Gideon Malick stabs her in the back. But it's Phil who breaks her heart.
And it's Coulson who sends her home.
The car ride to her house isn't a long one. But it might as well have been a snail's pace given the way its passengers were feeling at this point.
Phil's been quiet the whole time since the debriefing ended. She gets the feeling he wants to say something but it isn't the time or place. Not that she cares. Really, she doesn't.
She sits beside him in the back of a SHIELD SUV driven by the mechanic they call Mack. She turns her head slightly to catch the driver watching her in the rear view mirror.
Of course he does. So does everyone else, probably. Her jaw clenches at the thought.
The tension in the car is so thick, it's hard to breathe. But she forces herself to breathe evenly. Her body language gives nothing away. Her eyes stare out the window, watching the scenery go by.
The vehicle slows to a halt to park right outside her house. Immediately, she throws the door open and slams it back. She strides purposefully to her front door, jams the key in. Phil follows but before he can enter, the door is slammed shut.
He lifts his hand, preparing to knock but he hesitates. He's screwed up royally.
Inside, Rosalind leans against the door, her knees weak. She can still feel him on the other side.
She hears him calling her softly. "Ros."
"I don't want to talk right now, Coulson," she says in a soft but clear tone.
It was back to Coulson now.
"I-" He swallows, his throat dry.
"I'll call. Goodbye, Coulson."
He wants to say more but he knows she's barely holding it together after what he's done. A phone call's not much but frankly, it's more than he deserves.
So he walks away and waits for a phone call that doesn't come.
In the next few weeks, Rosalind maintains her position within the ATCU. She shares as much as she could without raising suspicions that anything has changed. And without having direct contact with Coulson.
Having Banks in on it helps tremendously. He offers to shoot Coulson one night while they were out having their monthly drink session but she politely declines.
She's alone at home, trying to watch some tv. Pouring herself something really expensive, she sinks back into the worn leather sofa and lets her mind wander.
She takes slight twisted pleasure in making Coulson sweat waiting for her call but ultimately, the guilt wins out. She doesn't want to hurt him even though he hurt her.
Rosalind knows what they have is real. She can feel it. She can even acknowledge that were she in his position, she would have probably done exactly the same.
Sighing, she takes a gulp of whiskey.
It was time for them to talk. Perhaps over burgers and wine at her place tomorrow evening.
Chapter 2: Demons Run
When a Good Man Goes to War
Demons run when a good man goes to war
Night will fall and drown the sun
When a good man goes to war.
Friendship dies and true love lies
Night will fall and the dark will rise
When a good man goes to war.
Demons run, but count the cost
The battle's won, but the child is lost
When a good man goes to war.
- Doctor Who S06E07
All he can see is red. Anger. Pain. Blood. Rosalind's blood.
The fight is brutal and endless. Fists met flesh. Bones cracked and rattled. Coulson is no longer a young man and in this battle, it's obvious he's the underdog. He is thrown to the ground innumerable times, his blood spilling from the numerous cuts and abrasions this fight has given him. He's holding his own, barely.
They're both exhausted now, breathing heavily. Their moves are clumsy, practically a brawl rather than a display of highly trained martial artists. The gravity is higher, punishing on their bodies. The sand slows them down.
Coulson goes down once more, his eyes are shut in agony. It's so tempting to slip into the darkness. So very easy.
An image flashes from behind his eyelids.
"Wake,up, Director Sleepyhead. We're going to be late." She grins, hazel green eyes sparkling with humour and affection.
"Come on, Phil," her hand is outstretched, ready to pull him up from his rest.
His eyes snap open. A massive surge of adrenaline allows him to push through the pain of fractured ribs to barely avoid the knife slicing downwards at him. Ward is taken by surprise and Coulson is quick to take advantage. The knife is twisted out of its hold and Coulson throws successive throat punches before kicking Ward into the sand. The younger man hits his head on a rock and he's out cold.
Coulson sinks to his knees in relief, clutching his side, careful not to jostle his injured ribs more than he has to. He spots Jemma's astronaut and Fitz running toward him. They must've dealt with the other two HYDRA soldiers that remained. He'd killed one and knocked out the other before Ward jumped into the fray. He orders them to tie the traitor up.
A sandstorm is looming. Will tells them they have to go underground. For a moment he contemplates leaving Ward to whatever demon or Inhuman was lurking out there. After all, they were both monsters of HYDRA.
But he tells them to take Ward.
By his watch, twelve hours have since passed. Will and Fitz are out scavenging for food and water, leaving him alone with the prisoner for thirty minutes now. Coulson is sitting beside a crack in the cave wall. The fire is crackling, casting flickering shadows everywhere. He stares at nothing in particular, hands fiddling with the matchbook. His and Rosalind's.
Rosalind, who's dead.
His stare turns to the unconscious man opposite. Ward is gagged and bound. The head wound he got from the fall has stopped bleeding but it might turn septic if it doesn't get cleaned up soon.
He sighs tiredly, gingerly getting up to see to him. His ribs have been taped. Coulson's used up most of his emergency med kit patching up his own injuries. Decades of experience on the field have given him a great deal of knowledge on emergency medical treatment. Whatever is left of the kit, he uses on Ward, though the bastard sure as hell doesn't deserve any considerations whatsoever.
Right as he's finishing up, he feels eyes on his person. They make eye contact but Coulson ignores it. He disposes of the used med kit and sits the prisoner upright. He removes the gag and gives him a few sips of water from a canteen. Ward leans back against the wall, his eyes fall shut and he is unconscious once again.
The duo have returned from their trip, their voices echoing slightly in the cave. Coulson replaces the gag and gets Will to watch over the prisoner. He needs some air.
The endless night sky is beautiful. The fact that the planet is devoid of life makes it more haunting.
He's been in deserts even before New Mexico. He never used to like getting those missions. The sand got everywhere and it took a few showers and numerous rounds of laundry to get everything clean of sand grains. The thunderstorms were quite a sight though.
The solitude is much needed and welcome. Nobody to save or apprehend. No one to kiss ass to or order around. No more end of the world scenarios because this world has already ended millennia ago. Just him.
Mom and dad would've loved to have seen the two moons up close like this. He smiles sadly.
He feels like screaming into the distance. He hasn't even had a chance to cry, let alone mourn her. He feels numb, his chest so full and so empty all at once.
He remembers their final moments together with painful clarity. Before she was taken away from him. He brought her flowers. Cliché but he was a man practically built from clichés. And it seemed she enjoyed them too.
He remembers ringing the doorbell and the door swinging open. She was dressed down but she'd curled her hair. She smiled hesitantly at him. His mouth felt dry.
"For you." He cleared his throat, handing over the bouquet of white orchids. I'm sorry.
"They're beautiful," she said, admiring the flowers. "Thank you," she whispered, kissing him softly on his cheek. We're okay.
He remembers the warmth and firm grip of her hand as she led him into her home. And the moment she accidentally revealed she kept the matchbook. Her being flustered and a bit embarassed at being caught, pink dusting her cheeks. He'd rather remember her this way than lying dead on the floor of her dining room where they were sitting down to have dinner.
Other details resurface that he swears to never forget- ever. The scent of her perfume. The way she scrunched up her nose but eventually laughed at all of his puns. Her kisses. The gentle touch of her hands tracing the edges of his scarred chest. Her warm gaze.
His eyes are open. He knows what he must do now.
It is now forty hours since they came through the portal.
Will Daniels has briefed them on the Inhuman living on the planet and warns them to be cautious. He's angry and dismayed to find out that HYDRA was behind his one-way trip to fourteen years of hell but decides to conserve his energy for the battles to come. Fitz is still slightly doubtful of Will but places his trust on the man who helped Jemma survive this desolate place. The two have built a rapport of sorts, quietly tinkering away at whatever remained of the equipment "NASA" sent with the group of astronauts.
The director gets Will and Fitz to keep an eye out for any more portals opening. They manage to salvage weaponry and supplies from the bodies of the HYDRA soldiers so now they have a fighting chance in case more come through the portal and in case It shows up.
Ward has remained conscious for longer periods and now seems stable enough for the confrontation Coulson has in mind.
Coulson walks in to the secluded corner of the cave system where Ward is sequestered. Ward is awake, sitting up and watching him closely.
"We need to talk."
"Got nothing to say to you, Coulson," sneered Ward.
The older man shrugged it off, sitting down on the other side of the fire.
"You don't have to say anything." Coulson stoked the flame with a piece of wood.
"I don't have to listen either."
"True. But whether you listen or not is irrelevant. Either way, I get what I want."
Coulson moved his gaze back to the fire. The truth? He wants so badly to see the life fade away from Ward's eyes. To see that Ward can no longer reap the untold destruction he has already wrought for HYDRA and for himself. But there's also a part of him that's tired of the carnage and death all around him.
He didn't answer the question. And Ward already knew the answer.
"If this is about your girlfriend from the ATCU-"
Coulson angrily lifted his gaze, staring Ward in the eye. "It's not. This is about you, Ward. You and the choices you've made. The path you've taken."
"Please," Ward scoffed,"if this is some intervention bullshit-"
"You really have no idea, do you? What you've done?" Coulson asks quietly, shaking his head.
Ward clenches his jaw but doesn't respond.
"You're alone, Ward." Coulson stated. "Have you thought about why that is? Why your own little brother, the boy you sought to protect, is afraid to reach out to you?"
"Don't you dare talk about Thomas." Ward growled.
But Coulson continues as if he didn't hear him. "Did you even stop for one second to think? To take responsibility? All you have done, all you've ever done is blame everyone else but yourself. And that's why you're alone, Ward."
"The man you were, the man you pretended to be at SHIELD? I know for a fucking fact you can't fake everything." Coulson gritted out.
"The best lies come from some truth after all. The robot who stuck by the rules? I saw my older self in him. Maybe even thought of him as a son. The man who took time to play board games and poker with the inexperienced members of the team? Fitzsimmons saw him as a friend. A brother. Even May herself admired you for she thought you were."
"And Skye -," he laughed harshly, closing his eyes for a moment, still unused to the name change,"- Daisy. You've hurt us all, Ward. But Daisy? You broke her heart, over and over."
"Before SHIELD's fall, you could have come to us at any time. You didn't. We could have saved so many good people. We could have stopped any of this from ever happening. Our team could have stayed together."
"I had no choice." Ward defended.
"There you go again, denying responsibility for your own actions." Coulson raised his voice.
"You took Kara away." Ward shouted.
"We didn't take Kara away from you. You did that yourself." Coulson angrily retorted,"Made her into a mirror image of you. A monster."
Ward looked as if he wants to say something but decides to keep his mouth shut, turning his head away.
Coulson rubbed his face tiredly. "If I could have saved Kara, if I could've saved you, I would have. I should have. And I'm sorry I didn't. I'm sorry Kara's dead. I'm sorry SHIELD left Garrett to die in the field. I'm sorry that he abused you, turned you inside out to be the weapon he wanted."
"A weapon, Ward," Coulson reiterated. "Nothing more. All your life, you've been used by other people. Your parents, your brother, Garrett, now Malick. And me. I was so blinded by all the things you've done, so eager to see you as a monster, you became one."
"It's funny how Daisy used to call you a robot. Or maybe it's tragic. Because you're just going through the motions. You can fight with the best. You can do anything and everything you put your mind to. But you can't connect with anyone. You can't form healthy bonds and relationships because you've a warped sense of what those things mean. Friendship, family, love. That's not living, Ward. That's purgatory."
"Do you know what Daisy said to me?" He asked brokenly. Ward tensed in response.
"She said she understood you," he smiled sadly. "God help me, I don't think I ever can but she does. And if Daisy, who's suffered so much so young, could find it in her heart to understand a man like you, then I owe it to her to try. And you owe your life to her. To try to fix things instead of breaking them."
"So against the little voice inside that's screaming for me to kill you, I'm letting you live. Because I'm not you, Ward. And I'm taking you back with us because I'm not John Garrett."
Coulson digs an MRE out of his pocket and throws it beside Ward's feet.
"I know you could've gotten out of those ropes anytime," Coulson gestured with a nod, "Maybe you already have. Maybe what I've said has just gone in one ear and out the other. I don't care anymore. I've done my part." He ends tiredly, closing his eyes, his hand still grasping the matchbox.
Ward stared into the fire. Unbeknownst to Coulson, he had indeed gotten out of the ropes around his wrists earlier. It would be so easy to strike now when the older man was vulnerable like this. But his mind won't stop processing the things he's heard. He doesn't know what to think.
He eats half of the MRE Coulson gave him and conserves the rest for later. He's managed on less.
Soon, he is exhausted and falls asleep.
Hours later, everyone is up and about, contributing to further strategy and planning. In walks a free and mobile Ward. Fitz and the astronaut immediately raise their guns at him but Coulson lifts his hand, pushing Will's weapon down. He quietly orders them to let him be. Will turns to Fitz, his expression questioning. The younger man stares hard at his leader before nodding in reassurance. He trusts the director, even if he remains fearful and angry with Ward.
Whatever mistakes were made along the way, Phil Coulson is a good man.
I was going to add this to the previous chapter but I accidentally deleted it so I had to start over from an older draft. I have to say I loathe the direction Ward has gone on the show. He's turned into a caricature of a Marvel cartoon villain with only brief moments of complexity and depth. But why waste energy hating something when I can just as easily explore his character on my own?
The title is another Doctor Who reference.
The Doctor: Octavian said you killed a man.
River: Yes, I did.
The Doctor: A good man.
River: A very good man. The best man I've ever known.
The Doctor: Who?