolation, when I went to bed, was that my favorite, Sister Bertha, would come and give me a kiss as soon as I was in bed. But that goodnight lasted so little…”

“I agree with you. After all, that place was not so bad.

My mother never gave me a goodnight kiss.

Not once.”

Ward voice was extremely sad.

 

“This is terrible. But why?”

“She never loved me. To be honest, she always hated me, right from the very beginning.”

“And how was that possible? You were only a baby!”

Ward sighed:

“Another time, maybe…”

He gave her a light squeeze.

 

Skye accepted to be left in the dark about that: she didn’t want to push.

She, moreover, tried to change the subject:

“The sisters were very clever also with newborns and very little children. There were so many of them!”

Skye was smiling at the memories.

 

“You talk fondly of babies. Do you like them?”

“Oh, yes! I enjoyed myself in talking and playing with them! They were so cute!”

“Did you ever think of having your own… babies, I intend?”

At that Skye blushed, then became very sad.

“Yes… but I never had the opportunity. And I wont ever have.”

 

Skye was once more on the verge of tears, but tried to react. Indeed her biological clock was ticking, and it was comprehensible that the maternal instinct was taking over her.

 

Ward struggled not to embrace her even tighter and not to promise her that, one day, soon, she would have become a mother.

 

She continued: 

“Fortunately they were receiving alms from many good people, who had also the courtesy to bring a lot of baby food.

...

I always wondered how could the mothers wean their young, when all these things didn’t exist, not even blenders… in prehistory, for example…” she was trying to sound cheerful.

He answered:

“In primitive times, women weaned their young pre-chewing to soft mush the food into their mouths, making it liquid. Then they joined mouth to that of their babies and, using the tongue, passed a little food into them. Later, the baby, who got used to seek the mother’s mouth every time she approached, automatically started sucking her tongue to get the softened food.

This is also the origin of kissing between humans.

And that’s why, even today, the kiss between adults is considered the most… exclusive and intimate act of love.”

Ward was looking intently at her now and, at those words, Skye started feeling a sense of vertigo.

But Ward continued, with a deep voice only she could hear:

“Even now, the most delightful kiss is the one placed on moist lips, accompanied by the suction of the lips and the tongue, so as to produce in the partner the emission of fluid. This one is gently intoxicating and gives a sensation of thrill to the whole body, more exciting than a robust wine.”

Skye was struggling to keep in check her breathing, but was so excited that her eyes filled with tears, and these rolled down her cheeks.

She fought against them all evening, but now she couldn’t hold back them anymore!

Ward kept talking without stopping:

“The love of humans is distinguished by the stupid folly of the beasts only by two divine functions: the caress and the kiss.”

With those words Ward cupped tenderly her face, caressing her with his thumbs, and added:

“From tears to kisses there is no more than a shiver.”

Then, kissing her tears away, while she actually shivered:

“Kisses are like tears: the only real are those that you can not hold back. And I cannot hold back them anymore!”

And finally, in the most amazing moment, when she saw his face coming close to her and she realized that she was about to be kissed on her mouth, in that moment that was the most wonderful of all, he whispered:

“The lips that taste of tears, they say, are the best to kiss.”

 

Oh, God!

His lips!

His mouth!

Only in that eternal moment she realized how much she had missed them!

 

He did not speak or loosen his embrace for several minutes, during which he covered her with kisses, as much as he never had given in his life. And she let him kiss her, lost in that bliss, and reciprocated any time he kissed her lips…

“Oh, Skye!” he was whispering “If the man that invokes a kiss of which he doesn’t know the taste is unhappy… a thousand times worse it is for the man who just tasted this flavor and then he was cruelly denied of it!

I could kiss you only three times, but it was enough for me for dreaming of you for two whole years!

Oh, Skye!

Where have you been all this time?

Where?

Where???”

“Oh, Grant! I have been so far! And alone!” she was still weeping.

 

The two continued kissing and whispering into each other’s mouths:

“You should have been kissed… and often… and by someone who knows how to do it!” he said huskily.

“Oh, yeah… Don't stop... Kiss me, please…Kiss me as long as you can… as if tonight was the last night!”

“Don’t say that! I want to kiss you for years to come!

...

This is heaven, Skye!

You are heaven!

Your kisses are what remain of the Paradise language!

And I am kissing you, but my desire is to devour you!”

And with that he grabbed her by the waist and lifted her, so that she could wrap her legs around him, and moved both of them on a bench nearby.

And then he felt that these kisses were the first sign, but already full, of the possession.

Skye became “his” woman when she gave him these kisses.

She gave him her mouth thoroughfully and with that all herself.

It was happening to their kisses as with the confidences: one led to another, and gradually they became more close and warm. In these early moments of their love, the kisses sprouted so naturally! They arose and grew so close to each other; and to count the kisses that they gave each other in one hour you would struggle as to count the flowers in a field in May!

Their kisses were the surest way to remain quiet saying everything.

Their kisses were the trick of nature to stop speech when words had become superfluous.

The silence of their kisses was worth a thousand words, and, because they didn’t speak, their kisses couldn’t lie.

 

Their kisses were like the music: a universal language; the highest poetry of love; the sweet finding of each other after a long pursuit; a promise written on the lips; a secret confided on the mouth; a communion, a way of breathing and savoring each other, heart and soul, after such a long painful separation…

Their love was a dream; but those kisses awakened it and made it come true!

 

Skye said:

“My mom told me once an old Chinese saying: kissing is like drinking salt water. The more you drink, the greater the thirst becomes.”

 

“Your mum is very wise!

Wait!

Did you find her? Is she still alive?”

 

Ward interrupted his assault…

 

“She was… then she died…”

 

“Wanna talk about it?” Ward asked timidly, understanding that there was more than Skye wanted to show.

“No!” her answer was desperate, painful.

 

- What the hell happened to you? - he wondered in himself.

- You finally managed to find both your parents, but your father can't remember you anymore and your mother died?

What must have you gone through, my little baby girl! - and he felt his love for her grow even more.

 

He could read her mind, but preferred to leave her privacy untouched.

They were now sitting on the bench, she on his lap, straddling him, panting, and, as their souls could talk through their eyes, so they could kiss each other with their glances.

 

After a little of that wordless dialogue, he said, interpreting the thought of both, with a husky, trembling voice:

“Maybe it would be better if we find a more secluded place, don’t you think?”

 

She nodded.

 

 

Chapter Text

They walked out of the restaurant embracing each other by the waist, stopping from time to time to kiss.

It seemed they couldn’t do without each other.

Just when they got in the car, it seemed that the passion was burning them so much that they had to consume their intercourse there and then.

 

But Ward was the first to regain control and said, panting:

“Stop, Skye, stop please! I don’t want us to be arrested for lewdness in a public place!”

“Ok, ok! You’re right! But try to get us out of the way soon! I can’t resist anymore!”

“Remember that patience is the virtue of the strong!”

“But I’m not strong, not anymore…”

 

And with that, Skye felt a deep depression engulfing her, so fierce that she had to mentally slap herself not to crush down in a million pieces and starting crying desperately as usual.

But now she wasn’t with Jenny: she was with Ward and she wanted this.

She wanted this fiercely, and not to earn any money!

 

She was sure that, if she asked him, Ward would have covered her with money. She knew he was in love with her, out of his mind. She could exploit this weakness against him, but she didn’t want to use him anymore. He had already been treated that way all his life: he deserved better.

But the effects of the drug were fading and she had absolutely to take another dose soon, if she wanted to rise to the occasion. She clenched her inseparable bag to herself like it was a safety net, instead than a gun to her head, as it really was.

Ward drove safely through the streets of the city, until they arrived to an area full of dream villas. He stopped in front of one of these, opened the garage door with the remote control, parked the car safely inside, got out and gallantly opened the door for her, always holding out his arm.

She took that and once again she felt excitement buzzing in her.

But the need for a dose stung her hard…

 

Once inside she had the time to take a look around.

The house was marvelous, very tastefully decorated with an ultra-modern style. She had the impression to have just walked into a magazine of dream houses.

Ward asked her:

“Do you like it, here?”

“Oh, Grant! This is dreamy!

I never saw a more beautiful house before!

But why did you take me here?

You could just take me to a motel room…”

 

“A dingy motel room?

For you?

Never!

You deserve the best life has to offer!”

 

- Yeah, Skye!

You deserve to be happy!

You deserve to be loved!

You deserve to live!

Do not kill yourself!

Do not throw your life away!

I need you! – he was thinking.

 

Instead, Skye felt that nasty damned knot in her throat that prevented her from speaking and a series of thoughts completely opposite.

She didn’t deserve all of that!

She didn’t deserve to be treated so well!

She didn’t deserve him!

 

He approached her and started kissing her again, passionately, openmouthedly, claiming everything from her and giving her everything in return.

He didn’t have to hold back, now, and she noticed the difference. There was such a gap from before as between the light of the moon and the splendor of the sun!

She had always suspected that he had to be a truly passionate lover, but the reality surpassed all her wildest expectations! He was a man who did not give you rest, with whom it was impossible to pretend, a man that slipped inside of you and took out everything, powerfully, leaving you completely exposed and vulnerable!

Before things could reach an unsustainable level and it was no longer possible to stop, she begged him to give her time:

“Ward, please, Ward!”

He stopped, panting, visibly making a huge effort.

“What’s the matter?”

“I need to go to the bathroom, first…”

“Oh, yeah… of course…”

 

And he led her upstairs, to a door that conducted to a large bedroom with a huge king sized bed. Then he indicated another door: “There is the private bathroom of this bedroom.”

“Thanks.”

And she went inside, carefully closing the door behind her.

She noticed there wasn’t the key, on the door…

 

She was almost out of her mind, for his ministrations, but especially for the withdrawal symptoms, that started to provoke incredibly acute pain in her bones and in her muscles. She had absolutely to inject a dose, now!

Her hands were horribly shaking and she had to make an effort not to drop everything when she opened her bag.

She took carefully the small glass bottle containing a dirty, light-orange colored liquid, the spoon, the tie, the cotton and the syringe. Then she secured the tie around her left arm, took a piece of cotton and filtered with it a little amount of the colored liquid letting drop it in the spoon. Then she took the syringe, filled it and approached the crook of her elbow, which showed already some scars and a black vein. She had been careful to choose a dress that could cover all these marks.

But her right hand was shaking too much: not in a million years she would be able to catch the vein!

So she chose to inject into the same place as when she was not able to do otherwise: in the belly, more or less where Ian Quinn shot her.

She took away her red dress remaining only in her underwear.

Her hope was to be able to get to the aorta, but her poor knowledge of anatomy made her not grasp the concept that the aorta laid very deep, and she would never have been able to get to it with such a short needle.

 

She was about to sting herself when a strong sudden bang startled her, causing her to drop the syringe and all her merchandise to the ground.

Someone had opened the bathroom door with force, bumping it.

She raised her eyes and immediately desired to crawl into the most hidden and deep bowels of the Earth. It was like getting a shower of ice!

 

Ward was on the threshold of the door!

 

He looked distraught, with a mixed expression of disbelief, disgust, disappointment and pity on his face.

Several moments passed in complete silence.

 

“Skye…” his voice was strangely gentle, almost pleading.

“What are you doing…”

 

“Ward…” she was terribly shaking, hyperventilating, sweating and started crying desperately. She also sat down on the floor, because she couldn’t stand straight.

“Grant, let me take a shot, please!

Please!

I cannot resist anymore!

There is so much pain in me that I’m going insane!”

 

Immediately the Specialist instinct took over him and he leapt towards her, kneeling and clutching her face strongly in his hands, steadying her.

 

“What are you using?

Tell me, now!” he shouted.

 

“I… I don’t know!” she answered.

 

“Skye!

Focus!

I cannot help you if you don’t tell me what you are using!!!

What is that???

I never saw such a liquid!”

 

He was looking at the liquid in the syringe, which lay on the ground, while the glass bottle that contained the rest was shattered on the ground.

 

“Tell me!

Amphetamine?

Methamphetamine? It is known also as ‘ice’…

Ketamine?

Benzodiazepine?

Cannabis?

Cocaine?

Crack?

Mescaline?

Morphine?

Ecstasy?

Heroin?

LSD? They call it also ‘acid’…

Marijuana?

Hashish?

Mephedrone? It is known also as ‘bath salts’ or ‘meow meow’…”

 

He was inspecting now her belongings.

“Why do you have a lighter?

Did you crush tablets? They need heat to dissolve… the same for heroin…

Did you need some acid to dissolve it, like citric or ascorbic acid?”

 

She was shaking her head and crying.

 

“I don’t know! I don’t remember!”

 

“Skye! Focus!”

 

“Ok, ok! At the beginning I sniffled a white powder and took some pills”

 

“Ok, and that could be coke or LSD and Ecstasy”

 

“But then I didn’t have enough money.”

“And you robbed a bank!”

“How do you know it?”

“Skye! Focus!”

“Oh, Grant! I needed absolutely something to get me high! After Raoul was died…”

“… thanks to you…”

“How the hell do you know that???”

“Skye! The bank and Raoul’s building where crushed down by an earthquake! I know what powers you have, for heaven’s sake!!!

Now focus!

What happened after Raoul’s death?”

“The city was suddenly filled by a lot of new dealers…

There was this group of strangers… with a strange accent… They said that there was this new drug, extremely cheap, that gave a huge high, ten times stronger than heroin. And it cost only 5 dollars per dose… I was desperate and I took it…”

“How many times?”

“I don’t remember!”

“When did you start?”

“About four days ago.”

“Only four days??? And where did you inject it?”

“In the crook of my elbow, but seldom in my belly, too, because my hands were so terribly shaking!”

“How many times?”

“I don’t remember, but a lot.

The highs lasted only two hours, and then I was compelled to take another dose.

Continuously!

Day and night!”

 

While she was talking Ward inspected her belly and noticed several random little abscesses.

He felt the blood freezing in his veins.

 

“Oh, my God!”

 

He started breathing hard, his eyes wide open, panicking.

 

He once more cupped her face to force her to watch him.

“Tell me, Skye. The accent… that strange accent you were talking about… was it Russian?”

“Could be… Whenever they agreed to each other, they used the word ‘da’, that I think means ‘yes’.

And… yes, now I remember! They told me this was a fashion drug in Russia these days!”

 

Ward dipped a finger in the liquid that was spilled on the floor, smelled it and took a taste.

Yes.

It was iodine.

And phosphorus.

He closed his eyes in defeat.

 

“Skye!

What the hell have you done!

How the hell could you been so sloppy!!!”

 

“What’s the matter???”

 

“You are taking the most addictive and dangerous opiates out there, that kills most of its users within one year! It represents a new standard for fast destruction of mind, spirit and body!

You wanted to go with a blast?

Now you got what you wanted!”

 

“Ward, I swear! I didn’t know…

Tell me! What is it?” she asked stupefied.

 

“It is a homemade version of desomorphine, a powerful pain killer of the thirties.

Desomorphine is a sedative and analgesic. It is 8–15 times more potent than morphine, and has weaker toxic, convulsant, emetic and respiratory depression action.

It was used for special diseases.

It triggers an enormous high, far more powerful than regular morphine. But the effects also wear off far more quickly and, as an opioid, it is highly addictive. Made properly in a laboratory, desomorphine is no more dangerous than regular morphine: they are both extremely addictive and problematic if used improperly, but helpful in the hands of a trained pharmacist.

 

But here the problem is not the desomorphine per se.

The problem is that the preparation is homemade by not professionals that read the procedure over the Internet, using poor ingredients, in poor settings and without hygienic precautions.

This is the reason of its cheapness, almost one tenth of heroin.

The preparation starts with codeine, easy to find in over the counter headache pills; the synthesis is made mixing it together with organic solvents - such as gasoline, Mr. Muscle, paint thinner, lighter fluid, alcohol or another strong alkali, and acidified water -, then cooking with iodine, hydrochloric acid, and red phosphorus from the matches heads. But just these dangerous chemicals are not always fully cooked out of the concoction: on the contrary residues of acids and alkalis, petroleum derivatives, industrial oils, organic solvents, red phosphorus, iodine, heavy metals and other toxic substances remain after synthesis.

Those who inject these caustic agents into their veins or flesh (and it’s hard to determine exactly what users are injecting into their bodies alongside desomorphine) can develop abscesses, like you, extreme skin ulcerations, hemorrhaging, rupture of arteries, widespread necrosis, flesh rotting, infections, gangrene that leads to limb amputation, phlebitis, thrombosis, pneumonia, meningitis, septicemia, osteomyelitis, liver and kidney damage, brain damage, rotting gums and tooth loss, together with green or black scale-like, scabrous, flaking off skin, that resembles the skin of a crocodile.

This skin appearance, together with the ‘bites’ on the limbs this drug provokes, that resemble the ones of a real crocodile, generated the street name: KROKODIL.

It is also called flesh-eating drug, because, if the user misses the vein when injecting, the drug provokes the death of the flesh surrounding the entry-point. This drug destroys the body from the inside out, until it reaches the skin and, without the skin protection, there start a bunch of infections that, if not cured, become gangrene.”

 

At those horrible news Skye, already in terrible pain, remained speechless.

 

“I’m doomed” she commented, in a whisper.

 

“Was it not what you wanted?” he answered full of anger, rummaging in a first aid kit. “To have fun at all costs?”

“Were not you who said that hope, life and love were only the dreams of a bunch of deluded people?

Well…

This…” and he gestured to her and all her shattered death instruments,

“is what remains if you reject hope, life and love.”

 

Skye remained on the floor, panting hardly, containing her pain with sheer will power.

 

Ward continued, mercilessly, as to make his point even clearer:

“Another less obvious risk with krokodil use is that those who are afflicted with gangrene and other side effects may delay seeking much-needed medical treatment due to the fear of legal action. But, most of all, the desire for continued krokodil administration, to prevent withdrawal effects, may prevent users from presenting for treatment.

Heroin provides a four to eight hour high,” he pronounced this word with scorn in his voice,

“while krokodil’s lasts only about 90 minutes. Due to the short high, some people became full-time addicts, cooking the drug for a half-hour, injecting it and then starting the next batch so they could use it when the high from the prior batch began to wear off.

In Russia, addicts live in groups so some can go get the ingredients while others cook.

Users are at increased risk for exhaustion due to sleep deprivation, memory loss, and problems with speech. But it doesn’t stop there. The drugs stay in the system and can cause secondary organ failure and neurological or endocrine system damage normally associated with heavy metals like mercury and lead.

The street buyers seldom don’t even know what they are injecting.

Like you.”

 

He was now searching for a glass, but continued speaking.

“If the user fails to get more shots, he will go into a grueling withdrawal that sets in rapidly once the dosage is missed.

Krokodil horrendous withdrawal symptoms are similar to heroin: insomnia, nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, extreme muscle cramping, depression, ache, overall sickness, 40-degree temperature and sometimes seizures.

But unlike heroin, krokodil causes withdrawal symptoms so severe and savage that a user going cold turkey must be given powerful tranquillizers to knock him out until the pain eases.

Heroin can cause sickness and pain for up to ten days but withdrawal from krokodil can result in a month of unbearable pain. This makes coming off the drug so unappealing that addicts will often watch their skin rot away from the bones rather than face sobriety.”

 

Skye felt her head spinning.

Wasn’t that what she deserved?

Wasn’t that the wage for all the evil she did, for all he lives she had taken?

 

Ward was near her, now, kneeled on the floor:

“Skye, are you with me?”

 

She nodded.

 

“I know you are in pain. There’s no need to play the hero, here.

These…” and he showed her two pills in his hand

“… are powerful pain killers.

And you can believe me if I say they are powerful. I’m a pain expert…”

He held a glass of water in the other hand.

 

“Take these and go to bed. You should be able to get some rest.

And tomorrow we will decide what to do.

Ok?”

 

She nodded again, took the pills and the glass and gobbled down them with the water.

Then she let Ward help her stand.

Every movement caused her an increase in pain, every breath, every step…

 

But she swallowed all the laments and all the tears, because she felt she deserved it all.

 

She wanted to feel all that.

 

 

 

 

Chapter Text

Ward helped her lying on the bed, very slowly, because he could sense the pain she was engulfed in, and then inspected better the abscesses she had on her belly. They needed to be disinfected quickly, so he grabbed the first aid kit and started cleaning them with cotton and alcohol.

Skye didn’t say anything, but he could feel her pain from her sharp intakes of air, now and then.

He wasn’t sure these wounds could really heal, because the tissues were dead… nevertheless he swaddled and bandaged her whole belly and then left her in peace.

The painkillers were starting to have effect and Skye was drifting in a chemical induced sleep… tormented… restless, but a sleep anyway.

He wondered anxiously how long she had not been able to sleep a whole night. To shrink in such a way, it must have been definitely a lot of time.

He knew perfectly well the effects of sleep deprivation, especially under drugs, and he knew that she needed time to recuperate.

He went to the bathroom and bent down to collect all the wreckage, but suddenly he was seized by black anger and, with a wave of his hand, he burned everything, leaving only a dark halo on the floor. Gone were the bag, the spoon, the syringe, the tie, the cottons, the remnants of the liquid and the fragments of glass. All gone in a huff of otherworldly fire…

 

An idea was forming in him: its cleaning action would have not stopped there.

 

He returned in the bedroom and looked at the sleeping Skye…

It was not only she!

Out there, there were a thousand other people in the same situation!

 

“Enough is enough!”

He grabbed the phone and called a number he knew by heart:

“Thomas… I need you”

“Coming” was the only answer.

 

Then he went outside.

 

 

The boy glanced furtively around him and, confident that nobody was watching, slipped inside the entrance to a decaying block of flats, where the girl was waiting for him. Ensconced in the dingy kitchen of one of the apartments, they emptied the contents of a blue carrier bag that the boy had brought with him – painkillers, iodine, lighter fluid, industrial cleaning oil, and an array of vials, syringes, and cooking implements.

Half an hour later, after much boiling, distilling, mixing and shaking, what remained was a caramel-colored gunge, held in a glass bottle, and the acrid smell of burnt iodine in the air.

The girl fixed a dirty needle to the syringe, sucked some fluid in the end of it and looked for a vein in his bruised forearm. After some time, she found a suitable place, and handed the syringe to him, telling him to inject the fluid.

He closed his eyes, and took the hit.

 

After a while, a couple of well-dressed men came and asked the girl if everything was ready. She nodded and gave them the bottle.

They gave her some money in return and went away.

 

The two of them started talking with one another:

“Krokodil users are instantly identifiable because of their smell.

Any flat that had been used as a krokodil-cooking house is best forgotten about as a place to live: you’ll never get that smell out of the flat!”

“Yeah… It’s the same smell of iodine that infuses all their clothes.

There’s no way to wash it out: all you can do is burn the clothes.”

“You should burn the entire building, together with all those human scraps!

Did you see the third? He was lying on the bed, still injecting, with visible bones on his arm!

And the stench? Did you smell that fetor of decaying flesh???”

“Yeah, it was disgusting!

You’re right.

Only an arson can solve the problem!”

 

“Maybe I can help you with that…” said a low dark menacing voice.

 

The two turned around and froze at the sight.

 

There was someone you could not tell if it was a man or a demon.

It was in a dark corner and his eyes were blazing.

“Or perhaps I should first burn the human scum that I have now before my eyes?

You, for instance?”

And suddenly his dark figure was covered with flaming fire.

 

 

 

In the early morning, in the local police station the officers were talking among themselves of the incredible events occurred during the night.

“I’ve never seen anything like it!

The entire criminal substrate dealing drugs, of any type, neutralized in just one night!”

“And it seems that it was one man!”

“How could a man do something like that???

There’s something more, I tell you!

Those we caught say that he was not a man but a hell demon!”

“I don’t think he was a demon.

If he had been, he would have killed them all, whereas we did not find even a corpse!

On the contrary, some of the dealers we captured begged us to help the drug addicts they knew, providing all the whereabouts of their places.

They said that, if no one had helped them, the demon would have returned and would have made them pay!

We brought all of the addicts we found to the Emergency Room.

Some were in desperate conditions!

Do you know that some of them were literally rotting alive???”

“I know, I know… It is that damn new drug… Krokodil!”

“I couldn’t believe it existed for real… It’s disgusting!”

“Yeah, a gift from Satan itself!”

 

 

When Ward returned home that morning, he was exhausted and, after having checked over Skye, collapsed on the bed near her.

But he had still the strength of praying for her, before falling asleep:

 

Please, Father, save her!!!

She’s my only beloved angel!

I’d do anything for her!

 

And, in the mists of torpor that was engulfing him, he thought he heard these words:

“I created you for her and she for you.

And I will always be with you.”

 

 

Around 10 in the morning she woke up and took a look around, noticing him sonorously sleeping near her.

She was confused, and didn’t exactly remember what happened the last night.

But she remembered the kisses.

And she remembered his face when he discovered her trying to inject herself.

Even in a million years, she would never forget his face in that moment!

 

When she moved, she felt all her body aching tremendously, as if a truck had crushed her.

The pain was unbearable!

She hardly could restrain herself from yelling!

Angry tears were pricking her eyes, menacing to fall.

 

She hardly stood and grabbed her dress, wearing it laboriously.

 

It still smelled of the flowers of the restaurant’s patio…

 

She paused, remembering the wonderful time she had there, and looked at Ward.

He was lying on his back and had his eyes closed, sleeping peacefully.

 

She felt the breath strangling in her throat.

He was so incredibly beautiful!

 

Oh, how much she wanted to kiss him, right now!

 

But the pain she was suffering numbed everything.

She couldn’t think of anything else!

It was eating her alive!

 

She wandered around the room and found his wallet on a table.

It was full of money.

She shuddered at the sight and approached…

 

She was tremendously fighting against herself!

 

She wanted to take the money, in order to buy other doses and soothe her pain, but, on the other hand, she didn’t want to take them, because it would have been stealing from the pockets of the only man alive who really loved her…

 

“Take them.”

 

She winced.

Ward was awake, looking tenderly at her.

His eyes were saying more than a thousand words…

 

“Those money belong to you” he confirmed.

“But we didn’t do anything…” she timidly objected.

 

“It has been still, despite everything and at least in the beginning, the greatest night of my life.

I will never forget it.

Take them.”

 

She couldn’t withstand the pain anymore, or his stare, so she grabbed a handful of bills and ran away, tears clouding her vision.

So she did not even notice, leaving, the presence of another person just out of the room.

 

After a few seconds, it could be heard the front door slam violently.

She was gone.

 

“Was that your Skye?” Thomas asked, entering in the bedroom.

“Who else?” Ward answered.

 

“Don’t you think you have been unwise, to leave her all that money?

Don’t you think she will use them to buy more drugs?”

“Of course I think.

But she will fail to find even one tenth of an ounce of them.”

 

“Are you sure?”

“Absolutely.”

 

Thomas sighed and sat on the bed.

“So? What are we supposed to do, now?”

“We wait.”

 

“Wait?

Wait what?”

 

“Her.”

 

“And why are you so sure she will return?”

“Because I know what her intentions will be after she will discover what happened tonight.”

 

“Stop talking in riddles” Thomas said frustrated.

“What will she do?”

 

“She will kill.”

 

“What???

Who is she going to kill?”

 

“Me.

Or herself.

But both epilogues will mean the death, for me.”

 

“Very optimistic, brother, as always!”

But, not receiving answer from Grant, he added:

“Don’t tell me you really think what you said!

There must be something we can do to prevent the worse from happening!”

 

“We hope. And we pray.”

 

“You are insane.

She really made you crazy” Thomas commented.

 

But he remained there, with Grant, waiting.

 

 

 

Chapter Text

Skye ran off with all the speed her condition allowed her.

She could bear the pain she felt only thanks to the hope of finding Jenny soon and, through her, buy more drugs.

Thanks to Ward’s money she, now, could afford something better than that krokodil crap: she could go back to heroin or Ecstasy… although she was not sure those ones would be able to soothe the pain that was lancinating every fiber of her being.

She arrived at Jenny’s place, but she immediately noticed something wasn’t right.

The place was deserted. And burnt to ashes.

She approached Jenny’s private room, which was locked, and started banging on the door.

“Jenny! Jenny! It’s me! It’s Skye!!!”

“Skye!” she heard Jenny’s voice muffled from inside.

“Skye! You’re here!” exclaimed Jenny, opening the door and embracing her, causing her more pain.

“I thought you’d gone forever with your love!”

“What are you talking about???” Skye was panting both for the run and for the ache in her bones and muscles.

“Heavenly eyes?

Greek profile?

Beautifully designed lips?

Sharp cheekbones?

Muscular physique?

Tall, dark and handsome?

 

Skye!

 

That Adonis that took you away yesterday evening on a black Ferrari!

That gorgeous piece of dumpling that is madly in love with you!”

 

“He’s not my love” she replied drily to Jenny’s avalanche of words.

 

“Are you sure? You seemed… strange, when he appeared, yesterday: ashamed, embarrassed, on tenterhooks, like you cared of his judgment.

And you blushed, when you climbed on his car, when you were nearer to him…

I never saw you like that.”

 

“You are hallucinating.”

Skye was barely able to speak, the pain making her nauseous.

 

“Am I? Well… it could be… but, if I was you, I would not let him escape. Not for the money, or because he is beautiful, but because he loves you immensely and it is not easy to find a man who is capable of such love, these days.

I was in love with Raoul, and I thought he loved me… but he never looked at me like your man does with you.

Never!

 

You are very lucky.

And I envy you for this, you know?”

 

“Oh, yeah… I’m very lucky… indeed…” she was struggling to keep her eyes open. Even the light of the day was painful for her. Oh, God! She was going to vomit.

“Jenny, let’s talk of more serious matters. I’ve got the money” and she showed her the handful of money she had hidden in her dress.

 

Jenny whistled in awe.

“Wow, he’s not only gorgeous and rich! He is also very generous!

What happened between you two?

You can tell me!

He must have been really pleased with you if he had rewarded you so!

Tell me! I’m dying of curiosity!

I want to know every particular, every nitty gritty, scabrous, insignificant, or tearful detail!”

 

“Nothing! We went to dinner at a classy restaurant…” Skye was panting and sweating and trembling…

 

“He took you out to dinner??? Oh, he’s such a gentleman! And then?”

 

“Jenny! Jenny! Stop! Please!” Skye was collapsing on the floor.

“Skye! What’s happening?”

 

“Jenny! I need something, anything to make the withdrawal go away!

I’m suffering!

I feel like imploding!

All my body is aching!

Where are all the dealers? Only yesterday this place was swarming with them!”

 

“Oh, Skye! Didn’t you hear the news?”

 

“News? What news???”

“Tonight happened the unimaginable!

A being, not better identified - someone speaks of a man, someone mentions a demon - paid a visit to all the dealers of the city and captured them, delivering them to the police, burning up all their storage and production sites: he caused damages for millions of dollars!!!

Nobody knows how, but he also managed to terrorize them.

I’m afraid it is impossible for you to find even an ounce of drug around!”

 

“What???

No!

No!!!

This is impossible!!!

I need it!!!

Jenny! You must have something!

You must have something left, hidden somewhere!

Please, give that to me! I cannot resist anymore!”

 

“Oh, Skye! I consumed the last dose just an hour ago…

Otherwise, how do you think I could be so in a good mood, despite the tragedy?” and she started laughing, hysterically.

She was plainly as high as a kite, her jaws swinging back and forth like pendulums, a clear side effect of taking Ecstasy.

 

Skye left her, defeated.

 

She knew, exactly, who was the culprit.

She knew, precisely, the only one that could have been able of such an exploit.

And she knew why!

 

She was feeling her anger grow together with the pain.

She was beyond furious!

Oh, how much she hated him!

How dared he to once more rip away from her what she wanted desperately???

But this would have been the last time!

Enough was enough!!!

 

She couldn’t count on her powers: they were almost drained by her precarious physical condition. But she had his money and a lot of weapons stores at her disposal…

She wasn’t aware that Ward had inherited a lot of Hive’s powers, like telepathy and quick healing, while he maintained an incredible quickness from his temporary non-corporeal status, so she thought he would be vulnerable to a simple gun. She neither knew anything about the fire...

The pain was numbing all her feelings and her mind, messing with everything she was.

 

 

“Leave the door open. She’s coming.” Ward said.

“Ok. But what then?” answered Thomas.

 

“If, after everything, she will be still alive, bring her where I told you.

I, in a way or another, will be unable to help her further…”

“Brother…”

 

“Go. And stay out of the way. She’s extremely dangerous.”

“Be careful…”

“Always. I desire to live!”

 

Then the silence fell in the villa.

 

Ward was still in the bedroom where Skye left him, sitting on the bed near the door, in the same clothes of the previous night, tired, drained by the enormous effort he just sustained.

But he was in peace.

He heard her opening the entrance door, then roaming around, then taking the stairs and approaching.

He could feel her turmoil, her hate, her thirst for revenge, but also her desperation, her aimlessness, her sensation of having wasted away her life, her self-despise.

She hated herself most than anyone else.

She was in war with herself, with him and with the entire cruel world.

 

She entered the bedroom, a gun raised and pointed straight to his head.

“They were right. I should have shot you in the head” were her first words.

“Do it” he replied deadpanned, looking straight at her.

 

“Have you any idea of what you did to me???” she asked, keeping barely her fury at bay.

“What did I do?”

 

“You keep interfering with my life, messing with my most intimate feelings and then eliminating anything I have valuable! First you broke my heart with your damn betrayal, then you tried to kill my team, then you brought me to my monster father against my will, then you took over Hydra when you told me you never cared about it, becoming Shield enemy number one and painting literally a target to your head; then you dared to die, then you revived and killed my Hive, then you came rescuing me and kissing the life back in me and finally you stole from me the only escape route from the mess my life had become!

You have to leave me alone!

You are the major responsible of my pain!”

 

“I am because you care about me.”

 

“Yeah… I nourish great feelings for you… hate and anger!”

 

“So?

You hate me and then you kill me?

Just like that?

I repeat.

Do it.”

 

She approached slowly, towering over him, pain flowing in her veins like hot lava, nausea and headache numbing all her thoughts.

She was an inch from his head, now, and both of them knew she had his life in her hands: if she shot now, he would be a dead man, inhuman or not, super-powered or not.

She had her hard stare fixed in his eyes, he was looking at her with furious ardor, with a so fierce love that, if it was fire, it would have burnt both of them to ashes.

 

“Go on.

All you have to do is pull the trigger.

You know how to do it, now.

You don’t say ‘bang’ anymore” he said with a sad, resigned, loving voice.

 

She started trembling savagely, her head spinning… she was about to faint.

Then she could bear it no more and collapsed at his feet, shaking, panting, and sweating… the gun still clutched in her hands.

“I can’t!

Damn me!

I can’t kill you!

It is stronger than me!”

And she started crying…

 

Before he could do anything, she raised her head with teary eyes, and said, with a pleading voice:

“Kill me!

I can’t go on this way!

All I do is wrong!

I am wrong!

I don’t deserve to live!

I am a danger for everyone!

If you don’t kill me now, I will continue doing horrible things! I will continue killing!

There’s a darkness in me that forces me down this route. I am like a slave to it!

Please break me free!

Kill me! Now!”

 

And she tried to put the gun in his hands, without succeeding.

“I can’t do it and you know that.” Ward replied.

 

“No, Ward, please!

If you love me, please kill me!

Free me from this burden life have become! Please!

I want to die and I want you to kill me.

You and nobody else!” she was savagely weeping and sighing now.

 

“How could I kill you, Skye?

If I do, I would be forced to witness the death of the woman I love!” he said with a tender, soothing voice…

 

“Then there is no other solution than this” and she pointed the gun to her temple.

 

The shot echoed through the whole house, followed by the clang of metal on the floor.

 

 

 

 

Chapter Text

“No!

No!!!

Why did you do that???”

 

That desperate question hanged over in the air for several instants…

 

A slap followed, and then a hail of punches.

Ward bore it all without a word.

He let her hit him all the times she wanted, without defending himself, offering his body in sacrifice to her wrath.

The only two witnesses of that massacre game were the gun, ended under the bed, and the bullet, lodged up in the ceiling.

 

After this outburst, she remained drained of all energies and all she could do was to take refuge on his chest, the same she had just mercilessly punched, crying her eyes out, her wrist sore where Ward had forced her to hand over the gun.

She remained there until Ward’s shirt was completely soaked.

All he could do was to hold her, stroking her back, caressing her hair, whispering sweet nothings in her ears, while the blood poured out of his nose and from the cut on his lip, and one of his eyes was swelling.

 

“Why did you do that???

Why the hell did you prevent me from ceasing my own suffering?” she asked crying.

“Simply because your action would not have made you stop suffering” he answered tenderly.

 

“How the hell do you know that?”

“Because I’ve been there, on the other side, and I know exactly what expects us there.

And you are not in a condition suitable of a good death, now.”

 

“I don’t believe you.

Nothingness would have phagocytized me and the pain would have ceased, by now!

And you are only a deluded son of a bitch!”

“I’m not…”

 

“You cannot understand what I am going through, now, to even attempt to kill myself!” she hurled.

“I hate to state the obvious, but I have to remind you that I myself have tried to commit suicide three times, not more than two years ago” he answered severely.

And he added, dropping his voice:

“And you told me I should have tried harder…”

At those words Skye felt like shit.

 

“No, Skye.

I know exactly what you’re going through.

I’m probably the only one that can understand you so thoroughly.

You are horribly suffering, and, to you, death seems the only way out: this is exactly what I was thinking when I was detained in the US Military Maximum Security Prison.

But death is not a way out.

With death nothing ends, at all.

With death, life is transformed and reaches levels of reality, immediacy and fullness unimaginable as long as we are enveloped in our physical body.”

 

“Why should I believe you?”

“Because I died and I know what I am talking about!

After Coulson crushed me like a revolting bug, what I experienced was true death, and not only a near death experience.

But my soul was entangled by so a congeries of mortal sins, that I was thrown in Hell.

Do you understand me?

I was thrown in Hell!!!

And the pain there was so immense that it is not distantly comparable to anything on this Earth.

There aren’t words to describe it!

The difference between whatever earthly pain and the Hell pain is the same as between a fire drawn on a painting and the real fire.

I wouldn’t want that for anybody, even for my worst enemy!

And least of all I would like you to end down there! ”

 

Skye’s stare was full of hate nevertheless, but now she didn’t dare looking at him.

“What I wanted was only to continue feeling that bond, that connection I felt with Hive!

I wanted to feel again and again that ecstasy!

And I also managed to grab that, but you ripped that from me, again!

And you must know that I hate you for this!”

 

“Skye!

Look at me!

Stop fooling yourself!

That wasn’t ecstasy!

That was a straight way to poison your body, to delude your mind and to loose your soul!!!

And, moreover, can’t you understand that, to destroy a country, it is easier and cheaper to do it by drug addiction, which is more effective than a military war? I had to do something about that! Or do you want to play into the hands of the dregs of humanity?

Couldn’t you feel how degrading it was?”

 

She suddenly fixed her serious stare on him:

“You say so because you don’t know anything about those wonders!

You know nothing!

It wasn’t an illusion, but the true reality!”

 

He, withstanding her gaze without a flinch, answered:

“I know much more than you think…”

 

But she interrupted him, with a sensuous look, making her voice mellifluous:

“Just stop and think what our relationship could have been!

We could have had a mystical romance, hours of overwhelming, continuous, vibrating, sensuous, wild sexual ecstasy and orgasms of cosmic proportions!

We could have turned sexual ecstasy into spiritual mystical expansion!”

 

At those words Ward scoffed:

“First: never degrade spirituality to sensuality!

Second: I can assure you that, with me, you will never need any drug to experience orgasms of cosmic proportions!!!

And third: what’s the point of having hours of sexual ecstasy if there isn’t a strong sentiment of love underneath?

And you just said you hate me!

The pleasure ends, at last.

The sensuality ends, at last.

The orgasms end, at last.

And, if there isn’t love beneath all of that, everything turns into ashes in your mouth!

Sex exists, as well as for having kids, also for exchanging pleasure with the person you love, to cement the bond with that person. Otherwise, it is only a pointless enervation and tiring out of bodies!

Without love it is all vain.

 

What would have you liked to cement with me?

Hate?

No, thanks!

I prefer to live without it.”

 

“From where come these words of you?

You should be a cold, rational, tactical soldier, and not a philosopher!

You proclaim to know a lot about those wonders… but what can you know about them?

You are a Specialist!

You’re Kevlar!

And your rational mind is against ecstasy!”

 

“Indeed!

I am a Specialist!

And one field we are trained in is experimenting and resisting the effects of drugs, truth serums, psychedelic chemicals and other amenities of this kind! I know the effects of all the drugs I mentioned you yesterday, and not because I read them on a book, but from direct experimentation!”

 

“And how couldn’t you understand that ecstasy should be the natural state of a human being??? That nobody should settle for less? That awareness of unutterable bliss is the only right state of being?

Living in ecstasy is a birthright!

 

“I completely agree with you!

When I died, after Hell, I was brought up to the presence of God.

I felt Him.

I cannot describe the ecstasy I felt: there are not mortal words that can express that!

I was dead and yet I was never more joyously alive! This is why I’m telling you that, after death, we are more alive than we can ever be while living.

I was carried away by Him, to an Ecstasy beyond ecstasy and suddenly I was no longer ‘I’, but a part of the Divine. My gratitude for that moment, when the veil parted and I knew that I was so much more than I ever thought, was so immense that I discovered myself sobbing with joy. My heart was filled with waves of ineffable, overwhelming happiness, beauty and peace I had never known before.

My life suddenly seemed to me infinitely precious!

In that thunderbolt of ecstasy my body dissolved into the flow of matter and energy of which the universe is made: I was swept by Him into the core of existence from which all things arise and into which all things converge. There was no distinction between subject and object, space and time, or anything else…

For a few seconds of such bliss I would have gladly given up ten years of my life, if not the whole life!

I was thinking: ‘this is it’, ‘this is the moment of truth’, and ‘I know that everything leads to this’, ‘I am finally home’.

I was full of the Grace of God, accompanied by a clearing and brightening of my perceptions, that made me sure that the happiness of each and all of us that don’t refuse it is, in the long run, absolutely certain.

 

Joy and beauty do not dominate my awareness in general, and never with a comparable intensity, so I treasure these experiences on the grounds of their rarity alone.

They were so profoundly educational! That experience of God healed me in the profound: His cosmic tenderness, infinite love, penetrating peace, and eternal blessing provoked in me unspeakable awe, overflowing joy, primeval humility, inexpressible gratitude and boundless devotion.

Yet all of these words are hopelessly inadequate and can do little more than meekly point toward the genuine, inexpressible feelings I actually experienced.

 

So, yes, I completely agree with you: ecstasy should be the natural state of a human being.

After all, we are sons of God!

What do you think we are destined, if not eternal ecstasy?

But we lost this right, for our own choice, and this is why Jesus died for us, to win this blessing back and opening for us the doors of Paradise!

 

Now I can tell you, having experienced both types of ecstasy, that the one induced by drugs is unnatural, forced, ill and wrong, while the other is a gift of God and therefore healthy, therapeutic, joyful and right.

 

It’s always the same old story.

Satan, murderer and liar from the beginning, knows what we want, knows what we are destined to and offers us a bad surrogate, together with his hatred and his desire to destroy us to scorn God.

With the drugs, the story of the Paradise of Eden repeats itself: over there Satan knew that our fate was to be deified and offered us to become gods prematurely, with his wrong means and in scorn of God. God wanted to give us everything, but we accepted the gift of Satan instead of His one, choosing to eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. And indeed we gained this knowledge of good and evil, especially of evil!

The same thing happens with drugs: we are destined to ecstasy, to that deep union, to those divine feelings, but rather to obtain it from the union with God, we procure ourselves these things in the wrong way, by choosing the widest and more easy street of vices, instead of the hard, narrow and steep street of the practice of virtues, sacrifice and prayer.

In every age the saints have experienced ecstasy, but thanks to the purest union with God, not by injecting poisons in their bodies!”

 

Skye listened to his whole confession with open mouth, then, at the end, commented:

“So this is why you changed so much…

I understand, now.”

 

“And I was much more sinful than you!

But, despite everything, I was redeemed! God gave me a second chance!

So, think how much more hope there is for you!

Skye, please, do not give up! I beg you!

Don’t make me witness to your death!

I already saw the death of too many women I loved!” and his thought flied to his grandmother, his sister and Kara…

 

They remained lying on the floor for some more minutes, sharing the most intimate and personal shames and secrets, as if the situation was somehow compelling them to be honest. Friendship was starting to be re-forged in the hot irons of that emotional exposition, as in one of the most horrendous hangovers.

She was starting confessing him how much she despised herself, for all the murders she committed, but then her body finally gave in and she was seized by tremors and sweating and a high fever.

She had to run to the bathroom to vomit. He ran after her and helped her, supporting her forehead and holding her hair back.

Even if there wasn’t anything to throw up anymore in her stomach, she continued vomiting violently, so much so he was compelled to sustain her also on her chest. He could feel her heart thumping wildly and her weak and light body frighteningly trembling: in that moment he had the impression to hold in his arms not a woman but a little bird fallen from its nest.

He tried to hearten, to encourage her with these words:

“Skye, I want to say I’m very proud of you.

Just keep fighting.

Trust me: quitting is hard but not quitting is harder.”

She managed to answer:

“Oh, I’m trying so hard, but it is like telling my body not to breath!

I’m sorry to be such a burden for you.

I invaded your life, your home, your privacy with my awful mess…”

“I’m glad you invaded my life! Feel free to do that anytime you desire it!

You must know that we are doing this together.

I will not leave you alone.

Never.”

Skye smiled:

“You know? With you it is all easier… I can break outside of myself and focus on you, so it is harder for this disease to completely control my behavior.

I realize that, lately, I have been focusing too much on myself: this for sure has been bad for me, because I fixated on my own issues, my problems, my concerns… trying to numb all of them with drugs.”

“I see… but escaping from problems doesn’t solve them. You have to face them! Numbing is useless and even detrimental.”

 

The bouts of vomiting did not give signs of quitting and he began to worry seriously: he was afraid that her heart could give way at any moment.

“I feel like a little boat tossed by the waves in a stormy sea: I have not even a moment of peace, of rest…

I’m so tired!” she managed to say.

“When it happens, the only solution is to try to plunge into the deep, where the waves and the wind can not penetrate, where everything is calm and quiet and you can look up and see the storm upon you, without being involved in it.”

“But how can I do that?”

“Relying completely on God.

Allowing God to take over and guide you.

Stopping fussing.

Ceasing worrying.

Believing that a power greater than you can restore you to sanity.

Deciding to turn your will and your life over to the care of God.

Because you have a problem that you cannot solve by yourself, you can choose to allow that power greater than yourself to intercede.

I know that the idea of us not being in control over our lives is problematic. We are born with free will to make our own decision, to direct our lives. But, on the other hand, addiction has taken away your ability to make decisions and you are no more in control.

Jesus’ words are an invitation: ‘Here I am! I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in and eat with him, and he with me.’ If you think in terms of allowing that higher power to help you because you have asked for help, that is not weakness as much as it is empowerment.

It’s all about establishing a relationship.

I let you in, we get to know each other and we walk together.”

 

In that moment Ward thought he saw something unexpected in her eyes: she had hope.

 

“Maybe God is trying to show me something?” she asked with a whisper, looking in his eyes.

 

“Yes… I think God is trying to show you something…

‘Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives; he who seeks finds; and to him who knocks, the door will be opened.’"

 

And, at those words, another layer of ice melted, in Skye’s heart…

But her body couldn't resist anymore.

 

Grant was looking at her:

"Skye?

... 

Skye!

...

Skye!!!”

 

She did not answer anymore.

 

“Thomas!”

And Ward’s brother burst into the bathroom, kneeling near Skye, trying to feel her pulse on her carotid.

 

“Grant!

We are loosing her!”

 

“No. We are not!”

 

Ward scooped her up and brought her on the bed.

She was like a rag doll in his arms.

 

“What are you doing?

We have to take her to the Emergency Room as soon as possible!” Thomas yelled.

 

“It’s too late.

And, moreover, the ER is overwhelmed by emergencies, these days, thanks to me…

They would not have the time or the manpower to take care also of her.

No… there’s another way to save her.”

 

With that, he straddled her, taking firmly her face in his hands and joining their foreheads. Then he closed his eyes and hot waves began to get out of him.

Thomas couldn’t do anything more than assist to what was happening: he noticed after a while that Skye’s breath regularized, returning normal, while her skin was losing its deathly pallor. She had stopped sweating and her face was becoming serene, losing the wrinkles caused by the tremendous agony she had suffered so far.

Now she seemed simply to be peacefully asleep, like reborn to life.

 

Ward, on the contrary, was breathing hard, his face contorted in pain: when he could bear it no more, he rolled on the other half of the bed, leaving her completely healed and enjoying finally a much needed serene rest…

“Grant!

Grant!!!

What happened?

Please tell me!

Answer to me!” Thomas yelled.

 

Ward answered with a grunt:

“How’s Skye?”

 

Thomas inspected her and answered:

“She seems fine: it’s incredible!”

“Check her belly: see if there are still the abscesses” Ward panted.

 

Thomas lifted her red dress and saw that her belly was perfectly healed.

“No, she’s ok!”

 

“I suspected it…” grunted Ward, lifting his own shirt. Thomas could see a plethora of abscesses just on his brother's stomach.

 

“What the hell did you manage to do???” Thomas asked, awestruck.

“I healed her body” Ward answered, as it was the most natural thing in the world.

 

“Yes, but you have transferred all her ills on you!

Are you completely crazy???”

“I think you were right, when you said she made me crazy!

I’m afraid I’ve really lost my mind for her!”

 

“You see? I was right when I said you are insane!”

“Yeah… insane, but immensely happy, now!”

 

“If you say so…

Do you realize you are going to suffer atrociously for a whole month by the withdrawal of krokodil?”

“Better myself than her.

I am more used to pain.

And I heal much faster than normal people, too.

I’m confident I will be fine in much less than a month.”

 

Ward was speaking with great difficulty, but he struggled to keep his mind clear:

“Thomas, obviously for a little while I’ll be out of the game, therefore I consign Skye to you.

I beg you: guard her with care!

I’ve already explained where you have to take her and what you will need to say when you get there.

I’ve healed her body, but now Somebody much more powerful than me must heal her soul.”

 

“Ok.

But what if she wakes up and wants more drugs?”

“It won’t happen.

From now on, Skye will never more be able to approach drugs, even less desire them.

I made her impenetrable, impervious to them.”

“Good.

One problem less.

But I’m still concerned about you: are you sure you will be fine?

They say that, other than the pain, the withdrawal symptoms of krokodil are also horrible nightmares…”

 

“Thomas!

I looked Satan in the eyes!

I suffered the Hell punishments!

What do you think can exists worse than that???

There’s nothing that can happen to me worse than what I have already experienced!

So, go on.

Take care of her for me!”

 

At those words, Thomas resigned himself, sighed, scooped up Skye, transported her on the car and went away.

 

Ward remained alone.

 

 

 

Chapter Text

The roar of the engine woke Skye from her slumber.

It was almost morning and there were still a few cars on the highway, zooming back and forth, leaving trails of light with their headlights. Outside the car it must be chilling, judging from the brine around the glasses, but inside it was all so comfy and warm and beautiful!

The sun was becoming a huge red ball just above the horizon: it colored the whole sky, which seemed on fire.

Skye did not remember how long she didn’t enjoy such a magnificent spectacle! So she admired it quietly all the time she desired, without a care in the world. That beauty was too valuable, right now, to loose it! That immense ball of fire that gave light and heat and energy to the Earth always fascinated her…

The situation reminded her that time she was on the Bus alone with Ward, on a sea of clouds, with the sun flanking them over the entire world… in those few instants she forgot that he was a traitor, and that she had to play a double game to defend her team… in those moments she was only a woman and he only a man, the both of them wounded, suffering, broken, even if in different ways… in those few minutes it seemed the two of them were the only ones remained on the planet…

Back to the present, now she felt as good as she had never been for a long time: she felt rested, fit, her body was harmonic, her breathing deep and regular, her eyes saw clearly in the distance, her tactile sensations were pleasant… It was like having another body, healthy, powerful, elastic, agile and tonic… She felt like reborn!

After a little while, she turned idly towards the driver.

He was a young man with a short beard and mustache tending to light brown, light eyes, toned but not bulk physique.

 

“Good morning, sleeping beauty!” he greeted her cheerfully smiling at her with a pleasant tenor voice.

 

She remained silent for a second, then decided that a bit of kindness would not hurt anyone:

“Good morning… bearded driver…

Can I ask you… who are you?”

 

He held out his right hand for a handshake and said:

“I am your future brother in law, Thomas Ward, Grant’s brother!”

She absentmindedly squeezed his hand and slowly the wheels resumed their turning in her brain:

“You are… the famous little brother of Ward???

The one whose memory tortured him for years???

The one for whom the Berserker Staff made him go… berserk???

I can’t believe my own eyes!!!”

Skye was full of astonishment, the comment about the ‘brother in law’ conveniently put aside.

 

“I am in the flesh!”

 

“You two… well, you two don’t resemble a lot.

Do not misunderstand me… you’re really a nice guy, but he is… another planet!”

“Naturally! I had no doubt that you were crazy about him, and that no one can be compared to him in your eyes!”

“I’m not crazy about him!” she protested.

“Here it is! Another one that wants to deny the obvious!

However, sister, you can resume your sleep… we will not arrive before a couple of hours.”

“Where are we headed?”

“It’s classified!”

“I don’t like surprises, but right now… I’m too tired to complain” she said with a yawn.

And she fell asleep once more, on the reclined comfy leather seat of the Ferrari…

 

 

After a couple of hours they had reached their destination.

Thomas woke up Skye and she gasped:

“You took me back at St. Agnes!”

“Don’t play me. That was Grant’s idea.”

“And why did he want me back here?”

“Because he will be indisposed for a time and wants you to be safe, together with people who love you, like he did when he led you to your father.”

“It was him who brought me to my father???”

At those words Thomas silently cursed himself:

“Oops!

It was not in my plans to reveal you this little secret!

I slipped!” Thomas said embarrassed.

“Say him not to worry about me. I’m perfectly capable of taking care of myself…” Skye protested.

“… said the krokodil addict” he finished the sentence for her, deadpanned.

At those words Skye remained petrified.

 

“Look, Skye.

Grant went to great length to save you, you cannot imagine how much.

I think the least you can do now is to respect his desire, and stay here for a while.

Here you will be safe and probably you will rediscover the value of life.

I, too, think Grant had a great idea to bring you here: it is probably just what you need.”

At his words and at the honesty in his voice Skye remained silent, the memory of the cold barrel of the gun to her temple suddenly resurfacing.

Then she answered:

“Ok, ok, I got the point.

But now I am a grown up woman and not a poor orphan anymore: why do you think they will welcome me?”

“Because Grant verified and they still remember and love you, even if you left them without a goodbye…

Moreover, they need always someone to help them with all the work.

And… I have a little gift for them” and he indicated the cheque book in his hand.

“They have helped you when you needed it. It’s time for you to return the favor.”

Skye had to admit that Thomas had a point, so she sighed and said:

“Ok, you convinced me. I will stay here for a little while.”

“Deal?”

“Deal.”

 

They entered the compound. Skye noticed several new buildings: during the years the convent grew up a lot! It seemed more like a little village framed in the city, now.

“Mary Sue!!!”

Skye turned immediately to figure out where that voice, that had something familiar, came from.

“Sister Bertha!” she cried with a surge of joy.

And the two ran to meet each other in a warm embrace.

“Look how you’ve grown up! You’ve become a woman, my dear!

Think of how long it has been, now, that I didn’t see you! For sure more than ten years!”

“Yes, yes! More than ten years!” Skye was extremely happy to hold the old short nun in her arms, now.

She remembered the nun taller than that… probably her oldness had started shortening her body.

Sister Bertha was now a little old lady with wrinkles and white hair, instead of her corvine black one, but with the same very sweet smile and an affable, gentle voice. Her eyes were always the same: clear, limpid, with a frank look, strong and secure, despite the weakness of the body. It was as if the years had strengthened their look, and as if the weakness of the body let emerge even more the soul’s force, as if the latter supported, sustained the body.

“Come, come with me, together with your friend…?”

“His name is Thomas.”

“… Thomas.”

“How do you do?” Thomas said politely.

“Nice to meet you” answered Sister Bertha.

“Come along with us, Thomas, please!

Mary Sue, I will lead you to your room, now.

Your friend Grant said on the phone that you are going to stay with us for a little while.

Is it true?”

“Yes, for a little while…” confirmed Skye hesitantly, looking at Thomas, who nodded.

The nun continued:

“I’m afraid, though, that you will not have a room all to yourself…

In this period the monastery is extremely crowded…”

“That’s not a problem.

I noticed that you have expanded a lot since the last time I was here.”

“Yes, it’s true. We were able to create, alongside the local orphanage, also a new building for the accommodation of future mothers in distress. They are ‘accidentally’ pregnant girls who, without our help, would have decided to have an abortion. They have been abandoned by their families and by their children’s fathers, and they didn’t know where else to go. We assist them throughout the pregnancy, during delivery and in the first months after the birth of their children. Then they decide whether to keep them or give them in adoption.”

At these words Skye became sad.

“But I’m happy to say that there are very few mothers who abandon their children and, if it happens, it is for very serious reasons. It sometimes happens also that the original family returns on its steps and takes back daughter and nephew. It happens also, even if more rarely, with the natural father.

During these years, I never met a girl who has regretted keeping her kid.”

“All of this is very nice of you!” Skye was impressed.

“My brother Grant wants to give you some help for this wonderful work you are doing” interjected Thomas, and he gave the cheque to the nun.

Sister Bertha took it and commented, with a surprised voice:

“Your brother is really generous!”

“He is” and Thomas looked at Skye.

“But I’m afraid I have to leave you, now. Grant really needs me.”

Skye stopped and turned towards Thomas:

“Ok. Go. Don’t worry about me and greet Grant on my behalf.”

“Ok, ok… I will give him a kiss on your behalf!”

She smiled, punched him jokingly and then, like an afterthought, she added:

“Thomas… there’s a certain girl… over there… Ward knows of whom I am talking about…

Her name is Jenny and she helped me a lot, even if she can be called a companion of misfortunes…

But now she needs somebody that can help her… she’s in trouble.

Can you bring her to my father, and ask him to assist her on my behalf?” said Skye.

Thomas nodded and said:

“I’ll see what we can do.

Bye, and take care of yourself!” and he hurriedly went away.

He seemed concerned by something…

 

 

Skye and Sister Bertha arrived to the main building and Skye was presented with a bunch of young girls, all pregnant at different stages, some with little invisible wombs and some with huge ones.

“This is Ann: she will share the room with you, Mary Sue.”

Ann was a very tall and strong girl, with blue eyes and blond hair, and a huge belly. She was probably at the end of pregnancy.

“Nice to meet you” her voice was strangely acute for such a piece of woman.

“Hi” Skye smiled and greeted her with her more deep voice.

The two started talking and Skye discovered that Ann was only twenty years old and that she remained pregnant after a one-night stand with a boy she had never seen before. She managed to track him down, but of course he did not want to take his responsibilities and now she was alone. But she wanted her son with all her heart and she wouldn’t kill him for nothing in the world.

Another girl, Jennifer, was here because she already had an abortion once, and this time she did not want to do it. She said that every year she remembered the abortion day as a day of mourning and that, if she could go back, she would not have done it anymore. And, this time, she would have fought with her teeth and nails to give the right to live to her daughter.

There was also a girl, Susan, who had nine abortions. She had been taught that abortion was a contraceptive method like any other, so she used that several times. But it had started provoking collateral damages to her body and, moreover, the last time, she accidentally took a look, in the formalin jar, to what had just been taken away from her and… she couldn’t believe her eyes! She thought it was only a clot of blood… instead it was a little embryo the dimensions of a thumb with already the hints of eyes, arms and legs! That image made clear in her mind what abortion really was, and she decided she would have never used it anymore, or any other analog method, like spirals or abortive pills. She would have had her son, even if this meant for her to stay put, lying in a bed, for nine months straight like it was happening right now!

There was also a very closed up and solitary girl: Catherine. She remained always all alone in an obscure corner of the room, not talking with anybody, clutching and caressing her belly like it was a treasure and also often talking with it. Sometimes the others caught her crying silently alone, but nobody knew what her problem was.

Skye was irresistibly attracted to her: it was like she felt a kind of resemblance in her, so she asked Sister Bertha some information about that strange lonely girl.

“She is the daughter of a doctor famous in all the U.S., who created an empire of abortive clinics. He earned billions of dollars that way, encroaching whatever moral law, oiling politics to promulgate laws favorable to his own assassin purposes.”

“She seams really mournful.”

“She thinks her father is a monster.

She escaped from him and came here when she remained pregnant and his father wanted to make her abort at her sixth month.

At that stage of the pregnancy the only abortion possible is the so called ‘saline abortion’”

“And what is it?” Skye felt already goose bumps over all her body and she wasn’t sure she wanted to hear the explanation.

“It is really a monstrous practice: the womb is injected with a saline solution that corrodes the fetus and makes it die.

It for sure provokes great pain to the fetus itself, but you know, they affirm that the fetus is nothing more than a mother’s appendix.

Then they make the mother deliver it… dead.”

The nun’s voice was extremely hard and severe.

Skye felt like she was going to throw up.

“It is horrible! It’s worse than anything I ever heard in my whole life.”

“It is. And Catherine is torn between the affection she still feels, for him being her father, and the hate and the shame, for him being a monster.”

“I think I can understand her quite well…” said Skye, her mood consistently darkened.

 

 

That evening Skye and Ann went in their room around ten p.m. talking amiably with one another like they had been friends for a lifetime. They had to share a double bed and when Ann sat on her side of it Skye almost rolled over against her, for the difference of weight between the two.

“Sorry, Mary Sue… This pregnancy made me put on almost 55 pounds!”

“Don’t worry!” said Skye laughing. “Can I put a hand on your belly?”

“Of course!”

And Skye caressed it for a while, until suddenly she felt a kick.

“Whoa, whoa, whoa! What was that???”

“I think little Eric wanted to greet you!”

“It’s incredible! I really felt it!”

And the two exchanged a significant look.

 

“Tell me, Mary Sue: how old are you?”

“I’m 28 and I go for the 29…”

“Mmmhh… and when do you plan to have a baby? It’s time!”

“What? No, no… I lack the raw material.”

“Please! Don’t make me laugh!

You are extremely attractive!

Don’t tell me that no one has ever set eyes on you!”

“Yes… of course… but… my life has been very… complicated, lately.”

“But tell me… would you like to have a baby of your own?”

Skye remained pensive for a while, then answered:

“Yes, I’d like it very much…” and then somebody had to explain her why, for the love of all the Saints, when she thought about a potential son, she imagined him with thick black hair and heavenly doe honey brown eyes!!!

 

After this image flashed behind her eyes, she had to make an effort to continue listening to Ann:

“You know, in this compound arrive any sort of woman: from the 13 to the 40 years old, of whatever origin, ethnicity or religion, mainly poor and without means, or abandoned by their families or boyfriends, more or less invited or compelled by them to have abortion.

But this doesn’t mean they lack culture or knowledge.

Sometimes here arrive girls that are, for example, medicine students, who, therefore, know very well how to avoid getting pregnant.

But they get pregnant nevertheless.

I think this fact is justifiable only because, in them, the motherly instinct is so strong that, on one hand, they delude themselves saying they don’t want to have kids, but, on the other hand, their subconscious make them nasty tricks, like, for example, regularly forget the pill…

And then they decide to keep their children, and are happy about that!”

“What happened with you, when your one night boyfriend rejected you?”

“It was terrible, but I was expecting that.

Men are so weak!

They are often only grown up kids…”

 

Skye thought of Ward: she too accused him of being weak… not knowing absolutely anything about him… and only now she realized how much strong, instead, he was! The most impressively strong man she had ever known, for sure!

 

Ann was still talking:

“He even offered to pay for the operation, but I refused.

I thought:

‘What??? So I should kill my own son and then, every moment, think about how he could have become, how much he could have grown up, how he could be able to call me mommy???’

No, that thought was simply unthinkable.”

“I get your point” Skye answered.

But Ann was like a river in flood:

“And another thing I can’t understand is this: they say that the fetus is not a person, so there isn’t any problem in killing it…

But, even in the police investigation, they use the DNA as the main mean to prove one’s identity!

So why a fetus can’t be considered as a person with its own unique unrepeatable identity, given it has a DNA from its conception?”

Skye thought Ann’s reasoning was simple and straight. And she liked it when the things were simple and straight: they perfumed of truth.

“I tell you: something smells. And I can hear the screeching of nails on the glass anytime I hear certain speeches!” Ann concluded, sure of what she had just said.

Skye liked that girl: she was very practical.

 

They went to bed and started sleeping peacefully.

But at two in the morning, Skye was awakened by an anxious Ann that said to her:

“Mary Sue! Mary Sue! Wake up! I think I’m loosing the waters!”

The ride to the hospital was vertiginous: the losing of waters could endanger the little’s life, if not correctly managed.

After that Skye found herself at three in the morning in a empty hospital corridor, pacing back and forth, in the semidarkness, goose bumps and shivers running up and down her spine at hearing Ann’s cries of pain and her words:

“I can’t do that!

I can’t!

I’m going to die!

Please help me!

Help me with the pain!

Aaarrrggghhh!”

Skye was massaging her own belly, clutching her legs and feeling her toes contracting and she finally found herself praying:

“God, please, have mercy of her! She’s suffering so much! Please have mercy!”

This situation continued for another hour, then, after a last earsplitting desperate scream, finally another little cry was audible: the cry of a baby!

Ann made it!

Thankfully, at last!

Skye took a sigh of relief…

 

When she reached Ann in her room, she was full of awe for her and kissed lightly her on the forehead.

Ann greeted her, but the experience evidently had left its marks on her: she was still breathing hard, she was pale, sweating and shaking, but she was also smiling.

She had her baby in her arms, sleeping!

“Ann, you are a hero!” said Skye.

“Oh, Mary Sue!

I’m so glad it’s finished!

I was thinking I was going to die, there and then!”

“I heard you…”

“How much I have cried!

I have still my head ringing!”

“Yeah… Those poor doctors are going to become deaf soon, if they don’t take some precaution!”

Ann and Skye laughed together, in the end.

“Oh, Mary Sue!

It’s so hard to build a man!

Only a woman can understand that!

If women ruled the world, I think there would be fewer wars!

It needs a lifetime and a lot of pain and troubles to build a man and a second to kill him…”

Those words hit Skye’s heart like a bullet.

She killed a lot of men.

It was so easy to pull the trigger…

And all finished in a split second.

But what was behind every man she destroyed?

 

And remorse and guilt once again bit her soul.

 

Dangerously.

 

 

Chapter Text

 

Ward was alone.

 

He was feeling bad.

 

But soon he started feeling worse.

 

And quickly he reached a plateau of pain and discomfort.

 

Thanks to his incredible regenerative powers, the abscesses on his belly were already healed, without leaving any trace (it would have been a pity to have such magnificent abs ruined!), but the dependency to drugs was another story to get rid of…

He was experiencing a phase of the addiction he absorbed from Skye, called ‘tweaking’, a condition normally reached at the end of the ‘binge’, when drugs no longer provide a ‘rush’ or a ‘high’: he couldn’t sleep for several days in a row, and he was seized by irritability, fatigue and insomnia, headache, and difficulty concentrating. Then, unable to relieve the horrible feelings of emptiness and cravings, he was losing his sense of identity. He entered in a completely psychotic state and he existed in his own world, seeing and hearing things that no one else could perceive. His hallucinations were so vivid that they seemed real and, disconnected from reality, he became hostile and dangerous even to himself.

Thankfully, in the deeper underground of the house he had prepared a big special room specifically studied for himself, in order to safely vent out his powers when he needed it: he had used it when he had had some free time, to become familiar with his strange unearthly fire, and now it was a godsend he had the lucidity to go there and let out his rage. Otherwise it was almost certain he would have razed down the house and even the neighborhood.

But he had still to keep a strict control over himself, even down there: he could not afford to completely lose it, given the fearsome powers he was equipped with.

In addition to all the rest, he was pervaded by intense itching and he became convinced that bugs were crawling under his skin. He was, too, in a state of unutterable irritation of stomach: connected with it he suffered of nausea, vomiting and diarrhea. All of this suppressed his appetite, so he did undergo a prolonged malnutrition.

 

When Thomas finally came back, he found his brother in the terrible state following the ‘tweaking’, called the ‘crash’: Ward’s body was literally shutting down. This resulted in a long period of sleep for him, of sink into utter lethargy and intellectual torpor. He became almost lifeless.

From it he returned in a deteriorated state, starved, dehydrated and utterly exhausted physically, mentally and emotionally. He became depressed, all his energies lost.

His sense of incapacity and feebleness was terribly oppressive and tormenting for him: it made him neglect or procrastinate his duties, and remorse often exasperated the stings of these evils. He wanted to shake off that state in which he was imprisoned, because he knew that the world and Skye needed him, but his intellectual apprehension was infinitely outran by his lack of power. He lied under the weight of incubus and nightmares and in sight of all that he had to do, just as a man forcibly confined to his bed by a mortal languor, who is compelled to witness injury or outrage offered to some object of his tenderest love. He cursed the spells which chained him down from motion; he would laid down his life if he might get up and walk; but he was powerless as an infant, and couldn’t even attempt to rise.

 

After that phase of ‘crash’, started the last one: the true and proper ‘withdrawal’. The craving for drugs started hitting him continuously, with force, but, unable to get it, he was risking of becoming suicidal. Since withdrawal was extremely painful and difficult, he was now in the greatest danger of all.

But, out only of his sheer willpower, he was managing to keep himself together:

“Who is in charge, Grant?

Who is in charge???

The drugs… or you???” he asked continuously to himself.

And the answer was invariably this one, full of furious rage:

I am in charge!!!

And I will dominate myself!!!”

 

He was a fighter by nature, a survivor.

And he was surviving, obtaining the strength from the greatness of his enormous courage.

 

 

While Ward was struggling with the withdrawal, Skye was at St. Agnes, struggling against the remorse.

She was anything but calm, or peaceful, or serene.

She ate little and bad, a lot of chunk food, and was becoming thinner and paler than she already was.

She stayed isolated, now that Ann was continuously with her little kid, and during the night Eric awake them a lot, so she couldn’t rest enough.

 

But her problem was neither the food, nor the poor night arrangements, nor the solitude.

 

Skye’s problem was the turmoil she felt every morning she woke up, when all the memories crashed into her all at once like a ton of bricks, and during the day, and in the night, when she fell into a tormented sleep sprinkled with nightmares.

She dreamed of Lincoln saying she never cared about him, and Coulson screaming her name, and May, and Simmons, and Fitz, and Mack… Mack that forgave her when she didn’t ask for that… when she even refused that… Mack, that was such a better person than herself…

She didn’t forgive Ward in all those years... even if she saw in his eyes that unspoken pleading so many times!

And, most of all, she dreamed of all the men she killed… of Raoul and his lackeys… of Malick… of all the soldiers… of Donnie Gill…

 

She was bad.

 

Her heart had become of stone.

 

She really had become impervious!

 

Yes, impervious!

 

Impervious to the regret of having killed she didn’t even know how many people!

Impervious to the compassion she should have had for Miles and for Ward!

Impervious to the humanity she should have shown in so many occasions, instead of hiding herself behind the cold, stone mask May taught her to wear!

She had become another May, the same she once called ironically “Warm”.

What did they do to her?

What the hell Shield did to her?

Where did that smiling, caring, full of life girl go?

Where was Skye, the girl that lived in her van and travelled up and down the USA without any heavy baggage of concerns and guilt on her shoulders?

 

Suddenly the words she heard from Ian Quinn once, so much time ago, clicked in her mind:

“You fit their profile. You are a criminal. No family…

 

Shield…

 

They prey on fear and loneliness and desperation, and then they offer a home to those who have no one else to turn to.”

 

That description pictured her situation perfectly…

 

And Ward’s, too…

 

Why was she thinking of Ward, now, of all people?

She, in the past, found herself pining over him and his unfair destiny more and more…

But what was the point in doing that now?

She clearly said to him she hated him!

 

 

Thomas was trying to help his brother in every way he could imagine, also listening to him.

In fact Grant often recounted Thomas his nightmares:

“They say that it may be as painful to be born as to die. Even if I don’t remember my birth, I exactly remember my death, and I think it probable; during this whole period I’m having the torments of a man passing out of one mode of existence into another…

Without drugs I feel like my lungs hadn’t performed breathing or my heart hadn’t beaten… for days… for weeks…

At night, when I lay awake in bed, vast processions and throngs pass along in mournful pomp, with dreadful faces and firearms; a theatre seems suddenly opened and lighted up within my brain, which present nightly spectacles of more than earthly splendor, that immediately shape themselves into phantoms.

 

All my dreams are accompanied by deep-seated anxiety and gloomy melancholy, wholly incommunicable by words.

I seem, every time I fell asleep, to descend, not metaphorically, but literally to descend, into chasms and sunless abysses, depths below depths, from which it seems hopeless that I could ever reascend. Nor do I, by waking, feel that I had reascended.

 

The waters in my dreams are changing their character: from translucent lakes shining like mirrors, to seas and oceans.

And now comes a tremendous change: until now the human face had mixed often in my dreams, but not despotically nor with any special power of tormenting. Now, instead, it is tyrannizing over my dreams, haunting my sleep, bringing confusion to my reason, and anguish and remorse to my conscience… Upon the rocking waters of the ocean, the human faces begin to appear; the seas are paved with innumerable faces upturned to the heavens, faces imploring, wrathful, despairing, surged upwards by thousands, by myriads, by generations, by centuries. I can recognize, among them, the people I murdered…

My agitation is infinite.

My mind tosses and surges with the ocean.

 

Also is coming the unimaginable horror of Oriental imagery and mythological tortures. Under the feeling of tropical heat and vertical sunlight I’m bringing together all creatures: birds, beasts, reptiles, all trees and plants, usages and appearances that are found in all tropical regions.

I soon bring Egypt to my mind, too, and all its gods.

I am stared at, hooted at, grinned at, chattered at, by monkeys, by parrots, by snakes. I am the idol. I am worshipped. I am fixed for centuries at the summit of secret rooms. I am buried for a thousand years in stone coffins, with mummies and sphinxes, in narrow chambers at the heart of eternal pyramids. I am kissed, with cancerous kisses, by crocodiles; and laid, confounded with all unutterable slimy things, amongst reeds and Nile mud.

The horror is so huge that it is absorbed for a while in sheer astonishment. But sooner or later comes a reflux of feeling that swallows up the astonishment, and leaves me not so much in terror as in hatred and abomination of what I see.

Over every form, and threat, and punishment, and dim sightless incarceration, broods a sense of eternity and infinity that drives me into oppression as of madness.

The main agents are ugly birds, or snakes, or crocodiles… especially the last.

The cursed crocodile is becoming to me the object of more horror than almost all the rest. I am compelled to live with him, and for centuries. I escape, sometimes, and find myself in Chinese houses. But all the feet of the tables, sofas and chairs, soon become alive: the abominable head of the crocodile, and his leering eyes, looks out at me, multiplied into a thousand repetitions; and I stand loathing and fascinated. And so often this hideous reptile haunts my dreams that many times the very same dream is broken up in the same way: I hear your gentle voice, Thomas, together with Cate’s, speaking to me, and instantly I awake.

You two, as children, are standing, hand in hand, at my bedside.

So awful is the transition from the damned crocodile, and the other unutterable monsters and abortions of my dreams, to the sight of your innocent human natures and infancy, that it makes me weep as I kiss your faces.”

 

 

Back at St. Agnes, Hive’s words, spoken with Ward’s voice, resounded in Skye’s mind:

“The only reason Shield exists is to fight wars.”

In fact, Hive was not wrong: one clear example was the Slingshot program, the one with which Shield was supposed to get rid of its dangerous technologies. Well, that program was a fake.

And what about all the gifted individuals that were kept into the Fridge's prisons? Instead of curing them, to reduce their powers and prepare them to return in the world without being a danger for everyone, they tried to enhance them, transforming them in laboratory rats, into monsters, trying to understand and replicate their powers! Exactly what Whitehall did with her mother…

And now there was this Sokovia Accords complication…

 

She remembered her own words to Mack:

“Look at us, Mack! I was a hacker, you a mechanic, and now we are soldiers, killers!

We had no choice.

Shield made us into what it needed.

But I don’t need to be a Shield agent anymore!”

 

And finally her words to Hive, breathing shakily, completed the picture:

“Please… take me back!”

 

She had needed It like breathing; she had wanted It with all her might, more that anything she ever desired! But It couldn’t anymore take her back, and her desire, her lust for It became hate, and rage became uncontrollable…

The memories of what she did to Hive, how she fought It, how she stabbed It repeatedly, and crushed Its bones… were her recursive nightmare.

How could she become such a monster???

She could see it now: she was really addicted to It. Ward and Coulson were right.

She loved It furiously; she would have done anything It could ask her, from being completely drained to killing all her friends. And she would have loved It more for that!

How could that have been possible?

 

It was true what that Shield agent told Coulson once:

“Bit of advice… stop digging and stay the hell away from that girl, ‘cause wherever she goes, death follows”.

 

She obeyed Hive without a fail, blindly; she would have died for It and she would have killed for It. And if Lash hadn’t rescued her, she for sure would have become a nuclear weapon in Hive’s hands, spreading death all around her.

 

She felt so weak…

And then another thought struck her mind: she accused Ward to be that, two years ago:

“You are just… weak, doing anything you’re told. I hope Garrett orders you to walk into traffic.”

 

Oh, how much she hated herself!

How much she despised herself!

 

She lost any faith in herself.

She was a danger to everyone.

She was a mess.

 

How could she ever get out of the quicksand that imprisoned her? The more she tried to free herself the more they swallowed her!

 

She felt trapped!

 

 

Thomas, that was witnessing the agonies and the intense suffering of his brother, that sometimes awaked in struggles, crying aloud:

“I will sleep no more!”

was almost begging him to desist and try to take at least some tranquillizer or painkiller…

 

But Grant’s answer, even if invariably agitated, writhing, throbbing, palpitating, and shattered, was:

“No.

I must win alone.

I am determined to win, or to die in throwing these chains off.

I cannot cheat with this: I have to win for Skye, to give her the strength to go on and heal her soul.

I must be willing even on her behalf.

I’m offering all of this to God: a drop of pain for every spark of love I feel for her.”

 

Really you can measure love by the pain that you are willing to suffer for it.

 

After this confession, he had a strange dream, which signed a turning point.

He recounted it to Thomas:

“The scene was an Oriental one.

It was Easter Sunday, and very early in the morning.

At a vast distance were visible, as a stain upon the horizon, the domes and golden cupolas of a great city, perhaps Jerusalem…

The dream commenced with a sense of preparation, of awakening suspense, then continued like the opening of a celebration, that gave the feeling of a vast march, of infinite cavalcades filing off, of tread of innumerable armies. Then came a sudden alarm, hurrying to and fro, like trepidation of innumerable fugitives.

 

The vision opened now on a large field.

 

On the right side there was an array of beautiful white robed warriors, probably Angels; on the left side, a great multitude of horrible faced monsters, probably Demons.

I, as a little child, was in between the two armies, because I had been chosen as the Angels' champion.

Soon enough the Demon' champion approached: he was a horrible giant, touching with his head even the clouds.

We were like David and Goliath: the epilogue of our battle would have decided the fate of the entire war.

 

I was incredulous, more than scared: how could they have given me such a task??? 

How could I, so small, fight against that monster, so bigger and stronger than me?

 

Then I understood: I was not alone!

I suddenly became aware that near me there was a mysterious man with wonderful zephyr eyes and a powerful stare, who told me:

“Do not be afraid: I will help you and with My help you’ll win.”

 

So, while the dread swelled, there started a tremendous battle between the giant and me: I dodged his blows, I ran, I escaped, but in the end, with the Sword given to me by the zephyr eyed man, I could pierce that monster in the heart and he died.

The agitation of the battle had not already wholly subsided, when the legions of the Angels started cheering and applauding me and the mysterious man to whom, in fact, the victory was due, while the legions of the angry Demons that encamped there started drawing off.

 

He talked again to me:

“Look: you will need to constantly tangle with this giant and I will always assist you.

With my help you will always win, but you will have to fight against him all your life, not ever growing weary of it.”

 

After this vision Grant found finally peace.

 

All the pain ceased.

 

He had won, with that Man's help.

 

 

Skye went to Sister Bertha:

“I have to tell you something.”

 

“Finally!”

 

“What?”

 

“I know you, Mary Sue!

You are tormented.

You have something that tortures you.

And I’m happy you finally decided to talk about it.”

 

“Yeah…

And, by the way, my name in the world is Skye.

I don’t like the name Mary Sue… it is used for representing a poorly developed, too perfect and lacking in realism female character in fan fiction.

And I’m far from perfect and lacking in realism!”

 

“Ok, Skye. As you prefer.”

 

“I’m a murderer.”

 

At those words Sister Bertha paled visibly. She was standing and had to sit down to avoid falling.

 

“What?” she asked feebly.

 

“I killed I don’t know how many people.”

 

“Skye! How could you?

Of all the sins that there exist, murder is the most definitive and irreparable of all!

Didn’t I teach you that human life is one of the absolute values? Which must be defended at all costs, as it is invaluable?

What do you think we are trying to do, here?

Killing a man you do not just kill a man, but you kill a child to a Father!

You definitely take away something that you are not able to give back!

 

“I was a soldier.”

 

“A soldier? And you killed under orders?”

 

“Yeah… mostly.”

“Mostly? So you killed also out of your own free will?”

 

“Yes.”

 

“This is grave, indeed.

I bet that your soul is tormented by remorse, and rightly so!

Your sin is extremely serious!”

 

Skye felt herself filled with shame, and remorse bit her even deeper, at hearing those words coming from a person who had always been a reference point in her life.

Until now, killing had been almost normal, for her and for the people surrounding her.

 

But, at those words, she understood it wasn’t normal at all.

 

“I intentionally lost the faith, hoping that nihilism could swallow me down and make me cease existing.

In this way also my sins would have simply disappeared.

 

I fell into the drug coils to try to escape from the remorse I felt.

 

I almost committed suicide.

 

Grant saved me: if it wasn’t for him, I would be dead, now.”

 

“And dead in mortal sin, without repentance, too.

This means Hell.”

 

“Grant said so.”

 

“What you are saying explains exactly the way Satan follows to lose a soul.

He is like a spider hiding in a hole after having woven his web. When an insect comes in, it gets caught in the spider web and begins to struggle, remaining more and more entangled. So it happens with the lies. So it happens with the betrayals. So it happens for all sins.

Committing a sin, you become a slave to that sin, losing in that way your freedom. From that web you cannot free yourself alone."

 

Sister Bertha took a deep breath:

"Tell me.

What do you want to do, now?”

 

“I don’t know.”

 

“It depends on you.

To clarify your ideas, try to answer these questions.

Do you regret what you have done?

Do you wish you never did what you did?

If you could go back in time, would you do again what you did?

In the future, you’re going to kill again?”

 

“If I could go back, I wouldn’t do what I did.

I wouldn’t join Shield anymore, even to find my parents. Sometimes it is better to remain in ignorance, rather than wanting to know at all costs.

The cost, in my case, had been too high...

 

And I don’t want to kill anymore.”

 

“So you regret what you did and you wish not to do that again.”

 

“Yes.

But the shame and the remorse are on me and nobody can free me from them!!!

I’m entrapped!!!

I feel like my life is finished!!!”

 

“No, it’s not.

You are at war with yourself and you are at war with God.

 

But a reconciliation is possible.”

 

“Do you really think so?”

 

“Of course!

Never lose hope, or faith!

The majority of things are out of our control, but there’s always One that has the power to fix everything.

Even the mere fact that you were able to talk to me about what you did is a great achievement, a step toward freedom!

Jesus knows us and gave us a mean to reconcile us with God and with ourselves: the confession.

You should remember about it from your childhood...”

 

“But how can a priest give me absolution? He's only a man!”

 

“Because in that moment it isn’t a priest, but Jesus himself.

Jesus paid the price for you once and for all, and He is the only that can give you forgiveness.

He said to His apostles: ‘Whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven’.

He will wash you with His blood and you will be whiter than snow!”

 

“Just like that?”

 

“Just like that.

But mind that this came at an infinite cost, for Him.

 

He had to face an infinite pain, to give us this.”

 

“Yeah, but He had the power. He is God!”

 

“It is not so simple.

He suffered really.

Immensely.

Infinitely.

In the last instants he had to fight against desperation with the only human forces remained to Him.

 

He had been squeezed like grapes, to the extreme.

 

And He wanted, even desired it, for us!

 

Do not underestimate His Passion!

There has never been nor ever will be greater pain.

There has never been nor ever will be greater Hero, too.”

 

“But how could he withstand such pain?”

 

“Through love.

He opposed to an ocean of pain an ocean of love.

He took upon himself, within himself, all the evil committed by all men in the past, present and future and burned it in the furnace of his Divine Heart.

So now He has, in Justice, the right to free us from the tangle of our sins, from the chains Satan binds us with, to free anybody that asks to be saved by Him.

 

We have no idea of what His love is!

 

Even if we love Him, it is always like comparing a grain of sand with the sand of a desert.”

 

Skye felt hope resurfacing potently in her.

 

Sister Bertha continued:

“It is always Love the key to understand God.

God is Love and it is not plausible that He is just One: He had to pour out his infinite love on another One.

So, out of time and space, He generated from Himself another Self and loves Him as only a God can love another God.

 

The Love between the Two is itself a God.

 

This is the Holy Trinity and their Love makes them One, even if they are Three.

 

And from Them comes all life and all existence and all good.

Continuously.

Forever and ever.”

 

That day Skye confessed herself, and, from there, her life restarted.

 

The furnace of love of the Christ melted all the ice that was still covering her heart and burned away all her sins.

 

She felt an immense gratitude and an immense lightness in herself, afterwards.

 

She was finally free.

 

The war was over.

 

She had been healed by a Force beyond any human force.

 

 

 

 

 

Chapter Text

 

Days passed quietly at St. Agnes.

 

Skye gave a hand wherever it was necessary: the nursery, the orphanage, the cleaning, the cooking, the park and the vegetable gardens around the convent… There was work for everyone!

 

But for her that wasn’t a problem: she always liked working. It kept her mind occupied and she found a lot of pleasure in admiring the results she achieved: a baby just changed and well fed falling asleep in her arms; many pairs of amazed little eyes watching her while she was mimicking a fairy tale; a huge dining hall clean and bright; a good and tasty hot soup; a well kept garden free of weeds, where the vegetables gave a fine show of themselves…

 

But she was getting restless.

That life was serene, but she wanted more.

All in all, she missed the hyper advanced technology she was used to; she considered a pity not to take advantage of her undeniably above average skills in computer science; she missed the Zephyr One and the Quinjets; she missed the Playground base, Coulson, May, her friends, and her fellows inhumans…

And, although she did everything to drive out that thought, what she missed most of all were two beautiful honey brown eyes that looked at her like she was the sun and the moon, two strong arms that tightened around her, two hands that shamelessly roamed over her, two lips that could do wonders on her, and that baritone voice with which he could tell her words that electrified her deep inside with thrills and quivers…

 

She was wondering about him… if he was good… if he suffered some consequence after he cured her body…

She reasoned a lot about what happened that last night together and, from the bits and pieces she could remember, when he straddled her and clutched her head in his hands and joined their foreheads together, she could recollect a warm comforting sensations flowing through her whole body, and after that she felt fantastically.

So she understood that he must have used on her some sort of healing power: there wasn’t any other explanation.

So, probably, there was something special in him, too… not that she ever doubted about that…

But… could he maybe be an inhuman?

She didn’t know…

 

She couldn’t know that he, in fact, was an inhuman; nor she could ever suspect that he had other powerful gifts as extraordinary quickness and strength, telepathy and control on an otherworldly fire… In fact, during the fight between him and Hive, she was detained in a containment module from which she freed herself only when she couldn’t feel Hive anymore… so she hadn’t any idea of how Ward managed to defeat Hive.

 

Skye was sitting on the covered windowsill of a large window, when Sister Bertha approached her and sat near her.

“What is bothering you?” the nun asked.

“Nothing!” Skye answered, alarmed. Were her thoughts so manifest?

“Why?”

 

“Because you have the same face you had shortly before you left us, ten years ago…

There’s something that is bothering you, I can tell you that.

You are fidgety, dissatisfied, unfulfilled…

You need something…

Or, better, you need someone.”

 

Skye started feeling uncomfortable.

“No, you’re wrong!”

 

“Am I?

Tell me something about Grant.”

 

Skye blushed violently: she was feeling her cheeks definitely on fire!

 

“There’s nothing to say about him.”

 

“I think there is, instead.

You’re in love with him.”

 

“What??? No, absolutely!!!

You are totally, completely wrong!” Skye hastened to assure.

 

“If I am so wrong, why did you suddenly and violently blush at the mere mention of his name?”

 

Good question.

“Because he did a lot of things that upset me, in the past. And I hate him!”

 

“So he affected your life a lot, for good or for bad…”

“Mainly for bad.”

 

“But you also said he saved your life, that you wouldn’t be alive, if it wasn’t for him…

Is it true?”

“Yeah… it is true.”

 

“I heard him, even if only on the phone.

He loves you.

Deeply.

I felt it in his voice when he talked about you.”

 

“I know.

But I think he will soon stop with this obsession he has about me.”

 

“No, Skye.

If it is love, it doesn’t end.”

 

“Please, don’t lecture me with this rubbish!

I know a lot of couples who broke up, even if they declared eternal love to each other, before!”

 

“It happened because their sentiment wasn’t real love, but only a vague inclination, or a fancy, or an infatuation, or a passion, or a sex induced obsession, or a lot of other things that the world calls wrongly ‘love’.

I repeat: if it is love, it doesn’t end.

And there is no greater love than to lay down your life for your friends.

And Grant would have given his life for you, to save you. And you know that.

He actually saved you at his own costs.

He will never stop loving you.”

 

Skye didn’t answer. She knew Sister Bertha was right.

 

The nun continued:

“You don’t believe me?

Ask whatever of these mothers if it is possible to stop loving their children!

You will not find any of them saying ‘yes’.

 

Well…

 

That’s love.”

 

“I’m not ready for that.” Skye said, avoiding eye contact.

 

“And that’s where the shoe pinches!

Finally! You admitted that!” exulted Sister Bertha!

 

“What???”

 

“He loves you.

You love him.

But you are scared.

It’s too much, for you.

His love is too much.

And also your love is too much.

The strength of your sentiments for one another scares you, destabilizes you.

He has already accepted them.

You not.

You never felt something for someone so intensely in all your life, so you want to flee, because you are not in control.

But this is the beauty of love: to let its strength conduct you, trusting it, having faith in it!

And I assure you: love never betrays you and you’ll never regret to have followed it!”

 

“And what does a nun know about love?”

 

“I know because I got married to it.

Remember: God is Love.

And believe me: God knows how to love!

He’s probably the only One who knows how to love, and anybody that is really capable of love has Him inside…

Of course I’m not talking about anything physical: love is spiritual, holy, it is a dimension of the soul, but there isn’t any physical sensation that can compete with the fire that encloses, that wraps you when you are burned by His love!

Nothing compares to Him.”

 

Skye remained speechless: she wouldn’t ever suspect that Sister Bertha was such a passionate person! She was talking as she was madly in love!

 

The nun continued:

“But don’t worry: also the love between a man and a woman can be holy, and you two have a great capacity to love.

If I was you, I would put aside all my doubts and dive in him: what you two have been bestowed with is rare.”

 

Skye couldn’t reply: she was at loss of words.

Sister Bertha left her there, to let her meditate… alone…

 

Skye was feeling as if an earthquake had uprooted all the foundations of her life, as if there was no more land under her feet…

 

She was lost in those thoughts when she felt a commotion in the huge dining room downstairs.

She ran there and found all the girls around Catherine, in a defensive attitude.

In front of the group of girls there was a man circled by bodyguards.

They were dangerous, Skye immediately perceived it.

They were armed.

They were trained.

They were combatants.

Skye felt all her defensive instinct and all her training arise like a forest of spears.

 

Sister Bertha was between the two groups, her eyes throwing sparks.

 

“… you haven’t any right to enter here and threaten our girls!” the nun was saying.

She was little, but she didn’t show a shred of fear in the face of that group of armed and dangerous men! It was like seeing a kid against a giant, like David against Goliath.

 

The man at the center replied:

“I have every right in the world, since you have ensnared my daughter and you have dragged her in this filthy hole to allow her to give birth to the fruit of a bad relationship, that I had powerfully opposed!”

 

“What’s growing inside of her is her son, a human being, who has every right to be born and grow, like any other! Like you and like me!” Sister Bertha replied.

 

“Oh, no! That fetus is not a person. But it will be if we allow him to be born!

We are the arbiters of his life! He does not have any right, now!

Earth is already too full of people!

If we continue like this, soon there won’t be enough food for everyone and all humanity will die out!”

 

“Oh, please!

Stop with all this nonsense!

In U.S. every year are dumped the equivalent of three billion dollars and more of food!”

 

“This doesn’t matter.

The Earth, Gaia, deserves to be worshipped by us! And also protected from us!

We are like a virus, a disease for her.

We are polluting her!”

 

“I too agree that we are not good caretakers of Creation.

An equilibrium must still be found, and that equilibrium is findable in the alliance between God and humanity!

But this doesn’t mean that the Earth is more valuable than humanity!

You cannot consider humanity as a virus!

Is maybe Gaia you idol? Your Goddess?”

 

“Yeah.

And I am her warrior, who defends her from her enemies!

The newborns.”

 

“If you are so concerned about Gaia, you should be more concerned of the education given to the new generations!

The reason why a lot of people use abortion is that there isn’t a good education at the base: rampant immorality; sex easily accessible and offered to everybody, without the need for conquest and effort and without sentiment education; a frightening lack of true values!

This produces disrupted families and straggled sons and daughters, as in your case.

There isn’t a good environment to receive the kids, so it is more comfortable to discard them, rather than to strive to improve our lives to be able to accommodate and educate them well, filling their lives with high values, human and divine values, instead of money, false freedom and solitude!”

 

“All rubbish” he answered.

 

“So the solution you found is to kill the babies!

You do not realize the monster you’ve become?”

 

“I am proud of what I do!

I help a lot of people to be freed from these heavy burdens, unnecessary and harmful” and he gestured to the kids that were around.

 

“How do you dare to say that???

Are you aware of the slaughtering that is perpetrated nowadays, which had produced more than a billion abortions in less than 30 years?

Adding those to all the children killed with other means, like spiral or abortion pills we reach the unimaginable number of more than 53 million children killed per year!!!

Worse than the entire Second World War, every year!!!”

 

“Yes.

And, over the years, thanks to me and my clinics, more than one million abortions have been achieved!!!”

 

At that Sister Bertha remained silent. A heavy, sad silence.

“May the Lord have mercy of your soul.

What will you say to Him when you will die?”

 

“Nothing.

He doesn’t exist.

And there’s no life after death.”

 

“Please, leave.

Or I will have to call the police” said decidedly Sister Bertha.

 

“You don’t know who I am, or the power I have.

We will meet again soon: only, you and all of your little bitches will be under a bridge!”

 

And he and his men left.

 

Catherine was in tears, the others trying to comfort her. She was saying:

“He wants revenge against this convent because of me!

Do not underestimate his hatred! I know him very well!

He’s going to destroy us!

If only I had the power, I would smash all his cursed clinics, I would raze to ground all its horrendous empire!”

 

Sister Bertha was trying to cheer her up:

“Don’t be afraid, Catherine!

God will protect us: I can feel it.

He will not let anything bad happen to us!”

 

Skye was hearing all of that, horrified.

And suddenly in her mind arose an unhealthy idea…

“So does he worship the Earth?

Ok.

Let’s see if the reward Earth is going to give him will be to his liking!”

 

That day Skye disappeared from the convent, after having greeted, this time, the girls and Sister Bertha.

“Don’t worry about that monster. I will take care of him” she said to the nun.

But she didn’t give any further explanation to her interrogative stare.

 

From then on, for a couple of months, the newspapers and the TV news were filled, every few days, with news about localized earthquakes that gradually destroyed all the abortion clinics belonging to Catherine’s father, in different cities: Brownsville, Des Moines, Richmond, Scranton, Syracuse, Tomahawk, Atlanta, Topeka, Sonora, Oakley, Fargo, Montrose, Billings, Las Vegas, Barstow, San Diego, Los Angeles, San Francisco, and Redding.

No one was killed under the rubble, because the strong and destructive shocks were always preceded by several warning shocks, which allowed all staff and patients to run out in time.

 

At the end of all, when nothing was left to be destroyed, one last news came out in the newspapers: Catherine’s father had attempted suicide, but the providential and timely intervention of his daughter, who had recently given birth, had saved his life.

 

In a hot interview, the former tycoon confessed:

“God wanted to tell me something.

I worshipped the Earth, but the Earth obeys God.

God was not pleased with my work, so the Earth destroyed my empire.

Now I finally figured it out, and now I bow to God’s Will.

And I thank Him for the daughter He gave to me.”

 

When Quake read these lines, a smile blossomed on her lips.

 

 

Chapter Text

Quake was monopolizing all the news in U.S.

The public opinion was realizing that all these earthquakes weren’t something due to the normal seismic activity. Moreover, some paparazzi were lucky enough to take some pictures of a mysterious girl dressed like an emo, with long black hair and eyes hidden by dark sunglasses, suspiciously always present on the epicenter of said earthquakes, and even more suspiciously being the only one who left unscattered those places, in spite of all the debris and the destruction.

 

The newspapers titles where explicit:

“Quake Not a Natural Disaster, it was a Person”.

“Who is Quake?”

“Hero or Rogue?”

“North Dakota Experiences First Earthquake in 40 Years”

“Earthquake Centered in Fargo Shakes Up North Dakota”

 

Ward was considering all those news, finding in Quake’s targets a clear common pattern. He understood what Skye was up to, and he agreed with her.

It wouldn’t be him to stop her, for sure! But he had to keep an eye on her, to avoid her been captured by SAP, the Sokovia Accords Police.

He had realized, also, that she was trying to move randomly.

This certainly did not optimize her movements, but if someone had figured out what her goals were, and certainly someone had, at least it wasn’t sure if the next target would be the closest, in the linear distance.

 

He remained hidden in the dark, keeping her safe without her knowing. With such a bodyguard, she could sleep soundly!

But she didn’t know, so she, fortunately, kept as much cautious as possible.

 

 

Skye managed to contact Charles’ wife to give her the money she stole from the Bank some months ago, and that she opportunely cleaned up using her hacker skills. She also gifted Charles’ daughter Robin with the little homonym bird wood sculpture her father did for her… and she gave them also her own father’s address, so that they could have a shelter.

“You’re too kind.” Charles’ wife was saying.

“I’m just keeping a promise” she answered.

 

But she couldn’t remain there much: she could perceive that Shield was on her ass, so she quickly left and ran away, and, when she was hidden in an alley, she used a shockwave to jump on the roof of a building and disappear.

 

After some instants, Coulson and Mack arrived running, but she had already flown away.

Coulson was cursing:

“I had her! Damn, I had her!”

Mack didn’t say anything, but frustration was clear also on his face.

 

The two were returning back to the SUVs, but suddenly stopped when they heard a voice saying:

“She’s fantastic, isn’t she?”

Mack and Coulson turned towards the voice, incredulous to their ears.

 

“Ward!” Coulson exclaimed, surprised.

Then he added, more angrily:

“Where the hell have you been, all this time???”

 

Ward was leaning against the wall with his back, hands in his pockets, eyes closed, a sly smile, unfailing attitude, clean cut hair and flaunting a total confidence in himself: he wore black trousers, black boots, white t-shirt and a leather jacket, as usual. He seemed a lot like the ‘post Shield – Hydra reveal’ Ward.

 

Coulson continued yelling at him, approaching, and gesturing towards the roof of the building:

“You guaranteed me that you would do everything in your power to help, to protect and to save her!

Even from herself!

And look the mess she is in now!!!

What the hell have you done, all this time???

You played with fire?”

 

Ward replied, peacefully:

“Yeah… we can say I played with fire, in a certain sense… very dangerous fire.

And, doing so, I kept my promise.

I saved her… from herself.

Now we must only keep an eye on her, to protect her from the external world.

But don’t worry: the worst is over.”

 

Coulson scoffed.

 

“Can I offer you a cup of coffee?” Ward asked politely to Coulson and Mack, looking at the two of them.

“Just to make up for the lost time and align us on what to do next…” he added, raising an eyebrow, more seriously.

 

Coulson replied:

“I know a good bar near here.

The sandwiches are fantastic and I’m starving!”

 

“Let’s go for lunch, then!” exclaimed Ward.

“The bill is on me” he added with a charming smile.

 

 

Daisy… Skye… Mary Sue… Quake… even she didn’t know what her name was anymore… was an expert in hiding and in living under the radar of whatever espionage agency, private or governmental.

She traveled only by car, an old grey Sedan she bought cash a pair of months ago.

She slept in the car, or in some cheap motel just to be able to take a shower sometimes, and to have a change of clothes.

 

She had resumed her lone wolf life, and all this solitude allowed her to ponder over all the happenings of the last intense three years, from when she joined Shield: a new family, the Hydra reveal and all that mess with Ward, her powers, her parents, the Inhumans, Hive…

It was really a lot, and she hadn’t occasion to reflect on all those things, before, due to the frantic life she conducted.

 

In particular, she had to work on the idea deeply ingrained in her for years that she hated Ward.

Was it really true?

Or, on the contrary, was it true she was in love with him, like Sister Bertha said?

 

She was sure of only one incontrovertible fact: Ward didn’t leave her indifferent.

 

She had still to clear her mind about him: he had been so unpredictable! First good, then bad, then good again…

 

He really did some horrible things, in the past, but… had she ever bothered to investigate why?

 

Skye found herself talking as if Ward was there in front of her:

“World really turns, turns, turns.

Yesterday I pontificated against you, judging and condemning; today I find myself exactly in your same cloths, feeling a lot less inclined to judge and condemn…

 

You betrayed Shield.

But what did I do?

Exactly the same! And twice!

But I wasn’t posed in Vault D.

 

You killed your parents, yeah.

But when my mother was draining life from me, I tried to kill her, too. It was only my father’s arrival that anticipated me, and prevented me from becoming my mother’s murderer.

She was a decent person; my father, too.

They didn’t born evil.

But something dreadful happened to them, and they radically changed.

Even to you something dreadful happened, for the most part of your life… and this changed you, until you defeated Hive.

 

You tortured Bobbi and almost killed her, even if I still don’t know why… and I’m going to ask you.

But what did I do?

I painfully hit and almost killed Mack, my own friend.

I didn’t want to be forgiven… but he forgave me nevertheless.

 

You seldom asked me, with your eyes, to be forgiven, but I never forgave you.

 

I’ve understood it: life is not white or black, but there are infinite shades of grey.

The human soul is an abyss of mysteries, of complexity, of unfathomable feelings: probably eternity would not be enough to fully understand it.

Perhaps only God can comprehend us completely.

 

You too, Ward, were not born evil: Fitz was right!

But you were forced to change, to be able to survive, against your will.

Now I understand…”

 

 

She continued her reasoning:

“We are all so weak!

Why had I to be so cruel with you?

Am I not as weak as I thought you were?

When you were in Vault D and I first met you and saw the scars on your wrists and forehead…

You tried to kill yourself, more than once!

What had you to endure, to try to commit suicide?

You are so much stronger than me!

What amount of desperation could have ever brought you to attempt that?

I never cared to ask.

 

I never showed to care for you, for the true you.

I probably fell in love with an image I had of you, but I ran away when the reality surfaced… and what did I say then? I said to a suicide survivor that he should have tried harder!

I was an ugly bitch.

 

… but is it really true that I fell in love with an image I had of you?

Ok, I couldn’t know you were playing a double game, but I think I managed nevertheless to dig in you enough to grasp your true nature: you were so broken, and you were struggling… but, at the end, I was really convinced, when I said it, that you were a good man.

And it seems that, in the end, the facts have proved me right.

Finally you have been able to show everyone that you are really a good man!

 

 

“They say that words kill more than swords.

It is true.

There are many ways to kill a man, and I used them all, against you.

I used words to kill you, more than once: that time on the plane, for example, when you were helping us to take down the Hydra base in the Arctic, when you were trying to open your heart to us, trying to make us understand you, when you were desperately seeking help, I said:

“I’m so glad I shot you”.

 

What a sensitive girl, really!

 

Yeah… I was proud of myself for having shot you in the back like a coward, when you were turned, because you brought me to my father and I didn’t like him and I was ashamed of him, and because I wanted you to suffer like you made me suffer.

But there was really definitely nothing to be glad of!

The fact was that I wanted to show May and Coulson that you didn’t affect me anymore.

I wanted to be accepted by them, so I would have done anything to please them…

I killed Donnie Gill to be accepted by them.

I molded myself into a soldier, into a murderer to please them …

I would have done anything, also, to make up for the evil done by my parents and the shame I felt about them…

 

I really am not any different from the old you: only, your mentor was called Garrett, while mine were called Coulson and May. Nevertheless, even after I betrayed Shield, more than once, I was treated much better.

And this isn’t fair.”

 

 

“Ward, if you can hear me, I would like to apologize to you, for stepping on your fingers while you were trying to hold yourself!

I would like to apologize to you, for pushing you down the precipice, instead of giving you a hand to grab and bring you back!

 

Now I realize it was not only Hive that stole my freedom.

It was Shield that I resigned my freedom to, my free will!

I let them all control me, mold me into what they needed.

 

Not anymore.

I’m done with Shield.

 

And Ward, if you can hear me, please forgive me.”

 

 

She didn’t know, but Ward could hear her.

 

 

Chapter Text

 

Being able to remain alone revealed easiest to be said than done.

She had to run and hide for two whole months, changing continuously location, after her headshots about the clinics…

Shield was on her ass, and SAP too: they were using their entire set of means and technologies to find and capture her.

 

She had to be extremely careful in using her powers, because Shield was monitoring continuously all the earthquakes, even the weakest ones, to find the most suspicious, and a pattern to follow.

 

In the end she tried not to use her powers at all anymore: it was too dangerous.

 

She was getting used to a more normal, common life.

She established herself in a little town lost in the mountains, with less than a thousand inhabitants. There she found a work as a waitress in a pub. With what she earned, she could pay the rent for a little apartment in which she took shelter whenever she wasn’t at work.

 

She was getting back to herself.

It was like a dream come true, a desire that she hadn’t realized she was dreaming: no more missions, no more danger, no more killings, no more orders, no more Coulson and May to please and obey at any cost!

 

Life was simple, clear, uncomplicated.

 

Ok.

She was alone now…

 

But, for the first time in her life, that sensation didn’t bother her.

Screw all that need for connection, for belonging!

She was at last connected with herself!

And she belonged to herself and herself alone!

She was starting to become herself again!

And she was aware of the change, so that the name she gave wasn’t Daisy: it was Skye.

 

She was extremely attractive, so it often happened that someone of the pub’s customers tried to strike a conversation with her, but she remained vague and detached. And if they tried more convincing tactics, she was more than able to put them back in their place!

She didn’t need to use her powers, for that: May taught her well!

 

 

One very busy Saturday night she noticed a stranger, among the crowd of all the local customers: a dark man sitting on the most obscure booth of the pub.

For sure he was well built: large shoulders, muscular arms that almost tore his shirtsleeves, tall, long legs, wide hands… He had dark hair, a beard more than a stubble, a baseball hat and a pair of dark aviators sunglasses on. How he could be able to see anything in the dark with that pair of glasses, it was a mystery, indeed!

His face was hidden in the dark, so she couldn’t grasp his features… but something was familiar in him.

Something warm, indefinable was attracting her, pulling her towards him, almost magnetically.

 

He was nursing a beer, so someone must have served him.

She started approaching him, but then another customer needed her attention.

 

When she was back, the stranger was gone, the booth empty and a generous amount of money on the table.

 

Strange.

Very strange.

 

 

That night she dreamed.

She never dreamed, or at least she never remembered it.

But that night she properly dreamed.

 

And that was the most beautiful dream she ever had.

 

 

She was on a plane.

She was sitting in the cargo hold in her tactical gear and was staring at a man sitting on the floor, legs bent, dark haired, bare-chested and shackled to the side of the plane. She couldn’t see his face, because he was probably sleeping, and his head was dangling low, lolling from one side to the other.

His wrists were flushed, because the chains were cutting into his skin, having to sustain the weight of the half upper part of his body.

She was wondering whom he could be, when a jolt made him wake up.

He grunted and shacked his head, as to emerge from sleep, and raised his head.

 

She immediately recognized him: he was Ward in the flesh!

 

She couldn’t believe her eyes and remained openmouthedly staring at him.

He was the first who hoarsely spoke:

“Hey, Skye!

Nice to see you again!”

 

“What are you doing here???”

 

“I could ask you the same question.”

 

“Don’t try to fool me! I don’t even know where we are, exactly, nor how we arrived here!”

“I suppose we are on a plane headed to some survivor Hydra base. Judging from the noise of water beneath us, we are flying very low, near the surface of the ocean, probably to avoid radars.”

 

“And why your friends would put you in chains?”

“Because they are not my friends anymore, of course.

After all that mess with Malick I will have to work hard to regain their trust…”

 

“Nice try, Ward. But you will not frame me again.”

“Think what you want.

I don’t care.”

 

And some time passed without any word exchanged, only embarrassed glances to each other from the both of them, trying in the meanwhile to avoid getting caught.

 

Then he spoke:

“Can I ask you a favor?”

“This is funny, coming from you.

But tell me.”

 

“I’m thirsty.

Like, desert thirsty.

Can you bring me some water, please?

There’s a little fridge down there…” he said, nodding to his left.

 

“Since you’ve asked politely…” and she went to the fridge, grabbing a bottle and handing it to him.

 

But then he was visibly embarrassed: he couldn’t drink alone, due to the chains.

 

She huffed, uncorked the bottle and approached him, kneeling down and resting one hand on the floor.

Then she accosted the bottle to his mouth and he started drinking, feverishly, letting some drops escape his mouth...

The two of them were only inches apart…

He closed his eyes, because the pleasure of the cold water in his throat was so good!

Oh, he was so terribly thirsty!

On the other hand, Skye was bewitched by the vision of his designed lips sucking from the bottle, his stubble covered cheeks, his hair spiking in every direction and falling in spare locks on his forehead, his long lashes more noticeable with his eyes closed, his Adam’s apple moving up and down, the bottle moving in her hand pushed rhythmically by his mouth, the water droplets streaming down his sunburnt neck and chest…

… she wondered how it would feel like licking those droplets…

 

He suddenly opened his eyes and watched her intently, like he perceived what she was imagining, and she blushed fiercely, looking immediately away.

 

Why had he to be so damn handsome, even in such a rough situation???

 

Indeed, the fact that he was so dirty… and restrained… and helpless… made the bastard even more attractive, like she felt the need to take care of him, or… like she felt to be able to do to him whatever she wanted…

 

The bottle had been emptied quickly, so there was no reason for her to remain close to him: she straightened up, but fell immediately after, because an explosion hit the plane, making everything shake around them.

 

“We have been hit!

We are going to fall in the ocean and sink down!

Quick!

Go and grab the keys for my shackles!

We need to escape before it is too late!!!” Ward yelled.

 

She ran, grabbed the keys and freed him.

He immediately bolted towards the tailgate and opened it.

“We are almost falling in the ocean!

We have to jump!

Immediately!”

 

He grabbed her hand and they jumped together in the water.

The freshness of the ocean was fantastic, but they had to emerge quickly to breathe.

 

After a few seconds, they saw the plane falling in the ocean, the impact causing a terrible explosion.

 

Now the two of them were alone, in that vast expanse of water…

 

She spoke, panting:

“Ward, I cannot swim with this boots!

Please, help me get rid of them!

I’m drowning!”

He immediately plunged underwater, unfastened the laces and freed her feet from boots and socks.

Emerging from the water sputtering, he found she gratefully looking at him.

 

“What are we supposed to do, now? We are in the middle of the ocean!” she asked.

“I caught a glimpse of an island, not far from here, in that direction” and he pointed towards south.

“We have to swim until we reach it. Come on!”

 

“Oh, my God!

I’m not sure I can do that!

I’m not such a good swimmer!” said Skye, alarmed.

 

It’s that or dying, so steel yourself and follow me!

I’ll help you.”

 

So the two of them started swimming in an ocean fortunately calm and flat as a board.

But the hours were passing by and the island seemed still so far…

Moreover darkness was engulfing them and they couldn’t any more distinguish the water from the sky…

 

Skye was starting to be awfully tired and feeling hope abandoning her.

“Ward, go on without me!

I cannot swim anymore!

I’m too tired!”

 

“Not a chance!

We will reach that island together and alive, if it is the last thing I do!”

 

But she was fainting and he had to grab her by the throat, dragging her along with him towards the island: it was a superhuman effort, but at the end, he managed to pull her on the shore.

He was half dead from fatigue, but also half alive from the joy of being both safe!

 

He fell near her, with his left arm circling her belly, for good measure, he prone, and she supine.

 

That night he would not permit to anyone or anything to separate them!

 

 

Chapter Text

 

The next morning it was her who woke up earlier, and that was a first!

 

She opened her eyes and saw a huge, immense red sky above her.

It was like being catapulted in Heaven!

She admired that wonderful spectacle until it lasted.

Then she felt an arm on her belly and raised a little her head to take a look: Ward was protectively embracing her, still asleep…

And they were lying on a beach covered in rose sand and…

Rose sand, indeed!

Like on Harbor Island, Bahamas!

 

She had never been surrounded by so many wonders of nature!

 

The air was pleasurably warm and the water that wetted her from the waist down was transparent, limpid, and the lapping of the waves so relaxing, so soothing, so caressing! She remained immobile for some instants, listening to that sound…

She had missed it so much…

 

She turned slowly her head and finally dared to watch him…

His face was turned in her direction, only an inch apart, with only a little sand on his right cheek, so she could study every detail of it…

Goodness, he was so beautiful!

He seemed so young, so serene… the lines on his forehead smoothed… his breath regular and quiet, almost imperceptible, noticeable only by the rhythmic movement of his naked shoulders and chest… his eyes closed that revealed his peaceful rest… his lips slightly smiling.

She wondered what he was dreaming of…

 

He saved her life.

Again.

 

She owed him.

 

The sun was rising and it colored the water of fantastic nuances.

She wanted to sit up slowly, to sneak away, but couldn’t.

 

But, feeling her movements he woke up, opened his eyes, looked at her, slowly rolled on his back, leant on his elbows and smiled tenderly.

 

“Good morning!” he greeted, his voice a little hoarse.

 

“Morning…” she answered, cautiously, looking down.

 

“Oh, please!

Try at least to fake a little bit of enthusiasm!

After all, this was our first night together!”

 

And he laughed!

He actually laughed!

His baritone voice ringed in her ears and she found herself lost in that sound.

 

“You wish!” she said looking into his eyes defiantly.

But she couldn’t prevent herself from smiling.

 

“It is useless to try to stem an avalanche.

Some things are meant to be.

But, for now, the more urgent thing to do is to take a look around, to see what we are dealing with”, he said matter-of-factly.

Then he stood up, holding out his hand to help her doing the same.

She grabbed it and stood near him…

 

Perfect! She had now his sunburnt bare neck and arms and chest exactly at eye level to admire, and this was not conducive to her concentration!

 

That place looked really an earthly Paradise.

 

They started walking on the shore, anticlockwise, looking around and noticing in the distance some coconut trees.

“If we are lucky, we will soon have breakfast! And, more importantly, something to drink” he said.

Luck was effectively on their side: on those trees there were several coconuts and Ward approached one of the trees to climb it.

 

At that, Skye put a hand on his shoulder and said, with a May-like look:

“Let me.”

 

He desisted from his attempt, while she sent a small shockwave towards the fruits, making them all fall on the ground.

“Wonderful! You’ve saved me a hassle” he commented, smiling delighted at her.

 

Ward tried carefully to make a hole in one of them with a pointed stone he tried to use as a chisel and another one that served as a hammer, but these means were poor and he was finding it very difficult to complete the task.

So, again, Skye took the coconut from his hands and, with an even more May-like look, said:

“Let me.”

 

And, with a micro shockwave from her pinkie, she made a hole in the coconut.

She gave it to him raising one of her eyebrows.

“Amazing” he smiled again, mischiefully, this time.

 

They started drinking the coconut milk inside, passing the coconut between them.

Oh, that was so refreshing!

Skye felt reviving.

 

At that point, however, it was necessary to break the hard nut that contained the pulp.

Ward didn’t even try to do that and gave it to her.

“Please, I let you.”

 

So she, for the umpteenth time, grabbed the nut in her hands, and with a small shockwave cracked it so that they could eat the pulp.

The world seemed a much better place to live in, after that.

 

“So, what are we supposed to do, now?” she asked more serenely.

 

“First of all, those coconuts can serve us as food and drink for several days, if we don’t find soon something else.

Secondly we have to find some high place to take a look around.

See? That mountain can do the job.

Third: while we travel there, we must understand what kind of flora and fauna we are immersed in; if there is some edible vegetables, berries or roots; if there are animals to kill and eat, and, more importantly, that cannot do the same to us!

Fourth: it is also very important to find fresh water: this place is hot and humid and perspiration will make us lose a lot of liquids.”

 

“Excellent risk analysis, super spy!

But we need also a way to carry with us some coconut, in case we get lost in the woods!”

 

“Here!” and he produced a backpack.

“I grabbed this before we jumped. Let’s see what we have here” and started emptying it.

“Ok: we have a knife, a rope, a lighter, a wire, a vest, a little saw, a sharpener, a thin sleeping bag, sachets of water purifiers… and some… condoms…”

 

“Condoms???”

 

“Yeah. Our friend was undoubtedly farsighted.

Condoms can be very helpful in situation like ours”, he said, looking seductively at her.

She raised both her eyebrows, now, and said, decidedly:

“Abandon any hope about that!”

 

“We’ll see”, he answered, smiling mischiefully, and continued:

“Give me the coconuts: I will pack them here.”

 

Ward wore the vest and then they started to walk towards the mountain.

They were both barefoot, so they had to pay a lot of attention not to wound their feet during the trip. But they managed to climb the rock mountain and have a good look around.

They were undoubtedly on an island: as far as the eye could see, all around and in every direction there was only a vast, infinite expanse of water.

That sight made feel to both of them an incredible sense of loneliness, like if they were the only survivors on the whole planet, and immediately that sensation cemented their union: each of them could only count on the other, in that forsaken place.

 

The island wasn’t so big, too. It was of volcanic origin, but the vegetation was lush and probably there were also animals, hidden in the forest that covered the main part of the terrain.

 

That evening they stopped on a clearing at the top of the mountain and had to prepare there for the night, because darkness was already swallowing the light of the sky.

They found some dry firewood and lightened it.

Then they first drank then ate some coconuts.

 

They were alone, under the sky full of stars, while the fire, dancing, projected shadows and lights on their faces, softening their features and beautifying their complexion.

They were sitting together, watching hypnotized the flames, with their backs against a still hot rock wall that the sun mercilessly had hit all day. But at that time, in the cold of the night, it gave off a pleasant warmth.

 

They were both tired, because the day had been tough, with all that walking and climbing. Often they had to help each other, or, better: he had to help her, mostly.

Anyway, they were tired, but neither of them wanted to admit it.

 

At last, Ward grabbed the thin sleeping bag from the backpack and handed it to her:

“Go to sleep. You must be tired.”

“And you? Where will you sleep? You must be tired, too!”

 

“Of course I am. But I am used to poor sleeping arrangements, so you will take it. I will sleep on the grass.”

Skye took the sleeping bag and analyzed it: it was not so small as it could seem, so she said:

“You will sleep with me, inside this”

 

“What?

No…

Sorry, but I would prefer not to invade your privacy…”

 

“Oh, please, Ward!

Do not pretend that we are strangers to one another!

Don’t you remember the last night we met, when you took me out to dinner, then out in the patio, then to your house…? You weren’t so shy, then!

 

Moreover, the night is really chill and I’m cold.

While you’re warm…”

 

Ward observed her for a little while, then nodded:

“Ok, if you don’t mind that…”

 

They prepared for the night, taking away only some of their clothes, the most external and dirty, and settled down.

Skye remained only with her sporting underwear, while Ward kept his slips. They tried not to peep at each other while they were divesting…

 

At the beginning they kept some distance, both supine, because the sleeping bag was big enough.

 

But after a while Skye rolled on her side to look at him.

 

 

 

Chapter Text

 

Skye said:

“You know?

I find this situation peculiar.

We have been enemies for more than two years, and now, suddenly, we are together and alone, on a deserted island, under a sky full of stars, half naked and sharing the same makeshift bed…

If Coulson could see us right now, certainly he would have an heart attack!”

 

Ward smiled at the image that formed in his head, but didn’t say anything.

 

After a little while, he spoke quietly:

“Do you remember what you said to me the last time we saw each other?”

 

She knew exactly what he meant:

“That I hated you?”

 

“Exactly.

Do you still feel so?”

 

“I don’t know.

I’m confused.

For sure Hive and the addiction messed a lot with my brains…

But time has passed and I don’t feel so lost anymore.

I’m starting to think you were right.

Hive was trying to exploit me: It didn’t really care about me.

And the drug addiction was certainly a way to escape from reality… and to annihilate myself…”

 

“I’m glad you finally got that: this is very important for your mental health.

I’ve been were you are now, you know…

When Garrett died I felt terribly lost, too.”

 

“I can imagine.

You tried to kill yourself three times for that!”

 

He remained silent for some instants, then said:

“I already told you this: I was almost relieved when Shield put him down.

He wasn’t himself anymore…

His death was not the reason I tried suicide…”

 

“It… wasn’t?”

 

“No.”

 

He sighed, then added:

“Where they brought me after capturing me… that was one of the most fearsome prisons in the world.

Even Garrett was terrified of it.

And I ended up just in the terrorists wing: that was worldwide known to be a real hell.”

 

“Oh…

I didn’t know that…”

Skye’s voice was shaking, as if a chill had passed through her back.

 

Then she reasoned:

“In that period I wondered what could have happened to you… but I never dared to ask Coulson.

It had been a tough period, especially for him: Shield had to hide in the shadows; Coulson had to travel a lot, to try to reconstruct a net of supporting relationships; we had to set up everything in the Playground… on my side all the security protocols, all the informatics infrastructure…

It had been a period of hard work.

But then, one day, after about three months, I went to the gym and started punching the bag… and it reminded me of you… and, as every time, thinking of you made me suffer, and I punched and punched and punched… imagining the bag was you… remembering all the good things you did and all the good memories I had of you and trying to destroy each and every one of them, because all them where lies, covers, pretenses…”

 

At that Ward reacted immediately:

“No! This is not true, Skye! Those weren’t all lies!

When I was with you I really felt to have a family!

I really cared about you, all of you!

But…”

 

“But we weren’t on top of your value list…

Anyway… in that moment I started reasoning on what could have happened to you, on where you could be, on what they could be doing to you… if you where still alive or if you were dead…

I let the gnawing sensation that something wasn’t right bite me… and a pang suddenly reached my heart.

I had to know.

I had to discover where you were.

So I went to Coulson and asked about you…

He sincerely didn’t know, but he promised me he would investigate.”

 

Ward looked surprised at her.

 

“So you had been the one that made Coulson search for me!

Skye…

Probably you are the reason I am still alive!” Ward said in awe.

“You saved my life!

Again.

Thank you.”

 

Skye smiled at him, then continued her story:

“In fact, after a few days, out of the blue, I saw May going to Vault D with a pair of scissors and a razor, saying that we had a prisoner that needed to be cleaned up, but that he couldn’t be trusted in being given such tools… for his own safety.

Coulson told us that the prisoner was you, but nobody was allowed to come to see you…

Then after a couple of months Coulson told me that I had to talk to you… to get Hydra intel from you…

I was scared of you, but I put on the mask and went down to you…

 

I cannot explain to you the emotions that took me when I saw you in the flesh!

I had always seen you so strong, invulnerable, confident, while there you were imprisoned, bound, restless as a caged lion, although you still had a great mastery of your demeanor…”

 

Ward traveled back with his memories, too:

“I was so happy to see you again!

You were so beautiful I couldn’t almost believe my eyes…

A ray of light in the darkness…”

Ward’s voice was dreamy…

 

Skye tried to remain focused and continued:

“Then I saw the cuts on your wrists…

I was really impressed by those… terrified, even, by the thought you tried to end your own life… that I actually risked not to see you again, forever…”

 

“Well, remember me to compliment May for the work she did on you!

None of those emotions showed up on your face!”

 

Skye stare was low, now.

Her voice too:

“I said you should have tried harder…

I told to a suicide survivor that he should have tried harder to kill himself!

 

I hadn’t the right to treat you that way.

I would like to apologize with you for that sentence.

I was a real bitch.”

 

“It was a normal reaction towards a filthy traitor.

I knew perfectly well that you hated, that you detested me.”

 

“No.

It wasn’t normal.

You were first of all a human being.

A human being that tried to end his own life.

 

I was cruel.

 

I was inhuman.

 

You didn’t do that with me when I was in your same situation, even if I shot you four times!

On the contrary you forgave me, supported me, you encouraged me, you helped me, you saved me from that damn barrel on my temple!

 

A decent person does that.

 

But I wasn’t a decent person, at the time…

 

I simply knew Coulson and May were seeing and hearing everything, and I wanted to prove them that you didn’t affect me anymore. Exactly as when I told you that I was glad I shot you, when we were around the holotable.

 

I was a coward.

 

But you forgave me and you subsided everything and helped me nevertheless.

 

You are a good man, I’m sure of that, now.

 

I, instead, was a bitch.”

 

“Skye… we both are humans… with our weaknesses and strength.

Life is evolution and the most important thing is to evolve in the right direction.”

 

“Yeah…

I lost the direction, in the last two years… and you, of all people, got me back on track.

It is still hard for me to believe that!”

 

She remained pensive for a moment, then added:

“Thank you.”

 

Skye’s eyes bore in Ward’s ones for a while…

The tension was palpable between them.

 

But then she regained control and spoke again, hurriedly:

“But I didn’t want to interrupt you.

Please go on: I wanna know what happened in that prison and why you tried that extreme solution.”

 

Skye was resolute: she wouldn’t waste this occasion to talk to him and hear from him all that she didn’t know, about his mysteries and his secrets, at least the ones regarding that period.

So much time ago she regretted not having talked to him, but it was too late: he was dead. Or at least she thought so.

It won’t happen again!

She had been given a second chance with him, and this time she would not have blown up everything!

Nope!

 

Ward sighed, but then answered:

“I tried to kill myself because I couldn’t bear the tortures anymore.”

 

“Oh, God! I didn’t know that!” Skye became paler.

 

“I felt I was losing my mind.

After three months of daily ‘treatments’ I couldn’t resist anymore and needed a way out, fast.

Moreover, it was like something happened to my mouth: I couldn’t speak, even after my fractured larynx healed…”

 

His expression was contorted in pain.

“Do you remember when you were my rookie?”

“How could I forget that?”

 

“I told you that we should start doing some training about torture.”

“Yeah.”

 

“Well, I don’t know if I would have been able to do that to you” and he looked her in the eyes intensely.

 

Then continued:

“I dreaded that, to be honest.

I cannot bear to see you suffer.

Garrett, instead, seamed to enjoy it.”

Garrett trained you in enduring torture???”

 

“Yes.

What I had to bear with him is also the reason why I don’t want anybody to touch me.”

“But how Shield could allow that?”

 

“It didn’t happen during the Academy.

It happened before, during the time I was in the woods.”

 

At that Skye jumped up, the sleeping bag slipping down along her torso baring her bra covered breasts. Ward had to force himself not to stare.

“What???

How much time you were in the woods???”

 

“When I was 17 years old, I burned down my family manor and then I was captured and sent to juvenile to await for the trial.

I met Garrett there: he rescued me and put me in the Wyoming woods.

Then, at 22, I joined the Academy.”

 

“17 years old… till 22… it means… five years!!!

You remained five years alone in the woods?!?

I can’t believe that!!!”

 

“Yeah.”

 

“Oh, this explains a lot of things!” Skye exclaimed.

 

“I wasn’t totally alone. Buddy was with me.”

“Buddy?”

 

“John’s Labrador.”

“A dog???

And you think to be left in the woods for five years with only a dog is not being left alone???

You have been deprived of human company for five years, the five most important years after childhood!

I knew Garrett was evil, but the treatment he inflicted to you redefines the definition of evil!!!”

 

“I was not always alone.

Every two or three months John came to teach me.”

“Teach what, for heaven’s sake???”

 

“Combat, shooting, espionage, war strategies and tactics, all the most effective harming and killing techniques with guns, knives, garrotes, explosives… interrogation techniques... torture... inflicting and enduring it...

He was very demanding.

And he punished me hard if I disappointed him.”

 

Skye appeared distraught and said:

“You know… after I saw what Garret did to you, that he was ok with killing you, in risking your life that time he made Mike stop your heart… I started wondering what could your life have been in those years he was your SO…

But I couldn’t imagine anything like this!”

 

Ward remained pensive, then said:

“Fifteen years…

He had been my SO for fifteen years… for a half of my life...

Is it enough, fifteen years of conditioning and abusive reinforcement, for developing such a strong dependence to a mentor, to a father figure?”

 

“I think it would take a lot less for any person…

I fully understand, now, why you chose him instead of us…” and it wasn’t clear if she was talking about the team or about… the two of them.

 

After all… ‘us is a strong word’…

 

“One of the things he tried to impose me was to fight my weaknesses.

For weaknesses he intended love, affection.

I had to be careful not to start caring for anyone... anyone but him.

He always said I was a soft touch.

The only reason I disobeyed him, a few times, was because I cared for someone else.”

At that he looked at her not adding anything else.

She had to divert her eyes from him.

 

“You have to understand that I was torn between these two loves.

Oh, Skye, do you have any idea how HARD it was???

I felt myself tore apart so many times!

When I saw you, after you were shot, fighting to stay alive… and I started suspecting in that moment that it was all Garrett, in an attempt to punish me, because I was starting to care about you… oh, how strong was the temptation to go to Coulson and tell him everything, of me, of him, of Hydra!

But every time I thought about betraying him, numbness engulfed me and all my thoughts became foggy…

Furthermore, on Garret’s side there was this debt I was compelled to pay back: he probably cared nothing of me, he was a deranged narcissist devoured by his vanity and, moreover, terrified to die.

But I couldn’t forget that he saved me; that he saved me from the downward spiral I was entrapped in.

 

He saved me from myself.

 

You have no idea how screwed I was, when he rescued me from the juvenile...”

 

“I dug down in your files and I never found anything about all of this…”

 

“Yeah.

Of course you couldn’t find anything!

Garrett erased all the evidences! He certainly couldn’t afford to leave traces of all he did to me.

Especially torture.”

 

“It must had been dreadful…”

 

“It had been.”

 

“But how could you resist it?”

 

“Garrett taught me how.

The most effective way to endure torture is through mental dissociation.

And for him it was killing two birds with one stone.”

 

“Why?”

 

“Because with that he achieved two objectives: teaching me how to endure torture…”

 

“And the other?”

 

Brainwashing me.

I understood that only lately.”

 

A gasp escaped Skye at those words.

 

“Any time he ordered me to do something dreadful, something I didn’t want to do, that my mind refused, like, for example, the silent command he gave me to kill Victoria Hand and her soldiers when we were flying to the Fridge, I felt numbness engulfing me, so that I couldn’t think clearly anymore.

I was like under the effect of a drug and I did what I was ordered mechanically, robotically, detachedly.”

 

“See? I wasn’t wrong in calling you robot!”

 

“I guess you weren’t.

Returning to our nice ‘interrogators’, considering that they couldn’t make me talk, they continued torturing me harder and harder, to break me.

But they didn’t know my secret.”

 

“And what was that?”

 

“They couldn’t break me, because I was already broken.”

 

At those words his voice almost cracked.

 

“Oh, Skye, if you only knew what I had to endure in my life and what despair engulfed me to bring me to suicide!”

He had closed his eyes and had covered them with one hand.

 

She answered softly, covering his hot hand with hers, more fresh:

“Ward, I know something about desiring death, and you know that.

I tried to commit suicide, too, and you are the only reason I’m still alive.

I felt despair, when Hive died.

I felt despair at looking at the heap of ruins my life had become.

I felt despair and shame for my parents.

I felt despair at looking at my sins.

I felt despair for the withdrawal from krokodil.

But you were there and gave me your hope, your faith… your love.

 

I will never forget that.

 

And I must say this…

 

I don’t hate you anymore.”

 

After her admission, Ward looked at her with an incredulous expression, but feeling finally his heart light as a feather.

 

“Thank you.

I really appreciate you saying that” he said with awe.

 

She had to avert her eyes, because his incredibly intense stare made her uneasy.

And in that situation, too… both half naked, so close and warm… alone in the middle of the ocean, in the silence of the night… under a sky full of stars, sharing the same bed… she was starting to feel on all thorns!

 

She was scared by the strength of his feelings.

 

She was scared by the strength of her own feelings.

 

So she put herself together and joked, as always, with a faked sigh of relief:

“Ok, T-1000.

I think this over-sharing is enough, for the first night…”

“The second…”

 

“Ok, the second.

Now go to sleep.

You are tired and so am I.”

 

And with that she rolled on her other flank, giving him her back.

 

Ward understood perfectly she reacted in that abrupt way to hide her emotions from him, and didn’t feel offended at all.

 

On the contrary he was happy, incredibly happy, even if he would have preferred to interlace his fingers with hers and bring both their hands under the cover on his belly, to keep them warm.

But he already felt he had been lucky enough, that evening… with this heavy burden of her hate finally dropped from him!

And nothing… nothing! … could now make his smile disappear!

 

“Good night, Skye!” he said her, exultant!

 

“Good night, Ward…” she answered, while silent teardrops fell from her eyes.

 

Teardrops of joy.

 

 

 

 

Chapter Text

 

A fresh breeze scented with the perfume of night flowers the top of the mountain where Skye and Ward were sleeping.

 

The night passed by silent and quiet.

 

They were so tired, and slept all night.

 

But in the morning, at 5.30 like always, hearing his internal clock alerting him, Ward woke up to find Skye hugged to him, her right cheek on his bare chest, right on his heart, with her hair all spread on him like a curtain and their legs entangled.

He recalled that she moved a lot in the night… that she had been restless… at least until she could embrace him.

In that moment her agitation was placated and she was pacified.

It seemed that his own heartbeat had a soothing effect on her…

 

Oh, having her so close was wonderful!

 

She was so soft and he could feel her body, all of it, relaxed on him, warm and smooth… her breath so calm and regular…

His fingers where itching from the desire to caress her hair, her arms, her back, and further down

He was dying from the longing to explore every inch of her smooth warm bare skin with both his hands…

The memories of the night of their first encounter after Hive were rushing potently back in his mind, as so many other times before, during those long lonely months without her… the memories of all those breathtaking kisses in the patio… the memories of their hands entangled and then all over each other’s bodies in the car, daring, bold, audacious… the memories of what happened and especially of what could have happened at his home…

Suddenly he couldn’t withhold his thoughts, and his body reacted immediately, potently, making him extremely uneasy.

If she woke up in that moment, it would be awfully embarrassing… and actually she was giving signs of awakening, probably due to the acceleration of his heartbeat that she could hear so well, being pressed against it with her right hear.

 

He had absolutely to free himself before it was too late!

 

Again, what was the matter with him?

Was he embarrassed?

Was he ashamed?

Wasn’t he a healthy, strong, and grown up man?

His reaction was perfectly normal, perfectly natural!

 

Yes, of course.

 

But he had always had some kind of modesty, of decency about sex, like when Coulson and him were on the Bus, in Italy, waiting for May, while the both of them were trying to make the holotable work: that time, talking about his relationship with May, he couldn’t even pronounce the word “sex”!

 

So, at the end, he managed to disentangle himself without waking her up and to exit the sleeping bag to cool down his hot spirits.

He started his morning routine with the most tiring and exhausting exercises he knew, and was so concentrated not to notice that, after a while, she was awake and observing him intently.

 

“I’m pleased to see that you took good care of your body, during this two years we didn’t rub shoulders…” she said, her voice husky.

No surprise!

Seeing such a large flexing amount of harmonious muscles in motion would send in overdrive any woman!

 

“Oh, you are awake!

Good morning!” he smiled, aware of the lust in her gaze.

 

She continued:

“Do you really feel the need to work out after a day like yesterday?

And after you swam for miles dragging a fainted me along with you the day before yesterday?”

 

“Oh… hum… I needed to… cool down.”

 

“Ok…

If you say so…” she said raising an eyebrow.

“What is the plan, for today?”

 

“First of all we will have breakfast!” he answered.

 

That made Skye’s eyes glitter:

“I completely agree!” she smiled broadly.

“I would like scrambled eggs with bacon, pancakes with maple syrup, waffle with whipped cream… and COFFEE!!!” she enumerated on her fingers.

 

Ward smiled, but had to contradict her:

“Uhm… I’m afraid that the kitchen is left devoid of everything…

On the other hand, we have some fantastic coconuts, just picked up!”

 

Skye faked disappointment:

“Oh, what a pity!

This means that I’ll have some fantastic just picked up coconuts…”

“Good choice!” Ward approved.

 

After breakfast they descended from the mountain and went in search of fresh water.

They needed to find a spring, or a stream of fresh water soon, before they ran out of their coconut reserve.

After a little bit of exploration they were lucky enough and found a little lake in a clearing among the tropical trees.

 

Skye put a hand in it and…

“Waaard!!!

This water is waaarm!!!”

 

“What???”

 

“Yes, this water is warm like in a bathtub! Oh, it’s fantastic!”

And she started stripping, leaving on only her underwear.

 

“What are you doing???”

“I’m taking a bath, don’t you see? And I strongly recommend you to do the same!”

 

And, immersing in the water:

“Oh, this is like a dream come true!

I can’t recall the last time I had a bath!

Ward, come in here, immediately!

And that’s an order!”

Skye was overexcited.

 

“If you put it in those terms… I can do nothing less than obey!” Ward answered, amused.

He too stripped down, leaving only his slips, and immersed in the water.

 

He had to agree with her:

“You were absolutely right! This is fantastic!”

 

But he had only the time to say that, because she was already spurting water on him, laughing and escaping immediately after to avoid the same treatment.

They spent a good hour of games and pranks in the water, during which they laughed hard like none of them did for an eternity, the both of them enjoying enormously the other’s company.

 

Seeing her so happy, laughing and careless, was a balm for him: only a few months ago she was poisoned by remorse and drugs, only a few months ago she hated him ferociously, only a few months ago she put a barrel of a gun on her temple to end her life and he managed to save her by a hair!

 

And now?

Now she was laughing wholeheartedly at the top of her voice, she was smiling at him, she was playing with him, she took every excuse to touch him…

Things were changing fast and this made his hope grow.

 

Seeing him so playful and so young made her wonder how he could have been in his early years, how could he had been when he was little, playing with his siblings, with his schoolmates… She was discovering a side of him she had tried to uncover for so long, on the Bus… his kid side. And now that it was emerging, finally, she discovered herself irresistibly attracted to him.

Moreover, he was intelligent; he toyed with words, made pranks, invented new ways to surprise her…

She was really enjoying this time with him and… she was feeling in herself a strange warmth every time she looked at him, every time he looked at her, that made her tremble, that made her desire to touch him… and of being touched by him…

 

But then Ward had to become once more the steel version of himself and emerged from the lake…

Seeing his intentions, she started immediately to protest, but then the sight of him emerging from the water, with all that flushing of silvery water running down his muscular body, his wet hair spiking in every direction and his skin shining with millions of droplets… well… all of that altogether simply choked in the bud of all her complaints.

 

It was really a spectacular sight!

And she missed it… a lot.

 

She followed him, wringing her hair with her hands, walking on the shore that was covered in grass. The sensation of the grass under her feet was both ticklish and soft…

 

Ward reached for the backpack and grabbed some condoms.

“Now it is the time to use these.”

 

Skye remained petrified and stone facedly stared at him.

 

Ward noticed that and burst in a long fat laugh!

 

“We are not using them in the… conventional way!” he said looking at her, and added, with a low voice:

“Even if I wouldn’t complain with that…” and he took a look at her that made her feel completely naked.

 

But then he averted his eyes and continued:

“They are extremely resilient and elastic and they can be used as excellent containers for water.

It will only be a little difficult to add the water purifiers…”

So he went to the lake and started filling them with water.

 

She reached him and helped, commenting:

“This is the weirdest thing I’ve ever done: unwrapping and unrolling condoms with a hot guy instead than on him.”

 

“So you think I’m hot?”

At that she blushed and looked fiercely at him.

“I think you are a filthy bastard, ok?” she yelled.

And with that she went away, fuming and cursing her own big mouth, his laughs making her even more furious.

 

After a while the backpack was full of several condoms altogether containing gallons of fresh purified water.

Now they could finally return to the shore: there they would be near the sea and probably they would be able to catch some fish.

 

When they arrived there they put all the condoms in a hole in the rocks full of fresh ocean water, to make them cool down. Warm water was good for a bath, but not for drinking!

She, in the meantime, managed to cool down some steam, too.

 

“Ward, aren’t you tired of eating only coconuts?

How about if we organize ourselves to catch some fish?”

 

“I totally agree with you.

Do you think a little shockwave can help us?”

 

“I can try.”

 

So she took away her trousers, approached the ocean, went on till she was half covered in limpid salty water, immersed one hand in it and pushed.

After a while about twenty rather big fishes appeared on the surface of the ocean, dead.

She did a victory dance.

At that point it was just a matter of collecting them.

 

Skye screamed towards Ward:

“Ward, come and help me!”

He arrived shortly after and said:

“You’re great!” and together they began to collect all the fishes.

 

Once brought every one of them on the beach, Ward told Skye to find large leaves on which they could clean the fishes without soiling them with the sand.

As she left to procure them, he had the time to light the fire (with his bare hands, but she didn’t need to know that).

Then, when Skye returned with several big leaves, he began to clean up all the fish with the knife, with an uncommon dexterity.

 

Skye asked him:

“By chance, in one of your missions, you worked in a seafood restaurant?”

“No. But, when I was in the woods, it just happened that one of the sources of livelihood was the fish that was in the lake near there. So I had to endeavor alone in learning how to clean it.”

 

Skye looked impressed:

“You are resourceful!”

 

He raised one eyebrow, mustered all his cockiness and confirmed:

“You can bet on that!”

 

She slapped him on his shoulder giggling.

 

Eating fish was a good change in the diet and they ate until they burst.

 

Then they had finally the chance to relax and admire the surroundings.

 

That place was of astonishing beauty!

 

 

 

 

Chapter Text

 

The lapping of the waves, near her and far and farer repeating itself in an apparently infinite distance, had always been one of Skye’s favorite background noises: it gave her the sensation of a never-ending space. It was so relaxing, especially given the possibility to walk into the warm water wetting her feet till the ankles. So, after the dinner, she rolled up her trousers and went by the shore, walking in the waves, and meanwhile searching for shells.

 

Ward, instead, remained sitting by the fire, contemplating Skye’s black and slender profile against the setting sun that was reflecting itself in the water and coloring the sky: she seemed engulfed in an ocean of red fire.

 

She sometimes kneeled down to pick up a shell that she considered remarkable, washed it, and then kept it in her right hand, together with the others she already found, like they were little treasures, and showing it in the distance to him with an exultant smile.

He couldn’t do anything else than smiling back.

 

She was acting like a little girl and he adored that!

 

Ward wondered how she could have been when she was little: he would have liked a lot to take a look to some photos of her at an early age… if only someone had had the decency of taking them…

She for sure must have been cute!

Maybe her daughters would resemble her…

 

At that sudden thought Ward felt a pang in his heart!

Her daughters…

 

His daughters!

 

And he felt instantaneously trembling inside.

With the mess his family had been… with the wrongs his father did… being a father himself… it was an unthinkable thought!

 

When the darkness of the night fell on them, Skye returned and kneeled down next to the fire on the warm sand with a sigh, inspecting all the shells she collected.

She chose one of them, the most beautiful and perfect, and then she stood up looking down, tenderly, at Ward.

 

The night was pleasurable, the stars in the sky billions, the atmosphere tremendously romantic and she could not help but get close to him, who sat with his back propped against the wall of stone behind him, one leg relaxed on the sand and the other folded against his chest, one elbow on his knee and his eyes lost in the fire.

He had a hard expression on his face…

 

“Hey, hot guy! What are you thinking about, that is making you so shady?” she asked, jokingly.

He chuckled.

 

“I’m thinking about the purifying and destructive power of fire… its warmth… its light.

It’s a truly extraordinary natural element!”

 

“But it can be also very dangerous.”

 

“Yeah… It did get me in trouble many times.

Anytime I see it, it reminds me of the arson I set on my family manor, so many years ago… and the reasons why I did it…”

His voice was lost in remembrance, with rage underneath.

 

But then a shiver went down his back:

“But, believe me, this earthly fire is nothing, nothing! compared to the Hellfire!”

 

“Yeah… You told me you saw it...” she said.

 

“Not only saw…” he answered, and his voice was grave.

 

There was a moment of silence, then Ward continued:

“Tell me this, Skye, because I still didn’t understood that.

Do you actually believe in God?”

 

She looked at the beautiful shell in her hand and sat near him:

“Look at this shell.

Isn’t it beautiful? Its proportions, it colors, the perfection of the spiral… It’s only a stupid shell, like myriads of them in the ocean… but it is perfect.

It is a masterpiece.

Look around us: the beauty of this place, the rose sand, the trees, the ocean and the words it is whispering to us, the power of the sun, the billions of stars in the sky… this is all so breathtakingly wonderful!

 

Look at us, our bodies, our own perfection and beauty.

 

Think about our intelligence, reason, sensitivity, emotions, thoughts, desires…

 

All of this can’t be here for a mere chance.

So, yes: I believe in the existence of God, even if I declared the contrary, just some months ago. But that was because I was completely out of my mind…

When I was at the orphanage, the nuns kept threatening all the bad boys and girls, and of course I was among them, about God’s wrath if we kept misbehaving… We didn’t do that because we were bad, but only because we wanted to attract their attention!

They weren’t cold or unaffectionate… they were very good people, sincerely driven by love and faith… but they were few and we many, so they hadn’t time to cuddle or caress or kiss any of us, except sometimes Sister Bertha with me and few others.

And we needed cuddling and caresses and kisses so much!”

At that Ward fastened his gaze with hers and slipped his left arm around her back pulling her towards him, making her rest her head on his shoulder, near his neck.

She remembered doing the same with Hive, but this time the feeling was much better!

This time… well… this time there was love in the air. And that changed everything.

 

He kissed the crown of her head and started caressing her hair with an open hand.

She liked the sensations a lot, but after a while she felt it wasn’t enough… she felt she wanted more…

So she sneaked between his legs and rested her entire back on his torso and her head on his right shoulder. He embraced her from behind circling her slender waist with his arms, and she put her hands on them, feeling all his muscles and tendons moving under her fingers.

Finally!

When he was prisoner in Vault D she had to figuratively slap herself more than once not to stare to his arms, to avoid (unsuccessfully) him becoming aware that she was still attracted to him.

Now she hadn’t to hide her pulsions anymore.

 

With a satisfied sight she said:

“You are warm… and very comfy, you know that? Better than an armchair’s back.

And you aren’t bad even as a pillow, if I can deduce something from last night…”

He chuckled.

 

 

“Do you know Pascal?” he asked her, out of the blue.

“No… I think not… Why?”

 

“Blaise Pascal was a French mathematician, physicist, inventor, writer and Christian philosopher.

He is very famous also for the so called Pascal’s Wager.

It says, more or less, the following:

God, in our acceptation, is the infinite Good and our eternal Felicity.

But does God really exist, or not?

Reason can decide nothing: neither if He is or if He is not, nor if there’s life after death or not.  According to mere reason, you can choose neither the one thing nor the other; according to reason, you can defend neither of the propositions.

But you must wager.

It is not optional.

You are embarked by the very fact that you live.

 

Which will you choose?

What will you wager?'

 

And then he answers as the mathematician he is:

"Wagering that God is and that there’s life after death, if you gain, you gain all; if you lose, you lose nothing.

On the other hand, wagering that God is not, if you gain, you gain nothing; if you lose, you lose all.

Wager, then, without hesitation that He is.

 

Skye remained pensive for a while, then commented:

“Very rational, indeed! It is a topic that could raise doubts in many atheists…

But I think that this issue should be brought to a much more personal level.

Back to what the nuns told us at the orphanage, I didn’t believe in such a God: a punisher, an avenger, a powerful being ready to minutely analyze your every word or act, to find the bad in them and throw you to Hell.

 

No.

 

The version I liked was Sister Bertha’s.

God is Love.

That was the version I reputed right.

God is the One that binds us all together, that protects us, that knows us intimately and tries to save us from the evil both in ourselves and around us, with any mean possible, but respecting our freedom.

Moreover, the most human thing about man is this eternal, childlike hope that somehow, someday, the deepest yearnings of one’s heart will come true.

Is there anybody so proud and unfeeling not to admit that he would be deliriously happy if, by some strange magic, these deep and ingrained longings could be fulfilled?  If there was actually an eternal everlasting life beyond death after all?

I’m certainly not among those people!

I strongly believe in life after death, and I believe in God.

And I hope that, someday, the deepest yearnings of my heart will come true.”

She was looking at him with longing eyes: one of her deepest yearning was to be kissed by him, right now, the memories from their night in the patio rushing back overpoweringly.

But he seemed too serious, in that moment, and his stare was fixed in the fire.

 

So she continued, with a deepest voice:

“Talking on a more personal level, as I said, Jesus is the One that freed me from my horrible sins and gave me peace.

He melted all the ice that imprisoned my heart in the burning furnace of His Love.

I really felt that, and it was an indescribable moment, a turning point, really!

Without His intervention I would have fallen downwards in the abyss again.

I will never forget what He did for me and I will be forever grateful!”

 

“He’s the only One that can heal souls and free them from the evil.

And you got it: God must be known personally, otherwise religion remains only a superficial philosophy or a vague philanthropy…

And He is the only worthy to be loved above anything and anybody else, but how can you love Him so, if you don’t know Him personally?”

 

He sighed and continued, still looking in the fire:

“When I was a kid, Gramsy told me about God and I felt a strange longing when she did so…

She was a woman of true faith.

The days I spent with her were the happiest of my childhood... or, better, almost the only happy days of my childhood...

 

The rest was hell.

 

She taught me how to pray.

 

I think I felt something beautiful, in those moments.

But then so much rumbled on me… so much pain, so much hate! And I was so little…

So for a large part of my life I forgot all that.”

 

“You loved your Gramsy very much, didn’t you? You told me something about her even the first time we met, when you were under the effect of the truth serum! Remember?

And don’t try to mess with me again!

I know that the serum exists!” she exclaimed.

 

“Yeah… it exists, damn it! You have discovered it, at last!” he confirmed, amused.

 

“Tell me about her…”

 

“She saved my life…

But I would prefer not to think about that, right now… sorry.

Another time… maybe.”

 

“Oh…

I didn’t mean to hit a nerve…”

 

Skye was cursing herself: she knew he had serious family issues!

Why dig down on that, right now?

She couldn’t find a worst timing for not keeping her big mouth shut!

 

“It isn’t your fault” he sighed.

 

The silence stretched between them, while Ward’s right hand’s back wandered absentmindedly on her cheek, caressing and lightly pinching it with the back of his fingers, his eyes lost in the fire. She had her nose close to his neck and was breathing his smell, which reminded her of forests, thunders and musk.

Like always.

Like him.

 

 

Chapter Text

 

She tried to say something to break that embarrassing silence:

“You really changed a lot, you know?

You told me once about an intense experience you had of God.

I would like to know something more about that, if you don’t mind…”

 

He sighed, but answered:

“Do you know how I died, on Maveth?”

“I made Fitz confess me that. And I was horrified.

I will never forgive Coulson for what he did to you!”

 

He shook his head in denial:

“Don’t say that.

While Coulson was crushing me … while I was feeling my life going out inside of me… I don’t know how… or why… but I myself forgave him.

So you can forgive him, too, for what he did to me… and for what he did to you.”

And he stared severely in her eyes, giving her the time to let those words sink in.

 

Then continued:

“While I was dying and I had still impressed on my retinas Coulson’s full of hatred face, I found myself standing outside my body, looking at it from… outside.”

 

Skye gasped:

“Really???”

 

“Yeah…

It was the strangest sensation I ever felt!

I was so light, and my body lying down seemed so… tridimensional!

It’s hard to explain… quite impossible, if you have never experienced it…

 

But I realized, also, that I was completely alone, in the middle of the Universe.

 

I never felt so alone in all my life, even in the woods… or in captivity…

That was awful.”

 

Skye started caressing his arms at those words, trying to comfort him.

 

“Then I was attracted and sucked in a white tunnel, out of time and space, and I saw in an instant my entire life as in a movie... And I felt guilt and remorse engulf me, and regret, and the wish to return back in time to undo and fix all the bad I did!

But I felt also a great compassion for myself, because what I suffered all my life, especially in my early years, when I was a clean slate ready to be written, had been beyond tolerable.

I had been ruined. Literally.

I simply always wanted to belong to someone, to be deeply loved and to deeply love myself, but I never was given the chance or, if I was given, the people that I cared for and that cared for me were ripped away from me… always cruelly… always through violent deaths…

I felt like, anytime I managed to grab something valuable and really important, it kept slipping away from me like sand between my fingers.”

And he reinforced the image taking a handful of sand in his right hand, raising it and then letting it fall down between his slightly parted long fingers, like light impalpable rose powder.

His eyes were so sad and lost in memories, when he looked at the sand falling down and piling into a small mound…

 

She felt her heart ache for him and reached for his hand, interlacing her fingers with his.

“This time it’ll be different.”

“I hope so” he answered, but his sad look didn’t leave him.

She brought his hand back on her lap, keeping it snugged in hers.

 

“In that moment of truth I sent to God a request of forgiveness so pure, so true, so powerful I think I felt the Heavens tremble.

But, nevertheless, I was thrown in a huge, enormous black hole: the Hell.

And there I was pushed, all folded on myself, inside a very tight hole carved in the mountain, like an oven. There the pain was terrible, and was inflicted on every part of my body by somebody I couldn’t see. And I couldn’t move, nor change position, nor sit, nor lay down, nor stand, nor alleviate the pain in any way…

I felt it was the right punishment for all my sins: I was a murderer and I was receiving the right wage for my awful acts.

Believe me when I say that there’s nothing comparable, in our lives, to that pain.

It is unbearable.

The pain inflicted by the fire, too, is insupportable: it’s like it burns you, but without consuming you.

But worse than all of that is the desperation you feel inside: you clearly understand that you, for all eternity, have lost God, the only fundamental person in your life, the only source of happiness, love and life for you, for the people you care about, for all mankind.

You feel that it would have been better if you had never been born.

You feel like you wasted your entire life, for your own fault.

And the very soul rips itself in pieces for that!

It’s beyond terrible.

 

And continuously a voice resounds in all those infinite, deeper than the deepest valleys of tortures, saying:

‘This is forever.

This will never change.

This will never become more bearable.’”

 

Skye was looking at him with her eyes wide open.

He was trembling.

 

“There I saw my father.

And Garrett.

They were continuously mashed, together with me, by an enormous wheel.

That was the specific punishment for murderers.”

 

At that Skye made a hissing sound.

 

“But I didn’t yet see the worse.”

 

“And what could be there worse than that?”

 

“Satan.”

 

Skye at that point covered her mouth to stifle a scream.

“He… or She… was terrifying.

Think of all the most hideous revolting monsters and all the most dreadful grisly nightmares you can imagine, and all together they could not even scratch the perfection of horror that’s Him… or Her… I don’t know…

 

But the most frightening thing was His look: it was pure hatred. It alone was enough to chill my blood.

He promised me to bring to Hell even Coulson.

But I wouldn’t want Hell for anyone, even for my worst enemy!”

 

“But how could you manage to escape from Hell?”

 

“It was thanks to my Guardian Angel, who rescued me from there.

He brought me up, far from Hell…

And suddenly, without warning, my heart was filled by an inward state of peace and joy and assurance indescribably intense… a sense of being bathed in a warm glow of light. The culminating experience was one of transcendental peace, with visions of supernatural beauty and the sound of celestial music… and ecstatic feelings of timelessness, weightlessness, serenity and tranquility.

 

And then He embraced me and I felt what belonging, what home, what ecstasy really meant and in that instant I was truly, thoroughfully, immensely happy, like any time before.

As I wept with joy, feelings of love became so intense that I knew they could only be of divine origin.

I had not realized before to what extent such feelings as rapture, ecstasy, euphoria, awe, devotion, reverence and holiness could reach in intensity!

I was beginning to see what it was all about.

In the culmination of that mystical ecstasy, for an eternal moment, all contradictions seemed reconciled, all questions answered, all wants irrelevant or satisfied, all existence encompassed by an experience that was the ultimate reality: boundless, timeless, and ineffable.

Any descriptions and definitions, however, necessarily use words that we associate with the phenomena of the three-dimensional world; they are therefore incapable of conveying the essence of this ultimate transcendental experience.

 

I felt the heart of God: it is absolute, divine joy, colossal gaiety, and He is immeasurably beyond all that our most rapturous visions ever conceived.

 

Being dead was not a problem.

I was happy to spend eternity in that state.

 

Then it was like a voice spoke without words, but burning right into my heart:

‘I love you, Grant.

Immensely.

And I desired this encounter for a long time!

 

You are not alone, you never were.

I was always with you, even if you missed it.

I always protected you.

 

But I had to prepare you, all your life, to endure pain and control, to be able now to accomplish this particular mission. You will fight to defeat an evil creature whose goal is to sway the Earth and to be declared the mankind’s God, in spite of Me.

It is not.

I am.

I am the Beginning and the End.

I am the Origin and the Goal.

I am the Alpha and the Omega.

So go on and keep faith and hope and love in this great heart of yours.

I will be your strength.’

After this and other things I was catapulted back on Maveth and I reentered into my body.”

 

Skye was all ears and all eyes and encouraged him to go on:

“Oh, goodness! And then? What happened, then?”

 

“Then I saw, while I was still adjusting to my own body, this thing, tentacle like, approaching me, and then entering into me starting from my mouth, pushing inside and going down and filling me completely!

And that was pain!

So mind blowing pain!

I was petrified, forced to feel this thing penetrate me, every cell of my body, twisting every nerve, engulfing my brain with its horrific memories…

I thought I was evil, until I saw Its memories! I was forced to give to the word ‘evil’ a whole new set of meanings!

I couldn’t scream, I couldn’t move, I couldn’t breathe…

 

I thought, also, before, I knew what being controlled meant!

Well, I had to update also that meaning, in my vocabulary!

 

Then I felt my body moving on its own, having no agency on it, and sprint to the closing portal at neck breaking speed and dive in it.

That was how we returned on Earth.”

 

“So you were still alive, deep down in your body, while Hive was possessing you!

It was probably the most undercover op of all your life, but you were still alive!”

 

“Yeah, I was alive, you can say that!

And I felt everything: the pain of its tentacles and of its parasites, the shoots, the kicks, the blows, the punches, the stabs, the cracked bones…”

At that, Skye lowered her eyes.

 

Ward continued, deadpanned:

“But still the experience of death was the most extraordinary of all.

It has been real.

It has been extraordinarily real.

I never felt things so directly, instantaneously, and deeply.

 

I really think our bodies… they are a medium in between, and greatly slow down the perception.

 

Even communication was instantaneous.

Words were unnecessary.

It was all through thought, telepathically.”

 

Then he stopped talking, looking at her and at her puzzled expression.

 

And continued:

“Look.

I understand that I must seem crazy.

You can think it was all a hallucination.

But I can show you it all, if you want.”

 

“Really?” Skye was incredulous.

“And how could you do that?”

 

“I will connect with your mind, more or less like Hive did with you, and then I will open mine, so you will be able to see everything I want to show you.”

 

Skye remained perplexed for a moment, but then she understood that he really wanted to share the most important experience of his life with her.

 

“Do it” she said.

 

She kneeled in front of him and Ward cupped her face with both his hands, closed his eyes, leaned their foreheads together and let his memories go.

A gasp escaped from Skye, and an instant later she was panting with her eyes wide.

He let her go.

 

“Oh, my God!!!

That was both awful and wonderful!

What they teach you about Hell and Paradise, and Satan, and God… this is really all true!”

 

“Yes, it is.

And that changed deeply my perspective about life.

It made me see everything under a different light.”

“For sure it did!!!”

 

The two of them remained silent for a while.

 

Then she resumed her position with her back against his chest and slowly, quietly, asked him:

“You were so sure I would change my mind about us, because of what God said to you? That he created you for me and me for you?”

 

At those words Ward became embarrassed, because he didn’t foresee that she would hear also that…

But it was too late to regret his choice and, in a certain way, he was happy that she, too, was finally aware of God’s will about the two of them.

 

“Yeah” he said.

 

“But sons and daughters… plural!

It means at least four of them!!!”

 

“Yeah”

 

“I’m not so young!

I’m almost 29!

It means we must start working on that early on!”

 

“Yeah”

 

The last “yeah” was said almost breathlessly.

She could hear his breathing becoming labored, felt his hands more and more boldly caress her, so she turned her face towards him and kissed him, deeply, savagely, putting in the kiss three years of desire, three years of pain and nostalgia, three years of anger and hate, three years of love; he kissed her back, with all the passion and enormous love he felt for her. She had still her head resting on his right shoulder and with her right hand she stroked and caressed his hair and his neck.

Then she turned towards him, kneeling down, because she felt it wasn’t enough: he cupped her face with his hands again and looked at her with adoration, with awe, with so much love she felt like her very soul was embraced by his.

She never felt so loved, before.

She too cupped his face with her hands and the two started kissing again, slowly, sweetly, savoring every sensation, every shiver, every thrill…

It was fantastic to be with him, again, in his arms, kissed by him, feeling his strength and his solidity, feeling his care and delicacy for her every need… it was like he could read her mind and could anticipate her every desire…

It felt all so right!

 

Soon she wanted to be closer to him, and straddled him, so that both were sat, but could embrace each other completely.

Oh, yeah, that position was much more comfortable and allowed her to feel all the upper part of his body embraced to hers.

They continued kissing while their caresses kept warming up their bodies more and more.

He started kissing her neck and reached her pulsing point licking and biting it.

She shivered.

Then they started perceiving their clothes as something really annoying, so she didn’t complain when he took her shirt off, almost tearing it apart, and she also got rid of his vest.

Oh, the sensation of skin on skin was mesmerizing! He was hot and the heat of his body was warming her deliciously, more than the fire that was barely illuminating them.

In the meantime, his undoubtedly expert hands where doing wonders to her...

 

By the way, where did he get so much experience?

A pinch of jealousy gripped her heart…

 

But soon all thoughts were swept away by such pleasurable sensations that she could hardly believe them.

Really the guy knew how to use his hands!

 

She was incredibly turned on and would gladly have continued in that activity… if in that moment they didn’t hear the sound of an airplane in the distance, which was fast approaching.

 

What the bloody hell?!?

 

It was a... a Quinjet! A Quinjet from Shield, which was landing on the beach a few meters away from them!

Damn!

They had managed to find her!!!

 

 

Suddenly her mind became confused and began to spin faster and faster, until she woke up in her own bed, sweating, panting and looking around to try to get back in touch with reality.

 

She was at home, in her room, in her bed, with the sun peeking through the cracks in the window.

 

Oh, crap!

It had all been only a dream!

Only a dream...

But such a fantastic, exciting, unforgettable dream...!

 

And somebody had to explain to her why... dream or not dream... Shield had always to ruin everything!!!

 

Swallowing a bitter feeling of lost opportunities she tried to calm herself down.

 

But whenever it happened her to think back about it, in the following days... and about him... she felt her cheeks redden violently.

 

Every time.

 

 

 

 

Chapter Text

 

That dream had shaken her deeply, so much so that the patrons of the bar and the owner, as well as all the other waitresses, noticed that she was distracted, absentminded, and that she seldom stopped still, staring into the void.

 

Of course, all she had discovered was really a lot to metabolize.

 

But the bad side was that she was not sure she could trust that dream, she could not be sure that everything she learnt there about Ward was true and not just a figment of her imagination.

 

Dreaming so intensely of him certainly did not mean that he still cared about her!

After all, the last time they met, she said she hated him, and, being the dream only a fruit of her imagination, definitely Ward could not have heard that she said that she did not hate him anymore!

 

He now was free and could do whatever he wanted!

He was the hero that defeated Hive and no one would dare touch him: neither the authorities nor Shield.

Perhaps he had even forgotten her and was enjoying a well-deserved holiday just on some tropical island, like in that damn dream… surrounded by beautiful girls, who certainly would have battled to get their filthy hands on him first.

 

The glass in her grip smashed into a thousand pieces, leaving her with injured fingers.

“Damn!” she muttered.

 

Another waitress immediately took her hand, washed it under cold water, inspected for splinters and bandaged it.

“How can I have been so stupid?

Sorry, I’m wasting your time!” Skye apologized.

 

But the other girl smiled politely and replied:

“Don’t worry. I too have been madly in love and I know what it means!”

 

At those words Skye remained dumbfounded.

How could this be possible?

 

She?

In love?

With Ward???

But she had just discovered that she didn’t hate him from the bottom of her heart!!!

Although, to tell the truth, she had once been in love with him… she had been forced to admit it even before Coulson…

And Sister Bertha said she was actually in love with him… but scared of it…

 

Oh, she was really confused!

 

She couldn’t even trust her own feelings!

 

But the sensations of that dreamy night overthrew on her again, like a ton of bricks, leaving her breathless.

In that dream she was very open to the possibility to make love with him… and even to become the mother of his sons and daughters!

 

But, after all, that was only a dream…

 

 

Life was going on and she had to try to focus.

So she threw herself heart and soul into work, trying to drive out such thoughts from her head as soon as they formed.

But in the nights, in which she remained all alone and couldn’t distract herself with anything… in those moments she had time to think… and to feel…

 

Days passed and she continued her routine: home, work, a little shopping, movie nights alone, some walk in the nearby woods…

 

One evening, at the bar, she noticed a couple of men in black...

Uhm... they smelled suspicious... Their appearance screamed ‘secret agents’ from every pore.

She walked on tiptoe around them, but it was evident they where intently studying her.

Her agent instinct was insistently telling her to run quickly away, so, when the contingencies allowed it, she excused herself pretending to be sick, entered in the bathroom and escaped from the window. From there, she started running in the nearby woods, that she knew like her own pockets, but immediately after she was aware that somebody was following her.

But it wasn’t only ‘somebody’!

They where a lot!

At least ten agents behind her, other agents awaiting for her hiding in the trees in front of her and a pair of helicopters flying above her head, for good measure!

She was trapped and fear was starting to creep into her heart.

She would have easily destroyed all of them with well-placed shockwaves, but she preferred not to use them, because she didn’t want to attract Shield’s attention…

 

But, on second thought, now she had more pressing matters, so screw secrecy and go on with brutal force!

 

Certainly!

 

Except that, trying to launch a shockwave, she realized she could not…

 

What the hell was happening?

 

Had she lost her powers?

 

Or did those people manage to annihilate them?

 

In either way, this was really a big trouble!

How she could defend herself, without her powers, against such a deployment of troops? They were approaching, guns drawn, ordering her to put her hands behind her back and get on her knees.

 

She hadn’t any choice but to obey, while panic was gripping her by the throat.

Who were those men?

What did they want from her?

Where did they want to take her and for what purpose?

 

It was right then that both the choppers caught fire and were forced to crash-land: they were flying very low, so the people inside could for sure escape unharmed.

Immediately after, she felt her powers rushing back and she could easily take care of some of her attackers. But they were too many, and armed!

Just before one of them could shoot her, the same mysterious man she glimpsed that night at the bar appeared, disarmed and neutralized that immediate threat…

She, at least, suspected he was him, because he wore a black iron mask on his face… actually resembling Iron Man’s one! However, his size, his height, his demeanor, the width of his shoulders and, in a sense, his dark aura were the same.

 

The two of them fought back to back and managed to quickly make a clean sweep of all the soldiers.

 

Skye was astonished by his abilities in fighting and his speed!

It was like he was accelerated!

She never saw such an incredible fighter: even May or Ward couldn’t hold a candle to him!

 

But he got shot in a leg and was bleeding.

Nonetheless, he grabbed her hand and dragged her away, towards the street, where a motorcycle was parked. His hand was hot, like if he was running a fever…

 

She couldn’t tell, in that moment, which was the hottest: his hand or him himself!

 

He was something fantastic: powerful, muscular but slender, tall, dark, quick, with a catlike deportment… He reminded her of a black panther: the same slyness, the same hazard, the same elegance… and the fact she couldn’t see his face, but only a black mask, made him even more intriguing!

 

“Mount on the bike behind me, quick and quiet, and we will find somewhere safer.

Their reinforcements are arriving”, he said with a deep metallic voice.

For sure that mask had been created to conceal not only his face, but also his true voice

 

“But you are wounded! We need to take a look at your leg!”

“Don’t worry about that. I heal quickly!”

 

In a few seconds the two of them were riding on the bike, lights off, far away from the village, in the darkness of the night only lit by the full moon and the stars.

She felt the adrenaline spike dropping and relax spreading in her, while she clung to him during the ride.

They travelled four hours at top speed on mountain roads and managed to put at least 250 miles between them and the village.

 

The sensation of riding with him was fantastic!

She felt his strength in holding the powerful and heavy bike, his certainty in setting the trajectories, and, under his thin shirt, the tone and flexibility of his abs that adapted to all the inclinations and the sudden variations of speed of the ride.

 

They arrived around midnight in a charming little town with a square, a church, a town hall, a small supermarket, a school, a kindergarten, a clinic with attached Emergency Room and several small multi-apartment buildings. Scattered around were some low houses.

He parked the motorcycle, stalled the engine, asked her to dismount while he was holding the bike and got off himself.

She stretched her legs and massaged her arms for all the time they had been exposed to the air: she felt a little rusty…

Meanwhile, he walked towards one of the brick walled buildings, extracting a set of keys.

She could not do anything else but follow him.

 

Full disclosure: she felt an irresistible attraction towards him.

 

He made her feel safe.

During the entire ride she could stay warm thanks to the heat irradiated by his body, and when she had to separate from him, she shivered.

His smell was soothing, almost familiar, but she couldn’t grasp why: it resembled the smell of woods, rain, thunders, and musk…

They entered a small apartment on the first floor equipped with everything she could possibly need: a small kitchen with a well stocked fridge, a lounge with sofa and TV, a bathroom, and a bedroom, with a nice double bed and a wardrobe with some dresses.

 

He spoke with the same metallic voice through the black mask:

“Stay here.

You should be safe for a while.

There are some girl cloths in the wardrobe.

I will come back in a couple of days to take you somewhere safer.

You have here everything you need, so don’t go out for any reason! There are a lot of cameras around and the people who tried to capture you this afternoon have access to all of them.”

 

Then he dryly moved to leave.

But she stopped him:

“Wait!”

 

He remained facing the door, turning only his head.

She approached.

 

“Can I at least know the name of my savior?”

 

He chuckled, but answered:

“I suppose you can call me the Grand Dark Protector.”

 

She could hear a smile in those words. Was he ironic?

 

“Ok, GDP” she said, amused.

 

“It sounds a lot like ‘Ground Delay Program’ or ‘Gross Domestic Product’, but you can use the acronym, if you like it” answered him, with his metallic voice.

 

She giggled:

“I see with pleasure that you are also equipped with a sense of humor! This suits you.

But, however, I would like to repay you for all the troubles you have been through.

I don’t like leaving debts around.”

 

“You don’t owe me a thing.”

 

“I don’t think so.

I don’t even know who you are, but you just saved me from being captured!

I dread what those men could have done to me!”

 

So she grabbed gently his muscular arm, turned him towards her, slightly lifting the mask to uncover the lower part of his face, and, rising on her toes, kissed him.

It was a gentle kiss, just a caress of her lips on his (wonderfully designed, by the way), while she supported herself on his shoulders.

But then she couldn’t restrain herself and kissed him once more, on his upper lip, then on his lower lip, slowly, slightly pulling, savoring all the sensations.

She could feel his heartbeat quickening under her right hand and his breathing becoming more profound and frequent.

Soon enough he started reciprocating: he kissed her upper lip, taking lightly it between his, and then did the same with the lower.

She moved her hands from his shoulders up his neck and to the back of his head, slipping her fingers through his soft corvine hair, caressing his scalp with slow round movements and slightly pulling the locks.

He raised his hands and made them slide from her waist to her back, pulling her towards him and making all her body spread on his. Then, while with one arm all along her back he kept her steady against him, with the other hand he supported the back of her head that was moving slightly to accommodate to the kisses.

He dared to lick with the tip of his tongue her lower lip and that seemed to ignite the passion: the two of them started kissing deeply, openmouthedly, while their breathing became labored and their hearts were beating like hammers on iron.

She couldn’t certainly imagine that a makeshift, improvised kiss with that perfect stranger could be so good!

For an instant, in the back of her mind, she realized that there was no comparison with Lincoln, or with anybody else she kissed in the past… except one…

 

But she didn’t want to think about Ward now! Only God could know where he was now… even if she found strong resemblances with this guy…

And suddenly she was stroke by a sudden thought: what if… this guy was actually Ward???

But instantaneously she wiped that idea away: she saw his combat skills, and Ward, even if he was extremely strong, couldn’t reach that level.

This guy was another planet… she even suspected he was an Inhuman…

 

On the other hand, this masked man had such a fire inside, such a passion, such an ardor she never found in anybody else… except Ward…

Again…

But she was so entranced with him that, at a certain point, she couldn’t think of anyone or anything else.

 

He, on his side, at the beginning had the sensation of being kissed by the petals of a rose. Her lips were so soft and fresh and smooth! And her flavor and perfume were sweet like she was actually a flower.

But then, when he felt her body interfusing with his in their embrace, he started having problems focusing.

She was so soft!

But he could also feel her firm boobs pressing against his chest and her toned thighs against his, especially when she lifted her right leg to intertwine it with his.

Her fingers massaging his scalp were doing wonders, too.

 

He was starting having troubles in restraining his hands from cupping her ass and his body was fast reacting to her: things were slipping out of hand and he had to stop, absolutely, because he could not afford that, in the heat of the passion, she could take away his mask and discover his identity.

 

So, plundering his whole willpower, he recoiled from her kisses, panting.

He kept her tightly embraced for a while, because he wasn’t sure she could remain standing if he let her go.

 

Then he put back in place his mask and said, with that metallic voice of him:

“I think you fully repaid your debt” and he felt her sniggering.

 

She asked:

“Why don’t you want me to see your face?”

 

“I have my reasons” he replied, drily.

 

“Cryptic.”

 

And he, again:

“So, are you going to obey and stay put for a couple of days?”

“It depends… If you promise me I will be rewarded with such kisses… yes, I will.”

 

“I can make that effort.

I need to go, now.

Take care!”

“You too… see you soon… kiss-king masked-man!”

He chuckled.

 

And with that they took leave from one another.

 

 

Chapter Text

 

Only a few days ago, Ward could have never foreseen that he would speak with Coulson so soon, so close to their encounter in that alley and the lunch he offered to both him and Mack.

But now he had to talk to someone inside Shield.

He settled back on the comfortable chair of the refined local in which he was sipping a glass of white wine, recalling to his mind the conversation he had with Coulson and Mack some time before.

 

 

That time they went in a bar, chosen by Coulson, which was famous for its fabulous sandwiches.

Mack was looking at Ward rather curiously, like he had desired for a while to meet him…

Ward remembered him vaguely, from some memory Hive grabbed from Daisy, and from that time when May and some others where dragging him in the flying module, after they had shot Daisy just in time to prevent her from ripping Mack’s heart from his ribcage.

From what he knew, the guy had to be a really good person and Ward instinctively liked him.

 

“By the way, I’m Alphonso McKenzie, but everyone calls me Mack.”

Mack offered his hand to Ward, who shook it.

 

“Nice to meet you. I’m Grant Ward.

And... I’ve been called many different names by a lot of people…”

 

“I know who you are.

Everybody knows who you are…

I think I have never heard so many stories about a single person like the ones I heard about you.

So now it’s really weird to face you directly: you’re practically a living legend.”

 

“Unfortunately I’m known mainly for my bad actions…” Ward said, sadly.

 

“At the beginning, yes.

But at the end things changed a lot, right?

First one of Shield best Specialists, then undercover Hydra mole, then free lance vigilante, then torturer (I didn’t forget what you did to Bobbi and Jemma!), then Hydra head, then Hive, then Inhuman, then savior of the Earth, and finally Daisy’s savior…

I think this could be more than enough for a single person!

You could settle down, for a chance…

You have more facets than a disco ball!”

 

Ward chuckled and smiled tightly at him:

“By the way… I’m not proud of what I did to Bobbi… but there was a reason behind my actions, even if it doesn’t justify what I did.”

 

“I’m not sure I wanna know it…”

 

“So, Ward? I’m all ears!” interrupted Coulson, angrily, skipping the pleasantries and biting furiously his sandwich.

 

Ward took a deep breath before he started talking, because he had to keep calm for all the three of them.

“Look.

I know you’re mad, but I want to assure you that now Skye is worlds apart safer than she was when she left Shield almost six months ago.”

 

“I wouldn’t bet on that.

Now she has revealed herself to the world and has both Shield and SAP on her heels!!!” Coulson retorted.

 

“But she perfectly knows how to avoid being found and captured!

Moreover, I watch constantly over her… and you know what my powers are…”

 

At that Coulson kept quiet.

 

“As I said, now she is safe, if we make the comparison with her situation six months ago” confirmed Ward.

 

“It seems you’re itching to recount me what happened” challenged Coulson.

 

“I must warn you that it will be painful for you…

Do you really wanna know?” said cautiously Ward.

 

“I want to know everything that pertains Daisy and her wellbeing.

After all, she’s the closest thing I have to a daughter, which reminds me that… honestly… I never thought in a million years I would ever have this kind of conversation just with you, Ward!”

Coulson was really mad, his fatherly jealousy bossily resurfacing.

 

“Of course…” Ward sighed.

And with that he started relating all that Skye had been through, from her loneliness and hopelessness, to her attraction to drugs, to Raoul and his attempted rape, to Daisy’s father and his incredible affection for her, to her nihilism and then her desire to punish and destroy herself.

 

At that Coulson commented:

“I know that she was taunted by those kind of feelings… but I didn’t know the situation was so serious.

She said to me that she deserved all the blame, that the security protocols to hold her should have been made permanent, because she belonged to the containment module, that she was a criminal, that she didn’t deserve my forgiveness, or my pity, or my friendship…

I tried to tell her that she had been brainwashed, and she replied you had been too, and that you two made the perfect pair, implying that I was using different treatments with her than I did with you.”

 

At that Ward looked intensely in his blue eyes, not denying the fact, rather increasing the dose:

“Evidently I’m not the closest thing you have to a son…”

 

Coulson continued, deadpanned, but with low eyes:

“She was convinced that there was something more than withdrawal, that she wasn’t simply dope sick.

She said that she wanted to feel like that.

I was trying to explain that she would be going to feel better, with time... and distance.

But she was deaf on that ear: she said that she should wake up every morning and feel like that, remembering every drop of blood she spilled.

She wanted the memory machine to become her bed.

At that, I stopped the conversation.

That was enough.

We pulled the memory machine out of storage, but it wasn’t for her.”

 

“Yeah… it was for me… or, rather, for Hive.

I still remember Its anger when It perceived this thought in your mind, Coulson…

Anyway, you wouldn’t be able to make It fall into the trap, because It had the power to read your minds undisturbed.

But I appreciated the effort.

And your really had a good idea!”

“Yeah…

But It made us pay for that…

I still feel sick anytime I remember those horrible nightmares!”

“Me too” confirmed Mack.

 

“It’s hard, when somebody controls your mind, isn’t it?” Ward asked, rhetorically.

 

“Yeah…” Coulson had to admit, tight-lipped, and continued, changing immediately the subject:

“But let’s not lose the focus: what happened to Skye that you repute so terrible?”

 

“After I made sure that she was happy with her father, I had to attend to a very important personal affair…”

Ward looked straight in Coulson’s eyes and, at his interrogative stare, he decided to be open with him.

 

“I went to see my brother Thomas.”

At that Coulson paled. He still felt bad at the memories of him and Hunter kidnapping Thomas, and terrorizing him with a death threat, just to find Ward.

And one of his sentences, too, that hunted him for a while, reemerged from the depths of his memory:

 

- Grant… he was my best friend, protected me from mum, and dad… and Christian… -

 

“How did it go?” asked Coulson.

 

“Much better than I expected.

We reconciled and now I have finally, again, a brother” Ward answered sincerely, with a smile in his eyes.

“But we will deal with that later.

When I was with him, after some days, I read on a newspaper about some strange localized earthquakes that destroyed a bank.

That was obviously Skye.”

“Daisy” corrected Coulson.

 

“I’m not sure she still wants to be called Daisy…

Probably that name brings back to her mind too many bad memories, while ‘Skye’ reminds her of her true self, of the freedom and the carelessness she had in her early years…

 

At least, she didn’t complain about me calling her ‘Skye’ when we got back in touch.”

 

Ward avoided saying that he called her ‘Skye’ several times when he was devouring her with kisses, and when he had to restrain her passion when the two of them where in the car… but probably some of those destabilizing thoughts showed on his face, because Coulson asked immediately, with a strangely strangled and acute voice:

“So... you two got back in touch?!?”

 

Ward realized that he had to restart working on his poker face: he couldn’t allow his feelings to show up so easily…

He was also sensing some warmth ascending from his neck to his face…

But, on the other hand, anytime Skye was involved, he found it extremely difficult to hide his emotions.

 

He cleared his throat and resumed the relation:

“When I was back in town, I immediately went in search for her and discovered she didn’t live anymore with her father.

So I had to sift the city, feeling the panic rising, because I couldn’t find her anywhere!

I went even to the police to try to find her. I showed them a photo and one of the policemen seemed remembering her: he told me that she was a little thug, dedicated to theft in supermarkets, to scrape together some money for drugs. He also told me that, after Raoul’s death, due to a localized earthquake, a lot of new dealers had flocked to the city, making a tremendous war against each other, and that now there were drugs available on the market that were extremely cheap, but also very dangerous.

From that conversation I deduced that Skye was the responsible for Raoul’s death and that she became a drug addicted.”

 

“Shit!” commented Coulson.

 

“After discovering those bad news, you would never imagine my surprise when, passing by chance in a street normally frequented by prostitutes, I saw just Skye on the sidewalk!

But she did not seem nearly as herself!

For a moment I even hoped that emaciated girl was not she at all!

She had become the shadow of herself: she was half-naked, with an extremely provocative red dress, and she had lost weight so much!

So I seized the moment to get her into the car.”

 

“She became… a prostitute?!?” Coulson was incredulous and disgusted.

 

“No.

Not yet, at least.

That was evidently her first time.

I saw her chase disgustedly away a few other ‘customers’, before me.”

 

“How did you convince her to join you on the car?

The last time you saw each other she was pretty upset with you…” asked Coulson, relieved that his ‘daughter’ didn’t yet descend down that slippery slope.

 

“I suppose she did not have much choice: all the others were slobbery old men full of money and with such lewd and dirty looks that she was evidently nauseated.

I, instead…

Well…” Ward couldn’t finish his speech.

 

“You are, at least, a young handsome man not so obsessed by sex.” Coulson finished for him.

 

Ward didn’t comment, but went on:

“My first goal was to feed her, so I took her to a good restaurant not far from there.

It was obvious that she was starving, so she ate a lot.

But her speeches during the dinner were what scared me more: she was desperate, hopeless, devastated by nihilism; she detested herself and hated the world and her only wish was to die to expiate her sins, having some fun in the meantime.

This in a nutshell.”

 

Coulson wasn’t interrupting, but Ward, nevertheless, was reluctant to continue.

 

So Coulson encouraged him:

“So? What happened after the dinner?”

“Uhm… I brought her in the restaurant’s patio and there… uhm… well… things started warming up…”

 

Ward didn’t know where to look, while Coulson’s face was turning all shades of colors, from green to red to purple…

 

Mack was observing this exchange and had to restrain himself from laughing!

 

 

 

Chapter Text

 

Coulson took a calming breath and said:

“Ok, Ward.

We can handle this topic like grown up people.

Just continue talking, before I rip your head from your body!!!”

 

Ward quickly said:

“To tell the truth, in that patio nothing… crucial… happened, but after that we went to the car… and from there I took her to my home.

My intention was to take her to a safe place, to be able to better study her and understand exactly her situation.”

 

“And deflowering her in the meanwhile!!!” Coulson ears were smoking steam!

 

“I didn’t deflower her!” Ward protested, offended.

“And, since you’re so worried about her virtue and her chastity, you’d have to worry before about that electric guy, that sea wave hair blondie… what the hell is his name?”

Ward was fuming!

And he also pretended not to know the guy’s name, even though he knew it very well, because the thought of him with his hands on Skye had been quite disturbing during the period he was Hive’s hostage, and only the fact of remembering his name put him on edge.

 

“Lincoln?” asked Mack.

 

“Precisely!” spat Ward.

 

“Uh, uh! The situation promises to become... tangled!” Mack muttered amused to himself.

 

“Skye is free to do whatever she wants with her sentimental and sexual life!” declared Coulson.

 

“Except when I am involved, uh?” asked Ward.

 

“If you had not betrayed us, if you didn’t prefer Garrett to us, if you had not sold yourself to the dark side, I would have had no objection to a relationship between you and Skye!

She loved you and you have no idea how much she suffered because of you!

She tried to hide her true feelings, but I know her well, and I will never forgive you for the pain you inflicted on her!” yelled Coulson.

 

At that Ward remained silent.

So she suffered for him… she hadn’t been indifferent to him…

Guilt was menacing of suffocating his heart, but at the same time consolation flowed like a balm on his soul… He had always been convinced that Skye had been able to quickly forget him and to turn out of the blue her attraction to hate.

Instead… what Coulson was saying depicted a completely different situation…

 

He took another deep breath and answered:

“I know. And I’m so sorry about everything.

But I’m trying to compensate, to fix all the bad I did.

 

And about Skye in my house, I wouldn’t ever take advantage of a situation like that, even if I have been desiring her for more than two whole years!

She wasn’t in herself!”

 

“Just keep talking!” Coulson said a little calmer, but still hardly holding back.

 

“Ok, ok…

I’ll go on.

Before things got warmed up again, but this time beyond the point of no return, she asked to go to the bathroom…”

“And then?” Coulson urged.

 

“Well… I clearly understood that she was in withdrawal and she was suffering, a lot, so I indicated her a bathroom without a key on the door, and then simply waited, straining my ears.

She had with herself a suspicious little bag, which could contain the necessary for a shot.

At a certain point I heard some suspicious rattle, like the noise of a glass put on a hard surface, and sprinted in.”

 

“And?”

 

“She was in her underwear, had a syringe in her right hand with an orange liquid in it, a tie on her left arm and was trying to inject herself on her belly.

The vein on her left arm was black…”

 

“Oh, my God!” Coulson whispered.

Mack, too, had a concerned face.

 

“Because of the startle that my sudden entrance had caused her, the glass bottle had fallen to the ground, breaking and overturning the rest of the liquid, spreading a smell of iodine and phosphorus all around.

She was terribly shaking, hyperventilating, sweating and started crying desperately, for the pain and for the embarrassment and humiliation of having me watching her in that desperate condition.

She also collapsed down on the floor, because she couldn’t stand straight.

She started begging me to let her take a shot…

I was trying to understand with what she wanted to inject herself and, from what I was able to extort from her and what I saw on her belly, I got the full picture.”

 

“What did you see on her belly???”

 

“Several little abscesses…

And, from that and the smell that has spread around, I understood she was addicted…”

 

“… to krokodil” Coulson finished for him, in a single breath, becoming white like a sheet.

 

“Yeah.” Ward confirmed, darkly.

“I gave her two powerful painkillers, because I knew that withdrawal from krokodil is extremely painful, then I put her into bed, more dead than alive.

But at least she would have been able to have some rest.

She was exhausted, spent…

 

In the meantime I called Thomas to come and help me, because I couldn’t manage that situation alone.”

 

“Why didn’t you call me?” Coulson was a lot calmer, now.

 

“I don’t know…

Probably because I felt more comfortable with a person that I considered family, in such a delicate situation…

I know you love Skye… but you despise me, and you probably would have brought her in some Shield hospital to cure her, far away from me.

I couldn’t allow that: Shield is not a safe place for her anymore, especially now.

And, frankly, you interfered with my sentimental life too many times for me to trust you.”

 

“But acting in this egoistic way you endangered her life!”

 

“No, I didn’t, if only you would allow me to tell you the whole story!

I was the only one that could totally understand her in that precise moment of her life.

And not only in that moment…

 

Nobody at Shield ever experienced what she went through in that period.

But I did.

So, also from a strategic point of view, I was the optimum choice. And what you said is not true: I wouldn’t ever put her in danger for egoistic reasons!

 

That night I destroyed completely the drug market of the city, to prevent her getting some more drugs when she would go out from my control… and also because that was the right thing to do…

The following morning she woke up and grabbed, with my permission, some money from my wallet and then went away.”

 

“She was going in search of drugs…” Coulson reasoned.

 

“Of course.

But she would have been unable to find even one crumb of that.

And she, for sure, discovered that soon enough, becoming mad at me.

So she bought with my money a gun and returned in the late afternoon to kill me.

I was waiting for her…”

 

At that Mack couldn’t restrain himself and asked, hurriedly:

“And what happened, then?”

 

“She came back to me pointing the gun straight at my head.

If she had fired in that moment I wouldn’t have survived, for sure.

But, at the end, she couldn’t pull the trigger… she said it was stronger than her… and fell at my feet, crying, asking me, instead, to kill her, which, of course, I couldn’t do.”

 

Coulson and Mack looked heartbroken.

“When I refused to kill her, she pointed the barrel at her own temple and fired.”

 

In that moment they stopped breathing.

“But I was quick enough to dislocate the barrel and to point it towards the ceiling, where the bullet stuck, forcing her to let the gun fall on the ground.

She was so mad at me and started slapping and punching me...

And I let her...

 

Then she started crying again and I embraced her and encouraged her to vent all the pain she had inside.

We talked, a lot, about very important matters, like what happened to me when I died, and then she, after having calmed down, fainted in my arms.

I brought her back on the bed and…”

At that Ward did a long embarrassed pause.

 

“And???” Coulson urged.

 

“… I healed her.”

 

“What???” Coulson and Mack asked together, incredulous.

 

“I felt in me something, like an inner voice, commanding me to heal her, telling me that I have the power to heal.

So I did it, transferring on me all her pain and withdrawal symptoms and bodily harms, leaving her completely healed.

Then I entrusted Thomas to bring her back to St. Agnes, where she could get back in touch with some people that could put her back on track and instill in her, again, some true values, like faith, hope and love for life.

 

And I learned that, at the end, when she was there, she confessed herself.

I was in contact with Sister Bertha, an important mother figure Skye had left at St. Agnes, and she told me everything about her return back into the light.

 

I healed her body, yes… but, more importantly, God healed her soul.”

 

At that Mack looked at Ward with a renewed respect.

 

“You can understand that in that period I couldn’t follow her…

I had to fight against withdrawal myself, and that was tough.

When I finally get rid of all that, I learned that she left St. Agnes and targeted some abortive clinics around the US, destroying them with her powers.

I could stop her, in that moment, but I didn’t.

I agreed with her.

And all that brings us to this moment.”

 

And Ward looked to both Coulson and Mack, to see their reaction, and adding:

“I hope I made you see why I say that the worse is over.”

 

Coulson sighed:

“I guess I cannot contradict you…”

 

In that moment a phone call caught Coulson’s attention: it seemed something important and very urgent, so Coulson said to Ward, hurriedly:

“I’m afraid we have to leave you, now.

There are some urgent matters that need our attention.”

 

“Ok. Stay safe.”

 

Ward greeted the two with a nod and watched them exiting the bar and disappearing in the maze of streets…

 

 

Chapter Text

 

Back to the present, Ward was dialing Coulson’s number, and then remained waiting for him to answer the phone.

On the third ring he answered:

“Hello?”

 

“Director...”

 

It took a while for Coulson to react to Ward’s unexpected call:

“… Ward…”

 

An embarrassed silence stretched between the two.

 

“To what do I owe the pleasure of this call?” Coulson asked ironically.

 

“I need an explanation… and we have only five minutes before someone traces us” Ward answered drily.

 

“An explanation?”

 

“Yes.

Why the hell did a selected Shield team attack Skye in the middle of a forest, yesterday?

They were also equipped with power inhibitors on two helicopters!”

 

Of course Ward knew that: after all, he was the masked man that helped Skye escape…

 

“What???

I was not aware of that!

Did they manage to capture her?”

 

“Please, Coulson!

Don’t play dumb with me!”

 

“Ward!

I do not need you, and much less I need to lie to you!

I really didn’t know!

Now answer to me: did they capture her???”

 

“No.

I monitored her closely for months and, when she was attacked, yesterday, I helped her escaping.

Now she is safe.

But, seriously, I cannot believe that the Director of Shield was unaware of such an operation!”

 

“The Director surely knew that.

Maybe he even ordered it.

But I’m not the Director anymore…”

 

“Uhm… I did not know…

You didn’t tell me that, the last time we saw each other…

I should have suspected that: it was very unlikely for the Director himself to be in the middle of a target recovery operation, even if target was Skye…”

 

Ward was sincere… and started also to be a little concerned.

He really didn’t anticipate such a development.

 

Coulson explained:

“After Hive… after what I did to you on Maveth, that allowed Hive to return to the Earth… not to mention all the other mistakes I made, with Skye, with Lincoln, with Thomas… I didn’t feel worthy for that position anymore.

Besides, having around more or less 3.570.478.000 persons infected in the world didn’t help to see Shield as a shield…

And that disaster is all my responsibility.”

 

“No.

It’s not your responsibility.

It’s mine.

If I didn’t accept Malick’s proposal, Hive wouldn’t have succeeded in returning back on Earth.”

 

“If it had not been you, it would have been someone else: nothing could have stopped Hydra, once they had discovered how to return back Hive.

Instead, if I didn’t kill you, Hive would not have been able to take over your body and would have died on Maveth, because Fitz had burned the last available body, Will’s one.

I could just have taken you as a prisoner, brought you back on Earth with us and lock you in jail for the rest of your life.

And we wouldn’t be in the midst of this immense mess.

 

But yet, in that moment the image of Rosalind Price bleeding and dying in my arms got the upper hand, and I was seized with an irrepressible desire for revenge and I killed you.”

 

“Do you realize that it was Hive messing with your brain, in that moment?”

 

“Yes… the thought flashed in my mind, sometimes…

But a truly righteous man would have resisted the temptation. And evidently I’m not a truly righteous man.

I voluntarily exceeded some limits, during the last year, which I never should have overcome.

So I’m glad not to be the Director anymore.

 

But let’s not linger longer on this diatribe.

 

Important people, the President on the front row, thought I had lost my sheen… that I was too old for that role, by now.

So I resigned, even before someone asked me to do it.

Now I’m just a simple level eight operative.”

 

“And who is the new Director?”

 

“Mace.”

 

“What???

Mace?

As Jeffrey Mace???"

 

"In the flesh!"

 

"Oh, this is bad, really, really bad!

We all fell from the frying pan into the fire!”

 

Ward was flabbergasted, but immediately added:

“No pun intended…”

 

“None taken…

What do you have against Mace?”

 

Mace commanded the team in charge of ‘questioning’ me, when I was detained in the US Military Maximum Security Prison…

It was him who decided to put me in the terrorists’ wing.

It was him who decided to what procedures I should undergo: he was also present, some times, and he wasn’t nice.

I will never forget his face, or his words, or his sadistic grin, while I was tortured!

He kept updated on all my eventual ‘progresses’ and decided whether and how to change ‘methodics’…”

 

“Uhm…

The fact he wanted to extort information from a Hydra mole is not a surprise: he had a grudge, with Hydra.

Me, too, but I would prefer to avoid certain methods…”

 

“And you got those information, not even touching me.”

 

“Yes, but I had Skye.

Mace didn’t.”

 

Ward felt a shiver coming down his spine, and added, darkly:

“He’s an incredibly cruel person.

He really enjoys seeing others suffer…

Having him as a Director of Shield is not a good sign, at all.

And thinking of him capturing Skye… makes blood freeze in my veins.”

 

“I didn’t know you two met each other on such a personal basis…”

 

“It appears you don’t know a lot of things…

But now only Skye matters to me.

Just stop and think of what Mace could have done to her if they managed to capture her…”

 

“I agree.

We must absolutely protect her.

Mace subscribed the Sokovia Accords, so for sure he wants to capture her and analyze and classify her powers.”

 

“I never like it when people are put onto lists…

And I know what Shield did on the enhanced prisoners, in the Fridge…”

 

“Yeah…”

 

“I will handle this my way.”

 

“Let me help you.”

 

“Even if I know you love Skye as a daughter, I don’t trust you.

You have faith into an institution, like Shield is.

And you sacrificed your entire life to it. Literally.

But Shield, like all institutions, talks the talk, and doesn’t walk the walk.

Maybe, at the beginning, it had sincere and pure intentions, but time and bad habits and bad men tend to corrupt such organizations.

I have never had faith into any institution: even Hydra was only a mean to reach my goals, to me.”

 

“You had faith into a man…” Coulson pointed out.

 

“Yes, and that was another big mistake.

‘Cursed is the man who trusts in man,

who puts in the flesh his support’” quoted Ward, from the Bible.

 

“It seems you have no faith left at all!” retorted Coulson.

 

“You’re wrong” answered back Ward.

 

But he hadn’t time to explain his assertion more…

“Besides, minutes are dropping.

One last thing: how are Fitz and Simmons?

Are they succeeding in finding a cure to the meningitis with Radcliffe?”

 

“They are still working hard on it, but it is very difficult to find a cure…

They are trying different paths, but each and every one of them comes to a dead end, and each promising attempt seems to come to a stalemate.”

 

“This is not what I was hoping to hear” Ward said, concerned.

 

Coulson continued:

“Moreover, we are trapped in the bureaucracy and… well…” but then hesitated.

 

“What?”

 

“I got the feeling that this topic is not at the top of Shield’s priorities, by now…

Sometimes I even perceive discomfort in the higher ranks, when I try to approach the problem…

And I also heard rumors that the research funds about the cure for this disease will soon be cut.”

 

“This is strange…

Of course, producing and administering a cure on over 3 billion people isn’t easy…

But Shield not pumping on that is strange.

Something smells, I tell you.

Keep your eyes wide open and take care of you and the others.”

 

“Of course.

Let’s hope it was only an impression of mine…

The sooner we return to normality, the better.”

 

“I agree…”

 

“What do you plan to do, now?”

 

“Keep Skye alive.

Time’s over: talk to you soon!”

 

“Bye.”

 

And with that Ward and Coulson saluted each other.

 

Ward left the local and threw the phone in the nearer trashcan.

 

 

Chapter Text

 

Skye woke up in the early afternoon, the following day, around 1.30 p.m.

The day before had been tremendously stressing for her, but also exiting.

That mysterious Grand Dark Protector really got under her skin and she vaguely remembered some dreams she had during the night about him, in which she managed to take away his mask and he was…

 

She didn’t want to think about that, right now!

 

She was hungry and she decided she would take a look in the fridge and in the dresser to see what there was.

Wonderful!

There was all the necessary for pancakes, scrambled eggs and bacon!

Those were among the few things she was able to cook, by the way…

So she prepared a fantastic brunch and enjoyed it like she didn’t for a long time.

 

She wondered when her mysterious guest would return… and what would happen then…

 

After eating and cleaning the kitchen, she took a look around the flat.

She already had opened the bathroom, bedroom and dining room windows, and then she noticed there was also a French window that looked onto a small terrace.

So she decided to enjoy the open air far from any camera and opened it.

 

It was a beautiful day, full of sun, and she remained a little overlooking from the terrace. There was another terrace just next to hers and she discovered a little girl peeping at her from there.

 

“Hi!” Skye greeted.

 

The little girl remained silent and serious, and then walked inside.

After a while, a woman, probably the mother, came out and greeted Skye, who politely returned the greetings.

Then the woman began asking a lot of questions, such as about who she was, where she came from, what she was doing here…

She was very curious and insistent, indeed!

 

After a little while, Skye fled back inside, because she felt almost assaulted!

 

What a strange behavior!

Were all the people in this town so careless about respecting other’s privacy???

 

Nonetheless she turned on the television, to see some news.

Everything seemed more or less normal.

 

Nobody was talking about the meningitis epidemic any more, like it never occurred. But she knew that it was only a cover: large parts of the population were infected and that produced different effects, from depression to antisocial behavior, from rage to violence.

 

The world deeply changed from what it was one year ago.

 

The only places that seemed to have remained untouched were the small isolated places, like the village in which she spent the last couple of months…

 

Had she lost something, remaining isolated for so much time?

The behavior of that woman was so strange…

She felt uncomfortable, and wished her mysterious savior would come back soon.

 

In the evening Skye prepared some fruits and ate them, then she got a quick shower and went to bed.

She waited a lot for sleep to arrive, and once she fell asleep she was disturbed by nightmares of little serious girls and tremendously insistent and intrusive mothers.

 

But in the middle of the night Skye began feeling more and more like suffocating, like asphyxiating, until she woke up with a start, panting and sweating.

And the show that loomed before her eyes was even more terrible than her nightmares!

 

Her whole room was filled with people staring at her: there was the woman of the terrace with her daughter, sitting next to her in bed; there were people at her feet, people at her side, people all over the floor, people on the threshold of the door, people in the dining room, that was the only place of all the flat where the light was on.

Her whole apartment was crammed with people!

 

They began to say, all together, again and again:

A force beyond your comprehension is coming for you.

You have something we want.

And you will die giving it to us”.

 

She was petrified by terror: those words were exactly what Thomas Nash said about her almost three years ago!

 

Those exact words had been the reason why Ward killed Nash…

 

She didn’t know what to do.

She tried to get up, but six hands grabbed her and prevented her from moving.

She thought of generating an earthquake, but she couldn’t kill so many people, that were probably innocent.

She thought of using shockwaves, but was scared to wound or seriously hurt someone.

 

When she was starting to despair, she felt the air becoming hot… like Sahara hot… a heat beyond any tolerance… and it was increasing…

 

She started sweating profusely, and so did all the others: everybody started panting, and after a few minutes they became unstable on their legs.

Someone started fainting, but the heat didn’t cease; instead it kept increasing!

 

Oh, God, what was happening?

She felt like she was in an oven and she felt suffocating, even if she was hyperventilating!

 

She was on the verge of passing out, when she saw him coming inside of the room, walking between the fainted bodies collapsed on the ground and dodging the ones that still managed to keep upright.

 

He himself was hot like hell (in both senses)!

 

It seemed he was the origin of that heat, because, when he scooped her up, all his body was scorching! And the mask, too, irradiated heat like it was a red-hot piece of iron!

But she hadn’t time to think about that, because she felt his strong arms easily lifting her pajamas wrapped body and him quickly exiting the flat, descending the stairs and running outside.

 

Oh, there she could breathe again!

She almost had a heatstroke!

 

He reached a SUV, put her in the passenger seat and climbed on the driver seat. Then he ignited the engine and drove away at full speed, lights off and full moon and stars in the sky to illuminate their way, as usual.

 

After a while she asked him:

“What the hell happened in your apartment?

How did all that people manage to enter in it?

I had been careful to close the security door!”

 

“I think someone climbed on the terrace from the one nearby, forced the French door and then opened the security door for the others to enter.”

 

“Yes, but they behaved like a mass of zombies, deprived of individual personality, all saying the same horrible thing!”

 

“I know.

I heard what they were saying…

I’m afraid they are somehow all mentally controlled…”

 

“But… how???”

 

“You know that over three billion people have been infected by a strange form of meningitis…”

 

Skye gasped:

“Three billion???”

 

Over three billion.

Of course you don’t know anything about that: authorities and media are under control, too, and they aren’t divulgating the truth.

The infection has stopped: it cannot spread anymore.

But the people infected have this form of meningitis.

For now, no one cared so much about that, because the Army, the Security Forces, Shield thought that the situation was easily manageable.

But, actually, cases like tonight – where larger or smaller groups of people join forces together, as if driven by an invisible force, by a common goal, or for many other different reasons – are occurring more and more frequently.

The situation is falling out of hand.

 

I think that someone is controlling them…”

 

But they had suddenly to stop talking, because something big exploded in front of them and he had to dodge a huge hole in the street.

 

A war helicopter had tried to bombard them!

 

And it didn’t stop: they had just the time to jump from the SUV to avoid exploding with it!

 

Suddenly the dark sky became bright like the sunshine.

They were surrounded by an exceptional deployment of military forces: SUVs, helicopters, motorcycles, men armed to the teeth pointing guns against them, intimating to put their hands behind their backs and kneel down.

 

He didn’t waste time: he jumped on Skye covering her with his body before Skye heard someone shooting at them.

She wanted to sprint and fly away, but he was holding her with an exceptional strength, so she couldn’t move.

But then she felt again that incredible heat beside her, coming from him, and saw with one eye that flames were erupting from his back, and shoulders, and hands, and head….

They were incredibly bright, something unbearable to the sight, so she had to shut her eyes. And she could see the light even through her eyelids, so she turned her head against the earth to protect her sight.

She heard many screams and many orders of retreat shouted in a hurry.

 

She was sure she was going to die burned up, but the flames strangely didn’t touch her: it was like the Grand Dark Protector was shielding her from them.

 

After some time everything became quiet.

She felt him getting up from her and shaking her with his hands on her shoulders.

 

“Skye!

Skye!!!

How are you?

Are you still alive???

Skye!” he yelled with that low metallic voice.

 

“Ok!

I’m ok!

Stop shouting: you’re splitting my eardrums!”

 

She got up too and took a look around.

Everything was melted down: motorcycles, guns, helicopters, SUVs were barely distinguishable in that liquid mess.

No man was around: they all escaped far from that tremendous arson.

 

Everything was now surrounded in darkness and only the moonlight allowed them to see something.

 

“Quick! Let’s go!” he said.

 

And only then she noticed that he was almost completely naked… except for the mask and for a thin pair of metal wire mesh pants.

 

And she could have recognized that back, that torso, those abs and arms everywhere…

 

She had dreamed to caress, and lick, and bite, and scratch them too many times for forgetting them…

 

 

Chapter Text

 

 

They found another SUV a few meters ahead, behind a little mound that protected it from the fire: they quickly controlled it for hidden trackers, finding and destroying all three of them, hardwired it and got away at full speed, lights low.

 

They remained quiet for a while.

 

She dared occasionally to peep at him, still shocked by her discovery, while the only lights that lit him up were those of the dashboard.

 

Certainly the sight was rewarding: beautiful hands with long fingers gripping the steering wheel, a strong neck, two muscular arms flexing now and then, a toned torso with generous pectorals, long slender legs, and all of that in a fantastic frame of defined abs!

 

He was the living definition of ‘hot like hell’!

 

Then she looked at the mask and she had to restrain herself not to laugh at how much the situation was funny!

 

“Ok.

I think you might feel a little bit more comfortable if you take away that ridiculous mask.

It seems really annoying!”

 

“What???” he asked, and the tension was perceivable even in the metallic sound of his voice.

 

“You know, the whole idea in wearing a mask is to hide one’s identity.

But it is absolutely useless if said identity has already been discovered!” she said raising an eyebrow with a knowing look.

 

“What are you talking about?

Are you kidding me?” he looked at her, his voice almost squeaky…

 

“Come on!

Do you really think I wouldn’t recognize you?

I started suspecting from yesterday night…

Those kisses… that mouth… those lips… that tongue… reminded me strongly of someone else… and there are things in life that are… unforgettable!

 

Nobody ever gave me such intense sensations…

 

Now you are almost naked, and I could recognize your body among thousands, my unfathomable GDP

… alias ‘Grant Douglas Ward’!”

 

He remained flabbergasted for a while.

 

She could only imagine his face and his rolling eyes under the mask and the image was so funny that she started giggling!

After those eliciting words and that disrespectful outburst, it could be heard a huff behind the mask.

But at the end he resigned, raised his right hand and took that piece of iron away.

Then he finally turned his face towards her with an almost miserable expression, looking at her with puppy dog’s eyes…

She felt her heart become tender at that sight…

 

So, with a soothing low voice she said:

“Don’t worry, Ward.

I will not stab you, or shoot you, or break your bones anymore.

I will not try to kill you again…”

 

“Finally!” he suspired with relief, with his own no more metallic voice.

 

“After all, I still owe you a dinner” she added.

And with this sentence she obviously implied a lot much more than the dinner he offered her some months ago: she didn’t forget that she owed her own life to him…

 

Some other minute passed in total quiet, while miles and miles ran fast under the wheels of the car in the darkness of the night.

 

But then Skye couldn’t restrain herself and exclaimed:

“So that’s how you managed to kill Hive!

You are Inhuman, too, and you can master heat and fire!

It’s incredible!” Skye’s voice transmitted her awe.

 

“Yeah.

I guess my codename could be ‘Hellfire’, due to the fact that the fire I provoke isn’t an earthly one… my unfathomable Quake, alias Skye, alias Daisy, alias Mary Sue Poots!”

 

At that Skye smiled:

“Hellfire and Quake… what a phantasmagoric couple!

 

You know?

I think this kind of power really suits you.

You have always been so controlled, like you feared to let go whatever you had inside…

And, now, your true nature is revealing itself: you have fire, inside!

You always had!”

 

“Yeah…

After all, you yourself said that I’m a hot guy…”

And he cursed himself an instant later those words slipped out of his mouth!

 

Skye rolled her eyes:

“Oh, yeah… I almost forgot that I compromised myself, on that damn island!”

 

But then she was suddenly thunderstruck by a suspect.

“Wait…”

 

He felt a chill go through his back…

 

She asked him, slowly, with her eyes in slits, her voice dangerously suspicious:

“Waaard?

Are you hiding something???”

 

“Hiding?

What do you mean?” he answered with his voice slightly shaking.

 

“Some time ago I had a very realistic dream, about a deserted island and the two of us…

And that was the only occasion in my whole life in which I said aloud that I actually find you hot.

How the hell could you know that I spilled out to your dreamy alter ego that private piece of information?”

 

“Better and better!

So now you think I’m dreamy, too?

I’m flattered!” he was smiling.

 

“Don’t try to change the subject!

Hive could pervade our dreams when we were at the Shield base, and you passed several months in Its affectionate company… I wouldn't be surprised if you learned that capacity from It!

Now you have to talk! I will not ask you this again.

Do you have something to do with that damn dream???”

 

Ward looked almost scared of her… but gained all the courage he could muster and answered:

“Well… Yes …”

 

“Ooohhh!!! You are so dead!!!” and she slapped him on the shoulder.

He would be dead if a stare could kill!

 

An awkward silence unfolded between the two.

 

Ward broke it:

“I’m sorry…

I didn’t mean to invade your dreams, but, when I heard you saying that you where sorry for ‘stepping on my fingers while I was trying to hold myself’, for ‘pushing me down the precipice, instead of giving me a hand to grab and bring me back’…”

 

“How could you know that?!?

I never said it loud!

I only thought it!”

 

And then the reality struck her:

“… have you become a… telepath?” her tone was unbelieving.

 

He couldn’t do anything else than confess everything:

“Yes, I did.

And it is an extremely embarrassing thing…”

 

Skye was at loss of words, feeling like naked in front of him.

 

“After I heard your words, I couldn’t hold myself and that night, after having seen you in the pub, I fell asleep strongly desiring to establish some sort of connection with you.

That dream simply came out of my imagination… and then you became part of it, accidentally… and, mind it, you too contributed to it like you wanted… I didn’t force you in any way.

And from there, one thing led to another… and…”

 

“… and we almost had sex!” finished her for him.

 

 

 

Chapter Text

 

“I would have preferred to say: ‘We almost made love’.

But, after all, it was all totally platonic, so neither of these two expressions is correct…” Ward pointed out.

 

Platonic???

It didn’t feel so platonic, to me!” she argued.

 

“The definition of ‘platonic’ is, and I quote, ‘a close relationship in which there is no romance or sex’.

You hated me, so no romance was possible.

You weren’t there physically, so no sex was possible.

But it was nevertheless a close relationship.

So the word ‘platonic’ perfectly fits.”

 

“… at that point I already told you I didn’t hate you anymore…”

 

At that Ward seized the moment, asking, almost shyly:

“So is it true?

You actually don’t hate me anymore?”

 

“No.

I don’t hate you anymore.”

 

At that, he let out a breath he did not know he was holding:

“Finally!”

 

She continued, shrugging as if what she had just said had been established for a long time:

“But… whatever!

There is another point I want to clarify, now!

Tell me about when you transferred to me all your memories about your death, about Hell, about Satan, about God, about the second chance and the mission God gave to you about Earth… and about me.

It was all true, wasn’t it?”

 

“Yes. It was all true…”

 

She whistled.

“I still find incredible that a single person can go through all that…”

“But it happened, nevertheless.”

 

“This is a lot to take in…”

“Yeah…”

 

Then again, with her eyes in slits and a dangerous voice, she asked:

“And what about the ‘at least four kids’ affair?”

“Don’t blame me. That was His idea!” and he raised his hands from the steering wheel in a soothing gesture, looking at her.

 

“You are aware of what four pregnancies can do to a woman’s body, aren’t you?”

“There can be also the twins casuistry… so they could be less than four…

And I’m a very good trainer, so I would take care very well of you!

It is also in my interest that your body remains fit and agile: I like how May made it stronger and toned.

Remind me to congratulate her about that.”

And Ward gave her an overall look, almost stripping her with his eyes.

 

But when he finally noticed what was written between the lines, he almost ended up off the road:

“Wait…

Was that a… yes???” he asked, upset.

 

“Keep calm!

I have not made any decision, yet.

I was just considering all the variables.”

 

The two of them remained quiet for a while.

 

“By the way: talking about children, I really appreciated what you did with those clinics!” Ward said.

“How the hell do you know that???”

 

“Quake!

Your actions do not exactly go unnoticed!

You have been on the first pages for months!

And I know your powers!

I kept a close eye on you, too, during all that period.

You know: Shield and SAP can be annoying, and someone had to watch your back!”

 

“Is it the Guardian Angel your second job?” she joked.

“I don’t have even a first job anymore…” and he sounded a little sad, about that.

 

“I thought that you would be knocked out for a lot of time, after what you did that dreadful night when you healed my body!”

“I was, for a while.

But I heal quickly, I already told you that.”

 

“By the way: thank you for what you did in that occasion, at your own costs…

Evidently poor Daisy still needs to be saved…”

“I’d do it a thousand times, if it could guarantee your safety!” Ward said seriously.

 

At that words Skye felt her heart enwrapped by a strong sensation of belonging: she knew it had been painful for him, a lot, but he nonetheless was willing to suffer for her.

It proved he truly loved her.

 

Ward continued:

“Daisy… Skye… Mary Sue Poots… Quake…

You are really full of names!

How do you want me to call you?”

 

“What name would you prefer?”

 

“Uhm…

Daisy… it could be good for your father, but it is too… feeble for you. And instead, you are one of the strongest persons I know…

Mary Sue Poots… it could have been acceptable for a little girl, not for a grown up woman.

Quake… it can sell the idea, but only when you are… on duty.

 

I personally want Skye back.

You always have been, and always will be, Skye, to me.”

 

She tried to keep things easy, with a tone of light mockery:

“Deal.

You can call me Skye.

Some other remark, Mrs. Prissy?”

 

He looked at her: nobody called him like that, before… but Skye was Skye, and he liked her inventing new names for him… he missed that so much! It was so nicely different from how she treated him back in Vault D, when she called him only and hardly “Ward”…

“Actually yes.

It’s about your hair: so short it’s sexier… but I still think you should let it grow longer.

It makes you more feminine.”

 

“So now you are giving suggestions about my apparel?

You talk like you suppose there will be a future, for us!”

 

“It was you that, just some instants ago, talked about us as, and I quote, a ‘phantasmagoric couple’!”

 

 

Chapter Text

 

At that Skye didn’t know how to retort, so she preferred to let her curiosity get the better of her:

“Ok, ok… I got the point.

But now you must absolutely tell me what happened when you transformed: all the circumstances, your sensations when you were inside the cocoon, your fears, your difficulties, and your pain…

…by the way… I don’t even know if there was actually a cocoon…

 

You know: when I transformed it had been really tough…

On the contrary… you seem so well adjusted and so well mastering your new powers!”

 

“It all simply came from the habit to a strict discipline, strong willpower and great self-control” Ward said flatly.

 

“Are you sure?

To me it seems your powers came naturally to you!”

 

“Do you think all that came naturally to me???” he asked, astonished. And continued:

“No, Skye, unless you are implying that pain and suffering is, sort of, a second nature to me.”

 

He stopped, like seriously pondering on his last words.

“It could be…

 

Anyway, when I transformed, I came out from months of tortures and, even now, I feel burning and scorching anytime I am engulfed in fire, so I don’t desire using my powers, because they hurt.

A lot.

But sometimes it is really unavoidable… like this evening… or when I destroyed the drug market… or when I killed Hive…

It’s not pleasurable, I guarantee you.

And sometimes I need also to vent my powers out anyway, in the absence of any risk or danger to be faced, because otherwise I feel like I could explode!”

 

Skye was looking at him almost incredulous…

“I’m sorry for that…

When I use my powers it doesn’t usually hurt… but if I use them too much my hands and arms start getting damaged…”

 

And, at his interrogative stare, she elaborated:

“Micro-fractures.

So I must be careful and use shockwaves and earthquakes sparingly…”

 

She kept quiet for an instant, and then she couldn’t restrain herself, and burst out with awe:

“Oh, I still can’t believe this!

You are one of us!!!”

 

At those words, Ward felt a pang in his heart.

He was one of hers.

He belonged to her family!

The two of them shared a common ground, like she didn’t with Coulson, May, Fitz, Simmons, Mack…

The two of them were of the same kind!

And this made him special for her…

Special like Lincoln

Now, at last, he could fight on equal terms with Blondie…

 

Oh, he didn’t want to admit that, but he was deadly jealous of that guy!!!

 

Ward continued with his story:

“As I already explained to you, Hive possessed me, so I remained trapped in my own body for months.

In the meanwhile I could perceive all Its thoughts, and feel all Its tactile sensations and emotions, together with lots of pain…

I suspect It inflicted pain to my body to keep the adrenaline high, to have me always ready to combat… not caring about the deleterious consequences on my muscular structure nor about the prostration It was inflicting to me… It didn’t care about that, because, when my body would have been completely exhausted, he could have changed host at will, dropping me in the trash.

It really wore me out…

But, you know, it wasn’t even Its fault: It was convinced I was really dead!

 

In addition to all that pain, when somebody hurt It, Hive didn’t feel the pain, while I felt all of it.

But I accepted that, because I felt I deserved it to purge all my sins.

It was being applied on me a sort of retaliation law: everything I inflicted on others was returning to me, with interests.”

 

At that Skye said, with a low voice, thinking about their fight:

“I’m so sorry for having inflicted so much additional pain on you…”

 

“You didn’t know…

You were furious.”

 

“I was desperate.

I was suffering.

And I didn’t want Hive to die: I wanted It to suffer!

What I thought it was real love, on my behalf, turned in an instant in hatred!”

 

“This was possible only because it wasn’t real love, but only an obsession, an illusion…

If it’s love, it doesn’t end, and, much less, it transforms in hate!

 

“Sister Bertha said the same thing…”

 

“She’s very wise…

I had a couple of occasions to talk with her… and I liked her very much.

She’s a rare person.”

 

“Yeah… she had been a kind of surrogate mother, for me…

But, please, go on with the story: I’m curious!”

 

“Hive was mad at Shield for rescuing you, and wanted Its revenge: first tainted your sleep with horrible nightmares, to deprive you of the much needed rest, then It entered the Playground.”

 

“Oh, yes! I remember those nightmares!

You were accusing me of having abandoned you, that all you did wrong was my fault…

Oh, it was horrible!

But, on second thought, I think Hive was not so mistaken in suggesting me that…”

 

“Skye, you are not responsible for my actions!

What I did was under my responsibility!”

 

“Yes.

But I’m sure things could have gone differently, if I tried to understand you, to help you, instead of behaving like a stonehearted bitch.

When I thought you were dead, you have no idea of the remorse I felt…”

 

“... only remorse?” he timidly let slip out.

 

“What do you mean?”

 

“Nothing… nothing…” he recoiled, then continued:

“Once penetrated into the Playground, Hive took complete control on all your minds and put each of you against the other. With an extreme effort, I managed to create a mind connection with Simmons, asking her if there was some Terrigenesis Crystal left, so she could use it to pulverize my body.”

 

“You really wanted to die?” Skye tone was incredulous.

 

“Do you think that was a life worth living?

It was nothing more than suffering torture continuously and assisting to evil actions without the possibility to intervene to stop them! I could not wait to die!

 

Thankfully, Simmons had one Crystal left in the lab, for experimentation, and she threw it at my feet.”

 

“But how was it possible that Hive did not anticipate her move reading her thoughts, so preventing her from doing that?”

“Because I was protecting her, interfering with Hive’s brain waves.”

Skye raised her eyebrows in admiration.

 

“When I saw that the cocoon finally was forming around me, I breathed a sigh of relief.

But soon after I began to feel my body heat up, catching fire and burning like I was in an oven, while Hive was squirming inside of me, probably because It felt It could no longer remain bound to another Inhuman, and alive, too!

Once I emerged from the cocoon, my DNA had changed and Hive couldn’t bear to be inside of me anymore, so It gathered all Its parasites and exited from me, tearing my belly apart.

Just imagine the pleasure!”

 

Skye gasped and covered her mouth with one hand.

Ward continued:

“But apparently that forced cohabitation wasn’t for nothing, because I inherited from It also Its healing powers and after a while I was whole again.

Then I managed to fight against It, bring It with me in a containment module and finally burn It to ashes.”

 

Skye remained speechless for a while…

 

“So, now, you are a fire throwing telepath indestructible Inhuman!

That’s impressive!”

 

“It seams so…

Even if I don’t know if these powers are temporary or permanent.”

 

“Once you undergo Terrigenesis the process is irreversible.”

“For the fire power ok. I meant the other powers…”

 

“We’ll see.

Do you think you are immortal, too, with your healing powers and all?”

 

“No.

I’m sure that, if someone shot me in the head, I’d die just like any other human being.”

 

And Skye shivered, thinking about that time when she had put the barrel of a gun against his head…

 

 

 

Chapter Text

 

“By the way, where are we headed?” asked Skye after a while.

 

“Do you remember that I told you about the five years I spent in the woods?”

“Yes”

 

“Well… there I built a cabin.”

“Are we going there?”

 

“Yes.

There’s no safer place in the world!

In those five years nobody found me there.

So I expect we will be safe there until we figure out how to face this whole situation.”

 

At those words Skye felt a mixture of fear and excitement.

She, alone in the woods, in a cabin… with him… for an undetermined amount of time…

It was both dreadful and thrilling!

 

Ward shook her from her daze:

“I spoke with Coulson, too.”

 

At those words she was snapped out her reveries:

“What???

Why did you do that???

I don’t want him back into my life!!!”

 

At that he chuckled:

“Really the world spins!

Almost a year ago you would have said the same thing about me…”

 

But she didn’t allow him to change the topic:

“Why did you talk to him?”

“Because I wanted to know if he knew something about the men that attacked you.”

 

“And?”

“He didn’t know squat.”

 

“This is an absurdity. The Director cannot…”

“He’s no more the Director.

Jeffrey Mace is.”

 

“What???

This is crap!

I know Coulson did a lot of mistakes… like killing you… but”

“He was not so wrong about that…”

 

“Don’t say that.”

I did a lot of wrong things.”

 

“You received also a lot of wrong things!” she argued.

 

Then, more calmly:

“You know… I pined on you.”

“Did you?”

 

“Yes. But… can’t you read my mind?

Why don’t you get inside it and see for yourself?”

 

“I try to avoid it.

I don’t like violating someone else’s privacy.

I feel embarrassed, like spying through the keyhole while someone is stripping.

And I think even your naked body is less private and intimate than your thoughts and feelings!

Moreover, I would like to hear everything from your very lips.”

 

“This is a long story…”

“I know.

But now it will have to wait.

We are leaving the good street to go into the woods, and I have to keep concentrated, because the terrain will become slippery and the passages tight…”

 

And Ward abandoned the highway for a smaller road that led to an even smaller dirty road that could be rode only by a four-wheel drive car, so they were ok about that.

The SUV was slightly large to trespass among the trees, and the autumn leaves made the ground slippery, but Ward was a good cross-country driver and was able to lead them in the deep of the forest till a small cabin near a lake.

 

The place reminded Skye of the site Coulson put her in when she had to grasp control on her powers.

Only this cabin was smaller.

 

“Will we live here?”

“Yes, for a while.”

 

“It’s not the first time I am alone in the woods in a cabin, by the way.”

“Isn’t it?”

 

“When I received my powers, it wasn’t easy.

I was dangerous.

Nobody understood me at the time.

Everybody feared me.

And I felt like a monster.

So Coulson brought me in a Shield cabin in the woods they used once also to accommodate the Hulk!”

 

“The Hulk???

They must have feared you a lot!” he exclaimed, sniggering.

 

And then he added, lowering his voice:

“I’m sorry I wasn’t there for you.

I wouldn’t left you alone…”

 

“Don’t mind about that.

I would not have received my powers, had it not been for you.

In the beginning I hated them, but now I feel them like a birthright.”

 

“But now you are in danger because of your powers!”

“I’m in danger because I did bad things in my life; because I spilled a lot of blood; because I let others mold me.”

 

“You and I are not so different, after all.

But, if I could forgive myself, be sure you will, too!”

 

And with that they descended from the SUV and entered the cabin.

They needed to light up the place with some candle, because there wasn’t electricity.

 

The place was really nice, with a bigger room that could serve as a dining room and a kitchen, with a large wooden table, four chairs, a large sofa, some dressers, a little fridge, a sink, a stove and a fireplace.

In another little room there was a tube and a large basin.

 

Ward explained:

“You know: I didn’t need a toilet, because for it I had the woods.

But a warm bath when it was too cold to wash up in the lake, after a full day of hard work… well… I allowed myself this small luxury.”

“Washing yourself without getting a cold is not a luxury, rude man!” Skye commented, producing another nick name.

“How do you give energy to the fridge?”

 

“I have a diesel generator.

But I normally used it only for the fridge, and not for the bulbs and sockets that I managed to put in all the rooms, because I normally followed the nature rhythm: went to bed when it was dark, woke up with the sun, worked all day.”

“You did a very good job, here.”

 

“I enhanced it during the years, also after I graduated at Shield Academy, and in between missions.

I was fond of this place.”

 

Then, gesturing above his head, he asked:

“Can I show you the upper floor?”

“Of course.”

 

It was smaller, because a terrace occupied half of it, while a large bedroom, with a large double bed, a small wardrobe and two bedside tables, constituted the other half.

“Uhm… In all the house there’s only one bedroom…”

 

“Don’t worry: the sofa is big and comfy.

I will sleep there.”

“… Ok…” Skye agreed, not so convinced.

 

“I think we should eat something, now.

It is late and we should go to sleep as soon as possible” continued Ward.

“But we don’t have anything to eat!”

 

“I have something here.”

 

Ward was sincere: he had some bread, cheese and tomatoes, together with salt, oil and vinegar, in the dresser.

Evidently he came here more than occasionally.

The two started washing, cutting, arranging and dressing the table in companionable silence, then sat down to eat together.

 

That was one of the better dinners of her life, in its simplicity and humility, and in the warm light coming from the candlesticks…

 

She didn’t know why, but that evening she was happy!

Never was for so long… and it was a good change, for once!

There was such a silence, and a peace… the atmosphere was so homey and Ward company was so pleasurable!

He seemed so different in this ambiance, so at ease, so free and careless… so happy…

It was a pleasure to look at him smiling and to spend time with him when he was in such a good mood!

All of a sudden it seemed that the outside world did not exist anymore and that the two of them were left alone on Earth, a man and a woman, in a kind of timeless bubble…

She would have wanted that evening to never end!

 

But it was time to go to sleep, and Skye, after washing briefly herself near the lake, looked pitifully at Ward that was trying to settle down for the night on the sofa.

It was not so large, after all… not enough for him, at least: his huge shoulders protruded from it, his legs came out from the bottom of it… and he didn’t appear to be comfortable at all. If he stayed there all night, surely he would not be able to get a well-deserved sleep, and this wasn’t fair, after all he did for her.

She could not allow this!

 

“Ward, please, come in bed with me.

You cannot sleep there!

You are too long and too large!”

 

“But…”

 

“No buts! That’s an order.”

And she smiled at him to sweeten her speech.

He of course couldn’t resist not obeying an order… and, frankly, the idea of spending a whole night in peace in the same bed with her… well… the sole thought made his heartbeat spike!

But he wouldn’t force anything: he knew she had an internal war to fight about her feelings.

 

They picked up two candlesticks, extinguishing the other candles scattered around the room, and went up the stairs.

 

The bed was long, large and soft, so where the cushions, and the light coming from the candlesticks was gentle and natural, coloring everything in yellow and red.

 

Skye went under the blankets and settled herself for the night, in only her underwear and a t-shirt.

Ward joined her immediately after, dressed more or less the same.

He took the right side, near the door, she the left side, away from the door.

She remained strictly on her half of the bed and he did the same, not wanting to upset her, aware that they were both surfing in dangerous waters.

 

In front of the bed there was a big door-window, now closed, with sight on the lake.

 

Skye had to admit that: Ward for sure knew how to surround himself with beauties!

 

They blew off the candles and were caught by sleep immediately after, since the day had been really exhausting, even if their hearts continued hammering in their chests for a while…

 

 

 

 

Chapter Text

 

The following morning was terse and clean, full of sun, fresh air and birds’ songs.

 

Skye felt like she was reborn!

 

She never slept so peacefully, so well like that night: her whole body and soul felt like regenerated as new.

She didn’t know if that was because the bed was so soft and cozy, the wooden house so intimate and hospitable, the surroundings so wild and natural and quiet, or because Ward was here with her.

That man, now, had again the effect to make her feel safe, like the old good times on the Bus.

 

It hadn’t been always so: when he kidnapped her, twice, or when he was pointing a gun at her at Cybertech with those menacing words… she had been scared, undoubtedly. And she had been afraid of him also when she had to go down in Vault D, and she kept the mask on all the time to defend herself…

 

But now so many things had changed!

It was like the darkness in him disappeared and he had become a new man… the man he would have probably been if he had not been ruined by childhood abuse and fifteen years of conditioning and brainwashing.

But, at the same time, if he hadn’t gone through all those adversities, he wouldn’t become the extraordinarily strong man he was now! It was like he had been tempered by the pain, and at the same time purified by it, and the feeling he transmitted her now was of the peace and safeness that comes from power and control.

Furthermore, she never thought that she would come back to feel for him… admiration!

God did a real miracle with him!

 

That morning she found herself nestled against him, with her head on his heart, her left arm all across his belly and his left arm around her shoulders keeping her warm, their legs entangled. His heartbeat was in her ears and it was so soothing, across the fine tissue of his t-shirt, so calm, regular, and slow… Her own heart had synchronized with his: probably that was the reason she felt so relaxed.

He kept her warm all night, too, and that was a plus.

 

When she slowly, cautiously, raised her head and watched down, their noses only one inch apart, she found him still asleep.

She almost couldn’t believe her eyes: Grant Ward was here near her… breathing quietly, so attractive, so beautiful, with his magnificently designed lips almost smiling, looking peaceful and incredibly young… And she became also aware of what his astounding beauty barely illuminated by the sun’s rays peeping from the door window, his toned body underneath hers, and his warmth were doing to her…

 

Without thinking, but letting only her instinct guide her, she approached him slowly and kissed lightly his lips with a feather light delicateness…

 

Oh, that was amazing!

 

She lost herself in that sensation…

 

But when she moved away, she found two half opened honey-brown eyes adoringly looking up at her, and a smile.

 

“I’d wake up every morning like this!” he said softly, still in the thickness of sleep.

 

At those words, she was snapped out of her sleepy dizziness and suddenly knew where she was, in what compromising position, and of how little amount of tissue and space there was between them!

 

That wasn’t a dream!!!

 

She felt blushing, her heartbeat spiking immediately.

 

She had to flee!

 

“I need to go to the bathroom!

I mean…

I need to go in the woods!

I need to pee!”

 

And, while running barefoot downstairs, two footholds at a time, she heard him laughing…

She never heard him laughing as frequently as now, never, even on the Bus!

And he was laughing with that damn wonderful deep voice of him that messed up with her stomach!

 

Butterflies!!!

She actually felt butterflies in it!

 

What the hell was happening to her???

She never felt so damn agitated, excited, and scared all at once!

 

Thank goodness, the surroundings were an oasis of peace, with the first leaves falling from the trees forming a wonderful multicolored carpet, and all that silence disturbed only by the quiet lapping of the lake’s waters and the birds’ songs… so she could let herself be permeated by that peace and calm down.

 

That place was really beautiful, like it came out straight from a storybook…

She wouldn’t be surprised to see Little Red Riding Hood walking on the trail with her basket for Grandma …

 

But her peace wouldn’t last for long…

 

When she returned inside, she found him already dressed in black trousers and a henley, which stretched deliciously on his pectorals, and biceps, and abs, and slim hips, and muscular back… in short on all those goodies of him, while the buttons where all undone, so letting her see the tanned skin of his neck, and a glimpse of his pulsing point…

She wondered how it would feel like to kiss it, how his pulsing vein would feel under her lips… or her tongue… what the flavor of his skin could be, if the sole smell of it made her go in raptures!

And she felt blushing.

Again!

 

Oh, she had to chase away those thoughts from her head!

 

He, in the meantime, was rummaging around to prepare some breakfast, apparently unaware of the storm that was inside of her:

“We will have to be content with a bit of toasted bread, some tea and the remaining cheese since last night.

This morning I’m going to the store down in town and I’ll do a little stock up on groceries and other basic supplies.”

 

“Can I come with you?” she asked hopingly.

 

“I’m afraid not.

They know your face and we don’t know where a camera could be…

Moreover, if there are infected people, the cameras would be the least of our problems.

Plus, they must not associate you with me, otherwise I could put you in danger and vice versa.”

 

He huffed, his face concerned, stopping dead and looking down:

“I don’t even know what Coulson reported to Mace about what happened between Hive and me, but there’s the elevated risk he spilled everything, because he has faith in Shield as an institution.

Unfortunately, the new Director of Shield knows perfectly well who I am, from my birth, to my life, to my problems, to my skills.

If, thanks to Coulson, he also came to know what powers I possess now, we would have lost a big vantage point!

He will quickly understand that I am under the Hellfire iron mask and that I saved you from capturing, twice.

Woe to us if he comes to know that you are my bigger weakness!

He could try to capture you to get to me!”

 

“How do you know Mace?” Skye asked, anxiously.

 

He sighed:

“Do you remember that, during our dream on the deserted island, I told you that, after May defeated me at Cybertech, they put me in the terrorists’ wing of one of the most dreadful prisons in the world, and that there they tortured me almost every day for three months straight?”

“Unfortunately yes…”

 

“Well… Mace commanded the team in charge of ‘questioning’ me.

It was him who decided to what procedures I should undergo: he was also present, some times, and he was grinning, sadistically, while I was tortured, giving suggestions on how to inflict me more pain!

They used also drugs to sharpen my senses, and to prevent me from fainting.

He was their drugs expert.

He kept updated on all my eventual ‘progresses’ and decided whether and how to change ‘methodics’…

Since then, he bore a grudge against me, for the fact that he could not, in all that time and with all that freedom of action, extort a word from me.

 

He is worse than my brother Christian, but, like him, he gets joy from one thing: hurting people.

 

He’s an incredibly cruel person and feels pleasure seeing others suffer…

Having him as a Director of Shield is a very bad sign, I assure you.

And thinking of him capturing you… well… I cannot even think about it.”

 

Skye was pale like a sheet, now, and with unsteady voice said:

“You convinced me.

You’re right.

I’ll stay put.”

 

 

Chapter Text

 

Ward was putting on a fake beard, a pair of aviator glasses and a baseball hat.

 

He commented:

“I’m also thinking of letting grow some beard, to disguise myself better… something like the one I had when you kept me in Vault D.”

 

At those words, the ghosts of the past returned full force and she felt sadness soaking her.

After a few moments of silence she said, with her eyes downcast and her voice low:

“I wanted to say I’m sorry”

“Sorry?

Sorry for what?”

 

“For what I said to you down there, when I discovered you tried suicide three times… that you should have tried harder.”

“Never mind about that. I have already forgotten.”

 

No!

I need to remember the coward I was! I said that because I knew May and Coulson were listening and I wanted them to trust me, to accept me even if I was so young and inexperienced!

I sold you out because I wanted a family, a bond! Because I didn’t want to feel alone anymore!

I was a horrible person, a coward, and I don’t want to become that again!

I am not a good person.”

 

At those words, spoken with rage out of the blue more to herself than to him, he rushed towards her and cupped her face in his hands, lovingly:

“Do you remember what you told me when I said more or less the same, when we were at the Providence base?

That I was a good man!

And you didn’t say that just because you didn’t know the truth, but because you were able to see into my soul.

There was still good left in me!

That is why God could redeem me!

And now I am a much better person!

 

And you are much better than me at my best, so don’t you dare losing hope again!

You will be whole and you will find your path in life, a path towards goodness and love!

Never doubt that!

Don’t you dare doubt about that!” he said ardently.

 

She watched him intently, with tears in her eyes, and nodded.

“If you say so…”

 

“I’m sure of that!

I know you very well and I can see deep inside of you, beyond the mask May so thoroughfully put on your face.

And, like I said in Providence, you are… good.”

 

Then, after a few moments in which they stared in each other’s eyes, he added softly, caressing her cheeks with his thumbs:

“Now, will you join me for breakfast?

It’s always better to face life with your stomach full” and smiled.

 

“Yes, of course.

I’m starving…” she answered nodding, with half a smile.

 

So they reached together the table and sat down in companionable silence, eating and drinking the meager breakfast.

But there is no better seasoning than hunger, so everything was delicious.

 

In particular the tea was good.

“Where did you learn to prepare such a good tea?” asked Skye.

“I learned from my grandmother.

It’s not difficult: I will teach you, if you want.”

 

“Yes, thank you. It is always consoling to have a good cup of tea as a companion.

It is better than alcohol, at least.”

“Of course.

I’ll teach you when I’ll return. Now I have to go.

Do you need something in particular, from the store?” he asked, matter-of-factly.

Skye seemed… embarrassed.

 

“Don’t worry about the money. That’s not a problem.” he reassured her.

“Do you need a laptop, for example?”

 

At that words her eyes lightened up, but she said, blushing:

“No, nothing so expensive… I only need some… sanitary towel…”

 

“Oh… ok… some preference?” Ward became slightly rose on his cheeks.

“Take some for light and some for heavy flow… with wings.”

“Ok. I will be back in a couple of hours.”

 

“Bye. Take care!”

 

“You too!”

 

And, with a tender smile and a caress on her cheek with two fingers, he left, took the SUV and descended down the hill between the trees.

 

Once alone, Skye had finally a little time by herself to think.

Her head was a mess, so she needed to clarify a little her ideas in solitude.

 

First: she was in danger, like mortal danger. Someone was trying at all costs to capture her for unclear but dreadful reasons.

 

Second: Ward saved her life three times in a row, in only two days, not to mention what he did some months ago. Without him she could have been imprisoned, by now, and tortured, and even dead!

 

Third: Ward was in love with her.

Deeply.

Out of his mind.

It was clear like the sun.

Nobody, nobody ever looked at her like him! Not Miles… not Lincoln… no other man she had in her life.

When he looked at her in that way, it was like everything around progressively got wrapped in fog, and she could see and feel only him, and the waves of his ardor, and the sweetness, and love pouring from his eyes and embracing her like a warm blanket.

He never hid his feelings, after what happened in the closet at the Hub, and his love didn’t subside an inch in those years, even after all the pain the two of them inflicted on each other. It, instead, had become stronger, more mature, and more aware.

And she liked it, very much.

She felt somehow flattered that somebody incredible like him was in love with her.

 

Fourth: above all, Ward had completely changed his path.

He turned upside down his life.

He had finally abandoned the evil to bring out the good overwhelmingly present in him.

 

Fifth: she was afraid to be in love with Ward, too.

Again.

She was, three years ago.

Bad.

And it ended bad!

If she hadn’t fallen so badly for him, it wouldn’t have hurt so much and for so long!

Sister Bertha’s words rang out in her mind:

‘If it’s love, it doesn’t end.’

Yeah… maybe she never stopped loving him and tried to convince herself she hated him, to pacify her conscience. She couldn’t love a criminal! She was an Agent of Shield and couldn’t love Shield’s and Coulson’s enemy number one, a traitor and an assassin!

She got, now, that she didn’t fall in love with an imaginary person or an invented personage, because he could have been a good actor, but nobody could hide his true self so thoroughfully for so long, especially to her.

She managed to dig down in him and reach the real Grant Ward, both the good and the evil, and fell for him.

Then all hell crashed down on them and she had to bury deep inside her feelings in front of Coulson, May, Fitz, Simmons and the others, for two whole years, desperate to be accepted by them: she, the orphan, the rookie, the fifth wheel of the wagon…

 

But now she was free from Shield, finally!

She was free to feel!

She hadn’t to prove anything to anybody anymore now, excluding herself!

She finally was in contact with herself again, and those sensations, those emotions she felt any time he was near were now stronger than ever!

Sometimes, when he was close, she couldn’t breath, she couldn’t think clearly anymore, her legs jellified and her head floated in the clouds…

Oh, it was so destabilizing!

 

She was also savagely attracted to him on a physical level.

 

She honestly didn’t ever see another man so damn hot before. Even in the movies!

And his catlike movements, his smell, his strength, his kisses… his hands on her… his dark menacing aura… everything conveyed sensuality.

Maybe it was true: she was attracted to danger

Sometimes he reminded her of a wonderful shiny black panther, or a black stallion running on the shore by the ocean, noble, elegant, powerful and wild…

But she had to admit he was really a gentleman: he didn’t dare touch her in any place more than decent… unless she didn’t start first.

 

Sixth: she was scared that she could pull him down again in a downward spiral.

She was in danger and she knew he would go mad if anything happened to her.

 

So, all this considered, what should she do?

 

She owed him her life, but she didn’t have anything to give him in return.

Or, maybe, she had… but Ward was very difficult to please.

 

She said that herself to Coulson: Ward had a strong capability to feel.

He was a man driven by heart.

And that scared and attracted her at the same time.

 

He wouldn’t accept a mere offer of sex.

He wanted much more.

He wanted her, whole, forever: body, mind, heart and soul, and was ready to give the same to her, completely.

 

Was she ready for such a totalizing involvement?

 

Then a thought hit her: ‘I created her for you and you for her’.

Was it possible that HE could fulfill her hunger for a bond? That HE was made for that purpose, even?

 

She knew that: deciding for him was a point of no return.

He wanted love.

Everybody always denied him love, all his life, and he wanted it now, more than anything else.

He would not settle for anything less.

 

She one time read a phrase that stroked her:

“We want to be loved.

Failing that, admired.

Failing that, feared.

Failing that, hated and despised.

We want to inspire in others some sort of emotion.

The soul trembles in front of emptiness and needs a contact, a connection at all costs.”

 

It seemed Grant Ward’s life description.

 

The problem was: would she be able to give him all the immense amount of love he was seeking?

 

She knew that soon a reckoning between them about their feelings would take place… and she steeled herself for the imminent battle.

Chapter Text

 

 

Her thoughts were interrupted by the noise of the SUV returning back.

She released a breath she wasn’t aware she was holding and felt immediately relieved to have again him in reach.

She couldn’t hold back a smile…

 

Seriously: two hours had already passed?

 

She checked the clock on the wall.

Yes, Ward went away at about 8 a.m. and now it was 10.40 a.m.: she really had been lost in her thoughts…

 

She watched him descending from the SUV and unloading a big can of diesel oil, bringing it towards the generator in the back of the cabin. After a little while she heard the fridge turning on.

Then she exited from the cabin to help him unloading the SUV.

 

There were a lot of bags and boxes to bring inside and they started coming and going for at least ten minutes.

At the end everything was on the table and Skye started unpacking and snooping around.

There were fresh vegetables, onion, garlic, meat, milk, bread, eggs, bacon, flour, pasta, tomato puree, oil, vinegar, salt, sugar, coffee, tea, yogurt, two toothbrushes, toothpaste, deodorant, soap, shampoo, conditioner, a comb, sanitary towels, dishwashing liquid, sponges… in short all the necessary for the kitchen and for personal hygiene.

“Wonderful! For a while we will not die of hunger! Or squalor!

… or for eating too much chunk food…

You have very healthy habits, Robot…”

“We need to take care of our bodies and feed them with salutary nourishment…”

 

“Yes. But I like chunk food… I lived on that for half a year and I am still alive!” she said with a sigh.

“But you got weak, unhealthy, pale and thin.”

 

“Oh, thanks for the compliments!” Skye retorted looking at him with thin menacing eyes.

“Don’t worry: you are still astounding!” he smiled at her to soothe her.

“And we will fix everything.

We will soon start with training and hand to hand combat: you must be at your best, if anyone dangerous gets near you.

Your powers aren’t enough, as you could see.”

 

At those words she stiffened.

She now considered herself an expert agent; she had been trained by the great Cavalry!

So, the fact that Ward was thinking she still needed training bothered her.

Now she was accustomed to coach others, as with Lincoln…

This thing about the training was really rubbing at her…

 

“I’m back to rookie, then… sir?

Or would you prefer to be called ‘Mister Supervisor Officer’?

Or… is S.O. enough?”

 

Ward looked at her a little worried about that unexpected reaction:

“Grant, or Ward, will be perfect.

And yes, I don’t disdain the idea of you being my rookie again.

I really missed that!” he said with a mischievous grin, trying to ease the tension between them.

He was not realizing that the constantly present unresolved sexual tension between them could play tricks, like in the present case.

 

She didn’t take the bait.

Instead she continued, stone-faced:

“Why?

Did you like the power you had on me?

Forcing me to do all that physical training?”

Her voice was rising.

 

“I did that for your own good, to make you able to defend yourself.

And it worked, didn’t it?” he implicitly recalled that time with Ian Quinn pointing a gun at her.

 

May trained me harder” she snapped.

 

At hearing that name Ward too increased suddenly the volume of his voice, looking her straight in the eyes:

“Yes, and she transformed you in a mini May, equally detached, equally cold, equally cruel…

I, instead, at least didn’t mess with your personality!” he exclaimed, pointing his own finger on his chest.

 

Oh, at that she became really furious and started shouting!

 

“No, but you betrayed me!

I loved you, and you betrayed me!!!”

 

At that revelation both of them froze, but then she continued like an avalanche, terribly upset for spilling that secret - until then - piece of information, but determined to open the last two years book of pain, worries, and anger in front of him:

“Your betrayal inflicted to me so much pain that I would have done anything to be able to punish you, to make you feel the same pain you inflicted to me, to all of us!

Why do you think I trained so hard?

Why do you think I committed myself so thoroughfully?

Why do you think every time I was at the shooting range I imagined the targets where you?

Why do you think I shot you in the back four times?

I’ll explain you why: to make you aware of what it feels like when a person you love betrays you, when a person you love stabs you in the back! And it was one bullet from me, one from Fitz, one from Simmons and one from Coulson! May already got her revenge.”

Ward was looking at her astonished.

 

“And I was also disgusted of you, because you murdered your entire family!

I know they inflicted a lot of pain on you. I know I cannot have any idea of what you went through that could have pushed you in doing something so horrible.

Maybe one day you’ll explain me…

But the fact remains: I always desired a family.

You had one and you destroyed it!”

Skye was really furious, while Ward couldn’t stutter a word.

 

But then she calmed down a little…

She continued talking, looking him in the eyes, almost crying now, her breath labored, and her eyes glassy:

“I regretted having shot you, almost instantly… and I was worried dead, for months, thinking of what could have happened to you!

I imagined you with my bullets in you, surrounded and maybe killed by the debris from the earthquake that followed…

I continued repeating to myself that you deserved that… that you deserved to die… but deep down I was worried out of my mind!

I didn’t know what damage I caused to you, nor if you were still alive or not!

And I had to hide all that from everyone… from Doctor Garner… even from myself…

And my powers too!

Then they all saw me like a monster, like my father, of whom I was ashamed… and I thought that I deserved all that!

I felt like a monster and I was alone facing the entire world and what I considered my family crumbling around me!”

She had started crying desperately, covering her face with her hands and falling on her knees, her words interrupted by sobs and muffled by her hands, her shoulders shaking…

 

He kneeled beside her, almost straddling her, and hugged her, caressing her hair, her back, kissing feverishly her head and forehead, shushing her and telling her sweet nothings in her ears, still flabbergasted by the news that she actually loved him, once:

“Good, good, sweetheart!

Let it go!

Let all the pain out!

Leave all that baggage!”

 

Then he started lulling her, hugging her even stronger:

“Cry, cry, baby, as much as you want!

Tell me everything!

Tell me whatever you want!

I’m here for you, honey! Only for you!”

 

And slowly she hugged him back, and started calming down, her sobs becoming less frequent, her breathing regularizing…

 

“When I saw you, in my father’s building, fighting together with Coulson… alive and tall and strong as always…

Oh… it was shocking!

For a moment it was like rewinding, going back in a year’s time, when we were still a team, a family, trusting each other… like when you rescued me from Quinn’s bodyguards!

You have no idea how relieved I felt!”

 

“Yeah… I remember clearly that instant…

You were there, finally reachable, so incredibly beautiful, looking at me with nothing more than surprise, all your defenses down…

I desired you so much, in that moment…

I desired the world could stop spinning… that everything could disappear, except you and me…

I really desired to stay there with you, and imagine that the world outside didn’t exist…”

 

“Yeah… if only Gordon didn’t take me away so abruptly!”

She paused an instant, then asked:

“You where there for me, weren’t you?

Even if I tried to kill you?”

 

“Of course I was there for you!

When he involved me in the mission, Coulson didn’t tell me any detail, but then, when I discovered the mission was about you… well… I couldn’t resist and followed him to rescue you myself.”

And he silently though:

- If love is real, it doesn’t end…-

 

“And it could only mean you had forgiven me!

Oh, what a boulder lifted from my stomach in that instant!”

 

He, smiling, and still hugging and caressing her:

“I forgave you for those bullets an instant later you ran away!

I understood why you did it…”

 

“And I understood why you chose Garrett instead of me.

You were bound by an unrepayable debt.”

 

“Yeah… I couldn’t do anything different…

But now I am free, for the first time in my life, and this is unbelievable!”

 

“I guess I can understand what you mean.”

 

They remained silent for some other instants, still hugged, but, before the silence could become awkward, Grant continued:

“In fact, I always wanted to ask you this: why you aimed on my Kevlar vest, and didn’t shoot me in the head, instead.

You would have been able to aim precisely, for sure, especially in that close distance.

I wouldn’t have survived, if you really wanted to kill me.

I think I got my answer, finally: you hated me in that moment, for sure, but not enough to kill me.”

 

“It is more than that.

I wanted to shoot you in the face, but I couldn’t, not in the face of the man I once loved. Exactly like some months ago, in your house, when I wanted to shoot you in the head, but I couldn’t pull the trigger.

So I aimed for your heart, the same heart that belonged to me from the moment I myself made Mike restart it.

I made it restart, once, so I had the right to make it stop… or at least that was what I was telling myself, to convince me to shoot you. You know how I behave: first I act impulsively, then I freak out after the fact…

 

But that time it wasn’t a joke.

And, deep inside, I didn’t want you to die: I couldn’t bear the thought of your eyes devoid of life, of your body motionless, of your heart not beating anymore.

I knew you had that vest, so I tried to aim at that.

But I wasn’t sure not to have damaged you irreparably, and I was scared I had actually hit your heart.”

And with those words she put first her hand then her ear on his chest, to hear again that soothing sound, to be sure his heart was actually still beating.

Oh, she adored that rhythmic sound!

“It would have been a pity to stop this great heart of yours…”

 

He wanted to address some of the accusations she moved to him before:

“About my parents and Christian… there’s a lot you should know, before you can even try to judge me.

I can only tell you that, if I could go back in time, I wouldn’t kill them anymore.

I regretted that action from the moment I saw my father in Hell: I always ask myself if he could have been redeemed, if only I let him live a little more… and this thought is sometimes unbearable!

But then I think that God’s justice is perfect, that He can see in the depths of human soul and, if there were only an ounce of goodness left in him, God would have used it to save him.

But nothing good was left in him…

 

About your father, I’m sure you knew my intentions were sincere: all I wanted was to keep my promise, to bring you to him, the one person you desired to meet all your life!

I did all of that for you.

It wasn’t my fault if you didn’t like him, if you thought he was a monster.”

“You know? When I had the possibility to know him better… well… he wasn’t so bad…”

“You needed to face the reality, to get rid of your naïveté, of your childish idealism.

We are complex, multifaceted creatures, and it isn’t wise or fair to label a person as ‘good guy’ or ‘bad guy’ as a whole.

Everyone carries a huge baggage of experiences, of history, and not everyone is lucky as others are.

Your father went through something horrible that messed with his brain and made him bloodthirsty and vindictive.

But he loved you so much to never stopping searching for you, for 26 years!

 

Not everybody is so lucky to have such a loving father.”

 

Skye looked at him, with sorrow in her eyes:

“I know that, now.”

 

 

Chapter Text

 

Ward continued:

“I went through a terrible life from the very beginning.

My parents started ruining me from my earlier days.

You have no idea what I went through!

It’s not to excuse myself… but I sincerely think anybody that had such an infancy would have ended like me... or worse… or dead, even…

 

At the end, the Bus team had been the only real family I ever had.

I tried to explain that, when I wanted to ‘address the elephant on the plane’, but you kept saying I was a psychopath…

You know, you really hurt me that time, when you said that you were glad you shot me…

I was hoping to finally make things right, to atone for my sins helping you taking down Hydra…

I really wanted to make amends and return to the old good times! There had been plenty of them, and none of them was a lie, on my behalf!”

 

Skye didn’t dare to look him in the eyes, so he continued:

“A psychopath hasn’t feelings.

I, instead, had them then and I have them now!

In that moment I felt like a man that tries desperately to hold on the edge of a precipice asking for help and instead of giving me a hand you stepped on my fingers to make me loose the grip and fall down.

In that exact moment I thought:

‘Ok, Shield people! If this is how you save a man from himself, I don’t want to have anything to do with you anymore.’

And in parallel it emerged forcefully another act of great cowardice perpetrated by another member of Shield: Bobbi.

Till that moment I had not yet decided what to do with her, but in that circumstance I decided that I would have made her pay.

But this is another story…”

 

Skye didn't know where to look, but finally said, with a low voice:

"I know...

I'm sorry..."

 

Ward remained silent for a while, aware of her embarrassment.

 

When the silence became too heavy for the both of them he said:

“Skye?”

“Yes?” she answered.

 

“Considering that now we are talking wearing our hearts on our sleeves…” he hesitated.

“Yes?” she encouraged.

 

“Well…

I want finally to ask your forgiveness for all the pain I inflicted to you, for the betrayal, and the kidnappings, and the killings, and all those lies…”

 

Skye sighed:

“You never really lied to me.

You only kept hidden things about you I was not ready to see, yet.

And yes… I forgive you, now, for everything.

To tell the truth, I have already forgiven you… months ago… when I started understanding… and especially when I saw that you had really changed…”

 

He sighed, then said:

“Thank you.

You don’t know how much this means to me!” Ward was smiling, now.

 

The two of them where still embraced, and Ward found the courage to ask - again - another question that was closest to his heart:

“Are you sure you don't hate me anymore?

I know... you just said you have forgiven me… you already said, on our dream island and when we were on the car heading here, that you don't hate me anymore...

But... you said to me exactly the contrary so many times... that I still need reassuring...”

 

Skye sighed:

“Obviously my feelings towards you matter a lot to you.”

 

He answered, wholeheartedly:

“They do.”

He cupped her face in his hands to make her look directly in his eyes, and she couldn't do anything else than answer: 

“I guarantee you this, so be sure of what I'm saying: I don’t hate you anymore.”

She seemed relieved, in a way, and sighed:

“Here it is: are you happy, now?”

 

He too was relieved and said, smiling happily:

“Thank you... so much!

The both of us needed to hear that aloud, again.

I needed that, to be certain not to delude myself.

You needed that, to get rid a little of the confusion you have in your heart.”

 

She added, after a while, completely calm:

“We did a wonderful work in hurting each other, didn’t we?”

“Yeah…

But now it’s all over!

Now we are together and safe!”

 

She detached slightly and added, mocking harshness, pointing her finger on his firm chest:

“But you still have the power to make me furious!”

 

He stood and gave her, smiling, his hand, which she took to stand up:

“No problem.

About that, you will have plenty of time to let that ‘furiosa vibe’ burst out when we will start sparring, tomorrow.

I will even let you hit me, sometimes…” and he grinned.

 

“Are we starting training so soon?” she said worriedly.

“The world could crash on us any moment: we must be prepared.”

 

“About that: how was the atmosphere in town?”

 

Ward became suddenly concerned:

“Not good.

My impression was that everyone there was infected…

I knew someone, before, and they were… different…

I tried to read their minds, and they where almost empty, except for one thought: stay alert and report to the master.”

 

“This is really, really bad…

Who do you think the master could be?”

 

“I don’t know, but I have strong suspects on Glenn Talbot.

Hive was thinking of an emergency plan in case something bad happened: the two had a face to face and Hive did something to him, but I don’t remember with clarity what It did…”

 

“You were there!

How could you not remember something like that?”

 

Ward watched her with sadness and answered:

“When Hive was inside of me It took control of everything.

And I already explained to you that I was constantly in pain… like torture level of pain… for months…

I couldn’t sleep, I couldn’t rest, I couldn’t scream… and focusing was extremely difficult.”

 

Skye looked down:

“Sorry, I hadn’t connected the two facts.”

 

Priority one is now to find a cure to the infection and distribute it. If somewhere there is a general and we do not know where he is, at least we can try to decimate his army!

When I talked to Coulson he said that Radcliffe, Fitz and Simmons were struggling to find something, but they were reaching only dead ends…

On the other hand, both Coulson and I suspect that the authorities are trying to hinder the process, because they are all controlled. Probably soon all the funds for finding a cure will be drained, and they will remain completely dry.”

 

“We have to help them, in some way!”

 

“About that…” and Ward sprinted outside, returning with two boxes and a wide smile:

“Here you are!”

 

“What…”

 

But her eyes were already sparkling:

“A MacBook and a satellite phone for connection???

I cannot believe you did this!!!”

And she hugged Ward laughing and gamboling, while he was trying not to drop everything on the ground.

 

“Thank you! Thank you! Thank you!” she was saying, still jumping in his embrace.

 

“I knew this would cheer you up!” and he couldn’t do anything else but hug her even stronger, smiling.

 

The hug was starting to last a little more than strictly necessary, so Skye detached herself and grabbed the boxes, starting feverishly to unpack them and continuing talking animatedly:

“But how could you buy something so expensive?”

“It’s not so expensive, after all…

And money is not a problem.”

 

She stopped, looking at him, pensive:

“Oh, yeah… I was forgetting that you own a Ferrari and a dream villa…”

“Not only those…”

 

She whistled and then looked him in the eyes, wondering about this for the first time:

“Waaaard?

How can you be soooo rich?”

 

He averted his stare and answered, looking out of the window:

“It’s classified.

For now it is safer to keep information compartmentalized.”

 

She looked suspiciously at him but agreed:

“Ok.

As you wish.”

 

In a matter of minutes she was already configuring the operative system and downloading all the software necessary from her secret servers, the ones she prepared as a backup over the years, in case there would be the need to restore everything from scratch, like in the present case.

 

“Do you think you can get in touch with Coulson, Fitz, Simmons or Radcliffe?” asked Ward, sitting beside her.

 

“First I need to find them.

Shield had surely developed a lot in the last months, preparing to exit from the shadows and all. So the bases had probably multiplied and finding them could be like finding a needle in a haystack, unless I can access to some employee database…

But let’s start from where we were: the Playground.”

 

And after a while she could access to the Playground cameras’ feeds.

She started feeling sad, at seeing all the places she lived in for months, the people she was used to greet every morning…

At least, they seemed normal - no sign of infection - judging from their behavior.

There were a lot of soldiers in the armory, in the shooting range, and in the gym.

There were laborers and mechanics in the corridors, in the hangar, and everywhere there was something to fix or adjust.

There were scientists in the labs…

 

She found Mack with Helena, sparring and talking in Spanish. The two seemed really close…

 

With a pang, she found also Joey, with Lincoln…

 

 

Chapter Text

 

Lincoln seemed really depressed and Joey was trying to cheer him up… without much success…

Then they started sparring and Lincoln seemed very angry and hit poor Joey multiple times before letting him go.

Then he went to the bar and served himself a generous amount of vodka.

 

Seeing that, Skye muttered:

“Oh, no, Lincoln!

Don’t go back to your old bad habits!

In the past they only harmed you!”

 

Ward worried immediately and took a look at the guy, observing:

“You are concerned about him.

And then, almost anxiously:

“Are you still in love with him?”

 

She, thoughtfully, answered:

“No.

I’m not even sure I ever had been!

For sure I’m not now… and I’m certain of what I say.”

And she looked at Ward… secretly thinking:

- Otherwise I could not be so attracted to you… -

 

She continued, animatedly:

“But this doesn’t mean I don’t care about him!

He told me that he was an alcoholic and once he almost killed his girlfriend in a car accident!

Then my mother saved him, bringing him in Afterlife, a secret place built to keep safe all the Inhumans.

They gave him peace, managing to fill a little that emptiness every Inhuman has inside…

We probably were constructed in this way to make us obey willingly to Hive, once It would arrive…”

Ward was processing the information about her mother, but didn’t dare to ask further. He knew there was something dreadful about her. So he answered vaguely:

“Maybe.”

 

She looked curiously at him:

“You too are an Inhuman.

Did you ever feel that emptiness, too?”

 

“I felt emptiness all my life, except when I was with Garrett or with you, but I don’t think it was due to me being an Inhuman, but to objective situations.

Then I felt what God is and that He created us for Him: there I understood that we would always feel lacking until we will be with Him. There is no comparison to whatever strong feeling you can experience on Earth to what you can experience with Him. So I am resigned to feel emptiness until the end of my life on Earth…

The only palliative to that soul consuming longing is prayer… and loving each other.”

And he looked at her in that way only he could muster, and Skye felt again those damn butterflies in her stomach!

 

But in that moment she wanted to be completely honest with him, so she confessed, with low eyes and low voice:

“I had sex with Lincoln.”

 

Ward’s jaw contracted and he remained silent for a while, then answered:

“I already knew that.”

 

She continued, anxiously, as to excuse herself:

“I believed you were dead… and I wanted to go on with my life…”

 

He answered with a dark voice:

“You don’t have to justify yourself to me.

I deserve everything.

I did so much bad things in my life I believed everything was lost, so ‘the worse the better’ was my philosophy.

I had become a pure destructive force and I did not care anymore about anything or anyone. I just wanted to destroy Shield to avenge Kara’s death and, to do that, I had to kill Coulson: killing him had become the leitmotif of my life. Then I met Malick and he told me about Hive and that, if we managed to bring It back, we would be able to do whatever the hell we wanted.

Only then I started to hope again…”

 

“What did you hope to obtain, from It?”

 

He hesitated, but then said, looking her in the eyes… he, too, wanting to be totally honest with her:

“You.

I desired you, and that the outside world, as I knew it, could cease to exist.

I desired a clean start for everybody, a clean start for me, for us.

I knew that I went too far, that nothing was anymore possible between us… because of me, because of my awful actions. But I wanted you back, I wanted back my rookie, my girl, whole, with all her problems, and pains, and fears, and solitude… and beauty, and grace, and love, and innocence, and goodness, and purity, and… childlike wonderment! And my greatest regret was that I contributed in ruining you, more than anyone else, more than Coulson, more than May...

I hoped that, with the help of that creature… maybe I could make everything right again.

I didn’t accept Malick’s proposal for seizing power, or control. Those are all things I’m not interested in.

But I wanted you, Skye: you are the only one I ever wanted!”

 

Then he averted his eyes and shacked his head:

“But I was wrong… oh, so wrong!”

 

She looked at him, trying to reassure him:

“Now we are here… together…”

 

And he snapped at her:

“Yes, but at what price???

The world has been contaminated by a disease that nobody knows how to cure! Perhaps a monster is among us, just waiting for the right moment to destroy mankind!

Do you realize the destructive potential humanity has achieved? We have weapons that could destroy not only once but a hundred, a thousand times all life on Earth! And the goal of Satan is just that!!!

And I had been the mean for that monster to arrive here and infect everybody!!!”

Ward had his hands in his hair, his face contorted with anguish.

 

“Hey! Hey! Ward!

Don’t loose it!

We will fix everything!

First: we are not even sure that that monster is still in the game!

And, second: even if It is, don’t forget what God said about you!

Hydra’s golden boy, that’s you, will carry the Hydra in himself; but he will be also the One that finally will destroy Hydra once and for all, both the organization and the centuries-old monster! You will be given the strength to get rid of It once and for all, resisting and fighting and defeating the greater danger Earth had ever encountered!”

 

Ward shook his head again:

“Oh, Skye! Can’t you understand? I am not strong enough!”

 

But Skye didn’t retreat:

“That’s why God said that He will always be with you!

Of course you cannot beat such an Evil without His help, but He said not to worry, because He’s greater and much more powerful than our sins, than Hive, than Satan! And He sees farer!

So do not be afraid of not being up to the task!”

 

Ward remained silent at her words.

She continued:

“He also said to be as much caring and loving and attached as you can, because these exact things will be your greatest strengths.

He said that you have been in the darkness and He’ll make you bring light!

He said that you have been enslaved and He’ll make you bring freedom!

So steel yourself and be strong, stronger than ever, because you are our biggest hope!”

 

Ward seemed soothed by those words, and said:

“Thank you.

I only hope not to disappoint you… like I did when I did all those horrible things…”

 

“You’ll not.

Besides, you are not the only one who did bad things.

I killed I don’t know how many people!

I betrayed every one of them at Shield, twice: first for my mother, then for Hive.

I even used Lincoln’s little self-control to unload on him all the suspects!”

 

Ward interrupted her:

“But your mother was you mother! You searched her all your life!”

“And Garrett was more than a father, for you!”

 

At that Ward fell silent. Then, more quietly he said, trying to excuse her:

“With Hive, however, you weren’t in your right mind.”

 

She rebutted:

“That’s not true.

In a way Hive made me see things from a different perspective, and I got how much I was under Coulson and May’s thumb. My longing for a family, for a bond made me betray myself.

I became a soldier, a killer.

I still have nightmares about the first person I killed: Donnie Gill. I see his face in my dreams, after I shot him with a sniper rifle, and he stares at me with an incredulous look in his eyes and asks me:

‘What did I do wrong to you, for you killing me?’

And I never know what to say…”

 

“Yes, I remember that you came to me, in Vault D, to ask if I had ever been brainwashed, like Donnie.

You were different, but I couldn’t grasp why.

Now I understand.”

 

“And you said you had never been brainwashed… unaware that there are other forms of brainwashing that don’t need a machine to be perpetrated.”

“Yeah…”

“Garret did to you what Coulson and May did to me.

The main difference is that for you it started much earlier, and was much, much worse and prolonged in time.

And another important difference is that I had always been forgiven, even if I never asked.

 

You were not.

Never.

 

And do you know what’s the bigger irony in all this? I said to Lincoln the same words you told me when I was shackled to the staircase railing in the Bus, two years ago: that maybe one day he would understand!”

 

“Can you understand me, now?”

 

“Yes, and every moment I understand something more about you.

I started when I met my parents: they were decent people, but then they had to suffer so big injustices and pain that my father became a monster and my mother ended being devoured by hate. And they were adults when all hell fell on them.

You weren’t.

 

I was fascinated by my mother and her ideas, and betrayed Shield for her. I chose her above anything else, like you chose Garrett above anything else… But at the end, when she was trying to kill me, and I tried to kill her to defend myself, my father took on his shoulders the responsibility of such an act and killed my mother on my behalf.

 

He had to kill the woman he loved to save the daughter he loved more

 

Every time I think about what he did… I feel squirming inside, at the thought of what he must have suffered!”

She had to stop talking, because her voice refused to come out of her throat.

Ward caressed her to comfort her.

 

But then, with a huge effort, she managed to continue speaking:

“I didn’t understand you killing your parents until I myself was ready to kill my mother to survive.

There I understood another piece of you.”

 

He, still caressing her, answered, with sorrow in his voice:

“I’m sorry.

I didn’t know you had to suffer such a terrible experience.”

 

“Coulson was with me all the time.

He helped me in all the process.

I owe him a lot.

But nonetheless I don’t want to see him again!”

 

“Don’t say that.

He loves you, a lot!

May, too.

Never reject someone who sincerely loves you: it’s a rare gift!

But you are right: they transformed you in something that was eating you alive: they transformed you in an agent, in a soldier, and soldiers’ duty is, among others, to kill.

And the more you do it, the easier it becomes…”

 

“I don’t like killing.

I don’t want to kill!”

 

“Neither do I.

I don’t want to kill anymore, too.”

 

The two remained silent, after what seemed to be a mutual promise.

 

 

 

Chapter Text

Skye continued:

“I have a question for you: when we were at Cybertech and you pointed that gun at me and said that for the first time in a while you wanted something for yourself… and you maybe would just take what you wanted, waking up something inside of me…

What did you mean?

What were your intentions?

What would you do to me, if May didn’t save me, or if Coulson didn’t manage to kill Garrett?

You would obviously have kidnapped me.

You probably would have brought me with you along with Garrett.

But then?

Would you have beaten me into obedience?

Raped me?

Would you have defended me against Garrett?

I had been scared of you for a lot of time, after those words…”

A shadow crossed her eyes…

 

“Of course you were…

What an idiot I was!

But I can swear this to you: I wouldn’t have ever done anything to hurt you!

And much less I would have raped you!

I never did such a thing and I will never do, even with a gun to my head!

 

At the time, I realized that Garrett had lost his mind, so I was shocked and at loss of guidance.

But I had some safe houses around… some safe places… beautiful places…

So I thought I could bring you there with me… to have some lone time to talk to you in peace… to explain my point of view…

But I was a fool! You wouldn’t even have listened to me.

How could you? I was the monster that tried to kill Fitz and Simmons, who betrayed each and every one of you, your only family!

Probably I would have left you free, after having understood that everything was irremediably compromised…”

 

“You’re right. I wouldn’t have even listened, that time.

I was too angry with you!

Do you remember that I told you that ‘Hoping for something and losing it hurts more than never hoping for anything’?

You made me hope and then you were gone.

I hated you so much because you managed to play me, to play with my feelings, to play every one of us!

I saw the pain in Coulson and the others and I accused you for everything.

But I didn’t realize you were only a pawn in a bigger play… and at that time it was convenient for everyone having a scapegoat.”

He solemnly declared:

“I never played with your feelings.

And I have always been sincere about mine, starting from that time in that closet in the Hub, when I proposed you to grab a drink... just before you kissed me...

But, after my betrayal you never believed me anymore… and I don’t blame you for that.

Once betrayed, trust is lost forever.

It is like a broken glass that you can tinker with glue, but it will never be as perfect as in the beginning.”

“Unless a miracle happens, as in your case.”

“Yes. I think you are right.

I’ve been blessed by a real miracle.

There aren’t other words to explain that.”

 

Ward paused, then continued:

“I tried to restrain myself as much as I could, knowing what would have happened in a short period of time.

Do you remember how I reacted that night in Dublin, when you offered to talk?”

She nodded.

“Well… I had to use all my strength to resist you…”

Skye scoffed:

“And, instead, I thought you didn’t care about me!”

Ward shacked his head, smiling sadly:

“Oh, I did, a lot!

Full disclosure: I desired with all my strength to make love to you, that night!

But I had to hide everything… from everyone… from you…

Rejecting you was one of the hardest decision I had to take!”

She sighed:

“It was hard for me, too.

Looking you going away that night, so broken, so alone, so… beaten… it was heartbreaking…

I wanted to console you so much, but you were so unreachable!

You had erected so high walls around you… highest than mine!”

 

Lincoln now appeared drunk: he stood up and was staggering around.

Joey grabbed him and brought him to his room…

“At least he has a friend…”

“We will fix that, too, somehow.” Ward guaranteed.

“Don’t give me false hopes again, please.”

“You’ll see.”

 

Then Skye switched from camera to camera in search of Fitz and Simmons.

And finally she managed to find them.

“Bingo!!!” she exclaimed.

 

But then she blushed and said:

“Maybe we should stop watching for a while, don’t you think?”

And Ward, after a glimpse at the computer screen, agreed with her:

“Oh… Absolutely!”

 

So Skye stopped the program, closed the lid and looked in the void, smiling.

“I didn’t know they had become so intimate!” she said.

“I did” said Ward proudly and with the air of one who knows a lot.

You did?”

“Don’t forget I can read minds and, when I fused my mind with Simmons’, I saw a lot of things, this among others.”

Skye whistled:

“You knew! Before me! This power of yours is destabilizing!”

“I know.”

She looked at him with her eyes in slits, almost challenging him, staring intently, keeping still and careful at not fidgeting, and asked:

“And what do you see in my mind?”

 

He looked deeply in her eyes and answered:

“I don’t need to read your mind to know what’s inside of it, or inside your heart!

Remember I am a spy, with best marks since Romanoff: this means I have a great ability to understand the feelings of others. This is a key talent in my work. Or ex-work…”

He cupped her face:

“I see confusion… doubts…

And I feel attraction towards me… a lot of it!

You need to belong and you need human touch.

You need to feel loved.

You need to BE LOVED, passionately.

Oh, that was true! And she looked at him like she did when they where in Vault D and he was recounting her about her father, with her soul pouring from her eyes, her breath quick and her heart beating furiously.

“But you are also scared… scared of me, of you, of the strength of my and your feelings…

And you want to be free, also.

So you need time to clarify your thoughts, to understand what you wanna do with your life.

And still you need to completely forgive yourself: it’s not easy, but healing completes when you manage to do that.

For me it was the same: being able to forgive myself, being able not to hate myself every minute so fiercely anymore was difficult, but I managed to do that, more or less, because I understood that hating myself was only another way to be proud.

Even after I resurrected, when I was forced to cohabitate with Hive, I was grieving, telling myself that my sins were too big to be forgiven, forgetting that God is bigger. But then the pain helped breaking my damn pride and I abandoned completely myself into God’s hands, because He can always forgive us, if we ask for it and don’t refuse Him.”

 

“That’s exactly what I experimented myself.

But I was not aware that you actually hated yourself, too…”

 

“I was conscious that what I was doing was wrong: I told you that I was not a good man, remember?

I even tried to become better.

I tried to win back the team’s trust, but that was all pointless.”

 

“It was in part our fault: we were so full of our own spite that we judged you unworthy of forgiveness, we judged you a psychopath, someone irrecoverable. Instead, when I returned back to the base after Lash freed me, Mack gave me his forgiveness, even if I didn’t ask for that, nor wanted that, even refused that!

They forgave me because I had been brainwashed, but nobody forgave you, even if you, too, had been brainwashed!

You wanted to be understood and forgiven, but you didn’t know how to ask it.”

Ward sighed:

“I was never good in interpersonal communication…”

Skye scoffed:

“Given your history I am not surprised about that!”

 

Ward stated:

“The truth is that we all need to help one another.

None of us is perfect, so we need to support and help each other to become better.

Condemnation only leads the condemned either to desperation and self-harm or vengeance.”

 

“I guess you are right…”

 

 

 

 

Chapter Text

 

Ward sighed and added:

“But let’s not dwell on all this philosophy.

We have more pressing matters, now, like how to cook the lunch.

I have less that half an hour to find some firewood and heat the stove.

If you want a warm bath, this evening, we can manage that, too.”

 

She looked at him surprised:

“Really?”

 

“Well, you liked a lot taking a bath in that warm lake, when we were on our island…”

“You liked it, too…” she smiled at him.

“I bought some bath salts for you, too!” he said, proudly.

“Did you?”

“Of course!” he answered, like it was the most natural thing in the world.

“You’re spoiling me!”

 

Skye was flattered and impressed by the fact he cared for her so much to demonstrate for her such a delicacy!

He smiled at her and answered:

“No. I only want to point out that even little things can make life worth living.”

 

She smiled back with gratitude and thought:

- No: it is having someone to love that makes life worth living! -

 

And she felt in that moment a droop, a languor within herself: what would have happened to her if he had not saved her… if he had not loved her?

And what would her life become if something bad happened to him?

Oh, she didn’t want to think about that! She chased that thought away with rage! Nothing bad should ever happen to him, anymore! He had suffered enough in his life!

She realized that, by now, he had become the center of her life: she was compromised…

 

He seemed unaware of her internal turmoil and said, matter of factly:

“Ok, so. I will take out the big cauldron and fill it with the lake’s water. It will be boiling, in the evening, and then we will put the boiling water in the tube, add some fresh water, and the temperature will be perfect.”

“It will be wonderful. Thank you!” she smiled at him sweetly.

 

At that, a little embarrassed, he added:

“By the way… when I was at the store, I allowed myself to buy you some underwear. I figured you had only the one on you, so…

There’s also a pair of dresses, trousers, t-shirts and a nightgown.

Over there.”

And he nodded towards one bag on the floor.

 

“Thank you…” she answered, at a loss of words.

 

He glanced at her one last time, then took a big cauldron, went out and returned back with it full of water.

It for sure was very heavy, but Ward moved it like it was a feather…

He put it on the big stove.

 

“Can you please prepare some vegetables and dress the meat with some spice?

I will go in the woods to grab firewood.”

 

“You have a lot of faith in me! I’m not much, as a cook.”

“I’m sure you will do fine.”

And with that he went outside.

 

Skye remained alone and started rummaging in the fridge and in the dresser to find everything necessary, then prepared all Ward asked her the better she could.

Once finished preparing the lunch, she took a look to the bag on the floor, opening it and extracting its content.

Mmmhh… Ward had good taste, undoubtedly: all of that was beautiful and comfortable, while the underwear was definitely sexy…

The rose nightgown, besides, was a little short, but however discreet enough.

She realized he had a worrying precise knowledge of her measures, too: even the bras and slips were perfectly fitting!

The boy had good eyes… and also a extraordinary tactile memory…

 

Just in that moment she heard a rhythmic noise outside, a “thump” … “thump”… “thump”… so she peeped from the window to see what the hell was happening and… she felt her heart stopping: he was there, chopping the wood with an ax, with accurate, rhythmic and well-aimed blows, shirtless, in all his naked glory, his muscles swollen for the effort, sweaty and shining under the sunlight.

Oh... he was breathtaking!

And then he raised his head and watched directly at her, smiling mischiefully, so she had to hide against the wall not to let him see her blushing…

Why, for heavens’ sake, had Ward to be as hot as hell???

She was really furious about it!

She knew she couldn’t resist for long, in such a continuous temptation.

 

Ward, too, wasn’t helping her, always flexing his muscles, showing off continuously…

Intentionally!

The bastard!

She knew that: he was playing with her like the cat with the mouse. And the mouse wanted, oh, wanted so much, to be eaten!!!

 

After some time the noise ceased and Ward came in with a harmful of firewood, and started igniting the fire in the stove… with his bare hands, of course. He inspected the frying pan Skye had filled with meat, seasoned with some garlic, salt and rosemary, sniffed it and moaned in appreciation:

“I’m sure it will be fantastic! Just wait a while to put it on the stove, until it is a little hotter.”

 

Then he went outside and she heard the sound of a plunge. He was taking a bath in the lake, to get rid of all the sweat and the chippings. He also was using a little shampoo and conditioner.

She knew that.

She knew that!

His hair couldn’t be so soft, without a conditioner!

What a dude!

And she found herself sniggering.

 

He entered the room some instants later only in his panties, holding his trousers and henley in one hand far from him, dripping water all around, hot like hell, and she, knowing exactly his intentions, glared at him saying:

“Don’t you think you should dry yourself, first?”

“Maybe I should…”

And he half-closed his eyes and suddenly all the drops of water that bejeweled his perfect body transformed in steam, leaving him perfectly dry, hair included, in a matter of seconds.

“Better?” he asked with a sugary smile, some locks falling on his forehead and the rest of his hair spiking in all direction.

 

Oh, God, he seemed a walking statue of some Greek divinity!

 

“Better” and she averted her eyes.

But added, with venom:

“You are a filthy bastard, you know that?”

He laughed with that fantastic voice of him, which again arose butterflies in her stomach, and answered:

“All is fair in war and love!”

“The only question is: are we in war or in love?” she retorted.

“We’ll see”, he answered, raising an eyebrow with a knowingly air.

 

The meat was divine, and also the rest.

Skye was starting to suspect that it wasn’t the food, but the environment and the air, which whetted her appetite, and last but not least the company, to make everything so good.

Ward revealed he could be whomever he wanted: not only that clean faced, chiseled jaw, badass, mysterious by-the-book agent, or that double-faced, cloaked in darkness, tipping the edge between goodness and evil spy. But it seemed, nevertheless, that his true self was very near that young self-ironic guy who jokingly imitated himself in front of Simmons!

He was entertaining, full of stories, of life experiences while he was at the Academy or during missions…

And, incredible to be said, he was really… funny!

He did a lot of puns and used the double and triple meanings of words in very intelligent ways, making her laugh more than once! It was really a pity that he had to hide his true personality, when he was with them! And she had to admit, also, that he, for sure, was a wonderful actor, because he really framed them!

 

“How did you do that?” she asked.

“Did what?”

“Learn to be a spy so well. Make yourself so damn believable.”

He remained pensive for a little while, then answered:

“You must have a very good memory and study well your parsonage, and there are a lot of rules and hints to follow.

But the fundamental one is to keep your cover the most close to your true self as possible.

That makes you believable.”

“So it wasn’t all a lie…”

“No, it wasn’t.”

She recalled to her mind that time when she called him with Coulson’s phone, immediately after the Hydra uprising:

“Tell me: at least, did you really want to be Tom Brady?”

“What???”

“Yeah, when I called you to say that I was erasing your identity from the world!”

“No. I hate the Patriots.

But the Agent Grant Ward you knew didn’t.

This is an example of a little harmless lie you have to remember.”

 

“I never knew Romanoff, but if only she is better than you, I would like to see her in action! She must be a real phenomenon!”

“I shook hands with her, once.”

“You know her???”

“The spy world isn’t so big…”

“If you say so…

But, now, tell me about how Garrett asked you to join Coulson’s team…”

Ward stopped dead:

“Garrett never asked: he ordered.

Nobody under his authority ever dreamed of questioning him: I was the only one who dared to stand up to him.

At the beginning, the job he assigned to me was to blend in and gather intelligence on Coulson’s revival: nothing more, nothing less. He said himself he didn’t want any bloodshed.

Garrett ordering Quinn to shoot you was not part of the plan and surely I didn’t know anything about that!

Doubt ate me alive after you were shot and I was tempted to spill everything to Coulson after that.

But the mission was of top importance, for Garrett: I had to save his life, like he did with mine.

I owed him.

He wanted from me near zero contact… that was the deal going in. But nobody could foresee that I would fall for you… the unknown variable!

You have no idea how hard it was: for the first time I found a family, true friendship… and I had to betray all of that.

The alternative was even worse: betraying the man who saved me and that I saw as a father figure.”

“Yeah… It was a bad situation to be in! Thanks to God everything has passed. And you are still alive!”

“Which is good!”

“Yeah!”

 

She raised and asked:

“Do you want some coffee? You are good in preparing tea, but I’m unsurpassable with coffee!”

“I can’t wait to have it! Besides I will need some extra energy: I will be out all afternoon to fix the roof, if we don’t want to take a shower in the bedroom…”

So they took coffee, then started cleaning up and washing the dishes: she washed and rinsed, while he dried and put away. Sometimes, during that activity, their hands touched, only for a moment… but it was enough to send sparks through Skye’s spine.

She was almost sure, by now: she was compromised…

 

In the afternoon, Skye continued her researches on Talbot over the Internet, for any useful hint about the so-called “master” and about the disease, while Ward performed some renovation on the roof: it had to be fixed if they really wanted to avoid having water dripping inside at the first serious thunderstorm!

 

In the evening, while the air was becoming chilly and darkness swallowed everything, Ward came back in, visibly tired: now that the generator was fueled, they could use the rudimental electric system, so they could illuminate the rooms with the light bulbs.

Skye watched him and stood up, concerned.

“Hey, what did you do? You seem destroyed!”

“Nothing… I’m only a little tired.”

“I prepared some soup, for tonight. It is already cooked. Needs only warming up.”

“Thank you!”

“Of nothing! But don’t get used with that! My cooking repertoire is finished.

Rather than that, why don’t you take a warm bath? The water is hot, now, and you need it much more than me!”

“No. I promised you that, so you are taking it. But, maybe, after you, I could use your water.”

“Are you sure? Doesn’t it disgust you?” she asked.

“The water you washed in should disgust me???

Never!”

“Ok… let’s do it. But now sit down, rest a little and eat.”

So the two of them sat down and ate in silence.

Ward asked:

“Did you manage to find something useful about Talbot?”

“Not much: he seems to have disappeared off the face of the Earth, but I will continue digging.”

“And about Fitz and Simmons?”

“When I watched again, they were gone. I couldn’t find them anywhere in the base… I will try tomorrow.”

“I need to talk to them, face to face.

We need to cure all the infected people, absolutely.

This craziness must finish!

Maybe I can help them diffusing the cure, once they find it…”

He was concerned, a lot, she could tell. That lone time on the roof let him overthink about the disease and his mood dropped.

 

“Can I talk to them directly?” asked Skye.

“No. They must not know you are with me, in case they are infected too, even if I doubt that: they are too smart.

I must meet them personally and try to understand what we can do.”

 

Skye was not pleased with that novelty: it would mean for her to remain hidden in the cabin, while Ward was supposed to go into the outside world risking his life, as usual.

 

And what if he never came back from that dangerous mission?

 

 

She didn’t like that, at all.

 

 

Chapter Text

 

After the dinner, they cleaned up and Skye went for the bath.

Ward brought the cauldron and poured almost all the hot water in the tube she had already cleaned during the afternoon, and then he added some more cold water and the bath salts.

 

“I’ll try to be quick, to leave you a lot of warm water.” Skye hurried to say.

“Don’t worry about me. Only relax and enjoy it!” he said smiling, caressing her cheek with two fingers.

“Thanks a lot. I appreciate this” she said quietly, and Ward, nodding, went away.

 

Skye undressed and dived in the water… oh, that was marvelous!

After years and years of showers, a hot bath was something unbelievable! And taking it in such a bare and little house, too, immersed in the silence of the woods… it was even more pleasurable and gave her an incredible sense of intimacy!

She felt all her muscles relax and her body almost melting down within the water…

The perfume of the bath salts, too, was inebriating!

She remained there for some time, cleaning and rubbing and massaging herself, thinking about Ward, about what he was doing in the dining room… and what would happen if he entered now in the bathroom… what would be her reaction…

 

She was torn between a tremendous physical attraction towards him and the fear of a serious romantic relationship with a man like him. He had always been a very demanding man, for example during training, so serious and hard, even if she had to give him credit that he was hard especially with himself.

She was still a little intimidated by him…

To tell the truth, she always had been: for this reason she also tended to throw everything into a joke.

 

Now, with all that had happened to him, she was even a little scared, and this thing of telepathy, this power he had to read everybody’s thoughts, was particularly disquieting!

Was he doing it right now, for example?

 

Oh, it was really a… complicated situation!

 

After a while, she remembered she had to leave some hot water for Ward too, so she emerged reluctantly and dried herself, wearing the short rose nightgown he bought her, and putting her wet hair into a towel turban on the head.

That nightgown was slightly short for her taste and it was like putting fuel to the fire of their unresolved sexual tension.

But, on the other hand, what goes around comes around! He was trying to cook her on a low flame, and she would do the same with him! What the hell: he sowed the wind and shall reap the whirlwind!

Moreover, she didn’t have anything else to put on, so she went out of the bathroom in that little piece of cloth and called him. He reached her with the cauldron filled with a little boiling water, took a glimpse of her almost naked long legs, added the remaining hot water in the tube and started undressing, all without a word.

Skye fled away, trying not to be hurt by his silence: he could have been tired, but she knew the main reason of his bad mood was that he was concerned about the disease. And that he felt responsible about it…

 

She entered in the dining room and realized she had a little problem: her hair. It had grown longer, covering her shoulders and half her back, and she didn’t know how to dry it. The fire in the stove almost faded out and there wasn’t any other source of heat.

After a while, Ward reached her in the dining room, barefoot and only in a pair of clean panties and a clean vest, while she was combing her hair on the sofa, trying to dry it as well as possible with the towel.

“What happened? I thought you would be already in bed…

You will catch a cold, here!” Ward said surprised.

Thankfully, he seemed a little more relaxed…

 

“Sorry, but I have a little problem in drying my hair.”

“Oh, you’re right. We don’t have a hair dryer, here…” he agreed with her.

“But I think we can fix it!” he added.

“And how?” asked her.

“If you let me, I will dry it with my hands.”

“Really? Oh, yes, I forgot you are a hot guy!” she tried to dissolve the tension with a joke.

 

But Ward didn’t add anything else…

She turned her back towards him, he sat on the sofa behind her and started combing slowly her hair, intertwining his fingers in it, and she immediately felt the warmth that emanated from his large hands: her hair would be dry in a few minutes!

But the heat came also from his whole body and she approached him as much as possible to bask in his warmth.

“You’re better than a straightener and a stove put together!” she continued joking.

And he laughed lightly, finally!

“I received a lot of compliments in my life, but never one like that!”

After that, the two remained in silence, while Ward kept passing his fingers among her long thick hair and on her scalp, massaging it and drying her locks.

She was blissful about all of that and asked with a sigh:

“Are your hands magical, or did you attend a course in hairdressing?”

“Neither of that. But I had a sister and sometimes I combed her hair…” his voice trembled slightly.

But he recovered quickly:

“I know how to do a good neck massage, too, if you want.”

 

“Oh, really? I could kill for a neck massage, right now!” exclaimed Skye.

 

God, a sister!

He had a sister! He used the past tense.

That could only mean one thing: she was dead.

 

“Try to relax your shoulders: you are very tense! Are you upset for some reason?” observed him.

“No… I don’t think so…” she answered.

But the truth was that Skye was really tense for a bunch of reasons: she was tense for the disease that was spread in the world and that seemed to concern Ward a lot; she was tense because she knew he would have to go and try to fix things, and that his mission would be extremely dangerous; she was tense because she was alone with him, who represented for a lot of time her secret wet dream; she was tense for the feelings he had for her, for his trust in opening up with her, for the responsibility she felt towards him, for her own feelings and impulses, that resulted as difficult to restrain as wild horses, right now; she was tense for the skeletons he surely had in his past, but he didn’t yet confided her… she was terrified of messing everything up any minute now.

 

Thankfully, the neck massage was something blissful and helped her relax a lot: his hands where so warm, and strong, and he surely knew how to touch her… all her right buttons… He descended along her spine, finding all the knots and undoing them… That was fantastic and, when he touched just in the right way a particularly tense spot, she let out an embarrassing moan of pleasure.

At that he stopped abruptly and she could not suppress a groan of disappointment.

 

“If you give me the brush I can finish with your hair…” he said but, from the tone of his voice, he seemed embarrassed.

She gave him the brush: he began to pass it along the length of her hair, unraveling the few knots he met with a gentleness she would never have expected from him.

That man was an enigma: every time she thought she was starting to understand him, he came out with something that surprised her.

 

“Please, don’t use this black color anymore…” he said.

“What???”

“It is so dark, so unlike yourself…

I loved your natural color, with that soft honey blonde locks among brown…”

“I choose black because I needed to disguise myself, with that emo thing and all…

And it fitted my mood.”

“Sorry… it is only because it reminds me of two women I loved very much that died in front of me…”

“Kara and… your sister?”

“Yes…” his voice was trembling.

“I figured…

I don’t know anything about your sister, but about Kara…I would like to say I am sorry for what happened… for her… for you… I can only imagine what you went through…”

“Thank you” his voice was extremely sad.

 

“Did you love her?”

“Yes, I loved her, in that twisted way I could muster in that period of my life, when I myself was sick…

I tried to help her in the best way I knew, because I saw myself in her: I wanted to help her like nobody did with me…

She was the only one that really understood me, that believed and trusted me, ever.

She was my confidante: I told her a lot about me, and she had always listened to me, without judging and without fearing me.

But I pushed her to go where she did not want to go: she would have never wanted to go so far, with Bobbi. I was the one who pushed her, convinced that it was necessary to use such a drastic expedient to allow her to gain closure.”

“But why did you do that horrible thing to Bobbi?”

“Because Bobbi had been the cause for Kara’s capture and consequent torture and brainwashing.

To infiltrate into Hydra, Bobbi had to sell out a Shield’s safe house and she gave the location of Kara’s one. Bobbi knew Kara was there, and she did it nevertheless, not bothering to try to warn her. I can understand why she did it, even if Kara was her friend: sometimes the good of the few must be sacrificed for the good of the many and you have to do hard calls.

But what I could not forgive was that, afterwards, she didn’t do anything: she knew Kara was in Hydra hands and didn’t move a finger for at least try to save her! I hated Bobbi for what she had let happen to Kara: I wanted her to suffer at least a little bit of the torture to which Kara had been subjected.

Bobbi completely washed her hands of a colleague and a friend and I can’t stand such a behavior!

I can’t stand omission!

Before killing her, I wanted her to apologize to Kara, to let her drop the huge baggage she had on her shoulders, but Bobbi was clearly not sorry. She was so cold and detached, like a porcelain doll… it seemed nothing could touch her… it seemed that she didn’t care about anything…

She reminded me so much of my mother…

But there was one she wasn’t detached to. I knew her feelings towards Hunter, and I exploited them to try and shake her from her indifference and her coldness.”

He paused a little and sighed:

“Did you see the Beast that my Guardian Angel detached from me in Hell?”

“Yes. It was horrible”, answered Skye with a shiver.

“I nourished it for years, because it allowed me to survive, but, in exchange, it transformed me in that monster.”

“But, thanks to God, you are finally free from it!”

“Yes, but the horror for what I did will remain with me forever.”

 

At this, Skye turned towards him, took his hands in hers and said:

“All this is in the past.

You are a new person, now!

And, you know, I think this experience helped Bobbi understand what really counted for her. She changed, after that: she remained in Shield only because of Hunter and, when they had the possibility, they went away.

Now she is outside Shield and lives a normal life with Hunter.”

“Really? Don’t tell me that: finally, a woman-man turned back into a woman!” he said chuckling.

“What?” asked Skye, puzzled.

“Don’t mind it: this was the nickname we used in the Academy to label female Specialists…”

 

The two of them were still holding hands… so Ward stood up and raised Skye with him:

“Are you ready for going to bed, now?” he asked looking lovingly at her.

“Yes I am”, she answered timidly and trembling inside.

The two of them switched down the light and went upstairs, always holding hands, while Skye felt agitation rising in her guts… for what potentially could happen upstairs…

Once in bed none of them could sleep: they both stared in the dark of the room.

Again: why the hell didn’t he move a finger to approach her???

She had always to do all the dirty work!!!

“Ward?” she said with that low voice of her.

“Yes?”

“You know I desire you, don’t you?”

“Yes, I know.”

“And you desire me, right?”

“More than anything else in the world…

But it is more than that…

I love you.”

He said those words with strength and intenseness.

She closed her eyes and waited a moment to savor those words, letting them sink down and warm her in her depths…

Nobody said that to her, before.

Ever.

And those words had a strong effect on her, melting something in her.

She continued talking, trying to hide her emotion:

“So why are we here, together in a extremely comfortable bed, alone, in the wild and solitude of the woods, talking, instead of furiously making love?

She chose that expression, instead of ‘having sex’, because she remembered Ward preferred it.

He sighed and answered:

“Because you are scared and you don’t trust your feelings.

And I don’t want to force you.”

 

After a few instants, she asked:

“And you will wait until I’ll be ready?”

“Yes, of course…” he sighed.

“But don’t make me wait too long!” he added seriously.

“We have already wasted more than three years… and I am becoming… impatient!

And with that he turned towards her, the two of them lit only by the moonlight passing through the fixtures, cupped slowly her face in his hands and kissed her.

Initially it was only a light kiss, lips kissing lips, but then it started to become intense, deep, and intimate. She felt his fire, his passion, his need and it was like waves taking her farer and higher, it was like his own blood was entering in her veins pumped fast by his own heart.

She couldn’t do anything else than follow him where he was pulling her.

She cupped his face in her hands, too, then moved them on his neck and his shoulders, caressing and palpating them, then fully embraced him, while he embraced her, massaging her back up and down, with a possessiveness she never felt before in him.

His grip was becoming extremely firm and their breaths labored: he was holding her strongly against him and the both of them could feel the other’s body in every detail. Their legs entangled.

She felt to belong to him and felt that he belonged to her and no one else.

All of this was so damn good, and right!

She never wanted it all to finish.

But, just when things were starting to become… boiling… he recoiled from her.

She felt immediately the loss and groaned.

 

She had to admit that: the bastard had really a big self control and a remarkable will power!

 

He was resting his forehead against hers and continued the previous reasoning:

“Don’t make me wait too long, Skye.

I need you.

And you need me.

Moments like this, opportunities like this are rare, and we are wasting them.

I only hope we will not regret this…”

And he kissed her on the crown of her head, then continued:

“I gave you just a taste of what it could be… but you must decide if you want to go down this route, definitely.”

She remained silent, still panting and regretting her indecision…

“Sleep, now. You must be tired…” he concluded.

 

“You are really a filthy bastard, you must know that!”

 

He chuckled and wished:

“Good night, Skye!”

 

She grunted:

“Night, Ward…” and resigned herself to a very uncomfortable night.

 

But then she remembered what he said before… and the warmth of those three little words remained with her all night.

 

 

 

Chapter Text

 

Skye had a very tormented night.

Her dreams had been absolutely frustrating, focused as they were on almost having sex with Ward.

She woke up in the morning horny like a teenager and the object of her desire was just there, an inch from her, sleeping peacefully and oblivious under the soft blankets. She could have done anything to him right now: kissing, touching, caressing, rousing desire in him till breaking his willpower… but she lacked the courage…

She had to admit that: the bastard had really a strict control on himself, and that made her furious, because she wasn’t equally strong! After all, she was the woman, he the man, and, from immemorial time, it had always been more difficult for men to restrain themselves, rather than for women!

But common rules didn’t apply on him: he was an exceptional man.

 

The unresolved sexual tension was eating her alive, so she decided to get up and do some exercise, some Thai-Chi, some training, some… something!

Just to cool down!

She dressed, went outside and started running, first around the house, then in the nearby woods. She ran for almost an hour and then returned by the cabin: finally she had released some tension! There she undressed and took a quick bath in the lake: the water was chilling, but it helped her in getting rid of any residual tightness.

She didn’t last long, because she was freezing, and she got out quickly. Only, she didn’t have a towel with her and was forced to enter in the house all dripping and naked and trembling.

She thought Ward was still sleeping, instead she found him in the kitchen, cooking, with a pink apron decorated with a large heart and a “Kiss me” written on it!

She would have felt embarrassed, if the scene had not been so funny!

So she started laughing, and laughing, and laughing doubled over with laughter, so wholeheartedly that Ward looked at her like she had grown another head.

“I didn’t know you found pancakes so funny!” he said, dumbfounded.

“It’s not that! It’s that apron!” and she continued laughing, pointing at it.

“I have only this…” he didn’t know how to react to her laughs… whether to be embarrassed, or offended, or amused…

Then he noticed her lack of clothing and stopped dead, unable to avert his eyes from her naked body.

She abruptly stopped laughing and covered immediately herself with her sweaty dresses, and slided backwards to the bathroom. There she could dry up and dress with clean sporting clothes and put her hair in a towel turban.

 

She reached him back in the kitchen to find a wonderful plate of pancakes with maple syrup waiting for her.

And warmed up milk.

And the aroma of coffee all around…

“You are a man to marry!” she commented absentmindedly.

And she realized only after uttering that phrase of what she had actually said!

And she ideally slapped herself: what the hell did her big mouth just jabbered???

 

“That’s the idea…” he answered, hiding half a smile at her Freudian slip.

Had that unintentional ‘error’ just revealed her subconscious thoughts?

 

Skye commented, keeping cool:

“Mmmhh… first I have to try your pancakes!”

So she sat down and started eating: the first mouthful made her moan in delight! Those pancakes were divine, so soft, light, and sweet…

“Then? What is your opinion? Did I pass the exam?” asked Ward, amused.

“I never ate pancakes so good in my life!

How can you be always so full of surprises, I ask myself?

Tell me: did you take cooking lessons, for a chance, between a mission and another?”

“Not between: during

I was in an undercover op as a tourist and I had to live for a while with a girl that worked in one of the best restaurants in Florence: it was she who taught me some tips and tricks.

And I learn quickly…”

“Did you seduce her?”

“It was part of the mission. Her ex-boyfriend was a dangerous criminal and I had to discover his whereabouts. The only way was to win his ex-fiancée’s trust.”

She grunted:

“You don’t seem so sorry about that!”

“It was one of the most pleasurable mission I had ever been involved in.

Stefania was beautiful, intelligent and smart.

I didn’t like to do that for a mission: she didn’t deserve such a treatment.

But at least she could get rid of the stalking of that dangerous man.

And she thanked me, afterwards, even if she discovered I wasn’t who she believed I was.”

“And she showed her immense gratitude for you in the bedroom, I figure…”

“Uhm… you seem jealous!” he grinned.

“No, it’s only that I know my chickens.

I know what the female population thinks when they put their filthy eyes on you.”

“Don’t worry, nobody compares to you!” he continued, with a reassuring tone

“And I’m right: you are jealous!” he grinned.

She slapped him on the shoulder and went on:

“Whatever!

Tell me: how many women did you have in your life, Casanova? I’m curious!”

“Uhm… nobody ever asked me such a question…

Let me make a mental” he said thoughtfully.

“When I was a teenager I was a tremendous troublemaker, always taking fights against bigger and older boys, and girls prudently kept away from me, despite my family richness and my bad-boy charm.

So nothing.

Then I was kept isolated by Garrett five years in the woods, where there wasn’t even the shadow of a woman.

When I was at the Academy… well… I became a lot popular and I had some adventures, one-night stands mostly, but nothing serious. I didn’t like those Operation girls: they had wonderful bodies, but they lacked the sweetness and the femininity a woman should have. So they were perfect to let out some… steam, but for nothing more.

Furthermore, Garrett’s orders were to never get attached… and he made that lesson sink down deeply…

Afterwards I had Stefania and Melinda for undercover reasons; I was practically raped by Lorelei; and I finally had Kara, but… as you know… it didn’t end well…”

“Mmmhh… It doesn’t seem the definition of a happy sentimental life…”

“No, it’s not.

At all…

And you?”

“I was raised at the orphanage, and there the morality was strictly respected: we were divided between girls and boys, so there wasn’t any particular promiscuity.

But when I turned sixteen, I escaped and then started a very stray life in which I got in touch with drugs.”

“The skeletons you talked about when we were at Providence…”

“Precisely.

Thankfully after a while I met Miles and he dragged me away from drugs and protected me the first years of my flight.

The last three years we had a thing.

Before, I had only a few experiences, all quite disappointing, so I frankly wasn’t looking forward any sexual relationship. All the boys I met were concerned only about themselves, only about their own pleasure. I think that I got more thrills in our last kiss yesterday night - damn you - than in all the few experiences I had before Miles, all put together…

Miles was the only one for those three years.”

“He was in love with you and you treated him without an ounce of comprehension.

I didn’t like you behavior, then.”

“Weren’t you jealous, at the time?” she shrugged.

“Of course I was, but I understood him, too.

And he didn’t deserve such a cruel reaction from you.”

“Maybe not.

But he betrayed all of our values for money.”

“It wasn’t only for money, and you knew that.

It was for you: he wanted to give to the both of you a future.”

 

She stayed silent for a while, feeling a flush of remorse, then burst:

“Why all those who love me make me suffer, at the end?”

“Maybe because you are difficult to please?”

 

At that she turned slowly to him with wide eyes, almost at a loss of words.

“What???

I am difficult to please???

That’s the pot calling the kettle black!

What about you???” she shrieked.

 

“Me?” he asked innocently, raising his hands in a soothing gesture.

 

“Yes, you, my dear hot like hell hunk of a man!

You are denying me sex unless I confess that I love you!!!

You are proving me to be great at it, so making me mouth-watering for it, making me simmering slowly, putting on display your dreamy body at every occasion, after several months I didn’t get anything!!!

But I know it: it is all a rehearsed plan of yours… you filthy bastard!!!” she declared, pointing her finger on his firm chest, torn between frustration and anger.

 

He smirked, but answered, seriously:

“Skye… for me, abstinence is lasting for almost two years… and I’m a young, healthy, and strong man

It’s extremely hard, for me, keeping my hands off you, now that we are here… just the two of us… alone… especially when we are in bed and you end always in my arms after a few minutes… so warm, so soft, so… available…”

And he had to pause and close his eyes, because he had to regain control of his breathing… of his heartbeat… of his voice that had dropped one octave…

Then he sighed and continued, fixing intensely his stare on her:

“But I don’t think having serious intentions towards the woman I love should make me be classified as a person difficult to please.”

 

He cupped her face, speaking slowly with his low voice, and looking with a before unseen tenderness in her eyes:

“I love you, Skye.

And, just to be crystal clear, this means that I want to spend the rest of my life with you.

I want to marry you and form a family with you.

I want my kids to call you ‘mummy’!”

 

- Oh, God, help me!!! A family!!! With him!!! - Skye thought.

 

She had not yet realized so clearly what his goal was, until now!

She had been so used to living as an agent, on a day-by-day basis, that a serious long-term planning, especially so oriented towards life, had not yet brushed her mind!

Skye felt herself tremble to the core!!!

But, immediately after, she felt an incredible, vertiginous hope growing inside of her… a hope that talked of happiness… of belonging… of pitter patter of children’s feet in a real home… of Christmas Eves all together around the tree, unwrapping presents… of birthday cakes and parties… of summer holidays in the countryside…

 

He was caressing her cheeks lightly with his thumbs, and continued:

“I don’t want sex to influence your judgment. It could be too much… overwhelming…”

“You are really confident about your… competence!” commented her, finding it hard to breath.

“Believe me, I know what I’m talking about!” he stated.

 

And images and images of endless nights of passion in his strong arms, in his bed, squirming and moaning in pleasure, feeling to belong completely to him, feeling to be one unique thing with him crossed her mind… and a shiver slithered down her back.

 

He continued, gravely:

“You say that I am difficult to please, but my caution is not pointless!

We both know what it means to grow up without a healthy family and I don’t want history to repeat itself!

Though I am sure of my feelings, I am terrified, too!

I’m terrified I’ll become the monster my father was, and to repeat with you or our kids the same mistakes he made with me, or my siblings, or my mother!

This is also the reason why I am not pushing you… because I want you to evaluate me! I trust your judgment and I want you to assess whether or not I am worthy to have my own family, to become a father… if I am worthy of you…

I don’t want you to suffer what my mother suffered from my father!

I don’t want our children to have to suffer what we, you and me, have suffered!

I want to give us happiness, and happiness comes from belonging!

I want for the both of us a loving family to belong to, the exact thing we both had been deprived of, our entire lives!”

 

She remained there, silent, quietly looking at him, her eyes becoming glossy at the remembrance of all the pain and solitude she suffered being an orphan, of all the rejections and the abandons she had to overcome… and she thought, also, about him and about what he had to endure, even if she lacked the whole picture…

She had never before met anyone that could understand her as deeply as him.

He grew up in a hell worse than hers, and he understood how the very fact of growing up like that impacted how she now saw the world, how she filtered everything through very specific lens. That was why he always thought he could make her understand him.

And, at the end, he had been right: after years of moving from place to place, she totally got how easy it had been for him to be taken in by a powerful father figure. She even understood how Garrett was able to draw him into Hydra. Hadn’t been she, too, fooled by her mom?

Yes, he had been right to trust her: at the end she completely understood and forgave him!

 

He kept caressing her.

“I want you to be sure you want all this, too, before we take any step forward.

Life is too short to undertake attempts.

Once we will decide our path, whatever it will be, I want it to be definitive.

We have already lost too much time, too much energy hurting each other!

I want, if you want it too, to build our home upon a rock, so that it will withstand all the storms of life.”

 

She couldn’t stop the tears anymore.

She simply watered from her eyes… no sobs… no cries… only tears.

She had been touched by those words, deeply… and she simply couldn’t stop the tears.

He wiped her tears with his thumbs, and then kissed them away.

She melted into the hug that followed and the two of them remained there, silent…

 

She answered:

“Oh, Grant, I’m so scared!

I’m scared of the strength of all the feelings that, over the years, had been involved in our relationship!

I’m scared of the force of what I am feeling now for you and of what you feel for me!

I’m scared of the future!

I’m scared of the consequences our past can have on our future!

I’m scared of myself… of the darkness I fear I have still inside… of what I could do under certain circumstances, if somebody tries to hurt you… or me…

I’m scared for you, for the danger this world can pose to you! And I don’t know how you would react if somebody tries to hurt me… and I feel responsible for that!

We are dangerous beings; we are two walking nuclear bombs!

And again… what if we ever clash one against the other, like my father and my mother?”

 

“I know!

I know!!!

I totally understand what you mean!!!

But I swear to you: I will always watch over you!

I will never let you go down a dangerous spiral again!

Please, promise me the same!”

 

“Ok… I promise… I will watch over you…”

 

“Thank you.”

 

And, still hugging her, as an afterthought he said:

“I’m convinced that, if God gave us such powers, He will also help us using them in the right way.

And, if we remain in Him, we will never wage war against each other and we will do everything right!”

 

 

 

Chapter Text

 

After that heart to heart, the two prepared themselves for training with more confidence in each other.

They found a patch of soft grass and earth by the lake and started sparring.

At the beginning they practiced with hand-to-hand combat.

 

Skye was used to train with May that, more or less, matched her height and weight.

But with Ward the feeling was completely different!

She remembered him from the past, but, after three years of combat experience, the impression she had of him was completely different! She became suddenly aware of his preparation, of his strength, of his natural talent like never before!

Any convictions she could have had before, about being an agent by now, and to be able herself to coach someone else, melted like snow in the sun: in front of him she felt a beginner… nothing more than a rookie...

She was really impressed.

She had the impression he was definitely stronger and tougher than May and wondered how the hell she could have beaten him, even!

Yes, of course May was incredible, extremely agile and quick, she was the great Cavalry, but her kicks and fists weren’t comparable with Ward’s.

Absolutely.

He could easily kill a man with one well-placed fist.

May couldn’t.

Ward was definetely much stronger and when he was blocking her in a grip she had no way to free herself, even with all the techniques May taught her.

He was also extremely resistant to the pain and could bear a lot of hits without flinching.

 

He was a war machine.

 

In that moment Skye understood May’s words, when they were in the motel and she interrupted her mourning over Grant's picture, the one she took with her computer in that bar in LA to tip him off to the police, and the two women shared a beer:

“I’m furious.

But I’m sure as hell not gonna waste it on a tantrum.

I’m gonna mine it, save it... and when we’ll find Ward, I’m gonna use every bit of it to TAKE HIM DOWN.”

 

May was scared of him.

She, the great Cavalry, was scared that Ward could beat her!

 

 

“Skye, you must pay attention to your posture, to where you look and how you move your head.

You must stop telegraphing, otherwise your opponent will predict your next moves, prevent them and beat you!”

“Ok, but how can I stop doing that?”

“Telegraphing is strictly linked to the sense of sight.

We must block that sense and make the others work on its behalf.

I can guide you, but you have to trust me, and abandon yourself completely to your other senses and your instinct.”

With that he produced a blindfold and approached her.

“Hey, hey, what are you doing, with that?”

“Teaching you to lighten your dependency on sight during combat.”

And with that he blindfolded her and started turning around her.

“Try to sense my presence from the change of the sounds and noises around me: they are more muffled, like there is something blocking them.

Try also through skin sensitivity: moving my body I move the air around me, so you can sense it. There is also the heat of my body, my smell… Try to concentrate on all these details.”

He was right! She could sense him, his every vibrations, thanks to her powers! And she managed to block him and hit him, blindfolded!

“Good, good, Skye! This is what I am talking about!” he complimented her.

 

When she had practiced enough with the blindfold, he took that away, not before having stolen a kiss from her, then continued teaching:

“Everybody has strengths and weaknesses. A good and quick evaluation of your opponent’s characteristics is of fundamental importance. It is even more important than how strong you are.

You have to find the weaknesses and exploit them.

For example I am bigger, and heavier and stronger than you.

How can you beat me?”

“I can’t beat you! Unless I seduce you and kill you in your sleep after wearing you out in a whole night of furious sex!” she joked mischiefully.

He sighed rolling his eyes and answered:

“No: you are smaller, so you are more difficult to grab.

Try to prevent being caught.

You must be quicker.

And for that you have to train.”

“But you are also extremely quick!”

“I know, but this characteristic is unnatural; and it is very difficult to find another one like me!

Normally the bigger and heavier are slower.”

 

 

Skye was appreciating Ward as a trainer: he was more patient than May, more detail oriented, and infinitely committed.

He was calm and reassuring about teaching, and soon Skye found unexpected confidence in herself.

Nevertheless, she was drained after any session and Ward had often the task, in the evening, to scoop her sleeping form on the sofa and bring her in bed.

 

One evening she had the strength to strike up a conversation:

“Ward, can I ask you something?”

“Of course.”

“How was it?”

“How was it… what?”

“Your combat with May, that time she nailed you on the ground…”

He let out a hissing sound:

“My left foot is still protesting at that remembrance…”

“I mean… she has been my S.O. for two years, you have been my S.O. in the past and nowadays, and I have now enough experience to be able to make comparisons.

And I can say this, dispassionately: you are much stronger than her.

How the hell could she beat you?

Again: I saw the two of you sparring sometimes on the Bus, and she always beat you…”

“Well… when you spar for mere practice you keep it very light…

Moreover, I had to keep my true strength under wraps in front of her, for undercover reasons.

I knew that if I ever had to confront her seriously, it would have been better if she felt calm and confident in her abilities, underestimating me.

But that mess with Lorelei wasted my plans…”

“About that… I never asked: how was it with Lorelei?”

“She possessed me completely: I would have died for her.

I was under an enchantment, under the power of her sorcery… so I don’t feel responsible for what happened with her.

Lorelei messed with my brains and I revealed a lot of my strength fighting against May, that time.

And it was not the only thing…” and he huffed.

“What do you mean?”

“I already explained that to you: Lorelei was the reason why we broke up, because when I was with her I confessed I was fond of you.”

Skye remembered that the two of them already had that conversation, in that luxurious restaurant some months ago: in that occasion Ward confirmed that May was falling for him, but discovered, thanks to Lorelei, that he loved someone else. And May couldn’t tolerate that.

 

“When did you start… liking me?” Skye asked, shyly.

“Oh, well… I think everything started from the very beginning, from the first time I saw you on your van…

From that moment on I knew I was in trouble!

For that reason I tried to convince Coulson multiple times that you were a risk to the team, and to let you go.

For that reason I was so brusque with you, especially in the beginning…

You got under my skin early enough… and during the interrogation you really represented a thorn in my side!”

“I remember that clearly!

You were so embarrassed… especially when I took away my jacket…” and she smiled maliciously at him and he averted his eyes exactly like in that occasion!

 

“But I didn’t intend to interrupt you. Please go on with May… I’m terribly curious!”

“At the time, I didn’t understand anything of May’s internal turmoil.

She always said to me that we were ‘no strings attached’, so I interpreted that she broke up with me because she was simply annoyed with that whole Lorelei situation. Nothing more.”

“Instead?”

“Instead there was more than that.

She was hurt.

I noticed that during our fight: she was too furious; she had taken it too personally.

There was something that smelled… and then it clicked!

She was falling for me and the very fact that I was in love with you instead made her break up with me.”

“Are you sure? Aren’t these just speculations?”

“When she gave me the heave-ho, she said to me ‘If what Lorelei said was true… you were more honest with her than you are with yourself.’”

“Really?”

“Really.”

“Oh, in that case… congratulations! That makes three out of three!”

“What???”

“Come on, Ward! Don’t play dumb with me! You must have been aware of that!

Jemma, too, was attracted to you!”

“Uhm… yes. You noticed…”

“Of course. Especially after you saved her.

But let’s not digress.

Tell me: how was it that May could beat you?”

“Well… during a fight it is of fundamental importance your mental condition.

You must be concentrated, focused, and tactical.

And I wasn’t.

I had so much on my mind!

You words were always ringing in my skull, accusing me to be a Nazi, saying that my feelings for you made you nauseous… making for me it impossible to sleep.

Garrett had lost his mind and I lost my guidance accordingly.

May was so furious and in that moment everything clicked… and I didn’t want to hurt her too much.

So she took advantage of my deconcentration to beat me.

We were also in a place full of electrical tools she could use…

I think that if we were in a neutral field, the outcome would have been different…”

 

“Nothing is so simple as it appears…” Skye commented, pensive.

“Poor May… I pity her also for what happened with her husband…”

“Yeah…” but he spoke that with sarcasm.

 

“You are still angry with her… you cannot forget she is the reason for Kara’s death…”

“Yeah…”

 

“And you think she deserves what she got...”

“I think she traded her life, her femininity, her essence for Shield and for Coulson.

And she is paying the consequences: now she is alone, no husband, no children, and her age advancing.

I bet she is now regretting her choices.”

“Probably.”

 

With that he stared severely at her and stated:

“We must not make the same mistakes!”

 

She lowered her eyes.

 

 

 

Chapter Text

 

One day, wandering in the neighborhood of the cabin, looking for a bit of firewood along with Ward, who was distant a few hundred meters, Skye made a strange discovery.

In a clearing, at the foot of a large oak tree, there was a large stone, with an epitaph written on it:

-----------------------------------------------------------

TO BUDDY

MY BELOVED COMPANION

1996 – 2004

PLEASE FORGIVE ME

-----------------------------------------------------------

“Hey, Ward! Come here and see!

There seems to be a tomb, here!”

Ward reached her almost immediately and, as soon as he saw the place, his face darkened; then he knelt next to the stone and stroked the inscription.

Skye, impressed by his reaction, asked:

“Do you know who this Buddy is, don’t you?”

Ward sighed and, without looking at her, replied:

“It was my only friend for five years…”

In that moment Skye remembered that he already told that to her, when they were on the deserted island.

“Oh, yes… I remember, now.

You already told me that…”

She looked at him carefully: she thought she saw his eyes become glossy.

 

That evening, after dinner, Ward decided to spend some moments on the couch, half lying askew on it, large soft cushions sustaining his back, his hands behind his head, and his stare lost in the fire that was crackling in the fireplace.

Not having a television, he had to be content to see the spectacle of the flames flickering in the dark, while some sparks occasionally appeared and disappeared from view and the comforting warmth was reaching him, together with the pleasant sound of the crackling of dry wood and its perfumed scent.

Skye was observing him: he had been almost quiet all afternoon and she knew he needed to talk about that.

Something smelled.

Something wasn’t right about that dog.

She knew, even if not from personal experience, that the affection for a dog could be very strong. She had seen adults cry like children at the death of their dog, after years of cohabitation, especially if the dog represented the only life partner.

But here there was something else, besides the affection for a furry companion for life!

So she approached the couch and sat down next to his belly, not preventing him from watching the fire, and urged him:

“Come on! Spit it out!”

He looked lazily at her and sighed:

“What are you talking about?”

“You know what I am talking about! I want you to tell me Buddy’s story.

I need to know everything about you, especially if it hurt you.”

“How do you know it hurt me?”

“Come on, Ward! It does not take a genius to figure it out!

It’s obvious that Buddy was important for you; otherwise you wouldn’t have spent all that time to engrave the epitaph on the stone. And, since you’ve seen that tomb, you have become extremely sad and grumpy.

There is also written “Please forgive me”, so it is obvious that there is something wrong, and I bet that all the fault lies with Garrett.”

He chuckled:

“I cannot hide anything from you…”

She reacted immediately, almost angry:

“And you shouldn’t!!!

Ward, you have seen me literally at my worst, like nobody else in my life!

I did the same with you!

Between the two of us there is a confidence so huge, that most couples can not even dream of!

What could there possibly be so shocking that you cannot confess it to me?

Once you promised me that you would not have lied to me for the rest of your life.

Now I want you to keep your promise!”

 

Ward was looking tenderly at her, almost smiling at the childish ardor with which she spoke, so decided to open up and recount Buddy’s story and how it fitted with one of the most dreadful periods of his life.

“When Garrett rescued me from juvenile, he brought me here and left me alone, in the late afternoon, without anything else than a duffel bag with some cloths inside. I didn’t have anything to eat, or a shelter to protect me from the incoming rain, or a roof on my head, or a bed in which I could sleep.

But, like you already know, he left me his dog, Buddy, a brown male Labrador.”

At that Skye interrupted him, surprised and excited:

“What a coincidence! My father has a brown Labrador as his best friend, too!”

But suddenly her enthusiasm faded down as she added:

“He called it ‘Daisy’… it’s a female…” and her voice suddenly broke.

She felt that familiar knot in her throat as every time she thought about her father, his solitude, his oldness, but bravely swallowed it, to let Ward continue.

It was her turn, now, to have glossy eyes…

He, after a long tender look at her and a light caress on her cheek with only two fingers, went on, without averting his eyes from her:

“That night we remained alone under a tree, facing a cloudburst, while the chilling water penetrated in my clothes and in its fur.

It was freezing, both inside and outside of me.

I was desperate, because I just tried to burn down my family’s manor… and I hated them all with a passion… and I just escaped years of prison thanks to a man that abandoned me after saying that I shouldn’t trust anyone, especially him, and that the time with him would have been the hardest of my life… and I was alone… and afraid… and cold… and hungry…

But the Beast in me made me of steel and made me resist by the force of anger and hatred.

Without it I probably would have surrendered.

Without it I probably would have died, too.

I understand, now, why God allowed it to remain with me…”

 

Ward remained silent for a while to think, then continued:

“The first night, Buddy and I stuck together, trying to keep warm one another. However, the most important warmth that I received from it was not that of its body, but that of its unconditional, loyal and faithful affection. Even if it was only an animal, and I was aware of that, it was giving me more love than the majority of people gave me in years.

The following morning I changed in the only dry clothes I had in the duffel bag and went around to steal something from other cabins or houses, to survive. Mind that I was used to have always everything I wanted: I had always plenty of money at my disposal, even if I had been missing more important things… So, for me, being hungry and cold and forced to steal to survive was a very big humiliation.

But I was focused on survival and survival only.

That day I stole a tent, a pair of shoes, because my ones were drenched with water, and an apple pie to eat… I still remember how good it was!!! God bless the woman who cooked it, even if she cursed me for the robbery!”

Ward chuckled and paused at that remembrance…

“After that, I managed to organize myself and to build a camp, stealing other supplies and clothes for mere survival and shotguns to hunt animals in the woods.

Buddy was the retriever, and also comforted me after every beating and torture session Garrett inflicted to me…

In those years, in spite of the terrible life conditions, I had always enjoyed excellent health. Just once it happened I took a very bad flu, which forced me to stay in bed for a whole week. During that period I finished all my food stocks and Buddy helped me, hunting on its own in the woods and bringing to me its preys.

So, we stuck together for five years, waiting for Garrett to return every two or three months… to teach me.”

Skye shivered and scoffed.

“What an euphemism! To teach you!

Oh, how much I hate him!!!

And how much he deserves to stay in Hell!”

 

Ward shook his head:

“Don’t say so! I wouldn’t wish that for anybody!”

“Don’t tell me you did forgive him!!!”

“Yes, I did.

After all, he made a man out of a piece of shit kid… out of a worthless, pathetic, weak, useless, unnecessary, unwanted nobody!

Ward said those words with disgust!

Skye, instead, felt her heart stopping: was really this what Ward thought of himself???

What the hell could have happened to him for having so a low self-esteem???

“Do you know why Garrett betrayed Shield?” he asked.

“Because he was a duplicitous scumbag?”

“Because Shield betrayed him.

He got fragged by an I.E.D. outside of Sarajevo and when he radioed for medevac, he got nothing but an earful of excuses. That’s when he realized he was more loyal to Shield than Shield was to him. So he decided if he made it out, if he survived, he was going to treat them the way they treated him. He stuffed his intestines back inside, duct-taped himself shut, and humped his way out.

As you know, he was the first patient of the Deathlok program, in the early ‘90s.

He managed to stay alive thanks only to Hydra.

Hydra understands the importance of survival.”

“As always, things are more complex than they appear…

This is only the umpteenth confirmation that Shield itself had huge responsibilities in the Hydra infiltration” Skye commented.

 

But then curiosity took the upper hand on her and she asked:

“Why did you ask Buddy to forgive you?”

Ward’s heart started beating faster… she could perceive it from the vibrations he was emanating…

But he forced himself to talk:

“One day, after almost five years, Garrett told me that Shield Operations Division accepted me, effect immediate.

He said that what I had endured during those five years was way further anyone in there would ever experience in a lifetime. He told me I was worlds apart from anyone of them, and that I would be the best.

I felt my heart swallowing with pride at those words, and I thanked him. But he refused my gratitude, saying that I didn’t owe him or anybody else a thing, and that I earned it by myself.

He told also that it would be hard, once I had got there: working within Shield for Hydra, I couldn’t ever get attached to anyone or anything. I had to fight that weakness in me.

“Of course. That bastard wanted you to be attached only to himself!” commented Skye with spite.

“I said yes, but I didn’t know exactly what he intended for ‘weakness’…”

“What did he intend?” Skye asked, already frightened.

“He told me to take care of Buddy, and then we would go finally away” he said, darkly.

“Take care?

Take care how?

You took it with you, I guess… didn’t you?”

“No.

He wanted to teach me a lesson about detachment, about not being weak.

He wanted me to kill Buddy, while he would wait me by the truck.”

Skye gasped and looked at him with wide eyes.

“He wanted you to kill your best friend???

I cannot believe he could be so uselessly cruel!!!

But, after all, it isn’t surprising at all: he made Mike almost kill you, just to push me to unlock that damn drive!”

“He wanted to be sure I would not betray Hydra and himself, once I would go undercover.”

“And what did you do?” Skye asked, trembling.

“I aimed my gun at Buddy, that kept looking at me with absolute confidence and indomitable loyalty and with those puppy dog eyes that were telling me “I love you, because you are my good master and I trust you with my life”… and I couldn’t… I could not pull the trigger!

Garrett could have brainwashed me, but he couldn’t transform my heart in a stone!

So, I shot in the air, and Buddy ran away to retrieve an inexistent prey.”

 

Skye released the breath she was holding.

“Of course you couldn’t! Buddy had been your best friend!”

“But I wasn’t aware that Garrett was watching me like a vulture and was extremely pissed off by my disobedience.

He failed in my training. He realized I had a huge Achilles’ heel: my own heart.

So Garrett used it to make the lesson sink down. He took aim with a sniper rifle and shot Buddy, but not with a mortal blow. He only wounded it and then dragged me in front of it, whimpering, yelping and wriggling on the ground, to show me that yearning spectacle.

I wanted to finish Buddy off, to stop its pain, but he prevented me from breaking its neck.

And it was like a silent speech coming from his severe stare:

‘Kid, don’t ever disobey me. Otherwise I will torture your loved ones to death right in front of you.’

So we left, while Buddy remained there, bleeding out on the ground alone, unable to move, but still wagging its tail to me… I felt my heart tore in two…

I asked forgiveness, because I had not been up to the task to protect it.”

 

At that point Ward stopped talking, unaware that tears were falling profusely down his cheeks, making his honey brown eyes the most sad and beautiful thing in the world.

Skye was crying, too, and slowly started kissing his tears away, mixing them with hers, and making his head rest on her chest, caressing his hair, while he embraced her.

Ward basked in her tenderness, in her warm affection, like he never did with anyone else before… incredible to be said, he never cried for Buddy, until now…

 

They stayed several moments in that position, comforting each other.

After a while Skye asked him:

“Do you remember when you were down in Vault D and Fitz found you there, depriving you of oxygen and almost killing you?”

“How could I forget that?”

“I saw the footage when you said you tried to actually save them, to give them a chance for survival, when you dropped them in the ocean, convinced that the pod would float…

Was that the truth?”

“Yes, it was.

Garrett ordered me to kill them out of spite and to force me to prove my loyalty.

When I heard his order I panicked!

I knew that, if I disobeyed and Garrett found it out, he would have tortured them to death…”

“… like he did with Buddy…”

“Yeah… Garrett was a master torturer and he would have made them beg to be killed, at last!

During the years I spent with him, I saw much stronger and tougher men crying and imploring like babies, while subjected to his ‘methods’.

I didn’t want, absolutely, for Fitz and Simmons to experience that!”

“Oh, my God!”

“But I didn’t know how to save them, until they took refuge in the medical pod. The plane was flying very low, the pod would have floated and they had on themselves trackers, so that Shield would find them… it was the only way out!”

“You really had to make a hard decision!!!”

“Do you believe, at least, that I tried to save them?” asked Ward hopingly.

“Yes. I believe you.”

“Oh, thank God! Somebody believes me, finally!” he whispered closing his eyes.

“They… Fitz and Simmons, I intend… they never did, didn’t they?”

“No, otherwise Jemma wouldn’t have tried to kill me…” Ward let slip out.

“Jemma tried to kill you???” Skye asked scandalized.

“Mmmhh… I didn’t intend for this piece of information to slip out …”

“Why not??? I didn’t know that! I do not think even Coulson and May knew that!”

“That doesn’t matter anymore…”

“Yes, it matters, instead!!!

I remember that, when you walked down the Playground corridor like a man sentenced to death along the Green Mile, while they were dragging you to your brother Christian, Jemma promised that, if she saw you again, she would have killed you…

She even prevented me to see you for the last time…

But, frankly, I didn’t believe she would actually keep that promise!

After all, you saved her life, once!”

Ward didn’t say anything.

She paused an instant, then asked:

“And when the hell did it happen that she tried to kill you?”

“When we were in the Arctic Hydra Base. We found Mike and she asked me to try to find a stretcher to load him above it and, when I was turned, she threw at me one of those splinter bombs Hydra scientists created from the Obelisk, to pulverize me. But Bakshi shielded me with his own body and died in my place.”

Skye felt rage arising against Jemma not for the first time in her life, and asked, with a dark voice:

“You didn’t retaliate against her, did you?”

“No, but I said to her that I was really disappointed in her…

I didn’t realize until that moment how much she had changed…”

“Yes. She had changed a lot.

Probably the rule is that bad experiences produce bad people.”

“A rule with some exceptions…”

“A few exception…” and she thought about him, then added:

“Now that I think about that, Fitz probably had been her accomplice, in planning your assassination…”

“Probably…”

“Fantastic! Two young genial scientists transformed into two cold blood assassins…

Shield does not have a good effect on people…”

“It seems so…”

 

She continued:

That’s why you didn’t return back with us…

I wondered why, afterwards…”

“I had clearly understood that the team would never have forgiven me… so I left for your own comfort… even if leaving you hurt like a bitch.

But you seemed very interested in Lincoln, too, and I felt like the third wheel…”

“I had to save him… I owed him that. And I still hated you, at the time.”

“And you were right.

I, too, was convinced that there wasn’t enough good left in me…”

“… but it wasn’t true.”

“Yeah… but only God could see that.

And not a day goes by that I do not thank Him for what He did for me!”

 

And, at those words, Ward looked up, his eyes staring far, with immense love…

 

 

Chapter Text

 

Days were passing one after another, calmly, with Skye and Ward working on training, tactic and strategy’s lessons, reading, awaiting for Fitz and Simmons to return and searching about the diffusion of the disease and other things over the Internet.

“I think they took a vacation.

I found traces of air tickets booking for Seychelles under Simmons’ name, dated two weeks ago.”

“They took a vacation while the world is collapsing???”

“Ward, they are a couple, and couples need some alone time to raise the stakes!

You should know that by personal experience, by now…”

And Skye had the certainty that she had hit the mark, because his cheeks became slightly rose…

“Furthermore, them being a couple increases their productivity!”

He looked at her pointedly and answered:

“Uhm… maybe you’re right.”

“I bet that, between a kiss and a margarita on the beach, they are racking their brains to find a solution.

Moreover, they will be back tomorrow.”

“Really?”

“Yes. Tomorrow they will be back at the Playground. I found it out.”

“Good. The Playground is not far from here. I can reach them in one day, by car.”

 

She remained silent, then whispered:

“Are you leaving?”

“I need to talk to them face to face. We cannot afford to lose any more time!”

“… when are you planning to leave?”

“Tomorrow.”

“… so soon???” she asked in a whisper, with sorrow in her voice and a hurt look in her eyes.

 

He cupped her face in his hands and tried to reassure her, but she wriggled out with her eyes down and said:

“I don’t like it when I’m left alone.”

“It will be only for a few days… I will be back soon, I promise!”

“We’ll see…”

 

But her mood remained shady and unfriendly throughout the day, until finally it was time to go to bed, and the two could escape into the excuse of sleep to avoid further discussions.

Ward had tried to talk her down and calm her all day, because he did not want to leave without first having reconciled with her… but without any success. She had been frustrating!

As a result, that night he couldn’t fall asleep, while Skye, instead, seemed not having any problem about that, as shrouded in sadness as she was.

She kept herself strictly on her side of the bed, so he resigned in spending a sleepless night in solitary, racking his brains to find a solution: he didn’t want to upset her more than he already did.

Oh, he hated to have to make her suffer… but he had to do what had to be done!

 

However, it seemed that the universe did not want to leave them in peace.

After just half an hour they went to bed, a terrible thunderstorm broke out, with tremendous thunders rumbling in the sky, which made the whole house resounding. Ward was not particularly worried: that refuge had endured far worse weather conditions for years, and he also just fixed the roof, so he knew there was no danger.

 

But for Skye it was different.

 

At the first thunder she jolted awake trembling and whispering to Ward what was going on.

“Have they found us?”

“No, no, don’t you worry. It’s just a storm.”

But these words did not seem to calm her and with the second thunder she clung to him trembling even more.

 

“Don’t tell me you’re afraid of thunders, Skye!” he said, almost unbelievingly.

“They are so strong and sudden! It seems that the whole world could collapse on us!”

He reassured her:

“Don’t worry. There is no danger. We are safe, here.”

 

But then she began to cry.

 

At that Ward remained astonished:

“Hey, Skye! Are you… crying?

Don’t cry, honey! It’s only a storm!” and he hugged her to comfort her.

 

“It’s not just the storm!

Tomorrow you will leave and I will remain here alone, for days!

I hate being alone!

And I am worried about you!

Out there the world is awfully dangerous!

I don’t want you to get hurt!

I don’t want to lose you!!!”

 

Ward remained so much more astonished.

He was touched by those words spoken with so much unexpected affection!

Evidently her feelings towards him were radically changing and he felt a sudden burning surge of joy in his heart!

So he began to caress her, and comfort her with sweet words whispered in her ear.

And… oh, God! SHE was there… the woman he was madly in love with… in his arms… crying… because she didn’t want him to leave… because she was concerned about him… because she cared for him… and he couldn’t resist!

He HAD to kiss her!

She reciprocated immediately between tears, with the ardor and the fury arising from the fear and the pain for their imminent separation, and their kisses became quickly passionate and intimate, daring and insistent, until he felt his head spinning and he absolutely could no longer restrain himself! He started to kiss her neck down on her pulsing point; then began to slide down, unbuttoning slowly her nightgown one button after another with trembling hands, opening it completely.

His calloused hands began to wander over her soft breasts and his mouth took a nipple and began to tease it deliciously, while his fingers were occupied with the other one.

Skye was surprised, at the beginning, but was quickly forced to pay much less attention to the storm, to focus on the fantastic sensations he was eliciting in her, massaging his scalp and grasping and seizing suddenly and roughly with her fingers his soft locks of dark hair.

 

It was like he could read in her mind for the things she liked more.

 

Soon this was not enough for her and she began begging for more. He obeyed and prosecuted in his descent, stopping on her navel for a while… then he could not help himself, but went still down to find her perfectly shaved pubis.

He could not hold back a groan of excitement to this unexpected surprise!

“How can you be so perfectly smooth?” he asked huskily, his breath labored.

She managed to say, breathing heavily, trembling in anticipation:

“I used the laser hair removal a few years ago. I find it very practical.

“It’s tremendously exciting, too!” he exclaimed with an even huskier voice.

She could not suppress a grin of satisfaction.

But, immediately after, from her lips came a hiss of pleasure, because he had descended where she needed him the most…

And he went on for a long while.

Continuously.

Mercilessly.

Meanwhile, with his hands and his long fingers he was caressing alternatively the upper part of her body and her thighs, giving her the impression to be completely overwhelmed by him.

 

Again, it was like he could predict her every desire and this was driving her crazy!

 

She was over the moon with joy and began to beg for more, not able to restrain herself from moving once her hips sharply upwards. But, immediately after, Ward blocked and scolded her, looking in her eyes in the darkness of the room:

“Stop!

I want you to stay absolutely still, otherwise I’ll quit instantly!”

She nodded and he resumed his activities.

So she had to stay there, all that time, panting and moaning and begging, shaking her head from side to side, clutching the sheets, her tiptoes clenching, with a herculean effort of will to stay still, trembling under that sweet-sour torture that slowly, very slowly was taking her to her peak, while the thunderstorm outside was raging and howling furiously.

She tried to savor every instant of it, impressing every sensation into her memory.

Several times Ward stopped abruptly for a while, preventing her to reach the peak just in time, and building anticipation for what would come next, and then resumed his ministration in different ways, by changing the rhythm, the pressure, the intensity, and the angle, so that she never could get used to the sensations and could always be startled with something unexpected.

 

She had to admit it: he was a master at this!!!

Nobody before had given her such mind-blowing sensations, without even penetrating her in any way!

 

She was almost sobbing for the need she felt for release and several times implored him:

“Please, please, let me come!”

“Not yet” was always his answer.

Then finally, after what seemed an eternity, he took pity of her and commanded:

“Skye, come for me! Now!!!”

And she immediately reached the peak, letting out a long and acute moan between tears, which concentrated in itself three years of frustrations and pain, those last weeks of incredible unresolved sexual tension, the pain for his imminent departure and all that sweet-sour torture.

 

She remained there, trembling from head to toes, her vision whitened, panting heavily, almost sobbing:

“Oh… Grant… it was… fantastic… you are… awesome… gorgeous

Please… please… I beg you… make love to me!

I desire you!

I want you!”

 

But those verbs… desirewant … weren’t the Verb he wanted to hear from her.

So he resigned himself: the right moment had not yet arrived and he still had to be patient.

Consequently, the only thing she got from him was a furious kiss that brought her own flavor in her mouth, while his hands grabbed her ass and pulled her against him vigorously, so that she could clearly sense his excitement.

He was breathing deeply, but with a tremendous effort of will he broke away from her and left the room, to get down, to get out of the house and to jump in the almost frozen lake.

She remained in bed tremendously excited, with a wide smile on her lips, unaware that three little words could have obtained what she desperately desired and, above all, could avoid hurting him.

Lucky her, he was a headstrong and patient man!

 

After a few minutes he came back into the bedroom, already dry and warm, his breath regularized, and got back under the covers.

He asked, proudly, but still with harshness in his voice, due to her behavior throughout the day:

“So? You liked it, didn’t you?”

“Yeah…” she answered with a dreamy voice.

“Did I manage to calm you down a bit and tame you?”

“Oh, yeah… If I knew I would obtain such a wonder with a little pouting, I would have tried it a lot sooner!!!”

He snapped:

“A little pouting?!? You’ve kept me on tenterhooks all day!!!”

“But you rewarded me with the punishment I deserved, didn’t you?

You too kept me on tenterhooks for an impossible amount of time!” she said almost hurt…

But added immediately after:

“I must admit, on the other hand, that it was totally worth it!

But how could you manage to resist me, not indulging to your own desire, even if I begged you to make love to me?” she asked, aghast.

“I was ready to give you everything, but you were not ready to receive it.”

“What??? What are you talking about??? I was absolutely ready!!!”

“Oh, yeah… you have been physically ready even that night I found you on the sidewalk!

But, still, you are not mentally, emotionally and spiritually ready…”

She groaned in frustration.

“Consider this as my goodbye gift” he continued, deadpanned.

“When I’ll return, I hope you will have weighted attentively all the variables and you will come to a final decision.

I already said you this: don’t make me wait too much… it is only an useless torture for the both of us!”

She resigned and then once more crouched down beside him and put her arm around him as usual, resting her head on his heart, yawning:

“Ok. I will cogitate on that.

For now… good night… sex machine!”

 

Of course: another nickname… from Skye…

 

He chuckled and responded tit for tat:

“Good night, tamed shrew…”

 

She giggled:

“I liked being tamed!

A lot!

You should do it more often!!!”

 

“Happy to oblige… in due time!”

 

The storm was definitely over, both outside and inside.

 

 

 

Chapter Text

 

The next morning he woke up with her clinging to him.

She was so smooth and soft and warm and she was resting so peacefully against him!

Oh, it was heavenly, and it represented a huge improvement on the previous evening, when she kept strictly on her side of the bed!!!

He tried to wake her up without startling her:

“Skye, I need to go” he whispered in her ears…

She muttered:

“Mmmhh…. Five more minutes…”

He indulged some more time basking in her warmth, feeling her body against his and caressing her hair, but the clock was ticking and he had to go…

He huffed:

“Come on, Skye! It’s getting late!”

But he managed to receive only some more grunts from her and an even stronger embrace.

 

Then he had an idea:

“I know what to do with you” he said smiling mischiefully, and he began tickling her.

She started giggling, then laughing openly and writhing, waking up completely. In retaliation she started tickling him back and he too started laughing and squirming. The both of them ended up in a tangle of sheets and blankets almost unable to move, and laughing wholeheartedly.

 

He was upon her and gave her a peck on her lips saying:

“Good morning, love!”

“Good morning, Grant” she answered smiling sweetly, losing herself in his honey brown eyes…

 

… he called her love… she didn’t…

 

And then the shadow of pain shaded her sight and she hugged him feverishly.

He hugged her back.

“Let’s prepare a good breakfast: you’ll need energies for your mission…” she said, her voice trembling, even if she wanted to sound cheerful.

She had resigned, at last…

“Yeah…” he sighed, his voice muffled, his face in her hair.

 

The two of them descended the stairs holding hands, with the morning light framing them from behind…

Oh, seeing them together was a spectacle for the eyes!

They formed such a wonderful couple, even if they weren’t aware of that!

She was so beautiful and he… well… he was something incredible! The epitome of male beauty, really!

The way they smiled to each other spoke more than a thousand words…

She was into him as much as he was into her… they couldn’t take their eyes off one another… they took every excuse to touch each other… they stared at each other’s eyes… and lips…

Seeing a man and a woman so madly in love was a joy for the heart!

Moreover, what happened the night before had created a so deep intimacy between them, that Skye, besides being a little shy remembering the way he touched her, felt even more savagely attracted to him! If he hadn’t to go away so soon, she probably would have given up and would have confessed him her love right now!

 

But unfortunately they were fighting a war… and love would have to wait.

 

After breakfast he packed some tools in a duffel bag and then he had to unwillingly take leave from her.

“The fridge is stocked with everything you can need for a week.

The generator is fully filled.

The weather should be good for the next ten days.

On the porch there’s a lot of dry firewood, so you will not have any problem in lightning the fire in the stove to cook and warm the ambiance.

Go on with your training and keep digging about Talbot and the disease, being careful not to be caught.

We cannot directly communicate during this whole period: it would be too dangerous and I don’t want anybody to find you here and harm you.”

“Return to me, please… soon!” she begged him with glossy eyes.

“I will be back in three days, four tops, I promise” he guaranteed.

She hugged him and he hugged her back:

“Take care and be careful!” she said, with a heartfelt voice.

“You too.”

“And say hello to Fitz and Simmons for me!” she smiled.

“Count on it!”

But they couldn’t take leave without a proper goodbye, so they started kissing, and kissing, and kissing like it was the last time of their life… passionately… savagely…

Those kisses were full of promises and he parted from her drowning in her eyes that were blackened with passion and desire, not aware that his own eyes, too, resembled two pools of black pitch.

 

But he had to go.

 

She stood on the doorway while he entered the SUV with a wink and left.

She waved back and forced herself to smile.

 

But in that moment she was not in the mood to smile.

She felt like her stomach had just dropped in the center of the Earth.

When the SUV was no more in sight and even the noise had almost faded out, she felt suddenly frighteningly lonely.

It was the Broody’s all over again.

The tremendous sense of abandonment grew wildly in her heart, the solitude like a snowball becoming bigger and bigger, swallowing up her whole, like the one she felt when she was little and she returned from a foster house seeing her would-be parents going away.

Forever.

 

She cried.

Silently.

 

And went back inside.

 

After a while, she started singing a sad song she used to sing when she was alone at the orphanage.

 

She couldn’t send away a bad feeling about that whole situation, so she climbed the stairs and abandoned herself on the bed, sneaking under the blankets and embracing his cushion, breathing his smell deeply, and falling asleep.

At least, in her dreams she could imagine to be with him, that the cruel world hadn’t divided them…

Again…

 

 

Three days went by without news of any sort.

Her life went on smoothly, occupied by house activities and training and researches about the disease, and lonely nights in an empty cold bed, and silence…

She really wondered how could Grant resist in that unbearable solitude for five years without becoming insane!

She was losing it after three days!

And she was more advantaged than him: she had a roof on her head; she had a fully stocked fridge and a warm little house to live in; she had her computer and with it she was connected to the world!

The only comfort she found was living in that little house where every corner, every detail, every brick, every piece of wood talked about him, everything was designed and built by him and his indefatigable work…

His work… probably that was the key…

He had to work so much for mere survival that, simply, he had not had time to feel alone!

Probably every evening he had gone to bed so tired that sleep knocked him out like a ton of bricks!

That could be a suitable explanation!

 

 

The fourth day she couldn’t stop worrying more from hour to hour.

Fitz and Simmons were disappeared from the Playground after one day of permanence.

She couldn’t even find Coulson, May, Mack, Elena, Lincoln, Joey or Radcliffe anywhere anymore.

Where did everybody go, for heavens’ sake?

 

Moreover, Ward promised her that he should have been back in three days, four tops… so today he should have been already there… and he wasn’t one to break promises.

 

 

But at sunset there was still no sign of him.

 

 

Not even the day after.

 

 

Or the day after that.

 

 

The morning of the seventh day she was in a condition of alarming distress: her breathing was constantly labored, her movements jerky, her stomach closed.

That night she couldn’t sleep; all the researches she made feverishly over the Web did not give her any useful result and she was feeling concern eating her alive.

 

Now she was absolutely certain: something bad happened!

Something bad must have happened to Ward!

Scratch that: something bad must have happened to Grant!

To her Grant!

 

What the hell could have happened to him for being so late, otherwise???

And awful images of him beaten, tortured, and killed crossed her mind: she was almost having a panic attack imagining his body laying dead on the ground or his eyes emptied of life!

 

Then, out of nowhere, a thought crossed her mind: what she said that dreadful night, when she was in Ward’s house, vomiting her soul for the Krokodil withdrawal.

“I feel like a little boat tossed by the waves in a stormy sea: I have not even a moment of peace, of rest… I’m so tired!”

And she remembered also his answer:

“When it happens, the only solution is to try to plunge into the deep, where the waves and the wind can not penetrate, where everything is calm and quiet and you can look up and see the storm upon you, without being involved in it.”

“But how can I do that?”

“Relying completely on God.

Allowing God to take over and guide you.

Stopping fussing.

Ceasing worrying.

Deciding to turn your will and your life over to the care of God.

Because you have a problem that you cannot solve by yourself, you can choose to allow that power greater than yourself to intercede.”

 

And she started praying, putting her whole heart in the hands of God:

“God, please, have mercy!

Save him!!!

You changed him to the core: he’s Yours, now!

He’s a good man!

He’s a hero, even!

And I heard what You said: You created he for me and me for him!

And we are so similar!

Nobody can understand me as thoroughfully as him!

What’s the point in dividing us now that we have not yet achieved nor fulfilled any good?”

 

She started crying covering her face with her hands and fell on her knees, on the soft earth of the forest floor, flooded by the scent of fallen leaves and surrounded by the beautiful colors of autumn.

“Oh, God, he helped me more than anyone else on Earth!

Had it not been for him, I would be dead with a bullet in my temple, or by overdose, by now!

Or worse: I would be in Hell!

It was You who sent him to the rescue!

And I’m still here, praying You, thanks only to him, and to the hope and the faith he instilled again into me!

Please, protect him and let him return back to me!!!

I need him!”

 

But then, alone in the woods, among the trees, in the silence that reigned all around, she yelled, with rage, with desperation, what she had been terrified to admit for months and couldn’t deny anymore:

 

“DAMN!

I LOVE HIM!!!”

 

And then she continued crying and hurling, her shoulder shaken by her sobs, the earth around her slightly trembling…

 

After a while, more calmly, she continued:

“Yes, yes, I am finally admitting it!

You, God, have riven me! You have broken my pride and made me say what I didn’t want to say!

I LOVE him!

So, please, save him!

He’s my twin soul, my companion, my buddy, my life partner! How am I supposed to live without him???

Please, forgive me for having been so headstrong!

I understand only now how much I love him… only now… when I don’t even know if he is still alive anymore!”

 

And, with that, she continued crying, tortured by worry and concern, but beginning to feel a great peace entering in her heart…

Having admitted her true feelings in front of God – and to herself – made her feel like embraced and warmed by her own love: now she could rely on it, instead of fighting it!

And having decided to rely on the care of God only, gave her a long forgotten serenity…

 

She was near Buddy’s tomb: she reached the stone with the epitaph and caressed it, wondering how much time Ward had needed to engrave those writings.

“You loved him, too, didn’t you, Buddy?

Thanks God you were here with him, to take care of him, poor soul!

He loved you, too, you know? A lot!

Oh, yes… I know… you knew it already…

Grant cannot hide his feelings when they are so strong, even if he was trained to be a Specialist!

He feels too much…”

And she caressed the stone like she could feel his hands still working there…

Oh, she would have given anything to take his hands in hers, now, to kiss them, his beloved strong calloused hands!

And the thought of all the days and nights they spent together without a complete disclosure from her stroke her with regret!

And she started crying, again.

Why had she been so headstrong and stupid?!?

Why hasn’t she revealed him her true feelings, when she had the chance???

What if she won’t anymore have the occasion to tell him she loved him?

What if he died without knowing that???

 

Oh, stupid, stupid, stupid!!!

 

The prophetic words Ward pronounced when they were in bed some days before resounded in her heart:

“Don’t make me wait too long, Skye.

I need you.

And you need me.

Moments like this, opportunities like this are rare, and we are wasting them.

I only hope we will not regret this…”

 

Oh, she was regretting her indecision, her cowardice, now! Ferociously!

What a stupid headstrong woman had she been!!!

 

She was resigning herself in passing another evening alone in the cabin and another restless night clutching his cushion trying to remember their last night together, when, finally, it could be heard the sound of the SUV approaching the house!

 

She rushed towards that heavenly sound, her heart beating a thousand per hour, undecided whether embracing and kissing the breath out of him or punching and slapping him with before unseen violence…

 

 

 

 

But it wasn’t Ward who got off the SUV.

 

 

 

 

 

It was Coulson.

 

 

 

Chapter Text

 

 

Ward left Skye with a heavy heart and drove for several hours straight, along mountain roads, then descending on the highway, then surpassing towns and cities…

And he had a lot of time at his disposal for thinking…

 

He was directed to the Playground, which had been for many months his prison, down in Vault D.

It had been almost three years ago… but the memories about those long months deprived of the light of day, of human company, of psychological therapy, and of any kind of entertainment (a book, for example, or a notebook in which he could write, all things he asked, but nobody had given) were still extremely painful for him…

They treated him not like a human being, but like a caged animal, a cow from which milking information.

The only things he could do in that hole were working out and thinking… and only his incredible willpower, his strong discipline and the long habit of being alone prevented him from becoming definitely insane!

One time Skye said to him “My bad. I slipped. Talked to you like a normal person”...

So that was it: she thought he was mad.

She thought he was insane.

 

Well: he, on the contrary, was rather surprised at how much he had managed to stay balanced, considering all that had happened to him.

He would have wanted to see how anyone else would have done in his place!

 

Still he wondered, in that very moment, where Skye had gone… if she ever existed, even! He felt his heart freezing, in that instant: if even she no longer existed, for whom was he still living, then?

 

But then there were other moments in which she let slip that damn mask down for a fraction of an instant, and he could glimpse the true her and breath again: she was still there, deep down, thanks goodness!

 

At the end he couldn’t dig deeper in her new façade, because Coulson decided to hand him over to his abuser and he had to leave the base with a blind hood on his head to be judged and condemned to death in front of the entire world!

 

He chuckled.

 

Again… what had been May’s words, when they were flying halfway around the world hoping to find the doctors that resurrected Coulson, so they could do a second miracle for Skye?

“If Coulson thinks there’s a chance in a million to save Skye, to save any of us, he’d take it.

People like us… we need people like him.”

Well, that speech was true for Skye, or May, but certainly not for him.

When they all were on the bus, it was evident that Coulson cared for Skye and May, and also, but less, for Fitz and Simmons.

But he never really cared for him: he could clearly sense that.

Coulson reminded him of his father.

 

Who knows: maybe his lack of interpersonal skills produced this effect on men, who, excluding John, couldn’t become his friends…

At the end, John had been the only real father figure he ever had… and he had loved him for that! Enormously!

How could Skye think he could not forgive John??? If it hadn’t been for him, he would have passed all his life in a prison!!! And John had cared for him, he was sure of that!

 

He must have cared for him…

 

Coulson, instead…

When, as the icing on the cake, Hydra destroyed Coulson’s entire world – his precious Shield – his own betrayal had been the symbol of all of that, like a stab to the heart.

And Coulson ended up hating Hydra in him.

 

He still remembered, like it was today, their speech:

“I’m still a part of your team!”

“My team? You are not, nor you’ll ever be, on my team! You dropped Fitz-Simmons out of a plane! You murdered Victoria Hand and Eric Koenig! You betrayed every one of us, you deluded son of a bitch! The only reason you’re alive is because you were OF USE. And the only reason you’re being transferred is because your brother is OF MORE USE!”

 

How much hissing was in his speech! He was like a talking snake!

 

“Was this his idea or yours... to put me on trial? Hmm?

I t’s a good story…

A man brave enough to have his own brother executed for his crimes!

Oh, Christian will milk that for all it’s worth. And the trial should wrap up right before the midterms.”

 

“Your brother saw the same angles. Maybe you two are more alike than you think.”

 

Ward still could not believe that Coulson had let Christian fool him so thoroughfully!

He knew that Christian must have put on a charade in front of Coulson about how much he loved his unfortunate mad brother, pretending concern for his conditions and for the treatments to which he could have been subjected…

But the very fact that Christian wanted to condemn him to death made it absolutely clear what his true nature really was!

 

Ward remembered a wise sentence from the Gospel that warns against and shows how to unmask those who are good at fooling others with a clever use of malicious words:

“By their fruits ye shall know them”,

that means:

“You’ll understand the true nature of a man by the long term effects of his actions, not by his words”.

 

Looking things from that point of view, it was crystal clear what Christian’s nature really was…

 

No.

 

Christian didn’t fool Coulson.

 

Coulson simply didn’t care about him at all, and, to gain political support, he would quietly have left him to be killed.

Or, even more straightforward: Coulson had wanted him dead.

 

Actually, it was not a so remote possibility: after all, Coulson killed him in cold blood, only a year later…

 

Ward knew, for having read his mind during the period in which Hive infested his dreams, that Coulson had felt guilty for kidnapping his brother Thomas, and that he had pronounced apocalyptic words and pathetically tearjerker sentences, like:

“To take Ward out, I need to cross some lines the Director of Shield shouldn’t cross”.

But – you lousy hypocrite! – had it not been much worse delivering him to his childhood abuser, to his torturer, to be killed???

What kind of twisted scale of values had Coulson in his mind???

Kidnapping a man was more severe than hand another one in the clutches of his childhood tormentor to let him be murdered???

 

The only explanation was probably that, in Coulson’s eyes, treachery against himself and his precious Shield turned automatically a person into a non-person, in a being unworthy of respect and help, in an insect to be crushed…

But, nevertheless, it was strange the same rule didn’t apply to Skye… even if she was so new to Shield…

 

Probably the man loved her as a daughter so much that he was willing to forgive her anything…

 

… Skye…

 

Maybe she could be the key of interpretation…

The last time they met, Coulson had proven to be extremely jealous of him, about Skye… and it seemed so strange to Ward…

What if Coulson’s hate towards him had been ignited and worsened by his fatherly jealousy towards her?

Coulson had certainly seen that the attraction between the two of them was mutual! That could have been the reason why he had resisted weeks, before letting her go down to him in Vault D: he was probably scared she could give in to her deeper feelings…

It was an interesting hypothesis…

 

But right now it wasn’t the time to indulge on those thoughts, which could disturb his concentration.

After all, whatever the reasons had been for Coulson to hand him to his brother, the final result had been the same: no one bothered to help him, as usual, so Ward had needed to fight for his own survival.

Again.

For the umpteenth time.

 

But now it would have been another story, thanks to God, literally!

He, after what seemed a lifetime to him, had found the freedom he coveted.

He had a series of clear goals in his mind and was perfectly aware of what he wanted and how to achieve it!

 

 

After several hours driving, he reached the isolated village that hid the entrance to the Playground, one of the most protected Shield bases.

The town itself was little, with nothing more than a mall, a pub and a few houses in the middle of nothing, and he crossed slowly it in a few minutes, as he searched for the best place to park. Ward remembered a lot about that town, from that time he was here with Hive, in that period that culminated for It in the end of Its life and for him in the beginning of a long coveted freedom. At that time Hive wanted Daisy back: she was too powerful, too intelligent, too good, too useful to give up on her, so It had arrived here determined to take her back and make Shield pay for the interference.

How ironic… at least the two of them shared something: a big interest in Skye, even if for different reasons…

 

The memories he kept vivid in his mind helped him in finding the entrance to the base, which was hidden in the only pub of the town. He sat down in just the right booth and commanded telepathically the bartender – that was a Shield Agent – to let it sink down.

He was going to use profusely his telepathic power, now, without any restraint!

 

He had to approach as much as possible the people he was interested in, to read their thoughts and to command them: the most near he was to their brain waves, the best he could read them and interfere with them.

He didn’t really understand how this whole telepathic thing worked: he acted mostly on an instinctual basis. And his instinct was also sending him a bad feeling in the pit of his stomach that warned him to stay alert, because the danger was near, nearer than he ever rationally thought possible.

 

Standing outside the big iron yellow gates, he could sense the presence of people inside the inner part of the base. He knew that, in the hangar, there weren’t so many cameras as inside, so he simply gazed around to detect their position and to study a route that would allow him to sneak inside undetected.

But he needed to disguise himself better, so he grabbed the first janitor that walked his way, rendered him unconscious and stole his clothes, his hat and his cleaning tools, to masquerade himself as him. He had also let his beard grow longer, to pass unnoticed more easily. Moreover, whenever he was near a camera, he angled his head in such a way his face was hidden by the hat visor, so that he could not be recognized by anyone that was inspecting the camera feeds.

Thanks to these shrewdnesses, he entered into the inner part of the base through the yellow gates, using the janitor’s badge, and started sneaking around.

The place was huge, quiet, the corridors empty. He sensed the presence of people in the labs, but he could not find any trace of Jemma, or Fitz, or Radcliffe.

He approached the more secluded offices, in search of Coulson, or May, or Mack, but they were nowhere to be found.

He went to the gym, hoping to find Lincoln, or Elena, or Joey… but there wasn’t any trace of them either…

 

Yet they had to be here!

They were all here just the day before!!!

Where the hell had everyone gone???

 

He was starting to suspect that maybe a major and sudden mission had catapulted them halfway around the world and to have wasted his own time coming here… when he felt in his brains, in the distance, a cry of pain…

It was May’s!

 

He focused immediately on that feeble brain wave and began to follow it.

May was for sure on the floor below, and she was suffering!

He didn’t even know that there was a lower floor, besides the little landing that had been used as his cell in Vault D. But evidently he was wrong, and the best idea he could think of was to search for the entrance to the Vault that had been for many months his prison.

Wandering around, at a certain point he found himself in a long corridor…

Yes! He was on the right track! That was just the hallway he had walked down when his brother’s guards had extracted him out of his cell!

Along that corridor he saw, fixing them in the eyes without flinching, and in one case for the last time, Antoine Tripplet, Fitz, Skye and Jemma, just before the soldiers covered his head with the hood.

It seemed to him like a lifetime ago, but it hurt nevertheless! All his primeval feelings rushed back in him and he almost chocked at the sense of loss, of fear, of loneliness he felt then, before the Beast took control again! In particular he had been hurt by the fact that he could not tell Skye that he would keep his promise, nor see fully her beautiful face one last time, because Jemma put her own in their line of sight…

But he compartmentalized those awful memories and continued walking along the corridor and, just around the corner, he found what he was searching for: a door with a Shield eagle and ‘VAULT D’ written on it!

It was it!

He tried it: good, it was unlocked!

 

He went down the stairs that Skye had descended so many times to come and talk with him…

Oh, she had been really a sight for sore eyes, all those times!

The first time he saw her after so many months had been so blissful and painful at the same time! She was so incredibly beautiful, but so tremendously unreachable, too, both physically and mentally! It was like she had erected high unbreakable laser walls around her, too, so that nothing he could say would perturb her detached demeanor.

He wondered so many times, during his captivity, what her true feelings really were, when she was down there alone with him, when she discovered he had tried to kill himself, when she asked if he had been brainwashed, when he talked about her father, when he couldn’t hide his terror knowing his brother was hunting him…

He knew her, he remembered her caring and warm nature, and he couldn’t believe she could have become so cold and detached. It was only a mask, he was sure of that!

Otherwise she wouldn’t be Skye anymore!

His Skye!

He, of course, noticed she was scared of him at the beginning, that she thought he was a mad man, but then, little by little, she started fearing him less and acting as she was more at ease with him. Sometimes it seemed almost like the old times…

Almost…

What if he could have remained there longer?

What if his brother didn’t mess with his life again?

What the epilogue could have been, then?

He would never get answers to his questions…

But the important thing, now, was that the relationship between him and Skye had changed radically, and he would never have imagined, even just a few months ago, that things would improve so much! They had never been so close as now, and the memories of the last night and especially of their last kiss, so full of promises, made him hope that she finally had overcome all her fears, to let her real feelings overflow!

 

Damn! What was happening to him? He was on an extremely dangerous mission, and, instead of thinking about how to approach it in the best way, he kept losing himself in a thousand other thoughts! After all, Garrett was not so wrong: attachments could be weaknesses!

But, on the other hand, they totally were worth the risk!

 

Damn!

 

Grant!

 

Focus!

 

The room was dimly lit, as always, but he noticed a row of blood’s drops on the floor leading to a wall: it did not make much sense, unless that wall was a fake one, hiding a secret passage.

He had no time to seek the mechanism that could slide off the wall, so he simply pulverized it with a puff of hellfire out of his hand, careful not to leave any traces of said fire.

It was indeed a secret passage!

He entered in it, descended two flights of stairs and found himself in a much more obscure place, like a dungeon, where the temperature was significantly lower.

There wasn’t any camera: it seemed devoid of high tech at all, differently from the upper floor.

There was a long corridor with some close doors looking out on it.

He started walking, pausing near every door to listen, but he didn’t perceive anything until the end of the corridor, that led him to a big obscure room dimly lit.

 

There the spectacle that stood before him in the semidarkness was one of the most painful he had ever seen: in a line against the wall, full of bruises and wounds, dripping blood, with hands and feet tied, there were Mack, Fitz, and Radcliffe, who watched in horror Mace who was massacring May with beatings.

Simmons was tied to the lie detector looking aghast.

Coulson was shackled to the memory machine, which was still off, while Lincoln, Joey and Elena were at the window of a containment module for Inhumans, eyes bulging for the inability to take action against the awful actions of the Director of Shield.

A large group of armed guards were watching amused the scene.

 

Ward’s analytical brain began to evaluate scenario after scenario, reasoning a thousand per hour on the possible pros and cons about the actions that could be undertaken.

The first that needed to be neutralized, as quietly as possible, while Mace was busy with May, were the soldiers. It had to be done quickly, because otherwise May would have died soon, under that terrible hail of blows! She was already half passed out, by now!

But he couldn’t use his powers: not his telepathy, nor his fire, because he wanted to keep his cards covered, to use them in tougher situations, that he was sure would occur in a not too distant future. That was also the reason he didn’t put his mask on: because they would have immediately recognized him for the fire thrower that had saved Skye from them so many times.

But he could be fast, very fast! So he stunned all the guards silently, one after the other, in a matter of seconds, and depriving them of their weapons.

Then he ran over to the containment module and opened it using a puff of hellfire, thus freeing the three Inhumans that were watching him with puzzled expressions.

At this point they were four against one.

But he would personally deal with Mace: the memory of his extraordinary cruelty made him boil with anger and he wanted him to experiment a little his own methods!

So Ward attacked him by surprise, without warning, and started to hit him violently in the face.

Mace was really tough! Evidently he was an Inhuman, too, because his molecular density was extraordinary! It was like hitting a rock!

Mace, taken by surprise, took some instants to understand what was going on, but as soon as he realized to be in the minority, he immediately stopped hitting May, that was already on the floor, and jumped into a hand-to-hand battle against Ward, to be able, at least, to earn the exit!

But Ward had, in the meantime, armed himself with a very thick steel bar and began to strike violently it against Mace, who started giving signs of abating: obviously having to deal with one at his level was different from slaughtering a human woman!

They continued fighting furiously, while Lincoln, Joey and Elena freed Coulson, Mack, Simmons, Fitz and Radcliffe.

Coulson immediately rushed to May, who was fainted, and scooped her up, while Joey melted down all the soldier’s guns, for good measure.

Ward shot orders to them, while dodging punches and kicks:

“Mack, Joey, Radcliffe: grab the memory machine!

Lincoln, fry up the whole electrical system: cause a blackout and destroy all their computers, nets, machines and cameras!

And then everyone: get the hell out of here!”

Taking advantage of that moment of distraction, Mace struck Ward in the face making his baseball hat fall to the ground and consequently revealing, even if the light was so low, the former Shield Specialist’s identity in front of the Director, who remained visibly upset.

But then, he started laughing hysterically:

“So it’s true that you’re still alive, Grant Douglas Ward!

And I didn’t want to believe it!”

“Who did tell you I was still alive?”

“I have my sources…”

The two stared at one another with feral stares.

“How much time not see! The last time, you seemed a little worn…” and on Mace’s face surged an awful demonic smile.

“Yes, thanks to you!” said Ward through gritted teeth.

“But now I’m glad to see you are in a great shape!

Tell me: how is it possible that Hive is dead and you are still alive?”

“I’m hard to kill. You have no idea how much.

But you will soon!”

Enraged by the revelation of his – until now – secret survival and by his mocking words, Ward hit Mace with all the violence he could muster, knocking him out, but not before Mace was able of biting deeply into his left arm.

What a strange behavior, for a trained combatant…

 

At that time, Ward did not give weight to the fact, but soon he would have realized the severity of that wound!

 

He run away following the others, and reached them quickly up the stairs.

Coulson was having a hard time transporting May: she was too heavy for him, and Ward took her in his arms, in order to speed up the escape.

They reached the hangar and Ward gave instruction:

“Coulson, hardwire a van. Mack and the others: put on it the memory machine.

Fitz and Radcliffe: with Coulson! I will text you the coordinates of the rendezvous.

Mack, outside in the parking there’s my SUV: take it with Elena and Joey and follow Coulson.

Here you are” and he threw him the keys.

“Simmons, Lincoln, come with me!” and he rushed, May still in his arms, to a Quinjet, hurrying in the cockpit and lifting the bird off the ground in the air in a matter of minutes, finally flying away at top speed.

 

In the meantime, the Playground was in such a mess, with the explosions and the blackout that followed, that nobody noticed their escape!

 

 

Chapter Text

 

 

 

Once in the air and having put the Quinjet on autopilot towards the same coordinates he texted to Coulson, Ward rushed to the back to see how was May.

She had been badly beaten and he hoped she would not suffer a permanent damage.

They needed her.

They needed all the help they could possibly gain.

All his hate towards her had been put aside, when he saw her in so a bad shape, while undesired memories of their nights together continued popping out from hidden places of his brains.

“How is she?” asked Ward.

“Not good” answered Jemma, adding:

“But she will recover completely, after a proper period of rest.”

“Good.

Good.

We will need her.”

“Where are we headed?” asked Lincoln, who had helped, silently until now, Jemma in fixing May.

“We are going to an old Hydra base, now uninhabited.”

“What???” asked together Simmons and Lincoln.

“I warn you, Ward: if you try some other funny trick, I…”

“You what, Jemma?

You will kill me?

You already tried twice, without succeeding.”

“Well… third time is the charm, they say…” answered her, unconvinced.

He huffed:

“At least, try it after I have landed this beast!

None of you know how to make a Quinjet fly, much less land it!”

Simmons remained silent, but at least the tension had faded a little bit.

The flight lasted less than one hour, because the Hydra base was not so far. On the other hand, it would take some hour to the others to reach them. It was good, because in this way Ward would have the time to check the place for hidden threats or old nostalgic inhabitants who could still be in the neighborhood.

 

Hydra was a very complex organization, built in such a way to be extremely difficult to be completely erased from the face of the Earth. It was organized in cells, where the lower didn’t know anything about the highest nor about the peers and vice versa. In this way, the capture of the members of one cell kept the damage localized.

Malick deathbed confession provoked huge losses in Hydra, but not enough to destroy it completely, or to reveal the whereabouts of all the bases spread around the world. They had 70 years to organize themselves, after all, and managed to remain hidden for just as long! So they definitely had still several trump cards.

Ward was in an exceptional advance position, in all of that, because, on one hand, he worked for Hydra long enough to know all the internal mechanisms and the most important people, and kept in his mind all Malick’s memories and knowledge, all his contacts, all his bank accounts, all the politicians’ secrets that could be used to blackmail them…

On the other hand he worked a lot also for Shield, frequented the Academy, knew both the old and the new Director on a very personal basis and was a Specialist, so extremely trained and tough.

He was a gold mine of information and the possible glue between the two organizations, if they’ll ever join to cooperate and face together the disease!

 

The place where they landed was near the ocean, where the rocks were very high and overlooking the sea. The base had been dug into the rock and was mostly underground. The entrance was hidden in a forest of maritime pine trees.

The base was very large, even with the availability of hangars to park the Quinjet and, if necessary, even a Zephyr One.

At a short distance there was a small town, which could be able to supply the base of all the essentials to the survival of its inhabitants.

Once he had parked the Quinjet inside, Ward carefully scooped up May, that in the meantime had regained consciousness, and brought her in the common room, gently reclining her on a sofa. She had a broken leg and a broken arm, which Simmons could fix, some cracked ribs and bruises all around.

She would be out of the picture for at least one month.

During the transport, May looked at him silently, in that calm demeanor that was typical of her.

She didn’t complain once, not before, when Simmons was fixing her broken limbs, nor now, when Ward’s movements obviously had bothered her suffering body, even if he tried to be as much gentle as possible.

She was used to pain.

 

Ward then started inspecting the base, in search of anything out of order: obviously the electricity and water had been disconnected and the heating had been turned off. There was a large common kitchen with large refrigerators, but of course they were all empty and turned off: they would have to go to town very soon to stock up on all the essentials.

He reconnected the electricity and the water and turned on the heating and in that moment it seemed that the base had come to life again!

He showed to Simmons and Lincoln the scientific wing and they remained impressed by the huge amount of laboratories and high tech present there.

“You can say everything about Hydra, but they know how to work and research and bring together the best minds and the best technologies” he stated, rubbing his left arm, that had become sore.

“They are also very good in convincing people” added Simmons bitterly.

“Yes. They are” sighed Ward, thinking of the Incentives Program and Kara’s brainwashing.

“This is a great place to do our researches, indeed!” continued Simmons.

But then she noticed that Ward was keeping a hand on his arm and asked:

“Why do you seem in pain? Why do you hold your arm?”

“Oh, it’s nothing: during the fight, Mace managed to bite me, and now my arm is sore.”

“Let me have a look at it” said Simmons, suspicious.

“Afterwards, maybe. Now we have more pressing matters.”

 

After a while all the others arrived: Coulson, Fitz and Radcliffe on the van; Mack, Elena and Joey on Ward’s SUV.

Ward had put on the stove a large pot of boiling water to cook for everyone some pasta, and at the end, in the evening, they were all sitting around the large kitchen table, eating and drinking beers.

 

“Now, can you explain what the hell happened, for me to find you in such a bad situation?” Ward asked to Coulson.

Coulson sighed and started explaining:

“As I told you in our previous meeting, I had strong doubts on Mace and Shield, in particular about how they intended to carry on the researches related to the disease. At that time, it seemed that Shield was not anymore interested in the cure and that soon it would cut all the funds.

To me it seemed absurd, because the main objective of Shield is to protect and save people.”

At those words Ward raised an eyebrow.

“But evidently, with the new Director, this is no longer the priority…

I never had confidence in Mace and I tried to keep myself as far as possible from him.”

Ward interjected:

“During our fight, he recognized me and now he knows I’m still alive…

He was pretty stunned at seeing me, and this can only mean that you didn’t tell him anything about what happened with Hive.”

“As I have already said, I didn’t trust him.

And I didn’t want him to hunt you down, especially in that period, when Daisy was in danger and you had the task of saving her…”

“Task that I excellently accomplished, by the way…”

“Yes, thanks goodness…

As you can see, I can use my own intelligence, evaluate the situation and choose the right thing to do: I’m not only driven by my faith in Shield, as you thought!”

“I’m glad this time your concern for Skye made you choose the right thing to do… even if it meant protecting me…”

Coulson seemed embarrassed and changed promptly and conveniently the topic, to avoid that bickering:

“By the way, where is she?”

“I’m going to pick her up, tomorrow. I’m already late and I bet she is freaking out, right now…

I hope she will be here with us, tomorrow evening.”

“Ok, that’s good.” Coulson seemed relieved.

“But you didn’t finish the story. Please go on!” pressed Ward.

“About a couple weeks ago, it had been issued a very clear order: all researches related to the disease should have been stopped immediately and all the discoveries made so far deleted. At that, I gathered all the old components of our team…” and he looked around “… that’s us… and asked them what they thought about that order. And we all agreed that something smelled and that we should continue the researches incognito.”

“But it wouldn’t be easy” interjected Simmons, taking the floor:

“We needed the lab’s tech, we needed resources, money, computers, servers, access to worldwide information… and without Shield we didn’t have anything!”

“But you two took a vacation!” exclaimed Ward.

“How do you know that???” shrieked Simmons.

“Because Skye managed to spy on you for a while and we discovered you were gone to Seychelles…”

“Yes, to be free to plan something far from long ears…” said Simmons.

“… and to raise the stakes as a couple… and you should know, by now, how important this is” finished Fitz for her, looking Ward straight in the eyes with a serious, knowingly look.

It had been the first time Ward heard Fitz’s voice for a long time: the last recollection he had about it was when Fitz was yelling at Coulson to return back to the portal, on Maveth, before Coulson crushed his chest.

The sole sound of Fitz’s voice catapulted Ward just in front of that awful memory!

He shook his head to drive away that recollection. He had to be careful: all his compartmentalization mechanisms appeared to have been undermined by his cohabitation with Hive. He was becoming too melancholic, too easy at distractions.

He had to regain a tight grip on his emotions.

 

But he was taken aback also by what Fitz’s words implied. Evidently, the team knew that the relationship between him and Skye had ‘improved’, and felt a rush of heat on his neck… but he managed to calm down immediately after.

He hadn’t been aware, until now, that every one of them knew what was boiling in the pot!

It probably had been Mack to diffuse the news…

Those gossips!

He found himself almost grinning.

 

Simmons continued in a rush, to disperse the embarrassment:

“When we were back at the Playground, we started to put our plan into gears, but after about an hour I was called by the Director himself, to be subjected to the polygraph.”

“Cool” commented Ward.

“Of course he discovered that we were up to something, and called ratio the whole team, Inhumans included, in that dungeon you found us into. For good measure he immediately put Lincoln, Elena and Joey into the containment unit. They weren’t happy about that, but obeyed his orders nevertheless, to avoid creating further frictions…”

Coulson spoke again:

“When he made us all harmless, he was free to clearly show his suspicions.

The reasoning behind those was clear: if I tried to cover up the researches we were continuing to carry on about the cure, it meant that I wasn’t trustworthy.

Consequently I could have lied about other things, like, for example, about Hive.

And he was strangely interested in It, now that I am noticing…”

“What did you say him, about how Hive had been destroyed?” Ward asked.

“After you killed It and left the base to follow Daisy, we cleaned up everything that could show clearly how the facts took place: the camera feeds, the cocoon, the melted down containment unit… I didn’t want your incredible powers to be discovered so soon…”

“… because you wanted me to save Skye.”

“Yes, but not only.

You know that I am a man driven by guts, and my guts were telling me to cover you up.

And, until now, I had been right…”

Ward nodded, to confirm to Coulson his trust was well placed.

 

Gosh! Things had really changed!

 

“Then we built up the story about how Hive arrived, in your body of course, how It penetrated the base, and how we simply managed to attract and trap It in the containment unit and burn It up.

Of course, he believed you to be dead, as well.”

“As simple as that?” asked Ward, dumbfounded.

“As simple as that.” confirmed Coulson without a flinch.

“So that’s why Mace was so surprised to see me!

He was convinced I was dead, even if he said a phrase I didn’t comprehend.

He said, and I quote:

‘So it’s true that you’re still alive, Grant Douglas Ward! And I didn’t want to believe it!’”

“This is strange, indeed” admitted Coulson.

“It seemed like somebody already told him the truth and he didn’t want to believe it…” said Ward.

Then, looking suspiciously around, he asked:

“Is it possible you have a mole, in your ranks?”

“Besides you?” asked Coulson, ironically.

Ward huffed, but Coulson continued, deadpanned:

You can tell me: aren’t you a telepath? Is there a mole, in this room?” Coulson asked.

Ward looked one by one all the nine persons present, Coulson included, scanning for a long time all their brains and finally shacked his head:

“No, you are all clean and trustworthy” he sighed with relief.

 

The others looked at each other uneasily, realizing only then what enormous power Ward had.

 

“Why didn’t you read Mace’s brains, when you had the possibility?” asked Fitz, annoyed by Ward’s inspection.

“You know, I was a little busy saving your ass and dodging his blows!” answered Ward, dryly, looking him with his eyes in slits.

 

Then, more softly, closing his eyes for an instant and raising his hands in a soothing gesture, he said:

“Look: I understand that you were used to think about me as a traitor, as an enemy, but I can assure you: I have changed! Radically!”

“And how could you do that?” asked May, with hostility.

“Because Coulson killed me, on Maveth!

And I died!

Do you understand me?

I died!” he exclaimed, pointing his own finger on his chest.

“And the experiences I had on the other side changed me on a fundamental level.

There’s nothing to gain in being evil!!!

I understood it at my own expenses!!!”

 

Everybody remained still and silent at that revelation.

 

Coulson was the first to speak, asking, almost shyly:

“So do you remember what happened… on the other side, I mean…?”

“Yes, with crystal clarity.

But… why do you ask me that? You had the same experience… even a lot longer…” asked Ward, puzzled.

“The Tahiti protocol erased all my memories…”

“So you don’t remember anything?”

“I retained only a vague sensation about somethingabsolutely wonderful… for which I still feel a tremendous longing… Nothing more…” Coulson sighed.

“Yeah…” agreed Ward.

 

But then he refocused on the main topic, and in a more business like tone sighed:

“So Mace doesn’t know anything about my powers: nothing about me being a telepath, nothing about the hellfire, and nothing about my auto-healing capabilities…”

“Exactly” confirmed Coulson.

“That’s good!” Ward breathed a sigh of relief.

Coulson continued:

“He started interrogating me, accusing me to be a traitor, of having organized a mutiny…

He was repeating that pathetic sentence of him:

‘A team that trusts is a team that triumphs. But a team divided is a team defeated.’

And he accused me to have divided his team and betrayed his trust!”

Ward scoffed and asked, amused by the irony of the situation:

“How is the feeling, to be accused to be a traitor by the Director of Shield?”

“I’m not a traitor! I try to do what I repute right!”

“So did I…”

“It’s not the same!”

“If you say so” answered Ward, shrugging.

Coulson hastened to continue his speech:

“Then Mace started questioning me about Hive again, how It died, what really happened to you…

I don’t know why…

It seemed he knew something, but he wanted somehow a confirmation from another source.

But I strictly confirmed what I said the first time, that we managed to kill Hive and you, burning you two in a containment unit.

So he asked Simmons, who was still in the polygraph, if I was telling the truth, and she said she agreed with me.

But that wasn’t the answer he wanted to hear, so he asked again:

‘Is Coulson telling the truth? Yes or no?’ and pointed a gun towards her.

She answered ‘No’, and the polygraph clearly revealed that she was sincere.

So in this way Mace had the certainty that I was lying.

At that point he ordered his minions to take the memory machine, and to put me in it. At that, all of us rebelled and started a fierce fight, but it wasn’t possible to win against them, especially because we were unarmed and Lincoln, Elena and Joey were restricted in the containment unit.

By the way, why did you want us to bring the memory machine here?”

Ward paused for several seconds:

“Because there’s something buried in my mind that I want to bring to the surface” answered Ward.

“The memory machine isn’t pleasurable, you must know that…” Coulson pointed out.

“I have been inhabited for months by a monster: do you think the memory machine can scare me?”

“It makes you relive your worst memories… and you are full of them…”

“But I must subject myself to that. The memory I need to extract is of vital importance for understanding if the Hive threat is really definitely over… or not…” answered Ward.

The others looked concerned at each other.

“This is grave, indeed. What do you mean, exactly?” said Coulson, frowning.

“I mean that, before attacking the Playground, Hive had a face to face with General Glenn Talbot, and there happened something… but I cannot remember what.

I fear that this piece of information is extremely important…”

“Ok. We will help you in achieving that.

Now that you make me notice it, I didn’t see Glenn from Hive’s death!” Coulson confirmed.

Silence stretched among them, but then Coulson continued:

“May was the last to remain standing, but Mace started taking care of her personally. And he’s Inhuman: she couldn’t stand his strength.

In the meanwhile they shackled me to the memory machine…”

“And that was when I appeared.

Providentially, I daresay.”

“Yeah… I don’t know what would have happened if you didn’t arrive…

But why did you come to us?”

“I came to you to talk about the disease, because I want this madness to finish…

Did you manage to find an antidote?” he asked, turning to Simmons, Radcliffe and Fitz.

It was Radcliffe to talk, for the first time:

“The disease has Kree origin and we have no clue how their DNA works.

I’m afraid we need a miracle… for example somebody that naturally heals himself, to study him and reproduce somehow the healing mechanism… but we don’t even know if this someone exists, or, if he exists, where is he…”

“Shit!” commented Ward. “I hoped for better news…”

“Don’t lose faith. We will continue our research here, if you say we can use this base…

But we will need other tools, and instruments, and resources…

We need a lot of money, and I’m afraid we don’t have any…” Simmons said.

“That’s not true” stated Ward, and approached a computer, logged in and accessed to the site of an offshore Bank with a username and a password.

Everyone approached him and some of them gasped, while the others remained speechless…

The balance of the account was exorbitant.

“As you can see, money is not a problem.”

“Well… I’m really happy to see that!” Simmons commented, almost in a whisper, but asked:

“How do you have access to all this money?”

“From Malick. I retained all Hive’s memories, and Hive, on its behalf, had access to Malick’s mind like to an open book. So, what Malick had and knewI have and know, now …”

Everybody remained speechless at that.

 

After that Ward stood up… only to collapse on the ground a second later.

 

 

 

 

Chapter Text

 

 

Skye stopped dead, petrified.

Coulson here could only mean troubles.

Why was he here?

How could he find this place?

What happened to Ward?

Why did Coulson have Ward’s SUV?

What the hell happened out there???

 

“Daisy!” Coulson seemed concerned, and embarrassed, at first, but then he started relaxing.

 

“What are you doing, here???” she shrieked.

“I came to bring you with me…”

Coulson was visibly ecstatic in seeing her again.

“How have you been?” he asked, his voice dreamy.

It seemed to Skye to hear again Ward asking the same thing the first time they saw each other down in Vault D. But in that moment she did not need saccharine words or sentimentalism, especially after Coulson had shown what he was capable of.

She wanted answers!

“What happened?” she cut short.

Coulson resigned and answered to her main concern:

“Ward… well…” he hesitated.

She felt her heart stopping.

“What??? What happened to him???” she hurled, approaching quickly Coulson and looking furiously in his sad eyes.

“How is he??? What did you do to him???” she asked, a span from him, hate in her eyes at the remembrance that the person in front of her actually killed him!

“He came and saved us from Mace, but Mace infected him with some sort of pathogen we cannot comprehend…” Coulson said quickly, trying not to upset her more.

“He is still alive, but he is fighting between life and death.

Simmons is trying to cure him, but nothing seems to work.”

“I can imagine how hard she’s trying to heal him!” commented Skye bitterly, looking away.

“She is, and Radcliffe and Lincoln, too!” Coulson guaranteed urgently.

Skye scoffed, unsure if the mention of Lincoln should have made her more at ease… or less.

“He has a high fever and he’s delirious.

It was him, in a moment of lucidity, who explained to me how to reach this place.

He is asking for you…” Coulson finished feebly, almost admitting defeat.

“Let’s go, immediately!” Skye’s words were full of a sense of finality that left Coulson no other choice than to climb on the SUV and grab the steering wheel, while she sat on the passenger seat without even looking back to the cabin.

He started the engine and drove away.

 

The ride lasted several hours, during which Coulson filled in Skye with the last news.

It was true that Fitz and Simmons, together with Dr. Radcliffe, had been struggling to find a cure for the disease that hit half the world’s population, but everything they tried didn’t work, at least until now: the Kree DNA was too complicated and so different from the human one! Their only hope was to search around the world for somebody infected that managed to heal naturally, to study the case. But that research was almost impossible, both because they weren’t even sure that this somebody existed, and also because, to find him, they should have had access to a huge amount of data and computational power that was no more at their disposal, while they were still within Shield.

Moreover they received precise orders from the Shield new Director Jeffrey Mace to stop immediately this kind of researches and to delete all the data related to that. Coulson suspected that Mace was trying to slow down and stop them, because he somehow was party to the case. Simmons had become his most trusted scientific Agent, a level 9, while himself, Fitz and May where level 8, the others even lower, so they all had to respond to her, and call her ‘Madam’!

Shield had changed a lot, transforming again in a huge bureaucratic organization, and Coulson not being the Director anymore represented really a problem!

 

Nevertheless, the old team decided to proceed anyway with the researches inside of Shield, considering that they had no other choice, keeping everything hidden and trying their best not to be discovered. The group that Coulson managed to bring together included, beside himself, Simmons, Fitz and Radcliffe, also May, Lincoln, Mack, Elena, and Joey.

In this emergency situation he tried to gather all the trustworthy people he encountered during the years.

They did not know whom else to trust.

But things went south: Mace discovered them and, had not it been for Ward, maybe now they would all be dead… or worse…

“So where are we headed, now?

We are probably Shield most wanted, aren’t we?”

“We are headed to an ex Hydra base that Ward left at our disposal. It’s a great base, even better than the Playground, and there we will be safe, for a while.”

“Wait! Are we going into a HYDRA base???”

“It seems so…

World spins…” Coulson said placidly.

“Is Grant there?”

“Yes”

Coulson didn’t want to ask this, but the question simply slipped out of his mouth:

“You are on a first name basis again, I see…

I understand that things… improved… between you two… if I am allowed to ask…”

“He saved my life, more than once, in different ways and in different occasions.

If I’m still alive and sane I owe it only to him.” Skye answered resolutely.

“Did you forgive him?”

“Yes.

Yes, I forgave him, for everything, wholeheartedly… even if I said to you the exact opposite just some months ago…

Do you remember?”

“Of course” confirmed Coulson, recalling to his memory that heart to heart speech with her, after Ward killed Rosalind.

Then continued:

“In a sense, I always knew in my heart that this moment would come.

I knew you two would find a way back towards one another.

Between you two there had always been an almost magnetic attraction, which you, Daisy, have tried to fight with all your strength.

But, in the end, left free from external constraints, that magnetism could only reconnect you again.

Some things are simply written in the great book of destiny.”

Skye remained silent for a while, then asked:

“I didn’t expect in a thousand years such words from you.

Must I assume that you too had forgiven him?”

Coulson sighed:

“I think he is really changed.

The experience he lived on the other side changed him deeply, from the inside.

He’s no more the same man anymore.”

“No, Coulson.

I think he finally has become the man he always had been, deep inside, and that a hell of a damn unfortunate series of circumstances prevented him to be.

This, now, the man we can see and you think is a new man, is the one man Grant Douglas Ward should have been from the beginning, the man he was always meant to be.”

Coulson didn’t answer.

The two of them remained silent for the rest of the trip.

 

 

They arrived in a small cute village near the ocean; they passed through it and entered in a maritime pine tree wood. There they waited for a secret passage to open and give them access to the base.

“Welcome to Hydra!” exclaimed Coulson, sardonically.

The Hydra symbol was painted here and there, but was not so pervasive. It only reminded them sometimes that they were now safe thanks to the enemy!

The base had large rooms, laboratories, infirmaries, gyms, recreational areas… but it was impossible to understand how huge it was, without a proper exploration.

 

Coulson led Skye to one of the infirmaries: on a hospital bed there was Ward, unconscious, pale, slimmed down, sweaty and feverish, breathing hard, quickly and superficially.

Skye felt her heart sink down to her feet at seeing that, and slowly approached him with tears in her eyes.

She grabbed his hand and started caressing it, entangling her fingers with his.

Oh, his hands!

Again!

But they were so hot, boiling almost!

She caressed his cheeks and his hair with her fresh hands, and said something near his ear… that seemed to bring some life in him, because he opened his eyes and said:

“Skye… you are here!”

He was smiling.

“Yes, Grant, yes, I’m here, for you! I arrived, at last!” she answered, trying to hide her tears behind a forced smile.

“I’m sorry… I couldn’t keep… my promise… but I stumbled… on a minor… inconvenience” he managed to say breathing hard.

“I know, I know!

Don’t tire yourself!

Rest and heal: this is the most important thing!”

“Skye… your hands… so fresh… are heaven!

Don’t take them… away!

They alleviate… some of the pain…

They damp… the fire… burning… inside of me…”

“Oh, Grant! Don’t worry!

I’ll remain here, with you, comforting you!

Oh, my God! Those damned infected you!”

But he couldn’t hear her anymore, because he had fainted back to unconsciousness.

Skye started weeping, wetting all his and her hands and his face, until a friendly hand came resting on her shoulder, caressing her back.

It was Mack’s.

“Mack!” and she took refuge on his large chest, crying silently.

He hugged her.

“Simmons, Radcliffe and Lincoln said they did everything they could, to help him.

They are running every possible test on the substance Mace used to infect him.

The rest depends on him, on how strong his immune system is, on how much a fighter he is.”

“If the prognosis depends on that, he will surely heal!

He’s the strongest person I had ever known!” Skye said convinced.

“Now, come with me: your presence here is useless. He cannot feel you, now.

I will give you some tea to comfort you a little.

And you should say hello to the others: it is more than a year you disappeared from the face of the Earth and we all were concerned.”

“You shouldn’t be concerned about me.

I don’t deserve your care.

I don’t deserve anything.”

“Shush.

I don’t want to hear that rubbish anymore!”

 

Mack conducted Skye in the dining room.

Around the table there was the entire team, looking at her: Fitz, Simmons, Radcliffe, May, Lincoln, Joey, Elena, and Coulson, of course.

Simmons was the first to stand up and run at her with open arms.

Skye let Simmons embrace her.

And then all the others stood up – excluding May that was blocked on a wheelchair, but was smiling – and approached her and united themselves to the two girls in the hug. Everybody had for Skye words of appreciation, of affection, of longing, of nostalgia.

Lincoln, in particular, was eating her with his eyes… and found the strength to smile at her…

Skye could not hold back the tears at the sight of the affection that all of them demonstrated for her and felt again a huge sense of belonging… not to Shield, but to those very people.

They asked all about her: how she did manage to survive, how she avoided being captured, how she spent all those months alone…

She told them briefly everything, only careful in avoiding any detail about his personal relationship with Ward and her own feelings for him: from her desperate desire for drugs to fill the void Hive had left, to her terrible addiction with Krokodil, to Ward’s intervention that saved her in more than one way; from her life back at St. Agnes, to the abortive clinics destruction; from her alone life as a waitress in a forsaken village, to Shield and SAP Agents hunting her and, again, Ward’s rescue…

But, when she arrived to the point of the story in which she should have recounted them about her life in Ward’s cabin in the woods, she remained extremely vague: those wonderful days had to remain private, and all that happened there had to remain their secret.

“After seven days during which I hadn’t received any news, I heard the noise of Ward’s SUV approaching. But, when I saw Coulson descending from it instead of Ward, my jaw dropped…”

“I bet!” commented Elena, who evidently could not help but notice Ward’s attractiveness.

Mack glared at her, without her noticing.

But Skye was already lost in her distress, which did not give her a moment’s respite:

“And now he is fighting between life and death… again!

Why is he always on the cutting edge?

Why life has to be so cruel with him?”

She let out a shriek of frustration, and a few glasses and crockery trembled.

The others looked panicked at each other.

 

Then matter-of-factly she said:

“I need to return back to him. Maybe he will wake up again and, in that case, I want him to find me near.”

They didn’t stop her.

Lincoln looked at her with sorrow.

 

She remained at Ward’s bedside all night and all the next day and the following night, never leaving him except to eat something or to go to the bathroom. Several times Ward seemed to wake up, but he didn’t really wake up: he was simply delirious, and he didn’t recognize anyone, not even Skye, worrying her terribly.

When he was calm, instead, she alternated moments of silence with moments in which she talked to him:

“Grant, please, return to me!

We will go back to your cabin near the lake…

We will be together in the wild… again!

It’s so beautiful, there, and I like it so much!

But when you were gone everything changed… and I felt so lonely!”

She found the courage to confess her love, over and over again, even if he couldn’t hear her:

“Grant, please, return to me!

I love you!

I understand that now!

I want to marry you!

Do you hear me?

Do you understand me?

I want to be your wife and to give you sons and daughters…

I want to spend my life with you: my days in a real home and my nights in your bed with you!

Oh, I was so stupid! So blind!

We have wasted so much time… time during which we could have been together!

Oh, God, please, let him return to me!”

 

Sometimes Simmons came to them, changing the bottles on the IV:

“These serve to keep him hydrated and nourished and to control the pain, but I don’t have anything else to give him… being him an Inhuman and all…

Even Lincoln doesn’t know how to help him…

We are running tests on the substance we found inside his arm, and we are starting suspecting it is some sort of Hive secretion, similar to the parasites It threw at Transia people… the ones that corroded all those people…

In fact that substance is trying to corrode him, to eat him even, but his auto-healing power is coping with that…

But I don’t know how much he will be able to resist…”

“He will defeat it, I’m sure of that” stated Skye firmly.

“Let’s hope so” sighed Simmons.

Before Jemma could go away, Skye turned towards her with half a smile and said:

“Thank you, Jemma. I’m glad you overcome your hate for him.”

“He saved my life… three times, up to now…

He saved the team twice… and the world.

He earned his forgiveness” answered Jemma quietly, with a hint of guilt in her sad smile.

 

Sometimes Mack came in to talk to Skye and to keep her some company:

“I see you and Ward have overcome your differences…” he said one of those times.

“Yes, we did.”

“He loves you, a lot, do you know that?

Whenever he was able to speak, during his illness, your name was always on his lips.

He’s head over heels about you.”

“I know” Skye looked lovingly at Ward’s feverish form.

Mack let those words sink down, then continued:

“I never knew him and I expected someone dreadful, from your descriptions.

Instead… he’s not so bad…”

“No, he’s not…” she confirmed, sweetly, caressing his hair.

To Mack her feelings were evident, but he wanted to encourage her to talk about it:

“All I know about you two is that you were good friends, before the Hydra uprising, and then things went south.

But you never talked to me about him.”

Skye snapped:

“Because he was considered the evil personified!

Shield’s enemy number one!

Coulson’s enemy number one!

How could I even think about him or pine over him, being in the meantime a Shield Agent?

I would become a traitor myself, and I didn’t want to become one!”

“You know that you cannot choose to feel” Mack rebutted gently.

“No, I couldn’t then… and I can’t now” sighed Skye, more calmly.

“Do you love him?” asked Mack tentatively.

At that she inhaled deeply, closed her eyes to steel herself and answered:

“Yes.

I love him, with all my heart.

It is pointless to deny that, now.

And I don’t care what Coulson thinks, or May, or Simmons, or Fitz…

I’m done hiding my true self and my true feelings only to be accepted by the others!”

“I think they have proved enough that they accept you exactly for what you are…” Mack replied.

“Yeah… this is true now.

But it wasn’t, two years and a half ago!

Things were completely different, then: they saw me and my father and Ward like we were monsters!”

“The fact is that so many things have changed.

The world continues spinning and the enemy of today can become tomorrow your friend, and vice-versa.”

Mack stroked her back in a comforting gesture, she straightened up and rested her head on his shoulder:

“Oh, Mack!

I regret my behavior towards him so much I would like to tear my skin apart!

I have been so blind!

This is entirely my fault!

If only I listened to my heart and helped him when he needed me, if I fought back for him, instead of hiding behind a mask, instead of burying my true feelings deep inside, instead of letting be all that Coulson wanted… all of this wouldn’t have happened!”

“Hey, Daisy! We are all human beings and we are bound to make mistakes… and sins!

But the important thing is to recognize them and try not to fall into them anymore!”

 

They remained silent for a while.

Then Skye spoke:

“Mack… I know you are a man of faith… Can I ask you a favor?”

“Anytime, darling!”

“Can you pray with me… for him?”

“Of course.”

 

So the two of them started praying together, near Ward’s bed.

 

 

Chapter Text

 

The following morning Skye woke up all twisted up in the infirmary, leaning against the edge of the bed, with Ward’s hand in hers, after an entire night passed sleeping on a metal chair.

Judging from their soreness, her back and neck were paying all the price.

The morning sun was entering from the windows and was illuminating everything around them in a rose light.

The infirmaries were one of the few parts of the base not underground: instead the windows showed a beautiful sight of the maritime pinewood. They had probably been constructed that way to allow to the patients, forced to stay there for a short or long time, to enjoy a full view of beauty and nature.

In fact, it is established that the mood condition affects a lot in the healing process.

 

When Skye shook herself from the sleep haze, she noticed immediately that something had changed… that something wasn’t right…

 

Grant’s hand was ice cold!

 

Oh, God!

Why was his hand so cold???

It couldn’t be!

He couldn’t… he couldn’t… be dead!!!

No…

No!

NO!!!

Despair gripped her heart and she began to pant and to call him, begging him not to leave her alone, stroking his face, shaking him by his shoulders, grabbing his hand… and that horrible, horrible pain she already suffered for months, after Coulson told them that Ward had died on Maveth, on a impossibly distant planet, light-years away from Earth, from home, from her, stroke her like a train, squeezing her heart mercilessly in a painful tight grip, almost preventing it to beat.

But now it was much worse, because she was aware she loved him!

Her heart was actually aching in her chest!

She knew that if she continued to suffer in that way, sooner or later she would have died of a broken heart…

 

Ward, on the other hand, seemed calm and serene… his face was relaxed and not more contracted in the agony of the fever… all the wrinkles of his forehead were smoothed… his eyebrows were forming two regular arcs, no more furrowed with grief… his eyes were closed, emphasizing its long eyelashes…

 

He was still incredibly beautiful…

 

It seemed that he had gone quietly, without disturbing anyone…

 

 

 

 

Skye stood still, almost emptied by what she thought had happened… overwhelmed by the heaviness of the inevitable…

 

Until she noticed something…

A thin flickering…

It seemed… yes, it seemed his eyelids did a slight movement…

It seemed his eyelashes trembled a bit…

It seemed a conscious movement!

And now that she was alert for any sign of life, she saw that he was actually still breathing, almost imperceptibly, but breathing nonetheless!

 

Skye felt as catapulted from hell to heaven in a matter of seconds and began to caress his face, calling him insistently, urgently, until… his eyes opened!

 

His eyes!

His wonderful honey-brown eyes finally opened!

And they were looking at her, recognizing her!

And he was smiling at her, too!!!

 

“Skye…” he said tentatively, his voice hoarse.

“You really are here! I wasn’t dreaming!”

 

And she, crying out of happiness, kissed him all over his face and refuged herself, sobbing, on his chest!

“Yes, I’m here, I’m here!

There is no other place on Earth where I would want to be if not here!

Oh, God, thanks! You healed him!

He’s still here, with me!

Oh, thank You, thank You, thank You!”

She didn’t remember having been so happy in her entire life! Ever!

And she was seriously starting to be concerned about her heart: him waking up almost gave her a heart attack…

 

He put slowly his arm around her shoulders, trying to calm her sobs and comfort her.

He had to do something… she was too much agitated… he had to distract her somehow…

So he asked her:

“Skye?”

“Yes?”

“I’m thirsty.

Like, desert thirsty.

Can you bring me some water, please?” unaware that he used those same words in the dream so many months ago.

Skye straightened up, suddenly focused on the task at hand and answered:

“I cannot give you actual water: your stomach hadn’t been used for too many days. But I have something better.”

And she rushed towards a little fridge near them, which stored a lot of different kind of medicines, to grab a handful of ice she put in a glass. Then she approached him and put a little piece of ice first on his lips, moisturizing them, then in his mouth.

He sighed in relief.

“Good idea. This is refreshing!” commented Ward.

Then he added, in a loose voice:

“You know?

During this whole time I was unconscious, I was haunted by horrific nightmares! I saw Hell, and all its horrors and tortures, and the monsters that inhabit it, over and over again; I relived all that pain, especially that unbearable heat!

I felt myself on fire!”

She grabbed another piece of ice and put it in his mouth, trembling at the feel of her fingers touching his lips, of his tongue licking them…

He continued:

“Then I dreamed I was in a kind of Greek temple, and I had to move incredibly huge and heavy pillars, making a superhuman effort to put them back up and support the weight of the roof…

I’ve never worked so much with so an impossible amount of effort as in these few days, although I was lying in a bed!”

She caressed his forehead with her icy fingers, to smooth the wrinkles that were forming on it.

He smiled.

“But then, after I finished constructing that temple, all of a sudden the imagery changed and I dreamed something wonderful: I was flying in a sky full of white clouds, and light, and sun, in really a breathtaking place… then I saw a magnificent and impressive white staircase heading upwards, so long that you could not see its end… and I wanted so much to follow it, to go up even higher and see where it arrived.

I was about to climb it… when I heard your voice… your voice calling for me, so many times, insistently…

And, as much as I felt wonderfully well in that place, I could not resist to your appeal… to the love with which you were calling me… and I had to come back!

And now I’m here…”

And he watched her… and she watched him… the two of them almost drowning in each other’s eyes… and she was about to talk… eager to say those three little words…

 

 

… when abruptly Simmons rushed inside, thunderstruck at seeing Ward awake!

 

“I cannot believe this…

You managed to make it out!” she squealed.

Simmons was frozen on the spot near the threshold, her hand still on the door handle.

“I should stop amazing about what you can do… but this... is frankly incredible!

Your system was completely compromised…

The infection was all over your lymphatic ganglia…

It invaded your entire system!

This time I was really convinced that you would die!”

She, with all that rush and all that scientific language, had unwittingly ruined one of the most extraordinarily poetic moments of intimacy between Skye and Ward!

“Sorry to disappoint you once again, Jemma” he said sardonically without even looking at her, not averting his stare from Skye, still eating her with his eyes.

Then he lazily closed them and slowly turned his stare to Jemma, sighing.

This was the second time that Simmons had interfered with the two of them with the most inconvenient timing, and Ward was beginning to have enough of it.

Skye’s crying had ceased and she turned around and looked at Jemma, too, with watery eyes, looking still upset, but immensely happy and with a smile so wide that it seemed illuminating the whole room! Nothing, nothing could ruin her happiness, now that Ward was back!

Jemma looked at her with a knowingly air, and smiled sincerely.

 

In the meantime all the others reached the infirmary to witness the miracle.

Fitz was the most surprised of all and asked incredulous, almost stumbling on words like in the past:

“How… how could you… beat it? How could you?”

Ward answered hoarsely, trying to get in a seated position:

“I’m a survivor, you should know that, by now…”

Dr. Radcliffe spoke, attracting Simmons and Lincoln’s attention gesturing with his hands and looking gravely in their eyes, his mouth still hanging in awe:

“This fact is of fundamental importance!

This is a turning point!

This is… providential!”

He seemed at a loss for words to describe the extraordinary importance of what had just happened.

Skye watched him, frowning:

“Why do you say so?”

Radcliffe answered:

“The pathogen that Mace used to infect Ward here, is akin to the one Hive used to infect half the Earth population!

Even if it has been manipulated, reengineered in some way, to be more similar to the parasites that devoured all those humans and adapted to attack the inhuman physiology, it is still almost equal to the disease.

And now we have found a person that did the unbelievable: we have found the one that managed to heal naturally from it, to beat it, without external help!

And he is at a stone’s throw, too!

We could not ask for better!!!

Ward’s immune system, here, did in a few days what we couldn’t possible do in years of researches!!!

His body is actually the best laboratory in the world!!!

Now we can study him to find a cure!”

 

All the scientists, Fitz included, agreed with Radcliffe, and started talking low and intensely to each other with their incomprehensible lingo, alternating in occasionally looking at Ward like he was a lab rat…

 

But this was undeniably huge: finally they could see the light at the end of the tunnel!

Everybody seemed enthusiastic, especially Ward, who was feeling like a huge weight was getting off his shoulders.

Simmons took the floor:

“Ward, it is of fundamental importance that you, now, collaborate with us.

You must urgently undergo a series of analysis, examinations, tissue biopsies, blood and fluids withdrawals: we must understand and reproduce the mechanisms that your immune system had put in place to defeat the pathogen.”

Ward didn’t ev