Author’s Note: This story was written as an RPG (role playing game) between co-authors Hope1iz and BlackFox12 (aka Cat). This is the third chapter in the Redeeming Grant series, which is set after the end of the first season finale.
Summary: Ward is very sick.
Disclaimer: We don't own anything from the television series Marvel: Agents of SHIELD and we're not making any money from this fic.
Warning: Spanking of an adult; spoilers for the entire first season of Marvel: Agents of SHIELD; some graphic descriptions of a man suffering from a frightening disease
Co-Author’s Website: BlackFox12's fanfiction.net page


REDEEMING GRANT
RECOVERY


Ward hadn't been asleep long, thirty minutes at the most, when one of his dreams woke him and he sat up in his bed, gasping. He frowned when he realized the gasping wasn't after-shocks of the dream. His lungs were filling up. Great. He slumped forward on his bed and ran a hand through sweat drenched hair. All he needed was to come down with pneumonia or something worse. Standing up shakily, he grabbed his toiletries and headed toward the showers.

Five minutes later, he was sitting on the shower floor, hot water pouring over his head, as he tried to get over the dizzy spell that had hit him suddenly. Okay. This was really not good. He needed to get up and go find Coulson. As soon as his legs would cooperate. "Having a JARVIS right about now would be really useful," he muttered softly to himself in amused irritation. With his luck, he wouldn't be able to walk and Trip and May would have to drag his sorry, naked arse back to bed- while Coulson smacked it for him, because he didn't come find him immediately after waking up.

Wonderful....

His head thumped back against the shower wall and he closed his eyes, just focusing on breathing. He lost track of time and didn't even notice when the hot water slowly turned cold.

# # #

After Coulson had left the lab, Simmons continued to look at the notes on the serum she'd been given. The notes were worrisome. Thirty minutes after she'd begun reading, she started pacing. Fifteen minutes after that, she'd begun preparing the hospital bed. She couldn't put a finger on why she felt so agitated, but she could tell it was making Skye and Fitz nervous. Muttering under her breath to herself, she got a hospital gown from the storage and headed toward the door. "Gonna leave this for Ward to wear," she called out over her shoulder as she walked out.

When she opened the door to his room, she'd fully expected him to sit up. Ward was a very light sleeper and she wasn't being quiet (although she knew if Coulson caught her waking Ward up, he'd give her one of his 'looks' and she'd end up apologizing). To her surprise, she found the bed empty- if rumpled. Reaching over, she felt the pillow and sheets- they were cold, so Ward had obviously been up a while now. She wondered why Coulson hadn't brought him to the lab if he'd woken...he'd said he would, after all. Frowning, she gripped the hospital gown a bit more tightly and went to look for Coulson.

# # #

Coulson had attempted to go to sleep, but worry over his team generally and Ward specifically had kept him awake. In the end, he'd wound up grabbing a towel and heading to the shower area, deciding a scalding hot shower was just the thing.

It took only moments for Coulson to realize someone else was there and to recognize the shape as belonging to Ward... who appeared to be huddled on the floor. Worry pricking sharply at him, Coulson dropped the towel to the floor and opened the shower door. Ignoring the now-cold water quickly hitting his clothes and skin, he placed a hand on Ward's shoulder. "Can you stand?"

Grant carefully moved his head so he could glance up at Coulson with fever fogged eyes. He meant to say 'I can try'...but the words that came out sounded suspiciously like, "You found me...." He frowned slightly and was about to attempt to give the correct answer when Jemma came skidding into the tiny room.

"Coulson, Ward is missing and... oh. You found him." Simmons blushed as she noted Ward's state of undress, but instead of backing out of the room like she might have in the past, she came the rest of the way in and reached over Coulson and Ward's heads to turn the shower off. Honestly. Almost frigid water was pouring down onto both of them and it was obvious that Ward was having problems and neither one of them thought to turn the water off? She shook her head... and the one arm that had gotten wet when she reached through to turn off the water ... then grabbed Ward's towel off the nearby table and handed it to Coulson.

"If you can get him up and dry, I've got a gown for him to wear..." She held up said gown then carefully placed it on the table where the towel had been. "Do you need me to go get Trip?"

Coulson probably should have thought to turn the shower off, but his main focus had been on Ward right then. He took the towel from Simmons with a grateful smile and wrapped it around the other man, helping him to stand before replying, "That might be best." He didn't know how steady Ward was on his feet and it would be better to have two of them there to support the other man.

"Of course, sir..." Simmons smiled back at Coulson, then darted a concerned look toward Ward before quickly leaving and going to find Trip. It wasn't difficult. He and May were talking quietly up in the cockpit. Hesitantly, she leaned into the tiny area. May kept her eyes on the controls, but Trip gave her a grin.

"Is it safe to come out now?" he joked quietly. He'd joined May in the cockpit because he didn't particularly want to hear Ward being punished- and the sound had carried. He didn't think Coulson was quite aware how thin the walls of his office actually were. He quickly stopped joking and turned serious when he saw Simmons' face. "What's wrong?" he asked, already standing up and preparing to follow her back.

"Something is wrong with Ward. He's sick or something. Coulson needs help getting him back to the lab and into the hospital bed..." She kept her tone as even as possible and gave the facts as she knew them.

Trip slowed down when they reached Ward's room, but when Jemma kept moving forward, he followed her. Hesitantly, he stepped into the shower area when she stepped out of his way and motioned him to go in. He saw Coulson and Ward sat on the bench. Coulson's clothes were drenched. Ward was slightly better, but Trip suspected that was only because Coulson had been drying him off- the man was still running a towel over the younger man's hair. The hospital gown Ward wore had damp spots on it from where he hadn't been completely dried.

Ward looked ready to fall over sideways if it hadn't been for Coulson literally holding him up. "Ok. So I'm guessing you need me to help get him into a bed?" Trip asked, moving to Ward's other side.

Coulson nodded, finally satisfied with how dry Ward was, and put the towel to one side. "We need to get him to the lab." Almost unconsciously, his hand moved to Ward's shoulder to give the younger man a reassuring squeeze. "Fitz and Simmons are going to figure out what the serum did to you and how to help you." He was sure Ward wouldn't normally think he'd be treated like a lab rat, but fever could make a person think strange things. Coulson wanted to head off any worry before it became full-fledged.

Ward blinked and tried to focus on Coulson. "They want to help me?" His voice sounded so lost and lonely and sad, Simmons couldn't help the small gasp of distress that escaped her lips.

"Yes, Grant, we want to help you. You just need to do exactly what Coulson tells you to do, okay? We can't help you or protect you if you don't listen to us..." she said gently and calmly, as if talking to a child.

She ignored the surprised look that Trip was giving her and couldn't even face Coulson- not after all the complaining she'd done about helping Ward. She felt a bit ashamed of herself...no matter what he'd done, Ward was still a human being in need of help. Coulson had been right.

Coulson nodded, squeezing Ward's shoulder gently. "We all want to help you. Trip and I are going to take you through to the lab where you can lie down and rest, all right? One of us will be with you all the time," he promised, before standing up and carefully drawing Ward up with him, supporting enough of the other man's weight so that he was more carrying Ward than merely supporting him. The younger man had managed to completely open up Coulson's protective instincts, already strong around his team.

Trip had quickly moved to Ward's other side and wrapped an arm around him, taking the rest of his weight. They then began a slow but careful walk to the lab, Jemma leading the way.

Ward did his best to help carry his own weight. He found it increasingly frightening that he was so weakened. At first, he hadn't thought the serum would do anything to him...but this. Had Raina actually given him the serum, or had she given him something else? He didn't recall Garrett going through any of this. He whimpered slightly as the dull pain in his head increased.

When they got to the lab, Simmons made certain that there was a clear path to the bed. "I'll tell you in a bit..." was all she said to Skye and Fitz as they opened their mouths, not giving them a chance to voice whatever question they had.

Coulson carefully moved over to the bed, eyeing Ward worriedly. His biggest fear now was that they wouldn't be able to do anything to help the other man. Still, he could tell that Simmons was as committed to helping Ward as he was... and Fitz had already indicated he still believed in the man.

Reaching the bed, Coulson helped Ward to lay down. His clothes were beginning to stick to his skin, but he ignored that discomfort, deciding he was going to stay with Ward for as long as he could.

Ward shivered hard; the only thing keeping him standing instead of falling flat on his face was the tight grip Coulson and Trip had on him. He would have said something to them in thanks, but it was all he could do to focus on putting one foot in front of the other. He knew he owed them a lot, though. He'd owe everyone a lot before this was done, he was sure. He wasn't sure exactly what was in the serum Raina had given him, but at this point, he was positive it was not the same serum as the one Garrett had use. Whether it was a 'new and improved' serum, or whether it was something entirely different, he didn't know. Hopefully, there was something in the notes she'd left that would give the Whiz Kids something to work with.

He didn't even attempt to hide the flinch as he was helped into the bed and lay back. His whole body was aching now- not just his head. If he didn't know better, he'd think he had malaria. (He'd read up on the symptoms for that before being sent into the jungle for one of his missions.) The only way he could have caught anything of that nature, though- since he'd been in jail - was if he was injected with it. He frowned. Had Raina infected him with some sort of tropical illness? He groaned at the implications of that.

"Y...you..." He waved ineffectively at Coulson, Trip and the rest of them- trying to get them to back away. "You don't know if I'm contagious..." he finally gasped out, worried eyes darting to Coulson. "Sh...she didn't give me the same serum. C...couldn't have. N...none of the test subjects e...ever got sick like this..."

"That doesn't mean it couldn't be the same serum," Fitz spoke up. "You could be a genetic anomaly and something in the serum is reacting badly to your DNA."

Coulson didn't move from Ward's side. "I've been in close proximity to you since coming back here. If it is contagious, I've already been exposed enough for it to take effect. I won't leave your side."

Ward's head fell weakly back onto the bed and he tried to argue, he really did...but it was too difficult to talk and to his shame, the relief he felt at Coulson not leaving him was too strong. Tears started running down his face and he finally caught Fitz's eye.

Fitz had to understand what he was saying...had to understand that something about what Raina had done was different- it wasn't just down to Ward's DNA. If they thought it was just his DNA, they might not take proper precaution. "S..she. She gave me two...!" he gasped out right before he stopped talking.

He had to focus on breathing again, his throat closing up. Eyes widening in panic, he gripped the thin mattress tightly, digging his fingers in.

Coulson rarely felt helpless, but seeing Ward like this was terrible. Dropping onto one of the chairs next to the bed, he took Ward's hand. He didn't know if giving the other man something else to focus on would help... but he had to try.

Fitz's eyes darted quickly towards Jemma. "Does he mean two serums?" Even as he spoke, he grabbed the notes, forcing aside his own worry to focus on what he did best.

"He couldn't have meant that...why wouldn't he have said something sooner if that's what it was?!" Simmons blurted out in worry as she began going over her own notes frantically.

"Here.... here is the sheet detailing the shot of serum she gave him...it... she gave him one shot of serum. That's it, it specifically lists the serum and it says one dose. The shot they gave him right before was....there was a second shot...." Simmons groaned. "The serum was the second shot. The first shot just has a random number- this paper doesn't say what was in it....We have to figure out what EM114 is!"

"If we take blood samples from Ward, we might be able to isolate the contents of the two different shots." Fitz took a deep breath to calm his own nerves, before grabbing a needle and beginning to sterilize it. "Is there anything on the disk that might tell us more about it?" he addressed Skye.

"I'm looking," Skye answered, her laptop out and on one of the lab tables, eyes scanning the screen. "Some of the files are encrypted."

"Fitz..." Simmons had gathered some swabs and rubbing alcohol, planning to get samples of Ward's DNA to make certain that it wasn't just a bad reaction for Ward. When she'd turned around to walk to the hurting man, she'd glanced up at his face. "Fitz!" she repeated louder and with more worry. She waited till her friend was looking at her before nodding towards the bed and Ward.

"I think...I think we need to decontaminate and put on the suits...and hope it isn't too late," she finally whispered. "All of us..." Even after saying it, she couldn't seem to get her legs to cooperate. Trip had to take her by the arm and begin leading her out of the lab, because all she could do was stare at the bloody tears running down Ward's face.

Fitz nearly dropped the syringe when he saw what Simmons had. For a moment or two, all he could do was stare at Ward, silently running through all of the things in his mind that could cause bloody tears.

None of them were things easy to cure, if a cure was at all possible.

Coulson's attention was fully on Ward, but despite the bloody tears, it took several moments for him to be able to let go of the other man's hand. Logically, he knew Simmons was right... but that didn't mean he felt good about leaving Ward, even for a few minutes.

Skye glanced up from her work long enough to take in Ward's appearance, but her fingers continued to fly over the keys on her laptop, working on the encryption.

Ward loosened his grip to allow Coulson to leave his side. He could tell something was very wrong by the way Simmons was staring at him in horror. "Go....Protect yourself..." he finally forced out and looked back toward Coulson. Everything was bleary because his eyes wouldn't stop watering. He reached up with a hand and wiped at them slowly and it was as he was pulling his hand away that he noticed the color of the moisture on his face. "Go...all of you...now!" he ordered as loudly as he could- his voice raspy- his worry about the rest of them taking precedence over everything else in his mind.

Trip had already left Simmons at the decontamination showers and was heading back in to drag Skye out. "C'mon, girl. You can do your computer magic outside of the lab..." He took her arm and tried to lead her out as well. "Coulson?" He glanced at their leader, frowning slightly. "I'll let May know. She'll need to decontaminate as well. And I'll take care of Ward's room and the shower area...." He stopped short of ordering Coulson to get decontaminated, knowing the other man knew what to do. But he wanted to make sure the older man knew he had his back and would take care of everything outside of the lab; he knew Coulson would return as soon as he was able.

"I'll be back," Coulson promised. That was the only way he could force himself to leave Ward's side... knowing that he would return as soon as he was able to. Otherwise, he'd never be able to leave the other man.

Skye nodded and grabbed her laptop under one arm, allowing Trip to lead her from the lab. Despite herself, she shot a concerned look towards Ward. Despite his treachery, there was a big part of her that still cared about him... and seeing him like this was terrible.

Coulson finally pulled himself away, slipping out of the lab and heading straight to the decontamination showers.

Simmons stood under the showers, scrubbing at herself in agitation. Seeing Ward like that had been a shock. As angry as she had been at the man, she had never truly wanted anything horrible to happen to him. The only reason his betrayal had hurt as badly as it had was because she cared about him. Simmons wiped the water from her eyes, grateful that it was easier to hide tears when standing under the water's spray. She didn't say anything as both Fitz and Skye joined her in the showers. "Trip's gone to get May?" she asked, her voice quivery.

Fitz nodded, removing his clothes for disposal later and beginning to scrub himself under the showers. "Coulson will be here soon." He hadn't seen their leader finally leave the lab, but he'd seen how reluctant the other man was to leave his side.

"Are you all right?" Skye noticed the quaver in Simmons' voice and how wet her eyes appeared. She understood why the other woman was upset... Skye was worried as well. She'd thought, when May beat Ward, that she wanted him to suffer - but this... this was awful.

Simmons sniffled slightly, but straightened her shoulders and answered as calmly as she could. "I'm alright. It was just a shock, is all. Realizing that...that he was that sick. And that it was deliberately done to him. I guess...part of me had thought he deserved whatever HYDRA did to him, since he chose them over us- but...no one deserves that. No one. And...I just couldn't help but remember that he saved my life..." Her voice trailed off into a tiny hitch.

At that moment, Trip came in with May. Trip immediately began stripping down and got under the showers, but May hesitated. "Coulson is still not here..." It wasn't a question, since he obviously was not decontaminating with them. She turned as if to head back out.

Fitz patted Simmons' shoulder. "He told us to leave when he realized how bad things were." To Fitz, that just proved his point - that there was still the man they knew inside Ward. He didn't have to jump out of the plane after Simmons and he'd protected the team on more than one occasion. Fitz knew that wasn't necessary to gain their trust, since he'd already had it.

As May was about to head out, Coulson finally came into the showers. He glanced around at the rest of the team, speaking as he removed his own clothes. "If anyone starts feeling even slightly... off... don't keep it to yourselves."

Trip nodded and continued to methodically clean off- as if he was used to having to fight off possibly being infected by a deadly disease on a daily basis. Simmons envied him that ability and went back to scrubbing. May said nothing as she began the process. The only concession she made to being worried was the tiny pat on the shoulder she gave to each of the youngest team members.

"Sir?" Simmons finally asked. "What if we can't figure out what she gave to him?" Her voice was small and tiny- her confidence in herself shaken by everything that had happened in the last year and having to frequently re-evaluate her opinion of the same man.

"We can't think of the possibility of failure," Coulson replied. "All we can do is use our skills to find out what we can. If necessary, I can take May and break into one of HYDRA's bases." That would be a last resort, but it was an action Coulson was fully prepared to take. He would exhaust every possibility, no matter how small, before he even considered giving up.

Coulson scrubbed himself off quickly and then dressed in one of the suits, unwilling to leave Ward alone for long. "Don't worry about resources. I'll make sure anything you need is provided."

Simmons finally dried off and put on her own suit, realizing that washing any longer wouldn't ensure a lack of germs but would make her skin hurt. She barely noted the others doing the same.

She quickly made her way back to the lab. There were tests to run, data to sift through and a very sick man to attempt to make comfortable- although she suspected Coulson would be taking the lion's share of care duty for Grant.

It didn't take her long to pick back up where she'd left off, gathering DNA samples from Ward- just in case what was happening was affecting that.

"Fitz, can you go ahead and draw some blood? Skye, I particularly need whatever info you can find on the injections given to Ward...but once you've got that, if you could look up possible causes for the symptoms he has..."

The first thing Coulson did after entering the lab was make his way to Ward's bedside. After allowing Fitz to take some samples of the blood coming from the man's eyes, Coulson found a damp cloth and began carefully wiping the blood from Ward's face. The chances were good he'd have to do this many times, but leaving the blood there wasn't an option.

Carefully scraping the blood from Ward's face onto a slide, Fitz picked up a syringe and sterilized it, before carefully withdrawing some blood from Ward's arm.

"I'm on it," Skye replied, back on her laptop and working furiously.

Ward had watched as everyone had left to take the necessary safety precautions, relief allowing some of the tenseness that had kept him steady to drain out of him. He wasn't entirely certain anyone would come back into the room. He wouldn't have blamed them if they didn't. But once again, Coulson had come through for him- returning much more quickly than Ward had expected...the only concession to Ward's illness was the bio-suit he wore. Even with the mask over his face, Coulson was a comforting presence.

Ward allowed his eyes to close in weariness, but opened them quickly when he felt the cloth washing his face. He gave a crooked smile to the older man. "You didn't sign up for this when you came to see me in jail. Sorry...." He took in a labored breath.

Coulson gave a reassuring pat to Ward's shoulder with his free hand, continuing to carefully wipe away the blood. "I might not have signed up for this exactly, but I signed up to protect you and keep you safe. It might be more difficult now, but I won't abandon you. Not now; not ever," he promised sincerely.

"You've said that before..." Ward noted quietly. "I think I believe it...." He leaned towards Coulson and gave him an apologetic glance.

"I...I know wishing I'd done something different is pointless. I can't undo what's already been done..." he said softly. "But I wish I'd done what my heart was telling me instead of what...what my fears were telling me to do," he admitted. "Maybe things would be different now...."

He sank back into the pillows and shivered. "You know...them injecting me with something like this...why would they do it? They thought I was still on their side and they gave me the serum right afterwards, so why give me something that might kill me? What plan was behind it...?"

Coulson gently squeezed Ward's shoulder. "Many people will experiment on those they consider to be expendable - or ones they feel they can afford to lose if something goes wrong. Skye's searching through those files you lifted. There might be something contained within them. We will help you, Grant. The team's giving you their full time."

Ward nodded. "Oh...I know I meant nothing to them. I didn't mean anything to Garrett either and he was the only reason I joined..." His voice took on a tone of disgust as he thought about how stupid he had been. "If I didn't want to be expendable and used, I followed the wrong crowd..." he ridiculed himself.

"I mean...there had to be a reason they needed to experiment on me. The...their reasons have me worried," Ward admitted hesitantly. "If you hadn't come to get me, would they be attempting to help me now or would they just be letting me lie there and let the serum heal me or die? And if the serum heals me... what does that mean for anyone who doesn't have the serum in their body?" Ward fell silent, the talking wearing him down. His eyes began to flutter as he fought sleep.

"You need to rest." Coulson had finished wiping clean Ward's face and dropped the cloth into one of the bins containing items to be burned. "We can talk about possible motives later, when you're recovered." More than likely, HYDRA was trying to develop a biological weapon - but with the samples from Ward, it was possible they'd be able to develop either an antidote or a vaccine.

"You aren't under HYDRA's control anymore, Grant. You're safe here," Coulson promised.

"Y'sir..." Ward mumbled, too tired to argue even if he'd wanted to. It was too easy letting Coulson take control...but feeling the way he did, he really didn't have many other options. At least with Coulson, he knew his obedience wouldn't be used to do things that hurt his soul. Feeling a bit childish for doing so, he reached over to touch Coulson's arm, as if to reassure himself that he wasn't alone, before he fell asleep.

Simmons had kept quiet through most of the conversation; although everyone was so quiet, it was easy to hear- even with the two men speaking in low voices. She bit her lip and gave Coulson a concerned look. "Do you think he's right to worry?" She winced and answered her own question. "Of course he's right to worry...this is HYDRA we're dealing with." She sighed. "Do you think we should inform Agent Hill or Fury? I know you're Director now, but...."

"I think informing them would be the right thing to do," Coulson replied in a voice that was just as low. "If HYDRA's developing a biological weapon, we might be able to use the samples to develop a vaccine or an antidote... but for now, our first priority has to be Ward."

"Of course," Jemma agreed. "Perhaps...we should send a sample to Mr. Stark. Isn't he working with Dr. Banner? I know neither of them are actually bio-scientists... but between the two of them, they know a lot of people and...I'd feel better if there were a few other people helping to figure this out. Especially with Ward's life on the line..." she admitted in a tiny voice.

Trip had been listening quietly. "I can contact Agent Hill. She's working for Stark now, isn't she? Or at least that's what they are claiming...she can make sure the people who need to know, know... and you two can focus on Ward." He gave Coulson a searching look, knowing the other man wasn't going to rest until something was found to help his younger colleague. "He's sleeping now, sir. And you still haven't slept. I know you don't want to leave his side, but at least let me get you a cot set up in here..."

Coulson nodded. "I'd feel much better if they were on the case," he admitted. Glancing at Trip, he hesitated, but knew he was going to need to at least try to rest. "Setting up a cot in here would be best."

"We should probably set him up with an I.V.," Fitz said quietly to Simmons. "From the state he's in, he's going to need the nutrients."

"Alright, then." Trip clapped his hands together, although careful not to do it too loudly. "I'll go contact Agent Hill and then I'll find a cot. You two get that I.V. set up...and then- if I'm not overstepping my authority..." He glanced at Coulson. "I'd like to suggest at least one of you two also get some rest so that there will always be one person who is able to take care of him who isn't worn out. I'll also let May know what's going on and we'll keep an eye on other things while you four focus on Ward and whatever mysterious illness he has." Trip was fairly certain Coulson would agree with him- and the other man was looking peaked, so he only waited long enough to make sure Coulson had heard him before heading off to do what he'd said.

Coulson didn't want to admit it out loud, but he was starting to feel how tired he was. He blinked a few times, unwilling to allow himself to rest until Trip had brought the cot in. He didn't need to wake up stiff.

Fitz began setting up the I.V. drip, carefully sliding the needle into Ward's arm and securing it with a piece of tape.

Trip brought the cot back to Coulson first. He could tell the man needed to sleep and didn't want to hold up the process any longer than necessary. He carried the cot in and set it up near Ward's bed- but with enough distance that it wouldn't be in the way if Ward had a medical emergency. "Sleep well, Director..." He smiled at Coulson before nodding at Simmons, Fitz, and Skye; then headed out to tell May what was going on and contact Hill.

# # #

It was difficult to say if Ward was getting any better, but he didn't actually seem to be getting much worse. Apart from that first time when he cried blood, there hadn't been anything quite that scary... though Skye reflected that seeing him in this weakened state was frightening enough. Before finding out he was a traitor, Ward had seemed like one of the strongest people she knew - apart from May; and Skye still couldn't imagine her as the innocent rookie Coulson had once described her as.

While she ran yet another encryption program, Skye's eyes wandered to Coulson, sitting next to Ward. Apart from a few minutes of sleep snatched here and there, Coulson hadn't left the other man's side. With Fitz's and Simmons' help, he'd bathed and turned Ward on the bed, trying to keep him as comfortable as possible.

Beeping from her computer brought Skye's attention to the screen and she quickly focused on the files that were now showing. Her eyes widened as she scanned the details. "This is bad... really bad." She lifted her gaze, glancing towards Simmons. "It's a mix of different tropical diseases."

Simmons had kept busy most of the night, looking at Ward's blood and running a variety of tests. Nothing she was looking at made sense, though. She could only hope that another set of eyes might catch something she'd missed. She was tired. She knew Coulson and Fitz were as well- even when they'd tried to sleep, she knew none of them had been able to do so restfully. When Skye's computer beeped, she looked up hopefully at the other woman. Skye's words didn't bring the comfort she was hoping for.

"What do you mean a mix?" She blinked and quickly looked through her microscope at the slides of blood she'd been studying. Nothing in his blood resembled any tropical disease she was familiar with (granted, she didn't typically familiarize herself with tropical diseases...but still). "Just which diseases did she give to him?" Her voice rose an octave as her fear spiked. There were entirely too many diseases in the world that didn't have cures...and Raina had given Ward a cocktail of something. What if they couldn't help him?

Skye shook her head, still staring at the screen. "Take a look. I think the biological weapon idea isn't too far off. I'm going to guess HYDRA was trying to see if the serum would protect someone from the effects." She narrowed her eyes, trying to stop the words on the screen blurring. "It isn't airborne right now. It doesn't look like it's easily contagious."

Jemma looked at the screen as well, and sighed softly. "I think you're right- it isn't airborne...or at least doesn't seem to be. I'd still like to have a microbiologist look at these notes and at our blood samples to be certain of that before we remove the hazmat precautions, though." She looked towards Coulson and Ward then bit her lip. "One of us needs to update Trip so that he can inform Agent Hill. If this was a result of HYDRA attempting to make a biological weapon...."

"I'll go and tell Trip," Skye offered. "You and Fitz should just... continue doing what you do best. It's possible that the serum can still catch up to the virus," she added, straightening up, not sure which of them she was trying to convince.

Jemma nodded in agreement, grabbing a bottle of water and a straw and walking over to Ward's bedside. "I know you're awake, Ward...You need to drink some water," she said quietly, not wanting to wake Coulson- although she wasn't entirely sure he was asleep.

"Throat hurts," Grant murmured, but obediently opened his mouth to sip through the straw. He only drank a little, but Simmons considered it a victory that he had drunk anything at all.

She recapped the bottle and put it next to the bed for later, then went and got a fresh bottle for Coulson, before returning to the bed. "How much of that did you hear?" she asked.

"Enough to know that regular treatment probably won't work..." Grant admitted. "If the serum doesn't work..." His voice trailed off and despite his efforts, his voice was scared.

Coulson was dozing rather than properly sleeping, but it still took him a little while to come to enough to respond to the conversation going on around him. It was more the fear in Grant's voice that he responded to and he spoke quietly as he sat up. "We'll find a way."

Ward gave Coulson a grateful, if hesitant smile. "I know you'll do everything possible...but if there is nothing that can be done...." He swallowed painfully. "I don't want to die..." he said in a tiny voice."Not because I'm afraid of dying," he said softly. "I just have so much wrong to make up for...." He turned his face toward Coulson, hoping he'd understand.

Simmons bit her lip in consternation. "I'm going to go get some solid food for Coulson and me," she finally said. "Do you think you can handle some soup?"

Ward smiled faintly. "I can try."

Coulson moved closer to the bed and squeezed Ward's shoulder gently. "We won't give up. No matter what, we'll keep working to find a way," he promised. "And you've got the best people working on it for you."

Ward sighed. "I know...that's the only thing helping me not panic...." He smiled sheepishly.

"It sounds like we don't have to worry too much about it being contagious," Coulson said. "It'll be easier without this suit on." Easier to take care of Ward... though he didn't say that out loud.

Ward looked at Coulson with wide eyes. "I'd feel better if you waited...till they were sure it wasn't contagious..." he said quickly. He'd never forgive himself if Coulson became sick with whatever he'd been infected with, especially given that he suspected it was only the serum keeping him alive.

Coulson nodded. "I think that's the plan anyway. I know better than to expose any of us when it's not necessary," he said reassuringly. "I know helping you will become more difficult if more of us get sick."

Ward relaxed and closed his eyes again. "I should have known that..." he admitted sheepishly. "You don't do stupid. Not like me...."

"You don't do stupid things, Grant," Coulson said gently. "You've made some wrong choices, but what I told you before still stands. When you recover from this, you have the chance to make the right choices."

"I guess it is good someone believes in me..." Ward tried for a joking tone, but it just sounded sad. "I'm not even sure I know what the right choices are."

"That's one of the things I'll be here to help you with, Grant," Coulson said gently. "You didn't manage to alienate the team completely. They're still coming together to help you. We'll talk about how to handle things once you're better."

"Ok..." Ward squirmed into a more comfortable position. "I believe you..." He yawned, trying to keep his eyes open.

"Don't try to stay awake," Coulson said. "Your body needs to rest. Let it."

"Yessir...." Grant mumbled just before he fell asleep. The look on his face wasn't peaceful, exactly. He was in too much pain for that. But the fear he'd been battling seemed to have eased somewhat. He reached toward Coulson in his sleep, relaxing again when his hand touched the other man's arm.

Coulson watched Grant's face, silently wishing he could do more for the other man. As much as he tried to stay hopeful for the team's sake, he couldn't stop the doubt and worry creeping in.

# # #

Trip was with May, discussing various options of where they could go if they needed more medical assistance than the Bus had, when Skye opened the door and slipped into the cockpit.

Skye stepped into the cockpit. "I found an encryption program that works," she announced. "But it isn't good news."

Trip frowned and May raised her eyebrow. "Explain," May said calmly.

"HYDRA gave him a cocktail of exotic diseases. Apparently, they wanted to see if the serum would protect him. They're probably developing a biological weapon," Skye explained. "The only good news is that it doesn't seem to be easily contagious."

Trip frowned and gave May a worried look. "Biological weapon, huh? That's definitely something that Hill needs to hear about. I wish now that we'd destroyed that base completely, instead of just stealing intel from it."

"I'll let Maria know." May nodded.

"They probably have the files backed up somewhere," Skye said. "…Any word from Mr. Stark or Dr. Banner?"

May nodded. "Hill says that Stark has set aside a place for us to stay in his tower and Dr. Banner is prepared to work with Fitz, Simmons and you to figure this thing out. They also have Stark's best scientists on call to come in if needed. We just need to put the Bus down somewhere inconspicuous and then sneak into his building.... Stark says we should just walk in right under their noses. He'll say we've got jobs with him and if anyone causes problems, his legal team will be on it. The only problem we'll have is making certain Ward isn't seen. I'm not sure I like that idea- but Stark never was one for keeping a low profile."

"We could probably get him into the tower fairly easily," Skye mused. "We just cover him with whatever will hide his appearance - even if it's just a white sheet - until we're out of public view. Anyone asks we'll come up with a cover story."

"Oh, getting him into the tower isn't the problem," May agreed. "It's making sure he stays a secret once he is there. Especially if we have to bring in even more scientists beyond Dr. Banner."

Skye nodded. "But if anyone can figure out how to handle that, Fitz and Simmons - along with Mr. Stark - could."

May smiled at Skye. "You're right. We'll figure it out. In the meantime, I've got the Bus headed on a trajectory for New York. As soon as I get the location of the small private airfield Stark is letting us land at, I can call him with an estimated arrival time so he can get his driver out to pick us up. The next few days to weeks will likely be very hectic. You should go catch some sleep while you are able. We're at least two hours out of New York."

Trip yawned. "I think I might go catch up on some sleep as well. Yell if you need anything." He waited just long enough for May's brief nod before standing and heading out of the cockpit and toward the sleeping area. He grabbed Skye's arm on his way by.

"Yeah..." Skye realized then how unsteady on her feet she felt. Uttering a quick goodbye to May, she followed Trip out of the cockpit.

"Okay, Skye. I'm going to go drag Simmons and Fitz back to their beds. I don't think there is much more anyone can do until they consult with Dr. Banner and Stark's scientists. I'll take a cot in the lab and watch out for Ward with Coulson so you all don't have to worry. I don't want to see your smiling face until the plane is getting ready to land." He gave Skye his friendliest smile, but his eyes told her he was completely serious. He didn't wait to see if she listened, heading straight to the lab to get Simmons and Fitz.

Under most circumstances, Skye would protest being sent to rest... but she'd been awake all night and right now, there was nothing more she could do. She wasn't sure how much sleep she'd get, but she headed to her room.

"Okay, Fitz, Simmons! Time for all good little scientists to go catch some shut-eye. We should be landing in New York in about two hours and Tony Stark has a driver set to pick us up and take us to the tower so you can collaborate with Dr. Banner. Go hit the sheets. I'll stay with Coulson and our boy until we land." Trip's voice was no-nonsense and again, he didn't wait to see if he'd been listened to before he turned and went to get himself a cot.

When he returned a few moments later and began setting up, he glanced at Coulson. "Hope you didn't mind my taking over there for a minute, boss-man. You seemed to have a lot on your mind." His tone wasn't pushy, but he hoped it was clear he was willing to talk if Coulson needed to.

Coulson glanced up as Trip made sure the younger members of the team went to get some rest. He then looked at the other man and gave a quiet sigh. "I can't let them see how worried about failure I truly am." He kept his voice low, though he knew Grant was asleep.

"We all know it's a possibility, sir. As angry as we were at him...at the end of the day, he's still family. We all still care, even if we wish we didn't. We're all worried...." Trip shrugged as he toed off his shoes. "Maybe you should let them see how worried you are...and then let them know that it's okay to worry and let them be there for you the way you are for them…. Just sayin'." The younger man smiled at his director then lay back on the cot and closed his eyes.

Coulson wasn't entirely sure he could do that, though he understood the logic in the suggestion. With a quiet sigh, he settled on his own cot... though he knew sleep was far off.

# # #

May had a lot of time to think during the two hours before she landed the Bus in the private airfield Tony Stark directed her to… A lot of time to think about this group of people Coulson called family and think about her place in it. She realized that it was family. Even the member who had screwed up royally and needed forgiveness - and to be taught the true meaning of the word - was family. It was why she was really hoping that getting second opinions from Bruce Banner would enable them to find the cure to whatever ailed Ward. She'd hate to lose him just as she'd finally accepted him back into her life.

"You are clear to land..." The traffic control brought her attention back to the task at hand.

"Roger, control..." she answered before carefully setting the plane on a trajectory to land. Stark had promised he'd have a limo and driver waiting for them. She'd wake the others as soon as they'd touched down.

# # #

Getting Ward into the limo took some interesting maneuvering. Every movement caused him pain, but trying to be careful just meant it prolonged the agony he was in. Eventually, they just went as quickly and carefully as possible.

Coulson, unsurprisingly, seated himself next to Ward. Fitz took the place opposite, so he could keep monitoring the other man. He was relieved when the limo reached Stark Tower, though, and they could get Ward onto a stretcher, covered with a white sheet, and into the building.

Fitz went immediately to check out the lab so that he could see what equipment he had to work with.

Ward did his best to contain his whimpers and moans as they helped him walk off the plane and got him into the waiting limo. They were doing their best to help him and he wasn't going to add to their anxiety by vocalizing every hurt and ache. Even so, it was a relief to finally be inside the limo, next to Coulson and facing Fitz. The others had piled into the Limo as well, but he was so tired, he didn't notice where anyone else was sitting. He couldn't help but slump against Coulson in relief. If he hadn't been trying to be brave and act like an adult, he would have leaned against the man and slept.

They drove for what felt like hours- although it could have only been minutes- when they finally pulled into the underground garage at Stark Tower. The driver helped Coulson get him onto a stretcher and covered - Ward vaguely heard him say he was happy...but for the life of him he couldn't hear anything beyond that, so he wasn't sure what he was happy about. Helping Coulson, maybe? He wasn't able to catch the man's name, so he'd have to ask Coulson later if he wanted to thank the man for his help. Ward was relieved to notice that the man was wearing a hazmat suit and that the others still wore theirs. No one was taking any chances, then. That was good. Assured that everyone was taking proper precautions and that they all were in a safe place, he finally let himself fall asleep.

May watched as Fitz immediately disappeared into what would be his working area. Simmons was staying next to Ward, checking on his vital signs. Now that they were in a secured building, Trip was showing signs of winding down. He noted her looking at him and smiled slightly. "I'm fairly certain Stark has some of the best security on the planet, so maybe you and I can actually get some real sleep..." he finally said to her. She nodded at him.

"Welcome back, Agent Coulson. And may I say, I am very glad to know you are not dead." Trip, May, and Simmons all started as they heard the refined British voice come from out of nowhere.

Coulson stayed close to Ward, keeping alert enough so that he knew where the rest of the team members were as well. Skye had returned to scanning her laptop, presumably trying to see if there was any more information contained within the files that could be helpful.

If Coulson wasn't feeling so tired himself, he probably would have been taken aback - not by the voice itself, but by the lack of advance warning. As it was, he allowed himself a faint smile "Hello, JARVIS."

"Sir....Mr. Stark and Dr. Banner are on their way down now. They have dedicated this entire floor to you and your colleagues. I believe Sir would like to show you the rooms himself, though..." JARVIS's voice trailed off as the elevator dinged open and two men stepped out in street clothes.

"That's good, JARVIS...I'll take it from here. Agent!" Tony walked over and clasped Coulson on the shoulder, giving a quick squeeze before moving away again and slanting his head as he stared at the rest of the team.

"Agent Coulson," Bruce Banner said quietly and gave a warm smile before moving over next to Simmons and beginning his own examination- asking her questions and using terms that completely went over Trip's head.

Trip frowned and glanced at May, before looking back at the two new men. "Where are your hazmat suits? I know you had to have been told, because your driver was wearing one...."

Tony shrugged nonchalantly. "Don't need 'em. Hulk keeps Brucie over there safe from pretty much anything."

May raised an eyebrow. "But you aren't a Hulk," she intoned quietly.

Tony gave a tiny smirk. "I have something else- similar to whatever is keeping your agent Ward alive. I figure since I wasn't given a direct injection of whatever illness he has, my version has a better chance at fighting it off before it reaches critical stage." He shrugged. "That and I like living dangerously. I'm not worried."

Skye put her laptop away, at least temporarily, to look at the newcomers, both of whom she knew by reputation. "I'm not a doctor, or a scientist, but I think trying to develop a vaccine, at the very least, is as important as helping Ward."

Coulson nodded, even though, to him, saving Grant had to take priority. "Ward managed to get some files before we left the HYDRA base. I understand there are a few still encrypted, but I'm sure there's plenty of software here."

Tony's smile became more serious at Skye's words. "Of course. Not to say that your agent's life isn't important, but I have people I care about who don't have the same immune system as I have. I'd prefer there to be a vaccine available, in case HYDRA really is as insane as we believe." He motioned Coulson and Skye forward. "There is plenty of software here...however, if you allow JARVIS access to the files, he's better than any other encryption cracker I've ever seen." Tony was obviously proud of the AI.

May and Trip nodded. "JARVIS said something about rooms...?" May finally broke in. She knew Skye, Coulson and Stark would stand around for hours talking about the encrypted files- even before they had anything to really talk about- and she wanted to get some sleep. Who knew when the next chance they had to sleep safely and uninterrupted would occur?

Skye nodded. "Sounds like that might be for the best. Is there anything specific I need to do to allow JARVIS access to those files?"

Coulson looked at May and Trip, knowing it was important they got some rest. "When you've both got some rest, I'll update you on the situation," he promised.

May frowned. "You need rest too, Coulson. I know you've not actually gotten any real sleep since he came down sick..."

Tony grinned at Skye and clapped his hands like a kid getting ready to show off a new toy. "If your laptop has a wireless connect, JARVIS can get in. Although if you want to speed things up, you can give him the password for accessing the wireless connection. It will save a few seconds, at least." He winked at her, then turned back to Phil. "Let me show you all your rooms, then you can decide if you actually want to use them or not. I will tell you that JARVIS is more than capable of waking you up and dragging you into the sick room if Ward needs you...so you really don't need to camp out in a chair beside his bed. And it might make Green Bean more comfortable if you didn't..."

"Don't call me Green Bean, Tony..." Bruce said in a tone that indicated he'd said such a thing hundreds of times before and had given up on the man ever actually listening to him.

Coulson nodded. "I'll make sure Ward is settled and then look at getting some rest myself..." Again, he wasn't sure how much sleep he'd actually be able to get... but he could at least make the effort; and just stopping for a while would be something, at least.

"Okay. Good. Well...." Tony wrinkled his nose. "I have nothing to say. Why don't you all just follow me, so I can get drop you off and get back to my reason for living....?" The Iron Man motioned everyone to follow him with a raised hand and started down the hall, pointing out rooms to all of them.

Bruce smiled at Simmons. "You should go too. I've got this handled and in the morning there will be two more people to help out- vetted by Tony and myself so they can be trusted..."

Simmons smiled. "Okay, Dr. Banner...." She quickly caught up to the others, making note of where Fitz's room was.

# # #

It had been a long week, but Coulson was finally satisfied that Ward was recovering. The serum seemed to be working well and although Coulson disliked everything to do with HYDRA, at least they'd got... this right.

There were still some concerns, though, and Coulson was meeting with Bruce and Tony to discuss what HYDRA's next move might be... and how to counter it. He was reluctant to leave Ward's side, but at least the younger man was on his way to recovery.

Tony leaned back in his chair and observed Phil, a pensive look on his face. Bruce had informed everyone several days earlier that whatever HYDRA had given to Coulson's younger team-mate, it wasn't contagious by conventional means. It was obviously mean to be a biological weapon of some sort. After having determined that, Bruce had been working non-stop in his lab, with Simmons, in an attempt to find a vaccine, or at least a cure. So far, they hadn't had any luck, but Tony had every faith in his friend to do the impossible. Even so, he'd dragged the other man out of the lab to catch a few hours of sleep and to eat six hours before and now they were sitting here, getting ready to discuss options and possible scenarios that they would need to prepare for. Tony couldn't help but admire the irony of that- him being the responsible adult when it came to overworking oneself. Pepper would be so proud. Bruce clearing his throat brought his attention back to the present.

"So, Agent. How does it feel to be the Head Honcho of SHIELD- well...ignoring the fact that SHIELD is now considered a vigilante, if not terrorist group that Stark Industries 'Officially' doesn't sanction or have anything to do with, no sirree...."

"Tony..." Bruce sighed and rubbed at his eyes. The sleep and food had done wonders for him, but he would really rather not waste his time in ridiculous chit-chat. "You know that it appears Ward's illness was a test for a possible biological weapon..." He turned toward Coulson. "Do we have any idea how far along they might be or if they have the means to implement it?"

"Taking the files won't really set them back by much. I'd imagine even blowing up that particular base wouldn't have made a difference," Coulson added. "They may not have the means to make the illness conventionally contagious, but if they poisoned the water supply - or even certain food sources - it would still infect a lot of people."

Bruce shook his head. "So even if they weren't far along, it won't take them long to recreate what was taken. Which leaves us trying to put out a fire before we know where it is going to be set. Damn HYDRA..."

"It still might be possible to come up with a cure using Ward's blood, from my understanding," Coulson said. "But I agree. Perhaps, when the whole team is fully recovered from all of this, we could work on tracking down HYDRA's main base."

Tony gave a sly grin. "Well, you're all welcome to stay here as long as needed so that you can do that. And maybe when you find it, my alter-ego will take a little trip and take them out."

Bruce harrumphed but gave Tony an amused smile. "Maybe we all will. Until then, I'm going to go back to the lab and keep working on that cure or vaccine or whatever they'll want to call it. Speaking of Ward...he wasn't in his bed when I went by earlier to get another blood sample. You know where he went off to? Sooner I can get the sample, the sooner I can continue my work."

Coulson frowned and stood up. "He should still be resting." But maybe he shouldn't be surprised. Ward had been showing signs of getting antsy and restless. He should have known it wouldn't take long for Ward to get up.

Tony's eyebrows went up comically and his mouth formed an 'O'. "Oooooh, someone's gonna get in trouble. So glad it ain't me! Come on, Brucie- back to the lab. Agent needs to go find his wayward duck."

Bruce just stared at his friend, then shook his head, grabbed Tony's arm and dragged him back in the direction of the lab. "Just let me know when he's available to give another blood sample, okay, Phil? Thanks!"

A comment like that would probably raise some humour in Coulson. Right now, though, all he was concerned about was where Ward might be. He nodded once to show he'd heard Bruce and then slipped out of the room.

Knowing the general layout of Stark Tower, Coulson had a fairly good idea of where Ward had probably gone and he headed in that direction.

Ward was currently in one of the numerous recreational rooms Tony Stark had placed in the private sections of the tower, doing chin-lifts. He'd wanted to help Skye with research, but she kept asking him if he felt okay and shouldn't he be lying down and it just got annoying. Plus, his strong suit was in physical operations...and he felt like he'd been sedentary for entirely too long…The fact that he already felt like he could sleep for the next two days and he'd only been at it for ten minutes only cemented his belief that he needed to exercise.

He'd tried to pick the gym furthest from where Coulson might find him, however. As much as he believed he needed the exercise, he was fully aware that Coulson would not have agreed with him and would have told him to go back to bed. But if Coulson didn't actually see him doing said exercise, then he could get in a good work out, take a shower, and then get back to bed and the only thing Coulson would know was that he'd gotten out of bed for an hour or so. Assuming Coulson didn't ask him where he'd been. In which case, he'd have to figure out a way tell the truth without actually giving any information...but if he was lucky, he could get to bed and fall asleep before Coulson saw him next and then Coulson would forget about it later.

Ward felt a small twinge of trepidation. Maybe this wasn't such a good idea after all. Oh well. Coulson hadn't specifically said he couldn't exercise...just that he should take it easy. He didn't think he was overdoing it...much.

Coulson checked a few different recreation rooms by the time he finally found Ward. He wasn't very surprised to see the man there, but he was disappointed. He walked over to the younger man. "I know I didn't specifically say not to use the recreation rooms, but I assumed that was implied when I told you to take it easy."

Ward jerked- not having heard the older man enter the gym- and slipped off the chin-up bar. He landed smoothly...unfortunately, the fatigue he'd been fighting decided to hit full force and he staggered, nearly falling sideways before he was able to catch himself. "I...Okay." He sat down on the floor, afraid he'd fall on his face if he remained standing. "I was going to say I hadn't done too much... but...I promised myself I wouldn't lie to you and there's no way I can hide this...." He wrinkled his nose in consternation.

"I'd planned to be back in bed before you ..." He stopped, realizing that admitting he had planned to hide his actions from Coulson probably weren't much better than lying. "Yeah. Now that I'm saying that out loud, it doesn't seem like a much better idea...." He sighed.

"You've been sick for a while, Grant. You can't come straight in here for a workout after you've been that ill." Coulson sighed. "Dr. Banner needs to take more blood from you, but afterwards, I think we need to discuss this."

Ward's eyes widened at Coulson's words, but he didn't argue. Instead, he forced himself to his feet and started trudging back toward the elevator so he could go give Banner the blood he needed. "Um...can I take a shower before we discuss anything?" he asked hopefully.

Maybe if Coulson had time to see that he was okay, he wouldn't be inclined to think it was serious. Ward was worried about what a discussion about it might entail. He hadn't yet been given any direct orders that he couldn't easily obey. He wasn't sure what would happen if he was told to do something or to not do something that he actually had to think about it first.

Coulson nodded. "Maybe you should take a shower before Dr. Banner takes some blood," he suggested. "You might feel a bit more comfortable that way." He placed a hand on Ward's shoulder and squeezed gently, deciding not to make any comments on the other man's health until after Ward had showered - and hopefully eaten something.

Ward relaxed slightly at Coulson's touch, relieved that the older man wasn't going to begin scolding him immediately- although he was positive a thorough scolding was in his future. He was mentally kicking himself for thinking that doing vigorous exercise so soon after being bedridden and nearly comatose- and after losing so much blood- was a good idea. Especially when he'd practically had to hide from Coulson to achieve said exercise. That should have told him, right there, that it was a bad idea.

Sighing softly, he went to the room he had been given, grabbed a clean change of clothes then hit the showers to clean up thoroughly. He kept the temperature of the water lukewarm so that it didn't cause the already light headed feeling he was experiencing to become worse. As soon as he was done, he quickly dressed- barely drying off in his attempt to not keep Dr. Banner waiting any longer. He quickly walked into the lab. "I'm here, Dr. Banner..."

While Ward showered and dressed, Coulson headed to the kitchen. He picked up a selection of food on a tray, for the scientists as well as for Ward; though he made sure the food he picked up for Ward was light and would be easy on his stomach. He also picked up some juice, as well, since he was going to have more blood taken.

Coulson walked into the lab quickly but carefully, setting the tray down on a clear surface within easy reach.

Bruce looked up from the slides he was viewing through the microscope and smiled at Grant, waving him over. "Yes... I'm hoping that we can possibly isolate the diseases that HYDRA infected you with and see how the serum you were injected with is fighting them. Not only might it give us a possible cure if HYDRA manages to unleash this plague they've concocted- but it might actually help in finding a cure for the disease that this hybrid was formed from...." The scientist sounded excited at the prospect. "It normally isn't my field of expertise and I'm bringing in- well, Tony is bringing in- some of the top biochemists and virologists in the world. They should be arriving this afternoon and they might want to ask you some questions, so maybe you'll want to rest up for a bit before they get here?"

Bruce kept his tone friendly and more 'informational' than ordering, although Ward could see the concern in his eyes. Great. He must have really overdone it to cause the scientist to look concerned at his appearance. This didn't bode well for his talk with Coulson. Sighing silently, he walked over and sat on the stool next to Bruce and offered his arm to have the blood drawn. The scientist was quick and efficient and surprisingly very adept at drawing blood- if Ward hadn't been watching, he wouldn't have even known the doctor had begun taking his blood, let alone finished. Ward's eyebrow went up. "You're good at that...."

Bruce smiled crookedly. "I've had a lot of practice. When I'm not in New York working with Tony and the rest of the Avengers- and hiding from the army- I've kept myself busy in poorer areas of the world offering what little medical assistance I'm able to give."

Ward nodded, then, noticing the food Coulson had brought in, stood up and went to get his plate. He was grateful to note that Coulson had kept his fare simple. He wasn't sure he'd be able to eat much at all, let alone anything heavy.

Coulson kept a careful eye on Ward, making sure he ate at least some of the food. "You might want to drink some juice," he gently encouraged. "It will help you feel a bit less light-headed from the blood loss."

Fitz had been eating, but not anywhere near as much as he should have been. When Coulson made eye contact with him, he didn't need to say anything to encourage Fitz to walk over and get his own plate of food.

Coulson stepped over to Simmons. "You should eat something as well," he said gently.

Simmons blinked and looked up from what she had been doing. She blushed, realizing that not only had Ward come in and given the blood they needed, but Coulson had come in with food and everyone was eating- including Dr. Banner. She'd been so preoccupied with what she'd been studying, she hadn't noticed anything going on around her. "Yes, of course, sir." She smiled brightly, her face still red, as she grabbed a sandwich and took a dainty bite. She blinked and blushed more darkly as her stomach growled in appreciation of the food. "Er...thank you." She gave a tiny smile, then took another big bite, wandering over to sit on a nearby stool.

Coulson smiled at Simmons and then began eating some of the food himself. The other members of the team weren't here, but Coulson intended to track them down and make sure they ate as well. He kept an eye on the others as well, though, to make sure they did actually eat a realistic amount.

Ward had eaten all his stomach could handle. He didn't want to overdo it and throw up everything he'd just consumed, so he sat quietly and toyed with the remainder on his plate before deciding to try and make an escape. Waiting until Coulson was looking at one of the others- Ward couldn't help but smile at the way Dr. Banner had been dragged into Coulson's 'sphere of mother-henning'- Ward quietly put the place down and snuck out the lab door. He debated heading for the roof (he didn't think Coulson would think to look for him there and it might give him a reprieve from having to face up to his idiocy this morning), but then decided putting things off really wouldn't help him feel any better and would only frustrate Coulson...so he went to his room and lay down on his bed to wait for the other man to come find him.

Coulson stayed in the lab for a bit longer, before noticing that Ward had left. Making sure the team had everything they needed he slipped out and headed towards Ward's room. He knocked lightly on the door to announce his presence - and also because he didn't want to disturb the other man if he was resting.

Ward hadn't realized how tired he was until he lay down... He likely would have fallen asleep immediately, had he not been worried at what Coulson had to say to him. It was disconcerting to him how much the older man's opinion mattered to him and how much he didn't want to be a disappointment- again. Sighing softly, he reached over and grabbed one of the pillows next to him and hugged it to himself. When he heard the knock on the door, he considered pretending he was asleep and not answering- but his conscience wouldn't allow him to do so. And he knew he wouldn't be able to truly rest if he didn't get this talk out of the way, so instead he called out softly, "Come in..."

Coulson opened the door and stepped into the room, closing the door behind him. "How are you feeling?" he asked gently, taking in Ward's obvious exhaustion. He was concerned about Ward - and he didn't want the other man under any more strain.

Ward gave Coulson a tiny smile. "Other than feeling like an idiot child? Just a little tired..." he admitted, hugging the pillow a little tighter to himself.

Coulson nodded, sitting next to Ward on the edge of the bed. "If you need to sleep, we can talk later." He squeezed Ward's shoulder gently. "I don't want you exerting yourself." He didn't look angry - more concerned. Seeing the other man as ill as he had been had taken its toll.

"No, that's okay," Ward protested faintly. "I'd rather talk now..." he admitted softly. "I won't be able to sleep wondering about what you want to say."

"I think you can probably guess at most of it," Coulson said softly. "There are situations I won't be angry with you for disobeying orders. If you don't agree with them, then you can tell me. I don't want you to be blindly obedient." He paused briefly, before continuing, "When it comes to your health, however, that's non-negotiable."

Ward winced and glanced away from Coulson, knowing exactly what the other man was talking about and not wanting to admit it. "....Technically, you never said I couldn't exercise...." he said, knowing even as he made the comment that Coulson really hadn't needed to say it.

He should have known better without being told that it was a foolish thing to do- he'd been nearly comatose several times during his illness and was literally bleeding from all orifices and- for one hellish evening- from his pores. He did know better and just chose to ignore what he knew- hence his feeling like an idiotic child.

"I didn't tell you not to exercise because I assumed that was something you wouldn't need to be told." Coulson looked at Ward, waiting for the other man to met his gaze before continuing, "You knew you shouldn't have been exercising. The fact you were prepared to keep it a secret proves that."

Ward winced, but forced himself to keep his eyes up and on Coulson. As much as he wanted to avoid looking at the man, he knew further avoidance would just be disrespectful- Coulson deserved better than that. "You're right..." he finally admitted. "I knew it and I did it anyway. And then I tried to hide it from you because I knew you wouldn't be impressed by my actions and might even be upset with me." He clutched the pillow tighter to him.

"Did I happen to mention that I feel like an idiot child?" He tried for humor, but he really couldn't laugh at himself. He'd behaved like an idiot by doing something he knew was a risk to his slowly recovering health. He'd be lucky if he didn't relapse. And trying to hide the fact that he'd done something he knew he shouldn't...well, generally the only type of people to actively try and hide when they'd done something wrong were either criminals (and he was trying very hard to not be that type) or immature people. He swallowed hard, picking nervously at the pillow he held.

"Are you very mad at me?" he finally asked contritely.

"I'm more disappointed than mad," Coulson replied honestly. "I've been worried about you since you fell ill. The last thing I want is for you to have a relapse. You need to be more mindful of your own health." He patted Ward's shoulder gently. "You need to remember to take better care of yourself." A more serious, almost stern, note crept into his voice.

If anything could have made Ward feel even more guilty about his poor choice, Coulson had managed to find it. He had been prepared to deal with irritation or even anger, but having Coulson be disappointed in his actions and then explain how worried he'd been? Ward would do anything to take that disappointment away. "I will...I'll try really hard to take better care of myself...." Ward hadn't failed to notice the sternness in Coulson's tone, but rather than make him more nervous, it helped calm him somewhat. Even so, sternness usually meant that he was about to be told to do something he wasn't going to be overly happy about doing.

He bit his lip and watched Coulson, waiting for the other man to deliver a verdict. He hoped he didn't get grounded to his room because of his actions. It would serve him right, but he really thought he'd go stir-crazy if that happened. Going stir-crazy was half the reason he'd ignored his own common sense and went to work out in the first place.

Coulson nodded slowly. "I know you will, but we still need to deal with the bad choice you just made. I'm not going to make you stay in your room. I understand how frustrating that would be for you and I can't imagine it would end any other way than you either sneaking out or getting crazy. So I'm going to spank you."

Ward closed his eyes tight and let out a tiny amused huff of air. "Of course you are..." he whispered. He opened his eyes again and looked at Coulson with a crooked half-smile. "Is this because I admitted to feeling like a child? Because I changed my mind....I feel completely like an adult. Really I do...."

"I can't give you an official punishment," Coulson pointed out. "Outside of the team, no one from SHIELD even knows I brought you back. But the other - the main reason, really - for that kind of punishment is that it's more of a family punishment. And along with the rest of the team, you're my family," he said simply.

Ward blinked, staggered at the feeling those words gave him. Family. Coulson had said as much several times before, but Grant had had difficulty believing it. He believed it this time. After all the time the man had spent nursing him back to health, how could he not?

He hadn't had much luck with family in the past- but then again, he knew Coulson viewed family a lot differently than Ward's biological family had or Garrett had. Carefully setting the pillow he'd been clutching through the entire conversation to the side, he carefully sat up and shifted around so that he was sat next to Coulson on the bed instead of laying on his back and looking up at him.

"Okay..." he finally said. "I...I can handle being punished like a kid if it's because we're family...." He shrugged slightly, suddenly unable to look Coulson in the eye.

"We are family, Grant," Coulson said with quiet sincerity. "I believe the rest of the team feel the same way, even though it will take time to earn their trust back. They still care about you. I still care about you. That's why I visited you in prison. It's why I came to get you when HYDRA took you. And it's why I've spent all this time watching over you and doing whatever I can to make you comfortable... believing there had to be a way to save you, because to consider anything else was impossible."

Ward nodded quietly then forced himself to stand. "It's pretty sad that I know exactly what to do now...you'd think I'd be learning not to get my butt into trouble..." he muttered, even as he lowered his jeans and then stood by Coulson's knee. Since Coulson was sitting on the bed instead of a chair, he wasn't sitting at the same height as he normally would have been. Ward uncertainly lowered himself over the other man's lap.

Coulson gently wrapped his arm around Ward's waist, rubbing his back a moment before tugging down his underwear. He didn't plan to be too harsh with this spanking, but he planned to make an impression on the other man.

Raising his hand, Coulson brought it down in a stinging swat and then landed a second swat just below the first.

Ward wasn't certain if it was the fact that he was very tired from over-doing the exercise; if it was because he finally, finally believed Coulson viewed him as family; or if it was just the result of the fact that he did indeed feel like a child who had been caught by an adult authority figure...but he didn't have it in him to try and be brave, or adult, or quiet during this punishment. He knew he deserved it. When the first swat fell, he let out a tiny grunt of pain. When the second swat fell he hissed. From then on ever swat drew out some small sound of discomfort.

Of course, since he wasn't attempting to hide his response to the punishment, it didn't take long for tears to form in his eyes. Eventually, he was blinking so much it was easier just to keep them closed.

Reaching Ward's sit spots, Coulson started over from the top again, still keeping the swats at the same level. He didn't see the need to say anything. He'd already explained to the other man how he felt and knew Ward understood the reason for this spanking. And this was really to serve more as a reminder than a true punishment.

Ward wasn't sure where the impulse came from- he'd certainly not attempted to stop Coulson during the other two times he'd been punished in this manner- but when the man started over, smacking an already sensitive backside, he couldn't help himself. Even though he knew he deserved what he was getting, felt he deserved it, he threw a hand back in an attempt to block the punishment.

Coulson paused, moving Ward's hand out of the way and holding it against the small of his back before resuming the spanking. This time, he spoke - though he made no mention of Ward's attempt to stop the spanking. "Seeing you so ill was very scary for all of us. You couldn't help that, but you can help make sure you don't have a relapse. I thought we might lose you..." he admitted; the fear he'd managed to keep from the younger members of the team.

Ward found himself relaxing slightly as Coulson took hold of his hand and held it against his back, a sense of security helping him to calm even as the burn on his bottom increased. He relaxed; until Coulson started speaking, that was. He wanted to assure the older man that he was okay and that he wouldn't relapse, but he couldn't move enough to face him and the thought that he'd caused Coulson to be afraid made him feel even guiltier than he had before.

Finally, he gave up. Going limp, he allowed himself to accept each smack as his due, without tensing up in an attempt to lessen the sting. "I'm sorry..." he admitted tearfully.

Coulson stopped, his hand coming to rest gently on Ward's back. He gave the other man a moment or two and then gently tugged him up and into his arms, hugging him in the same way he had the previous times.

Ward sniffled softly. He wasn't crying as hard as he had the other two times; he'd finally accepted that Coulson cared about him and wasn't going to just dump him, so the fear that he'd felt during the other two spankings just wasn't present. This time, what he felt was one hundred percent, undiluted guilt. Wrapping his arms around Coulson and hiding his face against the other man's shoulder, he apologized again.

"I'm sorry I worried you so much; and I'm sorry I was reckless with my health and made you worry more; and I'm sorry I keep messing up so often- but I don't think I'm going to be able to stop doing that anytime soon...guess I'll be having a hard time sitting till I get the hang of having someone who actually cares what I do..." he said sheepishly into Coulson's shirt.

Coulson tightened his embrace, gently tugging Ward in close and rubbing his back. "I know you aren't used to people caring about what you do. I want you around for a good long time, so when it's necessary, this will happen again... but I won't stop caring about you," he promised. "Your safety is important. So is your happiness and wellbeing."

Ward took a shuddering breath, not attempting to get away. "Yeah. Okay," he finally said softly. He felt like he should be embarrassed, but he wasn't. He just felt safe, cared about...and really, really tired. He stifled a yawn and slumped against Coulson. "Youwereright..." he mumbled. "I overdid....Sorry...."

Coulson shook his head, still rubbing Ward's back gently. "We don't need to talk about it anymore. This has been dealt with and it's over now. You need to sleep," he added. "Give your body time to heal."

"Don'twanna..." Grant mumbled petulantly, then blushed at the tone he heard in his own voice. He leaned back and tried to explain, but wasn't able to look Coulson in the face. "I don't wanna be alone..." he finally admitted in a whisper.

"You don't have to be alone," Coulson replied. "I'll stay with you." He smiled reassuringly. "That's another thing family will do."

Ward smiled back hesitantly, then reluctantly stood up, replacing his underwear, then kicking his jeans under the bed. "Thanks, sir..." He smiled again with a little more confidence.

Coulson shifted slightly so that Ward had more room on the bed and gently patted the mattress. "Come on, lie down. I'll be here."

Swallowing, Ward crawled onto the bed and lay down on his stomach, wrapping his arms around the pillow he'd been holding when Coulson first came in. Giving Coulson a sleepy smile, he finally closed his eyes. Within seconds, he was asleep.

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